little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: travel

Barcelona and out

P105049520 May: Aix-en-Provence | Avignon | Port Bou | Barcelona
A long day of travel (taxi-bus-train-bus-train-train-taxi) that gets us into another country, a new language, and a whole different daily rhythm, with the loss of only one pair of little person shoes.

The final taxi takes us through the city and up, up the hills, so that we start to wonder where we are going, but then we find our little apartment and it’s just fine — small and clean and comfortable, with an extraordinarily complicated shower and a perfect view over the city to the sea.

We’re close to the top entrance of Park Güell, with a good selection of neighbourhood shops: a grocer, a butcher, a baker, fruit and veg, a café/bar, and a chemist. It’s not very touristy, more families and young people, and older ones too, and lots of dogs. We pull together dinner and settle to bed. Tomorrow, Barcelona!

P105049821 May: Barcelona
As soon as I wake up, I’m excited, eager to get out in this wonderful Spanish city. We have breakfast, then walk down to Park Güell — the paths wind down through the gardens, taking in views of the city and glimpses of buildings, sculpture, columns, platforms, kiosks, and people.

The Cat gets a crash course in the intersections of class capitalism and State power; there are men everywhere with trinkets laid out for sale on squares of white cloth — they want to sell, and the Cat, clutching his little bag of money, is very keen to buy. But every time he gets close, a police officer appears on the horizon and the men disappear, melting into the crowd, their goods tucked into a coat or shoved into a rubbish bin. It takes a few circuits of the park and some hurried negotiation before the Cat manages to get small presents for each of his friends, for his aunt and uncle, and for himself. But he’s fascinated by the process, and bewildered too.

P1050454We have lunch at the bottom of the hill, then wander home for siesta and a grocery shop. I try out my very rudimentary Spanish with a great deal of enthusiasm and very little skill — at one point I find myself mooing to indicate I’d like steak… all class, that’s me.

After a siesta — no actual sleep, but a definite pause in the day — we catch the bus into town and walk down to the Sagrada Familia. It’s big, it’s unfinished, it’s like no building I’ve ever seen before. The children are more interested in the playground across the road, but I’m on a Gaudi trip, so I brightly suggest that we wander around L’Eixample for a while because I’m sure there’s a famous apartment somewhere here. Which — it eventually turns out — there is, and it’s fabulous, but I’ve pushed too far and my child is mutinous. We forego the planned tapas and escape home on a bus. Next time, next time, I’ll go into these buildings, and maybe my boy will come too.P1050480

At the end of the day, the light brightens over the city, so that the shadows deepen and a sort of glow takes hold of the buildings. I stand on the balcony and take photo after photo, because I’ve fallen for this city, fallen big time.

22 May: Barcelona
We are off to be tourists today; we pack a bag of snacks and head into town. First stop = Plaça de Catalunya for morning tea and running with the pigeons. Then we walk down Las Ramblas, which is more cheerful and less hassly than I was expecting from the guidebooks. We spot the market and stop for a happy detour — piles of gorgeous fruit and veg, fish, meats, deli things, honey, etc, etc. We buy olives, anchovies, and artichokes, fresh juices for the boys, and hand-sliced ham. For those who skimmed over that last bit, a woman stood in front of a hanging, swinging leg of ham, steadied it with one hand, and carved paper-thin slices off it with what I assume was a very sharp knife. P1050507We take a moment to register what she’s doing, then just look at each other in awe. That’s some knife skills right there.

We need lunch now, so we find our way into a little square in the Barri Gòtic and settle into a restaurant. Then an afternoon of following our noses, gradually meandering to the sea. We do a bit of shopping (mostly window) and find excellent sorbet. I have pear with cinnamon and ginger, and it’s addictively good. I’m going to make this when we get home.

