Friday 2 November 2012

Alternate Plans

Earlier this week I had a post all ready to go announcing an impending trip to The Big Apple where I would get to catch up with a very dear old friend, get some face time in with colleagues and then dash down South to see my brother and sister-in-law who have two new dogs and a new house!

Needless to say a certain sub-tropical storm has put paid to those plans. Fortunately, everyone I know or had been planning to see in and around NYC is physically safe and sound though the challenges of cleaning up and getting back to normal are going to take some time to overcome (understandably). The last thing they need are extra people making that process more difficult, really. My thoughts go out to everyone still struggling and I wish that I had something more useful to do than send money to the American Red Cross.

So, yesterday there I was starting to remake plans for spending the next two weeks in London when I got a text from our friends in Germany (the same ones we went to Paris with back in March) asking us if we might randomly be free to go to Belgium this weekend for a chocolate festival. A quick call to Stephen and we decided "Why not?!". So, tomorrow morning we're off to Brussels to eat some chocolate, laugh with old friends and explore a new city. Not a bad consolation prize.

Watch this space for updates over the weekend!

Sunday 23 September 2012

One Day in Paris: Would we do it again?

After all of that lead up, the ultimate question comes down to: Is Paris "doable", in any meaningful sense of the word, as a day trip?

The answer is both yes and no.

Yes, in that it is physically possible and you can have a lovely day out (as we did!). 

But also. . .

No, in that, I definitely I would NOT recommend it for those who have never been before and are unsure when they are likely to go back. I'm not sure that I would make a habit of it either.

The downsides

  • The day started way too early and honestly I don't think gained us much except being more tired than we otherwise would have been. Those of you who know me, know that mornings are not my best time of day and a 5am wake-up call on a Saturday is a killer. Not much in Paris is actually open before 10am anyway, and as we found out getting there right as things open doesn't really gain you much of an advantage on the weekend (weekdays might be different). On a similar note. . .
  • The latest train back to London is around 8pm (9pm in summer). This means you need to be back at Gare du Nord no later than 7:15. No time at all for any evening activities, let alone dinner. Which brings me to food. . .
  • I mentioned this in my opening post - you get a limited experience of eating in Paris. Yes, I know that food isn't everyone's "thing", but it is one of our things and not getting a proper, leisurely French meal was something we really missed. When you go for the day, time is *very* limited, and even though we got in some nice eating, we felt rushed to get off to the other things we wanted to do. If this is your first or possibly only trip to Paris, amplify this feeling times 100 and really, that's just no good. And speaking of time limits. . .
  • Unless you're crazy, you'll have time for 2 real activities - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was hard enough for us to pick 2 activities and this was hardly our first trip to Paris (nor our last!) - I would have no way of advising someone who's first and maybe only trip to Paris was one day on what 2 - 2! - things to see. How can you do a city like Paris justice with only 15 hours?
The upsides

  • We didn't lose our whole weekend. Not that I begrudge our weekend jaunts, but I think everyone knows the feeling of coming back home from a great trip, starting to unpack and realising that you've not done the laundry for the week, dirty dishes are still in the sink, and when in the world are you going to go grocery shopping? So from that perspective, it was kind of nice to get back from a little day trip and still have time for all the various bits and pieces of life that need to be squeezed into our weekends.
  • Not needing a hotel room. Hotels in Paris, like many big cities, are *expensive*. It was nice not to have to incur that expense, but this is a really small thing if you budget properly.

Would we do it again?
Maybe. I certainly won't make this the primary way we "do" Paris, but it would be something to consider if there was a specific thing that we really wanted to see and our schedules were too hectic (or train tickets/hotel rooms too expensive) to be able to make a whole weekend of it. So for the odd exhibition, afternoon concert (see the problems with evenings, above), or festival, then I think we'd consider another day trip. But I think our first preference would be to try and make it overnight to give us a little bit of breathing space.

An interesting experiment to be sure and just gives us more options for how we approach things. With luck, someone else out there will find my musings useful. 

Opening post is here: One Day in Paris - an experiment
Post on what we actually did is here: One Day in Paris - what we did

Saturday 22 September 2012

One Day in Paris - what we did

*dusts off travel notes*

So in the end what did we actually do with our one day in Paris?

After getting off the train, we headed straight to La Cinémathèque française for their Tim Burton exhibit. It was a beautiful sunny day and we arrived pretty much as the museum opened. 

Ta da! I was really impressed with the architecture of the building over all, some very cool lines. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to correspond at all to the inside layout. Still neat to look at though.

More architectural coolness

Despite this, we still had to stand in what was a remarkably long line for 10:30am on a Saturday. Turns out that we could have bought tickets in advance which would have let us skip said line, but live and learn I suppose.

Me playing around while waiting in line.

In the end, we didn't get into the exhibit until nearly 11, and I was really surprised by how packed it was - not only with people, but with stuff. The local curators had done their best to try and lay everything out in a coherent manner, but the extremely small nature of the museum itself (surprising considering the expansiveness of the outside architecture) meant that all it did was exacerbate the problem of people just milling around rather than moving through the exhibit at a reasonable pace.

Still, we enjoyed it and got a bit of a better insight into what is really a phenomenally twisted mind. Interesting stuff, but highly highly weird. It seemed to go down very well with the locals though.

The rest of the museum was part history, part technological explanations, part costume display and again, surprisingly small. But it was enjoyable to wander around. Not sure if I would come back again just for the museum itself, but if they were showing a unique film that I was super keen to see or something else brought us to this corner of Paris and we had an hour or so to kill, I might.

From there we were pretty hungry and tired of standing and decided to take lunch nearby to our next planned event. So back to the Right Bank we went and over to a charming little neighbourhood bistro called La Table de Claire. We had the lunch formule (simple fare, but extremely thoughtfully cooked, clearly the best of the day's market) with a glass of wine each and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 

And also lost a little track of time, because we had to leg it over to the metro station to meet up with the Paris Walks guide for the tour of Père Lachaise Cemetery. As always with Paris Walks, the guide was extremely knowlegeable and not only took us by the usual popular gravesites, but also showed us some of the more obscure-to-English speakers sites. It was funny because we kept running across a French tour with a very animated guide who was clearly perturbed that we English speakers were deviating from the "usual" path. Our guide also did a great job of explaining the history of not only the people, of the cemetary itself and how it fits into Parisian life. I've included a few samples of some of the things we saw, but the full set of pictures as usual is over on my flickr page.

