UK – Part II

Sunday in Corfe Mullen greeted us with cold winds and overcast skies. Later that afternoon we headed to the Lamb’s Green Inn to meet up with a group of old friends. I was absolutely blown away by how many people showed up, despite the yukky weather! It was so lovely to see old school chums, ballet school and college friends, and many more… people that I have known since I was a little girl! Honestly, upon seeing them all, it felt like I had never been away. That’s the beauty of old and true friends. It doesn’t matter how long you have been apart, you pick right up where you left off when you do see each other. Everyone braved the crappy weather outside in the beer garden (no children allowed inside near the bar)… and then finally we merged indoors and ate dinner. It was just so good to catch up with everyone. I wish I had been able to spend more time with everyone individually, but this was a great way to see friends and hug them when our time in the UK was so limited. I am truly so grateful to everyone who gave up their Sunday afternoon to come and hang out with the Porters! We love you all!

On Monday, we got up and packed up a picnic before heading off to Beaulieu. Beaulieu boasts a wonderful motor museum, house, and gardens. We met up with our dear friends Stoss and Michael (they drove down from Bucks) and enjoyed a fabulous day. The weather held out for us and Gwennie really enjoyed seeing all the cars (as did Bill and Michael!), the beautiful “palace” (Beaulieu house!), and she loved tripping around the gardens and children’s play areas. It was lovely to see Stoss and Michael… again we were so grateful to them for coming as Stoss had only just had a stent placed the week before! My hero! Nothing stops that lady!

On Monday night my BFF from Grammar School, Jacqui, came over for dinner. Jacqui came to our little reunion on Sunday, but she flew all the way from Spain to come and say “Hi!” to me, so we planned to have an evening together at Mum’s to just relax and catch up properly. We ordered a Chinese takeout and proceeded to laugh all night! It was SO good to see her. We haven’t done so in about 20 years! Again, it was like we had never been apart! I was so grateful to her for coming all that way so that we could be together! Wow… I have some amazing friends!

On Tuesday, we headed out to one of my favourite local places and historical landmarks… Corfe Castle! We parked the car and jumped on the Swanage railway. It was Gwennie’s first time on a steam train! So much fun! I think she was a tad disappointed though that the train didn’t look completely like the Hogwart’s Express on the inside! We got off the train at Corfe and walked around the ruins of the castle. It was a lovely day… the sun came out to play at last! We went to the Greyhound Inn for lunch and then had a mosey around the village. We visited the Model Village, which is always a delight. It boasts a mini-version of Corfe and its village, a fairy garden (big hit with G!), and areas to play draughts, Connect-4, croquet, hopscotch, etc. The garden there is just stunning! Beds crammed full with various colours of poppies, foxgloves, peonies, roses, lupines, and on and on. We visited some of the shops in the village and Gwennie has acquired a penchant for looking in churches, so we took her in to the Parrish Church, St. King Edward, King and Martyr. It was a really lovely day. We took the train back to the car park and then drove home via the ferry, which is always a fun thing to do. We stopped on the top of the hill and enjoyed the beautiful scenery down below of Sandbanks, Bournemouth, and all across the bay.

Wednesday we ventured closer to home to Kingston Lacy. It is an elegant country house now owned by the National Trust and boasts beautiful acres of gardens and parkland. We enjoyed looking in the house and hearing all the history and we had a lovely walk in the extensive gardens and surrounding area. We enjoyed a nice lunch sitting outside at the Stables Restaurant.

That evening we met up with my Godparents, Vera & Burt, and headed out to the Taj for an Indian meal! LOVE! It’s a standard when I go back home… I must have fish and chips, sausage rolls, and an Indian! It was fabulous to see V&B and Gwennie really enjoyed them. We had a wonderful meal and our servers were delightful.

