I intended to write a post last week about the process involved in planning and executing my latest project. But the truth is, I was feeling fairly burned out and needed a respite. Sitting on a warm and sunny beach somewhere while reading books and drinking cocktails sounded pretty nice, but that would involve getting on a plane during the crowded and covid-impacted Easter holiday, which we were determined to avoid. So instead, we drove to Wales for some respite and a change of scenery. I actually managed to leave my laptop at home, and not once did I look at either my email or the news.
Above is a photo of Doug, standing in the front garden of our B&B (this was a return visit to The Royston) at around 8 in the evening as dusk is starting to fall. It is a very lovely and peaceful spot. You can’t see it in the photo, but just to the left of where Doug is standing, are two chairs around a fire pit, where you can sit and enjoy this view. That is where I spent the next afternoon, doing a bit of knitting in the sun.
I hesitate to admit that this is the only time I did any knitting on the entire trip. I also read only one book. Mostly we walked, admired beautiful scenery, breathed deep, and slept 10 hours a night. We went on some great walks. This one was in Snowdownia National Park, near Dolgellau:
It was so lush and green, and peaceful. We walked for hours without passing anyone.
The trail ran along the sides of a ravine, with a river below. The only sound you could hear was that of the river rushing.
We had a lovely adventure when the GPS in the car told us to take a short cut to the seashore, which involved driving through an abandoned slate mine and then on a long track which progressed through a multitude of livestock gates, through country like this:
The lambs did not understand right-of-way:
The seashore was a bit cold and grey but you could walk for miles along the coastal path.
Here is a great stretch of nearly empty beach:
This little steam train ran along the beach, on the other side of the dunes:
We really got a kick out of this brightly painted cinema in the town of Tywyn:
Which is also where Doug grabbed this funny shot:
We spent 4 days up in that part of Wales, near Snowdownia, and then drove to Hay-on-Wye where we stayed for another few days. I had always wanted to visit Hay, which is a spot for book lovers; the town hosts a world famous yearly literary festival, and is home to 38 used book stores. Hay turned out to be a bit too touristy for me (perhaps because it was Easter weekend). It had some funky shops, like this one:
We spent an afternoon wandering through a few of the many book shops. We particularly liked the poetry book shop, where we bought some lovely old and quirky volumes of poetry, and in another shop bought two classic cookbooks from 1961 (the year I was born) and a few books on food writing. We had a fantastic dinner in Hay, at Chapters. If you plan to visit Hay and want to eat there, book well in advance!
We were quite happy that we had not booked a place to stay in the town, instead opting for nearby Glasbury. We spent a fantastic day walking at the National Trust property Begwyns. The website says: “It is possible to see almost the entire Brecon Beacons National Park from the Roundabout, hence all of the views none of the climb.” They are certainly right about the views, which are spectacular, but being not so fit, Doug and I felt that they weren’t entirely honest about there not being a climb.
The Roundabout is a circular, walled piece of forest, at the top of a wide sweep of mostly empty land with views in every direction. You can see it above, and here is a shot from closer up:
In the photo below, I am sitting on a bench in the Roundabout, looking out at one section of the view. You can walk around the walled fence and as far as you can see in every direction are beautiful, rolling hills.
It’s hard to capture an image of the sense of space out there. The sky feels very big and makes you feel very small.
I love the shot below, which has Doug on the left, and a lone tree on the right:
What a beautiful place to take your horse for a ride!
We are now back home and I can’t help but notice that home looks…..well, not unlike Wales! I took the below photo this morning just a few miles from my home:
Hee hee! We could have saved some money by staying home, but then that pesky laptop would have been calling to me, and I would have undoubtedly succumbed to answering emails. Today, the bluebells are at their absolute best, and this part of the world is gorgeous and covered in blankets of the purple wildflowers. Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may be thinking “Oh no, not more bluebell photos!”, but I couldn’t resist. Besides I am fairly sure that I didn’t post any for the last two years.
These were taken on our walk this morning.
Individually, they are such dainty little flowers, but once they congregate, they become fairly majestic.
I had originally called this post “Wales, walks, wool, wildflowers” and I was going to show you a bunch of wool and knitting photos. But instead, I think I will save those for another time.
