Lamai Beach

I am writing this from home, having discovered that the last two posts I wrote about Lamai (our last stop) have disappeared. This means that several paragraphs of me complaining about Justin Bieber on high (and I mean HIGH) rotation in every hotel, restaurant and bar in Thailand will just have to be done without – sad, I know. It honestly seemed as though some governing body in Thailand had issued the same 10 track CD to every likely establishment in the country and by the end of our three weeks I thought seriously about sticking a fork in my ears.

Lamai Beach

Audio-torture aside, we had a nice time during our last week. Lamai is a beach just south of the more famous Chaweng Beach, which runs down the eastern side of Koh Samui. This was our third trip to the island and we had decided to try Lamai as it seemed a bit quieter – the parade of hawkers, spherical and sunburned eurotrash, and whizzing jet skis of course has it’s charms (in terms of cautionary tales, perhaps) but we’d heard good things about Lamai.

Lovely lunch tropical gardens in our resort.

We definitely experienced quiet. In the evenings the beach was almost deserted as it was the low season and some of the bars and restaurants were completely closed. Despite this, our resort (The Pavilion) was at least half full and there were families and groups out on the beach throughout the day. Only one jet ski at a time seemed to be in operation too, so that was also something.

Lamai main street.

A big sign on the beach warned that it was jellyfish season so I did get in the sea a couple of times but tried to keep Luke between myself and the open water.

On our second last night I made the mistake of looking up the kinds of jellyfish and related incidents to be found locally and scared myself out of going back in. Fortunately the hotel pool was perfectly fine – although Luke wasn’t happy that it had not been heated to bath temperatures.

We ate out every night and enjoyed a great number of 70-140 baht cocktails. If you’re heading to the area we highly recommend Pik’s Bar. They have a list or 140 cocktails and they’re all the equivalent of $3 AUD each.

Pik’s Bar

Lea decided Pina Coladas were the best thing since sliced bread and after her first we barely saw her without one in her hand, even at breakfast! Just kidding, of course. We didn’t usually start drinking until we’d spent at least 8 hours reading our respective books in sun loungers.

Our only activity, apart from eating, swimming, reading, and drinking, was watching the local gang of dogs wrestle each other up and down the beach. A form of entertainment familiar to everyone who has ever been to the coast of Thailand.

We became quite familiar with the pack and one morning I found one of them (who looked a bit like our old dog Penny) asleep on the walkway right outside our room. After that I bought a little packet of dog treats from the 7-11 and handed them out whenever they came near.

We did find a few really lovely places to eat in Lamai, one of which wasn’t Thai (all the Thai places are excellent, mind you) called Emporio Caffè.

The proprietor and chef was an Italian fellow from Rome who made the pasta by hand and shared some of his grappa and limoncello with us. The pasta was outstanding and so of course we went back two nights later. Although it was a very simple cafe it had the typical frescos. If you find yourself in Lamai be sure to go!

Luke and I left Samui on a very early flight and spent a night at the Novotel in Bangkok before a daytime flight back to Melbourne. I ended up with a headache from watching three movies and the entire available catalogue of Big Bang Theory (it’s the show I watch when there’s nothing better to watch) and disembarked at about 8:30pm to find Melbourne airport the busiest we’d ever seen it.

The lady managing the extensive Sky Bus queue told the people in line that the trouble was that the Cox Plate (a prestigious horse race), Pax (a games convention) and a Taylor Swift concert were all happening on the same weekend.

Once we got into the city we discovered that in fact the Taylor Swift concert had just emptied out from the stadium beside the station and there were crowds five deep to get onto the trains. We ended up standing up for the 50 minutes it took to get home and then walked the last kilometre. The guy at the local kebab stand spied us walking past (this was at almost midnight) and asked Luke if we were going hiking.

Arriving home was a bit weird. Last time we’d come back we’d had a house full of people and Penny to greet us. This time it was more like letting ourselves into another Airbnb. Luke had paid for professional cleaners to go through the house before we returned and they’d cleaned some things well – and some things not so well. A lot of our belongings were in boxes as friends had lived in the house while we’d been gone.

We lay down on a mattress in the spare room, turned out the light, and agreed solemnly that really, there’s no place like home.

Pik’s Bar

The Peak District and Makeney Hall

Apologies to the handful of people who check the blog with any regularity, I’ve really fallen off the regular-posting bandwagon these last few weeks. Partially because we’ve been lazy and haven’t done a lot of noteworthy things and partly because when there’s other people around I try to be more social. Hopefully I’ll catch up before we get home in a week and a half.

