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How to spend an afternoon in Paris

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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!

https://youtu.be/RacesAroundTheWorld

 

Loving a Lashing

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! 
Absolument fantastique!  

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.
Absolument fantastique!    

 

No Tights In Sight

“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,”  

Kevin Costner – Robin of Loxley

“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!

A Place of Cavy Dwellings

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.

Guilty as charged… But does the punishment fit the crime…?

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.

Not quite Kevin Costner, but he’ll do 😉

 

New Year – New Us???

How was your Christmas and New Year?

Official Man Flu Germ

Official Man Flu Germ

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.

“That too.”

“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.”

Two French Tarts

Well, we did the Brum Christmas Market, hence had to do the one on our doorstep – Newcastle’s Christmas Market.

So we met at Grey’s Monument, a primary meeting point in Newcastle city centre and happens to be where the Christmas Market is set, being open until this Sunday, December 16th.

“I’m pleased it’s here at Monument, ‘coz if it was at the Quay, don’t think I could’ve been arsed,” said Mum as I walked up to greet her.

“Good to see you too,” I replied. “Shall we walk round?”

“Yeah, sounds good”

We pass the real Christmas tree and plant stands plus the roasted chestnuts and mulled wine fella, where we each buy one to peruse the rest of the market.  Newcastle’s International Market and Christmas Market have been merged this year to allow people to experience the best of both worlds!

There’s plenty of stalls selling Winter accessories, scarves, hats, gloves. 
Lots of baked goods stands.

“So pleased I don’t have a sweet tooth,” I say. “I can’t afford the calories…”

Crepes, waffles, French pastries – gorgeous tarts. Too much choice!

“Look at that, two French tarts for a fiver,” Mum says.

“You can’t go wrong,” Me and Mum say in unison.

We gasp and look away from each other. Have we been spending too much time together??!

The Pick and Mix sweet stall had the longest queue. Everyone getting their sugar fix. Sweets are always very popular. Explains those British Smiles…

There’s so much choice food wise, there’s all kinds – Greek, Indian, Chinese, Mexican. Plus the German market food, including the infamous bratwurst.

We plumped for the Yorkshire Pudding wraps.

“I wasn’t sure how they would serve the Yorkshire Pudding wraps. I thought the gravy would’ve splattered out all over the place whilst I was eating it,” said Mum. “And I wasn’t wrong.”

“Think I needed a bib!” I moaned. “It’s gone everywhere –“

“It’s on your shoes,” pointed out Mum.

“Oh god. I expect I look like a dog’s dinner.”

“Don’t you always…” laughed Mum.

To wash down the Yorkie Pud Wraps, and avoid any pooches, we nipped into the pop up Bavarian cabin style bar, took a seat inside and had a little drinkie each. I had a fruit beer while Mum continued on the mulled wine, adding a shot of rum to spice it up!

“What do you think of Newcastle Christmas Market compared to the Birmingham?” I ask.

“Well it’s a lot smaller for a start. But it also seems to have more choice,” Mum replied. “Birmingham seemed to have a lot of repetition with the stalls, more of the same. I mean, I enjoyed it – “

“Yeah, it was good,” I chip in.

“Absolutely but I felt it was quite corporate and samey.”

“We do things well but small up here,” I say.

“We do indeed,” said Mum with a self-satisfied smile. “ I mean, look at me – I’m five foot tall but perfectly formed.”

 

Bo Rap!

“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.

Not actual cinema workman…lol

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.

© Fox Media & Regency

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.

 

The One and Only…

“How many Newcastles are there?” asked Mum.

“Over one hundred,” I reply. “A hundred that we are aware of, anyway.”

“Bloody hell! I thought we were the only one.” Mum was surprised.

“Did you, why?” I queried.

“’Coz of Newcastle Brown Ale.”

“What?”

“Newcastle Brown Ale says it’s ‘The One and Only’.”

“Right – ”

“So, as it made here in Newcastle upon Tyne, we’re the only one,” summed up Mum.
We were attending an event with the Newcastle upon Tyne Network of the Newcastles Of The World.

‘What’s Newcastles Of The World?’ I hear you ask.

It’s a friendship network to share experience and ideas on culture, heritage, education and business.

‘So what is ‘Newcastle’?’ you ask.

The origin of the name is often the same whatever the language – an old castle was destroyed or fell into disrepair and a “new” castle was built to replace it.

However, many Newcastles in the English-speaking world take their name from some connection with Newcastle upon Tyne – well of course they do…

‘What’s so special about these Newcastles?’

Nyborg (Newcastle), Denmark was from 1183 to 1413 Denmark’s capital and the Parliament – the Danehoffet – met at Nyborg Castle.

Nové Zamky (Newcastle), Slovakia, west of the capital Bratislava has a Mayor who  is an opera singer.

In our own Toon, a recent immigrant to the city became so enamoured with it, that he has legally changed his surname to Newcastle!

Some of the “Newcastles” have been meeting every two years for conferences. The most recent being staged in Shinshiro City Japan just this September for the Newcastles Of The World 20th anniversary.

