Beer & chat @ Toulouse

After coming back from Toulouse’s shopping district, we headed to a restaurant / bar near our hotel for beer and food. It was a rather hot and humid day and the idea of drinking ice cold beer really appealed to us.

I am so glad that your hip is getting better, mum!

She certainly was more comfortable than a few days ago.

While mum stuck to a glass of well-known brand, I opted for a white beer from Belgium.

The beer was aromatic and strong. I liked it!

For food, we shared sausage & chips and salad with cheese.

During our dinner, an elderly couple were ushered to a table next to ours. At first, we didn’t pay much attention to them and carried on chatting in Japanese as we sipped our beer and pecked on our food.

Then out of the blue, the elderly woman turned to us and started talking to us, ‘Vous êtes Japonais? J’adore le son du Japonais même si je ne comprends pas!’

From my very limited French, I gathered that they were here for holiday like us. In return, I explained to them how we arrived at the city and how we intended to travel to the south of France and beyond.

‘We used to live in Vietnam.’, her husband said. Until then, he was very quiet and only nodding in support while his wife was chatting to us.

It was again due to my limited ability to communicate in French but he was trying to say that they used to live in Vietnam when they were young but they had to flee their beloved house and community because of the Vietnam War. ‘C’était très très triste.’ They both shook their heads. Oh how I wished if my French were a lot better so I could express how sorry I was! ‘C’était trés tragique.’, I managed to say but nothing else…

When we went back to our hotel, we discussed how upsetting it must have been if you were uprooted from your home because of reasons beyond your control. There are still so many people who have to abandon their homes and communities because of conflicts and natural disasters. We really mustn’t forget our sympathy and compassion towards those unlucky people…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins

The mainline railway station in the southeast part of Limoges was one place I managed to visit while I was in the city.

It was a great shame that mum hurt herself at the very beginning of our adventure and as a result, she could not accompany me on foot to see this ornate station.

The station was less than 10 minutes walk from the hotel. A park which separated the station from the city centre seemed to be a small oasis to local people and I could see students and office workers here and there, enjoying a little “me-time” on the benches and the grass.

The first Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins, which was built of wood, was opened in 1860. The present station was designed by a French architect Roger Gonthier in 1917 and the building was listed as a monument historique in 1975.

The style of the building was distinctively Beaux-Arts. Opulent decors adorned the various parts of the exterior of the station.

Bénédictins, the part of the name of the station was due to the presence of a Benedictine monastery nearby which was closed during the French Revolution.

I entered the station, expecting the interior to be as ornate as the outside. However, I wasn’t so lucky.

Apart from the entrance and the ceilings, nothing was very notable.

The vastness of the ceiling somehow emphasised the emptiness of the interior.

After all, it was a working railway station, not a museum or a theatre. A business-like interior was more appropriate, I supposed.

A dome above the passenger concourse was constructed with a metallic framework covered in copper.

Limoges is a part of the Orléans-Montauban railway. There is the intercity services from Paris to the city which typically takes a little less than 4 hours.

A sight of railway tracks disappearing into the distance always made me feel nostalgic, and the sight I saw from Rampe des Bénédictins bore the same effect.

Before we leave the city tomorrow, I shall bring mum here by car so she can see the famous station from outside, I thought.

So she won’t feel too missed out…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

HMS Victory @ Portsmouth

Our annual mum & daughter road trip kicked off from Portsmouth. The ferry we were to board would leave the port city at 8 o’clock Monday morning, so instead of leaving London in the early hours on the same day, we decided to stay overnight near the ferry terminal.

It took about 4 hours for us to drive from London to Portsmouth.

My new holiday bag!

I bought it at Urban Outfitters on Oxford Street because the colour reminded me the blue often used by Matisse:)

One place I always wanted to visit at Portsmouth was Historic Dockyard…

And especially, the world famous HMS Victory was an absolute must. Ever since I watched the film, Master and Commander, I was fascinated by the warship during the Napoleonic War period.

‘Do you think we have enough time to visit HMS Victory and Mary Rose?’ I asked at the ticket office. The staff advised me to opt for the battleship alone as the place was to close in an hour’s time.

Admiral Nelson, a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar…

There were a very few visitors in and around the attraction…

It was because the masts of the warship were modified to the half of their original heights, the vessel looked rather small and less intimidating…

However, we came to face to face with rows of guns as soon as we stepped into the interior…

There was a staff on the gun deck and he explained to us that those formidable weapons were manned by a team of up to 14 men and the highly trained crew could fire them every one and half minute.

There were guns everywhere…

A view from the top of the quarter deck…

There was a brass plate near a quarter deck which indicated the exact spot where Lord Nelson was shot by a French sharp-shooter…

A steep staircase which connected the sunlit upper deck to the more clumped and perpetually dark lower deck…

Life as Nelson’s seaman must have been a very harsh one. Can you imagine how one can survive on a battleship in which every available space was stuffed with guns and explosives?! It sounds already pretty hazardous as it is and once a battle commences, it must be very very hellish…

The broadside of HMS Victory…

You definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end of those guns…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Phantom Thread

Last night, I started to read The Glass of Fashion, a book by Cecil Beaton which was published in 1954. And the book conveyed me to a bygone time in which high fashion was art, not industry.

Why did I have a strong urge to pick up this book was because I wanted to linger in a particular era which was portrayed in a film, Phantom Tread. The life portrayed in the film was a small slice of the 50’s post-war Britain. And it was indeed, a very privileged one. …

 

The film, which Hubbie and I saw at the Barbican Cinema, was simply exquisite. It was beautifully shot, the storyline was original and the acting was superb. I loved everything, absolutely everything in it. And of course, Daniel Day-Lewis, he was divine. The fact that he has left his acting career behind after the film makes my heart bleed! Does it mean I will never see his inimitable smile, which is elegant yet impish, ever again? I am still heartbroken.

