Sunday, December 15, 2013


I was going to do nothing for my birthday - last year was a three city, two country extravaganza, but that was my thirtieth. Liz, however, was having none of this and proposed that my friends back in Tours chip in to buy me a train ticket back "home" to celebrate together. Somewhere in there, a side-trip to Nantes (yes, all the way on the other side of the country) got tacked on - mostly, I suspect, because that's where Liz's boyfriend lives, but I was fine to go with the flow.

So the plan was a quiet, tame night in Tours on Friday, followed by a big one in Nantes on the following night. I think you can all guess how that went down. The champagne was flowing at Liz's and we ended up at our familiar old haunts of the Pale and the Beer Academy, as we have so many times before. It was kind of bitter-sweet being back in Tours. It's not quite "where everybody knows my name", but there's something to be said for feeling like a regular instead of a tourist when you walk in somewhere. Of course, more than the pubs, I miss my mates though! They are some of the funnest girls you'll ever meet, very difficult to replace!

That is Liz's hand by the way!


Basically, all my photos were a series of me with different random guys. I find the expression on the guy second from left priceless!

It's just unfocused drunk face, but I like the sort of innocent, young look I have going on here

Firstly: I like how the only people looking at the camera are the dudes in the background. Secondly: who is this man? Ignore the unflattering profile, and look at us having A Moment. I think he might be my soul mate and I missed it 

Look, he's even (presumably) laughing at something witty and hilarious I said. Unfortunately, he's only in these two photos and I have no idea who he is. Hence I'll die alone ;)

So, surprise, surprise, we ended up staying out all night, and the next day was a bit of a shambles. I woke up thinking I'd lost my phone, which I was pretty bummed out about, since it's an iphone my sister gave me and I've only had for about 3 months. Happy ending though, since it turned out Caro had it (for some reason). However, she couldn't let me know at first since I was with Liz, who had lost her entire handbag!

I was feeling a little under the weather, but not terrible, but Liz was dying. The plan had been for Liz and Mel to take a carpool to Nantes, with the rest of us driving in Philippa's car. 12 pm came round, and Liz was in no shape to turn up for the carpool, stranding poor Mel as well. Using GPS, Liz thought she tracked down her phone (and hence bag) to the Beer Academy, so that was the good news. The bad news was it's a club, so presumably wouldn't be opening till the evening. We decided to tell the rest of the girls (and Chris) to set off by car & Liz and I would take the train to Nantes later. In the end, there was still no response from the Beer Academy, so I left Liz feeling sorry for herself and took a train at 5 pm, getting to Nantes around 7.30.

By the time I turned up, my birthday champagne that Marion, my kiwi friend who now lives in Brittany, had brought for me had already been drunk (boo), but I suppose that's my fault for turning up late. After a couple more bottles while we got ready to go out (not very much of which was consumed by me, since I was still feeling slightly sorry for myself), with still no sign from Liz, we headed into town for dinner around 10 pm.

As anyone who's ever tried to eat late in France can tell you, this was a bad idea. There's really a very small window in which you can hope to be served. Before 7 = too early. You probably can find some food, but they'll probably spit in it since you're clearly an uncultured tourist oik. After 10 = nearly impossible. Granted, we were trying to get a table for 6 and every restaurant seemed to be busy, but I can't even tell you how many places we went into unsuccessfully. One particularly dickish restaurateur even refused to suggest any other restaurants that might serve us because "he couldn't guarantee any other restaurants used fresh produce". Dude, we're not coming back to your restaurant anyway, don't be a twat. Anyway, *finally* we managed to find a Moroccan place, where the service was chaotic but the food was okay, and most importantly, they let us eat there. Apparently, the guy on the next table to us spent the whole meal making fun of us all in French, but whatever, I couldn't hear him. Once again though people, some of us do speak more than one language.

