Well, we did it! after many years of looking at van conversions and hankering after the independence that a van might bring us, we did it. I think Covid gave us the nudge we needed. I had plans of grandeur that included a home DIY job, but when reality hit we were reminded that neither of us are particularly ‘handy’, so we got a local company to do it for us. She’s turned out better than I could have imagined. And, just to prove that I did join in some of the ‘handy’ I’ve added some finishing touches to enable us to have the homely touches we wanted (spot the sneaky drill!).
We have plans to take her to Norway, Scotland, the Lakes, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and many other places eventually, but so far we have visited Pembrokeshire briefly and Suffolk. We have other trips planned this year, including York and I’ll be going in Millie to Calais for a week to work with the refugees. We want to see mountains, sea, meadows…I can’t wait.
This was a first for me. I’ve never been to Greece, so this summer we rented a villa in Skepasti on the northern coast.
In a nutshell, we found the people absolutely lovely, the towns touristy and the scenery incredible.
We walked the Imbros gorge, a smaller one than it’s more famous Samaria cousin, and we were not disappointed. A two hour, quiet, less tourist riddled path from the mountains mid Crete to the southern coast.
This concluded with a well earned beer and a ride back to where we’d parked in the back of a pick up. The likes of such I’ve not done since I went to South Africa back in 1991! Apologies for my incessant giggling and whoops as we veered around those 100+hairpins if you were the rather unfortunate other passengers in the back with my and my (much more restrained) family.
Knossos had to be done along with the archaeological museum in Heraklion. It’s hot, full of tour groups and slightly reconstructed, which frustrated my history boffin hubby. The museum is quite small and well laid out, however, be warned, if you don’t like pots, you may be a little frustrated.
But, what took our breath away was the delight of Chania and, to a lesser extent, Rethymno. Both Venetian ports, the quaintness and beauty was lovely. Chania is on the return-to list. Have a look for yourself…
This has definitely whet my whistle to explore more of the Greek islands. Crete is not a picture postcard, quintessential ‘blue and white houses Greece’, primarily due to it’s history of invasions, but it has a rugged charm all of it’s own with a huge amount of stuff to see and do. Local food in Tavernas filled with local people will not fail to disappoint and Cretan beer on a hot dusty day…just sayin’!
Whenever I travel, I always carry a ‘little black book’ (well, that’s a lie because it’s not remotely black, but hey ho). In that book I write down many of the places we visit and what I think of them, in case I ever want to go back or a friend goes and I can pass on. As I visit new places (or old) I’ll try to keep this updated so that if you ever want/need any places or tips, I might be able to help you out.
New York and Washington
We recently spent 3 days in Washington and 4 in NYC for R’s 50th birthday treat. We flew into Kennedy and then travelled to DC by train which, although easy, wasn’t as much of a dreamy experience as I’d hoped. It certainly beat flying down and all the hanging around in airports. However, I’d not really thought through the fact that, yes, we were passing through the different states, most railroads these days run through the industrial part of town, the bit that time forgot. Passing over the Chesapeake was pretty and pulling into some of the city stations we could see the skylines, but for the most part it was quite long and pretty darned expensive.
We tried out two restaurants for dinner whilst we were in DC; Matchbox, which we soon discovered was actually a chain and whilst served average style diner grub with a friendly smile, they did stock one of the most amazing red wines I think I’ve ever had. Sadly all I can remember (and that is not because I was inebriated, purely I lack the memory), is that it had the word, turtle, in the title. Oh well, a lost gem.
The second evening we decided to try out a Balkan restaurant that Trip advisor had many fantastic reviews for. We were quite excited for this having never tasted Balkan cuisine before and had little idea what to expect. Well…the fireworks and bells didn’t really go off for us. It was rather flavourless and there was a lot of cabbage and sprouts. It did make me spend the next hour boring R to death as to whether or not we (generically) have desensitised our palates with all the overly spiced, overly salted foods that modern day gives us…but that’s for another day, he’s married to me and had to listen, you can just click that little cross in the top right-hand corner and not come back!
