Non-tourist tips for living in Paris

Au Pairing in Paris, Europe

I spent 8 months in France’s capital city –  the most visited city in Europe. Seeing the City of Light as a ‘local’ instead of a tourist is an important part of settling in and enjoying a new city. Here are some of my tips for when you arrive in Paris; my favourite spots to visit (& drink and dance lol), best steps to take in your first few days and where to avoid like the French plague… I’ve added cickable links to most points to make life a million times easier for you. wooo

Go to at least 3 picnics. They’re awkward at first and organisers can seem totally creepy but I would’ve had ZERO friends if I hadn’t of forced myself to a fair few in my first weeks. Check out Youth Events in Paris for organised picnics, take a thick scarf or blanket, go to Carrefour for screw top wine and snacks. Add people on Facebook afterwards; if you really want to be the glue that holds the group together take photos and tag everyone.

Don’t be surprised if you’re joined by a few rats if you go to Champ de Mars.

Avoid Cafe Oz (internationals galore) and head to Le Perchoir. It’s pricey but pre drink and then share one glass of wine between four of you; super savin’.

visit The Local for english news, jobs and advice from Europe

Go to a metro party if you’re not claustrophobic and don’t mind a few runs from the police

Get a local sim and not just an English sim with the ability to make calls from France. Makes life easier for everyone else

Try out the bars in Bastille but don’t end up here every weekend. Theres more to Paris than Bastille!

Get to know some dance songs as that’s what you’ll be dancing along to in the cheesy europop bars. The French love their electro; I made a short soundcloud playlist to get you started. 

Go to 1979 on a Saturday if you like hip hop and RnB, the DJs are fab

Check out Shakespeare and Company for English books

Grab a few metro maps and download the RATP app. Learn your line and the lines your friends live on, work out how far it is to walk to certain places. Find out what time the first and last trains to where you live are to avoid unpleasant surprises at the end of the night. Learn the night bus route and don’t be afraid to just get it! I avoided countless pricey taxis because I just faced up to the ‘night bus fear’ straight away.

Buy at least one jar of Speculoos and thank me later.

Like the Seventy Fifth Facebook page and follow the blog to keep up to date with the cool shizz happening about town (it’s for english speakers, yay)

Accept the price and inconvience of location and visit the Foundation Louis Vuitton

Head to Couchsurfing parties for pool, beer pong and sumo fights

Wander round a flea market on a Sunday but don’t expect to find anything too exciting. They’re a bit overrated in my opinion but theres a nice atmosphere if you’re into that

Go for a walk down canal St Martin in the day and return in the evening

Square du Vert-Galante by Pont Neuf for picnics

Download Tinder to meet some weirdos. Dating in the ‘city of love’ is as actually about as unromantic as it gets so you might as well admit defeat and get some free meals & bizarre conversations out of it.

Go to Place de Republique on a Sunday and join a demonstration if you want to express your opinion

Go to the Kilo Store in Le Marais, don’t expect any bargains but have a browse

Marks and Spencer’s is pretty much cheap here so cheer yourself up with Percy pigs

Visit Galeries La Fayette to appreciate the ceiling and then head to the roof for a pretty cool view

Buy your homeware from Tati and feel like you’re floating in a Poundland-crossed-with-Wilkinson-cheapo heaven

Don’t upset any homeless people. You might not live to tell the tale (I have huge amounts of compassion for homeless people and their living situations but remember wine is cheaper than water in Paris. Be careful gals)

Get to know when your local post office is and expect to spend a long time in there as everyone is so slow!

Bear in mind that McDonalds have different stuff on the menu. The chips are never salty enough.

If you need anything for a Sunday either be prepared and get it on Saturday, go early Sunday morning or head to the Jewish area.

Go for a run, walk or picnic in Parc Buttes Chaumont, it’s real pretty.

Vending machines aren’t all that reliable.

Stand up on the metro if it’s busy and you’re on a foldable seat.

Go to Le Comptoir General; it’s an amazing place the bar tenders know how to make the strongest drinks.

If you’re stuck in an uncompromising situation there are 31 street condom vending machines in Paris. You’re welcome.

AAAAAAnd that’s all. There’s no reason to ever be bored in Paris; the gender based harassment and general cringe-ness of the lovey dovey couples walking too slowly down the street might get you down but there’s definitely worse places to live in.

Oh and drink all the peach wine.

