Perching Bar, Verzy

Who says that tree-houses are just for kids?

What if I told you there was a champagne bar seven metres above the ground in the heart of the Regional Natural Park of the Montagne de Reims in Verzy? A bar that you could only reach by a series wooden walkways and suspension bridges?

Interested?

Yep, I was too.

The place is the Perching Bar and your admission fee includes a glass of the bubbly stuff.

All around is the whoosh of zip-lines of varying heights for zip-liners of varying ability (and courage) but up here in the trees sipping on a glass of Bollinger (bolly… sweetie) all is grand with the world.

The view’s not bad either.

I love what they do with the corks and the top thingies.

Want more info?

The Perching Bar is open from April to mid-December and as only a certain number of people can be up here at any one time, reservations are recommended.

Check out their Facebook page here.

Oh, there is a bit of a walk – don’t worry, it’s nothing too strenuous – up a hill on a dirt path, so wear shoes that are ok for walking up a hill on a dirt path.

Also, children under 12 years are not permitted.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Brugge…

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, way back in the 13thand14thcenturies, there existed a city that was so prosperous that the wealth of its citizens rivalled that of queens.

Its fortune was made on the back of textiles and trade, with international traders setting up here to do business with the ships laden with all sorts of exotic goods – wool, wine, silks, spices –that berthed here. The city was so important that stock exchanges today are still called bourses in many languagesafter the trader’s house that many merchants met in during the 13thcentury right here.

It was here that English wool was converted into fabric, and here that Flemish artists painted works for such perfection.

As often happens in these situations, the craftsmen began to disagree and stand up to their overlords. Retributions followed – as retributions often do – and traders began looking for somewhere else to do business. Merchants followed the traders and the city began to fall into a decline.

Then disaster struck…

The long sea channel that connected the city with the sea – and the city’s economic lifeline – silted up. With access to the sea gone, houses were abandoned, and canals remained empty.

The city slumped into a slumber that would last around 400 years – which is, in a way, somewhat appropriate for a place that looked as though it had sprung straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

The city is Brugge (or Bruges), and it’s thanks (in part) to this extended slumber that it miraculously survived two world wars.  Some tourists made their way through late in the 19thcentury on their way through to Waterloo (does anyone else want to burst into song at that name, or is that just me?) but it wasn’t until much later that Brugge was rediscovered.

Today it’s a picture postcard example of a perfectly preserved medieval city.

In the past Brugge’s trade was mercantile, today it’s about tourists with its prime assets being a massive market square, narrow cobbled streets, historic churches, perfectly preserved buildings and photogenic, willow-draped canals.

Textiles are still popular, with plenty of shops selling tapestries and lace – keep an eye out for the map of the city done in lace. The pic below doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.

Chocolate is king here. You can buy all chocolate here from commercial novelties (think phallic – this is a PG-rated site so I won’t post the pics) to artisan chocolatiers. The entire city is full of air-borne calories, so take care not to breathe too deeply.

Truffles

We visited on a day-trip from Lille so sadly had just a short time to explore. Anyways, here’s some of what we did see…

Markt

And no, I haven’t spelt it incorrectly – there is no “e”. This open market square is the centre of town.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

Tucked into the square, beside a chocolate shop, is the Heilig- Bloedbasiliek or Basilica of the Holy Blood.

It takes its name from the phial that apparently holds a few drops of Christ’s blood. For the donation of a few euros, you can check it out. It doesn’t look anything like blood – not that I’d know what blood would look like after it’s been in a phial for over a thousand years.

Anyways, it was reportedly brought here in the 12th century after the Crusades. The Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood was formed soon after to protect and preserve and venerate it – which all sounds a little Dan Brown-ish.  Each Ascension Day they do a procession through the city.

There’s even a legend that every hundred years the blood flows again. Given no one alive has actually seen this phenomenon I suspect it’s a little like the “back in 30 minutes” signs you see on shop doors – when you don’t know when the thirty minutes actually has started.

It does, however, make for a good story, and from a rather nondescript exterior, the stairs lead up and around into a lovely and intricately decorated chapel.

