Guernsey goes global

Guernsey jumper and waves

They say that if you wait long enough, then anything from the past will eventually come back into fashion. And true enough; over the decades we’ve seen all sorts of unlikely fashions from yesteryear experience a new lease of life on the high street Disco pants, eighties neon and double denim… I’m looking at you.

However, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who was slightly amused and bemused to see our very own Guernsey jumper (which is over 400 years old) hit the headlines recently. At first, it may seem quite hard to imagine how a fisherman’s jumper, with humble seafaring origins, could make it into a glossy spread in Vogue – and be sported by none other than world renowned supermodel Kate Moss. Recently the Guernsey was promoted on ITV news by intrepid explorer Ben Fogle – It seems official; the Guernsey is in the media glare, it’s being worn by the fashion set. Celebrity endorsement has elevated our much loved Guernsey jumper into the upper echelons of glamorous knitwear. Forget cashmere and forget angora… it’s all about the Guernsey.  It’s never been cooler to be seen in vintage look clothes, brogues and chunky knits that could have been worn by your grandparents.

The Guernsey or ‘Gansey’ is a garment that was originally valued for its practicality. Knitted using oily lanolin wool, it serves as a great insulator against the elements. It’s important to remember that not so long ago, the main stays of the Island’s economy were the tomato trade and the fishing industry – the latter job requiring the fisherman to be outdoors in all weathers and temperatures.  The Guernsey was therefore seen as a vital item of clothing. Traditionally, a wife would knit a Guernsey for her husband – once completed, she could sleep safe at night, secure in the knowledge that her fisherman would be snug in his woollens, mostly protected from harsh winds and relentless sea spray.

The Guernsey has a simple yet unusual shape. For example, if you look closely at a Guernsey, then you’ll notice that the sleeves are much lower on the arm than on your standard jumper. The sleeves are stitched on below the armpit, (knitted on by hand to the main body of the jumper as a finishing touch) allowing for unrestricted movement – something that is a priority when you’re controlling a boat in unpredictable weather. The tightly woven stitching on the sleeves denotes different maritime symbols, such as rigging, ropes and waves breaking upon the shore. Occasionally, certain patterns on a Guernsey could be used as an identifier for men from different families or parishes. So you’d be able to tell your Queripel from Torteval from your Le Page from Castel just by his clothes. Looking back now, this creativity may have seemed like a cute personal touch, however this decision to customise the Guernsey was not fashion based. The grisly truth, was that the unique pattern meant that if a man had been lost at sea and his body eventually washed ashore, the pattern of his Guernsey – the lanolin wool not being damaged by the sea – would lead quickly to his identification. The high symmetrical neckline meant that the Guernsey could be worn back to front – if you got one side dirty or it started to show a bit of wear and tear then you could just flip it round. It was seen as an enduringly loyal item of clothing – iconic Guernsey.

Guernsey jumpers and stockings are historic objects with a rich heritage – and date back as far as the 1600s when English wool was first imported to the island. According to the BBC and The British Museum’s  ‘A History of the World’ project, Guernsey knitting even had royal connections – Mary Queen of Scots is said to have been executed in her favourite pair of Guernsey stockings.

If you go down to the Fermain Tavern today, there’s a fair chance that you will see one or two middle aged professionals (and maybe even a sixth form student) wearing their Guernseys with nonchalance. However, if you ask these finance types why they wear their fisherman’s Guernsey, you’ll notice that they’ll tell you their sentimental reasons for doing so with a typical Guernsey donkey sense of pride. My sixteen-year-old brother even asked for a Guernsey for Christmas – and when I questioned him why, he replied that not only was it an ideal garment for outdoor pursuits (you’ll often find him down the shooting range on a Sunday) but also that he liked to support local industry. Furthermore, it reminded him of his roots and heritage. “If I’m looking for a quality jumper, then why wouldn’t I go for the best?” The Guernsey is not disposable fashion – for many it’s an heirloom.

So what do we make of the Guernsey becoming ‘on trend’? Well, we won’t settle for anything less than the very best, will we? It’s only natural for it to be modelled in one of the world’s leading fashion bibles and by top models. Because what does a publication such as Vogue, Kate Moss and the Guernsey have in common? They’re timeless.

This article was written by Louise Le Pelley (of http://www.lavalisedelouise.com) and appeared in the Fashion section of Gallery Magazine Guernsey’s 2014 Passion Issue

In the footsteps of Victor Hugo

After spending the morning brunching with Florence in the 13th arrondissement, I made my way, guidebook in hand, to the fashionable district of Le Marais to meet another friend. Whilst I was living in Clermont-Ferrand and Konstanz as part of my degree programme, unbeknownst to me, a French girl called Ombeline had embarked on her own year abroad, finding herself living and working on my home island of Guernsey. After meeting through a mutual friend in the summer of 2013, we swapped details – and upon hearing that I was in the city, she found some spare time in her schedule to accompany me on an adventure retracing the footsteps of another French national with links to the island of Guernsey… the writer Victor Hugo. As they say “It’s a small world, after all”.

We began our journey near the Hôtel de Sully, a beautiful baroque building at 62 rue Saint-Antoine. Le Marais is a lovely area of Paris, famous for its elegant ‘hôtels particuliers’ –  that is to say, private mansions that were once owned by members of the French aristocracy. Featuring ingenious and elaborate architecture, these fancy townhouses are not always easy to spot as you walk around Paris, as they are often artfully tucked away around forgotten street corners and behind stone walls. If you want to discover some hidden architectural treasures, then head to Le Marais!


hotel sully

The Hôtel de Sully was designed by Jean Androuet du Cerceau, a French architect of ‘hôtel particuliers’ who descended from a long line of famous architects,  in 1624 and ended up being purchased by Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully some ten years later. It came into the hands of the state in 1944 and since 2000, the Hôtel has been the headquarters of the Centre des monuments nationaux, an organisation which looks after France’s national monuments and aims to preserve and promote France’s national heritage sites and ‘patrimoine’. The sites overseen by the organisation include the Arc de Triomphe, the fortifications of Carcassonne, Chartres Cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris and the Panthéon, just to name a few. Today, the 27th January 2014, actually marks the 200th birthday of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc – a French gothic revival architect, famous for his views on historic preservation and for his restoration work on several national monuments (Notre Dame and Carcassonne included). Happy Birthday Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and long may the preservation of national monuments continue!

