Tag Archives: Strasbourg

32nd birthday of surprises

10 Jun

I hadn’t thought ahead too much to my birthday this year. It’s funny how after the angst of turning 30 passed, my birthday just became a bit uneventful again. Also being in Strasbourg, I didn’t have my gym crew or other friends close by to arrange a pub session like I would have if I was still in London. But I needed to mark 32 somehow, so I arranged a lunch date with girlfriends, another one with the man, and I thought that would be it. Turns out.. it wasn’t!

Birthday day

I met up with some GGI girlfriends on the Friday that was my birthday. We had a nice catch up, ate delicious food at East Canteen, I was wearing a favourite outfit that day, it felt like a pretty nice way to mark my birthday.

I haven’t been making many BJJ sessions of late – let’s face it, it has been a trend since my Strasbourg move. So going to class that night was on the agenda – what’s better than birthday rolls?! I had a few cards and little parcels sent to me by friends and family, so I left them on the coffee table for when we got home. Growing up, my mum always used to tell us that a present gets better, the longer you wait to open it.

Present surprise

The man had added his card to the pile too, and if I’d read it before we left the house I would probably have known what I’d find when he pulled his car out of the garage… but since I didn’t, cue shock and lots of happy/embarrassing crying!

I have wanted a bike for ages, and he got me the exact style/colour that I wanted, complete with a basket.

Black bicycle with basket

Surprise….party!

We’d already planned to head to a vegetarian restaurant on the weekend, and one of the girls I’d had lunch with on the Friday – Chelsea – told me to drop by her house to pick up a gift. Honestly, I had no idea, and no thought that it might be a ploy for something else… even when she suggested we head on in to their garden for a drink before we continued on to the centre of the city to shop! Yes I’m so gullible…

Hiding for the surprise birthday moment

And I was so overwhelmed.

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More happy tears!

It meant so much that Chelsea and Yannick had gathered all of the people in my life here in Strasbourg – from GGIs to jiu jitsu teammates, co-work office colleagues and French classmates. How lucky I am to have so many incredible friends in this place!

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And I even got homemade lamingtons and fairy bread thanks to fellow Aussie Victoria, and a stunning cake thanks to Chelsea and Marlene’s excellent taste.

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This birthday is going to be tough to top, definitely one to remember.

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A big thank you to Andrea and Kevin for taking all of these great photos. ❤

That time I spent €300 on a cab

13 Mar

I know right? And the stupid thing is, if I’d stopped to consider all my options, I’d have found a much cheaper solution. But when you’re in panic-mode because the car has a flat battery and you need to be on your way to Basel airport which is an hour+ drive away from Strasbourg… 

I honestly didn’t think the cab would need to be called. When we went to take me to the airport for my week-long work trip to Barcelona and found the battery was dead, I thanked my habit of leaving ample time for airport runs. We had a spare 20 minutes for my boyfriend to find a neighbour, get a jump start and then we’d be on our way. 

Except, there was only one neighbour at home – he was kinda busy – but he took his car out for us. There was a stupid plastic case covering the battery because, new cars that need less fiddling by amateur mechanics I guess. Thank god for second neighbour who showed up and knew where the jumper leads went. Cars not close enough. Get them closer. Please please just get those leads on the batteries already.

Not working. Unclip and re-clip the leads. A few sputters but no engine roaring to life. Is it a battery voltage difference? Either way, our car isn’t going anywhere. Panic. Time to call a cab? Am I already late?

“Find the local cab number and call them just in case we need to book” the boyfriend had said earlier. 

“Umm I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” 

“Because French.”

Time for him to call the cab for me. I wait on the street, they keep trying with the car. I check my wallet – no credit card – fuck, it’s still in my other jacket upstairs. Run and get it. Cab isn’t here yet. Is it all too late now anyway? I’m so upset, I just want to cry. Cab shows up. Driver, already harried, asks my boyfriend when I need to be at the airport by. One hour from now. Panic rises on his face, we jump in the car and are away.


“Trois cents euros” he warns me, “d’accord?” “D’accord” i say. What else can I say?

What am I even doing?? We have one hour to get to an airport more than an hour away, I’m going to miss my plane, be €300 down AND stranded in Basel. Boyfriend calls his mum who lives nearby, if I don’t make the plane, she’ll come and get me.

Meantime we’re hurtling along the highway in the cab. The driver is stressed, doesn’t speak English but tells me to relax. “ça va?” Its going to be fine. He tells me he’s going to speed, and he does speed. It’s fucking terrifying and I don’t know if I’m more mortified or grateful. The taxi meter is ticking over furiously, 10 cents per second, keeping pace with the beat of a song on the radio. It’s already at over €50. We haven’t been in the car very long.

The boyfriend is on Skype messenger telling me to breathe. I’m wondering how the fuck this can even be happening.

If we get to the airport when the driver is assuring me that we will, I’ll be at the security line at gate closing time. Now, two years of flying every month for a long distance relationship has taught me that for some airlines “gate closing” isn’t a real thing; they don’t even start boarding until their stated take off time. Other airlines enforce this pretty strictly however, and this being an airline I had flown with only once before, I had no idea what to expect.

15, 20 minutes from the airport. We still have 45 minutes until my plane takes off. I let myself have some hope. The driver is feeling good about the time too, but he’s still stressed. Asks me in french if I smoke, no, can he?? Sorry dude, I’m on the verge of having an asthma attack already!

We settle the bill early so that I can just bolt when we arrive. The meter says €275, I pay €300. I think of the La Femme en Noir dress I’ve been coveting, and how I could have bought the damn thing and a second stunning Micheline Pitt design for this much.

The driver tries to explain to me that he’ll give me a proper receipt when he stops the meter. It takes him five tries before I understand. He wants to run in with me and carry my bag to the gate. Again, has to explain it five times before I understand and tell him that no it’s fine, he doesn’t need to do that.

Fuck I need to work harder on my French. This not understanding thing sucks.

We’re at the airport! I have 30 minutes until take off! Holy shit I think I’m ok. I hug the driver as he takes my bag out of the back “merci beaucoup!” Hopefully I said “thank you very much” and not “thank you nice ass.”

I sprint (as well as I can in boots) to the entrance. The boyfriend said to go through security on the French side (the airport straddles France and Switzerland), it’s usually a shorter line. It is! Only one guy in front of me!

Boots off, jacket off, belt off, laptop out, fuck why did I bring an iPad too? Shit, almost forgot my liquids bag. No time for being pulled up for a silly mistake.

Which one is my gate?? 47, ok, this way. Run. Shit! What did I do? Gates 60-90?! No. Back into duty free. THAT exit. Fuck these dizzying shiny floors and perfume stand obstacles.

The gate! They’re boarding! Skid up behind the last people in the short line. I’ve made it!!

I’m a sweaty, puffy mess. I’m clumsily trying to dig out my passport and ticket while at the same time checking that I remembered to grab my laptop and iPad off the security conveyor belt.

On the plane, the overhead lockers are too full to store my suitcase near me and I get a broken seat that won’t stay upright, poor dude behind me. But whatever. I made the plane! I order a gin and tonic. What’s another €10 when I’ve just laid out €300?

Was it worth it though? Calling a cab was a hasty move, the kind I’d make in London if I was running late. I might be out of pocket £60-100 for a similar, last minute panic trip to Stansted or Heathrow.

But €300?! 

Strasbourg isn’t London. Strasbourg-to-Basel isn’t London-to-Stansted or Heathrow.

Later, after I had landed in Barcelona and taken a (much cheaper) cab to my hotel, I looked online. If I hadn’t been so panicked, I’d have done that earlier. 

I could have booked a new flight to Barcelona for midday the next day, for €45. I could have booked a €20 train from Strasbourg and then boarded a €2-4 shuttle bus to get to Basel airport.

Sure, I would have lost a night’s accommodation and missed some of the first work meetings of the week but, it still would have been much cheaper. Work’s not going to reimburse me for this, obviously.

An expensive lesson learned. I’m happy to be in Barcelona right now – and on time! But, I’m not happy about that credit card bill, or the stress I put myself, my boyfriend and the poor cab driver under to make it.

A girlfriend tried to console me over text: “Everyone’s been in those situations.” I guess ‘everyone’ now includes me.

My first two months in Strasbourg

11 Dec French themed brunch

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.

Carlie versus French. 😳 #FrenchLessons #Strasbourg #LanguageLearning #Monolingual #Halp

A post shared by Carlie (@carliebonavia) on

 

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.

Because it was still #Halloween at Europa-Park 👻

A post shared by Carlie (@carliebonavia) on

 

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.

#Christmastree is up! 🎄

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Deep breath, dive in

26 Sep

I have been anticipating this move pretty much all year, ever since the man and I had a talk about where we’re heading, and I said I didn’t want to mark two years long distance. We wanted to be in the same place of course, the question was where we both wanted that ‘place’ to be, and what was feasible.

Much discussion ensued and now, two months shy of our two-year anniversary I’m relocating to France.

Who would have thought when I joined my girlfriends on a long weekend away to a city I’d never heard of, that I would end up returning so many times, let alone calling it home?

I have just under one week left in London, one more box to pack, only a handful more BJJ classes to attend and tube trips to take. I’ve been anticipating this move pretty much all year, but it still doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening. Surely it will soon?

London at night, London Eye and Big Ben

I am thinking about all the parts of this city I haven’t seen yet, the markets I haven’t visited, the ‘London bucket list’ I never got around to writing. But then, if I never got around to seeing and writing and doing all of these things, are they really that important to me?

Not right now, no.

What’s important is the guy waiting for me to join him in a town in eastern France, and for us to find out what happens next.

How I met my boyfriend

26 Jul

I’ve never written a post about it, but when Aftab put the call out for stories of “finding love whilst travelling” I thought why not tell the tale – nice and succinctly.  🙂  

Handsome much?


It’s at the below link if you’d like to read it, along with the lurve stories of a few other travel bloggers. Enjoy!

http://www.freshandfearless.co.uk/finding-love-travel

Meet Marie

1 Aug

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

9 Jun

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.