Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gwan's Year in Review

So I wrote this entire post, which as (especially if you're a blogger) you will see took a REALLY long time, and then in an epic Blogger fail, somehow the entire content (which WAS saved), including the title and tags, got replaced with the text and photos from my last post about my birthday. And I couldn't get it back. Gutted. So I waited a few days, and here I am doing it all again. Sigh. So, it's a long one, but lie back and think of the hours it took to write... So I hereby present the inaugural edition of:

Gwan's Year in Review


It was the worst of times...

Getting the bad stuff over with first, once again this year has not been all sunshine. (And I partly mean that literally, given that I swear it rained from the end of March till July.) Of course, the big downer of the year was finding out, by mail, that my work contract was not being renewed, despite all assurances I'd had to the contrary, and just six weeks before the contract was due to expire. Looking back at the post I wrote at the time, I'd forgotten how many other little things seemed to go wrong at the same time. I also didn't really have a clue that, 9 months later, I'd still be doing nothing and literally wasting my life. In the interim, I've had periods of looking for and "looking for" work, with equal success. It's pretty hard to stay focused and positive when it seems that every day only takes you further away from the possibility of finding something else and even adapting back to having a "normal" life again. Sadly, I've also learnt that, of my 7 former colleagues, all except one have either been let go or moved on to other projects (if they were on permanent contracts). Apart from feeling bad for my colleagues, this also makes me feel that the 2 years I spent working on the project were just a complete waste of time (and money), especially since a lot of the work I did never even made it on to our website.


What's next?

There is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel though. I have something in the works, which, if all goes to plan, will kick off next May. This will have to remain shrouded in mystery for the time being, since as we all know, there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip and the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (or insert your own 21st century saying here). I will say that it'll be a major change, and I should know more in February but we will see...

It was the best of times...

On a more positive note, the year wasn't all doom and gloom. I've got to say, my best times have probably involved hanging out with friends and family. The year brought visits from my friends Rick and Greg and my sister, I met blogfriends Mary Kay and Ella and caught up with my old friend Alice in Le Mans. Close to home, I made jelly out of rosé wine, accidentally ate an eel and purposely ate some donkey (ass sausage!), shook my bon bon at the Fête de la Musique and the Guinguette, made an 80s-style photo story out of dying my hair, painted my nails a patriotic tricolour for Bastille Day, fought with French men, carved Halloween pumpkins for the very first time and drank a lot of wine.

But, maybe because it's fresh in my mind, I think the best of the year has got to be my triple birthday celebrations - one for every decade! I got to catch up with a lot of friends and family in London, had my first trip to (Euro)Disney followed by a blogger brunch in Paris and then capped off the whole thing by beating my Personal Best for champagne drinking here in Tours. It really was fabulous fun, and I'm so glad I did something (or three things) special for the occasion. After all, a girl doesn't turn 30 every year (but I might try it on again next year)!

Best trip abroad

Of course, travel is one of my favourite things and I never feel I've done enough or been to everywhere I want to go. But looking back, I actually have managed my fair share of globetrotting this year.

  • I started my travels off early, with a January trip to York. Looking back, I see I referred to this as Business of Mystery and then never actually revealed the purpose of the visit. It was actually to attend an Open Day at the York University Centre for Medieval Studies, to meet with some of the staff and discuss the possibility of doing a PhD with them. While the facilities there were outstanding, and I had some very positive discussions with potential supervisors, as you can probably tell, I didn't end up moving to York and starting a PhD. I actually applied (and was accepted) to Bristol, but a combination of not having the money for it and not being 100% sure of my motivation led to me declining the place. Maybe one day though (this is not the news referred to above btw)...

  • In February, I took a spontaneous trip to Barcelona. My primary motivation for the visit was going to watch the pre-season Formula One testing, which was great, but I also got a real kick out of just walking around the city and especially visiting the spectacular Sagrada Familia church (ceiling detail pictured above). The weather was also a real bonus - I think it got up to about 20 degrees, which was bliss considering just a couple of weeks before we had been hit by a cold snap which brought snow, temperatures down to -11° and partially froze the Loire river.

