Au revoir 2017!

My blogging and BJJ training remained as inconsistent as ever this year. But as I watch the beautiful final sunset of the year from my kitchen window, and listen to the random pops, cracks and whistles of fireworks going off (a tad early) all over Neudorf, I figure I’ll post the obligatory 2017-in-review.

The year started with some uncertainty because I was on a six-month assignment contract here in France. We were hopeful it would turn into a permanent French contract and télétravail arrangement – and I’m happy to say it did! But it was a stressful few months of ‘unknowns.’ I was consumed by ‘what ifs’ and wanting to make plans for circumstances that we weren’t even in yet. My voice of reason, Yannick, calmed me down countless times. The day that email came through about my successful transfer to my employer’s French company was a huge weight off – I could finally settle in and really call Strasbourg home.

We both became home workers which was unexpected and not entirely practical being in a one-bedroom apartment, but we quickly worked out a solution that is perfect for both of us. We rented a desk at Panorama Coworking. So now we alternate days working from home and ‘the office,’ and I think it suits our different personalities to a tee. I’m very much a people person, and while I enjoy my working days at home in my PJs, I really do love the routine of putting a face on, cycling to work and being in that sociable environment.. which sometimes includes doggehs!

We moved house. It’s something that happened a bit sooner than we planned, because friends were leaving their awesome, two-bedroom apartment closer to the city centre and we had the opportunity to snag it before it hit the market. I was slightly apprehensive – I was really looking forward to apartment inspections and searching for that ‘perfect’ new home and neighbourhood for us. But after another look at this Neudorf pad and comparing it to listings available at the time, I was quickly convinced to go for it. Six months later – no regrets. No lamp shades up yet either but you know, we’re getting there.

I lost a beloved aunt to cancer and it still doesn’t feel very real. Maybe because it happened in Australia and I wasn’t there to say goodbye and feel the impact it had on my family. Maybe because at the time, I was swamped at work and struggling just to stay on top of a big project while packing up to move, so I pushed my grief down a bit. I received a card from her partner at Christmas and it reduced me to tears. She really did influence my life in ways I didn’t appreciate until she was in her final weeks. I’m sad Yannick will never get to meet her.

I faced some fears like skiing down a mountain which I realllllly didn’t think I’d ever do. I had  one ‘meh’ lesson on Mount Buller a few years ago where the instructor told me to head back down on the chair lift, because I wasn’t capable of going down the actual mountain like everyone else. So, I’m really proud of me and keen to do it again sometime this ski season!

I avoided facing other fears like speaking French, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself for that. I continued lessons this year and even got myself a tutor. While my French comprehension is definitely improving, I’m still a baby when it comes to speaking. I just don’t do it much, and when I do it’s a few lame ‘bakery’ sentences. I don’t know what I need to finally jump off the platform and get progressing on the talky front. Maybe more alcohol.

I got spoilt for my birthday and honestly felt so damn loved, it’s not one I’ll forget in a hurry.

I got my ass back to BJJ Globetrotters camp and I’m so happy I did! It was an awesome, awesome week in Leuven, Belgium with a fab bunch of people and super impressive instructors. The summer camp was so fun that I quickly lost interest in blogging about each day as you can see, and decided to just focus on the training and socialising. A few lessons learnt for next time: Do fewer classes and get more sleep if you want to have some good nights out and not be falling asleep into your high-strength Belgian beer by 10pm. Oh, and don’t buy the meal plan, it will leave you feeling chained to the gym from 9am – 6pm to get your money’s worth. And the food wasn’t that good anyway.

I put on 10  kilos of cheese. Ok so maybe it’s not quite 10 kgs but it’s close, and maybe it’s not ALL in cheese but, it’s a lot, and I’m still wondering how best to go about losing it. ‘Eat less move more’ for sure. I’ve been thinking about signing up to The Body Coach’s program because I love his workouts, but surely it’s all just common sense stuff that I don’t need to spend 100 quid to hear?

A few things to ‘blame’ I guess: Lifestyle change – amazing how few steps you can take in a day when you work from home. Inconsistent BJJ training – and right now none, because back injury. I also got the Mirena IUD at the start of the year, and one of the common side effects is weight gain. I do feel like I’m hormonal eating all the sweet things waaaaay more often than I ever have before. Living with a sweet tooth doesn’t help. Anyway, enough with the excuses. We head to Australia mid-April so, there’s my deadline to be back at a more comfortable weight, which for me is 70 kgs.

I had friends and family come to visit which meant a whole damn lot to me, since quite frankly Strasbourg is on no one’s Euro Trip bucket list. First was Pete, a Swinburne radio school bud who works the European tennis circuit each year. He made an overnight stop on his way to Germany, and we had a fun day playing tourist.

Strasbourg, France

A few months after reconnecting at Leuven Summer Camp, the lovely ‘Karla Kimura’ hopped on a bus from Heidelberg and spent a weekend with us.

