Monday, June 29, 2015

Paris Day 2– In Which the Louvre is an Asshole, Sainte Chappelle Makes up for it, and we Picnic by the Seine.

To say the girls (and my mum and I, also) were excited about our time in Paris would be an understatement. They were so excited that I had very little trouble waking them up on Saturday morning even though we had had a late night. Mostly, we were excited about our first breakfast in Paris: a basket of freshly baked croissant and pastries, homemade plum and raspberry jam, fresh fruit, hot tea, coffee or chocolate, and fresh orange juice. The best part is possibly that all this is served by Madame, who rattles away in French stopping frequently to say “n’est pas?” and then carrying on again. She is lovely.

We were soon out the door and on the streets. Or hotel is in the 7th Arrondissment and very near the Church of the Madeleine, an imposing Roman Catholic church built to the glory of war and soldiers, ironically. It is quite lovely to go in and also a refuge from the heat, which was already into the high 20’s by 10am.
There are some great signs and translations around Paris, or mistranslations as the case may be. This one almost gets it right, but not quite.
They do love their flowers here. The steps to the church were covered in planter boxes filled with bedding plants.
And around the corner was one of Paris’ ubiquitous flower markets. Every single bouquet was gorgeous.
I basically wanted them all. That last bunch is for you.
We walked up to the Opera House, as in Phantom of the Opera, partly because I was intrigued and partly because it was in the way. Turn a corner here and there’s some imposing structure between were you are and where you would like to be, and getting around it isn’t always that easy. The Opera House is actually very impressive and even has a few Horse-Messes jut to fit in with the rest of Paris. We were actually looking for our hop-on hop-off bus stop which eluded us for some time, but was eventually located, only to discover that I had left the tickets on my bed. So I burned a few more calories to retrieve them and off we went. Sometimes the running commentary is terrible on these buses and sometimes it is great - this one was excellent, full of juicy gossip about various politicians and their mistresses, ancient history, modern history, and a few gruesome facts thrown in for fun.
I had been trying to avoid going to the Louvre as I find it overwhelmingly overwhelming, but it was interesting to see how quickly I was voted down in this particular circumstance. Instead of just blindly going along with whatever I say, as has been the case, everyone spoke up and the Musee D’Orsay was out, and the Louvre in.
I should just say at this point that all those people who had taken over the Tower of London when we were there had now arrived in Paris and most of them were in the Entrance square to the museum. I don’t know if you have been there or not but there is a large glass pyramid which sits in the square, and is the subject of some controversy, not just because some people think it might possibly be very ugly and out of place. An original publicity brochure for the pyramid claimed it had 666 glass panels. Not the best PR move ever, as the official word now is that it has slightly more than that. Either way, the devil is at work in the square, laughing at everyone standing in the burning sun for hours at a time just to get in. I did stand there for a few minutes until a vague memory of an alternate underground entry came to mind. I wasn’t sure if I was a) making this up or b) recalling something fictional from The Da Vinci Code but either way I wasn’t going to stand in this line with these other 6436 people ahead of me. I asked a surly looking security guard who told me that I was indeed right and to go to an underground shopping mall just around the corner and use the entrance there. Why everyone doesn’t do this is beyond me, but anyway, I am glad they don’t as the line was only a few minutes long and we were in, minus the heatstroke that everyone else upstairs was dealing with.
Unfortunately, that is where our good fortunes ended and the swirling vortex of pre-history, objet d’art, and Old Masters and God knows what else sucked us in and didn’t let us go until we were basically rocking back and forth in a corner somewhere reciting historical dates and matching artists with their famous works. After spending far too long in the medieval section somewhere in the basement where one must march along a boardwalk with everyone else, their crying children, their confused elderly aunt, and the entire contents of twelve tour buses from China, all of whom have selfie sticks, we ended up in the Egyptian section. We had heard there was a mummy and so the search was on. It was again unfortunate that we had to share the space with another twelve tour bus loads of tourists from one of the Stans and all of whom, it seemed, had last bathed in 1963.
We did find the mummy, and it was suitably impressive.

