Saturday, 13 October 2012

It's Not A Repeat


Just a quick note. The canal boat trip we're about to undertake is not a repeat of the one already detailed here on this blog; it's a later trip, and in a different area of France. It's very, very different, so please don't miss it.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Encore France: Day 4 - Train Tickets, Comedie-Francaise, Exchange Rate Rip Off




After another great night’s sleep we woke up fairly early today, our last day in Paris before heading off to the Picardie region for our canal boat trip.
Breakfast yesterday was so good that, being the creatures of habit which we are, we headed down to the same place for another delicious start to the day.  Then, happily replete, we wandered down the boulevard, onto Blvd St-Michel, along by the river, just being there, basically. We caught a bus that took us through the 6th and the 7th and up to the Eiffel, where we just loitered with absolutely no intent whatsoever around the gardens for some time, watching the crowds and the African souvenir sellers. We then decided to take a walk down rue de l’Université to check out the location of the apartment which we had rented for our time in Paris post-boat trip. It is in an excellent location, just on the corner of rue de l’Université and rue Malar, so very close to a couple of supermarkets, buses, the river, some great shops, excellent bakeries – oh, and of course rue Cler, that favourite street of Americans (mind you, we did pick up some marvellous cheeses and pates there, so they are on a good thing with that particular spot).
Deciding it was time to go get our train tickets, it was a case of jump on another bus, one that took us down to Opera, where we changed buses for one that would drop us at Gare du Nord. Now, I know you are probably saying, “Why not the metro?” Were we in a hurry? Were we keen on seeing only the faces of other travellers? Were we so jaded with Paris that we didn’t want to just feast our eyes constantly? No, no, and no. We like catching buses with the locals, getting around cheaply, and with the bonus of actually seeing where we are going, or perhaps where we wish we were going.
Now, I was pretty well prepared for the whole business of buying the tickets. We hadn’t booked them in advance, but I had checked on train times, possible routes, etc, and I had written down for myself an idiot’s guide to asking for what we needed. Referring only briefly to my notes, I managed to get through, “Good morning. I would like two tickets, return, Paris-Albert for tomorrow, on the xxx train, please.” Smooth as silk, honestly. The woman behind the counter understood me perfectly, and in no time at all I had the tickets in my hot little hand. I did wonder why at every other ticket window such a simple transaction seemed to involve much drama. I have since discovered that that is really quite normal in France, and adds to the colour of the place.
Wandering out of the station to grab a coffee from one of the many restaurants thereabouts, we were amused to watch a few Roma women playing their letter game and then playing hide and seek with the police. Ah, what’s the letter game? Well, some tourist walking along the street – often easily identifiable with fanny packs, cameras, baseball caps, big happy grins – is approached by one of these Roma, perhaps a woman, either old or young, perhaps a young person, who holds out a  creased up letter and, with such an imploring voice, asks, “Please, please, you speak English? You speak English?” They manage to look so pathetic that I imagine lots of people are only too pleased to assist with whatever is the problem. Now, it hasn’t happened to us, but from what I have heard the scam is that they then tell you that they have received this letter, in English, about some family tragedy back home, and they need money to assist with whatever the disaster may be which has befallen their loved ones. Of course, good-hearted tourist reads the letter out to them, feels guilty that they have so much and these poor people have so little, and generously hands over some money. Three words here: DON’T DO IT! And I’ll tell you another time about the gold ring scam; that’s a real doozy that catches lots and lots of tourists.
The French seem to get very up in arms when anybody suggests that these scammers on the streets are unacceptable, almost as if they are earning an honest living and not living off the French government. They are dishonest, they often makes hundreds of Euro a day, and a lot of the money goes straight back to their crime bosses in Romania or wherever. As far as I’m concerned, while it might be a bit amusing to watch them working cons like this, it’s a real negative for European cities.
Enough, already! 
 
