Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Springtime In Paris

I can't decide if it is cliche or a meme, but springtime in Paris is most definitely a thang! For the first time since we arrived, I've been able to wander around outside without my coat on. Obviously, I didn't think it was as warm as this gal did!

We first arrived in October, plunging from hot Californian temperatures in the 30's (Celsius) to the brrrrr of 10C, with rain and wind, in Paris. The sky went from permanently cobalt to a kaleidoscope of  grey, white, and blue. And then it got colder still, such that the temperature took on a personality of its own, like having having someone unpleasant around who you just had to rub along with anyway.

This week that unpleasant person left the building - or the city - to be exact!

On Sunday, we decided to explore Le Promenade Planée, a walk along an old railway line that ran from the Bastille to Vincennes. It's been landscaped as a park, and I'd been dying to check it since I came across it on a blog called "Cool Stuff in Paris." I mean, if ya'd just moved to Paris sure ye'd be mad not to read a blog with a name like that, wouldn't you? It's directions were spot on and we didn't even get lost!

We took the metro to the Bastille and exited onto Rue de Lyon. I had a chuckle at this place.

You see, the Bastille is a place where many protests and demonstrations or manifestations take place. How handy is it pick up your placard just 100 meters from the Bastille? It says something about a place that the postal service is complicated and confusing, the rail service a complete mystery, but if you want to protest, you've practically got a convenient one stop shop!

Before too long we saw what we were looking for.

We climbed up the steps and absorbed the beauty of nature as it blossomed around us.

Some late bloomers  were poised right on the edge...

And this yellow blossom seemed to trap the very sunlight itself (as a biologist I must point out, that mostly, only the green parts of plants actually really capture the light!)

There was even water fountains along the way.

And daffodils - all different varieties - but these were my favorite.

We walked high about other streets, and I loved how this one had all its trees in full bloom.

The afternoon sun made it a challenge to get these pictures but did produce some interesting lighting effects, I think.

I fought the temptation to show a gazillion more flowers from this walk, preferring instead to add to this post photos that I took later in the week as I walked home from my french lesson in the 13th arrondisment, (South Paris). It has been a glorious week weather wise. So yep, less cleaning more street art had a certain ring to it!

I love this picture of the old lady walking through archways of flowers.

And oh my, the smell of the clematis. Hmmmmm! And the birdsong - pure audible joy!

More street art - brightening up the rainy days when they do come.

I loved how on one side of the street, there was an old chateau, centuries old.

 And this directly across the road!

I was just thinking about how in years to come, would people be taking pictures of this quaint old building. Would modern art - when less modern - be as attractive to the people of the future as the old chateau is to me now?

That very same sentiment is echoed in a fellow bloggers post a French Frye in Paris. Have a look at how he saw Paris this week (and other weeks - I highly recommend this blog) The photos are absolutely gorgeous.

I hope Spring has sprung just as beautifully for the rest of my fellow northern hemispherers!

Byddi Lee

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Quick Trip to Chamonix

There are certain aspects of life in France that are very much a mystery to us - such as rail travel! This we discovered when we agreed to meet our friends for a few days in Chamonix.

"We'll take the train," we said. "Try out the TGV. (The high speed train)

However, when we first tried to book the trip online, we could only book the outbound trip as the homeward-bound trip was still more than three months away. We'd be carrying our skis and all our gear. Counting the metro trip to Gare de Lyon, we'd have to change trains three times, but rail travel still appealed more to us than flying since we still have to lug the gear on the metro to the airport and then switch to a bus to transfer from Geneva to Chamonix anyways. If you consider the fact that you need to be at the airport two hours ahead of time for any flight, then door to door, there wasn't much difference ... or so we told ourselves.

Plus, we'd be able to see the French country side...

So we signed up for a loyalty card with SNCF, (the French rail company providing the trip.) We ticked every box to ensure we would receive an online ticket.Booked a ticket from Paris to Chamonix and tried three different credit cards (all rejected) and ended up paying with our French Bank account debit card only to receive a message that our tickets would be posted out to us! (The postal system is also a mystery to us!)

We wanted to stay in the same apartment complex our friends were staying in and were happy to find availability, less happy to discover we had to pay extra for bed linen and towels - seriously? French Alps hospitality at its best!

Anyways, we waited for four days to book the return journey but that morning discovered, to our dismay and disbelief, that all the return journey tickets were sold out already! What was going on? How could they possibly be sold out? Why is everything so damn confusing and never straightforward in France?

Over the next week we priced flights (too much hassle and expense what with checked baggage rules and prices) and other train routes. In the end, we figured out the problem - Gare de Lyon was closing for track maintenance, so we booked a TVG from Geneva to Gare de L'Est which was pretty much the same as Gare de Lyon for us in that we'd just take a metro home.

However - how to get from Chamonix to Geneva train station? The train was out of the question, taking too long with too many fiddly connections. But there was an Easybus going straight to Geneva airport, and from the airport the public rail (like the Metro equivalent) went directly to the Geneva train station where we could just get the TGV. All sorted!

