Friday, September 8, 2017

Wedding rehearsal, 1 September 2017

Wedding Rehearsal

We wake up early, Madeleine does laundry while Barney makes breakfast, and so gather what we’ll need for the rehearsal. We dress and drive to Staithe House, the Bax family home in Brancaster Staithe on The Wash, an inlet of the North Sea. When we were here a few years ago, we went kayaking with a Briony  the water, and Barney was brave enough to go in swimming with her (I was not, it was much too cold).

The house and gardens looks stunning. A huge tent fills the ear years near the seaside trail, and a team is busy finishing installation and setting up tables. The rose garden looks magnificent, everything is blooming, and there is a new Woden arbor under which the Emory will take place, which tomorrow will be decorated with flowers. We find Briony, who introduces us to Ivan the cellist, we’ve arrived early so we can run the piece with him before the actual rehearsal starts. We go through it a few times, get the tempo set, and then it is time for the rehearsal. Madeline bee to see Natasha, we say hi to Simon and Charlotte, meet the bridesmaids and Jerry the officiant, and find our places. Ivan plays the entry music, Natasha looks so happy, Geoff’s mother does her reading, and then it is time for us to sing. It goes perfectly – what a relief! – and then Briony reads one of her poems called “Counting the thunder” and we’re almost all in tears as she chokes up a bit at the end. They Jerry goes over how he’ll do the comments and the vows, and Ivan pays the Queen of Sheba music by Handel for the exit. Everyone seems quite relieved that the rehearsal not so well. Of course there are many background details Briony and Natasha are a bit concerned about, but we are confident all will work out given their great teamwork.

Back to Burnham Market to buy hats! Madeleine and I have our dresses to help with selecting a hat. We go to Pensey’s, the amazing hat Place Barney and I visited last trip, where he got his nice wool fedora. Walking into this satire is like walking into a rainbow. Hats of every color land style for ladies, and quite a selection for men as well. The owner is ready for visitors needing hats, and she fusses over each hat selection, bringing out several candidates to help match the shoes or the dress. Madeleine chooses a sweet pink disk, not to big, not too small, and I find a lovely cream and white brimmed hat with matching purse. Barney faithfully holds dresses and shoes and gives words of approval on final selections. We leave with a large hatbox, large enough to hold both hats, and cross back to The Hoste for the rehearsal luncheon.

The large terrace is set for the rehearsal luncheon, three lovely courses, beautiful flowers, and a few speeches. Everyone seems a bit relieved, and we head back to the cottage after Barney has a chance to view their Lord Nelson exhibit, of important dates and some memorabilia. The Hoste was his base of operations for many years, and he was from a nearby town; William Hoste, whose family owned the inn, was a ship boy for Nelson, and one of his favorites, late becoming a renowned sea caption who was the model for Captain Aubrey of the Patrick O’brien novels. Soon after, Camden and Emilie arrived Camden who knows Natasha from Head Royce as well as Wellesley, and Emilie who is a friend from Wellesley. Every one settles in and unpacks, and the girls have a chance to chat. Then it is time to get ready for the welcome drinks party, and we walk back to The Hoste. The cocktail party is packed, all the out of town guests of which the ere are many. We ,eat some of Simon’s relatives, eat some amazing local oysters, and return home for a good rest.

London to Norfolk, 31 August 2017

London to Norfolk

We leave the Airbnb place (nice location but odd, no toilet paper when we arrived, lots of food left in the refrigerator) and haul ourselves to St. Pancras station. As always, the Enterprise car rental is the least expensive, as they are always located in some odd place not at the main airport or train station (as we learned in Paris). After quite a bit of traipsing around with our luggage, we finally find it inside the parking garage by the station. The car rental guy, Hamid, is extremely helpful and spends a lot of time with Barney on the car operation and showed me the GPS. We have a BMW sedan, as there will eventually be four of us plus luggage.  We decided to stop in Cambridge for lunch, which is very much a pedestrian town with limited parking. We find a small café, I have a chicken salad and Barney has a filled frittata, and we head out to walk around the town. You have to buy tickets to go into the actual college buildings, so we content ourselves with walking through the Medieval streets and visiting the Great St. Mary’s church, where the earliest scholars and students met for lectures, before the college buildings were erected.