Park Pierre Cardin
 
After our coffee we caught a bus back to the Madelaine and then walked along rue Royale and across Place de la Concorde so that I could check out the little park at the start of the Champs Elysees which I had been promising myself to visit. It’s called, I think, Park Pierre Cardin. It’s small, it’s absolutely lovely, and it was a joy to spend some time there after the noise of Gare du Nord. There were, as is usual in Paris parks, people reading books, people drinking wine, young men kicking soccer balls around, and young lovers kissing. It’s a great spot.


We then wound our way through our lovely Jardin des Tuileries, crossed rue de Rivoli by the Louvre (God, I love saying things like that), and made our way to the marvellous Palais Royale/Comédie-Française. We had visited CF on our last trip, but somehow managed to totally miss the lovely Palais Royale gardens. How is that possible? I have no idea. The little park is just lovely, and it was wonderful to watch the locals just peacefully sitting around on benches reading their newspapers at the end of the working day. The surrounding apartments and shops are just beautiful. We saw the most wonderful specialist music-box shop which sold the most exquisite items, and I really wished that there was a little girl back home somewhere who we could buy one for, but such is not the case. Oh, and not to be overlooked are the incredible designer clothes. This is not cheap shopping, but it is totally gorgeous.
  
Marvellous Comedie Francaise - love this photograph.
 
By this time it was well after midday and we were absolutely starving. Remembering that great little bistro from our previous trip, we headed down rue St-Honoré, and there it was, just around the corner from rue St-Roch, looking no different, and with the same husband and wife team running the place. The day was quite cool and we felt like some good, filling country type fare, so we ordered accordingly – you know, cassoulet, lentils, that sort of thing – and of course I just simply asked for our usual, a pichet of rosé. The owner reeled back in horror and let out the loudest, “Non, madam. Non.” He was horrified that I would even think of pairing a rosé with such food and told us he would bring us the red. He was right, of course: the food was hearty, and the full-flavoured red was just the perfect accompaniment.
 
Back to the park for this
wonderful piece. Fabulous, isn't it.
 
It was time to change some money as we didn’t want to risk running out of Euros while on the canal. We knew that there were a few money changers on rue de Rivoli (of course), and so we headed for the one just around the corner from rue St-Roch. Thinking that there may be quite large discrepancies in exchange rates, I checked first on how much we would receive there for Aus$500. The man behind the counter fiddled with his calculator and told us he would give us 228. We thanked him and moved on to the next place – and Amex cash changer. Again, we asked what we would get for our 500. This time we were offered only 200. We were disgusted and told him that we had just been offered 228. He offered to match that, but we refused the offer, telling him that as he had been willing to rip us off for 28 we were not interested in doing business with him. We then walked further up the road to the money changer we had used a few times previously, and there we received the lovely amount of 247 for our Aus$500. Now, bearing in mind that we can buy a delicious, big, breakfast for two for only 22, or that we can get perfectly good wine for about 4 a bottle, that’s one hell of a difference. I always tell people to shop around before exchanging money, but still see people just automatically tripping into those Amex type places. What a way to waste money.
 
A bit more of that oh so lovely park.
 
With our train tickets in my handbag, our tummies filled, and our cash reserves topped up, we decided to head back towards the hotel, this time on foot to walk off some of that fantastic food. As we walked along Blvd St-Germain we noticed a street full of restaurants and decided to check it out for later reference. Now, I know that those of you who have been to Paris a few times will be crying out, “No, don’t do it. Don’t go there.” Well, luckily, there was nobody calling out such warnings to us at the time and so we ambled along that street, taking in all the different cuisines and characters.  The choice was endless, and the prices were great and so we decided to come back in the evening for dinner.
Back now to the hotel for – yes, the usual – a long bath, a good book, and a couple of glasses of wine (of course, the man knocked out the usual zzzzzs while I luxuriated).
When it was time for dinner we made our way back to the street of eats. The restaurant we chose to dine in deserves an award. I could call it a Greek restaurant, but I think actually it’s probably a Cypriot one, albeit Greek Cypriot. I have never in my entire life, nor in my dreams, nor even in my childhood fantasies, imagined such a place. You can’t speak about the décor, because that word just doesn’t cut it. This was like a whole bunch of old ladies had been let loose to overdo everything to their hearts’ content. There was stuff everywhere, and I mean stuff, and I mean everywhere. You could not see the ceiling, for instance, because every sort of light shade and fitting imaginable hung from, stuck out from, or was attached to that ceiling. The walls, which are of that particularly ugly stucco, are then very “lavishly” decorated with paintings, plants, plates, mirrors, dolls, musical instruments, etc. etc. etc. On every available bit of shelving there is more junk, even gnomes of every persuasion, even plaster American Indians. Honestly, this place is A MUST. You will not see anything like it in your travels. I just wish I had kept their card so I could pass on the name to you. My mind was so boggled I could have forgotten to eat. This was architectural theatre, and it was so bad it was wonderful!
 
