A Tale of Three Cities

Bless me for I have been neglectful – it’s been a month since my last post!

Dear oh dear, there’s no excuse! Time has just simply run away on me. I have been up to my eyes though, in my defence. A trip away, some D.I.Y. and a new job to boot.

D.I.Y is a bit of a misnomer for us, considering we D.I.Y. and then un-D.I.Y. on account of our having to learn on the job and then realising what we did wrong and then having to re-do-it-ourselves (R.D.I.O.) However – we try! And that always deserves cake!

The new job has taken up a lot of headspace. When you live in a country where you need to learn the lingo, the slightest task can mean a whole plethora of new vocabulary. So the brain is a little more tired everyday. And there is the new routine of working hours, childcare, paperwork and the simplest tasks, like doing the laundry, can seem like an international logistics operation. I am getting there, slowly but surely!

As for the trip away, well that was a few weeks ago, and only for an all too fleeting weekend, but it was a treat- movie size!

I jetted off, for the hen weekend (bachelorette party) of one of my oldest partners in crime Miss F. Most trips outside of France mean a train ride to Paris. I generally fly with a low-cost airline that flies from Beauvais (1 hour from Paris). I haven’t travelled a huge amount in my lifetime, so I still get ridiculously happy when I’m clutching a ticket to anywhere in my hand. I am also one of those daydreamers who is more than happy to sit on a plane, train or automobile on my own. I could stare out the window for hours. If I have a piece of paper to scribble on I’m only delighted! If I have a list to compile this can give me endless entertainment, and don’t get me started on maps or city plans! They are joy itself (I think I actually should have been a surveyor, but I didn’t even know it was a job when college courses were being talked about!)

So, off I went, all on my own, comme une grande, as they say here.

I quite enjoy travelling alone. I love travelling with my family too, but when I’m alone, I enjoy the process of keeping my own rhythm, and fending for myself. I suppose I am a bit of a “little red hen.”

So, first stop was Gare de Lyon, in Paris. I knew I was going to be starting the new job upon my return, so I knew I would need a few presentable items of clothing. Country living over here doesn’t exactly require me to be chic ‘n’ shiny, and let’s just say that shopping for clothes is a slight challenge for me! I had six hours before my flight, so I thought that was plenty of time to get a couple of wardrobe staples.

Now things don’t always go to plan for me, some of you may be aware of that! Cue ghost town! Paris ghost town! I had failed to notice that I was travelling on a bank holiday and there was pretty much only me, a few cats, and a handful of straggly pigeons rattling around each other in the city of light. Nothing open. Wonderful start!

Ok then – what was I going to do now! Well strike me down if I wasn’t going to make the most of my weekend freedom. I decided to go for a long walk towards the city centre. I set off towards the Marais area. This was the heart of old Paris, where the lively food halls used to be, and the rough n ready element of the city. The very impressive Hotel de Ville (city hall) still winks at the passerby from it’s vantage point on the quays of the Seine.

I almost always find something to read to keep me going, and this blustery morning didn’t disappoint. There was an outdoor exhibition, recounting the stories of French women who played key roles in the Resistance. It was a beautifully put together exhibition. Each story on it’s own board, fixed to the railings of the city hall. I came away feeling humbled. Courage is a word that I wish I could multiply in a mathematical sense when attributing it to some people. Some of the stories that I read that morning displayed courage to the power of 100.

I set off again and decided to make my way towards Notre Dame. As I turned the corner into the large square, I was hit with an overwhelming smell of fresh bread. The smell of freshly baked bread is something you come to expect in France with there being a bakery on practically every street. But this smell almost had a physical appearance and shook my hand. I followed the enticing promise of baked goodies to a large marquis, where the annual Parisian bread festival was being hosted. Well what better way to let time trickle!

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I spent a good hour there, watching the bakers display their skills. I was fascinated by the machines used and the scale and intensity of work that goes into each baguette and croissant. The bakers there seemed so proud of their trade, delighted to engage with the public watching them.

I was just about to hop on the metro to start the journey out to the airport, when I noticed one solitary open clothes shop. I ran in, scanned everything simple, monochrome, and sensible and set off for the changing room. I was blessed to find a shop assistant there with nothing else to do on a bank holiday morning except help me! I mused to myself that she must have done something very bad in a past life to merit the awkward, unsure customer before her! She pulled and smoothed, and tweaked and tilted and then sent me on my merry way with a few items that would mix and match and tide me over for a while! I love this over here! I don’t shop often but when I do, I have to say, I find that sales assistants are generally very helpful in clothes shops. I know I know, they make commission! BUT, a French sales assistant will tell you just as quickly if something doesn’t suit you. Which basically turns her into a best friend for half an hour who’s not afraid to give it to ya straight! This, for someone like me (ie CLUELESS!), is a service I would nearly pay for in itself! Of course they’ll always try and hit you with the accesories after your happy choice is made, “a little scarf to go with it perhaps madame???”

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So after all of my wanderings, I said goodbye to gay Pareeeee! and set off for England! First stop Manchester airport and then a train ride to Liverpool. Things got a bit ropey at the train ticket desk in Manchester airport, as I managed to convince myself I was actually already in Liverpool. The very patient sales clerk managed to decipher where I wanted/needed to go. He finally managed to help me see the light, and that a ticket from Manchester to Manchester wasn’t a very common route! Oh dear! Tiredness kicking in and a minor blip of disconnection. Safely directed I was on my way (cup of tea in hand – Heaven!) for Piccadilly station in Manchester city centre to get my connecting train to Liverpool.

