Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Out and About in Cambridge

Some scenes from around Cambridge. Punting on the River Cam.

Pimms is a very popular drink in the summer. When I took this photo, after a long bike ride, I was drinking cappuccino in a pub. As I was looking through the camera, I thought, yep, Pimms sounds good right now. Advertising works! It's Pimms time!

Megan turned me on to my first Pimms. Its a gin-like liquor, mixed with the English version of lemonade. Their lemonade is not so sweet and has some fizz to it.

It's usually served with lime, lemon and strawberries in the glass, but we didn't have that, but it was so refreshing anyway.

One of the art galleries featured this artist who covers human figures in natural objects, like pine cones, pine needles, and acorns.

Saw this package of oats in the grocery store and thought it funny. I thought the 'True Taste of Scotland" was Scotch!

One of the many shops in Cambridge.

Tatiana, Simon and Steve's adorable daughter. We had dinner at their house the first night we were there. Tatiana speaks 6 (maybe 7 she says) languages although some of them she just muddles through!

The last full day I was in Cambridge, we biked through the countryside, stopping at many (5) pubs along the way. This wasn't one of them but I did have to stop and get a pic of their sign. "Every Wednesday Pie & Pint Night". I thought, what a great idea! But I said later to friends that I think coffee would go better with pie than beer. They looked at me like I had 2 heads and said it's MEAT pie! Oh, I pictured apple.

And perhaps my favorite thatched cottage. It's in Barrington which has many thatched homes. But this one is so big and the detailing at the roofline is so nice. Also the thatched boar on top is awesome!

The hollyhocks were in full bloom. I love hollyhocks. I wish mine looked like these.

And who could resist an ice cream from the Mr. Whippy birght pink truck?

This is the coolest clock I've ever seen. It was just completed last year and is installed right across from King's College, a very prominent location. It actually a 'chronophage', which means 'time eater'. The creature on the top resembles a grasshopper or locust. It cost $1.5 million. Time is seen as a running blue LED light, the outer one is the second, then the mintue, then the hour. It depicts time getting away, stolen from us. On the hour, chains rattle as in a death toll. The front legs move forward, 'grabbing' the clock and moving it forward, emitting a loud ticking sound.

And here are Seal and I passing time, sitting alongside the pond at Robinson College, enjoying a beautiful summer day. Stolen moments, but so enjoyable. Goodbye Cambridge, until next time.

Busy in Brussels

Since Brussels was only a half hour train ride from Lille, we spent a day and night there. It's a very touristy city, with the Grand Place Square, a market square in the city center.

There are cafes and shops surrounding the square, all very beautiful. In the center is a flower and plant market.

Just around the corner is an inside 'mall' type area with an amazing glass ceiling.

But I much prefer the unusual.

While walking around the city, I saw many buildings painted in whimsical colors.

Brussels is known for it's cartooning. It's HUGE there. There's a museum, many shops and around town are these massive murals on buildings.

It was fun to turn a corner and find another one. This one is in a 'Dupont' like area of the city.

All well executed and totally fitting of the site that it's painted on.

Not sure what the 'boys boudoir' is about!

While looking for a place for dinner, we chanced upon this narrow row of eating establishments. The walkway is very narrow, with tables and chairs set up outside each restaurant. There were at least 50-60 restaurants along these few passageways, each beckoning for you to come in. "Pretty lady and gentleman, we have this table just for you!" I really don't care to be hustled into a place, but we did end up at a French place. They all seemed to have the same type of fare, mussels, paella and lobster. We got a prix fix meal of French onion soup, chicken cordon blue and of course a Belgian waffle for dessert. As we sat down I noticed a photo behind me that featured Claude Van Damme (the Muscles from Brussels!) sitting at the booth we were in.

Belgium is known for it's chocolates so of course we had to choose some. They did not disappoint! WOW!

and in case you needed any strawberries to go along with all that chocolate, there were plenty to be had.

From the train, going back to London. I've always liked these 'sawtooth' rooflines. And an extra bonus, while waiting to go through customs before boarding the Eurostar train, I saw a woman who I recognized but wasn't sure from where. I thought maybe one of my customers or someone from the kid's soccer days, as I was going through the Rolodex of familiar faces in my mind. Then I remembered, duh it was Laura Dern!!! with Ben Harper! They were right next to us for about 15 minutes. I didn't say anything of course, but kept sneaking quick glances. All in all, a great trip within a trip.

Frenchy Dinner

One of the nights we were in Lille, we were invite to dinner at Pasquel and Ludavine's house. Pasquel is the person who invited Houston to give the talk at the university. Pasquel picked us up at the hotel and whisked us off to her place, about a 10 minute drive.

Pasquel, Zoe, Ludavine. They have two daughters, (the other one was upstairs at the time of photo taking) and the girls look like twins born 2 years apart.

