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Go Pro’s in Go Ape

I’ve always said that I’d wanted to go to Go Ape. I’d always seen other people’s photos on Facebook, and thought to myself “Yeah, no problems, I’d rock at that”.

I literally didn’t even think of the height factor. What an idiot.

So with one of mine and Julien’s milestone anniversaries fast approaching (I shan’t say which one, due to our long and twisted road, surrounding what constitutes as a relationship over the past 3 years), I decided as ever that we should do something a little more interesting than the norm, and therefore thought a day at Go Ape would be the perfect day for us both.

With Go Pro’s strapped to our heads like the geeks that we are, we got off at Cockfosters tube, at the far end of both the Piccadilly Line, and God’s waiting room, and made our way to Trent Park.

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A team of smiley, helpful staff greeted us, in a small, no expense spared little timber hut, on the edge of the forest. They took our valuables and got us immediately harnessed up, and practising our placement of safety clips, onto the safety lines.

We’d booked on to the midday slot, where we were starting at the same time as a group of around 10 others, mainly parents and children, and one other couple. Our safety guide, Rhys, helpfully gave us a quick run-through of ascending the trees, and the house rules in general, and then we were off.

So, if you are not familiar with Go Ape, it is a series of, I’d say, obstacle courses in the sky. You ascend to the tree top canopies via a rope ladder, which leads to a wooden platform around the tree. You go from one tree to the next, via a variety of means, whether it be a simple rope bridge, or a set of silver hoops hanging from chains, which you need to precariously place your feet in, going from one to the next. After you’ve completed each crossing, you eventually reach a zip wire, which brings you back down to the ground. From here, you go to the next circuit, of which, in Trent Park’s Go Ape, there are five (including a practice one, each increasing in height and difficulty, as you progress.

So after the practise one, we started the second course, and as soon as I was up at the top of the rope ladder, I was instantly wracked with nerves. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you will see I’m scared of just about everything and anything, but one of the more outstanding fears is that of falling from a height.

I made my way very timidly along the first few crossings, until I reached the Tarzan Swing. The Tarzan Swing is exactly like what you may imagine, in that you clip your safety hooks to a main piece of rope and literally just hold it and swing into a large hanging net about five metres in front of you. When you reach this, you grab a hold of it, and scale across to the safety of the adjacent tree. This was TERRIFYING. However, also super fun. As soon as I’d got to the net, I felt like I just wanted to do it all over again.

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We chased through a couple more obstacles, until we got to the end of course two. Like with each course, the only way down was via the zip line. Julien went first and sped his way down to the bark chippings at the other end.

I was psyching myself up for my turn, and literally about to jump, when a small child behind me reminded me that I’d forgotten to attach one of the very important clips to the line. Thanking the 12 year old, I rearranged myself, and pushed myself off. Speeding through the air, high on the exhilaration of it all, I approached the landing area and forgot what I was told about stopping. So the landing, instead of being an elegant and smooth one like I’d wished, was in fact more about me screaming at Julien to get out the way, as I delved into a pile of bark chipping, which later I would discover, had found their way into my underwear with the sheer impact of my landing.

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Dusting ourselves off, we got up and entered the third course. As we ascended, the 12-year-old child, his sister and his mother were hot on our heels. They were the most beautiful, middle class and perfectly behaved children, so naturally I had to keep apologising for my shouting of profanities as I consistently nearly fell from every obstacle possible, whilst two little angelic faces stared at me in shock and horror.

By this point I was getting braver, and felt nearly invisible. You may think it odd that I’d decided to visit Go Ape for something fun to do, with a relative fear of heights, however I am of the opinion that if I’m scared of something, I need to do it, or else I’ll lead one hell of a boring life. Bar spiders. I can stay being afraid of those.

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After completing the course of obstacles, the way down was another zip wire; however this one had a skateboard running parallel beneath. The idea was to jump on to the skateboard and ride it half way down, rather like Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movies. I managed to instead straddle it in some weirdly unachievable way, and spin round a few times, before again, ending up in the bark chippings laughing to myself. Julien on the other hand, nailed it.

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Onto the fourth course we went. At this point we were level pegging with a different family of three. We’d gone from one lovely mother, and her two polite children, to a bit of a gravelly voiced, chain-smoking mother, with her little girl, and incredibly annoying and boisterous son, called Jack. Jack; who proceeded to tell me I was a massive chicken, and that girls suck. Resisting the urge to push him from the trees, I politely let them go ahead, as they clearly wanted to take the course faster than I did.

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Course four was a little more challenging, and higher up. This one involved crawling through a series of barrels, which were not connected to one another, and various obstacle course components that required more dexterity and balance. Again, the course ended with another big zip line, which with more swearing and profanities was a lot of fun.

