From the zoo to Grenoble

The French Zoo, where the crocodile is the size of a large lizard:

Audrey had left to get things organised in Grenoble, so we spent the day with Hanis and Leslye. During our BIG walk, we went to the covered market place, Les Halles de Paul Bocuse; then we went in search of my favourite patisserie “tarte au fraises” – strawberry tart. We found a nice patisserie with pre-prepared baguettes where we bought lunch and the necessary tarts. By this stage, about 2pm, we were really hungry, and finally arrived at the parc Tête d’Or (meaning golden head), where we sat on the nearest available park bench and hoed into our lunch, which was delicious.

It was very warm as we walked through the park looking at the animals in the free zoo. We were amused by the 1½ – 2 metre crocodile, reminding me of the movie Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knife” (crocodile in this case). I was surprised when Dutchy took off his singlet top and walked around just with his shorts on, something he would never do in Australia.

Once again, between the quantity of large cups of tea I enjoy, my age, and having had two babies, I needed the toilet. Public toilets are never my favourite, but it’s interesting to see some of them in France are washed out with disinfectant between each usage.

Hooray – internet and creativity:

At last we saw Leslye’s studio apartment in Lyon, where she has maintained a base for the past few years. It’s definitely a one-person flat, but very cute.

She and Hanis went shopping while we enjoyed a great connection with the internet where we were able to upload photos and the blog. If I am not creative I slowly die inside. When travelling you have your usual sources of expressing yourself in that way. At home I can decorate the house, design different parts of the garden, bake, do scrapbooking or other artistic pursuits, and even plate up food nicely.

When I went around the world in 1981 I did a lot of sketching, but this time the blog is the main source, and I am getting a lot of satisfaction from doing it.

Hanis and Leslye returned and we shared a light dinner there, with baguettes, cheese and salad, after which we walked back to our place to have drinks.

Heart to Heart:

Sometimes a relationship is in need of a little repair, so we had a big heart-to-heart and worked some things out, having realised years ago that if you don’t keep the lines of communication open you can end up almost destroying your partnership.

As I was feeling a lot better, Dutchy headed out to Starbuck’s so that I could do some Body Balance, which is helping keep my flexibility, strength and abdominals in reasonable shape. He even brought back some coffee for me, and had downloaded the most recent hotmails to check out.

Off to Grenoble:

To conserve space in the car, we condensed our luggage into one suitcase and were able to leave the rest at the apartment we were staying at, as it was currently vacant. The four of us left Lyon at 1pm for Grenoble, taking the autoroute that had a 10€ toll. The drive took about an hour, and the thing that impressed us most was the sight of the majestic mountains.

Grenoble is a city with a population of just under 160,000 with a lot of high-rise buildings. No space for urban sprawl here, when you are nestled in the basin between many mountains. I think the lack of space is one of the main things Australians must contend with when they travel.

The good thing about travelling in August is that a lot of people are on holiday, so we were able to utilise Audrey’s father’s apartment of almost 35 square metres in the old family home. It has been beautifully renovated into a fairly open-plan area and one of the things we loved most was the fact that you could have windows open on two adjacent walls which allowed a cross-breeze, essential in the warm weather.

That evening we dined at Hanis’ sister’s new apartment, where we over-indulged in champagne and foie gras, both the genuine article.

Land of Lyon

 

Only Lyon:

 

Setting out from Colmar at 9.30, we stopped for toilet, petrol and a bite to eat, consisting of leftover baguette from breakfast and some fruit we had. A good run meant we arrived in Lyon at about 2.30pm. Ensconced in another friend’s apartment, this time it was in the centre of town, and though only a studio, the high ceilings with exposed timber beams, crepey textured walls and very modern lighting with a remote control, meant we were quite comfortable. And because it was in a solid stone building it meant it gave us a little reprieve from the steamy heat.

After a hair wash and shower, the girls arrived for pre-dinner drinks at our apartment, (again, loving that term), with some Coca Zero from McDonald’s (with the necessary ice) for me to add to some bourbon while the others sampled the beer from Germany. Here is Dutchy’s extensive beeralogue from the afternoon/evening:

  • Augustinerbrau Miinthen Lagerbier Hell – light-coloured drink with a few bubbles. A very light beer with a slightly yeasty taste.
  • Export 33 – a French beer in the style of a Cerveza in 250ml hand grenades. Very easy to drink, and therefore dangerous.
  • Paulaner Weifsbier Kristallklar – another light German beer with a head that disappeared quickly. A flavour of mixed herbs thus not one of my favourites.
  • Paulander Hefe-Weifsbier Naturtrub – a cloudy version of the beer above. A slightly thicker texture – prefer others.

 

We walked down past Place Bellecour to the central malls and dining area. We continued on to dinner, settling on Le St Joseph, with its €15.90 three course meal. We ate inside, mainly because at least there was some cooling, and a lovely decor with walls that were painted to look like marble, and a Renaissance feel.

