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Exotic

4 August, 2018 at 10:58 pm by belgianwaffle

On Thursday night Daniel said to me, “When do you get your holidays?” “Tomorrow!” I said. “Do you not get a summer break?” he asked. “My fortnight in Denmark is my summer break.” He felt that seemed very unfair which it totally is. However, all going well, by the time you read this, we will be safely ensconced by the North Sea. Daniel doubts that Denmark will beat the excitement afforded by a trip to see Arsenal v Chelsea in the Aviva stadium earlier this week but you never know.

More Cork

31 July, 2018 at 8:36 pm by belgianwaffle

Thursday, July 19

Despite only having finished her course the previous Friday, the Princess and her companions were having a reunion in Dublin less than a week later. She was very keen to go which I thought was ludicrous but her kind indulgent father said that we should let her go so we drove her up to the train station in Cork with 6 minutes to spare before her train left. Note to file, Clonakilty to Cork may be 45 minutes by car; outside Clonakilty to the train station is quite a bit longer.

My brother who, when he is not being annoying, can be rather saintly took the boys off to Milano’s for lunch and Mr. Waffle and I had a really lovely lunch in the Farm Gate which I would very much recommend.

We spent the day in Cork bonding with relatives each of whom asked me in turn why on earth I had chosen to go to Clonakilty on my holidays. We picked herself up from the train at 8.30 (a train which she leapt unto 3 minutes before it left Dublin – it was a day of close shaves) and took ourselves back to base. She opined that her 5 hours on the train for 3 hours with her friends had been totally worth it. So that was something.

Friday July 20

For his own obscure reasons, my brother was cycling from Cork to Skibbereen. He stopped off on his trek and we all had lunch together in Deasy’s outside Clonakilty which is quite fancy and, therefore, didn’t have chips. Some trauma ensued as some of the cohort thought that the nice view and gourmet menu did not make good that deficiency.

Then we went to Kinsale to meet a friend of Mr. Waffle’s who had just bought a house there. We had take away fish and chips at her place for dinner so the natural order of things was restored. We also had a an opportunity to take our traditional “Caution Children” picture so that was obviously good.

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On the way back to Clonakilty, to the intense chagrin of Michael who stayed in the car timing how long I was taking, we stopped off and had a look at Timoleague Friary which is very, very beautiful It was sunset (about 10.30 so Michael’s chagrin was understandable, I suppose) and it looked quite spectacular.

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The setting was pretty spectacular also.

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Saturday 21 July

I went to the Red Strand for a swim leaving my non-beach loving family to entertain themselves as well as they could in my absence. Their loss, frankly.

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We went in to Rosscarbery where I spent many bored summers as a teenager (a friend’s parents had a house there) and, to be honest, there is still little enough to do. However we did have dinner/afternoon snack in a very nice pub. One of us had prudently bought a jumper and two of us were cold so she made the ultimate sacrifice.

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I was a bit grumpy and herself asked what I would like. “Why?” I said suspiciously. “Because who ever is the grumpiest runs this family.” This was a startling insight and I realised as I turned it over in my mind, entirely true.

My brother sent us a photo of Lough Hyne which I include because, you know, why not? It does highlight one of the problems of Clonakilty. It is West Cork but not west enough. It’s a bit of a trek to Lough Hyne from Clonakilty (not impossible, 40 minutes in the car) but almost all the good places are a bit of a trek.

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I went up to Cork for the evening because, since my brother was away, I thought I might be able to help my sister out a bit with the elderly relatives. I am not sure how much of a help I was really, particularly as she ended up having to feed me as well but we did enjoy a nice walk.

Sunday 22 July

We packed up and set off for home. Already Mr. Waffle and I were somewhat preoccupied by the thought of the working week ahead (something that does not happen at the end of week one of a three week holiday, I can tell you) and it was a long enough drive back. We stopped off at Blackrock Castle in Cork for lunch because I thought that it would not take us much out of our way (it did) and it would have pizza (it did not, they took it off the menu before Christmas, alas, alack).

On balance, West Cork again next year I think, but further west.

Clonakilty, God Help Us

30 July, 2018 at 8:38 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Cork last summer for a week. You may remember that excluded from the list of potential places to stay was Clonakilty on the grounds that it was too near Cork and why would you bother. This was good advice I gave last year and I would have done well to have heeded it. But earlier this year, a family from Clonakilty contacted us and asked would we do a house swap and I thought, why not? I know why not. Why did I think that? Anyway we agreed dates and then they wanted to push it to earlier and, like fools, we agreed.