Another thing I pined for throughout the film was how I desired to time-travel to the era in which the film was set. Even though my mum, who experienced the reality of the post-WWll, may not agree with me, I did find the time very desirable.

The reason why I liked it so much was because everything appeared to be real and tactile. The life then was conducted more elaborately and properly. General things, even trivial things such as drinking tea or putting on clothing, appearred to be done with more care and joy. And respect and appreciation towards labour and service seemed to be more just and courteous.

What is luxury? I wonder. Nowadays, we are surrounded by objects which claim themselves to be “deluxe”. From fast food to fast cars, the notion is widespread and abundant. Despite it, I just can’t help feeling that we are decidedly poorer. I ponder why.

If I could, I would love to bring back Cecil Beaton and hear what he would comment about the state of luxury in the present time. He may have a fit or worse a heart attack but also he would give damn accurate (& savaging) digs at it too…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Afternoon tea @ St Pancras Renaissance

The last afternoon tea I had was at the Lanesborough during last July. My friends were visiting London and they wanted to have a traditional afternoon tea (who wouldn’t?), therefore, I recommended there. This time, I wanted to take my girl Bella with me, therefore, I picked St Pancras Renaissance. In London, there were more than a few dog-friendly afternoon tea venues to choose from. However, most of the places were in West London and St Pancras Renaissance was the only hotel which was close from our place and also welcomed four-legged guests open-armed.

Hurry up, you all!

Even though her legs were short, she climbed the stairs much quicker than me. Why is that? Would I run up the stairs much faster if I got down on all four?!

Behind the present building, there are platforms for Eurostar…

The Victorian style building has Grade 1 listed status and the original structure was constructed in the late 19th century.

I distinctively remember how the place used to be before all the regeneration works transformed the entire area. It was in the early 90’s and the station just looked dirty and unloved. I think I was on my way to visit Cambridge and the train route was starting from St Pancras. The journey was made on one very cold February day and in my memory, the platform was utterly devoid of human beings and as cold as a tomb.

During the 1960’s, there were serious discussions regarding the future of the station. Some wanted the station to be closed and demolished altogether for inner-city redevelopment. However, the station was spared, thanks to fierce opposition by the Victorian Society.

The fortune of the station improved further in 1996 when LCR – London and Continental Railways won a contract from the government to reconstruct St Pancras. The company was to build a 109-kilometre (68 mi) high-speed railway between London and the United Kingdom end of the Channel Tunnel as well as to refit the existing St Pancras for accommodating 300-metre+ Eurostar trains.

After eleven years, during which there were a few ups and downs and the cost of £800 million, the station was reopened on 6 November 2007 by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Before the present St Pancras Renaissance opened its doors in 2011, the site was occupied by the remain of Midland Grand Hotel. The original hotel which was in the elaborate English Gothic revival style was designed by the architect, George Gilbert Scott in 1865. In its heyday, the hotel was known for expensive fixtures and luxurious decor. The place was decked with a grand staircase and every room had a fireplace. The hotel also sported the latest innovations of the time, such as hydraulic lifts, concrete floors, revolving doors and fireproof floor constructions. However by the 1920’s, all the utilities became out of date and it was decided that the hotel was to cease trading in 1935.

After the hotel was closed down, the place was renamed as St Pancras Chambers and it was used as railway offices by British Rail until the 1980’s before the building failed fire safety regulations.

In 2004, planning permission was granted to redevelop the existing boarded-up building into a new five-star hotel complex. The specification for the new hotel, which was to contain 244 guest rooms, two restaurants, two bars, a spa and a gym with a swimming pool, required a much bigger footprint than the former structure, therefore, a new bedroom wing was created on the western side of the Barlow train shed.

Steps leading us to a beautifully decorated hotel lobby…

The afternoon tea was served in their Hansom Lounge…

It was used to be the spot where the wealthiest passengers were dropped off during the time the place was used as a train station.

Bella wanted to explore the place. ‘Let me gooooo!’

No Bay-Bay! You behave yourself!

Then she went into the sulking mode. Oh no…

I don’t care. I’m gonna make you all feel guilty. Her turned back shouted her silent protest. Oh well. Never mind.

The lounge was very Christmassy…

We ordered their classic afternoon tea. For the actual tea, I ordered Earl Grey, Hubbie opted for Rooibos tea and David went for Darjeeling.

The first plates they brought to our table were sandwiches…

There weren’t any customary cucumber sandwiches but we were given a plenty of savoury fillings filled slices and rolls, such as salt beef with mustard & pickles, salmon with dill crème fraiche, roast chicken with fennel & orange, beetroot with goat cheese and so on. They were all very delectable.

For scones, I asked them to include a few scones without raisins or sultanas…

So Bella could join in our feast.

Then for the cake selections, we were served trays of coffee & amaretto panna cotta, lemon mousse, mini chocolate eclair, pistachio Madeleine and raspberry Victoria sandwich…

They were all great. However, I much preferred to have them, the sandwiches, the scones and the cakes, served altogether rather than to be brought separately. Also the time between each plate was served was a little too long for us. Therefore, for those negative points, I had to say the experience was 7 out of 10.

By the way, their dog-friendliness was 10/10…

One of the staffs brought a bowl of water as soon as we were seated and everyone was very attentive to us and Bella.

It was around 5:30pm when we left the hotel…

That meant we spent nearly two and a half hours chatting and drinking tea?! Wow, time flies when we’re having fun, we all laughed…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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