Post 19 Vietnam. Hanoi here we come…almost!

Another adventure. The vietnam blog is in 3 parts covering 10 days in this amazing country.

Our rescheduled flight was 10 minutes late so a Kuala Lumpur we had just 40 minutes to get from domestic arrivals to a different gate in international departures, and board our flight! Luckily, our baggage was checked through to Hanoi. We made the flight…phew! 3 and a half hours later we are the last ones standing at the empty luggage carousel… no cases!

Malaysia airlines soon verified they were still in KL. We only had the clothes we were wearing! They promised they would reach our hotel by midnight!

We headed to the charming La Selva hotel. Friendliest place ever, right in the old quarter of Hanoi, a tangled network of old streets, crowded with houses and shops and piggybacked cables! Delhi all over again, and I love it. The traffic is almost as crazy, but there are many more motorbikes than cars or push bikes. 7 million people and 5 million motorbikes!! “When you want to cross, just step out and keep walking” was the advice we were given. Unbelievably, it worked. We walked around the central lake, visiting the temple dedicated to a giant turtle who was the guardian of a special sword that saved the city. Every temple is full of offerings of food because of the Tet holiday. Chinese New Year. In Vietnam, everyones birthday is New years day. Their age is counted from the New years day after they were born.

Then through the gardens into the French quarter, where the opera house was a copy of the one in Paris.

French colonial architecture is apparent everywhere, especially in government owned buildings. The french influence is also clear when you see much more wine on the menu than elsewhere in Asia!

At 6.30 we had a date with the Hanoi street food tour! A 3 hour walk around the old quarter, sampling typical street food. It is so busy. Everyone seems to sit on the pavement and eat. Vietnam must have a monopoly on small, plastic childrens stools.

We aren’t sure how the places we visited would score on a food hygeine assessment, but the foods were delicious, including egg coffee!

At 00.30 am our cases were delivered… which was lucky because we needed to repack! The next morning we were collected by a driver and guide for a 2 day trip to rural Vietnam at Ninh binh. En route we saw some beautiful hand embroidery, and a very unusual way of differentiating mens and ladies loos!

In this lovely area, we visited one of the most important temple complexes in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh temples and pagoda, with a huge happy buddha statue, and a pagoda that can be seen for miles around. It was all built in 2004, but it seemed ancient. It was built on an epic scale. 500 golden buddhas line the parallel stairways. I imagine we felt rather like people in georgian England getting the chance to see a newly built mansion and marvelling at its size and beauty.

Onto a river trip through the lovely Karst limestone scenery, and into caves… in a small boat rowed by a diminutive lady, using only her feet!!!

Then to a very rural homestay in a lovely garden. A vast dinner with our guides.

Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Especially the house geckos, who chirrup every so often! A HUGE breakfast… they just kept bringing more food – we had to politely say no to the beef noodle soup AFTER the omelettes, salad, bread and fruit!!!

Then an early morning boat trip in bamboo boats through a tranquil National Park. Lots of birds, and as we were proudly told.. this was where they filmed King Kong. They pointed out the location of various scenes, ” you know…skull island” ” you know… fight with giant lizard”. We nodded sagely and didn’t let on we hadn’t seen it!

Gosh… is it 12 noon, must be time for another huge meal! Then a visit to 2 temples dedicated to 2 kings who saved Vietnam from the Chinese. Finally we return to our hotel in Hanoi, where they greet us like long lost friends.

Our last day in Hanoi started with a guided walk with 2 charming University students, Kim and Kelly. They volunteer with the Hanoi Kids scheme which provides free tours in exchange for english conversation practise. Brilliant scheme.

We went past Ho chi Minh’s tomb. Queues stretched in every direction to file past the tomb of their hero ‘Uncle Ho’. Apparently, even 48 years after his death, people wait 3 – 4 hours to see his embalmed body. That is fame! We walked past beautiful french colonial buildings, now government offices and embassies, and visited the pagoda on the lake.

Finally, the awe inspiring Temple of Literature and Academy, first built in the 10th century and dedicated to Confucious, it is the oldest University in Vietnam.