On Thursday, our last day, we headed to Castlepoint to do a little shopping, before heading home to pack up out suitcases. (Boo!) Mum cooked us Toad in the Hole that evening! Another of my absolute favourite dishes (who says the Brits don’t know good food???). It was splendid, of course! What a great send off!

And Friday the 28th came all too soon. Our car picked us up at 8:45am and we were off to Gatwick Airport.

I’m feeling all emotional and choked up as I sit here and type this. I am not going to lie… I have serious post-Europe blues. I get homesick at the best of times, but it is only highlighted more now due to our recent visit. I am so grateful to my lovely Mum for putting the three of us up in her sweet little home and for taking such great care of Gwennie so that we could visit Paris. I am also so thankful for the dear friends and family who came to see us whilst we were there. To those that we didn’t have time to see, I am so very sorry and we will hopefully catch you next time. Two weeks just isn’t enough and I hope/plan to come for longer next time.

A little break now… I am trying to get back into the Florida swing of things again. Photo posts to follow soon!

UK & Paris Trip – Part I

We just got back from a wonderful 2-week family trip to the UK and France. I cant believe it is already over and we are currently flying back home.

We left for London Gatwick on Friday 14th June and arrived on Saturday 15th. We headed down to my Mum’s home in Dorset. It was so great to see her and finally meet her little King Charles Cavalier, Alfie. We were pretty shattered when we arrived, as our flight had been a red-eye and neither Bill nor I had slept. G managed to get a couple of hours’ shut-eye on the plane and in the car on the drive down to Mum’s.

It was definitely a bit of a climate shock being back in England. They haven’t been blessed with much good weather so far this summer. We certainly found it chilly and wet! But we had come prepared with raincoats and wellies, so we went with the flow.

On Sunday, friends Andrea and Cliff came over to visit us for the afternoon. Mum cooked a lovely baked salmon for lunch and we enjoyed perfectly sweet English strawberries and cream for dessert. We took Alfie for a nice walk and braved the cool winds up on the rec. It was lovely to see A & C. They are such a giggle!

Monday, Mum’s wonderful neighbours and friends, Heather, Malcolm, and Tony came over for an evening feast. I made peach sangria and we had a laugh together. It was so good to see them all and catch up. Mum is so lucky to have such great people living around her. I am envious of the bond they all have! They all have each other’s backs and are true friends to one another.

Tuesday, Bill and I bid adieu to Mum and G and we caught the train up to London Waterloo, where our friend James met us and escorted us across town to St. Pancras. We headed up to the champagne bar, where Bill’s cousin Michael also joined us! He is currently living in London. We enjoyed a bottle of bubbly (thank you, James!) and caught up a little before Bill and I had to leave to catch the Eurostar to Paris. We were so grateful to J and M for coming to meet us for such a short interlude!

On to gay Paris!!! Neither Bill nor I had been to Paris before, so it was a new adventure for us both. We were astonished at how quickly we arrived in France. The scenery leading up to the city was just gorgeous; very rural and pretty. A lot of the French people on the train had the right idea… bringing their own picnics and bottles of wine! Smart!

Once at the Gare du Nord, we hit the taxi stand and headed for our hotel. We breathed in our first impressions of this City of Lights. It was so busy and full of crazy traffic (and subsequently crazy drivers)! The buildings were beautiful and everything seemed very uniform in set-up. Our hotel, La Maison Favart, was a little boutique hotel in the Opera district. It was beautiful and very tasteful. The bellhop/concierge, Hakim, was charming and most helpful. Our room was small… but we expected that having read that rooms in Paris are teeny! It was a little dark as both windows looked out onto extremely small closed courtyards and all we could see were the opposite walls. The bathroom was fabulous though… particularly the waterfall shower. Amazing water pressure! Such a joy!