Georgetown is well worth an afternoon mooching around. You’ll need to take a bus up there, but we used the Hop on Hop off buses. We went to Washington back in about 2008. I remember it well, it was March and it was FREEZING. I have a picture somewhere of a small 4 year old daughter under a hat and a blanket asleep atop one of these buses. Georgetown is the one of the university districts. It seems to ooze an olde worlde type charm that central Washington doesn’t have due to the fact that there aren’t many people that actually live centrally. There are some cute shops and we stopped for noodles at one of the restaurants on the main street.
Prior to this, we’d jumped off the bus at Adams Morgan which, according to my guidebook was going to be right up my alley…coffee shops, eclectic shops, antiques etc. Sadly it did not live up to expectations. Much of it was shut down or run down, there was a perpetual whiff of weed in the air everywhere, however, we did find one gem of a coffee shop called Tryst that served a rather lovely spiced chai masala.
Yunno, everyone sees New York differently. I am not really a city girl, however, for me, New York is the one city that, in small doses, I can’t get tired of. I went earlier this year, in March, by myself to see some girlfriends up in CT and was a little wary that I may have ‘done’ it when I went this time.
Oh no Jose!
We had splashed out a little and I would highly recommend the ArloNomad next to the Empire state building. Compact micro rooms, but views so big that you just don’t care. Attached to ArloNomad was an amazing Italian, Massoni. They don’t have a huge range, but this, for me, was a highlight. In all my years in the US, I had NEVER, let me repeat that for ya, never, experienced a proper pizza pie. We had to go back for a second evening spent there eating the same again. Oh and btw, Laurie Berkner, my pizza pie is not round like the moon, it was square!
We grabbed breakfast each morning from Bread and Butter on 31st and 5th. It’s an organic food market worth going to just for the experience alone. The precinct cops certainly appreciated their breakfasts before they went out each morning. Prices were great too. I had a mushroom and avocado wrap with cheese for $3.95 cooked from scratch and a green detox juice $5.95. We gave that an internal 9/10. It’s like an old warehouse, busy, fantastic range of food but it does lack a bit of atmosphere in the seating area, so if you’re looking for something a little bit more upmarket, or hip, perhaps this won’t be for you.
One of the things we’d never done was walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Stunning! Although, be warned, the best times to go are early in the morning, by that, think just dawn and then early dusk. By around 9am it’s heaving with tourists and workers trying not to kill them as they scoot over on their bikes.
Take a day to walk along the High Line and finish at Chelsea Market. The High Line is only around a couple of miles long but weaves around the back of buildings from a disused railway line that has been beautifully turned into a park. You get some great views to the Hudson and the piers as well as seeing into areas you may not normally see. Chelsea Market has a wealth of foodie delights including one of the most amazing fish markets where you can buy sushi or lobster to eat out of the container on the day. It also has some boutique style shops. From there head East towards Union Square where there is often a market. Hidden behind Union Square is an amazing vegan restaurant that I discovered in March called Peacefood on 41E 11th St.
Of course, not everything is always rosy and on our last day it poured with rain. This was the day we’d allocated to go to MOMA (My husband’s choice…I have no idea, seriously guys, he’s normally the kind of person who would make facetious comments, so I really have No.Idea what came over him…perhaps it’s a 50 thing?). Well, what a farce! We bought tickets online beforehand hoping we’d be able to skip the queues, only when we got in, there were queues everywhere, all across the foyer both latidudinal and longditudinal, diagonal and even up the stairs (and down). We joined the queue for the people who’d bought their tickets and were wanting to go up the escalator to the museum start. Only we happend to come across a super officious jobsworth who told me that my very small backpack wasn’t allowed to be with me and we’d have to check it into the cloakroom. This is a small, handbag-eque backpack, not a flipping 30litre. Of course, last day, it contained all our flight info, my tablet, our passports, my wallet, my phone…you get the picture and we had nothing else to put these into. So I asked what I was supposed to do, to be told I would be issued with a plastic bag…awesome!
