The first weekend at my chez moi

  

It started with what seemed like a good idea at the time ‘Come over for the weekend, stay at mine’ harmless words, what could go wrong.

In a normal relationship with a girl within driving distance, it is normal to be seeing each others houses in small doses. A living room here and there, a kitchen for an hour and so on. But in a long distance relationship it all changes. Suddenly there was a girl that had never stepped foot in my home before that was going to be spending a long weekend and have time to see every detail, every crack, and every unpainted skirting board.

Then I remembered an old advert from the 80’s with the tag line…….  ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ GULP!

So what do you do when you suddenly start to notice all the little things in your house that might not give such a good impression???? BLONDE PANIC!!!!

Thats the cheese sorted, now for the cake

After the initial panic settled down and I started to think rationally, and repainting the whole house not really being an option, my thoughts turned to coming up with a plan. Part of that plan was going to involve food. Desert was sorted. My cooking skills may be average, but I make a cheesecake from another dimension. Based around a childhood memory of my Nan’s cheesecakes, and a lot of mistakes in the kitchen perfecting it.

Meanwhile, a blog I had been following for a while The Urban Potato Eater was talking about romantic food and even ideas for dates. The blog follows the experiences of a trainee chef and had given me some great ideas. Things were starting to take shape at last.

 

 

Now I had my plan. The house was OK but in no way perfect, so all I had to do was keep her distracted with an old photo album or two, some good music, great conversation and food.

With everything in place there was one thing I was not taking into consideration, well three things if I am honest: My pets. You see. you can explain to friends and family that you are having a romantic weekend, but pets……. The jealous dog, it seems, was the least of my problems though. Even if he was watching us every time we got close to each other. But the cats…. oh no the cats……

Are those new toes in the house?

What I had forgotten to mention the night before is that I have a cat that likes toes, especially toes that escape the bed clothes early in the morning. 5am and out of nowhere, an exploratory single claw attached itself  onto the new and interesting big toe of the French foot, she hit the roof with a YELP!!!!. Good morning dear! just didn’t seem fitting. Of course the same thing happened the next morning too.

There really is very little you can do about pets. I guess the good part about the distractions from pets was that my tired house guest was a lot more interested in them, than any cobwebs in dark corners I may have missed. And maybe next time she will learn to sleep with her feet under the covers. But I doubt it.

 

Planes, trains and automobiles – Episode 1

  

As a child I had always dreamed of building my own teleportation device. They had one in Star Trek, and even in Blakes 7 and if Vila could build one then so could I. Up to now though there really had been little purpose in learning the complexities of quantum physics, other than the fame and fortune. Suddenly however I could see the practicalities of such a device.

Let me blonde here for a minute and state a fact that I took a little while to realize. Having a distance relationship implies TRAVELING. The distance that separates us became very real the day when I started looking for the various ways and options for us to meet more often.

I was one of those that perceived airports and taking a plane as a real adventure with complication and problems. After 20 years of driving, the car was and remained my first approach to everything, including crossing the sea!

What do you mean? I can't just post myself to the South of France?

So, you are an English man from the 21st century, teleportation has not YET been invented, what do you do? OK well, no shame in admitting it, first I…. ASKED HER!

‘There is no contest’ she tells me, ‘you need to fly’ Well I am man, and man knows best, so I started to investigate.

First, pick an airport you want to leave from, then an airport you want to fly to and times and dates that suit you. The result: A very expensive flight, you are unlikely to want to take. With my head held high I went back with a ‘I Told you so’. With the knowing smile I got in return I decided to do some more digging and look at more unusual options.

To start with were can I fly from. Well I have a car so technically almost anywhere in the UK, but lets keep it between Manchester and the London airports. Then where can I fly to. Looking at the maps and investigating TGV options I found a lot of solutions in France too. And then to top it all off, if I can be flexible and creative with dates then there are even more options. The results were that I found I could fly for as little as £40 return in some cases but always for around the £70 mark. That’s less than I would spend on a taxi and a round of drinks for a good night out. Maybe she was right after all.

But I can do better, says the blonde to himself. I still have my car. I can drive. Turns out though that this is not a cost effective option unless there are a few people in the car. The crossing alone is likely to set you back the same amount as a flight, then the fuel and have you seen how much the tolls are in France? All in all I worked it out that it would cost me something in the region of £350 to drive to Provence. Suddenly even the more expensive flight options didn’t seem too bad. Even if not cheaper then they were only a 2 hour flight as apposed to a 13 hour drive. What was even worse was that she was right all the long!!

