Vatti arrived in jolly old Val, and it just so happened that on that very day, the town was actually lively. There were people there, in the streets. Some of them were even having fun. And it was all in celebration of the illustrious BinBin, a massive wooden statue of a man that gets paraded around in every town in Northern France, accompanied by a selection of brass bands from around the world. Here's the star himself:
Vatti and I ate at a local brasserie, met S and D for drinks afterwards, and then hit the sack early so as to be fresh-faced and bright-eyed for our big trip the next morning. I spent a rough night tossing and turning, consumed by some sort of eerie anxiety. People say moving gets easier the more times you do it, and I suppose that's true in a sense. I wasn't worried about not being able to manage in Strasbourg, but I felt an unsettled feeling at leaving Val: more because of the people I was leaving behind.
The next day didn't allow much time for wallowing, however. I overslept, and jolted awake to find myself with precisely 20 minutes to haul my ass up to Pa's hotel and direct him to the flat. It was also at this point that I said goodbye to S, which was a sort of hazy moment considering I was definitely not awake by this stage. Vatti and I arrived back at the flat, where he enjoyed a cup of coffee and a chin wag with D, as I raced around stuffing my overflowing piles of pointless shit into plastic carriers, bin bags full of incense and odd socks bursting at the seams, plates and cutlery hastily wrapped up in my old holey jumpers, books and lidless pens gathered up in bed sheets. We threw everything into the car, and away we went!
The drive up to Strasbourg was long, although luckily we had the company of Maura O'Connell and the German GPS woman. At around 11, both Vatti and I suddenly started fantasizing about getting a McDonald's, our eyes desperately searching for a glimpse of some golden arches up in the distance, as we regaled each other with images of Egg McMuffins and sausage burgers. In fact, 'La Croissanterie' seems to reign supreme on French motorway rest points, and the idea of biting the claw off a stale, dry croissant was about as appealing as...that. We struck gold when we stumbled upon a restaurant that served bacon, hash browns and a fried egg, the 'Brunch Complet' as they so charmingly named it. Ever the anglophone tourists abroad, we turned our noses up at the finer local fare, and stuck with what we really wanted: grease.
Eventually, the landscape began to turn more and more Germanic (pines, wheat fields, umlauts and -burgs on the road signs) and we arrived in Strasbourg. We got to the hotel there, and may I just say: SWEET! Is there any feeling more luxurious than enjoying a high water-pressure shower, finished up with a soft, fluffy massive towel, and slipping into a bed the size of your kitchen back home, as you flick through TV channels? Find me something more luxurious than that, because I just cannot think.
Here is what Vatti and I mainly enjoyed during our 2 "holiday" days in Strasbourg:
- The fine cuisine of Alsace (and its many beers)
- The fascinating architecture
- The beauty and pleasantness of the city itself
- The Germans in our hotel
We both agreed that Strasbourg seems to be a simply beautiful place. It reminds me of half Amsterdam, half Paris, on a smaller and friendlier scale. We stopped many a bewildered Strasburger to ask for various directions, and we were always met with polite friendliness. There was one waiter who was a total DICK WAD, but Vatti soon tamed him, via some pointed and well-timed sarcasm. We went to eat dinner in this square under some platanes, where we tried the regional 'spatzle' which as far as I can gather is like gnocchi but lighter and much finer. Like potato noodles (but are they even potato, or are they just egg? That's one for Google). I had mine with meatballs and mustard sauce, and Vatti had pork knuckle (I think) and choucroute. Just wonderful! We were sitting by the canal, and at one point this strange street band began to play some vaguely gypsy-ish sounding music, which added to the all-round festive yet relaxed atmosphere. We both agreed that Mutti would LOVE this place, and we wistfully expressed our desire to share this time with her. Apparantly, there is talk that the family might come to Strasbourg for Christmas. As the saying goes: if Mohammed cannot make it to Christmas, Christmas must come to Mohammed.
So on the 30th we went to get the keys to the studio the CROUS has allocated to me, and I must say, it was not without trepidation on my side. For a number of reasons: it could turn out to be awful. But then, I've lived in some shit holes before. No, my anxiety was more to do with the fact that this was it: the tourist part is coming to an end, and I now have to face reality. We got the keys, the whole process went seamlessly. I think the fact that I have this special 'BGF' status helps a great deal: they were expecting me, and even gave me a few keys so I could go and check out the rooms and decide which one I liked best, which was quite nice. They are all exact carbon copies, so it wasn't like I was checking which one had the jacuzzi in it, however the one I ended up getting was cleaner than the others, plus had more stuff in it that the previous girl had left behind (including a heart-shaped England sticker on the fridge. Hells to the yeah!). The one I chose is on the top floor (only 3 floors) and faces out onto these verdant gardens belonging to "real people". Always good to remember real people. I'll try and take some photos tomorrow, in daylight, but to give you an idea, the studio is 19m2, and here's a vague (and shit) diagram:
After we'd moved my stuff into the flat, we went shopping for some essentials - my kind and generous Vatti bought me the staples: rice, pasta, porridge, eggs, milk, coffee, saucepan, frying pan, washing up liquid, sponges, bleach, onions, pasta sauce, etc etc etc. We took it all back to the flat, put it away, and then headed back into the town centre. My residence (not as in "my Strasbourg residence, dahling", as in, my halls) are a 10 minute tram ride from the centre of town, so let's put that as a 15 minute bike ride. Strasbourg is so bicycle friendly, that seems to be how most people get around, and I'm becoming more and more obsessed with the idea. I've been trying to buy one off this guy who specializes in second-hand bikes, but he's so serious. He wants to know my inner leg measurement so he can contact me when the right size bike comes through (I've heard that one before, Alain). In all fairness though, that;'s cool, he's not going to just sell me any old shit, which is good.
