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Ah, Paris. The Eiffel Tower. The Champs Elyses. Louvre. Notre Dame.
So much to do, so much to see – so little time!
“We’ve only got one afternoon,” said Mum. “What can we do?”
Well, quite a lot. However, pre-planning is the key.
We’ll say it twice – pre-planning is the key!
“We’re going to visit Notre Dame first and explore the fourth arrondissement,” I reply.
“The what?” asked Mum.
“Well, Paris is made up of 20 different neighbourhoods which are called arrondissements. Notre Dame is located in the fourth one so we will mooch around that area.”
“I see,” she replied.
We alighted the metro at St-Michel Notre-Dame. The metro is fantastic way to travel around the city. A single metro t+ticket is just 1.90. Once validated, the t+ ticket allows you to make as many transfers, within the city, as you want on the metro, RER trains and the bus for 2 hours after the first validation. Two hours of travel for 1.90!
We digress… After alighting the metro, we walked to Notre Dame, walking over the River Seine via the Pont Notre Dame.
We spent some time at Notre Dame and looked around the entrance to The Archaeological Crypt of the Ile de la Cité, a museum of the history of the city found under Notre Dame during renovations. The Crypt includes the famous Catacombs of Paris, labyrinth in the heart of underground Paris, the largest graves tomb in the world.
“Shall we go into the catacombs?” I asked Mum.
“Oooh god, no. Sends a shiver down my spine to think of all of those millions of peoples’ remains down there.”
We carried on over the Pont Notre Dame, leisurely strolling and taking in as much as we could – shops, bistros, cafes, old architecture mixed with new – until we made it to the Office du Tourisme et des Congrès de Paris located on the Rue de Rivoli.
Office du Tourisme have brochures and maps with the sights of the city, distributed free of charge. However, we weren’t prepared to be searched and directed through a Security Walk-Through Metal Detector Sensor. whilst our bags were placed on an X-ray system. First time that’s happened to us on entering a store.
“Do you have restrooms?” I asked an assistant.
“The nearest toilets are in the department store opposite,” she replied.
Off we went to find toilets, not before, on entering said department store, The BHV Marais, where we were again searched.
“Good job all of the Parisian ladies entering ahead of us were also searched as I was beginning to feel a bit paranoid,” Mum laughed.
So the fourth arrondissement, like everywhere in Paris, is – busy, busy, busy.
With that in mind, grow a thick skin. Be prepared to let your rude side out to ensure you get out alive!!!
Obviously an exaggeration…
But you will have to forget all about being English, being polite, being thoughtful or you’ll be left behind – particularly on the Metro.
The trains are so busy that to ensure you can get off at your actual stop you have to push and prod people out of the way and simply shout: “Pardon! Pardon!” loudly.
Thank god for my stage voice training!
How to spend an afternoon in Paris?
We will say it thrice – pre-planning is the key!
Dear reader, we’ve been – we saw – we conquered! Versailles and Paris, done and done.
We are busy creating lots of content for you to enjoy, nay a full travelogue.
Hence we have been quiet and full of activity – much like Louis IVX with his mistresses…
We will be posting content soon, we promise!
There was a sad spanner in the excitement of our trip – the fire at Notre Dame.
We had visited the grand Cathedral on the Friday. It caught fire on the Monday. Then chaos for the Tuesday – our day of departure from France. A train from Versailles to Paris city centre then onto Charles De Gaulle airport was all we wanted.
The Parisian travel system had other ideas…
Our train interchange was – yup, you’ve guessed it – Notre Dame. It was closed. No straightforward diversions. No replacement services. So our journey of one hour twenty minutes took over three hours dear reader. Three hours… four train changes and lots of swearing.
We digress, as we are sad regarding the fire at Notre Dame. A shame. Sharing the distress and upset with the people of Paris.
Their pain and piety seemed to dissipate when they were squashing onto trains, pushing, pulling, shoving and thrusting one another – sounds like we are writing a Mills and Boon novel – not to mention, leaning on us weary tourists.
But Notre Dame will be raised. Restored. Better than ever.