Again, I tried to opt-in for online tickets - all the indicators showed I'd accomplished that request until the very final page that congratulated me on my purchase and my tickets would be posted out to us!


However, the day of departure dawned sunny and beautiful. The luggage was heavy, the skis awkward, but not impossible, and we pulled together as a good team, which made us feel like we were accomplishing something (though not anything very important, I have to add.)

The TVG, once we left Paris, was fast! Very fast. We clocked 190 miles an hour using the GPS test app on our phones. Our seats were upstairs and the speed and smoothness of the travel gave us a bit of a dizzy sensation but not unpleasant.

And the landscape was gorgeous! Rolling green fields ("Well how do you do Young Wille McBride" lodged as an ear worm in my head) sped past the window, dotted with cute country villages, every one with a beautiful church at its center.

Sometimes there were magnificent bridges and quaint railway stations but taking picture was hard at that speed!

I did manage to get one of a lake as it flashed by.

The Alps rise up out of the French countryside in a wall of rock, with very little in the way of foothills or transition. Its just bang - you're in the Alps!

The views became more and more spectacular as we climbed into the mountains.

I got very excited at spotting the first of the snow.

We had to change trains twice more, once at Annecy and then at St Germain de Bain. Each time the train got smaller and smaller until the train from St Germain de Bain to Chamonix was just two carriages long and stopped at every hold in the hedge - quite literally! This is one of the stops!

It was great to be met at Chamonix by our friends, not least because we had to go collect the keys and the bed linen for the apartment from an office on the other side of town from the apartment. Too happy to be there to be that angry with the lodging company, we got down to the serious business of having a great time with our friends!

The apartment was small but adequate with a spectacular view.

The skiing was fabulous. The area has so much to offer and not just for skiers. These para-gliders where having a ball...though it must be the loneliest thing in the world waiting for that updraft!

On the third day the weather closed in and we didn't feel like skiing it (oh, how times have changed!) and instead we decided to take the train to the Glace de Mer - the glacier we'd been looking at on the opposite side of the valley for the past couple of days.

There was a nice restaurant and the view was spectacular even if closed in with mist.

The mist thinned for a moment and gave us more of a look into the glaciated valley.

There is a gondola and steps (included in the price of the train ticket) that leads to an ice cave. Cold but beautiful!

When we came out we even were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the glacier itself.

These are the steps we had top climb to return to the top. And there's me thinking we'd have a relaxing day!

The next day we headed for home. The convoluted trip back via the airport bus to Geneva went smoothly, though I have to say the woman driving the bus was the grumpiest person I've ever met! She was English and refused to speak any French to her customers! I tried asking her a question but gave up when she snarled at me too. Perhaps she was a rugby fan! (She did look like she was a rugby payer.) And so since Ireland had just beaten the English at rugby, I forgave her!

Despite the crazy train journeys, the weird apartment and the grumpy driver, Chamonix was a wonderful break, not least because we got to spend some quality time with good friends whom we hope have now caught the ski bug and will return for more.

Byddi Lee

P.S. 7 years ago today I posted about skiing in California - Heavenly is a place on Earth!
 and then the following year almost to the day - Stopping by woods on a snowy evening

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mulberry - A Great Place to Eat in Armagh

In keeping with International Women's Day this week, I decided to highlight a hard-working local businesswoman in my hometown.

Armagh women really are taking the lead in business in this town. My sister runs her own business - GM Handipak Products, and my cousin owns a successful hairdressing salon - the International Hairport in Benburb, a quaint country village not far from Armagh City. A class mate of mine from as far back as primary school has the award winning Petra's House of Colour. Previously, I blogged about Coco Lane, a fabulous place to go for a pampering, with yet another woman at the helm.

A year ago, Maria Breen opened Mulberry Bistro in a listed building sited directly across the road from the spectacular Armagh St Patrick's Cathedral.

The interior decor is beautiful, with a crystal chandelier as a center piece. Mulberry-colored walls are tastefully offset by an attractive metallic  wallpaper patterned with sliver mulberry trees. Each table has a posy of real flowers and every window has a table so that diners can gaze up at the Cathedral as they eat. It's hard to find a better view while eating...even in Paris!

Upstairs, Maria is installing a bar. When she brought me up to show me around, it was set up with lines of tables, banquet style, with crushed-velvet-covered chairs in a variety of hues of purple, mauve and silver. Fun and inviting, this room is currently available for functions. And of course the view from the windows...

But this bistro is about more than just the scenery. The food equally matches the splendor of the view.

There is something for every appetite - whether you just fancy a quick bite for lunch...

And this bacon, chicken and cheese creation makes my mouth water just looking at it - it's all I can do to stop myself from licking my computer monitor!

Or perhaps you need a feast to hold you over while you explore the city -with two beautiful cathedrals, a planetarium,  an ancient Druid forts such as the Navan Fort, a Palace Demesne with the Palace Stable Heritage Centre, at least 3 museums, the Public Library with its first edition copy of Jonathan Swift's Gullivers Travels and a wee walk on the Mall... Plenty to see in Armagh, and a great excuse to eat big!

