Tag Archives: Baby-free Weekend

Short notes from Paris, part III

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un:  The Louvre, the Louvre! Home of straggly-haired Tom Hanks waxing foolish about cryptology! And, you know, some exciting art. We got there via the padlock-adorned Pont des Arts – rather lovely, I think – and queued behind a hysterically enthusiastic Japanese crowd who stopped at every turning to take a photo of the back of someone’s head. We photobombed as many as possible. It only seemed right.

deux: The Louvre is huuuuuuge. Really, really, really big. You can’t hope to do all of it without serious museum fatigue. We started in the Denon wing and whooshed down corridors to check off the Mona Lisa before the crowds got too bad. You kind of have to look at the Mona Lisa so that you’ve looked at the Mona Lisa. It’s so small, and behind so much glass (and people’s heads), that we moved on quite quickly to appreciate the marvellous Italian medieval and renaissance art around it.  Oh gosh, oh gosh, there was a set of Botticelli frescos that were out of this world. The Greek and Roman art rooms were also wonderful, not least because they resulted in the best photo of all time.

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Oh, and then there’s the French sculpture galleries, which are my favourite in the whole place. After this we were so overwhelmed we went home for a nap. Because we are cool.

trois: Trying to find a restaurant on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is like trying to find one on Oxford Street: you can look as hard as you like, but eventually you’re going to end up at an overpriced Angus Steakhouse. The French version of Angus Steakhouse was an expensive Italian that didn’t sell pizza. We tried not to think about how many Domino’s pizzas we could’ve ordered for the same price. Though the food was good.

quatre: Oh hey, do you know how you get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe? I’ll tell you. You walk. No coward, I, but 284 steps and one angry pelvis later I thought I was dead. Ah, the view, though. After 6.30pm, the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is alight, the Arc is illuminated with ghostly yellow and the whole city spreads out underneath. Including the Eiffel Tower, and if there’s one downside about going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it’s that you can see everything but the Tower itself. We froze and took a million photos, and enjoyed it all immensely.

cinq: There is probably nothing in the world better than strolling through quiet, darkened streets towards the Eiffel Tower, and the metro home. When I’m old and want to remember being young and carefree and romantic, that gentle half-hour, hand-in-hand, is the one I’ll bring to mind. I will also remember the victory glow of realising we walked nearly ten miles by the end of the day, and uncracking fossilised muscles in a hot bath before bed.

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Short notes from Paris, part I

…with French bullet points, because that’s just how continental I am.

un: Today I learned that a) my English tendency to apologise is magnified tenfold when a guest in another country; b) when I blurt-apologise, I do it in English; and c) saying something in a French accent does not make it French. My French accent, by the way, puts me somewhere between Marge Simpson and someone telling an inappropriately dirty joke. I keep getting these startled looks. Luckily Timothy speaks enough French to put right any misunderstandings (‘non, monsieur, she’s just trying to order sausage-and-mash…’).

deux: I love the Paris Metro. Whose idea was it to make the tickets tiny and pretty, so you feel like you’re being admitted to a secret tram-appreciation club? The downside is that the French, it seems, do not believe in letting pregnant ladies sit down. I try not to be a treat-me-special baby-carrier, but on some occasions I wish I could strap a foetus and a gallon of amniotic fluid to someone’s torso, and see how they like being crammed into someone else’s armpit.

trois: Our district is a maze of streets where cafe follows art gallery follows old bookshop. There are about twenty art galleries on our road alone. How do they all stay afloat? It’s not like you get too fat for your paintings and need to buy larger sizes. In the evenings it buzzes with people and smells like a thousand delicious foods, all of which I wish to throw into my mouth, and for this, we love it.

quatre: We ate dinner in a little bistro we found recommended by Lonely Planet. It was delicious, and not too nose-stingingly expensive. SCORE ONE FOR THE CUSTOMISED MAP. My mashed potato turned out to be about 80% cheese, and believe me, this is a ratio I will emulate in my own cooking from now on. I’m afraid I can’t talk about the creme brulee and apple tart that followed. The feelings are still too raw, now it’s too far away to buy more.

cinq: Late at night, we took a boat down the Seine and watched the lights float past the window. Lovely, lovely. Being Henry-free apparently makes us sillier than any two adults approaching thirty have any right to be, and our camera was already full of arm’s-length self-portraits. In between these, we managed a few of the Eiffel Tower. About halfway down the river it started sparkling like a demented Christmas ornament, which apparently it does now. I suppose it wanted to branch out a bit. Dream big, Eiffel Tower! Dream the impossible dream!

Coming in part II: a pain au chocolat/human anatomy size comparison, Victor Hugo’s tiny legs, and a bathroom emergency within spitting distance of actual Van Gogh.

The original Henricus Rex

…Or H-Rizzle, as he was known on the madrigal circuit. Oh, you know he was.

BLING.

Tudor nerds unite. And let’s do it at Hever Castle, because it’s brilliant. It’s the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn, and I was certain it’d be the sort of place that would call forth the Jiggy Dance of Historical Joy I keep locked up for special occasions. I just wanted to go without splattering 500-year-old stuff with baby sick, because I thought it would probably be frowned upon. On Saturday, with my own Henricus Rex having a marvellous time at his grandparents’, the opportunity arose and I grabbed it.

It’s more expensive than your average National Trust (it’s privately owned) but oh, oh, oh.

First came the lake and the rowing boats named after Henry and his unfortunate wives.

Then the gardens, huge and immaculate and filled with little private spaces and Roman artefacts.

Then the mazes: one of yew trees, and a spraying water obstacle course that made Tim come over all Crystal Maze Contestant.

Then the castle. It’s tiny, as castles go, but riddled with spiral staircases, tiny windows set in thick stone walls, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, long galleries and things the Boleyns had actually touched. We loved it so much, we went in twice. You weren’t allowed to take photographs, so we didn’t take…many.

(Taking turns to cough hammily in order to disguise the sound of a camera shutter will enliven any time spent in a castle, by the way.)

Emerging dreamily from under the portcullis, we were about to head back to the car when we discovered a huge and thrilling adventure playground tucked behind a hill. We tested everything, and it was all adult-proof. You’re welcome.


Other things we did with our baby-free weekend: ate lots; went to the cinema; had long baths in a funny little hotel; and slept all night and all the way till 8.30am (steady on). Tune in tomorrow for the Hunger Games verdict: I have Opinions.

Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent. Go, enjoy, and buy yourself a magnet in the shape of Henry VIII. You know the old devil would want you to.

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