Monday, August 23, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

Some of us know that that famous quote is from a French lass names Marie Antoinette, who it seems was more found of carousing around with French Royalty than her own head. In point of fact though this is a miss-quote, possibly the second most famous miss-quote in history. The first being 'Play it again Sam'. Which supposed to be from the movie Casablanca however this line is never uttered in the film. Moving along to Marie and her cakes, She actually said 'Let them eat Brioche'.

The Brioche was also very good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bonjour Part Two

The next week of our holiday was pretty quiet in comparison to the adventures of Barcelona and Paris, so feel free to skip this post altogether as it will mostly be about spending time in the sun, reading, drinking and eating and... oh did I mention drinking?

Our housemate, Dan, has an Aunt, Pam, and Uncle, Phil, who live in the South of France and they were nice enough to have us stay with them. They live in a tiny little village called Mont-Clar which is not far from Carcassonne. For those of you who have read Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, most of it is set around Carcassonne. The closest airport that Easy Jet would take us to was Toulouse, which is one and a half hours from Carcassonne. Phil was kind enough to come to Toulouse and pick up Dan and us (Dan flew from Gatwick the same day we flew from Paris) and take us all back to their place where we promptly fell in love with, the views, the house and all of the bread. There is a lady from a Boulangerie (see previous post) a couple of villages away, who drives around the local villages and brings bread directly to the door!!! Fresh bread daily!!! Delivered!! Fresh!!! Bread!!
Pam and Phil have a cute little doggie, Hattie, who was a rescue dog that they have had for a long time now. She is absolutely adorable and more like a cat in the sense that if you call her she will only come to you if SHE wants to, or if you have food.

Our week spent with Pam and Phil kinda melded into one long sunny day. Plans were half-heartedly made then dismissed once we had gotten up and eaten our breakfast outside in the sun. Most days we decided that we couldn't really be bothered to go anywhere and spent the day lazing in the hammock or the deck chairs and arguing over card games.

And now for some photos to set the scene:

In the bottom photo, in the corner you can just see me sitting in our regular spot reading. And in both photos you can see Hattie also lazing in the sun with us.

From these two places you can see this:

Having said that we spent most days laxing out; we did see some of the sights. La Citie is only about 20 minutes away by car. It is a stone city that is surrounded by a castle wall and is full of cobbled streets and narrow alleyways and those five thousand tourists seemed to have followed us there as well. It has a population of about 100 and is full of shops and cafes. At first I said that I wanted to live there, then about 5 minutes later when I had just been trod upon by the 5 millionth tourist I amended that I want to live here, after I kill all the tourists.

It even has a 300 Euro a night hotel
And a church

Another place we did visit was Rennes Le Chateau. According to the legends there was a priest in the early 1900's who was doing renovations to the tiny church that sits on top of the hill in this village. Abruptly he stopped work and went on a trip to Paris. He returned a very wealthy man and stopped all work on the church. The theory is that while renovating he found some secret hidey-hole, which contained something very important that he then was paid to keep secret. Although there are some theories that he just re-hid what he found and then planted clues in the church, such as; there is a statue of the Devil in the church, where he is looking could be an indication as to where the hiding place is, there is a statue that has its left hand raised instead of its right, maybe it is pointing at something? What he found is also theorised on, from the Holy Grail itself, to Jesus's marriage certificate to Mary Magdalene. Also a more recent piece of trivia on the village is that this is where Dan Brown came up with the idea to write the Da Vinci Code, apparently.
Anyway a few metres down from the church is a shop which stocks every type of publication that every existed on the conspiracy theory of this church and a few others.
The church itself is very small and kinda gave me the wiggins. There is a statue of a devil at the entrance which, as mentioned, is included in many of the conspiracy theories that surround the church.

Another place we visited was Parpignon, which is a largish city about an hour and a half away from where we were staying. For six weeks over summer, for the last 16 years, they have a festival there and every week, live entertainment sets up in spots around the city and you can walk around from place to place and enjoy it. The most impressive act we saw was Monty Picon. They all turned up wheeling this cart and then proceeded to set up and start playing in about 10 minutes of arriving. As anybody who has been to see a live music show will tell you it takes ages for musicians to set up and be ready to play. The fact that these guys managed to do it in such a short amount of time was amazing.
On our last full day we took our hosts out to lunch to say thank you. And we went to Limoux, to a nice restaurant. We sat outside and had a traditional 3 hour lunch. (the French don't like to rush when it comes to eating) and then Amber and I went for a stroll around the market that was close by. We had planned to buy some local wines as gifts for people back in the UK and many of the stall holders were selling wine. As we had already had quite a bit to drink over lunch we were pretty merry and then the wine sellers kept pouring out wines for us to try. By the time we got to the last man we were very merry and then he told us that we had to try all his wines before we could get to the dessert wine which we were actually interested. A Muscat, which is a white, very sweet wine that goes well with all desserts! He pulled out actual stemmed glasses from somewhere and we proceeded to try his reds before we got to the Muscat. Amber went to take the glass from him holding the top rather than the stem (as we do) and he was all 'No mademoiselle, please hold it by the stem, like this' then he gave her a demo as to how she should be holding her wine glass. It was very funny. Anyway we brought several bottles of wine and then had to figure out how we were going to get them home. (thankfully Dan had some room in his bags although, due to the new airplane regulations, we had to carry the bottles and he had to take some of our clothes - and all of our shoes, tehehe)

