Posts Tagged ‘France’

New Year’s Resolution no.3

….was to blog. So here I am. Blogging. About what? I’m not sure yet. Maybe about my newly discovered love of beautiful art? Maybe about my renewed fascination with the history of Ham House because of my fabulous new book about it? Maybe about cake?

Well, let’s start with the cake. Here is a box that once contained a chocolate orange cake.

Danda had one peice. Someone else ate the entire rest of the cake, thinking it might help with her cold because oranges contain vitamin C, right? That someone else had been sworn off sugar because of the sugar headaches and achy teeth caused by their new job as a cake maker. The someone else now feels chocolate guilt and wishes not to be named.

Talking of new jobs, it’s been an interesting year. In the space of twelve months, the following things have happened;

1. Got two new jobs. One I disliked. One I loved. Thankfully I am now in the one I love!
2. Lost a good friend to the murky depths of Texas’ capital punishment system.
3. Went to France (for lunch), Italy (for my birthday) and America.
4. Visited the NASA space centre.
5. Became a ghost tour guide.
6. Made this (the website, not the art)
7. Became addicted to Candy Crush, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
8. Purchased the most expensive (but most worth it) book I’ve ever owned.
9. Discovered pretty art and fabulous painters (current favourites are Sir Peter Lely and Van Dyck)
10. Got to know the life of the river better, via my walk to work. (And learnt about the importance of knowing the tide times!)
11. Got reacquainted with my childhood best friend when she came to stay in the spare room.
12. Had a cold for a month.
13. Watched family jet off for a new life under the Australian sun.
14. Met a fellow blogger for the first time.

There has been a lot of change in the last year, some of which I’m still getting used to. Here’s to 2014! I wonder what will happen.

The time I went on a French exchange

I was about 14 years old, I think. No, younger. I guess 12 or 13. I signed up to go on the French exchange trip at school. Goodness knows why. I wasn’t any good at French. I was in the third set of five in my year so I was by no means a high flyer. Anyway, I think it was partly because a friend, Sarah, said she was going on it so maybe I thought it’d be way fun.

The girl I stayed with (maybe her name was Collete or Marie or something, I don’t know) lived on a little farm thing and they didn’t lock their doors or worry about leaving the car running. It baffled me. Collete/Marie must have thought us dirt-poor when she came to stay in England and was given a small room in my Mum’s flat.

There was a lamp thing in the room I was given at Collete/Marie’s house which you touched and it turned on or off. This was the highlight of my French exchange.

As I was at a girls’ school, we combined the trip with the local boys’ school and we all went on a coach together with a few of the teachers. God, they must have had an awful time with us pre-teens, all giggling and working out which boys we fancied the most.

There was one boy on the trip called Stephen Fanning. I think that was his name. Anyway, we all teased him. I forget why. He must have shown a weakness that we, predictably, jumped upon. He was getting on quite well with one of the French students on the exchange and so we teased him about that too.

On the coach ride home, he finally flipped. Like, absolutely… flipped. And he said something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t care what you all think because I’ve got a girlfriend in France and we love each other!”

Well! Readers! I don’t even need to tell you how that story ended! Needless to say, the teasing increased. By 500% percent.

Another thing I remember was a guy called Seb telling me he’d been given coffee in a bowl by the family he was staying with. I spent the rest of the trip praying I wouldn’t be handed coffee in a bowl by anyone.

We also went to a little theme park. They had a pirate ship ride and as the place was empty, we kept shouting, “Encore!” once the ride had finished. We stayed on there for 11 cycles of the ride. When we got off, a girl called Danielle vomited next to a bin. Next to. Not in. Next to.

I didn’t really learn any French. Collete/Marie had good enough English that she translated for me. I did, however, learn the French version of the Macarena dance and develop a crush on a boy called Graeme who I saw five years later walking down the street and his jaw was all square-y. Had it always been square-y?


I’m on the move this morning, off to visit my favourite 5-year-old and her little sister so I don’t have time to write anything properly. Instead I’m going to do something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I really love taking photographs of paths leading off into the distance. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because of the potential for adventure, the invitation to explore an unknown world. I’ve taken tons of them so I thought I’d share a few.


At the start of a hiking trail in St Leonard du Bois in France.


At a lake in Northern France.


