Bonne Année, bonne santé

Gergö and I tried out the Fondue/Raclette Restaurant around the corner on New Year’s day. We figured it would be empty because of the date, but we got one of the last tables. Entering the restaurant we were hit by a wave of cheese. It was a smell even stronger than our fridge on its worst days (or best, depending on your point of view). The place is also really warm, because all the tables have built in grills to keep the cheese warm. (Keeping the cheese warm needs to become an expression for something.)

After we got home I noticed that my scarf and coat smelled of cheese. I told this to our friends at brunch today, and they immediately assumed Gergö spent that night cuddling with my coat, using it like a doudou. They know him well. He didn’t, obviously, because my hair smelled of cheese as well.

On the weekend I wanted to go visit the marché aux puces, the flea market of St. Ouen. We’d been there before and I wrote about it twice (with my dad and with our very first visitor in France). We only live about a 15 minute walk away from the market now. Actually it’s markets – there are several and they all have different names.

At work all of our meeting rooms are called after St Ouen flea markets. The one we used most frequently used to be Biron. Now that we are on the third floor we have new ones. We had to choose new names for them and settled for Malassis, which sounds like “sitting badly” to me and l’Usine (the factory).

I didn’t find what I was looking for – I’m still/again crocheting carpets from cut up t-shirts (like this one). But I don’t want to spend too much money on tshirts I’m only going to cut up.

Once a week I walk past a very dodgy market at the underpass of the Boulevard peripherique. It’s mostly just piles of clothes on large sheets on the floor. I think it probably has exactly what I’m looking for, but I’m too timid to go in there and negotiate. Plus it’s in the morning and I don’t want to show up at work with my dodgy, potentially smelly flea market bounty and explain yet another weird thing I do to my colleagues.

Anyway: if you are thinking of throwing away old t-shirts or other clothes in stretchy cotton jersey material, keep them for me instead! I don’t mind if there are stains or holes, I cut them up anyway.

On my birthday, a Sunday, we tried out Brunch at the Recyclerie, an alternative café. I really liked the food, but the room is very big and high and gets very loud. I like all the alternative/eco things the place does. You can become member of an association that collects kitchen waste. If you join, you can take a bucket from their little hut and return it filled with things like coffee grains and vegetable peel and they use it to make humus (topsoil, not the chick pea paste) for the Jardin Ruisseau, a shared urban garden project.

Sunday was also the day I finally started to use my new mobile. For a while I didn’t dare use it for fear of scratching its beautiful screen or dropping it. But I actually sat down and moved most of my accounts to the new phone. And in the process turned Gergö into a Pokemon Go player!

We started a new account on the old phone and now he also plays. We live on top of a Pokestop now and a lot of things changed inside the game. He already has level 19 after a week and I keep telling him how we veteran players (Level 37 soon!) had to walk barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways to fight for a place in the arena. He also does the things he complained to me about when I first started playing: stopping randomly in the middle of the street to catch something, going really slowly because there are too many Pokemon to catch, etc.

My birthday present arrived Sunday evening: an invitation for an exclusive raid. The weird part: My colleague F suggested we go raiding in the city center. According to internet rumours, the sponsored gyms around Les Halles give a better chance of receiving an invitation for an exclusive raid. And he really wants one. I went along with him and another colleague and invited another friend. And my friend and I got an invitation and my colleagues didn’t.

The bad part: it’s on Tuesday at 12:30. My lunch break doesn’t start until 1pm and the gym is a few minutes walk from place de la concorde. And you’d have to be there on time, or they start without you. So I asked Gergö to do the raid in my place. I’m sorry to miss it, but I don’t want to miss an hour and a half of work for a virtual monster I might not even catch. I have no idea how I got to level 36 with that kind of attitude.


Vienne, tu me manques

We left for Vienna on December 24. We hadn’t been in Vienna for quite a while – we changed trains there in the summer but didn’t stay over night. We spent a single night there on the way to a wedding in June. But I think the last holiday in Vienna was a long weekend in March, when the triplets celebrated their second birthday.

So, as usual, we spent the week in a hectic blur of food and people. We met with my family on the 26th, Gergö’s family on the 29th and friends on all the other days. We were staying in the 7th district, very centrally and close to Mariahilfer Straße, which is a big shopping street. There were trams and the most useful of all busses, the 13A really close by. So I had the opportunity to play a lot of Pokemon Go during my week in Vienna. I could turn a lot of Pokestops on the tram and bus and hatch eggs and even put the occasional Pokemon in an arena.

I also went shopping – we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spend right on the biggest shopping street of Vienna. I bought a ridiculously huge dark red down coat. It even has fleece lined pockets! Several people commented on the size of it and how I look like Bibendum (the official name of the Michelin man, as I recently learned on twitter). I would have preferred it in black, obviously, but it was the red one that was 60% off, so I will be snug and smug in my ridiculous enormous coat.

Despite my declared dislike for Christmas markets, I managed to visit two in my week in Vienna.

Because we met with so many people we went to a lot of cafés and restaurants. And people in Vienna still smoke inside. We had brunch at a place that is non-smoking for breakfast, but it reeked of smoke from the night before. And even weirder: there are little stickers to show if a place is smoking or non-smoking or both and the non-smoking stickers are red and the “smoking is allowed” stickers are green.

When we visited some friends in the 14th district they told us that they have a Chinese restaurant around the corner that they’d love to try, but you are allowed to smoke inside. And as we walked past the restaurant we all glanced inside and there really were people smoking away at the restaurant tables. Very unreal.

I noticed two other things I apparently really got used to in France: When you enter a restaurant or bar or brasserie or café in Paris, in most cases you wait to be seated. Sometimes you are told: sit wherever you like but mostly you are seated. I went to a café with a friend and there were people waiting for a table that was about to become free and my friend suggested to look around for a table for two. I wanted to say something like “surely we’ll be seated right after them” when I realised: nobody cares where/if we find a place, it’s everybody for themselves in here.