The last day we were there we went to Mirapoix which is a smallish town about an hours drive from where we were staying. They were having a huge market stall there and those five thousand tourists had once again followed us! The town itself is kinda like a oldy worldy place, very pretty and we want to go there when we have managed to lose our following. We went around the market and then went to a bakery for one last baguette. We went in and with our usual pointing and pigeon French managed to procure a baguette and some yummy cakes. I hadn't even made it out the door before I started eating the bread right out of the bag, this got me some some funny comments from Amber and Dan. We got home in time for a late meal and to pack our bags. I took some photos of Pam and Phil's house just before we left.

This is Pam studying her french. She has all of her french notes covering one of the walls in her kitchen in the hope that she'll learn by osmosis while doing dishes, it's awesome.

This is Pam and Phil's lounge, Amber is the one trying to curl up in the hammock style seat, she loved that thing!

This was our bedroom, it was on the third floor and is one of five bedrooms!

Right and now for some more random photos:
In front of La Citie

Lunch at Limoux

Dan and Shelley enjoying themselves while laxing in the sun with wine (normal day at Pam and Phil's)Amber dealing cards while laxing in sun with wineShelley at top of hill that Rennes Le Chateau is built on. The tower in the back ground is the conservatory that the priest had added to his house when he came back all rich.

Well. That's all folks. We packed, checked into the airport and then dragged our packs from Gatwick to Horsham where a friend was nice enough to pick us up from the station. It was about Midnight when we crawled in the front door and Houdini (Dan's dog who thinks that all of three of us are HIS humans and worries if we are not all home on time) was so excited that he couldn't decide which one of us he was more happy to see. Although we think that he must've thought he was dreaming though as he was WAY more excited in the morning!!! He's finally settling back into the routine of having us home and isn't stressing out quite so much when we go out somewhere. (We think he was worried we might leave him for three weeks again). Our tans are slowly starting to fade; Shelley is back at work and Amber only has a week and a bit before she goes back. Our holiday away already feels like a dream. . . .
Oh well, time to start planning the next one - Venice in October!!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010


As I started on the Paris post before I remembered that I had planned to write about the Barcelona PO, the blog has actually posted itself beneath "Going Postal"..... So if you want to know what we got up to in Paris then scroll down.

That is all Thank you for reading.

Going Postal

This post is especially for Shelley's Mum.
Having been a few places and sending postcards back home, after we had gotten back to the UK, my Mum commented on how she would like to receive a post card from the actual city that we were in. "OK," we said, "no problem." We wrote out several postcards and then one evening on one of our walks decided to find the Post Office in Barcelona to get stamps to send said postcards.
Amber had the map and was navigating our way through the winding streets and alleyways of the Gotic Quarter (Gothic). As the alleyways started getting more twisty and the area more dodgy looking I started to get slightly concerned about where we might actually end up. Amber however has a GPS unit inbuilt (complete with Europe upgrades) and before too long we ended up in front of a humongous building that looked more like a Greek Temple than a Post Office. If any one reading this has watched Terry Pratchett's screen adaptation of Going Postal then you wouldn't be barking up the wrong tree if you compared the P.O in that to the P.O we found in Barcelona.
Photographic Evidence:

And now for Terry Pratchett's version:

Anyway we walked inside and the inside is as impressive as the outside with lots of people inside little glass booths around the edges of the building and a massive big empty space in the middle. We look around for a bit wondering how to best go about getting what we came for.
Observing other people we noticed them walking up to a little machine and pressing a number and then the little machine spits something out and they walk away. So we approach the machine.
There are three buttons we could press.
Button 1) Gobbledygook in Spanish
Button 2) See Above
Button 3) Imformacion
Out of these 3 options the only one we understood was number 3 for information. We press three. A little ticket prints out that says (we think) see the information desk. We look around for that magic 'I' sign that is known to tourists everywhere. Once located we walk up to the desk to find it is empty. Hmmm on to plan B. We remember seeing a lady sitting at a desk as we walk in so we walk up to her.
Me: "Excuse me do you speak English?"
Lady: "No"
Me: "OK thank you".
Right so for those of you who are counting we are now up to Plan C.
Walk back to the little machine. Randomly pick Button A. We get a new ticket. it has a big number on it and nothing else that we can decipher. Amber looks up at a screen it says A)597, we look down at our new ticket, it reads A)614. Hmmm we look at each other and realise that we may have a bit of a wait, also that we don't even know if we have got the right ticket for what we want. After a brief discussion we decide that Mum will understand. Right now on to the Sangria.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


