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.


En cherchant la Joconde

My mum came to visit us here in France again. January might be cold, but it is a good time to do sightseeing. The queues are noticably shorter this time of the year.

We walked a lot, like the last time she was here. This time we explored the Jewish quarter of Paris. The area is great, lots of interesting shops and signs and restaurants.

I’ve been in France for a year and a half and I still hadn’t visited the Louvre. I wasn’t that interested in seeing Mona Lisa in person and the queues were always daunting. Plus none of my visitors expressed an interest. My mum finally asked me to get tickets ahead, because the only thing that’s worse than queueing is queueing while it’s 5 degrees and rainy.

I had to give the Louvre my birth date and address and pay 2 € extra for the privilege of printing out the ticket myself. I even complained about it on twitter, because with every click i got a generic error message. And I mean that literally:

The Louvre sent me a private message to explain it’s necessary that I enter my birthdate because it’s necessary and that they will take care of the error. They haven’t.

Enough of my rant, the offline Louvre is great. In both size and content. We also didn’t have to queue at all, because it’s January. I grabbed a map and went right to the French painters, where I expected the Mona Lisa to be. It took me two floors of paintings to realise my mistake and find the Italian painters on the map.

At least we saw a few gems on this little unscheduled detour.

Once we were in the right wing of the Louvre there were arrows pointing the way and people to follow. Mona Lisa is in a large room with lots of other paintings that go mostly ignored. There are 2 types of barriers separating the throng of tourists from the painting and two very bored guards on either side. People take selfies with the image all the time and there are queues for good selfie places.

I already knew that the painting is fairly small and didn’t expect to be impressed. And it felt like it was a matter of duty, seeing Mona Lisa in the Louvre :-)

Afterwards we had coffee and tackled the rest of the museum. I had no idea the Venus of Milo was also in the Louvre and the room she was in was almost empty.

We had tickets to go to Reims for the next day. So we got up early and went to Paris to board the TGV to Reims. It’s only a 45 minute ride with no stops because the train goes over 300 km/h. My mum was really excited about the velocity, but didn’t want to act too touristy. I totally encouraged her to get up and take a picture of the sign that displayed the speed. I take pictures of anything and everything, I very much understand the impulse :-)

Reims is a pretty town, not too big to walk. A lot of it was destroyed in WWI, so many houses in the center have art deco façades.

It also has a giant cathedral in which most of the French kings were crowned. Some of the stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall in the 70s. We missed the opening times of the palace de Tau, which houses the coronation museum, so we wandered on to the basilica.

Reims is also the place were Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945. When my mum mentioned that I had to laugh. I only know the name because of the Hitler reacts to meme and he is one of the people who stay in the room. I tried to explain the meme to my mum but retelling YouTube memes doesn’t really work.

I was confused. All French towns appear to have a rue 8 mai, why not 7 mai? It turns out, the surrender was signed on the 7th in Reims and then signed again in Germany in the presence of the Soviets on May 8. In Russia the end of the war is considered to be May 9, because it was already after midnight Moscow time.

We visited the museum dedicated to this event. It’s in the former headquarters of Eisenhower next to a school. It was a small museum but I found it really interesting. I don’t need the uniforms but I liked the contemporary newspapers and the original war rooms with all the maps.


Retour de Vienne

I returned from 10 days in Vienna yesterday morning. I managed to get sick again, just like last time I visited. I blame flying and dry air and these things.

I only met with a few people this time, mostly because I was sick and tried to not overdo it. But also because I had inadvertently chosen another long holiday weekend for my visit. The October 26th is a national holiday, and so is the November 1st. A lot of people went away for the weekend. I only booked the flight because it was very cheap. I splurged all the money saved on a taxi to the airport in the morning, because 6:40 is just so damn early to fly.

Most days I thought I’d stay home and recover and ended up getting bored and restless and decided to visit the triplets or meet someone after all. I also went to an afternoon Amanda Palmer concert. I was too slow to buy tickets for the evening show. Because it sold out so quickly she scheduled a second show at 4 pm. It was so early, she brought her son on stage. And being Amanda Palmer she breastfed him for a little bit while playing Eisbär on piano in a lullaby version. People to the left and right of me were pretty incredulous. I think not because of the exposed boob. It’s Vienna after all, where there are nude bathing areas on the danube island. I think they thought it odd she would bring a little kid on stage, where it’s loud and bright and just not particularly kid friendly.