Furthermore, poor old Clonakilty has a gloomy reputation. It was home to a big workhouse during the famine and really the last desperate staging post of dying people hence when you say Clonakilty, people will often say to you, “Clonakilty, God help us” which is a tag line that I think the town has probably been keen to lose since 1847 or thereabouts (I’d say they’d like to have Macroom’s line instead “the town that never raised a fool”).


Sunday 15 July

Herself returned to us from her three week course on Friday and it was such a thrill to have her back. She was very reasonable about packing up to leave again two days after returning. It was a long old drive. We stopped for lunch in Cashel and got in to Clonakilty late afternoon. The house was in the middle of nowhere and it was slightly damp like many, many houses in Ireland but if it was going to be damp after a month in the heatwave, I shudder to think what it was like in the winter. On the plus side they had a wheel attached to a tree in the garden.

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And a piano that was in tune in the house.

We took ourselves into the town which, to be fair, is attractive enough, and went to the tourist office looking for attractions. There was much Michael Collins stuff and also the railway village. In addition to the price of your admission, you get to go on a tourist train around the town. “Would you like to go on Choo Choo?” the tourist office lady asked our mildly affronted 15 year old.

My sister drove down to Clonakilty that evening and saw Jack L in concert. He was good but he needs to find a younger fan base, it’s not often I feel like one of the youngest people in the room.

Monday 16 July

We recovered from our drive and stayed around the town. We bought a card game called “Now That’s What I Call Music” which I cannot recommend highly enough. Did you remember that “Don’t Give Up” was a collaboration between Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel? If yes, this is the game for you. I drove each of my partners wild by singing the 80s songs mentioned but, never, never knowing the artist. We bought a good jigsaw because that’s what holidays are for.

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We bought some books for the children.

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Tuesday 17 July

We went to the model railway village. It was not entirely successful. Our children were the oldest children there by a good ten years. But they were patient. We exhausted its charms quickly. Probably this functioning phone box was a highlight. We decided not to go for the choo choo train around the town experience. This was particularly good for herself as later she ran in to someone she knew in the town and bad and all as this was, it would have been considerably worse if she’d been in the tourist train.

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Continuing our run of poor luck we chose a deeply unpleasant pub to have our lunch in. Go us.

After lunch, we took ourselves to the Michael Collins museum in Emmet Square. This was a success. It was housed in a lovely Georgian house in the square where Michael Collins lived for a bit (not in this house it transpired). And the displays were interesting and it was all quite well done.

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We peaked a bit too soon on the jigsaw.

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I bought a great bowl with a drawing of an octopus by these people. We have named him and I love it. I loved it so much that I later went back and bought a jug and a casserole and it is dishwasher and oven proof. No favours etc. were received for these kind words. Sadly.

Wednesday 18 July

Despite really hard work on my part over the years, Daniel loathes the beach and Michael and Mr. Waffle are, at best, neutral. But it was the best summer since 1976 and I insisted on going to the beach. We went to Inchydoney which is a lovely beach and the Princess and I both swam. Here is how her brothers enjoyed it.

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The Princess continued to diligently read her very hard book on Aids. I made good progress with “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret”. Don’t judge.

Once we left the beach, both boys cheered up and we had a nice lunch in the nearby hotel. We went to the Michael Collins homestead which is a bit basic but, you know, grand.

Then we went to see the Drombeg Stone circle which I thought was pretty impressive. Beautiful site overlooking the sea.

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My Dad was telling me that he had had it described to him by the archaeologist who found it. Apparently he married a publican’s daughter from Clonakilty and the stone circle was well known locally but archaeologists had never been near it (they have their work cut out, West Cork is just one big wedge shaped gallery grave) and he wrote about it and publicised it. It was felt that he would be the next professor of archaeology at UCC but then he died young. See, if you’re from Cork these are the extra exciting details available to add to your guide book information.

Then we went on to Glandore for a cup of tea. Glandore is basically a couple of houses and a view. But what a view.

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And then one of the pubs has been gentrified and it offered seats outside with shade and cushions and blankets and a delightful desert menu which we partook of liberally. It was absolutely delightful.

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Stay tuned for the second half of our Cork adventures.

C’était au Temps où Bruxelles Bruxellait

15 April, 2018 at 8:32 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Brussels for a couple of days over Easter. This summer, it will be ten years since we left. It seems scarcely credible. We were curious as to whether the children would remember anything. Spoiler alert: they did not.

Day 1

I found us a loft in a bohemian part of town through airbnb. A lot of people were away over Easter and friends had kindly offered to let us stay in their house but Mr. Waffle said that we couldn’t possibly impose in that way. It’s possible I could have but he just couldn’t. It was pretty cool and absolutely enormous but, dear God, does sound travel in a loft where the bedroom walls do not reach to the ceilings.

