2005-12 (DECEMBER, 2005)

On Hollydays, Week 1! - Paris, France

Ready for our first day out and aboutDay 1 (Thu) - I dropped Andy and Holly and our pile of luggage at the airport and returned the car home. I walked back to join the girls for the first leg of our journey - south to Christchurch (Wellington must be the only national capital in the world that has a runway so short its airport can only service domestic flights). We met my Mum in Christchurch Airport and had a quick bite to eat. We boarded our flight to Singapore just before 14:00. Singapore Airlines are the best. The Dolly was a bit of a hit with the crew - one Hostie held up the entire disembarking process to have a play with Holly. "Why didn't you tell me she was on board!" he remarked to a fellow Hostie. In Changi Airport we took a room in the Transit Hotel for three hours - enough time for a shower and two-and-a-half hours of dead sleep. Then it was back on the plane for the longest leg of our journey - almost 14 hours - to Paris. A grumpy Frenchman in the seat beside us quickly found himself another seat when he saw Holly, which left us with a spare seat we could use - sweet! We all got more sleep on this leg, so it seemed to pass quicker than the first. Holly was an angel for the whole, long day and took the whole journey in her compact and self-contained stride. Andy had arranged for a shuttle van to pick us up, so our dawn run (and what a dawn!) across the city was easier than if we'd tried to go by public transport. We found our apartment block despite rush-hour traffic that forced several detours on an already complicated route from Charles de Gaulle Airport. After a bit of confusion we tracked down our letting agent and gained access to our home for the next two weeks (a pleasant three-room affair on Place Pinel, 13th arrondissement - very near where we had stayed on an earlier visit to the city). Our little neighbourhood had all the shops we required (butcher and baker - no candlestick maker, but you can't have everything) and Andy shopped for lunch whilst I baby-sat. After a fine repast of bread and cheese and prune yogurt (only in France!) we headed out to explore our near neighbourhood on foot. We bought dinner provisions on the way home (including a bottle of Beaujolais). Andy cooked dinner, but I was too tired to make much of it. We were in bed, dead asleep, by 19:00...

Andy & Holly outside Musée du LouvreDay 2 (Fri) -... and up again at 04:30. Doh. After a relaxed start we set out on our quest for the day - locate a Paris Tourist Office - a warm-up worthy of any wannabee Grail seeker. Many millions of tourists seek this precious treasure, but few, I'll wager, ever find it. Certainly it can not be found on any map - at least not the real location. False 'i' symbols are scattered on the map to lead the unworthy astray - our false 'i'dol ('i'con?) lead us to the very feet of the Arc de Triomphe - a triumph in misdirection of the Pesky Tourist. By this stage we had clocked up 7.5km on foot, with pushchair in tow and the odd smattering of rain. A Bureaux de Change provided us with the next clue on our treasure hunt - "to Opera Station and don't spare the shoe leather!" 11.5km now and a long-suffering daughter was beginning to lose patience with her flagging parents. Then, by chance, a sign - not a big, nor clear, sign (tourists must work for their reward) - near, but not too near, the station. We had beaten the system and skipped a section of the hunt by trusting observation over instruction! We were worthy after all! Our first nugget was where we could feed and change our now grumbling neophyte. Next was a cachet of opening times, costs and locations - hard won wisdom. By this time we were spent. Our path had brought us through arrondissements 13, 5, 3, 2 and 1 (of prime significance?), across the Ile de la Cité, past Notre Dame's towering twins, between the outstretched arms of the Musée du Louvre and along that Consumerist Elysium, the Avenue des Champs Elysées. Holly's first ride on the Paris Metro got us home as the sun was sliding from the sky. I was dispatched to procure provisions for my ladies - dinner was soup and ice-cream.

