Friday, October 30, 2015

Unmasking Batman

If you are any sort of a true traveler, you meet massive amounts of people whilst wandering the globe. In addition to the monuments and museums, restaurants and rues, the memories that usually last the longest involve people and situations you never would have expected. Sometimes it is just a fleeting moment or smattering of conversation. Other times it is a scandalous night of passion or rollicking weekend adventure. Every once and a while there are those people that manage to fight their way through the memory mist and latch onto lasting friendship... Or in my case, are word vomited into submission and force fed magical diatribes on a daily basis... either way...

During my Eastern European galavant with Hot Blonde Cousin last year, I went to Budapest, Vienna and Prague. I met one fellow in Budapest who I had a relatively scandalous evening with, followed by months of no communication and culminating in a Parisian weekend that I mistakenly hoped might turn into something more. Our second stop, however,  was Vienna, where we took a spectacular tour through the Wachau Valley with an adorable tour guide who I flirted with all day. (Insert shameless plug here.) He did not have the pleasure of my wine-induced tendency to make out on street corners, but he did become lucky enough to have my friendship for days and months after. Since we spent most of that one day on bikes and trains and vineyards, and the rest of our relationship in cyberland, it became easy to imagine that this man was absolutely the concoction of whatever imaginative thought happened to be born. For example, while I have always known that he is Australian, and yes, remains so to this day, I pretty much convinced myself that he sounded like Batman circa Christian Bale... stoic, intense, and completely humorless in regards to whatever glitter I sprinkled about in the moment.

So when at long last Captain Oz was going to be in Paris for a couple of days, I felt simultaneously bursting with excitement and relatively horrified at the idea of seeing what was behind the muffled face mask. Since he was coming to town for a work related event, we would only be able to meet in the daytime and I took the opportunity to have my first day off after 16 crazy days of nonstop teaching. I asked him to meet me in front of the Moulin Rouge mainly because Montmartre is my favorite area of Paris and I wanted to show him some of the sights. When I hopped up the stairs from the metro, I was positively gleeful at the idea of seeing my friend in person after so long. He waved to me from across the street, I jumped for joy, ran to hug him, and then immediately said I felt like he was a cartoon and it would take me several minutes to get used to his distinctly non-Batman-esque tones. In fact, he actually has emotion and intonation and laughter and all the rest, surprise surprise!

Happily, the sun came stumbling through the clouds just around this time and our walk up the hill, past windmills and artists' houses, vineyards and gargoyles up to Sacré Coeur was delightful. We spent some time staring out onto the Parisian skyline before making our way to a café where we had our first bottle of wine for the day. The sun was so warm that I not only had my sunglasses on but removed all possible layers of clothing and we lounged as all Parisians due while sitting on the sidewalk. After lunch, I dragged him down to Saint-Michel and Notre Dame where we said hi to a good friend of mine who lives in the area and were given a recommendation for a yummy dessert spot. We took advantage of the lingering sun once again and sat outside with our macarons, eclairs and coffees. This is about the time of day when you realize that partying never stops when you are with an Aussie... or a crazy American...

Off we went to walk past the Pantheon, get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and make our way to Rue Mouffetard and Place de la Contrescarpe. This particular square is surrounded by touristy but cute little cafés where we sat outside in the twilight and had our second bottle of the day. He actually placated me by switching to rosé, though I know he is not particularly keen on the varietal. At long last, it was unfortunately time for the busy boy to head to his event, so we began our journey to the metro. En route, however, he was apparently bewitched by two quirky looking bars and so made the split-second decision that the night was still young. Not one but two bars and glasses of wine later, we finally ordered Ubers and bid our adieus. It was a thoroughly satisfying day of chatting and laughter, friendship and fun. 

Seeing what lies behind the internet mask proved to be quite a treasure and now this Aussie fool is probably stuck with me for life. I may have reached a more balanced place in terms of word vomit but if he is in fact Batman, at least he has a sturdy Batsuit for protection.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

DIY Toast and Tipsiness

The morning after our long day in Bath began slowly, as days often do when partying takes place. Cousin and I eventually pieced ourselves together in pursuit of nourishment in the neighborhood. We headed to a local eatery, very well-known for their brunch offerings, not least of which includes a do-it-yourself toast area. The establishment bakes its own bread and displays a mass variety of spreads such as butters, jams, and curds. I was particularly fond of a chocolate chip loaf topped with a cherry jam or a passion fruit curd. In addition, the main courses themselves are enormous, making it almost unnecessary to order one after the mounds of toast you can enjoy. My omelette was delicious but also bigger than my head. Needless to say, we left the restaurant more than satisfied and well-fed but not at all inappropriately prepared for an afternoon of beer drinking.

