London, you blew my mind baby.

Union Jack flag flying

Everyone knows London rocks but in the most perfect of summer weather in July, it was going off like a frog in a sock. I have rarely experienced such joie de vivre and atmospheric buzz in a city. It was contagious.

Big Ben clock face close up

The city was spectacularly described in the sunlight – bright and blue by day, soft and golden in the long, light evenings. And it was  heaving with people.  And squirrels.

Squirrel London St James

Packed full of tourists (of course) but the bright young London things were out in droves too. It was a people-watcher’s dream.

Horse Guards London

I was last in London some 25 years ago. I was all of 11 and I flew over on my own (WHAT were my parents thinking?) to spend a month staying with my beloved cousin, aunt and uncle over Christmas.

Buckingham Palace exterior with guard

It was a complete revelation for me, a bush-raised child, and I fell utterly and irrevocably in love. So much so that when I returned I couldn’t even read the glossy brochures I had brought back as souvenirs; it was too painful to be so very far away. This was back in the olden days when long-distance phone calls cost a bomb and  snail mail was the only other alternative.

St James Park

The first thing I noticed about London, even at that tender age, was the way in which each and every atom of it seemed to exude its history. It felt so wonderfully old.  London’s history sang me a siren song and I absorbed it, if not the details then the atmosphere it created,  into my pores. I used to bore my cousin silly crapping on about how beautiful a small stone shop on the high street was. Or a street lamp (which was no doubt reproduction but that didn’t detract from its magic on a misty night).  I couldn’t get enough.

Georgian tea lady Mason and Fortnum London

My aunt and uncle introduced me to Indian food, Tetley’s tea, washing your hair in the bath, Selfridges, The Body Shop and Aled Jones singing “Walking on the Air” on Christmas Eve as we peered out the tiny casement window from my cousin’s bedroom watching fat, sparkling snowflakes slowly blanket the backyard. We had prayed fervently for snow and when it arrived, I had my first travelling “moment”.

St Paul's Catherdral facade London

My aunt and uncle owned a fine china shop literally just around the corner from Covent Garden. My cousin and I would spend countless hours walking around the cobbled streets and covered markets, sniffing Body Shop products ( it had just opened), looking with longing in shop windows at cute fimo bear brooches (it was the 80s and we were young) and trying to scrounge enough pence together for a bag  o’ crisps (we were pre-teens and we were ravenous).

Unicorn on Buckingham Palace Gates

Then, exhausted and freezing, we would go back to the shop and curl up in its toasty-warm bowels  below the showroom floor and snooze on vast squeaky clouds of packing peanuts.

Summer berries Marlyebone Farmers' Market

All of these memories came flooding back as I walked around London. I even managed to find my way from Covent Garden market to where my aunt and uncle’s shop was. It’s now a bodybuilding supplement shop. Not quite as atmospheric.

Norfolk Samphire

The heat wave made everyone crazy – in a good way. It was such a pleasure to see people dipping their feet in fountains and spilling out of quaint pubs, chatting to friends and enjoying a drink in the golden twilight at 10pm.

London pub with flowers

There were so many highlights on this trip. It was all one big highlight really. The Tower of London blew my mind (especially in light of watching The Tudors and reading Wolf Hall). Traitors’ Gate with the murky Thames seeping in underneath and the fierce – looking portcullis ready to slam shut behind as a prisoner was rowed inside was particular moving.

Porticullis Tower of LondonPoor Anne Boleyn. Poor all Henry VIII’s wives.

Cherries Marlyebone farmer's market

This is Boudica. We are obsessed with her at our house. She wouldn’t have stood for any of  Henry’s shite.

Boudicea statue Westminster London

There are no words for just how incredible the British Museum is. As a language-lover, the Rosetta Stone just blew me completely away. Not least because I hadn’t known it was even there and so just wandered up to it and read the plaque. When I realised what I was looking at, I nearly fell over with excitement. Nerd.

This is the bust of a statue of Ramses II that, among others, inspired Shelley’s “Ozymandias“. Yaaaah, no biggie.

Ramses II statue British Museum

These Roman helmets – one from a soldier and one a venatores (net-wielding gladiator) were particularly awesome. Even in Rome it’s rare to see such well-preserved specimens.

Roman soldier's helmet British MuseumVenatores gladiator helmet British Museum

Another highlight for me was the National Gallery. It was just a 5 minute stroll from our fabulously situated hotel (the Sofitel St James). Whenever I had an hour or two to kill I would spend time just drifting from one spectacular work of art to another. Such a treat. I visited 5 times in 6 days. And I may or may not have shed a little tear over the sheer beauty of a painting and my good fortune to be viewing it in one of the National Gallery’s light-filled rooms. I spent a lot of time in front of this: the Hay Wain by Constable.

Constable's The Hay Wain

We ate elderflower jelly on a deck chair in St James Park, and browsed through the beautiful farmers’ market just off Marylebone High Street. We spent lots of time in the oldest bookshop in London where I bought Sophia an Enid Blyton book (she is obsessed with Ms Blyton at the mo) Paddington Bear for Olive Enid Blyton used to read excerpts from her books to children at the store so that all felt very fitting. We also loved this beautiful bookshop in Marylebone.

