Saturday, 23 July 2016

England Holiday Highlights Part 2

After spending 10 days in Waterlooville with Andy's parents, we headed up to Bicester for the weekend for Lee and Claire's wedding. We did, however, have one very important stop along the way... picking up my parents from Gatwick Airport! Yay! After the obligatory sit down and catch up at the airport Costa Coffee we all piled into the huge van Andy's dad had rented to drive us around for the week. We all joked that Dave should start a business called "Dave's Retirement Taxis" as he did a lot of driving around with us while we were in England.

We stopped for lunch just outside of Bicester at a pub called The Lion Wendlebury. What a find this was! There was a garden outside and the grandparents took turns playing with Ella out there, which meant we were able to enjoy a long, leisurely lunch together. The food was delicious, impressing even our Melbourne food snob selves.

Ella with her two Grandma's for the first time!
Enjoying our lunch at The Lion
Bicester is a little town about an hour north west of London, near Oxford. It is most famous for Bicester Village, which is a huge outlet shopping centre. The town centre is really cutesy and looks exactly like you'd expect a small English village to look like. We stayed at The Kings Arms Hotel with the rest of the wedding party, right in the centre of town. My parents were staying at an Airbnb about half an hour walk away with Ella, giving Andy and I our first "weekend away from the baby" (sort of).

The weekend was pretty busy, especially for Andy as he had to fulfil all his best man duties. The Friday was Ella's first birthday, which she spent mostly with my parents. We did have lunch all together while she opened some presents, but it was a pretty low key first birthday. I feel kind of sad and guilty about that, but I am happy that we were able to spend so much time with both sets of grandparents around her birthday. Maybe we will have a party next year. I decided in the end to save her first taste of cake/sugar for another time. Again, maybe next year. I am trying to hold off on her tasting sugar as long as possible!

Opening presents!
The wedding was absolutely gorgeous. There was a church ceremony at St. Mary's church in Launton, followed by a reception at The Tythe Barn. It was so much fun to see all of Andy's friends again - there is definitely never a dull moment around that group! Andy's best man speech was very funny, I will admit I was nervous for him throughout dinner, but he did a great job and kept everyone very engaged. After the speeches he was able to relax - probably for the first time since we got to England! In the picture below you can see the dress I mentioned in my last post - found in under half an hour and on sale - I was pretty proud of that one!

After the wedding we headed to London for the last leg of our trip. We managed to book a two bedroom Airbnb in Herne Hill, which is where Andy and I first lived together. I loved living in Herne Hill (I lived there previously with flatmates as well) and being in the area again brought back so many memories. Brockwell Park where we regularly did our runs and where the Lido is located - a gym and outdoor pool we used to be members at. Blackbird Bakery, where we would get coffees on a weekend morning (which I was horrified to see was replaced by a mobile phone shop, and later relieved to see they had just moved to a bigger location). The little Sainsbury Local where we would do our shopping (now Tesco's has also moved in next door). The Florence, The Commercial and The Prince Regent pubs we frequented regularly, mainly with our teacher friends. The walk from Herne Hill to Brixton, where most of my friends lived. Ahhh, it all seems like so long ago!

My old street in Herne Hill
Our first day in London we were proper tourists and went up The Shard, home to London's highest views. It was being built when we lived there and was finished in 2012, just before we moved to London. It costs 25 quid to get to the top, which always seemed pretty extreme, but it is one thing neither we nor my parents had done in London so we thought, why not? We were lucky to visit on a very clear day and it was cool to see London from a bird's eye view, especially picking out landmarks we were familiar with from when we lived there. There are two viewing levels, and the highest one is open so you can hear and feel the wind whistling through. The coolest bit was actually the toilets, which are called "A Loo with a View" as each stall is up against a floor to ceiling pane of glass.

After that we visited Borough Market for some lunch, and then took a long walk along the Thames to Southbank and then through Trafalgar Square, St. James' Park and all the way to Victoria Station where we caught a train back to Herne Hill. This was also where we said good-bye to Andy's parents, who returned to Waterlooville after that. It was, as always, very sad to say good-bye.

Borough Market

Trafalgar Square
St. James Park - Dave and Andy waiting for the slow walkers to catch up!
St. James Park
We spent the rest of our time in the local area, discovering all the great places there are for kids that I had no idea about when I lived there. We had beautiful, sunny weather these last few days... It almost made me want to move back to London. However reality hit when I checked out some local house prices - they are even more extortionate than Melbourne! My mom and I went to a yoga class at Yoga Point in Herne Hill, we had lunch in Brixton Village, and then spent the afternoon at the duck ponds, paddling pools and sand pits at Brockwell Park (a favourite of Ella's). 

Brockwell Park paddling pools

Brockwell Park duck ponds
Andy and I also visited our old school, which was where we both started our teaching careers, albeit at different times. I left there mid-2011, but there was still quite a few familiar faces and it was brilliant to catch up with them and introduce them to Ella. After that visit we met up with my parents in Dulwich Village and visited one of THE best bakeries I think I've ever been to, called Gail's. After making the nearly impossible choice of what to have for lunch, and dessert (a chocolate and cherry scone, which was super yum), we went to nearby Dulwich Park for a picnic. The park has an immense playground so my parents took Ella there for a play while Andy and I had a little nap in the park - a rare luxury to have a bit of time alone together! We  then walked to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill. The museum and grounds are another great place for kids in South London. The gardens are high on a hill and have a great view of the city, and include a Nature Walk and and Animal Walk where you can visit goats, alpachas and rabbits among others. Inside the museum there are some paid exhibitions and an aquarium, but as it was getting late we just wandered around the free part, which is mainly taxidermy, fossils and skeletons of just about every animal you could think of. We then had some ice cream in the sun before walking about an hour back to our apartment in Herne Hill.

