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Saturday 30 June 2012

Lille day 2 - Wonderful historic city

Today I will conclude our misadventure in Lille.         

The view from my hotel room.
Next morning, sky was blue and it was already warm at 7:30 when I woke up. What's a contrast to the day before! In a simple hotel room like this, there is nothing to do but to get up and to go down for a breakfast. I booked my breakfast last night. It was a buffet. Boy! There were everything you could want for a continental breakfast there. There were about six different types of bread including brioches, wholemeal, white, baguettes, sliced tin bread, rolls, with a toaster. Butter, honey and several different fruits of jams (I chose apricots). There were orange juice, apple juice, tea and coffee. Yogurt of different flavours. President cheese and two kinds of cereals. French people usually have light breakfast. There were a dozen people having breakfast when I went there. Every single one was French. They had a small amount of bread and had Café au lait. I, instead, ate everything to my heart's content. Yogurt and cheese were particularly nice to start our second day with many hours of walking. 5 euro was well spent on the breakfast!
Waiting for the bus to come. That's the tower I mentioned.
I checked out, and walked into this new world. When sky is blue, everything looks chirpy and cheerful. Even the empty office building seems a bit positive! I walked to the bust stop, and took some photos.

Re-painted white patches at the presumably emergency staircase.

So many flats, but nobody was seen. René Magritte-esque place!

It looks pretty from inside the Metro station against blue sky!

At the metro station, I saw people. They were apparently commuting or going to school. They looked busy and purposeful. I joined them. I had a glimpse of the white high apartments, which looked spooky last night. They were pretty against blue sky. But they still looked spooky. Why didn't they build houses instead of high rises? There are obviously plenty land around here. I was thinking about it when I got in the train.

I arrived 30 minutes earlier than the arrival of the train coming from Ashford. There were lots of engineers working on cables under the floor. I saw so many different coloured cables running. They were for the electric notice board for arrival.

Mike found me and spread his arms wide. I was so glad to see him again. We went back to our usual cafe, Paul. Mike had breakfast(there were no freshly baked pastries again!), and I ordered espresso. We caught up with each other's story.

Post office
Last night, Mike's train didn't stop at Ebbelsfleet, so he had to go to St Pancras. There was, he told me angrily, a passport control. We were repeatedly told that there were not passport controls at either Ashford or London station, I, therefore, were not allowed to travel to UK. At St Pancras, he ran to the ticket office and bought a single ticket to Canterbury. Boy, it cost more than off-peak return tickets I usually buy. (If you buy single tickets or a full price tickets in UK including Eurostar, be warned, they are excessively expensive. the Eurostar return ticket Mike bought the evening before was three times more than the return tickets I initially booked in advance!)  Then he had to run to catch the train to Ashford.

Opera House. I love the lamp post! It reminds me of La Opera at Paris!
At home about 10 o'clock at night, he rang our lovely dog walker, Theresa; luckily she could walk our dog next day. He looked after parrots, a chicken and dogs (luckily Pearl, the leaky one, was crossing her legs and didn't have an accident in the evening), found my old passport, read an email sent from my hotel, took shower and went to sleep. But like me, he couldn't sleep much because he was worried that he could miss the train next morning. He got up about 5, and drove to the station, and caught the same train we took 24 hours earlier and now he is having a breakfast in front of me. I knew he would be more tired than I was. 
A lampshade shop

Delicious looking quiches
We decided we would take easy, just strolling the old beautiful town and sitting at cafes. But first thing I had to do was to buy changing in a hyper-store. After changing, we were off to beautiful old square. This place looks always attractive. Colourful Flanders buildings are a treat to eyes, but against blue sky they looked really stunning. We walked around familiar streets, checking the window displays of lovely boutiques (which are plenty in Lille).

A flower shop
We walked enough and made ourselves hungry. We had already decided to go to our old haunt, Coq Hardi. When I visit a new place, I usually follow bank clerks at lunch time. They usually lead me a restaurant with a good value! That's how I found this place. So, since the first visit, we always have lunch here. Even when I came alone, I had lunch here. I am a bit conservative with food, and if I find something I like I will stick with it. Mike is even more conservative than I am.

