Hello 2019! Seeing in the New Year on the North Norfolk coast

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked on the very lovely Deepdale Backpackers hostel and Campsite, at Burnham Deepdale, North Norfolk. We’ve driven by this place many a time, but the recent addition of electric hook ups and a complete toilet and shower revamp saw us booking on back in September for our much anticipated New Year break.

The campsite is absolutely excellent by the way; huge pitches and probably the best facilities we’ve ever come across; plenty of massive wet room showers with your own private loo and hand basin, even heated flooring! There are plenty of dish washing facilities, free Wi-fi and even not one, but two warm doggie showers!

These are the facilities just on site, aside from these we’ve got a fully stocked supermarket/petrol station that is open 7-7 even on New Year’s Day! A number of lovely shops, a cafe, not one but two pub/restaurants, the Norfolk Norfolk coastal path running practically from the site and a bus stop that is the coastlines and runs from Hunstanton to Fakenham and back every hour. It’s just the perfect place to spend New Year- a time when we always end up walking miles and miles to try and burn off some of those excess pounds that we’ve gained since, well Texas really!

The journey here on Sunday was indirect from ours but relatively quick- just over an hour and we were pulling onto our pitch. We took our time setting up as our last pack away was in the middle of the night and after a hearty lunch of homemade pea, ham and mint soup, made in my compact soup maker that Santa brought me, we donned our boots and set off on a small walk. The soup was amazing by the way!

We turned left out of the campsite and walked along the coast path towards Brancaster Staithe, a walk of around 1.5 miles and then looped back along the road, obviously checking the two pubs out too. We passed two small places selling fresh mussels. Obviously we brought a bag of live mussels, (and some fresh eggs) ready for a starter tonight.

Sunday night was spent chilling before dinner. Dinner was a rather exciting affair; first we had the local Brancaster mussels, cooked in a simple white wine and onion sauce- oh my they were good.

Main course was homemade turkey, ham and leek pies using our new gadget, an electric pie maker. I made the pies at home and we reheated them in about 15 mins using electric. It was a blustery wet evening, and our pie and mash dinner really hit the spot!

It never fails to surprise me how well we eat in Ruby, considering we only have just two gas hob rings!

New Years Eve

We had a fairly lazy morning, and after a breakfast of sausage and egg baps, we set off on a 3 mile or so saunter, this time in the opposite direction of yesterday’s walk – so turning right out of the campsite.

Despite leaving Ruby at 11:30 we found our pace was fast, so we decided to pause for a quick drink at The Hero, and then carry on along the coast path through Holkham and finishing at Wells-next-the-Sea 11 miles later!

Crossing the field towards Burnham
I saw the sea.. at Burnham

The path goes behind the large sand dunes at Holkham

Then through the trees and forest before coming up to the sea wall at Wells Next the Sea

The final approach to Wells Next the Sea. Boy those fish and chips were calling us!

We arrived at Wells at 3pm, not bad at all- we really loved the walk, even with our fast pace!

Obviously after such a long walk with no snacks/water (although there is a cafe with water station and loos at Holkham. And a pub which we didn’t stop at!) our first objective was to find a drink, and then fish and chips at Frenchies which hit the spot and beyond, before grabbing the next coasthopper bus back to the campsite (£2.10pp & £1 for dogs). We accidentally 😜 missed our stop and got off at the next stop, the Jolly Sailors, for “one for the road”; well it was NYE!

Our evening was quiet and chilled, exactly as we like it. We managed to polish off a steak and noodle dinner around 9.30pm, and then opened a bottle of fizz as we waited for the big countdown.

The atmosphere on site was good – a lot of campers had gone down to the Jolly sailors (or we assume they did as we watched them leave dressed as pirates and there was a pirate party on). A midnight, a few of our neighbours came out with sparklers singing Auld Lang Syne, and in the distance (but far enough not to trouble Jazz) we watched a pretty impressive firework display. But ten mins later the site was quiet again, so we pulled out the bed and promptly dozed off – not waking again until 10am.

New Years Day started rather lazily, in fact, I don’t think I got out of bed until 11! Once I did get up I made us a fry up, and we tested our legs after yesterday’s long walk. Luckily neither of us had still legs so we decided to do a nice 4.5 miles loop provided by the campsite, Burnham Deepdale – Brancaster and back via Barrow Common.

Despite there being a few drops of rain as we lay in bed, by midday the weather had cleared right up, and actually the sun was attempting to show its face. We really enjoyed walking over Barrow common, and took the opportunity to toast the new year with a swig or five from our hip flasks whilst looking out to sea.

The walk included walking across a field ahem, I mean the remains of a Roman Fort, Branodunum, which dates back from 200AD, and would have been one of three important sites in East Anglia. Keith was absolutely in his element – I’m better at seeing physical remains rather than using my imagination but I understood that it was a very important archeological site, and in its day would have looked like this:

Picture taken from SUMO Services: https://www.sumoservices.com/brancaster-roman-fort-case-study/

Today it looks like this

There is an interesting time team episode filmed here which we watched later on.

