25 February 2013


I'm writing this week's blog in the wrong order. I told you the other day about my trip to Coulon because I was so impressed with it that I was keen to blog about it straight away. But the day before that Rob and I took the train to Lusignan having awoken to another perfect blue sky.

Lusignan is a small town situated south-west of Poitiers, on the edge of the Vonne valley. Despite being a sleepy town today, Lusignan has enjoyed an eventful history. Named after the powerful Lusignan family in the 11th century, the town has in times gone by been home to Lords that were also kings of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Armenia. Lusignan is at the heart of the 'Melusine' region, an area associated with the Melusine fairy. The fairy is strongly recognized in the town, with a street named after her, several carvings of her on buildings, and even a restaurant bearing her name. Legend has it that the château of Lusignan was in fact built in the 10th century by the Melusine fairy for her husband.

Today all that remains of the château are the outlining fortifications. At the top of this are the old castle grounds, which have since been turned into a large open landscaped garden which are beautiful to walk through as well as giving impressive views over the valley and distant viaduct.

Apart from this there is the imposing 11th century Eglise Notre-Dame et Saint-Julien and the wooden market place. The town itself is also very pretty with its cute cobbled streets, attractive houses, and pictoresque views.

Had the bus and train connections allowed us to spend a couple more hours there, Rob and I would probably have taken a walk in the woods below the town, which we briefly had a look at.

We both really liked Lusignan, but I think if the weather hadn't been on our side we would have struggled to find things to do and we would have got a much different impression of the place. While I wouldn't rush back there, as I feel I've seen all there is to see, I'd recommend popping by if you are ever nearby.

21 February 2013

Strolling in the Marais Poitevin

I've just come home from a day out that I HAVE to tell you about. I forgot to mention it in my last post, but Rob has been staying with me since last Thursday, and is here until next Tuesday, so we've been doing a bit of touristy stuff together seeing as I have my 2 week holiday from work. So today we went to a village called Coulon, and it is a place I really recommend.

Coulon is just to the west of Niort, and is the capital of the "Venise Verte" (Green Venice) which is part of the Marais Poitevin, a large marshland that stretches west from Niort to the Atlantic coast. On the map below, the green and yellow bits are the Marais Poitevin:

This week's weather has been absolutely glorious -  I have not seen a cloud in the sky since last Friday, and so this seemed like a good opportunity to go and venture to this part of the region. Rob and I originally tried to go on Monday, but sue to the supposedly correct bus not turning up for us in Niort, we had to change plans. We then found out you have to RESERVE THE BUS that goes to Coulon. What is this madness?? Anyway, conforming to French craziness that still suprises me from time to time, I phoned up the bus company this morning, telling them which stop I wanted to get on at, which stop I wanted to get off at, and which time I wanted, along with my name, my address, my phone number, and my date of birth. I have no idea what I've signed up to. In any case, we arrived in Coulon at lunch time, found a boulangerie, got a fresh baguette, and had a mini picnic in the square in the town centre in the beautiful sunshine. All the buildings and paving are in clean, bright cream stone, so it was so so pretty! 

But the gem of the town/village is the part on the Sèvre niortaise river. With coloured shutters on the cute buildings on the quay, little wooden boats lining the edge of the water, and willow trees blowing in the breeze, Coulon is postcard perfect. Rob and I took a stroll along the banks, and with the bright sun glistening on the water, it couldn't have looked lovelier. On a crisp February day like today the town was very tranquil and quiet, but we could both see how it could be heaving in high-season. There are obviously many companies from which you can rent out a boat for a few hours, and there are quite a few restaurants there considering its modest size, so perhaps Coulon isn't so quaint in the summer, but it's somewhere I'd definitely come back to and would recommend to others.

So, if you're ever in mid-West France and fancy going for a stroll somewhere, go to Coulon!

14 February 2013

A certain cheeky little word

What do I have to do to get 18 year olds to enjoy English?! I've just done 2 hours of teaching for which I chose a theme that I thought would be of interest to them, hoping they would therefore be more enthusiastic than when I try to make them debate the pros and cons of bearing arms. The topic I decided on was British slang - showing them a video which explains different slang words, getting them to do a worksheet on the meanings of the words, and finally role playing a conversation amongst British teenagers, including these newly learnt terms. More blank faces. I even came to the conclusion that one of my pupils is perhaps deaf and mute, due to the lack of response I got from him, even when standing 5 inches away from him (seeing him out the window 30 seconds ago conversing normally with friends as he left the cantine has since disproved my suspicions). Surely a direct translation of 'the dog's bollocks' into French warrants a little smirk, no?

