a TAPIF language assistant blog / un blog d’une assistante d’anglais

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Narbonne sous la Neige

Back to good ol' Narbonne, where, if you'll remember, we (as in my friends) have a saying... "Narbonne: tout est possible!" We are in the middle (or end, if I can be hopeful) of winter here in Narbo, where our days are generally spent in bright sunshine with temperatures generally between 25°F and 45°F and we daily struggle with wind so hard that we have to practically run into it to achieve the same speed that would normally be considered walking. Which wind is it today? You never know. Is it the Cers? The Marin? The infamous Mistral? Or, my least favorite because it's the coldest, the Tramontane? I regularly hear wind noises so loud from my double-windowed 5th floor corner room that it sounds as if I am in a tornado (and we're not talking the calm "eye of the storm" part either, people). Occasionally so loud it wakes me up at night!

All that is to say that if you visit Narbonne in the winter, you are likely to be greeted by crisp (but not freezing) temperatures, plenty of sunshine, and wind strong enough to drive you crazy after a few months, let alone a lifetime.

You are NOT likely to run into any snow. It snows maybe once every five years, even more rarely actually sticking.

Which makes it all the stranger that, as I was riding the bus from downtown to les Hauts de Narbonne (the heights of Narbonne) to give private lessons on Wednesday the 16th, I watched as raindrops changed to big, fluffy snowflakes. This surprised not only me, but apparently the bus driver, who took a walkie-talkie call and suddenly veered off the beaten (read: planned) path and headed off on the autoroute. As in highway. In the direction of Carcassonne. Which, I might add, is NOT how you get to les Hauts de Narbonne. And we just kept going. For 10 minutes. Luckily after a brief stint of thinking I may or may not be headed on an unexpected field trip and a brief inquisitorial phone call from the mother of my tutor student), the conductrice de bus suddenly remember that she had a job to do, and that job was getting me to, well, my job. After arriving 15 minutes late, I proceeded to give private lessons to an eager student all the while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling window, framing in the foreground, the falling snow on the terrace, and in the background, the Mediterranean. (I know.) It stopped after a while, only to begin again once I was home.

our school/home (aka our "château de rêves" - castle of dreams)


Turns out Narbonne on a snowy Wednesday night is somehow even calmer than Narbonne on a normal Wednesday night.

photo break on the way to dinner at the cantine

Chandavy (one of the two other girls that lives on my floor) and me, post-dinner photo break (notice the presence of the bébé baguette* in my hand in this and all subsequent photos)

Can you see the message I wrote out in the snow with my feet?!

me with Julie, who lives on the first floor in our part of the building - Julie and Chandavy are both BTS (there's no American equivalent, but let's just go with "it's kind of like community college") students who are maîtres au pair, which means they live on campus and occasionally supervise the high school students, kind of like RAs.

As I was jumping around in the snow, I hear Chandavy narrating, "Voilà Kate, 4 ans et demi, qui saute partout dans la neige. Saute pour une photo, Kate! Saute!" ("Here we have Kate, 4 and a half, jumping everywhere in the snow. Jump for a picture, Kate! Jump!") The result was this joyous shot filled with both action and bébé baquette.

Wardrobe change! We went inside, I got pajamas on and settled in, posted a picture of the snow on Facebook, and my neighbor Conchi saw, ran to the window, and realized for the first time that it was snowing outside in NARBONNE! Soooo it was back outside for us!

Chandavy & Conchi, who's a Spanish teacher and is the other girl who lives on our floor

me doing something ridiculous (throwing snow up into the air)

It should also be noted that these were the last photos my camera took before meeting The Final (maybe?) Death. After what happened in September in Salzburg, it's a wonder she lasted so long. But it is still tragic that she's called it a life. Thanks for the memories, sweet pink camera.

the next morning, view from my shower: There's still a little bit of snow on the rooftops, and you can see the snow on the Corbières (small rocky mountains) in the background.

Canal de la Robine with a touch of snow
photo cred: Violeta!

Les Halles, snow style
photo cred: Violeta!

Bonjour de Narbonne!
(Where tout est possible, even a snow day!)
photo cred: Violeta!

*leftover from dinner, I don't just carry baguettes everywhere. Though I could. Then I'd be full-on 100% française.

Friday, January 25, 2013

New Year's, 26, & the rest of Germany!

Well, here's my last Germany post. Get ready for more holidays, more food, and more Irene & Katy pictures!

New Year's Eve at the apartment - Irene, Nici, me, Sophie, Sonja, & her boyfriend Tobi

We had raclette, a Swiss dish with melted cheese (raclette cheese, in fact). Each person has a small individual pan and then puts various foods in them (meat, vegetables, etc.), puts a piece of cheese on top, melts the cheese, scrapes it out (to scrape is racler in French), eats it, and repeats. It. is. delicious. And at some point in my life, I want a raclette machine. In Germany, many people eat either raclette or fondue for New Year's Eve as it takes a long time and is fun to do in a group.

next tradition: Feuerzangenbowle, which is glühwein (mulled wine) with the addition of rum-soaked sugar burned and melted on top 

action shot!

I look like a witch whippin' up a little potion.

checking out our handiwork

After grabbing a mug of Feuerzangenbowle, we sat down to watch "Dinner for One," a British comedy sketch which I'd never set eyes on but is apparently a big tradition to watch in Germany on New Year's. We then set out on a little pre-midnight adventure to a nearby park to go see some fireworks. Irene had told me that there are no firework displays put on by the city, but that people are allowed to buy fireworks. At this point, I'm thinking people will be shooting off bottle rockets and sparklers... you know, the little ones. Imagine my surprise when I was regaled with a panoramic display of real, big fireworks! It was 30 minutes of pure joy on my part (if you don't know, I LOVE fireworks) as I stared with an open-mouthed smile at 180° (we couldn't see behind us due to the hill we were on) of fireworks illuminating the sky in multi-colored bursts, highlighting the silhouettes of the many towers of Munich. 

