Sunday, August 30, 2015

St Jean du Gard, France

A series of events were planned by the Bride and Groom on the Wednesday & Thursday before the Friday wedding. On Wednesday the girls had a cooking morning and lunch with Peta Mattias.
The chaps went down to Anduze on the little steam train had lunch and then came back. In the evening there was a pot making session (mainly for the boys, but anyone could have a go) at the factory of the groom. It's rather hard work coiling the rope, then slamming the soft clay over the rope base. Interesting to see Andrew getting his hands dirty for a change. Note: apparently all the clay fell off the pot mould while we were at dinner, so no masterpiece was ever fired.

A fun paella meal was followed by artisan ice cream from a friendly Corden Bleu pastry chef. And entertainment was provided by a singing duo with accordion and 'audience' participation. You can see the great paella in the background.

This was the only day it rained in the south of France and it did it with a vengeance all day and night - but the wedding day was fine and temperatures had dropped.

Following a civil ceremony in the village the wedding party returned to us gathered on the lawn of the family home of groom

And then a wedding meal in the wine cellar of the house. It was an ideal location and an absolutely lovely day
There was a trip to the market day at Uzés and lunch at a very nice restaurant Le Tracteur.
And we managed to fit in a quick visit to the Millau Bridge, long drive there on one track hilly roads (thanks TomTom) and a much speedier return via larger roads.

In St Jean du Gard the daily breakfast pastries were obtained from shop run by a Japanese chef who was Cordon Bleu trained. They were simply fantastic. The name was something like Le Bonheur, but on the Grand Rue. These were eaten with coffees from the agreeable Le Bistrot, located just over the road from the hotel. The Bamboo restaurant also did a very good meal, although the menu portions were quite large. Usually that's not a major problem, but if you have also eaten very well at lunchtime a large amount of food also arriving for dinner cane be quite daunting.

The hotel was clean and comfortable but the staff running it were interesting. Madame spoke no English and looked like she was still on holiday on Ibiza, sequins, crochet and Union Jacks were everyday wear. She was good and helpful except for the small issue when a taxi was ordered to get people to their train an hour away in Nîmes. The taxi didn't turn up and later when asked why she just said I don't know. Meanwhile I did an emergency drive with them down to Nîmes and got them there less than 10 minutes before their departure time. Whew.

Meanwhile Andrew had got a lift to the post wedding day barbecue where further lovely food and wine was provided beside the pool. A couple of fully clothed people ended up in the pool. An delicious rounding out of the wedding celebration events.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Paris, briefly

From Warsaw we flew down to Paris for a three nights, not long, but better than nothing. As we intended to catch the TGV from Gare de Lyon, we stayed for the first time in the 12th. Citadines Apartments

One of the things we wanted to do in the area was the Promenade Plantee, the Paris 'high-line'. A 4.5km walk along a disused, raised railway line. The walk goes alongside apartment buildings and parks. With trees, flowers and garden beds it is a popular spot for walkers and runners.

Our one real meal out was to 'Frenchie's Wine Bar'. As advised, we lined up outside at 18:45 for the opening of the restaurant at 19:00, as there are no reservations. It is a tiny restaurant so if you aren't in the 1st group, you are in for a long wait. At 20:30 we were amongst the first to leave from the 19:00 starters. The food was excellent and good value.

While visiting the department stores (Printemps, Galleries etc) we were interested to see crowd-management techniques being applied to wealthy Asian tourists. Lines were roped off for the tour groups wanting to purchase designer bags. They were just interested in the bags and make-up.

And a quick visit to the nearby Bercy Village on Sunday for a drink and an evening meal.  It is one of the few shopping areas open on a Sunday in France.

Having had time to walk, shop, eat and drink we enjoyed our brief stay in Paris.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Warsaw, Poland

By train we travelled the 300km in 2.5 hours to Warsaw which has a population of 1.7m, vastly bigger than Krakow’s 0. 7 m. A different scale and feel.

The cultural centre, a gift from the Russians is certainly lacking in architectural merit. It is said the best view of Warsaw is from the viewing platform, mainly because this building isn't in the view.


Warsaw has Unesco status 'outstanding reconstruction' of its old town which had been obliterated in WW2 and has been rebuilt to reflect historical Zarchitecture. Estimates of damage to the large bombed area suggest 80-90% of the old city was rubble. The damage was deliberate Nazi retribution for the 1944 uprising against the occupying Germans.


Plenty of flower pots often of geraniums exist which add good colour.

We mastered the local transport ticketing system and took the bus out to the Wilanow palace to see the gardens and the interior. We were impressed with the content (always good to see a palace with it's own theatre) and the window views out to the gardens were delightful. You would need a few gardeners to keep it in shape.


There were a number of monuments to Marie Cuire, a Warsaw native before she went to France and was awarded 2 noble prizes.

The Warsaw Rising museum is a new museum about the WW2 experiences, particularly the 1944 resistance. It was very well presented in many different dimensions and gave a good insight into what an absolutely appalling time that was. The crowds of all aged at this museum reflect how well they tell the history of Warsaw related to that time.