At Boxhill, Surrey.


On the Thames Path, near Ham


Next to the river, Ham.


On a little path I found when exploring the riverside around Richmond.

The path down to the river, from near Richmond Park.


Walking to Twickenham.


In a friend’s back garden in Norfolk.


Finding more hidden pathways next to the river, Teddington.


A path cut into the edge of a rock in Portugal.


On a walk near Gomshall, Surrey.


Amongst the ferns in Richmond Park.


In Highgate Woods, north London.


Corridors under the floor of the Colluseum, Rome.


On Tooting Common, south London.


In between houses in Kew, West London.

A book review or two

In my quest to Finish All The Books I’m In The Middle Of Reading, I have found a few gems that I thought I’d tell you about.

First up is Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew Sykes. This is the story of a man who, after resolving to spend his summer doing next to nothing, gets a little bored and dreams of adventure. He decides to travel from his home in Reading to the southern tip of Italy, following a route known as the Via Francigena. He covers France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy.

For five weeks, he heads determinedly toward southern Italy and the book details the hours spend on the bike each day and the distance covered. Once you have seen a few of these, you start to understand the massive task that he is carrying out. His writing is extremely readable. I’d often intend to read a few pages while on the bus or before work and find myself transported to a campsite where Andrew and Reggie searched for somewhere away from the noisy midnight fishers or party people. Suddenly I was late for work or had almost missed my stop.

Andrew makes sure we are privy to everything his trip threw at him. Rarely are we left with a quick summing up of an entire day in a few sentences. I really love the diary style of this book. It puts you right there in the scene with him and Reggie and connects you to his journey in a way that, upon finishing it with him, you experience a sense of achievement.

Various things stick out in my memory on finishing the book. The scene where Andrew and Reggie cross the lake near Buochs in Switzerland and we are given a detailed explanation of how one “lashes” a bike to boat had me laughing out loud. When Andrew stops for lunch near the end of his journey, in Valrano Scala, and finds something called a “chip pizza” I was utterly mystified. The entire Italy section was very exciting reading for me anyway, given that I have had a preoccupation with Italian cuisine for quite some time and I am also going to Rome in a few weeks. So I read with anticipation and soaked up every bit of it. Then the scene with the chip pizza occurred. And it made me doubt everything. It make me doubt my trip, the Italians, and the future of food in general. What was this madness?! I have since been assured that chip pizzas are very tasty…. I remain sceptical.

Another thing which struck me about this trip is people’s willingness to offer a helping hand. Andrew finds a welcoming face every so often on his trip and these people always show such kindness, it makes you feel good about people in general (the chip pizza inventor excepted).

It is a lovely lovely book. A little while ago I read a book about a man who cycles to India, called You’ve Gone To Far This Time, Sir and love love loved it. Therefore, when I saw this book, about another cycling journey, I came to it with high expectations, having had such a great read last time. I was thankfully not disappointed. It is well written and fascinating. In light of epic journeys being taken, I have start making more solid plans for a walking adventure. Given that I can be quite lazy though, I think Andrew and Reggie will put me to shame as I’ll probably just walk to the shops for some chocolate and back….

(I read this book on the Kindle app on my phone.)

I thought I’d do another quick book review as I recently finished listening to The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivy on and it was very good. It was read beautifully, the story was beautiful and it’s one of those books I keep telling people to listen to if I hear they have the app.

An older couple decide to move to Alaska and buy some farming land, against the advice of their families. They are childless and it has always been an unspoken heartache between them. Their first few months are hard but one day, with wild abandon, they play outside in the snow and build a snowman. Well, more precisely a snow-girl. They put a scarf on it and carve a face. When they wake up, the scarf is gone and for a long time afterwards, they catch glimpses of a little girl running in the woods outside their home.

The development of this story is handled with such skill that your thoughts on first hearing about the ‘girl’ they see are a world away from your thoughts when the story concludes. It’s a story that creeps up on you. First you’re just listening every so often, thinking that the book is quite good. Then suddenly, you can’t wait to take your break at work, in order to listen to a few more minutes of it.

Finishing this book was something that took a few days of recovery. My initial thoughts about the final scene changed over time and I still feel uncertain about exactly what happened.