We loved the old bookcarriers – an early uncomfortable rucksack!

Historically, students had to bring their own tent which they sat in to do exams, so they couldn’t cheat!

Nowadays, students come here to pray for exam success, and to take graduation photos. In so many Asian countries, education is seen as a very necessary privilege. Typically school is 5.5 days a week, with lessons from 7.30 – 12 00 and 3.00 – 6.00. A lot of children do extra classes in the evenings.

We treated ourselves to a super lunch at Cao duc, then mooched around Hanoi, before an early night, due to an early morning flight to Hue.

Some random images of Hanoi including some very narrow houses, dating from the days when taxes were based on just the width of your plot! !

Post 18 Beautiful, bountiful Borneo!

When I was 7 years old, my father bought me a huge book about countries and peoples of the world. It fascinated me, and I am sure fuelled my wanderlust, as I wanted to visit everywhere in the book! Borneo was presented as one of the most remote and mysterious destinations. A land of Orangutang, strange proboscis monkeys and head hunters. Now I would finally visit! Flying into Kuching in Sarawak you could see this was real tropical jungle! Close to the equator geographically, Borneo is an island which partly belongs to Indonesia, partly to Malaysia and also the kingdom of Brunei. The Malaysia bit is further divided into Sabah, and Sarawak where we stayed!

Kuching is a small but growing city on the riverside, with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The area is a happily cohabiting mix of extremely friendly local tribespeople, Malays, old time chinese and some expats. We walked into town everyday to explore the rainbow interiors of the fabric shops.

This is the home of Batik printing. Prices were ridiculously low, so some fabric may have sneaked into my case!

There are historic temples, bedecked with lanterns and offerings for the chinese New Year.

The old court house and fort from British colonial days, a beautiful mosque,

an Orchid garden,

a magnificent new government building

and a brand new wiggly bridge.

The promenade is lined with pop up food stalls, and at night the whole area is illuminated.

The big action happens outside town. Through tripadvisor I found lovely Jihey, a local driver guide, and he took us on our outings! We visited the Semenngoh National Park, one of the few areas Orangutang remain in the wild. Their natural habitat is being decimated for Palm oil plantations. We were so lucky and privileged that several animals came down near the watching area.

Then on to two incredible cave systems. A rather strenuous and precarious climb up to the fairy cave was rewarded by suddenly arriving in a vast cavern, full of ferns and great limestone formations.

The wind cave was a 1 kilometre network of boardwalks through an unlit cave system where it seemed everywhere you looked were thousands of bats. 12 different species apparently. If you shone a torch on them, they swooped around you. Luckily we like bats!

There were also tiny cup nests made by the cave dwelling swiftlets. Some with eggs or chicks.

The cups are held together with saliva, and this is the sought after ingredient for birds nest soup. It was a truly remarkable place.

Ooh… did I mention the spider?

The next day we visited the Sarawak cultural village. Houses, typical of each tribal area, have been reconstructed here.

Many tribespeople still live in communal longhouses, and we were astonished to learn that one tribe continue to live a nomadic existence and hunt with blowpipes. We were able to try a blowpipe.

It was surprisingly accurate, even with me blowing it! The longhouses would contain a headroom… containing the heads of any enemies they had killed. Thankfully not a current practice.

We watched a beautiful cultural show. Not usually my thing, but the costumes and dance moves were so expressive.

Our last day was spent doing some hot and steamy jungle hiking in Bako National park, on an offshore island.

Featherworm patterns in the sand!

This is one of the only places in the world to see the proboscis monkey. Just as we were giving up hope, we encountered 3.

Another privilege. I also got to paddle in the South China sea!

Our final afternoon was spent at Bumbu’s cooking school…actually the covered yard behind a rather dusty antique shop. Any health and safety jobsworths would have had a fit, but basic hygiene was promoted at all times. We were introduced to local tribal cuisine and taken to the jungle market where everything was picked or collected locally. Every unusual vegetable or fruit was explained to us, and we selected our ingredients, including Mirin, a forest fern!

