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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The London Olympic Stadium is 53 meters high. This blog had about 720 visitors in 2012. If every visitor were a meter, this blog would be 14 times taller than the Olympic Stadium – not too shabby.

Click here to see the complete report.

I’m on a plane

Just when I thought I couldn’t have anymore adventures before my looming departure, this happened.

I flew a plane.

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I later broke the law, but we’ll get to that.

So here’s the story. Around lunchtime I met up with my lovely WEP coordinator, Julienne, to sum up my time in France. Once she had left, my host mum unexpectedly told me to dress warmly and get in the car. We drove for a while, and I began to get suspicious around the point when we were driving in the woods. When we arrived at the municipal airport I really began to wonder exactly what they had planned.

Inside the airport’s tiny lobby, I surveyed my surroundings. I could see no mention of parachuting and was relieved and disappointed at the same time. I don’t really want to leave France, but I didn’t want to die here either. We walked outside and climbed into the back of an airplane the size of a small airplane. But instead of being seated next to my brother, Lucas as I expected, Michel climbed in the back with me. It wasn’t too far out of the ordinary that Lucas would get to sit next to the pilot, somehow he always managed to get the front seat of the car. However it did take me a minute to realise that it would not be the pilot flying this plane.

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Lucas was a bit (ok maybe a lot) nervous to be sitting in the pilot’s seat, but it took him only a few minutes to get the basics down. Soon we were hurtling down the runway. I trusted my brother’s instincts, but I wasn’t quite sure that he did. We took-off, and within a few minutes had reached 5000 feet. It is a funny feeling, feeling safer at 5000 feet than at 10 feet.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h05m30s230

We were flying towards the Spanish border, watching all the tiny people and tiny houses and tiny etc. below us. It reminded me of my countless hours of playing sim city 4 deluxe edition but safe in knowing that the traffic jams weren’t a sign of my poor city management, I could just relax and indulge in the fact that I wasn’t them. I must have drifted off into my head, because after a few minutes we had reached the border. How did I know exactly? The majority of the Spanish-French border is a mountain range called “Les Pyrénées”. As we began to fly over the first peaks and I began to wonder if this was all just some elaborate plot to get me out of the country and leave a dead trail when the immigration come looking for an expired visa. I didn’t have much of a chance to think about that – a more pressing issue filled my mind.SANY0226

What once felt like a safe 5000ft didn’t feel that safe anymore. The peaks below us reached almost as high. I tried not to panic and consoled myself that if these were my last moments, that at least I would be spending them with family, that it would be an extraordinary exit to the afterlife, and that hopefully the snow would engulf my body, conserving my good looks so I could have an open casket funeral. Even though he was seated in the co-pilot seat, I trusted our pilot’s decision to take control from Lucas. This, I realised, was about to become serious.SANY0220

We rounded the first peak and made a sudden dive, leaving us truly in the depths of the ranges. I didn’t see how we could pull up in time to make it over the next peak but it turns out that wasn’t our goal. We banked a sharp left, almost perpendicular to the ground, and sped up. Out one window was sky, the other, ground. My head spun so I tried to focus on something. The windscreen. I focused my eyes and saw what I gathered was our escape – a gap between two more peaks. We were still some distance away, so I expected the gap to widen as we approached. It didn’t and suddenly we banked again, miraculously passing the gap. We made it.

I looked around us in our moment of security. Dug into the mountainside below us was a huge open cut mine. Curious, I asked what it was. The pilot replied that it was talc. I told him it was the same word in English. Even so, Michel, being the greatly humorous father that he is had to explain the various uses of talc for me. Suddenly the plane dropped. The land below us had sheered off into a  which has caused a change in air pressure. No biggie. We levelled out again and Lucas took the wheel. No more mountains before us, I felt safe again.SANY0222

The pilot pointed out something on top of a small peak to our left. As it came into focus, we realised what it was, a fortress. After we had passed it, he pointed us our next destination, another airfield not too far away. As he guided Lucas to the runway, I realised that he wasn’t going to land it, Lucas was. Hours of Aircrash Investigations ran through my head simultaneously. The pilot pushed some buttons and we started slowing. The ground came towards us much faster than I would have liked and soon we were metres from the tarmac. The plane nosed up suddenly and dropped gently onto the runway. We taxied and made a brief stop to change our seating.vlcsnap-2012-01-20-09h43m12s0

