Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- New Umbrella and Winter Lights
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Herefordshire to London
Boot and Flogger
Bec, Dave and Jessica in London
Back to London
Back to Tokyo
New Year's Day in Japan
Miyajima and New Year's Eve
Indian Food and Negronis
Yuda-Onsen, Hiroshima Winter Illuminations and Okonomiyaki
Christmas Day in Japan
Tokyo to Hiroshima
Saturday in Tokyo
Friday in Tokyo
Off to Japan
Tea with Friends.
Piebury Corner and Gilbert Scott
Lunch at Oliveto
Saturday in Abergavenny
London to Abergavenny
Bintang and Christmas Tree
Two Lunches and Jeeves and Wooster
Nyetimber at the Royal Exchange
Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old
Canal Museum and Lunch with Mum
Pub Lunch at the KCI
Wrestlers and the Boot and Flogger
Phone Cover and Science
School Disco and Murder on the Orient Express
Zoe with Zoe
Regency Cafe and My Club
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
So it's November
Florence to London
Lorenzo and Olya's Wedding
Friday in Venice
Thursday in Venice
Wednesday in Venice
Tuesday in Venice
Monday in Venice
Sunday in Venice
London to Venice
Playdate, New Phone and School Party
The Lamb and Ciao Bella
Beer and Wine
Chie back from Japan
- New Umbrella and Winter Lights
- [Saturday 27th January 2018]
Played with Erika t home in the morning, built a house out of cushions in the lounge.
Had lunch at home, then I was given some free time in the afternoon while Chie and Erika went off to visit friends. I addressed various items from my TODO list, got my hair cut, went and tried on another tweed suit and bought a new umbrella at James Smith. The previous one had finally broken last week after years of faithful service and neglect on my part (it was a bit rusty on the inside, which presumably contributed to one of the spokes breaking). Also popped into Fortnum and Mason for a flight of Charles Heidsieck.
Met up with Chie and Erika again in the early evening at Canary Wharf, as Chie wanted to see the Winter Lights display there. Unsurprisingly she was unimpressed compared to the recent illuminations we had seen in Japan, but it was something to do. I was reminded how fake and generally awful Canary Wharf, and so glad that unlike certainly other cities with a big finance industry presence how lucky we were in London to have pushed most of this out of the city centre.
While in the area we had dinner at the Canary Wharf branch of Ippudo. Part way through our meal the fire alarm went off and we all had to go and wait outside a bit. I suspect some diners just didn't bother returning. This seems to be a curse of modern buildings that they have overly sensitive fire alarms, the same thing seems to happen at my new office quite a lot.
- [Friday 26th January 2018]
We had been trying to make do for the last couple of weeks with whatever coffee beans we could get from our local shops, having just not been able to get round to going "all the way" down to Camden to buy the beans I really like, from George at Camden Coffee Shop, with his century old roasting machine. By today however I could suffer sub-par coffee no longer, and made a foray out at lunchtime to Camden to buy beans. I had about a half hour wait when I got there as George was busy packing a large order, but finally got hold of my kilo of beans and headed straight back home to make an espresso, which was excellent.
In the evening we had lazy fresh pasta from Marks and Spencer for dinner, with some bruschetta I threw together. The three of us played another game of bingo after dinner.
- [Thursday 25th January 2018]
Nominally bonus day at work today, although as always nothing even remotely in the way of festivities were evident at the office, and there seemed to be a collective feeling among the usual suspects that after the excesses of two years ago it would probably be best to just not do anything.
Erika had a friend round after school, so they had an early "tea" together, leaving Chie and I only needing to provide dinner for the two of us when it was our dinner time. As is often the case we decided as a result to order some Indian food. Later on Chie went to yoga, and when she got back we did a sort of baton pass and I went out to the Pineapple for a late night pint with Jeremy, something of a semi-regular fixture. We are currently discussing the idea of starting a salon, and this evening at the pub we deciding on what sort of format it should take, and trying to come up with potential themes.
- [Wednesday 24th January 2018]
Pasta for dinner. Played bingo with Erika in the evening, mainly intended as an educational activity for Erika (with the incentive of chocolate as prizes) but it was actually quite nice to do something the three of us could all play together.
- [Tuesday 23rd January 2018]
Went along to Erika's school for an hour in the morning to play "maths games" with Erika. None of the kids seemed to have much of an attention span although I suspect (hope?) they're a bit more focused when the parents aren't around.
Gemma was in London again, so we went out for the evening along with the usual suspects. We collectively have a long running campaign to try and persuade her to move back to London (she is currently residing in California), so semi-deliberately chose a route to Borough from Kings Cross involving a stroll along the river bank from Blackfriars to take in the scenery. We started at the George Inn, then proceeded to a German beer hall (based on an in joke where one of us will remonstrate the other for bad language with "we're not in a beer hall"), and finally went to a speakeasy type cocktail place across the road, for no other reason than it was close by.
- Sunday Roast
- [Sunday 21st January 2018]
Took Erika out to the Owl bookshop in the morning so she could use one of the book tokens she had received for Christmas. While there I also bought a copy of Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred, which generally seems to be considered a bit of a disappointment, but I am finding pleasant enough. Went for a Sunday roast at one of our nearby pubs which was so-so.
I was nominally granted some free time in the afternoon, although tempers seemed to be a tad frayed at home so this was somewhat under a cloud. I did eventually go out for a stroll but had to return home almost immediately as Chie had discovered a leak. It seems our upstairs neighbours had some faulty plumbing and so I had to go home and deal with that. All in all rather a damp squib of a Sunday.
- Dim Sum
- [Saturday 20th January 2018]
Chie went out for afternoon tea with her other Japanese Mum friends, which seemed to constitute the entire afternoon and even some of the morning.
In an attempt to keep Erika entertained on what was quite a damp and miserable day, I suggested we go for dim sum for lunch, which met with an enthusiastic response. So we went down to Joy King Lau, arriving just before midday so we wouldn't have to wait for a table. We had all our usual favourites (and I ordered almost as much food as I would have had all three had been there), and it was delicious as always. After that, as a special treat for Erika I took her to the M&M's shop, which Chie normally refuses to go into because she doesn't like the smell. It is a bizarre edifice, quite why this American confectionery needs to be celebrated so exuberantly in a prime location in London I do not know. Also as to why people will willingly hand over money for branded merchandise from key rings to cushions with the M&M logo on I also am at a loss - effectively paying to have advertising material in your own home. I managed to convince Erika that we only wanted some of the actual sweets and that was it.
We followed that with a visit to the Lego shop, which I was naturally much more keen on, albeit slightly disappointed that when I told Erika we could buy something small she chose a keyring rather than something we could actually build. It did have LEDs in though, so I could sort of understand the appeal.
Having bargained with Erika that we could go to some of the shops she wanted on the condition we could also go to the shops I wanted, we then went to a couple of shops to look at tweed suits. The first, Walker Slater, is my standard haunt, and we made this a quick-ish visit as they didn't actually have the suit I wanted in stock. After that we had to make a quick stop in a nearby coffee shop / barber shop, mainly so Erika could use the toilet, and I amused myself by asking the tattooed barber / barista / hipster if he could make a babycino for Erika. He replied with a completely blank expression.
The second tweed suit shop, somewhat more vintage / hipster leaning Thomas Farthing was a new one for me. I managed to bribe Erika into staying at the latter shop long enough for me to try on a suit with the previously acquired confectionery.
Headed home after that. In the evening Erika helped Chie cook dinner while I had what I considered to be a well earned rest.
- Charles Heidsieck
- [Friday 19th January 2018]
I had a rather unpleasant daytime thanks to a guy who rang the doorbell asking if we wanted any jobs doing in the front yard. I should have just sent him on his way but somehow a voice in my head told me I was being prejudiced because of his accent, plus I was caught off guard, then got sucked in by his sob story about his current woes in life, and stupidly agreed to let him do what I thought would be a couple of harmless little jobs out the front, but ended up just creating a lot of hassle and ultimately extra work for me to clean up the mess once he left, not to mention the constant interruptions while he was there. Very annoyed with myself.
To cheer myself up in the evening I went to Theatre of Wine and bought a bottle of Charles Heidsieck. Chie went out with friends in the evening, so I made dinner just for Erika and I. Macaroni cheese, at Erika's request. I think it was quite a good one.
- [Thursday 18th January 2018]
Chie went to yoga in the evening, marking the start of a three day run of me doing at least some solo parenting each day. Not much else to report.
- Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
- [Wednesday 17th January 2018]
The approach of Burns Night (which we didn't ultimately end up celebrating this year) planted the general idea of haggis in our heads, so we had recently acquired a vegetarian instance thereof, and tonight we ate it with the standard neeps and tatties. So I suppose you could probably call this a hat tip of sorts to Burns, albeit that it was just the three of us, and no whisky was consumed, nor any poetry recited. Erika seems to be a bit on the fence when it comes to her opinion on (vegetarian) haggis, we did manage to get her to eat a reasonable amount this evening but some coercion was required.
