Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

New Year’s Resolution no.3

….was to blog. So here I am. Blogging. About what? I’m not sure yet. Maybe about my newly discovered love of beautiful art? Maybe about my renewed fascination with the history of Ham House because of my fabulous new book about it? Maybe about cake?

Well, let’s start with the cake. Here is a box that once contained a chocolate orange cake.
image

Danda had one peice. Someone else ate the entire rest of the cake, thinking it might help with her cold because oranges contain vitamin C, right? That someone else had been sworn off sugar because of the sugar headaches and achy teeth caused by their new job as a cake maker. The someone else now feels chocolate guilt and wishes not to be named.

Talking of new jobs, it’s been an interesting year. In the space of twelve months, the following things have happened;

1. Got two new jobs. One I disliked. One I loved. Thankfully I am now in the one I love!
2. Lost a good friend to the murky depths of Texas’ capital punishment system.
3. Went to France (for lunch), Italy (for my birthday) and America.
4. Visited the NASA space centre.
5. Became a ghost tour guide.
6. Made this (the website, not the art)
7. Became addicted to Candy Crush, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
8. Purchased the most expensive (but most worth it) book I’ve ever owned.
9. Discovered pretty art and fabulous painters (current favourites are Sir Peter Lely and Van Dyck)
10. Got to know the life of the river better, via my walk to work. (And learnt about the importance of knowing the tide times!)
11. Got reacquainted with my childhood best friend when she came to stay in the spare room.
12. Had a cold for a month.
13. Watched family jet off for a new life under the Australian sun.
14. Met a fellow blogger for the first time.

There has been a lot of change in the last year, some of which I’m still getting used to. Here’s to 2014! I wonder what will happen.

Advertisements

The time we missed Independence Day

When I lived in namibia, I was 18. We have all been 18. Therefore, I hope you not judge me too harshly after I tell you the story about Independence Day, the biggest day of the year in Namibia.

They had worked hard for their independence and it was in everyone’s recent memory. I was 18. I didn’t appreciate the importance of this day. The night before Independence Day was the Crayfish Derby in Luderitz. This was more for the Afrikaners than anyone else.

We got there mid-afternoon and watched all the men go off in their fishing boats and we then had about four hours until the men would come back with a crayfish and have them weighed to see who had the biggest and who would win. In this four hours, we were given free drinks and food because people recognised us as the poor volunteers in town. We had a town meeting to go to so we stayed for about an hour then walk back into town to go to this meeting.

It was when we were walking back that we realised we were a little drunk. Our dog, Diaz, was with us. She was always with us. And so she came to the town hall with us. We hoped that we didn’t appear too drunk and decided to stay silent and smile a lot. When the meeting started, we had chosen two seats on the end of a row and sat silently scribbling notes for the local town newspaper, which we ran.

They decided to do that thing where everyone introduces himself and they started at the end of the row that we were at. So much for keeping out of the way. Lucy stood up, giggled a little and introduce herself. When I stood up, the giggles had grown and I was almost laughing out loud. It suddenly all seemed so hilarious. I said my name, pointed at lucy and said, “yeh, the Buchter News as well,” and sat down. It had not started well.

After everyone else introduced themselves and we took a few obligatory photographs, the dog made an appearance. We had left her outside but someone must have opened the door and she had snuck in. She came over and sat down near us. We knew what she was like but we hoped she would behave today. She did not behave. She wound her way in and out of everyone else’s chairs and then some empty chairs which caused them to move a little and scrape on the floor. It sounded like a fart.

We giggled. We were not professional.

The meeting lasted 2 hours and we didn’t really listen to anything. We left and headed straight back to the Crayfish Derby. The men would be back in a few hours and until then, there was eating and drinking time. We whipped out the camera a few times to take photos and then people remembered that we were the poor newspaper volunteers and fed us again for free.

When the men had come back, they all weighed their crayfish and we spent the evening celebrating and dancing.

The next morning there was a big celebration in the nearby stadium. It was Independence Day for the whole country. We had not been clever to stay late at the Crayfish Derby but we got up and we made a way to the stadium with good intention. We got there at 9 o’clock, found a seat and sat down to wait. It was supposed to be starting at about 9.30. We waited. 10 o’clock came. We waited. 10.30 came.

