Nous sommes fous, nous Autrichiens

My brother and niece came to visit us this past week. Gergö and I had really been looking forward to the visit, because we would finally have an excuse to go to Parc Astérix. It’s an amusement park, just like Disneyland, but with Asterix and Obelix.

chute de menhirs. danger, obelisk falling.

So the day after their arrival, the hottest day of August and during one of the busiest weeks of the park, we set out to Picardie. Gergö also invited a colleague from work who knows all the ins and outs of the park and the fastest, most extreme rides. He used to have a season ticket when he was younger and he still has a stomach made of steel, I suspect.

welcome to parc asterix

I love, love, love the details that went into the park’s design. I remember queueing in Disneyland about 18 years ago, I think for a wild west themed ride and admiring the set design as well. It’s not just the buildings, everything is on message.


We started out with the newer part of the park, Oz Iris, a very fast, pretty extreme ride. I declined and stayed outside, to admire the decoration and take silly hat selfies.

One of my favourite rides was the Discobélix. You sit on a discus while it spins and at the same time goes along a wave like movement out onto a little lake. The queues are designed in a very clever way. Even though they state the waiting times clearly at the beginning, the line doesn’t look so bad. That is until you go around another corner, up the stairs and into a little building.


The Obelix statue in the background about to throw the discus is a nice touch, I think. Also the broken columns from his last big throw.

discobelix waiting room

In the waiting room, there are Obelix’ shoes, his bag and a tally of throws of his opponents. His discus is still flying…

While Ben and Ella did the smart thing and went for ice cream and a water ride, Gergö, Hugo and I queued for Zeus’ Thunder – the longest and fastest of the rides in the park. We queued for the ride for at least 45 minutes, and Hugo patiently tried to teach me to pronounce Zeus in French. Voiced ssess are not my strength. Sadly I missed the selfie opportunity of Zeus watching over my shoulder.

20160816_152651 zeusssss


I did get a nice view waiting for the next ride, though.

The ride was really very intense, and the photo they took of us during the ride was hilarious. I had my mouth wide open and my eyes were about as wide as Zeus’ up there. I was still too cheap to pay up the 11 Euros to take it home, but it would have been a great reminder of the reason why I was hoarse the next day.

We also took the ride with the 7 loopings. Usually a looping is over so fast you barely register it. It’s not like that, if there are seven of them.

7 loopings. Seven!

The park closes at 7 pm but with all the queueing involved, the day was over pretty fast. Gergö and I are already planning to go back in October when it’s not as blistering hot. Apparently the Hallowe’en programme is pretty cool, too and maybe there are even fewer people.

Bye bye Astérix, see you soon!

Bye bye Astérix, see you soon!




Le tour des musées

Last Saturday we had a guided tour through Centre Pompidou, offered by the organisation who runs my French classes. There’s a separate entrance for groups at the Centre Pompidou, so while we waited because we arrived early, we didn’t wait in a queue – somehow this still feels way better than any actual queueing I have to do to see any sights.

That's what the entrance of Centre Pompidou looks like without a queue, by the way. I'd never seen it like that before, so I wanted to document it.

That’s what the entrance of Centre Pompidou looks like without a queue, by the way. I’d never seen it like that before, so I wanted to document it.

We got a chance to go up the many escalators to the fifth level, where the modern paintings are. The view is pretty good from up there.

The Pompidou escalators

The Pompidou escalators

The security queue from above. Going to a museum is fun. Going to a museum without the queue is twice as good!

The security queue from above. Going to a museum is fun. Going to a museum without the queue is twice as good!

You can even see montmartre and sacre cœur from the top of the center.

You can even see montmartre and sacre cœur from the top of the center.

The tour was really interesting, the guide did a great job, I thought. She picked a few works and got us to talk about it. If you could be anywhere in this picture by Kandinsky, where would that be? It was quite an interesting approach. I also liked how she was never fazed when the four young African men who were part of the group wandered off to look at different things. She just asked them: why did you look at this picture, what do you like about it? I liked how she managed to include them without losing a beat or appearing annoyed. And for the group as a whole it didn’t matter if we talked about this Kandinsky or any other of the works in Pompidou.

The second part of the tour we looked at contemporary art, which is on the fourth floor. We could have stayed even longer, but we were so tired we decided to come back at another time. Instead we found a beer store and bought a few specialty beers, among them one brewed with basil and one with verveine. Gergö didn’t like them – he thought the taste was too subtle but I found them perfect.