The Cat has walked like a trooper today, so we gather ourselves together and head back to the apartment, where we have a little pause before trying out the local swimming pool. We do pretty much everything wrong, including not having caps, but the staff help sort us out (we’re definitely the muddle-headed, incompetent foreigners in this one) and the water feels good after a long day. Home for a late dinner, which is basically our market shopping laid out on the table. Should I say it again? I really like this city.P1050503

23 May: Barcelona
Our last day, which seems to have come around all too soon. Ian takes the boys to the zoo, and I take Dad with me on an intense shopping trip through the old city, in which I sort all remaining presents, get only a bit lost, and forget to stop for food and drink. So by the time we meet the boys back at the zoo, we’re very ready for lunch, which leads to a lot of hapless decision making and vague wandering. But we do end up eating, which perks everyone right up.

Later that evening, with the sun setting and the moon rising into the night, we take the boys down to Park Güell for a final walk. We photograph each other, looking out over the city. It’s been such a very good trip.

24 May: Barcelona | Munich
We have an eye-wateringly early start for our flight to Munich, then train rides through the rain to Christl’s house. Christl meets us at the station, and it’s wonderful to see her again, and to settle into her warm, beautiful house. My grandparents met Christl 40-something years ago on the ferry to Stewart Island, when she was in her twenties and back-packing around New Zealand with a Toss Woollaston under her arm and all the courage and openness of youth. She stayed with them for a while, starting a friendship that has taken in four generations of my family. She and Mum had a special bond, and Mum’s absence feels strong here, like the link that holds us all together.

We have a Bavarian lunch: weisswürst and pretzels, with a lush green salad to follow. Then naps and curling up by the tiled wood stove, before a walk by the river and the lake. The bird spotter clocks a mandarin duck, swans on the nest, coots, and ducks. We throw stones into the water, and Christl and I discover that we both keep a small stone or two in our coat pockets.

That night we sleep under feather duvets, burrowing into the warmth.

P105060825 May: Munich | Hong Kong | Aotearoa
It’s my birthday! We wake to a sick Rabbit — he vomits four times before breakfast — but we also manage cuddles and presents, and when we make it to the breakfast table, Christl has laid my place with candles and flowers. We have coffee and rolls with good things, keep an eye on the Rabbit, wash a few hundred towels, and head out for some fresh air. It’s a funny day — we have a cold, damp trip to the zoo, the Rabbit sleeps a lot and slowly brightens, I speak German as well as I can, we eat lots of good German food, we talk and talk and talk, and all the time we’re getting ready to go home.

We fly out at night — a hideous trip — and many hours later, we land in Dunedin. My sister takes us home, gives us hot soup and rolls, sends us to bed. The first night, we are wakened by the Cat (x 3, then he’s up at 3.49am), the Rabbit (x 4), the actual cat (x 2), and Ian’s work (3 phone calls at 7am because it’s snowing and they’d really like him to get out in it and report. Indeed, there’s a good five inches of snow when we wake up, and I can’t really get my head around it.

Europe already feels like the other side of the world, and I want to go back.

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Travel: the South of France

P105034113 May: Paris | Lyon
An earlyish start with Métro/TGV links that leave us all stressed and short with each other. We have slightly more luggage than is comfortable, and we are carrying too much food. We’re now a group of seven again, so the dynamics are shifting and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m finding everyone annoying in quite particular and ungenerous ways. Actually, everyone else is fairly well behaved and happy, so probably I’m just a hopeless, bad-tempered introvert.

But Lyon is beautiful, strikingly so, and our friend is there on the platform to meet us. He lives in the old part of town, in an apartment set high in an old, old building, perhaps 700 years old, with worn, winding stone staircases, thick walls, sudden courtyards and alleys.

P1050310With our small domestic circus slowly unravelling, we make it through lunch and into an afternoon walk around the old city. We arm ourselves with sorbet, then catch the funicular up to the cathedral and look out over the city. All parental powers of persuasion are needed to get the Cat down the hill to the Roman amphitheatre ruins. But the old charms of stones and open spaces start to work, just a little. We play in the ruins, letting ourselves be washed by time. Contentment is close at hand.