Back at base we chopped, and crushed and pounded ingredients and made marinades and sauces for our dinner. We wove pandan leaves into baskets and made coconut custard to put in them.

Great fun and educational too, and a super dinner to enjoy at the end.

Our other dinners in Borneo were eaten on the roof of a multi storey carpark!! We were dubious at first, but on reaching floor 6 we entered the bustling, garishly neon lit wonderland of Top Spot. All around the edge were stalls filled with fresh fish, shellfish and vegetables.

The centre was crammed with plastic tables and chairs that were filling up at an alarming rate. Stall 25 had been recommended. How to choose? Eventually we had squid in their special batter, huge freshwater prawns grilled with garlic, mixed oriental vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. All delicious.

With a large beer for Chris and fresh juice for me, the bill was under £9 per person!

Now we ❤Borneo too! We even found a great sunhat for Chris.. although not very practical on the plane!

We were expecting a taxi at 4.15 am for a very early flight to KualaLumpur and a 2 hour wait for our connection to Hanoi in Vietnam. Just before bedtime I got a message. Our flight is cancelled. We are on the 7.00 instead, giving us just 45 minutes to change planes. Aaagh.. see what happened in our next blog!

Post 14 Just one day in Sydney and two days in Perth!

Our stay in Sydney was reduced to just one day due to a flight change. Arrived in the evening to our Air BnB in Glebe. Tom, our host, recommended a Thai restaurant for supper. It was brilliant… a great meal for £9 pp!

Sadly we couldn’t meet up with Jacquie Broome but we did have a lovely lunchtime with Tania Watson.. super to see you after too long a gap! Oh… and we also squeezed in the lovely 6km coastal walk from Coogee beach to Bondi beach, with a large pod of dolphins swimming offshore for part of the walk!

A walk to visit the beautiful Botanic gardens was rewarded with their new plant wall exhibition, and vast, colourful wildflower meadows full of colour.

Then a tour of the Opera House, with it’s beautiful wooden auditorium.

Plus Valentine’s day dinner at Fish on the rocks!

Temperature hit 37 degrees in the afternoon! . I ❤ Sydney

Next onto Perth.. where we encountered these new Dyson taps.. all automatic. Hands under middle for water, then move out to each side and the drier turns on! Little things !!

We are here to meet up with Elaine and John. John and Chris (and Paul and Pam) were sailing friends back in 1967! We stayed for 2 nights in their lovely home, and met their family.

A gorgeous walk along the coast here enabled us to view the Indian Ocean from a very different compass point to when we were in Sri lanka!

It reminded us how much we loved this part of Australia when we were last here, in 2012. Supper with their lovely family. I want to live in a climate where you can eat all your meals outdoors!

Next day a nice walk in Yanchep National park, where my wish to see more ‘parrots’ was granted in abundance. We also saw Koalas and added some new birds to our list.

Then a paddle in the Indian Ocean with Elaine.

A lovely supper with John and Elaine before an early bedtime… we have a taxi booked for 4.00 am!!

Post 8 The pinnacle of our trip to the Golden Triangle.

Next day a 4 hour drive to Agra, punctuated by a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a vast sandstone city and palace, built in 1571 by the Mughal Emporer Akbar. It was abandoned just 15 years later when the capital moved back to Agra. All of the exotic jewelled wall coverings were stripped away but the architecture is still remarkable, as were the insights into a way of life thankfully not practised any more… don’t get any ideas boys!Read on for more information!!!

This was the ministerial meeting house, and the pillars were carved from single blocks of Sandstone, with marble galleried bridges to each corner. Emporer Akbar had several wives… and 500 concubines!! They each had an apartment in this palace! See the rooms all around the courtyard.

Each of his wives had their own palace, and could reach the Kings bedchamber via a seperate route! He had what can only be described as an Emporer sized bed… try buying sheets for this!!

He then had a Dream Palace in a seperate building where he would meet with today’s favourite concubine! The downside was.. he had to buy them all lavish presents and jewels!

