Forget idyllic snapshots of the Mer Méditerranéenne, for over the past month I’ve been drowning in the Mer de Bureaucratie – my apologies for the horrendous pun, but the analogy is just indescribably accurate. Practically a cultural institution, the formidable administration gleefully creates more paperasse (red tape) than anyone should ever have to deal with in their lifetime and, more often than not, not even its devout worshippers (read: personnel) can be bothered to deal with it. Fortunately, there’s an exception to every rule and last week the marvellous Mme Goudet resolved 99% of my administrative problems with one swipe of the keyboard. The reason for my problems? There were two Mme Mahers at Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, and someone, somewhere, had muddled up the details in the system. I’ve never come across someone with my surname before, so imagine my surprise when that turned out to be the reason behind the timetabling chaos!
La rentrée: a uniquely French phenomenon which bears little-to-no resemblance to its British counterpart “Back to School”. Otherwise known as administrative chaos, wall-to-wall lengthy réunions and a near-constant torrent of paperwork – but with a few delights from my favourite pâtisserie du coin thrown in to take the edge off it.
Already, it’s been a week since my (delayed) flight touched down on French soil. The old adage of time flying when you’re having fun is, so far, holding true. The sight of Flybe’s automated baggage-drop machines at Manchester Airport was a relief, not least because it meant no-one was ever going to know how overweight my hand luggage was! A hot chocolate and a teary goodbye to Laurence later, and the baggage scanners at security were having the last laugh. My bag was scanned not once, not twice, but three times – by two different machines – before it was hand-checked and my large number of chargers and plugs were deemed to be the culprit.
Keukenhof is, essentially, a colourful treasure-trove for tulip-lovers. Or, as the official website proclaims: “The Garden of Europe”. Introductions aside, it’s a pleasant escape from the city centre and well worth a trip if you’re fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam at the right time – with a strong emphasis on time, as Keukenhof is only open for the two months a year when the tulips are in bloom (roughly speaking, late March to mid-May).
Synonymous with windmills, clogs and – of course – fields of tulips, The Netherlands attracts tourists by the canal-ful each year. Its capital, Amsterdam, buzzes from dawn ‘til dusk: besides the famous Red Light District, it’s also home to a wealth of museums – ranging from the historic Rijksmuseum to the moving Anne Frank Huis – and an array of (rather intimidating) cycling routes.