 

 

 

I loved the Salade Lyonnaise as a starter, which was a green salad with a poached egg, bacon and croutons. Then I enjoyed Magret de canard au poivre avec Gratin Dauphinoise. This was duck with a pepper sauce and cheesy scalloped potatoes, finishing off with Dessert Maison, mousse au chocolat in my case. The meal was accompanied by a Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône 2009 red, which was over-priced for the quality.

On the way back we took some nice photos of Lyon at night, before arranging to meet at midday the next day.

 

Starbuck’s in France:

 

Apparently Starbuck’s is fairly new in France, and there are two in Lyon, one with free wi-fi with purchase, and the other that you have to pay for. Naturally we selected the former, though it was a ten-minute walk further on. We had breakfast with a good cappuccino, and utilised the internet on Dutchy’s itouch. We had been unable to access hotmail and facebook for some time, and doing the blog was impossible at this stage. If anyone wonders why some of my blog posts are so huge, that’s why. I might be able to type on my laptop, but not be able to post.

Finally we saw Hanis again, after his illness of Dengue fever, from a mosquito bite in Asia. We met back at the apartment, which was fortunately easier to find than some of the other locations we have stayed at.

 

Lyon Landmarks:

 

After lunch at Le Gourmand de St Jean, we set off up the long hill to Fourvière, a Church on the top of the hill, and a landmark of Lyon. Similar to going up to Montmartre in Paris, the inside of this church was really old and ornate inside. On our way back down, we passed through the ancient arenas of Vieux Lyon (the old Lyon), and then the weather changed and rain threatened, so we ended up taking the funiculaire, a tramway run on cable.

 

 

 

 

Visiting a pub, there was a television on with football. Of course, when you are in France, the word football always refers to soccer, unlike in Victoria, Australia, where it is understood to be Australian Rules Football.  Dutchy’s beeralogue is not present for this entry as he drank beers he had already tasted.

That evening Hanis took us to a friend’s large apartment for dinner, where we sampled some Algerian food. Because it was Ramadan, it meant they weren’t supposed to eat until sunset, so it was a fairly late start. Then, because both Yacine and El Khansa had to work the next day, we didn’t stay too late.

 

Beer Baby:

 

As you might imagine, due to a certain beeralogue, there have been consequences. Usually Dutchy doesn’t drink beer, as he knows it is not good for one’s tummy profile, and besides, he rather enjoys his Bourbon. While we were up at Fourvière, I was going to subtly remind him to hold his stomach in (good posture doesn’t lose weight but can hide kilos or pounds), but the tourist booklet I was holding accidentally hit him a bit hard. The others found this rather amusing, accusing me then of killing his “beer baby” which then became a standing joke in the group. As with those sort of incidents, they lose something in the retelling, but I include it for my own amusement.

 

Killing time in Kehl and Quaint Colmar

Killing time in Kehl, or popping over to Germany to buy beer:

Since Strasbourg is only about 6 kms from the French/German border, we went over to Kehl for lunch and a spot of shopping, after checking out of our hotel. Of course, because of the EU, passports are not necessary when travelling through Europe. Drive over the bridge and there you are. For me, it takes some of the excitement and adventure away from the experience, but is certainly simpler. Customs operate if you have something to declare. Beer is not an issue apparently, particularly in personal consumption quantities.

We bought beer, with Dutchy and Leslye in heaven with the varieties. I found some Mumm crémant for a reasonable price. I seem to remember that being a fairly fancy name in the world of sparkling wine. Selections made, we set out to find lunch.

Impressed with the prices of everything, we lunched at Blondy’s Biergarten. Food, beer and other supplies obviously don’t attract the same exorbitant taxes etc of many other countries, including Australia. We shared some plates of food; potato croquettes, spatlze (a traditional pasta that we wouldn’t bother trying again), schnitzel and a sausage that we thought was the currywurst but we read wrong as that was a different item. Anyway, beer was the main attraction for certain people!

  • Franziskaner Weissbier – A 500ml cloudy monster with a golden honey colour. A strong bubbled light flavoured brew with a light malt scent – another easy drink.  I think I am seeing a pattern!!!! (Dutchy’s words)
  • Ketterer Bier – A light golden brew with a smooth flavour of light maple syrup – These beers are too easy to drink and far too cheap compared to home.

After lunch Leslye suggested visiting a store called DM, a veritable haven of personal care products for very reasonable prices. We had left Dutchy out in the heat near the car with our “We’ll only be ten minutes” catchphrase. When we finally returned I said to him, “I know, ten minutes my arse”. He said he had been just about to send an sms with that very phrase.

