Monday, June 29, 2009

Bonjour and Bonsoir from Paris

We are homeless in Paris.

After a very busy 46 hours we checked out of our hotel 6 hours ago and have been wandering the hot and humid streets of Paris while waiting for our flight from CDG2. We can get there easily from our area on one of the RER lines, so the journey there should be a piece of patisserie.

Paris is truly gorgeous. We are staying in the 4th between the Pantheon and the Luxembourg gardens, so breakfast and the afternoon nap were spent under the chestnut trees - in the afternoon the park was teeming with folk (Don says 'frogs') escaping the heat with a glace from the van outside the gates. They were doing a roaring trade! We have been jumping on and off the metro across lines to visit or revisit our favourite bits-The Eiffel Tower this morning, and Saint Chappelle without all the scaffolding. Then across to St Germain des Pres, and lunch from a great boulangerie by the Seine with aching feet watching the tourist boats, to Saint Sulpice and gasping for water to catch our strength again then back to Luxembourg

Our hotel has one of the smallest bathroom in the known universe. I kid you not. I can't stand side-on to the basin with the door shut and dry myself without scraping and thumping bones and causing much swearing. Sitting on the toilet is a particular art - luckily I am good at bellydancing cos there's a moment when you have to swivel in a half-circle as you sit to avoid the basin without hip-bumping the door. Of course this may more about the diameter of my hips than the decor....However...when in Rome. - I'm sure there are many Parisiennes with permanent facilities just as cramped, and the location for the price!

Last night we had dinner with a colleague of Don's from Perth in a little neighbourhood wine bar/restaurant in the ?14th i think. It was delightful. Very limited menu - which is usually a sign of good cooking we always think. We even had a couple of fragrant soft cheeses and I had an orange creme brulee which was really, really good and well worth the wait. The staff were run off their feet and you could see their minds going at a million miles per hour but boy do they know their stuff. Its fascinating to see the really professional and slick french waiters in their uniforms of one sort or another, black vests, sometimes a cap with tailored pants in a traditional style. We were in Monmartre yesterday and it was quite a side-show to watch them as they coped with all the tourists flagging in the heat, efficiently seating them and reviving their spirits with beer, or in my case tea.

The flights home are a slightly daunting prospect. I have my oh-so-sexy white TED stocking to avoid swelling up to my thighs and I plan to indulge in a movie or two as we have been a bit limited in access to English language stuff for a few weeks, but hey - it IS Europe and it has been fabulous to see a bit more of it. I am a lucky, lucky duck.

I suspect my time may be up soon so I had better post this and move on.

Au revoir!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You should see the view!

I am going to try and be really clever now and take a photo with my mobile and email it to myself here at the cafe right now, hang among yourselves.......waiting for them to arrive so you can see the photos.

I am on the shores of Lago Maggiore at Stresa. It is seriously gorgeous. I feel like I'm on the Riviera. The Isola Bella is almost touching distance away. The little water taxis cruise in and out (in fact I may catch one to go along the waterfront to the town square which is about a 2km walk).

The hotels along the lakefront are stunning. The Hotel Regina Palace which is the venue for my husband's conference is just that. Palatial. Lush, tasteful furnishing with a neutral and gold theme and each room is accented in a different colour. Red for one room, pale blue for another, green for a third. All with really high ceilings and enormous windows that overlook cascading gardens. Heavenly.

Yet it is not at all posh. There are a range of hotel standards. We're in a little 2 star place that has really nice rooms and a bathroom and balcony just a street back with lake glimpses. The community is nestled into a hillside, with small villages adjoining. I wandered around one yesterday, walking (uphill, gasp) from the internet cafe I am at currently. It ended up being a 5km walk. I felt very virtuous.

I am going to sign off now. The photos haven't come through yet, but a cablecar (won't) awaits me to take me to a mountain top. Such is life.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Caio belle

We're in Milano!

Its lovely to be back in Italy! The language is so familiar, the people and food so comforting.

We spent yesterday on a day-trip to the historic Dutch town of Delft. When we arrived it seemed to be closed :( However we wandered around for a bit, followed a walk in the guide book, sat and had a beer (I had a hot chocolate, it was quite windy and cold) and then bought some souvenirs. There was a free open-air concert at 3pm which we decided to stay for of Tchaikovsky's 5th, Saint Saens and something else. It was very pleasant and by the time it started the (very pretty market) square was packed and the sun was out. I also went to the Vermeer house exhibit and bought an antique Delft tile from 1740. Just one. Its a bit battered but that's the way I like it. We elected not to go to The Hague on the way back, and headed back to Amsterdam and a kebab dinner, packing and planning our Milan experience (only 24 hours).