The walk rejoined the coastal path just below the fort and we followed it all the way back to Burnham Deepdale. As we passed Brancaster Staithe the sun fully came out and the light was just wonderful. The tide was now almost fully in and lots of people were out taking pictures, bird watching, even some launched sea kayaks. It really is my happy place here.

A mile or so further along and we returned to our starting point, and paid a quick stop at the church to see the Norman square font, before returning to the campsite, just in time to watch the sun dip down behind Ruby.

The first sunset of 2019.

All this walking means we are hungry Horace’s, so we devoured a cheese board for a late lunch and then a delicious slow cooker venison and red cabbage stew for dinner. Recipe below, it was gorgeous!

We’ve had a brilliant break, and really feel recharged and ready to start the year with a bang. We’ve signed up for Country Walking’s Walk 1000 miles in 2019, (we actually started it on 27th Dec hopefully that won’t matter) so are going into 2019 with lots of walking based trips in mind, and lots of trips in Ruby and beyond already booked.

Whatever 2019 brings for you, I do hope it’s a good one, and if you have a camper van, Motorhome or tent, we really really recommend a visit to Deepdale Farm. We’ll be back for sure!

Until next time

Lx

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Winter adventures and Festive Fun; York

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up on her lonesome at Granchester Caravan Park on the outskirts of York.

We’ve had a busy week of concerts and Christmas gigs, but come 3pm on Thursday it was instruments down and time to declare the Christmas holiday OPEN. Our final gig of the season was handily located on the A11 in Thetford, and so van packed with presents, camping accessories and gig stuff we set off in the direction of Kelham for a Christmas evening with Dad and Jenny. We had a lovely meal at the Fox and it was a great if not slightly boozy evening.

Friday arrived with thankfully no sore heads, that was a close one, and by 09.30 we had hit the A1 for an hour and a half’s drive to York. We’d been told by the owner that the campsite was quiet so to pitch wherever we liked. On arrival it was clear we were the only ones there! At just £17.50 per night, with lovely hot and clean showers and bus stop to York directly outside the gate, we couldn’t have picked a better base for the weekend.

We wasted no time and hailed the next bus, the 31x and was thankful for the contactless payment as we realised we had no cash! Be warned, the 29 bus which also stops here doesn’t take card and is cash only.

The bus stops at exhibition square which is really convenient for the minster and city centre.

We spent some time wandering the beautiful lanes, having a drink in the oldest pub in York, the Star Inn, and also the Christmas market on Parliament Street before grabbing a late lunch at Zizzis. We had a lovely drink in the really atmospheric Viking tipi bar in the centre of the market and even (possibly) made a tv appearance on BBC Look North!

There was a cracking beer and gin shop near the cathedral.

We met up with the Customer Service manager of Great Rail Journeys later on – Gary personally looks after us so well when we book our worldwide tours we wanted to meet him and buy him a beer to say thanks for his great service over the years. We had a lovely hour chatting in the really cool Pivni’s, a stones throw off The Shambles-which is just one of the most wonderful streets we’ve visited in England. It’s got tons of character, and you feel like you’ve walked straight in onto a panto set.

Before heading back to Ruby we tried one more drink in The Golden Fleece, rumoured to be York’s most haunted pub. As it was the last Friday before Christmas, it was beginning to get rowdy and we were starting to get tired, so we headed back to Ruby in an Uber (£10) as we’d missed the last bus home. A great day.

Saturday dawned a nice crisp winters day – my favourite, and a welcome relief as yesterday had been a bit wet. We had a fairly lazy morning, taking advantage of the fact that the first bus of the day didn’t arrive until 11.30. As the weather was lovely we decided to do the City Wall walk. We’ve been to York before but are fairly sure we didn’t get to do the whole circuit. York has the best preserved town walls in England, and there are over 2 miles of masonry with a walkway on top. There are several gatehouses to admire and some fabulous original portcullises to see too.

The walk was lovely, and just what we needed; we were feeling rather overindulged!

Towards the end of the walk there was a lovely looking beer garden with a great view of the minster so as it was almost 2pm we decided to have a swift one. I tried the Yuletide gin which was gorgeous.

We’d spotted a nice looking lunch option yesterday- a Yorkshire pud wrap, so we popped into The York Roast co and had an amazing roast turkey and all the trimmings Yorkshire pudding wrap. Honestly it was amaaaaazing!

We had another wander around the city taking in all the decorations and the Christmas market again before having a beer at the Shambles Tavern, which was literally like being in A Christmas Carol.

We’d had such a lovely couple of days, and had re fallen in love with York, especially at this time of year. We were however aware that the last bus back to Ruby was at 18:10, so we made the decision to head back for a relax before travelling back to Norfolk Sunday morning. Our journey home ended up taking place ridiculously early as we woke up at 3am! By 04.45 Keefy was packing as much of the van up as possible, whilst I was trying to sleep, so we gave in and left at 6am, aiming to beat the inevitable traffic. The journey home was in terrible weather so we ended up travelling at 40 most of the way, getting home just before 11am. What a lovely weekend though.

