gamiila: (taxis)
I've always thought of myself as fairly well-travelled...but when I look at the map and the places I've been, I feel humbled at the realisation and awed at the prospect of what's still out there for me, currently unexplored, to discover.

visited 26 states (11.5%)
Create your own visited map of The World

and here's where I've been in the USA: )

Next, I really, really, really want to visit Iceland...but I'll probably head off to the UK again before too long.

plus, that voice meme everyone's been doing )
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Woke up this morning and the world was white...and to my surprise, it's still white this evening. Of course, it means all public transport has ground to a halt. It never ceases to amaze me how badly equipped we Dutch are at dealing with adverse weather conditions. Honestly, one snowflake is enough to plunge our roads and railways into chaos.

Getting home yesterday was murder. I don't think it was the weather although it was bitterly cold so it might have been, but there were delays and cancellations and getting from Schiphol to The Hague took me as much time as it took me to travel from England to The Netherlands in the first place. This didn't help improve my mood. I was fuming. Despite my having arrived at Luton airport the recommended 2 hours before my flight's scheduled departure time, the plane almost left without me. All because of the incompetence of easyJet's ground staff who, even with 10 check-in desks open, still couldn't process the crowds quickly enough (here's a thought: why don't they install the kind of do it yourself check-in machines you see at other airports? Or dedicate seperate desks to travellers without any luggage?) and as for the security you know they no longer provide passengers with clear plastic bags they insist you drop your liquids in? Nooooooooo - they sell them to you now, at the inflated price of £1! And, they confiscate any container with a content over 100 ml. So they took my newly purchased conditioning solution for my contacts, and then oh so helpfully suggested I purchase another exactly the same from the Boots in the departure lounge! Now how does that help combat terrorism? Unfortunately, by then I was so pissed off I may have muttered something under my breath, and got detained by a few jumped-up little toads spluttering with indignation at my lack of respect for them and their stupid rules, as they set themselves the task of examining every item in my hold-all. They didn't like the look of my housekeys, but they couldn't very well impound them, so they fixed on the converter I'd brought because continental plugs won't plug into UK power points without one. It has, of necessity, 3 metal prongs and I suppose you could, at a pinch, make it connect painfully with someone's (preferably an airport security guard's) face...but in the end they let me have that back, too. Luckily, they never discovered my metal nail file in its secret compartment...I'm sure I'd have been in real trouble if they had! They were wheeling the stairs away from the plane when they finally allowed me to proceed to the gate, and I was the last passenger boarding.

I came home to a cold flat, to find that the batteries on the remote had gone flat. I'll have to remember to get some new ones this weekend.
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I'm off to London in a minute...well, 45 to be exact. Right now I'm at Schiphol, my favourite airport in the world, mainly because it's so well-organised. The amenities may be sparse, but at least they're very well signposted.

I haven't made any hard and fast plans, but then I'm only staying on till day after tomorrow. I may take in a show or a play tonight (Damien Lewis, Keira Knightley and Tara Fitzgerald star at the Comedy Theatre), or I may just stay in and read a book. Tomorrow though, is the big event: Depeche Mode at the O2! I'm meeting [ profile] bogwitch for that, and to say I'm looking forward to it, is an understatement.

It's not been a good year for gigs for me, this 2009 that's drawing to a close. With me having started in a new job in the closing weeks of the previous year, for the first six months of it I didn't have many holidays accrued; and then of course, the boys didn't make it over here, and David...well, his dates were posted too late in the day for me to arrange for time off. Hopefully next year will offer me more and better opportunities.

Anyway, I'd better go and get the security check over and done with. See yous!
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I know it's been far too long since I've updated, and I'm ashamed to say it's been equally long since I've checked in to see how any of my friends here have been doing. When my Internet failed at home, I thought I'd soon remedy the situation by throwing money at it...and it was then that I found out my financial situation was a lot less rosey than I had previously assumed. Bills kept coming in and in the end, the money I'd set aside for the purchase of a laptop had to be used on maintenance charges on the flat instead. It turned out the painters had miscalculated their original quote at the beginning of the year, and us flat owners each had to cough up an extra bit of cash or they would walk off the job. Unfortunately this means that two months on, I'm still without a connection. I'm typing this entry up on my phone, but it's far from ideal.

