Posts Tagged ‘ work ’

Au revoir Paris! :(

So today’s my last day in Paris.  My last morning in fact, and I’m taking the 12:25 train back to Amsterdam.

I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’m really sad to be leaving, but that’s life.  My assignment was for 8 months and now they’re over, so I’m going back to life as normal.  That has it’s up sides and down sides, and I’m not really sure which city I like the most, but Paris is new and shiny while I’ve been living in Amsterdam for almost 4 years now and it’s lost a little of its attraction.

There are things that I’m looking forward to doing in Amsterdam, like getting back on my bike(s) and meeting up with my friends and colleagues, but there are things that I can’t deny are better in Paris.  The food is great here, and I’m almost always impressed when I eat at a bar or restaurant, and the bread is to die for *drool*.  I love the fact that salad can be a meal here rather than some lettuce leaves on the side of the plate, and I enjoyed trying to master the language.  I can’t really say that I succeeded, but I gave it a good try.

While I’ve enjoyed learning French, much more than when I was at school and also way more than I enjoyed learning Dutch, I’m looking forward to being in a city where it’s easier to speak English.  I shouldn’t look forward to that because I should be saying that I’m looking forward to speaking Dutch again, but I can’t honestly say that I am.  I’ve forgotten almost all the Dutch that I knew 8 months ago and starting again just seems soul destroying, especially when people will respond in English anyway when they realise I’m a foreigner.

There are silly things that I like in both cities too.  I gave up trying to find concerts that were coming in Paris because there are so many concert venues that I couldn’t keep up to date with who was playing at each one.  In Amsterdam it’s much easier as I’ve been to 2 venues in the last 4 years, so I just check their websites for new tickets on sale.  My apartment in Paris has hot running water in the bathroom though, which interior designers in Amsterdam apparently think isn’t important.  In Amsterdam I have a cloakroom sink with a cold water tap, which sucks!  I also haven’t taken a flight in almost 10 months, as I can jump on a train in Paris and go anywhere in Western Europe which is ace.

I really hope I’ll be coming back in the future, hopefully for fun and also for work.  I’ve made connections with a lot of people in the office here, and I want to keep them active.  I think if I visit the office for a day I could spend most of it just chatting to people!

And that’s the last short post about Paris.  Thanks for listening to me talking rubbish. Au revoir!

Friday 6:30pm

6:30pm
Pack up
"Bon weekend"
"À lundi!"
Grab headphones
Pickup bag
Put on jacket
Street:
Colleagues, young, old
Beer, wine, peanuts
Terrace, smoking, gossip
Long night ahead
Métro:
┌-------┬-------┐
|┌-----┐|┌-----┐|
||     |||     ||
||     |||     ||
||     |||     ||
|└-----┘|└-----┘|
|    -- |       |
|       |       |
|       |       |
|       |       |
|       |       |
└-------┴-------┘

-┼--┼- Going home, going out
 |  |
-┼--┼- Happy, bored, tired, relieved
 |  |
-┼--┼- Concentrating, playing, texting, reading
 |  |
-┼--┼- Friends, planning
 |  |
-┼--┼- Couples, chatting

--┐           ┌--
-┐|           |┌-
 ||           ||
 ||           ||
 ||           ||
-┘|           |└-
- |           | 
  |           | 
  |           | 
  |           | 
  |           | 
--┘           └--
Street:
Activity, energy, bustling, almost home
Shopkeepers, shuffling, packing, impatient
Baker, greengrocer, cheese seller, butcher
Fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fruit, dinner
7pm:
Home!
Fooooooood!

Chinese New Year

Thursday was the start of Chinese New Year, so one of my colleagues Lisa, who’s Chinese-American, suggested that we got out and celebrate the year of the rabbit with dinner.  It sounded like a good idea, so after work on Friday 7 of us found ourselves in a traditional Chinese restaurant.  The tables and chairs made it look like a giant British greasy spoon, but it was full of Chinese people so it must have been a good place to eat.

The restaurant’s style was a kinda of “Cook it yourself buffet” which Lisa described to us as Chinese Fondue.  It was a lot like the scene in Lost In Translation when they’re given some boiling water and raw meat for lunch.  We were given 2 gas burners for the table and a pot for each one which was split in two to allow it to hold a spicy stock on one side and a non-spicy stock on the other.  Once the stocks were simmering away we went to investigate the buffet.  Most of the vegetables were easily recognisable, and they had some white fish, prawns and crab pieces, but the processed food was a little more difficult.  I tried a strawberry ice cream coloured ball that was about the size of a chestnut, but it tasted like fish and had a really weird rubbery texture.  After the rubber fish experience I decided to be a little less adventurous and stick to what I knew.

Chinese new year fondue

Chinese fondue

After we filled up our first set of plates we got cooking, which was a very social experience as there were 3 or 4 people around each pot trying to fish out something to eat.  I tried cooking some pak choi on the spicy side and had to drink a whole glass of beer afterwards.  Food in Paris is generally not spicy compared to in the UK, but this was a little too hot for me and much too hot for some of my French colleagues.  The food prepared on the non-spicy side was good though, simple and apparently healthy.  Preparing it was fun too, much more hands on than going to a regular restaurant.

