BBQ at Helen and Charlie’s

Hazel and I drove up to Syresham in the heat of the day, on the hottest day of the year to-date. And yes, the MGB did overheat again, this time due to stop start traffic on the M25 just before the M40 turn off. We sat it out on the hard shoulder for 20 mins or so, and were lucky that the traffic started flowing again so that we didn’t have to coax the car through more stop-start jams. And I did swear that I’d never get into H’s MG ever again. But I reserve the right to change my mind….

We had a lovely afternoon with Charlie, Helen and Lizzie, who’d come up from Bath earlier in the day. It’s always lovely to see Lizzie, she’s just so chilled. After a sit in the sun, and dashing off to catch the ice cream van man, we started preparing food for the BBQ, while Charlie watered the garden and set up the table and chairs for tomorrow. We dined on pizza al fresco before retiring indoors to watch Notting Hill on video. All very convivial and relaxing.

After breakfasting outside on coffee and croissants, we spent Sunday morning preparing salads, kebabs and dips, as Charlie got the BBQ up and running. People started arriving around 1pm ish, and we ignored the passing drops of rain enjoying BBQ grub in the flower-filled gardens of The White Cottage.

And I got to meet Hamish Aitken and William Ritchie for the first time! And the drive back to CJ was a breeze. I do miss having a car. But I don’t miss having to hunt out parking spaces….

Photos here. (09 Feb 2014: now on Flickr)

Dimanche à Paris

Another long day, but not so much wandering as yesterday. We headed out bright and early in the direction of Porte de Clignancourt, which involved a first go on the driverless Meteor line. Ace – very Maglev-like. We were in search of the marche aux puces at PdeC, but what we found didn’t really meet expectatiosn – it was a mixture of modern market (clothes/accessories/electrical goods) and antiquey covered markets selling large pieces of furniture and reclaimed ironwork…. neither of which really fall into the flea category in my book.

So seeing as it was very sunny and very hot, we decided to abandon all attempts at touristing, opting for Plan B, lazing in Parc de Sceaux. It was a bit of a palava to get there, mainly due to lackof open ticket booths in Chatelet, and my not being 100% sure which RER B station we needed… but we got there in the end, complete with pique nique goods, and spent the entire afternoon soaking up the sun, reading and snoozing.

Walked back to the hotel by way of l’Arganier, a cous-cous restaurant in the Marais, and slept well until early rise and shine required to commute back to Gare du Nord inorder to catch the 08.45 back to Londres.

May-time Saturday in Paris
Heading to Paris for May Day Bank Holiday
We’re off to Gay Paris

December 2012: Following Fotopic’s demise, I’ve uploaded the photos onto Flickr – May Bank Holiday weekend in Paris, May 2003

May-time Saturday in Paris

Out and about à pied. We started off ascending to the Promenade Plantee, beautifully green and above the hustle and bustle of the busy weekend streets of the 12e. The path followed the old raised railway line, before descending and petering out in the streets around the disused Gare de Reuilly.

We navigated ourselves towards Bercy and the Seine, with the centreville to our right, cement towers and factories to our right, and a restored fireship on the water down below. We crossed to the Tres Grand Bibliotheque with its amazing sunken pine forest and four sky scraping towers, and an outdoors sculpture exhibition. Onwards, past the Gare d’Austerlitz, around the Jardin des Plantes (in search of a loo, in vain) ending up at one of my favourite Paris sites/sights – l’Institut du Monde Arabe, with its fantastic diaphragmes and roof top terrace views.

Further along the rive-gauche, we tracked down the Shakespeare and Co, one of the english bookshops, and after a mooch around there (Phil) and a sit in the sun (me), we headed onwards through the latin quarter to the other english language bookshop, (the San Fransisco bookshop I think it was called) around rue Danton which offered peace and tranquility after the hustle and bustle of Blvd Saint-Michel.

Sunshine and hunger pangs dictated that we resume our stroll with the intention of locating a pique nique prior to arriving at the Jardin de Luxembourg…. which we managed, albeit after detouring around in search of sustenance and to use the 40cent self-cleaning-loos.

Camembert and tomato sandwiches, plus half a flan each pepped us up (as did the jolie fleur from Phil – i was in tearful mood that day, goodness only know why) and provided the energy and incentive to fend off the pigeons and to indulge in some people-(and dust-bathing sparrow-) watching before upping sticks and setting off again.

Plan A, to catch a bus back to base, was foiled by the one way system, and plan B, to find a film in V.O. somewhere in town, was foiled by lack of anything on which we felt the urge to see which hadn’t already started. And that was having bought and perused PariScope (I’d forgotten it existed) sitting on a wall in the square outside the Hotel de Ville.

So we ended up sauntering back via Place des Vosges and Bastille, winding up at Hotel Trianon footsore and thirsty, and a touch pink due to the sunny day.

Forty winks later we ventured out in search of a meal, opting for restaurant Byzance, another boulevard diderot restaurant, offering Gastronomie de Grece et de Turquie. We had to return to the hotel via the scenic route to ease our overstuffed stomachs having indulged in the 19euro prix fixe menu. Oof!

Istanbul (not Constantinople) – Monday

Our original plan to do the Bosphorus tour was ditched in view of the generally cold climate – 8c daytime average during our stay – and instead we followed our usual ferry route to Eminonu, enjoying the bluer skies and weak sunshine.

