Sunday, 29 October 2017

Half Term wandering

When asked how I would be spending my half term, the answer was the same, 'sleeping.' And sleep I have done. But amongst the many lie-ins and no alarm mornings, I have also kept myself entertained with many wanders both in and out of London and it's these wanders I thought I'd ramble about on my final evening of the holiday.

A change of music loaded onto my phone, I went for my first wander on Monday. Kicking up the carpets of leaves courtesy of Storm Brian, the air finally felt a little less Wintry and a little more Autumnal. The pursuit of somewhere new took me via familiar territory as I cut through Woodberry Wetlands and wandered around the reservoir there, exchanging pleasantries with other visitors, and keeping one eye out for exotic bird life.

Allens Gardens was my destination and when I eventually found it down a dodgy-looking alleyway (of course), its ivy covered archways and maze-like box gave it a Secret Garden-esque feel. I sat a while, watching the comings and goings of families there and decided that as gardens go, this one was as back-gardeny as I've seen in London. If home was a high-rise, it would be a good space to be near to, especially as a child. 

A few days later, my next wander took me to Greenwich. The hour-long journey was absolutely worth it as I then spent a good hour basking in the sunshine on a bench over-looking what is now one of my favourite views of the city. As I sat, there were a few people coming and going, but otherwise it was just been me and the view, and it was a good one. You know life is busy when you can sit in one attitude for an entire hour without it feeling like much time has passed at all, and as you move on, you're not even sure where your mind has been the whole time. I just kept thinking, 'I'm not in a rush.' and wherever I'm admiring it from, the London skyline could keep me occupied for a lifetime.

Walking boots were required for my final wander of the half term. I escaped London for a couple of days and took to the hills of Derbyshire with my Aunty and cousin as guides. After a hearty breakfast, we set off across field, along canal and through woodland with many up and down hill struggles along the way. Sheep, horses, and plenty of ducks. There was certainly plenty of nature to entertain, and all in glorious Autumnal sunshine. While my previous wanders had been time for self-indulgence and reflection, it was nice to spend this one nattering (often rather breathlessly), catching up on time gone by.

I sit now with a banana cake in the oven, candles lit, pizza ordered, trying to surround myself with happy thoughts and vibes ready for the return to work in the morning. They say a Sunday well spent brings a week of content; well I'm hoping that a week of days that have felt like Sundays should tide me over for a while at least.

Sunday, 1 October 2017


This time last week, we were walking Pepper around the farmland surrounding our Bed and Breakfast and it was glorious. Today, I'm waiting for the washing machine to stop so I can go to the gym for the first time in at least a month (naughty). Officially a weekend back to routine.

Last Saturday was a very special birthday, so I whisked one man and his dog away for a weekend in Exmoor. Friday night we made the long drive down from London, which involved plenty of motorway driving and some slightly precarious dark, narrow, and windy roads.

There's something about arriving somewhere in the dark that I really like. Knowing that in the morning you'll awake to really see where you are. Needless to say, the setting of our Bed and Breakfast did not disappoint. We awoke to the sun peeping through the window of our top floor room, and looking out enjoyed the view of trees and rolling fields. The smell of bacon and toast wafted up from the kitchen downstairs. We were content.

A hearty breakfast enjoyed of lots of local produce including the best bacon I have ever tried, we took Pepper out for a much needed walk before heading back to the room to make a plan for the day. Only having two days to explore, we asked our hosts where would be best to try and see, and with their recommendations mapped out, we were off.

We first made our way to the Valley of Rocks. It was hard to decide whether the narrow and windy roads had been better in the dark and in our blissful unawareness, or whether they were better when we could see where we were going, but were also confronted with sheer drops frequently appearing on one side of the road or the other. Either way, pheasant dodging made for entertaining driving and the scenery was stunning. As we neared the coast, we passed through the moorland and were absolutely blown away by what surrounded us. Unspoiled hillside as far as the eye could see.

Having reached the Valley of Rocks, we stopped for tea and cake before heading off for a walk around the area. Pepper led the way, scrambling up one of the rocks. From the top we looked down to the sea and across to the Welsh coast. Back at the bottom again, we continued across to the next rock where goats were basking in the afternoon sun. Had she not been on her lead, I think we may have lost Pepper at this point as she was very keen to make new friends. Goat chasing evaded, we were onto our next destination.

