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Valentine Art


Grocery shopping by Ralph Bijjker

Valentine’s Day is approaching quickly, and John Hillman suggests that all you lovers should head to the only desintation worthy of such a date, Paris

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February is almost upon us and as we look forward to ever-so-slightly longer days, the chance of above zero temperatures and the early blooms of daffodils, let’s not forget that this is also the month of love.

In the spirit of Geoffrey Chaucer we celebrate our tradition of courtly love by bestowing upon our most cherished a box of chocolates or a gaudy card, small tokens to provide a respectably romantic veneer, before expensive champagne dinners intoxicate the senses and lead us into the final act of the evening, which is what Valentine’s Day is all about really – sex.

Sex is the theme of a rather peculiar museum found in the heart of Paris, that most alluring of Valentines destinations, although being somewhat classy and sophisticated we prefer the term ‘eroticism’.
Musée de l’érotisme is found on Boulevard de Clichy, central Paris, and features collections of objects used down the ages to stimulate the senses as-well as exhibitions that encourage visitors to contemplate eroticism’s place in different civilizations throughout history.

The fact that I find it hard to write about this subject without throwing an ooo-er! in, I think, says a great deal about the position of eroticism in British civilization, but never mind. Paris is definitely the place to be if you wish to consider these fine and intricate psychological and instinctive emotions without degenerating into a Sid James-type character.

If the idea of perusing medieval sex-toys doesn’t quite fit with your idea of a sophisticated St. Valentine’s weekend then there are numerous other exhibitions taking place in the city which focus much more on the romantic ideals of love.

Musée de la vie Romantique is found in a collection of 19th century Parisian houses by Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, 16 rue Chaptal , which are actually the old homes of many of the artists of the Romantic movement who lived and worked here during the 1830s, such as the painter Ary Scheffer and the novelist George Sand.

Musée Rodin, 79 rue de Varenne, is the home of one of the most important collections of August Rodin, France’s most important sculptor, as well as many of his own works, such as skethes and statutes of his own sweetheart, there are numerous works of art from his own private collection, including works by Monet, Renoir and Van Gough.

Finally, why not visit the home of Ferdinand Victor Eugéne Delacroix, one of the leading French painters of the Romantic movement. The Musée Delacroix, housed in the painter’s apartment and garden studio in Rue de Furstenberg, is home to a fantastic collection including paintings, sketches, lithographs, autographs and personal items which once belonged to the artist.

Paris calls to all romantics at this time of year, and the fact that this Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday means that it’s possible to actually spend the 14th February strolling arm in arm around the streets and Boulevards of the city, rather than rushing out of the office and meeting in a dodgy restaurant somewhere nearer to home. The opportunity is there, so take it.

Navarre


Grocery shopping by Ralph Bijjker

Navarre is the true heart of Spain, a land lost to tourists and hidden amongst the hills. John Hillman reports.

Gently nestling on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees in northern Spain lays Navarre, the autonomous Basque speaking region of the Vascones.

This ancient Kingdom was once fiercely independent and in charge of a whole swathe of the surrounding regions – La Rioja, Cantabria, Castile & Leon, Aragon and the Basque Country – before being whittled down by geopolitics into the Spanish province that it is today.

But like most of Spain, Navarre still retains much of its proud self-supporting sprit and offers the visitor something completely unique in terms of landscape, culture and cuisine.The area is renowned for its dramatic mountain vistas, which contrast strikingly with the less visited plains of the Ebro river valley in the south, but perhaps best known of all is Navarre’s capital city of Pamplona and its famous festival, El Encierro (The running of the bulls).

This now world famous event was first brought to the attention of the world by Ernest Hemingway in his first novel, The Sun Always Rises, and has gone on to become one of the most popular acts of mindless stupidity in the European calendar.

Hemingway was a fan of the region and especially a local drink Fundador, which is not an advisable tipple unless you are about to put yourself in the way of a herd of charging bulls, at which point it becomes fairly essential.

Navarre’s climate is temperate most of the year and the sparsely populated countryside a joy to behold. It’s a short drive from the ports of Bilbao and San Sebastian; a place where you can truly feel like you’ve escaped the 21st century and found your way back to an age before cheap airlines and shoddy tourist trails, a place that may well make you want to sell up and start a lost generation of your own.