Anyhow, I got back from a short stay in Berlin two days ago, and I felt like jotting down a few words on the subject. It was my third visit to the city in recent years, and I feel like I'm getting to know it pretty well. This is in part due to my travelling companion M., who never leaves home without an itinerary worked out to the last detail. To my mind, this can be both a blessing and a curse: it's good to have some sort of plan of what to see and how to get to what you want to go and see, but...I don't like to be ruled by plans. As far as I'm concerned, they should be more like guidelines, to be deviated from if and when circumstances (and my mood) change. M., unfortunately, doesn't agree; and so, after four or five days, I could barely bring myself to be civil to him. I remember rebelling on the fourth day, saying I didn't care what programme he had planned for the day, I was gonna go shopping...and then getting really stroppy when his response was that if I really really wanted to, perhaps I could, if we timed it right, and if he could tweak our itinerary just so, possibly maybe have half an hour in KaDeWe at the end of the day. He's suggested I take him to see New York next time, but if he thinks I'm taking him across the pond, he's got another think coming. It's bad enough being miserable on my own continent, thank you very much; I don't need the same hassle on another.

Other than that, we got along fine (well, we have been friends for like 15 years or something), and I did get to see some interesting parts of the city where I hadn't been before, like Tempelhof, the old airport that closed last year. They're doing guided tours round it now, and our guide, an old man who had spent all his working days there, took us to see all the nooks and crannies. The stories he told were amazing, full of personal detail and very informative.

We also, on this occasion, paid a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I wasn't sure I wanted to go at first, but I'm glad I did. No matter how much you think you know about Nazi atrocities, no history lesson can ever quite make you imagine what it must have been like than to see the desolate place where some of these took place. Also, I was surprised to learn that after the war, the Soviets took over the camp and ran it as a facility for their undesirables for a number of years, and people continued to live and die there under appalling conditions. All this, of course, was swept under the carpet during the period of the GDR.

Speaking of which, I really enjoyed going round the tiny DDR museum (which hadn't been included in M.'s itinerary initially, but I threw another hissy fit)...the mind boggles how people could put up with a regime that couldn't even provide them with a decent cup of coffee and forced them to wear nothing but man-made fibres for forty years before they lost patience and tore down the Wall...And then there was a very interesting exhibition on the Bauhaus in the Martin-Gropius-Bau that we saw.

But the brilliant thing about Berlin, to me, is the vibrancy of the place. Even when it's grey and wet like it was last week, the place feels alive, and welcoming. The people are nice and friendly, and the food they serve is tasty and wholesome and (compared to Dutch prices), cheap. Yeah, I like Berlin; but next visit, I'm going on my own.
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I came back from a short stay in Switzerland last night, and today I'm taking it easy...have to really, as the unfamiliar Swiss terrain has left me with very muscle-achey lower legs. I spent the last four days in and around Zurich, which I'd never visited before but which I've gotten to find my way around quite well considering I only spent less than a week there. It's quite a pleasant little town, verdant and green, but quiet and a bit on the boring side...which ties in neatly with my impression of Switzerland on the whole. No wonder my friend, whose husband's job got relocated there, is climbing up the walls of their gorgeous penthouse apartment overlooking the Zürisee, missing the life she had in London up until a year ago. Things are getting better though as she's getting better acquainted with her new surroundings, but her career as an installation artist which in England was just taking off has been put on hold now that she's in Switzerland where she doesn't have the contacts, and there doesn't seem to be much of an art scene around anyway. She has taken up pottery though, but more on that later.