P1050343In the evening, we go out for a late dinner. I take the Rabbit out for a couple of walks, once to see the building over the road, which has a mural covering the outside — a huge wall of painted windows, each housing one or two local historical figures. The Rabbit circles the building many times, freshly enchanted on each circuit. The second walk is to a square a few blocks away. We see the moon and trees and lights. It’s magic.

15 May: Lyon | Aix-en-Provence
A stressful trip, with a long wait for a bus in Aix that leaves everyone more or less catatonic. I dig through the food bag and pull together a late afternoon snack of cous-cous, snow peas, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, and ham. The house is French country lovely, with a long, grassy field for the boys to run in, a view of the mountain, and green shutters. I’m a sucker for a shutter.

The menfolk depart on a long and late market shopping trip, and we play with a ball in the fading light. I reach the end of my parental and travelling energy.

16 May: Aix-en-Provence
We’re all moving slowly this morning, finding our rhythm as a group. The grandparents head out to look at Cezanne’s atelier and explore the city, while we have the morning and lunch at home, needing the quiet and a break from seeing and doing.

After lunch, we go into town to organise a hire car for our trip to the Camargue. The market shop yesterday provides a good dinner: potato salad with sausages, asparagus, green beans, and a mustard/lemon dressing.

I don’t think it’s as warm here as I was expecting.

P105035017 May: Aix-en-Provence | Camargue
Ian, Dad, the boys and I set off early to pick up a hire car. Ian heroically drives on the “wrong” side of the road through small towns and thunderstorms while Dad and I helpfully navigate from the satnav, which seems to have an aversion to toll roads and highways.

P1050371We make it to Saintes-Maries-de la-Mer in time to eat our baguettes in the car while the Rabbit sleeps. We find a café for coffee and cake — the owner is so warm and welcoming that I am inspired all over again to have a midlife crisis and open a café. Luckily, I’m not yet middle-aged. I don’t think. We head back up the road to the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau, a vast wetland reserve full of birds, including FLAMINGOS.

P1050414We walk all around the park, entranced by the birds, frogs, and coypus (a water-loving mammal somewhere between a musk rat and a beaver), the horses, the water and reeds and sky. The Cat gets bored of flamingos after the first 1000 or so, reserving his greatest delight for a European bee-eater, but I am punch drunk in love with them, with their long, balletic legs, their miraculous flight, their fish-hook beaks. I’ve never seen a bird more ridiculously exotic, nor more exotically ridiculous either. They’re like magnolias on the wing.

P105044018 May: Aix-en-Provence
Another date day! We should travel with the full extended family more often. Provence is getting record levels of rain, so Dad, Ian and I venture out in it to run errands and visit the market. The market is in the old part of the city, and we buy the makings of a good lunch — roast chicken, olive dips, lettuce, asparagus, peas, melons, tomatoes, etc. I feel bold and stompy for most of the morning, then suddenly just cold and wet.

We dry out over lunch, then Ian and I head back into town to see The Great Gatsby. I don’t know; I really don’t. I like Luhrmann’s take on the era — his over-the-top, anachronistic style seems a good fit for Gatsby’s 1920s, and I like how DiCaprio plays Gatsby. But I don’t think any contemporary actress should be playing Daisy as empty as Mulligan plays her, whatever the limitations of the book or the script. And I remember very little of the book, but I do remember a haunting sense of loss and sorrow at the end, but with a lightness and ambiguity to it that rescues it from schmaltz. Luhrmann’s ending feels too resolved, too firm in its moral judgements. Maybe I just don’t like being told what to think or how to feel.

We have a good time debating all this on the way home, and I hope I don’t entirely ruin the film for Ian. It’s possible I go on a bit much.

P105045119 May: Aix-en-Provence
Our last day in France. In the morning, we walk to the little park where Cezanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire. I am seriously enjoying all the wildflower action in this part of the world, and I realise how much Mum liked to use these soft, anarchic plants. The grasses are left unmown, and the seedheads are beautiful in the morning light.