Using the courtyard of the Hôtel de Sully as a shortcut, we walked from rue Saint-Antoine to peaceful Place des Vosges. We made our way to number 6, and were soon climbing up the stairs to Victor Hugo’s former apartment on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée.  The entire building of the Hôtel has been transformed into a museum dedicated to Victor Hugo – with temporary and permanent exhibitions. It is free to visit the apartment on the second floor, with an added charge for the current exhibition on the first floor - La Cime du rêve – Les Surréalistes et Victor Hugo, a temporary exhibition which runs until the 16th Feburary and focuses on Victor Hugo and artists from the surrealism movement. Victor Hugo lived in the apartment on the second floor from 1832-1848.

victor hugo

You enter the apartment through the antechamber before being greeted with sumptuous rich red damask covering the walls in the next room – le salon rouge. In this room, a bust of a young Victor Hugo (sculpted by David d’Angers) stands guard, complete with brow furrowed in contemplation. To the right hand side of the bust are portraits of Adèle Foucher  (painted by Louis Boulanger in 1839) and Léopoldine Hugo (painted by Auguste de Châtillon in 1836). Adèle Foucher was the wife of Victor Hugo – together they had five children; Léopold (b. 1823 and died the same year aged a few months old), Léopoldine (b.1824 d.1843 Léopoldine tragically drowned at the age of 19 in a boating accident)  Charles (b.1826 d.1871) François Victor (who you can see pictured below left in a portrait by Louis Boulanger with his father and was famous in France for translating the works of Shakespeare from English into French b. 1828 d.1873) and Adèle (b.1830 d.1915). Adèle was the only child to survive Victor Hugo, as the other four children all died tragically before his death in 1885. Victor Hugo was especially haunted by the death of Léopoldine, and wrote the famous poem ‘Demain dés l’aube’ in her memory.

Although Adèle survived her father, she suffered greatly when she fell in love with a Lieutenant Pinson during the Hugo family’s time on the island of Jersey. Her tragic love story was brought to life on the silver screen by François Truffaut in the film ‘L’Histoire d’Adèle H’ in 1975 – with the title role portrayed by the beautiful Isabelle Adjani. The film was partially shot in Guernsey, and serves as a touching homage to Adèle Hugo.

Victor Hugo was also survived by his grandchildren, the two children of Charles Hugo, Georges and Jeanne. Their portrait can also be found in the apartment – it was painted in 1879 by Charles Voillemot.

victor hugo place des vosges
 The next room in the apartment features a lot of oriental décor and furniture that originally came from Hauteville Fairy, Juliette Drouet’s house in Guernsey. Juliette Drouet was a long term love and companion of Victor Hugo. The use of plates as décor on the walls was purely for aesthetic reasons – and similar décor can be seen in the china corridor at Hauteville House in Guernsey. If you look closely at the images above, you can see the initials V and H carved into the wooden centrepiece of the room – initials which naturally stood for Victor Hugo. He considered himself to be an artist – at this point in our visit, we were greatly moved by an enthusiastic and informative French school teacher who was praising the island of Guernsey and Victor Hugo’s house there in front of a large group of French school children wielding clipboards. More information about Victor Hugo’s apartment in Place des Vosges can be found at the following link –  http://maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr/fr/musee-collections/visite-de-lappartement

victor hugo chambre place des vosges
 My favourite room of the apartment was Victor Hugo’s bedroom – the furniture from this room actually came from a different parisian residence of Victor Hugo and was donated to the museum several years later by his grandchildren. It was in this bed on the 22nd May 1885 that Victor Hugo died at the age of 83. Over two million people attended his funeral, following the procession of a national hero in a pauper’s coffin all the way from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon. He now lies in the building dedicated to ‘les grands hommes’ next to two other great French authors – Alexandre Dumas, author of ‘The Three Musketeers’ and Emile Zola, author of ‘Germinal’ and many other French classics.

juggler parisAfter leaving Places des Vosges and having a brief shopping detour, we were back on the trail of Victor Hugo – destination Panthéon. We passed the bell-tower of a former church, the Tour-Saint-Jacques on rue de Rivoli and were momentarily perplexed by the sight of a juggler juggling in front of a line of traffic on the avenue Victoria. The Tour-Saint-Jacques was built in the early 1500′s and unveiled after three years of extensive restoration by the city of Paris in 2009.  We hopped on the bus, waved our Navigo passes and headed to the Latin quarter to marvel at the necropolis of the Panthéon – the resting place of many of France’s greatest men… and multiple Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, the first female French citizen to be recognised for her achievements and contributions to France by being buried in the Panthéon. She was interred in the Panthéon in 1995, 61 years after her death.

panthéon
The building is open from 10am-6pm October-March and 10am-6:30pm April-September. Being under 26, we were admitted for free into the building with a quick  showing of our identity cards. Art and architecture students often come to the Panthéon to sketch the ornate stonework and to contemplate – on our visit there were several students wandering the building armed with sketchpads and pencils, lost in their thoughts. As time was ticking, we made our way to the crypts first, as we had been advised that the tombs would be closing early.

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In the serene haven of the crypt, the tombs are bathed in a warm and calming glow.

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In the picture above, the tomb of Victor Hugo is featured bottom left – here in the depths of the Panthéon, Victor Hugo lies in quiet repose opposite Emile Zola. The tomb of Alexandre Dumas is slightly raised above the other two at the back of the vault.

