The foodie one

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The Connectivity team at work
The Connectivity team at work

Happy Bank Holiday 3/3 for May 2023! The second one proved to be both productive and nostalgic, as Kira (and her cats) had just moved into a new flat near where we used to live. After completing some IKEA engineering challenges together we went on a big walking tour of our favourite parks before rejoining Randi’s parents at our old local pub, Knowles of Norwood, which is thankfully still open for business and – in fact – has recently expanded into a larger space.

Birthday dinner #1!
Birthday dinner #1!

This was the last week of Beth and Stu’s visit to the UK, so that Friday we celebrated Randi’s birthday a few days early with a fancy dinner and lots of delicious sharing plates at Ottolenghi’s ROVI restaurant. (Fair warning: there are a lot of restaurants coming up in this post. It’s been a very, very good couple of weeks for eating.) The next day we sauntered up to Andrew and Bonnie’s for lunch – always a great dining experience in its own right! – plus some explanations of cricket and somewhat competitive tours of Alexandra Palace and its early TV broadcast history. (We got Bonnie, Beth and Stu got Andrew.) Then, appropriately, we sped home for the definitive broadcast event of the modern day: Eurovision!

The night before Eurovision
The night before Eurovision

It seems odd that in all our years of evangelising Eurovision we’d never actually shown it to Randi’s parents, and while there was a mixed response to the timeslot (“the voting doesn’t end until midnight?!”) they were enthusiastic about completing their official Eurovision 2023 scorecards. Personally, I’m not convinced that previous winners should be allowed to compete again, and would rather Finland’s catchy Cha Cha Cha, Norway’s Queen of Kings or Austria’s tribute to Edgar Allan Poe (there aren’t enough nineteenth century literary references at Eurovision) had beaten Sweden’s (perfectly decent) entry, whose predictable triumph made the whole results section feel less dramatic than usual. Come back next year?

Your new foodie guides
Your new foodie guides
A much-discussed birthday cookie
A much-discussed birthday cookie

The next day we were treated to an extremely tasty lunch (and more birthday celebrations!) at Tash and Cormac’s flat, followed by a tour of Leyton including Leyton Jubilee Park and its jolly pirate ship. And that was (almost) it for Beth and Stu’s latest visit to London, aside from the very important business of Stu’s homemade hamburgers on their final night with us. (Public service announcement: burgers go better in rolls of challah.) After they had left, Randi’s actual birthday night was spent in Dulwich’s Megan’s in the Hamlet, where (a) the marmalade cocktail is amazing, (b) the staff are super-fun and willing to share inside gossip.

Doing our best pirate impressions
Doing our best pirate impressions
Dressing up just a little
Dressing up just a little

I have been casually saying “Randi’s birthday” but- excitingly – it was also her 30th birthday. So, that weekend, we pushed the foodie boat even more and had lunch at three Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn. (One star for each decade, you see.) In case you’re wondering, there are only eight restaurants with three Michelin stars in the UK and – weirdly – two of them are just a few minutes’ walk from each other in the small Berkshire village of Bray (population: 9110). Assuming you aren’t one of those 9110 people, the easiest way to get to Bray is to take the Elizabeth Line to Maidenhead and then (ignoring the nonsensical website instructions to take a taxi) enjoy a delightful 35 minute walk through Braywick Park until you reach the restaurant on the banks of the Thames. Easy peasy.

Since I’m not really a foodie person, I have neither the writing talent nor much photographic evidence of the sevenish-course ‘Menu Exceptionnel’ we devoured. (And what counts as a ‘course’, really? There were actually eight lines on the menu if you include the tea & coffee and petit fours, which was brought out to us on the riverside terrace after the afternoon sun came out. But that doesn’t include Randi’s bonus birthday dessert, or the amazing pre-stater-startery things! So I don’t know. It was a lot.) Suffice to say, everything was really, really good, all the way from the mushroom pâté at the beginning to the soufflé with hot rhubarb compote poured through the middle at the end. Would recommend. I would also recommend walking along the river path to Windsor afterwards, especially if the weather was as perfect as it was for us.

The last known photo of Randi before she found out how good the rhubarb soufflé tasted
The last known photo of Randi before she found out how good the rhubarb soufflé tasted
Hungry with anticipation on the walk from Maidenhead
Hungry with anticipation on the walk from Maidenhead

The fine food (and drink) just kept on coming this month, including a work dinner with an incredible Indian tasting menu (in a private room with a huge glass window overlooking the kitchen) and, the following night, gastropub delights with Jill, Lee and some partners we work together with. Clearly on a roll, on Friday night Randi and I took my mum out for her birthday at the Tash-starred restaurant Ayam Zaman in Shepherd’s Bush. (I was about to add “…and went overboard on the meze” but, honestly, I don’t regret ordering any of it.)

After dinner we went to the Bush to see Invisible, only a mere fortnight after seeing August in England at the same theatre with Randi’s parents. (Having now seen three shows there within two months, the Bush Theatre is now hands-down our favourite venue and we already have our next pair of tickets.) August in England premiered last month and stars Lenny Henry as August Henderson, a Windrush-era arrival from Jamaica whose life story is told movingly and beautifully from childhood to being threatened with deportation during the Windrush scandal 52 years later. Of course, it’s Lenny Henry so much of the play is also hilarious, but he kept our audience enraptured all the way from boisterous comedy to the most poignant moments.

