Archive for December, 2017

Kew Gardens at Christmas

December 30, 2017

Who knew that Kew Gardens opens up at night over the Christmas period for a spectacular Christmas lighting show? Roy, Antony and I made our way across London via bus, train and tube to wait for Alex and Ian to independently arrive after work at the train stop near Kew. We had arranged to meet at a local pub not too far from the gardens ready for our allocated time of entry into the gardens. Following are just some pictures showing the amazing display which we found as we meandered through the gardens.

Christmas tree made up of sleighs with an ever changing colourful light display set to music.

This impressive display of balls which changed colour and lighting variation in time to amazing orchestral music. The balls covered an area the size of half a football field.

Lights and decorations among the treeStars light the trees

tunnel of lights

Alex & Ian in the tunnel of lightColourfully lit bridge which was again a moving light show set to music. When we got to walk across the bridge we discovered that there was another light show going on under the water, all coordinated to the music.

and then there was the marshmallows to toast over braziers. Roy and I toasting our chosen flavours, mine was toasted coconut, his was passion fruit and ginger.

and the four of us toasting marshmallows, L-R Bernice Antony Roy and Alex. And the other flavours? Alex & Ian had raspberry and champagne, Antony had caramel popcorn. They were amazingly delicious and a welcome treat about half way around the walk.

one of the beautiful huge trees all dressed in lights

the Kew Gardens Glass House with a beautiful lighting display

But at the end of the trail was the pièce de résistance, a lighting show displayed on a fountain of water in the middle of the Lake set to music telling a tale of Christmas including moving figures.

the display in the Lake with the glass house in the background.

More can be seen here

After just over two and a half hours we had made our way back to the start, now to catch the tube and then the train home after a great night out.

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Christmas in London

December 29, 2017

Plans were made, orders placed and lists drawn up in readiness for Christmas Day. Alex and Ian were hosting Christmas Day festivities this year and for Ian’s family this would be a little different from their traditional fare. Tables were arranged so everyone could be seated comfortably, seating plans were made, cutlery and crockery were borrowed, Christmas crackers were made, the menu drawn up and we were all set for the day with a bit of a kiwi twist put on it all.

The English were nearly outnumbered by Kiwis though as Alex’s friend from Oamaru days, Kaz, who also lives in London came to join in the fun. However, it was not all going to be Kiwified, one English tradition for this family is that you all head to the pub around midday for a couple of hours, to meet up with friends, celebrate over a couple of drinks before heading home for Christmas dinner, it was in fact good fun and a nice way for everyone to catch up with friends before going off home for family time. It also happens to be one of Ian’s mates birthday on Christmas Day and there is a long standing tradition of him opening his birthday gifts from his mates whilst at the pub…..let’s just say that I have no idea where these guys found the gifts but let’s just say they were hilarious (and some were very definitely x rated!!).

Once back at home, Alex and I got into cooking mode, although there wasn’t that much to do as we had prepped just about everything before hand, so it was just the last finishing touches to do.the table all set ready to go

We all settled down with a festive drink and some nibbles before dinner was ready, Roy had made a delicious duck pistachio and cranberry terrine which with a few pickles and some nice bread went down very well. Then it was time for entree and our homage to turkey, in the form of turkey bonbons with a port cranberry sauce. Apparently roast turkey is the usual main course in this part of the world and to deviate from having a turkey was unheard of. So as not to disappoint those who wanted turkey we came up with this alternative, turkey breast pieces in a spicy rub encased in phylo pastry made to look like Christmas crackers or bonbons. They went down a treat. Then it was the main course…..Beef Wellington using ribeye beef, and it looked and tasted fantastic I have to say, and along with all the trimmings it was a great success. You will note a lack of photographic evidence of the food….some of us were working too hard to have remembered to take any pictures!! However here are a few of us enjoying the meal.

Once the main was out of the way it was time to adjourn to the lounge for another variation on Christmas gift giving, our version of secret Santa.

everyone was told to buy a gift to a nominated value, wrap in newspaper and bring it along. Everyone then draws a number out of a hat to determine the order in which you choose and open a gift, once opened, you can then opt to either keep the gift or swap with another opened gift. With much hilarity gifts were opened, kept, swapped and swapped again.

