“Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.” – Eleanor Hibbert

The final week of my time in France is upon me. In a week’s time, I’ll have left Laval for the last time and will be in (hopefully) sunny Toulouse; in just over two weeks’ time, I’ll be back in little old Lincoln for some well earned rest and relaxation. My feelings about this are summed up fairly well in this tweet:

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The goodbyes have begun. On Wednesday night, Matt and I had our leaving party (the final gathering chez moi) featuring much pizzas and many wine. About twenty of our friends came. Towards the end, we were each presented with an A4-sized card, filled with messages about how much we’d be missed, how people wished they’d had more time to get to know us, how we’d always have somewhere to stay in their respective countries. I’ve just reread it (now sober) and it was just as moving the second time round. This card triggered an important realisation. Somehow, in amongst struggling with French bureaucracy, getting to grips with my job, and trying to maximise the amount of French spoken, I’ve managed to build some sort of coherent life here. It’s not the same as the life I have in Lincoln, or the life I have in Oxford, but that is not to say that it is worse. It’s just different. I’ve made friends, and good friends at that; I’ve managed to make the most of the weekends; I even feel like I’ve done a fairly good job at work. In other words, I’ve survived the experience of living like a fully functioning adult for the first time. Could anything be more emblematic of this than the fact that I created a LinkedIn profile the other day?

The past six months have, undoubtedly, been some of the most formative of my life so far. I have no regrets with how I chose to spend the French part of my year abroad. Yes, my job has sometimes been difficult, no, Laval is not exactly a throbbing metropolis, and yes, I am slightly relieved to have heard that life in Spain is (considerably) less bureaucratic, but, honestly, everything has come together and resulted in some considerable self-growth. My bosses’ often unnecessarily harsh approach has made me less sensitive to criticism; Laval’s (actually really quite perfect) size has meant that friendships have been strengthened around organising day or weekend trips away; the bureaucracy, frustrating as it is, has actually been quite useful for French practice. If year abroad has taught me anything, it’s that the experience is very often (and that is not to say 100% of the time) what you make of it. As in life, there are always going to be hard parts but (and I can speak only from my own experience here), they are almost always cancelled out by the good parts.

I think I’m in danger of falling into the trap of waffling here, so I’ll leave it there. But, in summary, it will be with very mixed emotions that I board the train out of Laval on Saturday. I will never forget the time that I’ve spent here, and I hope that some of the people I’ve met will be friends for life; equally, I’m ready to move on to the next thing. Fingers crossed that it will be as far-reaching an experience as the past six months have proved themselves to be.

“Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” – John Keats

My time in France is drawing to a close and, in less than four weeks from now, I will have left Laval for the last time. The fact that I’ve now been here for five months is bizarre; I’ve learnt and done so many things but, equally, I feel very ready to leave.

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Day One seems like a looooong time ago…

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a great time. I didn’t know it at the time when I was organising my placement, but I landed very firmly on my feet with living in Laval. I’ve made more friends than I’d ever imagined – which was, and still is, a massive relief – and the town itself is, for me, perfect for a year abroad student. It’s not expensive, it’s neither too big nor too small, and one can easily find everything necessary for day-to-day life.

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Laval being cute

But there are other aspects of being here with which my frustration has run its course. My internship, for one. I’ve learnt a lot from it, most of which are transferable skills that’ll be useful for any job, and the majority of the people I work with have been indispensable work colleagues – Matt has before described the château team as a “big, dysfunctional family” – but it has not been stress-free. The work can sometimes be dull and is invariably thankless and one of the bosses is extremely volatile whilst the other doesn’t really believe in workers’ rights meaning that any extra hours (of which there have been many) are unpaid and unappreciated or even unnoticed. However, as I’ve said before, it is extremely varied (most of the time), the adult clients are, almost without exception, interesting and kind to talk to, running the courses for teenagers is, erm, interesting (and would definitely be fun if you enjoyed working with children more than I do), and, despite their flaws, the bosses do ultimately care about their interns and want us to enjoy ourselves. My complaints are probably little more than highly reflective of my lack of experience in the workplace, and I’ll definitely finish the placement better equipped to tackle whatever future work might throw at me than I was when I arrived. Also, I feel like my level of French has improved enormously – which is, after all, why the year abroad is a compulsory part of my degree.