Have a fabulous Christmas everyone. Who’s away in their vans?

Until next time

Lx

Winter Adventures and festive fun; London Part 2

Saturday arrived after another really great sleep- the Crystal Palace campsite is so incredibly quiet, despite being in so close to the centre of London.

We enjoyed a quick egg bap for breakfast before doing some house keeping- Keefy emptied the loo & refilled the water whilst I did the washing up. By 10.30 we were on the bus- this time we took the 363 to Elephant and Castle and then a short walk to Borough Food Market. Despite living in Croydon for just under 40 years, I was supposed to learn that Keith had never been here! When I lived in Croydon I’d often nip on the train to London Bridge and spend a few hours expanding my overdraft here.

Borough market is one of London’s oldest and largest food markets- a market has been there since the 12th century. Our first visit of the day ticked all our boxes- food and history and we spent a very happy hour or so perusing the stalls, trying as many samples as possible, buying some British saucisson and English mature soft cheese, and then treating ourselves to a sausage roll and also a portion of haddock and chips – well the stall proclaimed they’d just won an award for ‘best fish and chips’ so it would be rude not to ‘check’. They were bloooomin lovely by the way.

Borough Market is a perfect place to visit from Crystal Palace- and is totally dog friendly. It does get busy though.

After our fish and chips it was time for a beer to wash it down, so we popped to nearby favourite of ours, The George- a National Trust owned galleried pub, nestled just off Borough High Street and only 5 minutes walk from London Bridge station.

Inside the smaller bar there is a very interesting clock – apparently it’s one of the only clocks still hung in its original place. It was hung in this bar in 1797!

Fish and chips washed down, we took the short walk to London Bridge and made our way on the underground to Notting Hill Gate. Our destination was The Churchill Arms – one of instagrams most pictured pubs in London. The reason..

It has over 100 Christmas trees on its exterior and over 12,o0o lights. It’s not just the Christmas time when it becomes popular to visit. In the springtime it’s completely covered in over £25,000 worth of flowers! Another pulling point for us was that is serves very highly recommended Thai food – in fact it was London’s very first Thai restaurant in a pub over 30 years ago.

It. Was. Packed.

Properly rammed inside, but as luck would have it, we managed to get a seat at the bar to watch the endless tourists and locals battle their way through. We booked a table for lunch and happily got seated only 30 minutes later.

We enjoyed a couple of pints of Fullers Snow Globe whilst we waited and are 90% sure that we spotted Ian Mckellan emerge from the restaurant.

The meal was absolutely beautiful, we shared a chicken pad Thai and Thai green chicken curry. It was incredible value, just £9 per meal!

As the weather had turned bad, and we managed to get a table in the bar, we enjoyed another pint whilst we waited for it get dark to enjoy the lights outside. As day turned to dusk the bar became even busier, I seriously don’t know how everyone fit in!

Around 4pm, we jumped back on the tube and headed further west- to Turnpike Green. Our destination was Chiswick House and gardens for their After Dark light display. Sadly by now it was lashing it down but we weren’t going to let that dampen our spirits. Scuse the pun.

Chiswick House is a beautifully elegant 18th century villa, with acres of land. Sadly given the weather we weren’t visiting the inside – the After Dark trail was an outside event. The first part of the trail was a 4 minute loop of specially commissioned music composed by Sergio Pizzorno from Kasabian, set to a light display by Nick Gray. It was brilliant. We really loved the music, and actually the wet weather gave the whole thing an added atmospheric effect. Aren’t we British!

The trail was a little sparser than others we have done, however enjoyable nonetheless. We especially loved the laser projections over the lake and the large moon.

At the end of the trail there was a handily located marquee with street food and a bar, serving hot mulled wine and mulled cider – or wassail. As we were drenched we took advantage of a spot by the heater and warmed up with a mug of wassail before making the journey back to Westminster on the district line and then picking up the no. 3 bus to Crystal Palace just outside the Houses of Parliament. We were back to Ruby just before 9pm.

Sunday dawned much dryer thank goodness- in fact it was a perfect winters day- dry, yet cold and crisp with a stunning blue sky. We took our time packing away, but decided to make a couple of stops en route home. We stopped off at Greenwich, parking just off Blackheath common in a free parking spot, and walked down through Greenwich park to Greenwich Market.

Another great place for food lovers- we forced a sausage roll and a scotch egg down whilst browsing and finishing some Christmas shopping off.

After an hour or so we went back to Ruby and crossed underneath the Blackwall tunnel towards Hackney, our second stop of the day. We found a free on street car parking space on the road near Sutton House, a National Trust Grade II Tudor Manor House. It’s amazing to think that this old building is right in the middle of Residential Hackney. At the moment it has a ‘Christmas through the ages’ exhibition on which was really interesting; some rooms were set out as they would have been at Christmas in the Tudor times

Some rooms were set out as a Victorian Christmas which is more like the Christmas that we know.

