Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Favorite Guinness

Sometimes people will say to me "You have been EVERYWHERE!" which immediately makes me think of all the places I haven't been. Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland is one of those places.

Well, actually, all of Ireland is one of those places, but I'm specifically focused on Omagh because, with my crazy fundamentalist-like obsession with Family Tree Maker I have found that my third great-grandparents came from the Old Country.

Isn't that a pretty Old Country? James McAnaney and Catherine McNamee made the trans-Atlantic voyage to the New World (or as we know it, Amurrrica) sometime between 1806 and 1836, when their first child, John, was born, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. See? You're already thinking "I wonder if any of MY relatives came over from Ireland...I need to get a Family Tree Maker!" It is more addictive than Facebook. Or meth.

So now, not only do I have a perfectly legitimate excuse to visit The Emerald
Isle, I have interesting family history research to do when I get there. I have been watching "Who Do You Think You Are?" religiously, and love that the subjects actually go to each place to find clues. I have found plenty of my own family information online, and even one of WDYTYA's executive producers, Lisa Kudrow, has admitted you don't really need to make all those trips to find the information. However, since I'm always looking for reasons to travel, I will ignore that. This is one trip that wouldn't just be another shopping/eating/drinking extravaganza. It would also have satisfying rewards at the end of the research rainbow. And Guinness.

I know that would have seemed more Irish if it had been a photo of a pint of Guinness, but a photo of Daphne Guinness is just so much more spectacular.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Enchanted Kensington Palace

London's Kensington Palace is undergoing a 12 million pound (the Great British kind) renovation, which means we're not allowed to tour the palace in its typical state. The project began in June 2010, and is set to be completed by...I'm not sure.

The Historic Royal Palace website is beyond annoying, as it requires y
ou to "read more" in a million places to try to figure out the in-a-nutshell synopsis of what is going on. It was only after clicking on "Buy tickets" that I was able to get this:

Kensington Palace is now the
Enchanted Palace - a very different and immersive experience which fills the historic State Apartments with modern art and fashion installations plus experimental lighting until early 2012 whilst major building works to transform the palace take place.

Okay, so th
e bottom line is, the Enchanted Palace installation is available until "early 2012", which is what I needed to know for the purposes of this blog post. Sheesh.

After a very picturesque, but very mediocre tea service at the Orangery, I entered the Enchanted Palace.

What I really wanted to see was the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which was not there - something about being stored to avoid dust or something - but the Enchanted Palace was such a magical fairy tale experience that I quickly forgot that I was missing out on something. The guide offers a pirate-like treasure-hunt map:

The "treasure" that you're looking for is/are the names of seven princesses who had all lived in the palace at some point. Every room marked with a red crown is one of the princess rooms, and you have to decipher the clues (or just look around the room) to discover the name of the princess.

Each room was stunningly created as a separate spellbinding story, complete with mysterious lighting, extravagant decor and eerie sound-effects. I wasn't supposed to take photos, but I truly didn't know that until after I took these.

I don't think there was a legitimate reason for this, other than the fact that they want you to purchase postcards of the various rooms from the Gift Shop.

I do not feel guilty about taking the photos, because I bought other stuff from the Gift Shop. I always do.

Between now and "early 2012" I highly recommend a visit to the Enchanted Palace. You could just go to the website to learn about it, but I am pretty sure it would take longer
to get through the baffling, seemingly aimless maze of "read more" links, than it would to pack a suitcase, fly to London, visit the palace in person, buy some stuff in the Gift Shop, have tea at the Orangery, see a few other things around town, fly home and unpack your suitcase. And sometimes that unpacking part can take weeks.

Friday, March 11, 2011

London Airport Excitement

Why do I never, ever see anything like this when I'm at Heathrow?

Photo credit: Pacific Coast News

Come on, Universe - hook a sister up.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pour Manger?

Two words you should learn in French, if you plan to visit La France, are "pour manger", which is what you will be asked in nearly every cafe or restaurant you enter. They want to know if you're there to eat (as opposed to merely sousing yourself in the tantalizing French wines).

Two places at which you should manger in Paris are:

As the nice place-mat says, Les Deux Magots. An establishment of establishments, which began as a drapery in 1813 and took it's name from a successful play at the time "The Two Magots of China". The term "magot" was used to describe (according to different sources) either Chinese commerical traders or Confucian wise men. The cafe was frequented by Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Ernest Hemingway. And now me. I'm totally adding myself to that list of distinguished writers.


Le Cigale Recamier. The souffles are insane. Lighter than the banter between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, and fluffier than Kim Kardashian's tweets. I had the mini-souffle with mushrooms. I think. It might have had escargot...what does that look like to you? Right on top? Either way, it was delicious. And while I ordered a mini-caramel souffle for dessert, they brought me the monster size. Also delicious. I was too stuffed to take a photo by that point.