Quaint Colmar:

We somehow had managed to fit the four of us and our extensive luggage in the small car, and set off to Colmar, with its particular architecture, reminiscent of some Tudor Village buildings in England. Again, the weather was extremely warm, so sunscreen and hats helped after we had checked into the hotel for the night.

For pre-dinner drinks we split up, with Audrey and myself going to a wine-tasting area of Domaine Viticole de la Ville de Colmar. There Audrey enjoyed a Guertztraminer and I had the Crémant d’Alsace, which is a very pleasant sparkling wine from this Alsacien region. Dutchy and Leslye chose Le Murphy’s, an Irish Pub in a French town. Dutchy’s beeralogue:

  • Murphy’s Red – A dark golden brew with a creamy head and a sweet scent. Very smooth with few bubbles – refreshing after a long walk in Colmar
  • Murphy’s Stout – Black Bubbly brew with a light non-creamy head. A typical stout scent but a light easy drink with a slight licorice flavour – one is enough for me.

Often, when looking for places to eat, we would walk around the town comparing prices and availability of specialities of the area. The only trouble is sometimes if you start looking when you are already hungry, by the time you find somewhere and order you are nearly starving! We ended up deciding that evening to have a picnic in the park, as the one restaurant we had planned to go back to was closed! Baguettes, cheese, pâté and tomatoes were purchased from the supermarket and enjoyed by all, washed down with some Makers Mark Bourbon and Coke Zero. I also had a raspberry (framboise) cake that looked better than it tasted.

Breakfast the following morning at Le Fournil de Louis, a patisserie just a short walk from the hotel, was a very pleasant affair, where we enjoyed a “formule” or set menu, setting us up nicely for the long journey to Lyon.

Strasbourg in Strasbourg

Strasbourg in Strasbourg:

 

It’s always good to eat the local speciality, so of course this was the obvious one. In the Alsace region of France lies an area with a lot of German influence, being close to the border. We had taken the train, and Audrey and Leslye had driven, with our large suitcases, to Strasbourg. Deciding it was a pleasant day and after our long train journey, it would be a good idea to walk. Not actually getting lost, we ended up being quite warm after our 40 minute walk to find Rue des Bitches (honestly!) and our Hotel Cap, which had vinyl flooring and a little cupboard of a toilet and shower cubicle. However, it also had a little cooktop and fridge the same size as the apartment we had just been in. The bed was comfortable and I had enough space to do Body Balance the following morning. Dutchy was pleased it even had a TV, so we watched a dubbed Cléopâtre mini-series and I dozed off for half an hour. These replenishing naps are becoming a habit.

When the girls arrived we set off to walk about the town, amazed at how warm it was. Apparently France has been experiencing an unusual heatwave, and because it’s rare, adequate cooling, or even fans, are seriously lacking. Strasbourg is famous for the stork as its symbol, many of which are available as souvenir purchases. I am actually being fussy about what I buy in the way of souvenirs the more I travel, and try to choose practical things.

After some walking, a drink was in order. We sat across from the cathedral, which is an impressive structure. Before I enjoyed the local crémant Alsace, a sparkling wine from the area, I had a delicious ice-cream of chocolate and Rocher in a cone while Dutchy continued his beeralogue.

  • Picon beer – dark golden brown brew with a creamy head and a few bubbles. A very smooth drink with a taste of orange – another winner. Even Sandi surprisingly enjoyed a sip of it. The photo shows the surprising sip.  After much discussion and translation, it was discovered that Picon beer is actually a local beer with an additive. In this case it was one of Dutchy’s favourites, 1664, with a shot of Picon, an orange syrup. You can buy this, something we might look for.

 

Dinner at a little restaurant, after much more walking trying to choose a place, was pleasant. We tried a local specialty called “Tarte Flambé” or “Flammkuchen” the name of which I kept calling “Fluunken Schtuunken” which made everybody laugh. As a pizza, it was an almost an invisible crust if you compare it with our thin crust. Dutchy thought it was transparent! Scant toppings meant it was a once-only experience, though it was admittedly tasty. Sometimes expectations can spoil the actuality. I decided I had to try the choucroute, which we know by the German name of sauerkraut. This cooked cabbage conglomeration was okay, and accompanied by some sausage and ham and some other meat. The chocolate fondant was actually just some chocolate cake with a thin custard sauce over it. Where was the lovely centre oozing out?

Returning to our previous spot at the brasserie near the cathedral, because the light show was due to start, finding a table was a lot more difficult. Many people were sitting at tables, but facing the cathedral, so there were plenty of spare chairs on the other side of their tables. We found a spot and asked if we could utilise some of these chairs. Most people were very pleasant, but we approached one couple who were sitting at two tables. When we asked if we could have the other table the woman with the pursed lips said “no” which surprised me. I assumed they were waiting for someone else. Later they left, before the light show, without anyone having ever joined them. We didn’t have a chance to claim the territory because it was pounced on as they were leaving. Fortunately the older couple who had laid claim to it were happy for us to have one of the tables, but I was flabbergasted by the meanness of the previous occupant. I felt like running after her and telling her she should be staying in the same street as our hotel “rue des Bitche.”