I arrived on Whitmonday, to a town that appeared to be devoid of people. Even things at the airport were quiet, with maybe just a few hundred people arriving and taking off. Bobby came to meet me off the plane while his good lady wife did some shopping for vegetables in the airport supermarket, the only place open on this Christian holiday which they, being Jewish, had totally forgotten about. Luckily, they'd just spent a romantic weekend in Venice and brought back a few kosher sausages and bits of cheese as a souvenir or we wouldn't have had anything to eat that first night of my stay. After I'd had a chance to inspect and admire their new home, we took the dog for a walk in the mountains surrounding Zurich, and then later wandered into town to see Coco Avant Chanel in one of the local cinemas. I didn't rate the film much, but Anneke and Bobby seemed to enjoy it, so I took care not to critique it too harshly afterwards.

The next day, Anneke took me into town to show me the major shopping area (Bahnhofstrasse and the streets and alleyways leading off it) and take me to lunch in Hiltl's, which I would recommend to anyone looking for a midday meal in Zurich. Their vegetarian buffet service is absolutely delicious and if I had a Hiltl here, I'd go there every day. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the touristy parts of the Altstadt on my own before visiting the Kunsthaus, a rather modest local museum which houses a few Giacomettis (unfortunately, I'd just missed a bigger exhibition of his work), a Rembrandt, a couple of Brueghels and quite a lot of Hodler, which given that he was a local artist didn't surprise me at all. What did surprise, or rather, shock me was the current exhibition of the work of a contemporary installation artist - though most of it was innocuous enough, the pièce-de-résistance consisted of the dead body of a cat, cut in half and smeared with black paint. When I told Anneke about it, she told me she didn't get it either when she saw it. I'm sure you've all heard of Damian Hirst and his cow, but this was nothing like that. It was just tasteless and crass, and doesn't deserve the appellation of art. We made pizza for dinner and watched a silly German film on TV before going to our bedrooms.

On the third morning of my stay, we took the car and drove to Einsiedeln where we visited a factory that produces the raw materials needed in pottery making, i.e. types of clay and glazes as well as kilns, tools and pottery wheels. This because Anneke has recently taken up pottery as a new creative outlet, taking lessons from a pottery maker in Zurich. However, she'd told me that all her recent attempts at firing her creations had failed so far, even when she had followed her teacher's instructions to the letter, and she couldn't understand why. So I mentioned this to the experts at the factory and they soon told me the reason: the kiln temperature my friend's teacher had proscribed for the types of clay and glazes were far too high, while some types of glazes were used on clays that were unsuitable. It all sounded like pretty basic stuff to me, but Anneke just couldn't understand why her teacher would purposely be giving her the wrong information. Me, I would have demanded my tuition back and either gone it alone or found another teacher, but Anneke is going to share the new insights, and the clays and glazes she purchased in the factory shop, with this Mrs. Whateverhernameis..."because she has been a great help to my German", she said.

We went for a long hike in the mountains around Einsiedeln that afternoon. The scenery is stunning, picture postcard perfect, but the slopes are steep and two days later, I can still feel it in my legs. Then when we got back to Zurich, we drove over to the Lindt factory outlet shop, where I bought enough quality Swiss chocolate (75%, 80% and even 99% dark chocolate!) to last me till the end of the year against a fraction of the price it would have cost me in the shops. Still, me, I was quite modest leaving the shop with my one carrier bag full of chocolatey goodness, compared to the party of American tourists who left with shopping-trolley-loads-full, justifying their purchase to everyone they met in the parking lot with the glaringly obvious statement of "We like chocolate".

I concluded my stay in Switzerland with a little trip to Basel the following morning/early afternoon, as both Bobby and Anneke had assured me it was much more vibrant than Zurich. And perhaps it is, if you know where to go. Personally, I found it dull as dishwater, so I went back to Zurich, bought a little statuette I'd seen Anneke admire a few days earlier and left it as a thankyou in one of their bathrooms, collected my stuff and took the S-Bahn to the airport. On the plane back, the staff did not forget to serve the passengers their complimentary chocolate; an oversight on my flight out that had prompted my hosts discussing the composition of an angry letter to the airline on my and my fellow passengers behalf.
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In a meeting at work this morning, I got singled out for special praise by management. It came as a complete, but very welcome surprise. Of course, I knew they were happy with my contribution to the team in the last 6 months, or they wouldn't have offered to extend my contract a couple of weeks back (I signed on the dotted line yesterday), but I never expected to be put up on a pedestal in front of all my co-workers at 10am on an ordinary Thursday morning. It was nice, though.

