Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Overheard on Hornby Part 1 – The Sunburn

It’s is now day 3 on Hornby and if you haven’t heard, it’s frakin hot out. Thermometer says 34 degrees and that’s in the shade. We have resorted to sitting in the shade with as much cold San Pellegrino as possible at hand, doing as little as possible. We didn’t even make it to the beach today. Yesterday was also sweltering although we at least went to the beach for a couple of hours. Which brings me to the day before that (Sunday) which we also spent at the beach with Mark and Sylvia and their two: Mateo and Claudia; Leanne & Darren, Grace and Matty, and our crew which includes myself, Zoe, Heather and Sofia, Donny, Lisa and Isabella. We spent an enjoyable few hours swimming and playing in the sand, and waiting for Kent, Jacob, Jordan and Jivko to make it round to the bay in our boat.

It was very hot out and so I dutifully put on sunscreen. In fact, I carried it around with me and sprayed it on what seemed like about every three seconds. The afternoon wore on, the men showed up in the boat, sandcastles were built, jellyfish located and captured, and I applied more and more sunscreen. Apparently that was not enough as after about 2 hours, I started to feel a bit burnt. I suspect now, looking back on it, that perhaps the amount of sunscreen accumulated to the point where it formed some sort of a compound that actually concentrated the sun’s rays in much the same way that a magnifying glass will. Or perhaps a layer of baby oil (not that I ever did that when I was a teenager. Nope.) Anyway, at the beginning of the day I was told I was so white that I was like yogurt, and lets just say that at the end of the day I was no longer white. I was not even pink. I wasn’t even red. I was beyond red and into a realm of the spectrum that we do not have a name for quite yet. I think if we could see infra red then perhaps that may come close. This may explain why dogs where looking at me funny. I can just imagine what they were thinking:

Dog # 1: “Hey look at that lady over there. Holy is she ever burnt”

Dog #2: “Wow. She’s hit the infra-red spectrum.”

Dog #1: “What is it Humans say? Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”

Dog #2: “She must be English.”

Dog # 1: “Only the English have skin that white.”

Dog #2: “and red”

Dog #1: “Wanna go sniff some other dogs’ asses?”

Dog #2: “Sure. Let’s go.”

And there’s also the contrast factor – how the burnt skin is offset by the white skin that was safely hidden under the bathing suit or t-shirt is surely one of Mother Nature’s wonders. I remember a science experiment in grade 9 involving Magnesium and some other chemical. The resulting white was spectacularly bright. I was instantly reminded of this experiment when I checked out the damage in the mirror. It was outrageous. A brilliant strip of white stood out against the clown nose-red skin that was my sunburn. Under other circumstances I would have admired the candy-cane effect but here I just felt shame. How had I failed? Where had I gone wrong? I checked in with my friends. They had seen me put sunscreen on, right?  Yes, every few minutes. “You were carrying it around like a baby” said one friend.

I can only assume that I am actually much whiter to start with than I thought I was. Yogurt white. Or maybe even Liquid paper white. Apparently I need to put a thick layer of zinc oxide all over my body, all the time while in the sun. So much for a tan. I guess it’s back to white for me.


Until next time…

Thursday, July 23, 2009

That is no Moth…

At 2:30 am, it is sometimes hard to figure out what exactly a certain noise might be. For example, a soft swooshing moving around the room could be a breeze blowing the curtains or it could be someone skateboarding home on the next street over. A fluttering noise could be a bird outside the window or maybe a moth trying to get in or out of the window, blindly bashing into the glass, or it could be Zoe shaking my blankets trying to wake me up for some unknown reason. Sometimes sounds carry farther in the still of the night and I often can hear groups of people walking home from the bars as clear as a bell even though they are on the next street over. Or possibly they are breaking into my house and I am just too sleep-stupid to realize it:

Me: Oh how nice! a group of young people coming home from an evening out. I remember when I used to roll in at 4am too. Those were the days! Better snuggle back to sleep…

Group of young people: Hey pass me that safe. And did you get the snowboard? Don’t forget the bikes.

And so it was that on the night before last, I woke up to a strange rhythmical fluttering sound in my room that I could not, for the life of me, identify. Kent woke up too and got out of bed to use the washroom. I’ll just say here that at this juncture in the night he was starkers. Naked. As he stumbled to the bathroom, I woke up enough to start wondering what exactly that noise was. “Is there something flying around the room?” I said. "Naaa, it’s just a moth” said Kent. But the swooshing continued and something about this strange sound was becoming familiar at a subconscious level. Working its way into my mind was a word: ‘baa…’ ‘baaaaa’… “That is no Moth!” I finally screeched, letters and words falling into place in my mind. “That is a bat!” Kent flicked on the bathroom light, and confirmed my suspicions with a loud “Holy shit it IS a bat!”

I pulled back the covers only to yank them over my head again, shrieking as the bat swooped over my side of the bed, but not before I caught sight of Kent diving naked onto the couch in our room, clutching a pillow as a form of protection. For the next 10 minutes I cowered under the covers, getting hotter by the second as I dared not expose my head to what could only be the bloodthirsty jaws of the bat. Clearly it was a vampire bat and was obviously very thirsty and was planning on draining both of us of all our blood, leaving two limp pallid bodies in its wake. Or perhaps it was rabid and we would both die a vicious death, writhing around and foaming at the mouth as our families watched from behind protective glass.

