Lost in search of groceries, new iPod

On the day before my big trip around the South of France, I decided to take a walk to the Leclerc’s grocery store since it was a nice day, and I was in need of laundry detergent. Uh huh. So all began innocently as I left my house, down the street, through the park, down the hill, across the river, and then to the right up the hill through to Leclerc’s. Or at least that’s how it was SUPPOSED to go.

Even though I’ve walked the stretch once before, I made a wrong turn by going LEFT up the hill. Oops! I became hopelessly lost (or about as lost as you can get in a small town like Poitiers). I continued through and saw a new neighbourhood that I had not already seen.

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Freakishly narrow house. Just exactly what proper use could you make of such an unusual living space?

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Looks like some rich person’s house.

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If you drink way too much wine, you have little hope of getting home up these crazy stairs if you live on top!

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Very nice yard, as long as you’re not someone who has to go door-to-door and walking up this long drive way.

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I did eventually make it to the store. I wasn’t too far away, and at least got a chance to see more of Poitiers without the hassle of making a plan to do so.

Once I got into the store, I found what I needed, and took a tour of the breakfast aisle.

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Imagine being the poor sap sent to get some or “Boules de Mais” or “Blé Souffé” from the grocery store. You would be left confused not knowing which one to get.

I mentioned last time how my Sony Network Walkman music player decided to stop working. Not being able to survive for more than 24 hours without music, I set out to replace the player the next day. I went to FNAC, and spent about an hour looking at the products now available. I finally settled on an Apple iPod Nano 4 GB Blue. So far, I am quite impressed with it, as well as Apple’s iTunes software. My advice to anyone is to avoid Sony products since I’ve found they break quickly, and are not user friendly.

The iPod set me back about 200 Euro, or about C$300 (compared to C$229 current retail price in Canada), mainly because France is the most expensive place to buy iPods and many electronics.

I have no more classes this week, although I have a group meeting on Friday.

That’s all for now. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

Travelling South France

For this past week, I have been travelling through the South of France with Charles, my American housemate. The pictures posted here are only a very small sample of what I took.

My journey began in Lourdes, a site strong in Roman Catholicism. I toured around the big church, as well as a castle (shown below). Overall, this was quite a beautiful old-looking city with plenty of nature visible.

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Outside the town’s famed grotto, I met a Catholic priest from India who wanted me to take his picture. He spoke about his intention to see all the holy sights in Lourdes, and also invited us to come see India.

When night fell, Lourdes pretty much shut down, so I spent a few hours at the train station waiting for my night train to come. There, we met a woman from the Philippines who didn’t speak French, and was having trouble adjusting to the French rail system. She missed her stop a few days before for Lourdes, and paid 50 Euro for a taxi. Ouch!

We arrived in Nice the next day. My favourite part was definitely the beach area and soft blue coloured water.

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A huge wind storm came up mid-afternoon, and it was a bit of a challenge to walk against the wind. I was fine for as long as I didn’t see any objects other than a tree leaf fly towards me. I stayed at Hotel Dante which was pretty nice for the price, including a small fridge, sink, and stove.

After Nice was Monaco Monte-Carlo for a morning. I wasn’t rich or well-dressed enough to enter the famous casinos, but I did get to see much of the small city in just a few hours.

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I am standing outside the Prince’s Palace here.

Finding a post office was a bit of a challenge here when I wanted to send a post card. I can’t complain though since Saint John has a large building in the Uptown labelled “Post Office”, even though it has been in use for years only by Revenue Canada and Customs (which itself is down the street from the “Customs Building” which does not contain any Customs offices).

After Monaco, I was in Cannes only for a short while in the afternoon. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot there, although it was another beautiful seaside city.

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The last stop on the trip was Lyon for 2 nights. This is one of the larger cities in France, including its own metro system that I used extensively. There was lots of wonderful architecture here, and plenty to see.

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This is me sitting on a very old Roman Theatre.

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A relatively new church that is only about 100 years old.

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Zooming in part of the city.

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Me standing outside City Hall. There is plenty of construction going on everywhere.

So that’s the trip. There was a lot of train rides, and I realized that the train controllers actually do check for tickets quite often, sometimes even twice on one ride. Train is the way to go between cities in a relaxing and fairly safe atmosphere.

Today, I was unhappy to note the failure of my Sony music player. The volume control now gets stuck in the “increase” position, forcing the sound to full blast and preventing any other buttons from working. I tried to take the unit apart to see if I could fix it, but the problem is inside a tiny switch that has probably worn out inside. Tomorrow, I hope to buy a new music player. Not sure what I’m going to go for yet.

That’s all for now!

