Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Some new pics from Grenoble

Monday, October 12th, 2009

I took some photos of my new apartment today and wanted to post them up, and I will let Seth write about our rendez-vous in Geneva this last weekend…

I moved into a new apartment yesterday, sadly saying goodbye to the three lovely students who had been letting me stay with them until I could find a permanent place. From greeting me at the door with a hug, to making me a special birthday dinner of crêpes and sparkling wine, their hospitality made my first week here very special. I am sure that I will continue to see them, but am quite excited because I am now living in the old city center of Grenoble, around the corner from an ancient cathedral and within 100 metres of 3 different bakeries. I am living with a university prof and her daughter, who is 15, which is great because it gives me the chance to share my meals with a family, and practice my French, but at the same time not be responsible for any babysitting. I haven’t really gotten the chance to get to know them well yet, but they seem really interesting and are certainly very welcoming. Now at last I can unpack my bags and officially ‘move in’! My room is lovely because it has a big window to an outside courtyard, which lets in the morning sun.

Other than moving, I have been starting to do some actual teaching at the high school, which is really exciting and a bit intimidating at the same time. It seems that my ‘teacher voice’ doesn’t quite work the same with 18 year olds as it did for 10 year olds! That said, they are funny and witty and I think it is going to keep me on my toes trying to keep them entertained and learning at the same time. I think that next week I am going to introduce them to Michael Franti, and then use that to segue into the way the French view America’s position in the Iraq war. Some of my groups of students are very politically oriented, and I think it will be a good chance to learn more myself.

Also in these next few weeks, I look forward to finding a bike, joining the outdoors club at the university, and taking my first trip to Winterthur to see Seth!
My new bedroom - lots of light!Reading in the ’salon’My new kitchenA nice park to read inA square near my house

Claire: Grenoble, finalement!

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

So after all that moving and planning and flying, I have arrived. Grenoble has surpassed my expectations, both in natural beauty and bureaucratic headaches. From the moment I arrived I have felt very welcomed here – my new French roommates welcomed me at the door with homemade moussaka and wine – but the list of things I have to mail to the government to satisfy their visa requirements is incredibly long. I have also discovered some fairly silly hassles such as trying to prove that I have a place to live in order to get a bank account, when in fact it is necessary to have a French bank account to rent an apartment! Thankfully the teacher who I will be working with has helped me to find a lovely apartment for the first few weeks with some of the university students here.

I love France already for so many reasons, one of which being their sense of an adequate amount of holiday. I have an incredible 8 weeks of paid holiday in my 7 month contract (yes, really!). Also I find the people to be quite friendly and patient with my stumbling French. I have been surprised at their generosity and willingness to help – I always thought the French were supposed to be aloof!

I have just returned from a walk with my roommates up to the Bastille, and after a wonderful dinner of ‘tartine” which is basically brushetta but with lots of different options for toppings. I had one with mango, chevre, and raisins.

Below are some photos of my first week here. This city is incredible – ringed by mountains, and I also had the chance to go up to a little town called Autrans this weekend, which was high up in the mountains and very cute. I particularly like the first picture of my roommates up on the Bastille, where you can get a sense of how the mountains loom over the city.
The lovely view from the BastilleWeekend in Autrans, a little ski village nearbyAn interesting building project around the corner from my apartmentMe and the river Isère

First week in Winterthur

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Well, I’ve been in Winterthur for about four days now and am ready to pass judgment! Okay, not quite ready, but since first impressions are so important I thought I would share some of what I have seen.

First impressions start from the moment you walk off the airplane…  I arrived in Zürich at about 8 in the morning and the airport was surprisingly small.  I went through immigration and was surprised to have my passport looked at, but not checked!  The guard simply flipped to the first empty page, hit it with a stamp and said “bye”.  Then I arrived at customs, which consisted of two unmanned doors.  One was green and said “Nothing to declare” and the other was normal looking and said…nothing at all.  So I walked through the green door and into the airport lobby.

Frau Fürst, my contact here, was waiting for me and took me in her car to my new home, the so called “Africana” student hostel.  Africana is in the old town (here is the map – new window) surrounded mostly by a kind of pseudo-pedestrian area.  There are cars allowed, but you would have to drive at about 1 kmh since there are people and bikes everywhere.  The location of the hostel is great, but the first thing that really strikes you as you look at it is the fact that it is covered in scaffolding…  It is currently under external renovation and you can’t actually even see it.

Upon entering Africana, you realize why deposits for apartments are a good thing!  This is a no-deposit, pay as you go accommodation, and it shows.  The floors are dirty, the paint is peeling, and the bathrooms smell like mold.  My room is actually okay, it’s large and has a window facing the front street, but the rest of the place leaves a bit to be desired.

