London – a walk beyond King’s Cross.

It is a long way away from the normal, energetic and bustling city I am used to right now.  Nevertheless, there is a beauty in the Sleeping Beauty city of wonder.  Whilst all are in lockdown and keeping close to home, I find myself, for work, and might I add, mental well being, still venturing into the quiet city, still within the boundaries, still to find the majesty and grandeur beneath the veil of silence.

The city is sleeping.  A pocketful of people are out in the financial and tourist areas, and where I would once be striding and headlong walking and giving tours, I now have time to linger, look up, get closer and take in new (and there are always new) sights and signs, adding to the massive photograph selection, notes and reminders, to review, research and formulate different tours.

Today I found myself at King’s Cross and St. Pancras.  These are two of my favourite places, mainly because they are the hubs from which I alight and make my way to the Eurostar. She still travels to Paris, albeit with a select list of passengers and nothing else open, not even a quick coffee to collect for the journey.  I am not one of those fortunate to travel to France at the moment, so must wistfully look at the beauty from afar and wait to return to the queue boarding, in the future.

St. Pancras is an architectural marvel, linked to the grand and stunning St. Pancras Hotel. Now closed, hopefully not for long.

Over the past few years, much has happened to the sort of run down area, behind King’s Cross. Old Coal Yards and Gas Buildings have been transformed into glistening apartments, the University of Arts London, restaurants, piazzas, office buildings and open living spaces.

 

From the rubble to magnificent urbanisation.  Love the way structures of the past, once perhaps unsightly, have been transformed.  In the winter sunshine, the harnessing of urban architecture and green spaces marry history and a vivid past. Granary Square is inviting, complete with urban pieces, water features and an inviting view of the canal. A close walk to Coal Drops Yard, again forged anew from working rail yards and derelict ruins.  Keeping parts of the old structure, two skyward roofs seem to rise from concrete and melt into each other, like the tail of a whale rising up from the sea.

Though quiet today, the hustle of upmarket shops align side by side for business. Glass and brick art. And the building continues. An urban oasis. Loo break provided, and we know in the time of lockdown, loo hunting is part of the game. As a tour guide, this is an essential part of the business, but in lockdown, and doing my research, it is even more vital when a coffee, or two, cannot go amiss, particularly when the weather is bristling and cold.

St Pancras Basin.  How far can one walk along the water’s edge? What is so lovely, as in all of London, is the respect for the past, for architecture which may have been functional, or decorative, restored. Incorporated into the new London, the ever changing London.  We learn so much from every part of her.  King’s Cross remembers the many who laboured and built a great railway, bricked the walls and buildings with pride.  Who brought the coal, the cheese, the people to this mecca.

It is a beautiful walk, not well known to tourists, but important to discover as this is as important and beautiful as the many known tourist sights.

The sun was out, the gloves were on, the eyes pleasured by it all. Now to get down to the notes, the history and how this development will add to the glory of the city and her people.

 

Walking London. Grand Union Canal, Paddington and early Christmas lights.

I really, really, really don’t want much for Christmas … really.  Right now, I just want the whole wide world to return to normal.  That’s not asking much is it?  Just put it under my Christmas tree, in a beautifully wrapped parcel – here delightful, here is the world returned and all is good with the universe.

This lockdown has been brutal. Twelve months ago, the city was vibrant, alive with festive merry spreading.  Lights were inspiring and the best excuse to go into the city, have dinner, or to a show.  A glass of wine at the Stafford after a brilliant tour, so different to now.  So now we are trying to capture Christmas a whole month early, and who can blame us?  Houses are being draped in lights, trees are up and it is only November. Along with the November moustaches and early pretend it’s Christmas, all looks altered again.

To still the anxiety which creeps regardless, and kill the boredom of not having to go to my favourite place for an early morning coffee, I walk. If anything, to hear the sound of buses going, to seek life, to find nature. The tube seems like the last ride to a scary place, all masked and suspicious.  Some are mask defiant and we scowl at them.  I try and sip my second choice coffee furtively and not draw attention – sneak under mask and repeat. Said before, outings now are governed by the acute need to know where to pee – route according to toilet facilities, ah, it has come to this and I guess I am an expert now on where to go when you have to go, when in London.

 

The walk today had me at a few ago. Regent’s park.  It is Sunday, a sunny day, and the entire world is here.  Finding a bench to sit becomes a silent war, as is the pushing and queueing for a takeaway, as if we use ration stamps. The roses are confused – budding and blooming as leaves fall. I feel their fuzziness. The sense of unnaturalness permeates, but we are blessed for sun and budding roses.

Walking along Regent’s Canal is a always a thrill for me, but it is packed with others thinking the same.  We pass, we shimmy alongside, we dodge the puddles and hope not to end in the drink. Armies of the anxious out in the few hours of light. We marvel at the duo paddling on the icy water, actually no. Fawn over the mansions with a view and a silent resolve to try the Lotto once again. The weather is indeed, great, so great I am sweating in the double layering of maybe winter.

And then the light happens.  It’s only four in the afternoon, but the light comes to the water. It is astonishing, brilliant and sharp and magnificent on swans, duck feathers, house boats, spilling down from glass buildings and into liquid. Gushingly gorgeous. We all, collectively, swoon and click. This is the reward for the cloying, claustrophobic living lockdown.

 

The light is dancing on the Paddington basin.  Houseboats are smoking and show piles of firewood on their roofs. It must be cold on the water.  The Grand Canal is a triumph of development behind Paddington station.  Now office blocks are eerily quiet and the many restaurants closed, but the odd ‘essential’ offering open to ply fish and chips, pastries and coffee. It is modern and eclectic and smatterings of old London, given credit and offered to cheer us up.  Love the statues, the messages, the poems on walls and the neon lights.

The station is deserted.

Then it is to London, my style Christmas delight.  The Angels on Regent and Jermyn Streets. Burlington arcade, quiet but glittered.

