Monday, 30 June 2014


I am so conflicted about Summertime.


Growing up, it was what we lived for in Maine.  The well-deserved break from ice and snow and mud for six months, the freedom of NO SCHOOL, early mornings at the barn riding in the woods and fields,  day after day at the beach, slightly loopy dehydration in the evenings, BBQ, slapping at mosquitoes, exploring the woods, watching the garden grow.  Spending a week "on vacation" at the lake.  Rainy days spent reading.

Even after growing up a bit and having to get a summertime job, there was still enough time to get a little tan and sand, and perhaps a day or two to don the chaps and go out for a ride.  


Then, New York happened.

The swampy gross humidity, the merciless sun, the overcrowded garbage-strewn beaches, afternoon thunderstorms that took down trees and scared the bejesus out of me, the smell of rotting garbage and sticky gross sidewalks everywhere, getting to work in the morning already drenched with sweat.  Days spent finding the coldest movie theaters in the city, and camping out watching one terrible special effect after another until walking back out into the oven is inevitable.  Most days, it was too hot to do much of anything except sit in front of the AC and occasionally reach a sticky hand into the freezer to pull out a pint of whatever overpriced artisan gelato that is suddenly worth its weight in gold.  I spent years spending the summer months, moving sloth-like from one overly air conditioned space to the next.  It was enough to turn me off summers completely, and I lived for the first little dance of fall to lift my spirits, along with the occasional week-long trips back to Maine to remember what summer is really supposed to be like.

But now, London.

Last February, I was fabric shopping at my favorite shop.  I pulled out the pattern from my handbag to show the helpful sales clerks what I was planning on making- a cute summery frock, sleeveless and flirty.  They gasped in horror.  "Are you planning on spending the summer here?", they asked.  Yes, in fact, I was planning on spending the summer traipsing around London in my cute little summer dress.  "We don't get much of a summer's not exactly warm and dry."  I felt discouraged, but I bought lawn cotton anyway.  Screw it, I'll wear layers over it.

It's been consistently between 60-75 degrees every day since 1 May.  It rains some days, but usually in fits and starts, with opportunities to run out and get some errands done with your sunglasses on and umbrella in hand.  It can be breezy and cool, and a perfect for hiking.  We've been working the grill almost every night, and occasionally when the sun dips below the horizon after 9pm, it's occasionally still pleasant enough to sit outside and enjoy our balcony, and never so warm that I am sweating and sticking to my seat on the tube.  I've been getting up early on the weekdays and going horseback riding in Wimbledon Common, and now that the mud has dried up, I'm actually hoping for a little rain to quell the dust.

It's been perfect.  Aside from the fact that I am always looking to escape the city, I'm actually enjoying summer here.  It's not beachy hot, but I've been bravely wearing sundresses with a scarf and cardigan and occasionally leggings.  I find myself really enjoying it.

A series of events has taken up my weekends, so no big hikes as of late.  Soon, there will be more.  Until then, London.

St James Park is positively glorious.  The birds, the lakes, the flowers and trees.  The views.

From this angle, London is almost a surreal afterthought.  A fairytale city at the edge of the wilderness.  

It becomes a painterly landscape.

Tourist and locals alike take to the streets and parks and riversides.  Bars and pubs overflow and people will sit out anywhere they can to drink beer and pitchers of Pimms with friends and strangers.  The additional camaraderie of Wimbledon tennis and World Cup football makes things even more interesting as bars with tvs show the events, and bars without tvs become peaceful respites.

But alas, it is London.  You better be craving fish and chips and sausage rolls and steak and kidney pies if you want to eat at any establishment.  They don't seem to switch to lighter, summery ingredients here.  That's a DIY project.


Sunday, 29 June 2014

More Paris....

I have no idea why or how, but the Tour de France is actually starting in Leeds this year, spending three days in England before ending in London and moving across the channel to France.  What, did they run out of roads in France?  This is puzzling.  I'm just going to roll with it.  

Possible transit strikes on the franco shores aside, what could go wrong?

Here are some more pictures I dug up from the Parisienne de Photographie website.  I can not stop.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Paris, yesterday

A few months ago the website Parisienne de Photographie was launched.  Retrophiles, check it out.  There are some really amazing images of Paris and Parisiennes of old.  You can buy the prints if you would like through the website for a very reasonable price, and I have to curb my 'net time on that site as I am down the rabbit hole once I start.  

