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.

We headed back to the accommodation around 6pm – we needed to make some adjustments to our next couple of days itinerary. Originally tomorrow we were heading to Big Bend National Park, which is right on the west of the state and about 8 hours drive. Aside from the spectacular scenery, a draw was the chance to take a boat trip into Mexico for the day, across the official border crossing at Boquillas. However, with the tension at the border with the ‘Caravan’ in the news currently, we felt a bit apprehensive about taking this trip. This along with terrible weather forecasted for Wednesday, which would be our free day to explore, made us feel a 16 hour road trip was excessive and something which we wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy and appreciate in the current weather or politic climate.

We hit our travel books, spoke to all the locals we could for their advice on where to go instead, and as a result, tomorrow we are off to Austin, the state capital.

Until next time

Lx

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Houston

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up at a Heathrow hotel for half term. We decided to take advantage of the January flight sales, bagging some cheap seats to Houston, TX, enabling us to tick off a few more items off our ever expanding bucket list.

Wednesday

Despite travelling down late after work on Tuesday night, our alarms were still set to an ungodly hour on Wednesday, in preparation for our 10am flight. We really enjoy airport departure lounges so always make a point of giving ourselves plenty of time in there. It was my first time flying from Terminal 5, which I adored, especially travelling there by driverless pod, it felt like something from the future.

Sadly our flight was delayed for 3.5 hours as there was a problem with the window in the flight deck. At one point it looked like it may be cancelled altogether- so by the time we got on the actual plane our emotions were all over the place but we were relieved we were finally on our way.

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10.5 hours later, and a pretty uncomfortable flight due to the family behind us continuously kicking our chair backs, we had touchdown and were very excited to be back in the USA. We hadn’t slept but I did get chance to catch up on the recent series of Body guard- wow.

An hour later and we had requested our Uber and were enroute to our first Air b n b of the Roadtrip. Tired but very happy to be here.

Our Air b n b was in the Montrose area of Houston, an area close to both the interstate and downtown, and an area famous for having plenty of bars etc. The road itself was a lovely quiet residential street and the apartment was a really great space, equipped with the most comfy bed we’ve ever experienced and enough gadgets to keep my very own gadget man husband occupied in our downtime. On arrival at 7pm we wasted no time in showering, hitting trip advisor and taking a walk a couple of blocks away for a bite to eat and couple of beers.

We found The Pit Room, a really casual bbq joint, which served the most phenomenal beef brisket- a state dish, we’ve read. Keith had strips of brisket with coleslaw and I had brisket tacos with mac n cheese, washed down with a local IPA for Keith and a Texan Cider for me. It was divine and suddenly all our travel related stress had vanished. Next door was their sister bar, the patio, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and soaked the atmosphere of the local baseball time team, the Astros, playing the Boston Red Socks. Before too long though, our weary bodies began to remind us that we’d been awake almost 24 hours,so we headed back for a long comfy nights sleep.

Thursday

Travelling East to West always means we wake up extra early on our first few days – we never mind as we are always keen to get out and about exploring. Today was no different, we were awake by 0430, so after an hour NASAmanagedor so of dozing and researching eateries etc, we actually were up and out by 0615 in search of coffee. We took a walk round the neighbourhood admiring all the beautiful homes in this historic district, eventually finding The Breakfast Klub, a place I’d read loads about. Apparently it’s the place to have breakfast. We were met by super friendly staff, and huge mugs of coffee. I ordered their signature dish of waffle and wings and Keith had waffle and eggs and bacon. It was as huge, but hands down the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Arrive early though, it filled up really quickly.

From there we walked down another mile or so to Avis to pick up our rental car. The handover was smooth and by 9am we were on our way to NASA, about 20 miles south of Houston.

Words can’t describe how much I adored our visit to NASA – it was everything I hoped it would be and more. As soon as we arrived we went to take the tram tour- this is advisable as we’d read that sometimes the wait becomes so long you miss out later in the day and it is unmissable.

The tram tour takes you right around the site with 3 stops -first being the historical and famous mission control room- which was the centre of activity when both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously became the first men to walk on the moon, then again with the Apollo XIII mission. The room is currently undergoing major renovation, however we got to see the original computers and equipment and also sat in the VIP viewing area. If you visit next year, you’ll see it completely set up including the flight data etc on the screens.