I had drunk a lot of water before the flight so took this golden opportunity to jog over to the grass and well you know. I looked around at this beautiful day. The sun sifting through the clouds and reflecting of the snow sprinkled slopes in the distance. The breeze drifting lazily through the long yellow grass and HOLY CRAP IS THAT A FREAKING HELLICOTER. The noise of the still running plane motor behind me had silenced it’s approach, and as it drifted not 50m in front of me I read the word GENDARMERIE in huge white letters on its side. Yes ladies and gentlemen, yours beloved, urinated in plain sight of a police chopper, showing it is possible to fulfil a bucket list item quite by accident.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h10m12s216

I hurried back to the plane having decided it would be best to get out of here as quickly as possible. In retrospect it was kind of obvious, but it still surprised me when the only empty seat was the pilots. I climbed in, adjusted my seat, attached my safety belt, and put the plane in gear. Listening to my instructions, I taxied the runway. At the end, I turned the plane around and faced destiny. I released the foot brakes and we sped of. The plane swerved left, and I pushed the pedal to adjust. I had trouble understanding my instructor. What number did he say to wait for? 50? 60? Were we still veering left? Did the cops think I was trying to make a getaway? He signalled to pull the yoke (an aeronautic steering wheel) so I did and as we separated from the tarmac, all my worries vanished.

After a few minutes we levelled out and I adjusted our heading. Occasionally we would bank, but it became easier and easier to stay level. It occurred to me that I had never driven a car but I could fly a plane. I resisted the urge to barrel-roll in delight. The pilot looked behind us for a long while then instructed me to speed up. I snatched a glance behind us. The sun was setting, and even though an early sunset would mean no time to joy-ride for me, the glance I had was enough natural beauty to make it worth it.

Enough clichéd sentimental bull, Ned. Just get to the part where you realise you have to land the plane too.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m15s43

Oh yeah, That. As soon as the airfield was pointed out to me, it dawned on me that like my brother, I too would have to aim this contraption at the ground in the hope my instincts would save me. I listened as intently as I could and did everything I was told to: fly over Leclerc, then line up with the runway.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m44s85

He told me to aim for ‘34’ written at the start of the runway

I overshot it.

We were too close to the ground

I pulled up sharply.

Our downward momentum keep us falling.

The tyres touched tarmac.

We rolled along the runway.

I congratulated myself.

I had just flown a plane.

 

We avoided the traffic jams and made it home safe.

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2011 in review

Thanks to everyone who read my blog last year. I really appreciate your support.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report. WITH FIREWORKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From a thought (Photo Blog)

With our vacation over it’s time for some reminiscing. Over the past week we had our good moments and our bad. We learnt some things, too: how to party; what not to eat; the relative size of it all; and that sometimes strange things happen.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

We finished our wonderful ski spectacular in the mountains after our week of adventure. At the end of the week we  travelled to Saint Jean-de-Luz again to spend Christmas with some of Michel’s Family.

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Wednesday:
The temperature had finally risen and it had stopped raining so we went outside. I found myself reading this plaque in the village centre “Le 6 Mai 1808 Napoléon a peut-étre pissé ici” which literally means “May 6th, Napoléon may have pissed here.” Knowing my chances I was standing in someone’s piss. Napolén pisséThat on my mind I went home and blogged.

It was a special dinner that night, much like the Repas de Noël I had on my last day of lycée but much more grown-up. I learnt some more valuable lessons.

My family taught me how to drink wine:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Then later, how to boogie:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

And they also taught me that sauce which looks like créme anglais (English Cream) and placed with the desserts could just as easily be vinaigrette.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Thursday:
I took this panoramic, originally about 15000×7300 pixels – 5.29×2.58m at full resolution – which took 3 hours to stitch. It wouldn’t open on my laptop although I now realise why not.SANY0144 Stitch (10000x4885) (1280x672)

Friday:
Before coming to Gourette, my family had promised me we would have a traditional mountain raclet – a huge half wheel of cheese placed on a hot rock causing the cheese to melt onto your plate over types of meat and potatoes. A dish traditionally from the alps.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThis wasn’t quite what we expected.