Half Moon Brewery

Brugge is very much a beer town, yet there’s only the one family-run brewery still actually operating in town- Half Moon Brewery…the perfect spot to stop for lunch after walking all morning. Although this brewery was founded in 1856, there has, in fact, been a brewery on this site since 1564.

The 2-course menu here was 22E, so we shared the shrimp croquettes and I had the Flemish Beefstew – which is, incidentally, called Carbonnade or Carbonade Flamande in Flemish France. (Keep an eye out for the recipe over the next few days).

Hubby and F chose the beer ham and cheese soup – also excellent – and thankfully helped me out with my fries.

On the subject of fries, or frites, it seems that the nationality of the cook who accidentally dropped a piece of potato into some hot oil and invented the chip is as hotly debated as the question of who made the first pavlova. The Belgians say it was them, and the French claim that it was in fact them. Whatever – these fries were flipping good.

The Beer Wall

On the subject of beer, we had to check out the 2 be Beer Wall. there are over 1800 beers – and their accompanying glasses (all Belgian beers have a branded glass that the beer should be served in) – in the wall. Wait, wasn’t there a song about that? 1800 beers on the wall…no?

The bar has only about ten beers on tap at any one time, but plenty more in bottles. Worth a look…and a drink.

Canal Cruise

Yep, it’s seriously touristy, but at 8E it’s worth it to get a different view of this gorgeous city.

A must do.

The Cathedral

St-Salvatorskathedraal…Sweeping high ceilings and antique tapestries make this one interesting.

While we were wandering around there was a girl standing high up on some scaffolding do painstaking restoration work. Now, there’s an idea for a character…

What else?

There are the shops that sell tapestries and lace,

shops that are just about Christmas – all year round,

a market building where I can’t remember the name…Vismarkt?

and enough architecture, art, history, and dreamy canals to keep anyone interested.

The problem is, lots of other people know about Brugge’s beauty and the streets are mobbed in summer and on weekends. Come in the off-season, or midweek – as we did – and avoid the crowds.

 

 

 

 

Lille…

Grand Place

Welcome to Lille – the base for Stage 1 of our La Grande Tour and home to the Aussie friends we’ll be spending the next couple of weeks road-tripping with.

Known also as Rijsel (in Flemish), Lille just happens to be (in my humble opinion) a very under-rated city.

What makes Lille different to many other French cities is that it wasn’t French until – in European terms – relatively recently. Louis XIV captured it in 1667 for the French. Before that, the city – along with much of Belgium and part of the Netherlands – belonged to Flanders.  To this day it’s that Flemish influence that is responsible for much of Lille’s charm with the Flemish influence evident in its buildings, its food and its beers.

Vieux Lille by old car…

The best way to see the old town – or Vieux Lille – is on foot. The next best way to see Vieux Lille is the way we did, in a Citroen 2CV with a local to guide you.

These cute little cars are narrow enough to get into the narrowest of the cobbled streets – and Lille old town is full of narrow cobbled streets. Plus they’re super fun.

We were fortunate in that our guide/driver was a local, Louis, who happened to be studying architecture and was able to tell us – with passion – about all the different architectural styles: Flemish, Spanish and French.

Vieux Lille by foot…

I could have wandered these streets for hours – picture perfect cobbled streets with everything from High Street fashion brands to artisan chocolates to homewares to cheese and charcuterie to…you get the idea.

Lille Cathedral, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Treille…

THE best place for a beer on a sunny afternoon

This is not your average cathedral.

For starters, it’s relatively new and a divisive mix of gothic and contemporary styles. As Louis told us, people either love or hate it.

Although building commenced in 1854, two world wars slowed progress substantially to the extent that the front was pretty much boarded up in 1947. This temporary wall was destroyed in the early 90’s and the new contemporary wall – very different from the remainder of the cathedral – was installed.

What’s really interesting about this wall is that it’s constructed of 110 sheets of thin marble that take on a glorious orange sheen when lit by the sun. Another cool thing about this front is that it’s not actually moulded to the rest of the structure.