Next stop was the NASA training mock up centre. This was really exciting as we got to see where all the astronauts train in the mock up capsules. We saw all the capsules including Soyuz, The space shuttle, Orion- the brand new one capable of travel to Mars- along with robonauts and buggy’s that are still under development. It was so exciting, we were both in our element!

Last stop of the tram tour was the Rocket Park, where we saw Saturn V. It was huge and just mind boggling. Saturn V was the rocket that got men to the moon.

The grounds of NASA are like a uni campus- and what we didn’t realise was that it is still entirely working- so we were seeing government workers driving around doing their business, including astronauts having meetings etc. All the training facilities are still here and used daily. How exciting to be able to observe it all. Underneath the historical mission control room was the active mission control for the International Space Centre so we had to be silent when moving about in that building. How cool!

Back at the Johnson Space centre and we got started on the exhibitions, of which there were loads. The Americans really do these attractions well. Our favourite exhibits were the space shuttle and jet it piggybacked on- being able to see inside the space shuttle was so exciting. The flight-deck was beyond complicated to our untrained eyes!

We also saw the very first capsules that an American orbited in space in, the Gemini and Mercury. We got to go inside the training mock up of the Skylab, which preceded the international space centre.

We saw the last ever Apollo capsule to return from space and see actual moon rock.

And Keith had a proper nerd out when he discovered the original Star Trek Galileo shuttle prop in the cafe.

After a full day exploring NASA on the back of our jet lag, by the time we got back to our apartment we were exhausted, so we had a quick shower and took an Uber to a restaurant recommendation from our host.

La Tiempo was a lovely Mexican in Montrose and we enjoyed a fabulous meal washed down by some margaritas. The meal was fantastic but we were so tired so had an early night- went to bed dreaming of rockets and space!

A brilliant day.

Friday

Another early morning, so we made the most of it by having an early breakfast down the road and checking out early. We had a driving tour of some cool sites in Houston. It’s really sprawled out so you definitely need a car. We took a drive down Heights Boulevard, a traditional affluent neighbourhood with fabulous houses and wide streets.

From there we popped to see the water wall which was really cool and then onto the Beer Can House- yes, a house made of beer cans! It took the designer 20 years to collect enough beer cans!

Our final stop was to get some cupcakes from the only cupcake ATM- Sprinkles. The cupcakes were good and it was novel ordering them through the ATM at the back of the shop. Only in America.

High on sugar, it was time to hit the road, our next destination was calling. We are off to Dallas.

Until next time

Lx

Fall into October with a visit to Undley Farm Pumpkin Patch, Suffolk

Whether we like it or not, Summer is becoming a distant memory now. The nights are drawing in and the air has become fresher and less humid, the smell of log burners lace the night sky and supermarkets and shops have started stacking shelves from floor to ceilings with Halloween and dare I say Christmas paraphernalia.

Personally, I’m happy to see this shift. I love Autumn. Firstly I’m an October baby, so once those blackberries and apples have been harvested, people start asking me if I have any birthday present ideas. But aside from celebrating, I adore the darker evenings- no feeling guilty for snuggling up in my pjs on the sofa drinking hot chocolate on weekends, the return of Strictly, winter walks, crispy leaves under my feet in the woods and those gorgeous golden colours. I’m definitely an Autumnal addict.

If you are looking for an October break away, especially if you have kids (or dogs!) We highly recommend a day at Undley Pumpkin Patch.

A pick your own pumpkin patch, which offers a huge and wonderful display of pumpkins and squash in all shapes and sizes, at a remarkably good price.

There are seasonable food and craft stalls, photo opportunities galore, inflatables, mazes, and faceprinting, so grab your wellies and head on over to Suffolk for a really fun day out.

It’s open weekends and right through half term, so why not book onto the local campsite The Willows Campsite and make a mini break of it.

Until next time

Lx

*NB We made our visit a couple of years ago, but forgot to blog about it- from what I’ve read it’s grown from strength to strength. We just haven’t had chance to visit this year and due to our USA trip in a couple of days, and then someone pranging Ruby last week, we won’t get there this year 😢🎃

A weekend at Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up on the C&CC site at Cambridge. It’s a quiet site despite being only a couple of miles from the centre of Cambridge, and has the usual high standard of facilities and cleanliness that we have come to enjoy this year, as we’ve stayed mainly on Club Sites.

