On the continent again

The weather in England was fine. So was the weather in France. Near Gent it started to rain though, and it didn’t stop until Tuesday morning. Thankfully it did though, so I could try to make Paul believe the weather is actually nice in the Netherlands :).

After lunch with my parents and siblings, a few attempts on the pogo-stick and a little walk in Etten-Leur we went to Leiden, where of course it was boiling hot in my room, but hey, at least the sun is shining so I’m not complaining :). On Wednesday Paul and I left for Paris for two days, where it was even hotter, but the galleries and parks are still quite enjoyable. When we got off the train we first had lunch near Place des Vosges (where the waitress was moody, but the food was good and they didn’t charge us for the bread and water, the way it should be). We then wandered along the canal, the marina and Paris Plage for a bit. Paris plage is really cool, in summer the city just puts swimming pools on the banks of the seine, as well as comfy chairs, sand and grass and there are concerts and everyone is just lazily hanging around there or playing boules. Very cool. After checking into our hotel in the Latin Quarter we decided to go on an evening boat tours, so we didn’t have to walk and could still see things. Plus we like boats and it’s quite cool to see things from a different angle and you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t. The boat wasn’t as cool as the catamaran we were on in Hawaii (it could take about 1,400 people in one go and their had one of those tapes in a dozen languages explaining what you were looking at, although most of the time we couldn’t hear that luckily) but worth it nonetheless. The great thing about Paris is then that you can still get food aroun 22:30, so we did, and in fact we had a great meal sitting outside on a little cozy terrace in Rue Mouffetard.

On Thursday we bought some bread and pate to have a simple brunch in the Jardin de Luxembourg. After quite a while we wandered off again and ended up in Jardin de Tuileries via de St. Sulpice. At the end of the Jardin de Tuileries there is the Musée de l’orangerie which had been closed for ages and when it opened again it had gigantic queues…Now it wasn’t too busy so we went to see Monet’s Les Nymphéas (the other works in there were OK, it was cool to see Picasso find his style as they had some of his old work). The two rooms with the gigantic 360 waterlily panoramas were absolutely amazing. Also the way they were using the daylight was very nice (the orangerie has a glass roof so they put a very thin canvas ceiling in there to make use of the daylight but not have it too bright). After the orangerie we crossed the Seine again to go to the Musée d’Orsay, which is open until 21:30 on Thursdays so we still had plenty of time to explore their fabulous collection. There also happened to be a temporary exhibition on on photography in the UK, the oldest photographs they still have were on display there and there were some places on there that I’ve visited!! (Hereford cathedral!) Also some places I still want to visit (such as Tintern Abbey).

After a long day full of art we decided to go for some light entertainment, and we ended up in a Parisian cinema watching “Wanted”. I had really been looking forward to seeing that film, but it was a bit of a disappointment really. Again we had a late dinner (across from the cinema on Place Odéon, very touristy, but it’s so much fun to still see such a lively street on a weekday after 10pm). I also got told off by the waiter for not putting my napkin on my lap (well, he put it there for me with a big gesture, as if I was some cave-woman far behind by the French, but at least I speak 2 languages fluently and I got by in French most of the time as well, even some people working in the tourist industry in Paris do not seem to speak anything other than French still….).

On Friday we had a galette for breakfast (a non-sweet pancake) with eggs, ham and cheese on it (Yummy!) before we got onto the metro again to go to Gare du Nord. In a few hours the thalys took us back to the Netherlands where I was happy to be home again and show Leiden to Paul. So after relaxing for a bit and a meal we strolled out again to meet Steve for drinks on the canals. We didn’t actually sit on a boat terrace, but our table was the last one on the quay, so that counts too. Unfortunately I was so tired that around 11pm I was really looking forward to sleeping. Luckily Paul and Steve didn’t mind, so after a few jokes about me not being able to cope with alcohol, we decided to call it a day.

