(written by Dave)
As the title says (for those of you who read French), our French classes are finished. Though of course the study of French could never really be completed as it would take years to truly master French, or any other non-native language really. We advanced from absolute beginner to somewhere further along on the beginner scale but we are a long way from being beyond the survival level.
It would probably take us a couple of years to make it to the ‘independent user’ level, much more time than our 90 day Schengen (European) visa permits. We are glad we took this riding break and tried to learn more French. We are certainly better than when we arrived and it was actually pretty fun. We had to really work hard the last few weeks as we’d moved out areas covered by any of our previous night school French. Being in France made it heaps easier as everyday life really does reinforce the classes. Nancy probably outscored me on the weekly exams but they were actually not scored and I’m the one who speaks more French on the street (along with incorrect verb conjugations), so it all evens out. [editor’s note – not true, he’s just sore about seeing all those red marks on his papers and losing on the test competition…] It is nice though to be able to recognise bits of what people are saying, interact with the store clerks, and watch a bit of French TV.
We’ve mentioned our classmates in the past few posts and included a few photos here today. We meant to get a photo of the full group but somehow forgot to get one before everyone headed out on Friday. We did really have a good group to study with and a couple great instructors (thanks Anouk and Bridget). Two fellow students, Oskar and Julia, have offered local “support” when we make our way to Sweden, which will be great. All in all we would recommend our school, France Langue, to anyone thinking of taking the plunge into an intensive French language course. They have a great group of teachers and support staff and lots of options on the number of classes per week and the starting dates so anyone can find something that fits. They have a school in Paris in addition to Nice so you could hang out in the romantic city and study as well.
Speaking of everyday life, we had a couple of examples of this that were quite funny. First, I went to the store by myself the other day to pick up some groceries. Nancy likes Greek style yogurt and in a rush I grabbed a four pack of what looked like her brand. When I got home, Nancy laughed when she spotted a four pack of Fromage Blanc Mousse, not even close to yogurt. Not wanting to simply bin my new find, we looked it up on the internet and eventually tried it with honey and a grapefruit. Wow, what a find it was, light and fluffy with a slight savoury taste. Not only did we find a new treat (we have purchased more intentionally) but we also reinforced a few words that we learned in class.
The second funny moment occurred when walking past a bookstore. There in the window was a full display of “Where’s Waldo” books. Except in this case, it was “Ou Est Charlie”. I guess there are certain things that don’t translate across languages. Apparently, “Where’s Waldo” is one of those things. I thought that maybe “Waldo” translated to some swear word or something weird but looking it up on the internet again it just seems that the French thought it was necessary to rename Waldo to Charlie. Actually, it looks like the original British name of Wally is changed for many countries. Either way, if we were back in Sydney we would have completely missed another one of those local moments. Not surprisingly, being in France has made a big difference for our French skills.
In spite of all this talk of study, we have also been out enjoying life in Nice as well. We found a great outdoor store (for gear replacement) that just also happened to be near a great local produce market. We were up there last weekend and include some photos below. It might have been the recent cold spell but all the veggies seemed very fresh (not sure where they grow them, some do come from Africa). They use a lot of green houses here in Europe as well. No durian or dragon fruit (like we would see in SE Asia) but the variety was certainly more than would be found with normal seasonal products.
Carnival is on now in Nice – this is one of the big events here in Nice. It started yesterday and runs for two weeks. We’ll post photos and more of the story of Carnival in the next few days. One thing that we noticed at the market and now even more with Carnival is the “flower of Nice” called mimosa. Mimosa is a type of acacia and very much looks like the native Australian wattle, so it reminds us of Sydney. The leaves look like the mimosa ground cover that we saw in SE Asia. We have not been able to get our hands on any live flowers yet to see if the leaves retract as the ground cover does in SE Asia.
Out and about we’ve spotted a number of police in Nice. That would barely merit a mention had it not been for their modes of transport. We have seen police on horses, bikes, foot, police cars and weirdest of all, on Segways. We actually saw four meter maids on Segways, which seemed odd but I’m sure that car owners being ticketed didn’t find much humour in it. I’m not sure if all these spottings were the same policemen – think of all the training they would have to take to master everything. Perhaps they have a special license that lets them travel on all these different forms of transportation.
Another odd street scene here that is worth a mention the kids heading to school in the morning. Every day on our way to school we pass loads of kids pulling their gear in a wheelie backpack. These are not school-issue backpacks as they are nearly always covered with some action hero or little pony thing or hello kitty. While the bags are used for the kids to get their stuff to and from school, it is often the mother or father who is pulling (or more likely carrying) the bag down the street. Some kids are quite funny in that they just can’t seem to keep the wheels on the ground. Every four steps the bags flip from the wheels to the side to the back and then to the other side. The kid then turns around and kicks the bag back onto the wheels. The whole four steps get repeated, lots of kicking without much progress. Perhaps this is why we see so many parents hauling the bags with wheels off the ground. It’s all quite funny, little kids sort of forced into using an adult tool even though it doesn’t really work for them. The kid still wins out as the kid-cool covers let them get to school with some level of kid dignity intact.
We’ve not yet been out for a bike ride here in Nice. It has been too cold and we’ve been busy with visitors and studying and fighting off colds and other illness. Today I finished all the planned maintenance (new tires, chains, cassettes – for the bike nerd readers) and best of all, the cold spell here in Europe seems to have broken. We are planning on a ride tomorrow to test all of the repairs. Based on the request from Kirti we have been trying to spot the famous large bunch riders along the waterfront but I think they too have been diminished by the cold (a few small groups are included in photos below). We may spot some groups tomorrow. Given our lack of riding, I’m sure we’ll see most of them from the backside!
Wine tasting has slowed in direct proportion to the difficulty of our French classes. Having said that, we are pretty settled on our favourite new discovery being Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We are on our fourth bottle and have yet to find one that we don’t like.
So, where to now? We have a little less than two weeks left here in Nice. We have a bunch of chores and re-supply things to sort out but now that French classes are finished we will also try to see some of the local sights. We are planning the next phase of route as well. The current plan is to head from here to Pisa Italy, cross Italy through Florence to Ancona on the east side. From there, we should be able to catch a ferry to Greece and onto Turkey. We have until 28 March to exit the Schengen region into Turkey. The general plan is to spend about 2 months riding in Turkey then another month or so riding through Bulgaria and the Balkans (Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia). From there it looks like we will head up to Sweden, but that’s pretty long-range planning at this point!
That’s all for now – stay tuned for more updates.