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Curl up on a sofa, with a glass of wine and a bookshop.

I have never had lemonade (limonade) like they make it in Bratislava. The Midget mutters about how lemonade should be predominantly lemony, but I’ve been persuaded to disagree. So far I’ve drunk strawberry, raspberry and ginger versions. Each comes in a half litre jug with a straw and sometimes a sundae spoon. The jug is crowded with flavour: your chosen fruit, ice, lemon, syrup and appropriate flavour leaves, i.e. mint with raspberry.  The strawberry version had large pieces of strawberry, the ginger was slightly fiberous and the raspberry left you with seeds between your teeth. Each was incredible.

The coffee here is also pretty glorious. The local bookshop offers 17 varieties of espresso. It offers a similar number of wines too, the Slovakians like their wines and I love their prices.

And this is all within a bookshop. Waterstones could learn a lot. In the children’s section there is a tent set out with cushions, and a chess board and games. Whilst the rest of the shop is immaculately tidy, the children’s section looks like children have been there. In the scrapbooking area there is a table and chairs for workshops, and upstairs, in the centre of the room is an area set out for talks – rows and rows of chairs wait expectantly. And unlike Waterstones where you find a few token chairs and sofas, this bookshop had sofas, stools and chairs everywhere, yet doesn’t feel overcrowded.

It’s not just the bookshop which anticipates what people actually want.

In the square near the Danube there was the same theme of plentiful seating. Here there were deckchairs, beanbags and park benches. Again, there was a chess set, this time ginormous, and books – some sort of free for all library or second hand depository?

I have a good feeling about Bratislava. Have you visited yet?

[Posted from the tablet whilst travelling]

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On looking after small people.

If I’m not careful the Midget will have written more about this trip of ours than I have. I’m blaming this on the fact that she’s completely trusting me to have everything organised and sorted. Since we’re travelling with only the vaguest of plans (we’re going to be in Prague in 2 and a half weeks) it means that part of my brain is in constant calculation.

The Midget is a solid leader in many situations, as far as I can tell ever single one in which I’m not around. However I’ve spent years brainwashing her into thinking that my way is the best way. Being the big sister means you’ve got to be aware that this youngerling has spent their life following you.

Hence we were the last (bar one) onto the plane out of Heathrow. And hence the twenty minutes of confused wandering just off the wrong street named mariasomething or other in Vienna. And hence the ‘oh dear all the shops are shut on a Sunday – what are we going to eat – dilemma.

Oops.

And today she missed some of the fishing huts along the edge of the Danube (I have sketches in my diary that I’ll locate when I’ve got a real computer), because I’d worn her out dragging her around viennese parks late last night (yes we almost got locked in – I was too busy prancing around pretending to be a greek goddess). Under the influence of the gentle song of the catamaran engine she fell asleep.

I’m doing ok. As far as I can tell, her biggest complaint is that cake doesn’t constitute breakfast, lunch and dinner. I bought some plums to balance her diet out. It was the first time I managed to find someone who didn’t speak English better than me, it was a lady who only spoke german.

The lady asked me what I’d like, and then a series of would you like that in a bag etc, with me answering first in Italian, Spanish or French and then in English before finally twisting my tounge into German. How do multilingual people cope?

I finally got to “dankeschon” and she laughed bemused uttering a sweet “auf wiedersehen”.

I’m not a natural linguist, although I’m making headway.

We’re now in Slovakia, and since I’m not so lucky as to have learnt slovak, I found myself at that awkward moment of not even knowing how to say ‘thanks’ as we paid for our groceries.

Luckily the very kind man in the ice cream shop (40p for an ice cream…) didn’t mind slowly repeating “dakujeme” until I got it.

[Posted from the tablet whilst travelling]

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Picnics, cobbles and the best of the world’s cyclists

Tour de France (in Yorkshire) – Day 2

no mass on sunday

Saturday was a practice. Sunday was serious business. So serious that God was cancelled.

