Europe, 2006

When he was in high school, my husband-to-be (HTB) did a rotary exchange where he spent a year in Belgium. He lived with 3 host families over the course of the year, spending the majority of the time with the Renson family in the French speaking town of Dolembreux.

It was to this small town that we travelled next to visit the families and catch up with my HTB’s other friends while we were there. We stayed with the Renson family who lived in an old converted farmhouse. The children- Bill, Ben and Isabelle- had long since moved out and started their own families, but the dog (who only understood African dialect and French commands as she was an import from the Congo) remained.

We went to the closest city, Liege, where my HTB had attended school. The city monument was an unusual water fountain of sorts and the main square was awash with blooming flowers. I was introduced to the world of “real” chocolate at the Galler chocolate factory and the eating of much Cote’ D ‘Or, readily available in supermarkets here, but not in Australia.

One night, we went to a soccer game at Liege stadium. It was very cold, but the yummy thrice fried frites and waffles with added sugar lumps sure warmed us up!

Another night, we went to the pub where my HTB had spent many hours with other rotary exchange students and a restaurant owned by a well-known local friend of his, who took us to a night club where he had to knock on a door with a peephole for us to be let in.

I also discovered the convenience of Belgium, in that being such a small land locked country, it was close to many other European countries.

We went on a day trip to Luxembourg City and marvelled at the Grand Palace. The Grund (old city) was amazing and unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the top it looked like a little fairy tale village that you could walk down into and explore. We also had a nice lunch in a restaurant in the main square with the added company of Flo, one of my HTB’s friends who now worked in the city.

Another day trip took us to Aachen in Germany. We took in the gothic style cathedral, amusing fountains and quirky shops. We also had a nice lunch in a restaurant in the main square with added German steins.

We went on an overnight trip to The Netherlands to visit one of my HTB’s friends Jacqui and her husband. They picked us up in a BMW which had self-park and took us to Williamsted fishing village for dinner. The next day, we all went to Zeeland to see the dyke at Neeltje Jan (Waterland) where we enjoyed being kids for the day. There were seals, a fabulous water playground, sand sculptures and a windy hurricane tunnel.

Related posts: England, 2006

Snowdon- an adventure, Part 3

This week’s guest post is from my cousin’s TW and Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts- here is the third, and last, part.

On the summit we tucked into an eclectic meal of barbecued chicken, sandwiches, falafel, hot coffee and delicious vine leaves.

We returned down two different paths; Sean and I came down the Watkins to get the cars and meet the others who were making their way down the Penny Pass.

Eastward Ho

At the hotel, we met back up with Mira who had returned from Carnarvon and also visited Gelert’s grave.  I had told her of the story earlier.  How Prince Llewelyn had left his trusted hound Gelert in charge of his baby whilst he went on a hunting trip and that on his return he found the baby missing and Gelerts muzzle covered in blood.  In a fit of rage he had slain the dog only to find his baby safe in his cradle a little way off, next to a huge wolf with several mortal wounds – the result of a fight to the death with Gelert.  Llewelyn returned to his faithful hound who licked his hand and expired on cue.  Unfortunately I burst her bubble by telling her that it was really an apocryphal story, although dog lovers would know doubt be delighted to hear this. Someone described Beddgelert as “a few dozen hard grey houses … huddled together in some majestic mountain scenery” and possibly traders made up the story to lure visitors to the mountain village.

Laila had wisely bought a packet of Radox muscle relaxant which did the rounds like a well rolled reefer, as we desperately tried to get some relief form the aching limbs.  Somewhat refreshed by this elixir, we decided to meet up in the village at seven thirty.  We met at The Tanronnen Inn, as much for a change as to get away from the Fawlty Towers that was The Saracen.  It was Pirate’s Night in the pubs of Bedgelert and I fancied a beautiful bird on my shoulder.  Instead I had to settle for Laila, a well scrubbed brunette with all the sex appeal of a second-hand jeep, who was now walking like John Wayne.  We were tired and hungry but plans at this point became a little blurred and we were in danger of splintering.  Laila and Felicia considered a pizza but for starters whetted their appetite at one of the best ice cream parlours this side of London; at the Glaslyn Ices and Glandwr Cafe. Michaela and Karen wanted to wait it out at the Tanronnen, in case a table became ready.  In the end it was left to Sue to sort out the disparate elements and rein everyone back into a group.  We ended up back at Fawlty Towers.  I was relieved, as I had a long awaited date with a Frenchman by the name of Monsieur Stella Artois.