Tarte flambée at Au Brasseur in Strasbourg, Alsace
The unlimited tarte flambée at Au Brasseur – so good!

 

And my sister and her boyfriend stayed as well! This was thanks to there being a viable way for them to get to Strasbourg from Bristol for a -48 hour visit, and then head on to Malta. I was so so happy to have the chance to show my sister beautiful Alsace.

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#ribeauvillé @ez_phoenix17

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I got to hang with the Fightzone morning crew once again, not in gis this time but all dolled up for one of the guys’ weddings. We had a brilliant weekend in Great Yeldham. The dampener came Monday morning in London when, three minutes into warm up, I messed up my back. So that’s why I’m not training right now.

All in all a pretty great year with more highs than lows. I can’t wait to take Yannick on his first trip to Australia in 2018. I also have some specific goals for the next 12 months and am determined to achieve them, and break some bad habits as I do.

Wish me luck, and Happy New Year!

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My first two months in Strasbourg

Wow, my first two months in Strasbourg have FLOWN! It’s amazing how settled you can become in eight weeks… London? Where? Did I actually live there for three years? Really??

Although, when I headed back there recently for a few days, it felt like I was just returning from a regular visit to see the man; the only difference being that I was staying at a hotel and not my cosy old East London share flat.

But back to my new hood! Here’s a little highlight reel.

I had the warmest welcome courtesy of my boyfriend’s mum, and I may have cried a bit when she gave me a big hug and welcomed me to my “new home in Alsace” with this amazing brunch spread.

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French welcome brunch – dat cheese!

 

I’m taking French classes at the Universite Populaire, and unlike the classes I took in London, this course is virtually solely in French (duh) and the students don’t share a common language. Though when we’re REALLY stuck, most of us understand if the teacher switches to English to explain.

 

While my reading and comprehension is definitely improving – thanks also to reading children’s books – I’m not feeling overly confident trying to use French day-to-day, and know I need to be braver. However it’s tricky when my understanding is still so limited. If I throw out a sentence in French I usually don’t comprehend the reply (unless I’m in a store and can kind of guess). I feel like it’s a bit of a waste of everyone’s time so right now there’s lots of “Bonjour” and “Merci” .. and I don’t get much further before needing to sheepishly ask “en anglais s’il vous plaît?” Baby steps.

I joined a new BJJ club which is the same one that I have been visiting for the past two years. Everyone is really friendly, and learning jiu jitsu in French is easy in some ways, challenging in others. Of course it’s so visual which makes it easy, but while I now recognise the words for knee and foot for example I often miss if the instructor is saying like, “never do x this way.”

 

Infini Jiu Jitsu team 2016
Photo: Art of BJJ

I’m so grateful for training partners with the patience to explain things again to me in English.

I rode my first upside-down rollercoaster

 

Holy HECK, I was frantically thinking about how to get off Europa Park’s Blue Fire Megacoaster even as we were strapped in and making our way out of the loading bay. It was seriously OUT of my theme park ride comfort zone!

Europa Park is pretty amazing (in saying that I’ve never been to Disneyland), and if you’re ever in this part of the world it’s totally worth a visit (I found this article after our day there, which sums the place up nicely).

 

The park was decked out for Halloween when we went (with a crazy-huge number of pumpkins lining the walkways). I’ve never been one for the super thrillseeker rides but this time decided to push myself … I won’t lie, the recent tragedy at Dreamworld was playing on my mind a bit that day.

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Because it was still #Halloween at Europa-Park 👻

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I’m not working in my pajamas… every day

I knew when I first moved to Strasbourg that I couldn’t be working five days a week from our small apartment – I’d go a bit mad – so I joined a co-working office and for about €10 a day I can work in a really fun, open plan environment with a great bunch of people, and they have frequent four-legged visitors! Much cute!

 

I’m making new friends because again, I’d go a bit mad without my own circle here, so I joined Girl Gone International and went to my first catch up with them in my second week in town; a brunch and spa day, such bliss! As the name suggests, they’re (mostly) international gals who have found their way to Strasbourg for various reasons. A truly lovely, supportive group I’m so happy to be part of.

I’m getting Christmassy because how can I NOT when I’m living in the Capitale de Noël? Tree’s up, presents are mostly bought and Christmas markets visited, multiple times. It’s really a great time of year to be in Strasbourg.

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#Christmastree is up! 🎄

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Meet Marie

I came away from my long weekend in Strasbourg with another girl-crush – I have these frequently in BJJ. There are so many awesome women in this sport helping to enrich the experience for the rest of us, regardless of our rank or motivation to train.

In this case, the incredibly warm welcome I received from Marie-Laure Kocher has stayed with me, and made me realise how much of a difference a gesture as simple as a smile can make when directed at a club newcomer – even more so when that newcomer doesn’t speak the local language!