I don’t know what we expected. we had been living in Africa for long enough to know that 9.30 does not mean 9.30. We were suffering. We had not had enough sleep. We were totally exposed, sitting in the hot sun and dehydrated from our night out. We realised it would probably be midday before anything significant happened.

We decided to go home for sleep. Just a little one. Just a nap. Just for an hour or so. We’d be back at mid day. As we were leaving the stadium, our close friend, George, arrived and why we were leaving. We told him that we just needed to pop home for something quickly. We didn’t want to tell him we had to sleep because we were dehydrated and knackered from our night out. We said we would be back before anything got going.

We went home, headed for the front room, sat on the sofa and fell asleep. When we woke up, it was quite late in the afternoon. We ran out of the house into the street. We lived on a hill so we could see down into the stadium. There were not many people in the stadium. They were leaving.

The celebrations were over and we had missed the entire day.

The entire Independence Day. The most important day of the year in Namibia and we had slept on the sofa instead.

But we were the local newspaper volunteers. We ran the only town newspaper. If we didn’t report Independence Day, it would look strange. So we got the two or three photographs we had taken of the decorations at the stadium and some of the photos of the town major and a few of the other people we knew had made speeches and we wrote the article for the newspaper as though we had been there.

It went something like this – “The Independence Day celebrations were enjoyed by all. This day marks a special day in Namibia’s history. Since 1980, Namibia has been free of outside control and its’ people are free to pursue their own goals. The town mayor encompassed these feelings exactly in a speech in which she praised Namibians for their resilience and talked of the wonderful things that have been achieved under a free Namibian government.”

I mean that’s probably what she said, isn’t it? We said there had been performances by children from the local schools, which we knew because we also worked as teachers in a few schools and had seen groups of children preparing their performances for the Independence Day celebrations.

And with nothing else to do but go with it, we let the newspaper go out that month with the main story a kind of hashed together patchwork blanket of guesses and photographs we had taken of other things.

No one said anything. No one commented on the lack of detail about the celebrations or about the mayor’s speech. No one noticed that the photographs didn’t look like they were taken in an outdoor stadium.

And it was fine.

I must reiterate, readers, I was 18. This seemed like acceptable behaviour. Please do not judge me.

The time we went to see the penguins

When I was 18, I decided that Africa would be a good idea. And so I moved there. I lived in a little town called Luderitz on the Namibian coast and loved it. My friend Lucy and I worked hard producing the local town newspaper and working in some of the schools.

We had been there a few months when it was time to decide what to do for Christmas. A whole load of other volunteers were heading to Cape Town for it and before leaving England, I had had this romantic idea in my head of climbing Table Mountain on Christmas morning and sitting on the top sipping a hot chocolate. It was decided then. We would head to Cape Town and join in the fun.

It was lovely. It was a lovely way to spend our first Christmases away from home. At the Long Street Backpackers, where we stayed, all the guests gave about £3 each and a few people went to the shop and got loads of food and we all sat round a massive long table, relative strangers, and had a wonderful muddled Christmas day together. Later that evening, we got it into our heads that everyone needed to be thrown into the pool. And so everyone was thrown into the pool. Fabulous.

We weren’t exactly partying hard or anything but we were letting our hair down after an intense few months. One night, we went to a club called Jo’burg and this one girl decided she was going to have a ‘dance-off’ with one of the local South African guys. We recoiled in horror and ran off, leaving her to her own silliness in the club. So you see, we were being a little bit silly.

One day, however, we decided to have a more sedate day. We were a bit tired from the partying and felt a little off-kilter being around strangers at a time when people were usually with their families. We withdrew from it all and made a plan to get the train out to Simonstown, about an hour away, and walk along the coast a little and see the penguins. There was a massive colony there, apparently.

We boarded the train and made the journey but, given our state of tiredness, were struggling not to nod off. By the time we got to Simonstown, we kind of wanted another sit down. We walked along the seafront with its lovely old high street and started our walk out to see the penguins. It was going to be half an hour’s walk. After about five minutes, we spotted a cafe and agreed en masse, that sitting down and having lunch was quite quite necessary if we were going to make this walk.

