Angoulême: Res'EAU & MJC-Lous Aragon Ludothèque

I mentioned in my previous post that I would write in more detail about the work that Aude and Marie are doing in Angoulême, so here it is.


Aude and Marie work in separate parts of the 12 associations of districts and suburbs of Angoulême that make up the Réseau d'Expériences Artistiques Urbaines[fr] (Urban Artistic Experience Network). This network works to create and carry out cultural projects for people who live in the more underpriviledged and/or unpleasant areas in and around Angoulême. These projects include film festivals, dance and music events, and various community centers.

Recently, Aude has been putting together a summer film festival, "Un été au ciné"[fr], that residents will be able to attend for free in various theatres around Angoulême. Here's a picture of her next to a poster advertising the event:

Films they will be showing include "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Howl's Moving Castle", "Singing in the Rain" and more.

MJC-Lous Aragon Ludothèque

Marie works as a volunteer at the Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture Louis Aragon Ludothèque (Youth Club and Culture Center "Louis Aragon" Game Library) with a very nice woman named Alex, short for Alexandra, who runs it.

Left: Alex; Center: a little boy I was playing with. Right: Marie;
behind them is one of the hand-made games, Mt. Everest

I think this is a very cool idea. Basically, it is a game room with commercial and hand-made games and toys for the young people of the community to use. It costs small fee to access (max. 20€ per year for an entire family, with lower individual prices for individuals, if I am reading the poster correctly). This poster details the costs, hours, etc. (in French)

Also, for a small fee, maybe 1€, children can check out toys and games for up to 2 weeks and take them home to play with them. Since the toys and games cannot be easily replaced, the children know to take care of them and not break them.

The children are learning some good lessons at the Ludothèque. As I said, the toys and games cannot be easily replaced, and for some children they may be the only ones that they have to play with. These children are learning to take care of the games and toys so that they will always have them. They are learning that it isn't only for themselves, but for everyone. They are learning to take care of things for the common good. They are learning to share. Hopefully, these ideas will stay with them throughout their lives.

Some photos of the Ludothèque:
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Alex helping some of the children on the computers:
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My very small contribution to the Ludothèque

On Wednesday, 21 June, Aude and Marie came back to Aude's place so we could have lunch together. After that, we drove out towards where they work. I had the intention of walking back from there, taking photos as I went, but it didn't work that way. When we got to the Ludothèque, Aude and Marie introduced me to Alex and we talked for a little bit. Aude had to go back to work and it turned out that Alex was having some computer problems, so I decided to see if I could help out.

Her computer, which was running Windows XP, turned out to be infested with various malware: spyware, some adware, a couple of viruses, something that had disabled the builtin firewall, and even one piece of garbage masquerading as antivirus software called WinAntiVirus. I downloaded the standard tools to clean things up: AdAware, Spybot S&D, and ClamWin (ClamAV for Windows). Then I spent the afternoon cleaning up the machine. I also downloaded Firefox and tweaked the security settings a bit to make browsing the web a bit safer.

Running all of the scans took some time, so I ended up playing with a little boy who seemed very interested to meet me. I tried teaching him to juggle a little, we played a few of the games around, and basically just had a good time. Of course, Alex and Marie helped out since my grasp of the French language is basically sub-beginner (thought it is improving little by little).

Eventually the scans all finished and the machine was clean, or at least as clean as it was going to be after running all of that software on it. The increase in speed and stability was noticable. Everything finished at just after 18:00, which was quitting time for Aude and Marie. Aude came back down to the Ludothèque. I said goodbye to Alex, who thanked me for my help, and said goodbye to the little boy, who told Marie that he was very happy to have met me, and then the three of us left.

I didn't do much there, but I'm glad I could contribute even a little bit. I think it is very important, very good work that they are doing there, and I am happy that I could contribute even a little with my computer knowledge (as limited as it is), as well as make a little boy happy.

Spread the Word

To anyone who is reading this: do any of you have these kinds of organisations in your communities? If so, please post links to them in the comments. If not, perhaps bring it up with your local governments. I think these kinds of organisations are very important and deserve as much exposure as they can get, so please, spread the word about this one, the ones in your communities, or any others that you know about.

