Allons enfants!

We are having a long weekend. Friday was Bastille Day, French independence day.

I asked my colleagues at work what is traditional to do on this day, but they just shrugged and said get drunk on champagne. When I asked again in our chat a couple of my colleagues tried to convince me it’s tradition to give presents to your coworkers. I am naive, but I didn’t fall for that one.

Recently a coworker said something in French with a fake American accent. I laughed, because I found it funny that he can do French with American accent but not American with an American accent. I asked him if he can do German accents as well. He sheepishly replied he did fake German accents several times but I never noticed. I can totally believe this and found it very funny. He even made the gesture that says “it went right over your head” to explain how I never noticed anyone speaking with a German accent. Since then I heard him do the accent and noticed it, but to me it sounds more like a Dutch accent. I strongly deny that my v’s sound like f’s! Another colleague who learned German in school and can still quote Beethoven’s Ode an die Freude does a better German accent, I thought. The other colleagues think it doesn’t count since he knows some German.

Back to the holiday weekend: as we learned on “What the fuck, France“, on the night before July 14th there are often firefighter balls. We went to the one in Palaiseau last year. It had a band that played French hits,sausages, and a VIP lounge for the mayor, and they were really proud of a productinvented in Palaiseau: plastic bags that fit a wine bottle. You freeze them to keep your wine cold.

I found it quite an authentic thing – like a Jahrmarkt or Feuerwehrfest would be in Austria. So we visited the bal de pompiers in the 12th district. They emptied out the fire station to make room for the main stage, the junk food truck and the beer and champagne bar. And they parked the fire trucks outside, so the garage could double as a disco. So far, so identical with anything comparable in Austria. Only the firefighters are indeed very fit in France and there’s no grilled chicken.

The band played a lot of film themed cover songs with costumes and choreography. I learned that there is a Lucky Luke song, only it’s pronounced Lüky Lük in French and not Löcky lük, as I would have expected.

We also checked out the “disco” and it was awesome. There was a group of teenage boys who showed up and danced. They impressed the girls so much, they got applause and were cheered on. At some point there was breakdancing. The crowd cheered! A white haired lady joined them on the dancefloor – Not breakdancing, but showing off her moves. She got a big round of applause. A little girl wearing a white dress, she can’t have been older than 10, did a split on the dancefloor. The teenage boys, middle aged ladies and little girls were a lot cooler than I remember my adolescence.

The other thing we tried out on Thursday night, even before ogling the pompiers and seamen, was the terrace of the hotel opposite our house. We’d been walking past the terrace several times but it was always closed. It’s in the backyard of an ugly Ibis hotel, looking out over the park. It has food trucks and furniture made from palettes and potted pear trees – what’s not to like?

I finally gave up just showing up there and hoping it would be open and googled the place. Turns out they made this fancy terrace but hate money so much that they only open it once a week – on Thursdays.

To be honest: fried maki won’t be my new favourite food.

On July 14th Gergö and I both had a moment where we thought “The train station is loud today, and sounds different from normal.” At about the same time we realised that it’s the air show over the Champs Elysees that went past our house as well.

In the evening we met up with a German friend and had our own little barbecue: there’s a place on Rue du Pot de Fer that offers barbecue on a hot stone. While we sat and ate a photographer with a big fancy camera walked around our table neighbours and took a million photos of them eating. Or possibly close ups of the hot stone.

Halfway during our meal the group left only to settle down at a bar across the street, still followed by the photographer. We don’t know any French celebrities, so we just said “must be an instagram star” and kept on eating. Right as we were leaving a young man bearing flowers walked past. He was also followed by photographers. He disappeared pretty quickly but a little further down the road we heard a crowd cheering and finally the young man in a woman’s embrace. There was kissing, and clapping and two people filming everything. I wonder if it’s up on YouTube yet.

We made our way to the Seine – we sort of wanted to see the fireworks, but really wanted to avoid the crowd. Along the Seine and on various bridges across people were already gathering at 10 pm. There were picknicks, beer, and champagne. We walked past a fairly busy area and settled down across the Musée d’Orsay.

I don’t include a picture of the Eiffel Tower on purpose – the light show is under copyright and you are not supposed to publish pictures of the Eiffel Tower lit up. The law of freedom of panorama (Panoramafreiheit) is limited in France (and Belgium, as far as I know).

Only at 11pm, when the fireworks started, did we realise why so many people were sitting a little further away: the firework was not actually higher than the Eiffel Tower, but about at the same height. So when you can only see the top third of the tower and the rest is covered by buildings and trees, you don’t see a lot of fireworks either. Oh well, we did our civic duty of watching the fireworks even if it was only a little bit of it.

