The light at the end of a 9 and a half hour journey

Yesterday, the crew from the 6th trip to Chateau Duffy returned from a week of fun, food and a lot of work. In a moment, I’m off to see how much of my ‘tan’ is left once I’ve had a thoroughly good shower, but first, I’m going to revel in the memories of what I was doing exactly 8 days ago.

Given that the dates for the trip were fixed in late 2013, it’s pretty ridiculous that I ended up delaying my flight booking until the only flight to Limoges on the 26th was fully booked! An alternative route to the Chateau was required – Eurostar was full too (curse school holidays) but as long as I could get myself to Paris I could join a car convoy heading south. And thus, I found myself at Victoria Coach Station on a Friday evening, ready to board a 9 and a half hour coach journey to the French capital. Nine and a half hours. Overnight. On a coach (and a ferry). Not at all my kind of transport! [Incidentally, when you start telling people that you’re planning on taking this trip, everyone will turn out to have their own horror story of the one time they did it. No one, it appears, does it more than once!]

In all honesty, it was fine. Aside from the couple in front of me who snogged consistently throughout the journey, except when they were asleep – at which point they both fully reclined their seats squashing me into a teeny-tiny space. And aside from having to get onto a ferry at 1am. And aside from it being a flipping long time. But all was forgotten when we pulled into the coach park at Port Malliot. I woke up (three and a half hours of sleep, that’s a win) just as we slowed down and caught a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe out of my window. Immediately, all plans of heading straight to where my friends were staying (and waking them up in the process) were shelved, and instead, I had a overwhelming desire to see as much of Paris as I could, in the few hours I had available to me.

Arc de Triomphe

Paris at 7am on a Saturday morning is a very quiet place. The only people I saw were through the windows of boulangeries and a long line at the Algerian embassy. It was a massive contrast to my first trip to the city three years before, when hoards of tourists ploughed through the streets, taking all the obligatory photos. I walked towards the Arch, arriving at 7am to a sight that very few tourists have photographed:

Triomphe, desertedNo people. No cars. Only pigeons. 

A fifteen minute walk down one of the roads off the circle stood the Eiffel Tower (well, the park across the river from it – but it was the view I wanted). A few more people were around by this point, but mostly the ever-present Parisian hawkers and just a few bleary eyed tourists. This is clearly when they take the postcard photos.

Eiffel reflected

I was on a roll. I checked a map to see what else I could hit before needing to rendez-vous at Gare du Nord and figured that a walk along the Seine at 7.30am would be a good way to spend an hour. Would it matter that I was still towing my suitcase along? No. This was too good an opportunity to miss. After all, I just spent the night in a cramped coach seat, and was about to take a 4 hour drive, so the leg stretching was definitely needed.


Musee d'Orsay


One of my favourite spots in Paris is the area around Notre Dame, but I was aware from my map reading that this was a long way from where I’d begun my riverside stroll. (I’ve just checked, it’s 3 miles – and I’d already walked 2 to get there.) However, when I’ve got a target in mind, I’m a determined individual, so despite the 14kg case and the sleep deprivation, onwards I went!

A glimpse of Notre Dame

Shakespeare & CoOnly disadvantage of it still being pre-10am was that this fabulous place was still shut.

It’s unsurprising that by the time I decided I should catch the Metro and find my friends I was rather over-tired and unable to make sense of Parisian transport and its weekend engineering works. But, being Paris, there was an attractive French man who came to my aid not once but twice (well, the first time he managed to point me towards a closed station, so it was only fair that he rescue me again) – even carrying my bag down to the platform and engaging me in London-based conversation until we reached his stop. Paris, you were an excellent place to be that morning!

