(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!

Porto and Paris

I had such a great time in Madrid and Lisbon but there were some long days and lots of walking involved so I was ready to chill for a little bit. After a few days in Lisbon, I was heading to the north of Portugal and the second largest city, Porto. When I was planning this trip, I decided that I wanted to see more than just one place in Portugal which is why I didn’t spend the whole week in Lisbon. On second thoughts, I regret that decision slightly but only because I loved Lisbon so much, not because I didn’t like Porto. Another exciting part of Porto was that I was meeting a friend there so I had some company! It didn’t end there either. After two nights in Porto with my friend Anna, I headed to Paris to meet my dad and sister for the weekend and round out my trip.

From Lisbon, Porto is only a three hour bus ride away so I arrived about midday. Anna was flying in from France a few hours after me so I scoped out where our AirBnB is and then killed some time in a Starbucks so I could charge my rapidly depleting phone battery (the beginning of the end for my old iPhone 8, she served me well). Once Anna had landed and was on her way into the city, I found a lunch spot for us, Garden Cafe, and we caught up over some delicious burgers. After lunch we still had to wait an hour or so until we could check in so we sat reading in a square in front of Porto town hall until it was time.

Once we could check in and leave our bags, we went straight out to catch the sunset. Of everything we did in Porto, this was my favourite. We headed down to Ponte Luís I, one of the bridges that crosses the Rio Douro. The view of Porto is incredible but made even better by an incredible sunset! On the other side of the bridge is the jardim do Morro, a small park, where I had an incredibly weird (almost) encounter. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a face that I recognised and it took me a second to place it. It turned out to be someone I met in Beijing in the first few days that I moved to China in 2019! I bumped into his friend early in the morning in the hostel and ended up going for a walk with them both as the sun was still coming up (blame jet lag). I couldn’t believe that I had spotted and recognised him three and a half years later. I didn’t go up and say hi because the only contact we’ve had since Beijing is being Facebook friends and I didn’t fancy the awkwardness if he didn’t also recognise me. Still, it was a nice reminder of how small and serendipitous the world is!

We walked back along the bridge and down some stairs to get to water level (glad we were going down instead of up!). We had a look at a few little shops, enjoyed some buskers and then sat down for a drink in the cosy terrace of a bar. One glass of wine and a hot chocolate later, we headed back to the AirBnB via McDonalds for a light dinner. Incidentally, the McDonalds in Porto is considered by many as the most beautiful in the world! It is housed in an Art Deco building that previously was home to the famous Cafe Imperial.

For our full day in Porto, we had a few things on our list. Top of that was Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and often considered one of the best in the world. You can also see a collection of letters from Bob Dylan to his high school girlfriend that are displayed upstairs. I definitely think it’s one, if not the most, beautiful bookstore that I’ve ever seen. The warm wooden interior and the nooks created by the beams make it feel comforting, like any good bookshop should be. However, I think it’s really more of a tourist attraction than a functioning bookshop, which is fine as long as you know to expect that. If you want to visit Livraria Lello, you need to buy a ticket, €6 on the door I think or €5 online. We bought them online while standing outside so it’s easy to do. If you go on to buy a book inside, the price of your ticket is deducted from the price of the book. In theory, I think this is a good system. If you have a bookshop that has become as popular as Lello, then this is a good way to incentivise people to actually buy books rather than just come in and look around. However, there were some flaws in practice. Once we got inside it was absolutely packed, so much so that we could barely move up or down the main stairs. Anna pointed out that if you’re going to have a ticketing system, why let that many people in at once? Once inside, they don’t have a very large selection of books other than a limited selection of their own editions of ‘classic’ novels in a selection of languages. In the end, neither of us bought anything. I think a better example of a famous and popular yet still functioning bookshop would be Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Yes, the lines can be long and it’s still very busy but it’s free, there’s enough room to breathe, a wide selection of books plus you’re not supposed to take photos so that people don’t get clogged up taking Instagram pics.

Moving on, we passed the Torre de Clérigos, a church tower that is one of the symbols of the city, and walked down the Rua das Flores, possibly the most picturesque street in Porto. This took us back down to the waterfront where we found a spot to eat. It was mostly likely a tourist trap, the food was fine but not great, but we wanted somewhere to enjoy the view and the sunshine. I had a francesinha, a sandwich that originated in Porto, with steak, salami, sausage and ham topped with melted cheese, a fried egg covered in a tomato and beer sauce. It is usually served with a side of chips and traditionally eaten alongside a cold beer. Who am I to break with tradition?

After lunch we wandered across to the other side of the river where we passed a stand selling fatura, the Portuguese version of a churro. You could get them with a filling so I had creme de ovos, a bit like the filling of a pastel de nata but less creamy. Just further along was the teleférico, the short cable car that takes up to jardim do Morro. It was €7 which is very expensive for a journey that is less than 5 minutes but it was the only activity we wanted to do that cost anything. We sat in the park reading for a little and headed back in the direction of our AirBnB. We stopped for my daily pastel de nata. I also tried Licor 35 which is a pastel de nata flavoured liqueur – as delicious as it sounds!

That was it for Porto, we had a chilled evening in the apartment as Anna had an online class to teach and we left the next morning. It was nice to have a change of pace after a very busy time in Madrid and Lisbon as well as to have some company! From Porto, it was off to Paris to meet my sister and my dad. Seeing as this was back in February, it was right in the middle of the Six Nations rugby tournament and we were there to watch the Scotland vs. France match! It was an easy journey into the centre of Paris where I met my dad and his friends. This was actually a bit of a lads trip that they do every year, either to Paris or to Rome for the Scotland vs. Italy match, that my sister and I were crashing! We were staying around Gare du Nord where we had a drink in a bar called Ô Béret Basque and, after my sister arrived, dinner at Maison Bleue. The food was great, with nice wine, nice company and nice conversation.

Having arrived on the Friday and the match not being until Sunday, we had all of Saturday to kill in Paris (not a hard thing to do). Amy took the lead as it had been the longest since she had been to Paris. We started with a walk up to Montmartre (emphasis on UP) where we went into Sacré Coeur, a first for me. We wandered around a little more, had a coffee and then headed down past the Wall of Love, a cool mural with ‘I love you’ written 311 times in 250 languages. At Amy’s request, our next stop was Sainte Chappelle, the lesser known neighbour of Notre Dame. I think Sainte Chappelle is absolutely gorgeous but there’s not a lot to see once you’re inside so even though it’s one of my favourite tourist activities in Paris, I think it’s a little overpriced at €11.

We had lunch at a creperie nearby and then headed back to our hotel. We had a pit stop at one of my dad’s favourite bars, Le Sully in the Strasbourg-Saint-Denis neighbourhood. I really liked it because it was cosy, full of an eclectic mix of locals, had friendly bartenders and served Cuvée des Trolls, one of my favourite beers that is served in Gambrinus, the go-to bar in Mulhouse. Le Sully also reminded me of some of the pubs that I went to in Edinburgh as a student. After some chill time in the hotel, it was time for dinner. In a stroke of coincidence, the restaurant that had been chosen was Alsatian! Bofinger is by Place de la Bastille and, to cut a long story short, I wasn’t impressed. The interior was very impressive, as were the prices, but I’ve had better choucroute garnie (sauerkraut topped with potatoes and a selection of pork, an Alsatian classic) in the Christmas markets in Mulhouse. I did get to try French onion soup for the first time, which I liked, and enjoy some pinot blanc, another Alsatian classic.

And finally game day! The match wasn’t until the afternoon so we had a lovely lunch at Terminus Nord, a restaurant across from Gare du Nord. The inside is very cool, in an art deco style with lots of mirrors that give it this feeling of old school glamour. I liked the food here much more than the night before, the standout being my sister’s starter of little ravioli in a creamy cheese sauce. After lunch we headed over to the Stade de France along with 80,000 other people. As usual for a rugby match, the atmosphere was great and it helped that even though it was cold, the sun was out. It was a good game but frustrating because Scotland had three close calls for a try but didn’t quite get there. After 80 minutes, two red cards (one for each team), four tries for France and two for Scotland, the final score was 32-21 to France. Regardless of the result, it was a great experience! I actually left a few minutes early to try and beat the crowds because I didn’t have that long between the end of the match and my train.

And brings this trip to an end! I had an absolutely fantastic time, particularly in Lisbon, but it was nice to end what was a very busy trip with a few chill days in Porto and getting to see my family in Paris. With that trip out of the way, it also brought me into the final stretch of my time as a lectrice. As I’m writing, I’ve actually finished teaching and am enjoying my last few weeks in Mulhouse so there will be some blogs coming to wrap up my time here before some exciting things in the summer!

Lisbon – Part 2

We’re back for part two! Lisbon was so incredible that it was impossible to fit into one blog post without overwhelming you and that is the opposite of what this is supposed to do! So here we have what to eat and where to eat it. I said in the last blog that most of the things I’ve written about are based on my own experiences. I don’t want to be writing about, never mind recommending things that I haven’t done myself. However, I also said that I immediately knew that I hadn’t given myself enough time in Lisbon so after all the food talk, I’m also going to include the things that I still want to do in Lisbon that I will just have to go back for.

What to eat and drink


Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod but in a culinary context, specifically refers to dried and salted cod. Bacalhau is so ubiquitous in Portuguese cuisine that some people say that there are at least 365 ways of preparing it, a different way for each day of the year, and up to 1,001! Portugal loves fish but it is mostly served fresh. Bacalhau is not fresh because cod is not actually found off Portugal’s coast but brought in from near Newfoundland.


Another very popular fish is sardines! They are linked to Lisbon’s patron saint, Santo Antonio, which is why they are eaten during the festival of Santo Antonio in June. There are canned sardine shops all over Lisbon but the best time for fresh sardines is from June to October. Recently, the prices of sardines have gone up massively because of a drop in population due to climate change and overfishing.


Bifanas are Portugal’s answer to a pork sandwich, a bread roll filled with a marinated pork cutlet. The meat is cooked in garlic, white wine and a few spices but served very simply. There are some variations on the bifana depending on where you are in the country but the version that I ate was the simple roll and pork with some added yellow mustard, a common combination in Lisbon and the south. They are a cheap and quick option, often eaten standing at the bar in the restaurant. A good recommendation for bifanas is As Bifanas do Afonso or read on to see where I ate.

Pastéis de nata

I’ve already mentioned these a little but pastéis de nata is Portugal’s national pastry. It’s an egg custard pastry tart often topped with cinnamon, crunchy, buttery pastry with a smooth, creamy custard and (hopefully, for me) a little burnt and crunchy on top. It was first created in the monastery in Belém. They were using a lot of egg whites to starch clothes and the egg yolks were often used to make cakes and pastries. In 1820, the monastery started selling the tarts to raise money in a moment of financial uncertainty. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and the monastery had to close. The secret recipe was sold to a local businessman who opened Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém and to this day, nobody quite knows what’s in their pastéis! My favourite places to get pastéis de nata were in Belém and also Pastelaria Santo Antonio in Alfama.

Ginja / Ginjinha

Ginja, or ginjinha, is a sour cherry liqueur made from aguardente, brandy or fortified wine, and a little cinnamon. Ginja also refers to the fruit itself which is known as a morello cherry in English. I was welcomed to Home hostel (at 11am!) with a small measure of ginja but they warned me that it’s not a shot! Much like the Italian liqueur grappa, ginja is meant to be sipped. A new twist on ginja is that in the past few years, many street sellers have started to serve ginja in little chocolate cups!

Vinho verde

Vinho verde, or green wine, contrary to popular belief is not actually green in colour! Vinho verde is not restricted just to white wine but can also be rosé or red. It translates better as young wine as it is bottled three to six months after harvesting. It refers not to a particular type of grape but to the process which sees it harvested, bottled and drunk sooner in the process than most other wines. There used to be something in the process that gave the wine a slightly fizzy quality, something usually seen as a fault but appreciated by the consumers of vinho verde. It is now added by artificial carbonation. White vinho verde is usually fresh, fruity and floral and goes well with fish which is often on the menu in Lisbon!

Where to eat and drink

O Zé da Mouraria Mouraria

This is my number one recommendation for where to eat in Lisbon! It might even be my number one full stop. If you only listen to one thing from this blog or the previous one, let it be this. After the first walking tour that I did in Mouraria, our tour guide Zé suggested going for lunch as a group. Eight of us were up for it so we headed back to a restaurant that he had pointed out to us at the start of the tour as one of his favourites in the city. It was hidden away up a side street near Praça Martim Moniz, you would barely know there was a restaurant there, never mind one with such good food

We gave Zé free reign to order for us which was definitely the right decision. Unfortunately, we got there around 2.30 and they were already out of the bacalhau which is almost their signature. If you go, try it for me! Instead we had cuttlefish with boiled potatoes, parsley and a garlic sauce, tuna steak with more potatoes, mushrooms and tomatoes and veal in a creamy peppercorn sauce. The veal was good if you got a nice piece but some pieces were pretty chewy but the tuna steak was fantastic. I think it’s the first time I’ve eaten tuna like that and it was incredible. Just note that the portion sizes are huge! For nine people, we had the three main dishes and two portions of chips. You can get half portions but I would still say a half portion would be more than enough for two people. To finish, we shared a few slices of bolo de bolacha, biscuits soaked in coffee and covered in cream. It tasted a bit like tiramisu without the liqueur.