Mudwalking


Grocery shopping by Ralph Bijjker

John Hillman’s off to the beach, a far more brisk and effective remedy for the January bulge than eating a dessert

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After the month of December and all those fun packed festivities inevitably comes the January guilt trip.
You know that it’s started when every other TV advert wants to sell you a dessert that enables you to lose weight – something which, frankly, is totally bizarre. If you want to lose weight you have to skip dessert altogether and do some exercise, not chow down on half a litre of gloopy pudding whilst watching telly.

To make the process more interesting you could catch a ferry to Rotterdam and head to the Wadden Sea. This is a vast national park coastline where fit and healthy Dutch people are regularly found partaking in a spot of mud-walking.

During low tide the water level drops enough to enable you to cross the muddy sea-bed, allowing you to wade, thigh high, through miles of lovely mineral-rich mud – excellent for those boozy Christmas pimples as well!

It’s a very rewarding experience but also extremely physical, so it is not recommended to anyone under 12 or over 65 (unless you are very fit). It is also considered a suicidal undertaking unless you go with a professional guide, of which there are many employed through the national park, all of whom have undergone a rigorous three year training programme.

So don’t waste your time in a sweaty gym full of prima-donnas, get outside and see some seals, study some fauna and breather that salty air. By the time you’ve finished you will even have earnt the right to some guilt-free chocolate brownies; the proper sort, not the grotesque January version.

Ski trip


For everyone who is dreaming of the snow:

It might be a touch odd, but as we are all here quivering away in subprime temperatures, holiday makers are streaming off to ever colder places, spurred on by the desire to slide down great mountains attached to a couple of planks of wood.

I’m talking, of course, about the famed ski trip. And if you’ve signed yourself up to one of these glorious jaunts and are already getting excitable in the office, then I propose that you watch this little video, which should put you in just the right mood.

The January Sales


Grocery shopping by Ralph Bijjker

With the credit crunch beginning to bite, John Hillman offers us all with a touch of advice about how P&O Ferries can help out with the post Christmas blues

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A January shopping binge is essential to our wellbeing as northern Europeans so don’t let the global financial crisis stop you.

Shady characters with sub-prime morals may have done their best to ruin it, but in these times of crisis we can still rely on our British maritime traditions to get us out of trouble.

Cross the straights of Dover with P&O Ferries and you will find a treasure trove of booty so cheap you’ll feel like your thieving pirate ancestors must have done, as you load it all into your car whilst cackling with hearty laughter.

Prices really are so good that the cost of a day-trip will still allow you to return home quids in, with the added satisfaction that British supermarket bosses and their recession proof infinity-pounds-a-minute profits won’t be coming from you this year.

But even if you prefer British supermarkets, you’ll still find all the major ones in Calais offering you everything you need for a touch of bargain shoppery. For example, Champagne and wine is between 50% – 70% less expensive than supermarket prices in the UK.

Choice is another reason to use P&O Ferries as your 2009 credit-crunch crusher.

Calais is so much more than a place for Brits to buy cheap booze; with as many French and Belgians heading to the huge shopping facilities around the city, you’ll find an enormously choice of goodies on offer to satisfy the gourmet in you. Stock up on cheeses, fois-gras and other wonderful delicacies that would normally cost you an arm and a leg back in the UK.

Those of you really interested in good local produce should take advantage of the regular weekly markets, which often sell organic food straight from the farmers themselves.

Place d’Armes on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and Place Crevecoeur on Thursday and Saturdays, are excellent markets; places where you can browse past stall after stall of intersecting colours and aromas. Shop ‘till lunch then enjoy some of the finest seafood in a traditional Gallic eatery.

Some good advice is to try and go in the week if you can as Saturdays can be extremely busy, although the bustling Saturday atmosphere is probably a bit more fun if you’ve got the energy for it!

Indeed, although many people see Calais as either a place to buy cheap alcohol or somewhere you drive through on your way to your holiday home, there really is no reason why you can’t make a bit more of it.

Although the city was pretty much destroyed during World War II, there are still some interesting sights to take a look at while you are there. The renaissance style hotel de Ville is about as impressive as town halls come and the nearby statue of the ‘six burghers of Calais’ is well worth a look too.

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