What I Did On My Holidays, Part 1

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Or, there and back again.

We went to Barcelona by train. Not out of some Grauniad-reading eco-smuggity but because it is just much more enjoyable than spending three hours at Gatwick. Also, due to the usual arcane train rules, it worked out cheaper to travel to Paris on Eurostar first class.

We started the journey with the Misery Line, however, getting the Tube from the chap’s to Waterloo. Security, even with the patdown I got, is just so much less stressful on the Eurostar. No standing in long snaking queues wondering why the people holding you up hadn’t noticed the large multilingual signs telling you to remove your jacket, belt and shoes. Then we were whisked at slow speed past Battersea and at slightly higher speed towards the channel, being given champagne and a pretty good late lunch. The trolley dolly was so camp he should have been in Ugly Betty.

Estacio Franca Main Hall Having once been caught out by the change in timezones, I’d given us lots of time to cross Paris to Gare D’Austerlitz. As the Metro train swooped out onto a bridge crossing the Seine, I could see the Eiffel Tower through the girders. I’m fairly sure my travels with my family, which also entailed many a trip across Paris from Gare D’Nord, have taken me to Gare D’Austerlitz before but it may just be the curious familiarity of major rail terminii at night. There’s always an orange sodium fuzz and too much echo in the marble hallways. There was a rather 70s bar, suitable for a beer or two before boarding the Trenhotel aka the Night Sleeper.

I love sleeper trains. Really love them. There’s something just too fascinating about falling asleep looking at one world and waking in another. We went Gran Classe, which got us a private ensuite cabin, dinner including drinks and breakfast. Whilst at dinner our beds were made up for us, complete with chocolates with pictures of trains on them left on our pillows. I kept waking in the night and quickly recalled the trick to watching the night landscape: keep the curtain pulled, put your head under and you can see things beyond the glass. I gave out a small squee as we drew into Perpignon, as it was a place I’d used in H101. As we crossed the Pyrannes we went close to the coast, and there was a moonlit view down into a bay. On a sleeper, you can imagine that only you will have seen that moment unlike the shared vistas of daylight travel.

When we got to Estacio Franca (after more H101-related eeping from me), we locked our bags up and strolled into the city ready for more cafe on Las Ramblas.

The journey back was similar yet different. I warn anyone going not to drink the beer in the bar at the Estacio Franca. Really nasty. There’s also the sad realisation that you are heading home, so rather less excited midnight wakings to look out of the window. And the drop in temperature was more noticeable, with my toes feeling the cold Northern European air. We breakfasted as the train ran along next to the Seine through, arriving back into Paris with plenty of time to get back for lunch in London with Smith and Robson. Then I got on a train back to Devon and was sitting on my sofa with a bag of chips less than 24 hours after I’d been in a bar in Barcelona.

It’s not the fastest or even the cheapest way to travel, but you gain a sense of distance and of change which planes just don’t give you. Also, there was champagne included, which always sweetens a journey.

Details of how to travel from London to Barcelona are available on the fabulous Man in Seat 61 site, which provides me with many happy moments of idle speculation (“ooooh, they’re opening the silk route…”). We booked via RailEurope.

We did mention at the time of booking that I was veggie but this info didn’t appear to reach the actual train companies (something which I’ll be sending an email about). The Eurostar always carry a spare veggie meal but I was ticked off for not having mentioned my special dietary requirements. The Trenhotel doesn’t carry a spare, but I had the ensalade for a starter and the soup as a main which was yummy. I emailed Elipsos re the meal before we returned and they changed my booking. However, I didn’t enjoy the proper veggie options as much as the make-do stuff I’d had on the way down. The starter was a much heavier salad, and the main a plate of grilled aubergine and courgette which I could have done better. The breakfast was different as well, being some heated egg and cheese thing instead of those well known meaty foods of pain au chocolat and fruit. It’s possible that the veggie food is lovely – the chap had to send his chicken back as it wasn’t heated properly so the crew was definitely less good – but I think in future I’ll ‘forget’ to book veggie and just workaround from the normal menu.

All my photos are now available on flickr: photos tagged barcelona07. I’ll do Montserrat and architecture and bars in future posts.

Sorry…where was I?

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Ah, yes. Barcelona.

Just back from a longish trip. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the sun on Las Ramblas, sipping sangria. It is a rather gauche thing to do, but very satisfying. We dined in Barcelona, as the train slipped northwards through the suburbs towards the Pyrannes. Breakfasted as the sun rose over the Seine to the south of Paris. Lunched in London and, less then 24 hours after pulling out of Barcelona I was having chips for supper on my own sofa back in Devon. It may not be the fastest way to travel but, by the gods, it’s civilised.

Flickr photos to follow.

Tonight We Fly

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice,
Fortune depends on the tone of your voice,
So sing while you have time, let the sun shine down from above
And fill you with songs of love
Songs of Love, The Divine Comedy

Yeah, I know I’ve quoted it before, but it does remain one of my absolute favourite Divine Comedy songs. We went to the Roundhouse on Thursday night to see them live. The support act were musically competent, but suffered from being a checklist of clichés. The Divine Comedy were, of course, excellent. Hannon is the sort of artist who easily gathers up the audience and plays it like a dream, from his teasing threaten to strip to bringing on a brass section for two songs in the encore. The highlight was The Plough, from Victory for the Comic Muse, where he told a life story in the time it took to smoke a cigarette.

