Lourdes Has Insects With Terrifying Stingers

Okay. I hate my tablet. Would you believe me if I told you that this is the third time I’ve tried to write this entry? The first time, I forgot to save, my tablet doesn’t autosave, voilà. Second time, I started a new document, opened up the web, tried to go back in, my tablet reloads ‘Polaris Office’, my one paragraph gone. Both occasions, I’d been explaining about how I’d been trying to write about the Sanctuaries before moving to la Cité St Pierre (which I did in torrential rain for your general information, felt like a drowned rat when I arrived). Rather than attempting, for the third time, to write down some of my experiences, I’ll just talk very briefly about the experience as a whole. On a related note, I don’t think I like the word experience. I can’t quite say why, but using it makes me feel like a bit of a pretentious idiot. Unless I’m talking about experience (EXP) with regards to video games. Then it feels completely natural. One day, my blog won’t be a rambly mess. That day is not today.


So, my time at the Sanctuaries was great. I met a load of very kind and very nice people, who I plan on staying in contact with. It was a very odd sort of work, because it wasn’t really work. Your feet take an awful beating because you’re essentially standing around for six hours a day offering advice and giving information when asked, but otherwise, it is just standing around smiling and trying to look as friendly as you can without scaring people… You end up picking up some Italian just out of necessity, but just basic directions, which I didn’t use a lot anyway. Telling people they weren’t allowed to do something was definitely the hardest part, because they would either respond well, apologise and stop or carry on and ignore me. I know I look young and that might be one reason why they feel they can ignore me, but it really did grate on my nerves. If you’re doing something wrong and it’s not allowed, you stop, surely? Mind you, perhaps not. There wouldn’t be car chases if people just stopped and admitted they’d done something wrong. Though I’m sure doing so would go some way to stopping all those nasty carbon emissions. Not a long way, of course, but, you know, less car chases would be good for everyone but the film industry and criminals.


I did leave a bit of a gap between starting this and continuing this, but we’ve had a relatively busy week. In the pavillion I work in, the first constructed and now partly dedicated to housing all of the young volunteers, we don’t get big groups like the other pavillons because we’re smaller. It’s just occured to me that I haven’t explained what I’m doing or where I am apart from the Cité St Pierre. Whoops. Okay, basically, I’m working in a pavillion. There are seven or so (unless I’ve forgotten one) pavillions at the Cité. One houses volunteers exclusively, but most house some volunteers and mostly pilgrims. My pavillion is mostly young volunteers, but we get our fair share of pilgrims too. Our job is to clean and maintain the pavillion (cleaning the rooms when people leave, keeping the corridors clean etc.) and to welcome pilgrims and new volunteers. We also have ‘permanences’, which are specific periods of time when someone has to be present in the office (though not ‘l’office’ because that’s the cupboard where we keep thr cleaning equipment, though if it’s hot, it is very cold in there…) to either welcome new arrivals, prepare equipment for cleaning the next day, help pilgrims when there’s a problem (usually running out of toilet paper), answer the phone and sit around reading and avoiding my special study.


So, I’m a cleaner/receptionisty person and I want that to be my actual title. It’s more interesting than saying I work in the pavillion. I should point out that the work is interesting enough. Cleaning toilets isn’t intellectually challenging, but trying to work out how many sheets we need is. (After nearly six years without maths lessons I find mental maths far more challenging than I probably ought to). It’s good. The work’s alright, but the people I work with and have worked with are fantastic. I say have worked with because, whilst I may become a permanent fixture for the next two months, the other volunteers in the team don’t seem to stay much longer than about three weeks. It means I’ll regularly be making friends and then saying goodbye, but it’ll keep the work from getting old. So yeah, I’m working and it’s okay except…


When it’s hot. It was in the mid to high thirties over the last few days and those of you who know me well will know that me and hot weather are not friends. We do, in fact, actively dislike each other. Cleaning works up a sweat, it’s a fact of life, but the pavillons do heat up slightly in hot weather (minus l’office, which I think must just be a miniature version of what hell would feel like if it froze over) and that just makes you sweat faster, which is as lovely as it sounds. Even today, when it’s supposed to be stormy and cold, it’s still managing a pleasant 15ºC or maybe even 20ºC . (I don’t have a thermometer so I don’t know. Could be minus pink unicorn for all I know.) The only advantage is that the hot weather meant that my washing dried within four hours of being put on the horse (clothes horse, in case I confused you) which I appreciated twice as much because I’d had to wash the clothes twice (machine had no soap the first time). Also, though I’m aware that ‘soap’ isn’t the correct term, the only word I can think of is ‘lessive’. Hell, I can’t even think of the German.