Vive Notre dame! Vive la Versailles! Vive le Races Around The World!
We have exciting news, dear Reader! We Races Around The World are off on our most fabulous adventure to date – we are off on a jaunt to the city of Versailles, with an overnighter in Paris thrown in for good measure!
We’re going to France. We do not speak French, though have been learning the odd phrase or two. Especially, “gateau”, “patisserie” and “du vin”.
As well as how to not order my pet food hate – tomato. If there is a fresh, raw tomato anywhere on my plate and, worse, actually on my food, there will be tears (and there have been. Though in my defence, I was eight at the time).
“Pas de tomate”, “Je ne veux pas de tomate”, “absolument pas de tomate”- think I’ve got all eventualities covered.
We decided to treat ourselves to a little beauty indulging ahead of the trip. I had a manicure, whilst Mum had her nails done and decided on a whim to get her eyelashes and eyebrows dyed.
‘Good for you,’ I hear you say, ‘nothing like a little pampering to spoil yourself.’
Mum’s beautician (though I had to seriously think of the job title of the latter… I was going to type ‘dyeist’….) was Portuguese, lovely and excitable.
“My lady and I will be at least for the hour,” she said as her and Mum headed to their treatment room.
An hour? I was having a thirty minute manicure and nail polish. Pffft.
The hour flew by, surprisingly, and the Portuguese Lovely appeared.
“Ladies!” she announced to the whole salon, so that all of the nail technicians and customers had her attention. “I simply have to show you my lady. Her eyelashes and brows are stunning. They are beautiful. She is beautiful.”
She stepped aside and then Mum appeared, like Darth Vader’s entrance in Star Wars, thanks to the steam and flashing lights emerging from the machines in the salon. She struts in, looks around and walks out, taking her position next to the Portuguese Lovely looking. Mum is as smug as Lady Gaga at the recent Oscars.
Portuguese Lovely proceeded to walk Mum around the entire salon like Best In Show at Crufts.
“Isn’t my lady beautiful. Aren’t her eyelashes so beautiful. It is a pleasure to work with such a wonderful model,” she smiled as Mum batted her eyelashes to every person who caught her eye. “I can make you ladies look as beautiful as my lady. Make your booking now.”
“I think I should charge advertising rates,” Mum quipped.
Mum did look amazing. Fantastic. Her eyes shone and she looks so bright and fresh.
“How much can you see in a day trip out to Manchester?”
“Like everything in life, Sharon – it depends on how much effort you’re prepared to put into it,” said Mum with not one ounce of drollness.
A flying visit to Manchester, or should that be a train visit as that was our mode of transport, to enjoy an end of the week day out treat.
It was Thursday. It was drizzling. It was dreary.
Exiting the train at Victoria, as opposed to our usual Manchester Piccadilly, meant being greeted by the city from a different vantage point. The Printworks food and entertainment complex welcomes you as does the National Football Museum.
We had spent several visits to Manchester over last Summer so decided to visit the places we missed on our previous visits.
“I want to visit my favourite place in Manchester, Piccadilly Gardens,” Mum says.
We walk there, watched the fountains and are greeted by evoking smells as there is a food market on – pasties, kebabs, burgers and Yorkshire Wraps.
“Look, the Yorkshire Wraps stand. Looks like the one from York,” I say, a tad too excited.
“In the Shakespeare Village. It was one of the food stands,” I clarify.
Mum breaks into a smile: “Oh god, yes! From one of our favourite places.”
We were transported back to York and the Rose Shakespeare outdoor Theatre with its Shakespearean Village selling food and drinks. A happy last Summer was spent there!
“Were you at the York Shakespeare Village?” I lean in and ask the vendor, a handsome bearded fellow.
“Sorry?” he leans over the steaming gravy toward me.
“Were you at the York Shakespeare Village?” I repeat. “Last Summer. Next to the outdoor Shakespeare Theatre. Selling Yorkie wraps. The best food stand in the Shakespeare Village. Yes?”
“No,” he said. “There’s loads of us Yorkshire Wraps,” he smiled.