In the evening we went back to Paris for the long night of the museums (only it’s called differently here, and it’s free). We managed to agree on a couple of small places, a strategy that always worked in Vienna. We started out with the musée Marie et Pierre Curie, then ended up drinking a cocktail, followed by a late dinner in a great Japanese restaurant. Somehow we never managed to visit the forgery museum, before we had to catch the last train home.

I didn’t take any photos except for this one:

Yep, there's a shop selling Dirndl and traditional Austrian clothing in Paris.

Yep, there’s a shop selling Dirndl and traditional Austrian clothing in Paris.

Dire Lire, where I take my French classes, will have a end of semester celebration in June. My teacher who studied in Graz for a year encouraged us to dress in the clothes traditional for our country, because my Vietnamese colleague had written about the traditional dress. Then she tried to talk me into wearing a Dirndl, and when I said I didn’t have one, she offered me hers. She is much slimmer than me, but I didn’t even know how to say that. Thankfully I won’t be in Palaiseau on that weekend, so I could bow out, without having to explain why I don’t want to squeeze into a far too small Dirndl.

On Monday our next visitor arrived and although she said she wanted to keep it low key and not do any hard core sightseeing, we ended up breaking step counter records every day.

First we visited the Galeries Lafayette. I was aware of them, but somehow missed how spectacular they are. The Galeries are three department stores close to the Opera. The oldest one is the one with the fancy art deco architecture. They are full of tourists, of course, and even have a dedicated Japanese customer service department, advertised in Japanese and English.

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Wednesday we dedicated to Musée d’Orsay. We went with a friend and spent about 5 hours inside and I finally got to see Starry Nights and the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec room. Last time I mostly looked at the architecture and the Impressionists. This time we saw a lot of sculptures and most rooms. We had very fancy cake and coffee in the fancy restaurant, and again didn’t eat behind the clockface on the 5th floor. I might have to go back a third time.


M pointing at things.

K pointing at things

K pointing at things.

Shortly before we left, we just wanted to have a real quick look at the Olympia, but couldn’t find it anywhere. So I ended up asking a museum guide, who not just told us she was on loan, but also to where (Moscow) and when she’s be back (July). Another guide overheard me speak and asked if I were Swiss. When I said I’m Autrichienne, he started talking about how much he loves the country and somehow managed to seemlessly lead to a complete history of his family in Speyer and Worms, the Second World War, anti-semitism, Salzburg, the Sound of Music, the election results and so on.

I was paralysed, completely unable to to anything about it, while M and K looked at the remaining paintings and the photo exhibition. Maybe I couldn’t stop him because I was so happy I understood so much of what he was talking about. Maybe I was just too tired to put up a fight. He wound down after ten minutes or so, with M and K watching from a safe distance and grinning at me, not without schadenfreude.

I let our visitor explore Paris alone the next day, but we met up at National Libary of France in the evening. There’s a freemasonry exhibition at the moment that M wanted to see. The National Library are 4 large towers looking like open books around an inner courtyard that is a forest.

free macon symbol

The secret free mason alphabet was a pretty simple substitution cipher.

The secret free mason alphabet was a pretty simple substitution cipher.

Struwwelpeter is called Pierre L'Ébouriffé in French, I found out

Struwwelpeter is called Pierre L’Ébouriffé in French, I found out.

Forest in the courtyard of the National Library. They planted 20 year old 15 m high trees when the Library was built.

Forest in the courtyard of the National Library. They planted 20 year old 15 m high trees when the Library was built.

After the library we wandered to Bercy village, through this lovely park, where I saw yet another heron.

After the library we wandered to Bercy village, through this lovely park, where I saw yet another heron.

Gergö went to Versailles with M on Friday and took lots of photos, so I hope I can talk him into another guestpost soon. Today it’s raining, so we’ll stay at home and rest our feet. There’s more museums planned for tomorrow after all.


Des trucs j’ai appris en français

We have a visitor at the moment who doesn’t speak french. We went into Paris on Friday to see Notre Dame cathedral and wander about town. When we took a coffee break I had to do all the talking. It was a chain coffee shop and the cashier asked if I wanted a bonus card. The café is close to Centre Pompidou and I’ve been several times, so I agreed. Plus I felt cocky.