  • The March Catastrophe naturally put the brakes on my travelling somewhat, but I did already have a short break booked to London for my sister's birthday. We took advantage of some gorgeous weather to check out Greenwich, including the Observatory and the Painted Hall, had a lovely dinner and a birthday knees-up with lots of champagne. I also stopped by Cambridge, where I managed not to kill my friend's baby, despite him making all kinds of snuffling noises which suggested he was gearing up to die just to spite me.

  • After that, things were quiet on the international travelling front until I kicked off a very busy period in August. First up was a trip to Amsterdam on the 5€ Overnight Bus of Discomfort. Probably because of the horrible bus trip and 5.30 am arrival into Amsterdam, I was especially pissy for most of the trip - the Rijksmuseum was a particular disappointment - and didn't really end up having a brilliant time. However, I was very moved visiting Anne Frank's house and happy to eat some poffertjes!

  • Before heading back to France, I had another couple of days in Lancashire, plus we crossed over the windswept Pennines for a jaunt into Yorkshire in order to visit Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters.

And the winner is...

Victory has got to go to Norway. It was so amazingly, breathtakingly beautiful and it was lovely hanging out with my parents (even more so considering it wasn't in the same old Lancashire towns!) Norway is not a destination I probably would have picked off the top of my head, so I really went in without any preconceptions and was blown away by how gorgeous it was. I'd love to go back some day and see Bergen and the surrounding fjords, because I've heard good things.

Runner-up: Barcelona. I have wanted to go to Barcelona for a while, since everyone seems to like it, but the actual trip was very spur-of-the-moment and it was great to take off on a whim for some warm winter weather, F1, and beautiful sights.

What's next?

In a few weeks, I'm using up the air miles I earned flying from NZ to Milan back in 2009 before they expire, with a quick jaunt to Bologna and Padua. Basically, I only had enough for a one-way flight, so this was the only destination I could find where the return trip was also reasonably priced. But funnily enough, Padua just recently went on my wish list after seeing a documentary which included a trip to the amazing Scrovegni Chapel, so good timing!

Best day/overnight trip

We'll always have Paris...

Paris gets its own subcategory, because I feel like I've been there every two minutes lately.

  • In reality, my first visit was a day on the way back from Barcelona in February, spent admiring Foucault's Pendulum and the graves of some famous (mostly) men at the Pantheon.

  • Finally, it was back to Paris one last time for the aforementioned trip to Disneyland (well, this is strictly speaking Marne-la-Vallée, but if they can call it Disneyland Paris I'm counting it) and a blogger brunch hosted by the gracious Mary Kay, where I got to meet a lot of lovely blogging ladies and drink champagne in the naughty seats with Ella.

Touraine travels

I also made the most of having a discount card for the trains (up till October) to explore some more of the sights in my home region. It's easy sometimes to get blasé about the stuff on your doorstep, but it's worth remembering that people the world over dream of visiting the Loire Valley, and there definitely is a lot to see and do (and eat and drink)!

  • As mentioned, March brought a trip from my good friend Rick. While we mostly just hung out around Tours, we did take a daytrip to the Château de Chenonceau, definitely one of the most stunning in the area. I was initially not too keen on the idea, since I'd already visited twice before, but I must say, we had a great time. We made our own fun by pulling out silly poses all over the château and gardens, and it was nice as well to see it in the spring (previous visits being in winter and late summer).

  • In July, I headed to Loches, where I found the twin brother statue to one of Peter the Great which stands at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, learnt all about the mysterious death of royal mistress Agnès Sorel, and climbed up a scary 36 metre-high 11th-century castle keep.

