A Travellerspoint blog

Our Winter

The rest of the story

rain 10 °C

So despite what we've said on here and implied, our winter has actually been quite difficult. The job that I got originally at a school in Nice turned out to be the worst I've ever had, and it didn't work out there for long. Luke got a couple of weeks work in but that dried up as well because there wasn't any work to be done. In that time, we tried to spend as little as possible, and we both worked at marketing our skills to work on our own by distributing flyers - Luke to fix boats and computers, and myself to teach private English lessons. I built up a client base and was enjoying doing it, but it nowhere near sustained us. Meanwhile, our bills kept coming out of our accounts back home and our financial hole kept deepening.
The most difficult thing about this time was that we had to spend so much time at home without much to do, as we couldn't justify going out because that almost always entailed spending money, and the weather was sometimes quite bad. Our days felt long and we went a little stir crazy, driving each other a little nuts too. We were feeling pretty down and discouraged at both not working and not finding work, though we've heard from many people that Nice is a difficult place to find work. We'd considered coming home early, but kept putting it off, hoping we'd find something. (Sorry to have misrepresented our experience by only giving out the fun bits. I didn't feel like sharing that we were having a tough time, and I thought it isn't fun to read about the blues. It's also better to hear about it later when things turn around)

So here's the turnaround:
Finally, I found a job at a bar in Old Town worked by English speakers and foreigners. The tourist season is a huge deal here in Nice - more so than Victoria by a long shot, so the hospitality industry is gearing up. I got in without any experience as a waitress - something I've thought I would enjoy, and I do. My co-workers are terrifically nice and were all fast friends; every night that I'm working, the people who have their day off are often in having drinks and hanging out. We start at 5 and finish at 3 am, and then I bike home. It's a fun job, and we get to listen to live music almost every night - some of them, like the band last night, are really good!

And shortly after I got this job, I got a call from a company in Sophia Antipolis (30 min. drive from Nice) who hires English speaking teachers to teach several classes in English to French students in French public schools. A friend I play ultimate with passed my resume on to his mother who had connections there, and when something came up, they called me :) I now have an English literature class in Middle school for only 4 hours per week, and I get the wage of the 8 yr. exp teacher I'm replacing, along with on-call jobs here and there. I started on Monday and my class is great. (I'm teaching Romeo and Juliet this spring! :) This school is excellent (miles ahead of dog and pony show I was working for before) and pays very well.

So now I have 2 jobs, and when they work together, I have a day like Monday - I got up at 5:30 after having worked until midnight the night before (St. Paddy's day was, of course, a busy night). I had my class until 10, and then I picked up an afternoon in another class, whose teacher was sick. Then I caught the bus back to town, met Luke at the other job with my work clothes an hour late (foregoing my break), and worked until 3 am, and in bed by 4. Bit exhausting, but it feels good to be busy and finally making money! Luke is still looking for work, but the season should be starting soon for boat work, so we're hopeful he'll be working soon too :)

Posted by Meghan.Gardner 11:27 Archived in France Comments (0)

Nice Carnaval 2013

Nice Carnaval 2013

10 °C

For three weeks each year, Nice holds Carnaval - a giant celebration with parades, fireworks and other festivities. The opening celebrations were free and Place Massena was jam packed with people armed with confetti and silly spray. There was a show of dancers from a crane to music, sprinkling sparkling confetti over the crowd that caught the light as it fluttered to the ground, twinkling like stars. The King and Queen - giant floats - entered the square afterward, and they were followed up with a pyrotechnic display to pop music.

The next three weeks, there were a couple of different parades to see. The one we saw was the Flower Parade - complete with all the costumed dancers and musicians along with the enormous floral floats with a lady in costume tossing flowers to the crowds. The atmosphere here, like that of the opening ceremonies, was tremendously festive with confetti, streamers and silly spray in the air everywhere. The line to buy tickets for the parade was way too long, so we found an electrical box to stand on so we could see over the barriers :)


On the last night of the carnaval, they burn the king and send him burning on a float out into the ocean, and follow it with a fireworks display. The smokey pictures are of the chateau that looked like they had released a bunch of smoke behind the trees, giving it a very mystical look.


