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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 10

Sat. May 21, 2016:

The instant coffee in the room was old and stale, but I was desperate and I drank it regardless. It was not the worst, as I did get to dunk my Speculoos cookies in it. I had woken up with a headache and my immediate first thought was that it was going to rain. The weather forecast confirmed this, calling for rain in the afternoon. As we drove up to Broadway Tower I noticed a sign that said “bunker tours on weekends.” I was instantly intrigued. Parking the car, we saw however that Broadway Tower does not actually open until 10:00am, not 9:00am as the internet had stated. We had about 20 minutes of time to kill. We went into the gift shop/café to get our tickets. We ordered a light breakfast as well. The coffee walnut pound cake was just the pick-me-up I needed after the stale coffee and headache.

Our tour of the bunker was not slated until 10:15am so we took the opportunity to climb to the top of the tower and have an unobstructed and tourist-free view from the top. We would have to go back for the exhibits after our tour. It was cloudy and slightly foggy, not the best visibility. The mountainous hills in the distance were barely visible, we guessed that they were Wales (which apparently you can see from up there). Down below we could see some deer and sheep. We were definitely coming back to the top for a second view afterwards.

It was just us on the tour of the nuclear bunker. I had tried to spot it from the tower and turns out I had been way off. It was not at all what I had expected. It was just a small metal hatch atop some cement steps in a field near the tower. It was a 20 foot climb down a narrow ladder shaft. The bunker itself was a small room with a bunk bed in the corner and a small desk. I had been expecting a giant room with blinking lights, old computer screens and a red count-down clock and a world map with pins in it. There was a pipe in the ceiling through which the crew would measure radiation, it was now leaking rainwater. Apparently without proper maintenance and upkeep a bunker can develop leaks. It was unsettling. Climbing out of the bunker was just as awkward, as I was terrified of slipping and missing a rung and falling. It was an awkward exit, having to step off the ladder and find my footing on the cement platform. Brent held out his hand to help me and immediately the opening credits to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt popped into my head and I felt like her. It was an awesome moment. The tour guides were amazing and so nice, we learned a lot from them and it was a highlight of the trip.

Back at the top of the tower the weather had only gotten worse and the visibility poorer. It was now rainy and windy as well. We would have to Google it later to confirm whether or not the mountains had been Wales. Up next we drove to the main street in the town of Broadway. There were lots of antique shops and inns. Off in the distance we could hear dogs barking. I thought nothing of it, assuming there was a rowdy dog park or kennel nearby. Brent suggested that they were hunting dogs. I laughed it off, no way were they hunting dogs! He Googled it on his phone, lo and behold the town of Broadway is known for hunting. I still felt I needed solid proof. I followed the sounds and led us to the kennel where, in fact there were hunting dogs being kept. The dogs were so energetic, one literally jumped at least 5 feet in the air against the fence. On our way out of town we walked by a guy photographing another guy’s shoes, it was the weirdest photo shoot I had ever seen.

From there we drove to Chipping Camden. I was worried we would not find parking as there was an antiques fair going on. At the last second we found an easy spot to pull into. Walking down the street I noticed a place called the Lygon Arms. In Broadway we had almost stayed at the Lygon Arms Inn. This one had a pub and thus our lunch plans were settled. It was a quaint and old pub full of locals. One couple had their teacup Yorkie dog with them. This was my kind of pub, dogs allowed. To go with my ham & cheese toasted sandwich I had a delicious half pint of Stowford Press cider. For the sandwich I had asked for thinly sliced bread. And it was still really thick! The cheese and the ham were so flavourful and the sandwich was stuffed. It was the best toasted ham and cheese I had ever eaten. One shop had a sign advertising “super natural” Cotswalds ice cream but they only sold it in small tubs and all I wanted was a scoop.

The rain had finally let up by the time we got to Hidicote Manor Garden and now the sky was just cloudy. The gardens were stunning and absolutely gorgeous. The hedges were meticulously sculpted and there were so many flowers in bloom, we could actually smell them in the air. Couple that with the birds chirping and it was a wonderfully spent afternoon. There were sheep in field in the distance grazing. Towards the end of our tour it started raining again but oh-so-softly.