I've been receiving a lot of compliments lately, mostly from black men and women and all about my bum. I don't know what's up with that, but I do find it rather amusing.

Recently, a friend of mine has moved from London to Kilchberg, just outside Zurich; so I'm sure you can guess my next holiday destination? That's right, I'm off to Switzerland in two weeks time. Earlier this week, I realised that with my holidays coming up, I'd neglected to book anywhere and I didn't know what I could do to remedy that situation. Until, that is, I hit on the idea of inviting myself over there, and she's just e-mailed me back to say she'd love for me to come and stay for a bit. I'm quite looking forward to going; I've never been to Switzerland before...although that's not entirely true; I spent a day in Lausanne some 25 years ago -- quite a traumatic time for me, as I recall...My then boyfriend and I had gone on a 6-week camping holiday in France, and one day when we had pitched our tents (literally, we had two small ones that we set up to form one big(ger) one) in Evian-les-Bains, we decided to drive across the border in our old, battered, apple-green 2-chevaux that had just the day before developed a worrying rattle in the exhaust; a deafening noise that got amplified by the mountains around us. We were nearing the end of our holiday, which meant that my hair looked a fright and my clothes were all crumpled. Anyway, we got to Switzerland and Lausanne, and the streets were so clean! and the houses in such good repair (as opposed to France where everything's ramshackle)! and the people all looked so immaculately groomed! I got an instant inferiority complex and begged my boyfriend to take me back over the border to where the paint was peeling from the houses and the people looked as grubby as he and I, and after a few hours, he complied.

So now I'm going back there -- well, Zurich. I'm hoping it's got a different vibe, but I'll pack my neatest clothes and niftiest toiletries just in case.
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When I said the hotel we stayed in was a dive, I was thinking more of the tired decor, the worn carpets, the torn curtains, the cracked tiles in the bathroom, and the clogged up toilet 'for hotel guests only' off the lobby downstairs...but it seems there was something I overlooked while I was there.

I had noticed I'd been a little itchy lately, but it wasn't until I went into a department store dressing room this afternoon to try on a new outfit for work, that I saw the numerous red bitemarks on my arms, legs, neck and back that I started to put two and two together. I don't know why I didn't see it earlier, but I think I've been offering myself up as an all-you-can-eat buffet for bed bugs in recent days.

And now I just can't stop scratching. It's driving me mad!
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Just got back from New York. Too pooped to say much about it, except that I had a brilliant time, and my one regret is that despite us turning up real early as advised by the organizers, the ice on The Pond in Bryant Park just flat-out refused to stay frozen long enough for anyone to tie on their skates and be allowed out on it...but other than that -- BRILLIANT!

holiday snaps )

Poor baby

Oct. 20th, 2008 01:01 pm
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Manasse has been vomiting since Friday night. It's not food he throws up; neither is it plants or hairballs. Mostly it's just a clear liquid, and quite a lot of it...He does this about 4 or 5 times a day, and 1 or 2 times at night. He's got me really worried, also because I can see he's feeling nauseous (he's smacking his lips and swallowing like cats do when they don't feel well, and meows plaintively just before the heaving starts -- which is good, because it allows me just enough time to pick him up and carry him to the linoleum in the kitchen). Wouldn't you know it? My cat gets ill just before I'm due to go off on a city break to New York...

Still, that's not the worst of it. I've been out of work for 3 months, have not been able to claim benefit, and am now really starting to feel the pinch. Of course, I will start earning again soon, but until my first paycheck comes through at the end of next month, money is going to be extremely tight.

I had to stop by the vet's this morning to pick up the special diet foods both Leila and Manasse require (KER-CHING!), and hoping they could give me some helpful hints described my baby's symptoms...but of course they're not in the business of handing out free advice and so I'm taking him in this afternoon for a proper examination. I do want him to get well again, but I wish he could have picked another, less strapped-for-cash moment.