- [Monday 15th January 2018]
Chie and Erika doing a bit of yoga.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Sunday 14th January 2018]
Following on from my wonderful country stroll this time last week, I awoke this morning with a desire to do something similar, but eventually settled on the compromise of a walk to Hampstead Heath and back. I couldn't seem to persuade Chie or Erika to join me. It was a bit of a grey and dreary day, and hardly the most inspiring example I've ever seen of the views from Parliament Hill. The pleasantness of the whole endeavour was further diminished by the hordes of joggers hogging the paths and practically barging me into the undergrowth. However all of that aside I did feel some vague sense of worthiness for having made the effort to get out and have a walk.
- [Saturday 13th January 2018]
Christian, a friend from work, had mentioned yesterday that his wife was going to be away this weekend, leaving him to look after his 1 and a half year old daughter by himself, and he seemed to be displaying a tiny bit of apprehension about this prospect. So I gallantly offered my services to come and visit, with Erika in tow, and Erika would entertain Christian's daughter while I provided Christian with some grown-up conversation plus an excuse to open a bottle of wine.
I initially thought this might be a hard sell to Erika, but quickly she got a grasp of the scenario and commendably was very game about mucking in and doing her bit, despite not having met Christian's daughter before, and there being a bit of an age gap.
I think this plan broadly worked out well, and Erika did indeed play very nicely with Christian's daughter. After a while she did start to get a bit assertive though - having figured out what an extremely pleasant and courteous sort of a chap Christian is she eventually started ordering him about, deeming that he should transform his lounge into a makeshift disco. I of course was powerless to intervene, being merely Erika's father. Apparently Christian's daughter loved the disco so the greater good was served, and I hope we will be remembered, on balance, as good guests.
We had some very nice wine, Christian is something of an oenophile, and has been for a number of years I suspect (not a Johnny come lately like me). He is well aware of my obsession with Gevrey Chambertin, so had laid on what I thought was a particularly pleasant example, and conditioned well in his rather impressive cellar - a 2009 from Vincent Bachelet.
- [Thursday 11th January 2018]
Chie bought some new cushions for the bench in the lounge.
- Herefordshire to London
- [Sunday 7th January 2018]
I pride myself on thinking a lesser man might have got in a flap yesterday on realising that it wasn't going to be possible to get a taxi back to Leominster this morning, as none of the local taxi companies were working, it being a Sunday. Before I came on this trip I'd already considered the backup plan which was just to walk, it was, after all, "only" 6 or 7 miles.
It has become a bit of a tradition that many of my forays out into the countryside result in an extended and often unplanned walk, sometimes through challenging terrain, and not uncommonly with an element of a race against time, to get from one point of interest to another. Past examples include the time we went for the Nyetimber vineyard tour (which included clambering over barbed wire fences owing to getting a bit lost en route, having had far too nice a lunch at the Rising Sun beforehand), The Amberley outing (where the walk was necessitated by failing to get off the train in time at the correct stop), The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester (which would have been a pleasant stroll had it not been unseasonably warm and we had a 4 year old to carry most of the way), and most recently the foray to the Shipwright's Arms near Faversham (a trek through a rather bleak marsh, more a psychological challenge than a physical one on that occasion). My London friends have observed this trait of mine - when they are in tow on country jaunts it is usually me doing the planning - and tend to humorously refer to these engaging spontaneous perambulations as "death marches".
On previous occasions the requirement for timeliness has typically been around trying not to be late for a lunch booking, or in the case of Nyetimber a booked slot on a (much in demand) vineyard tour, which we were hopelessly late for, and they very kindly shifted us to the following one. However in this instance I actually had a train to catch, and the trains were not particularly frequent, such that missing this train would mean I wouldn't be able to take Erika to her friends birthday party as I had been requested to. So the stakes were pretty high. Google Maps had estimated it would take about 2 hours and 10 minutes to do the 6.7 mile walk. My train was at 9:55, but I really couldn't bring myself to set an alarm for before 7 o' clock, so by the time I'd had a shower and checked everything in the cottage was OK before locking up and leaving it was 7:30, giving me only a small margin for error.
It was not yet fully light at 7:30, the moon was still in the sky, and the sun had not yet risen. I quickly realised one potential pitfall (almost quite literally) - there was a frost on the ground, and in some places the road surface was actually quite icy. I was trying to walk quickly, but also very conscious of the fact my brogues weren't exactly designed for this sort of thing, and had no grip to speak of on the soles.
It was obviously a bit chilly, but I quickly found that the swift walking pace meant I was kept fairly warm, and even came close to taking my coat off at one point (given that I was wearing a three piece tweed suit underneath), but chose not to as it would have been a faff to carry.
I checked constantly on my progress on the map, and once I had done the first mile or so, and was starting to gain confidence I would make it in time, I started to realise I was actually really enjoying myself. I was experiencing the unfamiliar sensation of a positive reaction to doing physical exercise, rather than the usual response of just feeling uncomfortable and / or bored, I think probably because there was a meaningful goal associated with it. That coupled with the scenery - gradually seeing dawn break - and the sense I had the whole place to myself for what seemed like miles around made for a surprisingly nice experience.
I only met one other person walking the whole way, a chap out walking his dogs, and only a few cars.
I did, however, fall over at one point. I had been constantly keeping an eye out for ice patches and avoiding them as best I could, but this particular one caught me off guard, and over I went. It hurt a fair bit, but I just got straight back up and resumed walking, albeit at a slightly reduced pace for the next mile or so.
I arrived at the outskirts of Leominster just after 9, and realised I would have enough time to even stop for a quick breakfast, if I could find anywhere open. This wasn't initially looking too promising, it being a provincial town and a Sunday morning, but eventually I came to a coffee shop which was open, and therein hungrily devoured a croissant, and, oddly, one of those Portuguese custard tarts. I recall there used to be a family joke about going for a 10 mile walk or some such before breakfast, and here I had almost done exactly that. I felt incredibly contented with my achievement and enjoyed my breakfast immensely.
When I got up to leave though, I realised my feet were suddenly in searing pain. Somehow I found this pain, though quite intense, to be also quite hilarious. Presumably it was some combination of inappropriate footwear, insoles that had warn through, and walking hurriedly on tarmac roads whilst trying to avoid the ice patches. I'm not sure Google Maps's 6.7 mile estimate took into account the amount of zig-zagging I had to do to dodge the icy bits. I eventually developed a large blister on both heels. Still felt oddly exhilarated despite the pain though.
Arrived at LEominster with still a few minutes to spare for the 9:55, which happily was running on time (I was a bit sceptical, it being seemingly the first train of the day and everything), and the connection at Crewe was also without issue.
I read Country Life again on the way back and looked at the scenery which somehow seemed even more appealing than it had on the way here - perhaps just the weather? Normally on returning to London from just about anywhere else I have at least a bit of a sense of relief at returning to "civilisation" where all the things Londoners get snobbish about and/or take for granted will be in abundance (public transport, good coffee, and so on), but on this occasion I had a distinct sense of actually being a bit sad about leaving Herefordshire and the countryside in general.
Walked through my front door at 2pm. It occurred to me I had spent 6 and a half hours in transit from that little cottage in Herefordshire.
I was back in good time to take Erika to her friend's birthday party, which I did still wearing my tweed suit. Obviously I tend to wear tweed all the time in London in clear contravention of the "no brown in town" rule, but not very often the green suit, which I tend to save for the country. It was very gratifying to be able to tell people at the party, when asked, that I had just come back from Herefordshire and maintain a pretence, at least in my own head, that I had my country house there.
- [Saturday 6th January 2018]
I've been wanting to attend a proper wassail for a few years now - the closest thing I had been to was the one at Bankside, and while I think the group the runs that do put on a very good show, it is of course slap bang in the centre of London, so it isn't really quite the same thing, and of course there isn't even an orchard involved.
I had found out about this one before Christmas, and it seems that the Leominster Morris Men pick a different Herefordshire village each year, the requirements being simply that it has an amenable pub and an orchard nearby. Having spent Christmas in Japan before, I knew I would get to the end of the festive season and feel I'd sort of missed out somehow, so this seemed like a good remedy - the wassail being traditionally held on twelfth night.
I had asked Chie and Erika if they'd like to come, but they didn't seem keen, Erika in particular wanted to stay in London as she had two of her friends' birthday parties to attend this weekend. Not to mention that the thought of all the extra travel so soon after getting back from Japan, only to stand in a dark, cold and possibly wet field watching old men clack sticks together may not have been an entirely irresistible proposition. I rather felt I deserved to have a bit of time doing exactly what I wanted to do, so I just decided to go anyway. I did also ask a couple of the usual suspects from work but they all rather predictably balked at the idea of anything involved Morris dancing. I increasingly realise I actually like time by myself, and in particular my little solo jaunts - sadly quite a lot of my interests don't seem to intersect with anyone else I know, or if they do it's just too hard to find times when we're mutually available, and there's a whole bunch of things I would just never do if I relied on having somebody else to go with.
So this morning I donned my most countryside-ish tweed suit (which of course nobody actually living in the countryside would wear anything like, but I like to maintain the ridiculous pretence of it), packed an overnight back, and headed down to Euston, picking up a copy of Country Life, to get the train to Leominster. To my surprise the suggested route was to go up to Crewe, which overshoots Leominster by some distance, and then get a local train back down from there to Leominster. It was about three hour journey. I sat in First Class for the first leg, reading my copy of Country Life, and it was very pleasant. No First Class on the second train, but still pleasant enough watching the scenery go by.
