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Last Second Shopping

Christmas is next week. A shocking statement as I’m sure it was August yesterday, but a true one. In case you’re still lacking a few gifts, here are my top picks for a whole bushel* of different presents.

‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ by Becky Chambers

At some point this book will get a blog post all to itself. It is so good, my friends. So good. Sci fi that has hope for the future, that manages to be mostly non anthropocentric, and is so joyful. Every time I read it, I can’t put it down.

Ghostbusters (2016)

As I may have mentioned, I love the new Ghostbusters. It’s funny, well plotted and kicks butt, making it the perfect film to share this Christmas.

Grow Your Own Cocktail

I have a lot of friends who enjoy growing things, and I have a lot of friends who enjoy a drink. Putting the two together was easy thanks to Plant and Grow, who have packs of seeds to grow and then enjoy as part of a cocktail.

Saga (volume 1)

This graphic novel is Romeo and Juliet set in a sci fi world, where the leads, Alana and Marko, are on opposite sides in a galaxy wide war. It does have some adult content, so gift with caution.

Uni the Unicorn Night Light

So Facebook did both an aggressive and excellent job of advertising the website Firebox.com to me, and I’m kinda glad they did, because it is a fantastic website full of weird and wonderful things. My favourite? A stocky, cuddly looking unicorn night light that’s so adorable.

I hope you have a great holiday season (Merry Christmas if you’re celebrating). Now the tinsel is up, I have fairy lights everywhere and my friends are coming over today to eat turkey dinosaurs like grown ups. It’s gonna be the most wonderful time of the year.

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Christmasfying the House

With Christmas rapidly approaching, me and my girlfriend are starting to get in the Christmas spirit. It means tinsel everywhere, an abundance of fairy lights and, of course, finding a Christmas tree to support all of the baubles that we’ve collected.

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The Christmas suitcase overfloweth with decorations

Which means this blog post is gonna be all about the baubles that we have, because frankly, we have bought some great baubles and I’m too excited about Christmas to blog about anything else right now.

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Paperchase planets

Paperchase have some excellent baubles this year, and we could not resist at all. This set of 4 is so gorgeous and look like planets, and are generally a touch of class to a tree which also has a lot of dumb baubles on it.

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The cutest deer ever

I’d never heard of Sass & Belle before a recent trip to London, where we found ourselves in their Covent Garden shop. They have so many adorable things that it was a little overwhelming. This deer is one of the hundreds* of decorations we bought from them..

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Cheerleading crocodile

What is a Christmas tree without a cheerleading crocodile? Thanks to Paperchase, we will never have to know, as we have the most fantastically ridiculous bauble.

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Poms poms everywhere

I’m a sucker for pom poms, even though they don’t photograph spectacularly well. They’re so fluffy and fun and I would like to order ten please. John Lewis have some pom pom tinsel as well as the singular one that I bought and they’re so great.

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And those are my favourite baubles (until I spot more that I fall in love with). There’s still a few more things to go on it, but the house is feeling pretty Christmassy right now. Long may it continue.

*slight over exaggeration

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Christmassing it Up

So there was no blog post last week. This was due to the fact that I was in Budapest, which means by rights you should be hearing about my trip this week. That is a blogging law, but I’m going to break it. Mostly because yesterday I went to the Birmingham Christmas Market and I’m feeling so Christmassy, I can’t not blog about it. But if you’re desperate to hear about Budapest, you can read my blog post from last time I was there, and if anyone’s super desperate to hear about this trip, drop me a comment and I’ll write about it for next week.

So. The Birmingham German Christmas Market opened this week. It’s open from 10am-9pm every day between now and 22nd December. It’s been a tradition for over a decade and is comprised of the Frankfurt Christmas Market and the Craft Market. Sprawling down New Street, through Victoria Square and taking over Centenary Square, it’s huge. And as the largest outdoor Christmas market in the UK, it is always busy.

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Genuine German market in Birmingham = huge success

I’ve always loved the German Christmas market, and since living in Germany, it’s a really great way to stock up on the things that I miss. Like Glühwein and German gingerbread and dark beer. Drink features prominently with several stalls selling beer, apfelwein and alcoholic hot chocolate. And then you’ve got all the stalls selling food. Some sell gingerbread hearts and nuts, others sell cake and bread. Still others have hot chestnuts, pretzels and chocolate covered marshmallows. And that’s before you even get to the amount of Stollen, Berliners and sausages. Basically, if you want German food, it’s the place to go.