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And with that, it was time to take on the fifth and final course. Standing at the bottom of the rope ladder and looking upwards to the first platform, it was more than apparent that this course was considerably higher than the previous four. As I climbed up, I could see my hands physically shaking. We slowly used the first few crossings, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling of terrible uneasiness and fear that had somehow taken residence in my chest.

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We came to another Tarzan Swing. This one was at least double the distance of the original Tarzan Swing we had used on the second course. I opted to go first, and connected all my carabiners to the Tarzan rope. I stood there for a couple of minutes, hyping myself up some more to jump. I could hear more kids scrambling up trees behind me, and suddenly felt such an immense pressure to jump and stop holding them all up. At this point, the fear just completely over took me, and infested itself within me, deep. I couldn’t move and was frozen, and started crying like a big old wimp. Julien had to un-attach and then reattach me to the safety lines. I look back at that now, and kick myself, however I’d just told myself I was terrified so badly of jumping; looking down and seeing tree tops, beneath the tree that I was already in, and listening to little shit kid, Jack, rampaging behind me like Taz the Tasmanian Devil, no doubt on his second go round course five.

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Thank The Lord, there was an alternative route, which in all honesty was probably not a lot easier than the Tarzan Swing option, however we took that one none the less.

At this point I was shaking a great deal, and had lost all nerve and bravery that I was able to summon before. They say not to look down when you’re scared of heights, however it doesn’t help that you HAVE to look down in order to know where you’re placing your footing.

Regardless, I “wussed” my way round, as Julien kindly told me afterwards, and made it to the end, where we climbed an even taller tree, and got on the final zip line. This was the biggest and the longest, and certainly the most fun. I didn’t want it to end, screaming with joy the whole way down.

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And with that, Go Ape was finished. We had a great time, and for around £30 a head I feel like it’s reasonably priced for what you get. You’re not limited to doing each course once, and you are allowed to revisit them as many times as you wish within your day. Our time went so quickly; we’d started at midday and weren’t finished until around 16.00, however it felt like a lot less time.

It’s very energetic when you’re there, even without realising. For example, when you scale the large hanging net, it takes a lot of upper body strength to keep yourself pulled taught and close to the net, without dropping. When you reach the end of the entire course, you may not feel tired, but when you take a moment to sit, you realise actually, you have been very active and it is tiresome.

Feeling suitably sleepy and happy with a fun filled day, we walked back to Cockfosters Underground, to get the train back to civilisation, not before posing for a childish photo.

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We returned to Battersea, where we had a lay down, and scrubbed up, before on to the more traditional part of celebrating our anniversary…dinner.

I’d chosen a restaurant on Drury Lane, London, called Sarastro. I’d been before with family, and it’s this beautiful little restaurant situated in the heart of the West End. The restaurant therefore has a strong theatre theme, with puppets and masks planted all around. They also have these beautiful isolated balconies looking over the rest of the linear restaurant, which are apparently very difficult to get in to, as they are extremely popular.

When making the reservation, I’d mentioned it was a very special occasion, which it was, and requested we sit in one of these balconies. Sure enough, when we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted very warmly, with open arms and big smiles, and taken to our private balcony.

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We were seated in the quaintest little private box; obviously mean to recreate that of a box at a theatre. The waiters climbed stairs to show us menus and to take our orders whilst we looked down to the main thoroughfare of the restaurant, where an extraordinarily charismatic four string quartet played for us, and had all the patrons in a mix of fits of laughter and sheer admiration for talent.

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After half an hour, the quartet band was finished, and on came two opera singers. These ladies were remarkably talented, and we were all in awe of this, however we couldn’t help but honestly think it was a bit strong for background entertainment whilst dining. This lasted another half an hour, and as I say, they were much appreciated and admired for their talents.

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Both the quartet band and the opera singers, during their respective times performing, made an effort to circulate through the restaurant, and up the stairs to sing / play personally to each of the tables, which was a really lovely touch, and got everyone involved.

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Sarastro have this theme every Monday, also including a set menu. It was around £30 per person for a starter and a main.

The starter was simply amazing; a selection of small Mediterranean dishes, from freshly made hummus to cured meats, olives and beautifully calorific fried cheese shapes.

We reluctantly reminded each other that we’d also ordered a main course each, so must try and restrain from eating everything o the table. I’d ordered a duck comfit, whilst Julien had ordered a lamb shank. I hate to say it, but Julien won this time round with his ordering. His meal was absolutely amazing; the meat just fell from the bone so easily, and was served with these beautiful Dauphinoise potatoes. Mine was nice; none the less, and by the time we’d scooped our plate loads into our mouths, we were certainly not wanting desert – something which is almost unheard of with myself and Julien.

