Welcome to La Vie en Vosges!

We are Richard (English) and Anne-Sophie (French), we met in England and after too many years living the rat race in London we decided to finally take the jump and start a new life in the French countryside (Alsace). We moved to a small town called Cernay at the end of 2009. This blog is about us settling in, to keep in touch with our friends and hopefully also to give some inspiration to other people who are thinking of changing life!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Feathered friend

Being a bit of a wildlife fanatic, I have been delighted to spot a couple of pheasants visiting the little bit of ground next to our building. Every morning, when I open the blinds, they are there grazing and it makes me incredibly happy! I hope that we'll be able to see their chicks soon too. Other regular visitors spotted from our balcony include a beautiful falcon, a bat and a feret, who seems to enjoy nothing more than to walk on the cars parked in the street.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Winter is not over yet in the Vosges...

For Richard's birthday we decided to go on a little walk in the Vallee de Munster... It's only when we started going up to the mountain top that we realised that we might have been a bit optimistic on the weather! It was still snowing quite heavily up there (about 1100 meters...)
Still, fantastic views and dramatic landscapes, followed by a meal in the very hidden ferme auberge Schupferen made up for the day !

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Spring time update

Long time no speak!

March started fantastically with Sarah's visit on the 6th. The day before her arrival, we had the last (fingers crossed) big snow dump of the year. The cold discouraged us from visiting too much and we decided to rather enjoy the cosy winstubs (traditional wine bars) and patisseries. Thanks again Sarah for coming over!

This month I turned 31 which I found rather depressing. I had a great time celebrating with my oldest girlfriends in the wonderful restaurant Los Loquitos in Strasbourg.

Too many mojitos and manzanas later, I also found the time to do lots of riding this month, including an afternoon riding the mischievous Jasmine in the beautiful Alsatian Ried, and participating for my first TREC competition since 2003. As this was one of the main motivation for me to come back home, I have been truly appreciating every second of it. The day started terribly early  (5am at the stables which, considering the change of clocks that night, felt more like 4am), started with 1h30 drive to the other end of Alsace, 2h30 orienteering in the morning followed by a cross in the afternoon, then back at the stables at 9.30pm. My team did not do too well this time, however I am certain that this will improve in the next competitions all across the spring and summer.

Richard was not left out as he participated to his first ride with the Cernay Cyclo Club. I am hoping that he can start cycling regularly now as there are many clubs only a footstep from our front door and this will enable him to meet people and learn French. We have also been able to go on our first proper mountain bike ride together as the snow as metled mostly everywhere. Tough climbs but such fun to go down fast through the forest!

Happy Easter everyone, speak soon (do bully Rich for him to write a bit on here, he's been very lazy on that front!)

Sunday, 21 February 2010

A walk through the tranches

On a few rare occasions in the last month, it has crossed my mind that moving might have been a crazy thing to do - missing friends back in the UK, missing the pub after work, missing curries and also sometimes missing shopping too (and without saying missing my London salary!). I had a bit of a nostalgic moment yesterday, but a day like today reminds me why we came here and makes all other sacrifices worthwhile.

So far cycling and hiking has been made rather difficult by the snow that still covers all the mountains around here -although Richard has been doing a fair bit of snowboarding. So when we realised that the sun was shining this morning and the snow had started to melt, we decided to go for a walk in the nearby Vosges. We drove passed the lovely villages of Wattwiller (famous for its spring water) and Jungholtz and Rimbach Zell, further and further up a small valley, where we found somewhere to park the Honda.

Following the signs of the Club Vosgien (all the paths in the Vosges are indicated by this association, by signs to follow on the trees) we climbed up and up through the mud and finally the snow, following animal paths and hoping to find a good view of the Black Forest and the Alps.

We were actually walking through a forest that had been a fierce battlefield during WWI, very close from the Hartmannswillerkopf - 18 months fights during the French and the Germans, between 25,000 to 30,000 dead.

It is amazing to see how the landscape is still defined by the war. The ground is uneven; one can see clear paths through the forest where the tranches were; somewhere lost amongst the trees and the snow, a German war memorial.

Sometime struggling to walk because of the steepness and the snow (still about 50 cm in places), it is hard to imagine that in this quiet and freezing forest once  took place the most bitter fights, in January 1915.

Carrying our explore further, we found, alongside the ruins of an old castle, a side of the mountain literally covered with old bunkers and old tranches entrances. We could not resist to have a closer look, braving a good half a meter of snow !

We promised ourselves to come back when the snow has gone to explore more of this amazing place.