Foucault's Pendulum (Musée des Arts et Métiers)Day 3 (Sat) - An 06:30 arising did not result in an early departure - in fact for Andy and Holly there was no departure at all. Hol was still trying bravely to adjust to an inverted schedule of feeding and sleeping and day and night. Andy was just beginning the cold I was just getting over. So I was to be on my own for a day - a day to knock off a couple of things that the girls were less interested in. First up I caught the Metro out to Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie to take in the Star Wars Exhibition (an amazing glimpse into the intricacy and innovation required to produce such a grand set of films) and a thought provoking exhibition on biometrics ("identification is distinct from identity"). The rest of my afternoon was spent in the damaged paradise of the Musée des Arts et Métiers. 'Paradise' because of the wonders contained therein. 'Damaged' because of the state of repair of each and every 'visitor interactive' display (even the water-cooler was empty and out of cups). The displays were split into 7 categories: Scientific Instruments, Materials, Construction, Communication, Energy, Mechanics, and Transport; plus the Saint-Martin-des-Champs Chapelle (scene of the climax of the novel 'Foucault's Pendulum' by Umberto Eco). Each is a mind-blowing collection of objects that exemplify the path of development in each field during the last 250-odd years. Anyone with even a passing interest in science or engineering could spend days in this museum. I was in heaven. I stayed until closing time and then headed for home.

Musée du LouvreDay 4 (Sun) - Today was the first Sunday of the month, a day when most museums and galleries in Paris can be visited for free. Andy had never been into the Musée du Louvre, so our choice of venue was a forgone conclusion. We got to the door early enough to beat the bulk of the crowds and had a good look around the sections dedicated to the arts of Islam, Mesopotamia, Iran, The Levant and Egypt. By the time we'd had enough the place was jammed with visitors, so we beat a hasty retreat. I was sick of carrying the pushchair up and down endless flights of stairs and trying to follow the very poor museum map (which totally failed to capture the 3D, up/down nature of the halls). The exhibits were good, but having seen many similar examples 'in situ', it was a bit sad to see the objects out of their context, and to imagine the stripped sites where the items came from originally. It's a real shame these things can't be adequately preserved where they belong. We meandered home through the Latin Quarter, along the Boulevards St-Germain and St-Michel. Our last stop before heading for home was the Observatoire de Paris where I had a brief blast around the 'C à Paris' exhibition (an exhibition about the people and techniques used to calculate the speed of light). We were home later than we'd hoped and again the Dolly Girl was most assuredly over her day's outing. Andy cooked us a fine dinner of black lentils with bacon, garlic and rosemary - yummo!

Coffee stopDay 5 (Mon) - Today was Andy's birthday! We felt it only proper that the day should be dedicated to shopping for pretty things for Andy. With this in mind we caught the Metro across town to Les Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen, Paris' most famous flea market. The markets were a little disappointing - a lot of tat interspersed with interesting items for breathtaking prices (an old, battered meat cleaver caught my eye, as did the €350 [NZ$600] price tag). We had an OK lunch at an Italian bistro on the boarder of the market. We made one set of purchases - some tapestry-style fabric swatches, one for Andy and one for my Mum. Next up was a wander along the Le Viaduc des Arts where we found Andy some more birthday presents - a felt bag and purse set and a set of unusual, chunky beads (destined to become a necklace when we get home). We walked home across the Seine. We couldn't be bothered to go out again for dinner, so I cooked a feck-in-the-pot meal and served it with a French Champagne (Crème Brûlée for dessert, too).

Lovers at the Bastille, Februrary, 1957Day 6 (Tue) - Holly was in much better form this morning, her cold well on the mend. Andy and I too were feeling better. We decided to consolidate our healing with a less active day. First up was an exhibition by a favourite photographer of mine, 'Willy Ronis in Paris', on show at the Hotel de Ville. Again we walked in from Place Pinel, stopping along the way for chocolat chaud and croissant. The square in front of Notre Dame was much busier today. By the time we had found the Hotel De Ville and queued to get in, it was well past the Dolly-girl's lunch-/bed-time and she was running out of patience with Mum and Dad. Andy tried a feed, but we had pushed our luck too far. Andy kindly volunteered to take the girl home, whilst I callously stayed on to view the excellent exhibition. One oddity was the lack of a gift shop of any kind - a real shame, as the exhibition poster was a real gem. I managed to get a copy of a book of Willy Ronis' photographs for my Dad at a department store across the road. I also finally managed to obtain a plug adaptor that would work with the downright silly French electric plug/socket system (none of the adapters I'd brought with me quite did the job due to crazy plug fittings). Before heading back to my girls I did a dash back to the gift shop at the Musée des Arts et Métiers and bought a copy of all the books they did 'en Anglais' (which I'd neglected to do when I was last there). I then made my way home and sent Andy out shopping whilst I minded the fort. I cooked us a greasy Macaroni Fish for dinner. As an alternative to reading books, we elected to play Trivial Pursuit in French (luckily the Junior Edition).