The concert was great, but it didn’t help with the recovery. Neither did the Sturm I felt I had to drink. It’s the season after all and it’s not something we get in Palaiseau.

All during my coughing and sneezing time I visited the triplets and helped my sister taking them home from kindergarten. She said they are sick all the time anyway, so my cold won’t make much of a difference. They are still adorable and very lively. With their identical rain suits they get a lot of looks from passers by. “Are those twins? No triplets!!” My mum calls them turbo girls. They are in the phase were they often don’t want to get in the pram, don’t want to walk, and want to be carried. I can lift them onto my shoulder now, but it’s hard work. They don’t really hold on and tend to lean back a bit. Add to that the fact that there’s an empty pram to push, the walk home from kindergarten usually ended up in sweat (mine) and tears (not mine). No blood though, so that’s something.

On one afternoon I met up with all my siblings for coffee. The four of us took the triplets home and it was noticeably easier when there were as many adults as there are kids. We had fun this evening, we danced to a ram sam sam, because my niece loves it. We looked at books and practised saying at-se (cat) at every animal. The nieces were really fascinated by their baby cousin and were really sweet with him (most of the time). We had spaghetti and cleaned off spaghetti off every surface and a lot of body parts afterwards. They can’t say my name yet, but they say Ena, which is good enough for me :-D

I took lots of photos and even video skyped with Gergö once. One video I took I shared with my family: It’s of one niece helping her sister put on pants. My sister still doesn’t want to raise YouTube stars, which is understandable. But also a bit of a pity with material like that.


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

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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.

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Mon père nous a rendu visite

My dad and his partner arrived on Ascension Thursday by car. They had visited family in Germany before coming to us, so the trip wasn’t as long as it sounds. For the record: our address doesn’t appear to be in his satnav, though you can find us on google maps. They both had been to Paris before, so there were no urgent tourist needs to take care of, just a couple of days exploring.

I suggested the fabric stores that are on the was to Sacre Cœur. Sacre Cœur is one of the things Gergö hadn’t yet seen, and Greta sews and does upcycling. Besides there is a street with lots of guitar shops nearby that my dad was going to check out in the meantime, accompanied by Gergö, who still claims he really wants a trumpet.

We had impressed our visitors with the cheese selection and resulting smell of our fridge, but on our wander around Paris, we smelled a fromagerie with even more impressive stuff, sitting outside in a showcase. We were all convinced that most of these wouldn’t/couldn’t be sold in Austrian cheese stores.

fromage

After an extensive stroll through Paris we had a little rest in jardin Luxembourg and afterwards walked to the quartier latin by way of the Panthéon. It’s a couple of streets surrounding a square with street musicians. Every place is full of tourists looking for food and beer.

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street art in quartier latin

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interesting façades at the bottom of rue mouffetard, which is the french word for skunk and *exactly* sounds like it.

Last time Gergö and I visited the street we went to a Chinese restaurant that serves noodles. The ones that are made by pulling and rolling dough. You can have them in a soup or fried. That’s it. You choose an entrée, and what kind of meat you want to have with it (or the vegetarian option) and that’s it. Like a lot of places it was tiny and full. To my surprise we were sat between two sets of French people.

When Gergö and I went there last time, we decided for our next visit we were going to try either the Armenian-Persian restaurant or the Afro-Caribbean place. The Afro-Caribbean place had outdoor seating, so we went for that. In a long standing family tradition we all ordered different kinds of dishes to get a maximum of tasting options. I think all of them contained peanuts. The waiter impressed us with his english skills, but wouldn’t tell us the secret ingredient to the coconut pudding.

It’s something that Greta dearly misses from Austrian patisseries, but that I proudly showed of in my regular café: You can order a café or thé gourmand and get your hot beverage with a selection of tiny cakes or pastries. No need to choose a single one, you can try them all. It was the only time she took a photo of her food. Dad asked if I’m embarassed by this behaviour, which seems odd, seeing that he claims to read my blog…

I have no shame whatsoever where photos are concerned. I only hold back if there are signs.

For Saturday we went to the great big flea market of st ouen. They both had been before, but with a group of friends who claimed to know their way around but actually didn’t. So they mostly saw the stalls selling cheap t-shirts and jeans, and not the actual flea markets.