At this point, the bat veered off its course of a figure 8 around the room and took off down the stairs. “It’s gone!” said Kent from the couch. “Open the windows and the skylight” I cried. “Umm I’m pretty sure they are open already and that’s why there’s a b…Here it comes again!” yelled Kent as we heard the beating of wings coming back up the stairs. “Get it into the bathroom. God It’s hot under here.” I said, desperate to be free of my sauna-like prison. “Why don’t you just come out?” asked Kent. “Because there’s a bat flying around the freakin’ room that’s why!” If you haven't seen my bedroom then you won’t know that it is a converted attic space and as such there is not a lot of well, head room, and so any flying-mammal that is caught in said bedroom will not have much space to itself.

However, at this point, the bat conveniently flew into the bathroom allowing Kent to shut the doors on it. If you haven’t seen my bathroom then you will also not know that these French ‘doors’ have no glass in them (long story don’t ask) and instead have two curtains draped over them in quite a fetching manner. Unless you are trying to trap a bat and then all of a suddenly the curtains seem useless and you find yourself looking with distress at the place where the glass isn’t hoping that the bat does not come screaming through the curtains and into your hair where it decided to build a nest. It’s amazing what you find yourself thinking at 3am.

Anyway, none of this happened and the bat spent another 15 minutes flying around the bathroom, presumably looking for a place to roost or whatever it is that bats do. It was fascinating and alarming both at the same time to watch the shadow of the bat as it was cast upon the white curtains. More than once I thought WTF! to myself. Why is there a bat in my bathroom at 3am and would it please go home!

After what seemed like several months, the bat finally stopped flying and seemed to have found a place to hang from its little bat feet. Of course the question was now ‘where exactly is the bat’?

What ensued over the next 4 or so minutes is, fortunately, captured on video. The camera just happened to be close at hand and so I thought it might be interesting for the kids in the morning to see evidence of our nocturnal adventure. So Kent suited up in clothes, gloves and a jacket with a hood, and moved into the bathroom to try and find the bat, armed only with a broom and, oddly, a plastic garbage can, and I turned on the camera. Nothing happened for about 3 minutes as we searched and searched for the bat. It seemed to have disappeared. We had moved everything out from its place and stacked it in front of one of the doors. (I don’t know why I did this either). So when, after 15 minutes, I finally left my post beside the door and ventured into the room to assist in Operation Bat Removal, I was certainly not expecting Kent to locate it quite so quickly. “There it is!” he yelled, pointing at the baseboard behind a trunk we use for storage. Had I actually looked at this point, I would have seen a rather sweet little brown bat, hunkered down, all wrapped up and clinging for dear life to the baseboard, clearly exhausted. I would have seen Stellaluna. But instead, I saw a huge rabid vampire bat heading straight for my neck. I made a noise that Kent says he has never heard anywhere before, ever, (you can hear this sound yourself on the video!) and then I turned and bolted through/over the pile of everything that was in front of the door and tried to make-it through the door itself, ripping down the curtain scraping my arm quite badly, and stubbing my toe in the process. I ended up in a heap on the other side of the door and in fit of hysterical laughter. It really is ridiculous.

I was of no further use but fortunately Kent still had his wits about him. The bat was of course caught by a method that we may try to patent involving a pile of towels, and a rubbermaid storage bin. It was duly deposited outside in its pile of towels which Kent then shook to free the poor little thing. It was quite lovely as it stretched its velvety wings, crawled off the towels, and flapped off into the night. We both retired to bed, watched the video of me falling over about 62 times, then finally fell asleep.

Suffice to say I am a little more wary of having the windows quite so wide open and there are now lots of sounds that are suspicious to me. I still have a scrape on my arm but I also have a new story, and it does not involve rabies or bloodsucking, but rather a little velvety bat who wandered into my life for an hour. Yeah, whatever, as cute as you are just don’t come back!

To see this ridiculous video, find me on facebook. for some reason I can’t upload it here. Probably because it is too ridiculous.

Until next time…

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Purse

When you come home from a vacation it’s always great to be home – no more living from a suitcase, no more hot crowded train stations/airports/buses/sidewalks, no more weird food purchased for too much money that your kids take one bite from and then push aside, no more standing on a street corner with a map and a puzzled look. Instead you are back on familiar ground, somewhere where you know the fastest way to get across town, where the water tastes good for a change and not like it has been sitting in someone’s abandoned tennis shoes for a week then filtered through their socks into a plastic bottle. Back where you know exactly what foods your kids will eat. But most importantly, most significantly perhaps, you are back where it is no longer necessary to carry in your purse the following items:   a bag of dried fruit, a camera, spare batteries, a map, a guide book, a bottle of tennis shoe water, a paper napkin with a leftover bun from breakfast just in case, a doll, a bar of chocolate (melted), gum, a (by now) dog-eared postcard complete with stamp that was meant to be mailed 10 days ago but whatever, 16 brochures from various attractions/museums/cathedrals/etc that you have somehow acquired, a sticky popsicle wrapper, a roll of toilet paper,hop-on hop-off bus tickets, 4 sets of headphones for said bus trip, a colouring book, 3 broken pencils, 12 pounds of foreign coins, a bottle of tylenol, a bird feather the significance of which has since been forgotten, hand sanitizer, a rock, bandaids, a large bottle of sunscreen, 3 hats, and, perhaps most perplexingly, a 6inch long eraser that weighs at least a pound and has written on it ‘I made a really big mistake in Blodford-Splatting!’.

