Saturday, 8 April 2017

Ancona

Birdsong and the distant sound of waves below; it's seriously serene here. Visiting somewhere like this out of season comes with its benefits and challenges. Pro, we're currently the only ones sitting out in the sun on the hotel's terrace. Con, the pool has no water in it even though an evening like this would be perfect for a toe dip. Pro, yesterday we had a beach entirely all to ourselves. Con, the beach shuttle doesn't run until June so we had a 40 minute hike down and then back up the mountain from said beach through forest in the pitch black (and yes, it transpires there are bears and wolves in Italy). Nevertheless, throughout our stay the pros have more than outweighed the cons.


Today we visited Ancona itself in all its earthquake, bomb and great fire damaged glory. Aside from it being a grey day with dusty winds along the port front, far too many hilly, windy roads to climb and a general sense of sadness at the town's desperate need of some TLC, we did admire some lovely buildings, panoramic views, seriously thick hot chocolate and the cheap European supermarket experience (local red wine for less than €2. Bliss). The sun even decided to make an appearance as we came to the end of our exploration.








Now back at the hotel we have succeeded in opening our first bottle of corked wine (definitely didn't think about that in all the excitement caused by how cheap it was) which we are enjoying drinking out of plastic cups from the bathroom (totally civilised, darling) while we read, write and generally soak in the sights and sounds of evenings in Italy.



Yesterday, after a hearty Italian breakfast of eggs, meats and cheeses (with a pot or two of Earl Grey, of course) we spent our first day here exploring Portonovo. Having walked the epic distance downhill to get there, we treated ourselves to lunch with a view of the sea; pasta, wine and selection of tasty breads. Energy levels restored we took to the beach for a wander. Not usually one for pebbled beaches, I was quite taken by the brilliant whites and pastel pinks, greys and greens of these pebbles, so much so that a few particularly pretty and smooth ones have made it into my pocket. The rest of the day was spent walking with intermittent rest stops and a brief paddle until it was time for dinner when we returned to the same restaurant to sample pizza from their extensive menu.








Tomorrow we plan to take a picnic (courtesy of the cheap European supermarket) to another beach nearby. Here's hoping for more sunshine!

Ok so thanks to a lot more sunshine, we are now, in true British style, as pink as proscuttio, cake in after sun and cooling down inside with no intention of venturing back into the sun today. It really wasn't even that hot which is the most embarrassing thing. Not hot to the point where we were getting lots of odd looks from locals wrapped up in coats and scarves warm inside their cars as we bravely made our way to Mezzavalle to sit beside the sea armed with beach towels and sunglasses.

Today's walk was equally as treacherous as the first; a solid 30 minutes of attempted downhill balancing to avoid the inevitable slipping and sliding followed by uphill trauma (I literally thought I was going to die as we heaved our way up the final stretch; wheezing, huffing and puffing all the way). Treacherous as it was, the walk did come with some seriously stunning views of turquoise sea through the pine trees which was why, when we finally came out onto the sand we were shocked at the masses of flotsam washed up and strewn along the shoreline. Eyes closed, laid down in one of the few clear patches of sand, we were soon able to indulge in a few hours of relaxation with a short interlude for focaccia.




Tonight there was more focaccia, hummus (very Italian), crisps and another bottle of red in actual glasses because the waiter couldn't bear seeing us drink another from plastic cups. We enjoyed our little picnic overlooking sea, sky and a glorious sunset. It was agreed that in many ways, Ancona has been exactly what we needed and expected, yet at the same time there have been many unexpected twists, turns and surprises. Either way, we leave a little more well rested, well fed, 'sun-kissed', tipsy and cultured than we were before.

Monday, 2 January 2017

One resolution for 2017

I truly am a creature of habit. Here I sit again with blog posts from the past four new years open on my laptop. and I notice an awful lot of pattern; in the nature of my writing, in the time and place and in my resolutions.

Now on one hand, reading back gives me a small sense of achievement as I almost always manage to up-hold at least one resolution. I also notice that life has moved on, no matter how stale it may sometimes feel as I edge ever further away from 20. On the other hand, each time another new year approaches, the same resolution seems to dwindle.

