Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Graveyard Tourism

Turns out that I’m a taphophile. That’s my language discovery for today. I love it when I learn new words in my own language.

I was wondering if I was alone in my predilection for visiting graveyards. Apparently not. Of course, I knew I wasn’t, because you only have to go to, say, Grasmere, in the English Lake District any sunny day, and you have to queue to read the words on William Wordsworth’s tombstone. What I didn’t know was that there is a word for it, but according to Wikipedia, a taphophile is what I am. I checked in dictionaries and most don’t imply it’s a morbid fascination with dead stuff, although one did.

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

It’s a fondness for visiting graveyards. I don’t think that I was so much of a tombstone tourist (another appellation Wikipedia sites) before I lived in Spain, although I may have been odd, if not unique, in heading straight for Les Invalides to view Napoleon’s last resting place on my only visit to Paris as a young woman.

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Eating London is About More Than Just Eating!

I’m ambivalent about guided tours. I suspect that the locals are sniggering at us as we are herded around city streets, and I always want to linger longer than time allows at each stop. Yet I also like having all the information in situ, which would take hours to research myself, and wouldn’t have the same impact as when I am standing on the spot as, say, where one of Jack the Ripper’s victims was found – which is where I was during the fabulous Eating London Tour last month.

Eating London is a lovely combination of food and history –  how could I refuse an invitation to indulge in both?  Along with tantalizing tastes of some of the foods, which have helped to make London’s East End the melting pot it is today, we were fed tidbits of history by our lively guide, Nicole. Despite a steady drizzle most of the morning, both my mind and my body were engaged and well fed, so that the weather really didn’t matter. Nicole’s wide smile substituted quite nicely for the sunshine, and as she’s Australian, you can tell that her passion for the area and its bounty was really genuine….I think you can tell from this snatch of video (I’m hopeless at video!)

After our eclectic group assembled in Spitalfields Market and we all introduced ourselves, we were off for what I can, hand on heart, say is the best bacon butty of my life……and I promise you that’s saying something – bacon butties are an addiction of mine (one day I may reveal how I overcame my bacon butty habit of some years back!)  St. John Bread and Wine, on Commercial Street, uses specially cured bacon, and bread made to their own, secret recipe. The bread is light, the dipping sauce was perfect, and my taste buds cried out for more, but  knowing an entire morning of munching was ahead of me, I made a note to breakfast there the next time I’m in London! See how that bread absorbs the flavors in the pic below?

The BEST bacon butty EVER!

The BEST bacon butty EVER!

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Whiling Away the Last Days of Summer in France & Facing Autumn in England

My bedroom window in France

My bedroom window in France

My eyes opened to this my first morning in France……it was ……..idyllic, like waking to a dream.

After spending the previous night on the cold benches of Barcelona airport, I’d slept like a log, shuffling off a tiredness which resulted not only from the previous night, but from lack of sleep on the two nights before that, waking early and going to bed late to get all my stuff into storage, Trixy into kennels, and complete all those tasks which seem so urgent when you know you’re going away, and have now faded into the past.

That gorgeous window was in my bedroom in my friends’ house. Wendy and Tarik made me feel utterly at home. We ate. We talked. We wandered. We talked. We explored. We talked. This was the longest Wendy and I had been together since sometime in the 70s, and the joys of learning all about the backstories of what we knew had happened in each other’s lives was palpable.

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The Posts That Never Were

Like many folk, at the end of the year I like to tidy up a bit, my house, my wardrobe, my computer, my life in general, get rid of the deadwood, so it doesn’t weigh me down for the shiny new year.

Doing this last year I came across some intended posts which had never seen the light of day, and did a synopsis of the places/people/events by way of finishing up the material which was hanging around. Sure, I have half-written posts which are awaiting confirmation of facts, pictures, more information, or just inspiration; one is almost two years old and still hasn’t made it, but here are this year’s stragglers.

Ansel Adams Exhibition

I usually do manage a few words about photography exhibitions I go to Robert Capa, Steve McCurry, Don McCullin, Frans Lanting, and the Ansel Adams expo at Greenwich’s Maritime Museum was totally up there on a par with those. Coming back from the UK I was trying to catch up and full of a cold, and now realize my omission in not recording my impressions, and the precise adjectives and descriptions are lost, because I made no notes.