Driving back, there was a squirrel in the road. He was running in a zig-zag down the middle of the road, afraid of our car but unable to jump off on the right side because of a stone wall. We had to slow down and let him pass to the left side of the road and off into the bushes. As we passed by Broadway Tower we briefly considered going back for one last look but the clouds had not let up and the conditions appeared to be the same as earlier. Back at the hotel I tried to dry my shoes with the hair dryer and I hung my socks on the heated towel rack. The Orchard Premium cider I had was not that great, the only thing it had going for it was the cider-y taste as opposed to a juice taste. I had finished my book Primates of New York the night before, but thankfully I had downloaded The Torrents of Spring by Hemingway as well. I found the chocolate-toffee popcorn. Apparently when we had double-bagged everything yesterday it fell between the two bags. I spent the whole afternoon reading as it rained outside. I could hear the sheep bleating and the cows mooing off in the distance. I had thought dinner was at 7, turns out it was not until 7:30, meaning it was time for some TV. The channels took a second to load, leading me to unnecessarily worry that we were without TV. Luckily I found a channel playing the border security reality show.

Dinner was at the Buckland Manor House. The dress code was “smart casual,” whatever that means. Once again we got all fancied up and feared we would be surrounded by people in khakis. For once we actually fit in with the people around us. All the men, save for one, were wearing ties and jackets. Driving up to the manor I saw the cutest, fluffiest, fuzziest, littlest bunny ever and he hopped right into my heart. Walking up to the hotel I noticed a cat asleep on the outside bench and I had to stop and pet the cute calico, simply had to, even though we were running late. She did not even mind being petted, she just kept on napping.

Dinner was amazing, an absolute stand-out. All of the dishes were amazing- even the bright green pre-dinner amouse bouche. It was a green garlic foam (they called it a soup) with a parmesan breaded thing that sank to the bottom and tasted like a fry from McDonalds. Brent had the lamb, and even that was quite good. It still had a slight funky taste to it, but it was not nearly as noticeable as usual. At dinner I also found out that the poussin I had ordered was a baby chicken no more than a month old. I felt bad until I took a bite, it was so tender and delicious. The pre-dessert amouse bouche was amazing. It was a raspberry mousse with chilled mandarin pieces and coconut whipped cream. The apricot mousse and frozen yogurt dessert was equally amazing. The whole meal got an A+.

On our way out I had to stop again to pet the cat. They guy at the hotel told me that the cat was a wanderer from elsewhere and that she had a morning ritual of hunting on the property and then napping on the bench. She was so cute and soft, I wanted to take her home. Driving back we had just missed the sunset and it was starting to get dark. But it was not yet pitch dark. In the car I discovered I could loosen the strap on my heels. My feet were dented from it and it was such a relief once loosened. I wish I had known about this before.


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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 8

Thurs. May 19, 2016:

It was so hot in our room, I barely slept all night. We saw the fellow Canadians from the day before at breakfast. We had seen them checking in the day before. We both had almost the exact same breakfast as last time: Brent with the full English breakfast, me with the fruit, yogurt, granola and strawberry jam toast. But this time around the bacon was way better and the beans were optional.

Apparently at our afternoon tea the dress code specifically said no jeans, therefore we would have to be in our dress clothes for the morning. The plan was to visit the Roman Baths and then visit Bath Abbey. There was no way I would survive in my heels. I really did not want to have to carry them around in my bag all day, but I did not want to risk not being able to find a crappy pair of sandals at Primark or H&M. The idea of showing up to afternoon tea in my running shoes was too much, I packed my heels and lugged them around. At first I was wary of being seen in public in a black maxi skirt with a dressy top and running shoes, but I quickly forgot, I was so comfortable.

We started at the Roman Baths because we figured that was the more popular of the two attractions and it was only going to get busier throughout the day. We got there just after 10:30am and already there was a huge crowd. Oh no, I thought, we will have to wait forever to get in! Luckily It was just a tour group amassing outside. It was still really busy inside. More than once we found ourselves in a human traffic jam, barely able to see the exhibition cases. The audio tour guide was partly to blame. A mass of people would be walking and then suddenly everyone would halt. I did not really see the point of the audio tour guide, all the info was right there on the panels. From what I could hear (there was one lady who did not have headphones) it was a narrative presentation, with fake actors. It was so cool to see that the mineral and hot springs were still active, the surface of the water periodically broken by bubbles. Some of the original stonework was also preserved and the stuff that had been thrown into the spring was presented in cases. The coins were kind of neat. But the real interesting display was about the notes written to the gods. There were some hilarious complaints of thefts and insults carved on pewter. At the end of the self-guided tour we got to try some of the mineral water. It was awful. It was warm, slightly salty and metal-y with a sulfur end note.

Bath Abbey was not as cool to see. It was rather ordinary and nothing really stood out. I had to wait for communion service to finish before being able to take pictures. The abbey took way less time than had been expected. We now had two hours of time to kill before afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel. Primark and H&M did not have any crappy sandals that met my standards. The sandals at Marks & Spencer were way too expensive for non-leather sandals. While there though we picked up some crackers, as our next stop of the day was the Fine Cheese Co.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of cheeses. I asked for a recommendation along the lines of a nice camembert. He suggested the British version of camembert, how could we go wrong? This sounded great! For a second he seemed taken aback that I took him up on the offer. I wondered just how expensive this cheese was going to be. It wasn’t. Why was he so surprised I wondered?