Ella and her Nannie and Grampie in Dulwich Park
Horniman Museum
And then next day was our flight back to Melbourne. My parents left very early for their flights to Dublin, where they started the next leg of their European vacation. We had the whole day until our flights that evening, and our Airbnb hosts graciously let us stay in the apartment as late as we needed to. We took Ella back to Brockwell park for a play in the playground and had some breakfast at hte Lido Cafe, before packing up our stuff and heading off to the airport. Andy's dad amazingly drove back to London to take us to the airport which was so super helpful. 

One last play in Brockwell Park

Our flights back actually went much better with Ella than our flights to London. She slept a lot more (although only on us again), but it meant she was less cranky when she was awake. We arrived back in Melbourne last Saturday morning, sad to say good-bye to our family but also happy to be back in what is currently our "home". It was a bit easier to say good bye this time as my mom is actually coming to visit us in less than two weeks, so we are eagerly looking foward to having her stay with us for a few weeks. 

Ella and Andy having a nap in Abu Dhabi airport

If only we could actually afford to get Ella her own seat!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

England Holiday Highlights - Part 1

We are back from our holiday in England, currently dealing with jet lag and the dreaded return to work. Our little Ella has adjusted fairly well, sleeping through the last night, after a few very restless and exhausting nights for us. I think daycare tired her out yesterday! 

We spent the first 10 days of our holiday in Waterlooville, East Hampshire (near Portsmouth) at Andy's parents house, aka Grandad and Grandma Bunny. We then travelled to Bicester for the wedding of Lee and Claire, stoping at Gatwick Airport to pick up my parents, aka Nannie and Grampie, who flew in from Toronto. After Bicester we went to London for a few days with Nannie and Grampie, staying in an Airbnb in Herne Hill, our old stomping ground. 

Our first afternoon we had lovely weather (which was not true of the majority of the trip). Andy's parents took Ella out for a big walk so she would nap after our long, arduous flight from Melbourne, also giving Andy and I a chance to freshen up and have a nap. We spent the afternoon in the back garden, blowing bubbles, eating ice cream, and exploring a local park. 

On our second day I headed up to London on the train to catch up with my old friends. We met up at Pop Brixton, located in Brixton, as you might have guessed by the name. Most of my friends live or lived in Brixton during my time in London so it's fair to say I've spent a lot of time in this part of the city. Pop Brixton is new to me though, I think it was built some time in 2015, and is an evolving community space. It was commissioned by the council, supporting local jobs, training, and businesses. It's jumble of pop-up bars, restaurants (eat in and take-away), independent shops and workspaces, all made up from old shipping containers. Sounds weird but it really works. At the back there is an area that looks like a mini football field, with chairs, bars, and a huge screen set up for sports watching, where we saw Ireland beat Italy in the Eurocup. So great to try out a new place and see all my friends!

Me and Guillaume
Me, Alison and Guillaume
Clause, me, Betty and Alison enjoying our food - I'm eating my dessert crepe here, Betty has a bowl of Vietnamese
While in London I stayed at Jon and Betty's place. So great to catch up with these guys, I really miss them living in Melbourne with us. Betty had a report writing day the next day (aka a day off), so I went to a yoga class in the morning at Triyoga while she did some report writing, and then met her in Primrose Hill for lunch. To get from Triyoga to the cafe I was able to walk along Regent's canal which was very calm and peaceful - I love finding places like this in a very busy city! After our lunch I headed back to Waterlooville on the train, saying good-bye to Andy for the next few days as he headed to Barcelona for Lee's stag do. I know very little of what went on this weekend and nor do I want to!

Regent's Canal, Primrose Hill
While Andy was away Dave, Ella and I took a trip to Staunton Farm. Located in East Hampshire, we checked out cows, goats, llamas, donkeys, alpacas and even an ostrich. There was also a great soft play area for babies/toddlers in the Play Barn which Ella enjoyed. Soft play areas and animals are a perfect combination for one-year-olds!

That weekend we were busy with Andy's dad's 60th birthday/retirement party. A great chance to catch up with all of Andy's family - especially Ella's only living great-grandparent. Andy managed to make it for the party Sunday afternoon, looking surprisingly fresh after his weekend in Barcelona!

Ella - stealing the show at Dave's retirement party
Mmmm cake!
After the weekend we headed over to Emsworth, a small town in Hampshire on the south coast. We enjoyed a walk along the Chichester Harbour, feeding some ducks, and wandering around the cute town looking in charity shops and stoping for lunch at the Driftwood Café.

Emsworth: Town square, Lake Emsworth and feeding the ducks
Our second last day in Waterlooville included a shopping trip to Portsmouth where I found a dress to wear at Lee and Claire's wedding in about half an hour... surely that is some kind of record?! And it was on sale, what a bonus! (Pics to follow in the next post.)

We also visited the Waterlooville Leisure Centre to take Ella swimming. Unfortunately the water was pretty cold so we didn't stay long. However once there we discovered they have a HUGE play centre, with different areas for different ages. Ella absolutely loves any sort of soft play centre - they are a great place for her to crawl around and explore. Each section of the play centre was designed to look like a different country, and funnily enough the baby section was Australia!

Waterlooville Playcentre

Our last night was spent with Andy's good friend's Alex and Michelle, who have a 9 month old. Ella loved playing with all her toys and especially with their dog, Woody. She just cuddled up to him at the end of the night which was super cute. 

Ella and Woody
And that's all for part 1! Stay tuned for part 2, with highlights from our weekend in Bicester and a time in London. We got to spend time with my parents and shockingly the sun actually came out for our last few days, before returning to wintery Melbourne.