On arrival in Leominster I had still not, as yet, figured out how exactly I was going to get from there to the village of Dilwyn, where the wassail was to be held, some 6 or 7 miles away. I had perhaps rather naively hoped there might be a taxi rank at the station. There was not. I thought that was perhaps just as well, as I did need to stock up on supplies, given that there isn't a shop in Dilwyn. So I had a bit of a meander around the town, keeping an eye out for any obvious taxi offices as I went, and then eventually just decided to head to the slightly out of town supermarket, stock up on whatever victuals I might need for the rest of the day, then managed to call a taxi from there.
I inquired of the taxi driver whether they'd be able to pick me up again the next morning, but apparently they wouldn't be working, it being a Sunday. No matter, I thought, I'm sure one of the other local taxi companies would be able to.
Anyway, I arrived in Dilwyn around 3:40, found the cottage where I'd be staying for the evening - which was small but well equipped - and then had a little wander round the village. This took all of about five minutes - and the place looked completely deserted - there was the pub, a church, and that was pretty much it. No real signs at the pub that there was going to be a big event on the evening, so I did check on the web a couple of times to make absolutely sure I was in the right place.
I decided to settle into my cottage for a bit, tried in vain to find a taxi company in the area who was actually going to be working tomorrow morning, then set about making dinner. I had just bought lazy things from the supermarket which only need bunging in the oven but still felt a sense of achievement at being able to prepare a meal in unfamiliar surroundings, in the middle of nowhere, and the end result was actually quite nice.
The cottage was very close to the pub, and from about 6:30 I started being able to hear a bit of a hub-bub outside. A short while later I actually ventured outside and the contrast from the deserted village I had arrived at earlier was quite striking - suddenly there were about a hundred people outside the pub.
There was some amount of milling about, and I took the opportunity to try and get pictures of some of the Morris Men while they weren't busy. I thought their outfits were rather impressive. The proceedings eventually got underway around 7:30, when the squire stood on a bench and addressed the crowds, and torches started to be lit.
The assembled throng - now probably in the region of 300 people - then processed from the pub to the orchard, about a 10 or 15 minute walk away. There was a slight incline on the road, and looking back down the hill seeing the stream of torch bearing locals was quite a sight to behold - and I imagine would have been quite unnerving if you'd come across it by chance without knowing what was going on.
On arrival in the orchard, the Morris men gathered in the centre around the particular tree chosen for the ceremony, while the throng formed a large circle around it, where there were bonfires to be lit with our torches. As the orchard filled with smoke and firelight there was quite an atmosphere. I couldn't make out everything the Morris men were saying, but understood broadly they were blessing the tree, asking for a good crop of apples next year, and so on. Some dancing then ensued.
It was a wonderfully clear night, and on the way back to the village I saw a shooting star. It was quite magical.
Once back at the pub the Morris Men performed their Mummer's Play, which, as is the tradition, is an odd mixture of ancient British legends (St. George and the dragon, etc) and topical references to current affairs. There then followed more Morris dancing outside the pub, including some audience participation, before those remaining retreated back inside as it was getting a bit cold. My feet were particularly chilly, and I decided to pop back to my cottage for a little bit, to avail myself of both my own private toilet (there were queues for the pub toilets) plus the underfloor heating to thaw out the paws a bit.
Tempting though it was to just call it a night and stay inside my very cosy cottage, I forced myself to head back to the pub for a last half hour or so. The Morris men were doing spontaneous bouts of music and singing, just as the mood took them, not a set performance on a stage, just standing among the other patrons of the pub. It's impossible to imagine something like that happening in London, and although it's a long time since I've deliberately chosen to go and listen to any kind of live music, I thought it was really rather special. I chatted to one of the Morris men between songs, I didn't have to tell him I had come up from London as he could tell from my ridiculous "this is what people in London think people in the country wear" attire - which these days is even one more level removed from that, as I'm seemingly the only person left who goes along with the silly charade, so it's more like "this is what people in the country think people in London think people in the country wear". I mentioned that I had been an apprentice for a little bit on a Morris side my Dad was on, which was nice as he told me the apprentice on their side was in fact his son. The few songs I could remember the names of from that time he had heard of too, and was able to play a few notes of on his fiddle. He said surprisingly there are in fact Morris sides in London, including the Hammersmith Morris Men, who are pretty well regarded.
Eventually I headed back over the road to my cottage and went to bed, knowing that, having failed to find a taxi company who were actually working, that I had an early start and a long walk ahead of me!
- Boot and Flogger
- [Friday 5th January 2018]
Evening at the Boot and Flogger with the usual suspects.
- Bec, Dave and Jessica in London
- [Thursday 4th January 2018]
Bec, Dave and Jessica were in London for a couple of days and came to visit us in the evening.
- Back to London
- [Wednesday 3rd January 2018]
Flew back to London today.
- Back to Tokyo
- [Tuesday 2nd January 2018]
Said our goodbyes in Hiroshima in the morning and took the shinkansen to Tokyo where we'd be staying for our final night of this trip. Went to a Japanese culture festival in the early evening where Chie and Erika tried on kimono.
- New Year's Day in Japan
- [Monday 1st January 2018]
A relentless onslaught of Osecchi Ryori, the traditional food eaten at New Year in Japan.
- Miyajima and New Year's Eve
- [Sunday 31st December 2017]
I took Erika to Miyajima in the afternoon, then spent New Year's Eve in front of the telly with Chie's family.
- Not Much
- [Saturday 30th December 2017]
Didn't really do much today. Bit of Lego in the morning, I tried to do a a bit of a programming project in the afternoon but it wasn't very successful.
- Indian Food and Negronis
- [Friday 29th December 2017]
Went on a quest to find a decent espresso in Hiroshima in the morning, then had lunch at an Indian restaurant. In the afternoon went to the discount liquor store near Chie's family home and bought the requisites for making a Negroni.
- Pizza Riva
- [Thursday 28th December 2017]
Lunch at Pizza Riva with Chie's aunt.
- Yuda-Onsen, Hiroshima Winter Illuminations and Okonomiyaki
- [Wednesday 27th December 2017]
Spent the morning in the Yuda-Onsen, some of it at a particularly nice foot spa / cafe. Headed back to Hiroshima in the afternoon, saw the Hiroshima winter illuminations in the early evening then had okonomiyaki at Nagata-ya for dinner.
- Yuda Onsen
- [Tuesday 26th December 2017]
Went to stay for a night at the Yuda Onsen in Yamaguchi.
- Christmas Day in Japan
- [Monday 25th December 2017]
Opened some presents in the morning. Lunch in the food court at the local shopping mall (how wonderfully festive!), then back at the family home for the remainder of the day.
- Tokyo to Hiroshima
- [Sunday 24th December 2017]
Breakfast in Tokyo, then took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima in the afternoon. In the evening had Christmas cake with Chie's family.
- Saturday in Tokyo
- [Saturday 23rd December 2017]
Explored the local area around our hotel a bit in the morning, then in the afternoon I headed over to Asakusa to meet Tanaka-san.
- Friday in Tokyo
- [Friday 22nd December 2017]
Landed at Narita in the morning, had an early lunch at a kaiten sushi place in the airport, then got the train to central Tokyo and checked into our hotel. I slept for a couple of hours in the afternoon, then in the evening we went out for dinner at a rather lavish tofu restaurant called Ukai, next to Tokyo Tower.
- Off to Japan
- [Thursday 21st December 2017]
Flew off to Japan today for Christmas and New Year.
- [Monday 18th December 2017]
Dinner with local friends in the evening.
- [Sunday 17th December 2017]
A foray out to a remote country pub - the Shipwrights Arms, in the middle of the marshes near Faversham.
- Tea with Friends.
- [Saturday 16th December 2017]
Lunch at our new local vegan Ethopian cafe, then afternoon tea with our friends visiting from the US.
- Piebury Corner and Gilbert Scott
- [Friday 15th December 2017]
Friends visiting London from the US, took them to Piebury Corner and then cocktails at the Gilbert Scott.
- Lunch at Oliveto
- [Thursday 14th December 2017]
Went to the dentist and had lunch at Oliveto: white truffles!
- Pub Lunch
- [Tuesday 12th December 2017]
Lunch at the Pineapple.
- [Monday 11th December 2017]
Just one picture of Erika having an ice lolly.
- [Sunday 10th December 2017]
Woke up in Abergavenny to quite a lot of snow! Consequently had to leave Abergavenny a bit earlier than originally planned for fear of getting stuck.
- Saturday in Abergavenny
- [Saturday 9th December 2017]
Went for a walk in search of snow in the morning, then spent the remainder of the day indoors with family at Vera and Robin's house.
- London to Abergavenny
- [Friday 8th December 2017]
Got the train from London to Abergavenny after Erika finished school.
- [Wednesday 6th December 2017]
Went to the Kerb steet food market in Kings Cross for lunch and was pleased to see a longer queue at the vegan stall than any of the others.
- [Tuesday 5th December 2017]
Had some Chianti with dinner.
- [Sunday 3rd December 2017]
Wahaca for lunch.
- Winter Wonderland
- [Saturday 2nd December 2017]
Took Erika and her friend to Winter Wonderland.