Lashings of copper, gold and green. The tree in Trafalgar Square is still missing, a gift from Norway to the English in thanks for the support during the war and always delivered, every year.  Will she appear? Still walking, still not ready to go home, I cross to Southbank. There are no stalls, no Christmas music and steaming Mulled wine.

She has survived many times, did I ever imagine myself to see her wounded so? She shoots shards of brilliance still.

 

All weather walk: Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, Camden and the Canal.

Hello Sherlock, it has been a while.  I give tours about you Sherlock, and COVID has put that all to bed.  The tourists are far beyond our borders, our borders are closed.  In this time, when it is so easy to get really down and feel hopeless, I am for a walk, a long walk, that begins with you.  Baker Street is a charming Tube Stop, all old and slopey with Wooden staircases leading to different exits.  Normally its bustling with tourists, crowded with tourists for this destination serves two, unique London favourites.  Madam Tussauds, and the man himself – Sherlock Holmes.

I know him intimately and when lockdown fades, can take you to all tales and secrets, and even his ‘home’, at 221B Baker Street. You have no idea how many times I am stopped with enquiries to the home of Sherlock. Bless them.

Where most people recoil from the unpredictable, and gloomy November weather, I love the bracing sharpness that makes walking so much easier.  Clouds of electric blue, dispersed with shots of gun metal gray, and then, the shards of light from a watery sun that turns the sodden leaves to nuggets of gold – the intensity of uncharacteristic seasons all bundled up together, is exhilarating.  As is Regent’s Park, any time of the year.

Regent’s Park is one of the eight Royal Parks, named after the Prince Regent, or playboy prince, who later became King George IV.  The park is one of my favourites and summer is all for rowing boats on the lake, ice-creams and the annual Open Air Theatre.  Visit Queen Mary’s Rose Garden with over 12 000 roses bushes and be enchanted.  I love it in the summer and picnics are a special thing, but it is at any time during the year, from the Spring Bulbs to the stark landscape of fallen leaves and red berries, much enjoyed by this fellow.  As tame as the pigeons on the bridge railing, the Egyptian geese on the lakes and maybe not so tame, are the hedgehogs breeding here, and I am determined to see them.  The park offers a criss cross of walkways, Outer and Inner Circle, sports activities and of course, much walking, and especially in this weather, much needed coffee.

In the lockdown, though I still explore and gather notes, one ‘interesting’ issue to arise, is the lack of bathroom facilities available.  Coffee shops and cafés can now only serve from the doorway and toilets are out of bounds – do not even get me started on this, so irritating, but as a true guide always does, finding clean toilet facilities is an important part of the job.  This time, not so much for my clients, but for me avec the cold weather and hot coffee.  So I make notes of where I will be able to find the next toilets along the route (humbug but neccessaire.) The cafe at Regent’s Park is take away only, and no bathroom, so it was a short walk to the public loos – which have a tiny fee of 20p, payable by contactless card.

The walk was broken by a quick darting into St. John’s Lodge, in the Inner Circle.  The garden is a hidden gem, a little muddy after the rain, but that’s my November thing – striding through muddy patches, hoping not to end up on butt and loving the whole being in nature thing – it’s different in the winter and fall – down and countrified in the city stuff.

The walk, for the loving and the fit, calls you up to Primrose Hill.  The hill of Bridget Jones’ opening sequence and one of the best views over the skyline of London.  For so many people there, it is always a peaceful place.  We are back in the sunshine, and bless us, a touch of physical exercise and sunshine and the joggers strip down to crop tops and goosebumps.  But collectively we stand, resigned at our situation, and looking forth, perhaps for a promise of better, before a silent homage to your struggle brother, to your mental health sister, and peel down the hill into smaller lives.

Bit of a turn here and right there and high street Primrose Hill sparkles in the light I mentioned.  Some jewels are open, some in the box and the locals are clearly loyal to corners for conversations, their dogs either indifferent or grateful for the time to sniff.  One of my favourite restaurant lives in this street – this is a posh area, the houses around the park, up to St. John’s Wood are envious inciting, but generally only for bankers and celebrities, one or two you may spot if you loiter enough.

I am moving from one extreme to the other.  Chalk Farm wedged between Primrose verdant living and the edgy grittiness of Camden Town. This is true London style and why I could never be bored here.  Camden may have changed and become more gentrified in the last decade, she still entices the quirky, the curious and the devoted.  Small entrepreneurs who live their dream and discard the critics, supported by like and live from the punk to the pretty.  They are all at home.  Alleys of locked up loveliness, hidden from the light, but look up at the umbrellas, though a symbol of rain, also the happy dots of we can weather this;  am trying to remain super positive in the loneliness of walking through the Stables.  A few die hard food pop ups temp but the cold and the isolated makes them seem sad also.  The winter of discontent is more pronounced this year. But delight, another toilet opportunity – this is really a tragic situation, and then, of course, to stumble or rather walk into the larger than life statue of Shaka Zulu in London.  This Zulu King does not belong here, abandoned, for now, in an alley.  He looks lost.  I am also thinking, with the whole tear down the statue thing, this king sacrificed young virgins to his hearts content – is he still relevant?  What say you?

The muddy shoes make much of these pathway along the Regent’s Canal.  Puddle obstacles, saunters doing it too slowly but there is no hurry, what else are we going to do? The dampness of rain clings beneath the archways iced with graffiti, into the dark, out in the light, under the archway, another view in sight.  Brilliant homes, tragic views of the London Zoo with Hyenas caged rather than on the Savannahs of Africa – cannot abide the awfulness of it, so look to the Mallards instead.  A single barge comes put-putting down the canal, captain au fait with the instagram moment, no hurry.  Barges line with plastic chairs tied, flower boxes in needs of paint. Winter peels away more than just the prettiness of the summer, yet it is the waiting room for spring and other things can make the days alive and strong.