In the afternoon, we tidy and pack and buy supplies. Everything is drawing to a close; home is beginning to call.P1050412

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Travel: Paris

About halfway through our travels, we move from the UK to France and I start writing in the present tense. Odd. I could psychoanalyse myself, or I could just roll with it. I’m rolling.

P1050179 9 May: London | Paris
An early start for the Eurostar, then whoosh through the tunnel and we’re up and in France. A bit muddly finding our way through the Métro (accent/no accent?? help me, someone — the internet is inconclusive) to our flat, but the owner meets us on the street and the flat is just perfect — small and light and charming. Dad and I go shopping around the corner on Rue Daguerre, returning with baguettes and ham and fruit and pastries. We take the Rabbit to the playground in the afternoon, where he potters about very happily.

It’s so good to be in France, to be eating summer fruit at the peak of ripeness and looking out over these old rooftops. It’s like coming home.

10 May: Paris
An orientation day, starting with a walk to Jardin de Luxembourg. But first, baguettes, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten any so good — they have a sourdough quality, chewy, light, hole-y, soft, and crusty all at once. I can’t get enough, and I do a bit of ranting about the cost and quality of food at home. The melons are so ripe that I feel drunk eating them. The fragrance is straight from heaven.

The walk brings back memories — the wide, tree-lined boulevards, the shops, the forbidden grass. We find a playground, and the Rabbit is happy. The Cat sits on a bench reading and eating his baguette. Ian reads his newspaper. Dad and I let ourselves be directed by the small one, who has discovered the power of point and command. It is a little hard to enjoy the garden, with the wind cooler than expected and the Rabbit getting cross about non-grass rules. But we eat our lunch and feel as elegant as possible in the circumstances.

We catch a bus to the Pont Neuf and walk onto our island. Around a corner, and there’s the square, with Hotel Henri IV and the trees and the sudden quiet. We stop for a coffee, which is a more frazzling experience than in the pre-children days, then the Cat and Ian guide us on the Métro to the Tour Eiffel. It’s big. We Métro home. I buy honey from a shop that has dozens of varieties. I choose citrus flowers.

11 May: Paris
A day for the children today. We go to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne. Ian takes the boys on a train ride in the woods while Dad and I scout out the surroundings. It’s Breton-themed at the moment, so lots of stalls with galettes, oysters and champagne, striped clothing, cider, etc. The boys come back, and we find a table under the trees for our pique-nique.

Then we wander about, find the aviary, and try the amusement rides. The boys are allowed one thing each, so the Rabbit drives a firetruck on a merry-go-round with his Mama, and the Cat drives a racing car with his Dad. Ian is supposed to be the driver, but I have clear photographic evidence of the Cat’s hands on the wheel. A little farm zoo next, with tired, cross animals, then we stop for a drink.

Home on the Métro and shopping for dinner. The other grandparents are meeting us at the flat, so Dad and I do a comprehensive if not particularly efficient shop on Rue Daguerre, and then we have a little feast: ham, snow peas, cucumber, hummus, and olives while we catch up and get dinner ready; rainbow trout baked with lemon and bay, couscous with dates and apricots, asparagus, and green salad; melon and sorbet for dessert. Wine and coffee. It’s easy, pretty, and quick to prepare, and I want to shop and cook like this more often.

12 May: Paris
Mother’s Day! I stay in bed while Ian and the Cat make me breakfast. Well, the Cat takes my order, then comes back for a cuddle and a chat. I get baguette and coffee, with a block of chocolate wrapped in paper. Drawn on the paper is a picture with arrows — Kits is LOVELY! COOL! FUNNY! BIT OF A DAG! DADDY TOO! The Rabbit wakes, and then there’s four in the bed. I’m happy and loved.

