Monday, September 27, 2010

So, one thing that I am really enjoying here in Nice is the efficiency and just general awesomeness of the public transit! So in this post I'm going to talk about the transit system that I've come to depend on -- and enjoy using!

After starting to settle into the jour typique à Nice, I've started to use public transit to get around. When I first arrived, I was walking everywhere. As wonderful as it is for me to walk in the city streets, after moving into my apartment getting around with nothing but my two feet wasn't as logical of an option for me. I live just north of the "centre-ville" of Nice, right where the hills start to climb up. The French Riviera cities are all on a narrow strip of level land where the Mediterranean Sea meets the beaches. Small mountains encircle the cities, giving it a very picturesque look that is classic of the area. Anyways, I ramble! Long story short, I'm a far distance from my university, so I needed to start using the "Lignes d'azur", the public transit here in Nice.

The public transit here is nothing short of wonderful. As a user and strong believer in public transportation, I am happy to finally be living in a place that believes in it too! There are numerous bus routes which provide excellent coverage to the city (I believe there are around 60 routes in the entire route, I'll confirm that in my next post), and the service frequency is usually every 5-10 minutes within central Nice! There is also the LRT tram which quickly and smoothly gets you to many destinations across the city. And the best part: a "solo" ticket only costs 1€!! A far cry from the $3 fare paid to use Toronto's public transit (which has comparable transit services to those of Nice's) !! Europe as a whole is like this; a German friend of mine was shocked when I told her how the service frequency during peak hours in Guelph is only 20 minutes. The EU is very knowledgeable about the need for good public transit, and investing money into it pays off. Cheap fare and excellent service -- it's a rare occasion to be riding in an empty bus or tram here in Nice!

image from:

To conclude, I'll make one last point as to just how awesome it is using the transit. All of the vehicles... are made by Mercedes! That's what I'm talking about!! If you don't believe me, régardez :

image from:

(Okay, so apparently it's gonna cut the picture short when I post it, so I guess you'll just have to take my word for it people!!)

My "blog moments" always happen so late at night, and right now, it's approaching 2am. And of course, I have school tomorrow! So, until my next post...

À bientôt à tous

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two Weeks In

Bonjour everyone!

Well, I am aware that there are at least a COUPLE of you who have voiced concerns over my long absence from MeLiFaTh! I apologize for my lack of blogger-commitment! The past couple months were very busy, with work and getting the final details taken care of for my exchange. But, long story short....I'm here! And I just know that everyone wants to hear about la France. So, I'll just cut to the chase and get down to business.

Well, the was like any transatlantic flight could be. Yes, it was exhausting. Those "I'm so excited" fumes only power the body and mind for so long, let me tell you -- especially once you get off the airplane only to discover it's a brand new day here! Luckily, I had a 6 hour layover in London, so I found a nice padded bench, and crashed for a few hours. Then it was off to Nice. A short little flight across the country, and I was standing on French soil for the first time in over two years. At this point, I was in robot mode (thanks to our good friend sleep deprivation), so I didn't really think much about it all. For me it was "bag-bus-hostel-bed".

I spent the next few days trying (in near desperation) to find an apartment. Being without accomodations was very stressful. I just felt like I was in too much of "vacation mode", and I didn't like it. But, lots of searching and trying to contact landlords eventually payed off, and I was able to secure my flat. I settled in, started going to my classes at school, and just meeting people.

We are now two weeks in. And I must say, things are starting to smooth out. Little by little I'm crossing things off of my mental "to live here" list. In France, red tape is very sequential, and things need to be done in a precise way, and in a precise order. At first, it can seem overwhelming, all of the requirements and documents to gather, but I have found that there is a certain strategy to getting it all done: follow the guidelines and rules carefully, but also listen to what your fellow international classmates are saying too. In France, a business or service's posted hours don't mean anything -- some places really seem to rely on the old "word of mouth" method!! Ironically, for a place who has enough paperwork to make a forest of trees quiver in fear, handing it in and processing times really doesn't seem as big of a deal as it is in Canada. I just "show up" to the classes I am taking, as in France the true enrollment (l'inscription pédagogique) doesn't happen until October, when you sign up for your exams.

