In Málaga…

Keeping in theme with the tone of the guest post on Seville by Sophie, I thought of my Andalusian adventures that kicked off from Málaga, the Andalusian port city of Spain, that lies across the tip of Africa. It was February and yet the heat, oh it was blistering. Ir ran along the lines of an Indian summer that tends to sear the mind and the soul. The day we landed in Málaga, the city was enveloped in a haze that was a curious shade of jaundice yellow. It is a common feature there in Málaga –  the desert wind, Calima, blows in from the great Sahara Desert bringing with it poor visibility and high temperatures. During the course of the next few days, the haze gradually lifted but the heat, boy it was a stunner.

Now Málaga is the underrated cousin of the Spanish biggies, Madrid and Barcelona, and I do not know why because it has infallible charm. Walking in the shadow of the grandiose Alcazaba, the towering cathedral and the baños (Arab baths), the imagination tends to be overwhelmed by tales of the Moors, that mixed race of Berbers and Arabs who crossed over from North Africa and occupied Andalucia for seven centuries. But ancient Iberians, Phoenicians and the Romans were here too and you see the strange confluence of cultures in its many alleys.

My first impression of Málaga was formed by the sight of the many palms that line one of its main avenues. Those trees bring upon me a wave of nostalgia for things left far behind in the past – hazy memories of the desert city that I was born in. A glorious park, the Parque de la Alameda, was my refuge from the heat of the morning with its green surroundings filled with exotic plants procured from five continents. It was but a paean to man’s potential for creating beauty from zilch. You see, the park was created on reclaimed land.

Sauntering down one of Málaga’s busy streets, I chanced upon an imposing horseshoe archway. The Ataranzas. A market for fresh produce and paella. Ah, now I could not leave it alone, could I?  There is something alluring about the mercados of Spain. Be it in Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga or even a small place like Zaragoza. Is it an old-world charm, you wonder, with vendors and customers exchanging notes over fresh meat, seafood, vegetable and fruits? A plethora of colour for as far as the eye can see beneath the warm lighting of the market hall. My nose led me into a massive hall that was once a shipyard (in Arabic it is Ataranzas) with seven grand arches. Only one of those arches remain and it was the one that had lured me in.

A shipyard in the middle of the city, you might ask dubiously? Things were different till around the 18th century. The sea reached till where I was walking a while ago – on the streets around the present-day market. Once fishermen would have sat along the walls of the former shipyard and trawled the waters for the catch of the day. Apart from housing a shipyard, the Ataranzas had many avataars. Convent, military fort, hospital and subsequently a medical school. So many stories, so many memories, all embedded within its walls. Now only if those walls could speak, the tales that might tumble out.

This was just the start to my extensive rambles around the city, and lest I lull you into a sound sleep, I shall retire till my next post on Málaga.

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The view from the hotel room was made up of water the hue of emerald, the blue shimmering sea beyond the blocks of concrete and then these pretty palm trees.
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The Alcazaba in profile
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Town hall
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A section of the Alcazaba shows up between the old bank and town hall
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Banco de España. If you are a fan of architecture, you will find yourself riveted by its neoclassical look.
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Palacio de la Aduana. The new customs house for the port city.
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Parque de la Alameda
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Parque de la Alameda
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Parque de la Alameda
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A quick change of pace in the busy city
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Ataranzas
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Oh hello there…

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Ataranzas
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The stained glass window in the Ataranzas that are fit to grace a cathedral

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These Fleeting Days of Summer

Midday. I was standing on Broadway, the stretch on Bayonne where a row of ramshackle storefronts stands shoulder to shoulder. Old-timers from the look of it. Dry cleaners, pizza joints, a dental center or two, a bank… humdrum life passed by me. Then an old geezer flashed by on a Harley. One of those muscular, red breeds. Not the man, the bike, broad, low-slung and stylish. Its rider’s blond white moustache defied gravity in the face of momentum. It was all over his face not unlike bleached cotton candy (if it could glide in the air). Now I have seen all kinds of moustaches – the narrow, pointy and long Dali one, the broader Chevron, the spaghetti variety…but this was the stuff that legends are made of. I suppose if doormen of old hotels, with their plush Victorian whiskers, were asked to take over the roads on superbikes, they would look just so. Of course they would have to swap their livery for leather. You’ve got to respect tradition.

The humidity levels are abating and my hair feels better already. On early evenings, I find myself savouring sprints in the park. They are no longer a painful chore. Is autumn knocking on our doors already? It certainly feels like it as I jog down to the waterfront, the heart and feet pounding at tandem along the length of the wooden path that trails through marshy green acres by the mighty Hudson, long reeds swishing in the cool breeze of the evening. A solitary gull steps nimbly through tiny pools of water, peering intently into the shallow bed. It is a great stretch for birdwatchers, for warblers, herons, yellowlegs and egrets like to swoop in once in a while for their inspection of the scabby marshes. The turnpike bridge over the bay brings in a spot of the city in the backdrop but otherwise you might as well be in the boondocks. Nearby in wooden sheds, people have scribbled odd somethings.

I wonder if it is true – what they say about the park. At one point it had been a boat-building factory where PT boats (Patrol Torpedo boats which were torpedo-armed fast attack crafts used by the US Navy during WWII) were manufactured. There was supposed to have been an accident at the factory. A boat fell off its railings crushing two men. The daughter, of one of those unfortunate men, is said to roam the area calling out for daddy. It is a good thing that I wrap up my run before dusk falls.

