Croyde Beach

There were more of these hedge edged windy roads today as we made our way to the lovely little village of Croyde.

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Where we tasted some of the finest pasties this side of Cornwall.

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Then we hit the beach.  It was a slightly better day than our last beach jaunt – weather-wise, with slightly clearer water.  It was fairly low tide when we got there, but it was decided that we should set up camp back on the dry sand.

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and lucky we did, because within about an hour this is where the water was up to – these two photos are taken from the exact same spot.

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Tans and Nick had a proper up to their neck swim – it was too cold for me and Saskia, Robin ate his weight in sand and I found a cool pair of aviator sunglasses on the beach, that I promptly gave to Nick (the receiver of stolen found goods) because they looked ridiculous on me.

It was time to say our goodbyes to Croyde Beach, but we all swore we’d be back once we bought our holiday homes over there on the northern hill.

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Isn’t that always the way….. the person wearing the hat has the most sun damaged skin!

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This is the second option for a house if the ones on the northern hill are unavailable.

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We’re Going On A Bear Hunt….

About 1.5 miles away from our Little Comfort Farm is the town of West Down.  It’s a little bit like that town in the movie Hot Fuzz.  From the farm you can walk up through some fields and up a path to get to the town….

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So we strapped on Robin and headed over the bridge and up the hill.

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I did the first leg up the first hill and had to hand him over to his dad

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There are plenty of friendly animals along the way… like Black Beauty.

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Go Black Beauty, Go!

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and the Ram from the Ram ads.

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We made it the whole way, up and down some big hills, to the village of West Down and thought we’d have a swift pint or two before heading back….

… but it was closed.

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Here is Saskia NOT holding her pint!

So, instead we popped into the dead centre of town to look at the old gravestones

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and inside the church where we nearly those people for whom the bell tolls!

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Then it was back down the stinging nettle filled lane way

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We got back to our house a little hot and sweaty, so I went straight down to the stream and popped my feet into the freezing water.

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Robin also wanted to try his feet in the water

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but it was so cold that we were able to chill our beers in there quicker than putting them in the freezer…. thanks Bear Grylls – I’m sure I saw this on an episode of his show.

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Cups of tea in the sun were enjoyed whilst we waited for the beers to be chilled.

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Which took longer than we wanted, so Nick checked the temperature again…

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and then recovered with a warm cup of tea in the sun…

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Then finally, the beers were cool enough to drink.  They weren’t bitterly, but they had to do.

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Cheers!  I’m smiling, but I can’t feel my feet from the knee down!

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The Devon Seaside

In order to extend my time with the lovely peeps, we met down at Saunton Beach in for some surfing, sitting on sand and general English seaside action.  See our wind break?  Some people pitched their camp to the immediate left of that – with no space in-between! None!

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Most people were in wetsuits, or jeans….. some braved the icy water in just their togs.

The people were flocking into the water with surfboards, boogie boards, wake boards – whatever you could float on.  There were so many people in the water that my mate, Matt’s mate, Adam came in with a broken board saying that he’d just hit somebody!

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Kat & Shaun’s lovely daughter Bella was making sand shoes for us….. I clearly only needed one shoe!

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Whereas Trish got two feet – well deserved.

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Robin was beside himself in the water.  He was jumping over waves and having a marvellous time.

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By the end of the day pretty much everybody had specially made sand shoes made for them.  Bella had recruited a couple of apprentices in Amelia and Peter.

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So – I didn’t swim in the sea…. a stormy looking cloud eventually came over the sky and we packed up and left the beach.  I was  appreciative of the extra time we had with this crew – still not enough though.

xxx

Yes, I Would Like Clotted Cream With That!

When I started organising my time in London, it was decided that we  (Tanya, Nick, Baby Robin, Saskia and I) could spend a week in North Devon…

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… specifically the little seaside town of Ilfracombe.

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Low Tide!

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Your typical English seaside town high street

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It is also home to Damien Hirst’s sculpture – “Verity”

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And lovely cliffy oastline

There are some lovely sandy beaches over that way, plus my dear friend, Matt lives near there, plus Tanya & Nick (and me) have friends, Andy & Keeley, who have a cafe in Ilfracombe called “Love From Marjorie” that we wanted to visit.

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So named for their love of cheese!

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The lovely Keeley – owner, chef, barista at Love From Marjorie and devoted wife of Andy

As luck would have it – the UK was having a bank holiday weekend during our week which meant that every man, woman and child, plus their dog was heading to North Devon.  We met up with most of them on the M5.

We left London the day before and made a much needed drop in to our lovely friends, Kat and Shaun and their 3 gorgeous daughters who live about half way to Devon.

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Also, just by coincidence, some more friends. JP & Lindsay and their two munchkins, who live in Dubai were not only in the country, but in the neighbourhood and dropped in whilst we were there.

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Kat & Shaun were amazing hosts, as usual, and not only put us up for the night, but fed us amazing food and drank us some lovely beverages – non stop – or until it was realised that there are now small babies amongst us who wake way earlier than I’ve ever been up!

Tans booked us into a gorgeous farm stay called The Little Comfort Farm.

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Our cottage – one of about 6 on the property.

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Very country!

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Each cottage has its own garden area, but you are encouraged to utilise the whole farm.

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There’s awesome bugs and spiders everywhere 

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especially daddy long legs which I’ve been told is highly poisonours, but has no teeth to bit you with.

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Roger, the farmer does tractor rides every morning where you can go and feed the animals.  This happens at 9am, so I’m yet to see it – but the others have told me it’s a great experience.

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Even the recycling shed is beautiful

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They offer a whole range of free things – like wellies!  Be sure to wear your own socks though, ’cause ew.

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There was great debate about this sheep and whether or not these were udders…..

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This is the side view of the same sheep, which had the head of a cow!  Perhaps an unholy union in the top field?

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The property has a stream and a pond where you can go fishing.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I lived in London, I met some beautiful people who really became my family away from my own family and this weekend, we all came together again.

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Most of us quite a few years back – there’s been three additions to this group since this photo!

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Matt, now lives back in his home town in Devon in an awesome place that he is helping to renovate with a huge garden, big enough for everybody to camp in tents and have a mile long slip and slide!

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Kat & Shaun and the girls, who had fed us bacon and pancakes in the morning, then packed their car with camping essentials adn battled the M5 to get down there.

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Kevin & Kate and their offspring drove across from Salisbury and Trish caught the train down from London.  There was a BBQ, cider, music and a bit of dancing – just like old times.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Oh how I miss these peeps.

xxx

 

When My Baby Smiles at me I go to Rio

My friend Stacey lives in Geraldton, the town that I grew up in and she is currently on a round the world – “Trip of Lifetime” that has taken in quite a few US states and being a volunteer at the Rio Olympics!

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Not only did she mingle with some of her all time sporting heroes – basketball being her sport of choice, but she also got to hold the Australian flag at one of the games.

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Dreams coming true – that’s what it’s all about – like meeting Andrew Gaze (Australian all time basketballing legend)

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There was one day that I could catch up with Stacey in London – the day she flew in from Rio – so jet lag begone and I made my way into the city to meet her for some dinner and Olympic stories….

I went past the usual haunts to get to her hotel…

London Eye

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Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament – double decker London bus for good measure

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Westminster Abbey

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Then I sat in Green Park, like a local Londoner in the 30 degree heat wave and waited to hear if she had gotten off the plane yet.

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Then catch up we did….. Not nearly enough time for all the stories though.

Well done to you Stace – living the dream!

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London’s Burning!

In London, the average high temperature during summer is 21℃ – but today the mercury hit 33℃.

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33℃!

This is not an acceptable temperature when you are not near water.  Some people got straight out into the sun to soak it up; some will have flocked down to the likes of Brighton (see below) for a quiet swim and a tranquil lay on the soft sand hard pebbles, I decided to head to the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford (next to the Olympic Park – memories!) to do a spot of shopping and stay cool in the air conditioning.

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The plan started out well and I scoped the directory for what sort of shops I was going to be welcomed with – and I looked into nearly every one of them.  I obviously left alone the men’s and children’s wear;

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I also don’t like to buy shoes or bags or jewellery and have no need for homewares or manchester while I’m over here, which narrowed my shopping itinerary down quite a bit, leaving me with ladies clothes , a games shop (I do love a jigsaw) and the Apple Store.

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This is a jigsaw – cool hey?

I ticked off the last two swiftly, but this is where the day started to ebb for me.  I’m not sure whether it is me or if fashion is just awful at the moment, but I just can’t find anything that I like.  Getting them to fit is a whole other story – but first I have to find something that I want to fit and that’s hard work.

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I think my style might be plain jane block colours, lots of black and a little bit of quirky that I purchase and then never wear.  So today was fairly fruitless when I couldn’t find anything.  It doesn’t help that it’s 33 degrees and the shops all have their winter coats out.

 A little like Broome in WA, their Target store – the only place to shop in Broome! They have winter gear in their store during the winter months which sounds reasonable – except that they don’t actually have winter months!  They need shorts and bathers all year around.  They want us all to dress like this:

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Sure, it’s a little different here in the UK, today is quite unseasonal – even in season.

One thing that does happen when the sun come out over here and that is when people just whip their gear off and sunbathe in their undergarments in the park.

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I’m not too sure how I feel about if I’m honest with you.  I get that it’s really just like have your bikini on, but somehow it’s not.  I mean, I’m all for wear what ever you want, but there’s something about it.  If it’s acceptable in the park, then why isn’t it acceptable in the office or walking down the street?  Maybe it should be – then it wouldn’t seem so odd on the odd hot day.

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There were three separate articles circulating today in London in The Daily Mail, The Sun and some other top name newspaper – all quality journalism, about whether people should just undress in public parks.  I don’t know – what are your thoughts?

I’ll tell you what I do think about this heat though – you should be able to do anything to either enjoy it or get away from it.

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So at the end of my adventure – I still have nothing to wear!

Ladies Who Lunch

Eight years ago I worked for one year at a little Catholic primary school in Rugby, Warwickshire, England.  It was a lovely little school filled with gorgeous teachers, teaching assistants and office staff and thanks to the wonder of Facebook I’ve been to keep in touch with them.  Over the years I’ve managed to pop back to Rugby a few times and all the ladies make a huge effort to come together for a lovely luncheon.

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Yesterday was one of those days.  However it was also “One of those days – *heavy sigh*”

I booked my train up to Rugby a few days ago thinking I was doing the right thing, but I had booked for a specific train time rather than just a ticket to use on any train at any time.

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I then missed my first train to get from home to Euston Train Station by about 30 seconds, then there was works on the underground causing me to have to zig zag all over London to get to Euston.  I had to pick up my ticket and naturally there were 12,000 people all lining up trying to get their tickets – selfish!

Got my ticket with about 4 minutes to spare, turned and RAN to the gate….. as I approached the platform a huge gate with “Virgin Trains – These gates close 2 minutes before the train departs” emblazoned on it and the gate closed, locking me out.  Sweating, I let go of a few choice words before heading back up to the throng of people to work out my next move.

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Was I meant to go to Rugby today?  Were there forces working against me?  What had I done to deserve this?

Cut a long story short – I got the next train and assured the ladies that I would be there a little late and all was fine, except that I only got to spend a very short amount of time there.

Here are those lovely ladies…

Liz, Pam, Pat, Kaye, Polly, Me, Pat, Jane, Marie and Karen.

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Absent: Mandy & Magda (where were you two?) Lee (who did come to lunch, but we thought of taking the photo after you’d gone), Tori (away, climbing mountains), Emily (busy with gorgeous baby) and Rebecca (lives in New Zealand!) – ladies, you were missed.

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After lunch Polly, Liz and I tried to break into the school…… just kidding Karen!  We just went and looked from the gate.  It’s possibly we did set off an alarm though – we can’t be sure.

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It was short, but sweet ladies.  Always nice to see your smiling faces.

xxx

Groundhog Day for Tim Minchin

If you get the chance to see Tim Minchin’s new musical Groundhog Day – do it.  Just do it.  It was absolutely fabulous.

We raced back from the airport, dumped bags, changed and raced back into Waterloo to the Old Vic Theatre…

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And watched one of the best musicals I have ever seen – like ever.  It was funny, there was one bit that made me tear up (but then again, I cry at everything!) and at the end I had tears streaming because it was just so good.

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We couldn’t stop talking about our favourite bits afterwards and all of us stated that we would definitely see it again, but with all the rave reviews being written around the world, I think we were lucky to get tickets when we did.

Well done Tim Minchin.

Getting Our Fringe On

How’s this for a rooky traveller error…. we flew up to Edinburgh and only took carry on hand luggage, but it didn’t occur to me at all, as we weren’t leaving the UK that liquids wouldn’t be allowed, so I lost my toothpaste and my vegemite!  I was devo’d.

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So, Trish and I boarded the plane to Edinburgh – liquid-less. The cabin stewards began their drink service and when they got to us the lady asked me if I’d like a drink.  I didn’t know, so I umm’d a bit and then said, “No, thank you”.

Trish immediately said, “I’m going to have a beer” which sounded exactly like what I felt like, so I said the steward, “Yes, I’ll have one of those as well please.”

Her reply? “I’m sorry, we only have sachets.”

“Um, no, we’d like a beer please.”

Her reply? “No we only have nuts and snacks.”

Trish enquired, “what do you have to drink?”

She said “um, wine, soft drinks, juices and beers.”

Us: “Ok then, we’ll have 2 of the beers please.”

It was the strangest conversation.

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We think these were the sachets she was talking about… ?  Who asks for milk as their drink on a plane?  And how does beer sound like milk?

But as soon as we poured our beers and were about 2 sips in, the plane was about to land in sunny Edinburgh.

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I say sunny, even though we landed at night, because the weather we had for the 3 days was phenomenal!  Apparently it had rained up until the day we arrived and it rained on the day we left – that’s how I like to travel.

After not being able to find any accommodation anywhere else in the world, it surprised us both that we managed to get a hotel room in the middle of Edinburgh – right on the Grass Market.  In fact, the name of the hotel was the Grass Market Hotel.

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Inside the room had a bit magnetic wall with magnets that you could move around. Such fun.

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The other walls were wall papered in Dandy comics.

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Our window overlooked the Grass Market strip that had free Fringe acts on day and night.  Thank goodness for the sound proof windows.

There was a silent disco, which didn’t make any noise (clue is in the title) but we watched them for a while.  They danced around Edinburgh.

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We had a drummer who used plastic bins and saucepans – who was actually really good.

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We had bag pipers; a saxophonist, but my favourite would have to have been the straight jacket wearing rapper.  His lyrics were inspired, but it was the easy on the ears, repetitively melodic tune that really caught our attention…… the sound proof window was shut shortly after this video was taken for proof.

The place would be absolutely trashed with rubbish and whatnots every night and then in the morning, it was miraculously cleaned up as if by magic…. or by these three guys – the true heroes of the Festival.

Well done chaps.

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Our first port of call was to the Royal Mile to see what was on offer and to collect the million flyers each that we had been allocated on arrival into this fair city.

We were greeted with all sorts of interpretive dance, mime and movement.

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This had something to do with oppression.

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This was an adaptation of the Bible…

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And these guys were just getting down in their traditional dress … worn with trainers.

Trish bumped into the poster of her best friend, Lucy Porter who bought her a drink in a pub once.

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And we sat in a pub beer garden that had this game….. You paid £5 to hang from this unfixed metal bar for 2 whole minutes and if you could do it, you won £50.  We watched quite a few people attempt this, all to no avail.

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I’m surprised more people weren’t attracted to it if I’m honest… considering the guy who was selling and running the experience.  His expression did not change!

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After one of the wannabe strong men fell, I asked this chap if he had ever held on for 2 minutes.  He replied in an unintelligible mumble, “Yes”.  So I pressed a little further, “Is there a trick to it?” to which he responded in the same mumbled tones, “No, you just hold on for 2 minutes.”  Silly me!  The clue is in the title!

We enjoyed a few local bevies in the unseasonal sun and watched the crazy world go by…

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We did not try these, although we did try a deep fried mars bar.  The good thing about those is you only need to try one.

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There were people dressed up

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and free performers all over the city.  This chap was an Irishman pretending to be Donald Trump, singing songs about The Donald…. he was quite good in a Benny Hill sort of way.

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A smattering of comedy was sampled around the town.  There was some that was great…

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and some that I wish we had seen, but either couldn’t get tickets or didn’t know about them until it was too late, and others that we did see that were not so great/not to our taste, but the most outrageous was an Australian chap who told the audience that they were a waste of space and that he didn’t know why he agreed to do this 15 minutes promo gig to sell his own show if we weren’t going to laugh at his jokes.  He berated us a bit more and called us a few more colourful names before throwing his hands up and walking off the stage.  When we left, he was standing outside handing out flyers to his own show.

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I was befuddled about the whole situation, but Trish felt a bit sorry for him which then lead to our research study on what drives comedians to become comedians and it appears to be a form of therapy for the myriad of issues that they are dealing with.  I’m sure they also get a bit of a buzz off the laughter and applause (if they can rally the crowd up enough).  I mean, we all have our own issues that we’re dealing with and I guess people choose to deal with them in their own way…. one being stand up comedy.

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So Trish and decided that we would have our own show that would be available only to comics, probably held on a Monday night (when they have a night off) where we would pay them £1 at the beginning of the show and offer them therapy.  If at the end of the show if they felt that it helped them, they could choose to pay for the session (hopefully with more than the 1 quid we’d already given them).  I’m not sure what sort of therapy we could possibly offer given our not so extensive experience in the field of mental health, but maybe a few laughs that they didn’t have to come up with themselves might be a start.

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To give ourselves a little break from the non stop, belly aching, side splitting raucousness that was day 1, we jumped on the 45 bus and headed for Portobello Beach, about 20 minutes away.  It was such a gorgeous day and it seemed a shame to waste it in a small dark cave-like room being sworn at.

And it seemed that quite a few people had the same idea.

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It was a little chilly in the water and it was a bit murky and weedy, but it didn’t stop a few die hard kids from getting in there.

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It’s funny seeing how people go to the beach here.  At home, if we go to the beach, we’re generally there to swim and will wear clothing to suit the occasion, however here, going to the beach is something that people do fully clothed, complete with socks and shoes.

Some even set up camp…. I can’t be sure, but I think this chap may have had some furniture in this tent.  He’s perhaps here for longer than just the day.

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The promenade was full of places to eat and drink and buy ice-cream by the seaside.

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This van even offered gourmet haggis treats for your pooch.

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There was a bit of talk as to whether these two people were alive or not…  Possibly just recovering from the festivities of the Fringe?

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Then it was back to town for more comedy and beers.  We met up with some of the performers just by chance which gave us a great insight into the life of a stand up comedian.

and……. relax!

reLaxing in London

When I first came to London, back in 2005, there was so much excitement that I couldn’t quite contain myself.  I was going to get to ride on the underground.  The Tube!  I was going to get to taste real Cornish pasties; drink in real English pubs; mimic real English people’s accents and of course travel around Europe cheaply! I wanted to  be a part of everything.  And I did all of those things – wholeheartedly, although the novelty of the tube at peak hour in winter wore off after a while!

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Having been back here a few more times, I now see London as something different.  Sure it’s still a cool place where there is something fabulous happening in every direction you turn, but for me, it’s the place where my lovely friends live.  Some of the friends that I made whilst living in London still live in the city and some have moved out into pretty, semi-commutable towns and villages around England and so my main reason for coming back to London (or the UK) now is to visit those lovely folk who helped make my time living here so memorable.

I got off the Eurostar at St Pancras Station and made my way through the crowd to the tube.  It was like I had never left.  Travelling on the tube is not the easiest thing to do with a suitcase – even harder with two!  Most (all) of the people around you are very busy people trying to go about their lives, so tutting and rolling your eyes is a preferred reaction to your struggle rather than offering help.  But on I pushed and I made my way to the Station near Tanya and Nick’s place and was greeted  by Tanya and a car – my feet couldn’t have loved her more if they tried.

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See what I did there?

Tanya & Nick and their gorgeous, brand new 1 year old son, Robin have invited me into their home (once again) and I couldn’t wait to get there to just hang out with them and relax.  It would be my first time meeting Robin, and I was super excited.

I mean, how gorgeous are these three?

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I’d like to say that Robin was reaching up for me….. but alas, I was holding Tanya’s phone above my camera to encourage him to look and smile – not something that needs encouraging I’ll just add – such a smiley, happy kid.

And so….. relax.  Until the next day when I was going t meet my friend, Tricia in London Town for a spot of lunch and to organise our imminent journey to Iceland.  Trish had said a while back that she was keen to join me on that particular adventure and so then everything else got in the way and no planning had been done.  We only had next week to do the journey, so much planning was to be done.  We met and caught up over a bottle of rose, as you do at Gordon’s Wine Bar by the Thames.

We realised we were going to need the second bottle when there had still been no planning done… then just before Tanya and our lovely friend Saskia joined us we decided that we would just buy flights and the first couple of nights accommodation and work it out once we got there.

There.  Done.  Planned!

With that organised, we hit the West End show – Motown.

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The story of how Motown Records and Diana Ross’ career began.  It was not too bad, but the sign in on the back of the door in the ladies toilets was a bit of a downer.

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Moderate your enthusiasm?

So the show was more about using the songs to tell the story, therefore only used little snippets of each one.  They didn’t really need to worry about people getting too enthusiastic thought because as soon as the song came on and you felt like moving slightly in your seat – it was over.

More relaxing and a beautiful day – Tans and I took Robin and her cavoodle/cavapoo, Hercules to the park….

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… honestly, you’ve never seen so many people in a park before.

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There were tents erected, massive, personal BBQs brought in specially for the day, chairs and tables and other furniture.  People were playing frisbee, football, riding bikes, eating ice-cream, playing softball, rollerblading, skateboarding, scootering.  Both kids and adults were having their faces painted, hiring paddle boats on the lake or just wandering around, like us.

I think these people had missed the point of the sun shade though…

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The next two days was spent trying to arrange flights and accommodation in Iceland which apparently costs both arm and both legs.  Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to do so much planning the day before?  So the idea changed to “why don’t we look at scenery in Scotland?” until we realised that trying to book accommodation, etc the day before in Scotland on the school holidays wasn’t the easiest thing to do either…..

Plan C – Edinburgh Fringe Festival – here we come!

And I Have Walked 500 Miles…

There were apparently a couple of streets that we hadn’t walked down in Paris – so with Felicity not having to leave for the airport until about 6pm, we had the whole day to explore those last few rues.

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We started early with the D’Orsay Museum.  I love this one as it used to be a train station and they’ve repurposed the building, but kept some of the old features like the big clocks.

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We saw the things we liked, but after Amsterdam and the Louvre, I think we were all ‘arted out”.  This man was hogging the painting from about a metre away….. so I joined him (he left quite quickly after which is a mystery to me!)

We made our way over to the Rue Rivoli, which we had touched on briefly the day before after the Louvre, but this time we headed directly to Angelina’s for a hot chocolate and cake – their hot chocolate is like you’ve taken a block of cadburys, melted it and mixed it with some magical love….. it’s divine – it does make you feel pretty sick after – so… warning.

Then we turned left out of Angie’s and headed for The Marias district.  We got beautifully lost walking around like Little Johnny Head-in-air looking at all the lovely Parisian buildings.

Then finally when our legs could do no more, we stopped at the closest spot that served quiche Lorraine.

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A quick walk through the Luxembourg Gardens

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and as I could feel blisters on my blisters, we opted to jump in one of those tuk tuk bikes,

but couldn’t remember the name of our street, so we told the man the name of a street we thought was near there – which resulted in him dropping us off slightly further away from our hotel than we were in the first place #sigh.

And then….. she was gone.

What a fabulous 3.5 weeks we’ve had.  We’ve eaten our weight in cheese, we’ve climbed tall buildings, we’ve walked and we’ve walked and we’ve walked and we’ve seen some amazing things.  It’s quite sad that this leg has to end, but Fliss has a lovely husband, Richard and three kidlets, Caitlin, Charles and Orlando to get home to.

Great trip Flicker – start planning the next one!

Saying Goodbye – Parisian Style

I can’t quite believe that this leg of our journey has come to an end.  This is the last night that we will be spending in Paris with Tammy & Matt – so where best to celebrate other than the Eiffel Tower.

We found a cafe where we could see the old girl sparkle on the hour.

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More escargot were ordered.  This time we got some special snail tweezers to try to eat them with….

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Slippery little suckers!

Matt stayed safe this time with his French onion soup – or just onion soup here!

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We’ve had such a great time with these crazy kids….. I don’t want them to go!

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Luckily Fliss and I have one more day…

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And then as if we knew and had planned the whole thing, the tower lit up and started to sparkle.

Au revoir my beautiful friends.

xxx

Let Them Eat Cake!

Versailles!

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One of the most amazingly grotesque displays of wealth that I have ever seen!  It is beautiful and tasteful and tacky all at the same time.

Honestly, you’ve never seen so much gold.

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It has been home to quite a few Louis’ and possibly the most famous of their wives – Marie-Antoinette.

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The sheer size of the estate is mind blowing and the palaces and maze of gardens and fountains are amazing.

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We got there nice and early – a good half an hour before the doors opened at 9am and already there was a huge line that had formed, but as people always do, they made the line go in a funny shape across the quadrangle and the guards had to move people into a large L shape so other people could walk around it.  Before the reshuffle, I had set out on an expedition to make sure we were in fact in the correct line and on my return people were everywhere…… so I, and I feel a little bit bad about this, but not so bad that I’m not going to tell you about it… I slipped into the line nearer the front and waved Felicity over.  At first she didn’t know why I was there, but she soon clicked and joined me saying “Oh, I forgot where we were in the line…..” But it all fell on deaf ears (or non English speaking ears) so phew!

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Not sure whether you can see it or not, but that line goes all the way across the front of the palace, then all the way down the courtyard to the front gates – Ker-azy!

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While we waited we tried to work out if this was a helmet or a muppet with his mouth open.  You be the judge.

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And… .at 9.02am – we were in!

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When you’ve got this much moola and you fancy yourself as a bit of a special looker, you’re bound to have a plethora of paintings/portraits and statues of yourself just scattered thusly about your home.

 They also love a chandelier!

Unbeknownst to me, there was an Angelina cafe set up in the palace and it would have ben remiss of us to just bypass it willy nilly.  So we downed a couple of cakes and then we were on our way.

We were listening to the audio and I had just walked through an empty room when the man on the audio said that this was a room where people would gather to meet and visit with one of the Louis, then I turned around to this… and gather they did!

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Do you think somebody got the brief wrong on this one?

“He told me to put it on the east wall.”

“Yes, but inside the building!  Who’s going to see it there?  You may lose your head over this.”

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There were amazing carpets and tapestries and art works in every room.

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Statues depicting what the room was used for (I don’t know if this is true, but I thought this guy was probably in the music room playing his coconuts)

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Then we moved out to the garden.  Check out the great day we got for it.  Not too hot, definitely not too cold – she was just right!

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This man was designing this garden using a hand mulcher – is that a word?

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We followed the maze of hedges down the garden

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Passing some interesting statues – this one is telling the story of the man who tricked his lion and his friend said, “If you trick that lion it will come back to bite you on the bum….”

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Tuesday’s are the busiest day at Versailles because they have live music and also a fountain light show at night.  We heard music as soon as we entered the garden and we were keen to find the first lot which according to our map was around the fountain (I can’t remember the name of it)  But when we got there – the fountain was dancing along to the music, but we couldn’t see any musicians….. until we did a bit of investigating.

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Found them!

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Then down to the smaller palaces and two Marie-Antoinette’s farm hamlet that she had built so she could pretend she was living with the commoners.  She even had people move in to the little houses.

Fliss’ version of Lady Di

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Fliss’ other version of Lady Di

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Some of the animals at the hamlet….. to be fair, it was a fairly hot day.

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By the end of the day we felt like we’d seen every single inch of the palace and the gardens.  We were plumb tuckered out!

An Authentic French Experience

Thanks to Google and to Fliss and Tammy, we found the most gorgeous little French restaurant – that shouldn’t be too hard to do in Paris, I hear you all say…. but we didn’t want a touristy experience…. and we were not disapointed!

We also… just like real life Parisians took an Uber for the first time!  I signed up months ago but never really had the need for one, but we logged on, we submitted our request and teh bloke was there in 2 minutes.  Incredible!  I definitely heart Uber!

Here we are ordering the Uber and it turned up before Felicity got back across the road!

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Le Petite Chatelet – it was fabulous!

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It sat in a little street looking across to the Notra Dam Cathedral which was all lit up once it got dark.

We were also treated to the most fabulous head of ginger hair that I’ve ever seen.  Seriously this man’s hair was so well groomed, it could have been a stick on lego wig.  It was tremendous!

It was only a small little place with an open fire and hotplate where all the meat was cooked.

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We order escargot, which Matt tried for the first time….. His review:  “They taste like sand.”  I think that’s a fair assessment.

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We tried bernaise sauce, crepe suzette, froi gras, creme caramel, profiteroles – as many French inspired things as we could wrap our laughing gear around.

The food was great, the atmosphere was happening, the service was friendly.  I think you could say that we were very happy campers/diners.

Excuse’ Mwa, Ou Est La Sortie?

The Louvre is one hell of a massive building!  They say it would take years to see every piece of artwork – but I reckon we gave it a fair crack in 4 hours.

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We picked out a couple of pieces we knew that we wanted to see – the Mona and the Venus and Napoleon’s Apartments.  Then it was just trying to work out how the hell you get from one side to the other.  I was the map reader and I unintentionally lead us into the old moat on the -1 level a few times….. I eventually had to give up the map and admit defeat.

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I was sure it was this way!

Anyway…. we started out the front with some os the statues…

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Then, thanks to some heavy-duty forward planning, jumped the humongous line and went straight into the glass pyramid and into the gallery.  There’s nothing quite like jumping a queue!

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We first got to a room with some statues… This guard had obviously seen it all before, cause he was having a little nap whilst we imitated the art.

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It’s the sheer concentration on Fliss’ face I love, but not as much as the lady sitting in the background wondering what the hell she is doing!

We found the Winged Woman statue (possibly not its real name) as did everybody else.

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The best pictures were taken from this far back though…

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The next find was the Mona Lisa.  It’s clearly a fairly popular one as there are direction signs everywhere.

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She tends to be a bit of an underwhelming experience because she is so tiny and also because you have never seen people clamber over one another just to get a photo of a tiny painting like these people.

Look at these people!  There were small children being crushed in that mosh pit.  You’d think they would have a line up system or something better this every man for himself approach.

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Anyway, this painting is the one that ‘people’ have been saying is just as good, if not, better than the Mona….. I don’t know why.

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This is generally the view you get of most paintings here.

We stopped up the top for a spot of lunch and fresh air with a lovely view.

Then it was back to the art…. some people obviously consider themselves part of the collection.

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There were some famous pieces, some weird looking ones and some were just plain creepy (are you seeing the hand on the back of that torso?)

“So, do you come here often? What do you think of the art?”

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Then we finally made our way, following the crowd, to Napoleon’s Apartments – these belonged to Napoleon III – the nephew.  He clearly had just as expensive tastes as his rellies!

Once they have you inside the Louvre, it is very difficult to get out.  We went up and down so many sets of stairs that I wanted to cry.

After the Louvre experience, Tam & Matt needed a Bex and good lay down, so they toddled off whilst Fliss and I kept the pace going and made our way through the Tuileries Gardens.

And up the Champs Elysèes

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Right up to the Arc de Triomphe!  The one that our tour guide in Rome reckoned was the fake one because the one at the Forum was at the original.

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Only risking our lives a little bit taking the photo from the middle of the road.  But there are people behind us, so we wouldn’t be the first ones hit.  That’s something.

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Look Out Paris – Here We Come!

So we arrived in Paris, dumped our bags and headed straight for the central hub of this gorgeous city – the River Seine.  Just look at the day we got for our first day here.

We stopped along the way for a ham and cheese crepe.  We asked in our best French – “We would like 4 ham and cheese crepes please” to which the chap replied (in English) “What? You want all the same?  You don’t want to try anything different from each other?” I was pretty happy with my choice up until that point…

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Our destination for this afternoon was to see and climb the Eiffel Tower.

There it is – over there!

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We wandered all the way from our hotel along what used to be a road last time I was here and now it’s a pedestrian’s paradise (for lack of a better word)

We passed bridges…

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and games of boules…

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Fabulous shady seated areas that were dotted all over the area…

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And some crocheted fittings…

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Then we hit the Eiffel and everyone nearly ran their battery out on their phone taking the same picture over and over…

The plan was that we were all going to climb the tower to the second floor – something like 704 steps.  I had done it before with me mate, Madds and I remember it being fairly tiring back then… as we approached I was a little apprehensive that my newly acquired back problem was going to give me some grief as well as the fact that it was a pretty warm day.  So when Matt realised that he still had his brand new, flash as you like, you beaut Swiss Army knife that he bought in actual Switzerland in his backpack, there were some tough decisions to be made.  He would either have to hand it over to be destroyed, risk hiding it somewhere in the garden or not go up the tower.  He was devo’ed.  This is when I realised that this was my out.  I had been up the tower twice before and I’d climbed the steps once – (once being enough for anyone), so I took the knife and I got to lay on the grass watching the people and looking up at the tower.  I was as happy as Larry!

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This is where I was found…

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And then we did the tourist thing…

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One iconic landmark down!  Our next trick was to get to the Moulin Rouge.

You’re not allowed to take photos of the show, but it was spectacular!  The audience was mostly filled with people from Australia, Melbourne in particular and there were two ladies in the front row from Adelaide who were on our wine tour – so talk about a small world.

Then it was back to our lovely hotel – Le Saint where the gorgeous doorman let us into the VIP area.

Not a bad first day in Paris if you ask me.

Shall We Have a Glass of Bolly Darl?

One of the main ‘wants’ on Felicity’s list was to visit wineries in the Champagne region.  Having worked in the wine industry for such a long time, this was totally her bag.  I, of course belive there is no show without Punch and tagged along on a fabulous little tour of the Reims and Epernay wine region – home to Dom Perignon, Moet & Chandon and lots of other big names that Fliss got super excited about that I hadn’t heard of.

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Our actual tour guide was Raphael who was a Brazilian chap living in France.  He was incredibly knowledgable about wines and champagnes and the whole region.

He first took us to the village at the top of the hill where Dom Perignon lived and to the abbey where he is buried.

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Yeah, don’t be trying to tell me about wine – I know wine!

We were told by Raph and then another chap from the winery who screeched to a halt in his car to tell us not to touch the grapes as they’d been sprayed with sulphur.  Ew!

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It was Dom, a French Benedictine Monk who first started the French champagne movement as we know it today.  Apparently before he came along they were making some terrible wines and it was his idea to try blending the grapes.

Here is a little pictorial of D.P’s Abbey.  Apparently it was taken over by the Nazis during the war, but was eventually given back to the people when the Pope said “give it back”.

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Not sure what this was all about, but I found that the title being in English was curious.

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These were the original 18th century bench seats

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The seats that Raph is showing us here were for the monks when they prayed.  They had to stand up, then when they were allowed to sit, the whole seat folded down, but then if you were an older monk who needed to sit down during the stand up bits, you were allowed to pretend to stand by resting your derrière on that little seat bit.  They thought of everything.

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This chap here with the jaunty hat was saying to the other guy, “I want this built here.” and the guys on the right were saying, “Is this guy serious? Have you seen the size of it?”

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The one thing that I love about old buildings is imagining who has walked through them before me…

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Look at this step!

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This is where Dom Perignon is buried, right up near the altar.  That’s how much they loved him.

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A little bit of angelic white draped cloth….. it’s a bit magical, isn’t it?

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Thank you Dom Perignon.

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His story is far more than that though, he became the cellarer, a voted in position that he held for 47 years, until his death.

Moet & Chandon (this name came about because a Moet married a Chandon) used Dom Perignon’s system and produced their cuvee, “Dom Perignon” as a tribute to him.

So next was a visit to the Moet & Chandon cellars.  We had a tour of the underground tunnels.  There are apparently 28km of tunnels, but we only saw a small portion of them.

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Apparently, Napoleon always had 300 bottles of Moet & Chandon with him – just in case he got caught short with nothing to drink.  And speaking of short – apparently Napoleon’s lack of height was a lie – he was really 170cm tall!

She’s got a ticket to ride…..

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Each batch of wine is bottled and labelled with 3 lines of numbers and letters.  The top line is the secret code the Cellar Master gives to the blend, the middle number is the location in the cellar and the 3rd number is the amount of bottles are in that batch.

Fliss being amazed at the gold coloured ceiling in the cellar.

And so, let the tastings begin….

Next was a little family owned winery called Champagne Julien Chopin.  We stopped here and had a lovely farmhouse style luncheon.  Homemade pastry covered terrine, cheese, bread and more wine tastings.

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They had these signs up around their tasting room.

 The last stop of the day was to a cooperative called Collet which works together with a number of grape growers to produce their own champagne.  The vats are where the wine is being mixed.  It was a little less romantic seeing it in big steel vats, but we did get to go downstairs to the wine library to do some more tastings.

Apparently during the war all the wine here was destroyed, but there was one bottle saved from 1943 which is stored here in this little cave – which is locked with an iron gate.

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Normally at a wine tasting you would be offered a small amount in a coiffing glass, but here in the Champagne region, a tasting glass is a champagne flute filled to the top… so after 9 FULL glasses of champas, it was time to snooze all the way home!

Michelin Hit and Miss

The Chateau de Fere has a Michelin Star restaurant and although I don’t quite understand what you need to do or be in order to gain and/or maintain one of these stars – it was still pretty exciting.  Felicity is a chef and pretty clued up on foods and whatnot, so she was super excited to be tasting the wares of this kitchen.

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The night started out lov-er-ly out on the patio with some bubbles and canapes.

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We then moved inside to the dining room and were promptly and consistently ignored when we tried to order some wine.  I’m not sure I like these types of places where each person only has one job and they are never allowed to cross over or do anything else.  I think that if you want specific information about the wine, then you might not mind waiting until the somelier is available, but if you know which wine you want, then surely…. I mean, surely anyone can take that order?  But no.  We asked our waitress, who was a low talker,about 3 times in 20 minutes if we could possibly order some wine.  We saw her ask the chap who was obviously the wine guy after the first time we asked and then we watched him swan around the restaurant for the whole 20 minutes.

Finally he came over took the order……. they conveniently didn’t have the wine we wanted and suggested a slightly more expensive one.  He was not building a good rapport with his guests.

Anyway, we pressed on with our first world problem and enjoyed our dinner.  We had about 11 courses in total if you include the canapes and the palate cleanser and I can honestly say that I have never felt that full or sick.  Some dishes were delish and some left us a little confused in regards to why you would possibly pair one flavour with the other.

The last course was an amazing chocolate extravaganza and I couldn’t eat it.

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Devo’ed.

Something happened during the course of the evening with the somelier and all of a sudden he was jovial and our best friend and offered us complimentary dessert wines (which we did not need!, but accepted anyway) so well done for getting our of your slump.  Better late than never.

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So, I won’t be eating for the rest of the trip.

Walk Forest… Walk!

In the past 2 – 3 weeks I have walked 307,248 steps.  That’s a lot of steps.  Hence there has been little to no time to update photos and write blogs.

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This is not my blister – this one is way more tasteful.

 

 

 

So on behalf of my blistered, tired and weary feet, I apologise.  I’m hoping that , for the sake of my blistered, tired and weary feet that I can and will slow down a little from this point on and be able to get back on top of this much neglected blog – although my travel companions have been very good at updating photos onto Facebook – a task that in hindsight seems a lot easier than writing the blog o but I’m a words girl and I do like to write my words.

I’m on the Eurostar now, after being interrogated by the UK passport control guy

Passport Control guy: “What are you’re plans in the UK?”

Me: (in my head)”to do as little as possible!” (spoken) “visiting friends, going to see some west end shows and a visit to Devon.”

Passport Control guy:”How long are you going to be in the UK?”

Me: “3 weeks”

Passport Control guy: “Where will you go next?”

Me: “Back to France”

Passport Control guy: “What for?”

Me: “I haven’t seen it all yet.”

Passport Control guy: “When did you arrive in Europe?”

Me: “oh, um…. on the 22nd July.”

Passport Control guy: “and when do you plan to go home?”

Me: “on the 22nd October.”

Passport Control guy: “When?”

Me: “on the 22nd October.”

Passport Control guy: “The 22nd October? Do you live in France?”

Me: “No, I live in Australia.”

Passport Control guy: “Right, and you’re going back there on the 22nd October?”

Me: “That’s correct.”

He raises his eyebrows and stamps my passport and away I go…… no wonder the lines are so long!

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Anyway….. I shall be catching you all up very soon on the past few days very soon.

xxx

Downton Abbey

Let me just show you again how excited we were to be headed to a (renovated) 12th centry castle in the Champagne region – Chateau de Fere!

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After a small train hiccough at the Paris change over – giving us a 3 hour wait rather just the one – I don’t want anyone to worry though as we found a corner cafe to have a beer in and we watched the world go by.

Then it was to our chateau!

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Here’s our castle!

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The ruins from the old castle

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Here’s some shots from around the chateau…

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The swimming pool – Tammy & Matt got to try it out whilst Fliss and I were busy touring.

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It was quite glorious!