Illumination of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg (Our Lady’s), was set to classical music, such as Swan Lake and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Computer programmed, it was an impressive show that lasted about 15 minutes, then to our surprise it was repeated five minutes later, and again for a third time!

 

Pastimes in Paris

Le pique-nique dans le parc:

An impressive supermarket merlot and bordeaux added to the picnic in the park at Parc Montsouris, where we were entertained by some jugglers practising their art, and amused by a guy who wanted to join us, probably because he saw the bottle/s of wine.

Afternoon naps are becoming de rigueur for us, to refresh us for the evenings. Oh well, we are on holidays.

Ooh-la-la:

Welcome to Moulin Rouge, where the women are scantily clad and the men are over-dressed. A most expensive evening, but one experience that we felt we must do. I had already seen Folies Bergères twenty years ago, but hadn’t seen this one. I think since the movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge became the most sought-after of this type of venue. For €102 each, we also received half a bottle of champagne, but the glasses were only wine glasses, not even flutes!

The show, 1¾ hours, was entertaining, with all cameras banned and checked in at the door. Scanning the room, we estimated it to hold about 700 people. It would certainly cost a lot to produce, with its huge cast and spectacular costumes, but value for money is questionable. Again, like Madame Tussaud’s in London, it’s a once or twice in a lifetime event. However, I found it a bit sexist that we saw a lot of bare female breasts but only one or two glimpses of male chests for the entire performance.

Divine decadence:

While in Paris we have been buying a “carnet” of ten Métro tickets, meaning a one-way trip costs €1.25 instead of the individual price of €1.60. Today we chose the day-pass for €6.30, as we knew we were going to be taking at least five trips. Our first stop was at Plaisance, to re-visit our favourite patisserie in Paris from last May, “Ellini” where we bought a selection of deliciously divine decadent cakes to share later with Audrey and Leslye. Then we went to Montparnasse to have a look at the Tour Montparnasse and share a millefeuille and a réligieuse accompanied by some tea from my thermos.

Toilet humour:

By this stage I needed to go to the toilet, so we went in search of them at the station, which is a large station as well as the Métro. Using them costs money, in this case €0.5. I handed over the money and the woman gave me a token in exchange, but I tried to find a slot in a door. Someone had to show me that the token was for the turnstile to get into the toilet area. Well-policed, if you wanted a shower it would cost (I think) €4. I suppose that helps maintain the amenities. Actually, last night I was surprised that after paying all that money for Moulin Rouge there was a woman sitting outside the toilets happy to accept tips. No way Jose!

Curry in a hurry:

After spending time finding the “passages couverts” which I thought were something secret, but turned out to be arcades, we were disappointed to find that most of them were closed, again due to the summer. We wonder how many businesses survive with their lengthy summer closures.

In one, called Passage Brady, there were many Indian restaurants. We settled for one in the open air, which was set up in a cobble-stoned laneway with green “grass” carpet, ornate chairs and plastic flowers. It was quite comfortable, and although Dutchy’s chicken tandoori was a bit dry (Dutchy adds that it spent its last three weeks of life in the Sahara Desert), my chicken curry was delicious and tender, and the accompanying “nan fromage” which was a cheesy naan bread, was really lovely.

J’arrive, j’arrive!!!

That cup of coffee nearly caused a divorce…

Leslye and Audrey came with their car to take our suitcases to Strasbourg to make it easier for us when we caught the train. It’s amazing how a series of events can lead to catastrophe. They were a little late, which meant we lost a little time. Then I decided I’d like a cup of plunger coffee before we left, as if you buy coffee it can cost $6. Another trip to the toilet and cleaning the plunger and cups added to the delay, and suddenly we were running late. We still had to get to the Métro, then get to Gare de l’Est and then make our way to the area for “Grandes Lignes” where the TGV would leave from. Because we had finished a carnet of tickets, we still had to buy two singles. Of course the machine was full of coins and wouldn’t accept ours. A woman was using the other one so we had to wait while she finished. So €3.20 later we had our tickets and were racing down the stairs (being careful not to fall) to the platform, where fortunately there was a train almost ready to depart.

I had inadvertently assumed there were only three Métro stops until ours, but oh dear, I was thinking of Gare d’Austerlitz, which is the station we would take to go to Nola and Tony’s in Argenton-sur-Creuse. Gare de l’Est, an enormous station that serves trains heading east, such as ours to Zurich via Strasbourg, is another seven stops away. Now we were really pushing it. Looking at our tickets, the train was due to leave at 10.24 and we were supposed to check in ten minutes prior. If you arrived after 10.19, boarding was not guaranteed. Bloody hell, it was already after 10 and we still had about five stops to go. Stress levels were rising rapidly by this stage. You could see Dutchy getting angry, though he wasn’t actually yelling, and I was upset but not actually crying. He is right I suppose. Leaving early you are always on time, but then you have to wait around, but this feeling of anxiety isn’t fun either, and it’s certainly not good for the smooth-running of a relationship.