I normally do a lot of travel for my job, but that stopped in March 2020 due to Covid. With restrictions easing, I just made my first business trip in almost 20 months – to Helsinki. Since I was teaching there on a Friday, Doug flew in with me and we spent the weekend. It was fun and also kind of weird to be travelling again. There were tons of forms to fill in, and tests to take, and lots of new procedures involved in travelling in a Covid world, which we had to get our heads around, but it was great to get away.
Helsinki is lovely. Many of the buildings reminded us of Potsdam, where we lived for a decade shortly after reunification, but Helsinki is on the water, and the miles of harbour give it a unique feel. There are lots of boats, and fish, and marketplaces; sometimes all three in one:
There are boats sailing on the water:
There are interesting architectural shapes:
This bird has a prime spot:
This being Finland, there are knitting shops! This is Snurre:
This is me shopping in Snurre:
It is a fantastic shop, with two rooms packed full of gorgeous yarn and other knitting stuff:
A knitter, after visiting Snurre, might find herself with a small bag of goodies to take home:
A knitter, in fact, may find herself sitting by the water and knitting while enjoying the sights of the busy harbour:
The city seems to have negotiated Covid fairly well, and it felt safe. Even these guys were wearing masks:
It is a lovely place for tourists to wander while wearing dapper hand-knitted waistcoats:
Or for tourists to look relaxed and happy while wearing lovely hand-knitted tops:
It’s amazing what a short change of scene can do for your mental health!
Doug and I spent last week in Tucson. My 85-year-old step-father, Stuart, was celebrating a second bar mitzvah, 72 years after the first one. It was moving and fun and gave me a chance to see my folks and step-siblings and their families. We also got to visit old haunts (Doug and I lived in Tucson in the late 1980s) and to see many old friends. Doug taught a guest lecture at the U of A. We communed with the desert scenery, and soaked up some sunshine. We ate some really great Mexican food. I knitted for a total of about 15 minutes in 10 days. Sigh. But I did manage to take a few photos of my latest cardigan.
Despite having a few issues, mainly me worrying about the fit and making a lot of stupid mistakes with the edging, the cardigan turned out perfectly.
The pattern is Sparkling by Sus Gepard. I have blogged about it quite a bit (you can see the posts, in reverse order, here). I knitted it exactly to instructions. The only modifications being that I picked up considerably more stitches around the front edging than the pattern asked for.
I bought the yarn and pattern last January in Copenhagen and then waited some time before casting on. The stitch pattern is intuitive and quick and the cardigan itself knits up easily. I fretted quite a bit about the slope of the armhole decreases, but they turned out just right. I’m not sure why that is; perhaps its been a while since I knit a sweater in pieces?
Here are a few photos from our visit. The Mission at San Xavier del Bac:
Doug and I have just returned from a week in Copenhagen. I was there to teach a workshop, and then took off the rest of the week for a short holiday.
I taught all day Tuesday (which was my birthday), and in the evening Doug treated me and our good friend Erun to a great celebratory dinner at Koefoed, a very cool restaurant. We had the fish menu with wine flight, and it was lovely.
On the Wednesday, Erun gave us a great walking tour. We explored the city:
We ate lunch on a barge in the canal (moules frites – yum!):
Then, on the way back to our hotel that afternoon, I managed to fall off of a curb in a very spectacular manner, ending up sprawled in the middle of the road. Doug had to practically carry me to the sidewalk and the few blocks to our hotel, after which I spent two days stuck in bed, with a very swollen and painful ankle and a grumpy disposition. Doug and Erun went out exploring, doing lots of walking all over town, and then gathering together delicacies for picnic dinners in the hotel room – complete with champagne and chocolates – so that I wouldn’t miss out completely.
On the last two days, I did manage to do a few things, very carefully. Doug had bought me some walking sticks, and complete with a compression bandage and lots of paracetamol and liberal use of taxis, I did the important things. I made it to a yarn shop (Sommerfuglen). Can you tell from this photo that I am not at my best?
On the last day, the sun came out and it was glorious. Here I am sitting with my foot up and my walking sticks:
We took a harbour boat tour:
Erun treated us to a fantastic all-you-can-eat shellfish buffet:
However, my ankle continued to swell, and I ended up needing a wheelchair to make my way through the airport on the way home:
Today, a week after my fall, I had an x-ray and discovered that, in addition to the bad sprain, I have a small fracture of the ankle bone. This means a pretty long recovery period. Good thing I bought lots of yarn in Copenhagen!
