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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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’.

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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’.

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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.

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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….

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… 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’.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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!

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The Bells of Notre Dame and the Glitz of Printemps

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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 wear on my day in the city before eventually settling for sensible flats. Heels are all very well but when you’re dashing all over the city and having to anticipate the thought of climbing lots of stairs at BREAKNECK SPEEDS (slight exaggeration) then flats are the best option… Satchel packed with a change of clothes, I headed to Maison Blanche  (which is not a glamorous presidential house or home to Blanche Neige but a relatively small and quiet metro station) where I took line 7 to Châtelet. Emerging from the underground, I was greeted by the stunning architecture in Place du Châtelet.

I soon found myself crossing the Pont au Change (a bridge which features as an iconic location in two of my favourite books Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables‘ and Patrick Süskind’s ‘Das Parfum’. The latter tells the story of a sensual yet gory quest for the perfect scent through 18th Century France and a large portion of the book takes place at a fictional parfumerie on the Pont au Change).

From the bridge, I got a great view of the Palais de Justice complex, which is a really impressive sight to behold. Whilst the gothic towers and spires  look as if they belong in the illustrated pages of a fairytale book, it’s important to remember that  Paris has more than its fair share of dark secrets. This building has a particularly bloodthirsty past, for it was in the Conciergerie, an ancient prison within the complex, that numerous prisoners (including  Marie Antoinette) were imprisoned before they were guillotined during the Reign of Terror.

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Just around the corner from the Conciergerie is the Palais de Justice – this is the most exciting part of the building because this is where all the action takes place and where justice is carried out to this day! This was a very busy area, with a heavy police presence. The national tripartite motto of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ is featured on the façade of the Palais, with one word chiselled above each of the three main doors.

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When you cross over the Pont au Change, you leave the right bank of the Seine and find yourself on the île de la cité – a natural island on the River Seine, which is dominated by the iconic gothic cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.

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The Cathedral of Notre Dame is one of my favourite sights in Paris – measuring over 70m high, construction began in 1163 and today the Cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful religious landmarks in the world, showcasing a perfect example of French gothic architecture from the Middle Ages. Notre Dame was also one of the first buildings to feature flying buttresses as a form of architectural support. I’ve already mentioned my love of gothic novels and admiration for the author Victor Hugo elsewhere on my blog, so the fact that I love the novel ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ (in English ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) will probably come as no big surprise to the reader. Everyone knows the Disney version of the story –  where deformed hunchback Quasimodo falls in love with the beautiful gypsy girl Esméralda and spends a lot of time singing and chatting with his anthropomorphic gargoyle friends and swinging on bells. The novel has much darker themes – as well as playing with juxtapositions of the grotesque and the sublime in the form of the different characters in the novel for effect, Victor Hugo was extremely passionate about the importance of preserving Notre Dame’s beautiful architecture from destruction and corruption. The character of Esméralda in particular serves as an important metaphor for the potential fate of the Cathedral…

Arriving at Notre Dame, I wasn’t too impressed with the massive eyesore ie. blue walkway that has been built in the Place Jean Paul II to mark the 850th birthday of the Cathedral. This pretty hideous looking construction (what was that about heeding the important warning about the corruption of the beautiful Cathedral by modern architecture?) leads to an elevated grey viewing platform which is covered with the names of French Saints  (I was mildly appeased by the fact that the name Louise was included. Mildly. I remember visiting the Cathedral when I was much younger and being able to have a Mary Poppins ‘Feed the Birds’ moment, however now all the sparrows have been scared off by the terrifying sight of that walkway)

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I do have to admit, however, that even though the view of the plaza was compromised by the big blue monstrosity, the view from the platform was spectacular, giving the viewer a closer look at the ‘Gallery of the Kings’, a line of statues on the Cathedral façade. The air was cold and even though I wasn’t that high up the ground, it felt as if I was at quite a high altitude.  I stayed for a while gazing at gargoyles – and I ended up being approached by a seemingly never-ending chain of couples wanting to have their photographs taken with the impressive backdrop of the Cathedral. This went on for a good twenty minutes, (I started to feel as if I was a teacher on a school trip in charge of everyone’s cameras) but it was actually quite a lovely feeling helping others get a good memory to take home.