Food, the same good standard places were found. We were disappointed we could not get into the Butchery on the first night when we fronted up, so the booking for the next night was made on the spot. The best beef (28 day dried cured ) I have eaten in years plus some vegetables.


We both really enjoyed our trip to Poland.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Krakow, Poland

I had never been to Poland and Paula had been about 15 years ago.


Our week’s trip started in Krakow, a spacious place that had a lovely city square for tourist, smart horse and cart services, stunning church and plenty of places for dining and shopping.

We quite liked that the horse carriages sat with pretty girls encouraging the punters and then when the hire was commissioned a sturdy older man would jump up and operate the carriage.

The old town is surrounded by a green area with mature trees so one could walk and sit in the shade. This was much appreciated given that the temperatures were in mid to late 30 degrees. It was a very clean and tidy city. All the traffic stopped including trams when crossing pedestrian crossing, such a contrast to Lao where crossings are seen as mere decorations.


Kraków did have the loudest and most penetrating ambulance sirens I have ever heard. This was observed when having a refreshing beer.



We walked extensively to the old Jewish quarter. The impact of peak holiday season meant we could not go to some places as they were sold out. This included a planned trip to Auschwitz. And we planned badly and tried to visit the Oscar Schindler factory in the afternoon of the one day of the month that it closed at lunchtime. Oh well, we saw the outside.


Krakow was not heavily bombed in WW2 so there are many attractive historical buildings. The castle on the hill is stunning and again spacious. We looked at the historical amour display which was impressive.


We ate well and given the strength of the meat orientation I was very happy. And the like beer and most forms of alcohol so I did not suffer dehydration. A number of the restaurants we dined at in the evenings were cellar level, underground. One spot 'Granny Raspberries' we sat on pine benches, ordered at the bar and waited for our number onto appear, while looking at a room decorated with all the kitsch you could imagine. Portions everywhere were definitely generous. Lots of pierogi (dumplings) were consumed.

Another gem was the aeroplane museum that has a substantial collection of Eastern Block aeronautical pieces, different and worth a visit. There was a replica of an early plane Blieuit, that is pictured in a sketch at Waikanae bach.


As 'tech expert' I get to post and edit Andrew's contributions and I couldn't leave out innovative inventor-Andrew. Today, repurposing a beer can as an iPad stand.












Thursday, August 6, 2015

London & Cambridge 2015 version

When Andrew was taken out the back when we passed through immigration at Vientiane airport it looked like our trip might be over before it started. But a phone call to my work determined that that yes, there was an error with his residence permit but that it was the fault of the immigration department. He will probably have the same issue getting back into Laos – but that is an issue for September!

12 hours through to London followed by a painful 1.5 hour shuffle through Heathrow immigration and we were finally into the UK.

The week was spent half in London and half in Cambridge. Mixing baby time with some other activities. Photos speak a thousand words:

In London Chloe took us to the Duck and Waffle for a superb breakfast. On the 40th floor of the Heron Building The food was excellent and we all had the namesake ‘Duck and Waffle’ and none of us were disappointed. The views were magnificent.


We visited the V&A where we were probably more overwhelmed by the crowds rather than the exhibitions. We did however manage to have a very good Lebanese lunch at Le Comptoir Libinais


And there was a trip to the theatre to see ‘War Horse’ We were sitting in the front row and could literally touch the stage. They were probably the best seats in the house as we could see all the action and the detail of the working of the horses. It was a stunning show.

There was also a dinner at Granger & Co with the Jackson's old neighbours, the Russell's. A fun meal with Charles, Charlie and Tom and Andrew and Chloe. And a lunch trip out to see Hilly in Catford - a part of London unknown to Andrew and I.


We managed to go to two other new areas also. The 1st was Canary Wharf, which is an interesting, manufactured area and the 2nd was the canals near the hotel. Lots of real atmosphere around here.

In London we stayed at the Z hotel, just a few hundred metres from the Old Street tube station. The rooms were small, but completely functional, clean, and light. The cherry on the top was that there was free wine & cheese in the lobby between 5 & 8 pm. And the wine and cheese were good quality.

There was a new hotel nearby designed to have a 3d effect. I wonder if that was disturbing for the patients coming out of the Moorefields eye hospital over the road? My eyes are fixed, yay...wait... that building looks like it is on a lean...noooo


In Cambridge we were lucky to be able to stay again with Annie Jackson. She also kindly had a lunch for all the families on the Sunday before we headed off to the continent.

Cambridge in summer is overcrowded with tourists and just busy, busy, busy.

But a trip on Saturday morning to Granchester and the Orchard for scones and cream was England at it finest. Walking along country paths and seeing free roaming commons cattle.

And we were lucky enough to be able (via Annie) to get tickects to the last night of the Cambridge music festival. Sir Willard White, a wonderful bass baritone had a fun time singing songs he obviously enjoyed. The audience also enjoyed him and the Soprano Claire Booth.