- Holly Bush
- [Friday 1st December 2017]
Annual festive quaint pub outing (number 1 of 2 this year).
- Bintang and Christmas Tree
- [Thursday 30th November 2017]
Tried a pan-Asian place in Kentish Town for lunch - Bingtang. It was good. In the evening we put up our Christmas tree.
- Lemon Curd
- [Tuesday 28th November 2017]
Erika discovered she quite likes lemon curd.
- [Sunday 26th November 2017]
Spent the morning making a play house for Erika out of the cardboard box my picture frame had arrived in. Lunch at the Assembly House which inadvertantly meant we ended up watching some of a football match. To the garden centre after lunch to buy a couple of things to liven up the garden. In the evening went for visit local friends at their new house which they've just moved into.
- Two Lunches and Jeeves and Wooster
- [Saturday 25th November 2017]
Had two lunches, and picked up my set of Jeeves and Wooster DVDs which I then started binge watching.
- Picture Frame
- [Friday 24th November 2017]
Got the frame for my recently acquired piece of art.
- Nyetimber at the Royal Exchange
- [Thursday 23rd November 2017]
Pub lunch, then snuck out of work early to go and see Nyetimber's take over of the Royal Exchange.
- Windy Day
- [Wednesday 22nd November 2017]
Very windy today! Also on an unrelated note Indian food for lunch.
- Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old
- [Monday 20th November 2017]
Received two bottles of this in the post today.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Sunday 19th November 2017]
Hampstead Heath in the morning on a very pleasant Autumnal day, lunch at the Pineapple, then a birthday party in the early evening.
- Canal Museum and Lunch with Mum
- [Saturday 18th November 2017]
Brief visit from Mum in the morning, went to the Canal Museum then lunch in St Pancras. I had a bit of a wander round St. James's in the afternoon.
- [Friday 17th November 2017]
Received the piece of Denis Paul Noyer art in the post today.
- [Thursday 16th November 2017]
Erika playing on the trampoline.
- Gingerbread House
- [Wednesday 15th November 2017]
Made a gingerbread house in the evening.
- Pub Lunch at the KCI
- [Tuesday 14th November 2017]
Pub lunch at the King Charles I.
- [Monday 13th November 2017]
Some random pictures. Started to make the gingerbread house in the evening.
- Sunday Roast
- [Sunday 12th November 2017]
Made a Sunday roast for dinner. Read some Jeeves and Wooster.
- Wrestlers and the Boot and Flogger
- [Saturday 11th November 2017]
Lunch at the Wrestlers in Highgate, then headed down to Borough for some wine at the Boot and Flogger.
- Phone Cover and Science
- [Friday 10th November 2017]
Got a case for my new phone today.
Also yesterday I got a science kit for Erika, with a clock you can power by lemons etc, so that provided some educational entertainment this evening.
- School Disco and Murder on the Orient Express
- [Thursday 9th November 2017]
Erika had a school disco in the evening. She was very excited at the prospect but I wasn't too keen on going. I suppose it wasn't too bad, and not nearly as naff as I remember mine being (Agadoo etc). Afterwards Chie put Erika to bed (most of the time I do this job) and I decided to go out for an evening stroll. I got as far as the Pineapple and once there suddenly decided on a whim I'd go and see new remake of Murder on the Orient at the cinema. After a long hiatus of being quite convinced I didn't really like going to cinema (finding my own home an infinitely preferable environment in which to watch a film), watching Bladerunner 2049 at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead reminded it wasn't so bad - there was hardly anyone else there for that screening. Orient Express tonight was a fair bit busier, and I was somewhat reminded of why I didn't really like the cinema - being subjected to half an hour of advertising at the start (why, I wondered, have I paid £20 for this?), and then having to listen to someone a few seats away who had fallen asleep snoring through the latter third of the film. Still, it got me out of the house, kept me off the streets, etc.
As for the film itself, it was OK. A bit hammy and overacted, not big on realism, but in places had a pleasingly glamorous atmosphere which I enjoyed.
- Shoe Repair
- [Wednesday 8th November 2017]
Finally got around to getting my brogues repaired today - one of the soles had become partially detached from the uppers, the other sole had a hole in it. So I would consistently get wet feet with even the most lightly damp conditions underfoot. Presumably this would eventually lead to trench foot if action were not taken.
So I dropped them off at "Tony's Heel Bar" in the morning (why are these places called "bars"?) and impressively they were ready to pick up later that day. Tony was an interesting character, missing several teeth, and probably high on the shoe polish vapours. I think he did a pretty good job on my shoes, giving them a new lease of life.
As I was down at the Southern extremities of Kentish Town around the end of the working day, and was being pestered by Jim and Andrew to go for a pint, I arranged to meet them at the Prince Albert in Camden for a bit. Was back home in time to read Erika a bedtime story though.
- Pol Roger
- [Tuesday 7th November 2017]
Erika is supposed to have swimming lessons on Tuesdays after school. Chie was not feeling well, so as I was working from home I offered to take her instead. This was not a very successful endeavour, I got Erika changed, got her to the door of the swimming pool, and, even though she had met a friend there who would also be having swimming lessons at the same time, there were suddenly floods of tears and nothing I could say would persuade Erika to go in (parents aren't allowed to accompany the kids and are meant to just go and wait in the observation area). So I just got Erika changed back again and we went back home.
At work today I launched a feature I had been working on for the past few months. It had been almost entirely my own effort, so I took a particular pride in seeing it released to the outside world. Consequently to celebrate we had a bottle of Pol Roger.
- Kinder Egg
- [Monday 6th November 2017]
Chinese food for dinner, I popped to the little oriental supermarket up the road to buy a couple of things for it beforehand. Including, most importantly, Peking Duck sauce, so Erika could have her favourite (mock) duck pancakes.
Erika had a Kinder Surprise for dessert. She gets these as a reward when she manages to sleep through the night without waking us up. This does not occur very often.
- Zoe with Zoe
- [Sunday 5th November 2017]
Met Erika's friend Zoe and her parents for lunch at the Franco Manca in Kentish Town, then afterwards we all went to the zoo together. Quite a nice autumnal day today, albeit a tad chilly.
After the zoo we went home by way of Whole Foods, where I bought some things for dinner.
- Regency Cafe and My Club
- [Saturday 4th November 2017]
To my surprise Chie declared this morning that she wanted to go for breakfast at the Regency Cafe, and seemed quite determined. Erika too was keen on the idea. I attempted to advocate just being lazy and going somewhere a bit closer to home but it was two votes to one. So, with my stomach already rumbling, we headed out, got on the tube down to Pimlico, and then had a long wait in the queue at the Regency Cafe, which seems to get more popular every time we go there now. Thankfully after we finally made it to the front of the queue (a good half hour wait) and ordered our food arrived very promptly, and bizarrely despite the queue being out the door, after we ordered there was a free table waiting for us - I've never quite figured out the maths behind how this actually works, but it always seems to.
Breakfast at the Regency, as it always has been, excellent, and I'm really glad to see Erika is starting to develop a bit of an affection for the place too (she was a bit lukewarm back when we actually lived locally).
After breakfast we fell back into what used to be our standard routine on Saturday mornings when we lived in Pimlico - we took a slow amble in the direction of St. James's Park. Although the weather wasn't at its best today - quite damp in fact - the park was very autumnal and quite atmospheric, and the girls spent a while chasing after leaves as they fell from the trees, trying to catch them - it is surprisingly difficult.
From there we went to my club, which looks out onto Green Park, for a cup of tea. Erika has technically been once before, but she slept through it, and I thought it might be nice to show her around quickly, as recently, perhaps partly as a result of our trip to Venice, she has started to develop at least a slight appreciation for grand buildings.
We dithered with the idea of gong to the Tate Modern next, as Erika had been learning about Matisse at school (yes, she's only 5!), but in the end she went off the idea and we headed back to Kentish Town instead. Had a late-ish lunch at Wahaca, then I popped down to Camden to do a bit of shopping (most importantly coffee beans) and then we spent the remainder of the day back at home, having satisfied ourselves we had done enough on what was after all a bi of a wet and grey sort of a day.
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
- [Friday 3rd November 2017]
Worked from home, baumkuchen in the morning for elevenses, then a pub lunch at the Pineapple.
Andrew had been having a bit of a tough week at work, so I arranged to meet him at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in the evening to give him a chance to chew the cud a bit. Despite arriving pretty early - before 5pm - the nicest bar by the entrance was already full, so we consigned ourselves to the cellar instead.
Didn't stay out very late, I was home by around 8:30.
- [Thursday 2nd November 2017]
Went into the office again today, two days running this week which is probably more than average for the past few months. I don't have anyone I work with directly there (everyone else working on my project is either in California or New York), and I've realised I can actually be pretty productive - more so in fact - from home. Plus, to be honest, I don't really like the new office very much - the food is awful, and even the coffee is better at home. Plus I have an increasing sense of alienation there, I hardly seem to know anyone any more.
- So it's November
- [Wednesday 1st November 2017]
Went into the office today as I had my annual performance review with my manager. Usual story, seems I have nothing to be concerned about.
Being in the office really drove home the fact that the clocks have gone back as I watched the sun setting through the window by my desk at about 4:30. It does seem to have a bit of an impact of my productivity for the first week or so until I get used to it again - as soon as it gets dark outside I think "I should be at home!".
