Friday, April 29, 2016

Bluebells and Sheep in Sussex

As much as I love traveling alone it is nice to meet up with people I know now and again - it's kind of a relief to talk to someone other than myself. I am not totally a lone wolf!  My friend Claudia from Germany came over to England for a week to stay with her friends Janette and Martyn and I was invited to join them for a couple of days as well.   So on Sunday afternoon I took the train down to Sussex where I was greeted by all three. 

It was a super couple of days and we got around the countryside quite a bit.  One of the highlights was visiting Bateman's which was the writer Rudyard Kipling's home and is now a National Trust Property.  I enjoyed it so much and will be writing more about my visit and the life of this amazing man when I get home.  




His study - look at all those books.  And a globe!!!! Eeee!   I'm thinking Mr. Kipling and I would get along.  (and he bakes good cakes as well...ha ha!  Don't worry if you haven't been to England you won't get this....Mr Kipling is a brand of cakes sold in boxes in grocery stores - sort of like Little Debbie's in North America except much much better - which reminds me I still need to have a date with his mini fruit pies......)


I only had two requests for my stay in Sussex...bluebells and sheep!   My hosts delivered both!!!


 

Beautiful bluebells.  And I got to ride around in a Bluebell as well - Janette and Martyn's campervan is named Bluebell! 

 
 




Aren't they the most adorable things?   (yum!)

The next day we went to Eastbourne - a pretty town that is one of my favourites.





After lunch we headed over to Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters - I never get tired of looking at these beauties.   I've walked over these twice - October of 1997 on my own and September of 2013 with Claudia.  I am so glad I've done it but  no plans to do it again!


And more sheep!!!! 




A pastoral scene with a bit of drama - it was raining on and off for that "broody look".

It was a lovely relaxing couple of days with Claudia, Janette and Martyn - great conversation, lovely tea and biscuits that just kept coming  (thanks Martyn!), wonderful hospitality and a new author to  binge read. (Susan Branch).  Just what I needed!

Thank you Janette and Martyn - it was wonderful!

Friday, April 22, 2016

A great week in London

Well another catch up on my week in London.  I flew in Monday morning and while the flight was smooth and went well UK customs was another story.  It took nearly two hours to get through and I have a suspicion they were either all on a tea break or I will cut them some slack and say they were all at a meeting. (uh huh...). From my vantage point on the side at the back of the herd they were interrogating a fellow and the customs officer next to me decided to listen in.  Why they couldn't have taken him to another room and done this I don't know as it must have taken fifteen minutes or so as we did not move.  Grrrr...I also think there should be a third customs channel...have your EU and "Other" but how about a "Commonwealth" channel.  Anyway I finally got through but had to ask where the luggage came in for the flight from Malta as it was long off the luggage carousal and sitting with some other luggage belonging to pissed off "others".   Ah well once I got on the train and saw the beautiful English countryside rolling by it put me in a better mood.

Monday and Tuesday were pretty much "rest" days - a trip to the launderette, to the ATM, errands, to the Balham library to print tickets, etc.

By Wednesday I was ready to get busy again and visited the digital (smaller) replica of the famous arch at Palmyra which was destroyed by ISIS.  (bastards!).   This was situated at Trafalgar Square for three days and will be moved to other locations including New York City and Dubai.   I was able to get past the barricade to get a photo (security was in place) but I didn't dare go up to it and touch it for fear of incurring the wrath of the other photographers.  A couple of people tried it and let's just say steam was rolling out of a few people's ears. (and noses too I think).



I then headed over to the London Marathon Expo which was being held at the West Excel centre which is confusing as it's in the east.   It was a fairly long trip but to an area I hadn't been before.  It was huge of course and I found myself whimpering at times when I saw the medals as I did love doing my (19) half marathons and it's been hard to let go of that.  They were offering massages and it wasn't cheap but I needed one so badly on my knees - I opted for the cheapest which was 15 minutes.  Problem being I had to remove my bottoms...in a crowded complex.  Anyway the massage therapist held a towel and I disrobed underneath so hopefully I didn't flash too many people but of course my fat legs and grossly swollen knees were exposed to everybody walking by.  I was mortified so it was kind of hard to relax.  At some point a fellow walking by was taking pictures with his phone - what kind of perverted loser takes pictures of people having massages.  I hope the sight of my fat knees broke his damn phone!  Rant over!  It was wonderful to have about twenty minutes of walking without any discomfort or pain...pure bliss.  I indulged my sock obsession and bought myself a couple of pairs (two for one - how could I resist?). I did buy a sleeve for my knee (forgot mine...yeah I know..DUMB) but even the largest did not fit so had to return it - I made sure I tried it on in the loo before I left the building.   Anyway I enjoyed it so much.