The reason for our visit – as we are under an hour from home – is the Duxford Battle of Britain airshow. We booked our tickets in February, and booked the campsite at the same time as this event is so popular that it sold out a number of weeks ago. We opted to stay over and get a weekend ticket – which actually was only a couple of pounds more than just a one day ticket, due to reports of terrible traffic chaos last year. Plus we could both enjoy a proper drink. After quite a bit of research, we decided to book this campsite due to it’s close proximity to Trumpington Park and Ride, where there is a free shuttle to and from the airshow.

After a day of gigs and chores, we didn’t actually leave home till after 5pm on Friday and we been had dinner before leaving. It only took us an hour to get to the campsite and it was the quickest set up we’ve ever had! Within 10 minutes, we were having a little walk to the local the pub for a pint. The Hudson’s Ale house was about 15 minutes walk away towards Trumpington Park and Ride and we enjoyed a pint of their Hudson Ale and Lager before heading back to Ruby for a good sleep. I don’t know about you but I always sleep so well in the campervan.

Saturday – a day at the airshow

Saturday morning dawned rather early as we had set an alarm. The gates opened at the air show at 8am, so we decided to have an early shower and bacon and egg bap before walking with our chairs and a picnic down to the park and ride for 9am. We stopped at the Waitrose for a fresh baguette for our cheese and pate picnic.

When we arrived at the Park and Ride there was already a massive queue for the shuttle – but it was early still and so we didn’t mind too much. We waited for over an hour and only one shuttle bus had arrived. About 200 people had joined the queue behind us and there were no members of staff advising the situation – the mood was a bit panicky all round as we all knew the flying started at 12:45 and you could sense people calculating how many buses would need to suddenly appear to get us to Duxford in time. Some people at the front had been there since 7.30am!

By 10.15 I had decided I didn’t want to wait any longer, so arranged for an UBER to pick us up. A couple of ladies behind us heard me sounding off to Keith and said they would come in with us if we didn’t mind and spilt the fare. 10 minutes later our ride arrived – an 8 seater! It seemed silly for us to only fill half of it, and not entirely knowing how much it would be, I shouted out to the Queue – 4 spaces – who wants to join us! Better to split it 8 ways than 2!

Taxi full to capacity and the driver instructed to take the NON motorway route – twitter had informed us the buses and half of the Duxford crowd were stuck on the motorway – and 20 minutes later we had arrived half a mile from the entrance. The driver kindly let us exit before the official entrance rather than sitting in the traffic jam he could turn round and go back the way we came. The fare came to just £14! I chucked on a fiver tip, and we all paid £2.50. Situation taken control of- 8 happy strangers marched the half an mile to Duxford and joined another queue to get in!

Once in, we found a place to set our chairs up and paid and extra fiver to walk the flight line. I’m not sure whether this was worth it or not, we weren’t blown away – however that may because the weather had decided to go awol and start to rain, despite the forecast saying it wouldn’t. I think to be honest the stress of getting there had exhausted us!

We settled down with a couple of pints of Spitfire and awaited the opening of the flying. The opening act was 16 Tiger Moths in formation marking 100 years of the RAF.

The flying went on for 5 full hours and was terrific value for money, it really was. We saw pre WW1, WW1, WW2, Korean, American aircraft – plus modern. Sadly the rain had set in however and we were cold and wet! But we perservered as the forecast for tomorrow was even worse. Photos were impossible as the rain made them unable to focus!

The Red Arrows were an absolute highlight – they were just terrific and lifted the crowd (and our) moods no end. 20,000 people were there and every single person was silent. It was actually eeery! Wonderful stuff.

The finale to the show was a flypast formation of 19 Spitfires in the air – the largest ever to have displayed at an airshow. Despite being cold, wet and tired, it was just phenomenal.

As they started landing after the flypast, they played Nimrod over the speakers and I realised that the water on my cheeks was not rain, I was in fact bawling like a baby! It was utterly emotional and I can’t believe that almost half the crowd had left directly after the Red Arrows and before the finale so missed it.

The airshow finished at 5.45pm and getting back to Trumpngton Park and Ride was a mission. We ended up queuing up for another hour and half and so we didn’t get back to Ruby until 8pm. We were very tired and cold, but the joys of a lovely hot shower was wonderful, and a quick and easy reheat of a spag bol I’d made previously made made for a stress free dinner time. We were in bed snoring by 9.15pm dreaming of the spitfires.

Sunday dawned rainy and then some! It was so wet that we decided to forget about the Park and Ride and have a lay in before getting Ruby as close to Duxford as we could, for a quick walk around the indoor sections of the museum before coming home. We’d written off seeing the flying as we assumed, like most according to Twitter, that there wouldn’t be any due to the abysmal weather.