Tasca do Chico

Tasca do Chico is a fado house in Bairro Alto. I talked about the history of fado a bit in the last blog but what is it like to experience fado? I say experience because you don’t just listen to fado, it is something you feel. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics, like I couldn’t, the feelings of melancholy and longing still come through. There is a word for this feeling, saudade, although it encompasses much more than just that and is considered untranslatable by many people.

Tasca do chico is a more informal fado house. It’s not so much somewhere to eat but fado goes well with a beer or a glass of red wine (although there are snacks on the menu). Most fado houses are very small and this one in particular is very popular so we had to queue for a while to get in. The seating is pretty cramped and even once we got inside, it wasn’t a guarantee that there was somewhere to sit. Beyond the chaotic seating plan, there is also a particular etiquette in a fado house. When the music is about to start, the lights go down and the doors are closed. Usually the fado singer will do two or three songs in a row and you cannot talk while they are singing. If you do, you will definitely be shushed and maybe even asked to leave.

Casa das Bifanas

On my final night in Lisbon, after a walking tour in the morning and a trip to Belém, I was tired and in need of a little alone time. I love travelling by myself because I get to meet so many new people and gather friends all around the world. At the same time, I’m someone who needs a good amount of alone time which can be hard to find in a busy hostel and a shared dorm. I knew that I had lots of friends in the bar of Home hostel when it came to dinner time but I decided to slip out with just my book for company and find them for some drinks after dinner.

I still had one culinary experience left on my list that I still wanted to try before I left and that was a bifana. A friend had recommended a place called As Bifanas do Afonso which was actually really near my hostel but I was having a late dinner and it was already closed. Fortunately I had a back up recommendation from my walking tour guide, a place on Praça da Figueira called Casa das Bifanas. This meal was a great achievement because I managed to get through it all in Portuguese! (Other than asking if I could sit outside in Spanish…) It was mostly understanding what the waiter said to me and one word answers but still! The bifana was great, nothing fancy but flavourful and filling, served with chips and a beer on the side.

Pastelaria Santo Antonio

Found in Alfama, just below the castle, Pastelaria Santo Antonio is perfectly placed for a pastel de nata pit stop after wandering the hilly streets. If you don’t make it out to Belém to try the pasteis from the original vendors at Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém, then this is a good back up plan as they were crowned the best pastel de nata in 2019! You can also try their other specialty, the croissant Porto, an enriched dough more like a brioche and glazed in port, a fortified wine from the north of Portugal.


This is where I ate after my second walking tour with the tour guide Zé and a few others from my hostel. If you are looking for somewhere to eat after visiting the feira da ladra flea market, this is right in the midst of it. It’s nothing fancy, nothing pretentious, just decent food! I had bacalhau à brás, like a cod fish cake made with scrambled egg and shredded potato with a side salad. I think it was the most vegetables that I had had since arriving in Portugal as most of the dishesI had didn’t involve a lot of veggies. After we had finished eating, we were trying to get the bill but apparently they can be quite slow (something to bear in mind). I didn’t mind too much because while we waited the charismatic waiter brought us some glasses, lemon slices and a dodgy looking water bottle filled with amaretto – on the house! We had to squeeze a good amount of lemon juice into the glass and then top it up with amaretto and it was delicious!

The Wish List

That’s the end of where I went, what I did and everything I ate in Lisbon! But as I’ve said before, I definitely didn’t give myself enough time and I’m already desperate to go back to Lisbon and Portugal in general. Below are some of the things that are on the list for when I make it back, hopefully in the not-so-distant future. Obviously I haven’t done these myself so can’t attest to them but hopefully it gives you some ideas and you can go and test them for me if you end up there before me.

Tram 28

This is one of the classic activities in Lisbon, the iconic trams are somewhat a symbol of the city. Tram 28 starts at Praça Martim Moniz and goes through the districts of Alfama, Baixa, Estrela and Graça and passes some of the main sights in Lisbon like the cathedral and Portas do Sol. I didn’t take the tram because I walked everywhere but it was also packed! There were long queues at Praça Martim Moniz so be prepared to wait but if you get on at any other stops, it’s unlikely you’ll get a seat and you’ll have to stand. Get on at the front, off at the back and buy a ticket in advance or top up your metro card if you want a cheaper ticket. If you want to avoid the crowds, try and ride early in the morning or later in the evening but whatever time, be aware of pickpockets!

Tram 12 and 28

Ascensor Santa Justa

Another classic of Lisbon, elevators in Lisbon are generally considered public transport in Lisbon, a way to navigate the many ups and downs of the city. Santa Justa is the most well-known one but using it will involve a long queue and paying €5. However, if you want the views but not the wait and are willing to brave some stairs, head around the back and walk up to the viewpoint at the top!

Castelo São Jorge

The castle is a dominant figure over Lisbon so if I was back in the city and had a bit more time, I would like to visit it. I heard from people from Lisbon though that if you’re short on time, there are other things to prioritise.


Sintra is number one on my list of things for next time. I actually almost went because Home hostel where I was staying runs a day tour there but it wasn’t running one of the days I was there and was full the other day. Sintra is most known for the Palácio Nacional da Pena, a gorgeous structure with vivid red and yellow walls. There are several other castles and palaces to see in Sintra as well as the gorgeous hills of the Serra de Sintra. Not too far away are the Cabo de Roca cliffs which are the most westerly point of mainland Europe and some nice beaches.


Cascais is another town outside of Lisbon, somewhere between Sintra and Belém, and is apparently a coastal gem. There are cliffs and beaches galore and is the perfect place for a few chill days.

Over the water

A recommendation from my tou guide Zé was to get the ferry over to the other side of the river and walk along the coast towards the bridge. There’s also a restaurant over there called Ponte Final which is supposed to be nice for a drink, some food and views back over to Lisbon. You can carry on walking along the coast until you get to the bridge where you get the lift up to the level of the town and get a bus back over.

LX Factory

LX Factory is an old industrial complex that has been transformed into a trendy spot filled with bars, restaurants, shops and offices. It’s a cool spot to grab a drink and hang out with friends in the evening. It also has a big bookshop so I will definitely be back!


There are some interesting sounding museums in Lisbon that I’d like to check out like the Fado museum, the tile museum and the Aljube museum of resistance and freedom.

Estufa Fria Botanic Gardens

As I’m writing this blog, I have a friend (Aine of Une Bouchée A Day) who is in Lisbon and she sent me these gorgeous photos from the botanic gardens! Definitely added to the list!

Lisbon – Part 1

Next up on my trip in February was Lisbon, Portugal! I was really excited for this because I’d never been to Portugal before but I’ve only ever heard really good things about Lisbon. I was leaving Madrid the morning after carnival, running on about an hour’s sleep and leftover good vibes. It was also my birthday! Having celebrated it at midnight with my friend, I wasn’t too fussed about making a big deal of it once I got to Lisbon.

I had three nights in Lisbon, two and a half days. I didn’t really have any set plans before I arrived but I had lots of recommendations from friends, particularly one who spent her Erasmus year there! After talking to some people in the hostel on my first day, I added more things to the list. It may have been the hangover or the lack of sleep, but I felt pretty overwhelmed I arrived in Lisbon. I quickly realised that I hadn’t given myself enough time to do everything that I wanted to, having decided to go to Porto in the north of Portugal for a few days after Lisbon. I didn’t even know where to start! What helped was that I very quickly realised Lisbon is definitely somewhere I want to come back to in the future. That took some of the pressure off in that I didn’t have to try and fit everything into a few days.

Seeing as I found Lisbon a bit overwhelming (in the best way!), I wanted to try a slightly different structure to the blog today. Even if I was only there for a few days, I think I managed to see, do and experience a lot in that short time, and I loved everything I did! I learnt a lot as well so to try and adequately share what I know about Lisbon, without overwhelming you, I’m going to break it down into two parts – where to stay, where to go, and what to do first and then where and what to eat and drink next. Enjoy!

Where to stay

Home Hostel

I want to give the biggest shoutout to Home Lisbon Hostel. It is possibly one of my favourite hostels that I’ve ever stayed in. From the minute I arrived (extremely tired and running on a couple of hours of sleep), I felt so welcomed by the staff and the generally friendly environment. You’ll hear me mention going for dinner with girls from my dorm, meeting people on the walking tour and going to Belém with a friend from the hostel. Sometimes staying in a hostel can be intimidating and starting a conversation can be a lot of pressure but Home is somewhere where the environment is already so warm and welcoming that speaking to people feels like the natural next step.

The hostel has community at its heart. The owner, affectionately known as Mamma, cooks dinner every evening for anyone in the hostel that wants to sign up (€15 for a three course meal). There is also a great value breakfast, €5 for a buffet of eggs, bacon, beans, bread and spreads, granola and fruit, plus tea, coffee and juice that anyone can help themselves to. I had breakfast there every morning because I don’t think you could beat the value for money. I wanted to take part in mamma’s dinner on my first night but not enough people signed up and the other nights I was there, I was too full from lunch for a three course dinner! There is also the bar which is always lively in the evenings. It was a great place to have a few chill drinks with the friends you’d already made or to make new friends! They also run walking tours, day trips to places like Sintra and pub crawls.

I cannot recommend this place enough if you are going to Lisbon!

Yes! Hostel

I stayed in Home which is a very sociable hostel but if you want something that’s a bit more lively, a proper party hostel, look no further than their sister hostel, Yes! Hostel. I didn’t stay here but have a friend that did and really enjoyed it. The walking tour, as well as the pub crawl, is an activity that is shared between Home and Yes so you can meet people from both hostels. That’s what happened on one of the walking tours I did (yes, I did two! More on that below). I made friends with a guy from my hostel and a guy from Yes!, both from Quebec. I got to try out my French on them and attempt to understand their accents! Even though I lived with a guy from Montreal last year, he didn’t have the accent but these guys did! Combined with the different vocab they used, I could just about understand them when they were talking to me (I think they slowed down for me) but when they were talking to each other, no chance!

At the end of the walking tour we agreed to meet up again that evening at Yes! hostel to play some beer pong. We got there just as a lot of the guests were finishing their version of a family dinner. It was very wholesome but as soon as the meal was finished, the lights went down, the music went up and the beer pong tables came out. It was a really fun evening chatting with the guys from the walking tour and a few others, crushing it at beer pong and then going Home (pun intended) to bed as everyone from Yes! went out on the pub crawl.

Where to go


I’ve already mentioned that I did two walking tours while in Lisbon, both through my hostel, and the first was in the neighbourhood of Mouraria. This neighbourhood is the most diverse in Lisbon, with over 50 different nationalities living there, and was traditionally Muslim. It is also the birthplace of fado music, a very soulful and mournful type of music very closely associated with Lisbon. We passed through a square on Largo da Severa where Maria Severa, the first famous fado singer, lived. She was a prostitute credited with bringing fado music to the aristocracy, contributing to its growth in mainstream popularity. Fado is intrinsically linked with the past of Mouraria because it is said that its origins come from slaves longing for their previous lives, sailors longing for home, the women they left behind longing for the sailors and Muslims longing for the pre-Christianity Lisbon. Lisbon was a Muslim city until the Second Crusade in 1147 when it was converted to Christianity by the first king of Portugal. At this point, Muslims living in the city were forced out of the neighbourhood of Alfama, inside the city walls, and into the new Muslim ghetto of Mouraria.

Mouraria starts at the bottom of the castle hill by the Praça Martim Moniz, the starting point for the famous, yellow Tram 28. At the corner of the square, where you start to head uphill, there is a church but the most interesting part about it is actually on the floor. The facade of the church is reflected in mosaics on the street around it! Walking through Mouraria, you’ll notice that it’s not as aesthetic as other neighbourhoods like Alfama but it feels more authentic and real in some ways. We passed one of the oldest houses in Lisbon on Largo da Achada. When you look at other buildings as well, you’ll see that the upper floors of some buildings, including this one, stick out a bit because houses used to be taxed based on the surface area of the ground floor so often the upper floors were built outwards to get around that.


