Spring Break in the Balkans

After a gruelling seven weeks of work (I’m joking – what work?) we had another two week break before our contracts finished. This time with the weather improving I decided to head to the Balkans for some sight seeing and a bit of sun. One of the other assistants travelled with me for about half the trip which was lovely! Hope you had fun Ruth. Warning this post is a little longer than usual as it includes a bit of a history lesson about the events of the 90s, please read on.

The holiday began with a very early morning train ride to Paris to catch my plane to Zagreb (Croatia). Zagreb was a surprise, very European (it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and the women were very pretty, wearing stylish clothes, sunglasses and walking the cutest dogs. I visited the Upper town (read: old town) and had an explore in the rest of the city but the highlight was visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships. This quirky museum displays mementos that remain after a relationship ends, things donated by people around the globe. My favourite was an toaster with the description: “When I moved out and across the country I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”

After Zagreb I flew to Split and met Ruth. We ate lots of Pizza and seafood and explored the Roman ruins and climbed hills. After one day there we took a ferry to Hvar, an Island where we spent Ruth’s birthday. We did much the same as in Split but also sat on beaches had a champagne breakfast and watched gorgeous sunsets. Hvar was stunning!

We popped through to Kotor (Montenegro) for two days and climbed the fortress, 260m high up a hill and enjoyed amazing views from our hotel. The night we arrived in Kotor we had the strangest meal ever, so strange that it has it’s own blog post! If you haven’t read it already please check it out. Kotor really reminded me a lot of Queenstown, however in this case it was a bay rather than a lake the views were similarly amazing.

We headed back through to Dubrovnik and endured a crazy bus driver who was gunning it the whole way, Ruth had to take some motion sickness medication. Dubrovnik was lovely and sunny, but unfortunately quite windy (reminding me of another NZ city, Wellington) and full of tourists. On our second day we managed to beat some of the tourists up and walked around the city walls. We also went into lots of churches, a couple of museums and explored the city streets which are all pedestrianised within the old town. Ate some oysters, ice cream and drank beer. We also saw a couple of moving exhibits about the Siege of Dubrovnik and those who defended the city. I later visited the graves of those killed and whose photos were displayed in the memorial room. It was heartbreaking to see the grave of one 17 year old defender.

On Sunday I headed on to Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH), with my first stop being Mostar. Mostar was the scene of another terrible siege in the Bosnia war and many of the sights are related to the war. The Stari Most bridge was famously bombed and destroyed then rebuilt after the war. There were heaps of tourists checking that out so to get off the beaten track me and another guy from the hostel jumped a wall and climbed a 10-story shell of a building that was used as the Serbian snipers nest during the siege. Only the concrete parts of the building remained and it was chilling to think of what went on in that building 20-plus years ago. Needless to say there weren’t any cruise ship tourists there!

My next stop was the scene of the longest siege on a capital city in modern warfare. Over 5,000 civilians and many many mostly untrained, young and inexperienced soldiers were killed over a nearly four year period in Sarajevo. The ride into the city was an interesting one, almost every building had war damage, from bullet impacts to shelling damage. Almost the only buildings without damage were those built after 1996, the end of the siege. I spent two days learning about the history of the city and also enjoying the cafe and shisha scene (the city was part of both the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires and so it has lots of Turkish influences still today). A highlight of my visit was a visit to the Tunnel of Hope. People built this tunnel under the airport to sneak supplies and people in and out of the city while it was surrounded by Serbian soldiers.

After Sarajevo I spent three days in Belgrade. It was nice to be back in a large city after two weeks and I enjoyed going to museums but also just exploring the city. I learnt a lot about the history of the country and saw the effects of war on the city, there is still evidence of the 1999 NATO bombing. Another highlight was learning about and visiting the grave of Marshal Tito the lifelong leader of Yugoslavia. My favourite area of the city was Savamala, where there is heaps of impressive street art. The nightlife was pretty good too!

Now I’m waiting at the airport to go back to France, I’m excited though as tonight I’ll be meeting my parents who arrived into London earlier in the week.

Until next time,

Amanda xx

The strangest meal ever

The day we arrived in Kotor we had the strangest meal ever. 

After checking in at our hotel late in the day and sitting around for an hour or so we found ourselves hungry and with only two restaurants within walking distance. 