It is a book of uncertainties and therein lies the beauty of it. It is intriguing and enticing. It draws you in steadily until every twist and turn occupies your thoughts long after you have stopped listening/reading.

It is also read very well. When I downloaded and listened to a few other books, I realised how lucky I had been with the reader of The Snow Child. If you are already with, listen to this book.

A walk with mad dogs and Englishmen….

I’m handing over to the guest blogger today, for his last post about his holiday walks.

This was my 3rd and last holiday walk. It was overcast. I packed my rain gear. I began by heading north through the village. What I witnessed next seemed somewhat ominous.

It looked a bit like that scene from the Hitchcock film and I looked behind just in case I was going to turn into Tippi Hedren II. (Tippi, by the way, is Melanie Griffith’s mother.)
However just 15 mins later the sky began to clear a bit and I came across this.

As I was walking through the next village I saw this little chap

One of those horses with little legs. I didn’t have my tape measure with me to see if it qualified as a miniature horse but I thought it should be one. Apparently it would have to be 34-38ins (86-97cms) to the last hairs of the mane in order to be called a miniature horse.
A bit further on and I was down another one of those narrow pathways.

Through the gap in the trees in the distance, across a golf course and a bit further on I came to this

It was one of those things that there is always a waiting list for here in the UK – a beach hut! This one is about 15ft (4.57m) x 10ft (3.05m). The gentleman told me he’d bought his in the 1960s for a few hundred pounds and that recently one was sold for £22,000 ($34,500). Sounds a big increase but I suppose you have to bear in mind it’s probably a 50 year gap. Had he bought it from the council? No, from the LeStrange Estate which owns the land. The family can trace their ancestry back to around 1100AD when the first LeStrange, a Breton who emigrated from northern France, inherited the land through marriage. The name, not unsurprisingly, means ‘the foreigner’ or ‘the stranger’. There are no service facilities to the huts. Water is available via a tap nearby. When offered a cup of tea I was asked to fill the kettle. “The tap’s behind the hut near the path,” he said. Off I went. Unable to locate the tap I returned and he showed me where it was. Can you see it? It’s near the fence post in the grass!

A barrier of sand dunes means that this is the view from the hut.

The sea is over the other side and a long walk out. I didn’t.
I set off continuing my exploration and in a mile or so came to the local lifeboat station. Because of the nature of the coast, the sand dunes and the fact that the water could be a long way out a conventional “launch” down a slipway is not possible. The lifeboat is not really a lifeboat – it’s a “lifehovercraft” – Problem solved! I’ve never seen one of those before.

After an ice-cream stop it was time to return to the cottage and as with many routes around there it was off across the fields again for another couple of miles. Then through the Downs area and back along the road. As you can see by this pic the day which had begun overcast now had bright sunshine. Time to mop that brow again as the heat really rose. I was the Englishman out with the “mad dogs”!

Fancy having this as your walk home from the office each day? Summer yes! Winter, maybe not.
Just before arriving back at the cottage I passed the sign I mentioned a couple of weeks ago by the duck pond:

To Aslan’s Mountain with a wisdom stick

Everything was perfect. The weather was sunny. I had the afternoon off. I had a bag of snacks and water. And I was ready for an adventure.

Off we went, Danda and I, in search of the highest point in South East England. It was quite easy going at first so we were tricked into thinking it might just be a gentle stroll. We each found a stick to use, to make us look like seasoned ramblers. I felt mine made me look quite wise. So we started referring to them as Wisdom Sticks.


As we pottered along, admiring the views and how lovely the evening sun was, we came to an area where all the trees had been chopped down. It looked so out of place, in the middle of such dense forest, to have a field which had been cleared so abruptly. I remember thinking that I hope there was a valid reason for chopping down all those trees. On the other hand, some of the moss covered stumps made for beautiful photographs.


We had barely left this empty field when we found ourselves in a tiny little hamlet called Friday Street. I’m not sure why it is named that but I bet there’s some interesting history behind so I’ll Google it later and let you know the story. Anyway, aside from its unusual name, this hamlet is significant for another reason. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1200s, a major influence in the drafting of the Magna Carta, was born here. His name was Stephan Langton and the first thing we came upon in Friday Street was a pub named after him.

Legend has it that he was involved with King John in various ways. Good old King John of the Silent Pool from last week’s post, Searching for Agatha. And he’s not any more likeable in the legends that connect him to Stephan Langton and Friday Street.