I bought a bunch of green yarn from Isager (an aran weight tweed and some mohair):
And I bought a very pretty selection of yarns from Ito:
I have specific projects in mind for both of these, but will tell you about them in a later post. Thanks to Doug and Erun for taking good care of me and keeping my spirits up!
Yesterday was our 28th wedding anniversary. Needless to say, we didn’t go dancing!
About ten years ago we spent a few glorious weeks in the Basque Country. We were staying with friends, who were Basque, and who knew all the best places to go and the best things to eat. We had a ball. One of the things I remember well from that trip, however, is sitting and watching everyone else eat. I am coeliac, and cannot eat gluten. I also don’t eat meat. (Fish yes, meat no.) Of course, there were lovely things to eat on that trip. I remember beautiful fresh fish, and salads, and lovely wine, and at one fantastic little farmstead B&B up in the hills we sat outside at breakfast and ate the best scrambled eggs we’ve ever had. (Doug has tried to re-create them many times. I think they must be eaten on a farm to be appreciated.)
I also remember stopping in a tiny town that was famous for its Iberico ham. (Iberico ham is a local specialty: the pigs are free-range and roam in forested areas, eating acorns. The meat is cured for 36 months. I am told that it is to ham what a Lamborghini is to my Vauxhaul.) We stopped in a little bar which served only four things: wine, bread, Iberico ham, and Gernika peppers, which are small green peppers that are fried and served sprinkled with coarse salt. Everyone else enjoyed the bread and Iberico ham, ordering extra platters, while I sat and ate fried peppers and drank wine. That night I was spectacularly ill. (The peppers, by the way, are amazing, but should be accompanied by other food, especially when drinking wine.)
I had a similar “watching others eat” experience when we would go out in Bilbao and eat pintxos (small finger foods served in bars). Pintxos and wine is a meal in and of itself, but even with a Basque native ordering for me and interacting with the chef, there were only a few things I could eat. Most pintxos are served on bread or are otherwise gluten-contaminated. I ate many portions of tortilla (a type of omelette cooked with eggs and potato) and consoled myself with good local wine.
So, when Doug and I went back to the Basque country earlier this month, I was a little bit concerned about food. What I learned is that ten years makes a huge difference!
Kelly in Donostia/San Sebastian.
We travelled around a bit on this trip, spending a few days in San Sebastian, and then travelling south to Rioja for a few days (where we stayed in the Marqués de Riscal, the magnificent Frank Gehry-designed hotel in Elciego) then over to Burgos, and then north to Santillana del Mar in Cantabria before heading back to Bilbao for the flight home. We ate in a few very high end restaurants, including the three Michelin star Akelarre in San Sebastian. (This is a fantastic restaurant with a glorious view. The hotel is amazing; if I were to win the lottery, I would stay there for three days – Akellare has three different tasting menus – and eat there every night.) They did not even blink over making the necessary substitutions so that my meal – all 11 courses – would be both gluten- and meat-free.
Of course, one would expect this in such a high end restaurant, but I found that most restaurants could accomodate me. One of the best meals we had was in a small neighbourhood bar in San Sebastian, called Kapela. We happened across this bar by happenstance one evening while exploring the area around our hotel. It is in a quiet, residential area across from a park, and the place was buzzing and filled with locals. One look and I immediately wanted to eat there. I told the lovely proprietess (that’s her on the webpage) that I could not eat gluten or meat, and we placed an order. She brought Doug a basket full of bread, brought us a bottle of local wine, and a plate full of anchovies (and another of Iberico ham, for Doug, of course). Just as I reached out to grab an anchovie and pop it in my mouth, she placed a steaming hot baguette in front of me. “Gluten-free”, she said. Oh my, heaven! I tore off hot pieces of bread, drizzled it with olive oil, plopped an anchovie on top (gorgeous, fresh anchovies – the best in the world), and ate like a king. She then brought me an Ensalda de Bacalao – this is traditionally Basque, a salad made from slices of warm potato, topped with roasted peppers, and then with freshly cooked Bacalao (cod). It may sound simple but this one was fantastic! The best I’ve ever had. In fact, I don’t think I ever had cod as fresh and perfectly cooked. (Later in the trip, Doug and I considered driving two hours back to San Sebastian just to eat here again. It was that good.)