So I guess now that I’m home and my purse weighs 20 pounds less, I’m a little happier about carrying it around, but I miss some of that stuff as it meant I was somewhere else, not on my way to work, or the bank, and that I would probably see something that day that I hadn’t seen before. I even kinda miss that eraser.

Until next time…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Top Ten List

10. Fondant Fancies. These lovely little cakes come in a pink box at Marks and Spencer. I’m sure they are horrific for you and are probably the equivalent of a ding dong or something in that their shelf life is far too long for anything healthy. However, they bring back memories of childhood and they taste divine. The pink ones are my favourite.

9. The Soho district of London. People everywhere, cafes everywhere, incredible live theatre everywhere. Amazing.


8. The fact that it takes only 22 minutes to go through the Chunnel.

7.The English Village of Sutton Valence. This little gem sits perched on a hillside in the middle of the English County of Kent. The streets are barely wide enough for one vehicle, the buildings are beyond quaint, and there are two very fine pubs, one of which happens to be The King’s Head, referring, of course, to Henry VIII. An ancient ruined castle sits over all of this. Perfect!


6. The unnamed pastry that was served to us for petit dejeuner in Paris. This delectable mixture of croissant pastry, chocolate and butter was so much better than a pain au chocolat.

5. Canterbury. Everything about this city was awesome from the beautiful gothic cathedral where Thomas a Beckett was murdered in 1170 to the winding streets, to the great shopping, to the helpful friendly people who live and work there. Nice.


4. The moat at Leeds Castle. This castle is straight out of a fairytale complete with the most beautiful moat that completely surrounds the castle. The massive stone walls rise straight out of it and black swans swim through archways.


3. Standing under the Eiffel Tower with my 7yr old daughter wide-eyed and full of wonder. Sure it’s great to see it from a far, but it’s quite remarkable to stand under it with all those tonnes of steel rising above you. The people watching is pretty amazing, too: Gypsies swarming hapless tourists, 12 different languages being spoken all at once, nuns, Chinese tour groups, soccer teams, and French soldiers with machine guns.


2. Cruising to Greenwich on the Thames River. Cities are different places when seen from the water. This cruise takes 30 minutes and is totally worth it. What a great way to gain a perspective on London, and Greenwich itself is a beautiful town.


1. Hearing my 13yr old son Jacob say to me, while on the Eurostar train to France, that he would like to take a train trip around Europe with some friends when he’s older. He thought he might need a week or so to do this, I said why not take a couple of months:) Ok, he said, but he would also like to take a trip across Canada too. Nothing like seeing that spark in your kid’s eyes. Mission Accomplished!


Friday, July 10, 2009




Our last m orning in Paris was a bonus. I had thought our train left at 1 when actually it left at 3:15. Good thing I didn't screw it up the other way. The kids were in good spirits as we left the hotel for a few hours. I was planning on walking to the left bank and exploring the little cobble-stoned streets and then ducking into the remarkable Sainte-Chappelle for a last grab at culture before heading home. We made it to the left bank, had a delicious lunch, and then, with 45 minutes to spare, walked to Sainte-Chappelle which must be one of the most beautiful chapels anywhere. It’s like a miniature Chartres with huge expanses of beautiful stained glass. So I was pretty disappointed when I saw a sign by the entrance declaring that the chapel would be closed today between 1 and 2:15pm. Why? Why close today at those times? This was my only time! Such is life I guess. And I’m pretty sure it was relief that flooded the faces of Jacob and Zoe when I told them the bad news.

We wandered a little more, and then realized we couldn’t put off leaving any longer. A taxi took us to our hotel to pick-up our luggage and say good-bye to our new favourite hotel (and Tokyo the dachsund), then another taxi took us the Station, the Eurostar took us back to London (in 2hrs), another taxi took us across London to Victoria Station, The Gatwick Express took us to Gatwick airport, another taxi took us to our hotel and an elevator deposited us to our rooms somewhat worse for wear.  Dinner and sleep ensued and a few hours later we were up and ready to go. Back on a bus to the airport, and into what may be the worlds longest check-in line for our flight home and all this before 7am!

It’s always funny when you see people from home in unexpected places and so I was both surprised and delighted to run into a family that we used to live next to when Jacob was little, in the same line-up as us to fly home to Vancouver.  It was actually a good thing that the line was so long as it gave Sarah and I a chance to catch-up as I hadn’t seen her in a long time.

