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Monthly Archives: April 2013

A walk on the seawall in Teignmouth, Devon

After Paris, we hopped back on the Eurostar to London and then caught a train down to the southwest coast of Devon. We headed to a quaint, seaside town called Teignmouth, where my mother-in-law and lots of family friends live.

The train takes you right along the coast. Gorgeous views, despite the unseasonably cold spring weather. A few days after we arrived, we took a brisk walk along the seawall, which runs right alongside the train tracks.

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Teignmouth seawall

Teignmouth Seawall

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Merci Shop in Paris

On our trip to Paris, we visited Merci, a three-story concept store in Marais that donates all profits to charity (helping underprivileged women and children). They sell clothing, furniture, housewares, stationery, gardening supplies, perfume and other toiletries. In addition, they have a charming little bookstore and three cafes. It really was a (high-brow) one stop shop!

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Cheers to gin!

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I’m delighted to hear that gin is apparently the spirit of the moment. Consumption has increased by 7 percent across western Europe in the past year!

The last gin and tonic I had was on this month’s Virgin Atlantic flight of all places (side note: my return flight from the U.K. to the U.S. was MUCH better than my trip going over. We went Premium Economy, I didn’t eat the Gu and didn’t vomit once! Score!). Our flight attendant was charming, ebullient without being ingratiating and could make a mean drink! I spotted her bringing out a big bottle of Bombay Sapphire (yes, no minis!!) as she served a man in front of me and something about that cool, soothing blue shade of the bottle inspired me to order one. It was phenomenal!

There’s something extremely luxurious about someone fixing you a real drink, when you’re 30,000 feet up, using a real glass (not plastic), with a real lime and real ice cubes with a decorative swizzle stick that makes one feel positively pampered. It remains one of the top 10 best gin and tonics I’ve ever had!

How do you feel about gin? Yay or nay? And where’s the best gin and tonic that you’ve ever had?! Spill! 🙂

Interview with author Pauline Wiles

Pauline Wiles

Pauline Wiles

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some delightful anglophiles and expats online through my blog – like Pauline Wiles. Pauline is a Brit by birth, but has since settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Last week, she released her first published novel – “Saving Saffron Sweeting,” which is a quarter finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

I asked her a few questions about her British homeland, her love of writing and this American life. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What prompted your move to the States?
A: My husband was working for a U.S. tech company in the U.K. They re-organized his area and an opportunity at head office came up. I was miserable in my job at the time, so moving to the San Francisco area was an easy decision!

Q: What do you miss most about British life?
A: Apart from friends and family, silly things like National Trust houses and their tearooms, John Lewis, the BBC and bonfire night. And many unhealthy foodie items, of course. It’s no coincidence that most of those found their way into my book.

Q: What do you love most about American life?
A: We’re lucky to live near the San Francisco Bay where the climate is wonderful and being outdoors is a joy. Since moving here I’ve definitely become more active and healthy. San Francisco is a great city to have on our doorstep: whenever I’m there, I have to pinch myself to believe I’m a local.

Q: Tell me about “Saving Saffron Sweeting.”
A: The very short description would be: Leaving her cheating husband in California and fleeing home to England seemed like the obvious choice for Grace, but putting her life back together in the charming village of Saffron Sweeting isn’t as simple as she’d assumed.

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Top 10 highlights from Paris, Part Deux

Yesterday, I posted my first five Paris highlights. Today? Let’s post the remaining five, shall we?

6. Rue Montorgueil, a gorgeous market street with butcher shops, boulangeries, cafes, chocolateries, fish markets and so on and so forth! We walked from our apartment one bright morning and went to Cafe du Centre for a great basic breakfast (coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and croissant or baguette).

Cafe du Centre

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I also had the great privilege of visiting La Fermette, cheese capitol of the universe, also on Rue Montorgueil. We spotted it right away with the black and white cow above the storefront. Best item was their 30-month comte, which the seller warned me about, in case I couldn’t handle it. Oh, yeah, I could handle it! It was a delightful, nutty cheese and we bought a block of it. They also sold these plates of various cheeses for about 11 euros – really generous portions (we got one plate that was stellar – sadly, they weren’t labeled so it’s tough to know what cheese we had – but it had a good variety to suit every palate. A camembert, a blue cheese, a goat cheese, a Mimolette, etc.)

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Top 10 highlights from Paris, part une

So many things we loved in Paris. Here’s the proverbial greatest hits over the four days we spent!

1. Love padlocks on all of the Paris bridges. They really are a stunning sight. Couples buy padlocks as a symbol of their love, add their initials and lock it to the bridge! And they say romance is dead?!

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Cheese shouldn’t be plastic

Cheese aisle in New Zealand

Cheese aisle in New Zealand

This is a guest post by Liz Marsom, who was born and raised in Great Britain and now lives and works in New Zealand. She is a cheese lover.

I’m sure there are many great varieties of cheese available in the U.S. Though, I found much of the readily available cheese in the regular supermarket to be over processed and tasteless plastic. A massive generalisation I know! But, who else has liquid cheese at room temperature … in a spray can? You’re not the only ones that I think have lost the true meaning of cheese. The kiwis have cheeses called Tasty and Mild. I’m still unsure of what Colby is … I’m guessing somewhere in-between.