She proceeded to explain things to me in very rapid French. I understood some of it, managed to ask an intelligent question and in the end decided I’d look up the rest online. My friend thought the cashier had spoken extremely fast. So that I even understood a third wasn’t bad, I thought. That is, until the cashier came around to ask something in French and I had to ask twice and still didn’t understand what turned out to be “was everything okay?”.

Then, later, back home, I heard someone knock and wasn’t sure if it was our door or the neighbour’s. So I went and checked the peephole. It was the gardien/janitor with somebody else at the neighbour’s door. Normally, Gergö and I discuss who’s turn it is to open the door/speak French, but he wasn’t home. I was just standing there wondering if they’d heard me or if I could still sneak away unnoticed, when they turned to my door, so I thought “what the hell” and opened it.

I last spoke with the janitor, when plumbers needed to install a thingamajig (technical term) that would enable automatic measuring of our hot water usage (I think). The janitor acted like my grandparents, when they talk to someone who doesn’t speak German: loud, friendly, slowly, nodding and smiling a lot. I’m not complaining at all, it’s actually quite helpful. I think I scared him once, when I spoke rapid english to him in the heat of the moment as I bumped into him and forgot how to French.

I’d read a letter posted to our main entrance that several residents complained that the heating is not warm enough. They have narrowed it down to flats who get their hot water and heating from a certain allocator (or something like it). The plumbers responsible for the buildings apparently guarantee a minimum temperature of 20 degrees in the apartments, so in the past weeks they have been distributing thermometers, to verify people’s complaints or narrow them down.

The visit by the two concerned this topic. We don’t have any complaints, and I even wrote our landlady that. I managed to tell the janitor and the plumber as well that we think everything is fine – not too hot, not too cold. Since the neighbour thinks it’s too cold, but wasn’t home, they asked if they could put the thermometer in our apartment for a week. Sure, no problem. Uh, except there were 10 empty delivery boxes from Auchan (the awesome supermarket that sells everything) blocking everything in the hallway.

I even managed to explain the boxes and I got the plumber to place the thermometer not too close to the little computer Gergö uses as a Tor relay. The plumber will pick up the thermometer in a week and take it next door. If the neighbour’s home then. I occasionally hear him leave and return and sometimes he smokes on the balcony. I don’t really want to do the creepy neighbour move to wait until I hear his key and then run outside to tell him about all that, but maybe I’ll bump into him and remember what I need to say. Something about un thermomètre, la froid, le gardien, le plombier, le semaine dernière, le mercredi prochain, etc.

My friend, who was sitting and listening in the other room while I was talking in the hallway, was pretty impressed she said. I had made the impression that I knew what I was doing. I only realised much later that I used the word retourner for return a thing, when in French you can only use retourner for a person. But all in all I’m happy with my French progress. After a long time feeling I can’t express myself and don’t understand anything, I had a conversation without having to resort to drawing and/or expressive dancing.

I now also understand almost everything when I listen to the news in français facile, except when I drift off during sports news or when an artist who is world famous in France dies. I hear lots of interesting things about places in the world I don’t normally read or hear news about, at the moment Haiti, Burundi and Burkina Faso, for example.

Last week, when I was in town, I considered walking into a bank to try to open an account, but didn’t feel up to it. Maybe I’ll give it a go next time.

The worst that can happen is that they ask “Parlez vous français?”, like the dude from the census bureau who was at our door the other evening and who I greeted in confusion after he showed me an official id and I immediately thought “Uh oh, how will I explain that they can’t deport European Union citizens, even if they have dark beards and funny names.”

I’m kidding, of course, but he did confuse me, because I didn’t recognise the word census or recensement, even though we had received a letter explaining and announcing it all. He gave us a URL and login code, took my name and number and very seriously announced that it was our duty to fill out the census. We started on it immediately and were very disappointed when he rang the door bell a second time to explain he had confused building 302 with 301 and we don’t need to fill out anything after all and should destroy the paper he gave us.

There was also a very polite man on our door a few days later who told me he sold carpets, if I was interested. I wasn’t. He said thank you and left.

I don’t remember having that many people show up at my door in any other apartment I ever lived. I’m starting to wonder if it is all a very elaborate ruse to get the small devide into our living room that we now believe records the temperature.