It is a stunning walk this one, and for most satisfying, but if you think the canal walk goes all the way to the Paddington basin, it’s going to be an abrupt surprise.  This is Edgeware area, there are council flats and bustling shops, the glamour and elegance of the canal much changed as you find your way back to something touristy and familiar. Let it not detract from the splendour, and you can always turn around and do it all again in the other direction.

The walk had plenty of coffee shop (and now she knows the toilet) stops, eateries and seateries along the way.  Great exercise, history and culture, and a little bit of everything thrown in between.

It is a tough time, a really tough time, but I can still get out and discover the very best of London, continue to learn and plan for next year when you are all going to come and visit me!

 

 

 

 

 

Hampstead Heath on a late Autumn day.

The last time I visited Hampstead Heath was nearly a decade ago.  Early January then, dragging a number of my unsuspecting friends up slippery hills and through muddy troughs, but loved it.  This time was no different, only the sun burst through in smatterings and I was exploring on my own.

There are many ways to reach the Heath, and not a part of London I am totally familiar with, so decided to take the Underground to Hampstead and meander along where ever until I see a sign. Sometimes not having exact directions are a good thing – the flanéur thing. It appears that Hampstead Heath is not greatly in favour of signage and I found myself in what I though was the Heath, but Golders Hill Park instead.  Ah well, pleasant, down this path, up that hillock, as one does, to find the my way in a suburb of some of the most magnificent houses in London.  Georgian dreams, sash windows, manicured gardens and very expensive cars in the driveway.  For a little while I dreamed of living in one of those houses, took a few pictures and ambled along – it is a beautiful part of North London.

The Heath covers 790 acres, vast indeed, and consists of woodlands, hillocks, pastures, pools and glorious views.  For a while it was divine to find myself photographing the deep paths leading to who knows where, surrounded by trees hanging onto the last of their Autumn foliage.  Dog walkers calling dogs barking deep in the forest.  Whistles that seldom seemed to work.  Couples and friends with toddlers and babies in prams, asleep in the frosty air. Wrapped up in cocoons.

Aim for Kenwood House.  The Kenwood House made famous in ‘Notting Hill’.  The house is closed, the cafe open to takeaway drinks and a sadness descends when the pavilion and gardens surrounding the house lie still.  But nothing like a great Mocha to warm the heart and a brisk walk to exercise the lungs.  The view from Kenwood House is breathtaking – a little like the walk to get there – the skyline of misty London in the distance. This is a protected view, a stunning view and spend some time making out the various skyscrapers – I see the Shard, I see …

Walking is brisk and I could have done with a pair of Wellies where the water bubbles up through the mud, though all is doable and the boots are gorgeously caked in mud.  Passed the Ladies only swimming pool, rather keen to have a peak but padlocked.  A friend swims there all the time, with winter gloves and cap in the freezing water – also the location of many a film. Can you think of any?

Two pm and the sky is turning darker already.  A man fishes alone, lovers huddle on park benches with sweet words and hot coffee, more dogs, always more dogs in pyjamas and designer gear.  One such lovely Spaniel was dressed in what looked like one of Winston Churchill’s siren suits, and of course, the first deep puddle and in she goes … all the way soaked avec siren suit.  Don’t we love seeing these silly little incidences happening along the way?  I pop in and out of other’s anecdotes on walks like these, but feel quite comfortable to be alone, setting my own pace, choosing my own path … so where to next?

One cannot spend too much time outdoors in winter, and winter it already is.  Daylight shuts at 16.30 pm.  The Heath will darken rapidly and there is a long way to go to the nearest exit or bus stop. When covering an area as large as this, it’s fine to meander, but you also need to calculate your exit strategy – there is a lot of ground to cover from the top of Kenwood House.

Kenwood House.

When all this is over, please visit for a feast of architecture, art and gardens.

Down to Parliament fields and delighted to find the first bus is going to Kentish Town, the Northern Line for my return.  Hop on the bus.  Bus terminates at Highgate, but it’s that kind of afternoon, no rush, discover another gem of a village within a city as I make my way towards the tube.

Popped off at Waterloo, which was dismally quiet for a Friday afternoon.  Do I like less crowds? No, it is eerie and the staff are bored looking at phones and standing for hours with little to do.  The trains run, not as much, and the bookshop, amongst others, is closed.  Foyles is a favourite at the station.  I curse a little under my breath. I miss life as I know it, cannot believe I cannot travel, heart breaking losses and restrictions, so let’s just pray all will go with a Christmas wish.

As the sun drops onto the tracks, I make my way South West.  It is true amongst Londoners;  some are for North London and some for the opposite side. History lies deeper in the North.  Perhaps the idea of living on graves and decades of stories makes it a bit spooky, but I love that about the other side of where I live.

Another day in early second lockdown, and it was a good one.  I am trying to find interesting places to walk most days.  Using the tube is allowed, not recommended but allowed, and for me, getting out, going for long, interesting walks is essential to my mental health.  Being very careful.  Watching the world go by, and exploring London is my business – I do research and make notes as I go along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling during Covid. September 2020 A soggy day in Bath.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

Welcome to the new world of travel.  It is going to be a bumpy ride, but it will always be worth it. It is an insatiable thirst, once tasted, always needed.  Always wanted.

The thought of not being able to travel again, this year, was a heartbreaking experience, for me.  I decided, it was not going to be – to sit and wonder and dream of places I needed to visit, and be satisfied to stay at home and embrace Covid. For five months, I sat at home, in South Africa, but dared to venture out to explore the little I could and it was life changing, in my own back yard.  Yet the yearning and the not being able to go beyond borders, seemed stifling, controlling even, and a first repatriation flight for me. Fortunately, and through much hardship, I now have two passports.

