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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Eleven in France: Fish, chips and a salted caramel crêpe

The fantastic lobby of the Eventim Apollo theatre in London, where we saw Love Actually in concert.

30/11/2019: On this beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, J. and I were well on our way to the airport to drop me off for my flight to London when I let out a pained gasp. I forgot my passport, of course. You'd think after all this traveling I'd be better at it by now... Nonetheless, I still made it onto the plane with plenty of time, and a few hours later I was walking around quaint, chilly Windsor with my aunts. Starving, we ended up at Bel & the Dragon, a cozy inn for dinner. To start, a comforting glass of spiced apple cider spiked with gin. We jumped on the appetizers as soon as they left our waitress' hands – crunchy parmesan truffle arancini, plus a delicious wild mushroom, sage and truffle tortellini dish that absolutely stole the show. For our mains, I struggled with the many bones in my salty-as-the-sea (albeit tasty) sole while jealously eyeing my aunts' tender chicken Milanese. Just as we were starting to get impatient waiting for dessert, out came a stunning, shiny tarte Tatin topped with vanilla ice cream. After all this delicious food and an equally exciting conversation about my future options in France and beyond, I finally went to sleep, exhausted yet hopeful, and most of all grateful for my aunts' endless generosity and wisdom.

01/12/2019: Step aside, Queen Elizabeth – I'm coming for your throne. Or, at least it certainly felt like it when I stepped into the Rosewood Hotel in central London for high tea this afternoon. Once comfortably sat in the stunning locale, we were served glasses of champagne and pots of tea (I chose a fruity, floral black tea). We were starving, as usual, so when the finger foods arrived I forgot all about my crippling fear of mayonnaise and dug right into the colorful truffle & egg salad and turkey sandwiches. They were almost too pretty to eat, just like the desserts that followed, which were inspired by contemporary British artist Antony Gormley. For example, a deconstructed apple creation with apple mousse, blackberry cheesecake, praline choux and passionfruit compote. My favorite bite, though, had to be the buttery scones slathered with clotted cream, lemon curd and jam. Then, after some festive and frankly overwhelming shopping at Harrod's, we headed to the theatre for a viewing of our favorite holiday movie, Love Actually, accompanied by a live orchestra. The live music made everything more dramatic and emotional, but I actually didn't cry until the very end, when a man got up on stage and proposed to his girlfriend in the audience! I closed out the glamorous evening by scarfing down a giant takeaway platter of salty, greasy, crunchy fish and chips. What can I say – my life is a study in contrasts.

02/12/2019: My hearty food tour of the U.K. continued up until the very last minute. Once I passed through security at Heathrow Airport (well before my flight's departure, might I add), I sat down at a pub for a nice, relaxed English breakfast and a Bloody Mary – la classe. The sausage, bacon, fried eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, hash browns and buttered toast certainly fueled me up for a long day of travel: London to Charles de Gaulle Airport, CDG to Paris proper, Paris to Mulhouse. When I got home, I finished my package of Cadbury Twirls (definitely my favorite chocolate bar ever) and promptly fell asleep, feeling so fortunate after such an amazing weekend but content nonetheless to be back in my familiar little town.

03/12/2019: Thankfully, my four hours of classes today went off without a hitch, despite having neglected to lesson plan all weekend in favor of eating delicious food and sleeping. The highlight had to be the class of 15-year-olds pretending to be Thanksgiving turkeys and writing speeches about why they should be pardoned and their neighbor eaten instead. I had to stifle many a laugh as the kids pronounced turkey like tur-kay a million times over. Ah, it's good to be back. A group of friends and I met at Crêperie Crampous Mad (a name that I can't quite get my head around...) for a very Breton dinner. I got a galette with ham, cheese and a fried egg, plus a delicious brut cider from Bretagne. And, obviously, a salted caramel crêpe for dessert. Afterwards, I shared a Mort Subite beer with our lively, ever-growing group at the Shamrock, Mulhouse's most lit Irish bar, before heading home to get some rest – I think I feel a cold coming on.

04/12/2019: Naturally, after a week of celebrating and traveling, I'm sick (Mom, if you're reading this and want to say "I told you so" – don't). I couldn't stop coughing today, but luckily Mulhouse is basically Ricola-land, so I popped drops all day. Two classes and one hour of tutoring doesn't sound like much, but when you have to be out and about and away from your bed from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., you start thinking of any excuse you can find to shirk your responsibilities. However, I pushed through and made it to the end of the day, no flaking whatsoever (my rationale being that my weekend begins tonight, since there's a nationwide strike tomorrow that includes teachers). And lucky me, when I got home, there was an artichoke pizza waiting for me thanks to J.'s part-time job at a pizza shop. It was the perfect reward for surviving the day.

05/12/2019: Snow day? More like grève day (France's worst strike in years, apparently). I stayed in bed for hours, drinking tea, taking cold medicine and watching Netflix. Thank god my classes were already cancelled due to the strike, so I didn't have to miss any hours. I probably wouldn't have even been able to get a bus into town, anyway. Finally, around dinnertime I felt a little bit better, so J. and I drove to Eguisheim, a nearby medieval town, to check out its adorable Christmas market. We drank strong cups of vin chaud and marveled at the old, classically Alsatian houses and the omnipresent holiday decorations – it truly felt like walking around in a snowglobe. Though it still hasn't snowed in Alsace, yet!

06/12/2019: Happy Fête de Saint Nicolas! No class today, so I slept in and went on a beautiful, relaxing afternoon walk in a nearby village higher up in the hills with J. and the family dog. Later, I stopped for a drink at Gambrinus to celebrate a friend's birthday (the amazingly intelligent and interesting poet/professor I think I've mentioned before), then headed off to another friend, L.'s house, to celebrate St. Nick's Day. In France, that means eating manalas – little brioche men, adorned with sugar and chocolate chips. After some crémant d'Alsace and a lively debate on whether it's pronounced manalas or manneles, I headed home to recuperate. Thanksgiving may be over, but every day I still feel so grateful for the people I've met here in Mulhouse.

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