No Sleep Til Dublin

Late on Good Friday we travelled to Dublin. Because I am a non-religious idiot who consistently forgets that Easter exists. We could have left so much earlier in the day! It would have made Such a Difference.But we did not. Our flight was at 10pm and, delightfully, RyanAir delayed and delayed and delayed it.

 We were heading to Dublin for the centenary of the Easter Rising (YES THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A CLUE FOR FLIGHT BOOKING) but mostly because my parents were going to be there.

As part of the Hutt Valley Irish Society they had arranged a trip around Ireland and it all began in Dublin for the centenary celebrations.

 Despite the delays (just a day after I’d been praising low-cost airlines to a pal!) we made it to Dublin. After getting exactly the wrong instructions from the airport-bus staff which sent us overshooting our hotel and an unplanned for 2am stroll through eerily abandoned streets, we made it to a hotel bed just after 3am.

We were out of the hotel by 8am the next morning and met my parents at their hotel for breakfast. I honestly can’t tell you how we managed it but I think we were simply too tired to do anything other than continue in a forwards direction.

That and a lot of coffee.

 When in Dublin there are a few things you must must do: 1. Visit Molly Malone. 2. Guinness. 3. ???

(I love them)


We tacked on a quick visit to the Book of Kells at Trinity College (the book? Underwhelming. The library building? Excellent) and my family’s spiritual home, Mulligan’s Bar.

The next morning was Easter Sunday, the day of the parade, and the day I cried in the bathroom of an art gallery. Not my finest hour.

The city itself was almost entirely blocked off for the parade. We watched the beginning but honestly, every even peripherally involved army battalion (peace keepers from the congo in the 1990s!) were involved and I am just not that interested in military history.

 We tried to get across to the bus station but the parade! The parade. We could not find a way across for at least two hours. Two long frustrating hours. When we finally made it to the bus stop, of course the one we needed to catch (we had planned to visit Kilmainham Gaol) was on strike. OF COURSE it was. She sent us to another bus stop, across the city, and the heavens opened.

In the pouring rain I tried to navigate us to the bus stop but when we got there? There was no bus stop. And it was still in the middle of the closed streets.

Regrouping and trying to dry off over lunch we ended on the western edge of the city. A bus to Kilmainham arrived just as my parents were trying to find us to come with us. We’ll let it go, it’s a bus, another one will be along shortly. Of course, you know the punch line already. There were no other buses. We couldn’t even get an uber to stop for us.

 We never did make it to Kilmainham.

(on the other hand, we hadn’t booked tickets and it was part of the centenary celebrations so chances are that had we made it, we couldn’t have gone inside anyway)

 The National Gallery of Ireland is in Dublin and I can say that their bathrooms are excellent if you do want to have a short little cry about how nothing is working out the way it is supposed to. The art is pretty good too. No, actually, it’s excellent.

Pip and I were followed by a security guard. I honestly thought we were about to be thrown out of an art gallery. Which really would have just been the perfect end to the weekend.

In the end, we didn’t get thrown out of the gallery. We ended up going to the pub with my parents which WAS the best idea. After two ciders, getting caught in SNOW as we waited for our bus back to the airport was just the right side of ridiculous.

Dublin, man, it doesn’t make it easy.


Sourtoe Cocktail

Look, okay, this title made sense when I wrote it but now? I have no idea why I chose it. Which makes it delightful in and of itself. Either way, it stays!

In March, all those many months ago, we finally made it to Scotland. One of my oldest friends lives with her husband in a suburb on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I’d been promising to visit for … well, since before we moved to London.What can I say? I am a terrible terrible person.

 It was the most flying of visits – we arrived in the early evening of Friday and we left just after Sunday lunch. Thankfully, Edinburgh is a delightfully compact city. It was quite sweet, really, coming from London.  

Our trip did not begin auspiciously. You see, I am an exceptional planner. Except when I am not. Somehow, I had managed to walk away from the ticket booth with only three of our four tickets. Not my finest hour. Thankfully, despite the woman at the customer services counter being less than helpful, they let us on the train anyway.

Immediately upon arrival Kat took us to the top of the Royal Mile to look at the outside of the castle and out to the city beyond. I have a working theory that Edinburgh is where it is purely because that outcrop was too perfect for a castle; they couldn’t not build one there.

 I had booked us tickets to visit the Real Mary King’s Close. A touristy touristy tour but pretty much the only way you can see a Close, an old Victorian street buried when the Royal Exchange was built on top. Except, you see, I had booked the tickets for 7pm. Perfectly timed to allow enough time for a drink after our 5pm arrival because I have my priorities straight. And, you see, I am an exceptional planner. Except when I am not. We sat down with our drinks and I pulled out the tickets and saw … 1700. As in 5pm. As in at least an hour and a half before when I was looking at the tickets. Not my finest hour. Putting on my broadest kiwi accent any my widest innocent eyes, they rebooked us for the next night. 


What with all the travel related stress I couldn’t trust myself to pick a glass of wine. This ‘wine flight’ was the perfect thing & that La Veldt pinotage? The perfect smoky wintery red.