Back in London, the fingers were tapping for places to go.  I was not fast enough it seems, for the more I looked, the more the borders closed down in Europe.  Quarantine again.  Go close, I thought, mask in hand, go close, and it was Bath to be. And this is where the travel consultant ventured, and learned, and makes sure she can advise her clients about the experience of Covid travel.  It seemed so simple, a train trip to Bath, a budget hotel –  I have been to Bath so many times, but wanted to see how the world, and travel had changed, or adapted to the new way of being.

Of course.  Distance above all.  The saddest Railway station welcome to date.  Ticker tape evidence, everywhere. There is no dining service on the Train, but the journey itself was gorgeous, through Wiltshire, relaxing and letting the countryside whizz by.  If you are looking for assistance on arrival, best to follow the appropriate apps on your mobile, for humans are scare on the ground.

I had arrived early.  In the past, this was no problem and you could either check in early, or leave your bags at the hotel and return for check in.  I say this now in terms of a budget hotel: arrival was an empty reception area.  To call on the phone for assistance.  Skeleton staff doing all the work, and that included the cleaning, so I was a little concerned as to the quality cleaning of my room. That’s ok, I thought, will leave my bag, and venture into rainy Bath for the afternoon.  No leaving of luggage.

NB.  This has not been my experience is upgraded hotels.  One can still leave your luggage pre or post stay.

I make notes:  does Covid travelling exclude Budget hotels with limited staff for a while?

So it was to spend the afternoon walking through Bath with my luggage, backpack and, feeling like a tortoise with a fancy umbrella, ventured across the river into the heart of the city. This is when you realise that life, or the virus, has sucked the last of small coffee shops, little rendezvous havens and though the actual Baths were open, timed tickets were required.  All looked desolate and sad, even the Roman gods on the edge of the pools. Was it just the rain, the only day of rain, that seemed to create such a morose scene? Lack of hoards in summertime visits, but there were a few diehards waiting outside Sally Lunn’s Buns to tuck into tradition and take that ever important Instagram.

As a good travel consultant does, always checking to see where the good eating places are, where the great toilet facilities are, which hotels had actually opened, I was determined to make the best of it.  Despite the rain, the Abbey Hotel offered a great Afternoon tea and lot of sympathy for the bedraggled, wet person I was, with the luggage.

In the midst of Summer, Bath was pouring down. A gap in the sky had me going back to my hotel.  Now the wi-fi was an issue, and bookings for breakfast strictly observed by time slots.  With masks.  And this is the moment of travel, for now. I got soaked in Bath, I had to lug the luggage, but was I sorry I went?  Not for a minute. It was going back to a gorgeous city, with a history of Jane Austen, the Romans, the Crescent,  the beautiful parks and gardens. It rains in England and I can only say, if you travel when it rains, you find other gems you would normally pass by on a sunny day.

So what am I saying? Travel.  Do it anyway.  We get used to the masks and the lonely stations.  We fly and a face quarantine but it will always be worth it.  The summer is coming to an end but there are are so many local places to visit – the Staycation option is brimming and busy – even to the point of struggling to find accommodation. The point is to get out there and experience the best travel can offer, but be beware of the changes and go with the flow.

Loved Bath: parts deserted, other fully functioning. Rain or shine. Check with your hotel before you travel about left luggage and rules.

Flights are cheaper now – specials are really worthwhile. London, where I am based, is open for business. For some, the borders may still be closed, but wherever you are, support your local tourism and visit.  It is so essential that we get tourism back on its feet, for all of us.  So maybe you need to adapt, we all are, and the more we do, the sooner we get to travel the way we used to.

First trip down. Different but lovely. Dare I say this, but maybe spend a little more for upmarket hotels that offer more in the way of comfort at this time.

Oh, and Italy is still open … guess where I’m going next …

I cannot imagine my life without travel.  Don’t intend to.

 

The Staycation Vacation. And then to fly again.

 

Yeah, a little late in the game.’  she says.

‘What do you mean?’ she says.

‘This Staycation thing … ‘  she says.

It’s true, whilst I was still locked down in limbo city, others were quicker off the mark, getting the little Staycation sorted before the rest of us woke up and smelt the whiff of not being able to find a bed at any Inn.

Yet, it remains an interesting topic.  My generation, back in the day, meant nearly every holiday was right in our own back yard. If it was summer, the pool, your bike and friends were all you needed.  Remember?  The best part of it was not having to go to school.  If it was winter, you twiddled our thumbs. The best part was not having to go to school. That was everything your vacation meant.  Summer and out came the sunflower oil in lieu of sunscreen, the bikinis, lilos and the beach towel you got for Christmas.  LP’s that melted in the shade under the tree and if it was a real good day, Mom would let you share some Coca Cola. Throw in the bonus of going to a movie, or the drive in and heaven was besties and a midnight feast. In winter, we wandered from friends’ houses to friends’ houses, and twiddled our thumbs while we cried to the soundtrack of ‘Love Story.’

The REAL vacation, if all was in favour with the gods, was an annual trip to the beach.  For us it was Durban. Oh, the excitement, the packing and knowing you had to leave at six am in the station wagon for a six hour trip. Being able to go back to sleep for the first part, still in your pyjamas, wedged somewhere between the teenage sister and Ouma.  Halfway stop at ‘Windy Corner’ to turn a brighter shade of green (competing with the car sickness) when that Tupperware lid was hoisted with flourish and the scent of soggy Tomatoes hit you in the face. We shall not talk of the egg between bread.

‘Can you see the sea’ game overtook ‘I spy’ for waning interest in windmills and wheat fields and then, for glory, a week of sand and melting ice-creams. Etched memories of which I swear I can remember every, single one.

 

I could write for hours on our beach holidays. Let’s just say there was a trampoline and that was luxury personified.