Saturday was another gorgeous and warm day in Leiden so Paul and I had lunch on a terrace (on the boat this time) and we walked around town for a bit. I bought some sunscreen and showed him some cool places and then we decided to go for the tourist attraction again and go on a boat tour, something I would probably not do by myself in Leiden :). The boat tour was quite cool, it even went by my house and we also saw Europe’s biggest sundial (don’t come to Leiden for that though, it’s on the ugliest building in town 🙂 ). At the end of the afternoon we bought some fruit, vegetables and cheese on the market and some pasta and Italian ham at a cool little Italian shop that we found and we cooked (Paul instructed and I did) a nice meal that we ate downstairs in my garden. The perfect end to a perfect day. And with that our holidays were over as well (for a while then anyway ;)) because Paul had to leave again on Sunday, and I had to start working on my paper again.

England part III: Southampton

After a 10 minute wait at Southampton airport Paul arrived in the main hall and we went to Southampton to stay with Martin and Laura who let us stay at their place for the weekend. Southampton, to be honest, is the ugliest town I’ve ever seen in Britain, but if you hang out with the right people it can be pretty cool. After some tea we went downtown to pick up Paul’s parents for dinner, me being the designated driver in the granny-van this week. It’s cool though, because I like driving and my grandmother’s Kangoo is quite comfortable (although it doesn’t like going uphill). Anyway, we had a cool evening at an Italian restaurant, but didn’t stay out too late because we had to get up early for the big ceremony the next day.

At quarter to 8 Paul and I (dressed up as a girl for the occasion) set out to the university to get tickets for the ceremony and to get his gown. Especially for the gown there was quite a queue. The ceremony itself was pretty impressive, the hall (although I didn’t go in there because there were only a limited number of seats and it was absolutely packed so I got to see it via a big video screen) looked a lot like a church. The ceremony itself was basically lots of people being called out and shaking hands with the chancellor, very different from Dutch graduations. Then, at 10:30 there was a champagne reception :).

The next days there was some more partying and going out (with Paul’s parents, and with his friends, all very cool people). The evening at the pub had a new experience for me: cocktails coming in pints… I didn’t get drunk, or even tipsy, basically because I have so much trouble with the volume, but they were tasty :). On Sunday we got to sleep in and had a relaxed day around town, it was even sunny.

On Monday the last leg of my road trip started with me dropping Paul off at the train station to go to London for a day, and then onto Dover to board the ferry for France again.

It was a good holiday, apart from it being a bit short 🙂

England part II: Malvern

Going to Malvern to stay with the Hunts in their gorgeous house halfway up on the Malvern Hills was great again. We arrived there around 17:00 on Monday, and found a parking spot right in front of their door. We immediately went on into the kitchen for tea and a chat with Alan, Olly and Sophie. Later on Heather and Dave also got home and we just chatted some more, played with the dogs and had a good time. On Tuesday the weather was absolutely amazing. Rob was supposed to pop ’round around eleven with his girlfriend, but of course he was late, but he brought lots of goodies such as BB-Guns with which we shot about 2500 plastic balls into the garden in about half an hour. After a late lunch and me changing into shorts we went for a walk up the hills where Pixie, the little Jack Russell kept insisting on playing fetch with rocks. Eventually this went wrong when Bracken, Alan’s dog, tried to catch a bit of rock out of the air and chipped his tooth. Luckily it wasn’t too bad but still.

In the evening we went to Worcester for some drinks with Steve’s friends at a super stylish pub called the Firefly. It was a bit of a shame that we were the only ones there but there were enough of us to have a good time until the pub closed (at midnight :)).