As it is, I'm seriously questioning the wisdom of going to New York while skint and worrying about my moggie's health, but when all's said and done, the tickets are bought and paid for, it's only a couple of days, and if I have to be skint anywhere, I'd rather be skint but having a ball over there than skint and stuck in the same old rut here.


ETA: 16:07pm - Back from the vet. Somehow, in the last year and without my noticing it, Manasse has picked up a heart murmur, bad teeth, and a mysterious thickening of his stomach lining. For now, he's been given a jab, sundry pills, and a new diet, while I have been given instructions to administer the tablets 5 times a day, with some of the food, starting...immediately; there's not a moment to waste!

I came out on top in the wrestling match that ensued (my hands are in tatters, but the first pill went down his gullet eventually), but he's spat out the food and sits in a corner glowering at me. The vet wants a full update on the situation tomorrow, and for us to come back in to have an ultrasound done later in the week.
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Berlin is quite an easy city to get around in. You buy a week ticket at the Kundenzentrum in the new and shiny Hauptbahnhof, validate it once, and can then get on the Strassenbahn, S-Bahn and U-Bahn, which seem to run continuously and always on time, without a second thought. There are no portals, and no rummaging in bags or riffling through pockets to find the blasted thing and gain access -- you just get on and get on with it. It's pretty relaxed, and that's my overriding impression of the the city as well.

Prices in Berlin are pretty relaxed, too; esp. in the former East-Berlin, where a slap-up meal for two including dessert and coffee set us back around 35 euros, and lunch frequently cost no more than a tenner.

I like Berlin. It's not as vibrant or as busy as London, Paris or New York, but it's got its own, uniquely pleasant, atmosphere. And there's loads and loads to see. On the last full day of my trip for instance, I visited the Babylon Mythos Und Wahrheit exhibition in the Pergamon Museum, which I would advise anyone to take in if they have a chance. You never saw so many Mesopotamian artefacts together, top pieces from all the most prestigious collections in the world, from the Ishtar Gate to the Codex Hammurabi, and several scale models of E-temen-an-ki, as well as statues and everyday objects.

also... )

I also met and spent an evening in the company of the lovely [ profile] scatterheart, which helped make this visit a complete success.
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A friend of mine called first thing this morning, and asked if I fancied accompanying him on a trip to Berlin. His previous travel companion had had to cancel, and now he had an extra train ticket going spare. I thought about it for a split second, but really, what was there to think about? Woo-hoo, I'm going to hit the road again!

I'll be in Berlin from the 17th till the 21st.

The next call was from Diageo. They gave me a thorough grilling over the phone, then ended the interview by inviting me up to Amsterdam to take part in the next stage: an assessment round (IQ tests and role play). Looks like this is going to be one of those lengthy application processes...
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So, the Friday before last I slept in, got up, went into town, bought shoes, and met up with [ profile] anonypooh in time for a late lunch (of loaded chips and chilli) in Leicester Sq. Then we went off to buy her a new pair of jeans in Miss Sixty, stopping to take in a charming French street artist's performance in Covent Garden on the way. Back to my hotel to freshen up and drop off/collect our things, and out again to meet up with [ profile] freakspawn at Euston, and off to the pub for drinks and a chat.

Before long it was time to make our way into Camden, where the venue was a tiny basement in a pub called The Constitution. The kitchen had closed by the time we got there, so after greeting [ profile] quietychaotic and [ profile] deborahw37 who were already there enjoying a fag in the garden, we went back out again in search of some takeaway grub, which the landlord kindly permitted us to bring back in once we'd found it (hmmm, yummy kebab for me, and chips for my companions). It got a bit chilly and so we went in. By this time, our numbers had swelled to an 11, as [ profile] justanotherkj, [ profile] mezzerb, [ profile] love_by_137 and [ profile] miss_fairfax and two of her flatmates had also arrived on the scene. Shortly afterwards, the musicians arrived as well, and when DB came over for a pre-gig chat, I asked him if he'd take requests. "Sure, what would you like to hear?" he said, and I indicated that KJ had one. She'd been much impressed with his cover of DCfC's I Will Follow You Into The Dark and requested that. David wasn't sure Jordan could play it and asked if we were going to be at his Monday night gig. I hated having to admit I wouldn't, and he said he'd see what could be done. And so they played it later that evening, to the delight of all assembled.