Similarly, Nikhil Parmar’s Invisible is another one-man show performed with electric energy. The story of a struggling actor, failing to be seen beyond the restrictive racial stereotypes in which he is cast, combines great physical comedy with an undercurrent of deep rage and violent fantasy. It’s hard to be too specific without giving away the twists, but it’s another play which you should definitely catch if you can.

And finally:

  • I managed to kick-off a fascinating and (hopefully productive) evening of political campaign brainstorming by knocking over Kirsty’s vase and emptying close-to-100% of its contents on the floor. This is why I’m not a consultant. But it was a great evening nonetheless!
  • After Randi, Reema and I finally got ourselves into the same spot and stopped wandering independently around Brockwell Park, we were able to have a lovely evening of pizza and beer together at Bullfinch Brewery (which we’ve always wanted to go to!).
  • It’s been a while (OK, it’s been seven months) but Randi and I walked London Loop Section 3 on Saturday and it was sunny and spectacular. Also, the ice cream van at Keston Ponds is the best.
  • Kira came round to play Dominion last night, and I have really, really missed being able to play several rounds of Dominion in a group of three. (We still miss you though, Amanda.) Kira also brought ice cream with her.
  • Today, on Bank Holiday 3/3, Randi used Katie’s birthday gift vouchers towards brunch at Dishoom in Canary Wharf (thank you Katie!) before leading us on a walk most of the way home through the Isle of Dogs, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and then to Lewisham via Greenwich Park and Blackheath. Basically, the perfect encapsulation of all the ‘eating + walking’ stuff I’ve just written.

Back in April I spent a weekend in Norfolk/Suffolk with two different sets of cousins, starting with my cousin Julie who met me for a drink in Diss before we enjoyed a walk around Thornham Park. Julie has recently become a postie, although sadly she’d finished her shift so I missed my chance to ride along in a red Royal Mail van. That evening, I was kindly transferred over to Frankie and Anya’s new place in time for dinner and playtime with my next-generation cousin Lena, from whom I’ve now learnt that it’s totally pointless to try and separate Play-Doh colours once they’ve been combined.

Through Lena’s influence I also became a big fan of Disney’s Elena of Avalor series, mostly because I was impressed by the structured exercise of Princess Elena’s executive authority through a Grand Council. Honestly, Avalor’s constitution seems to function much better than most Disney monarchies, and I have high confidence that its citizens won’t wake up to find that all their spinning wheels have been appropriated and destroyed on spurious security grounds or that a sea witch can kidnap and imprison people with impunity thanks to some libertarian contract law.

Once Lena had gone to bed, I continued to have a great night with Frankie and Anya watching highly-questionable ‘travel influencer’ videos (although in retrospect, maybe we should have just watched Elena of Avalor) before going for a walk together around Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds the next day. Thanks to all of my East Anglian relatives for hosting me!

Me and Julie
Me and Julie
Wheelbarrow racing at Ickworth House
Wheelbarrow racing at Ickworth House

The week afterwards, Randi’s parents arrived in London in time for the biggest and most exciting event of the last few weeks: Randi and Katie running the London Marathon!

Spoiler alert: they did it!
Spoiler alert: they did it!

For sure it was an exhausting day, but I’m very proud to say that thanks to some intensive planning and preparation, everything came together… and, with very impressive timings, James and I successfully navigated between our three spectator spots to be able to cheer them on. So congratulations to us!

In all seriousness, Randi and Katie both smashed it and looked impressively unperturbed during the entire run. I remember standing and waiting for my uncle Andrew to go past when he ran the London Marathon years ago, and it’s notable how things have changed with phones and tracking apps. The atmosphere at the London Marathon has always been lovely, but now it’s much more fun to be in a big WhatsApp group with fellow supporters, sharing photos and videos of our runners at lots of different points along the route. Also, I think Tash deserves a medal of her own for booking a pub table near the finish line for us all to congregate at afterwards. Bravo.

Receiving sage advice from the family's previous marathon runners the night beforehand
Receiving sage advice from the family’s previous marathon runners the night beforehand
Saying goodbye in the morning at the start of the route in Greenwich Park
Saying goodbye in the morning at the start of the route in Greenwich Park
Running mile 1 (of 26)
Running mile 1 (of 26)
Kudos to James for making these incredible t-shirts for all the supporters
Kudos to James for making these incredible t-shirts for all the supporters
Celebrating Randi and Katie after the pub
Celebrating Randi and Katie after the pub
The Orbit at night
The Orbit at night

Dedicated readers of this blog may remember that Randi and I slid down the Orbit slide back in 2021, but at the time I didn’t have any pictures from the top as all belongings must be stowed in a locker. The secret, it turns out, is to visit the Orbit as part of a corporate shindig (in this case, the ‘Shortyz Awards’ for the short-term rental industry) in which case the queue for the slide is much shorter and someone will happily hold your phone as you go down. So, what follows are some belated photos from the top, before you fly down to the bottom in an unflattering cap. I continue to find the ride itself oddly relaxing.