We went to marché Dauphine, which has the Ufo, the antiques, the books and music and vintage clothes. It’s all very pricey, but interesting to look at. Also, there’s a Lucky Luke cardbord cutout.

Luck Horst

Luck Horst

We wondered about this item for a while:

mystery antique

One guess was that it’s for combing raw wool. It turns out, that when I go to this market with serious looking grown  ups, the dealers don’t just grumpily ignore my presence. A very friendly antiques vendor explained that the tool is for making latex balloons. There are lots of small colour spots all over the wood from the balloons and it’s coated in the powder that is used to keep the latex from sticking.

Marché Dauphine is more for looking, marché Vernaison across the street also has antiques, but more small stuff, more junk. It’s easier to take photos, too.

We didn’t buy doll parts, but Greta found a silver spoon she is going to forge into a bracelet. It’s the third time I visited the market and I still haven’t schlepped home any furniture, I’m really proud of myself. I bought linen trousers though, on my way out. The vendor never even interrupted her phone call, even while she was trying to upsell. It was impressive to watch.

My dad wanted to leave really early on Sunday, so they’d manage to avoid the traffic jams they encountered on their way to us. The plan was for them to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 (I think, my brain refuses to memorise these times) and to leave right away, getting breakfast on the road. I really wanted to say goodbye and make coffee for Greta. She is not a morning person and it seemed the least I could do, if she was going to have to get up at this time.

At some point in the night I woke up and was convinced I had overslept and they were up already. Even though it was still dark outside. Well, how would I know if it’s light or dark at 6:30? I was so sure of having overslept though, that I didn’t even check my phone for the time. I staggered into the living room, only to be told to go back to sleep by my dad. Next time I woke up it was because of the alarm my dad had set. I can inform you that it’s light outside in May at 6:30. But I don’t know what to do with that information, to be honest.


Deuxièmes visiteurs

I realised I have to blog about my other visitors before my third set of guests arrive in half an hour. And before I forget everything about the visit.

J & C arrived a couple of days after my mum left. They weren’t quite as lucky as my mum as far as the weather was concerned.  We visited the Parc de la Villette, a park right behind the science museum. From the park you can see the big glass sphere called Géode that houses the imax cinema, I think, and the submarine as well.

At the moment it’s fun fair time, so there were a couple of carousels and rides in the park. Even when there’s no fun fair it’s a pretty interesting place. We had a little picknick, or pique-nique, as you say here, next to a giant bicycle from which only bits and pieces stick up from the ground.

We went for dinner along the canal the Saint Martin, a very nice area. In summer everyone plays petanque and pique-niques along the canal. It’s starting to get warm enough to do that during the day, but the evenings are still too cool.

We also went back to the Butte aux Cailles. You know, the place with all the street art:

But we didn’t eat at Chez Gladines, the famous Basque restaurant that is suprisingly affordable. We went to le temps de cerises, a restaurant that’s a co-op with uplifting socialist art, a worker’s mosaics in the entrance and an anti-cell phone policy. It’s all in memory of the Paris commune of 1871, “a radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from 18 March to 28 May 1871”.

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The weather on Sunday was very cold and wet, so our visit to the big flea market st. ouen was cut pretty short.

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I refrained from buying anything, but I enjoyed the experience without Gergö being next to me reiterating that we don’t need more stuff. I also appear to not have taken a lot of photos. I suspect it’s because you are not supposed to take photos of the beautiful vintage dresses we admired and because my camera sometimes doesn’t save a picture, if I close the camera again too quickly.

We also visited a tiny vegetarian restaurant called Krishna Bhavan in Little India. It’s an area close to gare du nord with a lot of restaurants and take aways and supermarkets. Rue cail was decorated with orange lanterns which made me assume it’s some festival. I did some googling and it turns out it’s no festival, it’s just Christmas decorations that a local shop had handed out in 2014 and that people had decorated their windows with. The restaurant was really good, I think. Certainly not expensive. It’s just that my memory of it is completely overshadowed by the giant poster of a chubby blue-skinned baby that stared down on us from a wall calendar while we were eating. Click at your own risk.

The weather, which hadn’t been great to begin with, completely let out on Tuesday: There was a hail storm.

The white bits isn't the hail, but the flower petals from the trees.

The white bits isn’t the hail, but the flower petals from the trees. It was still pretty crazy, though.