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Mary x

The reality of living in Paris – Harassment

Au Pairing in Paris

Disclaimer;  I love Paris. It’s a magical place to live and I definitely recommend it to everyone and anyone. This is just one part of life here that I want to chat about. I wrote this months and months ago but never posted it because I didn’t want to freak out my family. But you can’t keep quiet about issues like this, especially if this could help someone out. 

It’s only just dawned on me how different Paris is to to anywhere else I’ve visited or lived. I Skype my friend almost every day and I’ve just realised most days I have a story to tell him about being harassed on the street. An incident on Saturday night was the worst so far and it’s made me want to say something. I don’t know if this is any use to young girls hoping to move to Paris as au pairs or on Erasmus years or anyone visiting the city.

Firstly, I’d consider myself to be pretty street smart, and secondly, I only make a fuss when I’ve been really pissed off. In Cape Town I couldn’t walk down my own street for 5 minutes without getting catcalled from a car or being directly approached by a man on the street asking where I lived or for my number. Bearing in mind this was in winter when I would be wearing jeans and a coat (not that it should make any difference). In England it’s not as bad but I think all girls can say they’ve been wolf-whistled at before and in most cases been harassed in some way.

1796896_10205916317126834_1262181279676042184_oBut Paris is just on another level. On my first night here I was leaving the metro in my suburban town and was approached by a man walking beside me telling me he loved me. Next thing I know I see another guy tell the first man to leave me alone because I was his. He looked like he was holding a gun. I just turned away and walked off as quickly as I could without making out I was shit scared (excuse my French). It could’ve been a fake gun but it could of quite easily been a real gun.

The other week I was walking through a busy area at about 9pm and a homeless man yelled at me and reached for my bag. I screamed and turned away and he carried on and chased me until I literally ran away. I was surrounded by people at not a single person even batted an eyelid.

On Saturday I got off my night bus in my town and had a 10 minute walk to get home; it was about 3am so it was very quiet. After walking for a few minutes I noticed a man that had been on my bus was following me. I’m so freaking naive so assumed he was lost and wanted to ask me for directions; he was about 35 years old, really tall and looked eastern european. After offering to help him he insisted he was fine and wanted to walk me home, still naive about the situation I told him I was fine but thanks for offering. After minutes of ‘no, honestly I’m fine’s’ I was getting a bit annoyed. I didn’t feel unsafe I was just bored and wanted to get home without him following me. He then turned to me and said he’d only leave if I kissed him. That’s when it got weird. I tried walking away, he’d follow. I told him I had a boyfriend waiting for me at home, he still followed. It wasn’t until I got my phone out and pretended to call the police that he ran off in the opposite direction.

I blanked it out for a few hours because I was almost in shock but then looking back it’s so messed up, what a huge creep. I should’ve punched him and actually called the police.

Thank God I left safely but what if he hadn’t left when I’d got my phone out and dialled for the police? What if he’d been armed? What if I hadn’t thought as quickly? Questions that aren’t worth thinking about. Should I be more careful when walking home at night? I never think twice about walking to or from a party on my own because I’ve been doing it since I was 14 and wouldn’t dream of paying for taxis for 10 minute journeys. I’ve been to some of the most dangerous areas in the world and found lovely people who want to help you out, so I see most places with extreme rose tinted glasses. But I’m also not dumb, I know there are dangerous people around and places to avoid. But then again if you tell me not to go somewhere it’s more likely than not that I’ll want to go. Just to prove a point.

I’m bored of being told I shouldn’t be walking the streets alone at night because I’m a woman. Maybe guys should be told not to follow young girls home and harass them.

Mary

x

We run this – Paris Semi-Marathon 2015

Sport

Running was always my favourite sport in school; I can’t run fast but I like to think I can run pretty far. I loved cross country because you get mega muddy and we’d miss quite a lot of school for it.

Lucie convinced me to join her and her friend Kate for the Paris Semi-Marathon a few months back so I thought ‘mehhhh why not?’. Training came pretty easily as I go running anyway. I didn’t do anything drastically different to my normal routine but made an effort to do a few longer runs; 10, 12 and 15 miles.

The night before the run I didn’t get any sleep and was sick (excuses excuses) which definitely slowed me down. I think it was the hottest day of the year in Paris and the sun was in our faces most of the way. I also didn’t account for the weaving in and out of people. There were loads of people participating; I think the official number was 43,500 runners, thats a lot of weaving. The rush for water and slices of orange was brutal. Mum was there at the 17th km to cheer me on and shortly after that there was a killer hill which saw me slip from the 2 hour pace maker.