My room My room in Africana

Going to the kitchen… Going to the kitchen… Kitchen for 10 A kitchen for 10! Note the hole in the ceiling…

My first couple of days were spent in kind of a shock.  There seemed to be no life in the building, student’s don’t really cook much and all of the doors were shut and unmarked.  However, I’ve started to meet people here and am finding that I work with about half of them and the other half are graduate students in Zürich, three or four of which are studying music – and you know it from anywhere in the building.  People are now starting to come out of the woodwork, a guy named Simon from Wales, a girl named Nadege from France and Daniel from Germany are just a few.

The nationalities represented here are diverse.  Conversations are in French, Italian, Spanish, German, and rarely English. Just about everyone knows some English and those that I have met are very courteous ans switch when I come in the room, although it is often with a sigh.  Motivating me to at least try and understand the German that everyone also speaks.

Now that I’m starting to get my bearings and get out of the house, I have started to discover my surroundings.  The neighborhood here is really great.  All the shops I need are within about 5 minutes walk, work is only 20 minutes away by foot, and the train/bus station is about 5 minutes away too.  There are restaurants and coffee shops everywhere and it’s always a hub of activity.

My neighborhood at night My neighborhood at night.

Shopping street Shopping in central Winterthur.

Central Winterthur parking lot Parking in central Winterthur.

I have only had two days at work, but will fill you all in on that soon.  For now, auf Wiedersehen.

Goodbye New World, Hello Old.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

After much anticipation, Claire and I have finally hit the road and made our way to Europe.  The last few weeks in Canada were really amazing, with such good friends and family and such a beautiful place, Switzerland is going to have a hard time winning me over, and it seems that as a final hurrah Canada thought it would give us it’s best.

As many know now, Claire and I were engaged a few weeks ago!  As part of the celebration, and to spend time together before going our separate ways in Europe, we took a three day, two night trip to Keith’s Hut, near Pemberton.  We followed the new, well marked summer trail and had the hut almost to ourselves.  There was one other occupant on our first night, then it was just us for the second.  Here are some photos to give you an idea of the beauty we were surrounded by.

Claire at Keith’s Hut Claire on her way out to collect water.

Seth feeds Ansel huckleberries Ansel feasting on huckleberries. She parked herself in a bush and just started munching, but couldn’t refuse the helping hand.

Claire and Ansel on the Anniversary Glacier moraine Claire and Ansel on the moraine of Anniversary Glacier.

  Sunset from Keith’s HutSunset from the hut.

Claire and Seth on Vantage Peak Claire and Seth at the top of Vantage Peak.

Vantage Peak Panorama (no thumbnail for this one, but beware it a 7+ MB file!).

After returning from our trip, we had only one day in Vancouver before Lindsay, Ansel, Claire and I headed to Hood River to see Rob, Nikki and Bridger.  In that day I managed to squeeze in my Transport Canada written test and passed!  That being the final hurtle, I am now a pilot! Yippee!

But back to the story, while we were in Hood River we went on a 10 mile mountain bike ride that ended at an incredible vantage over the Gorge (Lindsay has those photos), cliff jumped, went flying around Mt. Adams and the Goat Rocks, went to a camping going away party for our friend Ryan who quit his cushy engineering job to become a traveling rep for a mountain bike company (, and went shooting.

Claire with Bridger Claire with Bridger

As with every few month break that I take from Bridger, he had totally changed.  Now ambulatory, he could hardly stand walking and insisted on running pretty much everywhere!  He has a voracious appetite for books – especially fuzzy ones – and a fascination with the dogs, who also can’t help but to love him.

The going way party was great as it allowed us to see many old friends and we got to have a 15 person dance party in the tour van.  We packed it full, blasted the music and just rocked the thing!  So much fun.  I didn’t get many photos, but each person did get there chance at being photographed with while we were out shooting.

Claire with 22 Claire takes aim with the 22.

Rob Lindsay with 22 Rob watches Lindsay nail all the targets.

Nikki Riffle Nikki braces for the kick of the hunting riffle.  That was a big, loud gun that left us all a bit sore…

Claire hand gun Claire amazed at the power of the hand gun.  (She looks good with it, eh?)

Linday hand gun Lindsay pleased with the power of the hand gun :)

Well, even with all the fun and guns, all good things must come to an end.  Claire, Lindsay, Ansel and I left Hood River at 5:30 am on Monday and headed for Portland.  After a tearful goodbye with Ansel, Claire and I made our way to the check in line to start our 14+ hour journeys.

We have both made it safely to our respective destinations, so keep and eye on this space for more info once we have had time to get over jet lag.  I, for one, am ready for bed…and perfect timing too, it’s just about midnight here and that means that when I wake up tomorrow I should be over the worst of it (hopefully my writing has been coherent)!