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.


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.