After wanting to visit the Highgate Cemetery for well over a year, I finally packed a picnic lunch with a Turkish Delight bar and headed to Highgate on a mild Sunday. Greeted by an abundance of children and wet grass, I muddied my shirt and tucked in.
Highgate Cemetery (east side) – opened in 1839 and located in the Boroughs of Camden, Haringey and Islington. Friends of the Cemetery and the £4 entrance fees assists the upkeep cost of £1000 a day. Holds rest to 170,000 people, including the notable Karl Marx and George Eliot.
Having been to Belgium before to visit Manon, I had decided that it was my favourite place after New Zealand. Bold call, but the fresh air, friendly people, delicious food and second-hand shops drew me in. My fondest memories were cycling through the cobbled streets, eating cheese, eating delicious chocolate spreads which throws nutella out of the water, and finally the Ghent speciality – neuzeke (little nose). Cone shaped, raspberry flavoured deliciousness.
Inspired to go again, my birthday present from Hana was decided.
Just days before we were to set off, the horrific terrorist attack happened in the airport and main train station. As with the world, we were astonished at the atrocities man can perform. After a bit of encouragement for myself, we decided to be resilient against this terror and go anyway.
Arriving at St Pancras ready for our Eurostar, we tucked into out breakfast of orange juice, tea and bread-like substances. A short trip later, after passing through Paris, we were in the centre of Brussels. Our plan to go to the Armed Forces and Military museum and infamous steak house were decided against due to the safety risk. Instead we crossed platforms and got straight on a train to Brugge.
Brugge is located in the north-west of Belgium, and is distinguished by its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. To be honest, it’s pretty small and I really hadn’t needed to go again. But having four days just to chill out and relax together was idyllic.
We marched the cobbled streets. Driven by hunger and the annoying sound of Joe’s wheely bag on the bumps. Our second try at AirBnB, a whole house with four bedrooms rented out to guests. It was an odd situation, from memory the owners said they lived there, but then they had a baby and we only heard the baby during the day. So I think they said they lived there for safety reasons incase the guests thought of doing something silly. But it was pleasant, clean, and was so close to the town square that we were woken daily by the chorus of the church bells. On average they would go for a good 10 minutes, but Easter Sunday, literally over an hour of different tunes and sounds and celebration.
Google recommended a restaurant called Bones for lunch, so off we trot the few blocks away. Only to find that the poor restaurant owner’s chef had failed to turn up, the poor man was pacing in a state of distress, having to turn down the hungry, lunch time visitors. We promised we’d be back again, and went looking for another place. Oddly we ended up at an Argentinian Grill which was around the corner from the Chocolate Factory. Joe gleefully ordered his first glutenous beer, and I got a red wine. Lesson learnt – don’t have half a glass of wine on an empty stomach or else the remainder will end up splattered over your white shirt and dripping off the table after a clumsy hand movement. The waiters laughed, and hastily brought us our pommes frites and grills.
With a full stomach it was time to explore. We traced the streets, with me oohing and ahhing at my memories of the shops. Stopping by the canal to have a break and people watch. It was March, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as chilly as it was.
I remember this nunnery exactly how we found it, as last time I went for Easter also. It is so serene as there is a no talking rule when you’re inside, people meander around, enjoying the curiosity of Nun’s houses, being totally encapsulated in their world.
The next day we slept in, went out for lunch (tried Bones again but it was shut – poor owner!), wandered around a little more, then felt so tired we got into bed and watched a film.
The following day we finally got into Bones for lunch. And boy did it live up to expectations. A rack of spicy ribs with a ginormous roast potato. The wine bottle in the middle was hilarious, it was about 2 litres of wine, and every table had one. They explained that you helped yourself and drunk however much you fancied, then they weighed it at the end and calculated how much you owed them.
Surprisingly, although it was Easter we didn’t have very much chocolate at all. I did manage to find my favourite neuzeke, and got my yearly full.
A perfect activity for a rainy day is to go to the beer museum, where the local processes old and new are explained in great detail with a tasting session at the end.
With bags left for free at the city’s history museum. We stopped for our final lunch which was next door to Michelangelo’s Mary and child.
Having toured all streets large and small in Brugge, I think I have fulfilled my love of it for now. But it certainly holds fond memories and was a perfect slice of respite from London.
Having a family with 30+ cousins, one is bound to be able to bond and share magnificent adventures around the world.
This adventure was with David to his beautiful home in Chamonix, France. Followed by a day of sightseeing in Geneva.
It started with having a Christmas duck and lobster at Min Jiang in Kensington, where the generous offer of coming for a winter weekend in Chamonix was made. I gratefully accepted and we quickly booked flights before the prices spiked. And that was that, Joe and I were to be off to France with David, Larissa and Arenal. The week before Joe and I had a cheeky nandos in Covent Garden, and filled up with ski bargains at Sports Direct – £3 gloves, not bad! With salopettes squished into cabin baggage, we made our way to the decadent London City Airport. We stoked up on last minute contact lense solution and sat down to a Hendrick’s gin with cucumber. City airport is for those who work in the city, and have plenty of money to travel to their holiday houses with the premium experience and ease. There weren’t the normal adverts for Mcdonalds or the like, but adverts for nothing in particular other than stating ‘your children are at home’ – talk about touching on a sensitive part of busy bankers lives. It is also the only place I have seen well dressed men in suits wear skiing books onto a plane. A sight, I kid you not.
We boarded our British Airways flight, had a glass of wine which ended up being spilt on my jeans due to turbulence, and soon enough landed in Geneva, the city of extortionate watch prices and beautiful banks.
After a bus ride as long as the flight itself, we arrived in the small and chilly Chamonix town centre. Met by Larissa, we drove a few blocks to their warm and welcoming home. That night was filled of Joe’s now-favourite wine, lime dark chocolate, and talks about business and Ocado shopping habits. Little did we know the delights Larissa had in store for us to try; delicious morning juicing, niche seeds and dehydrated stick insects.
And so the skiing starts. We woke up to wee Arenal playing about. Donning out thermals toe to next, salopettes, jackets, scarves, gloves, goggles, boots, with a chocolate bar in our pockets we were ready.
The first day was quite a shock to the system for both of us. Having skied about five times growing up, and being an alright ice skater I thought I’d be good enough to do a green run, but no. We were stuck on the absolute beginners (baby) slope for the entire day. After two runs we let the others go off, as this would have bored them to death. We continued up and down, up and butt down. Stopping for a well deserved lunch and wine. Enter: my obsession with Le Tartiflette – the most heavenly, cheesy, potatoey, bacony dish known to man. That was my lunch decided for the next few days.
Despite extreme tiredness, we continued after lunch for a few more hours. Slowly getting our confidence up and having a ball together. David had hired their family ski guide for the weekend, as they were planning for us to do Aiduille du Midi, Mont Blanc. What I would call a freestyle/avalanche prone expert slope. Anyho, their gorgeous French guide, Edouard assisted us on the beginners run teaching us the ways.
Day two we were with David at Brévent. I was terrified, as not quite as fearless nor thrill seeking in my old age. We managed a few big runs, and I certainly caught up with Joe on my lack of falling over the first day.
This day was our favourite hands down. Edouard was the most patient and caring person one could wish for. I had a terrifying moment the previous day, where the slopes had to close due to bad weather, and as we were trying to ski to the bottom, my skis crossed with each other as I was heading for the cliff. I don’t normally have nightmares, but I tell you, I certainly slept awfully that night. So starting off day three, I was in a state of panic and fear from the get go. But gently coaxed and encouraged by Edouard I made it down the slope. From there, the rest is history. We skied better than either of us had before. After lunch the cloud had closed in, but that didn’t stop born-skiing-Edouard, we got in ant-like formation and skied our hearts away. The slopes were baron due to the conditions. With the silence of the slope and the two meters visibility, our lives were in the skis of our guide. The thrill was immense. David joined us for the last few runs, and the boys were going to do a red run (next level up) to end the day. As the day had been such a success I decided at the last minute to join them. Legs, butt and cheeks aching from our accomplishments, we arrived at the bottom unscathed.
Dinner was delicious steak and wine. Our favourite.
For our final day in Chamonix we decided to spend it sightseeing. Starting off with a seemingly delicious crepe for Joe (I watched jealous due to there being no gluten-free ones), we then walked to the base of Mont Blanc. After two gondola rides, we reached the top, in awe that David and Larissa manage to push themselves off the ridge. Settling for the pleasure mongering option of ordering pommes frites and vin chaud. Followed by a climb to the viewing platform where we looked into the fog of France, Switzerland and Italy. Posing for a photo in front of the fog on the way down.
We said our goodbyes, and jumped on the EasyJet bus back to Geneva for the final leg of our journey.
We arrived in Geneva, navigated the buses, unsure of which language to speak. Located our lovely first experience together in AirBnB. Ravenous, we asked for a recommendation of a good (but cheap, we’re used to London prices, but we were warned we had to be even more careful here!) restaurant. Our host recommended Le Te (a Chinese restaurant (authentic, I know…) translating to The Tea), but warned us of that it was such a winner with the locals, but only had 10ish seats, so we were unlikely to get in. Luck was on our side, despite a complete language barrier, we were seated after only 5 minutes of awkwardness at the door. Ordering a bunch of dishes which we understood only a couple of words of, the feast was a success. Full of exotic Chinese tea and food, we somehow gathered enough cash of various currencies and headed to bed.
Our final day was a stunner. The temperature was 20s, which was summer compared to what we had come from. So we stripped the scarves and spent the day strolling the city. It was truly beautiful, the wealth made a museum of the streets. Cars which Joe fancied, jewellery which I drooled at. And then, the Lac Leman, which we contemplated spending the day walking around, until we Googled and realised it was over 150km. We lunched on the pier with the locals, fillet of tuna and fresh veges. Then strolled to the end to observe Jet d’Eau which was then quickly turned off and not turned back on until we let that evening.. odd!
Before going, the only thing I knew about Geneva was that it is where the Red Cross convention was signed in 1949. Due to this, I was aware that there was a museum dedicated to the Red Cross. For obvious reasons, it was our one mission of the day.
After a good 40 minutes of walking, we came upon the United Nations buildings. We were actually hoping unknowingly to cut through their garden as Google Maps said it was the quickest way to get to the museum, looking at the level of security we decided against that idea. There were protestors outside the UN, although we couldn’t tell what they were protesting for. The exciting part for me about this, was that I knew Helen Clark was in this exact building that day (I follow her on Facebook). As an admirer of what she does, it was cool to think of her working her magic in there for the world!
After another 20 minute walk, we arrived at Musee Geneva. Illustrations and statues of people from all walks of life welcomed us. Proudly flashing my volunteer card, I got a discounted entry. We spent the next few hours learning about the documentation of the work the Red Cross did and does to restore family links, from the World Wars to now for Syria.
It was certainly a proud moment to sit and have coffee under these banners. Being one of the 17 million volunteers worldwide.
And that was that, a trip truly to remember. The trill of skiing, the gluttony of steak, and to the humble show of Red Cross.
Having been invited back next year, who knows what stories will be told then!
The day had finally come where there would be one fewer Clutha in the world. Resulting in the remainder of two. Fortunately Hana was taking on the attractive name of Mansfield and will be joined forever in matrimony with Ben; the tall, football loving, Canterbury and Cambridge boy. Welcomed with open arms to the Weirs when he met them all at Christmas.
Nan, Mum, Byd and Matt had arriving a week in advance spent the week making willow garlands, on their hands and knees cleaning the wedding dress, and baking the infamous and mighty wedding cake. The entire week had been pouring with rain, so the stress of that as well as the forthcoming ad lib speeches and getting the remaining dinner orders could easily have been to much; but was taken in grace and full stride by the happy couple.
The day arrived. Bridesmaids curled and pouted and mother dollied up to spend the first hour together. Hair straighteners and curling methods were put into frantic practice on the only outwardly calm one, the bride herself. All were dressed to the nines in respect, including button holes and the occasional hat. Champagne was opened… and half spilled on the roof by the vivacious Egyptian. Thankfully the bride was the type to laugh, and that on top of the beautifully pregnant bridesmaid made it all the more merrier to remember.
The weather was perfect, sun and clear blue skies. We took our time walking though the gardens and arrived at a viewing point above the guests. The next part flashed by as someone in particular (aka. the bride) was on a nervous mission and the walk down the aisle happened five times faster than it could have.
The ceremony was lead by a beautiful, full of life woman. Who spoke softly about the beauties of life and the purpose of marriage. Vows were said and a kiss was had. Tarin and Sach were suited and booted the best out of all, taking the ring bearer job extremely seriously. It was time for canapés and champagne. Bottles were opened and rapidly finished and the talking commenced. School boys who hadn’t seen each other since the Langton days. The Weirs were in minority which is a rarity, outnumbered by the Mansfields and Shelly’s lot.
After everyone had filled their second (or third) champagne glass, everyone was asked to sit by a anxious Mahana standing on the alter, halted by her white trail. Once seated, she stole the crowed with the yo-yoing story of the first dates and the easily-impressed story at the Natural History museum. Everyone was in hysterics and mother was beaming with pride. Ben was next, with Gill’s laugh never too far away it was again a (soppy) success. I followed holding onto Robyn, trying to do justice to her well written and kind words. A laugh was had at a particular part when she had written “from day one, I knew Ben was the one for Mahana; and he hasn’t let me down”, this was followed with a stern look from me to Ben and an exclamation of “these are Robyn’s words, not mine remember!”. It was a hoot. Dave followed with teasing of how Ben couldn’t grow a beard…. and he still can’t grow a beard. Queue Ben’s puppy eyes. A cheers was had and it was time for photos.
Mark and Sara were the dedicated paparazzi, getting emotive and natural shots. The task was obviously such, as Mark was caught popping a few paracetamol to keep his illness and pains at bay. The entire group consisted of the Weirs, the Mansfields, the Royal Holloway lot, Bob’s Bitches, the bridesmaids, the parents, the siblings-in-law, and many more.
Gareth and his Uber paired up, arranging multiple taxies to take everyone from Hampstead to the HIGHGATE Cafe Rouge, the word highgate was lost in transaction but the mothers of the couple and Nan didn’t mind a bit as they started their first round of G&Ts in the Hampstead Cafe Rouge. Thirty minutes later, arriving at the correct place they were met with a round of applause similar to that of Hana’s arrival.
More champagne, wine, beer and port was ordered and in our long tables the food started arriving. Pared with David, Larissa, Arenal, Byd, Matt and Nan we fussed over Arenal and talked about pastimes. I had a goat’s cheese salad for entree, steak and peppercorn sauce for mains, and a creme brûlée for dessert. Not until post dinner drinks did the hip flask of Scottish Whiskey get revealed, much to Nan’s delight. A great sign to move onto the pub next door. All trickled over and some started leaving, hugs were had and people promised to meet again. The night continued for the brave few until the early hours, but of course, the Husband and Wife were tucked up in bed as it was past ten o’clock.