Tip: There are many sites out there for finding cheap flights, but I have found I need little more than www.SkyScanner.net or www.Opodo.co.uk. They do nothing more than find the flight options, but this could save you hours of searching.

So what did I learn from this.
Firstly that as a man I am not always right, especially as I am a blonde one.
Secondly that experience is golden and admitting you are confused is a good place to start. That way you ask the right questions.
Thirdly that driving to Provence is only an option when there is more than one person traveling saving the price of several plane tickets, or you have a longer stay that would requiring hiring a car once there.
And finally, that I really should have followed that childhood dream and invented the teleportation device before I really needed it.

 

Shopping in the cyber age

  

It’s fair to say that starting out on a long distance relationship is not without its problems. In the past my comfort zone would not have allowed me more than an hour’s journey to see that special someone, but now she is 13 hours away, at best.

But all is not lost in these days of communication and technology, in fact, apart from the obvious physical gap, most other problems can be sorted out and in many ways enhanced. We communicate much better than I may have done in other relationships, from the things happening in the day, to trying on new clothes and even watching the TV. It can all be done in this day and age with a little creativity.

To start with I recommend you both have an iPhone with Facetime capability. We tried Skype, we tried other alternatives and in the end Facetime really does give us the quality and reliability we needed. The other advantages soon become apparent. iMessage must have saved us a packet.

How can you go shopping together?
It’s simple. Stop worrying who is watching and take photos, even videos of things you are looking at buying. iMessage them to the eagerly awaiting other party and wait for the reply.

If like me you need glasses to get by with every day life you will know the perils of buying new specs. After all you pay a lot for them and you are stuck with them once purchased for a good year or so. My one big issue when I am looking at new specs is that I can’t see how I look with them on, as I need my glasses on to see, and a second opinion is always handy. I could ask my Mother, or one of my friends but its a lot more fun and has a lot more credibility to seek the advice of the woman you are dating.

So here is what I did. I looked around for the 10 -15 pairs I most liked, or thought I did with my limited vision and took photos of myself with the front facing camera on my iPhone. This may have looked odd to the watchful staff but they let me get on with my little game without question and with less interruptions that if I was simply browsing like others in the store. Once back home we sat on ether end of Facetime and talked over the selections, voting, pointing out the good and the bad until we drew up a short list for both normal glasses and sunglasses. Then all I needed to do was re-visit the opticians and get them ordered.

The same works for clothes, take the phone into the changing room with you (you might want to put the phone on silent for this one) and snap some pics. Then grab a coffee and iMessage the ones you like, spark conversation. Does my butt look big in this and can I pull off those colours. It’s fun and it’s probably what you would be doing if you were physically in the same location. Technology makes the world a much smaller place.

Make technology work for you would-be blondes. All you need is an iPhone and a data connection. The rest is simple.

 

Frankfurt smells like Jude Law in Paris

  

Not so long ago, relationships were about someone ringing at my door or me driving to this pub or restaurant to meet up. 2012 has come, and I have been turned into an almost “frequent traveler”.

One of the first things I have found out in this newly born long distance relationship, is that NOT all flights are direct, and that saving money on plane tickets can lead you to spend some extra time in “transit” in distant and foreign airports with rather little to do to keep yourself busy. My first experience in the matter was in no less than Frankfurt Airport, one of Europe’s 5 largest airports. With some 56 million visitors in 2011 it’s easy to see why it is popular for connecting flights.  I’ll leave you to decide if I am a slow or fast learner, but here is what 4 hours between connecting flights taught me.

Comfort
As I was on connecting flights with Lufthansa, I arrived and left from their terminal, which of course made it a lot easier, and as a not so experienced traveler, gave me a sense of security. After a few minutes walking around and looking through the terminal windows at all the planes tidily parked, and at those leaving and taxiing by, I noticed sets of tables and chairs at almost every gate, placed next to, will you believe it, courtesy tea and coffee facilities. And by tea and coffee facility I mean a BIG machine giving choices of latte, black coffee, fancy cafés, hot water with boxes filled with a rather large variety of tea bags, whichever colour you like. With the free hot drinks, newspapers are readily available, power points for recharging your essentials, my stay wasn’t starting too badly.

Connection
Sat with a cup of coffee, I started aiming my iPhone towards the planes and taking all sorts of photos of multi-coloured planes. As any nerd would do, I decided to check the WiFi connection options only to find out the airport offers a 30 minutes connection if you fill in the access page with your email to receive the connection code. 3 minutes later, I was on FaceTime with the little frog who had already arrived home safely. Said Hi, shared the surroundings and to all intense and purposes we enjoyed our coffee together.

