Settling in, yet ready to go home

Beijing surprises me on a daily basis, just last night, I was exploring the art district which used to be a massive industrial estate. It was poorly lit with old factories and modern sculptures everywhere. It would have been considered a very unsafe area to walk around at night, especially when we lost one of our friends and we ran as fast as we could when we heard a chainsaw grinding in the darkness. Yes, I suppose it was a bit silly, but darkness and adventure plays on your mind in unsettling environments. Anyway, after climbing up an abandoned stadium and walking over a long factory walk way, we made it to a scanty local bar which would have been closed down a long time ago if hygiene standards ever got a look in.

Last night was also KTV night. In China, karaoke is a massive pastime! Where groups of friends hire out private karaoke booths and they bring their own food and drink and they sing until their heart is content! My heart was anything but content when I first arrived at the venue. How were they expecting me to sing in front of people regardless if they were my friends or not? I am a socially awkward person in groups of people as it is, but I eventually got into it with the enthusiasm from my friend Billy and we had a ball singing old and new classics, until my voice started to go and that’ s when I decided to call it quits!

Work is going very well, I wish that I had had a placement like this when I was in Paris, although Paris was a very enriching, cultural experience, I have to admit that this placement is a very wealthy investment. I am given tasks which hold real responsibility whereas I lost a lot of motivation in my previous internship even though I was paid. The marketing director brings me into all his meetings where he gives me a very comprehensive insight into Chinese markets, learning new digital marketing strategies and establishing relationships with clients and suppliers. At the moment, I am working for clients such as Bentley motors, CCTV (Chinese Media Corporation) and Sansiri. I have another month left, yet they have made me feel like a very valuable part of the team. I would thoroughly recommend an internship out in China, because there are so many misconceptions about this nation.

Getting a taxi in this country is the most nerve wrecking issue here though. First of all, none of them speak English. You are essentially screwed if you do not have a business card with your destination’s address in Chinese. There is also a lot of hostilities towards Westerners with regards to taxis. It is quite funny though, taxis which are 100 meters away with their availability light on, will turn it off when they see a group of us calling out for a taxi or they will drive past and refuse point blank.  I thought that they didn’t want to pick up groups, but it has also happened when I have just been with one person. There are many unlicensed taxis that stop to negotiate a price with you, but this is a very bad idea. It is important that you always take a licensed taxi that has a meter and the license plate starts with ‘B’. I would rather walk than take a black cab or one of those little motorised bikes with a two people cabin attached onto the back.

The weather is so hot and stuffy here. At the weekend, it was 40 degrees and I was dying, although I am getting used to it! I saw someone post on Facebook that there was a heatwave back home with a screenshot of 19 degrees, Belfast as his status. I don’t think may people from Northern Ireland would survive with the heat out here. Taking that into consideration, I think that I will be the only one with a winter coat on during the Indian Summer in September!

I will be going back to more informative posts from this blog onwards!

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China is no Paradise, apart from the Great Wall!

I genuinely feel like I am living a very fast paced lifestyle at the moment. A lot has happened in the space of the week and the days have rolled into each other so much that it seems that it is just one long day. I barely have the occasion to speak to my family or close friends, because of the time difference. I spoke to my mum for the first time in two weeks and even that was a struggle to do, because it was near my bedtime, when it was a suitable time to call her. Anyway, I don’t feel homesick, but I do feel very disconnected, more so than when I was in France. My closest best friend- cousin is in South America, which is 14 hours behind so we barely get a chance to chat unless she has come back early from a party and not knowing what is happening with my Parisian sister is a pain as well. At least, I am only out here for another 5 weeks, but at the same time, I am thoroughly enjoying this experience.

Crossing the road in Beijing is one of the biggest challenges I have ever met. You have to master the art of jay walking and even at that, you have watch yourself, before a bus or taxi wrecks you. In the beginning, everyone huddled together to pass the 8 lanes and seriously, the green man does not have the same respect that it does back home. He has no respect. You have to walk and hope for the best. Yesterday, I almost took a walk rage at the cars, because the green man was on, so I literally held my hand like a stop sign until I managed to cross the 8 lanes of traffic. Sometimes, I feel a little safe with regards to the fact that there would be a UK media explosion if a taxi knocked me down here, so I hope that they are more careful when I cross the road. I tell myself this every day and at the end of the day I count myself lucky that I am not one of the 40 people who are killed daily on the roads in Beijing. This morning, I saw 5 people sitting in the front of a pickup and three sitting on top of the rubble in the back. I can’t cope with this hazardous driving!

