26
Mar 17

Amsterdam

Thursday 23 March
I got a trip to Amsterdam for my b’day, which was cool, and finally the day came for us to get up at an ungodly hour and haul our bags to the airport. Based on previous experience, we did not rely on the trains as they are pretty much more on strike than working, and took Terrell up there with us, which was probably the less stressful choice.

The flight was very short, but we did manage to strike a conversation with an Amsterdam local, and a world-class barista at that, so we had a list of hipster coffee houses to visit while we’re there.

Amsterdam was super sunny when we arrived, and was to stay that way for the four days of our trip. I think last time I saw four days of sun in a row it was in Cambodia. We took the train to town and the tram to our awesome B&B and it all took almost not time at all. Our place was a great studio flat on the top floor of the De Pijp swanky district and we were very happy with it. It also had a cat-view (to the balcony across the street). We could not admire it for too long, as we had timed tickets to the Anne Frank’s house, so we had to run. We really enjoyed the exhibition, as much as one can ‘enjoy’ it, and we learned a lot.

Amsterdam

After Anne Frank’s house we had shockingly good lunch in Singel 404, and went on for the truly unmissable Amst stuff – museum of all cat art. They had live cats living in as well. The house was beautiful on its own and all the cat paintings, sketches, sculptures, photos, posters and kitsch made it all the better.

Iest shocked at Singel

Cat Cabinet

Afterwards, due to a haircutting accident of the day before (in London), I had to find a hairdresser’s to make me feel human again, and Iest went to one of the coffee places on his list. After successful missions on both sides we spent the rest of the evening having a nice dusky stroll along the canals.

Evening Amst

Friday 24 March
We had to get up reasonably early as our tickets to Van Gogh museum were also timed, and we chose an early-ish time to avoid the most of the crowds. We didn’t mind too much as it was sunny and all nice and fresh. For breakfast, we ticked off another coffee place, Coffee & Coconuts, a bit too hipstery and pretentious for me (but at this point I did not know yet what was coming the next day, compared to which C&C was your old run-of the-mill, casual, shabby, a bit mundane, and slightly boring greasy spoon).

Van Gogh museum was great and we learned a lot again, even about the unfortunate ear incident. We really liked the exhibitions.

We thought we could go to the Rijks museum right after as they are conveniently located next to each other, but by this time it was really full of school classes and tourists, and we decided to rather go tomorrow early in the morning again, and instead went to the foodhall for some nice lunch.

We then went back to the city centre as we wanted to visit the Royal Palace but that was closed for some fancy royal visit, so we went a class down and headed to the redlight district. That was pretty disheartening overall, and we headed out again as soon as we could. We found some solace in the Begijnhof, which was like the opposite in spirit – quiet, transcendent, and pure. Topped it up with a tea and cake, some more canals (starting to look all the same to me tbh), and had a nice dinner at the Thai place on our street.

Saturday 25 March
Woken up to an escaped parrot on the tree in front of our window, which was kind of cool but i hope he found a way home.
Rijks museum in the morning. All the Rembrandt Night Watch, and all the other highlights we had a handy list of, plus the great library.

Rijks library

Afterwards we went to Back to Black, another coffee place on Iest’s list, I liked this one too, as they were selling canvas shopping bags with a nice ‘Only cats can judge me’ design, which i got as a b-day present from Amst.

Back to Black

Then we thought it was a great time to take a nice boat ride through the canals and hear a bit of the history and all, and in principle it was a great idea. In practice, the boat was nice and comfy and gently rocking and the narration in the headphones so soothing, so I slept through most of it. I think Iest had a good time tho.

Iest having a good time

Sunday 26 March
For b-fast we went to the Scandinavian Embassy and words fail me in trying to convey how pretentious this place was. Iest loved it of course, he even got another cup of the sour brew to go. Whatevs, we try to cater the trip to all cognitive abilities. We then dedicated the morning to a nice stroll in the Vondel park, observing loads of birds and trying to find Picasso’s fish-bird which we probably in the end did or maybe it was some kind of rubbish heap.

Heron ?

Birdfish

We also went to an unfashionable part of the town to take a pic of a windmill/brewery, just so that we can tick all the boxes, and that was about it, we started to wrap our trip up.

Altogether we had a great time in Amsterdam, and really enjoyed our little break; should do this more often!


26
Feb 17

Scotney Castle

In the week, Gina found a rather picturesque looking castle on National Trust’s ‘gram account. We found out that the castle wasn’t too far from us here in London – a mere hour and a half drive to the South East. Perfect! A road trip for Sunday was set in place.