It would be even better if I could manage to take Adi running there and he could encounter the young girl. He is such a braveheart. But no, that is not to be because my husband shall not be budged from his seat on the couch. Nowadays he is working from home, and in between work, sneaking in sessions of solving puzzles. We have been incredibly indolent this summer. Apart from the occasional jaunts into the city, we have been sitting at home, doing it up slowly, binging on TV shows, reading, tucking into popcorn and pizza, attending rooftop barbecues and meeting neighbours, guzzling bottles of wine and hunching over jigsaw puzzles apart from demolishing home-made cakes quite readily. A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Who cares? Not Adi. He will have you know, if not through words, that he Shall Not Run because my man is a man of action, if I may say so.

I have been ripe for a disjointed summer ramble for some time now and this is my bit towards the end of summer musings along with some photos from Bayonne.

Toodle-oo.

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The Sleat

Skuyö. A word that the Vikings bequeathed upon Skye as the ‘isle of clouds’. Wreathed in mist. Mystical. The Vikings must have been enchanted by it, you would think, when they invaded it towards the end of the 8th century.

On that isle of black and red Munros, jagged and gentle in parts, rising out of the land itself, an ancient land mired in bog and peat where purple heather thrives and turquoise fairy pools abound, the mist moves in fast. Even as you are exposed to the relentlessness of nature, under leaden skies when mist wraps itself around the peaks and hovers above the lochs, it is easy to be whisked into the kind of land that rests between the foxed pages of dusty tomes.

But the day on which we set off for the peninsula of Sleat (pronounced Slate), the sun was the willing fifth to our party of four. Serpentine A-roads skirted around lochs, the Munros dipped their feet into the waters, salmon farms with circular pens showed up alongside, then suddenly a grinding halt. A two-hour traffic jam, sandwiched between rows of cars, caravans and motorhomes.

Time for some banter with strangers. Nothing alleviates a dull situation better than a smidgen of humour. One of the friends demanded a wee, desperately. Desperate measures in this case meant rolling down into the loch, climbing the grassy slope by the road, or asking the owner of a motorhome to allow a stranger into his loo. There was really but one option if you think of it.

Eventually we were diverted. There had been a fatal accident earlier that morning. A motorcyclist had died. Reminders issued by life, of our mortality, from time to time.

‘His loss is our gain,’ observed one of our group. A chance remark referring to the longer and more scenic drive which we had embarked upon as a result of the diversion. Yet there it was. A remark that did weigh me down. Blinders in place, this is how we humans make our way towards happiness with single-minded determination – so focused that we cannot take a moment to feel the loss of a life.

By the time we reached the Sound of Sleat that flows between the isle and the mainland of Scotland, all Adi wanted was some shut-eye. It can get intensely tiring to chart those narrow roads when you are assisted by three ebullient co-passengers. He took us to the Armadale Castle, the erstwhile country home of the MacDonald clan, where he decided to sleep and get rid of us at the same time (calling it a bonus of sorts). We pottered around the castle.

I walked through a small portion of the 20,000-acre estate, exploring trails which lead into sun-dappled woods that are home to deer and skylarks and gannets and sea eagles. It was silent. Occasionally the chittering of birds yet the kind of silence where you can hear yourself think.

Sleat is the metaphorical lower claw of the isle radiating into the Sea of Hebrides and across the Sound you can see the peninsula of Knoydart on the mainland. There I stood outside the crumbling mock-style castle facade gazing upon the blue waters of the Sound, the hills rambling off unevenly across the horizon. The castle traces its history back to the 1790s when it was built yet it was abandoned by the clan later on. I wonder why. Makes the mind go places. I spent that early evening mooching around the estate on my own letting the mind travel as I came upon a part in its lush garden that made the heart thrill. A belt of daffodils. Sunny, yellow heads nodding away in the breeze that at once made me less forlorn.

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Salmon farms 
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Where travellers take time off to stare at the waters and reflect upon the vagaries of life.
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Crofts
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Lochs and the Cuillin

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The poetry of the Red Cuillin
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Dear Met Office, take that.

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Explorers
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Wild straggly beauty
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The crofting life
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The Sleat
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The Sound of Sleat
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Armadale Castle
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View from the castle of the Sound and Knoydart on the mainland
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The woods behind the castle

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Birches and more birches tower above you

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Remembering the Sammies with Three Old Men and All That Jazz

‘She was not crying for France, or for the doctor, who represented France, or for her father, shot with his own revolver. She was not even crying for himself. He felt she was crying for something that he could never have understood without her, and now did understand because of her. Deep and complete, within himself, all these things were part of the same thing, and he knew that what she was really crying for was the agony of all that was happening in the world.’

HE Bates, the English author who lived in my former home county of Northamptonshire in England, wrote these haunting lines in Fair Stood the Wind for France, one of the finest war novels I have read. Lines that could have easily echoed the sombre mood in France in 1917 in the midst of the First World War. In the summer of that year, American soldiers (nicknamed Sammies by the Europeans) got off their ships in the commune of Saint Nazaire in Brittany.

A hundred years have passed. And such events have got to be remembered. So in commemoration of this centennial event, even as I write and we go about our lazy Sundays, four trimarans are racing on the Atlantic alongside the Queen Mary 2, the iconic transatlantic ocean liner from the Cunard Line.

(On the first day when we moved into our building in Bayonne, I remember standing on the rooftop, watching the Queen Mary 2 as it docked in the Manhattan terminal, with a sweet old woman called Lorraine. And that was a completely blatant aside. So blatant that a few eggs my way would be not welcome but well deserved.)