Back on the road to Kings Lynn in. Or folk, where we will pick up Madeleine. She has been backpacking along Hadrian’s Wall, an 85+ mile walk she has done in about 10 days, allowing plenty of time for the many archaeological museums along the way. After some bad directions from the GPS and circling the train station three times, we finally connect with her, and are so happy to see her! There is a grocery store nearby, so we get some basics for breakfast, and head to Burnham Market. At The Hoste, we get the keys and head just outside the main square to the cottage,  3-bedroom, 3-1/2-bath place with full kitchen, dining room and living room. We settle in and go back to The Hoste for dinner, Barney had duck, I had a lobster shrimp salad (local shellfish) and Madeleine has an unfortunately dry cod. We head back to practice the song a bit, and get ready for the wedding rehearsal tomorrow.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

London museum day, 30 August 2017

London museum day

Although I wake up at 4am and never really get back to sleep, Barney sleeps well, and is up making breakfast. I pack lunches, and we're off to a day of museums, which is good because today is the day is supposed to mostly rain. We head to Buckingham Palace on the bus, which is nice as we get to see more of London than underground. It is crowded but everything moves smoothly. This year's exhibition is of gifts that come from various heads of state from all over the globe. These are presented in the various salons, the throne moom, the state dining room, etc. The rooms are, of course, gorgeous and stately, a symphony of white and gold, and the house was mostly redecorated by George IV, and was significantly expanded by Queen Victoria for her large family. I think there are 50-some family bedrooms, 150+ staff bedrooms, 70+ bathrooms, and over 700 rooms total. Perhaps most memorable is the picture gallery, reflecting acquisitions by George IV, which include. Rembrandt, a few Rubens, a couple Titians, several Lorraines, and much more of that era. The palace is also filled with family portraits (Winterthaler was Vicoria's favorite portraitist), whom I can mostly identify, although interestingly many are not labeled. It makes me think about a family actually living here, and whether the children run around inside these rooms (probably not) and grow up seeing portraits of the ancestors (probably). We have some tea (hot chocolate for Barney) on the covered cafe terrace outside and eat our sandwiches, then stop by the gift shop which was huge and crowded, en route out the garden. It is raining heavily, and we take another bus to our afternoon destination, the Victoria & Alber Museum.

What an incredible place! It has a bit of everything, rather like the Louvre, from ancient statues to early 20th century works. They are currently hosting a Balenciaga fashion exhibit, an exhibit on Pink Floyd, and one on plywood, so naturally we go to see the plywood exhibit. It is actually quite interesting to see how they cut the thin veneers, how it can be molded into almost any shape, he he Hanna gliders and Mosquito fighters of WWII we're made mostly of plywood, and how entire houses are now pre-fabricated of plywood. We then continue on to see the oldest museum restaurant in the world, comprised of the three original rooms, one stunning one by William Morris, and of course a modern addition. We then head down to the Medieval section, something I always enjoy, and they have an amazing collection. Of course massive amounts of gold and silver sacred materials, including a small house-shaped tabernacle of gold, silver, ivory, and cloisonné, all the high decorative arts, simply stunning. We go through several galleries devoted to stained glass, the earliest items from around 1100, amazing that they survive, and quite a few examples from churches in Germany and France, I wonder how they got to London? We end by going through a galley devoted to secular materials, gold and silver  dishes for the nobility, jewelry, and a stunning huge tapestry of a giant Medieval house party. Recordings of period music set the tone, and I am really enjoying this section, I could spend days in here.