The second walking tour that I did took me into Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood. Cobbled streets will take you up to the Castelo de São Jorge and the Sé de Lisboa, the castle and the cathedral respectively. Alfama used to be a gritty neighbourhood filled with sailors and dock workers but nowadays it has a trendier, more vibrant reputation. As with Mouraria, be prepared for a lot of climbing! Lisbon is a very hilly city, particularly around the castle, but this also means that it has some incredible views. We started by heading up past some fado murals by the Escadinhas de São Cristóvão and then up to a great viewpoint next to the Palácio do Marquês de Tancos. We carried on further into Alfama, passing a house that is owned (but is apparently not really used) by Louis Vuitton.

Alfama is a great place to find fado houses but while we were in Alfama, we actually stopped for our tour guide to tell us about music that is more or less the opposite of fado. Fado is very melancholic and nostalgic but pimba is very uptempo and almost comedic. They range from corny to saucy to downright vulgar all while retaining an element of innuendo. We also heard about the massive street parties that happen in Lisbon, particularly Alfama and Mouraria. The Festival of Santo Antonio happens throughout the month of June and sees the streets draped in colourful streamers and filled with the sound of pimba music. People crowd the streets to drink traditional cherry liqueur, grill sardines and dance until morning.

One of the most interesting things I took from the walking tour I did in the neighbourhood of Alfama was the ‘Alma de Alfama‘ (Soul of Lisbon) project by British-born photographer Camilla Watson. The project commemorates the long-time residents of Alfama, from immigrants of former Portuguese colonies to young people to the elderly. Portraits are printed directly onto the wall of the house where the subject lives or lived. There is a big problem with the residents being forced out because of increases in prices. A lot of this is due to buildings being bought out to be used as AirBnBs as tourism in Lisbon has soared in the last decade.

Bairro Alto

The one and only stop for Lisbon’s nightlife, Bairro Alto has over 300 bars. I actually only spent one brief evening in Bairro Alto to watch fado music but if I had had more time in Lisbon, I definitely would have been here more. Spots not to miss are the ascensor Gloria (a funicular), the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (a viewpoint), and Rua Nova do Carvalho, otherwise known as Pink Street, a pedestrianised street lined by bars and clubs.


Belém, 5 km to the west of Lisbon, is somewhere between a suburb and its own town but seeing as it’s basically attached to the city, it’s very easy and worthwhile visiting while you’re in Lisbon. I had planned on going with a girl from my hostel on my last evening after doing my second walking tour. I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the hostel and almost didn’t even go but I’m very glad I did! It’s very easy to get to Belém using public transport but Uma and I wanted to get there in time to catch the last of sunset so we hopped in a Bolt (the cheaper version of Uber that is popular in Portugal). Even the drive to Belém was lovely, along the water and under the Vasco da Gama bridge. It looks suspiciously like the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco but at more than 12 km long, it is actually slightly longer.

We got dropped off at the Torre de Belém just in time for the last rays of sunset. The Belém tower is a symbol of the city and more widely of the Portuguese age of exploration as it was a starting point for ships in the 16th century heading to East Africa, Brazil and India. You can walk along the banks of the estuary from the tower to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos – the Monument of the Discoveries. This is the official celebration of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries. At 52m high, it’s hard to miss and has great views over the estuary and to the tower. Because I was there in the evening we weren’t able to climb it but I would love to. The figures lining the sides of the monument are the explorers themselves and those that made the expeditions possible. The monument is pretty impressive but I think it’s also important not to romanticise this era of discovery. It marked the adoption of colonial mindsets and practices by many countries and was accompanied by brutalities as much as discoveries.

The final major sight in Belém is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the monastery where the Portuguese national pastry, pastel de nata, was invented. Again, because we were there in the evening it was closed but it is somewhere I would have liked to go inside. Just a bit further along the street is Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém. It was the first place to sell pastéis de nata and now sells over 20,000 a day! I had heard that this place has THE best pastéis de nata and I have to say that it lived up to the hype! It was my favourite pastel de nata that I ate on this trip. There can sometimes be long lines so if you want to avoid those, go in the morning or the evening like I did, but I think that both the sit in and takeaway line move pretty quickly anyway and it’s worth the wait!

What to do

Walking tours

I’ve already talked at length about where I went and what I learned on these tours in the Mouraria and Alfama sections but I want to talk a little more about the experience of the walking tour. In general I’m a big fan of doing a walking tour, especially on the first day in a new city. I think it’s a great way to get your bearings and also figure out if there’s anywhere you want to go back to. Tour guides are a font of knowledge as well so you can ask them questions and for some off-the-beaten-path recommendations, as well as finding out if there’s anything that they think is overrated. Often these kinds of walking tours are ‘free’ but tip based. A ‘free’ walking tour should not actually be free. Your tour guide has spent sometimes hours walking you around the city and sharing their hard-earned knowledge with you and they deserve to be adequately compensated for that. I think €10 is a good minimum price but if you had a great time and think they deserve more, go for it!

If the walking tour is linked to your hostel, or even if it’s not, it’s also a great way to make friends. This is what happened with the two I did through Home hostel. I went on the first walking tour with a few girls from my dorm, met more people at breakfast that were doing it and then spent the evening with the Canadian guys I met on the tour itself. For the second walking tour the following day, there were four of us from the day before who were back for round two.

And now, a moment to speak about the man of the hour. The tour guide for both of the walking tours I went on was a Portuguese guy called Zé. He was the main reason that I decided to go back for the second tour. I was a big fan of his style, he was very engaging, clearly knew his stuff and has done this plenty of times before but at the same time it’s obvious that he enjoys not just showing people around Lisbon and sharing it’s secrets with them, but also getting to meet new people from all over. We got a lot of information from Zé which he also balanced well with his own opinions on certain subjects. He was also happy to go with the flow. At one point on my first tour, which was a smaller group of about 12, some people wanted to get a coffee so the whole group stopped at this little cafe in one of Mouraria’s narrow streets. Zé ordered a round of espressos and we drank them outside the cafe before moving on. The following day the group was much bigger, more like 35 people, so it had to be slightly more regimented to make sure it didn’t take us all day to get around the route but the vibes were still great. Zé also got to know me quickly enough that halfway through the first tour, every time we passed a cat he would look around and make sure I’d seen it!


In a city as picturesque as Lisbon, there is no shortage of spots to appreciate it from. Bearing in mind how hilly Lisbon is, the viewpoints can be a double-edged sword – the views are incredible but the climb up is killer. Therefore, any viewpoint where you can enjoy a cold beer after arriving gets bonus points!

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

This is the highest point in Lisbon and honestly an underrated viewpoint in my opinion. At least from what I’ve heard and read, it gets talked about a lot less than Portas do Sol or the castle for example but the views are better! The viewpoint is in the neighbourhood of Graça, just next to Mouraria, and has fantastic views across to the castle, over to the downtown neighbourhood of Baixa, into Bairro Alto and across the water.

Miradouro das Portas do Sol

Miradouro das Portas do Sol is potentially the most popular viewpoint in Lisbon and it’s not hard to see why. There is a large terrace area where you can sit with a drink and enjoy the view over Alfama’s burnt orange rooftops, the National Pantheon, the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora and the Tagus river.

Just behind the square at Portas do Sol is the oldest house in Lisbon. This house is 500 years old! What is even more impressive is that it survived the earthquake of 1755. On 1st November 1755, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in the Atlantic ocean destroyed Lisbon. Because the epicentre was at sea, Lisbon was also hit by a massive tsunami. As if that wasn’t enough, religious celebrations for the Feast of All Saints meant that candles had been lit in churches all around the city which caused a huge fire. Bad things really do come in threes! Between 12,000 and 50,000 people died making it one of the deadliest earthquakes ever. After that, the city had to be rebuilt and was earthquake-proofed by using internal cage-like wooden structures in the new buildings. They thankfully remain untested. When you walk around Lisbon, you will see a mishmash of buildings because some had to be rebuilt so there are newer ones shoulder to shoulder with older ones.

Just below the Miradouro das Portas do Sol is a fantastic mural covering the history of Lisbon which is definitely worth checking out! It starts with the Phoenicians founding the city of Ulissipo, through the Portuguese Inquisition, the earthquake in 1755, ending with the carnation revolution in 1974 which overthrew the Estado Novo regime.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

Portas do Sol‘s little, lesser known sister is a great option if you want basically the same views but much smaller crowds. It is behind the Igreja de Santa Luzia which feature some beautiful tile panels showing Lisbon before the earthquake and also crusaders storming the castle in the 12th century. There is a little cafe and often artists selling their work and buskers providing ambient background music to this romantic corner of Lisbon.

Feira da Ladra

Feira da Ladra, the Thieves’ Market, is a flea market that happens in a square behind the National Pantheon every Tuesday and Saturday. The word ladra means ‘female thief’ but some people say that the name of the market actually comes from the Portuguese word ladro, referring to a specific type of bug or flea that is found in antique furniture. A nice little play on words there. It has everything you would expect from a flea market, some tourist souvenirs, lots of beautiful tiles, stalls with a mishmash of books, jewellery and a random assortment of bits and bobs, local artists and more. This is where we finished the Alfama walking tour and even though the market carries on until 6pm, some sellers will pack up around 2pm. That’s around when we arrived though and it was still pretty bustling!

That’s it for now but I hope this has been helpful and given you an insight into why this city captured my attention so much and makes you want to visit it as much as I want to go back! Part 2 is coming soon and going to cover what and where to eat in Lisbon. Most of the things I’ve written here are based on what I did myself on my trip but next time I’ll also talk about some of the things that I didn’t do but wanted to or had recommended to me. See you soon for part two!


Throwing it back to mid-February, it’s time to talk about Madrid! This trip was during the winter holidays of the university. Due to my timetable this semester, I managed to stretch the week off into an 11 day trip as I don’t work on Thursday or Friday. And when I say first thing, I mean first thing! My flight wasn’t until about 10am but it just so happened to be on a strike day. You may or may not have seen but France has been afflicted by repeated and worsening strikes since the start of the year (this isn’t the time or place to get into it). Not only have they been affecting trains, so I was worried about getting to the airport, but also air traffic controllers so my actual flight was at risk. In the end, everything was fine – I got up really early, factoring in extra time for cancelled trains but didn’t need it so just got to the airport with plenty of time.

When I landed in Madrid, it was easy to get from the airport into the centre of town. I got out of the metro at Puerta del Sol, one of the main squares, and had a five minute walk to my hostel which was just off Plaza Mayor. I was staying at The Hat hostel and while I didn’t spend much time in it other than to sleep, I would recommend it! My dorm room was clean and spacious with its own bathroom, there was a rooftop bar that also served some food and a cafe downstairs. You can have breakfast there in the mornings and take part in free sangria making workshops every evening to meet other travellers. The reason I didn’t spend much time there was because part of my reason for coming to Madrid was to visit a friend from university that lives there, as well as finally see the Spanish capital. There was a brief period back in October or November when I was actually thinking about moving to Spain after finishing my time in France and visiting Madrid was going to be a test run to see if it would be somewhere I could live. Having now decided that I’m heading back to Scotland when I finish in Mulhouse, any pressure was off this trip other than just to have a good time!

Plaza Mayor

My friend Marta, who I know from our water polo team at Edinburgh University, and her friend Elisa met me at the hostel and we headed out for the day. First stop was food! My breakfast was a long time ago at that point but thankfully Marta had somewhere in mind to try a Madrid classic. Bocadillo de calamare is crusty bread filled with crispy rings of calamari. Sometimes they can have a little olive oil, lemon juice or alioli but ours were just plain and simple. La Campaña is quite a small restaurant just around the corner from my hostel that could easily be missed if it weren’t for the lines out the door! At least when I was there the line for takeaway was much shorter and moved very quickly so I would recommend that, especially when you can enjoy it in Plaza Mayor just a few steps away. Saying that, we took ours a little further and ate them opposite Palacio Real. This is the official residence of the Spanish royal family in Madrid but is mostly used for ceremonial purposes.

With the extra energy from the bocadillo we walked up into Parque de la Montaña where you’ll find the Templo de Debod, a displaced ancient Egyptian temple. You might be wondering how an Egyptian temple landed in the middle of a park in Madrid Spain. A fair enough question! In 1960, construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt was threatening a number of highly valuable archaeological sites including the Temple of Debod and the famous Abu Simbel temples. Spain was instrumental in moving the Abu Simbel temples 65m higher than their original location on the banks of the river Nile and 200m further back to avoid the rise in water level from the dam’s reservoir. Out of gratitude for their help, Egypt gifted the Temple of Debod to Spain. It is unique in being one of the few examples of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be found outside Egypt and the only one in Spain.