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Moving swiftly onwards, I left Notre Dame to have a look at the ‘Bouquinistes of the Seine’. Along the river, you will find green stalls which have a large variety of second hand and antiquarian books – as well as the obligatory postcards of the Eiffel Tower, cats and Brigitte Bardot.

In the two lower pictures, you can see some examples of Parisian graffiti. On the left hand side, brightly coloured Chopin and Gospel concert posters have been stuck to the side of a green box covered with tags and scribbles, whilst on the right hand side there is evidence of some of the more tongue in cheek graffiti artwork that you can see around Paris. Just above the street sign ‘Rue des trois portes’ there is a red horned octopus – Octopuses seem to be a popular image to use as graffiti in Paris. According to this interview with Underground Paris  (http://undergroundparis.org/gzup-interview) street artist Gz’Up has managed to place over 214 plywood octopuses in locations hidden around the city. (I’ll interject here with a vaguely fun and random fact about Guernsey and the octopus. The French word for octopus, ‘pieuvre‘, originally came from the Guernsey French language of Patois. When Victor Hugo came to live on the island of Guernsey for 15 years whilst he was exiled from France, he wrote a book dedicated to the island called ‘The Toilers of the Sea’. One of the villains of the novel is an angry giant octopus. Victor Hugo quite liked the sound of the Guernsey word ‘pieuvre‘ and so decided to ‘borrow’ it in order to give his aquatic beast a name, and after the book was published, the word ‘pieuvre’ came into common usage in the French language)

Pieuvres aside, I continued on my travels and eventually stumbled across a weekly market. Taking a break to buy a drink, I was amused momentarily by the commotion caused by a small flock of pigeons flying out from behind the counter of a bakery before I looked at the time and realised that I had to meet a friend in the west of Paris and that I had no idea where I was supposed to go, which metro line to take… or indeed where the nearest Metro station was. Although I was cutting it very fine, I made it just in time and promptly found myself in a Japanese restaurant with ‘G’ struggling to make a dent into a large platter of avocado sushi, rice, mushroom skewers AND miso soup whilst trying to appear elegant and demure using a pair of chopsticks. A sushi massacre ensued.

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Seeing as I had moved onto the west side of Paris, I was relatively close to the big department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. Outside, the grey clouds were dispersing, leaving the skies over Paris a glorious shade of bright blue, so I decided to go for a walk along the boulevard. The blue skies were contrasting beautifully with the golden art nouveau domes of Printemps’ Flagship store. The shop windows were beautifully decorated for the festive season.

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Just across the street from Printemps is the rear façade of the Palais Garnier,  l’Opéra National de Paris. This structure was planned by Napoleon III and designed by Charles Garnier – the project completed construction in 1875. It’s an opulent, beautiful building – and was the scene and inspiration for Gaston Le Roux’s 1910 novel ‘Le Fantôme de l’Opéra’. Having recently been bowled over by Gerónimo Rauch’s performance as Erik the Phantom in London, I had been particularly looking forward to getting a closer look at the building. Florence had told me that if you turn up an hour before certain performance then it is possible to get cheap tickets, however I didn’t have time to try this out. The Opéra interiors are gorgeously decadent and can be toured for a small fee of around five euros.

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I allowed myself to get lost in the glitzy decorations of both Printemps and Galeries Lafayette (which was built 30 years after Printemps) for a few hours. The Christmas tree in Galeries Lafayette was the most beautiful tree that I’ve ever seen. It was lit up with electric blue lights and studded with large pink flowers with mechanical petals which opened and closed at regular intervals. A big snowy owl perched at the top of the tree whilst animatronic puppets of mice, cats, rabbits and monkeys danced above the heads of shoppers making extravagant purchases at the make up counters on the ground floor. Galeries Lafayette has ten stories and so there are escalators on each floor in order to make the ascent to the heavenly glass domed ceiling – ‘la coupole‘ – much easier on your legs. I decided to make my way up to the top in order to get a closer look at the big fluffy owl.

