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!
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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…
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!
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.
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…
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.
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?
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:
- Because who wouldn’t enjoy an ABBA concert?
- 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.
- 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.
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.)
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.)
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 😀
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!
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.
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.
Hiking & Rafting
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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…
Come on blog readers, you know the drill by now. Posts in late December are a whirlwind tour of food, drink and happy gatherings. Then there’s an awkward silence for a couple of weeks in January until I pop up with a couple of frosty photos from some long walks. If Randi was writing this blog, things would actually be a bit more interesting this year, as she spent the first half of the month hanging out in New York and Chicago. Instead, you’ll have to put up with my stories about lounging on the sofa and binging on the final season of His Dark Materials.
Spoiler alert: it was really good! The third and final series of His Dark Materials, I mean, although our sofa is also perfectly comfortable. They certainly didn’t shy away from the theology at the heart of the books, and it’s funny to think about how much of a fuss this might have caused in an earlier age. I did find the structure of the final episode very odd, although not in a bad way. All of the major story arcs were already wrapped up in the penultimate episode, leaving a whole hour for Will and Lyra to basically hang out and relax – with some very half-hearted jeopardy thrown in – before the plot turned up again and demanded their heartbreaking separation we all remember from the books. I liked it, and it gave the characters room to breathe, but “in my day” of linear TV I don’t think you’d ever have gotten away with that.
(On the topic of not shying away from theology: a guy showed up at our front door the other week, Bible in hand, and I think I must have out-talked him because after a while he just smiled absently, made his excuses and said he really must be leaving now. As if I had knocked on his door!)
Anyway, when I wasn’t either watching or working during 2022’s Christmas/New Year interregnum I was either frantically blogging (you’ve already read those ones) or at the
Kiln Tricycle Theatre courtesy of mum to see Zadie Smith’s The Wife of Willesden, an adaption of Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’ from the Canterbury Tales. The odd thing about this is that I should have loved it. I mean, it’s literally set in a pub in Kilburn, it’s Zadie Smith, and all of the performances – especially the starring role – were fantastic and full of life and wit. But, for me, I’m still just a bit limited by the underlying source material. I like my fiction to be a bit more narrative-driven, and that’s just not what you got in the 14th century.
I spent most of New Year’s Eve working longer hours than a typical workday to finish my annual book review, but then rewarded myself with a dash up the Northern Line to spend the night in High Barnet with Oliver, Abi and Robin. They had spent their evening’s energies on cooking a delicious lamb stew (much more useful than a book review) and we spent the night – and much of the following day – playing Love Letter, Splendor and some questionable rounds of Debatable. As usual it was also really lovely to see Oliver’s parents again – who manage to feel like parents I grew up around even though I only know Oliver from uni – as well as Abi’s sister Sarah, who came round to see us on New Year’s Day.
Of course, by “came round to see us” I really mean “came round to see Robin”, who is already so much bigger than the very, very little Robin we saw at our wedding. A few weekends later in January, after Randi was back in town, Robin was also the star attraction when the five of us travelled to Cambridge for a fabulous mini-reunion with Peter Mandler over a pub lunch. It was a perfect setting: warm and cosy, with plenty of space to sit and talk as we covered all of the major topics you’d expect and barely noticed by the time it was already dark outside.
I did promise a long walk, however, and January’s long(ish) walk comes courtesy of Erin, Antonis and Diva who invited me to join them through the Chilterns from Little Kimble (a station which appears to be an outgrowth of someone’s back garden) to Princes Risborough (bigger, but where the chippy is still closed on Sundays). I particularly enjoyed playing a classic game of #TeamHulme vs. #TeamKant on the train there.
Unusually, last week involved two separate day trips to Windsor for work reasons, so (naturally) I took the opportunity to compare the Waterloo train (for Day Trip #1) to the Elizabeth Line to Slough (for Day Trip #2). This was my first time really using the Elizabeth Line to its full potential rather than treating it as a very very nice Tube line, and it really is a gamechanger to be able to ride seamlessly all the way out from Whitechapel. Not only does it extend the beyond-London zone of places which still “feel like London”, but it also made me think of parallels with US intercity highways which go right through cities. If someone drove from out of town to our flat in Chicago, for example, they wouldn’t have to turn off a motorway until the last few minutes. This is completely different to driving in a city like London (from an airport, say) which quickly requires drivers to hit slow, residential streets.
The downside of building motorways through cities, of course, is that they completely destroy large chunks of it, either by demolishing it directly or through a combination of noise, pollution, neighbourhood severance and general ugliness. The concept of the Elizabeth Line feels like the public transport equivalent of a highway through a city in terms of speed and convenience, except through a tunnel which leaves the area above almost entirely unscathed. It’s so lovely. Can we build Crossrail 2 now, please?
When I wasn’t admiring purple roundels on these trips I was involved in a (pleasingly rewarding) focus group session on Tuesday, after which we had an opportunity to visit Cliveden House for drinks and a short tour. (UK politics shorthand: this was ground zero for the Profumo Affair.) I also had a great catch-up over Honest Burgers with Tim, who I always enjoy conspiring with.
Otherwise, Randi and I have been balancing work, honeymoon preparations (we’re all travel vaccinated up… even with the ones we didn’t really need!) and our unofficial second jobs for Kirsty’s selection campaign in East & Midlothian. With apologies to our local MP, Ellie Reeves – who we were delighted to meet recently at a local gathering alongside some very grown-up chats with our local councillors about road crossings – but our real campaigning hearts lie in getting Kirsty selected, because she is someone we really believe would make a positive difference in Parliament. To that end, we hosted an evening phonebank for volunteers (it being both thrilling and nostalgic to hear the sounds of voter conversations coming out of every corner of our flat) and travelled to Edinburgh last weekend for some old-fashioned door knocking.
After a very full and rewarding Saturday of campaigning, the two of us crashed at Katie’s flat for the night before spending some time with Katie and James on Sunday. While Randi was out running, the three of us hit up the National Museum of Scotland for their Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibit, which feels like the latest in a long line of Doctor Who exhibitions in science museums which make a commendable effort to be educational (“guess what, your cells regenerate too!”) but are really just an excuse to admire the the TARDIS console and hide from monsters. We did also go and see Dolly the Sheep, though!
This week we’ve also had the pleasure of having Sam staying with us in the evenings… which just about brings this post up to the present (he writes, briefly looking up to offer uninformed opinions on Sam’s potential retro trainer purchases). And just in time, since – depending on when you’re counting from – on Friday night Randi and I leave for either our slightly belated or extremely belated honeymoon. I feel like we’ve been preparing ourselves recently by revisiting some previous holiday destinations in restaurant form (amazing Peruvian food at Tierra Peru, Georgian khatapuris on Holloway Road) although in every other way we are probably grossly underprepared. But very excited!