To our great pleasure, we learned that Liz was on her way after all. She searched the Beer Academy from top to bottom for her handbag, but was defeated. Finally, with a heavy heart, she popped into the Pale, which is just around the corner. The barman there took one look at her and produced her handbag from behind the corner, with everything safe and sound. The question is how we all managed to leave the Pale at 2 am and go to the Beer Academy and none of us (Liz especially) ever noticed her handbag was missing? Bless her, even with a killer hangover, she got into her car and drove all the way to Nantes, turning up around 12.30 am to meet us in a pub. Not quite sure how she managed that!

From there, we went to a horrible club. It was soooooo crowded and unpleasant, you basically couldn't move at all. Since I was still not quite on top party form, I decided I couldn't cope with this place, and we all went home. Felt a bit bad since everyone had more or less been dragged to Nantes on my behalf and we saw basically nothing of the city, but I did say they could have stayed out without me.

Caro and Mario(n) in Nantes
Chris and Mel in Nantes
So the next day, basically we had time to get up, have some more girly chats while getting ready in the hotel, have lunch, and then it was time for my train back to the other side of France again. I think it was something like a 1400 km round trip for not a lot of Nantes time, but most importantly, I got to celebrate with some awesome people!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Birthday post to come this weekend hopefully. For now, I'm proud to announce I made my third ever pun in French today! (You can read all about my first pun here, my second pun sadly went unrecorded. Won't make that mistake again.)

I tried to say I had a blocked nose, but instead of saying "J'ai le nez bouché", I accidentally said "J'ai le nez bouchonné", which, as my colleague informed me, means "corked", as in wine. My punny response - "Ah, c'est du pif !" Pif being slang for both "red wine" and "nose". Okay, okay, still not very funny, but think of my French puns as like women preaching or dogs walking on their hind legs...

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

'Tis the season to be jolly

As I said last time, I wanted to be sure to check out a German Christmas market while I had the opportunity. So on Saturday, the Brit and I headed over to Trier, apparently the oldest city in Germany, which is just 45 minutes or so by train from Luxembourg. (And, by the way, a return ticket from Luxembourg cost less than 10€, whereas it would have cost something like 70€ from Metz! That doesn't include that I can travel between Lux and Metz for "free" with my monthly train pass, but still.)

The Porta Nigra, a Roman gate in Trier. Looking on Wikipedia, it looks better from the other side...

Town square in Trier

Hideous elephant. The "elephant parade" was going on around Luxembourg (and apparently Trier) since I visited in the summer until last month or something. Unfortunately, this one strayed from the herd

The Brit had actually suggested on our first date that we go to the Karl Marx museum sometime, so we decided to combine that with the market excursion. Marx was born in Trier, and the museum is in the house where he was born and lived for maybe a year or so. This tangential connection to Marx pretty much sums up the museum. It was informative (thank goodness for the free audio guide though, because all the written information was in German) but pretty much entirely devoid of any artefact that had even a passing connection to the man himself. There were a couple of reproductions in cases of things like newspapers he wrote for, but even those were few and far between. Bizarrely, there was an old Atari computer from the 80s in one room (we had an Atari growing up, but ours was the type that plugged in to the TV), although I couldn't tell you why.

We learned some interesting things though - who knew that Marx died stateless, having renounced his Prussian citizenship, or that two of his daughters and his son-in-law committed suicide (for unexplained reasons)? It also did a good job of mapping out the influence of his ideology on different thinkers and regimes around the world, in a pretty balanced way. You did kind of leave, however, thinking that there was not much there that you couldn't have got from reading a book or listening to a podcast.

Marx museum done with, it was time to look around the markets, sip glühwein and eat sausages. Which we duly did. The markets were nice, although very crowded. I feared for my coat with the amount of red wine served in tiny boots and cigarettes that were sloshing around the crowd. The atmostphere, however, stayed festive. We stayed until almost 9 pm, by which time people were definitely on the merry side, but I didn't spot anyone that seemed to be blind drunk. Judging by the conversations I could hear around us, most of the crowd were German, with a minority of French speakers, which I imagine is not the case for the bigger markets in places like Cologne or Munich. We spoke to the vendor in a sweet shop who told us that weekend, the first of the Christmas markets, was the biggest of the whole year for him, and I can believe it with the crowds there were. I must say, everyone we interacted with was very nice too, so much for stereotypes!

