Day-trip to Nantes and friends visiting

I’m back home in Winnipeg now and still intending to blog about the rest of my adventures! So back to the catching up… Way back in mid April, Jane and I got back from Amsterdam late on a Monday afternoon, and the following week was jam-packed, in a good way, right up until my parents arrived on Saturday afternoon! Just a heads up, in a very out-of-character move, this post is long and excessively detailed, possibly because now I’m home and feeling nostalgic? Monday was Jill’s birthday and a group of about a dozen of us went out for dinner at a creperie near the train station that’s good for accomodating big groups. It was my lucky day because I scored a seat right beside the birthday girl in the middle of the long table despite being late, because Jessie and I like to share food and she was sitting by Jill. I felt like a bit of a cheat because everyone knows latecomers never get prime real estate at a dinner table. Aoife, one of my close friends who was only there for first term, came back to Angers from Ireland for a week long visit and arrived that same evening, so Jessie, Paola and I met her at the train station and she joined us at dinner at the restaurant, which was conveniently located right beside the train station  and stayed with me for the first two days of her visit. I couldn’t find the nozzle for the air mattress I borrowed (there were two or three amongst all the exchange students that were passed around whenever someone had a visitor), so Aoife slept on the floor with just a comforter for padding, insisting she was comfortable, probably with some sort of adorable saying like “hard floor, sign of a soft heart.” (It’s a joke, because Aoife’s real favourite saying is “cold hands, sign of a warm heart,” and when someone offers her sugar for her tea she says “no thanks, I’m sweet enough already.”) Classes were basically already finished by then, and I just had a few hours of class that week. On Tuesday, I went to Nantes for the day to meet up with my aunt and uncle’s niece, Kathryn, and her friend Stephanie, who were backpacking in Europe for about two and half months. Angers is only 40 minutes away from Nantes by train, so it worked out perfectly that they were stopping there! We went to the chateau, then rented rented bikes and cycled to the outskirts of the city to picnic in a big park. After we returned the bikes, we wandered around the city centre and went shopping, then sat in a park near the train station with a bottle of wine and some cheese and baguette until I had to go catch my train around 8:30 pm. I had expected to meet up with them again later on in our travels, but time really just flew by! So it was perfect that we could meet up, and somewhat ironic meeting in France, after growing up familiar with each others’ faces from pictures on our shared aunt and uncle’s fridge, but as far as either of us can remember, never having met before!

The chateau of Nantes... points for Disney-esque paint job

Machine de l'île - a giant mechanical wooden elephant, of which I took an at least two minute long video that is kinda cool but mostly boring. It moves its ears and trunk and everything!

Patio weather in the square

Me, Kathryn and Stephanie - photo now displayed on our aunt and uncle's fridge

When I got back to Angers, I was unlocking my bike outside the train station when I saw someone checking the bus schedule, and thought to myself “no French girl wears her skirts that short or her ponytails that high” and sure enough it was Emma! By the way, she loves her new catch phrase. Her mum and her mum’s partner were in Angers visiting, and they invited me to join them for a drink so I ignored the paper I should have been writing and sat down for a couple Monacos (great choice, as it always is to skip homework in favour of play, because they were really lovely and lots of fun). On Wednesday I had a couple classes, then went to the train station to meet Natalie, a close friend from high school who is working at the Vimy Ridge memorial site this summer in northern France (and bloggin’ about it: http://abyrdinthehand.wordpress.com/). She arrived a few days before her accommodations were ready, so she came to Angers to stay with me for a few days. That night we cooked dinner then went downtown for drinks with some friends, and Natalie reaped the benefits of my trial-and-error air mattress use with Aoife, who stayed with Jessie once Natalie got there – 3 in the room would really be pushing it! I found a bike for Natalie to borrow on Thursday, and we cycled to Lac de Maine for a picnic with Alexandra.