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We decided to go to Rue des Bouchers for dinner. It’s an extremely touristy restaurant strip near the Grand Place where we had never eaten before and probably won’t again. Not the most amazing food experience. We went around the Grand Place in the bucketing rain. The children were a bit underwhelmed. And though, in some ways, it was a very authentic Belgian experience, I can’t say I was absolutely delighted either.

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By contrast the Galeries de la Reine which, as 19th century shopping arcades go, is quite a good one was viewed with mild enthusiasm. It was, at least, dry. We saw a 157sqm flat to rent in the Galeries for €1,600 pm which would get you a shoebox in the middle of nowhere in Dublin and reflected on the overheated state of the Dublin property market.

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Day 2

We went for lunch with old friends of ours. I am sure they welcomed us like a hole in the head as they had just driven back to England the night before to collect their son from boarding school and they were off to Italy on holidays the next day and, unkindest cut, she had just had bad news from the Belgian authorities about citizenship and I think Brexit is likely to be awkward for them. However, we were delighted to see them and everything seemed unchanged except for the five enormous children we now have between us. Their son who attended our wedding as a three month old is now about 6 foot 6. It was very hard to stop saying, “You’ve got so tall” on a loop.

We then went into town and had some chips, looked at the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis, had a restorative drink in the Metropole (I used to go there with my father when I lived in Brussels in the early 90s and it is gratifyingly unchanged). The boys and I went home while Mr. Waffle and herself explored the excitements of the Rue Neuve (shops). It continued to rain.

Day 3

Herself did a very elaborate Easter egg hunt for her brothers in the apartment which they quite enjoyed even though Michael is not an Easter egg fan. Mr. Waffle and I went for breakfast in the pain quotidien in the Sablon and then we went home and dragged everyone to Easter Sunday mass in the Sablon (quite long, included an organ concert and Gregorian chant, children’s patience was tried high). Afterwards we went for lunch at the bottom of the Sablon – the Sablon must be one of the most expensive places to eat in Brussels but just at the end is the much cheaper flea market zone and we had lunch there which was both satisfactory and economical. I had the classic Brussels spag bol which always includes carrots. I was not disappointed. Then we explored the famous (for a certain value of famous) flea market at Place Jeu de Balle (herself fascinated, boys almost horizontal from boredom). We took the outside lift back up to the Palais de Justice which towers in a menacing manner over this working class part of Brussels and, indeed, was designed to do so. Mr. Waffle tells me that a local insult is “architecte”.

In an effort to entertain the boys we went next to the dinosaur museum. This is largely unchanged since we left 10 years ago and I spent much time there when we lived in Brussels so it was a real trip down memory lane for me. The children did not remember it at all but pronounced it moderately satisfactory which was really all I could hope for.

Day 4

We went to visit our old haunts, our old flat, the parks we used to go to. It lashed rain but we did get a chance to do some before and after photos. My favourite is this one from Rue de la Glacière which was around the corner from our house. We must have walked up and down it 1000s of times. The street is called after the ice factory which is still there (now supplying ice for sea food displays and the like rather than ice boxes as must have been the case in the 19th century). Just inside the door, there is an old cart which had previously been used to haul ice around and had been sitting there for about 100 years. The children always enjoyed climbing up and sitting in it. I was pleased to see that in the 10 years since we had last seen it, there had been no significant change. The children, on the other hand, have changed quite a bit.

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The children and Mr. Waffle went to explore our favourite playground (Parc Renier Chalon, thanks for asking) and the Princess’s old school. On the way there, they met the optician who had supplied Daniel’s first pair of glasses. He is now in his 90s and very sprightly. They had a grand old chat and he revisited with Daniel the proper way to clean your glasses. Then we all went to lunch in a nearby bistro which Mr. Waffle and I were very fond of when we lived in Brussels. It was perhaps a bit elaborate for our needs but I was glad to see it has remained unchanged.

That afternoon we went to the toy museum. When the children were small, we went there all the time. Although they did not remember it, it was completely unchanged. We knocked an entertaining enough couple of hours out of it recreating scenes from the children’s youth. Even Michael was moved to concede that it was quite good.

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After this I went in to the Grand Place, did some mild shopping in the environs and settled myself in front of the fire in the Rose Blanche, a cafe on the corner of the Grand Place where we used to go a bit when we lived in Brussels. In due course, herself and Mr. Waffle joined me but the boys stayed in the flat, unimpressed by the lure of the city centre.