In 2014 I phrased it 'make time for real Laura time'. In 2015 it was 'look after myself. Rest' and in 2016, the same 'look after myself'. Now I don't want to speak too soon but I have somehow evaded illness for some time now (I actually can't remember the last time I had a cold) so I think I've just about got my physical well-being down; I generally eat well now, I do actually exercise more than a bit despite my fear last year that the mere suggestion was getting a little carried away and thanks to my lovely bed and a renewed habit of reading before sleep, I sleep well too. My emotional well-being, however, is something I'm not so good at looking after.

So for 2017, instead of making several resolutions to change, I am going to carry on doing the things that I do well and the things that I love and my one resolution is simply to tend to my emotional well-being.

I'm going to keep reading, writing, colouring, being musical, sleeping, socialising, walking, exploring, travelling, escaping, shopping, cooking, drinking, eating, watching films, painting my nails, putting on a bit of makeup or a face mask. I'm going to pre-plan and fill in my diary so that there are always things, no matter how small, to look forward to. And hopefully, at the end of it all, I'm going to be happy and I'm still going to feel a sense of achievement simply because 2017 might turn out to be another 'good year'. Who knows.

Some highlights of 2016; it wasn't so bad either.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Traditions old & new

It's my favourite time of year again and I'm feeling incredibly festive. Lots of musical occasions, beautiful lights and displays and a good amount of time spent at home have definitely got me in the mood this year. Today I'm left wrestling with a glum sensation knowing that it will soon all be over and eager anticipation at what the year ahead might bring.

Tradition is always an important part of the festive season, comforting in many ways, and this year seems to have welcomed in quite a few new ones; although I am, however, unsure as to whether or not they can yet be referred to as 'tradition' or whether one waits for at least a year or two more to see if they stick...

It all began this year when I was accompanied by a selection of kind and willing members of CCC (City Chamber Choir) in leading some carol singing at school. We sang last year too and the children loved it then but knew no carols. This year then I decided to teach them a few in the lead up to our singing together and the difference was remarkable; words can't quite describe the atmosphere but needless to say, it was not replicated by any of our audiences for other carol singing around the city. As always, carols at Leadenhall Market and St Katharine Dock were freezing but festive!

We have been denied our full two week's holiday this year which has felt a little distressing, especially when being at home for a mere 5 days meant I only had a week left until the return to work. The day before heading home I had decided I would do another one of my Christmas Tree Crawls; a 'tradition' I began last year. I was not, however, anticipating that so much of my day would be taken up getting a spare cat-sitting key cut. Three keys and four trips to varying Timpsons later and I finally had one that worked. In an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, after my initial visits to my nearest branch I decided that my next visit would be to one in the vicinity of trees. So I headed to Holborn where I then also stopped to admire the trees at Rosewood London, Somerset House and the Savoy Hotel; each of them, truly worth the detour.





At last I was on a train home and on Christmas Eve the first of the new traditions appeared in the form of a fry-up for brunch. I'm calling this a tradition in the hope that my mum does it again because it was truly tasty and there's something quite fun about sharing Christmas crackers over bacon and egg. Brunch set me up well for an old tradition, a walk with close friends around Wolferton before exchanging presents and playing silly games (this year, we leapt on the bandwagon at had a go at Speak Out).





Christmas Day brought yet more new tradition as a little while after our breakfast muffin to accompany stocking opening, we were then treated to cooked ham on toast. Two breakfasts down, novelty then ensued as we headed to a neighbour for cocktails and canapés before returning home for roast. We seem to manage to stretch the day out more and more each year but finally, at about half past 6 in the evening, we'd opened everything under the tree and were indulging in the thousandth round of food and hot drinks.



Upon writing this I'm realising that most festive traditions involve food and that theme continues as 'Boxing Day Baguettes' are up next. A while ago in Norwich I had lunch with Mum and Dad at Logan's Good Food Shop. My choice was a Brussels sprout baguette which I enjoyed so much that I decided I'd have a go at making my own over Christmas. I was of course worried that I wouldn't do them justice at all but I have to say, they were just as delicious homemade and went down incredibly well. 


As well as a total abundance of food, home also saw plenty of walks both beach and woodland, a plethora of games and jigsaws and lots of tinkling on the piano. It's always a must to have things back in London to look forward to when I'm torn away from sky, fresh air, peace and tranquillity...