- [Tuesday 31st October 2017]
I can't say I ever particularly liked the idea of making a big deal of Halloween - it just felt like giving in to American cultural imperialism. Kids of Erika's sort of age do seem to get very excited about it though - and I do have to concede I can see why it's fun for them. Imagine a day of the year when adults could go and knock on random stranger's doors and be given a glass of wine? That would be great.
So, purely for Erika's sake, we made a bit of an effort again this year like we'd done two years ago (Chie and Erika were in Japan for Halloween last year). We carved a pumpkin yesterday, put it outside this evening, and Chie had bought a few bags of sweets to give out. Like two years ago, absolute hordes of kids showed up, and we very quickly gave away all our sweets. After that, I took Erika out for a bit of a walk around the neighbourhood with her friend Frances so she could see the other side of the trick or treating experience, and we managed to find a few houses which had not yet ran out of sweets (plus a few which already had). Some people had made a huge effort decorating their houses, and one of the nearby streets had got together and even put decorations along the pavements etc. I thought that was pretty impressive, and Erika had a great time.
- Pumpkin Carving
- [Monday 30th October 2017]
First day back at work and school after our week in Italy. I thought I might find it a bit of a shock to the system - I've noticed in recent years when I go on holiday I completely switch off, and tend not to think about work at all - but I actually I seemed to ease back into it fairly well today. Perhaps helped by working from home.
In the evening Chie and Erika carved a pumpkin ready for Halloween tomorrow.
- Florence to London
- [Sunday 29th October 2017]
Considering it was a later addition to the original itinerary for our Venice trip - in fact I had already booked our flights to and from Venice when I heard Lorenzo was getting married - I am quite proud of how well organised our little Florentine adjunct had been. The Hotel Baglioni was both very comfortable and extremely convenient for our arrival at the station yesterday, and our subsequent quick dash to the Palazzo Vecchio for the ceremony.
Moreover I had predicted we might be a bit tired at the end of our week away - and that the wedding reception might be a bit of a late night - and conscious of the fact Erika would be back in school tomorrow I was keen to ensure we didn't have too early a start today, and that our travel arrangements would be as easy and comfortable as possible. I had originally toyed with the idea of even going back to Venice this morning, which would potentially have allowed us to reschedule our original return flight rather than abandon it altogether, but that would have been quite a faff, and as it turned out those flights were already fully booked anyway. Flying back from Florence airport was by far the quickest and easiest option, which almost translates to the most expensive, but I just decided it was worth the expense in the end.
We still had one little treat left in store for us before we left Florence this morning - we went up to the roof terrace of the hotel from where there were spectacular views of the Duomo and the rest of the city, and we continued to enjoy these over breakfast.
Then it was just a quick and easy taxi ride from there to Florence airport. I'd got us business class tickets for our return journey based on the slightly questionable rationale of "I'm already paying quite a lot, so why not pay a bit more?" so we were able to wile away a bit of time in the business class lounge before boarding. I love that at age 5 this is already the third time Erika has been in a business class lounge, and she is already starting to compare their relative merits, like a seasoned executive.
Erika sat next to me on the plane, Chie having craftily manoeuvred herself into the seat the other side of the aisle from the two of us so she could have some peace and quiet. We'd bought a fairy sticker book in the airport which kept Erika entertained for at least some of the flight. My meal was the exact same thing I'd had on the way back from Nice - a sort of oriental salad with some Japanese mushrooms and pak choi. I think I preferred it first time round when it was novel, but it wasn't bad. A bit odd cold perhaps. Erika opted for the cous cous and falafel, of which she only really ate some of the cous cous.
The flight got us back to City airport, again the same as our return flight from Nice in September. As I've probably said before, I can't ever imagine going as far as to say I like an airport. A good airport is one for me that I spend as little time in as possible. City seems to fill this brief pretty well, and we were back home by 4pm.
On arrival at home I immediately set about laundry - the malfunctioning washing machine in the apartment in Venice had resulted in a bag of superficially clean clothes but which actually had a faintly unsettling odour to them, and I was keen to get rid of it ASAP!
- Lorenzo and Olya's Wedding
- [Saturday 28th October 2017]
Chie, Erika and I had an early start this morning, and were out of the apartment before 7:30. We took a vaporetto from Fondamente Nove bound for the station, a journey which gave us the chance to say goodbye to Venice from the sea, which somehow seems a bit more fitting.
This trip had definitely had its ups and downs. Apart from the hospital drama, we'd had noisy neighbours keeping us up for several nights of the week (only audible in our bedroom, I did at one point bang on the wall, and the noise stopped immediately, but then I felt guilty for being a party pooper), I was covered in mosquito bites (some of which had swollen up alarmingly), the washing machine didn't work and I'd ran out of clean shirts, and the challenge of meal times with at peak 5 children with differing likes and dislikes (not to mention allergies!) had occasionally taken its toll. I think Chie in particular, who was sceptical in the first place about going on holiday with a large group like this, will prove difficult to convince to repeat the exercise in future. I do have to admit that towards the end of the week I had started to yearn for my own bed / washing machine / mosquito free climate.
Still, as I was on the vaporetto and metaphorically heading out to sea (although actually to the station) I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness to be leaving. Venice has done this to me before - on my last trip, after feeling like I'd just been retreading old ground for that short visit, and then there was that spectacular sunrise just as I was leaving.
It was a pleasant train journey from Venice to Florence, with a brief change in Padova, giving Erika the chance to buy some garishly coloured marshmallows on a stick.
On arrival in Florence that sense of wanting to be back at home and sleep in my own bed etc, seemed to go straight out the window, and my sense of wanderlust was almost immediately rekindled. Of course, Florence and I are old friends - just as (and precisely because of the fact) Lorenzo is. I first came here 20 years ago!
After quickly dropping off our bags at our hotel - very conveniently right next to the station (I had planned all of this meticulously) we headed straight to the Palazzo Vecchio, and met Lorenzo and the other guests as they were gathered outside. It felt absolutely great to be there on this special day.
The ceremony was short but sweet (exactly the way I think wedding ceremonies should be, can't stand it when they're long drawn out affairs), and then we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, as the reception would be in the evening. Tummies were rumbling so we headed straight to a sandwich shop, which despite being moments away from the Duomo et al was actually very good - and I also had a glass of Chianti with it, which always tastes fantastic in Tuscany, and almost always disappointing anywhere else. I also paid my respects quickly at Rivoire, sort of the spiritual home of the Negroni, before we headed back to our hotel to check in properly.
After a quick rest there we headed back out again for a wander round Florence. We motivaed Erika to do so with the promise of gelato at Lorenzo's second favourite gelateria - Vivoli - it's a running joke that he has never told us which is favourite is. I suspect there actually isn't one, he keeps this imaginary place in reserve in case we have any criticisms of Vivoli, but he needn't worry because Vivoli is excellent. I get the impression their gelato is very traditional, and a lot more natural and "real" than many other places - it isn't all piled high and there aren't any bright garish colours. The mirto one was spectacular.
Fit in a couple more sights after that, including the usual visit to the Bartolucci wooden toy shop, the Porcellino, and of course the Ponto Vecchio before taking a slow wander along the Arno to meet Lorenzo's friend Matteo, who would had kindly offered to give us a lift to the reception, which was to be held out in the Tuscan countryside.
I was slightly apprehensive about this setup when I realised the logistics - the reception venue was really quite a way out of Florence, and we wouldn't easily be able to get there or back under our own steam. I had a feeling the party was likely to go on until well past midnight, and was a bit worried this might be pretty tough on Erika.
I needn't have worried, she was incredible, and I was so proud of her.
Lorenzo and Olya had set out a Polaroid camera so guests could take photos of each other and then sign them, and add them to a scrap book. This idea mutated in real time into Erika accompanying the official photographer, and Erika taking photos of people at the party with the Polaroid camera while the official photographer also took photos with her camera. This worked extremely well, not only as it gave Erika something fun to do, and a way of introducing herself to everyone, but the official photographer pointed out that eventually wedding guests can get a bit fed up of the photographer asking them to pose for yet more photos, but a five year old girl with a Polaroid is instantly disarming. So at the start, the photographer was setting up the scenes and Erika was then taking a photo as well, but after a few of these it ended up the other way round, and the official photographer started referring to herself as Erika's assistant.
Food at wedding receptions is usually not particularly memorable, but I really enjoyed the food at Lorenzo and Olya's. Two specific highlights for me were the crostini with cavolo nero and some superbly pungent olive oil, and shredded courgettes in a sauce which was possibly a kind of olive tapenade. Also having to make polite conversation with other wedding guests sat at your table who you didn't previously know can be a bit tedious, but at this wedding it was quite the opposite - I really liked everyone on our table (and everyone else I met at the wedding in fact) and was particularly sad to have to say good buy to Sebastian, my new drinking buddy, at the end of the evening.
The only one very slight wrinkle on an otherwise perfect evening was that right at the end Erika picked up a sparkler which had just gone out by the still hot end. I don't think it was a particularly bad burn - I couldn't see a mark the next morning - but the shock of it caused floods of tears, which was partly just a shame as apart from that there hadn't been as much as the slightest grizzle all day. What a star.