Final one from Park Pierre Cardin,
but so worth waiting for.
 
Now, you may not believe it, but the food was really quite yummy – not wonderful, but yummy – and was excellent value. I had moussaka, and it was as good as I’ve had in most Greek restaurants back home. We washed our meal down with a bottle of Cypriot wine, which was clean and delicious.
Once again full as googs, we walked slowly arm in arm back to our hotel, down streets still abuzz with people and life. It was time, though, for us to hit the sack after another lovely, lovely day.

Come with us tomorrow as we set off on another fantastic canal boat trips in beautiful France.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Encore France: Day 3 - Stunning Church, the Pantheon, Luxembourg Gardens


After a fabulous deep, restful sleep we were eager to get out onto the streets of Paris again, just to breath it all in and take in the sights and sounds. A quick shower and we were off. Down rue Monge and onto Boulevard Saint-Germain where we found a great bistro that offered breakfast of fruit juice, baguette with jam, croissant, ham and cheese omelette and coffee all for just 8 each. Couldn’t resist that, could we? And honestly, it was all absolutely delicious. The place was fairly full, and mostly with locals, which is always a good sign.

With satisfied tummies we set off on an amble to explore the area, and – joy of joys – came across a really fantastic street market. The fruit and vegetables were nothing short of beautiful. The smells and colours were such that you never get with our homogenised, pasteurised, blandestised supermarket offerings back here. It was actually wonderful just to walk around that section. Olives, cheeses, pates, wines. Ah, totally gorgeous. We spent quite a bit of time chatting to various stallholders, who all invited us to sample their product and were more than happy to spend time chatting (just make sure you point out that you are Australian, not English). There were, of course, stalls other than food, and I selected some lovely scarves as gifts for folks back home. I also picked up a fabulous hat for myself and one for my man.

Donning our new headgear, we headed back to the hotel to deposit our goodies and change into cooler tops as the day was warmer than we had expected.

Out again, and this time we strolled up rue Saint-Jacques, pausing to look at that lovely hotel of the same name, which had been on my shortlist because of the charming decor. Our –maybe-we’ll-get-there-maybe-we-won’t destination was the Pantheon. On the way there, however, we veered off to streets right and left, always discovering lovely bits of architecture or little secret gardens. Thus it was that we found ourselves outside one of the loveliest churches ever, Saint Etienne-du-Mont. Built in 1492, the year that Columbus was bumping around the Caribbean, this stunningly beautiful church deserves to be one of the major tourist attractions in Paris, but I am so glad it isn’t because we were the only people there and were able to just sit and take it in in peace and quiet.
 
Photo courtesy Wikimedia
 
I didn’t even take our camera out of the bag; just had a feeling that the place was so lovely that I only wanted to enjoy it with my eyes. It was light, and light-filled, and spoke of a religion based on love and not condemnation and fear. The photographs I’m adding here are from Wikimedia, copyright-free, and I’m offering them so that you can perhaps appreciate how sometimes you don’t feel inclined to reach for the Lumix.
 
Stunning isn't it.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
 
After such a beautiful stop on the way, we walked slowly the few blocks to the Pantheon. It is indeed impressive; it is indeed quite beautiful. We could – we did – spend quite some time there, fascinated by the Fulcrum and the stunning works of art adorning the walls. My man did descend into the bowels of the building to the crypt where so many famous people are interred – Marie Curie (the only woman to be so honoured), Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, René Descartes (go away, Monty Python song). It’s a really special place, incredibly elegant and a fitting resting place for such great minds.

