Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Rainbow sunset over London

My cousin came to visit London last week, so I got to show him around. It was his first time in Europe and our first time travelling together. His virgin Eurotrip reminded me of my first solo overseas trip, all week. Everything had seemed exciting and everything had tasted so good, then. It helped that my first trip had been to France, staying with some exceptional people who are like family now.

NB and I visited all the big tourist spots and even stopped by platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross for some Harry Potter moments. We ate all the classic British foods I like - scones with jam, fish and chips, and lots of beer. We definitely got to know our 24-hour bus very well by the end of the week. On our last night together, we went up the London Eye - something I had resisted for a long time, but I thought it was time I gave in. As we cast our eyes over the Thames river, Big Ben and the rest of London bathed in dusk and the last rainbow colours of gay pride day, I came to a surprising realisation that my London stay is finally coming to an end soon. I'm glad but unexpectedly a little sad, too.

It is, as always, the people you meet along the way that makes the farewells and the long trip home bittersweet. Before I leave there is one big to-do item that needs to be crossed off on West End. It will definitely be a highlight finish to the OE year experience.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

London on a weekend: Broadway Market and V&A Museum

Standing on the overground platform, arms crossed, I feel a vibration. Phone? No. Stomach. I am grumbling starving. Train, hurry up.
To the market we go. The weather is not great; grey and occasionally spitting onto my glasses. Only people with four eyes would understand. I'm lost...as always. I try to follow a lone guy a few metres in front of me, hoping he is going the same way. Turns out he is just as clueless. A canal path filled with health conscious joggers and cyclers lead me the way, instead. Hunger leads me on.

Famished and finally here. It's a lively street filled with two rows of back to back stalls, artisan crafts mixed with savoury and sweet foods. My lunch and dessert: my very first Scotch egg, a coconut macaroon from a well respected bakery, and a flat white, my daily morning essential.
Second part of the day: a trip to the galleries. The London tube stations need more bins. Any bins. I am forced to carry my empty coffee cup around for two hours because I do not litter. I end up chasing after a cleaning staff to pop it in his bag. Why two hours? Because the transportation in London is very disruptive at times, quite often, and especially on weekends. I ride the trains literally from East to West trying to find my way. I end up hopping on a bus in the end. Should perhaps have been my first option, all along. This one is the only non-double decker I have seen in London, yet everyone seems to want to get on it with me. At least one consolation - so far, no rains. Thank goodness.

I've already wasted so much time that a decision needs to be made. Saatchi or V&A? I will need to visit both in time, of course, but there is only time for one for today. So, V&A, it is. Oh no. Both the current special exhibitions, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, are sold out! Boohoo. Oh, well. There are plenty of other, free, collections to see. So many of them. I love it.

Whenever I visit museums and galleries, I always pay a visit to their shops. I want everything in there. They are always overpriced. Most of the time, I never buy anything. Sad. So much walking and gazing and listening and touching and feeling inspired... makes me hungry again.
 
The V&A café is a big cafeteria, where you get to choose from the sweet and savoury selections, and a series of tea rooms, where you enjoy your foods in style. The English floral tray is sticky and the small tearoom is dimly lit. The English ancestors must have had bad eye sights, being in dark indoors with no proper lighting shining in from the outside. I would have lit as many candles about as possible if I had lived then. I like it bright, unless it's mood lighting. The cream and berry jam Victoria sponge cake and tea combo is perfect though. Elderflowers. Cream. Mmm.

(Photos all from my visit to V&A)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Stay here: Spoilt at Villa Montabord

One orange, half a lemon. The golden ratio for your daily morning juice. It's essential for breakfast at Villa Montabord, 3, Cité des Fleurs, Paris 75017.
Villa Montabord sits near the entrance of a private alleyway in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. A couple of necessary side notes: the alleyway is named, literally, 'City of Flowers', and, true to its name, is a lovely passageway to stroll through, admiring the beautiful houses, or rather mansions, and the glimpses of their gardens. Once they apparently had to follow strict rules to keep their front gardens looking immaculate and reasonably uniform, but it seems the rules did not altogether extend to dictating the styles of the houses much. 17th arrondissement is characterised by their elegance. Villa Montabord sits neatly in line with the standard. Bourgeois, ladylike, with her chic red pout. Ready to welcome chic travellers to rest their heads in her luxurious yet cosy rooms inside.
I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in one of Villa Montabord's four rooms - Chambre Charlotte. Plush red carpet lined the staircase up to my room. To the left, two double French doors let in light through its white curtains. On the other side a deep wine red wall resided over a double bed dressed in white. My first night in that bed was one of the best in a long time. The plush pillows were a dream! Swoon! My next favourite thing about Chambre Charlotte was the bathroom, just was warmly lit as the bedroom, and almost as spacious. I loved the huge mirror reflecting the light.
After a good night's rest, a hearty breakfast. As much as my small stomach would allow. Croissants, tartines with butter and jams, homemade yoghurts, coffee, tea, you name it. Plus the orange/lemon juice. Don't forget the juice.
A few itineraries for the weekend included catching an open air opera near Hôtel de Ville and strolling through Palais Royal, Jardin du Tuilleries, etc. From Villa Montabord, a bus stop just across the street and a Metro station only a block away means easy transport. Around the B&B there are also heaps of restaurants, bars, fruit and vege shops, and supermarkets, so you are spoilt for food choices if you ever need a rest from exploring the City of Lights.