We spend the morning at home so the Cat and Ian can play Risk, then go to the Musée d’Orsay after lunch. It’s good to be there again, but the Cat finds looking at art excruciatingly dull, so he refuses to walk around with us, and then gets lost. The Rabbit wants to keep going back to look at a stone owl (very nice, but…), and I don’t find my favourite paintings until the end, when I’m so cranky it’s hard to relax and appreciate them. Renoir stops me in my tracks though.

Perhaps it’s this evening that I make a stonkingly good bolognaise.

P105018313 May: Paris
Ian and I escape for a few hours today while the grandparents take the boys to the zoo. We have shopping to do, but end up not buying anything. We walk around St Michel, but we don’t really know what we want, and when we go to Galeries Lafayette later, it’s so full-on we run away.

But we’re happy to be wandering the streets, daydreaming about living here. We have lunch in a bistro, and the waiter sounds like his voice has been sifted through gravel.

We leave tomorrow; it’s too soon. Perhaps it would always be too soon.

Travel: London

5 May: LondonP1050054
Everyone very slow to get going this morning. Dad came with us and we walked around the Docklands to Canary Wharf. Ian bought toasted ham sandwiches — a revelation that they could work without cheese. Turns out that squashed bread and hot ham is all you need. Who knew?

P1050045We caught a riverboat up the Thames. Went a bit gawky and tourist-eyed as familiar monumental and historic sights appeared around us. Took photos and pointed shamelessly. We changed to the Tube at Embankment and had serious Underground font joy. Got off at South Kensington to take the Cat to the Natural History Museum.

Ian and the Cat headed for mammals and dinosaurs while Dad, the Rabbit, and I went to Sebastiao Salgado exhibition. The photos are haunting; precise in timing, composition, and lighting, but with a grace of wonder, hope, sadness that carries them beyond. The Rabbit very keen on one with a boy and a chicken.

Dad and I lost each other, but we all reconnected in the lobby. Back to the flat where Fiona and Duncan somehow magicked a stirfry out of the kitchen.

P10500846 May: London
We attempted to do adult stuff this morning, with partial success. The Cat grumped all the way to the Tate Modern (past the Globe, which I didn’t visit because of the paying thing and also leaving Ian and Dad outside with two fractious children — sad about that — I just wanted to stand inside and whisper to literary ghosts, and the same goes for Westminster Abbey), but he managed to look at a few galleries, and more importantly, so did I. Excellent coffee kiosk, with computer stations connecting to an interactive art project, This Exquisite Forest. The kids drew for ages, while we ate our sandwiches and had coffee.P1050086

We headed to Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens after that — glorious open green spaces, and a river of birds that cheered everyone up. We searched a long time for the Diana Memorial Playground; when we found it, there was a long queue outside. Queuing for a playground! Poor Brits.

7 May: London
A different group spilt today, with Duncan and Ian taking the boys to the zoo and me, Fiona, and Dad going to the V + A. Loved it. Loved the garden, loved the galleries, loved the immensity and hoarderesque quality of the collection, loved the whole damn thing.

Fell in love with Lucie Rie when I saw her pots, and more so when I saw David Attenborough interviewing her (aged 80-odd) in her studio, the pair of them flirting gently over the making of a pot. At one point, Rie is lying, planking really, full stretch over the edge of her kiln and she asks Attenborough to hold her leg. He does so, carefully and with a hint of a blush in his body language. In fact, he displays the same sort of hushed, wondering delight he shows in the presence of a rare and easily frightened animal. Rie pops up and thanks him. “I got a little bit stuck there,” she says. For the merest moment, he looks faintly disappointed.

P1050098And there was a modern silversmith, and beautifully designed jewellery and glass galleries, and an Iranian collection that made me think of Mum so hard I cried. Plus, the gift shop is excellent.

After a lot of text negotiation and confused navigation, we met the boys at the boating lake at Regent’s Park. Duncan took the Cat out in a paddleboat. We saw more birds. Some icecreams were eaten.

