Lyon à 36 degrés

In July we also spent a long weekend in Lyon. I had never visited before and it’s the third biggest city with an excellent TGV connection that gets you there in 2 hours.

We arrived on Thursday and moved into a little apartment on the 5th floor. It’s in Lyon’s old town, so a really old building. The entrance had vaulted ceilings. It was a hot weekend and the host assured us that there is an air condition unit. It was one of those where you need to put the pipe out of the window, so in order to have air con on, you need to open the window, which negates the effect of the air condition. There was also a large fan so it was mostly okay.

One of the things everyone recommends to do in Lyon is visit the basilica on the hill Fourvière. There’s a funicular going up to the hill so because of the heat and my laziness and love for funiculars we rode up there. The view is beautiful and after an appropriate amount of admiring the view we had lunch in the shade of a large chestnut tree.

The walk downhill was through a park with lots of trees, so shaded enough, so we wandered down the serpentines back into town.

We had dinner in the old town as well. The landlord had prepared us: These streets are touristy, expensive and the food is nothing special. We only eat in rue de boeuf. So we basically took the first bouchon we saw and settled in. A bouchon is a traditional Beisl/tavern particular to the region and serves hearty food. I had been warned about andouillette, so even though I’m adventurous I went for quenelles instead. In my case it was quenelles made from fish with crayfish sauce and it was delicious. Gergö had poached eggs in red wine sauce and chicken liver cake. Not exactly light summer food, but I think he enjoyed it. For additional frenchness there was a musician around the corner who played “La vie en rose” on their clarinet.

Because Friday was expected to get 35 degrees Gergö had researched a lake to swim in a little outside of Lyon. There’s a large park called miribelle with several lakes and a bus from the Eastern edge of Lyon to take you there. Apparently there is one private beach with fancier infrastructure (I saw an inflatable waterslide in the lake!), but most beaches are free and even have toilets and a kiosk and life guards. We found a place in the shade and I even thought the temperature was okay. At some point in the afternoon I saw that the life guards had up a sign saying 37 degrees. My phone thought it was 36. The lake was warm as well and we spent quite some time in there. Enough time for me to get sunburned on my shoulders.

The lake.  Ahhhhhhh.

People were making fires all around us and barbecued things. I was surprised it’s allowed, but I don’t know why I’m still surprised about things. It’s not like the French don’t make fires next to the lake just because it’s not allowed.

Friday night was the night of the lunar eclipse. I had read about it, then forgotten about it again. When the subject came up again, we discussed what to do and wanted to maybe try going up the fourvière again, but we missed the last funicular. So instead we stayed in town. Which was okay, because it was too cloudy to see anything at first. We hung around the bridge where lots of tourists hung out, had fancy ice cream (grapefruit with gin tonic sauce!) and later caught a glimpse of the red moon with bits missing.

A view of the River. I think this is the Rhône, but I couldn’t swear by it.

On Saturday it started to rain. At first it didn’t really cool off that much. It was just as hot but now also damp which is the worst of both worlds. But during the day it got cooler and the rain stopped around noon. We spent the morning/early afternoon in the museum.

Lyon apparently is birthplace of Kasperl / Guignol (like Punch, but more suitable for children). There are shops selling all kinds of puppets and a museum dedicated to Guignol and I still find large dolls extremely creepy, so we didn’t visit that museum.

Instead we went to the musée de confluences. It is a very modern science and ethnology museum. It’s where the two rivers of Lyon, the Rhône and the Saône flow together, hence the name.

I quite liked their various exhibitions. There was an exhibition on the Tuareg and how the west created a myth around them. There was a large permanent exhibition on the origin of the world. I liked how they combined various creation myths (Inuit, Aboriginal) with various periods in the history of the world that can be thought of the beginning – the formation of the earth, the first vertebrates, the first humans.

There was also an exhibition on death and funerary rites and there was a Peruvian mummified body buried in foetal position.


