Monday 24 December 2012

Guess Who's Singing on Grafton Street?!

Yes, in what has become a tradition, yer man Bono has come to Grafton Street to busk with some mates Which included Glen Hansard, Damien Rice and Sinead O'Connor). Someone has got a video on YouTube up really quickly (ahh the joys of modern technology!) in which they sing Desire. Oh to be in Dublin now.... I'll add more/info videos if they emerge, enjoy! Happy Christmas!

Just added video of Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas below, seems like great fun!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Starling Show

I met up with my friends Dawn and Elfriede in nearby Annan today, a chance to catch up on news, have lunch and exchange Christmas gifts.  On my way home I stopped at the Gretna Gateway Outlet for a quick look, found myself an excellent bargain price top in Marks and Spencer's, love a bargain!  While I was at the Outlet something happened that had everyone looking up in wonder. Thousands and thousands of starlings were performing their amazing aerial dance prior to roosting. Their swoops, sinuous turns and waves were both mesmerising. From all directions smaller groups of birds joined the mass of birds and instantly became part of the whole. How these birds synchronise this en mass dance (which has the strange name of murmuration) who knows, nature is amazing, but it is stunning to watch.  I took this photo, which doesn't really do justice to the wonder of the sight.

You can read more about murmuration here. And apparently Gretna is one of the best places to witness this spectacle, you learn something every day! As I walked back to my car I could hear the racket of roosting starlings from trees near the shopping centre as they were settling for the night. When I got to my car I had to smile, as it had a large amount of bird droppings on it, ahh well, it's supposed to be good luck lol!  

Sunday 16 December 2012

Restaurant Review - Holme Bistro, Carlisle

Address:  Denton Street, Carlisle, Cumbria

Cuisine:  European

Ambience:  Modern, relaxed, good spacing between tables giving just the right amount of privacy

Food/Service:  We plumped for the Christmas menu, three courses plus coffee and mince pies for £19.95.  We were given delicious homemade rye bread with olive tampenade and balsamic vinegar with olive oil to munch on while we waited for the starter. I had smoked trout pate and salad with toasted rye bread, absolutely delicious.  My cousin Glen had the mushroom, stilton and white wine soup which she said was also very good.

We had found it hard to decide on what to have for our mains so I ordered a 10 ounce flat-iron steak with Brazilian marinade, pesto and fries. Glen ordered the confit of duck with garlic mash and port reduction, and then we halved the meals.  Both were excellent, the steak and duck were very, very tender, the duck fell off the bone, and the steak was cooked medium perfectly.

My Dessert of Dark Chocolate Tart with Raspberry Compote
For dessert we both had the dark chocolate tart with raspberry compote.  Sometimes I find that a chocolate tart can be a bit heavy, but this one was just perfect and well complimented with the compote.

The service throughout was attentive but not over-powering. The house red is excellent. They have a special from Tuesday - Thursday nights and have a Steak night (again three courses for £20) on Fridays.

Another plus is that it is easy to park close by. I have no hesitation in recommending Holme Bistro for a relaxing night out with excellent food.

Northern Star Rating:  *****

Wednesday 12 December 2012

RIP Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore died the other day. He helped foster my love of astronomy through presenting The Sky at Night, a programme that I have watched since as far back as I can remember and still do today.  It was first aired in 1957 and Patrick presented every monthly programme except one from then until his death, making The Sky at Night the longest running programme presented by the same person in the world.

Patrick made astronomy accessible to me when I was very young, I even wanted to be an astronomer until I realised I was hopeless at maths and realised it wasn't for me! But I've never lost the wonder, the curiosity and fascination about the universe. We have amazing technology now which has shown us real space wonders so fabulous they could not be imagined, and God knows what still lies out there.

The Sky at Night, especially in the early days had very amateurish props, but that didn't matter, it all helped people to understand and was part of the charm of the programme. Patrick seemed to get more and more eccentric as the decades passed and he was very much part of the programme and it will never be the same, but I do hope it will continue.

One of the things on my bucket list is to look through a high magnitude telescope, I really must work on achieving that!

Monday 19 November 2012

Why Poverty? Give Us the Money

As part of the Why Poverty? series being shown on various BBC channels there will be one programme called Give Us the Money, that looks at the involvement of celebrities in the fight against poverty.  It will examine the work over the last 30 years of Bono and Bob Geldof amongst others. It will include interviews with them and will be broadcast at 9pm on Sunday 25th November on BBC Four. The whole series sounds interesting and covers many aspects of poverty.  I just wish it was being shown on the mainstream BBC One rather than Four (as far as I can see only one programme in the series is being shown on BBC One). It is a very important series and should not be tucked away on Four.

More information about the Why Poverty? series can be found here. And specific programme info for Give Us the Money can be found  here.

Sunday 18 November 2012

U2 Prints

The artist Kelly Eddington has made some of her U2 originals (originally done for the @U2 website) available as prints, so now you can get copies of the pictures for a very reasonable price. I think I will be treating myself soon!

Kelly is a very, very talented artist and if you go to have a look at her U2 prints also check out her other work that is also for sale. You can find the link to her gallery here.