Day 5

The Princess and I went to the pain quotidien for breakfast and then took ourselves to the Musée des Beaux Arts. The hours and hours I spent with her there when she was a baby – it was less bad than you might imagine because it was always very quiet. I was a bit worried because now everywhere seems to be inundated with tourists but, happily, the gallery was as gloriously empty as it had ever been. Herself is a great art gallery companion, she seems to be genuinely interested in the pictures and we passed a very happy couple of hours. I know sometimes, you can photograph something to make it look like it’s empty when it’s really not but these pictures do convey the genuine echoing emptiness we encountered. If you are going to Brussels, I cannot recommend the galleries highly enough.

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While the Princess and I were enjoying our art extravaganza, the boys and Mr. Waffle went to look at the Botanique gardens adjacent to our apartment. Alright but, of course, damp, was the verdict.

We went for lunch in an Italian near the apartment which was a great success but the children were all disappointed that they did not meet a Madam Pipi. When we lived in Brussels, the toilets in many establishments were guarded by fierce older ladies wearing aprons and sitting in front of a saucer. They kept the toilets clean and you had to pay them on the way in and if you didn’t understand the rules and failed to pay them, the consequences were truly terrifying. However, they seem to have all died out while we were away and while it makes going to the bathroom in Brussels a great deal less unnerving, it feels like the end of an era.

In the afternoon we went to mini-Europe which was more entertaining than we expected but probably a visit once a decade is sufficient.

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All in all, it was nice to go back although, very damp. It was strange but, I suppose not entirely surprising, that the children remembered none of our regular haunts. I wonder how long I would need to be back in Brussels for to forget I had ever gone away; not very long, I suspect.

Paris – Part Five (This is the End)

20 September, 2017 at 9:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Friday, 18 August

More rain.

Mr. Waffle and I went out early for breakfast. And then we went for lunch to a fish restaurant in Montparnasse. We left the children to their own devices. Likely to be electronic devices, but we shut our eyes to this.

After lunch Mr. Waffle, the boys and I went to an exhibition featuring dragons. Herself drew the line at going and was probably right as perhaps not quite what she would have liked. It turns out that our sons know an extraordinary amount about dragon lore and given that they are, you know, mythical animals, it’s surprising how consistent their information was with that in the exhibition. It turns out they do learn something in those fantasy games. As my mother says, “Knowledge is never wasted.” Though I am not sure that this was what she had in mind.

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On the way home, we passed a group of boys playing football on a concrete pitch near our house and Daniel asked if he could join them. Off he went and I sat nearby watching the whitest boy in Ireland playing with 9 black kids from one of the more exciting Parisian suburbs. But Daniel was delighted with himself and they were very nice to him. I chatted with a 5 year old who was watching his elders and told me who everyone was and where they lived (large block of flats across the road) and also that he, the five year old, had just got a new cousin. I told him that Daniel had a new cousin too. “But my new cousin is in London,” said he. “So is Daniel’s!” I exclaimed and we sat there and marvelled at the delightful coincidence.

In one of the papers there was an article about the new French equality Minister who had fought her way up from one of the rough suburbs to Ministerial glory. “Which rough suburb?” you cry. Ah, Malakoff, of course. Maybe it was rougher when she was young but I didn’t think it was too bad at all.

Saturday 19 August

Herself and myself went back into town. We had breakfast together. We also went to HEMA. I love HEMA but this was not an optimal HEMA and I feel she still hasn’t appreciated its true wonderfulness. It’s a Dutch shop which is also in Brussels. I still have loads of stuff that I bought there years ago which has stood the test of time despite it’s cheap and cheerful ethos.

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She spotted some cute bollards.

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She’d been keen to go to the Monoprix for a while and we finally went. Fantastic, I have taken to the Monoprix with the zeal of the convert. We even got the boys’ school tracksuits (plain navy, no logo on pain of death, impossible to find). Then we went to Mariage Frères and I bought some very expensive Earl Grey and confirmed what I had heard from another expensive tea merchant that Lapsang Suchong is now no longer available. The woman behind the counter was a bit cagey about why EU regulations banned it but I feel I now have a complete explanation for Brexit and post-2019, I guess we all know where we can go for our illicit Lapsang.

We went to Place des Vosges for lunch.

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Food was a bit indifferent but the setting was delightful.