Raising my own children, rather privileged in many ways, the trend was for friends to ‘go skiing.’  Young ones flown to foreign slopes on an annual holiday.  We came to London many times.  Exchange students we hosted spoke of visiting … what was it, twenty odd countries … they were fourteen at the time, and what was once a privilege for few became accessible for many to simply plan holidays outside of our own borders. The closing of them during COVID has swung the Staycation straight back into play.  Not only are we unable to fly to most foreign countries at present, but money is tight, budgets being cut, re-thinking being done.  Long haul holidays to foreign beaches are being replaced by a tripple to the local bay and it is a good thing, and we need to support our local tourist spots, now more than ever.

The tourism industry is in dire straits, as if the house has been closed and the covers thrown over the furniture.  When shall she awake from the slumber?  When will the guests return?  They are.  Rather than head for the airport, we are flocking to  beaches, valleys and hamlets to re-discover our own little worlds, we have not really given too much credit for, and once smiled at whilst tourists take pictures of rosy hedges and ha ha’s outside the manor. The flux of foreign to domestic travel is positive and just – back to the closer, the intimate, the good old family holiday.

But I say that holding the double edged sword.  Being in the industry I also know that it is inbound travel that accounts for one of the highest income sources in our economy.  We need inbound travel.  These are the clients that flock to the Private Game Reserves, the top hotels, the famous restaurants.  Travellers who partake of local attractions, spend vast amounts of money in our shops, on indigenous products and cultural activities.  Who hire cars, concierges, partake of tours.  We need them to survive, just as much as we need to re-discover our own back-door destinations. The ability to travel and flavour the world must be fostered – we grow that way.

Everyone seems to be scrambling to find anywhere left to visit for the holidays in England.  Others fear to leave the borders as the quarentine game lobs from border to bored and uncertainty scares the bravest of souls. In South Africa, domestic and foreign borders remain closed, with devastating effect.

Back then I was happiest with my hot pants, a spin on the dodgems, going to the Sharks Board and making new ‘holiday friends.’ As an adult I want the option to travel wherever I choose, to expose my children to different countries and cultures. This sister of all sinister sicknesses has brought both front and centre – staycation is making a comeback.  But not at the risk of travelling abroad, for they need us desperately to survive.

Perhaps the new norm should be a question of balance.  A little of both.  A concerted effort to not only support your local tourism industry, but save enough to have that gorgeous, exotic foreign holiday once, or twice a year.  That way, we all win.

Images:  The Guardian, Revenue -hub

 

Lockdown. Travelling at home. Seems like a thousand days to go.

In some parts of the world, day three went by a very long time ago.  I totally salute and honour you for coping – please tell me how you do it.  Am in day three, admittedly in a nice little house, on my lonesome, and everything about it has worn off. Every good intention, gone with the wisp of a ‘bloody hell, Bond never had to put up with this!’  Now even Bond has too … I need him to tell me how. Is there a lifeline number I can call …

All for the greater good, I know.  We are pushing down the curve, I know.  I know.  I also know I spent  my life avoiding prison and right now, seems like I am in one anyway.  Not complaining, not complaining … not complaining.  Need to re-think the strategy, revise, surmise, organise.  I can’t even bring myself to do the ironing. Who the hell wants to do the ironing when you are never going to get to wear the clothes you are ironing in the first place – seriously, who is going to wear the lovely suit, frock and blazer when life is reduced to gym kit and bare feet?

Lasted two whole days being the positive, and tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow is Monday … is it Monday, is tomorrow  Monday, or another trick?  Is it really Monday?  If it is, I’ll start tomorrow, with the online everything, dress up and put on the make-up, coiffed hair and sunny smile.  Tomorrow for sure. To be fair, I have been self-isolating for the past two weeks in London so it’s really, day what for me now?

Dear diary.  Started the lockdown really well.  Prepared I was.  Well prepared.  Snuck out for supplies, bought the entire food supply for Latvia and stocked.  Dreams of cooking, soup making, baking of bread.  Eggs and Aubergines.  Matters not that I do not eat meat, eggs and Aubergines – they are living in my fridge. In case. One never knows when these are called for in the next millennium, which is what it feels like being here. How long I shall be here?

Even bought the box dye.  One never knows, be prepared young girl guide.  And that ‘just touch the roots’ stuff.  Shall I resort to both when I begin to look like a panda from the top down? Dear God, is it the razor from now on?  Will I ever kiss the ground of a salon again, feel the warmth of wax, of facial and professional blow wave again? Am I a sinner for wondering when the world is at risk? Shallow, shallow woman!

Started well.  First day.  Dressed. Made soup. Pretended to exercise. Walked up and down. Read a book. Avoided the puzzle (that is giving in at this stage). Internet down so pretended I was in a Jane Austen novel – sans sewing box and quill – listened for birdsong and forgave the ants for coming after the soup. Afternoon nap (massive failure on my part as I always believed napping was wasting hours of doing). Timed the wine ‘o clock well.  Contemplated life.

Day two. Thank the Lord the Internet is back on.  I can connect! Dressed. Make up on, tweaked with tweezers and forced the curly hair into irons. Make up done.  Washed the brushes, tidied the cupboards, alphabetised the DVD’s and clipped the roses.  Routine sorted.  An hour of this and and hour of that, like units in ‘About a Boy.’ Put the soup in the fridge, ate pizza, cookies, crisps, bread, more crisps, fruit, more bread, more cookies and rationed the wine.  We are not allowed to buy wine for the next three weeks, and rationed the wine – drank beer.

Day three.  At least I showered. Gym pants.  Walked through the house and did a squat as I put on the kettle.  A sit up after I made the bed. Looked at online everything available and went, sod it. Coffee.  More coffee. A little more coffee. Ten o’ clock and wine called me from the fridge.  Resisted big time. Decided to buy a Chateau in France. Decided how to lose weight when you are in your sixties. Decided to Google that again tomorrow – Monday you know, everything starts on a Monday.