20151114_171542All of the Christmas lights. All of them. 

Amongst all the food, there’s plenty of stuff to buy to take home. From hand carved, wooden decorations to toys to ceramics, there’s so much to see and marvel at, even if you end up not buying it. It’s a great place to pick up interesting Christmas presents. There’s also a carousel and music pumping out. The atmosphere is great, and I can’t recommend it enough. And that’s even before you get round to the craft market.

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The carousel is slightly obscured by the Floozy. But it is there.

The craft market tends to be more UK based, though with ostrich and reindeer burgers available, it’s probably easier to say it’s not German focused. There’s a fair few cheese stalls, and various artisan food stalls. Most importantly, you can get a pork and stuffing roll, which is definitely the food of this time of year. There’s also a ferris wheel and an ice rink. Seriously, what more could you want?

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If you go into the library you get a great view.

I do really love the Christmas market in Birmingham, and now that I work in the city centre, I can walk through it every day if I want. I will have eaten so much Stollen by the time December 25th comes round, and it will be glorious.

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Frankfurt comes to Brum

There are many Christmas traditions and everyone has their own. I’m not gonna regale you with all of mine because, well, frankly that’d be boring. But I hope that, if you celebrate Christmas, they all went well and that Christmas was generally good. I am however, going to talk about one European Christmas tradition that I got to experience several times last year. I am, of course, talking about German Christmas markets.

But I’m not in Germany any more. I am, for better or worse, back in the UK, and right now, this Christmas time, I am back in my home county of the West Midlands. Which means, happily, there’s a German Christmas market on my doorstep.

The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market first opened in 1997, making it a respectable seventeen years old –  a year off being able to buy the Glühwein it peddles. Stretching the length of New Street, there are stalls as far as the eye can see, from the Bullring to the Floozy in the Jacuzzi. With what feels like every other stall selling food and drink, it’s really easy to gorge on Lebkuchen and Glühwein and Wurst.

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All the drinks you could want.

There are plenty of things to buy and not eat, ranging from jewellery to nutcrackers to candles to ridiculous hats. But the best can be found in Victoria Square: namely, the carousel. Surrounded by every even vaguely German related food you could want, you can hurtle through the air on a painted carved horse. Ah, Christmas magic.

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All the pretty lights.

In Chamberlain Square, the market continues although it becomes a craft fair, rather than the German market and then, if you continue through to Centenary Square, there’s yet more stalls, selling specialty food (kangaroo or ostrich burgers, anyone?) and to finish it off nicely, there’s a ferris wheel and ice rink outside the New Library.

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In my experience, the Birmingham Frankfurt Market isn’t quite the same as Christmas markets in Germany, but that doesn’t stop it being an excellent day out. I’ve been in snow, in the dark, in the rain and in the sun and it’s always been fun.  Next year if you’re in the neighbourhood, you should drop into Brum for some German beer and sausage. Just like what Deutschland makes.

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Christmas Chocolate (slightly alcoholic) Truffles

It’s nearly Christmas. Either that sentence made you feel annoyed or excited, but either way, have I got a blog post for you. It’s a family habit to make sweets at Christmas and seeing as how I’m technically an adult now, I figured it was about time I ought to join my Dad and Grandma in a delicious tradition. So my Grandma sent me a recipe for truffles and three batches later and some very happy housemates, I decided I ought to share it with you guys.

Now I’d like to state for the record that I am not a recipe blog, that I hold no responsibility for your capability to follow my (potentially shoddy) instructions, and that if you are looking for a recipe type blog you should check out Hollie’s Home Baking or A Fresh Degree.

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My artful staging of the recipe. 

So these are chocolate, alcoholic truffles. You can make it without alcohol, if you so wish. But the chocolate part is important. Paramount, even.

Things you’re gonna need:

– 4oz/100g sultanas – 2 tablespoons rum/brandy/sherry/alcohol of some kind – 4oz/100g plain chocolate – 2oz/50g butter – 4oz/100g digestive biscuits – 2 teaspoons apricot jam – 6oz/150g icing sugar – 2oz/50g chocolate vermicelli/cocoa powder  – small sweet cases – music to dance to while you make them

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I promise the Vanish wasn’t used in the cooking.