Stephan was living in Albury when he was 18 and had fallen in love with a girl called Alice, later to become the Abbess of St Catherine’s in Guildford. Stephan and Alice were walking along in the woods one day when they were attacked by King John and his followers. I think King John needs to have a long hard look at his behaviour and make up his mind to act like a king, rather than a career criminal. (Actually, this story is quite hard to marry with historical fact as King John was around 1 year old when this was said to have happened!) Anyway, the king kidnapped Alice – more kidnapping – and took her to his hunting lodge nearby. If Stephan had had a Wisdom Stick, he could have fought the king off. Just saying. Wisdom Sticks are useful.

Stephan followed, then set fire to the house. I’m told it was in an attempt to rescue Alice but he apparently buggered off without her when she fainted from the smoke.

The logical outcome from this series of events? Well, of course he ran off, became a monk and was chosen by the Pope to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course. King John refused to accept him as Archbishop, Rome got grumpy, France threatened to invade… It was all going downhill. Until Stephan stepped in and the Magna Carta made its appearance in 1215.

In the meantime, Alice became an Abbess (I can’t stop saying ‘absess’ in my head when I write that word). They were both at Mass in a church years later and were reunited. But she was apparently so overcome with emotion that she died in his arms. I’m sorry? She was so emotional when she saw him that she DIED!? She died of ’emotion’. I bet Stephan realised how rubbish she was then. I bet that’s why he left her in the house after he set fire to it.

Anyway, back to Friday Street. It was gorgeous. I could have been anywhere, the French Alps, an Italian lake, the Swiss Mountains. It was just so pretty and picturesque.



We came across this little sign as we were leaving the village and I obviously got two jars.


We also came across a sign for duck eggs and chicken eggs, £1.50 a box, which I would have loved, but there were none left. All in all, Friday Street was one of the highlights of the walk, so small and peaceful, the houses just like a bit of the countryside. They had a way of seeming like they belonged there just as much as the trees did. I did wonder where people get stuff from though, there were no shops at all.

After leaving Friday Street, the going got tougher. Steep inclines and sharp drops saw me making lots of ‘oo’ noises as I almost fell yet again. My Wisdom Stick was invaluable for this section of the walk. I started to get a bit breathless and requested a Chocolate Stop. To be honest, I’d been asking for a Chocolate Stop since we started and Danda hadn’t allowed me one, said I was being a greedy guts. I didn’t dispute this fact, but I still wanted a Chocolate Stop. This was our view during our stop. Beautiful.


Next we started the climb to our main destination, Leith Tower. The hill is at 965 feet above sea level so the tower was apparently built because someone (I forget who) wanted to be 1000 feet above sea level. I couldn’t wait to get up there, climb the tower, look out, get some great pictures to show you all.

On our way we came unexpectedly across this beautiful waterfall….


.. and stood marvelling at it for a while. As we turned to leave, there was a surreal from-a-film moment, when a load of flying ladybirds attacked us. I say ‘attacked’, they didn’t really. They were were just flying and they were near us. But it was bizarre, some did fly into us. I spent forever trying to get shots of bugs on flowers and finally got an ok one.


Anyway, we kept on our way and got to the tower finally. Remember how excited I was to go up it? To see the view?….


It seems the English countryside closes when Laura goes for a walk…. This happened last time in Shere, everything closed. Anyway, never mind. The views were still stunning.


You can see sheets of rain coming down from the clouds on the left and a patch of sun breaking through to the right. It was amazing how far I could see. I felt a bit like Simba and Mufasa, you know the scene where Mufasa is like, “Everything you can see belongs to us. Everywhere the light touches.”

Talking of lions, the walk back to our start point was equally as beautiful. The hilltop feels so high up, I imagine this is what Aslan’s Mountain is like. If any of you have read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, you’ll know what I mean. The last book, The Last Battle, finishes on Aslan’s Mountain, and Prince Caspian, the fourth book, starts on Aslan’s Mountain. In my mind, it’s like this.



After standing around, imagining I was in Narnia for a while, we wandered back to the start point to finish the walk, where I gave my Wisdom Stick back to nature…


…and said an emotional goodbye to it. Not emotional enough to die, mind you.