Category Archives: France

Hands off my Ferrari!

Where’s this? Can you guess?

It’s a bit blowy…

Clue: it’s in the Med.

OK. So this is not an area known for its storms. Quite the opposite. The usual image is for slick, suave, mega-rich, luxury. Yes, this is Cannes on the Côte D’Azur. Not quite as azure as we would have hoped, but not bad on the luxury. I leave that to the ladies in the family…

If you can’t pose here, then where…?

A magnet for the ladies…

these girls start young!

(She takes after her mother…)

Even Charles can be seduced. This, he says, is the car he will buy when he starts playing for Chelsea (…)


But you know what, this isn’t really what the Mediterranean coast is about, for me at least. Get 10 miles in land and it all changes. The villages are quaint and delightful. The countryside is beautiful, all that bling seems miles away. Here’s what the back country around Cannes looks like.

The gorgeous coast at Cap Ferrat

The Rothschilds know a good spot when they see it, Here’s their villa.

Jimmy Choos forgotten, replaced by roses

the villa mixes the sacred…

… and the profane

Ultimately, all roads lead down to the coast. And back to the flim flam of the Côte d’Azur. Ah well,…. when in Rome….

La Croisette!

An hour with the Sun King!

I managed to grab one hour in the gardens of Versailles recently. One hour is not enough to marvel at the Sun King’s Palace. Awesomely exquisite… Exquisitely awesome… heck, it’s both!

Lazy fish…

Could I get any of the business party to come with me? No! For them, the pull of blackberries, laptops, email was too strong, so I was on my tod (that being an old Yorkshire expression for ‘by myself’).

Last Year at Marienbad springs to mind

Statues everywhere!

A fine Grecian profile…

It’s important to chillax, and let’s face it, the memory of the emails will fade, but who can forget a garden such as this! The Sun King knew a thing or two about making an impression. The 17th century guests must have been blown off their feet (can you say that about the 17th century…?), and the 21st century visitors are too.

Neptune (one of many)

Vistas galore

This being France, and almost Paris, and a hot day to boot, there were suitable numbers of couples around. All enjoying each others’ company, of course. Everywhere you looked…

lovers in one direction

And lovers in the other

Mind you, who can blame the locals for taking advantage. The gardens are formal, but filled with sexy figures too. Bound to raise the temperature.

One for the ladies

and another!

Bacchus reigns

Louis XIV watches over all

It’s stunning, quite breath-taking. If you get the chance, go. There is no disappointment here.

Statement views everywhere you look.

Even the steps are elegant

Try not to do it like me, in a rush, barely an hour. Take your time, take a day, wander and relax. You will remember it forever. Hey, and I didn’t even manage to get inside the palace itself! That’s for another day…

That’s the way to do it.

Paris – a photographer’s delight!

To be in Paris for pleasure and not for business for once,… what a delight!

Who can resist a park bench…

It is just such a photogenic city. I love wandering about and soaking up the atmosphere, even if the weather is appalling.

Which century are we in?

In my opinion though it needs to be shot in black and white, preferably on a Leica. Overtones of Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Cartier Bresson. So on my perambulations, what did I see? Cafe life, of course: 

Too early for the terrasse

Still too early…

Good to get into the warm at last

A chance to gossip

Paris, being Paris, is not shy about offering delectation for the eye…

Shop window, Place des Vosges


Destined for someone’s garden? I’m jealous!

On the more romantic side of Paris is the bridge for lovers just by the Louvre. These padlocks are cropping up everywhere!

Jana and Lukas, for ever

But the best with street photography is always the people. Leica at F8 and shooting from the hip. A great way to spend a weekend in Paris…

Old soldier, Arc de Triomphe


France today


France tomorrow?

Modern France, yesterday, today and tomorrow

M. Eiffel’s tower is a triumph!

The classic shot

It’s so nice to get to Paris as a tourist for once, instead of on business. I actually managed to indulge in all those classic touristy things – like taking photos of the Eiffel Tower!

I wasn’t the only tourist about, of course. Even at 7am on a bitterly cold April morning there were some very hardy Far Eastern newlyweds, who were doing the sites in full regalia.

This bride must have been freezing...!

Later in the day was time to climb the beast of a tower. No way were we waiting in the queues for the lift (at least a 2 hour wait) and we knew a trick, which I pass onto all of you here: climb the stairs to the second floor and get the lift to the top from there. Easy and saves hours!!!

Shy Eiffel.

Bold Eiffel!

Looking up...

Looking down

Looking out

Looking in...