I suppose that must mean my French is getting better. The accent isn’t. In fact, Jean Charles, a volunteer who I worked with for just over a week, introduced me to a phrase he designed just to really show off the English accent in French. It’s “un très grand rat dans un très grand trou”. It’s the ‘r’. In English, we don’t roll our ‘r’, so it’s a sound that makes us quite easy to identify. So, other than being asked on a near daily basis to say it and then being told how very adorable my accent (and, unfortunately, me by extension) is, I’ve actually been getting a lot of compliments. I’ve been told several times that my French is very good and it instills a joy that’s quite hard to explain. It made my day when a woman in the Sanctuary Bookshop told me my French was very good (especially because I heard her repeat this information to her colleague). Although my accent’s still quite strong, the actual quality of the language is apparently improving (though I won’t deny the possibility that the French are just complimenting me because there’re a lot of tourists in Lourdes who are not entirely unlikely to butcher the language). Either way, I’m speaking a lot of French, much more than when I was in Rouen and I’m picking up lots of very odd words. I question the usefulness of the word ‘mop’ in my oral exams next year…


I was pretty chuffed when Germany won the World Cup, but my chuffedness was amplified by the frankly outrageous amount of support Argentina was getting. We were watching it up here, at the Cité, and due to the very international nature of the Cité, there are a lot of Spanish-speaking peoples, who, rather unsurprisingly, chose to support Argentina. Languagism is that. I wouldn’t support Canada because they speak English. (I’d support them because Canada’s lovely). I do tend to find that the more vocal the support for the other team, the more obnoxious I find them, the louder I support the team I like. Hence, when the people supporting Argentina cheered obnoxiously loudly when they got the ball into the German half, I became slightly more vocal in my support of Neuer, the German keeper. I’m trying to work out whether this is just me and a newly discovered personality flaw/quirk, or if this is everyone’s reaction to apparently obnoxious levels of support… And no, I never supported Germany in the match against France. Nope, that’s not a thing that ever happened. At all…


Ooh, I went to see ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2′ or ‘Dragons 2′. Just to clarify, it was dubbed in French and there were no subtitles. It’s starting to irritate me when people warn me that there’ll be no subtitles. Firstly, we don’t really subtitle films in the UK when they’re in English, so why would the French do it? Logic would suggest they wouldn’t. Secondly, why do you assume I need subtitles? I won’t lie, I don’t understand all of the dialogue all of the time, but I understand a good 90 to 95%, which is more than enough to enjoy the film. I understand that other people don’t necessarily know what my level of French is and are just trying to be helpful, but this is the second film I’ve been to see in France and everytime they ask me, it feels (to me at least) like they think I’m some sort of idiot. Anyway, rant over, it’s a fantastic film. It’s brilliant and made me cry three times (didn’t succeed in beating ‘War Horse’s’ record of six times), though I do have to point out that the dubbing was, in places, painful. Example: character’s laughing, but I hear no noise coming out of their mouth… In all fairness, the German dubbing of ‘The Lego Movie’ and ’12 Years A Slave’ was hardly perfect. It is an incredibly difficult task though, dubbing. Translating’s hard enough without trying to fit your translation to the movements of a mouth.


What else? Uhm. Parents are visiting next week, the wifi’s only marginally better (more coverage, weaker signal), weather hates me, other volunteers are great, work’s good, though we did have a very patronising induction talk. Our ages range from seventeen to twenty-five, which, sadly, places me in the older section, but the talk was patronising like you wouldn’t believe. I like to think I’m mature (and that being mature doesn’t have to mean the absence of childishness), though I’m sure some people would disagree with this assertion upon discovering I’m remarkably childish, so I felt a lot of the information was self-evident. Things like ‘some people get up early for work or pilgrimmaging (not a real word, I know), so please be quiet after such and such a time’ or ‘if there’s a romance and you want to spend some time in someone else’s room, you can, but out of respect for other people’s beliefs, don’t stay the entire night’. You know, bits and bobs I’d expect as rules in a religious site like Lourdes. Being told this information wasn’t necessarily the problem. What was a problem was that I could have sworn we’d have been given the same speech if we were a class of ten year olds. I hate being patronised. Unless you’re explaining rocket science or experimental physics or brain surgery to me, you probably won’t need to patronise me. Probably.


So there we go. My third blog entry in a month. I think. Ish. Maybe. I’d write more but at this very moment I can’t think of much else to talk about besides eating an outrageously large ice cream and Bastille Day… Bugger. I probably ought to write about that…


It may be sacriligeous of me, but I’ll summarise it briefly. (Having tried to write this entry three times, my patience has well and truly worn thin. As I imagine yours has with false promises of entries for interrailing and Paris.) It was a working day like any other for us in the pavillion, so there wasn’t anything happening until the evening. In the evening, there was a BBQ, a kareoke like thing (each pilgimage staying in the Cité performed a song of some sort), a disco and fireworks. We had an excellent view of the fireworks. The Château Fort can be seen from my pavillion (not my room, bloody inconsiderate tree) and that’s where the firework displsay was taking place. We all had a grand time, though the Russians didn’t take me up on my offer. (If the four of them went up and sang the Russian National Anthem, I’d go up, alone, and sing the British National Anthem.) Whilst I will admit I was slightly tipsy when I made the offer, I had every intention of doing it. They pulled out and I won’t say I wasn’t glad. Oh and the fireworks were amazing. I was quite impressed. I was not expecting something that long or pretty for a town as small as Lourdes.

So there we go. Another completed blog entry. Just another of the many miracles of Lourdes…

Oh, regarding the insects: I don’t know what they are, but they have huge-looking stingers and they keep coming in my room and my current defense strategy is to squeak at it and run to the other side of the room. It’s no wasp or bee I’ve ever seen and I have no intention of getting close enough to it to work out what it is. Oh, and WordPress’s spellchecker has given up on life so spelling errors and typos were totally not completely my fault.

