Posts Tagged ‘Getaway’

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one night in paradise. (photos from our trip to Paris)

February 25, 2012

This evening Toby and I got back from our overnight stay in Paris – it was a late anniversary gift to one another to celebrate 2 years of being together and very much in love! The last time I went to Paris I was on my year abroad from my undergraduate degree at Oxford, and I was there for a week with my father. This time, although the holiday was much shorter, it was even more special 🙂 It was a pain-free journey on the Eurostar, but we made up for the lack of pain by doing about 12 miles’ worth of walking! We didn’t use any public transport once, and the weather turned out to be very nice so we took full advantage. Firstly we had some lunch near the Palace of Justice:

Then we headed to Notre Dame cathedral:

From here (on the island in the middle of the Seine) we caught a riverboat tour of Paris, which enabled us to see lots of the sights and find out a little more history about Paris from a strongly-accented French woman who was studying English.

After the riverboat tour, we crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts, a bridge to which lovers attach engraved padlocks (or padlocks with their names written on them) to celebrate their love. Next time Toby and I go to Paris (there will be a next time, I’m pretty sure!), we will bring a padlock of our very own. 🙂

We then walked to the Louvre and saw the glass pyramid:

… and the Obelisk:

After this very long walk, we checked into our hotel near the Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement, and had a little lie-down, changed our clothes, and then we were off again to the Champs-Elysées itself!  At the top, we saw the Arc de Triomphe (and its mad traffic system – or lack thereof!):

We stopped and had a coffee and a croissant, and then went for a twilight walk along the river towards the Eiffel Tower. Things started getting more and more perfect…

I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City when she goes to Paris (before she starts getting miserable and stuff). Look, we were even on an appropriately-named street!

There was this cool monument:

And this one:

Sure enough, as twilight approached the Eiffel Tower slowly but surely lit up, and it was the most romantic thing I have seen. I felt so special, and Toby and I were just in awe. We took many pictures (Toby had wisely brought his big camera) as things got more and more amazing. And then at 7pm, the tower started glittering with strobing lights:

It was so perfect! We strolled along further, taking more pictures – at each end of the bridge by the Eiffel Tower was a carousel which lent a touch of old-French kitsch to proceedings:

We decided that if we lived in Paris, it would not be totally awful. We finally headed back to the hotel and found a restaurant (appropriately called “The 8th Arrondissement”) which sold nice, if somewhat bizarre food! This morning, after a very long and restful sleep, we walked to a bakery and had a traditional continental breakfast of croissants and coffee before walking up to the Sacre Coeur, which has breathtaking views.

We dodged the sellers on our walk down and headed back to the Gare du Nord:

…where we had a yummy dinner with a proper, more traditional burger in a restaurant that played only Lady Gaga, before finally making our way back to London.

I can’t believe that we were only in Paris for just over 24 hours; we packed such a lot in that it feels like we had a full week’s holiday! But not only was it romantic (Paris + glittery Eiffel Tower = love) but it was exactly what I needed. A getaway from everything, which allowed to recharge emotionally and forget everything that was bringing me down. Work appears to have resolved itself somewhat, and the rest of my annoyances can buzz off for now. I know that I will always be a sensitive and somewhat neurotic person, but ultimately, life is very good now and I am happy. And when I have vacations like this, I am reminded just how happy I am. 🙂

— PS. I also have a corresponding post on my tumblr!

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Monica – Still Standing. (album review)

March 21, 2010

Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago.  Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same.  Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end.  Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly  All Eyez On Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard.  Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks.  Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort.  What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next.  “Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

“Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!).  However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston.  “One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest.  Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship.  Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko.  It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics.  Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole.  Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs.  It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.