I also feel very lucky that I have not yet been chewed up by an escalator, which horrifically happened a few weeks ago and there was another incident last week. I looked for the emergency stop button on the escalator yesterday and I couldn’t find it. I guess that if I or someone else started to get grinded I wouldn’t be able to save them, because Chinese escalators do not have the basic emergency stop button (well I couldn’t find it).

Great Wall TimeI have been to the Great Wall of China. After climbing 2000 steps, I finally arrived at the Great Wall. It was the most momentous experience of my entire life. I had always dreamed about going to the Great Wall when I was younger and when I finally walked on it, I almost cried with happiness! I was so fortunate to share the experience Great Wallwith special people who have inspired me throughout this Chinese journey.

So, I have learned how to bargain hard in Beijing. At the start, I wasn’t that good at all, I was paying way over the odds. For example, I got a pair of Ray Bans for £23, but another Northern Irish guy managed to get 5 pairs for £20. I was astounded and promised myself that I would bargain down to their factory price from then. I luckily got the Northern Irish guy to bargain a Burberry coat from £385 to £65.  I have met a few inspiring Northern Irish people out here, a guy who set up his own stock exchange company from he was 14 years old and another man who is CEO of a tourist company in North Korea.

I guess I am feeling pretty drained. I am up early in the mornings for work, something is always happening in the evenings and I do not get to bed until after midnight. I went for a 10 km run last week and I am convinced that it did me more harm than good! First of all, it took me at least 10 minutes to cross the 8 lane roads, I had to continuously check my map and I got so overwhelmed by the fumes that I had to take a breather after 4km. It wasn’t necessarily a breather, more like a cough the pollution out of my lungs so I could run home again. I am definitely wearing a mask this evening and I am going to the forest park beside the Olympic Stadium which is where all the runners go. I have a marathon to train for and the training is not going very well at the moment apart from muscle conditioning and speed training.

Anyway, I will have to tell you how I got set up on this program in my next post for those who want to work out in China for a while!

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Beginning to live the Chinese Fairy Tale

I have about an hour before I go to Mandarin class, so I may well take the time to update my blog a little. Speaking about Mandarin lessons, I put myself naively into the intermediate level. I sat through two hours of pretending I knew what was going on, because my friend convinced me that my third language would be a lot easier to learn after French. This was essentially bullshit, but my disorientated mind-set convinced myself that I was a language genius and I sat through two hours of gibberish, knowing jack- shit and praying that I wouldn’t be caught out! My English boss, who spent over 12 years becoming fluent in both written and spoken Mandarin, laughed when I told him about this. Ridiculous foreigner, thinking she already has a hold on one of the most complicated languages in the world haha! Anyway, I have put myself back down to basic level and I am ready for the scrutiny from the other interns haha!

Mandarin

I had a roller coaster of a first week at work. I had to use the metro and I must admit hands on that the Beijing metro is the best metro I have ever used in my experience. It makes the Parisian metro look like a developing country in comparison. I am astounded by the sheer efficiency, practiciality and cleaniless of the Beijing metro. The amount of people using it makes Gare du Nord look calm, but it is able to cope with the amount of people and I was able to work it out within the first two trips, which is surprising! The second time I used it though, I was hugely overwhelmed by the sea of people going to and from stations in the underground. I thought I was going to have a panick attack, because there was no personal space and it made me realise why people are stampled on at huge, unorganised events. Anyway, I got used to the number of people very quickly and I can now use it without any undue anxiety.

My first day at work was a bit of a culture shock or maybe I am not used to working in these sorts Work n Chinaof environments. I am the only Westerner in my office apart from my boss and this was very intimating. I was told that it was a bilingual office, but everyone seemed intimidated to speak to me.  I walked into the office and I was greeted by the English director, who took me out to lunch and taught me how to use chopsticks after several failed attempts at eating noodles. Why do I make these decisions in front of important people? I think the Chinese were amazed by the way I attempted to eat noodles, but I am used to the Chinese staring at me now. I was already given a project to do from the second day and although this internship is unpaid, I feel very motivated, because I have already been given two projects to do and I have a certain level of responsibility, which I didn’t have when I worked in Paris. Basically, going from sending letters to writing up company credentials is a huge step for me and a step in the right direction regardless if I am being paid or not.