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Of course it was amazing. You  have to grasp for words when you describe something which has been written about endlessly for many years. I suspected I might be disappointed. I thought black and white landscapes might be dull after the zillions of color ones I’ve seen this year, but they were fascinating, utterly gorgeous and imparted not just beauty but a sense of history, and the earth’s power  too. The exhibition continues to March, and I am very much hoping to get back to see it again. To crown a wonderful afternoon, where, honestly I felt as if I’d been the west coast of the US, we emerged from the museum to this sunset, which seemed perfectly in keeping with the impressions whirling round my head. Here’s an Adams quote to give you an idea:

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

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London Docklands Museum

There, actually, will be a post about this, perhaps after I’ve been again. I wanted to see the museum because I was interested in the connection between Canary Wharf and the Canary Islands. The museum answered my query on that point by email, thus: “Canary Wharf was developed in the 1930’s as a wharf for ‘Fruitlines’ who imported goods from the Canary Islands and Mediterranean.” So that was me kind of disappointed because I’d already dug that up, but I’d hoped it dated back to Shakespeare’s time and wine imports. However, the museum was absorbing. Like any good museum it was far too much to take it all in in one visit, so we confined ourselves to one area, and I found things I hadn’t expected, like a powerful documentation of the slave trade……horrific to think that London was involved, but of course it was. I can only be proud, as an English woman, that we saw the light before many other countries did and abolished slavery.

The museum includes a short “walk” through a reconstruction of the murky streets where press gangs roamed in search of unlucky victims to augment crews, and you can even smell the surroundings! Below is a picture of my son, Guy and Katrina from TourAbsurd sitting in a “pub” of the day.

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Camden Market, London

I spent two, marvelous afternoons munching and wandering around Camden Market, but ended up writing nothing. Perhaps because the second visit, when I actually took more photos, was kind of personal…some quality time with both my sons together, something which doesn’t happen all that often, and perhaps because the days were overcast and chill, and the photos subsequently not that colorful. They certainly didn’t match the colorful atmosphere, the dizzying choice of yumminess from the food stalls or the glow of the mulled wine :=) Though the memories are sharp!

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Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

In July I went to take a look at the famous flowering of the Dragon Tree of Icod de los Vinos, but now it isn’t the iconic tree which lingers in my memory about the day but the scent. As Pilar & I walked down towards the church to get the classic view of the tree, I suddenly seemed to be floating back in time to my childhood. It took seconds to realize why these images in my head were being unlocked – the flower beds outside the church were filled with roses in full bloom, not only roses, but roses with perfume, which reminded me of my grandad’s overgrown little patches of garden, which, for all their neglect yielded wonderful aromas every summer. These flower beds could have been anywhere in England. Of course the climate in Icod is that bit cooler than the south, where I found it impossible to grow roses which flowered prettily back when I had a garden.

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A whole lot other not-writing went on in 2012 too, some memorable meals, London’s Chinatown, discovering bubble tea, many strolls with Trixy (after the theft of my Blackberry I stopped doing the #walkingwithTrixy thing on Twitter & Facebook) watching sunrises and sunsets I know I’m privileged to have seen, a brief visit to York in Autumn, the fact that I started running (but I’m addressing that elsewhere) ,musings on motherhood, expat-ness, travel, friendships. An incredible amount of stuff un-marked for one reason or another, far too many to begin to address now.

Perhaps, as my school report invariably said, “I could do better if I tried”………do I feel a New Year resolution coming on perchance?


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A Comfy Place to Lay My Head in Bow

My blog is a fit neither with  luxury nor with budget travel. I do both I guess. Given my druthers I’d probably opt for luxury, not only because of the comfort but because I like my privacy and to have a certain amount of quiet when I work. This year I’ve frozen my toes in a female dorm in York, and stood gaping at the guy who brought me a complimentary bowl of fruit in one of London’s posher hotels. I like both places – a lot – I like the diversity. Best place I slept this year? Honestly? A cave!

Certainly one way to balance the need for quiet with the need for economy is to rent an apartment, as I wrote last month, otherwise, it isn’t that easy. Hostels don’t give you much privacy, and hotels are expensive, especially in London. However I found a wee place in Bow  which ticked lots of my boxes for budget travel.

After staying in the apartment which HomeandAway.co.uk had kindly arranged, I had three nights leftover before my return flight. My son was living in Bow and on the off-chance called into a small place right next to the DLR Station where he alighted each evening……and he approved it for my use……well, you know how protective sons can be!

The City Stay Hotel on Bow Road turned out to be perfect for what I needed. I’d never, frankly, write anything I didn’t think to be true, but, as it happens, I never mentioned to them that I blog, so this post was not solicited, nor even mentioned. From the outside it looks like an old-fashioned boarding house! Inside the narrow entrance it was quietly chaotic, but the welcome was very friendly, and despite me being early the room was ready, and I could leave my luggage.