After a pretty early start and hanging around the airport for. a . long. time. (don't ask) the flight was easy. We arrived about lunchtime and trained into Milan, stopped briefly at our hotel and ventured out to see the Duomo which was really spectacular. Mark Twain described it as breathtaking, with a lightness of body and so we found it so too. It reaches for the sky, and seems impermanent as if made of starched lace. Contrasted with the inside which is dark and almost brooding, but with incredible spaces. It is the second biggest cathedral in the world (apparently) after St Peter's basilica - but its not nearly as impressive as St Peter's. It has nicer candles though....I light candles everywhere we go, especially at a Lady Chapel.

There was also a spectacular Triumphal style arch in honour of Victor Emmanuel II with a beautiful light filled gallery, housing some of the world's spectacular fashion and accessory houses. Louis Vuitton. Prada. And, strangely, a McDonald's. Such a travesty of a beautiful space.

We walked through this area to La Scala which we were unable to enter sadly, but the touts were out offering tickets to 'Aida' for tonight. Pass. Too long, I couldn't face it after a long day of travel.

We ate an inexpensive lunch in the piazza overlooking the Duomo, fed the pigeons a few crumbs then dragged our sore feet home via the backstreets, only getting a little bit lost. However i did have faith that the streets of Milan were present for centuries before we arrived, and they were unlikely to have vanished from a map, even if it did seem they had. We walked one block right, or left, or further and there we were, back at the hotel.

We are now showered and chilling out with a bit of wi-fi internet and email in our room and laughing at Star Trek and An Affair to Remember dubbed into Italian. We plan a nice dinner somewhere tonight after a nap.

I'm looking forward to being in Italy for the rest of the week, then on Saturday we're off to Paris.

Lucky, lucky, lucky ducks. Not rubbing it in, just...appreciating the moment.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Notes from Damrak

Hi y'all from Amsterdam

Our first impressions are very favourable. What a laid-back city! There don't appear to be any Beautiful People in Amsterdam but there are a LOT of people having a good time. A large serve of Patates Frites seem to be de rigeur at 4pm. And shouting as one returns drunkenly to the hotel, or rolling one's suitcase loudly on the cobblestones is the go at 4am. Take it from me.

We are staying at a budget hotel on a very busy street and we have a front room with a street view, which also means street noise. The room is comfortable in itself, and we have trams right outside the door that take us in all directions. We are quite jet-lagged and will be hoping to sleep properly tonight without waking at 3 am, or having too much of a nap and sleeping through until 8pm, which is still in bright light. Earplugs are a distinct advantage. Say no more.

So far we have seen the flower market, been on a canal cruise, wandered around the Dam, booked tickets to Delft for Sunday, eaten cherries and grapes, smoked eel, been to the Rijkmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, eaten lunch in the park, wandered the sidestreets and seen the coffeeshops, and after our sleep-in nap had a very nice Thai meal on the edge of the red-light district. We wandered home through the area, a bit underwhelmed and noting that there were a lot of men in Amsterdam everywhere. It was curious

Today we have been to the AlbertCuyper Markts. It was very long, it went for blocks and blocks, but we only bought fruit and chocolate. The trams are very easy to navigate, and everyone speaks English which is extremely handy. We kid ourselves that we're pronouncing the names of places properly, and every now and then locals will butt in and tell us we're heading in the wrong direction! They've saved our bacon heaps of times! Luckily all the trams come so frequently that we don't have to wait too long for the new one in the other direction.

We are also acclimatising slowly to the traffic direction and the bike lanes - I have nearly been squished a few times stepping onto tram tracks and looking in the wrong direction!

Overall it is an immensely pretty place, interesting and old, easy to get around, with good inexpensive food and friendly people. We are suffering slightly from the affliction known as "Museum Feet" but otherwise having a marvellous time. Naturally, photos of interesting places and sights are being taken...but I forgot the USB cable for the camera so you will have to wait. Sorry. It really is very picturesque. Ooh, but we could try this link and see the video e-card we sent to the kids. Its pretty lame but...authentic.

Whats new in your world?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Packed and outta here!

Well, I'm off again.

Guidebooks? Tick.

Knickers? Tick.

Bras? Ooh, that was a close one, I nearly forgot...Tick.

Favourite husband? Tick.

Lots of books to read on the plane? Tick.