Christine opening one of her gifts with Julie & Brian watching on

who bought that, we all wondered?!

Antony and Ian discussing the pros and cons with the rest of us laughing along

Roy and Alex

It was all rather hilarious with some inventive wrapping and packaging also in evidence, and everyone received a really good present. I think that the English members of the family were quite impressed with the whole idea and it certainly makes life a lot easier rather than buying small gifts for all.

The gift swapping took a good hour and a half to complete and then it was time for dessert, a pavlova of course and a chocolate roulade as well as a small Christmas pudding for those traditionalists.

There was a planned cheeseboard for afters but by this time we were all well and truly full, so it was time for trying out some of those gifts, generally chat and look back on the day. The outcome? Well, the English have decided that Christmas 2019 will be held in New Zealand with our turn to host……hmmmm, does that mean we shall have to find ourselves a base? We shall see!!!

Antony arrives

December 28, 2017

Back tracking a little, late Friday afternoon the week before Christmas Alex, Roy and I headed off to Heathrow to pick up Antony who was arriving after a loooong trip from Auckland to London via LA and Munich. Unfortunately we got caught up in some very heavy traffic which was then further complicated by a breakdown in one of the lanes and we ground to a complete halt for some time, and as a result we were running late.

traffic at a standstill in the rain.

We arrived a little late however Antony was through customs and had collected his luggage and was waiting for us, wearing shorts and jandals! Brrr, he might just be changing into something a little warmer once we get home. We had a good run home where we organised dinner whilst Antony had a shower to freshen up as after 36 hours of travelling all you want is a nice hot shower, a bite to eat and then bed.

The following day was spent doing a bit of shopping and getting organised in readiness for Christmas Day as Alex & Ian are hosting the day this year. Then in the late afternoon, Antony and Ian went off to a local pub to watch a football match and undoubtedly down a few pints whilst Alex, Roy and I went off to see the pantomime Cinderella at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford.

view of the stage from our seats.

The panto was hilarious with humour aimed at both adults and children, but the best part of the whole show for us was watching the young boy in front of us becoming totally involved in the show, yelling at the villain and shouting out the traditional “he’s behind you” or “watch out” or cheering on the hero/heroine. It was a really lovely night out.

The following day we all went into London to the Southbank Christmas market as well as the regular street food market a few hundred metres away. We enjoyed a variety of street food first finding some shelter from the drizzly cold weather under a marquee before we headed off to the Christmas market. We wandered around the stalls imbibing on a little mulled wine along the way, just to keep us warm of course, before deciding to adjourn to the bar under the bridge purely to stay dry on the outside.

Alex, Antony, Ian, Roy and I.

sign at the bar!

The next couple of days were spent going off to visit museums, more markets and generally getting prepared for Christmas.

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas to you all,

From the Vannini’s in London.

Back in old Blighty

December 20, 2017

We arrived back in London after having had a fantastic trip through Portugal and southern Spain although the temperature change was a little bit of a surprise but it didn’t take us long to get our winter gear out and dress appropriately for the conditions. We have been back a few weeks now and I have to admit that blog writing has not been high on the priority list with most days fairly busy however I shall endeavour to do a bit of a catch up and get back on track, although there will be a a couple of entries out of sequence for Roy’s musings on a few places of interest.

The major happening has been Alex and Ian have had their back garden landscaped and transformed and that meant a group of men were here working for the past two weeks. I was kept busy making cups of tea and doing the odd bit of baking.

This is the before picture

The garden sloped up quite steeply to the back fence which had a line of conifers that blocked out the winter sun and also drew any goodness out of the soil plus they took up quite a bit of space. How much space we were unsure as it was impossible to tell until they cut them down.

The start of the tree removal. We could now see that once the trees were gone they had gained over 3m in their garden.

By the end of the first day all the trees were down and they had started digging out the first level.

Start of the new fence going in….and what’s this? Neighbours? Where were they before?!