The meal was more relaxing this time, as we knew what to expect.  We settled into good humoured chit chat.  Sean told us that the waitress at breakfast kept brushing her ample bosoms against his cheek every time she served him.  “You mean you were knockered” asked Felicia in broad New York tones.  “Yes” stated Sean, “but I told her to do it with feeling the next time round”.

Karen by this time had set upon our young waiter with gusto and decided he needed mothering.  She wanted to guide him in waitering, finesse his social skills, make sure he passed  his GCSE’s  and practice tantric sex with him into the small hours of the morning.  Or so I imagined in my cynical mind.  Poor boy he had a lot to contend with.  However, as with the previous night, we tipped him well for the inconvenience.

After the meal we headed back to the hotel, stopping off for a well deserved night cap suggested by Sue. “Let me give you a fine brandy to take that nasty taste away from your mouth and warm the cockles of your heart” Felicia said enthusiastically.  The warm encouraging liquid flowed smoothly down, creating a warming fire in my belly.  Before too long I had drained the glass and wanted another.  A few brandies later and we were ever more relaxed.  Sean thought Kevin resembled the actor Robbie Coltrane – probably not the wisest thing to say to a six foot Geordie after a few pints of lager.  He took it in good humour thankfully.

We made our way back to the hotel by what was now a well worn path under a billion stars.  The whole Milky Way was now suddenly above us, or so it seemed twinkling and beckoning:  Ursa Major, The Plough, Orion’s Belt, and anything else we imagined.  We even saw the odd satellite, traversing the inky sky at break-neck speed. It was a helluva thing, a truly awe-ful sight.  We then discovered that Felicia had picked up a straggler and a Spurs supporter to boot!  She tried to shake him off, but he was sticking to her like the proverbial to a wet blanket.  When we got back I found that the events of the day had taken there toll on me and I immediately settled into a deep and unshakable sleep as my head hit the pillow at Bryn Eglewys.

We met again the next morning for our final breakfast, with a combination of relief and mixed feelings, I felt.  The long trip back to London was only a few slices of marmalade and toast away now, and the holiday was nearly over.  Felicia had a plane to make.  At least we weren’t getting up to a marathon, I thought, like some of the other poor suckers in London; subjecting your body to a grueling regime, only to risk shitting yourself at the end, as Felicia so aptly put it.

The journey back was measurably quicker.  We took the M1 home, stopping briefly for a coffee and a leg stretch at the services. “Of all the gin joints in all the bars in all the world you had to walk into mine”.  Coincidentally we met Kevin and Sue who had stopped for the same refreshment, having been scared witless by a nasty lorry experience.

I pulled into the driveway at Ennerdale at precisely two thirty pm……and so ended a memorable short break.

Related posts: Snowdon- an adventure, Part 1, Snowdon- an adventure, Part 2

England, 2006

My first overseas trip with my husband-to-be (HTB) was to Weymouth to introduce him to my grandmother. My dad was also visiting at the time, so we caught up with friends old and newer. Alan and Viv cooked us the best roast I’ve ever had. One of Sarah’s brother’s friends had his 30th birthday at a local pub so we went along to share a few beverages with my old drinking crew.

I showed my HTB, Perry’s where I had worked the summer on Weymouth harbour and the sea front where I had spent my time off on the beach. We saw a very cool live band in a local pub as he loves live music.

We took my HTB on the usual tour of Tyneham Village, Corfe Castle, the Man of War at Lulworth Cove and Stonehenge. We also went to a few pubs including the Red Lion in Weymouth, The Cove House Inn at Portland and the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers for the warmest cider on the planet.