We then headed to Agra and the main event… the Taj Mahal. So much hype… so many opinions.. would it be an anticlimax? No Way! This should be on anyone’s must see list if you like to travel. It marks the end of a love story! The Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan saw a beautiful girl shopping in the Agra Palace bazaar. She was arguing with a shopkeeper and looked very beautiful. She was the prime ministers daughter! He went to the shop and asked which item the girl had wanted. The crafty shopkeeper said…” many things!”. So the Emporer bought the whole shop and presented it to the girl. After a 2 year courtship they married. He adored her. In 1632 , while giving birth to their 14th child, she died in his arms. Her last wishes were that he build her a mausoleum so he would never forget her, look after their children and never marry again. He kept all 3 promises. He commissioned the mausoleum in 1632. 20,000 workers and craftsmen built it of the finest white marble. At today’s prices.. £650 million! All of the craftsmen were paid an annuity to swear never to work on another building again! It is set on ebony posts in water. Firstly because ebony becomes stronger in water, and secondly because the wood would absorb shock from earthquakes. Similarly they built the minarets leaning slightly outwards so that in the event of a quake they would fall away from the mausoleum. Pretty amazing planning for 1632! Words truly cannot describe it. All I will say is that it exceeded all our expectations, was much bigger than I expected… (look at the tiny dots of people on the far away photos.. they give you an idea of scale), and gleamed in the sunlight. The inlay work is black onyx, lapis lazuli, Topaz and Cornelian. Even in the crowds… (7 million visitors a year! ), you could find a space and feel the magic of this place.


Then out for dinner with our guide to an Indian indoor BBQ restaurant.

It was awesome food!

Our hotel was a bit posh… with bathrooms a bit too modern for us! The blind came down a bit sharpish! Our last day in North India started with a visit to the vast Agra fort, built by Mughal Emporer Akbar in 1565, and continued by his son Shah Jahan, who built the Taj. Akbar..of the 3 wives and 500 concubines.. had rooms built here for them all. Some pictures below show the beautiful carving and inlay work. The ramp was so they could roll giant stones down on their attackers.. Indiana Jones style! This was the christening present of one of the princes. It is a huge stone bathtub, with steps in and out, and was presented filled with silver and treasures! A nice practical gift! Then, the drive back to Delhi, through thunderstorms and massive traffic jams due to rehearsals for Republic Day parades on Friday. Then our lovely driver insisted on taking us to lunch at his house. It would put us all to shame. He, his wife and 4 children (aged 11 – 20) were all charming. They cooked chicken biryani for us. Their son had cycled 4 miles to get the chicken! They got out the best tablecloth for us. In comparison with our lifestyles it was a very humble, small dwelling. A moving experience. The bed with their nephew! Lastly to the airport for a late flight south to Cochin in Kerala. 2 Veg curries on the plane..yummy! Met by our new driver who says there is a strike tomorrow!Hot and humid here. Up went the mosquito dome and we slept like logs. New adventures start tomorrow!

Post 2 Off we go! First stop Dubai.

Jan 8th. Farewell to House sitters. Train to Peter and Tracy’s house. Taxi to airport. Catch first plane. What could be simpler? Anything apparently, as we missed the first train! It shut the doors 1 minute and 15 seconds before departure and would NOT open them! Luckily there was a lot of leeway built in, and despite a rail strike AND a big rail accident, we made it in plenty of time.
Our trip is huge, and is constructed around a 7 leg multi destination ticket, plus lots of short hops on local budget airlines. (Some of which may make Ryan air look luxurious!). I wanted to use airmiles to upgrade the longest flights to business class to try to avoid leg cramps. This was not permitted, but the lovely people at Round the World Travel found us a ticket with Emirates and Qantas for just a few hundred pounds extra, that gave us Business class on all 7 main flights, and included all our internal Australia flights AND free taxis to and from Heathrow and Dubai Airports. 😊🙃

So.. at Heathrow we headed for the Emirates Lounge. Wow… comfortable, peaceful and an endless supply of yummy food and drink. Veuve Cliquot Champagne Sir, or perhas a Chablis premier cru. The water was nice too😕.

Then to our business class seats…ooh..more champagne! Then hey presto…we have a lay flat bed. I never want to travel any other way!

6.5 hours later we land in Dubai. After recent news stories about people being arrested for having too many pills, I was understandably anxious about the small pharmacy I carry with me. Luckily our bags were checked through to Sri Lanka from London, thus avoiding customs, and immigration was a speedy formality.

We had a 17 hour layover thanks to a flight change, and had arranged to meet Mike, a german expat who hosts the air bnb we will return to in April.

He took us for a 1 day tour of Dubai. Old town, museum, souk, waterfront were fascinating, and we had a delicious inexpensive lunch at the Arabian Tea House. This is a traditional musical instrument…a skirt wrap covered in goat’s hooves!!!

Then on to the restaurant in the architecturally and decoratively stunning Burj al Arab – just for the amazing views. (See pic of tower below. Had I realised how ridiculously unsupported the platform is, I might have thought twice against going up!) We didnt eat there…this hotel is seriously expensive. We came downstairs and did splash out on drinks on the outdoor terrace -Wow!

Then onto the Palm, a massive area of reclaimed land full of hotels and apartments in the shape of a giant palm. By saying you are going for a drink in Barazura, you will get into the gorgeous Atlantis hotel. The interiors are stunning, as is the enormous aquarium.

Finally to Dubai mall, where, alongside carpeted shopping avenues, you could let your child drive his own car around, wonder at another huge aquarium, marvel at a 155 million year old diplodocus skeleton or gaze at the wall waterfalls.

Then outside to round off a ridiculously busy day watching the incredible fountain display, plus light show on the Burj Kalifa.

This is a city that invites you to suspend belief. Anything is possible. It is opulent, materialistic and frivolous… but fun and interesting! Seeing it through the eyes of a resident was especially helpful. This was just desert 40 years ago. We enjoyed Dubai much more than we expected to.

Back to the airport and free dinner in the business lounge again as we wait for our 02.45am flight to Sri Lanka!

These backpacking holidays, roughing it, are great!!! Ahem😉

Easter Bunny Bimble – East Anglia

The urge to get on the road again was too great, and we found ourselves with a week off at Easter, so at 22.30 on Friday night we decided to go away for a week in Boris. The advantage of a campervan is that we keep Boris 80% ready to go, so 2 hours of adding water, toilet cassette, maps, clothes and food, and we were ready to leave at 8am the next morning! As usual, we looked for the area with the best weather forecast! Nowhere was great, but East Anglia was driest!

Places Visited:   Cambridge, Kings College Chapel, Oxburgh, Norwich, Norfolk, Suffolk, Hickling Broad, Minsmere, Dunwich, Strumpshaw Fen

(Summary of Campsites, Parking, Activities etc is at the end of the Blog!)

After a day visiting Margaret in Sussex, we headed north over the Dartford Crossing (Remember to pay in advance online or by phone – no paying at the crossing anymore), and aimed for our first Britstop south of Cambridge 216 – a tiny, very old pub next to a river with a Pizza oven! Excellent stop – faint noise from the M11 but it didn’t disturb us.

Next morning, just 11 miles to Cambridge. Park and ride excellent, so we were in the city by 9.30 on Easter Sunday morning. It was deserted, and we enjoyed a super walk around this wonderful, compact and historic city before the crowds began to arrive. One of the great charms of Cambridge is the proliferation of stunning buildings and history all around you, but you are just a few steps away from what is essentially a country walk along the river in the area known as The Backs. Added to that, there is an aura of achievement everywhere – here DNA was unravelled, there the electron was discovered. Stephen Hawking works here… Isaac Newton worked there – what a super place to visit. 20160327_112046.jpgWe took a free walking tour with Footprints Tours. . It was excellent – Charlie our guide was both a student and resident of Cambridge, and a mine of information. We were left in no doubt about Cambridge’s superiority over Oxford (89 Nobel prizes to Oxfords 48 – although he did acknowledge that was partly due to Cambridge having more science options!), and we were very glad that Cambridge won the Boat race later that day!