I loved running through the streets of Paris and pretty views definitely spurred me on. Even though it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I felt a great sense of achievement at the finish line and had mixed feelings of one day completing a full marathon; the feeling was amazing and also disgustingly tiring at the same time. I will maybe wait a few months until I actually seriously consider it.

13.1 miles / 21.1km – 2 hours 8mins

Paris, March 2015

p.s. the photos are awful quality I know. But they made me laugh. Obviously loving life listening to Bey and Jay.

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Pairs in Paris 

Au Pairing in Paris

Back to Paris; friends, work and overpriced beers.

On Friday I went on a run which turned out to be the furthest I’ve ever ran (that I can remember), 15 miles! I intended to do 13 but realistically aimed for 11.5. I ran to Bois de Boulogne and ended up doing a few extra laps of the park because I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. I’d heard that this particular park was popular with ‘ladies of the night’ (lololol) but it wasn’t until I saw how many there were that I believed it. I promise you I saw about 10 definite prostitutes and suspected another 5 or so. This was at 2 in the afternoon!!! To make things weirder there were loads of men suspiciously walking around, stinking of alcohol and cigarettes. there were little man made shacks between the trees and expensive cars parked sporadically on the walkways. This is the weirdest park I’ve ever been to. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve obviously come to a dodgey area. But seriously it’s a nice area, right next to the new huge Louis Vuitton foundation and surrounded by grand houses. And it’s a family park with kids everywhere. Why are there so many prostitures!?

 
As I tried to erase what I’d just seen, I made my way home and although the last 3 or so miles were difficult I reached home with energy and actually didn’t feel like I was going to die. I ran further than the race I’m training for so it gave a bit of extra confidence. 
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On Saturday night Evie, Carys and I had planned to go to the Brazil themed night at Le Bellvilloise but unlucky Evie had hurt her ankle so thought a night of dancing wasn’t really the best idea. We went to hers anyway to predrinks and catch up on holiday stories. The night was pretty decent but as soon as me and Carys arrived I remembered I had a huge carnival headpiece I should’ve worn, ah mayn. Although the drinks are crazily overpriced I really like the club and the Brazilian music was really fun to dance to. They had some drummers and professional dancers on stage, afterwards the male dancer came and joined us normos. He was crazy and we had a little Beyoncé/Brazilian dance off. We left the club to get the first metros home, I found a cat on my way home which looked like it needed cuddles. It then tried to follow me home. No kitty, the cuddle was enough.
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Yesterday I was so overtired but wanted to exercise so compromised with a power walk to la defense, about 4 miles away, to try and find a dress to wear to my Grandma’s party. I didn’t end up buying anything but did get stopped on 3 different occasions by women asking if I worked in the particular stores. I was wearing running leggings, a baggy top, a bright red sorts jacket and trainers. With no make up and scruffy hair! This happened in Spain too when I was wearing sports clothes, am I missing something?! IMG_1784
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This evening me and Carys saved our cents and watched Maid in Manhattan on DVD. I’ve realized we basically are J Lo, just au pairs not maids, not in love with any senators and we don’t have that booty. But apart from that ya know. 
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‘Although we serve them, we are not their servants. What we do, Miss Ventura, does not define who we are. What defines us is how well we rise after falling.’ – Quote from Lionel in the movie. So deeeeeeep.
Pairs in Paris. 
 
Mary 
X
 

Serial for breakfast.

Au Pairing in Paris

I swear to the lord of time that he’s doing something to speed it up these days. This week has just gone by so quickly and the weekend is almost over already. Noooooo!

This week I rediscovered my love for podcasts. Evie recommended Serialand shut the front door it was so good! I know I’m late to the party because it started in October but I got seriously hooked and listened to the whole series in about 3 days. Serial is “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things.” – a podcast questioning the investigation into the 1999 Murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Everyone has their own opinion but I wish it came to a conclusive ending as my theory is that Adnan is innocent; 15 years is a long time to stick to your story. If I were in his shoes and guilty, I definitely would’ve cracked at some point!