Recipe

First things first, the sultanas have to soak in the alcohol overnight. It means you have to do have to put some planning into when you’re going to make these. But yeah, stick the sultanas in a bowl, add the alcohol, stir a few times. Personally, I made two lots of truffles, one with Disaronno Amaretto and one with Absolut Raspberry Vodka.  Also, if you don’t want alcohol in your truffles, you can skip this stage. Obviously.

The next day, before you do anything, put the sweet cases out, ready for the mixture. Also, tip the vermicelli or cocoa powder into a bowl. You’ll need all this later and I learnt the hard way that it’s best to organise them first.

The next step is to melt the chocolate and the butter together. Easiest way to do this is to put them in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. As I’m in a student house and not the most well equipped for baking, I put them in a pasta bowl and balanced that on a pan.

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I’m not the tidiest of cooks.

As the chocolate and butter is melting, crush the biscuits. Suggested method is to put them in a polythene bag and bash with a rolling pin. Is an easy way of getting all your aggression out and scaring anyone else who happens to be in the house. Because I was super unorganised I didn’t have a polythene bag or a rolling pin, so I crumbled them with my bare hands. Obviously having washed my hands first.

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What the chocolate and butter looks like when ready.

When the chocolate and butter are melted together (you will have to stir the mixture a bit), take the bowl off the heat and then add the jam, alcohol soaked sultanas, icing sugar and the crushed biscuits. Stir it together till the mixture is firm enough to roll into balls.

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Looks a bit weird. Tastes delicious.

Roll the balls in vermicelli or cocoa powder and then put into the sweet cases. You hopefully got these out earlier, because although the mixture is warm, you need to move decently fast, otherwise it won’t roll as well, and your truffles, though still delicious, become less aesthetically pleasing. Once you’ve filled all the sweetcases/run out of mixture, have a dance party for a while until the truffles are hardened.

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The finished product.

Then eat eight in one go, pretend like you didn’t and blame your housemates. Enjoy. Have a great holiday season, no matter what you’re celebrating or where you are. Try not to OD on truffles.

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We interrupt this programme

So Monday, if this was a normal week, would have been lesson planning, probably an ARD shift and not much else. Well, dear readers, this is not a week like any other. No, this is a week where I work on a Monday so I can have Friday off in order to fly home in a timely manner before Christmas. So yes, to work.

There’s an animal park and free time centre in Ilmenau, which I mentioned a few posts back, and that’s where I headed on Monday morning. When I arrived the kids were tucking into their breakfast after having walked there from school. They then got to make chocolate apples, nut covered pine cones (aka bird feeders) and various arts and crafts. My job was to generally make sure they didn’t impale themselves on anything and help with the glue gun. This left plenty of time for my own arts and crafts, as well as burning myself on the glue gun. I couldn’t figure out if it was hot enough to use, so I stuck my finger in it…. Yes, I’m an idiot. This is a well established fact.

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So I made the most fabulous angel. Their poncho being at a jaunty angle was totally intentional.

After all that I walked with the kids back to school only to follow the same route back to my flat, before later going to do an ARD shift. This week it involved much glühwein, much cake and Wared telling me that it’s a man’s job to bring in the sign from outside. He was being nice, and yes I had struggled to do it by myself, but if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me attempt something is to tell me that it’s a job for the males. I did end up with chalk all over me, and a guy ended up helping me out of the goodness of his heart, but still. Girls can carry signs too.

Tuesday was a return to normal service, with being in four English classes within the space of an hour and a half. I did much explaining of Christmas in England, and if one more child tells me Santa isn’t real just to see what I’ll do, I’m going to have to lie down in a darkened room for a while. The other awkward moment always comes when I explain Christmas cake and show them the picture of our cake for this year. The awkward moment comes because my Dad baked it. My Dad is a fantastic cook (I really need to stop complimenting him on here – he’ll get a big head) and has always baked our Christmas cakes, as well as all of my birthday cakes. But children tend to have gender roles firmly entrenched in their mind and boys don’t cook. So they want to know where my Mom is. This is the sticky bit, because I can either explain that boys and girls can cook (which always makes me think of this Jon Richardon quote or I have to tell them my Mom’s dead. Or both. Normally I do both. Thankfully kids move past the ‘my Mom’s dead’ sentence better than most adults do.

