La Tunisie

This year, during the second week of May France had not just one but two holidays: May 8 is VE Day and May 10, Ascension. The official French name for May 8 is Fête de la Victoire.

The French call the Friday when Thursday is a holiday pont, like the Germans (Brückentag) and not window, like the Austrians. In Upper Austria that kind of day is called a Zwickltag, which I think translates to gusset. My colleagues started calling the week with the Tuesday and Thursday holidays the aqueduct.

Gergö and I had been planning to take the week off and go somewhere warm, but we left it rather late to book anything. In the end we decided on Tunisia and booked a week in Hammamet Yasmine. The travel agent mentioned Carthago and the Souks of Tunis, so we figured there are things to do, should we get bored.

A couple of hours before the flight I realised to my horror that I’d leave the European Union and would have to turn off my phone’s data. But luckily, Orange Tunisia helped out. Before we even had our luggage back, an Orange counter handed out free sim cards, you only had to show your passport for it.  It’s not a bad marketing strategy – I gladly took it and bought credit a few times during the week.

Hammamet Yasmine is a little town 12 km outside of Hammamet proper that consists only of hotels and tourism related businesses. We had read up on that, so we were prepared. We even got a warning about haggling and about various scams that are run on tourists and that 5 stars in Tunisia are not equal to 5 stars in Europe.

The hotel was still pretty fancy and just very big. Large corridors, high ceilings, an enormous lobby, and tiles and mosaics for most surfaces. I’m 37 and still feel completely out of place in settings like that. Surely this is for real adults, not me on holiday?

On our first day we explored the surrounding streets and the little medina. A medina usually is the old town center. It’s just that Yasmine is too new to have an old town, so they created a kitsch tourist version.

There are lots of small shops. Like in most of these places, all of them sell roughly the same things. All of them want you to just come in an look at their stuff, they will make you a very special price.

I learned something surprising that day: Gergö can’t say no and walk away, if somebody holds out their hand and says hello. He never had to learn how to deal with people who think they have a right to your attention. I was so confused by this behaviour that I thought that he actually wants to buy something – why else would he stay and listen to this dude?  He doesn’t usually want to buy things, but who knows. Turns out he doesn’t. By the end of the holiday my role was to play the mean wife who won’t let her husband buy stuff and physically takes his hand and drags him away from guys trying to sell souvenirs.

Gergö had warned me that the mediterranean sea wouldn’t be warm enough to swim in May, but I thought he is always cold, how bad can it be? Holy cow was it freezing. And because of the wind it even was a bit too cool to stay in the shade. I actually spend some time lying in the sun. I was covered in 50 spf sunscreen, but still!

We went on two trips during our stay:

On Thursday we visited Tunis, Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.

The ruins of Carthage are mostly Roman. All the Phoenicians had built was destroyed by the Romans in the punic wars. We visited the site of the ancient roman baths. It’s a large area right next to the president’s palace and you are not allowed to photograph in the direction of the president’s residence.

One touristy thing in Sidi Bou Said and Carthage were people with hawks on leashes for photo opportunities. I thought they were falcons, but our guide said they are “éperviers“. I immediately forgot the word and only now had a look at a wikipedia list of birds of prey to find the it again. Épervier translates to sparrowhawk. To my big surprise an épervier is a Sperber in German. If pressed, I’d have said a Sperber is what Germans call Spatz, but that’s Sperling of course.

I would have loved to pose with a sparrowhawk, but I can’t in good conscience support the kind of business that cuts off the claws of birds of prey and keep them on a rope. It must be a good business though, there were at least 5 people offering photo ops with them at the lookout above the café de delices in Sidi Bou Said.

In Tunis we only visited the souks in the medina. Only when we got on the bus I realised that I had visited them before – in 2003 with my friend V. After finishing our studies, we went on a road trip from Austria via Italy to Malta. We took a boat from Salerno to Malta. On its way it stopped off at Tunis for a few hours and we shared a taxi from the harbour to the souks with an Italian woman and a Maltese men we had met on the boat. I don’t remember a lot about the experience, other than that my passport was expired by a week or so and the border agents didn’t want to let me in and my friend V impressed me with her French/English negotiation skills.