  • Next up in July was a jaunt to Saumur and the nearby Fontevraud Abbey. I love my history, so I'd been itching to go to Fontevraud Abbey and see the tombs of Plantagenet kings and queens ever since I learnt the place existed. So it was perhaps a bit inevitable that I was somewhat disappointed with the visit. It was nice to see the tombs, but the rest of the abbey was fairly empty and the guided tour didn't really seem to bring the history alive for me. Still, the little I saw of Saumur seemed nice and I'd like to go back to see a bit more of the town (and taste some of its tasty sparkling wine) some time.

  • My last trip for July was to Le Mans, to meet my friend Alice for the first time since early 2008. It took us a bit of purposeless wandering before we managed to find the Old Town, but I was pleasantly surprised when we did. A particular highlight was the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Chevet in the cathedral, a beautiful bijou space with painted frescoes dating from the 14th C (pictured above).

  • My last hurrah with my train discount card was a trip to Angers, to see its famous Tapestry of the Apocalypse. This was just incredible. I know tapestries can be dull sometimes - they're rarely the most vibrant or eye-grabbing objets d'art - but these are just packed full of amazing (and surreal) detail that captivate the attention despite the faded colours and dim lighting. I loved hearing all about their history and the significance of the different scenes, and then just spent a long time quietly contemplating them on my own (plus I think I took photos of every single panel at least once).

  • My final daytrip of the year was a wine and cheese tasting fest in Saint-Maure-de-Touraine and Chinon. Chinon is probably my favourite of the small Touraine towns I've visited, and we managed to have fun despite getting rained on, being invited to spit on the floor of a barn, failing to find anywhere to eat lunch, starting a blood feud with a staff member at Couly-Dutheil and finding a spider in my hair.

And the winner is...

This is a tough category! I'll cheat a little bit and say that my favourite tourist experience was visiting the Apocalypse Tapestry, the Louvre exhibition was the best museumy experience, while my blog brunch and Chenonceau trip were extra-special for the good company.

So that was Gwan's 2012. 

I've got to say, going through my year (twice!) was a good exercise in showing myself that, even amidst hard times, I did manage to do some cool things, with some great people. And I'm lucky to live in a nice place, with enough money to get by and cheap wine on tap! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the good times of 2012 and here's hoping for a better 2013. Merry Christmas and cheers!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dirty thirty

You know how I said my birthday drinks in London were sober and sensible and my birthday drinks in Tours were going to be nothing like that? Yep, turns out I was right. But they were awesome!

Spent pretty much all day on Friday and Saturday cooking and cleaning and shopping in preparation for the big day, and stressing over whether it would be a success. I don't really like hosting parties because I'm worried no-one will come or they won't have a good time, and it will be miserable and everyone will hate me forever. So it wasn't a great sign that about 5 people cancelled on me on the days leading up to the party :( But I tried to forge ahead with the idea that the important people would be there and there would be more champagne for us!

On Wednesday, before going up to Paris, I'd posted a note to all my neighbours telling them I'd be having a small party and to let me know if there was a problem, or to come over for a drink. I also blu-tacked a copy of the note to the outside of my letterbox, just to make sure that everyone saw it. When I got back to Tours on Thursday, I noticed that it was gone from my letterbox. I was a bit confused - did the postman take it down, because of some obscure French rule about the inviolatedness of French letterboxes? Or had one of my neighbours taken it for their own reference? On Saturday morning, I noticed a screwed-up piece of paper next to the front door, down a flight of stairs from the letterboxes. Was it...? It was - someone had taken the note down, screwed it up, and thrown it on the floor. This was not a good start to neighbour-party bilateral relations.

So when I got a knock on my door at 7.15 pm (the note had said the party would kick off at 8, although I'd actually invited my friends for 7.30), I feared the worst. I opened the door to my neighbour from across the hall (there's only two apartments on each floor in my building). I've literally never seen this guy since the day I moved in, although I have occasionally run into a friend or two coming and going from his apartment. It's weird, I hardly ever see any of my neighbours. Anyway, I was relieved, but even more flabberghasted, when he announced his intention to come to my party. I think I looked the opposite of welcoming at this point, but I managed to politely let him know that I wasn't *quite* ready at this stage, but would be pleased to see him in half an hour or so, when I'd finished putting on my makeup.