Tour EiffelDay 7 (Wed) - Today we headed west. First up was a circuit of the Eiffel Tower so that we could get an 'Amélie garden gnome'-style photograph of Holly in front of the landmark (not very successful - a garden gnome would have been more cooperative). Next up was the promising-sounding Christmas Expo at the Paris Expo Centre. Unfortunately it was the worst collection of crap under one roof I think I'd ever seen - if the Les Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen was the bottom of the barrel, this was the fungus that grows under the barrel. That we paid €8 to get in only salted the wound. The only highlight - and this will only mean something if you're a die-hard Eddie Izzard fan - is that I was able to use the phrase "le singe est sur la branche" ("the monkey is on the branch") in a totally genuine context. Also on in the same centre was the Paris Boat Show, which I sloped off to whilst Andy took the Dolly home for a nap. The boat show was of moderate interest, but full of stuff I couldn't afford, couldn't carry or couldn't read. I decided to fill my early afternoon with a spot of whimsical walking. Having read Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' before coming to Paris, and re-reading Umberto Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum' whilst here, I had a desire to locate a selection of oddities associated with these books (items unlikely to be on many tourist itineraries, however). First up was 145 Rue La Fayette (mentioned in 'Foucault's Pendulum', ch. 51, pg. 307). This is a fake building that hides a massive air vent for the Metro system. I was unable to confirm nor refute Signor Salon's assertion that it is also a gateway to The Underworld. My next whimsy was to locate something Templar (as in Templar Knights) in Paris. I selected Parc Temple as my destination (not mentioned in either of the books, but near to where I was). It was a lovely little park, with a weekend market I must come back to see, but nothing obviously Templar. Oh well. I'll see if I can locate the Rose Line mentioned in the 'Da Vinci Code' some other day. I returned home and packed Andy off to do some shopping whilst I looked after Holly. Andy returned from the Avenue des Champs Elysées with a big bag and a big smile. I cooked us a yummy dinner (even if I do say so myself) - my tastebuds having returned to service today. Holly was much more interested in eating today, so maybe her tastebuds had come back too.

On Hollydays, Week 2! - Paris, France

Sainte-Chapelle ceilingDay 8 (Thu) - The plan today began with St-Chapelle on the Ile de la Cité. The stained glass windows in the chapel are absolutely stunning. From there we wandered south to the Panthéon (via a food stop). The Panthéon is the final resting place of a lot of famous dead French blokes and is the original location of Foucault's Pendulum experiment. A duplicate pendulum is still swinging here (the original has been relocated to the Musée des Arts et Métiers). After a wee look around, Andy took the Dolly home whilst I stayed on to look around the Crypt. I then spent half-an-hour in an Internet café trying to track down some information on the Paris Meridian Line (AKA the Rose Line), but I did not have much success. The Paris Meridian Line lost out to Greenwich as the Prime or Zero Meridian, datum for all measurements of longitude. It was established in 1667 and revised/extended several times, most famously by François Arago (1786-1853). To commemorate Arago an 'invisible monument' was created by Dutch artist, Jan Dibbets, in 1984 (1994?). It consists of 135 (120?) brass medallions, each 12cm in diameter, inlaid into the ground along a 9.2km (as the crow flies) stretch of the Paris Meridian Line. The remains of an earlier monument (recycled during WWII to provide bronze for canon) to Arago and the Meridian also lies behind (south of) the Observatoire de Paris, and one of the 135 medallions can be found just in front of this monument. I wanted to walk the line of medallions from start to finish, but was unable to find any information on where the line began or ended. Just finding the single medallion I did took over an hour. I might have a go using the GPS on another day. I returned home to take my turn at baby-sitting, but Andy was feeling full of her cold and did not go out as she'd planned. I cooked us a feck-in-the-pot pasta dish for dinner.