Then I, the person to stop at red lights in Paris, found myself impatiently crossing at red in Vienna – with the exact same excuse as everyone here: There was no traffic! There’s really no point in waiting around at a red traffic light if there are no cars! And I promptly crossed the road in plain view of the police while looking in their direction. I didn’t get a ticket, though. Probably because it was in the middle of the night and there really was no other traffic. And today I almost got run over by a motorcycle because I was so busy avoiding Puddles (and checking Pokemon Go on my phone) I didn’t see that the light had turned red again.

I also noticed things that changed in Vienna: There are far fewer firecrackers before New Year’s Eve. When I lived across a playground in the 2000s, it felt like the teenagers from the school around the corner tried to blow themselves up every day of December. And it was still bad a few years ago, when we looked after Gergö’s former dog. Now it’s much quieter and I only heard firecrackers on the 30th and 31st. All that’s left to learn for Austrians is that the firework starts at midnight.

In a weird counter example to my experience in Viennese cafés, I saw a queue in front of café Sperl on Gumpendorfer Straße. People were actually standing outside in the cold waiting to have coffee in there. It seemed ludicrous to me. I remember Sperl as the place with the most worn down leather chairs and grumpiest waitresses and it was really smoky, too, though that may have changed since I last went there (in 2008 maybe?). I bet the café is mentioned in a guide book as the real Viennese experience and that makes people willing to queue for overpriced coffee.

Luckily we got to see a lot of my nieces, the triplets, as well. They love to sing right now and will burst into strange songs at any occasion. When we had a playdate with friends who have a daughter of the same age, two of them grabbed hold of railings in the hallway, dangled from them and sang “Hoch sollst du leben / an der Decke kleben / runterfallen, Popschi knallen / so ist das Leben” (“you shall be celebrated / stick to the ceiling / fall down, hurt your bum / that’s life” – I just checked, there’s a category called birthday songs on Wikipedia, but the original version of this song is missing, just like the children’s version).

Anyway, everytime they sang “runterfallen” they let themselves drop to the floor. Songs seem to be a way to get them to do stuff – as long as it’s not being quiet. There’s a song about a bear sleeping where they will immediately lie down and pretend to be a sleeping bear. They even include the snoring noises sometimes. The trouble is it goes on: the bear wakes up and then hops, hops, hops, or stamps, stamps, stamps, or dances, dances, dances all day long.

The apartment complex where my sister lives has communal spaces. We took the kids’ new train set and went to the “theatre”. It’s just a big room that could be used as a stage. Not half as fancy as the cinema room or the communal kitchen. The theatre just had the problem that the lights went out every 5 minutes. Whenever that happened H. would scream, get up and run towards the sensor, while I. spontaneously started to sing Bruder Jakob / Frère Jacques. She even sang it in French, well, an approximation of it.

We also went to the climbing room. The girls would have preferred the slide room, but they are still a bit too small to climb the ladders alone and we wouldn’t fit in the slides in case they got scared and needed support. The climbing room is mostly interesting for the big mat that covers most of its floor. While two of the kids ran around playing catch and doing summersaults, A. rearranged our coats and played with my handbag. I gave it to her thinking there’s nothing in there that could break. She promptly took out the USB cable and stuck the micro-USB end into the regular one. “That works?”, my sister asked. “Only with force.”

I showed her how to plug it into my external battery instead – I figured it might save her hours of time if she learns early on how to plug in a USB cable the right way up.

When it was time to brush their teeth before bed, they weren’t impressed my by rendition of “Zähneputzen, zähneputzen, das wird deinen Zähnen nutzen” though. I didn’t think anybody else knew this song. We had to sing it in kindergarten while the other kids brushed their teeth until it was our turn at the sink. Now I googled it and apparently it’s a thing to motivate kids to brush their teeth. Well, it didn’t work.

Later in the week we met with Gergö’s family, including his two nephews. His brother was impressed how much more experience we have with little kids now (“please sit down on the chair to drink”, “use both hands to hold the glass!”, “Ok, I’ll walk up and down the stairs with you, but you have to hold my hand!”). It was also the one and only occasion for me to impress someone with Pokemon Go. The 5-year-old was interested in the game, and duly impressed by my Pikachu wearing a Santa hat and my strongest Pokemon, a Tyranitar with over 3000 CP. He even caught a Sentrett while we waited for the train and only needed 5 or 6 Pokeballs to do it. Most grown ups’ reaction is “Somebody is still playing this?”

We also met his other brother’s fiancée. But Gergö didn’t get a chance to talk much or ask about the dress code for the upcoming wedding because his crown came loose. So we spent the evening at the dentist on weekend duty.

the smile of a real princess.

It wasn’t really how I wanted to spend the evening, but it could have been much worse. Across from us in the waiting room was a girl with her parents whose horse had kicked her in the face. Her dad carried bits of her front teeth in a tupperware container.

While I was waiting for Gergö to finish two young men showed up – one had a toothache, the other came to help with translation. When they struggled with the information form I offered my cell phone as a dictionary. They had brought their own, but readily introduced themselves – (Hello, I’m XYZ from Syria!) And while the translator’s German was pretty good, they were happy to have some help with words like Herzschrittmacher/pacemaker, Spritze/injection and the like.

The doctor glued Gergös crown back into place and most of the visit was spent waiting for the cement to dry. And it was also fairly low on bureaucracy for Gergö: He filled out two forms with the data on his European health insurance card and didn’t have to pay anything. He reckons there will be a bill from his French insurance at some point.