We start at the end of the last post – catching the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool.

After a 4:30am breakfast, the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool disgorges it’s passengers at the cruel hour of 5:30am, which meant we had a long day to fill before booking into our accommodation for that night.

Jess and Luke loved the croissants onboard and we could see why all the truck drivers were virtually spherical. Excellent food and service on the overnight P&O ferry!

We filled our day by first taking a drive to Edale, a little village in the Peak District and well known to me as the start/end of the Pennine Way, England’s most well known long distance trail. Possibly also it’s most grueling too. Not that I’ve done it, but it was nice to take a drive through the gorgeous hills and then stop for a cup of tea at the campsite cafe, once it opened. We were seriously early.

A classic British pub. Hopefully we’ll be back one day during opening hours.

Next we drove to Chatsworth farm house and cafe for a slice of cake and more tea. The range of stuff on sale was very tempting (and pricey) and I bought a few things for Andrew and some tasty treats for us too, including a ginger brack (a type of cake that keeps well) to put in my package of stuff to send home.

Fancy farm shop pies.

After the cafe we took a quick drive through the actual Chatsworth estate but we were all a bit too knackered to be bothered with the entry price and doing much walking around. The weather was glorious though and the building looked magnificent.

Last stop before our hotel was a leisurely walk around Bakewell, a very pretty, touristy and well-kept northern town. We looked through a few shops then made our way to Makeney Hall. As I’d thought the Lake District was too far to drive and our preferred hotel there wasn’t available anyhow and we thought it would be nice to spend one night in a relatively fancy country house/hotel and Makeney Hall looked nice and was in about the right location.

The hotel ended up looking quite nice on the outside but having a somewhat run-down feeling in the interior. Tatty carpet, dirty windows in the restaurant, and the bedrooms were pretty ordinary.

We had booked an afternoon tea and we were the only people in the spacious dining room. The food was nice and the ambience improved once we disconnected the country/pop music playlist on the staff iPad and connected my phone with more suitable classical music. Luckily the staff weren’t fussed.

All in all, not a hotel I’d recommend but we enjoyed taking a walk in the evening and watching the rabbits and squirrels in the garden.

The next day we drove to Cambridge for two nights then spent our last week in London, where we saw a number of plays and had high tea on a bus! More about the next post.

Luke and I Hike Up Skiddaw, Cumbria

Two days before we left Keswick I had an attack of the sads and felt like I hadn’t done enough while I’d been there. I know Luke isn’t obsessed with walking like I am and while he was with me I didn’t want to torture him with huge days of walking. I ended up feeling a bit resentful, which was obviously unfair but I knew I wouldn’t be back for years and there was so much left to do! It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d bought a Wainwright map and realised I’d only bagged seven peaks.

Not that it’s all about ticking things off, but the days I had climbed high I’d been rewarded with amazing views and feelings of accomplishment and I was jonesing for more.

Luke very kindly and generously agreed that our last day, if the weather was decent, would be spent attacking Skiddaw, the fourth highest peak in Cumbria and the closest major mountain to Keswick.

I was both pleased and daunted so I planned a route that was longer but not so steep, as I’d tried to attempt the climb on my last visit but was scared off by the loose gravel.

We took a taxi to the Latrigg car park then headed around between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra and walked along the valley to Skiddaw House YHA.

This way is mostly flat and mostly dry until the walk up behind Skiddaw House which then is a fairly steady, grassy gradient to the saddle between Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw.

As we climbed higher it seemed that the whole of the northern fells were visible and I think I could see as far as Scotland!

We reached the saddle and at this point the wind, which had been picking up gradually, became a freezing arctic gale. We each put on a jumper and what few layers we had, astonished at the ferocity of it. Still, the view was excellent. It felt almost like we were standing over Keswick. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

We walked up to the cairns, quickly admired the view and then decided to head down via the steep path to Latrigg car park. We both felt very accomplished for making it to the top, even though it had been a pretty easy walk. Little did we realise that the worst was to come!

We started down and at first the track was a wide bridleway but it narrowed and became steep loose gravel. I genuinely cannot comprehend how people run this track, even though I saw people doing it. I don’t understand how people can manage it either going up or down.

We crept down the path at at snail’s pace and it took us almost as long to travel the one kilometre down as it took us to travel the five or so kilometres up. We had to stop to rest several times because of pain in our knees – and I never get pain in my knees. I was very, very glad I’d bought replacement hiking poles and that Luke had one as well.

The soles of my feet stung from sliding in my shoes and at one point we found a grassy stretch and attempted to slide down it using my plastic-coated map as a toboggan but it didn’t really work. We did have a laugh though!