I Meant To Post This On Sunday

I’ve found a word processor on my tablet that can handle more than 1500 characters at a time, the only trouble now is writing on the blasted thing. You’d think it’d be easy, but no. For example, before correcting myself, easy read as “essy” and example as “examble” and “exampled” respectively. It’s a bit frustrating, especially for someone like me who can be a bit anal about spelling and typos. Anyway, that’s enough of my moaning about keyboards and France. Those of you with a good memory will remember that that was a theme last summer as well. Maybe I should put the tablet’s keyboard into an Azerty keyboard just to really wind myself up.


The weather in Lourdes at the moment is what some people would  call terrible. It’s rainy, cloudy and sometimes, it gets a bit chilly too, though never anything below 15ºC. I’m loving it. It’s very comfortable weather to work in, even if you do constantly need an umbrella just in case. The reason I’m loving it is because last week was what the same people who’d call this weather terrible, glorious. It was 30ºC if not slightly more, the only clouds were hanging in the distance over the mountain and they’re were white as the Hospitaliers’ uniform (which is white, just in case you hadn’t guessed) and the sun was bright and determined to let every bugger in Lourdes know just how very bright it is. To me, of course, this is the sort of weather that makes me want to find an air-conditioned room and hide there until the sun goes away. There was very little shade and the sun was very intense. Sometime last week, I was working on the boulevard just in front of the grotto (walking up and down with a sign, shushing people when they can’t understand the very self-explanatory images, telling people to use their phones elsewhere, telling people they can’t smoke in the Sanctuaries etc.) and there was no shade there. Ever. The floor had soaked up so much heat throughout the day, that you could feel the heat through your shoes, not to mention that your shoes would leave imprints in the bits of tarmac that had decided unanimously to melt. So yeah, it was hot and I didn’t like it. I should have studied science and gone to Antarctica.


In case you don’t know what I’m doing in Lourdes, I’m volunteering for the Service Pilotes at the Sanctuaries for three weeks (the first week of which will finish on Monday) and then I’m working, again as a volunteer, for la Cité St Pierre for two months and some weeks. Why? I like helping people. I think it might be an incurable condition, though it might not be contagious, so you should be alright. So yeah, that’s what I’m doing. To explain what a pilote does, I should first explain that we don’t fly planes, we’re guides. In fact, we’re essentially walking information points and, on the odd occasions when it’s necessary, we ‘faire la police’ and ruin people’s fun by telling them they’re not allowed to smoke. As for the Cité, well, they gave me a list of jobs I could do, I ticked the ones I wanted to do and I’ve since forgotten what I ticked because I’m a genius like that. To think that some people think I’m intelligent…   As pilotes, we mostly get asked about Mass times, or where {insert name of something in the Sanctuaries} is, or if there’s anything on at that particular moment they’re asking us, which are all quite easy to answer, because after a few days, you know your way around and we’re also given a list of things and what time they’re on. I say ‘things’ because sometimes it’s a mass, sometimes it’s a group doing The Way of the Cross etc. Sometimes, however, you get the weird questions like ‘what time do the buses from Lourdes go to the airport?’ There’s nothing wrong with asking of course, but it might be nice if they looked a little less horrified and put out when I tell them I don’t know.


Occasionally, we have to tell people off. Usually for smoking in the Sanctuaries. There are signs saying you can’t but I heard the best excuse ever yesterday and I feel it’s logic is worth us all pausing to marvel at. Oh, and keep in mind this was a thirty to forty-year old, okay? Oh and it was all in French, I’ve just translated it.

Me: “I think you know what I’m going to say.”

Smoker: “No, what?”

Me: “You can’t smoke in the Sanctuaries, it’s not allowed.”

Smoker: “But I’ve been doing it for the last three days and no one stopped me.”

Me: “That’s because no one saw you doing it.”


There are signs at every entrance saying that smoking is forbidden, they’d been doing it the last three days, no one had seen them or told them they couldn’t do it, despite it being explicitly stated that you can’t. Let’s apply this logic to everyday life shall we? Stealing is against the law, it’s written on a piece of paper that your Monarch or President signed. You steal, but no one sees you doing it so you assume it’s fine and allowed. No, my friend. It’s still against the law, you doing it without someone seeing doesn’t mean it’s okay, it just means you didn’t get caught. The logic is stunning. It’s about as watertight as a child’s theory of ‘if I can’t see them, they can’t see me’.


On a relatedish note, you know that question, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound’? That question always annoyed me. Does it still make a sound? Of course it does. I don’t know much science, but I do know that sound is created by sound waves, which a tree would make regardless if there were a set of ears there to hear it. Having said that though, I suppose the question depends a lot on your definition of sound. Is sound a noise or is it a noise you hear? Besides, the question is moot because, even if there were no humans, there’d be some animal life that would hear the tree falling. How did I even get onto this topic? Welcome to Amy’s stream of consciousness, good luck following or making any sense of it.