We arrived at Scotney Castle just before 11am – the weather wasn’t too great; grey and damp – so the first thing we did was get an inside tour of the ‘new’ Scotney castle. It was quite fascinating, the owner had been living in the house until 2006 – so there was a mish-mash of possessions in the house. It was agreed with the owners that the castle, house and grounds would all go over to the NT upon the death of the last resident, so I guess she didn’t want to upgrade the house too much, as it contained relics of the past, some very old furniture and antiques [Gina: yeah, i’m sure that’s the reason why she didn’t ‘upgrade’ her antiques; like if NT was not waiting for it, it would have been all hygge by now, candles and yoghurt and moose rugs in front of the fireplaces] . She was living among these objects, with just, from what I could see, a TV and radio from the latter half of the 20th century as the newest objects in the house. It was really interesting. [Yeah but the TV did have netflix on it, so there’s that. Plus, she was not living among ‘objects’, she had like ten cats.]

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle

The grounds and garden of the house were amazing. Just down from the ‘new’ castle was a quarry – which was closed (due to frost), which had been turned to a garden, with loads of snowdrops inside it, and just further down was the old original castle that dates back to around the 1500’s – surrounded by a moat. We had a good look around, and walked around the moat before heading back to the NT’s reception area.

Gina at the moat

Then we decided it would be great time to head out see what we could be get for food, we had pub-lunch on our minds, and thanks to some Trip Advising on the matter, we ended up at The Chequers pub, down in Lamberhurst – which supplied us with some awesome Sunday roast, and veg lasagne for Gins.

Afterwards, as the day was grey ‘n wet, we decided it would be best to head on back home to chill – so we did just that.


07
Feb 17

Norfolk

Grey and cold February, with nothing to look forward to until like the Easter (oên bachs!). We decided to pass some of that greyness in Norfolk, see if we can still find the seals on the beaches, and see some National Trust places as well. Our expectations were not high for anything, as February is after the seal pupping season, and NT estates are actually closed Jan+Feb, so you can only really see the gardens.

Sunday 5.2.
Started off reasonably early from our place, weather not too shabby even if bitingly cold.
Our first stop was at the Anglesey Abbey, where the spectacular gardens were busy with the snowdrop season. The Abbey is a Jacobean-style house with gardens and a working watermill – Lord Fairhaven, wanting to inspire and surprise visitors, created a spectacular garden with planting for all seasons and a cosy house in which to entertain. Insides of the house were closed for visitors, but we did have fun in the gardens and the Lode Mill.

Snowdrops

Lode Mill

Anglesey Abbey

Anglesey Abbey

Pretty place, but we have a busy programme for the day, so off we head towards Oxburgh Hall. Zooming along on the A10, we saw a spectacular cathedral on the horizon, and decided to make an impromptu stopover – in Ely. On our clever devices we learned that the Ely cathedral is an Anglican cathedral with origins in AD 672 when St Etheldreda built an abbey church. The present building dates back to 1083, and cathedral status was granted it in 1109. Architecturally it is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Having been built in a monumental Romanesque style, the galilee porch, lady chapel and choir were rebuilt in an exuberant Decorated Gothic. Its most famous feature however is the central octagonal tower. That was all very interesting, but we still didn’t know how to pronounce Ely – my guess was that it’s pronounced like Eli [Cash] from the Royal Tennenbaums, but we had to know for sure! No better person to ask than the visitor info guy in the cathedral itself, so Iest went for it and asked him how to pronounce the name of the village. The poor guy’s eyebrows were raised so high they almost fell off his face and in a stiff yet high-pitched voice he repeated ‘Village?!’ – so, for next times we know that once you get yourself a cathedral, that apparently makes you a city, no matter how small. But, we also learned they pronounce it [ee-ly], as in the fish, eel, which they used to have plenty of or something. We quickly checked out Oliver Cromwell’s house too, and went back on track with our plan for Oxburgh Hall.

Canon Gins!

Ely Cathedral

Oxburgh Hall is a 15th-century moated manor house Built in 1482 by the Catholic Bedingfeld family. The interiors were also still closed for the winter, but we enjoyed the moat with its swans, and the surrounding gardens. I got a small pot with a chopped off chunk of one of the plants, so if it survives, we’ll have a nice Oxburgh plant on the balcony to remember. By now we were really hungry and so we walked over to the nearby pub for a proper Sunday roast.

Oxburgh Hall, moat and swans!

Oxburgh Hall

Monday 6.2.

Our nice hotel

It was the hunt for the seals mostly (ultimately unsuccessful tho), exploring the coast and beaches, and a couple of NT estates.
First, we made it to the Titchwell RSPB reserve, which was awesome. Full of knowledge on the winter migratory birds to see from last night’s Country File programme we watched, we went straight in the marshes. The reserve has both freshwater marshes and sea beaches, and birds really abound. The weather was sunny and we had a blast.

