Friday, 31 August 2007

There's a ball in my soup

I got a funny email at work today, in French, it was in response to some journal article one of the academics had read. He was saying that either he didn't understand the author's reasoning or as he said in English "there's a ball in the soup" which means that there is something funny going on. But what he actually said was "couille dans le potage" which when you use Google translate says there's a "testicle in the soup". I'm not really sure where this saying comes from, but I thought it was pretty funny.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007


I have a friend visiting me at the moment and so this last weekend we went out to Versailles. It is a chateau on the outskirts of Paris which was built by King Louis 13th as a hunting lodge before being substantially enlarged by Louis 14th. Marie Antoinette and Louis 16th lived here before the French revolution. We unfortunately got there a little late in the day, about lunch time, and so the line to get in was huge! It took us about an hour and 15 minutes of waiting in the sun out in the courtyard until we made it through the doors. Once we were inside it then took us about 30 seconds to buy the ticket and be given our audio guide. The problem was that even for the massive line outside there were only 3 people selling tickets, though there were another 3 unopened booths.

For some reason I had this impression that Versailles was really expensive, but for 13.50 euro we got entry to 5 different sections and an audio guide for each section as well. I was pretty impressed with that, as these audio guides are usually 5 euro each. Versailles was pretty impressive inside and they had certainly gone to a lot of trouble with the furnishings, particularly in the main apartments, the King and Queen's state apartments and the Chapel. I had heard that after the revolution the peasants had completely stripped Versailles of anything of value, even taking the gilding on the walls. You could see that in some of the rooms what you thought was marble skirting board was in fact just wood painted to look like marble. Apparently there is also a real drive to trace all the furniture that used to be in Versailles and bring it back.

The gardens are also meant to be fantastic, I visited them the first time I was in Paris, about 10 years ago now, and we didn't have time to see them this trip, plus we were too completely Versaillesed-out. I may go back just to look at the gardens though and Maire Antoinette's private palace. But now for some photos!

The French royal family were pretty ugly, either that or they really should have fired their court painter.

This is in fact the future king of France, and yes he is wearing a dress. It is also embellished with fur. He looks better than the ladies do! All the statues and paintings of the men always had them in really feminine poses and I guess, looking at this, that it was just natural for them to pose that way.

The 73m long hall of mirrors, the 17m high arches, each filled with 21 mirrors, are opposite the 17m high windows looking out over the gardens. This gives a total of 357 mirrors in this hall. In the 17th century when this gallery was built mirrors were one of the most expensive thing you could own. So in building it Louis 14th wanted to display France's wealth and power. It was still pretty impressive, even now when mirrors are a dime a dozen.

The massive line to get into Versailles, we all had to wait around in this courtyard with heaps of bees buzzing around the place and the sun beating down.

Trip to Ely

I've been trying to organise a trip to England to visit a friend over there, but have had trouble sorting out dates. Finally today I got the go-ahead to buy my tickets which I promptly did this morning, having been burnt in the past by ultra-expensive Eurostar train tickets. Then at lunch time today I am informed that that weekend is the weekend where my group goes out to Burgundy for a day of seminars and then a party in the evening. I have already spoken to Eurostar though and there is no-way I can change the ticket, I can't even cancel it, well I could but there is no refund. So the cancelling is more that I just don't turn up and have to buy another ticket. How annoying is that, if I had bought the ticket tomorrow I could have gone the next weekend!

My boss already thinks I don't interact enough with the Frenchies, and now I'm going to England (home of Frenchie-haters) rather than hang out with my group for the weekend, and there's nothing I can do about it. Well at least I will enjoy England, with a big plate of fish and chips and a nice warm beer! I did want to go on the party though, I like my group, they are pretty friendly people and it's not like I have heaps of opportunities to go drinking with them at other times. I guess that's life though, and that's what happens when you organise work events on the weekends. My weekends are precious so of course I'm going to organise stuff to do on them.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

V festival 2007

Last weekend I went to a music festival in Stafford, northern England. It was like the Big Day Out except it is over the whole weekend and you camp out there. My journey there was a bit of an epic, the only ticket I could get included this coach ride from Bradford to Stafford, now Bradford is about 160kms north of Stafford, so it a bit out of the way when coming from Paris. Since the coach left at 9:30am on Friday it meant I had to travel through Thursday night to get there in time. This travel included a 3.5 hour stopover at Leeds train station at 2:30am on Friday morning. That experience has certainly scarred me, I never really felt unsafe as there were always people around what with workers, transport police and other passengers. It was just that the other passengers aren't really the people you want to be sitting in a train station with.

