This latest post comes to you from the stunning town of Cambridge where we finish our tour of the mother country before we fly out to the delights of Spain. We have spent the past four days visiting Majella and little Lucy (6 months old) up in the town of Catterick (near York), Northern England, which was a fantastic opportunity to re-charge the batteries before the next leg of our trip.
Catterick is situated in Northern England up near the Scottish border and is the current home of the Scots Guards army unit where our friend Chris (Majella's husband) is currently on exchange with the British Army. Chris is currently away in Afghanistan so Marco was definitely missing his male partner in crime as Majella, Lucy and I enjoyed some good old fashioned girl time, glasses of wine (ok for the record not Lucy), and as much 'crap girlie TV' as we could fit in to a short space of time.
Chris, Majella and Lucy actually live on the Garrison (what us Aussies would call a barracks) in a very traditional English house so all their neighbours are families of soldiers in Chris's unit. For those who ever visited us at Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin imagine that...times about 100 and you are getting some idea of what we are talking about.
There are currently about 9,500 British Troops deployed in Afghanistan; and lucky for them they have a Captain Jaunay serving with them on this occasion (even though he is a Crows supporter). I was immediately impressed by the support that Majella and Lucy are receiving from the Scots Guards as in a town where there is a large contingent of troops overseas it's obviously a very trying time for the entire community. The unit organises regular get togethers', information afternoons, support for families and children - you name it they seem to have it (even a WAG's choir...I am so lobbying Maj to get into that one!) I guess they realise that home is where the heart is and it only helps the boys away to know that their hearts are being looked after. The Australian Army could definitely take a leaf out of the British Army's book who in comparison I find are woeful.
As I said, Catterick is very close to the Scottish border, so after enjoying London and Bath sunshine it was quite a shock to the system as the temperature dropped the further North we travelled. In fact it's so far north that the daylight hours seem to be nudging what I imagine the Nordic regions would be like - you can see sunlight and hear birds chirping until about 10pm at night and by 4am they are up and at it again! This played a bit of havoc with poor Oscar's sleeping schedule as he didn't know where he was, but on a positive the cooler climate got the little guy moving and we can officially say he is a walking baby now. Yuiks!
Close to Catterick is the small town of Richmond which I am told has won 'Britain's best town' award. It's a lovely little village which is home to one serious looking castle which was built about 1000 years old. Now for anyone who isn't familiar with Marco's love of a good old castle - he wasn't disappointed and despite the howling cold winds cutting through like a knife he and Oscar were up the top before you could say 'Yorkshire pudding', leaving me to scramble up the steep stairs behind them at the comparative speed of a slug (actually a pretty moronic looking slug as I was also trying to dodge the pigeons that seems to swoop straight for me in each room. Did I mention my fear of birds?).
Now at this point I need to comment on one of the biggest disappointments in this trip to England which is very selfishly attributed to our obsession with all things food. For a country which can boast some of the best chefs in the world, from Gordon Ramsey to Jamie Oliver, vegetables and meats, as well as an abundance of fresh produce - England you need to go directly to jail...do not pass go...and definitely not collect your $200.
While an English big breakfast was a bit of a novelty for a few days, as we have moved further and further north we have not only discovered that variety in cuisine is lacking but that everything pretty much tastes the same...and can be summed up in four words - pastry, lard, potato, and meat. Pass!
In fact by far the best meal we have had in England has been at The Hotel Jaunay where Majella cooked the most amazing fish pie and also a beautiful lamb cutlets and rice pilaf which restored and invigorated our sad and sorry tastebuds who were asking us the question 'why oh why did you take the flavour away!?'
Jamie and your vision of changing the way British people eat? Mate if you achieve that then you should be knighted immediately. Ironically one of the most popular shows on TV here which is on almost constantly is 'Come Dine with Me' which has showcased gourmet dishes such as 'Grapefruit in Creme De Menthe' and 'Hare wrapped in Parmaham'. Yummo.
So here we are in Cambridge. Now what I said previously about Bath being the ultimate university town can be erased from the minutes, as - 'Cambridge is where it's at!' Ladies and Gentlemen I have seen Kings College...walked by the river and bought the t-shirt. Oscar has been briefed on his future path and am pretty sure that his response of 'dog dog dog' was not directed at the ice cream van next to us, but was in fact a resounding 'yes mother I will work hard and get a scholarship to this fine university, please do not worry yourself.' No pressure Osky ;-)
Cambridge is a stunning town made up of 31 colleges, which have produced such visionaries as Isaac Newton and Sir Walter Raleigh (Queen Elizabeth Ist defence minister). Kings College Chapel is probably the most famous building and is a striking example of gothic architecture and was begun in 1446 as an act of piety by Henry IV and finished by our good friend to all women Henry VIII in around 1516.The stained glass windows are simply enormous and close to the most beautiful I have ever seen and are made even more inspiring by the fact the inside of the church is quite simplistic. The ceiling is a work of art and the mind boggles as to how anyone was able to carve such intricate detail.
Another must-do on the list for us was the Round Church which was built by the Knights Templars in 1130, also the 2nd oldest building in Cambridge.
After visiting Kings College we knew from looking at our mud map that the very Round Church was close, but the directions weren't very clear. So we decided to ask for some assistance from a friendly looking ice cream selling lady on the side of the road. After enquiring as to where this historic landmark was she just shot Marco the most filthy look as if he were a raving lunatic, and shook her head and shrugged 'Ahhhiii, nooo idea!'
We must have been really lost! So we walked another 50 metres up the road and discovered not only were we on a road called 'The Round Church Road' but the church was directly in front of us. Hmmm.
The church was indeed - round, and considering the important place in history it plays in this town I was surprised there weren't more visitors there when we were or a larger sign pointing out its location (perhaps then the locals would know of its existence!). Not nearly as grand as the colleges structures so I guess it gets a little lost amongst its flamboyant neighbours.
We fly out this evening to Espagna where we are sure that the cuisine is going to reignite our senses and there are no doubt some fun adventures to be had. Bring on Barcelona!