The marble also apparently contains some symbols that you wouldn’t expect to see on a cathedral – symbols like the belfry of Lille, E=mc2, and even cosmonauts.  I would have paid more attention had I done my research before-hand.

Inside, just like outside, is a mix of old and new. Contemporary abstract art is combined with more traditional French styles and is both surprising and refreshing.

Warning – airborne calories…

These cute little shops in Vieux Lille contain not so hidden dangers of the calorific sort. Oh. My.

One of these, Meert, has been serving exquisite chocolate and patisserie to those who could afford it since 1761 – which, back in those days were kings and generals and the like.

We bought a merveilleux from Aux Merveilleux de Fred – apparently the only place one should ever purchase merveilleux from. What is it? Light as air.

merveilleux

The merveilleaux is comprised of two feather-weight meringues sandwiched together, coated in whipped cream and rolled in chocolate shavings. Aside from a thin crispness to the bottom of the meringue, the rest of the merveilleaux dissolves in a puff of air. It’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted.

Where we ate…

Brasserie La Paix – a little bit of art deco glamour amongst the cobbles.

This was our first introduction to Prix-Fixe or a “formule” – fixed price menus.

These are great options. Originally designed to fit in with lunch hours, most restaurants offer 2 or 3 courses at a good price. In the case of Le Paix, it was 5-star French service for a 3-star price tag.

For 18 euros you got either an entree and plat (main) or plat and dessert. Not bad value.

I chose the salade aux trois fromages (three cheese salad) and Dos de lieu avec endives braisees et sauce maltoise – essentially fish with braised endives and an orange sauce to cut through the bitterness of the endive.

Where we stayed…

With our friends in a village about 10 minutes from Lille. There was a boulangerie about 10 minutes walk away that sold amazing croissants for less than a euro and farms and gorgeous gardens in the other direction.

Getting there…

In the North East of France near the Belgian border, Lille is just an hour on the TGV from Charles De Gaulle. We paid 45 euros for a first class seat – after spending the previous almost 24 hours in a cramped economy seat we were happy to pay for some comfort and a little extra luggage room. As an aside, Lille is also a short hop to London – 90 minutes by Eurostar…just saying.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Q is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

Q is for Queenstown

I’ve told you how much I love New Zealand before, but Queenstown? If you haven’t been to this town you simply must.

Framed by The Remarkables mountain range – one of the few ranges in the world that runs truly north-south. That in itself is a remarkable fact, but I’m more inclined to believe they were named because of just how remarkable they look.

They, and Lake Wakatipu, change almost by the minute as the sun changes position and the light varies. Moody one minute, dramatic the next, but always, well, remarkable.

So remarkable that I’ve (so far) set two books there – Wish You Were Here and One More Dance (previously known as Book No. 5). I’ve also been percolating a new series all set in and around Queenstown.

The pic above is in a cafe in town – my favourite place for breakfast, Vudu Cafe and Larder. This cafe was the inspiration for Jess’s cafe, Beach Road, in Wish You Were Here and One More Dance.

The lookout spot on the road to Glenorchy

I’ve also taken my characters out to Glenorchy and Paradise. They’ve walked parts of the Routeburn Track and all of The Milford Track.

Paradise

In One More Dance, they get to explore Arrowtown and also get a glimpse of the wineries in the Gibbston Valley.

I haven’t yet allowed them to stroll through Old Cromwell or smell the wild thyme under their feet around Bannockburn. No doubt that will come.

Naturally, setting a novel in a place requires research – and lots of it. But in this case, it’s research that I’m more than happy to do.

 

 

L is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

L is for Lyon

We’ll be in Lyon later this month and there’s so much about the place that’s already firing my imagination. Sit back while I weave the beginnings of a tale…

If you were to look at a satellite image of Lyon – which you’re probably not inclined to do but please, go with me on this – you’d see a few streets running parallel to the river but not many side streets connecting them that actually run down to the river.

This isn’t a problem if you’re a tourist – so you have to walk an extra 200m, what of it? But it is a problem if you’re a 15th-century silk trader and you’re carrying heavy bolts of fabulously precious silk.