Londres par train, la troisième fois

When we decided to move back to Austria we also booked another train ticket to London, just because it’s still really awesome to be able to take a train to London and go to London city center in two and a half hours.

We were on the train with the loudest British person I’ve ever heard. She spent the entire time talking to her seat mate about the most asinine topics ever. I realise that most of my conversations aren’t that interesting either, but at least I don’t have a voice that carries like hers did. I heard everything about how Australians call contactless payment paywave and not contactless, which is way more logical (except it’s not actually contactless, it’s without PIN but you touch the terminal with your card).

My brother in law had invited us to an English garden party. I started joking about bringing typically French things, like cheese and wine from France. That turned serious soon and we ended up taking a kilo of brie and a 5 litre box of rosé on the train to London. Mostly because I really wanted to buy the big one kilo wheel of brie once in my life while avoiding having a one kilo wheel of brie in my fridge for an extended period of time.

We stayed in a hotel on brick lane again, because we are bobos. A friend told me, that I’m not a bobo, but I enjoy the bobo lifestyle. Well, we had breakfast at a vegan café that offers a free community space for things like yoga and meditation. It also has a big blackboard that records the coffees that have been paid forward. So yeah, bobos, I think.

We visited all the same markets and food stalls again. I even recognised some of the street art I had photographed before in the area. In view of the upcoming move I managed to avoid buying too many things. Well, I bought small Frida Kahlo bags and paracetamol. The paracetamol I only bought because it’s so incredibly cheap in the UK and you can get it at any decent supermarket. That probably explains why France has twice the number of pharmacies per capita – they have a pharmacy monopoly even for over the counter medicine.

On Saturday, we took our cheese and wine to A’s small back garden and enjoyed a lovely English summer day. We even fired up the barbecue and I learned that there is diet tonic for a calorie reduced version of gin and tonic. We had skewers and vegan burgers and tabouleh and homemade raspberry tarte. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and evening in London. I include the little dairy product rant by A’s French friend in this review. 

On Sunday we had another bobo breakfast (eggs benedict!) and then we went to Selfridges. I wanted to buy period panties, because I’d heard of them and didn’t want to order them online – there’s simply too much choice. I had heard of them on the Guilty Feminist, a podcast I have been listening to for the last 6 months while walking to work. It’s a podcast about feminism by a comedian who invites other female comedians on to talk about all kinds of topics. I’ve laughed out loud on my way to work more than once. Deborah Frances White, who created the podcast and hosts it, likes to say “unexplained laughter disrupts the patriarchy” when people write in to say how they laughed out loud on the bus.

We checked out the food and drink selection of Selfridges as well and I went full bobo and bought avocado crisps (they were very hard and didn’t taste of avocado. I’d have been surprised if they had, to be honest.). I resisted a whole lot of other things, though. Gergö went from “no, we’ll buy beer to bring back to France later, at a supermarket”, to “wait here while I get a basket for my selection of fancy ales.” in under two minutes. I think it’s the puns that convinced us. One of the brands was called Yeasty Boys, how could you resist?

For Sunday night Gergö had tickets to see Paul Simon on his goodbye tour. The concert was in Hyde Park. I had a ticket for the recording of the Guilty Feminist at the open air theatre in Regent’s park.

It was awesome. There was an all-female a-capella group from Oxford, the Oxford Belles singing a medley of feminist songs. Because it was shortly after pride Deborah had invited LGBTQ+ people as guests. There were two people from Uganda and Tanzania who introduced their organisation to support LGBTQ+ refugees from countries where homosexuality is illegal. And there were two Brits talking about how their queer spaces had been sold to property developers to be turned into luxury flats.

