Sunday, May 19, 2013

Out and about in Paris and London - Part 2

My sadness, the tear in my eye and my trembling lower lip on leaving Paris was somewhat assuaged by first class passage on the Eurostar to London.  More leg room, a table for the free lunch.  Not as exciting as having the compartment on the train from Amboise to Paris - something I wanted to do since reading things like Sherlock Holmes as a child, and watched all of those old films, not to mention Harry Potter in both book and film - but exciting enough to appeal to my shallow side. 

The driver of the black cab to the hotel barely survived the effort of lifting our bags into the cab while pretending they weren't heavy, but cheerfully announced that he expected them to be heavy, since we were women.  Not only strong, but smart, those black cab drivers. I can but hope he wasn't hospitalised after lifting them out again. 

Spring was just starting to come to London, the weather was warmer, the blossoms and the bulbs were starting to appear and there was so much to do and see. So many old things in markets and museums, red buses, black cabs, the stuff of English crime fiction and literature, and the mix of the very old architecture with the very new gave the place a sense of living and breathing and evolving and moving. Paris is romantic history, but London is living it.

I loved the river - as I love all water, the oceans,rivers,interestingly shaped puddles.  I wanted to get to Greenwich, but time got away.  We went on a pub crawl in Wapping, where the pubs were older than Australia. We walked around on the streets which used to be on Monopoly boards when I was a child.  We saw the Prime Minister's car whiz past several times, preceded by motorbike policemen who slid sideways to stop oncoming traffic.  

Everyone had a brother who lives, or had recently lived, in Australia.  Everyone knew that  Australians live surrounded by death - redback spiders, crocodiles, funnelwebs, a host of venomous snakes.  They seemed surprised that we had survived long enough to get out of the country.  Some people thought we were from New Zealand, where life is reputedly slightly less dangerous. 

Although there were less optometrists and hairdressers than in Paris, I was glad to see that the UK has warmly embraced vintage, and there was no shortage of charity shops. They ranged from the traditional to the recycled designer specialists, priced accordingly.  I saw one right behind the Big Palace, from a bus, but couldn't get back there on foot. A vintage tuxedo shirt in a vintage shop on Portobello Road - exactly 4 times the price of  almost the exactly same shirt in the charity shop around the corner.

even the dentists have fashion sense

Vintage markets abound and we know how I like those.  So much taxidermy, so many darned import restrictions. It's probably just as well, or I would be surrounded as I type by stuffed pheasants, hedgehogs and a budgie in a cage - I kid you not.  Not to mention hares, rabbits, deer.... Haggling seems to be expected, but it helps if you know the difference between actual vintage and faux old. 

I found lots of little treasures and trinkets at various markets, but left so many behind. Some of the prices were, in the parlance of The Castle, dreamin'.   The UK postal people really haven't kept up with the whole sending mail overseas thing, pricewise.  Compared to other countries, an English postman could fly out and drop off my parcel for the price.  Perhaps they do.  Why does it take less time for a postcard from France to get to Australia than one from England?  Slower planes?  

Before I go again, I will be checking freight options.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Out and about in Paris and London

It's been a while since I posted here, because I've been holidaying in Paris and London.  I still love saying that.

We stayed in an apartment in Paris that was in a house built in 1663. Luckily, the plumbing was more recently upgraded, but the lift was so small two people could only squash into it with a certain level of intimacy. If there were groceries, one took the stairs. When we were leaving, we had to each take our luggage separately, and when it was my turn the owner literally threw my new vintage fur coat in on top of me, pushed the button and I held everything in while the door closed, before avalanching out on the ground floor. I loved it.

Unfortunately, Paris hasn't really grasped the idea of op shops, although 'vintage' stores are popping up all over the place.  The distinction between 'vintage' and 'second hand' is - shall we say - blurred, and you have to comb through a lot of pretty average stuff to find the gems. I did see a Lagerfeld silk skirt for 10 euros,but it would have been snug on an emaciated poodle (provided it had been on a crash diet, was wearing shapewear and  holding it's breath). Other vintage 'big names' were just plain out of my price range.  In a weak moment, I bought a vintage wine coloured faux fur coat, which took up most of all of the room around me for the rest of the trip. It's total 1980's paisley silk-lined hand-finished swing style is so over the top I broke every single self-imposed luggage-limiting rule in buying it, but if we ever enter another ice age I will be looking stylish AND warm.

We loved Merci, which is a new and brilliant concept in charity stores, stocking new and secondhand books, clothes, jewellery, homewares, and just about everything else in classically classy French style.  Kind of like Ikea-meets-St Vinnies.  Great food, great shopping destination. My friend saw someone famous on the way to the loo, but couldn't remember his name. C'est la vie.

Parisians have fabulous hair and stylish glasses. They must have, because there was an optometrist and at least one hairdresser on every block. As I waited in gallery and museum queues, various, I noted that a man in a gallery or museum queue looks somehow deeper and more intelligent a) by being in the queue in the first place and b) by wearing studious and interesting, often tortoiseshell, round glasses. 

I spent a happy hour or so in Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookshop, and managed to limit myself to one new and one secondhand book. Maybe it was more than one hour.  It was a happy time. French gentlemen help ladies with their suitcases in the Metro, which has enormous amounts of steep stairs. 
I discovered that French women are thin because everything, everything involves several flights of steep, narrow, uneven, spiral stairs.  Houses, shops, the Metro, galleries, museums, chateaux, castles all involve the negotiation of steps.  It's like permanent step classes. La toilette, Madame? In the cellar.  The shoe department? Upstairs. Of course.

We saw people walking cats, and every breed of dog but the poodle. Not a single poodle. I felt vaguely cheated.

Probably 90% of the restaurants, cafes and shops wouldn't have met Australia's stringent health and planning regulations.  We had the best food in places where the roof was too low, the floor was uneven, and there weren't enough toilets in the cellar.  The road rules are more of a guideline really, people cycle without helmets, if the bar's crowded, drink outside on the footpath - it's a nanny state nightmare.  Yet people are polite and well mannered and I didn't notice piles of dead bodies being wheeled away in carts from overcrowded eateries.  They have the tourism thing nailed, and create a place which you want to return to soon, if you can drag yourself away at all.

I could hardly drag myself away, and I'm seriously thinking of selling everything I own so I can get back there soon.