Greetings and salutations, dear reader!
After a record-breaking year of radio silence, I have been drawn out of hibernation by popular demand (of one aunt). I am alive and well, just busy with not much time to write about what I’m doing. Never one to disappoint my adoring fans though, I hereby present a wee recap of the best bits of my 2021:
Perhaps a little odd to start with work, but this year has been a big one for me, professionally. In January I became Assistant Director of Studies, gradually taking over responsibilities such as managing the timetable and interviewing prospective teachers, all while gradually learning more and more about the Director of Studies role which I would eventually take over. This had been on the cards for a while, but finally became a reality in September, when our school split into two: one in-school team of teachers, students and directors, and one online ‘virtual’ school (with more to come). It’s been an intense couple of months with a lot of unforeseen circumstances and ~learning opportunities~, but we’ve survived!
In November I spent a week in Florence at our company’s HQ in training with other new Doses, with a second week online from home. Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy the city much, as I was in training from 10am – 6:30pm; it was dark before 5 and rained most days. Fortunately I had been there before while I was on exchange in 2013, so had seen the essentials (essentials for me that is – Santa Croce > the Duomo, for example). Nonetheless, I did manage a nice nighttime stroll with some of the gang, also made it to the Palazzio Pitti to escape the rain on the one afternoon I had free after arriving. Despite the lack of touristing, it was a really interesting and rewarding week full of great people, and great food (that one I didn’t skimp on). It also involved an intrepid misadventure with a tram in the company of some Spanish tourists, and a day wasted at the airport with a cancelled flight but we don’t need to dwell on that…
The first half of 2021 was the same as 2020 – online only. With increasing zoom fatigue, we gradually reduced the frequency of our meets, changed to smaller tutoring-style individual sessions with the director, and when possible, were able to meet up for in-person octets. We were also able to have our now traditional end of year picnic on the day the final covid restrictions were finally lifted. It was such a pleasure to see almost everyone again, and to be able to sing together. We were all pleased and motivated to see that we could remember a fair number of previous years’ songs (as the West Side Story choral suite we’d been labouring over on zoom just wasn’t quite cutting it).
Starting in September, we were able to rehearse again in-person, with the whole choir together! There are just over 40 of us this year, and a lot of new faces (with more interest in joining us than ever). We also have a new venue which is much more conveniently located, and nice and large, so we can practise with good distances. The pass sanitaire is required to participate (like a covid passport, which you get either by being vaccinated, or having a recent negative, or ‘certificate of recovery’ after having covid). Since December, masks have been required again.
Before all that though, October we were able to have our first ‘week-end du travail’ in two years where we all went to a gîte, made some great inroads into our programme for the year, and did some all important teambuilding, which has been lacking for the past two years for obvious reasons. In December, we put on our first concert since June 2019! We joined two other choirs, Mik’ados and Alter Echo, which each presenting a short programme of five songs, culminating in a shared song composed especially for the occasion by Dominic Faricier, our director’s brother. It was a really challenging piece to learn, we only had one hour to practise it together (two days before at the dress rehearsal), and it will probably never be performed again, so here it is for your viewing/listening pleasure:
Despite what everyone in NZ seemed to think, my trip to Florence was sincerely a work trip, and highly unglamorous. However, I did manage some much more interesting getaways this year! The first taste of freedom was in May, for a long weekend right after covid restrictions started easing and we were finally allowed to leave our city. It was only an hour or so out of town, but we hired a car and spent three days hiking and relaxing with friends with a beautiful change of scenery in the Parc du Pilat.
The main trip of the year was a week in Como in August. We drove the scenic route, over the Alps rather than through the tunnel, and all up it took about 5.5 hours from Lyon. We set off early to pick up Tinadonna the Twingo, made it to Turin for a late lunch around 3pm, and to Como right on time to meet our airbnb host around 7pm. We were staying in the same apartment for a week, in Como, the biggest city on the lake of the same name, 146 square kilometres in area. It’s an hour north of Milan, in the middle of the lake region which spans the breadth of Italy, at the base of the Alps.
It was quite odd to be staying in one place for such a long time, and having absolutely zero commitments. On the first day we decided it was too hot and went back to the apartment to chill (ha) for a bit, just because we could! I of course had done some basic research of things we might want to do if we happened to find ourselves in a certain place at a certain time, but things worked out really organically with a nice mix of organisation, happenstance, activities and mooching.
The first day we explored Como, had the aforementioned siesta, and enjoyed the famous aperitivo: cocktail with a ‘free’ side of snacks. The bar recommended by our airbnb host didn’t disappoint – all of this was for €12 (compared to €10 for just the cocktail)!