The lasagne usually comes with chips (fries to Americans!) but I asked for salad instead.

Or maybe a coffee and a chat, with a scone... these ones are bigger than my fist and I have fairly big hands! In fact, it was scones that inspired the name of the Bistro when Maria came across a Mulberry Scone.


And to be really indulgent the tray bakes are to die for...


And the buns - OMG the buns!

The pavlova is delicious. It is made in house and did not survive long enough on my plate to take a picture. I recommend it.

So go ahead and treat yourself to a bite to eat in Mulberry, whether you're an Armagh local or just passing through, Maria and her staff are there with a great welcome and plenty of good grub while you sit back and enjoy the view.

Byddi Lee

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Choose Love - Everyday, not just on Valentine's Day

Some months ago I saw an image on social media that has haunted me ever since. It wasn’t gory nor bloody, though plenty of images nowadays are. There were no broken buildings and billowing smoke clouds, no dead bodies. Just a little orphaned one-year old girl, naked except for a very full nappy, which had been on her so long that there was encrustation of leakage at the tops of her legs and sores had begun to develop. She had no-one to care for her, no-one to take off the days-old nappy. I wept at my computer.

How I’d wanted to scoop her up, take off that soiled nappy, bathe her in soft scented bubbles, play and splash the water, hear her giggle and squeal, dry her in fluffy towels and pat her silky skin with sweetly scented talc. How lovely she’d look in a simple but clean little white baby grow. Her hair would curl into looping black ringlets as it dried, hanging down into her huge brown eyes.

But I’m frozen by inaction. How can I help that little girl or even ones like her? Can I donate money? What might it end up buying? Who can be trusted? Short of going to Syria – which is simply insane – what can I do?

Guilt and frustration add to my imagination resulting in a frozen trinity of despair.

Yet I still have my safety, warm shelter, food… and in an hour or so this despair will lift as my own day-to-day living pulls me out of my imagination, away from the images online, and the news coverage. I’ll blink and like waking from a bad dream, I’ll see my own world, I’ll feel a flush of gratitude. But gratitude is no longer enough…
I struggled as a child with a few things in the Bible. I struggle as an adult with many more aspects of religion, but some of that bible stuff I’ve come to realize, makes sense to me now.

It boiled down to the whole, “turn the other cheek” philosophy. Young and immature, I couldn’t understand why Jesus said to do that. But age can grant us startling insights, and I’ve come to understand it a little, if not fully.

But it goes a bit like this:
People do not kill each other. Ethnicity does not terrorize or maim other people.

BAD people terrorize other people.
BAD people frighten other people.
BAD people hurt other people.
BAD people kill other people.
BAD people do bad things.

NOT Muslim or Christian or whites or blacks.

No matter what reason a person cites for their actions, no matter how justified they think they are, frightening another person is an act of terror.

When someone decides (most likely without any factual evidence) that another has come into their country, stolen their jobs and soaked up the resources, that is merely that person’s opinion. The statistics, should you chose to investigate, might prove you wrong and at the very least provide you with an informed debate.

As soon as a person tells someone to “go back” to where they came from that person is doing the wrong thing. A bad thing – and this is a fact. At the very least it causes another person to be frightened. When a person instills such terror, that person is a terrorist.

As soon as we daub paint on a wall to write hate-speech, we become bad people because we are doing a bad thing – we are terrorizing another human being.

The moment you willfully physically or emotionally hurt another person, you are a bad person.
FACT – bad people do bad things to other people.

Despite all the diversity in the human race there are really only two types of people. Good people and good people who have given into doing bad things to other people.

That little orphaned toddler with the soiled nappy was there because of bad people, not Muslims, or white privilege or politicians – just bad people.

Let’s keep it simple. Don’t be a bad person and strive to love your fellow human beings. If you have food and clothes and a safe place to live you’ve made it in life and you are lucky. God didn’t give this to you anymore than he took it away from that little toddler. What made you so special and her not special enough? The God I believe in doesn’t have favorites. Jesus loved the sinners too, thankfully, and therein lies our redemption. (For the atheists reading this – please don’t stop reading because I used the G-word and the named the J-person!) I hope everyone can see that not all bad people are bad all of the time. Everyone has the capacity to stop doing bad things.

We do need to wage a war on terror, but by waging a war on people doing bad things. And we win this war with love.
In the same way that the undercurrent of racism, sectarianism and bullying rippling below the surface is now taking hold, fueling bad people, perhaps we can harness the love that exists in each of us to turn those people around. This may sound ridiculously simple, ludicrously naive but hey - it worked for Gandi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and that's good enough for me.

Turning the other cheek is not about letting bad people get away with being bad. It’s about us not becoming bad too. It’s about us keeping our standards high. So think about this with every social media post you share. Are you ridiculing someone – even if you feel that person deserves it? Posting a fact is one thing, so long that it is a fact. Posting opinion is fine too if you’ve considered it – is it fair, does it promote hatred or love? Choose love - everyday, not just on Valentines Day.

Byddi Lee