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 whiskey
  • Bard – a storyteller, musician, oral historian
  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 definiteley 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.

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!

Back To Reality

I cannot believe it’s almost Christmas and also that it’s been almost two months since my last blog. The last time I posted was just before I headed off to Morocco which I have so much to write about that I want to share with you. On coming home, I got caught up in a fairly busy time at work with exams and also had a fairly lively social life in the past few weeks as well. For now, I thought a little recap of my first few months back in Mulhouse and France after the summer should come first. It’s been a busy time, reconnecting with friends from last year, making new ones, getting to know my new flatmates, settling back into my routine and surviving my job. I’ve already spoken about how I’ve lost a little enthusiasm for my job, although there are always some highlights, good classes or weeks where my lesson plan worked particularly well. However, on the whole this means that I’m living even more for my life outside of work, packing it full of lots of activities and fun things to look forward to.

Let’s start with my first weekend back in France. I flew from Edinburgh to Paris at the end of August and straight into a long weekend at Rock en Seine, a music festival on the outskirts of the city. I was going with my friend Anna, fellow Edinburgh uni graduate and lectrice in France. We went to three out of the four days that the festival was running and had an amazing time. The location itself was really well set up, even once it got really busy there was still plenty of space for everyone. There were lots of food and drink stalls which did have very long queues around dinner time but we avoided these by eating a little earlier or later. The headliner on the Thursday was Arctic Monkeys, one of the big selling points of the weekend. I like the Arctic Monkeys, I know a handful of their more popular songs really well, but Anna is from the north of England so the Arctic Monkeys run through her veins. She had such a fantastic time watching them that it made me enjoy it even more! Just as the song I had been waiting for came on (I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor), someone near me yelled ‘Do it for Yorkshire!’. Another highlight from our first day was a band called Inhaler, a group of Irish boys that includes Bono’s son, that I had never heard (of) before but have become a fan of! There was also a very serendipitous moment when Anna and I were queueing at one of the bars after eating dinner. I saw a girl walk past with a Scottish flag tied around her shoulders so I stopped her to talk to her. It turns out that she and her friend were from Falkirk, 30 minutes away from my hometown! And of course, because everyone in Scotland knows each other, we had a few friends in common.

We didn’t go to the festival on the Friday so we had a day to kill in Paris – oh no, what a shame! We filled it by just wandering around the city on a bit of an impromptu tour of bookshops. A lovely way to spend a day. We were back at it on the Saturday which was more of a chill day. The headliner was Tame Impala but they weren’t coming on until 11pm. We were both feeling tired and only knew a couple of songs each so we called it a night early and were in bed before they even came on stage! Highlights were a French singer called Mr Giscard and a chocolate and pistachio soft serve ice cream!

Finally Sunday – the big day! The headliner and the main reason we, and probably many other people, had bought our tickets was Stromae! For anyone unaware of the genius of Stromae, he is a Belgian singer who is a strong favourite of most high school French teachers. That’s how Anna and I were introduced to him anyway. In the run up to Stromae’s set, we enjoyed a lot of smaller acts that made the day as a whole my favourite of the weekend. The first act we saw that day was Olivia Deane who has since become a favourite of mine and later on we caught part of Joy Crookes. As a warm up for Stromae we went to the main stage to watch Parcels, an Australian group that are straight up vibey, that’s the best way to describe them. It was golden hour, someone near us was blowing bubbles and a spontaneous flash mob started in our area, it was great! And finally it was time. Stromae came on to Invaincu, the first song from his newest album. Listen to it and you’ll understand why this was the perfect choice. I swear I felt my soul leaving my body. The production value was through the roof and we even got treated to an a cappella version of one of his songs, Mon Amour, as the encore. Overall, it was the perfect end to a great weekend which itself served as a very satisfying ending to an incredible summer.

It wasn’t long before I was back in Paris. In fact, it wasn’t even a week! I had a trip planned with my best friend of twenty years. We had both been to Paris before and done the main touristy things so we were looking forward to doing a few more off-the-beaten-track type things. Unfortunately the trip did not get off to a great start as Kathryn’s flight was delayed by two hours. Originally we were supposed to arrive in Paris around the same time as each other and were going to meet in the centre. Instead I decided to make the most of the delay by going out to Charles de Gaulle airport to meet her off the plane. I figured that seeing a familiar face at arrivals might be a nice way to counteract the annoyance of being late. 

After dropping our things off at our hotel, handily situated right next to the Saint Lazare station, our first stop was the Catacombs! Neither of us had ever been here before but having done a history degree and her dissertation on Jack the Ripper’s London, the catacombs are right up Kathryn’s alley. The Catacombs of Paris house the bones of more than six million people in tunnels that were originally part of the city’s stone quarries. The bones were transferred from various cemeteries around Paris towards the end of the 18th century but only became a popular attraction after concerts and private events started being held there in the 19th century. If you visit today, prepare for a climb because it’s 131 steps down and 112 steps back up. Personally I thought they were a little uncomfortable but overall an interesting place. It was weird to be so close to the bones with nothing in between us. I’m not a squeamish person but there was something about it that just made me squirm. We had an audio guide included with our tickets which cost about €30. Without the audio guide you’re really just walking through some damp tunnels surrounded by bones and reading the occasional sign, not all translated from French either. I still thought it was a little expensive for just over an hour of walking through tunnels. We emotionally recovered with a cocktail in the sun near the exit of the catacombs (half a mile away from the entrance) and then went in search of food. We ended up at a pizza place in the Latin Quarter with the nicest bathroom ever. After our long day of travel, especially for Kathryn, that was about all we had in us so we headed back to the hotel. 

Day two started with a coffee and a croissant followed by a short metro ride and a walk through the Tuileries and along the Seine. We arrived at Sainte-Chapelle, one of my favourite tourist sights in Paris that I think goes a little unnoticed by lots of people. I really think it’s a must do and if you time it right, either earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, the queue isn’t that long either. From there we wandered down towards the bookshop Shakespeare and Company and then found somewhere for lunch. It was hot and very humid in Paris so we headed back to the hotel for a little siesta. 

That evening we went out to Bouillon Chartier for dinner at Kathryn’s request. A bouillon is a traditional Parisian restaurant that serves quick, simple French food. Bouillon Chartier is is located in a 19th century cartridge factory in the 9th arrondissement and has only had four owners in its entire 100 year history. Kathryn had a steak and chips with pepper sauce and I had pork belly and sausage with lentils and some green beans on the side. All that, plus a bottle of white wine, the Chartier profiterole and a creme caramel was only €44! It was a great dining experience with good quality food for a great price and classic service! It’s a great option if you want to escape some of the more exorbitant pricing in Paris while still enjoying a great meal. 

And with that, our time in Paris was almost done. The next morning we dropped our luggage at the Gare du Nord and then went for a little wander through Montmartre. We had a very overpriced Coke which was worth it to enjoy one of the best views of Sacre Coeur. After a quick lunch I sent Kathryn off on the Eurostar and I headed back to Mulhouse. 

This was back at the start of September and it was only after this trip that I really settled back into life in Mulhouse. I still had a bit of time before I started teaching. I have a whole new set of flatmates this year. In fact, I knew one of them, Mahmoud from Tunisia, a little already as we had crossed over during my final month in Mulhouse before the summer. The new arrivals were Alexis, a French engineer from Haute-Savoie, and Lilly, a German teacher working in a nearby bilingual school. We’ve been getting along great since we’ve all been there, hanging out in the apartment, going on trips to Colmar, for drinks in Gambrinus and most recently doing a Christmas dinner. 

Eventually I did start teaching again and now I’m at the end of what felt like a long semester. I’m not going to go into it too much right now because I have some thoughts and feelings around this semester that I want to unpack in its own blog post. For now I’ll say that it was nice coming back and knowing two-thirds of my students already. The groups were different to last year which is a bit of variety. I get to see a new mix of people interact and it changes it up for them as well. I have to say though, never mind that it had been five months so I had forgotten a lot of names, it was also really difficult to place people without their masks on! When it came to my first years, they were all a bit shy which is understandable because they’re new to the university, to each other, to me. Because of that I had to put in a bit more energy and not be bothered when I didn’t get anything back. Progress has been slow but steady throughout the semester (with most groups at least) so hopefully that only continues after the holidays. 

This year’s flatmates!

