Londres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chess 4 Fun!

And Hackney city farm, so we visited the animals.

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

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

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

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

 

 


Au revoir Bercy, bonjour Clignancourt

The move went as well as could be expected.

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

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

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

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

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

After the first run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Les lieux speciaux de Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A golden brown bit crescent of fried dough.

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

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

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


old sign advertising electricity, showers and phones in hotel Frochot

Encore un déménagement

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

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

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

The loudest sofa in the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish us luck!


Another pretty view of little France across the river Ill

Strasbourg

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

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

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

"Ici tombent en ruine les merveilles de votre cuisine"

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

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

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

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

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

via GIPHY

 

 


Chez Disney et Astérix

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

Disneyland entrance area with a building with many turrets

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

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

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

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

A building with a tent like roof and protruding antannae

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

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

a golden humanoid robot

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

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

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

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

gergös furry wookie slippers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stack of bowls looking like Obelix' belly

 


La vie est ce qu’elle est

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A graffito of a girl crossing her arms in front of her body like in a defense move

Untitled

Shortly after the rentrée (as everyone calls the return to work after the summer holidays, but also the start of the school year) Gergö and I went to the parc de la villette. I’d heard from my Pokemon Go playing colleagues that there are always lots of raids going on.

It was a beautiful summer day. I’d been to the park once before but forgotten about it. In the sunshine the big globe of the science museum’s imax cinema is really impressive. They also have a u-boat on display and an enormous toboggan. There were only kids in the line for the toboggan, so we didn’t try it out. We might have to come back at a later time, when the kids have gone to sleep. There’s also a big event hall and under the canopy there are people doing breakdance, practising acro yoga and other impressive feats. I always wonder how they agree on the music to play in a place like this. There was also an elderly lady pushing a pram with cold drinks around. We also walked past the concert hall, la philharmonie and looked at the canal st martin.

On another Saturday I went for a walk with my friend, took photos of street art and had a Pokebowl. I was only a little disappointed that it has nothing to do with Pokemon Go. It’s a Hawaiian dish with fresh vegetables and raw fish over rice and it was delicious.

The Menu of the Poke bar with photos of their bowls

Poke Bar that has nothing to do with Pokemon Go.

The first September weekend Gergö’s dad came for a visit and we did a few touristy things – the tour Montparnasse. It’s one of the few skyscrapers in central Paris. They say after they saw how ugly it was Paris decided to build no other high rise buildings in the city, but it actually has more to do with the statics of the city.

We also went to visit the Louvre – a first for Gergö, I think. We spent a few hours in there. It amazed me, again, how few people check out the Egyptian collection. Even in the room of the Venus of Milo it is comparatively calm compared to the mayhem that is Mona Lisa. Very fittingly we overheard a group of American tourists say: “We saw the Mona Lisa, Ah think we’re done here.”

Once a month (except for the summer) we have lunch together at work and this time we went all the way from the sad ugly part of St Ouen to the artsy part at Paris’ biggest the flea market.

 


Alea iacta est

After our little trip to Austria we had Gergö’s brother visit for a few days.

He was really motivated to do some sightseeing, so we went on a walk of the petite ceinture. It’s a lot like the promenade plantée – a raised disused railway line that used to connect various Parisian train stations. And it’s called ceinture, because it goes around Paris like a little belt.

Even though the little belt went around most of Paris at one time, only parts of it are now open to the public. We went to a section in the 15th district which led directly to Parc Georges Brassens. Apparently there’s a book market there – we could see the empty stalls.

We also went to Centre Pompidou again. I hadn’t been in a year, and A. wanted to see the David Hockney exhibition. I usually visit the 5th floor, with the permanent exhibition of modern art and then I am too tired to look at much else. This time we looked at Hockney of whom I had only a vague idea and then Walker Evans who I’d have sworn is an actor who plays super heros.

This time I also took some time to look  at the contemporary art as well and I liked a lot of things. Last time Gergö and I loved the big pile of shredded money and a room that was extremely quiet. It was insulated with wool all around. Very strange feeling.

This time there was a former record shop that the owner, Ben, had turned into a museum of everything. I was impressed enough to try to google the art work with only this information. I found it on the Centre Pompidou website. There’s a picture of the whole thing, go look at it!