I found visiting the grave of Victor Hugo to be a particularly emotive experience – it’s overwhelming to think of all that he contributed to society – artistically through his books, drawings and artworks and politically through his personal beliefs – the beliefs that he wasn’t afraid to share with the rest of his country. He stood up for democracy and fought for the right of the underdog – even if taking such a radical approach meant being exiled from his beloved country. His tomb – along with the tombs of French abolitionist writer Victor Schœlcher, French socialist leader Jean Jaurès and Jean Moulin, a member of the French resistance who was killed by the Gestapo in 1943, Louis Braille, Voltaire, Rousseau, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and Marie Curie – has a simple yet imposing design in white stone with clean lines. However, when you stand before any of the tombs in the Panthéon, it is a humbling experience to think of all the human beings buried there, who achieved and contributed so much for France during their time on this Earth.

panthéon

panthéon

The Panthéon sits on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, on the former site of the Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève which originally contained the relics of the saint in a holy chest. In the picture above, top right you can see the tomb of Rousseau, as well as a replica of the Panthéon top right and bottom left. Bottom right, you can see a monument dedicated to Léon Gambetta. The heart of Léon Gambetta – an important political figure – was displayed as a relic in the Panthèon for three days before being sealed away in an urn its current resting place in another area of the building. According to historians Susan K. Foley and Charles Sowerwine, his heart was an important symbol and metaphor for his patriotism and passion for France (Foley, Sowerwine 2012:243)

As it was nearing closing time and Ombeline had a class to go to, we decided to bid adieu to the great men (and women) of the Panthéon, heading outside into a tranquil dusky evening. We stopped to look at the buildings of the Sorbonne Law School before continuing onwards through the alleyways of the Latin quarter in search of a snack. Running commentary of the sights and hotspots of the vibrant Latin Quarter was provided by Ombeline – thanks go to Ombeline for a great day of culture and catch up in Paris!

sorbonne panthéon

NOTE TO READER:

If you are interested in learning more about Victor Hugo, then I would strongly recommend having a read of Graham Robb’s ‘Victor Hugo: A Biography’. The Panthéon also has its own website http://pantheon.monuments-nationaux.fr which can be consulted for further information.

A (very short) bibliography
Foley, Karen K, Somerwine, Charles (2012) ‘A Political Romance: Léon Gambetta, Léonie Léon and the Making of the French Republic, 1872-82′ Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan

Disneyland Paris

For me, waking up to the panorama of a sunrise over Paris will always be a magical experience. The years go by, the seasons change and I grow older, but my excitement at seeing the Eiffel Tower basking in the sun’s rays never diminishes. On this particular morning, I was in an especially good mood, buzzing with the anticipation of spending a day at Disneyland Paris, Europe’s top tourist destination.

paris sunrise la defense eiffel tower

parisian sunrise paris tour eiffel

A few days previous to the glorious sunrise, my uncle Eric had contacted me over Skype asking if I’d be interested in joining him, my aunt and my cousin on a trip to Disneyland Paris. Like many people, I count myself as a lifelong fan of Disney animation and  I’m also a big fan of the Disney Park in Marne-la-vallée, having been on my first ever trip to the resort in the summer of 1994 at the age of 3. On this occasion, my mum had decided to dress me from head to toe in a Minnie Mouse dress with matching ears. These garments were relics from when my parents had previously gone off gallivanting to Disney in 1992 leaving me behind with my grandparents in Normandy. Whilst I outgrew the dress a very long time ago, those Minnie Mouse ears from 1992 still fit… and have accompanied me on return visits to the park (christmas day trips in 2003, 2007 and an extended summer trip of 4 days in 2011 when the Dance World Cup took place at Disneyland Paris).

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The pictures above are from 1994 and 2011 – as you can see Disneyland Paris has always been a place that evokes many happy memories for me and my family. I have always loved the fact that it is a bilingual attraction, with characters, parades, shows and rides often featuring both French and English because this reflects the way in which I was brought up – Franglais for the win!

The Disney company has several parks throughout the world, however Disneyland Paris is widely regarded as being the most beautiful in terms of layout and architecture. Many Disney films have been inspired by French fairytales, style or architecture (such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘The Aristocats’, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Ratatouille’) and so the choice of building a Disneyland park just outside Paris makes for a romantic and whimsical French backdrop that pays a lovely homage to many Disney classics. Disneyland Paris’ excellent transport links with the rest of central Europe means that the park is most definitely a jewel in the crown of the Disney Parks family.

We took the RER from Chatou to Marne La Vallée – a journey which only took about 45 minutes. There is a lot of parking available in the Disney complex, however it is easy to commute by train (the park even has a direct link from London with Eurostar). What I was particularly looking forward to on this excursion was the fact that we were visiting Disney on an off-peak day in the middle of the working week.  If you really want to maximise your chances of going on as many rides as possible with minimal queues then I would definitely advise visiting the park on a day with low attendance – luckily for us, the waiting time for most rides was a maximum of 5-10 minutes. This meant that we could truly make the most of our park hopping day tickets – the Disneyland Paris complex contains two theme parks, Disneyland Paris (est.1992) and Walt Disney Studios (est. 2001), as well as a Disney Village full of restaurants, cafés and shops, and it is possible to zip in and out of the two if you buy a two park ticket. At the height of the Christmas and summer holidays (peak attendance) it is not uncommon to queue for over an hour for some of the top rides.

