Palaces and Princesses

A bit of a lie-in today, Saturday, after two very long but very different days. It’s been said many times but we both feel as if we need a holiday after our week here in Paris.

We’re still coming across French or Parisian stereotypes and clichés. Watching the Olympics with a French commentary is very entertaining. I thought the ‘ooh lala’ was pretty good. But during the skiing down a halftime event, someone crashed out and we were treated to a ‘ooh lala lala lalalalala lala’.

Beware: in some restaurants, the vegetarian salad option boasts salmon as a main ingredient. Mostly though, while it’s been difficult sometimes, I’ve enjoyed the veggie food, even when it’s a bit, let’s say, unusual. White pizza is one that has no tomatoes.

We were entertained on a train by a man playing his piano accordion. A medley of French tunes which had a few of the passengers dancing in their seats.

The tickets to Versailles were valid on any reasonable route via Metro or RER. Which sounds typically French in a way. And the RER train itself was decorated to look like one of the great Halls at the palace, even the ceiling.

More people seem to smoke here than they do in London but we’ve seen very few electronic devices being enjoyed. You have to hold your breath while entering some eating places as the enclosed but ‘outside’ seating area is for smokers.

The train journey to the Palace of Versailles revealed that most graffiti in and around Paris is nothing more than tags, ugly and not very creative. Such a contrast with the artworks here and at the Louvre, for instance.

We left the station, Versailles Château Rive Gauche, to be greeted by a depressing sight of the unholy trinity: a KFC, a McDonalds and a Starbucks. Under slightly different circumstances, this would be cause for a revolution.

The Palace of Versailles is huge. Most of the halls are bigger than our house. The Hall of Mirrors is as big as Wales. The audio commentary was purely factual but in the end I think we both took a dislike to all the opulence. It could very well cause a revolution under slightly different circumstances.

One of the halls contained busts of notable men from mostly the arts. Men. Yes, apart from a queen and a mistress, I don’t think women were much good in those days. I was pleased to see a couple of astronomers and mathematicians represented, though, Cassini and des Cartes for instance.

We declined the offer of a 20-minute wait for lunch and instead walked back towards the railway station, and in particular, to a nice, small, independent coffee shop by the name of The Stray Bean. The carrot cake, pistachio cake and the coffee all scored maximum points.

We briefly met up with Monica and Neha on our return. But we went out and had dinner on our own: a surprisingly tasty rice-based veggie burger with chips.

Friday we all got together again for a day at Disneyland Paris. We were joined by a friend of Monica’s, Hannah, who’s from Ireland but studying in Lyon.

For Neha, I think the highlight of the day was the Princesses’ Lunch. While eating, we were addressed by Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel and Aurora. Sadly, no Belle. The waiter, Moez, insisted on referring to the ladies as princesses and called me Doctor. He asked a couple of times where he knew us from and given the present, young company, I’m glad I didn’t respond that I’d been in a couple of porn movies recently that he might have seen.

We walked and stood and waited in line and queued up for several rides. It was cold, though: the wind was biting, some puddles were still frozen and there were icicles in the waterfall. But Neha didn’t care, she was just excited to be there.

The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ride was too much for my back which was beaten black and blue by the hard plastic. Don’t mind the 360° turns and being upside down but please stop bashing me on the same vertebra over and over and over again.

There were a couple of more peaceful rides , drifting along the water being serenaded by children from all around the world. The depiction of England was wonderful: a red bus jumping over the opening bascules of Tower Bridge.

Altogether, we walked over 10 miles on this day and I think we were all glad to get to bed.

During the day, three different estate agents called. One more, improved offer on our house, but we’ll hold out for a few more days. So now it’s a, it’s a, it’s a Drive-in Saturday. We’re on our way home.

I’m sure we’ll come back to Paris at some point, probably before the 2024 Summer Olympics. It’s a great place to just wander round, the signage, the architecture, the transport systems are all fascinating in their own way. It’s so easy to compare with London of course, but 40 years in London v one week in Paris is hardly a fair fight.

Not everything is real at Versailles as revealed when the green screen system breaks down.

Paris in the Springtime

Walking around the streets of Paris, it’s easy to make comparisons with London. We’ve seen far fewer rough sleepers, just a couple really. But there are many more beggars, each with a much-used old paper cup with only a couple of coins in at the most. Some have dogs but most don’t. What most of them do have, that beggars in London don’t have, is a nice, big, comfortable cushion to sit on.

Another ploy is to come up and ask you to sign a piece of paper. You assume it’s a petition so you read it. Then you find out the person is ‘deaf and mute’. They’re asking for money and you’re supposed to indicate how much you’re donating when you sign. You’ve got to admire their bottle, but, pretending to be deaf?