Decembre à Paris

I might have mentioned it before: I am not a big fan of Christmas. I don’t like the season much and the darkness gets to me. And the enforced cheer of the holiday season and the crowds make it worse. And don’t even get me started on Christmas markets! Far too crowded, expensive and who ever thought it was a great idea to drink outside in the most miserable season of the year?

Yesterday, when we were in the city center I saw a Christmas market on the place of the fontaines des innocents, right next to the Les Halles shopping mall. And it came to me as a huge surprise that I thought: that doesn’t look too crowded. Might be nice. Gergö went with it and for the first time in ages I voluntarily visited a Christmas market AND enjoyed it.

The market was really much less busy than the surrounding shopping streets. I think the fence and security personnel discouraged people, even though the just waved everyone through. Turns out Christmas is okay if it involves large amounts of cheese but very few people. Hot cidre and fresh churros might also have played a role.

December was busy at work as well – my department moved from the ground floor to the 3rd floor of the building next door. I thought it would be a huge deal, but we managed to pack everything up on Friday afternoon. On Saturday the movers came to take everything upstairs and on Monday morning we unpacked our workstations and went back to work.

Moving Goku and Vegeta upstairs is turning out to be quite a bit of work. We will have to scrape off every single square of colour without damaging the corners too much, put them back on the little plastic sheet they came on and transfer them upstairs. Mario has already been moved, but he came off the wall in one piece, I think.

The work Christmas party was a little different compared to Austria: Mostly because it was at lunchtime and there was no booze. There was, however, an ugly sweater competition and a voluntary random gift exchange. I only participated in the eating part of the party, evidently.

I think it was the first time I had Coquilles Saint Jacques. There was also a lot of cheese, to the expressed delight of my coworkers, and charcuterie and bread, of course. And yes, I find Macarons overrated, but that didn’t stop me from trying most of the colours.

I also had some time to discover more of my new neighbourhood – walking to work or playing Pokemon Go in the area.

I like my new neighbourhood. There’s a market all along the Boulevard Ornano on Sundays. Today someone was promoting their children’s clothes with a microphone and an amp. In the other direction there’s a boulangerie that has a long queue every single time I walk past it. All the shops were open today, including the bakery and the queue was even longer today. I had a croissant incident recently and will have to bring breakfast to the office soon, so I think that’s when I’ll try out if the wait is worth it.


Londres

Because clearly having two sets of visitors and a move isn’t enough for one month, we had also booked a trip to London in November.

I was even more badly prepared than usual, because of the move and everything still in boxes and bags and the rest being pretty chaotic. I spend hectic 20 minutes going through all kinds of things to find my oyster card and the adapters, for example. The night before we left I had a look around what markets Time out London recommended and that was about it.

We left at 10 am. From the new apartment it’s really just 5 metro stops to gare du nord, so no stress. There were lots of people because an earlier Eurostar had been canceled and there were nervous pensioners in the queue. I can’t stand people who cut the queue at all and in France it’s not as uncommon as I’d like it to be. When there was a couple who cut in line in front of us I started complaining to Gergö about it, but didn’t say anything to them because they weren’t English, so I couldn’t say “You bring shame upon your country!”

Other than me getting unnecessarily upset by retired French people, the trip was okay and we arrived in St Pancras sans problèmes. We couldn’t take the underground though, because my oyster card was depleted, so we needed to recharge it. The machine wouldn’t accept any of our cards, though, so we had to find an ATM. The ATM seemed to work just fine, right up until the moment when it said, sorry, I can’t give you money right now. Only the third of three finally gave us pounds in cash and for a hefty fee. Then we only had to queue for an oyster card machine that accepted bills. Easy!

Because we liked the area so much the last time, we booked a hotel on brick lane again.  (I just re-read my blog post from then – I did the exact same thing like last year and went to the fancy chocolate shop for hot chocolate and took photos). We went there directly to deposit our luggage and went in search of the near by cat café to pass time until check-in. It was already full, though, so we ended up in a hipster pub drinking our first lunch beer within an hour or so of our arrival.

Most of the brick lane markets open only on Saturday and Sunday, so in the afternoon we decided to go to Battersea power station. I had read that there’s a “craft” market there, whatever that means and an old power station seemed like a good venue.

We took a bus and walked 3/4 of a circle around the power station in the cold, because the market was actually in an area that can only be accessed from Chelsea bridge and we didn’t know that. The market itself was disappointing and small and we were cold. I’m sure in nicer temperatures the area is quite lovely, (think museum quarter but smaller and less central) but as a lot of it is still under construction or very new it has a bit of a soulless vibe.

We returned back into town by river taxi. You can use your Oyster card for the boat and it’s scarily efficient going from Battersea back to London bridge, stopping for 30 seconds at every stop despite the access bridge being lowered and raised manually. I had promised a friend to take a photo of Big Ben, but I had forgotten that it’s under scaffolding right now (I can hear Gergö going “Big Ben is not the tower, it’s the bell!” but even Wikipedia thinks it can refer to both.)

We went to Old Street to meet with Gergö’s brother and ended up in yet another hipster pub. It was even called Craft Beer. When we entered Gergö thought for a second it’s a gay bar, because there were hardly any women inside.

A. showed us another pub, that was another 8 on the hipster scale with a vegan jackfruit burger on their menu. The burger was no longer available but the halloumi kimchi burger was good as well.

Saturday we looked at the various markets on and around brick lane (food! t-shirts! jewellery! more food! yet more food! streetart! So much awesome streetart! vintage clothing). We started the day off with the best pork roll I ever had. It had a fried goose egg! It was from a stall called swine dining. You know the kind – with a beardy dude really passionate about his product who tells you all about the breed of pig they are using that only exists in one place in Britain. I immediately grabbed what I thought was a plastic egg, put there for decoration. Well, it was a real goose egg, which I carefully put back on the pile. Re-reading my other blog post about our last London trip, a lot of the street art has changed. At least I didn’t notice many identical photos.