Arago medallionDay 9 (Fri) - Today I was out on my own as both girls had had a poor night's sleep, broken by coughing. They decided to have a rest day whilst I went in search of the Arago Medallions. The threat of snow hung in the air all day and gave the air teeth. I began at the Observatoire de Paris without any real idea of what I was looking for. Having found a medallion the day before I knew what they looked like, but I had no idea of their spacing (regular, irregular? distance apart?) nor how rigorously they stuck to the Paris Meridian Line (the streets and parks generally do not). My plan was to try to find a few unaided to get a feel for the game and then slip into an Internet café to get some more detailed information (I'd thought of a few search term alternatives since yesterday's dismal results). My two discoveries were: adherence to Paris Meridian Line = exact; spacing = very irregular - basically wherever the Line crosses a walkway, which can mean several within a few metres, or none for hundreds of metres. After finding around five without any help I decided it was time to get some more information. This time I turned up a couple of web sites where people had documented their efforts, and a site listing the approximate location of all the medallions (helpful, but a little patchy on detail, e.g. "there are 10 in this park"). All the information was supplied by way of textual description - no one had plotted the medallions on a map, nor supplied a GPS waypoint file. Armed with a handful of printouts I caught a train down to the southern end of the Medallion Line (now that I knew where this was), in the grounds of the la Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. Even with a list of approximate locations, finding the small, dirt-coloured medallions amongst the leaf litter and a multitude of other pavement hardware was no easy task. I covered the ground representing roughly half of the 135 medallions and found only around 25 (plus several suspicious-looking 'blanks' which I suspect used to hold now missing medallions). I missed out on 10 in the Observatoire de Paris grounds because it was closed to the public. To confuse matters I found another set of Paris Meridian Line markers (set on stubby columns), part of some kind of Year 2000 thing, interspersed along my route - I'm not sure if these have replaced some of the Arago Medallions, or if they are in addition to the 135. I photographed and way-pointed each medallion (or blank) that I found (yes, I'm that sad). I called it quits for the day at Boulevard St-Germain with the intention of continuing (in a more systematic way) on another day. I returned home to succour my two girls and Andy and I did a joint effort on dinner before Andy went out to get some air and run a few errands.

Montmartre streetDay 10 (Sat) - Today was a glorious Winter's day so we decided to spend it outside. I was keen to tackle the northern half of the Arago Medallion Line, so we Metroed up to the Péripherique, north of Montmartre, and began as per the notes from yesterday. We had mixed success as we made our way south to Montmartre - Andy struggled to see why I was bothering at all (she's experienced at suffering my whims, however). We lunched at a Provençal restaurant, 'Soleil Gourmand', and it was by far the best meal we'd had yet - simple, but tasty (washed down with a decent vin rouge). It was also our first successful attempt to feed Holly in a restaurant. Continuing on we meandered down through Montmartre and on into the 9th arrondissement. Andy and Holly left me to my quest and I batted on south with the empty pushchair in tow. My luck was better after parting ways with my girls and I bagged quite a number of medallions before the sun set. I linked up with where I'd left off the day before and then Metroed home - a great little Parisian oddity under my belt (and over 20km of shoe leather burnt off). The ladies had had a pleasant afternoon and things were winding down for the evening when I got in. I was dispatched to get in some supplies for the morrow. Andy cooked us a fine dinner. 'Holly firsts' for the day included discovering pigeons and splashing in the bath.

La Basilique du Sacré CoeurDay 11 (Sun) - Today Andy took the family back up to Montmartre for more of a look around than we'd had yesterday. We went via the Montparnasse Arts & Craft Market. Unfortunately our visit was a bit early in the morning for most of the artisans and most of the stalls were closed up. We found a café near Abbesses Metro station to have second breakfast in. From there we walked and 'funiculaire'd up to the La Basilique du Sacré Coeur. Us and the entire tourist population of Paris had the place to ourselves. We didn't go into the church, but wandered around the streets in its shadow instead. Having hit the jackpot in the 'Lunch In Touristville Lottery' the day before, it was little surprise that we ended up at the same place again today (after a brief, unsuccessful, search to find something new). Having lunch with Holly has made us a little less adventurous than we'd normally be (I'm sure this won't last). After some more aimless wandering we Metroed down to St-Sulpice for a wee look around. It is a magnificent church which I'm ashamed to say I had no knowledge of prior to Dan Brown's book. Andy then decided to take the Dolly Girl home for a sleep. I followed them home on the next train after discovering that both of my ideas for the afternoon were about to close for the day. We spent a very pleasant lazy afternoon at home instead. I cooked us dinner and we spent most of the rest of the evening trying to devise devious ways to contain the suddenly-very-mobile-whilst-in-bed Dolly Girl.

