fragrant fun at Fragonard

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All the girls are now at university so we are officially empty nesters. With that in mind we decided to take a few days off and are currently enjoying warm weather and the local rosé in the south of France.  St Paul-de-Vence to be precise, and very lovely it is too.

As we are only half an hour from Grasse it was not difficult to persuade the Boss that a little detour around the Fragonard museum and factory would be a pleasant way to spend the morning.

The museum was small but fascinating with fine examples of toiletry bottles and equipment from as early as the sixth century BC, the latter in such superb condition that at first I thought it was a copy.  But the jewel in the crown is the factory tour.

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The bottles of essential oils alone were enough to woo me.

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The bottle went on and one.  To be honest I am not sure what is in them, but they were so beautiful.

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Originally extraction was either cold press, where each flower was placed on a rack of animal fat (cow or pig) for twenty four hours and then replaced daily for a  month until the fat was soaked with the flower essence.  It was then washed with alcohol, the alcohol evaporated away and what was left was the absolute.

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Racks for cold press.

More robust plants were heated with the oil over a few days and then washed with alcohol as above.  Today they have perfected a slightly more rapid option using alcohol directly, or the good old maceration and still method.  (See my post here about how to make your own rosewater – but sadly not essential oil!)

The perfumes (at 76% these are the perfumes not the eau du parfum nor eau de toilette) are blended in these huge vats.  Perhaps not quite as romantic as those rose petals we soaked in water to make perfume for our mothers, but a little more effective!

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I am wearing this particular perfume today/

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Some of the equipment looked like giant coffee machines!

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For reasons known only to Fragonard, you can buy egg boxes of soap.

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This process was a little more familiar (soap making not egg boxes – most of our egg boxes are full of real eggs from our real hens!)

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Lots of mixing, shaving and mixing again.  Mind you their equipment is a little more sophisticated.

They also run workshops where you can mix your own perfume.  Sounds fun at two hours and might give it a go.  Particularly when I learned it takes six years to train as a Nose.  That’s as long as a doctor!  This is the play laboratory.  Apparently a real one has 2,000 to 3,000 different scents to choose from!  This Libran would find that a little overwhelming.

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And finally of course to the shop!  The prices were actually quite reasonable (especially with my 10% discount voucher acquired earlier in the day!)  So a few purchases were made.

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Today is Farmers’ Market day in St Paul-de-Vence so it will be cheese I will be smelling and tasting!

Love Gillie x

in which the geographer gets lost

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I learned a new trick this week – how to get the seats with extra legroom when flying cattle.

Emirates, and I presume most other airlines, keep back the bulkhead and emergency exit seats when booking online.  However, if you arrive early at baggage drop and ask if you can be moved – hey presto!  So from Newcastle to Dubai we had bulkhead seats and from Dubai to Bangkok we faced the emergency exit and could stretch our legs practically into the next cabin.  Thank me later.

So we arrived, tired bu in one piece.  We found our hotel.  Which is more than the PT volunteer, Geography student daughter did.  Our hotel is at 73 Sukhumvit 13.  The Geographer took the skyrail to the bottom of Sukhumvit 13 and rang us to ask where we were (more about the phone later).  At that point the Boss and I had left sleeping daughter at the hotel and were having a cold drink in a bar opposite a building site on what I later learned was Sukhumvit 11.  I described the building site but we decided our cranes were not the same ones (it later transpired they were).  So I gave the Geographer our hotel adress (again) and she decided to get a taxi.  An hour or so later she rang again, describing her surroundings it did not sound as if she was anywhere near us.  “Where did you get the taxi to take you?” I asked.  “13 Sukhumvit 73” she replied.  This, I remind you is the girl who is going to read Geography next year!

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She made it at last and yesterday she took us out to visit her school and meet her colleagues.  The train was interesting.  We were a feature of interest.  Some Europeans do take the train to visit Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand,.  But very few venture further to Tha Rua!

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We were taken out to lunch by Bea’s colleagues to a wonderful fish restaurant.

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I don’t think I have eaten so well and so much in a long time (though we managed another massive meal that evening at a streetfood cafe!).  And then a quick visit to her school and new home.

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It was lovely to see both how happy she was and how much her colleague and pupils loved her.

 

Oh and the phone?  I got a mysterious call on Thursday afternoon from an unknown Thai number.  It took several attempts for a connection to be made – it was the Geographer.  She had left her English phone at Tha Rua station and was using her Thai phone!  Fortunately her fellow volunteer picked it up later in the day and it will  make its way back to its owner this evening.  For how long however remains to be seen!

