19 October 2008


we spent the week in london, and lots of time with sajee and es. on the tuesday we went to the V&A, where we saw stacks of awesome exhibitions.

my favourite was probably the musical instruments room - full of old clavichords and harpsichords, music boxes, english and portugese guitars, weird recorder-type things, harps, hurdy-gurdies . . . d and i wanted to play them ALL! i was also pretty keen on all the textile and fashion exhibits. the textile sample library is super cool!

we saw a lot of dandy clothes there, and i really wanted to buy this 'plain or fancy' t-shirt, but they didn't have the size i needed (medium). sadface.

i also found the keys and locks section really fascinating. mmm, keys! OH! BUT POSSIBLY THE BEST BIT was having lunch in the gorgeous tea rooms! (you can read about them in this picture.)

i had an AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS pot pie, with lentils and cheese and mushrooms and leek and wine and OMG. YUM.

gratuitous es looking cute in her london dress!


on the wednesday, d and i went to his grandparents' place for lunch. it was good to have a meal with them and a chat about various things as d helped them with some technical issues they were having with their tv. their garden was lovely, too.

it was quite a relaxed day for us, and we met sj and es and l in camden for a drink AND POSSIBLY THE BEST CHIPS I HAVE EVER EATEN. they were pretty damn yum! the pub was also fairly chilled, not too busy, not too pretentious, not too snooty. good work, pub. the company? A+!

d had strawberry beer. it was very sweet. i had to swap with him in the end, so that he could drink the rest of my hoegaarden.

will post about thursday, friday and saturday soon!

13 October 2008


We had to be in London before 7 for the 7:30 start of the Rosh Hashanah dinner. We were aiming to get there between 6 and 6:30. We were driving from Chester to Warrington (to see DDD and have brunch), then to Birmingham (to meet WW and have lunch), then to London. We planned to spend about 2 hours at each place, and we pretty much stuck to that. We would have been home with plenty of time had it not been for roadworks on the M1 just outside London. That delayed us for about half an hour, but we were still in with time for a shower and to dress. Yay!

Anyway, we said goodbye to the lovely F and her kittehs, filled the car with petrol, and made it to Warrington almost without incident (only right at the end did Google maps stuff us around and tell us to turn right instead of left). DDD let us in to her cool apartment, where we admired her drool-worthy bookcases, and she very awesomely popped the second episode of Merlin on D's USB. I LOVE MY FELLOW FEN!

I find this picture terribly amusing - something about the border I put on it in iPhoto just makes it!

DDD took us on a grand tour of Warrington town centre (the candy! the new shopping mall! the mad hatter's tea party sculpture! the oldest building in warrington - now a goth pub!) and out to a wee cafe for a 'healthy' breakfast.

Funnily enough, this was the place that had what was some of the best tea I was served at a cafe in the UK on this trip. Yum. I then stocked up on less (or more?) 'healthy' snacks for the rest of the drive.

After a brief chat to Zaphod the hamster (SHE IS SO CUTE!), D and I said goodbye to awesomesauce DDD, hopped in the car and drove off in the pouring rain towards Birmingham. The weather up until that point had been consistently good, and the rain amused me now because WW in Birmingham had almost died laughing when I suggested it might be sunny when we visited. BUT I WAS TO BE PROVED RIGHT! Because the rain cleared after an hour, and the sun was out as we negotiated the 18023937 roundabouts, flyovers, underpasses and tunnels to get into Birmingham, where we found a parking spot and then got lost in the Bullring - a large shopping centre. But fortune prevailed, and we made it to the designating meeting point only a few minutes late. I forgot my camera, but luckily WW had her new one, and let me get snap-happy! You can see them here.

WW, who I've known online for a while, but never been able to meet IRL before, had planned out a fabulous exploratory walk around some of the canals in Birmingham (did you know it has more miles of canals than Venice? OR SO THEY SAY!). And so we grabbed a baguette and set off. Birmingham is a relatively new city by UK standards, the majority of what we know it to be today having grown up around and since the industrial revolution (WW was super informative! it was excellent! i learnt thingumies!) Thus, the architecture was far more reminiscent of Australian and Canadian cities than other old English or Scottish cities (for example). Even the churches/cathedrals were fairly 'new'.

The canals, however, are very much a UK/European fixture. I had a lot of fun looking at the undersides of bridges, and we stared for quite a while at the cool reflections of rippled sunlight playing on the curved underbelly of one tunnel.

We learnt how to sink a canal boat, and also how to operate a lock - unfortunately after one canal boater yelled at us rather aggressively to open the lock gate for her. It took us some time to work out what she wanted.

We managed to stay out of the way of the armies of pigeons, and also out of the way of most of the tories - who happened to be having some big conference in Birmingham on that day (kind of random, after the races in Chester...) They were fairly easily avoided, as they stood out a mile! We thought one of them looked particularly like Percy Weasley.

We had a pint at a lovely canal-side pub (we sat on the upstairs balcony, as far away from the tories in the bar as possible), then toddled off back to our car. WW was a really great tour guide - and very thoughtful, because she'd even done the research and knew that one side of the canal was closed off because of the conservatives (it's to keep everyone else safe, we think). I recommend her services!

And then it was just driving back to London, freshening up, meeting people, welcoming SJ and Es back from their trip to Paris (I'm envious!), and having a lovely dinner! Rather a quiet day, wouldn't you think?!


F and A had very awesomely borrowed some books and maps and we decided to go on a decent sized walk near Chirk - mainly because I am fast becoming a bridge-spotter and the walk passed beneath the Chirk aqueduct and viaduct towards the end.