Monday 5 November 2012

Nice 4 - An Eccentric Baroness, a Villa in Paradise and Farewells

11th  October

It seems to have taken me ages to get my Nice Blog done! I think it's the combination of a new job (well a job move) and decorating that has held me back. But anyway here's the last instalment of my Nice blog, hope you enjoy it.

Today we were heading east out of Nice to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. No problems finding the 81 bus and we sat back and savoured the fantastic views as the bus trundled along, it's worth paying the one Euro fare for the views alone. I made a mental note that one day, on another visit, (because I know I'll be back!) I would like to get off at Beaulieu-sur-Mer and look round there.  But today out goal was a stop called Passable (all their stops have names so it is really easy to know the right one to get off at) on St Jean Cap Ferrat. Well the area certainly wasn't passable, it was gorgeous and reminded me a somewhat of Killiney in Ireland with it's stone walls, narrow winding roads, exotic flora and grand houses. 

Deb and Me Enjoying our Champagne Lunch
The bus stop was right beside the road that leads to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and it was a five minute walk to the villa, along the route we marvelled at the views over the bay to Beaulieu and Eze and in the other direction the green peninsula of Cap Ferrat stretched out into the blue Mediterranean Sea.

The Italianate-style Villa, built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild between 1907 and 1912,  is a sea of pinkness and white on the outside set in fantastic gardens. But first, before looking round, we decided to go into the Tea Room as we were hungry and I'd heard the food was lovely there.  It was an almost circular room with huge windows that looked out over the bay of Villefranche or the patio shaded by orange trees. The walls were a peachy colour and there was ornate stucco and woodwork, the floor had beautiful mosaic on it and the chairs were golden! Apparently this was where Beatrice had her dining room.

The Patio
We both opted for the Meissen menu - warm tart and salad, a dessert and tea or coffee. I noticed a group of four women sitting by a window enjoying a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne. We couldn't afford a whole bottle but opted for a glass each, it felt very decadent drinking champagne at lunchtime lol!

After that we took the audio tour around the house. I enjoyed the tour as you could get really close to everything and go at your own pace. Beatrice was part of the megarich Rothschild family and she married a rich banker called Maurice Ephrussi. The marriage did not go well as Ephrussi was a gambler and amassed huge debts. After 21 years of marriage they parted, there were no children. It was after this that Beatrice started building the Villa which became her winter home from 1912. In 1933 a year before she died she bequeathed the Villa and all her collections to the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

The tour started in the patio, which wasn't a patio as we understand it, it was a large, square colonnaded area with a gallery running round the first floor level. The ceiling of the column's arches were painted with designs inspired by a Venetian palazzo.  Beatrice often held grand concerts in this area.

Beatrice's Bedroom
Off the patio were the grand and small salons with priceless pieces of furniture, art and tapestry. It is light and airy and very feminine. There are gaming tables too, as Beatrice enjoyed gambling.

Also on the ground floor are Beatrice's apartments. I found her bedroom touching as it felt quite personal with family photos on the table and one of her dresses lying over a chair - she must have been a small woman! There was a large Venetian bed with silk bed linen facing a huge rounded opposite window that looked out over the Bay of Villefranche, what a view to see from your bed!

Another View of the Bedroom Showing the Tiny Chairs
Beatrice was a modern woman and she a fully functional bathroom, (an intriguing round shaped room with a dome) telephone, a lift and coal fired boilers for heating.

In the bedroom amongst the chairs there are two very small chairs, miniature versions of the full-sized ones. These were for Beatrice's pet dogs and mongoose. She seemed to be a bit eccentric and always had lots of animals around her. Once she had a sumptuous wedding for two of her favourite dogs with the animals dressed as bride and groom and guests and their dogs had to also come suitably attired! Seems pampering and treating pets as humans is not a new phenomenon! True to her memory, animals still lived in the Villa, there were large cages with budgerigars in the patio area.

Some of her Chinese collection of Mandarin robes and tiny silk shoes for bound feet were on show in this area, how those poor Chinese women must have suffered to be able to fit into those minute high fashion shoes, I should have put my hand into the photo so it was clear just how small the shoes were!

The rest of the rooms were primarily filled with her extensive collections from all around the world. Rooms full of Meissen and Sevres porcelain, Louis XVI furniture, Chinese articles, works by Fragonard, priceless tapestries to name just a few of the collections. There was a lot to see and but I still  wondered what was in all those rooms not open to the public that we passed by on the tour.

The View of the Formal Garden to the Villa
The house is only part of the delight of the Villa. The gardens are massive and gorgeous, the south aspect of the house looks down a long manicured garden with fountains. At the end of which there is a little hill with a small building at the top which gives a sensational view of the house and gardens. The fountains performed a show every twenty minutes, dancing, spraying and looping to Handel's Water Music. Around the edges of the formal garden were various themed gardens, each very different and it was quite an adventure following the little paths and steps between them. I liked the lovely shady Spanish Garden and also the Zen feel of the Oriental Garden, but they were all lovely in their own ways. And as you walked along you were treated to stunning views of either the Bay of Villefranche or Bay of Fourmis at Beaulieu, both backed by craggy mountains and cliffs. Stunning.

