Monday, February 28, 2011

Being an “Erasmus” student, or how to make your dreams come true...













Cork


As soon as I decided to study at the University of Namur, I heard of Erasmus stays abroad. I decided I also wanted to be an Erasmus student one day.
After a few administrative details, I received a letter: “Dear Sandrine, I am pleased to advise you that you have been accepted for admission to University College Cork for the Autumn Semester 2010 under the ERASMUS programme.”
This is how I landed at Dublin Airport on a sunny (!) day in September with quite a lot of luggage. I was alone in a new country (well, not actually alone as I had to meet Marie – the other Erasmus student from Namur – in Cork) and it was the beginning of my Erasmus adventure. I then discovered how incredibly friendly Irish people are: this is not a legend. However, it is true that their accent is different from anything I had ever heard before, any time I asked them to repeat what they just said, they did it, more slowly and articulating better.

It was quite difficult for me to come into contact with a lot of Irish students as I did not live in a university accommodation. In fact I had no classes with Irish students either. Though I chose three courses for visiting students (Introduction to Anglo-Irish literature, Aspects of Irish Folklore and Introduction to Modern Irish), I also had a French-English translation course, but for that class, the university staff decided to separate French native speakers from English native speakers, so Marie and I were in a group with French students only (and no Irish students).


This is the typical picture of UCC, the picture you see everywhere.
It is the main quadrangle.


So I was not living in a university accommodation. Living in Ireland is expensive. University accommodations are terribly expensive (renting a room is about €500 per month). This is why I decided to share a house, which was much cheaper but... I lived rather far from everything (and I wasn’t the only one who thought so). So I will just advise the next Erasmus students going to Cork to either rent a university accommodation or spend a few days in a B&B and look for a place to stay when they are actually in Cork. That will make their lives much easier.

How can you then meet Irish students if you don't have any classes with them? Join a society or a club! I joined the fencing club (it was total chance) and learned the bases of the coolest and most wonderful sport on earth (fact!). UCC Fencing Club was the place where I met real Irish people (and also Americans, Chinese, Germans, Canadians, and...oh no, no English people...) and learned how to say “pop-corn” in sign language as well as the “worm dance”. We went to a few competitions; I went to Galway and Dublin (under snow) for the first time in my life.


Sunset on Galway bay


Marie and I also visited Waterford (but that town was not really impressive) and Kinsale. The day we went to Kinsale it was raining all day and there was a lot of wind but we had great craic, taking pictures of basically everything that could be considered interesting or cool or stupid or worth being in a picture. I also visited Blarney Castle and its park (which is not that far from Cork; I would say only a thirty minute bus ride, and which is really worth visiting!) as well as Cobh (which used to be the harbour from where migrants left Ireland to go to America).

When people think of Ireland, they think of green, wild landscapes. This winter was rather special in Ireland because there was snow and the landscapes turned white. It made everything even more magical.


Hot chocolate at Ó Conaill's


Here is a list of a few things that I will always remember about Ireland: cars are on the left side of the road (and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car); chips, cheese and garlic is addictive, as well as hot white chocolate (don't you forget to go to Butler's on Oliver Plunkett Street and Ó Conaill's on French Church Street! By the way, Ó Conaill's is the place where I had the best hot chocolate of my life. And I know what I'm talking about.); Cork is the most beautiful city in the world; one pint is 568ml and it's only €3.50 at Án Bróg before 11pm (by the way, “An Bróg” means “the shoe”); Lennox's has the best fish and chips of Cork; there is very often live music in pubs; if you are an international student you can enter for free at Gorby's on Friday nights; a student cinema ticket at The Gate is €5.50 before 4pm; you cannot walk on the grass of the Main Quadrangle or you will not graduate; nothing is better than Belgian chocolate; fencing is great; you can very often see rainbows; Ireland is great craic.


Bulmers and Berry Bulmers in Old Oak


I will go back to Ireland very soon. I have fallen in love with the country, I have fallen in love with Cork, and I have fallen in love with the people.


“Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” (Oscar Wilde)

Le(u)ven

As the last year of our bachelor degree was getting closer, we were given the opportunity to study abroad via the Erasmus (Belgica) programme. Discovering another university, another way of life and living abroad for a few months had always been one of my dreams. For different reasons I found Leuven one of the most attractive destinations. I knew it was a very beautiful town. And in March I heard I would spend 5 months there:

Compared to other destinations, it was very easy to enrol in the university (there is not a lot of documents to fill in, no complicated procedure and so on). On top of that it was very easy to find a room. In July I went to the office for foreign students and they gave me a list of dozens of rooms which were available during the first term and other useful information (the location, the price, the number of students in the house and so on).
To become familiar with the Erasmus programme I took part to the orientation days. It was difficult to meet people because we were divided into big groups. However, I would advise other people to go there because useful information was given about different organisations, we visited the city (we could check out the place) and the (huge) sports centre (where we took part to different sports activities), parties were organised...


Erasmushuis - Faculty of Arts


Aula Max Weber - Faculty of Social Sciences

The lessons began on September 28th, almost two weeks later than in Namur. It was difficult for me to find interesting courses which answered the criteria given by our university and which did not overlap (the exams could not overlap either). I finally opted for three courses in the faculty of Arts (populaire genres, Nederlandse volkskunde and English linguistics) and two in the faculty of Social Sciences (communicatiewetenschap and mediasociologie). Some of them were very interesting, others less. Since I had only 22 credits, I also had a lot of free time. It gave me the opportunity to discover Leuven and the students’ night-life, to do some activities and to work on my term paper. The Erasmus students have great advantages: the buses and the sports card are free. Therefore Nathalie and I went to the sports centre (by bus because it is off-centre) every Monday to play basketball. The trainers and the players were all nice but there were so many people (more or less 60) that it was impossible to play matches.
During our free time we sometimes went to a sort of Erasmus café (“Pangaea”). In Pangaea you can read newspapers from all over the world, you have access to the Internet, the drinks are cheap and, if you become a member at the beginning of the year (you just have to pay 4€), you can have coffee and tea for free during the whole year and take part to activities (a trip to the Ardennes, visiting the Stella Artois brewery...).
The places to be at night are the oude markt (“the longest bar in Europe”) or the different parties organised by the students (the TD’s for example). But be well-dressed because the Flemish students are elegant when they go out (indeed, it is very different from the Bunker :)). Rumba & co and MusiCafé were the nicest disco-bars where TD' were often organised. If you stay in Leuven during the week-ends parties are organised for the Erasmus students and it is a good opportunity to get to know each other.

I will conclude my story by giving some tips to the future Erasmus students. First try to find a room which is not too far from the centre (walking at night is a little bit frightening though Leuven is not a dangerous town). Second ask information about the sphere in the building in which you want to rent a room. I lived in a building where no one talked to each other, people were withdrawn and I hardly spoke to them. Therefore I often felt alone! Third you have a lot of free time so take part to as many activities as you can. And enjoy your new life!
My Erasmus experience was different from others’ because I only crossed the language border within my own country (which was funny to explain to other Erasmus students) but I have kept a lot of memories and it has changed me in a positive way. The most interesting element has been the fact that I talked to native speakers, that I was in an immersed in a natural language context.



Images: Google Images and Facebook

Valentine Etienne

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Your bike is a concept, dude" or how to survive in Utrecht during five months

The whole Erasmus adventure began for me when I was told that I was going to spend five months in the city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. I then had to find my way through an impressive administrative maze which would have discouraged even the bravest. What a relief when I finally received my confirmation letter in August: I was registered at UU (Universiteit Utrecht) and the big adventure was about to begin for real.

The purpose of this blog entry is not to tell my whole Erasmus experience. I could go on forever about Utrecht (as some people have noticed already) so that a full account of my trip would need millions of words. This text will thus just consist of a non-exhaustive list of things that you should absolutely know in order to survive in Utrecht.

One of the first things to do once arrived is to get a detailed map of the
city (for sale for around €7 at the tourist information centre next to the
Dom). It will prevent you from asking passers-by the way every ten minutes. Even if the centre is not so big, a lot of parties organized by Erasmus students take place in further neighbourhoods. And believe my experience, after a few glasses of wine, on your bike, in the dark, you will certainly lose your way more than once.

Yes, your eyes are not fooling you, you have just read “on your bike”. As one of my Erasmus friends used to repeat: in the Netherlands, “your bike is a concept, dude”. It is indeed the transport number one, but riding on the Dutch manner requires some prior knowledge. If you want to keep your bike as long as possible for example, my advice would be to use an old one and a big padlock. If you have the choice, buy a colourful bike, or decorate it with flowers... or just trust your visual memory to find it on huge bike parks. You should also have lights (you can find them for €4 in the Hema) or you will risk paying a fine of €60 when the police catch you without them. What's more, never forget that riding can be very dangerous as my two accidents show. Finally, be cautious concerning Dutch humour: always tie your bike to something unless you want to find it in the canal!