So here’s a little more on the lovely Marie.

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I first discovered BJJ as I studied in La Rochelle, a city on the west coast of France. One day during a judo class, I sparred with a guy who rolled in all directions like a cat (Guillaume Baudoin who is now a BJJ black belt and instructor at Spirit JJB). He just arrived in the city and wanted to open a BJJ academy. I was a bit bored with judo at that time (I practised for around 12 years) so I took benefit of this opportunity to discover a new martial art.

The BJJ scene in Strasbourg is beginning to grow. There is the Gracie Barra academy (around 60 members) which was the first in town. Christian Sardella has done a lot to develop BJJ in the area. Now there are two sister academies in the south of the city. Recently a Brazilian black belt has opened BJJ classes in a kickboxing/MMA gym.

I don’t know that much about the BJJ scene in France. There are academies in the biggest cities, but it’s not as developed as in countries like the UK, Germany or even Switzerland. Actually martial arts are not that popular in France. I would like to discover more academies in France over the next few years, and visit Florence Couzin’s academy (one of the first, if not the first, female BJJ black belt in Europe, she also won the worlds as a black belt).

My biggest challenge in training BJJ was first stepping on the mat being the only woman in the class, then returning and continuing to train. It is sometimes hard to be the only girl on the mat (still the case today). By the way I wrote an article about that on my blog which represents my experience as a beginner.

The best of my travels late last year (which included Australia) was definitely the BJJ people I met along the way. Each of them made the visit unique. I wrote articles about every academy we (my boyfriend and I) trained at. I experienced BJJ in a different way.

If you’re coming to Strasbourg, you must of course explore the city center. It’s really nice to walk around or to bicycle around the middle age streets, buildings and the riverside. Historic places to see: the Cathedral, la Petite France, and the “Neustadt” quarter. There are some interesting museums for people who like history. Also go to the European quarter (with the UE Parliament and the European Court Human Rights) and the Orangerie park.

Petite France Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office
Petite France
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office

Strasbourg and all Alsace is famous for its cuisine and wine. People should try for example a real Tarte flambée, a choucroute or a Baeckeoffe, munster cheese. To drink: riesling, gewurtzraminner and, of course, a beer with Picon 😉

Strasbourg is really nice in the summer. When it’s sunny, locals like to be outside and have a drink. There are many nice bars around the city center. During the summertime there are also a few growing music festivals in Strasbourg or close to the city.

Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

In December, it is all decorated with Christmas lights (and a huge Christmas tree). There is a big Christmas market in the city where you can find local food, warm wine and handcraft.

Christmas Market at the Cathedral Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Christmas Market at the Cathedral
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

I can’t wait to catch up with Marie again in the future at BJJ Globetrotter events. Be sure to pay her club a visit if you ever find yourself in Strasbourg.

Wine, Cheese, (Beer!) And BJJ

Partially bailing on a girls weekend in France for BJJ? I thankfully have some very understanding friends. While they don’t ‘get’ the sport, they certainly do get that it’s special enough to have me gushing like a teenager after attending a class on our first night in town.

I honestly didn’t know much about Strasbourg before this trip, other than it being near Germany, and one of the seats of the European parliament. But thanks mostly to super cheap EasyJet flights, I found myself in the main city of the Alsace region in eastern France, asking for directions to Gracie Barra 67 (thank God for Google translate).

I was reminded yet again just how awesome – and small the BJJ universe is, when I met the only other girl in the gi and no gi class, Marie-Laure. It turned out she had recently been travelling on my ‘home’ side of the world, AND rolling with some of my favourite AGIG  ladies! You should read her most excellent blog.

Marie quickly took me under her wing, partnering me and translating instructors Geoffrey Kintz and Christian Sardella.

This particular night’s classes were less focussed on techniques and more on rolling rounds, giving me the opportunity to be paired up with (and squashed by) pretty much everyone on the mat. Later, Marie was great in letting me work through some specific techniques with her.

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After class, in true BJJ Globetrotter spirit (a team/movement I only recently heard about, ashamedly) Marie not only offered me a ride back to my hotel, but also a walking tour of Strasbourg the following day.

Taking in and learning about the sights from a local’s perspective.. what could be better, seriously?

How about hanging with her BJJ teammates at a cool little beer festival right next to a stunning gothic cathedral? Yup, I got to do that too, and nervously say “une bière s’il vous plait” – baby steps, you know.

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Meantime back with my girlfriends, copius amounts of cheese was gleefully eaten along with way too many croissants and pastries. I also inhaled my fair share of the local specialty – flammekueche. Did I mention the Alsace wine? There was plenty of that too, naturally.

We also wandered around the Petit France quarter, took a boat tour and caught the train to the pretty town of Colmar.

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I’d love to head back to Strasbourg at the end of the year to experience the Christmas Markets. After such a warm welcome however, I could easily return to this city just for more BJJ.