It has been nice being back in Mulhouse for a second year because I already felt very at home here. Even so, there has still been lots to explore and discover in Mulhouse, new places to try. I went back to an old favourite, Nomad, where the cocktails are great and happy hour makes them affordable but this time to try some food. My advice – skip the nachos but try the crispy chicken and the croquetas. I also finally got myself to the Petit Marcel casse-croûterie to try the drool-worthy sandwiches. Petit Marcel has a rotisserie in Mulhouse as well that I have been to before for a staff dinner last December (the memory slightly tainted by the fact that I got covid the next day) but I’d never made it to the sandwich shop. I tried their version of a chicken caesar because I knew that the chicken would be from the rotisserie and therefore amazing and I wasn’t disappointed! A shoutout for their homemade, slightly minty lemonade! I haven’t made it back but I hope to at least a couple more times in my remaining months. Some other new spots that I tried have been Tilvist, a cute tea house full of nick-nacks and loaded pretzels that I want to go back and sample, and the patissier Dany Husser in Maison Engelmann where I had an interesting strawberry mojito tartelette. 

As well as trying new spots around Mulhouse, I’ve also branched out a bit in terms of activities. Mulhouse has a few sports teams that are well known and very strong, notably the women’s volleyball team, the men’s basketball team and the Scorpions ice hockey team. I haven’t gone to a volleyball match yet but it’s on the list. I went to one basketball match with a couple of friends and loved it! I’ve watched quite a few basketball matches in my time because my sister used to play but it had been a while. The real surprise is that I’ve now been to about four ice hockey matches! Part of this is because I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy it but also because I have a new friend who’s boyfriend is on the team. Sam found my friend Àine (also known as Une Bouchée A Day) through TikTok and we’ve all become fast friends, bonding over coffees, the highs and lows of moving abroad and cheering Tyler on during Scorpion games. 

I’ve been up to a few more interesting things in the past few months. I have attempted to more officially embrace France’s love for wine by doing a ‘dégustation de vin’ (a wine tasting) at the wine bar La Quille, run by the wine shop Clos 3/4. It was a little bit of an expensive attempt at becoming more cultured but it was something a bit different and Àine and I learnt a lot (even if I don’t remember most of it!). It was split into two sessions of about two hours each, one for white wine and one for red wine. I enjoyed the white wine session a lot because that is what I enjoy drinking. We were given a couple of wines at a time to compare them and talked through how to look at them, smell them, taste them and what we could tell about the wine from that. Red wine is less my speed but I learnt a little more about what I like which is what I wanted out of it. In general, La Quille is a lovely spot for a glass or two of nice (but not too expensive) wine and some nice nibbles. 

Also at the suggestion of Àine, I attended a talk between a psychoanalyst from Strasbourg, Jean-Richard Freymann, and a famous chef from Lyon, Michel Troisgros. It was called ‘Rencontres Épicées‘ and was about the link between pleasure and food. I was pleased with how much I was able to follow because it was all in French, even if some of the ideas went over my head. All in all, I wasn’t the biggest fan. I think it’s a really interesting topic but neither of the speakers seemed to know much about the other’s speciality which meant that it was almost two completely separate conversations. There were also some comments from the psychoanalyst that were… questionable at best. I also would have loved for one of the guests or even the mediator to have been a woman or for any of them to have acknowledged a woman, chef, psychoanalyst or otherwise, outside of them being a family member. I did appreciate the buffet afterwards though, with some excellent little tarts, beef bouillon and cakes. 

Last but not least on my road to cultural betterment, I attended a talk organised by a colleague and 47º Nord bookshop. Jan Carson is a Northern Irish writer whose most recent novel ‘The Firestarters’ uses magical realism to explore the post-Troubles environment in Belfast. I raced through the book and was really looking forward to hearing Jan talk about it. I actually got a little emotional hearing her speak so beautifully and powerfully about the unshared stories of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, from women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, that are now getting the attention they deserve. Another theme in the book that really moved me looks at what happens when good people see or do terrible things. I’m a little bit obsessed with her now and can’t wait to read more of her books!

And that brings us to the halfway mark of the semester, marked by my week off and trip to Morocco. I want to really do justice to Morocco and the incredible experience I had there so I’m going to be taking my time writing those blogs. I managed to pack a lot into my week there during which time I really fell in love with the country. I want to convey that in what I write so it might take a little longer than normal. Or maybe I won’t be able to stop the words from flowing through my fingertips and onto the page, we’ll have to wait and see!

Useful French Phrases You Won’t Learn in School

Even though I came to France to practice my French, I felt pretty confident that I was starting from a good level. I have been studying it since I was 11 and have a degree in it so that had to count for something right?! I will say that I actually did manage pretty well when I arrived but there were still some phrases or ways of saying things that I just could not make out or understand. In cafes and restaurants, in reply to thank you or even just sounds littered into speech, there were lots of bits and pieces of language that took me by surprise. A year on, these are all phrases that I use daily and have helped my French feel so much more natural!

Pas de soucis

Meaning ‘no worries’, I have found this to be used much more often than ‘de rien‘. I like it because I feel like it rolls off the tongue easier than having to wrangle the French ‘r’, plus there’s a level of familiarity with ‘pas de soucis‘.

Je t’en prie / je vous en prie

This is the same phrase, just in second person singular and then second person plural or formal. It is another alternative for ‘de rien’ or ‘your welcome’. I had genuinely never heard this before moving to France and it took me a bewildered few weeks to figure out what it meant. It can be translated as ‘don’t mention it’ or ‘that’s alright’.

T’inquiète (pas)

‘Don’t worry!’ This simple and useful phrase confused me for a while because even though it is used to tell you not to worry, it is often shortened so much that both parts of normal French negation are removed, not just the ‘ne’ which I spoke about above. You can include the ‘pas’ if you wish but it’s not necessary and if someone says ‘t’inquiète’, they’re not ominously telling you that you have something to be worried about.

Ne … pas

Let me get a bit grammatical for a moment. The normal way of negating a verb in French means sandwiching the conjugated version of that verb with ‘ne’ before and ‘pas’ after, for example ‘je ne sais pas’ (‘I don’t know’). However in common French it is very common to skip the ‘ne’ entirely so ‘je ne sais pas’ becomes ‘je sais pas’. It goes a step further with this particular phrase where it gets all squished together to become ‘j’sais pas’.


One of the famous ‘false friends’ you’ll have heard your French teacher warn you about in high school. If you want to let someone know that you’re on your way, your first thought might be to reach for the verb ‘venir‘ (to come). But you would be wrong! You will still be understood but it’s very clunky and a native French speaker would never say it like that. Instead the right phrase to use would be ‘j’arrive‘.


You will hear this said in restaurants after you say thank you, if they have taken your order or delivered your food for example. It’s an abbreviation of the phrase ‘à votre service’ meaning ‘at your service’.

Ça a été?

Something else that you might hear in a restaurant, ‘Ça a été?’ is a rather informal way of asking ‘How was everything?’. You can respond with ‘oui’, ‘non’, ‘très bien’, depending on how your meal was. You won’t only hear it in a restaurant though, it can be used to ask about anything! For example, ‘ça été, ton examen?’ – ‘How was your exam?’

Ça sera tout?

Another common phrase, more likely to be heard in a boulangerie or a cafe, used to ask if you want anything else. It means ‘Is that everything?’ or ‘Is that all?’. If you don’t want anything else, the way to respond is ‘Oui, ça sera tout, merci‘ (‘Yes, that’s everything thank you.’).

Du coup

‘Du coup’ means ‘so’ or ‘as a result’ but it is used for much more than this, particularly in spoken French. Much like ‘so’ in English, you will often find it at the start of a sentence, just as a kind of soft introduction to what is being said. It’s used similarly to ‘alors’ in that way.

En fait

Similar to ‘du coup‘, ‘en fait‘ is often found at the beginning of a sentence. The meaning, however, is slightly different. ‘En fait‘ is used to indicate that what you are about to say is contradictory to what has just been fed, similar to saying ‘(well) actually’ or ‘in fact’.

Quand même

Quand même‘ is a miraculously versatile word that I did learn in school, despite the title of this blog post, but I did not appreciate all of its many, many uses. It ranges from ‘anyway’, ‘even so’ and ‘all the same’ to ‘nevertheless’, ‘really’ and ‘finally’ and even ‘how about that’! Honestly, my general attitude is if in doubt, sticking a ‘quand même‘ onto the end can’t hurt!