So, there are two reasons why I don't usually blog about "relationship" things. 1) Nothing to report, ever. 2) I'm naturally pessimistic about everything and I don't like talking about jobs/dates/moves etc. which I think won't end up working out. So yeah, turns out that was my last date with the Brit, so I should have stuck with the policy. Two days shy of my 31st birthday, I got an email this morning to say that he didn't think we should see each other any more because I don't want children. I guess that's appropriate enough, since it's surely a sign of getting old if men start running away because you *don't* want kids. I was kind of surprised, since I didn't think things were serious between us, but maybe that's the point. Before you feel too sorry for me, he called on Skype last night - presumably to break up - and I thought "I'm tired, do I have to answer that? He's not even my boyfriend..." Clearly I'm a selfish person who doesn't deserve to be in a relationship anyway.

Still, even if he wasn't the one, I'm a bit upset. We got on well, I liked him. It was just nice to have someone around for once, especially since I'm low on friends etc. here. This would have been my first birthday celebrated with someone since 2004, or 2003 if you count that I was actually on the other side of the world and a few months away from breaking up with my boyfriend in 2004. That's a long time. And it hurts a little to be confronted with the reality that you reach a certain age where things are just going to get harder, when obviously they haven't been easy up to this point either.

So I suppose my actual birthday is going to be lonely, but at least this weekend I will be back in Tours to drown my sorrows with my friends...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Christmas spirits

(I don't actually)

Officially, I think Christmas should start after my birthday. But it is in full swing in these parts, and I've got to say, I'm getting in to the Christmas spirit. It's hard not to when there are twinkling lights in (it seems) every tree, to light up the dark that otherwise arrives around 4 pm, it's proper cold and there's Germanic treats to warm your hands and stomachs on offer.

Germany, of course, is widely known for its Christmas markets, and quite a lot of the festive spirit rubs off on neighbouring parts such as Eastern France and Luxembourg. I haven't been to the Metz Christmas market yet, but the Luxembourgish version has a distinctly Germanic feel to it. You can gorge yourself silly on bratwurst, rösti, or speck (or fondue, waffles, chocolate...) while sipping glühwein served from novelty mugs, browsing the usual assortment of Christmassy tat and listening to live carols (on a Wednesday night, no less).

A Christmassy wonderland

The view from afar

Bit blurry, but you get the idea

I went along after work with some of my colleagues, and whether it was the company or the mulled wine, we had a lovely time. There were many laughs after Em and I bought "sneeballen" (which I assume is German for snowballs) - a dense shortbread-like ball (folded as though someone had scrunched it up like a ball of paper) covered with chocolate, caramel, nuts etc. It actually wasn't that good, but we got our money's worth in laughs trying to bite into the things. It was nearly impossible to get any purchase! Defeated by the balls...

Attacking the boules

Hot dog!

More mulled wine
Definitely a good idea to cheer up the winter season! And the atmosphere was great as well. A little secret about Luxembourg - due to the multiple languages spoken in the country anyway, plus the European institutions, the international banks and the thousands who pour across the borders to work every day - it's actually very cosmopolitan. I love walking around the markets and hearing people speak different languages (and being fairly sure most of them aren't tourists). I think this will not be my last Christmas market of the season, it would be a shame not to experience a German one being so close!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Two-month report

Well, a little bit late, but anyway...

Two months in to my Metz/Lux adventure, and I think I can say I've fallen on my feet pretty well. In a way, I'm a bit of an old hand at moving to new places now (I think my little self-profile blurb used to say something like I've lived in 9 cities in 5 countries, so now it's 10), but I was in Tours for a very long time by my standards, so of course it takes some adjustment to picking up and leaving all your friends and familiar surroundings.