Now here is an example of someone who would benefit from the use of overnight moisturizing gloves. Just saying.
But the bandage wrapping pattern on the head is very good. Well done, Osiris, or whatever your name was.
There’s a lot of this sort of thing there, like this dude, who reminds of someone but I don’t know who, and also this guy.
This selfie was taken in the days before the Egyptians had learned to turn their heads forward.
I am also convinced that there is a control booth somewhere in the building from which  they can change the direction of the Sortie (exit) signs on the wall and then laugh hysterically while watching people trying to get out. They would have been rolling on the floor in stitches watching us. This way and then that way we turned, following this sign and then that one, down this flight of stairs, up that one. It was ridiculous. We also kept ending up back at the Medieval Bargain Basement which was annoying as it was packed with other people who had also ended up there and whose lives had since lost all meaning and were reduced to trudging back and forth along the boardwalk getting in each other’s way.
After having fought the crowds for nearly two hours just to see a few VOD items, we were all feeling completely frazzled, and hungry. Line-ups for food were miles long everywhere you looked so I was happy to find a cafe up on the third floor where the queue was only 15 minutes long. We waited for our table, gratefully sat down and opened the menu, and then quickly got up and left after seeing that the cheapest item on the menu was cold tomato soup for 15 euros. Sandwiches started at 24 euros. The woman must have been surprised when she came back with our water to an empty table. Or maybe not.
Another battle with the crowds and we ended up in what was basically the Louvre version of the BC ferries cafe. Zoe was hangry, my mum was exhausted and I was planning my conversation with the Louvre:
Me: Hey Louvre, some places limit the number of people who can come in at any one time. Ever thought of that? That way, we might all actually be able to see the art ourselves instead of having to look into someone else’s phone at the end of their selfie stick just to catch a reflection…
Louvre: Ooo are you?
Me: I am a visitor here. Or I was.
Louvre: Why are you wearing ze running shoe?
Me: What does that have to do with anything?
Louvre: Here in Paris, we do not wear ze running shoe unless we are going to la gymnase.
Me: ok fine whatever, Louvre, can you answer my question?
Louvre (rolling eyes): Eeet eees not ze problem of myself eef you cannot see ze items. Come earlier or maybe don’t come at all.
Me: Really? It’s not your problem? Whose problem is it then?
Louvre: Also, in Paris, we do not wear ze… how do you say…jogging pantalons.
Me: These are leggings, not jogging pants. And it’s a good thing I am wearing them as I have basically been kickboxing my way through this place.
Louvre: Do not touch the Venus do Milo
Me: Hahahah very funny, Louvre. If you think I could actually get anywhere the near the Venus de Milo…Have you even seen her lately?
Louvre: Well, not exactly. But I have seen her of course I have. I am The LOUVRE. THE LOUVRE! THE ALMIGHTY POWERFUL LOUVRE.
Me: No that’s the Wizard of Oz.
Louvre: Oh right. Sorry about zat.
Me: Just don’t be such an asshole, ok, Louvre??
Louvre: I am sorry eet ees just that it is not the same as eet used to be. Back when I was younger people could move around with out ze problem. Now eet ees so busy I cannot hear myself theenk. (Getting louder now) and the Mona Lisa! She is harassed all day by everyone! And now, she must live behind the glass window, like a mannequin in ze shop window!! EET EES TERRIBLE! And I theenk she ees getting smaller and smaller! I don’t know what to do!
Me: Ok, ok, Louvre, calm down. Sorry to have upset you. I am going to leave now, OK? Bye, Louvre! Here’s a Kleenex.
Louvre: Ok thank you. You are too kind. (blows nose). Please come back  one day, maybe at 2am on a Sunday in November. I will let you in. Ok? (blows nose again).
Me: Yep, sure thing. Take care now.
Back at the lunch table,  Zoe was at risk of slashing a priceless work of art and Terra was practically begging me to leave as soon as possible so there was nothing for it but to hit the gift shop.
I will just say here that it is entirely possible to experience all the highlights of the Louvre, in the gift shop, and may be the better way to go as they have them all in one convenient place, scaled down, and sometimes in multiple colours:
I was also surprised to see that they had moved the Mona Lisa to the gift shop. Although I don’t remember this line of Japanese script being on it before. Weird.
I thought I saw her get up and stretch her legs, too.
It was at this point that I realized there was smear of glue or sunscreen or something else  across the lens on my phone, which would account for the haze on all my photos. Things were much improved after I cleaned it off.
After escaping the clutches of the Louvre, we thought we would try our luck at getting within 100 metres of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Nope. The line-up wrapped all around the square so we took some pictures of the outside, I told everyone that it was cathedral-like inside, and we went to find a cafe instead. Fortified with some people-watching and cold drinks, our next stop was the stunning Sainte Chappelle. I was not going to miss this one so I made everyone stand in line for about 30 minutes, and it was worth it:
I highly recommend visiting this 13th Century chapel. It’s amazing.
Dinner that night was a picnic by the Seine. We are pretty sure all the tourists on the Bateaux-Mouches thought we were locals, although Zoe and Terra certainly looked the part.
We weren’t done yet.
Every year this fair sets up in the Jardin de Tuileries next to the Louvre. We went last time were here and Zoe has been looking forward to coming back ever since.
This year they had a new ride, which makes the Salt and Pepper Shaker look like Kindergarten.
These pictures don’t really do it justice but you get the idea. I did have a hard time watching, but they loved it. Freaks.
They also subjected themselves to the bungee ball catapult from hell but I will let them tell you about that. There’s a video that I can’t post (thanks again, Google) but I will later. You won’t want to miss that, trust me.
I finally convinced everyone we should go home, but not before another cold drink at a cafe, where we were serenaded by a group of minstrels.
It was a great end to a fabulous day.
More tomorrow.
Yanks for weeding,