Lee prepares to slide down
Lee prepares to slide down
The blur in the bottom right is technically Lee
The blur in the bottom right is technically Lee
With Kira, Lee and Ian at the awards
With Kira, Lee and Ian at the awards
On one of our walks
On one of our walks

Later that week Randi and I had a really enjoyable dinner with her colleague Stephen and his partner Viv, before taking the train up to the East Yorkshire coast on Friday for a long weekend with our parents in an amazing cliffside cottage by the sea. This ‘Puffin Palace’ belongs to two family friends, Helen and Anthony, who very generously lent it to us all for the first of this year’s three May bank holidays. (What a time to be alive!)

Although we didn’t see any of the aforementioned puffins, we did go on several stunning walks along the cliffs, ate very well and answered a lot of “on this day” quiz questions. (Boastful quizzing side-note: Randi, Stewart and I also did great on some obscure US Presidential trivia on the train home.)

Gilly, Beth and Stewart
Gilly, Beth and Stewart
As you can see, you couldn't get any better views from the house
As you can see, you couldn’t get any better views from the house
A beach along the coast
A beach along the coast
(Albeit not beaches for sunbathing)
(Albeit not beaches for sunbathing)

On our return we also had the pleasure of hosting Kim for her first few nights back in the UK on a visit from Australia. Along with some Tim Tams and Vegemite Shapes, Kim also gifted us with an incredible homemade Carcassonne-themed wedding present which is the perfect accompaniment to our original wedding meeples from Catherine and AJ. Thanks, Kim!

Drinks with Kim at the Honor Oak
Drinks with Kim at the Honor Oak
Tash: "Looks suspiciously like an everyday quiche to me"
Tash: “Looks suspiciously like an everyday quiche to me”

And finally, today Randi and I went down to Hassocks to spend Coronation day (for Charles, not Elena of Avalor) with Simon, Fleur and Cleo. I mean, to clarify, we didn’t visit them with any particularly royalty-themed purposes in mind… although we did all end up eating the official coronation quiche for lunch at the local garden centre/café/lawnmower museum because it genuinely seemed like it would be quite nice. (And so it was!)

P.S. Happy 19th birthday blog, which reached this uneventful milestone on 27th April. As per tradition I searched for any exciting new legal rights for age 19, but all I could find were things (e.g. free dental care) you start losing instead…

I wasn't joking about the lawnmower museum
I wasn’t joking about the lawnmower museum

It’s been a busy few weeks! A few weeks ago I attended Booking.com’s annual partner conference in Amsterdam, held on a grander and flashier scale than last year and – most excitingly – included an appearance from 2014 Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst at their big party on Wednesday night. I think I actually missed Eurovision that year, so I’m glad I finally got to see her perform, although it was her cover of the instantly recognisable Everyway That I Can (Turkey, 2003) which was the biggest crowd-pleaser of all.

Amsterdam itself was as lovely as ever, even in drizzly March. Public service announcement: the trains accept contactless card payment now, so the “standing confused beside the ticket machine” phase of your trip is now a thing of the past. Hurray!

Our private Conchita Wurst concert!
Our private Conchita Wurst concert!
A proper party
A proper party

After getting back home on Thursday night, Randi and I finally made it to Tash and Cormac’s new flat for a wonderful ‘London Supper Club’ Friday night with my mum and Cormac’s dad Brendan. Alongside a true feast of Indian cooking we enjoyed a riotous night of poetry, songs and one interpretative tin whistle performance (you’re welcome) which really buoyed us up into a cheerful mood for the whole weekend. It also inspired me and Randi to read The Importance of Being Earnest aloud together one evening a few weeks later. Who needs Netflix, really?

Talking of readings – a few days later, at the stone setting service in memory of my great uncle Leonard, many of our family dug deep into our email archives to perform some of Leonard’s famous emails from years gone by. For most people this would probably be pretty dull, but Leonard’s emails were certainly flights of storytelling… even if the story he was telling was normally a tale of trial and tribulation. Thanks to my friend Simon for inspiring us with his Charles Dance-esque interpretation of Leonard’s writing a few years back.

For some professional entertainment, Randi and I also saw Sleepova that Saturday at the Bush Theatre, a play about the enduring power of teenage friendship as four girls go through life’s ups and downs during their GCSE years. Everything about this play just worked for us: serious themes, but always funny, warm-spirited and life-affirming at the same time. I’d never been to the Bush Theatre before but it’s as close to perfect a venue you can get, with strong vibes of the Tricycle in its glory days. All four characters felt real and relatable, albeit with some subtly different attitudes to the generation I remember (because I’m old now) but always played with warmth and humanity which kept you rooting for them all. You really know a play is working when one of the characters tells her parents something that she shouldn’t, and the audience all instinctively sighs together with frustration. Highly recommended. (I mean, the run is over now, but in theory at least: highly recommended.)

Even more culture: a week earlier Randi and I had a very rare movie night in and watched Everything Everywhere All At Once, the Oscar-winning universe-hopping surrealist sci-fi comedy centered on a Chinese American immigrant family and their quest to save the multiverse and/or save their laundromat from an IRS tax audit. Unlike Sleepova, you’ve probably seen this already and don’t need me to describe it to you. But it’s very good, and a real delight to see a film so brimming with creativity and imagination. Also, I should note that we finally finished Our Friends in the North after I (falsely) promised to Randi that the final episode must be more uplifting than those couple leading up to it. It was a promise made with the best of intentions, but sadly proved inaccurate.

