Mont Saint Michel

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


La Tunisie

This year, during the second week of May France had not just one but two holidays: May 8 is VE Day and May 10, Ascension. The official French name for May 8 is Fête de la Victoire.

The French call the Friday when Thursday is a holiday pont, like the Germans (Brückentag) and not window, like the Austrians. In Upper Austria that kind of day is called a Zwickltag, which I think translates to gusset. My colleagues started calling the week with the Tuesday and Thursday holidays the aqueduct.

Gergö and I had been planning to take the week off and go somewhere warm, but we left it rather late to book anything. In the end we decided on Tunisia and booked a week in Hammamet Yasmine. The travel agent mentioned Carthago and the Souks of Tunis, so we figured there are things to do, should we get bored.

A couple of hours before the flight I realised to my horror that I’d leave the European Union and would have to turn off my phone’s data. But luckily, Orange Tunisia helped out. Before we even had our luggage back, an Orange counter handed out free sim cards, you only had to show your passport for it.  It’s not a bad marketing strategy – I gladly took it and bought credit a few times during the week.

Hammamet Yasmine is a little town 12 km outside of Hammamet proper that consists only of hotels and tourism related businesses. We had read up on that, so we were prepared. We even got a warning about haggling and about various scams that are run on tourists and that 5 stars in Tunisia are not equal to 5 stars in Europe.

The hotel was still pretty fancy and just very big. Large corridors, high ceilings, an enormous lobby, and tiles and mosaics for most surfaces. I’m 37 and still feel completely out of place in settings like that. Surely this is for real adults, not me on holiday?

On our first day we explored the surrounding streets and the little medina. A medina usually is the old town center. It’s just that Yasmine is too new to have an old town, so they created a kitsch tourist version.

There are lots of small shops. Like in most of these places, all of them sell roughly the same things. All of them want you to just come in an look at their stuff, they will make you a very special price.

I learned something surprising that day: Gergö can’t say no and walk away, if somebody holds out their hand and says hello. He never had to learn how to deal with people who think they have a right to your attention. I was so confused by this behaviour that I thought that he actually wants to buy something – why else would he stay and listen to this dude?  He doesn’t usually want to buy things, but who knows. Turns out he doesn’t. By the end of the holiday my role was to play the mean wife who won’t let her husband buy stuff and physically takes his hand and drags him away from guys trying to sell souvenirs.

Gergö had warned me that the mediterranean sea wouldn’t be warm enough to swim in May, but I thought he is always cold, how bad can it be? Holy cow was it freezing. And because of the wind it even was a bit too cool to stay in the shade. I actually spend some time lying in the sun. I was covered in 50 spf sunscreen, but still!

We went on two trips during our stay:

On Thursday we visited Tunis, Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.

The ruins of Carthage are mostly Roman. All the Phoenicians had built was destroyed by the Romans in the punic wars. We visited the site of the ancient roman baths. It’s a large area right next to the president’s palace and you are not allowed to photograph in the direction of the president’s residence.

One touristy thing in Sidi Bou Said and Carthage were people with hawks on leashes for photo opportunities. I thought they were falcons, but our guide said they are “éperviers“. I immediately forgot the word and only now had a look at a wikipedia list of birds of prey to find the it again. Épervier translates to sparrowhawk. To my big surprise an épervier is a Sperber in German. If pressed, I’d have said a Sperber is what Germans call Spatz, but that’s Sperling of course.

I would have loved to pose with a sparrowhawk, but I can’t in good conscience support the kind of business that cuts off the claws of birds of prey and keep them on a rope. It must be a good business though, there were at least 5 people offering photo ops with them at the lookout above the café de delices in Sidi Bou Said.

In Tunis we only visited the souks in the medina. Only when we got on the bus I realised that I had visited them before – in 2003 with my friend V. After finishing our studies, we went on a road trip from Austria via Italy to Malta. We took a boat from Salerno to Malta. On its way it stopped off at Tunis for a few hours and we shared a taxi from the harbour to the souks with an Italian woman and a Maltese men we had met on the boat. I don’t remember a lot about the experience, other than that my passport was expired by a week or so and the border agents didn’t want to let me in and my friend V impressed me with her French/English negotiation skills.