Love Gillie x

 

packing light

“Is 11 dresses too many?”  Eighteen year old daughter packing for a fortnight in Thailand.  I’m going for three weeks and only have two dresses!  Extreme measures needed to be taken.  “But they’re so pretty …”  Reader, I took her in hand and culled about 70% of her proposed packing.  Heaven knows how she is going to cope traveling through California in the summer with only a backpack!

When I accompanied the Boss on his lecture tour of Australia three years ago I managed to curtail my packing to this.   This time we are going to Thailand for three weeks, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.  I reckon I have managed a reasonably decent pack.  Here is the suitcase with just the clothes in it.

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  • 1  pair of cargo trousers that convert to bermuda shorts
  • 1 pair of loose palazzoish trousers
  • 1 pair 3/4 length leggings
  • 1 jersey maxi skirt
  • 1 jersey maxi sundress
  • 1 short sleeved dress
  • 4 tee shirts
  • 1 light long sleeved top
  • 1 long light scarf
  • 1 pair birkenstocks
  • 1 pair vivo barefoot shoes
  • 1 pair flat comfy but smart sandals
  • Swimsuit and Turkish lightweight towel

Once again I have stuck to my blue and white theme (the same one I used in Australia but different clothes!)

I was feeling remarkably proud of myself until I then had to put in all the other bits and bobs, portable bbq and bamboo cutlery, knitting (well of course!) and then all the requests from the daughter in Thailand.  Custard powder was non-negotiable.  At least most of this I can leave behind with her.  Which is essential as I am planning on a little silk shopping!

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It is always easier to pack light for a trip to a hot climate, but I reckon, that had I wanted to go hand luggage only and didn’t have to take half of Sainbury’s with me I could have managed it with ease.

Love Gillie x

 

The reusable holiday

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I’m just back from a fabulous three weeks in Romania, which is why the blog has been so quiet (that and some techy issues that seem to have been resolved).  However, I am aware that for many of you, particularly those of you with school age children, the summer holidays have only just started and you are probably packing and sorting ready for a few weeks R&R.

It doesn’t really matter where you are going, whether it’s a fortnight on the beach or hiking in the Alps, there are some things that are not just useful, but essential for a hassle-free holiday.  In our case these tend to revolve around food and drink.  We like lots of picnics, we like to try out the local foods and no holiday is complete without a beach or riverside bbq.

Most of the things required can easily be bought in the disposable picnic area of any supermarket.  But I don’t want disposable, I don’t want plastic.  I want reusuable and sustainable.  So this is what we packed to go to Romania.

Bamboo Cutlery.  One hundred percent biodegradable and compostable when they finally come to the end of their life.  In the meantime, light and easy to use.

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Food wrap.  These are great and double up as plates as well  I make my own using organic cotton and beeswax but there are plenty available online.  Just rinse with hot water.

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Drinking cups.  Well you don’t really want to be swigging the wine out of a bottle!

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Water bottles.  There is only a few things I loathe more than plastic water bottles, not only are they unneccessary for most day to day situations, they contribute to vast amounts of waste and most contain bpa which is directly linked to some cancers.

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Portable fire bowl  and grill.   This is the best thing ever!  We used to buy a disposable  bbq and reuse it all  holiday but this is one stage better and is absolutely brilliant.

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Finally, don’t forget a sharp knife, a corkscrew and/or a bottle opener!  Happy holidays 🙂

Love Gillie

 

luggage, ex-pat kids and airports

I love airports.  I think is it partly because I spent much of my childhood as an ex-pat child.  I was one of those children with a red and white striped label around their neck being escorted through security.  I grew to hate the being escorted everywhere bit, but I did rather like the Air Canada policy of putting single (ie not a whole group of forty or more kids as you used to get on the Hong Kong run)  in First Class so they could keep an eye on them.  First Class in those days was just a really big chair and as a minor there was no free wine, but it was still rather cool.  I became quite an expert on which airline looked after the UMs best.

Once you have checked in and you are airside you abdicate all responsibility.  There is nothing you can do except wait.  I like to do this with glass of wine or tea, depending on the time of day, a book and  my eyes.  Just watching people, wondering where they are going and why they are going there.

With  my newfound minimalist eye I have expanded my people watching to luggage watching.  We travelled with three children under three (we have twins).  We travelled with a toddler and me heavily pregnant.   We did all of that long distance to countries that you could not reach by a direct flight from the UK so we had the added fun of crossing Paris, usually in rush hour.  Believe me, even with all of that you really do not need to bring the entire nursery with you (and that was in the days before iPads).  My eldest daughter, then aged 2 occupied herself from Newcastle to London, London to Paris and Paris to Pointe a Pitre with a tiny doll about 2″ tall and an empty meal bowl which became dollie’s bed.  Her younger sister, a couple of years later,  suffering from a nasty gastric upset that materialised out of the blue and involved copious vomiting was kept occupied by a dolls house made by her sisters out of a cardboard shoebox in our hand luggage and furniture and people drawn on scrap paper.

