(Almost) Finished in France

Coming to you for the final time with various shenanigans from Mulhouse! It’s bittersweet writing that, as everything is at the minute. Things are quickly wrapping up here and I am taking it in turns to procrastinate packing by writing this blog and vice versa! I’m still in the process of gathering my thoughts and feelings around the end of this era but for now, let’s wrap up the goings on of the last few months.

First up, not even a week after getting back from Paris with my dad and sister, I was back! My friend and fellow lectrice Anna was running the Paris half marathon and I was roped in as the support crew. Anna and I were together in Porto so it hadn’t been that long since we’d seen each other. There also just so happened to be a comedian that we both really like who had shows that weekend so we thought, two birds with one stone! Paul Taylor is an English comedian who has been living in France for years, married a French woman and speaks perfect French. We went to see Bisousbye which is his third bilingual comedy special after Franglais and So British, Ou Presque. Both Anna and I remember watching clips of his comedy in high school and I’ve discovered from my students that they also know him from high school English class. I even used clips from his specials in a lesson I did on humour in December! The show was Paul Taylor saying goodbye to a lot of parts of his life, this being his last bilingual comedy special as well as various other things coming to an end. There was a lot to relate to in terms of the French language, as always with his specials, and just in general was really funny.

When it came to the marathon, Anna was starting around 9.30 but we were at the start point at Place de la Bastille much earlier. I saw her off and then found a bakery where I craftily turned a large FNAC paper bag into a sign! I had been instructed to position myself somewhere around kilometre 18 where Anna tends to have a little dip in motivation so a friendly face goes a long way. After I saw her pass and cheered her on, I raced back to Place de la Bastille and almost by chance saw her again with 300m to go. She absolutely smashed it and got a new personal best time by 5 minutes!

Not long after, one week to be exact, I saw Anna again when she came to Mulhouse to do the half marathon here! Not just that but as she was also training for a marathon, the madwoman ran a 10k before even starting the half marathon! While she was in Mulhouse we also went for a lovely brunch with some of my friends. We actually ventured out of Mulhouse to one of the neighbouring towns, an unfortunately rare occurrence for me because it’s a little challenging without a car. My friend Aine had chosen a place called Môme in nearby Habsheim. It was a cute little place and the mini pancakes (pofferts) were adorable!

Now onto my own sporting adventures, there has been more water polo of late! Back in the middle of March we had another weekend of matches at home in Mulhouse. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to play because I had burnt my hand really badly while cooking a few days before. However, I was still there to give my support to the girls! We got our second win that weekend, 20-6 against the team from Arras! Sadly the second game against Choisy didn’t go the same way. We had our final weekend more recently, away in Arras which is about halfway between Paris and Lille. I was excited to get back to playing games and even better, we won both of our matches! Our first match was against the hosts who were a little aggressive for my liking (I’m very aware that water polo is a physical sport, that is one of the many reasons that I love it but I dislike when players start being unnecessarily mean or try to purposefully cause someone pain). However, we didn’t let it affect us and we stayed strong to the end resulting in a 20-13 win! The morning after, we had our second match against Grainville. I got sent out twice which is out of the norm for me (and honestly I think both times were a bit of an overreaction) but we still won 12-6! Getting two wins was such a nice end to the season together , bringing us to four in total over the season.

Recently I’ve also played host to my family! At the start of April I had my first visitors, my dad and his wife. My dad came to visit last year with my sister but it was the first time for Olwyn. They were spending a few days in Mulhouse and then we were driving to the Alps for a few days of skiing. It was really nice to have their hire car while they were in Mulhouse because it made a few activities more accessible and we were able to tick a some things off my bucket list as well! We kicked things off with a lovely meal in a ferme auberge (a traditional restaurant found in the Vosges mountains that uses local products) near Thann called Auberge du Mehrbächel. We had a little crémant aperitif when we arrived and then I had canard à l’orange (orange duck) with spaetzle, Olwyn had choucroute and my dad had sürlawerla (liver in gravy) with spaetzle. It was a great, hearty meal that defeated us before we could finish but we still had room for some apple tart and black forest gateau for dessert.

Taking advantage of the car again, we headed to Eguisheim the following day, a small medieval village near Colmar that is a popular spot on the route des vins d’Alsace (the wine route). Since 2003 it has been officially classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France! The weather wasn’t really cooperating as it was grey and drizzly but the charm still shone through. Eguisheim is interesting because the old centre ville is encircled by walls, or at least the houses are organised into a twisty circle formation. We walked around the outer road which is the old rampart and has some of the most beautiful and colourful houses.

Dinner at Auberge du Mehrbächel

In a similar vein we also headed to the Écomusée d’Alsace near Ungersheim on the Sunday. The écomusée is a reconstructed Alsatian village and the biggest open air museum in all of France, covering 97 hectares. There are 80 buildings from the 15th to 20th century, 70 of which were saved from demolition around Alsace. There’s also staff members dressed up and dispersed around the place in roles like the blacksmith or baker and over 60 animals. The museum is also home to the biggest colony of storks in the region, the much loved symbol of Alsace, so the clacking sound of their beaks is the soundtrack to your visit. The museum functions in part as an actual farm and is also very important to the conservation of the local area. The site of the museum was originally an industrial wasteland that was previously a potassium mine and has since been transformed into a biodiverse haven.