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For many families, it’s a time honoured tradition to go and see festive displays in the big Parisian department stores. The 2013 window displays at Printemps were designed by Fashion House PRADA. Grown ups and children alike were peering into the colourful vitrines whilst upbeat retro music played from speakers – I especially enjoyed hearing the goose walk from ‘The Aristocats’.

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I would return later to Boulevard Haussman later in the week with my mum to bask some more in the bright lights and beautiful shop displays.  As dusk began to fall, however, the time came for me to head to Chatou, a town in the suburbs famous for being popular with impressionist painters, to spend an evening with my uncle, aunt and cousin.

We would be leaving for Disneyland Paris in the morning…

“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 fromt the top, then the 300+ steps can be climbed for a fee) whilst the obélisque de Louxor waits for you at the other end. The obélisque, which is over 3,000 years old, originally stood at the entrance to an Egyptian temple – however, it was moved from Egypt to France around 180 years ago when it was given as a gift to the French government.

At just under 2km long, the Champs is the perfect place to stretch your legs and people watch – if you’re not afraid of a bit of hustle and bustle and having consumerism thrust into your face.  It’s a street where worlds collide and the activity of window shopping reigns supreme. Walking down the Champs, you’ll see all sorts of characters, from excited children on their first ever trip to Paris to little old ladies clad from head to toe in 1930s fur doing a bit of ‘lèche-vitrine’ whilst walking their poodles and pomeranians.

From Chanel and Louis Vuitton to Quiksilver and H&M, from Fouquet’s to Macdonalds, the Champs-Élysées has it all. The shops are all beautifully laid out  – particular highlights include the Nespresso boutique (which has walls studded with gleaming jewel coloured Nespresso capsules), the car showrooms, which always have intriguing displays showcasing the latest must have luxury vehicle and of course, the piles of cakes and sweet treats placed alluringly in the windows at Ladurée. My favourite part of the Champs are the arcades and galeries –  these areas feature stunning 19th century architecture and are tucked away under covered passageways sandwiched between the larger shops. Inside the galeries, chic boutiques, vintage bookshops, souvenir emporiums and James Bond-esque gadget shops nestle side-by-side.

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 So, with time to spare in Paris, it was only natural that I would be tempted to go to the Champs-Élysées – after all, window shopping doesn’t cost anything. After a breakfast of pastries in Villiers, I got on the metro and changed line a few times before arriving at my destination. I decided to walk the 2km along the Champs to the Louvre through les jardins de Tuilieries. As this was just before the festive madness, the streets were relatively quiet, and I slipped into a reverie, gazing at doubledecker tour buses, pastel green Ladurée vans and sparkly shop windows… until all of a sudden a  giantess came into view.

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 I feel that if David Bowie, a Falconer and Kirsten Dunst were fused together and thrown into the Baroque era, then this statue would be the outcome. The theme for the holiday season was ‘Noël Barock’ which was conveyed pretty well through the outlandish décor. I have to admit that glam rock Marie Antoinette was quite alarming (i.e.terrifying) but I headed into Sephora regardless.

Inside, I was greeted with the sight of stuffed cockatoos and a vast 1,500m² cavern of cosmetics, perfumes and powders.  Upon entry, I was duly spritzed with a Dolce and Gabbana scent by men (dressed as butlers) who were lurking just inside the entrance, waiting for unsuspecting shoppers to strut in from the street and down the red carpet. After checking out the new Ladurée makeup range, (originating from Japan, the cosmetics are sold exclusively in France by Sephora) I continued on my way and arrived at Place de la Concorde. Below you can see the obélisque de Louxor as well as la Grande Roue de Paris – a large transportable ferris wheel that has traveled all over Europe. I was particularly captivated by the mint green lamp post, which is quite possibly the most flamboyant LAMPADAIRE that I have ever seen.

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Eventually I found myself back at the Louvre. Feeling a bit peckish, I bought myself a baguette from PAUL (www.paul.fr) which had a little van situated next to L’Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. PAUL does great sandwiches (including, in my opinion, the best sandwich of all time) however when it comes to bakeries in Paris, then you really are spoilt for choice. If you’re planning a trip to Paris and are looking for ways to budget during your stay, you can save money food wise by having picnics or by eating on the go. Fruit, cheese and baguettes (and of course, wine) from the supermarket are all relatively cheap and taste great.

