(Almost) Finished in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at Auberge du Mehrbächel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porto and Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovering Dijon and Mountain Delicacies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Plan – Burns Night

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

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

Burns’ Night celebrations last year!

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burns’ Night

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

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

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

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

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

Address to a Haggis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Burns’ Poems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!