Back down out of the park is Plaza de España with a monument to Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. In front of Cervantes there is a statue of Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza. While here, Marta told me an interesting fact that Cervantes and Shakespeare died only a day apart in 1616! From Plaza de España we walked along Gran Vía, sometimes known as the Spanish Broadway, where you’ll find most of the big shops in Madrid. My excellent local tour guide pointed out some interesting statues on the roofs along Gran Vía around the big Primark (it’s so big that this is honestly a tourist sight in and of itself). On the roof on one side of the street is a statue of Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, shooting arrows across to the other side. On the opposite side of the road, you can see a statue of a man and a phoenix. The story goes that this man represents Endymion, the mortal shepherd that Diana fell in love with and would visit every night. When her father Zeus found out, he was enraged and sent a phoenix to capture Endymion and hide him away from Diana. She discovered the plan and that’s why she’s shooting across the street. You can see the arrows that have fallen short engraved in the paving stones outside Primark. In fact, the statue is not Endymion but Ganymede, Zeus’ lover, and the phoenix is more likely to be an eagle to fit with that but never let the truth get in the way of a good story!

Monument to Cervantes in Plaza de España

We wandered around a little more with an ice cream pit stop and ended up down at Plaza de Cibeles. The square is traditionally where Real Madrid fans celebrate their wins and it also has the impressive Palacio de Cibeles, a grand building that used to be the main post office and is now the city council building. There is also a flame that burns in memory of Madrid’s covid victims. At this point it was time to enjoy some beers in the last of the sun so we headed to a nearby 100 Montaditos, a chain specialising in mini sandwiches for a couple of euros and beers for the same price.

Eventually it was getting late and we needed a little something to eat so we headed back towards Puerta del Sol. Marta chose a place for hornazo de Salamanca, a specialty from Salamanca, where Marta’s mum is from. It’s a meat pie cut into sandwich-like pieces. It has pork loin, chorizo and ham inside as well as boiled eggs (although the ones we got didn’t). It was a bit heavy but very tasty! And thus concluded a very packed first day in Madrid!

The first day felt like it was all about getting the lay of the land and seeing all the main tourist spots. I already felt like I knew the basic layout of things and had a good feel for the city. I genuinely felt like I had seen most of the tourist spots on our 13.5km tour yesterday. Little did I know that my second day would have six more kilometres on top of that. Day two was about digging in more. I had the morning to myself today until Marta, who lives just outside Madrid, came in to meet me. I anticipated another big day ahead of me so started out with the breakfast of champions – churros, chocolate and coffee – at Chocolatería Valor, enjoying it in the sunshine with my book. I started by heading back into one of the neighbourhoods that we had walked through a little yesterday. Chueca is known as Madrid’s gay neighbourhood, home to many shops, bars and restaurants and is one of the liveliest parts of the city. A friend had recommended a bookshop to me so I stopped by and of course ended up buying a book because that’s my weakness in life.

After that I headed over to Retiro Park where I was meeting Marta. Parque Retiro is 1.4km² with plenty to do and see inside. We walked past the monument to Alfonso XII, a Spanish king in the 19th century, which is alongside an artificial lake where you can hire row boats. As you walk further in you’ll find the Palacio de Cristal which reminded me a lot of the big greenhouse in Edinburgh’s Botanic Garden! We came out the other side of Retiro and then walked back along Paseo del Prado, a boulevard that runs along the long side of the park and is home to the so-called ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ with the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum. It also has another fountain where fans of the football team Atlético Madrid celebrate their wins!

We had lunch (at 4.30pm) in a kind of fancy tapas restaurant called Vinitus. There were patatas bravas of course, huevos cabreados (chips with a fried egg and patatas bravas sauces mixed through), pulpo a la gallega (octopus with mashed potato and paprika), a montadito (a little sandwich) with beef tenderloin and foie gras and the squid, octopus and artichoke special. It was a lot of food! But very delicious and a cold beer and a sit down was very welcome.

There was one final stop for the day. Marta suggested that we visit one of the museums in the Golden Triangle. She was giving me a little synopsis of each one when suddenly I knew which one I wanted to go to. It wasn’t something I had on my radar but the Reina Sofia Museum is home to Guernica by Picasso. I remember learning about it and recreating it in art class in primary school and I’ve always wanted to see it. There’s a museum in Colmar that has a tapestry version of it but when I visited, it was on loan elsewhere! We headed to the museum and with various student and young people’s cards we both managed to get in for free. We wandered around a little before and after but Guernica was the main thing that we were there to see.

No photos of Guernica allowed but the view from the lift isn’t bad!

After this, Marta headed home and I went to meet up with another friend for a drink. I met Mabel when I was volunteering in the hostel in Tenerife and she was staying in the hostel. She suggested getting a drink in the rooftop bar of Hotel Riu on Plaza España but it had a 40 minute wait. We went just next door instead to another rooftop bar and had a drink while catching up. Afterwards we walked into Malasaña, the neighbourhood next to Chueca. It is known as being the ‘hipster’ area, with lots of bars, clubs and young people. We were actually looking for somewhere to have another drink but it was a Friday and there were too many young people and not enough bars in this case. After a while, I was getting tired (I had walked close to 20km that day by this point) so we called it and I headed back to my hostel.

On my final day, I had the morning in Madrid and then I was actually heading out of the city for my final night, to stay with my friend Marta in her hometown for carnival! But before I get ahead of myself, I still had a morning to kill in the city and I had a few things lined up. On the recommendation of a friend, I wanted to visit the Museo de América, apparently the only museum in the world dedicated to the entire American continent, north and south. It was free using my university card which was great although it’s only €3 otherwise. There was so much to see but all the information was in Spanish so it took me a while to go round and I don’t think I saw everything. If you don’t speak Spanish, they also have audio guides in English and French. I had my eyes peeled throughout for anything from Honduras, it being my area of special interest but the closest I got was El Salvador or general mesoamérica. It was really interesting seeing things from areas that I’ve visited, having actually been to various Mayan ruins in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, and particularly learning about the Mayan script. I would say that the majority of the exhibitions I saw were from Mexico, Colombia and Peru so if you are interested in those areas I would definitely recommend it!

Right next door to the museum was the faro de moncloa, a tower with a viewpoint at the top (faro means lighthouse). There is a saying ‘de Madrid al cielo’ which means ‘from Madrid to heaven’ because Madrid is so good that to top it, you’ll have to go up into the skies. Well, with the faro you can be 110m closer! (But don’t worry, it’s a lift that will take you up to the top!) It cost €4 and didn’t take long so if you’re in the area it’s definitely worth it. I love getting aerial views over cities so I was all for it, especially seeing as I had already seen a lot of places so now I was able to pick out the places I knew. If I wasn’t short on time, there are a series of parks below the faro that lead down to the temple of Debod which I think would be lovely to walk through.

After this I headed out to Marta’s where we got ready for carnival (a power nap was involved). Everybody dresses up in costumes for carnival so I was joining in with some of her friends and their pirate costumes. Mine was very makeshift as I was only travelling with a rucksack for ten days so the base was black jeans and a white t-shirt. I used an off-cut of pirate themed material from Marta’s costume as a belt and we had lots of gold pieces to put in our hair.

We joined the massive parade as it slowly made its way through town and it was so fun to see all the costumes! My favourite was a guy dressed in a kilt, a group dressed as creative interpretations of Madrid subway stations and a huge group lined up with foam noodles fashioned into seats around them, fake legs hanging down, pretending they were on a rollercoaster! After a quick dinner from Lidl (jamón sandwiches) we made our way down to the main area where we would spend the rest of the night. It was basically a big concert with a few DJs playing until 5am! We found a few more of Marta’s friends and found a spot amongst the masses. This was actually the day before my birthday so when it hit midnight we celebrated me turning 25! An hour later, at midnight in the UK, I phoned my twin sister who was at home in bed and made everyone say happy birthday to her! It was very unlike me but we actually stayed out until the end of the concert at 5am. By the time we got back to Marta’s and into bed it was 6am. I managed to get an hour and a half of sleep before calling an Uber to get to the airport and head off to my next destination!

Discovering Dijon and Mountain Delicacies

It’s time for another little round up of what I’ve been up to since Christmas, on the lead up to my trip to Madrid and Portugal. Those blogs will be coming soon and I can’t wait to write them but I have some fun things to write about first. After being home in Scotland for a whole month over Christmas which was lovely but it also involved moving house and trying to fit in all the friends I don’t get to see while I’m in France, stocking up on family time and of course Christmas and New Year celebrations. Safe to say I was still pretty happy to get back to my own apartment, my own space and my own routine. I got back into the swing of things with my classes, ready for my last semester as a lectrice! I’m not going to go into too much detail about how that felt, that’s for another time, but I was definitely looking ahead and I wanted to make the most of my last few months in Mulhouse.

On that note, something I’ve wanted to do since moving to Mulhouse, or more specifically somewhere I’ve wanted to go, is Dijon. Every time I go to Paris, I pass through Dijon on the train but even though it’s only an hour and a half from Mulhouse, I’ve never actually stopped there. Known for mustard, gingerbread and crême de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur), Dijon is the principal city of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region and has a population of 157,000, making it a bit bigger than Mulhouse. I went with my flatmate Lilly as she had been wanting to go for a while as well. We also got off to a great start because our train was delayed by 40 minutes which we only found out after we arrived at the station.

Once we did eventually arrive in Dijon, we headed straight to centre ville, or the city centre. Even if the city is bigger than Mulhouse, it felt quaint. We wandered around, did a lap of Les Halles Gourmandes, which is the kind of indoor market found in most large French cities, and then walked down to the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon. While Dijon also has a cathedral, this church might be even more well known because of one little adornment. Down the pedestrianised Rue de la Chouette you can find a little stone owl on the side of a chapel that was added to the church a few centuries after it was built. You can barely recognise what the block of stone is because it has been eroded by the many hands that have passed over it hoping for some luck. It is said that if you stroke the owl with your left hand and make a wish, it will come true.

Tucked down the little side street with the owl is another of Dijon’s icons, the moutarderie of Edward Fallot. It is the last independent family owned mustard maker in Burgundy. Dijon mustard is characterised by the use of verjuice (green grape juice) from the region and by the high quality local mustard seeds. Edward Fallot has a wide selection of mustard flavours like cacao, fig and honey, basil, provencal, various white wines and more. I got a little taster pack with Dijon style, honey and balsamic, tarragon and cassis that I still haven’t cracked open but can’t wait to try!

At this point we were getting hungry so we headed towards the brasserie that we had picked out for lunch. Brasserie des Loges was excellent. I got a Kir Téméraire which is like a Kir Royal but made of crème de cassis with crémant de Bourgogne (sparkling white wine from Burgundy) instead of champagne or white wine. For starter we decided to split the oeufs Yin Yang which was a duo of poached eggs, one à la crème époisse (a creamy sauce made with époisse cheese) and one in meurette sauce (a red wine sauce with vegetables and lardons). They were absolutely incredible, potentially one of the best things that I’ve eaten in France or even in my life. For my main course I had to get the beef bourguignon. When in Burgundy…

Just around the corner from our lunch spot was the fine art museum which was interesting and also free! My favourite part was the temporary exhibition of works by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, a Portuguese artist who was one of the leaders of the Art Informel movement, a form of abstract expressionism developed in France and the rest of Europe during WW2. After the fine art museum, we went to the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne which was a suggestion from my friend Aine of Une Bouchée A Day (read about her weekend in Dijon here!). After all that we were pretty tired so we wandered around a little more until we found a coffee shop where we stayed until it was time for our train home.

Another thing that I’ve ticked off the bucket list recently was spending some time in the Vosges. The Vosges are the mountains to the west of Alsace and so far I’ve only gone as far as the foothills to do some hiking. This time, at Aine’s suggestion, I went with her, her boyfriend and two of my flatmates to eat in a ferme auberge and walk to the Grand Ballon. The Grand Ballon is the highest point in the Vosges at 1,424m. Ballon is a French word for a mountain with a rounded summit which makes it even more of a coincidence that the Grand Ballon is topped with an air traffic control radar station that has a large weather balloon. Fermes auberges are a type of traditional restaurant found throughout the Vosges in Alsace where 80% of the produce used must come from the farm and the rest from the local area.

The drive from Mulhouse up to the Grand Ballon is about an hour and the views were incredible. The weather was perfect, very clear and bright if a little bit cold, especially as we climbed higher into the mountains. We had a reservation at the Ferme Auberge du Grand Ballon which we ended up being a bit late for because we went to the wrong place first! It wasn’t a problem though because the restaurant was still very busy. Sometimes there are only a few options on the menu at a ferme auberge but there was a decent selection at this one (I will say, it’s not the best place if you’re a vegetarian. There was the option of cheese fondue or goats cheese toast here but Alsatian food relies quite heavily on meat so most dishes are not veggie friendly). I wasn’t able to look past the cheese fondue, an entire bowl of melted cheese is literally my dream. Some people had the fleischschnacka (meat stuffing rolled up in fresh egg pasta and cut into slices that look like cinnamon rolls) or the pork with roigabrageldi potatoes, a type of mashed potato made with LOTS of butter and soft onions. We made a valiant effort and almost cleared our plates between us and even had room for dessert! When it comes to dessert, fermes auberges are known for tarte aux myrtilles (an open topped blueberry pie). We shared a slice of this with the coupe du grand ballon as well (an ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream, blueberry compote and chantilly cream). Both were delicious but particularly the sundae was lovely and light, sweet but cut through with the tartness of the blueberries.

After eating all that, a food coma was imminent but we staved it off by walking up to the highest point in Alsace. From the nearby car park, it took us about 20 minutes to walk up to the Grand Ballon and only that long because the snow was really icy. The view going up and from the top was incredible. What surprised me the most was that you could see all the way to the Alps! Sunset was fast approaching and it was pretty cold and windy up there but absolutely worth it for the incredible views. The food, the company, the stunning location, all of it combined to make one of my favourite days I’ve had since moving to France a year and a half ago.

In other news, the start of the year saw a few more discoveries closer to home. I tried a new wine bar called Le Mondrian which had some of the best burrata I’ve eaten in Mulhouse. I also went to a lantern lighting ceremony just before Valentine’s day. It made me feel like I was in the movie Tangled! That is, after I had to chase through the crowd not once but twice to stop our lantern coming down on someone’s head! I went to a volleyball game for the first time as well. In Mulhouse, the three main sports teams are the men’s ice hockey team (check), the men’s basketball team (check) and the women’s volleyball team (also check!). I don’t have much experience with volleyball other than playing a little in high school so we did have to Google the rules throughout but the players were fantastic, you didn’t need to be familiar with the sport to know that. In the end it was a win for Mulhouse!

In keeping with sports, I also had some matches of my own, this time in Mulhouse! I’ve told you already about the water polo tournaments that I had in November near Bordeaux and in Paris but in January it was our turn to host. What was lovely was that I had a large contingent of fans (aka friends) that came to support me and the team. They had even made some signs! The first match was against St Jean d’Angély who we hadn’t played since our very first match of the season when we lost 2-14. It was a tough match, very intense with both teams exchanging the lead throughout. I worked so hard and got a lot of pool time which is great but meant I was exhausted by the end of it. We lost 11-14 but comparing the scores of this match and the previous one, the improvement is clear! We had a second match an hour or so after the first but most of my friends didn’t stay which is totally understandable because it’s a long time to be at the pool. We played against Choisy, a team from near Paris, and I won’t bury the lead here, WE WON! I honestly have no idea how because we had already played a game and the other team was fresh. It was a tight game again but we were consistently about three points ahead. As it got closer and closer to the end, I didn’t want to let myself hope that we might win but we were doing so well in defence that we were able to keep them at bay enough to hold on to the lead! I was so tired and so happy to win that I did cry a little! It felt good to get our first win as a team. We have made so much progress since the start of the season and had a string of matches where we were not far off so finally getting the win felt great. Personally, I had given everything I had in the matches and could barely lift my arms or think straight afterwards! We celebrated with a much needed team dinner and a few drinks but nothing too crazy because two back to back water polo matches really takes it out of you!

That just about catches us up on the start of this semester, from getting back after Christmas at home until the week off that I had in February. If you follow the blog on Instagram (@sara_somewhere_ if you don’t), you’ll know what’s coming next. I had a week off work in the middle of February and combined with the fact that my working week ends on Wednesday, I made the most of having 11 days off! If you want to see where I went, you’ll have to check back in for the next post (Or follow me on Instagram for a preview!).

Lesson Plan – Burns Night

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared much about my job as a lectrice beyond complaining a little! I think you have to go back to February last year when I published a couple of posts on it so I thought it was about time to share a little more. I’ve had some really successful lessons this year that I’ve been really pleased with so I’ll be sharing a few of them over the next month or two while I still can as I wrap up my time as a lectrice. Starting us off today, we have the first lesson from this semester. A little reminder about what my classes are and how I usually plan them – I teach the anglais oral classes (oral English) for all the students studying their licence (bachelors) in English. This degree is over three years in France and I have 14 groups, six for L1, four for L2 and four for L3, comprising about 170 students in total. I usually choose a topic that I will use for all the classes and then differentiate the content for the different levels. L2 and L3 often get very similar classes but the discussion goes a bit deeper with the L3 students and I expect a little more from them. I try to have a range of activities and mix in comprehension and listening activities with the speaking but my main aim is to get them to talk as much as possible! The less I talk in the hour the better as this is one of the only classes they have that is not only fully in English (most of my classes have never heard me speak more than a few words of French) but where the students get to speak in English.

This lesson plan was the one I used in the first week back after the Christmas holidays. I had just been home in Scotland for a whole month and it must have inspired me because I decided to do some classes on Burns Night. The classes actually took place the week before Burns Night but I had other things planned to be getting on with after that. In truth, I’ve wanted to look at Burns poems with my older students for a while and bring in a discussion about Scots as a language. So whether you are a current or potential lecteur/lectrice or are just interested in seeing what one of my classes looks like, read on!

Burns’ Night celebrations last year!

Because this was the first lesson of the semester, there was a little bit of admin to get out of the way at the beginning. I filled them in on what their assessments would look like for the rest of the year. This is my fourth semester teaching oral English classes and some parts of my assessments have stayed the same and some changed, as much for my sake as for theirs! Throughout my time as a lectrice, I have always had 50% of their grade come from participation. In something like an oral class where the whole point is practising and speaking rather than any particular knowledge, I wanted to encourage them to take part as much as possible and what is better encouragement than your grade being reliant on it! I also didn’t want people to be able to pass the class just by turning up to the assessments or exams. With 50% participation, you need not just to come to class but to put effort in and speak or you will fail. This semester I’m also reusing an assessment that we did last semester, the peer led discussion which is basically an observed discussion. Finally, my L1 students would be doing group presentations spread over a few weeks in the semester and L2 and L3 would be doing debates. I did debates with my L3 students last year but they have all moved on and in general I like doing debate activities with my classes because it gets them speaking a lot and often quite passionate about the subject. I thought for our final assessment together we would develop on those smaller activities and formalise it into a full length debate.


When it came to starting the actual lesson, I wanted to find out what they knew already about Robert Burns and Burn Night. I wasn’t expecting much but it’s a good way to get the gears turning in their minds and lets me know what baseline we’re starting from. I asked the questions below and if they didn’t know anything, led them to the idea that Burns was a man that is celebrated in Scotland but I left it at that. It wasn’t a problem if they had no prior knowledge because the first thing I had planned was a short comprehension activity using a video that introduced Burns.

  • What is Burns’ Night?
  • Have you heard of Robert Burns?
  • When is Burns’ Night?


Up until this point, I had the same lesson for all the year groups but after this they diverted a little. At this point, they were all still doing a comprehension activity but I had one video for L1 and a different one for L2 and L3. Below is the video that I used with L1, giving a brief introduction to Robert Burns’ life.

  1. Where was Robert Burns born?
  2. What jobs did Rabbie have throughout his life?
  3. What happened when Rabbie was 25?
  4. How was Rabbie’s first book of poems received?
  5. What kinds of things did Rabbie write about in his poems?
  6. What is Robert Burns’ legacy?

During the video a few lines from some of his more famous poems were mentioned and I wanted to look at these a little closer. I first showed them the lines from ‘A Red, Red Rose’ and asked them if they noticed anything different about the spelling. I wanted to lead them towards the fact that ‘luve’ is spelt differently than in English and ask them why. Most of them said it was probably because it was an old poem. I didn’t push them any further on that at this point.

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;

Next I showed them a few lines from ‘To A Mouse’. I asked them if they understood what any of it means and most of the time they just laughed! Honestly, I didn’t actually know what all of this meant before I sat down to actually think about it. For anyone interested, the translation is ‘Sleek, tiny, timorous, cowering beast, / why’s such panic in your breast?’

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Last but not least we looked at ‘Auld Lang Syne’, famously sung around the world in the first few moments of the new year. Some of them recognised the music, if not the words and we had some interesting discussions about the meaning (more on that below).

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For L2 and L3, I had a different video that focused more on Burns’ life and how we celebrate Burns’ night because the second half of their lesson was going to focus on his poems. When I use a video in class, I sometimes include a short vocabulary list of any words the students might not be familiar with, particularly if they are relevant to the questions they need to answer. There were a few in this video:

  • Guises – an external form, appearance, or manner of presentation, typically concealing the true nature of something
    • Guising = trick or treating in Scotland
  • Neeps – turnips
  • Tatties – potatoes
  • Drams – a small drink of whisky
  • Bard – a storyteller, musician, oral historian, poet
  1. When was Burns born?
  2. How old was he when he died?
  3. Which of his poems depict Scottish life?
  4. What happens at a Burns Night celebration?

After the comprehension videos, my two different lesson plans diverged more significantly.

Burns’ Night

For L1, the second half of the lesson focused on the Burns’ Night celebration. We started by looking at the traditional meal that is eaten on Burns’ Night, the Burns’ supper. I had a table with the name of the dish, a description and a photo but not matched up correctly. In groups of three or four, they had to figure out how they should all be matched.

Starter – Cock-a-leekie soup (A soup with leeks and peppered chicken stock, often thickened with rice, or sometimes barley and garnished with prunes). This is not necessarily a typical Burns’ supper starter as it isn’t as set in stone as the main course, rather just an example of a Scottish dish that could be served. It could equally have been smoked salmon and oatcakes or cullen skink, a creamy fish soup.

Main course – Haggis, neeps and tatties. For those that don’t know, haggis is Scotland’s national dish and though it might not be to everyone’s taste, I think it’s delicious! If you’re squeamish, it tastes better when you don’t know what’s in it so if that’s you, skip on a few lines. Haggis is made from minced sheep heart, lungs and liver mixed with onion, oatmeal and spices and traditionally cooked in an animal’s stomach. Again, I promise it tastes much better than it sounds! My students were quite shocked and sometimes disgusted at the description, despite some of the weird dishes in French cuisine! On the side are usually the neeps and tatties, or turnips and potatoes, mashed to be exact.

Dessert – Cranachan. Like cock-a-leekie soup, this is not a set requirement of a Burns’ supper, like haggis is, but again just a suggestion of a Scottish dessert that could be served. It is made of oats, cream, raspberries and whisky layered together.

Then we discussed the ceremony of the dinner. Guests at a Burns’ supper are usually piped in, meaning the bagpipes are played to accompany their entrance. Once everyone is at the table, the Selkirk Grace is said – ‘Some hae meat and canna eat,/ And some wad eat that want it,/ But we hae meat and we can eat,/ And sae the Lord be thankit.’ After this, the guest of honour is also piped in but it’s not who you might expect. Someone walks in with a haggis on a tray! This is in preparation for the first and most important reading of Burns’ work, although more usually follow after the dinner. ‘Address to a Haggis’ was written in 1786 and is a celebration of the dish. The whole poem is quite long so we only looked at the extract below. Initially I only put the original version on the board and had the students take a look at it in their groups to see if they could figure out what it was saying. They did so with varying degrees of success but we looked at the translation afterwards so they could better understand.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm.  

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.      

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then,
O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!      
The Translation

Fair is your honest happy face
Great chieftain of the pudding race
Above them all you take your place
Stomach, tripe or guts
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm  

The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads  

His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch
And then oh what a glorious sight
Warm steaming, rich  

To finish the class with L1, we watched a short clip from this video of ‘Address to a Haggis’ being performed. It really is more of a performance than a reading of the poem. You’ll see how the person reciting the poem enacts certain lines and interacts with the haggis that has been piped in. Obviously everyone who performs it makes it their own but many of these movements are standard and recognisable across performances.


Going back to the L2 and L3 version of this lesson, after watching the initial comprehension video we had another short video. I asked them if they had understood the few lines of poetry that were in the first video and mostly got a response of ‘not really!’. I explained that this was because Burns didn’t actually write in English but in Scots, one of Scotland’s three official languages alongside English and Scottish Gaelic. I asked the students to listen out for as many Scots words as they could and their meanings. For the words whose meanings weren’t given in the video I asked them to try and figure out or guess what the word meant.

Burns’ Poems

At this point, I put the L2 and L3 classes into three groups and gave each group a copy of one of Burns’ poems, the same selection that I had looked at with L1. I asked them not just to read the poems but to take turns reading them out loud. I wanted them to hear and feel how the words are different to what they are used to with English. I asked them to look at the words that they didn’t recognise but also to look at what they thought the poem was about, the story and the themes.

A Red, Red Rose
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune  

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.  

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
To a Mouse
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne! 