After lunch we went to get the metro home. When we got there, the metro station was closed and two policemen with semi-automatic rifles were standing at the entrance while Parisians hung around impatiently. I suddenly felt a bit nervous and I said, “Let’s get a taxi.” It was a bit depressing and I suppose it was nothing really but I was definitely unnerved. Our taxi driver home was full of personality he had views on big pharma (against), tourists in August (for, numbers back to normal this year as I knew to my cost), terrorism (against), Mélenchon (strongly for) and cyclists (against). It was a long journey.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle asked whether I wanted to go out on the electric bicycle to the Monoprix. An irresistible combination of thrills. Sadly, I am not even being sarcastic here.

Later in the evening, Dan went out to play football with his new friends and the rest of us went to the local pub for an aperitif.

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The credit card company called me to say that my card had been compromised. Alas. It was compromised in an unlikely way. About €50 spent in a suburban Parisian DIY shop. Not a credit card fraudster who thought big. I went back to the house with herself and later was able to send her out for the others saying in a timeless fashion, “Tell your father and brothers to come home from the pub.”

That evening we searched for a film we could all watch. We made them watch “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It was a surprise success everyone was amused; it stood the test of time really well though I still think Andie McDowell is dreadfully miscast and there are some ethically dubious choices which I felt it was hard enough to explain. However, I covered up by saying things like, “Is that Mr. Bean?”

Sunday, 20 August

We went to mass in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The priest said we were all so lucky to be in this beautiful church but since most of it was shrouded by sheets and scaffolding, it was a little hard to agree. He said a good long mass including singing the gospel which is not something I’ve ever come across before. Clearly not catholic enough.

We had lunch nearby and then had an exhaustive search for an open pâtisserie. In the course of our search, a very kind woman, who led us to the only open pâtisserie in Paris asked Mr. Waffle whether he was Belgian, because of his accent. I love the Belgians, but that’s not what you want to hear. We went for afternoon tea, with the cake, at my friend’s house. She and her family had just come back from a holiday in America the previous day but they were ready and, apparently willing, to have us round. She and I shared a number of flats together in Brussels years ago and we are now exchanging our daughters on a regular basis. She lives in the 16th which is leafy and beautiful, though pretty quiet in August.

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I was dying to see her flat and I was not disappointed. It is just beautiful. Parquet everywhere, big beautifully decorated rooms in an old residential building. Her children 13,11 and 9 got on reasonably well with mine.

Spot the Irish limbs:

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We had tea and then we went to the park where the children played and the adults caught up on all our news. It was lovely.

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We went home and had a last Parisian dinner in the pub around the corner.

Monday 21 August

I dreamt I was working for Macron. I knew at that point, it was definitely time to get away.

Packing up was quite painless. Although also, I discovered subsequently, pretty ineffective as the French people had to post back to Dublin a pair of sandals and two dresses I left behind.

Daniel and I went down to the park and had a ferocious game of table tennis. I have no idea when he improved so much. Last time we played, he could hardly get it over the net. Then we hopped into the taxi and arrived in CDG two and a half hours before our flight was due to depart. We queued up at the check-in. “Where are you going?” asked the woman. “Dublin,” we said. “You are much too early, you will have to wait and [the unkindest cut] you are delaying the people travelling to Cork.”

At the airport which was quiet, it was definitely starting to feel like home. We saw: a man going to Cork whom Mr. Waffle knew but couldn’t quite place; a man I had met at a work meeting; and sitting opposite us on the plane Mr. Waffle’s French teacher from school. Once we got to Dublin, the French people were in departures waving frantically at us. We waved back, passing them like ships in the night. I met a former colleague in the bathroom. Note for people from larger countries, this is what being Irish is like, all the time.

We arrived home and collapsed exhausted. Herself piped up, “OK if I go to a party this evening?” And that was it for another year.

Paris – Part Four

19 September, 2017 at 6:47 pm by belgianwaffle

Tuesday, August 15

The 15 August represents the pinnacle of, absolute max, August shutdown. We were braced for it. Notwithstanding this, the Sainte Chapelle was open. We booked online (slowly, we were learning; inevitably no queue, booking unnecessary) and turned up early in the morning as the French people’s cleaner was coming at 9 (15 August or no). We went in to the lower chapel which was busy, but not impossibly so.

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Then we went upstairs and even Michael said, “This is impressive.” It definitely was.

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Weirdly it’s inside the complex of the French courts so we had to be let out by soldiers with guns. I can’t really feel that this arrangement is entirely satisfactory from a French judicial point of view. Afterwards we went to the Conciergerie (tickets also booked in advance, also no queue). It was interesting and the exhibition space was really well laid out. We saw where the flood waters had risen to in 1910.

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Some of us perhaps more fascinated than others.

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We were all pretty much on top of the French revolution and the Terror when we came out. A triumph as this is a pretty complex period of history, I think you will agree. We bought Michael a horse and knight in the bookshop.