Our favourite, Coq Hardi. Handsome building!
The view form our table. Looking at the theatre direction.
Local beer. My empty glass.
Look at the sky! Suddenly summer came. Every eater was eating under the sky. We joined them. My favourite is beef stewed in beer and a glass of local beer. Mike having allergy to beef, he had same stew with a chicken. Incredible amount of meat was served. I became very full after that.
Old Exchange
Mike wanted to visit a porcelain shop which sells white porcelain at a good price. I used to buy tiny dishes for my flock of finches. We went there, it was closed for lunch. So we went a cafe called Méo,where we bought our colourful tea caddies before. Barista was very friendly. We also had lovely macaroons, too. We sat in the other side of square of the restaurant, just enjoyed watching people walked passed. It's so peaceful. It really struck me that people in Lille have been friendly and kind. Metro staff, bus drivers, passer-by, shop keepers, everyone was genuinely friendly, and they speak English so well. What a change! When I went to Paris alone for the first time 26 years ago, I couldn't buy a metro ticket because I had to ask for it in French at a counter. I couldn't pronounce the name of the my destination. A woman at the counter was arrogant and irritable. At that time, there was an air that those who didn't speak French were under class in France. Nowadays young people speak English very well and they are more open to the outside world. I try my rudimentary French anytime I visit France, but nowadays, they chose to speak in English to tourists. Mike was taught French at school,like all kids in England, but he seems to repeat 'Ok' quite often, lol, and when he needs to communicate, he usually speaks in English.

View of the Square. Our Coq Hardi is the second building from the left.
Irresistible looking Macaroons at Méo

View of the square.

We peeked Gallerie Lafayette and Printemps. we enjoyed looking at tableware. Then we returned to the porcelain shop, and bought one salad bowl. Sadly, because of the weight, we only bought one. But Mike kept saying that we should have bought at least two afterwards. It was only 5 euro at a special offer.
5 Euro. A real bargain!

Surprise! Mike found Le Pain Quotidien on the same street as the porcelain shop was! But there was no almond croissants (my most favourite) there : (

We peeked inside the remain of an old palace, which is upstairs of Office de Tourisme. Stained glasses were beautiful.

This little building has more characters than large neighbors.

This building reminds me of Disney film of 'The little house'.
We visited The Église Saint-Maurice. From front it looks Gothic.
Its stained glasses are beautiful. I am not religious, but I can't help feeling serene and pious in the church like this.
But side and rear shows different faces. It must be extended in different times. According to Wikipedia, its construction began in the 14th century, and only completed in 19th century. It took amazingly 500 years to build it. What a history!
I felt as if I time-tripped to the Middle age.

To avoid any confusion and another trouble, we went back to the station one hour before the departure time. We asked Eurostar staff to put our seats together. At the UK border controls, a female officer asked me why I held a ticket for the day before, (I explained) she said that the rule had changed they don't transfer visa to a new passport any longer, so I have to carry two passports, old and new one when I travel. Something is not right with this new rule.

The trains was delayed by 30 minutes. It was unusual in our experience. There were several security people aboard checking tickets. Then there was announcement. They want to check unclaimed luggage in coach 17. So people in coach 17 were asked to return to their carriage. Bomb alerts? I whispered Mike. I turned back to a lady who was in the train from Brussels. She said that she traveled before in the same train, and they always do security checks. Really? By the time we arrived at Calais, there was announcement saying that all luggage was accounted for. All security got off the train there.

So we arrived at Ashford (Yes, there was a passport control!) an hour later. When we got home Topaz and Pearl seemed ecstatic to see me again! They were jumping up and going around me like a merry-go-round. You know, I felt so good to be at home again. I slept very well on that night.


Friday 29 June 2012

Lille Day1 - What happened to Midori after that?

