Okay, this time the site seems to actually be working,  so apologies for those of you who tried to visit the new site and found it had crashed.

Let’s do something different has moved to a new website. Please check it out at

http://nobeatenpath.com/

All the posts from here have been migrated over there, and I will be posting from there in future. Please don’t forget to change your subscriptions!

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Technology – grand when it works, annoying when it doesn’t.

So the new website was working for all of half an hour then crashed 😦 In the process of trying to fix it, and alternating near sobbing with near hysteria.

Anyway, as a bit of a Sunday relief from hours of website work that doesn’t work, here is a short video of Willem from the top of the Eiffel tower. Enjoy.

 

Willem on the Eiffel Tower from Natalia Forrest on Vimeo.

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Louvre

Yesterday we made our pilgrimage to the Louvre. I say pilgrimage because it seems to be a siren’s call, a necessity – visiting Paris? Must go to the Louvre. Well, for us anyway.

As to be expected, it was packed. And many of the people packing it seemed to be the stupid sort who use a flash on their camera despite being asked not to, touch things (what is with that? Even if there were not signs everywhere, who thinks touching, and in one case I saw with a stupid young Australian woman trying to pull off parts!, medieval sculpture is a good thing?), and ignore everything on the rush to see the Mona Lisa. But it doesn’t matter, because it is so good even a control freak like me can overcome her urge to tell people off and enjoy what is on offer.

Willem and I picked up audio-visual guides and decided to follow the ‘Egyptian Tour’ on Willem’s guide. The Louvre has an amazing collection of antiquities, and a large part of that has artifacts from Egypt. Willem had a good time following his guide along, though he is starting to show some of his mother’s control freak tendencies and freak out at any suggested deviation from the ‘official’ tour!

We met up with the Grandparents and had lunch before we swapped responsibilities – they took Willem for another tour (this time it was Louis XIII’s era) while I went on a general exploration. First stop was a visit to my favourite piece of art in the whole of the Louvre’s collection – a study of a chameleon by Pieter Boel, though that meant walking through some amazing galleries and looking at some amazing art along the way. I also visited the sculpture gardens; looked at some amazing medieval art, sculpture and tapestries; stood open mouthed in front of monumental Assyrian temple art and many other things besides.

The Louvre is a huge collection and you could spend weeks, if not months, exploring it all. And most people don’t have that amount of time. So here are some tips for making the most of your visit:

– Get there early. The line for tickets is VERY long, and the line even for those with pre-booked tickets or museums passes can get long (though yesterday a woman came over and apologised, saying that due to Grandma having a walking stick we could not wait in the line, we had to go straight in. We could cope with that.) The other alternative it to check if the Louvre is having a late night opening while you are there and to go in the afternoon and spend the evening looking at the collection.

– There is no way you are going to see everything, so develop a plan. Pick up one of the audiovisual guides (€6 for adults, €2 for under 18s) and follow one or two of the tours provided. Or buy one of the many published guides available. Otherwise, choose a certain area of the collection you would like to explore, or choose two or three pieces you would like to see and make your way around to see them.

– Don’t bother with the Mona Lisa (La Jaconde in French). Not only is it a rather uninspiring work, it will have a crowd and you won’t be able to see it properly anyway.

– Don’t forget to look at the buildings – not only is the collection impressive, but so too are the buildings that house it. Whether it is the original buildings of the Louvre, or the modern extensions, take time to soak in the beauty of it all.

The museum is open every day except Tuesday and the following French holidays: December 25, January 1, and May 1. The opening hours are – Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. – Wednesday, Friday: from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. – closed on Tuesday

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Musée de l’Armée and Musée Rodin, Paris

Yesterday we put our Museum Passes to good use and visited two very different locations really just over the road from each other.

First we visited the Musée de l’Armée. Our first stop was  the Tomb of Napoléon, one of the most OTT burials since the time of the Pharoahs. I personally think General Foch’s memorial in one of the side chapels is more suitable, but it’s not what everyone comes to see. While you are visiting Napoléon’s tomb, it is worth going down to the Crypt as well.