Turns out my voisin de palier is awesome! We are now united against the biatch neighbour downstairs who complained about my music - for some bizarre reason, he even got a letter from the agents saying that she'd complained about him, even though it was me who was playing the music (and I didn't get anything). But instead of turning against me, he was like "she's completely ridiculous - you were playing music on a Saturday afternoon, I couldn't even hear it, and she came to complain so I told her to get a life". He's also apparently engaged in "psychological warfare" with the woman downstairs, which consists of her asking him to take out the rubbish and him not doing it. I KNEW I was the only person who took the rubbish out, goddammit! I ran into this neighbour the other day when coming back from the airport, and she said thankyou for taking the recycling out, because the bin's too big for her to get down the stairs (which is understandable, it's taller than me too when coming down the stairs). I have no idea how she knows I do it (spying out the windows?), but anyway, while I will continue putting the bins out, it's now naughty Team 3rd Floor against the rest of the building heh heh. We even got to tour his apartment, the designated smoking room for the party - he has a sweet set-up with real windows, unlike my skylights, a proper separate kitchen, and an electric toilet, which explains why it makes so much damn noise! (Why does one require an electric toilet, does anyone know?) Anyway, he stayed almost the whole party, and we're totally going to hang out again soon! (Or maybe I'll never see him again, unsociable recluse that I am. Who can say?)

Anyway, neighbour love aside, we had a great time! (PS, Hey Firefox, stop telling me that "neighbour" is a spelling mistake, k?) We got through FOUR bottles of champagne, and assorted other booze, parts of two birthday cakes + brownies, started the dancing at around midnight (when I had vowed we would leave so as not to piss off the neighbours, oops - but no-one complained this time), then ran to McCools before closing time to make the bartender give us free shots (success!). After a short jaunt in Excalibur, we ended the evening at L'Académie de la Bière, where I somehow accidentally got into a conversation about how I disapprove of circumcision with a Muslim man. Oops. That's okay though, he said I was "charmante" anyway. Of course, it's well-known I'm at my *most* charmante when offending people's genitalia and religious beliefs!

I got home at 7 am, and woke up a few hours later with barely even a hangover to show for it. Result! I did, however, COMPLETELY fall over and I have a massive bruise on my hip bone. How do you even fall over on to your hip? I must have just gone down literally flat on my face. Such class. By the way, I was in sandals at this point, having left the 10 cm heels in my apartment. We were skipping and singing tunes from The Wizard of Oz at the time, as you do. So at least I fell over under hilarious circumstances, not just because I was too drunk to walk in flats like a normal person.

Oh, and remember how it was meant to be a soirée dégustation? Once every hour or so I remembered this and asked everyone how the wine was and everyone said "We love champagne! Huzzah!" or words to that effect. Dégustation = great success.

My twoooo birthday cakes = two wishes

Om nom nom! Also, I have the knee boobs of a very busty lady

Popping the fourth bottle of champagne of the evening - Démoiselle Rosé. I have a bit of a case of "red wine mouth" here - yep, we also had 2 bottles of red, a bottle of white & a bottle of Vouvray. Zat's a lotta booze. I like this photo even though I don't know why I thought sticking my arse out would be a flattering look

David "catching" the cork

Charlie did not like my evil Ukrainian chilli vodka

Crouching tiger, hidden champers

Let's try that again, without falling over. This was champagne bottle #3

Liz and David

Champagne bottle #1 - Démoiselle. All photos had to feature the shoes. I ran out of ideas later in the evening, and there are some truly terrible ones of me sitting on chairs backwards and so on

Me and the ladies, with champagne bottle #2 - Tsarina. I took two many photos with this one, resulting in a champagne explosion when opened

The dancing started at about midnight

Liz made me an awesome 30th birthday badge. That's my cool (and cute) neighbour Vincent!

