Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Haying In Marshland

Hannah's birthday today! Happy Birthday Hannah.

The birthday girl is good at anagrams. Can she work out the title of her birthday blogpost?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wine & Cemeteries

The Banjos came over on Saturday night. Mrs Banjo brought her first ever wine for racking. It was a raspberry made from Asda's finest frozen fruit. To be honest I wasn't expecting much from it but it is coming along very nicely. A good ruby red colour, clear, tasty and alcoholic. Of course we judged this on the merest sip during the racking process but I will be looking for the recipe. I might need to use frozen fruit as we replaced our raspberry canes this year, and thanks to the very wet Spring they were late in getting into the ground.

Tonight I racked one of my elderflowers and a rhubarb. The elderflower was made from fresh flowers. I'd previously used dried flowers. The flavour is good but it is rather too sweet for my liking. I'll try it again this year but will go easy on the sugar.

Rhubarb. What can I say? It never disappoints me but looking back at my notes I see I was very adventurous with this one. I started it in February 2013 and used a pint of pineapple wine as a starter. Then, racking it in October I seem to have lashed a bit of birch sap and rhubarb into it. It didn't clear that well but is strong. Not one for entering in the County Show.

And now, back to Paris. This is an illustration from Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline's Rescue. It features the Père Lachaise Cemetery which we visited on our last day in Paris. As Bemelmans did not see fit to include the last resting place of Marcel Proust here is my photograph.

I quite liked Bemelmans' depiction of Oscar Wilde's grave. There was no point trying to take a picture of the tomb as it was mobbed by school parties and middle-aged women in lipstick kissing the plastic barrier.

Interestingly, as London Sister and I were wandering around a handsome Frenchman approached us and enquired, “Proust?” We were so pleased that we had not been taken for Jim Morrison acolytes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Incident on the Champs-Élysées

Eating breakfast in Paris was a real pleasure. On the Rue des Abbesses we found a popular wee place where we got a breakfast based on croissants, fresh orange juice and café au latte. The best part was that it took ages to eat. The French really enjoy their food but they don't eat huge portions and are rarely overweight.

There was a police presence on the street. A van had reversed into some scaffolding creating a potential health & safety hazard. There were two officers gesturing that pedestrians should walk on the other side of the street. There was no officiousness, just Gallic shrugs as if to say, 'this idiot, what can one do?' I can assure you, the PSNI or the Met would have been a sight more straight-faced.

After le petit déjeuner we took the Metro to the Place de la Concorde and proceeded towards the Champs-Elysées. Such a gorgeous walk especially the part where gardens and beautiful buildings abounded. When we finally got to the shops I was slightly less impressed. Fancy stores are fancy stores no matter where one is. The closer we got to the Arc de Triomphe the thicker the crowd became. It was interesting to be there but I am not that keen on jostling crowds. At one point I was knocked slightly sideways and a young woman who I took to have bumped into me looked over her shoulder and smiled a disarming apology. I thought no more of it. A moment afterwards I stopped to take this picture.

We wandered on towards the Arc de Triomphe and decided we had seen enough. As we descended into the Metro I reached inside my bag for my wallet. It wasn't there. I realised straight away that the bump from the smiling girl must have been the exact moment I was robbed. My wallet, the last birthday gift my mother gave me, had contained more than €200, my bank card and my three-day metro ticket. I'd been wearing my bag over my shoulder and it was hanging in front of my body.

This is how I was wearing my bag

There must have been two of them - the woman who bumped into me and an accomplice. I suspect I had been noted and followed as a promising looking mark. The way I was wearing my bag had lulled me into a false sense of security and I was relaxed and very engaged with my surroundings. Typical tourist.

After the shock came the shame. I felt bad that I had let this happen to me and because it put a shadow on our trip. I have to say that London Sister was brilliant. She remained calm and practical and that helped me to keep my head as well. I made a quick decision. I was not going to let this incident put a damper on things. Despite it we were going to continue to enjoy our break.

The theft was reported to the police and my bank card was cancelled. I wasn't the only one making a report either. There were at least two other incidents being reported while we were in station. Afterwards I found that I kept reproaching myself about the incident for I'd made a lot of silly mistakes. Firstly, I had more cash on me than I needed. Secondly, I had too many valuables in one place and biggest mistake of all, my bag didn't zip closed. But I had to put it behind me. We were going to keep on having a good time!

We maybe lost an hour of that beautiful afternoon in the police station but, as LS pointed out, if it had been my passport that had been stolen our carefree break would have been over from that point. Thankful for small mercies. I still had a passport and the theft occurred without me noticing. Imagine if I’d been mugged. I'd be shaking!