The streets in the souks are named after the product they used to sell – perfume, gold, textiles, etc. Nowadays it’s mostly tourist kitsch and a lot of it is the same. The only souks that largely stayed the same are the ones that are in the wedding business.

After our little trip along the North East coast we did a two-day trip into the South of Tunisia. We wanted to see the desert (that I keep misspelling dessert) and the big salt lake.

Next up we were visiting a Berber family living in caves. It felt about as much like poverty-porn as it sounds. the caves are actually houses hewn into the stone. The tour guide kept calling them troglodytes, which I only knew as an insult but apparently is the correct word for people living in caves. The place we visited is called Matmata and was also a filming location for Star Wars episode IV.

There used to be Berber families with about 2 000 people living in these troglodyte houses. But in 1967 the area was flooded. Flooding can get bad, because the ground is mostly clay, so it doesn’t take up water quickly and in the mountainous areas it can lead to mudflows. The flooding was so bad the roads had to be closed and a lot of the troglodyte houses were destroyed. The Tunisian government built a new village on top of the mountain, that still exists today where most of the families moved to.

The wikipedia article about Matmata explains this pretty well and here’s also an article on the Berber with much nicer photos than I could ever take. Both mention Star Wars and the hotel that was used for scenes in episode IV. We had lunch at a hotel in Matmata but I don’t think that was it. Or maybe I was at the Star Wars hotel and too focussed on the couscous to notice. (I just remembered that I record the location when I take pictures and I took one picture or a sand rose and it was taken at the Marhala hotel, which is not the one from Star Wars.)

We ended the day riding a dromedary and then a quad bike.

As soon as we had stopped somewhere in the desert a couple of guys showed up carrying fennecs – little white desert foxes. It was the same deal as with the falcons – you pay to take photos with them. And their leashes were just some cords around their neck.

After we returned from the two rides someone mentioned seeing ticks crawling in the dromedaries fur. We checked each other for ticks, but didn’t find any. I did have a large insect bite on my face, though. It didn’t hurt and barely itched, it was just distractingly big and I kept wondering how I could have missed being stung in the face. I didn’t google deadly insects of Tunisia though and even though I later got a second enormous bump, this time on my jaw, nothing terrible has happened to me. yet.

We spent the night at a hotel at the edge of the desert, going to sleep at 9 pm, because we would be woken up at 3 am. We left the hotel at 4 to drive onto the great big salt lake to see the sun rise over the salt lake at shortly after 5.

After the little potemkin village, we visited an oasis called Chebika. It’s a place that belongs to several Berber families that grow dates, oranges, and other fruit in the oasis. We were told to brig our bathing suits for the waterfall.

We finished our tour with a visit to the mosque of Kairouan – the one that got its marble from the amphitheatre. We climbed the roof of a souvenir shop that had a great view of the courtyard. Like with the waterfall, I was too hot and tired to appreciate the mosque. Instead we bought Tunisian olive oil and black seed soap like the filthy tourists we are.

Our flight back was the day after. I think only when he checked us in Gergö noticed that we’d be flying business class. We still don’t know if it was an upgrade or a mistake or the only thing left when we booked. Either way, we completely failed a being business class travellers by getting into the long, long queue with the plebs to check in our luggage, instead of the short efficient special people queue. I was extremely grumpy because airport and also because we still had Dinar and all the shops at the airport only accepted Euro. Except for the machine dispensing wifi codes, and that didn’t work. We found the lounge for Tunisair and it was very full and disappointingly dingy. But at least the wifi was working and we got a glass of water while we waited for our flight that was delayed by two hours. We got in line again with the economy class when boarding the plane – we just waited until most people had boarded instead of waltzing right in.