Then on Tuesday evening, the secretary picked me up at 5.45 and we headed to the teacher’s Christmas party. This involved alcohol, food and laughter. Also a very strange version of secret santa that I shall explain for you now.

Step 1. Everyone brings a wrapped present with them. Requirements are that it be ridiculous and/or something unnecessary.

Step2. Everyone takes turn rolling a dice. If you get a six you get to go pick a present. Repeat this step till everyone has a present.

Step 3. Everyone opens their present, laughing at the ridiculousness. Example presents include a bar of chocolate plus a Chippendale (as in the dancers) box of tissues with the slogan “Tissues for after”, and a full set of nativity figures, and bed shoes plus a bottle of perfume.

Step 4. Pick an amount of time. Any amount of time. A reasonable amount of time. And set a timer.

Step 5. During the set amount of time, take it turns to roll the dice again. Odd numbers mean pass the present in front of you to the left that amount of times. 2&4 mean pass the present in front of you to the right that amount of times. 6 means you get to choose someone to swap with.

Step 6. When the time is up, hope the present left in front of you is decent.

I ended up with a bag and the bed shoes. Also a mug from the Ilmenau brewery. And a bell and a candle. People kept giving me their stuff. I think I am very much considered the child of the group. Which is not shocking considering how much younger I am than everyone else. That may also explain why one of the older teachers was so shocked when I ordered beer.

Wednesday was a normal day again, though I wasn’t needed in the first two English lessons. I ended up doing a translation one of the teachers had asked me to do, then found out later it’s for a course she’s doing. I did her English homework for her…  Ah well. Least it took me till 20 to actually do someone’s homework for them.

In the third and fourth period, I was in the German class as always. We began by going on a jaunt to a house that was built in 1691. I had one girl holding my hand and a boy asking me a gazillion and one questions despite the fact that he had a sore throat and “couldn’t speak”. I told them that ‘ein tausend’ was ‘one thousand’ in English and they then repaid me by telling me I was at least a thousand years old. I mean, I should have seen it coming. They think 20’s ancient enough as it is. They also asked me who my favourite friend is, which is a very loaded question, and I cautiously said that one of best friends is called Maddie. Then I said she was 21 and they couldn’t quite believe how old she was. Sorry Maddie. (Speaking of Maddie, she has a fashion blog which you should got check out. Because fabulous clothes.) After our excursion, I did German on the computers with the kids. I had to explain what the infinitive is about ten times. Which was, you know, boring but important so ah well.

Then I headed home to pick up my stuff for tutoring and then returned to school for the Weinachtsprogramm, where the one teacher I thought didn’t like me gave me a Christmas present. Sparkly nail polish – is definitely the way to a girl’s heart. Well, this girl anyway. This means in terms of Christmas presents from school, which I certainly wasn’t expecting, I’ve had a teddy bear, a necklace and nail polish. A good start to the Yuletide, methinks.

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The choir were suitably adorable.

The Weihnachtsprogramm was good. First the choir sang, and various children played various songs and various instruments. Then the parents put on a pantomime of Rumpelstiltskin, which was really good. And it all rhymed. I was very impressed. It was all topped off by a visit from Santa, who handed out biscuits to every class.

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The German Santa has bells. And he doesn’t come down the chimney – he comes through the door. Because Germans are all about the practicality.

And then to tutoring. Luka, the boy, is ill, so it was just me and Viktoria. We wrote a letter to Santa, then she made a Christmas card and then we made a huge paper chain. She wanted to know how I was going to get it home, and I said she could keep it. Which her parents loved. Though I don’t know if Viky was too impressed. Her parents were also super lovely, and gave me a Christmas bonus. And her Mom suggested I get a boyfriend while I’m in Germany. Which was a weird segue from talking about presents, but hey, maybe Santa will bring me a boyfriend for Christmas. Not that a boyfriend was on my Christmas list. Was more along the lines of the Game of Thrones books and comedians’ DVDs.

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The longest paper chain I’ve made since I was in primary school.