And on the Metro, we’ve been privileged to have heard three different speakers presumably asking for the price of a coffee or a small contribution for their lodging tonight.

Ignoring all these people, some of whom may be in genuine need of help and not really just trying to fleece ‘tourists’, is tough. But I’m not really a bad person. I made friends with a tiny, old French lady in a bookshop who couldn’t reach what she wanted from the top shelf. We agreed that it was nice buying books for grandchildren, but that’s as far as my French language skills went.

The other problem we have is that our phones lose charge and we don’t have the correct adapter to charge them. I looked in an Apple shop that we happened to pass, but 25€ for a plug with an Apple logo seems a bit OTT. Fortunately, Monica came better prepared. So, my phone is fully charged now and my thumb is typing away and sometimes hitting the correct letter at the first attempt.

Earlier today, I was alerted to a new voicemail message. When I called to listen to it, the nice man said there weren’t any. However, I did retrieve it later, and a second one, both from our estate agent, asking me to call back.

Two more offers have been received, neither of which we want to accept right now. Someone really wants a downstairs toilet but doesn’t want to spend £25,000 installing it. I’m assuming it’s Donald Trump looking to install a gold-played one for that price. Another one wants to rent the house out but wanted to buy the house for a small amount, cheeky devil. There are a couple more people due to view the house later in the week. Yes, it does feel weird having hordes of strangers looking around our house while we’re not there, but equally, it feels wrong when we go and look at other people’s houses and flats.

Meanwhile, back here in Paris, many of the museums and other attractions are closed on Tuesdays. So yesterday, we all went for a long walk, via the Hôtel des Invalides and the Musée de l’Armée. Napoleon’s Tomb is in a church nearby, but we didn’t pay to see it.

We caught a bus, when we eventually found the correct bus stop, to start the main mission of the day: a tour of chocolate shops!

Lots of free samples were enjoyed of course, and we all bought a lot of chocolate to take home. How much really gets back to England, well, we’ll see.

Bon Marché is a big shop. Liesel, Monica and Neha looked around while I took refuge in the book department. I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities right now, it seemed appropriate, but I couldn’t find a French translation. This is where I met the little old French lady, by the way. I went for a coffee because the seats in the café were more comfortable than those in the book shop itself.

Today we visited the Louvre. It’s huge. I wanted to see he Mona Lisa of course, it being the star of a few stories that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Liesel enjoyed the Egyptian section, stuffed cats, stuffed crocodiles and all. I looked at a lot of Italian art and it was nice to see that not every Italian painting from the olden days is a Madonna and Child, which is what I remember from Florence, especially. The Islamic art was also interesting, and I learned a lot about Arabic script.

Yes, I was moved by seeing Leonardo’s most famous painting in the flesh, but it’s sad that it has to be hung behind a thick layer of bullet-proof glass.

We were hoping to take a boat to the Eiffel Tower but the river was flooded, the jetty and many riverside restaurants were under water. Literally, in Seine.

We took a bus instead, the 69 again, and queued to be security-checked then queued to buy tickets then queued for the lift and queued a few more times to take the lift up and back down again.

Wild is the Wind. Really wild. And very cold. So while I’d wanted to climb the stairs initially rather than taking the lifts, in the end, I was quite glad I didn’t. The cold wind went in one ear and out the other, despite my fleece ear-covering hat.

And while the views from the very top of the Tower were wonderful, it was a nice, bright , sunny day, it was bitterly cold in that wind.

On the walk back to our hotel, we stopped off for hot chocolate and crêpes with hot chocolate sauce. So much sugar, so much chocolate, but so nice to sit down in the warm.

Having watched TV a few times now, I can say that I’m very disappointed by the lack of Olympjcs coverage: we have to watch Eurosport 1 in German and we see a lot of German competitors, especially the medal winners.

Car adverts are just as terrible in French or in German, and all the roads are just as unrealistically empty as they are in British ads.

Trails for reality/talent shows are just as annoying as they are at home.

And of course, you can always find a food-based programme or two, just like on Freeview.

I was hoping to listen to some French radio but the device in the hotel room either doesn’t work, or it’s too complicated for little old me. And listening online, on my phone, would be OK, if I could guarantee being able to charge it again afterwards! I know, I know, first-world problems!

Liesel, Monica and Neha sought out cheese fondue for supper this evening, I was happy to eat whatever was in the room, but no, I didn’t eat all the chocolate, not his time.

Here are Monica, Liesel, Mona, Lisa, Neha, Mick and some other character at the Louvre.