Bill has a client, Jerome Bocuse, who runs Les Chefs du France at Epcot. Jerome has been exceedingly generous to us in the past at his restaurant. When he heard that we were going to Paris, he wanted us to head to Lyon to visit his father, Paul Bocuse at his restaurant. We felt that we did not have enough time to travel so far due to only being in Paris a few days. Jerome got in touch with Bill the day we were traveling and told us he had booked us a table at Jules Vernes on the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. Normally, one needs to book months in advance to eat at such a place, but within just a few hours he had hooked us up! What a treat! It was pretty exciting being ushered into the private entrance for the restaurant. I was bowled over when we were lead to a table right by the window! The view completely took my breath away! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Words cannot describe it! I felt like a little girl and couldn’t stop smiling! The impeccable staff proceeded to serve us an amazing 6-course meal complete with wine pairing. It was absolutely out of this world. (Following this entry I will be posting photos of our holiday in sections, so you will get to see all the fabulous things we ate!). The wonderful thing about eating in Europe is that you are not rushed through a meal… and we enjoyed all of our courses over the period of about two and a half hours. It was perfect! Eventually, darkness fell and we were able to see the city’s beautiful lights at night. The highlight of the evening was discovering that Jerome had taken care of our bill. Wow! What an amazingly kind and thoughtful thing to do! We were stunned and felt truly blessed! Merci beaucoup, Jerome!

Wednesday morning, we were up early and away to take part in a Paris Along the Seine Tour with Sight Seeker’s Delight tour company (recommended to me by one of my clients). Isabel was our lovely guide for 5 hours. We started by the Notre Dame Cathedral and proceeded to walk checking out the sights along the way and hearing lots of historical tales about the city. We didn’t get to go inside, but aside from seeing the Notre Dame, we also walked through the grounds of the Louvre. We were amazed by how immense it was! It just goes on and on! We walked through the Latin Quarter and stopped to have lunch at Paul’s. Oh my goodness, the baguettes in France are to die for! Yum! We trekked to La Place du Concorde and the Tuilleries Gardens (gorgeous!) where we stopped to hear Isabel tell us brief history of Paris. We walked down the Champs Élysées and saw the Grand and Petit Palaces, and this is where Isabel bid us farewell. She told us that we really should see the Opera House at it was “a feast for the eyes”. So we headed that way.
Isabel wasn’t wrong! The Opera Garnier was magnificent… so extravagant the decor, one couldn’t help but gasp at every turn. A ballet company was rehearsing on the stage so we were unable to see the auditorium in the light… all the lights were out for practice. We were certain it was fabulous in there!

Upon leaving, we walked past the front steps of the Opera House and Bill turned to me and said, “There are some people here to see you!” I was taken aback as he led me up the steps to a couple that were hiding underneath a cardigan! Imagine my delight when I discovered that couple was Michaela and Ramiro, my dear friends from Austria!!! What a truly wonderful surprise! I haven’t seen them in 12 years! We all worked together in Vienna for 6 years. Michi is from Carinthia in Austria and Ramiro is from Rio in Brazil. Ramiro and I shared an apartment together for a long time when we were dancing together. We were very close friends. Michi and I have avidly kept in touch over the years since I left Austria. She helps me keep my Deutsch in check! They have a beautiful 4-year-old daughter, Amabel. Anyway, we immediately found a little cafe by the Opera so that we could stop, get a drink, eat and chat! I felt like I was in a dream! Apparently, when they heard that Bill and I were going to Paris, they decided they couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to come and surprise me and spend a few days with us! My husband, of course, orchestrated the whole thing with them! Michi and I couldn’t stop hugging each other! We have talked for so long about reuniting. They were unable to make our wedding back in 2005 and I haven’t had chance to go back to Austria since I left in 2001. It meant so much to me that they made the trip to France to come and be with us!

We headed back to the hotel. Bill took a nap and M, R, and I headed down to the spa for a sauna and swim. It was so refreshing! (Bill worked out that we had walked about 9 miles that first day all in all!)
We headed to St. Germain and had dinner at La Poissonerie… a wonderful neighbourhood gem! We then came back to the hotel and enjoyed a few glasses of vin rouge before heading to bed.