I wrote about some of the other frustrations about living in France in a previous post, so I won’t bore you by repeating them here. Suffice to say that there are some things that never get any less annoying and/or bewildering.

Another thing that I’ve tried to make the most of during my time here has been the opportunity to see a bit more of France. Before arriving, I’d been to the country a handful of times but definitely felt that, as a French student, my knowledge of it should be considerably better. Laval’s unexpectedly excellent transport links and the popularity of organising covoiturage through sites such as BlaBlaCar have meant that I can now proudly say that I’ve visited quite a few of the northwest’s major cities, namely Nantes, Rennes, Angers, Le Mans, and Tours. Last weekend, a friend came to stay and we took a day trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, which was every bit as spectacular as I’d hoped.

And my travels aren’t over yet: the day after finishing my internship, I’m leaving Laval for good and going to the south of France for a week with some friends from the foyer. We’re going to Toulouse, Carcassonne, Montpellier, and Avignon, and then I’m getting the train back to Paris and flying to Budapest, where I’m spending a long weekend with my friend Sarah, who is currently doing a year abroad in Vienna. Then, finally I’m flying back to the UK, where I’ll spend a week with my family and a few days in Oxford.

And THEN – apologies for the monologue – I’m going to Spain for the second half of my year abroad! After a bit of a mare with sorting this part out (long story…), fourteen weeks starting from the beginning of March are now organised. I wanted something totally different to my experience in France, and it seems pretty safe to say that that’s exactly what I’ve ended up with. I’m spending the first four weeks volunteering in a hostel (in exchange for free accommodation and some food) in Granada, which I have heard is spectacular from literally everyone I’ve mentioned it to and, if my cursory research is anything to go by, seems like a pretty cool city. From there, I’ve got a Ryanair flight to Santiago de Compostela, home of the famous pilgrim trail, the Camino de Santiago, and about as geographically far from Granada as it is possible to be without crossing a Spanish border. In Santiago, I’ve got a ten-week internship with a company called ESN Santiago, an organisation that helps Erasmus students to integrate and arranges activites within the city for them. Being an Erasmus student and a keen museum-goer myself, I think it sounds as if it should be a lot of fun and will lead, hopefully, to making friends with some fellow year abroad students. It is, sadly, unpaid, but my Erasmus grant should be enough to tide me over for the ten weeks.

So, that’s the update on what my life is going to look like over the next few months. Coming back to France after Christmas was tough because I had such a nice weekend in Paris with my friend Katy followed by a glorious week and a half at home with my family, but the end is near and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to something new and saying hola to Spain.

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Marthe Troly-Curtin

Oxford is many things, and the description you get of it depends very much upon who you ask; it is amazing and terrible, life-affirming and soul-destroying, and sometimes everything all at once. What seems to be universally agreed upon, however, is the fact that Oxford terms are of a mercilessly high intensity, with literally every hour of every day accounted for in some way, and the combination of an obscene workload, a booming social life, and the frustrating necessity of sleep means that every block of eight weeks passes in the blink of an eye.

I knew that going on my year abroad would be very different to how I have lived my life for the past few years and would offer a welcome break from Oxford’s rigorously academic environment (which some, including, at times, myself, would describe as nothing less than a toxic melting pot of perfectionism, constant pressure, and untreated mental health problems); what I wasn’t quite so prepared for was the absolute bliss of having evenings and weekends completely to myself, without the constant presence of an essay or translation hanging over my head.