As the England school year has just finished all the year 12's were out partying and then coming to the station to catch the train, so I was surrounded by a whole stack of really drunk English people wearing hardly any clothes. Seriously I was freezing in long pants and two jumpers and these girls were wearing tiny shorts and backless tops and nothing else! So what with them and the homeless people who kept getting into fights with the police it really wasn't a great night. I have vowed to never spend a night in transit again, I will pay the extra money to go early and just stay in a hotel.

Once I got to Bradford it was then another 3 hour wait for the coach to leave, at least this was during daylight hours though and the shops were open. I was told the coach trip would probably take about 3 hours, so I should be at the festival by noon, but what with the bumper-to-bumper traffic I didn't get there until 3:30pm. It didn't help that the coach driver got lost twice and then had to take a 45 minute break as he had already driven for 4 hours. But I made it there eventually and the travel was definitely worth it. I didn't even have it that bad, Reanna took 8 hours to get there from Cardiff!

There were so many bands playing, there were 5 stages set-up, though I only saw the two main ones. On Saturday I saw:
The Goo Goo Dolls
James Morrison
Mark Ronson
The Fratellis
Lily Allen
The Killers

Stand-out performers for me were James Morrison, Mika and Mark Ronson. Mark Ronson was my favourite act of the whole weekend. He is basically a producer, he can play the guitar but he mainly arranges songs and gets other people to sing them. I think he does write songs himself but he mainly does covers. The music was awesome though and he had by far and away the best stage presence out of everyone. He chatted to the crowd and would always ask us if it was alright to bring out another special guest. And the guests he had were awesome performers too, which helped. Mika was the surprise of the weekend, I wouldn't buy his albums but he was a good entertainer, jumping around the stage and really getting into things.

The Killers and Lily Allen were disappointing, I actually like their music and have their albums but as performers they leave a lot to be desired. The Killers were the closing band on the Saturday night, so everyone had been standing around all day in the lovely English rain, it rained all weekend, to see them and the only thing they said to the crowd was "Hi, it's great to see you all" and that was it!! Lily Allen was just nasty, I guess you can kind of tell from the songs she sings, but she made fun of Mika and the Manic Street Preachers and had a go at her drummer when he didn't start the next song on command. It was good that she turned up though, I will give her that, as she did have strep throat the week before.

Then we did it all again on Sunday:
Just Jack
The Proclaimers (500 miles, woohoo)
Juliette and the Licks (she was weird!)
The Fray
Snow Patrol
Foo Fighters

Sunday was definitely the big name day, and there were heaps more people there than on Saturday. The stand-outs were Pink, Snow Patrol, Foo Fighters and Just Jack. Pink is another one whose albums I don't buy, but she really worked the stage, running around and dancing. The Foo Fighters as well are the same, Dave Grohl actually brought his mum on stage for a song, which was sweet. Jet were completely smashed, which detracted a bit from their performance, but they were still good and their drummer is awesome!

All in all it was a great weekend and I got to see a whole stack of bands I'd never heard of before. The only problem was the English weather, it rained the entire weekend, the whole place turned into an absolute mud-pit, by the end of Sunday you could not see a blade of grass anywhere. I had to borrow rain pants on Sunday as my jeans were absolutely sodden and covered in mud after only 2 hours. Thank god I had bought a rain coat before I arrived there. I guess it just isn't an english music festival unless wellies are part of the dress code.

After visiting England for the weekend, I have to say though that I think I prefer France. It may just be familiarity, in that I'm used to Paris now and have sorted out the public transport. But I just think the culture here is much more pleasant than in England. Over there is this real binge drinking culture, I guess very similar to Australia, and a massive obesity problem. There were probably more people who were overweight than in the healthy weight range. France just seems a lot more refined, but that could just be because I haven't hit the clubs and pubs over here yet, and perhaps the French are just as bad. Though the French public transport is so mush better than England's, here it is 1.50euro for a single, zone 1 journey, in London the same thing is 4pounds, which once you convert to Australian dollars is pretty scary!

So I will just leave you with a few pictures of the weekend, I didn't take that many, I was too busy enjoying the music!
The first pic is of tent city! And this was only a part of one of the 8 campsites! This other pic. was on Saturday as you can still see the grass, but there were still a lot of people there! I heard someone say 90,000, I think that must be for the weekend though

Pink was the only performer I took a picture of

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

UK rail system

Today I had my second run-in with the UK rail system, I really have to stop trying to buy train tickets over there, I guess they just don't want foreigners visiting their country. Today I was trying to buy a train ticket for my father who is going to England next week, he is going to catch the ferry to Dover and then wanted a train to London. Whilst the train companies all have online stores and the ability to enter countries other than the UK on their website, they don't actually post tickets anywhere but the UK. So once you have been through the rigmarole of registering with the company and choosing your train journey it is only at the end where a message comes up saying "We are only able to send tickets to addresses in the UK, our web development team is working on extending this". For a start I have no idea what the web development team has to do with the ability to put a ticket in an envelope and write an address that doesn't end in UK on the front. Also a lot of the websites currently have the ability to enter another country.