You will quickly get used to the little sounds that French speakers make which aren’t exactly words, but still convey meaning. For example:

  • ‘Bah…‘ – ‘Uh…’ (when you are unsure about something, when something is obvious or when you don’t understand something)
  • Bof‘ – ‘Meh…’ (when something is average or just ok)
  • Bon‘ – ‘Right, well’ (to express satisfaction, impatience or, when combined with ‘ah‘ to become ‘ah bon‘, surprise)
  • Euh‘ – ‘Er, um, uh’ (for hesitation, uncertainty, doubt)
  • Hein?‘ – ‘Huh?’ (used when you don’t understand something or when you want to check that you or someone else has understood something)

Being Back in Mulhouse 

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve now been back in Mulhouse for more than a month. In that blog I was looking back, reflecting on an incredible summer but also looking to the future, but today I’m back to the present. It felt like the summer flew by, despite how much I managed to pack into it, but coming back to Mulhouse made me realise actually how long I had been away. In the end, I hadn’t been in Mulhouse for four months! That’s half as long as I was here last year! I had missed it and I was definitely looking forward to getting back into a routine and back into my own space. All the time away also gave me a fresh perspective on Mulhouse. It’s been a long time since I gathered my initial first impressions of Mulhouse, not knowing much about it at all. It’s been interesting coming back and noticing some new things this time or seeing things differently.

With my new flatmates!

First of all, and this one will sound obvious but I appreciated it a lot when I arrived back, everything is so much easier when you know how it works! There are obviously a lot of admin things I didn’t have to do on arriving back to Mulhouse – I already had an apartment, a bank account and a French phone number – but just going about day to day life here still requires some background knowledge. This is the case when you move to any new country, you just don’t have the built in knowledge that comes with having grown up somewhere. Even something like knowing where to buy a mouse trap (don’t ask!) becomes a mission. Another example I encountered was that I when had to go and sign the physical copy of my contract this year, I knew not to go to the office between 12pm and 2pm because everybody would be away for lunch. Just knowing stuff like that makes life a lot easier.

There are some other little things that I’ve noticed since coming back to France after some time away. Everytime you walk into a shop, pass someone on a walk by the canal, enter the gym, you say hello. It really is just a little thing but it’s something that makes me smile. Obviously there’s no way for someone just looking at me to know that I’m not French, but being included in this ritual makes me feel like I’m incognito and that I’ve assimilated well. I have also noticed (or been reminded because this is something I noticed way back when I first arrived) that the Alsatian people are very kind and welcoming. I can probably count on one hand the amount of bad experiences I’ve had with someone being rude to me, impatient with my French or just generally being unkind. Looking back, I think this is one of the main reasons I have become so comfortable here. Knowing that, more likely than not, I’m going to be met with kindness and warmth has made setting myself up and building my life here that much easier. It has no doubt contributed to the progression of my French as well. Confidence can be a massive benefit or a massive barrier when it comes to learning and improving a foreign language. Feeling that people are on your side and will support you, with patience, with understanding but most of all by giving you the space and time to try, fail and learn from it is crucial.

Temple Saint-Étienne

Sticking with language for a bit, I have been feeling really at ease in my French since I came back. I don’t quite know how or why that is the case seeing as I spent the summer 1. attempting to speak German (not succeeding), 2. immersing myself in as much Spanish as possible while working in a very multicultural hostel and 3. back at home able to understand everything going on around me for the first time in many months. I did get a little bit of French practice with some of the guests and other volunteers in La Tortuga but not that much. I think that either without realising it, or at least without giving myself credit for it, my French has gotten to the level that I want it to be at. I’m not and have never really been interested in speaking my languages like a native speaker. That is a close to impossible task and requires dedicating an inordinate amount of time and effort to it, and is even more difficult to do with more than one. Because there are multiple languages that I’m already passionate about and even more that I still want to learn, it’s not particularly realistic or feasible for me to do this. My goal has always been communication and ease. I don’t want to feel like I have to translate everything someone says to me into English to understand it and then do the reverse with my response. I want to be able to dedicate time to one language, leave it for a while to focus on another, and be at a good enough level that when I come back to it, it’s there waiting for me. This is what I feel like I achieved with my Spanish after spending a year in Honduras. I didn’t quite get there with my five months in China (I think a bit more than a year would be necessary as well) but I felt like I made some inroads. French has always been the more neglected and that’s what this time in France was supposed to fix.

The change this year compared to last is that I really have more confidence in myself. I don’t have to think about what I’m listening to or trying to say anywhere near as much as I had to last year. Everything just feels easier. However, one of my main struggles with speaking French, or any language for that matter, is getting my personality through. For so long after you start learning a foreign language, the focus is solely on communication. It’s difficult enough to make yourself understood that how you say it doesn’t really matter. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point now where I can express not just my meaning but my humour in French. Another aspect that shows my progress, to me anyway, is that I can swear more comfortably in French! In my professional opinion as a language teacher, swearing is actually an important sign of fluency. I’m not saying it’s something that I teach in class but it does make me smile when I hear my students dropping in a few curse words and it sounds natural!

A mural on campus

Speaking of being back in the classroom, coming back not just to Mulhouse but to my job as a lectrice with a year of experience already under my belt has been refreshing. I won’t pretend that I understand all the intricacies of the French higher education system (there are far too many acronyms for that) but I at least feel more comfortable in what I’m doing. The fact that I already know (and like) two-thirds of my students is also a comfort. Despite having this reassurance behind me though, since arriving back I have felt like I’m cycling through confidence in my abilities and that dreaded imposter syndrome. I don’t want to be an English teacher but I still think I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes though, my lack of formal training gets to me. For example when a student asks me a question and I can’t answer it or has an issue that I don’t know how to fix. There’s not too much I can do to fix it but I do what I can, whether it’s extra research in my free time, sharing resources with other lecteurs or asking my more qualified friends for advice and help.

Saying all that, I don’t feel like I have as much to prove this year, whether it be personally or professionally. In terms of work, last year I wanted to make a good enough impression that I would get asked or accepted to stay for a second year. I also wanted to get off on the right foot with my students as I knew that would help my confidence in the class. Personally, it wasn’t about anyone but myself. Last year I had this feeling of wanting to make the most out of my time here. When I arrived I wasn’t entirely set on staying for two years but even once I had decided that I was going to stay, there was still a feeling of pressure to do and see everything possible. This year I feel more like I’m just living my life. Of course there are still places I want to go and things I want to do, but I think the intention has changed. I’m just doing them because I want to, I want to take that trip or do that thing with my friends or try this restaurant. There are also days where I want to go to bed early or spend all of Sunday in my pyjamas without leaving the house. That’s ok too!

A blurry picture of Canadian Thanksgiving!

I do still have an idea of what I want to achieve in the next wee while though. I’ve got a few goals for this upcoming year and as a way of holding myself accountable for them, I’m going to share some with you.

  • Write a blog post in French – I have always wanted to write a blog post entirely in another language. I almost did it in Spanish right after getting back from Honduras, when my Spanish would have been at its best, but I never got round to it. I never quite got to the level with my Chinese where I felt like I could do it, at least not an entire blog and not to my usual standard. With French, I definitely think I’m at the level where I could, I’m just waiting for the right blog.
  • Integrate different kinds of blog posts – I have a lot of different things that I want to write about in the coming months. There’s still so much that I want to talk about when it comes to Mulhouse, Alsace and living in France but there’s also lots from the summer that I haven’t written about yet. There are other ideas that have been in the back of my mind for a while as well that I would love to finally get out. Have a look below to see some of my upcoming ideas!
  • 3-4 posts a month – This has been a goal of mine since the start of the year. Preferably I wanted to be writing a blog a week but some months that’s not quite possible. I haven’t always hit 4 posts a month, sometimes not even 3 but I still like having that aim in the back of my mind. I’m going to keep it going forward, at least until the end of the year.
  • Keep my classes fresh and interesting – When it comes to work, my only real goal is to keep my classes varied and exciting. I might be feeling a little less enthusiastic about teaching English this year but that’s my problem, not my students’, so I don’t want them to feel any of it. So far this semester we’ve had some really interesting discussions about the monarchy, reality TV and cancel culture to name a few. If I can keep them engaged and improving for the rest of the year, I’ll be happy.

As well as goals for this year, I also have a little bucket list of destinations that I would like to make it to before I finish my time in France. I already have some of these scheduled into the holidays that I know I will have and some are achievable in a day trip or for the weekend. There’s definitely too much here to fit everything in before April or May, my likely endpoint in Mulhouse, but I’d rather aim high and see how much I can fit in.