The gates leading into Père Lachaise

The entrance to the ossuary - where the bones of those whose graves have either had their leases expire and no family members come forward to claim the remains or those whose graves have fallen into disrepair.

One of the oldest (though rebuilt several times) grave sites - that for Abelard & Héloïse. United in death as they never could be in life.

Loved this grave for the "fantasmagorie" or phantasmagoria in English. Fab!

There were also some beautifully emotive sculptures - loved the way that this one caught the light through the trees.

A neoclassical monument to someone forgettable, but I really enjoyed the combination of "eloquence" alongside "justice". Very French.

Obligatory picture of Jim Morrison's grave - apparently the fact that he was allowed to be buried here makes the French rather grumpy. Lachaise is meant to be for residents of Paris only, and Morrison died while only visiting, you see. Judging from the tributes still left here (and the emotion of many young French school kids there), that seems to be a minority view.

Another stunning sculpture.

A monument redone for one of France's earliest suffragettes, Hubertine Auclert.

The crematorium - down below is where the ashes for Maria Callas were originally lain.

Kissing Oscar Wilde's grave

Another striking feature of the cemetery was the section dedicated to those who died in disasters or other acts of violence. There are several to the many WWII death camps - it's clear that the French national conscious still seems very troubled from their own complicity. As per usual, they've turned that discomfort into some beautiful and very moving tributes.

And finally heading out of the cemetary is the monument to all the dead. Our guide explained that it's intended to express the many conflicted emotions that people often experience as they contemplate and face their own mortality. I thought it was beautiful and extremely moving. We sat here for a while to think and reflect.

The tour was supposed to be 2 hours, but lasted nearly 3. Not complaining! But it did mean yet again that we were a little footsore and yet still had a few hours to kill before our train. We were also a little peckish (yet again) and so thought a bit of a nibble and some good french wine would do us good. Back into the centre of town we went, originally to Willi's, which unfortunately closed for refurbishment (a common practice during July in Paris), so we headed over to La Garde Robe as our second option - and was well worth being the first option. It was towards their closing time, so staffing was rather light (read: slow service), but we had time to kill so this wasn't an issue for us. We ordered a really delightful bottle of a light almost slightly fizzy red, served just a tiny bit chilled. It was *perfect* for a summer's day, and naturally I now can't find my notes as to what it was! Should have taken a picture of the label. We also had a lovely cheese & charcuterie plate along with a fantastic tomato salad. 

So we whiled away the last 2 hours or so over a bottle of wine and some very tasty food - just how a trip to Paris should end. Then it was back on the train home where we were sat across from another young (although younger than us) couple, who had just taken their first trip to Paris and gotten engaged. After a bit of oohing and aahing and congratulations-ing, we got to talking about Paris. What they liked, what they didn't and sharing our passion for the place. It was funny because the first thing they said was - the food was terrible. Then we asked them what they ate; they responded - pizza. Cue a look between Stephen and I, then I got out Clotilde's book and we talked about travel and food and our tips for finding good food in Paris and other cities. It was a lively and fun conversation, and I hope that we entertained them as well. It also brought back lots of memories about our early travel days and really brought into focus how much we've learned about each other and the world around us. A wonderfully thoughtful end to a pretty good day.

Next up: Would we do it again? Thoughts & reflections on Paris as a day trip.

Sunday 2 September 2012

8 Years

So, we've been super busy in the last few months and I'm conscious I owe you guys an update on how our one day in Paris went (short version: mixed), some thoughts on a rather exciting sporting event, and our a quick trip over to an opera festival. . .

But before I do that, today is a very special day in our travel lives. Eight years ago today Stephen and I landed in London. Eight years. It's been one amazing ride that's enabled us to get out and see parts of the world that would have been much more difficult if we'd been based in the US.

Eight years ago we became expats and realised that you should never, ever judge a country by it's expats -  living for an extended period of time outside your "native" country does change you. It changes the way you look at the world and it changes the way you look at yourself. Whether those changes are for the better or for the worst depends greatly on your point of view and no doubt it's a little bit of both.

When we first moved to London, we'd been married a grand total of 9 months (almost to the day!). It was my first indefinite stay abroad and Stephen's first as an adult. We landed with a visa for two years, exactly 4 bags between us, accommodation settled for two weeks, and just enough cash on hand to see us through 3 months.

Now, we've been married for almost nine years, are settled comfortably into flat number 3, we've both gotten an additional degree each, are gainfully employed and are up for Indefinite Leave to Remain in a few months time. Getting around a city of nearly nine million people is a normal part of our daily life, something we don't think twice about; in fact, there are more Americans living in London than the town I grew up in. Heck, there are more people living in London than the entire state of Oklahoma. . .

It's a pretty incredible shift once you start thinking about it. London is home in a way that it's hard to imagine any where else could be. It's the city where we've both come into our own as individuals and it's where we've set the pattern for our marriage. While there are plenty of aspects of London that we're not too keen on, it's still one of the world's most interesting and dynamic cities.

So, thank you London for an incredible past eight years - of theatre, music, education, travel, a start on our careers. Thank you for broadening our horizons and giving us quite literally the world on our doorstep.

Here's to London and the privilege of being able to call it home.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Next trip: One Day in Paris

I'm still working through the pictures from our last trip to Dorset & Normandy (a hectic work schedule is not helping!), but our next trip is upon us - a day trip to Paris!

It's a funny thing, because although I've always told visitors to London that  Paris can be a relatively easy day trip on the Eurostar, I've never actually done it that way. Every time Stephen and I go, we usually head off for the whole weekend, which is easy enough when you live an easy bus ride from the Eurostar terminal. So as a bit of an experiment this Saturday will be our first Paris day trip! We arrive at Gare du Nord around 9:45am and depart at around 8:15pm, not quite 12 hours in France's incredible capital city.