Pile of stones with coffe cup on top

Déjà presque décembre

Another week has gone by in a blink and December is almost upon us!

This week I went to Paris to work in a café called le Cairn, close to the Eiffel Tower. When I looked at the website I was sure, I’d heard the word before. I just couldn’t place it. It’s not menhir, it’s not henge. Then I visited the café to work and voilà. It’s the same in French as in English apparently.

Pile of stones with coffe cup on top

When a nearby building site took out the jackhammer, I packed up and rewarded myself with a little Pokemon Go. I wandered to my usual spot at the north west corner, where there are three Pokéstops usually with active lures. In between catching Pokémon I looked up at the little pond and saw yet another heron. In the middle of Paris, right next to the Eiffel Tower. I’ve mentioned before how much these birds amaze me. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed, so I could share my delight and amazement. But everyone was intently looking into their phone, playing Pokémon. So I just enjoyed the moment and took a photo of a far away away heron.

heron at the eiffel tower

I went back to the city center, to catch a train home.

My day of unexpected delights didn’t end there. Next to Centre Pompidou I saw a Mongolian throat singing band playing horse hair violins. I didn’t dare film them, though I would have loved to share the music with my dad, who gets a kick out of good buskers. I did take a photo though.

Mongolian Band playing and singing overtone at Centre Pompidou

On Thursday I went to my French grammar class. One of my colleagues would have liked to join a conversation class, but since they are all full, our teacher instead suggested to spend some minutes of our grammar class talking every week.

She started off with a conversation about politics, because it was the week of the presidential primaries of the conservative and center parties of France. I think my colleague wasn’t thrilled about the development. She didn’t seem to be interested in politics much. Our teacher wanted to get us to talk about our countries presidential elections and asked me, what it’s like in Austria.

I think she only asked if we elect our president directly or indirecty. Instead of an answer I gave a summary of this year’s 4 past and future election (attempt)s. She praised me, because I used so much election specific vocabulary. And I was proud. Until I realised why I know all these words. I looked them all up to explain how fucked up the whole process was in Austria this year.

I learned something very interesting about the French voting process, however: They don’t have ballots with all the candidates in which you punch a hole or which you mark with a cross. They have individual papers for each candidate. Every voter takes all of the little papers, disappears behind a curtain and only puts one of the papers inside the envelope. The other candidate’s papers are discarded, or you put them in your pocket to discard at home. Our teacher claimed it invalidates the vote if you write on the ballot. At least that does away with the magic ink conspiracy theories, I guess.

After class I helped another colleague with her computer. It had gotten terribly slow and I said I’d have a look. Only after I had offered it occurred to me to ask about the language of her operating system. She assured me it wasn’t Cantonese, but French. Azerty keyboard layout is very confusing. I might be able to get used to swapped A, Z, and Q but having the M on the wrong row makes it completely impossible.

Looking at her machine I also found out that my computer vocabulary is non-existent in French. There are a few words I have in my passive vocabulary, like ecran and clavier, but I didn’t recognise start/reboot (re/demarrer) and was confused by gerer (manage), supprimer (delete) and éteindre (turn off).

As a thank you gift I got a little bag containing sesame honey sweets. They tasted delicious and exactly like the only sweets we got when we were kids and my parents didn’t let us have much sugar. I still know the name of the shop (a Reformhaus) where we got them and everything!

vacuum coffee makerMy favourite café is gearing up for Christmas shopping and has a very fancy new coffee maker in the window. The owner explained that this type of machine used to be a traditional wedding gift in the 1950s. She said that the brewing method is a mix of the Italian stove top espresso machines, the French press and the drip. The water goes into the bottom glass. The burner heats the water which is then forced into the upper container where it brews for a while and then is pushed down again through the filter when it cools off.

After some googling I think it’s a vaccuum coffee maker. The wikipedia article contains photos and a thorough explanation of the process. (And I wouldn’t expect anything less). So far I haven’t found out anything about its role as a traditional wedding gift but I’ve mostly read German and English sources so far, because the French results took me to Cafés you can hire to celebrate your wedding.

I still prefer my warm milk with only a drop of coffee. I probably could drink it with instant coffee and wouldn’t notice. But I love the look of the coffee maker. Very elegant!


Quoi de neuf, automne?