So, walking up to the second floor is a good dodge, and it’s not too hard. That leaves an exhilarating ride to the top in the lift, and a great view from the top. Awesome!

Up, up and up some more

With a great reward

and a happy tourist family!

A bit of trickery with the last shot. Anyone know why it looks like this?

Distorted Eiffel!

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Parisian Pillow Moments

The trouble with skiing…, part 2

View onto Col de Fresse

The view onto the Col de Fresse

Having had a jolly good moan in part 1 about the amount of gear you need for skiing (scroll down below this blog page and have a look if you haven’t already seen it), there is of course another problem about skiing that I have to mention. And that is, that just occasionally, quite by accident, you fall over. In this respect I feel slightly jealous of the kids. Lower centre of gravity, younger bones, less sense of anxiety, they just bounce back up and carry on. When I fall it’s either embarrassing or it hurts. And I managed to cram in both sensations this week….

Immy takes a well earned rest (fell over...)

The first occasion was the more excruciating. I had just got off the ski lift, gently skied down to the map billboard to discuss with wife, brother- and sister-in-law which route to take; I was coming to a halt, maybe doing all of 1 mph, when I slid into 3 stranger skiers who were also standing by the board. I swear everything then happens in slow-mo: I realise I’m going over, grab onto the woman who’s next to me, which means she’s coming down with me; she clatters into the next person who also topples. Embarrassment supreme as this English nitwit manages to cause carnage whilst moving at a snail’s pace (do snails ski?). I remember I was apologising profusely in French as I went down. She’s replying ‘it’s ok’ but her look says: ‘plonker’. Skis & poles everywhere as we try to get up again…. What’s worse – no help from the rest of the family, who have turned their heads away as they crease up in laughter and don’t want to embarrass the other skiers. The humiliation!


My second tumble was not as embarrassing, but was potentially a lot more dangerous. I was piling down the giant slalom course, going as fast as I possibly could, when I lost control. Thump! went my head on the ice floor, off come the skis, and I’m sliding down the steep hill backwards at about 30 mph. I distinctly remember whacking my head (luckily wearing helmet – SO important) and thinking: ‘Ouch! that hurt, I’ve survived but I’m completely out of control, never mind, just go with it, enjoy the backwards arse slide’. By which time I’d come to a stop. Some nice French skier picked up my skis up the hill, brought them to me, enquired if I was ok, and skied off wishing me ‘have a nice day’ (?!?!?) For me, this was a lucky escape…

A tumble

Charles, on the very last moment of the very last ski, manages to fall down whilst taking his skis off. Thank God I’m not the only one…! Also I enjoyed my wife taking out my bro-in-law getting off a ski lift, highly amusing…. And below, the intrepid kids at ski school.

Ski skool!!!

So my last photo from Tignes is a pic of me practising my board jumps. Big squadgy balloon to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. Love it!


The trouble with skiing…, part 1

We’ve just got back from a week’s skiing in France. Thank God we went high (Tignes), because lower down the mountain the snow is gone. But 2100+ ms, it’s still good, at least in the morning before it gets slushy…

View from L'Aiguille Percee, 2750 ms

Once I’ve got my planks on, I absolutely love it. The thrill of zooming around, carving turns, the Schuss, the odd jump with obligatory acrobatic twist, and the snow-shower-slide-to-a-halt. (OK, if that makes me sound good then I should recalibrate: basically I’m very average, one week a year – if lucky – intermediate. But I love to dream!!!)

But there is a problem with skiing – you need so much gear: the skis (of course…), poles, gloves, ski suit, boots (aaaargh!!!), helmet, goggles, sunglasses, lip sun protection, sun cream, money, ski pass, the list goes on for ever. So that was one of the themes of our holiday: Who had forgotten what, and who was going back to the chalet to pick it up?

View from bubble lift over Tignes lac (2100m) towards La Grande Motte

It all started before we left. Our skiing companions phoned from the airport (we were still at home). “Could you pop round to our house, we’ve forgotten Hannah’s ski jacket…” (How do you forget that when you’re going on a SKIING holiday?). So we did, only to find the TV still on as well (?!?). Later on we discovered they’d forgotten babysitting cover for their hamster too (??!!??). A week without food! A goldfish might just survive. Lucky Granny lives close by…

Once at the resort we had a 10 min bus ride to the ski slopes. So no-one was impressed when the kids forgot gloves at the chalet. (Sod it, just buy new ones.)