It seemed that no matter where you were headed in Exmoor, you had to take the same roads. So despite apparently travelling in the opposite direction to reach our next stop, we drove along familiar routes, passing through a village where we'd almost stopped before. Given a second chance, we decided that we would stop, at Lynmouth, where we wandered along the river and down to the sea. Despite our best attempts, Pepper was not hugely convinced by the sea, but she did enjoy pattering across the rocks, all the same.

From Lynmouth, we continued our drive along the coast, and eventually found Porlock. The town itself was yet another sleepy one, so we continued on to the Weir where we hoped we might find some actual sand and more sea. Here I was reminded almost of the Norfolk coast as marshland met the sea, but apparently sandy beaches are not Exmoor's strength and after a hearty portion of sausage and chips, we were met with more rocky shore for our final walk of the day.

Sunday came, and we planned to make our way back to London gradually via a few more points of interest. We began our day at Dulverton, the village close by to our Bed and Breakfast, described as the 'gateway to Exmoor'. Armed with instructions for a circular walk heading out of the village and back in again, we made our way along the road from the carpark and into the nearby woods. I think it has to be said that I am not good at following written instructions. Give me a map or give me sign posts, but give me written instructions and I spend the whole time on edge, worrying that I've missed something or that they're out-dated and refer to paths or bridges no longer there. We had only paid for an hour of parking, and half an hour into our walk, still heading away from the village, I was not filled with great confidence. We comforted ourselves, however, in the hope that the traffic wardens of Dulverton might not be as fierce as those in London, and felt satisfied that we were at least not lost. Our walk was a pretty one, either way, and we did eventually make our way back to the car.

Tarr Steps, an ancient stone bridge crossing the River Barle was our next destination. It was raining by this point, in contrast to the sunshine of the day before, but this did not deter us as we were well equipped in our waterproof attire. We love a woodland walk at the best of times, but this has to be one of the loveliest we've had. The circular walk (clearly marked, thus successful this time) took us along a path which followed the river before eventually crossing it and coming back the other side. Torrents of water crashing against protruding rocks made for a very dramatic soundtrack, and as the path occasionally climbed up and back down the slopes of the bank, a very dramatic view, too.

Finally, we found some sand. Much of Exmoor certainly had an air of 'murderous' about it, and the beach at Dunster was no different. Grey expanse, with the tide so far away that even I wasn't going to be walking out to sea, met us as we pulled up to the seafront to park. Soft sand made for great entertainment as Pepper was truly weirded out by the sensation and experience of almost losing her paws, then somehow managing to retrieve them again. We walked some way out to sea, enough to get our feet wet where there were small rock pools, and back again along the sand, through the seaweed. Sea air, salty smells, sleepy all round, we were ready to admit that it was time for home.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Open House London 2017

Last weekend was beyond busy! It all started at a gig on Friday night and ended with my being dressed as a chav on Sunday night. Somehow, in between, time was found to make a visit to some of the buildings open for this year's Open House in London.

In the end, it was agreed that we book-ended our visits rather well as the first and last were by far our favourites, but there were definitely some points of interest in between, too.

Saturday morning began nice and early with a Dishoom breakfast. I've been wanting to try one ever since I heard the words naan and bacon in the same phrase, and my goodness I was not disappointed. We sat on the Terrace at the Shoreditch branch where the decor caught our attention almost as much as some of the buildings later on in the day. I went for the sausage and egg naan with bottomless chai and was more than ready for the day.

Our first port of call was Barbican, where a Mews house was open for the day. All huge fans of everything Barbican has to offer, we were incredibly excited to see inside a place of residence and were not disappointed. Many of the original features were still in tact; exposed concrete in the living room, sliding doors concealing cupboards and additional bedrooms, and a wrought iron balustrade along the mezzanine level. What really surprised me about the home was how light it was. There was one floor to ceiling window looking out onto the communal garden through which the light flooded. Bookshelves lined almost every room, and in each we found the perfect balance between original features and contemporary design. Leaving was definitely a struggle.

While at Barbican, we decided to make the most of our visit and wandered through the Centre (obviously via the gift shop) on our way to the next place on our list, Llyods Register.

Now a little later in the day, the length of the queue was slightly concerning but as we were treated to tales of Llyod himself by a Register old timer, time passed pleasantly and we were in. Bigger fans of self-exploration than guided tours, we snuck through to find the main event and were met with a grand meeting room, decorated in the style of William Morris with a nautical theme. 