As I said, the venue was tiny, and we were easily the biggest group of fans of any one artist there. Originally, there had been 4 bands on the bill, but the first one up had had to cancel and so it was DB and Jordan who started the evening off. They played a really good set of 7 or 8 songs, and then it was all over...for me, at least, and I suddenly felt so tired that instead of going on an intended pub crawl with Jules & Lorna (in the end, they went to a noodle bar instead), I went back to the hotel and straight to bed.

The next morning, after sorting out my Sunday morning stupid o'clock travel arrangements, I went over to Muswell Hill where Jules and Lorna had stayed the night. We had a (second) breakfast at a greasy spoon and then spent the entire day outside, exploring Highgate Wood, Highgate Village and Highgate Cemetery, where we discovered the tombs of Karl Marx and George Elliott quite by accident (we were too tight to buy a map or go on a guided tour). Never having been to that part of London before, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how leafy and airy it is, and the views are just amazing. If ever in a future life I come back as a Londoner, I want to live in Muswell Hill. Which probably means I want to make sure I come back loaded as well, as a quick glance in an estate agent's window taught me that property prices are well above my present life's earnings...

I left London on the 6.02am train to Bedford, and got home around noon. Phooey!
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The problem with holidays is, they tend to be over too quickly. Especially when you've only booked a week off and on your last day in the office, your manager approaches you with an offer that on the face of it seems enticing, but that you won't have a chance to investigate, sort out the pros and cons, or all the legal and financial ramifications; let alone check out the job market, because you're supposed to be doing something else somewhere else. Now I'm going to have to go back into work tomorrow, and will have even less of a chance to reach an informed decision.

David's Thursday night show had been cancelled, but lucky for me, something called the City Showcase meant he had a gig that afternoon in the Hugo Boss store in Carnaby St instead. I spent the morning window shopping for shoes (what else?) in Oxford St, checked into my hotel around 1pm; then after receiving a text from Jules that told me she was on her way to the venue, made it there in time to witness the arrival of DB and Jordan. They'd played in Paris the night before and Jordan said the tour so far had been exhausting. Still, he looked perky enough. David had been having some problems with his voice earlier in the week, but thought it was back up to 40%, and besides, he said, what he'd lost in range he'd gained in raspiness, and he said it as if it were swings and roundabouts. Jules turned up soon after, and we went for a spot of lunch while the band set up. The City Showcase involved several artists performing in various shops up and down the Carnaby St area, but I can't tell if this is a regular thing or not. Funnily enough, the presence of a singer in the store seemed to act as a deterrant to people to cross the threshold and browse for clothes or make a purchase, so as an experiment it may not have been entirely successful from the point of view of the shopkeepers.

instore concert )

In the end, they played to about 20 people, none of whom purchased any suits, but many did buy DB's cds, including myself as he and Jordan had recorded an EP just before coming out on this tour. When he asked if there were any requests, I asked for Boxes, which seemed to please him; he believes it's one of his more accomplished songs, and yet it doesn't make the set list, or gets requested, all that often. Which I think is a shame as it's one of my favourite songs from his After The Wrecking Ships-album. Which is still the last studio album...when oh when will Strange Light finally be released?

After the gig, Jules, her friend KJ and I headed over to the Tate Modern to see the gigantic murals on display there, and I finally had that 99 with flake I'd been promising myself for years, though at £2 I did think it was a bit pricey. Then KJ went off to blag her way into a TV studio audience, while Jules and I had fish and chips and mushy peas on board the Queen Mary. Here I was introduced to my new favourite tipple: Brothers' Strawberry & Pear Cider. It smells revoltingly sweet, tastes really sweet to begin with too, but drinks like lemonade once you've had a sip or two. [ profile] bogwitch, dare I ask: have you tried it yet, or is it too much of a party drink for your choice?