Finally it is time to go - closing it down again - and we take a slow, rush hour bush that takes 30 minutes to go about 15 blocks. Dishoom is again an hour wait, so we go off to a pub we saw the night before, the Salisbury. Already packed (or maybe it is the rain), Ed find a table, Barney has a steak and ale pie with peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes, which was good, and I have the hunter chicken, which has bacon and cheese plus fries (chips) and salad, plus two pints of Guinness. Happy and full, we head out into the rain for the apartment. Time to pack and get ready for the tip to Norfolk on Thursday.

London, a day about the sea, 29 August 2017

A day about the sea

After a smooth two flights from SFO to Dulles to London, we arrive via Heathrow express and metro at our Airbnb apartment near Leiscester Square, not far from Piccadilly Circus, around 10pm. Despite the fact that it is a Sunday, there are huge crowds out and about, party because Monday is  bank holiday, party because it has been squire warm today (almost 80 degrees), and party because this is the last week of vacation before school. After dropping our bags and getting some water, we head  out to find a grocery to get some milk, coffee and yogurt for breakfast, but by close to 11pm, the only places open are mostly liquor stores. We get a few items, walk back in the warm night to the apartment, and sleep until almost 8am.

After a quick coffee, we find a Whole Foods about 5 blocks away, and get necessities for the few days we'll be here (including toilet paper, of which the apartment had none when we arrived). Now with fresh fruit and makings for lunch, we have breakfast and get ready to head out for the day. Our focus today is the Cutty Sark ship (which we missed last time) and the huge National Maritime Museum which Barney is keen to visit again (we had only an hour last visit).

Four trains later, we arrive at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich on a warm day, and immediately head onto this enormous ship, built in 1869 for the tea trade. It is a machine built for speed while maximizing precious cargo area, and could go from China to London in 79 days, more than 15,000 miles. We have a great time walking around the very instructive exhibits, and learning about how the ship was saved, stored, experienced a fire, and was restored again.

We trek up King William's Walk to the Royal Obsevatory and the Prime Meridian, which is at the top of a small bill. The Observatory was built by King George III for the first Royal Astronomer, whose job was to make accurate astronomical observations and publish details to aid in navigating, fishing,  and other fields. the Prime Meridian is located here, and it was fascinating to learn here that were four different merdians placed within about 20' of each other by the different Royal Astronomers, until they finally settled on the one that came to be called the Prime Meridian. A fascinating exhibit described the Longitude challenge of the 18th century, when the British Parliament promised a huge prize to anyone who could build an accurate instrument for measuring longitude. Longitude allowed much better location than latitude alone, and a man named Harrison invented the chronometer, a type of clock, after several versions, which do so accurately and won him the prize.

We hike down the hill to the  National Maritime Museum, Barney's choice for the day, which we saw briefly on our last trip. It is a celebration of the days of sail, and there is a whole gallery devoted to Admiral Lord Nelson, including the uniform he was wearing when he died, where shows the bullet hole that killed him. We saw the J.M.W. Turner "Battle of Trafalgar", a monumental painting of the decisive battle a Nelson won where he was killed. another exhibit is ballet the Battle of Jutland, the major naval conflict between England and Germany in WWI, which neither of us had heard of, but was a great study in strategy and the limitations of navigation and communications of the day. The museum was filled with ship models, equipment that people used no board, and everything from cuff links to fans that celebrated Nelson's victory. there is a reason that London has a Trafalgar Square with a giant column and statue of Lord Nelson. He was from Norfolk, and last visit we went to a pub Nelson used to visit.

Back on the train to central London. We go to a dishoom, but they have over an hour wait, and we are both too hungry. Barney is attracted by the a place across the street, Tredwell, and we go there and have a lovely dinner. To start, I have a Boulevard, which is good but the absolute standout is Barney's drink, gin with muddled cucumber, St. Germain, apple juice, and basil. I get three starters, a ham terrine, then a crab-tomato salad, and finally a poached egg with hollandaise on a bed of bacon and braised mushrooms, which was delicious. Barney had a perfectly done hangar steak with roasted broccoli and a nice Malbec. Dessert for Barney was a peanut butter pudding with the darkest chocolate sorbet I've ever seen, whhcih he really enjoyed, and I had an almost-apricot parfait, light and delicious.