We went for lunch in town – some places were open – rejoice. It was pleasant, Michael got some mileage from playing with his Dark Rider. We all enjoyed our lunch in a mild way and then we went for a stroll to have a cup of tea elsewhere. As we were enjoying our cup of tea, I said to Michael, “Where is Dark Rider?” Alas he had been left in our lunch venue. Michael and I ran through the streets of Paris to rescue him. When we got there, the man behind the bar said that no, they had found no Dark Rider. Then I saw the waiter who had served us. “Was Dark Rider in a paper bag?” he asked. He was. The waiter went through the bin and rescued him. See what I mean about the nice Parisians left in Paris in August? There was great rejoicing among our small party on the return of Dark Rider.

The children and I returned alone on the metro to our distant suburb leaving Mr. Waffle to wander about on his own reminiscing on his student days. The whole thing was fine and, as my sophisticated children hoped from metro to metro, I couldn’t help feeling very smug and remembering how stressful it was travelling with small children and thinking how much more satisfactory it was to travel with older children.

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Wednesday, August 16

Since we were staying for a fortnight in Paris, we were resigned to a trip to Eurodisney [incidentally autocorrect is suggesting that I change the word “Eurodisney” to “neurosis”, just saying]. Herself, however, had been with school as part of a school tour in April and was not very enthused. I, extremely nobly, offered to take the two boys and spare Mr. Waffle from this ordeal. In return, he booked the tickets online over his phone (in itself, a mammoth undertaking) and went into Montparnasse with us to print them out, the local printing place which had served us well earlier in the holiday clearly decided that the staff had suffered enough and it had closed up for the fermeture annuelle.

The boys and I took the RER out to Marne La Vallée and arrived about midday. It was quite warm and we were a bit confused by the Eurodisney layout. We got in reasonably speedily and took ourselves to a Jedi training session which I found distinctly underwhelming but the boys quite enjoyed.

I totally failed to understand the fastpass system (kind of a way to jump queues) and got us tickets for Buzz Lightyear. We finally got on our first ride at 3.10 after 70 minutes queuing. It was the Indiana Jones ride and it lasted about 5 minutes. I found it deeply unpleasant but the lads quite liked it even though Michael’s head bounced about which he, understandably, did not enjoy.

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We went to get another Fastpass ticket before going to the Buzz Lightyear experience. Alas, there were no more fastpass tickets to be had. The park was too full and all of the dispensers were closed. Given that we got our first ticket at midday and our next was only available after 3.20, this wasn’t great. We had some sustaining chips to help us deal with the pain. Did we queue for these? Yes we did.

Then, to my horror, I realised that I had only got two fastpass tickets. I needn’t have worried, the boys were fine on their own. While they were jumping the queue and enjoying the ride (only ok, they said), I was enjoying my own queuing experience outside the bathroom.

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The visitors in the park were mostly English, Dutch and German. I didn’t see any French visitors at all. The only French people were the staff struggling to show American levels of enthusiasm while being French. It was, frankly, an unequal battle. They were pathetically grateful to us for speaking French (pathetic in the sense that normally French people are not grateful at all and regard it as only right and proper that everyone speaks French). On one of the stalls the woman wearily addressed me in English (understandable, I look English, I do not look like a chic French person or even, lower bar, a chic Dutch or German person). I replied in French and she smiled warmly at me and apologised saying in a lowered tone, “Sorry, I thought you were English”. I only spoke to her in monosyllables afterwards to preserve the flattering illusion.

It was pricy. It was about €8 for a couple of ice pops and I felt considerable sympathy for English tourists paying out given that sterling was in freefall.

We then queued for 100 minutes, as timed on my phone, to get on to the Big Thunder ride. Partly we queued in shade but often in blazing sunshine. A real taste of the American west. The ride lasted about 10 minutes which is a long time in ride life and, I must say, it was really enjoyable. Not so enjoyable that we were prepared to queue again but pretty good.

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We had pizza for dinner; quite vile but the boys liked it. Did we queue for it? Yes, we did. Then we began to wend our way towards the exit. I said they could each buy a thing in the shops. Daniel found a glass and I queued up to pay. I found a queue with only one person in front of me (the thrill). 15 minutes later I was still there and the assistant had rung up €294 worth of Disney merchandise for this woman and it showed no sign of ending. I joined another, longer, queue and even though it was delayed by the woman in front of me deciding she did not, after all, want Simba, if he was that price and the cashier’s supervisor having to be called, I was still finished before the one person at the other queue was. I saw some poor fool take up a place behind her. He’s probably still there. Seriously, she must have spent well over €1,000 on Disney tat. Extraordinary.