Later that day we ended up in Spitalfields market. There happened to be a craft beer and independent label thing at Spitalfields market. To Gergö’s amusement I insisted on bringing my little wheelie suitcase to London and not a backpack like Gergö. He stopped making fun of this fact when we started purchasing cans and bottles of beer from the many many stalls. Fruit infused pale ales are all the rage, chocolate/coffee stouts and porters are still popular. We also bought a spiced Christmas ale.

I thought we’d buy a drink or two and maybe a bottle if we liked it a lot. But the stalls handed out little cups to try, so it was our duty, really to try to support as many craft breweries as possible.

On Sunday we walked to Broadway market by recommendation of Gergö’s brother. The walk there led us past another flea market and Columbia road flower market, which is also very nice.

A man sitting at a table with four chess boards and a sign CHESS 4 FUN

Chess 4 Fun!

And Hackney city farm, so we visited the animals.

Broadway market is closed on Sunday, except for a very small Christmas market in a courtyard. There were people doing yoga outside in 5 degree weather. It was so disturbing to me, I couldn’t even appreciate the stall selling eggs that called itself “laid” and the obvious joke that went with it.  I was freezing by then and really needed to warm up somewhere inside. So we had a lovely meal at a place that ticked all the Verena breakfast boxes and consoled me a little bit about the fact that I couldn’t have a breakfast burrito at hola guacamole because the stall wasn’t open yet, when we walked past in the morning.

poached egg: check
Avocado: check
cuppa: check
fried mushrooms: check and win.

On our way back I felt human enough to take pictures again and fantasize with Gergö about him opening a hipster sourdough bakery in a former brewery.

We went through the food hall one last time to pick up dinner for our journey home. I was pretty convinced that I’d want to try Ethiopian food, but Gergö was sceptical about transportability of the food. It was a little messy, but it was so worth it. The Lithuanian stall is still here.

 

 


Au revoir Bercy, bonjour Clignancourt

The move went as well as could be expected.

As per usual I underestimated the amount of stuff we had. But that soon became evident when I couldn’t fit all my clothes into my large suitcase even after I opened the zip that expands it by about 20 cm.

We discussed when the taxi van would come to pick us up (13:40) and then, on the Saturday of the big move, I suddenly misremembered the time as 13:20 and insisted to be downstairs with all our luggage at 1pm. I’m still surprised gergö agreed to it without arguing. We only cleared up the mistake once we had 9 pieces of luggage downstairs.

On the plus side that left us enough time to get lunch from the food truck that is in the park on Saturdays. I’d seen it once before but wasn’t hungry at the time. Of course I had to try the home made pickled veggies. The veggie burger was delicious as well.

It would be a lie to say I was getting nervous by the time it was 13:30, because I had already been very nervous for the entire day. Every time a taxi drove past I indignantly said “That’s not a van!”. When the car arrived it was a very big van. The driver helped with luggage tetris and we easily fit all the suitcases and boxes into the trunk and only had to take two medium sized bags to the sitting area – which was no biggie, as it had room for 6 people facing each other.

The plan was to unpack the two big suitcases and the small ones and return to Bercy with them. Maybe bring another bag or two. I was proud that I fit all my clothes into the wardrobe until I realised that a whole lot of them are still in various bags of dirty laundry and some additional boxes when I ran out of space.

After the first run.

When we arrived back in Bercy for the second tour it was evident that there was a concert – there were large groups of people everywhere. I sometimes try to guess the artist or music style based on the crowd. It was fairly easy for Metallica – I’d never seen so many middle aged men wearing metal shirts in one place. It was more difficult for Celine Dion – lots of women but not exclusively, all age groups. It was impossible for Phil Collins – what are elderly British couples doing here?

The crowd for the concert on Saturday was almost exclusively black. It was a different crowd than for Drake, though. There were vendors selling beignets (fried food, can be sweet like donuts, but I’ve also seen it salty) and drinks. There were women dressed in evening gowns who I suspect left their coats in the car, wearing extremely high heels. I saw someone wrapped in a flag, but I didn’t recognise it. It was only halfway to our apartment that I saw that it was a concert by Youssou N’dour. I know the name because of a song in the nineties he did with Neneh Cherry. Turns out he is not just a musician but also a Senegalese politician and he draws quite the crowd.

We returned to the apartment and did some more packing. Gergö really wanted to take at least his large suitcase back to the new apartment by metro. He was concerned that we wouldn’t fit everything into the van on the next day. I only took a small suitcase and our fresh food. I thought at 9 pm the concert would be in full swing and there’d be no more crowd outside the metro stop, and said something to that effect. Gergö finally stopped the tolerant boyfriend act he’d been keeping up all day and snapped at me “You are overthinking this, Verena!”.

Well, I wasn’t. The place was just as busy as before. I don’t think there was anybody trying to sell or buy tickets anymore, but there were people chatting and eating and arriving and leaving and just standing around. I bumped into about 20 of them with my suitcase and promptly lost Gergö on the way.

He wanted to use the elevator, but while it looked like it worked, it never moved. In order to get from our old apartment to the new one you need to change metros at châtelet. It’s the stop that most lines call “Châtelet/Les Halles”, except for the few metro lines that stop at both châtelet and les halles, like the 4. The change over from 4 to 14 isn’t so bad, as they are right beside each other and you don’t have to walk along endless underground tunnels for hours.

That was one of the reasons Gergö originally wanted to do the move by public transport – only two metros with an easy change over. So it was very gratifying when most of the elevators and escalators weren’t working – my decision to spend about 70 € on taxi vans was the right one. I’m sure even Gergö agreed as he was dragging the large suitcase upstairs at châtelet station. So yeah, I hate moving apartments, but I do get a kick out of being right twice in one day. Almost worth the move. Almost.