We were there for ages, but it was informative and fascinating, and also not too busy which meant you could wander parts of the garden without others being around which I liked.  If you would like to read more about the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild visit its website here

We got the bus home and I think the driver must have been finishing his shift as he careered around the tight bends and stopped for the minimum times to pick up or drop off! I spent most of the trip hanging on for dear life lol!

That night was the last Debbi and I would have together in Nice. Her airline (we travelled separately) had cancelled Saturday's flight and she had to go home either the Friday or Sunday, she reluctantly went for the Friday so lost a day of her holiday. We'd done well with our money (Nice is not at all as expensive as they say) and decided to treat ourselves to a meal at the swanky Les Pecheurs close to our apartment. But we found it was fully booked, we'll know for next time! We decided to check out places on the way to our little favourite, Le Barbecue in the Old Town, and if we found nothing we fancied we'd stop and eat there. As it was we did end up there once more and had a delicious, good value meal and the best wine we'd had in Nice (and I'm sorry French people, it was Portuguese!)

12th October

Up early to see Debbi off, it felt really strange to see her walking away and I felt a bit "lost" for a while. But I was determined to make the most of my last full day and first went out to the local patisserie for a baguette, croissant and raspberry cake.  Whilst having breakfast ship's horns, hooters, whistles etc started going off in the Port, no idea why, it went on for about two minutes.  I later realised that it was probably to welcome a cruise ship that I later saw moored there.

After breakfast I walked up to Place Garibaldi, bought a Chantilly Meringue in Serain Cappa for later and then walked into the Old Town. I pottered around the shops, bought a few last things. I then walked through to the Promenade des Anglais by the sea. It was a lovely day and a breeze from the sea made it not too hot for me.  I walked round Castel Hill, past the beautiful War Memorial cut into the rock of the hill and on to the Port. It all looked so lovely glimmering in the sunlight.

Coco Beach
I went home and had lunch before setting out again this time in the other direction towards Coco Beach. I passed by the cruise ship, big, but nothing like the size of the juggernauts we'd seen in the Bay of Villefranche. I was soon at Coco Beach and walked down the steps and found my self a nice bit of rock and sat and read my book on Iceland, a strange combination but it worked for me lol. Funny, two of my favourite places are Iceland and Nice and they are both almost exactly the same distance from my home, but in opposite directions. It was very relaxing there looking out over the sea. There were a few people swimming, one of two sunbathing and a couple like me relaxing and reading, sometimes simple pleasures are the best!

And that was about it for my holiday too. I had the trip from hell home next day, but I won't bore you with all those details here! When we were in Nice three years ago we saw a U2 360 gig so that's one day used up for that and then we were in bed much of the next day as we stayed up so late, so that's two days not devoted to Nice. This time I felt I really got to know the place much better and was able to really enjoy and savour it's many delights. I know I'll be back!

One of the Many Delights of Nice

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Nice 3 - Finding the Bus to Cannes and All That

10th October

Another lovely sunny day and today and we've got Cannes booked in for the day!  We had our route by bus all planned, get the 100 from the Port to Station S C Bermond where the 200 bus to Cannes leaves from, simple, haha!  First the two 100 buses that arrived at the Porrt stop let people off but not us on, we realised it was a drop off stop, not a pick up. We didn't know exactly where the Station J C Bermond bus stop was but I had looked on a map the previous evening and had a idea.  There was lots of building work in the area but eventually we found the bus stop, but the 200 was not listed as leaving from there. We walked on a little way and found a second Station J C Bermond bus stop! No 200 to Cannes listed there.  We were now getting frazzled, it was hot and we were wondering if we'd ever find the bus to Cannes! 

We walked on and then Debbi shouted, "There's 200 bus!" And sure enough it was, and it turned a corner and disappeared from our view behind building works.  We rush on to the corner and saw a third bus stop called, yes, Station J C Belmond, God know how many there were! And parked there was the 200 to Cannes. With some relief we paid our 1 Euro each and flopped into our seats, it had been one and a half hours since we'd left our apartment!

The trip to Cannes took ninety minutes, and it wasn't as scenic as I thought it might be. I noticed the signs to the Renoir Museum in Cagnes sur Mer and wished there was time to go there, maybe another day. The hill of the old town of Antibes looked lovely as we passed. I'm sure that the coastal areas on this route are lovely, but the bus route is pretty boring compared to the run east of Nice.

La Croisette, Cannes
We were dropped off just opposite the film theatres and close to the casino. We'd made sandwiches and seeing we'd been travelling for three hours now we were ravenous so we found a seat and ate them. We soon noticed opposite us a very drunk man trying to have a pee! What a delightful first sight of Cannes! It took him at least 15 minutes to have the pee and sort himself out, and then he flopped onto a bench. Shortly afterwards a girl came over to him and gave him cans of beer, just what he needed. There were a few down and outs around which surprised me so close to the glitzy places.

We crossed the main road to where there was one of the theatres, there was some event going on as there were lots of red carpets and self-important looking people with swinging laminates round their necks.  We went past the casino and arrived at one end of Promenade de la Croisette. It is the equivalent to the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, a sweeping, horseshoe bay with an endless beach flanked by rows of palm trees. Many of the hotels along La Croisette had very beautiful stucco work on them and looked very expensive.  We walked along for a while enjoying the warmth. We then noticed the fancy designer shops on the other side of the road and decided to window shop.  I'm not into designer stuff but was curious. We peeked into the windows of the Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Bvlgari shops, cringed at the horrendously hideous prices, they all had security guards just inside the doors, no wonder with prices like that!