Le chat et le chienDay 12 (Mon) - First up today was the Baccarat Gallery of Glass. The small set of exhibits were breathtakingly beautiful. The major detractor was just how far up its own arse the whole place was (epitomized by an audio guide fit to rival the painfully empty waffling of a cable TV history channel). Great stuff unnecessarily dressed up in Rich Tart's clothes. From there it was a mere hop, skip and a jump to the Avenue des Champs Elysées where I was forced by my long-suffering wife to buy some clothes that didn't come from a mail order outdoor clothing company. I now have €250 worth of fancy new clothes that don't have anywhere near enough pockets and that will be ruined the very first time I go camping in them. Ho hum. We returned home, fed Holly and put her to bed. Andy then headed out again for an afternoon of shopping whilst I, and a bottle of wine, minded the fort. When Holly arose we spent a pleasant hour playing and then we had a bash at having dinner. She and I ended up being covered in more than went down the hatch (she's just started insisting on 'helping' with the feeding process) and she was most frustrated by this. I had to put her back to bed with no boob back-up plan either - I was not popular. We got her up again once Andy returned and this time she got some milk and a bath and all was forgiven. Andy knocked up a fine French Ploughman's (Laboureur?) for dinner washed down with a fine Chinon.

Skulls in the shape of a crossDay 13 (Tue) - Today we began with an outing to the finest Art Museum in the world - the Musée d'Orsay. The Impressionist floor is our favourite, but the Art Nouveau furnishings section is a close second. And, of course, the setting is stunning. Holly enjoyed the museum very much as well. We attempted to do lunch-on-the-run with the Dolly Girl, but this was not a great success. Andy was forced to take her home for a rest whilst I stayed out to mop up a few last sights. My first port of call was a final visit to the Observatoire de Paris to attempt to blag my way in to see the gardens (and snap a few Arago medallions that I'd been unable to get at the other day). The gate was guarded by a man who had long since tired of telling tourists that the Observatoire is not open to the public (our visit last week had been a very rare exception - if only we'd known that at the time, we might have made more of our visit). The guard told me to piss off in no uncertain terms. Bugger. After that disappointment I walked on to the Paris Catacombs, one of the oddest tourist attractions ever conceived. In the mid nineteenth century several cemeteries around Paris were identified as health risks for the communities that surrounded them. A plan was hatched to remove all the bones from these sites and re-inter them in a disused quarry deep below the Paris streets. Part of the relocation included the concept of building retaining walls for all the remains out of the leg bones, with skulls providing an interesting means for patterning the walls (I saw crosses and love hearts and checkerboards all picked out in skulls). And to top off this jolly/macabre relocation project, it was then opened to the public as a tourist attraction. The scale of the place is fantastic - a circuit of the Catacombs involves a 40-minute hike, 50% of which you are surrounded on both sides by bones. A truly staggering number of people must be interred in this giant ossuary. A deeply weird tourist attraction. I walked home and again took up sentry duty whilst Andy went out jewellery shopping around Odéon. She came back gushing about just how lovely that area was after dark (and with two lovely necklaces as well). Dinner was the rest of our French Ploughman's fare.

L'Institut du Monde ArabeDay 14 (Wed) - Today was our last full day in Paris and had been set aside as a day for mopping up unseen sights. We began with an excellent exhibition at the l'Institut du Monde Arabe, 'The Golden Age of Arabic Sciences'. Exhibited were a magnificent collection of very precious Arabic books and scientific instruments. The Golden Age of Arabic Science spanned from 500AD to 1500AD, when the Arab Empire stretched from India in the east to Portugal in the west. The focus on practical mathematics, from astronomy and navigation to architecture and musical instruments, was the highlight for me. After exiting, Andy took Holly home whilst I moved on to a tourist attraction to rival the weirdness of the Paris Catacombs I'd seen the day before - the Musée des Egouts de Paris (the Paris Sewer Museum). My fascination with large-scale engineering works was what put this attraction on my list of To Dos. The tour and museum (which documented the evolution of the Paris Sewer System in a good level of detail) were most interesting, but the setting, which for the main part was along a walkway suspended over a large, open sewerage drain, was an odd choice of venue. One had to try not to look too closely at anything moving past one's feet whilst one was perusing the displays. The smell was terrific. Not a place to visit just after lunch, or if you have a sensitivity to smells. I returned home to baby-sit whilst Andy went out for a last bout of shopping. At 18:00 I headed back in to town for a quick dash through some bits of the Louvre I wanted to see - 6 more Arago medallions (I'm obsessed, I know) and la Pyramide Inversée. I found three medallions (at least one was in a closed room). I walked back via St-Germain and Odéon and Metroed the rest.