So, when they ask you "Pour manger?" you just say "OUI!"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Charade Is Charade in French

I'm beginning to notice a trend: I'm idealizing my vacations to mirror Cary Grant movies.

On my last night in Paris, after a full day of running around, I turned on the Arte channel (looking for more Fashion Week documentaries) and giggly joy of joys! Charade was playing.

In French, but still. I've seen it enough times to know what's going on in any language.

The plot, characters and filming locations (all over Paris) are excellent, but what's really going on is the fashion. Vive Givenchy. I have no idea how I missed these options when trying to choose a train travel ensemble.

Ms. Hepburn looks justifiably horrified in that last photo, what with all my obsessing about hats and coats, I completely forgot about gloves.

However, as I'm leaving tomorrow, I'll have to worry about properly accessorizing for the next trip. I'm going to have Cary Grant drive me to Gare du Nord in the morning, after we stroll along the Seine.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fashion Week - Paris

Thaaaaaaaaaaat's right mesdames et messieurs, c'est Fashion Week in Paris.

Oh crap, I have nothing to wear.

I actually did have things to wear. However, for the fashion commoner the excitement of Fashion Week lessens a bit, when you realize that being a fashion commoner in Paris during Fashion Week is precisely like being a non-celebrity in Los Angeles during the Academy Awards. You're more of a glass-presser than anything else.

Very much outside looking in, no matter how fabulous your gloves.

After perusing Musee de l'Orangerie I wandered outside and saw this:

The throngs outside the Viktor & Rolf show. Sadly accepting that I would not be permitted inside the gates, I was happy enough to stand, leaning over a railing, and observe the fantastic circus for about ten minutes. I saw this cute little pixie, scrambling around, politely stopping the V&R attendees for photos.

She is apparently a very popular street-fashion photographer in Japan. I am a big fan of the street-fashion photographers, and was excited to spot the Godfather himself, Scott Schuman, hard at work.

I am still waiting, very impatiently, for that particular photo to appear on his blog so I can squeal "I saw him taking that!" to no one in particular.

It did seem like there were more than just a few ogling bystanders, and I saw many a flashbulb popping and scores of people craning their necks to see if they could see someone fabulous.

I had to remind myself that I had only a couple of days in Paris, and needed to focus on what was truly important.

Voila! C'est si bon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Faking A Sick Day, In Aachen

I have been in-transit for just over one week. Hustling from city to town to hamlet to burg, jumping on and off trains, indulging in the local cuisines, photographing the local splendor and historical wonder. I'm tired.

And today, whilst on an early-morning private guided tour of a bit of Aachen, Germany, it was explained to me - and obvious from the growing crowds, that it was not a normal day. Today is the first day of Carnivale, and they take it seriously here. I had no idea the Germans celebrated Carnivale, but good for them! Aachen is one of five cities (the others being Dusseldorf, Cologne
, Munster, and Mainz) where the people go a little crazy.

So, in the midst of my delightful, sophisticated voyage - you know, w
here I want everyone to be wearing this sort of thing:

I am seeing far more of this:

© Copyright Marius Mailat

To be fair, if I had A) been prepared for this, and B) been traveling with friends, I would have been the first to jump in, tutus a'flarin'. As it is, I have left my tutus at home, I'm exhausted, and have decided to accept the craziness, and scary cartoonish mobs, as a sign that it's perfectly okay for me to get Subway take-out, and hole up in my hotel room reading fashion magazines all day. I'll do the touring-around thing tomorrow (cough, cough).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On A Mission

Remember that one time...when I was in Brussels...and I was shopping...and I was in the dressing room, when the shop was closing...and it was really sad, because I hadn't even seen the upstairs?

Yeah, that bummed me out. So on my banzai route, Ghent - Brussels - Aachen, I noticed that I would be changing trains at the middle one. Brussels. Where that shop was. The shop with the entire second floor of potentially fabulous things that I had not yet seen.

I had just about two hours in between the time my train arrived into Brussels, and the time my next train left Brussels for Aachen. I jumped off the train at Brussels Gare du Midi, rolled my outrageously enormous suitcase to the luggage storage window, checked it in, then took off - practically skipping - to the Metro.

Two hours was all the time I needed to:

1) Take the Metro to Louisa station

2) Walk from Louisa station some 10-odd blocks to Les Enfants d'Edouard
3) Climb the stairs to the second floor and find...

Marni (again - love the Marni)

and awesomely kooky Christian LaCroix Bazaar

There were more clothes on the second floor - not just shoes (the shoe selection was sparse in my size).

I made it back to Gare du Midi with enough time to sit and have a plate of caramel waffles. It's still Belgium, after all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ghent. I Went.

The sun finally came out, and stayed out. Hallelujah! Ghent is best seen by river-boat cruise, on a sunny day.

Don't just sit there gazing at the scenery, get on that train! (A reminder to myself. I have to get from Ghent, to Brussels, to Aachen, Germany today. TIRED.)