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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chess 4 Fun!

And Hackney city farm, so we visited the animals.

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

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

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

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



Au revoir Bercy, bonjour Clignancourt

The move went as well as could be expected.

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

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

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

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

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

After the first run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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