We then took a road away from that area and wandered there for a while but there wasn't much to see. We saw an ice cream shop with dozens of beautifully displayed choices of flavour. We both tried the violette ice cream and it was delicious, very creamy with just a subtle Parma Violet flavour.

We went back to the main road, which was a dual carriageway, on the shoreline and noticed a man in a mobility scooter driving right up the middle of the road! Brave or foolhardy?

We passed a few men playing games of boules. It looked enjoyable and relaxing with men of all ages playing. 

We were both somewhat disappointed in Cannes, we both expected more from it. Maybe we should have explored further but we didn't have the inclination to do so. We decided to go home to lovely Nice. We caught the rush hour and it took over two hours to get back to Nice on the the bus! 

Welcome to my Yacht!
That night we ate at Le Lunel on the Port. We'd eaten there when we were in Nice three years ago and it was very good. I noticed recent reviews were not so good but we decided to give it a go and we weren't disappointed. I had goat's cheese salad to start and it was huge, more like a main! Then it was chicken forestiere for the main, equally delicious. I was very full after that but couldn't resist the chocolate fondant with ice cream which was perfect, the chocolate oozed out when I took a spoonful, heaven. And it was all washed down with a delicious French red wine. We noticed that most places only sold French wine whereas in the UK you can get wine from all over the world. I suppose they are supporting their own wine producers. Debbi was equally satisfied with her meal too so I'm glad we went back there. Once again it was warm enough to eat outside in comfort.

On our way home we passed by the fancy yachts in the Port, we would have loved to have just looked round inside one but had to make do with having a peep from the quay. It was a relaxing end to what had been a busy, and at times frustrating, day. For me Nice beats Cannes hands down!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Nice 2 - Eze, Hot Stone Therapy and a Lazy, Hazy Day

8th October

Disaster! The patisserie was closed today (as are quite a few places in Nice on Mondays). We made do with toast and then went to the nearby Ile de Beauté at the head of the Port to catch our bus to Eze-sur-Mer. Apparently Ile de Beauté is a nickname for Corsica, and there is a ferry that leaves from Nice Port for that island.  The 100 bus takes you along the stunning coastline east of Nice as far as Menton beside the border with Italy. The journey only costs 1 Euro no matter where you get off.  The bus sweeps up Mount Boron giving you beautiful views of Nice and the Mediterranean, glistening sky blue on warm and sunny day.  The bus then glides down to Villefranch-sur-Mer, which has one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean and is a regular port of call for the huge cruise ships, indeed there was one in the bay today. 

We travelled on past the land-locked end of Cap Ferrat into Beaulieu-sur Mer which positively oozes of money with it's marina, casino and fancy hotels.  The mountains and cliffs rise high behind the small town and continue round the bay.  There is a short tunnel through the cliffs and shortly after that we arrived in Eze-sur-Mer set in the stunning location backed by huge cliffs and mountains.

Me on the Beach at Eze-sur-Mer
We were hungry so we first went to a small roadside cafe and went very local and had a Nicoise salad which was delicious. We then crossed the road went under the railway, and down a narrow stepped alley onto the beach. It is a pebble beach but the location is wonderful, there were huge beds of dry seaweed that were soft and bouncy to walk on.  The beach was surprisingly quiet, we found a lovely spot and settled for the afternoon.  Debbi was brave and went into the water, I did a little paddle and was surprised at how cold the water was on this warm and sunny day. The stones on the beach were hot and I lay down and Debbi put some of them on my back, a bit of stone therapy. As the heat spread down into my muscles I could feel the relaxation spreading through them (I've now booked a stone therapy session at my salon!)

After a lovely day that cost us the grand total of two Euros for our bus fare (the trip alone was worth the money) we headed home and had a rest and shower before we went out for our meal.  We ended up at La Barque Bleue at the Port, less than five minutes from our apartment. Again it was very mild and we sat outside. I had a goats cheese tart to start, followed by spaghetti carbonara all of which was very good.

9th October

Debbi Tucking into her Socca
We'd decided to have a lazy, moochy day today to really soak in the atmosphere of Nice. We had a lie-in and then breakfast of fresh palmier and baguette from our patisserie. We wandered up past the Port to Place Garibaldi and went to the Rue Pairoliere in the Old Town to Chez Rene Socca which is one of the most famous places to buy socca a Nicoise dish. Socca is basically a thin chickpea pancake made on a huge griddle about two feet in diameter and then kind of hacked up into pieces that you buy a plate of.  The restaurant was set on two sides of the small street with wooden tables. You went to where the socca was being made to buy it and ordered drinks from the waiters at the table. The socca was only 2.80 Euros for a large portion and it was quite nice, though I enjoyed it more when we got some lemon to squeeze onto it. 