One of the reasons for using so much the bike is that public transport is really expensive in the Netherlands. Utrecht is situated in the middle of the country, which is nice if you want to do some sightseeing, but you will spend ridiculously lots of money on it. Especially if like me, machines do not like you. I was once in the subway in Rotterdam with a friend and we were using our ov-chipkaart (a card that counts the number of kilometres you ride and charges you a certain amount of money for it). However, for exactly the same journey, I had to pay €1,20 while my friend was only charged €0,44 without any apparent explanation. Moreover, the card already costs €7 unloaded and it does not give more advantages than normal tickets. On top of that, you always have to check in and out (which means that you have to hold your card against a card reader) while getting in and out of the train/bus, and if you forget, you will be charged €4 in the bus, and €20 in the train! So, follow my advice: do not buy the ov-chipkaart, unless someone threatens you to make you eat peanut butter if you don't.

This leads us to the following topic: food. Some advice should keep you from getting indigestion. Never order “patat met” because Dutch mayonnaise has a sweet taste which is really unpleasant. Don't try drop either: it tastes like hell! Do not look for a “dago” at €2,20 like in Namur, it does not exist; instead of that they have small sandwiches which cost at least €4. One thing you should know about restaurants is that they can be situated under street level. So don't follow my example, which consisted in booking a table in a restaurant and never being able to find the place, because I never imagined that it could be at the canal level. If you do not understand what I am talking about, click this link. Finally, if you're home-sick, you can find all Belgian beers in Café België, where, next to the portraits of King Baudouin I of Belgium and Queen Fabiola, you will really feel like you're home again.


Me, Baudouin and a Kriek (made invisible for obvious academic reasons)

Let's now turn to some practical matters. Finding accommodation in Utrecht is not an easy task. I would advise you to use the internet site Kamernet in order to get invited to “hospiteeravonden”. There you will compete against ten other people for the title of future house mate, which means pretending that you are the most kind, fun, interesting and clean person in the world. However, if, for some reason, people do not find you perfect enough so that you don't find a room before going there, do not get stressed out: just sleep in a B&B until you find something affordable. Never ever use SSH, unless you want to have a 16m² room, situated 7km away from Utrecht for some €500 a month, or share a room with an other person. Another practical problem in Utrecht is that, although the Netherlands belongs to the EU, the supermarket Albert Hein does not accept international bankcards (look for the mistake). Always keep that in mind unless you like discovering when you are at the cash desk with all the stuff you want to buy on the conveyor belt that you have no cash and have to run to the nearest cash point.

The lovely house I found thanks to Kamernet. I wish... This is one of the windmills at the tourist place called Kinderdijk.


Finally, some information about the Dutch. Never kiss them to say hello: not because oily hair (or full of hair gel, you cannot always tell) is contagious, but because people have the strange habit of shaking hands. When they meet new people, they accompany this gesture by their own name in order to introduce themselves. It all looks very official so that I tended to forget about it and people thought I was a bit rude, I guess. Finally, do not worry if your Dutch vocabulary is not more extended than “leuk” and “gezellig”. Dutch one tends to be reduced to these words too.

Thanks to these pieces of advice, you should be able to survive as an Erasmus student in Utrecht. However, if you really want to get “ingeburgerd”, you should do much more: get the AH's (Albert Hein's) bonuskaart, become addicted to Dutch TV programs like “Boer Zoekt Vrouw” and “Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden”, go and see the queen for Prinsjesdag, go ice-skating at least once a week, only eat Gouda cheese or peanut butter on your bread, wear clogs and live in a windmill among others. If you want to know how to become a real Dutch or if you want more information about Utrecht, don't hesitate to ask me. I would be quite happy to revive my Erasmus trip through a small talk with future “Utrechters”.



video

Queen Beatrix and Princess Maxima in the golden carriage on Prinsjesdag (I am not the one crying like a fool!)