This isn't Disneyland in California - you still have to wring out the water rides
This isn’t Disneyland in California – you still have to wring out the water rides

Recently, while having brunch with Josh, Anna and Cora, we learnt that Josh and Anna were planning a romantic couple’s getaway together to Thorpe Park. Unfortunately I didn’t mask my excitement at the idea, nor the fact that I still had a day of annual leave to burn before the end of March, and that’s how I ended up inviting myself along to Josh and Anna’s rollercoastery day out. Of course, it was totally worth it, especially as it included a sleepover of our own the night before so I got to spend even more time with Cora (who now talks all the time!).

The next morning the three of us set out for a day of rides and ride analysis, of which my main conclusions are (a) Saw is probably Thorpe Park’s best all-round rollercoaster now, but (b) I’m really glad I went off to ride Stealth again because – although Josh and Anna aren’t fans – it’s up there as one of my favourite rides of all time. It’s been years since I was last at Thorpe Park and investment (along with visitor numbers) has fallen away since I was a teenager, but they are now finally working on a new rollercoaster so I guess we’ll just have to go back again once it opens…

The best type of sleepover
The best type of sleepover
Back at Thorpe Park after many years
Back at Thorpe Park after many years
Anna, Josh, me and this happy stranger on Saw
Anna, Josh, me and this happy stranger on Saw
Riding Stealth (with another blissful stranger)
Riding Stealth (with another blissful stranger)

Finally, in exciting and still slightly surreal news, I’m very happy that my friend and colleague Kira has just successfully made the move to the UK. By a weird twist of fate she’s spending her first few weeks in Willesden Green, so on Friday night we celebrated her arrival at the excellent Beer + Burger. But by Sunday the wheels were already in motion for Randi’s South East London sales pitch, and together with our colleague Patricia we enjoyed a great shakshuka and challah brunch at ours before playing some energetic rounds of Cobra Paw and a good game of Citadels. Then, since we’re all still excited by the novelty of it being light and sunny outside, we walked over to Crystal Palace together for ice creams and dinosaurs. More South East London at its best! And all part of Randi’s plan.

Randi and I already had plans to to visit Bristol this Easter weekend, since – although I’ve heard many good things about the city – my only actual experience of it was a brief (and very odd) day trip for work back in my Groupon UK days, and that was to an offensively ugly office building which I hoped wasn’t representative of the whole place. Happily, once we knew Kira would be in the country by then, we managed to persuade her to join us and so the three of us took the train up on Friday and stayed in an Airbnb loft in the fancy Clifton area. (Yes, as in the Clifton Suspension Bridge – which is indeed very cool to look at and walk over.)

I really, really liked Bristol from what I saw. Because it’s so hilly and green, and because so many of the buildings are built from Georgian stone (and on roads which refuse to form straight lines but instead criss-crossing crescents at different levels) there’s just a lot to look at and admire as you walk around, without mentioning the colourful houses, beautiful artwork and harbour area. We basically did a lot of walking – including through the expansive Leigh Woods – interspersed with a lot of eating, from authentic Cuban food to a proper pub roast on Easter Sunday itself, plus a very healthy number of Easter eggs. We also enjoyed Victoria Park and the M Shed museum, rewatched Free Solo together and played a couple of big-money games of Dominion Prosperity.

All limbered up after playing Cobra Paw
All limbered up after playing Cobra Paw
Welcome to Bristol!
Welcome to Bristol!
Before one of our many delicious meals
Before one of our many delicious meals
The Clifton Suspension Bridge
Kira's Dominion victory
Kira’s Dominion victory

When humanity really comes together to solve a problem, don’t bet against us. For decades, we’ve struggled against the idea that the only way to attend a 1977 ABBA concert in-person was either (a) to be alive in 1977, or (b) to travel back to 1977 using a time machine. Option A is, of course, deeply exclusionary to anyone born after 1977. Option B, on the other hand, is fraught with risk. What if your time machine breaks down and you become stuck in the late 70s? What if you accidentally kill your grandfather? What if you’re so focused on trying to keep your grandfather alive that you fail to live in the moment and don’t properly enjoy the moment?

Preparing for ABBA
Preparing for ABBA

Fortunately, technology has solved this highly specific problem with ABBA Voyage, a ‘virtual concert residency’ held in a purpose-built stadium next to Pudding Mill Lane DLR. (I can’t stress how incongruous this station is. There seems so little reason for it to exist other than ABBA Voyage that the merchandise store is built into the entrance.) After Randi’s parents bought themselves tickets to the show ahead of their upcoming London visit, we might have made our envy a little too obvious because they then generously gifted us a pair of our own – thank you! – which is how Randi and I ended up rocking up to experience this marvel for ourselves.

