Posts Tagged ‘fireworks’

Christmas in Manchester

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

According to the calendar, there is only one month to go until Christmas. I’m in a slight state of denial about this as I am not entirely sure where the rest of the year has gone and I am avoiding facing the arrival of 2014 and the fact that it is about time I grew up. But I can’t deny the red, green and silver tinsel and Santa overkill in every shop window I walk past. Maybe it’s just a phase…

In the same week as Bonfire night, I attended a second lot of fireworks to mark the turning on of the Christmas Lights. Leading up to this potentially momentous occasion, I had witnessed cherry pickers and electricians attaching strings of lights to lamp posts at various points throughout the city. My expectations were great – soon the city would be covered in glorious oh-so-pretty sparkly things that would bring festive joy and endless happiness to young and old. I went to the light-turning-on ceremony at the Town Hall with my friends Damien and Eli and we pushed our way through a crowd of teenagers and old people to find a good viewing spot to watch ex-winners of X-Factor perform LIVE for our entertainment. We patiently waited through the average singing to finally count down to the pushing of the Lights-Are-Go button by James Arthur (X-Factor winner, 2012). Three… Two… One…

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Not only did lights apparently turn on, but fireworks exploded from the roof of the Town Hall and we witnessed a ten minute display that consisted of the same fireworks over and over again. My favourites were some horizontal flames that spurted out from the side of the clock tower. Once that was over, it was time to go home, and as we walked away, my friends and I asked each other – where were the Christmas lights?

Boom! Bang! Whizz!

Boom! Bang! Hiss!

It would seem that Manchester City Council has spent most of its Christmas money on markets (there are nine market areas across the city) and a giant, fat Santa who sits menacingly in front of the Town Hall. There are some gold winged-star things attached to most lamp posts and some very funky (this is sarcasm), flashing-pixel Christmas tree things down the pedestrianised King Street, but that’s about it. However, since the installation of hundreds of wooden huts for the Christmas markets, things have improved. Now there is definitely a festive Christmas vibe spreading across the city and everyone is loving the hot wine. It now takes me 10 minutes longer to walk home from work as I have to go through at least three Christmas markets, dodging people carrying collector mugs filled with dangerous staining glühwein.

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

I’m not a complete Scrooge – I have been one of these festive revellers and I do enjoy a good cup of warm, spiced wine myself. I also have to give Manchester two thumbs up for their markets – while there is a lot of repetition of stalls, they are of a much higher quality that Paris’s Champs Elysées. Nothing will beat the markets in Germany and eastern France, but Manchester has put in a fine effort. So here’s to more overpriced glühwein and bratwurst – Merry Christmas Month to all!

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

Fire and Explosives

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Last night saw the skies of Manchester light up with the glow of fires and the flash of fireworks, followed by the gentle orange drift of explosives smoke. It was bonfire night (aka Guy Fawkes night) where people around the UK set things on fire and let off fireworks while standing in the rain drinking cider.  The origin of this event stems back to King James I surviving an attempt on his life by Guy Fawkes in 1605 (thank you, Wikipedia) and, for years afterwards, people have taken the opportunity to blow things up. I find this a little contradictory considering Guy tried to kill James with explosives and now children are blowing their hands off with rogue rockets and roman candles.

There were no bonfires within Manchester city centre as fires and enclosed city spaces are generally not a good combination. I headed to Cholton with fellow Australian, Eli, as all British nationals had declined to join us. We headed to the usually pleasant residential square of Cholton Green where we found hundreds of people squished together trying to buy hot cider and get the best position for the fireworks. We arrived just in time for the 9 o’clock display as fireworks were set off from what appeared to be the roof of the Horse & Jockey pub. Considering it was just a local fireworks display it was quite a pretty show and it received plenty of oohs and ahhs from the appreciative audience.

Ooh! Ahh!

Ooh! Ahh!