The streets in the souks are named after the product they used to sell – perfume, gold, textiles, etc. Nowadays it’s mostly tourist kitsch and a lot of it is the same. The only souks that largely stayed the same are the ones that are in the wedding business.

After our little trip along the North East coast we did a two-day trip into the South of Tunisia. We wanted to see the desert (that I keep misspelling dessert) and the big salt lake.

Next up we were visiting a Berber family living in caves. It felt about as much like poverty-porn as it sounds. the caves are actually houses hewn into the stone. The tour guide kept calling them troglodytes, which I only knew as an insult but apparently is the correct word for people living in caves. The place we visited is called Matmata and was also a filming location for Star Wars episode IV.

There used to be Berber families with about 2 000 people living in these troglodyte houses. But in 1967 the area was flooded. Flooding can get bad, because the ground is mostly clay, so it doesn’t take up water quickly and in the mountainous areas it can lead to mudflows. The flooding was so bad the roads had to be closed and a lot of the troglodyte houses were destroyed. The Tunisian government built a new village on top of the mountain, that still exists today where most of the families moved to.

The wikipedia article about Matmata explains this pretty well and here’s also an article on the Berber with much nicer photos than I could ever take. Both mention Star Wars and the hotel that was used for scenes in episode IV. We had lunch at a hotel in Matmata but I don’t think that was it. Or maybe I was at the Star Wars hotel and too focussed on the couscous to notice. (I just remembered that I record the location when I take pictures and I took one picture or a sand rose and it was taken at the Marhala hotel, which is not the one from Star Wars.)

We ended the day riding a dromedary and then a quad bike.

As soon as we had stopped somewhere in the desert a couple of guys showed up carrying fennecs – little white desert foxes. It was the same deal as with the falcons – you pay to take photos with them. And their leashes were just some cords around their neck.

After we returned from the two rides someone mentioned seeing ticks crawling in the dromedaries fur. We checked each other for ticks, but didn’t find any. I did have a large insect bite on my face, though. It didn’t hurt and barely itched, it was just distractingly big and I kept wondering how I could have missed being stung in the face. I didn’t google deadly insects of Tunisia though and even though I later got a second enormous bump, this time on my jaw, nothing terrible has happened to me. yet.

We spent the night at a hotel at the edge of the desert, going to sleep at 9 pm, because we would be woken up at 3 am. We left the hotel at 4 to drive onto the great big salt lake to see the sun rise over the salt lake at shortly after 5.

After the little potemkin village, we visited an oasis called Chebika. It’s a place that belongs to several Berber families that grow dates, oranges, and other fruit in the oasis. We were told to brig our bathing suits for the waterfall.

We finished our tour with a visit to the mosque of Kairouan – the one that got its marble from the amphitheatre. We climbed the roof of a souvenir shop that had a great view of the courtyard. Like with the waterfall, I was too hot and tired to appreciate the mosque. Instead we bought Tunisian olive oil and black seed soap like the filthy tourists we are.

Our flight back was the day after. I think only when he checked us in Gergö noticed that we’d be flying business class. We still don’t know if it was an upgrade or a mistake or the only thing left when we booked. Either way, we completely failed a being business class travellers by getting into the long, long queue with the plebs to check in our luggage, instead of the short efficient special people queue. I was extremely grumpy because airport and also because we still had Dinar and all the shops at the airport only accepted Euro. Except for the machine dispensing wifi codes, and that didn’t work. We found the lounge for Tunisair and it was very full and disappointingly dingy. But at least the wifi was working and we got a glass of water while we waited for our flight that was delayed by two hours. We got in line again with the economy class when boarding the plane – we just waited until most people had boarded instead of waltzing right in.

There was enough room to fully recline your seat. Without bothering the row behind you, obviously. As can be expected, i was out of my element and utterly confused and delighted by everything. I even started watching a film, but gave up on it because it was terrible and the flight wouldn’t have been long enough to finish it anyway. We got served food on real plates with metal cutlery. I was digging into the cheese when the air hostess came to ask me if I wanted fish or meat for my main course. I asked “that was only the entrée?” and I could see that she had to bite back a smile at my reaction.


Le café des chats, le café matcha, le canal St Martin et mes aventures Pokémon Go

I haven’t been blogging in a while, but it’s not because I haven’t been keeping busy.