I loved it on three levels:

  1. Because who wouldn’t enjoy an ABBA concert?
  2. Because some people in the audience are more exuberant and/or wearing fancy dress, and from our seats we had a perfect view for people watching. Special love to the four friends sitting in front of us in matching outfits.
  3. Because the technology is very impressive. There’s a lot of well choreographed light and video, and while the enlarged versions of the ABBA avatars (‘ABBAtars’) on the giant screens just look like a decent video game, the actual-size ‘holograms’ themselves are utterly indistinguishable on stage from the real thing. By the end I was starting to fall into wild conspiracy theories that they were actually animatronic or projections onto real people or some other ruse.

Pedants’ corner: no, they aren’t actually holograms; it’s an updated version of the Victorian Pepper’s ghost theatre trick from 1862 involving laser projections, mirrors and mylar. Weirdly, when I got home and started hunting through YouTube for a satisfying explanation of how this works, most people seemed more interested in explaining “how do you recreate 1977 ABBA with computers in the first place?” rather than “how do you take your recreation and make it look real on a stage?”. If you’re wondering, the way you recreate 1977 ABBA is by making 2021 ABBA wear motion capture suits and dance for five weeks. But that bit seemed obvious.

I won!
I won!

Back in 2023, Randi and I also received a mysterious box from Toggolyn which turned out to contain – amongst other things – EL: The Chicago Transit Adventure board game. Thank you two, too! We also journeyed up the Bakerloo line for brunch with my mum and then Austin’s 2nd birthday party, which was lots of fun. Last weekend, though, we escaped London entirely for a trip to Oswestry…

At least, that was the plan, until we woke up on Friday to discover that the taxi companies of Oswestry had pulled their cars off the road thanks to all the snow and ice. Not to be defeated, we decided to take the train as far as Wolverhampton and stay overnight in (another) emergency Premier Inn before making the final connection to Gobowen station the next morning and walking the final few miles to Oswestry once the temperatures had risen and the sun was out.

(Yes, it is stupid that Gobowen – population: 3270 – has a railway station while Oswestry – population: 17,105 – does not. Of course, as is usually the case, Oswestry did once have a station of its own but this was closed in 1966 as part of the “let’s be wrong about basically every aspect of town planning” trend which was in vogue at the time. Once I get my time machine up and running, I will attempt to address this once I make sure my grandfather is out of harm’s way.)

You're not fooling anyone, 'Gobowen for Oswestry'
You’re not fooling anyone, ‘Gobowen for Oswestry’
Almost there!
Almost there!

After checking in to our amazing B&B we met up with Lucy, whom – it was frightening to realise – I haven’t seen in person for nine whole years. But putting this scary thought aside, it was really lovely to catch-up while she led us on a beautifully snowy trek along the Shropshire Way. Later that evening, suitably warmed-up again, we all had dinner together in a cosy village pub (you know, the type with a fireplace) and argued about whether London really needed a purpose-built venue for virtual ABBA concerts. (I still vote yes.)

Back on the blog
Back on the blog!
Our really beautiful path
Our really beautiful path
In the snow :)
In the snow 🙂

On the way home we passed on seeing any more of Wolverhampton (sorry, Wolverhampton) in favour of getting the tram to Birmingham and hanging out there for a few hours before our final train home. (If the closure of Oswestry’s railway station upset you earlier, take some comfort that the modern West Midlands Metro mostly runs over the old path of another closed line, so there’s always hope.) The past may be a foreign country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit.

We’re back! And in the style of previous travels we’ve brought back from our honeymoon plenty of stories, photos and bug bites 😀

Medellín

Although Medellín is only Colombia’s second-largest city, after Bogotá, it manages to one-up the capital by being the only Colombian city with a metro system. Given this, there are two distinct areas which tourists tend to stay – El Poblado and Laureles – which are both easily accessible via metro but otherwise pretty self-contained. Fortunately, Randi’s colleague Daniela had already steered us towards Laureles which is the more residential and quieter option, although reading beforehand that it was ‘less touristy’ didn’t quite capture the vibe. Laureles has everything a tourist might want – the main strip is filled with bars, restaurants and pandebono – it’s just beautifully green, too, with trees and plants lining every street. The nearest station (Estadio) is more conveniently located than its equivalent in Poblado, being built to serve a large sports complex which hosted the 2010 South American Games. Point being: if you’re trying to decide between staying in Poblado vs. Laureles for a first-time visit to Medellín, we’re officially #teamLaureles.

Wherever you stay, the taxi from the airport will take you through the Túnel de Oriente which is worth calling out in its own right. It’s an 8km road tunnel dug through the mountains, which only opened in 2019, and if you grew up playing the “try to hold your breath until the car leaves the tunnel” game as a child you’re going to be sorely challenged by this one.

After checking-in and doing some light exploring/relaxing we decided to rouse ourselves for an evening trip to Poblado for dinner. This turned out to be an excellent decision – partly because of Randi’s tasty pisco sour with red wine, but also because it helped to shift us onto the right timezone and make the most of our limited nights in Medellín. And the metro itself, you ask? Why, the metro is excellent. It’s easy to use, fast and frequent… but my favourite feature is its impatient opening of the doors to the train before it has fully come to a stop at the station. It’s very efficient!