The boys were delighted with the trip. Even though we spent most of the day queuing, they seem to have really loved it. In the evening, it was much more pleasant than in the middle of the day although still heaving with people. I might even have stayed a bit longer and used the movie lot ticket (bought but never used, alas) but the boys were exhausted and wanted to go home.

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We got slightly lost on the way to the train station on the way out. Harder to do than you might think. No, really. But soon we were speeding back to Paris. When we got off the RER, we had to go almost from one end of the metro line to the other. To pass the time on the metro home, we started playing various guessing games. So successful were these that it was not until Michael yelped, “We’ve missed our stop!” that I realised we had gone four stops too far. We hopped off. I was kicking myself as it was nearly 11 at night at this stage and I was wondering what time the metro stopped. Spoiler, some time after 11. We got safely home eventually and Mr. Waffle and herself were dutifully waiting up for us to ask about our day and to mock my inability to get off the metro at the right stop (her only, he was too grateful/tactful).

The bank told us Mr. Waffle’s credit card had been compromised. I blame Eurodisney.

Thursday, August 17

It was lashing, of course.

Earlier in the week we had booked in to a funfair museum for Thursday morning. Bitterly did I regret it as I dragged my exhausted sons from their beds. We took the tram – it was in Bercy and we ended up having to traipse through an old railway and for the first time saw rubbish in Paris.

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But once we got to the museum itself, all was delightful.

The museum had been recommended by my Parisian friend. The children were dubious. Happily, it was, hands down, the best thing we did in Paris. The guide was superb. The children were allowed to play on the old merry-go-rounds and use the old games.

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I would seriously recommend it to anyone with children planning a trip to Paris. We all loved it. Michael won the first horse race and was delighted with himself. Then Daniel won one.

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We all got to go on a carousel made of bicycles which was powered by the people on it and was surprisingly speedy and great fun.

Herself and Daniel made friends with an American girl and boy about their own ages and they went around together. The Princess discovered that her American friend was not allowed to have her own mobile phone and her life was a misery. On the other hand, her friend was going to start learning to drive from the following February when she turned 15 and herself nearly expired from envy when she heard this. Michael meanwhile was bonding with the tour guide, who pronounced him the best visitor she had ever had, and a lovely older couple from California. A part of me died when I heard him asking them what they thought of Donald Trump. I rushed up and said, “Michael, Irish people like to talk about politics a lot but I think for Americans and French people, it’s considered quite rude.” The woman said kindly, “It doesn’t matter and explained to Michael that she thought that any Americans he met in Paris were unlikely to be Trump supporters.” She turned to me and said sadly, “Of course, we came on holidays to get away from that but it’s the first question everybody asks us.” I did feel bad.

We went for lunch nearby. Apparently Mitterand was outraged that the Ministry of Finance was housed in the Louvre and turfed them out to Bercy. I am sure that they were outraged in their turn. I find it hard to imagine any individual in this State having the power to dislodge the Department of Finance from Government buildings but that’s the French presidential system for you, real, concentrated power, ability to move Finance officials to the middle of nowhere. The whole thing looked up in the air for a while when there was a concern that the Minister mightn’t be able to get to the Assembly in time for votes but then some smart person suggested that he could get a barge.

That evening Mr. Waffle suggested we should cycle to what is known in family lore as his “hellhole suburb” and on the map as Arceuil. This is where he lived when he was a student in Paris. It was within easy electric bike reach. Although his house, once found, did overlook a railway line, never really a plus, I didn’t think it was that bad. Not as nice as the student residence I enjoyed in Modena when I was doing my Erasmus year, but you can’t have everything.

Still not at the end. Are you exhausted yet?

Paris – Part Three

18 September, 2017 at 8:27 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, August 12

Herself and myself went for a wander around town. We went to the Galeries Lafayette. We went to Printemps. We went to H&M. We had a cup of tea on the quays and went to the bouquinistes where we had a great time poking around for hours and bought many pictures. She’s hung hers up but mine are still stacked up on the mantelpiece.

I’d left my phone back at the house so I was slightly worried that the others would be wondering what had become of us. I need not have worried. They seemed to think that we were well able to look after ourselves.

Sunday, August 13

We contemplated going to mass in Notre Dame but we were just too scared that we might have to queue to get in so we went to Saint Eustache in Les Halles instead. It’s an odd church. It is described as gothic and it is kind of gothic but it’s the first gothic church I have seen with Corinthian columns. Stand out sight was undoubtedly Louis XIV’s Minister for Finance’s monument. He was so successful at raising taxes for Louis XIV that his funeral had to be held at night so there wouldn’t be riots. The locals appeared to have noticed that he lived pretty high on the hog himself.