We went back to the castle when it was open so we could wander around and pretend it was our castle and spend a lot of time thinking about how very cold and damp and smoky it must have been back in the day. Scotland isn’t known for temperate weather.


I hunted out the bust of Mary Queen of Scots that I’d visited in 1995 and felt extremely old.

Unhelpfully split between two buildings across the road from one another, Edinburgh has an excellent Modern Art gallery. We spent a happy couple of hours dragging the long suffering Kat around, before attempting to drive as far up Arthur’s seat as possible and failing miserably.


There’s a secrety little area of Edinburgh that basically only locals know about. Kat & Dave took us out there for dinner & oh that bridge. I mean, it’s not quite the Clifton Suspension Bridge but it’s pretty damn impressive. 

Our final morning was spent visiting The Largest Horse Sculpture in the World. Which, I imagine, is not the most difficult category to top. But, The Kelpies! They exist and yes, they are really very large.

One of the bonuses of visiting pals in far flung places is, seeing their faces notwithstanding, they know all the tips & tricks & best places to go. Kat took us to a great little Japanese place we never would’ve found, & Dave took us to get curry out the back of a mosque. Amazing. And sometimes they have transportation. So you can drive 45 minutes to see ominously large steel horse heads!


How we calmed the tides

I was raised in temperate climes. In Wellington (okay, fine, Lower Hutt) the weather always seemed to be not-quite-nice-enough down to actually-quite-chilly but I made it to 32 without ever seeing a frozen pond let alone heavy snow in city streets. Then we went to Copenhagen and my life was never the same. 

Landing in the afternoon to snow absolutely everywhere, our first thing was to add as many layers as humanly possible and head back out to the streets. It was late afternoon and the sky was darkening but I was in a country I’d never seen before.

 There were a lot more people on the streets than I had been expecting, the people of Copenhagen are a hardier sort, and the bicycles chained outside office buildings made me wince with the thought of sitting on the seats after they’ve been chilling in the sub-zero all day.

Our favourite thing to do is to sit outside a pub and people watch. We were not beaten by sub-zero temperatures in Geneva and we were not going to be beaten by sub-zero temperatures here. We found an Irish pub on a pedestrianized shopping thoroughfare, wrapped fleece blankets around our legs and managed two pints before the cold got the better of us.

 (We ended the night watching Labyrinth in Danish. Maybe alcohol affects you more in sub-zero temperatures)


It snowed overnight; our tiny little hotel room looked out over the entrance to an apartment building and there were footprints fresh in the snow.


So it turns out that in Denmark there exists quite possibly the best aquarium I have ever visited. And I have visited a lot. It was pitch perfect, enough stuff to keep small children absorbed but also, and this is key, enough information to cater to curious adults.

We saw puffins and otters and ridiculous fish. We’d checked our coats and the sea otter viewing area was outside, on the edge of the endless sea. The freezing cold was exhilarating.

Den Blau Planet (the blue planet) is at the edge of the city. We caught a bus back into town and bought coffees to warm our hands as we walked around the Kastellet (a star-shaped fortress built in 1662, as you do).

Rosy cheeks & frozen tundra is my new aesthetic. 


We were headed to the Little Mermaid because, I think, it’s illegal to not visit the first time you’re in Copenhagen. And yes, it is much smaller than you imagine, and in front of a highly industrial area, and really really quite out of the way. On the other side of an ancient fortress and all.

(it occurs to me now that we really didn’t stick to the city proper, the next place we visited was closer to Helsingborg, Sweden, than Copenhagen central)

 One of the best things we did in Copenhagen and actually probably one of the best things I have ever done was visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art on a Saturday night in Denmark. By the time we made it out to Humlebaek it was already getting dark. Unfortunately this means that I have no idea what it looks like from the outside and as it’s right on the shore of the Øresund Sound, I can’t imagine it being anything less than spectacular.


We were there because they had a Yayoi Kusama retrospective and, well, she is one of my all-time favourite artists. The exhibition was the best one I’d ever seen (and I have seen a lot) purely, I think, because there was so much space. Instead of focussing on one of her many eras, it covered work from her early life through to New York and back to Japan.

Our final day in the frozen north was spent, surprisingly, outside a lot. We walked through the (frozen) botanic gardens to Rosenborg Castle, walking the (frozen) streets looking for the Design Museum and crossing a (almost frozen) canal. I’m surprised we made it back with any extremities at all.


If you are ever in Copenhagen, the design museum is an excellent time. 

(If anyone knows where I can get a print of this poster pls let me know)

I’m not quite so surprised that we’ve already booked to go back – this time in Summer. I loved it so much. 

Angel of the North

Late in 2015 I received a mysterious text message suggesting I ask for a week off work in early January, very hush hush ask no questions it might be a Christmas present related type thing but we need to be in Manchester on a Tuesday night. Given I am never one ruin a present if I can help it, tickets were booked no-questions-asked and it was only on Christmas morning I found out my absurdly perfect girl had bought me tickets to see one of my favourite musicians, Angel Haze, live. In Manchester. 