I have watched people check in monumental cases and then take a pretty enormous wheeled carry on bag on the plane.  Yes it is possible that they are emigrating or taking vital supplies to cousins overseas …..  But ALL of them?  No I don’t think so.

It strikes me that if stuff gets in the way of living, which I have discovered it does, then surely stuff gets in the way of a holiday.  Surely a holiday is a time to relax, to let go, to try new experiences.  How on earth can you do that if you are lumbered with luggage you have to keep packing and unpacking and keeping track of and washing…..

lessons learned

So I have been living out of a suitcase for three weeks.  I brought too much.  I could have got away with half of what I brought with  me.  But every lesson learned is a good lesson.

Time out, and certainly time travelling (as in time spent travelling not the Tardis variety) gives you plenty of time to knit and to think.  Time spent living out of a suitcase gives you plenty of time to think about what you should have left behind.

When I was packing I kept to a simple colour palette.  That was good.  There was not one item in my case that could  not have been worn with practically every other item.  Lesson learned: cull all those items in my wardrobe that can’t go with at least 50% of the rest of my wardrobe (wedding dresses/ballgowns should you need them are exempt from this rule 🙂 )

I love linen, bamboo and cashmere, I love loose deconstucted shapes (think Japanese).  Lesson learned: cull the items that I don’t love to feel against my skin.  I would rather have one fabulous cashmere jumper than three okay scratchy wool ones.

I wear shoes for comfort.  Even my “smart evening” shoes have to pass this test.  Yet despite a huge shoe cull I have shoes I never wear not because they hurt but because they aren’t comfy.  Lesson learned:  I do not need five pairs of black suede shoes and those pink peep toe wedge sandals are not comfy whereas the blue suede peeptoe sandals I could wear all day and not notice.  Lesson learned:  if you don’t wear them then don’t keep them.

None of this is rocket science.  Most of this I knew already.  But still there lurk things in our house that need to go.  Our children our growing up and in a couple of years they will all have left home.  Our house is too big for two.  We need to move somewhere more practical and somewhere a little closer to civilisation.  Something was holding me back.  I didn’t want to move into Durham.  Then we had the Eureka moment, there was no reason we had to move into Durham.  We could move anywhere we wanted.  With that thought in mind it has become easy (at least in my mind) to shed even more.  I want to start the rest of my life in a free flowing space, without the millstone of stuff I don’t love, need or admire.

This is pretty much all I have worn for 3 1/2 weeks.

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the arrival of the capsule wardrobe

The minimalism is being put to the test.  At the end of the week the Boss and I are going to Australia for a month.  He is working, I am going along for the ride.  And if you are planning on popping over to relieve us of the few things I haven’t already got rid of  you might like to know that all three dogs and all three daughters are remaining at home.  I am  not sure which are more frightening.

I digress, back to the travel planning.  There are some things that I have to take:

  • Paperwork (passports, visas etc.)
  • Guidebooks (can’t be doing with them on kindle, I need an actual book)
  • Camera, pocket lumix and DSLR
  • Kindle
  • Knitting
  • Laptop
  • Telephone
  • Toiletries
  • Swimwear
  • Glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Hearing aids

After that I have to move on to clothes, and clothes for a climate that is quite different to the one I am experiencing right now and to last me a month.  Silly though it sounds it really is quite hard to select thick jumpers when the temperature is in the thirties and jolly difficult to select light tops when it is minus two (as it was this morning).

But all this wardrobe weeding and recording of what I wear has paid off.  I have a capsule wardrobe that incorporates several evening receptions, casual day time and beach!  Colours are white, cream and navy and comprise:

  • White linen trousers
  • Navy linen trousers
  • Pink capri pants
  • Short navy shirt
  • Maxi grey jersey skirt
  • Blue & navy dress
  • Cream and navy dress
  • White long sleeved t shirt
  • White short sleeved t shirt
  • Navy & white spotty t shirt
  • Navy strapless t shirt
  • White strapless t shirt
  • Navy cotton shirt
  • Navy & white chiffon top
  • Bronze metallic evening top
  • White jersey jacket
  • Navy cotton cardigan
  • Red smart shoes
  • Navy wedges
  • Black fitflops
  • Orange scarf

 

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I know that for a true  minimalist this is far from ideal, it isn’t carry on luggage.  But for me this is a huge step and I am dead chuffed 🙂