We went for lunch in Les Halles and then wandered down to the Pompidou centre which could be seen from the outside without queuing. While we had a cup of tea, Daniel befriended a young French child with a ball and he and Michael played happily in the square with him.

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I decided we would round out our day by taking in the view from the Arc de Triomphe. Not a super spectacular view but, presumably, less in demand for that very reason. No, that is not the case. It turns out that there is a grand big queue to get up the Arc de Triomphe as well. We wandered around the bottom instead. To be honest it’s not really quite the same.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle suggested that he and I could go out for a cycle on the French people’s bikes. He offered me the electric bike. I loved it. I always thought that I would get an electric bike for my 50th birthday but now I know that I can’t as if I did I would get no exercise whatsoever. I sailed around the suburbs taking any inclines in my stride. It was just delightful. Mr. Waffle took us to the Cité Universitaire which was nearby (on my super electric bike anyway). I’d never heard of it before but basically all sorts of countries built residences there for their students studying in Paris. Lots of countries represented with a bit of an emphasis on former French colonies. The whole area was green and pleasant with lots of paths for me to test the full power of my electric bicycle.

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I was so pleased with my bicycle ride that I insisted on prolonging it to inspect Leon the lamp post which is, you know, fine but still a lamp post. As the lamp post in Narnia, it burns day and night but you really can’t see that very well in day time.

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Monday, August 14

To their great relief, Mr. Waffle and I left the children at home alone and went into town together for a wander. We had a nice breakfast and then went to the Orangerie where put off by the queues for the gallery we sat, instead, under the shade of the trees on those nice green municipal chairs and looked out over the Place de la Concorde [fountains to wash away the blood and all that] and chatted.

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It was peaceful, it was sunny. We reminisced on the last time we had been in Paris together which was when I was pregnant with the boys and, daringly, we left herself with our lovely Polish cleaner for the weekend. It all went very well and when we came home, she could recite a number of Polish nursery rhymes (we were assured they were nursery rhymes, we weren’t really in a position to know).

It was as well that we had had an enjoyable morning. That afternoon we went to Aquaboulevard. Herself had been there before when she was in Paris and recommended it. It turns out that it is much more enjoyable during term time than on Monday 14 August when everyone left in Paris is on holidays (the 15th being a bank holiday and everyone “making the bridge”. If you are unfamiliar with this French term, you haven’t lived.) We pre-booked our tickets. As requested by management the gentlemen of the party bought speedo type togs, as shorts are not allowed. We were ready. In a daring move, we took the tram (public transport abroad other than metros is..exciting). When we arrived, the man at the door asked to see the boys’ swimsuits. They were wearing them so opened their trousers and showed him. We moved on. “Hey,” he said to Mr. Waffle, what about yours?” Hilariously, he too had to show his swimsuit which he was wearing. An auspicious beginning. When we reached the top of the stairs, the man guarding the entrance yelled down to his colleague “Have you checked the English people’s togs?” We ignored the error on nationality. Clearly they had been stung previously by hordes of English people descending in their Hawaiian shorts.

The pool itself was heaving. It was barely possible to stand in it, let alone swim in any direction. There were long, long queues for each of the slides. The pools were generally up to my shoulders so too deep for the children to stand in in comfort. Every time I lost sight of one of them (extremely easy to do in the mass of humanity wedged together in the pools notwithstanding the fact that they were several shades whiter than the whitest French people), I was terrified that they had drowned. There was a big sandy outdoor area and an outdoor pool as well as the indoor ones and it was a bit warm outside – this was one of the warmest days we were there which was why we had selected it for our pool day; clearly half of Paris had the same idea. It was pretty hideous. Alas.

We returned home and to cheer myself up after our swimming trips, I took another cycle on the electric bike around the mean streets of the suburbs. I amused myself by looking at the price of houses in Paris. Unsurprising: Paris is dear. Even Malakoff is dear; well over a million euros for a medium sized 3 bedroom house.

That night, I discovered that the Princess was obeying the letter if not the spirit of the ban on electronic devices in the bedroom. I noticed that the light in the basement (storage spot for spare pasta, pulses, water, milk and various other essentials) was on and, when I turned it off, there was a shriek of indignation from the bottom of the stairs. Herself was on the phone to her friend. At regular intervals for the remainder of the holiday, I would see her haring down the stairs to talk to some friend or other. The washing machine was there as well and Mr. Waffle frequently ran into her while rescuing the laundry.


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