Towards the end of last week, I was able to make work mates with a few Chinese colleagues, fortunately these ones have spent time in the US and UK, so they were more open to establishing a relationship with a big, blonde foreigner, who cannot speak Mandarin. Anyway, I feel a lot more settled at work and I am lucky to have this internship.

Club in BeijingOn Friday night, I went out to a club in the famous Western quarter, where there is basically an avenue of Western style bars and clubs. These are not Western bars or clubs. They are Chinese. The standard of these venues are so high that claiming them to be western style doesn’t give them any justice. I went to a 5 star venue where it was open bar, after I crossed a random name off on the guess list haha. I can’t explain it well, but there was a roof top bar with leather sofas, furnished and carpeted interior and I felt like I was a VIP. I then went to another venue after that, where they had a marble interior with gold and white furnishings. I thought I wasn’t a fan of clubbing, but this is a very high standard and smoking is predominately prohibited. I will have to do a far bit of clubbing, before I go back to reality in final year. I have it in my head that I am going to go head strong for 9 months in final year, graduate and then emigrate. I am proud of my origins, but I and my family know that I will never settle in Northern Ireland.

blonde in BeijingBeing a big, blonde Westerner in Beijing isn’t as bad as people made it out to be. Seriously though, there are shoes and clothes available that fit me and the Chinese are not that much smaller than me. I perceived that I would be a giant here, but I really am not! I do have a much more muscular build, which has been commented openly on at work, but that doesn’t bother me. It must be said that I have been told that Chinese mothers and friends are very quick to tell their daughters or friends that they are getting fat! Isn’t that really rude??! My Chinese colleague said that she put on 20kg when she lived in the UK for a year and when she came back her mother asked her if she had just given birth! Apparently this is very normal!

Summer PalaceLast weekend, I visited Summer Palace with a few other interns, which was a really worthwhile day trip. It was magnificent! For the first time, I felt like I was in a Chinese storybook and there is a lot more to explore! Going to the Great Wall this weekend on Saturday, which I am so excited about! There is blue sky today for the first time since I arrived, which may explain my very good mood! Anyway, I will have to tell you about bargaining with the Chinese, working with the Chinese and the Great Wall in my next post!

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Running the Paris Marathon

It started off with a bang and everyone was suppressing their energy and excitement in the beginning, because the anticipation was fully charged. Myself, I was on a high, because it was my first marathon and I knew that 42 kilometers which laid ahead of me were in the most beautiful city in the world, but I sort of wanted to let everyone know that I had been marathon training for the best part of half a year!

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The atmosphere in Paris was unreal. It was really cool, to wait and start alongside a friend who was also running it. However, she has a fitness league of her own, and I looked on in awe, as she fired off into the distance at the starting line.

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The Champs d’Eylsees was cleared off cars for the special occasion and the famous avenue belonged to us, the marathon runners, and the sidelines were filled with tourists and Parisians alike, I was so overwhelmed, that I’m glad I was wearing a running cap to hide my watering eyes! As I made my way down Rue de Rivoli towards Bastille, I had loads of energy and I would say I was in top form. I had to make the conscious effort to slow down because, I was fully aware that I was running 42 kilometers, not 10 kilometers. We made it to the Bois to Vincennes (Forest on the East of Paris) and I was pacing behind the 4h15mins marker, rather proud that it was coming up to the half marathon and I felt like I was still going strong! Finally, after a tour around the Bois de Vincennes and its magnificent castle surroundings, I made it to the half marathon mark! This is where it hit me. I had to run another half marathon. I convinced myself that I was fine and I managed to pass 20 kilometers way in front of the 4h30 pacer. Yes, I had thought to myself, when I ran through the artificial wall that the organisers had set up to encourage us to keep running. I almost thought it was laughable, the thought of a mental wall that you had to break through to continue running, because I had trained like mad for this marathon and I didn’t show any signs of weakening as I ran pass the Eiffel Tower.