Water Rail

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Redshank

Then we swung by the Brancaster beach, endless golden beach, and also an NT place.

Brancaster beach

Gina on the beach

We had high hopes for the Blakeney nature reserve with respect to the seals, but we were not lucky. The local seals were gone and the boat trip to see them off the coast was already gone for the day. We tried an adjacent beach at Cley by the Sea, but to no avail. There was really not much else to do, so we had lunch at the Dunn Cow, and pressed onto another closed NT estate at Felbrigg, one of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia, and also Blickling estate.

Felbrigg

Blickling Estate

Afterwards we were quite tired for the day, so we found a great little place for tea & cakes, and then headed to our hotel. We decided to live a little, so we went to the hotel bar in the evening, which had a nice fire going, and only two other people in it, so we had a nice cup of tea there as well.

Tuesday 7.2.
The day for exploring Norwich on our way home. It was cold and drizzly, but the building still looked quite spectacular. The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. The cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters in England, only outsized by Salisbury Cathedral (where we were in January anyway). The cathedral spire, measuring 96m, is the second tallest (yeah, also Salisbury takes the cake).

Inside Norwich cathedral

Norwich cathedral

We were not really so keen on visiting the Norwich castle, which is a bit boxy, even though It was founded in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England when William the Conqueror (1066–1087) ordered its construction because he wished to have a fortified place in the important city of Norwich.

Norwich castle

Instead, we decided to drive up to Horsey beach to see if we could still be lucky with the seals. And lucky we were! In a rainy weather and rough sea, we found a whole nice colony of seals, casually chillin on the beach. We were super excited, and spent a lot of time with them, and got really close too. It was the perfect cherry on top of our Norfolk trip, and we were ready to go home. (A couple days later it was reported that £50 million worth of cocaine was found washed up on a beach in Norfolk, so I guess we could have been even luckier, but still, the seals were cute!)

Gina and the seals

Iest & seals

A happy, chilled seal

A dramatic seal


22
Jan 17

Stonehenge & Salisbury

Freezing cold and dreary January with nothing to look forward to until like Easter or so. Iest decided he wanted to go take pictures of Stonehenge in the frost; as an NT member with free access I was of course in. Because Stonehenge is so touristy we wanted to get there as early as possible, and set our Sunday alarm for six o’clock. This allowed us to be impatiently waiting for the ticket box to open before half nine, and to be on the first shuttle over (the place has been redone since I last was there – parking and visitors’ centre is now removed from the site, and one has to take a shuttle bus to get there).
Thus we were literally the first visitors of the day, seeing Stonehenge in a glorious winter hazy sunrise and indeed the frost. It was quite atmospheric for a while there, keeping in mind that it’s still just a bunch of old rocks. Iest got all misty eyed over his heritage for a minute.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

The longer we spent, the more people poured in, with their selfie sticks and duck faces, so eventually we decided we’ve had enough and took the shuttle back to Terrell. It was still before noon, that’s how much of early birds we were. Since it was nice and sunny (although not much warmer), we decided to continue our trip to have some lunch and see the great Salisbury cathedral with its copy of the Magna Carta.

Salisbury Cathedral

Magna Carta tent

Salisbury welcomed us with some nice zizzi-chain pizzas and a historical centre. The cathedral, one of the leading examples of early English architecture from the 13th century and boasting the tallest church spire in the UK (123m), is truly magnificent. We saw the Magna Carta, the nicest of the remaining originals, and had a good chat about it with one of its guardians. The nearby Mompesson house, a National Trust treasure, was closed for visitors, so we only got to see its pretty outsides. Instead, we drove over to Pepperbox Hill, topped by an early example of a brick folly, with far-reaching views and rich cultural heritage. Altogether a nice day out.

Peppebox \hill


02
Jan 17

Yuletide & 2017!

We had a great Yuletide season this year. Kicked off by purchasing our biggest tree yet and decorating it beautifully with lights and ornaments at the beginning of December already, and followed by visiting friends and markets in Freiburg, we were ready for the main events. This year I made fewer kinds of cookies, but no less delicious, and complemented by awesome German lebkuchen, we were not left wanting for sweets.

Tree

Solstice/my b-day celebrations started with a lavish breakfast of blueberry pancakes and a huge pile of presents (I wouldn’t want it any other way!). I got some beautiful stuff, including books and a Welsh print for the wall, and to top it all off a trip to Amsterdam in the spring! It’s gonna be awesome and I can’t wait. Since I already took the day off at work, I just lounged for the day, reading my books and enjoying myself. In the evening I went around town a bit to look at the lights and decorations set up everywhere for my benefit and celebration, and finally met Iest for dinner at Busaba Eathai.