We also learned that in days gone by they had some interesting interview techniques. One professor threw a rugby ball at prospective candidates. if they dropped it they were rejected, if they caught it they were offered a place and if they threw it back they got a scholarship! Another gave the interviewee a brick and told them to throw it through a particularly historic stained glass window! He had to intercept a few throws – they were rejected. if you could argue a good reason why you weren’t throwing you were offered a place but the scholarship went to those who opened the window first before throwing !

Admission charges to the colleges vary, but we had been told that to see Kings College and is amazing chapel free of charge, the best way is to attend evensong, which is open to all.20160327_104505.jpg

We were so glad we did. Because it was Easter Sunday we had the full choir. The chapel is unbelievably beautiful- it’s ceiling and windows have to be seen, but where it surpassed anywhere was with the acoustics. As the choir sang, you were covered in tingly goosebumps! This is the choir that sing the televised Christmas 9 lessons and Carols, and they were amazing. What an experience to end our day in Cambridge. There were lots of places left to explore further – just how we like it. We will be back!

A night at Britstop number  255. This was a super little pub with rooms. The carpark was tiny but sheltered, which was just as well because Storm Katie made her presence felt that night. Its full force hit the south coast, and at 2am we had a message from my son saying that one of our chairs had blown over a 6ft wall into the neighbours garden, and our little plastic greenhouse had broken loose and was now on the study roof! Luckily that was our only damage – other people fared much worse. In Boris we were snug as usual.

Next day the wind and rain were still in full force, so we visited Oxburgh Hall, a super National Trust moated manor, with a priests hole, which was quite a challenge to enter and leave! Highly recommend a visit! There was an EasterBunny Hunt for children – the person setting the trail had a sense of humour – Can you spot the bunny in the 2nd photo?!

By mid-afternoon the sun had come out and we did a lovely walk at Salhouse Broad before heading to Britstop  251 for the night. This pub is attached to the Woodforde’s Brewery, so of great interest to Chris as he uses their Home Brew kits!   Large Car Park and a very peaceful night.

Next day we caught the Park and Ride at Sprowston, into Norwich. It is a real mix of old and new, partly due to extensive bombing in the war, particularly as part of the Baedecker raids, when cities like Bath, Norwich and Canterbury were targeted, having been chosen from the Baedecker guide books as having great cultural significance.

The Cathedral is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It is a huge and beautiful Cathedral – started in 1069. The Cloisters are beautiful too, and the cloisters and Nave are famous for the carved and painted ceiling bosses at every junction.

In the city there are lots of old areas of narrow, historic lanes, and interesting shops and restaurants, as well as a newly opened riverside walk. The Catholic Cathedral is also worth a visit, and next to it is a super garden in a quarry pit – the Plantation Garden – a real oasis of peace.

Leaving Norwich, we headed to a campsite so that we could shower, empty the loo etc! After finding the site at Ludham, we drove to Hickling Broad Norfolk Wildlife Trust centre and did a wonderful early evening walk to the raptor roost. November to February is the best time of year, but it was a lovely evening, and we were rewarded with seeing 7 Marsh harriers flying in over the reed beds, and 3 Chinese Water deer grazing close by. A group of small birds appeared and we are sure they had literally just arrived from their migration back to the UK. They were feeding frantically. Then we heard a Chiffchaff calling – the first of the year for us.

Next day we did a different walk at Hickling Broad, but some of the view was obscured by the reeds which was a shame. However the beautiful Potter Heigham church was a real treat, with a super hammerbeam roof and beautiful embroidered kneelers. 20160330_131337.jpgThen we headed south to  Norwich Camping – a huge camping and accessories shop at Blofield, east of Norwich. Excellent base for supplies! Then onto Strumpshaw Fen, an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve where we did a super 5 mile walk and saw our first Swallow and sand Martins of the year – Spring and summer can’t be far away! We need reminding of this as the temperatures at night have been around, or below freezing, and in the daytime the windchill has made hat, gloves and scarves essential. But it is dry!!

Tonight was Britstop 246. The pub has new owners who are really trying to turn it around. there was a bit of noise from the road but we slept well.