Marathon 1

Then it hit me. It hit me at 34 kilometers, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t realise that this was the wall that I had to mentally challenge to keep going. I played cat and mouse with the 4h30 pacer for 2 kilometers, before I gave in and seen him run off into the distance. My 4h30 finishing time, no longer became my priority as I realised that running a marathon wasn’t about getting an awesome time, it was this personal challenge that I had set myself up for and it was only me who could break through this wall. As I stretched at the side of the road, a French Angel rod along on her bike, stopped and offered me pills against muscle cramp. I took them without thinking, painting this woman as the Mother Theresa of Marathons and it was only after when I realised that I had taken pills from an absolute stranger! I told myself to dig deep as I found it almost impossible to run a kilometer without stopping, so I took a caffeine gel only to realise that it was COFFEE FALVOURED!! Bleurgh, definitely a great booster! I then ran alongside a runner for 2 kilometers before he fell behind in the ‘Walking Dead’ zone in the Bois de Boulogne (Wood on Westside of Paris). I found this scene rather amusing, because I had watched a few Walking Dead episodes earlier in the year and the image of everyone walking and slowly running was little to amuse me in hard times! I ran the last couple of kilometers very slowly and then I finally saw the sign for 26 miles/42km, but the finish line was 500 meters around the corner, why do they do this? I had to literally scrap out my empty energy reserves to run this excess part of what I thought was the end of the marathon!

marathon 6

The finish line was class, but I was in a lot of pain! When I crossed with a time of 5h06mins, I literally started crying, I still don’t know why I was sobbing, I think the man giving me my hard earned medal felt a bit awkward, that I was sobbing and my running cap didn’t quite cover my big, teary face haha! One of my close friends, came to meet me at the end of the race and it was great to share the experience a friend and have a picnic in the Jardin de Tuileries. marathon 5

I spent the next day in bed and didn’t go to work, because my back was killing me. My workmates already knew from September that I had been training for it so it came as no surprise … plus it was a Monday haha!

Would I recommend the Paris Marathon? Yes, I would. It is scenic and the crowds are really supportive. I also found it super organized and efficient with really friendly volunteers and enthusiastic support music bands. However the longest, hardest part is in the Bois de Boulogne where I got rather lonely. I guess what I learn from this to talk to other runners, rather than listening to music and making it a lonely, individual challenge.

Despite, the number of times, I cursed myself for putting myself through so much hardship, I enjoyed the buzz and I have signed up for the Dublin Marathon in October 2015!

If you want to sign up for the Paris Marathon 2016, you have to create an account through A.S.O Challenges and then sign up through this platform! Here is the link: https://www.asochallenges.com/

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My Top Five Parisian Museums

Everyone knows that there are tons of museums in Paris. They make up a rich part of French culture and showcase the history of France.

If you are over 26 or non- European, you can benefit from free entry into any museum on the first Sunday of every month or if you are under 26 and a European citizen you have free entry anytime!!! So take advantage of that and do not try to cram every museum into your agenda two weeks before your 26th birthday!

  1. Musée de Quai Branley- RER C: Pont d’Alma

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This museum is a little quirky because of the impressive layout. First of all, you walk through a little garden to get to the entrance and then you walk but an ascending corridor to get to the exhibits. The exhibits are mostly artifacts from Australasian tribes, which is the specialty of this museum. However, this past year they have hosted an exposition on the history and culture of tattoos. It was the first time that I took time to read every caption beside each artifact and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
Musée Rodin- Metro: Varenne

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I went here again recently with a Parisian, who had never been there before, goes to show that this secret beauty has not yet been revealed as a massive tourist spot! All the better for me, because I find more secluded spots in paris a lot more enjoyable than the hot tourist spots. The beauty of this museum is the fact that the majority of Rodin’s sculptures are outside in the back garden and you feel like you are taking a walk in someone’s fancy garden. The garden used to be over grown and like Rodin’s personal forest where he put his sculptures. Now, it is a masterpiece with his sculptures basking in the golden reflection of Napoleon’s tomb.