After what felt like several months later we finally made it to the front of the line where we were greeted by an officious woman who was the airline equivalent of a battle axe triage nurse. She took very seriously her role of line-allocator and was directing people to the various counters as they became available. When it was our turn for direction, she seemed to suddenly lose interest. I thought perhaps this meant  I could choose myself which line to go to (the shortest. Duh.) but this was not to be. As I dragged our mountain of luggage to the counter, she suddenly reappeared and insisted I move to a line that already had someone in it, as well as an exasperated woman at the counter trying to check herself in (with no apparent success). The woman behind the counter was speaking earnestly into a phone and there was much gesticulating and eye-rolling going on. I sighed and settled in. Some weeks later the woman at the counter finally appeared to have completed the process and left, muttering to herself and shaking her head back and forth. The person ahead of me had gone to another line and so I moved into place, passports in hand, and went to put my luggage up on the scale. “Please don’t put your bags up yet” said the woman behind the counter. She was on the phone at the time and quickly went back to her call ignoring my questioning looks. I waited. And waited. The kids were by now hanging over the dividers, kicking each other, knocking our suitcases over, slamming into each other and generally getting on my nerves. The people in the line weren't much better that the kids. Finally she got off the phone and I made to move my luggage back onto the scale. “please wait’ she said again “The luggage conveyor is jammed.” I looked over her shoulder into the dark recesses of the conveyor belt. There was a mountain of suitcases all jumbled up and piled into each other. They completely blocked the door to the conveyor belt. In behind them I could just make out the red face of a man trying to liberate a bag whose handle had become stuck in the conveyor belt. He looked like Alice in wonderland after she’d eaten too much mushroom and had become stuck in a house that was too small for her. He was completely crammed in with the cases and bags and could hardly move. I looked at the line behind me and then at the luggage-jam. We were going to be here at while. After another 15minutes or so, there came an almighty crash from the conveyor belt, someone yelled : “I’ve done it!” and everything started moving all at once. GREAT! I thought. That’s SMASHING it’s working! But no, it was not to be. Not more than 2 minutes later the whole thing stopped working again. There must have been 8 counters open for check-in, and each one had piles of luggage to check through. What a nightmare, what a disaster, WTF! The same red-faced man appeared, now on our side of the conveyor belt.He was swearing about how he was going to have to go all the way around to get back into the system. “Why don’t you just crawl through here” I suggested, holding open the gate where I was not allowed to put my luggage. He was about to say no, then thought better of it and shimmied his way through to the conveyor belt. I could see a backpack, the kind with 8000 straps and loops and belts and things hanging off it, hanging slightly off the conveyor belt. It looked like it had a strap caught in the belt mechanism. I pointed it out to Red Face (who I don’t think could actually see at all) and then proceeded to try and explain to him where exactly it was in the pile.  He eventually figured it out and everything went zipping along. We managed to check-in and then we also zipped off to the gate as we now had about 4 seconds to get there.

Fortunately the flight was uneventful (with the exception of a two-year old who was not going to wear her seatbelt ever again) and we eventually ended up at Vancouver airport. Another taxi, and then a ferry and there we were at Swartz Bay. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see Kent. He looked a little gaunt but happy to see us. We drove home, dropped off my mum and got to our house. One final luggage-dragging episode up the stairs and we were home!

I  have a few reflections on travelling with kids but will share those with you later. Thanks for listening!

Good night!

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Paris part two…Western Civ 12 Strikes Again!


As most of everything in Paris is closed on Sundays, we planned to take a day trip (they don’t do Days Out here) somewhere outside of Paris. I was torn between Giverny, the home of French Impressionist Claude Monet and site of inspiration for many of his Waterlillies paintings, and Chartres, site of the World’s most Impressive Gothic Medieval Cathedral. In my mind I could hear Kenneth Clarke enticing me to Chartres with his graphic descriptions of the stained glass, the sculpted statues that filled each portal, the very wonder of the fact that such a building looks much the same today as it did in 1260 when it was built. But I was also keen to spend some time in a shady garden pondering the various shades of blue and purple of a waterlily. In the end, Giverny was no match for Kenneth Clarke and so we boarded a train to at Montparnasse station and got off one hour later in the Medieval village of Chartres.


The Cathedral is enormous and towers over everything. It is visible from virtually everywhere in this small little town – a fact I was grateful for as it ensured I would not get lost. It’s only a short walk from the station through narrow little cobble-stoned streets, past patisseries and boutiques and the ever-present cafes. The French seem to need a cafe about once every 3 ft or something happens to their national psyche. There is a knack to sitting in a French Cafe, I have learned. One must not look too eager. One should sit in a relaxed manner, never slouching, and not lean over the table when taking ones tea or sipping a coffee. A friend is nice to have at a cafe but not required. One elbow may rest on the table while the other is engaged in smoking, texting, or sipping. I tried to do all these things correctly while sitting at a cafe but I’m pretty sure I didn’t pull it off. The look of complete disdain I was given by the server was my first clue. I had attempted to order a cup of peppermint tea. “Je voudrais un tasse de the menthe” I said, reasonably pleased with myself. Silence, a brief flicker of impatience, and then a shrug. “The du menthe” I said again. She snatched the menu and stalked off only to return a few minutes later with a teapot of hot water and a earl grey tea bag. I grabbed another menu, opened it to the tea section and pointed to the word ‘menthe’. ‘D’accord?’ I asked in a semi-polite, semi-irritated tone. ‘Menthe?” she said, scornfully, in exactly the same way as I had said it. ‘OUI, Menthe!” I said, getting ticked off now. How hard was this? Was I dealing with some sort of idiot savant? Just get me a frickin’ peppermint tea and be done with it. And by the way I don’t like your hair either. She sighed audibly, took the offending Earl Grey tea bag and flounced back to the kitchen reappearing with a peppermint tea bag in hand. ‘Ce n’est pas difficil, le the du menthe” I muttered. She glared at me, then stomped off again. I’m sure my french, or lack thereof, is terrible but it hardly garnered such a sneer. Anyway I’m over it now. Really.

