Omicron, Christmas, Calendars & Tires
And just like that….December is here!
I feels like it’s been a long year, or perhaps a short one? Certainly waaay better than 2020 in so many ways, but also very much like it in others. As we approach the very last month of this annum we are reminded of the latter more than ever. A new super-mutated COVID variant at our doorstep, restrictions racking up like dominos all across Europe, and everyone wondering if this Christmas will be quasi-locked down just like the last one. If this were a movie, it’d be classified as Sci-Fi.
On the positive side it’s also the start of one of my favorite months of the year.
Christmas Markets are springing up all across France, trees are stacked up in the supermarkets and we’ve had the firemen come by to sell their yearly calendar. Crazy cold weather is swirling around outside, but our pellet heater is keeping the house nice and toasty, and soon (by that I mean within milli-days) I’ll have the house decorated and prepared for the trouble-making nisser that are certainly coming our way. It’s all good stuff.
Finally, I’ve managed another year of orbit around the sun, launching me solidly into post-middle-aged territory. So does that mean I’m half done, or have half to go?
Lots to be thankful for in these almost-wintry times, and certainly lots to ponder too. It’ll be interesting to see what December brings.
Omicron, What Does It All Mean?
I have to admit, I didn’t predict this one coming.
Winter surge…sure. Vaccination boosters….yah, I kinda assumed. But a super-mutated variant that spreads at estimated R of 2? Nope, can’t say I had that one in my COVID tarot bag.
In any case, this week the Omicron variant smashed into Europe like a hurricane, and OMG did it set things alight.
Of course it was already here (and IMO that means it’s already everywhere), and is no doubt part of the reason why infections are now rising in Europe even faster than models have predicted. What we don’t know is exactly how dangerous (or perhaps not?) it is, whether it’s more virulent and whether existing vaccines are effective. It could just cause a milder case of COVID (some evidence is already pointing this way)? Perhaps lots of infections, but not that much to worry about? Or it could be much worse, causing our hospitals to overload again.
Yeah, that’s a whole lotta “we don’t know” isn’t it?
What we do know is that governments are reacting rapidly to it, almost stumbling over each other to make sure they “stay ahead” of the game, whatever that is.
US, UK, EU states and Switzerland have halted travel to and from seven African nations, Israel has closed its borders, UK is implementing new testing rules, Switzerland is implementing a 10-day obligatory quarantine for visitors from 5 countries (including Netherlands & UK!), Slovakia announced a full 2-week lockdown and Spain has decided that only vaccinated non-EU travelers may enter their territory (personally I think it’s just a matter of time before the rest of Europe does the same).
And that’s just the start of the story….
And yet, I remain cautiously optimistic. I think the surge in infections will continue (it’s inevitable), but I’m still hopeful that everything we’re doing (vaccines, boosters, masks etc.) will allow hospitals to continue to cope, at least in our corner of the world. As long as we can do that, we can avoid lockdowns and Omicron will remain a blip in the road.
Ask me again in a week though….
Christmas Is In The Air
The month of holiday festivities is here, and you just have to step out the door to feel it.
Our local Thursday market is already “all-in” with silly reindeer sweaters, gauffres (waffles) and pre-orders for Christmas duck and capons. And our supermarket is so stocked-full of chocolate you can barely see beyond the stacks. Soon fois gras, shellfish (the French especially love oysters) and all kinds of different bûche de Noël will pile on top.
What’s even better is it’s the start of the yearly Christmas Markets
Over the next 4 weeks there will be masses of these from small to large all over France. The biggest one in our area (in the center of Toulouse) has already opened, and next week the first of the smaller ones will start. I already have a mini-itinerary planned, thanks to my go-to website for all these things: https://noel.org and will be milking the season for all it’s worth. Damn the mutations, full Christmas spirit ahead!
A Christmas Tree will be forthcoming soon too, very soon.
Our local supermarket already has a stack of them for sale, from Denmark no less (the Master Takeover Plan continues…), but we’ll probably pop up to the same guys we bought from last year just ~40 mins north from here. They also happen to be right next to IKEA, which is another obligatory yearly migration for us (it’s the best place to get pickled herring, don’t you know). That little excursion will take a whole day though, because once you enter that store time warps as you’re sucked into the IKEA multi-dimensional black hole maze. Fellow IKEA shoppers will know what I’m talking about…
Either way, by next week we will be IN THE GROOVE, fully holiday decked-out and ready to let the Santa Hats fly.
Yearly Post & Firefighter Calendars Are Here
This is also the month of yearly post & firefighter calendar sales, an important local tradition.
Dating back to the first “Almanach des Postes” in 1810, these calendars were originally a means for postal workers to make up for not getting a 13th month bonus (treizième mois salaire, a common thing in France). These days over 10 million are sold each year, and they remain an important way for posties and firefighters to collect a little extra year-end cash, and also for us locals to show appreciation for what these guys and gals do.
We always give generously.
We’ve seen what fire can do in our area (just in the past year!) and totally value our post lady who goes out of her way to deliver packages even when addresses and names get mixed up (which often happens out here in the boonies). Plus the calendars are kinda fun to have and usually contain all kinds of interesting pictures, facts & recipes.
If you live in France and your local postie doesn’t offer you a calendar, ask if she/he sells them. For the firefighters they’ll usually come around to the house, but if you miss them you can always pass by their station too.
Winter Tire Rules Are Officially In Effect (Kinda)
This is also the month new winter tire rules are required (actually from 1st Nov through 31st Mar).
It’s a brand new decree that went into effect this year, basically requiring all cars & motorhomes to either have winter tires or carry chains (or socks), and in principle it covers 48 departments, or almost half of France! This has caused all kinds of ruckus amongst those both traveling and living here, with city-dwelling folks wondering if they now need chains to drive around downtown, and motorhome travelers trying to figure out if they need winter tires to motor south to Spain.
As is typically French however, the rule is the rule except when it’s the exception, and in this particular case the local Préfectures are the ones that decide the nitty gritty of that. In reality only high-altitude roads within the affected departments are implementing this new decree, and the roads that do must be clearly signed for it (so you know exactly when you enter a snow-tire or chain zone, and when you exit one). Plus there’s an additional exception for tires marked with only M+S (mud and snow) that will be allowed on all roads through Mar 2024.
So much ado for not that much, at least for now.
We’ve bought chains for our car just in case, but don’t plan on anything for the motorhome or van (and probably won’t in the future unless we suddenly morph into snow-lovers). If you’re a fellow traveler, now you know the real deal too.
Now We Count Down The Days
We have a lot to be thankful for this year. Good health, travel, each other.
We celebrated all that with our own little version of Thanksgiving on Thursday, albeit without the turkey (which admittedly I’ve never been that keen on anyway...am I allowed to remain American?). Instead we got a nice piece of salmon from our local fish guy, whipped up a delicious roasted sweet potato dish (this perfect recipe of soft sweetness and crispy potato edges) and finished it all off with a tasty apple croustade de pommes from our local baker.
Now we count down the days to Christmas.
Our Danish Christmas candle is on the table, Paul’s got a beer advent calendar to keep him on track (an inspired gift from my sister) and if virus mutations don’t get in our way we’ll be on the road to somewhere exciting in exactly 20 days. Oh and our van finally came home again. Maybe I’ll even manage another van post before we go? I guess we’ll find out.
So tell me my dear blog readers, how do you count the days of December? When do you decorate (if you do)? And how do you mark the days leading up to the holiday festivities (if such is your thing)? I’d love to hear about your traditions. DO share and comment below!SPONSORED LINK:
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