January 30, 2006

Dublin


We had a lovely weekend with Mad & Dave in Dublin. A double-decker bus tour, a Dublin literary pub crawl, a historical walking tour of Ireland and all topped off on Sunday afternoon with some hats (When Philip Met Isabella). Just some of the highlights. All this as well as a few well punctuated (read) frequent stops involving one or two pints of Guinness. It certainly does taste better in Ireland.

(in case you were wondering….)

Pictures here and here

filles at 5:40 pm

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Guess what?

It’s done. We have some news…
I’ll let you guess!

filles at 4:42 pm

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January 27, 2006

Triple J – Hottest 100

Starting in the ’80’s on New Years Day (back when 2JJJ wasn’t national) the Hottest 100 was voted by the public for the best 100 songs of the year. The tradition continues, and these days it’s announced on Australia Day – here is the link for this years stream of the Hottest 100 2005. It should be up for a couple of weeks…

… I’m getting all nostalgic for Aus, sitting here listening to the stream … mind, the last BDO I was at was in 1994 with Speedie!
(I can’t believe it was 12 years ago)

filles at 10:07 am

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They’ll fry anything!

This has taken me all evening to load. It’s a video taken by Alex and Stephanie when they were here in August 2005. Alex insisted on searching out and trying the Scottish myth of a deep fried Mars Bar. I can tell you, it’s no myth! It’s a great video, like a documentary featuring Steph and Alex at midnight, their last night after a huge meal at Mother India’s cafe! I just love it. I suggest you watch it twice, the first time it will stop and start as it downloads, the second time it should play through with no interruptions. Enjoy. Don’t try this at home!

Note:Courtesy of Steph & Alex

filles at 12:23 am

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January 26, 2006

Celebrations!

It’s Australia Day today!
If you’re interested, there is a little history on Australia and the Australia Day celebrations over the years here.

I might go check out if they have a Tim Tam Slam* on tonight at the Walkabout to celebrate! Even the NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown.com website did a review in 2003 against the English biscuit, the Penguin. I’m not sure I agree with their conclusions but they definitely didn’t diss ’em.

Go for a beer tonight. Blame it on the Aussies!

*a competition to see who can eat the most Tim Tams (the best chocky biscuits ever!) in a limited amount of time

filles at 2:54 pm

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January 25, 2006

Glasgow: A must see

Glasgow has made the press a lot recently. It was reported in the Independent last week, that “Glasgow is the only European city in a top-10 list of the world’s ‘must see’ places for 2006 by the travel publisher Frommer’s“.

I’m going to paraphrase (or rip big quotes out) for you…

Glasgow features radiant Victorian architecture, and encompasses a large artist community with museums; fine art and contemporary galleries as well as music venues. Although cosmopolitan, Glasgow’s parks provide the city with a real outdoor feeling. A 45 minute drive can take you to the outskirts of the Highlands.” It’s also, we are delighted to hear, “more cosmopolitan and modern than its traditional rival, Edinburgh!”

This sends a big raspberry to the United Nations who last year reported that “Scotland was the most violent country in the developed world“.

filles at 8:57 pm

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Truffles

Milene made chocolate truffles at christmas time…..

Moselle and I helped!

filles at 4:50 pm

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Catch up

I’ve just written our letter of thanks to Kenya and DM Tours for our amazing safari. I know, we’ve been back for 2 weeks and our thoughts are still in Africa… incredible isn’t it. Don’t miss an opportunity to go. Promise.

And today I’m putting together a list of plans for this year. Definitely the first quarter of the year is full. We’re booked solid and we’re out of cash so if you want to suggest anything or plan for anything make it from April onwards ok? Any suggestions will be seriously considered. Our plans re: Glasgow / Paris are moving forward. I don’t want to jinx anything so I’ll remain ‘mum’ until if and when the contracts are signed…

We have a trip to Dublin planned for this coming weekend with Maddie & Dave which should be a lot of fun, and hopefully Michelle’s allergy to Guiness which she developed at Barry’s wedding won’t come back! The following weekend it’s off to Mull to accompany Michelle’s buddy Robert on his last Munro to complete, Ben More. And then the highlight of this first quarter will be Pakistan. We’re off to a wedding in Pakistan with our friends from London. It’s a long story, but the short version is, Gabriel is the best man, and we’ve wangled an invitation to the celebrations and all the razz-a-mataz by agreeing to help look after Moselle (3) and Jonathan (2) throughout the 10 days in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. Of course we’re paying our own way but the advantage for us will be to witness a true Pakistani wedding which goes on for little under a week – hopefully, that is! It’s not all clear yet but we’re confident it should all work out…

Now I’m up to the cleaning up the files bit. You know, the boring stuff, the stuff you’ll do just about anything else so as to avoid. Michelle is in Paris this week on a combination of things, again, and it doesn’t get better for some time. Same again next week. And probably the week after that.

What’s been happening with you?

filles at 3:29 pm

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January 23, 2006

Updates to come

You have no idea how busy we are here. Like humming bees going about our business. I’ve been planning trips to Pakistan, a group hillwalking excursion to the Isle of Mull and a cocktail party here at home – all of that in-between the unpacking, contract negotiation and the getting Michelle off to Paris for 3 days every week! It’s been go go go.