We decided it probably best to think about leaving at that point, as it was midnight by then and that seemed about as far as it was prudent to push it. Thankfully Matteo was also happy to leave at that point so we had a lift back and weren't stranded out in the Tuscan countryside!
Unsurprisingly Erika slept in the car on the way back into Florence, and then woke up feeling car sick, but fortunately a quick stop for fresh air seemed to address that.
- Friday in Venice
- [Friday 27th October 2017]
Last full day in Venice of this trip. I got up early and walked down to St. Mark's to see if I could catch any of the sunrise, but only got a glimpse really. Nothing the glorious display I had on the final morning in Venice last year, but still, it was pleasant enough.
Chie, Erika and I went to another pasticceria in the morning at Chie's request, and it seemed slightly sad that she was only just now starting to get into the wing of things a bit, and find things she wanted to do, when we were almost leaving! Today's pasticceria didn't have quite the huge array of pastries and cakes of yesterday's place, but it felt very genuine, filled with locals who all seemed to know the staff. I think actually Erika preferred her chosen confection from today to the one she had yesterday though.
A slightly confusing thing happened when it came time to pay, I asked for the bill (one of the few phrases I know), then the lady behind the counter handed me a little dish with some change on it. The observant among you will notice one fairly key component typically associated with these transactions had not occurred - I hadn't given them any money yet. I had a surprisingly hard time explaining this to them - I tried saying I haven't actually paid yet and they just motioned towards the change as if to suggest I must have, because there's the change. So I tried pointing at the change and saying "It's not my money!" - which prompted another confused facial expression indicating "Well of course it's not the money you gave to us, it's the change!". In the end I just did my best to leave the amount I think it cost behind which resulted in them politely shrugging their shoulders and wondering why I was giving them such a generous tip.
From there we headed to the Arsenale to see a bit more of the Biennale. The ticket always give you combined entrance to the two venues, and you can go on any day, so Chie was very keen to make use of it while we were still there. I have to admit I was a bit less in the mood for it today than I had been when we went to the Giardini - partly I think the Arsenale part is just not as good fun, but also it was lunchtime and I was starting to get hungry.
We didn't stay too long, had a slightly underwhelming lunch not too far from the Arsenale at a cafe/bakery place, and then started to head back.
I had decided by this point, as it was our last day, and we were now back down to just 6 of us, that we should just grab the bull by the horns and get in a gondola. So we found a gondola station not too far from our apartment, met up with Leon, Aiko and Mei (who was feeling a bit better today, partly propped up by Calpol), and clambered aboard the very wobbly canal going vessel. I knew the girls would like it, I was prepared to accept I might also enjoy it, but even the slightly more cynical Chie and Leon had to admit it was actually very nice. There's a surprising serenity down at the water's level, which for some reason just isn't quite the same as walking along the pathways beside the canals. Our gondolier had kids of a similar age to the girls and so knew how to play up to them with a no doubt well honed mixture of charm and the occasional bit of teasing. Plus they loved it when he deliberately rocked the boat - an act he carried out with the carefully measured precision of a professional. I also managed to get some absolutely cracking photos - in my humble opinion - during our ride - I particularly love the ones of Erika and Mei sitting at the front of the boat.
At the end of the holiday Leon asked Aiko and Mei what their favourite things had been, and was very pleased with the answers - Aiko said the food (especially gratifying as the occasionally slightly fraught exchanges with waiters over peanut oil etc had all been worth it) and Mei said the gondola ride. So definitely 80 Euros well spent!
Of course after the gondola ride it was about that time of day when we almost ritualistically had fallen into the habit of a gelato - and for today's we went back to La Mela Verde as it we had boated past there in the gondola (and in fact saw our gondolier again with his next customers while we were there).
Leon suggested we go back to the Bacarando place for dinner tonight, as they had a similar kind of cichetti offering to Cantina do Spade where we'd had one of our more successful evening meals out with the kids on Wednesday, who seemed to enjoy having all the little morsels to choose from. Unfortunately since the last time we'd been to the Bacarando they seemed to have changed their mind about the type of oil they used for frying, and were now advising Aiko shouldn't eat any of the deep fried seafood things. We managed to just bout work round this, but it was a bit frustrating. So a bit of a damp squid (pun intended) of an ending to the last day, but at least the gondola had been a big highlight!
- Thursday in Venice
- [Thursday 26th October 2017]
Yesterday's dramatic events had rather thrown us off our balance a bit - plus partly by this time I had ticked most things off my to do list, so we were a bit unsure what to do with ourselves today.
Chie was very keen to go and visit a pasticceria - I had marked a few on the map when I was doing my research for the trip, so when Chie, Erika and I finally got ourselves out of the apartment in the morning we headed in the direction of one of those. As it happens Chie had also heard about this particular one - Tonolo - from some Japanese source, and sure enough two Japanese ladies entered just ahead of us. This was really good - huge selection of little cakes and pastries and the staff were friendly. I was amazed when I guessed that a cake which reminded me of a Venetian window was called a "la fenestra" that the lady behind the counter knew what I meant straight away - a very proud moment for my limited Italian! Coffee was also very good, so we were all quite pleased with this start to the day.
For lunch we went to a pizza place Chie had heard about from another Japanese source (I think) called Il Refolo. It was in a lovely spot - in a little square, with tables outside, by a canal, with a little bridge over it (yes I know that sounds like just about everywhere in Venice but it was a particularly nice example of the kind!). When we arrived we had the whole square to ourselves. Erika had the "Peppa Pig" pizza, which had sausages and - shock horror - chips on! It was actually very good though. I had something with pesto on I think. I very much enjoyed watching the rippled reflection of the sunlight from the water projected onto the underside of the bridge - one of my favourite things in Venice.
We meandered back to the apartment after that. Mei was starting to feel a bit unwell now - although thankfully not anything stomach bug-ish, she just had a cough and a bit of a fever, so while she was having a nap in the afternoon, we took Aiko out for a little bit.
One of the things I hadn't yet ticked off my list for this trip was a visit to the Acqua Alta bookshop, which wasn't too far from the apartment as it happens, so having promised the girls we'd go to a gelateria, I made an only very slight detour to go there first. As it turned out, it was such a special place that even the kids really enjoyed it - particularly the stairs in the little yard at the back made entirely out of books. A bookstaircase if you will. I rather enjoyed sitting on the chair by the water door, and pretending a was a Venetian noble.
The gelateria - La Mela Verde (the green apple) - was, in my opinion, a particularly good one. They were very good on their allergen information for Aiko's sake - I had really tried to make an effort on that front this week - and their stracciatella was one of the best I've ever had. Aiko had never tried this before and I felt quite proud that I had introduced it to her.
Headed back to the apartment again after that. In the evening we decided to try and all eat out together, but this was a slightly ill fated plan that didn't really go very well. We didn't really want to go too far from the apartment, which constrained the options a fair bit, and although I was tempted to just go back to the pizza place we'd been to the first night - because we knew it was decent and worked well for the kids - I thought it might be boring for those of the group who went before. So I attempted to choose a different place and misjudged it somewhat - when we got there we realised it was quite upmarket and I for one felt a bit uncomfortable being the only people there with kids. After sitting down Leon decided it was a bit too fussy and would be awkward to order for his two, so the three of them did end up going back to the pizza place from the first night after all. Oh well, you can't win them all. On the plus side they did have an explicitly vegetarian section of the menu, which is a rarity in Italy, and I managed to have a dish with bigoli, a very typically Venetian type of pasta.
- Wednesday in Venice
- [Wednesday 25th October 2017]
One of the things I wanted to tick off my list on this trip to Venice was to visit Torcello. It's the island further North in the Venetian lagoon which the Venetians first settled before they eventually figured out how to build Venice proper. It's also somewhere Nancy Mitford would occasionally retreat to in the summer months for some peace and quiet when she was trying to work on one of her books. So going here had a sort of pilgrimage like feeling to it, and I also thought it would just be nice to get out on the water and see a bit more of the wider Venetian lagoon.
Unfortunately I didn't actually make it there!
Alice had apparently been quite sick in the night - maybe food poisoning, maybe a stomach bug, we weren't really sure. I'd just assumed she needed to rest it off in the daytime, so we'd left Jeremy and Alice at the apartment, and the rest of us had headed out for the day. Leon, Aiko and Mei decided to come along with us on our trip to Torcello, while Joe, Jenn and Zoe were going home this afternoon, so went out in the morning to do some souvenir shopping.
To get to Torcello from the main island of Venice, you need to first get a vaporetto to Burano (stopping off at Murano en route). Almost at the exact moment that the vaporetto arrived at Burano I received a message from Jeremy that he was actually quite worried about Alice, who was still being sick, and asked me if I could go with him to the hospital. So I just had a few minutes wandering around Burano before the next vaporetto back to the main island came, and jumped on it and headed straight back to Fondamente Nove.
I think I'm actually pretty good in a crisis, and spent the boat journey back to the main island reassuring Jeremy over the phone and also Alice's Mum, who was back in London and had heard about what had happened and was also panicking a bit. It can be difficult in circumstances like this to judge what is an appropriate tone to take. I was quietly confident it was just a tummy bug, and she'd be better in 24 hours, and so sent Jeremy a message betting him 20 Euros that this was the case. Of course this attempt at lightening the mood a bit could have been misjudged, and may have even caused offence that I didn't appear to be taking it seriously, but I think in hindsight it was just about right.