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne. For auld, &c. …

‘A Red Red Rose’ was probably the easiest poem that I gave them as it is so clearly a love poem. ‘To a Mouse’ is definitely the most difficult poem of the three because the Scots is so dissimilar from English. The poem comes from Burns’ time as a farmer and the full title of the poem is ‘To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough’. My favourite line is ‘I’m truly sorry man’s dominion, / Has broken nature’s social union’. In class we talked about how this line could be applied to today’s environmental situation. Finally, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was an interesting discussion because there was a wider variety of opinions on what the meaning was. In general, it was agreed that it was a goodbye but differed over what was being said goodbye to. Some people said it was to the past, to times gone by which is why we sing it to bring in the new year but others thought that it was about saying goodbye to a particular person.

To finish off, I wanted to show them ‘Auld Lang Syne’ being sung and I love this version by Dougie MacLean. (He sings one of my favourite songs ‘Caledonia’ that I always listen to when I’m missing Scotland!)

And that’s it! I finish each class by telling them what the topic for next week is so they know what to expect as well as giving them any homework for the next week. I don’t usually give out a lot of homework, at most I ask them to prepare a few things for the starter activity the next week and I usually pull back on homework as the semester goes on and exams and assessments start to ramp up in all the classes.

I hope this was an interesting look at what goes on in my classes! I have a few more lesson plans that I want to share so keep an eye out for those.

2022 in my Bullet Journal

Coming is a slightly lighter, much more self indulgent blog (which is saying something since I only ever write exactly what I want to write). Late in 2021, I was inspired by my friend Aine’s bullet journal to start my own. After a year of doing it myself, I wanted to share some of my favourite designs and a little about why I have enjoyed it so much. Read Aine’s blog if you want to hear more about the benefits of bullet journaling and also get some bujo envy!

I actually started my bullet journal on New Year’s Eve. Seeing as I had been confined to France over the Christmas holidays, having had covid right before I was supposed to go back to Scotland, and most of my friends in Mulhouse were out of town, I spent the evening drinking G&Ts, watching Marvel movies and starting my bullet journal. I decided on a 1920s, Great Gatsby inspired theme for the opening pages that included things like a calendar of the year, goals and a bucket list for 2022 as well as a place to keep track of the books I had read during the year and other things.

For January, I decided to do a theme based around fireworks – we were welcoming in the new year after all! Looking back on it, it’s not my favourite which is why there aren’t that many photos included. It took me a while to figure out the kinds of layouts that worked for me and that I like but you might start to spot some repeating arrangements in the months to follow. Even if the fireworks theme wasn’t my favourite, it was a simple enough one to start with. As I got more comfortable and built up some habits and instincts for what would work and what wouldn’t, my themes and spreads became a little more complicated as I became more confident.

Now February rolls around and I’m not quite sure how I managed it so early on but this might be one of my favourite themes all year! After the unexpected spanner in the works at Christmas, I was heading back to Scotland during the week I had off work in the middle of February so I decided to do something a little related to that. I can’t remember exactly what inspired the choice other than thinking it would be quite effective but I based my theme on Rennie roses. For anyone that doesn’t know, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect and artist who was born in Glasgow and was a very influential figure in the British Art Nouveau movement. As an architect, he is most known for the Glasgow School of Art building but his creations can be found all around the city. In terms of designs, his most famous motif is the ‘Rennie rose’, which reflects his architectural style closely – a combination of sharp angles with floral designs and more subtle curves. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is someone that I remember learning about in school, I think his roses were a go to for art teachers across Scotland! For this bullet journal theme, I love how the shades of pinks and purples came together and some of the finer details in the line work as well.

In March I was again inspired by something that I had planned that month. Towards the end of the month, I had a trip to Paris planned with my longtime friend Nina who lives in London. It’s funny when you think that Paris is the halfway point for us to meet, if anything it’s actually closer to her! It was mostly using the street signs which were nice and easy to draw and worked well with the boxes in lots of the layouts. I enjoyed the little bits of sketching as well! I wouldn’t say that I can draw that well but I’m pretty good at copying things!

April was a bit hit and miss for me. I love the opening page, the retro colours and wavy design but I don’t think I was able to carry that through as successfully into the other spreads. Each month I start with a monthly calendar, a habit and mood tracker and a few other things. The mood tracker for this month is particularly effective I think and one of the weekly spreads, while not my favourite, I’m pretty proud of because of how much time I put into it (I’m sure you can guess which one it is!). I also found this lettering really satisfying to do. I have always loved drawing out different fonts like this, I used to sit in front of the TV when I was younger with a big book of fonts or an alphabet that I had found online and printed out and then would copy them.

I had a bit of fun with May. This was the month that I left Mulhouse for the summer and started off by travelling to Munich, Innsbruck and Vienna so I wanted something along that theme. I think this is the point in the year where it became a conscious choice to base my choice of theme for the month off something that was happening in that time. For example, I already had fireworks for the start of the year in January, Rennie roses for my trip to Scotland in February, Paris street signs in March ahead of going there and in May I had a similar idea in mind. From this point on, I would think about what I had coming up in the month and try to choose a theme based on that. Because I was doing a bit of travelling, I thought doing an idea based on the iconic Airmail envelopes would be interesting. The blue, red and white stripes worked really well around the boxes and I added in some doodles of airplanes and stamps based on my destinations during the month.

Here I have to admit that I dropped the ball a little over the summer with my bullet journal. I spent all of June and part of July volunteering in a hostel in Tenerife and the rest of July hopping between Dunblane, the Isle of Lewis, London and Croatia! In all of this, there weren’t many things that I needed to keep track of, the usual tasks that I rely on my bullet journal to keep organised, and the down time that I would usually use to draw out the spreads was taken up by socialising with people. I still got some bits and pieces done and I actually really like the themes that I chose! June obviously had to be a turtle theme in honour of La Tortuga hostel but then I’m not really sure what I wanted for July. In the end I chose something simple (at least so I thought) in that it was just black and white so I could do it with the limited colours that I had available. One of the (few) weekly spreads that I did for July is one of my top designs of the year. It took ages and I spent probably longer than I should have doing it but the repetitiveness of the positions of the flowers and the care I had to take with the fine lines was actually really relaxing for me when I was doing it.

August saw a return to more regularly scheduled programming. I was still on holiday but I was settled in Scotland for the whole month and was starting to think about returning to work so had a few more things to keep track of. My chosen event and therefore theme of the month only happened in the last few days but did a great job of getting me excited for it. At the end of August, I attended the Rock en Seine music festival in Paris which was incredible. I took the design of the posters, tickets and general promotional resources and used that for my theme and I was so pleased with how it turned out! I don’t have any particularly fancy pens that I use for my bullet journal, maybe the fine liners I use for outlining are a bit (Fineliner Pigma Micron pens from Sakura) but the felt tips I use are the humble Crayola Supertips. I also used pencil for the first time in the August designs to create the sunset background. Something I remember about this cover page was that I was finishing the lettering while watching TV with my dog lying on the sofa with me. Òran decided he wanted to help and that’s where the little line coming off the first ‘U’ is from!

After four months away, September was the month that I finally made my way back to Mulhouse and Alsace and that felt worthy of being the theme of the month. Alsace is known for having lots of half timber houses which made up the majority of this month’s design features with some nice flower highlights but I also used the local favourite snack, a pretzel, as an added feature. This one actually took a long time to do because the little houses had a lot of detail in them!

Now this. This one. This is the month that makes me question whether February actually is my favourite theme. I based October on a trip I was taking at the end of the month that turned out to be my favourite week of the whole year I think. If you’ve been paying attention to my blogs at all recently you’ll have seen how much I enjoyed writing about my time in Morocco, visiting Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakesh and the Sahara and even before I went, I knew that I would love it. I only left for this trip in the last few days of October but I already had an idea for the theme in November and I wanted to use a Moroccan inspired theme to get me in the mood for the trip! I am OBSESSED with the tiles that are the main feature of this design and just like the repeating floral design that I spoke about before, I found drawing them out really relaxing.

I mentioned before that I already had a theme in mind for November already and that Día de los Muertos inspired. The Day of the Dead is celebrated on the 1st or 2nd November and is a joyful celebration of the dead. This is a celebration that happens across countries and cultures in Latin America and is actually something that I celebrated while I was living in Honduras. The Honduras celebration is a little more relaxed than what most people might think of (such as the Mexican celebrations that you might have seen in the Disney film Coco) but I went for the more iconic images of the sugar skulls (or calaveras in Spanish) and marigolds. In general I love the contrast in this holiday of the bright, joyful colours and the celebration of something that is often very sombre.

Last but not least, can we get a bit of commotion for December! This was one of the easiest decisions in terms of theme because it was so obvious. Every year Mulhouse (home to a fabric printing museum) designs a new textile to use as decorations throughout the Christmas market. Last year’s design wasn’t my favourite but I loved this year, it immediately made me feel really festive! It was the perfect design to finish the year on! This year the pattern was called ‘scintillance‘ and is meant to represent the light at the end of the tunnel after two years of restrictions on the markets and our lives because of the pandemic.

Looking back on 2022, it’s nice to feel that some of my favourite parts of the year have been immortalised in the pages of my bullet journal. It’s not just the designs, looking back at the tasks and events from week to week, the books, TV and music that I watched, the habits I sustained (and the ones I didn’t) and I how I felt along the way provides a lovely snapshot into this year in my life. Even though this is significantly more work than what I was doing before (just very quickly splitting up pages in a lined notebook with a biro pen – simple but it got the job done), I think I feel the benefits more. I like using my bullet journal as a creative outlet as much as an organisation tool. There’s a reason why adult colouring books or paint by numbers are so popular. There’s something relaxing about those kinds of activities that let us have a break from our high-tech, ultra connected world and this is just my version of that.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my brain, this is a pretty accurate representation of what it looks like in there! I’m already loving what I’m doing in my bullet journal this year but you might have to wait a while to see it! Maybe now it’s your turn – would you or do you use a bullet journal? What was your favourite theme of mine from 2022?

The Festive Season in France

Following on from my trip to Morocco, I came back to France as the festive season was kicking off. Early November might feel a little early to be classified as the festive season but when you live somewhere like Alsace, as soon as the first hint of winter is in the air, thoughts turn to Christmas and particularly the Christmas markets. I definitely have lots to report on that front but also a few other exciting things I got up to on the run up to returning to Scotland for the holidays.

First up is not something remotely festive but it was something I was super excited about. Anyone that knows me will be aware that playing water polo is a significant part of my personality and I had to continue when I arrived in France. Something new this year is that I’ve been able to play some games! Last year I started with the elite women’s team but only lasted about 10 days before moving to the mixed under 65 team – much more my speed! I love the mixed ability and mixed people on this team and the more relaxed attitude. The one thing I was missing was playing matches as there is no mixed league and not enough women for our own team. This year, the club has created a new women’s team at the N1 level, just league below the elite one. It has a few of us from the U65 team, a few girls from the elite team including our coach, and some of the teen girls looking for more match time and experience. For most of my water polo ‘career’ I have played the pit defence position, right in front of the goal, defending usually one of the strongest players of the other team in a very physical and sometimes aggressive tête-à-tête. As part of this team I have been playing mostly in pit attack (en pointe in French), the position that I’m used to defending. It has been a challenge, a bit disorientating at times and very out of my comfort zone but I think that has been a good thing.

We have had two away weekends with two matches apiece, one in Saint Jean d’Angély near Bordeaux and one in Paris, and also two matches at home. We are yet to win a match but for me the important thing is taking part and having fun (no sarcasm) but also that with each game we’ve played we have improved. Our first weekend away in St Jean was tough, physically and mentally, though it was tempered by the fact that it was much warmer and sunnier than the Mulhouse we had left behind. Considering that it is quite literally on the opposite side of France, we flew to Bordeaux and then rented cars. We had a little time to explore St Jean’s centre ville when we arrived which was very cute. From a photo that I posted on Instagram, I found out that my water polo coach from Stirling has been to St Jean on holiday! What a serendipitous coincidence! Our first match that evening was against the hosts and it got off to a fast, intense start. I was part of the starting seven (out of the team of up to 13 players, there are seven in the water at once, including the goalkeeper), which is always a nice ego boost. We lost this first game 2-14 but bearing in mind it was our first game, that we’ve barely trained together and we have five players under sixteen, we did our best. There was definitely a lot to learn from the game which was good and this was basically just training for us. The next morning we had our second game against Paris Libellules (Dragonflies). This was the second game for both teams so definitely didn’t get off to as intense a start. We held our own a lot more, trading the lead back and forth for most of the game until it got away from us in the last three or four minutes. The final score was 9-12 (though it maybe should have been 10-12 due to some penalty confusion for us). Another loss but the improvement from the night before was incredible, we had already learnt a lot and were hopeful that we could beat Libellules when we played them again in a few weeks.

