The Beauty of the South West

If Kent is the garden of England, than the fibres of England unite in Wiltshire (E M Forster).

Having the fortunate hassle of too many holidays remaining at the end of the financial year, Mr. Husband and I decided to take a few days away from the trials and tribulations of London and run away to Wiltshire for a few days. I now wonder why anyone would consider leaving the country for a holiday when we have the perfect sunshine and the perfect getaway more or less on our doorsteps.

We decided to pack our car to the brim and drive 2 1/2 hours down the motorway to a little bed and breakfast called Summerhayes situated near Westbury. Before I proceed any further here, I have to say you will definitely need a car to get around. The South West has so much to offer but unfortunately not within ease of access to public transport. At least not when you have limited time available to explore. As we drove up to the gates, we were instantly treated like royalty when the large wooden gates opened automatically on our approach. As we reached the front door, it was opened by the owners and after being shown around the property, we were settled in the sun glazed conservatory with a pot of coffee and home-made muffins. It was a wonderful setting but as I walked through the door, I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable as if I was intruding in someone’s home and felt I should sit on the naughty step for not taking my shoes off. In the morning we were greeted by freshly cooked croissants, fresh fruit with natural yoghurt and a menu of local produce listing several varieties of a cooked breakfast. Again, sitting in a stranger’s breakfast room surrounded by their Mother’s Day cards was somewhat unnerving for me.

The trouble with owning and running a bed and breakfast is that you are permanently on call. When Mr. Husband once ran the call bell, he was welcomed by a distressed owner exclaiming: “Oh, what now?!?” I have to say that we were somewhat easy guests and never asked for everything. Although Mr. Husband accepted this in good nature, I can imagine it could be particularly offensive to people (myself included). Elements of the house showed its potential as a family home, all the more highlighted when we could hear the snoring of the guests in the next room. Fortunately they arrived on the last day but sharing breakfast with them around an intimate, family dining table was all the more awkward when all I could hear as I looked at him was his snoring the night before…

The following day as we asked the whereabouts of a post office in the local newsagent another customer offered to post our cards on his way home. I’m not sure if he noticed the somewhat bemused expression on my face. Both my husband and I were amazed that people would even talk to others let alone offer to run their errands for them. Having packed a picnic that filled two picnic baskets to the brim, we were able to limit our eating out to only two nights. The first night on our hosts recommendation we had dinner at the Green Dragon restaurant in Lavington. The value for money is astounding. I ordered garlic bread with cheese as a starter for £2.00 thinking it would be one or two slices but was astonished when a whole loaf of garlic bread, wrapped in tin foil arrived. The main meals were smaller than expected which meant there was still room for the White Chocolate and Malteser cheesecake, although with white chocolate and maltesers being my two most favourite things, my eyes were most probably much larger than my stomach.

The second night we ate at The Churchill Arms a very lovely British pub just down the road from Summerhayes, our host did not provide particularly favourable reviews but if you look beyond any preconceived and condescending ideas, the pub had a charming atmosphere. I was surprised that underage children were entering and enjoying their evening meal, even sitting at the bar. Then again, with not a single curse word uttered I’m not surprised. The food was delicious and excellent value for money. I just wish more pubs in London were like this. The two waitresses could not do enough for you and even the music was refreshing. I don’t think I have ever been in a pub that has played John Lennon and Imagine:

Each evening my husband and I enjoyed our hosts’ hot tub and as a I lay there and gazed up at the twinkling stars scattered across the crystal clear sky, I was in a completely different world. One of the downsides of this crystal clear sky is the lack of light pollution. Walking back from The Churchill Arms with no streetlights meant the streets were quite dark and for someone used to London streets it was a little unnerving. Then again, I had just survived dinner with Twinkle (not it’s real name) below so I had already faced my fear head on:

Cynophobia aside, Wiltshire proves that Britain has so much to offer, even the food is tastier with all businesses having pledged to support the local farmers. It’s ideal for a weekend getaway but with so much to offer, you will find yourself pining for the green hills, the stars, the peace and like me you will be counting the days until you can return.

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Discovering Paris

With its weather, street sellers and traffic, Paris has become to me a taste of what Iran could have been and although Paris or France is not the most popular destination for Iranian expatriates, I can see the attraction. Sitting in a street café on my first day of a week’s holiday with my husband, I felt as if I was transported in time – something of an irony when a man walked passed me with a ‘Revolution is Coming’ t-shirt. For Iranians, even half Iranians who never lived in a pre-revolution Iran, Paris was very much a reminder of how things were and even how things could have been. Paris indeed is a magical city and I often wondered during my stay why people would travel thousands of miles when there is Paris with weather of 39 degrees on our doorstep.

We stayed at the Hotel Gramont Opera in Paris, a quaint hotel. the second most popular hotel on TripAdvisor and believe me, I can see why. The hotel is smaller than some but the service is impeccable. The staff could not do enough for you and scanning through the comments book at the reception desk each day, the guests could not praise them enough. The location was perfect and only a maximum of 5 minutes walk from the Metro station. That is a great thing about Paris, you are never more than a few yards from a Metro station, something that London is somewhat lacking. Upon booking the hotel, my husband notified them that it was my birthday during our stay, we arrived back to the hotel room on the day I turned 30 with a lovely note and a box of Ferrer Rocher. It was a lovely gesture.

One day, my husband with his ever trusty GPS, found a quaint restaurant: Restaurant De La Tour somewhat of the beaten tourist track in a side street more or less five feet from a McDonalds (I am slightly exaggerating, but I hope you catch my drift). Both the food and service were heaven. Even the toilet was quaint with individual hand towels, the melt in your mouth food was a little pricey, however even the bathroom was worth it, despite the seconds of sheer panic when I failed to understand the French anti-lock system on the bathroom door.

However, at the George V restaurant along the Champs Elysees, the service we received unfortunately left much to be desired – particularly to British people who culturally are used to politeness, to people responding with “please” and “thank you” or even to have the tomato ketchup left on the table until you have finished your meal or at least asked before it was so abruptly taken away from your grasp. What also surprised me was that France was still an open smoking culture where it was sometimes hard to find a non-smoking area within restaurants. Walking past the Moulin Rouge, I was surprised at the open window displays of sexual ‘objects’ in the shop windows with young children walking past them, looking into the windows. Even newspaper stands had ‘certain’ magazines in public view.

However, as with all things – we all have to take the bad with the good; the rough with the smooth. Paris was magical, the Eiffel Tower mind-blowing. Quite something for someone who is afraid of heights and saw herself at the very top. I can not begin to imagine what many Londoners would feel, having a mobile phone signal on the underground as Parisians do on the French Metro.

Sitting here now, I am trying to bring into words the heavenly 5 days in Paris. Instead of fumbling for English anecdotes, I’d like to borrow from the French language: ‘a bon vin, point d’enseigne’ (the reputation of a good thing precedes it). I strongly recommend visiting Paris, a beautiful city with beautiful weather, amazing history and only a couple of hours on the Eurostar. Seriously, what more could you ask for? I can easily give my view of Paris, but should you go – I’d rather you discover what Paris has to over through your own eyes. It may be in Europe, it may have a larger number of French people than some British people are used to, but it’s Paris!! Seriously, you can not go wrong!!