Ok, I’m going to stop right there for a second as the image and the idea develops – 15th century and silk trade.

So, you’re a 15th-century silk trader carrying heavy fabric and you need to get to the river quickly…what do you do? You start to take shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways to get your precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa. That’s what you do.

We now know this network of passageways as traboules – a word that comes from the Latin trans ambulare which means “to cross” – and Lyon has hundreds of these.

Another pause while we picture this – 15th century, silk traders, a network of passageways to the river and a waiting cargo ship. The colour of the silk striking against the murkiness of the candlelit passageways. Yep, the image and the idea is beginning to get clearer. I’m thinking smuggling and other dark deeds…

Right, back to the history. Although these alleys were associated with the silk traders in that the traboules kept the fabric dry as well as provided a convenient shortcut, they’ve been in Lyon at least since the 4th century.

You see, back in the day, Lyon was a bit of a poster child for the Roman Empire. Signs of this are still around – with the structures apparently still quite impressive. I’ll let you know after we visit them.  It makes you wonder what the Romans knew about building back then?

But I digress. Lyon was important  – or Lugdunum as they called it, which doesn’t have quite the same ring as Lyon – partly because it was a handy stop-over point, but mostly because it has two rivers. The Rhone curves through the centre of Lyon as does the Saone.

Anyways, once the Romans reluctantly left town, the aqueducts bringing water to the city started to fail – a little like an iPhone at the end of its warranty. People started building closer to the river and the first traboules were built around this time to allow people to get from their homes to the water quicker.  Yeah, not much of a story there – I think I’ll stay with the 15th-century silk traders.

These silk workers, known as canuts had to eat… so let’s move forward a couple of hundred years to the 17th and 18th century to talk about the other thing I’m looking forward to in Lyon – les bouchons.

The Bouchon is a restaurant serving Lyonnaise cuisine – which is heavily meat-based and does, shall we say, use the whole of the animal.

These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses. I’m beginning to see another strand of a potential story and I haven’t even visited yet!

Then there’s the tradition of machon (the a has a little upside down triangle over it). This is pretty much charcuterie and all bits porky served with pots of Beaujolais in the early morning.  The silk weavers – or canuts – of La Croix-Rousse would all get together to share these meals at dawn after they finished work. My kind of breakfast.

Tired and down-trodden silk workers, hungry bellies, pork and litres of red wine before the sun is properly up – I’m seeing the perfect environment for the hatching of dastardly plans.

Maybe there’s a way of making this trip tax deductible after all…


It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, Debbish, Seize the Day Project, Write of the Middle, 50 Shades of Age, and, of course, me.

Feel free to link up a post that reflects what you’re lovin’ about life. All bloggers are welcome! Fashion, food, beauty, business, personal, parenting … whatever …

Make sure you click on some of the Lovin’ Life links below and see what else is in the blogosphere. So much to love …


H is for…

 

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

H is for Hong Kong

I first went to Hong Kong accidentally.

I was approached by my boss late on a Friday afternoon and asked if I could fly out there on Monday to help out with something.

Could I what?

That week I had a deadline due for a Wellbeing Astrology article, I had essays due for the FAA Astrology Interpretation exam I was sitting, and our kitchen was getting ripped out that week so needed to be emptied out over the weekend. How hard could it be?

I recall mailing my article copy and pulling out a suitcase to pack just as my boss called to let me know he was leaving his house to pick me up – he lived just 20 minutes away.

That night we arrived late, caught the airport train into the city, and then wandered the streets close to midnight. I was entranced.

Over the next couple of years, I project managed a few office relocations over there, so travelled over some more – sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a week, once for two weeks over the Easter break.

I didn’t waste a minute- exploring the city in my morning walks before work, and late at night after the day was done. Where possible, I added a day on here and there, and did some exploring – walking the city, cruising around on the double-decker trams, salivating over the window displays in shops where I’d not only never be able to afford the contents, but would never fit into the clothes, or have anywhere to wear the shoes.

I caught a bus down to Stanley, a ferry to Macau, and the tram up to Victoria Peak.