Posted by Meghan.Gardner 11:13 Archived in France Comments (1)


Czech Republic

snow -14 °C

Last weekend, I got a chance to go to Prague with a couple of Polish friends living and playing ultimate in Nice. The tournament was called Prague Winter, and we joined up their women's team from Poland. It was a long journey to keep costs down - train to the border of Italy (45 min), train to Milan (4 hours), bus to the airport (1 hour), flight to Prague (1.5 hours), then sorting out the bus system when we arrived. With all the waiting in between transport, it took all day.
We arrived in Prague to find -14 degree weather - haven't felt cold like this in quite a while, even when we go skiing at home! Felt very wintery indeed - I bought a "winter coat" in Nice, but after walking to and from the tournament in it (about 10 minutes), I concluded it was way too thin to be considered a winter coat in Prague. Glad I had my big red mittens and wool scarves.
We stayed in the university dorms - functional but very run-down, giant rectangular blocks in two rows with peeling paint. I'm told that housing buildings look like this in much of post-communist Eastern Europe outside the charm of the main town centre. Did the job though, and it was cheap.
Our team placed 4th in the tournament, of 12 teams - we were quite happy, not having played with each other much before. While at the cafe at the tourney, I met a fellow Canadian, Eloise, who lives with her boyfriend in Prague. She invited me to their co-ed practice Monday night.

On Sunday night, after most of the team had gone home, Balbina, Dorotha and I walked down through a wooded park in the snow to the town centre. It was still cold but had warmed up enough to not be so biting, and we were quite comfortable to just walk around and take it in. In our course, we discovered the Charles Bridge, which looked lovely in the lightly falling snow. Unfortunately, I thought it would continue to snow for my next few days in Prague and didn't bring my camera with me that night - that was a mistake, because the next couple of days were much warmer and rainy. After walking for a while, we found a cafe to sit out under the heaters with blankets in the old town square with hot wine.

I planned to stay until Wednesday, so on Monday, I made my way to a Starbucks for WIFi and to wait out a couple hours before I could check in to my accommodations for the next couple of nights - I found a family on AirBnB to stay with - too bad that they found out the weekend before that they would move to a new flat in a week and therefore had boxes and a mess everywhere. They were friendly though, but I felt glad to have a reason to go out :)
Practice was great - I couldn't believe the level of play in Prague - it was really high. Very few turnovers in drills, the group was very fit, and even the women threw hammers for points. I'm not surprised that two Prague teams won the tournament. Strange thing about practice in Prague was that everyone all changes and showers in the same room.

The following day, it was raining - which made seeing all the sights that Elo told me about, but I did my best to keep spirits up with frequent stops at cafes for americanos, hot wine, and goulash. I walked around the outside of the castle and got a view of the city; walked down towards the bridge and into the Old Town. I bought a pass for the Jewish Quarter and saw the museum, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the magnificent Spanish Synagogue.
I'd made plans with Elo and her boyfriend Lukas to meet after work for dinner. She took me to see a couple of statues I hadn't seen yet - King Wenceslas on a horse, the statue of him on a dead upside-down horse that the sculptor did as a joke, and the statue of Sigmund Freud hanging from a pole by the neck. She used to be a sort of tour-guide assistant in Prague, so she had a story to tell me about each one. We found a Czech restaurant for some food, and Lukas suggested we each order something different and pass plates part-way through. We had a full sampling of dumplings, cabbage, beef, pork, duck, each in it's own gravy or sauce, washed down with famous Czech beer - delish!