Nôtre Dame

The first full day here started quite late. We watched some coverage of the Olympics from PyeongChang, with a French commentator. I was delighted to hear the phrase “ooh la-la” used when someone came a cropper on her snowboard.

After breakfast in the hotel, we travelled by Metro to our first destination. Not at all disappointed that there is not a free ‘newspaper’ named ‘Underground’.

We visited Nôtre Dame cathedral and climbed to the top of the towers to enjoy a somewhat murky view of Paris. The gargoyles are fab. One even looked a bit like someone we know.

The Pompidou Museum of Modern Art is interesting too, though there is far too much to see in one visit. Everything from Indian photographs to yarn-based sculptures. Even pictures which are the sort of thing I doodle when I’m on the phone.

The only Olympjcs coverage on TV in the evening was in German and Romanian. Pas de Française. But whatever the language, it’s nice to see how excited some of the competitors are when they Win.

Now, think of saffron.

Paris – Day 1

We took five trains between home and our hotel in Paris. The Reginald Bosanquet. Or Hôtel Relaia-Bosquet as they would have it. The Eurostar was the star of the journey although Liesel’s comment after coming out of the tunnel in France was quite funny: Was that it?

Despite aches and pains, we had to go for a walk to the Eiffel Tower. Couldn’t get really close, presumably for security reasons, but close enough to confirm that we were indeed in Paris, Mick for the very first time.

We stopped at a coffee bar where we asked for café au lait but because they didn’t have any big cups, we had to make do with espressos. I’m not normally a fan of espressos bug this one was really good, as we bought s Sweet Thing to go with it, a vanilla éclair.

So far, we’ve only seen one typically French beret on a head, but no strings of onions or black and white striped shirts. People smoke a lot here but I have a soft spot for Gauloises, as it contains all five vowels.

The hotel room is quite nice, with a lovely view over a small courtyard and the wall opposite. The toilet is just a hole in the floor, which is really annoying for the people in the room below.

Monica and Neha have arrived from Anchorage, via Seattle and London. Yes. London. Their flight to Paris was significantly cheaper than a flight to London, yet they stopped in London on the way. So is that due to airport taxes or just more general greed?

We’ve been out for an evening meal, and both Liesel and I chose the very cheesy pizza. Something French. We were served by an Iranian.

All the careful planning paid off: we brought plug adapters that work in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, but they’re no good here in France.

This is our first sighting of the Eiffel Tower.

Viewing Properties

The good news is that today, EIGHT families will come round and look at our house. One offer has been made, a bit on the low side, but we’ll see how it goes.

Yesterday, we went up to have another look at the apartment in Northenden. We measured up some of the heights, as the roof rafters intrude in places. It looks like most of our furniture won’t be moving with us. But it’s all old and if it encourages us to get rid of even more stuff from the cupboards, shelves, wardrobes, then that’s got to be a bonus.

The vendors are planning to leave a lot of stuff behind which will help us out of course. So, in effect, we’re exchanging our old stuff for new stuff that actually fits in the new place.

Next week we’re off to Paris, meeting up with Monica and Neha from Anchorage, Alaska. We’ll do the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, maybe Disneyland but really, Liesel needs a nice restful week. I’ve been on Eurostar before but it’s a first for Liesel. Station to Station, St Pancras to Paris Nord.

So what with one thing and other, I’ve compiled a To-Do List. I have a long To-Do list that’s ben going since before 2006. These quick ones usually get added, but not always. It’s quite interesting looking through the Done part of the list. It proves I have done a few useful things over the years.

One new thing today is to discover whether I can add an entry to this blog by sending an email. If it works, great. If not, it might not have much action while we’re in Paris. Or, there might be a series of entries that are badly formatted or otherwise substandard. Even more substandard.

Have a nice weekend, y’all!

Fairy Tale

 

Once upon a time, there were two beautiful teenage girls, Jenny and Helen.

Their lovely Mum, Sarah, had died and they and their Dad, Mick, were all very sad. One day, Mick said he didn’t think he should have a holiday, but Jenny and Helen thought he deserved a break. They needed a break from him, too.

Jenny and Helen collected together all their pocket money and paid for a holiday. Mick loved to ride his bicycle, so they booked up a week-long cycling holiday in Herefordshire. It was organised by a company called Bicycle Beano, led by Rob and Jane. The food was all vegetarian which was wonderful, and a week of organised rides in the countryside with a couple of dozen other cyclists seemed to be the ideal way to spend time away from the real world. And best of all, there was cake. Lots of cake.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, there lived another beautiful lady, called Liesel. Her father, Klaus, had moved to the USA, and eventually to Alaska, from Germany, when he was a small boy. After retiring, he was organising a meet-up in Germany with some of his extended family, most of whom he hadn’t seen for many years.