After thinking about all of the things I've needed to get done here, I like to just stop and think about how fascinating it is. Sure, they do things differently than in North America. But the thing to remember is, it works for them! This is the way of life in this country, and outsiders just need to accept it, or get out. I am really enjoying the way daily life is here in France, and look forward to each new day and what it will teach me. Every minute of my life over here is spent observing, learning, and adapting: it is truly a very fulfilling experience. Being surrounded by the language every day is working wonders for my goal of bilingualism; just walking down the street is helpful, as it's exposing me to the sounds and "flow" of the language. And, although it takes more time to achieve than meeting other international students, I am starting to become more confident in my French speaking abilities, thus allowing me to meet and become friends with French people. Of course, this is the key to my ultimate reasons for being here in the first place; as good as any foreign student may be to speaking French, un vrai français will have the best knowledge of the current, up-to-date French spoken.

So, I will try to be more regular with my blog postings from now on. A fellow blogger and dear friend of mine (who's blog you can find here) suggested it would be a good outlet for me to share all of my new discoveries of the culture and food of France. I'm going to try to share all of this on here, even if it's just a few pictures or some cool music from France! With that, I leave you with a picture, one of my favourites that I have taken thus far:

This was taken two nights ago, as me and some friends were walking back from dinner along la Proménade des anglais. I love how the lights just gently curve off into the distance, with the headlights of the cars gently moving along. Anyways, that's all for now! Any comments or questions are, of course, always more than welcome!

À bientôt !

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

L'Âne français --- « y-en !! »

So, yesterday I was bored and surfing the web (what else is new!), when I decided I would do some online French tests to gauge where my language level is with the language. Since I've been out of school for over a month now, I haven't had the luxury of having lectures being delivered in French, nor have I been talking much French myself! Anyways, long story short, I still seem to have a strong hold over the grammar of the language, although there is one thing which always confuses me. Ladies and gentlemen, let's take a look at the frightening world of....FRENCH PRONOUNS!!

Muahahaha....okay, so maybe your idea of scary isn't the same as mine. But seriously, pronouns in French are, well...tricky! Some of them just don't plain make sense in English, and others can be loosely translated, but well...we like to take shortcuts in English, and so we aren't accustomed to hearing the full, "proper" version of a sentence. Shall we have a little (I promise!) French lesson now, so that I can explain my point??

So, let's start off simple. You're in France, and you notice a really nice car. You want to tell the owner that you like it. So, what would you say? Well, of course you can say "j'aime la voiture" (I like the car), but I mean... that sounds a bit cumbersome, don't you think? To make it sound a bit more fluid, you would instead say "je l'aime", or "I like it". In this example, the pronoun "la" replaces the subject of reference in the sentence... "the car" becomes "it". And in French, you place the pronoun in front of the verb as a rule. Easy enough, right?

Okay, let's make things more interesting. Say you are talking to a group of friends about Nice, and how you are going there in September (if you are clever enough, you might notice I just used a pronoun in this sentence...if not, you shall figure it out after these next couple sentences). Now, for whatever reason, you feel the need to explain to your friends en français about your exciting news. How ever would you say it?! After my first example, you might be daring and try to figure it out on your own. You might say "okay, Rob. This is easy. Pronouns go before the verb, so I'll have to say je le vais en septembre."

That's a good try, but unfortunately, it's not correct. You see, in French, what pronoun you use depends on a multitude of factors. Let's examine the "no pronoun" version of the sentence:

Je vais à Nice en septembre.

In this case, there is one thing which forces us to use a different pronoun, and it's the à. This little letter forces us to use a new pronoun, which ironically is ALSO just on letter...y. So, we now know the correct way to say it:

J'y vais en septembre. (I am going there in September)

Ahhh, you see?! When translated into English, the pronoun y loosely means "there". BUT this isn't always true, it's better to think of it as "the pronoun to use when the noun is after an à".

So, one last pronoun I'm going to teach you about. Let's say someone offers you some cake. Once again, it is imperative that you reply to them in French for reasons unknown. You want to say that you don't want any cake. So, how would you do this? Well...without using any pronouns, you might say "Je ne veux pas du gâteau". But you're tired from all of this practice using pronouns, and you just want to say the least amount of words possible but still be understood. So, how would you do it? Well...any time you see "de" "du" "de la" or "des", you are talking about quantities. SOME of something. So because it's a quantity of something you are referring to, you need to reflect this in the "shortened version" of the sentence for it to make grammatical sense. How do we do this? In French, we use the pronoun "en". So, you would change your sentence to be "Je n'en veux pas" , or "I don't want any". Think of en as meaning "some" or "any", but as with the previous example, it doesn't always mean that, and it doesn't always translate into anything in English.