Thursday was my last day at school before the holidays and like Monday, I spent it at the free time centre, this time sanding down, then painting a wooden elephant and messing around with ribbon&hot glue&shiny things.

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The kids hard at work. This does not mean they were quiet.

The class I was with are a little…rowdy. High spirited. Whatever synonym for annoying you prefer. And I ended up improving slightly with discipline. By which I mean, on the way back to school, some of the boys nearly ended up pushing each other in front of a car, so I made one of them walk by me at the back of the line. And when he tried to go back to his friends I made him hold my hand. 8 year old boys are not fans of this.

At lunch I got given another Christmas present, and I know that this blog post must just sound like me going look what I got, but I was genuinely surprised every time someone gave me a present. This time round I got a makeup bag, a lipstick and an eye shadow called “Santa, baby.” Which is fantastic because a) my gold eyeshadow was running out and b) Santa Baby is my favourite Christmas song.

After bidding everyone farewell, I headed into town. I went to my favourite café, whose wifi has been down for three weeks now, then I went and bought all of the clothes from New Yorker, and then I headed home, managing to bump into a kid from school on my bus for the first time.

Whilst at home I have tidied my room, watched He’s Just Not That Into You and The Social Network, taken the bins out and in general done everything to put off packing. But I am now packed, and worried my bag is going to be too heavy. Ah well. We shall see. I also want to check in online, but as I don’t have a printer, I don’t see that going well. Braving the queues at Frankfurt it is.

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Living in a Fairytale.

This week began as every week does. With Monday and lesson planning. However, it was only lesson planning for tutoring. This week we were doing about describing people, and this obviously meant I had to draw out people. Yes, I cut everyone off at the shoulders, and yes, some boys have long hair and yes, some girls have short hair. Welcome to tutoring with Kat.

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Yay for my terrible drawing skills. My attempt at a mohican for Gregg is particularly spectacular.

The other thing I did on Monday was an ARD shift at the BC-café. The ARD is the clean-up shift – the one I normally do. This time round it was with Florian who was super lovely, and talked to me in English until he forgot what a mop and bucket was in English. I’ve started to remember what to do – I am a master at tidying up the table decorations now. Though for the first time I had to sort out the aforementioned mop and bucket, which involved kneeling on the floor of the guy’s bathroom. Super not fun. (The cleaning equipment is kept in there, in case you were wondering.)

Tuesday felt like a waste of a day. I only do two hours and I wasn’t needed for either of them. Not that I found that out until I was in school. Ah well. Then when I went to the weekly meeting for the BC Café I ended up rediscovering Twitter, and not paying attention. Although, I was still half listening, and at points properly paying attention, and I would like it on the record that I understood 98% of everything that was said. 98%! I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – maybe a year abroad to improve your language really does work.

[EDIT: Also, if anyone wants to follow me on twitter, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/MasrikaG Though I cannot be held responsible for the drivel I put on there.]

Wednesday was interesting. So I did my first English lesson, like normal, and ended up making friends with the work experience girl which was cool. I’ve been smiling at her in the corridor for the past week but I hadn’t actually met her until Wednesday. They don’t let the work experience kids have keys you see. Or let them be in the staffroom.

But then I headed to the Franz von Assis (That’s St Francis of Assisi to you lot) private school, where I talked about Christmas In England to a group of 11-13 year olds. Meant I spoke more English than usual, cracked a couple of jokes, and made England out to be some kind of godless, obese, obsessed with chocolate nation. Whoops. But the kids seemed to enjoy it. I could do that for the rest of my life I think. Not teach. Stand up and talk about things I know about and make people laugh. It’s a good feeling. Also, the very first question the kids asked me is whether I believe in Santa. Thankfully, as they were all between the ages of 11 and 13, I could go no, I’m twenty, I know he’s not real.

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The private school. I could go on and on about it but a picture’s worth a 1000 words, right?

I then got a tour of the school, led by three lads. The school’s got a kitchen, a ceramic workshop, a printing room (as in lino prints and book printing, not reprographics), two wood workshops…The list goes on. And outside they have treehouses and a castle which has a moat, and the school is just spectacular. Their new sports hall is bigger than my secondary school. After the impromptu tour, I headed back to the classroom to await my ride back to my normal school, and was presented with a ceramic leaf dish to say thankyou. I also made an angel ornament, because why not?

