Christmas 2017

Is it too late to tell you about my Christmas last year? I know it’s already February but I figure while I’m into this documentation craze (Here are my recent posts from my summer travels, 1, 2, 3, 4) I might as well include our little London Christmas.

We have had a lot of very different Christmases since leaving New Zealand 8 years ago. I did a recap of these in 2015. We then spent last Christmas with family and friends in New Zealand. 20171225_005938This Christmas started unexpectedly with a trip to Westminster for midnight mass. A friend let us know that she had some tickets going as she couldn’t use them, so we jumped at the chance to get inside Westminster Abbey and experience the great church at work (and for free!).

Before we left for Westminster, we had our first Christmas Skype session with my Mum, and sisters,Claire and Nikki. They were waking up on Christmas morning so we opened presents together and got into the Christmas spirit and buzz of the day.

We had a heap of presents at home under our flower bouquet Christmas tree which were mainly food based and we couldn’t resist sampling a few. So we were full of Marshmallow Santas and Whittakers chocolate when we met Ange and Helen at the station. Yum!

Although not a church-goer myself I really enjoyed the Midnight Mass experience. It was a nice way to get into the spirit – singing Christmas carols and listening to the sermons in the great hall. We weren’t supposed to take pictures inside but I did sneak a few as it was hard not to. The hall was lit with candles and had the nativity scene set up in the middle of the hall. As we spilled out into the quiet night, we said goodbye to Helen and Ange for a few hours and went home for hot drinks and bed.

We woke up Christmas morning for my Skype sessions, me with my dad and sisters after their evening meal and Ben with his parents while he prepared the turkey.

We cooked the turkey at our flat and then walked 15 minutes down the road with it to get to our friends place where they were cooking the veges. Some other friends bought hand glazed ham too! It was such a feast.

This is us turning up with our hot turkey in a bag “resting” and a pot of gravy. Too funny!

For dessert I made chocolate tarts and my first ever pavlova. Luckily it turned out fine, although probably a little bit big on reflection – there was about half left over after.20171225_173825Delicious Christmas pudding was another addition to the desert table so we were well sorted.

After eating our fill and then some, we opened Secret Santa presents – I got these elfie selfie photo props so we had to give them a go.

We then settled in for the longest game of Monopoly I think I have ever played. After a mammoth run, I think it was about 3 hours (although a few people tapped out before the end), we finished the game. Ben was the winner, and enjoyed it way too much. Although an orphan family, we did manage some squabbles about the rules too. Classic!

Thanks for an awesome Christmas orphan friends! I wonder where we will all be for Christmas in 2018…?

 

 

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Summer City Break: Porto

Porto was the last stop on our 10 day summer city break after four days in Madrid for the Madcool Festival, then a few nights in Lisbon. We caught the train from Lisbon to Porto so our welcome to this beautiful city was the stunning São Bento train station. The interior is covered in azulejo tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history. It was truly stunning and worth checking out, even if you don’t arrive by train.

We then wandered through the city on the lookout for our next Airbnb apartment. We were situated in downtown Porto in the Ribeira historic centre and again had a balcony with a stunning view of the Douro River. I was super organised for this trip and managed to book the accommodation months in advance and it really paid off. 20170713_Porto_Day7_012020170713_Porto_Day7_0124^^ You might also spot a decanter of Port sitting next to me, a very nice welcome present from the host. Ben made the most of that throughout our stay.20170713_204953After basking in the sun for a few hours overlooking the riverside we decided to go down and explore it. There were heaps of people out and eating in the early evening dusk, but as we wandered past the restaurants it looked like there was two extremes, either really lovely Michelin-esque places or overpriced tourist traps – neither of which suited us that night (I’m sure we could have found something by getting on Trip advisor but we were following our feet that night). So we walked up from the riverside promenade to the city centre and ended up at a cheap and cheerful Chinese Restaurant.

I hadn’t done much research about what to do in Porto, it being the end of our trip but I did know that we had to get to a port house and we had to go to the Livraria Lello bookshop.