First off, we explored the “New Mosque” (commissioned in the 16 century, and actually The New Queen Mother’s Mosque), which boasted another stunning interior, before exploring the delights of the Spice Market. You can tell there aren’t many tourist in town given the various wiles employed by the stall-owners to get us to look at their rugs/ spices/ Turkish Delight/ apple tea/ tiles/ plates/ belly dancer outfits/ Turkish viagra….

Out in the alleyways we found our way to the Rushtem Pasha mosque, initially coinciding with lunchtime prayers, so we did another circuit to kill some time before going into the mosque and being stuck again by the interior, which contrasts so with the chromatic simplicity of the stone exterior.

Wandered back round to the cafes, where we took apple tea at the breathtaking price of 3m TL a cup, and fended off perfume sellers a plenty.

Walked through the streets of shops to the Grand Bazaar and spent the afternoon exploring there, taking sandwich sustenance at the hip Fez Cafe in one of the caves near the Central Market.

Around 4pm we emerged through one of the main gates and took the tram back to Eminonu and thence back to Conrad via the ferries (and, of course, Tansas for more water!).

I had a throbbing headache by the time we got in, and went straight to bed to sleep it off, despite the BBC reports of non Russian vetos and American warmongering.

Slept on and off until 8pm when Janette returned from killing time scouting out the health club and the pool, and the dining options. Headache abated by water and ibuprofen, I got up and allowed myself to be persuaded of the merits of dining at the hotel’s Prego Italian restaurant, and I’m glad I did (overcoming my innate meanness). We had a delightfully civilised meal – delicious food, charming service, complete with amuse-bouche mini pizza squares and three x three mini meringues (which looked a bit like mini-burgers, but tasted beautifully light and sweet, with a hint of lemon/coffee/chocolate-noisette).

We rounded off the evening with a drink (mineral water for 2, which confused the bar waitress no end) in the Skyline Bar on the 14th floor, agreeing that the nighttime view wasn’t quite as impressive as the daytime skyline. But it wasn’t bad!

09 February 2014: for photos see my Flickr set Istanbul, March 2003

Istanbul (not Constantinople) – Sunday

Feasted on our first breakfast buffet which duly set us up for a day’s sight seeing. We ferried over to Uskadar ands thence to Eminonu, and took the tram up the Sultanahmet.

First stop was Aya Sophia, disappointingly half filled with scaffolding, such that the nave was inaccessible and the tremendous ceiling obscured. Lots of tourist parties, and cold inside.

Next stop were the Baths of Lady Hurrem, now a state run rug shop, but the inside of the baths have been restored to provide an inventive to peruse the rugs in a splendid setting. and it was warm!

En route to the Blue Mosque we went to the beautifully tiled tomb of the Blue Mosque’s patron, Sultan Ahment I, filled with green baize covered tombs of the Ottoman sultans I learned about in A-level European history. Well worth the 1m TL donation, and the chilled feet – gorgeous tiles and painted ceiling.

The Blue Mosque, aka Sultan Ahmed Camii, proved the highlight of the day, even with the touts trying to persuade us into the carpet/souvenir shops. Each one of them seemed to have a friend or relation living in London! Stunning tiles, painted ceiling and carved exterior, and fantastical huge and curving light holders. They’re not really chandeliers, but impressive and elaborate light providers at least.

After a warming, albeit small, hot chocolate in the famous Pudding Shop (which is definitely no longer the hippie hangout it used to be according to the newspaper cuttings adorning the walls), we moved on to the Topkapi palace where yet again we encountered the Turkish state’s 15m TL pricing double whammy. We elected to give the Treasury a miss, and see how we felt about shelling out for the Harem once we’d had a look inside the main palace. The Agia Sophia had not been a good introduction the Turkish monument VFM.

The Topkapi Palace was fascinating, particularly the sultans wardrobes, with 16th century robes bearing patterns looked like they as inspired by the 1970s. The talismanic paper shirts were equally impressive – hard to believe that the oldest have survived over 500 years. The views from the lower courtyards were lovely, and the Baghdad Kiosk (built by Sultan Murat IV to celebrate his victory over the city of Baghdad in 1638 – hmm, wonder what Geo. Bush Jr will do….) beautifully decorated with more Iznik tiles. It must be a lovely spot in summer, but by 4pm the warmth had gone from the generally overcast day, and we ended up taking a taxi back to the Conrad, in suitable style.

After a hour or so’s snooze, we went to check out the eating options, not feeling able to shell out on $ price room service, we sought a local recommendation from the info desk. Their suggestion proved decidedly un-veggie friendly, and we ended up stuffing ourselves in more relaxed environment of the local equivalent of IHOP, except these were very filling turkish savoury filled pancakes. Although eyes turned out to be too big for tummies, I really enjoyed it!

Before attempting our first uphill walk to the Conrad, we nipped into the Tansas to stock up on a 5l bottle of water and Nestlé fruit and nut chocolate, the yummy dark chocolate variety. TV films not a patch on last night’s Carlos the Jackal epic, starring contact lens wearing Aidan Quinn (to provide different colour eyes, so that you could tell when he was Carlos, and when he was the guy impersonating him….)

09 February 2014: for photos see my Flickr set Istanbul, March 2003