The attempted toboggan slope.

Luke says ‘why not?’

Despite the pain it was certainly an achievement. As Luke said afterwards: I’ve done something I thought I couldn’t do so now I can be more confident with other things. He was right!

My weeks of walking in the Lakes have shown me that I have no problems with camping alone in the wild (if you can consider anywhere in England ‘wild’), that I can walk a fair way carrying all my gear, that I actually enjoy scrambling over rock faces (as long as they’re not too steep) and that I enjoy my own company for days on end. These are all good things of know!

When I get home I will start planning some Tasmanian walks and finally do the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria. Maybe one day I could even aim for something really huge!

Have you ever conquered a physical challenge? Have you done something you thought was not possible? I’d love to hear about other’s achievements!

High Rigg and Buttermere – Two Walks Near Keswick.

We arrived in Keswick pretty late in the day after a taxi, two trains and a bus from Cheltenham.

We stopped in at our BnB (The Cartwheel in Blencathra Street) to unload and briefly relax before heading out on a very short walk to Castle Hill.

Despite the fact that it was only about a kilometre away I missed the right lane but we made it eventually to the little dark forest that crowned a small rise near Derwentwater.

As I expected, my lack of long walks or serious hills showed and I was a bit puffed by the time we made it to the top. The nice thing about this time of year is that the school holidays are over so we saw only a few people on the way up and had the top to ourselves.

We took a few photos but it was getting dark so we took a walk down through town to the camping and caravan club where I camped in May and June. I pointed out all the significant spots and hills I’d climbed while Luke humoured me by making noises to indicate he was listening.

When we got to the lake it was getting quite dark and it looked quite moody and gloomy – very different to earlier balmy days. Also the black and white makes it look even more eerie ;-).

We stopped at The Bank Tavern for a drink and shared a chicken kiev. While we haven’t been sharing dinner as often as we should we’re trying to remember to do it now.

We then went to The Dog And Gun, which was packed with dogs – five just in the alcove we were sitting in. We had a piece of apple pie drowning in custard, which made Luke happy, then walked back to the Cartwheel for an early night.

While on the bus that day I’d wrenched my neck and lying in a soft bed seemed to make it worse – by morning I was struggling to move it at all or sit comfortably. I took some nurofen with breakfast, which seems to help but I’m hoping it comes better soon.

The following day I decided that I wanted to walk High Rigg, a hill near Castlerigg Stone Circle and very close to the walk Pete and Deb and I did in June.

We caught the bus as close as we could then walked up the hill and along the ridge. Luke did not enjoy the walk up, but it was pretty! And reasonably dry, too.

As I’d read, there were excellent panoramic views from the top and we followed the ridge for about a kilometre then down the southern end. There was no path marked on my OS map but it was pretty clear where to go.

We only saw one other couple along the way and it was marvellously quiet. The rain that had happened through the night had cleared and only the top of Skiddaw and Blencathra were covered in cloud. We even got a bit of sun on our way down.

The path ended right at a 555 bus stop, which was super handy, so we caught the bus back to Keswick then the 77A to Buttermere to eat our lunch then go for a wander along the lake. While it was perhaps not quite as fine a day as last time I was here, the lack of crowds made up for it.

We found a lovely patch of fly agaric too!

At the southern end we spent a few minutes watching a dog try to pick up a rock out of a stream – the rock was bigger than its head and we watched in amazement as it finally managed to pick the rock up and get it up to the bank.

We caught the bus back to Keswick by 5 and headed straight to the Wainwright pub where we shared a steak and ale pie, Luke agreed it was the best he’d had yet. After we’d finished eating another couple asked if they could share the table and we ended up talking to them for ages. Janice and Steve were from Newcastle and on their yearly holiday to the lakes. They had their immaculately white west highland terrier with them and we talked dogs and walks and travel for a while before Luke and I decided it was getting late and headed back to the Cartwheel.

A lovely day out!

Two Days On The Essex Way

As Luke’s aunt and uncle live in Dedham we decided to incorporate a visit with a leg of the Essex Way, a long distance walking trail that stretches from the English Channel to the eastern edge of London.

Dedham sits close to the middle of the Way. We decided to walk from Great Horkesley to Dedham on the first day, stay the night then walk from Dedham to Manningtree the next as it would be easy to catch the train back to Cambridge. Also the part around Dedham is considered one of the prettiest on the Way as it’s an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

We left Cambridge mid morning and caught the bus from Bar Hill into town then a train from Cambridge to Ipswich then another train from Ipswich to Colchester. The train to Colchester was supposed to go on to London but due to a fatality on the track it was delayed in Colchester indefinitely.

