Easter Showers

It’s going to be a wet day, Sally warned me. Are you sure you want to be out in the park?

Heedless to good advice, I walked towards Kensington Gardens after this morning’s invigorating Easter service. Passed by Victoria & Albert, had a peek inside and ended up staying for three hours. Actually the truth was it started to rain and I had to take shelter.

But what a surprise to see the diverse range of exhibitions from Italian fashion to contemporary Islamic art and design; floating marble gods, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday anniversary, silverware, jewellery, wedding dresses, stained glass art, medieval craft, displays from every continent. And it’s free all year round.

When the rain eased off, I walked over to the British Museum only to see a long queue of people trying to get in, even in the rain. Forget it! Thought I could also take a peek inside but will save it for another rainy day.

Turned around, passed Imperial College towards Kensington Gardens, saw a row of “Boris” bikes at a Barclays Cycle Hire station and decided to hire one. Then it rained again. Well the rain is not the kind of heavy downpour back in Singapore. It’s more like light showers except its piercing cold especially with the wind in your face and exposed hands. Wish I’d learned to ride with hands in the pockets.

There were no more than ten people in the park, a couple with a dog, a group of teenagers and me the out-of-town cyclist who knew no better than to be out in the rain cold and wet.

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From Kensington, I cycled to old Hyde Park to see if there’s anything going on at the Speakers Corner. No regular speakers but a huge crowd of volatile people, concert-going kind in hoodies and boots clustering, getting high listening to some speaker in the midst of the mob.

A few police cars parked on the service road, several policemen scattered around and a stern looking eagle-eyed bobby at the exit watching everyone streaming into the park.

It’s 420 Day and pot smokers are gathering for a picnic puffing joints and protesting for the legalization of cannabis. Certainly none of my business and I cycled away from the weed thick in the air. By the time I returned to the bicycle station, I was completely drenched.

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Yes, I’d rather be warm and dry but I’d rather know how it feels to be peaceful and light cycling in the rain in the parks of London. Will do it again – with proper gloves, a thicker jacket, leather boots, a thermos flask with hot tea, biscuits, change of clothes in waterproof bag. After all the bike rental is only two pounds for 24 hours – what a great way to see London.

Joan

Almost Perfect

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Passed by so many wind turbines but this is the first time I hear them.

While waiting for the train back to UK next to giant blades slicing the empty space, metal against air … WOOP WOOP WOOP all of them amplifying the strong gusts of wind from the English Channel. You can imagine how bored I was to be actually listening to wind turbines.

Still waiting for the next train at the section where all the signs show “X”. The hard concrete barriers and electronic signboards seem to draw the line between holiday and reality, that when we cross them, our vacation is truly over.

The good thing is we’re going back to our families, to routine, to familiarity. The past seventeen days have been a mixed bag of emotions and experiences. It’s been mostly great, surprising, wonderful, delightful, enlightening, fun and relaxing. At times, stressful, demanding, worrying and tiring.

While waiting, Daniel was studying the map and planning his next trip back. My brother Stanley and my sister-in-law Sally were taking a nap. Prinz recollecting the many ideas from restaurants and hotels we come across for his plans back in Thailand. BP can’t wait to see his family again and Ron misses his own bed back in Jersey.

As for me it is clearly a trip that I will never forget. Heard so much about such trips for years from Stanley and Sally, seen their photos, but could only imagine what it’s like being on the road with their friends.

The way my brother planned this trip, we’ve avoided the big cities and popular tourist places, opting for the local tourist attractions and pretty little towns that look like painted canvases. Even in Barcelona, it was only for the “best tapas in all of Spain” and off we go again.

The visits to historical sites were a special bonus for me but to the golfers probably an unnecessary detour though they’re sweet enough not to show it. Anyway this is a lovely time of year and we were blessed with fantastic weather throughout the journey. We had superb time.

Except this afternoon at the Eurotunnel crossing.

Just as well it’s cool. The agonizing wait to cross the English Channel was taking longer than flying to Dubai. A technical glitch, an indirect accident, arrests of illegal immigrants – all these we found out too late, after we got stuck with hundreds of other motorists.

Just sitting in the car waiting to get to the next section, sitting in the car to get into the shuttle cabin, sitting in the car trapped inside the cabin with 3 other cars with no visible escape route, sitting in the car waiting for the shuttle to move, sitting, sitting for over six hours.

By the time we arrived in Folkstone, the pent up frustrations of drivers of fast cars, family saloons, minivans, buses, and leather-suit bikers were visible like thousands of spawning eggs bursting out of the sac free at last.

Another 90 minutes to get into the city to Prinz’s restaurant for supper. Everyone was exhausted and wolfed down the best Thai beef noodles in Norfolk.