On arrival at Fondamente Nove I jogged back to the flat, and then escorted Jeremy and Alice to the hospital. Knowing that we had a number of small children with us, I'd actually looked on the map before the trip to figure out where it was and how to get there - which at the time I thought was a bit ridiculous.
Of course once actually at the hospital I didn't really provide much apart from moral support - it's not as though my Italian is good enough to translate or anything, but my presence did seem to provide some reassurance. The hospital staff actually spoke pretty good English, and after not too long we saw a doctor, who confirmed my suspicions that it was probably just some kind of stomach bug, and I was soon to be 20 Euros better off.
After a couple of hours, when I was confident Alice was on the mend, I left them to it, and went to meet up with Chie et al again. It turns out they had carried on to Torcello without me, had a quick look round, and were now back on the main island again. It's funny because I'd half tried to talk everyone else out of joining me on the trip to Torcello, thinking it might not be that interesting for everyone else, but in the end they went and I didn't!
After meeting up again, we had a late afternoon / early evening drink and a snack at a bacaro, of sorts, called "Bacarando in Corte dell'Orso". I'm intrigued by these variations on the word bacaro - in addition to this "bacarando" there's also a "bacareto" (da Lele). The latter sounds to me like a diminutive, so is bacarando the opposite? This place does have a sort of restaurant area upstairs.
There had been some ongoing discussion about whether or not we should have a ride on a gondola during our stay. Erika, Aiko and Mei all seemed keen, I was in favour of at least trying it once to say we'd done it, to date though Leon and Chie seemed unconvinced, thinking it a touristy extravagance. So as an initial compromise I proposed having a go on a traghetto, which is the cheap and cheerful alternative - just a simple gondola ferry across from one side of the grand canal to the other. It's all over in a couple of minutes, and only costs a couple of euros (plus I think we only paid for the adults, or they forgot to ask Leon). So that was a brief bit of excitement.
There seemed to be a general reluctance, particularly from Chie and Leon, to go back to the apartment for dinner as the possible spectre of norovirus was looming there, so we stayed out until dinner time, and ate at Cantina do Spade, which worked quite well for the kids as they could try a few different cicchetti. So it was pleasing we had in the end managed to fit in two bacari today, even though they were both of the sort more leaning toward restaurants.
Back to the apartment after that, and bedtime for the kids, whilst their respective parents got thoroughly OCD about them washing their hands etc.
Anne (Alice's Mum) had decided to fly out to Venice, having made the decision earlier in the day when the poor little girl had seemed really quite unwell. By this evening of course she was already starting to get back to normal, albeit quite tired. I sat with Jeremy in the kitchen for some of the evening, talking over the day's dramatic events, while Chie and Leon seemed to both have quarantined themselves in their respective bedrooms for fear of the plague. As Alice had woken up a couple of times during the evening we decided it best if I go and meet Anne, and so for the third time this week I walked to Fondamente Nove to meet an arriving guest off the boat. Strangely I think I was going to miss this little ritual.
- Tuesday in Venice
- [Tuesday 24th October 2017]
On previous visits to Venice I'd seen all the wonderful produce on offer at the Rialto market and wished I had some means of cooking - we'd always previously stayed in hotels. So this was one of the things I was looking forward to on this trip, for the first time we were staying in an apartment with a fully equipped kitchen.
Jeremy offered to cook this evening, so he led the shopping expedition at the market this morning, and seemed to more or less buy a bit of everything. Meanwhile Chie, Erika, Zoe, Joe and Jenn had gone off to take a proper look at St. Mark's Square, as we'd only really whizzed past it yesterday.
For lunch I met up with Chie, Erika et al at a cheap and cheerful takeaway pasta place conveniently located half way between our apartment and St. Mark's. We sat in a little nearby square to eat it. The little square also conveniently provided us with a gelateria for dessert for the kids.
From there we headed to the Giardini, to see some of the Biennale. This had been part of the original idea when planning this trip. Jeremy and I had got into the habit of occasional late evening pub visits mid-week after our respective offspring had gone to sleep, and we'd got to talking about the Biennale. Jeremy is part of the art world and it turned out is a friend of Phyllida Barlow who was representing the UK this year, so he was keen on the idea of coming to see it, particularly as the slightly more kid focused natured of this holiday would mean being able to do so without having to abandon his parenting responsibilities.
It was interesting observing the differing attitudes of the children present to visiting an art exhibition. Given that both of Alice's parents are arty types, she was obviously quite used to it, albeit that she seemed at times to find more interest in scooping up handfuls of gravel from the park outside the pavilions. Zoe was, from the outset, only interested in when we were getting out of the Biennale so she could instead go to the playground she'd seen on the way in. Aiko and Mei had arrived a little later than the rest of us but only got as far as the playground. I was therefore quite proud of how actively engaged Erika seemed to be in the art, and toward the end when even I was flagging a bit was still enthusiastically advocating going to see more. I think pavilions at the Giardini part of the Biennale are a really nice way to experience art actually - every time you walk through a new door, it's a new surprise - you have no idea what to expect. If it doesn't appeal, you can just walk straight back out again. Some though seemed to be really captivating - I loved the Japanese pavilion, which would have been made for us, with the wooden models of Itsukushima Jinja and the Umi no Tori from Miyajima. The kids all loved Canada, with it's geyser, and Erika and Alice really enjoyed the Austrian pavilion, which practically insisted that you actually touch and interact with all the exhibits. The caravan was a particular hit.
Jeremy was entertainingly sniffy about almost everything he saw, but did of course like Phyllida's work.
I felt slightly sorry for Jeremy, who was clearly in his element, and I suspect would have liked to linger much longer, but having volunteered to cook tonight's dinner was being subjected to gentle pressure from the other parents to get back to the apartment and crack on with it, given that kids of this sort of age group expect to eat unsociably early.
I gave Jeremy a hand with the cooking when we got back, and I think we managed to turn it around impressively quickly - dinner was on the table by about 6:30. Quite an extravaganza this evening, a risotto at the centre of it, with all sorts of seafood and vegetable side dishes, ans essentially all of it just picked based on what looked good at the market.
After dinner Chie again agreed to stay in and look after Erika, while me and Leon went for another night time wander. It started pretty well, with a visit to the very nice Cantina do Spade, where we had an excellent Valpolicella Ripasso - I had pretty much written off valpolicella prior to this as almost always being a bit naff. However things went a bit down hill after that as Leon seemed to be in search of somewhere a bit more lively (Venice is generally a bit sleepy when it comes to nightlife), so we went to "Bacaro Jazz" which obviously exists purely to milk American tourists out of all their Euros. The spritzes were twice as expensive as anywhere else we'd been, and not as good, and on top of that there were of course all the American tourists. I'd hope one quick drink might be enough to get it out of our system, but Leon oddly seemed to like the place, and we were here until past midnight.
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- Monday in Venice
- [Monday 23rd October 2017]
Looking back it seems like we had hardly done anything the day before, and we almost might as well have been anywhere other than Venice. Perhaps this was partly down to the staggered nature of arrivals of our various guests - and maybe we were waiting for a larger quorum before embarking on any more serious sightseeing. Or maybe we were just finding our feet.
Either way though, I felt we really got into our stride today, helped by quite glorious weather for the time of year. I suggested a candidate itinerary to the others, and everyone seemed happy to fall in with our plans.
We started by walking to the Rialto bridge, posing for a few quick photos, then taking the vaporetto from there down the Grand Canal, with a quick stop off at St. Mark's Square, then over on another vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore. We took the lift to the top of the church's campanile and were treated to spectacular views in all directions from there - we really had chosen the perfect weather for it. All of Venice was laid out before us, and we could see as far as the Dolomites, all the better for the wonderful blue skies and blue sea.
It had of course taken a while in the morning to get everyone out of the apartment, and by now it was just after midday and tummies were already starting to rumble. Thankfully I had a plan for lunch close by (at least in theory) at La Palanca on La Giudecca. This is actually a separate island to San Giorgio Maggiore, separated by only a very narrow strip of water - and it's a shame there wasn't a footbridge linking the two as we'd have been able to walk there much quicker. Can't quite remember what went wrong with the vaporetto, I think possibly we had a bit of a wait then accidentally got on one in the wrong direction. Anyway, we got there in the end.
Snack Bar La Palanca is somewhere I remember with great affection. On mine and Chie's first trip to Venice together we had stayed on La Giudecca for part of the trip, and came here a couple of times - once to catch a glorious sunset at aperitivo hour, and then again for a simple but really memorable lunch. On that trip Chie was pregnant with Erika, and I remember the owner, Andrea, being particularly kind to us when we mentioned Chie was expecting. So it seemed kind of fitting to revisit on this trip and introduce Erika to Andrea, who I'm pleased to say hadn't changed a bit - we recreated the same photo of me and him while we were there to prove it.
I think this went down really well with the rest of our group, it's a fantastic spot, right on the water's edge, looking across to the main island of Venice.... but being on La Giudecca it's a bit off the tourist trail, and there's something really genuine and homely about La Palanca. I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all, although finding something suitable to eat for each of the kids was initially a bit of a challenge as always (Erika, I'm happy to report, was the easiest of the bunch - we both had the same tomatoey pesto pasta which was simple but delicious).