The Week Before Christmas - London, England

Day 15 (Thu) - Today was 'fly to London' day. Our already full bags (2 for the 3 of us) now overflowed with Paris shopping. Bugger. We went for breakfast instead of dealing with that one. After lots of squishing we crammed everything in, but we vowed to do some posting home from London. We handed back our apartment and shoe-horned ourselves into an already full airport shuttle (continuing the theme of the day). At the airport we had to sort out a ticketing glitch for Holly, but it meant a faster check-in in the end. At the gate a large group of Japanese tourists oooed and aahed over the Dolly Girl - loads of them now have holiday snaps of a totally anonymous blue-eyed baby. The flight was short and easy. Mike had kindly arranged for a car with a car seat to collect us. I've ridden with Pietro, the driver, before - he's wonderfully pessimistic about all things and conversing with him easily filled the long, slow plod through rush-hour traffic to Mike's house. We got in just before 20:00. By the time we'd got upstairs and had dropped our belongings in a corner, Louise, Suzanne and Erica had arrived and we spent an amusing 30 minutes trying collectively to assemble our borrowed travel cot. Eventually we got it sorted, put the girl to bed and joined the reunion. It was great to see the chaps again after such a long gap - we hadn't seen any of them since our wedding, 21 months ago. We ate, drank and chatted until late.

Day 16 (Fri) - Today we braved the London pre-Christmas traffic to catch a bus from Kingston-upon-Thames to Putney to visit Andy's cousins, Jake (Jessica) and Alex. Each has a two-year-old daughter (Charise and Amelie) and it was great to see what Holly will be like in less than a year-and-a-half's time - and a pair of characters they were, too! We lunched there and then they walked us back to where we could catch a bus home. That night Lou put on a dinner party for her own birthday. The ten of us had a great night.

Day 17 (Sat) - Our mission for today was to meet Lynda and her newish man, Paul, for lunch in an old favourite near Leicester Square, 'Koha'. Beth, who we'd met before in Perth, joined us as well. We had a very pleasant meal and a good catch up. That evening Mike threw a small party for Su-Bi's birthday. A good, if slightly subdued, evening was had by all (pre-Christmas celebrating had taken its toll on the attendees).

Day 18 (Sun) - Today the whole house spent much of the day in bed. I ventured out for a spot of grocery shopping late in the afternoon. Andy and I surfed music TV channels until midnight.

Westminster Abbey ceilingDay 19 (Mon) - Louise took today off work to spend a day with Andy, Holly and myself. We headed into town to look around Westminster Abbey (which I'd never visited before). It is jammed to the rafters with one thousand year's worth of famous dead people. After emerging from the Abbey, Andy and Suzanne elected to return to Wimbledon whilst Lou and I went shopping. In actuality we spent most of the next few hours nattering over Dim Sum in Chinatown, but did manage to fit in a dash through a Virgin Megastore before I too headed back to Wimbledon to do a turn at baby-sitting. Lou continued on to Oxford Street to finish her Christmas shopping. Once we'd all reassembled we ordered in a curry dinner and sat and nattered the night away. Andy, Holly and I caught a late train back to Kingston on a crisp and cold night.

Day 20 (Tue) - Today was a day of bungled plans. The biggest bungle was not managing to track down Judy & Chris for lunch. By the time we'd got organised today it was well past lunchtime. I bombed into Kingston shopping centre to do some Christmas shopping and run some errands. That evening I met Mark off the train and brought him back to Mike's via the most civilised Indian (Bangladeshi) Takeaway in the world - beer whilst you're waiting? Yes please! Lou, Mike and Su-Bi joined us as the evening progressed. A great evening in with friends and curry and beer.