I had stayed at home that last day of my friends’ visit, because I had to catch up with work and they wanted to visit the catacombs which I had already seen – no chance. The queue was really long even in the bad weather. It appears the one time I went in February, when there was no queue at all, I was much luckier than I appreciated at the time. Early February might not be great for a visit temperaturewise, but the queues are certainly better.

 


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.


Ma mère nous a rendu visite

Last week my mum came to visit us in Palaiseau. She stayed for a week and we walked so much, she joked about requesting a wheelchair for the airport.

I’ve been to the cathedral of Notre Dame several times, but I never actually went inside. This time there was no queue at all, so we had a look. Mum brought her SLR and it’s okay to take photos, as long as you don’t use a flash. I just took a single blurry photo of the candles, because I was surprised that they let you light a real candle with real fire in the old cathedral.

It started to rain, so we wandered in the direction of Les Halles, to catch a train home. Les Halles is a big train and metro station and underground shopping mall. The ground floor has been a building site for years. Now the giant yellow canopy roof is finally finished and was officially opened.

As we took the escalator down, I could see regular wet spots where the brand new roof is leaking. At one end a rain pipe funnels the water onto the stairs. There are guard rails surrounding the spot where the water comes down, so I think it was on purpose. The waterfall splashed beyond the rails though. I am not the only one who noticed the leaking.

Les Halles is used by a lot of people. You have to go through the underground mall to get to the train and metro station. Yet some stairs were closed off. I suspect it has to do with the fact that there’s a security guard at every entrance that waves a metal detector at passerbys and asks to look into bags. The whole redesign was planned long before the Charlie hebdo shootings and the November 13 attacks.

The day after our walk through the city we walked along the Seine. At pont neuf we rather spontaneously decided to get on a boat for an hour long tour.

It was lovely and sunny which then changed to a drizzle while we were walking to the Musée d’Orsay and then to horizontal rain while we were trying to find the entrance. The business savy vendors out front sold umbrellas, which were of no use in the wind.

The museum is in a former train station. I read about that fact and didn’t much think about it, until I went inside. The train station was built for the world fair in 1900. Apart from the beautiful beaux-arts architecture (yeah, I looked it up) it also has a huge collection of impressionist paintings. Also, there’s a small replica of the statue of liberty.

After the museum visit the weather had cleared up and the vendors had returned to selling water bottles. We walked to Jardin Luxembourg, just across the Seine and headed for the obelisk. The guide on the boat had said that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded on the Place de la Concorde and we wanted to see the plaque for ourselves.

At this point I’d like to point out that we are still on day 2 of sightseeing.

And because the Arc de Triomphe was already in sight and it was still nice, we decided, what the hell. We reached the Arc while a ceremony was winding down.  Lots of people in uniform and at least one marching band were leaving the place when we arrived. Under the Arc is an eternal flame and a memorial for the unknown soldier which I assume was the reason for the event.

Day three was spent in Palaiseau, where we took a walk along the Yvette and finally had dinner in the restaurant that has the best tripadvisor rating of Palaiseau. It serves specialities of the mountains and is decorated in that fashion. We had giant portions of potatoes with smelly cheese with beer brewed with water from Mont Blanc. It was delicious, of course.

Potatoes, salmon, spinach with lots of reblochon cheese.

Potatoes, salmon, spinach with lots of reblochon cheese.

I think that’s enough for today. I still have some stuff to do before our next guests arrive tomorrow :-)


Aller et retour

I’m back from my trip to Vienna. I spent ten days of my two week winter holidays there. The schools are closed during these two weeks and I also don’t have my French course. And ten days, even so soon after my Christmas holiday in Vienna wasn’t too long at all.

I went by train this time, but I don’t really recommend it. It was more expensive than if I had booked a flight at the time. And it took 12 hours with one change in Frankfurt going to Vienna and two changes (Salzburg and Mannheim) on the return trip. I usually like train rides. I can bring liquids and a backpack and a shoulder bag if I want to. I sit around a lot anyway. But 12 hours is a bit too much sitting around next to strangers with strange habits.

Model train at Frankfurt train station.

Model train at Frankfurt train station.

I love the retro look of the controls. I almost expected a different currency.

I love the retro controls. I almost expected a different currency.

I managed to read an entire book on the train ride. I haven’t done this in a long time. Mostly, because I think I should be reading in French, to practise. Instead I end up reading nothing, because reading a book in French is hard.

