Spring sprouts forth

Onion flowers

I’m a novice at gardening and acquired some planters with herbs and grasses last year. Low maintenance gardening for a non-gardener. Difficult to get it wrong, I was told. Well, the planters look a tad spartan after the winter months. However, my green-fingered friends tell me that everything will sprout forth in abundance in spring and I will be surprised at the lush-ness. So, I am looking forward with great anticipation!

Spring Green

~ Spotted Cow

Curtain of green

Hanging branches and leaves

In anticipation of the spring equinox on 19 March, I’ll be posting a series of images along a “spring green” theme over the next week. I haven’t set the bar very high, so it should be achievable. Do join in if you fancy it.

I snapped this picture on a walk in the Carpathian mountains in Romania. It was hot and I was ahead of the group, and so I took shade under a tree. The curtain of hanging branches in front of me made a lovely pattern … and I took a picture while I waited for the others to catch up.

~ Spotted Cow

Beach hut weather

Hove Huts

I was in Brighton for the Easter holidays and it was beach hut weather. England is a different country when the sun comes out and there was lots of glorious sunshine last week. The temperatures were still in the teens – or 50s & 60s in Fahrenheit – and those of hardier stock bared their limbs in t-shirts and shorts.

These beach huts are in Hove. The Hove Huts are on the seafront, but they sit on the promenade as opposed to on the beach, which is about 10 metres away. So, it’s a bit like sitting in a car park.

The English beach huts came about originally to preserve the modesty of Victorian ladies holidaying by the sea. These days they are luxuries that people aspire to, although you might wonder why. The Hove Huts are simple structures. They are the size of a small garden shed, with no electricity or amenities. All you can do in it is store your deck chairs and table, a Primus stove to make tea and your beach accessories. For this little piece of real estate, you would pay about £13,000 (or US$21,000) to own one. Amazing huh? More so, because they’re among the cheaper ones that you can find around the country.

~ Spotted Cow

Enjoying the sunshinePersonalising the beach hutSea view from Hove promenade

A Week of Un-Connectedness

Extremadura landscape

Phew! I’m re-acclimatising to normal life and working hours. I spent a week in the back of beyond in the Spanish village of Esparragosa de Lares in Extremadura. The village lags time in a wholly lackadaisical way. There is no public wifi, no traffic lights, and no cash machine. There is nothing to buy because there are no shops. Siesta hours are kept, which means that by the time you get up and sort yourself out, you can’t pop out for milk anyway because the store is shut. Plus, it’s long-life UHT milk.

I didn’t think places like these still exist in Western Europe. My friend D invited me. Her father is from the village and she spent childhood summers running wild with her brother and cousins in the arid, yellow surrounds.

We were there on the weekend of the spring fair, when everyone spills out onto the streets. There was a mini bull run, which consisted of a scared young bull running around the plaza, teased beyond an inch of its life by young men.

At the town hall, men and women in traditional garb made tortilla and ajo blanco – which is like a super-garlicky gazpacho without the tomato.

There was sheep shearing, something I’ve witnessed before, but this time I had the privilege of a full frontal of the sheep’s private bits and all. I was treated to some wonderful horsemanship in the horse show. And I partook of the Ruta Tapa, which involved a pub crawl of the three bars and their best tapas. My favourite was the mini hamburger with goats cheese.

In between events, there was a bouncy castle and music blaring from the public speakers till 5am. Still, I slept fantastically – with ear-plugs – in a room darkened by opaque blinds.

Truly, it was a wonderful week. I didn’t miss the shops or social networking, and I came home re-charged.

Next time I’ll tell you more about the people, who are warm and kind and all-embracing. D’s family took me completely into their fold, and fed me. Because after all, food is love.

~ Spotted Cow

Children's bull Bull in the plaza Esparragosa de LaresHorsemanshipSheep shearing

Columbia Road market. Meeting the Queen.

French lavender

Spring prompts me to get up early on Sunday and head down to Columbia Road flower market. In spite of my best efforts, I didn’t make it there before 10am. It already feels crowded, especially as it’s a sunny London day and people have started out early.

I was trying to get out of the throng, when I saw her – the Pearly Queen of Royal Greenwich, standing on the corner by the door of the Royal Oak. Apt, I thought. She wore her pearly costume proudly, matched with bright pink lipstick. I loved it.

Her name is Gwen and she is the Pearly Queen of Royal Greenwich, across the river yonder. She comes to Columbia Road once a month to raise donations for The London Pearly Kings & Queens Society Charity Fund.

A little girl came to talk to her and the Pearly Queen was effusive. She showed off her handbag. She held out the hem of her skirt where the first line of pearly buttons were sewn. She explained the meaning of some of the pins. And she read out the charities that the fund supports. Then she told the little girl, “now you can tell your friends that you’ve met the Queen.”