For our last night, Vatti and I went to see the university. It's a fairly big, modern campus, and I'd been there before to sit my admission exams, but it's something of a warren. We had a walk around and checked out a few of the maps to get a feel for what all the buildings were, and then went to this great little bar that I really enjoyed from some reason (there wasn't anything particularly unique about the bar, it just seemed like a great vibe) for a blanche and a glass of cider. Afterwards, we had a stroll through the university quarter, which seems to have shit-loads of ethnic food joints: Turkish, 'Persian', Mexican, Lebanese, Greek, Italian, Japanese (I think you get the picture, yeah?!), but really we wanted to have a last good 'Alsacian' meal. We went to one of the main squares where I had a tarte flambée and Vatti got pig's foot (Umm, EWW? The war's over, yeah?) and choucroute, washed down with 'Storig' beers and some Pinot. We had a good old chinwag, as we did for all of our 'holiday', about literature (the American classics), life (are people too hard on themselves? Is modern life constantly coloured by materialism?), linguistics (what is a dipthong, anyway?) and just the generally easy, good-nature musings and laughs you really only ever have with family.
The next day, we checked out and headed to the studio by tram, where Vatti had also left the car. We grabbed a coffee together at the local café (where my 'residence' is resembles something of a village, in the sense that it is fairly self-contained, and also mainly populated by OAPs who dawdle in the boulangeries taking about 67 hours to order a single pain au chocolat and an egg). The weather is beautiful at the moment, and the sun truly was beating down on us. I started to get that horrible ominous feeling you get: although we were chatting away breezily, in the pit of my stomach, I knew there were only a few minutes left and I didn't want dear Vatti to go. Eventually and inevitably that moment came, and so we walked back to the car and I waved him off. Then I turned around and walked back to the studio, thinking "well, this is it now", and I thought about what a good time we had had spending time together and discovering a new place, and how much I love my family, and how kind and generous a soul Vatti is, never complaining or acting fed-up, even at times like when I lost the hotel key (whoooops!), and how so many people have done nice things for me, but none more so than dear Vatti and Mutti, and so walking back to the studio in such nice weather but feeling a tad alone and slightly unworthy of so much generosity, I started to tear up a bit, and I got to the studio, sat on the bed a little weepy, as I gorged on Crunchies, and then I thought: okay: so I wonder what I should start with.
In actual fact, today I started with the insurance I was forced to buy in order to get a signed contract I can use to get CAF (housing benefits). So I've got that sneaky little card in my pocket, ready to pull out and slam down on the counter in front of me whenever the need for counter-slamming may arise. Tomorrow I need to go and show it to the woman who deals with our studios, and then once I get the contract I'll head out for more admin stuff which, bien sur, I will then recount in pain-staking detail. I'll give you an account tomorrow as well of meeting up with SPP and who he is. Let's just say: I think I'm really going to love it here. I already really love the city and all its charms, the friendliness of the people, the proximity to Germany, my studio, the course programme, and the fact that I have a few more social dates lined up.
As a closing point, let me briefly (ha) discuss something that those of you who know my chain-smoking ways may be wondering. How does she cope, balancing living in a studio and keeping up the habit? As you may have assumed, it's impossible to smoke in here, it's so tiny. I cooked spag bol for myself tonight (twas great), but the whole place smelt of dead animal and onion for about an hour afterwards. So: I go out to smoke on the fire escape, which is a safety hazard in itself considering:
- there's no light switch except from at either end of the long never-ending corridor
- the room needs to be locked, which involves shoving the fag into my mouth, with my reading material under my arm, a cup of coffee in one hand, the key in the other, and relying on basic luck that I actually get the key in the hole
- there are bats outside. One flew right up near my face, so close I could feel the gentle breeze of its mad, hysterical papery wings. SHUDDER.
Problem is: now cannot bring self to open window lest a moth revolution should storm the place, so will have to wait until daybreak. In the mean time, it's smelling like a mix of coffee, shower steam and stale incense. Not altogether too unpleasant!
P.S. Spotted in the corridor: spider the size of a fist. AHHH! Okay, need to grow a pair, seriously. Every time my hair touches my neck I'm going ape-shit.