There has been some positive progress on the friends front though. Everyone (at least those I interact with on a regular basis) at work has been really nice and welcoming, and a lot more social than my old work. I think it's largely down to the expat vibe. Even though the great majority of those I work with are French, a lot of them aren't from the region or have moved from Lorraine to Luxembourg, so they have a bit more of that good old open-minded expat outlook that can sometimes be lacking in our French amis. I went along to Friday night drinks last week (we only work Friday afternoons about once a month, so it's a tradition to go for a drink afterwards) and I've been out a couple of times with some of the girls from work as well. Tonight we're going to meet up for a raclette evening, yum yum. I also got to meet the lovely Andromeda of Blonde in France, so hopefully we can catch up again some time! I even (whisper) have been seeing someone (The Brit) for the past month or so...

The report is a bit more mixed in some other areas. I feel I'm doing well at work, although that's not hard because it is very easy. Bit depressing at times to be doing the same unchallenging stuff day in and day out (and with days up to 9 1/2 hours long, not counting lunch, that drags). But at least it's something. And it pays well. And... I just heard yesterday that my and my counterpart's contracts are being renewed for the whole of next year. A little stability? That calls for champaaaaaaaagne...

The commute is still going okay, although it is getting colder (we've had the first snow of the year, more on that later). I'm a bit worried down the track since I've heard a few horror stories about the trains descending into chaos over winter. It can definitely be wearing, especially the weeks where I have to do 40 hours in 4 1/2 days. The other night it was 9.45 pm by the time I'd eaten dinner. I'd only been home for 1 1/4 hours and by that time, it was time to go to bed. That's the worst part really, just having literally no time to do anything at all. It took me about 5 days to watch the Downton Abbey season finale since I only managed about 20 minutes a time before I had to go to sleep to get up again at 6 am. And then any administrative or other tasks have to be plotted out pretty carefully since everything's shut by the time I get home, and even telephoning from Luxembourg can be tricky (my cellphone bill last night was 30€, not that much, but huge compared to the 2-4€ I used to pay in Tours).

In a way, it's lucky I'm not home that much, because I live in a dank pit. Everything is covered with mould - I pulled out a pair of gloves the other day, they had some sort of orange mould growing on them. I grabbed a packet of breadcrumbs, it was just a block of mould. Worst of all, I unwrapped a theoretically sealed packet of Munchies I'd brought back from the UK with me, and had to wipe drops of moisture off the sweets before eating them. When it starts messing with my chocolate, things get serious! Between that and the depredations of Bob, it's demotivating trying to keep the place looking halfway decent, particularly when I'm only home (awake) for about 2 1/2 hours each day.

Even so, I've managed to explore a little bit of the Lorraine/Luxembourg region...

Protestant church on an island in the Moselle in Metz

View of the Moselle in Metz

There was no fricking way I was going in this church

The Luxembourg Philharmonic on a rainy evening

I had a lovely trip out to Rodemack, voted one of France's prettiest villages, with some work colleagues. We turned up too late to visit the castle, but still had a nice walk around the old ramparts and played a fun board game in a local pub

Church in Rodemack

Rodemack town walls. The middle arch is a reconstruction, the original having been blown up to allow the American troops in during WWII

Herb garden and medieval wall in Rodemack
I also took a trip up to Vianden with the Brit. This was my first time out of Luxembourg City, and it was nice to see a little bit of the countryside. As with Rodemack, we managed to miss actually going into the castle, but it was still a lovely little town. We had lunch in a Portuguese place - Luxembourg has a surprisingly large and active Portuguese community. I had a bifana sandwich which was very tasty, even though the photo on the menu made it look remarkably like a pair of shoes.

Luxembourg is so small that this cross-country trip is actually only about a 50 minute drive

In front of Vianden Castle

View of Vianden

Vianden Castle - it was apparently in ruins by the start of the 20th century, so it seems that much of it is a reconstruction

Vianden from the river

And as I said, we've already had the first snowfall of the year. I was pretty excited, although that might not last! It didn't stick in Metz, but it was properly snowing in Luxembourg and stuck around for most of the day.

Snowy fields from the train

In Luxembourg City
So two months down, and possibly many more to come...

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A slightly more civilised look at Dijon

So, when we weren't dining with a nudist, what did we get up to in Dijon? Compared to that story, I've got to say the rest of the trip wasn't quite as exciting, in blogging terms. That doesn't mean we didn't have a great time though! There was a lot of good food and nice wine, a spot of retail therapy, and even a little bit of culture.