Later on, as we had stopped to enjoy the quietness and the sun glaring on the snow, we heard noises coming from the bushes. A dear emerged from nowhere, only about 5 meters from us, quickly to disappear into the forest. A few seconds later, its foal passed even closer, looking absolutely terrorised: we could not believe our eyes! Suddenly a dog that had been chasing them through the trees appeared, stopped, stared at us (I got really scared it might attack us for a moment!) and finally, luckily, realised that it had lost the track of the deers and went away in the opposite direction. What a magical moment!

On the way back I noticed how all the kids in the pretty little villages we crossed were so amazingly polite - all saying 'Bonjour' to us. Oh, and there were lots of horses and stables around too, just to make everything even more perfect. What a gorgeous and fascinating part of the Vosges, I just can't wait to explore more!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Begging in Cernay

Apologies for the recent lack of posts on the blog ! We've been quite busy here snowboarding, cooking, eating out and watching the Tudors season III. Oh, and I also nearly getting stuck by a snow storm in Baden-Baden, Germany, unable to pout some snow chains on the Honda. I've been pestering Richard to write some more but he assured me he could not perform under pressure :)

Anyway, this morning (Saturday) we decided to go to 'town' to purchase some bread and Valentines treats. I decided to try out a new boulangerie - just to make life a little bit more exciting. As we went in, a lady standing at the door asked us for change. 'To eat, to buy a sandwich' she said with a heartbreaking look. Alas I did not have any change so we entered the shop.

As we were waiting to be served, I told Richard I would give the lady some change on the way out. 'Anyone begging by minus 5 degrees must really be in need' I thought, suddenly feeling guilty of spending some money on patisseries.

As we were being served, I saw the begging lady coming in the shop. She asked for the time. The shop owners answered. But the lady did not go out then. As we were getting out, we heard her saying 'I'll have the usual then - the 2.50 euros a piece of chocolate cake please !'.

I have to say this was one of the best comedy situation I have been in for a while. We liked the style; begging for a patisserie. Thumbs up !

And to finish, a couple of our latest pictures :
a bike in the Thur

back from the boulangerie

Friday, 29 January 2010

Some pictures

The award for best packaging goes to our local pizza take away : it makes even the recycling bags look nice

German TV - brilliant

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The dangers of ordering lunch in another language...

Yesterday I thought I'd go for an explore. As I mentioned, we live about a 30-40 minute drive from Basel which is just over (pretty much on) the French/Swiss border. I've heard that Basel is a typically wealthy Swiss city with a pretty Old Town and also the centre for much of Europe's chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, my Dad used to visit frequently while working at Boots before setting up his own business. I was excited to look around.

Now, my first mistake was wearing brand new shoes for a day walking around a hilly city, fortunately I was on my own so wasn't able to whine about my sore feet like a little girl.

It was soon apparent that Basel is a slightly strange city - one might say a city of contradictions. As you drive into Basel you are surrounded by large factories and enormous bellowing chimneys. The highway then dips under the city for a few miles before spitting you out into one of several underground parking lots - I figured the one called 'City' would be a safe bet (I'm now close to perfecting the comedy/camp run around the car to the ticket machine that's on the wrong side for a UK right hand drive Honda - it never fails to raise a smile from the driver behind - they do love laughing at 'Les Anglais' over here).

So I leave the car in the ultra clean car park (there is a guy wandering round with a hose and a brush cleaning the already clean floor) and take the shiny glass elevator to ground level. Here I find myself in a Barbican-like concrete jungle, complete with immaculately tended gardens, to find everyone wearing white plimsolls (just like school PE ones), white trousers and a white jumper! EVERYONE! The only people wearing anything else were a group of trainee gardeners, in safety neon overcoats, who give me a strange look for being dressed in a grey winter coat, blue jeans and (already painfully new) brown trainers. What the.....?

As my internal battle rages between turning & running and a desire (morbid curiosity) to explore this city from the 1960's/2060's, I notice a sign that says something like "Citeschúlehospitalishaftsgung". Which, from my years of studying German, I have no idea what it means. However my brain was so desperate for an answer that it decided I must be in an enormous training hospital. Eventually finding a sign for the Marktplatz I quickly walked that way. After a few minutes of weaving my way around ultramodern 50's blocks I finally emerge to the slightly more pleasant sight of the Rhine.

As the Rhine passes through the middle of Basel it is still nearly 400 miles from reaching the ocean in Holland, however the river doesn't seem to have realised this and it's already pretty enormous - certainly a lot larger than, say, the Thames as it passes Limehouse. It's from hear that I have the first real view of the city. I have to say, at this point I regret not bringing a camera, but for the sake of demonstrating a little of the contradictions here are a couple of 'google image' pictures from close to where I was standing showing the view in both directions along the Rhine:

I felt I'd already had enough concrete for one day so I headed for the old town with its museums, cathedrals and, hopefully, shops that sell more than just French bread and haircuts.