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All around our little balcony area, lovers had carved their names, and quotes into the walls, as almost a tradition. After a couple of glasses of wine, we thought we’d jump on the bandwagon also. Unfortunately, the couple of glasses of wine that enabled me to make the decision to carve our names, also enabled me to spell Julien’s name wrong, which wasn’t the most romantic thing in the world. However; I guess it sticks with our theme of unconventional romance.

We were all set to leave, and had asked for the bill, when a waiter approached us with a slice of cake, with a candle sticking out, singing “Happy Birthday”. We went along with it, laughing at their assumption of “special occasion’ translating to birthday, and not anniversary. So I guess we did have desert after all.

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And with that, we left, took a stroll along Waterloo Bridge, and back to the station.

We were shattered. We’d had the perfect anniversary. Flinging from trees, getting wood chippings in our underwear and getting all grubby, coming home and dressing up all fancy for a lovely meal out, and now home to bed.

That night we slept for around 11 hours. It doesn’t get better than that.

Paris…No Swimming in the River Though; That’d Be In Seine

Every so often Julien gets hired to DJ abroad; recently playing a big corporate event in Munich, the same markets operator, ICAP, asked him to play an event in Paris.  Fortunately they were kind enough to let me come along as a freebee with him for a weekend away together this time round.

So early one Saturday morning in June, I packed my wheelie suitcase, and headed on the tube to King’s Cross St Pancras.  It has to be said, being up and out at 7.30am on a Saturday with no hangover, they’re really missing a trick with making some kind of real life documentary about the characters you see trying so hard to get back to bed at this time.  It was almost like a game, figuring out which late night / early morning reveller was going to cave and be sick on you first.

After successfully dodging being spewed on in any capacity, I got off the tube, excitedly springing along to go and meet Julien, with images in my head of riding bikes by the River Seine, and laughing heartily whilst munching on baguettes.

We met, went through the very basic security checks ran by the Eurostar and before we knew it were speeding our way over to La Ville-Lumiére.  Two hours and 15 minutes later we were in Paris Gare Du Nord, and pulling our bags along on to the Metro.

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We thankfully just had to take one line straight down to where we were staying, a hotel in the Montparnasse area of the city.  Admittedly, it is not the most beautiful, or typically French district, however the hotel was pleasant and in a well-connected area.

We got in, ditched our bags, and headed downstairs for some food and drink, shortly after which Julien went to setup for later, and to complete his sound check, whilst I went shopping due to realising I’d forgotten trousers and underpants and everything else I might need.                                                              

After a quick power nap, we set off to have some dinner before Julien had to start playing.  We walked up the road to find a quaint little restaurant, where we enjoyed some lovely French food and a couple of big glasses of wine. 

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As we walked back to the hotel, it was about 20.58, and Julien stopped me where I was walking in the street.  He told me to look to my left, where there was a clearing in the buildings that led all the way down to the Eiffel Tower.  As the clock struck 21.00 the entire tower lit up with sparkling lights, twinkling all over in the distance.  You can see why they say it’s such a romantic city.

We got back to the hotel, where Julien began his work at the party, whilst I took advantage of the champagne.  After a fun night we crawled into bed at around 2am, to rest before we began the tourist part of our trip.

We had a cheeky bit of a lie in, mainly due to my bubbles induced headache, and hauled ourselves out of bed.

Instead of heading to the restaurant downstairs for our breakfast, we agreed it’d be nicer for us to have it out and about in the city somewhere, so we hopped on the metro, and headed up to Saint-Michel station, next to Notre Dame.

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After wandering around the old town and the beautiful Gothic buildings, we finally decided on a quintessential little French restaurant. It was like how you’d imagine; tables and chairs outside, with couples enjoying cigarettes with their coffees, whilst enjoying the morning sun.

By the time we’d got there it was more lunchtime than breakfast, so we had a look at the full menu. Wanting to be typically French, I chose the French onion soup with a side of garlic snails, or escargot if you like.

I’d had the escargot before, however a very long time ago, as a child on one of our many family holidays to Barneville Carteret, Normandy. In all honesty, I should have left it there really, and not ordered it again all these years later. It’s the texture. You know that you are eating a snail, and the texture is EXACTLY how you would imagine it to be; however much garlic butter they want to serve it with to disguise it, you are still more than aware that you are eating a mollusque.

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So after encouraging Julien to be “more French” by trying desperately to get him to help me eat the snails, we finished up, and set off to explore the city some more.

We walked back to Notre Dame, where we admired the beautiful architecture of the Cathedral. We had hoped to go in, however on a Sunday with this many people, the queues were just too big.

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We decided to rent a couple of the bikes that they have around the city. After trying to decipher how to rent one, thus causing a massive queue of angry cyclists behind us, waiting to use the machine, we finally managed to disembark our bikes from the docks and off we cycled along the Seine.