We had another great meal in San Sebastian at Xarma, a funky kind of place with a bar upstairs and restaurant downstairs serving excellent modern interpretations of traditional foods. On their website they say “Fusion and evolution in our cooking. We put a piece of ourselves in every dish. History, tradition and the avent-garde.” We ordered a bunch of dishes for the table, and they carefully prepared a gluten-free version of each, which they presented beautifully. The chef himself came to the table to deliver freshly-baked gluten-free bread and to make sure that I was being well served. They do recommend that you call in advance and let them know you have dietary restrictions, which I would suggest generally for restaurants.
One of the things that really struck me in Donostia/San Sebastian (the Basque name for the city is Donostia, but it is more well-known outside of the Basque country as San Sebastian)was when Doug and I went into a grocery store to buy some fruit for our drive. We stopped at a large, local grocery store in a residential neighbourhood, and while there, I went to check out the gluten-free section. (As one does.) Wow! Their gluten-free section was three times the size of the one at my local Waitrose here in the UK. They had so much on offer. Much of it was by Schar, the German company that specialises in GF foods. If you don’t know it, you can trust it. Schar is a good brand and they have lots of variety.
A view of the Marques de Riscal hotel in Elciego.
We had excellent food at the Marques de Riscal – we ate in both of their restaurants (one of which has a Michelin star) and in their bar. The fancy restaurant served a 21 course taster menu, and they seamlessly made mine gluten- and meat-free. I ended up eating an awful lot of fish courses – because of the no meat thing, and well, 21 courses – but they were all delicious. (By the way, we found their second restaurant to be more relaxed – especially on the patio – and the food was excellent. The kitchen is the same though the menu is more traditional and less experimental.) For lunch in the bar I had a lovely salad with warm goat cheese. The entire experience at the Marques de Riscal was great – they have a beautiful spa, and the rooms are lovely. We especially enjoyed a really well-designed tour of the vineyard and wine production facilities. They have been producing wine since 1862.
Wine ageing in oak barrels in the cellar at Marques de Riscal.
The historical cellar, also called “The Cathedral”, was very impressive.
The historical cellar, called the botelleria historica, aka “The Cathedral”, at Marques de Riscal. It holds bottles from every vintage since the first harvest in 1862.
We had an excellent old vintage at dinner, but not this old.
Probably the most difficult experience in menus I had was in Burgos. For lunch, I had a tortilla (my old stand-by) as there was not much choice available. In the evening, we wanted to eat in our hotel, and were too tired that night to sit for a meal in the restaurant. In the bar, the menu was mostly pintxos – heavy on the bread and meat. I had a long chat with the bartender, going through each item on the menu only to be told “No, this one is served on bread; no, this one has meat.”. I found two things I could eat: cheese, and roasted peppers. Both of which I like but it didn’t sound like a meal. And then, almost on an afterthought, he said “Of course, we have gluten-free bread.” Problem solved! I ordered the cheese, which came baked – a beautiful, creamy, warm, locally-produced cheese – and the peppers. They brought me out a piping hot bag, with two small loaves of bread in it. I was served this identical bag of bread in two different restaurants in two different provinces while there, so this is clearly a thing. The restaurant keeps them in the freezer and pops them in the oven when needed, and serve them hot, still in the bag. One loaf was seeded, and the other had walnuts and apricots. They were good – especially when slathered with cheese and peppers!
The end of our trip, however, held a real find: the small medieval town of Santillana del Mar has a gluten-free restaurant! It is called Pasaje de los Nobles. It is a wonderful restaurant, which is always full (call in advance if you can). Note that this is not a restaurant which is great for a gluten-free restaurant, but rather a fantastic restaurant which also happens to be gluten-free. We ate there two days in a row, it was that good, and the experience of being able to eat everything on the menu was not to be missed. It has very traditional dishes as well as more modern dishes, and it is all beautifully cooked. The best thing we had there was the black rice with mussels and aioli, but the mango and langoustine ceviche and the tuna tartar were also excellent. I had a piece of Bacalao in green sauce which was delicate and lovely. The cheesecake was so good, it brought back memories of cheesecake from 30 years ago in my gluten eating days. (Actually, this one was probably better.) The pumpkin flan and lemon mousse were also great. I was so happy to have dessert choices!
One of the difficult things when travelling gluten-free is breakfast. We didn’t eat any breakfast while we were there, so I am afraid I have no insights to offer. We had lunch every day at 2pm and dinner at 10pm, and that suited us quite well. When you spend a few hours enjoying a late dinner, you aren’t hungry when you wake up! On our trip, we stayed in hotels with a range of price tags, from standard to luxury, and ate in a range of restaurants, from local bars to trendy eateries to Michelin-starred restaurants. I was able to find delicious, fresh, gluten-free meals everywhere I went. What a difference ten years has made!