We still had some extra time. What to do? Go to a pub for a quick pint of course! We went to the Star Inn, it had been on the list of potential pubs to visit from the previous night. It was a great pub, nestled in an old hotel, it was very cozy. At first I was worried, it seemed they only had Thatcher’s Gold cider on tap, and I had already tried that one. I was about to order a bottle of Reveller’s cider, the one with the pig on the label when Brent noticed that they also had Thatcher’s Cheddar Valley cider on tap. Thus saving me from having to drink more than a half pint (it was barely noon). The cider was citrus-y and almost sour, much less fizzy than other ciders I had tried before. We read the Times of London and tried to do the crossword puzzle. It was impossible, the clues were so difficult and I was not having it.

We took a long round-about way to get to the Royal Crescent Hotel and managed to get there right on time. I changed into my heels and immediately started pining for my running shoes. By the time we sat down my feet were already hurting. We ordered the traditional afternoon tea service that had sandwiches, scones and mini-desserts. It was too early in the day for champagne. Once again, I got to choose both teas. For Brent I selected the Golden Assam because it sounded super fancy. For myself I ordered the superior oolong, the clue as to why is in the name. The description also called it a rare tea. We started with the scone and “Bath bun” (which was really just a scone with raisins and orange peel) because they were warm and therefore the butter would melt. Up next were the sandwiches, providing us with a much needed break from the sweet, in order of best to worst: salmon, egg salad, roast beef, chicken). The macaron was way better, not nearly as dense as at the Pump Room. The guy at the table next to us was in jeans, what is the point of a dress code? Why was I suffering through wearing heels?! I was annoyed from early on because I got strawberry jam on my finger and it was sticky throughout the meal. At the other table next to us was a family with an infant. When I looked back, the child had fallen asleep in the high chair, with his head resting where his food would have been. I changed my shoes in the bathroom, rather than outside of the hotel, there was no way I was going to spend one extra minute in those damn things. As we walked we passed a girl who was walking barefoot and carrying her shoes, the cobblestones being a bad mix with high heels. I felt smart for my less-than-fashionable shoe choice.

The drive to our next hotel, the fancy Ston Easton was not great at times. There were small tight roads, one of which had the speed limit of 50mi/h! We passed a field of cows near the hotel, I wished I could photograph them but they were far from the main entrance and there were no sidewalks and it would be too far to walk anyways. As we unpacked the car I could hear a rooster off in the distance, I really wanted to go find it. The hotel had a resident cocker spaniel named Oscar, I was anticipating a lot of cute. Alas he was not there when we checked in, someone had taken him for a walk.

There were rain clouds looming overhead, but that did not stop us. Once I changed out of my dress clothes and into jeans we went for a walk around the grounds to see the estate. There was a nice little creek running behind the house, with lush rolling hills and even a mini forest. We could hear a sheep bleating like mad. We went to look and we saw him peering down at us from the top of the hill. We could not tell if he was stuck in the fence or just being loud. We could not get any closer as the hill was steep and full of trees. Further along the trail we saw the rest of the field. It was full of really loud sheep. Turns out this was just a really vocal flock. We could not find the old icebox but we did find the ruined grotto. A cat emerged from the bushes, he was a beautiful grey but it looked like he had a tumour on his right shoulder. It was a sad sight to see. He was so friendly and cute and lovable, he followed us around, rubbing against our legs. He stuck with us for the rest of our walk, even going so far as to venture alongside Brent into the estate’s pet cemetery. He enjoyed making biscuits on our feet as well. Eventually we came across an old building that had a water dish, a food dish and a kennel cage. This was a cared-for outdoor cat it turned out. The cat stopped short at the edge of the parking lot, he seemed to be afraid of cars. At least we did not have to worry about him following us back into the hotel or getting hurt.

At the front desk we asked for a butter knife and a beer opener. They brought it to our room instead. The guy opened our beers for us, because this was the only beer opener in the hotel. For some reason they included a plate of butter with our butter knife.  As we unpacked our bags we noticed a rather funny smell. Turns out it was the cheese and it dawned on us that without a fridge we would have to eat all the cheese that afternoon. The Turnworth Soft Cheese was only like a camembert in texture, in taste it was like a camembert but with a lot of corn flavour to it. It was weird and I could only eat so much, washing it down with the Stella Artois raspberry cider.