For a healthier alternative, we climbed up to Hardy’s Monument and visited the town of Cerne Abbas with its ancient monastery and large Abbey Farm House. We went to Cirencester to visit family, Bourton-on-the-Water and Bibury to see Arlington Row.

It was nice to show my HTB where I had come from and the places that were so much a part of my childhood and trips away.

My HTB had been to London before, but at a time when he had done more drinking than sight-seeing. So I dragged him around on a whirlwind tour of my favourite iconic sights- Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, St James Park, the River Thames, Oxford St and Covent Garden.

This time I got to go on the London Eye and we had a rare clear day affording great views of the city, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the new to me Millennium Bridge. I also got to see the awesome media centre at Lords Cricket Ground and sit in the captain’s chair on the HMS Belfast – two things I never would have done in London before meeting my HTB.

Between us, we had lots of family and friends living and working in London- both local and Australian. So, rather than spending days driving all around the city visiting people, we organised a night to meet everyone at once at The Horniman at Hays which had a view of the Tower Bridge and most importantly- lots of beer for more drinking.

Related posts: Europe, 2003England, 2002, England, 1997,England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1988 

Snowdon- an adventure, Part 2

This week’s guest post is from my cousin’s TW and Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts- here is the second part.

Upward Bound

Most of us got up early the next day, probably in eager anticipation of the climb, or possibly because we were relaxed and on holiday.  “Green figs, yoghurt, coffee – very black” was not on the menu.  This had been a Bond breakfast request in a Bosphorous hotel room in From Russia With Love that Sean wanted to come true. Instead we were faced with orange juice, cereals and of course a big cooked breakfast to your liking.  I had orange juice to start, followed by an excellent plate of scrambled eggs on toast with grilled tomatoes and mushrooms.  At the table there was much talk of “will it be a long climb, how tiring exactly is it, and I hope it’s sunny at the top”.  Some of us were veterans having made the climb a half dozen times before.  Having said that, this was no Matterhorn, no K2, not even the Eiger.  This was a benign mountain, a hill trek, a walk in the park….or so we thought.

After a full breakfast we massaged our stomachs and our egos and were ready for off around ten.  The host gave us some words of warning and some cautionary tales from his search and rescue days, flying helicopters around the Highlands of Scotland.  “If you’re in any doubt at all come off the mountain” he said cautiously.  “Oh, and if you get into any trouble make yourself visible” he added for good measure.

The Watkins path lay ahead and we started our slow trudge in high spirits.  Mira had perhaps wisely declined the climb, making her way to Carnarvon castle on one of the rare buses one occasionally finds in this neck of the woods.

It started off well enough: the path was pretty flat and the sunshine helped to alleviate any tired muscles. The mood was gay and bright.  The hills were alive with the Sound of Music.  All we needed was a Julie Andrews with the Von Trapp family in tow.  As it happened, we got neither.  Sean, I and Laila had climbed Snowdon before.  The others were lulled in to what they would discover later was a false sense of security.   For the Watkins path was opened by Gladstone in 1892 and is one of the hardest of the six routes up to Snowdon, as you climb 3300 feet of the 3600 feet of the mountain.

The Final Push

As we neared the Summit the temperature got noticeably cooler and we paused for hats and gloves and a big slug of water.  At this point, the path becomes hard to follow and is across loose scree with steep drops.  The host’s words as we left Bryn Eglswys were now ringing in our ears “It is the highest in England and Wales after all.  Respect it” he had said admonishingly.  I felt a little concerned as Kevin had bouts of cramp and Felicia was not used to climbing.  Laila gave Felicia plenty of encouragement every time she scrabbled for purchase on the loose scree, her knuckles deathly white as her petite talon like digits tried to bore their way through to terra firma.

