Well hello again little blog

Well hello little blog. I have missed you.

Here I am sitting on a train from York to Edinburgh watching the beautiful late autumn colors roll by.

This time just over a month ago I would be nearly at the end of my work week, juggling too many balls. Instead I am on a three-week adventure to connect with my British heritage of early dark and late sun-rise, dazzling Christmas lights and the promise of snow.

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Those of you that have followed this blog will know that I made the decision to go back to work full-time about 9 months ago. Best work place, amazing vision, the genuinely nicest people. Yet circumstances have led me to reluctantly put that aside (at least for now) and go back to a slightly altered version of my life for the last couple of years.

Turns out just when you think you might be able to commit yourself fully to work, things don’t always go according to plan – now there’s a surprise.

The catalyst was one of our dogs developing diabetes. Diabetes for a dog is the same as Type One diabetes for a human. there is no managing it with diet, it’s straight onto twice daily insulin injections and a pretty intense schedule of working with your vet in the initial period to get the dose right.

It is not an exaggeration to say this changed our lives over night. The injections have to be given as close as possible to 12 hours apart, food must be measured, walks must be strict and the possibility of a diabetic crash lingers closely in those first few weeks.

My wonderful workplace said I could bring him into work with me as he couldn’t be left alone. He was a very popular visitor to the office as he is very cute and loves people. Deep down though I knew this wasn’t a long term plan as he was slightly stressed by the process and it was hard to juggle taking him to various meetings.

So with heavy heart I resigned my position but we developed a two day a week position that meant I could look after Bosco, and still contribute in the form of important but not so urgent projects that needed to be bought on line.

However this catalyst became a domino on the move and I found myself weighing up work with all the other things going on in our lives – a house renovation, travel, my husband’s very full-on job, the birth of yet another precious grandchild and the announcement that there was another due early year. All good things but all that meant that something had to give.

Unlike many  people I am in the weird position of not having to work unless I want to,  so for me the question is nuanced and in some ways more difficult. I have had  several other grandmothers say that if they didn’t have to work, they wouldn’t. Yet we work for other reasons than just the financial ones and that made my decision hard. I like working, making a difference, being part of something bigger than myself, workplace banter, even wearing ‘work’ clothes. But I kind of knew as I went through the praying and thinking process, that for this season it made sense to step down for a time –  maybe permanently – I don’t know.

That was just over four weeks ago and my life has been full of  getting used to having a pet with diabetes, hanging out with our children, their little ones, my friends,  and appreciating all this  in a way I didn’t before I worked full-time for the last eight months. Also time spent catching up on all those things that don’t get done when you are both working full-time!

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Which brings me up to now. The amazing  trip  I am currently on was planned while I was working but I have been able to extend it for another week now I don’t have to fit it into annual leave.

And it is ‘I’ and not ‘we’ as it is a trip to the cold dark  Northern hemisphere winter (spurred by the  promise of a visit to a friend and the desire to see what Christmas is like over this side of the world) that did not appeal to Wayne so he graciously suggested I do it by myself – but more of that in my next entry.

It is a very big solo adventure for me!

 

Floral overload (in a good way)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary (33 years!) a few days early this weekend in the beautiful South Island town of Queenstown. I have been lucky enough to stay in this stunning place a few times but never before in the summer. For me its a ski town, but turns out that in the summer it’s a lush and verdant paradise. I think I drove my poor husband crazy as I spent the whole time taking photos of the stunning flowers in bloom everywhere. The whole place was fragrant with roses and jasmine.

Easy to forget how much beauty you have in your own country. It was also wonderful at such a hectic time of year to reflect on how far we have come in those 33 years, enjoy a quiet weekend with each other and literally stop and smell the roses.

An antidote to my London yearning

Sometimes you need to see or do something completely different to get yourself back to normal.

After posting just over a week ago about my yearning to go back to London and finding it hard to settle back in,  I decided to spend a few days down at my favourite spot in New Zealand – Waihi Beach. Our daughter, her delightful baby and two dogs joined me. I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.

This is my home country at its very best.

 

 

Nearly on the home stretch

After reluctantly farewelling Ireland we took the car ferry to Cairnryan we spent a very pleasant evening in a delightful B and B just a few minute from the car ferry. My first (and probably last) time ever staying somewhere with a  TV set into the bathroom wall, water-proof remote even!