Because my passport had no a visa stamp (it was issued in November 2009, and my last overseas trip was to Paris in August 2009 with previous passport), The UK border control refused me to return to UK. A female officer told me that she would need to check with her boss in Brussels. I silently sighed because Brussels indicates loads of bureaucracy.  I was right. Mike would have to bring my previous passport back the next day. There is one direct train from Ashford to Lille in the morning and one direct train back to Ashford in early evening, which we just missed whilst waiting for the reply from Brussels. Mike asked if I could travel with him to Ashford or London tonight and would wait there for him to bring my old passport. They said there were no passport controls in either station. We were facing the wall, a bureaucratic wall.
The wall of bureaucracy

Because I had not used the passport since I renewed two and a half years ago, I had completely forgotten about the visa. There is no point to lament something that can’t be reversed. The real problem was I didn't have credit cards, debit cards or mobile with me. It was meant to be just a day trip, and Mike and I would stay together whole day. If I have carried cards and valuables, it would double the risk of being robbed. That was logic. It backfired for me now. I felt very vulnerable.

We didn’t have much time either. We had to buy another return ticket for Mike, find a hotel room for me, and pay for it with Mike's credit card, before the last train for London left. We had only two hours.

Station. Just before I was stopped at UK border control
We felt miserable. Tourist information was already closed. We had to find a room in the early evening. We walked back to the centre and asked several hotel. One after another, every hotel told us they were full. A receptionist told me that all hotels in the city centre were full today. From my past experience, I knew something was up, and I would probably have to go out of the city, but where? I told Mike that I would be able to find a hotel to stay by myself, and that he would need to buy tickets and get on the train. He had a lots of tasks to do before the end of the day; he will travel to London where he will have to buy a ticket to Canterbury, and take High speed train to Canterbury, then to book our dog walker for the next day, to look after our parrots, finch, chicken and dogs. We must return to the station. What if the train is already booked!  Then I would have to stay two nights here alone! He was able to book the tickets. It was three times more than what I paid for the same tickets in advance (Dear travellers, notice this! Buy tickets in advance. )

In late afternoon, we finally saw sunshine.
I had shown my brave side, and I had kept telling him that I would be OK. But when I saw his back going away at the border controls, where I couldn't pass earlier, I suddenly  felt very miserable and my eyes welled. Then he turned back and saw my tears. It was terrible moment. I had a sinking feeling. He caught the Eurostar, the second last train to London. As soon as he disappeared from my view. I hurried to an information board I had seen earlier. There were lots of hotels in the centre, but I knew I would have to find somewhere out of the centre. Luckily I had a good sense of direction, but it was restricted to City centre. I only have 120 Euro to survive until next morning. That's the most that could be taken from Mike's cash account.

While I walked back to the City centre, I was thinking if I couldn’t find a hotel room, I should go to a police station, a hospital, or night club. Then I refuted night clubs as soon as I passed a pub with 8 black leather-cladded middle aged men drinking alcohols. ‘No, not for me.’ I walked passed all hotels I knew they were full. Then I found Hotel Ibis. I saw this hotel chain in Paris before. I went in, and asked about a room although I knew the answer. A young female receptionist said that it was full due to a conference. Then I explained her about what happened to me, and I desperately need a room tonight. She said there were other Hotel Ibis outside City. I told her I would travel. She rang three Hotel Ibis, but they were full. Then she asked me if I would mind a cheaper hotel. I replied, 'Anywhere!'. She found a room for me. I would need to take Metro and buss.  She said unless I would check in by 10:30, the booking would be cancelled.  'I would go immediately, I said. It was already eight o'clock. I left her a tip, (she refused, but I insisted.) and became a bit tearful because of the relief. She said 'Please don't cry, you will have a safe place tonight. '