Thursday we drove to the National Trust carpark on Dunwich Heath and used the Geocaching website to plan a 7 mile circular walk on the Heath and in Dunwich forest. A great walk  (which included spotting a Dartford Warbler), and by finding a sheltered spot we were able to remove our coats and have a picnic on Dunwich beach. A long history of coastal erosion has meant that Dunwich, which was an important, thriving port in Roman times, is now virtually all buried under the sea. At very low tide, remains of buildings etc can be seen and mapped. 20160331_145759.jpg

After the walk, we headed a few miles to the lovely RSPB flagship reserve at Minsmere for an evening walk looking out over the Brackish ponds and scrapes where birds gather to breed at this time of year. Lovely.

We stayed at a small campsite a few miles away at Eastbridge Farm – very basic but just £8 and so peaceful – and a Tawny owl flew right past Boris!

Friday we made an early start back at Minsmere and walked all around the reserve. Lots of different birds but highlights were the Avocets, a close up view of a Cetti’s warbler and 2 rarities – an Iceland Gull, and Mediterranean Gulls. Oh.. and did we mention the wonderful Marsh Harriers hunting very near the hides – great views. They have also created an adder walk, and there were 3 good sized adders basking in the sun – apparently they are quite predictable first thing in the morning, when they need to bask in their favourite spot to warm up before they glide off to start feeding.

Finally, we started the long drive home, but made much more enjoyable by stopping in Beaconsfield to visit Peter and Tracy and have a super dinner in the Thai Rack restaurant in Goddards Green – their treat!! Then we couldn’t resist staying for a game of Diminishing Whist – so home about 1am! A great Bimble!

Car Parking:

Cambridge – Park and ride excellent. £1 to park, £2.70 return on bus. BUT ONLY the Trumpington Park and Ride just off M11 Junction 11 has no height barrier – look for the special lane. All other P&Rs are 2.1m. No overnight Parking

Norwich – Park and Ride excellent. £3.50 return on bus. No parking charge. No overnight Parking

Dunwich – Free car park at Beach. National Trust Car park on heath free for members. No overnight Parking

Minsmere – Free parking. No overnight parking.

Overnight stops:

As usual we made great use of the Britstops Guide – just £27 for 1 year. We stayed at 5 different ones – all pubs this time. Ate a meal in one, had a drink in all the others, so most nights cost us about £5 – and we might well have gone to a pub for a drink anyway.

Tuesday night we stayed at  Ludham – Grove Park Barns, a Camping and Caravan Club certificated campsite near Hickling Broad which was a lovely quiet location, with 2 toilet/shower units. Very clean but not the most powerful shower we have ever had! Still – all freshened up again! We thought £16 was a bit expensive for what you got.

Thursday night, in the absence of any Britstops , we stayed at Eastbridge Farm Campsite – just £8, but you need your own loo! there is a water point, and CDP. Essentially just a field, but SO peaceful and within a mile of Minsmere RSPB reserve.

Places to eat:

Cambridge – very busy but we had an excellent meal at Cote Brasserie near St Johns College.

Norwich – Excellent lunch menu – Soup, Sandwiches, Paninis, Quiche, Jackets etc, but all excellent quality and great value – in the Refectory at Norwich cathedral.

Things to do:

Cambridge – Kings College Chapel, Walk along the backs, Take a guided walk, Visit Colleges – Trinity plus Wren library, St Johns, Granchester,

Norwich- Cathedral, Plantation Garden, Meander the lanes. Excellent Tourist Information has many walks.

Birders – Hickling Broad boat trips, walks and raptor Roost. RSPB Minsmere and Strumpshaw Fen.

National Trust – there are lots of great properties in this region – we only visited Oxburgh on this trip – excellent.



17. Last legs! Charente Maritime to Christchurch, England!

Another day catching up with Jenny and Tim (I wish they would stop running off!), and visiting the lovely and historic town of Saintes (rhymes with pant!). Roman and gothic relics abound and the newly pedestrianised centre makes it a super place to Bimble away a morning. The formal planting was quite impressive too!20150918_115743The serious business of the trip was to find a good lunch spot. We can wholeheartedly recommend La Terrasse, by the river, whose 18 euro 3 course lunch was exceptionally good quality and value.20150918_13130420150918_140343

Rain was forecast for the rest of the  afternoon so we headed back to the house and had a good session of cards and nattering.

