Saturday, July 19, 2008

I hope you are hungry!

So after my best mate's blessing I decided to take off to Paris. I had only been once before. That was for an Iron Maiden concert. Since then I have rediscovered Anthony Bourdain. This is not a good thing because I can be a bit of a gobshite on a good day and he has just taught me to be a pompous gobshite with a lust for travel, booze, and food. OK, I had two of the three already covered. Still not into the booze thing, give me a nice cup of coffee and I'm a happy camper. Provided I've put some Dr. Pepper in my system first. Woe be the person to get me WITHOUT the Dr. Pepper. It's not pretty.

What is gobsmackingly pretty is Paris. Everything is so ornamental. The buildings are amazingly old and gorgeous. It's eye candy for an amateur architect. There are some cool fountains in random places. I like fountains. I'm obsessed by them. It's the sound of rushing water that draws me in. I can sit by them for hours (as I did at the Louvre) and just listen to them. Or play in the cold water (as I did at Saint Sulpice).

I'm not sure why people call it "gay" Paris. No one is really happy. Miserable stressed out gits for the most part. I blame the system. It's the Man trying to keep them down. Actually, it's the public transport. Not sure why people say it's hard. It's not. It's amazingly simple. Everything is numbered and colour coded. Only a first rate idiot would get lost or confused. Know where you want to go before hand. Get a map. Yeah, print it out on the computer! Circle where you want to go. Piece of Cake!!!

I took the National Express night bus to Paris. (pauses for the collective groan and to wait until room re-pressurizes from the air that just got sucked out of it by the collective holding of breaths)

Yes, the night bus. on. national. express. hey, it was cheap. It was also a 10 hour ordeal! It took about an hour to get thru border patrol: collect passports, hand back passports, move bus, get off bus with all the gear, herd into little white room, close door, wait for gas........ oh, no gas. put bags into machine, bags come out of machine, bags get hand searched. IT...WAS...NOT...FUN.... After this the bus finally moves onto the EuroTunnel. Now, I did not do any research on this at all before hand. EuroTunnel is new to me. Apparently after an hour and a half wait in the queue, the bus was deftly maneuvered into a cigar box. It had about six inches of leeway on either side. A barrier comes down behind you and the next bus or lorry gets jerry-rigged in. After a while you start to move. I don't know how. Someone told me it's by train. It's still a mystery to me. But you have to try it at least once.

ON TO THE FOOD I know that's why you are here.

Le Royal I had breakfast at a nice little place recommended by Anthony, To wit, 98% of the places I ate or visited were recommended by Anthony on his trip to Paris during the 2005 season of No Reservations. I ordered the omlette mixte and OJ. The OJ was so fresh, you had to stir it with a spoon. The omlette was beautifully bronzed with soft sensuous eggs cradling chunks of jambon. There was just enough cheese to let you know it was there, without over powering the meal. I sat outside at one of the 9 available tables. A nice leisurely start to the day.

We decided to walk from Le Royal to Cafe de La Mairie. It took about half hour to forty five minutes. I got side tracked by this hidden gem.

Dalloyau Raspail 63 Rue de Grenelle 75007 Paris. This is a very high end sweet shoppe. It has lots of chocolates, mousses, fruit crepes and macarones. I couldn't resist. I was not disappointed. I had a chocolate macarone. HEAVEN!!! It was very creamy, light and the filling is super smooth. If you've been breast fed a diet of American chocolate, you have been robbed! This was the real deal, chocolate the way chocolate is supposed to taste. Many of you know my love for Belgian chocolate, followed closely by German chocolate then Danish milk chocolate and Swiss white. The lowest I'll go is a Bounty bar. I only eat Cadbury from Ireland because my best friend works there. I trust her (and her cooking!!! which is phenominal), so I trust her chocolates. She rewards me with a five pound bag of chocolate when ever I visit her. I love her to pieces!!! Back to the macarone. It was as soft as a cloud, delicate to the touch. The chocolate was not over powering, it was a subtle lover on your tongue. The crust was flakey and sweet. The confection crumbles in your mouth. You could pop the whole shebang in, but you'd miss the subtlety of the flavours. I also tasted my friends Coffee Eclair. It smelled devine. Like fresh coffee wafting thru the Kenyan mountains. The eclair was about five inches long. It is not a treat to be rushed. When you bite into it, you are surprised by its chilliness. The mild coffee flavour enveloping your taste buds as the creamy filling caresses your mouth.