Then we moved on to the Army museum proper. We had visited before, so I knew what we were in store for, but if it is your first time be prepared for lots of armour. Lots and lots and lots of armour. Armour for knights. Armour for children. Armour for horses. Armour for Samurai. It is an amazing collection with a combination of suits set out in cabinets as well as a large glass fronted storage area that has dozens of everything armour related. There are also weapons and accoutrements, and everything is laid out well, with some of the labels in English. Willem was, of course, in seventh heaven, and if like me you have a child interested in knights, you could spend at least half a day in this part of the museum alone. There are also interesting parts of the museum dedicated to the World Wars and other parts of French military history. Make sure to visit the section of plans which has some fantastic 3D plans used in the 18th and 19th century for military education and planning.

The Musée de l’Armée is open every day of the year, except for the first Monday of every month, and January 1st, May 1st, November 1st and December 25th. Open from 10am to 5pm (5.30pm on sunday), from October 1st to mars 31th, and from 10am to 6pm (6.30 on sunday), from April 1st to September 30th. Children under 18 get in for free, but you still have to go to the ticket desk and get a free ticket printed out for them.

After lunch in a nearby brasserie we headed to the Musée Rodin. The collection is ‘housed’ both in a garden and in an imposing building which has a fascinating history, having over time been a private residence, a convent and a girls’ school. If you are visiting with children make sure to get a ‘talking pen’ – they cost €3 for two, one for an adult and one for a child, and you get a printed page with a ‘plan’ you can follow. You roll the pen across a picture, and it has a different description for children as for adults. The children have the added bonus of quiz questions, which you use the ‘plan’ and pen to answer. You don’t need to know anything about Rodin to appreciate this great museum, and it has many of Rodin’s most famous pieces, including ‘The Thinker’ and ‘The Burghers of Calais’.

The  Musée Rodin is open daily, except Mondays, from  10am to 5.45pm. The Museum Pass will get you in and help you avoid the often long queue, and children are free.

The closest metro stop to both museums is Varenne.

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Discovery Centre, Dundee

On our trip north to Aberdeen we stopped in Dundee to visit the Discovery Point, a former Antartic explorer ship and the centre built around it. The father of the household and I had visited it a few years ago when we lived in Scotland, and I thought it might be worth a visit with an inquisitive six year old.

The RRS Discovery is the ship Scott took on his first trip to the Antartic (the one where he was a bit of a pretentious fool but lived, not the one where he was a bloody fool and died.)  The ship has been lovingly restored so that it resembles in many ways how it would have been for that expedition. Visitors are able to walk around and admire the living quarters, galley, engine rooms and wardrooms to get a feel of what life on board would have been like travelling all the way from Dundee to the bottom of the world.

But before you get to the ship itself you move throughout the ‘Discovery Point’ which is a centre devoted to explaining about Scott’s voyage, and Antartic exploration in general. It is interesting to see how Scott has gone from being considered the very epitome of a ‘good and proper’ Englishman to being seen as an arrogant fool (okay, that is my harsh interpretation, but his reputation is definitely no longer glowing, and he is seen as being quite flawed in his management of his expeditions).

There is a good mix of multi-media and static displays, and plenty of games and hands on fun for children. Be warned – in the first area of the centre there is a hands on activity where children get to load and unload a small model boat. For some reason this was fantastically popular – when we got there there were kids who looked like they were going to be there for ages, so I had to promise Willem we would go back and look at it once we had finished looking at everything else. A promise Willem chose to remind me of every ten minutes. We duly went back and even then had to wait for two children to take their turns before Willem could enjoy the pleasures of loading pretend sacks of flour and boxes of tea onto a small boat. Children are strange creatures at times!

Prices are adults £7.75, concessions £6.00, children £4.75. A family (2 adults and 2 children) costs £22 (£20 if you book online). There is a lot of parking available in the nearby pay-and-display car park, and it is directly opposite the rail station. It is the kind of thing that is suitable in all weather (a bit of a must for Dundee!) and it is open all year except for 25th & 26th December and 1st & 2nd January.

(Thanks to Grandma for the photos!)

 

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Travel Writing Ain’t What it Used to be

When people find out I like travel, they are often quick to recommend ‘travel’ books to me. Usually they are books I know I would hate and have no intention of reading (‘Eat, Pray, Love’ comes to mind) or books I have read and found pretty boring and/or lacking. But I have never really been able to articulate why very well.