And so we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wondering the cathedral and town. Once again I could see Zoe glaze over after about .34 of a second as I started in on the virtue of the flying buttress or the joy of bas-relief. Jacob, however, was taken with the whole place and spent most of the time looking at the windows through a pair of binoculars. He has since declared this day as one of his favourites. Kenneth Clarke would be thrilled!DSC04054 DSC04027

We made it back into Paris in time for dinner and then somehow, ended up at the Fair for a last pass on the rides. One of the rides we enjoyed watching the most was a huge set of posts that angle up 100feet into the sky like a huge V. A couple of enormous bungee cords descend from the tips and come down to attach themselves to a round semi-open cage with two seats in it. The two brave souls are strapped in, the cage is attached to its post, the bungees tighten and then someone presses a button and the cage is released. It shoots up in the air at alarming speed and then hurtles back down as far as the bungees allow, and then bounces back up again etc etc  you get the picture.The first time I saw this I was horrified. I’ll try and post the video. The screaming you hear is me, not the people in the cage. I much preferred the bungee trampolines.

We made it back to the hotel at 11pm (again – how does this happen?) and slept like logs.

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Paris Part One


Paris is a beautiful city all wrought iron and massive wooden doors leading to quiet flower-filled courtyards. Everywhere you look svelte Parisian men and women navigate the narrow streets with either a baguette or a cell phone, or both, in hand. And yes they are impeccably dressed and gorgeous. Here in Paris one would never conceive of going into town in, say, one’s pantalon du jogging. It would be un catastrophe! Unfortunately for me I did not have quite the correct footwear for Paris (flip-flops) and so I must report a few scornful looks at my feet from various shopkeepers. I was also not prepared to drop 220 Euros on a pair of appropriate shoes so flip-flops it remained when we stepped out of our hotel for our first full day. We bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off open-top bus (also known as the ‘montez-descendez’ bus that takes you, it seems, absolutely everywhere and also includes a hop-on hop-off ‘bateau-bus’ on the Seine river. Very touristy but very effective if there are children involved.


Our first stop was the Louvre. This famous Paris landmark is free for kids and, at 9 Euros per adult, totally worth every penny. I think you would need an entire week to see everything in this place. As we did not have a week, I opted instead for the flash tour which covers all the major pieces (if you run) in about two hours. We started in the basement (I’m sure it’s not called the basement but whatever) where the remains of a medieval castle can be found. Then we sprinted up the stairs, passed Winged Victory, had a wave at the Venus de Milo (she didn’t wave back – hard without arms I guess), sprinted through several rooms full of priceless works of art and straight to the Italian Renaissance painters section to spend a few minutes with La Joconde aka the Mona Lisa.

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This was Zoë and Jacob’s main reason to come to the Louvre (I didn’t want to tell them that it’s everyone’s reason) and they were suitably impressed despite being disappointed that it is behind glass. After that it was pretty much all over as I tried desperately to interest them in a few other key pieces like some of Michelangelo’s sculptures (les captifs) and some other stuff by art heavyweights Renoir and Vermeer but they were pretty much done. I’m not sure if you’ve been to the Louvre but you have to go through one amazing room after another to get anywhere and lets face it after a while one 2000 year old roman bust staring at you through blank eyes looks pretty much like the next one. We ended the visit with lunch on the terrace over looking the square (very nice – look for the Café Mollien if you go) and a mad dash round the gift shop which is not a gift shop (as such) so much as a museum with price tags. Things were not cheap is what I’m trying to say. It was a great visit, if fleeting, but actually not a bad way to see some of the world’s best art, with children, in less than 100 minutes.


The rest of the day was taken up with a somewhat unsuccessful visit to the Eiffel Tower where we waited inline for an hour before realizing that it would be at least another hour and to be honest I wasn’t that thrilled about having to watch my children plunge to their death from the top of the Tower anyway. So we ducked and weaved our way through the Gypsies who seem to live there and made for the Jardin de Tuilleries where we had spotted a fair the day before. It was actually one of the better fairs I have encountered and we spent a few fun hours eating Parisian hotdogs (in a baguette of course), playing carnival games and going on rides including a huge Ferris wheel that you will be pleased to hear I went on (after Jacob told me to ‘Just suck it up mum and get on the frickin’ Ferris wheel’. It was a beautiful night and the view from the top was awesome. Or what I saw of it through eyes clenched tightly shut and blurred with sweat. I’m sure I left a nice handprint on the solid steel of the ‘cage’ we were in as well. Regardless, I actually enjoyed the experience. Sort of. We all fell into bed at 11pm and slept very deeply indeed.

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Are we in France? No this can’t be France

Thankfully I was feeling better the day we left Kent. We made it to Ashford with plenty of time to spare so that we could drop off the rental car and still be able to check in at the Eurostar terminal well ahead of time. My mum would have liked to arrive at the station the day before just to be on the safe side but I didn't think that would be necessary. After all, I now knew my way around like nobody’s business so what was there to worry about. It was just a simple matter of locating the rental car drop-off location at which point the nice lady would drive us all back to the station. Suffice to say, it didn’t go all that smoothly and when, after making yet another wrong turn off a roundabout, I recognized the parking lot where I had become intimately acquainted with a rather nice wall, I decided I had had enough of ‘bloody Ashford’ and was going to go to the station instead. I parked the car in the 20 minute zone, unloaded everyone and then called the car rental place. I started my sob story about getting lost and then lost again and then worrying about missing the train etc etc when she cut me off to say that I could leave the car there and that a tow truck was on its way to pick up the car. A tow truck! How embarrassing! Well whatever – it meant that I no longer had to tour around Ashford looking for an obscure location, and they were doing this with no extra cost to me. The tow truck showed up shortly and a very nice man with no teeth who looked rather like Punch of Punch and Judy fame, took the keys and the car and that was that.