So, the moral is this. (There is a moral, this wasn’t simply an excuse to drop a ton of holiday photos on you.) Get up early. Get out and walk around. See the touristy sights, but do it when the regular tourists are still sleeping or just sinking their teeth into a glorious croissant. You don’t need to get an overnight bus to do it (you really, really do not) but just make the effort, you really will be rewarded. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt from my years of occasionally walking across London first thing in the morning – you see things in a new, cleaner way and the light is so much better. Plus, you’ll feel slightly smug for the rest of the day.

Actually, I’ll be feeling slightly smug for quite some time – I’ll be keeping that Arc de Triomphe photo on my phone for ages, just to prove that I was there when no one else was!

Classic Friday Fun with a French twist

As it’s been so long since I last managed a Friday Fun post, I thought I’d kick off this week’s with some classic, end of the week, fun – namely cute animals. There’s been a few of these doing the rounds lately, but I’m sure they’ll bring some amusement, regardless of whether you’ve spotted them before.

Firstly, 33 animals that are extremely disappointed in you. It had me at #1 – the disappointed rabbit:

Secondly – and, if possible, even cuter – 33 animals with stuffed animal versions of themselves. I was a particular fan of this pig:
If cute animals really don’t do it for you (craziness), what about some amusing humans? Specifically, amusing humans of a female gender and of British/Irish nationality who are on Twitter. The Huffington Post UK has done a good job of rounding up 50 of the funniest female tweeters and then created an amusing slideshow of top tweets, which I’d have included below, had they enabled it to be embedded… 
Finally, this post wouldn’t really be complete without some reference to my recent holiday (fear not, there’s still enough blog fodder for most of next week’s posts too). I’ve spent a couple of days frustratingly trying to get the hang of iMovie, and am now on my way to producing beauties akin to Jenni’s, but for now I’m satisfied with simply having combined three clips of car driving in Paris. I know that doesn’t sound fun, but if I can explain that the first clip involves the Arc de Triomphe (a multi lane roundabout with no logical rules) and the others were filmed when we were stuffed into the car like sardines, you might begin to understand the comic element within. [There are also more French videos to follow – including one so epic it’s too big to be transferred to me via Dropbox. You have been warned…] 
Anyway, this details some of the challenges faced in Parisian driving… 
(Warning: the first clip contains language some viewers – and French people – may find offensive. Otherwise, there’s just spontaneous ‘Yeehahs!’ and singing…) 

If I could move one thing from Paris to London…

Most of what’s in Paris belongs in Paris, and needs to stay there in order for it to be the wonderful city that it is, but there is one thing I’d like to steal for London – or, at the very least copy. (Though in a vastly superior way to the way in which Blackpool emulated the Eiffel Tower.) Shakespeare and Company is possibly one of the most delightful bookshops I have ever experienced and I simply do not understand why London doesn’t have anything remotely as good.

I’ve been aware of it for some time, but didn’t manage to step inside during last year’s weekend en Paris. Then it was featured in the 20 most beautiful bookshops list, and I knew that it had to be a component of my three hours of solo Paris time on this visit. After leaving my luggage at Gare du Nord, I made straight for St Michel Notre Dame station and emerged across from the cathedral, feeling every bit as touristy as my Texan friends probably had two days previously when I’d showed them London. Shakespeare & Co. is literally just across the road, and was flanked by pink cherry blossom. Quintessenttial springtime in Paris, no?

The beauty of this bookshop is threefold:
(i) It’s an English language bookshop, therefore is a haven for ex-pats.
(ii) It’s a beautiful building (rather like Daunts, but less ordered).
(iii) Its upstairs is a library in which you could read for hours at a time.

It’s this third element that makes me so desperate for a London version. Next to a window overlooking Notre Dame is a desk with a typewriter; another can be found in a hidden alcove. There are couches and sofas scattered about, plus a nook for children – one room even featured a piano. If I hadn’t had such a short time in the city, I would have tarried longer, but my feet were itching to explore more.

But please, booksellers/librarians of London, please could we have something akin to this wonder? I, and many, many others would be eternally grateful.

Merci beaucoup!