For those of you asking where the knitting content is, here is a photo of me knitting in San Sebastian. Doug thought this permanent sculpture installation was called “Knitting the Wind”, so he insisted on getting a photo of me knitting in front of it. It turns out he translated it wrong; it is called “The comb of the wind”. (Basque: Haizearen Orrazia XV, Spanish: Peine del Viento XV. Sculptures by Eduardo Chillida, installed as an architectural work by the Basque architect Luis Peña Ganchegui.) The five minutes I knitted while taking this shot is the sum total of all of the knitting I did on this holiday!
I received a text from my friend Inge yesterday. It said: “When you drive into town this weekend, take the low road and see the poppies.” So, this morning, we drove into town (Henley-on-Thames) and saw this:
This beautiful field is planted as far as the eye can see with opium poppies. They are absolutely gorgeous, a sea of the most subtle, lovely lavenders and palest pinks.
These fields are planted as part of a research project by a local university in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry. For obvious reasons, they don’t advertise, and they plant somewhere different every year. Normally, these fields are planted with rapeseed and provide a burst of vibrant yellow late in the sumer. This field of pink was a fantastic surprise.
See the building and umbrellas in the distance of the top photo? That is Orwells, one of the best retaurants in England. It was impossible to resist having lunch there and soaking up the view. Here is the view from the garden at Orwells:
Pure heaven. The only thing as good as the view is the food!
Notice how Doug and I are both colour-coordinated with the flowers?
I hope that your day is as filled with colour and surprise. Tune in tomorrow for a knitting post.
We have enjoyed a few weeks of family time over the holiday break. Much of it has been spent on our favorite family past-time: museums! We have seen the Ashurbanipal exhibit at the British Museum, an excellent (but fairly gruesome) look at the reign of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria (669-631 BC). It is beautifully curated and displayed. This is Leah’s area of specialisation (her degree is in classical Near Eastern studies with a minor in religious studies, and a specialisation in neo-Assyrian art and archeology – how is that for a mouthful?) so it is an obvious choice. His regime combined the brutal and the beautiful, and this unlikely fusion is stunningly displayed.
We then saw the Anni Albers exhibit at the Tate Modern. If you are at all interested in textiles and can possibly get to London this month, this is a must see. (It runs until January 27th; book ahead if you go.) Albers was a student at the famous Bauhaus, where she studied with Paul Klee among others. As the Tate says about the exhibition “Annie Albers combined the ancient craft of hand-weaving with the language of modern art”. This exhibition is a knockout! In addition to her own pieces – absolutely beautiful – her research, and many of the source materials for her seminal book on weaving are part of the exhibition. This is a treasure trove for people interested in weaving techniques from around the world and across the centuries. There is also a collection of correspondence, including letters from Buckminster Fuller, which are fascinating. As a knitter, I was particularly intrigued by her exploration of knots – her knot drawings blew me away. Twenty years ago, we toured the Bauhaus in Dessau with the girls. I have a photo somewhere of Emma hanging halfway through an internal window separating Klee and Kandinsky’s portions of the two-family dwelling they shared at the Bauhaus.
This was followed by half a day spent in the Neues Museem in Berlin. This has been totally renovated since we lived in Berlin and now houses the Egyptian collection, among other things. This musuem is gorgeous! The architecture is fantastic. Even if you had zero interest in the art and antiquities housed there, you could wander and wonder for hours at the building itself. It really surpassed my expectations. They had to kick us out the doors at the end of the day.
Finally, we went to the Pergamon, our dear friend and museum of the heart. When we lived in Potsdam/Berlin, we went to the Pergamon at least 40 times. We know each room by heart and it makes up part of the girls’ childhood memories. I would not be surprised if Leah ended up studying Assyriology as a result of a childhood spent in this museem. It was fantastic to see it again. Emma even had a bit of an epiphany in the museum, about her own intellectual pursuits and how our museum-mania contributed to her cross-disciplinary interests. (She has a joint degree in politics and economics with an interest in international security and power dynamics.) Part of the museum is closed for restoration (including the Pergamon altar), but we went to the temporary exhibit on Pergamon: Das Panorama, a 360 degree panorama of the ancient city of Pergamon by the artist Yadegar Asisi. Oh my, is this fabulous! Absolutely fantastic! Go and see it if you can.