On Wednesday I took it easy because of a cold, but it wasn’t as sunny as it was on Tuesday and there were computer games to be played indoors anyway :). Wednesday was also my last full day in Malvern again, a visit that was way too short. At least I still got to see the ponies on Wednesday evening, hopefully I’ll also get to ride next time (but first the Hunts, or at least a delegation, should visit the Netherlands again!!). Anyway, on Thursday after lunch I set out to Southampton to go to Paul’s graduation. Of course I left a bit later than I intended to. I then also wanted to go by a supermarket to buy tissues and throat sweeties (still a bit of a cold). Through all the excitement I forgot to check where I was going exactly so when I went past Bristol on the M5 I started wondering whether I should really go to the South-West, the answer was no, so after some backtracking I ended up on the M4, and I had to race to get to Southampton airport in time. Luckily I did 🙂

A weekend in Cornwall

On Friday at 6 am I set out to drive to Cornwall with Steve and Veronique. There’s something about driving for a day to get to your holiday destination that puts you (or at least me) straight in a holiday mood. I don’t know whether it’s because it feels more deserved after the achievement of making the long drive, or if it’s because of the gorgeous panoramas the hills provide (coming from a flat country hills always delight and amaze me), anyway, I got straight into the holiday mood. First Veronique and I split 2.5 hour drive to Dunkerque to catch the ferry, on the ferry I slept a little bit because of course I didn’t go to bed until midnight the night before. While Steve drove the first bit in England I slept some more, Renault Kangoos are surprisingly comfy to stretch out on the backseat in. Since we virtually passed Stonehenge we decided to stop there for a bit and do the tourist thing (although we did park a bit further away to avoid the £3 parking fee. Halfway through our visit it started to rain. Three quarters through our visit it started to pour and when we got to the exit it was seriously pissing it down. The entrance was nearly flooding so a lady from English Heritage had to come out in wellies and pull out the muddy grid that covered the drains because there was already quite a pool of filthy rain water coming down the hill. When it seemed to be raining a bit less heavily we ran to the car and drove on to Cornwall, where we made it to the campsite at about 7.

On Saturday we were to meet up with Lucy and Ashley in Newquay to go surfing. Unfortunately Lucy wrecked a wheel on her car on the way there so she couldn’t make it, but Ashley was there. The waves were small and mushy, but still infinitely better than the Dutch windchop and also a better shape than Venice. I was quite happy that I didn’t bring my own board though because it would have been too small for these conditions. After a short session (the tide came in which made the waves too weak) and Ashley licking paint off a car as she put it, we traipsed around Newquay for a bit, and had a drink and some nibbles at the Walkabout overlooking Towan beach. On the way back to Looe (where our campsite was) we did some grocery shopping for some haute cuisine in our caravan.

When I woke up on Sunday the sun was shining, and we didn’t even have to turn on the heating in the caravan to feel comfortable (now I know why they don’t rent out tents in England like they do in France). We set out to St. Austell, to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan: 200 acres of woodlands and gardens that were restored to their original state in the 1990s after years of decay. Some parts were quite a hike (up hill, avoiding cow-dung & cows), others were just lovely and sweet (such as the bit with the fountain and seats from which you could see the sea). There was also a gigantic vegetable garden with gooseberries (of which we bought some on the way home) and an impressible “jungle” bit in a valley where giant rhubarb was growing (I wonder if that’s edible?). We made it back to the campsite in time to go for a swim in the heated pool (and hot it was!), together with a bunch of fat ugly teenage mums covered in tattoos and gold with their fat ugly kids. After a while Veronique and I found some pool toys (foam tubes and a beach ball) to play some sort of water-badminton with, which was pretty cool :).

Now we’re on our way to Malvern to see Steve’s family. We just made a brief stop at Exeter (well, not as brief as we’d intended because our lunch took a bit longer than expected, but I did have some great Chai Latte with cinnamon on top and an aftertaste that reminds me of cinnamon ice-cream). Steve also bought me a new guitar in Exeter. When he was looking after my blue guitar while I was in LA it broke, so his insurance was going to get me a new one. The only thing is that the kind of guitar I had is not sold in the Netherlands. The shop in Exeter only carried a bass guitar of the brand I had, but we found a really pretty electric-acoustic for the same price which plays very nicely as well so now I have a red guitar :).