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I used to listen to Scott Mills’ podcasts religiously but don’t enjoy them as much when I’m not in England as they’re usually discussing TV shows that I’m obviously not watching when in France. I did download Jenna and Julien’s podcasts, they just talk rubbish but some episodes are hilarious. I like how they don’t take it seriously; they’re just sat at home having a normal conversation. So yeah, I’m back on the podcast hype.

When and my friend Kevin and I went for drinks on Monday we were told we couldn’t get a drink without also getting some food, so crepes all round. Lulu, by Canal Saint-Martin, was pretty cute. Lot’s of mirrors in the toilet to make you feel uncomfortable though…

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On Wednesday I made a rule of no TV all day (am I a fun sucker?) because I wanted to be more productive with the children. J & P actually slept at nap time which was a surprise. F and I made some beaded bracelets, did some colouring in and they all danced around the living room until it was bath time. I’m very excited for the weather to improve so we can spend Wednesdays at the park or take the scooters and bikes out, at the moment it’s just too cold to go and have a nice time outside!

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I also managed to chat to one of my bestest buds from Cape Town, Thami, on Wednesday, I spoke to him on the phone for the first time since May! It was so nice to hear his voice and he enjoyed gloating about the crazy hot weather in Langa. He asked when I was coming back to see him and the kids at the kindergarden… I wish I had an answer to that

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Thami & I in Langa-hoooood

On Friday I ended up at a small dinner party, lucky me being the only English speaker amongst a close group of friends who were all quite a bit older than me. I had more crepes and ended up having a good time. Saturday was quiet and Hakim and I went for a drink in the evening while he was shocked at how many foods I don’t like or haven’t tried. ‘France has the best food in the world and you only want to eat Margherita pizza?!’ – yeah, pretty much sums up my life. I rushed back home to babysit and Carys came round for an overdue catch up, she gave me a notepad and cute pen for a belated Xmas present (n’aaaaw!) and it was lovely to see her. The children were so sleepy that when I went to put them to bed they were already half asleep whilst brushing their teeth.

FullSizeRender-3I need to go for a long run today but I’m procrastinating as I know it’s going to be so difficult as I’ve had a lazy week 😦 Life’s hard when you’re trying to be fit.

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p.s. is it weird that I love the colour of the pea soup I made?! When I say made I mean heated.

Onto I ebay I go to find a pea soup coloured jumper.

Mary

biz.

The Seventy Fifth

Au Pairing in Paris

Calling all English speakers in Paris! Plus anyone who loves creative articles, pretty illustrations, arty photographs, clever poems and generally a good read.

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The Seventy Fifth is a new zine (oh yes I have linked a definition for you out of touch folk) created by some very talented and hard working friends of mine for like minded guys and gals in Paris. It’s been put together by au pairs and expats and the first edition focuses on the theme of ‘isolation’. Definitely a state felt by all in a foreign country at some point. Anyway, I’ll shut up and you can read and judge for yourself! I hope you enjoy it, you’ll find a little illustration by me a few pages in, opposite ‘The Complexities of Expatriatism’, which is hilarious (and so relatable) by the way!

Click here to have a flick through issue 1 – then come back if you want to see more….

If you’d like to receive issue 2 (the theme is LOVE, ooh la laaaa) and help support this fun and creative project please pledge a few quid to the kickstarter page. If I happen to have any millionaire readers on this blog then a huge pledge wouldn’t be so bad 😉

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Follow the zine on;

Facebook. 

Instagram.

Twitter.

Tumblr.

Phew, that’s all for now. Big up Evie, Carys and Briana for making it look so fab.

Mary

biz.

Weekend warriors

Au Pairing in Paris

I’ve had such a fun, busy week. I’m finally catching up with everyone after the Christmas break, spending too much money and eating (and maybe drinking) more than I should. Januarys not so blue!

IMG_0602 I’ve started to notice the crazy houses in our little suburban town. Theres so much dramatic architecture around Paris but even when I just take a 5 minute walk I see some crazy and beautiful houses. House envy on every corner.

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We (Judit, Bethany, Camilla, Yasmin & Susanna) went out on Thursday night to celebrate the end of exams (which I didn’t do because I don’t go to uni but I can’t miss out on the celebrations can I?!) to a club called Le Duplex, right by the Arc De Triomphe. We all had a pretty fun night; the music was mainly pop and house from what I can remember. I have a thing against the techno music that the french love so anywhere that plays music you can actually sing and dance along to is a winner for me. And I find it jokes when they throw in a random ‘Alors on danse’ or other french song and everyone goes crazy. Plus free entrance and not crazy overpriced drinks = happy gals!