 

Back out on the street, we paused to admire some of the surrounding buildings and colleges. Hugely impressive was the town hall for the 5th arrondissement, as I’m sure you’ll agree. After this, we will never again think of our local council offices as excessive.
 
 
It was now a lovely downhill stroll to Luxembourg Gardens, but on the way – oh, do envy me, please – we came upon the most incredible ice-cream shop (better, in my opinion, that Bertillon), Amorina Gelato. Honestly, what we purchased in there were not ice-creams; they were works of art. The ice-cream is scooped out with a flat paddle and built up petal by petal (yes, that’s what I said) until what you have as the finished product is the most perfect flower, opening out delicately at the top of the cone. And let me assure you, the stunning flower is in no way let down by the flavour. These ice-creams are beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat.

And so we came, still on our Amorina high, to the Luxembourg Gardens, that lovely, lovely park which some people declare to be the most beautiful park in the world. Are they? Ask me when I’ve visited all the parks in the world. Photographs never do them justice. They are like something out of a fairy tale, complete with a lovely castle overlooking their walkways and fountains. I do know that we absolutely love Jardin des Tuileries and always will, but Luxembourg Gardens are nothing short of magnificent. Could I choose between the two? I don’t think so; they are both special and magical to me.



We wandered around the gardens for quite some time, stopping and sitting for a while on a bench to watch a young female diving into huge piles of autumn leaves while her boyfriend filmed her joyous antics. That was gorgeous, and I have to admit we wished it was us jumping into those enormous piles with such abandon.




We also discovered a tiny little garden where everything is in miniature, just a scaled down garden for scaled down little people – and no smoking allowed in there. Wonder of wonders!

From the gardens we walked through the 6th until we came to Saint Sulpice. Now, I know that this church is a must-see for those who enjoyed Dan Brown’s “Davinci Code”, but I found it gloomy and horrible. Even the doors were somehow forbidding, and I thought it seemed more like a place of condemnation than salvation. At the time of our visit, a film crew was making a movie there and so we, and other visitors, had to stand back for a while, watching the proceedings, until we were allowed to enter through that dark, heavy door. I wish I knew what the movie was. I watch quite a lot of French films, and the actress certainly looked familiar but I couldn’t think of her name. Anyway, our visit to this church was quite short, and we both felt so relieved to just get outside and back into the sunshine. Urgh!
 
Just so stunning.


It was by now, as you can appreciate, mid-afternoon and we were starving. Somewhere along Boulevard Saint-Michel we spotted a café which appealed, a tiny place full of lovely wafting cigarette smoke so that we could indulge in a bit of passive smoking to our hearts’ content while feasting on delicious Croque Forrestier and quaffing the usual delightful Cote du Provence rosé. Ah, perfect.
 
I know you want to see more of this fabulous place.

It was then quite a walk back to the hotel, stopping along the way at a Fran Prix to top up the milk, munchies and vino supply. A long lovely bath waited.

Dinner was taken at Le Twickenham, a restaurant on Boulevard Saint-Germain. We had really hesitated about going there as the name put us off so much. Let’s face it, that name just reeks of a place frequented by visiting Brits, and so wasn’t at all appealing.  We were about to walk past and go elsewhere but a waiter who was both pushy and charming (can there be such a combination?) inveigled us inside, and so we found ourselves seated – not surrounded by a bunch of Brits, not surrounded by anybody really – inside and partaking of our evening meal there. The meal was ordinary in the extreme, and the Twickenham is not an experience we will repeat. Just glad that it wasn’t too expensive.

And how about this guy? Fabulous in the extreme.

A slow stroll back to the Agora, a glass of port for another top day in Paris, and our heads were ready to connect with the pillows and we slipped into the arms of Morpheus.

What an image to take into dreamland.