Buckingham Palace Coat of Arms and Union Jack

It was in Marylebone I spied this beautiful private garden. I wanted to jump the fence and roll on the grass.  I restrained myself. Much to my handsome husband’s relief.

Private Garden Marylebone

I loved the soft, green grass of England so much I took photos of patches of grass. Just an ordinary patch of grass. About 3 times. You know, I do nothing to dispel my husband’s fears that I am insane in the membrane. In the best possible way.

Gooseberries Marlyebone Farmer's Market

The food scene in London is phenomenal at the moment. Utterly amazing. Highlights of our dinners out were here, here and here.  For quick lunches on the go during the day, I became obsessed with Itsu. Healthy, utterly delicious food. I so deeply wish we had a chain like this in Melbourne.

Apple and blackberry slice Marylebone Farmer's Market

I had some boxes I wanted to tick this trip, among which: climb a country stile, have kippers and a  hot, strong cup of tea for breakfast, stroll through extra green and pleasant bits of the land, eat great Indian food, eat great British food, have a Pimms in the English summer sun. I ticked all those boxes and more. It really was an extraordinary trip.

Can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get this posted that I am about to embark on my next trip…

Our holiday

I wasn’t sure whether to blog about the fact we are on holiday in case the burglars are reading this. If you are, you naughty burglars, you should know that our alarm is on and our neighbours are irritatingly nosy…until we go away and then we love them for it.

We’re in Far North Queensland. This is a SPECTACULAR part of the world. The tourist patter bills Port Douglas as the spot where the rainforest meets the reef. I’m generally skeptical when it comes to big claims like that but I’m here to tell you not only is it the truth it’s more beautiful than you could ever imagine.

Pristine beaches fringed by coconut palms (which would be utterly perfect if not for the rogue crocs and excruciating jellyfish) framed by mountains thick with millenia-old rainforest. And an hour or so off-shore, one of the world’s great marvels: the Great Barrier Reef.

As my regular readers know, this year has been a bit of a bear. So this  fortnight away has been the holy grail Andrew and I have been striving towards all year. And, once again,  FNQ has not let us down. It’s as amazing and relaxing as ever.

Here are a few shots that I think really capture our holiday so far.

A torch ginger flower after a tropical downpour.

I’m happy to now be able to report from experience that twirling betty visors handle long days in the pool perfectly. I don’t recommend them during the middle part of the day when a full hat is what you need to protect you, but in the early mornings and late afternoons they’re perfect.

Despite weekly swimming lessons before we left Melbourne, Sophia had been too scared to put her head under water. One week later, this is what she was up to.

It’s been a fortnight of long, sunny days spent in the pool, copious ice blocks, fish and chips and deep relaxation. Almost total relaxation. But not quite.

On Monday we are heading out for a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef to go diving. Again.

I have an interesting story to tell you about my first attempt to dive on the reef last week. It’s a long, but (hopefully) ultimately redemptive story. Let’s just say it involves a dive “instructor” who was having a bad day and for whom there are not enough expletives in the English language to describe (although let me assure you I’ve given it a red hot go over the course of the last week), an under-water anxiety attack  (thanks to aforesaid dive “instructor”) and some pretty spectacular marine fish. What a cast, what a plot. Stay tuned for the full story and (I’m praying) the feel-good sequel!

So if you don’t hear from me again, I’ve been eaten by a giant Moari Wrasse like the one we saw last week. And who seems to be saying, as he looks at the underwater camera man, as soon as you swim away I’m eating this man. Lucky for my handsome husband, he must have spotted a better looking piece of bait.

And if you look closely, you can see my torso and legs behind Andrew looking, ahem, not very much like the mermaid I had anticipated I would be under water. But there’s always tomorrow my friends. And tomorrow I intend to summon my inner mermaid with as much power as I can muster. Just hope I don’t summon any other large sea creatures by accident. I actually can’t sleep with my hand hanging over the edge of the bed for fear of a shark biting it. So it should be an interesting sequel.

Stay tuned!

PS: I haven’t forgotten the giveaway. After writing down everyone who commented on both posts (people who commented on both posts only received one entry) I used the good ‘ole random number generator again and  it threw forth this magical number:

Number 7, according to my list, was Renee. Congratulations Renee and thanks SO MUCH to everyone who commented. The support I received both in the lead up to and aftermath of what I like to refer to as “The Great Cake Bunting Scandal of 2010” was really, truly amazing. I felt extremely loved and supported and can’t tell you what that meant. You guys rock. Like, almost more than Bon Jovi. True dinks.

A short holiday

My very handsome (you’re going to have to take my word for it) husband recently got a new job. Hooray. He starts Monday week and we’re taking advantage of his one week of unemployment between now and then to take a short family break on the Gippsland Lakes.

This is a part of the world in which our family has lived and holidayed for 100 years so it holds a pretty special place in all our hearts. Not least because it is where my beloved Grandmother, Betty, for whom twirling betty is named, spent all her childhood holidays and all of the last 25 odd years of her life.

So I’ll be taking a little break from blogging – so short it will be barely noticeable I think – but I just wanted to let you know that’s the reason I won’t be around for a week or so.

If you need me, I’ll be walking on this beach.