Then a fairly long drive to North Dockenbush to spend a very quick day in York. We weren’t planning on making York a highlight, but we probably should have with the stunning York Minster and fascinating Shambles.

York Minster, one of the largest churches of its kind in Northern Europe, towers over the city. We were there on Sunday so its bells and those of the  also beautiful St Wilfred’s were pealing with joyous enthusiasm.

I had vaguely heard that The Shambles was worth visiting without really knowing what it was, so we dutifully Googled Mapped our way there and spent a very enjoyable hour wandering this crowded street with houses dating back as early as the 14th century. While now packed with tourists, the jostle and noise probably has some similarity to when it was a bustling market street.

 

Then on to Cambridge where we had a chance to spend four days with Christian, see his ‘dungeon’ digs for the year and be thoroughly entertained by the inrush of freshers for freshers’ week. Watching teenagers who had obviously never ridden a bike before negotiating the narrow streets, often with shopping dangling precariously from their handle bars (with I suspect with a beverage or two already consumed) was both entertaining and downright dangerous for the pedestrian spectator!

I love Cambridge. I love the fact that everyone cycles or walks. I love that the city is intertwined with the university. I love the individuality and beauty of all the colleges.  I love seeing that much maligned species “the youth of today” passionate and excited to learn. Observing  and listening to these young adults gives me great optimism for their generation.

For us it has been a huge sacrifice making the decision to let Christian follow his dream and study here but Im pretty sure its worth it. Already after a year here he has a world view  and experience that he wouldn’t have got if he stayed in NZ and he’s also making the most of every opportunity that comes his way. (Still sounds like a Kiwi though!)

We did a couple of days trips while here; firstly to yet another cathedral, this time at Ely. What a gorgeous town! We climbed the tower (vertigo alert!) which may not have been a good idea for me as by the time we got to the top of the last tiny flight of stone stairs I was fairly traumatised, but I got back down safely so  that was a good thing!

Then a visit to the delightful Audley End House, a (mainly) 17th century estate. With a fully working organic garden and the house beautifully restored to looking how it did at its heyday it was an excellent afternoon’s expedition. We had the added bonus of seeing the ‘Normans’ ride in as part of their journey to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

Our trip now racing to its end, we headed down to London, dropping off our trusty and now very dirty hire car and keen to spend a week in that great city. We were still not really ready to go home!

 

 

 

Beautiful beautiful Ireland

We only had a week in Ireland so were determined to pack a lot in.

We cruised over on the car ferry, which was a rather nice way to while away a couple of hours. After a night in a cute BnB in Rosslare we headed into Dublin. It rained a lot in the two days we were there!

Obligatory beef and  Guinness pie eating proved very successful, and there was sampling of said Guinness, as well an entertaining visit to the Guinness Storehouse where I got to pour my own pint (I think mine is the one in the middle). Most satisfying.

A more sobering visit to the Kilmainham jail gave us an in-depth look at Ireland’s struggle for freedom and the people who sacrificed their lives to obtain it. There is a heart-breaking letter on display from an 18 year old who was executed for being part of the Easter uprising. The letter was written the night before his death – all he wanted was to see his mum. So very very sad. It made Alcatraz look very tame to be honest.

We also managed to fit in a visit to Dublin Castle with its beautiful staterooms and Trinity College Dublin. The Book of Kells and the old library were well worth the long queue to get in. Incredible to see such an old and precious book, even if it was just a couple of pages open for viewing. (No photos of the book allowed sorry!)

 

Our next two days were spent driving cross country to the beautiful areas of Glasson and Ballina. On the way we saw a sign for a waterfall so headed down the tiny road and were rewarded with seeing a small but gorgeous torrent of water, and finding a place that did excellent tea!

Both  our hotels for these couple of days were by the water, firstly a beautiful lake  and then a river. Very quiet and a nice change of pace from the hectic pace of Dublin. Wayne played golf and I had a massage – bliss.

We then drove to Belfast for a trip highlight – a Game of Thrones tour! Entertained and informed by our crazy guide Brian, a seasoned extra on the show, we saw many of the places where iconic scenes were filmed and got lots of insider information on how things were filmed. Mandatory and  much fun was getting dressed up as Iron Islanders and having a go at fighting  with (very heavy and realistic )swords. Our kids were a bit worried that I was having too much fun fighting their dad!