After our lunch we went on further into the maze that is the Old Town, just wandering in and out of shops, we both bought some heavenly smelling violette eau de cologne, bags and garlic graters. We came across the famous Fenocchio ice cream shop and just had to try it! It certainly lived up to it's reputation, I had vanilla and it was one of the best I've had.  

More Cake!
We headed back to Place Garibaldi and found a seat at le Sully, one of the many bar restaurants in the square. We ordered half a litre of red wine. Unfortunately it wasn't good wine, but we forced it down before moving across the square to Le Paradis du Fruit and more  -this time good - wine. It was lovely just relaxing watching the Nice life pass by.  

After consuming a litre of the wine we wandered across to Serain Cappa for a cake and we both had delicious chocolatey ones that went down very well. We then wandered back to the Port with quite a spring to our step lol!

We ate in that night, and had some French lessons care of our Ipod Touch app. We learned a lot of, let's say, unusual French words that I don't think we'll be using much lol!

Our lazy, moochy day had gone very well, we are very good at doing nothing lol, we decided that in the future we will always set aside a day of our holiday for chilling like this!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Nice 1 - All Things French, and Dali and a Horse

The Courtyard of the Apartments
6th October 2012

I love that moment when you step out of an airport in some foreign country and the new sensations hit you. I saw the lush palm trees, felt the gentle caress of warmth of the sun and the smell of the sea and jasmine in the air. We were in Nice!

We got the bus  into the city and it was lovely to see the places we'd first seen three years ago again. We'd first gone to Nice in 2009 to have a holiday as well as seeing U2 perform. We loved the place so much we vowed to go back, and three years later here were were!

The View of the Port from our Balcony

We got off at the Port where our apartment was and trundled our cases down the quay. Near the apartment block, a very tiny woman stopped us, it was Barbara our host. Our lily-white skin must have given us away as Brits lol! She took us through two huge wooden doors and we found ourselves at the foot of some marble steps and at the top we walked into a fabulous cobbled courtyard with ponds in each corner and fountains, very pretty. 

The apartment was wonderful, very clean and had all we needed, even our own showers! And the view from our balcony of the Port was fabulous. Barbara had told us there was a patisserie and little supermarket just out side the back door so we went out and stocked up on food and wine!

We had a relaxing evening eating in and drinking wine, our holiday had started!

7th October

Niki de Saint Phalle
Deb got a baguette and croissants from the patisserie for breakfast, they were delicious, still warm! I love the European (alas not British) tradition of going to a local baker for truly fresh bread and pastries for breakfast, you can't beat it!

On the first and third Sundays of the month municipal museums in Nice have free entry, so we decided to take advantage of that. The nearest place to us was the Musée d'art moderne et d'art contemporain or MAMAC. Neither of us are that into modern art but we went there with open minds. It turned out to be an interesting couple of hours. 


I especially liked the American Pop Art section which had works by Warhol and Lichtenstein amongst others. It is the kind of work that is accessible by anyone which, for me, is what art should be all about. 

 I also like some of the works by Niki de Saint Phalle, especially her "Diaries" which were a very intricate mix of art and words, much of it relating to women's issues. There was also an amazing life-size wedding dress with a long train made entirely out of blue plastic bottles! Unfortunately I can't recall who the artist who created this was.

We then walked the short distance back to Place Garibaldi and went to our favourite patisserie, Serain Cappa, and salivated as we tried to decide what cake to have. They are truly works of art and so many to choose from! I finally chose a Framboisine, a delectable fusion of raspberries and chocolate. Deb got an almond-based cake that I tried, it too was lovely.

We sat under the stately colonade that runs right around the square, in the centre is a large fountain. It's a bustling place, and it was good just to relax and watch life go by. We felt very French eating the lovely cakes and drinking coffee.

Before leaving we bought two Chantilly Meringues to have later at home. We then walked the short distance to our apartment and had a some tea before exploring some more.

We went out of the back door of the complex, turned right and followed the road that ran by the sea.  All along the walk were seats looking out over the Mediterranean Sea, lots of people were doing what we were, promenading, enjoying the sun and fresh air. Soon we came to Coco Beach, which you reach by going down some steps. It's not really a beach, moreso a jumble of large rocks with lots of places to sit.  Again, we just sat and relaxed for a while.

Later we went into the Vieille Ville, Old Town, for our evening meal. The Old Town is a maze of small roads, alleys, flights of steps, shops and restaurants.  The buildings are all very old, often a few stories high and painted in fawns, yellows and terracottas. Wooden shutters on the windows, washing hanging from balconies and poles, you could hear their lives of the local people echoing off the walls, smell their cooking hanging in the warm air, it is very much a living Old Town. 

Some parts are a bit touristy, which we generally steer clear of.  But you can find great restaurants in the quieter alleys. One of these is a little place called Le Barbecue in Rue du Four which we first discovered on our last trip to Nice.  It's set on a few levels on the stepped alley and is cheap, serving excellent food. I had cod fritters to start followed by a delicious steak then ice cream, all washed down with an excellent Portuguese red wine served at the perfect temperature. We were entertained by two Yorkshire terriers that lived close to the restaurant that played and scampered around in an adjoining alley whilst their owners chatted. It was so good to be able to sit outside and eat like this, no way could we have done it back home, in October it would be too cold and probably too wet as well!