Cooking our own food meant that we ate a lot slower than normal as the food wasn’t already prepared when it got to the table.  We also spent a lot of time wandering around the buffet trying to decide what to eat, and once we had chosen and started cooking some things were cooked much more quickly than others.  After a while it felt like we were slowly cooking too as all the gas burners in the restaurant were heating the place up, but for dessert there was a self service ice cream machine so that – along with the large bottles of Tsing Tao beer – helped cool us down again.

Chinese new year beer

Beer and ice cream

In total we spent around 3 hours at the restaurant which is a long time by normal restaurant standards, but Lisa was disappointed as there were supposed to be free karaoke rooms for the customers to use for Chinese New Year.  Luckily (or so I though), they weren’t working but (unfortunately) the owner told us that there was a bar on the next street over that had karaoke rooms.  And so began my Chinese karaoke night, and also my first ever karaoke night.

Most of the songs available were Chinese, but it was possible to select the language so that we could filter out anything that we didn’t understand.  We tried choosing the US flag a few times until we realised that it was actually Malaysian.  Oops!  The English section had quite a lot of songs, most of them bad, but there were a few gems in there like National Express by the Divine Comedy which I hadn’t heard in years and had forgotten how funny it was.  I particularly like the description of the hostess! I guess the person who transcribed the words didn’t know what Frisps were, so they were just crisps in the karaoke version.

Lisa gave us a rendition of one of her favourite Chinese songs before she went home, leaving 3 Frenchmen and me to drink more beer and try to find some songs that we actually liked and knew.  A lot of the English songs were actually covers by Chinese bands, and this meant that they also didn’t have the the original videos.  Many of them were videos featuring boy or girl bands covering classic songs, some of them with a different tune but the lyrics were generally the same.  The video that really surprised me was a cover of Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven whose video had a scantily clad Chinese woman posing for the camera for the whole video.  Not exactly respecting the theme of the song…

Eventually we ran out of songs that we recognised and called it a day, or night, at 1:30am.  I took the Métro home after midnight for the first time, and it was fine.  No very drunk people, no aggressive people, just people going home after a good night out which was nice to see.  On the way home I tried to find anything on my iPod that would wipe the karaoke tunes from my mind.  I didn’t succeed, but I came pretty close, however I still woke up with Love Is All Around in my head on Saturday morning.

Chinese new year colleagues 1

Colleagues

Chinese new year colleagues 2

Colleagues

Amsterdam catch up

Last Monday started with a call on my Dutch mobile phone, and talking to a guy who I can’t understand anymore.  He spoke in Dutch, I tried and failed to understand then said stuff back to him in French.  He sounded a little confused.  Eventually we agreed to talk English and he told me that they were going to change the windows in my Amsterdam apartment 2 days later on Wednesday!

My landlord and I had been expecting new double glazed windows to be installed, but I’m in Paris and he lives in Slovakia so getting back to Amsterdam on 2 days notice was a little difficult.  Also this was the first phone call that we’d had about it, as they’d sent letters to the apartment but of course no one had read them.  A few phonecalls later my landlord decided that he’d have to fly back from Bratislava as I wouldn’t be able to get the time off work at such short notice.

So when I made it back to Amsterdam on Thursday night, the day the installation was finished, I had nice new windows and the noticeable smell of sealant.  A nice surprise was also that the apartment was much cleaner than I had left it, as all my stuff needed to be moved and the fitters made a huge mess, so my landlord had spent all his spare time cleaning.

I’ve liked going back to the Dutch office while I’ve been working in Paris.  I normally go back for 3 days every 6 weeks, Friday in the office and the weekend to catch up on friends, post and other things that I need to do in the city.  The days at the office are mostly days of catchup meetings and chatting to people, and this day was no different so it was pretty relaxing.  Just to let people know that I’m still alive.

I spent Friday night seeing The Social Network at the cinema, and before the film started I was a little apprehensive mostly because of the trailers.  Usually when I see a film the trailers are for similar types of films, go see an action film and you’ll see action film trailers, horror films have horror film trailers, etc.  Before the film started they had quite a few action film trailers as well as a romance I think and a couple of other genres, so I was a little confused by the time the intro started as I was fairly sure that it was supposed to be a based-on-a-true-story drama.

The film was OK for me. Not bad and not great. I think it’s the first mainstream popular film that I’ve seen that had proper geeky bits.  Hackers had lots more but only laughably bad ones and Sci-Fi films have lots of course, but I generally don’t go out of my way to see films with computery subjects.

I had a really busy Saturday which included taking my camera back to the shop to get it repaired.  I don’t honestly think that Nikon will repair the problem (I’ve got some pixels that show up as red/blue/green instead of the correct colour on my DSLR), but gotta try!

So now I’ve got my dad’s old camera that I don’t feel so comfortable with, but I guess it’s better than nothing.  A friend’s asked me to take pictures for her in 4 weeks from now so hopefully I have my camera back, repaired or not, before that.