We walk back to the apartment and fall into bed, tired after a wonderful full day in London.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Back to Paris

Up early again - what is going on with this - as we need to leave by 8:00am for Paris to meet our airbnb host at 12:15. All goes well between the GPS and the maps, until we hit the Peripherique and traffic backs up. We miss the 12:15 meeting, I text her, and she is nearby so we can be a bit late.This is the hairy part, as we need to find a parking space nearby so we can unload, which amazingly, we did. All bags upstairs, short briefing on the place which is lovely, and we're ready to go. We go to the place that makes Parisian street signs, only to find they have moved (why did I not call ahead?), and then very hungry, try several paces where the mangez is no longer possible. At last, we try the Crepe place I heard so much about, but once again - third time - it is closed. We give up, and go to the same place I went to last time the crepe place was closed, near the old market, We have large salads and a drink, and feel much better.

We walk over toward Notre-Dame and spend a little time inside, listening to the organist warm up, absorbing all the incredible beauty in this one building. I think a lot of the tourists may be here juts to cool off, but with so many people here it is not as cool as some other churches. We then walk across the bridge on the Left Bank, and over to rue Mouffetard to do some food shopping. However, we find that rue Mouufetard is mostly clothing shops and restaurants now, with only a few food specialty shops at the end o the street, and those closed because it is Monday. We navigate some items at Franprix and get a few peaches at the one place that is open, and head back to the apartment to unload.

This evening, we are seeing Alexandra and her sons Antoine, Louise, and Benoit for dinner. It is wonderful to see them again. Alexandra looks quite chic with her new short haircut. Antoine has a beard now and is 19, studying business. Louis is 6, interested in medieval literature, and Benoit is 12 and trying to keep up with all the English. hey are really wonderful boys, very well-behaved and interesting to talk to. I tell Alexandra she has done a great job with them, which is true. After an interesting amuse-bouche (pea purée in a hard-cooked eggshell), I get a terrine which I split with Barney, and then about the best piece of salmon I have had anywhere in France, delicious and succulent. Dessert is the Baba au rhum for which the restaurant is famous (Au Bain Coin). Everyone enjoys this, and finally we say farewell, in Kong the younger baby's to come to California sometime for summer intensives.

Walking back to the apartment, finally it cools off a little, it is so nice to be relaxed and without a schedule. Time to catch up on the blog.

A Relaxing Sunday

Because of the long holiday weekend, Thierry and Nathalie told us that the return to Paris on Sunday would be "black," even worse than red, perhaps double the time we had planned. So we decide to stay an extra day, change our dinner with Alexandra and our airbnb and car rental, and spend a lovely relaxing day in Échiré. First we go to see Benjamin who is playing in a football (soccer) tournament that day, 6-8 15-minute games in sweltering heat. Kids are amazing to handle all this. Watching them brings back memories of Madeleine's soccer days and Barney's coaching. We go back to the house, eat a simple salad lunch, and then Benjamin comes home later, his team finished 8th of 16, and he had a nice trophy. I do some laundry - it dries almost immediately outside on the laundry line - and just hang out and relax.

Then we walk to a local park for some pétanque, and tings get serious very quickly, Benjamin in squire competitive, and Margaux is not thrilled when she loses a point , so the whole thing is quite interesting. I even played a bit during out US vs. France team thing, and of course we lost. This makes we want to do this at home even more. Then Nathalie makes a lovely dinner, radishes and pate, then a seafood salad, and the leftover chocolate mousse and creme Brûlée from the first night we were here. We eat outside on the front porch at the table, and it is quite nice. After such a lovely weekend, we pack up and prepare to depart early the next day.

Bordeaux!

