Monday, September 24, 2007

Today's events (or lack thereof)

So we are deep in packing mode which is not so fun, but tomorrow we are heading to Augill Castle in Cumbria to stay for two nights so that will probably make up for it! We have been busy boxing up the sea-freight send-ahead luggage and working out what we can do without for 10 weeks and how much we need to insure it for. And sleeping in. Happy times.

Today was my last UK prenatal appointment, and somewhat shockingly there was actually Laying Of Hands On the Belly and actual Listening to Heartbeat (for those playing the home game, this is the first time in 25 weeks). Plan B is measuring on target and doing fine, which I haven't been worried about since she started kicking, really - I mean, she kicks hard enough to make my belly move, which seems to imply a certain amount of health and vigour to me so it's somewhat ironic that this reassurance is being benificently provided WHEN I DON'T NEED IT ANYMORE. I weighed in at 75kg which seems slightly odd since I was all of 70kg at 21 weeks and while I am growing, I don't think it's quite at the rate of 1kg+ per week, although stranger things than 5kg weight gain in a month have happened, I suppose.

Tonight we went for a stroll around our 'hood, as we both seem to be cataloguing the things we will miss. It was a beautiful full-moon night, and just as we were passing an old local church (the kind with grand grounds), a fox walked out and looked at us. It didn't seem very frightened - in fact, it was holding itself quite like a domesticated animal, so I didn't recognise it at first - but then it headed back into the churchyard. Quite a sight. England has given us many such, really.

Still, despite the fact that we are both going to miss London terribly, we are really really looking forward to coming home!

Jan and Paul are on a whirlwind tour of Europe this week, and by the time they are done they will have cranked up more European destinations in a week than we have in a year, I think. Busy!

In other news, it is freezing (not like last year's balmy autumn at all), and this sucks as (a) we have packed or sent ahead all our winter gear and (b) none of my former winter gear fits anyway, and damned if I am buying something just for a week's use before heading back to nice warm Oz.


Jan and Paul arrived a couple of weeks ago, and we barely let them put their feet on the welcoming soil of Mother England before whisking them off to Cornwall.

We stayed in a very nice B&B in Plymouth. Plymouth is usefully central to Cornwall things generally, but having had the crap bombed out of it in WWII is not so very picturesque for the most part, or rather it features beautiful old buildings with hideous concrete monstrosities next to them. We had a couple of great seafood meals by the harbour there though.

Otherwise we were mostly daytripping. Day 1 was Tintagel, a ruined 12th century castle that actually is very unlikely to have had anything to do with any king called Arthur (who in turn is very unlikely to have existed outside a patchwork of other stories consolidated for propaganda purposes). Originally this straddled the mainland and an island, but is now just bits and pieces. I managed to get to the island section via the suspension bridge and scary steps up the side of the cliff face despite being terrified of heights and it was pretty cool, mostly because of the views of rugged coastline than because of what little was left of the castle complex though. I did get to lean my giant self against an 800 year old wall for a rest - I don't think this was what the builders had in mind. Most importantly, Tintagel is an English Heritage-maintained site which means that as members, Grant and I get to go in free. HA! Excellent.

Day 2 was a masterfully organised circuit of Polperro (old smuggling/fishing village), Castle Pendennis (another 12th century ruined castle, but in rather more sensible a location) and Cotehele (Tudor mansion complex in incredible gardens), then back to Plymouth.

Polperro was something of a tourist trap - you literally ran the gauntlet of Cornish pasty and ice cream shops down very narrow, winding streets - but very pretty, just the same. I suppose some places are tourist traps for a reason. It was quite small so we mostly just had a wander around, a look at the museum and a cup of coffee and then were out of there. We did meet a nice cat, who apparently runs a circuit of all B&Bs and museums and gets fed roughly 50 times a day - and looks it!

Castle Pendennis (also English Heritage = free - HA!) was really quite wonderful, particularly as we were visiting under BRILLIANT blue skies and it has a grand view of the country around Fowey. It is a fairly standard round keep, but well enough preserved that you can climb up around the battlements and see the outline of the inner rooms. Compared to Tintagel, the stairs are very sensible! Pendennis also had quite an impressive moat that is now, like its old walls, chiefly occupied in the sprouting of ferns.

Cotehele is, for a change, neither a ruin nor English Heritage managed (damn - we actually had to pay to get in). It's a grand country house, built between 1485 and 1560 as the main seat of the fabulously wealthy Edcumbes before they moved elsewhere to even fancier accommodations. The house is extraordinary, filled with various Tudor thingamabobs and weaponry, with all the walls bedecked with various priceless antique tapestries that were relocated from elsewhere and CUT TO FIT Cotehele's walls, of all things. But the best part was the garden - formal, informal, and quite jungle-like sections - very wonderful indeed. Case in point: CYCLAMENS WERE GROWING WILD IN THE LAWN. Enough said.