HSBC alert! 7th Arron. corner of De Grennelle and Blvd. Raspail.

Cafe de La Mairie is on the St. Sulpice stop on the 4. Come out of the metro, turn around, at the corner go left. Look for the St. Sulpice fountain! Of course, I'd find the fountain! LOL The cafe is mega busy. Stressfully busy. One of the waiters unceremoniously dropped a glass full of something less than a foot behind me. My red cons, socks, legs, and trousers were soaked! Luckily I did not get cut. Needless to say for Paris, no apologies were forthcoming. Nor was the incident even acknowledged by the clumsy transgressor, the manager, or the bloke multitasking behind the bar: collecting empties, making coffee, serving or collecting tabs. The coffee here is strong and black like Rashad Evans and served in eight ounce china coffee cups with saucers - delicate like lillies. The effect is like getting a double shot of the finest Irish Whiskey Bushmills has ever produced. It knocks you out!

MEMO TO YOU! Paris metro has NO air conditioning. It is massively hot. Keep bottled water with you.

NOTE: Paris is very humid. You will sweat and sweat a lot! You will also walk A LOT!!! Even if you take the metro or bus, you will still walk! It's best to have a nice sturdy, comfortable, new pair of sensible and practical walking shoes. Your feet will thank you.

HSBC alert! Odeon stop on the 10 and 4 metro lines. corner of St. de Germain and Carrefour L'Odeon

Amorino Gelato Italiano is located on 4 rue Buci. It's open from 1300 to 2400 hours. Odeon stop on the 10 and 4 lines, cross St. Germain, head up Carrefour (toward river with Odeon behind you), turn LEFT onto Rue Buci. It is the best ice cream you will ever taste (if you do not live in New Jersey and don't have access to Rita's). They have five sizes, but I'm only going to list three. Coppa petit (2 1/2 scoops) for 3eur. Coppa Moyen for 4 eur. Grand for 5 eur. Or if you want a cone: Cornetto - same prices with the Grand being 5.50eur. It's well worth it! The lines are long but they move swiftly. I ordered the mango and coconut. The ciccolatto is dark chocolate. The pistaccio has real pistaccio nuts in it.

Le Massena is where we stopped for lunch. It was NOT prescribed by Anthony. Frankly, we think he missed one! LOL It's located on 85 Rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris. It's one block north of the river. Mebbe two blocks east of the Louvre and about two blocks west and a block north of Pont Nouf stop on the 7 line on the corner of Rue Perrault and deRivoli. Busses that pass on a regular basis are the 74, 69, 85, and 67. There are two full menus outside the restaurant for your perusal. I ordered the crepes de froment au sucre et beurre for 3.30. OMG!! THe buttery, sugary, sweet, goodness. It's not cane sugar that is used. I'm not sure what sugar it is, but it's light and sweet (company: Saint Louis Sucre en Poudre, Cafe Richard). They have a whole pancake set menu for 10 eur. The most expensive thing on the menu was 15.20 for the salade gourmande. I ordered something simple. If a restaurant can cook the simple, then it can do the complex. That's my motto. The crepes was delicious. My traveling companion had the ham, cheese, and salmon sandwich. The plating was beautiful. The cheese was lovingly bronzed on top of the whole meal bread whilst chunks of salmon and ham cavorted between the slices of bread.

If Japanese style restaurants are your thing, head for Rue Monsier de Prince. There are squllions(T) of them on that street running from the 40s at the Odeon stop to the 60s at Blvd St. Michel. At 2200 hours all were packed, so I'm thinking the food was good. Take your pick. Rue Monsier de Prince lets out at the Luxembourg stop on the B. There was also a regular cafe called Le Luxembourg Cafe and Brasserie. It too was packed with gobs of people inside and outside. It's a wi-fi spot. It's nestled on the corners of Blvd. St. Michel, Rue Monsier de Prince and Rue Soufflots. The Luxembourg park is on the left, the Sorbonne is on the right. There is also a 100 PC internet cafe at Rue Soufflot and Rue Le Goff. I've no idea of the prices as I did not stop.