Journalling a sibling rivalry

One of the good things about having a sibling is that you can test whether certain quirks of your personality are a result of nature or nurture. Mim and I have a reputation for sororal telepathy as far as fashion, birthday greetings and Facebook statuses are concerned (we published near identical ones on our return from Paris and not simply in a “I just came back from Paris” way).

However, one major difference in our personalities relates to travel. I love it; she doesn’t. Flights to and from Belfast are taken under duress. She has absolutely no desire to visit New Zealand. She’s not spectacularly keen on new places. And when she does travel, she doesn’t write a journal…

As I’ve explained before, our parents were very insistent when we were growing up that we should record our family holidays for posterity. Not just photographically, but in writing. As youngsters we were started on scrapbooks that might contain a sentence or two about our activities (very early books indicate some tracing over parental writing) as well as suitable souvenirs and illustrations – drawings of sandcastles, ice lolly sticks, postcards and sheep wool amongst other ‘interesting’ items. This progressed to more writing based journalling – by age 9 I was writing more and in notebooks of my own choosing. Generally, such entries were about food – but I’ve mentioned that before too.

When we went to America the summer I was 10 and Mim was 7 the journalling was even more important – it was part of the deal struck with school to let us out of the classroom a few weeks early for an important cross-cultural encounter. The last time I read through my creation I discovered a bizarre mix of (bad) drawings (particularly one of Ellis Island and someone crying), lists of food (typical) and observations of weird Americanisms (our mother specifically told us before we left that we should only refer to rubbers as erasers in America, it took me years to work out why). Anyway, the pinnacle of Mim’s travel journalling career was reached during this summer, with her description of our 4th July experience in New York:

“We watched fireworks, this is the sound they made: bang.”
[Actually, to give the girl credit, she was still 3 weeks off turning 7 and managed to use a colon correctly.] 

Anyway, the bottom line is that travel journalling is a past time that me and my parents value immensely, but she doesn’t. My journalling has been refined over the years to the point that I’m now terribly specific about what is required (what a surprise, me, being terribly specific about something!):
  • A5 sized notebook, lined, preferably with an elastic band round the cover. 

  • Different colour pens. (Or, as I acquired recently, a pen of many colours – not had one since school!)

  • Scissors, glue & sticky tape. 

  • Pile of stuff gleaned from places visited – tickets, boarding passes, receipts, postcards, business cards, maps, food packaging… 

  • [Top tip for you: if you want photos of landmarks etc, pick up as many brochures as you can find in tourist information centres, then cut them up to illustrate your writing.] 

I’m incredibly glad my parents instilled this in me. In fact, it probably goes some way to explaining my fondness of blogging and did, in part, lead to my Palestinian blog which is basically a write up of my journal from a trip there in 2007. I dug out the diaries (or at least the grown up ones) last night for the purpose of this post and read the one from my first trip back to the Pacific from cover to cover. I’m quite proud of that one – I was a student and had plenty of time on my hands to work on it when I got back, which probably explains this hand-drawn map of Waiheke Island: 

One of my favourites is from my US trip two years ago. Perhaps because I travelled solo, I got a lot more of it done along the way, and it’s full of random bits of rubbish – an Oreo packet; mini cereal box; and Magnolia bakery boxes to name but a few. I had a lovely A5 notebook, with a classic NYC image on the front, but the irritating thing was that because American paper sizes are different, stuff I collected didn’t always fit – thank goodness I carried scissors… 

Oh yes, and the other thing I’ve got into – the notebook cover collage. As if the inside wasn’t enough!
Going back to my sister and journalling. As we waited for the Eurostar at some unearthly hour of the morning the other week, our Mum handed us a notebook each and informed us that she was carrying glue – just in case. I hadn’t been sure that two days in Paris would merit a journal, but this was only an A6 sized book and it was, after all, my first trip there. I wrote up some of the trip while we were there and on the way home, Mum took notes from guidebooks and my camera on the train and what did Mim do? Sleep. No mention was made as to whether there would be a prize for the best completed journal, but if there was, I hope I’d win after the effort I put into finishing it on Sunday.
Creative use of the Paris iPhone photos and a classic cover collage. 