  • Morocco – All booked and happening in under three weeks!
  • Liechtenstein – After visiting Andorra last year, I want to visit more of these microstates, including Liechtenstein on the eastern border of Switzerland.
  • Madrid – I have the start of my February break earmarked to tick this one off. I’ve been wanting to go for a while and I have some friends there that I want to visit. I think I’ll also visit another city or two, maybe somewhere new, maybe back to Barcelona which is somewhere that I really like.
  • Dijon and Lyon – Two cities not far from Mulhouse so definitely doable over the course of a weekend.
  • Villages in Alsace – I still haven’t seen that many of the smaller villages in Alsace. They are supposed to be beautiful and have held onto a lot more of the traditional Alsatian culture than Mulhouse. They’re a little more challenging to get to without a car but not impossible with some planning.
  • South of France road trip – I think this will be something to keep for springtime, to avoid both the height of the heat and tourist season. I’ve never been down to the south of France so there’s lots of places I want to see!
  • More of Germany – I’ve ventured to Freiburg and Munich so far but while I’m right next door I would love to see more of Germany. This is a little bonus though, not top priority but if I have enough time and the stars align then we’ll see.
  • Skiing in Andorra – This would be another little Brucey bonus. Ever since I was in Andorra last year and I saw how much the country is clearly set up for skiing, I’ve wanted to go back. I’ve since talked to people that have been skiing there and they said it was great!

And finally a little sneak peek at some of the blogs that I would like to write soon (in no particular order)!

  • An intro to Mulhouse
  • My favourite cafes
  • The museums of Mulhouse
  • Alsatian food
  • The Alsatian language
  • Why I’m learning Gaelic
  • A week on the isle of Lewis
  • More Tenerife blogs
  • Travel tips
  • Useful French phrases
  • Lesson plans 

If there’s anything else you want to see me write about, let me know! As for this more reflective kind of blog, I used to write them to mark an anniversary, like one month, three months or six months. I feel like I’m a little beyond tracking these monthly milestones now but I will still be writing these, just based more on when I feel the want or need to get something off my chest and onto the page.

Reflections on Summer 2022

I’ve been back in Mulhouse for a couple of weeks now and it feels like life is back to normal. I’m back in the same apartment as last year, I’ve started teaching again and I’m back into a routine. There are some changes this year and some exciting things coming which I will fill you in on in due course but now I want to take some time to look back on the last few months. I had such an incredible time over the summer, with my travels, my time in Tenerife and being at home. I want to take a moment to reflect on that, the things I’ve learned and the things I’ve gained from it.

First of all I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend my summer in the way that I did. Not everybody has the chance to potter about Europe in the way that I have, whether it is because of time, money or a whole host of other reasons. The perks of working at a university means that I benefit from the long holidays at Christmas and over summer. The benefit of being a lowly lectrice means that I don’t have to spend those holidays doing research or planning entire courses so I am free to use them exactly how I want to.

In terms of the cost of my travels here, there and everywhere, I have shared some spending breakdowns on various blogs (here for two weeks in Germany and Austria and here for seven weeks doing Workaway in Tenerife). I try to keep things pretty cheap, saving money wherever I can and having a bit of a budget. I didn’t always stick to the budget but things like staying in hostels, choosing free activities and cooking for myself instead of eating out all the time are some of the ways that I kept my costs down. All this was how I managed to afford this summer while I was on the go but how did I afford it in the first place? I’m not going to lie and pretend that I earn a ton of money as a lectrice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enough to live comfortably on and is fair for the number of hours that I work but doesn’t leave a lot left over at the end of the month. With that in mind, I would say that I am a saver rather than a spender and always have been. I try to put aside a chunk of each of my paychecks and don’t spend a lot of money on myself. I would much rather save it and put it towards a future trip. Over time, this builds up!

Goofy outtakes with my sisters and cousins

I had a great time across the whole summer, chilling at home as well as spending a couple of weeks travelling in Germany and Austria but my favourite part was by far my time in Tenerife. I’ve spoken at length about how incredible it was working in La Tortuga through Workaway and after being on the road for almost three weeks before I got there, it was nice to slow down once I arrived. Overall I found it much more fulfilling being somewhere for longer and getting to know it better. It also felt like a more sustainable way to travel for me. Moving around places and cities every few days can be exciting but also exhausting!

Tenerife also added to my collection of friends around the world. I feel incredibly lucky to have made the connections that I have over the years with the people I meet along the way. Whether it’s my second family in Honduras, the friends I made while studying in China that I’m visiting in Morocco next month or my fellow volunteers and the guests from La Tortuga, I have met some very special people. The more people I meet, the more places I want to go so I can visit them!


Spending almost two months on a Spanish island was great not just because of the amazing things I got to do or the people that I met, but because I got to speak my favourite language. I’m really pleased with how much my French has improved since moving to France and Chinese is special to me because of how much effort I have put into it but I’ve always had a soft spot for Spanish as it was when I started learning it that my passion for languages really took off. It was also the first language I learnt fluently and is attached to so many memories that I hold close to my heart. It was great to be able to stretch those muscles again after five years without using them for more than a random conversation here and a long weekend away there. I also got to add to my very eclectic collection of vocabulary and phrasing that has its roots in Honduras and has influences now from mainland Spain, Chile, Argentina and a mish mash of other places. I love that my Spanish doesn’t conform to one regional accent or dictionary but instead is a patchwork of the people and places that have taught me.

I also feel more intrigued by Spain than I ever have before. Most of my interest in Spanish has been related to my time in Honduras and Central America and other than a week here and there I haven’t spent a lot of time in Spain. I will say here that although Tenerife is a Spanish island, the local culture is much more Canarian than Spanish. Saying that, it’s still the first time that I have felt drawn to Spain in this way. I will always feel pulled back to Tenerife now but I am also more intrigued by mainland Spain now. Who knows when it might happen but maybe I’ll end up living in Spain for longer than a couple of months at some point?

Ten weeks after leaving my home in Mulhouse, I finally made it back home-home. That is to say that I made it back to Scotland and back to Dunblane. I have previously written about my complicated feelings about coming home to Dunblane in general and specifically after a period of travels or living elsewhere. The concept of home and the feelings attached to it are often complex, and not just for me. I’m always happy to be back and able to see the people that I’ve missed more than anything but without those people in Dunblane I wouldn’t be going back to visit. There are other places in Scotland that I feel much more attached to, in particular Edinburgh.

For the first time, however, I had a real desire to be at home in Dunblane. Not just to visit my family and friends but to actually be at home, in that environment that I know so well, that feels familiar, that I grew up in. I hadn’t felt this before, even after a whole year in Honduras, even after being the furthest I’ve been from home while in China, even when I was last at home in February after missing Christmas because I got covid. It was an intense feeling and a new one for me. I still don’t know exactly what caused me to feel like that. I’ve always come away from an extended period living somewhere else wanting to stay longer but something felt a little different. As much as I loved my time in Tenerife, I was ready to come home at the end of it. As much as I enjoyed my first year in France, I was longing to go back to Scotland.

At this point I knew that I was coming back to France for a second year as a lectrice. I’m still not entirely sure why but lecteurs and lectrices can only stay in their position for a maximum of two years. I had decided not long after arriving in France and getting started that I wanted to stay a second year. I enjoyed the work, I like Mulhouse and I’d set up a nice life for myself there. I also wasn’t sure what it would look like if I didn’t stay for a second year. I graduated university with this idea that I wanted to move to France and get my French to the level that I wanted it. There was also an element of taking back what the pandemic had denied me because I didn’t get to spend any time in France during my year abroad. When I arrived, I had a vague idea that I might want to go to China after I finished my time in France for similar reasons. While I would still like to go back to China one day, I don’t think now is the time. There are still a lot of covid restrictions in place that make it hard to get a visa and that restrict life and travel once you are there. I also don’t want to continue being an English teacher (which I’ll expand on later) but I think that would be the easiest way to get back to China in the near future.

The combination of this desire to be back home in Scotland and the uncertainty of where I’m going after my second year in France is done had and still has me considering whether I want to move back to Scotland. I have always felt like a restless soul and have never seen settling down in one place as something I would do until much further in the future. Saying that, I’ve always had the feeling that if and when I do choose somewhere more permanently, it would most likely be in Scotland because that is my home. I’m not saying I’m ready to take that plunge and be in Scotland for the rest of my life. Even just in this blog post I’ve talked about potentially wanting to live in Spain at some point. But maybe the way I was feeling was a sign that moving home, even temporarily, should be in my future?

What made this more complicated was that when I first arrived back in Scotland just after the start of July, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going back to France. Like I’ve already said, I don’t know where I’ll be after this second year in Mulhouse but it most likely won’t be France. I like the life that I’ve built here but it was never supposed to be long term in the first place. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back at all, I knew what I had signed up to when I agreed to stay on for a second year. I knew that all I needed was some time at home. I just needed to fill myself up again from being around my friends and family and also having some time to do nothing. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks I was already starting to look upon my return to France with more excitement.