Hélène Verhaeghe








Monday, February 21, 2011

Berlin Calling

Berlin is the city I had the opportunity to live in during four months. With its more than three million inhabitants, Berlin is the capital of Germany and the biggest city of the country. A great aspect about Berlin is that it has something for each one of us no matter which culture one comes from. Praising diversity could be, in my opinion, the motto of this multicultural city.
Finding accommodation in Berlin was not an easy task. Most of the research happens on the internet but some landlords and/or co-tenants demand a meeting in person. The key word is patience. An important criterion that appears to be very relevant in a capital concerns the proximity to the university, which is situated outside the city centre, and at the same time to the centre itself, where most of extracurricular activities take place.
However, even though Berlin presents itself as welcoming, it asks a lot of an international student to fit in. The first environment requiring adaptation is university. The German system is very different from the Belgian one. Taking the professors’ advice, I mostly took seminaries. Such class-types require a greater participation in debates. The class is not so much given by the professor but rather guided by the students themselves. They are encouraged to take part actively in discussions and to express their own opinion and impressions on every assigned book. Being permanently surrounded by German (as well as many international) students was the most enchanting aspect about studying at the Freie Universität Berlin. Such a “linguistic bath” is perhaps one of the biggest fears of all Erasmus students at the beginning of their stay, but at the same time what they were looking for and what motivated them to leave Namur in the first place.
As far as the city in itself is concerned, Berlin is divided in districts which all convey in my opinion different impressions. The main difference is the one between the west and the extreme east of the capital, which still reflects the GDR “lifestyle”. The (more or less) established Turkish community of Germany has also introduced some traditions (culinary ones among the most prominent) taken from their own culture in some districts of the south-east of the city (e. g. Neukölln). The so-called “posh neighbourhood” of Berlin is situated in the middle of the city (Mitte) and encompasses most of the touristic places of interest, for instance the Brandenburg Gate or the Regierungsviertel and its elaborate architecture. There are many things to see, to hear, and to visit in Berlin, all of which cannot be achieved in four months. No sooner have we started to settle down in the capital, than we have to leave. The German semester begins later than in Belgium, in mid-October, and only ends in the last weeks of February. Not only does it mean that we have to reach a settlement with each professor on evaluation matters, but we also have to leave Berlin while everything just got started. We only realise how strong we had adapted to our Erasmus-destination when we get back in Belgium. Our once daily life seems to be very far away: we have to start all over again. Fortunately, finding one’s marks in Namur appears to be a much quicker process.

Vinciane Pirard

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Berlin, quand tu nous tiens


Berlin, Berlin, Berlin. This word sounds so sweet in my ears now. It has not always been the case, but four months spent in this wonderful city totally changed my perception of it.

When I first looked at the Erasmus destinations, I quickly skipped the line ‘Berlin’. It was too big a city, too gray (I thought so) and most of all, far too German for me. I could picture myself riding a bike in the Netherlands or drinking Guinness in Ireland, but not really mumbling some German words in front of the Brandenburg Gate. However, the idea kept popping in my head. Berlin? After all, why not Berlin? Putting my fears aside, I decided to give it a go. The professors agreed, but not without warning me that ‘it is going to be a real adventure’. Jumping into Germany after just a year of learning the language is indeed an acceptable definition of ‘adventure’... But I love adventure and I was ready for this one. After three weeks of intensive German lessons in Aachen, I finally boarded my plane and flew to Berlin.

When I arrived there, adaptation was needed. Fortunately I had two guides with me to help me acclimate, namely my sister and ‘le Guide du Routard’ (warmly advised). One flew back rather quickly, the other remained a loyal friend throughout my stay. I had found an apartment with two German boys and this was a brilliant choice: the two guys were extremely friendly, the apartment was a real palace and it was situated near the U-/ S-Bahn station Heidelberger Platz, a direct tube line to the university. Berlin is such a huge city (eight times bigger than Paris) that it can easily take an hour to reach the Freie Universität. My advice for the lucky students going to Berlin next year: start looking for accommodation really early, competition is harsh.

I spent my first weeks visiting Berlin and four months were not even enough to see everything. The city offers something for everyone: theatre and opera at very reasonable prices, museums and monuments (Berlin is the place of history par excellence), cinema in the famous Sony Center, great parties, festivals, events and the list does not stop there. I got the chance to try a bit of everything and make unforgettable memories of it! Brandenburger Tor, Potsdamer Platz, Reichstag, Berliner Dom and Alexander Platz (to cite but a few sights) made me turn into a Japanese tourist. Living in Berlin is also not at all expensive, which is by no means insignificant.


As for the Freie Universität, I loved it. Let’s say the size of it has nothing in common with the University of Namur. The German system is also quite different from the Belgian one with much more emphasis put on personal research and active participation during the seminars. As I didn’t have a lot of courses, I had all the time in the world to meet with friends and to enjoy all that the wonderful city of Berlin has to offer to its citizens.


