Archive for October, 2009

Claire – My first ‘rendez-vous’ with the Alps

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Last weekend I had my first chance to really see the mountains around Grenoble. I have been doing some wonderful hikes around Grenoble, which are accessed by public transit, but I decided to also join a club so I could go a bit further afield, I found a small hiking and skiing club that has been around since WWI, and they still have an archaic method in place where after a new member tags along for a few adventures, the president and board have a closed meeting where they either vote you in or give you the boot. Apparently it is almost always an affirmative, so thankfully I didn’t feel like I was on a hiking edition of Survivor. Last Sunday, we headed south of Grenoble and climbed up to the top of one of the ‘Two Sisters’. (Apparently we climbed Sophie – she looked a lot gentler than her sister!) It was a lovely day of sun, high above the clouds, and we even saw some of the local wildlife – the big mountain goat-like animals they call Bouqetain. I was very impressed by the lunch that people brought, which was every kind of cheese and sausage I could imagine, with fresh bread, wine, and even a ‘digestif’ of some kind of liquor made from 145 plants. It did taste quite earthy, and made hiking down quite fun.
Looking at the BouqetainAbove the cloudsThe summit!Sophie’s scarier looking sisterHappy to be at the top!Beginning the descent

In other news, I have been really loving working at the school, and this week I did a really fun activity called ‘story in a bag’, where I collected lots of odds and ends and costume pieces from my house here, and put about 4-5 objects in each bag, and then each group of 3-4 students made up and performed a skit using all the objects. It was pretty hilarious, especially the group that received a toilet paper roll with no toilet paper left…. (I am sharing my blog with the students and asked their permission to be on it). I think next week I am going to do a lesson on the song, ‘If I Had a Million Dollars’ by the Barenaked Ladies, because not only does it do a good job of demonstrating the second conditional (okay I am an grammar nerd) and also starting up a lively conversation of what the students would do with that much money.
Grade 10 class after skit

It has also been a noisy week at school, as they demolished the old school and are starting to build the students a new one. As you can see, the building they are using in the meantime is not very inspiring. It doesn’t help that the heating seems to be broken (we are told it will be fixed within the month) and the temperature has been just above freezing in the mornings here.
Old school….
The school they are using in the meantime

Finally, I wanted to post a funny picture showing the dog parks here. Dogs are allowed in most public spaces here, but in very congested neighbourhoods there is not much green space, so they have made little fenced off dirt-pits for the dogs to do their business. Instead of a simple sign that says something like ‘dog area’, they decided to show a very excited dog saying, roughly, ‘Here, I can do whatever I want!’. (I am not sure what else a dog might want to do in the 3 foot square patch of dirt besides pee….)
Dog park signLovely dog park…
That is all for now, I am really looking forward to visiting Seth in Winterthur this weekend and doing some hiking in the mountains there.

Geneva – Thoughts and photos

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

I just wanted to add some of my own thoughts and photos to Claire’s post about Geneva.

Geneva was a really beautiful city.  Even if it out prices you to the point where all you can do is walk around, as long as you are in good company I guarantee that you will have a good time.  It was alternately pouring rain and sunny while we were there, prompting me to buy an umbrella from our hostel…one of the many rain-proof items that I have to acquire while I’m here.  Why didn’t anybody tell me that Switzerland had such temperamental fall weather?

We stayed at the City Hostel in Geneva which was nice but small.  My only complaint is that after advertising that they had a full kitchen on each floor, there was no coffee pot!  We got lucky and found an old, handle-less one on another floor, but I loath to buy coffee from their Nestle machine or from Starbucks (German lesson: ein Tall ist sechs francs, fünfzig rappen).

We spent time wandering thought the old city and also looking for the green space.  While Europeans my drive less than North Americans, their smaller streets mean that they fill their space just as efficiently and you end up feeling like you are walking on the side of a highway where ever you go.

Claire in the mega-chess park near the UniversityClaire in the Megachess part of the park.  Not for the faint of heart!

Claire in the market. Claire in the Hungy? cheese and sausage market.  Yum!

Being attracted to useless information of all kinds (there must be a term for that), Claire and I were drawn to the Natural History Museum, where we spent time in the minerals and rare animals sections.  One of the most shocking exhibits was the Darwin one, where they so accurately captured the chain of evolution.  However, the labeling was poor and I couldn’t tell which was the final product and which was the proposed “missing link”.  See if you can.

Peak of Evolution?

On Saturday night we sought out traditional Swiss fondue and managed to find the best place in town.  Right on the lake…actually almost in the lake…with a laid back atmosphere and inexpensive (20 CHF/Stück) pots of pure melted cheese and wine.  Does it get any better?

 Seth with the huge pot of fondue Seth with his pot of fondue.  Actually we shared the pot, but I really wanted my own.

Finally, we spent time roaming around the Botanical Gardens and lake wall.  The Sunday was beautiful and the lake was alive with activity.  Nature was frolicking and the local jets of water were spraying almost totally vertical. A calm, sunny day.

Swan Swan on the lake.

Claire and the “Water Jet” Beautiful Claire and the creatively named “Jet d’eau”.

Just out of curiosity I visited the Wikipedia site for the Jet and found that they run it with a set of two pumps consuming an impressive megawatt of electricity.  Yes, after doing some easy research, I found that – for our viewing pleasure – the city of Geneva spews water and a justifiable ton and a half of carbon into the atmosphere every day!  Sorry Hermione, I did buy those high efficiency bulbs, but I’m afraid that just admiring this monster for a few seconds undid years worth of my carbon savings (for those reading this – go to to carbon-sponsor Hermione on her cycle from London to Morocco and lets see if we can undo some of this.  Her target sponsorship is 15 tonnes and last I saw she had exceeded that goal – lets see if we can smash it!).

For now it’s back to the work week.  Wow, it’s already half over again – that’s 2 of 35 weeks gone!

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.