And finally an 80s Christmas, which is a nod to when squatters took over the house before the National Trust evicted them and took over the house.

The most fascinating fact I learnt was that in the Tudor times turkey was eaten- however the Norfolk turkeys were walked from Norfolk to London, setting off around August!

It was a lovely visit and one to stop at if you’re passing- it’s right by the start of the M11 but is a pig to get to on public transport from central London.

We had the most wonderful time, despite learning of our friends death the day we arrived. Christmas in London is just so special and this time we found pockets of areas off the mainstream list of tourist spots which we just loved exploring.

Until next time, which won’t be long, as we’re heading north for a few days next weekend.

Lx

Winter Adventures and festive fun; London Part 1

Ruby the VW campervan is parked up almost directly underneath the Crystal Palace transmitter mast and she’s experiencing a sense of deja vu. It been just over 6 months since we last visited this campsite, and we booked this mini break almost as we departed back in June.

Since June, the Camping and Motorhome’s Crystal Palace club site has some good news. Developers have the lease on the land and when we last visited it was set to close this very weekend in fact, hence our booking. Happily, the developers are not ready to build yet, so the campsite has been given another year of being able to be open.

End of the Christmas term is our busiest and this year has been no exception. We actually started Christmas music engagements over 4 weeks ago, and have been flat out with Christmas concerts and performing at Christmas parties etc. This year we decided to book the last two weekends off so we could have some downtime so here we are in London for treat number 1. My mum is Jazz sitting so we can embrace London in all its splendour.

We arrived at a Crystal Palace club site around 7pm on Thursday and was greeted by the very cheerful warden Matt, otherwise known as one half of Walter’s Wardens on Twitter. That afternoon we had learnt of the sudden death of a friend of ours so it was nice to have a friendly face greet us, thanks Matt. W had a quick and simple dinner of spag Bol which I’d made a couple of weeks ago and frozen, then wandered to the local, the Weston House, for a couple of drinks and a dram each.

Despite it being almost zero outside, we were once again amazed at Ruby’s fabulous insulation, with the help of our little plug in heater we remained snug as a bug all night.

Friday dawned a beautiful crisp winters morning, so we wasted no time in heading into London on the very conveniently located number 3 bus to Trafalgar square. We had some time to mooch so we walked along the Strand to Fleet Street, for a pint in The Old Bank of England (Fullers) pub. This really is a stunning pub, as the name suggests it’s housed in the old bank and the decor as such is brand and wonderful. We’ve eaten here before, the pies are tasty.

Next up we wandered down the road 200 metres or so to our next watering hole, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, a phenomenal old character pub which dates from the 1600s- it’s interior looks like it’s straight out of A Christmas Carol. Their sausage rolls and pork pie bar snacks are just delicious by the way. Research obviously- we knew you’d ask us how they were 😉

It was now time for a longer walk to Soho which took us around 45 minutes without stops. We love wandering the streets of London and rarely take the tube. We wandered through Covent Garden and Leicester Square, before heading across Piccadilly Circus into Soho. We met up with Keith’s dad and Valerie as we had a reservation at Cahoots bar at 3pm. Cahoots is a brilliant little hidden gem found just off Carnaby Street. It’s an underground bar set out as it would have been underground on the tube during the 1940s. It’s atmospheric and quirky, and they serve lovely cocktails. You need to prebook your table in advance and the tables are timed with a strict entrance time. During the evenings you can expect to hear live swing music, but during the day they place atmospheric jazz. We really loved our visit.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and left slightly merry! We wandered down the beautiful Carnaby Street towards Regents Street for our dinner reservation at John , Yes; John Lewis. During the winter months the roof of John Lewis turns into a winter wonderland, with a pop up restaurant, bar and this year ice rink (albeit slightly small ice rink). Nestled high above the chaos of Oxford Street a little of a week before Christmas, we were transported to a haven, an oasis of calm and festive ness. This years pop up is MYPIE- as the name suggests a pie and mash pop up. Keith, Valerie and I went for chicken leek and brie pies and Barry went for shepherds pie. Honestly they were completely and utterly scrumptious.

We waved Barry and Valerie off in an Uber- they were heading to Festival Hall for a carol concert. We chose to take in more of the street life, and enjoyed a walk down Regents street to enjoy those iconic and beautiful Xmas lights.

We went back for another look at Carnby Street as the lights there were linked with Bohemian Rhapsody and were fun, before walking back to Trafalgar Square for our bus back to Ruby.

We’d had a jolly good day but don’t want to burn ourselves out as we had more planned for tomorrow.

Winter adventures and festive fun; Part 1

Since we got home from America, it’s been full on with work as we’ve had a show production as well as our normal teaching routine. As soon as the show was over I was itching to get out for some fresh air, and luckily my lovely husband had preempted this and prebooked some tickets to nearby Anglesey Abbey for their winter lights event.