For textile fans (this is, after all, a knitting blog) the Pergamon also has one of the best collections of ancient carpets. At the moment they have a lovely multi-disciplinary exhibit called Sound Weaving 7.0 – Pergamon edition; The sound of carpets by the Hungarian artist Zsanett Szirmay. She has basically broken down the patterns in the carpets into tonal sequences and melodies, which can be listened to. Read the description on the link; it is a beautiful exhibit and an arresting idea.
What else did we do over the holidays? We meandered. We walked all over the place – inside and out. Through miles of musem corridors, through London, Potsdam, Berlin, and the Oxfordshire countryside. We also cooked, we ate, we read piles of books, and I did a mile of stockinette knitting. I am almost finished with the boring part of the pullover and then will knit the very beautifully-patterned yoke. (Stay tuned for photos!)
Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you spent some time pursuing your passions, be they museums or otherwise.
We have just returned from a few weeks in Malaysia. Most of the trip was business; both Doug and I had work commitments in Johor Bahru. Here is my favorite photo from Johor, taken in the old town:
Depsite busy work schedules, we managed to carve out five days for a short holiday to Tioman Island. Tioman is a protected marine conservation park off the eastern coast of peninsular Malaysia in the South China Sea. You have to take a boat to get to the island, from the colourful jetty at Mersing:
There are a number of resorts on Tioman, which is known for its dive sites, its beautiful beaches, and the tropical rainforest which covers most of the island. We stayed at the Japamala Resort, a fantastic resort built with “rustic luxury” in mind. Here is a photo of the bar/communal hangout/boat dock, one of the iconic features of the place:
Each room at the resort is an individual cabin built up into the forest and is constructed with traditional methods. Japamala is proud that it hasn’t cut down any trees to build the resort. Here is the view from our cabin:
The cabins are literally in the canopy of the rainforest:
and reached by walkways:
and lots of stairs:
To get to our cabin (number 13), we had to climb 125 steps. (I counted.) There are cabins with fewer steps, but the higher up you go the better the views. We felt as if we were perched in the sky, and had left civilisation behind.
Twice we were visited by a large family of monkeys, who were clearly very much at home. Here are some of them on our balcony. They loved the swinging chair and liked to play.
We counted 15 in this family group including two very small babies. This baby sat on its mother while she was being groomed, just a few feet from our door.
We were told to always keep our doors locked because the monkeys loved to get inside and create mischief. You can tell this guy would totally raid the fridge!
This is a resort which understands the concept of a get-away. It has very limited connectivity so you can put your phone and laptop away. You can hike through the forest or swim in the sea, you can snorkel or scuba, but you can equally do absolutely nothing:
We spent a day on a snorkeling expedition. We were taken by boat to a number of snorkeling sites, with fantastic corals and a huge array of marine life. This is Batu Malang – a collection of rocks that is famous for its snorkelling and diving.
The corals here were amazing. I must say I was intimidated by the choppy water and the currents at this site. I had only snorkelled once before – 26 years ago – and this was a bit adventurous for me. I had a few scary moments. I most enjoyed one of the other sites, where we floated through schools of colourful tropical fish in a protected beach.
Japamala has a happy hour every evening at sunset, out on the dock. There are only 16 rooms, so never too many guests. You can be as sociable or as private as you wish. While we were there, there were three couples on their honeymoons. We spent an evening socialising with a just-married Italian couple and spent another with a couple from Potsdam (where we lived for a decade many years ago). We also had lots of time to ourselves.
The food at Japamala was superb. I frequently have trouble travelling because I have coeliac’s disease and must follow a 100% gluten-free diet. This can be very challenging in Asia. When we first got to the resort, we explained my dietary restirctions very carefully. Once they understood exactly what the issues were, especially concerning soy sauce, I had no troubles. Breakfasts were beautiful – there were lovely tropical fruits, yoghurt, a large menu which included a number of gluten-free options, fantastic smoothies, all served in the open-air restaurant. Malaysia’s national dish – nasi lemak – is traditionally served for breakfast and is gluten-free (although you should always inquire carefully). It consists of rice steamed in coconut milk and served with sambal (a spicy chili paste), fried anchovies, cucumbers, and peanuts. The nasi lemak at Japamala is especially good.