Another early morning, up at 6:00am so we can leave right at 7:00am for a a secret "adventure" that Nathalie and Thiery have planned for us, but they won't tell us what it is. We roll out at 7:00am, and they tell us we are driving to Bordeaux, about 2 hours away, for a 9:30 appointment. It is a lovely drive through the countryside, and we arrive at the outer borders of Bordeaux, where there are parking lots and a very cool tram system that takes you into town (so there can be fewer cars in town). The 5 Euros for parking gives you unlimited riding on the tram all day for all people in your car, which is a great deal.

We go to the Palais de Justice, which is both an old traditional building and a new and somewhat odd one, with cone-like wooden structures enclosing the courtrooms. The group is led by a virbrant women who speaks only French, I understand some of what she says, and Nathalie does some translation. A young man who I think is her son is doing a video of the tour.

Our first stop is a wonderful gourmet boulangerie and patisserie, call Koin (a play on coin, as it is on the corner), owner by a man who used to be an architect. They take us down in the basement to see the Owens and pastry-making areas, which are large and have a lot of flour on the floor. The young baker, who started when he was 16, gives us details on how they approach their breads. Upstairs, they have set up a table for the group, and we get to taste three breads and two pastries. One bread is the young baker's own creation, a yellowish bread with bits of corn and papaya in it, which is good, a moderate whole wheat which is nice, and then a darker multi-seed bread which is delicious. They serve these with plenty of butter and strawberry jam that the woman who leads the tour made herself. Of course the croissant has a delicate crust and the pain au chocolate is terrific, Barney tells me.

We walk to our next stop, a shop founded in 1838 for traditional products of the region. There we taste a Dillon and rillette of duck liver, with the rillette being a bit more flavor awful and spicy, we are told, because it has less fat. We buy some of this, as well as a jar of the salted caramel sauce which we also taste. They serve a young local wine with the rillette, which is nice

Then on to La Dune Balance, named after the white sand dunes somewhere nearby (I did not get all of this) where they invented this extraordinary creme-filled puff that absolutely melts in your mouth.We each have one, the eyes close, the oohs and says comefrom everyone, and this is the lovely ending to our tour.
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We then walked around, following a path in the tourism map, though the old part of town, sa the Saint-Andre cathedral, and went to the waterfront, where a large group of 0' sloops were gathered for a race that would begin in a few days. MAIF, Theirry and Nathalie's employer, sponsors a boat in the race, and their virtual reality booth has a system that they had brought to the office one day as well.

It is very hot - almost 96 degrees - and we head over to the "water mirror" a think layer of water near the waterfront, from which come spurts of mist and burbles of water from time to time.This is very popular with children, and some adults, and we enjoy watching the reactions of the children when the water spurts up.

We continue our walk, decide we are getting hungry, and found a place with a large variety of main dish salads, just the thing for a hot day. We each get a different salad, so nice and cool and delicious.  We continue out]r walk, and I feel so tired and hot, at one point I saw "I wish I could lay down in the grass somewhere and sleep for a few minutes". And lo and behold, we find a little park in the middle of everything, with a small pond, and Thierry, Barney and I laid down for a nap on the grass (while Nathalie went to St. Catherine Street, the big shopping street) to look around. This was the very first time I have ever slept in a park and it felt so wonderful!


We continue out we all,and I am concerned about Barney getting sunburned, so I buy him a nice gray tweed-y looking cotton hat with a discreet Bordeaux sign on it. We stop at a tea shop for cool drinks, which helped cool us down, because there is really nothing else you can do when it is 96 degrees out, but then leaving brought all the heat back - the high was 96 that day around 5pm.
As we continued our walk, we found another plaza  and get some delicious ice cream and walk around a bit. We sat for about half an hour by the Place de la Bourse, people watching and waiting for it to cool off.

Dinner was at 7:30 at  the Brasserie Bordelaise, with delicious food and quite a huge array of wines. Fully sated with charcuterie, lamb and duck, we roll back to the car on the tram and head for Echire. Thierry was nice enough to drive home while we are all quite sleepy, and we did indeed sleep well that night. What a lovely adventure with our friends!