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The hotel is something like a cross between a hotel and a hostel. Downstairs there is a kitchen (which I didn’t use as I was eating out with family all the time), which is stocked with breakfast items like cereals, milk, butter, bread etc and it’s open until 11am, so you just go and help yourself.

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My room, though tiny, was absolutely spotless. Let’s face it, when you stay in budget accommodation the first preoccupation is, “Is it clean?” It passed by a wide margin. The little shower room  likewise, and the shower pressure was fine, with plenty of hot water. Despite its size there was plenty of room for my stuff, and it was neither too hot, nor too cold. There was even wifi in the room, so my need to work in peace would have been fully catered for had I not given the weekend over to fun! And, something not always found these days, complimentary soap and shampoo!

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Cost? £50 per night, compared to £40 per night the last time I stayed in a private room in a hostel in an English city (and that wasn’t even London!). So £10 extra for breakfast, privacy, wifi in the room and a private bathroom. If I’m going to pay £40 I would just as soon pay £50 for the extra convenience. Come to think about it, the week before I’d paid something just over £40 in York for a small hotel room which did not deliver the wifi in the room it promised, for which I’d paid an additional £10 for 24 hours and which I had to use in the noisy bar.

As well as being smack bang next to the DLR station (no noise in the room btw)  the hotel is only a few minutes walk to the Tube Station, so handy for all amenities (as I used to write when I was in real estate! *shudder*). I appreciate this isn’t even “budget” by some standards (even my own at times), but I thought it decent value for London, and that they deserve a plug.


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PJs Covent Garden: Dining as it Used to Be.

In a trip which was heavy on foodie delights and new dining experiences I have to tell you about the one which really stood out. I’ve been saving it until last because, well, it deserves its own post!

On a personal note, this London trip was the first time that my sons and I had been all together in pushing two years, so it was always going to be special for me on that account. The last time we’d all been in London together was in the early 90s, and that was a holiday to remember – the first time the boys had romped through crisy, golden, fallen leaves in the parks; thrill of visiting the wee Nickelodeon Studios in Trocadero Centre; first meal in Chinatown; the enthralling Museum of Natural History and the Imperial War Museum, and the trip on the open-top bus pointing out the famous sites known from movies and TV…….in other words, much of the usual tourist stuff!  By now we all know London better, especially Guy, of course, and it was Guy who decided our farewell meal would be at PJs in Covent Garden.

Covent Garden looking festive already

We were eating quite early because Austin was flying out the next morning, so we booked. PJs is famous amongst theater-goers as the place to go before or after a show, so eating early didn’t mean avoiding crowds. Covent Garden is a fine area to stroll around before or after a meal, even if you aren’t going to the theater, and especially at this time of year. The Christmas decorations had gone up, buskers were performing outside the main entrance, and inside was all good-humored hustle and bustle, as tourists snapped photos, locals began their annual festive shopping and an impressive lady sang her heart out in the South Courtyard.

We approached PJs in high anticipation, and ducked inside out of the Autumn chill to a warm welcome. I was entranced from the start. I felt as if I had stepped into a dream from my teens – the one where Frank Sinatra is waiting for me at a discreet corner table with a pristine linen cloth, and a piano tinkles in the background. We snagged a couple of seats at the bar to order drinks, and I drank in the very English atmosphere. PJs has been in this same location since the early 80s, so you know they have got the ratio of service to food to atmosphere just right!

PJs’ hot tuna niçoise

Although diners weren’t especially in formal attire, the room said, “Classy,” as we were shown to our table. Warm, wooden paneling glowed and the place had a discreet and animated buzz, not the deafening chatter and hum you find in so many restaurants these days. Conversation was easy without having to say, “Pardon?” all the time.

PJs’ Sea Bass on Cornish Crab hash

Then the menu arrived. From burgers (which looked like super-burgers) to 8-Hour Braised Rib of Beef there really is something for every taste. I’m an awful ditherer when it comes to selecting from a menu, but my decision was helped by a little bird whispering to me that the chocolate mousse was to-die-for – clearly I had to leave room for that!

PJs’ swordfish with mango salsa

In the end all three of us chose fish, Guy the swordfish with mango salsa and lobster bisque, Austin the tuna niçoise and I the pan-roasted sea bass with Cornish crab hash, to ensure that we didn’t miss out on the chocolate mousse, which was utterly, as-described, heavenly! I started with the goats’ cheese and beetroot tart …. and was well into it before I realized I’d forgotten to do the compulsory blogger thing and take a photo – so you’ll have to take my word for it! I’m not really into describing every taste sensation of a dish, so I will let the photos I did take, and the fact I’m writing this speak for the food. As for the service? Perfectly attentive and friendly without being intrusive, just as it should be!