The Reverend Kate Harford who is an ordained chaplain of the Metropolitan Community Churches – an explicitly LGBT+ affirming church, led a litany for queer spaces. So I actually prayed with a large group of people. Grace Petrie, a folk singer/songwriter, sang her song “black tie” after taking a stand against transphobia. There had been a take over staged by trans-exclusive radical feminists of the pride parade. They claim trans women are not women. Grace used the opportunity to say that these few activists who claim to act on behalf of lesbian women don’t speak for her. There were standing ovations for her, because that’s the kind of community it is. I already don’t get why anybody gets worked up about somebody else’s gender expression, but TERFs make me really angry because they must have experienced misogyny and homophobia themselves and yet turn those same dumb arguments against people. 

For the grand finale all guests got up on stage to sing “I will survive” together with a drag queen that had been a regular performer at one of the queer pubs. 

I love the podcast and how it introduces me to so many interesting topics and so many great comedians and artists. I love that it’s so inclusive and how it talks about a whole lot of uncomfortable topics with a lot of humour and self-deprecation. And there are not a lot of people in my life who share my interest in this topic. It was very refreshing being in a space with so many feminists in one place.

And I really, really didn’t mind missing out on the football championship finale. After France won the semi-finals there was honking and cheering until long after midnight. I don’t even want to know what it was like on the champs elysees on that day. People flock there to celebrate AND it was the day after bastille day. Still, French football patriotism seemed very different from the German counterpart. When Germany won the last championship we were on a houseboat in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and there were German flags everywhere – on houses and cars. In Paris I saw one single car with a French flag. There are flags hanging from windows, but fewer than I saw in Berlin when Germany were in the finals.

Our train back from London was on Monday afternoon, so we decided to go visit the Victoria and Albert museum Monday morning. There was a Frida Kahlo exhibition on. But when we tried to buy tickets at the museum all slots for the day had already been booked. I hadn’t even realised that museums can sell out. 

So instead we took a walk along the Thames, all the way to the Borough market. We had pies, because English, but also because the queue for the Thai food was really long. I also had goat milk ice cream, because it exists and must be tried. It tasted just like ice cream which is great, because I like ice cream and it was hot.

All during our stay the London underground had warnings posted to drink enough water and to talk to an attendant if you feel unwell and I thought that pretty ridiculous – It was 28 or 29 degrees and I believe nobody has ever felt well on the London underground.

Back in Paris the temperatures started climb as well. On Thursday it got up to 32 degrees in Paris. When we boarded the metro to go to gare de Lyon there were announcements in three languages to stay hydrated and in the German version I also heard something like “befeuchten Sie Ihren Körper” which I found really weird because we humans have a mechanism for that: it’s called sweat. For Lyon the preview was up to 35 degrees and I was fully prepared to spend the day at the shopping mall if it gets too much. I’m not built for this kind of heat and I’d rather miss out on Lyon than torture Gergö with my foul mood. (Spoiler alert: We went to a lake instead, it was awesome.)


Mont Saint Michel

 

Last weekend, we left for Mont St Michel on Saturday morning by TGV from Paris. In Rennes we took a bus for the last kilometres of the journey. 

The village of Mont Saint Michel consists of an enormous parking space and a road with hotels and restaurants and a souvenir ship on the main land and then the bridge to the sometimes island with the abbey and the old town.

The parking space sounds bad, but is great: everyone has to park there, before even entering the village. So the main road is very quiet and the only thing driving past are the free shuttle busses and the horse carriages driving from the parking space to the abbey and back.

The shuttles have a driver’s seat on both ends. So at the end of the bridge the bus doesn’t turn around. The driver just walks to the other end of the bus and drives right back. It’s a neat idea. But the busses don’t have a lot of space for their size. There’s a large area behind one of the drivers seats that can’t be accessed and I can’t figure out why.

I had no idea that the bridge was so long – it’s a 30 minute walk (slow, because of the heat and frequent stops to take photos).

 

I didn’t know anything about the Mont before visiting, so I was a little surprised that it’s only a real island for a few days every year, when the tide is very high. Most of the time the flood doesn’t go all the way around. 