After The Incident.

Jef Aerosol street art close to the Centre Pompidou

 Participants in a loud and exciting drum parade

 Paris is full of pet dogs. LS noticed that there were very few Jack Russell terriers. After she made this observation we saw lots of Jacks. This one didn't like the noise of the drums. Poor pet!

Street scene in the Marais district

 We had dinner here. Le Basilic on rue Lepic, Montmartre

Interesting piece of street art in Montmartre

And so to bed. Another full day. Just before dropping off I permitted myself to experience a little sadness about having been relieved of my cash and Matty's last gift. Then I put it into perspective. I was in Paris, not as rich as I had been but still in Paris and still having a good time. And tomorrow still to come.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Paris For Real: Weddings and Pigeons

When London Sister first suggested Paris as a possible destination for our weekend break I was ever so slightly underwhelmed despite never having set foot in France in my entire life - not even to Lourdes or Calais. I'm not sure why this was but perhaps it might have been that I had seen so much of the city in films that I was under the impression I'd already been there. But that turned out to be the most exciting thing. For, like London and (I suspect) New York, Paris seems terribly familiar and yet, like London, it is even more exciting to see it for real. And now that I've been there and come home again I cannot wait to return.

On the Saturday we bought 3-day Metro tickets and headed to the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries. The weather was delightful, sunny, balmy, Spring at least three weeks ahead of Ireland. We checked out the Louvre but it was far too lovely a day to hang about in queues and then be indoors. The Louvre isn't going away. Another time.

Just wandering around, taking in the sights, walking by the Seine, enjoying Spring. That was enough for me. In the afternoon we went to La promenade plantée, which is an elevated planted area follows an old  railway line. We walked its entire length for LS and I are both very keen on gardens and plants. Over 30,000 steps we walked that day. Tired and happy. That evening we dined well in the Quartier Pigalle and later that night we were asleep before our heads touched our pillows. A great day indeed.

Everywhere there were brides having their photographs taken, on the Seine, by the Seine, by churches beside the Seine. 

Next: A very unfortunate incident on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Friday, April 04, 2014

An Evening In Paris

This time last week when I was packing for my weekend in Paris, Miss Martha said,

Maybe you'll see Madeline.

She was referring to the central character in the children's book Madeline's Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans. This was a very lucky find in Bellaghy's one and only charity shop. The girls love it and I've read it to them over and over again.

The trip to Paris was a birthday gift from London Sister who arranged both flights and accommodation. She flew from London, I flew from Belfast. Very convenient for us both. Of course I had pre-conceived ideas about one of the most visited city on earth. For a start I expected the plane to contain vast numbers of philosophers, poets and lovers. I had forgotten about Disneyland Paris. The plane actually contained vast numbers of over-excited children and their equally over-excited parents and grandparents. The little girl sitting behind me spent most of the journey exuberantly kicking the back of my seat which I bore with great fortitude.

I met LS at the airport and we continued on to Montmartre. Getting off at the Gare du Nord did not give the best impression of Paris for it is a rather seedy area. Rather that take the metro a few stops to the station nearest our hotel we decided to walk. It did not seem that far on the map. And it wasn't. We knew it was close to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica so we kept heading up and before long we were within sight of  the church.

We then took around 40 minutes to locate the hotel although I'd guess we were never any further than 5 minutes away from it. But those little places and streets are confusing. So, by the time we were checked in, it was near midnight. No matter, for this was Paris and a Friday night. We found a lively bar where we wined and dined and had a great amount of fun. I do love bar staff who look like they are having every bit as good a time as the patrons and who ululate to North African music and do, right in our faces, the thing that is now described as 'twerking'. This rarely happens in Ballymena where bar staff neither twerk, ululate or enjoy themselves. 

Next: We nearly visit the Louvre

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Back and Away Again

I got back from Hanna's Close on Monday. The previous two times we stayed we were in George's Cottage. This time we were in Johnny's Cottage and I thought it was much nicer. George's has two bedrooms and was a bit claustrophobic for four adults and two children. Johnny's had an extra bedroom and it made all the difference. Johnny's also has its own garden with a steep slope leading down to the river. That was wonderful too. Martha and Evie bowled hoops down it and so did Granny!

Johnny's is built on a slope and is entered down steep stone steps. Did I mention the half door at the kitchen?

The girls playing with the hoops that kind Granny bought in Asda in Kilkeel.

My little room. No wriggling, snuffling little bodies to disturb my peace. At least, not until 7am when they jumped in beside me, cold as frogs, for huggles and snuggles.

It was a good weekend.

Tomorrow I go to Paris.