Our first meal in Colombia!
Our first meal in Colombia!
The green, green streets of Laureles
The green, green streets of Laureles
Tada: the Medellín Metro
Tada: the Medellín Metro
The sports complex and mountains beyond
The sports complex and mountains beyond

The next day we rode the other direction for a walking tour of ‘comuna 13’ to the west of the city. Whenever a tour is themed around street art you can be sure it belongs to the “this area used to be very poor and dangerous” genre, although this is a relatively extreme case given that the neighbourhood, also known as San Javier, was one of the most violent areas in Colombia during the 80s and 90s thanks to its unenviable position at the centre of the narcotics trade. The turning point came in 2002 with a massive government military operation (Operation Orion) against the guerrilla groups, although the narrative gets a little murky here since the armed helicopters, troops and paramilitary-backed ‘disappearances’ also resulted in hundreds of casualties for local people.

For our tour guide Lara, who was born and raised in the district, you could sense some tension between her intense pride in the area’s subsequent transformation with the ongoing lack of truth and reconciliation following the conflict. There’s a reason why civil wars are the worst. And so, the spirit of hope and optimism is channeled into street art and – quite wonderfully – escalators. As it turns out, one of the major regeneration projects in this (very hilly!) neighbourhood has been the installation of six outdoor escalators, and people absolutely love them. We did too.

Our walking tour through comuna 13
Our walking tour through comuna 13
Riding the very popular outdoor escalators
Riding the very popular outdoor escalators

Although we didn’t have time for Medellín’s largest park, we did also visit the smaller Cerro Nutibara Pueblito Paisa (complete with a replica Antioquian village at the top) and make a very brief journey into the historic centre to see Plaza Botero (the one with the cheerful statues). We also really enjoyed walking around the sports complex by Estadio – places really do feel different when the climate doesn’t require buildings to have walls – and, on a more prosaic note, walking about our local supermarket thanks to the high-energy Colombian dance music playing in the background. I am not sure this would work in Forest Hill Sainsbury’s, but it’s worth a try.

I did attempt to assemble the necessary ingredients to make tea here, but with all the elements against me – unpleasant tea bags, liquid milk only sold in bags – I just gave up and switched to delicious Colombian coffee instead. At least, I thought it was delicious. Apparently a common tourist complaint is that the coffee in Colombia is not actually that good since all the best stuff is grown for export, but since I’m not normally a coffee drinker I didn’t have much basis for comparison and I enjoyed it.

One of the Botero statues outside the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture
One of the Botero statues outside the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture
One of our many morning coffees
One of our many morning coffees

Hiking & Rafting

At the waterfall!
At the waterfall!

The next few days were the most active and energetic part of our trip, starting with a two day there-and-back hike through the countryside around Medellín with Expedition Colombia. Our guide, Juan, was fantastic and very tolerant when we became obsessed with trying to take photos of ant trails in an Attenborough style. The walking was satisfying but not especially demanding, alternating between jungle sections and hilly fields where the trees had been cleared for small-scale subsistence farming. We also passed plenty of gold mining in the river (allegedly not the most poisonous kind) and had a couple of breaks each day for swimming, delicious lunches which came wrapped in banana leaves and a trip to the base of a waterfall.

Hiking team (not pictured: most critical member of hiking team who knew where we were going)
Hiking team (not pictured: most critical member of hiking team who knew where we were going)
Through the jungle
Through the jungle
Apparently lost in the foliage
Apparently lost in the foliage
One of our swimming breaks
One of our swimming breaks
Ant photo 1/500 (limited edition artwork)
Ant photo 1/500 (limited edition artwork)

On the journey back we were also joined by a Canadian traveller, Shane, whose enthusiasm for a dead snake was commendable. The previous night we had all debated politics over dinner at our homestay – genuinely one of the tastiest dinners we had over our entire trip, by the way, and that’s a high bar – but amusingly the thud of the rain hitting the metal roof during the thunderstorm meant that we were all effectively shouting at each other despite the discussion not actually being that contentious. Shane’s guide also accompanied us back, together with his latest mule. Having grown up in the same hills we were walking through (he pointed us to his childhood home in the distance) with very little money, it was a truly great day when he earned enough to afford his family’s first mule and no longer had to carry everything through the mountains on foot.

Hike complete!
Hike complete!

Our next night’s stay was in a truly breathtaking lodge nestled right in the hills and overlooking the river, which also came with its very own pet cat. Again, living in a climate where you don’t have to bother with walls completely changes the type of spaces which become possible, and it was a magical place to sit and read until the sun went down. For the onslaught of winged creatures which made their appearance after the sun went down, the bed also came equipped with a decent mosquito net.

Our amazing jungle cabin
Our amazing jungle cabin
Everything very open to the outdoors
Everything very open to the outdoors

The final day of the action-adventure phase of our honeymoon was rafting down the river rapids, which was incredibly fun. I’m glad that we’ve done rafting before, and hence Randi’s translation of the Spanish safety briefing wasn’t the first time anyone had ever told me what to do if I fell out of a raft. Especially since, later on, I did indeed manage to fall out of the raft! Fortunately Randi impressed everyone else on the boat with her quick reflexes to pull me out again.