Shopping and Browsing
A good Duty Free shop is like a big department store at Christmas: it has temptation for everyone!

Not being a smoker and undecided about bringing back some gigantic Toblerone for my family members, I remembered my little French woman had bought herself an airport exclusive perfume so I started hunting for my own new smell. And that’s when I saw it!

Have you ever wondered why we want to buy a fragrance just because of an advert? Well I guess I had just become one of those drawn in by all the arty imagery embedded into my brain… I remembered the music and the car. A Dior perfume, one of those unforgettable tracks by Muse, a scene in Paris and, and, and…  It made sense. Jude Law is blonde, I am blonde, he was driving a flashy car in France, I drive a car and I am dating a girl from France. As difficult as it may be to admit, I was becoming a victim of clever marketing, I was trying a fragrance on the main ground that I had liked the advert!!! Luckily for me I just LOVED IT (and now so does she!)

Big airports, the good and the bad
If you are connecting flights, the big airports can be your best and your worst option. Give yourself as much time between flights as you can, minimum of 2 hours. It can take an hour to find your way around a new airport so it only takes a small delay and you will miss any connection. If however you have a very short connection, my advice is avoid the big airports like the plague. If you think you can make it between gates in half and hour then forget it. Be prepared to miss your flight. So for short connections, pick a small airport. Better option, take a 2 hour plus connection and pick a large one. find your gate and then start playing in the shops, looking for WiFi and being creative.

Oh and if you have not seen the Dior advert, well it’s directed by Guy Ritchie of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame as well as various other English films. It’s worth a look if for nothing else for the fabulous views of Paris, and for us men, that awesome car he is driving.

16 hours in Paris

  

Her: I have 2 tickets for a concert, do you want to come?
Me: Yes, of course I do
Her: It’s a Tuesday night, can you make it?
Me: I am sure I will find a way!

And then the problems started. Location Paris. Another iconic city in the world I have managed to escape up until now. But the location was only the beginning of the problems. With work and other commitments it meant that for this to work we both needed to meet in the center of Paris early evening and be gone again around 6 the following day.

By now I had found a very useful site for finding flights, Skyscanner.net almost always finds me the best and cheapest traveling options. An Easyjet flight from London Luton to Paris Charles de Gaulle was booked for the Tuesday afternoon, arriving at 17:10 I knew that time would be tight. The concert started at 20:00 at the Bataclan but without reserved seating, so the earlier we get there, the better the seats.

Tip: For a speedy escape from the aircraft, get your seat on the as close to the front of the plane as you can. You get off quicker, there is less time spent at passport control and you can cut your departure from the terminal down to about 10 minuites.

The only realistic way to get to the center of Paris from Charles de Gaulle is using the train system. The RER is very reliable and only goes in one direction from the airport. Good news for all would-be blondes in a mad dash to meet a hot French girl waiting on a random underground station in the center of a totally unknown city.

By chance I found a very useful guide on getting to the RER from the terminals. Take a look here, it could really help you. In the end though I didn’t use it. Arriving at Terminal 2b, once out from baggage claim and passport control, facing the exit of the airport (the big glass doors) I turned left and marched with all vigor towards the station.

It’s a long walk but it is well signposted (always follow signs for RER), look out for cash-point machines along the way and keep going. There are travelators but they were all out of action when I arrived and when I left, maybe this was the part of the French system currently on strike? who knows.

Get a ticket from the automatic machines (there is an English option for the menu) and get on the train.

The train should look like this

 

Tip: If you are on a big flashy 2 story expensive looking train, you are most likely on a TGV. I did say follow signs for the RER. This not only the wrong train but also the wrong station.

Now on the right train it is much like any other subway, tube, u-bahn system so if like me that fills you with dread and fear have no worries. For the iPhone there is an app called vianaigo, this allows you to plan all your routes. Put in the departure and destination points and it will tell you what you need to do. I punched in cdg (Paris Charles de Gaulle  Terminal 2 pops up) and my destination as I have been told is Denfert Rochereau. That’s easy. Its one train and I am on it.

 

 

 

The meeting point

We met up and escaped out of the Metro to grab a taxi. Time at this point would not have allowed for any more.