So our first day in Paris was spent mostly trying to figure out the tube and train lines and getting to our hotel. After that we slept for a few hours and then went out in search of food on the way to see the Eiffel Tower. On the way to the tube station, we passed many people on the street, ALL OF THEM were carrying a baguette. Shelley started to get very upset that all these people had bread and she did not. Her exact words were, "what did I do wrong in a former life that I am now being punished by lack of bread?". Amber kept laughing at her because she thought she was being so funny. Eventually we managed to sniff out a Boulangerie (this is french for a bakery that makes its bread on the premises) and with some finger pointing and gesticulation managed to buy a baguette for my very self.
1 tube and 1 train later we found ourselves with in a hop, skip and jump of the Eiffel Tower. i.e when we emerged from the train station and looked up it was right THERE. We walked underneath the Eiffel Tower and just started gazing around. Apart from all the people there were many soldiers wearing green berets and all carrying very large semi-automatic weapons. We found this more that slightly alarming coming from a country where you never see people carrying guns (unless you live in a really dodgy area of town or are watching the news). What we found even slightly more alarming was the fact that many of the tourists were getting them to pose for photos!!
We had previously decided that we wanted to be up the tower for sunset. There were only about 5 thousand other people who had the same idea as us. We went to stand in the first of many long lines we would stand in that night. After about 20 minutes in this line a message comes up on the massive electronic board above the ticket office stating that the top level of the tower is closed as it had reached the maximum number of people allowed.
Slightly disgruntled we exited the line as we didn't really see the point in only going half way up the tower. We were looking in our guide book for something else we could do, when we look up at the same board to see that the top level is now open. Confused we rejoined the line. It took about 40 minutes to get to the ticket office to get our tickets and then probably another 45 to get into the elevator and up to the second level of the tower. Once there we had to join another line for over 30 minutes to get right up to the very top level . We were still at the second level when the sun went down and the tower lit up but as the second level is 115.73 meters up we still got a pretty good view.

This first photo is my slightly arty attempt taken from the ground.

This is a slightly blurry one that a lovely American lady took for us while we were still waiting on the second level:

The last one is a view of Paris.

Once we got up to the top, Amber said "I'm pretty sure we can get higher than this". Looking around we discovered that she was correct. Up another short flight of stairs and through a door and we found ourselves outside. The view from here was pretty unbelievable. The cars on the roads below looked like ants. The lights of all of Paris were all very pretty and it was friggin cold out there. It really is pretty hard to describe how it felt to be standing up there looking over Paris. As cliche as it sounds it was like a dream come true.

So mission accomplished we had to wait in line to get back down again. At some point we got sick of waiting for the elevator and ended up walking from level 2 to level 1 - which for those of you who don't know is 300 steps. Amber is terrified of heights and as mentioned had a dodgy ankle from her fall in Spain so by the time we got to the first level she was more than happy to jump back in the line to get back down to the bottom. We didn't get back to the hotel until late but were more than happy that the tubes and trains hadn't stopped for the night by the time we went to catch them as we didn't check on this slightly important fact before we planned our night.

On the following day we went to the Louvre, Which as you all know is huge. Amber said that if a person looked at every piece of art for 3 seconds it would take more than 365 days to see it all. We saw some lovely art made by some very famous people and had a nice day. We didn't take many photos as there were about 5 thousand people (probably the same 5 thousand from the night before followed us) there and it was difficult not to get in every ones way. One observation I did make was that the building itself is also a work of art. As it used to be a palace for some French guy it many of the rooms were very elaborately decorated.

We decided to spend our second night down the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and watch the lights turn on so we went to the park at the bottom and made ourselves comfortable and read our books and people watched for several hours. When it got later all the souvenir sellers switched from pedalling mini Eiffel Towers to selling wine and beer and cigarettes. The public drinking laws are much more relaxed in France (We are not sure if they actually have any) so we sat at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and proceeded to get fairly inebriated over the space of about 5 hours. At 10pm when the sun had finally set the Tower lit up everybody clapped and cheered and then we went home.

The next day we found ourselves in the Quarter of Montmartre. For those of you remember that all singing, all dancing muscial extraviganza Moulin Rouge, it is found in this quarter.

We wanted to find a cabaret but to see a show at the Moulin Rouge you are looking at upwards of 85 Euros, each. There are cheaper shows around but chances are pretty high that we would have ended up watching a sex show... so we gave it a miss. We did climb a very large hill to the Basilique du Sacré Cœur

On our last day in Paris we visited Notre dame

We had read about a bookshop in our guide book that was opposite and of course we couldn't miss that. Amber however had managed to leave our camera behind that day and so the photo above and the ones below are from the internets. (Also some other photos on this blog and Going Postal are from the internets, as we have discovered that it is much easier buying postcards than trying to take photos when there are 5 thousand tourists following you everywhere - we seriously must be famous or something!!!)

This book shop stocked mostly English books and Amber and I spent ages walking around and reading. One of the reasons we want to go back to Paris is to re-visit this bookshop, the other reason is for the food!

The last place we visited in Paris was the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Many famous people rest here, not all of them Parisians. Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde to name a few.

The cemetery is huge, It has street names and roundabouts, and if you pay 2 Euros to the guy at the kiosk above the tube stop, a map. Which is handy if you are looking for any particular person, as they are not in alphabetical order or anything. Some of these crypt things are larger than most of the English houses I've been in.

So after the cemetery we went back to the hotel to pack our bags and get ready to fly to Toulouse.