Sadness in Parisville!!! Pascal Pinauds was closed on my arrival!!! I pranced up to the shoppe at 0820 ready to do some serious damage to my bank account. But alas, it was closed. I stood there in the pale sultry gray of a Paris mourning with the look of stunned disbelief. Rue Monde had forsaken me. I gently laid my hand upon the glass, blinds drawn, separating me from my nirvana of gastrointestinal heaven. Alas, I was not alone. Another culinary refugee stared disbelievingly at the facade. We looked at each other, smiled nervously, looked at the door trying to will it unlocked with our collective souls. We paced back and forth like caged lions but it was not to be. No Pascal Pinauds for me. I am sad.

After queuing for an hour, we were let into the ,Catacombs. NOTE: There are 85 steps in a spiral staircase down to the catacombs and 83 in a spiral staircase to come back up. You will get dizzy. And it is a long walk. If you are squeemish, claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, or get creeped out by being trapped dozens of meters underground. THIS IS NOT A PLACE TO VISIT!!! The catacombs are a giant mass grave. There are skulls and bones EVERY WHERE!!!! At every darkened turn. In every alcove. Bones! Skulls!! Bones and Skulls...Skulls and Bones. They are tossed in corners. Staked neatly. Pretty designs made out of the skulls. But essentially, you are surrounded by the remains of millions upon millions of dead people.

Rodin Museum was lovely. It's 6 eur and well worth it.

PASCAL PINAUDS IS OPEN!!! SCORE!!! My passion and persistence won out. I returned to the shoppe later in the day just to gaze longingly into the window and it was open. Most of their wares had been sold. But I still made a 9 euro glutton of myself.

Planet Food. No kidding. There is a restaurant called Planet Food! I've not written down the addy in my notebook. It's upstairs in my room. When I get it, You will get it! Planet Food is NOT to be missed!!! I ordered an old fashioned cheeseburger and chips and my traveling companion ordered a pizza. It was choice. We visited Planet Food...And it was good!

The Louvre> is frakking HUGE!!! I mean really REALLY big!!! It would take days to go thru the whole thing. Next trip! After two days eating my way thru Paris, criss-crossing the Arrons., I was beat tired. I still have two restaurants, one chocolate shoppe, and the Pere Lachais cemetary to visit. Next trip!!!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day trip to Bath, UK

Bath - Roman Bath's and Pumphouse alongside of Bath Abbey. OMG!! Tourists galore. Just wall to wall people and school groups.

It is amazing that a lot of the baths are so far underground. Years of dirt and sediment excavated. The dirt between the stones is thousands of years old. The plants grow there must be from "old" spores and seeds. They call the Celtic/Roman Goddess of the Water Sulis Minerva. The main pool that you see in all the pictures is stagnant. It actually smells like poop. For the most part, it is standing water with pigeon droppings littering the sides. Pretty darn gross. The colour reminds me of runny pea soup, but is actually due to algae.

There is some water streaming in. The sign says don't touch the water. I was moved to do so anyway. Besides, I watched several other tourists touch it so what can it hurt? They said the water was "hot". As this is a bath/spa type thing and the Romans and Celts used it vociferously, I figured it may have some healing properties after all. I stuck my right hand into the rushing water. It was indeed hot. I had hoped it would help the "problem" I have with shooting pain that runs from my pinkey up my hand and to my elbow. Alas, as I sat on a bench to hand write this, no such luck. It still hurts. So I decided to stick my hand in the water again. LOL For luck, you see.

1525 hours 08 July 2008

I'm sitting in a park next to the Pulteney Bridge. It's mad windy. I resemble Einstein on a bad hair day. But at least it's not raining. I still have three hours to kill before my bus leaves for the city. Couldn't do the spa because I have no swim wear. Well, I do, but It's in the dorm at Mile End. I'm so NOT prepared. Next time.

This is where I sat to while away some time. It's beautiful to look at when not much is going on in your mind. The senses take over and bliss begins. I could feel the breeze on my face and through my hair as it whipped through the square making a mockery of fine hair care products. I could hear the guitar player expertly creating music on his chosen instrument. He moved from aria to aria to jazz and flamenco deftly switching from one to the other. I could taste the wonderful chocolate flavour of my home made hot chocolate. I gently dipped my McVitties chocolate digestives into the this concoction and savored the softened biscuit as it melted on my tongue.