We headed home and passed a heavy horse strangely tied up in a corner of an alley. I went to pat it as I have a soft spot for those workhorses of the past, I gave Deb my camera to take a photo. Suddenly I was accosted by Dali, well he looked like Dali. Middle-aged, with a spiky moustache, flamboyantly dressed complete with cravat!  I thought he was going to pose with me for the photo as he grabbed me rather tightly round the waist.  then amongst the French chatter coming from him I recognised the word "Assis" and realised he was trying to lift me onto the horse!  "No way, no way" I said and wriggled out of his grip, I glanced at Debbi who looked horror-struck, she took a quick photo and then I heard her say. "Right, let's go."  I didn't know what was funnier being accosted by Dali or the look on Deb's face!  

We did make it home unscathed and we opened a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne as a late celebration for my birthday. Debbi gave me her present which she'd kept back to bring to Nice - vouchers for my fave restaurant I was so chuffed! - and we quaffed the champers and ate our Chantilly Meringues, what more could you want?  Oh I love France!

Some of the Cakes at Serain Cappa

Monday 15 October 2012

Please U2, Do This!

The article below appeared as part of the "13 Tours We'd Like To See In 2013" article in Rolling Stone. Well all I can say to that is amen!  They are spot on with this, especially the rotation of set lists. U2 shows, though good, are often predictable set-wise with sets only maybe changing several songs a night and these changes are predictable too. U2 have a fantastic back catalogue and could easily rotate sets much, much more to make the shows more unpredictable and exciting and still please the long-time and casual  fans alike.The Big Question is - have U2 themselves got the balls to do this? I'm not sure they have, but I hope they prove me (and many other long-time fans) wrong.

There's no possible way for U2 to top the size and scope of their 2009-2011 stadium tour. It grossed $736,000,000 over 110 shows. That's a record that may never be broken. They shouldn't even try. When their next album hits in 2013, they should go back to arenas instead. It also might be time to drop some war horses from the set lists. Sure, "Where The Streets Have No Name" should be played at every U2 gig until the end of time, but maybe we've heard "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "With or Without You," "New Years Day," "Mysterious Ways" and "One" enough times. They're all great songs, but they've been played to death.

It would be even more exciting if U2 considered actually rotating their set lists from night to night. Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen shows are so thrilling because you never know what's coming next. An act with as deep a back catalog as U2 should at least set aside a few slots per night where they mix it up – maybe bring back early favorites like "Drowning Man" or "The Refugee," or forgotten 1990s tunes like "Acrobat" or "Gone."
At this stage in U2's career, it might be tempting to just keep flogging the same old hits in stadiums for enormous sums of money. They need to resist that temptation at all costs. 

Monday 24 September 2012

Bono and Edge in ..... er ..... Leicester!

I read the headline that Bono and Edge were at a premiere in Leicester and initially thought it must be a wind up. But no, they were there to attend the world premiere of Finding Neverland, a musical about the life of J M Barry, the author of Peter Pan. Apparently the musical's producer, Harvey Weinstein, invited them.  Don't know why the premiere was in Leicester but I think it is a good thing, why should it always be London?

Read all about it, plus lots of photos, here.

Friday 21 September 2012

An Afternoon at the Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre

Cadbury and Belle
My cousin Janet and I had planned this visit to the Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre at Kirtlebridge just over the border in Scotland (yet called "Cumberland"!) for ages and we were both excited at the thought of the visit.

We found the Centre which is actually in a lovely, large house set in a huge and very beautiful garden with the River Kirtle running at its foot. We were warmly greeted by Gary Swainson, the falconer, and his two dogs, a black spaniel with one white paw called Belle and a gorgeous chocolate coloured mini smooth dachshund called Cadbury

Gary invited us inside and made us a cup of tea and we all sat and chatted in the kitchen which had a gorgeous view over the large lawn to the river. Gary is a very friendly, open person and we felt very relaxed and at home. He also is very talkative, and told us of his plans to go to India soon to work with disadvantaged children for six months. You've got to admire people who do things like that. He got into falconry at the age of 15 and his knowledge amazing and enthusiasm infectious.

Bungle the Bateleur Eagle
After we'd finished our tea we went outside into the garden and Gary introduced us to the birds in the aviaries.  I don't remember all the names or types of birds they were so bear with me!  One of the most striking birds was Bungle the Bateleur Eagle. A very large, mainly black bird that was illegally imported from Africa and seized, then after quarantine came to the Centre. These eagles hunt snakes and are kept in villages in Africa as the people believe (wrongly) that they keep snakes away. Unfortunately to stop them flying off their wings are often broken and evidence of this in Bungle was one wing that was a little deformed. He's lucky now that he has a wonderful home!

Gary said that it was best not to touch the feathers too much as the acid on our hands destroys the waterproofing of the feathers. But Bungle just LOVES his head being tickled and as soon as you reach out towards him he leans really hard against your hand and goes into a rapture when you tickle him! He almost falls off the perch, so funny and touching - also humbling that this magnificent bird allows you to get so close.
We saw owls, including the gorgeous Molly who'll I'll write about later, falcons, a turkey vulture and hawks.