The only other option for collecting your tickets is from an automatic ticket machine in selected stations. Unfortunately there is no ticket machine in the Dover station and therefore no way to collect any tickets you might want to buy. I would really like to know what the UK national rail's solution to this problem is, or maybe they just think foreigners stink and it's better to keep them out of the country?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Chateaux of the Loire Valley

The real reason to visit the Loire Valley was to visit all the chateaux, the French kings really knew how to spend the peasant's tax dollars! On Saturday we joined a tour and visited 4 chateaux in the day, it was a pretty full day and we only had just over an hour at each chateau but it also meant that we didn't get chateau-ed out, which I think is a definite possibility if you spend a long time at each one. Our tour guide would also give as a bit of background history of each chateau before we visited, which was good.

The first chateau of the day was Villandry, here we just visited the gardens and they really were amazing! The chateau itself was built in the 1530's and was one of the last large chateaux to be built in the Loire valley. The actual gardens that we saw are a recreation, from the 1920's, of what they looked like in the 16th century. The gardens consisted of 3 terraces, on different levels, one of the terraces was a vegetable garden. But it was like no vegie garden I've ever seen, they had gone for beauty rather than just plain utilitarianism.
The gardens, the vegie garden is the one in the distance. Due to the delicate roots of the box hedges the entire garden has to be hand weeded.

The next chateau of the day was Azay-le-Rideau, this was also built in the 16th century by the wife of a corrupt finance minister, who I guess was able to get his hands on a lot of the tax money. There was some lovely furniture inside the chateau and a lot of 400 year old tapestries, but the really striking feature was the outside. After the chateau was built a river had been diverted around it so it looks like it was built in the middle of the lake. This chateau was definitely one of my favourites of the day.

After lunch we set of again for another round of chateau visiting. We first visited Chambord, which is huge, the grounds are as large as Paris and have been reserved for French presidential hunting parties. I think the last president who hunted there was Mitterand, so it was a little while ago. The king who initiated the building in 1519 only ever spent 72 days here, I really can't understand, with this sort of behaviour, how it took the French people another 200 years before they revolted. Whilst the chateau looks great from the outside, inside it is a bit of a rabbit warren with no real hallways, meaning that you would have had to walk through other people's bedrooms to get to your own room. This chateau was also owned by the state, and they really hadn't put anywhere near as much effort into the interior as the other, privately run, chateaux had. The main feature of this Chambord is the main staircase, which is built as a double spiral, which means that if two people take separate flights they can see each other, but they will never meet. It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci actually proposed the idea for this staircase. Apparently Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years in the Loire valley and was even given his own manor by, I think, the French king. As a thank you gift he gave the French the Mona Lisa, which is why the Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre and not in Italy.

Also at Chambord were some royal coaches which were built for someone who could have been king in the 1870's, except he made too many demands and took too long to take up the position so the French people elected someone else to rule them. Along with these amazing carriages, which were subsequently never used, the same guy also had Hermes, known for their unbelievably expensive handbags, to make him a royal saddle.

The last chateau which we visited was Chenonceau, this chateau is the most popular in France with 1 million visitors a year, more even than Versailles. This chateau was given by Henri II to his life-long mistress Diane de Poiters, and as the gift was official after his death the queen, Catherine de Medici, could not just take it back. Instead she forced Diane to swap it for another chateau in a different town. Personally I think Diane was lucky to not just be killed by the queen as the chateau was really amazing and I can't imagine Catherine would have felt many qualms in killing her dead husband's ex-mistress for such a lovely place. During the second world war this chateau was important as it is built across the River Cher, which during the occupation was a border between occupied France in the north and free France in the south. Resistance fighters could therefore make their way to this castle and by simply walking through the front door, across the river and out the back they would be in free France.

There was one particularly interesting room in this chateau. After King Henri III was assassinated his wife, Louise of Lorraine, moved to this chateau. Here she painted her room entirely black, ceilings, walls, bed, even the curtains were black, and went into total mourning along with a whole stack of nuns which I guess she brought with her.