And now a word from our sponsor: This trip was brought to you by National Express and the "Fun Fair". For a mere L2 or $4usd, you too could have spent a wonderful day in Bath, UK.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wot are you doing?

July 6th

I'm sitting in my dorm room in Way the Frak East London on a cool breezy sunless Sunday with Iron Maiden at the Forum, 19/02/08, blasting from my MacBook. My shoes are off, of course, and my toes are in charge of rocking me gently back and forth in my chair as I peruse the pages of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential". The only light gracing the pages is what little precious radiation the sky is willing to part with through the gray clouds and said light is peeking in through my open window.

Don't Waste Your Time Searching for Those Wasted Years

OK - I'm obsessed. Two of my mates have used the word "stalker". I still contend that five Maiden shows in 5 months, with 3 of them coming within four days of each other, and the 5th only two weeks later in another country is NOT anything special. As a matter of fact, I lag way behind most 28 year Maiden fans. Yes, I've been listening to them nearly thirty years and I've not even seen them live thirty times. I'm somewhere in the mid-twenties. I blame Metallica and Henry Rollins. LOL I've only so much disposable income and so much good product vying for my hard earned cash.

I woke up in a Maiden mood. The soundtrack for the morning included: "The Prisoner", "Stranger in a Strange Land", "The Evil That Men Do", "Tailgunner", "Wasted Years", and "Drifter". I was so excited I couldn't eat! I exist on Dr. Pepper!!! Cut me and not only do I bleed blue (GO CHELSEA FC) but I bleed DP!

...So, understand. Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years. Face up. Make your stand. And realize you're living in your golden years!

SPOILERSIf you intend to go see Maiden on this tour and don't want to know about the show, well, you shouldn't be reading my blog! LOL But more Maiden spoilers about to follow.

This is actually a picture of Bruce sitting down in sheer amazement. I believe the words he used were that he was speechless (and that doesn't happen very often). I don't know if it was because it's the last night of my Maiden tour or because it was a "home" crowd, but Iron Maiden were stunning. Now, to be fair, Twickenham Rugby Stadium is not in London. It is outside London in Twickenham. This is the ONLY Maiden show in England this tour. The first show in England in two years and they most likely won't play here again until 2010 for the new album. That is the magnitude of this show.

The picture above is during Run to the HIlls (if memory serves). The crowd was devastatingly loud! He was truly taken aback by the sheer massive volume of Maiden fans singing back at him. We truly knocked him off his feet! For me, the songs that I had listened to for a quarter century and seen live umpteen times sounded fresh and new. Moonchild actually gave me goosebumps. I shivered (and it was not the weather!). For the first time this tour, Rime did not bore me to tears. It's a long song, many time changes, yadda yadda yadda. But after the tenth minute, I'm so not caring anymore. LOL It's a technical bugger to play; but when I'm playing it, my mind drifts. Tonite, I was full of rapt attention from beginning to end. The Clairvoyant was a spiritual experience. I closed my eyes and was transported to a cascading waterfall. The music washing over and around me. I was lifted, transported and cleansed by the melody. By Powerslave, my anxiety level was high! I believed myself to be back in New York at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to be onstage again! I was set to burst with excitement! If you've never seen Iron Maiden live - you must!

Now on to the "lovely" English weather. It was supposed to rain all weekend. As a matter of fact, it's raining right now (July 7th, 1615 hours) and has been for two days. J, P, and J had general admission floor tickets and J had commented on how much rain was unceremoniously dumped on her during Bon Jovi. I told her, watch, I'll wear my hiking boots, blue jeans, lucky cap, and rain coat and it won't rain a lick! Trust me, I come prepared and you'll not get any rain! As a matter of fact, I'll wear my full on rain gear and it will be hot! Trust me. Wouldn't you know it. I wore it. The rain stayed away. Only my feet got hot in the hiking boots. It did get a bit chilly, but no rain!

July 4th Part Two

I realized: I DONT HAVE A SHARPIE ON ME!!! Not that this is important in the grand scheme of things. It's just that I normally have a Sharpie at the ready. Just in case.