The day we travelled to Manchester we woke to the news of David Bowie’s death. The coach radio played tribute the entire journey north. I remembered standing in the rain in 2004, in tears, grateful to see him live.

 We rocked up to Manchester after 3pm. The evening was closing in and everyone sounded like they were from Coronation Street.

We were staying in the Northern Quarter – the gentrified hipster heart of Manchester – and I loved it. Our hotel was uh-mazing. Called the Abel Heywood, it was extremely inexpensive, a 5 minute walk from the gig, extremely comfortable, and above a delightful pub. I mean, honestly, what more can you ask for?

 My cure for coach-induced malaise is either alcohol or the gym. We got a pint at the pub beneath the hotel and they asked us if we minded that they were playing all David Bowie. No, we did not mind at all.

We had one day and one day only to explore Manchester properly so we made the absolute most of it. We saw the beautiful town hall (the bees symbolise how the city is a hive of activity. To which I point out that bees are being wiped out?) and the John Rylands library where I spent a lot longer than I would have expected entranced by stories about saving Victorian architecture around the UK and how in the early 20th century they were going to demolish much of the buildings around Westminster to create the kind of horrendous concrete blocks that so much of London is unfortunately heir to.

We got in touch with the city’s union past at the Peoples’ Museum which, well. It was well done but heavy handed. Not much in the way of nuance.

 After a traditionally mancunian lunch of pho, we spent the afternoon at an art gallery. What we thought was a tiny gallery that might take an hour eventually closed around us and we hadn’t even made it all the way through.

Band in the Wall is a small venue but perfectly formed. We missed the opening act but we made our way to a mezzanine level and I have never been so happy to be 5”1 in my life – there was a beam stretching right the way out the front of the mezzanine and I think the gap beneath it was 5”4? Enough for me to be only person short enough to fit under it comfortably so I was front and centre and no one no one was in my way. I’ve never seen a show so well in my life.

 It was an astounding show too – Angel Haze was outstanding, playing every song I adore from Back to the Woods & also brought back Werking Girls (the first I ever heard) and just generally was on fire and I am a ghost now.


 The next morning we left before the sun rose to catch our 8am coach back to London. We had a trip to the land of ice and snow the very next day and there was no time to rest. 


The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea – Isak Dinesen

Oh. In the excitement of telling you all about getting engaged I completely forgot to mention our final trip of 2015. To the bright lights of Hastings!

If there is one thing I truly miss about New Zealand, it’s the sea. I mean, there’s our family & friends, & the cats, & really good coffee. But then it’s the sea. Definitely.

But anyway. Every so often we get the call & we have to go to the salt air. We picked Hastings for our December jaunt. Half out of thin air, half because of the ease of transport. In the weeks before we left everyone to whom we mentioned our Hastings adventure replied with a “… Hastings?? But why??”

We caught the train down straight after work into the deep inky darkness of winter evening – peering out the window & all we could see were ourselves peering back.

Our hotel was on the waterfront & our room looked out over the sea. Our dinner in the hotel restaurant (food served with more flair than flavour) was mostly spent planning the next day & working out how we could prove the Hastings naysayers wrong.

It turns out a lot of Hastings shuts for the winter.

The next morning we found an American diner in Hastings. An American proprietor & his all-British staff served surprisingly great breakfasts in a building built a hundred years ago. The Pelican Diner! You should go if you’re ever in the area.

We wandered the waterfront and climbed about the old town. It’s really rather charming, Hastings.

We played mini-golf and, as usual, I was either pretty good or utterly rubbish at every hole. Losing profoundly despite always seeming like I might just win.

This is my mini golf burden.

Of course the not-burdensome half of our duo won a free game like the golden child that she is. There was no expiry date but also when did we think we would be back in Hastings again?

There is a tiny museum in Hastings where you can practice your nautical knots, touch a dinosaur bone, & (maybe) touch a grave stone fished from a 19th century shipwreck.

I say maybe because the gravestone was out on the door & very much did NOT say do not touch but also didn’t say it was okay to touch?

We are fresh crayfish tails (my first!) and found a tiny pub with an open fire & leather couches & we were set.

There was a sign advertising CHEESE BINGO – 6PM SATURDAYS which after two pints seems like an excellent and intriguing idea.

I mean, how is cheese bingo different from regular bingo? Is it cheeses rather than numbers? No.

It turns out cheese bingo is just bingo but they give you cheese to eat & you win cheese if you get a row! I won a wedge of smoked cheddar & was extremely pleased with myself.

We made a terrible mistake & left the beautiful pub for dinner at another. The less said about that, the better.

Our pub (by now we’d adopted it completely) had been mostly empty all afternoon & evening but as soon as it approached 9pm a multi piece reggae band appeared.

By the end of the night we’d made friends with half the bar & been bought shots by the bartender. We left to strangers asking us to stay & telling us to come back when we were next in Hastings & that sounds like a lie but I swear it’s the truth.

Sunday dawned clear & cold & we had a free game of mini golf to claim.