Charles conquers the mountain

I have to admit I was not immune to cocking up myself. Lipstick sun protection: I dropped it on the ski lift. So that was another replacement purchase necessary (5 Euros a stick in Tignes!). The next day I managed to get to the bus pick up stop without remembering to put in my contact lenses. So everyone buggered off up the mountain whilst I trudged back (the boots, the boots) to sort my eyes out. But it’s all worth it you see, because then you get to go up the mountain, and have incredibly expensive hot chocolate to recover.

Me and chocolate

And when we got back to Blighty I managed to leave a boot bag at the taxi rank on the drive home. Honestly, someone’s should think this through – how to cut down on the skiing clutter. And invest boots that don’t kill your feet!!!

'Eye of the Needle' close up

(If you click on the photos they should take you to see more on Flickr)

So that’s part 1. Part 2 will investigate the dramatic story of who did the most, and the most dramatic, wipeouts. Come back and have a read soon!

Parisian Pillow Moments

Carrying on with a theme I’ve mentioned before: working for an international company does mean you get to go to some fantastic places. And this week it was Paris!

Montmartre to be specific, which is where this pic was taken, looking from the Place Dalida up towards Sacre Coeur.

Backstreets of Montmartre

We were all staying in quite an amusing hotel – The Hotel Terrass, so called of course, because it had a terrace overlooking the city. I was one of the lucky ones who got a refurbished room, all mirrored wall with inset hidden tv. Plus trendy bathroom with the smallest shower I’ve ever been in. It was like a tube, very narrow. Bijou is the word. Impossible to turn around and forget soaping your feet – impossible to bend down.

But the hotel did have one innovation that I thought was rather neat. So I abused it shameless – a pillow menu!

Joni had it right, in Paris they really do kiss on the mainstreet.

The first night I had the standard hotel pillow, but the second I went for a Goose Down Pillow. I’d say that was the softest pillow I ever chanced to lay my head on. The third night I wanted to go for the Musical Pillow – it has built in speakers to play music and drift you off to sleep. Now I’d managed to forget my ipod, so I asked to borrow an MP3 player. At first the concierge said I could have one, then that I couldn’t. When I then suggested that a Musical Pillow was a bit pointless if it couldn’t play music, and could I try a Silk Pillow instead, the concierge started to get a bit shirty. Hadn’t I already tried one pillow, wasn’t that enough? No, I said. I felt I needed to try out the Silk one. It was brought up to my room, grudgingly.

Sacre Coeur plus trinkets

Now I knew I was pushing my luck on the fourth night, but hey, it was a menu – I was determined to sample as much as possible! So I went for the Bamboo Pillow. Sounds weird, but my favourite of the lot! The menu description doesn’t do it justice. how unappetising does this sound: Perfectly suited to those who are constantly too warm in bed, this bamboo pillow has anti perspiration properties that will guarantee you a pleasant, cool night’s sleep. Sounds pretty functional to me. The Terrass hotel marketing department needs to work a bit harder on the emotional benefits of bamboo, I think…But in spite of the inept marketing description, this one was the best of the lot. 10/10 for comfort. And not a peep from the concierge.

So, Au revoir to Montmartre. I never did get to the Moulin Rouge (pity). Because I really would have liked to see today’s cabaret girls. Still, the memories of the greats are still with us. La Goulou, Jane Avril. And on a Montmartran Bamboo Pillow the dreams of dancing girls is as sweet now as in the heyday of the cancan! Bisous a tous!

Garters, stockings and frilly skirts. The good old days...

Wild Boar and Scorpions Won’t Stop Me Taking Photos! Luberon, France

Not many people know this, but France is a very dangerous place. And I’m not talking about the driving! No, the danger we faced last summer had nothing to do with the locals, but much more to do with the wildlife!

Bonnieux dawn

Given that I live in Epping, I’m used to the odd deer jumping out onto the road, but that’s nothing compared to the wild boar, scorpions and snakes that we faced down in la belle France! We were on holiday in Bonnieux, in Provence, possibly one of the most beautiful and delightful areas in the world. A treat for photography, and would have been been so relaxing, had it not been for the beasties…

Round the back of Bonnieux

The first adventure happened early in the morning, up high in the garrigue, which, as all Pagnol readers will know, is the wild scrubland that covers much of the un-populated southern areas of France. Gorse, stony ground, bush oak. Jean de Florette would be sweating away in this, but Manon des Sources would be wildly exciting… Baking in the midday heat, but fresh, crisp & fragrant in the morning.  I had got up at the crack of dawn (honest) to photograph the view, driven up into the mountains, left the car, hiked up a trail and was miles from anywhere. Of course I had left the mobile by the side of the bed – who on earth would I want to phone at 6 in the morning….