To be honest, the experience of being swept along the river was equally enjoyable as rafting down it and during some quieter moments many of us chose to jump in and float anyway. At one point we also stopped to explore a waterfall tucked alongside the riverbank. Our fellow rafters were lovely, including the guys from Aruba who taught us about their home country. I also want to thank Francisco’s relative who gifted me with a waterproof bag a couple of years ago during our Secret Santa in Santiago which proved incredibly useful to hold the hiking boots we needed for the very steep, hour-long descent to the starting point in the first place. During this hike someone else managed to drop their helmet over the cliff which is actually worse than falling out of a raft, right?

Our rafting companions!
Our rafting companions!

Guatapé

After the rafting, we were driven back to the Expedition Colombia offices – where we briefly became impromptu guests at an English lesson for staff and local teenagers – before a further two-hour drive to our next destination, Guatapé. Although our driver was great, Randi’s baseline assumption when being driven along mountain roads at night is that we’re all going to die, so when we successfully arrived at Bosko both (a) alive and (b) just in time to order dinner before the kitchen closed, it was in a mood of wild exhilaration.

Celebratory welcome drink after arriving at Bosko in time for dinner
Celebratory welcome drink after arriving at Bosko in time for dinner
Yes, they do provide marshmallows for that firepit
Yes, they do provide marshmallows for that firepit
Walking to Guatapé did involve crossing this bridge, which Randi insisted we tackle separately
Walking to Guatapé did involve crossing this bridge, which Randi insisted we tackle separately

Bosko describes itself as a “luxury glamping hotel” and, for someone who was really looking forward to several days of uninterrupted holiday reading, the set-up was absolutely perfect. Everyone has their own private dome located off a little private path. (Our dome was a crystal dome, giving us amazing views from our heated bed plus a very confused bird who arrived every morning to peck at the glass.) There were also Sky Pools (great for reading), an outdoor seating area where truly exceptional meals are served (also great for reading) and private terraces if you prefer room service instead (even more reading). The centre of Guatapé is easily within reach – just a 20 minute stroll – without impinging on the luxury of Bosko’s aura of calm. I loved this place. A fair chunk of my 2023 annual review of books will be thanks to Bosko.

Our crystal dome in the incredible surroundings of Bosko and beyond
Our crystal dome in the incredible surroundings of Bosko and beyond
Breakfast
Breakfast
Waking up to a misty view
Waking up to a misty view
On the staircase
On the staircase

Guatapé itself is a very pretty town and major tourist destination thanks in part to its colourful street art and decorated buildings. We enjoyed some excellent lunches here! The other thing you’re meant to do is climb the steps of El Peñón de Guatapé which we tackled earlyish one morning before it got hot. I have to say, this is probably the best-run “climb to the top of something tall” tourist attraction I’ve ever seen in my life. There are first aid stations at the top, bottom and halfway up – with defibrillators! – plus segregated up and down routes so you don’t have to negotiate a crowd in both directions. Waiting at the top is not merely a nice view but also multiple shops, stalls and seats. It all tricked me into thinking that this must be more of a challenge than it actually is, but we’re actually only talking about 659 steps here. Good job, whoever is in charge.

We made it without any need for a defibrillator, but nice to know it was there
We made it without any need for a defibrillator, but nice to know it was there
The Rock from a distance
The Rock from a distance
One of the streets of Guatapé itself
One of the streets of Guatapé itself
More Botero-inspired artwork
More Botero-inspired artwork

Finally, a stay at Bosko also comes with use of their kayak, so Randi and I took this for a spin one morning and ended up challenging each other to a couple of timed buoy-to-buoy races. So, for posterity, here is where I will record that Randi won the first slalom 1:36.42 to 2:13.72 (that’s what happens if you keep overshooting the final buoy) but I clawed back a victory 44.90 to 52.40 on the second sprint. And we left it at that, because “best of three” is not a good approach for a honeymoon. (Very happy to go back for another stay and rematch, though.)

Celebrating my kayaking win (and staying in the boat this time)
Celebrating my kayaking win (and staying in the boat this time)
Relaxing in the heated pools over sunset
Relaxing in the heated pools over sunset

Cartagena

For the next stage of our holiday we flew to Cartagena, a walled city on the Caribbean coast with a very different vibe to the other parts of Colombia we’d seen. I roll my eyes when tourists start critiquing areas for being “too touristy” (as if their own tourism doesn’t count) but the the tourism in Cartagena certainly has a very different feel to Medellín or Guatapé. In part, that’s just because there’s significantly more English-speaking as opposed to Spanish. Elsewhere we got the sense that most people were coming from other parts of Colombia or South America, whereas Cartagena is – in part – catering for cruise ships of (predominantly American) visitors. As such, there’s also more pushy street selling of drinks, hats or horse-drawn carriage rides – those rides often being accompanied by groups of men running alongside and offering their services to rap at you.

I did really like the style of our apartment building
I did really like the style of our apartment building

It’s not the worst place for this stuff by a long way – it was just noticeably less chill, and I was frankly relieved to discover that the hats were a front for drugs because I was finding it difficult to believe that there were any uncovered heads left in the city to market to. All in all, I’m glad we went here – and the colonial-era streets are indeed lovely to walk around! – but I’m also glad this wasn’t our introduction to Colombia.