The group soon split into two.  Mich didn’t like heights and so wisely wanted to press on and just get to the top.  She was hard on my tail and I was pressured to perform – not for the first time when an attractive girl was hard on my case.  Behind her was Sue.  She slightly worried Michaela and me with her early confessions regarding her urges to throw herself off when confronted with steep drops.  Behind Sue, Karen was gambolling along like a mountain goat.  She had recently climbed Adam’s Peak and had clearly got into the mountain spirit.  I envied her, her seemingly boundless energy as I kept in front trying to look like I knew the path.  It seemed to be much steeper than on previous occasions and gave me pause to think.  Sean served as a link between the two groups, looking very much the experienced mountaineer.  He hadn’t been this high for weeks – not since his last powerful meditative experience.  As we reached the pinnacle Laila gave out a last triumphant sigh, a not so delicate feminine gasp that could only be described as Brian Blessed being butt raped.  We were all relieved to have made it.

Stay tuned next week for Part 3.

Related posts: Snowdon- an adventure, Part 1

Canada, 2005

From New York, I flew to Toronto to continue my obsession with water falls with a trip to Niagara Falls.

But first it was off to the CN Tower with its disconcerting glass floor and birds eye view over Skydome and the rest of Toronto.

I saw Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto sculpture garden and the historic houses of Campbell House and Osgood Hall.

My favourite place was Casa Loma in the Dupont district. Inside the castle had marble walls and Victorian style furniture. I loved the church windowed conservatory and the intriguing secret passageways like the one in the study and the tunnel to stables. The view of the beautiful gardens and Toronto from the top was great.

I headed to the fashion district to seek out Le Chateau. Together with the Big Moose in downtown Toronto, it made me nostalgic for Vancouver.

The next day I headed out from the hostel on my pre booked tour to Niagara Falls. We stopped at a view point to see the enormous Niagara River that feeds the falls and in the lovely little town of Niagara on the Lake. One cute little blue house in particular caught my eye and I further fed my Vancouver nostalgia with a maple walnut ice cream.

Niagara Falls was blue and tall. The American side does not have the famous horseshoe falls, so I was glad to be on the Canadian side. At the lookout point for the rapids at top of horseshoe falls I shuddered to think of going over in a barrel. I went through a tunnel behind the falls to hear the roaring noise and get a few splashes, but thought better of taking a ride on the Maid of the Mist as I was still recovering from my Iguazu Falls cold.

I couldn’t help but compare the two sets of falls- one earthy coloured and natural, the other ice blue and commercial, but both beautiful in their own right.

A shot of ice wine on the obligatory stop at a local wine shop on the way back, helped to clear my head as well as my sinuses.

On my flight to Los Angeles on route back home, I got a clear view of Grand Canyon. Yes, I would have to return to this side of the world one day soon to see that.

Related posts: New York, 2005, Part 2: Sex and the City style!, New York, 2005, Part 1: Taking a bite, Argentina, 2005, Buenos Aires, 2005, Canada, 2002, Canada, 1997-1998, Canada, 1997, Canada, 1990

Snowdon- an adventure, Part 1

This week’s guest post is from my cousin’s TW and Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts.

Outward Bound

The day for the long awaited trip to Snowdonia finally arrived. The Three Twenty Eight was fueled and ready. The oil had been checked and the tyres pumped. The ECM had been stroked lovingly and the injectors had received their French kiss. All nipples were greased and the flaps were set to thirty degrees!

We left Ennerdale at around two pm into glorious spring sunshine, Sean and I settling in comfortably to ‘The Eagles’. Mira had met us earlier in the day and had eased into the less than generous rear seat. The car was fairly laden and the rear suspension groaned in acknowledgement! I was glad for the extra horses I had got as a result of tuning the engine, but still, the Beemer pulled well and we soon forgot the extra weight.

We met up with Laila, Felicia and Michaela en route on the A40. They were also in a BMW, also laden to the gunnels. It was a mixed group: young and old, slim and not so slim, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds – I think we covered the entire spectrum. For in those two BMW’s charging up the motorway was a microcosm of life itself. We pitted at Warwick services near junction twelve for a welcome break. A splash and dash – a skinny latte, samosa and some fuel.

