Friday, January 11, 2008

Christmas and Francais Festivities

Well, it was as expected a cold and rainy Christmas in ye olde London town. The city was empty - anyone with any sense had fled to the country, and there was no public transport running. But I must say that Christmas feels better placed in Winter, and all the references to frost and snow in Christmas carols feel far more in context. Brown Dog's mum had also come over to join us for Christmas period to stop us from becoming a couple of sad saps who would end up having M&S ready meals for Christmas lunch and getting drunk on mulled wine.

Instead, we went to a lovely pub in Hampstead called the Freemason's Arms and had a delicious three course meal and some Aussie red wine to remind us of home. Due to the said lack of transport we made the unwise decision to walk to the pub and so were totally drenched by the time we arrived. But the day went well. Here's us enjoying our Chrissy lunch:


We then went for a walk on Hampstead Heath and watched the sunset - it seemed to be full of people despite the fact that it was cold, wet, and now also dark. Then we went home and watched the Dr Who special. So, all in all, a pretty British Christmas I think.

It was then off to Paris to spend the New Year and also a week down in South Western France. In my continuing quest to see every museum and exhibition I can lay my hands on, I saw the Colours of Paris exhibition at the Hotel De Ville and went to the Musee d'Orsay for the first time (lots of impressionists, if you're into that kind of thing). But I ran out of steam pretty quickly because of all the endless queuing. There seem to be a million more queues in Paris than anywhere else I've been to, all outside and even for the more obscure stuff - I can't figure out why this is.

I felt pretty chuffed as I managed to make my way around the city (okay, the Latin Quarter) without any need of a map (well, I had one look), and I had not one but two (stilted) conversations with shop people in French. Making progress!

I also had the chance to catch up with two of my wonderful girlfriends from 'delaide. It was great to see them, but next time girls, we need to have more champagne involved!

New Years Eve was a definite highlight as Brown Dog had organised for the three of us to go on a dinner dance cruise down the Seine. I know that sounds a bit middle aged, but it was fun. I started the night off well by drinking five glasses of champagne before I'd even set foot on the boat, but luckily it was a five course meal so I had something to even it all out. There was an interested mix of people - some French, some English, some Americans (including one woman who was apparently in Little Miss Sunshine), a lovely German lady and of course the mandatory bogan Australians.

(With the glass that stayed in my hand all night)

The lovely thing about the cruise was that everything was organised for you. All you had to do was sit there and consume and chat to people. And in our case, try and figure out what the beautiful American lesbian couple sitting opposite us were getting up to under the table.

(This photo is good for demonstrating (a) how drunk we were and (b) how under dressed we were)

When the clock stuck midnight, we were literally right next to the Eiffel Tower, and were able to watch it go all sparkly. It was very simple but effective and from what I saw, the French generally have Christmas light decorations down to a fine art (in the countryside, every village was beautifully but not garishly lit up). This was the magical moment:

A highlight of my week was making the trip out to Versailles, which I had been keen to visit for a very long time (especially since I read an excellent biography of Marie Antoinette). It was amazing, elegant and incredibly over the top. Unfortunately, all of the original furniture was looted during the revolution, so a lot of the furniture they had was borrowed from other European royal families. It is a shame in terms of preservation and I get the impression that it is not an uncommon problem in France. Anyway, for those history nerds like me, here is the door in the Queen's bedroom through which Marie Antoinette escaped the first night of the revolution, a.k.a angry washerwoman night:

This is another one of the back of Versailles, generally looking grand:


It was amazing to see despite the fact it was an absolutely freezing day, but I'll have to make a return trip in the summer to see the gardens in bloom and fountains on (apparently in time with classical music which is somehow broadcast) and the Petit Trianon (M-A's residence), which they are renovating and will not open until June. So, (sigh)... I guess I'll just have to return to Paris in June then.

Next post: the beautiful Belves and South West France.