After being comprehensively beaten (again! The burden!) we walked the waterfront in the cool grey day and, after buying a dressed crab (my first!) to take home for dinner, decided that while Hastings was excellent and truly a great place to visit, two full days is really a bit much.

We took our dressed crab & caught an early afternoon train back to London.  It was an almost perfect weekend and you know? We might even go back to Hastings in the summer.

Anyway, the crab pasta was delicious.

I love Paris in the winter: a concert, the sunset, a proposal

Sometimes clichés are clichés for a reason. Like the romance of train travel, the romance of Paris, the romance of proposing to the girl who makes your heart skip a beat.
We left from London on the Eurostar – the train straight from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. I had butterflies in my stomach. But the wc on the train had a delightfully bizarre poster of the Mona Lisa and our seats were not so much next to a window as next to the bit between two windows. Otherwise known as a wall. These hilarious little niggly things calmed me down a bit.
Our hotel was in Ménilmontant, out in the 20th arrondissement, the proper Paris of street art and musicians and a Jewish kindergarten guarded by soldiers.

There was a moment of panic when the hotel staff couldn’t find our reservation despite all of the (many) confirmation emails I could produce, and their confusion that yes, these two ladies did want just the one bed.

After several conversations in harried French which I understood but pretended I didn’t, we got our bed. Likewise someone slunk into a room and removed two bags which apparently belonged to a ‘Sarah’ they believed to have been me and showed us to our room and all was well.

“Sarah! It’s a very common name!” yes it is. But it’s not my name. And maybe don’t give away reservations based on first names? Perhaps try surnames or reservation numbers? 

(aside from this it was an excellent excellent hotel and we would recommend it highly)


In the few hours we had between arriving in Ménilmontant and the gig which was the spark for our trip to Paris we set out on the streets to find Père Lachaise – the famous final resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Abelard and Heloise (among others). It hadn’t been on our list but what is a list if not just a suggestion, really, and we were in the neighbourhood. Sort of.


 We found Jim Morrison’s grave by following the young people. Nearby was the grave of a 21 year old victim of the BATACLAN massacre.


Side note: this trip had been booked for months when the attacks in Paris took place and while we paused for the shortest of seconds we never really considered cancelling.

 I did myself proud in my efforts to get us completely and utterly lost. We ended up repeatedly finding the grave of the father of homeopathy when we were looking for Abelard and Heloise because I am the actual worst and somehow forgot that the key to one map will not work when you’re looking at a completely different map. How I manage to do things like this while still being extremely capable baffles me.


 We found them eventually. By which I mean Pip found them. I was no help. At that point the sky was rapidly darkening past pink into night and I am not nearly goth enough to hang out in a French cemetery at night. Besides, we had a gig to get to.


 It’s technically illegal to smoke inside in France but also it is still France. We found a little bar and we sat on the terrace and had a drink and ate dinner and around us people smoked and spoke in French and it was all entirely perfect.


 The entire reason we went to Paris in December was to see Courtney Barnett. She’s an Australian singer and one of our favourites – we discovered her together, in the car on the way to work, so entranced by the song Avant Gardener and its laconic singer we sat and waited until the very end.


She performed in a silver box inside La Gaîté Lyrique, an art and music centre in the 3rd arondissement. Our bags and jackets were thoroughly checked on our way inside and it was a tiny reminder of the horror three weeks prior.


 But we got beers and moved inside the venue and it was just one of those perfect nights. A guy sidled up to us as we were chatting “Excuse me, are you Australian?” “… close but no, sorry, Kiwis” “Oh! Great! Me too!”

His name was Cam and he’d lived in Wellington and worked in Politics and knew the opening act but not Courtney Barnett, and us the opposite, so we shared knowledge and danced together and I was having such a good time I could have proposed right then and there.
She played all our favourite songs and it was their last show of the tour so they were all a bit loose at the end and oh she’s just really very good.


  Afterwards we ended up at a bar halfway between the gig and the metro with our new friend from New Zealand talking politics because we are ridiculous people. In the grand tradition of excellent nights, it was, all of a sudden, a lot later than we were expecting – thankfully, Paris is not nearly as terrible a city as London, and the metro runs right through to 2am. Ish. It was close. But we made it.


 Our hotel delivered a bag of pastries and proper French bread to our hotel room which, the morning after the night before, was an actual lifesaver.

 While we put ourselves back together again, ready to brave another day in Paris, I dug her engagement ring out of my backpack and put it in my jacket pocket. One upside of vintage ring boxes is they are quite small and discreet. One downside to vintage ring boxes is that they SOMETIMES COME APART IN YOUR POCKET.

At the metro station I jammed my hand in my pocket to hold all the bits together and nonchalantly wandered down the platform to quietly panic and put it back together again. She had no idea.



I truly believe I am destined to never visit the catacombs in Paris. I’ve tried twice and both times I’ve failed. This would be much easier to handle if it wasn’t so damn far out from the very centre of the city. Each time it’s at least a half hour trek out of the way. So that happened. We won’t dwell on it.