As I walked along the streets into the old town, one of the first things that struck me was a cyclist. Actually lot's of cyclists. Fortunately I use the term 'struck' in the metaphorical sense and I wasn't the cause (or the target) of a 2 wheeled pile-up. Now, I've recently gotten back into cycling both commuting while I was in London and for fun/fitness in my spare time (something I'm enjoying immensely in the Alsace and will doubtless be the subject of some future blogwittering). What caught my attention in Basel though was just how many normal people were on bikes (despite me clocking a thermometer at -4 Celsius) dressed in casual winter clothing (I'd escaped the white plimsoll gang by then) going about their everyday business as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I really do hope that the trend for more cycling in cities like London and Manchester continues to grow beyond the urban-warrior/spandex/power-ranger clan that I embarrassingly count myself amongst.

Then, after wandering around the usual mixture of cathedrals (Erasmus is buried in one) and shops (I very nearly brought some over-priced walking boots in the Mammut store), I decided to stop for lunch.

I managed (not without a little temptation) to avoid the inevitable McDonald's and Starbucks offerings of this historic town and chanced upon a small café above a bakery on one of the side streets. I sat down and read the menu, this didn't take long as there we're only 2 dishes available each day - one meat and one veg option. Obviously I decided to go for the meat option which was a sort of French Sheppard's Pie called hachi parmentier, a dish I know and like. A couple of minutes later the waitress comes over and fortunately speaks excellent English, as I found everyone to in this German (with a very weird accent) speaking part of Switzerland. "unfortunately sir, I am out of the meat and I only have the veg left", hmmmm, don't know what it says and the waitress can't translate it: "it's vegetable" is all she can offer. Ahh well, it's the same price as the meat dish (about £10) so it must be fairly substantial "ok, I'll have the vegetables and a coke".

5 minutes later I am presented with a small bowl of lettuce. And a coke. And nothing else. There must be more coming, there must be, I'll eat my lettuce reaaaalllly slowly whilst I wait for her to bring whatever is supposed to come with it. 10 minutes of slowly munching lettuce later and I've nearly finished, and nearly finished deciding how strongly I'm going to refuse to pay £10 for a small bowl of lettuce. I eat the last bit and catch the waitress' eye. Then, just as I'm about to mutter the words "There is a problem", a large dish of veg casserole arrives in front of me from waitress clearly wondering why I've taken so long to eat my lettuce starter. Ahhh, that's better - thank god she put that down before I started mouthing off!

So; a good lunch, a new city explored, back home for a bike ride, some pasta and an episode of the Tudors (which Anne-So is addicted to) and that's my day done.

Thank you for listening and I hope I've not bored you senseless.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Just a few pics to illustrate Richard's first post!

First impressions

So, I thought it's about time I contributed to this Blog, especially it was partly my idea and certainly the excellent name was my doing. For anyone wondering: The Vosges (soft g) are the range of mountains that we live at the base of and it combines well with our ex local/favourite restaurant "La Vie en Rose". Anne-So has to take credit for the logo / banner though which I think is amazing and actually looks a lot like the view from our, well one of our :-) , balconies. For anyone who doesn't know where we are living, the region is the Alsace and we live in a small town called Cernay which is about an hour drive south of Strasbourg (where Anne-So's parents live) and about 45 minutes north of Basel which is just over the Swiss border. A cursory glance at the map will show just how many amazing places there are to visit within a few hours drive. Not least the western Alps and all the skiing, snowboarding, hiking and mountain biking that goes with it. There are also some really beautiful parts of Germany (really!) near by like the Black Forest and even Munich is only a couple of hours drive away.

To say that I underestimated just how difficult it would be to move our stuff from Hackney to Cernay is probably an understatement. One of my best friends (and now brother-in-law) Chris was on the receiving end of this mis-judgement: Chris had agreed to help me shift over our remaining possessions in a supersized Transit van a week after New Year once I'd had time to finish packing up and, importantly, after we had already sent almost 30 shipping cartons over by international freight. Chris arrived from Wales on the Friday night and after a brief inspection of the things to be packed up we went for a kebab (the proper sit-down sort, not a pissed-up Doner one - just to reassure) certain that we wouldn't have too many problems loading the van in the morning and heading off to France for me never to return. Unfortunately after getting up at the crack of dawn and loading for a couple of hours it became apparent that we were just as likely to fit everything in one van as it was for Anne-So to ever drop her French accent - Impossible! So plan B - text everyone I can think of in London for help with the remaining packing (Massive thanks to Simon and to Matt - and to Sinead for volunteering Matt so readily), and to quickly pick up a 2nd transit van. All this meant that the relatively leisurely 15 hour drive each way through the snow ridden motorways of Europe would now not be shared but driven in convoy twice in 2 days. Words can barely express my gratitude to Chris and as we turned up in Cernay at 4.30 am on the Sunday knowing that we needed to wake up and drive back the same day, the best I could do was a room temperature beer each. Still, if it doesn't kill you...