I watched the nightly laser show both from my harbour-view hotel room and from the star ferry. I followed the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world in the city and hired a bumboat in Aberdeen.

I visited temples, made wishes, shook fortune sticks, and had my future told by a wizened old man outside the Jade market in Kowloon. Apparently, I’ll be rich and famous with my pen (still waiting) and cry over a man. No kidding?

I explored the Ladies Market, the goldfish market,

the flower market, the bird market, the jade market, the antiques market along Hollywood, fresh food markets, and a fish market at Tai O where people still live in stilted houses.

I checked out a bridge (with incredible statistics that I’ve since forgotten), visited the world’s tallest seated bronze Buddha, rode the spectacular Ngong Ping 360 cable car, and watched the waves on the white sands of Cheung Sha beach.

I was there in a category 8 typhoon, in stinking hot summer weather when you feel the air and the pollution stick to every pore of your body, and also on clear, cold December days when it feels as though you can see forever.

I ate dumplings…everywhere…some amazing Cantonese food, claypot and hainanese chicken in street markets, vegetarian food at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, and Portuguese tarts and jerky in Macau, and watched a master carve an entire BBQ pig into a feast for a hungry office party in what seemed like a few short minutes.

I was lucky enough to get in under the surface of this fabulous city. Now all of that will be the setting for the book I’m currently writing – See You Again. It’s a story that I first thought of on a tour bus back in December 2008 – so it’s possibly fitting that I’ll be looking to release this story ten years later in December 2018.

 

The Travel Quiz

Thanks to Katherine from Bright Lights of America for this idea… You can check out her Couple’s Travel Quiz here.

We love to travel together, but no matter how close you are or how long you’ve been together, travelling together can be both a rewarding experience and a potential minefield.

Over the last 28 or so years we’ve learnt a lot about how to get the most out of a trip by respecting each other’s travel personalities:

  • We both need time apart as well as time together
  • I like to be by a pool or on a beach – even if I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time there – and he doesn’t
  • He likes to have a tv in the room and I don’t
  • I like art galleries and museums and he doesn’t
  • He likes to shop and I don’t
  • I don’t like to overindulge at breakfast because I don’t want to miss out on lunch – he’d prefer to have a big breakfast and manage with a snack at lunchtime
  • I like to get to an airport, do the check-in thing and sit down with a drink and a book to wait. He doesn’t like to get there early and once checked in will then want to chat about pretty much nothing – while I’m trying to zone out.
  • We both enjoy foodie walking tours
  • We both enjoy wandering and ending up somewhere we didn’t expect to
  • We both enjoy road trips
  • We both love produce markets
  • We both enjoy street food but will book one “special” night out each trip

Fortunately, he’s happy to people watch if I want to do the museum thing, and I’m happy to read if he wants to watch tv. We’re cool about each other’s personal space and as a result, he’s still my favourite person to travel with – even though he does do my head in at airports.

Where are you likely to find your partner in a new city you’ve travelled to?

Grant – Absolutely not in the shops or on the high street. I’d find her in a slightly edgy or grungey coffee shop with her journal. Probably somewhere with street art.

Jo – Sitting in a park watching the world go by…or waiting for me to take a photo or finish in a gallery or museum.

What’s the first thing your partner does in a new city?

G – Take to the streets on a walking tour. She hates those introductory city tours where at the end they take you to one of those gem/batik/craft/whatever stores. She has no tolerance for that.

J – Whatever walking tour I’ve booked us on.

What is your partner’s travelling downfall?

G – She’s so paranoid about missing planes that she’s always way too early. She’s a control freak and doesn’t trust bookings she hasn’t made herself.

J – He’s a “just in time” man and doesn’t allow for local traffic conditions. He tends to start getting ready at the time we need to be leaving. He worries more about the budget than I do – both a plus and a minus. He doesn’t really like to change destinations if it involves another flight.

What is your partner’s travelling personality?

G – She likes to have transport and accommodation organised, and a list of other things researched but likes to wander and have lots of unplanned time.

J – It’s about the people and culture for him. He likes to get under the skin of a place. He doesn’t like a fixed schedule and wants to be able to spend as long as he wants if it’s somewhere that’s interesting.