Our first stop in the very centre of Paris was Notre Dame. It was a Sunday and it was cold and there were soldiers with massive guns all around. We had planned to go right to the top (of course) but the queue was over an hour long so we walked around the inside, listened to a bit of the service, and departed just as heathen as we entered.



We stopped at the bridge-covered-in-locks because it was Right There. It was full of tourists and really angry old French ladies so we didn’t stop long and I was relieved I had passed on that as a proposal location. The locks are sweet but either some people have extremely adventurous poly relationships or it’s become locks for the Squad as well as for lovers.



Since we were in the vicinity I took us to Shakespeare & Co., the crazy english language bookshop right on the river. There’s now a coffee shop right next door where we had delicious coffees, god I think I even had a long black. The story goes that the owner of Shakespeare and Co, George Whitman, knocked on the door of the shop next door every single weekend asking them to sell it to him so he could open a literary café next to his bookstore. They turned him down for two generations (his daughter Sylvie continued, albeit monthly, after his death in 2011) but in October 2015 the café opened and in December 2015, we visited.


There’s something magical about being in Paris when it’s cold outside. We walked through the naked trees of the Tuileries, we ate freshly made crepes (lemon and sugar for me, ham and cheese for her) and both agreed that we liked I.M. Pei’s pyramid entrance to the Louvre and hated the Roue de Paris ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde.


We braved a queue to visit Monet’s water lilies at the Orangerie (and all of the other amazing art as well) and that was the afternoon ending – dusk comes so much earlier in the winter time.



As the light faded around us we walked down through the lights and the tat of the Christmas markets on the Champs-Élysées – every second stall selling crepes or waffles or vin chaud – turned left and all of a sudden we were there. The Pont Alexandre III. It’s a glorious beaux-arts style bridge which is absolutely beautiful and the place I’d chosen as the backdrop to my proposal.
Of course I was so distracted I don’t have a photo of the bridge itself.
The sun was setting, the sky was pink, the Eiffel Tower a silhouette in the distance, and I had a ring box clasped in one hand in my pocket.


Some things you don’t get to know. Some things are just for her and me. Some things I could never get into words. The blood rushing through my ears, the sudden choking up as I asked her, the actual shock on her face, our shaking hands.


We found a place to sit down – at one end of a concrete bench. At the other end three thirteen year olds sat smoking weed. The youngest looking one, the one who was drew in a book while the other two made out, came and asked us for a cigarette.


I wouldn’t change a thing.


We couldn’t call our families straight away. Thanks to the tyranny of distance and time zones it was about 5:30am when we got engaged (!) so we visited the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was dark and windy by the time we got up there (you queue to queue to queue to travel in an elevator to queue to queue then another elevator ride and you’re there. To get back down is only third the queueing. That’s still quite a bit) but the lights of Paris stretching out in every direction was worth it.


 Heading back to Ménilmontant we were exhausted and happy. Picking a bistrot recommended by our hotel we ended up at a tiny bar after 8pm at a tiny wooden table, giddy and starving. Run by a waitress with red curls and an iron fist she recommended wine and we ate duck confit and steak bavette and drank viognier to our engagement.


For a change, with our weekend breaks, we had taken an actual day off work. Monday was another full day in Paris with the Eurostar in the late evening.


 We saved the Louvre for our final day so we could dedicate proper time to it. We spent hours and hours and still only saw a quarter of it


 One of my favourite moments was walking into a room filled with ancient Greek vases, looking around and realising that we were the only two people in the room. That doesn’t happen often in the Louvre.









We looked at art until our eyes and feet could take no more and then we made the worst mistake of all. We tried to leave the Louvre. It used to be that you walked out a door but now you’re herded into a horrible labyrinthine mall and it is disorienting and difficult to leave. Horrible horrible horrible.


(In Belgium you eat mussels and drink beer)

Our weary feet took us to Belgium for lunch (or rather a strange restaurant that said “welcome to Belgium” as you entered and “welcome to france” as you left) before we took advantage of the last day of our travel card and took the metro across the city to Monmatre.
Sidenote: maybe it’s because it’s not nearly quite so far underground or because the lines don’t intersect as much but the Metro in Paris is less stressful than the Underground in London.

  (A truth universally acknowledged is that in every city, there will be an Irish pub

One bonus of an early sunset is watching the lights play across the sky without feeling the scratchiness that comes when you need to find somewhere for a drink or dinner. We climbed the hill and stairs up to the Sacre Coeur as it was pink with sunset light and saw the Eiffel Tower silhouetted across the city.



Our final moments in Paris were spent in a square surrounded by twinkling lights, the Place du Tertre where street artists plied their wares until it was too dark for them to see and we sat at the terrace of a little restaurant with my scarf as a blanket and a glass of wine in front of us.
At one point three soldiers who were patrolling came across a cardboard box abandoned in the centre of the square. The carefully affected caution they took was something to behold – two of them flanked the box, looking around the square, while the third nudged it with his boot and opened a flap with the barrel of his gun.

It was nothing, just a cardboard box, but their reaction reminded me it could have been more.