There was enough room to fully recline your seat. Without bothering the row behind you, obviously. As can be expected, i was out of my element and utterly confused and delighted by everything. I even started watching a film, but gave up on it because it was terrible and the flight wouldn’t have been long enough to finish it anyway. We got served food on real plates with metal cutlery. I was digging into the cheese when the air hostess came to ask me if I wanted fish or meat for my main course. I asked “that was only the entrée?” and I could see that she had to bite back a smile at my reaction.


Une nuit en Allemagne

At the end of February I was invited to a birthday party in Bonn. I told my colleagues about it and none of them had ever heard of the city. I said something along the line of “right next to Cologne”. “Isn’t that in Italy?” “No, that’s Bologne”. I also mentioned that it used to be the capital, before the reunification, which isn’t strictly true. It was only the seat of the government. Either way, I only earned shrugs – most of my colleagues were born around the time of the reunification.

The party was in a very special place: an indoor camping place. First, I was sceptical – I don’t do camping, really, and I feel like I’m way too old for youth hostel style living. But for one night, I’m prepared to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Camping is taken literally – the big hall is filled with antique camper vans and a retired sleeping car from the Deutsche Bahn.

So in case you ever go to Bonn, be sure to check out the place. It’s called Basecamp.

On my way back I had a bit of a wait in Cologne / Köln. I keep forgetting about it, but the train station is right next to the city center. You walk out of the train station and the first thing you see is the cathedral. It was freezing cold but sunny, so I took a short walk around it for a couple of photos.

March started out lovely – the weather finally got better and we went for weekend walks and had our first outdoor coffee. Parisians have outdoor coffee all through winter. Most places with a “terrasse” have outdoor heaters. But I’m all about saving the planet and frankly prefer having my coffee without feeling like I’m in an incubator.

Then it got colder again and we had a lot of rain and no more outdoor coffee. Then it got worse and we had some more snow.

 

 


Montpellier

We left Paris for a short weekend in Montpellier on the Friday night in February while snowmargeddon was still in full swing. Montpellier is in the south of France in Occitanie. I thought we’d be delayed, because Paris didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to run the metro with 5 cms of snow. But the TGV left on time!

I had not prepared much for this trip. We only had two days to spend, so we figured we’d walk around town, eat good food and maybe visit a museum. In the last minute I googled markets, because I love visiting flea markets and covered markets and I saw that a monthly market called marché du Lez was going to take place on the Saturday. It was a little outside of Montpellier, but easy to reach with the tram number 4.

So on Saturday we had a short walk around town, enjoying the sun, the good Pokemon situation and life in general before taking a tram to the marché. It wasn’t very warm, but warmer than Paris had been and much, much sunnier.

A view of the Espalanade Charles de Gaulle

The marché de Lez was exactly the kind of market I love – A lot of trash and weird stuff and stalls by private (meaning not-professional) vendors. That way I scored Obelix for 2 Euros and 11 t-shirts for 5 euros). And then, in the courtyard there was a nice mix of hipster food (mother trucker), bobo stores and a market that is more antiques and curiosities than flea market stuff.

We had dinner at a resto avernois. Apparently the traditional thing they do is sausage and aligot. – it’s mashed potatoes with cheese. I had aligot before but I think I can safely say it was the best combination of cheese, sausage and potatoes I ever had.

On Sunday we decided to visit the sea. We took the tram to the final stop and walked about 30 minutes. It was glorious and sunny and cold.

Then we walked to the harbour in search for lunch and a place to heat up again and it turned out that the side with the open restaurants was another good 20 minutes away, because there was no bridge and we had to take the very long way around the sailboat harbour.

When we finally found a place we went for moules frites in moule shaped plates. There was just enough time left to return to town, and visit a bobo café run by Americans. I had a Matcha Latte and regretted the safe choice. They also had the golden latte (milk with turmeric) which I already know. But they also had ruby latte – a drink made with beetroot. I reckon it will take at least three more months until this trend will hit trendy coffee bars in Paris. At least I haven’t found anything, so far.


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.


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.


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

 

 


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.


Les Toits Parisiens

Shortly after my last post I went for a walk to Gare Austerlitz with Gergö. We finally bought a train card that gives us 25% reduction on the weekends. Now we only need to make the time to actually get out of Paris. I would love to see more of France, but Paris isn’t bad this time of the year either.