The second day the taxi van was smaller and the driver didn’t help much with the luggage. During the ride he listened to Radio Africa 1 and sang along and we even heard a song by Youssou N’dour. We successfully transported the rest of our belongings to our new place in Clignancourt. I was wrong when I said we’d be moving to Montmartre. We are in the ugly little sibling quartier of Clignancourt.

I’m glad I took photos before we moved our things, so I can show the apartment without having to tidy up the incredible mess.

The new place is slowly taking shape. The bed turned out to be far too soft, but before we buy a new mattress Gergö wants to try sleeping on the floor with just the mattress. For that we need to make enough room in the apartment to put the bed frame somewhere. For that I needed to go to the laundromat once more for the giant bag of bed linen and towels that needed washing.

You can tell that Clignancourt is less fancy than Bercy because there are more laundromats and they are busier. There are about 10 laundromats on my way to work. The closest is literally around the corner. I filled a 14 kilo machine easily and then hoped one of the 8 giant tumble driers would free up in time. We are looking at a manageable amount of laundry for the first time in months.

For the first week of his new commute Gergö sent me daily texts how long it took to get to work. It’s about 45 minutes and he didn’t yet have to commute in the warm embrace of a complete stranger while people try to shove their way onto an overly full train, so I think it’s a win. I’m not sure he agrees. I really enjoy walking to work – 2 kilometers which take 22 minutes. I hatch a Pokemon egg every other day. It’s definitely an improvement over métro 13.

 


A big nosed plastic roman soldier guarding the entrance of the cinémathèque

Les lieux speciaux de Paris

I recently visited a friend who’s working as a barista on weekends and because she was busy took a little walk in the Bastille area. Not far from the little coffee shop there’s a cat café!

I also came across rue de Lappe, which has a lot of restaurants and bars. Shuttered for the day they look quite interesting.

Among them is a Caribbean restaurant where you can get a Bokit – a sandwich in fried bread.

And a bar called only rum that has the interior design of a jungle. There are fake plants and vines everywhere, you have to duck below them to get to the bar. The place is lighted entirely in green and has a citric smell to it that was still noticeable in my clothes the next day.

The drinks are served in preserving jars and are good, but nothing special, but the atmosphere definitely is. Unfortunately the bar keeper is a grumpy bastard who put up a sign that asks you not to tutoyer him i.e. not use the informal tu when talking to him, like duzen in German. There are other signs around telling you that you don’t have the right to touch this and change that.

Last weekend P visited Paris for the 4th time. I’d been seeing ads for the Goscinny exhibition on the metro for a while but as it’s in the cinémathèque, I always assumed that it’s in fact a show of films by Goscinny. There’s even a boar on a spit in front of the cinema. Turns out it’s not just a cinema, the cinémathèque also has an exhibition space. I’ve been living across the place for 9 months now and never even noticed it! We went to “visit our childhood friends” like P. called it: Goscinny drew Asterix, Lucky Luke and Petit Nicholas.

Afterwards we had coffee and cake at the cinematheque’s café, together with a dozen screamy children and their parents for Sunday brunch.

I had been telling P about Poké bowls and Buddha bowls. They have become fashionable a few months ago and I finally tried a Poké bowl in summer – It’s a Hawaiian dish consisting of raw fish and vegetables on rice. The Buddha version is vegetarian and sometimes the rice is replaced by other grains.

We wanted to have a Buddha Bowl lunch on Friday in a place recommended by a friend not far from Saint Lazare. But we left home so late we arrived after all the lunch places had closed – In France it’s still very uncommon to eat outside of meal times and especially lunch places close at 14:30. We ended up finding a place with good tartes and spent the rest of the afternoon walking to Montmarte. We came across a small Colombian shop selling Colombian coffee. It was tiny and you had to ring a door bell just to get in. Inside were two tiny women speaking rapid Spanish with each other. We also saw a chocolate place that had monkeys made from chocolate in the shop window.

A monkey made from chocolate
We went inside to check out their chocolates and ended up buying a cookie, a quinoa energy ball and a sweet on a stick consisting of meringue and gianduja covered in matcha frosting. The back of the shop was partinioned off by a glass wall and behind it you could watch the sweets being made by the chocolatier and we all know how much I love watching people prepare food.

On Sunday night we went to a pizza place that has fried pizza. They claim it’s a neapolitan speciality, but I’m not so sure I believe it. Gergö had to have it, of course, and it wasn’t bad. “It’s just like filled langos”, was P. comment and I think she might be right.

A golden brown bit crescent of fried dough.

I only added the photo to keep up my food photo quota.

During this dinner our Italian friend A mentioned that there is a Mozza Bar in Paris, where you can try different kinds of Mozzarella cheese. I’ve started to make a list of places I want to visit and cafés and restaurants I want to try. The cat café and the Mozza bar are on this list, together with a place that has minus 8 degrees and this list of the best desserts of Paris.

I already went to one on the list: the Japanese French Patissier. They have everything in a matcha version, but I actually took the yuzu tarte. I couldn’t have said if it’s any different from a lemon tarte, but it was a very good lemon tarte and very good green tea, in a fancy fancy little tea salon surrounded by chocolate with black sesame and matcha.


old sign advertising electricity, showers and phones in hotel Frochot

Encore un déménagement

We found a new apartment and will hopefully sign a new lease on Thursday. It’s closer to my work this time (2 km or 20 minutes by bus) and Gergö will have to take the metro to work instead of walking. It’s small, no surprise there, 39m2. It has a separate small bedroom with some closet space. The sitting room and kitchen are separated by a bar. The kitchen seems pretty fancy and has 2 gas hubs and two regular ones.