Why does your partner like to travel?

G – For the experiences.

J – For the culture.

What is the most fun about travelling with your partner?

G – She can laugh at nearly anything and likes to wander. She’s organised, but not restrictive with it. She doesn’t mind doing things on her own if I’m not interested in it.

J – He’s happy to do whatever I decide usually – or wait while I do it if he’s not interested. He’ll try anything.

What is the place your partner most wants to travel to?

G – I can’t answer that – she has a list that changes all the time. Probably wherever she’s booked to go next. Seriously though, it’s easier to talk about places that aren’t on her list. There are also lots of places she wants to go back to and explore more deeply.

J – He’d love to do a Cunard cruise out of Southampton. One that goes through the Suez or Panama Canal. He’d love to see the Northern Lights and would like to go to St Petersburg.

What is the place your partner least wants to travel to?

G – Probably the Middle East or anywhere where she feels her freedoms are limited or there are too many rules she has to abide by – or where she feels that she can’t go into a bar on her own and have a drink if she wanted to do that. She doesn’t have a burning desire to go to Africa either.

J – He’s not interested in South America, the South Pacific or any of the walks I want to do. His idea of travel hell is an isolated resort, “honeymoon” style islands, gated communities – anywhere advertising seclusion or luxurious privacy. he’s not a villa type of man.

What is your partner’s favourite part of a new country?

G – The photo opportunities. I sometimes joke that I’m on holiday with Jo and her camera. And the food.

J – The people watching and local street food. He’s not interested in how the wealthy live or eat – it’s about everyday life and food for him. He likes supermarkets – so he can see what the cost of living is.

What is your partner’s most annoying habit at the dinner table while travelling?

G – She has to take a photo of everything she eats and drinks.

J – Just choose what you want to eat already – it’s not that hard!

What does your partner dislike about travelling?

G – The crowds – she hates crowds. She also doesn’t like anything that’s too pristine or glitzy or non-inclusive and she doesn’t like feeling as though she’s controlled or heavily scheduled. She’s not big on the clichéd attractions or eating at places just because of a celebrity tag – she’s a bit of a reverse snob. Oh, and she hates queueing.

J – Hanging about airports and getting to airports

What is your partner’s travel superpower?

G – The planning and research she puts in. She has a knack for finding things that aren’t in the Lonely Planet Guide.

J – He can pack a suitcase and have it look the same when it’s opened as it did when he shut it. He also knows what’s going on around him – spatial awareness. He makes me feel safe.

How did we go? We got each other’s answers spot on. Why not try it for yourself with your travel partner?


It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

Store display in Fortnum & Masons

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been playing the remember when game here in Chez Tracey. You see it’s two years since we were on our mega roadtrip around the UK, and every day another memory is popping up on the Timehop app on my phone.

One of the strongest memories we all have of that trip is just how much we enjoyed the lead up to Christmas over there. Especially in London. It was somehow more, I don’t know, how I’d imagined that Christmas would be.

It wasn’t just that it was grey and cold, or dark so early, it was also the smells, the lights, the decorations, the…you know what? I think I’ll need to list them all…

The Christmas markets

We were debating the other day which one we enjoyed the most – the one in Edinburgh with the carousel bar, or the one in London along Southbank…or maybe the one in Bath?

Edinburgh Christmas markets
Edinburgh Christmas Markets

One thing we all agree on is that the best part of the markets was the mulled wine and yummy things – and all the Christmas jumpers.

Christmas jumpers

at Notting Hill market

They really are a thing. There’s even a “wear your Christmas jumper to work day” day. Sarah bought 2 jumpers – which she actually does wear at Christmas…with the air conditioning going, of course. She really wishes she’d bought this one.

It’s not just about wearing Christmas sweaters though, check out this guy who had a whole suit made from Christmas themed fabric.

The ads

Oh how we loved the Christmassy ads. It wasn’t just the fabulous ads the major department stores do, but the ones you’d see on the Tube that would have you singing the tune with all the wrong words.

And my favourite? This one for Mamma Mia.