We ate rainbow macarons on the eurostar back to London and I marvelled at just how ridiculously perfect the weekend had been. All the stars had aligned. 

A final moment, at the end of our journey, as we paused on the rail bridge looking out to the lights of the Chelsea Bridge and London beyond I thought “we’re home.”

Bureaucrats & drug dealers: a weekend in Geneva

Our trip to Geneva was a spur of the moment, stroke of madness, ridiculous, romantic, impulse purchase of a trip.
After the … experience that was flying from Stansted airport on a Friday night (complete with an hour spent in the security queue and running through the airport for the departure gate) we made sure to leave more than even the most generous of time allowances for our trip from Gatwick.I’m sure you can tell where this is headed. We had hours to spare, hours to kill. Gatwick was an organised delight of an airport and we even had time to have a drink (or two) (maybe it was three) as we DID NOT RUSH to our flight.

Getting into Geneva was a dream. There is free public transport (!) and the train from the airport to the very centre of the city takes all of around 15 minutes (!!). We did not get lost in city streets at 1am. By 1am we were in our extremely warm hotel room and I hadn’t even cried once.

 Bright and early the next morning we put on all the layers we could muster and headed out into the streets – at a tiny café I ordered us coffee and croissants in French and felt inappropriately impressed with myself. My high school French hadn’t failed me. And, thankfully, we both drink black coffee.


I’d been concerned for our days in Geneva as all the things we’d wanted to do were closed or booked or too far away (a cable car up a mountain, the United Nations, the tour at CERN) but we enjoy exploring a city, it’s relatively easy to navigate and of course the lake is absurdly beautiful; glacially clear water made us think less of the sluggish Thames, and the Jet d’Eau is simultaneously impressive and … not (it really is just a really really high jet of water)

  When I was 11 I went to Switzerland with my family and my memory is very much of a mixture of languages (German, Italian, French), a lot of cheese and chocolate and cuckoo clocks and cowbells, entirely Swiss clichés. But Geneva feels wholly and completely French. Well, French with extra fondue and chocolate. But still.

I think this is a geographic thing. I’d not realised Geneva was so completely out to the side of Switzerland, a little Swiss tributary into France. So basically this all to say I am 1. Bad at geography. 2. Not very good at researching locations before I get there.


Despite the 2°c chill in the air and clouds blanketing the valley, we walked up to the cathedral in the old town and continued on up the spire because that’s what you do when you’re in a foreign place? You get to as high a position as possible and peer into the distance. It’s what we did in London and Oslo; it’s what meerkats do watching out for danger etc. It seems sensible. I can’t fault it.


There were adorable markets all through the old town and a sculpture which marked New Zealand on it with no apparent explanation. We visited the art gallery and stopped at a café to sit outside in the sun for a sandwich and some vin chaud, we visited a tiny museum full of taxidermy and spent too long searching for exhibits that were no longer there.


We ended up back at the waterfront for the most beautiful pink and blue dusk. It’s ridiculous but the Jet d’Eau really comes into its own when the lake is still and beautiful and the clear sky stretches for miles. Until then it seems a little cramped, bowed by the clouds.


 Geneva is a city of bureaucrats, honestly, and I do not mean that as a bad thing. It’s a great place. And it’s full of bureaucrats. Yet somehow, Pip and I managed to find the five street corners which looked more like The Wire than any street corner I’ve ever passed in real life.

You can only really understand how unusual that is if I’ve pointed out about the bureaucrats.
So we walked, in the cold and the dark, past street corners of drug dealers who nonchalantly whistled just in case we were looking for hard drugs. We weren’t. We were looking for a Korean restaurant. But when we weren’t interested, they weren’t interested, and we found the kimchee we had been looking for.


It wasn’t absurdly early by our standards when we sat down to eat – it was after 7pm and we started with a drink – but we were the only customers in the entire restaurant. And it stayed that way. Which, while it was delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing, may have been the most I’ve ever spent on a meal. We’d been warned that Geneva was expensive but we’d been to Oslo, also famously pricey, and not been too alarmed. More fool us. So, you know, beware beware. 


Sitting outside when it’s freezing cold is quite a revelation – it takes a surprisingly long time for your body to realise quite how cold it is. We made it through most of a pint at a strange neighbourhood sports bar we passed on the not-drug-dealer-alley side of the way back to our hotel.

And yes, despite spending a ridiculous amount on dinner we still stopped for drinks. Because at that point, really, why do things by halves.


 I woke up early the next morning as I’d promised to call my family – this whole timezones thing is such a pain – but it’s not fair that we both have to wake up; so I put on my jacket and a hat and headed out into the still Swiss Sunday to walk the streets talking to the little box I was holding up in front of my face and disturb the general populace.

I do like talking to my family as I walk around and show them the sights except every single time I almost get hit by cars as I try to cross the street and maintain conversation …


On my way back I discovered a tiny hipster coffee bar for coffee and croissants to take back to my best girl in our hotel room. Breakfast in an overly warm Swiss hotel room is really quite lovely. Especially as you don’t have to worry about crumbs in the sheets.