So yeah, aside from the heat, intermittent internet access and the rare smoker who tries to argue the rules with you (most apologise because they didn’t realise or they’d forgotten), I’m having a grand old time. I haven’t even really burnt all that badly, though I may have just jinxed myself… despite the current weather too, knowing my luck

The Fun of Travelling to Lourdes During a SNCF Strike

The majority of this blog was written whilst I was sitting in Toulouse bus station. You’ll have to read it to find out why. All you need to know, though telling you here may well confuse you… sorry, is that I got into Lourdes two hours earlier than expected, helped some Hawaiians who I then got into a taxi with and who then wouldn’t let me pay for myself (because I helped with some French and they’re lovely people), got up in time to pick up my key, got into my room and went off to volunteer the next day. It all worked out a million times better than expected, as you shall read shortly.


Well, do you all remember how bad Germany started off? With no accommodation and only twenty four hours to find some? France has obviously taken that as some sort of challenge. I flew into Toulouse from Bristol, as planned, despite the sat nav trying to send us down some roads that looked like they led to the end of days. I got the shuttle bus service from the airport to the train station, as planned. Then there was a strike. All the trains from Toulouse to Lourdes were cancelled and guess where I wanted to go? Lourdes. So, after speaking to the very helpful SNCF staff who weren’t on strike ( I can’t judge what the ones on strike were like because, you know, I didn’t meet them), I was told that there was a bus at 1945 that would get me in at 0025. Now, whilst the travel problem was sorted out, another problem decided to raise it’s ugly head. Namely, accommodation. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was cursed. Everywhere I go, accommodation seeks to cause me headaches and stress.


Anyway, the reason accommodation was a problem was because you have to arrive before midnight to pick up the key for the room. Arriving after midnight means no accommodation for you! I rang up and the man who picked up was also supposed to give me my key. Sadly, he couldn’t hang around to give me the key, but he did pass me, rather suddenly, onto somewhere that could help. Despite some communication problems, I managed to get a room for the night, warn them I wouldn’t get in until like oneish and get the address off them so that when I get a taxi, I actually know where I ‘m going. So, provided the bus isn’t stupidly late getting into Lourdes and that the temporary accommodation is as I described, then all is relatively well. It could certainly have been worse : there might not have been a bus at all! And Lourdes is a hell of a lot cheaper than Toulouse… in my head anyway.


So yeah. I have a back up plan should the accommodation demon with a vendetta against me strike again and that is the Ibis Hotel. Whose address and phone number, Mom has kindly text me. So that’s some drama for you right there!


On an unrelated note, I walked past a bunch of men whilst on the phone to Mom and they were shouting “pika, pika” at me in a French accent. It took me a minute to work out that this was because I was wearing a pikachu t-shirt. I suppose that’s a positive thing, right?


And in the end it all worked out fine. I’ll hopefully be writing about what’s happened since the disaster that was Sunday, but that’ll be later because writing on a tablet is much more time consuming than a computer and I can only access the wifi from one room. That room isn’t the room I sleep in either. In case you hadn’t guessed, this paragraph is happy Tuesday Amy, not stressy Sunday Amy. Just thought I ought to point that out, in case it isn’t strikingly obvious.

There’s a Dead Fly on my Tenner

So. Heidelberg. Yeah… that was a few weeks ago. Many weeks ago. It was probably either a month or so ago. Anyway, so you’re probably curious about the title. Well, we were in a café in Heidelberg and I was about to pay for my hot chocolate. I go into my wallet, remove a tenner and discover there is a dead, squashed fly on it. Now my assumption, because I would definitely notice a fly in my handbag and/or wallet, is that the note came out of the ATM with the fly squashed on it. It wouldn’t be the first time Sparkasse’s ATMs have decided to confuse, perturb and generally be mean to me. Oh, and I have photographic evidence, in case you’re curious.

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I swear Sparkasse’s ATM have some sort of hatred towards me. My other Sparkasse adventures include: getting out €200 only to be paid out €200 in €5 notes, trying to withdraw €20 and being given (and charged) €100 and trying to withdraw €50 and being given (and charged) €400. I can understand that sometimes ATMs must do odd things, either because of a malfunction or a lack of larger notes, but four times? Really? Unless it’s some sort of German bank tactic to stop people withdrawing and spending money…

Anyway, this is a post about Heidelberg, and when I say it’s a post about Heidelberg, I mean that it’s a photo entry and that I’ve recently decided photo entries will be 85% photo and 15% words. Having said that though, my maths is so shoddy that I actually just checked the computer’s calculator to make sure that 85 and 15 do indeed make 100. The basic idea though is that it’ll be mostly be photos plus words when something particularly memorable leaps into my mind.

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This is Maddy, Sarah and Sarah standing in front of a statue of Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, which, respectively, stands in front of some sort of departmental building of Universität Heidelberg. Aside from being a lovely photo (who doesn’t love some cherry blossom?), they’re standing in front of the man who discovered caesium and rubidium (both of which are really quite explosive). He also created the Bunsen burner, as you’ve probably guessed by now. He found highly explosive elements (both are located on the Periodic Table) and created the Bunsen burner. I like this man.

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Also that. It’s a shop. Called unicorn. Of course I’m going to have my photo taken standing next to it. It would be very unlike me to walk past a place called unicorn and not throw my camera at someone so they can take a photo of me standing next to it. The inside was disappointing because it was full of touristy tat, but with a name like that, it can be forgiven.

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Left is Heidelberg Castle from the Altstadt and right is a picture of the Altstadt from Heidelberg Castle. Yeah. The city’s gorgeous but the weather really really wasn’t when we went. The weather was actually quite foggy and showery and unpleasant, which, arguably, is better for a day trip with lots of walking than a day of glorious sunshine and high temperatures.