We popped into the Harvey Nicks store – to use the toilets.
“We can’t go in just to use the toilets,” said Mum.
“Course we can,” I said. “Just act as if you belong there. To quote Jennifer Saunders in Ab Fab, when dealing with snooty staff, ‘You only work in a shop you know, you can drop the attitude.’”
“True,” nodded Mum as she walked ahead of me and let the doorman open the heavy glass door for us.
Surprisingly, the beauty department was empty so we were approached by every heavily made up counter assistant with offers to be squirted with the latest of everything. Of course, there’s only so many perfumes one can have sprayed on before one pongs – or gags.
Having been in this store many times, though strangely never with Mum, I know where to head for the ladies toilets – a sharp right to get to the lift, up to the bistro on the second floor and cut through the food halls before finding relief in the ladies.
The lift is like an art installation: circular mirrors adorned the walls.
“I don’t really want to see myself a thousand times,” Mum laughs. “Once is enough!”
But the lift is fantastic, I love it!
Having emptied our bladders, we walk back out Harvey Nicks, courtesy of the kind doorman again opening the glass doors and head to Sinclairs Oyster Bar at Shambles Square.
Sinclairs has historical significance, as its origins date back to the 16th century.
We aren’t put off getting a drink and sitting in its famed, popular beer garden by the large, burly bouncer guarding the latter.
We struggle to get through the single file, heavy doors.
“Where’s the Harvey Nicks doorman when you need him?” I pipe up.
We are hit by the smell of stale beer. The smell of a proper, old fashioned boozer.
“Reminds me of the smell when your Grandad used to come home from the pub,” Mum smiles fondly.
It is small and cramped with low-beamed ‘old England’ atmosphere.
“I don’t like it. It’s too cosy,” I say, wiping the beer spillage from my arm that the man I brushed past left.
“Look, the sun has come out for us!” enthuses Mum as we squeeze back out of the single file doors out to the beer garden. “I love it!”
Manchester, nice one.
“Robin Hood, Robin Hood. Riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood. Riding back to his den!”
“They aren’t the words,” I correct Mum.
“Well they should be,” she says.
We’re on a road trip to Nottingham.
What do you think of when you hear Nottingham?
“Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood, Maid Marian,” Mum says. “Though Sherwood Forest is about twenty miles away from Nottingham centre, so should they really claim it?”
“What else comes to mind with Nottingham?” I ask.
A long pause. “Kevin Costner.”
“That film is always a guilty pleasure,” I reply. “He’s definitely the best Robin Hood, despite the American accent,”
“He looked gorgeous throughout. Plus you had Alan Rickman being brilliant as the Sheriff. What more could you want? I mean that was the last Robin Hood film made, ‘coz they know they can’t top it.” Mum is resolute.
“There’s been two more since Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” I say.
“Has there?” Mum is surprised.
I nod affirmatively.
Mum is astonished. “Well they must have been shite ‘coz I can’t recall them at all,” she says.
I nod affirmatively.
Nottingham city centre is compact so you can get around and see most of the sights easily, which is great for a cheeky weekend away.
We visit the Robin Hood statue – goes without saying – standing akin to the castle wall.
The castle is undergoing a huge redevelopment of the Nottingham Castle site, including the Grounds and the sprawling cave systems hidden within the Castle Rock and will be until 2020.
We can’t hang about that long, so, speaking of sprawling cave systems, we go on the Nottingham City of Caves Tour.
The City of Caves is part of a hidden maze of over 500 original sandstone caves underneath the streets of Nottingham dating back to the dark ages.
We bought joint tickets for the City of Caves and its sister attraction, the National Justice Museum, saving us a few quid. Score!
Our City of Caves guide, Alex, was affable and entertaining, giving us puns and jokes along the way. He was also canny dishy, which kept your attention. Well, he certainly kept mine …
Alex quipped, on describing the ancient, natural Spring water well, within the caves: “The water fetchers did ‘well’ – ”
“Do you write your own jokes?” Mum asked with a giggle.