Parties and upcoming train travel

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Isn’t Poitiers beautiful? It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve added many photos to my Parties gallery, which I am here to tell you about right now.

On the 17th, we had a dinner party with bread, cheese, chicken and rice. Since rice is not my favourite food, I enjoyed mostly the bread and cheese.

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Meal preparation in progress. My contribution to this part was simply taking the picture.

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Me and Marie, one of the Aloha girls. She helps organize many events for the international students, and enjoys speaking English. At this party, I had the opportunity to speak lots in French with Marie’s cousin, who is still learning English.

Early in the week, my American housemate, Charles, cooked spaghetti for French friends that he invited over. He didn’t do too bad, for it being his first time cooking it. He over-estimated the amount of spaghetti that he needed though. Notice how it is almost overflowing the pot below.

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I spoke French with our visitors, and they were all impressed with how clean my room is. We took a few pictures. Below is one with me and Sihem, who is also in my class at school, and one of my project groups.

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Moving on to Canadian issues, there is talk in a CBC News article about dropping the penny from circulation again. After all, it costs more than 1 cent to produce the coin, and some countries have already removed their equivalent of the penny. Some people argue that removing it would turn the next highest coin into the new “penny”, and make them more careless to spend money to get rid of coins.

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In France with the Euro, I have developed a collection of 1-cent and 2-cent coins. I don’t really use them, and probably will just collect and cash them in every now and then. It’d be more convenient and cost effective to just get rid of these small value coins in Canada, as well as Europe (as a couple countries have done already).

On Tuesday, Charles and I will be taking a train from Poitiers to Loudres, and then Toulouse in France. I’m not fully sure what we’ll all be doing or seeing, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report afterwards.

Walking through a neighbourhood

The weather was very warm and sunny on Thursday the 15th, the best it’s been so far. I decided to take advantage of this by walking around Poitiers. I eventually found myself in a very beautiful residential neighbourhood. The pictures speak for themselves.

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We’ve all heard about how too many staples and nails in hydro poles can be dangerous for the workers that must climb the poles. I recently read a CBC news article about Newfoundland’s Hydro company advising a woman not to tack a yellow ribbon to hydro poles, based on this reasoning. “The utility says even one staple can cut a worker’s protective clothing, putting them at risk of electrical shock.”

I was interested that this problem does not exist in at least some parts of Poitiers.

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As you can see, the pole is made of concrete with indents, presumably to be used for climbing. If we used these in Canada, the hydro companies wouldn’t need to whine about safety issues caused by their method of maintenance being vulnerable to tiny staples.

Caribou Café and hair cutting party

Saturday the 10th was mostly relaxing.

Since before I left for France, I’ve been in contact via e-mail with Nico, a French university student who went to UNBSJ a few semesters ago. I finally met him in person Saturday afternoon, and we went to the Caribou Café. This place follows a Canadian theme with Canadian license plates, maple syrup, and everything else. We talked mainly about our experiences in Canada and France, and the differences between the two cultures. Did I mention that we talk only in French? He’s doing a masters in English linguistics, and likely does not need to practice his second language as much I do! I was able to somehow say most things I wanted to say.

In the evening, I got my hair cut. Ben (my British housemate) organized to have the hair dressing come to our flat to cut the hair of anyone who came. She spoke only French, so this was yet another opportunity for me to practice speaking in my second language. Here’s my head chopping procedure in progress:

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Notice how I am actually holding the mirror? No, I didn’t do that the whole time, just at the end. Ben tried to mount a mirror on the wall, but that didn’t work so well. Let’s just say he now has 7 years of bad luck. I have more pictures of others waiting to get their hair cut, as usual, in my gallery.

On Sunday, I didn’t do a whole lot. I went for a walk at around noon. I had my earphones with music playing the whole time. At 12:34, I realized my cell phone alarm block was ringing since 12:00 without me hearing it. That explains some looks I got from some random strangers as I walked by.

That’s all for now. 4 days of classes this week, plus various group meetings. Enjoy the week everyone!

Around Poitiers, and a Friday night out

It has unfortunately been a while since I’ve updated. Hopefully I’ll make up for that today.

On Sunday the 4th, Brian (another UNBSJ student) and I went to a museum here in Poitiers. Mr. Gervis (our landlord) had told me that the museum is free on the first Sunday of each month, and that the 4th would be their last day for a type of exhibit. Some of the artwork and French sculptures were interesting, particularly an illustration of Poitiers several decades ago showing the old wall around the city, and other landmarks. After the museum, we walked around Poitiers a bit, where I got some more photos for my gallery.

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A nice shot in the park beside the river. If you’ve seen my Rockwood Park photos, you would know I love to compose pictures with sunlight, pathways, and such.