I left the market at midday, laden with pots, plants and flowers. By then, people were streaming into Columbia Road. They would have to inch their way through the market stalls.

I had a big smile on, satisfied with my haul. And after all, it’s not everyday you get to meet the Queen.

~ Spotted Cow

Pearly Queen of Royal GreenwichPearly Queen of Royal GreenwichOpen househydrangeas Haul from the market


Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

Spring bee

I cannot tell you how terrified I was taking this photo. The bee was enormous, and even though I was using a zoom lens (100mm), I was still standing a bare arm’s length from it. But I had a bee in my bonnet – pun intended! – about getting it in the picture with the flowers.

This spring photo for the Weekly Photo Challenge was shot in the lovely garden of Casa Ana, a guest house in the Alpujarras in southern Spain. While I was scrolling through Ana’s site, I saw a couple of my photos on her garden page. How lovely. I had forgotten that I had given her a set of my images to use. It’s made my day !

Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

Spring and afternoon tea with The Girls go together. We set off to the Teanamu Chaya Teahouse in Notting Hill decked out in spring florals, matching the new buds in the trees. It was afternoon tea with a twist of Chinese tea ceremony, where the focus was very much on the ritual of making and infusing tea.

We made our choices from the list of Chinese and Japanese teas. I went with the Organic Golden Monkey tea because I liked the exotic name and I was born in the year of the monkey. It turned out to be a black tea from southern China, dark with flecks of twisted gold. Our host made it for me. He warmed my tiny teapot, before he infused the tea, allowing it to steep for 40 seconds. “In the Chinese way,” he said, “we make multiple infusions, brewing the tea when we are ready to drink it. Not like the Western way where you wait for the tea to brew.” I liked that. The tea was light and aromatic, and I drank it out of the littlest doll-size Chinese tea cup.

Then came the food in succession – the dim sum rice parcels and dumplings, a plate of open face sandwiches with quirky toppings like bamboo shoots in mayonnaise, cucumber and sweet hummus jam (it sounds like a contradiction in terms), and a plate of sweets. I ate the toppings off the bread so as not to get too full, but by the time the pastries turned up I was pretty much at my limit. I needed a digestive stroll afterward on Portobello Road !

~ Spotted Cow
Tea set Teanamu Chaya TeahouseLo mai fan Teanamu Chaya TeahouseOpen faced sandwiches Teanamu Chaya TeahouseSweet platter Teanamu Chaya TeahouseKitchen Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

Spring Break. Copenhagen.

The smell of spring is in the London air. We have three bank holiday weekends coming up in succession and my thoughts turn to city breaks. I love the capsule holiday long weekend getaways.

This week I’m featuring Copenhagen because it is a wonderful cycle-friendly city with greenery, street art, cafe culture and a fair dash of edginess. In particular, I did two city tours when I visited on my own – a food tour and a Segway tour.  

The walkabout with Copenhagen Food Tours should be on every foodies list.  Our guide, Maria, was very knowledgeable  and passionate about food and its place in Danish culture. Go with an empty belly and open mind. I tried everything – sweets from the 120+ year old Somods Bolcher, beer at Nørrebro Bryghus, smørrebrød (open face sandwiches), an  organic hot dog, and deli favourites at the Bornholm Shop. The eating is well paced between walks and the portions are reasonable but I was definitely very full at the end of it.

I’ve already written about the Segway tour with Tours Cph, which gave me a good spatial orientation of the city. The trip passed all the major sites – The Little Mermaid (lonesome), Tivoli (fun), Nyhavn (colourful), Christiansborg Palace (grand), Amalienborg Palace (impressive), the Old Stock Exchange (amazing building), just to name a few – as well as a several I wouldn’t have known to look for. I liked the feeling of being on the ground, but faster, and there were lots of photo stops.

I went back to explore many of the sites afterward :

Nyhavn for the waterfront colourful buildings that are a great backdrop to have a beer;

Nørrebro which is a melting pot of a neighbourhood with lots of cafes & bars;

Christianshavn and its canals and cobbled streets, past hippie Christiania and onto the Opera House which has a waterfront view back onto Frederik’s Church;

Tivoli for its gardens … and roller coasters;

Strøget and surrounding streets for window shopping and Danish design. I wanted the tea cups at Royal Copenhagen and I bought an intriguingly designed egg-beater at Magasin du Nord. When you’re tired, pop into Perch’s tea room for a cuppa and a slice of cake.

On hotels and restaurants, the girls at The Slow Pace love Copenhagen too and I want to go to some of the places they’ve highlighted.

~ Spotted Cow

Nyhavn Amalienborg Palace cafe culture Copenhagen L1020698 smørrebrød  Danish hot dog Perch's tea room