It's now New Year's Eve and while yesterday evening we completed this year's Christmas Tree Crawl from the Tate Britain all the way to Claridge's, tonight we'll be hibernating with good beer and something of the homemade food variety (I'm going to rifle through Nigella (which doesn't sound great) in a minute and see what catches my eye...) to see in the new year before hopefully taking a walk tomorrow; starting as we mean to go on. It's been so long since I've written and I really hope I don't go for this long again any time soon. Expect a resolutions post on the other side when I eventually figure out what on earth they might be.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Escapes to the country

I promise my long-held silence doesn't mean life has suddenly become boring. In fact, it's been anything but and proof lies in my empty bank account. Dressed in a fresh pair of pyjamas and armed with yet another cup of tea, I've definitely resigned myself to a PJ day and I'm pretty sure it's well-earned today, not just a means of avoiding spending.

One of my favourite things about this Autumn so far has definitely been my country escapes, of which there have been plenty. It all began with a trip to Boxhill in the North Downs in Surrey in the final weekend of September. Provided with several different walks to choose from, we went for the 'Stepping Stones Walk' which I admit I thought sounded sweet so was surely going to be a gentle amble. Needless to say, Boxhill is called Box'hill' for a reason; we definitely walked off our picnic and my time in the gym has not improved my lung capacity. Our longest dog walk to date, it was nevertheless so lovely to spend a day surrounded by green and space as far as the eye could see.






I welcomed October with a visit to Norwich (which probably explains where all my money disappeared to) then the following weekend was spent in Ripe for a glorious weekend of singing interspersed with lots and lots of food, drink and general merriment. This was the second time I had joined the choir for their annual getaway and it was just as wonderful as the year before. Ripe is the sweetest of villages in East Sussex peppered with quaint houses and home to a beautiful little church where we sang in a workshop all day on Saturday for a concert in the evening and then again in the Sunday morning service. I do think being in the countryside really emphasises the changing seasons; for lunch we devoured home-made soups (curried parsnip, tomato and red pepper or broccoli and Stilton) with a cheese board on the side and an endless supply of fruit afterwards (all seriously heart-warming, foods) and of course the surrounding scenery was so picturesque and the country pub so cosy. After the service on Sunday we walked the long lane back to the home of our host and hostess then before lunch we were given a tour of the vegetable garden which was honestly like something straight out of Beatrix Potter's stories. Idyllic doesn't even begin to describe the Ripe weekend.



Two weekends ago I was craving another dose of country air so myself a fellow Norfolk-dweller headed on an Epping Forest adventure. I'm not sure that we would have expected it to be much of an 'adventure' but it saw us getting shamefully lost on our walk which was mostly spent potentially trespassing on farmland and skirting the M11 and M25 when we took one of many wrong turnings. Four hours (advertised as a 2-hour round trip) of fresh air and what can only be described as a proper 'romp' did us good though, even if we did have to back-track multiple times and (oh the shame) set our phones to satellite mode in order to establish our location when faced with fences of a high or electric nature on several occasions. I feel like this country escape was possibly the least relaxing of the few I've had this season and maybe even slightly traumatic but it was nothing that beer and pub food couldn't fix. We'll be back, now we know the way...





Half term arrived and home beckoned so on Thursday I was Norfolk-bound on a super early and surprisingly busy train. As happens every October half term, I've got the cold to rival all colds but I hoped it was nothing that couldn't be fixed by country air, home cooking and love. An early departure meant an early arrival thus we had a whole day on Thursday to get out and about. Our day began in the village of Walsingham, home to fascinating churches for several denominations of Christianity and two beautiful shrines to Mary as well as a tearoom with the tastiest cake and a farm shop with the prettiest produce. From Walsingham we carried on to the coast and Brancaster Staithe. No crab left at the hut in the harbour so we just took a hot drink back to the car to admire the view.







On Friday we first drove to Wolfertoon Woods where we often go for our Christmas day walk. I thought it might be looking particularly pretty at this time of year and I was right. We were met by every shade of golden and red and a plethora of toadstools growing all around. The curly-haired cows were up a lot closer and more personal than usual which was fun and because we're so used to clear paths in winter we actually took a wrong turning and ended up traipsing through bracken to find the path again. From Wolferton we headed again along the coast to grab a crab sandwich to prepare us for Thornham, my favourite beach and the one that I felt Mallorca was reminiscent of with all its pine. Back in the summer we were put off staying by yuppies with rugby balls and enormous picnic hampers but this time we were glad not to encounter too many other people at all as we made the walk along the bank to the pleasingly empty beach.




It sure is reassuring to know that the countryside complete with its air and space is never too far away and is always available, no matter the time of year. I think this month has definitely shown me that country escapes don't have to be so infrequent as they had become.