Me and the Harris Hawk
Our first hands on experience was with one of the Harris Hawks (Gary had to put the hens and ducks away before he got the bird out as it would have attacked them). We walked up the lane by the house  (accompanied by Cadbury and Belle who were having a whale of a time!)  and took turns to feed the hawk. It would swoop down, take the bait (bits of day old chicks!) and then fly off into the trees again. Sometime it would swoop by missing you by a whisker, you just felt the wind of his wings, he was so fast.  We were surprised at how light the bird was when he sat on our hand.

After this we spent some time with two young owls. Gary explained that they were still learning and it was interesting to see that they were at different stages of learning. They are supposed to sit on posts and then fly to you when you offer the bait, one was getting the gist, but the other found the world soooo interesting that she became preoccupied with everything that was happening around her and was easily distracted.

Molly in Action, Just Landing on Janet's Hand
Next came Molly, a fabulous, large owl, who I must admit, was my favourite. She was gorgeous and simply loved her tummy being tickled! She had big, intelligent orange eyes and huge feathery feet.  Gary stood at the other end of the garden and Molly flew to us swooping low over the lawn towards the bait. Her approach was silent, and Gary said that was because owl's wing feathers have serrated edges which the wind passes through and so doesn't make a noise. She did everything perfectly. Even though Molly was a large bird she wasn't very heavy. At one point Molly was on the ground and she and Belle were beak to nose. Belle just wanted to play but Molly was warning her off lol!

Gary told commented on the myths about owls. No they can't turn their heads 360 degrees, though they can manage 180 degrees.  Not all owls are nocturnal, approximately 50% are diurnal, usually, if an owl has orange eyes they are diurnal, and brown eyes for nocturnal . All Gary's owls had orange eyes and were definitely wide awake!

Molly and Belle, it Shows How Big the Owl is
The next bird we handled was Bungle the eagle.  He was such a handsome boy and the only bird that had some weight to him.  Mainly black with a bit of grey and a red beak and feet. He flew slightly lopsided due to his wing injury but was still amazing, you really felt the weight as he landed on your hand.

Finally I handled a beautiful Gyr Falcon and Janet a handsome Peregrine Falcon. They weren't flown, but just sat on our hands as Gary gave them whole dead day old chicks. I was amazed at how much my relatively small bird ate - three whole chicks. His crop gradually got bigger, they must have amazing digestive systems!

And that was it, we went back into the house for a cup of tea and more chat. We felt privileged to have been able to get so close to such magnificent birds. It was worth every single penny and Gary was a wonderful host, AND he has a dachshund!  I'd definitely recommend it for a special day out, you can get info about all the different activity days here.

Me with the Gyr Falcon

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Coming Soon - A Permanent U2 Exhibition in Dublin

The Little Museum at St Stephen's Green in Dublin has announced that it is going to create a permanent U2 exhibition.  All I can say is it's about time, it should have been done years ago!! They are asking fans to help them out with rare exhibits, full details can be found here. Looking forward to visiting next time I'm in town. Now must look through my memorabilia and see if I have anything they might be able to use ......

Monday 10 September 2012

Georgian Carlisle - Tullie House Exhibition

The Cotton Spinner's Quilt
Last week I went to an exhibition at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle called Georgian Carlisle. I always try to attend the exhibitions they have, they are usually very interesting and mostly free.  This exhibition looked at  all aspects of life in Carlisle during the Georgian period 1714-1836.  It was a time of massive change for the city, at the beginning of the period it was still a small, medieval, walled and highly fortified border city. But by the end of the Georgian era it was a much larger city in the throes of the industrial revolution, cotton mills being the major employer. There was a beautiful, large cotton spinner's quilt from the time on show which was full of symbolism. 

Times though were very hard for some people and the exhibition covered the terrible poverty many people lived in. There were also regular outbreaks of cholera and typhoid.  There were little boxes around the exhibition which you could sniff that gave you an idea of how unpleasant the smells of the city could be. Dr John Heysham's promoted the medical interests and sanitary welfare of the poor people of Carlisle, and in 1782 he founded the Carlisle Dispensary, where the poor of the City could obtain free medicines and vaccinations. When he died in 1834, Dr Heysham left £1,000 to the Mayor and Aldermen and Councillors of the City of Carlisle in trust for the creation of a people's park and place of recreation within the City. It took  hundred years, but in 1934 Heysham Park was opened for the first time on August 25th and to this day it is still a pleasant park in the city. I didn't know why it was called Heysham Park until I went to the exhibition, now I know the full story behind it!
Margerys Jackson's Amazing Dress on the Right 

Another character of the city was Margery Jackson who was a miser who lived a very frugal life even though she was really a wealthy woman. She was seen walking her dog around town on the end of a piece of string, and rentals on properties she owned had to be paid in gold coins.  She stored these in a trunk at her home. When she died in 1812 at the age of 90, it took  hours to count all the coins, and they amounted to one and a half million pounds in today’s money

Another item linked to Margery at the exhibition was her Court Mantua dress. It in blue, hand embroidered brocade and measured six feet across. It was meant to to worn at Court by 

The Pretty Muslin Empire-line Dresses
married ladies and no one really knows why the unmarried Margery had this dress. The Court Mantua was part of a selection of fashion from the beginning to the end of the Georgian era.  And like life through these years fashion also changed beyond recognition from the stiff,  formality to the loose, muslin empire-line dresses of the later years. I thought the muslin dresses were lovely and they must have been very comfortable to wear. 