(P.S. Audo, Marie, ou d'autres personnes de Res'EAU qui lisent ceci: si je me suis trompé dans mon explication de l'organisation ou si vous avez plus d'information à ajouter, m'envoyez un email ou écrivez dans les commentaires s'il vous plait. Merci.)


From Paris to Bordeaux

Location: Bordeaux, France
Status: Alive and well, arms are getting quite tan.

It has been quite awhile since I have updated and quite a bit has happened. Since Paris, I have stayed in and/or passed through Orléans, Tours, Poitiers, and Angoulême. I am now in Bordeaux.

I have a lot of catching up to do and have so little time to write, so you will have to deal with summaries.


I stayed in Paris for about 6 days at my friend Fabien's flat (Thanks, Fabien!). I went and saw most of the main sights: The Louvre (though I didn't enter), the Arc d' Triumph, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc. I also spent a good amount of time just wandering the streets and seeing what I could see. Paris was pretty nice city, and I enjoyed being there, but it was tiring at times. Part of that was because it is a major city, so almost everything seems so busy all of the time. However, a big part of it was the number of people begging for money in the streets. Pretty much any time someone you don't know approaches you and tries to talk to you, it is because they want money. It got to the point where I didn't even want to sit down and stop to take a break from all of my walking, because everytime I did, someone would come up and beg for money. Otherwise, Paris was beautiful, and Fabien took really good care of me.

I left Paris on 9 June, first taking the metro to just south of the city, and then cycling to...


First of all, the ride to Orléans was quite interesting. I don't have a detailed map with me, so I got my directions from Google Maps before leaving, but it turned out that I was not allowed to cycle on the road I had planned to take, so I had to try to find my own way. This involved back roads, dirt roads, some trekking along a trail in the forest(!), and going through a few farmers' fields before finally finding my way to Etampes. After that, finding a road to Orléans was not too difficult and it was a long, hot afternoon of mostly flat road with a light crosswind.

I spent the weekend in Orléans at the home of my CouchSurfing hosts, Luis and his wife Chrystal (if you read this, is that spelled correctly?). They were really cool and extremely nice. They also had two very cute, if somewhat fat cats. They also had a spare bedroom, so I got to sleep in a bed! My hosts were busy on Saturday afternoon, so I was left on my own to explore Orléans, which turned out to be a really nice city. After seeing the place where Jean D'Arc died in Rouen, I got to see where she was born in Orléans. I spent the afternoon walking around and taking pictures, and then at 18:30 met back up with Louis and Chrystal. We then went out to meet some friends and have a barbecue. It was cool to hang out, but I really need to learn French. On Sunday, we relaxed most of the morning, and then went out to meet some more friends and play some football (soccer, for any people in the US reading this). I'm not good at all, but it was fun.

Anyway, Luis and Chrystal were great! Thank you so much! I left Orléans on Monday morning to head for...


Now, before I left for Tours, I had emailed several CouchSurfing hosts in the area, but had not received any replies, so I headed out with the intention of checking my email at an internet cafe when I arrived there, and if there were still no responses, I would continue through and find a place to camp outside of town on the way to Poitiers.

There were no replies. So, I cycled south of Tours, got a little lost, found a likely spot in a forest, and camped out for the evening. Unfortunately, I hadn't planned adequately, so by the time I had thought to buy food for dinner, the markets were all closed. My dinner was a Snickers bar and a Coke from a vending machine I found in front of a closed supermarket.

I slept as well as I could, woke up the next morning, cycled in the direction I thought I should be going, found the road I was looking for, and made my way to the next town, Azay Le Rideau, where I bought some breakfast and filled up my water bottles. Then, I made the long, hot way south to...


It was a long, tough ride to Poitiers. I guess I have been lazy on my travels so far, because my body was not ready for two consecutive days of cycling. I arrived in Poitiers and met up with my next host, a really cool, down to earth guy named Michel. He actually lives in the country-side a bit south of town in a really cool, large house with 4 other housemates, a puppy, and a kitten. I ended up staying there almost a week. However, there was no internet access, so I haven't been able to update.

