A walk around Strasbourg

One of the things we did while we were in Strasbourg was to take a free walking tour – we’ve done this in Budapest and in Turin, as well as here in Strasbourg, and always found them to be really interesting. I’d recommend looking one up if you’re visiting another city. Of course, one gives a tip at the end, but you give what you think the tour has been worth.

One thing that I found very moving was when our guide, Leo, talked about the way Strasbourg and the surrounding area had passed from French to German hands and back again, a&nd back again…how a member of his family who was still alive had “changed nationality” five times in his lifetime! Leo took us to a war memorial: Here’s my picture of it, taken on a rainy day in December.

Here’s another photo:

Leo explained that the sculpture shows the mother “Alsace” mourning for her dead sons…but, uniquely for war memorials, these young men are naked, they wear no uniforms, nothing to identify them. The words on the memorial read “A nos morts” (To our dead)…almost uniquely, nothing about “dead for the Republic”, or “died for the glory of France”.

And why? Because there had been people from Strasbourgian families who had been fighting on both sides – for the Allied forces, but also for the German, simply because of where they lived, and who had been “in charge” at the time. So the memorial simply commemorates all who died. I found this very moving.

The rest of the tour was informative and interesting too..with a very engaging guide.

We were lucky enough to also have a rapid tour with an acquaintance, Denis, who we’d met for Vin Chaud. He told us about a space between two pillars, outside the Cathedral…Apparently, people had to go through this space at the end of Lent. If they couldn’t fit through, it showed that they hadn’t been very good at their Lenten fasting and were therefore fined!!

Here’s Jane proving that her Lenten fasting had gone well

despite us having eaten one of these, which is a cross between a pretzel and a doughnut (a doughzel? a pretnut?)

and one of these, which is a cross between a Danish pastry and a pretzel (a Danzel? a Pretzish?)

Both were delicious, but I preferred the doughzel – it was much lighter than it looked. We had shared one, but would have liked one each! Unfortunately, we’d taken it back to the flat to eat, so it was too far to go back to buy another one!

 

 

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Good times in Strasbourg

I had a lovely few days in Strasbourg, with my friend Jane.

The journey there was a little fraught – although as I didn’t have any connections to make I wasn’t too anxious. We were on the last leg of the journey, about 20 minutes outside Strasbourg, when the train ground to a halt. After about 5 minutes the guard announced that we had hit a deer, and so had to wait for clearance to restart. Also, one assumes, for someone to clear up the debris. We were held up for about 30 minutes, during which time I texted Jane, to keep her up to date with what was happening. Finally we started off again, only to come to another abrupt halt about 10 minutes outside Strasbourg. This time, the guard told us with a weary sigh, there were children playing on the line, and a pram abandoned in our path. I suspect it was more likely to be yoofs dropping things onto the track from a bridge, but I don’t know for sure. That clear up took another 45 minutes or so – we arrived in Strasbourg about 90 minutes late. Jane had come from the flat to meet me, so we were able to have something to eat near the station, before taking a taxi back.

The first (but not the last!) mulled wine!

On Sunday we had planned to go to church, but ended up not going! We woke late and had a leisurely breakfast instead. Then we went to explore the Christmas markets… There were, after all, eleven to explore! Initially we were a little disappointed. They were either a bit too Chinese imported tat, or what was a small number of wooden chalets had been bigged up to be a “Christmas Market” However, as our time went by, we found ourselves being a little more forgiving; some weren’t much to write home about though. The “Off” market was supposed to be edgy and alternative, but was just a bit boring and unfestive. There were four or five containers with a couple of interesting stalls, plus some igloo type structures with some bits and bobs, but nothing terribly out there.

Still, while there were rather too many stalls selling Vin Chaud and baguettes with cheese and ham, we had a lovely time!

By sheer coincidence we were in the Place Kléber when the huge tree lit up – very festive! Especially when watched clutching a Vin Chaud!The market here was a little disappointing too – this was supposed to be the “ethical” market. The description told us that “Some one hundred support, charity and humanitarian associations invite you to come and meet them, discuss what drives them and share their solidarity actions at the Village of Sharing in Place Kléber, from 23 November to 24 December” What it doesn’t say is that these 100 or so associations were sharing approximately 10 chalets on a rolling programme, so there were only 10 different groups at any one time – most of them selling Vin Chaud! We did buy some “Humanitarian soup” (parsnip with ginger and lemongrass) which was good,and Facebook had a stand where they were showing their human face: encouraging us to make a donation to a charitable cause through FB, they were offering a free Christmas sweatshirt for every donation made. Well, as I needed a Christmas jumper for our works Christmas party, but was refusing to buy one, this seemed like an ideal opportunity! I wanted to support Phone Cedit for Refugees, but they don’t have a FB page, so instead I gave a donation to Restos du Coeur, and received a Christmas sweatshirt,a bag, a FB pin, a pair of gloves and a handwarmer!