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings

When will us British learn NOT to trust the weather forecast? We found a great (free) parking spot within a mile of the front gate (I’m not going to name it as it may not be there next year!), and dressed head to toe in waterproofs made for the museum. Today there wasn’t a queue – mind you we were arriving closer to midday than 11am as we did yesterday.

We explored the whole of the main museum hanger, looking at Concorde and the Lancaster up close, amongst others. Duxford Museum is a great day trip by the way, we’ve been before, but it was good to relook around.

The flying schedule was exactly the same at the Saturday, but I requested to Keith that we nipped outside to watch the Typhoon display as I loved that yesterday but didn’t film it as it caught me completely off guard and I was just in awe of it. I just loved the immensity of the noise it made! It was wonderful!

So out of the hanger we emerged – to beautiful blue sky and sunshine! Can you believe it? All the rain had cleared up, so we stayed at the airshow, dressed in our waterproofs which we really could have done with yesterday, and enjoyed seeing all the displays again, this time with blue sky as the backdrop and no raindrops affecting the focus of my cameras.

The new Lightening bomber

Our favourites were the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flypast,

The mustangs

the red arrows

and of course the spitfires, although it was too windy for all 19 today.

We had a terrific afternoon- our mood completely lifted by being warm and dry. Our secret parking spot was away from the congestion of everyone leaving, so we were back home by 7.30pm feeling very satisfied from a great weekend.

Would we recommend Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow? Absolutely! However, I think their logistical arrangements sucked. If we were to go again, we would stay at Cambridge campsite and cycle. We couldn’t this time as Keefy was recovering from a minor op on his leg. There are loads of bike parking spaces at Duxford. Or I’d park a mile away (check google earth for back roads with laybys and walk- but get there very very early. And take your waterproof trousers EVEN if its forecast for sunshine all day!

I hope you like my pics of the planes, I really enjoyed snapping away and was stunned at the performance of my hand held Sony Superzoom camera. Lots of people with HUUUUGE lenses on their cameras but I’m pretty chuffed with my pics and it is very portable.

Until next time

Lx

A last minute Brit Stop night away in North Essex

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up across the Border – we’re in deepest North Essex at Brit Stop number 221/18. It’s a lovely historical pub that we are nestled behind, and we have a private glade on hardstanding in the very quiet staff carpark.  The pub has some links to a very famous Norfolk Boy so we are feeling right at home, and across the road we have a wonderful traditional Village Green – which if you carry on reading, you will see, comes in verrrrry useful later on!

We’ve had a busy one today doing heaps of admin – but admin of the pleasant kind – booking trips including NYE and February Half Term amongst other things. Since downsizing to Ruby and loosing our on board shower, we are enjoying C&MC and C&CC Club sites lots more than we used too, as the facilities tend to be immaculate and plentiful in hot water supply. Perfect for winter touring when you’ve had a long muddy walk and need a long hot shower – some of the non club sites we visited earlier this year were quite frankly gross, so we’ve kind of gravitated to Club sites which have so far done what they said on the tin for a reasonable enough price.

Having said that, we’re not quite ready to throw in our spontaneous souls just yet, so after filling the diary and part of next years, we made the most of a free Saturday night and travelled to North Essex for a few drinks, meal and more importantly, a head start on a journey that could have meant setting the alarm for 7am on a Sunday – a unheard of occurrence in the O’Gorman household.

On arrival at Britstop number 221 (in the 2018) book, Kevin, the landlord gave us a friendly welcome, and we spent an hour or so dribbling over the DELICIOUS looking menu whilst having a pint of Broadside and Aspall. We then took ourselves for a leg stretch around the paths of the village – admiring some of the pleasant properties on the green and a tasty looking farm shop. Luckily for the bank balance this was closed – next time however…

We enjoyed a really delicious meal in the restaurant – I had breaded Brie and Keith had homemade garlic mushrooms in a stilton sauce to start, which quite frankly was one of the best pub starters I’ve ever tasted. Next up was beef with chinese spices sizzler – on a  bed of noodles. It was GORGEOUS. However the portions were huge! So for the first time I think in the 9 years of knowing Keefy – neither one of us could finish our meals! Luckily the pub was adequately prepared and we got the remains boxed up – which we finished for dinner tonight! Prices were really reasonable – the starters were £6 each and the sizzler £13.95 each.