I also saw the meat dress for the first time. The one Lady Gaga got into trouble with PETA for wearing. I didn’t recognise it at all at first, because it’s all dried and odd looking.

But we didn’t only look at art, we also used almost every meal to have fancy food and drinks in nice locations. And most of it wasn’t too crowded because Paris really is empty in August, except for a few tourist hot spots.

In between all the food and apéro I managed to play quite a bit of Pokemon Go – There are raids now, where several people have to fight an arena boss together in order to defeat them and to get a chance to catch them. During the last couple of weeks legendary pokemon were released this way. These are birds that don’t occur in the wild, so your only chance of getting one is a raid. You need  about 8 people or more to defeat them. So if you are not in a group of players, you show up to centrally located raids and hope other people will show up too.

That’s what I did for a raid in my neighbourhood and because it’s the summer there were enough people in the middle of the day to defeat the boss. Then a few people decided to go on another raid, across the river and I tagged along. It happened to be in the rue René Goscinny. I’d been there once before, where I took the photo of “Ils sont fous, ces Romains!”. Turns out there are more of those signs along the street and a tile on the ground with one of the more famous quotes attributed to Julius Caesar.

The last free day I spent playing Pokemon with a friend who was passing through the city. We wandered around town looking for rare Pokemon and raids.

In other news, the elevator still isn’t repaired. I though the notice inside said August 1st-31st in order to be on the safe side. But it really takes this long, apparently. Every time I leave and every time I come back, I hopefully push the elevator button. Since Friday it glows green when pushed, but nothing further happens. By the end of August I might get used to the 7 flights of stairs (I won’t).

 


À l’enfer et de retour

We just returned home from holidays in Austria. When I last saw my family in Salzburg in May I asked them if they wanted to go on a holiday together. My office closes for two weeks in August, so I had to take the time off anyway. And I wanted to see my family, but I also wanted to do something that feels more like a holiday than hanging out at my mom’s and my sister’s place.

They agreed and so we went looking for a place to rent for a week for 6 to 8 adults and 4 small kids. I’d have loved to go to Croatia, but the triplets aren’t up for long car rides. In the end we decided on lake Neusiedl. It’s only an hour from Vienna. I didn’t find anything on Airbnb but I got some recommendations from a friend so I found apartments in Podersdorf. It’s the only beach of lake Neusiedl, all other places have the Schilfgürtel (a belt of reeds around the lake, sometimes several kilometres deep).

The apartments were in an area from Podersdorf that time forgot. Dark red curtains, weird green couches, balcony tables far to large for the balcony. My sister thinks they just put everything that’s no longer needed in the nice hotel in these apartments. It was cheap, though, and there was a Spar with excellent air conditioning only 200 metres away. And a little playground (a swing, a plastic house, and a slide) in the yard right underneath a tree. My sister had even packed an inflatable pool for the kids.

Apparently they are really proud of their heating, not that we ever needed it.

I mention the air conditioning, because it was really very hot. I’d happily run all shopping related errands just to check out the supermarket’s drinks department, separated by a door and extra cool. When I booked the apartment I was a little worried what we’d do with 3 cranky toddlers if it rained for an entire week. Summers in Austria are no guarantee for sunshine. They can go either way. But instead of rain we had a week of 32 – 35 degrees celsius. The lake had the temperature of a bathtub.

The cool thing about Podersdorf is that the lake doesn’t get much deeper than 1m there. Even I can comfortably walk all the way to the buoys. It also means that when we went into the water with the triplets my shoulders were rarely under water and despite the SPF 50 I got a sunburn on the first day.

The kids have just started to enjoy the water more – they have been visiting my dad’s partner’s family and their pool and I think their step cousins left a big impression. A. mentioned their diving several times (“auch untertauchen!”) and wanted to try as well. She only ever let the water cover her mouth, swallowing a bit of sea water, but on the last day she wanted to go without the floating tyre, to practice.

The other cool thing about lake Neusiedl is that with the apartment you get a card that lets you use the bus and the Strandbad for free. I misplaced mine about 2 days in and posed as my brother in law for the next several days. I blamed the loss of my card on the kids – they often showed up in our room before 7 am to watch youtube videos or photos. Sometimes I could keep them busy (and let their parents and sisters sleep a little longer), but sometimes the videos just didn’t cut it and they went back to their room to ask “Mama, mama, mama!” until she woke up (“Oh, she woke up!”). I still have the earworms from all the children’s songs in my head and they will never leave me (“Daddy finger, daddy finger weh a yu.”)

A few years ago I was at a friends party and somebody there kept saying “Lieb sein, nicht zwicken!” to their kid all the time. He never tried to pinch me, so I found her constant reminder more annoying than his interest in his surroundings.

With the triplets, my sister had to be more specific on occasion: Don’t pinch, scratch, bite or push your sister!” They could be extremely cute, all three of them on a tire swing on the playground, singing “happy birthday to you, marmalade im schuh” for every person they know. But they can be grumpy little beasts when they get tired and hungry and nothing is more tiring than a day at the beach.

We also went on a carriage ride in the nature reserve. Two mares pulled our carriage and impressed the kids. We got to see white donkeys, which are bred there. We saw herons and geese and cows. And we saw very little water – the summer has been so dry that a lot of the marshland that makes up the nature reserve has dried up. The coachman kept pointing out the places that are usually water.

An old drawing well and a tent like structure for sheperds

The lack of water meant that there were fewer mosquitoes than usual, but Gergö is still covered in many, many purple welts. Normally it’s me with the giant swollen mosquito bites, I don’t know why they went after him this time. I appreciate it, though. They even stung him on his ear, the soles of his feet and inside his belly button.

I’m a giant hypochondriac, so I immediately assumed Lyme disease when some of the stings developed a red circle. Then the red cross called and asked for blood donations and we found out that visits to Lower Austria get you banned from donating blood in France for 4 weeks, because there’s West Nile Virus.

It turned out to be an allergic reaction, of course, but now that I read up on West Nile Virus I have an entirely new disease with vague symptoms I can imagine having.

On Saturday my dad visited and we went on a boat ride. It was just families with little kids, a lot of “Arthur, be careful!”, “Leni, don’t lean out of the boat.” We went past Hölle, the hottest corner of Austria, apparently.

Then, in the afternoon we rented a pedal boat. We got one that looked like a beetle car and had a slide down the front of the boat. I imagined it would be dangerous, having these difficult to steer boats with kids sliding down being squished between them. But the lake is so shallow everyone but the kids could just stop the boats and even steer them from the outside while we were waiting to catch the sliding kids.

At the moment stand up paddling is all the rage and my brother in law recently got a board. I thought you just stand on a surf board, but the SUP is in fact inflatable. I tried it out as well and promptly fell on my butt. With a little instruction from the resident paddler, the second attempt went okay. It’s really not that difficult and my sense of equilibrium isn’t bad after all these years of yoga and pilates. But sports in a swimsuit on a reflecting surface must be the worst idea for someone with my skin color.

On the weekend Podersdorf had a Feuerwehrfest, the equivalent of the bal de pompiers in France. We dropped by for a cheap beer and terrible oompah music. It turns out there’s a Hungarian version of Rosamunde and my brother in law knows all the words to it.

Feuerwehrfest traditions

On Sunday it finally cooled down and it was windy. The lake was covered in the sails of kite surfers.

We had to get to Vienna to catch out flight, so we packed and left by bus. Then we took a train to Vienna, and Gergö forgot his suitcase on the train. He noticed 5 minutes after leaving the train but it was already gone when he went back to check. We spent a few hours trying to get it back, but the lost & found is closed on a Sunday and all we could do was write a message to get it delivered to France.

The ÖBB will send the suitcase to France for 30 €, that’s the same price as booking an extra piece of luggage for a cheap flight by Austrian Airlines, in case you were wondering. The one thing I’m concerned about is the damp towel I wrapped my damp biknis in before packing it in Gergös suitcase. I’ll find out if polyester molds soon enough, I guess. Maybe this means Gergö will stop making fun of me for the time I forgot to pack knickers for a week in Vienna. Probably not.