Metro station in Lille
After thanking her, I headed for the nearest Metro station. There are two lines in Lille, and I found that I have to go back to local station to get on my line. When I reached the metro station at the railway, there were six soldiers with rifles in hand patrolling. Their presence scared me a bit, and I wanted to be in a safe place as soon as possible.  The metro station I was instructed to get off was the fourth station. It was a very strange place. From outside, Metro station looks like a small dome. There was only staircases on the ground floor. Station itself was on a little island in front of a roundabout.  Very sparse traffic went on both sides of the island. One side of the road was a roundabout, as I said, and at the other direction, the road is straight on the slope. Both sides of road were surrounded by lots of trees, all young lime green leaves. There was nothing, no shops, no houses, nothing on the road, as far as I could see.
Photo : Jiel Beaumadier
The pyramid like red and white building is the metro station.
There are several white high-rise flats near the station. One closest to the station has lots of plain windows, but there was nobody I could see. Spooky. There were so many flats, but no people were seen.  It was very quiet, too.  The flats and the station were only visible sign of people’s existence in the middle of nowhere.  It must be a newish development, I thought.  There was a tall red and white steel tower for TV or something in the middle of the roundabout. At the foot of the tower, I could see a car dealer which was, of course, already closed.

I soon found the bus stop, No. 10. There were about a dozen of teenagers in a  gang. They all looked troublesome. They had sportswear and Mohican hairstyle. The youngest was about 10 and the oldest was about 17, perhaps.  Most of them stared at me, and I could hear them whispering 'Chinoise...?' I was scared. What if my bag was taken? I would have no cash to pay the hotel or even to buy a ticket to Lille station tomorrow to meet Mike. Only defence I had was not to show my fear. I was probably successful. First, they a kind of surrounded me, but left me alone afterwards.  But in fact, I felt hopeless. I was praying somebody would appear. Once a while, there were a couple of people appear from the station. But most of them were picked up by cars, or they drove away themselves. Nobody else was at the station, except for the gang and me. The gang didn't do anything in particular. They just hang around. They didn’t even talk to each other. Two of them were resting their feet on both front windows of an old car with different shades of blue paint on the parts.  I looked at the time table. There would be still 30 minutes before the next bus. It seemed to me that I was waiting for the last bus service, or the second last. I didn’t know if it was in a term time in Lille. I felt more and more uncomfortable I held my bag securely and searched for any humans in the windows which were looking down on us, but there was nobody. Surrealistic! It is just like Rene Magritte’s paintings.

After 20 minutes, a young lady came and stood at another bus stop at the opposite side of the island. I felt a relief finally. I was holding a pair of strawberry mouse in my hand. When I saw Mike off, I  took this sweet, just in case I would have to use all cash for a hotel room. Because it became warmer than daytime, and it had been already about 4 hours since we bought it, mouse started melting and leaking from the plastic container. It was a mess. I thought a bus driver would not be happy with me taking it inside. I decided to eat it. There was no spoon or folk, or no water to wash hands. I slightly hesitated, but there was no choice but using the fingers. There were four strawberry halves. They were easy. But how would I eat half melting mouse with fingers. It was difficult. I noticed that the gang was watching me eating. I kind of registered their surprise and perhaps disgust in their faces! This probably put them off. LOL  
Strawberry mouse, especially melting one, is difficult to eat with fingers!
The bus finally came. A man appeared just before the bus arrived, and we were only customers. I had already checked the route several times, and my stop was fifth. The bus drove in the middle of nowhere, just like behind the station. I could only see trees, but no building or houses. Then gendarme station appeared from trees. The road curved and we came to a wide road with two lines each direction. But there were nobody seen from the bus window. I got off the stop as instructed. Next instruction was to ask passer-by where the hotel is. There was no one to ask! Address is 9, so it must be near the end. I looked further; it seemed there was a roundabout. I hurried towards it. I felt very insecure. There was very light traffic. It was a deserted place.

I could see empty industrial buildings, whose windows had cards ‘to let’ in French. Then I suddenly saw young man appeared from nowhere. I ran to him and asked if he knows the hotel. He thought a bit, and suddenly ‘ Ah! It’s there!’ He pointed at the opposite side of the road. I looked carefully, behind the trees I could see something, I thanked him, and started running towards it. I was desperate to go somewhere safe before dark. There was no car coming, so I just crossed the four lanes without any worries, and ran to the parking of the hotel. There I finally felt safe for the first time since 4 o'clock. It was already near 9 o'clock.