We’ll no longer have a fold out couch. The couch is definitely too small to sleep on, though I’ll probably still fall asleep on it and later regret it. We’ll keep the single inflatable mattress, for visitors, but it won’t be the same as our current couch.

our sofa with an ugly pattern of green, mustard and brownish orange

The loudest sofa in the world

The apartment is technically in Montmartre, I think – but in reality it’s a 20 minute walk to the back of the hill. So it’s not the romantic area of Amélie, don’t get your hopes up. It’s located between M4 Simplon and M12 Jules Joffrin. And it’s a little cheaper than our current apartment. The downside of the apartment is that we will rent it only until August 2018. The landlady’s son will return from his studies abroad and she’ll need the place back then. So I’m hoping he is one of the many, many exchange students who fall in love and stay in their host country ;-)

There’s a small supermarket in our building and a post office across the street. A little further down the road is a tea salon / patissier with nice street art.

 a collage of a rat wearing armour made from small lego pieces and spikes on its back street art of a bird with patterned feathers

During this move I’m working full time, as is Gergö, so we won’t be moving by public transport like last time. I just ordered a taxi van online for Saturday. We’ve only been in the apartment since mid-February. So, like last time, I’m hoping against all evidence that we don’t have that much stuff, really.

Gergö had a beer subscription for the last months. Every month there’s a box of 6 different fancy beers in the mail. So we should have at least 6 boxes we can fill with our stuff. Plus the two big suitcases and two small ones.

Like the two apartments before, we found the new one via science accueil. The process is to email them your requirements (how many rooms, which arrondissements) and then you get a list of apartments. They say it takes up to two weeks to get a response, so Gergö prepared me for the wait. I still got nervous about the fact that we didn’t receive any feedback and hadn’t even started looking at other ways to find apartments yet. And what if we didn’t find anything with science accueil, what would we do then? “It’s only been ten days! We discussed this, Verena, we don’t freak out before the 2 weeks are over!”, Gergö said, as if he never met me before.

While I was busy coming up with worst case scenarios of homelessness in Paris, Gergö also looked at another agency, renting out furnished apartments. My personal highlight was a 14sqm apartment in Montmartre on the 7th floor without elevator for 800 €.

Before we decided on the apartment we also looked at one other place – an apartment hotel across the street from Gergö’s workplace. I expected a soulless depressing place, but it was actually not so bad. It didn’t have any storage space though and not a single book shelf. Gergö didn’t like the tiny little kitchen – only two burners.

I was tempted, because it had a laundry with really big washers and driers and access to a gym room. Also the linen and towels are changed every two weeks and the room is cleaned as well. Weirdly, for Paris, we didn’t have to decide right away. The apartment hotel is very new and they could only build it because they agreed to accept researchers as permanent residents for a special reduced price. And they don’t have the right to say no to them. It’s good to know there’s an expensive but doable option for us in Paris, as long as Gergö is a researcher.

Because our week isn’t going to be stressful enough as it is, our washing machine broke. It had been acting weirdly for the last couple of months, occasionally forgetting the program or restarting itself. Now it’s completely broken and has started to smell bad. I was ready to face two weeks without laundry, I have a lot of clothes. But I also have an inexplicable affection for large washing machines. So on Thursday I trekked to a launderette. It was everything I hoped for: 13 kilo machines and even two for 15 kilos! I only had enough laundry for a regular sized machine, though.

I sadly didn’t have any more battery left to take a picture of the enormous driers. I could probably fit in there as a whole. I didn’t have time for another visit to the launderette but I’m already wondering if it’s not really time to wash all of our blankets and pillows.

Shortly before the place closed, somebody came in and opened the drawers of all the washing machines poured water into them and scrubbed half heartedly with a toothbrush. I was a bit disappointed that I had to leave before he got to the driers. I would so have loved to see if he opens up all the driers every day and gets out all the drier lint. I realise it’s weird, but at 3.50 a pop, launderettes and giant washing machines are a fairly harmless fascination/obsession.

Just to cut down a little on the amount of stuff to move, I went to a bookshop on Sunday – a second hand bookshop called San Francisco Book Company. They also buy English books or take them on credit and I figured I could get rid of the English mystery novels I bought in a moment of weakness coupled with my new disposable income. I got 17 € in credit which I will not spend before we didn’t move all our crap across town. I love the idea of having book credit in a cramped little bookshop with piles of books on the floor.

Today we visited our cellar for the second time since we moved here. We retrieved the two boxes of inferior French cooking pots we put there to make room for Gergö’s superior Austrian ones. We also spent 5 minutes trying to figure out how to deflate the inflatable mattress, pushing and pulling on the valve to no avail. I even googled the mattress name and found that another person asked the same question on amazon. The response was to put in the deflate nozzle. Ours didn’t come with a deflate nozzle, but I hope I can work the expression into a conversation soon! In the end I used a pen to open the valve, we won’t have to explain to a taxi driver why were transporting an inflated mattress.

Wish us luck!


Another pretty view of little France across the river Ill

Strasbourg

We went to spend a weekend in Strasbourg in October. It’s only an hour and 40 minutes by train and we really wanted to use our weekend card by SNCF. Everybody said Strasbourg has great Christmas markets, but I’m too much of a grinch to enjoy that, so we went in early October instead.

We met my friend V. who came from Brussels. We arrived on Friday night and walked across town, past the cathedral to our hotel. I liked Strasbourg immediately – a very walkable city with lots of cosy looking restaurants and wine bars and just generally a very pittoresque place.

V found the hotel and it was nice, too. I am not a huge fan of the wall decal trend, but our hotel had what I’m pretty sure is an ironic wall decal, in the loo, of all places, and that I like.

"Ici tombent en ruine les merveilles de votre cuisine"

We ate a lot of Flammkuchen and walked a lot. We did some shopping, drank some coffee and just generally enjoyed the pretty little town.