More dancing
Best birthday ever, hello thirties!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A very Disney birthday

If you'd asked me a year ago, or basically at any time since my teen years, whether I would envisage myself spending a birthday, let alone my 30th, at Disneyland, the answer would definitely have been no. But when I saw Mary Kay's post on getting a special free ticket for your birthday, I thought I may as well sign up. And so it came to pass that, with parties set for the weekend before and after the big day, I livened up what would otherwise have been an ordinary Wednesday with a trip to Eurodisney with MK and her daughter Sara. I should point out that Sara is also a grown-up, just so you don't get a mental image of anything other than three adults setting off for a day of Disney fun.

Grown-ups we may be, but it was hard not to feel the magic of Disney as soon we arrived at the park. We popped into an information centre to plot out our route around the park and the shows we wanted to see, and MK mentioned that it was my birthday. Thinking nothing of it, I was busy studying the map when I noticed the attendant on the phone, saying, "What's that? Yes, she's here! Do you want to talk to her?" After a split second of confusion, I reached for the phone, saying "Is that Mickey?" It was Mickey, ringing to personally wish me a very happy birthday! I must admit, even my cynical heart was filled with delight, so I can only imagine how fun it must be for little birthday boys and girls. This also set off a bit of a running gag that Mickey and I had a "thing" going on, but of course a lady never tells...

I really didn't have many preconceptions of what I wanted to see and do, but luckily we had an experienced (and VERY enthusiastic) guide in Mary Kay. As well as going for her birthday this year, MK and her family visited 20 years ago when the park first opened, and she shared with us that it took some time for the Eurodisney staff to learn to provide service which was more sparkling than surly. We mostly let MK take the lead as we watched parades of the Disney characters, went on rides both gentle and heart-stopping, and watched a spectacular motor show which revealed the tricks behind cinematic car chases.

Highlights included the It's A Small World After All ride - it really is a lot like the Simpsons parody version (warning, do not watch this for more than 30 seconds to avoid insanity):

Probably the scariest ride was the tower of terror. As you've probably guessed, it's one of those rides where you go up a high tower and then drop down. However, this one was even scarier due 1) to the fact that we only had a not-very-secure-looking lapbelt holding us into our seats (it wasn't very tight either, leading to a disconcerting floating feeling when we shot up and down in rapid succession) and 2) the fact that the tower was enclosed, so that you couldn't see what was happening when you were falling. The "elevator doors" would open onto Twilight Zone scenes, and, at the very top, onto the outside world, but otherwise you were going up and down in total darkness. Scary stuff! The weirdest ride was probably the Aerosmith Rock and Rolla Coaster, a roller coaster which took place also in an enclosed space in near-darkness, accompanied for some reason by the strains of Love in an Elevator. You'd think if you were (for some strange reason) going for a rock star tie-in, you'd have a Red Hot Chilli Peppers theme, I mean come on now.

Finally, we capped the evening off by watching the fireworks/light show, which really was something special. Lights and video projections of Disney movie moments were projected on to Sleeping Beauty's castle in the centre of the park. It was freezing cold and sometimes difficult to see, especially when a grandmother and child literally elbowed (and plastic sworded) their way in front of Mary Kay, but definitely worth seeing.

On the phone with Mickey. Photo credit: Mary Kay (thought I should put this since she's always so scrupulous!)