  1. Musée Orsay- Metro: Assemblée Nationale/ RER C: Musée d’Orsay

I love modern art and here you will find all the modern Artists from Van Gogh, Pissarro, Monet and others. I am not an art expert, but I find the artistic harmony of all these artists during this period rather fastinating! Although, they are all individual in their own right, I do not think it takes an Art Expert to realise that light was the strong influence during the period of Modern Abstract Art. The Museum itself is laid out very well and despite the large number of visitors

  1. Museum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle- Metro Stop: Gare d’Austerlitz20150124_132907

20150124_135338I have been to this museum three times now and it never ceases to amaze me. It is located in a pretty sweet spot at the edge of Jardin de Plantes, so you can take a cute stroll afterwards and visit the massive glass houses where there are tropical plants from all over the world. The most interesting bit about this museum is the fact that it holds the skeletons of Louis XIV’s former pet elephants and skeletons from every group of animals as well as skeletons from the prehistoric age!

  1. Musée des Invalides- Metro stop: Invalides

This is my all-time favourite museum, it was once a hospital for the war wounded and then became a residence for the disabled soldiers under the orders of King Louis XIV, but now it is a great war museum which features every single French war from the 100 years’ war, Napoleonic war period and the first and second world war. It has canons, tanks, old uniforms, rifles and describes coherently the history of each war that France was ever involved in. I am actually getting excited to go again whilst I am writing about it. I am a big war history freak if you have not already guessed and what is better is the opportunity to see Napoleon’s Tomb in all its splendor in the magnificent building right next to it.

So, I have visited a vast amount of museums in Paris, but the thing is, is that the museums are changing all the time and there is always a good excuse to go back. For example, Musee d’orsay regulary has limited seasonal expositions such as the Oscar Wilde one they had a few years ago and the Musee d’Invalides has a light show every Summer!

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How the French can tell you are British in France

Eiffel tower

No matter how much you try to integrate yourself in French society, you will always be a big foreigner with a big obvious accent and as soon as they hear or look at you they will automatically assume you are English before considering that there are three other constituencies in the United Kingdom. I am going to give the low down on what makes you a Big British Beast in Frogland.

The Accent

As soon as you say ‘Bonjour’ they have already recognized that you are not French. It is fine, I know I will never lose my English speaking accent, but that doesn’t mean that I want to start speaking English, even though the Northern irish accent was voted the sexiest in the UK ;).  Anyway, the French genuinely find the British accents quite charming, so I play that to my advantage and I always feel so rewarded yet a little patronised when a French person over compliments my French speaking abilities!

Marks and Spencers 

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If you are looking for a hub of British people, look no further than the closest Marks and Spencers. I do not normally shop here back home, but when I see a M&S in Paris, my heart melts and I spend around an hour just looking at everything I won’t be buying and I leave the place with the least British thing ever: Pineapple Juice. However, it is great for a little scone, great teabags and cherry bakewell tarts! Plus everyone around you is English speaking and it is a little booster against homesickness =)!

Clothes

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I asked a French person, what constitutes British style. They more or less said that British style can go either way. There I was wearing high waisted shorts and a floral crop top in the middle of summer, but I couldn’t feel anymore uneasy considering I was the epiphany of typical British dress code. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb, but thankfully they said that the typical English young girl style was leggings, crop tops and anything floral. Then, I tried to dress more like a Parisian, which seemed to never venture outside skinny jeans, boots and blazers to fit in, so now I wear whatever I want, but the tweed jackets and burgundy colours, only reinforces the British look, that I was previously trying to tone down.

Talking and laughing too loud

This is a dead giveaway. Getting unto the metro to reach our desired destination, we were in full blown party mode and we wanted everyone to know it and join in! So, as I was too reserved to start singing Anaconda on the metro, I actively encouraged my friends to sing it when I realised that there was a grumpy French boy slagging us off to his friends. I made sure I made the rest of his journey as pleasant as I could and he was even more bewildered when I told him that just because we are English speakers doesn’t mean that we do not have the capability to understand French.

We are the only ones roaming the streets at night trying to find an open fastfood restaurant

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Yes, it is a cultural part of our lifestyles! We need food at three o’clock in the morning after a night out and the French just do not seem to have grasped this demand! The anguish we feel when we have found a fastfood restaurant with full lights on, but has closed at 11pm is too much to put into words! They could cater for the entire British and Irish expat populations in France, but instead they shut up early and leave just to eat on dry bread and cheese until we manage to get out of bed the next morning with very little food in our stomachs to equate to enough energy to make ourselves breakfast.