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5:30am

There was a creepy dancer who politely pushed me off his podium then wanted me to touch his abs. Which I wasn’t too excited by. Look at my face for proof.

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I managed to pick up a few copies of Charlie Hebdo as I arrived at Saint Lazare station at 6am as the newsagents were opening. There was already a queue, lots of pompous people giving their opinion of the magazine and a limit of only buying 5. I hope this and the fact that eBay have reportedly disallowed them to be sold stops people making obscene amounts of money from selling them on. I saw a copy go for £100,000!

On Friday night Judit, Bethany, Yasmin and I had a chilled out evening watching ‘In her Shoes’, a cheesy rom com with Cameron Diaz and some other randomers. It’s a decent film but way too emotional for my liking; like why are they trying to upset me, I just wanted to see an easy flick. Don’t get deep with us and kill off characters?!

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I was back in Olympiades again on Saturday morning to run with Judit (see my previous post!). We went shopping with the others in the afternoon in Chatelet. The forum des halles shopping centre is so much bigger than I realised, after only seeing one half of it the other times I’ve been. We probably spent more time trying to find each other than actually shopping. I somehow managed to buy a h&m jacket that I totally needed because you know, having 7 other jackets in Paris and more at home just isn’t enough is it…?

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diets are going well.

Saturday night was my chance to finally see Amrita and catch up. We drank gross wine at Le Perchoir, the cutest rooftop bar in Paris. You get an amazing view of the Sacre Coeur and theres fairy lights, comfy sofas and fires to help you forget that it’s actually like 2 degrees up there. Unluckily for us we had an overly PDA couple going for it on the sofa opposite to us.

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We did the horrible 10 minute walk to La Bellevilloise. We always meet some strange characters on this road and we’re always hating life because it’s the steepest hill in the world. 

Once we actually got there we had a wicked night. Even if we had to deal with even more awful PDA in there as well. When will people learn eh?

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On the metro in the morning I made friends with a guy with the cutest puppy ever! I managed to get a good 10 minutes of cuddles before the owner gave me a can of juice and his business card. Which I accidentally threw away. Ha oops, not the biggest loss.

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I’m now listening to Sia’s album ‘1000 forms of fear’, I’d forgotten how much I love it. And I also want a big cage like the one she uses for the elastic heart video, would be so cool for photos!

I’m excited for next week, I have nothing solid planned but maybe bowling and hopefully get a pizza in town. Praying the forecast of snow is a wrong because I don’t have the energy to deal with cold weather!

Mary x

School wars & knee slides

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On Saturday night my friend Chuck and I went ice skating in front of Hotel De Ville, it wasn’t really planned so I wasn’t in the best skating attire. It was disco night we had lots of cheesy french music and a few Abba and Bee Gees classic to skate to. I’m a bit rubbish at ice skating as it is but it had been raining during the day so the whole rink was like a giant puddle; I managed to stay upright the whole time (even the professionals were falling over. oh yeah, I’m a pro) until I lost my balance and kind of fell down on one knee. While it looked like I was about to propose, I was still speeding round pretty quickly. Somehow I totally styled it out and got up without being dragged through the giant puddle.

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Pizza and a walk through Paris on Monday night.

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Last night I went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings at the cinema. We were (fashionably) late so ended up sitting in the front row right in the centre. Christian Bale was practically jumping through the screen (it was 3D) and sitting on my lap we were so close. I loved the film but it was so ridiculously dramatic; dying horses, dying crocodiles, dying fish, dying frogs, dying people. But Moses was such a G.

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beard lad

Since last weeks terror dramas, the school the kids go to has upped their security. Meaning we can’t pick the kids up from their classroom, instead all the parents wait by one tiny doorway and push and scream until they get their kid. Maybe I’m just taking a British approach when thinking ‘WHY CAN’T WE MAKE A LINE?!’. But no, that would be too simple. It’s literally like battle of the prams and handbags mixed with parents trying to squeeze their 3 year old out through the crowd with as little panic as possible. That usually ends with lots of unnecessary pandemonium (always wanted an excuse to use that word.)

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Crazy sky in Ansieres

In other news, I’ve booked a weekend home (14th – 17th February) and a few days in Spain! I’m a little bit excited for February holidays.