The owners of this chateau had done a great job in making the interior look lovely, with fresh cut flowers in every room and lots of furniture. You could really tell though that it was also a great money spinner for these people as there was no limit to the number of people allowed inside the chateau at any one time, which meant that the place was completely packed.

Sunday, 12 August 2007


This weekend my Dad and I went out to the Loire valley, more specifically Tours, which is about 230 kms from Paris and only takes just over an hour to get there by TGV. Tours was the French capital in 1461, before King Henri IV moved the capital back to Paris in 1594. During this period the French kings built a lot of castles (or chateaux) in the Loire valley and because of that the valley has been classified a UNESCO world heritage site. We stayed in Tours for 2 nights and went on a day excursion to the chateaux on Saturday before spending some time in the city. It was a pretty city, but there seemed to be a much higher proportion of drunks/freaks/homeless than in Paris. There is a lot of industry near Tours, with the Michelin tyre factory and Pfizer as two main ones.

The most famous sight in Tours is probably the St-Gatin Cathedrale, which was begun in the early 13th century. The old city was also very lively and is worth a visit. Apparently it was close to being demolished in the 1960's before the mayor at the time totally revamped it. There is also the Church of St-Martin of which the only thing remaining is the Charlemagne Tower. St Martin was bishop of Tours in the 4th century and he must have been pretty popular with the people as there are now close to 400 churches named after him in France alone.
The St-Gatin Cathedrale in Tours

The old town area of Tours

The Hotel Gouin, which is now an archeaology museum with heaps of bronze-age and stone age and Roman artifacts.

We also visited the Musee des Beaux-Arts, which was in what used to be the Archbishop's house. It had some nice gardens with a stuffed elephant 'Fritz' in a big stable. Some of the paintings in the gallery were a bit ugly, I don't know what it was with painters in the middle ages but they could not paint babies. It looked like they had never seen a baby in there life and just painted a really ugly, smaller person. Check out the really ugly Jesus in this painting, Mary looks alright so it's just babies the painter had troubles with.

Though in this painting both Mary and Jesus look pretty bad, so perhaps the painter just wasn't very talented


I had my first escargot (snails) recently. My dad is visiting me and we went out to the very touristy region around Notre-Dame for dinner. They were quite nice, but I had to make sure I didn't think too hard about what I was eating. You could only really taste the sauce and their texture was similar to very tender mussels.

French Public Holidays

For a country which is very strict in the separation of church and state, the French have a lot of religious holidays. Next Wednesday is a public holiday here as it is Assomption Day, which is apparently the day when the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven. I guess that means it is the day she died, I'm not sure why we are all celebrating that but apparently the Christians think it is important. They also have Toussaint, 1st of November which is All Saints Day and Ascension, the Thursday 40 days after Easter which is when Jesus went up to heaven as well as Easter and Christmas, obviously. There are quite a few holidays around Easter, but I'll have to check if they actually give us them as holidays.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

A Rant

So this post is going to be a bit of a rant about a few things which have been pissing me off lately. The first, and one I most hate, are the bus drivers over here. I catch a lot of different public transport over here, buses, trains and the metro and the only thing I haven't tried so far is the tram. I have to say though that the bus drivers are by far and away the worst drivers out of all of them, they are so bad I doubt they could even be taxi drivers. The train and metro drivers are both pretty good, nice smooth starting and stopping. The bus drivers all seem to be some kind of sadists who take a perverse pleasure out of slamming on the brakes as hard as possible from as fast a speed as possible just so that everyone standing up can be flung around. I haven't yet been on a bus where they pull in gently to the stop, they all speed up to it and just as they are about to go past they slam on the brakes. They also are always either 5 minutes early or 5 minutes late, so you either miss the bus or have to wait at least 10 minutes. I really hate them! It may not sound bad to you guys but compared to the trains they are a nightmare!

The other thing that pissed me off here is the weird obsession they have with gypsies, at least that is the only explanation I've been given/can think of that explains the fact that every patch of green space (ie parks) have a massive fence around them with only a few locked gates. Over the road from me there is a nice little park, it's got a bit of a hill in it and a lake in the centre and it's great for running in. The other morning I get up thinking to do a few laps of the park before heading off to work, but when I get there I discover that it is locked, and it doesn't open up until 8am (or 9am on the weekends). I don't know if the idea is to keep the homeless out, but really they are the only ones who can enjoy it as everyone else is at work by the time the thing opens. The other thing it could be is to stop gypsies setting up camp, not that I've see any gypsies over here so far. But if they are that worried about gypsies setting up camp why don't they just put a sign up saying No Camping and if anyone does you just move them along? I've heard a rumour that over here gypsies have special rights if they ever manage to set up camp, so the authorities seem to get around it by making sure they can never spend a night anywhere. If there is such a clause the government should get rid of it and the gypsies can stay in trailer parks along with every one else. I just want my park to run in in the morning!