Some of the decorations were amazing, and the stalls were beautifully decked out too

Our favourite market was in the Place Broglie, which is where we made many of our purchases. It was here we also met Denis, the treasurer of the Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Europe, who lives in Strasbourg. He had offered to take us to taste the “best gluhwein in the markets” so (naturally!) we took him up on the offer. The Vin Chaud was at the stall Chez Mathilde and was, apparently, an old family recipe. It was delicious – the spices used included cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and cardomom. Then Denis took us on a whirlwind tour of the markets (showing us one we’d missed) and ended up buying us a beer in an old fashioned beer kellar/pub type place. We let him go home after thyat (it was raining hard by then) and we wandered around the market a bit longer before heading home ourselves. My back had been playing up both Sunday and Monday,  generally being painful, but also occasionally going into spasm, so I was happy to take the tram home!

Random twinkly lights

We also did some sightseeing, but I’ll tell you aboutthat another time.

Quelles temps!

What weather!

We knew that snow was coming – in fact, I didn’t go to church last Sunday, because it was forecast, but it didn’t arrive.

On Monday, Mr FD was worried – I had to go to Clermont to teach, but there was an Orange Warning for snow from midday onwards. I wanted to stay in Clermont to prepare for the week, but he wanted me to go home. I compromised by photocopying quickly what I thought I might need, before heading home. It was raining hard, but no sign of snow until I was almost home, and even that was only quelques flocons (a few flakes). It stayed grey and wet all Monday afternoon, but later in the evening it started to snow properly.

When we woke up – power was off! Our house is almost completely electric. Even though we have a granule burner it still requires electricity to feed the granules into the burning compartment, and to work the fan that blows out the hot air; we have a fireplace in our big salon downstairs, which heats bits of the house via the chimney, but that’s it. We had juice and bread for breakfast and Mr FD started digging the cars out, ready for me to go to Clermont in the afternoon for my planned lessons.

However, the motorways were closed – even in snow that’s most unusual for this region.I can only assume that some lorry breakdowns caused by the snow were the culprit rather than the snow itself. People were coming past Mr FD as he worked, asking for directions and saying they’d been stuck on the motorway all night. One of my students contacted me saying they were fine if I  wanted to cancel. As we haven’t yet got the winter tyres on the car, I thought this was prudent.

I was feeling quite caffeine deprived by now, so, knowing that our friends Monique and Michel have a wood stove and a gas cooker, I went across to beg a cup of coffee from them. I stayed in the warm, drinking coffee, while we watched Mr FD continue to clear the pavement and path, and remarked on how well he was working, considering he’d had a gastro the day before (!!)…then Monique suggested we might like to have lunch with them if the power was still off by then. I took a flask of hot water, so Mr FD could have a cup of tea, and we wrapped ourselves up in blankets and read until lunch time. When the power was still off. So we went across the road for tomato salad, and duck pot-au-feu. It was very welcome, as was the friendship and conversation.

Monique wanted to paint that afternoon, so we left at about 2.30, and went back to light candles, wrap ourselves up and read/draw. I really enjoyed the peace of it! Mr FD likes to have music, the radio, the TV on, whatever he’s doing, so there’s almost always sound going on around the house; not today. It was almost silent, erxcept for the swish of passing cars through the snow. At about 5 o’clock the fan on the granule burner started to whirr and we knew the power was back. The kettle went on for a hot drink, and Mr FD turned on the TV. The peace and quiet were over…But it was nice to be warm again!!

But here’s the weird thing – by the next morning most of the snow was gone, and by Thursday we were in bright sunshine and temperatures of 13° or more! Climate change is definitely happening…

 

Appreciation

I used to read a blog, written by “Betty the Wod Fairy” who did beautiful paintings. It was a gentle, spiritual, slightly whimsical blog, but somehow it slipped off my radar and I forgot about it.

Today, following links from other people’s blogs, I came across her new blog, Wood Fairy

Something she wrote really resonated with me – I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting it:

We are a happy little family, all working different hours/shift patterns, so disorganised, the oven is always on at weird times as it’s someones dinner time and someone elses breakfast! The beds are never made and the house is not as tidy as I would like, there’s a mountains of ironing and cat fur everwhere! But we know the important things: eating well, sleeping well, making sure everyone knows they are loved and appreciated – preferably daily, not worrying about the things we cannot change and… counting our blessings.

While my little family eats at the same time, and keeps the same waking/sleeping hours, rather than having different meals at the same time, I loved Betty’s words for reminding me that being perfect is not really the aim of the game. Loving, laughing and nurturing – THEY are the most important things.

I really appreciated the pizza evening that my friends organised for my birthday last night. It was a great time.

A couple of cards

I haven’t made many cards for a while, but here’s two I have made.

The first is for a family of friends who lost their father/father-in-law/grandfather not long ago:

I didn’t want to make it too sombre, so I chose a cream/grey/yellow colour combination on a darker grey card. I hope it didn’t look too “feminine”. It’s always rather hard to know quite what colours to use in a Condolence card – I usually use purples and greys, but I was led by the background paper here.

The second is a cheerier card, made for a friend who is currently going in a clinic, for depression and alcohol related problems. She recently took an overdose – whether on purpose or not, I don’t know – and this led to her going to the clinic. Her OH has told us that she is responding well, and we hope she’ll be home in a couple of weeks. I hope this will remind her that we are all rooting for her to conquer her demons.

