Do you remember the 21st night of September? (If you didn’t sing that in your head we can’t be friends.) Well, that’s the last time I posted an general update about my time here. There’s been lots of big things happening recently, my trips to Paris, Spain and Andorra as well as my three month anniversary in France, which have occupied my most recent blog posts. These were great to experience and fun to write about but there’s also been lots of exciting things happening in the day to day as well. I think this update is well overdue!
Now that I’ve been here for more than three months, I’m really getting to know Mulhouse. It’s a small city which means that there’s enough variety to keep things interesting but not so much that it feels overwhelming. This includes lots of nice cafes, interesting restaurants and exciting bars. I’ve made a bit of headway in visiting them but still have a list of places to keep working my way through. I have already found a couple of places that have become favourites of mine but I’m not going to go into much more detail about them for now. I want to write a blog introducing you to all the spots I like around Mulhouse – I’m saying it here so that it actually happens! With the recent news that I’m going to be here for two years in total, it’s nice to feel like I’m getting to know my new home more but also that there’s still lots more to discover. Something I haven’t done much of yet is exploring the little villages around Mulhouse which I would like to do in the future.
A while ago, back in October, I met up with a group of language assitants working around Mulhouse (some of whom are now my neighbours!). Most of them are working in schools rather than the university but it was nice to be able to share our teething problems and insider tips, much of which are the same. We went for dinner at a restaurant called Volfoni and then went ice skating! It was actually really fun because on a Saturday night the skate session is just for young people with the vibes of a nightclub – boîte de nuit on ice! It was mostly teenagers absolutely showing us up as we tottered round the rink but I didn’t fall so that’s something!
Just after I got back from my trip to Spain and Andorra, more specifically the day I got back, it was Halloween and my new neighbours were having a party. I went as a very loose interpretation of Fred from the Scooby Doo crew, part of what was supposed to be a group costume but in the end only Shaggy could make it. In France, the day after Halloween (which isn’t really a big celebration here) is Toussaint or All Saints’ Day. Similar to Día de los Muertos in Latin America, it’s a day for remembering and celebrating the dead. It’s also a public holiday which meant a day off work!
A fun discovery in November was a natural wine salon that happened at Motoco. Motoco is a very cool venue in itself. It’s an old textile factory that has been transformed into an events space and also lots of workspaces for artists. The name comes from the phrase MOre TO COme. My fellow lectrice friend Àine invited me to Le Salon Brutes, a natural wine fair that had more than 70 wine producers. Many were from Alsace, but there were also representatives from other regions in France as well as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Neither of us are that knowledgable about wine so we wondered around trying to decide which wines to sample. Sometimes we were drawn to a stand because it looked popular, other times because it wasn’t so we could actually get in, sometimes it was for the artwork on the wine bottles. Highlights for me were a white from Domaine Goepp, an Alsatian wine producer, called La p’tite Bulle and a red (shocking because I don’t really like red wine) from Les Vins Pirouettes called Litron Rouge. They also had some food vendors so we got a tarte flambée and I tried my first oysters! I can’t say I was a fan but Àine did assure me that they were just bad oysters. It was a different way to spend a Saturday afternoon and very fun!
Continuing with the theme of new foods, I’ve continued my mission of trying more Alsatian foods. First up are Moricettes. Imagine a little sandwich made out of pretzel dough and that’s a Moricette. There is a chain of sandwich shops in Alsace calles Poulaillon and it was the owner of this chain that first created the Moricette, right here in Mulhouse. I even heard that it was named after his wife! You can put whatever sandwich filling you want in it and it’s very tasty. I’ve also been able to try a few more dishes with my water polo team who sometimes go out for dinner after training on a Friday night. We head to the rugby clubhouse which is just behind the pool and crash the club dinner where they are often serving up an Alsatian specialty. I’ve been able to try choucroute and spaetzle there. Choucroute is a dish that combines sauerkraut with various sausages, other meat and sometimes potatoes. No complaints from me! Spaetzle are a thick egg pasta, more similar to gnocchi in my opinion than actual pasta. I tried it served with gravy and an assortment of meat. Both are very hearty dishes which I’m learning is very typical of Alsatian food. Last up is a bit of Alsatian-British fusion from when I went round to my friend Àine’s house for lunch a while ago. She lives with her boyfriend and his sister who are half French and half British so the plan was to make toad in the hole but with a mix of Alsatian sausages. Despite a slight gravy mishap, overall it was a success!
I also took a day trip to Basel which was my first time in Switzerland! I’m not going to go into it to much here as I’m planning a blog on all the day trips you can take from Mulhouse (more promises!). I’ve already written about going to Strasbourg but there’s also Colmar, a smaller town halfway between here and Strasbourg. I’m just waiting until I’ve been to Freiburg, the closest city in Germany. For now I’ll just say that even though I’d heard that Basel was really expensive, I thought it wasn’t too bad. We found some cool, hidden spots and just generally wandered around the old town. It’s a nice city, especially around the river, but I think I prefer some of the other places nearby that I’ve been.
Obviously we are now fully in the festive period and there’s nowhere better to spend it than in Alsace. Christmas markets abound and I’ve managed to visit several of them. First up in Mulhouse, the Christmas markets are spread out through Place de la Réunion, around the back of the cathedral and down a couple of side streets. I’ve obviously never seen them before but to me at least it seems like they’ve done a good job of keeping it spaced out so that even on opening night which was the most crowded I’ve seen it, it was still not overwhleming. Some of the sellers include Alsatian alcohol, sweet treats like biscuits, nougat and candy, wooden toys, artisan tea, jewellery and lots more. I also ventured out to the markets in Colmar and Strasbourg which are both much bigger than Mulhouse. I liked the Colmar one a lot, there were a few different areas to walk around in, but the Strasbourg ones were somehow both overwhelming and underwhelming. Strasbourg is known as the Christmas capital so I knew it was a must see but I actually didn’t like it as much. To be fair, we did go on a pretty miserable day weather-wise but that was a conscious decision to try and avoid the crowds. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Strasbourg was absolutely packed which made it harder to enjoy the markets themselves.
And of course, you can’t talk about a Christmas market without talking about the food and drink. The star of the show on the drinks side is the vin chaud, also known as glühwein or mulled wine. I’ve seen all the familiar flavours of cinnamon and orange but also some specialities like cherry or raspberry. Something I’ve never seen before though is mulled white wine or mulled rosé, both of which were on offer as well as spiced apple or orange juice and hot beer. I tried the hot white wine which was actually very tasty but steered well away from the hot beer on advice from those who had been brave enough already.
Food-wise, the stalls were filled with all the things you would expect and plenty of Alsatian snacks as well. Obviously this includes tarte flambée (or flammekueche) alongside choucroute and spaetzle. There are also bretzels, essentially a pretzel, sometimes topped with cheese, lardons or other things. Also available are open baguette sandwiches, raclette and tartiflette. For those with a sweet tooth, there are crepes and waffles with an abundance of toppings and churros which are adorably called batonnets de Noël. Personally my food highlight was a crêpe in Colmar with Nutella and praline, the perfect combination of sweet and crunchy!
And there we go, three months packed in to one blog post. I’ll try not to get too caught up and leave it another three months before the next one. My blog posts haven’t been that regular of late but I have lots of ideas and a bit more time now that it’s the holidays so expect a few more from me in the coming weeks!