They have two menus here: an Italian menu and an Asian one (predominatley Thai with some Malaysian and Vietnamese entries). We never ordered off the Italian menu, so I cannot comment, but the Thai food was fantastic. We had fresh fish, tender and spicy squid, complex and gorgeous vegetable curries, and a variety of salads – tofu, mango, eggplant, seafood. I am perfectly confident that you can eat fantastic food here on a gluten-free diet, and not feel that you are missing anything. (I wish I had photos of some of the beautiful food to show you, but I was much too busy enjoying the food to photograph it.)
The staff is also lovely and attentive. I would like to thank them for making our trip carefree! This last year has been a stressful one, but Japamala quickly melted the stress away.
We have just returned from two weeks in South Africa. We both had work commitments there – Doug in Cape Town, and me in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. It was meant to be a mix of work and holiday, with a few days just for us at the end, but as often happens with us, the work spilled over on the holiday time. Nonetheless, the important thing to know is that IT IS WARM AND SUNNY DOWN THERE!!!!
We left the UK on a cold, grey, windy day and arrived in Cape Town to a glorious, sunny day. The first thing we did when we arrived was to pick up a rental car and drive to the beach. Here we are, straight from the plane:
See those would-be surfers on the glass-smooth ocean behind Doug? What you can’t see is the film crew on the beach, and the film producer walking back and forth while shouting into his phone “I have the film crew! I have the surfers! I have a fantastic bloody day! What do I not have? Surf!”
After this lovely morning spent on the beach, we spent the next nine days working. In fact, things got pretty intense for a while (my new job is very demanding), so I spent a lot of that time burning the candle at both ends. I also flew back and forth to Johannesburg, where I was teaching and holding meetings.
At the end of the trip, we tried to put the work aside and have a few days of relaxation. We spent two of those days at the Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch. Spier is acclaimed for its sustainability efforts – it is one of 29 WWF Conservation Champions, is organically certified, and is renowned for its eco-tourism. It is also fantastic in every single way! I loved it! I want to go back tomorrow!
I can’t say enough about how great it was, but I will show you a few little glimpses. They have a 5km and a 10km trail, designed for runners and walkers (guess which we did?), which take you right out into the spectacular countryside. Here is the start of one of the trails:
The light is so beautiful there, and the air is fresh. We walked for 5km, in the early evening, and didn’t pass a single soul for most of the walk. It was so gorgeous and peaceful. Doug took this shot of a protea flower against the backdrop of the mountains:
Everything at Spier is beautiful and the landscaping is lovely. I like this shot:
The thing I enjoyed most at Spier is the artwork. They have art everywhere, representing many contemporary African artists: sculpture, ceramics, painting, textile arts, beading and mosaics. I loved their mosaic garden, a very contemplative space which contains some beautiful mosaics commissioned by Spier from African artists.
One of the things you will find in South Africa, is that the sun is very strong. After our first day on the beach in Llandudno, I insisted that Doug buy a hat. In fact, I made him buy a baseball hat, despite his comment that wearing a baseball hat lowers your IQ by ten points. Not so, I said!
This owl clearly liked Doug’s baseball hat. However, perhaps wearing it had some effect on Doug’s IQ after all; I present the following exhibit into evidence:
After two lovely, peaceful days at Spier, we drove down to Kalk Bay, where we once again stayed at the fantastic Chartfield Guest House. We stayed here once before, and I was determined to go back. If you are ever in Kalk Bay, this is the place to stay; it is funky, has great staff, a fabulous view, and has the best breakfasts ever! Here is the lovely terrace where you eat breakfast:
I would love to show you lots of charming photos of Kalk Bay. It is a charming place. However, work interfered while we were there, and I was up all night sending off emails and fretting about things. We did have fun there poking around in the shops and galleries, but it was not as care-free as I would have liked.
So that explains the “a lot of work, a little fun” from the title of this post; what about the knitting? I took only one project with me – the Falkenberg jacket I am knitting. I hardly had it out at all, although I did manage a bit of knitting now and then. Here is a progress photo I took there. I knit up to where I separated for the arm holes, and then I finished knitting the right front. There is still LOADS of knitting to do on this one.
I will end this post with a photo I took from the car while driving back to the airport yesterday morning. We took a long, twisty route back from Kalk Bay, driving along some fantastic beaches. This beach had a number of wind surfers seemingly flying through the air.