 I know it makes sense, for a town full of bureaucrats, for the United Nations to only be open on weekdays but it makes it dreadfully inconvenient for weekend break travellers. Okay yes the visitor’s centre is still open on Saturdays but this was Sunday so it was no use at all.


 Eternally hopeful, we caught the tram to the giant broken chair statue and, at a nearby gallery of china and porcelain (I don’t know) we confirmed it was closed. 


You wouldn’t think a gallery of china and porcelain would be all that interesting. You would mostly be right. It was diverting in its own way but I don’t think I would recommend it. We spent some time standing in the windows upstairs looking like ghosts in the photos of the tourists outside. 


There is a seriously creepy statue outside the Red Cross museum – it’s called The Petrified and I was approaching it with reverence until I realised that the sign on the outside of the museum encourages you to take selfies and share them on Instagram with a hashtag. There was a lot of that at the Red Cross Museum (which is excellent) very serious subjects lightened with quirky displays.


 And that was pretty much all we did in Geneva. It wasn’t our most eventful trip but we came away eager to visit more Swiss-y parts of Switzerland and, thankfully, excited to spend time in France. Which we had planned for the very following weekend.

Paris. Potentially the most romantic weekend of my life.


1am in Oslo 

1am in Oslo in October is cold and quiet and orange-yellow with street lights. There are tunnels on main roads and surprise road works and then when you get to your hotel they don’t accept cash.

You only have cash.

When I moved back to London I promised myself this time I was going to take advantage of living so close to Europe. I was going to show up to work on Fridays with a backpack and head off straight after work across the seas. This month, as we finally feel settled in our London life, we managed to do just that.

Last Thursday was my 32nd birthday and I was not coping very well but that is not this story. My love and I had tickets to Norway so I wouldn’t get too down on the ravages of time.  


We had picked Oslo almost at random – there were excellent flights for the weekend we wanted to go somewhere, anywhere and thus, with a wish and a prayer, Norway it was.
Unfortunately, it turns out that hell actually is Friday night at Stansted airport. It took us 8 hours, a mess of security, running for our gate, and then an hour’s standing bus ride to get from our offices in London to a hotel in Oslo. Arriving to find the hotel wouldn’t accept our payment, and our room was probably actually only ever intended for one person at a time? I am an easily frustrated person.

Saturday dawned clear and crisp and cool. I had brought my winter jacket and I was so pleased the first time I really needed it was outside of London. We’ve travelled together now, this jacket and me, I think this bodes well.


 I didn’t have any expectations for Norway and, embarrassingly, only knew how to say Hallo and Takk, but it was really quite beautiful (and everyone, of course, spoke perfect English. They’re so impressive).


 The harbour is beautiful and the entire city is filled with trees. It’s the beginning of autumn so leaves were just beginning to turn and the city was a patchwork of green and brown and orange and gold.


 It was grimier than I was expecting, with fewer old buildings. But that’s probably because I was thinking of Sweden. Norway was the second poorest country in Europe until they struck oil in the 1970s – it’s now the second richest and this you can definitely tell, there are beautiful modern buildings all around the waterfront. An astounding opera house and a modern art museum I wish we’d had more time to visit.


 What did we actually do? We were travelling on a shoestring thanks to the hotel inconvenience, and Norway is a reputedly expensive city. Our focus is on doing a few things well rather than rushing through a checklist. That is just what we did and it ended up being a practically perfect weekend.


 The metro system in Oslo is relatively painless to navigate (if uh you have someone with you who is excellent at navigating public transport (I’m so lucky)) and the ride up to the hills above Oslo to Holmenkollen allows for beautiful views right the way across the city.

What is Holmenkollen, you ask? It’s a massive ski jump metres above the city. There’s a viewing platform right at the top with ridiculously beautiful panoramic views and the ski museum inside was surprisingly diverting – even for a non-skier like myself.

There is also a downhill ski simulator which pretty much cemented that non-skier status. No thank you very much. I’ll just look at the sights.


  Hotdogs are A Thing in Norway. We ate them in a park with ketchup and mustard and remoulade?


 I picked this iced coffee because I liked the packaging but it turned out to be “Christmas” flavoured – cinnamon and nutmeg. I think. It was delicious. I love it when judging a book by its cover works out well.


We climbed around the outside of the Akershus Festning, a medieval castle built to protect Oslo, and met a skittery police horse. The police horse was definitely a highlight.


That night we ended up in an English theme pub watching Norway play Malta at football surrounded by Norwegian blokes before collapsing into our tiny little bed.


 Early Sunday morning we were back at the water to catch the ferry over to the Bygdøy peninsula. We had a date with museums-about-ships.


There are two stops on the Bygdøy ferry – everyone gets off at the first stop to go to the cultural and Viking ship museums but if you stay right where you are, you can get off at the second stop and go to the Fram and Kon-Tiki museums. When you’re finishing up there, that’s when all the people who got off at the first stop will show up and crowd the place. Perfect timing. I’m guessing you could then go back and visit those other museums but we didn’t (I’m not very into Viking history tbh).