The process of planning out the day has been really interesting, not least because we've been before (and will go again no doubt!) and so we don't feel the need to try to do anything crazy like seeing all of the Louvre in 3 hours. Also, doing it this way means that we won't really have time for any evening entertainments (ballet, opera or concerts like the jazz festival - can I just say that I'm kind of gutted to be missing this again) let alone the famous French dinners. If you haven't ever been to dinner in France, it's hard to appreciate how much of an event a meal can be. We usually take the second seating at a restaurant (usually 8pm or 8:30) and stay until nearly midnight, which is totally normal. I'm not sure that even a 6pm seating would get us out in time to catch our train unless we rushed it, which is exactly the opposite of how to properly enjoy a French dining experience. Not that I'm worried we'll starve (going to Paris for us always revolves around food), but for first-timers going as a day trip, this is a serious downside. No doubt I'll ruminate more on the pros/cons of the day trip experience once we're back.

Going to Paris in July is also something of a gamble since it's on the cusp of the holiday season in France and many places start to close for the better part of two months. That also means that as the locals decamp to sunnier climes, the city really becomes very tourist heavy. I'm a little concerned that with the Olympics in London (and the easy train connections to Paris) that this will be even more hectic than usual, but we'll see. This is an experiment after all!

Anyhow, our focus for the day is going to be on some of the more out-of-the-way places we haven't been to yet, with the added advantage of not being in the prime tourist areas. In particular, Stephen is quite interested in seeing the Tim Burton exhibit at La Cinémathèque Française and if the weather turns out to be nice, I quite fancy Paris Walk's scheduled tour of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and/or maybe a boat tour along the Seine, which we've never done. If the weather isn't nice, then I have a sneaking suspicion a return trip to the Arts et Métiers Museum may be in order, plus maybe a wander around the National Library of France (I'll let you guess which choice is whose).

I'm also using this trip to try out a new travel planning tool, Tripomatic and below is the itinerary I've put together using their site (note: a lot had to be added manually as their preloaded entries not unsurprisingly focus on the standard tourist destinations - more on this later).

powered by

No doubt plans will change as we get there and see what the weather is doing and also what we feel like, so stay tuned for what actually comes about!

Monday 2 July 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 10 (& 11)

For our last day in Normandy, the day dawned grey and threatening rain so we decided that something with more indoor options would be a good bet. So we headed to the ancient town of Bayeux, most well known for it's tapestry that tells the story of the Norman conquest of England. . .from the Norman point of view. Naturally, we headed there first and it was really very interesting. Fortunately for us it is still very early in the tourist season and so we got to take the audio guide tour at our own pace (during the month of August they disable the pause button on the audio machine to keep people moving). The richness of the colours and sophistication of some of the story telling techniques were incredible. The little museum behind the tapestry and the cinema were really very good (and bilingual, with good translations into English).

We spent a good several hours in the museum, after which the rain had stopped again just long enough for us to head over to the Cathedral, which of course would have been the original display case for the tapestry itself, way back in the 13th century. When we arrived, we caught the tail end of a wedding and got to cheer the new bride and groom. I always like seeing churches that still have a living, working life in the community. In and of itself, it was a fantastic place - you could still see the various stages of building and architectural features from some of the original Norman columns right through the Gothic revival and into the 19th century. All the stained glass was from the Victorian times. The whole town was really lucky during the 2nd World War, in being only very lightly damaged - the focus of the two sides being on the nearby larger city of Caen rather than Bayeux.

After our visit to the Cathedral, we took a quick pit stop for crepes and tea/coffee to wait out the rain (very tasty!). Once it hit another pause we had just over an hour left before we had to head off to meet Patrick and Peggy for dinner, so we took a little DIY tour of Old Bayeux following a little trail of medallions on the sidewalk that took us through various historical features of the town. Really the whole town is a massive mix of architectural styles, with a long craft history including needlepoint and porcelain. In fact most of the house numbers and street signs were in locally made porcelain from the 17th century. Really beautiful. Still, even this early in the tourist season, the town was already starting to feel quite full and busy. I think we heard more English spoken in Bayeux than any other place since crossing the channel.

Then it was time to head over to the tiny port town of Honfleur for dinner with Peggy & Patrick. Fortunately, we got to Honfleur with just enough extra time to walk around the basin and visit the local parish church of St. Catherine's right before it closed (and obviously also was the site of a wedding earlier that day as they were still sweeping up flower petals). It was the most unusual church we've seen on this trip, having 2 naves and being built entirely of wood. I'm honestly not sure how it has survived this long (being wooden and next to the sea!), but I'm glad it was.

As we came out of the church, we saw our dinner restaurant (Côte Resto) right across the plaza and Peggy & Patrick coming around the corner. Talk about perfect timing! We were seated on the covered terrace, which proved to be a good thing as it started raining not long after we placed our orders! So we got to stay nice and dry while still enjoying the pleasant evening air. The food was amazing and service extremely attentive. Gib & Patrick chose an enormous (extremely fresh) seafood platter to share between the two of them; Stephen had a starter of salmon & scallop tartare, a main of turbot fillet and a dessert of mint ice cream; I had a half lobster (!!) starter, scallops for my main and double chocolate mousse for dessert; Cherrie had oysters to start, the same scallops for a main and the mint ice cream dessert; Peggy had a foie gras salad for a started and a really lovely chicken roulade as a main and the house ice cream sundae for dessert. All of this was topped off with a great bottle of Puilly-Fumé and teas/coffees. This was probably some of the most amazing seafood I've ever had (not surprising, being right on the coast!) and of course of the company could not be beat. We would definitely return.

From there it was just a little walk around the town and then back to Lillebonne to crash at the end of our last full day in Normandy. But what a day! We got to see so much, enjoy the hospitality of some truly outstanding people. Yet another place that would be great to return to, and easy enough to reach from London for a long(ish) weekend. With any luck, we'll be back soon! Perhaps in time to see the apple harvest for the beginning of the Calvados making process. . .

The next day would find us just packing up and chatting with Patrick and Peggy before heading off to the ferry terminal in Le Havre. Fingers crossed for a smooth crossing and easy transfer back to London!

UPDATE: The ferry crossing was indeed pretty smooth; not quite as tranquil as the one over, but still pretty good for the channel. We even managed to score a last minute inside cabin for £12, which gave us a place to stash our things, eat our picnic out of the way of the horribly smelling food in the onboard canteen, have a nap and a bit of privacy. On arrival in Portsmouth, a convenient shuttle bus was waiting to take us to the train station and we were on our train with time to spare - a good thing considering it was the last train to London! We finally arrived home at just before 1am after dropping Gib & Cherrie off at their hotel. Work on Monday is going to be a bit rough, but the memories of a great trip (and a tan!) should see us through. Look for pictures posted over the weekend!

Sunday 1 July 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 9

It was really hard to next morning to pull ourselves away from the gîte and Carole's wonderful hospitality, but needs must and we had promised to meet up again with Patrick and Peggy for lunch (pâté & cheese!) in Lillebonne before heading off on our next adventure. 

This was the part of the trip that I think Cherrie had been looking forward to most - a visit to the little seaside town of Étretat. Gib, Stephen and I scrambled over the beach, through a little cave revealed at low tide and over to another beach to get a better view of some of the arches. Stephen and I then had a bit of a fail, scrambling up and over what we thought was a cliff side path, but what was actually supposed to be forbidden to people. Fortunately, someone had left a repelling rope attached to one of the more stable posts still remaining. Not something I would really advise others do - and for other English speakers, in France, the red circle with symbols inside means that passage to those vehicles (or people!) is forbidden! Ah well, we made it safe and sound back up to the top, which Gib went back throug the way we came (and already after only an hour wandering around the tide was already a foot deeper outside the cave than when we went though!) and then we all enjoyed just sitting on the beach for a while watching the paddleboarders and surfers playing in the crestng waves. Then a bit of goûter in one of the beach side cafes, set us up for the drive back to Lillebonne.

We spent the rest of the evening eating, chatting and drinking with Peggy and Patrick, which was fantastic as always. Even better since no one was driving, everyone could have a little tipple. A great end to another fantastic day! As I settled in for bed I also realised that we had but one and a half more days remaining! We'd been having so much fun that I had completely lost track of time. A sign of a great vacation, but with so much to see we would have to choose our next days' activities carefully. . .

Dorset & Normandy - Day 8

We woke up the next day to a wonderful breakfast with Carole - two kinds of bread, homemade yogurts and jams, plenty of tea and coffee. We had a good chat and then I went back to the gîte for a rest before Patrick and Peggy arrived to take us for a car tour around the Calvados département

Our first stop was Château de Crèvecœur, a medieval farm and tower part of which has been transformed into an oil museum (no, it didn't make much sense to me either). It was actually a pretty large site, which a huge dove cote (enough room for 3,000 birds), a barn, chapel, 2 houses for workers and the main tower within fortified walls. Set around a little river (probably a moat previously), we spent a very pleasant few hours walking around and exploring the site. We only got rained on a little, which, unfortunately, wasn't really enough to clear the air so it stayed quite humid. Fortunately, the sun also came out, which made for another nice (if a bit sticky day.

After a picnic lunch outside the château,  we headed through the countryside to the picturesque little town of Beuvron-en-Auge (more information available on the French wikipedia site). Stephen and I took a walk through town to the local church and cemetery. What was remarkable was that many seemed to enjoy good long lives, living well into their 80s seemed to be the norm and nearing 100 not unusual, even for those born in the 19th century! The church itself was rather cute, but there wasn't an organ which seemed odd. Then we rejoined the group for a mid-afternoon drink. Many had coffee, but I had a glass of menthe et d'eau (water with mint syrop), which was wonderfully refreshing on a hot day. We got up to head to our next stop just as busloads of other tourists arrived. Well timed!

Then it was time for the day's highlight (as if the others hadn't been wonderful!), a visit to a Calvados distillery - Brunel. Calvados is a type of apple brandy made predominantly in and around this region of France. We even had our own private guided tour, but sadly her accent was so strong and pronunciation so muddled that I didn't really understand much of what she said. Still, it was a pretty comprehensive tour, including not only all the steps of the spirit making process, but also visits to the distillation room (all of which was done in an alembic pot still) and the aging warehouses (amazing smell!). The video at the end was pretty terrible (more propaganda than actual information), but that was quickly forgotten when we moved on to the tasting! We tasted 2 kinds of Calvados made there (a 10 year and a 12 year), but the real stars were the Calvados derived spirits - Pommeau, a "Calvados exotique" and Creme de Calvados - and also a cider jelly that I had to have a bottle of. 

Patrick was fantastic trouper, forgoing the tasting in order to get us all back safe and sound to the gîte. We took another little rest and some blogging before another fantastic dinner where we were joined by Carole's daughter, Juliette. We laughed and talked in 2 languages well into the dark of the night, during which a thunderstorm helped clear the air and lower the humidity somewhat. By the time we all went off to bed, it was calm cool with nothing but the croaking of the frogs to disturb us.

Friday 29 June 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 7

You know, there must be something particularly special about drinking French wine in France, because the next day dawned without a trace of a headache. After the previous evening's festivities, I was a little bit surprised! Another surprise was that I was actually hungry for breakfast after such a big meal.

So another meal and then we went for a walk around Lillebonne. Wednesday is market day for the city and so everyone was out and about, the city square filled with stalls for just about everything imaginable from fruit and veg to meats and cheese to clothes and cosmetics.  The biggest surprise for the Siards was running into one of Stephen's former teachers from when he was here for grade school - Madame Laplace. Having retired from teaching, she was now running a farm and had lots of her own goats cheeses for sale. She was so surprised to see Stephen grown up, but not at all surprised to learn that he makes his living with computers and mathematics. Some things never change I suppose! We also ambled by a really fantastic wine shop to pick up some host gifts, though I expect to go back and pick up a few rarities later in the week. Right next door to the wine shop was the (fairly well kept remains of) a Roman coliseum. Unfortunately the visitors entrance was closed, so we could only really peek our noses over the fence. Patrick was an excellent guide though, pointing out the various interesting parts and telling us much of the history they've uncovered from it to date. After nosing about the coliseum (or the best we could) we walked up the hill, through a lovely little garden, around the remains of a castle built by William the Conqueror (though only one round tower remains) and over to the Siard's old house on the Rue de  Château (so called because it is around the corner from the old castle).

After a lovely little lunch prepared again by Peggy (sandwiches, though not quite as most Americans would know it - freshly baked baguettes filled with locally sourced ham, gruyere cheese & an herbal dressing), we popped into the car and took the scenic route to the "gîte" run by old family friends of the Siards, where we would spend the next few days. Our route took us through the old city of Lisieux (but no stop alas!) and then on to the Château de Saint Germain de Livet. Fortunately, we arrived in time for a tour (en français!) that gave us a sense of the history and architecture of the place - even better was that I understood most of it!

Another little drive and we were at the gîte! Set deep in the countryside, I'd been told it was an old farm, but the Siards' friends Thierry and Carole have put a ton of man hours in renovating and the place is stunning. Very modern, but extremely comfortable. The main house has a room that they let on a bed & breakfast basis, but the real draw is the gîte - a two room split level 2 bedroom house that can be rented weekly. We are lucky that it's not let at the moment because it means we get to stay there! The whole place is surrounded by lovely gardens, several with wildflowers, a pond and a huge veg and fruit patch. In the pond though, there are quite literally hundreds of frogs. I remember early in my courtship with Stephen, we had a conversation about what animals "say" in different languages and I found it hilarious that the french sound for frogs was "croa croa" rather than "ribbit, ribbit". Now having heard a veritable chorus of french frogs I can attest they indeed croak! Yes, ladies and gents, even the frogs speak in a French accent.

We spent a lovely evening not only listening to the frogs, but enjoying Carole's fantastic cooking and the general conviviality of our group. We did more of the conversation in French since Carole's mother doesn't speak English, and it went much easier this time. But then again, everyone has been so indulgent with my mistakes and putting me right when I get confused. I feel so blessed to be here, and Gib & Cherrie's friends have really taken us all under their wing and have been amazing hosts. I hope to someday be able to return the favour for them!

But alas, these sorts of evenings never end early (nor without having emptied a few bottles of wine), so it was another late night, but a happy one.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 6

We all managed to survive the night couped up in our little cabin together and even all get ready for the day ahead. Disembarking the ferry was a bit bizarre (a bus to take us 50 yards, really?) but we got through immigration, collected our bags and right outside the door was Peggy, Gib and Cherrie's longtime friend and, along with her husband Patrick, our host for this part of the trip.

After settling in, a spot of breakfast and a nap we all bundled into the car for a trip to the city of Rouen. The Normandy countryside is beautiful, green and lush like its Englush counterpart, but also more compact feeling.

We only got a little bit of time in Rouen, but it was enough to see the Joan of Arc church, le grand horloge, the Notre Dame Cathedral (yes, another one!) and walk a bit through the old city. I also managed to convince the group to let me take a mini maccaron pit stop for "goûter".

Then it was back to Peggy & Patrick's to get ready for a dinner party. They'd invited another 2 couples - Jean-Michel and Jennifer and Grace and Howard - as well as their son Timothy, a few years younger than us. Peggy went out of her way and prepared a veritable feast! A lovely tomato & feta salad, paella, an incredible selection of local cheeses (St. Agur, Pont l'Eveque, Chevre, &  Neufchâtel) served with salad and strawberries with meringue. Patrick curated the wine and again went above and beyond with champagne for an apperitif, a stunning Haute-Medoc with mains and another red I didn't quite catch with the cheeses. All in all it was an incredible meal both from a gastronomic as well as companionable point of view. We kept up a good flow of talk (in 2 languages! though some of us were more successful than others - suffice it to say I could use an immersion course for French) and really enjoyed ourselves. 

Needless to say that kept us busy late into the night and there wasn't much left after that, but to help clean up and go to bed. But we went to bed very happy campers.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 5

After enjoying our last wonderful breakfast at the B&B and checking out, we decided to try one last coastal walk before the drive back to Portsmouth. We chose a relatively short one along the cliffs near St. Aldhelm's/Alban's head. The walk started from the little town of Worth Matravers, passed through several fields and then through a gap in the ridge down to the sea at Seacombe, where we stopped to scramble over the rocks and enjoy the sea for a bit. From there, Gib & Cherrie went around to Winsprit and then back to Worth, but Stephen and I walked over to St. Aldhelm's before turning back in land. It was a stunning day for a walk, bright sunshine and a cool breeze (only about 10mph!) and being along the cliff edges was wonderful. The path took us through several abandoned stone quarries and many many nesting bird sites. The highlight thought was stopping into the National Coastwatch station right on the point of the cliffs at St. Aldhelm's and getting a little tour and explanation from the station master. I had no idea that this was a volunteer force, and was very impressed by the quality of their equipment and clear passion for keeping people safe while enjoying the sea.

We made a quick pit stop at the Square and Compass pub (great beers, good views, friendly people, horrible food) and then back to the B&B to collect our luggage and drive back to Portsmouth. I slept pretty much the whole way, waking up just long enough to find us a restaurant for dinner (Turkish at a great little place called Bodrum's). After that the only thing remaining was to do the "hurry up and wait" routine that comes with transport. We arrived at the ferry terminal in good time, easily found our cabin once they let us board, and then (after getting some sad news from home) Stephen and I watched the lights fade as we sailed out of Portsmouth into the channel. We were off to France! One more sleep and then the second part of our trip was to begin.

Monday 25 June 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 4

Given the activities of the last few days, we decided to take Sunday a little easier. So after a local Meeting for Worship, we headed over the Swanage Railway to take the steam train up to Corfe Castle. As much as intact castles are fun to wander around, I think that ruined castles are even more fun if for no other reason than you get to explore and scramble over the old stones, letting your imagination run wild (or at least my imagination does so). Set up on the top of a hill, it commands really spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. We spent a very enjoyable few hours wandering around and enjoying the sunshine and slightly less intense wind. There was even a little food festival at the bottom of the hill where the moat would have been featuring some local producers. After, we had a little cream tea in the National Trust cafe (I think National Trust cafe's frequently have the best teas) and then back to Swanage on the steam train.

During our pub lunch (yes another one!), we had spotted a poster for a little benefit concert for the Kimmeridge Project featuring a band called the "iFoxes" promising a little bit of jazz, a little bit of celtic tunes, and some surprises along the way. Having nothing else scheduled, we decided that sounded like a perfectly enjoyable evening (and if not at least the money would go to a good cause). We easily made our way over to Kimmeridge, detouring to take in views of the beautiful bay, before heading up to Smedmore House where marquees were set up for the concert. They had a little stand of homemade snacks and cakes for purchase as well as a couple of kegs of the local beer for purchase. The concert itself turned out the be an incredible amount of fun. They started off with a few jazz standards before segwaying into Celtic music - Irish, Scottish and Shetland. I'd never heard folk music from Shetland before and was really intrigued by the unusual lilt and slightly dissonant chord structure. Definitely one to explore more of when we get back home. The second set started off with some Spanish guitar music arranged for trio (violin, double bass & guitar with the odd pipes) an then back into a Celtic groove (adding the piper back in), including a wonderfully fun encore mixing both jazz and traditional Celtic rhythms. As the band is newly formed, they didn't have any of their group cds for sale, but we will definitely keep a look out for them in future!

Then another lovely drive back along the Purbeck ridge to Swanage, with a short stop to admire the lights in distant Poole coming on in the twilight.

And again we all go to bed thoroughly satisfied with our day! It's hard to believe that 24 hours from writing this we'll be on the ferry to Normandy for part 2 of our trip. We've had such an incredible time so far I have a hard time believing that the rest will live up to what we've done so far, but what would life be without something of a challenge, no?

Dorset & Normandy - Day 3

After sleeping off the previous night's dinner, we awoke to another bright sunlit day, again with 40 mile per hour winds. Another full English breakfast set us up for a full active agenda for the day. We had already scheduled a bike ride (more on that later) for the afternoon over on Portland, but first we headed over to Lulworth Cove. The idea was to either try and rent some kayaks or walk the footpath over to Durdle Door. The wind being so strong, the kayak companies had cancelled their rentals & tours because of the high seas, so walking it was. It was a bit steep in places, but definitely worth it. Since we weren't going further, Gib, Stephen and I all walked down to the respective beaches to watch the waves crash against Durdle Door and the Man-of-War. By this point on the Jurassic Coast the sandy beaches give way to shingle and pebbles, which makes the most amazing sound as the waves recede. We got a bit mesmerised in fact, and ended up back at the car a bit later than originally planned, so we headed straight over to Portland, grabbed a quick bite at the Portland Heights cafe (quite good value considering the quality and location). 

Then it was time for our bike ride! I had come across Marshwood Trails prior to our trip and was intrigued by the idea of "electric assisted" bicycles. I knew that this corner of the English coast wasn't exactly flat, so it seemed like the right spot to give them a try. When poking around on the website, I'll admit that my first reaction was "that's cheating!" but it turns out that "cheating" was not quite so bad after all. Martin was our guide, and he had everything we needed - helmets, gloves, panniers and of course the bikes were all provided. After a bit of riding about to get used to the bikes, we headed off on our tour. We cycled down the East side of the Island first, stopping to see the fomer barracks/current prison, the Verne high angle battery, the pirate cemetary and then down to one of our favourite places - the Portland Bill. We were particularly lucky that day and got to see a seal! At first I thought it was a dog swimming in the water, and then it dived. So fantastic to watch! We were also fortunate that while it had started to rain a little bit, it wasn't foggy and so we got to keep our ear drums in tact. From there, the winds meant that we couldn't cycle down the Western coast path, so we headed down the middle of the island, stopping at St. George's Church (built, apparently, by a follower of Christopher Wren of St. Paul's fame) and then passed through the really incredible Quarry and Sculpture Garden, both of which I would love to come back to and explore in more detail. By then we were way over our time, and with many thanks we parted with Martin, grabbing tea again at the cafe before heading back to Swanage.

At this point we discovered that a Saturday night in Swanage is not particularly hopping. We had originally thought we'd grab dinner at the pub across from the B&B, but turns out they stopped serving at 9. . .as did every other restaurant in town. In fact, the only place open was a Chinese takeaway, which turned out to be tastier than we expected, but then again hunger is the best sauce. :) By that time, it was time to start winding down (and washing our fivefingers - traipsing through seaweed does not nice smelling shoes make) and so ended another fantastic, active day in Dorset! 

Sunday 24 June 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 2

On our second day, we woke up to brilliant sunny skies and very blustery wind (40mph). With a lot of hope for a good day outdoors, we headed downstairs for a traditional English breakfast, and then after a bit of time with the OS map, decided to head over to Studland for a walk to "Old Harry's Rocks". Round trip it was about 6 miles, but the scenery from the top was gorgeous.At this point on the Jurassic Coast the cliffs are still mostly chalk, and so it reminded me a lot of some of the rock formations we saw a few years ago on the Isle of Wight. The rest of the walk took us around the point along the tops of the cliffs and then back through some really lovely country lanes back to the parking lot and a very handy pub, The Bankes Arms. home to the Isle of Purbeck brewery for lunch and a sample of their beers. Overall not to shabby though it seemed that they were at the end of the cask for some of them. 

Then, a brief detour to Manor Farm for some homemade ice cream (including playing with a lovely old sheepdog) before heading back to the car and in turn for a short country drive back to the B&B for a nap. From there we took a meandering drive over to Beaminster for dinner. We arrived a bit earlier than strictly needed and so wandered the town for a bit, stopping into the local church, St. Mary of the Annunciation. Come to find out we were one day early for the big local music festival, and the organ was in the middle of being tuned.Their instrument was actually brand new,  built only about 4 years ago by a Slovakian organ maker - the first of the kind in England. We waited around for a bit to listen to the acoustics (beautiful and full) before resuming our wandering of the town.

Unfortunately the rest of town was pretty much closed for the evening, and tea/pre-dinner drinks can only last so long. Fortunately, the lovely staff at The Wild Garlic managed to fit is in ahead of our scheduled reservation. I've been keen to try Matt Follas's cooking ever since my friend Kavey posted about her foraging trip with him a few years ago.This was something of a late Father's Day dinner for Gib (who is something of a gourmet himeself), so we all decided to have the tasting menu and really give Matt's cooking a full evaluation. The current menu featured: 

  • pesto popcorn
  • ham terrine with black pudding crumbles, sundried tomato bread, candied apple and apple sauce over greens
  • chili prawns (complete with finger bowls)
  • amuse of sweet potato and onion (tasted more ham?)
  • for mains, Cherrie chose the pork, the rest of us had venison (incredibly tender and served very rare) over potato and turnip mash, young carrots and blanched nettles
  • finally, a dessert trio of brownie, vanilla custard and lemon crème brûlée
Being more red than white drinkers, we chose a 2009 Beaujolais, which went with almost anything (the chili prawns being the biggest stretch). All in all, it was a fantastically enjoyable meal. The ham terrine, scallops with scapes (I adore the scallops that originate in this region of England) and the respective mains. As it was, I was quite glad we moved our reservation forward as it was nearing 10pm by the time we left, although being midsummer the light was still lingering. On the way home we caught just the tiniest hint of a fingernail moon amidst the fading sunset. 