Vienna was hectic, but good. I managed to meet four groups of friends that I couldn’t see during my last trip.

A lamp made from a crash helmet at our friend's place. Love the idea and execution!

A lamp made from a crash helmet at our friend’s place. You are not supposed to use a helmet after you had an accident. So he decided to upcycle it. Love the idea and execution!

I also spent some time with the triplets, of course. They are almost a year old and all walk now and pretty fast at that. I tried taking photos with my phone. But despite getting a lot of comments for the big lens, it’s not great indoors. Sometimes it looks like the kids are missing limbs, because they are waving around an arm too fast for my phone camera to capture.

I was staying at my mum’s place this time. Gergö and I took her out to her favourite café. It’s a gem in an unexpected place: opposite the U2 stop Krieau, right next to an old lady hair dresser and one of those Viennese Beisl I would probably never set foot in. It’s called “Little Britain” but has nothing to do with the tv show. It’s all twee and cute and has scones and those little triangular sandwiches.

On my last full day in Vienna I made the classic mistake of trying to squeeze in *everything*. We went for the above mentioned breakfast and afterwards bought Mozartkugeln as souvenirs. At noon, I went to the hairdresser that always takes much much longer than expected (two and a half hours this time) and then returned home to have coffee with my brother, my niece and my sister. Around six I dropped in at my other sister’s to say goodbye to her and the babies. We bathed them (and they us, really, with the splashing) and afterwards had a couple of beers with friends at a nearby Beisl. This is more action and interactions in one day than I normally have in a week.

In the last two weeks two people who had promised to visit finalised the exact dates and two more will follow soon. So maybe I will stay in France for while now and have everyone come visit me, instead.

My return trip was pretty exhausting. The train to Salzburg was late, so I had to run to catch the train to Mannheim. Bizarrely, there was a chain mounted between the two platforms, with a sign saying “border controls” or something similar. Because of the police present I didn’t just slip underneath it but ran along the length of the platform to the opening in the fence. The police ignored me, of course, and checked the brown family with kids instead.

After the luxury of the railjet the German train was a bit…basic.

They don't even have sharpies, poor Deutsche bahn.

They don’t even have sharpies, poor Deutsche Bahn.

I had a reservation but because of the delay I was on the wrong end of the train. I ended up staying where I was since it wasn’t very full anyway. Also, you could watch the train driver at work and see out of the front of the train. I love sitting in the upstairs front row of double decker busses but usually kids get there first. There were no kids on the train, but a few guys in suits checking out the train drivers / view.

Is it called cockpit in a train as well?

Is it called cockpit in a train as well?

I had time to buy dinner while changing trains in Mannheim. I had been offline for quite a while at this point, so I queued at a coffee shop advertising free WiFi. First I dropped my French SIM card, when I opened my wallet. As I bent down to retrieve it, my water bottle fell from my backpack. I cursed loudly and said “Ja, hearst, Oida!” and then hoped I brightened the rush hour of the many grumpy looking, business suit wearing Germans buying their after work lattes. If that didn’t do it, then probably when I took photos of Mannheim train station.

I didn't cheat when taking this picture. Even aroud the corner all you can see is "Erster Wiener". I somehow doubt it is, though.

I didn’t cheat when taking this picture. Even aroud the corner all you can see is “Erster Wiener”. I somehow doubt it is, though.

I don’t know what I find weirder: the singer’s name or that he plays at Mannheim train station.

The TGV ride I caught from Mannheim was uneventful. Despite it being the same route as ten days earlier, only in reverse, I was surprised again that all these places I only know from football club names and “Wetten, Dass” broadcasts really exist. Frankly, I’m still surprised that Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken are TGV stops.


Le calendrier de visite

As previously announced: voilà the visitor calendar. I added some information on public transport and some FAQs I thought might be relevant. Let me know any more questions that might come up and I’ll update it.

Funnily enough, since I published the last blog post, two friends got in touch to confirm the dates of their visit, so maybe this year there will be more visits!

Nothing much else has happened sind the last update. I have the cold now that Gergö had in Vienna. My nose is running constantly and there’s cotton wool in my head. Gergö was making me tea and cooking meals for the entire weekend and I sat on the couch and complained, whinged and moped. It always throws me how much worse a harmless cold (in combination with a nasty mouth ulcer) feels than it actually is.