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Left is the castle from outside and in the photo (from left to right) you can find Sarah, Gary, Sarah and Maddy. I, obviously, was taking the photo, but it was just the five of us that went. The photo on the right is inside the castle and it is a proper castle. The reason I say ‘proper castle’ is because the German Schloss also refers to what, in English, would be called a palace. Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam, for example, isn’t so much a castle as it is a palace. On a vaguely related note, Schloss in German also refers to a padlock. You know, just to confuse you some more. The photo at the bottom is of the castle and the Altstadt from the castle’s gardens, where we wandered about for a bit and found a bust of Goethe.

Also, I’m sorry if you’re not finding out a lot about our adventures in Heidelberg (which involved looking and running away from a very expensive dirndl/lederhosen shop, meeting up with Sarah’s friends from university, eating in a Mexicany place, me thinking I’d booked the wrong train back when I hadn’t etc.) but it’s a photo entry and if I’m ever going to catch up on all the day trips and stuff (which at this point may not be entirely likely), I can’t afford to write essays. Though avoiding my essay is exactly what I’m trying to do by writing this entry…

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You know how Heidelberg has a university? You know how universities have students? You know how students like to drink? Well, Universität Heidelberg had special powers to police its own students. How it policed these students was to stick them in the Studentenkarzer, ‘detention room’ or ‘campus prison’, until they’d slept it off. Except the students did what all good students do when confronted with a wall, they wrote and drew all over it. Resulting in what you can see there today, which is really quite cool and the writing is literally everywhere. Ceiling? Graffiti. Walls? Graffiti. I’m impressed so much of the ceiling was covered actually, though I do have to wonder how they got up there…

Yup. So, that’s Heidelberg. It was great, though the weather wasn’t and we all had a good time. I just want to finish off with one photo and one word that I feel really capture the spirit of Germany and many other European countries, for that matter.

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Freiburg Adventures

Well, I haven’t written anything for a month and it’s been nearly two months since I was in Freiburg visiting Milena, so now struck me as an appropriate moment to finally do a photo bloggy posty thing on it and it will be just that. For I have forgotten a lot of things that happened, that will likely come back to me, like the need to still send Milena’s birthday present which is sitting in a Deutsche Post box on my suitcase, this blog post entry thing will most likely be dedicated to photos, photos and more photos. Unless I remember something. Which I probably will.

Such as now: it takes three hours to get from Saarbrucken to Freiburg (and three hours the other way, obviously) and it goes via Strasbourg because it is faster to go through France to get to another part of Germany than it is to go through Germany. To non-island peoples, this will seem like a perfectly normal, logical course of action. Sometimes, particularly if you live close to a border, it can be faster to cross over the border and go through your neighbouring country to get to somewhere else in your own country. To myself and most other island peoples, this seems like utter madness because we never have to do it, therefore it is strange. Just like driving on the right. We don’t do it: it’s weird.

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Freiburg is very very pretty. For some reasons, I haven’t uploaded any photos of the Bächle on WordPress, so you won’t be seeing those unless you go yourself. Though, just to give you an idea, they’re essentially tiny streams that run through the city centre, next to the tram lines. You can also buy tiny little wooden boats and pull them along the little streams. It’s adorable! It took me three minutes of mentally chanting ‘be a grown up’ to stop myself from buying one for the joy of looking like a three year old in front of normal humans. Oh, and the building there? I have no idea what it is. All I remember is that it’s purty and it had a film crew outside and it’s in the same square as the cathedral.

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That is the cathedral and there are two things I distinctly remember. Asking a lady to take this photo:

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That’s me and Milena if you hadn’t guessed already. I hope you don’t mind me posting a photo of you on the interwebs, Milena. (It can be removed if needs be; you can’t see any of Freiburg out of that window, unless you fancy pretending Freiburg is made of gold and is always that bright). The second thing I distinctly remember about the cathedral is this dodgy translation which continues to amuse me:

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So far as I can tell, the German and French translations sound fine. Don’t throw stuff, it’s stupid and so are you. Fine, no problem. The English translation? “Don’t throw anything!” That’s fine, no problem there. “Risk of life!” That’s the problem. What that says is that there is a risk, a danger, of life: of something somewhere being alive. More specifically, of you accidentally creating life when you throw something out from the cathedral’s tower. Aside from not being a good way of discouraging English speakers from throwing things from great heights, it looks like it’s been translated directly from German (Lebensgefahr! = life danger!), whereas, had it been translated directly from French (Danger de mort! = Danger of death!), it would have been much much better. Milena had a point when she was telling me it’s silly to overanalyse a translation that much, particularly when it can be understood, but it’s just so funny.

I was with Milena for four days…? I think it was four days. I arrived the first day and we went mooching around Freiburg to see the city. I also got to admire the University where Milena studies Law. (Freiburg University, in case you’d somehow failed to make that connection). It has to be said, universities across the world are generally very similar. Lecture theatres are at the very least, except the ones in Freiburg seemed to have fewer exits. The second day, if my memory serves me correctly, which, in all fairness, it usually does, we went to Schauinsland, which is one of the mountains in the Black Forest. We went up in a thing. Yeah, I’ve forgotten what they’re called and I’m too lazy to Google, but the picture might let you fill in the blank:

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The Black Forest wasn’t quite as black as I thought it’d be. Particularly higher up. It is a beautiful place and it was well worth going up on the… thing because the view is quite incredible. To be honest, the photos fail quite spectacularly to do it any justice, but I can’t very well call it a photo blog entry thing without photos now can I?