Along the way we got  to cross the famed Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge (why do I agree to these things?) This was the biggest test for my vertigo ever. Several of our group decided not to risk it as it was a windy day but I knew I would be annoyed with myself if I didn’t attempt it. Suffice to say that it was one of the scariest things I have ever done! I had Wayne behind me, encouraging me to take bigger steps, or at least keep moving. I think I shook for an hour afterwards. I’m not sure that continually forcing myself to confront these situations is good for me but I am learning a lot about what I can to do if I have to, and it turns out it’s quite a lot. The Giant’s Causeway was much easier!

We finished our week with a walking tour of the ‘Troubles’ era in Belfast history. The other side of the fight for autonomy with devastating results that still scar the city emotionally of not physically today.Our guide had grown up through all the bombings and was a professional mediator with both sides of the conflict – could have listened to him all day. We wished we could stay longer in Ireland but the car ferry was booked, so we said our goodbyes and farewelled this wonderful country.

We loved Ireland, so dramatic, such sweeping vistas, delicious food  and friendly people. Another country to put on our ‘let’s go back’ list!

 

Tintagel to St David’s Cathedral

 

On our way out of Cornwall we visited Tintagel Castle (legendary birthplace of King Arthur). Windswept and grim, I again had to clutch onto a railing for dear life as we climbed up stairs carved out of the very steep rock face. Well worth the terror as we gazed out on the isolated landscape, read about the ancient castle built precariously on the clifftops and marvelled at the mountain goats skipping their way down the scary slopes.

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I rewarded myself with a very delicious cornish pasty and we continued onto Bath. We only had a very short stay here but Wayne here made good on his promise to buy me a decent camera as a belated birthday present, so we left with me clutching my new baby very excitedly.

We spent a couple of days in the Welsh countryside and took the camera for its first outing in St Davids. This little place is officially a city as it contains a beautiful cathedral. We spent the morning exploring that and the ruins of the neighbouring Bishop’s Palace. I really liked this peaceful place. There has been a Christian presence here since the 6th century and St David is the patron saint of Wales. Like so many other cathedrals, this was the heart of a vibrant faith community rather than a museum and monument to the past and I could feel the life and spirit inside as I walked through. I love this sense of being connected to the on-going narrative of my faith in so many different places.

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And then off to attempt a small stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coastal walkway. This of corse meant more cliffs . I managed to get a fair way along until the drops became too steep despite the distraction of the new camera and I decided that it was time to turn back. We did encounter wild ponies, hawks and seals so again worth the terror I think!

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In all a wonderful and refreshing couple of days – very different to Italy, but just as beautiful.

Two days in Venice is not enough (part two)

We packed a lot into our second day in Venice. Starting with breakfast on the terrace of our hotel, looking out onto the Grand Canal, I thought I might cry at the beauty of this city. So different to anything I have ever experienced. I could have sat there all day but I’m glad I didn’t.

Venice is complicated. Obviously reliant on tourism but also being damaged by tourism. There were two enormous cruise ships looming while we were there. The problem with cruise ships is they dock, disgorge passengers for a day and then leave. They cause huge damage to the fragile buildings and eco-system but provide enormous income. Here’s a link to an interesting Guardian article published a few days after we left which sums it up very well. It’s hard  to work out the best answers as, like so many other people, we wanted to experience the magic that is Venice. How do you decide who can come and how many? At least we were staying a couple of days  and spending money outside of the set tourist attractions – I hope that’s better than staying on a floating hotel for a day, visiting St Mark’s Square and then leaving?

We spent the morning in the Doge’s Palace with the delightful Daniella as our guide. A passionate Venetian, she recreated the political and social history of Venice as we drank in the incredible art and scope  of this building. Was wonderful to cross the Bridge of Sighs after visiting the Cambridge one last year ( with its slightly less ominous tradition of crossing to sit exams).

Then off to Murano for a glassblowing demonstration and a chance to buy some of the beautiful glass on display ( some Christmas presents were sorted!).

The afternoon was spent at the beautiful island of Burano. Think of a laid-back mini Venice! Apparently Michelle Obama has been here – good choice by her. Brightly coloured houses with fabrics billowing over the front doors, tiny canals criss-crossing everywhere . Just beautiful. One of my favourite places in Italy.