Now I am back in the cold, grey, UK winter. It got dark today just after 4pm. But, I am happy to have spent some more time in the beautiful Western Cape.
Yesterday I found myself with a half a day in Singapore. I had arrived by car from Malaysia around 1pm, and had a plane to catch late in the evening. I also had my rather hefty purse and a carry-on bag on wheels. It is August and humid. I tried to think of the best way to spend the afternoon, without lugging my bags around all day in the heat, and without arriving at the airport in the evening feeling like I’d been through the wringer. I was jet lagged, so I needed to build a bit of downtime into the day. I also wanted to have fun, soak up some local culture and hopefully eat some good food. The answer: The National Gallery of Singapore.
I spent some time in the gallery last year and knew it had a bit of everything I wanted from the day. I had my taxi drop me off right at the front. I went up to the desk and asked if they could check my baggage for me for the day; they were very obliging. I then set about ticking one thing off my agenda: some delicious local cuisine.
Everyone knows that the local food in Malaysia and Singapore is fantastic. Alas, I have coeliac’s disease and must follow a 100% gluten-free diet. After 30 years of this, I don’t usually find it difficult, except when I travel. In Johor Bahru, where I had travelled on business, I found it especially tricky. First, none of the wait staff seemed to know what I was talking about when I tried to instigate the gluten conversation. Second, even more troubling, there seems to be a commandment in the local service industry, to say yes to anything the customer asks. It goes something like this: If the customer must be pleased, and the customer doesn’t want gluten, then tell them that the food is gluten-free. And because I found it difficult to engage in conversation directly with the chefs, I ended up ordering plain rice and grilled fish everywhere.
There are a range of restaurants at the National Gallery, including one called the National Kitchen by Violet Oon. It is small with fabulous interiors, and they were extremely accomodating. My waiter went and talked to the chef, who told me which dishes could be made specially gluten-free for me. The manager came to talk to me to make sure I was happy. I ordered the Udang Goreng Chili – described as “Angka prawns tossed in a spicy chilli padi garlic rempah”. I am not sure what the normal dish looks like, but here is my gluten-free version:
These prawns had so much chili and garlic, you would not believe. They were utterly fantastic! All of my food cravings were satisfied. Add in a lovely glass of wine and the lovely decor, and I had a great lunch!
They even had a fantastic gluten-free dessert: kueh beng kah, a steamed tapioca cake, served warm with gula melaka syrup and coconut cream. Heaven!
To build on a great start to my afternoon, my trip coincided with a major exhibit at the gallery of Yayoi Kusama’s work. Doug and the girls and I were lucky to catch Kusama’s exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2006. It was a real treat to spend the afternoon at this exhibit in Singapore. The exhibit is huge, spanning four galleries, and takes about 2 hours to get through. I love this, one of her many Venus de Milo pieces (Statue of Venus obliterated by Infinity Nets, No. 2, 1998):
Here is a photo I took in the installation “The spirits of the pumpkins descended into the heavens” (2017). (You can see my face as I hold the camera in the box in the centre and reflected throughout):
The sheer scale of some of the installations are impressive. This room has 50 enormous canvases of her black and white drawings stacked up on every wall:
The originals were done in magic marker and each contains repetitions of faces, eyes, and other small motifs. Here is a closeup of the intersection of two of the canvases:
In the tulip room, part of which you can see here:
I happened to catch a photograph of a young woman with the ‘dots’ from the exhibit reflected on her sunglasses. I love this photo!
The exhibit is only open through the 3rd of September and the admission lines are long (the entrances are timed and are very well managed). If you are anywhere near Singapore, I highly recommend it.
After the exhibit, I went up to the roof gallery where I sat and looked out on the fantastic view of Singapore, while enjoying a drink and my knitting. Here is a photo of said knitting against the backdrop of the view.
To make the end of the day even more fantastic, as I sat enjoying the view (and a very nice drink) a wild and wicked storm suddenly blew across the city. I watched it advance across the skies and then they opened and the heavens poured down. I went inside to the Supreme Court terrace, and was able to watch the rain pelting on the roof. Fantastic! Here you can see the darkening skies on the right, while the sun still shines on the left:
If you ever find yourself with half a day in Singapore, I say: forget having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar, don’t challenge your vertigo at the Marina Bay Sands, and instead take yourself to the National Gallery!