Now the race ends tomorrow. But my post is not about a transatlantic race where expert seamen are vying with each other for distinction as they trace the voyage of the Sammies, nor is it about a trimaran (which if you are wondering about it, is a sailing boat). Instead the post finds its matter in the twin American passions for jazz and basketball – that the American soldiers carted along with them to France.

In December of 1917, in the middle of the war, a New York bandleader called Lt. James Reese Europe led his infantry troops of black soldiers through the small farms and concert halls across France, introducing locals to the sounds of swing and jazz. It confounded the French alright but they could not ignore its allure. In time, the Nazis did their best to do away with this brand of ‘degenerate music’ during their occupation of France yet the end of WWII saw jazz clubs accompany the wonderful proliferation of smoky literary cafés in Paris.

Years and years later, there we were on a hot hot summer’s day in Central Park, sitting with a big bunch of Frenchmen and women dressed in vintage straw boaters, white dresses and pinstripes, fanning ourselves and tapping our feet to the thrilling sounds of jazz. All in remembrance of those brave men.

You see it was Adi’s birthday, and being broke – how a move slashes the pockets through and through – I wanted to reserve a fancy dinner place. It was the only expensive thing we could do last night. The thought of a free jazz concert made my eyes twinkle.

If you are in New York during summer, you will be delighted to go find yourself a place in the SummerStage concerts. They are often staged for free in the blissful part of the city where its heart beats. I mean Central Park, of course.

In the concert area, you might find yourself scrambling up to the top of the stands, and seated next to a trio of jolly old men. As we did. Three veteran concert goers they were, and by that I mean, they were darned serious about it, attending about 6-7 shows every week, if you would believe that. They are the NYC concert know-it-alls. We were in hallowed company.

The frail old man, a former Texan, who sat next to me, was one who remains on top of the game with Twitter. He receives 250 tweets a day, which inform him about every cultural event in the city, and they also importantly update him about the whims of the clouds. ‘It will start raining again, you know,’ he informed me seriously. ‘And then the police – who are wonderful in times when you need help, so I cannot say bad things about them – will wrap up everything. No matter how important the singer up there on the stage.’

Half an hour into sitting up there, I wondered aloud to Adi, ‘What about beer?’ I could see tumble-y topple-y times ahead if the stand filled up soon. A bit alarming that, given me my well-placed concern for beer, ah icy beer. Plus my former flatmate would arrive with her husband and son soon to say hello before they took off for an opera. I got up and turned around to take our leave of our chatty friends. Their eyes had crinkled up with amazement. ‘What, moving already?’ they seemed to say. I assured them quickly that there were matters of beers, friends and loos at hand to be dealt with.

‘Ah very wise,’ they quipped. We would probably see them soon anyway around the city, they promised us with big smiles on their weathered faces, gleaming with kindness and sweat.

It had rained earlier in the day and a blanket of humidity was ready to choke the happiness out of us even as the sun chose to mellow down gradually. That mellowing down took a such long time – isn’t it surprising how a stifling summer’s day can seem to stretch forever?

A couple of purple bands issued at the entrance helped us bag a couple of excellent India Pale Ales each, for free, and the evening was beautiful. Suddenly we could say hah to the heat with impunity.

The French crooner sang her heart out in deep, dulcet tones. The violinist did a wonderful solo, exhaustive and electric, making me want to go break into a crazy dancing routine, while the sounds of the trumpet and the saxophone and the cello came together in perfect harmony. All for the cause of the Sammies who had fought valiantly in a war in a land not their own and taken along with them these sounds across the Atlantic that stayed on in that distant land for a long, long time.

But our remembering had to be short because the clouds had gathered in their dark numbers in the skies like determined hooligans and the ushers had sounded out the ‘the-stands-shall-be-evacuated-soon’ routine. Our former Texan friend, it turned out, was bang on target about the drill.

So in going with the theme called life where a few gaps, inconsistencies and anti-climaxes have to have their say, the perfect-imperfect end was at hand. The heavens did break loose upon us.

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Finding Home: Because It isn’t a Place, It’s a Feeling

When I was younger, I would not have dreamt that I would get to live in different continents. Life is an extraordinary adventure if you come to think of it. Did you ever imagine that you would live the life you are living right now? If it has come through for you, just as you conceived it to be, then you have clearly thought it through and life is falling in line with your vision of it. For some like me, it is about change.

When I moved from India to the Blighty, the transition was seamless. I experienced zilch homesickness. I bounce back quickly, you see, from most situations in life. I had left behind my job as a journalist and a hoard of friends who were my lifeline and there were moments of disquiet, for who does not have them.  Yet I was hopping with excitement because Adi and I had been married for all of six months and we were all agog to set up our brand new home together in a new country. It took no time to find our groove.

“Grooves … hide in the local shops and faces that become familiar,” says Lyz. I could not have put it better.

Thus it is that I find this tremendous ache whenever I think of our life in Northampton. The crux of it lies in the people who cropped up in our daily lives. Adi is missing his colleagues, especially his friend S, who remarked upon our change with his own typical brand of humour: “Here you are changing entire countries. I need time getting used to a new shampoo.” This is the same gentleman who had travelled incessantly from London to Brighton, to and fro, after a Friday Night in town.

My points of weakness revolve around the people of Northampton. The grocers I chatted with every day at the fresh market, the bespectacled old grocer who hawked his wares and boomed out, “Good to see you, my laydy,” if we had missed seeing each other for a prolonged period of time. Then there was the woman who dished out spicy noodles from her kiosk at the market square, the concierges who sat at the entrance to our apartment block, the girl who ran with the weights on her back in the park and never forgot to mouth a hello or beam as we passed each other, the man at the golf store who always raised a hand when I ran past him daily to the park.