Klaus wanted to take his wife and children to Germany too. But Liesel thought that spending that much time in Germany with family that she didn’t really know would be a bit boring. So she booked herself some time off, away from the family. She loved riding her bike and she booked a week-long cycling holiday in England: in Herefordshire to be precise. This cycling holiday run by Rob and Jane from Bicycle Beano. Liesel wasn’t a vegetarian, but was happy to eat veggie food for a week. Especially the cake.

This was the long, hot Summer of 2003.

Mick and Liesel cycled together sometimes, although their cycling styles were totally different. On one occasion, Liesel missed a turning and roared off downhill at a hundred miles an hour. Mick chased, caught her up, and put her back on the correct route.

In the evenings, sitting around the campfire, Mick and Liesel found themselves sitting next to each other and, towards the end of the week, their fingers would sometimes touch.

After the holiday, Mick went home to Chessington and Liesel returned to Alaska. Mick visited her there for the following Christmas.

So, in the end, he had two holidays that year.

In February 2006, two and a half years after first meeting, Mick and Liesel were married. The small ceremony took place on a frozen lake in Anchorage, Alaska. Jenny and Helen were there to witness the event.

They didn’t expect to send their father to come back from a cycling holiday with a step-mother. But that’s exactly what happened.

Mick and Liesel are now grandparents and everyone is living happily ever after!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

The Weather

It’s been a few days now and I don’t think I’ve mentioned the weather. As I write, it’s raining again and there’s a cold wind. I was hoping to run all my errands outside in one trip, but that didn’t happen. I’ll probably have to go out again later. Oh well,  you get wet, then you get dry again.

It is, of course, Tuesday. I’ve commented several times over the years that it nearly always rains on a Tuesday. That’s because it’s bin day. We put the bins out and we have to bring them back in, wet, full of water.

I used to think it rained on Tuesday because traditionally, Monday is laundry day. The housewife would hang the washing out to dry, the water would evaporate, clouds form, and then the water would come down again the next day. I’ve since learned that there’s a lot more to the hyrdological cycle than meets the eye.

We’re planning to move to somewhere near Manchester, which is famous for rain. It rains more there than anywhere else in the known universe. Although someone who’s lived in the area for fifteen years has assured us that it doesn’t have higher rainfall than we southern softies experience in Surrey. Huh.

Over the weekend, we looked at at some potential new abodes. Or, in the parlance, we viewed some properties. One flat had experienced damp problems because the previous occupants had dried their clothes indoors without opening the windows. Well, possibly, but the amount of mould in more than one room would suggest that they’d been drying clothes in there for many, many years. We really don’t want to take on a place that requires so much work.

It was also on a fairly busy road and the sound of traffic indoors was very noticeable, much more so than where we currently live, which is quite busy.

Because of that, we cancelled a viewing at another property further along the same road.

Another viewing was cancelled by the estate agent because they couldn’t gain access to it.

We looked at a terraced house in Marple, a lovely little village on the edge of the Peak District. We hadn’t realised that a mid-terrace house would be so dark, having fewer walls available to put windows in. Obvious, really. Although the house looked out over a cricket green, and way over there, you could see the hills, we decided it wasn’t for us. The scented candles barely disguised the stench of dog. And nice as it is, Marple is just a bit further out from the big city than we would like.

One flat, oops, apartment that we looked at in Northenden was very interesting though. It’s on the second, top floor in a block of 5, in a little cul de sac, so no through traffic. Close to two motorways, we couldn’t hear the traffic as much as we currently hear the noise from the A3. It’s a well decorated flat, smaller than our 3-bedroom house of course, but we both think it would suit our purposes for a couple of years.

We’ll go back and measure up so we can work out how much of our furniture would fit. No gas, so we’d have to learn to cook solely by electric. The nearest railway stations are a bit further away than we’re used to. There is a cycle parking facility but that’s not much use if there are lots of wheelie bins there. Much less storage space in the apartment. But we think all of these problems can be overcome. Fingers crossed for A Better Future.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Our present house will be put up for sale today. Photos have been taken, blurbs written, clutter decluttered, the last couple of walls have been painted, stuff hidden away and it’s raining. In our experience, it always rains when you’re looking at houses, oopsie, when you’re viewing properties, so there’s no reason to suppose it will be dry when people are asking to look at this house. Form an orderly queue!

Our Chessington House

Things are definitely moving now. As will we be sometime during the next few months.