Two or so hours later, and past Shrewsbury, the roads beckoned. Despite outward appearances of not really caring, there was a lot of not-so-hidden competitiveness between the two cars and their owners. The red mist slowly descended over Laila as she tried to assert her dominance over the driving, her car and impress Felicia. I could see her banging the gear lever into third, her eyes wild and fingers tingling on the wheel as she tried to keep up with my ageing but well maintained Three Two Eight. Her newer Three Two Five was quick, being supercharged by girl power.

Not being averse to childish pettiness, I too kept up the pressure, dropping the cogs and burying my right foot deep into the carpet. The motor obliged with only a slight pause before squatting purposefully onto its haunches and taking off like a wounded Cheetah. The Bavarian banshee was now emitting a deep guttural roar making the straight six sing and leaving the double Vanos chattering madly like a bunch of demented Welshman practicing close-harmony singing. I had no issues; I just wanted to win, plain and simple. I could imagine that Mira’s partly digested lunch was now in danger of re acquainting itself with her tonsils. The hard cornering, late braking and sudden acceleration that now was happening was taking its toll on her. Fearful of being either splattered, or an imminent and potentially very nasty brown moment on the Nappa leather seats, or possibly both I had to make a decision – fast. Given the options, we slowed to a more sedate pace giving Mira’s lunch and her frayed nerves a chance to calm. Although she said nothing she was grateful for the reprieve. The corners sighed “Araf” and the passengers sighed enough. Thence we ambled to our destination, Laila and I showing remarkable reserve in the face of inviting and beautifully tar macadam’d roads.

Evening Arrival

We finally arrived at our destination at dusk. Bryn Eglwys touts itself as a country hotel nestling in “one of the most enviable locations in the Snowdonia national park”. For the grandiose hyperbole you get a room at fifty quid a throw or more, and a mediocre breakfast – expensive for what is essentially a B&B.

The garrulous hostess, Lyn Lambert wasn’t there, perhaps fortunately. I had spoken to her some days before on the telephone, at some length, and after a few minutes of chat she “went into one” like I was an old friend. I had a dream of how the eventual meeting with her might have gone if we had met up………

“Hello, you must be the…”

“Yes I am Mrs. Lambert and I am the owner of the hotel. I hope your stay will be a pleasant one. I think we have the weather for it you know” she said cutting me off in mid sentence and with what I detected was a slight nod – the kind of nod that says “you’re going to get an extra herb sausage if you don’t watch out young man”. Or may be I was just reading too much into it.

I wasn’t averse to subtle innuendo myself, so I gave her one. “Will it be the full Monte breakfast tomorrow then Mrs. Jones…in bed…with some Welsh Rarebit…and the extra stuffed, herb crust sausage”?

“Oh anything you desire boys” she said in a wanton manner.

This was getting close to the bone and we had hardly passed the welcome mat. I decided I should not venture down this route of double entendre any further, so I whipped it out!

I snapped out of the dream and back to reality at hand. Her husband Kevin greeted us with pleasantries and answered all our requests patiently and with a dry sense of humor. He had the air of a military man, someone used to taking charge.

The Saracens Head

Having showered we met in the lobby and walked to the Saracens Head public House where we met Kevin and Sue who had both taken the day off and had made the trip up at a more leisurely pace.

We got a table quite late and we were all ravenous. The waiter was a young boy of no more than sixteen and appeared to have just started doing the job. Ordering the food was a protracted and drawn out affair, particularly for the vegetarians – Sean and Mira. They interrogated the waiter like a petty felon, although I hadn’t decided who was playing the good cop/bad cop part. “Was there garlic in the food, were the carrots organic and was the cabbage uprooted without suffering?” Dealing with a bunch of fussy Londoners was not what he was used to, particularly project managers. He had taken lessons from the Fawlty Towers school of waiting and was shaping up as a perfect Manuel.

Karen, the last of our party arrived in time for dessert and was very chatty. I guessed she was full of eagerness and possibly over-tiredness from the long, solitary trip up.

“Was their any Danish Blue?” she inquired,  expecting the answer “no”.