Tomorrow I’ve agreed to help David on a commercial portrait job in Edinburgh so my netball game is going to have to be snubbed and if there is one thing I really need to do it’s some exercise. Marching about the shopping centres looking for bargains is a little bit of exercise but not according to Michelle. It seems that unless you’re wearing lycra in fluoro colours, and have techno blaring in your ears – you can’t even consider calling it ‘working out’! We’ll see about that. I might even take a pedometer with me next time I decide to go sales shopping in Frasers! I must have walked miles over the last week alone.

Anyway, I know I’m behind, and I know I should catch up, and I will. I’ll just get back into some kind of rhythm and before you know it, you’ll be hearing more than you need or want to hear about our little life in Glasgow once more…

filles at 8:49 pm

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January 18, 2006

Kenya: Galdessa

We had the most fantastic time in Kenya. The trip itself was only supposed to be about lying around in our cozzies and catching a little sun, but in the end it turned out to be so much more than that. We decided that since we were in Kenya we really should do a safari. We had already bought a package deal that included flight, hotel, all meals and drinks with Thomson (it was cheaper than just the airfare with any other carrier) so we started looking at one night safari options into Tsavo East. Then it become 2 night options in Tsavo East and Tsavo West, then it became a flying safari to the Masai Mara, then 2 nights in Amboseli – until weeks later after much encouragement and advice and literally thousands of emails, we decided upon 3 nights in Tsavo East at Galdessa an amazing eco-camp in the middle of the National Park.

The theory was, we paid peanuts to get to Mombasa and have an all-inclusive resort at our beck and call, so we could afford to pay a little more on safari. Since we never seem to ever get back to places for a 2nd visit (we always say we’ll go back – but as we get older it happens less and less) we wanted it to be a memorable safari, with no regrets. I found the most fantastic tour company D.M Tours who helped us through our choices (along with an amazing woman who runs Aardvark Safaris here in Edinburgh – who despite not getting the commission from us, was kind enough to be a sounding board for me on numerous occasions) and off we went.

The trip was a private safari with our own driver/guide who was to stay with us for 4 days and 3 nights, driving us wherever we wanted or agreed to go, in our own magnificent Landrover that seated 6. Pure luxury. Kenya (our driver) picked us up from our tacky 3 star resort (the Bamburi Beach Hotel) and led us off on one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.

The drive from the North Coast of Mombasa to the gate in Tsavo East took us about 4 hours which included stops to buy our entrance to the National Park and have a cup of tea and look in a local community shop (where of course we parted with some cash!). It’s only about 150km but the road is so bad that it takes forever. The pot holes on the road are so deep there is no question that you just have to avoid them, once in, you’d never get out. It’s a 2 lane highway, 1 in each direction, but nobody seems to care. You can see 3 semi-trailers lined up side by side trying to get along with a couple of jeeps off either side of the road in the dust trying to pass. It’s insane. Kenya, our driver, called it our free massage…. all part of the service.

Once in the park the mood immediately changed. The dirt was red, deep dark red and there were animals almost as soon as we crossed the elephant grid. The radio was turned on and became our signature music of the next 4 days. Continuous chatter in Swahili – simba, caribou, Aruba, etc etc – a few words that we heard over and over again. The radio is how the drivers and guides keep in touch. At just over 21,000 square km’s Tsavo National Park is one of the largest in the world and when anyone sees anything special (a lion hunting, cheetah etc) they jump on the radio and give co-ordinates, what ensues is a mad dash of minivans all rushing to show their guests the spectacle. We were lucky, not only were we not in a suped up minivan but our driver was so good at spotting that we were often the first to a scene so able to enjoy the spectacle before others got there. Don’t get me wrong, Tsavo is nothing like the Masai or Amboseli in terms of numbers of people. Because the park is so large you can go days without seeing another person, driving up and down the endless dirt tracks spotting birds and animals. It’s wonderful, definitely one of the many advantages of being in Tsavo compared to some of the smaller more popular parks.

By the time we arrived at Galdessa it was lunch time and we were tired and dusty. It was like arriving at an oasis. The most beautiful reception building which housed a bar and lounge area and the restaurant. Built entirely out of wood, stone and thatch it was open to the nature and housed just above the river Galana that runs through Tsavo all the way out to the sea in Malindi, and which was full of hippos and crocodiles lazing about, and the most extraordinarily birdlife. Directly across from us, we had views up to the Yatta Plateau which is world’s longest lava flow at 290km and formed by the lava from Ol Doinyo Sabuk Mountain. It was perfect.

We had a fabulous lunch (the chef was Kenyan, but trained under Italians) and then were escorted to our tent for an afternoon nap. Because the camp is the middle of the National Park and was unfenced we had to be escorted anytime we wanted to go outside our tent or the main building. The escort varied depending on what animals were around and night vs day. In the daytime if the coast looked clear it would be Daido, our lovely houseboy on his own, yet in the night to get to dinner we would be escorted by a Masai warrior brandishing a spear, a park ranger with a rifle and all that plus we would be driven in a jeep the 300 yards to the main building to be safe.