“A Newcastles Of The World Cookbook,” I said, looking at the cover as we settle down for the event.

“Oh, what a nice touch – everyone who’s here is getting a free copy,” said Mum.

“What recipe do you think will be in from Newcastle upon Tyne?” I asked.

“Hmmm,” mused Mum. “I’m not sure –“

“What’s Geordie food?” I say out loud.

We both go silent as we muse.

“What about Pan Haggerty?” I say

“Pam who?” says Mum.

“Pan Haggerty,” I repeat.

“Think that’s a Northumbrian dish. Irish as well.”

A pause as we think again.

“Newcastle Brown Ale and steak pie,” I offer.

“Possibly,” agrees Mum. “Singing Hinnies?”

“Them scone things?”

“Yeah. Like a stodgy drop scone. Lovely with butter on!” smiles Mum. I can tell she’s now imagining a warm Singing Hinny with a nice cup of tea. She pauses: “What about pease pudding?”

Pease Pudding is something of a North Eastern delicacy, a savoury dish made of boiled split yellow peas, with water and seasonings. Sounds revolting – but isn’t!

“What would a recipe with pease pudding entail?” I ask.

“Well, I think most people have ham and pease pudding sandwiches, don’t they?”

“Someone told me their colleague has pease pudding and tongue sandwiches,” I say.

“Ugh. A tongue sandwich tends to go on and on…” smirks Mum. “I remember someone telling me to try fried pease pudding – “

“How do you fry pease pudding when it’s sloppy mush?”

 “Dip it in a bit of flour to give it a slightly crispy coating then fry it. They swear by it!”

“Sounds interesting.” I nod. “Though my fella told me that his Dad only ever serves pease pudding as a block, like cheese, on their Sunday dinner. As a garnish”

“Now I’ve heard it all!” Mum rolled her eyes.

“Let’s find out then,” I say as I flick through the book.

“Stop there, Newcastle upon Tyne,” says Mum pointing.

“Ah ha, I was right,” I am triumphant. “Newcastle Brown Ale Stew!”

“You said Newcastle Brown Ale and steak pie,” smirks Mum smugly. “Close, but no cigar…”

 

 

‘Newcastles Of the World – The History, Culture and Diversity of Places Called Newcastle’ edited  and compiled by Sue Wilson, CBE and printed by Tyne Bridge Publishing, is available to buy via Newcastle upon Tyne City Library for £7.99.

For more information and to get involved in Newcastles Of the World, visit https://newcastlesoftheworld.com/

Thanks to David Faulkner

Women of Substance

We were driving. Returning to York to explore its historic streets some more as previously we’d had a flying visit in the Summer to watch a show at the pop up Shakespeare Rose Theatre, which is now long gone.

We had booked into a faceless chain hotel (which begins with a ‘T’).
Had had a nightmare journey. Stuck in a traffic jam on the A1(M) for over an hour. We were boiling hot, bothered and bored.

Eventually we arrived at hotel. We were dishevelled, worn out, sticky.

Got checked in, no bother; made it to the room. I’d been dying for a wee for the last ten miles, so headed straight for the en-suite.

“Thank god!” sighed Mum as she stripped down to her undies, flopped down on the bed, put the TV on and said: “I’m having a nap.”

Next thing she knew, I came flying out of the bathroom:
“Get up! Get up!” I exclaimed. “’I’m going to demand they come in to clean up the room. I take umbrage. Pure umbrage at that bathroom!”

The bathroom was dirty. The bath marked, hairs all over the floor, toilet stained. Taps needed descaling. Not sure the last time it had seen a cleaner, but imagine it was probably the last time that Richard the Third visited York!

The shower curtain had a full hand print on it. What went on previously in this room? The mind boggles…

I grab the telephone and phone down to reception and give them a good mouth full of Geordie charm. They agree to come up and inspect the room to re-service it. I breathe.

It was at this point I noticed that Mum was sprawled out on the bed, hand leisurely perched behind her head, leaning on plumped up pillows in just her lingerie. Reminiscent of the Sleeping Venus by Giorgione, not, as she likely imagines, Rose in Titanic.

“We have to leave the room. Apparently we can’t be in it whilst they clean it.”

Mum sat bolt upright at this: “What? I’ve just got comfy!”

“They’ve offered us a complimentary drink. They’re coming right up.”

“Aww, bloody hell. For god’s sake,” Mum said and then continued muttering about how ridiculous it was.

We were down at reception and shown to the bar area, which was within spitting distance. We were the only guests in there.

“What can we get you, on the house of course?” smiled the receptionist now on bar duty.

I was perusing the coffee menu when I heard Mum say: “A bottle of prosecco.”

The receptionist clasped her hand to her jaw, to stop herself from gasping.

Mum gave a Mona Lisa smile – she was obviously in a Renaissance art mood, and turned to me:

“What are you having, Sharon?”

“The same,” I said.

And that, my friend, was that!

 

Giorgione, Sleeping Venus painting  – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=101652 –
edited/adapted for our purposes

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