I announced that we’d be visiting the cat café and that’s what we did. We had brunch there a few weeks ago. It was different from what I expected. Mostly because it smelled of littler box. I don’t why I didn’t expect that, but it really took me by surprise. I think I might have thought it’s a place with tiles that’s hosed down every day. Or maybe I just didn’t expect old upholstered wooden furniture.

After disinfecting our hands, we were sat at a table and the cats started to fight, with hissing and screaming and everything. I had forgotten about that part of cat ownership as well. There was a post in the middle of the room covered in rope and one of the cats climbed up it. That’s when the waitress came back to reseat us, telling us there had been an accident. The cat that had climbed the post during the fight had pooped on the cross beam. They got out a ladder and cleaned it up. I guess my memory sanitised having cats and I’m fine with that.

We also tried out another different café: the matcha café. I liked it. I think Gergö liked it as well and we might have to go back there to buy more of the black fermented garlic we got in the store that goes with the café.

That same weekend we also went to the flea market in the south of Paris, marché de Montreuil. It has a reputation of being cheaper and less touristy. Well, I loved it.

I have also been playing a lot of Pokemon Go. I joined a messenger group for the 18th district, so I can find out if people are getting together in my neighbourhood to do a raid. You need five or more people to defeat a raid boss, so people organise in groups to coordinate.

It’s a good way to see more of my district.

ZAD stands for Zone à défendre and are squats / occupations of areas by people who want to block developments.

One of the newer things introduced by Pokémon Go are community days. Once a month for three hours one particular Pokémon will pop up very often and there will be a shiny version of it as well. Shiny just means it has a different colour than usual. For the April community day I went to the shopping mall at la Défense. They have sponsored Pokéstops and there are always lots of people and Pokémons there. I knew what to expect, I had been there before for a Pokemon event but whoa, it was busy.

Another new thing in Pokemon Go are what they call research quests. Completing 8 quests would give you a chance to capture Mew, a legendary Pokemon that you can’t get any other way in the game. The problem being that one of the quests was to evolve a magicarp. It’s a useless orange fish that needs 400 candy to evolve into a fierce blue dragon called gyarados. Catching one magicarp gets you 3 candy.

Fish Pokémon are more common close to water and so we also took a lot of walks around the canal St. Martin. There were a couple of very nice warm weekends and people were out and about playing Petanque and putting up slacklines and drinking wine and eating cheese.

We got a beer from the German bar and sat down on a bench and 5 minutes later two Americans walked up to the bench and sat down with their backs to us. They were on a date and started discussing their lives in Paris, ex-partners and open relationships. I want to say “Why do they assume nobody understands them when they are talking English” but a) seems fair, b) they probably didn’t care that much and assumed we were just German tourists. In a situation like this I always feel torn – on the one hand I find the awkwardness difficult, on the other hand I loooove to eavesdrop on conversations.


Il y a une grève

I wrote about it before: Il y a une grève/There’s a strike was one of the first sentences I learned in French class in school. I had 4 years of French in high school and I remember barely anything from then, except how mean our teacher was. A bit after remembering that fact I found my former French book online and took a screenshot of the terrible graphics. I still hate Thierry.

There were a couple of noticeable strikes in 2016. People were protesting the loi de travail / El Khomri law. That’s when I found out that during a strike of the RER there will still be trains, just fewer of them. There’s a law that is supposed to regulate minimum service during a strike. They usually announced something like “there will be 2 out of 4 trains on Tuesday”.

I wasn’t really affected though, because I didn’t usually have to be anywhere on time.

This year’s big strike is a strike by the SNCF, the French National Railway Services, and it’s big. They are protesting reforms that Macron wants to push through that would mean that new hires would not get the same benefits existing employees have. The fear is also that the rail service will thus be prepared for privatisation. To my surprise they put up detailed info, even in English, about how the strike is organised.

The strike is announced to take place over 3 months, with 2 strike days followed by 3 regular days and so on. Monday was the official start of the three months of strike action. A lot of my colleagues commute from the suburbs and some didn’t have any trains at all. Some had so few, that they didn’t even try to wait 1.5 hours for one, because they wouldn’t stand a chance of getting on the train. Some were seriously delayed because of the metro line 13 (I complained about it before). The metro isn’t on strike, but the line is always busy and more so on strike days. On that day there were several incidents that ended up meaning no trains in either direction for 30 minutes.