I headed in to the international departures area, found the Eurostar terminal and the rest of my family, checked in and relaxed.

The train showed up shortly and we all climbed on, dragging our huge amount of luggage with us, and found our seats. Within seconds the thing shot off down the tracks at lightening speed. After what seemed like about 4 seconds, we descended into the dark of the Channel Tunnel, aka ‘the Chunnel’. 22 minutes and lots of ear-popping later we shot out into the light of day, and the following somewhat puzzling conversation:

Me: ‘We’re in France’  said excitedly to the the kids.

My Mum: ‘No we can’t be, not yet’

Me (slightly shocked): “ummmmmm. what?’

My Mum: ‘Well it still looks like England.’

Me: ‘Yes it does except for all those French-looking buildings and, Oh look! All the words are in French!’

My Mum: ‘Yes but it wasn’t long enough through the Chunnel’

Me: ‘Ok, Ummmmm. Well I’m pretty sure it’s France. That was the point after all…(what does one say in the face of such certainty?')

My Mum: Naaaa. It can’t be. Not yet. We must have gone through a first tunnel in England and THEN we’ll go through the Chunnel.’

Me: (WTF MUM!!!)  ‘Ummmm…I’m pretty sure we’re in France, Mum.’

My Mum (sniffing) ‘Hmph. We’ll see.’

Sometime later as we passed a highway with huge signs pointing the way to Paris I was able to convince her that we were indeed in France.

Arriving at Paris Gare du Nord was an experience. Without repeating the sordid details here, I’ll just say that we had a few encounters with Gypsies, and a man pretending to be a taxi-driver who was really just taking us the to the taxi stand and then charging a huge amount to do so (who, I’ll say here, my mum dispatched with finesse by giving him 5 euros and then saying ‘Merci Beaucoup’ repeatedly until he went away) but finally made it into a taxi and to our hotel before anyone collapsed.

I had found Hotel La Sanguine through a great website: Alistair Sawday’s Great Places to Stay. If you are coming to England or Europe you should check it out. Anyway. I had booked rooms here and I cannot say enough good things about this hotel. It is located on the Right Bank in the 8 arrondisement near La Place de la Madeleine. It is a tiny little place but such charm! Our miniature room (for the kids and myself) had everything: air conditioning (crucial in this hot weather), tv, mini-bar, ensuite bathroom, hairdryer, wifi, and comfortable beds. Madame runs the place with efficiency and charm dispatching employees to carry our bags, get us more pillows, etc etc. Tokyo the Weiner dog also has run of the place and provided much entertainment for the kids, running around with his squeak toy.


Le petit dejeuner (breakfast) was ‘taken’ (In France, one ‘takes’ breakfast) each morning and after the first day I began to look forward to it the night before. Monsieur would bring thé or cafe or chocolat (my favourite) along with fresh orange juice and a huge basket of pastries: fresh bread, croissants, and pain au chocolat with little dishes of homemade jam made with fruit from the orchard at Madame’s country house. Divine. DSC03934 

After settling in to the hotel we set out to explore the neighbourhood and managed to stumble on the best toy store I have ever been in. Zoe started salivating and Euros were soon changing hands. We pressed on and discovered many delightful areas including the Place de la Vendome which has at its centre a 3500 year old Egyptian Obelisk. From this square one can see the Tour Eiffel, the Jardin de Tuileries, Les Invalides where Napoleon is buried, and all the way down the Champs Elyseés to the Arc de Triumph.



It’s a great spot for immediate gratification. We wandered around, found a fair (more on that later) had ice creams, shopped, and then came back to the hotel to get ready to meet our friend Lila for dinner. Lila is a highschool friend of Kent’s who has been living in London for ages. She is a concert pianist who has changed course and is now finishing her law training there and managed to score a place with a firm who also has a Paris office, and so she is finishing up a six-month placement.

Madame passed on the details of where we were to meet and  we quickly got on a taxi to our destination, the restaurant Pain, Vin et Fromage. Could there be a better named restaurant for our first meal in Paris? We found Lila waiting for us and graciously declaring that we weren’t late at all (40 minutes yes were were!) and that it didn’t matter at all. The restaurant was a fondue and raclette house and it was delicious. A huge platter of cheese appeared followed by plates of charcuterie with little bowls of cornichons, a basket of warm bread, a salad of mixed greens with spiced walnuts and a bowl of steamed new potatoes. It was amazing.


Somehow we also had room for dessert and my mum managed to polish off a piece of carmelized apple pie, Jacob had a waffle covered in chocolate with pistachio ice cream and Lila and I scarfed down peach ice cream. Zoe has a thing for whipped cream and can often be found at parties quietly spooning down large mouthfuls of straight whipped cream so it was no surprise that she ordered a bowl of Chantilly cream-filled profiteroles covered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. They were magnificent. She tucked in with great enjoyment and at one point turned to Jacob and, holding up one of the chocolate covered profiteroles, declared ‘I have FOUR of these!’


We ended the evening by taking a taxi to Lila’s apartment where her fiancé Phil had just retuned from London where he teaches at the London School of Economics. That’s right, they’re a couple of real under-achievers :) We had a great visit and walked back to our hotel together and along the way Phil and Lila pointed out such locations as Chopin’s house, and the Ritz Hotel where the last photos of Princess Diana and Dodi where taken. It was a beautiful Paris evening and none of us wanted it to end. So great to see you, Lila & Phil!