We are awkward

I genuinely still do not know how to process this whole greeting each other on the cheeks thing. Like, I can’t remember the last time I kissed my parents never mind a complete stranger the first time I meet them. Being culturally obliged to do this every time, makes me uneasy and it does not get better over time. However, I do admit that when you have to do the little pigeon kissing thing with a beautiful Frenchman, I am not complaining! However, I did not realise that you are not meant to have lips to cheeks contact… so I have been doing it wrong all this time, which makes me even more awkward at the thought of what the French person was thinking when I gave them a full smacker on the cheek, well I suppose it is better late than never!

One more thing before I finish…

Since when, did we have to start thanking people for doing something that they haven’t done. Okay, so this is serious business. I got told off, because I did not write ‘Thank you in advance’ in an email. This is complete and utter stupidity. This has to be the rudest thing I have encountered in this otherwise overpolite society. Asking someone for a favour and saying thanks in advance is assuming straightaway that this person will do the favour or demand requested. They say I am too direct in my emails so I had to tone them down by putting please at the start of every sentence and translating French emails directly into English only constitutes a load of waffle which would otherwise only need a few words to get the message across!

Well, this informative blog, did turn into a little rant after a while, but I do admit that I love the French culture, but I do feel that I have embraced being British with a love for everything French, instead of attempting to be French and alienating myself even further from my host society!

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The French Paradox

Everyone wants to know the same thing about the French… How do they manage to say so skinny whilst eating like fatties! Have you seen the number of pastry shops around here? When I first came here in 2011, I had this idealistic image in my head that I was going to go back to Northern Ireland looking super slim and French. I loved the pastry life, eating Nutella and Brioches for breakfast, drinking café crème, drinking real hot chocolate, eating cheese, having a baguette alongside my dinner and always having a dessert after meals. Unfortunately, as you may guess from the sweet French life style I was living, I didn’t get skinny… I got fatter.

So, I just couldn’t understand it, you know, this logic I had in my head about if i ate like a French person, I would eventually become a dainty Parisian.

It was only when I got back to Northern Ireland, started eating proper British food and working out constantly that I finally managed to get back into relative shape for first year of university.

Now, I am back in France for my third year abroad and I have to admit that I have unlocked the code as to why the French stay skinny without getting fat on what I would have called a fat diet. The thing is, is that the French enjoy great food in modest amounts at the right times of day.

I wanted to really delve into this paradox on my third year abroad working in a company, where most people have a sedentary lifestyle. This time round in France, I literally avoid all great French delights to a minimum and I have turned towards Japanese delicacies which are healthy and scrumptious!

My French colleague explained to me, why the French are able to stay in great shape. First of all, they never snack between meals, they have three square meals and each meal is an important part of their day. Snacking between meals and eating on the go are not the norm here, which is probably why I felt I was being judged when I was eating Crocodile Haribo sweets on the metro. You will probably notice now, that French people do not eat and walk at the same time, unlike the British who have made the eating on the go as part of their busy city lifestyle!

Secondly, the French would generally eat something sweet for breakfast along with coffee, such as a croissant or pain au chocolate and this does reduce sugar cravings throughout the day. The French breakfast is a lot smaller than a British breakfast, but it is a lot sweeter.

Thirdly, for lunch, this is what surprised me at my workplace, they eat loads for lunch! They have a starter, main and dessert! I wondered how they managed to stay so slim. Lunch is regarded as the main meal of the day, which is contrary to the British diet, where dinner is the main meal as lunch is normally eaten on the go, especially in most working lifestyles and I myself, I always ate lunch on the go going between university classes. The French regard meal times as an important times of the day to spend with friends and family and they eat slowly as well. In my company, they do take their full lunch hour in the canteen.

Dinnertime which is between 8 and 9pm, my colleague said that the French traditionally had soup, which is where the verb ‘souper’ comes from and it soon changed to ‘diner’ taken from English, to dine. They eat relatively less at this time and it is mainly only children have a snack after school time.

So, hopefully, you have now got your head around the French paradox now and you realise that it is not really a mystery as to why the French stay skinny!!

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Weekend in Amsterdam

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What do you think about when you hear Amsterdam? I had long heard about the distinguished stereotype of Amsterdam, but I never realised to what extent the stereotype would become the reality when I got there!