I could hear a rumbling noise in the distance – early morning tractor work by the local farmer I thought. But then the rumbling got nearer. I was on a rocky track, surrounded by bush, very isolated. Not a rumbling, but more of a crashing sound. Suddenly I saw a shape in the undergrowth. Bloody hell, wild dogs! Could be dangerous. I picked up a rock. If I was going to get bitten, then I would get at least one chance to smack the bugger on the jaw! All of a sudden, about 20 yards in front of me, a huge brown wild boar charges out of the undergrowth, crosses the path, and smashes through the bush on the opposite side. Like a little tank, with tusks! OMG, a wild boar!

Shepherd's hideout - a 'borie'

But the rumbling hadn’t stopped. In fact it was getting louder and louder. Crash! 7 or 8 more boar, a whole family of them – little ones included, all tusked up to the hilt, following their leader. You have to picture me, standing stock still, a hefty rock raised in my hand, absolutely petrified that I’m going to get trampled by a ruffian load of wild pigs!

Now, I’m a photographer, but this experience shows how amateur I still am. Didn’t manage to get a photo (camera was stuck in the backpack). I couldn’t even have phoned for help if the boar had charged me. I would have been stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way of getting help. What a city plonker… Mind you, I did get some revenge. Next day at the local market I made a point of buying the sausage you can see below.

Wild Boar sausage, delicieux!

The boulangerie in Lacoste

Whether or not from the city, the second encounter with the local fauna would have scared the pants off anyone. The house we had rented, suddenly became infested with scorpions. It was the second week of the holiday, just after the parents-in-law arrived (is there a link…?) when we spotted the first one, in our BATHROOM! This one was quite small, about and inch and a half, black, and very menacing looking. I stamped on it. The second one was found in the kids bedroom, and the third. By then, we knew we had a problem. The kids were certainly not going to stay in their bedroom; they de-camped and moved into our bed for safety – with us of course. So that set the tone for the second week of our holiday.

By the time the fourth and fifth had been seen (another one in the bathroom – I almost trod on it in the dark, and one on the veranda) we had prepped our plan of action. No-one, but no-one, went anywhere without wearing sandals. Preferably Birkenstocks, because the sole is so thick that no claw or sting stands a chance. That became our weapon of choice.: Immy screams: “DAD, SCORPION!!!” I come running, thwack thwack thwack, clean up the mess.

We got up to 10 by the end of the second week. When we left we had a chat with the femme de menage. “Ah, scorpions” she said,  “they live in the lavender. But don’t worry, the sting is irritating, but not dangerous” (bit late, that piece of advice…). We pointed out that the biggest we had seen had been about 6 inches in length. Her eyes widened, “Ah… now that one, that’s different, that could have hurt…” Blimey! On that note, we left and headed back north, back to the land where the insects are smaller and easier to cope with.

Birkenstock 10, Scorpions 0

Postscript: A few years ago, Isobel had an interesting encounter with a snake in France. We were working for Chartreuse, and living in a house with a long over-grown garden that led down to the distillery. Every day we walked up and down this path. One evening, Isobel complained that her leg hurt. 3 pin pricks in a small triangle just above the ankle. Being a sympathetic soul I told her she’d been complaining about mosquitos for ages, and to forget it. But the following morning there was pus dribbling from the pin pricks – we headed off to the pharmacy… I sensed I had not been overly sympathetic, perhaps a bit harshly….

The view from our villa.

“Could be a spider bite” said the chemist, and gave us some antiseptic lotion. “but if you feel any pain in your leg, anywhere, then I suggest you get to hospital to have it checked” That evening we had pizza with our Chartreuse colleagues. Suddenly Isobel clasped the top of her thigh complaining of a sharp stabbing pain. General concern from our French pals, and off we headed, in a 2CV convoy to the hospital.

So Isobel’s lying there on a gurney, while the doctor and nurse have a look at her leg. 3 pin pricks, in a neat triangle. Not realising that she speaks French, they debate what might have caused the injury. The doctor is pretty sure: “it must be a viper bite – they have 3 razor sharp fangs. She must have brushed past, scaring it; it struck, but so quickly and sharply that she didn’t even notice. I guess she didn’t get the whole whack of venom or else she would be in a fever by now…” “A VIPER!!!” squawks Isobel. A dawning realisation that  she has been bitten by a snake, and I had pooh poohed her feelings and told her not to fuss so much…. Isobel has the anti-venom jab, and makes me pay for my un-feeling lack of concern. She still brings this story up when she needs too, 20 years later….

View from the bedroom, La belle France

Bonnieux Sunset