Aaaaand massive congratulations to my main girl (lol) Charlie who gave birth to a little boy, Alfie on Friday! Can’t wait to meet and squeeze him. Our family is growing yay

Mary x

Christmas and NYE travels 2014

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If you don’t follow me on twitter or we aren’t friends on facebook then you might not know I went for a little adventure over the Christmas holidays. I had a great time interailing and couchsurfing and met loads of lovely, funny people. I left Paris on 20th December; I got the train to Vienna in Austria. It was a long journey and I had a bit of trouble actually getting my first train. The thing with interailing is that some trains require a reservation as well as your standard ticket. Of course I didn’t realise this and faced having to buy a whole new ticket for that leg of the journey, a ticket costing around €200 for one way!!! I obviously was in no position to pay that so the woman at the desk said my last hope was to speak to the train manager who might be able to give me a last minute reservation. Luckily he was super friendly and gave me a reservation for €20 instead 🙂

I was in Vienna with mum, dad, G and my cousins Bo and Li and aunty and uncle. And their adorable dog Thomas 🙂 We had a lovely traditional Christmas and there were even real candles and sparklers on the tree. They’re not exactly safety conscious in Austria… We went to a Christmas market, baked cookies, played on the Wii, went out for a meal and did all the usual Christmassy stuff. My uncle Bernd took me for a ride on his motorbike (with heated seats, sat nav and a radio. very fancy) round the city and up the mountains.

I then went to Budapest, Hungary on Boxing Day. It’s such a beautiful city and I can’t wait to visit again when I have more time. I met up with 4 different couchsurfers and saw lots of the city. Next stop was Bratislava, Slovakia. There was heavy snow and lots of delayed trains and buses but my hosts apartment was so nice so I didn’t stress for long. We stayed in for a drink because we couldn’t face leaving the warmth. I learnt some Slovakian words and spent the day seeing the pretty buildings before giving up and going to the shopping centre because the light snow was literally turning into a blizzard. I then travelled to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I’d planned to go to Prague or Krakow but I was running out of time. More train delays, cancellations and very nearly getting run over by a van before I reached Nina’s apartment. 4th country to see each other in less than a year; I’d say we’re pretty international buddies by now. I saw Georgie, her bf Chad, their friend Moniek and her bf Matthieu the next morning. We explored for a while; everything in Amsterdam is very in your face. The next day I saw Yasmin and 3 of her friends from uni. We had a long but fun day and welcomed in the new year. I’ll upload all of my photos from this trip so you can get more of an idea of what we got up to. 🙂

I made a little video of parts of my trip^^. Now planning my next trip (and also saving money as I am broke)

happy new year by the way!

Mary x

Mary’s Project – 2014

Africa, Au Pairing in Paris, Europe, TBT

Hey did you hear the news?! Its a whole new year! In no way is this post a brag or ‘oooh look how exciting my life is’ because that’s lame. I’ve posted quite a lot this year but there lots I’ve missed out. I love the idea of looking back on my blog when I’m old and boring and cringing at what I used to get up to. So here’s my (some of what was missed on the blog) year review. Happy new year to everyone 🙂 10 gold stars to you if you read the whole post…

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2014 was welcomed with my sister and her/our friends (yes we share friends cos we’re totes mature) in a crowded club in London, a group of creepy looking men told us the drinks were on them so we proceeded to the dancefloor, drinks in hand. Next thing we knew the bartender is snatching them off us and we’re laughing uncontrollably and not embarrassed like we should be. Don’t remember how I got home but I woke up on Zoe’s sofa feeling great. I went to Cambridge for Sara’s 21st birthday and had such a good time, apart from the vomit bit (not mine). The following days were spent cramming driving lessons with my instructor Geoff and practices with dad. Mum told me that if I didn’t pass my test I wasn’t allowed to go to Cape Town (already booked). So 5 days before I flew to SA I passed first time.