The second weekend of matches was only two weeks later in Paris. We got the train over this time as Paris is only three hours away although once we arrived, it took us two hours to navigate what should have been a 30 minutes journey on the metro to our hotel. The walk from our hotel to the pool took us over the Seine and in full view of the Eiffel Tower, which we would come back to later. Our first game was against Libellules and it was an exciting match! I had taken the opportunity of being in Paris to invite a few friends to come and watch – Anna, a fellow lectrice in Rouen who I know from my university French course, and Lizzie, one of my uni flatmates who is an au pair in Paris. I was glad I did because I scored two goals! We had a great second quarter in particular and were four goals up at one point! We started to lose it again in the final quarter though, especially because we had three players completely excluded from the match (if you commit a major foul, you get sent out for twenty seconds and if this happens three times in one match, you are excluded). In the end we lost 12-16 which was even more disappointing because we had played well and had been very close. It took a little more to lift our heads back up and get ready for the next match. In the evening we had dinner as a team and then went for a wander around the foot of the Eiffel Tower and back along the Seine. The next morning, after a beautiful sunrise walk to the pool, we had our second game against a new opponent, Choisy. We didn’t know what to expect but in the end it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We kept up and again were even leading a few times, even though they had wickedly sharp nails and covered us all in scratches. In comparison to the day before we only had one total exclusion and our attitude was a lot better, even when we lost 10-20. I think we deserved a closer score based on how we played but they were fresher than us, having not played another game yet. The weekend was an overall positive because we saw so much improvement. Also because I got to go to the Marks and Spencer’s in Gare de l’Est before our train to stock up on, and introduce the team to, Percy Pigs and other British snacks!

Moving away from water polo (‘Finally!’ I hear some of you cry), but sticking with the pool, in November I also experienced a classic activity in the area. If you pop across the border from Mulhouse into Germany, you will find many thermal baths including the well-known Cassiopeia Therme in Badenweiler. I went with my friend Aine, her boyfriend and her friend that was visiting from the US as it is much easier to get there by car than public transport, although that is possible as well. Found in the Black Forest about 30 km from Mulhouse, Badenweiler is mostly known for its thermal baths although it does have an 11th century castle overlooking the town and the ruins of the old Roman baths as well. You will find the Cassiopeia Thermes right in the centre of the town. As well as the thermal baths, you can also visit the saunas, the textile-free Roman-Irish baths and the spa. It was €11 for two hour’s access to the baths but only €16 for combined access to the baths and spa.

The modern thermes include 1000m² of pools, some indoor and some outdoor and at a range of temperatures. There is the Dome Bath that makes you feel like you are in a massive greenhouse (because of the architecture, not the temperature as it sits at 32º). Next to the Dome Bath is the exit to the Outdoor pool which is also at 32º. The air temperature was pretty cool when we were there, low single digits I would say but the contrast between the cool air on your face and the warm pool was lovely. There was also a little whirlpool which was great fun to zoom around in as well as powerful shower jets that could act as a massager if you didn’t get the combined pass to the spa! Back indoors you can find the Marble Bath, slightly warmer at 34º, next to the jacuzzi which is the warmest option at 36º. I really felt the difference in heat with these last two pools, although it might also be because there was a cold plunge pool (12º) next to them that we subjected ourselves to a couple of times before getting back into the welcoming warmth. To be honest, it wasn’t all that different from trying to swim in the Scottish sea at the height of summer!

By the time we left, we had worked up an appetite (from all our floating around) so we went to Aine’s favourite restaurant in Badenweiler (as the mind behind Une Bouchée A Day, she is to be trusted for all food related recommendations). Less than 200m away from the Cassiopeia is Markgräfler-Winzerstube, a wine bar that serves hearty, traditional German food. Aine, Kara and Julien all had the potato soup with carrots and krakauer (polish sausage) as a starter but I just enjoyed the homemade bread. For my main course I had a fried potato and sausage dish that was surprisingly spicy! There was also ragu and roast beef ordered and we split the black forest tiramisu and a Belgian waffle with apple sauce and ice cream between the four of us for dessert. Overall it was a lovely afternoon out and I see why visiting the thermal baths is such a popular pastime in this area.

For my first official festive event of the season, I was invited to Aine’s Thanksgiving potluck. Last year was my first time experiencing any kind of Thanksgiving celebration and was so much fun! (Although I did find out that pumpkin pie is really not my thing.) For my contribution I made some smashed parmesan potatoes and miso and honey glazed brussel sprouts (maybe the most delicious way to consume a sprout!). I went over a little early with our friend Sam because she couldn’t stay for long and we had some nice drinks and helped with final preparations. It was a lovely night, meeting lots of new people and getting to catch up with some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. The spread of food was incredible as well!

I couldn’t spend the festive period in France, particularly in Alsace, without getting my fill of Christmas markets. My first visit was uncharacteristically early, around the end of November, to a local village hall in Didenheim, a suburb of Mulhouse. There were a lot of smaller, local artisans and sellers compared to the stalls at the main Mulhouse market who are often the same as those you will find in Strasbourg and Colmar. I bought some homemade onion chutney, rhubarb and ginger jam and some pineapple rum. I also returned to the Strasbourg market and of course, many more trips to Mulhouse’s own (more on those a little later).

The other new Christmas market that I visited this year was a little special. Ribeuvillé is a village 16 km north of Colmar at the foot of the Vosges mountains. The town is known for its mediaeval buildings as well as the three castles that sit on the hill above. For just two weekends in December, Ribeuvillé is also home to a mediaeval Christmas market! This is much more than the usual stalls bearing gift ideas or food options, though these are part of it. Everywhere you look, there are people dressed up in period costumes, trolls and devils on stilts, there were acrobats, jugglers and apparently there are fire eaters as well! There were some of the typical food and drink options like vin chaud, waffles, crepes and more but also lentil soup and a whole wild boar roasting on a spit! At one point I was surprised when we walked past some camels! Because the mediaeval Christmas market only happens for two weekends a year and it is one of the most popular smaller ones in the area, it means the town of Ribeauvillé is absolutely packed. I drove through with some friends and not only did we get caught up in traffic on the motorway but parking was also a nightmare. On the other hand, public transport takes twice as long as driving (when there’s no traffic). The whole ambience was very festive and interesting but on the whole, it was a little too crowded for me to fully enjoy it. A lot of the time I was either fighting the crowd or getting swept along with it so either way not able to stop when I might have wanted to. It was also a very cold day so we persevered until our frozen toes were protesting too much and we went home. I was glad I got to experience such a unique market but I think it is one to go to for the atmosphere and not to do any shopping. For that, you’re better off at one of the bigger markets.

On the same day, just later that evening, my flat and I had decided to do a Christmas dinner together! To be honest, we did this only a few days into December but I was leaving for Scotland halfway through the month and this was one of the only evenings before then that the four of us were all free for. We did a little secret Santa which was a great success (thank you Lilly for my book recommendations, coveted apple cake recipe and gourmet parsley salt!). We had decided to each take charge of a course and cook something from our country, whether Christmassy or not. For starters we had Lilly’s kartoffelsalat from Germany, a delicious potato salad. Next up was a double whammy of French dishes from Alexis, escargot and then scallops. I was reminded that my favourite part of escargot (also known as snails) is the garlic butter but I am a big scallop fan. Alexis had wanted to make grenouilles (frog’s legs) but hadn’t been able to find them in time. Personally I would much rather have scallops anyway. Next up, Mahmoud with Tunisian tagine. The first time he made this, I was expecting something more like Moroccan tagine, a meat and vegetable stew. It turns out that Tunisian tagine is very different. Somewhere between a savoury cake and an omelette, Tunisian tagine has chicken, potatoes and lots of cheese inside – what’s not to like? Finally, it was my turn with dessert. The classic Scottish desserts that come to mind for me are Cranachan or tablet but a couple of my flatmates don’t drink so no whiskey for the Cranachan (and oats, cream and raspberries just isn’t the same) and I don’t trust my skills to make tablet well for what would be the first time. I settled on something a little simpler but still something that I haven’t made since home economics in high school, macaroons (not to be confused with the French staple macarons). They turned out ok but I didn’t quite master the chocolate application. Thankfully we also had some Christmas cookies that Lilly had made and some stollen that her parents had sent her. We finished the night with some board games.

Last up in my round up of pre-Christmas activities, I had my friend Anna come to visit me! She has come to visit me already and I’ve visited her in Rouen but she loves Mulhouse and just can’t seem to stay away! She was keen to come and experience Alsace at Christmas and who can blame her! She actually arrived on the day of my department meeting so entertained herself while I was stuck there for FIVE HOURS. She did get to crash the department meal though and was a big hit with my colleagues.

The main event of the weekend was going to Strasbourg on Saturday. This was my first time at the markets there this year and actually my first time there in a while. My flatmate Lilly came with us and we fought the hordes to get onto the train. We started in Place Kléber, one of the main areas of the market that also has most of the food options as well. We decided that divide and conquer was the best strategy so I went off and got currywurst and spaetzle while the others found their lunch of choice. From Place Kléber we walked towards the cathedral, another hot spot for Christmas market activity. It was an incredibly cold day so by this point we were all beginning to lose some feeling in our fingers and toes so we started trying to find somewhere to sit inside for a warm drink. The problem was that the Strasbourg markets are so busy and everyone else had the same idea! We eventually found space in an ice cream parlour (ironically) and defrosted with some hot chocolates. One more lap of the stalls and we slowly started heading back to the train station. When we got back to Mulhouse, Anna and I went to Gambrinus for some tarte flambées for dinner and then settled in at home to watch the England vs France football match (at Anna’s request and very much against my objections but at the end of the day I’m a good host).

We had been tempted to hit up the Christmas markets in Colmar the next day before Anna’s train home in the evening but after our very cold trip the day before, we decided to have more of a chill day in Mulhouse. We wandered around the Christmas markets and shops that actually happened to be open despite it being a Sunday because it was on the run up to Christmas. I took her to one of my favourite book shops in town which I actually usually avoid because I am incapable of not buying books. Case in point, I walked out with two new ones that day! We stopped for a coffee and a cake in Le Temps d’une Pause before going back to my flat to pick up Anna’s stuff. We walked back through centre ville to the train station and by this time it was dark so she got to see all the lights! It was a lovely weekend, a good mix of activities and chilling, and I look forward to returning the favour with another trip to Rouen in the springtime!

And that’s it for now! I’m slowly starting to catch up with a bit of a backlog of blogs though we’re not quite up to date. Hopefully I can sort that out in the next few weeks. I’m not going to reveal too much about what’s coming next but I will say that there are some posts that are a bit different in the works and then some more travel posts as well which I always love writing. I hope you love reading them too!

Morocco: The Sahara

Typing this is bittersweet but we are on to the final part of my Morocco series. The past few blog posts have been some of my favourite to write as I remember one of my favourite trips. I hope I’ve been able to impart at least some of my love for Morocco onto you and that you might consider Morocco for a future trip! If you do, let me know and I’m happy to talk to you about it, give you even more recommendations and hell, even go with you. Despite all my love for Morocco and the incredible time I had there, the fourth and final part of my week in Morocco is a little different in that I don’t have 100% positive things to say about it. I will preface what I’m about to tell you with the fact that none of that is Morocco’s fault. It comes down to trying to see as much as I could in the limited amount of time that I had and maybe pushing things a little far.

With all that out of the way, and as you can probably tell from the title, I spent my last few days on a trip to the Sahara desert! This was something that Hiba and I had decided on together as it would be something new for her as well. We looked at a couple of places but we were limited by the amount of time I had. When we were planning the trip, I only really had one night to spare for a trip to the Sahara if I was to fit in everything else that I wanted to do. This ruled out a few places such as Merzouga, a town deeper into the desert close to the Algerian border. We considered Ouarzazate, known as the Hollywood of Africa but it’s only really on the edge of the Sahara and we wanted something more immersive (more on Ouarzazate later though).

We had originally booked something through Tripadvisor but when we got to our riad in Marrakesh, Hiba and Rania got chatting to the guy checking us in who was able to get us a similar trip as we had booked but for a bit cheaper. I think we were reassured by being able to talk to someone about it, someone who was really welcoming to us in the riad and had already been super helpful. We were also able to see some pictures of the camp. We decided to go for it because we were getting good vibes from him and I’m all about listening to people in the place, in the hotel or hostel because they’re the ones that know. I’m sure he got something out of it as well but I can’t blame him for seizing the opportunity!

So Thursday rolls around, five days since I arrived in Morocco, and we had an early start – 6am to be exact. We had spoken to the guys in the riad the day before and they had said someone would be up to prepare breakfast for us and then take us out to meet the trip organisers. After a slightly stressful start because our contact in the riad overslept after a late check in the night before, we made it to our tour van and met our driver and the other people on the trip. It was a very German heavy group but there was also a French mother and daughter couple, a Portuguese and French couple, a half-Belgian half-Moroccan guy and an Argentinian plus this Scot and my two Moroccan companions.