From Colchester we caught a bus to Great Horkesley where we shared a steak and ale pie at the amusingly-named Half Butt Inn.

I had about a quarter and Luke had the rest, primarily because I’d weighed myself at Andrew’s and been mightily displeased with the results.

Anyhow, a little bit of pie was just as delicious as a lot and it’s good not to set out with a bursting stomach.

We set off up the road looking for the Way markers and were soon on the right track.

The Essex Way turned out to be much, much better marked than the Cumbria Way. Almost every time there was a turn it was clearly signposted. We only missed one marker and took two wrong turns, each of which only cost us a few extra minutes. I wouldn’t recommend doing it without a map but we coped quite well with a combination of a printout from from the website and google maps. On the Cumbria Way I would recommend the full OS maps but they weren’t necessary here.

A lot of the Essex Way seemed to be through fields.

A lot of them weren’t particularly scenic.

Maybe it wasn’t the best time of year to do it? We saw a lot of onions and beets, anyhow.

Essex is also very, very flat. We only walked up and down perhaps three small slopes in the two days of walking. This would make it an excellent walk for people with little experience doing long walks, plus you’re always within sight or sound of a road so it would feel a lot less daunting than being out on the moors or up a mountain. The trade off, off course, is that it’s nowhere near as beautiful. If the Lake District was a ten then most of what we saw on this trail (which admittedly wasn’t much) rates about a two. There are some pretty vistas across gently undulating fields with church spires in the distance but half the trail is between hedges and you can’t actually see anything.

Also not great if you’re a bit nervous of cars. Good for snacking on blackberries though, of which there was an abundance!

The little villages are very picturesque and if you like that he’s cottages you’ll be in heaven.

I particularly like all the churches and their fancy lych gates. Lych gates originated in the medieval period as a place for mourners to bring the corpse (litch) to be accepted by the priest. The lych gate was a covered place for them to wait.

This part of England is known for horse breeding and racing so we saw a few horses along the way too.

As we neared Dedham our feet were aching so we stopped for a drink at Milsom’s, the fancy restaurant that we’d visited on our previous visit to Mark and Sue. They didn’t bat an eyelid at our sweaty clothes and red faces, which was awfully good of them.

After a half pint and a rest we felt slightly refreshed and didn’t find the last kilometre too taxing. We walked nearly 19 kilometres on our first day, a good effort after a number of weeks of slacking off. We also managed to get in just before the clouds opened. Lucky!

The following day we had a delicious cafe breakfast that was as good as anything you’d get in Melbourne and had another look at the renovations of Mark and Sue’s place. It’s really come along since we were last there! It’s all going to look amazing when it’s done and there’s lots of neat little aspects, like windows that close automatically when it starts raining.

I took a few photos of Luke with his cousins Alice and Isabel. Luke is the oldest of his generation of cousins as his mother is the eldest of nine Dempsey children. Luke’s uncle Mark is the youngest of the nine (and only four years older than me!) so his children are the youngest of that generation of cousins. Does that make sense?

It was lovely to see them all again!

Our second day of walking was from Dedham to Manningtree. It wasn’t anywhere near as far as the first day but that was probably just as well as we were a bit stiff. The views on day two were a bit better and we only went off track once right at the end. It did mean climbing a fence and crouching through some trees but we emerged on the footpath only a couple of hundred metres from Manningtree station.

We stopped off at the surprisingly nice Station Hotel in Ipswich for lunch (surprising because hotels that are next to train stations are often rubbish) and then continued on the Cambridge.

All in all, a good walk for our level of fitness and experience but not terribly scenic. Perhaps it would be better in Spring? It did seem like a walk that wouldn’t get too muddy (unlike the CW) and is much more accessible. That being said we only saw one other walker in the whole two days and he was also doing the Essex Way. We stopped for a moment to chat and he expressed surprise as well that we were the first people he’d seen and he’d been walking all day. I’m glad we saw at least one other walker so Luke could have a small taste of what I’d experience on an hourly basis in Cumbria. Often chatting to other walkers took up several hours of my day! How strange that, this close to London, we only saw one person.

A few more photos to finish with – and could someone tell me what plant this is?

Crabapples?

France: Nice

We arrived in Nice after several hours in a train carriage that had all the sights and sounds of an unruly crèche. A family with four small children and two adults plus about a dozen bags of toys and belongings sprawled across the eight seats in front of us, with the parents allowing the kids to hang over into the aisle and block the passage of people trying to walk through. When one woman, trying to get past, tripped over a child’s leg and landed heavily on the foot of the offending mother it seemed like appropriate karma. Very satisfying to watch, it was.

