19 April 2013

An Aix-ellent couple of days

Apparently I had a mini holiday yesterday; I went on a ferry, the factor 30 was out, I have sunburnt shoulders despite aforementioned presence of suncream, and there are now about 100 photos of the sea on my camera. Allow me to tell you about my daytrip to Île d'Aix on the hottest day of the year.

I mentioned in my previous post that my Auntie Sara and Maurice were visiting for a couple of days. Allow me to get you acquainted with them:

Maurice and Sara

Tuesday was spent introducing them to la vie melloise. I took them on the arboretum walk, and through the streets of Melle, and even though I've done this same walk countless times, I have never bored of it. It is particularly enjoyable this time of year when literally everyday a new flower or tree has burst into bloom, making each walk different. And since Sara is very knowledgable in all things botanical, I finally know what some of the plants are called. I reckon I have very nearly captured everything in Melle from every possible angle, but until that moment, here are some of my favourites from Tuesday for your perusal:

One of my favourite views in Melle
2 thirds of La Triade Romane
Finally the trees have blossom!
The old Melle Station, in use between 1885 and 1938
Tulips in front of the Hotel de Ville
Qu'est-ce que tu regardes, hein?

But back to our day by the sea! Having originally intended to go to Confolens and Angouleme yesterday, we changed plan when Dominique questioned why we'd chosen those places, and instead suggested we visit Île d'Aix, which I'd never heard of before. And what a fantastic recommendation! Merci bien, Domie!

At just 2km in length, Île d'Aix is the second smallest island in the Charentaise archipelago off the Atlantic coast. The island played a major part in protecting Rochefort in the 17th century, and as a result is heavily fortified, with fortifications surrounding the town in the south of the island, and 2 main forts, one in the north, one in the south.

Fort Liedot in the north of the island, which served as a prison until the 1960s, and is now used for entertainment and shows during the summer

Napolean adds to the island's history after having stayed there for 1 night following his defeat at the battle of Waterloo, before being recaptured and exiled to the island of Saint Helena. 

Where Napolean stayed, although don't quote me on that... ;)

In contrast to its battle-related history, Île d'Aix today is a peaceful haven of nature and stunning sea views. One such view is that of the famous Fort Boyard, once a military prison but more recently made known by the 1990s gameshow that took place on it.

Fort Boyard: 19th century fortification and later prison, and recent gameshow setting

A car-free zone, the only way to get onto the island is by boat, so we set off on the ferry in late morning, sailing past another fort, Fort Enet, en route. Without a cloud in the sky, it was clear we'd chosen the perfect day to go and see the island. The light sea breeze also meant that the temperature was bearable enough for walking for hours in blazing sunshine.

One of our favourite aspects of the island was its white-washed houses with terracotta roofs and coloured shutters. I'm fairly sure I ended up photographing almost every house on the island.

Shutters, bikes and flowers

Surprisingly, Île d'Aix isn't featured in many guidebooks, but I would thoroughly recommend it for a daytrip; there's plenty of beach for sunbathing and swimming, you can walk through and around the island for hours taking in the views, there's the historical element there too, and the fact that you have to get a ferry there makes it all the more exciting. The only downside was that the last ferry back to the mainland is at 6.30pm, meaning that you can't see the sunset from the island, which I imagine would have been gorgeous. 

It really was a brilliant couple of days, and I'm now looking forward to the arrival of my last lot of visitors, the parents, in 2 weeks time. Until then, onward and upward with the YARP! 

I will leave you with a selection of my favourite photos from Île d'Aix:

View towards Île d'Aix from Pointe de la Fumée on the mainland
Sparkly sea
Hotel de Ville, Île d'Aix style
It's as if they'd planned on dressing like the rainbow...
I don't imagine the island would be quite so lovely in winter
The tide goes out so far that the ferry times are really limited and change daily with the tides
You can see the La Rochelle to Île de Ré bridge in the background
Don't think this photo needs a caption, it pretty much speaks for itself
My attempt at being arty
Due to the absence of cars, the island is full of bikes
I think some of them could do with having their fringes trimmed
Auntie and niece, beautifully coordinated with the grass and lighthouses
The closest I got to a sunset

15 April 2013

A week of lasts

They say you never know what you have until it's gone, and that sentiment can definitely be applied to this past week for me. Not that it's all gone quite yet. But this week has definitely been the beginning of the end. I shall take you through it.

Sunday night was Mexican night. Alfredo hosted a fantastic soirée in which he was able to share his culture with us, which involved cooking us a typical chicken dish with CACTUS and chillis which tasted 20 times better than it sounds, playing Mexican picture bingo, drinking tequila, and playing musical chairs to Mexican music. It was such a great night and was the moment I realised how much I am going to miss my friends out here.