Here's a picture that does ABSOLUTELY NO JUSTICE to how amazing this was! And here's a video that better captures the New Year's Eve atmosphere!

These jelly-filled donuts (which have a special name that I've forgotten and maybe Irene will tell me) are traditionally eaten in the north of Germany at midnight on New Year's. We decided to bring a little north down south and indulge ourselves!

For the last New Year's tradition, we played this little fortune telling game, which comes in this slightly terrifying package.

Each person is given a small object (like my pumpkin here)!

Then, you take turns melting the objects over a candle...

...and, once it's fully melted, you throw it quickly into a bowl of water, where it takes a new shape. Everyone then collaborates to interpret the new shape and try to determine the corresponding fortune for the coming year. I got two: something that looks like a walking stick or staff, and something that looks like a shoe. I can't remember what that means. Probably that I'll star in a Lord of the Rings movie (walking staff à la Gandalf), and that I will get some new shoes.

For the next few days, I headed to Seefeld to hang out with Sophie & Beate (Irene's sister and mom, remember?) and with my good friend Anna.

You may know her?

Basically, I took a few days to really relax, and it was lovely. I made a significant start on Anna Karenina, and am still reading it (though my reading has slowed significantly since my return to France). On January 4th, I headed back to Munich to begin my birthday celebrations.

First, Beate and I went to see an art exhibition featuring pieces formerly owned by Gunter Sachs, a famous photographer and art collector who died in 2011. His life's story is very interesting, as was his collection! He was a big supporter of Pop Art, so his collection included works by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, as well as surrealist pieces by Magritte and Dalí, among others.

outside the Villa Stuck, the building where the exhibition was held

The Villa Stuck is a very aesthetically interesting house where the painter Franz Stuck lived. We also toured the home and saw some of Stuck's paintings.

Afterward, Beate took me to this cafe, which is her favorite in Munich. It was fantastic! (Btdubbs, I feel like I could have an entire post of pictures titled "Delicious Hot Chocolate and Cake in Germany.")

For good measure, here's another shot of the Christmas tree in the Marienplatz.

After Beate left, Irene, Nici, and I went to (get this) a Mexican restaurant where they had made a reservation! In the Germanic traditions, holidays are celebrated the evening before, including birthdays. So this was the first of my birthday meals! It was delicioso. I'd say it was the best Mexican food I've ever had in Europe. It's never really the same as home, but still, it was more similar than anything else I've tried. And it was so sweet of them to make reservations for Mexican for my birthday as we all know it's my fave!

At midnight, we celebrated with sparkling wine and even presents! (much-needed tights and legwarmers, which I wear approximately every other day!) Alles gute zum Geburtstag to me!

A decade after celebrating 16 in Texas, here we are celebrating 26 in Germany!

Next "morning" (we slept in), I woke up to a homemade (!) cake! It. was. fantastic.

For my birthday, I chose to visit the Munich Residenz, the city palace. I'd never seen it before, so it was exciting to do something new in Munich! We got to look at a ton of the rooms in the palace, as well as the treasury and all of the shiny things (read: jewels) within. I mean really, how many birthdays do you get to spend in a palace?!

birthday dinner, made by Irene & Nici and shared by the three of us with Beate: wiener schnitzel, potatoes, and some kind of new (to me) and exciting salad that I've never seen before! Guten Appetit!

My last day in Germany (and everyone's last day of vacation), we decided to take it easy and hit up the 1 day at the Neue Pinakothek (an art museum) to check out some art; here are some of my faves!

Liebermann Münchner Biergarten (Beergarden in Munich)

Degas (for the love, I canNOT find the name)

Van Gogh Tournesols (Sunflowers)

Signac Santa Maria della Salute

Monet Nymphéas (Waterlilies) c. 1915

Renoir La femme accroupie (Crouching Woman)

Overbeck Italia und Germania (Italy and Germany)

Waldmüller Junge Bäuerin mit drei Kindern im Fenster (Young Peasant Woman with three Children in the Window)

And to wrap it up, here's a collection of random leftover pictures of exciting things from my trip:

I found THIS in the airport in Toulouse on the way to Munich. First Dr Pepper in 3 months!

Irene made this cupcake as a welcome gift, and I ate it. It was both adorable and tasty.

I saw The Hobbit! Or should I say Der Hobbit? (Also it should be noted that I had no idea it would be a trilogy, and so when the end of the movie came without closure, I turned to Irene and said "Are they KIDDING me?!")

I saw these beautifully-decorated chocolates in a window.

And, the morning of January 7th, I spent an Alpine sunrise in the air...

...and came home to a Mediterranean sunset.

I was content to come back to ma vie narbonnaise (and see all my friends here, which is quite the growing group), I was sad to leave Germany. I've now spent more than five weeks in Germany, and I know I'll spend more! I love that I know that I'll continue to return to visit Irene and see her family throughout my life. I'm so grateful for the time I spent there this year, and especially for the opportunity to have somewhere to belong for Christmas, New Year's, and my birthday. This trip was very special because of that, and because I also got the opportunity to visit Nici's family in Hamburg. I felt so welcome and at home throughout the whole trip. I am so thankful for and even proud of my friendship with Irene, which I have no fear of losing despite the distance that is usually between us. I know I've said it before, but it is an incredibly special friendship, and it brings me joy! Stay tuned, there may be more Irene & Katy adventures this year yet!