I have to make a brief interlude here to say that I did not have one bad glass of wine in Paris! I tried both red and white (Bordeaux and Chablis were my faves!) and they were all great! The bread was amazing everywhere too!

Thursday we were set to go on a tour of Montmartre (the artists’ district). Our lovely guide Louise and drizzly rain greeted us! Boo! Nevertheless, we donned raincoats and umbrellas and braved it! We began our tour in the red light district by the Moulin Rouge. We then began our trek up the hills of beautiful Montmartre. It is another world up there! So gorgeous and quaint. I loved it! It was so wonderful to hear the old tales of Van Gogh and Picasso and other artists. It was fun to see the cafe, grocery store and apartments that were featured in the movie Amelie. A we approached the Sacre Coeur it began to pour down with rain. We headed inside to take a look. It is the most amazing church… so breathtakingly beautiful outside and in. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay too long inside as I started to feel a little light-headed and faint. I’m not sure if it was the walk up… the claustrophobic-making crowds of people… the lack of sleep… or the fact that God was seriously looking down on me! Hahahaha! Anyway, I had to make a quick exit and take some deep breaths!

At the end of our tour we found a nearby cafe for lunch so that we could refuel. Then we decided to head back to the Tuillieries Gardens, La Place du Concorde, and then on to the Champs Élysées where we walked the miles of shops!

That evening we set off for an evening with La Nouvelle Eve (located near the Moulin Rouge). It was a fabulous show… great dancers and other performers (acrobats, magicians, etc). We really enjoyed it and ourselves! I had heard that the Moulin Rouge was just super touristy and crowded, hence me choosing La Nouvelle Eve. It was a good choice!

After the show, we set off to find somewhere to eat. We tried one place that had been recommended to us by our tour guides, but it was closed. We then foolishly relied on our taxi driver to take us somewhere. I have absolutely no idea which arrondissement we ended up in, but it was definitely geared to tourists. (Yes, I know we were tourists, but we wanted to experience the “real” Paris!) We ended up in this place that looked cute on the outside but the food was really poor. The dinging of the microwave as we walked in should have alerted us!!! Of course, Ramiro, in true Ramiro fashion, had no qualms about telling our server what he thought about it all! Hahaha!!!

We made it back to the hotel in one piece and enjoyed a few more drinks and a whole lot of giggles before heading to bed. I have to say that during those few days in Paris with R & M, we did not stop laughing the whole time! We had so much fun and silliness! I haven’t laughed that much in years!

Friday, we did a little shopping in the Opera District and then we decided to take a riverboat tour along the Seine. Michaela and I had fun navigating us all on the Metro (Bill and Ramiro just blindly followed us! LOL!). It was pretty chilly on the boat and was a very overcast day, but we were very glad that we did it.

Sadly, R & M had to leave for the airport in the late afternoon to head home to Vienna. It was so sad to see them leave, but we had made some wonderful memories together… and made lots of promises of future trips together! I honestly think having them with us really made our trip to Paris! I was so thrilled that they finally got to meet Bill… and they all got along so amazingly!

Later on that evening, Bill and I stuck to our tour guides’ recommendation and headed to La Coupe-Chou in the Latin Quarter for dinner. It was perfect for our last meal in Paris. The restaurant building was so old and quaint and full of ambience and character. Our meal was phenomenal. Bill had Boeuf Bourgignon that was heavenly! I enjoyed some amazing scallops. Bill stayed Parisian and had Napoleon for dessert and I had a wonderful fruit compote. It was just a lovely evening and end to our fabulous trip to Paris.

On Saturday, we got up, had a leisurely breakfast and finished packing before heading back to the train station and back to the UK. I feel so lucky and thrilled that we were able to do this trip. We were so grateful to my Mum for taking care of Gwennie whilst we went. They had a wonderful time together and I think it did them the world of good to have some one-on-one time with one another!