Christmas morning

I am writing this as I listen to the carol on tv.

I am not a religious person but listening to a carol service always has a magical effect on me. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be able to have a Christmas morning in my own home with family, warm and content.

Time-off for everyone…

The penguins are enjoying a rare time-off from being pushed around by raucous kids.

Have a lovely holiday, everyone!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Epping Forest

Over the past few days, I binge-watched three Christmas Carols on TV. I know it was a clithé but without them, it would never feel like Christmas, don’t you agree?

After watching George C. Scott version of Mr.Scrooge, I suggested Hubbie that we could have a little walk in Epping Forest in the afternoon. ‘What a splendid idea!’

He grabbed his beloved Leica and I grabbed our beloved Bella, and off we went to the forest by car.

The roads were far from empty but the traffic was flowing smoothly, and in less than an hour, we were parking at a car park by the visitor centre.

Let’s have a little stroll, Bay Bay…

Bella acted funny throughout the journey as usual. She was not a big fan of travelling in a car and she whimpered and panted restlessly as Hubbie sat with her in the rear seat and did his best to comfort her. It is so weird that she loves buses and even she falls asleep on them. Then, why she hates cars so much? I just want to know what is in her mind so I can help her!

Do you feel better now?

While Hubbie wandered around with his camera, Bella and I walked on a thick carpet made up from oak leaves and acorns.

Anyone home?…

Bella asking for Mr.Squirrel so she could deliver a seasonal greeting. Unfortunately, no one was around.

Part of the ground was very muddy thanks to the overnight rain…

I am cold and my paws are stuck!

Well, we must come back to the forest again when the ground is a bit firmer and drier, Princess.

Once we were home, Hubbie made fine cups of tea and we shared a box of mince pies. Bella also enjoyed small crumbs of the pie crust.

Now, she is fast asleep on her bed and I am watching Miracle on 34th Street on telly. It may be a cliché but I feel quietly content and mellow.

Everything is winding down and Shoreditch is ready for the Christmas Day…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

How are you?

I’m writing this post as I watch Nigella in the tv screen, stirring some devilishly tempting ingredients in a bowl with her wooden spoon. The Christmas of 2018 is fast approaching and I am reflecting, with a cup of tea by my side, about how this year has been for me.

It is very true that I haven’t been blogging as much as I should have been and the sense of guilt has been in the back of my mind all the time. Believe me, I missed blogging even though I was the one who was putting it off.

Blogging does give me a pleasure. I can’t explain it very well but I find it satisfying and comforting about recording what in my mind and the events which somehow become noteworthy for me there and then. By making myself absent from this activity, I have been making myself half the person.

Before resuming blogging with reignited enthusiasm, I would like to explain why my fingers have been idle over a keyboard.

Some of you may know that I play ice hockey as a hobby. Even though I am not that good at it but I am crazy about the sport. More than a few times, I walked away from the sport because I felt I was not good enough or I was too old. However, every single time, I ended up coming back to the rink with a stick and skates, begging to be on the ice. Basically, I have been addicted to an adrenaline rush which is only available through ice hockey and I want to keep on enjoying it as long as possible.

As you can see, my love for the sport is undying, but nevertheless my body is not immortal. I cannot ignore the fact that I am a middle-aged woman, not a teenager.

Around the beginning of this year, the feeling of urgency started to bug me. Even though I was never been out of shape, I knew my fitness wasn’t up to scratch for a proper hard game of hockey. I must to work on it really really seriously, I thought.

Then, here I am, after almost one year of slogging away, feeling absolutely amazing and invincible! My hips no longer hurt. I can skate faster. My limbs are so supple, etc… A total transformation. It feels like my love of hockey has given me another lease of life!

However, the flip side of my be-hockey-fit regime is very time-consuming. Beside it, I have been more involved with Hubbie’s business organisation from the end of 2017, and also, I have a very demanding Bella to entertain.

Enough explanations / excuses! I am going to amend my way from this Christmas and to make blogging a part of my daily life again. The entry may be brief sometimes but I will do my best to blog what I consider worth recording.

Have a lovely Christmas, everyone!!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Les Halles of Avignon

On a double-sized bed in our small room at Avignon, mum was doing her post-breakfast ritual – emptying her small black crossbody bag and trying to find whatever the item she thought she had lost during a previous day. ‘Oh no! Where is it?! I thought it was in here! I am so sure of it!!’, she muttered as she pulled out the contents of her handbag. The sight always made me marvel how loaded it was. She managed to stuff the small bag with so many items! ‘Mum, why don’t you get a bigger/roomier bag? It will help you to organise better.’, I advised her even though I knew she would listen none of it because the bag was her favourite.