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Potter Down

Well all I can say about Thursday is that it’s a good thing we had nothing planned as I woke up with the worst sore throat ever. Things grew rapidly worse and I spent the better part of the day in bed with a fever feeling sure I was about to die. I was also hit with severe nausea and dizziness and a brutal headache. I have no idea what everyone else did that day. I started to recover later in the day and made it to the couch in the living room where I was able to watch the news.

I probably should have skipped the news however as it was a story on how England has been hit hard by the Swine Flu. Currently there are over 7500 cases, mostly in the North, but London had also been hit by an outbreak recently. ‘Hmmmm’ I thought.

A couple of days later I was not that happy to read an article in a UK paper that clearly laid out the symptoms for Swine Flu: fever, sore throat, very sudden onset, intensity of symptoms, nausea and vomiting can be present, severe headache. The report then stated that many people who catch the dreaded H1N1 virus have a sudden severe or mild case that can only last a few hours, or it can stretch out for days. They also made a point of saying that those members of the population in the 30-50 age bracket seem to be more susceptible,

So I’ll leave you with those facts and in the absence of someone to test my blood for antibodies, will make no definitive statements as to whether or not I have had the Swine Flu. I will instead leave you with some pictures of the idyllic grounds of our cottage. Next stop: Paris!

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I’m Looking Over the White Cliffs of Dover…

DSC03871 DSC03857 DSC03859 DSC03861 Somehow it seemed to be my turn again to choose a location for the day. I was hoping for a beach as it has been so HOT here so we left our cottage and headed for the south coast to St. Mary’s Bay. It didn’t take long to get there and I managed to navigate my way there myself (no, really mum, that’s fine, I can do it  - you look out for cows or stoats or whatever).

If you have ever had the misfortune to find yourself in an English Seaside town, you will know immediately what I mean when I use the words ‘awful’, ‘cheesy’, ‘tacky’ and ‘appealing’ all in the same sentence. I have childhood memories of spending the day ‘beside the sea side’ in an Enid Blyton paradise with people like Mummy and Joan and David, bathing costumes, iced lollies and going for a ‘bathe’ etc etc. I also remember seaside carnivals that were straight out of a nightmare with leering attendants with terrible teeth (OK, well actually everyone in England has terrible teeth), cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, where you got to ride on some terrible merry-go-round for way too much money and then go and eat greasy fish and chips after. Hey it sounds like the Oak Bay Tea Party!

In any case, we arrived at St. Mary’s Bay in the middle of a hot sunny and very windy day. After parking the car, we walked up a small hill where I could see a few tacky tourist stalls. I wasn’t expecting much. So imagine my surprise when we crested the hill to see a HUGE golden sand beach stretching out as far as we could see in either direction. This thing was WAY bigger than Chesterman beach at Tofino. The kids took one look at each other, and then bolted off toward the water, which was a murky looking affair but appealing none the less. Unfortunately, the wind was really strong and managed to also blow any warmth away with it. So we hung around for a few minutes then got back in the car and headed off to Dover. Of course, the seaside route took us through a number of ultra-tacky resorts full of fish and chip shops, cheesy rides and myriad blow up/ride on sea creatures, buckets, spades, and beach towels all blowing like crazy in the near-gale that was now upon us. Ignoring Zoe’s urgent requests to stop I zipped through all these towns and onto the motorway which is a much faster way of travelling and less enticing if you are a kid.

Dover is an extremely impressive town surrounded as it is by high chalk cliffs that really are spectacular. I wish I could say the same for the town itself which is a bad mash up of old and new. However, considering the major damage sustained by the town during WW2 it has survived remarkably well. Something like 2200 shells fell on the Dover between 1940 and 1944, all fired by the Germans from their long-range guns built onto the cliffs at Calais, across the English Channel. 1000 buildings were destroyed and many more severely damaged.

The town is also a major seaport for ferries leaving for and arriving from mainland Europe so at any given point the harbour area is full of ferries and other ships coming and going. The city is dominated by the castle which rises high above everything. This was our destination and I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon made a personal visit to the castle during their reign. We arrived later in the day which was ideal as there was hardly anyone there. Specifically, there were virtually no groups of marauding youth all gulping huge bottles of pop and bags of chips, swearing and generally doing everything in their power to ruin the event for everyone else. I believe this occurrence of youth run wild is also known as a ‘school group’. There is also usually a haggard looking teacher who, having tried unsuccessfully to maintain some semblance of control, has now given up and can be found in the shop drinking all the samples of blackberry wine, or in the corner smoking a ‘fag’ (as they call them here).

Instead there was a very nice gentleman in the shop (who looked a bit like the love child of Eric Idle and Margaret Thatcher but I digress) who set us up with a tour of the Secret Wartime Tunnels, which don't appear to be much of a secret anymore.The tour took us through the network of tunnels that were carved out of the chalk cliffs below Dover Castle during WW2. Some of the tunnels date back even earlier to the Napoleonic Wars (Late 1700’s). The main purpose of the tunnels was to house WW2 soldiers and to administrate the war. There was also a hospital there during WW2 and it remains there to this day, completely intact. It was like stepping back in time. They also try to recreate the wartime situation by adding voiceovers of soldiers going about their day (‘I say, Jones, be a sport and put the kettle on would you?), surgeons operating (‘Scalpel! Scalpel. Scissors! Scissors'), and Admirals admiring or whatever it is they do (‘What the Devil are those Germans up to now! What ho! Get some more men over there and be quick about it!’).  It was quite effective, especially when a bomb came screaming in and the lights went out. Zoe did not like that part which she demonstrated by climbing directly onto my head and screaming herself in a manner that threatened to bring down the tunnels themselves. Jacob on the other hand thought it was ‘really cool’ and ‘neat’. Mental note to self: teach children some new vocabulary. My mum loved it, especially the operating theatre.