Anyway, I didn't come here to rant, I know it could be 20 times worse. The reason for today's spontaneous blog post was to try and figure out what exactly the word 'cheeky' means. I don't mean when it's used by adults reprimanding their insolent child by telling him 'Don't be cheeky'. I mean when youths of today put it in front of a noun to make it sound somewhat light-hearted and perhaps slightly rebellious. This was one of the words on my list of British slang for today's classes, and I literally couldn't explain it to my pupils, in English or in French.

I've since looked on Urban Dictionary (the best invention in the world, ever, even more so than sliced bread) but all the entries there haven't quite hit the nail on the head in capturing its meaning and usage.

Off the top of my head, here are some cheeky sentences to demonstrate what usage I am referring to:

"I'm just popping to the pub for a cheeky pint"
"Couldn't resist another cheeky photo of the cathedral"
"I live in a cheeky little town called Melle"
"Fancy hitting Oxford Street for a cheeky bit of retail therapy?"

I suppose, in reflection, 'cheeky' is mostly used when you're doing something a teeny weeny bit rebellious, or used when in fact you should be doing something else. But as my third example demonstrates, the word really can be used anywhere - there simply is nothing naughty about an innocent little historic town in the French countryside.

I guess it's just one of those words in the English language that has become totally overused and has therefore lost its meaning. I'm not having a go at its overuse, I quite like the word, and would even go so far as to say I use it myself from time to time, but it just caught my attention when I was teaching today, and had to admit to the class 'In fact, I'm unable to explain what it means'.

Right, I'm off to have a cheeky French yoghurt now. Bye! :P

12 February 2013

Bordeaux et beaucoup d'eau

I reckon a lot can be said for a place that impresses even in relentless rain. Especially for me - anyone who knows me well can confirm that bad weather has a very negative effect on my mood. The place in question is Bordeaux.

Bordeaux on the other side of the Pont de Pierre

Spending 2 nights in what is commonly referred to as 'Little Paris', I can definitely say it's up there in my top 3 places in France. After arriving late afternoon on Friday with Mike and Sonia, we made our way to our cheap hotel we'd booked, checked in, laughed at the lack of bathroom in our room which was in fact just a frosted shower door that opened straight into the rest of the room, then went to explore Bordeaux's centre. We set out just in time to see the sun going down over the city from the other side of the river, and about 30 seconds after we took obligatory sunset pictures, the sun was gone. 

We arrived at the river's edge just in time to see this gorgeous sunset over the city

Turns out that was our only luck with the weatherman for the whole weekend, as from that point forward the rain pretty much didn't cease. Of course there's only one thing to do when you're out in a city and it's raining, and that is, find a bar or a café. Our watches told us it was most definitely time for alcohol, so we found a cute little place and had an apéro before going to eat in a pizzeria that Mike had recommended from when he had come a few years ago. With 3 courses for 14€ we couldn't go wrong, and my foie gras followed by calzone followed by crème brulée was yummy yummy yummy.

If a calzone is on the menu...I'm having it.
Likewise with a crème brulée

Being in Bordeaux, it would seem illegal not to drink copious amounts of red wine, so we continued to a wine bar, sat down, looked at the wine list of about 500 different wines, naturally chose the cheapest bottle (still 16€...), had a sip each, Sonia and I decided it wasn't too great and we'd propbably had enough wine for the night, and left Mike to finish the bottle. Seeing as Bethan was to be arriving quite early the next morning, we decided to call it a night and walked back to the hotel sporting sexy dark red lips...

Pretty Bordeaux lights on the river at night

Cue the arrival on Saturday morning of everyone's favourite Welsh girl, Bethan... 

...And cue more rain. Saturday was a mixture of shopping, going into cafés to escape the weather, and eating. 

Nutella beignet? Yes please.
Of course, we managed to slip in a bit of sightseeing as well, including going into the Cathédrale Saint-André which was pretty impressive.

The impressive Cathédrale Saint-André with it's humungous organ at the back
The colonnes des girondins

La Porte Cailhau - one of the many medieval gates in the old city walls
Sonia, Bethan and I outside the Cathedral
Being with a Welsh person who is into her rugby, we couldn't not go to the pub and watch the France-Wales game. Having never before liked or understood rugby, I thought maybe this time might be different. But no, I still neither like the game nor understand it. It was quite cool hearing a packed pub sing La Marseillaise together at the beginning though, and was also interesting being the only people supporting Wales...

