Marseille is like Marmite apparently!

Marseille is like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it!
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I don’t want to sound like I am making excuses for myself but I need to say this. I did write a number of blogs since the end of the exams and they have all ended up deleted or lost in cyberspace. I fear that the blogs that I am now going to write will never live up to what I originally wrote however I will prevail.

I will start from my most recent experiences and work backwards. Since the exams I have been having a lot of fun in Grenoble with Erasmus friends. We have been to Marseille, Nice, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Montpellier and Nimes. I am planning another trip down to the south and would then like to stick in the Rhone-Alps region to enjoy some days hiking and all the mountains have to offer. The weather is good even when it rains which is rare.

Marseille is something special, a rare stone that must be appreciated with eyes both wide open and curious. There are so many parts to Marseille life and so I think I will keep going back for more just like a good dessert. My first visit was during the March reading week where I stayed with a friend in Aix-en-Provence. We visited Marseille several times and the first time was for a Kurdish soirée where I spent a night I will never forget. It was a night that heightened all my senses. A night which left me with one thought, ‘I have truly lived.’ The event was held at an association called Equitable Cafe where you pay however much you want for the entrance fee. It is a community space and hosts a lot of interesting events. There was a Kurdish band composed of a singer, guitarist, unknown instrument player and drummer. I didn’t understand what they were singing because it was in a completely different language however the passion was portrayed in ever tremor of his cry. Their music sent shivers down my spine as I shared in an expression of their liberty in France. Their liberty to express their culture and hopes through their music and to bring people together. There were people of all ages and colours together dancing. My friends and I started by dancing on the chairs and then joined the rest on the floor where we joined pinky-fingers and rubbed shoulders turning in spirals with foot-work that went beyond my abilities. You may be noticing a theme in these blogs, foot-eye coordination is not by forte. The rainbow line spun around the dance floor making an intricate pattern of joy and laughter. By the end of the dance my little finger was ready to fall off! What life!

There we met a Kurdish illegal immigrant who spoke to my friend of his hopes and fears. She told me later that his mentality was that he hated Marseille and France in general. He wants to move to Cuba. I don’t understand the logic. My friend then went on the share with him her views on immigration from an immigrants point of view. Her parents are both Kurdish and they have all lived in Germany all of her life. For her happiness is a choice and she urged him to be content with the place he has found himself in because otherwise he will never be content even if he goes to the end of earth and back.

Marseille has so much to offer culturally but equally in terms of natural beauty also. The Calanques (rocky coastal area in Marseille) stretch along both sides of the city and reach all the way to Cassis. You can go hiking, climbing or simply take a boat road along the whole calanques. We did part of it by car and part by foot and train. It is so beautiful. The city also has a lot of architecture which is reminiscent of Mediterranean and North African architecture. With 12th century forts and an the château d’If made famous by Dumas ‘The Count of Monte Cristo.’ These buildings plus the injection of 15 million euros into the city for the capital of culture gives Marseille a real buzz! The collision of history and modernity, but the story remains the same… Marseille is a melting pot.

So why mention marmite?

Marmite in French actually means large cooking pot. Which brings together all that I want to say about the city. It is a large melting pot of cultures but not everybody likes it when cultures ooze like a good smelly camembert. The smell might make you uncomfortable, the cheese tastes good but how do you know that if you only smell it. (At this point I have to say sorry to my dad because Roquefort just goes that step too far, it smells bad and it tastes bad.)

When walking in the North African markets in Marseille the narrow winding streets and the hustle and bustle of the market has a truly authentic feel. The spice shops, the exotic fruits, extraordinary breads and colourful sweets all make you feel like you gave stepped into another world. For a young female tourist it can also feel slightly daunting walking through streets with a lot of men who are staring at you and trying to speak to you. I am not used to that and neither were my friends. The roads are dirty and there is rubbish dotted around the place. You find yourself not in a sterilized, secure and western environment but somewhere that makes you feel unsafe and at the same time wonderfully curious. One night it got dark and we were buying olives in a little stall there (SO CHEAP and SO DELICIOUS!). We passed a crime scene next to the markets where there were armed police men surrounding it. One police man said to us, ‘girls, it’s not safe here, go home.’ I am sure he was right as Marseille has many social problems including serious crime and housing issues. But strange thing was that we were only a couple of streets away from the main street, la canibiere. My friend described this contrast as a parallel universe. You step into one street and you are in North Africa and then next and you are in France. Very interesting but also I think this explains the marmite.

I dare you to taste the city for yourself and see how you like it. Don’t just see the surface, see how it was created and how the flavours come together. See the dirt and grub of the city alongside the greenery and blue of the calanque and take the city for what it is.

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SpiceWorld!

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I am in Week 2 of my studies and it’s time to pick up the pace! Last week was intense as we have been told to try lots of different classes to see which ones we want to carry on with. On top of that I have had the chance to see Jupiter through a telescope, go snowboarding and go to a 90s party!