Let’s be clear here: my life in France is exhausting in a completely different way to my life in Oxford. Most days, I work from 8am until 5.20pm, meaning that I leave the foyer at 7.15am for a 10-minute bus journey followed by a 20-minute walk, and get back at about 6.15pm. Throw in the once-weekly night that I’m expected to sleep over at the château to help with clients in the evening and you’ve got yourself a fairly relentless working week. And all whilst contracted for a 35-hour week (the existence of which is a myth, by the way) and receiving approximately €3.30 an hour for the trouble. I kid you not.

Additionally, as may be clear from my previous posts, I’ve got a busier social life than I could ever have expected. But, for almost the first time since I started university, socialising is a guilt-free activity. I can come home from work and go to a bar (or, more likely, the Irish pub down the road) without feeling like I should be at my desk, slaving away over some obscure 16th-century Spanish poetry. Equally, if I feel like staying for a quiet night in chez moi, I need have no qualms about spending two hours cooking dinner (usually curry, in case you were wondering) and then spending the following two hours scrolling aimlessly through ASOS looking at clothes that my measly intern wage does not stretch to. Although my working day is nine hours long, it finishes at the end of those nine hours; any time afterwards is mine to while away. I’m looking forward to going back to Oxford for fourth year for a lot of reasons, but the unrelenting sense of having something productive and important to be doing is, categorically, not one of them.

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The Thanksgiving party that I mentioned in my last post was, I’m pleased to say, a roaring success: 20 people successfully squeezed into my room and the food was outstanding. I have literally never seen such a vast array of dishes in the same place: to name a few, we had guacamole, cauliflower cheese (which, I would like to add, I made from scratch with my own fair hands), Waldorf salad, candied yams (essentially sweet potatoes cooked in sugar), Spanish tortilla, and devilled eggs. By the end, hungry we were not.

On a different subject, I’ve finally managed to organise myself and sort something out for my Spanish year abroad, albeit it only for the first six weeks. From the beginning of March, I’m going to be volunteering in a hostel in Granada in the south of Spain, a placement that I found on a website called Workaway. Anyone can advertise for volunteers on the site, with the idea being that they offer accommodation and, usually, some food in exchange for a few hours of work a day. My initial plan was to spend the Spanish half of my year abroad in South America, specifically Bolivia followed by Argentina; however, this is no longer possible due to a difficult family situation, and so I will content myself with getting to know a bit more about Spain. The only place I’ve visited before is Barcelona which, from what I can gather, is quite different from the rest of Spain anyway, and so I’m looking forward to spending time in some different Spanish cities even if it’s not what I originally had in mind.

Speaking of visiting different cities, I’m spending this weekend in Tours with five other girls from the foyer. Again, I can’t emphasise enough how surprised and delighted I am that my French friendships have developed to the point of going for a weekend away together. Tours is in an area full of (apparently) beautiful châteaux and we’re going to visit a couple of them on Saturday before spending the evening and the following day in Tours itself (which, rather excellently, happens to have a Christmas market on during this very weekend). Then there’s only one weekend left in Laval before I finish work for Christmas. My time here may not be quite as packed full as the time I’ve spent in Oxford has been, at least definitely not in the same way; however, it is certainly going by just as quickly, and my quiet little life in Laval is certainly teaching me just as much as Oxford has done.

“La variété, c’est la vie, l’uniformité, c’est la mort.” – Benjamin Constant

There are only three weeks left until I finish work for two (hard-won) weeks of holiday at Christmas, meaning that I am now well over halfway through my time in France. My posts up until this point have contained little other than a continuous summary of my life in France and, as thrilling as that is, the time has probably come to begin reflecting more broadly on what I’ve learnt so far. This post will be my first attempt to do so.

Obviously, the biggest challenge presented by doing a year abroad is that of being thrown into the culture of another country and, although England and France are in many ways almost indistinguishable, there are some things about the latter and its people that I have found, and continue to find, completely baffling. Variety is, indeed, the spice of life and many of France’s quirks add to its charm, but some of them are remarkably frustrating for somebody unaccustomed to them. The following list contains a selection of five things – mostly, if I’m honest, sources of frustration – that have struck me over and over again during the time I have so far spent living in France.