On Friday night, we headed out, accosted some guy on the street to tell us where the party was at, and went first to a bar where everyone was kind of dickish. First, as soon as we walked in, a group of 20ish year-olds immediately started whispering things in French about us to each other and giggling and going "Where is Brian?" (this is a famous French comedy routine about learning English - you can watch a short clip here with subtitles - it's quite funny, but it gets old hearing it every five seconds). One of the guys from the group came up to us outside and wanted to practice his English with us. He did actually turn out to be quite a nice guy, but we were rather cold at first and explained to him that, yeah, you're not necessarily in the mood to hand out free English lessons when his little friends were laughing and saying things presumably they thought we wouldn't understand the second we walked in the bar. Newsflash French people: sometimes those crazy foreigners actually do speak French!

Then later we were still outside, sitting on stools and a guy came up practically with his nose in my cleavage and goes "wow"! He then proceeded to try to explain, first in French and then in broken English, that he was admiring my boobs, with accompanying hand gestures. I found it more amusing than anything, he just kept going as though there was some sort of communication failure between us. You're staring at my boobs from a few inches away and drooling, dude I think I'd understand what you were getting at even if you were speaking Swahili...

So anyway, we left there and moved on to a club which turned out to be a lot of fun! Upstairs they had a live band and more of an all-ages feel, whereas downstairs was a club with a DJ which was mostly filled with early 20s tossers (god, getting old). I asked one guy to take a photo of us and he made such a fricking meal out of it, sighing and rolling his eyes like I'd asked him for a huge favour. And then he didn't even take it right (you have to hold the button down until it flashes, so many people don't actually succeed in taking the photo and then they don't get that it hasn't taken. Since this guy was being such a baby about it, in the end I just said it was fine. Actually, I may have said something along the lines of "geez, if it's that big of a deal then eff off". Whoops!) So we went back upstairs and got our dance on. Fun times!

Someone else was nice enough to take this one
On a medival Dijon street - those pretty patterned roofs in the background are characteristic of the area
Saturday was essentially taken up with much-needed restorative carb-loading at lunch and then shopping (yes, we bought mustard!), before the infamous dinner with Jérémie. Then on Sunday, again after a hearty lunch to soothe whatever wee hangovers we might have had (coq au vin, mmm), we finally got a spot of culture at the Dijon Museum of Fine Arts. This is fabulous, and it's free! Definitely recommended if you ever find yourself in Dijon. The girls had to leave after 45 minutes or so to start the drive back home, but I stayed for a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.

A bit of background - Dijon used to be home to the Dukes of Burgundy, who were pretty wealthy and powerful in the Middle Ages and the patrons of the arts. The Burgundy territories changed quite a lot over time, but they ruled over parts of the Low Countries at one point, so there are links to the artistic traditions in that part of the world. The museum is located in their ducal palace and filled with some fantastic medieval art (which I love, as we all know). Some highlights:

Ancient aliens didn't build the pyramids, Fraggle Rock did!

I love how adorably dopey zombie Jesus looks here. He's even standing on that poor guard

A chinesey-looking dragon

Vs. a mad sword-wielding dragon

Tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy. Tell me this isn't the most amazing thing you've seen today

Each statue of mourning monks around the base is different

Looks a lot like the photo before last, but it's not the same!

I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse #godfatherjesus

There were these two fabulous gold altarpieces opposite each other (photos below a bit of a mishmash I think)

I love medieval horses

I love how Jesus just kinda looks like he's having a bummer of a day, not going to his death. And check out that weird little dog to the right

Statues by local boy François Rude. This means there is a Rude Museum in Dijon (and I did actually pop in - it's also free!)

So pretty!
I don't think I would have ever put Dijon on my must-see list (we ended up there just by picking somewhere vaguely between Tours and Metz that none of us had ever visited), but it really was a great trip! Largely down to the good company, but I would definitely recommend it for a weekend if you get the chance.