Now, Schauinsland was looking very brown while we were on our way up, which was great because I’d read Milena’s email about snow shoes, tried putting them on, didn’t, for some reason want to wear them, and then went to Freiburg with trainers. Trainers plus snow = cold bum. By the time we’d started getting to the top, it was beginning to dawn on us that there was rather a lot of snow and that my trainers were not cut out for it in the slightest. We powered on through regardless, to get to the viewpoint that let me take the photo below, but I spent a lot of the time cursing my stupidity at having worn trainers despite reading Milena’s email telling me not to.

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As it turns out though, I’m pretty good at walking on snow in trainers and not falling flat on my face. That’s an important life skill right there if you also happen to be blessed without the common sense to bring boots to a place covered in snow. Admittedly, I had to slide on my arse down a small snowy hill for fear of falling flat on my face, but I handled myself quite well considering just how inappropriate my footwear was.

I was trying to remember what we did the next day then. We went to Basel in Switzerland and it cost less than €20 there and back because Freiburg is quite close to the border (though nowhere near as close as Saarbrucken is to France). We just sort of wandered around, making occasional use of my Basel App on my tablet. Basel is gorgeous, or at least it is the other side of the river to the train station, but that seems to be a trend in European cities. It was cobbled almost everywhere, a lot of the buildings were very pretty and it was small and compact enough that you can see most of it in a day. We were both umming and arring about going home, but after five hours of walking and mooching and sitting and eating, we were both pooped enough to head back. In the meantime, here are some lovely photos of Basel:

Basel (5) Basel (35)


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Basel (13) Basel (55)

Maybe this how I should do photo entries. Just mostly photos. I dunno, I’ll work it out later. That or they’ll all be different every time and it will be an exciting adventure for you every time you get one of my stupidly irregular entries. Anyway, the Universität Basel. Why do I have a photo of that? Enlarge it and you will see a cat. I must admit, I was concerned when I realised that it was sitting outside the institute for medical microbiology, but it was a cat and I had a camera and no one should be surprised that I went and took a photo. What should surprise you even less is that I found the following fact hilarious: the number plate code for Basel is BS. I have a picture of a car’s registration plate as proof but it occurred to me that I shouldn’t put that up online because that car does belong to someone somewhere. If you’re not sure why BS is funny, ask my Dad. He’s the reason I found it funny… my parents are so mature.

So back to Freiburg and its surroundings. The day when I was due to leave, we popped into Staufen to see Milena’s Oma, who is just the loveliest woman. Mind you, a lot of old people do tend to just be lovely. She offered us tea (which will always go down well with me) and made us (and Milena’s uni friend who joined us later) Käsespätzle. Käsespätzle is sort of like a pasta with cheese baked on top, but not. It is lovely though. If you’re ever in Germany and you like cheese and pasta, it is highly recommended. So Staufen, what’s there?

Well it’s one of the two places in Germany that claims to be where Faust is set, I can’t remember which other place makes claim to it, but Milena’s grandma lives in Staufen, so the other place’s claim is invalid. It also has a castle that was ransacked by guess who? The French? Wrong. The Swedish apparently. Yeah, that surprised me too. (Castle on the right and claim on the left).

Staufen (2) Staufen (12)

Staufen is also home to a very interesting and unique problem:

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You may have to enlarge it to see the problem, but I’ll spell it out for you. The buildings have cracks. Not one or two, the vast majority of the buildings in the village have cracks and the Rathaus, pictured above, has been worst hit. Milena’s grandma has the cracks on her ceilings as well. They’re on every street corner. It would be remarkable, if it weren’t quite so concerning. How did Staufen get cracks everywhere? Well, from what I understood (and remember), the council was trying to access some sort of natural energy from underground. I’m assuming they were trying to get their hands on geo-thermal energy or something. I seem to remember there being something about drilling. Whatever happened, the council didn’t consult local geologists to any significant degree, something went wrong and pressure of some kind shot up, damaging and still damaging the buildings above. The internet/Milena/anyone living in Staufen will be able to give you much more detailed (and accurate) information, but that is what I remember of what I understood at the time.

So, all in all, it was two months ago and you probably forgot I even mentioned that I went to Freiburg, but here it is! (Two months late and a month since my last entry). The only important things to take from this entry are:

a) I had an amazing time and hanging out with Milena was brilliant

b) we spoke German 95% of the time and I had my first full dream in German (as opposed to my normal German dreams which consist of me speaking German and everyone replying in English)

c) Basel is brilliant, but unfortunately abbreviated to BS

d) don’t mess around with stuff underneath your town without consulting people who know what they’re talking about

e) Freiburg is lovely

f) take appropriate shoes when visiting the Black Forest in March

So, yeah. I’ sorry this entry isn’t longer and generally better, but that’s what I get for writing the thing two months late. Still, at least you can admire the photos. Oh and Milena, if you’re reading this, thanks again for letting me stay with you for four days. It’s made my Year Abroad just that little bit more fantastic.