How to get there from Paris and other major cities in Europe

You can there easily and cheaply by bus! There is a bus company called Megabus that operates budget bus journeys between most major cities in Europe depending on where you are residing! I used it going to Cologne in Germany and it is rather comfortable and toilets are onboard as well! You need to be prepared to sleep though! To go to Amsterdam from Paris it takes on average seven and a half hours, otherwise you can take the train with Thalys which is a three hour journey, however book in advance for the best deals! Okay, enough about logistics!

Bikes

As soon as I got off the bus, it was clear that I had now reached Amsterdam! There was bikes everywhere, bikes tied up along the canal railings, bike parking bays full to the max, bike lanes that took priority over pedestrian walkways and what was left of room for cars. I think this city bodes well with me considering I have always preferred cycling over public transport! Although, I did nearly get knocked over a few times by cyclists who storm the city with speed!

Canals

The city is mapped with scenic canals, in fact there are so many canals and little cute bridges that I wondered what would happen if the city flooded, due to the fact that Amsterdam is below sea level!amsterdam

Anne Frank’s House

There are many tourist attractions in Amsterdam, but the only one I genuinely wanted to go to was Anne Frank’s House which despite her family being in hiding for almost two years, it seemed like they had literally been hiding under the Nazi’s noses as the house was situated along a main canal in the city center! It is has been largely converted into a modern museum, but the annex (where the family hid) is still intact! The queue lasted for nearly an hour and a half and I almost freaked out after realizing that there was a possibility that I couldn’t go in with my rucksack, so just to let you know they are quite strict on allowing tourists in with large rucksacks, however I got in on the condition that I wore the rucksack on my chest! The museum has old artifacts and scriptures from Anne’s diary written everywhere! I had to climb narrow and straight stairs to the annex and I was surprised to see that the original bookcase which covered the door to their hiding place was still there with all the books and binders still shelved in it! You would have never have guessed that there was a living space behind it! I was rather disappointed to see that all the furniture from the hiding place had been removed and there was just empty rooms with artifacts mounted on the walls in rooms, it was cool to see that Anne’s photos where still on her bedroom wall! The museum is worth the visit and I did make me realise the extent of human evil and irrational racism that still exists today.

Red Light District

I had already conjured an image in my head of what the Red Light District would look like. I had imagined a grotty and ill lighted area with sorry looking prostitutes and sleazy men. You would be surprised by how far removed my stereotype was! Once I was in the red light district, I didn’t realised I was actually in it until someone pointed out the women in the windows! It was actually surreal, it was a buzzing touristy area and I felt rather safe! As I ventured further, the number of young women i, presumably students behind windows seemed to increase. Apparently, they have a blue light district aswell… I really didn’t want to know what that consisted of! I would say in the evening that some of them generally seemed like down-graded Victoria Secret Models, modelling through large windows in little red lighted boxes. I had to keep this thought in mind to avoid thinking of what they actually were! In the daytime, the district did seem very dirty, it was not as glamourous nor touristy and although most of the windows were empty, those who were there, didn’t seem to be there by any choice, assuming that they had locked themselves in a vicious cycle, which was a sorry sight to see.

Coffeeshops

The idea of being able to consume certain recreational drugs legally really did astound me, even though I was already aware of this beforehand. The casual weed scent lurking around some corners and specialized coffee shops where I highly doubt coffee was the main priority were a regular occurrence, in particular close to the Red Light District. I, myself, was not keen on the idea of trying out these Amsterdam delicacies, but I did however try a space cake which rendered me both giggly and paranoid. I did eventually go into a coffee shop with my French companion, which had reggae style dudes chilling outside it and an old man who approached subtly about his ‘flats’ in the Red Light District whilst my friend waited in the queue. I had to leave after 20 minutes, because the fumes made me too light headed, least to say, I’m glad I didn’t enjoy it haha!

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Cheese shops

Holland is the second cheese country in Europe, after France of course! It was no secret when I got there and all I could see was cheese shops everywhere with free samples!! I ate nearly all the free samples and I even had sample cheese for breakfast on Sunday morning! Haha, myself and my French companion went into cheese shop after cheese shop and finally the Frenchman was content with his expensive cheese purchase along with its fancy bag, only to leave it behind in an alleyway when he smoked a cigarette and he did not realise his cheese’s fate until a couple of hours later! I found this hilarious, what with a cheese loving Frenchman losing his cheese and his quest to find the same cheese in the many cheese shops before leaving for France!