I was overwhelmed!

It’s not a massive station – Piccadilly, but when you’ve been living in the French countryside for long enough you forget about the masses that inhabit cities. I suspect I may have looked like a child in the first toystore they ever saw (or else a rabbit caught in the headlights!).

Onwards to Liverpool!

The short train journey is just long enough to appreciate some English countryside and beautiful, quaint, red-bricked train stations. I love the red-brick in English towns and villages. It provides a warmth and depth for the passing eye.

Safely arrived in Liverpool, I set off to find the apartments we would be staying in. I think I may have looked a little bedraggled walking around Liverpool’s streets that day. I spotted this building (in need of a haircut!) and I thought to myself “You look like I feel!). Spot the tree sapling gaining hold on the rooftop – sometimes my hair is like that!

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Having never been in Liverpool before, I was made very quickly aware of the very first thing that strikes you about the city – the people! Friendly doesn’t quite cut it as a word! People are warm, chatty, helpful and with that sing-song accent you fall under a spell! Everytime I consulted my map (thanks again Lou!) no sooner had I unfolded it, than someone asked if I was ok and needed directions. I did manage to go slightly off track but got to the apartments in no time at all. The only major drawback was the torrential downpour that apparently had been waiting just for me in order to herald my arrival in the ‘Pool.

I don’t think I need to go into too many details of the hen weekend! I’m sure most people know what it’s all about. Suffice to say that there was laughter and a few tears, some dancing and prosecco and bare-cheeked butlers! Ok – maybe I said a little too much there!

If clubs and nightlife are on the cards for a weekend getaway then Liverpool doesn’t disappoint! It is a very lively, vibrant city. On our first night, we went to the Cavern Club to see The Beatles tribute band. A little trip down music nostalgia lane. It was a nice, easy and uncomplicated night out. Uncomplicated suits just fine when you’re of an age where 30 is considered young!

We went for the ritual “chips after the club” which is as much a part of the night out as putting on your glad rags! To our surprise and bemusement, the taxi driver told us to tuck in and “not wait ’till the chips turn cold.” We, being polite, were initially quite happy to wait until we got back to the apartment before we indulged. However, a green light is a green light, so tuck in we did!

Back at the apartment, the kettle was put on for a yet another cup of what is my manna from heaven. TEA! A big, steaming, hot, just the right colour, cup of tea. My name is Carmel – and I am an addict (Thanks Ro for the fix!). I don’t get my beloved brand in France so this was smuggled direct to Liverpool just for me!

The next day brought sunshine and an open-top bus tour. To be honest we were guilty of chatting and not listening at all. I wouldn’t have blamed the guide for giving any of us a rap across  the knuckles and dragging us to the top of the bus by the ear! But, he took a gaggle of geese all in his stride.

Visually, the bus tour gives an excellent picture of what Liverpool is about. A blend of tradition and old, working-class and uber-modern. The old and the new standing side by side at ease with each other. The old architecture is sublime and impressive. The new – a nod to open space that somehow reflects the vastness of the Mersey estuary.

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We stayed in EPIC apartments and I am happy to say I would recommend them in a heartbeat. Central, spacious, comfy beds and (as is the catch-word for Liverpool) FRIENDLY staff. By the way – I’m not paid to say that – it was simply my own experience.

My trip away wasn’t ending here though!

I am one of those greedy-guts who always tries to prolong a good thing. I’m generally the last left up after a party and the one who plans their holiday to within a four hour limit of the first day back at work. So this weekend was to be no exception!

The lovely Lou and I, were headed for her beautiful home in Manchester, where the magnificent Mr. Lou was waiting with a roast dinner. We discussed the possibilty on the train that he may have made Yorkshire pudding, but we were afraid to hope. Well – hope sat down right next to us! Walking through their front door, I was greeted with the unmistakeable smell of Sundays past, present and future! And Yorkshire pudding. How can we even try to explain why balls of flour, egg, butter and milk, transformed into a tea-cup shape, make us want to cry with sheer happiness.

A most relaxed evening was had in the company of my Manchester friends and their Border terrier, Murphy. Just look at his face. He actually does look like a Teddy bear! How could you not smile?!?! My photo doesn’t do him justice but Murphy has a bit of a following. Check him out on instagram if you get a chance @modernmurph. I would challenge anyone NOT to be in good humour after seeing a few of his pics! A very photogenic character indeed.

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Weekends like this, surrounded by the gals who have helped me become the woman I am (whether that’s good or bad!) always make me feel very grateful. Grateful for old ties that seem to stretch with the waves that test us, but somehow never sever. I feel lucky to have people in my life where explanations are never needed, sentences get finished for me, and giggles are set off for no apparent reason. Just because!

I returned to France with the emotional equivalent of the perfect meal radiating through my body! The French have a gorgeous, smooth verb, used to describe that feeling when you’re nicely full.

Rassasier.

You are completely satisfied, but not full enough to spoil the effect. You have enough space left to anticipate the next episode!

Rock on sweet ladies!

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