 Instead, I went to see if there was a gate to the Royal Palace (there did not appear to be), we bought hats (mine has a moose on it) and made extra sure we got a seat on the bus back to the airport.


 One time Norway knighted a penguin. His name is Sir Nils Olav. Now he’s a snapchat geo filter by the palace.


We arrived back home at 10pm on Sunday night and on Monday morning we were back at work, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Somehow, despite not taking a single moment off work, I felt like I’d been away for a week.


 Visiting Europe in the weekends is the best thing. Next up? Switzerland!


I am a ridiculous romantic fool from time to time so I bought secret flights. But she really does like planning things as much as I do. Keeping it a secret right to the end would not have worked out well.

(I just looked up the average temperature for the weekend we’re visiting? It’s 4°C degrees.)


Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter … 

And back to travel tales…

So we didn’t go to the aquarium in Bangkok, or Prachuap, and I don’t know if there even were any in the towns we visited around England and Wales, so we’ve kind of completely & utterly failed at this so far but! We DID make it to the London Aquarium. 

It was expensive & full of tiny children shouting about nemo and teenage Italian boys trying to take selfies looking staunch with sharks in the background (and completely failing) but there were rays & massive tanks & jellyfish & I can’t help it. Lord but I am a fool for aquariums. 

(Is the plural even aquariums? Aquaria? I do not care enough to look it up)



Day trippers: Oxford

I had a temp job starting on Monday and as such to celebrate (sort of) my last days of freedom before gainful employment* (sort of) my girl and I decided to head to Oxford for the day.

It’s … really very close to London. So close, in fact, we’d deliberately left it off our road trip.

I’d visited Oxford once before, with my family when I was 11. My one memory of it is of an audiobook of The Witches by Roald Dahl – which my family quoted for years afterward.

We only really decided the night before. In that kind of “oh why not?” kind of way we sort of excel at. I downloaded an app, bought tickets, and we were set for the very next morning. No reserving a seat, no special coach station. We went to a bus stop just down from Madame Tussauds and flagged down the next bus to Oxford.

It’s only an hour and a half (ish) from the centre of London to the Centre of Oxford. That’s like driving from Wellington to like … Levin.

My favourite moment from the drive was when I realised we were driving through a suburb called Headington. Just outside Oxford, I’d kind of written off seeing the Headington Shark and there we were, driving right past the street! We didn’t stop so I didn’t get a photo, but we saw it and that’s good enough for me.

Actually called “Untitled 1986” the Headington Shark is a sculpture intended to express someone feeling totally impotent, angry, and desperate. Created by sculptor John Buckley, the shark was erected, without planning permission, on the 41st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and only received permission to remain in 1992.

I love it.

Given we’d only really decided to go to Oxford the night before, we had absolutely no idea what it was we wanted to do. Thankfully Oxford is teeny tiny so getting from place to place wasn’t a problem. And also thankfully, the town itself is absolutely beautiful so just wandering the streets was almost enough.

There’s a strange air in Oxford. Unless they’re on their way to exams in dress robes, you can’t really tell students from most of the tourists and there are a lot of souvenir shops but, given most of the attractions are also, you know, a working university, it doesn’t feel touristy at all. It’s unnerving, like you’re in a town where everyone is just a little bit lost.

We picked the Ashmolean museum because we are inveterately curious about the world. It’s a great collection and I think the first time I’ve been in a museum which has a room dedicated to the history of said museum. So very meta.


Oxford has, unsurprisingly, one of the biggest book stores in the world. Blackwell’s. We visited and I wanted to buy oh so many books. But I made that mistake last time I lived in the United Kingdom and I shan’t be repeating it – I find it too too hard to divest myself of books. It’s easier to just try and not buy them in the first place.

Then everything fell apart a bit. We tried to visit the Bodleian library but their tours were sporadic, and expensive. Or maybe the audio guide would have been fine? But again, they don’t really promote it all that much so we just kind of wandered away and around past the Radcliffe Camera – largest reading room in the world. But, because of exams, closed to the public. Damn.

Half of Christ Church was open – but not the Great Hall which was properly 50% of what I’d wanted to see. But I was determined that this would not be another Bodleian so in we went. 

And it was totally worth it. The college buildings and the quad, even without the Great Hall, are beautiful, but the Cathedral – oh the Cathedral is lovely. It’s a teeny little church turned Cathedral by Henry VIII but it’s richly decorated – with stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones, one of my favourite artists.  

     And, to add to the fucking ambience, there was a youth orchestra practising for a performance and it sounded just like the most ridiculous movie soundtrack.

Then, because we’re us and we’re beautifully predictable, we found a pub with just enough time for a pint before our bus home (unrelated to Oxford, I’m sure, but our bus took for-ever to get back to London).

Basically, it was great and I think we love day trips now. We’re thinking of heading to Whitstable and Brighton and Cambridge and Windsor and Kingston, and those are just the few I can think of right here right now.

* It’s a two week temporary position. But it’s much better than nothing.