The next day we took the cable car up the mountain and trekked further to the Volta lighthouse. It was scorching but we were rewarded with fantastic views, and Swiss cell network fees drifting across the mountains. After a somewhat misadventurous trek (and later, trudge) all the way down the hill, we treated ourselves to an entry to the lido, a private swimming spot with loungers and a bar. Unfortunately the designated swimming area wasn’t very luxurious; it wasn’t sheltered at all from the boats zipping past on the lake, so had big waves in addition to the somewhat treacherous steps directly into the literally glacial water. It was worth it for the treat factor, but not for actually swimming.
The next day we had an outing to Bergamo, an hour by car to the east of Como. After a nice sleep in, we arrived for lunch, had a couple of hours wandering around the old town in the afternoon, and were back in Como for dinner.
The next day was ZE day that we had been somewhat waiting for/preparing all week: a day on the lake! Preparation was necessary because the boat timetables were far from simple to comprehend. The number crunching paid off though as everything worked out perfectly: we got up early (for once!) to get the fast boat to the furthest point of the lake: Colico. This took an hour and a half, and on the slow boat would have been four hours, with all the stops at the little towns, to give you an idea of the scale of things. We had a couple of hours there, enough to find an actual beach, brave the FREEZING water on principle, and dither about lunch. Then we were back on the boat bound for Varenna, where we had a tight hour and a half to have a quick runaround before jumping back on the last boat of the day for Como. We visited the private botanic gardens of the Villa Cipressi, and saw a little of the winding streets as we legged it back to the boat. It was a shame not to have more time to enjoy/explore, but we were satisfied knowing we couldn’t have got more out of the day, that we picked the right places to stop, and that we’d discovered somewhere we’d be happy to visit in more detail.
The next day was another chill one mooching round Como, and seeing to any unfinished tourist or shopping-related business, as we spent the final day in Milan. Once again, we were up fairly early to get on the road, and arrive at the Duomo before it was toally crawling with tourists. We ended up staying for three hours, visiting the cathedral interior, archeological excavation site beneath, the roof, and the museum. Various ticket combos are available, but I would definitely recommend visiting the roof….After lunch we hid from the the sun in the __ park, and then visited the Pinacoteca di Brera. We ended the day with a sorry excuse for an aperitivo near the Duomo (we were past trekking any further afield), and drove back to Como for an icecream before bed on our final night.
And just like that, our week in Italy was over! We definitely could have stayed longer, as there are so many things we didn’t do (watersports) or see (other towns/lakes). I think Como was definitely the best place to stay for what we wanted – a small city with everything we needed; a good base from which to visit other ciies and towns both around the lake and inland. Of course there are many picturesque villages around the lake, which would be a good place to stay if one wanted to stay put, but that are really quite hard to get to. The main negative for Como itself was that it didn’t have anywhere good to swim. The lake front was a busy port for boats, and there was a lido on either side, about 20-30min walk, and as we saw it wasn’t really worth it. A smaller town would probably have better swimming options, though I imagine the water would still be just as cold! The last thing I’d say is that we travelled by car in order to have the flexibility, but we didn’t really need it in the end. There was nothing we did with it that wasn’t possible by boat (the lake) or train (Milan/Bergamo), and we didn’t use it at all on the days we stayed in Como.
After a return to work in September, and the big change in responsibilities, the next ‘getaway’ was a weekend escape to Disneyland for my birthday in October, twenty years after I had visited as a child. The nostalgia was strong – fortunately, as it was ‘Disney during covid’. Masks on at all times, no parades or characters roaming round. A fair number of rides under renovation. But nonetheless it was a magical time
Lastly, in December we had a work trip (for fun, this time) to Valencia in Spain. True fans of the blog may remember the slightly traumatic, 24-hour visit to Palermo in 2019 – well this was the 2021 equivalent. Normally the company holds an annual convention to bring together the 500+ employees for a day of presentations and, er, partying. That didn’t happen for the second year in a row, due to…you guessed it! However, we had a little rejects’ convention with the Valencia team who we have got to know a little over the past year, as we are the only two schools outside of Italy, where the company is based. This was an officially sanctioned event though, as two of the big bosses joined us, to make the most of the occasion as it was the 10th anniversary of the company (which opened with the school I was at training at in Florence, in 2011). We had a really positive and motivating day of presentations and activities, followed by delicious food and an interesting night out. On the Sunday we moseyed around, and on the Monday took a detour via Barcelona on the way home. As there were no direct flights, we made the most of it with a super early train, and nearly a whole day to wander and enjoy the sun before flying back to Lyon and kicking off the Christmas break.
Other fun things that happened:
- We got a new flatmate! Anaïs moved out in March, and Céline moved in
- I finally cut my hair in June, after ‘growing it out’ aka ‘can’t be bothered getting it cut so we’ll see what happens’ for over a year
- I started and finished my most challenging embroidery project yet
- My orchid flowered for the first time in two years, and promptly snapped off
- Kelda and Guillaume got married in the Beaujolais
- I went hiking a couple of times
Et voilà, my 2021 in a nutshell! All in all it was a great year for me personally; let’s see what 2022 has in store…