Day 3 we went to the intriguingly named Lost Gardens of Heligan. Part of another grand estate (Tremaynes), they were famous in the 19th century but apparently forgotten in the 20th, with the manor house and property being regularly resumed for military use in the world wars. I don't know that it was ever really "lost" though, as I'm pretty sure people always knew that the several hundred hectares of it were actually there. In any case, the once-elaborate garden had been neglected and left to wrack and ruin when rediscovered in the 1990s (a very capital-R Romantic tale of broken down glasshouses with lone grape vines struggling to survive amidst the brambles), and restoration work has been going on ever since. They specialise in rare breed everything, so in addition to rare plants they have an orchard full of rare chickens and ducks (pecking very happily at the fallen fruit and begging picnickers for scraps), and rare breed goats and cows in the farm paddocks. Quite impressive, and unbelievably huge in scope. In the afternoon we managed a quick trip to St Mawes castle, a military stronghold since Tudor times protecting the south coast and the deepwater harbour of Falmouth, which is, and I speak as a Novocastrian here, a bloody huge harbour, albeit now only hosting cruiseliners from what I could see. This one was a bit of a boy's trip but the castle itself is nice enough. Also I ate some blackberries. Yum. After that we headed to Penzance where we stayed the night in another very nice B&B.

Our final day included ambitious plans to see Bodmin Moor or the Lizard, but instead we only really managed St Michael's Mount before we had to head back to London. St Michael's Mount is an island castle joined at low tide to the mainland near Penzance by a causeway; VERY fast large tides in this part of the world. The castle was rather grand if very uphill; much of it is relatively recent (1850s) so quite liveable. Surrounding the castle is a garden, which I had expected to be miraculous (as it is no doubt, to English eyes - not a rose to be seen) but which was full of the plants typically found in dry coastal Australian gardens - succulents, etc. The overall effect was lovely but really, it is hardly a miracle to manage what every other country with little water and a salt wind has managed for centuries!

Then a LONG drive back to London - 5+ hours, but when you consider that this was to get from the extreme southwest to effectively the other side of the country, not really so bad!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

We done went to Paris and Geneva AND I NEVER WANT TO EAT WHITE BREAD AGAIN

So, after allowing a whole day post-exams for me to relax and attend the obligatory student party bash, we flew to Paris. Great flight and might I add, France's RER rail network ROCKS. Grant had booked us a hotel room in the Latin Quarter. He thought it was a bit small (little bed, sit down bath only) but actually I really liked the place, chiefly because it had fabric instead of wallpaper, and different patterns thereof in all the rooms, and I tend to fixate on irrelevant details. Also the bed was verrrrrrrry comfortable, and most importantly the hotel was barely two blocks in from the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral, so basically LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.

On day one we just wandered around the 'hood, had a nice traditional French dinner (I like the snails), and were treated to very organised street dancing displays.

On day two, we killed ourselves with the cathedral (beautiful), a walk along the river to the Louvre, about 5 hours wandering around the Louvre with me getting increasingly hungry and bitching about it (but oh, wonderful museum, beautiful building, incredible exhibits esp if you skip the Mona Lisa), a walk through the Jardins des Tulieres, a walk along the Champs Elysees, and a squiz at the Arc de Triomphe. Then we took about a million hours to wander around the Latin Quarter looking for a Vietnamese restaurant that was open and had a decent menu as Grant had become fixated on the idea of Vietnamese food - do not believe it when pregnant women are accused of having food cravings; or rather believe it in my case in so far as at that point I was craving FOOD ANY FOOD DAMMIT I DON'T CARE WHAT KIND. We eventually found a place that had no English on the menu - an excellent sign - but somewhat complicating the ordering process was the fact that the menu was in French and Vietnamese AND that the French descriptions were basically "Saigon soup" without any ingredients listed, so I had no idea what anything was. We had some great food though. Downside: guy smoking CIGAR in RESTAURANT. Oh well.

The next day was our anniversary - either first (from wedding) if you ascribe to the setting-the-clock-back theory OR twelfth, if you want to be freaked out. We hiked out to the catacombs, but they didn't want me to go in because of Plan B's ever more obvious bump. So Grant went down to look at the freak bone architecture while I had the world's greatest snooze in a local park. I am still looking back fondly on that snooze. Then we basically gave up on the day, having wiped ourselves out with all the touristing before, and resorted to an afternoon nap before going out for dinner because PARISIAN MOULES FRITES IS MADE OF 100% AWESOME. Having eaten our bodyweights in shellfish, we had a nice stroll around the Eiffel Tour with all its night time illumination glad rags on then gave up on the day.

The next morning, we caught the very spiffy fast train to Geneva. SO much easier than air travel, and we got to see some of the countryside between naps. Pretty cool. Our Geneva-based friends met us at the station and there followed a terrifically enjoyable couple of days of wandering about the city, hanging around their great flat with its wonderful view, playing cards (at which I suck), and generally relaxing. A perfect way to follow up the hectic Parisian trip.

While we were away, Plan B started wriggling and kicking away like a mofo, or should I say I started being aware that Plan B was doing so. Proof of how damned hard she had to kick for me to be sure of it was that as soon as I was sure and asked Grant to feel it, he could. So, have gone from feeling nothing to being shoved internally with no fluttering stage whatsoever. Pretty freaky! In hindsight I could probably feel her for a couple of weeks before that but not many. She's nicely predictable eg if I lie on my back she starts doing this weird volcanic roll thing, I assume to get off my spine, and 10pm onwards is BOOGIE TIME. Clearly she bids fair to follow her father's night owl schedule.

By the way, European chivalry is not dead - in England and France both, gentlemen stand up on the train for the pregnant.

Grant's parents have now arrived in London. It's great to see them, but boy is the pixieflat cosy for 4! They have headed into town today for some sightseeing and a ferry trip to Greenwich; I'm meeting up with some other friends in SoHo later on. We're all heading off on a road trip to Cornwall on Sunday for four days; really looking forward to it!