Mary Kay and I try to climb the beanstalk. Photo credit: Sara

Sarah and me in front of Sleeping Beauty's (?) castle. Photo credit: Mary Kay

This photo possibly explains why Sarah got a much higher score at laser tag than I did. Photo credit: Mary Kay

Sarah and me in front of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Photo credit: Mary Kay

In case you can't tell, Sarah is "letting down her hair". Not so effective. I'm hovering about awkwardly after it emerged that there actually wasn't any space behind the tree to hide behind, as was my original posing plan. Photo credit: Mary Kay

It's cold in the Wild West. Photo credit: Mary Kay

Minnie telling me to keep my hands off her man

The exciting climax of the motor show

The lighting of the Christmas tree

Sleeping Beauty's castle during the light show

The next day, Mary Kay hosted a blogger's brunch, where I got to meet a great group of ladies, most of them for the first time. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone got any photos, but it was a lovely (and delicious) spread, with good conversation (and great champagne!) Ella Coquine and I were left unsupervised at the end of the table, so naturally we got up to mischief when it came to knocking back the champagne (and even the red wine that I brought as a gift for Mary Kay, whoops). What was meant to be a sedate couple of hours turned into a marathon six hours of chatting, eating (never believe MK if she tells you a dish is a "failure", because her homemade strata was delicious, and I had seconds) and drinking before we finally got out of MK's hair (and straight to the neighbourhood bar). I ended up having to run through Austerlitz to make my train with a couple of minutes to spare, so much for my plan to go to the Raphael exhibition at the Louvre. No complaints though, it was a very fun day, just hope we didn't outstay our welcome! (And I owe you another bottle of wine MK!)

PS Throughout the day at Disney, and especially when we were partaking of a (horrid) vin chaud in what would have been relaxing surroundings if it hadn't been for all the tired and sugar-crazed children running about, we joked that a birthday at Disney was a perfect way to put paid to any tickings of the biological clock that are supposed to kick in at 30. This might not be quite the place for it, but I didn't feel I could write a post about such a child-centric place without saying that, even if I'm not one to revel in the company of children, yesterday's tragic school shooting of course breaks my heart. How anyone could do something so awful to any other human being, let alone innocent children, is absolutely incomprehensible, and my thoughts are with all the families affected by this senseless tragedy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

London: fun with friends and family

Friday night was the "big" birthday drinks, the initial inspiration behind coming to London. I invited basically everyone I knew in London, and most of them were able to come along. One notable exception was my kiwi Tours friend Marion, who was away for the weekend in Berlin, but I managed to catch up with her for drinks on Thursday, so that was okay.

We set the rendezvous early, at 6 pm, so that people could come straight from work if they wanted, and booked a space at the upstairs cocktail bar of The Fellow in King's Cross.

With the early start, I had just enough time to jump in the shower with a glass of bubbly before we were on our way. It was pretty crowded with afterwork drinkers when we arrived, so it was good that we had a table booked - a cosy booth, which was the perfect size to fit us around it while being at least theoretically close enough to talk to everyone. In practice, the music was uncomfortably loud, too loud for the speakers even, so it wasn't even that nice to listen to and you had to shout to be heard above it. That's my only complaint though, other than that it was a pretty classy place, with good company of course! I think my sister would also complain that they only served cheeseboards upstairs and they wouldn't let you order chips downstairs and bring them up. Jess and a few others went on a burrito mission instead, and brought back an absolutely delicious chicken burrito for me, crammed with refried beans, salsa, sour cream and guacamole, mmmmm! I don't know when the last time I had a burrito was!

It was great catching up with a lot of people, including some I hadn't seen in quite a while. As well as me and my sister Jess, there was our cousin Vanessa (who, you may recall, I recently saw in Paris), my friend Rick (who visited back in March) and his girlfriend Sonya, my friend Amber (from uni in Wellington), my friend Ruth (whom I visited in March) and Ruth's friend Becky, who once went on a North Island roadtrip with Ruth and me, and was also an attendee at the famous Barbecue of the Four Thai Princes. That sounds like an amazing story, but it's basically just this one time, we went to a barbecue at my aunt's house with four Thai Princes and one Thai ex-Princess. And the four Thai Princes were not very attractive, but I think we all tried a little bit of flirting anyway, because they're princes (and also pilots and doctors and engineers and such things - not all at once, of course) but they politely ran away every time we tried to talk to them.