PJs’ heavenly chocolate mousse!

This is the point where one usually says something like, “Just one thing,” or ” a minor niggle,” but, honestly I can’t think of one thing. I can only say that it will be my first port-of-call and not my last the next time I’m in London!

And not forgetting how easy getting around London was from the great apartment in Hackney which came via HomeAway.co.uk


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What Happened to Britain’s Awful Food?

My very first travel memory might concern food. I am, I think, about six years old and visiting London for the first time, and I think that maybe my tastes were already running to fine cuisine. I’m sitting in Lyons Corner House with my parents, and being force fed greasy chips, which I hate, and I’m pouting and protesting that I don’t want them.

Looking back now to my most recent London visit, I  realize that my memories fall into three categories. Most important, of course, are the personal ones, time spent with family and friends I hadn’t seen in too long, and meeting new folk amongst whom, surely, there are embryo friendships – so let’s call the category “people.” Third I’ll christen “work” – that’s all the fascinating stuff at WTM, wee thrill of my first press pass and all the new stuff I’ve learned and the hopes for the future. So, what, you might ask, is in second place? It comes as a surprise to name this category “food.”

When I left the UK for warmer shores in 1987 the thing I didn’t miss was the food, which is not to knock fish and chips, steak & kidney pies or lovely pub grub, but, overall,  great food wasn’t the norm. Perhaps that’s still true to some extent, but far less I think. For one thing there are plenty of decent chains around now, as I’ve discovered in the last couple of years.

Camden Market’s food stalls. As colorful in presentation as they are in taste!

However!!! I have to declare my most recent London visit an unexpected foodie delight…..and most of it wasn’t even sit-down meals, but food grabbed whilst wandering around, like the eclectic and quirky food stalls at Camden Market, where I dithered over pork jerk, tagine, jian bing (from the Mei Mei street cart – sublime!), noodles and pizza, I finally settled on a kangaroo burger, partly out of curiosity and partly because, well, I like burgers (there are other exotic meats to choose from depending on the season, including bison and emu)…..and note to the guy selling them, whose name I sadly forgot to ask – nice chatting with you! I will definitely be back to sample another kind of burger next time in London!

Nor was my sweet tooth un-catered for – I feasted on tablet in flavors un-imagined (to my Scottish friends, never having tasted it “in situ” I don’t know how authentic it was, but it melted in the mouth and I could almost cry now thinking about it!); churros not only con chocolate but filled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (….I did go twice, I hasten to add that not all of this was consumed in one day!); and rainbow-colored macaroons, which tasted and smelled like fresh fruits and whose slightly crispy outsides melted into a sweet, chewiness inside, which then simply disintegrated onto the tongue – now, I’ve never rated macaroons much, but these changed my mind – however, note to the lady selling them – if you’d been a bit less pushy I might have bought more and would certainly have taken photos which would have been posted all over the internet – your loss,  but your product is delicious.

And to warm the toes and wash down all that decadent consumption? What else but a seasonal cup of mulled wine or apple with cinnamon? Ah – now I truly want to cry just remembering.

But Camden Market wasn’t all! The previous weekend we had gone to a Tea and Coffee Festival on the South Bank. Big coffee fan here, so that was sufficient draw for me, so the yummy foods were a huge bonus….including my very first, ever cupcake! Can you believe that I have reached this advanced age without a cupcake ever passing my lips? The advantage is that it was all the sweeter and more appreciated for the delay, is all I can say! This festival was the third of four this Autumn, two previous being Real Bread and Cheese and Wine and the remaining one, December 7th to 9th is The Chocolate Festival! Oh that I could be there for that! But I have memories of light-as-air quiche and cookies my son declared to be “the best in the world” to feast on!

After South Bank we trotted down to Covent Garden……and more mulled wine. Cheers!!

Perhaps it’s down to the amazing ethnic mix that is now London, perhaps that mix harks back to the days of Empire and the cultural exchanges which resulted, because I appreciate that many of the foods I relished weren’t English in origin. In fact, without traveling too far I had my first bubble tea too (yummy and more-ish) and my first egg waffles in Chinatown…..at least there was plenty of walking involved in this feasting to ease the guilt!

Sitting here, feeling bloated just thinking about the deliciousness makes me want to dash down to the airport and get back to London, and I never would have thought that it would be the food which would draw me back – the city has come a long way from greasy chips!

And another nod to HomeAway.co.uk who eased my stay in London and added to my comfort!

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