A wonderful first day!

You can read Cherrie's post about our day here

Saturday 23 June 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 1

Our first day of vacation started at a fairly reasonable 8:30 taxi pick up to take us to the train station. Our taxi driver was rather more colourful than normal (a bit testy, probably from being up all night, but made rather ineffectual efforts to amuse), but we made it to Waterloo with plenty of time to spare. This let us pick up a few bits and pieces forgotten in the midst of last minute packing. The train ride to Portsmouth was uneventful and although with each additional stop we picked up more and more people clearly intent on camping. Considering it was raining off and on we really should have guessed it was for the Isle of Wight Festival. But the signs in Portsmouth tipped us off in the end. Considering the forecast for the weekend, I was pleased our plans included sleeping indoors.

We found the car rental place with ease and our upgrade turned into something of a mixed blessing as the trunk was rather less spacious than the hatch-back originally planned for, but we managed to fit in all four suitcases plus the four of us with a little creative space management. We didn't linger long in Portsmouth, instead heading straight out into the countryside. We chose a route to Swanage that took use straight through the New Forest, someplace that Stephen and I have been wanting to visit for a while, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. A bit of googling popped up The Oak pub just outside of Lyndhurst, which seemed an ideal stop for lunch and a leg stretch. The setting was stunning and the service friendly. It was a Fuller's pub, so didn't have anything local on tap, but what they did have was well kept and reliably tasty. Lunch offerings had some surprisingly creative touches - wild mushrooms sauteed in garlic with rosemary ice-cream, baked camembert with blueberries, scallops and shrimp with bacon served over mixed lettuce with a citrus vinegrette, pork belly with mushrooms and creamed leeks, wild rabbit over gnocchi. They even served proper loose leaf tea, brewed in individual pots. We lingered over lunch, starting to catch up on all that's been happening in our lives since Christmas, and then decided to take advantage of the lull in the rain to head off on a little walk before getting back into the car. The walk wasn't remarkable in and of itself, but the air had a delightful heady freshness and the forest was a vibrant green. We caught glimpses of the famous New Forest deer, but none of the ponies, sadly.

Then back in the car with us for the rest of the journey to Swanage. It was fascinating to watch the landscape change from New Forest lushness to the scrubby grasslands and rolling fields nearest the sea. The closer we got the more excited we all became, ready to explore the Coast.

After arriving and settling into our lovely B&B (The Castleton - highly recommended), the rain had just stopped again and so we headed into town to see what there was to be had for dinner. Unfortunately for us the weather didn't hold out quite as well as in the New Forest and we quickly found ourselves rather damp, and my spirits at least followed. We grabbed a snack and beer in the back room (away from the televisions) one of the little local pubs to wait out the worst of the rain. After another lull we headed back out, walking up to the nearest look out point over the village, and then back into town to see what there was food wise. I love the way the light lingers this time of year, but it does mean that it can get quite late without you realising it. Fortunately for us, a little Italian place was still open and accepting new orders, so we had a really pleasant light, late meal and some more good conversation. At just gone 10pm we finally headed back to our B&B by way of the sea front, listening to the waves and starting to let the more relaxed pace seep in. Sleeping well proved not to be a problem. :)

All in all, a pretty good first day. I was particularly pleased that we managed to break-up the drive so well, and that our B&B proved just as homey and comfortable as I hoped. I think it is going to be a great base for the next couple of days.

You can read Cherrie's post and see some of her pictures of our first day here

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Next Trip: Dorset & Normandy

Our travel season is now officially in full swing and our next trip sees us off to both Dorset (along the southern coast of England) for 5 days and then over to Normandy, France for a week. And as an extra special bonus, Stephen's parents, Gib & Cherrie, are coming too! They'll also be blogging the trip and you can read their perspective at

For the Dorset portion, we'll be based in Swanage and then in Normandy we'll be finding our way around Lillebonne (where Stephen spent several years of his childhood) and Bezoques with family friends of the Siards. Should be grand fun! 

Monday 18 June 2012

2 Days in Faro

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Dressed for London                vs.            Dressed for the beach!

Despite a few transportation hiccups (almost getting on the wrong flight outbound, flight getting cancelled inbound), our weekend in Faro was just what we needed.

I was super pleased with our hotel - Hotel Santa Maria. Although located on what they describe as "the outskirts" of the city, it was less than a 10 minute walk anywhere we wanted to go including the Old City & The Harbour. It was also very clean and all the staff we encountered spoke excellent English (the Portuguese have a really lovely, comprehensible accent in English) and were kind and helpful. The decor is a bit dated, but otherwise this hotel was excellent value for money. I would definitely stay there again.

On Saturday, we got up just early enough to catch the last of the inclusive breakfast buffet and then headed to the harbour to catch a ferry to the beach. The area around Faro is actually a protected wildlife preserve (Ria Formosa) and so it doesn't have at beaches in town. However there are plenty of options within 30 minutes by either boat or public transport.

After nosing around we decided to head to the Ilha Baretta known more romantically as the Ilha Deserta (the Deserted Island). It's essentially a long sandy spar on the outer edge of the preserve. This means you have a choice of splashing about either on the less protected (but more spacious) Atlantic side or the rather more protected (though limited) inland side. As it was quite windy, we opted for the inland side to layout our beach towels.
The water was a bit too cold for swimming for very long, but perfectly refreshing to splash around to get some relief from the sun. And so, slathered in sunscreen, we just chilled out with the other handful of local families who had also made the trek. Bright sunshine, brilliant blue water, a good book and the love of my life - what could be better?

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We took a late lunch at the lone restaurant (sangria, obligatory!) called Estaminé, which we very much enjoyed. We had an octopus & tomato salad, dry cured tuna to start and shared a huge pot of shellfish polenta that was amazing. Usually shellfish aren't at their best in June, but the waitstaff assured us that in this corner of Portugal they can be eaten and are excellent all year round - we definitely found this to be true during our entire trip.

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View from the restaurant

After lunch we took a bit of a snooze on the beach

Portugal WE-9.jpgSnooze!

and then headed back into town to get cleaned up for the evening.

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pulling away from the pier

We took a bit of a wander through the Old Town before dinner, enjoying the quaint streets, mosaic pavements, and plethora of orange trees heavy with fruit.

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mosaic pavements!

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quaint streets!

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orange trees!

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now we know why all the oranges are out of arm's reach. . .

The atmosphere was initially sleepy, most streets were empty, but coming into the square just outside the castle was a little mini festival where we stopped briefly to watch part of the Eurocup match between Portugal & Germany being shown on a huge screen.

We got detoured into a particularly horrible restaurant (whose name I've conveniently forgotten - a salad, glass of bad wine each plus bread & olives cost €30! ) but watching the sunset from the docks improved our mood considerably.

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How could you be unhappy after that?!

Fortunately try two for dinner was a considerable improvement. Called Sabores de Se, it served Portuguese cuisine in tapas style portions. We chose to sit inside, now that the sun was down the night air still had a bit of bite. Our server recommended a very pleasant and surprisingly complex white 

Barranco Longo (2010) to go with our chosen small plates:

Amuse bouche - shredded cured ham over the local fresh cheese & honey on toast

Salt Cod Fritters - beautifully crispy on the outside, soft, salty and creamy on the inside. Paired with a tomato & rice dish that was almost but not quite a risotto. Could have done with a bit more tomato, but a wonderful start.

Panfried Black Pepper Squid - not my favourite dish (though Stephen happily finished it off) it was possibly the best squid I've ever eaten - served whole, well cooked without being rubbery with a spicy sauce just enough to be pleasantly piquant without actually burning.

Pork and Clams - when they brought out this dish I couldn't believe it was considered "small"! Served in a mini wok, this did just what it said on the menu, hunks of intense meaty pork cubes seared and then tossed with salty tender clams (in the shell) mixed with fresh cilantro and a butter tomato sauce in which the whole thing was steamed again. The flavour combinations were simply and yet perfectly complimentary.

After all that we were too full to attempt the very tempting dessert menu. The total bill came to just €43! An outstanding value considering the location, quality of both food and beverages, and charming serving staff. Highly recommended! In fact we enjoyed it so much that our biggest regret from our unforeseen layover was that it was announced too late for us to get back here for another meal!

From there we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel to the echo of the concert that had taken over the plaza.

The next day we also got a bit of a later start, and unfortunately ended up missing the only boat to our chosen beach of the day (Praia de Faro) and the bus system was totally incomprehensible. So we got a taxi instead. Taxis in Faro are pretty good value since everything is quite close. Even the airport is only about €15 from town. We found most drivers spoke enough English and we had learned enough phrases to get where we wanted to go without too much trouble.

The Praia de Faro is definitely a local's beach, and given the glorious weather just about everyone was there. But being (again) another long sandy spar, there was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out.

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Praia de Faro - on a crowded Sunday afternoon

After lunch (sandwiches and ice cream at a beach-side cafe, nothing special), we were even treated to a display of kite surfing, which was great fun to watch.

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Kite surfing!

As the sun started to dip it was time to collect our luggage from the hotel, change clothes and head out to the airport. But we came back to London (when we eventually did make it back) a few shades browner and much more relaxed. Assuming that I can find a different airline, we will definitely go back!

Friday 8 June 2012

Drum Roll Please!

Here we are safely ensconced in the waiting area at Gatwick where we will shortly be taking off for . . .

Faro, Portugal!

Not exactly off the beaten track, but it is easy for us to get to and has *much* warmer weather than London, plus beaches! And a relaxing beach trip is exactly what we need after exams and crazy work projects.

The downside is that this week has been so hectic that in my rush to pack & get out of the house I left my camera on my desk. So iPhone photos it shall just have to be. Better than nothing right?

Wednesday 6 June 2012

After a Pause, We're Off Again

As you all may have noticed, the last few months have been rather quiet travel wise. This was to give us some time to handle family matters back in the US and to give Stephen some space to prepare for his exams. The pause turned out to be well timed as my work has also been rather hectic over the last few months. So we've both beavered away the spring, looking ruefully out the window (not that spring in London has been terribly nice over all).  But that's nearly over and so the travel starts again! 

Our first trip of the summer is something of a surprise treat - I know where we're going, but Stephen won't until I hand him his boarding pass. I'll give you the same clues I've given him, see if you can guess where we're off to:

1. It's within a 3 hour flight from London
2. To an area well known for its beaches
3. The projected weekend temperatures are a lovely 28 C/82 F.

We're off on Friday after work and back on Monday. To say I can't wait would be an understatement. I'll try to pop back in at the airport to give you the answer.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Sunday in . . .Versailles!

Erica and Bobby were keen to head back to Germany relatively early, and seeing as Versailles was on their way, we decided that would be a fantastic use of our Sunday**. I've never been to Versailles before, so despite the rain, was keen to go.

First things, first, however, and we decided that sustenance was in order prior to beginning our tour of the Palace. Fortunately, a stone's throw from the famous front gates, was what turned out to be a lovely little creperie.  €13 bought a savoury crepe (or galette), a sweet crepe and a glass of cider. The crepes were enormous, made fresh to order, and just what we needed to set us up for an afternoon of sightseeing.

From there it was off to the palace! Since it was raining, Stephen and I decided to focus on the interior of the palace itself. It also had the advantage of being a rather "slow" day in terms of tourist numbers - granted it was still very busy, but much less so than usual. It was nice to be able to meander about fairly freely and not get caught up in too many large groups.

The organ in the chapel

a servant's staircase

guy with floppy hat (loved the hat)

This way? (No, that way!)

a brief lull in the rain

One of the things we enjoyed most, were some of the more "normal" people tucked into various corners of the many murals.

You! Put that back!

Reflections in the famous hall of mirrors

Marie Antoinette's bedroom

hall of emperors

a grander staircase

a chair in the King's study

still raining

Despite the rain, we then decided to take a turn in the gardens. Most of the statuary was still covered up from winter and only a handful of bulbs was poking through, but still I could start to see the resemblance to some of the grander palaces I saw in Russia (namely Peterhof & the Hermitage)

A quick cup of tea in one of the former gardener's quarters, it was time to say good-bye to Bobby & Erica and head back into Paris ourselves to fetch our bags/return the keys to the apartment.

And so another weekend in Paris came to an end, but what a wonderful weekend! It was great to revisit some of our favourite places and rediscover them with Nathan afresh as well as see some new and different sites. Not sure yet when we'll go back, but I'm hoping not too long after Stephen's exams are over. In the meantime, plenty more memories to keep us company!

** usually we try and attend the afternoon organ concert at Notre Dame