There’s an exhibition at the train station. Along one wall there are giant paintings of super heroes as in the style of Flemish paintings. In this article you can see Superman, Batman and Robin and the Joker.

I love how serious they all look and how it totally works – the expression in Flemish paintings and images of superheroes is not very different. It really is just the ruffle collar.

Another discovery of this summer: Ground Control. Gergö went there for lunch with his colleagues and then we went back one evening because he thought I’d like it. And he was right. It’s a roof terrace on former grounds of the Gare de Lyon. Instead of loading bays there are bars and on one side of the terrace are former buses that are fancy street food kitchens now.

They put raised flower beds in one corner, because that’s what you do these days, when you open a hip new spot on a Paris roof top. Needless to say, I totally love it. Also, the first time I was there the name gave me the best ear worm. I have been listening to Amanda Palmer’s covers of David Bowie and in Space Oddity Neil Gaiman does the countdown. It always makes me smile to hear his voice in this song.

When we explored the space a little I saw that all the flower beds had little signs in them with French puns. Some of the puns I understood! I was so proud I took photos of all of them.

If anyone wants to explain the one for chive and the one for mint to me, go ahead!

We went again last Friday night for a drink with Gergö’s colleague and we just about found a place to sit. The moment we decided to get up and leave someone was on our side to claim the table. We went to the supermarket to get some pick-nick things and when we passed by the entrance 15 minutes later there was a queue to even get in.

We were headed to the park anyway, to have a very French pick-nick. The only thing missing were berets, really. We had baguette and cheese and ham and hung out in the park. There were people juggling and dogs running around and young people smoking weed.  Nobody was playing petanque, which is odd for a warm French summer evening, but apparently it is not played on grass and the park is rather grassy, so it was okay and nobody tried to take away our freshly won Frenchness points.

 


Des balades Parisiennes

I was in such a hurry to post something, anything, I forgot to include my favourite stories from my visit to Austria:

When we all met up in our holiday apartment with Pizza on our first night my sister told us about their drive from Vienna. The triplets don’t enjoy car rides much, so there was a lot of complaining and they took a long break at Mondsee. There were swans at the lake and my nieces I and H ran up to them all shouty and ready to play. A on the other hand, approached them slowly and greeted them shily: “Hallo Mingo!”

She thought they are flamingos like the ones she knows from the zoo. Hallo Mingo is now my family’s new favourite thing. The other two can’t say H yet, and also often drop the first syllable of words. When I joined them for breakfast on the second morning H happily shouted “‘Allo Arena!”

Now, back in Paris, I’m back to taking cell phone pictures of everything. Most recently: street art again. I had stopped off at the city center on my way home from work when a friend called. The phone reception on the subway isn’t great, so I decided to walk for a little bit. The call lasted much longer than expected, and I ended up taking the bus from Saint Michel to Place d’Italie and then walking home all the way from Place d’Italie.

It’s basically straight ahead, along one big boulevard, le Boulevard Vincent Auriol. I had seen street art from the métro windows before but never taken photos – they go by too fast. Apparently the giant murals are a project that was realised in 2016. The mairie (city hall) of the 13th district seems to be quite proud of their new “open air museum” and there’s a website dedicated to the street art of the 13th. You can look up the route and download a map that lists all the murals and artists.

Another day I just walked around the city center, not doing anything in particular. I just really enjoyed the sun and the city. And I still discover new mosaics every time I take a walk. I take photos of most of them, but I’m far too disorganised to actually collect them all in one place. As I typed this, I thought “surely people have done that already”. As it turns out there’s even a smartphone game, that lets you collect the mosaics. Maybe that’s a project for me for when Pokemon Go becomes boring. And you can buy his art as well.

These past two days I’ve been comlaining about the unseasonal heat (over 30 degrees in May!) but looking at the photos and choosing the ones for the next blog post I have to say I look forward to the summer. But that’s just my optimism speaking – I caught a climatised subway today – not my usual line, so unfortunately just a fluke.