Monday, August 20, 2007

Holiday in England (and Prague)

(photos/links will be uploaded soon)

P: I’m blogging at 37,000 feet over Pakistan, two-thirds of the way into our thirteen-hour flight back home to Singapore from England. I’ve just finished watching an excellent in-flight movie, which I recommend you watch if you haven’t already. “The Lives of Others” is a German drama set in former East Germany, which follows the life of a Stasi agent who becomes drawn into the lives of a dissident playwright and his girlfriend, the very people he’s supposed to be spying on. I was going to say it’s the best German film I’ve seen since “Goodbye to Lenin” but it’s probably the only German movie I’ve seen since then! Actually, that’s not true, Sandy and I recently saw “Kebab Connection”, a hilarious German-Turkish comedy about a son of a kebab shop owner whose dream is to direct Germany’s first kung fu film (plus marry a non-Turkish German girl, and wage war on the Greek taverna next door). Anyway, the film I’ve just watched, “The Lives of Others”, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2006 or 2007 so do give it a try.

Our two-week holiday is over ☹. But what a great holiday it was! I’m returning home to Singapore a godfather of not one but two beautiful babies!! Holly and Nel asked me to be a godfather to my one-month-old nephew, Oscar ...

and Phil and Susie asked me to be a godfather to their three-month-old daughter, Rose ...

I’m so proud. At the beginning of the holiday I was still pretty nervous about even holding a newborn; by the end of the trip, I was asking for final cuddles. Uh oh, somebody’s getting broody.

As well as becoming godfather to Oscar and Rose, other highlights of the trip include spending four days in Prague, eating dumplings and attending classical concerts; enjoying three days on the north Norfolk coast, eating samphire and watching marsh harriers; and catching up with friends and relatives at Mum & Dad’s 40th wedding anniversary bash when we had sixty for lunch at Baxter Farm.

We’d heard so many great things about Prague from friends and rellies that we decided to check it out for ourselves. View from Prague Castle ... (click to enlarge)

We stayed in a very new hotel (so new they were still building it and obviously hadn’t got round to putting the aircon in) on the west bank, a five-minute walk from Municipal House and National Square. Municipal House ...

We arrived late afternoon and headed straight for the Estates Theatre to buy tickets to Don Giovanni for that evening (the State Opera was still closed for the summer break). With the cheapest tickets, we found ourselves seated four floors up and, even though the production wasn’t the best, it was still way better than anything available in Singapore. Vertigo ...

The highlight of Prague for me really was the number of classical concerts and operas on offer. Unlike London, where people in the street try to sell you copies of “The Big Issue”, here the touts hand out fliers for Mozart and Dvorak. On the second day we caught a concert at St Martin in the Wall Church, an eleventh-century church in the Old Town. The choice of music was fairly predictable but the acoustics were great. On our third day in Prague we decided against dinner at Palffy Palac and went instead to an organ recital (with one tenor and soprano) at St Nicholas Church at the western gate of Charles Bridge. I believe this is the second oldest organ in Prague and, once again, the acoustics and setting were fantastic ...

Food wise, Prague was interesting if not spectacular. We were only there for a three lunches and dinners so we tried to stick to traditional Czech dishes and therefore gouged on pork neck with dumplings and cabbage, rabbit with dumplings and cabbage, wild boar with dumplings and cabbage, duck with dumplings and cabbage, goulash with dumplings and cabbage ...

Trout provided welcome relief on the final day ...

We acquired a taste for bread dumplings, which we found quite similar to Chinese pau, so smuggled one whole dumpling back to Baxter Farm, which we enjoyed with boef Bourguignon one evening (I won’t be eating cabbage for a while though).

The architecture is obviously one of the main attractions in Prague and it was such fun simply getting lost in the narrow backstreets of the Old Town, stopping every hour for a cold Pilsner.

Living in Singapore, you tend to hanker after some open countryside, so we always try to spend a couple of days walking in UK. Last year we went to Hay on Wye—wonderful but with far too many mountains for my liking; this year we went to the north Norfolk coast (no mountains). We stayed in Aunty Catherine’s cottage in Brancaster Staithe, just outside Burnham Market. The last time I stayed here I was eight years old and all I remember from that trip is sleepwalking out of my bed and trampling Holly’s head! It doesn’t seem to have done her much permanent damage. This time we did four walks: two from Brancaster Staithe (one heading north to Brancaster Beach, where we bumped into my old dentist, and one heading south which took us past the village and along the sea wall towards Scolt Head Island), one short walk around RSPB Titchwell Marsh and one walk in the Earl of Leicester’s estate.

We also ate at three fantastic restaurants: Fishes Restaurant and Rooms in Burnham Market, The Victoria in Holkham and The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe. I’m used to discovering new vegetables in Asia but I kind of thought I’d eaten most veggies in England so it was a pleasant surprise to discover samphire. This fern-like veggie grows on the saltwater marshes and is delicious when boiled and served with butter and seasoning. Birdwatching was great at the RSBP reserve at Titchwell Marsh and everywhere along the coast. We saw marsh harriers, Egyptian geese, avocet, oyster catchers, redshank and many other waders.

M&D’s 40th Anniversary
To celebrate Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary, Holly, Nel, Sandy and I gave them a voucher for dinner and one-night’s stay at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison in Oxfordshire. We’re expecting a doggy bag.

Mum and Dad threw another great party at Baxter Farm to celebrate their anniversary. We were 60 for lunch, 25 for dinner, 13 for breakfast the following day and seven for lunch after that. It was really wonderful to catch up with friends and family, some of whom Sandy and I hadn’t seen for years, like Joe and Lucia, Kate (we met Stu in Singapore recently), Harriet and Jim, and Patrick and the kids. In fact, most of the kids we’d never met before! It was also the first time we met Nel’s mother, Margaret. Margaret was a military nurse in the 60s and was posted to Singapore for two years where, bizarrely enough, she worked at Alexandra Hospital, just 200 metres from where Sandy and I live now.

Dinner in the conservatory ...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Baxter Farm

P: First day back at home in Willoughy. Mucking around with Mum's new camera.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Away in Europe

P: Sandy and I will be on holiday 3 to 19 August in England and Prague so no blogging for a while.


Repainting the flat!

After eight years of living in our flat in Jalan Hang Jebat, we're finally having the place repainted. Apparently our walls are supposed to be white, not dirty grey/brown. This will be done while we're away on holiday in UK. With luck, we'll return home to a brand spanking new, clean flat in two weeks.

The living room:

The spare bedroom:

And the bathroom ... I had to pee in the garden this morning: