Friday, August 31, 2012

Paris is lovely in the summertime

Woah! Days have flown by so we're going to have to skip Berlin for now. We're in Paris, in a little apartment in Republique - and I've never felt so fat and frumpy in my life! Each week there's a local market in the square, where I shopped for sweet fragrant strawberries, some vegetables for our dinner and a slice of magnificent terrine. Then off to the butchers for a roast chicken, the boulangerie for some bread and the patisserie for the most delectable little Paris-Brest cake. I have eaten myself senseless. And guess what? The French have been really lovely. Except for one chap who was so so rude it made us giggle. On our first day we went on a stroll down Rue de Rivoli, past le Louvre and Musee d'Orsay, along the Seine - stopping off at Cafe Voltaire for a cup of tea - through the Tuileries and on to l'Arc de Triomphe. I spent most of the morning saying: I'm in Paris... I'm in Paris... I'm in Paris; and had to hold on tightly to my husband's hand so that I didn't just fall over in the street with my mouth gaping open! Today we slept in, had a croissant for breakfast and strolled through Montmarte (via a bike store!) Montm is not very nice. But right at the top of the hill is Sacre Coeur and that was very nice indeed. Once back in our neighbourhood we stopped for the best omelette in the world and managed to convince the waiter to sell us the milk jug I was admiring (dreadful tourists, I know!) Tomorrow we move to another apartment, on the Left Bank and then we'll go to say hello to the Eiffel Tower!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beautiful Bath!

Gorgeous, charming and utterly delightful Bath! And stupidly expensive to get to for such a short train trip. Rose, our host and old school friend, Mr C and I headed off for a day trip to Bath. I think I want to live there! It's like being on a movie set for a Regency film. We started with lunch in a sunny garden courtyard (though we'd already snacked on Marks and Spencer pork pies on the trip down!) Best home made raspberry lemonade ever! Then a short stroll to the Jane Austen museum - display a bit patchy but a great talk on her life and time in Bath. So evocative. I got to sample ratafia - which gets mentioned all the time in Regency novels. It's a drink but also little almond biscuits that get served with it. Yum! I also got to try on some Regency bonnets. Thrilling! I felt like such a demure lady. The man at the door saw I was dressed 1940s and so I was serenaded by a Regency chap singing a Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.

Then off to the fashion museum. This was a ripper! An excellent, extensive collection from the 17th century onwards. Absolutely fabulous. We spent a loooong time here swooning over gauntlet gloves, corsets and embroidery. A magnificent collection beautifully curated.

But there was still more to see in Bath! We strolled around looking at the architecture, stopping off for tea and carrot cake before heading to the big attraction - the Roman baths. Wow, wow, wow! An amazingly well preserved complex. Absolutely amazing. And yes, I did sample the waters.

We just had time for a stroll along the river before heading to the evening train. Only to find it cancelled. With no explanation. Next train, two hours away. Dunkirk spirit kicks in - we head to the station hotel for some lemonade and onion rings. Back to the station - and the train is delayed. Eying off the number of passengers dubiously - clearly many of them went to the pub during the wait... Our reserved seats no longer hold... Train arrives and it's standing room only. Though there appears to be heaps of room in the first class carriages no one makes a move towards them. We end up separated from Rose, squished in a doorway with people shouting - and still drinking. Got a seat eventually, got to the tube station, hopped on. Except it's terminating early. So we get off and wait for another. Get to the bus station and hop on. And then the bus breaks down. Oy oy oy! We end up walking home. Past midnight, way past my bedtime! At least it didn't rain...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Imperial War Museum

Our apartment in London was quite close to the Imperial War Museum - I couldn't wait to go! I was quite beside myself with excitement when we arrived. In the main hall they have tanks, mini submarines, a V2 rocket, airplanes and artillery guns. We saw Monty's tank! I peered inside a Lancaster flown by the RAAF. It was just amazing to see. But there were lots of kids climbing on things and it just felt a bit odd. I must say, I don't think it's exactly a place for children. They had an exhibition on the homefront and what it was like living through the Blitz. They'd recreated rooms from a house and I was in heaven! Given what we've seen of the rather reserved and disobliging British character you can understand how they look back on the homefront as a special time, when people really pulled together. It just seems like a remarkable achievement.