Some minutes and many prayers later we made it to the station, but time was rapidly running out, especially when we had to go up stairs and find the Voie or platform, from which the train would leave. It was already 10.18 and I lost it. Imagine me running around trying to find where to go, being calm no longer. Finally, with some help from a workman, we found out the train had been delayed and was due to leave at 10.34. Thank God for that! It hadn’t even had a platform allocated to it yet.

People were milling around, waiting for the notification to appear on the screen of departures. I was then so relieved that I burst into tears. Travelling can be fun; travelling can be stressful; so can life. Deal with it, princess. I said that, not Dutchy, though maybe that’s what he thought, coming from Mars as he does.

TGV Première classe:

We are now sitting in First Class on the TGV (Trains à Grandes Vitesse) which basically means Very Fast Trains, and it’s true. We are whizzing through the countryside at a rate of about 200kms an hour. We are now both calm, I have been typing on the laptop in air-conditioned comfort, and we are still married. My saving grace was reminding him to take the last of the Jim Beam and Coke Zero to have in transit, which he has just poured, at 11.25am. Well it’s after noon somewhere.

Ironically, when we booked the tickets on the internet, Hanis found that if we booked through a French site, the tickets were cheaper, and also we got First Class for the same or less than Second Class. Go figure! Good leg room and wider seats make for comfortable travelling. You can recline the seats without disturbing other passengers, and we even have a power point. However, one needs to actually put the adaptor with the computer in order to use it. I wonder who didn’t do that? At least that one can’t be attributed to moi. There’s 1½ hours of battery which should be sufficient.

Why Princess and Quiquinou?

Dutchy prefers to group things together so they don’t get lost and you always know where they are, thus he packed it in the suitcase, which is with the girls, with all the other chargers and adaptors. Some would call him anal retentive, which is why we call him “Quiquinou”, which is a nickname short for “enquiquineur” meaning fussbudget, which suits Dutchy down to the ground. He even likes it!!

For anyone who knows me, they understand why Princess is my nickname, but for anyone else, the name was coined during my travels with my sister in 2003, when we were at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, USA. We had just enjoyed the Drawing Studio where artists were working on the current animated movie called “Brother Bear.” We then came out to the shop area, where there were all sorts of items you could purchase relating to animation. I had already chosen a book called “How to Draw Princesses” which gave instructions to draw the Disney princesses, when a little girl walked past in a character outfit. I said something to her about being a princess, and you could see her light up.

My sister Nola laughed at me because she remembered me once saying that maybe I could marry Prince Charles to become a princess, as he was the only prince I really knew of, and he had done some schooling at Timbertop in Victoria. She thought he was too old for me, but he ended up marrying Lady Diana, who shared 1st July as her birthday, only five years younger than me!

Paris

 

Paris by Night – Seine River Cruise:

 

Advertised as a Buffet à volonté, the cold meat and salad didn’t really make the grade, and being a captive audience there was no choice but to drink exorbitantly priced drinks, or risk losing your table. However, despite those minor inconveniences, we had a fabulous time and were afforded brilliant photo opportunities for Paris landmarks by night. Some of the shots of the Eiffel Tower were suitably postcard-like.

We were supposed to have “apéro,” short for aperitifs, or pre-dinner drinks, at our apartment (that never seems to lose [Toulouse] its edge) but the girls were late and Dutchy was over at the supermarket buying some cereal and yoghurt for breakfast. So it was a mad panic to get to the Métro and run along the banks of the Seine to be at the River’s King boat for embarkation, only to have to wait for ages to board! At least this way we were on first and were able to get a table.

All of us had a coloured wristband that was iridescent, so when we finally “set sail” they lit up beautifully. It was only later we discovered the significance of the different colours; red was if you were attached, yellow, not sure, and green was apparently available. I didn’t know, I swear, but it was funny because mine was green.

We met some interesting Brazilian people and enjoyed taking many happy snaps. Monica spoke English, French and Brazilian Portuguese, while her friend Marco, who was on holidays from the French Foreign Legion in Somalia, having been with the Legion for ten years, spoke French and Portuguese.

 

 

 

 

 

Mounting Montmartre:

 

Climbing all the many stairs up to Montmartre makes me realise this is an area I wouldn’t want to live in. We like to pretend that one day we could afford an apartment in Paris, but it’s a bit of a joke, because we wouldn’t actually want to live in a broom closet, which would be all we could get if we could at all. Then there’s another part of me that says yes, when I write the book that makes me famous or when Dutchy wins the $29 million he has dreamt about, then sure we could, and it might be a $2 million dollar property. How big can you dream?