Here are some of my favorites that I found of my old neighborhood near Place du Nation and my favorite haunt, le Marias:

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A view....

Working in the glass and concrete jungle section of London is not without its charms.  The high, vaulted ornate ceilings of Leadenhall Market, a decent variety of lunchtime choices, odd tiny corners of park created pretty much exclusively for people in need of some vitamin D after being locked up inside for hours upon hours underneath flickering florescent.  

City of London is a tiny slice of the actual city, which expanded from this central Thames-side spot to gobble up other nearby cities and villages to become the behemoth that it is today.  It is mostly skyscrapers now, with small reminders here and there of the Roman past.

Also, views like these:

London, while growing, is much lower than NYC.  From low heights such as the 9th floor, you can get really lovely views, this one including the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.  Views like these are a real productivity killer.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Box Hill

A little birdy has informed that a World Cup is going on?  I don't know.  What is this madness?

My windows face a little "Latin American Spanish Tapas Brazilian BBQ" place.  I've maybe seen a total of 6 people there the past five months.  It was quiet and unassuming, someplace I would even go as far to say it might be a front for shadier business, as there was just never anyone eating there, and never any aromas suggesting they might be cooking something.  A place I probably wouldn't go to eat based on the fact they seem a little too quiet to be able to buy fresh food.  Until this week anyway.  3 for 10 Budweiser and screens showing the games, indoors and out, lines stretching down the block, a DJ spinning frenetic electric piano tracks, and much shouting and reveling long after the last game has ended.

Time for a walk!

This time, an easy 45 minute ride out to Box Hill in Surrey.  It's part of the North Downs trail, and also run by the National Trust as its own separate park.  It's a short, but intensely steep climb.

A sudden rain squall hit while we were half way up.

 I turned around and snapped this shot of a girl who has yet to learn the practicalities, if not the overwhelmingly unstylish, aspects of rain gear.

It looked like fun, and I swore she went airborne once or twice.  A real Mary Poppins in training.

The National Trust could be clubbing baby harp seal pups and dumping industrial waste in pristine rivers for all I know.  Yet they make excellent tea and cakes.  I will run to them always.

At the top of the hill, there is an old abandoned fort, and a National Trust cafe.  They have loos and a tap to fill up and trail maps of the area.  We promptly abandoned our plans to walk back down the hill and do a countryside walk, and opted to do a hilly 9 mile Box Hill Hike trail they funded instead.

It didn't disappoint.  

The thing about the North Downs trail is that you are almost always in ear shot of the highway.  It ruins the ambiance slightly for me to be able to hear motorcycles and Italian sports cars echoing from the hills.  The trail redeems itself by being mostly in the woods.  In contrast, the South Downs is mostly open countryside with very few sections in the trees, but once you are up there, you rarely see or hear highways or roads.

A tower, built by an eccentric wealthy man, whose estate was in the valley below.   Now it is bricked up, but a tree has taken root in the center of the tower.

The trail was quiet,  as it was early still.  There were several very steep, but short, climbs up and down the hills, followed by bird-song filled ambles in the woods and open stretches of high meadows.

Some parts of the trail were incredibly steep.  I mean, this doesn't look bad on film, but in reality it took some doing to haul ass up the stairs.  They just kept going.

We came to the hamlet of Mickleham, right on the A24.

They had one of the most fantastic country pubs I have found so far- the King William.  It was exactly trail-side, cozy and appropriately ye olde inside, but with lovely outdoor gardens with picnic tables.  We had lunch and a glass o'something, waxed poetic about the pure loveliness of this place, and walked on- up another steep hill.

I saw this sign and snorted laughter.  Maybe cursive was not the best idea for this cottage name?

More hills, more hills, and a hillside covered in wildflowers.

Then one final climb back up Box Hill.  How did this get steeper than it was this morning?

We sat, with dozens of other hikers, on the sharp hillside overlooking...what, I don't know, but it felt great to give the dogs a break.  It was a nice view though, and despite the initial rain, it had stayed cool and cloudy but dry.  Pretty much a perfect hiking day for me.

We skipped back down Box Hill to the "Stepping Stones", a well-worn trail with a car park at the end.  At this point, the trail was very steep and very crowded with people doing the climb wearing church shoes, and perhaps breathing alarmingly heavy so it sounded like you were about to crash head-on with a freight train.

Why build a bridge when you can possibly go for a swim?

The trail conquered, we headed back to the rail station for a quick trip back to London to enjoy a bit of salsa music that never quite left our heads during the hike.