The young handsome receptionist was kind and efficient. I asked him to send an email to Mike, to assure him I had checked in a hotel safely.  
I took shower and went to a bed, but couldn’t sleep. I switch on TV, and found a gardening program, of course, in French. I just needed some normality. I even did exercise in the bed. When I tried to sleep, I noticed my pillow was damp. Tears ran down. I didn’t know it was from relief or stress. I thought about Mike. He had the short straw. He had never blamed me, even a word. I thought I would try to be as nice as he was to me when anything happened to us in future. 

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Lille Day 1 - Palais de Beaux Arts de Lille

Hello, everyone! Two weeks ago, Mike and I went to Lille, a city in northern France, We used to visit Lille at least once a year before High speed railway was opened to London from Kent some years ago. It is easy, quick and very comfortable on Eurostar to visit France. It takes only 1 hour from Ashford to Lille, and two hours to Paris.

Our Eurostar at Ashford
Main purpose was to visit Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. Anytime we tried to visit there in past, it was somehow closed. This time, I checked on their closed days beforehand.
Yayoi Kusama

In front of Lille International station, there is a big sculpture by Yayoi Kusama. She is big. She had an exhibition at V&A recently. But her works are not in my taste.

Our breakfast cafe

This is Paul where we always have our breakfast. On this day, however, they didn't have freshly baked pastries. Such disappointment! We both like Escargot, and usually have one each with espresso, but this time we had to compromise with cold chocolate pastries! What happened to them?

We arrived Palais des Baux Arts de Lille as soon as it opened.
We took Metro to the Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. In past we had walked, but to save time and to keep warm ( max was 13C!), we decided to take a metro. It was quick and easy. Mike found the train is not manned. There is no driver's seat.   This beautiful building houses Flanders fine arts. The buildings are much more beautiful than in this photo, but it was not only cold but also gloomy. It is miserable for June at any standard.
Elevator for underground parking
This is not the first time I took photos of this parking elevator. I like it very much, so I can't help recording it anytime I see it.
There were two temporary exhibitions. One was BABEL.  At BABEL, artists all over the world created their art works inspired by Babel. There were several pieces by Chinese artists who saw modern China as Babel. We liked a short film on this theme. Photo below was the tower of Babel made by library books. 

The tower of Babel? The pile of books?
Among them I liked this painting most. The way black and white were used with other colours are inspirational. It was by Hungarian artist called Miklos Bokor.

The other exhibition was LES SEPT PÉCHÉS CAPITAUX by Antoine Roegiers. It was located at the back end of dark room, which displays a dozen of models of towns. He re-worked Brueghel the elder's 'The seven deadly sins'. There were animation for each sin. I always loved Brueghel, as you could imagine from what I make. So his works were fascinating to me. We had spent about one hour to watch each drawing and animation. I could have stayed longer if we didn't get hungry. Here is his website.

We had a lunch at an Italian restaurant we saw from a window of ceramics room. After that, we returned to see their permanent collection.  There are lots of painting upstairs too. I enjoyed the space and collection. 

My favourite sculpture

I always wanted to know where faun's tail grow.
At the back side of the building, there was a courtyard and a modern glass building, which I think is a local government office. The reflection is lovely even on the cloudy day.
Unexpectedly stunning view of reflection

Once we finished looking all displays, it was already mid-afternoon. It's time to start winding down. Just outside, I found a beagle puppy being walked by a young lady. He was bouncy and very playful.

Beagle puppy, full of energy
After we did our shopping: wines, pastries, cheese and deserts. We headed to the station. It was getting slightly brighter and even warmer after four o'clock.
A building over the station

It was a nice day trip, we thought. We didn't know that I was not allowed to return to UK at a border control after that. Continued.

Friday 22 June 2012

Olympic tickets

 Hi, everyone! Today, we had Olympic tickets delivered. Exciting!