Well, you can guess where this is going can’t you. No bags are issued, of course they’re not. So after queuing across another queue to hand in our only small bag for the small bit of shit we had on us, we then had to carry all this stuff in our pockets and loose around the rest of the museum. Not good! My rant was ON baby I was not going to take kindly to whatever this place had to throw at me. I was wet, fed up and lugging important stuff in my hands because of the security guard who seemed just fine at letting a whole load of other backpack wearing tourists into the museum later on. Gah! On the plus side though (and you have to find one) I was pretty impressed that some really famous paintings were not under glass and you could get close to really admire them. I suppose no one manages to steal them or damage them in MOMA because they can’t be arsed to tackle the bloody jobsworthies on the way in.
I really like this city. Along with Edinburgh and New York, I think it’s one of my faves. It’s compact as cities go, but as a university city, it’s eclectic and there’s a lot going on. My eldest is currently studying here, so I am hoping over the following years I’ll get to see more of it.
It’s a cathedral city, home to not one, but two cathedrals, I bet you didn’t know that! There is an Anglican one and a Roman catholic one. It also boasts a Norman castle on a hill (my middle son will probably be able to tell me what type of castle it is – it has a moat, I think it’s a motte and bailey, but don’t quote me!). I spent a lot of time as a child enjoying the hands on activities in the castle, my favourite and most hated part in a twisted way was the cavemen exhibition (I don’t even know if it’s still there!). I used to get really nervous about it, but still had that weird desire to sneak in and look at the cavemen.
The city has an excellent and pretty cheap bus system so getting around is easy. It also has an incredible permanent outdoor market. There are food stalls, vintage clothing, yarn, fruit and veg, wholefoods, tat and lots more besides. That really needs a good hour or more to check out.
Jarrolds, the main department store has been there for eons. I also have fond memories of having the best scone (actually I think they were called morning buns – a cross between a scone and a muffin) in their store on a Saturday morning with my grandparents as a child. Actually I also remember puking in their toilets after my grandmother let me drink cherryade…I’ve never touched the stuff since!
There are LOTS of great places to eat and drink, but some of my favourites are:
Wild Thyme which is in a little yard called Vain yard just off the Guildhall. Sadly it suffered a fire in the wholefood shop below in the summer, but I did notice that their facebook page makes mention of the fact they hope to be back open in the New year or late December.
Shiki is a fantastic sushi restaurant found down in Tombland (I know right, great name!) They have a discount night and their menu is so fresh.
The Greenhouse Cafe is another gem. Much more basic and not necessarily a night out style, but for a really wholesome and healthy lunch it’s lovely. Added bonus is that you can truly switch off and be present with your meal as they have a ‘no phones policy’ and if yours rings, you are fined a couple of quid.
The Tipsy Vegan: swiftly heading for the UK Vegan capital, Norwich hides away this amazing little gem just past The Plough on Benedict’s street. I took ALL my family this time, yes, read that as ALL including my non-vegetable eating middle child. There was a good choice of food on the menu and even he found something to eat. I enjoyed a Seitan steak burger with chips and vegan mayo. Really lovely. The only downside is the loos! I know, but it’s important. When you have a busy restaurant, one loo is not enough guys!
If you like real ale, then there is a gem of a pub called ‘The Plough‘ on Benedict’s street that brew their own. I LURVE this place, not just because they do lovely beers, but also the place is just so gorgeous and rustic and friendly and, and… The staff all seem friendly too and will advise and give samples, be warned however, one of their current beers is around 7 or 8% if memory serves me correct. You might be admiring their ceilings if you have too many of them.
I am sure I will add to this in due course, however, for now, Norwich do a really comprehensive city guide that you can find in all the bookshops as well as some of the pubs and restaurants. The 2018 version has a bright orangy-yellow cover.
The Baltic States
These are photos taken from our holiday in Phuket in October 2017. I’ll add details later.