Alexandra and Natalie at Lac de Maine

Close up of an excellent sandwich

We found some friends there, and after we had our sandwiches and hung out for a while I left Natalie with the group while I cycled over to my tutee’s house for a lesson, and visited with her family for a while after – her father is a professor of wine and food, and gave me some restaurant suggestions for my parents’ upcoming visit! Afterwards we met some friends downtown for dinner, then had a sloppy double-bike ride back to the residence with Natalie, Jane and I on two bikes. Unfortunately my bike seat was too high for either of them to ride it, and only my bike had a spot on the back for sitting, so there was no escaping my horrible balance and lack of double-biking skill; we made it back safely though, and quicker than we would have on the bus. Once we got back to the residence, we started a snowballing process of collecting friends, hopping around to different rooms on our way to a party on campus, stopping to drink/visit/wait for the inhabitant to get ready in every room, and despite the party being over by the time we got there, it was a really fun evening. On Friday Jane, Natalie, and I went for lunch at a creperie, then met up with Aoife for the afternoon, and cooked dinner at the residence. The next morning, Natalie had an early train and unfortunately woke up feeling a bit sick, but we made a heroic effort and after boarding the bus at my residence only 20 minutes before departure, she made the train! Aoife, Jessie, Jane, Jill, Alexandra and I went to the market late Saturday morning and I bought a bunch of food for a picnic when my parents arrived later that day, and the six of us went to the botanical gardens to eat and nap the early afternoon away.

Alexandra and me at the market, with my charming market basket that broke after about two uses

Aoife, adorable even when she's blinking. Photo cred Alexandra

The nappers with a preference for shade... Jessie, Aoife, and I were in a sunnier spot nearby.

After nap time I walked down to the train station to meet my parents! I got all excited and went over to the platform for the wrong train, and was afraid they’d missed their train until I realized it wasn’t arriving for another ten minutes. Once the right train got there, we dropped their bags off at the hotel and went to the perfect picnic spot, overlooking the river, the chateau, and the cathedral. My parents fought off jetlag during dinner with Jane at La Cantina, a deceptively Latin-sounding name for a very charming traditional French restaurant with chalkboard menus that the owners carry around to each table.

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Last week in Angers

I’m returning to Winnipeg this Thursday, and after travelling to Greece for two weeks with Katina, a friend from home, and visiting Alexandra in Munich for three days I came back to Angers on Friday to spend my last week here, in my host family’s basement studio apartment, with Jessie, Shane and Natalie.

Where we're staying is about a 20 minute walk from downtown, and Jean and Sylvie (my host parents) have a massive garden - self timer shot in the garden

Last time at the Saturday market - displaying our picnic snacks (chevre, blue cheese, radishes, carrots, cherries, prunes, baguette, wine, grape juice, sundried tomatoes)

At the market

We came back to Angers just in time for the inauguration of the tramway - all year (and for the past several) there has been a ton of construction around Angers for the new tramway, and it finally opened! Trams and buses are free for the first nine days, so the whole time we're here we'll have free transportation! There were a few people protesting, they had egged and floured the tram and were lying in front of it. Their messages were about the treatment of homeless people, Romas, and refugees in Angers.

Dinner in the garden

Also for the inauguration of the tramway, there was a big party in the main square, Place de Ralliement, with a dj and lightshow. We went into town and met up with some French friends there, and danced in the square and wandered around downtown.

Natalie picking raspberries from the garden for our brunch.

 

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Amsterdam

I’ve really gotten quite behind with blogging, which was half laziness and half just being really busy – meaning there’s a whole lot to catch up on! So, I’ll start where I left off:

In mid-April, Jane and I went to Amsterdam for an extended weekend. We booked the trip very last minute, and had a lot of trouble finding somewhere to stay so we ended up renting a student apartment that cost about the same amount as any of the overpriced hostels we could find at that point. It was pretty nice, and bigger that we needed – it had a living room, a loft bedroom, a kitchenette and washroom. The entrance was slightly sketchy, on an alleyway (every other building along the ‘street’ was a garage), but it was just around the corner from the university, so the neighbourhood felt safe.