Clockwise from top left: Alfredo's present to each of us; group photo; Mexican bingo; the chicken and cactus dish
Thursday marked my last day of teaching at the lycée and it was actually sadder than I thought it would be. I had a class with my favourite 2 pupils (which may have something to do with the fact that they are basically my age and are really quite nice to look at) where we just played games, I got my interviews done for my YARP, I got a brilliant reference from my supervisor teachers, and they gave me a lovely little present and card to say thank you and goodbye. In hindsight it would have been nicer to work there more than only once a week, since I don't feel I really got a chance to have an impact on the pupils as they are in rotating class groups rather than set classes, so the most I saw the same pupils over the course of the year was probably only 4 times. Also, I've really enjoyed teaching there; the pupils are much more well-behaved than I was expecting, they're friendly, and it was fairly easy to get them to talk in class. So, good memories.

Leaving card and jewellery set from Sandrine and Manue
Anna and Maggie hosted the last party in Niort on Thursday night, which was a brilliant night with lots of food, lots of alcohol, lots of nationailities, lots of tears for some people, and lots of goodbyes. I have been waiting for the group photos to surface on facebook to put one on the blog, but they have yet to do so.

Alfredo and I went back to the lycée on Friday morning to watch a concert, in which 2 groups of pupils performed to the rest of the school after having spent the week working with professional musicians writing songs and in some cases learning more instruments. I was really impressed with what they'd managed to achieve in just 5 days, and it seemed like a great way for the pupils to end the term in high spirits.

Being treated to a guitar solo
And now summer has arrived it seems! After a week in which April Showers seemed to feature heavily in Melle, yesterday was the hottest day of the year here so far where it reached mid-20s. My day was made even better when I got a phone call from Rob as I was sitting in the sunshine to tell me that he'd just finished the Brighton marathon, making me a super-proud girlfriend. The good weather is meant to continue through the week, which is perfect for the arrival of my auntie Sara and Maurice in Melle tomorrow, so bring it on.

Summer lovin'
A la prochaine, je vous embrasse.

07 April 2013

Une année presque terminée

Where oh where does time go? It's been 2 and a half weeks since my last post, we're now over a quarter of the way through 2013, and I'VE ONLY GOT 4 WEEKS LEFT. What's even sadder is I'm about to enter into my last week of teaching. I know I moan about some of the kids, I have to wake up early, and lesson planning is a bit of a drag, but I really will miss being an assistante anglaise. I'll miss feeling like a celebrity surrounded by shouts of "'ello Emma, 'ow hare you'" every time I walk from one side of the school to the other. I'll miss little Maël in 6eme, my favourite pupil whose legs dangle off the chair since he is so tiny, and who makes such an effort to speak English in class despite making a mistake evey other word. I'll miss my car journeys with Laurent as he quizzes me each week on English current affairs to which of course I am totally oblivious. I'll miss school lunches where I get the opportunity to try random but delicious French dishes such as rabbit, stingray, and duck drumsticks. Most of all I'll probably miss Domie and Anne-Lise, who have never ceased to try and make me feel welcome. 

But hey, it's not over yet, and I've still got to tell you what I've been up to for the last couple of weeks. I shall attempt to summarize the highlights.

Rob's been here again. He didn't want me to be alone for Easter, so turned up at Stansted airport as I was about to go back to France after having been back for a day to go to a friend's 21st, informing me that he'd booked himself onto my flight and would be staying for the next 9 days. We didn't do much, since I had work, and he is currently training for 2 MARATHONS (once again I'm going to be cheeky and post the link to his sponsor page just in case anyone is feeling generous: virginmoneygiving.com/run-rob-run), but we ate yummy food, did more walking, and went to the Easter masses. 

The Easter Vigil was one of the nicest masses I've ever been to. Normally in England I'm playing keyboard or clarinet for this mass so I don't really get to appreciate it properly, but with the fire and candlelight procession into the beautiful Eglise Sainte-Hilaire, joyous singing resonating around the building, and church bells being rung on the Gloria to celebrate the ressurection, I felt so lucky. I wish I could have subtly taken a picture of everyone with their candles.

On Easter Sunday, after mass we went for a walk to Saint-Romans-les-Melle, which I'd already been to but Rob hadn't, and I think it's one of my favourite places in the area. It's just so peaceful and pictureque, and there were so many flowers. I literally couldn't stop taking pictures, Rob was getting a bit frustrated.

Here's some more photos from our afternoon in St-Romans:

Lavoir de Saint-Romans on La Béronne river
These little lambs have yet to be told by their parents that it's rude to stare
Christ est ressuscité, il est vraiment ressuscité!
On Monday evening we watched the sunset, but got there too early so left before it had fully set:

Night night Sun.
On Wednesday Rob left.

On Friday night I went to Poitiers with Mike, Sonia, Bethan, Amy and Lizzie for an 'end of year abroad' night out. It was a really good night, but was sad to think that might be the last time I see most of them :(

Other than that, time has been spent trying to do my YARP. Cry :(

And so here begins my final few weeks. A la prochaine xxx