I packed a huge suitcase, left Mum, dad, G and Peachy and flew to Dubai then Cape Town all alone. Callum and I hadn’t actually arranged where we meeting at the airport but luckily he got there as I arrived. Dirk and his girlfriend Danielle drove us to Edgemead, our home for the next 4ish days. There was a swimming pool so I was happy. Our next home was Bothasig, like the ghetto version of Edgemead. I ate dairy milk top deck, fudge and fanta pineapple almost everyday and worked hard on my tan. I saw old friends at penthouse and generally had an amazing time. The hottest day of the year was spent at the reggae jam in Langa, 42 degrees C. I met Thami and Nomveliso and fell in love with the township. We saw Jeremy Loops and loads of reggae bands. I went back to volunteer at the kindergarten for a little bit, conditions were a lot different to what I had seen before but I loved teaching the little ones dances, nursery rhymes, colours and numbers. I got 2 jobs in the space of a week and worked in a photography studio and kept myself  busy as an entertainer at kids parties. Callum and I made the most of the self timer on my camera and saw the most beautiful beaches, parks and ice skated with the professionals…

I took a week out to see everyone at Otjikondo and it felt like I’d never left. But it was extremely strange not to have Fran by my side. After the few days I stopped in Windhoek, I drank cocktails on a roof bar and took a 24 hour coach back to Cape Town, sitting next to the same girl, Nina, I had sat with on my way. Back in the motherland Nina hired a car and we created new dramas everyday; locking the keys inside, breaking down in the middle of nowhere and getting stuck on the steepest hill in the world. I imagined that would be the place we’d die! We made friends with beach dogs and checked out surfers all day long. A trip to Cape Point was beautiful.

I was the next one to hire a car. I don’t know how to sum up the stresses we had, but we survived and had some wicked days covered in monkeys and beaching it. I saw friends of friends and navigated my way through the madness of the city with no map, no GPS and very little experience and maybe a bit too much ambition. I had dinner with Gilly, Arnold and Oliver and was so happy to see part of my Otjikondo family so close to this new home in South Africa. I drove to the airport and Callum and I met his mum and step dad Bill. More beach days, numerous pizzas and countless tap waters with ice, a straw and no lemon. We showed mum and Bill around and they provided hours upon hours of laughter. We all went to improv classes with some great people and saw a few shows. I went to a helicopter session and enjoyed it more than I expected. Driving to Addo Elephant Park was so memorable; we stopped off at Knysna and saw wild dolphins just as we were standing on the beach. At the elephant park there were all the safari animals and every time we saw an elephant we were speechless. Reversing from a herd wasn’t the best idea (in hindsight) but thrilling in the moment. We made light photos by our little cabins and Callum fell sick and was unintentionally hilarious. Trish and I got hair braids; hers stayed in for a week or two, mine is still in my hair almost 8 months later. We bid mum and Bill farewell as they continued on to Asia.

I went to study a short course at Cape Town School of Photography. It reconfirmed a lot of what I already knew but I got my passion for photography back and met some lovely guys and gals. We spent our last day at the waterfront snapping away. On my way home from class one evening I tried on some outfits in the boutique near penthouse, the shop owners asked me to photograph their new line in exchange for some clothes, an offer I unfortunately never got to carry out. I was also invited to a fashion show at the Grand Daddy Hotel to photograph and chat to the models and designers. Although its not that big of a deal to most people I was pretty proud of myself; I went alone without knowing anyone and was shooting a new style. I spent 1 last night at penthouse and boarded another 24 hour coach to Namibia. The journey was disrupted and I had to make the decision to head to Europe. I had one of the worst days of my life in Windhoek, tirelessly googling solutions and making my way to a few high commissions and embassies.

The weekend before I flew was spent at Otjikondo again and I finally met Chelcie (and Ottilie for the second time). Goodbyes were hard but it was nice to have some proper closure. I met 2 swedish guys in Windhoek who were on the same flight as me, we were a bit slow to get to the airport and managed to be the last ones to board the plane, after our final Windhoek lager. As we flew over Nigeria I saw a  lightning storm and wanted to wake everyone up to show them. It is without a doubt one of the best sites I’ve ever witnessed.