Would have been a perfect holiday if not for the long delay getting back. Well at least we’re home safe and sound now. Time to catch up on sleep and whatever we have to do back home.

Joan Yap

Best Ever

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Berdot lovingly preserved and updated

This must be the highlight of our trip – the best of France, Spain, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia – all in this 17th century farmhouse on a hilltop.

And to think we almost gave it a miss! Getting there was a bit of an adventure with moments of wanting to give up and turning back to familiar routes.

All we had was a postal code, the name of a commune in a province near Toulouse, name of the house, and the combined (sometimes conflicting) memories by Ron and Stanley who were there for coffee seven years ago.

Even the GPSs had no way to guide us. Prowling suspiciously through several villages, walkie talk till the drivers gave up and pulled alongside to discuss what and how next. Finally decided on one direction, drove right into an armed police road block and had passports checked. A blessing in disguise actually for the police gave us proper instructions to get to where we wanted.

Once we’re on the right road it’s hard to miss the house, the only one on a small hill overlooking the lower farmland that stretches for miles all the way to the main highway.

Berdot, the name of the house built in 1623 is owned by Tony, a Frenchman and his Singaporean wife, Irene. They left their city lifestyles and careers to retire blissfully in this rustic and wholesome life here.

Irene prepared a sumptuous lunch of onion quiche, potatoes, boeuf bourguignon, brownie and ice cream. The tarte a l’oignon was made with onions from her garden and it’s the sweetest most irresistible appetiser ever tasted.

After lunch, we played a real mean game of golf all nine balls on a single flight. We totally underestimated the village course with us foreigners admitting defeat from the 3rd hole on.

After the game and refreshments, the men went out to get food for the bbq while Tony’s friend started a fire with wood cut from the forest.

Bottles of wine opened, meat over flames, best of Dan’s gambas pil-pil, Ron’s hot chick wings with a drop of killer jalapeno sauce, sun setting, stars appearing, a full moon rising, friends old and new around a table cheering, eating, sharing, savouring the moments of the lovely spring night.

When dinner was over, Tony drove us through the moonlit streets of Ste Suzanne, past empty town squares into a giant grotte to hear and feel the water gushing from the mountains to the valleys below. Magical!

Early next morning as the sunlight of the new day softly filled the room, I heard voices in the kitchen below. The fire place was lit, Tony brought freshly baked bread and croissants, Irene brewed coffee and set the breakfast table with homemade jams from fruits grown in their farm.

I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by the hospitality and charm of such a wonderful couple who invited us into their home and their lives, even for one night.

The entire visit is beyond words, a million-star experience best described with photos of our memorable stay with Tony and Irene in Berdot.

Joan Yap

View of the Pyrenees from the pool

View of the Pyrenees from the pool

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Private Golf Course – Friends Only

 

Star gazing at the BBQ deck

Star gazing at the BBQ deck

Breakfast by the fireplace

Breakfast by the fireplace

Morning walk before leaving

Morning walk before leaving

 

Rush Rush

Here we go again. Another thousand miles to go after the restful seven days in Spain’s sunny coast.

Has the entire day gone by? Offline for 24 hours can be unnerving. Takes a bit of time to remember what we did, where we went. That’s the main reason I had to post something on my Facebook timeline whenever I can hanker out a slice of WiFi anywhere, to the growing annoyance of my travelling companions. It’s rude I know but that’s the best I can do. Just connect and post, and get back to the friends and food before they turn cold.

Yesterday we stopped in Cordoba for lunch, passed the grand cathedral where I spent a quick hour inside with hundreds of tourists, bewitched by the rich mixed cultures of the great empires of long ago.

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Then we drove for several hours to a different kind of Spain with meadows like England. Arrived at sunset in Toledo, a UNESCO world heritage site, in the middle of a concert at the main square.

 Hurried to buy the best marzipan pantries in the world before the shop closed for the day. Strolled around looking for an inviting restaurant to eat, drink and be merry. By the time we stepped out of the restaurant, the last rays of sunlight glowed softly casting pink blushes all over the ancient town. It was enchanting but the golfers weren’t interested in this sort of thing so we left the beautiful place towering over the Spanish plains.

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The next day, another rush to cover as many miles as we can. Entered the city of Burgos on Palm Sunday when a long procession was going on. Streets crowded with families and children carrying little palm decorations. A one-man-band at a corner performing with his bamboo flute, guitar, drums, bells, two puppets and a lama.

 Love to stay but time to move on again. Drove though the alpine part of Spain with pine forests and turquoise blue rivers in green valleys. Left Spain in a rather unceremonious fashion after paying two euros at a toll station, we have entered France.