“I do. I ‘spout’ them jokes out,” Alex replied with a smirk. “Thank you for noticing.”
The caves were used for smuggling, slums for the poor; larders and pantries for the rich; they house the only medieval underground tannery in the country as well as being used as air raid shelters in WW2.
“So people would take shelter here in the caves to escape the bombings,” Alex tells us. “Several hundred people at once.”
“ And one bucket…” I joke.
He laughs – yay!
The cave tour lasts approximately forty five minutes, but you can stay and explore the network of caves and exhibitions as long as you want. After Alex had told us this, I half expected someone to come staggering from the tunnels, asking “Dr. Livingstone, I presume…”
The National Justice Museum is fascinating, viewing the gaol, the cells and dungeons of days long gone by – and thank god they are.
There’s tours and re-enactments from the resident actors. There’s even a trial we participated in of highway woman, Joan Phillips, where I, along with other audience participants, was asked to play a witness, swear an oath and stand in the witness box.
We participants, the ‘jury’ decided guilty or not guilty.
Don’t worry, we won’t spoil the ending for you…
These attractions are definitely worth a visit if you’re in Nottingham. Along with many of the historical inns and pubs. Not to mention the assortment of newer pubs, including the Castle Wharf Canalside, a peaceful oasis in the city centre.
“Nottingham has more to offer than I thought it would,” Mum piped up.
“Yeah, it’s been good. A good place for a city break” I said.
“It is. It’s not just all Robin Hood, Robin Hood – “Mum muses.
I nod affirmatively.
“This was a lovely idea, to come for a Winter walk around the park,” Mum said.
“It’s bloody freezing,” I reply.
“I told you to put a hat and scarf on,” Mum scolded.
“I know. But I have some street cred. Not much. But some,” as I say as pull my collar up.
A Winter walk always seems like a good idea, until the temperature drops one degree too much – or you put a hat and scarf on.
I am in the latter, as Mum is snugly in her padded jacket, boots and hat.
This is why she’s the Mother…
We’re in Heaton Park, a tireless Victorian park, just a twenty minute slow walk from Newcastle city centre. It’s one of five linked parks that make up Ouseburn Parks. The other four parks are Jesmond Dene, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s Park and Armstrong Park. The whole area was open to the people of Newcastle from 1884.
“Thought there’d be a few more people about,” Mum says as we more or less have the wide walkway that encompasses the entire park to ourselves. “Just the dog walkers, really.”
I nod, as I see a dog taking a dump up ahead.
The owner of which looks around for the dog and runs back with her poop bag to do a bit of scooping.
“It’s nice to hear how quiet it is,” I say.
“To HEAR how quiet it is…?” Mum laughs. “I know. Who would think we weren’t far from the city centre?” she agreed.
There’s no kids crying, parents shouting after them, gangs of people talking.
Heaton Park has a mix of promenades, hidden walkways and vast greenery. There’s a children’s playground, a Bowling Green and Victorian pavilion, which is now an Italian restaurant.
Plus the remains of a mediaeval mansion. All open and free to the public all year round. Though not, obviously, the Italian restaurant – you have to pay for your pizza.
Frost remains on the leaves of the bushes and hedges, as well as the grass. All of them glisten in the low afternoon sun.
“I love this kind of Winter weather, when everything looks peaceful,” Mum said thoughtfully.
Different types of birds sing their hearts out, which resonate around the trees, giving an ethereal feel as we continue our stroll.
“How lovely to hear the birds. They sound bright and happy.” I say.
“Don’t blame them when it’s so quiet. Bet they are loving it,” Mum said.
“Probably asking what each wants for their tea!” I joke.
Some people are sitting outside at the restaurant, eating – that’s real al fresco dedication for you!
No one was in either of the kiddies playgrounds.
I see another dog take a dump, this time immediately in front of us. As we walk by, I wait for the stench to hit my nostrils… The owner is quick off the mark and plucks it up into a bag as if it were a daffodil.
A flurry of snow begins landing on the ground. It begins to lie. The weather forecasters were right. Snow, ice, freezing temperatures, travel chaos and our last leisurely stroll for a while.