Apparently the hotel had a helipad but I had not seen it on the walk. Maybe it was the grass lawn beside the parking lot? We had time before dinner, so we settled in and watched TV, periodically complaining about the cheese. It had started stinking up the whole room. The internet was being wonky, so we alternated between streaming Silicon Valley on the computer and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on the iPad. It was a brilliant plan, watch one while the other buffers and alternate.

We were having dinner in the hotel and I had to get all fancily dressed up again, even though they had seen me wandering around in jeans and a sweatshirt earlier. Again I was mad about having to wear heels. My feet were throbbing as soon as I had put them on. We were seated at a small table facing the windows, looking out onto the back lawn of the house with the forest and the creek in full view. It was only after ordering that we were walked into the main dining room, to a more reasonably sized table for dinner. It was a tad confusing. We had quite the debate over the menu. We had two options: a 5 course prix-fixe or a la carte with a two (starter and main or main and dessert) or all three. I had wanted the quail, but that was a starter and with a main (there was no way I was passing up dessert) it would be too much food. Brent ended up ordering the 3 item option with the quail starter, of which I stole a few bites. His main was the lamb shanks, so I did not trade him the pork cheeks and belly main halfway through. For dessert I had the espresso-based sponge mousse option, who can say no to coffee-based and with a side of ice cream? Brent went with the 5 Somerset cheeses. I was still not convinced that England was any good at making cheese. Brent gave me two to try. The first one was goat cheese, an immediate flop. One was OK, and the other three looked so unappetizing I could not even sample them. Alongside my dessert I had a small glass of Bristol cream sherry. The dinner was delicious, one of the best of the trip so far. Plus we had made a bet with the wager being a bag of Skittles, dinner is always more exciting that way.

We tried to check out the library but there were people in there having dinner, making it really awkward for us to play chess. We never did end up finding the billiards table. On our way back to the room we stopped in the front hall. Oscar the dog was resting in a chair, the perfect opportunity to pet him.

The internet was still being crappy, we weren’t sure if we would be able to watch Game of Thrones online. I wrapped the stinky cheese in a plastic bag and threw it in the garbage. I was so mad that it tasted so bad and had now stunk up the whole room. I walked into the bathroom and realized that before we left for dinner I had not turned off the light in there. And the window had been re-opened. Apparently the hotel does turn-down service without leaving a treat or a note on the pillow. I had to settle for reading my book without a snack.

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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel


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♪It’s The Most Wonderful… *meow*…♪

This happens to be Mruczka’s first Christmas. I have been flooded with questions about how Mruczka is taking all this in. How is she dealing with their being a Christmas tree in the house? Is she attacking the presents? Is she excited for the arrival of Santa? Or jealous that there is someone else with a comparable beard in the spotlight right now? Is she done her Christmas shopping yet?!


The tree: at first she was cautious about approaching it. She would slowly, almost crawl towards it. Then the vacuum cleaner was brought out to clean up the post-set-up mess. She had been locked in my room to keep away from the tree being set-up, as in kept out from underfoot. As soon as she heard the vacuum cleaner she freaked. She ended up crawling under my covers and hiding.

After that scary incident she slowly approached the tree, circled it, and plotzed underneath. The tree is in one of her usual sitting spots. Now, she is not scared of it anymore. As evidenced by all the pine needles and twigs stuck to her butt and her really poofy tail.

This morning I also caught her red-handed… or should I say glitter-nosed? She had managed to bat a glittery snowflake ornament off the tree. When I went over to see what was the matter, for she had caused such a clatter… her nose and whiskers were covered in glitter.

Later on, Camilla and Lucy were wrapping presents (like Elves) and Mruczka sat on the desk looking down on them, making sure they were working hard (like Santa). I thought I would have some fun with the situation and loaded a wonderful playlist on Camilla’s phone… of the Jingle Cats medleys. Mruczka was immediately intrigued. Where was it coming from? She started sniffing and pawing the phone. And then she almost fell off the desk. Another song came on, she jumped back up onto the desk… and nearly fell off the other side. She was purring like crazy and so cuddly. Who knew that Jingle Cats was the way to chill out a cat?

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Adventures of Pinka!


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Hated Hat

I feel sorry for anyone who either works in a portrait studio this time of year or has undertaken pet photography for the Christmas season. I thought it would be a cute and fun activity to get our cat, Mruczka, all dolled up and ready for Christmas, this being her first one. Bad idea. From the get-go she hated it. Even when we bribed her with treats.

She now attacks the Santa hat whenever she sees it and is pensive about receiving treats or when we put her on the couch (where the first photo shoot took place). Eventually she fell asleep and we got the hat on her head. But then her eyes were closed! And I had to shoot on a high ISO with a small point & shoot (she also now does not like my D-SLR because of the first shoot).

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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Adventures of Pinka!


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