Oyster Cards are lovely things. They cap at L6.50 or so if you are running around all day. This is a good thing as that's cheaper than a day pass of L6.80.

Met up with D at the Tower of London. Someone on the IMOFC boards "organized" a huge meet up for a photo opportunity. LOL It looked like well over 50 people came, mebbe even closer to 100. I didn't actually count. I only knew D, who in turn introduced me to her friend. So the three of us pretty much stuck together.

Nothing against Maiden fans, but the mood was a bit "chilly". Nobody interacted with each other. Everyone pretty much stuck to their little groups. We did meet one lovely lady who is obsessed with her ironing. Miss P was sweet enough to take some pictures of D, her friend, and me. Other than that, Maiden meet ups are the exact OPPOSITE of any Metallica meet up I've ever been too.

I noticed I drink more Orange Juice in London than any other city on the planet.... wonder why that is?

What a nice girls out this afternoon/evening. It did piss down rain, but then again this is London. We ate at the Hard Rock. This isn't my kind of eating establishment, but Jenna insisted. The things you do for your kids! LOL I got the pulled pork (having an Anthony B moment) and was pleasantly surprised by how good it tasted. The pork itself was room temperature, but the sauce was hot. It came with chips and beans; both were delicious. It was a good meal, but not a $30 meal (L15).

The perfect ending to any day? A bagpipe busker in the Middle of Piccadilly Square. Not sure he was even Scottish, but man could he play those bagpipes. It was enough to part me from my coveted L1.25 ($2.50).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Leicester Square July 4

Oi - Vey!!! I got "kicked out" off my room at 10am. I can't check back into the other room until 1400. Funny enough, the room is only next door! Gotta love it. So I headed into the city, as Queen Mary College is way East end (how funny! but no Albert Square nearby) to find the infamous London Free Wi-Fi!

I headed to Leicester Square stop on the tube, but couldn't get my bearings. I think A's bad sense of direction rubbed off on me. I ended up walking to Picadilly and chilling for a bit. Sitting by the fountain (it was being worked on). I only stayed a bit because the Community Support Cops were harassing tourists. Asking for papers. Taking names and addresses. It freaked me out and I had to move on man!!! So I figured worse case scenario, head for a McDonald's. Luckily I found the Leicester Square park just 50 yards beyond the Micky D's.

So that is where I am currently sitting. Outside. In a Park. In London. Nice breeze. Shade. Pidgeons. Wi-fi internet.

For those reading this that have never been to London - buy an Oyster Card. It caps at L6.50 (or about $13) for travel within a 24 hour period. Yes the day trip on Metrocards in NYC is cheaper at $7 (L3.5) but London is gobs bigger and many many more places to go. It's worth the money.

I also picked up an O2 sim card. 300 texts for L10. or $20. Which is less than I spend a month sending and receiving texts from the UK and Ireland on T-mobile in the states. Just gotta make sure the phone is UNLOCKED. LOL I know, I was having a blonde moment. Both of the phones I have on me are locked. So I had to call T-mobile this morning (at $1.99/min roaming) for a 10 minute conversation on getting my phone unlocked. Which won't happen until tomorrow, just BEFORE the Maiden show. LOL

As for touristy stuff. Zowie. Don't have any. Ummmm uuuuuummmmmmmm yeah. Don't do tourist. LOL I did go to the "new" location of the Intrepid Fox. It was moved to the Tottenham Court Road stop on the Northern Line. It's a bit eermmm not really smaller - but the downstairs is configured better than the old location. I didn't go upstairs, but the toilettes are of the typical scary dodgy bar variety. ugh! The drinks are still reasonable price - L4 to L5 ($8-10). And the music is choice-metal and rock. We had dinner at the Hard Rock (this was strictly J's idea) and the food was good, filling, but the venue just never had an appeal to me. * shrugs *

Picadilly Circus is full of tourists, cops, and shoppes flogging cheap UK merch. Like I said, I legged it as quick as I could.

The internet here is intermittently failing and coming back online so I want to post before it goes out all together. More later. Either today or Sunday - definitely NOT tomorrow as tomorrow is another MAIDEN show. I didn't win HCW or FTTB - so I'll be just another mug in the stands. LOL

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