HebCelt 2022

Another thing playing on my mind was my choice of job. I don’t and have never wanted to be an English teacher. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy what I do and I actually think I’m quite good at it but it’s not my passion. I have been involved in teaching for years, ever since I became a swimming instructor at the age of 16, through my year teaching English in a primary school in Honduras, back into the pool through university and now finally in Mulhouse. At the same time, an unavoidable question when you choose to study languages as a degree is ‘So are you going to be a translator or a teacher?’. I have known since I first embarked on that path that I didn’t want to do either. I’m still not exactly sure what it is that I do want to do but I know it’s not English teaching. Knowing all this, and with all these other questions swirling around my head about what the future might hold, had me questioning what I was even doing going back for another year. I felt like it would be a waste of time.

I’ve since knocked myself out of that spiral. I think a lot of these thoughts came at a point where I was just feeling a little bit lost. I still don’t know where I’m headed but I’m secure in the knowledge of where I am. Yes, I don’t want to be an English teacher for the rest of my life but I am grateful for what this job has given me, allowed me to do and taught me. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy interacting with my students and I share their passion for languages, just for different languages. It’s not a waste of time at all because there are things to be learnt from any experience and it is what you make of it. For now, I’m focusing on giving my all while I’m still here and making the most of it. I’m sure there will be more updates down the line as I (hopefully) get closer to figuring out what I’m doing with my life!

À Bientôt Mulhouse

I’m long gone from Mulhouse at this point, having finished two weeks of travelling in the south of Germany and through Austria and am about to embark on two months working in a hostel in Spain, with a quick weekend with family in Dublin in between. With all of that still to come on the blog, I wanted to do one final update from my time in Mulhouse. Recently it’s been all about the various visitors I had in April but there are a few things from before, in between and after that I want to catch you up on.

First of all, rewinding all the way to the start of March, I celebrated Pancake Day with my flatmates and neighbours. Pancake Day obviously happens on Shrove Tuesday but there is actually a French version of Pancake Day not linked to any current religious holidays. On 2nd February there is La Chandeleur (also known as Fête de la Lumière or just jour des crêpes). We missed this but our Pancake Day was full of mini crepes with a range of fillings, British favourites like lemon and sugar and more French choices like emmental, mushrooms and crème fraîche. It just so happened that Pancake Day (or our one anyway, celebrated a day late) was the same evening as the live music night at Shamrock so it was two for one that evening!

There have also been a few birthdays in the last few months. My upstairs neighbours Aaron and Matt both had their birthdays so of course we had to celebrate. For Aaron’s birthday we went out to a Korean BBQ restaurant on the actual day and then had a party at the end of the week. For anyone that hasn’t had Korean BBQ before, it’s super fun! It’s a very interactive experience where you use a grill plate built into your table to cook a range of things, often slices of meat but also vegetables or tofu. There was also a homemade red velvet cake made by Ellie, their lovely flatmate! For Matt’s birthday we went out to an Italian restaurant called Volfoni (good cocktails, average food) on his actual birthday and again had a party at the end of the week!

In the middle of March I took a great day trip to one of Alsace’s popular attractions. Le Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is a medieval castle located near Sélestat which is in turn located about two thirds of the way from Mulhouse to Strasbourg. The castle sits atop the Vosges and looks out over the Upper Rhine Plain and on a clear day you can see all the way into Germany. I went with my flatmate Becca as it was one of the last things she wanted to do before she left Mulhouse at the end of March to go back to university in Germany. It was very easy to get to, the train from Mulhouse to Sélestat, which takes about 40 minutes, and then there is a bus that leaves from right outside the station, helpfully marked Château, that will take you the 25 minute drive into the mountains and right to the front door of the castle. The path through the castle directs you through it in a way that I thought worked very well. It was informative and clear where you were going which made the visit very easy and enjoyable! We finished with a slice of cake (tarte aux myrtilles for me and tarte tatin for Becca) and an Elssas cola from the cafe, enjoying the view outside while waiting for the bus back down. Overall if you are anywhere in the area and looking for a day trip to do, Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is very accessible, with or without a car, very interesting and beautiful! Big recommendation from me!

Something a bit random that I want to include was the day in the middle of March when the sands of the Sahara blew in. I woke up and there was this strange light coming through the window but I didn’t think much of it. Throughout the morning, while I was teaching, I noticed that it got a bit stronger, a real orange tint to the sky. It was as if there was a filter on the world and eventually I asked my students about it. They explained that it happens once a year pretty much, that the wind brings sand from the Sahara over. It can travel as far as Scandinavia and apparently was particularly strong this year, especially in Spain. In Spanish it is known as la calima but I’m not sure what they call it in French. It was bizarre to experience but quite interesting!

At the end of March I unfortunately had to say goodbye to the first of my friends that was leaving Mulhouse. There are several that won’t be there next year, including the language assistants who have been here for their year abroad as part of their university studies, others who have been in France for a few years and are going back to Scotland or some who are moving to other places in France. Becca, my flatmate, was the first to go, heading back to Germany for the last semester of the German academic year. It was sad to see her go and eventually when it was my turn to leave it was sad to say goodbye to everyone but as with most goodbyes, it just makes me more thankful to have met those people in the first place. I don’t get that emotional with goodbyes anymore because if it’s with someone that I care about enough to get emotional, I know that it won’t be the last time I see them. It doesn’t matter where they live, close to me or the other side of the world, if I care about someone I know that I’ll make the effort to see them when I can.

Matching friendship bracelets

And that pretty much brings us up to date with the goings on in Mulhouse in the last few months. If you follow my new Instagram for this blog, @sara_somewhere_ (shameless plug, I know), you’ll have been able to keep up with my travels since I left at the end of April. I spent about five days each in Munich, Innsbruck and Vienna followed by a quick pit stop in Dublin before heading to Tenerife where I’m writing this from and where I’ll be for the next two months. I hope you’ll join me on Instagram to get more timely updates but otherwise I’ll be working to get the next few blog posts out ASAP to hopefully catch up and be able to write a bit more about where I am now and also some general travelling posts. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about!

What to Do When You Visit Mulhouse

As you know, I had a very busy April, first with my dad and Kirsty visiting Mulhouse and then going away for a few days to go skiing with them in Switzerland. This was all followed closely after by a visit from my friend Anna who is a lectrice in Rouen and also my twin sister Amy! I had picked out some of my favourite places to show them both and also had some new experiences too which was a nice balance. The two visits together give a good overview of what makes a good visit to Mulhouse! There’s a few things that aren’t included here that I think are worth a visit, like the Musée Historique and the Musée de l’Automobile, that you can read about in the post about my dad and Kirsty’s visit. There’s also things that I haven’t done yet, like visit the Cité du Train or go to some of the villages around Mulhouse, that I imagine are also great. It’s lucky I’ve got another year here!

Food and Drink

I’m not ashamed to say that many of my holidays and plans revolve around food and having Anna and Amy visit was no different! I took both of them to some of my favourite places and also got to try somewhere new that I’ve had my eye on for ages!


Definitely one of my favourite spots in Mulhouse, Gambrinus was the first stop on both Anna and Amy’s trips. I think it’s a great introduction to Mulhouse, not just because it’s popular but it shows that Mulhouse does have a bit of life to it, something that it is sometimes accused of lacking. It’s the ‘trendy’ bar that the young people of Mulhouse frequent, known for its large range of draught beers and its tartes flambées. Both my visitors were big fans of the Alsatian delicacy. Anna sampled the Savoyarde, which was the standard onions and lardons plus reblochon cheese because it reminded her of her year abroad in Sallanches in Haute-Savoie. Amy is vegetarian so she had hers without the lardons obviously but it was still a big hit!


Astronome is another place that I took both of them. It’s a fairly new rooftop bar that opened in October but I have only really been taking advantage of it since spring arrived, for obvious reasons. I have to be honest, while the view is incredible and I would kill for their pineapple mojitos, the service is not great. It can take a while to order and get your drinks but if the weather is nice, that’s not the worst thing in the world. When Anna was visiting, we met up with some of my friends there and me and Amy had a wee apéro one afternoon.


A hidden gem tucked away in an old industrial complex whose buildings have been renovated, NoMad is a restaurant and bar that has a warm ambience and Instagram worthy decor. Every Sunday they have decadent brunches that I’m yet to try but have heard good things about. Amy and I went to NoMad with a few of my friends post-Gambrinus for another drink. The mojitos aren’t as good as Astronome but I had a Hot Tub (a vodka cocktail with raspberry and pineapple) that was delicious and they have a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Their menu looks great too so I need to go back for food soon!

Are we twins or are we twins?