To conclude, my stay was more fantastic-terrific-you-name-it than I could ever imagine. I ended up making myself understood in German without problems, spending amazing time with amazing friends and discovering a culture I knew nothing about before. Berlin is a little treasure, a city which never sleeps, a destination worth heading to without second thoughts. One thing is for sure: once you have tasted Berlin, there is no way you can forget it! And I won’t.


Mélanie Dessouroux

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hogmanay


Hogmanay is the Scottish name for the last day of the year, often associated with the celebration of the New Year that lasts until 2 January which is a public holiday.
According to the many existing theories, the word “Hogmanay” could refer to the name of the Scandinavian feast « Hoggo-nott », to the Flemish expression “hoog min dag” that means “great love day”, to the Anglo-Saxon Holy Month “Haleg monath” or to the Gaelic “oge maiden”, new morning, but the most likely source is the French language. “Homme est né” meaning “Man is born” was the last day of the year when presents called “hoguignetes” in Normandy were exchanged.
This tradition is believed to be a heritage from the Vikings who had a strong hold in Scotland: they paid much attention to the passing of shortest days and celebrated the winter solstice. Moreover, Christmas, being a Catholic feast, was banned for round 400 years in this strongly protestant part of the United Kingdom.
Cleaning the house on 31st December, welcoming friends and strangers, giving gifts to colleagues during the first working week are part of the numerous traditions of Hogmanay. The most widespread custom is called the “first-footing” and is supposed to ensure good luck. The first person to enter the house should be a tall dark man as opposed to blond people being after the Vikings’ arrival synonymous of trouble (this custom seems to be paradoxical vis-à-vis the origins of Hogmanay). They initially brought salt, black bun, coal, as well as shortbread and whisky which are the only two gifts left today. An old tradition that has recently been revived is the “saining” which consists, among other things, in sprinkling “magic water” in every room in order to purify the house.

Torch and bonfire ceremonies in Edinburgh and other Scottish cities are the continuation of the ancient custom at pagan parties hundreds with years ago. When midnight strikes, the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning "long long ago") rings out. This song is the combination of a poem by Robert Burns and the tune of a traditional folk song that calls for a dance.
In Edinburgh and other big cities, festivals take place in the streets during the night of 1 January. The official organiser of the Hogmanay-festival in the Scots capital is Pete Irvine. Praising and promoting the Scottish culture is one of the mottos of Hogmanay. Famous singers, poets and writers take part in festivities to share their Scottish heritage (Resolution Haiku’s, One Day Resolution Concert, etc.). A traditional event of the Hogmanay is the so-called One O’Clock Run (5pounds), which gathers hundreds of runners willing to take part in a race of a bit more than 1.5 km. The Loony Dook is another after-midnight competition counting 1000 brave swimmers who dive into the River Forth after a short parade through the capital.
Most of the events are financed by the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund to the extent of 190,000 £ (226 000 €). On the whole, 6 £ million (more than 7 € million) are granted to the 12 Edinburgh Festivals involving Scottish participants, which then have to share the sum between themselves. In 2009, the Hogmanay-festival yielded more than 29 € million to Scotland.
Even though the local traditions are limited to Scotland, the festivities in Edinburgh attract many tourists of all countries. Join them next year and let yourself be carried away by this cultural whirl!


Cécile Leclercq and Vinciane Pirard

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Erasmus stay in Innsbruck

From October 2010 till January 2011, I studied four months at the Leopold-Franzens University in Innsbruck (Austria).
I could choose all my courses myself, although there were some minor conditions I had to bear in mind: I had to take at least one course in both languages I study (English and German) and at least one linguistic and one literary course. In sum, I had six courses (four in German and two in English), which amounted to nine hours of class a week.


The teaching system at university was sometimes different from the one I was used to in Belgium. I took three seminars, in which students gave a presentation at the beginning of the class. This presentation lasted twenty to thirty minutes, whereupon the speakers started a discussion in which the other students took part. The professor only acted as a moderator, steering the debate in the right direction. This concept was new for me, but I found it an interesting way of having class.
In order to get a mark, I had to write a paper and give a presentation for three courses (‘Literarische Textanalyse: Novellistik von der Goethezeit bis zur Postmoderne’, ‘Literarische Textanalyse: Märchen’ and ‘Discourse/Identity: American Cultures: Make ‘Em Laugh: Landmarks in American Comedy’). For ‘German as foreign language’, I had to give a presentation about my favourite film and write a review of my favourite book. Finally, for ‘Interlingual Mediation’, I had to translate an English text into German.


Turning to the accommodation, I had a room at Akademikerhilfe, a student’s house on the outskirts of Innsbruck. As a consequence, in order to go to the city centre or to university, I had to take the bus, which took me about twenty minutes. Nevertheless, the bus connection was excellent: on week days, I could take a bus every five minutes.
Most of the people who lived at Akademikerhilfe were Erasmus students too. Hence, I met people from a variety of nationalities (e.g.: people from Italy, Spain, Finland, Thailand, Germany, Austria, France or Bulgaria). On the other hand, at university, I did not really get to know anybody. Indeed, as you have only class with the other students once a week, it is difficult to get into close contact with them.


I definitively enjoyed my Erasmus stay in Innsbruck. It is a beautiful village that is not too big, so that you are quickly familiar with it. With its courses and sometimes different system of teaching, the university also pleased me. Finally, the people were very nice and friendly and I got to know a lot of new friends in the student’s house where I stayed.
In short, I can only recommend Innsbruck as the perfect city for an Erasmus stay!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recollecting Austria


Icy summits surrounding the city, mint blue torrent flowing through the valley – Innsbruck. Sometimes the fog mists the picture up, plunging every single soul in a supernatural atmosphere… Somewhere behind the clouds, dark walls guard them from any danger. Following the way down through the botanical garden, turning left, going down the secret path full of the sound of the building site some yards below, crossing the street, crossing the bridge, your steps have led you at the foot of the Leopold-Franzen-Universität Innsbruck, Austria. A pair of grey towers of the ancient modern style with yellow blinds.


The sensual voice of the lift welcomes you. Neuntes Obergeschoss. In the classroom, most of the students are sitting, some of them standing, their back turned on screens projecting a power-point. You cannot distinguish the professor sitting on a chair among his apprentices. Then he rises to lead the discussion. Some young people with an intellectual air speak, others disagree. The professor seems to be interested. Your neighbour, a Finnish girl, stands up and gets out whereas thirty minutes of boredom are left. You can hear her ski-trousers rustling as she hurries toward the door. Up there, the view is breath-taking and the dazzling sun prevents you from looking out at the mountains. ‘HALLOA! Below there!’


Everybody gets up. You leave without saying goodbye to the others. You don’t know them anyway.
Planning the rest of your day, you are torn between the call of the mountains and the cry of the literary texts waiting to be read. As the cry can be more easily ignored, you tie up your good shoes and climb up the “hills”. Higher and higher, steeper and steeper. Your effort is worthwhile. A juicy apple overhanging the city. A cake to bake calls you down and a bit of homework puts your mind at rest. You jump into your sport outfit and then, into the bus driving to the Uni-Sportstätten. ‘Clap your hands, clap your hands’. Your rock’n’roll professor speaks with a delicious Austrian accent that is sometimes quite incomprehensible but as long as you understand Kick – Rück – Platz, you are safe. The evening goes on in a pub with some Erasmus students or at the Erasmus international dinner, with Americans at the Stammtisch of the Galway bay or at the theatre. You are spoilt for choice.
Before Christmas, the best place to meet and warm up is the Christkindlmarkt, right in the heart of the old town. The aroma of Glühwein mingles with the yellow lights on the colourful facades. You feel a bit dizzy but your feet know the way back and your wandering eyes contemplate the opposite bank while crossing the bridge. Behind the illuminated houses, the naked rock of the mountains has turned to impalpable night and the snow hood that the moon dyed fluorescent seems to drift above them. What an enchanted place!


The bridge is crossed, the ascent begins. Out of breath and all cheeks in fire, you look up at the windows. There is still light. Your roommates are not yet in bed. First thing to do: get rid of the coat, of the scarf, of the gloves and the hat, of the wool jacket, of the pullover and of one of your T-shirt. Feeling less like a sumo, you sit in the kitchen with two crazy German girls, drink a shot of schnapps or have a cup of tea. Back in your room, do not close the curtains. Lying in your bed, you can see the lights of the city some feet below and the jagged darkness of the summits against the paling sky. And maybe hear the murmur of the mint blue torrent flowing through the valley – Innsbruck.


Cécile Leclercq