We then spent the Friday afternoon at Kew Gardens, nipping into the Temperate House at one point to warm up from the chilly autumn air:
Autumn Colour informal lake island
Pagoda The Temperate house Time Forgot
[all images here]
We tried to get tickets for Late at the Tate but were too, er, late.

Then to Brizzol for the weekend, and PPH‘s birthday. The SS Great Britain is, indeed, an excellent museum. There’s been a conscious effort to remove the barriers between visitor and objects. The route is defined a little, in that you start with the rusting hull, then visit a dockside exhibition which goes backwards through time, before stepping onto the restored mid-Victorian deck of the ship and investing its various quarters. But within that journey back through time, you are given freedom: you can try to steer using a working wheel and pulleys, or wander through the ship in no order. There’s an active encouragement to try the doors in the salons, and a turning engine at its heart. And this is before I mention the glass sea… Wonderful. Highly recommended.

Chips & Beer

Saturday, 14 October 2006

I am home. Home for at least two weeks. Last weekend I was in Yorkshire, visiting the Chap’s family, then I was working in Greenwich for three days this week. All the people I met were lovely and I had a good time, but I jumped the earliest train I could last night, prefering to stand from London to Newbury rather than waiting 30 minutes and perhaps getting a seat. I just wanted to be back as soon as possible. I dropped my bags in the hallway, raced straight back out in order to get
a) chips from The Tasty Plaice just before it closed
b) slightly out of date Budvar from Cheers offie
Then I curled up on the sofa and enjoyed the senstation of knowing my travels are over for a while.

This morning I woke naturally at 6.45am – i.e. the time I’d been getting up whilst in London – and went straight back to sleep with the happy awareness that I didn’t have to move. Sébastian then woke me at 8am to demand food and to show me the dead sparrow in the lounge. The kill totalizator needs updating with the various beasties of the last month, which I shall do later. Right now I’m updating various blog entries. There’s something slightly odd about seeing even a bird corpse as a thing to be enjoyed as a small familar moment. Chips, beer, using the habitat mugs with the floral pattern on the handle, going out to get the paper and some bread: these are things which should be enjoyed. Not bird corpses.

Guess Where I’ve Been?

Monday, 2 October 2006

Cliche No. Une Bonjour, mes amis…

Back from a long weekend in Gay Paree (more photos here). The hotel was in Pigalle, which meant I was nervous for the duration of the journey over in case it turned out to be as dodgy as the one which I stayed in back when I was an art student. Luckily, the Ville Royale was pretty damn good. Right over the Place de la Pigalle, and thus overlooking some fun neon signs for dubious nightclubs, so that we could wander up the hill to the Sacre Coeur and a rather fab Vietnamese restaurant found last year. Saturday was wandering the Left Bank before getting caught in a massive thunderstorm.

Sunday was the first of the month so free entry to the museums. I begged to go back to L’Orangerie. I first visited it in one of my penniless student days, when I didn’t have the francs to get into a big museum and have enough espressos to fuel me through the day, and had been stunned by Les Nymphéas. So when I read that the renovations were over and the gallery had reopened… I had to see it again. Then on to the Musée D’Orsay before settling into Le Fumoir for cocktails and a luscious meal.

Is that it? Am I done now?

Thursday, 21 September 2006

I have been on the road since last Tuesday and get back home tomorrow evening. I am tired and dispirited and longing, yes, longing to cook instead of eat out. Last weekend – a blessed island of relaxing in the midst of a conference and then a week in Liverpool – I even offered to cook at the chap’s. Not because there is anything wrong with his cooking, but just because I wanted to make some food. Law made a coffee cake recently and looking at the photo tonight made me drool and itch to get out the big mixing bowl.

So the recent quietness is due to this travelling lark. After working at a conference a mere hour’s commute from the chap’s for two days, we then took Friday off and wandered about London shopping. Saturday was various Open House London venues (which I can’t reveal until after I have posted and been guessed on Flickr’s Guess Where London group). I’d wanted to go to 2 Willow Road on the Sunday but the tours were fully booked and I thought I’d be off to Liverpool in the afternoon anyway. Except the train from Euston to Lime Street would have been 5 hours on the Sunday, when it takes 2 and a half on the Monday morning. Then someone at the Trust contacted me to say there had been a cancellation and would we still like to tour Willow Road. Naturally, we said yes and wandered over the Heath at a reasonable hour to look at 1930s modernism. No photos to upload, I’m afraid.

Monday morning and I was at the clients’ by 10am, having got the 07.13 up from Euston. First class, darling. When you factor in the complimentary breakfast and the extra room, this was a bargain at 45 quid single. Tomorrow, I get driven back to Devon by a collegue and have a few hours alone time with Séba before the chap arrives for the weekend. I miss my cat. And I worry about him all alone in a house tonight, with gales gusting around it. My poor precious brute.

ETA: Flickr photos of the Open House Weekend.

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