And sit down we did. We ordered most of the things on the menu and scoffed them then had to sit very still for fear of exploding. One of the group had developed a crush on the waitress so of course we lingered for longer.

By the time someone was brave enough to mention finishing the walk out to see the penguins, the rest of us kind of looked at our watches and huffed and puffed a bit and said we didn’t know if we’d make it there and back in time for the train back (I’m sure we would have, it was mid afternoon, not midnight) and our little legs certainly didn’t want us to go.

So we walked the five minutes back to the train station and got the train back to Cape Town.

That’s what happened the day we went to see the penguins.

The adventures of Daddy and Yaya…

…are soon to begin! Yaya and his Mummy and sister are having a lovely time in Stralia. Of course they are. We knew they would. Look.

image

image

image

Daddy had stayed behind to tie up loose ends so we kind of still had hold of the children a bit. But yesterday finally came and Daddy got on the ellaflane and off he went. 

image

(Goodbyes with Mia at the airport)

Here’s to their new life!

image

image

image

image

image

The time I got a Thai massage

A few years ago, two friends and I were travelling around Asia. As Thai massages were dirt cheap, we’d been getting them every few days. You know, to ease the tension of travelling and having fun. It can be strenuous, honest. We usually got the massage were you change into blue pyjama-type things and they tug and pull and lean on you and by the time they’ve finished, you feel like you’ve had a proper work out.

This one time, we were in Cambodia, I think. The sign outside the massage place said they had been trained in the temple. Brilliant. I’m not saying that writing on a board outside a shop are credentials, as such, but we decided it would do for us. We went in and the others decided on the type of massage we had been getting everywhere else.

I, on the other hand was feeling crazy. I decided to get an oil massage. My friends were like, “O, but you need to be naked for that one cause it’s with oil,” and I was all carefree about it and like, “It’s no big deal. They must see naked bodies a thousand times a day. It’s all good.”

Sure enough, they told me to strip off and wait in the little curtained off bit lying on my front. This I did, whilst discreetly arranging the towel over my bum. There was lots of oil and lots of massaging and it was lovely and relaxing. There were times when she headed bum-ward when massaging the tops of my legs but I was terribly British about it and pretended it was totally cool and like, whatever, I hadn’t even noticed, I’m just so, like, cool and comfortable with my body and stuff. Yeh.

Then she asked me to turn over to massage my front. Clearly, I only had the one towel still so I made out like it was totally cool and I hadn’t even noticed that I was now boobs-out.

She massaged my legs with oil for quite a long time then patted the excess oil off with, yes you guessed it, the only towel covering me. She patted all the way to my feet then left the towel there. So now I was just a totally naked girl, lying on a floor in a massage parlour, wondering what on earth would happen next.

I daren’t open my eyes to look in case that was the signal she was waiting for, because by now, I was wondering what kind of ‘temple’ she had learned this massage stuff in. Yeh, I’m sadly at a loss on what the dodgy-massage-etiquette might be.

So I lay there and pretended that I was having such a relaxing massage that I’d just, kind of, fallen asleep.

Next minute, she asked me part my legs a little and she knelt in between them. My brain was really really not sure what was happening then. In the absence of any other plan, I continued feigning sleep. Then she leaned onto my hip bones with both her hands. For a very long time. Is that a massage technique? Hip leaning? Because this action had put her face very near the part of my body that had previously been covered.

I. Honestly. Didn’t. Know. What. To. Do. What would you have done, reader? What would you have done?

Me? I just kept my eyes closed and pretended this was all fine and natural and not wierd at all and, just, like, whatever, not even a big deal or anything. Yeh. Totally fine.

Then she stopped leaning and she just knelt there. It felt like she was waiting for the go-ahead. I kept ‘sleeping’.

After a little while, she came to kneel behind my head and there was a bit of almost-boob touching that I’m not sure was real massaging or dodgy massaging.

Then before I could say DodgyThaiMassage, one of the most surreal hours of my life was over.

I’ve still never worked out whether that was a real massage or a dodgy one. Opinions?

O, I do like to be beside the sea

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to Danda!
Happy birthday to you!

Hip hip hooray and all that.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was Danda’s birthday yesterday so, in true birthday style, we ran off to the beach for the day. And it was glorious. The weather stayed warm enough to spend all day walking around but breezy enough to not be uncomfortable.