The main celebration on the 25th was lovely as well, with lavish pressies (especially for me again), and fancy three-course meal including baked camembert with honey, figs and nuts as a starter, parmesan breaded garlic mushroom pizzas (made from scratch including Iest’s signature dough), and dark chocolate chilli mousse (made by me). I got (among many others) a membership of the UK National Trust for 2017, so that’s our weekend trips sorted – 581 places to choose from! We were extremely full and didn’t want to spoil the rest of the day anyway, so we left the packing for the next day morning and just enjoyed our day lounging and playing with pressies. Also played a full game of dice, in which I ruled like the dice queen I am.

Dinner

On the 26th we packed everything (like, literally – I can’t believe we ever made it to Wales by train), and loaded our trusty Terrell, and drove up to the beautiful Snowdonia. Where we got even more presents, including a boat trip over to the Skerries sometime next year!

Tuesday 27 December
Weather reasonable (there is no snow though this year), so we went up Moel Siabod for a stroll. It’s like a little hillock up from Capel Curig, no biggie. It was quite foggy and windy up top, and the streams were nicely frozen over. We countered it with nice tea from our thermos and a serving of yule cookies. Overall, we defo consumed more energy than we gave up on the walk, but after the week of only eating, the fresh air and some movement did us real good.

Moel Siabod

Wednesday 28 December
Amazing sunny day, no other possibility than lugging our holiday weight up a nice range – we selected the Carneddau for the honour. Starting up from LLyn Ogwen, we took the National Trust route straight up (I allowed Iest on it, even though he’s not a member), and basking in the winter sun we made it to the first peak. From there on it was a nice ridge walk, sprinkled with tea and yule cookies. It was still quite windy up top, and water was frozen solid, but the sun was unwavering until the evening. We went down through an uncharted territory to make sure we’d get to the car before dark, which these days comes way too early. Lovely walk!

Carneddau

Carneddau

Pen yr Ole Wen

Crisp evening

Carneddau

Thursday 29 December
Weather so so, and clouds lying low on the mountains. Perfect day for another National Trust treasure visit – this time the whistling sands beach of Porthor on the LLŷn peninsula. A beautiful place, not so much whistly this time around, but still a pretty piece of coast. Had a cuppa in the small café, and swung also by another great NT place – Porth y Swnt in Aberdaron – on the way. This is a nice exhibition about the culture and environment of the peninsula, and includes a puffin hole!

Pan chwery chwa oddi uchod â’r môr
Mae hen angenfilod
Y dwfn I’w wyneb yn dod
I’w haileni’n wylanod

Evening watch of long-anticipated Charlie Brooker 2016 Wipe – what a year this was! He still covered it in only an hour, and did well as always.

Whistling sands

Friday 30 December
And since we were so into NT places now, we decided to visit the great Plas Newydd and gardens on the Menai straits. This elegant house was redesigned by James Wyatt in the 18th century, and has lots to see both inside and out. Because of the season not all of the interiors were accessible (so we’ll have to visit again), but the ones that were were nicely decorated with trees and presents and fireplaces and board games and seasonal music, so it was all very nice. The gardens likewise, plus beautiful views across the straits. Good choice. To top the day up, we went by Rhosneigr for a little stroll, and finally had a nice dinner with friends at Dylan’s in Criccieth.

Plas Newydd

Plas Newydd

Saturday 31 December
Last day of the year! Which actually does not mean much to us – we do not partake in forced celebrations and parties on the night. But we thought we could go camping in the wild again, like we have done several times before. Alas, the forecast was for heavy rains to come for the night, so there was really no point (the point is to wake up in raging sunshine in the new year, perhaps even dip into the sea on the occasion). During the day we decided to make one more small walk in the hills, and selected my fave Yr Aran for the occasion. The peak was submerged in cloud, but overall it was a very fine final walk for the year.
We made a nice batch of chickpea curry for the evening, and went to bed way before midnight.

Yr Aran

We did however, drag Gina out of the warmth and down to Dinas Dinlle, where we made our text-book year number (2017!) in lights, together with some heart light-graffiti in the cold, wet rain.

2017 Lights!

Heart Lights!