We also had to cancel a trip to Lyon for the weekend. We’d have a train to go there on Friday night. But we wouldn’t find out until Saturday evening if the train back on Sunday would be on strike or not. And we wouldn’t have been able to just take a train on Monday morning, because that’s still a strike day. So we cancelled the entire trip. My project of getting to know France is off to a rocky start.

I am very clueless about strikes. Austria is famous for its very few strike days and the few times it happened it was single days of teachers or public transport strikes. I remember one single time I could have been affected by a strike. People in public service threatened to strike while I was a librarian in Linz. The reason was that Upper Austria didn’t want to give the raise that had been negotiated nationwide. I also remember that it was cancelled at very last second.

So I asked my colleagues if they think it will be cancelled at the last second. It seemed to immense a disturbance to go through with it. They laughed at me. This is clearly not something that happens in France. They already have a calendar for all the strike days up until June.

So instead of going to Lyon we spent the weekend being fairly lazy. Except tomorrow, we will go to a cat café and later to the musée Rodin. Spring is finally here, and I’m enjoying it immensely. There will be probably two entire weeks where I neither complain that it’s too cold, nor that it’s too hot!


Une nuit en Allemagne

At the end of February I was invited to a birthday party in Bonn. I told my colleagues about it and none of them had ever heard of the city. I said something along the line of “right next to Cologne”. “Isn’t that in Italy?” “No, that’s Bologne”. I also mentioned that it used to be the capital, before the reunification, which isn’t strictly true. It was only the seat of the government. Either way, I only earned shrugs – most of my colleagues were born around the time of the reunification.

The party was in a very special place: an indoor camping place. First, I was sceptical – I don’t do camping, really, and I feel like I’m way too old for youth hostel style living. But for one night, I’m prepared to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Camping is taken literally – the big hall is filled with antique camper vans and a retired sleeping car from the Deutsche Bahn.

So in case you ever go to Bonn, be sure to check out the place. It’s called Basecamp.

On my way back I had a bit of a wait in Cologne / Köln. I keep forgetting about it, but the train station is right next to the city center. You walk out of the train station and the first thing you see is the cathedral. It was freezing cold but sunny, so I took a short walk around it for a couple of photos.

March started out lovely – the weather finally got better and we went for weekend walks and had our first outdoor coffee. Parisians have outdoor coffee all through winter. Most places with a “terrasse” have outdoor heaters. But I’m all about saving the planet and frankly prefer having my coffee without feeling like I’m in an incubator.

Then it got colder again and we had a lot of rain and no more outdoor coffee. Then it got worse and we had some more snow.

 

 


Montpellier

We left Paris for a short weekend in Montpellier on the Friday night in February while snowmargeddon was still in full swing. Montpellier is in the south of France in Occitanie. I thought we’d be delayed, because Paris didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to run the metro with 5 cms of snow. But the TGV left on time!

I had not prepared much for this trip. We only had two days to spend, so we figured we’d walk around town, eat good food and maybe visit a museum. In the last minute I googled markets, because I love visiting flea markets and covered markets and I saw that a monthly market called marché du Lez was going to take place on the Saturday. It was a little outside of Montpellier, but easy to reach with the tram number 4.

So on Saturday we had a short walk around town, enjoying the sun, the good Pokemon situation and life in general before taking a tram to the marché. It wasn’t very warm, but warmer than Paris had been and much, much sunnier.

A view of the Espalanade Charles de Gaulle

The marché de Lez was exactly the kind of market I love – A lot of trash and weird stuff and stalls by private (meaning not-professional) vendors. That way I scored Obelix for 2 Euros and 11 t-shirts for 5 euros). And then, in the courtyard there was a nice mix of hipster food (mother trucker), bobo stores and a market that is more antiques and curiosities than flea market stuff.

We had dinner at a resto avernois. Apparently the traditional thing they do is sausage and aligot. – it’s mashed potatoes with cheese. I had aligot before but I think I can safely say it was the best combination of cheese, sausage and potatoes I ever had.