Later that day there was a midday sunsetSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

and a PARACHOOTING FRENCH SANTA! Because being Santa just isn’t cool enough for the kids anymore…SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASaturday:
I skyped everyone, 2011-12-24 11154 skype with the family, christmas dinner  (640x375)and after we left. Our descent down the mountains was beautiful and because we had arrived during the night and a snow storm, it was completely new to me. – click for better quality…

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That evening yet another Santavlcsnap-2011-12-29-00h56m37s96

Around midnight we drove across the bay into Église St Jean Baptiste, made famous by the marriage of Louis XIV (Roi soleil – sun king) and the Infanta of Spain. After the wedding, the king ordered the door way to be bricked up so that no-one would ever be married via that that door again. Inside the hallowed walls we listened to the story of Christmas. If you haven’t heard it before, it’s quite a kicker…

 

Sunday the 25th:
We were treated by some more of Michel’s family for lunch. We arrived at 14:00 and didn’t leave the table until 17:00IMG_0151 (640x480)

Needless to say it was de la bonne bouffe (good grub) and they made me feel like one of the family.

I sampled this particular cheese. I didn’t really want to, but it’s difficult to say no the relentless insistence of your French hosts up to 4 times your age. Honestly, I was grateful to sample something new and that I have that opportunity. But I was mostly grateful of the fact that the cheese platter had some other VERY powerful cheeses. In particular that one Roquefort which was somehow able to overpower the taste of used urinal cakes the innocently named Mont d’or  (Golden Summit) left me with.vlcsnap-2011-12-29-01h02m51s67

Monday:
Even though the world had already finished celebrating, we made it home on time for Christmas. IMG_0172 Stitch (3264x2476) (640x480)vlcsnap-2011-12-29-01h21m21s130

Love you all. Hope everything was well over this special time of year.

I tried a new style of blog this week – picture blog – mainly because I had alot of photos, and because I assumed it wouldn’t take as long. It did take as long, but it’s nice not to hear me ranting for once right?
Let me know what you think. [no-one sees your email in comments, it’s aim is to stop spammers]

Also, how did you spend your Christmas?

 

P.S.

Finding inspiration can be difficult. I have to try every trick I can. SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

My stardom.

It’s Tuesday and only 16:18 and I’m already in bed. I spent the whole day skïïng and abusing my natural adrenal response for a thrill. Needless to say, it was great. After I finished practising the various basics of skiing at the appropriately named Happy Place, I wanted to try out my new skills. The chairlift which had been closed yesterday would take me a little way above happy place. Getting into the chairlift was a dangerous feat by itself – which you would know If you had ever tried doing this in skis. Locked away, I waited.

At the other end I found the slope a little extreme but I told my self that I could manage. I knew I could make it to the bottom anyway. Gravity would take care of that. I set off and ended up in a ditch. Actually, I made the ditch. Skiing equipment spread over a 5m crash site. It was quite a spectacle. I checked myself. Nothing broken, nothing hurt. Not even a little. I was completely uninjured. I was unstoppable. I was IMMORTAL! But now I faced the slight problem of trying to reconnect myself to my skis on a slope which I now realised was not green but blue. Somehow I managed and was off again. I took the chairlift twice again and began falling less and less seriously, even on the blue slope. I was enjoying myself immensely, but 3 hours of rain and snow had left me completely soaked and I decided I needed to make it back to base. I had two options: to take the green slope of death which had almost taken my life the day before, or else there was the télécabin.
Back at base, my body frozen and saturated, my heart beating like a drum I looked back at the slope in all it’s dangerous glory. I had made the right choice. That télécabin ride had been incredible.*

I may have been affected by too much adrenaline in my system combined with the low oxygen, but I kept telling myself how it had been the best fun of my life. But at the same time I held a moments silence for all the lost souls who had skied too far off the side of the screen and been eaten by the yeti.

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P.S. As a side note I should probably mention the Nightlife here is unstoppable. We enjoyed** some karaoke last night and on Monday, Lucas and I impromptly starred in a spectacle hosted by the lodge here. We forgot to take a camera and as a result there is no proof so I will deny these events until my dying breath.

*This phrase may have been inserted for the sake of laughs.

** If any kind of karaoke can be considered enjoyable

My Favourite Place

Saturday was one of those days. A means to an end.

We filled our bags and I Skyped my friends, and then we headed off into the night. We did have a slight problem making it too.IMG_0130 (800x600)

In wasn’t until the next morning in the obscure mountain air that we got our first proper look of our new home.

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I liked it.