Saturday September 19th

My birthday! A nice breakfast and a lovely gift of a picture frame from Jenny and Tim, before our sad departure 😔. Thank you to Jenny, Tim, Mimi and Monti for a super stay, but Mimi…. you need to improve your hide and seek technique before our next visit!20150918_103452

We headed north via the outskirts of Rochefort and La Rochelle. This is an excellent way to avoid motorway tolls!

We used to own a cottage in the Vendee and as we drove by we resisted the pull to go and see the village …We had a more important mission!

When we had the cottage we also had a favourite vineyard.. Chateau de Rosnay. We wanted to get there before it shut for lunch!

We made it in time, and soon 2 boxes of our favourite white wine – Tendresse – were installed in Boris. Time to head north again, picking up the autoroute just south of Nantes from where it is free all the way to Rennes and Caen.

It was a good drive. We stopped to picnic on the Nantes – Brest canal, but that was our only pause before arriving at Carrefour at Ouistreham to stock up with cheese and other ‘essentials’.

However we were not heading straight for the ferry. By using the ferry at 8.30am next morning we saved £140, and having the camper we could sleep in an aire free of charge so didn’t need to pay for a hotel room. So we crossed the river at the site of Pegasus bridge and went a few miles east to Cabourg, where we enjoyed a bracing walk along the promenade and the dunes before returning to Boris to get changed.20150919_18582220150919_190601

I had booked a restaurant for dinner using their Internet booking site. Au pied des Marais had super reviews and we were very excited. When we arrived  it was a bit of a shock when they said they had not received the booking and were full. My face fell and they took pity on us and found us a table. Wow am I glad they did. The food was exquisite and very unusual. Presentation was excellent and the service was so courteous and helpful. The owner / head chef was charming – he takes all the orders and serves the main courses , and is often clearing tables and serving drinks and chatting to his guests. There was a roaring fire which some of the dishes were cooked upon.

For our foodie fans, here are some photos of our choices. Nibbles were followed by 2 amuse bouche – a veloute of carrot, pleurotte and broccoli and a broccoli, and chorizo mix with tomato cream on top.20150919_205435

Starters – Chris had Oysters while I had a tower of Lisette (tiny fish) with vegetables and asparagus topping in a gazpacho coulis. 20150919_210943Then the Trou normande. . A delicious apple sorbet over which they drizzled Pommeau (16%) or Calvados (42%) – your choice!

Entrée –  we both had Skate in a tower with vegetables, spinach puree and a sensational apple cream sauce. 20150919_214600Then cheese – a bon bon Normande  which was a parcel of melting camembert.20150919_221015

Finally, the dessert and to my astonishment mine arrived with a candle and Birthday greetings piped around the edge, and served by the owner..who offered to sing but said he didn’t recommend it!20150919_22301420150919_223023

Finally coffee with home made bonbons!

Sublime. And the price of that whole menu was 36 euros..  about £27.50.

What a treat. Thank you again Chris as this was the second half of my birthday present!

Finally, we left at 11pm, and went from the sublime to the ridiculous. We drove back to the port at Ouistreham and Boris crept in to the aire next to the docks, where about 40 other campers were already hunkered down for the night. We found a spot and snuggled down for our last night in Boris for this holiday. We set the alarm for 6.45 and both slept like logs!

Sunday September 20th

The alarm worked and we were soon queueing at the ferry terminal. It was a foggy start but it soon lifted and we had a flat calm crossing, arriving into Portsmouth by lunchtime. Best of all, we spotted a gannet and an arctic tern which took our bird total from a frustrating 149 to a brilliant 151 for the holiday!20150920_124925

Then home, and after some unpacking etc. Jen arrived home and cooked us a delightful birthday dinner. 20150920_19275320150920_195739Delicious. 💗 A fabulous end to a great trip.