Started tossing dead parsley, bananas and froze the meat instant meals for the next decade.  Is this the time to stop having wine and getting the body back in shape, she thinks?  Will think again tomorrow, it is Monday after all. Today is Sunday, she hopes and checks the totally empty diary for confirmation. Empty diary equals no life as she knows it.

But, it’s day three – a few hundred more to go and rather than become Miss Havisham on steroids, am going to be super positive on Monday.  If perchance a soul walks by, would I do a twirly dance with glee?

It’s day three and I am having serious withdrawal symptoms, as one would early on in withdrawal from anything.  Tomorrow is going to be more positive, I shall not succumb to the gym pants, the soup ( which sans certain ingredients is horrible) and plan for Paris. Do not falter stupid woman, I say to myself, do not succumb to the being alone and isolated – to the wine, for you shall run out, and to the lard that is slowly invading your body.  Do not succumb to watching what you loathe for want of entertainment or stoop to snacking and staring at the wall.

You will be so much better on day four. Do not be complacent or critical.  Think of those who are out there to save your life, make the world better and stop being such silly person.  But you know what, even in times of trouble, all alone, we are allowed the little wallowing for I know tomorrow I shall be a Titan and all will be well.

Just had to put it out there, being locked up, or locked down and finding it really tough. I am being honest, being alone now, is tough.  Am being honest in that I am a little scared. Honest in wanting life the way I knew it. It’s ok to blah, doing it now, but not ok to not make it ok tomorrow.  Stay tuned and promise, no gym pants tomorrow.

Stay safe and I admire all of you who are making this time the most productive time.  Let me know how xxx

Image: know your memes

Planning for Paris 2020 – a special birthday.

It’s what I adore about a New Year.  All the plans and details and filling the diary with ideals and wishes you want the year to bring. Paris is of course, always uppermost.  Paris has been my ‘other love’ for over a decade, since I moved to London and found the ease of visiting Paris a secret loveliness, all of my own.

When the great re-location to London became more of an early coping in a new world, and nothing like I ever dreamed of, Paris offered me the sanctuary I desperately needed.  The London of tourists experience was nothing to the actual landing with the bump kind of experience my family endured.  Life reduced from the beautiful South Africa existence. We managed, failed on some levels, grew, and changed. In the midst of letting go and embracing a small and often daunting different situation, I discovered the great, and achievable passport, via the Eurostar, to Paris.  We have been in love ever since.

This year, the diary is poised for the return. The love affair has not diminished. With my family, friends or on my own, I have grown to know her small streets and captivating nuances. We know each other well.  In the past years, at least two or three trips a year, it has been Paris in the Spring, the Summer, magnificent Autumn, and always in the Winter ( I think I prefer the latter, just before Christmas when the tourists are gone and the bones of this lovely city still has me in awe.) Love the gardens, the parks, the shopping and side walk stopping for coffee – with Hemingway in mind – and the romance of Paris that still exists.

But, it is a New Year!  And a trip with a special person to celebrate her 60th birthday. The brief is such: Four days in Paris, guided by me, and a hotel with a garden or courtyard to return to in the evenings. A very special occasion.  We have done Paris before, my lovely friend and I, many times, only this time it’s going to be even more memorable.

This is the brief and the gift I can give. Four days in June to remember forever as being a milestone and, enchanting. My usual little hotel in the Opera district does not have a courtyard.  But no matter, the research has begun. Should it be on the right bank, close to the Opera for easy access to the Madeleine and Rue Saint Honoré for shopping, Paris style, or closer to the Place des Voges and the Marais?  Then there is the Left bank and all her gifts, the Café du Flore and Les Deux Margots to people watch? Always have to do the custom people watching from the illustrious vantage points. So important n’cest pas?

A visit to Deyrolle. Must be done for it is the ultimate scene in ‘Midnight in Paris’. Hidden gem, though a little disconcerting.

Any suggestions about the perfect hotel? With a courtyard or garden room?

A day to Giverney maybe?  A day to Versailles – most definitely. Got that covered. Restaurants, sorted.

Want this to be amazing!  Memorable.

What a good excuse to go over earlier – to sort of recce the city again. The deals on the Eurostar in February and March are enticing, so perhaps that is a good reason to visit before we go and celebrate.

This photograph was taken when I was in Paris for my 60th with my family. Captured a perfect moment on the bridge.  Paris is all about the bridges over the Seine – the not there anymore lovelock bridge, the Pont Alexandre 111, the Point Neuf bridge, so many to cross. And the parks – the Rodin Museum, the D’Orsay and the Orangerie. Perhaps a trip on the Bateaux in the evening? So many possibilities.

Last time I was there with my lovely friend, we spent hours in Montmatre. Years ago, my mother had my portrait drawn there, on the Place du Tertre – I took my daughters there to have theirs done and finally, on my 60th, the drawings of my son and son in law – all framed and up on the wall in my home. I think we should do this, to make it official, to commemorate her birthday. Sixty years of being there for each other.

So it is a trip to plan for sure, but a trip that will mean so much more. Sixty decades of having each other’s backs, listening to each others dreams, as life happened and has blessed us both. So you can imagine how important this trip is – it is my birthday present to her.

In Paris.

The dairy looks exceptional this year. This is one of those entries. Let’s see what else 2020 brings – keep you posted!

 

A drive to the Cotswolds and two favourite gardens.

It is a generally accepted, as I wish it to be, that driving into the countryside, spilling from village to village, in England,  is about nostalgia. Life still lived the way it used be, many moons ago.  It’s  the  stuff of Jane Austen’s Longbourne, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Stately manors and quaint hamlets seemingly fixed in time. And for me, it always begins with the church.