The day started with fancy lunch. I love a fancy lunch, as some of you may already know. I love fancy lunching. I love Michelin stars. I love pretty food.

This lunch did not disappoint.

image
It started with bread, after which we were presented with calf’s tongue with piccalilli. Did I ever mention how much I love the free extras at nice restaurants?
image

We had the same starter, a leek and potato soup with white truffle cream. My goodness, do I love a truffle! I love a truffle. I went crazy for this soup. It was really really good with some of the fresh bread dipped into it.
image

Next up, Danda’s main was mackerel with mashed potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
image

Mine was a confit duck leg on a bed of lentils and bacon with cavolo nero and thinly cut, fried potatoes.
image

It was easily the best duck I’ve ever eaten. It was so soft and fell off the bone without any resistance at all. The skin, which I worried about because it can be quite fatty and disappointing, was crispy and beautiful. The jus was fantastic too. I just ate and ate and hoped it would never end. Sadly, it did so off we went, out into the daylight, to seek our next adventure.

We found it on the Brighton Wheel, looking down at the seaside town from the sky.
image
image

We then went for the longest walk ever in search of the Naturist Beach. O, what? Wait. I mean. I meant. I didn’t mean we went looking for it. I meant we were walking and then we saw it. By accident.

There was one bloke with a cap on chatting to a fully dressed couple and that was it. Disappointing.

We headed out to the marina to see what fun could be had there.
image

There were a lot of generic could-be-anywhere shops near the marina so we decided to wander back to the beach but not after spotting an amazing ‘5D’ ride thing that we just had to go on. It was one of those rollercoaster simulator things and it was really good. We got given 3D glasses and were splashed with water or blown with wind. It was fast and furious and I yelped quite a lot!

We finished the day by splashing about in the water and lying on the beach looking at the sky.
image
image
image

Of moats and medieval knights

On Friday, it was Away Day at Ham House. The great thing about working or volunteering with the National Trust is that Away Days are spent at other fabulous National Trust properties (none of them as good as Ham House, of course, but they’re still nice).

This year’s Away Day was to Ightham Mote in Kent (pronounced Item Moat).

image

And yes, it is surrounded by a moat. This is the view of it from one of the windows in the house.

image

It was built in, are you ready for this, 1325! Isn’t that mind-blowing? Almost 700 years old. It had lots more bits and pieces added over the next five centuries but the original buildings are from 1325.

image

This kitchen is from original build, as is the Crypt…

image

In one of the upstairs rooms, there is a glass panel in the ceiling so that you can see through to the original oak beam roofing.

image

The house has been owned by medieval knights, sheriffs, MPs, generals, businessmen and many others. In one room, the wall on my right was built by Isolde Inge (they think) in 1330, the wall on my left was part of a later addition built by Sir Richard Clement in 1530 and the motifs on the window are someone else’s addition but they don’t know the exact year.

As opposed to the extreme grandeur of Ham House, this house was a place I could imagine myself sitting down in, perhaps reading a book, perhaps lingering by the warm fire in the billiard room. One of the rooms actually, the Oriel Room, has been made back into a sitting room so guests can have a little sit down part way around. (Ham House is still better though, our stuff is sparklier.)

The New Chapel at Ightham Mote is an interesting room, mainly for this fantastic ceiling, painted in situ in the early 16th century.

image

Another interesting thing is the way over-the-top Jacobean fireplace in the Drawing Room, which they actually had to lift the ceiling in order to fit in. Anyone else might just make a smaller fireplace. But not the Selbys (whose ownership of the house spanned 300 years). They got hold of the ceiling and pushed it upwards, for the fireplace must be put in and it must be huge.

image

We then saw some rooms furnished as its last owner had them. He was an American businessman from Portland, Maine and his ashes are in the Crypt. Interestingly, his relatives traced his ancestry back to medieval knights.

After wandering out of the house, we saw these buildings opposite.

image

It turns out they were built in 1457 and are currently being let out as holiday cottages… New cool weekend away destination, maybe?

We then lunched (not after I snuck into the kitchen to chat to the chef for a bit!) and I had the difficult choice between joining a garden tour for my last 45 minutes or raiding the shop for cookery books.

Guess which one I chose?

image