Posted by Meghan.Gardner 06:35 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Skiing in the Southern Alps

Allos and Pra Loup

sunny -1 °C

I got the chance to go skiing with a friend over the holidays - gotta love ultimate connections! Camille (our friend) and his sister Mathilde, with their family, have a chalet about 20 minutes from a large ski resort. They were planning on heading up, and given that the lift tickets were only 30 euro for the day, it was a pretty sweet deal. Turns out the deal was even better because Mathilde is almost exactly the same size as me, so she lent me everything I needed so I didn't need to rent a thing. That meant that I could ski both days :D There were five of us for the three nights in the cozy chalet and it was a great few days. Skiing during the days, and wine, foie gras and games in the evenings. The ski hill itself is very different terrain from our mountains back home - lots of wide open hills and often very few trees. We had beautiful sunny weather the entire weekend, which made the scenery that much more stunning. There also seems to be fewer "runs" per lift - there are quite a few lifts, but they're very spread out over a vast amount of space.
Instead of narrow chutes through trees, there are very wide open spaces where, in fresh conditions, you could make fresh tracks all day long. In our case, the snow was a bit crusty so we had to stick to the groomers mostly.

Camille does what's called "speed riding" - a more apt name for it might be para skiing, or kite skiing, or even ski flying. He's got a parachute-type wing attached to a harness he's wearing, and he skis down a slope and can pretty much ski off a cliff, soaring his way down to the next snowy bit to rejoin a run. I got a picture, but it's a little far away to get a good view of it.

The resort we were close to, Allos, was joined with another - Pra Loup, and your day pass is good for both of them. On the second day, we took a series of lifts all the way across to the other side, where we spent the day. I'd thought we were just going to the back of the mountain, but behold - another entire bustling ski village! We ate lunch on the hill and after another full day, we alternated skiing and the lift, making our long way back to the other side. At the end of each day, three of us went in a little earlier than Camille and Mathilde - we were tired and in need of hot chocolate.

We got back in time on Monday to have a relaxing afternoon before the champagne started flowing for New Years Eve. We began our night in our apartment with some of our roommate's friends, and then headed downtown to see the fireworks people were setting off everywhere and listen to all of the honking and yelling. It was very festive and lively. Eventually we made our way to a club where we danced until about 4 am - first time out in a long time!
Happy New Year everyone!

Posted by Meghan.Gardner 15:43 Archived in France Comments (0)

Christmas in Nice

Christmas in Nice

11 °C

It's Christmas Eve, and here we are, three months in to our time here in France. Luke and I are spending a quiet evening at home after a chef salad and soup for dinner. Our roommate, Cyril, just left to head to his parents' house for Christmas dinner - the main Christmas dinner in France is held Christmas Eve. After thinking about this, it makes sense because most people buy the food for meals every day almost, for fresh ingredients. If stores are closed on the day of the meal, they wouldn't have fresh bread to go with the meal.
We are planning a small pork roast for Christmas dinner - it will be just us, and potentially our roommates as well. While the weather continues to be quite mild, Nice gets fully decked out in decorations for Christmas. Place Massena is right next to Old Nice has a carnival Christmas village atmosphere, complete with ranging displays of colour changing lights, a skating rink, and an enormous ferris wheel that can be seen from miles away.

Cyril included everyone in the apartment on a Provencal Christmas tradition of planting lentils. We took some cotton and packed it into small glass cups, put in some water, and topped them with nice layer of lentils: IMG_4757.jpgIMG_4758.jpgIMG_4759.jpg As you can see, they get lots of light and have sprouted nicely. Luke, ever the competitive soul, tried to undermine the process by putting sunglasses over mine and moving mine back from the sun, but to no avail - my lentil plant persevered :P

And lately we have been able to drive around in the little Fiat Cincicento that Cyril owns - for some share in the cost, he put our names on the insurance so now we can get home if we want to be out late in Antibes. This is very handy! We've both gotten used to the chaotic feel of the traffic, and traffic circles; we've even practiced double parking on people. The little car is super old though. We tried heading to Monaco the other day for a hike but had to turn around when the coolant started leaking everywhere. We'll get that fixed this week before further adventures, but in any event, there's always the train.

That is our lives up until this point. We are on skype if anyone would like to chat with us - it's always nice to catch up. Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

Posted by Meghan.Gardner 10:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

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