Bring It On Home / Christmas In The Sun

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when the weather’s good there’s no place like Cornwall. http://www.westbriton.co.uk/Cornwall-officially-England-s-picturesque-county/story-25893227-detail/story.html. – Watch this space for a fantastic new website guiding you through this spectacular county: http://www.wearecornwall.com/. In the mean time here’s a youtube showcase: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsvjIkECQVI&feature=youtu.be

London too, although one of the most crowded places I’ve ever experienced, has many treasures to uncover. Undoubtedly another must-see destination if you haven’t yet joined the ranks of London tourists!

For Christmas 2014 we travelled to a different kind of ‘home’. As my dad was brought up in Zimbabwe, his three sisters remain scattered around southern Africa, with two of them based in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of people are hesitant about spending Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. As you can image, I cannot think of a better way to spend the holiday! To swap the winter for the summer is my idea of paradise. What’s more, to be able to spend such a special time with our relatives is priceless.

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Hout Bay Seal

Hout Bay Seal

Heading towards Chapman's Peak drive.

Heading towards Chapman’s Peak drive.

Dassie

Dassie

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Penguins at Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach

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Gansbaii

Gansbaii

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Shark cage diving at Gansbaai

Shark cage diving at Gansbaai

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Stilbaai

Stilbaai

Cable up Table Mountain

Cable up Table Mountain

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Beautiful little sun bird

Beautiful little sun bird

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The Iconic Protea

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It’s Been A While/ Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

It’s actually been three and a half months since I last posted. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s amazing how it feels more like a year since Central America. Arriving home was pretty surreal at first but after a few short days I was quickly back into the swing of home life. Cornwall was on fine form – I dove straight into the early summer. In place of my usual complaints of the overwhelming “grey and green” there was a chance to appreciate the county at its best, definitely clarifying in my mind why so many view Cornwall as a holiday destination in itself.

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I didn’t have too long to dwell on this however as I was swiftly scooped up on a family trip to Northern Italy via windswept Edinburgh to celebrate my sister’s medical graduation. We were staying behind a little town on the Italian Riviera called San Remo in a house that epitomised ‘Italian rustic’. By that, I mean it seemed virtually decrepit with very poor electricity, no internet, water that needed ‘switching on’ and the permanent appearance of not having been cleaned for centuries. The ‘sleeps six’ advertisement appeared to be a vast exaggeration – there was one bedroom. The rest of us had to fight it out over sofas and mattresses. What’s more the lane providing access to the house was clearly not big enough to safely drive down, with steep vertical drops off the edge. Locals, however, did not seem to find this a problem, whizzing past at impossible speeds, barely pausing to acknowledge the large family splatted against the wall to avoid the speeding vehicle. Other local specialties along the road were ludicrous amounts of dog waste, amateur graffiti, more mopeds than seem physically possible to fit into a small town and an array of ‘interesting’ smells.

Not a great first impression.

Italian Cottage San Remo

Despite my complaining, it was pretty beautiful from the outside – complete with grapevines, mulberry, plum and fig trees – yum!

However one of the main advantages of this location was its proximity to Monaco which we explored frequently, initially by the coastal route through bundles of beautiful classic terracotta-roofed towns. Monaco itself was very impressive, in a sort of flashy, glamorous and slightly pretentious way: Rolls Royce, Porsches, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Ferraris replaced your standard Fords and Toyotas. The ports were particularly outstanding in their display of obscene wealth in the form of super yachts! There was a surprisingly large amount to do without bankrupting yourself including botanical and Japanese gardens, port-side walking paths, museums, the castle etc. There’s also the beach, but like the majority of the beaches along this stretch of coast it was crammed full of people/sun loungers and with dusty rocks in lieu of sand.

Menton

Menton – just on the french side of the border.

Monte Carlo Harbour

The Cathedral, in ‘Monaco-Ville’ a raised area which drops off into cliffs on all sides on which you can also find the castle and the renowned musée oceanographique.

One of the highlights was Monte Carlo Casino which was disappointingly small but more than made up for it through it’s lavish decor. It’s also worth a minute stopping at the ‘Café de Paris’ for an overpriced drink to enjoy the display of wealth parading in the ‘place du casino’ largely in the form of flashy cars. One thing worth taking from this if you’re considering a visit: YOU NEED PASSPORT/DRIVING LICENCE TO ENTER THE CASINO. Needless to say we were not aware of this, leading to a highly frustrating first attempt.

Monte Carlo Casino Fountain

Monte Carlo Casino Mirror

The next stage of my journey involved separating from the family and investigating the Italian rail system – travelling down on a 9 hour journey to Umbria to meet my friends staying on the border of Tuscany. Although the internet coverage of the train system is poor, don’t be disheartened as its actually incredibly straight forward from the stations – just remember to validate your tickets with the little machines on the platforms! Umbria was as you’d expect – beautiful sprawling Italian countryside dotted with vineyards and picturesque hilltop villages.

Our day trip into Rome was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The absurdly high level of crowds severely diminished the otherwise spectacular sights. Combined with the heat this makes the summer a very inadvisable time to visit! The Vatican City in particular was like being herded through a cattle ranch.

Trevi Fountain Colosseum Vatican City Vatican City

I’m now frantically sorting out last minute bits and bobs for my next trip – starting with a rather intimidating journey to Yangon Myanmar TOMORROW via Delhi and Bangkok!! My mind is currently overflowing with medicine kits, antimalarials, maps, currency, confirmations, clothes etc etc- I’d better crack on.

London Calling/ Halfway Home

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“Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it – memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.”

-Tad Williams

I love this quote, it’s very comforting when you’re on the other side of the world from all that’s dear to you. However, I am ready to see my loved ones in the flesh, now. I want to see my dogs/cats and I want to see my bed.

Right. Almost there now. Luggage miraculously in one piece, well as much as it can be, having lots the wheels and the zips en route in Central America. Am now loitering in Paddington Station after a restless 24 hours.

I was rather disgruntled early this morning to find out that I needed to buy a VISA just to pass through the states (Newark) in transit. Not amused. I also had to go through the USA customs and immigration (which took a good hour or so) just to put my bag straight onto the next plane and go through security again. United Airlines were undoubtedly the worst airline I’ve flown with, including isolated centres in Papua New Guinea, largely due to the appalling customer service. As an example, an Indian man in front of me was causing a bit of fuss, perfectly understandably in my opinion, as there was nothing other than beef on the menu, without even the option to pre-book a vegetarian meal. The air hostess was audibly saying to herself under her breathe ‘God, I hate that man’ in front of his two sons who were sitting next to me. I was not impressed.

I was however appeased by the fantastic selection of airport food in Newark. I had a ‘Jamba juice’ – the best smoothie I’ve had since the Brazilian Acai and some vegetarian food, at last: a delicious tofu & noodle stir fry. Yum. It was also a pleasant surprise to have great views of New York on the landing, including my first glimpses of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State.

Now back into the iconic ‘grey and green’ of the UK. Although I hate to admit it, it’s a little disenchanting to suddenly feel incredibly banal after having been ‘foreign and exotic’ for such a long time, despite all of my complaining!!

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Welcome Home, Son

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

– Terry Pratchett – A Hat Full Of Sky

I’m home for just over two weeks now. I think this is a fantastic quote but I can’t say that I totally agree. At first it was shocking how muted the colours seem. I got my usual feeling, on returning home, that the predominant colour of England is grey. I’m now firmly back in the world of insane dogs, frantic attempts at family outings and elderly, incontinent cats. It’s almost as if I never left.