Sunday 1 January
Packed everything, it does not seem we have less stuff even though we offloaded all the kids’ pressies that were taking up the trunk, weird. Made our way down to our London home via Snowdonia, which had now been blessed with a sprinkling of snow on its highest peaks (just as it was pissing down through the night in the valleys), so we could make an impromptu photoshoot of Iestyn’s beard and slippers in the wild.
At home sweet home we watched new Sherlock (kinda so so, better than the last one, but long lost are the splendours of season 1&2), with some pizza and wine (for Gina) before going to bed.

Monday 2 January
Thank gods for this day off, so we could do all the laundry, clean up, and purge our little flat of any sign of the preceding festivities – took down the tree and all decorations, and that was that. Back to normal and to 2017!


16
Dec 16

Freiburg

Because we love Freiburg and all the people in it, we decided to repeat our little trip from last year, effectively making it an annual tradition. This time we moved it to December, so that apart from all the food and people and places we like, we could also enjoy the xmas markets and snow. Unfortunately, the snow was not quite there (that only came a couple weeks later after new year’s, dammit!), but everything else was in place. We stayed with our great friend, which was amazing, and we also rented a little car this time, so we were super flexible. We did it all – Schauinsland over the clouds, Feldberg, Titisee, flammkuchen in Goldener Sternen, Feierling with friends (they have a new annexe and it’s pretty!), gluhwine, Turkish and Thai. For markets, we explored not only the usual Freiburg ones, but went also to Ravennaschlucht outside of town, where the market is nicely located in a gorge under a tall train viaduct, and we also swung by the Basel markets on our way back to the airport. So the only bother on the whole trip were, traditionally, the UK trains which were on strike, causing us to get up at 4am on the way there to be able to make it to Gatwick, and further stress on the way back. I am done with complaining about UK trains on this blog, but if they don’t nationalise this omnishambles soon, my head might explode. But we did not let that spoil anything, and we enjoyed ourselves a lot.

Flammkuchen

Ravennaschlucht

Titisee

Schauninsland

Schauninsland


09
Oct 16

Richmond Park

With autumn casually creeping in, we decided it would be great fun to pop over to Richmond Park for the afternoon, a chance for us to look at some greenery, and hopefully catch a few stags/deer and some wildlife that the Park has to offer.

After a nice drive west, we arrived at Richmond Park, and headed straight over towards the ‘Isabella plantation’ that’s located in the middle of the park. The plantation offered a couple of nice ponds, where a large number of ducks were playing – and thanks to Gina’s awesome ‘Bird book’, we (well – Gina) was able to name the ducks. Much to our surprise, we spotted a Mandarin duck! This is what the RSPB has to say on them:

The male has the most elaborate and ornate plumage with distinctive long orange feathers on the side of the face, orange ‘sails’ on the back, and pale orange flanks. The female is dull by comparison with a grey head and white stripe behind the eye, brown back and mottled flanks. They were introduced to the UK from China and have become established following escapes from captivity.

Mandarin Duck

From here, we headed over to the big open plains where we spotted our first deer causally chilling behind a tree. We decided to continue walking in, where we stumbled upon another – a Stag that was chilling in the tall grass with it’s antlers poking out of the grass. We spent a bit of time with him, getting all the photos we could:

stag-2
deer_gina

We did a nice casual loop around the ‘main’ field, and started heading back towards Terell. We were getting hungry at this point, so we decided to drop into Richmond Town, which itself is also a very pretty, nice little town! A stroll down the high street proved fruitful – both in terms of food (pizza!), and a couple of comics for me :D


16
Sep 16

Junius live!

Went to see Junius live @ the Bush Hall in London!

Junius in all his glory

Junius struggles with Iest’s name


15
Sep 16

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Went to see A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur by Tennessee Williams at the Print Room theatre at Notting Hill. Very enjoyable.

Print room

Coronet


14
Sep 16

Botany Bay

It was so so hot in September (it seems so long ago now, writing this in December, because I’m like the only one wo cares to update this blog, and even I don’t care so much. But I care enough to do the posts in order and not to cherry-pick whatever I want to do and skip the old ones!), that I wanted to go to one of the beaches on Sunday. But Iest pointed out that going to the beach on a Sunday like this will be a terrible experience full of people so much, as the whole of London will have the same idea. This was a good point. You can look up google images of beaches and they look so pretty and serene, but you go there on a hot Sunday and it’s just terrible. So, one of us had the genius idea (and it was probably me, tho it’s been a long time and I don’t really remember) to just take a day off during the week, and go on a Wednesday. Genius! We decided to go to the Botany Bay, and it was just magical. Just a few people, not too many. Blazing sun. Warm waters. On the way there I even got a nice little net to scoop up critters. White cliffs. Warm send between the toes. And on the way back we even had a lovely dinner in Canterbury. Best. Wednesday. Ever.

Botany Bay

Canterbury