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Before I headed back to the deep dark depths of the Metro, I stopped to gaze at these giant bubbles that were being blown by a street performer just in front of the Palais-Royal. The buildings of the Palais-Royal are home to the Comédie Française (a famous state theatre group) the Minstry of Culture and a national library, amongst other things! La Place de Colette (named after famous French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the writer of ‘Gigi’) is a particularly lively area, surrounded by grand hotels and antiquarian bookshops and has a very fancy metro entrance  –  the “Kiosque des noctambules”.

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See that dapper chap bottom right? That’s Molière, France’s answer to Shakespeare. If you’ve ever had to study French Literature, then you’ll probably be well acquainted with Molière. His works always feature somewhere on the literature syllabus of the French Baccalauréat!

Bidding farewell to Molière, I left Place de Colette and headed to Chinatown, where I was reunited with Florence, copies of Vogue, Normandy apple tart and a mug of hot chocolate! All we had to do was retrieve my suitcase from Claire’s flat…

 Coming up soon – Disneyland Paris, Place des Vosges and a recipe for galette des Rois!

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 most looking forward to.  Considering that I often make trips to Paris to spend time with family who live in the city, a lot of friends were surprised by the admission that I’d never been on the Eurostar before. The ultra speedy train journey from the heart of one city to another was to be a new experience for me. Living on Guernsey, you become used to travelling primarily by ferry and by plane (my first flight was to France at the age of three months old!) – when I was younger, going on a train journey was something very exciting indeed.

I was particularly looking forward to a journey from one country to another without stringent baggage restrictions – you can take up to two cases and a piece of hand luggage (which can contain liquids) on the Eurostar. Being able to pack as much as I wanted, however I wanted (without having to remove the majority of my clothes at security) felt quite refreshing. The Eurotunnel and Eurostar service were both established in 1994 and so it is has been possible to get direct trains from London to Paris (and even direct trains to Disneyland Paris in Marne La Vallée) for two decades. Eurostar will celebrate its 20th anniversary later this year – Happy 20th Birthday Eurotunnel and Eurostar!

I spent the morning and early afternoon with Ellie (who made sure that I ate some food by treating me to Lunch, thanks Ellie!) before I left East Croydon for the last time and got the train to London Victoria. My friend Nick was in central London for the day and came to see me off, helping me with my suitcase from Victoria to King’s Cross St Pancras tube stop – what a gent! We had a bit of time to spare before I had to go to the Eurostar departure lounge, so we decided to soak up the atmosphere of Europe’s “destination station” for a while.

Stepping into St Pancras International, which was built in 1868 and renovated quite recently during the 2000’s, is a perfect way to escape into a sophisticated little bubble just a few steps away from a tube stop. St Pancras is widely considered to be the crown in the jewel of London’s railway stations, and has even been referred to as being the “cathedral of railways”.

A trip to St Pancras really is a magical experience – although you find yourself surrounded by the hustle and bustle that comes with any station or transport link, when you look at the beautiful Victorian architecture, it’s almost as if you have stepped back into the sepia toned glamorous heydays of traveling. With bilingual signage in English and French, it really does feels like a gateway between London and Paris. Last minute presents and souvenirs can be bought from the beautiful boutiques (such as Fortnum & Mason, which opened a new shop and tea salon in St Pancras on the 8th November 2013) found downstairs in the atrium. Alternatively, you can wait for your train with a flute of champagne on the Grand Terrace, listening to the sound of piano playing drift up from the floor below. Nick and I decided to do just that – we stopped at Searcys Champagne bar, which is situated opposite Searcys St Pancras Grand (restaurant and whiskey bar). We had a great view of the famous golden platform clock – this opulent clock is the handiwork of Dent London – the clockmakers behind Big Ben. Dent London had the task of building a replica of the original station clock which smashed in the 1980s (you’ll be pleased to know that the original clock has since been restored – you can read more interesting facts on the St Pancras did you know facts page http://stpancras.com/the-station/did-you-know/ )