We set off after a relaxing morning full of cups of tea and showers, picked up some snacks, and drove down to Chirk. Many jokes (or chirks) were made about the name, and we were all chirking with laughter when F said she thought she could smell hot chirkolate. We soon discovered the scent was not our imagination and that Chirk is in fact home to a Cadbury factory!

The walk took us up through the grounds of Chirk castle (I believe it's one of the oldest continuously inhabited/functioning/utilised castles in the UK) on a permissive path that was only open for a couple more days, and past many sheep. We all donned our raincoats as it drizzled for a wee bit, but after another half an hour or so F and I took them off again. We were once again fortunate with the weather.

Cnce at the top of that hill, we were treated to lovely views over the Ceiriog valley, into which we then descended.

The guidebook took us up the other side of the valley wall for a way, providing some good views of the castle (I didn’t get any good pics), before we came back down and followed the river through the woods for a while. We scoffed down the yoghurt covered nuts and other snacks on the way.

Emerging from the woods, we got our first glimpses of the viaduct and aqueduct up the other end of a long paddock. As we got closer, we were lucky enough to see a couple of narrow boats make their way slowly along the viaduct.

It was very cool. You’ll just have to trust me and the pictures on this one! By the way, the viaduct is the taller and newer bridge.

After we finished, we all jumped back in the car and D drove us back to Chester, where we had a quick freshen up and then went to the local for a pint and some dinner.

A had to leave to go back down to London, so we said goodbye and spent the evening inside – F working on a paper for submission, and us reading and doing travel admin type stuff. We had a lovely time in Chester, and it was so good to see F again and to meet A. Fun-fun-fun!

You can find more photos of the walk here.

11 October 2008


The thing about B&Bs is that you can never be sure what you’re going to get. We’ve stayed in delightful B&Bs in old cottages and inns, we’ve stayed in clean but soulless rooms in boring streets. We’ve been welcomed and looked after by hosts in a way that one would usually expect only from family or friends, we’ve had courteous and professional greetings, we’ve had relaxed and obliging hosts, we’ve stayed with people who don’t really give a crap. You have to be open minded about what kind of room you will get, what the service will be like, what kind of breakfast you’ll be served. Because the joy of B&Bs is that they’re not hotels, they’re (usually) not chains or franchises, so they’re highly individual and occasionally very idiosyncratic. Of course, there is no excuse for anything being less than adequate, but once you reach the stage of ‘good enough’, it’s almost as if anything goes.

This has very little to do with the particular place we were staying in Hay-on-Wye, which had cheerful and accommodating hosts, an adequate but not-fancy room with a comfy bed, and filling but not-healthy breakfasts (the full breakfast came with fried bread, while orange juice and fried mushrooms were about as fresh as it got – the UK has a very different approach to breakfasts from Australia). Our breakfast on the day we left was spent listening in on the conversation of the two older-middle-aged men sitting on the table behind us – “When I was sailing in the Bahamas in 2004 . . .” and “. . . in Pakistan, we had to all file into this big hall, shake his hand and then take tea with him . . .” and on the subject of walking, “The Ridgeway, you say? Far too much traffic in that part of the world if you ask me!” They were walking Offas Dyke Path.

Anyway, we set off with a little trepidation (after Google maps had led us somewhat astray in Bristol and on the way to Hay-on-Wye), and at first our fears seemed unfounded, and we made good time as the dense fog rose and became low cloud in an otherwise clear sky. But we soon found ourselves driving around in circles (through beautiful countryside, I might add), and I got gradually more and more pissy (I hate when I don’t have a good map!) until we went back to the nearest village and bought a road atlas at the petrol station. One good thing came of all this annoyingness, though – when we finally made it to a highway, we passed a cyclist . . . riding a penny farthing! It was so awesome I made DB stop so it could overtake us and I could take another picture.

We arrived in Chester in good time, and got to see the Lovely F, her partner and her two cute (and very vocal) cattens! Yayyy!

F and her partner, A, plied us with tea and took us on a brief tour of Chester, walking along the old Roman walls, looking at the cathedral from a number of angles, and photographing what is “possibly the second most photographed clock in Britain”. Now that is nothing if not a claim to fame!

But they knew where we REALLY needed to go. The Cheese Shop was fabulous, and we bought 4 cheeses for a picnic – an organic brie, a sheep cheese, http://www.colstonbassettdairy.com/ Colston Bassett stilton (it was too good in Bristol to let it go by!), and Shropshire Blue by the same makers. We also got some bread and fruit and set up a delightful picnic in a quiet park by the river.

We were pretty stuffed by the end of it, but walking the whole 200 metres or something to the other bank cleared some room for an ice cream cone – which we had to get, as we had decided to take one of the pedal boats out onto the river. Hee! It was a lot of fun (possibly mainly because F and A did all the work, while we lounged in the back), and a lovely way to see a little bit more of the town.

I had been slightly concerned when we first arrived because everyone seemed exceedingly well/over-dressed. It all became clear, however, when F let us know that the races were on. That evening when we went out the town was full of women clutching at walls and falling down flights of stairs (this actually happened in our restaurant, accompanied by the terrific smashing of a bottle of champagne at the bottom), and men in pink shirts and pinstrips vomiting in laneways. It was all class. Despite this, everyone was fairly jolly (I guess it was early in the night), and F’s apartment – which hovers on top of an archway over a lane/entryway) was nice and cosy and quiet, and we slept well that night!