Thursday, 6 July 2017

Adventures in bureaucracy

It used to be (ie until a few months ago), Australian citizens could apply for their long-stay student exchange visa by mail. Simply gather all the required documentation, whack it in an envelope and send it off. Easy peasy. Now, we need to present ourselves for an appointment in Sydney (so they can do fingerprint scans, and take your photo). On the one hand, I get it. You don't want to be the shmuck who lets in the next person to blow the place up, but on the other, I would have thought we're still a pretty low-risk category. But, as Justin pointed out, there's a reason "bureaucracy" is a French word.

So here is my step-by-step guide to applying for a Long-Stay Student Exchange visa.

Step 1: locate the relevant checklist of documents on the French Embassy website. You may need to visit it multiple times on multiple days, as often it won't load properly. If you do manage to get the form you're after to display, download that sucker. You may not be able to access it again for weeks. (I'd link the form, but it's currently failing to load.)

Step 2: repeat above for other documents that also need to obtained from the website. Note that the only way to access the other forms you need is via the checklist, which may or may not load (even if it worked a minute ago). Download those suckers too.

Step 3: closer to the date of your appointment, repeat steps 1 and 2, as the forms may have changed. Note that the version number might be identical, but the form is different. Yes, really.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Random things to take to/acquire in Europe

I will be taking stowed luggage this time, so I have the luxury of taking more than the bare minimum. (I'll need stowed luggage because I'll need to take textbooks and a full-size laptop, and so on.)

I'll also be staying in the halls of residence, which come with a single bed, a desk, a chair, a wardrobe, and a (VERY compact) ensuite. For €25, you can get a starter kit of bedlinens (two sheets, pillowcase, pillow, duvet), but nothing else is provided. So there are a bunch of things I'll need, and I need to decide what I'll take with me, and what I'll source locally (given I'm doing this on the cheap).

So this is intended to be a list of things as I think of them, and whether I'll buy in France, or bring from Oz, and why. (Much of my information is from a fellow UNE student Sue, who spent the first five months of 2016 at Angers.)

If you can think of anything else I should add to one or other of these lists, would you please let me know?


  • A towel - and not just because the Hitchhiker's Guide says so. Also because the hostel I'm staying at in Edinburgh doesn't supply towels, and I'll need one in Angers too. A travel towel just isn't the same thing.  EDITED TO ADD: I just found out about Turkish towels: same size as a regular bath towel (1m x 1.8m), but super light weight (<300g), fast-drying, and can double as a scarf/shawl/blanket (eg like a pashmina, but light cotton not wool).
  • A decent laptop computer, and possibly a full-size wireless keyboard - the French keyboard layout is different to what I learned to touch-type on, and that's not a pain worth going through.
  • A small alarm clock - the Ikea Klokis or equivalent will probably do fine.
  • My good gamer headset (SteelSeries Siberia), plus adaptor, so they'll work via a single jack
  • Aus power board and adaptor(s) - I picked up a really good one from Aldi a few years ago, it includes four USB charger points too.
  • Textbooks - I'll have half a semester plus exams for my UNE course while I'm away
  • Stationery? - apparently it's nigh on impossible to get regular 7mm feint lined exercise books etc. All their notebooks are in this weird grid format.
  • Laundry bag - lightweight, not always easy to find
  • If I have the capacity (weight, volume), I'm hoping to take the quilt I made for Malachi with me. It will be a comfort if I'm feeling cold or homesick.
  • Mouthguard - I don't expect to be doing any contact sports, but it's custom-made, small and light, and the kind of thing that would be hard to borrow/get locally.
  • Night guard - I grind my teeth in my sleep, and this makes a huge difference. Can't sleep without it.
  • Champagne stopper - always a travel essential!
  • Travel clothesline - excellent thought from Sue!


  • Kettle - bulky. Will need to order online, as the French (like Americans) don't seem to do electric kettles. 
  • Coathangers - yes there's a wardrobe, but no hangers
  • Second towel, bathmat, handtowel - because none of those are supplied either.
  • Two sets of cutlery/bowls/plates/mugs etc - I'm sure there'll be a kitchen starter kit type thing at the equivalent of Kmart
  • Rudimentary cooking equipment - frying pan, saucepan, knife, chopping board, wooden spoon, egg slice, ?rice cooker (also works well for pasta, risotto, etc, and hot plates are a rare commodity)
  • Other stationery items - stapler, hole punch, ring binder?
  • External DVD player? - Sue ended up watching a lot of DVDs. If I can get tolerable internet, I might go for Netflix or similar.
  • Hot water bottle (if needed)
  • Waiter's friend/corkscrew - I generally drink sparkling not still wine, so this may be less critical.
  • Suction-cup soap dish - I use solid shampoo, conditioner, and cleanser, so a simple wire soap dish is essential.
  • A good French monolingual dictionary (?and thesaurus), for study purposes.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Next adventure: 10 days in Scotland (and then a semester in Angers, France)

Ok, so I'm now starting to waste time, um, I mean, research what I might do with the ten days I'll have in Scotland starting 20 August. I need to be in Angers, France by the morning of 1 September 2017, as my semester at the University of Angers will begin very soon afterwards.

So, ten days in Scotland in late August, starting and ending in Edinburgh, and I need to work out what I'm going to do. I will be hiring a car (and need to get my fantastic travel agent Emma onto that as soon as she returns from her own holidays in Canada).

Things to note:

The Edinburgh International Festival (and Fringe Festival) will be on, which might make it a little trickier to find accommodation (but I really hope not!). I'm not really a theatre-goer, but I should try to get to at least one show!

I will need to go via Oban, as my something-great grandfather was the postmaster in Oban when the postage stamp was launched. (My paternal line descends from the McGregor clan, whose patronym became Whyte during proscription.)

I loved the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, so I will need to go to Inverness at a minimum, and possibly Craigh na Dun (which doesn't exist). However, Clava Cairns may well be worth visiting.

I prefer grand architecture over grand landscapes, but trust that I will see plenty of the latter while travelling between examples of the former.

But what else should I make sure I include?? Give me your suggestions, please!

Buenos Aires

For various reasons (mainly ease of publishing photographs taken on my phone), I recorded my experiences in Argentina on Facebook. You can easily find them by searching "AB in BA" or navigate directly there at

At some point, I may transfer them here, but it won't be this week :)

You can also check out my other blog called The Ivory Bower, where I play around with words and their histories. (That's why I'll be posting as "Ivy" from here on.)