We lingered over lunch for as long as we thought we could get away with it, given we had four children in tow, and a glass or two of wine and a couple of spritzes later I begrudgingly agreed it was perhaps time to move on. It's just such a lovely spot, with such genuine warmth from our host, and this was really one of the highlights of the trip for me.
I had not yet exhausted my itinerary though, and next up, after another vaporetto back across the water, was to take a look at another of my favourite spots in Venice - the San Trovaso boatyard, where many of Venice's gondolas are made and maintained. Although you can't actually get in, it just makes for a particularly picturesque setting, seen from across the canal, especially with the added attraction of a spritz from Cantine del Vino gią Schiavi.
It is best with kids, and with larger groups in general, not to try and overdo it, and so this was the final item on my planned itinerary for the day. From there we meandered slowly back towards the apartment, and I stopped off en route to buy some porcini as my small contribution to tonight's dinner, for which Joe had volunteered to do the bulk of the cooking.
Before dinner I went to Fondamente Nove again to meet what were originally intended to be our two final guests (although as it eventually worked out we still had one more to come) - Alice and Jeremy. For some reason this time Erika decided to stay at the apartment with the other girls. I arrived a bit early so treated myself to a spritz at one of the little cafes lining the water front on the Fondamente Nove. I was really quite enjoying the role of the host greeting guests as they arrived by boat.
So we had our full complement of 11 for dinner that evening. Joe's cheese sauce perhaps went slightly awry, but the porcini I made as a side dish seemed to be very well received - I just fried them in a bit of olive oil and garlic and added a splash of prosecco. it seemed to turn out quite well.
In the evening Leon agreed to keep an eye on Erika after she went to bed, so Chie and I could go for an evening wander. We went down to the Rialto bridge, then continued all the way to St. Mark's Square, before getting a vaporetto from there back to the Rialto again. A nice end to what was on reflection quite possibly the best day of the holiday.
- Sunday in Venice
- [Sunday 22nd October 2017]
What with the travel and the late night for the girls yesterday, plus being conscious of the fact we still had the whole week ahead of us, we weren't particularly ambitious today, and didn't throw ourselves straight into any rigorous sightseeing itinerary. Instead we stayed fairly local to the flat, with some light exploring of the surrounding area, and focused more on stocking up with provisions, anticipating that we'd be cooking at the apartment for most of the evening meals.
I ventured out with Leon and the girls for breakfast in the morning, which was a bit challenging as Italian breakfasts tend to veer towards sweet pastries, and Leon was a bit wary of these given Aiko's peanut allergy. We eventually found a place selling sandwiches which seemed to work a bit better. Then we went to the Coop to stock up on supplies, but Erika was being a bit of a handful and wanting to buy every random sweet or colourful looking thing she saw, so it was difficult to focus and buy all the necessaries for actually cooking a meal.
For lunch, after a couple of false starts we ended up in a place called Rosa Rossa, which wasn't bad I suppose. Although I think Leon was already starting to feel a bit worn down by the challenge of finding food devoid of any peanuts - although they don't use whole peanuts much in Italian food, peanut oil is quite commonly used for deep frying.
We then went to one of the gelato places I had researched prior to coming - Suso, near the Rialto bridge, and this was a resounding success, all the girls seem to love their gelato and I thought it was pretty good too.
I went back to the Coop again after that to buy all the things I had forgotten to buy earlier because I was too busy wrangling Erika. I planned to make pasta e fagioli for dinner, which I thought would be simple to make and would scale well to large quantities without too much effort, although I still seemed to end up spending what felt like a couple of hours in the kitchen.
I took a break from cooking part way through to take Erika to Fondamente Nove to meet our next group of arrivals - Erika's friend Zoe and her parents. By the end of the week I would have done this ritual of going to meet people off the boat at Fondamente Nove three times and I grew to rather like it.
Stayed in the apartment for the remainder of the evening - I think dinner went down fairly well, at least among the grown-ups - some of the children inevitably wanted to eat just plain boiled pasta but I point blank refused to let Erika do so, and I think she gets now that this is a red line I'm just not prepared to cross!
Once dinner was made (and I'd therefore proved to myself we could successfully feed everyone) I started to relax a bit and enjoy the surroundings of the apartment more, which were really quite lavish. The dining room was very spacious and comfortably accomodated our whole group, and (with the possible exception of all the kids present), could just about squint and imagine I was part of some decadent bohemian set holidaying in Venice in the 1950s as Nancy Mitford used to.
- London to Venice
- [Saturday 21st October 2017]
So our trip to Venice was finally happening - I'd been planning it from at least as far back a July, which is a lot of forethought by my standards.
We were flying (yes I'd lost that argument again) from Gatwick, and Leon, Aiko and Mei were going to be on the same flight, which was nice. So we met them at the airport, and had lunch together before boarding our flight, which was of course delayed - they always seem to be. The flight itself was fine, Erika sat with Aiko and Mei for a bit which gave us grown-ups a nice break, and then later on she even had a little nap, which surprised me.
Very long wait for our luggage to arrive at Venice airport, which very tedious as I was itching to get to Venice proper, and the kids were also quite understandably getting bored. I think we were waiting over an hour in the end - apparently they couldn't get the door open on the hold or something.
We took the Alilaguna boat from the airport to Venice, our apartment was conveniently located just a short walk from Fondamente Nove, which is the first stop for that board on the main island. It was after 7pm by the time we got there, and therefore already dark -
I'd hoped we might arrive to see Venice in the last few glimmers of daylight, but never mind.
We were met by the agent at Fondamente Nove, who took us to the apartment and got us checked in. It would have been nice to just lounge about for a bit and appreciate our sumptuous surroundings - it was quite a smart place, with (in my opinion) some impressive antiques, paintings etc, but time was pressing and our thoughts had to turn straight away to dinner. I made a snap decision that we should go to the pizza place we'd seen near Fondamente Nove, and I think this worked out pretty well. Impressively we were able to sit outside - possibly with the help of an outdoor heater, but this made for a great welcome to Venice as we were by the sea, dining al fresco in later October. The chap I assumed to be the owner (who humbly described himself as not the owner but the owner's husband) was very friendly and welcoming, and it turned out the actual owner was called Erika, so we immediately felt right at home. There was a Pizza Erika on the menu, which I of course had to order, and was actually very good - an interesting combination of smoked cheese, sun dried tomatoes and pesto. The girls shared a mixture of pizza and spaghetti alle vongole, and it all seemed to go down really well.
It was nearly 10pm by the time we got back to the apartment so the girls went straight to bed, and Chie kindly let me and Leon go out for a bit of an explore. I showed Leon around the bars around the Rialto market - albeit that sadly my favourite bacari near there had already closed for the evening. It was great that it still felt warm enough (to us at least) to stand outside in the square for a drink.
- [Friday 20th October 2017]
After school I took Erika for an ice cream, then later on we went out into the back garden to blow bubbles for a bit. A good opportunity to try out the camera on my new phone.
Chie got back from Japan in the evening.
- Playdate, New Phone and School Party
- [Thursday 19th October 2017]
Erika had a playdate after school with a friend, then later on in the evening there was a party at school to welcome the new families to nursery and reception.
Also picked up my new phone (a Pixel 2) today.
- [Wednesday 18th October 2017]
Took Erika to the playground for a bit after school.
- Elephant House
- [Tuesday 17th October 2017]
Erika made a house with the elephants and the sofa cushions.
- [Monday 16th October 2017]
Picture of the sky. Whatever it was I was trying to capture it's lost on me now.
- [Sunday 15th October 2017]
More fun with the elephant in the morning, then lunch with Zia at Wahaca.
- [Saturday 14th October 2017]
Erika went to a friend's birthday party in the afternoon, while she was there I went to the pub for a bit then the garden centre. When we got back from the pub we inflated the elephant I'd got for my birthday party.
- [Friday 13th October 2017]
After work pint at the Pineapple.
- The Lamb and Ciao Bella
- [Wednesday 11th October 2017]
Went to the Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street followed by Ciao Bella with Andrew and Jim.
- Bladerunner 2049
- [Monday 9th October 2017]
I went to see Bladerunner 2049 in the evening. It was very elegaic.
- Yukari's Birthday
- [Sunday 8th October 2017]
Leon, Yukari and the girls came into London for the day on Yukari's birthday. Went to the British Museum then dinner at Dishoom in the evening.
- Garden Cupboard
- [Saturday 7th October 2017]
Mostly lazy day. Went to a burger place in Camden for lunch, then I popped down to St. James's to do a spot of clothes shopping. Later on in the afternoon I went to Homebase and bought an outdoor cupboard for the garden to help with some of our storage issues.
- Beer and Wine
- [Friday 6th October 2017]
Another pub lunch at the Pineapple, this time with Chie. In the evening, wine.
- Chie back from Japan
- [Wednesday 4th October 2017]
Chie came back from Japan this evening.
- Flashy Stick
- [Monday 2nd October 2017]
The flashy stick Erika got at the circus yesterday had broken on the way home, and Erika was quite upset. Luckily I managed to fix it.