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After our champagne break, it was time for me to head to departures… via Marks and Spencer’s! I was going to be staying with a friend in Paris who has a bit of a soft spot for mini bites – mini bites are little petit four sized cakes that Marks and Spencer’s sell in plastic tubs (ooo glamorous) . They come in varieties such as rocky road, flapjack, chocolate cornflake clusters and chocolate mini rolls… and are quite the party pleaser. I also bought some lilies, which would sit next to me throughout the duration of my Eurostar journey. The train left at 17:45, so it was already dark by the time we left London. I settled down with a copy of Eurostar’s in-house travel magazine “Metropolitan” – written in both French and English, I found it both fascinating and informative – just my kind of culture magazine. After a brief stop at Ashford international station, I could vaguely make out the lights of Dover before we entered the Channel Tunnel. It wasn’t long before we were in Paris, and I was reunited with Florence!

We escaped the rather hectic Paris Gare du Nord and got on the tram – the Parisian buildings passed by in a blur a bit too quick for my tired eyes, so I can’t precise too much other than to say that everything looked beautiful. After a Mcdo meal in Paris’ Chinatown, we made our way to Florence’s twin sister’s apartment, where we were greeted by amazing floor to ceiling Jacques Demy ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’ film posters and freshly brewed tisane. The twins fell asleep, whilst I stayed up a bit later to work on an article – happy to be in the City of Light once again.

I really enjoyed travelling with Eurostar and hope that there will be more opportunities to do so in future!

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.

Capital hopping with ‘La Valise de Louise’ – London Calling

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As you can tell by the title of this post… I’ve been a bit busy. But fear not! It’s all been worth the while. Read on to voyage with me and learn of my latest ventures… it all began once upon a November…..

November is a strange month, sandwiched between the autumnal novelty of Halloween (which arguably dominates October) and the unavoidable festive buzz of December. November  stomps in and announces the beginning of Winter with fireworks and the ritual burning of things. In some ways, it is like an eager child begging for acceptance –  encouraging us to embrace the warmth of bonfires on cold nights, and to let the decadence and glitz of the Christmas season slowly creep up upon us. It all starts with those fireworks.

November was a rather spontaneous month for me, bathed in the glow of the premature Christmas lights of London and Paris – forget about Christmas tiptoeing into my 2013, I have already spent the past few weeks being duped into believing that Christmas Eve has come early. I’ve been raptly listening to jazzy festive tunes being pumped out of sleek city sound systems and gazing up in awe at big bling-bling baubles.

Rapture? Awe? Being captivated by baubles? I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog (the majority written when I was a student, held captive by the shackles of studying) about my yearning for travel and more importantly, my desire to live life to the full as much as possible. This has been the first Winter in the past decade where I have not had to pull off the dreaded ‘nuit blanche’, those indeterminably long nights where students become essay writing machines in order to meet harrowing end of term deadlines. For me, this has often meant necking back dubious cocktails of diet coke, black coffee and Proplus tablets, silently willing the dawn chorus to pipe down and setting up over 21 alarms on my phone just in case I didn’t wake up from that ten minute power nap. Thoughts of Christmas were always on the back burner until those gloomy essays were done and dusted. However, this year there have been no academic papers to submit. I can completely focus on glittery Christmas sparkles!

So a few weeks ago, when I was asked to go to an interview in London, I decided to turn a day trip into a fully blown holiday and embrace my newly found festive freedom. I packed my suitcase (although I would later find myself cramming most of my belongings into my bright purple satchel as I surfed from sofa to sofa, hopping from tube to metro) bought a last minute ticket, got on a plane and was on my way – on the run! Ready for a big glittery adventure… first stop… London!

I arrived on Saturday 9th November, leaving a deserted Guernsey airport on a cute little local plane with puffins painted on it – I was one of five passengers. Forty five minutes, a copy of ‘The Guernsey Press’ and a free diet coke later, I was warped into a different pace of life, surrounded by jets and queues for passport control. After being ‘stranded’ for a couple of months in Guernsey, it always takes a couple of minutes to adjust to the comparative hustle and bustle of … *in melodramatic tone*   the Mainland.  After walking for miles, I located my case and got on the train to East Croydon – home of Dub-step, ‘the Croydon facelift” and Kate Moss – where Ellie, a friend from Durham University was waiting for me. I had forewarned her of my intentions to visit London and she had very kindly offered me a place to stay. THANKS ELLIE.