Eli and I went in search of a bonfire as what is bonfire night without a bonfire? We found a burning pile of wooden packing crates at the back of another pub. When the wind changed direction and picked up speed, the people standing on that side of the fire would get a burst of hot air, ash and smoke. Delightful.

Fire!

Fire!

Everyone was getting into the community spirit and there was a great positive energy permeating the crowd. I was happy with my first bon fire night experience and am now just waiting for the smoke smell to dissipate from my jacket.

Holiday Snaps

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

For anyone interested in seeing where I went and what I ate over Christmas and New Years, you can see my holiday photos on my Flickr site. Highlights include movies of crazy Dutch fireworks, a hill in Holland, and a GIANT spring roll.

Back to Business With Galette

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Happy 2012 to one and all! My year started with insane Dutch people setting off fireworks in their back/front yards, carparks, petrol stations etc., plus lots of olliebollen, appelbeignets and general consistent eating.

Olliebollen

Mmm... olliebollen.

It is strange to think that I have come back to Paris with the idea of now being able to eat ‘normally’ and hence hopefully return to my original pant size. I have hit one slight set back – La Fête des Rois. Also known as the Epiphany when the three Kings or wise men visited Jesus and gave him birthday presents, the French have taken hold of this great day and turned it into something even greater. Everyone eats galettes – a round puff pastry delight filled with almond paste goodness. OH, IT IS GOOD.

Galette

Galette

Inside the galette, the bakers place a small item (yesterday I was witness to the discovery of a jigsaw puzzle piece, a green cow, and a miniature ScoobyDoo) and when the galette is divided, the person who finds the item in their piece of galette is crowned the King. They then get to wear a crown for the rest of the evening, lucky buggers.

While we had plans yesterday evening to have a galette party with the other residents at the Récollets, as Ben is a budding baker, we went in search of a GOOD galette (as opposed to one from a supermarket) for morning tea. We decided to go to Julhès, a family empire of deliciousness where you can buy bakery goods, wine, cheese, tapenade, foie gras, chocolate, and every other delicious thing you can think of. Ben, Tom and I divided the galette into 12 pieces and then invented a complicated mathematical formula for deciding who received which piece of galette. Ben was the winner with his second piece of galette and wore, with pride, the golden crown.

Galette

Keeping things fair

The second rule of galette is whoever is crowned King is also, therefore, rich and must purchase another galette for his lowly citizens/friends/family. So Ben bought a second (smaller) galette from my favourite boulangerie to have with lunch. As this was a galette for one or two persons, there was no item hidden inside so no one had to buy another galette. HOWEVER, we did then meet my fellow residents in the evening for dinner and galette eating. Almost everyone brought a galette so there were plenty to go around. This time we followed even more traditional methods and the youngest person was sent to sit under the table to call out names of people and select which piece of galette they would eat.

The youngest person at the table was three months younger than me, and as he was quite insistent that I take the honour of sitting on the floor, I spent the next 15 minutes or so calling out names from under the table. What fun! I failed at choosing a winning piece of galette for myself on both the first AND second round of galette distribution. Once everyone had had two pieces, there were still a few kings missing but everyone was a little bit sick of puff pastry and almond so the rest of the galettes were attacked with knives to find the final items. It was a lot of fun and galette is definitely high on my Deliciousness list. The search for the hidden item is highly entertaining and the fact that you’re eating delicious galette instead of looking for a penny inside stodgy plum pudding is definitely an additional benefit.

Things are returning to normal now after the Christmas and New Year’s break. I have just dropped my brother off at the train station and sent him back to England to continue his baking. My plans for today mostly involve cleaning as I still have christmas presents, decorations and general “I’ll deal with this later” items scattered around my apartment. We returned from our two week trip in Germany and Holland with a lot of excess baggage in the form of presents and food. Lots of food. Tom got excited by the price and availability of Jagermeister in Germany, while I went a bit nuts buying chocolate sprinkles and biscuits in Holland. Luckily there’s no such thing as customs when crossing European borders. Ben is currently travelling back to England with a two kilogram bag of flour in his suitcase. That flour has been through Holland, Belgium, France and now England.