It was a house of musicians with several guitars around, so I spent a good amount of my time relaxing and playing guitar. Everyone there and their circles of friends were all really cool and all much better musicians than I am. It was a really cool time hanging out, and I learned a couple of new songs. I arrived on Tuesday, but Michel was busy most of the time until the weekend, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with his housemates. That weekend, a few of his friends came from out of town, so we basically partied all weekend. It was a really cool time! Thank you so much, Michel!

I ended up leaving on Monday afternoon. There was a lot to take care of, and since it was a late start, one of the housemates, Damien, with whom I became pretty good friends, drove me about halfway to my next destination...


Damien dropped me off in Ruffec, and I cycled the remaining 60 kilometres or so to Angoulême, arriving in the evening. There I met my next CouchSurfing host, a really nice, sweet woman named Aude. I ended up staying 3 days there because I really liked Angoulême. The evening I arrived, Aude and I just hung out and talked at her flat, a really cool little place overlooking the rampart on the north side of the city and the surrounding country-side. The next day, she had to work most of the day, but came home for lunch. Then I spent part of the afternoon walking around Angoulême, before meeting up with her at about 18:30. Angoulême is a really pretty small city. Apparently, it is famous for comic artists, and there are amazing murals all around the city. I'll post pictures when I can.

That evening, Aude and I went out to a cafe to meet up with some of her friends, including a lovely girl named Marie who works for the same organisation as Aude (much more about that in a future post that I will dedicate solely to the organisation), and another girl named Aurélie. We sat and talked and enjoyed a couple of beers and then went out for dinner. While we were eating, two more friends joined us: Xavier and his girlfriend Chrystelle. They were quite funny, and we all sat around laughing and joking.

The next day was the first day of Summer. In France, they celebrate the coming of summer by having music festivals in just about every town in the country. In Angoulême, there was live music around just about every corner that evening. I had planned to spend the afternoon walking around taking pictures, but that didn't happen, and I ended up spending my time at the organisation where Aude and Marie work...again, more details in a future post. That evening, all of us got together again and went out to enjoy the music around town. There was everything from rock to jazz to techno to African drums. It was quite impressive, and it was cool to see so many people out enjoying a musical evening.

I had planned to leave the following day to come to Bordeaux, but Aude was nice enough to let me stay one more day so I could get out and around and see more of the city. So, I spent most of this past Thursday walking all around Angoulême taking pictures. Later in the afternoon, I checked to see if Aude was home (she wasn't, so I left a note), and then headed out to a cafe to relax and do some writing in my journal. Eventually, she joined me, and then Marie joined us. Then I cooked dinner for them. (^o^)v It wasn't the best cooking I have ever done, but it was alright. Then Xavier and Chrystelle joined us and we watched Japan lose to Brazil (*sob*...well, it IS Brazil...). Then, I said my goodbyes to everyone (they were all really nice, really cool people) and Aude and I headed home.

The next morning (yesterday), I woke up at about 06:15, said goodbye and thank you to Aude (and again, Thank you so much!), and cycled to...


I arrived yesterday afternoon at 16:30, rode around a bit, and then met with my first CouchSurfing host here, a really nice, very artistic girl named Noelie. I could only stay at her place for one night, because she is very busy. She will be moving to India soon! Last night, she went out for a little with her boyfriend while I stayed in and rested after the long day of cycling, and then when she got back, we shared a bottle of wine and hung out and talked. This morning, we went out for breakfast, and then relaxed most of the day. She had to catch a train, so we said our goodbyes and I went to my next host, a really cool guy named Philippe.

Tonight we will go out and party with a bunch of his friends. :D

I haven't really seen much of Bordeaux yet, so I will write more about it some other time.



Pictures from Rouen and Paris / ルアンとパリの写真

Location: Paris, France
Status: Alive and well.

I'll post a detailed update about what has been happening in life a little later, but for now, I thought I'd share some pictures I have taken.


Rouen / ルアン

Paris / パリ

Enjoy. (^_^)v


Je suis arrivé en France

Location: Rouen, France
Status: alive and healthy with a sore butt

Well, I did spend several hours in the Ferry Terminal, but I didn't get much writing done. Nothing particularly special happened while I was there. I spent a while talking to a man from New Zealand who was also traveling around Europe, though mostly by train. When the time came to take the bike up and get ready to board the ferry, I took my bicycle out and was told to line up in the front of the line. There I got to trade some friendly banter with a group of bikers heading down to tour Europe by motorcycle. Nice bunch of guys. :)

I was among the first to board the ferry, so I had pretty much free choice of reclining seats. For those of you who have no idea, it is very cheap to book a reclining seat, which you are meant to sleep in on the trip over. The ticket for me and my bicycle was 19 GBP (btw, I traveled on LD Lines). Here is some advice on choosing a seat for anyone who may travel the same way: forget choosing a window seat. The seats really aren't that comfortable to sleep on, so choose a seat in an empty area in the middle next to an aisle so you can lay out your sleeping bag and sleep on the floor. This will be more comfortable, and you will sleep better than I did.

Anyway, the ferry trip was uneventful. I stupidly didn't take advantage of the currency exchange on board to change my remaining British Pounds to Euros, so now I have a rather useless 8 GBP sitting around because I haven't seen a Bureau du Change anywhere since arriving in France (though I have been told I may find them in the Tourism offices). Still, the 8 GBP looks kind of nice next to the 900 yen I have in coins because the Currency Exchanges tend to not accept coins.

The ferry arrived at about 07:30 local time, I got off, and rode into Le Havre to try to find a bank or a Bureau de Change. I was unsuccessful. So, I started heading to Rouen, where I was to meet with my next couchsurfing host.

It is interesting to note that there was no passport control or immigration. This seems weird to me. France is a Schengen country, and according to the US Dept. of State, US citizens can spend up to 90 days in Schengen Countries without requiring a visa. I assume that the 90 days resets when entering a non-Schengen country (note: the UK is not a Schengen country). However, with no Immigration control in Le Havre, how can they know when I actually arrived in France? Well, unless they read this. ;p It just seems odd to me, but I don't really mind, unless it ends up causing me trouble down the line somewhere.

It is kind of weird being in a country where you don't speak the language. I remember feeling this way when I first arrived in Japan, nearly 5 years ago. It took me nearly 6 months to feel comfortable with speaking Japanese. Right now, my French is almost zero. I can say some things, like greetings, ordering food, and some other basics, and I can often get the gist of things that I read, but my listening comprehension is extremely low, and my conversation ability is almost non-existant. Hopefully this will change as I continue to study and try to get by here.

Anyway, I cycled from Le Havre to Rouen using a route that I found using Google Maps. I had this written down in one of my moleskines, and remembered the map fairly well, so it wasn't too hard. It's not like I could have gotten completely lost. Worst case, I could have just followed the Seine River to Rouen, though that would have been a much longer ride.

The French countryside up here is absolutely beautiful: rolling hills of mostly farmland, old buildings, small villages often centered around a beautiful church. Passing through a lot of these places, it is easy to forget that this is 2006.

The ride wasn't particularly difficult, and the weather was fairly nice, but a little chilly (around 13 degrees or so). For once, I didn't have a headwind, but mainly a crosswind. However, I am nowhere near being in shape yet, so it was still a tiring ride. Also, my butt really hurts.

I made it to Rouen at about 15:00, made my way to the station and prepared to call my friend. This turned out to not be as simple as one would think. See, the public phones here don't take coins. One must buy a phone card from places where they are sold. Great. I'm very self-conscious about my language skills, but I had to get over that and go buy a card. There was a bookstore in the Station which sold telephone cards, so after building up a bit of confidence, I bought one, and then went out to call my next host, a guy named Ludovic. He came and met me in front of the station about a half an hour later and took me back to his place.

Ludovic is yet another really nice guy. When we got to his place, we hung out and talked a bit, then he had to go out to meet someone for a few hours. While he was out, I took a shower, which I really needed, and then used the computer a bit. While he was out, Ludovic bought some wine and some t-bone steaks, which he then cooked up when he got back. We ate, got happily drunk on the wine, talked, and then went out to go to a bar for a beer or two. While on the way to the bar, he showed me around a bit: the Rouen Cathedral, which is an absolutely amazing structure (pictures will come, eventually), some other churches nearby (Rouen is full of them), some amazing, old style side streets, etc. This is a fairly beautiful city!

Anyway, that was all yesterday. Today has been spent nursing a hangover, and cleaning up a bit. No plans for this evening yet.