Stereotypically the women in the family made sandwiches and wrapped up cake. I’m not sure what the men were doing. I shuffled fresh memory cards into my camera, poked the Boyfriend who was on the rocking chair and put on my boots. The hill up to our chosen spot was steep. I’m a little worried that when I take my bike up North in August that I’m not going to actually be able to get up it.

The Boyfriend and the Midget led the way, the Grandmother and I followed not far behind.

The team split, the Grandparents and the Father found somewhere for coffee, whilst the Midget, The Boyfriend, The Mother and I took our positions along the roadside at the perfect spot selected during Saturday evening’s reconnaissance mission.

And then we waited.

Ten minutes later I unwrapped my cake. Then the sandwiches. The cake was particularly excellent. I had two pieces, one baked by the Mother, the other baked by the Grandmother. I ate both greedily.

The caravan and the entertainment

Eventually the caravan passed, all except from the gigantic Fruit-shoot bottles and the Yorkshire Tea teapot. Presumably because it was a cobbled road and the incline steep. The Midget stood across the road from me. Every vehicle that drove past threw their goodies at her, much to the dismay of the young man (boy) sat in front of me. When after much grumbling a freebie was thrown at him he missed it. It bounced. Rolled under a car, and he spent the next five minutes hunting a driveway for a piece of plastic rubbish.

Once the caravan had passed, and we’d thoroughly cheered on police cars and advertisements, the entertainment started.

A man, bottom half fairy and top half sheep, who hobbled up and down the hill in his cycling shoes feeling almost as foolish as he looked.

The village idiot led a Mexican wave. He named those at the bottom of the hill Cambridge, ourselves in the middle Yorkshire, and those above Scotland. Then he danced up and down the hill shouting wildly, politely responding to all endeavours to move him off the road, but never actually moving. Occasionally Cambridge got it and the Mexican wave went from the top of the hill to the bottom.

Then the village idiot got his photo with the French attendant, whom he named Maurice, and with the fairy-sheep. The French attendant, responsible for keeping some semblance of order on our patch of the road, took the village idiot in his stride, unlike some of the other road guardians who were less impressed.

He probably had more fun that way.

The village idiot found a man who had recently had a birthday and the street burst out into a rendition of ‘happy birthday’.

Further up the street the Grandparents climbed on chairs to get a good view of the route. My suggestion had been to take walking sticks and behave like they were old and decrepit. Apparently they’re much too young for that.

Narrowly avoiding being run over by the bikes

When the time came I skipped across the road, and crouched with my camera on the curb.

Up the hill in Haworth - Tour de France (in Yorkshire)

Some journalist even took a picture of us.

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The bleak North, where everything is grim, but the bikes are shiny

Tour de France (or Yorkshire) – Day 1

Essential preparations for watching the tour

We took the train to Skipton.  On arrival The Mother declared it coffee time. I don’t know I’ve ever been to Skipton before, but we soon found a coffee shop, with seating for all five of us (Parents, Midget, Boyfriend and I). How the Father manages such magic is beyond my comprehension.

When the Midget and the Father are involved, coffee has a tendency to become second breakfast. After three full English breakfasts, two toasted teacakes, three orange juices, two coffees, a tea, a hot chocolate with cream and a ‘Tour de Yorkshire‘ magnet, we returned to Skipton’s heaving streets to watch the caravan.

The caravan

The caravan is a form of marketing in another league to my work. It’s a carnival of big brands, many of them French. Despite both being short and behind a substantial pack of excited Northerners, Midget and Mother got to work at catching freebies..

The best of the freebies were the Haribo, and despite both Mother and Midget catching Haribo, neither offered me a single sweet.

Once the caravan had passed our group split. The parents were less bothered in actually getting close to the cyclists, whereas the Boyfriend was on a mission.

Finding the perfect spot

He led the Midget and I away from the high street, and into one of the fields on the edge of the town. We trekked across this field. Of course I was unprepared and only wearing flimsy pumps. We strode up the hill to find a gate, or rather the Boyfriend strode and the Midget and I tried to keep up. In the next field we weren’t so lucky, whilst we could see the road we couldn’t find a gate. Since we’d vaguely followed a footpath, ish, and as there were people in the next field, we skipped over the barbed wire fence and hopped over a wall.