I am trying to work out how I can bring everything that is delicious from France to Australia. I have 20 days left in Paris until I get on a plane and fly away home. While everyone around me is telling me how great Australia is and how much fun I am going to have, the whole process of having to get on a plane for 24 hours, have jet lag, fly to and from Sydney, and spend the entire time crossing my fingers that I am allowed a visa isn’t really making me jump for joy. Yes, yes, beaches, sunshine and family. But also a lot to think about and hope that the French government doesn’t think of a stupid reason not to let me come back to France. What will I do then? Plus what cheese am I going to eat in Perth?!

Well this post is getting very long and I have cleaning to do. Spread the word that Zaum is back in action for 2012 with more stories, more adventures and plenty of photographs of food.

Stroop wafel

Like this fresh stroop wafel I ate in Gouda

Bastille Celebrations

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Thursday was 14 July or Bastille Day to all English speakers. The previous evening (the 13th) I organised for a group of interested people from Les Récollets to head down to one of the local fire stations. At fire stations throughout Paris (and France, I believe) on the evenings of the 13th and 14th of July they hold balls that are open to the public. Being Australian and not fashionably late like the French, I organised for our group to get there right on the starting time – 9pm. It was practically empty when we arrived. But things soon heated up and by midnight the place was packed and there was a huge queue of people outside wanting to come in.

Fireman ball

There were half-naked firemen for a ladies and scantily clad ladies dancing on the stage for the men! Everyone was a winner.

The firestation had been turned into a dance hall with bars selling drinks and food and a stage set up for the AWESOME COVER BAND!!! to play on. I don’t know why the French have such terrible taste in music, but they do. Most of the songs were 70s/80s American pop tunes, there was a whole three-song segment of Michael Jackson impersonations, and then they started singing English songs in French. It was so bad it was great; the only option we had was to laugh and dance. The ball was run by the firemen and every now and then one of them would stand up on the bar and do the obligatory strip tease. I’m not really sure why firemen have to be strippers as well, but the girls in the room enjoyed it. But with only five toilets for a ball of 300-odd people, it was easier and faster for us to walk home and use our own facilities rather than wait in line. So that was the end of the night.

The following morning Tom and I attempted to get to the Champs Elysee to see the military parade but the metro wasn’t stopping on the Champs Elysee that day and they had then blocked off a lot of streets so it took forever for us to get anywhere close to the parade. This was a bit disappointing as I had hoped to be in the midst of the action but we managed to see a bit of it. I was amazed at the lack of French-flag paraphernalia. Australians can’t get enough of sticking plastic flags to their cars and fake tattoos on their bodies. There was none of that junk in Paris. I even went down to the Bastille in the afternoon and there were no flags flying! Where was the patriotism? Terrible.

Place de la Bastille

Place de la Bastille

To end the Bastille festivities, I also organised a party at Les Récollets for the evening of the 14th. There was a good turn out of about 20 people and at 10.30pm when the fireworks were due to start at the Eiffel Tower we headed to the highest point in the building (the roof) and discovered an amazing view over Paris. It was potentially dangerous (wine + ladders + standing on the roof = probably stupid) but WOW! I spent the evening of Bastille Day standing on the roof of a 13th century convent looking over Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower and the golden arches of McDonalds. Once in a life time, folks.

Roof top

This was one of the best moments of my life. Absolutely amazing.

Over the past few weeks I have really gotten to know people at Les Récollets and it is becoming increasingly more obvious about how extremely sad I am going to be to leave. I have been having discussions about Christmas with my family and today I realised that I just don’t want to think about it at the moment because once Christmas is over then I will be close to having to leave. I don’t want this AT ALL. I need to find a way to stay.