These bikes are a great idea, and are in fact the original version of what we call “Boris Bikes” in London. However, I wasn’t expecting them to be so heavy. It certainly took a good few attempts of not falling off sideways until I could steady myself enough to actually get away and cycle in a (semi) straight line.

Off we went, with the wind flapping in my hair, and great big grins on our faces, laughing and joking about baguettes and strings of garlic. However, after this lovely image took place for all of ten minutes, we then decided to embark on the roads of Paris.

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Now bearing in mind that I have balance issues even when standing up, combined with a very heavy metal bike, and then throw in the CRAZY French driving and also doing it all on the wrong side of the road, it wasn’t long before I swerved into a van, and scared myself a little. Needless to say, I got beeped at and honked at repeatedly, and quickly decided to drag the bike up onto the pavement, before I end up in a bad way on the roads.

I looked up to see the back of Julien’s head in his little panda hat disappear like a small dot in the distance. I tried shouting after him, although he couldn’t hear me, and kept on cycling.

After walking my bike along the pavement in a right old huff and grump for a few minutes, I saw his hat in the crowd, where he’d pulled up and waited for me. Obviously, because I am a woman I gave him a needlessly hard time, and exaggerated the story ten fold, about how in fact a LORRY, not a van nearly ran me over and I was very close to death etc etc. After telling me (rightly so) to stop being such a drama queen, and reminding me that I am in fact alive still and no collision actually happened, we embarked again upon our cycle ride, however this time opting for quiet back roads.

Just as we got to the bottom of the hilly streets that lead up to Montmartre the heavens opened, and we found a dock for the bikes, and ran to take cover under some shop awnings. When this had eased up a little we continued our climb up the hill and finally got to the bottom of the steps that lead to the Cathedral. Just then and there it REALLY started to tip it down, and we had to take shelter in a shop, where we bought some rather fancy rain macs. Unfortunately the packaging didn’t quit make it clear that on the backs of these rain macs there was a massive print of the Eiffel Tower. There was a reason why they were only €2 though.

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We started the climb up to the top of the stairs, which is incredibly steep, and exhausting. However because you’re overlooking such a beautiful view, you can time your need for breathers perfectly, with just wanting to take a selfie, so no one can really see just how horribly unfit you really are.

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We reached the top, and turned around the see the simply breathtaking panoramic view of the city. It really is a lovely place, and just oozes with the sense of romance and love. And then that all quickly disappears as you get asked if you’d like to buy ten key rings with the Eiffel Tower on by the masses of street traders in the area.

We walked inside of the cathedral, and as it was a Sunday, there was a service on. We were welcome to sit and watch, so we did this for a bit, as the choir was singing. The architecture inside the building was phenomenal. It is a truly majestic work of art, and words cannot do it justice. We sat in silence for a while, taking in our surrounding, and then walked the perimeter of the building, admiring the windows and the arches all the way around.

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After this we stopped for a hot chocolate and some gateaux, before heading back down the hill. We walked through all the dainty, curving and winding streets, imagining how lovely it’d be to live in some of these places. It just seems like such a quaint little idyllic lifestyle to have, if you were lucky enough to live in the Montmartre district.

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We hopped back on the Metro, where we got off at Porte Maillot, and walked down to the Arc de Triomphe. Rather stupidly, we didn’t see the entrance to the underground passageway to get to the actual structure, which is essentially in the middle of a roundabout on one of Europe’s busiest roads. So we decided to take our lives into our own hands, and ran in between speeding motorcycles and cars, whilst getting beeped and sworn at ferociously. Luckily we made it to the middle, admired the stunning building, and then sensibly took the under passage back to the Champs Elysees.

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We walked down the Champs Elysees, taking in all the shops, including the flashy car showrooms, until we reached the Southern end, where we jumped on another Metro to the Eiffel Tower.

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We walked down from Trocadero station, past the Musee national de la Marine, through the Jardins du Trocadero, across the Pont D’lena Bridge and to the foot of the tower. We looked up, taking in the beauty of one of the most iconic structures of our time, and decided after not having the patience to go inside any other landmarks today, bar Montmartre; we would certainly go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, as we approached, we soon realised that there were maintenance works being carried out that day, and you could in fact, not visit the top of the tower.

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This was a real shame, as it was genuinely one of the things that we really wanted to do, however, such is life, and now I know in future to find these things out beforehand.

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At this point, the sun was beginning to set, so we decided to take a stroll back towards the Champs Elysees, arm in arm along the River Seine. We sat for a while on the bank, reflecting on what a lovely, yet tiring day we had had, exploring the city.

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It really is beautiful, and has a sense of calm about it, however at the same time, much like London, it can be extremely tiring, and we were both completely exhausted.

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We finished the day by having a ginormous steak and plate of frites, and then dragged ourselves back to Montparnasse and into bed, knowing that the next day we needed all our energy to tackle Disneyland…

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