  1. The reluctance of French people to speak French to non-native speakers. As a languages student whose primary reason for being here is to speak French, this is particularly grating; many a time have I braced myself to speak French only to have then opened my mouth, said one sentence – and received a reply in English. And, contrary to my beliefs before arriving, it’s not as if the French have generally got a stellar grasp of the English language, so why do many of them continue to make life difficult for everyone involved by refusing to converse with anyone who possesses anything less than a flawless French accent? Maybe I’m being hypersensitive here, but I know that my French is, by now, perfectly understandable – so why is it that some people still seem doggedly determined not to understand me, and instead choose to put themselves through the trauma of attempting to speak English? Not only is it unnecessary, it’s also extremely disheartening – and I like to think that I would always try my absolute utmost to understand and respond to a non-native English speaker, regardless of accent or level of fluency. I know that I will always be extra sure to do so in the future.
  2. Nothing – at least, nothing of any use – is open on Sundays. Even Parisians are barely exempt from the French legislation that means that only supermarkets (but not, apparently, hypermarkets), shops catering largely for tourists, and boulangeries, amongst some other small shops, are allowed to open on Sundays – and even then only until 13h00. If it’s bread or cigarettes that you’re hankering after (#Frenchstereotypes), you’re sorted; anything else and you’ll have to wait until Monday, when normal service resumes. According to this article, changes regarding Sunday opening hours are soon to be implemented, but I imagine that this will affect Laval to an almost non-existent degree. Despite just having read something describing France as “an overwhelmingly Catholic country”, the annoying rules regarding Sunday opening hours is one of the only ways that I’ve seen this supposed Catholicism in action. Thankfully, the Irish pub down the road from the foyer opens as normal – it’s the small things, eh?
  3. “Tu es végétarienne? Alor, donc tu manges le poulet?” No, actually, I don’t. But, on the other hand, I do eat fish (technically making me a pescetarian), eggs, and dairy products, meaning that I’m not “une vraie végétarienne” according to one of the women I work with, who thinks that real vegetarians don’t eat any of those things. Why is it so difficult to distinguish between vegetarians and vegans? Probably because there are seemingly so bloody few of either of them, and fear of ridicule and complete lack of understanding could well be enough to make those who do exist want to keep their status as “one of them” as secret as possible. I’d been working at the château for about two months before I plucked up enough courage to tell my boss that I was vegetarian – and, trust me, I’d have waited longer if circumstance had allowed for it. And don’t even get me started on restaurants: in Laval, almost all of the restaurants I’ve visited have had no meat-free offerings whatsoever on their menu. In one crêperie, the waiter actually laughed when I said that I didn’t eat meat. I understand that the French are, seemingly almost without exception, massive meat-lovers, but that doesn’t excuse or explain the reluctance to cater for those who aren’t – especially given France’s status as the world’s most popular tourist destination. (I wrote an article for The Oxford Student about my experience of being a vegetarian in France. You can read it here).
  4. Cheddar just doesn’t exist. This is the country that produces somewhere between 350 and 450 distinct types of cheese, dedicates whole supermarket aisles to the stuff for which it is famous, and eats it as a stand-alone course between main and dessert almost everyday. Despite this national love of cheese which, believe you me, I have grown to share, there is apparently not a single dairy producer in France able to roll out (pun intended) a half-decent cheddar or something like it. I like goats’ cheese, Roquefort, and Camembert as much as (or possibly more than) the next person, but sometimes I just want some good ol’ cheddar to sprinkle over my pasta. As I discovered in my first few weeks here, Emmental doesn’t taste like anything at all and so, needless to say, is a shockingly poor substitute; the best I’ve found so far is Comte, but it’s still got a long way to go before coming close to rivalling that bastion of British cheese, Cathedral City Extra Strong.
  5. Wine costs the same as tomato juice. In bars in Laval, at least. Tomato juice might seem a strange choice for comparison, but as it’s my soft drink of choice I know that all of the bars in town charge €2.50 for a 33cl bottle of the savoury, surprisingly addictive red stuff – which is the same price as a (large) glass of wine. Many an unexpectedly wild night has started with the question: why stick to juice when you can get wine for the same amount of money? Needless to say, this is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. And it gets better (or worse): whole bottles of dangerously drinkable wine can be bought in Carrefour for less than €2. Sara, my Canadian friend, put me onto a €1.60 Sauvignon and I’ve not looked back since; in the UK, I would expect to spend at least £4.50 on getting a bottle of wine that isn’t like vinegar. Almost all of the wine on offer is French, which probably goes some way to explaining the absurdly low prices, but the French know their wine – and I will definitely be taking advantage of this up until my very last day here.