P10501718 May: London
Sorting and shopping. 84 Charing Cross Road is now a Pizza Hut. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, etc. Packing. Bangers and mash for tea. Goodbye, Britain, the UK, whatever you like to be called.P1050173

Travel: Scotland in a campervan

29 April: Edinburgh | Glasgow | Stonehaven
A day of logistics. Travel by taxi, train, and foot. Lots of luggage, seven people, two campervans, and slightly out-of-date satnav systems. We camped in Stonehaven, on the road beside the beach.

Memorable moments:

  • our first ready meals (surprisingly really not too bad)
  • tucking up in camp beds for the night
  • a night-time symphony of boy racers and trumpets on the beach (random, I know), mingled with the steady swoosh of the sea
  • a cold, “invigorating” morning shower in the campervan.

30 April: Stonehaven | Aberchirder | Ordiquill | Knock | Nairn
After a bit of a run in the playground, we set off to Aberchirder. Back roads made for a slow and nerve-wracking drive, but we got to Aberchirder in time for a late pub lunch.

P1040893We walked up and down the main street and found what might have been Dad’s grandfather’s inn — only it didn’t have the requisite three storeys, just the right name. Everyone we spoke to said that Aberchirder is struggling; almost all the shops have closed, and the streets have a drear, deserted feel. Better was the old cemetery at Ordiquill — a quiet resting place with a fair collection of Wilsons and a good view of Knock Hill.P1040892

We made it to Nairn for the night. Nairn is a pretty town, with an attractive fishing harbour and a good beach. The camping ground manages to be positioned between the two, without taking advantage of either. Evening walk saved by nesting birds and a heron, grey as a wish in the falling night.

1 May: Nairn | Culloden | Balmacara
To Culloden this morning, a boggy, bare, windswept battlefield dotted with stone memorials and with rows of red and blue flags showing the front lines of the English and Jacobite armies. Saw skylarks and pied wagtails, and had a moment of solidarity with Highland cows. I know what it’s like to look out on the world from beneath a sweep of red hair.

P1040916We talked to a guide about the family story: a farmer and cattle drover from Knock tied to a cannon wheel and forced to show Cumberland’s army a route to Inverness. So hard to know how to read this — as betrayal or tragedy, cowardice or a missed opportunity. What was he thinking? What calculations, balances of loyalty, concern for his family, political affiliation, fear, anger, disgust did he have to weigh? What of this story has seeped into our family blood? Where does it come out?

P1040949We headed for Skye after that, but called it quits at Balmacara, where the late sun shone on a perfect little camping ground — white buildings with tiled and wooden bathrooms, hand-painted signs, a kind and thoughtful warden, trees, grass, and the long, hill-ranged loch across the road.P1040950

2 May: Balmacara | Skye | Sligachan
Rain. And wind. Good lunch, but.

3 May: Sligachan | Lagganbeg
Another long day of navigating very narrow roads and small towns, driving through highland passes and along lochs to Luss. No sites available there, so we continued to Lagganbeg.

Everyone well over campervanning by now, but the rain did stop in the evening and our highland blanket is cheering. Beautiful landscapes.

4 May: Lagganbeg | Glasgow | Edinburgh | London
Um, yes. Punctured a tyre driving out of the campsite. Long negotiations with the hire company and the rest of the family, who were on the way to our 1pm train from Edinburgh to London. Ditched the campervan and took a taxi to Glasgow. Have never been more relieved to drive away from something in my life. Detours on the way to get cash and figure out where we were going. Swift transfer to another taxi. Tense and proficient drive to Edinburgh, including roadworks. Cost = gulp. Arrived at station with six minutes to spare. Everyone made it onto the train. Long journey to London. Flat above a pub and a bit inadequate.P1050015

Travel: Edinburgh + around

24 April: Dunoon
Patrilineal stomping grounds today. It was strange to see the old house — to see the name (Ben Corrum), the rhododendrons, the erica that my grandfather brought to his life in New Zealand — and to wonder at the impulse for the new, for chance and luck and opportunity that led our ancestors half a world away from these narrow little towns full of stone houses and old ways.