Progress was swift over the first few days with plenty of workers on site. By the end of the first week things were looking great.

We had been very lucky with the weather although temperatures were very chilly at least there was no rain however that was about to change with a cold snap due. We woke on Sunday morning to snow falling.

Ian’s parents and 2 brothers Matt & Mike were coming round to visit as well as Mikes partner Sam(antha) and their children Olivia and the new addition to their family 10 day old Beth. Ian took Olivia out to play on the little yellow digger, although we are not sure who wanted to play on it more!!

Then it was Alex’s turn to help Olivia make a snowman on the front lawn

Then it was time to put together a gingerbread house kit with Olivia, although we are not sure that all the decorations made it onto the house.

but she had heaps of fun, as did Alex and I helping her, and she took it home to share with her friends.

Meanwhile, the garden progress slowed somewhat after the snow but by the end of the second week it was all done.

And just to compare, here are the before and after pictures

A great result with lots of usable space, now just to get the neighbours on the right hand side to put in a decent fence. We have learned that here in the UK, the fence on the left hand side of the property is yours to put in and maintain.

It hasn’t all been gardens though, Roy and Ian went to a couple of local football matches….although I think the after match functions are more of a highlight!

Roy with a couple of the players after the game.

Not to be left out of the fun, Alex and I went off for afternoon tea

Roy went out with Ian, father Barry and brother Matt for an afternoon of bowling, although I’m pretty sure a visit to another pub was also on the programme.

Roy in action with Matt and Barry watching on.

And Roy and I went out one evening for a change and had a lovely meal out and we also managed to sneak in a bit of Christmas shopping.

There have been visits to museums and libraries which Roy will be filling in accounts of at some stage. We also met up with Barry & Christine one day for a nice lunch out at a little local pub.

The other news is that our son Antony arrived safely on Friday night, but that update is for another post.

Around Granada

December 16, 2017

After five days our time in Granada is coming to an end, a lovely stay again with lots to see and do and a very friendly and easy place to find your way around. Our last day was spent seeing a few last sights and also doing a little bit of shopping for a few reminders of our time here.

Church in Centro Sagrario, just behind our apartment .

Plaza Nueva, despite its name (New Plaza) this is the oldest square in Granada and is lined with beautiful old buildings.

San Ildefonso area with decorative roundabout with old town wall in the background.

Albaicín Quarter gateway, which is one of the oldest parts of the city, with narrow winding streets dating back to Moorish times.

View over Granada from the Albaicín Quarter.

There was a a couple of interesting sights around the city such as the following

Artificial grass is laid between the train/tram tracks throughout the city making them look very tidy.

narrow pedestrian-only streets are everywhere off the main thoroughfares which makes it pleasant to walk around the city.

Just behind the information centre we found this beautiful courtyard area.

the above two pictures are of the interesting street lighting.

And after all that sightseeing we just had to reward ourselves with a hot chocolate and some churros

And on the subject of food, one of us had a birthday whilst we were in Granada so what better way to celebrate than with a nice meal out.

Bubbles to start off the evening

And entree was a lovely black sausage dish. The rest of the meal was enjoyed without taking any more photos as we were enjoying the food and atmosphere too much!

Interruption

December 11, 2017

We interrupt the usual broadcast to tell you that we are back in London, we have been back a couple of weeks now, and yes, we are behind with blog posts. We just have a couple more posts to do on our last few days in Spain before we returned to the UK, hopefully we can get those done this week.

Meanwhile here are a couple of pictures from yesterday’s snow event…..yes, it’s cold, but it’s pretty and what you expect at this time of the year we are just hoping we get more for Christmas Day then we will have a white Christmas.

looking out of the upstairs hall window to the street

The neighbour clearing her driveway

Ian’s family came for lunch and to introduce us all to Beth, who was only born just over a week ago, and her big sister Olivia. With the snow falling continuously for most of the day Olivia wanted to build a snowman, Alex was co-opted into assisting with the making of the snowman, complete with stones for his eyes, a carrot for his nose and twigs for his arms,

Then to finish the day, we had a little gingerbread house building and decorating with Olivia….not sure that all of the decorations ended up on the house but she loved doing it!