Catch you tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about one of the most memorable restaurants we have ever visited – actually, I can’t imagine anything ever equalling it.
 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Encore France: Day 2 - An Amazing First Day in Paris



After a great Air France breakfast, we enjoyed a smooth-as-silk touch down at CDG to discover that, because of the time difference being even greater with French daylight saving, it was still dark, dark, dark in Paris.
Once through immigration (and, yes, stamps in our passports this time), we were directed to a little train. Huh? Yes, we, along with a zillion other people, boarded a little airport train which took us to the baggage area. And no waiting here, folks: the luggage from our flight was already there, so we picked up our suitcases and walked straight out to the arrivals area, where our driver was waiting for us. There had to be something wrong, though, didn’t there? Yes, there was: one of our suitcases had been badly damaged and was now sans one wheel, making it impossible to just pull along behind us. A bummer as we really liked that purple case. The traffic from the airport into the city, probably at the start of the morning rush hour, was just insane, with motorbike riders zapping along weaving between cars and trucks – they provide entertainment as you go.
8.00 o’clock, and it is still pitch-black. Incredible. 8.30, and there is a hint of light in the sky. Yes, yes, yes, we begin to make out buildings and people. It’s so long since I lived in Europe that I had forgotten how dark mornings can be.
We arrived at our fantastic little hotel, the Agora Saint-Germain, just before 9.00 o’clock, way too early to get into our room. We were welcomed by a lovely member of staff, Ailen, who showed us where to leave our luggage, gave us a little map and suggested we come back in a couple of hours.
The location of the hotel was fantastic, right in the Latin Quarter, on rue des Bernardins just off rue Monge, with just about everything you could possibly want in walking distance. We headed off down rue Monge and onto Boulevard Saint-Germain, and then right onto Boulevard Saint-Michel until we reached the river – ah, we are definitely back in beautiful Paris when we see the Seine. We cross the bridge over to the Ile-de-la-Cité, walking alongside the police headquarters until we reach Notre Dame de Paris.
 
Notre Dame de Paris, with less people than you
are likely to see. Message is: go early.

Please note: if you are off to Paris and want to visit Notre Dame, go early in the morning. It was probably now about 9.30, and there were no crowds, hardly anybody around. It was so quiet I was unsure whether it was even open, but then I saw a couple of people coming out through the doors and realised that, yes, we could enter. I had not felt any great desire to visit, but once we entered the cathedral it was as if all the air was sucked out of my body, as if my very physical self was in awe. For a Catholic it must be really overwhelming; for a non-Catholic like me it was incredibly inspiring, humbling in its majesty. It truly is everything and more that you could expect and hope for, a totally amazing place.
 
Quite beautiful.