Yes, it will be very strange for me, moving on from a house that I’ve spent more than half my life in. I know I’ll miss London and Richmond Park and the Surrey countryside. But equally I’m sure that once we find our way around, we’ll find plenty in Greater Manchester to keep us interested, not just the family, grandchildren.

 

 

The Small Room

The toilet is the smallest room in the house, but it’s still taken the best part of two days to paint it. Probably only a few hours actually painting, but preparation and clearing up afterwards is very time-consuming. Anyway, it’s done now. Barring any more catastrophes, disasters or accidents, we have no plans to decorate any more in this house before it goes on the market.

Having washed the paint out of the brushes and the rollers, I am pleased to report that the kitchen sink is now bright, shiny white.

The professional photographer is coming in a couple of days, so the idea is to make the house look bigger, tidier, brighter and cleaner, and we have our fingers crossed that nothing else fails, breaks, disintegrates or falls apart.

The Sun is out and even though it’s quite cold, I’m going out for a walk around the streets of Chessington. It’s nice to see some signs of spring: as well as the surprise  of bulbs in our own garden, there are snowdrops and daffodils elsewhere.

A few weeks ago I had surgery to remove a cataract from my right eye. It only took me 35 years to pluck up enough courage to go through with it, but that’s me, a squeamish coward.

Anyway, since then, what I see out of each eye is very slightly different. The colours with my new right eye are much brighter, the shadows darker and the contrast is much greater. The difference isn’t as extreme now as it was in the few days following the surgery, when my pupil was still fully dilated.

I asked Duncan Jones if his Dad had reported similar phenomena with his permanently dilated pupil. No: “only sensitivity to light in that eye, and terrible vision.”

But the snowdrops almost glow white with my new, bionic eye. I wish I could take a picture to show the difference, but until I have a little camera installed behind the lens, probably inside my brain, I don’t think that’ll happen.

And back indoors, in the bathroom, the bright white sealant looks almost dayglo, primrose yellow with the new eye. When I flick from left to right, it’s hard to believe I’m looking at the same thing, sometimes. It made painting the toilet interesting, to say the least.

And After All that, I can’t wait to get new prescription spectacles so that the right also sees in focus. I have a check-up with the surgeon later so maybe I’ll get new specs real soon!

 

Gardening

Over the last couple of years, a fox had been digging a hole in our garden. Last Summer, a friend of ours watched a frog emerge from the hole, so we were reluctant to fill it in. But now we’re moving away, it was a quick job that needed doing in the garden.

Meanwhile, indoors, there has been a bowl of pet rocks taking up space in the utility room.

Time for a final goodbye and a burial in the garden. No need to dig a hole: the fox already did that.

Ashes to ashes.

buried rocks

Not a very large attendance as you can see. Just me.

Then a bit more tidying up in the back garden, including removing several pounds of rubble that somehow ended up here when the neighbour demolished his garage. I was just glad I didn’t find any asbestos, I think he carefully hid all that in the skip.

And in the front, Liesel picked several buckets full of weeds from the bed with the lavendar and rosemary. She found some bulbs there about the sprout. What a bonus, no idea how they got there, but really pleased at one of the first signs of Spring!

Carry on Cleaning

That would be a fantastic addition to the Carry On film franchise. Liesel was dancing around the bedroom this morning, dusting and tidying, trying to shut wardrobe doors that hadn’t been closed properly for years.

I thought, the least I could do was to get up and watch.

We went out for breakfast. Yes, the dishwasher was declared d, e, d, dead. So, to save on washing up, we went out for a nice walk and a huge breakfast at a greasy spoon called Jenny’s. Nothing to do with our very own Jenny, of course.

What else has gone wrong? Last night, plans for risotto were delayed slightly because the rice cooker didn’t work. It used to beep a greeting when plugged in, but last night, it was silent. I changed the fuse in the plug, just in case, but no.

At this rate, we’ll be taking very little with us when we move house.

Then this morning, I thought I heard the sound of Breaking Glass from the kitchen. Oh no, I thought to myself, here we go again. Luckily the vase that Liesel dropped didn’t actually smash.

So now, the rice cooker, along with a few other items, such as crates and a box of 500 plastic forks are being offered on Facebook and Freegle.

Yes, you read that right: 500 plastic forks. Well, alright, there might be a couple missing. But why did we have 500 plastic forks in the first place? Did we have a very large garden party one Summer to which nobody turned up? Nope.

The idea was to bury them in the garden, tines pointing upwards, our very own cat deterrent. We never pursued that project.

But this is how we acquire too much stuff: great ideas that turn out not to be so practical.

And now I’m on the computer selling or giving stuff away while Liesel is cleaning. I tell myself I am helping by keeping out of the way…