Oh mum, you have to wrap it up!

I grew a little impatient because we were leaving the city the next morning and apart from Palais des Papes and Pont d’Avignon, we hadn’t finished touring the place yet.

Put things back in the bag and let’s get ready, mum. No time to waste!

By hearing me urging her, she stopped the search with a big rueful sigh.

It was already 10:30 when we eventually hit the road and the first thing we saw was a police car on Cour Jean Jaurés, stopping all the traffic…

And ahead of the police car, crowds of people with placards walking away from us towards Place de l’Horloge.

Is it some sort of a protest march?

Later on, we found out that the protest we encountered was organised by far-left parties and unions and it was happening all over the country that day.

So where is our beloved and trusted La Baladine? We walked to a mini-bus terminal on Avenue du 7 e Génié and looked around. ‘Oh no! There is no bus service today?!’ It was because of the weekend street market nearby, the mini-buses weren’t operating that particular Saturday. I groaned as I read a notice stuck on the signpost. ‘Sorry mum, but we will have to walk to Les Halles.’

Having said that we discovered that the city was immensely pedestrian-friendly. Most of the backstreets were car-free and they were paved with colourful tiles instead of cobbled which was great for mum with dodgy knee and hip.

At La Place Saint-Didier, a craft and antique market was held. As we sauntered around the stalls, light rain came down and we opted to take a refuge in one of the cafes with large parasols.

No one said it would rain today!

We sipped coffee until the rain stopped.

Another brownie point the city merited was how compact the place itself was.

See? The old city within a city wall isn’t very large…

All the tourist attractions were situated within manageable walking distances.

After leisurely stroll, we arrived at Avignon’s famed food market just after 11AM…

A view of the covered food market from Place Pie…

A gigantic garden wall was a spectacular creation of the botanist, Patrick Blanc…

By the way, behind the lush vegetation, there was a multi-stories carpark for market visitors. How the French accommodate practicality and elegance, I couldn’t help being impressed!

Locals were purchasing bouquets from a flower stall by the main entrance…

Beautiful flowers, huh? Mum was busy taking pictures of them with her own iPod Touch.

Once inside, we found the market was lively but not too over crowded. I imagined that most of the shoppers must have finished their shopping for the weekend already as the time was almost midday…

Les Halles contained more 40 shops who sold all sorts of culinary specialities. There were so many things on offer and mum and I were simply mesmerised by the quantities and varieties.

The shop specialised in flavoured salts…

Those colourful mounds of sea salts were artfully blended with basil, tomato, chilli, onion, garlic, rosemary, charcoal, celery, etc. ‘I wish if I were more of a competent cook, mum!’ I couldn’t help uttering to mum who was standing next to me.

Spices, spices, spices…

Vegetables…

Potatoes…

Seafoods…

And olives…

There were also a various delicatessens which offered ready-made dishes…

And desserts!

If we were staying in a self-catering apartment at Avignon, we would have loved to buy bits and pieces for our table!

Now, this explains why there was a performance outside…

My apologies for filming the performance from a rather awkward angle. There were many spectators already and the spot was the only place I had an unblocked view.

Avignon was a very cultured city and it was well known for their art festivals. And during the week we were treated with a dance festival!

Ahhhh, Fruits Confits…

Don’t they look pretty?

These candied fruits were one of the best known confectionaries of the Provence. Each fruit was soaked in sugar syrup multiple times and the process was done very carefully in order to preserve the fruit’s original shape. Mum and I marvelled how good all of them looked.

‘Which one you fancy, mum?’, with our fingers in our mouth and our eyes as large as saucers, we pondered for a while. ‘How about these oranges? They are very good.’ A woman behind the counter pointed at the small oranges. ‘Ok, we will try one and also a strawberry because it looks very pretty.’

My advice to anyone thinking about visiting the market, will be “Go there with an empty stomach and try the eateries within Les Halles!” There were many cafes and snack bars which catered for the stall holders and the local shoppers and they looked really good. I wished if we were hungry and could try what they offered.

Let’s get something to nibble, like a brioche? We visited one of the many bakeries in the market and bought a brioche decorated with magenta coloured sugar…

It was very tasty.

After Les Halles, we decided to visit another well-known street of the city, Rue Joseph Vernet. If La Baladine was operational, it would have been better for us, especially for mum, because the street was a part of the mini-bus’s route. Still, Avignon’s city centre was compact and pedestrian-friendly, therefore, travelling on foot wasn’t that difficult.