Arriving at Marne-la-vallée, we made our way throught the archways of the bright pink Disneyland Hotel and entered onto Disneyland’s Main Street USA.

disneyland paris disneyland hotel

The park was beautifully decorated for the Christmas season (which runs from November-January) with trees, wreaths and flurries of artificial snow.

disneyland paris main street isa

Main Street USA is a really beautiful area with wonderful 1920s style architecture. Vintage cars and horse drawn carriages are often parked near the entrance, with Disney characters available for meet and greets under the band stand. There are many different activities available within the park – some guests want big thrills, others are looking for gentler rides, some just want to absorb the atmosphere and take in the sights, whilst many guests go to Disneyland with their children in order to meet Disney characters. For many children, meeting a character is an unforgettable and magical experience. If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Paris and are especially interested in photo or autograph opportunities with characters, then I would recommend checking a programme for character locations at the beginning of your visit so as to optimise your chances of avoiding long queues and getting to meet with as many as possible. Programmes and maps of the park can be found at the ticketing booths by the entrance or online.

Disneyland is split into different themed zones – Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventure Land and Discoveryland. My cousin Maxim’s favourite attraction is the ‘Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast’ which is based on the character of Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story films, and so  futuristic space age Discoveryland was our first port of call. ‘Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast’ is a popular fastpass attraction – and is especially popular with younger children. At certain attractions within the park, it is possible to print off a Disney fastpass which enables you to return at a certain time slot and skip the queue – it’s a ticket that can come in handy!

After zapping some aliens with laser guns, we dashed over to Star Tours – a Star Wars spacecraft simulator. For us, there was no wait for the ride – however, if you do find yourself with time to spare, you can spend a long time marvelling at the attention to detail in the queuing area. The animatronics, which include talking robots of R2D2 and C-3PO, are very impressive. The first magical moment of the day was when the little boy in front of us (wearing an oversized fluffy hat) was referred to as an Ewok by one of the castmembers operating the Star Tours attraction – this quite visibly made his day.

disneyland paris discovery land videopolis space mountain

See the magical steampunk rocket launcher, pictured top right? That’s the Space Mountain Mission II attraction, an enclosed roller-coaster which draws inspiration from the works of French science fiction writer Jules Verne. After our simulated journey through space on Star Tours, my uncle suggested optimistically that I accompany him on the Space Mountain Mission II roller-coaster. Now… I’m not entirely sure whether he was expecting me to say yes, as on my previous trips to Disneyland, I had never really had the courage to go on big roller-coasters. Time was always of the essence, and I imagined that I’d queue for ages, panic at the last minute and then change my mind about going on the ride – which would end up being a waste of everyone’s time. However, as there were no queues at Space Mountain and as we had been hopping on and off rides at a fast pace, I ended up over excitedly agreeing with my uncle that going on Space Mountain Mission II was a BRILLIANT idea and before I could hesitate, I found myself strapped into a rocket and being counted down in preparation for take off… ie. being fired up a cannon. With a wicked gleam in his eye, uncle Eric had assured me just before we got on that there was no loop the loop or ‘looping’ on the ride… this was a lie. A necessary lie to get me to face my fears of being flipped upside down at speed.

As you are propelled upwards and subsequently whooshed along the inversions and loops of the track, a light show of swirling neon constellations, supernovas and vortexes come into view – making for an exciting and disorientating experience. It’s fast, it’s violent but extremely fun. I bruised my knee and had tears in my eyes from the speed at which we were going but left the ride giggling feeling giddy and happy from the adrenaline rush.

Reunited with my aunt and cousin, who had been patiently waiting with our bags, we headed onwards towards Fantasyland – this is the most magical area of the park in my opinion, as it has the gorgeous Sleeping Beauty Castle (Le Château de la Belle au Bois dormant). We stopped briefly to visit the ‘mysterious’ dragon which lurks beneath the castle in ‘La Tanière du Dragon’. As a little girl, I seriously believed that this was a real dragon – and each time I visit the park, I find it quite heartwarming to see that the 27m long mechanical dragon is still puffing smoke and terrifying little children… it ‘s a mechanical masterpiece that has not changed in the slightest since the very first time I saw it 18 years ago. Most of the children gathered around it  (including a certain ten year old cousin) were marvelling at the fact that they were in the presence of a  ‘genuine fire breathing dragon’.

sleeping beauty castle

la tanière du dragon

We didn’t actually stay in Fantasyland for very long, instead making a beeline for Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland. This ride is wonderfully atmospheric and extremely popular. As you descend into the caverns of the attraction you are hit with the smell of brine, and by the time you arrive at the loading bay of boats you could almost believe that you are actually on a caribbean lagoon underneath a starry sky. The film ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is based on this ride and its counterparts in the American theme parks – you’ll enjoy spotting similarities between the ride and the film. You can even dine in the Blue Lagoon restaurant which is actually situated within the attraction itself – how’s that for an immersive dining experience?

The visual highlight of Adventureland is Captain Hook’s pirate ship, which is docked next to Skull Rock. Adventureland is not only inspired by pirates, however – it also features Moroccan architecture, with scenery inspired by ‘Aladdin’.

adventureland pirate ship captain hook pirates of the caribbean

After spending some quality time with the pirates, it was time to visit cowboys and ghosts in Frontierland. This area is themed around Big Thunder Mountain and has two of my favourite attractions – the Thunder Mountain Railroad and the delightfully creepy Phantom Manor.

thunder mountain jack skellington phantom manor
After a ride on Thunder Mountain – a runaway mine train – we were greeted theatrically by Jack Skellington from ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ – this was exciting for me as this was a character that I had never seen at Disneyland Paris before. He was waiting outside Phantom Manor and accompanied by Sally the rag doll. Phantom Manor is a slow moving dark ride which features stretching rooms, ‘doombuggies’, holograms, ghostly brides and many visual references to Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s a beautifully designed attraction – towards the end, see if you can spot the ghostly skeleton which appears above your reflection in the mirrors. After a brief skirmish with Cruella Deville….

cruella deville

… we took a break from the park, heading into Disney Village for food. The restaurants in Disney Village are great value for money – we went to Planet Hollywood (pictured slightly blurred below). Planet Hollywood is known for paying homage to films throughout the ages and of course as we were in Disneyland the restaurant had to have a Disney twist.  After lunch, we carried on the Hollywood theme by going to Marne-La-Vallée’s second park, Walt Disney Studios – the first stop being a ride that I was anticipating and dreading in equal amounts – The Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror (La Tour de la Terreur – Un Saut dans la Quatrième Dimension) – the lift which takes you into the ‘fourth dimension’.