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So yes. I’m very aware that this whole post probably seems like a long rant, but, actually, these quirks are fascinating; as I said earlier, variety is the spice of life.

On that note, I’m going to go and move some furniture around because, in about an hour’s time, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time ever and am yet to figure out how exactly 20 people are going to fit into my room for a sit-down meal. But I’m sure it’ll work out. Then, tonight, the Christmas lights in Laval are officially being switched on, and I will be bitterly disappointed if there isn’t a mulled wine stall to mark the occasion. I might even be prepared to pay more than €2.50 for a glass…

“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” – David Levithan

My blog posts all seem to start in the same way, so I might as well get it out of the way immediately: I’m sorry for not writing anything for absolutely ages. The apology must, of course, be followed by the same old excuse: I’ve been really busy. There. Now that that’s done and dusted, I’ll get on with telling you what’s been going on over the last few weeks here in the throbbing metropolis that is Laval.

In fact, life here is generally ticking over quite nicely. Of course, the same cannot be said for the whole of France, which has been shaken to the core by Friday’s horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. When I was crossing the city early on Saturday morning (more on which in a second), the atmosphere was thick with an overwhelming sense of fear and grief; the scale and violence of the attacks has still not really sunk in for anyone. The only thing that I can really express here is my horror and sadness, both of which have been made all the more palpable by the fact that the attacks took place in my (albeit temporary) country of residence. The title of this post is a small, almost meaningless gesture of peace and respect to everybody affected by the attacks, no matter how indirectly.

The reason I went through Paris on Saturday morning was to go home for the weekend. In a very uncharacteristic moment of decisiveness last Sunday, I spontaneously booked train and Eurostar tickets back to Oxford – and I can safely say that it was possibly the best decision I’ve made so far on my year abroad. Six of my best friends very kindly offered up their abode (#galpad) for a party on Saturday night, and friends and wine combined to ensure that an excellent evening was had by all. Never has the phrase “short but sweet” been more apt. The decision to go ahead with the visit, specifically the part requiring a trip across central Paris from Montparnasse station to Gare du Nord, was one made at 5.45am on Saturday morning after a night spent obsessively refreshing The Guardian’s live feed on the attacks. The metro journey was extremely nerve racking and I’ve rarely been as relieved as I was to reach Gare du Nord. Writing this, it has just hit me that I am fortunate that I was able to so easily leave the physical space; it will be quite some time, however, before the residents of Paris will be in any way able to distance themselves from Friday’s events.

When I finally got to Oxford (where it was raining, classic) more than seven hours after having left Laval, the fun began.

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#gals

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With my beloved falafel and my even more beloved friend

Seeing lots of my friends at Saturday night’s party was absolutely fabulous, and, when I left Oxford on Sunday afternoon, I felt that I’d learnt an important life lesson, as cringeworthy as that sounds. I’d realised that true friendship is oblivious to time and distance; without exception, I honestly felt that nothing whatsoever had changed between myself and any of my friends since the last time I saw them. And that, amidst the uncertainty and fear brought about by the events in Paris, is a very comforting realisation indeed.