Olympic tickets

This would be definitely once a life time experience for Mike and me. We got two events to go. This...
Women Freestyle wrestling - Japanese women have medal hope.
and this. I like this picture. They look sweet, especially the hands!
Synchronised swimming
They recommend to be in the Olympic park 2 hours in advance. Security checks are as tight as in the airport. Wifi will be in the Olympic Park, so I hope I can twitter a bit from the venue. It's definitely  the year of London this year!

Thursday 21 June 2012

I am going to be a student again this autumn!

Hello, everyone! It has been a long time since my last post. Lots of things happened to me since then. Last Wednesday, Mike and I went on a day trip to Lille in France. The main purpose was to visit Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. We enjoyed our time there. But I couldn't come home on that day. I finally came home next day, about 25 hours later than initially planned.

Since then, I have had to catch up with two days' work, to fill several forms, to write up a couple of proposals and to make a portfolio of my ceramics work and in the meantime I kept an eye on new developments in Euroland. Yesterday I went to an interview for a part-time MA course in Fine and Applied Arts in Canterbury Christ Church University where Mike and I had done ceramics with Kent Adult Education for the last three years.

Interview was an enjoyable. I was offered a place. So, I am going to be a student again next autumn. It's awesome! There are lots of things I would like to explore. I feel excited by just thinking about them.

My favourite piece
In the interview, I was asked which piece is my favourite. I pointed at this piece. Yes, this is the one you can see on my banner. Bob, the interviewer said that he likes it too.


Monday 11 June 2012

Making rose petal jam

Hello, everyone. If you wonder why there are lots of food in this presumably ceramic blog, it's because Mike and I really care about what we eat. I would rather remain hungry than eating something I don't want. I have been adamant with what I choose to eat since I was very young. My mother could tell you so many anecdotes of me refusing what I decided not to eat. But I can enjoy eating the food I really love repepatedly without being tired of it. (I can also enjoy listening to same music repeatedly. My BFs in past used to make music tapes which consists of one song, just repeated over and over, until the end of the tape. I guess some people don't know what the tapes are.)

Rose petals in a pan

I love rose petal jam. I tried it at a breakfast in a back garden of a ground floor flat in Istanbul 23 years ago. It was made by the step-mother of my friend. She picked petals from her rose gardens. She had various colours of roses. There were pink ones, red ones and yellow ones. I liked yellows one best because of strong scent. Scent sounds too weak to express the aroma. It is very strong, and it should be definitely described as 'fragrance'. Since then, the best jam of the world to me has been the rose petal jam I had in her garden.

Breakfast next morning (Notice the Pyrex collecting the petals falling!)
Some days ago, there was a storm. A long branch of one of our yellow roses was bent double. In order to protect the plant from snapping, I cut it. The branch had about 30 flower buds and several flowers. I cut them to shorter pieces and put them into vases. I only grow yellow and gold roses because I love their scent. Some white ones have strong scent, but I found in my gardening mad time, yellows have the best scent. It might be related with the climate here. As I have read reds have strong scent in the Mediterranean.

Close-up of the jam in yogurt and jam jar
I looked at the roes in vases, I decided to try making my own rose petal jam. I did a search for recipe Internet. I found several. In the end, I opted for the one with least sugar per the weight of petal. There was only 75g of petals, so I though we would soon finish it. I also tweaked it a bit. So here is my own version of tose petal jam recipe;

75 g of petals
75 g of sugar
2 tea spoon of orange juice
2 tea spoon of lemon juice

I cooked them until it boiled, and put it into a clean jar.

Whilst cooking very strong fragrance has wafted into the house. It was heavenly. I tasted it. Oh! it was so delicious! Surprisingly petals were chewy. There is no pectin added, so it is more like petals in syrup. So you eat 'fragrance'. It is very strong. It goes very well with yogurt or white bread with butter. We imagine that it would go very well with scones, too. We will try later this week.
In fact, it was so lovely that I have already made a second batch today. I told you, I enjoy eating same food I really love, over and over again.     

My second batch of rose petal jam in the making