Then it was on to St Pancras station to meet my friend Claudia from Germany.  She suggested having sandwiches in St James's Park so we quickly picked up what we needed at M & S Simply Food (Prawn and Mayonnaise for me!) and off we went by tube.  We walked through Green Park and on to St James Park.  It was a beautiful day and the park was stunning. 







We then walked back to Victoria and Claudia headed south to Sussex (I will be joining her there this weekend) and I headed back to Streatham Common.

Thursday morning I met my friend Judi at Victoria Station and we attended the Rolling Stones Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery on Kings Road in Chelsea.  It was fascinating and featured mock ups of the first flat they shared (and the ensuing mess it contained as it was described by them!), a mock up of the recording studio, stage costumes and personal clothing, instruments and more.  It ended with a 3D snippet of a live concert.  Very cool.  No photos allowed unfortunately but they did have these outside! 




We had a nice Indian meal near Judi's hotel in Bayswater - an Indian meal in London is a must and something I hadn't had yet this trip.  Very tasty!

On the way back on the tube I read in the Evening Standard (they hand it out free at tube stations) that the Houses of Parliament were going to be red, white and blue in honour of the Queen's 90th birthday.  So I went there....do you see red, white and blue? I stayed until 8:30 but no joy and it was getting chilly so I left...I took advantage of being there and got a few more shots. 



I wandered over to the river bank and got a few shots of the London Eye.

This morning (Friday) we met up at South Kensington tube station and walked over to the Natural History Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit.  I aim to see this every year I am over when it is on. (it runs yearly from October to March - this year it was so popular it was extended until early May) It was absolutely beautiful but I notice it tends to be more nature orientated these past few years with not as many animals.  When there are live creatures they tend to be reptiles or birds.  Ah well - a good thing to do on Earth Day!

After lunch at Whole Foods Judi set off home and I went to Battersea Dogs Home. 


They don't have all the kennels open for browsers not planning to adopt but I did see about twelve dogs and of course they all stole my heart....

Back here for a relaxing evening which I needed. 




Thursday, April 21, 2016

Blue is my favourite colour

Yes blue is my favourite colour...if you could see my wardrobe or even my apartment you would know that..and turquoise is the absolute best.   I saw lots of that my last two days on Malta. 

Alexander and I had worked out a route for me to get to the Blue Grotto on Saturday which involved the  bus to the airport and then a bus to the Blue Grotto.  Well I knew the times for the airport bus for weekdays but different on the weekend - as a "bus person" I should have known this. Now I had to wait nearly an hour!  So I asked at the kiosk and I was told to take the 202 to Rabat and change...the bus is sitting there with the same grumpy aggressive driver sitting in I had had the previous day.  "I can't do this again" I thought.  I walked over to one of the hustlers trying to sell cruises and tours and asked about going to the Blue Lagoon.  Blue Lagoon/Gozo trips are popular but I had already seen Gozo and the only option was going over to the Blue Lagoon for most of the day.  Not really my cup of tea but I knew that leaving Malta and not seeing the much touted Blue Lagoon would not sit well with me.  He assured me I could go back to sit on the boat if need be.  So I paid my 20 euros for the cruise and lunch and unlimited drinks.  Pretty cheap price I thought...well folks you get what you pay for. 

So a bit after 10 we headed off up the coast and then headed out to sea.   I was seated with a bunch of students from all over the world who are learning English in Malta so that was interesting.  Off they went to get drinks while mom...er should I say "grandma" watched their bags.  Oh well I had my water and wasn't really interested in getting a watered down drink and I certainly wasn't going to be drinking booze at 10:30 in the morning....not anymore anyway....

We dropped people off at Gozo who were doing the tour there and then back to Comino where the Blue Lagoon is situated.  This whole process took about two hours.

Once we made our way into the Blue Lagoon and moored there everyone was agog as the water was beautiful.  However we were told we had to have lunch first which consisted of watery pasta salad, a lettuce salad, some cold luncheon meat, bread and an apple.  It was okay don't get me wrong and for 20 euros you can't expect much so I didn't.  The boat was crammed to the rafters as well.  Relaxing it was not. 