One of the main reasons I had decided to go to London for this particular weekend was an Oktoberfest party that my Cousin invited me to. The tickets were pricey but guaranteed us a table, unlimited drinks, and a traditional meal. All in our party were very excited, and I was happy to be pulling out my pirate slash medieval slash princess slash now dirndle costume out for the occasion. Sadly however, while I was en route to London, news spread that the entire event was canceled due to massive mismanagement and overwhelming crowds. But, since Cousins never say die, we found ourselves another London Oktoberfest party, dolled ourselves up in dirndle, and headed out about town.

Truth be told, this event was much less crowded, as sunday was the final day, so lacking the ideal festive atmosphere we were hoping for. But there were still large sterns of beer, ridiculous German music playing, and the entry was free so certainly nothing lost in the arrangement. We warmed up to the scene pretty slowly, finding a place to sit and sitting with our enormous libations. You can always count on me to turn on the socialite, though, and I was soon making contact with a neighboring gentleman, pulling him into our conversation at various points. He was a little bit odd but we ultimately got chatting with him and his compatriots, of course leading to standing on benches and bopping along with the tunes at multiple intervals. For someone who is notoriously terrible at finding a decent boyfriend, I am frankly rather magical when it comes to bewitching a boy for the evening, so I soon had a young fellow sufficiently entranced. He followed us around for the rest of the evening, when we became the starlets of a local bar in our traditional garb. Thank goodness Cousin is so accommodating when it comes to playing the adult while her OLDER cousin decides it is a good idea to makeout like a high school teenager hiding behind the bleachers... Or actually not hiding so much as being blatantly ridiculous in public. What can I say, I am an extrovert and I demand all those around me follow suit.

Despite our change of plans, we both had an excellent time in the end and I am inspired more than ever to attend the real Oktoberfest next year. In the meantime, Cousin and I will just have to settle for New Year's Eve in Berlin.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bath, Buns, Bonnets and Birthdays

I vaguely remember going to Bath on a choir trip during my freshman year of college. We were hitting up a few cities in Europe and were able to do one of those day trips that stop at Stonehenge en route to Bath for the afternoon. I know we saw some Roman baths and I always remembered it being very pretty, but that was about it. So when Cousin and I were brainstorming our plans for my most recent trip to London, I decided it was high time I visit such a renowned little city again, if for nothing else than my everlasting penchant for fancying myself a Jane Austen heroine.

Though we were out a bit late the night before, when eating dinner in the dark, we got an early start to Bath, hopping a train from Paddington Station. It was not the best day for frolicking, a bit cold and overcast, but little things like the weather have never made these two Hot Blonde Cousins slow down before! After wandering the streets for a while, our first real stop was at the official Roman baths, where we spent time exploring all of the preserved ruins and listening to our trusty audio guides. The great thing about traveling with Cousin is that she and I are happy to let each other move along at our own pace and neither of us takes way longer or slower than the other. The architecture of the building is truly stunning and there was frankly very little preventing me from intentionally plummeting headfirst into the steamy pools.

After our historic romp, we decided it was past time for lunch and so made way to a local eatery called Sally Lunn's, which claims to be the oldest house in Bath. Whether this accolade is true or not, it is definitely home to scrumptious buns which are a must have when visiting this fair city. The line of tourists out the door waiting to be seated proved its popularity and also gave us time to peruse the menu. Almost immediately we saw a sign advertising a "Tipsy Tea" which of course was instantly enticing. This included a sampling of savory buns and sugary sweets all with an alcoholic theme and was accompanied by a hot pot of mulled tea. Done and done.

Post-foodstuffs and libations, our final stop before catching our train back to London would be the Jane Austen Centre. I considered Cousin to be a very good sport indeed since she has never read any Austen and doesn't have quite the same obsession with Edwardian or Victorian or Regency period romance. The Centre itself is not home to a great deal, truth be told. There are timed entrances when you are given a short lecture by a Jane Austen expert and then allowed to view the museum area. This includes various artifacts from the age, information on Jane, her history and works, but most importantly some hands-on sections where you can do things like practice writing with a quill or.... try on Austen-esque costumes... Yesssssss... This was of course a no-brainer for me, and my valiant cousin only hesitated a little at the idea of donning regency garb, taking staged photos, and allowing me to plaster them all over Facebook. For me, it was essentially heaven. Well, that and the gift shop where I spent too much money on books and baubles.

Our day had already been jam-packed by the time we traveled back to London, but there was still more to come. While we primped and pampered for our evening out, Cousin once again indulged my whim and we ordered some delicious Indian fare, as is my custom whenever in the UK. At long last we were ready to head out about town and attend a birthday party for one of my dear friends from Paris four years ago. She was already a bit gone by the time we arrived, but it was wonderful to be able to spend some time and celebrate her new year. Fortunately, I would also be seeing her the next weekend when she visited Paris so it was a win-win either way. Cousin and I didn't stay out too late that evening, as we had another long day of partying to come. Such is the life of two stunning single gals.