‘Shall we try the fruits confits we bought in the market?’ I took out the bag from my bag and presented it to mum as we sauntered along Rue Corderie. The first one we tasted was a candied strawberry, and oh my, it was SWEET! In a way, it was too sweet for our liking. ‘Isn’t it like solid jam?’ We both agreed. Then, we shared the orange. It was again very sweet but also it had slight bitterness from the rind. ‘Hmmm, it’s like eating marmalade!’ Alas, candied fruits weren’t our cup of tea.

After reaching to Place de l’Horloge, we entered Rue Saint-Agricol and found a small crêperie. ‘Shall we have some Galette bretonne for lunch?’ Mum suggested.

The crêperie was manned by a woman and she was busy operating this ingenious pancake machine as well as serving customers. We marvelled her skill while we munched on our pancakes.

After filling our stomach, we started our stroll again. The street was rather quiet because it was Saturday…

Except the silence was broken by an emergency vehicle…

We arrived at Rue Joseph Vernet at last but found the street rather disappointing. Most of the shops which were open were well-know chain boutiques, such as Maje or Repetto, and more interesting looking antique shops were all shut for weekend.

Oh well, let’s go back to the hotel and start packing because we are leaving to Aix-en-Provence tomorrow…

Thank you, Avignon! We really enjoyed our stay in your pretty city…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Pont d’Avignon

Well, finding the famous bridge turned out to be more difficult than we first thought. Where it stood was clearly visible from the roof top of Palais des Papes, however, getting there was not as straight forward as anyone would anticipate.

After we came out of the palace, we looked around and pondered how we could get to the bridge. An oblong square in front of the attraction was vast and there wasn’t any obvious signage which would show the way to our next destination.

I didn’t want mum to walk needlessly as her hip and knee were still troubling her. Hmmm, what should we do?

 

We walked to a building on the right in my video clip and asked a woman who was heading the same direction. ‘Excuses moi, madame. Oú est Le Pont d’Avignon?’ She answered that the building was nothing to do with the bridge and we would have to backtrack and to follow a small alley way which started from the west side of the square.

I must find the right path this time!, I looked around rather desperately as poor mum trailed behind me with her walking stick. ‘Is this the alley way the woman meant?’ My eyes caught a narrow side street which disappeared amongst the high stone walls. ‘I’m gonna check it out if you wait for me here.’ I left mum at the square and went off to investigate it. The street wound and met another street at the bottom of it. As I approached the junction, a woman came out of one of the doors along the alley way so I decided to ask her if this was the way to the bridge. She replied it was and explained how I should go on from there. ‘Merci beaucoup!’ I thanked her and trotted back to the square to fetch mum.

Once we turned right at the bottom of the alley way, we found lots of gift shops which were selling typical products of the Provence region, such as colourful printed fabrics, embroidered tea towels, soaps, etc…

There were also some decorative dolls with traditional costumes. I wasn’t sure what they were made from, timber or clay?

Cicadas! I didn’t see the actual insects perching on trees but saw them a lot at souvenir shops in the Provence.

The bridge was about 7 – 9 minutes walk from the square and the entrance to the bridge was manned by a few not so helpful staffs. We wanted to use a lift but they told us to use the stairs nearby. Are they bl**dy blind? She is using a walking stick!, I shook my head as we gingerly walked towards the stairs.

Le Pont d’Avignon is also known as Le Pont Saint-Bénézet…

The original bridge of timber, which connected Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, was constructed during the late 12th century. However, the bridge was destroyed 40 years later during the siege laid by Louis VIII of France. Apparently, the king found the structure as a threat because the Imperial force could invade France via the bridge.

Happy mum and the bridge…

From the beginning of the13th century, several attempts were made to build and to maintain a stone bridge over the Rhône which was consisted in 22 arches and 21 piers. Despite being made with stone, the bridge could not withstand the volume of the water when the river was flooded, and eventually it was left broken and abandoned during the 17th century.

The water was calm and looked even placid when we visited the river…

The only remnant of the stone bridge was the four arches and the gatehouse on the Avignon side of the river.

Facing towards the tip of the bridge…

And towards the gatehouse on the Avignon side…

‘Do you remember the song, mum?’ We hummed the tune of “On the Bridge of Avignon as we walked back.

Now, let’s find the Baladine!

We walked to Rue Corneille, the north end of Place de l’Horloge and waited for the mini bus.

Look, mum! Le Petit Train!

 

Music from the carousel in the square was a pleasant BGM until our favourite transport of Avignon arrived…

 

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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