On arrival at our accommodation we were issued with a notice to read about the wildlife what to do and what not to do in case of wild animals nearby your tent… we laughed in nervous, excited way and left it at that. A couple of hours later after a short nap, I woke up to the most enormous bull elephant not 5 feet away just outside our tent. I woke Michelle and we sat there too terrified to move or make a sound while this elephant tore away all the greenery outside our tent. After he finished the bushes directly outside, he swung his trunk and looked like he was deciding which way to head, left or right. Left would have brought him face to face with us inside our tent (the tent was open and we were too terrified to get up and close it) thankfully he lobbed right and used the thatch roof above our tent to scratch his back before heading off to visit our neighbours! It was terrifying and amazing at the same time.

We couldn’t believe our luck. The camp was beautiful and to top it all off, we had been lucky enough to get the honeymoon tent (although it seemed that it caused much embarrassment with the staff who assured us the bed was big enough that we could sleep on either side and never see each other during the night!). The honeymoon tent, no. 7, included a built up platform beside our tent with a glorious big fluffy and white day bed covered in pillows where we could sit in the shade outside in private and read or watch birds and monkeys in the trees. We made good use of our platform. Most afternoons, Daido arrived with beers at and then every half hour or so he’d come back to check on us, fill our glasses or bring us whatever else we fancied. As our personal assistant, he’d wake us in the mornings, turn down our beds at night, arrange our mosquito net at just the right time in the afternoon to make sure none of the nasties attacked, fill the bucket shower to whatever temperature pleased us, waited for us to finish supper, enthral us with his story’s of animals in the park and the camp and delight us with his thoughts on life and the universe. It was magical.

In fact for us, the whole trip was magical. Definitely Galdessa was the highlight. Most people come for only 1 night and then move on to another park and another camp the following day, sometimes people stayed 2 nights, but because we stayed 3 nights it was special. The staff all got to know us, all treated us royally and were all so special it really was a highlight. Even for Kenya our driver it was a good trip. Instead of having to drive madly to get to a different place every night he claimed it was a little holiday for him – nice easy days and the magnificent camp to come home to everyday.

We tended to go out every day early, around 6.30am for our first game drive, come home for lunch and a nap and then head out in the afternoon around 4pm for another game drive – it’s just way too hot in the middle of the day (Kenya is only about 3 degrees south of the equator), the animals all hide in the shade and the sun just bores down on you. One afternoon we went on a walk from Lugard Falls to Crocodile Point. Galdessa is one of the few camps that is allowed to take you walking in the Park with an escort of armed rangers leading and following up the rear. We saw lots of small animals, birds, crocodiles, and some young hippos messing about in the river – amazing since we were a group of about 15, predominately Italians who never thought to stop talking in case they scared the wildlife! It’s quite a miracle we saw anything! At the end of the walk we climbed up the top of Crocodile Point to find Kenya waiting for us with champagne on ice and a couple of glasses. It was brilliant. A personal touch courtesy of D.M. Tours. All the rest of the guests piled back into their vans or jeeps and watched longingly as we toasted our trip while watching the sunset in the west.

Another treat for us was courtesy of Kenya himself. He arranged with Galdessa to have packed lunches prepared for us and we went out early to spend the whole day so we didn’t have to use time returning to camp. The morning was so successful we saw thousands of animals, it was brilliant, and to top it off, we managed to watch some lions hunting for zebra. Luckily for the zebra, she got away, but the water buffalo an hour or so later was not so lucky. We missed the kill, but returned in time to settle down and eat our packed lunch beside the lions who were munching away at their recent kill. I think we were quite a spectacle ourselves to other trucks. We had gourmet lunches, the three of us, with some beer Michelle had thoughtfully smuggled in (in which Kenya had aided by supplying the cooler and some ice). It was fabulous. I’m sure they were all jealous.

We have loads of other stories to tell, you may hear bits and pieces over the next few weeks, but ultimately the safari was the highlight of our trip and Galdessa was just the nicest place we have ever had the pleasure of staying at. If you ever get the opportunity, take it. You won’t regret a single penny.

We returned to the coast, free back massage included and stopped at a Masai village on the way home which I’ll have to save for another installment, along with our trip to Wasini. Check out our pictures if you haven’t already done so….

filles at 11:59 am

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January 16, 2006

Kenya

We’re back!
A fantastic trip, I’ll have to write and tell you all about it over the next few days…
For starters here are some pictures

filles at 8:08 pm

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January 1, 2006

Mombasa here we come!

We had a lovely new years eve at home with a rack of lamb (a la Nigel Slater) some good Californian and French wine and the best Tarte Tatin I’ve ever eaten, followed up with Jools Holland at midnight on the BBC. For new years day we went to Hampstead Heath and took the kids ice skating for the first time. I have some lovely photos that I expect I should be able to post soon enough…

We’re leaving soon on a train to Gatwick, I doubt I’ll be able to post while we’re on safari… So happy new year, and we’ll talk to you soon…

filles at 7:38 pm

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