When I’m back in Amsterdam, my Dutch generally improves through the weekend, and I can understand more on Sunday afternoon than Friday morning.  My speaking doesn’t really improve much though, and I think it’s something that I may have lost for good.  On the flip side, my French is OK now but as soon as I move back to Amsterdam I’m going to forget that instead, so I need to find a way to keep practising.

Last stop on Saturday was in Haarlem for a 30th birthday which was really good.  Good to see people that I don’t meet often enough and share a few beers, as well as being well fed!  We were enjoying ourselves so much that I decided to miss the last train that would get me back to my local station, figuring that I’d find an alternate way back later.  My friend Laura and I decided to catch the last train back to Amsterdam Centraal then I’d make my way home from there.  We actually got the time of the last train wrong so ended up half running and half jogging through Haarlem at 1:30am and made the train with a few minutes to spare.

So when we got to Amsterdam I found that I’d just missed a night bus and decided to walk home, which would normally take around an hour.  I mostly avoided the other drunk people in the city except when I got to Burger King on Leidseplein and felt hungry.  Inside there was a mass of people that had just come out of the bars and clubs.  They were all pretty good natured but it looked like total chaos.

After taking a detour to my local station to collect my bike I eventually made it home at around 3am.  I woke up at 10:30 later that morning, so I was a little tired on Sunday and didn’t get up to much apart from buying some overpriced English language photography magazines.

Just before I got on the Thalys back to Paris I grabbed some dinner at the station which I think set off the food poisoning that knocked all the energy out of me for most of this week.  So a bad ending but the rest of my time in Amsterdam was pretty good.

Beaujolais Nouveau

Until yesterday I had no idea that the third Thursday in November was in any way special. But yesterday afternoon that changed forever (cue dramatic music)! It turns out that like Woody Allen films, the Beaujolais region of France releases a new wine once a year and the 3rd Thursday of November is when it all happens.

Turns out Lorraine, one of the Administrators in our office, is married to a wine shop owner. So she was pretty well qualified to teach me all about it on the Wednesday before the “big day”. As her husband owns a shop, she had a small cache of bottles that we tasted the evening before. That’s probably half way to breaking an unwritten law, but it seems that we geeky rebels didn’t care about no wine laws and quaffed it down anyway.

She also explained that there’s more than a touch of gimmick to releasing a wine once a year, also a bit like Woody Allen films. Although to be fair she didn’t mention the bespectacled one, that’s just my imagination bringing two completely unrelated threads into one story.

It’s a bit of an event though, as when I got out of the Métro near home tonight all the caves – or wine merchants to you and me – were out in the streets trying to sell the new release. Musicians were playing and food was being shared to celebrate the birth of the new wine.

Beaujolais night

So as far as the wine goes, it tasted OK. Not bad, not great, but I’m no connoisseur. Lorraine mentioned that it was one of the better Beaujolais of recent years and it supposedly tasted of bananas, then afterwards everyone else agreed that it did taste of bananas. I think that was mostly mental suggestion though. Sometimes I can taste that a wine reminds me of another flavour, but this time it just reminded me of red wine. I’ll probably buy a bottle just to say that I drank it though, so the gimmick works!

Back in the Dam (take 1)

So I went back to Amsterdam this weekend for the first time since the “big move” to Paris.  Arrived in Amsterdam on Thursday night and headed back to Paris on Sunday afternoon.

Was good to be back and catch up on things, like the mail.  I ordered a new t-shirt which they wouldn’t deliver to France with a Dutch credit card, so I waited 4 weeks to collect it back in Amsterdam 😦

But it was worth it:

Friday was pretty busy.  I was in work, and supposed to be working, but I actually spent all my time in meetings and catching up with people.  I managed to create a spreadsheet and fill in about 10 rows by the end of the day.  It didn’t help that someone had taken the power cables for my coding PC.

I had lots of “so how are you enjoying Paris?” conversations, and think that maybe I’m not making the most of it.  Next weekend I have to do stuff.  I’m not sure quite what, but I’ll do “something.”  I still have plans to head down towards Marseille at some point.

The high point of the day was having a reasonably coherent conversation in French with Solena, who tried to help me to learn a little while I was still based in Amsterdam.  She certainly wasn’t speaking at full speed, but I have definitely improved which is strange as I don’t normally speak much French although I hear a lot at work.

Saturday and Sunday were pretty quiet.  Headed in to Amsterdam on Saturday and did some shopping.  I never thought that I’d say that buying stuff in Amsterdam is cheap (not compared to the UK for sure), but it’s way better than Paris, so I stocked up on a few things that I needed then got bored and went home.  But before I got home I saw a pigeon with no feet!  Poor pigeon.

Sunday was kinda similar, except there were some marching bands heading through the city to Dam Square so I took a few photos, then found a nice place to have lunch in the 9 Straatjes before heading home and packing all my stuff into my suitcase.

Next time I’m back I need to plan my time a lot better. This weekend was the Open Monument day, but I didn’t know beforehand.  Next time I need to do my homework.