Ellie welcomed me into her very fancy student house (which was the Ritz in comparison to the house we shared together during our second year at Durham) where we had the quickest of catch ups before heading out to … Clapham. I was getting to know quite a few boroughs of London in a short space of time.  We sat down in a restaurant and ordered food at 10pm after a little traipse around the area ( i.e we got a bit lost on Clapham High Street), ate with Ellie’s fellow teacher pals and then all of a sudden our plates were whisked away and the place turned into a dance bar. The staff pushed the tables to the wall, and a torrent of people appeared from nowhere and started jiving away in faux fur coats to 1direction. It was slightly surreal. I found myself being handed cocktails, accepted my fate (…having to listen to 1direction) and the night was off on a roll.  We ended up leaving the bar in the early hours of the morning to get the train – we were entertained whilst we waited at the station by the characters of East Croydon who were asking us incessantly for ‘cuddles’ (no cuddles were had) and fighting over pasties – obviously a rare delicacy at three o clock in the morning. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this pasty frenzy – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

When we got back to East Croydon, I crashed into bed… my head full of plans to see musicals, sightsee, be reacquainted with KFC popcorn chicken (no KFC on Guernsey *woohoo*) and perhaps most specifically to head to Forever 21 on Oxford Street and track down a ridiculously high pair of burgundy wedges that I’d fallen in love with on the internet. Did I find those wedges? Did I get to see a musical (or… two?) You’ll have to wait for my next instalment to find out! 😉 Although in the meantime here is a picture of an excited tourist in front of Buckingham Palace… yep, it’s me.

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Train Journey

I was at the station, sat down at a table, nervously eyeing the clock and my suitcase. My hands clutched a diabolo fraise, a childhood favourite, a drink that could have easily  been prepared at home in advance,  but the purchase  justified my use of a table and more importantly, a seat, in the crowded station café. I didn’t want to sit on my suitcase in a drab corner. The drink was extortionately priced, although looking back now, I can’t remember offhand how much I paid, but I do remember savouring each drop, hoping to make my lemonade and syrup last for another half hour. My nails had been painted with alternating layers of two new polishes, and they glittered blue, like rays of sunshine catching waves on the sea, every now and then, glimmers of little fish swimming underneath. The nails clashed with the bright red bubbles of my drink and with my hot pink book on the table in front of me, but I was excited and felt sophisticated – leaving the lush green volcanic hills of Clermont for a little while to return to Paris. Paris, a city of elegance, with grungy and crowded metro trains, busy streets and the grime that you will find in any major city lurking underneath the glossy lacquer of chic that is advertised in tourist brochures. Paris, where lovers, artists and ambitious workers go to join the rat race, and to find the dreams that they seek…

Holidays and Macarons

Some snapshots from a belated French Christmas ! New Years Eve was celebrated with copious amounts of seafood and sweets…I partially overcame my phobia of eating fish, a phobia that has made me awkward to cater for around French christmas time in the past, (ie. the past 20 years where my family have had to grit their teeth and come up with alternatives for me every mealtime…) and had some salmon. I wasn’t brave enough to tackle the oysters or shellfish, though.

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We spent two days in Paris with my aunt, uncle and cousin, as well as spending time with my Grandparents in Rouen. In Paris we visited Montmartre and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées   – it has become a tradition that we walk in all the arcades along the avenue each time we visit Paris. I was thrilled that the queue for the Ladurée Boutique was virtually non-existent (from the outside, at least)… I finally had the opportunity to channel my inner Blair Waldorf and buy a box of the pastel treats to share with my family… (ok, Blair would NOT share her macarons, but I don’t think I would ever be able to eat a box by myself) My favourites were salted caramel and bubblegum – bubblegum sounds like a bizarre flavour but it worked! The cakes also looked exquisite but they will have to wait for another visit.

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I bought a very girly (as in the target market was probably for five year olds) macaron necklace from a street seller in Rouen. I had been after one of those necklaces for ages – once I get an idea in my head, I refuse to let it go! It’s nice to have a memento – along with the macaron box – of this wonderful wintertime spent in France with my family.

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