Well, no need to now, as Foreign Policy magazine has done a good job of it for me 🙂

Travel Writing Ain’t What It Used to Be

Travel Writing Is Dead

Of course it is all down to personal preference, and what do I know about great writing – I didn’t really like ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ as I thought it was badly written; and you will never catch me reading a Dan Brown; yet these are the things that sell – but I felt just a little better to know I am not alone in the world in hating vacuous travel writing.

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Whew

On Monday I drove 591.7 miles – that’s 952 kms for you sensible people who use metric – in 12 1/2 hours, including three meal breaks. That is how far it is to drive from Aberdeen to Medway. I learned a few things on that drive. Firstly, that commercial van drivers are pricks. Secondly, that this driving long distances thing is much easier than I thought. While as a car passenger I am usually nodding off* within an hour, I found driving for half the day I wasn’t tired at all, was able to concentrate, had no problems.

Thirdly, it definitely confirmed that I am a fan of what many would term ‘slow travel’ – I prefer to hang around in a place long enough to find out at least a little bit about it. All I really saw in Aberdeen was the inside of a few eating places, some shops, and Lush (Willem and I both smelled it at the same time and followed our noses. We just can’t avoid a Lush shop). I know there was a lot more to see, and would have loved to have known a bit more, but other than a very interesting walk around Ferry Hill to find out a little bit about family history, I didn’t see much of Aberdeen. Though I will still contend that much of the city looks like it was made of concrete breeze blocks.

I still think taking the car was the right idea for us in our situation, as we would have had to hire a car anyway to visit various relatives, and that was our reasons for going there in the first place. And public transport, both between many major cities and throughout the countryside, is rubbish in much of the UK. As in embarrassingly bad. We could have done it with public transport I guess, but with two retirees and a six year old, it would probably have not been much fun.

So, my green travel credentials are seriously besmirched. So on Saturday I am off to Paris. By train. I will be taking public transport and walking. We are staying in an apartment for one week, and will be doing much of our exploring in the local area.  And to try and counteract my carbon imbalance with all the driving on the last trip, I will endeavour to limit my food miles. Though champagne is not actually made in Paris, it is close enough, right? 🙂

*Literally. I develop what I call ‘disco head’, waking myself up as my head violently falls down, only to drift off again a few minutes later.

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Lazy blog post

I have a blog post about my huge drive yesterday (Aberdeen to Medway. In twelve hours.) but I am just not in the headspace to write it. And I also acknowledge that I have been very, very rubbish at writing timely posts lately. And that I still haven’t updated my website like I said I was going to.* But this post made me feel less bad about it all, so I am sharing it with you dear readers:

http://www.nerdseyeview.com/blog/2010/10/13/bad-blogging-habits/

*Next few days, I promise!!

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Heading North

Well, I have proof the travel gods read my blog, and they have a nasty sense of humour. Last post I wrote:

we have stuck to the motorways for the main, so have avoided that British curse of trying to drive down narrow roads that are hardly two-way traffic at the best of times, and then have the added obstacle of cars parked on the road. Oh, and other quaint British driving conditions are a lack of street lighting/roadside markers, and twisty narrow lanes, so you have no idea of on-coming traffic.

So of course yesterday I found myself driving along those very kinds of road – we even got stuck behind farm machinery for awhile! But it was totally worth it. The landscape from Kendal up to the Scottish border was amazing – sweeping fields, and the beauty of the Autumn landscape, with the reds and golds of the turning leaves contrasting against the russets and grays of the land. The gray skies actually work as a fitting backdrop to this landscape than blue skies could – the lack of colour in the skies only highlights the beauty of the mountains, fields and forests.

But it wasn’t all natural beauty that was taking our breath away. Before making it to Scotland, we made a diversion to visit Hadrian’s Wall. It took a bit on convincing, but we finally had Willem understanding that yes, this bit of wall was made by REAL ROMAN SOLIDERS. Despite living nearly four (collective) years in this part of the world, I still can’t quite get my head around being able to visit and touch things that were made by Romans, so I can understand why Willem finds it hard too.  But soon we were back on the motorway and heading further north than even the Romans would go – we headed to the land of shaggy coos and haggis.

 

Yes Willem, it really truly was made by real true Romans!