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P.S. WordPress hates every and all foreign words. It doesn’t even like ‘Staufen’ for pity’s sake.

Quick Update

Yes… quick.

Basically, this is an update before (hopefully) some more photo blog entry things and I am incredibly eloquent today, aren’t I? Well, we can blame my cold thing for that. Long story short, I’ve developed a cold and whilst it has never actually been so bad as to stop me talking or moving, I do enjoy moaning about it. I don’t get ill very often, but when I do, I let the whole world know. I don’t even know why I like letting the whole world know. I think I’m after sympathy. Either way, apart from a sore throat, feeling generally bunged up and having what I think might be a chest infection (it’s reasonable to assume that coughing up green generally indicates something somewhere is infected), I actually feel okay. Which is a pain really, because it means it’s not actually a legitimate excuse for not having started my Special Study. I’ve done a plan though, which is a start of some description. Before I moan more about how I’m ill, but not actually and I want sympathy for being ill despite functioning completely well, I’ll move on.

I visited Alice last week in Issenheim and the adventures of that will eventually appear on the blog… I still haven’t done Paris or Strasbourg, have I? Or the rest of the interrailing trip, though, in my defence, all my notes for that are at home in the UK. Yeah… so a blog entry may appear at some point in the future, but don’t make bets on when. Either way, it was lovely and seeing Alice again was brilliant. I also managed to learn some Elsass, which is the local Germanic dialect of Alsace. I feel I should probably point out that it is very much a dialect and I can read it and understand it better than Swiss German, which doesn’t seem entirely fair. Speaking of dialects, I discovered over the past two weeks that a whole raft of words I thought of as standard German are actually Saarländisch which means that my University oral exams next year might be interesting. On a related note, if anyone speaks German and has heard of, or likes Breaking Bad, I have recently been introduced to this: Recht und Ordnung – Iwwerzwersch It’s a spoof of Breaking Bad done in Saarländisch. It’s as amazing as it sounds. I’ve also just noticed that it has standard German subtitles.

So yes, I visited Issenheim and the city nearby, Colmar. It’s essentially the French side of where I was with Milena about two weeks beforehand. What else? Well, I visited Mainz. Maddy met me there and showed me around and it’s lovely, but only really in the Altstadt, the old town. In the new parts, it looks… not so nice. It also has Roman ruins underneath a modern shopping centre. I would be lying if I said that that didn’t ever so slightly blow my little mind. It does make me wonder what other cities might be hiding underneath their shopping centres, because I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority are not hiding Roman ruins. Also, whilst in Mainz, Maddy and I made plans to visit Heidelberg, which is what I’m doing tomorrow or today or yesterday depending on when this entry gets published.

I’ve started playing Pokemon because I am a child and I’m desperately finding things to procrastinate with. In a similar vein, namely procrastination, I’ve also been reading through a French magazine I bought in Strasbourg called Dossier pour la Science because it has a special on the evolution of language. Seriously, it’s a really interesting magazine. It’s got articles on threatened languages, on made-up languages (Klingon for example), the arrival of Indo-european languages in Europe, the theory of Vascon (a language which predates Indo-european languages like Latin), whether French is threatened by text language, how genetics can be applied to linguistics and so on. It’s really quite interesting and also a brilliant tool for procrastination. I would suggest anyone with an interest in languages read it, but you’d also have to be able to read French because it’s a French magazine so it’s, you know, in French because it’s published in France by French people who speak French. It’s really very interesting.

I also took part in an English experiment this week! I can’t really tell you why it was being done, just in case someone reading this volunteers for the experiment, but it’s not anything mind-blowingly interesting, so there’s no harm done by not telling you. Basically, I sat in a room for forty minutes with a microphone and was asked to name some pictures. Obviously, it was a bit more complicated than that. There were two pictures, one in blue and one in red. You either had to name the one in blue and then the one in red, the one in red and then the one in blue or say whether or not they belonged to the same category e.g. cat & fish = YES because they’re both animals. There were two of us doing this at the same time, but we were in different rooms and couldn’t hear each other.

You had the pictures for about three seconds or so before they vanished and it was actually quite taxing. I also sounded really bunged up and kept sniffling between answers, so my sound recording will be great fun to listen back to. “Yes… sniff… urgh… cat, fish…. sniff…” I also discovered that, in my crazy brain, cake and bowl belong to the same category. (According to the experiment, they don’t because one is a kitchen utensil and one is food). I know why they belong to the same category in my head: it’s because I bake a lot of cake and I always use a bowl to make the mixture, so, to me, cake and bowl belong together, because I can’t make one without the other. I therefore blame my mother.

So yes, aside from a bunch of Year 6 pupils calling me süβ (cute), there’s not an awful lot to report. There is however a lot of blog entries requiring photos that I ought to be working on, so I’ll get started on them at some point. … There’s something very unfair about being called cute by a bunch of Year 6 pupils.





St Wendel & Mainz

So! Post one.

You know I talked about Fasching/Karneval/Festival thing? Well, one of the main parts of it is the Umzug. Now, Leo.org translated this as ‘procession’ among other things, but when I hear the word ‘procession’, I think ‘funeral procession’, so I would translate it as ‘parade’. So I went to two parades. The first was in St. Wendel on Sunday and the second was the next day in Mainz. It gave me a brilliant opportunity to compare what you could call a small-scale amateur parade in a small town to a large-scale professional parade in a large city.