Sadly the next morning was time to leave Venice and indeed Italy. I definitely want to come back and spend more time in the areas we fell in love with. We lingered over breakfast for as long as possible until we had to leave via speedboat. Wayne’s suitcase was precariously balanced on the top of a pile of others. I was convince it was going for to fly off into the sea! But we made it safely to the airport dock and far too soon were sitting on a plane to the UK. A whole new series of adventures to come.

Two days in Venice is not enough (part one)

We came across from Rapello through Verona. I liked Verona very much although passed on the option to eat horse or donkey ragu, instead enjoying an excellent seafood pasta.

After what seemed like forever we finally pulled up at the wharf and farewelled our faithful coach and awesome driver.

Like many people Venice is somewhere I have always fantastised about going. The concept of a seemingly floating city, the canals, the gondalas, the Grand Canal, the history. I was a bit worried that it would be a single idea destination – but the longer we stayed there (and it was sadly a brief visit) the more we fell under its spell.

We did the classic arrival in style via a James Bondesque speedboat to our hotel on the Grand Canal.

Old world and ornate but slightly shabby, it was a perfect place to set up base. We arrived in the late afternoon so only had time for a gondala ride on the first evening. You can see from one of the photos that we had a wee bit of a gondola traffic jam. Great fun and the perfect way to be introduced to Venice as the sun started to set. We peeled off from the group afterwards, had a pizza just off St Mark’s Square and checked out some of the amazing shops in the ever narrower side streets. It was just about closing time so we knew would would have to come back later.

Really regretting having to use my phone camera as Venice is a photographers’ paradise.  The combination of the buildings and that famous luminosity of the light takes your breath away.

 

 

 

Beautiful Cinque Terre

I’m going to jump ahead (will write about  Pisa and Florence in a later entry hopefully) to a day I had been looking forward to very very much – visiting the famed Cinque Terre.

We were treated to a beautiful view of the bay as we headed to Cinque Terre. On the way  our tour guide discussed the issues facing this unique area. While to a visitor it looks exotic and romantic, this is not a life that has appealed to the young of the villages. Toiling on vertical cliffs in harsh conditions to produce the wine and produce of the region has not been appealing to the majority of the young people and many of the vineyards struggle to find workers. Yet there is some good news as the trend towards locally produced and sustainable produce has started to bring new life back into ancient cottage industries.

Obviously tourism is a huge part of the local economy and this has lead to many discussion on how to protect this fragile area. The Italian government are looking at restricting the numbers of people who can visit each year in an effort to cut down the 2.5 million annual tourists. It is a difficult problem as obviously everyone wants to come here and the tourist dollar injects vital life into the economy, but it almost impossible for the locals to go about their daily lives. 

We spent some time in the exquisite  Manarola and then travelled to Monteroso by ferry so didn’t get to stop at the middle villages but we could see the crowds of people at each one. Lots of people swimming which was frustrating as we didn’t have any swimming gear with us! The ferry was very hot and overcrowded but we managed to get a seat in the sea breeze on the upper deck and enjoy. The spectacular views.

On arrival in Monteroso we were left to our own devices for lunch and we found a tiny restaurant where they cooked delicious seafood in a compact open kitchen. Beautiful scampi risotto still sizzling as it arrived at the table. Then we wandered round the medieval square a bit, rolled up our shorts and paddled in the ocean. It was warm, crystal clear and incredibly salty. Sadly time was up way to soon and we had to head to the train to get back to our coach.

Photos below are a hodge pudge of the day, hope they give some sense of how special this part of the world is.










Galileo said it perfectly

A low-key but lovely morning was spent getting our sleeves rolled up and cooking our own lunch. We did this in the midst of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscape – it was almost impossible to tear our eyes and cameras away from the scenery stretching out in front of us  to go inside.

A simple menu of bread salad, pasta with vegetable ragu and tiramisu kept us concentrating for the morning. We got to keep the recipes as well, so once I am home I’ll probably make some of the menu again and post the recipes if they still taste this yummy!

It’s easy to forget how easy it is to throw together perfect silky smooth pasta, even without the help of a pasta rolling machine. We were a mixed group cooking skills-wise, so the cooking school did well to keep everyone happy and also make sure we served ourselves edible food.

The meal was matched perfectly with accompanying wines as the cooking school was (surprise surprise) attached to a vineyard. We treated ourselves to a beautiful red and I also bought myself a tee-shirt with this beautiful quote from Galileo Galilei.

  Wine is sunlight, held together by water 

Perfect!