I have been desperate to try Panettone since I moved to Mulhouse, after the recommendation of my friend and food blogger Àine from Une Bouchée a Day. During drinks at NoMad, I finally got around to arranging a visit with Àine herself, our friend Lynzie (another Scot!) and of course Amy tagging along as well. It was such a shout because the pizza was fantastic. It was genuinely one of the best pizzas I think I’ve ever had. Everyone but Amy went for the Pomodoro, a delicious concotion of cherry tomatoes, pesto, ricotta salata and your choice of Buffalo mozzarella or burrata to top it off (we all went for burrata). Amy had the Parmigiana with aubergines, cherry tomatoes, rocket and parmesan. It was also great but she admitted to having a bit of food envy!

Homemade English breakfast

With all the delicious food to be found in France, we still decided to go all out and make a full English breakfast on Amy’s last morning. We went up to our neighbours’ flat where some other British language assistants live and toiled away in the kitchen for almost two hours to put together an impressive spread. We had sausages, meat and veggie, bacon, a huge bowl of scrambled eggs, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and even homemade baked beans! There was also a French touch as we added croissants on the side.

A beautiful sight!


I had a range of activities in mind for when Amy and Anna came to visit, some the same and some different. The same as with the food and drink choices, I had been to some of these places before but there were others that were new to me too! Having visitors is a great reason or excuse to finally get around to doing or seeing the things you haven’t made time for yet.


An obvious must for both Anna and Amy was to take them to Strasbourg. If you think Mulhouse looks nice, which they both did, wait until you see Strasbourg! I have yet to do a lot of the attractions there because every time I go I just get caught up in wandering around the beautiful streets. Particularly with Anna, the same thing happened. We started wandering through Petite France, the especially picturesque part of the city, and then headed towards the university. Anna is currently considering where to do a masters in France after her doing another year as a lectrice and so wanted to check out the campus. We had the vague idea that we would carry on walking until we got to the European Parliament but luckily we checked before we got too far and found out that it was closed for Easter weekend. Instead we got a baguette and some other bits and pieces and had a picnic next to the river in the glorious sunshine.

With Amy, we at least managed one activity! Just like with Anna, the weather was stunning so we decided to take advantage of that and climb the cathedral tower to enjoy the views over the city in the sunshine. Previously I’ve seen the queue to climb the tower, separate from the one just to get inside, snake all the way across the courtyard next to the cathedral but because this was a random Thursday afternoon we didn’t have to wait that long. It cost €5 as a student (I can get in as a student using my staff campus card) and €8 for Amy at regular price. There are more than 200 steps that wind up a series of narrow spiral staircases. You don’t actually go all the way to the top of the tower but instead to the roof of the main body of the cathedral with the tower continuing above you. The rooftop has viewfinders attached to the fence that point out some of the things that you can see, including the Vosges mountains to the west and the Black Forest in Germany to the east. Going up wasn’t necessarily easy but I have to admit, I found going down harder! Winding down the spiral staircases made me so dizzy I started to feel a little sick! Still very worthwhile though!

Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes

Back in Mulhouse I took Amy to another one of its museums, but not the more famous car or train ones. I know my audience and I took her to the Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes or the fabric printing museum. It was actually pretty interesting with lots of beautiful fabrics. Some of the signs were in French and English but some were only in French so Amy had to engage my translation services (I gave her the friends and family discount!).


As well as a day trip to Strasbourg, Amy got a surprise bonus, the morning she arrived when I somehow got us on the wrong train back from the airport and ended up in Basel instead of Mulhouse! I only noticed when I got a text saying ‘Welcome to Switzerland’! Neither of us were that bothered about it seeing as the trains between Basel and Mulhouse are so regular, plus it makes for a funny story (at my expense). We actually didn’t get the next train back but instead went to a food hall near the train station and had an iced coffee in the sun.


Another of the days Amy was here we visited Switzerland again, this time on purpose! Amy has a friend that lives there who she met while volunteering in Mexico 4 years ago. She hasn’t seen her since and she figured that while she was over in this part of the world, she might as well make the short two hour train ride and have a reunion! Lea met us at the train station and there were some very happy hugs when they saw each other again!

Lea works part time at the observatory in the city so our first stop was a private trip up to the observation platform for a usually inaccessible view across the city. From there she was able to point out the main attractions, some that we would go on to see and some that we wouldn’t have time to, considering we were only there for a few hours. We basically walked a loop from the observatory, which is on the main shopping street, through the old town to Lake Zurich and back round. We visited the Großmunster, the large cathedral, which had some beautiful and more alternative stained glass windows inside. We walked down to the Opera, a very grand building, past the lake and then to Lea’s favourite vegetarian restaurant for lunch. It’s the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world! Lea had to leave shortly after lunch so Amy and I found a park to read in for the last little while before our train. And thus concluded our whirlwind trip to Zurich!

The view from the observatory

Water polo match

Last up on Amy’s visit was a very specific Sara-related activity. I’ve been playing water polo since I was 13 and found a club to play with in Mulhouse as well. It just so happened that the elite men’s team had a match the weekend Amy was here. Some of my friends in Mulhouse have come along to a few matches throughout the year so there were five or six of us that went together. There was a synchro demonstration before the match including one of my friends which was very cool and then the match itself was great! It was very close, coming down to the last few minutes but in the end we won!


Sometimes just wandering around a place is enough to get a feel for it and see some great things. Mulhouse isn’t big, especially centre ville, so it’s easy to get your bearings quickly but there’s still lots of beautiful buildings to see if you know where to look.

Place de la Réunion

You absolutely cannot come to Mulhouse without seeing Place de la Réunion. It is the main square with the Temple Saint-Étienne on one side, the bright pink Hôtel de Ville on another and a number of beautiful buildings as well. The weekend that Anna was here the cafes and bars around the square had put out their terraces, marking the real entrance into spring and the warmer weather. We were there two days in a row to enjoy a coffee in the sun, with a croissant to accompany us one day. A perfect setting, particularly on a Sunday morning.

Université de Haute-Alsace

While not really of interest for the general visitor to Mulhouse, Amy did request that we take a walk down to the university so that she could see where I work. There is a lovely path running along the river that comes out right at the bottom of campus. It’s not a massive area so we just walked up to look at my building and then turned around.


One of my only complaints since I moved to Mulhouse is that it’s missing some nice big green spaces. I’m picturing something like the Meadows in Edinburgh, nice to walk through even on a cold, wet or windy day but absolutely glorious on a sunny one. Mulhouse has lots of trees, flowerbeds and even the tramways are carpeted in grass which brightens up the city a lot but I haven’t been that impressed with the parks. However, recently I have found a new appreciation for them. The sunny weather definitely hasn’t hurt. When Anna was here we spent an hour or two reading in the park at Nouveau Bassin, one of the canals cutting through Mulhouse. One of the bigger parks in the centre of town is Square Steinbach, just behind the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Art) and Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin. After our lunch at Panettone, Amy, Àine, Lynzie and I went to find a new bubble tea place that has just opened in Mulhouse, right next to the square, and then drank them in the sunshine on the grass. All in all, I think I need to be a bit more appreciative of the parks in Mulhouse!

So, there you go. If for someone reason you end up in Mulhouse and I’m not there to give you a guided tour, you can use this as a starting point for your visit!

Official Tour Guide Duties Begin

I am winding down my last week in Mulhouse, at least for this year – it feels crazy to write that! – but I have a lot to catch you up on from the last few weeks. April has been very busy, filled with lots of lovely visits from lots of lovely people. I started with my dad and younger sister Kirsty who spent a few days in Mulhouse before we all went skiing in Switzerland together. Next up was Anna, my fellow Edinburgh University lectrice who works in Rouen who came for a long weekend over Easter. Last but not least was my twin sister Amy who was here last week. I loved having them visit me and being able to show them around not just the city of Mulhouse and the region of Alsace but also the life that I’ve built here. I’m going to split all of these visits into a couple of different, more bitesize posts so there are multiple to enjoy!

Starting with my dad and Kirsty, I went to pick them up from the airport and took them to their AirBnB. They had booked a place right next to le mairie (the city council) which was perfect as it’s right next to centre ville and a tram stop, making it easy for them to get around. The AirBnB itself was lovely, as was the owner. I joked that it was even nicer than my apartment! Our first stop was lunch, which was going to be at an Alsatian restaurant but the AirBnB owner told us that the restaurant I had in mind just reheats their dishes and gave us a better recommendation, Le Cellier. It wasn’t open for lunch but we noted it down for later in the visit.