 

Willem plays at being Edward II (and yes, that helmet is heavy!)

We spent the night in Stirling. Our hotel was right next door to Bannockburn,  the famous battlefield where the outnumbered Scots as the army of Robert the Bruce defeated the army of Edward II in 1314. The visitor centre does an excellent job of explaining the importance of Bannockburn and what went on there, and is well worth a visit. We then went out to look at the memorial (and I couldn’t get out of my head the music from ‘The History of Britain’ that plays while Simon Schama talks and the memorial features) which while dramatic is probably not remotely historically accurate (I doubt The Bruce was clean shave for a start) before getting back in the car and going up to Stirling Castle.

Then as a soldier in the army of The Bruce

You can have your Robert the Bruce clean-shaven ...

... or ruggedly bearded.

Our first treat on reaching the castle was the lovely man organising the parking – he gave us our ‘wee ticket’ and called Grandma ‘pet’ which had us all smiling. And the castle itself was worth a visit too 🙂 We first headed down to the tapestry centre. The woman there assured me I was not going mad, as I remembered that the last time I visited the castle, in 2003, the tapestries were being worked on in the Palace, not in its own centre. It is amazing to see a medieval tapestry in the process of being created, and the work and research that has gone in to making these new tapestries in the original style is admirable. There are seven tapestries in all that are being woven, and they will eventually be placed in the Palace, which is currently undergoing renovation so that the two lodgings will resemble something of how they looked in the mid-16th century. I have promised Willem we will return to see them when they are finished. Even if you do visit before they are meant to re-open (Easter next year) the Great Hall and Chapel are still open and still impressive; as too are the garden, and various battlements.

Of our little party of four, two are visiting Scotland for the first time, and two are returning – Grandma after leaving as a baby, and me after having lived here (in Glasgow, visiting other places) in 2002-2003. We have really picked a wonderful time of year with the Autumnal landscape, and would recommend October as a month to ‘head north’ if you are planning a visit up this way.

Willem behind bars at Stirling Castle

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Road Trip

Those of you who know me ‘in real life’ are probably aware I really don’t like driving. And I am usually an advocate of green/sustainable travel. So  you may be bemused to read that on Monday I drove from Medway to Oxford, and today I drove from Oxford to Kendal, which took just over four hours. Tomorrow I drive to Stirling, in Scotland, then later to Aberdeen. And later in the week back to Medway. Why in the name of all that is holy am I subjecting myself to a road-trip?

We are going to Aberdeen to visit family (the visiting grandmother was born there). I had looked in to taking the Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train from London to Scotland. But the website was not very helpful on the various combinations and permutations I tried to look at, and when I rang up the booking number they wanted set dates and numbers, not questions about various options. Then there is the fact the father of the household was flying out from near Oxford at some un-godly hour early Tuesday morning so I thought we could all go to Oxford together so he could at least get a few hours sleep first rather than start driving at midnight to get there. And when you have two grandparents, a six year old boy and me, wanting to see various bits of the north of the UK, unfortunately car travel is infinitely easier than the possible alternatives. Hence the fact we have been hitting the motorways. And since the father of the household aka The Driving Machine (he has to be seen to be believed – he can just drive for hours, and has some weird in-built human GPS) has left again and not around to chauffeur us, I have taken it upon myself to do the driving on this trip.

It has not been too bad – we have stuck to the motorways for the main, so have avoided that British curse of trying to drive down narrow roads that are hardly two-way traffic at the best of times, and then have the added obstacle of cars parked on the road. Oh, and other quaint British driving conditions are a lack of street lighting/roadside markers, and twisty narrow lanes, so you have no idea of on-coming traffic. Fabulous. I now have sat-nav on the iPhone (and after much faffing about, the right cradle/charger combo so that there is power enough to run it AND I can listen to podcasts and the dulcent tones of James the Scotsman who gives me directions on the sat-nav), and having other people in the car to keep me entertained (and commiserate on how bizarre the lack of proper markings about toll-roads are) means driving is not so bad – I only wish our current car had cruise control. But this does not mean you will see me writing about future car trips with joy, or that I think car travel is the way to go. Rather, I think that the British rail system should get its act together and stop being so bloody useless so people like me don’t have to resort to driving when we want to see some of the country outside of the south-east.

 

 

 

 

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