From there we strolled around the island and enjoyed a few minutes of lovely peace in the delightful park behind the cathedral.
We had planned to stroll back to the Latin via the next bridge along, but on our way to do so we were very surprised to find that the Memorial to the Deportees, something which was on my list of places to visit during this trip, was right there in front of us when we crossed over the road. At first we thought we were in another little park, but then noticed the steps leading down from the park to the river level and realised where we were. I had not for a moment expected to come across this on day one.
The Memorial is accessed by very steep, very narrow steps leading down from the quiet little garden. It is just a small open space and a few tiny rooms. There are no attendants, no souvenir stalls, just signs requesting silence and respect. Carved into the walls are the names of the various concentration camps which the deportees were sent to, and there are signs explaining the various categories of those deportees. There are small cells which you can look into through barred windows, but nothing is dark, all is pale creamy limestone. The most touching bit of the Memorial is a corridor, a long, narrowing corridor which you can’t enter but which you simply look down through bars. The side walls of this corridor are embedded with shining crystals, one for every Parisian who was deported. Even writing about it now I feel like crying. There were a few other visitors to the site, but not one person was speaking, everybody was silent, everybody was incredibly moved and no words were either necessary or sufficient.
That visit to the Memorial to the Deportees will stay with me for ever. It is a truly moving tribute to those 200,000 people who were “deported” by the Nazis, people who were dragged from their homes and sent away, never to return.
Feeling much quieted, but so privileged to have visited such a place, we crossed the river back to the Latin and walked along by the river. Time for another totally unexpected surprise, the chance to visit another place which was “on my list”: Shakespeare & Co. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Joyce – and me; we’ve all been there. What an amazing, chaotic, exuberant store. I loved it, and could have spent hours trawling through the place were it not for the fact that our stomachs were now demanding attention.
We stopped for lunch at the Café Depart Saint-Michel where we enjoyed a great meal and a pichet of delicious rosé from Provence. It was fantastic sitting there at a table by the window and watching that amazingly busy area, life being played out as if on a screen.
Suddenly, cops seemed to appear from everywhere - lots and lots and lots of them. Firstly, they blocked off all traffic from the bridge. This was accompanied by much blowing of whistles. Then that barrier was removed and tape was placed across another street to block that off, again with beaucoup beaucoup blowing of whistles. And then, lo and behold, nothing happened! They then removed that tape and blocked off yet a different street. Oh, and with all those whistles, of course. Crazy, huh?
Now, this lasted for quite some time, probably over half an hour. Police cars whizzed everywhere, cops on motorbikes tore around like absolute loonies, and those on the street got their thrills by constantly blowing their whistles. It was quite deafening, absolutely fascinating, and the most insane of street theatre – certainly kept all the diners intrigued.
The weirdest was yet to come, however. While watching all this high drama from the comfort of our restaurant table, I looked into one of the police cars speeding past and – what?? – the policemen inside were all wearing full-faced balaclavas. This day was our first day in Paris, remember, and already it was just amazing. Bursting with excitement, I told my husband about the cops in balaclavas, but he – oh, Doubting Thomas that he is – did not believe me. He hadn’t seen, and so he didn’t believe. He said, “No, you must be mistaken; they were just normal cops in normal gear”. Don’t worry, his words would come back to bite him later in the day.
As quickly as it had all started up, so it died down and returned to normal – well, as normal as a Paris street can be with two amazingly tall (I mean, they looked at least 7 feet tall) leather-clad transvestites marching along the Boulevard in their second-skin tight body suits. One was all in patent black leather, head to towering platformed boots, and the other in white, with lots of chains and silver embellishment. They were almost as fascinating as the police street theatre, and were hungrily followed by American tourists with large cameras eager to get some good shots to show the folks back home.
What entertainment we had had; it was wonderful.
Replete now and ready for a bath and a good rest, we headed back to our hotel when, about halfway along Boulevard Saint-Germain, we hear police sirens start up again and a veritable caravan of police cars come tearing along the street at VERY high speed. Just like everybody around us, we stopped to watch, and – guess what – in some of the vehicles the occupants were all wearing full-faced balaclavas. But wait, there’s more: they were also holding (and balancing over the backs of seats and on window ledges) automatic rifles. And do you know what? My man saw it, and he believed.
We got back to the hotel, collected our luggage and went up to our room, a lovely comfortable one with a great view over the street to the church across the way. I quickly unpacked and then luxuriated in a long, deep bath while the man pushed out the zzzzzs. Once refreshed and changed, we headed down the street to where we had spotted a Fran Prix – so convenient – and picked up some wine and munchies. Back to our room, sat by the window, sipped wine, nibbled on our munchies, and watched the Parisians going about their business down on the street.
For dinner we visited an Algerian restaurant around the corner from the hotel. The meal was delicious – delightfully spicy without being hot, just subtle, tantalising flavours – and we washed it down with a bottle of Algerian wine, which was light and lovely.
Ah, and now it is time for bed, perchance to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream – no, the whole day has been a dream already, let’s just sleep.
See you tomorrow.
 
(PS. Apologies for the lack of photographs - not really our priority today.)
 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Encore France: Day 1 - Travelling


(Sorry, folks, no photographs today [lots coming]. Just read, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a big, silver bird flying off to the place of your dreams and you will have all the images you need.)


Wow, I can’t believe it: here we are ready to head off to wonderful France again. It’s been France, Hong Kong, and now we get to revisit the place we so fell in love with.

