17
Feb 18

Death Valley

17 February 105 miles (total: 555 miles) 8°C 6:30am

Zabriskie Point

Creeping sun

Creeping sun

Super early morning, rushed out to catch the sunrise at the Zabriskie Point – we were by no means the only ones with this idea but it was still a very nice experience.

Gina at Zabriskie Point

Iest at Zabriskie Point

Afterwards we headed back to Furnace and managed to snatch an early spot in a beautiful tent-only camp (Texas Spring) from someone who’s just left. There was a lot of competition, that’s for sure. Amazing views. After breakfast it was still nice and early morning and we headed to the Golden Canyon for a nice hike before it got too hot. We chose a nice walk to the Red Cathedral combined with the Gower Gulch loop, and it got us to some pretty magnificent viewpoints. Not many people around either.

Golden Loop trailhead

Hiking through the canyons

Iest & his hat

Gina’s bicep

Us overlooking the canyon

Hiking to the highest point

The viewpoint at the top

Afterwards, the top afternoon heat, we went for the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (some 86m below sea level). Top tourist spot but nice salt plains and an unearthly feel to the place.

Gina at Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin salt plains

On the way back we swung by a ‘natural bridge’ spot which was not really worth it tbh. Then we went once more to the visitor centre in Furnace Creek, to watch the half hour film on the history and geology of Death Valley, before heading for dinner all the way to Stovepipe Wells. Nice place and a first glimpse of data connection after like three days (since Palm Springs). We got some firewood and beer for the evening, although must be said I retired to my sleeping bag fairly soon, leaving Iest with the fire and all the stars.


16
Feb 18

Joshua Tree – Death Valley

204 miles (total: 450 miles) 3°C 7am

Iestyn jumped out of bed at 6am because he was too cold, and gave me no choice than to follow suit, even though I was nice and snug in mine. It was super cold but nice sunrise and there were rabbits hopping around the campsite. In no time we were cruising away from Joshua Tree. This was not very smart though because Iestyn wanted to find a place for breakfast somewhere on the way despite the fact that the best place would have been Joshua Tree village itself (I even had a place circled for that purpose in my guide).

Roads for days!

Mojave National Preserve

Scenery was amazing though, even before entering Mojave National Preserve. Short stop in Amboy ghost town on Route 66, with famous(-ish) Roy’s motel. In Mojave we stopped over at the Kelso dunes, and at Kelso proper.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

Had lunch at a Greek place in Baker, and then continued our scenic drive up towards Death Valley with a short break for gas and terrible coffee at Shoshone village. We arrived at Furnace Creek in late afternoon – too late for one of the nice camps given that it is three-day weekend and prime season on the Valley. Had to settle for the Sunset camp among RVs but was not actually so terrible. Air was balmy, sun was setting, and we just about managed to make the Artist scenic drive at the best light of the day. Dinner at a local joint in Furnace Creek, not much choice of places, the saloon we were going for does not exist any more.


15
Feb 18

Palm Springs – Joshua Tree National Park

141 miles (total: 246 miles) 11°C 7am

The advantage of a westward jetlag is that you wake up real early to make the most of the day, and so I did. Proper Americana breakfast in our hotel (thick and sweet waffles) and then to Ralph’s supermarket to stock up on supplies for our trip. Fresh and super sunny, it’s only 7:45 and we’re already on our way out of town.

Nice desert views already along the way. Listening to the American roadtrip playlist Iest picked, was not perfect but had some classics. Missed the Joshua Tree National Park visitor centre, and arrived to the entrance unprepared but managed to wing it. First point of interest – Keys view (1581m) with breathtaking panorama over the Coachella valley. In addition, our first encounters with wildlife – antelope ground squirrels, and tiny zebratail lizard.  

Entering Joshua Tree

Cochella Valley

Antelope Ground Squirrel

Afterwards, still pretty much early morning, we went for a nice loop hike on the Lost Horse Mine trail. Real desert & Joshua tree experience with added thrill of an authentic Old West silver and gold mine remains (operational until 1931). Spent some nice three hours on the trail, and got some spectacular views towards the other side of the valley too. Next stop, Cholla Cactus garden. It must be said that this, while very pretty, is a bit of a misnomer – it is not really so much fo a cactus garden as it is a cactus field, given that there is only one kind of cactus growing there but there is a lot of it. We enjoyed the walk though, it is a pretty place.

Gina at the Lost Horse trailhead

On the Trail!

Spectacular views!

Gina at the Cactus garden

By now I was a bit sleepy, but valiantly made it to see another nice spot – the Barker Dam (real bit of water, with actual ducks and a few other birds, originally built for cattle and mining use), and the Wonderland of rocks (nice rock formations, but really they are all over the park).  Afterwards it really was time to find our campsite at Black Rock, which turned out to be nice with some amazing views. It was getting proper cold in the evening, so we pitched the tent and drove to the village to get something to eat. Eventually we even managed to start the fire and got to admire all the stars in the clear sky.

Phainopepla at Barker Damn

A Black Phoebe at the damn

Camping under the stars


14
Feb 18

London – L.A. – Palm Springs

14 February 123 miles (total: 123 miles)

Early morning travel from LB to Gatwick with too much spare time, but one cannot rely on the trains in this country to run on time (or at all); missing Lily intensely. Flight was long but ok actually, sat by the window, watched stuff on tv, read a bit, and there we were, descending over a massive urban sprawl of sunny LA. Flew through the customs no probs, and Iestyn was already waiting for me at arrivals. LA was all fresh and sunny but we had no intentions to see more of it (well, Iest already did in the previous days, and I did years before), so just took the rental car (with some disorganisation hiccups eating into our time) and were on our way out. Nice car though, KIA Sportage, Iestyn’s first automatic, learned to love it pretty fast.
Drove through some unsavoury LA hoods to 60 East to Palm Springs. I was holding up pretty well, considering the long flight and 8hrs time difference but towards the end of the drive I was already dozing off.
Palm Springs was off season, so was very quiet (more like Calm Springs, amirite?) even on Valentine’s night. The evening was balmy, we checked into our nice hotel and went out for a mexican dinner with live music (not mexican). Fast asleep before Family Guy’s Valentine’s day episode was over (well, before the first scene was over, really).


13
Feb 18

California Trip!

Stafford, Steve, Iest & Andrew

Iestyn was nominated for a VES award for his great work on an animation of a dog-slash-killing machine kind of robot, which was great, and so he was going to L.A. for the ceremony. I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a little break from the dreary London winter, and it would be a nice time to go see the California deserts before they get too hot, and also maybe the elephant seals breeding on the coast. So without much planning i booked my tickets and off I went.


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.

Gina at the Van Gough atrium

Pretty Begijnhof

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

Gina & Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’

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

On the river

In the evening, after a quick nap an a re-charge, we headed back out to the centre to see the streets at night, and for a bite to eat. After much debating, we settled for a fantastic cheese board, with some bread!

Wine and cheese board

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!


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


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!


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


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