Our late lunch was going to be at Au Bon Coin, a little Parisian restaurant; inspired as we were to go there because Dutchy’s favourite website to peruse is Leboncoin, where he looks at motorbikes and properties in France, and continues to dream. This dream was a dud, because it was closed for summer, so we ended up at the swimming pool. Not actually, but the name of the restaurant was La Piscine. We had an enjoyable lunch, but required a half-hour nap before the night’s activities.

 

 

Fancy Dining at La Marée:

 

What a wonderful fine dining experience we had in the rue Faubourg St Honoré. All dressed up and raring to go, we met for pre-dinner drinks and a photo shoot at the Parc Monceau. Audrey and Leslye provided the champagne as my belated birthday drink before heading off to La Marée in an exclusive part of town.

Dutchy said he knew he was in a fancy place when he went to the amenities, and there were individual face washers to utilise as handtowels for the clientele at the basins.

We had a “formule” or set menu, where we each had a choice of items for entrée, main and dessert. Thoroughly impressed with all courses, Dutchy said he couldn’t remember a better meal. High praise, richly deserved. We enjoyed a chilled red Beaujolais for €29 ($40) ouch.

 

 

 

 

From London to Paris

Lost in London (again):

 

Before breakfast I decided to go for a half-hour walk for three reasons:

1) to work up an appetite for the buffet

2) to exercise and

3) to work out where we should have walked the other night to avoid a circuitous route to the hotel.

Scoring 2 out of 3, I certainly worked up an appetite during the hour-long walk and had plenty of exercise. On the 3rd point however I failed dismally. Around the Belgravia area are many Places and Squares and lots of buildings painted in the shade of magnolia called Queen Anne white. Therein lay the problem; they all look the same! My orienteering skills wouldn’t work because it was cloudy, I couldn’t see the sun and work out which was north, and besides, it’s probably different in the northern hemisphere anyway.

 

The New Do:

 

Not Sandi, as one might expect, but Dutchy spent an hour at Headmaster, the hairdressing salon around the corner. The top of his hair, (sides and fringe Dutchy adds, to prove to our friends who have less hair that he has enough to annoy him) was really irritating him, as we found out when we viewed some of our photos from Mme Tussaud’s. He likes to be neat, so off to Charlotte who did a great job on his hair. He even has some Redken mousse called “Rock Sculpt” which he is learning how to apply successfully. Having finally started and published this blog, my next step is to add photos and maybe redesign the setup, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

 

 

 

 

The Hunt for Karaoke:

 

While I stayed in the hotel room to do some Body Balance (three times this week – and feeling really good for it), Dutchy was missing detective work so much that he sent himself on a mission to hunt out a karaoke venue for the evening. Armed with a map provided by the helpful reception staff, he wandered off to find JD’s Bar and Restaurant in Kennington Lane, Vauxhall. When he returned he said it would take us about 35 minutes to walk there, and assumed that it only opened in the evening.

Setting out, I put my high heel sandals in his backpack in case I wanted to upgrade my outfit once we got there. Down Vauxhall Bridge Road and over the Thames to the seedier side of town we went, arriving at JD’s to find it still closed. The bloke in the Royal Oak Hotel next door had no idea how long it had been closed (somebody needs to update these internet sites), but suggested there was another Royal Oak Hotel further down the road with karaoke on Saturdays. He had quite a thick accent so the name of the road was “Fitz-something Street” as I couldn’t ask him a 4th time to repeat it.

Glad I was wearing runners, on we ventured and came upon The Dog House (Dutchy wants me to add that it is a Pub, as if you couldn’t tell – what else would it be? Maybe a home for lost dogs who happen to speak human? A place where many men live? ) Directions were given to Fitzalan Street. By this time it was almost an hour after we had left, so I was quite hungry. Sorry, they don’t serve food at this Pub, but they have takeaway menus that you can order from local outlets. In the end we went for a walk and found Pizza Forno, where Dutchy had the Cod fish and chips and I had a Chicken Fillet Burger, both of which were very tasty.

Back to the pub at 7.30 to have a drink and wait for the karaoke guy, who hadn’t even arrived yet.  I had a small bottle of a Cabernet Sauvignon, which I sat on for the whole evening, while Dutchy continued his beeralogue. Of course, one must buy “a pint” which is about the equivalent of 2 pots.

  • John Smith’s Extra Smooth  – cold, silky-smooth, full-flavoured Bitter – delicious.
  • Stella Artois – standard – not quite as good as the Black from the other night.
  • Kronenberg 1664 – a long-time favourite of Dutchy’s, which he can’t describe objectively at the moment because it is just one he likes and has never thought about it before, so next time he has one he will try to critique it.