It was a week of simply saying… it’s sooo different from home! Every erasmus student said that all week I think. The lectures start at 8am and the last class of the day finishes at 18.50. That has taken some getting used to but I am starting to appreciate the early starts. Lectures are a minimum of 1.5hrs longs but some are 2hrs long. Some law students told me that they have 3hr lectures. This would be okay if powerpoints were used to the best of their advantage however they too often are there to add to the interior design. However I am thankful for the fact that some lecturers are fantastic and have online blogs with the bibliographies and links to sites. So far the level of teaching has been fantastic and I have had a class on ‘Islam and Muslims in contemporary France’, ‘Transnational history of Europe’ and ‘the history of the environmental movement in european societies’. I am struggling to take notes but I will get used to it, right now I am just trying to figure out what works for me.

Okay so snowboarding! Firstly imagine ‘Bridget Jone’s Diaries; the Edge of Reason’ and then think of everytime I have ever dropped something, lost my balance, bumped into something or just been a general clown. I hope some people are starting to understand where I am coming from. It was 2.5/3 hours of falling over and being unable to balance. The morning included me freaking out infront of my class as I tried to mount the slope on the telesiege thing (single person one). I fell again but half way up the slope and was at the back of the group the whole time. I definitely felt like bambi on ice but apart from bambi attached to a board! Despite not having that much fun I still managed to see one of the most spectacular views in the world. The Alps with all the alpine trees and the sun beating down on me.

For those who are reading this and thinking, ‘NO, snowboarding is fun!’. Don’t worry I am going to have to go to every class for the semester if I want to pass it. Next week will be better I am sure. JUst need to get over my aching body and bruises! hahaha 🙂

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The night consisted of my friend getting locked in my bathroom for 40mins! My friends birthday party at my place being awesome. We went to a 90s themed erasmus welcome party afterwards which had nothing to do with the 90s and I am so glad I did not wear my swimming costume, leggings and trainers! Everyone was dressed normally and the music was from the noughties! Or some really rubbish 90s which no-one has heard of. 

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Forgot to say that the food is awesome. Loving the variety of good quality bread!

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Getting to know folk!

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I had three welcome days last week organised by the international students institute (ISI). We did different things from the menial French administration to outrageously fun events mixed in with a lot of confusion, which equates to a perfect Erasmus experience. We had a welcome breakfast which was cake with sugary nuts and of course there was also coffee. Everything has nuts in it here as it is a speciality in this region. There are three different types of walnuts I believe and it is very versatile but I feel sorry for those with nut allergies.

We were given some instructions about choosing our modules for the semester. The lecturer briefed us on the structure of the university and also its prestige in France which struck an appropriate amount of fear into us. The most shocking thing he said was that French students have preparatory classes for ‘les Sciences Po’ (les Grandes Ecole) and it is very difficult to get into. So it will be interesting to see how it compares to Dundee and which one I find a more progressive university. The interior of the university is quite old which chalk boards, wooden benches and I would say out-dated building.  However the modules that I hope to take look fantastic. There is one entitled, ‘Muslims and Islam in contemporary France’ and another ‘the geopolitics of the Middle-East’.  

I almost forgot to mention I MET LOADS OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS!! There are Bazilians, Americans, Swedish, Finish, Belgium, German, a Mexican, Canadians, a Uruguayan, Hungarian, Australian, Slovakian, Czech Republican and more! I think everyone was so relieved to meet people in the same boat as themselves, I certainly was. We all went up la Bastille together that day and practiced our broken French with each other. We had more cake when we got to the top 🙂

We met that night for a few drinks a bar called London Pub! We got table service! Lol Although normally it does function like a pub/bar where you order at the bar. The waiter came over with bowls of sweets and crisps which was awesome! Anyway the next night after a day of boring admin and campus tours etc… we had another night out organised by the university. This was at a bar called Plan B. They had a really great menu with aperitifs I had never tried before and also some local drinks such as Chartreuse which is a nutty drink. The transport system must be working with the university’s board of professors or something because the last tram home is at 1.30 despite the bar shutting at 2pm. So early bedtimes for all! Anyway overall I have found those two nights super sociable and a great way to meet new people, the music wasn’t too loud and the drinks were better quality. I haven’t lived here long enough to say yet but so far the student culture seems different and I am liking it!  I will leave the rest for next time.

Next post will include: Le Chateau de Vizelle where, ‘La Musee de la revolution francaises’ is. It was so good it deserves a post all by itself! 

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The Only Way Is Up!

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So it has been an emotional few days. I left my friends place in Switzerland and took a coach from Geneva airport to Grenoble. Again the scenery on this journey was incredible. It was another summers day with the sun burning through the coach windows and warming my wee cheeks. There was an American man on the bus educating his kids on the region which he clearly loves, I think he is a geographer. But he mentioned we passed the silicon valley where a lot of microelectronics stuff is made and he described how the region was a hub for research and development  in electronics  technology as well as atomic energy. It was nice to have a completely free tour guide!