tower of terror walt disney studios

My aunt didn’t fancy joining in on the jaunt to the fourth dimension ie. a terrifying series of drops. This ride is one of the most popular rides out of the two parks in Marne-La-Vallée – although Disneyland is much prettier in comparison to Walt Disney Studios, the Studios has the most thrilling set of rides – the Tower of Terror was exhilaratingly fun. Bellhops in costume greet you in character as you enter the building (I got a bow, a flourish of a cape and a kiss on the hand). Later in the afternoon, I even got whirled and twirled around by one particularly goofy bellhop who we happened to bump into on the way to Crush’s Coaster.

goofy dingo bellhop tower of terror tour de la terreur
Who said that character interactions were purely for the children…?

Walt Disney Studios has a lot of different shows – in 2011 I’d previously seen Animagique, Cinémagique, Stich Live!, the Studio Tram Tour and Moteurs…Action Stunt Show Spectacular. As it began to rain, we quickly dashed to the backlot to catch an afternoon showing of the cars stunt show – there’s a lot of fire, smashing of glass and bike/car chases. The show lasted for about 45 minutes – afterwards it was time for Uncle Eric to persuade me to go on yet another death-defying ride – the Aerosmith Rock  ‘n’ Roller Coaster. THIS IS A FAST RIDE – in fact it is the fastest at Disneyland Paris and ‘goes from 0 to 60mph in 2.8 seconds’. There are loops, there are lights; in short, it’s pretty brilliant. Again, by the end I had tears in my eyes but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would highly recommend going on the ride if you like strong sensations (…. and Aerosmith, of course).

After Aerosmith, my aunt and cousin joined us on Crush’s Coaster – this is a spinning indoor roller coaster based on ‘Finding Nemo’. This ride actually had the longest wait time of any of the rides that we’d been on during the day – if you really want to go on this one then I would advise going on it as soon as the park opens in the morning in order to avoid the queues. Although this ride did not have any loops, it was rougher than I expected – hold onto your belongings tightly on this one! At the beginning, I couldn’t sit back and relax as we were dragged backwards up a high vertical slope and I was worried that my satchel was going to fall out of the turtle shell – let that be a valuable lesson to me! The lighting and visuals on the ride were beautiful and really did justice to the film – I especially enjoyed the glowing jellyfish that were suspended in midair over the track.

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Passing by topiary hippos from Fantasia, we headed once more into Disneyland for a repeat ride on Buzz Lightyear and to watch the evening parade.

disneyland paris parade mary poppins

The rain was really starting to lash down by this point – not that you’d have been able to tell that it was raining from the characters’ enthusiasm. After a trip around the shops, my uncle, aunt and cousin left as my cousin had school the next day, leaving me alone to wait in the shops until Disney’s Christmas Wishes and the big finale of the day – Disney Dreams Christmas. The shops were packed with people waiting for the shows… and it seemed as if every small child was deliberately going out of their way to touch the hundreds of glass baubles on display. Every so often you’d hear the tinkling of glass smashing followed by a parent’s gasp of horror.

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disney christmas wishes

disney dreams christmas

I was starting to feel the icy rain by this point but I’d heard so much about the ‘Disney Dreams’ light and water show, where images are projected onto the castle to spectacular effect, that I didn’t want to miss it. If you get a chance to see ‘Disney Dreams’ then do so – this may sound cliché but it’s entrancing – probably the closest that you’ll ever get to bathing in pixie-dust (…I went there). I watched the Christmas version which featured scenes from ‘Bambi’, ‘Toy Story’, ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Frozen’ – hearing Idina Menzel’s rendition of ‘Let it go’ from ‘Frozen’ as fireworks were shot off from the Castle was incredibly moving.

disney dreams

Completely soaked to the bone and shivering, I left at the end of the show as the park was closing, ran to the RER station and managed to get a hot chocolate just before the station shops closed down. I then hopped onto the RER and managed to find a seat before the rest of the disney crowds packed the train compartments. Mission accomplished, I settled down with my hairbrush (plucked magically from the satchel of wonders to the bewilderment of the men sat next to me) to try and make myself look less like a bedraggled swamp monster. I stopped off in Vincennes to dry off and be fed pasta and drink Monaco’s (thanks go to G) before being accompanied part of the way back to Florence’s apartment at about 11pm.

All in all, I had another wonderful Disney experience – with several pictures to add to my memories! Thanks go to my Uncle, Aunt and Cousin for taking me to Disneyland Paris – hopefully it won’t be too long before my next visit to a Disney Park!

The Bells of Notre Dame and the Glitz of Printemps

printemps et opéra garnier

Are you ready for another story from Paris? Well then, I won’t keep you waiting a moment longer! The day started off slightly overcast – after having been reunited with my suitcase, I spent a while deciding what shoes to … Continue reading

“Aux Champs-Élysées…”

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For me, a trip to Paris is never quite complete without a stroll down “the World’s most beautiful avenue” – the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The majestic Arc de Triomphe stands at one end of the avenue (if you want a view … Continue reading

All aboard the Eurostar!

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And so, the time came to bid farewell to London, embark on a journey through the Eurotunnel and say a big hello to beloved Paris…  Going on the Eurostar was one of the events on my trip that I was … Continue reading

Skating at Somerset House

There’s nothing like starting off the festive season with a bit of Bambi on ice – yes, I’m referring to my iceskating attempts. On my last full day in London, I got the chance to go iceskating on a beautifully lit outdoor iceskating rink – surrounded by the neoclassical façade of the wonderful Somerset House, which has served as a backdrop to two James Bond films, “Tomorrow never dies” and “GoldenEye”, both starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, the super smooth intelligence officer with the famous code number of 007.