1 concert, a bottle of very nice champagne and a not so great hotel room later and we are back on the trail of travel, this time to get back home. First I have to put her back on a train towards the South. Gare du lyon was a short taxi ride away (the metro does not run at 5:30 in the morning) and time for a coffee and un pain au chocolat from the only vendor open at that time. Someone was in the loo so time to practice my French. ‘Bonjour, deux cafés noir, et deux pain au chocolat s’il vous plait’ Seemed to get me what I wanted. I handed over some euros in response to what ever was said back and in return i received what I had asked for and some change.

 

Go down that escalator for the RER back to the airport

 

Tip: A little French can go along way

Now safely deposited back on the train I can concentrate on getting back to the airport so I can be back in the office for lunch time, a quick look at the app and I can see the route, the trains and even the directions I need to be taking. Result. This blonde was back in the airport with lots of time to spare.

Now back in the airport and through passport control I thought it a little odd that there had been no security checks. Then I realised that if you fly to Luton with Easyjet they package you off to a remote corner of the airport with no toilets, shops or facilities other than a vending machine. So beware, if you are passed passport control and there is no sign of security checks, stay around the shops until you are within an hour of departure or you will have to cross your legs.

It seems that Easyjet from Paris Charles de Gaulle have found entirely new levels of cattle class for their flights. It is normal and acceptable that having purchased the Speedy boarder pass that you get on the plane first, this was however the first time I have been directed away from the other passengers, down stairs to be confined in what felt like a corridor to an abattoir to then be directed to the back of the plane to climb back up stairs to find my seat. Mooing along the way I chuckled at how pathetic this was in a effort to get passengers to upgrade to Speedy boarding. But on a serious note, if you have problems with your knees or walking at all, make sure you kick up a fuss at this point and avoid the unnecessary complication.

Back in Luton, back at the car, back at work. 16 hours in Paris flew by, but despite being blonde and confused I managed without a problem. I met my girl on that underground station in the middle of a city I had never been to before, on a deadline and feeling good about my achievement. If I can do it, so can you!

The Flowers to France

  

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Boy may be blonde, yet boy knows a girl like flowers. Girl has birthday, boy wants to impress and send her flowers… Now, I guess it takes being a bit blonde and confused to turn this into an “almost” epic fail.

Little did I know this lovely girl I was meeting on Facebook through common friends had not put her real name, but instead a sort of nickname, for discretion and reasons of peace (we all know how unpleasant it is when all our work colleagues want to add us on Facebook. I have been there, we have been there, we all hope it won’t happen yet it does…)

Flowers ordered and on their way - But to who?

So blonde boy tricks friends into giving girl’s address. Friends not being blonde get their own back at blonde’s smooth approach by PURPOSELY not mentioning girl has an alias, and a very different real name. Blonde candidly believes that girl can share her name with a vegetable… She is French, which makes her exotic after all, and those French are all about food as every good Brit knows. Then it all goes quickly, too quickly. I went ahead and found a French outlet of Interflora and placed an order. I was very pleased with myself. Nothing tacky, nothing over the top. Just right and with some nice Chocolates as well.

Then a few days later, while still feeling smug about my en route flowers, she announces, ‘you do know that’s not my real name don’t you?’………… A rather awkward and stunned silence later, and after learning her real and name and the story behind it, I quickly order a card from Moonpig.com so as not to look like a complete fool. The good news is that the card got there without problem. The flowers, however, were lost in translation.

The plus and the minus of living in a apartment building is there is more than one surname living at the same address. And it turned out that someone in her building just happened to have had the same surname as her pseudonym (or close enough for the delivery guy to assume anyway) and she was very pleased with her flowers and her chocolates from someone she had never heard of. Maybe something about the French that she was not even questioning why she had received flowers from some random guy in England she had never heard of.

At this point I was unaware of who had the flowers. I knew they had been delivered as I could see the tracking information, like any good blonde nerd would check. ‘Did you like your flowers?’ inquires I. The next 20 minutes are taken with a series of rather embarrassing phone calls where I had to admit I genuinely believed she had the same name as a vegetable, leaving her with the task of trying to locate her own birthday present lost somewhere in her building.

 

Now imagine the following conversation where the woman I am trying to impress has to explain to a 60 year old French woman that the flowers she has are not hers after all. Rather they are for someone else with a totally different name, sent from someone in another country that doesn’t even know here real name, has never met and seems intent on proving to the world how blonde he can be. Luckily she managed to convince the recipient of the flowers they were in fact hers after all and recover them.

 

 

 

The positive side was that she got to meet one of her neighbors and explain how dumb the English can be, and she did get her flowers as you can see from the photo. But if I can’t even send a bunch of flowers to South of France without my hand being held, how am I going to manage sending myself?