I took a lot of photos of half timbered houses and of street art – not a bad mix I think. On Sunday we spent a few hours at the Science museum, le Vaisseau. I had looked at the website and the reviews and while I noticed that they mentioned how great it is for kids, I only understood that it’s actually a kids’ museum when we entered.

It’s a place where you can touch and try out everything. They had a water playground to explore the power of water, they had a little parcours for kids to try out how to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches. Gergö and I tried a game where you put on a headband that measures your brainwaves. The goal of the game was to be as calm as possible. There was a little ball between the two players and by not making the EEG go crazy you could make the ball move in your opponent’s direction.

I figured I’d focus on my breathing. After all I’ve been practising Ujjayi breath for years now. Well. While I thought my brain was focused on breathing and relaxed the EEG was all over the place. Apparently when I think I’m relaxed my brain still goes “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!”. Gergö beat me in a few seconds.

We occasionally joke that when he’s quiet and I think he’s thinking about work or something, in reality he is more like Homer Simpson.

via GIPHY

 

 


Chez Disney et Astérix

In September we went to Disneyland with friends from gergö’s work and to Parc Asterix with a friend from Germany.

Disneyland entrance area with a building with many turrets

Disneyland is enormous. We got the tickets cheaper through Gergö’s work and through the tickets we found out that there are two parks now: Disneyland and Disney studios. We had access to both and in addition to that we had a special pass that let us jump the queue – our friend S. is blind and with his id he got a green pass from Disney city hall for himself and up to 4 other people.

The pass is not like the fast-pass you can buy in order to skip some of the lines. There’s often a separate entrance for fast pass holders. We rather entered the rides via the exit, showed the pass and were then let onto the next ride.

We didn’t prepare for our day, so we chose a bit randomly at first. Which means we went on a few really boring rides, like Blanche Neige and Peter Pan. I argued they surely will be extreme – they are forbidden to pregnant women after all, so they have to be rough. They weren’t. I think they are only forbidden for pregnant women because there’s a metal security bar that comes down over your seat and a big bulge would be in the way.

We had time to try a few rides several times – among them the creepy hotel, where you are in an elevator and in free fall for a few seconds a couple of times. And they rebranded space mountain into a star wars themed ride and we went two or three times.

A building with a tent like roof and protruding antannae

On the outside, space mountain still looks what I suspect Disney imagined the future would look like in 1985

I still like the fancy details they put into all the decoration and the star wars ride was no exception. C3PO was there, and you could see various other droids on your way through the line. The ride itself was like a ride through space – most of the surroundings were dark as you “fly” through a projected laser weapon fight between the light and the dark side.

a golden humanoid robot

C3PO standing in front of a screen on a balcony. Its movements weren’t any jerkier than in the film.

One of the highlights was that we got to meet Darth Vader. It’s a dude in full costume and platform shoes, so he is appropriately tall and impressive. We were called into the room by Darth Vader who proceeded to ask us what we know about the rebellion. We had a photo taken and at the last minute S. decided to touch Darth Vader’s face. When we left we were greeted with “This meeting has been very informative” which in turn led us to speculate if the actor is speaking himself with an actual voice transformer.

I decided to buy the photos as a memory for that awesome day. The guy at the desk overheard us and explained that Darth has different phrases in his fingertips which he can activate with movement. I’m torn between enjoying that knowledge and being disappointed that some of the magic is now gone.

After we left I regretted that I didn’t hug Darth for the photo but I can’t help but think about the poor people inside the suit who probably get a whole lot more contact with people than they want to. I took photos of a lightsaber fight in the gift shop instead and supported Gergö in his decision to buy wookie house shoes. He always has cold feet and they are extremely warm and furry. He walks around like a cowboy with his feet wide apart when he wears them and I still grin overtime I see them peeking out from underneath the table.

gergös furry wookie slippers

We already knew Parc Asterix from last year’s visit, but we still didn’t really have a plan. So we started with the menhir express, which is a ride that ends in a big splash in the water. Not the greatest idea on a cool autumn day. They have human sized blow drying cabins next to water rides, but they were pretty useless.

This time I also went on Osiris, the most extreme ride of all, I think. Most rides have a point somewhere right before a big descent when they take pictures. Osiris is so new they have that, plus a camera in the seat in front of you. After the ride you can buy a usb stick with the video of you experiencing various loops and turns.

We also did the 7 loop ride again and gergö challenged me to keep my mouth shut. In all the photos taken of me on various rides, i had my mouth open and was either laughing or shouting. Turns out the 7 loop ride doesn’t have cameras, so I can’t even prove I can keep my mouth shut.

The strangest thing we did were cesar’s challenges. You start by sticking your head through a hole in the wall in order to have your photo taken and turned into a gallic warrior, complete with helmet with wings and the two braids. I really wanted that image. Second was a room with Cesar on the balcony saying that he wants to see if we are worthy warriors for his army. It was a robot not an actor.

Then the room’s walls turned around us and we exited into a room that smelled of public swimming pool. It had fountains with images of Falbala and other women from Asterix washing laundry, then Obelix showering projected on them. Because of a warning I had seen earlier I got really paranoid about getting wet and didn’t pay enough attention to understand the story.

But we didn’t get wet, we just proceeded to the next room, which was a ship, where we sat down on long benches that went from one end to the other. We were in the belly of a boat and the walls moved in a way that suggested water around us and a rolling boat. After that the boat itself also started to roll from side to side, which together with the wall’s movements made for quite a weird feeling. It still wasn’t worth the wait and it didn’t even include the challenge of permit 38A. And to top it all off there wasn’t even an occasion to buy the photo of you as a warrior.