And then I went to the theatre to see Avenue Q, which came highly recommended by Jules, and it really was a hoot from start to finish. If any of you haven't seen it, which I don't suppose is the case as you're all much more clued up about these things than I, it's like Sesame Street for grown-ups. The jokes are corny, the songs are catchy, and the story (if there is one) very simple and a little bit preachy, and overall, it makes for a fantastic night out.

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Went to work, had a long conversation with Jobsworth in which he showed himself susceptible to reason, laid tentative plans with one of my colleagues to go see Wicked in December, and booked a hotel room for my stay in London next month.

All in all, not a bad day, really.
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The electrician has just left, doubled over in mirth. Turns out all the electrical failures I'd been experiencing in the home in the last month were due to the fact that I'd inadvertently flipped a switch I shouldn't have, and it took him exactly 0.06 seconds to find the problem and correct it.

Oh well.

I've booked my tickets to fly to London at the beginning of next month, but I can only make it to David's Thursday and Friday gigs in the capital, which is a bit of a bummer but better than no gigs at all. After that, there'll be a tediously long summer of all work and no play so as I can actually afford my trip to New York in October. Let's hope the dollar won't miraculously recover before that time.
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For our last day in Paris, we gave up on sight-seeing and cultural pursuits in favour of some serious shopping, which my sister and I both love to do but to which we both have different styles of approach. Monique is a bargain-hunter and goes for quantity, whereas I tend to go for quality and am less concerned with price tags. I do like a bargain as much as the next woman though, and will be forever grateful to my sister for dragging me into C&A, a chain I usually abhor, where I found a mock-military style (think Adam Ant) leather coat at an absurdly reasonable price. After several hours of traipsing through the isles of Zara and H&M and Bershka, where she bought tons of clothes for herself and for my niece, I finally persuaded her to allow me half an hour on the 5th floor of Au Printemps: heaven, or as it's more prosaically known, the shoe department.

Monique's frugality had by then rubbed off on me, and I bought only one pair, from the lower end of the price range. They're actually in that picture: the pink & grey wedges in the foreground.

We ended our day sunning ourselves and eating pancakes in the Jardins des Tuileries, and the next morning boarded our bus for the 7 hour drive home, with a 45 minute break in Brussels.

Romeo, enjoying a bowl of pasta on a bench in Brussels
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The third day of our stay in Paris, and the weather had changed to a beautiful spring day with loads of sunshine. First item on our agenda was a visit to the Eiffel Tower, where the queues were enormous. It took us an hour to get to the front of the queue, where a scuffle broke out when a Rumanian man decided to jump it and then made matters worse by trying to bribe his way in. He was then ignominiously marched off the premises.

After the Eiffel Tower, we paid a visit to the Dome des Invalides, where we could view the tomb of Napoleon

see more... )

but where the adjoining museum was closed due to refurbishment. One item had been brought into the Dome, though, the Emperor's hat and coat:

We had come by a little jewellery shop on the way from the Eiffel Tower to the Dome des Invalides, and had gone in to take a closer look at some of the pieces. My sister quickly decided that she wasn't going to buy anything and quit the shop, but I had got talking to the owner who showed me some pendants and rings that she had recently made of amber. Now I love amber, and have always wanted to own a piece. And that's how I came to acquire

this ring )

We ended our tour of the city in my sister's favourite department store, Galéries Lafayette

and took pizza back to the hotel.

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Day 2 dawned grey and chilly, but dry. As May 1st is a public holiday in France, none of the shops or museums were open, so we'd decided on a leisurely morning of wandering around Père Lachaise cemetery, followed by a leisurely afternoon in the Bois de Vincennes, which we knew houses a botanical garden and a zoo.

Because of Labour Day, we couldn't get a map of where to find all the graves of famous people, and there weren't any crowds to follow, so we just took a left here and a right there, and found both Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison's graves quite by accident.