It is a dull ache now. But it is there. With time, I know it shall fade but I do not want to forget these people who made my life in Northampton that much better with just a smile and a word.

It is with the move to New Jersey that I discover the deal with change. That it can club you with a baton. But there is the recognition too that it is simultaneously opening up the senses to new possibilities. New places. New people. New sensibilities. New home. It is after all a new continent as Osyth points out in all her wisdom.

While nursing a heavy heart, as I think continuously of Northampton and now making the leap to this new world (which I know is the beginning of big and beautiful), I have been blessed by your many kind words and gestures. In her perfect party girl series, where she is featuring bloggers, one at a time, the lovely Cheila put up a post with words that moved me, as did Angela with her quirky take on a ‘Have you met Ted?’ series (ref: How I met Your Mother), through which she introduces her readers to bloggers.

So you all who leave me such wonderful words to sit and guzzle in moments of weakness (and in which I find as much as comfort as I find in a bowl of Chinese noodles), You are an intrinsic part of this feeling called Home.

Below are photographs from an old-world town in New Jersey called Bayonne. We have found our little nook here this town of erstwhile Native Americans, peopled subsequently by masses of Irish workers. The latter erected a beautiful church, a 19th century affair, that rears its head impressively and makes you think of those glorious European churches that you have left behind. On weekends they have a string of stalls set up alongside the church and it is grandly referred to as the flea market. Old men walking their dogs, a few blocks away, ask with some fervour, “Is the flea market any good?” You smile and reply, “Why indeed it is.”

Bayonne is modest. It is so small a town that a handful of eateries can be found on one street. A few salons and a quaint gentlemen’s barber shops can be spotted in the quest for coffee. The last led us to Robert’s Cafe where the smell of coffee doused our senses with its richness. It happened to be a roastery, and yes, I thank thee o god of coffee for this wonderful little discovery. No Starbucks (or Starsucks as a friend calls it) here.

Last Saturday afternoon, we sat in between its faded walls of peach, watched a few old and young people trickle in, as we sipped on gourmet cups of coffee. Our reward for choosing Bayonne as home was this and a slice of apple crumble cheesecake with dollops of whipped cream on the side.

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Clouds billowing above the quiet township of Bayonne

 

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A Catholic church that was built to accommodate the Irish folk who needed their bit of haven after moving countries.
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The view of Bayonne and immediately beyond the skyline of New York (on the left) from our building.
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The rooftop where I foresee many afternoons and evenings of reading.
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The park in front of our building makes my feet itch to get going already
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It is the kind of park where you can spot a determined little girl chasing a squirrel…
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…and then waiting patiently, at the foot of the tree, for the squirrel to plop into her tiny hands. Great expectations.
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Meet Apple Crumble Cheesecake. And I hum alongside, ‘The Winner Takes it All…’ because it makes you feel like one, somehow.

 

 

 

The Tall, Taller and Tallest in Manhattan

“You can do what you like, sir, but I’ll tell you this. New York is the true capital of America. Every New Yorker knows it, and by God, we always shall.”

That’s not me spouting off biased and borrowed wisdom in my two days of being here. I am not a New Yorker yet. I do not know if I shall ever be one in my heart. The quote is from ‘New York’, a historical novel by British author Edward Rutherford. If you like the kind of bulky tomes that you can hurl at people (who annoy you) and thereby cause serious injury, Rutherford is your man. If you are the kind of person however with a penchant for useless dreaming, and you also possess the patience of a beaver, then you would rather flip open that tome. Channelling your inner Om.

‘New York’ introduced me to historical layers of a world that I had no idea of. The story of Native Americans who lived on Mannahatta, or ‘the land of many hills’, the name given by ancient tribes to Manhattan that is the city’s historical birthplace. The plot starts thickening once the European settlers trickle in.

Now that busy streak from Manhattan’s past, my friend, has infiltrated the present day in which I found myself walking down the busiest of the five boroughs of New York.

On a noon hedged in by skyscrapers, there we were, two people ultimately new to New York’s glitzy glory, craning our necks to take in the full view of an army of towers. Some tipped with golden spires, others with sombre spires and facades sheathed in glass in which you could catch reflections. Just a vision of tall buildings looming above us, no matter what angle we turned our heads at. Oh, it was a giddy feeling alright.

A series of impressive court houses with their massive pillars achieved the intended effect of imbibing us with the requisite amount of awe. A colonial building in a leafy park turned out to be the city hall where the mayor of New York sits and an old church in red bricks shot its hand out to declare its presence right after.

Walking beneath old gaslights into the leafy City Hall Park that was the place for public executions and recreations in old times, we soon found that we were at the portals of the hallowed St. Paul’s Chapel. Standing outside the oldest church building in Manhattan, where George Washington prayed and which survived the 9/11 attacks, we were in a sense soaking in the colonial heritage of the city.

Then there’s the iconic One World Trade Center, rebuilt upon the old World Trade Center complex, catching reflections of the changing skies above us and… wait, what was that strange building, presenting a strange vision of bifurcating ribs?

A thorn in the taxpayer’s line of vision, as a New Yorker might say. Or The Oculus. But I cannot and shall not complain about this building that was conceived of as a giant dove by a Spanish architect. It might end up looking like giant claws apart from ribs but that is a different matter. Some have even likened it to a dinosaur.

You do feel for the architect. Creativity requires imagination and not everyone can give into your vision, however grand and ambitious it might be. It might not be everyone’s favourite building but The Oculus is a paradigm of space and modern design. Through its ribs the skyline of the city was broken up in a linear manner, which was strangely engrossing as the three pink balloons winking down at us from its elevated spot upon the glass beams.