It’s a way to understand ourselves better, us Pakeha with our wandering eyes and makeshift moral codes, our easy sentimentality and deep, unspoken griefs, our lopsided, wry attachments, our quick building of traditions, our seeking of home in land and weather and sea and sky. Our way of living close to the elements, ready to catch a passing breeze.P1040615

25 April: Edinburgh
Bit of a nothing day. The pub was fun — random guests and relatives learning faces and names before the big day.

26 April: North Berwick
The Cat’s big day: the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick. Saw eiders, turnstones, and gannets, plus a puffin on the live camera. Cute town, braced hard against the shore and the swift, glancing light. Lovely to see my boy in his element.
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27 April: Dalhousie Castle, Bonnyrigg
Wedding day! An odd morning waiting to get dressed, then a rush to get kilts and frocks on, sort the hose and brogues, tie ties, and get belts, cufflinks, and sporrans all correct and in order. The wedding was in a castle set high above a stream, and the rings were brought in by owl — owl! A magical creature that flew in a long swoop from the top of the staircase to the best man’s arm, then turned to scan the room with a steady, alert eye. The Cat danced up a storm. He was unsure to start, but the sight of his mama and his aunt attempting Gangnam Style was too much for him. It was so much fun dancing with him; I want to do it again. Have a wedding, somebody.

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Travel: the first few days

We’ve been away for six weeks, travelling around the UK and Europe. A little bit exhausting, a lot wonderful. Here’s some snippets.

17-19 April: Dunedin | Hong Kong | Frankfurt | Edinburgh
It’s a long way from Dunedin to Edinburgh. Two 12-hour flights, hyphenated by a day in Hong Kong, and an agonising wait in Frankfurt before the final hop to Scotland. Hong Kong saved it — a sleep in a firm, flat bed, hot showers, a morning swim with the Cat, walking in warm rain through tropical gardens, steel, and glass.

Our first glimpses of the city were at night — just water and light, towers of it, everywhere. And then there’s the ferry and the narrow, twisting streets, the steep Old Peak Road, and the mist rolling in. I could live here, I thought, for a little while.P1040430P1040438

20 April: Edinburgh
Well, we struck it lucky finding this flat It’s old and clean and bright and spacious, with generous rooms, art, books, rugs, a good kitchen, and central heating, which is wondrous to an Antipodean.

And thank god for this comfort — with Rabbit waking through the nights and the Cat off his nut on an unholy combination of culture shock, exhaustion, jetlag, and aesthetic disturbance (“the buildings all look the same, the only interesting bits are the doors, and there’s no nature”), we’ve been extra grateful for the simple homeliness of this place.

P1040485Postscript: Things that can save a seven-year-old grouch: sleep, food, rolling down a hill, gardens, routine, attention, cuddles, a new bird book. Give that boy air is the answer, air and space and light and food.

21 April: Edinburgh
After one of those parenting nights from hell, I was in no shape for the day. But Ian’s aunt, uncle, and cousin came to spend the day with us. We had a cuppa, then went to the Botanic Gardens; the boys ran about looking for squirrels and birds, the Cat fell in the lily pond, and we caught up on each other’s news and the way the year’s been falling out. P1040540

I cooked a tagine, with salads and rice. The charms of this city are a little clearer today, easier to see.

22 April: Edinburgh
I saw my sister’s Edinburgh today. We did second-hand clothes and bookshops — perfect, small, quiet bookshops with careful and interesting selections of books. Can’t think of anything similar in Dunedin; we should create one.

P104052623 April: Edinburgh
Date day. Nona, Duncan, and Dad took the boys to the zoo. Ian and I walked around the New and Old Towns, visited bookshops, ate Greek meze for lunch, had an afternoon in the flat on our own. Just lovely. Haggis for dinner. Pretty good.

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