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Which we Leave England and Arrive in Paris

I wasn’t really ready to leave England. I do love it so much there but it as time to move on. We slowly went through all the machinations of returning the rental car, getting on the train to London, and hurrying up just so we could wait at St. Pancras to get on the Eurostar to Paris. I was a little anxious about it all, truth be told, due to the migrant crisis at Dover and Calais that had shut down the Eurostar two days earlier, but it all went according to plan despite all that. Zoe spent most of the trip annoying Terra, who was very good natured about the whole thing.


It’s an extremely smooth trip to Paris but any dreams of rounding a corner and seeing a tree lined boulevard with the Eiffel Tower rising above it are soon crushed when this rolls into view instead


Not exactly the Champs Elysees.

There was also an anti-Uber taxi strike going on that had turned violent the day before with angry taxi drivers flipping vehicles and lighting tires on fire. Great! So it was the Metro for us. We had all our suitcases so there was potential for it to be a bit of a nightmare, but we made it anyway mostly due to Terra’s acts of inhuman strength carrying both her own and my mum’s suitcases up and down flights of stairs. What a superstar she was.

After a short walk, we made it to our hotel, La Sanguine, so named for the colour of the reddish chalk that was used by artists for sketching. We have stayed here before and it was just as friendly and quaint as we remembered. The rooms are puniture (as Jacob would say) but awesome. We took a little while to relax and then headed out for the evening.


The Pont Alexandre III was were we had our first sighting of the Eiffel Tower. The bridge was full of people having their picture taken in various states of being. Terra and Zoe already seemed to be fitting right in and were so excited to be exactly where they were at that moment in time.


And here I am just after getting married. Oh not, wait that’s not me…


Here I am in my new banana print pantsuit. Wait…nope sorry that’s not me either.


Actually this is me fighting off yet another Pegasus. Paris is full of these sculptures of a bunch of winged horses combined with scantily clad men or women draped in what seems to be a highly impractical blanket ensemble which, I might add, is always falling off their shoulders and impeding their progress. I’ve taken to calling them a Horse Mess and they are everywhere.