Anglesey Abbey is a National Trust owned country house that was formerly a priory and is set within acres of woodland. A perfect canvas for a magical winter wonderland trail.

We met Keith’s Dad and Stepmum for a late Sunday dinner at the nearby Red Lion in Swaffham Prior, before driving the couple of miles to Anglesey Abby for our 7pm entrance ticket. Our meal was gorgeous, one of the best Sunday lunches we’ve had in ages and really great value.

We had a few minutes to spare at Anglesey Abbey so had a hot chocolate and a browse of the gift shop; I just love the National trust gift shops and left laden with goodies! At 7pm we were called through and began our winter trail. The lights were extremely pretty and atmospheric, and although completely different to Kew Gardens winter lights which we visited last year, it was equally as lovely.

The trail is about 1.75 miles long, and there are a couple of rest areas with hot food, coffee and mulled wine of course. There were also some entertainers at each rest point- a fire eater and country band in one section and a brass band in the other.

We carried on along the trail admiring the huge silver birch trees all lit up beautifully and our favourite section was the stretch along near the mill.

The Abbey itself was pretty with multicoloured lights that you could control using devices on the path, which was unique.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and was the perfect outing to get us starting to think about Christmas. Tickets for this year have sold out already, however you can get tickets through the National trust website here – we booked in September.

We didn’t stay as we were local and it was a Sunday night, however you could easily combine this trip with a stay on:

Cherry Hinton Caravan and Motorhome club site

Gayton Farm CL

Anglesey Abbey also is very proud to host one of the best displays of snowdrops in the country and is well worth a visit in February too.

The following weekend, hailed the return of the ever popular Bury Christmas Fayre. Each year this 4 day Christmas fayre becomes even more popular- we’ve been making a point of visiting every year that we’ve lived here. Despite us only being 30 mins from Bury St Edmunds we always camp overnight as we are partial to a drop of Greene King Abbotts Reserve, but at 6.5% I only need to sniff it and be over the limit!

In Bury St Edmunds there is an official motor home overnight parking area in the main car park, where we can park legally for 24 hrs at only £2.50. We are so lucky to have this, if only more councils supported motorhome owners on this way but that’s a different story.

Despite this wonderful facility being available, we rarely get to use it during the Xmas market weekend as there are only 5 spaces and they are always full, so we tend to discreetly park up outside of town for the night. This year however due to a wedding on the Saturday, we ended up at Bury on Friday and i’ll be blowed, we got a space in the Aire!

We wasted no time and headed straight for the Abbot reserve tent!

The market is centred around the picturesque Abbey gardens and Angel hill and is full of stalls offering lovely gifts and food and drink galore.

Picture from http://www.burystedmundschristmasfayre.co.uk/

This year, we did less shopping and more drinking hehe, but we stocked up on cheeses! The Greene King tent is right opposite the stage and so we enjoyed watching the commitments tribute band.

It really is a lovely Christmassy event, and we look forward to it every year. It’s also dog friendly.

We can’t go to Bury St Edmunds without a drink in the Nutshell, claimed to the smallest pub in the UK and this trip was no exception. It’s also dog friendly. 🐾

Photo from Wikipedia

Accommodation options for Bury St Edmunds are:

Ram Meadow Motorhome Aire

The Dell Campsite, Thurston

We’ve got another couple of trips in Ruby lined up before Christmas; London and York so check back in a couple of weeks for more festive fun!

Until next time

Lx

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. San Antonio

We arrived at our final air b n b on the outskirts of San Antonio just after 6pm.

We had a quick shower and requested an Uber- we were keen to get into the centre of town and have an evening out with no rain!

Our Uber dropped us outside the Alamo. It was all lit up and was amazing to be finally here.

We wandered down onto the famous San Antonio Riverwalk which is lined with restaurants and bars. The Riverwalk is just beautiful- similar to Venice with a fairly narrow river with picturesque bridges crossing every 100metres or so.

We opted for a steak dinner which was delicious, washed down with some Californian red wine. After dinner we set out on our mission of finding somewhere to try some Texan wine. We didn’t need to venture too far: we found some just down the walk in a German bar weirdly enough!

I tried the Becker Merlot, which actually came from the vineyard at Stonewall, which we drove past today. It was really smooth and tasty – it felt good to try some local wine!

It had been a long day so we didn’t stay out too late. We’d had a cracking day though- perhaps our favourite out here yet!

Friday

A slight lay in (8am rather than 6am!) this morning and a very excited Keith and I head into town to visit the Alamo. Entry is free but you can pay for an audio guide. We know quite a bit about the history so decided not to do this.

It was amazing to be inside the former mission. No photos were allowed inside but outside we could take all the pictures we wanted.

It was really moving in there and told the story well. There was a small museum which also housed Davy Crockett’s rifle and knife.

After our visit we headed on a walk up through downtown and up towards the the Mexican Market place. We grabbed a wonderful taco breakfast from a street trader in the market. The whole place was bright and colourful- not that we’ve ever been, but it’s exactly how I imagine Mexico to be! It was a cool place to buy some souvenirs too.

We visited the San Fernado cathedral, which is a big catholic cathedral and also has the remains of Crocket, Travis and Bowie in a casket at the front.

By now, all the Mexican smells were tantalising our tastebuds, so we decided it was time for more food – and today would be a Mexican feast. We picked a Mexican along the Riverwalk and washed down by a couple of margaritas, we sat in the sun people watching for an hour or so. The lunch was gorgeous. Seriously every meal was becoming harder to beat!

We carried on our walk along the river to the historical La Villita Arts district. They were setting up for Dia de Los Muertos (day of the dead) celebrations which were happening from tomorrow- we were sad that we were to miss it, but pleased we could see how it was shaping up to look. Dia de Los Muertos is a festival that celebrates the dead. Families set up huge colourful shrines with photos of their deceased loved ones, and then throw massive parties and picnics at the shrines. Think the film Coco.

During our walk today we’d been informed that tonight there was a special Halloween event happening along the river walk. We decided to head back to the apartment and freshen up, and come back in for the evening festivities around 6pm.

There was a mass trick or treat event from 6, with all the restaurants and bars giving out candy to the hoards of families trick or treating. We chose the Cayote bar which had a raised terrace so we could observe. We got more than we bargained for, innocent lil me didn’t realised there would be a (near) topless woman parading around ON the bar! It felt very American!

After this we walked down the river towards the historical arts district, and arrived at the river theatre just in time for the adults Halloween costume competition to be judged. Well, the costumes were just phenomenal. Honestly, it was like we were on a film set. The atmosphere was electric and we just ADORED it. ki

After the costume competition, in which these were the three winners,

there was a Halloween river parade. Absolutely sensational- it’s given us the taste of an American Parade, and we are itching to go and experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade now!

After the parade, there was this incredible moment when everyone just started playing with some beach balls. It was so funny and surreal and in excellent nature. Everyone was howling with laughter- I just can’t ever imagine something like this happening in UK.

We decided that we were loving the evening so much we didn’t want to come home! No not really, we just didn’t want to leave for dinner so we grabbed some Mexican street food which was available and just hung out, there was a live band on and games. We also took the opportunity to grab some people for some pics.

The whole night was just so entertaining, I really really loved it. You can see our YouTube video here

Before we headed back, we nipped to the German bar for another Texas wine each. Keith had the Shiraz and I had the merlot again.

Saturday- our last day 😢

Today was our last day! I woke up sad, Texas has captured my heart in a way I wasn’t expecting! Before our night flight home, we had to drive from San Antonio to Houston, so we made a day of it by going via San Marco for the retail outlet village where we bagged some cheap Levi’s and then onto nearby Gruene (pronounced Green). Gruene has the oldest Dance Hall in Texas. The place was heaving, but we soon realised why- there was a free music afternoon on. We had a wander round the general store, got some last minute souvenirs and had a spot of lunch. Then went into the dance hall for a beer and a last enjoy of some live music. It was a larger band this time, with a violin, steel stringed guitar, acoustic guitar, double bass and two vocalists. It was packed, there were locals and tourists, and even a group celebration for a lady’s 80th.

Everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves, the band were fab, Keith and I even had a slow waltz. See video here. We had an hour there before the 3 hour journey to Houston, and I was feeling exceptionally emotional. I put my sunglasses on so no one would notice the tears streaming down my face. I’m not sure I got away with it!

That’s not our car btw (sadly)

All too soon it was time to move on, and by 6pm we were dropping off the car at Houston Avis and checking in. The tears wouldn’t stop – I blubbed all the way through security, and then sulked all the way onto the plane.

Texas. You’ve entirely stolen our British hearts. We’ll be back! For anyone who loves food and music – Texas is your state! Please visit. I get the impression not many people do other than for work.

Until next time

Lx

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Austin and Hill Country

Tuesday morning arrived and it was time to hit the road once more, waving farewell to Fort Worth. As we had changed our route, staying local ‘rather’ than the 500 mile drive to Big Bend National Park, we decided to take the ‘scenic route’ to Austin – basically leaving the interstate behind and travelling on route 281 instead.

The route took us through Stephenville, Hico, and Marble Falls. We decided to make a stop at Hico as it looked very historical and traditional. It ended up being a highlight of the day. The Main Street was just one street, covered in wooden fronted buildings that had stood largely unchanged in appearance since the late 1800s. The small town boasts a rumour that Billy the Kid died here in the 1950s and as such has a small and very untouristy museum.

The rest of the journey was scenic as the roads wound through the beginnings of Texas Hill Country.