A parade of neighborhood cats tiptoed across the tall wall surrounding their back garden.

I was delighted to see their postcard of 'Hope'. They followed our election eagerly.

The meal started around 7:30 and didn't end until 11:30. I really do like the way the French eat, one dish at a time, but it makes it hard on the hosts, always getting up to get the next course. I'm sure we went through their entire stock of glasses, dishes and silverware. They were even in washing dishes between courses. We started out with wine (of course!) followed by the very sweet, rich wine (more like a liquor). We ate guacomole out of apertif glasses for a starter. Then came a medley of olives and cantelope with mint, accompanied by a French pate served on a crisp piece of toast. The main course was slice of pork covered in a thick, rich cream sauce (surprise!) and heavenly mashed potatoes. After all those dishes were cleared, out came four types of cheese to choose from. And all the time, French bread.

And if that wasn't enough, this feast ended with the creamiest ice creams, currants and grated dark chocolate. Then espresso. WOW! I really don't know how those French women stay so skinny. With all the pastries, cream and bread, you'd think they'd be huge. Their are even books written about how the French women are so thin. (They walk, walk, walk, eat fresh ingredients, don't hurry when eating and eat in moderation.) Gotta try that.

I kept making moves to leave, as it was approaching 11:30 and I knew they had to get up by 6:30, but Pasquel and Ludavine were quite content to just sit and talk with us. It was such a pleasant evening and it was so nice to be able to visit with these lovely women in their home. But finally we did get up to leave and I caught this scene on their street.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Li'l Bit of Lille

We were off to France for a few days. Houston gave a talk at the university in Lille, in the north of France. It really is just a hop, skip and a jump from London. In fact it cost us more to get from Cambridge to London than it did to get from London to Lille, a mere 1 1/2 hour Eurostar train ride. My first time through the Chunnel. We got off at this lovely train station in Lille.

My sherpa, Houston directing the way.

We stayed in the old section of downtown, a beautiful city settled around 640. But on our way, we saw some fun sculptures. In one of the leaves on the right, 2 children are playing.

There is an offbeat, whimsical sense to this city (the 4th largest city in France). I saw these gnomes in many places, all uniformly giving me the finger. They were either doing that or peeing.

There was lots of graffiti in the town, in fact, I think they encourage it.

And the BIGGEST surprise of all were the dozen giant baby statues downtown. They stood maybe 25' tall, solid black with varying types of wings, scales, dinosaur-like appendages on diapered baby figures.

When I rounded the corner and saw all these babies against the backdrop of the very ancient buildings, I stopped dead in my tracks, put my luggage down and just laughed. I gotta hand it to them. I don't think this would happen in DC!

We were put up in this fabulous hotel. It's a combination of 2 old buildings, a new building and joined by a central atrium.

The walkway to our room.

Towards dinnertime, we really did look for a French restaurant, but found only Brazilian, Ethiopian, Italian, and ended up at a Moroccan restaurant. Yummy.

Our hotel was right on a canal waterway. This is the scene across the canal from our hotel.

The following day, I was left to my own devices and just meandered around the bustling city center. It doesn't look bustling yet, but I learned that I happened upon the biggest sales event of the year. It lasts an entire month and nearly everything is on sale. It was so crowded, lines to try on clothes, lines to pay, but it was fun even though I had a language problem. I swear, I am so bad at learning any language. When one of my items didn't come up as on sale, even tho I knew it was, I just sucked it up and paid the full price. Doh! That will teach me to be stupid. But everyone was nice and no one seemed in a hurry.

I don't know how my friend, Piver, snuck over to paint this wall, but it looks just like something she'd do.

I went into one store that had a mix of yarn, ribbon, feathers, beads, craft supplies and buttons, buttons, buttons. All in a tiny space of about 200 sq. ft.

I love buttons, amassing a large stash myself. But nothing compared to this. Old, new, vintage, bakelite, metal, shiny, dull, sparkly, prints, patterns, plain, and every imaginable color. WOW!

And the ribbons were delightful too.

I tend to look up a lot, looking at the architecture of the buildings. Your eyes get overwhelmed with what the shops want you to see with their stuffed windows, colorful wares and big sale signs. But look up and it's arched windows, curved cornices, gables galore and sometimes a painted advertisement.

But looking at the French bread is pretty peaceful.

or into walkways

I saw quite a few flower shops. They differ from ours (except for the smell. They all seem to smell alike, the deep wet, earthy smell with a high note of fragrance) in that they have unusual arrangements.

like this ambrosial display of not-fully-opened roses, sedum and something else I can't identify. I loved the color combo too.

The alternating kinds of thyme and sedum made for a nice patchwork of sorts.

Decorative chilis, sedum and white flowers

and at the end of the day, these were my sore feet, having walked and walked miles over the cobbled walkways and streets of Lille.