After I got down from my pole position, we set off to find hotdogs. It being a Friday in Paris, the place was alive and basically one big party. We walked along the Seine, found our hotdogs and also some delicious sorbet, and admired the scenery. Now,you might be thinking “Hotdogs? in Paris? WTF” but trust me, le ‘ot dog has come a long way over here. Europe and I had to have a chat about them when I was in Sweden a few years ago, specifically how they were making the sausages too long and the buns too short, but things are much better now so obviously, word has gotten out. You’re welcome.


Along the way, the banks of the Seine were full of gorgeous French women and men all picnicking and drinking bottles of wine and generally looking exactly like a cliché of themselves. It was fabulous, as was the cruise. I took a few photos but they were terrible on account of the fact that I wasn’t really paying attention as it was so lovely just too see all of Paris out for the night, buildings and people alike glowing in the fading light. I did manage to take one decent photo of the Eiffel Tower, in case you can’t remember what it looks like.


It was a great introduction to a beautiful city, but we were definitely ready for bed and I hardly remember going to sleep.

More tomorrow including why the Louvre is an asshole.

Sanks for heeding,



Friday, June 26, 2015

Shutford Day 5–In Which the Sheep are VERY LOUD, we Picnic in the Cotswolds, and there are Standing Stones

Our cottage lies, officially, in the Cotswolds but to really experience the area, we had to drive 40 minutes west into the rolling hills and farms that make up this region.  The village names here are ridiculous: Chipping This and Chipping That, Lower Slaughter and Greater Badger, Upper Swell, Little Oddington, I could go on and on. We drove through tons of them on our way with just one stop which was to look at a dead fox that was on the road. It looked like it had just been killed and we all felt sorry for it.


Serena got us to Chipping Camden in record time and I had the benefit of feeling like a Indy driver at the end of it. The roads here are about two inches wide and everyone drives like homicidal/suicidal maniacs so to arrive alive at one’s destination is considered an achievement. Well, by me anyway. We needed a restorative cup of tea after the fox incident and fortunately Chipping Camden’s cup ranneth over with tea shoppes (you have to spell it like that here or you get struck down). We found a very sweet one with an outdoor garden (what other kind is there?).



English Cake Culture is at its most intense at these places; cakes of all shapes and sizes are displayed on a trolley in the room and you are pretty much expected to order cake with your tea. The days offerings were also on a menu which noted that they were available 24/7. I like the Coffee Sponge which is described as both ‘rich and light’ at the same time. Nicely done.


I will admit I skipped the cake although I wish now that I had tried the parsnip cake, just to say I had.

After tea we wandered the town and had a bit of an unexpected shopping spree as the stores were unique and not expensive. I found this cow painting which I loved (but did not buy.) He’s clearly had too much parsnip cake.


Chipping Camden is an old wool market town, like most of the Cotswold villages, and had a VOD (that stands for Very Old and Dusty if you are just joining us now) covered market area that dated from the 1200’s


Basically it looked like the second little pig had built it and I have no idea how it is still standing all these hundreds of years later.

The tea was wearing off by now and so we bought some picnic supplies and headed just out of town to Dover’s Hill, a beautiful natural amphitheatre with amazing views almost to Wales.


It’s also, I learned to my delight, the site of the Cotswold Olimpicks (sic) an annual  games event that has been held at this location for hundreds of years and used to involve things like jousting and sword fighting but now is more like sack races and egg-and-spoon. We had missed this event by a few weeks but held our own cherry stone spitting competition as well as a time trial for tying the cherry stem in a knot in your mouth using only your tongue. I am pleased to report that I won both these events while Zoe and Terra lolled around on the ground looking like they might be in a painting


The only blot on this scene of pastoral bliss was the noise from a flock of sheep who were having their hair done in the next field. They were SO LOUD as to be ridiculous. There was nothing for it but an investigation so over we went to ask them if they could keep it down a bit as they were spoiling the moment for us. Some of them stopped for a few minutes to check us out but started up again as soon as possible.

At this point, please imagine yourself watching a video of a bunch of freshly shorn, confused, very loud sheep, all standing around wondering what just happened. I would have posted such a video myself if Google would let me into my YouTube account...