Colour coordinated wardrobe for European early summer? This season Laura will be seen in a versatile wardrobe of black, pink and purple accents. Two pairs of shoes only. Tick.

Camera and batteries, card cleared for lots of vital photos? Tick.

Adult children prepped and briefed and cooked for and groaning under lists? Tick.

Various family members ready and organised to help out with appointments? Tick (thanks so much gang).

Blogs read? not yet....I wish I could suspend Bloglines for 2 weeks, but I may have some downtime while Don is at his conference so I can sit in a cafe somewhere and catch up.

Off to the world of airports, fabulous cities and 3 non-English speaking countries in 2 weeks.

Caio belle!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blondes have more fun

Well, I've been a busy little bunny.

You may have noticed my photo has changed - this one was taken on Friday when I was out at lunch for a retirement do for one of my husband's oldest colleagues. We had a riotous time at a local restaurant I have been to 3 times in the last 2 months - I had a great prawn dish with garlic prawns, coriander and lime sauce. The waiter was a bright friendly guy who joined in our jokes, and kept us discreetly walled off in a private courtyard, so we didn't disturb other diners with our hoots of laughter and loud stories. It was a really good long lunch, with quite a bit
I finally begged off at 3pm to return home and cook for the afternoon tea we hosted yesterday for my birthday. Excuse the red-eyes in the picture below, but its the only photo I have that shows any of the spread.
We had pumpkin scones, vanilla cupcakes(GF), orange and almond cake(GF), smoked salmon rolls and sandwiches, Greek hazelnut crescents, chocolate biscuits (GF), and a chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream, toasted pistachios and drizzled dark chocolate (yum), all washed down with tea and coffee in nice china cups, just like Ladies. When we'd finished being ladies we got stuck into a nice red wine to finish, but it was ostensibly an afternoon tea and I had a great time. It was marvellous to have an excuse to bake and bake and not to have to eat it all myself.
The girls really got stuck into the afternoon tea as well, and polished off the plates nicely, then sat under the table chatting to each other (6" away) via Facebook. It was hilarious.
It was a lovely excuse to dig out the good china. I especially enjoyed the way all the china connected me to women from my past. I had 3 teacup sets from my late Nanna, one I received for my 21st, 2 from a friend's mother that were gifted to me by my friend, a favourite plate from a late aunt of my husband, another plate from friends in Japan, my lighthouse cups, a set of 4 from my sister's wedding china that she gifted me with a few years ago. A silver fold-up tiered what-not from an elderly connection of the family. A china coffee pot that belonged to my late mother-in-law, whom I never met, and a small plate that was hand-painted by my paternal grandmother. She died when I was 15.
I feel very connected to these woman from all facets of my life. The guests included 3 friends I did midwifery with; 3 friends I have known from Mother's camp (one of whom is also a midwife); Lesley who I know from playgroup 20+ years ago, my daughter, two of my sisters, two nieces, Steff's friend A and my Mum. There were a few men present as well, but it was mostly a lovely gathering of women.
Ah, it did my heart good. What a lucky woman I am.
Not to mention the fact that this time next week I shall be in Amsterdam. Then the north of Italy. Then ... (squee) ... PARIS again! Sigh. I'm almost jealous of myself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blonde!!! And Scrappy Katz

This really is the last word on bathroom business. My niece and my daughter in the bath. See how big it is?
My sister dyed my hair again on the weekend..we were aiming for a little darker, but got red-gold instead. Oh My! (excuse all the mess in the background)
I'm shocked to see it so light, and reddish. I think I like it straightish though. I can't remember the last time I had such long hair.
Of course it is way too hard to keep all straight and cute though. I just keep flippin and flickin it around like a teenager! I may darken it a bit more...and keep it in the normal loose curls.
Anyway...Les and I had a lovely playdate yesterday. We made some Scrappy Katz - I saw them in a Cloth Paper Scissors Mag (they were called Gypsy Cats) a few months ago. SO I felt I should cut out a bunch of elements (head, arms, legs, bodies) and we would just play and embellish them, rough and ready, using heavyweight fabrics, uglies and textures.
Les has two more at home...hers are orange and a lovely brown wool tweed.

We had a good time. I can feel I will definitely make more of these.
Back to work today..back to the ward! OMG I'm gonna be tired!!!!!!
The lurgy is lurking, and I don't feel quite bad enough to call off sick, but I really hope I'm not contagious, handling all those women and babies. I hate to call in sick, I'd rather work than be off feeling awful. I am looking forward to seeing all the lovely ward midwives. Its certainly very hustle and bustle on my ward!
Have a good Thursday!