After meeting Brendan at Euston, the day started off quite early with a walk around Leicester Square – you remember how I mentioned that I definitely didn’t cave into the temptation of buying peanut M&Ms from M&Ms World?

Image I caved. Oh, how I caved. You can see that in my shame (and euphoria) I couldn’t even look straight at the camera. London tourists, heed my advice – Definitely don’t go into M&Ms world on an empty stomach – as they say, a fool and their (or in this case, her) money are easily parted! 

After a short break for lunch, the next pit stop was Ladurée in Covent Garden to buy some macarons – I’d failed to locate the Ladurée café in the labyrinth of Harrods the day before and I wanted to buy some to share with friends. I hasten to add that by this point, I had hidden the sealed M&Ms in a deep, dark recess of my satchel and had blocked out their purchase from my memory.  Despite appearances, I am not the ultimate sugar junkie.

Ladurée have beautiful display boxes – once empty, macarons devoured, the glamorous boxes are perfect to keep jewellery or mementoes in. I had my eye on a mint green cylindrical case covered in gold baroque swirls – it looked as if it would make a great glasses case.

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After I splashed a casual fifteen pounds on pastries, we carried on our walk from Covent Garden along towards the river and ended up walking around Somerset House. We had already discussed the possibility of going ice skating, however ended up at the Somerset House rink completely by accident – it must have been fate! We booked tickets for a skating session at 16:45 –  that gave us a bit of time to wander around the Embankment and take in the sights around the Tower of London and London Bridge.

Image  Somerset House by day….
… and the Tower of London by sunset…

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 It was a beautiful yet wintry day. Above you can see some photos of The Tower of London buildings, bathed by the rays of the setting sun. We didn’t go into the tower (where the Crown Jewels are on display) as we did not want to be late for our iceskating rendez-vous – however it is well worth a visit, being a world heritage site and an interesting record of London’s history. At the time we visited, an iceskating rink was being constructed for Christmas – London seems to be full of picturesque rinks! The Tower of London rink is open until the 5th January 2014… however there are a few others that are open later into the year. The ice rink at Canary Wharf is open until February – for more information on places, dates and to book tickets you can check out the following article by Time Out London.  http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/ice-skating-in-london

The Tower of London is a major tourist attraction or honey pot – the buildings are allegedly haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn (the second wife of bloodthirsty King Henry VIII). The wire sculptures of lions pay homage to the lions that were once kept at the tower in the Royal Menagerie. Across the river, we could see the HMS Belfast – an impressive floating museum which is operated by the Imperial War Museum (it was also the filming location for a hilarious Christmas Special of the BBC sitcom “Outnumbered” a few years ago).

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I was basking in the beauty of the view. After gazing a while at sparkly replicas of the crown jewels in the Tower of London gift shop, we scurried back to the tube in order to be on time for our skate session. We had to make a quick trip to Accessorize en route to buy some gloves – sounding suspiciously like my mother, I insisted that I had to wear gloves to go ice skating… in case I tripped, got my fingers stuck to the ice and someone subsequently skated over my hands, severing my digits. This was perhaps not the most rational of explanations for needing to buy gloves…

I left my bags behind in the cloakroom (this cost me one fine english pound but was really practical) we exchanged our shoes for skates and hit the ice. It was pretty magical – I felt as if I’d been whisked away and transported into Disney’s Fantasia. Classical music was played – it was a relaxing and chic experience, gliding along a rink lit up in purpley pink hues whilst excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from ‘The Nutcracker’ and Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ were played. Much to my relief, there were no dodgy British Christmas Classics played (Slade and Wizzard, I’m talking about you) – I love the festive season but those kind of songs bring out the Grinch in me!

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You can tell from the photos that I was loving my time on the ice! Towards the end of the session, the music transitioned to 50s pop – we skated off the ice to The Chordette’s ‘Mr Sandman’ and went in search of beverages. There was a cool drinks marquee to the left hand side of the rink, however there was not enough seating inside so we decided to continue on our travels – first to Trafalgar Square (where we clambered over the lions) and then onwards to Planet Hollywood (which is just around the corner from Her Majesty’s Theatre, at 57-60 Haymarket). Brendan and I are both big fans of Hard Rock Café and so Planet Hollywood seemed like a good choice of grazing post. I’d been a few times to the Paris Planet Hollywood (which has since closed down, boohoo) and the Disneyland Paris Planet Hollywood for pizzas and burgers – this time I atoned for my macaron sins and ordered a big salad. We were placed next to Halle Berry’s rather fetching orange bikini from James Bond flick “Die Another Day”. If you want to dine out at a restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere then definitely book a table at Planet Hollywood – apparently you can often get good deals if you buy a set menu and West End ticket package…

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Before we headed back to the train station, we took a quick glimpse into British memorabilia shop “Cool Britannia” which was very quirky and sold everything from cuddly toys and snow snowglobes to life-size One Direction cut outs. I didn’t buy anything, but it was a colourful shop which left a fun and vivid impression on me – just like vibrant, cosmopolitan London really! It truly was a lovely last night in London.

Fun & Frolics in Theatreland

Musical Theatre has always been a big love of mine. If you’ve been following my blog recently, then you will probably have noticed a few comments here and there about my eagerness to catch a West End show whilst I was sightseeing in London.

 I decided to designate my sixth day in the Capital as “Musical Day” and woke up with the sole aim of hunting down a cheap theatre ticket. No booking online or in advance for me – it was all to be done on the spot. My tactic of turning up for things at the last minute (but always on time, I hasten to add) has been frowned on a lot throughout my life – however, there are some perks to living in organised chaos… (For one thing, I have learnt how to apply eyeliner on a moving bus without gouging an eye out) and you’ll see later how I lucked out with tickets. Going to see a West End Musical or show is one of the typical activities recommended (…by travel guides, newspapers and social media etc.) for tourists wanting an unforgettable experience on their London trip. 