British cheese itself is a bit of an underdog and isn’t famed like the French cheeses. Running from camembert and, my father’s favourite, the exceptionally smelly Chaumes to more delicate brie French cheese is pretty special. Even their processed soft cheese Le Vache Qui Ri or The Laughing Cow has a flavour that no one else seems to have managed.
But what a variety of classic great British cheeses there are!

The classic Cheddar hails from the South West. A solid lump of cheese that’s perfect in a sandwich with lashings of Branston Pickle or melted on toast with a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Available in different strengths of flavour that all depend on its maturity, the only one to really choose is vintage cheddar to get the magnificent classic tang.

Stilton hails from Leicestershire. A rich crumbly cheese full of the blue veins giving its strength of flavour it’s not the prettiest cheese but boy it’s one of my favourites. Served on a cheeseboard, grilled on a portobello mushroom or in Beef and Stilton Pie, it gets my vote!

Wallace and Gromit made Stinking Bishop cheese famous and stink it does. Although it turns out to have a more delicate flavour than the odour would suggest, I have to say I think it smells a little bit too much for me. Cornish Yarg from the deepest southwest is a beautiful cheese wrapped in nettle leaves as it cures.

Red Leicester, Wensleydale, Double Gloucester or a bath blue…. I could go on forever as cheese is my favourite food. But for now I’ll just plan my lunch. After all this talk of cheese I’ll have a Ploughmans. A classic British country pub menu choice based upon what you’d have for lunch as you worked the horses ploughing ready for the crops. The Ploughmans consists of a lump of cheddar and a wedge of stilton with pickled onions, chutney and some crusty bread. This is best served with a pint of real ale at room temperature, of course.

Staying in the heart of Paris

When we made it to Gare du Nord in Paris, we grabbed a trolley for our bags and headed towards the taxis. The queue was LONG.

A man approached us immediately to ask if we wanted to hire a mini cab. He took a glance at all of us and of our luggage, asked our destination and then declared it would cost about 75 euros. We paused, and then remembering what the exchange rate is (about 1 euro = 1.3 US dollars), declined. No sooner did we turn around, but another mini cabbie was there to ask if we needed a ride. His quote was even steeper! 106 euros!

We decided our best bet would be to take the Metro from Gare du Nord to Chatelet Station. It was a bit of a juggle with luggage, kids and collapsed stroller in tow, but we managed it like the amateurs that we were, groaning and agonizing until we arrived! Chatelet Station! The apartment we rented was only a five-minute walk. We were within walking distance of an H&M and a Zara (always a good sign, I believe), some good looking brasseries and little grocery stores. It was urban and positively pulsing with activity!

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Onward to Paris!

So, we tried to pack light on our trip to Europe, but really, it was nearly impossible in the face of freezing cold temperatures (hello, 3 degree highs – yes, Celsius, but still!). We ended up taking two medium sized suitcases and one big suitcase (along with carry-ons and an umbrella stroller).

Make no mistake. Our luggage was only a fraction of what Victoria Beckham traveled with last month.

Make no mistake. Our luggage was only a fraction of what Victoria Beckham traveled with last month.

This was us at our most abbreviated and I’m personally proud of how light we ended up traveling (well, for us, anyway). While I was in the U.K., I read a story about Victoria Beckham flying out of England to L.A. with four children and 12 suitcases. It was written with such outrage, but I found it perfectly reasonable.

Still, for our brief jaunt to Paris, we wanted to go even lighter and so we only took one suitcase and left the other two bags in Left Luggage at Paddington Station. Left Luggage is a miraculous place where, for £8 for the first day and £5 for each additional day, this office within the train station will securely look after your bags. Our luggage situation was still unwieldy without a train station trolley, but we managed and enlisted some help from a fellow traveler – my mother in law! We invited her to join us on our mini break to the City of Lights. She took the train from Devon to Paddington to meet us and we caught a taxi together from Paddington Station to St. Pancras Station, where our Eurostar awaited.

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Heathrow Express and a bear from Peru

Once we landed, we quickly made our way through security and customs, picked up our luggage and made a beeline for Heathrow Express, the super speedy train that travels to Paddington Station.

I’ve traveled on Heathrow Express so many times that I actually feel like I’ve officially arrived in London when I take it. Something about the smell of the carriage, the lighting and the news segments playing on the TV. It’s just serene and nice! The price, on the other hand, is getting a bit steep! It’s £20 for a single adult ticket, £34 for a return (or round-trip) adult ticket, £10 for a single child’s ticket, £17 for a return (or round-trip) child’s ticket. Kids under 5 are free. We found out later that it is much cheaper, when there are two or more people traveling, to take a mini cab from central London straight to Heathrow. But never mind! There is also something to be said for tradition and I loved the trip. It’s 15 minutes and you’re there! Paddington!

Paddington Bear statue at Paddington Station

I love the little Paddington Bear statue at the station. There’s also a little Paddington Bear shop upstairs, which sells all manner of Paddington items – books, stuffed toys, plates, cups, aprons, tea towels, chocolates – you name it!

Paddington Station also has plenty of options for food. We stopped for lunch at Patisserie Valerie, which had a nice selection of bakery items, sandwiches and desserts. I got a simple ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette and a cappuccino (ah, can anyone explain how Europeans get coffee so very right?!). It was the perfect precursor to our trip to Paris, which was only hours away.

More tomorrow!