On Sunday we decided to visit the sea. We took the tram to the final stop and walked about 30 minutes. It was glorious and sunny and cold.

Then we walked to the harbour in search for lunch and a place to heat up again and it turned out that the side with the open restaurants was another good 20 minutes away, because there was no bridge and we had to take the very long way around the sailboat harbour.

When we finally found a place we went for moules frites in moule shaped plates. There was just enough time left to return to town, and visit a bobo café run by Americans. I had a Matcha Latte and regretted the safe choice. They also had the golden latte (milk with turmeric) which I already know. But they also had ruby latte – a drink made with beetroot. I reckon it will take at least three more months until this trend will hit trendy coffee bars in Paris. At least I haven’t found anything, so far.


La neige

Shortly after I wrote about the flood, Paris had its next extreme weather situation: 5cm of snow!

Surely a city the size of Paris can deal with a little bit of snow, I thought. Well, I was wrong.

It had been snowing during the day and it looked serious:

 

It kept snowing during the night and more snow had been announced by the météo. I expected snow ploughs during the night or people with shovels in the early morning hours. But when I left the house the next morning none of the snow was cleared. Not the streets, not the sidewalks, nothing.

A lot of my colleagues were late that day – a lot of trains didn’t go or were seriously delayed. I expressed my surprise at the snow not being cleared away and learned that Paris only gets snow like that every 10 years, so the city doesn’t have the material. And sure, you are supposed to clear the snow on the sidewalk in front of your house. But if you don’t, nothing will happen, so people took their time doing it, or just cleared the small bit that led to the door. It was mostly businesses that cleared the snow or used salt. I guess it makes sense – it’s bad business if people break their necks on the way to buy your stuff.

The inevitable happened – during the day it got warmer and a lot of the snow turned into slush. But during the night, it snowed again and got colder again and snow day number 2 was basically just everyone fighting for themselves in the frozen hell that was Paris (I exaggerate, but not by much).

I also learned that French people mostly don’t have snow tyres, can’t really drive in the snow but don’t let that stop them from driving in the snow.

Gergö and I had planned to spend the weekend in Montpellier and there were 2 more centimetres of snow announced for the Friday we wanted to leave. I prepared myself mentally for being stuck on a train for hours trying to get out of Paris. Instead it was a smooth train journey down south with no delays of problems whatsoever.


Encore une crue à Paris

I’ve been blogging for about two and a half years and I probably know all my readers personally. It’s my family, my friends in Vienna, Gergö’s brother (hi!) and one or two people in France. When I check the stats for the blog it’s always in the same low range (and that’s fine! I’m mostly trying to keep a record and keep my loved ones back home up to date with my life).

Ten days ago, the stats were unusually high. I looked closer and saw that there were 40 clicks originating from the same person in France. I immediately got paranoid and wondered if a coworker had found the blog. I tried to remember if I’d written anything objectionable but I think the weirdest thing was probably the story about the ob/gyn.

I told Gergö about the statistical anomaly and he just said “Ah, yes, that was me.” I recently linked to older blog entries, and so he started to re-read the entire blog. Apparently he’s sentimental like that, from time to time.

I’ll include some back-links again, but it’s not Gergö-baiting, I swear! It’s just that the Seine is flooding again. I complained about all the rain recently. Apparently there was enough of it that the Seine reached 5.50 m late January. For reference, during the flood of June 2016 (oh and here’s part 1 of the photo story), where the ground floor of our building was a metre under water, the Seine reached 6.10 m.

At 5.50 m the Zouave of the pont de l’Alma is about waist deep in water, all the river banks are closed and the RER C doesn’t stop at a few of city center stations. I’m occasionally checking the status and there was a short period of relief earlier this week, but now we are back up at 5.50m again. When I check the flood news, I always check the map of the area that is threatened by flooding and gleefully note that our old apartment on rue de Bercy went from the purple to the pink area. That means the 2nd underground floor, where our cellar was, is in danger of being flooded AND I DON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT! We live far enough away from the river that it took me an entire week to realise that there is flooding.

When Gergö was away for a few days for a conference I went to the city center to hunt pokemon, shop and check out the flood situation along with a million other people with better cameras.

ile de la cité flooded with brown water. The tops of bushes and trees stick out of the water

That’s the western end of the Île de la cité on the pont neuf side, where you can board Seine cruise boats.