There are over 40 theatres on London’s West End and the area has come to be known over time as “Theatreland”. There is something inherently magical and glamorous about a trip to the theatre – the excitement truly begins when you’re stood on the grey London pavement and suddenly get the first glimpse of  bright theatre lights. As we’re still currently in the festive whirl between the lead up to christmas and New Year, it’s the perfect time to sit back on a plush seat and let yourself become completely immersed in the glitz and emotion of London’s shows. You can even get involved in the theatrics afterwards by voting in the WHAT’S ON STAGE awards online – the voting closes on the 31st January 2014. http://awards.whatsonstage.com/awards/vote

After reading several theatre reviews and checking out the publicity for lots of different shows, I had my heart set on seeing two shows in particular. “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Matilda the musical”. The shows differ wildly in style.  “Phantom” was adapted for the stage in 1984 from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 gothic novel  and is a melodramatic love story set at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s a classic, decadent musical that has been at “Her Majesty’s Theatre” for 27 years.  The extravagant costumes, stage design and mask of the phantom have become iconic and the musical is still being nominated for awards to this day. “Matilda the Musical”, on the other hand is a contemporary musical – it has been at The Cambridge Theatre for just over two years and has wickedly comic lyrics by Tim Minchin. It’s a bubbly and enchanting adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 book “Matilda” – the young actors and actresses manage to channel Dahl’s mischievous wit through the music, lyrics and script with aplomb.

I was quite torn between the two shows as I had initially only budgeted to attend one, however it was my lucky day… as I managed to see both! By turning up 1 hour 30 mins – 30mins before a show, I ended up having the opportunity to see not one but two West End Musicals on the same day for the price of one premium seat – making a grand saving of £85.50 in total. I turned up at 1:00pm to inquire about Matinee tickets at Phantom’s box office. I was feeling a little bit awkward about turning up by myself and bracing myself to be shown the door, but really needn’t have been apprehensive as the attendant put me at ease by offering me a seat straight away.

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Whilst randomly turning up at a theatre alone definitely doesn’t guarantee you a ticket, it does increase the chances of getting an awesome seat for a fraction of its original price*. The majority of people go to the theatre on a group outing and as such, there are often quite a few pesky gaps in the seating plan (often caused by groups of odd numbers) just waiting to be sold at a discount to ‘lone rangers’. It’s a lottery which seats will be available last minute on the day – my seat was sold to me for £29.00 (including a £1.00 booking fee) – which was a reduction of about £36.oo. The attendant showed me a seating plan before I purchased my ticket and assured me that the view was not restricted by any pillars (My seat was M10, if you’re curious). It’s a good idea to check the plans of a theatre’s seating before you book/buy your seats as you can sometimes find yourself in a seat with a restricted view (although this is often labelled on your ticket if this is the case).

Ticket carefully tucked into my bag, I left the theatre, had time for a bit of popcorn chicken from KFC in Leicester Square (always the novelty for an Islander with little access to fast food) and returned at 2:00pm to Haymarket. I was quietly buzzing with excitement. Programme in hand, I was shown to my seat and patiently awaited for the show to begin. 

*This is a particularly useful tip for students, however theatres can sometimes offer special discounts, so it is always a good idea to inquire.  ‘Matilda the Musical’ releases 16 pairs of Matinee tickets available for £5 every morning at 10am for 15-25s. 

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The first sight that you see upon being seated in the theatre is the scene of an eerie auction, where long forgotten artefacts from the fictional Opéra Populaire are being split up and sold to punters. It is quite a macabre ghostly start to the show, with poignant lines uttered by the character of Raoul (played by Sean Palmer).  When the line “Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination, gentlemen?” is exclaimed by the auctioneer, the magnificent chandelier (previously hidden underneath a cloth) is swung up to the ceiling from the floor of the stage, dazzling the audience, and setting the scene for the bright and decadent heydays of the ‘Opera Populaire’. It is a truly impressive and literal “Flashback” back to the 1880s – the days when the Phantom reigned supreme. The show is full of beautiful (excuse me for using a cliché) show-stopping and spine-tingling moments – the descent into the catacombs of the opera during the title number “The Phantom of the Opera” and the glitzy party that takes place during the number “Masquerade are particularly impressive. It truly is a feast for the eyes and ears – The majority of the cast are operatically trained.

The Phantom was portrayed with pizazz by Gerónimo Rauch. I expected great things from a vocalist called Gerónimo (he has also played the title role of Jean Val Jean in Les Mis on the West End) and was blown away by his voice. The role of Christine Daaé was played by Olivia Brereton, who was an alternate/understudy for Sofia Escobar – not that you’d be able to tell. The understudies and alternates on the West End are brilliant, and deserve just as much accolade as the actors and actresses that play the title roles. In the interval, I was nudged by the Brummie gent sat next to me  - he was equally entranced by Olivia Brereton’s voice and stunning appearance on stage (… which brings me to another point – I want lustrous curls like Christine Daeé – and I’m sure that there were quite a few girls in the audience who were also experiencing major hair envy) The costumes and set, designed by the late Maria Bjornson, are fantastic and will transport you completely into the Phantom’s operatic parisian world.  I really didn’t want the magic to end – I left the theatre after the performance was over in a hazy daze, humming “Think of Me” under my breath and already making mental notes to revisit the Opéra Garnier (upon which the Opéra Populaire is based) in Paris. If you want to see a big sumptuous show whilst in London then “Phantom” definitely ticks all the boxes – I really want to take my mum to see it. I think that she’d be blown away by the performance – and not only because she hails from the same place as the fictional character of the Phantom (Rouen). The show really brings 1880s Paris to life. 