My one contact in Grenoble, a woman called Gaelle, met me at the coach station with her 19 month old son Timeo and took me to my halls of residence. Everything is so well laid out in Grenoble that it is quite easy to find your way from one place to another via trams or buses. Arriving at the accommodation was very intimidating. I was sent from one building to another to then find an extremely impolite woman who demanded to see my documents. I was slightly confused because she spoke so fast and had such a cold voice that even the warmest of hearts couldn’t make a difference. Anyway after much persistence that I never received a package of documents she rang the building I had just come from and they said to bring me over to their building…again! I finally sat down with a sane person and filled out all the necessary documents. I just need to set up a french bank account and buy more insurance! Home insurance! I also found out the next day I need to set up civil responsibility insurance in case I cause an accident whilst in France. This seems necessary considering the fact I don’t know which way to look when I crossing the road anymore.

I won’t lie to you, the first night was quite emotional. However I knew that I was in the right place and that everything would be alright. It is a strange feeling to only know one person in a massive town especially for an extrovert like me. God has strengthened me and given me peace of mind despite all these nerves and helped to keep branching out. My flatmates didn’t open their doors when I knocked the first few times but I spoke to the first flatmate last night and he seems really nice. I’m making progress.

 The office forgot to give me the key for the post box which has my login details for the internet. So I haven’t had internet this weekend, I did not realise how reliant I am on the internet. Dear me! Okay to round things up the two highlights of my weekend.

1.) I went to a roller hockey match on Saturday night, it was Grenoble vs Paris. The YETSI’s won (Grenoble team)! It was sensational and the crowd was electric. It is much better than football. I went with this Christian organisation called FEU (Foyer Evangelique Universitaire). All the people there were really nice and so patient with me. I got flustered a couple of times mid-conversation but I had a lot of fun. There were a lot of grenoblois  in the group but there were also people from Paris, Nimes, Marseille and a family from America.

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2.) Sunday  I took a tram into the city center and made my way to the river. I walked along the most beautiful river in the world with over 4 bridges along it. I reached les Jardins des Dauphines and it had a sign directing people to la bastille. As I had nothing else to do I went for it. Everyone else had backpacks and trainers but the path started so smoothly I didn’t think anything of it. There were old spiralling stone steps leading you to next part of the journey. Up and Up and up I went. Like this erasmus experience the only way is up as I have nothing to lose but everything to gain. I had no idea what I was aiming for. I reached a large building but  that was not the attraction and so I continued on the path. Through the alpine trees you could see mist covering the city, a clear view of the alps and the bizarre bare rock formation. To cut a long story short it was exciting to reach la Bastille and discover all these old fortifications as well as the best view of the city there is. It’s 475m at the top and well worth a full day of exploring. I only spent 2.5 hours exploring however there were many more paths to go along. Geez I sound like a tourism brochure.

Until next time! 

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Geneva

United Nations Geneva

United Nations Geneva

Geneva is where I start my journey. The landing was worth every penny I paid and I would even go as far as to say that if all my trip amounted to was viewing the alps through an aircraft window then I would be satisfied. You get a full view of lake Geneva and the snow capped mountains as you arrive, it is seriously breathtaking. Incroyable!

I landed at 10 am and bought myself a tram ticket for the day which came to only 8 Swiss francs. The tram to the city centre was very quick. It all just seemed too easy really as everything was clearly labelled, on time and it was very tourist friendly. So far everyone has understood my French. That’s a good start!

The whole experience has been quite nerve racking and there were so many things to do before leaving Liverpool for Geneva. Money was always my biggest worry but I managed to get a EU travel card from the post office which seems like the easiest option as it allows you to transfer money from a UK account to the travel card for free. Grenoble university had been very good at replying to my emails despite the holiday season. Now I all need to do is focus on one step at a time- next step visiting a friend in Switzerland.

So what am doing right now? Seriously… I am so happy it is unreal. I am sitting in front of a monument called Brunswick’s monument next to lake Geneva in a little chalet-style coffee shop with outdoor fires going. Charles II, duke of Brunswick sounds like a very vain and mean man however he paid for an extremely beautiful monument to be built which I have the pleasure of viewing. There are little birds flying around the cafe area. One landed on my table earlier and surprised me. Maybe it took pity on me because it saw I was the only one sitting on my own! I must sound like a loser to all of you but I feel so relaxed.

Today it is lovely and warm- no wind, no clouds, no rain and I can see the sun. I am seriously glad to be out of the UK as I was starting to get fed up of being cold. I think I will take a tram to see the United Nations building before getting the train to la Chaux-de-fonds.

P.s. I think I could live in Geneva.