“Here comes the snow,” I say as I pull my collar up.
“I told you that you put a hat and scarf on,” Mum smiled as she pulled down her hat, holier-than-thou.
How was your Christmas and New Year?
Ours’s didn’t get off to a great start, seeing as how both Mum and me, plus all of our immediate family, had the nasty cold virus that was doing the rounds over the Holiday Season.
My other half had Man Flu, but let’s not go into that…
It meant we didn’t get to celebrate Christmas or indeed New Year’s Eve a great deal. Nor did we enjoy any exploits. So we’ve not had much to write about. Obviously there’s only so many times we can say we’ve got snotty noses and please send us much deserved sympathy before you close your browser.
“Christmas seems so far away,” I said to Mum.
“Well it was last year,” she replied.
“We didn’t really get to do anything. No celebrating with extended family. No meeting up with friends. No nights out. No parties,” I lament.
“We may as well have been Nuns,” chipped in Mum.
“You’d know all about that,” I say, self-satisfied.
Mum frowned at me: “What, ’coz I’m a single woman?” she asked indignantly.
“No.” I reply. “Didn’t you want to be a Nun?”
Mum rolled her eyes “Oh god – “
“Is that you practising?” I laugh.
Now this is a oft repeated story amongst the family so Mum has it perfected.
“According to your Nana and Grandad, as a child I told all and sundry, including our priest, that I wanted to be a Nun. That I wanted to go live in a Nunnery and take vows of poverty and chastity –“
“The chastity went well, seeing as you have three kids…” I smiled.
“Exactly. Though thanks to Brexit, I may yet end up in poverty!”
Bloody Brexit, Mum makes a fair point!
I rolled my eyes “Oh god – “
“The only problem of me wanting to be a Nun,” Mum continued, “is that I have absolutely no recollection of it.”
“I suppose believing in God and the church would be a prerequisite,” I suggested.
“So, any New Year resolutions?” I ask.
“I don’t have resolutions as it’s a just a load of old tosh. But I do have a mind list of things I’d like to do.”
“What are they?” I pry.
“Just the usual, like so many other people,” Mum replies. “Lose some weight; maybe visit a few more places; make ‘Me Time’ to do things I want to do.”
“Our friend Marty, who’ll be guest posting for us soon, wrote a blog with the same take. A simple list of things he’d quite like to do – https://bit.ly/2Ml9MKX”
“Think most peoples’ lists likely look similar,” Mum nods.
She paused: “Anyways, what are your New Year resolutions?”
“Well, “ I start, “in view of Brexit, I’m waiting for the New Year’s Revolutions.”
“Why would I want a foot long sausage?” asked Mum.
“You like a big sausage,” I said.
“But a foot long one?” Mum continued. “Why?”
“To see if you can fit it in your mouth?” I replied.
Mum stared at me in distaste.
“I think we all know the answer to that, Sharon,” she said dryly.
I love saying things about sausages – foot long or cocktail – to wind her up…
After a beat, Mum said: “You’re on a roll.”
“That’s the wurst thing you’ve said all day.” I answered.
“I’m pleased you brat it to my attention.” Mum reacted.
“You’ll only have a sausage if it has a good girth” I retorted.
“I think we’ve run out of sausage puns,” smiled Mum.
We were at Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market. It’s the largest authentic German Christmas market in the UK and outside of Germany or Austria, offering a large range of traditional goods and gifts and a selection of Bavarian themed food and drink.
The Market runs along New Street from Victoria Square, where there is much going on, including live music and bands.
The group were going for it, singing their hearts out with cheesy songs. I say group, it was a fella standing singing over another man playing the keyboard.
A gang of teenage girls sat recording a phone video of themselves whilst joining in to ‘Is This the Way to Amarillo?’ Not truly a Christmas tune, but the girls had made an effort with enthusiasm and Santa hats.