Our apartment was on the edge of downtown, but the centre is so small that we still walked everywhere, and rented bikes one day. We visited the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, which were both really interesting (in very different ways). The museums in Amsterdam were pretty expensive, as was the tramway, so it probably would be worthwhile to get some kind of visitor pass for a visit to Amsterdam.

Tulips at the flower market - 6 euros for 50 stems!

Tulips, canal houses and bikes, so Dutch

Canal

Sidenote, I can’t believe how fast these pictures are loading! I’m not living in the residence anymore and it’s very clear how brutal the internet connection was there, because usually every time I load a photo the connection fails and I have to reload the page, which takes a super long time. Anyways, not hugely interesting but I’m just really impressed and delighted by how much less complicated this good connection makes things!

I am(sterdam) pleased that the guy who took this photo went to so much trouble with the framing of it

On Sunday (I think… this was a long time ago now) Alanna came in from Utrecht, just outside of Amsterdam to meet us. We went to the Van Gogh Museum together and had a late lunch on a sunny patio

Jane and Alanna doing some impressive double biking through Vondel Park

Unfortunately we rented from the company with the dorkiest looking bikes, but on the other hand we were significantly undercharged and realized later that we probably should have paid more than twice what we did.

Maggi!! On Sunday evening with met up with Maggi, who was on exchange in Angers but is back home in Germany for the second term. We lived on the same floor in the residence and went to french aerobics class together, and she was always very flattering and encouraging about my German-speaking abilities

Sunset

 

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C’est pour les poneys

I guess I should have known…

Aside from getting told off by the pony man for leaving my bike 
locked to (what was not at all obviously) a corral, this was a
very nice day!
I met up with Alexandra and her mum, who was visiting from Munich,
to go to the big Saturday market. Steven was also in Angers visiting 
for the weekend, so after the market I met up with him and
a bunch of friends for a picnic before going to the Cointreau museum.
The museum tour wasn’t the greatest, to be honest I almost fell
asleep standing up, but at the end of it there was a tasting and
we got to try a few different drinks made with Cointreau plus had
a little plate of snackies.



Photo cred Natalie on those pony pictures. Speaking of which,
this is Natalie’s flickr - she takes really nice photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/natbaird/
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Tours day trip

Here are some photos of a day trip to Tours from over a month ago now. One Sunday Jane and I went with our school chums Carolina, Daniel, and Naihomy to the train station around noon, and bought tickets on the spot to somewhere that seemed interesting – Tours is about an hour away from Angers by train, also in the Loire Valley. We happened to be there on the first Sunday of the month, so entry to the Musée des Beaux Arts was free (as far as I know that’s the case all over France), and we had a nice wander around the city, before catching a train back around 8 pm.

Gardens at the Musée des Beaux Arts

Cathedral

Mini wooden castle at the Musée de Compagnonnage (companionship). I'm not exactly sure what this museum was all about. I think it's a semi-secret guild of builders, kind of like the Masons (which I don't understand either...) I was taking pictures throughout the museum only to be told right at the exit that pictures aren't allowed. Not that I'll really do anything with a couple dozen photos of miniatures castles, staircases and cathedrals made out of things like sugar and slate...

Creepy use of my zoom lens

In Angers, you're hard pressed to find a bar open on a Sunday. In Tours, you can play beer pong!

Tours was a lot livelier than Angers – tons of cafes, bars and restaurants open. Apparently it’s a really popular place for foreign students because of the posh/neutral accent (same in Angers?)

Carolina, Naihomy, me, and Jane in front of the Tours city hall

Fancy train station

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La Loire à vélo – Saumur

As the school year is starting to wrap up (I’m finished classes tomorrow!), I’ve been trying to get the most out of Angers and the area around it. The region of France that Angers is in, Pays de la Loire, has a bike path that follows the Loire river called “La Loire à vélo,” which goes all the way from the cost almost right into the middle of France.