Like that will ever happen.

Villa Montabord, I will be back soon, please.

Villa Montabord
3, Cité des Fleurs

Paris 75015
+33 6 14 88 74 06

Friday, 29 May 2015

My favourite person

I'm going to see another favourite person this week. It's been so long since the last time we've seen each other, I'm so excited/nervous that I couldn't get any decent sleep last night. Weeeeeeee!

Monday, 25 May 2015

April showers bring May flowers

Happy Birth-month!
I have been appalling at keeping up with this blog ever since my move to London. I am so sorry!! By now I have my room for the brief stay here, but have also been travelling constantly. For my birthday, I have been lucky enough to fly over to Spain for a week, to spend some time relaxing in the sunny Barcelona and Madrid. It was not my first times there, I had already been four years ago, but it was interesting to revisit the cities and see how they - and I - have changed.
 
Barcelona is still a cool city, though my first impression of it had not been so nice. Third time round, I still admire all the Gaudì's works, his bold and naïve imaginations, his strong link with nature, his sense of colour. Then there is the darker side of Barcelona, the old gothic side, which is equally fascinating. It was this dark side that had lured me to Barcelona in the first place, after all.
 
The highlight of the Madrid visit was definitely Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. I can't get over the dense complexity of this triptych. It's mind boggling how much detail has gone into this fascinating work, so sci fi that seems so utterly modern and still bizarre enough now as it must have been then. What was going inside your head as you drew these half human forms, Hieronymus?!
 
There was a small present in a box. There was a tiny cake, uneaten, on my actual birthday. I treated myself a pair of heels with bows. But my birthday celebration, stretched out over the space of one special week, was so good. I am overly grateful to have spent it with my loving parents, who came all the way over to Europe to see me. It had been too long! Thank you so much. Thank you for making me possible, thank you for raising me to be who I am today, thank you for always being there for me. I love you so much.
 
My birth month is almost, but not quite, over. One more week, and I get to see my other favourite person. The perfect last birthday present. Thank you for making my birth month so special.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Moving to a new city - London

I am in London on a short term stint before returning home to NZ in July. Here is a step-by-step process on how I settled down in a (yet another) new city.

---
  • Buy flight tickets - your arrival date is set
Which airline? Which airport? Which transportation option into city?
  • Start looking for accommodation
Book the first week at a friend's place, if you're lucky, or hostel/Airbnb. Research the areas you would like to live in your new city, then arrange as many house visits as possible in those areas in the first three days. Upon recommendations from friends, the Internet - Gumtree, spareroom.co.uk, FB groups - and office location, I chose Islington. I wanted to stay in zone 1-2, close to supermarkets and transportation options to my hangouts, central city, in/out of airports and Eurostar. This gets immensely easier if you have at least the first ten days free of any commitments.
  • Last week before leaving, start packing. 
Do you really need that? Give away or sell unwanted things. Say your goodbyes. Buy some favourites you will miss, and as thank you presents for your hosts in the new city. 
  • On day of travel. 
Don't forget to take out any sharp objects from your carry on. Don't forget to carry some local currency in cash, chargers and adapter, screenshots of important documentations. Leave early or on time. Better early than late! Missing your bus/tram/train and/or flights is not much fun. I've been there. You've got your passport on you, right?
  • First week in the new city, get your essentials. 
Sim card, bank account (after you've sorted your aforementioned accommodation). Transport - bike, metro card? Loyalty card to your new supermarket - shampoo, toothbrush, etc? Do some sightseeing in your city and neighbourhood to get used to your new surroundings. I usually come prepared with a list of things to see, cafes to try out, must eat dishes. The hunt for a new local haunt begins. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Weekend trip: French train trip

We are on our way down South from Paris to Bordeaux. In our train coach everyone is in a tired slumber while the rain beats past our fast moving carriage. Everyone except some young kids who won't go to sleep just behind my dad, who can't fall asleep with their chatter.

All I hear is people deep breathing and the big black lady next to me lightly snoring with her eyes half shut and dad sighing in exasperation from the lack and want of sleep, from time to time. Poor daddy, still jetlagged from the long flights from the other side of the world. Wait until you get your grandchildren visiting you for the holidays. Though that won't be for a great long while.

We pass greenness after greenness on grey canvas of wet drizzles. These lush plains are the French countryside I know and love. I have spent recent weeks travelling around Italy and the UK, and coming back, I realise just how much France feels home to me. The kids chatter are familiar, the train system is familiar, there is no time wasted trying to figure out each coloured coin's worth at counters.

I just showed my parents around my old street from four years ago. My old Metro stop has cleaned up. It has blue lights now. There are shops on 'my' street I don't remember. The scary church with the weird Michael Jackson memorial apparently is no longer a church. It has shut down, its cross taken down. Coming back to a place that once used to be home, and seeing it with a different eye, aged eye, experienced eye, is a weird experience. I think I crossed an old acquaintance at my old supermarket. Should I have said hi? Maybe she wouldn't have recognised me, any way.

Slumbering in and out of consciousness towards Bordeaux. In a few years' time, this little city I learnt to love will surely have changed, too. The next time I will have come back and see it in a different eye, at my old neighbourhood that is still as familiar as it is newly unfamiliar. Not just yet, though..
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