I landed in Frankfurt to a heavy case of culture shock. I spent the next 2 days sulking and hungry because I couldn’t justify €10 for a Mcdonalds… The cheapest thing to keep me entertained was hair dye so I spent my last evening in Frankfurt going blonde. I chatted to Nina and thought the best decision was to go and see her in Berlin. I was the last one on the coach (bit of a ritual now) and didn’t even realise where Berlin was in relation to Frankfurt. Berlin was so cool and I was pretty happy to see nina so spontaneously. I then saw Georgie in South-ish France, I worked harder on my tan, played water volleyball, rescued a baby bird and cycled to the beach. I said bye to her tiny cabin house and got the train to Paris to see Callum. I can clearly remember this as another one of the worst days of my life. It was Sunday and the hotel Callum had booked was no where near paris. I had no phone or internet and everywhere was deserted and there were train strikes. After hours of sitting on the side of the road waiting for non existent buses I finally reached Chilly Mazarin, where we were staying for 1 night. We went out for mussels. The next day I was covered in huge red itchy lumps. I’d had an allergic reaction that got more itchy the hotter I was, unluckily it was one of the hottest weekends of the year. We went from chilly Mazarin to Noisy Le Sec, into a crazy open house that was run by a psycho Chinese guy who couldn’t speak English or french and had anger issues. His wife shouted at us down the phone before we gave up trying to be nice and fled the scene. The weekend was great, despite my constant need to stop and scratch and Callum had made me a video montage with goodbyes from everyone in South Africa which may have made me shed a tear or two..

A cramped coach journey home welcomed us to Victoria station where dad greeted me with open arms and questions over my bright blonde hair. Welwyn Garden City hadn’t changed and summer just seemed to resume as if I’d never been away. I found it hard to have proper conversations with random girls and guys at parties that started with ‘omg you went to Africa, was there monkeys everywhere?’.

I desperately wanted to get back on the road, just like everyone feels after travelling.

It was pretty cool to be reunited with my friends again though. I still managed to really enjoy my summer; working, catching up with everyone I’d missed and enjoying the fact that my sisters wardrobe was now technically mine. Fran surprised me by coming down from Leeds. That was so so so good and sneaky of her and my mum! We saw a bloodied goat at the farm with Mollie and were temporarily traumatised. I took Fran into London where we shopped and went to a mini festival in Camden. I turned 20 and saw almost all of my favourite people and went out in London to celebrate. Camping, more birthdays, weddings, BBQs, seeing Laura Mvula at the BBC proms and a trip to Birmingham completed the summer.

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By August I’d got a job in Paris! Travel bug fed and working with kids, tick tick. I left Hertfordshire once again for a suburb just north of Paris, a new home, family and job. Au pairing was difficult at first, I don’t blame the kids for not warming to me straight away but I couldn’t really complain as my host family were so welcoming and made me feel at home pretty quickly. Gradually the kids have become a lot more cooperative and very friendly despite the occasional drama!  Everyone back home fretted that I’d have no friends and be mega lonely but it was the same situation to starting university (or what I imagine it to be). All au pairs, expats and erasmus students were in the same position. The first few weeks were so sociable and I must’ve met hundreds of girls and guys working, studying or just visiting Paris. I then got into a routine, something I hadn’t really had since Otjikondo. Tefl, work, drinks in central paris, picnics every weekend (always with peach wine), dinner parties and movie nights.

A weekend in Milan, 4 days in Zurich, a weekend home and a day in Brighton, a few days in Ireland and another weekend home including a quick trip to Nottingham all before Christmas holidays meant I wasn’t sat still for too long. I surprised Rhiana for her 21st birthday and it was the best thing ever to see her reaction to me turning up in Boots. I returned home very hungover and saw Charlie and her bump for her baby shower. We played pin the sperm on the egg and decorated baby grows, we’re all a little bit too excited for the little boy to arrive and to be aunties! And I’m so excited to see Charlie be a mummy.

Paris was lively before Christmas and there was lots to be done; a meeting for a zine project, visitors, lots of running, Christmas shopping and seeing a circus musical with Lucie the evening before I took the train to Vienna to see my family for Christmas. I then interailed and couchsurfed in Budapest, Bratislava and Amsterdam. The plan was to also go to Prague but time wasn’t on my side. I honestly had an unforgettable 2 weeks and would do it over and over if I could.

The year was mad and its flown by (doesn’t everyone say this every year? Where are we getting our concept of time from?!) and there was barely a boring day. There have been some major lows in the past 12 months; times when I’ve just wanted to click my fingers and land back in my own bed in welwyn and watch crap tv but when I put things into perspective I’ve been very lucky and the majority of it has been more than awesome. I’ve been in 11 different countries (12 if you include England) and spent hours upon hours in train stations and airports but I’m happy to be traveling as much as possible at the moment. Who has time to sit still!?Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 01.02.01

If you’ve been in my life at any point in the past year then thank you! I’ve met a lot of cool guys and gals and very few idiots (yay!). And my year would’ve been poop without you.

big uuuup, 2015

Mary x