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Tonight we are in Biaritz, a seaside town on the Bay of Biscay popular with aristocrats and other celebrated personalities past and present. The buildings are a mixture of palace-style hotels, art deco apartment blocks and typical French small-town architecture.

Somehow we wandered into a crowded restaurant and had Italian food, our first meal in France again. Then crossed the road to the casino which inadvertently paid for our dinner.

 

Joan Yap

 

 

Lazy Day In

Last day in Dona Lola. It’s been fun. There’re so many wonderful moments and rocky ones too. Getting here fast and take it slow like the Beach Boys in Kokomo.

BP and Prinz out golfing, Dan and Ron shopping, Stanley planning the drive back booking hotels, Sally going for massage. I’m just gonna take it easy, maybe write another post, finish my borrowed book, cook lunch, swim but ended up sleeping all afternoon. Woke up to music from the pool, children playing, club staff talking and the sound of a motor somewhere.

The laundry is out drying, the sun has shifted so should the clothes. Went to the balcony, saw this yacht sailing by over the rooftops, grabbed my phone and the parting shot of this holiday – be surprised by anything that may come our way.

Joan Yap

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Not sure when I’ll be back to this Coast of the Sun and until then, the moments remembered.

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Marbella sunrise

 

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A weed is but an unloved flower

 

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What the Mediterranean brought to shore

 

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Sunset over Dona Lola

 

 

 

 

 

So near and yet so far

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Oh Gibraltar! I can see you from where I am, once a day in the morning when the rising sun strikes your face.

 

Vaguely remembered crossing the airfield to town, bumped into another car, fleeced off 100 pounds, stopped by a bobby for something I can’t remember and didn’t have the mood to tour around.

 

In my awkward teenage years, my classmates used to tease about my out-of-position tooth calling it the Rock of Gibraltar. I thought they were being mean until I actually saw the rock which does look like an odd canine.

 

I should visit Gibraltar again – tour St.Michael’s Cave, the WWII tunnels, military museum, Moorish castle, the steps or go shopping.

 

Karen who has been there before brought me to a travel agent to enquire. Yes there are daily tours for 38 euros pickup point opposite the resort at 8.50am, 4-5 hours in Gibraltar, leaving at 4.30pm for Costa del Sol, arriving anytime from 6pm depending on the border controls.

 

No, don’t take chances, Stanley advised, unless I’m prepared to be stuck for at least 2 hours at immigration. Tensions have been building up between Spain and British Gibraltar in the past years resulting in long jams at the border. A simple crossing could take several hours without knowing when you’ll get back.

 

The day I was supposed to join the tour, there was a Royal Navy warship stand-off with a Spanish patrol boat over an alleged incursion into the Rock’s waters. Planes were seen flying around the coast, an uncommon exercise. Seems that the Spanish vessels have been entering Gibraltar’s territory as a form of harassment and UK is fed-up with it.

 

You wonder why. Gibraltar originally belonged to Spain until the early 18th century when it was given forever to Britain in a certain Utrecht event probably by men who had never been to Spain or this stony gatepost to the Mediterranean.

 

Don’t want to dig too much into history or get caught in the crossfire of the two sovereigns. For now, I’ll just to admire Gibraltar from the distance and maybe someday soon will be back to its shore.

 

Joan Yap

The Open Window

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Years ago, I had to study Henri Matisse who is best known for his breakaway from classical painting to 20th century modern art.There was a part in this great artist’s life when he visited Collioure in southern France and saw the Mediterranean for the first time.

For the first time, he saw shapes and textures in the most fascinating tones and luminosity. The place inspired him and his fellow artists so much that they were able to express themselves on canvas like never before the kind of art that the world had ever seen before.

I tried to understand what inspiration meant to this group of les Fauves but couldn’t. Its hard to feel the way they did when I’ve already seen the ‘future’ - all their paintings and others on gallery walls.

This morning, my third on the beach at sunrise, I decided to try a little meditation on an old foundation pillar left behind by the developer of the resort.

Eyes closed. Sweet strong breaths in out to the constant predictable sound of waves, thoughts whirling around like musical notes, slowly floating like feathers as each second pass and the mind calms down.

A tweet above. The flutter of wings. The crushing of water on rocks. The tide is changing. I opened my eyes and for a split second, I saw through the master’s eyes the brilliance of the Mediterranean.

For the first time, I can imagine what it was like to be intoxicated by the natural colours of the beautiful place. It’s like being inside an infinity screen of a romantic movie. So inspired, I grabbed an imaginary brush and like Matisse, painted the future.

Joan Yap

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