Père Lachaise )

We went on to the Bois de Vincennes after lunch, but we didn't stay there for very long, as a creepy man followed us all about. We probably could have dealt with him if he'd tried anything funny, if my sister hadn't chosen that time to start regaling us to stories of women having been murdered and in one case partially eaten, then buried in the Bois de Boulogne some years ago. My niece and I decided caution is the better part of valour, and beat a hasty retreat back to Vincennes and the nearest patisserie.

Back at the hotel, we dined on strawberries that we'd bought at a local market; and then went back out again to take in the view of Paris by night from the top of Tour Montparnasse.

Paris sunset

The Eiffel tower as seen from Tour Montparnasse

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You'd think I'd never been abroad before...Leaving home, I made the stupidest mistake ever: I left my passport behind. I only noticed when I was en route to the station, and with half an hour to spare, I appealed to the charitable nature of a taxi driver on one of their busiest and most lucrative nights of the year, begging him to take me back home, wait for me to run up and get my passport, and take me back to the station again. Typically, the bastard didn't have much of a charitable nature to speak of; he took the opportunity to extort 30 euros in fare that would normally have cost under 10 (I live 5 minutes from the bloody station!). Meanwhile, my sister had the job of holding up our mode of transport until I got there.

Since this was 20 minutes late in coming, she didn't have too arduous a task.

We arrived in Paris in the early morning hours of April 30th, had a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee/hot chocolate at the international bus station, travelled on to Pigalle, found our hotel, and as check-in wasn't until 2pm and we weren't even halfway through the morning, left our luggage there while we ventured into town without any set purpose. We bought a guide to 'unknown places of interest' such as the Museum of Skin Diseases which I'm sure we would have visited if my niece hadn't vetoed the idea on account of her weak stomach, and Le Phallus Géant, which became something of a running gag throughout our stay. The weather wasn't particularly nice, but it was mostly dry and we were in our best holiday spirit, so it didn't affect us...much.

Eventually, we did seek sanctuary from the elements in McDonalds, which in the Champs-Elysées branch at least serves delicious coffees and pastries as well as fastfood.

Fortified, we walked from there to the top of Blvd Haussmann and down along it to Printemps, my favourite of the Paris department stores, stopping off to shelter from the rain in Monoprix where Romeo was overjoyed to find Dragonball-Z and Ben-10 cards that are guaranteed to be the envy of his classmates for the simple fact that apparently, you can't get them in Holland. Or not these ones, anyway. So we got him those cards and a Pokémon starter pack, and his trip was made.

We had a fabulous lunch in the sous la Coupolle-restaurant in Printemps, where our waitress made a few minor mistakes and explaining that it hadn't been her day all day and that she would have done better to stay in bed, offered us coffee on the house.

We checked into our hotel around 4pm, dozed in our room for a few hours, and then went out to pick and mix our dinner from the various traiteurs dotted around our neighbourhood, taking it all back to feast on in our room.

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Last night, I went to a performance of Nabucco by the National Opera Company of Tatarstan in Amsterdam. Allan had gotten us a pair of tickets as a spur of the moment kind of thing: he saw the billboard, realised he'd never in all his 42 years gone to the opera and despite the fact that he never listens to anything other than R&B, decided he really wanted to broaden his horizons, imbibe a bit of culture, and go. Of course, he didn't want to go alone and that's how I got to go as well.

We had quite an enjoyable evening; although at almost two-and-a-half hours Nabucco does take its time, there's enough going on to keep your attention on the stage. I have no idea who the soloists were or how highly they rate in the world of opera, but we liked hearing them, and so must the rest of the audience have done as it gave them a standing ovation at the end of the performance. The orchestra, the singers, the sets -- it was all good and I'm glad I went.

Going to the opera wasn't all that Allan and I did yesterday, though. Earlier that afternoon, we walked into a travel agent's and booked ourselves that trip to New York we've been talking about for months. We leave Oct 23rd, so we've got ample time to decide what we want to do once we get there.

Incidentally, this is my 1,250th journal entry. It's taken me almost 5 years to reach this number...and who could have thunk I ever would all those years ago? Not I! I've chosen to mark the occasion by changing my moodtheme from Doctor Who to The Gene Genie, courtesy of [ profile] radiogaga80.


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December 2012

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