“Well we have some lovely Edam Miss” the waiter said, rather apologetically.

“No that’s fine, just some coffee please then” said Karen. ]

On the way back to the hotel we were accosted by an inebriated welsh choir on their way home and practicing their close harmony singing and sheep shagging techniques. “Men of Harlech tar tar tumpum…”, they roared. There was a booming baritone, a terrifying tenor and a squeaky ginger beer at the back who minced around with what I imagined was a nasty case of knob rot from a recent lost weekend.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2.

New York, 2005, Part 2: Sex and the City style!

It was my 27th birthday, I was in New York and I was determined to do all the New York things I wanted to do.

I started with the International Centre of Photography as I have always had an interest in photography and very much wanted to visit this particular museum while I was here. Part of the exhibit was from the movie Kids which was a bit confronting, but interesting all the same.

The number one thing I wanted to do in New York was go on the Sex and the City tour as it is one of my favourite shows. So I did. We started at the Plaza Hotel near Central Park, went to the Takashimaya shop on 5th avenue which was where the girls had looked at perfumes and visited a Manolo Blanik store of course.

Next up was the Pleasure Chest sex shop, followed by a Magnolia Bakery cupcake (from their sister bakery) in the Abington Square Park playground. The best bit was going to Carrie’s street and apartment and Aiden’s bar Scout (actually called O’Neils in real life) for a cosmopolitan at the end of the tour.

The next best thing I wanted to do was go to the top of the Empire State Building. So I met my friend Phil at the bottom in the big line up for the lifts. The line was so long that we missed the sunset, but got an awesome view of the Chrysler Building and New York City by night instead.

For dinner I wanted my favourite cuisine of Thai. It was much harder to find a Thai restaurant in New York than Sydney, but maybe you just need to know the right people who know where to go.

The next day we took a walk down the Avenue of the Americas and ended up at the Municipal Building where I had a pretzel- very yummy and very New York I am led to believe.

We explored the famous New York Subway system and I found that I had caught a cold from the boat ride under Iguazu Falls and was exhausted after four and a half days of sight-seeing in New York. So I left Phil on his journey to Brooklyn Bridge, got off at 14th Street – Eighth Avenue and wandered through the Chelsea art gallery area to watch a movie in a cinema near Times Square.

It was Memorial Day weekend so Times Square was overflowing with people and there were street dancers performing for the crowd.

When in New York, you must catch a Broadway show. So, that evening Phil and I went to Avenue Q on Broadway with Trekkie monster who swears a lot- very funny.

5 days was definitely not enough in New York and I couldn’t wait to come back to now one of my favourite cities in the world.

Related posts: New York, 2005, Part 1: Taking a bite, Argentina, 2005, Buenos Aires, 2005

It’s the simple things

Today, we have a short post for a simple idea. It’s not often that we take the time to appreciate the simple things in life.

The feeling when you are walking through the park on a sunny day

Sitting down and enjoying  the breeze and the view

The taste of your favourite ice cream

The smell after a good rain shower

The sound of the city or even of silence

I’m sometimes so busy getting to where I am going or thinking about what I want to do, that I forget to stop and look around me. So much can be missed this way.

Maybe feeling joy about the little things is a better way to enjoy every day life and not get bogged down in the things that can irritate us.

I’m sure this is no revelation. Monks have been teaching this kind of thing in Buddhism for year’s right?

There is also something to be said for living in the moment and not worrying about what’s around the corner. Perhaps not a good long term savings plan, but a life full of experiences instead. And who’s to say which is more valuable?

Personally, I almost always go for the experience and not worry about money. But this can also be dangerous, so you sometimes have to be selective and reasonable in your choices and not go abseiling in favour of being able to buy groceries for the week.

By enjoying the simple things in life, you can get satisfaction on a budget. It costs nothing to go to the park, go for a walk and use your senses to tune into the world around you.

And what a wonderful world it is if you can only take the time to  stop and look around.

Related posts: Adventurous vs Risk taker, It’s all in the attitude, Happy Holidays, Random Public Holiday Ramblings, Kicking goals