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The castle. Which had a moat. Why did I not get to go to this school growing up?

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The teacher made this for me. Like, actually made it.

When I got back to my normal school, I got given a milk a mug filled with chocolate to say thankyou for doing the lesson at the private school, and a Christmas present from the secretary. Yes, I have opened it (sorry Dad) and it was a teddy bear, so, and I quote, I never have to be alone in Germany. Have I mentioned how awesome and lovely the staff at my school are? They also opened my gift to them on Wednesday – two boxes of Thorntons.

My plan for Thursday was to do my two hours at school, go to Erfurt, go to the Weimar Christmas market. Only one out of those three happened, and that was my two hours at work. I went into German class as usual, and did basically nothing as usual. Except for the part where I made a boy cry. Not deliberately, I hasten to add. He struggles with reading a lot – I suspect he’s dyslexic, so when I’m there the teacher gets him to read to me. But today it was just too much. In the end I put the book away and started asking him questions about what he was excited for about Christmas.

I then headed home because I was so tired I was pretty sure I’d fall asleep on the train and end up in some far flung place not in Thüringen. However, in the evening I went to an event at the BC Café, which was professors from Ilmenau university reading Christmas fairytales. As some of you know, I have an interest in fairytales, and seriously, why do we never get to study the Brothers Grimm at university? *ahem* So tonight I heard Christmas themed Star Trek fanfiction, Rumpelstilksin with focus on him as the good guy, a tale about scandanavian folk lore and the afterlife attached to that folk lore, and a tale about how you should be nice to outsiders and be grateful for what you have. It was interesting, and I’m glad I went.

Friday was mainly characterised by not being needed in English lessons. Though in my second lesson I ended up trying to explain Christmas in England to a class I don’t normally see. They were one of the Klasse 1/2  classes, so it meant speaking in German all the time. I then got involved in a ten minute discussion about Santa, and I have never been so thankful for our time to be up. I don’t have younger brothers or sisters so I’ve never really had to defend the existence of Father Christmas.

The first thing that happened on Saturday was that I actually talked to one of my neighbours rather than just nodding and saying ‘hallo’. He was very lovely and pretty sure we’re now friends. Let’s hope so. I then went into Erfurt to have a wander, maybe have some alcoholic hot chocolate, definitely buy a purple shirt. I ended up bumping into one of the English teachers and meeting her kids. Also, she massively complimented my dress sense which was all kinds of awesome. And I advised her to buy the bright blue jeans because they were fantastic.

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Things I have learnt on my year abroad. 1) How to stop apologising so much. 2) The joy of taking selfies.

After the obligatory wander round the Christmas market, I then ran across town to make my train home. Which I did with a minute to spare. I ended up talking to the lads opposite me, as they were super confused as to why the conductor wanted to know where they were headed. The train from Erfurt to Ilmenau is normally made up of three carriages, one of which doesn’t go to Ilmenau, so the conductors check with you that you’re in the right carriage. But I explained this to the two guys and we chatted most of the way back. They’re not German but are studying at the Ilmenau University. One of them doesn’t speak any German, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to live out here and not speak any German. Then we wandered onto the fact that their native tongue is Urdu, and they said if I can learn Arabic, I can definitely learn Urdu. We’ll see… Once back in Ilmenau, I headed to the Ilmenau Christmas market. I’d already wandered round it during the day, but Christmas markets are so pretty in the dark, I wanted to go again. I’m now the proud owner of a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales in German and a vocab book about pirates. I’m going to know all the useful vocab for fourth year.

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Christmas tree in Ilmenau. Look how pretty.

Sunday was a very lazy day that has mostly consisted of tidying my room and wrapping presents. However, I did go on a wander up the hill at the back of my flat. There was a cloud bank coming over the hills and I swear it looked like a wicked witch’s curse rolling out over the town. With only my phone to use, the pictures don’t do it justice, but I’m genuinely worried that we’re going to be put to sleep for a 100 years or something. So if you don’t hear from me again, that’ll be why. And you can tell Prince Charming that if he stops and asks for directions then it won’t take him the full 100 years to get here. Though if it does take him that long then at least the debt from my student loan will have been written off.