There was also an exhibition on the secret war - which I find just fascinating. I saw an Enigma machine! Shoelaces saturated with invisible ink, radio transmitters hidden in suitcases and encoded messages. There was also an extensive exhibition on the Holocaust. It spanned three floors, was extremely comprehensive and confronting. It was really well done and forced you to face extremely horrifying facts. Tremendously moving. I left quite shaken.

From the IWM it was a brief tube ride to Churchill's war rooms near the Treasury in Westminster. The entrance used to be flanked with sand bags but now, sadly, has a proper grown up museum entrance. I'd seen the rooms in documentaries but to be there was simply thrilling. After the war they'd simply shut up the rooms as they were, using some of them for storage. Maps were left hanging, with drawing pins marking positions. Someone's sugar rations were found in a desk drawer. The original furniture is still there. It's a real rabbit warren with barely space for two people to move down some of the corridors. They've expanded the exhibition space with a museum on Churchill. It was all a bit new interactive display for me - but big thrill - I saw Churchill's purple velvet siren suit!

An absolutely amazing day, full of highlights!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Chancery

Ok, I'm a little behind the times here - we're actually in Berlin...

I took Bleak House with me for my London reading so I made Mr Chairman take me on a tour of the scene of much of the book. We went out for a bit of a Dickens walk through the courts of Chancery, the law offices of Lincoln's Inn and the Temple. We saw the law courts and the Old Bailey. The Inn and Temple were quiet tourist free cloisters, silent courtyards and gated gardens (complete with do not walk on the grass signs). I was in Dickens heaven! It was all very evocative. In our wanders we came across the ruins of a Christopher Wren church. Only one wall was standing, the rest destroyed in an air raid in 1940. The site is now a sweet cottage garden in the centre of the legal district. Box hedges mark out the aisle, and wooden frames indicate the pillars of the church. It was a richly smelling mass of yellow roses, budlia, lavender, hydrangeas and clematis. Enchanting!

My mum would have loved it and been particularly inspired for her new garden. It was such a beautiful surprise in the middle of the city. Next stop, the Imperial War Museum!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer sunshine

I'm sitting on the balcony, fingers stained with fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, reading Dickens and watching the breeze stir the runner beans and tomato plants. It's a sunny day and I'm already sunburnt. The flight to London was rather trying - next holiday we're going to Bali! Things here are ridiculously cheap. We've had cooked breakfasts every day. And - oh! - the tea is nice and strong and hot. Despite the Olympics, the crowds are moderate. In any case, the tourists are very friendly - a little more so than the Londoners themselves. Customer service, for the most part, is non existent. British reserve is very real! If you say thank you to someone or offer to help them they just stare at you. If you're in their way they'll simply stand behind you getting grumpy, but won't say a word.

Why did I not buy these platform shoes??? I've bought tea at Fortnum and Masons, seen the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra's mummy at the British Museum and caught lots of double decker buses. I also got separated from my husband on the tube which we won't speak about... And there are squirrels in our street. Best of all was the Bomber Command memorial and the Australian war memorial near Hyde Park. Very well done and very moving. No one wears make up here which, personally, I think is a bit of a mistake. Though it's nice to see 16 year old girls look like 16 year old girls and not tarted up hoes. The concept of melanoma doesn't appear to have sunk in and you'll see a 50 year old fair skinned freckled woman deliberately choosing a seat in the afternoon sun - madness. We're staying in a West Indian and African area and the women and men in traditional dress are beautiful - not afraid of a bit of colour (which Mr Chairman thinks is a very good thing)! On the vintage front, I am testing out some proper old fashioned hair setting lotion and setting rollers. Though the Jamaican girl in Boots thought I was after air freshener. Apparently we do not speak the same language.