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Here ends my tale about my weekend in Amsterdam, I did experience a feel good atmosphere in Holland and I doubt it will be my last time there as I still need to visit Van Gogh’s Museum, take a canal boat tour and go out clubbing!

Posted in amsterdam, Anne Frank's House, bikes, canals, cheeseshops, coffeeshops, megabus, red light district, trains, Travel, weekend break | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How I Afford to Travel… And You May Not Like What I’m Going To Say

A pretty inspiring post!

Kate from the States

The honest truth – I never have the money I need to travel, but I buy the ticket anyway. I’ve realized that money comes and goes, but the more I make, the harder it is to part with it and weirdly, the less I have, the easier it becomes to budget.

I don’t do that saving account, checking account, travel account thing either. I am not rational. I am extreme. I want to travel and so I do. There is no in between. While I was working my first career job in public relations, I realized early on that it was going to take me forever to save all the money I would need to see the world. I come from a middle class family, I’m the middle child of five and I live in one of the most expensive places in America – Long Island, New York. I don’t…

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The Paris Metro Experience

metroI think that the Paris metro has become such a distinct part of Paris life that I had to write another article about it! Can you empathise with anyone these points?

Eating on the metro

As much as eating on public transport is acceptable in the UK, it seems to go against the norms on the Parisian metro. I sat eating a packet of sweets on the metro once, not only did I break French protocol for snacking in-between meals, but I felt a moral obligation to offer everyone a sweet as pairs of eyes grazed upon my packet of Haribo crocodiles (I didn’t of course =P)…

Staring is for Weirdos

You have to be really careful about not making eye contact on the metro, because God forbid if you do, they will either consider you a weirdo or you could glance into the eyes of a weirdo and they will think that you are coming on to them. However, I have engaged in eye flirtations with a few beautiful Frenchman on the metro, which is a very risky game, especially if you get off at the same station and you awkwardly walk a bit slower behind him to make sure you take different exit.

The metro is built for the skinny French people

First of all, if you have actually paid for your ticket, you have to get through a turn style which has the width a little larger than the size of an average British woman and it only gets worse if you want to squeeze someone in behind you, although there have been a lot more large barriers installed for people with suitcases and prams. There are hundreds of stairs going up and down and long corridors before you actually get to the right platform and the seats inside the metro are so small and close together that all concept of personal space goes out the window.

Dragging your suitcase

I always help those struggling up the stairs with their suitcases because I have often been in that position. Believe me it is not a nice position to be in, as when you get to the top of one set of stairs, you find that there is yet another one or two to conquer. Myself, being a strong and independent woman tends to struggle silently whilst cursing everyone inside my head for not helping me, yet I automatically refuse help when offered and curse myself for being so stupid when I meet the next set of stairs!

There are no toilets

What is this?! If there was toilets, Paris could solve a general social problem. The smell of piss would go away and everyone would be happy and breathe healthily. I did discover a functioning toilet in the Champs Elysees metro station last weekend, which was a surprise to my eyes, but apart from that, men can count themselves lucky that they can casually relieve themselves whereas women have to grin and bear it.

Pickpockets

Seen these little beggars this weekend, they are normally two Roma Gypsy girls or boys who work in pairs. I spotted them last weekend. With the Christmas markets, they are essentially working overtime, with the massive influx of tourists. I noticed them get on, look around and make their way up the metro, eying up any poor soul who wasn’t looking after their belongings well enough. They were dressed well surprisingly, made me think maybe I was making an ill stereotype, but I was right, it is all part of their game plan to make you think that they are just two normal young teenagers. These teenagers are essentially the reason why they have a regular pickpocket announcement on the most frequented metro lines.

Metro Musicians

These musicians can be either a beautiful addition to your journey or an awful consequence of your decision to take the metro instead of the public bike! Sometimes, you will get genuine musicians who sing well and play instruments who contribute invaluably to your journey and makes you want to give them a euro for their efforts, whilst others getting on with their boom box attached to a former shopping carrier trolley will make you want to get off at the next stop and the inconvenience of all the racket (noise) will put you off the metro for a long time.

There is so much more I could write about, but I will leave it here and someday I may be inspired to write another one!

Posted in eating, metro musicians, northern irish girl, Paris, paris metro, pickpockets, skinny french people, staring, toilets, tourists, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment