Monday, 21 December 2009

Le Refuge des Fondues

Now that I'm a thousand kilometres or so away from work and it's cold and dark outside, it seems like a good chance to catch up on some of the blog posts I've been meaning to write for a while now. This one is about a restaurant that my friend and I went to a couple of weeks ago called Le Refuge des Fondus, on the Rue des Trois Frères in Montmartre.

There are a few things that make this restaurant a little bit different. Some are good, some are bad and some are just a bit odd.

The restaurant only serves fondue. You can have cheese or meat and it comes as part of a set menu that also includes nice aperitif-type nibbles, such as salami and cheese, and wine. Thus there are only two questions the waiter needs to ask you: “Meat or cheese?” and “Red or white?” This is probably a good thing, as ours seemed very taciturn and had a somewhat incomprehensible accent. As well as serving the food, however, the waiter also has the job of helping 50% of the customers to climb across the tables, which are arranged in long rows against the wall. This means that you end up sitting very close to your neighbours and creates a kind of mountain hut atmosphere, which is quite good fun, especially if the people sitting next to you turn out to be nice. We had a group of American study-abroad students, followed by some Belgians. (Hardly anybody in the restaurant was French.)

We went for the meat fondue, mostly just to have a change from cheese. There was lots of it, and it was also served with potatoes and some particularly delicious bread. The “fondue” part was really just hot oil that you used to cook your own meat in. We experimented with the potatoes too, but they tended to disintegrate. Overall, it was pretty good, but I would probably go for cheese next time because I like it better and, although the meat seemed quite good quality, it came out very greasy.

The weirdest thing, though, was the wine. For some reason, they serve it in baby bottles. I found drinking wine through what was essentially a rubber nipple a little bit off putting, so I unscrewed the lid and drank from the bottle, but most people seemed to manage, and it was nice wine once it wasn't being filtered through rubber.

The restaurant was a fun place to eat, but I woke up in the middle of the night with a pounding headache and stomach cramps, and that would put me off recommending it wholeheartedly, but my friend was fine, so maybe I just drank too much wine or didn't cope with all the oil very well. So, if you want somewhere different for a meal out in Montmartre, give Le Refuge des Fondues a try, but at your own risk!

Winter Wonderland

I was getting a bit bored of my period of enforced hibernation by the middle of last week. December was grey and nothing was happening. Then, on Thursday, it snowed, and suddenly life was exciting again. Wrapped up warmly, I felt like an intrepid adventurer walking up the road to work. Putting on ski gear to go to the shops didn't seem unreasonable.

In fact, it didn't actually snow all that much, but the Ile de France is a bit like the south of England, where two inches of snow can bring the country to a standstill. It even managed to slow the French drivers down. Walking, on the other hand, was a treat. The snow fell swiftly, creating a layer of thick, soft, white powder. Kids were making snowmen and having snowball fights and suddenly it felt like Christmas.

Then, on Saturday, I had to come back to Scotland. Despite the fact that the country had more pressing issues to confront than just how cushy a deal train drivers should get, the RER A was still on strike, buses were delayed everywhere because of the snow, British Airways was threatening industrial action, airports were closing all over Europe and five Eurostar trains were stuck in the tunnel. It should have been a terrible day to travel, but in fact I was lucky. The RER got me to the airport in under 2 hours and EasyJet flew me from Charles de Gaulle without a hitch.

It's been snowing in Scotland too, but I'm cosily tucked up in my parents' house playing board games, catching up on my reading and baking for Christmas. Outside, the hills are covered in snow which catches the winter sunlight and shines magically. I have indeed been very lucky!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

In the Bleak Midwinter

After two or three crazy weeks of work, travelling and visitors, my life has finally slowed down. The temperatures have dropped below zero, the RER is on strike, and I have very little reason or desire to leave the house. I think I might be going into hibernation and, after three months of settling into a job that I didn't exactly choose and rebuilding my life in a place that I never planned to live in, that's probably a good thing. Most of what I have been doing has been focused around my little suburban town and friends from work, and it's good to take the time to notice some of the things I really like about living here. My job, like any other, has its drawbacks, but most of the time I really enjoy it and it's certainly less stressful than in many other jobs I've done. I've made some really good friends in a short space of time, and been able to spend more time with old friends that I hadn't seen for a while. I live in lovely flat in a beautiful place and I get to speak French every day. I'm also looking forward to the new year and the spring time and all the things that I'm hoping that 2010 will bring.

Because, of course, there's also my wish list. I'm really hoping that my plans for skiing in February will work out. In the summer, I'm dreaming about going on a grand tour of Italy to visit all the parts that I never got to see last year and, of course, blog about it. I want to see the parts of France that I've never been to and leave the Ile de France a bit more often than I have in the past three months.

More than anything, though, I would like to find my place here and find my people. I live in a middle class suburb where twenty and thirtysomething childless people are few and far between. Paris is the obvious escape, but I have always had mixed feelings about Paris. It's a beautiful city, but it's also a big city, full of crowds and busy-ness and anonymity. It's easy to meet people in Paris but it's difficult to make friends, especially if you don't actually live there and belong in a particular neighbourhood. At heart, I think I'm a small-city girl. I like people and shops and cinemas and culture, but I also like to have mountains on the horizon and the great outdoors on my doorstep. I like meeting people who are educated but also down to earth. I like to make friends, not acquaintances. So Santa Claus, if you exist and if you surf the internet, what I would really like for Christmas would be to feel at home here. Thank you.

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Useful Discovery

I found out this weekend that if you keep metro tickets in your wallet next to a pile of coins, they stop working when you insert them in the ticket barriers. This is a fun way to annoy hoards of impatient Parisian commuters as you try out a whole carnet and none of the tickets work.

I also found out that if you take the damaged tickets to the ticket office, they will not simply replace them but actually re-magnetise them for you (or at least, I think this is how it works) by inserting them in a machine one by one. This is a really fun way to annoy the grumpy woman behind the ticket desk. If you really, really want to piss her off, though, make sure you smile brightly and wish her a “très bonne journée” and comment on how “la vie est belle” as you depart.