We had a really really disappointing lunch at Marble Falls – we actually chose the route based on a recommendation for lunch in a traditional and long established diner. Unfortunately our meals at Bluebonnet Cafe were absolutely revolting – and put us in a bit of a bad mood for the remainder of our journey to Austin. Luckily, a warm welcome was to be had at our lovely last minute air b n b apartment situated within walking distance of all the bars and music venues in Austin so after a shower, we took a walk out to the local and had a bit of a bar hop and delicious pizza meal – we also caught some great live country music at the White Horse.

Wednesday dawned a wet and miserable day, which was a shame as it was MY BIRTHDAY! Presents and cards opened, we decided to take a walk despite the rain into the centre and explore the capitol building, which happens to be the largest state capitol building in the United States.

We took a walk down the Main Street, but was quite surprised at the lack of shops to peruse – in fact there was literally just one.There were quite a lot of historic buildings though and some really cool examples of the old Art Deco cinema fronts.

There was also a really traditional Victorian crescent with lots of mansions in which we enjoyed seeing.

All the bars were closed so no lunchtime cocktails for the birthday girl sadly – so we decided after a burger at Carolines that we’d cut our losses and go back to the accommodation to enjoy some beers there. We dried up, relaxed and then re headed out about half 4 and happily this time we found some places open, so enjoyed an evening bar hop and a fantastic meal followed by live music at Stubb’s BBQ.

When we woke up on Thursday we were relieved that the rain had stopped. Today we were once again taking the scenic route from Austin to San Antonio, via Fredericksburg. Our first stop was a quick picture stop at the Ladybird Lake, which offered a grey but lovely view of the Austin skyline.

From here we drove about an hour to Johnson City where we visited President Lyndon B Johnson’s ranch. We didn’t know much about this man, who took over from President JFK after his assassination, however we are so glad we visited his huge ranch, as we learnt lots about him, and actually it was a really interesting (and free) activity.

First we stopped off at his actual birth house within Johnson City (pics above) before carrying on 13 miles to his main adult life and family ranch. Before going round LBJ’s ranch you get to explore a living history ranch which was his neighbours farmhouse.

The tour around the ranch is self guided in your car, which gives an idea on how large it is. It also houses an air strip, with Air Force ‘one and a half’ still there to see, and the beautiful living quarters which was where many legislations were made in those years after JFK was murdered.

We also got to see his collection of presidential cars, including an amphibious vehicle and his shooting vehicle.

I think that the most interesting thing we took from our visit was that the President’s wife lived until only 11 years ago when she died. She succeeded him over 30 years, therefore it felt more real and less tourist museum-ey. If that makes sense?

From here we carried on just under 10 miles until we reached Luckenbach, a tiny hamlet with population of only 3.

It was made famous when Wayne Jennings wrote a song called Luckenbach, and is basically a wooden store/post office/saloon bar/ food hut, which has live country music on daily for free (tips). It’s utterly traditional, unspoilt, and just an all round gem of a place, that has firmly made it onto my favourite spot in USA list. Plus, I can’t think of anywhere else you’ll get interrupted by a cockerel as you’re sipping on your cold beer listening to the music. Luckenbach

We spent much longer than anticipated there as it was just so cool, and I also got serenaded with a cowboy happy birthday!

See our Luckenbach video here

Eventually though, it was time to drag ourselves away and head to the next pit stop, Fredericksburg, which has more of a German settlement.

The Main Street was charming and full of antiques and boutiques, eateries – we had a delicious homemade ice cream cookie sandwich, and also loads of wine tasting rooms and bars. If we did this tour again, I’d have chosen to stay overnight here rather than two nights in Austin.

It was after 5pm by the time we left, heading the hour and half motorway journey to our final air b n b of the trip in San Antonio. Another traditional Mexican casita awaited us.

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Dallas and Fort Worth

Friday

After a pleasant 4 hour journey from Houston along Interstate no 45, we arrived at our next Air b n b, Sunshine cottage, in the affluent, leafy area of Hollywood Dallas.

Our host had made the apartment cosy and full of goodies. After a chill and a shower, we decided to stay quite local for dinner, and walked to local smokehouse restaurant, Lakewood Smokehouse. The meal was phenomenal- I had smoked rack of ribs and Keith had brisket beef. I washed mine down with a pumpkin spice cocktail and it’s was just heaven.

We embraced the walk home as we were absolutely stuffed full, and really enjoyed looking at the fall decorations dotted around the neighbourhood.

Saturday

Saturday arrived early again, our body clocks are definitely still out of sync. We made the most of the early morning though by enjoying a leisurely breakfast and catching an early bus from the end of the street to the centre of Dallas.

Today we had the most amazing day- we visited the assassination site of JFK. Dealey plaza is an eery place, and largely untouched, despite the road being used still, and a busy one at that. The grassy knoll where an alleged shooter was, is still exactly as it was that fateful day and the landscaping is identical. The only difference being that the book depository where Oswald allegedly fired from is now a museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed looking around. There were pockets of people lurking along the road, each debating with each other where that fatal shot came from based on angles and chance. It was a deeply moving visit, and one that we will remember for years to come.

Naturally after such a morning, we decided a rooftop bar would be a nice place to have our own debate on our thoughts about the assassination- little did we know the portions would be 32oz each!

My “sexy margarita” was less sexy yet more “spiky”- the sting in the tail being that it only stayed in my digestive system 15 mins max before my body ejected the whole blinking thing! Thankfully it didn’t ruin my meal- we grabbed a buffalo steak and shrimp each which was fab.

Our next Dallas tourist spot was the Reunion Tower. Despite being fairly low in comparison to other observation floors we’ve been to recently, the views out were great and the weather was behaving so we could see for miles. We really love visiting the observation tower wherever we are, there’s nothing like an arial view.

Suitably exhausted by the days sightseeing, we called it an early night, taking advantage of our lovely relaxing air b n b, we grabbed a sandwich from seven 11 and headed back.

Sunday

Today was a scheduled driving day from Dallas to Fort Worth, however as it was only a short journey and our visit to Dallas coincided with the annual State Fair of Texas – today was the last day of the month long fair – we decided it would be rude not to pay a visit.

We arrived bright and early, which worked in our favour, we got to park in the cheaper/closer car park and enjoyed a wander round with no crowds for the first couple of hours.

State Fair Park is home to the largest Ferris Wheel in the Western Hemisphere, the Texas Star, so we decided a ride on this was a must, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of Ferris wheels or heights!

Standing at the base of the wheel it seemed to tower hugely above us- to the point it seemed larger than the London Eye, however Wikipedia tells us that the London Eye is twice as high. Texas Star is 62 metres, which is still pretty high, as my quivering legs reminded me as we exited after a terrifying lovely ride. Luckily Keith realised that my eyes were closed for the top section so snapped lots of pictures for me to enjoy once down on the ground.

Another highlight of the day was watching the pig races. Oh America, you sure do these things well. I was almost crying with laughter at one point.

The rest of the time at the fair was spent in sensory overload. The smells of the food were incredible; and we sampled a few bits and pieces including the famous corn dog, similar to a battered sausage on a stick, and the 2018 food finalist deep fried shepherds pie and fried green beans. Sounds gross but was amazing!

We felt really lucky to be able to share a snippet of true Texan life- there were no tourists just family’s enjoying their time together. It really was wonderful.

Despite the fair being open until 11pm, we made a move around 3pm to our next destination, Fort Worth, just an hour down the road.

Our next Air B and B was a wonderful traditional Mexican Casita, located in a Mexican neighbourhood and complete with its on little porch perfect for a beer and reflection on what a great couple of days in Dallas we had had.

We opted for dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by our host, Joe T Garcias which was about 2 miles away. As it was early, we decided to walk there through the different neighbourhoods. It was interesting getting an insight into the family homes, and we even saw a traditional Halloween party going on which was cool. However there were times when we felt a little uneasy so we decided we’d stick to Uber from now on.

The restaurant was fantastic! It was largely an outdoor open patio with plenty of lights and a big pond in the centre. It was intimate, trendy and packed, yet we got seated immediately- we knew we’d picked a gem of a restaurant. There were only two items on the menu, steak or chicken fajitas or cheese enchiladas. We opted for the steak fajitas and our server encouraged us to only have one to share. Of course, we ignored him, and ended up being half of it back in a doggie bag for tomorrow! The Ford was exceptional and really great value.

Monday

Today we spent the whole day exploring the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, which is home to the cowboy and the only place in the world left doing daily cattle drives.

As soon at the taxi dropped us off, we knew we were in for a great day. The roads are cobbled and the architecture dates from the 1880s. There are saloons and steakhouses and traditional general stores. The first place we saw was Leddy’s Handmade boot store, and as I had been gifted some birthday money from Dad and Jenny for some leather boots, we made our way straight there.

Luck was on my side as the majority of boots, being handmade with fabulous quality leather, were well out of my price range, however they had a small one off sale to make room for new boots, and I immediately saw a pair included in the half price sale that I liked. My delight was sky high when we discovered they only had the one pair of that design and they were my size. After half an hour of trying them on, the deal was done, I was in love, the leather was so soft it felt like silk and I didn’t take them off all day.

After this we mooched down the street, buying some souvenirs from the tourist shops and killing time until the 1130 cattle drive.

We watched as the cowboys manoeuvred the herd of Texas Longhorn Cattle down the street and back into the stockyard.

It was a bit touristy but we enjoyed it none the less. We went for an early lunch of steak in a place recommended by the boot man which was washed down by buckets of margarita. The food has been exceptional; every single meal has been outstanding. I’d come back just to eat more Texan food.

After lunch we had a look round the historical station area and had a few beer stops in the many saloons. The area was slightly smaller than I’d imagined and you could easily do this as a day trip from Dallas, however we enjoyed the slower pace and being able to have a beer together as we didn’t have to drive.