Our final stop of the day was St Botolph without Bishopsgate, a short walk from the register and right by Aldgate station where my journey would continue. A pleasant church with a welcoming community feel, we stopped a while before going our separate ways. From Aldgate I then headed off to Marylebone station (which I loved, by the way) and on to Aylesbury to warm a house.

I'm always a big fan of London's old & new.

Sunday morning and we were off again. This time, we met at Liverpool Street station and joined the biggest queue yet to see inside a Masonic Temple uncovered in the restoration of the Andaz Hotel. Definitely a wow moment as we stepped inside. Once inside many of the buildings on offer for Open House, it's hard to imagine you're in London, let alone right in the centre. We sat a while on a fancy chair, pondering the goings on that would have once taken place in this building, and admiring yet another fascinating ceiling. Before we knew it, time was up and we were being ushered out and on to the next destination.

Regent Street Cinema is definitely somewhere I'd like to go back and actually view a film. As we arrived we were informed that we'd just missed a tour (fine by us) but that we could make our own way into the auditorium via this door, or that. Make our own way we did. And then spent an awkward few moments wondering whether we'd actually just walked into a screening of something and thus would see nothing in the darkness. Fortunately, the lights came up just at the right moment, signifying that we were safe and that the tour had obviously begun with a preview of the screen. Suddenly it lifted, revealing an original (name of organ) behind which visitors were then invited to play.

As cinema seats go, I'd say they're quite plush.

Not yet having had lunch (and not this time filled up on breakfast), we decided we'd make a move to eat something on our way to our final destination of the weekend, the BT Tower.

Another absolute highlight, we were so mesmerised for our hour-long stay. Upon arrival, having finally found the way in, we were armed with official-looking badges and spent some time looking at old advertising and information on the tower back from when it was first built. Soon our time came to go up to the viewing platform and the lift whizzed us up to the 34th floor.

As we stepped out, my eyes did all sorts of funny things. I'd totally forgotten that the whole platform revolves, but of course the centre (where the lift was) stays still which made for a dizzying experience for a moment or two. After wandering once or twice, we helped ourselves to refreshment and found a seat to rest on as we revolved. For me, there's not much that beats birds-eye views of London. It was pretty special to see it all from a different perspective to those offered by the Shard and Heron Tower. I don't feel like I've really admired London's parks from up high before, and we made a fun game of spotting places visited on past Open House weekends, too.

Another fantastic weekend. Yet again, I'm already full of anticipation for what next year might bring.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Woah, we went to Ibiza!

... please have understood that the title of this goes to the tune of Vengaboys. Otherwise that was totally lost and thus pointless.

Back in England and it has been truly English in its grey, miserable presentation of 'summer'. Deciding to give in to the fact that we clearly already had summer, somewhere between May and June, I've actually been feeling rather excited recently by the prospect of autumn and the return of tights under my denim shorts, Pumpkin Spice Lattes and the leaves changing colour. Nevertheless, a short visit to somewhere where the summer is still in full swing did remind me how much I also love the sun, and the warmth that can sometimes come with it. Such a cynic.

This holiday has been mostly spent slaving away over my dissertation which it's beginning to feel like I've been writing forever. Ten days til I'm free and I cannot wait. I haven't written for pleasure in so long, I'm not even sure I remember how. So forgive me if this is even more long and rambling than usual. Postcards, postcards!

Made friends with an inquisitive little lizard

Despite the pressures of academia, I couldn't go the whole summer without an escape so managed to book a few days away with a most excellent travel companion, and so began our adventure. Friday night arrived and off we flew to the island, far away from 'this big town and the rain' (Vengaboys got it so right). I've never been on a flight with so much excited buzz. Time flew as we caught up on recent happenings, laughing and chatting too with other passengers. Choosing to stay on the quieter side of the island, even the bars in our hotel had closed by the time we arrived so we were straight to bed, eagerly awaiting what tomorrow would bring.

... a room with a view

Our first day was spent blissfully enjoying the hotel's facilities; reading, eating, napping, drinking, then eating and drinking some more, all from the comfort of a lounger in the sun. Only my second stay in an all-inclusive hotel, the constant food rotation (breakfast - continental breakfast - lunch - snack - afternoon tea - dinner) was a delight. In the evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset before being entertained by the sounds of the most surreal covers band complete with 'keytar' and multiple costume changes. Also tried to teach each other a few card games, which after several glasses of bubbles proved a challenge, but also highly entertaining.