I often look at people’s blogs where they show their workspace – I envy those crafters who can work neatly and in an organised manner…when I’m making a card, my desk looks as though a bomb has hit it. I put things down, and can’t find them again, my glasses (which I take off for close work) get buried under drifts of paper, I have boxes of this and that balanced on top of boxes of other thises and thats…It all becomes a bit of a nightmare. And it’s a real chore to tidy up again afterwards!

I’m sure other people must be so much more organised than me!

Social whirl

We’ve had a very enjoyable week of social occasions – of which I took no photos whatsoever!!

THURSDAY LUNCH – Friend Sandra invited us to lunch – but we had to pretend we didn’t speak French, so her student got plenty of practice speaking English! She had invited several people, and had two tables set – the English table (only speaking English) and the French table. On our table were Mr FD & I, Gilles, the student, Veronique, a French English-teacher, and her children (who didn’t speak English). On the French table were Sandra, Gille’s wife, Veronique’s partner, and a lady from across the street whose name I’ve forgotten. It was fun. Sandra had made Marmite-on-bread amuse bouches, followed by onion tart. Then we had meatballs with home made pasta, then cheddar cheese and Jacob’s crackers, and finally a Bird’s trifle! 

For those who don’t know, Bird’s Trifle is basically a trifle in a packet – everything supplied : jelly, custard powder, artificial cream powder, dry sponge fingers – I’m not sure quite what the French made of it!

Gilles spoke well, but when he was looking tired, after about 2 hours, I took pity on him and spoke a bit of French! I know what it’s like when you get brain freeze in another language!

THURSDAY EVENING:  Friend Cathy invited us up for a Champagne celebration for the end of my treatment. Lots of people were there – Cathy, Richard, Alison, Gerome, Mr FD, Clare, Jean & two of their three children. We sat outside and drank our way through several bottles as the sun went down.

Delicious food included a very good mirabelle tart made from scratch by Alyssia and Jo, the two children (who are now young adults, if I’m honest!) None of this bought-in pastry rubbish!!

SUNDAY LUNCH: We went over to “the other side of the mountain” to see our friends Mij and Bill. After a gin-and-tonic, we drove across to Le Crozet, to the restaurant there

It was lovely! I had a Caesar salad for starter – loads of chicken, and deliciously crunchy croutons. This was followed by supreme of pintarde (guinea fowl) which came with gratin dauphinoise (which I love!!) Then carpaccio of orange, with a cinnamon syrup, and a sharp, red fruit coulis. Delicious – and all for under 20€. I think it was 18,50€ (£16.80 or 21.43 USD) which, in my opinion, was very good value!

We went back to Mij & Bill’s for a good catch up. It was a very enjoyable and sociable time, spent with good friends.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: I went to visit Charlotte, who I met during my first chemo session. She really helped me feel comfortable with the process, which she herself has to go through every three weeks, as her cancer is incurable and, I assume, advancing. She rarely talked about it, except in the vaguest terms, but I did understand that it is terminal. She is a tutor in French, English and maths, and TBH, I was a tad nervous about going to see her. It’s all very well chatting as you go through chemo, but I wasn’t sure how well we’d get on outside of the hospital setting.

I needn’t have worried – we got on like the proverbial house on fire. I took her a little rose plant, and she had bought me one! So we exchanged rose plants, drank fruit juice, ate brioche and discussed lots of things – poetry, writing books,teaching, holidays… The time flew by and before I knew it three hours had gone and I needed to be moving. What a delight! I hope that we can meet up again in the not too distant future.

 

29 down. 1 to go.

On Monday it will be my last radiotherapy session! Huzzah!

 

On Monday evening we’re being treated to a meal out.  C and A are people we know who have a holiday home here; Mr FD does the odd techie job for them, and makes sure their internet is up and running  before they arrive for the holidays etc. They’re both getting on and have recently been ill, but would really like to visit some of their friends about 100 km north of here, in the Beaujolais. Mr FD is going to drive them, I’m going along for the ride, and C&A are going to pay for us to have a meal in a restaurant nearby to their friends. Mr FD is a bit disappointed that the insurance is too complicated and expensive to work out for their car, which is some flash Mercedes. Instead we’ll be driving our old workhorse, the PugBus (a Peugeot something-or-other)

We’re trying to choose the restaurant now – this one is looking favourite

And here’s the celebration menu we’re considering…

Mise en bouche

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Foie gras frais de canard maison cuit en terrine
Chutney de saison et pain aux figues
ou
Cocotte d’escargots de Bourgogne aux cèpes
au beurre d’ail crèmé
ou
Escalope de foie gras de canard poêlée sur Tatin de pommes
caramélisées au miel du Haut Beaujolais

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Sandre poché au Mâcon blanc
fondue de poireaux et concassé de tomates

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  Entrecôte charolaise  sauce Marchand de vin
ou
Ris de veau au jus de raisin (origine France)

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Plateau de fromages affinés
ou
Faisselle Bressane et sa crème épaisse

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Dessert maison au choix

Just call me Gourmande!!