Saturday 1st July 2006
A Manchester exploration day. We caught the bus into the CBD (having bought an economical £3.00 weekly ticket), where Norm was able to purchase two pairs of much-needed shoes – and Carol a less-needed blouse for a special dinner on Monday night with Roger and Denise.
We also made bookings for our four days in “Gay Paree” next week. After one of those obligatory “caramel cappuccinos” each, we made our way across St Peter’s Square to join the “Hop On – Hop Off” City Sightseeing Tour Bus. We had 10 stops – and hopped off at none of them – but thought the overview of the city the tour provided worthwhile. Of most interest were the older buildings in the city itself though the sheer bulk of the “Trafford Centre” (a ginormous shopping, leisure and entertainment complex) couldn’t be ignored. Sadly, it had taken the place of a deer park in earlier times. For us the much preferred option.
Of all the sights, however, on the tour, the one that had most “wow” was the terribly-named “B of the Bang” sculpture. B of the Bang is a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick. It is the tallest self-supporting sculpture in the United Kingdom and was erected close to the City of Manchester Stadium to commemorate the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
The sculpture takes its name from a Linford Christie quotation in which he said that he started his races not merely at the ‘bang’ of the starting pistol, but at ‘the b of the bang’.
It was a very warm day – 24° and very humid – and almost made us feel at home! After a “caramel frappuccino” at Starbucks we headed towards where we thought was the bus-stop for our trip “home”! We did find it, eventually, with the help of a local.
Foodie news: Norm had a Caesar salad with bacon and chicken, Carol a grilled halloumi and asparagus salad with salsa verde. We shared a pinot Grigio – a bottle, not a glass – and for dessert, a large packet of salted potato chips which Carol craved – and Norm helped eat.
Sunday 2nd July 2006
A very warm and humid day (28°) and one on which air-conditioning would have been very welcome. Unfortunately the hotel didn’t have any, but we “bravely” soldiered on catching up on mail . We did, however, fit in a walk to and around Didsbury village including a very pleasant sortie into the nearby Fletcher Moss Gardens.
In the evening, thunder, lightning and very heavy rain made our 200-yard expedition to a local restaurant for dinner more than a little daunting. But very necessary if only to keep our readers gastronomically informed and, as you’ll read, worth the drenching!
Foodie news: Norm had a chicken liver and bacon entrée, while Carol’s was Thai lamb with couscous and rocket salad. Mains were traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for guess who, and grilled salmon fillet, peedie new potatoes, sugar snap peas, carrot and zucchini for Carol. Dessert was what remained of the liquorice allsorts from LRC’s glove-box!!
Monday 3rd July 2006
We spent most of the day catching up on e-mails, plus some banking and shopping. We purchased a potted Begonia as a thank you for Roger and Denise’s invitation to join them for dinner this evening.
We walked from Didsbury House, stopping only to buy some appropriate Moet and Chandon on the way.
This “homecoming” for Norm and “introduction” for Carol was made the more special by the warmest of welcomes to us both. Being a warm night, we had pre-dinner “bubbly” and dinner in their beautiful secluded garden.
For all you foodies out there – with apologies to Denise if we’ve got some of it wrong – our starter was chilled cream of cucumber soup with “just a hint of tarragon”. This was followed by succulent chicken breasts accompanied by a huge bowl of new potatoes, shredded cabbage and swede. For dessert we indulged in pears poached in red wine with lashings of fresh cream – Carol had two servings of that. Yum! We also savoured a glass or two (?) of a southern Italian red wine the name of which has long escaped Norm, though the flavour has not!
We arrived at 7:00 and left at around 11:30, which will go some way towards showing how enjoyable an evening it was. Good food, good wine – and great company.
Thank you, Roger and Denise.
Tuesday 4th July 2006
American Independence Day. Music at breakfast on Classic FM – comprising as it did works by American composers – left us in no doubt of that!!
Roger and Denise picked us up at midday to visit Arley Hall and Gardens, in Cheshire. On the way we passed through as picturesque and delightful example of a typically English village as one could wish to see. Alas, its name has gone missing without trace! If only we’d brought the cameras – again! After lunch in the Tudor Barn Restaurant which forms part of the Arley Hall estate, we strolled through what has been described as a quintessential English garden, a colourful feature of which was the double herbaceous border laid out in 1846.
We would have extended our stroll to include the woodland walk but, like some of the flowers, wilted in the heat and retired to the restaurant for refreshments in the shade. Thanks again to Roger and Denise for a pleasantly relaxed – and relaxing – afternoon.
Perhaps not surprisingly, dinner comprised nothing more than a huge bag of lightly salted “crisps” to accompany the Pinot Grigio!