What’s that you say? I ought to get a life? At least the next time I visit Paris I’ll know exactly where to find the truly amazing patisserie we visited…

Paris by app

I was a little surprised to discover on board Eurostar that my mum and sister had only one photographic device with them – their iPhones – despite both of them owing fairly decent ‘actual’ cameras. (In fact, mother owns an SLR that I covet, but I could understand that it was too large for a trip where we were determined to travel light.) I suppose given the fact that my own camera is permanently about my person (except for right at this moment when I believe it’s lying in amongst a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor) it was presumed that I would be designated photographer for the trip – a role I was more than happy to fulfil.

A first trip to Paris is a memorable occasion and I wanted to ensure that I had good quality photos at the end of it, so my actual camera was an essential. However, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t have some fun with my iPhone too – especially once I’d spotted that Mim was making full use of the Retro Camera app on her phone. I’m a very big fan of iPhone photography apps, it’s like having an old-skool film camera but without any of the tricky focussing, developing, time-taken elements. So consider this post a photographic journey through Paris with the aid of a 21st century tool that turns everything into a mediocre photograph from the mid 20th century…

I’ve heard that there are a few decent photography apps that are free – but I don’t own any of them. However, Mim’s ‘Retro Camera’ is one and, from the limited pictures I can pull from her Twitter account [as she hasn’t put them on Facebook yet] it’s clear that you can have a lot of fun with it:

 The Eiffel Tower is fairly self-explanatory. That shot of me will be explained in a later photo. 
Needless to say, we spent an inordinate amount of time at the Arc de Triomphe messing around with apps. 

I believe it works in a similar way to Hipstamatic, in that you choose a lens and effect before you take the photo, yet its results are more similar to Instagram’s. Having been deeply confused by Hipstamatic initially, I’m now a massive fan of it. The limited view-finder you get on your screen means that you’re never quite sure what the photo will look like, which adds a frisson of excitement as you wait for it to develop (something that takes a couple of minutes, rather than days). It seemed to suit Paris very well, and I was very pleased with what I came home with:

That’s Mim responding to ‘look French’ and a rather good outcome to the tricky challenge of ‘doing a Liz’ via Hipstamatic. [Can’t use the front-facing camera.]
 More fun and games at the Arc de Triomphe. 
[All 3 of us had matching shoes – mum and I had the same style; Mim & mum the same colour – we’re a special family…] 


 Without question, the Moulin Rouge looks much more appealing this way & Montmartre cemetery manages to become a lot more brooding. 

Instagram is a canny app, which is why – until recently – it was my favourite. You can either take the photo from within the app, or take one on the normal camera and edit it later – I generally prefer the latter as it gives you more flexibility with what you do with it. There’s a wide range of filters and generally I like the results. (There’s a whole social network attached too, but I don’t really go into that.)

 Yes, I managed to ‘do a Liz’ and get the Eiffel Tower in shot – an advantage of the front-facing camera. Oh, and I realise that the Eiffel Tower’s leaning in that second photo – we were on a boat, it gets tricky! 

A little more niche is ColorSplash – a nifty app that allows you to highlight a particular aspect of a photo in colour, leaving the rest black and white. Morv introduced it to me soon after I got my phone when it was on special offer, but it’s been very handy now and again. In Paris, there seemed to be one logical use for it:

Yes, the classic Metropolitan sign – which then got even better with the use of Instagram:

Finally, my all-time favourite app – PocketBooth. Honestly, it’s genius and I never grow tired of it (though my friends might do, as I often subject them to it). This is what I was doing when Mim took the photo above:

Honestly, I may be practically 30, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever grow up. And that’s a good thing!