As I mentioned before, autumn makes me sleepy. In order to fight the urge to sleep, I have started going to Paris. I want to try out different cafés to work at. And when I’ve worked enough I can go hunt Pokémon and refill my Pokéball storage. Palaiseau doesn’t have enough stops to bide me over for longer than a few days.

CascaraI started some time in September, when I went to a café that serves Cascara, a drink that is made from the coffee cherry, that is the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. It tastes like weak coffee but fruitier and was served cold. I was a little proud for once to be a tiny bit ahead of the hipster drink curve. It will be disappointing to find out that it’s not a hip drink after all, just ridiculously expensive watered down coffee.

I’ve also met up with two different people I know from the internet® (that is the Techniktagebuch), to hunt Pokémon together. They were visiting Paris and had some time on their hands. And I’ve since discovered that the best spot in Paris is underneath Eiffel Tower. So I also tried to find cafés close by that are not just for tourists. I’ve even figured out the best route to take from my train (RER B). It’s an overground metro that passes by enough Pokéstops to refill your bag.

I have to admit, it all sounds terribly nerdy and like a waste of time, but on the other hand, I walked hundreds of kilometers since I began in early July. My app says it’s 489 km, to be exact. The down side of all this walking is that every kilometer walked without tracking feels like a terrible waste of precious hatching opportunity and my feet started to hurt again. I already have a prescription for new insoles. But I need to visit a Podologist to get them made and they don’t have opening hours. I have to call and make an appointment. So depending on how badly my feet hurt, I might never get those insoles made.

Another down side of playing so much Pokémon is that I usually have the app open. It’s much more stable now than it was in the beginning, but I’m still loathe to close it and reopen it, because it takes a long time to load. So I don’t take as many photos with my phone as I used to.

That’s a pity, because the opportunities are still there. There are always dozens of people taking photos on Place Trocadero, but I think this photo shoot was the best I whitnessed so far:

dog in a tutu

My bird identifying skills are non-existent (other than great tits and black birds), so I was super excited but clueless, when I saw this one as I crossed the bridge from the Eiffel Tower to Place Trocadero. A bit of googling and I think it’s a starling. I’m surprised that there are animals other than rats and pidgeons around the Eiffel Tower, but there you go.


There are lots of crows on the Champs de Mars, the little park underneath and to the South of the Eiffel Tower. I saw two tearing open a rubbish bag in order to get to the banana peel that was in there. Sometimes they are not acting all smart and problem solving and just hang out in trees.

crows perched in a tree

“Paris est trop petit pour ceux qui s’aiment d’un aussi grand amour.” – Random poetry I’d probably not like in German, but think very romantic in French. I think it’s also from Champs de Mars.


Quite unromantic, on the other hand: François Hollande. France is warming up for the presidential elections next year. I’m not even sure who made these stickers, but I love the facial expression. From reading the facebook about page I think it’s socialists who want a more socialist president but I might be wrong.

merci pour ce moment mais maintenant tu dégages

“Thanks for now, but it’s time to piss off”


Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

We had visitors again, this time with a little kid. It was the first time we had a toddler here! In order to be able to stay up later than an 18 month old, we let them take the bedroom and slept on the couch for the week. I have to say it’s not bad at all. The couch is comfy and I can spend all day in my current bed without appearing too lazy or anti-social.

Our guests enjoy walking through Paris (who doesn’t?) and were very tolerant of my Pokémon catching and egg hatching. I think that they are former Ingress players might have something to with it. One day we walked along the South bank from Notre Dame to Musée d’Orsay.

Along the way there’s a place I call coffee porn:

walking around Paris, I like the glimpses I get of shop windows and courtyards. This one is a bit WTF though.

Walking around Paris, I like the glimpses I get of shop windows and courtyards. This one is a bit WTF though.

Mona Lisa on the other hand is pretty neat.

Mona Lisa on the other hand is pretty neat.

The area around Musee d'Orsay is really pretty.

The area around Musee d’Orsay is really pretty.

It's not just the art, though. Also bank windows can be impressive.

It’s not just the art, though. Also bank windows can be impressive.

On a different day, we walked from Notre Dame all the way to the arc de triomphe. We wandered along the north bank of the Seine, researching Macarons. I opted for matcha ice cream instead. In this one fancy patisserie we found, they dunk it into liquid chocolate icing for you. I opted for the matcha chocolate icing.

matcha ice cream

many green, very matcha, wow!

We also strolled along the Seine beach for a little while.

circulation alternée

Because it’s the rentrée (back to school!) there were empty chairs and hardly any oncoming traffic at all, much less crocodiles. Nor alligators.