I went on a bike trip to Saumur with a group of friends, about 55 km away from Angers. We rode from Angers to Saumur, and spent most of the day at it, stopping for a picnic and frequently for photos or water or sunscreen or pretty views. We caught a train back, just 6 euros and 20 minutes, although it was a little awkward with our bikes – they’re allowed on trains, but there isn’t a place for them on all of the trains. Over all though, it worked out really well and I’m hoping to have a chance to do more cycling around here.

Heaps of slate

A retention pond in the slate yards where people were scuba diving (ripples on the right hand side of this photo)

The little self-propelled ferry to cross a river

Go team!

Peeking into backyards (flower shot for Mum)

Les mariniers on a fence

Our new friends the donkey and the horse

Its wisteria season in the Loire Valley

La Loire

Vineyard

Houses

Jenni, Natalie, Naihomy and me

Mon vélo!

It could almost be Manitoba, except for the slate roofs in the background

Home stretch

Thankfully, there was a long flat stretch towards the end (followed by a big hill, but it was still a nice rest for my prairie legs)

Saumur - we made it!

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Bretagne

Last summer, there were four students from Angers in Winnipeg on exchange who Jane, Liz and I got to know, and who I’ve continued to see here, since they came back to Angers before school started in the fall.  It was really already knowing people in Angers when I arrived in September – Gaetan picked me up from the train station when I arrived, and I saw all four of them within the first week I was here.

While in Winnipeg, we’d talked about visiting various places near Angers, one of them Mont St. Michel, so last month Simon, who is from a town near Rennes, invited us home with  for the weekend – me, Jane, and Jessie, along Valentin, Anthony and Gaetan. Natalie also stayed with us at Simon’s the first night, since she was in Rennes as well!

Eating the picnic lunch that Simon packed for us on some steps at Mont St. Michel. We looked pretty cool walking around pre-lunch carrying four baguettes - If I hadn't been part of the group I would have been jealous.

Season's Greetings!

Mont St. Michel - one of France's top tourist destinations. The main attraction is the abbey, which we got to visit for free - France treats its students very well.

After Mont St. Michel we drove to St. Malo (the fellas all have cars so it was easy getting around). Jessie, Jane and I bought a massive bag of caramels de beurre salée to split – we must have each ended up with about 50, which we promptly made ourselves sick on. St. Malo was pretty, it reminded me a bit of Bath – pretty, with a wealthy/slightly touristy feel and well-kept, linear buildings.

A street in St. Malo

Great minds think alike! Black jacket: check. Black jeans: check. White sneakers: check. Scarf: check. Lookin good.

We walked along the ramparts in St. Malo, which is a fortified city. Simon loves sweets, and had bought himself a beignet (doughnut), and was eating it while we walked along. All of a sudden, a huge seagull attacked and clawed at his hand, knocking the beignet to the ground, where about five other seagulls swooped in and carried it away!

The sea

Team photo in St. Malo

Simon preparing crêpes for dinner - we also had homemade cider with dinner, crêpes and cider being specialties of Bretagne/Brittany

Pig farm visiting gear (yes, we kept the hats.)

I was trying to play it cool, petting the horse and letting it nuzzle my hand, and it bit my fist… stupid city slicker.

Farm buildings, possibly the neighbour's house?

Chez Renault

Rue de la Soif (The Thirsty Street, as Simon's friend translated it for us)

Since we visited Mont St. Michel, St. Malo and Simon’s family farm, we really only saw Rennes by night, driving in to meet up with Simon’s friends and hit the town. I liked what I saw though, and I’m hoping to go back to see more of the city!

Speaking of Bretange, my parents just me sent a link to the bed and breakfast we’ll be staying at in Brest when they come to visit – it’s owned by the parents of a French baker my dad knows in Winnipeg, and his parents are bakers too!

http://lepassagedufour.free.fr/index.html

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