The best part about our visit to Cartagena was the discovery that Randi’s family friends Brianna and Drew happened to be in town at the very same time. We joined forces on a walking tour (appreciating our guide’s patriotic support for Miss Colombia – apparently not a niche thing, as we also found a photo of each year’s winner on careful display in one of the central plazas) and later reunited for dinner together that evening which was super fun. The second best thing in Cartagena was the pandebono shop just down the street from our wonderfully located Airbnb. Here we found not just savoury but sweet pastry options, with ‘pastel chocolate’ and ‘pastel arequipe’ (dulche de leche) quickly becoming my favourite things.

Great views of the historic centre from our Airbnb
Great views of the historic centre from our Airbnb
Pretty colonial-era streets
Pretty colonial-era streets
Meeting up with Brianna and Drew (with a sculpture of Gabriel García Márquez's head just out of shot!)
Meeting up with Brianna and Drew (with a sculpture of Gabriel García Márquez’s head just out of shot!)
Our very happy place
Our very happy place

But rather than spending the rest of our trip within the walled city, we decided to pack our small backpacks and take a holiday-within-a-holiday for two nights on the largest of Colombia’s Rosario Islands, Isla Grande…

Isla Grande

The boat ride to the island takes about an hour, and we stepped straight off the dock into our home for the next few days: Hotel Isla del Sol. This is a totally self-contained little world with its own beach area and swimming pool, catering to day-trippers as well as those staying overnight, and we really enjoyed the daily rhythm by which a new crowd of people would arrive mid-morning, fill up the place with activity for a few hours and then depart on the afternoon boat back to Cartagena, leaving the relatively small number of us with overnight rooms to enjoy a peaceful, “summer camp after summer is over” vibe. We swam, lounged in our hammocks and enjoyed our all-inclusive dinners sheltered from the evening winds.

Oh, and Randi and I also got an hour-long massage. This is only the second professional massage I’ve ever had, and the first which didn’t turn out to be the rather more brutal Thai variety. So, at the risk of sounding too obvious, it was incredibly relaxing and wonderful and I did not want it to end.

We finally made it to a beach!
We finally made it to a beach!
Enjoying breakfast at our hotel
Enjoying breakfast at our hotel

Talking of Thailand: for no particularly good reason we expected Isla Grande itself to be similar to the island of Koh Lipe, but there’s actually a lot less development. We did wander out from our resort a few times to explore (and find a larger beach) but aside from the other hotels scattered along the seafront the rest of the island seemed to be pretty rural, with homes and villages connected by quiet, sandy paths and routes through the forest which we hoped were largely snake-free. This isn’t a complaint – in fact, some quiet beach time was the whole attraction of Isla Grande over Cartagena. Just picture it as a simple place within a National Park, not a resort with bars and restaurants.

And bonus points for our boat ride home, which detoured through more of the archipelago so we could see some of the mangrove forests before speeding back to Cartagena!

Quiet, calming trails across the island (assuming no snakes)
Quiet, calming trails across the island (assuming no snakes)
Even much of the seafront is not over-developed
Even much of the seafront is not over-developed
We took so many failed selfies looking into the sun that a woman took pity on us
We took so many failed selfies looking into the sun that a woman took pity on us
On the boat back to Cartagena
On the boat back to Cartagena
Entering a river on the start of our very welcome speedboat detour
Entering a river on the start of our very welcome speedboat detour

Summing Up

One last meal
One last meal

Why did we pick Colombia for our honeymoon in the first place? Partly it was inspired by our previous travels elsewhere in South America. It’s a continent we both love and is particularly special to Randi as a place where she can practise Spanish. But we also wanted to explore somewhere new, and Colombia seemed to have a little bit of everything we collectively wanted: cool cities, hiking trails, mountains for Randi and beaches for me. After booking our flights we mostly forgot about doing much planning in the hectic pre-wedding phase, but everyone who’d already been to Colombia was so positive about the country (“the best place I’ve ever visited”) and helped us out with a ton of great recommendations and suggestions. Thank you!

Basically, I’m just here to tell you that people are right about Colombia. We had such a wonderful time and – as you can hopefully see from the abundance of photos – a decent variety of exploration and relaxation. I am curious to see Bogotá, although I’m holding out for their own metro system to open (projected date at time of writing: 2028).

For our final night back in Cartagena we did go out for a moderately-expensive fancy meal, which had cool vibes and decor but food-wise was actually nowhere near as enjoyable as our final lunch in town the next day at a small Peruvian place. (“When ordering this drink, comment that you want to live your sensory experience” it noted on the English-side of the menu beneath the chicha morada. I have no idea what this means. But the sensory experience of our lunch was top notch.) And then we reluctantly flew home, with the disappointment at being back in the real world leavened a little by being able to take the Elizabeth Line home from Heathrow. We will miss you, Colombia.

Postscript

I love my laptop. I deliberately splashed out on something expensive back in 2018 and it has served me well ever since, even travelling all over South America and South East Asia with us so that I could blog as we went. The only compromise I made at the time was not paying for as much storage as I could, which finally came to a head when I got back from Colombia with a bunch more photos and videos plus – very excitingly! – the professional video footage from our wedding ready to download. So I was very proud of myself when I realised that for less than £100 I could acquire both a bigger SSD and the right size of fiddly screwdriver to upgrade it myself. Thank you, instructional YouTube videos! Now my trusty companion has space for many, many more adventures to come…