A lot of places in France that open for lunch will close at 2pm when most people’s lunch hour ends and we were cutting it close to that. We ended up at Le Crêperie Crampous Mad which has non-stop service through the day so no worries about it closing on us. I’ve been here a couple of times before and it is great. Kirsty and my dad went for the classic option of a crêpe complèt with ham, cheese and egg while I had one with goats cheese and parma ham.

Kirsty had arrived pretty exhausted after having just finished a week of performances of her college musical, Carrie. Her energy levels were pretty low so we left her in the apartment for the afternoon to have a nap while my dad and I went to the car museum. The hope was that she could have a few chill days in Mulhouse and catch up on her rest before we went skiing. The Musée National de l’Automobile is the private collection of the Sclumpf brothers and I didn’t really know what to expect from that. It is one of the things that Mulhouse is known for and attracts a lot of people to the city. We got there just over an hour before it closed, which was actually the perfect amount of time to wander around the collection. The museum itself is housed in an old woolen mill that the brothers bought in 1957 to hold their collection.

The museum covers 20,000 m2 with 400 cars on display from 98 manufacturers. Apparently it has the largest displayed collection of automobiles and is the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugattis in the world. There are three sections, the Automobile Adventure area, the Car Racing area and the Masterpieces area. The main room houses the Automobile Adventure which is absolutely packed full of cars that can walk you through time from 1878 to almost the present day. Interestingly, the lamp posts that are spread through the room are exact replicas of those on the Alexandre III Bridge in Paris! There were a lot of Ferraris, Mercedes Benzs and Peugots, some Renaults, Rolls Royces, and so many more. The racing car section had some rally cars, cars from Le Mans and even F1 cars including ones driven by Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso and others. It was hidden away through in a side room so we almost missed it but it was a great surprise! Finally the Masterpieces room has 80 of the most prestigious cars from the 1930s. I actually enjoyed the whole thing a lot more than I thought I would!

To top off their first day in Mulhouse, I took my dad and Kirsty to Gambrinus, one of the most popular bars in the city. It’s a vibrant and lively spot, particularly energetic at the weekend but still has a good buzz any day of the week. It’s a good place to sample one particular local delicacy – tarte flambée or flammekueche. These are like Alsatian pizzas, a very thin and crispy pastry base, creme fraiche as the sauce and with the traditional toppings of bacon lardons and thinly sliced onions. Me and my dad both got the Munster, topped with local munster cheese, and Kirsty had the Champignon, so with mushrooms. Gambrinus has a wide selection of draught beers as well which we sampled as well. We were going to stay for a few but Kirsty’s energy levels were dipping so we headed back to their AirBnB for some more chilled drinks there.

The plan for Sunday was to have a chilled day, as befits a Sunday in general but especially in France where most things are closed. We didn’t even make it out of the AirBnB until mid-afternoon, having given Kirsty a long lie-in and then waited until the very important, absolutely cannot be missed football match finished. When we did finally get out, we wandered around centre ville in search of a caffeine kick. We ended up at a cafe that I’ve been meaning to try out for a while, Le Temps D’une Pause. It was a really nice vibe inside and there were several people with their laptops out so I’ve filed it away as somewhere I can go and work in the future.

After our coffee we walked down to Place de la Réunion, the main square in Mulhouse where you can find the cathedral and hôtel de ville (the old town hall), and decided to go to the historic museum that is in the Hôtel de Ville and is actually open on Sundays. Free entrance was a bonus! I thought it was going to be really small but it actually had a lot inside, telling the history of Mulhouse. The museum was founded in 1864 and covers three different topics – local archaeology, the history of the city and Sundgauvian folk art. The original interiors of the town hall have been preserved in some rooms and in others, traditional Sundgauvian living conditions have been replicated (Sundgau is an area in the south of Alsace). There was also a whole room dedicated to Alfred Dreyfus and the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus was a military officer of Jewish descent born in Mulhouse in 1859. In 1894 he was convicted of treason for revealing military secrets to the Germans. New evidence came to light in 1896 but the military justice system refused to admit its mistake and it took until 1906 for Dreyfus to be completely exonerated. The Dreyfus Affair divided French society at the time and is still a well known symbol of miscarraige of justice and antisemitism. It was something I had heard of before but didn’t know much about and I definitely didn’t know that Alfred Dreyfus was from Mulhouse!

Outside the Hôtel de Ville where the historic museum is

After visiting the museum, we walked towards my apartment so they could see where I live and then back to the AirBnB for some dinner.

Unfortunately I still had work this week so I wasn’t able to spend the day with my dad and sister on Monday or Tuesday but I set them up with some plans in my absence. On Monday they headed out to Strasbourg and enjoyed the beauty of the city while I was running assessments with my classes. I finished work at 4pm and headed back to my apartment quickly before meeting up with them just after they got back from Strasbourg. We decided to go out for a wee apéro, basically the French version of an after work happy hour. We went to Gambrinus again so that Kirsty could experience without her exhaustion induced haze!

After a drink there we headed back to the AirBnB to have raclette for dinner. For anyone that isn’t aware of what raclette is, it features my favourite food group – melted cheese. When you have raclette at a restaurant, they bring out half a wheel of cheese and clamp it over a flame so that it starts to melt and you can scrape the cheese off to eat with your chosen accompaniments. At home raclette involves using a portable grill with little trays to melt slices of raclette cheese under. You give it a few minutes until its molten and bubbly before dripping it over the usual sides of boiled potatoes and saucisson plus whatever extras you want. Cornichons, or gherkins, and mustard are must haves with raclette.

Ready for raclette!

I was working again the next day, my busiest day of the week as after I finish my classes at the university I have to race over to Epitech, an IT school where I do a weekly conversation workshop. I finished there at half 5, raced home to change and freshen up before meeting my dad and Kirsty at Le Cellier for dinner, on the recommendation of the AirBnB owner. The two of them filled me in on their day, a rather chilled one after their big day trip to Strasbourg the day before and before a whole day of travelling to our ski destination in Switzerland the next day.

Le Cellier is an Alsatian restaurant so it was only fitting that we started with a bottle of Alsatian crémant, a sparkling wine. Kirsty had started with snails (when in France, right?) and I shared a charcuterie board with a mix of Alsatian meats and cheese. For mains, Kirsty had steak-frites, choucroute for my dad (basically sauerkraut topped with various meat and potatoes) and I had a new Alsatian dish, for me at least, bibeleskæs. It’s a kind of cottage cheese-creme fraiche concoction with garlic, shallots and chives. Mine was served with a little lettuce, a large block of munster and a little pot of cumin seeds. It was nice and surprisingly filling but not my favourite. It was still good to try a new Alsatian dish though. We were all pretty full but we decided to share a café liégeois, coffee ice cream topped with chantilly cream and with a shot of espresso to pour over.

Lucky we ordered the café liégeois to share!

It being the first Tuesday of April, we had arranged to meet some of my friends at Shamrock, an Irish pub where they sometimes have live music. The band was already in full swing by the time we got there and the place was more packed than I’ve seen it but we still managed to get the last table in the place. It was a good evening, everybody chatting. Kirsty had a bit more energy than any other day so it was nice to see her socialising and getting on with everyone.

And that concludes my first visitors in Mulhouse! They left the next morning to head to Grindelwald in Switzerland for a few days of skiing and I followed in the early afternoon after I had finished my classes for the week. It was lovely having them in Mulhouse and being able to show them all my favourite spots, everything I’ve discovered since living here. There might not seem to be that much to do as a visitor in Mulhouse but I think we managed to fill the days pretty well and there’s more than you might expect if you dig beneath the surface a little.

Squeezing Paris into 36 Hours!

April has been a busy month for me. Not only did I have several sets of assessments to mark for my students, I had my last few weeks of class for the semester, I’m still trying to figure out my summer plans PLUS I finally have some people coming to visit me in Mulhouse. First up were my dad and younger sister, followed by my friend Anna who I visited in Rouen and finally my twin sister! However, before sharing the little home that I’ve built in Mulhouse with some special people, let me take you back to a weekend at the end of March when it was time for a little weekend away with another special person.

Nina and I first met in Costa Rica when we were 17. We were there on a language and culture exchange and volunteering trip with an organisation called GVI. We immediately hit it off, along with an American girl (shoutout Amanda, we miss you!), and almost seven years later she is still one of my best friends. She has visited me in Dunblane and I’ve visited her at home in Grantham and many times in London where she is currently studying medicine. Because of her studies, she doesn’t have a lot of time for holidays or trips but we figured out that it’s actually quicker for her to get the Eurostar to Paris than for me to get the train there from Mulhouse! Honestly, it would be rude not to take advantage of that and meet in the middle. We still had to make it a quick trip, arriving around 10am on Saturday morning and leaving at 8pm on Sunday evening, bringing us to just shy of 36 hours in Paris.