We emerged into blinding sunlight on to a terrace where Winston Churchill himself used to stand and watch the dogfights in the air between the RAF (Royal Air Force) and the Germans. According to our guide the British lost around 500 planes a month during the Battle of Britain and the Germans lost 600 so there was a lot of action in the air over Dover. The image of all those planes sitting on the ocean floor is a powerful one. Apparently most of them are still there.

After the tunnels we walked the castle ramparts then left in search of dinner which we found at a pub in the village of Bearsted near the Castle which is my new favourite village. The food was once again fantastic (oh RATHER!) and we slept well that night.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not Seeing the Animals

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Today was Jacob’s turn to choose a location for a day out (GREAT!) and so it was that we drove south to Port Lympne Wild Animal Safari Park. Or something like that. It is 600 acres of what is basically a zoo lets face it, but it is rather more successful than most as it somehow manages to send animals back to their native habitat. Apparently they have sent 5 rhinos and a bunch of gorillas. Or so they say and, really, who’s checking anyway.

This ‘Zoo’ is actually more like a work-out with a few animals along the way. This is the trouble with these places that try to treat the animals decently: they have such bloody huge pens that a) you are lucky if you can spot one of them at any point and b) it’s a bit of a trek between not seeing one animal and then not seeing the next. I have had similar experiences at other ‘animal parks’ including a particularly frustrating one at the Portland Zoo where the kids and I didn’t see about 12 of the 15 animals on display in the North America section of the zoo and then also didn’t see the elephants, which was singularly frustrating as the pen was about the size of a ping pong table. Where could they be, we wondered. I mean really where the $%#& are the elephants hiding? We left in disgust a few minutes later (at 4:15pm - this is important) and I lead the pack, stomping off to the car, shaking my head, declaring that that was it, never another zoo again etc etc. Later that evening after the kids were in bed I turned on the TV to watch the News only to hear that just that afternoon at 4:12pm, hadn’t Bingo the Elephant (or whatever her name was) delivered a baby calf at the Portland Zoo where visitors to the Zoo were able to watch the event AS IT HAPPENED on a video screen only feet from the actual place of delivery. Yes,that’s right my kids could have watched a baby elephant being born if only I had stopped stomping about and gone to look through the window at the side of the elephant pen, not 20 feet from where I was whinging on about not seeing the elephants.

Anyway, as I was saying, it’s a trek to get between the pens and as there is a heat wave going on right now here in the UK (34 degrees tomorrow) that made it an extremely HOT trek. They also failed to mention at the start of this experience that you will have to trek up a steep incline for a few hundred metres. I’m not making this up. On the way up this hill, you may be lucky enough not to see Bison, Lions, Cheetahs, and Rhinos. We did make it to the top, with Zoë in full whine (she was looking rather pink). At this point, you can either stumble to your car, or you can opt to join in the African Experience which is a safari-like gimmick where you get to ride on one of those safari trucks through a 100 acre area that has been created to look and feel like a real safari in Africa. 22 different types of animal live together in this area and you can drive through, and try to spot them. I was very sceptical but everyone else was keen so I agreed to go. With the exception of the African music cd they insisted on playing (no Julie Andrews here I’m afraid) it was really quite good. I think the heat helped it feel authentic. That and the rhino that appeared lumbering out of the trees, and then the giraffes who were sedately munching on the tops of the trees and walked across the road in front of us. Oh and the ostrich, and wildebeest. The kids loved it, and I was amused. I was hoping to see mother nature in action with a chase and possibly even a killing, but of course they had thought of that already and all of these animals seemed to be friends. Or at least Herbivores. I told Zoe they were friends.

We left relatively happy and headed back home with a short stop along the way in Headcorn which seems to be the only place around here where I can get wifi. I think it is my dead relatives helping me out personally.

We had dinner at home thanks to my mum who seems, once again, to have amassed a large amount of food which she insists on offering to us at regular intervals of about 30 seconds. This is lovely of her and I’m not complaining as it means I have not had to think about cooking or food prep etc which is a TOTAL BONUS. So what if we have had ham sandwiches for ten days now. She also saw fit to buy a jar of Nutella which in itself is not that funny or even worth mentioning except that she cannot seem to remember how to say it. It started out as Nuterella, and has since become Nuterril which sounds to me like it might be the name of the little-known 4th daughter in King Lear. Jacob and I have been repressing giggles each time she enquires if anyone would like some Nutteril on their toast or if we would care for a Nuterella sandwich. This while we sit watching cricket at the Cricket Patch as my mum calls it. It’s endearing. RATHER!

I spoke to Kent last night and he is still in the hospital with complications. He sounded really fed up with the whole situation and I don’t blame him. Hospitals are weird places lets face it. I’ll be back on Tuesday and can’t wait to see him.

Tomorrow we plan on finding a beach. I’ll let you know how that goes. SMASHING!