Right from the start we knew this trip would be interesting. Instead of the usual hanging around, hanging around, drinking over-priced coffee or (much cheaper) booze at the airport, we got chatting to a couple of men from Scotland. One of them, a middle-aged bloke, works in the offshore industry and had been out here in Western Australia for a while on business. He had really enjoyed himself but was looking forward to getting home to family and friends. The other, a young guy, will stay in my memory for ever, I think, because I felt so incredibly sad for him. He was ex-British Army. He had served his time in the forces, including a total of 11 months in Afghanistan. Once demobbed, with money he had saved over a few years, he make a dream come true and bought his ticket to Australia. He would spend 12 months Down Under, learning to surf, seeing the outback, sleeping under the stars near Ayres Rock, hopefully meeting lots of lovely tanned, blonde Aussie girls. After only being here a week, he received a phone call last Thursday from the Department of Defence, recalling him to active service. Of course, as I know from personal experience, he would have been on the A-reserve for a while and liable to be called up, but here was this lovely young guy whose life dream had just been totally shattered. He told us that he would be flying into London and reporting for duty, getting kitted out etc. He had been told that he would be shipping out to Afghanistan again within three days. He had also served in Iraq and said he considered Iraq a holiday compared to Afghanistan; he hated that place and called it a part of hell. I wanted to give him a hug. I did say a little prayer for his safety. I think of him often, still mention him in my prayers, and just hope he got through okay. “Okay” is relative, though, isn’t it. Meeting him really made me realise again how incredibly lucky we are, and how uncertain is life – so enjoy it when you can.
Ah, back to lighter things. On the plane we were seated next to a fascinating woman, an Italian lady who has lived in the UK, Australia, Switzerland and France. She now lives back in Italy, where she and her husband run a school in Bologna. I didn’t ask why she had been here, but imagine she had been visiting friends or family. Seated next to her was a young Anglo-Indian Australian guy who was on his way to England to meet up with friends living in London. His plan was that he and his mates would then spend four months touring around the Continent. This lovely Italian lady gave him her card, invited him and his friends to come visit with them in Bologna, and ensured him that she would make sure she lined up some young people she knows to show them around and make sure they have a great time in that part of Italy. I was really struck by such warm, and obviously very genuine, hospitality and generosity of spirit.
The young soldier; the middle-aged lady. Somehow an incredibly human start to a holiday.
At Singapore Airport we freshened up, had a great coffee and cake in one of the many cafes, and then boarded our Air France flight to Paris. On this trip we flew mixed class – Qantas economy to and from Singapore and then Air France business Singapore/Paris/Singapore. Economy is fine for the short five hour flight up to Singers, but it was fantastic to move to the AF 777 business class. The seats were comfortable in the extreme, the flight attendants were – of course – gorgeous, and the food was absolutely superb. Oh, oh, oh, I salivate just thinking about it.
I was struck, though, that most of the movies which had been on offer on the Qantas flight were also amongst the selection on Air France, and I fully intended to enjoy a couple of them. So, fully replete after a meal of pate de fois gras, chicken cooked in a cream sauce to die for, melon sorbet, cheese, port and coffee, I eased back in my seat, donned my headset, and watched a fabulous movie, “The Bank”, while sipping on a fantastic Bordeaux and nibbling the finest of chocolate.
Does it get any better? Possibly, but this will do me just fine.
See you tomorrow in Paris.


I'm Back ... Let's Go.


 
You have been so patient waiting for a boarding pass
to take off again with me.
Well, you need wait no longer. 
Courtesy Microsoft Clipart
Where do you think we're off to now?
 
Here's a clue: it's a return journey.
Need another: c'est magnifique!


Yes, that's right, we're back to France. From the first moment we landed there on our first trip,
we both knew we would be back as soon as possible.
 
Life, as we were reminded at the airport prior to departure on this holiday, is very short and we have to do what we can when we can. On a trip years ago we met a fascinating character whose motto was "Life is short and unpredictable. Eat dessert first". 

Courtesy Microsoft Clipart
 
Come and enjoy dessert with me.