We were all amazingly well-behaved - despite the early start, I don't think anyone really got drunk, and we made sure to get the tube home at around midnight before they stopped running. I would take this as a sign I'm suddenly becoming all mature and responsible at (almost) 30, but I think a) next weekend will prove me wrong, and b) it was more down to sticking to yummy cider and spacing things out over the course of what was, after all, a 6-hour drinks.

Jess, me, and our cousin Vanessa. I just upset my mum by blaming her bad genes for my hands getting super-dry and cracked. (True story though!) So to make up for it, I think there are some good genes going on in this one. Also, I got magnetic nail polish as part of my birthday present from Jess. You can't really see, but you paint your nail and then hold a magnet on top, and it makes a special pattern (chevrons, in this case). Be careful, though - I told my friend Ruth I had magnetic nail polish & she tried to pull it off! *Not held on by magnets*

Liz, Jess and me

Amber, me (caught in the middle of pondering the trade deficit) and Jess

My mini birthday bouquet from Rick. It also had roses, which you can't see

Rick and Sonya. I put a 1960s filter on them, cos they look like a two-person blast from the past here

Me & Ruthie
Then on Saturday night, Jess and I had dinner at the 67m-high London icon that is the OXO tower. It has an amazing view and delicious food to match. I had duck two ways for my main, which came with some scrumptious pumpkin chutney (am I looking in the wrong places, or is good chutney really hard to find in France?), kohlrabi, a sweet potato fondant that I gave to Jess, and a couple of unidentified (by me, the menu did say but I forgot) sauces. Very nice! The side of spinach we got and Jess's lobster mash which she generously let me share were also delish.

Then for dessert, we had a selection of scrummy chocolate desserts. My favourite was the fondant, just ahead of the caramel, which Jess preferred. Chocolate-orange truffle came in third place, with a hazelnut praline meringue bringing up the rear (unsurprisingly, since I don't really like meringue).

The service was ridiculously attentive - we thought there was one guy just on cutlery duty i.e. taking away unneeded or used cutlery and bringing more, but when Jess went to the bathroom he swooped in to refold her napkin back into a triangle, so I guess that was his job as well. It was a lovely evening, I was spoilt as usual by big sis!

Jess and the super-yummy chocolate plate

We didn't get a seat by the window, but you could still enjoy the fantastic view

The blue light made the food look a bit strange in photographs. It wasn't, however, responsible for making it look like a smiley face!

Snapped this pic on the way home from dinner
We had another early night on Saturday, because I had to set my alarm for 3.30 am to be up and out to Stansted airport for my 6.50 am flight. Everything actually went very smoothly - it was a bit surreal being on the night bus to Liverpool St. Station with a bunch of drunks when I had already been to sleep and was up and starting my day! I had a short wait at Liverpool St. and then from there it was pretty much straight off the Stansted Express, through airport security, and on to the plane. Ryanair does get a lot of stick, but I've rarely had problems with them. In this instance, they didn't weigh my luggage, so there was no need to worry that the various little bits and bobs of birthday presents and so on put me over the limit, and everything was fine. Their normal practice of "we'll tell everyone the flight should take longer than it actually does, so that we always arrive early" is a bit annoying though, since there is a bus at Tours which is meant to meet the plane, but was nowhere to be seen after hanging about for half an hour. Oh well, since I had my ipad, I looked up how to walk to the nearest regular bus stop, which is not that far from the airport, and thus saved myself 3.40€ on bus fare, at the cost of a bit of inconvenience.

All in all, I had a really lovely London trip, a great way to kick off my 30th birthday celebrations in style! Oh, and thanks to all those free things and people being nice and buying me dinner and drinks and stuff, I came in under budget, yay! A big thank you to everyone who came and celebrated with me xxx

Flying back to France as the sun came up

PS This is my lucky 500th blog post! Actually, there are a few unpublished drafts on the books, so not the 500th to be published, but hey...