We worked our way through the map and stopped for some tartines flambées and a cheese bretzel. Just beyond the boulangerie there was the Maison des Goûts et des Couleurs where we found a baker making traditional Alsatian recipes. He had a herb soup and a lamala which is an Easter cake made in a mould shaped like a lamb. He explained to us that the cake was made during lent because of the overabundance of eggs. During lent, Christian’s wouldn’t eat eggs but it was also just as the chickens started laying eggs after the winter. He had actually used duck eggs in his lamala instead of chicken eggs because they have them readily available in the écomusée. We carried on around the village and found a large fortified tower that was originally from Mulhouse! We were lucky to have glorious weather and spent three or four hours wandering around.

After enjoying the weekend together, I still had to work at the start of the week so I left my dad and Olwyn to their own devices either around Mulhouse or heading off to Colmar one day. We were still able to do things together in the evening so one day we went straight from work over to Badenweiler in Germany and visited the thermal baths. We also sampled a selection of local wines at my favourite wine bar, La Quille, and caught some of the live trad music that happens once a month at the Irish bar, Shamrock.

And then it was time for skiing! I went to Switzerland last year with my dad and sister which was my first time skiing since I was 16. It was great but Switzerland was, as expected, very expensive so we headed to the Alps this year and back to Les Gets, the first place my family ever went skiing when I was 10! It was bizarre being back 15 years later. Obviously a lot has changed but there were still some places I recognised like the Black Bear Canadian bar and Bar Bush (we always liked this bar because at the time the street we lived on was called Barbush!). We arrived pretty late but got sorted with equipment the next day and got out on the slopes! April is the very end of the ski season so it wasn’t ideal conditions when we got there, the snow was thin in some places, particularly on lower slopes, and icy in others. However we were lucky to have fresh snowfall on our second day! This gave us our best afternoon and morning of skiing, after it had stopped snowing but when the snow was fresh on the ground. It started melting by the end of our third and final day. Olwyn was taking some lessons to build her confidence so I was mostly skiing with my dad. We stuck to a mixture of blue and red slopes to keep us both happy (his preference would be blue to work on his technique and mine is easy reds because I like to go fast and more difficult reds because I like a challenge). Neither of us are bothered about pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone and onto black runs. We went out for dinner on our last night to Brasserie Centre we sampled some of the cuisine of the Haute Savoie region, tartiflette for my dad and Olwyn (potatoes, reblochon cheese, onions and lardons) and I tried croûte alpage which is layers of bread and ham covered in cheese and with a bit of white wine. It was so good but I might have found the limit of how much cheese I can take!

After saying goodbye to my dad and Olwyn, I had a few days to myself and then my mum arrived in Mulhouse! This was her first time visiting me and there’s nothing like leaving it to the last minute! I’m glad she got here though because, as is the case when my family have visited me anywhere I’ve been living, it’s always nice for them to be able to picture the people and places I talk about. My mum actually arrived just in time to sit in on my last two classes EVER! Then I welcomed her to Mulhouse the best way I know how, with happy hour cocktails at Nomad and tarte flambée at Gambrinus!

Her first full day here was a strike day so I didn’t want to risk trying to get the train somewhere and deal with disruption so we just explored Mulhouse! After a slow start we had sandwiches at Petit Marcel for lunch and got some patisseries from Le Boudoir de Léa before visiting the Musée des Beaux Arts (the fine art museum). It was nice for a little wander and free entry, though it was pretty small. After that, we went to the textile printing museum which I think is really interesting but I enjoyed it more last time I went when there was a temporary exhibition on fashion. In the evening we went out to my go-to Alsatian restaurant in Mulhouse, Le Cellier, where my mum had the best fleischnackas I’ve ever tried and I went for the classic choucroute.

Over the next two days, we did the full tour of Alsace. First we went to Colmar where we had gorgeous weather to wander around the Petite Venise area. We stopped by the marché couvert and got some pastries from Boulangerie L’Enfariné (escargot à la cannelle, cinnamon snail, and kougelhopf, a traditional cake similar to a Bundt cake) and then wandered around an Easter market near the Koïfhus. After lunch we headed back to Mulhouse because my department at the university were having a combined end of semester and goodbye drinks for me. It was so nice that my mum was able to come and it was a lovely way to round out my time at UHA.

Next up was Strasbourg, my mum’s only request while she was here. We started with a drink at the foot of the cathedral which really is quite impressive. It’s even more impressive when you climb the 332 steps to the platform at the top! After wandering along the river a little more, we found somewhere for lunch and then headed into the Petite France area. Unfortunately I started to feel unwell so we headed home earlier than expected to rest a little bit. We wanted to make sure we had some energy left for the evening because we had tickets to see Mulhouse’s women’s volleyball team! My mum used to play so she loved getting to watch the girls who are fantastic! Mulhouse is very proud of the team, as they should be seeing as they got all the way to the final making them one of the two best teams in France! They won this match, which was the quarterfinal, in three straight sets.

I’m going to leave it there as my last few weeks in Mulhouse, or should I say France seeing as I was away from Mulhouse for one of those weeks, have been pretty packed and deserve their own time and space. Next up is most likely a post reflecting on my time in Mulhouse and as a lectrice because being in my final few days here has me feeling very introspective. Hopefully coming to a screen near you soon!

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