They were clearly telling us to leave so after a short walk along part of the Cotswold Way, a 100 mile trail that is very popular around here, we left Chipping Camden for the next village, Stow-on-the-Wold (not making that up either!).

It was a little disappointing in that it reminded me of Government Street, but it did have a VOD set of of original village stocks which were on their last legs, being hundreds of years old, but still worth a look.


Sorry about the terrible picture but, if you’re not familiar, the top piece of wood was lifted just enough to allow an unfortunate soul to place his head and hands in the holes provided. The top piece of wood was then dropped back in to place and secured, effectively trapping the prisoner in place. He or she was then left there to do penance for whatever crime was committed. The villagers would often assist in the process by hurling rotten fruit and vegetables at the prisoner. Nice.

Eyes were starting to glaze over as I completed my lecture on 16th Century penal code so it was time to go home. I had seen on a map (yes, an actual paper map) that there was a site of Standing Stones on our way home, so I took one last opportunity to go off about something really boring, and dragged everyone there. It’s hard to get really excited about what is effectively a bunch of rocks, but I do think there is something intriguing about the fact that in 2500 BC a bunch of Neolithic men were able to hew these giant rocks into shapes, and then move them, sometimes many many miles, to a chosen sight, and then stand them in place in such a way that they are still standing thousands of years later.




Yep. Still standing.


Still there.

Apparently this set of stones, known as the King’s soldiers or something like that, is uncountable, or so legend has it, and if you can count them three times and get the same number each time, you can have any wish you like. I challenged the girls with this task and Terra got 47 to Zoe’s 73, but then they got tired of counting, and tired of Standing stones in general so we left.

But not before having a look at the King Stone which is across the road in its own circle of stones.


It was also just standing there…

Back in the car we made it home and went straight to the pub for dinner. We were planning on having another quietish day the next day in order to prepare for our whirlwind tour of Paris, Munich and Salzburg over the next week. We did end the day with a trip to see Pepsi and Fergal (horses) just up the road. They were much more interesting than the standing stones although likely much more expensive and not as long lasting…

See you soon for a no doubt edge-of-your-seat thrilling recount of our travel day to Paris. I’ll do my best anyway.

Wanks for kneading (just go with it)



Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shutford Day 4–In Which There is Codebreaking, Mushy Peas as Art Form, and the English Take Their Pigeons Very Seriously.

If you have seen The Imitation Game or watched The Bletchley Circle, then you will have heard of Bletchley Park, the centre for codebreaking in the UK during WW2. After our day of doing sweet-f%$#-all, we were all up for the challenge of a long drive to check it out.


Even though it happened over 70 years ago, England’s role in WW2 still dominates the psyche of most of the country.  It is impossible to turn on the radio or TV here without hearing or seeing a program about the War, shops are full of kitschy WW2-themed paraphernalia, and many of the country’s tourist attractions manage to work into the experience their role in the War, small or large. If you find all this intriguing, as I do, then it is fascinating to pay attention to the stories of how one country came together in a massive way to bring about victory. Some of these stories took place at Bletchley Park and involve the men and women who lived and worked a secret life intercepting and decoding enemy messages. Most well known was the work of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who worked as part of a team to invent the Welchman-Turing Bombe (not the exploding kind) that was able to break the code of the allegedly unbreakable German Enigma machines, but there were other brilliant men and, specifically, woman who contributed hugely to the codebreaking efforts. It was especially good for Zoe and Terra to see the role these women played.



Here they are intercepting a German radio message.

The site is laid out much as it was during the war with a mansion house in the middle and various huts and outbuildings around it. Many of the huts have been recreated to look exactly as they did during the war and with no glass or barriers, it felt like the occupants of the various offices had just gotten up for a tea break and would be back at any moment.





It all felt very authentic, including the original wartime signage that is up everywhere.


The place is so authentic that the movie The Imitation Game was partially filmed at Bletchley Park. To add to the atmosphere, some of the sets and props were left in place as they made them, including the bar. No barman though.