I also went for a long Saturday walk in the district, finally finding the entrance to the Jardin Ruisseau, the communal garden that I recently learned about.

I also took the Montmartre bus up to the basilica again and this time it didn’t rain.

Sacre Cœur, photographed from below with a lot of people on the stairs in the foreground

At work we celebrated epiphany. Not a single French person could explain what exactly it is we are celebrating on epiphany (but I already knew that, it was only a test!), just that it is vitally important to eat almond filled cake. Unlike the office Christmas party, for epiphany we were also served alcohol. Apparently it’s tradition to drink cidre with your galette.

When traditional cake eating month is over, there’s Chandeleur. It’s on February 2nd, and it’s traditional to eat pancakes on this day. Again, nobody could say why, just that the crêpes are really important and Nutella also plays a vital role in this holiday.

I knew of February 2nd as Maria Lichtmess, the day the Christmas decorations would traditionally be taken down and the end of the 40 days of Christmas season. Traditionally as in, my grandma thought that was kind of old fashioned. I didn’t know the actual background either, but Wikipedia explains in detail: In German it’s Darstellung des Herrn, in English it’s called Candlemas).

I don’t mind that people don’t know the religious reasons for eating cake on a certain day. I’m totally down with it. I’m just really curious and want to know why galettes and why pancakes! And I always assume that people would have learned about it, in school. But France is secular, there’s no religious education in school. You only learn about Christianity if your parents sent you to Sunday school.

I also went back to the dodgy street market, this time with Gergö. It was on a Sunday afternoon and it was everything I’d hoped for, photo-opportunity wise:

Recently my entire day was made already before 9 am. Surprisingly, it wasn’t related to croissants, pains au chocolat or pattes d’ours. I watched a truck lift an illegally parked car into the air on straps. 

It all didn’t take longer than 5 minutes and the guy was operating the truck and doing the lifting all alone. It was pretty cool. I include the pictures here for the drivers among you, just in case you ever wanted to park in Paris.

 


J’ai essayé le yoga à Paris

I missed boxing class two times in a row and decided I really need to try find a yoga class that suits me better than the Ashtanga class I gave up on in autumn. So I googled yoga studios in the vicinity and found one that looked okay. I chose the intermediate class, not because I thought beginners would be too easy, but because beginners class was at 6pm and I have to work until then. I figured I could just do the easy version of those poses that are too difficult.

I showed up about 10 minutes early, because the website said you should, to get changed etc. The studio had two large shop windows and they were dark. That’s weird, beginners yoga should be on right now, I thought and got up real close to the window to see inside. That’s when I realised the beginners were in the middle of shavasana and I was staring at them through the enormous windows. It was also then that I realised that there are exactly 0 minutes between one class ending and the next one beginning.

When it finally opened my first impression was: this smells of feet. The second one was: the changing room is in fact a just a small space behind a curtain and we are going to practise yoga in a shop window. I took the mat furthest from the window, which was the one that everybody who wanted to use the loo had to climb over to get back to the room.

The class was way, WAY too hard for me. And the teacher was not the encouraging kind, but the making fun of some of his regulars kind when they weren’t concentrating. I should have just walked out when he instructed us to jump into a standing position from kneeling on the mat.

By this time I had already decided to not come back after my trial course. My decision was confirmed when there was omming in the beginning AND shanti-shanti AND then there was chanting. What I had missed when I was checking out the website is that the intermediate class is a vinyasa inspired class and apparently there is chanting involved.

The only upside to the class was the very long shavasana at the end. I didn’t understand a word of what I suspect was supposed to be a guided meditation. Strong accent when speaking French while trying to sound soothing in an mostly empty room makes for terrible acoustics. Instead I spent most of the time thinking about the mushroom paprikas that Gergö had promised me would be waiting for me at home.

I had been using one of the mats provided. The studio website said you should clean the mat after using it. But the studio website also said come 10 minutes early and yes, there’s a changing room. Based on the sweaty feet smell I figured nobody cleaned their mat after use.

But when the lights came back on, everyone jumped up and grabbed a spray bottle and a rag from a shelf and starting spraying and rubbing down their mats. I did the same and then grabbed my coat and walked home on shaky legs. I’ve had courbature / Muskelkater / aching muscles since Friday morning.