One of the highlights was visiting the little village. We saw Miraculix wander past and then Obelix came out for a photo op. A whole lot of children ran up to him for a hug and it was adorable and sweet. But I figured even though I’m much stronger than them, I probably shouldn’t just push them away to go in for an Obelix hug. At least not with so many cameras directed at Obelix.

He soon joined Asterix in front of his little house for photos and we didn’t want to join the queue, so again,I missed an opportunity to violate the personal space of somebody wearing a costume,

To console myself I bought a muesli bowl in Obelix design. I regret nothing!

A stack of bowls looking like Obelix' belly

 


La vie est ce qu’elle est

I think I might have to start a new collection: no longer French words for thingamajig, but what French people say when they find out I’m from Austria. My hairdresser remembered Austria from a skiing holiday he took “a long, long time ago”. He didn’t remember the name of the place, but he remembered that he still smoked at the time and that he bought cigarettes called Hobby while in Austria. I thought he was talking of the very Austrian drink Obi gespritzt, which is apple juice with fizzy water. The brand name of the juice is Obi and it kinda stuck.

But no, he was talking about cigarettes I barely remember. I think they were those that came in the practical soft pack. So I googled and of course there is an ancient website with a frame set detailing different cigarettes. And it includes the history of Hobby cigarettes including the above mentioned soft pack. Discontinued in 2006.

My doctor on the other hand wanted to talk about Kaiserschmarrn. Wikipedia translates it as shredded pancake but you should know it’s more an American style pancake than a crêpe we are talking about. He mentioned Kaiserschmarrn several times and I had no idea how to respond. Gergö’s dad asked my what I dislike most about France and I said that I hate that I can’t express myself very well and this includes all these situations where I just don’t have a comeback, witty or otherwise.

I’d like to claim I wouldn’t start small talk with a French person I meet somewhere outside of France mentioning food or cigarettes, but chances are pretty big I’d say something like “So, Viennoiserie, huh, what’s your favourite? I like pain au raisin.”

That wasn’t the weirdest part about the doctor’s visit though. I was there for my pap smear. (Yes, it will get a bit TMI, don’t read on if you are squeamish). After my visit I read up on what women who have visited French doctors wrote about their ob/gyn experience and apparently Americans are weirded out by the fact that there is no gown and no nurse present. It’s like that in Austria, too, so no surprises there. I find it much weirded that a lot of doctors here don’t have a receptionist and do all the money transactions themselves.

But what made me google French ob/gyns was the fact that he did the pap smear, put the little truc-machin in a plastic container. Back at the desk he put the plastic container in an envelope, handed me the envelope and told me to include a cheque over 24 € and put on two stamps and mail it to the laboratory. They will in turn send me the piece of paper that I will then have to send to my health insurance to get part of that 24 € back.

I took the plastic container and put it in my bag and wondered if I just went to the weirdest doctor ever or if it’s normally done like that in France. I thought of all the French women I know (not many) and wondered if I could ask them about this. I decided against it, simply because I was worried that it’s not the regular thing and they’d laugh at me agreeing to taking my pap smear home.

I ended up carrying the plastic container with a bit of cervix inside around in my bag for 36 hours until I went to the post office and got rid of it. Exactly two weeks later I got the results (everything’s fine) plus the brown form to send to my health insurance. I also got another letter from my health insurance rejecting the ob/gyn’s form because it isn’t readable. I guess this means I’ll have to see Kaiserschmarrn dude again.

In the meantime I’d seen my regular GP in order to get a certificate of health for my boxing class (YES, I started boxing!) and I figured I could ask her about the pap smear process. To my great relief she said that’s how it’s done in France. She also said the process really needs to be changed because people don’t understand it and forget about the cheque and it’s really inefficient. She also said it was probably fine that I didn’t refrigerate the container for the day I carried it around.

She also took my blood pressure and listened to my lungs, asked if I had any pain in my chest and that was pretty much all that was needed to get a signed piece of paper that says I can box.

The course is in military barracks on rue Babylone. The website is called babylone49.fr or something like it and when I first got the link from a friend from work I thought she sent me the link to a strip club. (I should mention a famous nightclub/strip club in Vienna is called Babylon).

Turns out my colleague wanted to try out boxing and I figured why not. Boxing gloves are not very expensive but extremely sweaty. You also don’t buy them by size but by weight. So the salesperson at Decathlon asked me how much I weigh. I said I don’t want to talk about it and want to take the small gloves. He insisted that’s a bad idea, because they are all similarly big, the ones in a higher size just have more layers to protect my hands. So I thought long and hard about the French number I needed to say and rounded it a bit down. It took me so long to come up with the number, I’m fairly sure the salesperson thought I was lying :-D

Every Monday I leave 15 minutes early to go to boxing class. It’s extremely exhausting because other than yoga I don’t do any sport, especially nothing that could be called cardio and box training is only a little bit of punching and a lot of prancing and moving about holding up your arms and trying not to be touched. We learn the technique and won’t have any fights. It’s exhilarating though, to learn how to kick really hard. I don’t think anyone ever taught me how to throw a punch.

At the end of every course we do a few yoga exercises to unwind and the teacher is really fond of Kapalabathi. It’s the breathing exercise where you are basically panting like a woman about to give birth. I don’t like being told how to breathe and I hate it when the instructions come with claims that it will cleanse you of toxins. But I’m trying to be a good sport and sit there and breathe and instead of relaxation I feel irritation.

Tuesdays I go to my Ashtanga class. It’s really tough and there are very few people, so I get way too much of the teacher’s attention. He keeps telling me to breathe only through the mouth and not to drink water in order to keep the heat. So instead of relaxing I spend my minutes on the mat in corpse pose resenting being told how to breathe and dreading having to say “ommmm” together. And in this class it’s not just “ommmm” three times, it’s ommmm, ommmm, omm, shanti, shanti, shantiiii. The one thing worse than being told how to breathe is being made to sing.