Perhaps its time for some brief first impressions of living in France.

1) It's cold! For some reason, perhaps because it's the clichéd thing to do, a lot of people have assumed we're moving to the south of France. Well, it's a big country (just ask Chris) and we're a fairly long way north in a pretty mountainous region. Everything is just as snow covered as it was when I left London except this isn't a "coldest in 20 years" event it's just how winter is. All winter. Every Winter. Still, my expensive habit of buying outdoor coats and technical base layers which, some say, was excessive for London is now coming into it's own :) Speaking of snow, I haven't been Snowboarding yet and my board is being serviced and ready on Friday so I will report back how the local slopes are when I know.

2) Everyone speaks French. Funny that. This has a couple of effects on me. Firstly, I can't really understand much when people talk to me, but I do try and listen with intent which in turn makes them think I understand perfectly and get's me into even more difficulty (I must master a look of completely confused incomprehension!). Secondly, a bit at a time, I'm learning more French. Certainly more vocabulary if not that much grammar yet. Lessons are to be booked soon.

3) The food's good! But buying it, and shopping in general, is very different to the UK and certainly London. Our little town has a few bakers, a couple of butchers and about 10,000 hair dressers (I can only assume that the average French person's hair grows at bamboo worrying rates). However, for a country that I've always thought of as quite rural/village focused, I've discovered that French people are Hypermarket obsessed! Cernay is a small 5,000 - 7,000 person town yet it contains more Supermarkets than say Nottingham, including one to eclipse any I've seen in the UK and which they are currently building an even larger replacement for! Crazyness! On Friday, however I discovered a small (tesco sized) Hypermarket that specialises in organic food from around the world - amazing! and the perfect antidote to the rows and rows of Alsacian food that takes up most of the others. No more fantasising over the Donnald Russell website for me.

So, enough for now. I'll try and write more and briefer posts in future.

Love and (French) kisses to everyone back in England!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Some pictures

Friday, 8 January 2010

The day after tomorrow

Cernay webcam from Météo Cernay, Friday 08/01/2010

Friday afternoon, 5.03pm. I'm sitting at my desk at work. Blizzard outside, wind hurling through the windows. Night is falling. All my colleagues have gone home to avoid being stuck in the snow. Only I remain, on probation and reluctant to leave without having been authorised to. Great.

We could not possibly have chosen a worst weekend for Richard and Chris to drive over all our furniture from London to Cernay. We're not even sure Chris will be able to find a train running from Wales to London tonight. Nor that Eurotunnel will work tomorrow. Nor that the roads will be cleared in France later on.

Moving house is supposed to be one of the most stressfull thing in life. Moving house + country is a real pain. Especially in January ! We're keeping our fingers crossed for tomorrow.


Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy new year everyone! I hope you all had a great time celebrating.

After 4 1/2 weeks of being here alone, Richard finally came to visit for a week, and that made NYE pretty special on its own.

I was working until midday on the 31rst, we then packed up on nice food for dinner and decided to quickly go and buy some fireworks. In France, everyone buys fireworks and bangers for NYE and fires them in the street at midnight. For security reasons the sale of fireworks in nonetheless limited from 1am to 6pm on the 31rst.

I had read about a shop called 'Au Travesti' (The Tranvestite!) in the village next to ours selling them, so we headed straight there hoping we could then spend the rest of the afternoon going to a walk in the nearby mountains. Oh no. The shop had taken over a massive hangar full of every kind of fireworks ever created, from 20c bangers to €600 massive fireworks display boxsets. The whole place was a massive queue of people - perhaps 200 or even more. So we ended up queuing there for 2 hours, trying not to get too upset by it. Still, we got there in the end. Followed a flawless evening of grand food cooked by Richard and lots of champagne, white wine, red wine and a liter of mulled wine that made the whole flat smell of aniseed. Nice!

Yesterday we braved the heavy rain for a first long walk discovering our surroundings, amongst which a stork reserve (where we also spotted a few herons looking a bit confused), lots and lots of cycle paths and steep vineyards. We also spotted a huge bird cage outside a house with weird looking brown pigeons that looked very inbread to me. I'll have to go back with my camera and send a shoot to Pigeonblog some day.

Woke up to a wonderful sight this morning - it snowed overnight and the whole village was covered of snow with bright sunshine and blue sky, it felt like being in some ski resort. Unfortunately Richard had to go back to the UK today, this time for a last week of packing up. Next Saturday he'll be back permantently, driving all the way with all our stuff. I have to say, the flat as it is at the moment i all very feng-shui but it will be nice to have some furniture, like a sofa, and no more echo when I'm on the phone.

Till then, take care!