Dear old Oculus is now one of my closest buds in New York. I shall not try and explain that odd fact away given that you know me by now. You see, I enter the city through The Oculus which is the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. It replaced the old PATH station that was destroyed by the 9/11 attacks. Just to put it in perspective, the PATH decoded is Port Authority Trans-Hudson, the rapid transit system that connects places like Newark, Harrison, Hoboken, and Jersey City in New Jersey to New York City, apart from linking up lower and midtown Manhattan as well.

You can well imagine then why I shall rely upon Oculus dear for emotional support and extensive hand holding during all the times that I shall find myself goofing my way around New York, boarding the wrong trains and finding myself in places unknown.

I know this that Oculus shall always be there for me.

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Meet Oculus
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Gaping at The Oculus. Just a very normal reaction.
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Manhattan skyline through the Oculus
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A hip photographer hugs the ground as he waits for the four to kick their feet into the air
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Imagine all the times they must have fallen on their heads. I am odd anyway. A fall or two might take it to unnecessary levels.
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Approaching the pillars of justice around the bend
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Hefty pillars of governance
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The traffic is incessant
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The wheels of justice. They grind on.
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Sizing up the city
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Behemoths 
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Skyscrapers
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City Hall. The office of the mayor of New York.
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City Hall. A profile.
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The goodness of two alliums bobbing their pretty heads inside the City Hall Park
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Gaslights and the city
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City Hall Park
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The old and the new stand shoulder to shoulder
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Brownstone buildings of Manhattan
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One World Trade Center
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Mr. Whippy where art thou?
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St. Paul’s Chapel, cross-sectioned
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Spires. Old and new.

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Entering the picture in silhouette
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‘Show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ What would you have made of this, Mr. Chekhov?

Pints, Trains, Snores and Friday Nights

Friday nights and drinking are an art that has been perfected by the London working crowd. You will notice this that all workers are done and dusted with work by almost as early as 3pm. The process starts around midday when they gather in clusters outside office, smokes and cups of coffee in their hand, nattering away. That is what Fridays should look like – the prospect of the weekend starting off, armed with cups of coffee and all-important conversations that hinge upon … you take your pick of what they should go like. Go wild.

A Friday evening decides the tone of the night. Will you be relegated to the guest bed or the couch? For your own bed shall be out of limits. Let there be no doubt about that.

That is If you make it back home by morning.

Take my husband’s colleague. He boarded a train from London after a substantial evening of pints to get back to his home in the suburbs. Sleep took over. The worthy man woke up and found himself in the seaside town of Brighton. What a frightful mess you would think. You would also think he would have been alert to the possibilities of what lay after. Think again. He nodded off. Yes once more.

Life is a series of dramatic incidents on any particular Friday evening that starts with an innocent drink. When our friend woke up a second time, he found himself in Brighton, fell asleep, woke up and found himself in Brighton all over again. A vicious cycle alright but brought to a halt the third time when his wife turned up at the station. The aftermath would not have been pretty.

Then there is the husband. After an evening of drinks post work on a Friday, he called to say he would be home after a couple of drinks. Two drinks being the operative words here. Our friends, part of the merry party, called to assure me that he was hauling his behind out of the pub soon. Contrary to what it sounds like, I Do Not sit with a cudgel at home.

That was 8pm. This was 11pm. Barring an evening of books and Netflix, a twinge of conscience made me put through a call. It turned out that Adi had just then got onto a train.

Midnight came and went. Radio silence. Several frantic calls. Now booze, sleep and trains make for best friends forever. Adi, it turned out, had been on a train to Gatwick. No prizes for guessing, but he had slept off in between. Now, Gatwick is an hour away from Euston, the station from which Adi catches the train back home to Northampton. By the time he had reached London again, the last train for Northampton had left the station. Voila.

The story did not end there. This talented husband of mine declared that why he would sleep the last few hours of the morning at the station. Alarm bells started ringing in my head. I was picturing him, a drunk man in a suit by the side of the road, snoring away with his mouth open, not unlike a hobo.

Oh not a scene to be endured even though my thoughts for this pesky creature were not too kind at the moment. After a session of extreme nagging (it is a tiring job, isn’t it?), he tottered over to a taxi and spent a not-too-moderate sum to get back home.

The clock struck 4 when my warrior reached home.

Sympathy had run dry and the guest bed was the perfect repository for all drunken snores.

Lest you are in London on a night out, this time with the errant partner/friend, do give these spots a look-in.

Shoreditch

In ultra-hip Shoreditch, which some poor sod ranted about as being too hip (as if!), the East Enders welcome Friday with a bang. Boho-chic fashion, hipster beards and a chilled-out vibe reigns supreme. The mind boggles to think that the place is supposed to have got its name from some mistress of a 13th century king of England who lay dead in a ditch here. And Shoreditch came to be – her name was Jane Shore. What a pathetic insert into the happy evening we are contemplating, I admit, but then in London it is easy to think that the bench you are sitting on belonged to some earl who sat on it as he played the violin, releasing mournful strains by the minute.

The streets of Shoreditch are awash with colour and you can spend your time watching movies on rooftop cinemas or shop away and scout street art in its various alleys with a tripod and trusty DSLR in your hand. Better still, you can catch a drink in one of its gastropubs and do some pub-hopping. Be a busy bee in short.