I was surprised to learn that many streets and shops in Carlisle had gas lighting as early as 1820. There was a model of Carlisle at the beginning of the Georgian times and another surprise was that the street pattern in the oldest central area is still recognisable today.

I really enjoyed the exhibition. I love history and I learned quite a few things about my city. Well done Tullie House!

The "Two Lump Things" were the Citadel/Courts, (below)
Which Still Stand Today

Sunday 26 August 2012

A Cute Feel Good Story

Photo: AMPA
Well how's this for cute?  A a two month old baby Amazonian manatee that was rescued by AMPA, a Brazilian organisation dedicated to saving orphaned manatees. The baby manatee was found by fishermen beside its dead mother. They contacted AMPA and so this gorgeous little fellows life was saved.

I remember when I was on holiday in Florida a few years ago we went on a tour of the waterways in the south west of the state close to Everglades City (a grand title for a small town) we briefly saw a manatee.  It silently came up out of the water, looked at us and then with a gracefulness than defied its size, dived back down into the water it's large flat tale flapping on the water before it disappeared. A few seconds, but I was thrilled to see this shy creature at all. Special animals, and it is good that this little manatee has been saved. You can read more about it here.

Monday 20 August 2012

Bono and Edge Singing at Club 55

Bono and Edge and their families are enjoying their usual summer break slumming it in the beautiful South of France (lucky things!) One of the places they have been spotted at is the Club 55 in St Tropez where they had an impromptu singalong of Help with the resident band. Someone managed to record a 30 second video which has made its way to YouTube, you can watch it below.

And because I just know you want to see those yellow trousers he's wearing in the video in all their canary glory here's a full length photo of the B-man sporting his latest fashion ..... his dress sense hasn't improved with age LOL!

Friday 17 August 2012

Goodbye Olympics

Closing Ceremony of London 2012 Olympics
Well the Olympic Games in London are over, finishing with a grand, but slightly mad spectacle that summed up the UK pretty well - though the musical content could have been better. Loved the lighting effects and I think London was right not to try to emulate what Beijing did four years ago in its opening and closing ceremonies.  Instead it was something different, at times whacky, sometimes cheesy, funny, moving, amazing. For me the best bit was the Queen and James Bond, I can't believe they got her to do that LOL!

I'm not into sport much but I did watch a bit of the Olympics and enjoyed it. We did well in winning medals too which added to the general feel-good factor the Games gave the country. It has lit up an otherwise wet and miserable summer that has seen us unable to do many of the summer things because of the rain and we feel sad to see the games, and the good feelings it created, go. Let's hope though that the Olympics has captured the imagination of youngsters to strive to be Olympians of the future. But it's not completely over yet, the Paralypics start on 29th August!

Now the autumn clothes are coming into the shops, Christmas cards creeping onto the shelves (yes already!) and the first leaves are turning, so even if we do get some good weather now it won't last long. Luckily I've got a holiday in Nice to look forward to in a few weeks and I'm counting the days, can't wait to get back to the wine, fab food, baguettes (I love bread LOL!), patisseries, blue sea, relaxing days, roll on......

Saturday 11 August 2012

Zoo TV Memories.....

Just watched the video below, sound not brilliant, oh but what memories it brought back!  Glory days, U2 at it's creative and musical best, fun days, exciting days, mad days, I kind of miss them......

Thursday 9 August 2012

A Breath of Summer!

Cheeky Boy Pepsi!
We've had a lovely couple of summery days, 21 degrees (my perfect temp!), sunshine, gentle breeze. Suddenly people are wearing their bright summer clothes, having barbecues and picnics - we Brits know how to make the most of EVERY (rare this year) good summer's day lol! I was getting morose at seeing autumn clothes appearing in the shops AND Christmas cards!!  Can you believe it Christmas cards in early august ridiculous.

I've been for a lovely walk in Rickerby Park with the boys earlier, we all enjoyed it.  It felt like we'd actually had a summer, nature had that lazy, ripe stillness of a high summer day, basking in the rich fertility of the season, I could almost forget the weeks of rain, almost.  I just love that feel of a mid-summer day, which reminds me I must go looking for brambles soon;

I like walking in this large park, even when it is busy it does not feel crowded. It is almost in the centre of the city flanked on one side by the River Eden, yet it has cattle freely wandering about and grazing, not many places the size of Carlisle can boast that!  I had to laugh as one of the cows decided to wipe her snout on a convenient parked car as I was passing by!

River Eden in Rickerby Park
The boys were the usual child magnet, and I had a couple of little girls come across to see the dogs as I walked along. I think small children relate to small dogs because they always love my boys.

The Cow Beside the Car She Cleaned her Snout on LOL!
I bumped into someone I worked with years ago (Irish Tom, some of you will know him!) and we had a good chat and relished the fact we were retired from the stressful jobs we had.

I really enjoyed having a lovely, long relaxing walk again, something the weather has put the reins on these last few weeks, let's hope I get the chance to do more before the winter sets in.