Two days in the Cotswolds.  Not too far from London and an effortless drive, my first port of call is Burford. For most, Burford’s main attraction is the high street – rather like a high way from hill to bridge, to which most tourists keep.  You sweep down, stop a little, have some tea, browse some more and leave over the bridge and up toward the next village.  There are many to visit in this part of the Cotswolds, all with antique names like Bourton-on-the-water and Stow-on-the-Wold.  Run off the tongue they do, pretty images they make.

But for me, it is always to the churches.  Such as the one in Burford.  The Church is the lesson of the place.  Those who lie in the grass beside the doors.  The locals lads and lasses who went to war and never returned, their ghostly absences fixed on stone beneath the stained glass windows.  There are stories of hardship and loss, woven into the tapestry that are these little towns and most likely found in the church.

Burford is one of the larger towns in the Cotswolds.  Many, like me, fancy themselves an ochre coloured cottage within her boundaries, or down a country lane.  The prices here are high – quaintness costs.  Bus loads of tourists are tolerated, catered for, and valued for their contribution to the village GDP, but few will ever settle here.  Times I think, of course I could: would work in the Tea Room (have experience), do the Nativity play at Christmas and write poems beside the brook. The simple life for me … until I wonder how this soul will survive the quiet and isolating winters?

Eager to continue to the gardens, I crossed the bridge and swept left toward Stow-on-the-wold.

The view back over Burford.  Sweeping fields of Rape Seed beneath a broody sky.

Spring in England could present you with a confetti of seasons in one day.  The Barbour close at hand, the stripping and cloaking of it, a regular past time.  I don’t mind driving when it’s not too hot, besides, it’s lanes are the prettier for it.  As I have been to these other villages en route to Hidcote many times, I skirt them, swinging in, imagining I shall find the perfect house for the price and sadly, sweep out and onto the road again.  The fact finding is not restricted to the main towns, but stopping by hamlets dotted between.  If I did move here however, the mainline to London would dictate, I say to myself in my pretend looking to re-locate.

Another decision on this little road trip, was to leave the GPS at home.  The beauty of the journey is in fact to meander, drive with a semi idea of destination, tempted easily to lesser roads where more discovery is made.  Coming to a cross roads, shall I go left or right and if so, soon they all join up again, which most do.  Going is circles is possible, only they are such pretty circles to go around in.

I know the Cotswolds well.  I always need to return to Hidcote Manor Gardens.

Many years ago, I think it was 1987 or thereabouts, we first visited Hidcote.  Till then I had only been to the gardens of London, mostly parks, and tried to emulate the ‘English’ gardens I had seen in magazines, into my own patch in South Africa. Yup, always the rebel, none of the gorgeous, indigenous stuff for me, like my mother who wanted only European influence in her home – I wanted to pick the lavender, smell the rose and fall into daffodils.  I had an idea of garden design but it was not until I visited Hidcote, did the idea of ‘rooms’, distinctive colour planting and hedging really mean anything.  There are others, like Sissinghurst, that still have me under their spell, and gardens with less restrictive boundaries, but it was Hidcote where the romance began.

Now part of the National Trust (yay that I am a volunteer), Hidcote Manor garden was bought in 1907 by Lawrence Johnson and his mother, Mrs. Winthrop.  The garden development history is fascinating and today much as he initially intended it.  There are rooms throughout the design, so as to maintain a sense of mystery for the visitor.  Not all is revealed at once.  Rooms are colour co-ordinated, such as at Sissinghurst, or built around a particular theme, such as the Bathing pool.  Hedging plays a large role throughout, to create walls of green and lead the visitor from one reveal to the other.  I love the way we are continually surprised by another scene, as if a play with characters in statuary or water feature.  There is an open air theatre present.  Even when visiting for the umpteenth time, Hidcote is still a as curious as she was on my first visit.

The impressive Cool colours and the historical Cedar of Lebanon – older than the garden.

The view from the top of the Serpentine Hedge.  This walk opens up to the countryside, and on the left, the Wilderness.  Daffodils over but the lilacs in full play.

Pleached Hornbeam and the Hot garden, complete with red tulips.  The beds reveal hot reds, yellows, oranges and purples throughout the year.

A downpour was welcome on the day.  This gave only the determined visitor like me an almost empty garden to enjoy.  Timing is crucial when visiting the famous English gardens, for they can be over run with tourists which makes for single file slowness and hundreds of Instagrammers – if you are like me, the sure fire way to grumpiness.  Love Instagram,  hate the lack of really seeing or enjoying a vision but only to say ‘I was there’.  I remember a single visit to Giverney being totally ruined by non-appreciating, loud and rude tourists who only wanted the evidence of the trip and paid little attention to design, or even the story of the place.  Know when to visit gardens in England and Europe. Anyway, I digress, the shower had a few of us huddle beneath a portico, still getting totally drenched but caring little – you would appreciate the joy of soft, post rain beauty in a garden.  Drops of rain, suspended on petals, on the new lime leaves unfurling, puddles in rock crevices, on ducks in the pond – a bonus, on this visit.

Close, but lesser known that the NT Hidcote Manor House, lies another favourite, Kiftsgate. Kiftsgate is a privately owned garden, a triumph and tribute to the dedication of three generations of strong and creative women.  Much of the gardening is traditional, but where this garden is unique is on the level and clever integration of contemporary garden design.

Driving up toward the house, one is oblivious to the precipice on the left, which drops sharply to a level, far below.  If you have vertigo, stay clear, although there is a pathway that curls and leads you down, knowing that you have to climb back up again, but the walk is worth it.  For me, the cliff is colourful and Spring bright with white, pale yellows and bluebell blue.  It is the pool below: half moon and lying within the crescent that echoes, that takes my breath away.  One wonders at the seemingly incomplete circle, it seems almost lunar, and yet intrigues.  We are used to symmetry in a traditional English garden design and though it seems, well, I am not sure really, it is beguiling.

Love this design.