It took the majority of the morning to find our way through the snow to the rental shack, try on our skis and make our way to the slopes but we started skiing ASAP. It looked easy, but I have to hand it to nature. Something as little and harmless as snow rendering me a complete idiot (but let’s not forget how terrific I was on the ice!). I managed my way down the first slope to the télécabins (an enclosed chairlift) and we ascended up the slope to the sadistically named Happy Place. After at least an hour I had managed the basics:

  • Using the carpet (like a chairlift but on the snow)
  • Screaming and steering uncontrollably down the tiniest of slopes
  • Falling over
  • Envying the 6yr olds who had already surpassed me all the above.

I was ready to try the green slope…

 

(can you feel the suspense!?)

 

In short, I failed at the green slope. I had managed the uncontrollable steering, but unfortunately we had forgotten how to teach me to stop properly. Turns out that crashing into embankments doesn’t count as a legitimate strategy. After the 3rd serious crash and their associated tantrums, I decided it was to dangerous to continue and had to walk the last 2 km in ski boots through knee-high snow. Cold and tired we reposed in our lodge, and reminisced about how I really sucked at ice-related sports.

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Tomorrow couldn’t possibly be worse, right?

Christmas in July (in December)

Well it was inevitable. Christmas has come in all it’s commercial glory. Decorations hung in the streets and at school. I had my last day of school for the year today. Most of my class came for the one hour of class we had in the morning, but thanks to vacation plans and for a general dislike for learning establishments, my lycée was a little empty.

IMG_0002 [LD]I live with my host family in Saint-foy-d’aigrefuielle, about 15 minutes from my High-school in Saint-Orens, a suburb to the very south of Toulouse. I’m saying this to show that I rarely get to travel into the city centre, and that is where today’s story comes from. I was feeling a little out of touch with my city. So after my 1 hour of class I decided to rekindle the romance and head back to my grand beloved. Like I said, my school is on the very outskirt of the city proper, and as a result we are the final destination for 4 bus routes, so I can usually catch a bus every 5 minutes. Of course like I have plainly stated before, this is the French system and seems to hate me so it’s a matter of chance if I can actually get back on time. Today was no different and the bus I was meant to wait 5 minutes for never came. But all was not lost. I had lovely company from 3 jeune filles from my English class who waited with me the 40 minutes until my next bus.

Eventually,  my bus came and left and we headed north. I was preparing myself for the Christmas Spirit with some music I found, while I patiently tried tried to calculate exactly how much time I would be spending in the bus so that I could work out how much time I could spend in Toulouse. It didn’t look good. If it took me 40 minutes from school to Francois Verdier station, I would only have only about 20 minutes in the city (Taking for granted the bus would actually return). I thought about how my city – like a siren – pulled me in with it’s promises of beauty, while making me traverse unnecessarily long bus routes.

Meanwhile we arrive and I get off my bus where I assumed I was close enough to the capitol, lured my the promise of Christmas Cheer. I knew exactly what I wanted:  I wanted decorations, I wanted Lights, I wanted Music and snow and fake Santas and choirs singing carols in the streets. And I was willing to risk a missed bus to find it.

IMG_0043 Stitch [LD]

I took my chances and ventured into that concrete jungle. Walking pass churches and the homeless I arrived at my goal, Capitol Square. I always end up here. Thy had put a lot of effort in – that was obvious – but I never saw any references to anything Christmassy. No Santas, Jesus, reindeer or the like. Nothing but a lot of stores and a lot of money changing hands. All this commercialism using Christmas as a selling point. I realise that as I grow up, that this is what Christmas will become to me. We all have to lose that childhood innocence eventually, right? We become thee people who don’t mind paying overinflated prices on unwanted Christmas Gifts, but giving a dollar to the homeless is just a little too much. It’s a much repeated story, but it still pisses me off.

IMG_0068 Stitch [LD]

Lost in trying to find my Christmas Wonderland, I realised that once again I had missed my bus but I promised myself that it would pay-off. 20 minutes later, scanning my bus ticket, I had still found nothing. I arrived at school later than I had expected, and so was sure that I had missed the Repas de Noël – A special Christmas lunch the school puts on near Christmas. I hadn’t missed it, but I had missed the queue and didn’t have to wait. It was yum.IMG_0087 [LD]

From my table I had a view of the entire cafeteria and felt a little better. I could see our German correspondent, Lukas, at a table with his host-brother and friends. Despite it being his last day, they all looked remarkably happy. This was the Christmas spirit I had been looking for and I didn’t even need to go looking for it. It had been here all along. I smiled to myself. Christmas is sooooooo cliché.

IMG_1052 Edit [LD]

Joyeuses Fêtes

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