Night had fallen, and inspired by the decadence of “The Phantom of the Opera” I took an improvised visit to Harrods in Knightsbridge to look at self-playing pianos and fancy clothes. I did not find the pianos, but glamour was to be found everywhere throughout the department store. Having not put any make up on that day, I felt a bit bedraggled and out of place – however I mustn’t have looked TOO shabby as I was welcomed through the doors with a smile. The seasonal shop windows were inspired by a voyage on “The Midnight Express” – Ladurée macarons being the order of the day. 

 

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I snapped out of my Phantom/Harrods induced reverie at about 18:15, suddenly deciding to head back to Theatreland to see if I could get a ticket for “Matilda – the musical”. Very last minute – risky business. Walking around without a map, I ended up at the Lyceum Theatre (home to “The Lion King” – which is a brilliant family musical, you can trust me, I’ve seen it twice) where a helpful usher told me I was going in the wrong direction. Hopping into a cab, I found out that The Cambridge Theatre was just around the corner on Earlham Street – resulting in the cheapest cab fare I think I’ve ever had to pay. The London cabbie was very charismatic – riding in a London cab is always a pleasant experience. I ran out of the cab and into the theatre at 19:00, with the cabbie ‘s cry of “Good luck, darlin’!” ringing in my ears.

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I went straight into the Ticket Office, a little out of breath, expecting again to be out of luck – however, imagine my delight when I was offered a ticket in the stalls worth £85.00…. for £28.50 including booking fee! If there hadn’t been glass blocking me from the ticket attendant, I would probably have given her a hug (ok, maybe not, British sensibilities and all, but I felt ridiculously happy – my total savings on tickets came to £92.50! I spent £57.50 instead of £150!). 

I was around five or six when Danny Devito’s American adaptation of ‘Matilda’ starring Mara Wilson was released – the film quickly became an international cult childhood classic. I read the book by Roald Dahl at around the same age (although I was far from reading “War and Peace” like Matilda) – my dad was an english teacher who wholeheartedly encouraged me to read as much as possible (he still does!) and he often used to cut up several bits of different chocolate bars and make me write down Dahl-esque descriptions and reviews (à la ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’) for each chunk tasted. As you can guess, Roald Dahl was a big favourite of mine – he was a really magical author (also a spitfire pilot!) who understood children and wrote captivating (and more often than not, ‘a little bit naughty’) stories for them in his garden shed. ‘Matilda’ is the story of a remarkably clever little girl with telekinetic powers who gets neglected by her ignorant parents – the moral of the story being that adults are not always right – wisdom does not necessarily come with age. 

The Cambridge Theatre was packed with excited children clutching programmes and wearing ‘Matilda’ hoodies – it’s clearly a popular show to take your children to as it serves as an excellent introduction to theatre. It must have been a massive treat for the children that I saw as I have never seen so many impeccably behaved children in my life.The theatre is quite small and quaint-  the first thing that you notice upon entering the auditorium is the excellent attention to detail.The auditorium walls are daubed with chalkboard paint and chalk scribbles, with multicoloured scrabble style tiles suspended all over the stage and ceiling – before the show starts the letters M A T I L D A are perched on swings on the stage. 

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Everyone seated around me whiled away the time waiting for the show to start by gazing up at the letters and seeing which words they could make out. When the show started, it literally began with a bang (of several balloons) as energetic children burst out from under a table laid out for a birthday party and leapt into the song “Miracle” with witty lyrics and sharp choreography. It was at this point that it really hit home to me just how innovative the show was going to be. It wasn’t long before Matilda’s ludicrously flamboyant and ‘loud’ parents were introduced (Kay Murphy and alternate Mike Denman – who were both brilliant) and got the crowd laughing. Towards the end of the first number, Matilda appears, unloved and melancholy, not in the least bit self-indulgent (unlike the birthday party brats). Matilda is portrayed by four different girls – I saw 10 year old Cristina Fray, who was fantastic – instantly capturing the hearts of the audience from her first moment on stage with her statement “Mum says I’m a good case for population control”. Due to laws regarding the hours that children can perform, the team at Matilda must have their work cut out with the different combinations of children performing each night – not that you’d ever be able to tell, the performance was that polished and perfect. It is no wonder that the show has won so many awards. I predict great things for all the children involved – especially the enchanting Miss Fray.

One of the big attractions of “Matilda” for me was the fact that it was penned by Tim Minchin – I’m a big fan of his ‘beat poem’ ‘Storm’ – and he did not disappoint. The writing almost stole the show – the Trunchball’s hilariously over the top statements were particularly memorable “He should have thought about that before he made a PACT WITH SATAN and stole my cake”. Miss Trunchball was played in drag by the incredible Alex Gaumond. I’m sure if anyone thinks back to their schooldays (especially if you happen to have attended a British public school) then you can think of one or two teachers who derived sadistic pleasure from striking fear into everyone. Alex Gaumond both terrified and delighted the audience with his deathstares, rants and comedic gymnastic routines – and deservedly got one of the biggest rounds of applause at the end of the performance. The beastly Trunchball was perfectly juxtaposed with the delicate doe-eyed Miss Honey (played by Haley Flaherty).

The show ended with showers of confetti (almost as if the scrabble tiles were raining down on the audience, reminding them of the importance of words) and standing ovations for the cast and creative team. It’s a show that truly captures the naughty British comedy of Roald Dahl. I was so thrilled by my day – both by “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Matilda the Musical” – that I walked to the tube from the theatre picking large square shaped confetti off my clothes with an enormous cheshire cat grin on my face. Am I tempted to return to the Cambridge Theatre and bring my ex school teacher Dad, mum and teenage brother? Definitely! It was an unforgettable evening.

Covent Garden Cuisine (with a little bit of cruising around Camden Market)

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On the fifth day of my trip, I found myself accompanied through the London streets by some pals from University – three physicists and a mathematician, to be exact. Nick, Tom, Caleb and Daryl (Daryl of Hamleys teddy bear snuggle … Continue reading