Lauren Gane

    Lauren Gane is in France with the British Council. She is linked with Borestone Primary in Stirling.

    Entries for November 2014

    Bonnes Vacances! Happy Holidays!

    One of the great things about being a language assistant in France is the opportunity to travel. Having great holidays and already being in Europe makes for the perfect excuse to see a bit more of the world and soak up some culture. So this is exactly how I spent my two weeks holiday in October, in France called Les Vacances Toussaint. The first week was spent with my Mexican flatmate, Nadia, visiting different cities in Europe, and the second with one of my best friends from Scotland, Jennifer, also an English assistant in Belgium, exploring the city of Nantes.

    The first stop was Paris by car-sharing, which is much more popular in France than it is in Britain, and is a cheap and easy way of getting from A to B. It is also a great way to meet new people as there is nothing like a 5 hour car journey to encourage small talk! One night spent in Paris in a somewhat questionable hostel (the upside is I now know the French word for bedbug!) was followed by Brussels and Bruges, my favourite two cities of the trip. Although the Scottish weather seemed to follow us, this did not take away from their beauty, Bruges especially as it certainly was like a fairy-tale, with its cobbled streets and many brick buildings. It still has much of its medieval architecture and is home to one of the tallest brick buildings in the world: the Church of Our Lady. Due to its many canals it is also very clear why is it called “The Venice of the North”. Of course, I went straight home to watch In Bruges and get overly excited at every shot I recognised. A guided tour in Bruges is definitely a must as there is so much history to how the city became so great. Tasting Belgian fries is also obligatory; you cannot escape being told that French fries are in fact Belgian fries. It is said that the term “French fries” came about during the First World War when the British and American soldiers arrived in Belgium and tasted the fries. However, due to the fact that the local language was French, they believed themselves to be in France, hence the name.

    Brussels was also a highlight for me as I loved exploring this city which permanently smelt of waffles, tempting you at every corner, along with the countless chocolate shops offering delights in every shape and size, colour and filing. What’s more, the opportunity to do so with one of my best friends from home was a joy. As catching up on life as an assistant took full priority, culture took a backseat for a day. Nevertheless, we did have time to visit the beautiful Grand Place, lined with cafés, filled with cobbles, and even more spectacular lit up at night. Just off of the Grand Place, you will find what is to Belgium as Big Ben is to London. Manneken Pis, a little boy peeing, is definitely something to visit as he is sometimes dressed in different outfits, from Presley to Columbus, and even pees beer on very special occasions. Despite the fact that this 2ft high statue was surrounded by tourists just as his origins are surrounded by myths, I could not help but get a piece of the action and get a photo.

    Last but not least was Amsterdam, the cultural capital of the Netherlands, with its beautiful streets, many canals, and even more bikes; it really is a beautiful city. Among experiencing the famous night life and riding the trams were more cultural pursuits such as the Van Gogh Museum and, my favourite, the Anne Frank Museum. The wait in the cold, and again suspiciously Scottish weather, was definitely worth it. Visiting the annex and being able to walk about the house that the Diary depicts certainly gives you a different perspective and puts a reality into her life, and the many others who lived through that time, that is difficult to understand otherwise.

    The last week of the holiday was spent with the fantastic company of my friend, Jennifer, during which we were blessed with some incredible sunshine in order to explore my little village of Les Herbiers. However, in our attempt to see a French film at the local cinema and improve our French, we ended up in an Arabic film with French subtitles. Not quite my cup of tea but it certainly was an experience!

    The next stop was Nantes, the 6th largest city in France and capital of the Pays de la Loire region. However, once again our best laid plans to visit the Museum of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes was hindered by poor planning, crowds due to the holidays, and our making the most of our buffet breakfast, and as a result we did not see everything that we set out to. Nevertheless, we still visited the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery which pays homage to those who have, and are still, fighting against slavery, as Nantes was a main departure point of slave trade expeditions. The ground is covered in 2,000 plaques with the names of ships that left Nantes on slave trade expeditions and certainly evoked the enormity of the trafficking.

    All in all, the two weeks holiday gave me the chance to experience things I would not have normally, and I feel I have only scratched the surface of the cities that I visited. I will most definitely try to return to them in the future. I have certainly learnt a few things: not just about the culture of different European cities (and that the stereotype of Belgium trains being late is true, all the locals will tell you!), but of the kindness of everyone I have met, especially here in Les Herbiers. No one is ever too busy to stop and say a few words, whether it be introducing themselves and welcoming me, asking me how I am getting on, or offering a helping hand.

    I am settling back into the school routine again and continuing to tell the students here a little more about Scotland. The holiday seems to have flown by but it is not long until the next one: only 5 weeks until Christmas!

    À bientôt!

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