Chris & EricDay 21 (Wed) - Andy headed off to Dublin today, so the morning was spent getting her and Holly ready. I escorted them to their train and then headed into town to meet Louise at the pub - we started at The Wool Pack. Erica and Ben joined us and we batted on there until 17:30. From there we transferred to The Borough, a pub we used to know as Hitchcock's. Lots of familiar faces joined us there and we stayed quite a long time. Much later a small contingent - Su-Bi, Mike, Erica, Louise, Mark and myself - then headed out to get something to eat. We ended up in a posh Indian restaurant with excellent food and service who were nonplussed to see a group of six people that had been drinking since 15:00 turn up in their restaurant. We had a good meal though. Mike, Su-Bi and I cabbed it home and spoke to Dave on the way. A good night out.

Chris, James, Eric, Matt, Mike, Lou & BenDay 22 (Thu) - Erica, Mike, Louise, Suzanne, Ben, Matt, James, Karen, Marc, others, me, 'The Market Porter' & 'St Christopher's Tavern'. See the photos to get an idea of how the evening unfolded. Marvellous!

Day 23 (Fri) - Today was 'fly to Dublin' day. After the excesses of the night before the day was understandably slow to get started. We did end up in a pub for lunch, but I was strictly on the soft drinks. We had a very pleasant meal before Mike and I pootled off to Richmond Park to get some air. I left Mike's at 16:00 and began my trek out to Gatwick. My flight was 40 minutes late in departing, but we got there in the end. I spent an anxious hour in Dublin airport waiting in a crammed airport to meet Lynda & Paul off their flight - they were the one's with the phone and the pick-up and my late arrival had potentially thrown the meeting up plans into disarray. Fortunately their flight was late too, so all was well in the end. Bob collected us and dropped us back to Andrea's Aunt ad Uncle's house we're we were all staying. It was great to see Andy and the Dolly!

Holly's First Christmas - Dublin, Ireland

Holly in her new reindeer outfitChristmas Eve involved lots of sitting around, eating and chatting. We paid a visit to Anne & Michael Tynan in the afternoon. On Christmas Day Lynda spent the whole day cooking the ten of us a truly fantastic Christmas dinner which we sat down to eat at 16:00. After our feasting it was time for gifts. Needless to say, Holly got spoilt rotten and we will now not need to buy her any more clothes until she's in her early teens. We all scored some great gifts - all thoughts of "one or two token gifts" seemed to have been happily forgotten. Another evening of chat ensued. On Boxing Day (or St Stephen's Day, if you'd prefer) Bobby, Andy, Holly and I went for a walk along Dun Laoghaire pier in the morning. The evening was spent at Daph and Dan's house where they played host to a great gathering of Swifts and McDonoughs. Monday was pretty dreary and a trip out to Avoca Handweavers was cut short because it all a load of over-priced tat. Grump, grump. On Tuesday Bobby, Andy, Holly and I caught the Luas into town and went for a wander. We went in search of Molloy's pub near Christchurch, but it had recently been sold and renamed (it is now called 'The Pale'). We stayed for a pint, though. We returned via Elvery's Sports Shop where I decided to buy Holly and myself a Hurley stick each because we didn't have enough stuff to take home with us on the plane. That evening we all had a slap up curry so that no-one had to cook. A most pleasant few days with family!

Ten Hours In London - England

Eric, Lou, Mike & ChrisDay 29 (Wed) - Today was 'fly to Sydney' day, but first we all had to get back to London for our flight down-under. Andy & Holly were booked onto a later flight directly to Heathrow, but I was on an early flight to Gatwick and had ten hours to make it across town to meet the girls at Heathrow. "Probably enough time for a pint on the way", I thought to myself. Lynda & Paul dropped me at Dublin airport after breakfast and I was on the ground in London by lunchtime. My luggage and I headed straight in to London Bridge station, near the PwC office I used to work in, to meet up with whoever could get out for a pint in the 'Barrow Boy and Banker'. A surprise addition to the impromptu gathering was Mr Curtis, who was on a lightning visit to his home country for five days over Christmas. We had a pint. And four more. And then we remembered about my flight to Sydney. Too late to catch a train - instead Erica (who had not been drinking due to being on antibiotics after catching a 'social disease' over Christmas) dropped the roof on the Mini, shoe-horned Mike, Lou, me and my luggage in, and drove at hair-raising speed out to Heathrow in -2°C. Wheeeeee! Once inside the terminal it seemed rude not to buy everyone a drink! FYI: five pints of Guinness and a Jack Daniel's and Coke didn't mix too badly with a 24-hour plane journey - which was a bit of a surprise. We had another stop down in Singapore along the way.