I went to St. Wendel’s parade because Sarah, one of the other language assistants, lives there and invited me and I wouldn’t say no to a parade where people will throw sweets at my face. It was a certainly a lot smaller, but people dressed up with equal amount of enthusiasm, though they didn’t respond to the chant ‘Alleh Hop!‘ half as well as the people in Mainz responded to their variety (which is ‘Helau!‘).

St Wendel Fasching (12)

One of the major differences between the two parades was the obviousness of their tractors. Mainz made a much bigger deal of trying to hide the fact that they were using tractors (when they were using them), whereas St. Wendel happily paraded its enormous tractors through its streets. Incidentally, the child in the bottom right of the photo was dressed up as Optimus Prime.

St Wendel Fasching (19) St Wendel Fasching (18)

There were witches in the parade, though I can’t recall why. I think it was a club of some description. That’s a thing to mention actually, a lot of the people taking part in the parade were doing so as part of a club or job or choir or band or something like that. I was just impressed that there was a cat on top of the 4×4 and that there was a witch with a spider on a lead. Mind you, if I saw a spider that big, I think I would actually temporarily leap out of my skin if only because I own no glass large enough to capture it and through it out a window.

St Wendel Fasching (30) St Wendel Fasching (29)

So this was an acrobatics group of some description. They were really quite impressive, but one of the things they did, regardless of how impressive the act, wasn’t something I’d ever really suggest is a good idea. The action in question is pictured above and to the right. The group threw one of their mates, who I presume to be the lightest of them, at the traffic light. He then proceeded to grab onto the traffic light, swing on it, do lift ups on it and the leap down into the arms of his teammates. It looked brilliant, it really did, but the traffic light was having a bit of a hissy fit afterwards.

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This is one of my favourite pictures. Okay. Look at the tractor. You see the tractor, right? (If you can’t, please ask your nearest human to take you to an optician.) Now look at the wheel. That man is ever so slightly smaller than the wheel (don’t let the perspective confuse you). Okay? You’ve got that? You understand that it’s a massive tractor? Yeah? Now look at this:

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You see that gap? No? That’s because there isn’t one, or, if there is, it’s about two people wide. This actually made me laugh. It took about five to ten minutes for the crowd to part enough to let the tractor through. You’d think a tractor that big would be able to just intimidate its way through, but no, apparently not. These Germans fear no tractor, regardless of how massive it may be.

So now, Mainz. This deserves a prelude purely for the fact that I woke up at 6amto get the there. The pain! The humanity of it all! 6am! I’m being overdramatic of course, but if I wasn’t I don’t think these entries would be half as interesting as they might already maybe possibly be. Probably the only thing that actually got me up that early was the promise of breakfast on the other side. Well, that and I hadn’t seen Maddy (a language assistant from Australia) or Maxine (a language assistant from New Zealand) for a while. I met Abbey, Maddy and one of the American language assistants at the train station and then I met some other American language assistants at the breakfast do as well. I do have to apologise, because I have completely forgotten their names. (Sorry).

So! To the parade! (On a related note, we waited two hours for the parade, watched the parade for two hours and then went off for food, even though the parade was still ongoing).

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As I’ve mentioned, the people taking part in the parade are typically affiliated to a club, marching band, workplace, charity or something along those lines. This was a marching band and thinking back, I can’t help but feel sorry for the girls. It was really quite chilly and even if you were walking, I can’t imagine it would have warmed you up enough so you couldn’t feel the chill at all. Also:

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If I had less common sense than I have at the moment, this blog entry would be dedicated to photos of the horses that took part in the parade in Mainz. It’s little wonder I ended up with more photos from Mainz’s parade when they had horses as well. The horses were remarkably well-behaved given the noise the crowd was making.

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You know what I said about wanting sweets thrown at my face? It was in Mainz that I discovered that I very much want the opposite. They’d throw the sweets and I’d flinch and cover my head because honestly, some of those people were absolutely launching those sweets and it did actually hurt when one landed on your head or, indeed, any other part of you.

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Mainz is one of the more well-known parades in Germany, behind Cologne and Dusseldorf. All three are famous for their political floats. Now the floats in Mainz featured poems at the front explaining the story behind the float. This one was about FIFA’s corruption. There was another about the current German coalition, another about the NSA Scandal and another about Edward Snowden.

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This is just another marching band, but a rather remarkably dressed marching band it must be said. I have no idea why they’re dressed up like that. Maybe I should have bought the programme they were waving around in our faces. Oh well.

So yes. Those were the parades. Both featured varying degrees of drunkenness and litter, but they were both quite interesting to go and watch. Having spoken to my housemates and the children at school, I’ve discovered that some Germans love Fasching/Karneval etc., some actively dislike it and some are utterly indifferent towards it. That shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise, but it did surprise me a little. All in all. It was great and my only regret is that I didn’t eat more sweets.

Anyway, I’m sorry there aren’t more photos, but they’re all roughly the same if I’m honest. Also, you don’t want to give me an excuse to do a ‘Mainz Umzug: Horses!’ post.


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