Normal blog transmission will resume shortly!

Alhambra

December 6, 2017

One of the main reasons of coming to Granada was to visit the Alhambra. The Alhambra (The Red One) was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century and is a reflection of the culture of the last centuries of the Moorish rule. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333, then after the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered in the Renaissance style. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings were occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who had conducted retaliatory destruction of the site. It’s had a very mixed history, with periods of ruin, rebuild, wilful vandalism and some ill-judged restoration nevertheless its stands today as an amazing building decorated with mosaic tiles, carved plaster, intricately carved wood all set around large courtyards with water features.

Lots of photos to follow, but I have to say that photos do not do it justice, it is truly amazing to the extent of sensory overload.

at the entrance is a fountain dedicated to a Washington Irving, author of Rip van Winkle and Legend of Sleepy Hollow as well as many books on Spain, US ambassador to Spain in the early 1800’s.

the entrance gateway has carved over the lintel a pair of hands in prayer,

And inside is another gateway that has a key engraved

It is said that if the key and hands ever meet then the site will be obliterated.

You have to pre book a ticket online to gain access into the Palace, they do not sell tickets at the Alhambra we had booked our tickets the previous night and downloaded it onto my phone. We arrived and queued to gain entry, with access limited to I would guess around 50 people, and entry every 30minutes.

Every surface is intricately covered in patterns either mosaic, scripts, patterns, all elaborately coloured however over time some of the colours have faded but you can imagine how brightly coloured it must have been.

examples of mosaic tiles

carved script and intricate patterns

intricately carved ceilings

Water is an important feature of the Alhambra.

gardens and courtyards are beautifully laid out.

There were so many interesting features that I could go on adding more and more pictures but I think that I have to stop somewhere before this goes on forever. But I will leave you with this one last picture

this is one of the courtyard areas where we stopped to have a drink and where a large number of cats frequent looking for food from visitors. This was just a small sample of the seemingly huge numbers of cats everywhere throughout the complex.

An amazing place to visit and spend a day, it now makes me realise how lacking my history knowledge is for this part of the world which is something I shall have to rectify.

Granada

December 1, 2017

Farewell Seville, it’s been a fantastic stay in your wonderful city. For the final time we bade farewell to our lovely apartment on the Christo de Burgos Square and took a taxi to the train Station. We seem to have frequented this train station fairly frequently over the past few days, however on arrival for the first time we did wonder where we were when we saw this sign.

This trip to Granada was scheduled to be a three and a half hour journey, we were told that the train was only going as far as Antiquera and then we had to change to a bus, apparently they are doing major refurbishment on the tracks.

the journey took us through hundreds of kilometres of olive trees, we estimated at least 300kilometres of non stop olive trees for as far as the eye could see.

After an hour and a half on the train we pulled into Antiquera train station. Antiquera surprised us a little as it is a train station in the middle of nowhere with not another building in sight! We were offloaded from the train and settled into a luxury bus for the rest of the journey. In the car parking area there was this interesting piece of sculpture.

A stack of left luggage, chairs, tv, louvres and other bits and pieces.

The olive trees continued to be our view from the side windows of the bus and there was a tv screen at the front of the bus which showed a continuous stream from the dashboard camera so we could see exactly what was ahead of us. We passed through a town called Manzanil, we presume this is the home of Manzanilla olives.

Another hour and a half later and we arrived at the Granada train station where we caught a cab to our apartment right in the centre of town. We were met by our host and we’re quickly settled in. We found a nice surprise on the bedroom wall

a map of the world with New Zealand included!

this was the view from our apartment window, and yes that is snow on the hills in the background.

Time to step out and find out what is around and about us and to also get in a few basics. We saw some interesting shops including this one.

Jamon, Jamon, and more Jamon.

Jamon is Spanish for ham, this jamon is a dry cured ham from the black Iberian pig and is usually dried and aged for around 18months to 3 years. It really is delicious and I have to admit that we ate more than our fair share! There was also salamis and chorizos of all sorts to be had……eat your heart out Steve!