Wednesday 5th July 2006
This morning we flew to Paris and over the next four days, from our hotel base near the Opera, walked our feet off from dawn to dusk. That’s not to say we walked everywhere but made very good use of the “hop-on hop-off” L’Open Tour Explorer Bus (which with four circuits covers the largest area of any city we’ve visited) to travel the longer distances between some of the sights/attractions.
Thursday 6th July 2006
On the first day we took the “Paris Grand Tour” which covered the inner city and included stops at The Louvre, Notre Dame, Champs Elysée, Musée D’Orsay, Musée de Rodin, Napoleon’s Tomb and the Eiffel Tower.
We did this as much to orient ourselves as to plan some sort of itinerary for those sights we really wanted to visit in the short time we had. To this end – and to save some money – we had earlier bought “Paris Museum Passes” at the airport.
The following day our first stop was at the Louvre where we spent most of the day soaking up as much as we could absorb of what there was to see. Of particular appeal were the following: “The Venus de Milo”, “The Seated Scribe” from the Egyptian collection, “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” and the two rooms and archaeological circuit beneath the Louvre which presented the history and architectural development of the Palace.
We then walked as far as Notre Dame but were dissuaded from visiting by the masses of “tourists” – deciding to try again on a later day.
Instead we caught the “Batobus” boat to the Musée D’Orsay – which we both found more appealing than the Louvre. Here, the building itself (once a railway station), the interior layout and collections all combine to offer a really great “museum experience”.
Apart from the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, the following pictures will show best what appealed there:
All “Museumed out” for the day we walked back to the hotel through the Place de le Concorde, past the Madeleine and up to Boulevard des Capucine – where we succumbed to the temptation of the nearest appealing-looking restaurant.
Friday 7th July 2006
Today we took a different circuit on our L’Open Tour Explorer Bus to visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre.
Here, thinking we were paying an entrance fee to visit the “Crypt” we found ourselves on the first of 370 steps to the Basilica’s dome. Regaining our breaths and normal heart-rates (something that was not immediate) we made our way to the walkway that encircled the dome.
From there, the extensive view of Paris and the surrounding countryside was just stunning – and well worth the effort involved in the climb.
Our visit to Montmartre would not have been complete without a circuit of the Place du Tertre where we had almost to beat off “quick-portrait artists” determined to record one or other – or both – of our faces for posterity.
We settled for “people-watching” instead – though the people were, like us, mainly tourists.
From Montmartre, our “hop-on hop-off” route took us via the Gard du Nord (and – for us anyway – an obligatory Starbucks stop) to Notre Dame Cathedral where, today, we did brave the tourist throng and, having done so, understand why it is such an attraction.
Then, to the Champs-Elysées and on to the Arc de Triomphe where Carol got some really great photos – a couple of which are here:
No visit to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower, even if the queues (and, perhaps as much, our earlier exertions at the Basilica) dissuaded us from “reaching for the sky” here! We settled for photos from terra firma.
Saturday 8th July 2006
Our last full day in Paris – and we made the best of it. Another visit to the Champs-Elysées – this time on a purely window-shopping rather than cultural excursion – to see how Parisians kept their credit-card providers happy. We could see why – but before you ask, we didn’t feel any need to do so with ours – they are already adequately provided for.
The Tombeau de Napoleon had not been on our list of “must-sees” but because it was one of the sites covered by our “Paris Museum Pass” – and was on our way to the Musée Rodin, we stopped off there. If ever one needed evidence of how Napoleon was – and may still be – revered by the French, this is where you’ll see it.
Musée Rodin was but a short walk away, so we ended our cultural tour of Paris there – and loved it, from the beautiful garden setting and its massive sculptures to the smaller ones displayed within the museum itself.
One of our favourite streets was Boulevard des Capucines – a wide leafy street with plenty of “Starbucks” to sustain foot-sore tourists like us. It also had one of the best restaurants we ate at in Paris.
Sunday 9th July 2006
For us, Sunday breakfasts are usually of the “bacon and egg” variety, so for our last breakfast in Paris we had just that. Well almost. What we actually had, at McDonald’s (just down the street from our hotel) was the French equivalent of a Macca’s breakfast which included juice, yoghurt, bacon & egg McMuffin, three mini croissants and coffee. At €4.95, it was great value!!
Suitably sustained, we made good use of what time we had until we had to go to the airport and the absolutely beautiful morning it was to explore on foot the tree-lined streets within walking distance of our hotel. It was just a magical way to end a wonderful visit and will long stay in our memories.
Our flight back to Manchester was thankfully uneventful (including, on this occasion, getting all our cases), as was our return to the newly-appreciated comfort of our Didsbury B&B.