The store windows

So so so gloriously, luxuriously, decadently seasonal.

And then you step inside the store. Words and pictures just can’t convey how it feels to walk into these stores. It’s completely overwhelming.

As for the money that some people spend on things, well, that’s just ludicrous. We had a competition in Fortnum and Masons to find the most expensive pack of Christmas crackers. The ones in the pic below were 1000GBP – and not a paper hat or daggy joke in sight. Speaking of which, what do you call 50 penguins in Trafalgar Square? Lost.

The thing is, there’s only 6 crackers in this box and if you can afford to spend this on crackers, I’d like to bet that you’re having more than 6 people for Christmas lunch…just saying.

Then there was this heirloom advent calendar that for a ridiculous amount of cash you could pass down through generations of silver spoon-fed little darlings.

The lights and street decorations

Covent Garden

London does this well…really well.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of AgeLifestyle Fifty  and, of course, me.


Burford…revisited

I’m writing this sitting at Brisbane Airport waiting for a flight out to Wellington for a long weekend. It’s one of those spur of the minute things that happened when I was messaging my bestie a couple of weekends ago. I’m more excited that I probably should be for a four day break.

I didn’t think I’d have time to get a post up today, but on the way to the airport this morning (at 5am thank you very much) my timehop app reminded me that this time two years ago we’d checked into our B&B in Burford, in The Cotswolds, for the first few nights of our seven week UK road trip. And I figured I might as well revisit that trip – as a way of transferring the posts to here…sort of… Then I read Debbish’s post about how she was contemplating a visit to the area and I figured it was meant to be…

Anyways, we ended up coming back to the Cotswolds for another week – a stay which gave me the inspiration for my book Wish You Were Here – but those first few days around Burford were all we could hope for.

Where we stayed in Burford

A B&B called Star Cottage, a 10 minute walk from town. I wrote about it here. It was everything an English B&B should be – complete with a spaniel that did circles.

Star Cottage, Burford

Out and about in Burford

Burford
Burford

I showed you around Burford in this post. It’s everything you want in a quintessentially English country town and more. There’s the old church and cemetery, the history, the oh so cute shopfronts, and the pubs. Oh the pubs.

Plus a river running through it and plenty of country walks. As I said, everything you’d expect it to be.

Out and about from Burford

From here we re-traced steps from our last trip – 20years previously – and went out to Bibury, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Bourton On The Water…and more.

For more pics and road trip ideas, check out this post.

Because it’s Thursday, I’m linking up with the LovinLife Ladies. Check out the happy in the links below.


Bali – 5 reasons why I’m hooked

Taman Tirta Gangga

We’ve all seen the reality tv shows and shock current affairs stories about Bali. Usually they’re based on people behaving badly – and all too often it tends to be about a mix of alcohol and stupidity and a disregard for the local customs. Mostly these stories are centred around Australians behaving badly in Kuta. As an aside, not all of Kuta is as it’s depicted in these shows either – but that’s for another post.

Shows like these and behaviour like that leaves an impression about Bali on potential holiday-makers and it leaves an impression on the Balinese about Australians.

But, just like most Australian tourists are unlike those in the reality shows, the real Bali is not like that little pocket of Kuta. The real Bali has a way of creeping in under your skin and before you know it you’ll be planning your next trip.

I first visited the Island of the Gods in March 2011 – and have been another six times since. I love it so much that I’ve (partially) set two books there – Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Why do I keep coming back? I’m glad you asked.

The Culture

It’s everywhere you look and tread.

The daily offerings are the most obvious – the beautiful little palm baskets that are left around shrines, statues, doorways, roadsides, paths, steps…wherever.

Some are elaborate, most are not. Some contain a few petals, maybe some rice, a cigarette, a couple of tiny crackers, an incense stick. There’s something so peaceful and mindful about watching the (mostly) ladies as they carry their baskets of offerings on their heads, and then carefully place them, saying a little prayer as they complete the mini ceremony.

Who are the offerings to? The Gods of course – and there are many. The tributes are designed to both thank and appease. It’s also a sort of proactive if I give you this will you leave me alone and go away type of thing.