Having joined up with a few more assistants, we all went for a meal together, where I had one of the most lusciously tender and flavoursome steaks I've ever had, followed by another crème brulée

Steak-frites with Bordelais sauce. Oh my God, salivating simply with the memory

With it being Mike's and Sonia's birthdays this week, and Helena's (another Poitiers assistant who was also in Bordeaux this weekend) birthday on Sunday, it only seemed appropriate to celebrate, so the group expanded and we ended up in some cool pirate bars serving daquiri slush-puppies.

Mike, Bethan and I looking our finest

We perhaps chose the worst moment possible to leave, as there was now an insane amount of water falling from the Bordelais sky, so we highly resembled drowned rats when we arrived back at the hotel after a half hour walk.

A rather damp Bordeaux at night
Brunch on Sunday morning was a very exciting affair. We had been recommended to go to a place called Karl, so we thought we'd give it a try, and I think I can speak on behalf of all the others when I say it was literally the best brunch ever. I had the creamiest oeufs cocottes, Sonia had this amazing fruit salad with granola with fromage blanc platter and Bethan had basically a breakfast Italian antipasto. But I would go there again simply for the bread and jam that they kept readily bringing to the table. And I'm going to stop reminiscing about Sunday morning or else I'll find myself back on the train to Bordeaux before I know it.

Fresh baguette, eggs, ham, fruit salad, granola, cheese, salami, sundried tomatoes, freshly squeezed OJ, jam, honey, nutella...aka brunchtime perfection at Karl's

And now, back in Melle, I have a cold. It was totally worth it though - Bordeaux is gorgeous, the company was brilliant, and the food and drink was superb. I will definitely be returning to this city in the future, although it would be nice to see it in sunshine!

Strange things happen when alcohol is involved
To keep my dad happy: A tram in front of the opera house

04 February 2013


I got a nice surpise message on my blog the other day, when I was informed that someone had nominated my blog for the iX13 (International eXchange and eXperience blog competition)! Merci mille fois to whoever that was, it really means a lot to know that someone appreciates what I write here, and that my 'memoirs' are serving as more than just a way of documenting my experiences for my own personal future benefit.

So now comes the part when I ask you all to PLEASE VOTE FOR ME! Voting's open until February 17th, and you can do so by visiting http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/vote-for-your-favorite-ix13-blog. The list of blogs is in alphabetical order, so you'll find mine in the M section, obviously :P Thank you so so much to anybody that votes for mine! 

While I'm writing a new post, I may as well tell you what I've been up to the past week. The main event was going to Poitiers for the day on Friday with Mike. This was the 4th main time I've been to Poitiers, and it was the 4th timed it rained whilst I was there. Needless to say, my impressions of Poitiers aren't the greatest. Nevertheless, we managed to have an enjoyable day, despite the weather and despite having to wake up at 6:30am in order to meet our CoVoiturage chauffeur so as to make transport a lot easier and cheaper. We decided to be touristy, and went inside the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, the Notre-Dame la Grande Church, and the Palais de Justice where it took over 5 minutes at the security in the entrance after we were asked to open every single bag-in-a-bag we had, and where at one point I thought I was going to end up naked the way they were going, asking me to remove item of clothing after item of clothing to see what the guilty metallic object was that was setting off the doodah. The rest of the day was spent shopping, eating, café-ing, getting wetter and wetter, and eventually meeting up with Bethan and a friend of Mike's.
The beautiful painted interior of the Cathédrale

What else.... oh yeah, it was finally sunny this weekend! It was so gorgeous in fact that I ended up going for 2 walks on Sunday and discovering that Melle is actually bigger than I thought it was so that to my surprise I ended up getting lost.
Layer of ice on a crisp sunny morning in Melle

Eglise Saint-Pierre, Melle

The pretty woodland area at the bottom of my road

I also got a shock yesterday when I walked out of my flat to find 3 chickens by the door. I knew from then on it was going to be a good day!
My Sunday morning surprise. Bonjour Messieurs les Poules!

More exciting news - this evening I have booked a hotel for Mike, Sonia, Bethan and myself to stay in in Bordeaux at the weekend. It's been on my to-go list for ages, so I'm really looking forward to that....although I've just checked the weather forecast and rain's due the whole time we're there.