I am well aware that, despite my pledge at the start of this post to update you on the last few weeks of my life, I’ve actually only written about the last three days. However, my bed is looking increasingly inviting and so I will love you and leave you and promise (perhaps, regrettably, emptily) to write something again soon. Ma vie française is going by at an alarming rate, and events such as the terror attacks in Paris serve as a horrible reminder that life is short; I intend to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way over my remaining three months here in Laval.

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” – Anthony G. Oettinger

I write this feeling a tiny bit fragile after a lovely evening spent with friends as a final gathering for a couple of weeks. Matt and I are moving to the chateau today as the Toussaint stage for teenagers kicks off tomorrow, and our friends (the majority of whom are Teaching Assistants) who are lucky enough to have Toussaint as a holiday themselves are jetting off to various locations around Europe. Safe to say that fun was had by all last night.

Side note: still not entirely over the fact that I have managed to make an actually very considerable number of friends in France.

I haven’t blogged for almost three weeks, and that’s largely because I haven’t had the time. My trip to Paris marked the start of a very busy couple of weeks at work (which is showing no sign of calming down any time soon) but I’ll try my best to keep this post as short and sweet as possible.

First things first: Paris. In short, I had an absolutely fabulous few days. The mystery work turned out to be a kind of trade fair at the Stade de France; very little effort was involved on my part and it all went fairly smoothly (aside from the fact that I turned up over an hour late on the first day after having got on the wrong RER line) and reaped many a free pen. The real fun, however, came from staying with Christina, my lovely friend from New College, who has fallen on her feet in a big way and ended up with an amazing apartment in the 5th arrondissement. For context, here is the view that greets you as you leave the building:

The Panthéon in all its glory

The Panthéon in all its glory

Safe to say that I was in very good hands. Two days of work was rewarded with two days to myself, the highlights of which were the best falafel I’ve ever had in my life:

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a visit to a really excellent exhibition that allowed visitors to participate by taking bits of the artwork away with them, and a trip to a massive flea market in the north of the city where I had some more delicious food:

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It was so nice to go away to a big city for a few days, but, upon returning to Laval with considerably fewer Euros than I left with, I couldn’t help but feel slightly relieved that I wasn’t spending six months there.

From Paris I took a train to Nantes where I met some friends from the foyer. Adri’s parents very kindly let us all stay at their house, and they were so hospitable and generous for the whole weekend. It was a very chilled couple of days, the highlight of which was definitely seeing Nantes’s famous mechanical elephant:

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I feel like that photo makes my excitement perfectly clear.

So, after a dreamy few days, it was back to Laval for another week of work. Over the course of the past fortnight, it has become clear that the boss has realised that Matt and I are actually quite dedicated and hardworking, and not representative of our supposedly lazy generation about which she is so fond of ranting. After an initially shaky start (largely triggered by my asking about Christmas holiday far too early on in the internship) I feel quite relieved to have turned things round. Our dedication was tested to the max last weekend, when we had to get up at 6.15am on a Saturday (!!!) to go and work in Angers. Again, in classic Langue & Nature style, I was in the dark up until the very last minute about what would actually be required, and it turned out that we were teaching English to a group of adults. Despite being extremely (probably overly) disgruntled about having to work during the weekend, it was actually a really good day: the students were funny and enthusiastic, we got the afternoon to ourselves in Angers and, best of all and in probably the most surreal moment of my year abroad so far, we were invited to a party, hosted by the organisation behind the conference at which we had been teaching, on a boat, where there was much free alcohol and high-quality cheese to be had. Needless to say that it more than made up for the measly three hours of teaching that we’d done earlier in the day. Additionally, Angers is a great city: although we didn’t have tonnes of time there, we went to the castle and a museum, and had time to check out a couple of bars recommended by Breanna, one of our American friends. The most memorable moment of the day, however, was undoubtedly when Kellen, an American who recently arrived at Langue & Nature as a gardener and who came to Angers simply for a fun day out, vomited out of the window and down the side of our boss’s car. A sign of a very good night.