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The Owl & Pussycat

Now you would be forgiven for wondering, ‘Why are people spilling over onto the streets? Did the pub throw them out for bad behaviour and they therefore stand around like punished schoolboys and girls. Only with glasses in their hand?’ No these fine men and women just like to stand and drink, okay? It is a London end-of-the-week ritual. This 18th century pub here is a fine place to sit and nosh away, if you get any space on one of its fashionable Chesterfields. If not, just take yourself to the beer garden at its back for my sake and join the many who stand around dreaming away or eavesdrop on others who pontificate about changes in life with a glass of wine in their hands.

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Dirty Burger

The name does the job. A small joint but when you are down a few pints you know what burgers can do. So I shall just quietly step away from the burger. Go on. Make it sloppy.

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Boxpark

A converted shipping container that is filled with options for when you want to eat and drink alongside ‘cos why should you do one thing when you can multi-task. Chomp and guzzle.

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BBB

That stands for Beach Blanket Babylon. Why on earth would they think of beach and Babylon together? My imagination is at a loss. Also because I did not end up inside. But if you do, let me know?

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Dirty Bones

Some more dirty stuff. Here you can truly get working with your hands. Now stop overworking that ripe imagination and wait for the bowl of spicy chicken wings to make its way to your table. Magic.

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Indigo

You could look in here and try the gol gappas. Water-filled balls that is. Translations sometimes can put a smile on your face. The spiciness and tanginess of them can act as the perfect antidote to an evening of Bacchanalian pleasures.

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Euston Tap

Lastly, I have to slip in this wonderful little institution outside Euston station. Now Euston is the gateway to London for some who arrive by train from various parts of the country. The location of Euston Tap is strategic. No time is too early or late for a pint. You can choose to slowly get sloshed before taking your train or you can arrive at Euston and get started at this craft beer pub. The only thing is you have got to remember – and this is vital – is to get on the train to make it back home, okay?

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Euston Tap. Where life looks rosy with a drink in each hand.

Into a Norwegian Artist’s Retreat

Here was an artist who did the Charleston jig. All in a bid to tell us how her Pointer got his name. The Pointer is a dog, lest you are in the dark, and a hunting hound that gets its name from its inclination to point its muzzle towards the game. Now imagine if you will this beloved mistress of Charleston, a grown-up woman imitating him, lifting her chin up and arms pointed into the air in a stance that looked like she was about to release an invisible arrow off an equally invisible bow. All of which was enacted to emphasise upon the stance of a Pointer.

That is how I knew we had landed a prize here, Els and her Pointer, Charleston. I don’t know how well Charleston does the Charleston but he has a name to live up to. And he has a mistress who is quite capable of teaching him the dance.

We had Els’ cottage to ourselves for four days. That red cottage with Homlagarden painted on its entrance, as you see in the lead photo, is stationed strategically by the fjords of western Norway in a village called Norheimsund.

This was our big Norwegian holiday after our weekend stint in Stavanger when we hiked our way to Pulpit Rock. My aim was to get our behinds to Trolltunga and sit on the troll’s tongue dangling our legs into the fjord below. But that was not to be because just as in Stavanger we struck lucky with the weather, even though the forecast was for thunder and showers, our second Norwegian break was made up of enough mist and clouds and drizzle and downpour to make our hiking shoes hang their heads in shame.

What is life if our best-laid plans are not to be, right?

We reached Bergen on a fine day in August last year, the clouds conspiring to create a fleecy white backdrop to our glee at stepping out of the airport to the sight of bright blue skies. A blue sky is such an elixir on any given day and billowing clouds are just the proverbial cherry.

Soon we were puttering down in our rented hatchback towards the cottage that was about an hour and a half away from the airport. We drove through tunnels cutting the length of incredibly lush hills, passed a herd of sheep serenely trotting down the roads and possibly out for their morning stroll – you will see in a later post that the Norwegian sheep are remarkably self-confident unlike their English counterparts, and left behind the occasional church nestled in valleys along with colourful black, red and yellow cottages dotting the landscape or tucked in beside placid lakes.

It made me rather musical. To trill out ‘My Day in the Hills’ ala Julie Andrews and trill I did till Adi asked me to switch to the phone playlist please. I harumphed and sat sulking. But it is difficult to hold on to a sulk in the face of such pristine beauty, the lakes glowing an emerald green in the shadow of those hills and putting me in mind of a mysterious mermaid about to emerge from those waters.

This is how we found ourselves in Norheimsund, bleary-eyed after our early morning flight but the view of the fjord from our cottage driving our cares away in an instant.

It was the quintessential Norwegian cottage on an organic farm where clutches of hen and plump turkeys strutted around a red coop of their own, mini tractors stood with blue hues of the fjord and hills merging into the background, patches of snow showing up in the distance and Els’ yellow cottage facing ours. Inside the red cottage, the entrance was marked by paintings by Els, the ground level housing her workshop along with a carpentry shop. Warm wooden interiors, a well-kitted kitchen with all manners of pots and pans that would make a gourmet cook smile like a shark, windows that looked out into the fjords and made us sigh. This was the perfect start to a Norwegian fjord hopping holiday. Along with the presence of Els, Charleston and his mother, Kaisa.

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Bergen
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A typical scene in Hordaland county
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Where the roads wind past hills and lakes
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Emerald 
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Morning Strolls
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Colour pops up along the lake

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Entering the village of Norheimsund

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Els’ farm and cottage

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Inside our cottage
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Charleston and Els
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Undivided adoration and affection
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The kind of view I could get used to
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The lounge
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The view we woke up to every morning from the bed

To Book the Cottage: Get onto Airbnb and type in Hordaland and Els. However Els does not always let out her cottage (because it is not quite that commercial) so book in advance.