So, my first attempt of taking up yoga again wasn’t a great success, but there are a few more studios in the area. I’ll just try them all until I find one I like that doesn’t smell of feet.

 

 

 


Il pleut beaucoup

The last two weekends were depressingly rainy. Despite our best intentions we didn’t took any of the Saturday walks we planned.

Instead we went on a short bus ride up to Sacre Cœur. There’s an electric bus that goes up all the way to the church, making a long, winding ascent on narrow roads.

It was raining so strongly, we didn’t see anything of the view from up on Montmartre. The bus windows were completely fogged up and it poured down, so we stayed on the bus and took it right back home. You’ll have to look at the photos I took of Sacre Cœur and the view in Octobre 2015, when the weather was much nicer.

To be honest, we mostly took the bus to catch pokemon while making a few kilometers. But even if you don’t play Pokemon Go, it’s a good bus line. It leaves right across from the merry-go-round that still plays Christmas songs at the Mairie du 18ème – (all arrondissements have their own city hall). It’s 5 minutes from our place and you can stop by a bakery to buy croissants for your bus ride. It stops right in front of Sacre Cœur and then goes on to Pigalle, which is a metro stop and also an area that has all the dodgy bars and strip clubs. If you get out at Sacre Cœur you can take the funicular down and check out the fabric shops that cluster around the east side of the foot of Montmartre.

We did something fun on Friday night, though (your mileage may vary): two of my colleagues and a friend from Gergö’s work and Gergö and I all raided Pokemon together. It was freezing and windy, and I finally caught a legendary pokemon that had been missing from my Pokedex. Gergö also caught one. It’s his strongest pokemon and he uses it in all raids now. He is already a level 25 player, despite only having played for 2 weeks.

What you see when you spend Friday night raiding legendary Pokemon

This Monday I missed boxing class because I hadn’t been feeling well. So I finally located the marché des biffins (vaguely translates to ragpicker’s market) that I usually miss by going directly boxing after work. It’s a small side street before the underpass where I always see the street vendors on Monday mornings. It was dark but it looked like it was well visited, so I had a look.

 

The street starts with the same kind of vendors like in the underpass: people who sell shoes, clothes, electronics from a big cloth they have spread on the floor. Some illuminate their wares with their cell phone flashlights. I also saw someone looking over a pair of winter boots with using his phone as a flashlight. People were starting to pack up, but it was still pretty busy. At one moment I noticed that I was the only woman on the street, but there were plenty of people on the street, there was nothing threatening going on and no one seemed to pay any attention beyond advertising their wares.

As the street goes on, the vendors get more professional looking and more substantial in their set up – tables and furniture, tarp roofs to protect the wares. One one side people were selling right from their rather run down looking warehouses. Still further on the street goes past marché Malik and then Dauphine and Malassis. On that level most vendors have real stalls and most of them sell sportswear, tennis shoes and printed t-shirts.

I love the pigeon wearing swag

Today a friend from work told me that a colleague was assaulted on Monday night on his way to the metro line 4, which is pretty much where I walk every day. I don’t know any details other than he got a fist in his face. But I think it’s the first time I heard of anything happening despite people at work saying how dangerous and dodgy St Ouen is. I refuse to be scared, though. Ok, I might put my phone away and not whip it out all the time to take pictures of swag wearing pigeon graffiti, but I refuse to be scared.

I was going to hit post on this entry but then I realised that I hadn’t included a single food photo. Well, I didn’t want to post the one of the tartare I had a the (best, according to tripadvisor) burger place because the day after I got sick and missed boxing class.

But I wanted to tell you about the fancy brunch at Chez Claus, a small breakfast place. I was invited for my birthday! I had delicious scones, followed by a tartine with mushrooms, avocado and a poached egg. I think that constitutes a 7 on the Verena food preference scale. They also make a big mug of coffee to my taste: usually they add 2 double espresso, but for me it was 1 single espresso. The rest is milk.

It looked as good as it tasted

My friends also gave me present: An escape game set in an airplane. I think the hardest part won’t be escaping but trying to find a date when it’s open and free and everyone has time and coordinating that on facebook messenger.


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.