The house is not open to the public, not when I was there, but the cafe did offer a welcome pot of tea, succumbing to the large slice of cake, and a paging through of their beautifully printed coffee book.  Before exploring the rest of the garden, I knew I also wanted to see the water feature by Simon Allison.  There are times when something just captures your imagination, holds your interest and this water feature had me spellbound, many years ago.  I tried to imitate this in my own home on my return. The movement of this feature raises it to a different love.

Most of the garden lies to the front of the house.  There is hedging and intricate ‘rooms’ also, but not on so much the grand scale as Hidcote.  This is still a family home, a intimate space and we are fortunate to be able to visit.

 

 

 

It was time to head to Chipping Campden where I was staying for the night.  The Cotswold House Hotel and Spa is a luxurious boutique hotel in the heart of the village. The garden here is in itself a treat to explore.  At this time of the year, did not partake of the Spa or pool but spend a happy hour with a glass of wine on the front porch before dinner.  Well, planned dinner and then my inclination turned to the very spoiling of a hot bath, robe and slippers and a feat of room service.  Ending the day with cheesy TV and a tray of eating in, it was apt. I was happy to just spend the quiet time.

Chipping Campden was a market town and all signs of this still prevail.  It is a town lived in with great pride by its inhabitants, and many a garden is a testament to this.  Topiaries, manicured beds, typical thatch cottages with wisteria and roses.  There are ruins, another great church and the quaintest of shops.  Walk the lanes and just beyond, the fields, complete with sheep and being the season, new-born lambs.

Driving back to London, with a quick turn in Broadway, I decided to stop at another NT property, Snowshill Manor and Garden. The orchards are breathtaking, but little else compared to the gardens I have visited the day before. It did not take long to discover before I took to the road again.

The Cotswolds House Hotel and Spa.

For those who love gardening, wanting to visit a few iconic examples and indulge in the quintessential English countryside, the Cotswolds will not disappoint. No wonder so many wish to live there.  It’s the chocolate box version of another time, natural beauty, as are many other parts of this glorious mud island.  Extend your visit to Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Blenheim Palace.  Woodstock to meet the ghost of Inspector Morse and follow all the stories close by. Many lovely spots to stay in, things to do and the stuff of stories.

I will return again, perhaps in the Autumn when the gardens don another cloak all together.

For more information, or to plan your own journey, please contact me on the email [email protected]

Image. Own and The Cotswolds House Hotel and Spa

To Our Lady, Notre Dame. Paris.

 

“the essence of Paris is lost if seen through the double glazing of a hotel room or from the top of a tour bus. You must be on foot, with chilled hands thrust into your pockets, scarf wrapped round your throat, and thoughts of a hot café crème in your imagination. It made the difference between simply being present and being there.”
John Baxter,
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris

I have been in love with Paris, ever since she fell in love with me.

We love each other still. It is a passion ill described to aptly motivate the wordsmith to capture the heart of it all.  What was before a dream, visions and points of exquisite reference, become a sanctuary, a finding of self and many, many walks through her streets by day, by night, but always by way of the heart.

In the last decade in particular, I have to Paris more times than I can remember, but remember each visit as if it were the first, the only and the necessity of it.  And like my mother, Notre Dame was always there, a fixed mark, a point of direction, a comfort at first sighting.

When she burned last night, I felt my heart melting.

We were not exactly friends, the Lady and I.  The more I became accustomed to Paris, the more I felt at home, the less I wanted to intrude – for so many thousands did. The last time I entered, I left vexed, annoyed at the multitudes who paid not homage, but interest and photographed and instagrammed as they edged at a pace of a glacier, one tourist after the other, mystified at the enormity of her cavern, oblivious to the sense of her religiousness.  It was not the place for me to light candles for my family, or sit and be calm, and pray.  It was a spectacle and I found many other beautiful churches to be still in, in Paris.  Yet she was always there.

She is always there.  And the burning, the terror of losing hope and today, finding all is not lost, is the spirit reborn.  I think she sort of had enough of the circus, in a way.  Sort of looked around, touched the gargoyles and fundaments and said, I need cleansing of all this parading and useless reverence. I need to burn to be born again, to remind all that I am a holy place. I am the stuff of Victor Hugo, legends and fortitude.  That will not change, but may become a place of peace again.

So when I went to Paris, when I go to Paris, it is to walk by her side.  In Spring, to see the cherry trees, so often captured, and I thank Georgianna Lane and her book ‘Paris in Bloom’ that I love more when walking past the Notre Dame in Spring.  The pictures capture the essence of Notre Dame at her prettiest season. I walk past the side of the church, to where the children play, and onward to the Ile Saint-Louis, behind the Notre Dame, to my favourite restaurant to view her magnificence from what I believe, is her best view. Quiet view. Reverent view.  The view of a church still holy and the architecture of her 13th Century workmanship, best admired. And she is still there.  Like the spirit of my mother, like the spirit of Hemingway’s Paris, like the romance and loveliness of a city that looks to her for validation of beauty.

 

When Notre Dame caught flame last night, the world wept.  And for a moment, came together in that weeping. United in grief and disbelief.  History was falling into the flames, and losing history that speaks of all of life before, is so very sad.  We need the stories to help us understand, to give us a place in the universe, to allow us to take notes for ourselves and give a sense of purpose.  There are many instances when history is being wiped out, change comes too fast, but we can only learn to move forward when we look back, and in that falling spire, we lost the lives of those who built her. But we will find them again.

I love her most in the winter. When the skies are grey and austere but the season of reflection and comfort, with a scarf around my neck, walking the city and knowing she is there.  When Christmas lights come early in the darkness and the city moves around her.  I love her most then when she is pale and comforting.

And I pray for Our Lady.  For our Notre Dame.  To bring once more the magnificent of workmanship, or dedication to religion and the love of the world.  To be a beacon of light in the city of lights and light up for generations who need to see her, hear her stories and again, be the fixed point for those, like me, who find her, always in Paris.