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Entrance to the Cordeliers mall, with the Monoprix grocery store visible. This mall has a strange blue mascot which you can see above the entrance.

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The pink toilet paper at Monoprix. One of the great mysteries of French culture.

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A house located right on the river. Not far from here, some people have farm fields next the river, all visible from the crowded city centre.

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Cars park pretty much anywhere here, even on sidewalks making it somewhat dangerous to go walking if traffic is heavy.

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One of the many crowded streets. Most streets are one-way in Poitiers, with one lane of most two-lane streets being used for parking.

On Friday the 9th, I went with some French and international students to see a movie “Ã la Recherche du Bonheur” (The Pursuit of Happiness) with Will Smith. It wasn’t a bad movie. After that, we went to a Tunisian restaurant, which has cheap sandwiches. I had “Kebab Frites” (Kebab with fries), and it was pretty good. I brought my phone out, and everyone had fun taking pictures with it (despite the fact nearly everyone had their own camera phone capable of taking better pictures than mine).

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After the restaurant, we went to the flat of Julien and his girlfriend, where we just sat and talked for a few hours. I spent most of the time speaking in French, and so I am getting good practice with that at least!

That’s all for now. I have more to tell soon in another post about today’s adventures.

Head shaking mystery continues

I was talking to some French students yesterday, and I asked about the head shaking thing that I mentioned in my last blog. They say a shake from left to right means “No”. Maybe it’s only different in Germany, or maybe my classmates got their facts wrong.

Charles (my American housemate) and I went to the large Leclerc’s grocery store outside town via bus yesterday. It was his first time riding the bus in France. The transportation system here is so advanced. The bus stops each have electronic displays which tell you how many minutes there is before the next bus departs. Inside the bus, another electronic display tells you what the next stop is, and the current time. All in all, it is light years ahead of Saint John’s relatively un-advanced transportation system.

I spent a bit of time redesigning the look of my gallery. The general look is not my own, but rather a widely available template which I simply customized. I added my digital photos from Canada that used to be in my “Digital Photography” section. The new system is much more powerful, and far easier to maintain.

This upcoming week is fairly easy with only one tutorial class where my group meets with the professor, and two other classes. I was checking my schedule for the semester, and each week has only 2-3 days of classes. However, lots of extra work time is expected in the form of group work.

To close, I’d like to share an example where lack of common sense in the news media has gone too far. I read an article on CTV News about possible social instability that could be caused by an imbalance of China’s birth rate of males vs. females. The article closes with the following statement: “China’s current birth rate is 1.8, meaning one woman of childbearing age gives birth to an average of 1.8 children.”

One must wonder how ANY woman can give birth to “1.8” children or any other such fraction. Are most children born without one leg or arm in China? I can understand that the number came from calculations that would seldom yield a whole number, but in discussion as this, I believe a different wording of the question is in order. Perhaps something like “1.8 children are born for every woman of child-bearing age” would be more appropriate. My wording not seem to imply that some or all of these women would have given birth to fractional children.

In the end, I know what they were trying to say, but I think the wording is still a bit odd.

Have a great week!

Party at rue de la Tranchée

For the first half of this week, my days have been busy with classes. It’s still quite difficult to stay awake for 3 hours, especially when I have trouble staying awake for 50 minute classes at UNBSJ.

Last Friday, there was a party at my flat attended by most of the international students as well as several French students of ESCEM, as you may have already seen in my gallery photos. Ben, one of my housemates, operated a bar where everyone pays 6â?¬ and then gets whatever they want. Contrary to popular belief, I did not drink at the party and am not drunk at all in the party photo of me.

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The picture of me mentioned above is of course not right here. You can find it in my gallery.

Ben named our place the “Frog et Rosbif”. Anglophones tend to refer to speakers of French as “frogs”, and Francophones tend to refer to North American speakers of English as “rosbif” or “roast beef”, because we burn and change colour in the sun. The name was decently chosen. At the party, you could easily hear a mixture of English and French being spoken by everyone. I was able to speak in French with a few French students.
The sun finally showed its cautious self here in Poitiers, and I took a few more photos in the Parc de Blossac, which is right near my flat.
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I also saw a funny looking traffic garage type of building. For some odd reason, it was quite entertaining to watch a car slowly ascend this thing.
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Just today in class, I learned something new about Europeans from Christoph, my German teacher of Strategic Management. He was answering “yes” to a student, while shaking his head left and right as if to say “no”. Apparently, any shaking of the head in Europe always signifies a yes response, as opposed to North Americans who can say Yes or No by shaking the head. You can easily imagine the possible communication issues in conversations if a tourist visiting Europe is not aware of this.