It seems to be becoming a habit that I go to Paris and try to fit as much in as possible in as short an amount of time as possible. It’s hardly fair for a city that has so much to show for itself. Last time I was there was for 12 hours which really wasn’t enough. I got caught up in the bustling energy and overwhelming size – and not in a good way. This time I was back for 36 hours on a weekend with glorious weather and it couldn’t have been more different – I got caught up in the magic and romance of Paris, of the city itself, falling in love with it again in the way only Paris can make you. I remember on my first visit to Paris when I was a teenager, being convinced that I would live there one day. However, the more I became interested in languages and French, the less I was actually drawn to Paris, it being such an international metropolis where they are famed for sniffing out foreigners and refusing to speak French to them. Since I moved to France this feeling only seems to have increased. French people outside of Paris don’t seem to be nearly as enamoured by the city as the rest of the world and this rubbed off on me a little. 

However, this weekend was Nina’s first time in Paris and we packed in as many of the must see sights as we could. There are certain things that you just have to do the first time you experience the City of Lights. Between doing more than 26km over two days, getting possibly the first glimpse of summer and translating my way through Paris with ease, I think I found a little bit of the magic again. 

I made my way from Mulhouse to Paris without any major problems, other than dragging myself out of bed at 6.30am. It’s three hours from Mulhouse to Paris and I got in a little before Nina so I made my way from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord to meet her off the Eurostar. The last time we saw each other was when I made a trip to London with my sisters over my birthday in 2020, just weeks after leaving China because of covid and just weeks before things went into lockdown in the UK as well.

Our first stop was Sacre Cœur in Montmartre, after dropping our bags at our hotel. We were staying in Hôtel Victoria in the 9th arrondissement, le Quartier de l’Opéra, which was only a half an hour walk from Montmartre. It was a nice hotel, not a massive room but clean and not too expensive. There was also luggage storage where we could leave our bags seeing as we arrived before check-in and that we were able to use after checking out the next day so we didn’t have to drag our bags around Paris for the whole day.

Walking through streets towards Sacre Cœur, gradually working our way uphill we got just a glimpse through the buildings of the church high on its perch. Nina was seeing it all with fresh eyes and couldn’t believe the view! We were pretty hungry so we actually didn’t go to the church or the viewpoint at first but straight to the main square to get some food. We sat down at one of the restaurants in the square and decided to split a few dishes. We went for the classic moules-frites (mussels in a white wine sauce with a side of chips) and grenouilles (frog’s legs)! It was between frog’s legs and escargot (snails!), Nina had never had either but I hadn’t had frog’s legs so we went for that. The frog’s legs were actually kind of bland, they genuinely just tasted like chicken and unseasoned chicken at that, and I didn’t really like the mussels plus their service was very slow so not a great culinary start to the weekend. When we had finished eating we took a tour around the artists so that Nina could pick out a small painting as a souvenir and then headed back to see Sacre Cœur.

Sacre Cœur

From Sacre Cœur we wandered down through Montmartre towards Moulin Rouge, ice cream in hand. We found our way down there just to have a quick look and then hopped on the tram to the Arc de Triomphe. I’ve not seen it before and it’s actually pretty impressive. We had a quick photoshoot with the help of some fellow tourists before turning towards the Eiffel Tower. We decided to walk because in this case it was quicker than getting the metro. Walking is also such a great way to see a city and get a feel for it as well. We sat on a grassy bank below the Trocadéro for a while, just taking it all in and giving our poor feet a little break. We walked towards the Eiffel Tower and then along the Seine for a bit before getting the metro back towards the hotel. 

Moulin Rouge
Arc de Triomphe

Originally the plan had been to go back to the hotel for a bit of chill time, go out for dinner at one of the restaurants around our hotel and then go back out to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up by night. However, we HIGHLY underestimated just how wiped out we were by all the walking we had done. As soon as we hit the room there was no way we were going out again other than very briefly to find dinner. We wandered around a bit until we settled on a dumpling place just across the road. It was called 东北饺子王 (Dongbei Dumpling King), Dongbei being the northeastern region of China where I lived. We got a set of steamed pork, onion and shrimp dumplings and grilled chicken and cabbage dumplings with a side of mapo tofu and aubergine fritters. We both made a right meal of it by dropping our dumplings into the dipping sauce and splashing it everywhere but they were delicious and reminded me of Dalian!

Back at the hotel it wasn’t long before we were out for the count!

Our plan for day 2 centred around our booking at the Musée d’Orsay at 10.30am followed by wandering down and around the Seine. We walked down towards the river, enjoying the sunshine that we were lucky enough to have for both days there. Sunshine makes everything better and Paris is no different. We passed by the Opéra on the way which was very impressive and then down a very fancy street full of shops that I will never be able to afford to Place Vendôme. Just beyond are the Jardin des Tuileries which we walked through and where we eventually found a kiosk to get some breakfast. The city seemed really empty as we were walking over which I figured was just because it’s a Sunday, and even Paris has a sleepy Sunday morning. We got a coffee each and a croissant for me and a Nutella crepe for Nina and had them next to a fountain in the park. It was another beautiful day and a really idyllic moment where I just appreciated the life that I get to lead. There were people reading, out enjoying the sun, drinking coffee and eating breakfast like us. We sat there for a little bit and then headed just over the river to the Musée d’Orsay. 

Opéra de Paris
Place Vendôme

The Musée d’Orsay is in an old train station and even the building itself is absolutely beautiful. I got in for free because I’m an EU citizen under 25 (thank you Irish passport!) and we had paid for audio guides as well, seeing as they were only €6. The reason we chose the Musée d’Orsay was because it has a large collection of Van Gogh paintings and Nina loves Van Gogh. The central avenue of the museum is filled with sculptures and then there are rooms off to the side with paintings. I liked the sculptures more than the paintings in this section but it was interesting to see some paintings by names known even to an art amateur like myself. There was an interesting scale model of the area around the Opéra that we had walked through that morning and a cross section of the entire building. It took us about an hour and a half to get through the main avenue and I was getting a little bit of museum fatigue. I was reaching my limit but Nina was having a great time. I suggested we move up to the area that has the impressionists and post-impressionists and I liked the paintings in this area a lot more with its Monets, Renoirs, Pisarros and Manets.

There was so much more we could have seen but at this point lunch was calling! We left the museum and walked along the river a little until we found a riverside brasserie. It was almost definitely a tourist trap but a well placed one with decent food as well! We decided to split two dishes, a buffalo mozzarella and parma ham pizza and a crêpe complète (ham, cheese and fried egg) with some chips.

After lunch we wound our way back and forth across the Seine, starting with the Louvre. Having filled our museum quota for the day we just went to have a look at the pyramid, the building and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the edge of the Tuileries. We walked further down the river to Île de la Cité and Sainte-Chapelle. This wasn’t on our original plan but my mum had suggested, or rather demanded, that we go for her. It was somewhere that I hadn’t been before and it’s only a couple of hundred metres away from Notre Dame so we figured we might as well squeeze it in. We were a bit disappointed with the room we first entered and thought that was all there was until we spotted the staircase that leads up to the main chapel. We had seen a picture when looking it up the night before but were still taken aback when we entered the main room. It was absolutely stunning. The walls are almost entirely made from intricate, multi-coloured stained glass and with all the sun today it was glorious, such a hidden treasure. It’s a very popular tourist spot but still doesn’t have the popularity of it’s neighbour Notre Dame, maybe given that it is literally hidden in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Inside Sainte-Chapelle

From there we headed back across the river to visit Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop. Nina and I are both big readers, it being one of the things we bonded over when we first met. Nina and I both managed to limit ourselves to three books each which we were very proud of. We really were zig zagging back and forth as we went back on to Île de la Cité to look at Notre Dame straight on (obviously you can’t go right up to it or inside while it is getting repaired after the fire a few years ago). We walked over a bridge to Île Saint-Louis to finish our day with some ice cream from Berthillon, a very famous brand. I tried a couple of new flavours, la 60 which was a mix of vanilla, passion fruit and some kind of seed I think, and also a lemon and basil sorbet. La 60 was delicious but the pineapple basil absolutely blew my mind. It was so refreshing, which was exactly what I wanted. I still think about it every few days even now.

With that, we were almost out of time. We headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and then went our separate ways. It was a packed and fantastic weekend. It was one of those experiences that are thankfully becoming more regular where it feels like we are getting back to normal. Being able to run away to Paris for the weekend is still a big privilege though and I recognise that. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to spend time with a dear friend, especially one I haven’t seen since before the pandemic, and to get back to travelling a little, something I love.