These days, as life is busy, this too can be outsourced – well, at least the construction phase can be – as complete offerings may be purchased at local markets.

It’s not just offerings though, religious ceremonies can be seen all throughout Bali on any day at any time with the whole family – from the oldest to the youngest – participating with pride.

One time on a walk through the ricefields in Ubud we followed the faint sound of a bell to a temple in the middle of nowhere and watched the ceremony taking place. Just beautiful.

The scenery

Jatiluwih, Tabanan

Oh my goodness, the scenery. It’s jaw dropping – but you’ll need to venture out of your resort to see it. From the rice terraces at Tegagalang near Ubud, or Jatiluwih near Tabanan to the lush green in the foothills of Gunung Agung in East Bali. And yes, that’s the volcano that’s grunting and groaning at the moment.

Mt Gunung from Bali Asli

You can hire an English speaking driver in an air-conditioned car for between $50-$80 a day, so why wouldn’t you get out and about?

The food

Sure it’s about nasi goreng and satay, but it’s so much more than fried rice and chicken on a stick. There’s the fabulous babi guling, or suckling pig flavoured with spices that taste like the island (and yes, I used that line in Baby, It’s You), and bebek betutu – roast duck.

Babi Guling

There’s also soto ayam, a flavourful turmeric spiced chicken noodle soup, and beef rendang – the Indonesian version is a tad different to the Malaysian. My favourite, though, is nasi campur. Essentially this is a mound of steamed rice surrounded by small portions of a meat dish, some vegetables, perhaps egg or satay, sambal. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – and it will differ from place to place.

nasi campur

Oh, I’m almost forgetting my favourite salad – sayur urab. It translates loosely to mixed vegetables. I like it so much I’ll post the recipe separately.

There’s a fabulous restaurant scene in Bali now – especially around Seminyak and Ubud, but my favourite is still Bali Asli. Owned by an Aussie expat, the menu changes daily depending on what’s in the garden or what’s come out of the sea that day. It’s traditional food, prepared traditionally.

Located near Amlapura in East Bali, it’s a couple of hours from Legian and Kuta, but only about 30 minutes from Candidasa – and is well worth the trip.

I’ve written about it a few times – here, here and here.

Temples

Pura Luhur Batukau

Temples are such an integral part of Balinese life. I could do an entire post on temples. I love them. Of course there’s the biggies like Pure Tanah Lot, but there’s so much charm in the temples you find in family compounds and in villages.

Pura Luhur Batukau, in the central mountains west of Kuta etc is one that’s worth seeking out. For a start there are no touts, but the serenity is what it’s all about. I’ve written about it here.

Take the time to read the signage. I was particularly taken by the extensive list of warnings that this temple in Sanur came with. I have no idea what crossed streak is – and hope that I’m not afflicted by it any time soon. Speaking of which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, Sanur is one of the “few communities still ruled by members of the Brahmana caste”…and is a centre for black and white magic. Perhaps I’ll refrain from flirting – and ranting.

Ubud

Pura Taman Saraswati

Yes, Ubud. Sure, it has all the Eat, Pray, Love connotations (and I’m absolutely a fan), but Ubud is like a great big exhalation. Don’t just stop at Monkey Forest, stay a while and feel your stresses melt away to the faint sounds of the gamelan.

Lotus

I’m having difficulty transferring my travel posts across from and anyways, so for the next few weeks, I’ll be re-hashing them here.

Because it’s Thursday, it’s also time to get our happy on with the Lovin’Life linky.

To join in the Lovin’ Life Linky, all you’ve got to do is: Link one post about what you’re currently lovin’ in life. Read two or three posts from other Lovin’ Life Linkers and leave a comment so they know you’ve dropped by. Spread the Lovin’ Life word and feel free to link back.

The Lovin’ Life team includes:

50 Shades of Age | Seize the Day Project | Debbish | Write of the Middle | Deep Fried Fruit.

The linky goes live at 7.30am every Thursday and finishes at 7.30am of a Monday (Australian Eastern Time). Click on the link below to join in…