The Louvre Part I

This weekend I went to the Louvre and as a bonus it was free. I had forgotten that on the first Sunday of every month a lot of the museums in Paris are free. So it was pretty packed, but I don't think it was anymore packed than a usual day.

There are 3 galleries there, the Richelieu, the Sully and the Denon. Since I'm going to be here for a year I've decided to take my time. From my last visit I remember being a bit overwhelmed by the Louvre, as I think are a lot of visitors. So this weekend I planned to go see one of the galleries, and in the end I think I chose the biggest gallery, the Richelieu, so I only ended up seeing 3 of the 4 floors. In this gallery were all the objets d'art as the French call them, basically anything that is art but isn't a painting. The Mesopotamian stuff was awesome, definitely my pick out of this gallery and the other good stuff was the Middle Ages art. The Middle Ages stuff was all pretty mundane objects, like plates, rings, teapots and a few swords but it was like people had just discovered that even mundane stuff can be made to look ornamental and they just went crazy with it!

My advice for anyone one visiting Paris and just wanting to visit the Louvre without spending 3 whole days there is to grab a map from the information booth. The map marks all the famous/big name pieces in the different galleries. I would go see them and try really hard not to get side-tracked. Pretty much every period is represented so you see a bit of everything and if you like one particular area you just spend a bit longer there. Now I'm going to bore you with a whole stack of photos of my favourite stuff.
The obligatory shot of the front of the Louvre
Really short monks carrying a knight

This was the cool middle ages art. The first is what looks like a tea urn, there was one lion that had 2 spouts! The second is a plate from the middle ages, it doesn't look all that practical, I reckon that lizard would get pretty annoying pretty quickly.

The first photo here is a really tall man who was in the gothic section, maybe people were abnormally proportioned back then?
The other photo is from the Mesopotamia section, there were some awesome statues there, stuff right out of Indiana Jones

Saturday, 4 August 2007

French Shopping

I have found that there are a few things that are really hard/impossible to find here in Paris. I have had really trouble finding listerine (you know the mouthwash), some supermarkets have this weak colgate mouthwash but only the one brand and no listerine, which really is the king of mouthwashes. I also cannot find conditioner (for my hair). There is shampoo in all the supermarkets and chemists, but no conditioner, maybe the French like having coarse hair? I'm going to have to visit England just so I can buy these things I can't get here.

That's another thing that is a bit annoying over here. The Europeans really haven't embraced the full capabilities of the internet. England has a particular chemist, Boots, which is slowly taking over the country, soon it will be the only chemist. They also have a pretty good website so you think you could just buy stuff online and get it delivered. I mean France is just over the Channel and we're all part of the EU now, but no you can only send stuff to a UK address. And don't get me started on buying UK train tickets from over here, nightmare!

Cite Universitaire Revisited

Here are some photos of my room, I've been told that it is 25m^2, which isn't too bad for a Paris appartment. When I was looking on the internet for places to stay there were a lot of 17m^2 places. I guess you could get rid of a bit of space as I have 2 beds in the room and there is a bit of unused space in the middle of the room. I'm happy with the 25m^2 though. I'm on the very top floor, the 5th (there is a lift), and also right at the end of one of the two wings which means that I don't have any neighbours and also that my room looks out over the park, and not towards the rest of the colleges. I can almost forget that I'm living in a big college and that there are 500 people living around me. Whilst they clean the room and provide the sheets, one thing that isn't provided are towels of any sort, but after a towel hunt today I managed to get my hands on some. I was getting pretty sick of having to use a shirt to dry myself, nothing really beats a towel for water absorption.

I have to take some photos of the main entrance hall too, it's awesome. It reminds me of what an old british gentlemans club should look like. Big black leather couches, heaps of really dark wood panelling with a big, wooden curved staircase and marble (or pseudo-marble) floor tiles.

The view from my window

Friday, 3 August 2007

Cite Universitaire

I've been in my new room since Wednesday and it's pretty nice. It's good being in Paris. The really cool thing is that your room is cleaned for you. I knew the cleaners came in to empty the rubbish and they also change the sheets every 2 weeks, but they also put away all my dishes, cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom, how awesome is that! I promise I'll put some photos up of the surroundings soon, hopefully this weekend. But to keep you satisfied here is a the usual breakfast that we got in Gif, pretty French hay?