Champs Elysées is much longer than I remember, every single time. We made a stop at the Disney store.

There are no silly hat selfies this time, mostly because I couldn't figure out how to make this hat is supposed to fit.

There are no silly hat selfies this time, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to make this hat is supposed to fit.

Other than large chain stores, there are also a couple of surprising places on Champs Elysées.

like this courtyard of maison Denmark

like this courtyard of maison Denmark


In the end we didn’t go up to the arc because, as this picture nicely illustrates, you need to walk down stairs in order to get up again and we didn’t want to carry the pram down. Instead we opted for a playground break to dry out the toddler after a water bottle related accident. It always amazes me how such a small amount of water can get an entire baby and their pram soaking wet.

From the étoile we walked to the Eiffel Tower. Since we moved here, I had never approached it from this direction. It makes for really nice photos, though.

Nice view of the Eiffel Tower from the direction of place de la concorde.

Nice view of the Eiffel Tower from the direction of place Trocadéro (I wrote place de la concorde earlier, oops).

It’s also a great place for hunting Pokémon – I caught an Onix there and the last Magicarp I needed for the Gyrados. Today we discussed that we think it’s only a matter of time until the selfie stick vendors start selling battery packs as well.

We took a photo and crêpe break on place Trocadéro. The pigeons had brioche crumbs, hand fed by a fearless toddler.

let them eat brioche

When I realised what was going on, I started giggling and taking photos of pigeons being fed brioche, while repeating “Let them eat brioche!”. It all started making sense, when I explained that brioche is what Marie Antoinette allegedly said in the “Let them eat cake” quote.

Edited to correct place de la concorde – it was place Trocadéro, of course.



Ici repose Napoleon

One of the things my mum wanted to do when visiting Paris is visit the Dôme des Invalides, where they put Napoleon’s tomb.

After admiring the brown monstrosity that is Napoleons tomb we walked to the Eiffel Tower. On our way we found the ultimate Paris apartment: 8 m2!

8 square meters and energy class G. Just 95 000 Euros!

8 square meters and energy class G. Just 95 000 Euros!

I managed to successfully avoid climbing the Eiffel Tower, so far and mum neither wanted to climb the steps nor take the elevator. So we just admired the view and enjoyed the irony of the wall for the peace being instable and dangerous, so you weren’t allowed get close.

Later Gergö suggested to visit village Saint Paul. It’s several interconnected yards with little shops, artisans and cafés. Leaving the area we came across a motorcycle protest. Apparently the cyclists were protesting against a new anti-pollution law that would ban motorcycles registered before the year 2000 during weekdays. Fittingly they did that by polluting the city center with traffic, noise and, well, air pollution.

In the evening we visited Butte aux Cailles, which Gergö already wrote about. We went to the Basque restaurant again and I tried the duck with Roquefort sauce. I realy liked the food, but the place is very small and loud.

Duck with roquefort sauce. Sounds weird, looks odd, tastes great.

Duck with roquefort sauce. Sounds weird, looks odd, tastes great. Also, unlike my mum I have no shame whatsoever in photographing my food.

On Monday we walked to Montmartre and enjoyed the lovely view, the street art, a glass of chilled wine in the afternoon sun and the strange little shops of the quarter.

After Montmartre we went to visit Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise cemetery. The last time I was there it was a foggy February day, so it was interesting to see the place in a different light.

Mum had already announced that she really wanted to see the Bayeux tapestry, so we took a day to get there. Bayeux is in Normandy, about 2.5 hours by train from Paris. Apart from the world famous tapestry that’s almost 1000 years old, there’s also a cathedral and a D-Day museum.

The tapestry is embroidered on linen and something like 70 metres long. It depicts the story of William the Conqueror / Guillaume le Conquérant and the battle of Hastings. Because it’s so old, it has to be protected against light, humidity, etc. and you can’t take any pictures.

The tapestry itself is fascinating. We walked along the tapestry twice, once with audio guide explaining the scenes, and once to just look at stuff. Mum had read up on the tapestry and pointed out how they could tell the Normans and English apart: The Normans had short hair and no beards, while the English had long hair and mustaches.

The museum that is dedicated to the tapestry is also really good, I thought. They explain the technique that was used to embroider the pictures, the dyes used, what happened during earlier restauration attempts. And for example also show how the tapestry was an important source for researchers looking into ship building tools and techniques of the 11th century. Fascinating stuff.

We had a great time and were really lucky with the weather. It was an exhausting day, but a pretty unique experience, totally worth it.