The crowds were thinner here than they had been in town, but it wasn’t good enough for the Boyfriend, so we continued walking up the hill, towards Leeds and Harrogate. Here we found a roundabout, with enough space that we could quite comfortably sit on the tarmac.

Some small children joined us. Small children can be a blessing as sat in front of us they were small enough to not obstruct our sight, but when a man came and stood in front of us all, blocking our view, I didn’t have any reservation about asking him to please move. The children’s parents, who had been tensing in that protective parent manner, vocalised their support for my gentle persuasion. The Boyfriend rolled his eyes and the Midget gave me a look as if to say ‘only my sister’, but the children enjoyed their front line view.

The bicycle race

mark cavendish tour de france 2014

Mark Cavendish is the blurred man in the middle. My photography skills, like my cycling, are improving, but only slowly. I know so little about bicycle races that I have no clever observation to write here.

After the race – getting home, slowly

Of course, once the cyclists had whizzed passed. And it took all of 20 seconds. We set off back down the hill into Skipton to get the train home. If you saw any of the TV footage you’ll have realised that every Yorkshireman, and many non-Yorkshire men were on the Tour route. The streets were crowded. Every now and again a rogue police car or ambulance tried to make its way through the crowds and catch up with the cyclists. Everyone was suddenly thrown to the sides torn between their desire to hurry onwards and the urge to cheer at every passing vehicle.

I let the Boyfriend and Midget wander off together to watch more of the tour on the big screen in the centre of the town, whilst I popped into a shop and bought some walking boots. We then headed back towards the train station, via the fire station where the Midget and I bought cups of Yorkshire tea. You could also buy plastic fireman hats but they were too small for my head.

By this time the queue to the train station wasn’t too bad. There was a band playing whilst we waited in the sunshine, and railway staff and police handed out free bottles of water to anyone who looked even slightly thirsty.

Back at the house, we met up with the Grandparents who had come to visit for a barbecue and ready to join us for the Tour, day 2…

 

Did you get to see any of the bicycle madness?

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Luncheon and some posh frescos

Setting: A monastery in the beautiful Italian countryside that was converted for living in by none monks. The walls were decorated with the original Napolionic frescos from the time Napolean popped in for a visit.

Food: Bread, soup, pasta, more pasta of different variety, salmon, potatoes, fennel, strawberries, more strawberries, cherries, and some sort of pastry thing.

Drinks: Alcoholic and voluminous.

Guests: Of mixed nationality, perfumed and wearing loud jewellery.

Transportation: Open top car, driven by the Italian Stallion.

It all sounds pretty perfect. The food was good, the views from the monastery were stunning. Racing through the Italian countryside in an open top car in the sunshine was exhilarating and on arrival, windswept and grinning with a bottle of wine in my hands, we were met by a flurry of hand shakes and cheek kisses.

Cautiously we stepped into the monastery, I accepted a glass of prosecco and meandered through the rooms staring at the ceilings, floors and walls. The most impressive was the Napoleonic frescoes which included small smiling faces of some of the monks who had been there when Napoleon visited peering down from the ceiling.

Soup was brought out, and I quickly ate some bread to help absorb alcohol. My glass was being regularly refilled by many of the gracious men who passed by with a bottle in their hands.

But there it all kind of stopped.

At a K-town party (ie. one of my tribes’ parties, including the mother’s fancy dress party) there’s a general feeling that you don’t want it to all come to an end. People may be tired and in need of a moment of solitude, but there’s an overwhelming tug towards staying just that little longer. The accumulation of people, those friends, it’s all something incredibly special. There’s a just one more song feeling.

The monastery luncheon had a ‘done my due now’ feeling about it. And to add to that, the bathroom wasn’t exactly clean either.

 

[Written last year but not published.]

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