The first one was closed and so we head off to find the second one. We are told it’s 400m away but after walking along the side (no footpath) of an unlit semi-rural road for 10mins we still hadn’t arrived. We decide to keep walking and finally come across a hotel with a restaurant! We struggle to find the entrance to the restaurant and then after browsing the menu have to go and find the waiter who is in the kitchen. At this point the only other people in the restaurant are leaving (they are clearly guests, we aren’t guests – the waiter is probably wondering where we came from). The menu was a bit strange but we managed to find things to order for a good price. The awkward waiter then brings out a complimentary starter which is a local dish. It’s basically some kind of weird two bread and cheese combo. I ask what the items are by pointing at them the conversation goes something like this: me “so what’s this dish?” Waiter “it’s a local dish” me “so what’s this?” *pointing at bread roll* Waiter “that’s bread” me “and this?” *pointing at toast-like thing* Waiter “that’s also bread” me “and this?” *pointing at ball of butter like stuff* Waiter “that’s cheese”. Me “oh so what do I do with the cheese?” Waiter “you put it on the bread” Ruth *giggles*. This whole conversation goes on in English but the waiter clearly isn’t fluent which makes the whole interaction even weirder. He also says ‘please’ after everything. “Would you like anything to drink, please?” “Can I get you anything else, please?” The meal comes and it’s not too odd, I get a salad and Ruth gets this strange breaded meat thing. We have numerous other interactions with the waiter for condiments and the arrival of the food and the like. 

We are alone in the restaurant the whole time. We start to wonder if the waiter thinks we are on a date and if we are a little mad.

I’ll be posting more about my Balkan trip soon. Thanks for reading,

Amanda xx

A mid week getaway and other tales

So where did I go on my adventure a couple of weeks ago? I left you all hanging on that one! I headed off to Toulouse for 3/4 days. Booked a covoiturage and an Air B&B and away I went.

Covoiturage is a car sharing system where you pay for spare seats in a private car. You book and pay for your trip in advance on a website an give the driver a text/call to arrange pickup (normally in a convenient location like a train station or bus stop). After a successful trip you give the driver a code and they get paid. You leave reviews so other travellers know about the driver, are they on time, do they drive like a maniac, that kind of thing.

I stayed in a room in an apartment I found on Air B&B. Victor and Cecile are Spanish and I had a great time. Toulouse itself is wonderful (my new favourite French city) and I profited from travelling mid-week with free entry to two museums, one of which was the Cité L’Espace which was supposed to cost 18€, score!

Since Toulouse I have been getting up to all the usual, a little work, socialising with friends and one very sad farewell to one of the assistants heading back to the UK, see you soon Dom! I was also invited to one of the teachers houses for dinner and she made a kind of pie with potatoes and cream which is a specialty of the region she’s from, Allier, to the north of Clermont-Ferrand. 

I’m currently writing this from Croatia. We have another two week break before I have my last week of work, and I’m in the Balkans! I’ll write all about it in my next post.

Amanda xx

Teaching

So what is teaching really like?

The whole point of my job here in France is to get the students to speak English. Getting most of them to speak isn’t the hard part, it’s getting them to speak English that is. They will happily talk all through class in any number of languages, from French to Spanish and Arabic.

It’s important to know the ages and types of students I have. I have 12 classes a week with half of these being with normal high school students (15-18 years old). The other half of my students are what they call BTS students here in France. They are essentially doing vocational studies post-school that are taught at the high school. These students range in age but most are 18-20 years old. They can study a range of areas but the students I teach are taking courses in Banking, Insurance and Marketing. 

The younger students are much easier to get talking, but as mentioned above they tend to natter away in anything but English about anything but what they are supposed to be talking about. The older students are more reserved and speak less, although being older I’m able to speak about more topics with them from talking about what they really did at the weekend (drinking and partying) to pick up lines in English.

For most of my classes a range of topics works well normally including some kind of activity or role play and usually including some kind of competition or game. I try to work on pronunciation each class with either role plays they present, reading out loud, tongue twisters or minimal pairs activities. (For a couple of my classes the teachers tell me what they want me to do with the students). Some of these activities are fun (and funny) for me for obvious reasons (bad French pronunciation) or because the students are a little crazy!

My most entertaining class is last up on a Thursday. They are terminale (last year high school students) literature, so they study English literature. This group is really energetic (read: talk a lot/noisy) and they have some crazy ideas. It’s from these classes that most of my funny stories come, I’m going to tell a few.

1. While doing an exercise where the students had to rewrite a small part of Romeo and Juliet into contemporary English one group asked if they could rewrite it as Beyoncé’s life. When they performed the play they also sung the chorus to the Destiny’s Child song ‘Say My Name’. These kids weren’t even born when that song came out, impressed!

2. I was asked to explain the difference in pronunciation between beach and b***h. French people struggle with this subtle difference.

3. The class had to write parodies of anything they liked. In one class we had: a Beavis and Butthead cartoon where they women instead of men (drawn too), Snow Black instead of Snow White (Snow black gets human trafficked in that ‘fairy tale’ – a little bit racist I know!), the Bible rewritten so God is a black guy called Biggy D, Barbie Girl (song by Aqua) rewritten into the real world, a parody of Aladdin where the genie was instead one of the students, the George Clooney Nespresso ad except the woman doesn’t care about George and only wants the coffee. 

There have been many many more fun and funny experiences I’ve got to enjoy with my students but I must say, I certainly don’t want to be a teacher. I praise what they do, but for me I don’t have enough motivation or restraint to stop myself from yelling at them when they won’t stop talking. I’ll enjoy these last few classes but I’m ready to get back to the office!

Amanda xx