So these last two pronouns we learned are probably the ones which cause the most grief. As I've already said, they don't always have an equivalent in English. Sometimes you use them for one version of a verb, other times you don't...and using them incorrectly can change the entire meaning of the sentence. It gets especially tricky when you are using complex sentences. Placement becomes tricky when there are compacted tenses/more than one verb, if the verb is reflexive, or indeed, if more than one pronoun is being used. It's easy to lose sense of the sentence when so many pronoun "shortcuts" are being used, and the order of the pronouns in a sentence DOES matter. What I think is the hardest part about them though, is the fact that they do indeed come before the verb, whereas if the specific object being referred to was still "in" the sentence, it would come after the verb. Since the French place the pronoun before the verb, you somehow have to "know" the thing you are about to talk about, because you have to reference it at the very beginning of the sentence. Oh, and don't forget all of those rules about which one to use and when to use it, or else your sentence might not be at all what you intend to say!

So, moral of the story is, pronouns are tricky, but necessary if you intend on sounding at all polished when conversing in French. I don't like them, and I know that even French natives themselves mess them up -- but hopefully practice WILL make perfect for me.

I hope you found my little grammar lesson understandable and even -- dare I say it -- interesting?! Feedback, as always, is greatly enjoyed. À bientôt !!

(P.S. the title is making reference to the sound a French donkey (âne français) would make, if you say the y and en out loud. Corny grammar jokes....gotta love 'em !! )

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Debriefing the mission

Hello world!
It's been a while since I've last written a post, I apologize for any of you out there that have been missing me! hahaha...
Anyways, I have had a pretty hectic past week! I'm in the process of moving from one house to another, which meant me having to spend the past week at the parents' house which, as many of you can probably relate to, is very stressful! I wasn't planning on coming back to my current house anymore, except to move a few big furniture pieces out on moving day. Well, long story short, I'm back due to a number of reasons, but the good news is I will be settled into my new home no later than this upcoming Saturday...hooray!!
Okay, so we all know I'm about to embark on an exchange to Nice. However, many people might not know where exactly it is that I am going, so I'm going to take this opportunity to introduce you all to my future home for the next year!

I'm going to be living in the city of Nice, which is located in the south of France. It is situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the heart of the French Riviera. Nice is the principle city of the Alpes Maritimes département, which is located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. With a metropolitan population of around 975,000, Nice is the 5th largest city in France.

Map of France showing the regions. Provence-Alpes-Côte d'azure is highlighted in red.

Being in the French Riviera, Nice enjoys a very warm Mediterranean climate (especially so for a Canadian like me!!). Yes, there ARE palm-trees, and no, Nice does not get snow. In fact, Nice and the other cities of this area of France are a very popular tourist destination, both for French citizens, as well as Europeans and other travelers from around the world. Nice also has many Italian influences, as it is extremely close to the Italian border (it was once Italian territory, too!). It is also a short drive away from neighbouring city Cannes which, as many people know, attracts lots of celebrities during the world-famous Cannes Film Festival. The city itself is beautiful, gradually spreading out from the coastline up into the foothills of the Alps. As I did in my last posting, I'm going to share a few pictures that I found on the internet of Nice, giving a little explanation of what it is you are looking at.

view of the Promenade des Anglais, the large waterfront boulevard and pedestrian boardwalk which runs the length of the city.

the NICETOILE shopping centre, located in the heart of central Nice. It contains many upscale as well as more conventional stores.

view of a street within the Vieux Nice district of the city. This is the historic area of the city, with many of the buildings dating back to the 17th century. The narrow streets and alleys give it a classically rustic European feel.

looking towards the west with the city of Nice in plain view. The central area of Nice lies close to the coast, however the growing city continues to crawl up into the foothills.