There was a great, community atmosphere to the Market – though maybe that was due to the mulled wine…
We didn’t spot many children out and about at the Market. Though we saw plenty of babies and toddlers being forced to have their photograph taken in Santa’s Grotto scene, complete with being forced to sit on the inanimate Santa’s knee as the parents tried to get the best shot as the kids were screaming. I don’t blame them, as inanimate Santa was well creepy. As for the photos, we look forward to those pics appearing on the ‘awkward family photos’ website, or similar, in the future.
So many food and drink stalls, there certainly was a lot of choice:
Pretzels, waffle stands, crepes, fried cheeses, burgers, schnitzels, bratwursts of all sizes. As well as roasted nuts – don’t worry, we’re not going to break out with the double entendres again.
Drinks on offer include weissbeer (German wheat beer), hot chocolate – which could have a ‘snaps shot’ added. Surely German schnapps is spelt, well, schnapps?
Plus, of course, gluhwein in many flavours, as the menu read:
“Cherry mulled wine… Blueberry mulled wine… Apple mulled wine…
There was a deposit of £3 for every glass or mug with every drink. Not since being a student have I drank wine from a mug.
We eventually got our bratwurst.
“So you decided not to go for the foot long sausage?” I asked Mum.
She paused as she finished the last mouthful of her regular sized bratwurst.
“Well, I married your father – I was never going to get a foot long sausage.”
“What time does the film start?” asked Mum as we made our way to the cinema foyer.
“One thirty,” I replied. “It’s quarter past one now, so we’ve plenty of time.”
“Good. I hate to rush.”
We were going to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic of music icon Freddy Mercury and Queen.
Now one would think a city centre cinema would be empty-ish of a midweek afternoon for a matinee showing. One would think.
A queue of seniors awaited us at the ticket counters. I am not ageist and know I will be old myself one day. But that day is very far off.
Every senior who bought tickets – and yes, of course, they were going to watch Bohemian Rhapsody – had a chat about at least two of these topics:
The price of cinema tickets in their youth, why was it so expensive now; how much is pick ‘n’ mix; where was the best place to sit in the screen; did they have to sit in their allocated seat number; was there an usherette; how loud was Queen’s music going to be???
Eventually we get our tickets and make our way to the screen showing the movie.
Unbeknown to us, however, the cinema was like a building site. The cinema’s website displays the disclaimer of: ‘We are working hard to bring you the best cinema experience… Please bear with us as ongoing works may restrict access to some areas…’
So some slight disruption we expected. We didn’t expect the whole place to look like the higher floors of Nakatomi Plaza – you know what I’m talking about Die Hard fans.
Obviously Mum and me were hoping Bruce Willis would swing down and escort us to our seats. Unfortunately he didn’t – not today at least.
As mentioned, many seniors were at the screening. There were discussions of were they in the right seats, the rustling of sweet papers and continuous talking throughout the ads and trailers. I had faith that they wouldn’t talk during the movie. As long as they didn’t sing along to Queen. Please god don’t let anyone sing along!
The film eventually started and was worth the wait.
Rami Malek’s performance as Freddy was impeccable. He was wonderful, mesmerising, having studied and replicated the great man’s every move, habit, gesture. Surely an Oscar nomination must be his!
The supporting cast in the other Queen band members were great too.
Who would’ve thought that Ben Hardy, formerly Peter Beale from EastEnders, would look so good as glam rocker Roger Taylor, without even taking his shirt off (which he frequently did in EastEnders…)? Or that Gwilym Lee, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Brian May (it’s the wig for sure!) is the Sergeant sidekick in Midsomer Murders? Apart from that, John Deacon being played by Joseph Mazzello best known for his role in Jurassic Park as the little boy, Tim?
Excellent job by Susie Figgis the Casting Director!
Lovely moments of humour throughout the film, even during the dark moments.
The soundtrack? what can we say? There are no words for how fantastic the Queen music was – and is.
This outing reminded me of when I was given my first cassette recorder stereo one Christmas. Mum got me Queen’s Greatest Hits album.
Why would she do that? Being a kid, why would I want that music; why would I like Queen?
She admitted years later, it’s coz’ she loved Queen and wanted the album.
Nothing like a mother’s love.