We were heading out of Marrakesh by 8am and drove for a few hours until our first stop. By the time we stopped we were in the Atlas mountains, a mountain range that stretches for 2,500km across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It was obviously a popular spot because there were a lot of other tour buses there but not much about other than a little cafe and a balcony with a gorgeous view. I took advantage of it because as soon as we were back off in the bus I was incapable of staying awake. I think the last few days were catching up with me and a year of travelling on chicken buses through Central America means that I’m pretty adept at falling asleep in moving vehicles, however uncomfortable. After another couple of hours of driving, we had another brief stop to stretch our legs at Tizi n ‘Tichka, a well known mountain pass that is 2,212m above sea level. Apparently Tizi n ‘Tichka means ‘difficult mountain pasture’ in Berber which is a fair enough designation. It had absolutely spectacular views though.

Around 12.30pm, so four and a half hours into the journey, we reached our first proper stop. Aït Benhaddou has been a filming location for many films and TV series including most recently Game of Thrones but also Lawrence of Arabia, Asterix and Obelix, Gladiator, The Mummy and Indiana Jones. At one point it was also a stop along the caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakesh. Traders would spend a few nights there before going on to traverse the Atlas Mountains via the mountain pass of Tizi n ‘Tichka, where we had passed through earlier. Nowadays the ksar (a fortified village) still has a few families that live there, benefiting from the tourism related to the film industry. The old village lies across the dried up bed of the Ounila river, across from the new town where most people live now. Included in the price of our tour to Zagora was a guide to take us around Aït Benhaddou. He spoke incredible English, French and Spanish as well as Arabic and some Berber, all of which we heard on our tour. We were taken into a traditional Berber house and able to look around and also stopped in at an artisan’s workshop. He was using saffron and tea to paint a barely visible scene onto the paper. This is then heated over a flame, bringing out and fixing the colours onto the paper. The pictures often depict kasbahs or ksars, desert scenery and camels. If you bought one you could also have your name added in Berber.

Aït Benhaddou

I’ve mentioned Berber a few times in the past few blogs, most notably when we visited the Berber museum in the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh. Berbers are the indigenous people of the Maghreb region in North Africa, covering what is now Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, They are also known as the Amazigh as is their language. The Berber language is actually a collection of languages that is written using the Tifinagh script. An interesting crossover is that the indigenous people of the Canary Islands (where you’ll find Tenerife, 100 km west of Morocco), the Guanches, are believed to have spoken a now extinct branch of the Berber languages. Morocco has the largest number of Berber speakers with an estimated 24% of the population speaking at least one Berber language. Berber suffered during the post-independence years as Morocco and other North African countries tried to replace the influence of France and the French language with a policy of ‘Arabisation’ during which time all forms of Berber were oppressed. Berber is now an official language of Morocco. To give you an idea of what Berber looks like written down, this means ‘Morocco’ in Standard Moroccan Berber, also known as Standard Moroccan Amazigh or Tamazight – ⵜⴰⴳⵍⴷⵉⵜ ⵏ ⵍⵎⵖⵔⵉⴱ.

After Aït Benhaddou we carried on to Ouarzazate which we would come back to the next day. For now it was only a quick lunch stop. It wasn’t the best food that I had in Morocco, a bit of a tourist trap judging by the high price and lower quality than I expected. I did get to try couscous though and tick that off my Moroccan food list although I’ve eaten it before and it wasn’t my favourite, I have to say. After a quick lunch it was back in the van and a race to our final destination before sunset.

Moroccan couscous

We were running a little behind so we only saw the sunset from the van and arrived at Zagora in the light of twilight. I personally hadn’t realised this but the final stage of our journey was going to be made by camel! We could only take what we could carry so just what we needed overnight. We were able to leave our bigger bags in the van with our driver who wasn’t coming to the camp and would look after them. If you are going to do something like this, I would probably recommend leaving your bigger bags back at your riad or hotel in Marrakesh, especially if you are going back to the same place like we were. Everything was perfectly safe the way we did it but we had been given the option to leave it at our riad and I think that would have been easier in the end.

Here I have to admit that I’m not the biggest animal person. I have slowly come around to cats in the last few years after our wee girl Anna wormed her way into my heart and anyone that knows me or follows me on Instagram knows that I’m OBSESSED with my dog (and all dogs) but aside from them, most animals make me a little nervous. Enter a two metre tall Dromedary camel that was going to carry me to our camp. Getting on them was fine but the lurching movement when they stood up almost had me calling the whole thing off. The movement of the camel once we started moving was actually very jarring, nothing like what I remember riding a horse to be like from my (admittedly limited) experience. Juggling my hastily packed assortment of tote bags also proved difficult and I almost dropped them several times. In the growing darkness, I feel like that would have been the last time I would have seen them. I was so uncomfortable, borderline in pain, and then I heard someone ask how long it would take to get to camp and I genuinely thought it must be a joke when they replied an hour! No joke, but I was finally able to get my bags in a better position. Comfortable might be taking it too far but I was definitely more at ease.

We finally reached the camp after passing several others on the way, my hopes rising each time a collection of lights grew larger and then sinking again as we passed them and continued on. Finally we did approach our camp and we were able to get off the bloody camels. One of my knees had started hurting from just hanging there and my inner thighs were screaming from having to grip on. One of the things going through my head during the journey was that, for me, riding a camel was really a once in a lifetime experience – as in, I was only going to do this once in my life because there was no way I was ever going to get back on a camel ever again!

Our camp was simple but homely, a circle of tents for sleeping, a larger one for eating and a few carpets laid out in the middle where we could gather. The toilets were just outside of the circle. The group from our van were joining up with another tour group in the camp that were already sitting having some tea. We joined them and got to know each other a bit more as well as meeting the hosts of the camp. It was already 8pm by the time we arrived so it wasn’t long before we were all taken into the dining tent for some food. A Moroccan classic, we had soup to start followed by chicken and olive tagine with potatoes, vegetable and of course some bread. I’ll speak for myself, Hiba and Rania but after a 12 hour day, at least 8 of which were driving or riding a camel, we were very tired and getting a bit delirious. I won’t say it wasn’t fun, as we broke down in laughter over the smallest thing, the way only very fatigued minds and very close friends are able to. I was on the verge of going to bed when instead we were ushered outside to a bonfire and our hosts with their musical instruments. We enjoyed the music for a while and danced a bit before we got to have a go on the drums as well! We had a little walk outside of the camp to look at the stars away from the light before calling it a night.

Obviously it gets quite cold at night in the desert, at least compared to during the day, but I wasn’t too bad. I slept just in a t-shirt and shorts but still wrapped up in a big blanket and I was fine! I started to get cold just before we had to get up at 7am but I pulled on some trousers and a jumper and it was all good! Our group had breakfast, a little spread of bread, jam, cheese, boiled eggs, coffee and tea before packing ourselves up. Now the night before I had thought that I would never, ever get on a camel again but sleep had made the pain and discomfort more distant. We had been promised that the ride out of camp would be half the length of the night before, so only half an hour, and when else am I going to get to ride a camel? This time though, there was a camel with panniers where I was able to tuck one of my wee bags so that I could arrange myself more comfortably. I’ve already said that I would recommend leaving any big bags or suitcases in Marrakesh but for the bag you bring with you, make sure it’s a backpack! You need something that doesn’t require any hands to hold on to, unlike a tote bag, so you can focus all your energy on not falling off! Most people had had the same change of heart as me, after feeling the same as me the day before, although there were a couple of people that decided to take the journey on foot.

We rode back out to meet our driver and the van, ready to start the 8 hours of driving back to Marrakesh. We left around 8am again and were going for several hours with just a few short bathroom breaks before arriving back in Ouarzazate around 12.30. This time we got to see a little bit more during a short walking tour with a guide. Ouarzazate is known as the ‘Hollywood of Morocco’ because it is home to a number of film studios. It acts as a base for productions filming in Aït Ben Haddou for example. It also has the nickname of the Door of the Desert because of its position at the far edges of the Sahara and 70% of the population speaks Berber. It is a popular tourist destination, is known for the Ouazgita carpets made by Berber women and plays host to the ‘marathon des sables’, a gruelling 6 day, 250km race across the desert.

We wandered through the medina where the guide talked to us about the castle and the old town. We stopped in a women’s artisan association as well and had some tea. After our tea and being entertained by an absolutely adorable cat, we went down into the shop and got to see some of the carpet designs. Carpet weaving is a traditional Berber art made by the women. It takes hours and hours especially because they only do a couple of hours at a time because it’s bad for their eyes. I did think it was interesting that even in an association of and for women, the only woman we saw was the one that brought us tea. It was men that showed us the carpets and explained them to us. We had a look around the shop and the carpets were gorgeous and they had some really nice earrings as well but it was all pretty expensive.

It was back in the car and another hour or two before we arrived at our lunch spot. It was the same kind of place as the day before, definitely made to serve these bus trips with a set menu price. However it was a little better in terms of quality than the other place. Between the three of us we split a mixed kebab plate and a kefta plate. The kebab plate had two chicken skewers and some keftas which are basically little beef meatballs with chips and salad. Not the best and not the worst thing I ate during my trip. We were back in the bus with a few more toilet stops before getting back to Marrakesh around 7.30pm, about 36 hours after we left. We got dropped off first and hobbled our way back to Riad Chennaoui. After hours and hours in the van and with aching muscles from the camel riding, all we wanted was to lie down. It was our last night in Marrakesh and my last night in Morocco so we felt like we needed to make the most of it but once we got back, there was no way we were leaving again. Instead we ordered a pizza and called it a night.

In all honesty, I’m torn about whether this trip to Zagora was worth it. The experience of being in the camp in the desert and the stops we had in Aït Benhaddou and Ouarzazate were a lot of fun and very interesting. On the other hand, the journey on either side was SO. LONG. We left Marrakesh at 8am and arrived at camp at 8pm. We had stops but at least 8 of those hours were driving or on camel. And then the same to get back to Marrakesh. It was a lot. I think if we had stayed a day in the camp before going back it would have been better. There was also the option of going to Merzouga which is 300km or 4 hours further into the Sahara but that was a multi-day trip which I didn’t have time for. I already know that I’ll be back to Morocco and maybe then I can do a longer trip at a slower pace but I don’t think that trying to fit it into one night away really did it justice.

Sara in the Sahara!

After one more night in Marrakesh, it was time to go home. I had a slightly rushed final morning as I wanted to nip out and get a few souvenirs before my taxi to the airport that the riad had helped me organise. It was sad to say goodbye to Hiba and Rania because we’d had such an amazing week. It was so nice that me and Hiba were able to pick up where we left off and then me and Rania have formed such a good friendship in such a short amount of time.

My return journey was via London with a pretty long layover but it was surprisingly nice to be back in an English speaking country, however briefly. I arrived back in Paris around 10.30pm so it wasn’t possible for me to get back to Mulhouse on the same day but luckily I have a very lovely friend, Lizzie, who has a very lovely couch that I was able to crash on. It was nice to catch up with someone else, even if I was barely there for 12 hours, before finally arriving back in Mulhouse the Sunday after I left.

I can’t believe that everything included in the last four blogs all happened within a week. Despite how much I’ve enjoyed writing them, I worry that I haven’t and won’t ever be able to fully convey how incredible and special this week was. It wasn’t just that the food was delicious (maybe more so than I expected) or that the history was fascinating, the culture was rich and vibrant, the people were some of the most welcoming that I’ve ever met. It was so much more than that. I had been thinking about this trip for three years since I met my friends in China in 2019. A lot has changed in the world since then but I’m so glad to have met them and be able to pick up where we left off as well as have them show me around their home. Reconnecting with Cheima, Aymen and particularly Hiba, my beautiful, kind, generous and funny tour guide for the week, as well as becoming fast friends with Rania was the heart and soul of this trip and to me is really what drives me to travel as much as I do. It’s all about making, and then sustaining, these connections. As I look forward to the travelling that is to come in 2023, a lot more of what I have planned is built around people rather than places and I’m thrilled about that.

I have this philosophy when it comes to saying goodbye. I used to get really upset or emotional when saying goodbye to something, somewhere or someone that means a lot to me. The first time I remember this was at the end of a month-long trip to Costa Rica when I was 17, a trip that was a catalyst for pretty much everything that has happened since. I was distraught at the thought of leaving when so much had changed since I had been there, when I had changed so much since I had been there. Now, that is a rare thing to happen. I usually don’t get upset or even vaguely teary eyed because I’m at the stage where if somewhere or someone is important enough to me that I might get upset at the thought of leaving them, then I know I will see them again. I know that I will be back to Morocco. There’s so much more to see! And whether they like it or not, these people are stuck with me for life.