And there you have it, a little sample of the place I'm going to call home! I hope everyone enjoyed the little "virtual tour" of this most wondrous of cities! Please, feel free to leave any comments of questions, I really enjoy feedback from anyone who reads this blog. Also don't forget to subscribe to merry.little.fancy.things. , as I will be sure to post many more pictures as well as write all about my experiences in Nice once I get there. À bientôt!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A day of adventure

Hey all!
So, today I decided that I would go on a little adventure, and ventured into Toronto to visit a friend. I used transit 100% of the way, which is something I always like. My friend lives in the West Humber area of Toronto, which is in the north-west end of the city. Well worth the trip, I say!

Toronto is probably one of my favourite cities in the world, if not THE first favourite. It's a city where all of the world's cultures live together. Toronto has countless neighbourhoods where a particular ethnic group flourishes. Be it Little Italy, Chinatown, or Greek Town, Toronto has it all. I believe that this is one thing that makes it such an amazing place. It's Canada's largest city, and a major city even on the international scale. It has world-class entertainment, dining, and shopping, so there is never a shortage of things to do. Indeed, even walking the streets of the downtown is a day-long adventure all on its own. I feel that the world doesn't give Toronto the recognition it deserves, for it is one of the world's best examples of a cosmopolitan metropolis.

Here's a few pictures of Toronto that I found, to show you all a little bit of the city that I love so much:

Street-view of Bay Street. Bay Street is Canada's version of Wall Street, making up the heart of the Financial District of the city.

Looking west on to Downtown Toronto.

A view of Toronto's skyline at nightfall from Lake Ontario. The CN Tower is one of Toronto's most well-known landmarks, and it's height is clearly demonstrated in this picture.

Although technically not part of the City of Toronto, Mississauga is a neighbouring city. The two cities have expanded into each other, making it all feel like one giant "mega city". This is a view of the Mississauga's City Centre. Many new buildings are currently being constructed, adding to this quite beautiful skyline.

And there you have it, a little taste of Toronto. If you ever want to experience a unique and beautiful city, I recommend checking it out sometime -- you won't be disappointed!! I hope you fall in love with it just as I have.

Friday, May 14, 2010

To commence

Hello world. I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce my brand-new blog! I decided I would start blogging to help record what's going on in my life, since I'm moving away to France in September. This gives me an opportunity to record any thoughts and experiences that I come across while in Europe, as well as share my new life with all of those that I shall be leaving behind. As I have learned, the journey doesn't start only when you are on the plane, but it begins in the months leading up to your departure. Indeed, I am already busy preparing for my trip.
I am keeping fairly on top of my paperwork so far. I have a new passport, got all my immunization records and birth certificate (the long form!). I just sent off my online CampusFrance registration to the Consulate of France in Toronto, which took a considerable amount of time to prepare. Now I just need to ensure my visa application package is complete by the time I go in to the embassy and submit it. This month, I still must book my flight, look into housing options, acquire supplementary health and liability insurance, as well as notify Ontario Health that I am leaving the country for an extended period of time (if I don't, they will no longer classify me as a resident of Ontario, and then I will no longer be entitled to health care...scary!!). On top of that, I still have to complete my pre-departure orientation course online!! Lots to do, lots to do...
To make matters worse, I have yet to find employment for the summer!! For the time being, I am hoping to find something in Guelph, but who knows what will happen! If anyone can hook me up with a job....I'll love you forever?? ;D
So my thoughts and reflections about France at the onset of this lovely blog of mine. Well, I'm excited, of course! I can't wait to live like "un français'', and just BE in that wonderful country! Of course, I'm also quite scared to think about leaving Canada for a whole year. I wonder how much can change in that time. They say that leaving is hard, but coming back is even harder. I expect to come back to an entirely different life. What if I no longer fit in? What if I no longer hold common beliefs which made me happy to live in Canada? It's risky! Same with when I arrive in France: will I fit in? Will I find meaningful friendships? Will I adapt to a European lifestyle, mastering the language, eating the food, following the social norms of a different society? What if they don't accept me? What if I'm just labeled as "another American tourist", rather than accepted as the open-minded, passionate francophile that I am? These are some of the thoughts that I wonder when I really sit down and think about this opportunity. However, only time will tell, and for now, I am positive for an event which will no doubt be life-changing either way.
Thanks for taking the time to read my first post, and I hope everybody will enjoy reading my updates as I progress through this incredible journey.