How to Get There: Bag tickets for as less as £39 on BA and Norwegian Airlines to Bergen. From the airport, it is best to hire a car for your stay because it is easier and economic to drive around the county of Hordaland.

 

 

 

Barmy Basset Hounds & Martins of Port Isaac

The thing with eating your ice cream on the sly is that you gotta pay for it later when your wife goes into an artisan fudge confectionery and arms herself with a big waffle cone. Topped up by gigantic dollops studded with moreish caramel bits.

We had reached the village of Port Isaac (which is an easy drive from PadstowBoscastle or Tintagel in Cornwall) when I needed to use the loo at the carpark facing the sea, the water guzzling cow that I am. FYI Cows can drink up to and over 90 litres of water on hot days. I came out of the loo and why there stood my husband quietly tucking into a mint chocolate chip ice cream. A sheepish look surfacing when he spotted me. His supplier was the ubiquitous Mr. Whippy.

Then he offered me a lick. A Lick. It was your veritable “Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins!” moment.

Providence is a sweet woman. She took me by the hand and led me to a fudge shop. Behind the till stood Mr Meakins, the owner who had played a part in Doc Martin, the British medical comedy TV series that was shot in Port Isaac. In the show, the village is called Port Wenn.

Martin. There you have the first name in the title of the post come into play. The show is delightful, I promise. You shall not and will not egg me. I would rather you make me an omelette.

At the fudge shop charmingly called Buttermilk – which made me instantly want to tuck into anything I laid eyes on inside its old interiors – I was urged by Mr Meakins to lay my hands on a few fudges but my eyes sparkled at the thought of the half-eaten beauty you see below.

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Ship Shape indeed. Moreish moments. 
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Anchor on the slipway
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Slipway Sights

That rusty old anchor, which could easily challenge a gang of 40 beefy men to lift it, is your introduction to Port Isaac. For this is a fishing village, aye, that traces its fishing roots back to the 13th century. Till the 19th century, men would have also been dragging carts of stone, ores, salt and limestone from the many ships that would have arrived at the small but busy harbour of Port Isaac because it was one of the few sheltered ones along the inhospitable Cornish coastline.

But here I get ahead of myself. Let me pause and retrace my steps to when we entered the village.

From the car park you might just walk take the steps down to the beach below and think this is it, but wait, get out of that carpark onto the main road and then it is crucial that you walk past The Angry Anchovy, make sure not to get ensnared by pizzas and make your way down a steep narrow road. A walk past weathered houses, ivy-caked stone walls and a parish church, and at the bottom of the street, an old school house pops up with its brooding slate exterior. You know you have hit pay dirt.

You are in Port Isaac, dear darling.

The home of British crabs and lobsters.

The main street winding into the town is flanked by 18th and 19th century cottages, some whitewashed with bright blue window panes and doors and others clad in dark slate fronts. A stone owl looked down imperiously at us from its perch upon dry stone walls as we we walked in the footsteps of the grumpy London doctor, Martin Ellingham, who arrives in the village to be greeted by the likes of characters such as Bert Large and two grimy fishermen – who almost drive him off the narrow country lanes after declaring him ‘Bodmin’. You would pounce upon that word if you are a Daphne du Maurier fan. The moors of Bodmin is where Jamaica Inn was (and still is) famously situated. If you were deemed Bodmin by a local it would basically mean you are barmy (also that you could be a repository of murder and madness).

Opes, Cornish for narrow alleys between houses, issued warnings on signposts about big vehicles trying to barge their way in. Seriously, if you even thought of wedging yourself in a big car between those houses, I would say you deserve to sit inside while the rest of the world (like me) passes you by with ice cream cones held aloft as beacons of goodness.

Now if you gave me a house in Port Isaac, I would shut my eyes, and just take it off your hands. It is bustling and chirpy but there is an astonishing level of quiet that comes over the village as soon as you leave behind the harbour and start climbing up the opes where brooks gurgle by stone houses. There is a lifeboat shed in the village and a fisherman merchant’s smelly quarters where seafood is sold during the day but the real deal is as you climb up the hill. The village is spread out below you just beyond the two breakwaters, pale turquoise waters and the coastline.

On our way up, we passed Grumpy Martin’s cottage on the left, a little below which stood Bert Large’s whitewashed restaurant. Too many Doc Martin things in this post, you say? I would agree but that is because I am goading you into watching at least the first episode.

To come to the second part of this post’s title. We heard these baritone barks as we trudged up the hill. These were not your average one or two barks. This was a remarkable volley that refused to stop. We peeked down through the gap between one of the houses and espied a podgy basset hound who was bent on playing Elvis for the day. Now people from Elvis country, hear me out. You had to meet Mr. Personality before you cast disapproving looks at me. After we had spent some time sitting on the hill, and Adi had fooled around on the edges singing away so badly that I had to turn and run, we met this basset hound down at the harbour. He had a brother who was as quiet as he was mouthy. There were a few labradors running around, but your guess is good enough about who stole the show.

To agitate him, his amused master made a few faces and stooped to say a few things. Of course, our basset boy had his say all throughout. Our ears ringing with his deep, deep barks, the sight of his astoundingly droopy face, podgy personality and pendulous ears carved into our minds, we left the village of Port Isaac with deep sighs. But wait, I can still hear his baritone woofs, can you?