The hotel sat right on the sea, with beautiful views over the bay of Cala Llonga. Only a small stretch of sand, the beach was a matter of moments away along a coastal path lined with pine trees, incredibly reminiscent of Mallorca. Here we spent a few hours napping some more, with the occasional visit to the sea for a cooling paddle and an attempt at spotting some fish in the crystal clear waters. Eventually rousing from an incredibly cosy nap, curled up in the foetal position under the shade of a parasol, it was already time for us to head back to the hotel in preparation for our impending doom. An actual night out in Ibiza.

Ushuaïa was another surreal experience; somewhere between a music festival and a club night. The first set already under way as we arrived, groups of guys and girls hung around the edges a little like at the school disco, only each one was armed with a drink that had set them back almost 20€. Lost in people watching from our chosen spot on the edge, we didn't really notice the place fill up but suddenly it did and we made our way to the middle of the crowd where we very much enjoyed dancing and singing along to the next two sets. Smoke machines, pyrotechnics, confetti and costumed dancers, all around a pool where a few of the happier members of the crowd danced knee deep in water, it was certainly a fun experience and enough to make us realise that we need to revive at least a little bit of our love for nights out. In our old age, we were glad that this one had a midnight end point so we were safely tucked up in bed with cups of tea by 1am. Perfection.

EDX's set was definitely my highlight

Already at our penultimate day, spurred on perhaps by a small taste of the Ibiza experience, we decided not to hide out around our hotel again but instead to venture to Ibiza Town (Eivissa) for an explore. I had hoped from a little research online that it might have some pretty bits but neither of us were prepared for just how pretty it actually was. Our taxi dropped us at the port and from there we wandered along to the marina, ooh-ing and aah-ing at super-yachts of the rich and famous. 

Super-yachts were yet to come...

Pretty cobbled streets wound away from the marina so we took one of these, sort of following sign posts of interest where we felt that we could understand at least some of the Spanish. So many pretty doorways, colourful flowers, and bright painted window frames all looked beautiful against the white walls of the buildings and blue sky above. Agreeing to take it slow uphill and in the heat (we learned our lesson in Santorini), we took many short stops on brick walls in shady and breezy spots. 

Our wanders took us most of the way around the walls of the old town, each battlement providing yet another panoramic view of the island's rolling hills, rooftops and the sea beyond. Passion fruit sorbet, a seemingly impossible-to-find cathedral, a busker with a beautiful voice and plenty of small gift shops to pop into for browsing and air conditioning kept us well entertained. So we headed back to Cala Llonga for the evening sun and a meal in the hotel's Japanese restaurant where our lack of subtlety in wanting to try as much of the menu as possible resulted in an extra dessert (apple and wasabi sorbet; actually so much tastier than either of us had anticipated). 

The final day of our stay came around all too quickly. It seems we built ourselves up from dozy to active as, despite the exertion of the previous day, our final day was definitely the most active. We began the day with an early breakfast followed by a serene yoga session in the dappled shade of the hotel's tennis courts. By the time we had then packed ready for check-out and got outside, there seemed to be no room for us to lounge in the sun but fortunately we found some stray loungers and pulled them together by the pool. There we enjoyed watching others exert themselves in aqua gym and a game of water volleyball whilst we made full use of hotel perks.Well rested, we made our way again to the beach where we hired a pedalo for an explore of the bay from a different perspective. Trying to navigate nude sailors, snorkelers galore and many a mysterious floating object, we had great fun and felt like expert pedalo 'drivers' by the time we were pulling up on the shore.

Not long til our departure, we decided to have a game of table tennis which proved incredibly challenging in the wind. Accidental trick shots played by the peak of a cap, our bat-free hands and other body parts which shall remain nameless provided much entertainment until it was time for our scheduled shower, one more sunset and a final go at the buffet before our transfer to the airport.

Considering I'd never been to Spain until only a few summers ago, I'm thoroughly enjoying becoming better acquainted. Ibiza is a beautiful island and true to my style I feel like we did plenty for a few days away but have also left plenty to be done if another visit arises. We shall see!