I also didn’t realise that there is more than an abbey on the Mont. Like most abbeys there was a little village below the abbey. That village is now mostly restaurants, souvenir shops and a few hotels. There is a path around the fortification walls of the southern half of the mont that we walked. It gives a good view of the bay. I would have loved to see more of the the Northern side, the part that looks out onto the sea (the English Channel) but that’s only really accessible from the abbey. 

We climbed up all the uneven stone steps to the top of the Mount and took a little tour of the abbey. Work was started in the 11th century and it’s quite an impressive building complex. Apparently it’s also a popular spot for a pilgrimage and on Saturday a few scout groups arrived, carrying banners. They walked around the island once and I saw them really far out in the bay in the afternoon. 

During our visit the high tide was around 21:30 and again at 9:30. The website where we looked up the values said that to get a good look at the flood coming in you should be there 2 hours in advance. So around 6 we settled in for an apero with a view of the bay and watched nothing happening for around 2 hours. There was an American couple drinking cidre and wine and taking photos and having a good time that stayed as long as we did. At some point we had food – oysters and lamb for gergö and gratin de morue for me. And nothing continued to happen. 

At some point the water was visibly closer than when we started the apero but there was no impressive flash flood or anything. Gergö got talking with the American couple and we chatted – they were on their honeymoon and in France for the first time. It was lovely, we chatted, we looked out onto the bay and water started to come in faster and closer. There was a group of people out on the sand, flying a drone, then running to get back on land on dry feet, when they noticed that the water started to close in on them. 

And about at that time D., the American, gesticulated with his hand, that was holding his phone and it went over the railing and landed in the sand right underneath. He decided to run along the rempart, down the steps, out the mont and around the wall to retrieve it. 

When we saw him come around the wall below he had taken his shoes off and was wading into the water that closed off the last bit of sand – the bit his phone had landed. He ran up, grabbed the phone and sprinted back through the water. Two minutes later the place his phone had been was already covered in water by the incoming flood. He arrived a few minutes later, with wet trousers and sandy feet, but a working phone with all the photos from the honeymoon still on it.

The big French family on the table next to the American couple had watched and cheered him on, like we did. Then it turned out that someone had videoed the entire thing – first the last people running for the land when the water was closing in, then him coming around the corner, us pointing, him retrieving the phone, us cheering. We ordered another bottle of cidre to celebrate the heroic act and cheer with our French videographers. He hugged and kissed to the French lady and it turned out it was her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband this evening and they had been celebrating with their children and grandchildren.

We ended up staying on the Mont until sunset – which is at 11pm. We crossed back onto the main land in the middle of a large group of pilgrims wearing high-visibility vests.

There are warning signs everywhere not to go out onto the bay without a guide, but all the guided tours only started at 2pm and I only wanted to take a little walk, not do a 2 hour tour in direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day.  And there were lots of people walking around on the sand at the entrance to the mont. We thought maybe we could do that on Sunday – not go out into the bay, where there is quicksand, apparently, but stay close to the Mont. 

On Sunday morning it rained for a short while – we stuck it out in a souvenir shop and didn’t even buy one of about 100 different items of clothing with blue or black stripes on them. So when we walked out onto the sand it was pretty muddy and Gergö changed his mind about taking a little walk. I squished around in the mud for a little while and then spend a long time trying to wash it off with a water bottle and several trips to the drinking fountain. The water fountain had a large sign saying it’s not allowed to wash your feet in it so I assume it’s a common problem.

After some more climbing of steps and taking photos from the village and the cemetary and the church, we wandered back across the bridge. We had read that the little dam that stores water up the river is opened 6 hours after high tide, but when we arrived a little before that, the dam was open and water was flowing through it freely. 

Apparently they built the dam to avoid that sediment from the bay is swept up into the river. The water is stored during low tide and then released to wash more of the sediment out into the sea. Or something. My vocabulary regarding dams, water and tides is very limited in all the languages I speak. and by the time I watched the short film in the air conditioned visitors’ center next to the bus stop I was so tired, I didn’t really follow anymore.


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.