Aside from that our journey was uneventful and it was nice to spend half a day in airconditioning after the 37 degree heat of Lyon.

We caught a tram from the train station to our Airbnb apartment and discovered that it was 104 steps up to the fifth floor and it was definitely the smallest apartment we’d ever had. It did have aircon though and a tiny balcony that looked over the rooftops.

The balcony was so small that we had to shuffle the table forwards and backwards to get both of us out there.

On the first night we relaxed with our usual plate of cheese, ham and some cheap wine and planned our stay. Luke booked us into a variety of activities.

1. A walking tour of the old city. We did this on our first full day. It was €14 each and the tour guide was an Australian girl who had lived in Nice for the last ten years. She was obviously very knowledgeable about the city but had a kind of clipped way of delivering the information which made it all seem very rote-learned.

My favourite thing on the tour was a baroque church that was so over the top it sort of came out of bad taste into cool kitchness. It also had chandeliers.

2. A small group evening visit to Monaco.

It ended up being a very small group – just Luke and I and our driver, Antonio. He was great and full of information about Monaco and how it runs. I didn’t really know much about Monaco before we went so it was somewhat eye-opening.

The thing we both liked most was the cars.

Antonio dropped us off at the casino after a drive around the race track and royal residences. In front of the casino normal people hang around looking at cars and hoping to see someone famous… I guess? I couldn’t think of any other reason.

Not actually terribly attractive.

We went for a walk and had a look at the opera house and then looked down from a viewpoint onto the decks of some of the super yachts that lined the harbour. How annoying to be rich enough to own a super yacht then have plebs watching you eat your dinner!

We had a drink and then dinner at Cafe de Paris, an open air restaurant next to the casino where you can watch the fancy cars and fancy people walk past. The food was actually pretty good for somewhere so busy, and very nicely presented.

After dinner we stepped into the Monte Carlo Casino foyer and there was an art installation featuring a maze of playing cards.

We met up again with Antonio and boggled at the fact that people who are rich enough to come to Monaco would actually want to go there. It’s not a particularly attractive place and the main goal seems to be to show off. Saudi princes get their sports cars flown there for their two week holidays just so they can drive them around town at 10km an hour. The whole thing seemed to represent the worst of humanity but at the same time it was certainly interesting.

3. Nice food tour!

We always like a food tour. We had a very pretty and vivacious woman named Marion as our guide for this tour through the markets and stores of Nice’s old town.

We walked through the market and some speciality shops and Marion bought samples of fruit and pastries then stopped at a restaurant to have a drink and try various things.

Then we walked on to buy wine and try socca, a local chickpea pancake, plus an onion tart, both of which are traditional street food.

We finished at a store that sold gourmet olive oils etc and tried some samples then finished with a table full of cheeses, meats and fruits.

I wish I’d taken more notes throughout as Marion was very knowledgeable about cheeses and wines. I’d definitely recommend this tour to anyone interested in French food. Google ‘the French way tours’ for more information.

4. A tour of Cannes and Provence.

Another small group minivan tour. This time, sadly, we didn’t have the van to ourselves.

Our driver was a young and bubbly woman from Hungary who had pretty good English but occasional words were a puzzle until context made them clear. For example I thought she had said that Italians had brought ladder making from Italy until eventually I realised it was leather making. Our guide also had to shout to be heard by the people in the back seat, which meant we were caught in the crossfire in the middle row and the commentary was unceasing and quite repetitive. Luke’s a pretty patient person but even he was getting sore ears by the end of the day.

First we stopped for 40 minutes in Cannes. Obviously as a film editor, it was a bit of a pilgrimage for Luke although not terribly exciting when there was nothing going on.

Next we headed to several small villages in the hills.

it is hard to believe people lived up here for centuries and had to walk hours down to the valleys and coast to buy supplies. Not to mention getting building materials up the mountain.

We visited three villages. In the first we toured the Fragonard perfume factory. It was sort of interesting but when we came out into the village for five minutes afterwards it was so pretty I wished we had time there instead.

We stopped at another tiny village for a rather rushed lunch then a final village that was where Chagall lives and is now a centre for fine arts… and tacky crap. It was very pretty though and extremely busy.

We found a quiet spot and watched a storm roll in over the hills of Provence.

There was so much lightning that Luke managed to capture some video of it on his phone and posted it to Instagram.

We made it back to Nice by 5pm and had a quiet evening on our balcony.

Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.