A television was on at this quirky little pub, with the sound down. They have a trivia show tied in with the lottery. It reminded me a bit of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and I was having fun choosing the answers, many of which were right, to my delight. The sports questions though – forget about them, especially when they were specifically related to England.

By the time the karaoke was set up and actually started at 9.25pm, it was nearly time for us to leave, as we had a long walk ahead of us. Dutchy was called up first and sang “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel to a good crowd reaction, while they were all still reasonably sober. A bloke who sounded like Michael Caine asked me what I was going to sing. I said “Fever” to which he replied that it was some other bloke’s song. It’s funny how people get territorial at karaoke about “their” song, when it wasn’t theirs to begin with. I suggested that it was Michael Bublé’s and I was going to sing Peggy Lee’s version anyway.

Karaoke and Pub crowds – there are certain types and groups at all of them. The accents may change, but the demographics remain the same.

“Folsom Prison Blues” turned out to be double tempo, which meant less stage time for Dutchy. Mind you, the venue was elongated, with the karaoke down the back, a narrow walkway with barstools blocking the path somewhat, and we were near the window at the front.  My second song was Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” but Dutchy said the sound wasn’t up enough for my voice. His last song was “Evil Woman” by ELO, so he gave them a wide variety of songs. We found a shorter way home, taking less than 40 minutes, ready for a good night’s sleep.

 

Eurostar is a star:

 

What a pleasant way to travel from London to Paris. No airports and associated check-in times. We only had to check in half an hour before leaving from London St. Pancras International Station. Meanwhile, I was able to get a photo going into Platform 9 3/4! We really are having a Harry Potter festival. Even though we only had to travel five stations from Victoria to Kings Cross, it cost us £4 each. In future, it would be advisable to get a day pass for £2 more and do a little travelling around first. Of course, this would then entail leaving luggage somewhere. It would be better to leave it at your hotel, because it would cost £8 per piece at the Left Luggage at the station.

Although our seats were facing the wrong way (I like to face the direction in which I’m going), I got used to it as time went on. Besides, after 30 minutes we entered the Chunnel; 24 minutes later we were on French terra firma in bright sunshine. 1 hour and 10 minutes after that we arrived safely at Paris Gare du Nord. Clocks had to be put forward 1 hour, so our actual arrival was 18:07 pm, to be met by Leslye, with whom we had dinner in Paris last year!

 

 

 

 

An apartment in Paris!

 

Our friends Hanis, Audrey and Leslye, organised accommodation for us here in Paris. We had psyched ourselves up for a studio with a sofa bed, kitchenette and not much else, so we were pleasantly surprised with this funkily furnished apartment with a separate comfortable bed and a lounge. Dutchy estimates it at 26 square metres. It would probably fit into our pergola area, particularly as it is U-shaped where the staircase goes. We’re on the 1st floor and Dutchy had to lug the cases up here. The best thing I discovered was a BATH! Small, but a bath nonetheless. I thought I was going to have to wait until we go to my cousin Amelia’s in Brighton on 1st September. We are in the 13th arrondissement near the Métro Station Place d’Italie.

Leslye stayed for awhile for a couple of drinks. We are looking forward to our “programme” devised by our friends to show us a different side to Paris, and also other areas of France.

 

 

 

 

Uh-oh! It’s a Bank Holiday:

 

Visited our first boulangerie ( bakery) today, where we bought a baguette, a cheese and bacon roll called Fiçelle Apero (or something similar), and some chouquettes, which are light choux pastries coated with sugar. The thermos I brought has proved fantastic, as in Paris a cup of tea or coffee in some areas is up to about $7. Planning to leave early to go to the Louvre is good, but actually doing it is another matter. Dutchy had promised that during this visit to Paris he would accompany me there, and actually go inside and get a bit of culture. However, we hadn’t known that if it is a Bank Holiday and all the shops are shut, what better activity would there be than to go to Le Louvre? We bought a carnet of 10 Métro tickets and made our way to Palais Royal Musée du Louvre. The 300 metre queues, after Madame Tussaud’s last week, left me cold. It was a beautiful sunny day so I suggested that maybe we could go tomorrow instead.  He was only too happy to oblige, and we decided we could walk and meander as we liked, and even if we got lost we could just find the nearest station and make our way back fairly easily.

Because our plans changed and the weather fined up, I needed a hat, which I purchased from one of the many vendors who set up blanket shops (that’s what I call it when they spread their wares on the ground near tourist venues). It’s a cute black one with some silver studs around the band. Could be useful for karaoke too. He wanted me to pay €15 but I just said no thanks and walked away. He suddenly lowered the price to €10, but I declined. None of the others had nice ones, so I thought if he was prepared to come down so quickly I would see what change I had. I therefore offered him 7€50 which he begrudgingly accepted.

Roamed up the Champs Elysées, and then headed over for the obligatory photos of La Tour Eiffel. Needing supplies, we wanted to go to the supermarket, but Carrefour was closed. We couldn’t find it anyway, but eventually made it back to our current place of residence, where I enjoyed a lovely bath after some Body Balance. Nice hair wash here, as the water is much softer.

 

Beer at McDonald’s!

 

Crazily, since we only have it in Melbourne once every couple of years, we went to Macca’s for dinner. I often tell people we are from Australia so they don’t confuse us with the English, and Dutchy really noticed the change in attitude after I had said where we were from. I had fun ordering in French. With their meal deal “Best of” you can opt for 1664 beer – how bizarre. If you upgrade you get a sub-normal sized can instead of the baby 200ml one.

 

 

 

 

My Precious:

 

As we walked from the Louvre towards the Arc de Triomphe, we remembered how last year we were approached by a guy who pretended to have found a ring and offered it to us for the price of a meal (sandwich and drink). We went along with it, just for a bit of a laugh, but this time we wanted to show one of them a lesson. Bring it on I thought. We were sitting on a seat having a cup of tea from my thermos, when a guy came up to us and oh what  a surprise, looked down and picked up a ring, showing it to us to ask if it was ours. I suggested he give it to the police, but he made signs for us to try it on, so Dutchy said he had something for him. He went into his pocket and took out his police ID and told the guy where to go. He ran off, tail between his legs. An American couple were laughing so we had a chat and apparently one of the team had grabbed his camera that was around his wrist, but he managed to shake him off. They were pleased that one of them had got some of what he deserved.

 

Aux Champs Elysées:

 

I feel a song coming on. Karaoke is not huge in France, malheureusement (unfortunately). Strolling down the Champs Elysées, I noticed that in some ways it is not as different as it used to be. Now that in Australia we have become a café culture, we are used to seeing people sitting outside venues drinking coffee. Again, as we become more global the differences between cultures are minimised. So why travel then? It’s still great being in another country, especially a foreign one where the language is something other than we are used to, seeing sights in person, particularly large ones e.g. temples, towers, natural wonders and so on.

The coffee here is not so enjoyable, especially at about $7 a cup, so my little trusty thermos helps save money with my Earl Grey tea. In our apartment (doesn’t that sound good?!) we have a coffee plunger where we can make coffee to suit our palates.

I looked in the Guerlain parfumerie, as our younger daughter loves “L’Instant de Guerlain” but the prices were outrageous.

 

 

 

La Tour Eiffel:

 

She is still beautiful, though this time we took our shots from a distance. I love the one we took of us in front of the tower last year, so this time we tried the one where I am holding the tower in my hand, thanks to Dutchy’s skilful photography.

 

 

 

Rest and Recuperation:

 

After all that walking the previous day, we decided on a go-slow. I also chose to delay the visit to the Louvre until our next visit to Paris. We have a program planned for us, so we want to be in tip-top shape. Dutchy’s idea of a “go-slow day” is to sit on his bum and do things on the computer, while of course mine is shopping!!!

Location, location, location – this apartment is directly opposite the doors to “Italie 2” which is a huge shopping mall containing a Carrefour supermarket, Go – a sports store (like Rebel), and 130 boutiques.  I was in shopping heaven, and was close enough to “home” that I could pop back over here for a spot of lunch before heading back for some more. That’s how cultural I really am, choosing shopping over art at the Louvre.

On my return trip, Dutchy suggested I take one of our walkie-talkies that we will be taking on the cruise, kindly given to us by my sister and brother-in-law last Christmas. When I saw something he might be interested in, I was able to call him and he came over. I found a – wait for it – large pearl necklace suitable for a Rocky Horror outfit that Dutchy wants when he sings “Sweet Transvestite” at our planned Rocky Horror fancy dress night next year.

My purchases were a semi-quaver necklace and a treble clef brooch, plus a nice red cardigan and a little black and red bustier which will be handy for my own Rocky Horror Magenta outfit.

 

 

 

 

Luscious Lunch:

 

Sure, you can go out to fancy restaurants to eat, but sometimes the simple options can be just as, if not more satisfying. Imagine if you will, a fresh baguette, which is a beautifully crusty long bread roll, smothered in pâté with some Brie cheese on the top. The flavours merge into a delicious taste sensation.

Sometimes we visit the patisserie or boulangerie to add something sweet, but here you can even buy some quite good specialty cakes at the supermarket.

 

Chinatown, my Chinatown:

 

This can’t be the only Chinatown in Paris. If it is, I am disappointed. At least in Melbourne there is a grand entrance in Little Bourke Street, announcing that you are definitely in Chinatown. We ended up at a restaurant called Boeuf Grillé for a fairly ordinary buffet. We needed our weekly fix of Chinese after having been hosting the karaoke at the Ming for a year.