Sunday, 23 March 2008

Easter Saturday - Cambridge

Another place that has long been on the list of places to visit was Cambridge. On a fast train it is not more than an hour north of us so seemed like an ideal day trip. Alas there was a small hiccup in the trains at Finsbury Park so we backtracked a bit to Kings Cross, but after a small delay we were off.

I enjoy travelling out of London by train. I think living in the middle of the city it is easy to forget that you don't have to go very far north to see rolling hills and farm animals gracing the countryside. If it wasn't for the fact that we were travelling swiftly on a regular and relatively inexpensive train system you could have almost thought it was the New Zealand green outside...

Any time I've thought of visiting Cambridge I've been thinking of strolling the old streets, wandering through the parks and perhaps even punting on the river.

A lovely idea, although perhaps not best suited for the day we visited. As we got of the train we paused for warm snacks and a hot chocolate. Stepping outside the wind blew my hot chocolate all over me and the snow (yes, the snow in March) was pelting sideways.

So gone were the ideas of strolling and we boarded the opentop bus tour (resting in the warm of the bottom floor though!).

It was a good way to see the city, but just perhaps not quite what we'd first had in mind.

The day took a regular pattern that anytime we stopped to do something outside it would blow and snow so we'd go inside, see blue sky, go back outside and back into the blow and snow.

It was still a fun day out and we did see into a few of the Colleges and in particular the inside of King College. In the Chapel the choir was singing which made it all the more special.

Kings College Chapel

Kings College Chapel (window)

Paul and Amy in the snow at Kings College

Watching someone brave go punting.
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A Day at Kew Gardens - Good Friday

This Easter, having spent previous ones in Sardinia and the India we decided to stay in London and to do what seemed like a good idea on the day. I think that this plan was formulated in the hope that the weather would be decent. To be honest it's been less than spring like and the winter coats are back out. In fact as I sit here the heating is on and I am rugged in my new woolly glassons top from Chantel and my Christmas socks.

But what was the point of being in London and having a long weekend if we stayed indoors? So, having fortified ourselves with fresh hot cross buns (is four too many to have for breakfast?) we headed out west to Kew Gardens.

The wind was blowing a gale so I was rather pleased to have all the great glasshouses to shelter in from the wind. The wind wasn't all bad though as it was also really good to hear the wind in the trees and to smell the wet mud about.

As it was spring there were daffodils everywhere and carpets of bluebells on the lawn, and as we avoided the rain all day it was a very nice day out.

The famous Palm House.

One of the cacti in one of the glasshouses.

A lawn of bluebells.

A Rata vine in the temperate glasshouse.
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Happy Easter

As is family tradition, and as I was awake early on Good Friday it seemed like a good idea to make a batch of Hot Cross Buns. I think that these were perhaps my best yet (well, you'd hope after a squillion years of making them).

I also made a second set, which did not come out quite so well as I carried the dough to Kew with us for the day before having an Easter Supper of BBQ Lamb with Jess, Andrew, Ange, Neil and Emma - still tasty but perhaps a little too much air and they didn't keep their shape so well.

New trick to get the yeast going - place near hot jug.

All the ingredients. Now if only I could work out what an ounce was...

Step two


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The hard part of Amy's job...

Once a year as part of Amy's job she joins her team and the European offices for a large Real Estate conference and talkfest in the south of France.

Yacht at Cannes

When all the chatting with trade bodies was done it seemed sensible, as it was there, to pop to Monaco for coffee before catching a late flight home.

Coffee in Monaco

...Hmmm I'll take one of each...

A fountain where, er, a few years ago as an exchange student Amy sat with her friend Andrea.
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The view fron our house

Any visitors to our place would have seen the building on the hill in the distance and most people ask what it is, and for the longest time we didn't know.

Eventually we worked out that it was Alexandra Palace, and finally, having lived in this house for two and a half years a couple of Sundays ago we made a visit.

The view back to our place.
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Sunday, 9 March 2008

Spain I - Granada - Dos cervezas por favor

Although we had wanted to go to Granada for some time, the thought of going just for a weekend was always a short lived one and tended to be scrapped when we checked how much the flights were going to be. Then one weekend in October or so last year we had some flights to Paris that we decided we didn't want to use anymore and, for a small fee, the kind folks at easyJet would allow you to transfer them.

We had an evening playing budget flight roulette (a game involving the scroll function of the website and a large map of Europe) before deciding that we should really just go to somewhere we really wanted to. A long weekend in Granada to break the winter seemed like a great idea.

Granada has a long and interesting history and it was the moorish palace of the Alhambra that was the real draw card that made us want to visit in the first place. Closely followed by sangria and tapas.

We arrived on the Friday and having done some research on the best way to see the sights set about trying to find somewhere to buy our Bono Turstico (tourist card); a somewhat fraught experience as there were not sold by the information office or by any shops with the badge, but once that adventure was over and we found the tiny booth that sold them (and the young lady in the booth worked out how to turn her computer on to sell the tickets...)we were off.

The card had a lot of sights on it we'd not even considered visiting, but first it was time to eat enjoy the sun for a bit.

In theory I'm the one with the spanish language skills, but it's fair to say that it was only one paper at uni, and that is now a fair while ago. But I did remember one phrase that pretty much kept us going all weekend - dos cervezas por favor.

Granada has a fantastic tapas culture. You order your tiny beer and out comes a beer and a pretty decent snack. So good are these tapas that on the Saturday evening (having had a hard day on the open top bus tour and exploring monasteries) our plan of going out for a drink and then finding dinner turned into a great tapas crawl. We ate like kings and never spent more than a few euros.

We intentionally saved the Alhambra for the last full day (Sunday) which meant that Friday and Saturday were lazy days in the sun walking (and opentop busing) from one part of town to the next. One of the best spots was however the AlbaicĂ­n, the ancient Arab quarter. We have over the past few years done our fair share of travels in the Arab world (although not enough of course!) and it was great to explore the little streets and see how the architecture was so similar. And of course have a tagine.

On Sunday we had the whole day to explore the Alhambra. It seems that there was some lost in translation with the young girl in the ticket booth as there were several steps omitted from her explanation as to how to use the card, however it wasn't too big a drama and we made it in.

We did the gardens first. It truly showed how in water was a way to demonstrate your wealth as each garden had water flowing and fountains and pools and goldfish. Absolutely delightful.

Then was the actual palace. I had seen loads of photos and documentaries on the architecture of the place but it still impressed me - the symmetry, the detail and all the history. I've tried to pick a few photos but none really does any justice.

The final real discovery perhaps suits the bio of this blog. That's right coffee. And my discovery of the Cafe-bon-bon - Espresso and condensed milk. Mmmm.

PS Am having trouble uploading photos... will try again later.

More Photos:

In no particular order, and just a sample of the ones taken in Granada...

A door in the old town

Detail in the Alhambra

Detail in the Alhambra

Detail in the Alhambra