The week between then and now has positively flown by, and now I’m faced with the prospect of spending the next fortnight acting as an animatrice for a group of French teenagers. Surprisingly, I’m looking forward to it. There are two stages going on at once, and the group I’ve been allocated to work with is comprised of 16-19-year-olds, who will hopefully be a bit more enthusiastic and a bit less full of teenage angst than the group in August. I’ll only be with them for about half the time anyway, as either Matt or I has to be in the office at all times – which should bring some welcome respite.

So yes, that’s the last couple (and the next couple) of weeks of my life in a nutshell. To finish, a shameless plug: I’ve written an article for The Oxford Student newspaper about my experience as a vegetarian in France so far. You can read it here and, as always, any feedback would be appreciated! Merci bien et à bientôt xxx

“We’ll always have Paris.” – Howard E. Koch

The main photo of this post may lead some of you to think that I have taken a spontaneous trip to Paris (specifically Versailles) in the last few days without saying anything. Fear not, dear readers, for this is not the case: the photo was actually taken back in March, when I went to visit my lovely friend, Will, who was in the capital for the second half of his year abroad. I spent the past weekend nowhere other than Laval – could there be anything more exciting than that?

HOWEVER. I am currently sat in my room bristling with excitement because this time tomorrow I will be in Paris for the first time since moving to France. It’s for a work trip and, although I am doing stuff with work on Wednesday and Thursday (I would give more details on this is I myself weren’t currently completely in the dark as to what this “stuff” actually is ), Friday is a jour libre for me and, given that Friday so conveniently falls right before the weekend, I’m also spending Saturday in Paris too. One of the best things about the whole thing is that I’m staying with a friend from New College, Christina, who is spending her year abroad studying at Sciences Po, one of Paris’s top universities, meaning not only that I avoid having to fork out huge amounts of money I don’t have for a distinctly average hostel, but also that I get to spend time with a friend who is able to relate to the struggles brought by year abroad and who probably knows Paris a hell of a lot better than I do. The other huge win about this trip is that my work is paying for my transport even though my boss and I are travelling back to Laval at different times. I’m expecting the train journey tomorrow to be remarkably awkward but, given that he will have bought my ticket on the day for a painfully large amount of money and has given Friday to me as an unofficial day off, I’m more than willing to make some light-hearted conversation in questionable French. I’m also resolved to avoid looking/seeming/giving off any air at all of being even slightly unhappy if Wednesday and Thursday turn out to be unusually long working days because I can’t help but feel like I’m probably going to get a lot more out of this trip than I’m going to have to put into it.

So yes. Exciting. I don’t know Paris very well at all, but sightseeing is normally more than enough to keep me happy. I also can’t wait to go to one (or several) of Paris’s many falafel-selling establishments. Laval, although absolutely great in most respects, is sadly very much lacking in that department.

Two more things to say, the first of which is, let’s be honest, probably only of any real interest to me: my hair is definitely growing! I’m using the fact that I’m on my year abroad as a (looking at the prices of some of Laval’s many hairdressers, very valid) reason not to get it cut (sorry Mum) and I’d like it to be properly long by the end. It’s definitely currently the longest it’s been for several years:

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and I also kind of just wanted an excuse to post a selfie.

The other thing is that I’ve found another great cafe in town! And it’s made even better by the fact that it’s joined onto what is possibly the best bookshop I’ve even been in, maybe with the exception of Blackwells on Broad Street in Oxford. Edith, Elisabeth, and I went on Saturday afternoon after the market, and there were more varieties of tea on offer than you could shake a proverbial stick at. Needless to say, all three of us were very content.

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This has been an unusually short post but I wanted to write something before leaving tomorrow as it’ll probably be well into next week before I get the chance again. I’m not actually getting back to Laval until Sunday evening as I’m going straight from Paris to Nantes, France’s sixth largest city, on Saturday evening to meet Matt, Edith, and Adri, who are all spending the weekend there. So what I’ve essentially got planned for the next five days is what my dad would call “a jolly”. And jolly happy I am about it too.