Bletchley has one of the biggest collections of Enigma machines in the world. These are the machines used by the Germans to encode their messages. We saw a demonstration of one and if I could remember 1% of what he said, I would be thrilled, but basically, if you type in a letter ‘a’ the rotors on the machine first change it to another letter, then they change that letter to another letter, and then that happens for a third time, and then if it is one of 10 common letters, it goes through a plugboard which changes it again. At the end of this process the Enigma has 158,962,555,217,826,360,000 different settings. This is why the Germans thought it to be unbreakable.


All this was fascinating, but not half as much as the actual Welchman-Turing Bombe that has been rebuilt and is now on display. I was looking forward to a demonstration but Tuesdays are ‘Engineering Day’ when repairs are made. This was actually a bonus as it meant that ‘Christopher’ as it was called in the movie was wide open and a few of the engineers were working on it: pouring over plans, turning knobs and dials and generally looking like they knew what they were doing



Again, trying to actually understand how it all works is quite challenging. At times, what they were saying made no sense at all:

Bob: And so you see here, the dial on the caterpillar breakfast lodgepole pine, sit here and have your nails done whilst I pizza this one quintillionth for the bus driver olay biscuit barrel.

Me (to Terra): Did he say one quintillion for the bus driver or one brazillion for the taxi driver?

Terra: What?

Bob: If you’ll just watch this here, it will make more sense. Once again, the Bonobo Apes newspaper the moth to the ceiling yoyo, and I’ll have three vases of apples with my stain remover large cedar beams pass me the broom.

Me: This is so complicated. Is he speaking in some kind of code?

Terra (to Zoe): What was that about the ceiling yoyo? Did he say to newspaper the moth to the yoyo or below it?

Zoe: I think what he meant was to pillow the brown bag to the rose bush, then back up down the street to the lawyer pole, then shovel twelve otters noses.

Terra: Ok oh that makes more sense. I get it now.

Me: How do you guys understand this?

Bob: And in closing, phetang phetang.

Terra and Zoe: Yes that’s right, phetang phetang.

Me: I am going to have to buy a book or something. Oh look, here’s Alan Turing’s teddy bear!


We tried to refuel our brains at lunch time but it was a particularly nasty lunch. My mum’s came with mushy peas, that British staple which provokes one question in me and that is Why? Peas are fine as they are all on their own, why ruin them by beating them into submission first and then adding God knows what to the mix.These ones were so horrible that we resorted to sculpture as an artistic outlet for our feelings about the mushy peas, and also the equally horrible chips that came with the meal as well.



I am thinking of submitting it to the Tate Modern with the title ChipHenge, of course.

One of the best things I saw at Bletchley was an exhibit on homing pigeons and their use during WW2. It was in a tiny little room (the exhibit, not the War) and I nearly missed it which would have been a real shame as I would not have seen this little gem of a brochure:


I kid you not, and no, I did not Photoshop this, although I wish I had. Apparently, homing pigeons were used extensively during the war, sometimes flying hundreds of miles with key messages, to the point that they were recognized for their contribution to the war effort. Pigeons. That’s right, pigeons.
There was a medal specifically for pigeons, known as the Dickens medal, which was bestowed on many of our feathered friends during and after the war for their devoted service.


I can’t help but wonder if pigeons have any sense at all of anything other than ‘do not get eaten, go home, get food’ and if they really deserved a medal for just doing what they do but really, what do I know about it and why shouldn’t they get medals anyway? They look quite good in their little pigeon uniforms with their pigeon medals around their little pigeon necks. I actually love the whole thing and applaud the English for their silly seriousness once again.

I one day hope to be asked to design the next brochure for the Navy Trout service which saw units of Brown and Rainbow Trout charged with carrying intel upstream during WW2. You laugh now, but just wait. It will come out. There will be a movie.

It was a long day and we needed to get home as it was Terra and Zoe’s turn to make dinner, and I didn’t want to miss that. We all enjoyed Bletchley Park immensely and I would recommend it highly although I am going to suggest you watch the movie first about 62 times, and maybe do some reading. Especially about the breakfast lodgepole pine as that is tricky to understand. If you do figure it out, please let me know.

Twangs for meading,