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Opes of Port Isaac

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More opes
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You see what I mean when I say that you should arm yourself with an ice cream and then work it off by just walking. These opes demand it.
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Climbing up the hill for a view of the village and the coastline
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The one. Who excels at pestering me.
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Between the breakwaters.
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Taking a moment to savour the beauty of the moment…
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…before breaking off into silly songs.
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Caught in the act.
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It reminded me of a fine painting.
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Port Isaac Harbour
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Bert Large’s restaurant on the left. The whitewashed stone cottage that you see on the left. Above it, the first stone cottage with the orange pipings was Dr. Martin’s cottage in the show.
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Master has a conversation with Mouthy One. 
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That is the image we left Port Isaac with. Master walking away with Mouthy One even as he continued with his hollering.

Before I leave you for the day, here’s Episode 1 of Doc Martin. Humour me. Maybe you will be rewarded with a few laughs.

Elvis Legs: Boscastle to Tintagel

The path of less resistance can lead to Elvis Legs. This is how. My husband was never much of a one for walking and hiking holidays (even though he used to love climbing mountains as a teenager). His idea of holidays were more in the realm of lazing and packing in the good grub. But then I happened to him. The day that took place he had basically signed himself up for legs that would shake like The King’s. A shout-out to Bruce who introduced me to the term.

Getting back to Adi, he is a hiking convert, and boy he gets attached to things in a pretty solid way. For instance, when he had change to classes as a wee boy, he refused it flat. He would have nothing to do with leaving Claudette behind. She was the teacher, and why I believe, tiny Adi had a crush on pretty Claudette. They had to wait three months before he agreed to leave her behind.

From Claudette to Cornwall is a leap alright, but may I ask you to do that? Last time, we had exchanged a few words over Boscastle and swooned over Hardy. Now I am going to swoon over Red Devon and Friesian cows, gorse bushes, meadows of blue bells, saw-wort (you must have seen those pretty purple thistle-like flowers) and daisies. You can stop sniggering. I see you.

Now we had chosen the hottest day of the week to go for our hike, which meant four hours under a sun that threatened to (and did eventually) peel the skin off our napes. There are a few warnings you have to keep in mind when you are passing through the pastures of our bovine friends:

  • Do not show threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. The best plan is to walk along the hedges.
  • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
  • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows particularly with calves. If you must and cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.

With no dog friend to distract the cow, you can imagine how tough it was on the animal talker in me. I did wave at the Red Devon cows lazing on the ridges, who you shall see in a bit, but there were young, cute Friesian calves in a field without their mothers, and That I could not resist. Adi, on the other hand, is a bit wary of cows ever since a whole herd moved towards us with great alacrity once during a stop at a random field on the way to Lake District. The menace writ large on their faces made them look like anything else but gentle cows. Five years have passed but Adi has not been able to shake off the trauma of it.

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Forrabury Stitches behind us. It is like looking back upon a maze of stitched up greenery. Historic concept open field farming that is part and parcel of Cornish country.
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The kind of views that lie along the entire length of the hike.
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Lazy Red Devon cows
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Thankfully a few hand waves did not ensure a charging mum. Adi dragged me away before she came into the picture.
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Islets along Trevalga that are home to seabird colonies.
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Gorse and husband under the midday sun.

If you choose to do this hike, the good news is that for the most part, it is a moderate hike. Expect to climb up and down meadows filled with wild flowers and gorse bushes turn up in all their wild yellow beauty to contrast startlingly with the waters of the Celtic Sea. The changing hues from gentian to aquamarine, sapphire to turquoise blues, is mesmerising. Each stitched-up pasture is crossed via stone steps and a leap across the dry stone walls that network the length and breadth of the trail and then serious climbing in bits and pieces. But all in all, it is the length of the walk and the hot sun that join hands to conspire to make you fantastise about chilled beer aplenty.

When we espied Hotel Camelot in the distance, a few cliffs away, we whooped and the thought of draining vats of beer was a wonderful reprieve. We could have also had vats of mead instead but then we would have to go down to that fantastic Tintagel Castle that is the birthplace of the mythical King Arthur. And our legs, I fear, would not have made the steep climb back to the village from the castle. Instead we tucked into pasties from the pasty shop there that was selling them at half price, since it was closing time. Amusingly enough, they do things the old way still. The woman from the shop hollers out in a hefty voice about the half-price offer a few times till the old men come streaming in.

At the end of our pub stop for ales to wash down the pasties with, lay another 3 hours of walking because we had not taken into account that the bus from Tintagel to Boscastle is not that frequent. Yes the horror of it. We had another walk ahead of us. All in all we had about 10 miles of hiking and walking at hand to reduce our legs to jelly and flop down at The Wellington Arms in Boscastle for another round of ale. Come to think of it, what would we do without beer? As our good man Franklin put it so sensibly. Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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Midway between Boscastle and Tintagel is the Rocky Valley where the footpath plunges into a gorge-like valley to take you ahead into the open bay of Bossiney.
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Bossiney Bay
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Oh hello, my beauties. We did have a long conversation with no domineering mother nearby to spoil the party.
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Bossiney Bay

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And finally Camelot Castle Hotel. I have never experienced as much happiness before as I did this time when it came upon the horizon. All a matter of perspective.
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Pints of Doom Bar, at The Cornishman Inn, named after the Doom Bar of Padstow
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Camelot Castle Hotel viewed from Tintagel Castle
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The ruins of Tintagel Castle are tricky to climb especially when it has rained because those steps are quite weather-beaten.
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And when you reach the top, you feel like a misstep would mean a dash into the rocks but oh that view. It does make you want to make a home for yourself among the ruins and dream about the handsome Lancelot and naughty Guinevere.
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The walk back to Boscastle and meeting curious ones along the way.
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The old cottages in Bossiney
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Reaching Boscastle after two and a half hours
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And then finally sighting The Wellington and losing ourselves to ale. Highly recommended.