Sadly there are speed boats, sea-doos and vendors galore allowed in this bit of paradise.  Let's just say the place was chock a block with tourists with boats speeding and music blaring.  They've really sold out.  



I didn't even test the water so can't say if it was warm or not.  I decided to have an ice cream and yay they had a 99 which is soft ice cream with a Cadbury flake bar in it.  Well let's just say the ice cream was definitely not up to snuff...it was even worse than Dairy Queen...definitely ice 1% milk!  Okay now I was getting crabby. 

I wandered around a bit and found a road going to the diving school so off I went....I finally calmed down.  It was going to be a "rest your legs" kind of day but I can't resist open space to walk and I didn't walk too far. 




There is more to Comino Island than the Blue Lagoon! 

When I came back from the walk the boat was gone!  I had a moment of panic and then realized they had to go and pick up the passengers from Gozo and let them have their time at the Blue Lagoon...whew..and then I saw it sailing back.  Double whew!

Once the boat was back I got onboard and worked on my travel journal - I do it when I can! 

One by one people got back on board and just after 4 we headed back to Sliema via Bugibba.  Leaving the boat I had to laugh as lots of people, esp. the young ones were quite drunk.  Ha..been there, done that.  Back in Sliema I immediately tried to find somewhere to eat as I was hungry.  I ended up at Ta'Kris restaurant which is a place that specializes in local food.  I had never heard of it but stumbled across on it in a side alley.  They were packed and no space available until 9:30 p.m. however they did have a table outside so I said I would take that.   I ordered pasta....pasta with rabbit sauce...yes rabbit.  Bugs Bunny, the Easter Bunny...yes yes yes...I know.  But I had to try it and thought if it was in a sauce it wouldn't be as bad and actually it was quite tasty.  They did add red wine, onions and spices to it as well - I must admit when I was done there was still a bit of meat at the bottom.  Ah well...I won't do it again but am glad I tried it.  Hey if I can eat a cricket I can eat a rabbit and these are specially bred hares.  I tried not to think of my childhood gray bunny rabbit...sorry Wiggles!  I had a nice glass of wine and ordered a platter of Maltese sweets to follow...they were nice even though I didn't have a clue what they were.  The food was good at this restaurant but I have had better service that's for sure. 


The next day I embraced my inner tourist and decided to do the hop on/hop off bus as I just couldn't face trying to get to the Blue Lagoon and the fishing village of Marsaxlokk via local bus. 

As I was sitting on the top of the bus I was able to snap a few photos along the way...


I only managed to grab this shot but there were a ton of these girls - I assume some kind of girl guides?  It was a huge get together of some sort.


Independence Monument - downtown Valletta by the bus depot - I wish I had gone back to this area as it looked interesting but sadly ran out of time. 


How the other half lives.

Alexander had told me to go on Sunday to Marsaxlokk as they have a huge fish market. Unknown to me (and others I am sure) good old St Joseph day was that day and no markets.  Ah well it was still a pleasant place to visit. 



"Eyes" on a fishing boat - these keep the fishermen safe according to Maltese legend.
 



I wandered around taking loads of photos.  The seaside fish restaurants tempted me - oh how they tempted me but I decided against it. 




Then I spent far too long watching this chubby dog jump in the water retrieving water bottles while his skinnier friend jumped in a fishing boat (every time) egging him on (as in non stop barking). It was hilarious.  Yay for us chubbs everywhere!  There was a third dog who obviously (and rightly) thought the other two were nuts and just sat with the owner and watched. 


Loved this statue of fisherman and child with dog - impossible to get a shot without people though.  People everywhere!  Sunday is a very popular day to visit!

Time to "hop on" again and on to the Blue Grotto. 

I headed down to the cove where I got onto a small boat with about 9 others.  Put on my life jacket and duh....my camera was under my life jacket....luckily I had a second camera with me. (as I always do) so used it. 






 
I really enjoyed my visit here - the water by the cave was amazing although not quite as amazing as the Blue Lagoon.  However much quieter!  
 
I then hopped on the bus and stayed on until we got to Sliema.  I had my last meal in Malta overlooking the sea...
 


For the cat lovers:  a giant cat watching over Sliema...


Gardens along the promenade
 



This promenade went on forever but unfortunately I could only do a short distance and then caught a bus back. 

And that was my last day in Malta!