Livraria Lello is credited with inspiring the Hogwarts library form JK Rowling and it is easy to see why stepping inside.

You line up (it definitely helps to book tickets in advance online) and enter the most lavishly ornate shop on the street but you can’t see inside it’s so dark compared to outside. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0078As your eyes adjust to the change in light this amazing staircase comes to life in front of you. Are you feeling like Hermione yet?

You climb the well-worn red stairs and find yourself in the library of your dreams.

Don’t forget to look up, it’s pretty spectacular from all angles. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0021Of course it’s no secret, so you will be sharing the space with hundreds of other tourists. Once you can’t take the crowds anymore head out and have a wander around the neighbourhood.

We went for quite a walk actually and headed over the Dom Luis bridge to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River. This is where all the port houses are. The only one we had heard of before was Taylors so we decided to head there.

Our friends, who had been in Porto the previous weekend, had raved about the brilliant coffee cart they had found by chance and told us to look out for the green van. So when a green van came into view as we stepped off the bridge we thought it was the perfect time for a much-needed refreshment stop. We will second their recommendation, Combi Coffee is awesome. I got a milky iced tea and we sat looking back over the river.

It was so hot outside so it was nice to finally make it (up the hill!) to Taylor’s port house and enter the temperature controlled cellars. We did a self paced audio tour with a tasting in the gardens at the end. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0192

^^ Some pretty peahens joined us for our tipple, too.

On a bit of a schedule for our day in Porto, we couldn’t linger, although we would have loved to (must go back!) and we caught an Uber to make it to our next meeting point in time.

This was for our Taste Porto food tour. We did the Downtown Porto Food Tour which starts near the Bolhão food market. We got a walking tour of the city, along with its interesting history and ate so much food along the way. By the time we finished the three and a half hour tour we were so full we couldn’t even contemplate dinner. Such a great way to experience the city and really good value for money. Do this if you go to Porto!

My highlight was the different flavoured éclairs from Leitaria Da Quinta Do Paco. Sweets of course! I think Ben’s was the cured meats and flame grilled sausage from Taberna Do Largo. This is a great little bar and we hung about after chatting American politics with the honeymooning American couple on our tour. I felt bad as Trump had just been elected so they must have been defending their country the whole trip.

We spent the rest of the night perched above the river drinking our port and plotting how we can stay in this city forever. I definitely think we saved the best city for last. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0373We slept late on our last full day of holiday and had a great value breakfast in what we thought was a cute cafe, but it turns out that it is an Argentinian steak restaurant called Belos Aires. The decor is somewhat misleading but they do a nice all you can eat continental breakfast.  20170715_Porto_Day9_0015It’s in the Baxia area, which is worth going to as the streets look like this ^^^.

Being our summer holiday, we were determined to spend our last day on the beach. So we headed out to Foz which is where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean and a nice seaside town. Our Airbnb host recommended we take the tram that almost left from our doorstep and follows the river out to the sea.

Ben was a bit excited about tram riding! So much old school mechanics.

When we arrived at about 12 o’clock, the beach was still shrowded in fog. We wandered along the promenade and out to the wharf, hoping it would burn off. Some locals were already set up on the beach, although you could barely see the water in front of them. We took it as a sign that eventually the sun would come out.

We realised as we waited around, that we were a bit matchy. We are big fans of mint green, apparently.20170715_Porto_Day9_0136Happily, the sun came out strong in the end and we lay in the sun taking intermittent dips in the sea all afternoon. Bliss!

Ben then snapped photos all the way home on the tram and even managed to get a pose from some hangers on.

20170715_Porto_Day9_0209We waved goodbye to the tram and headed back up to our all too welcoming balcony. There was a decanter of port to finish – not to mention some white wine for me, too.

After what seemed like a whole week of great eating we struck out by saving the best for last, Tapabento. Don’t miss this place while in Porto. I had rung up to try to get a reservation as we arrived and the only time they could accommodate us, was for an early lunch just before we flew out.

We were one of their first sittings for the day, but as we got through our meal it soon filled up. For good reason, the food here is exquisite. We shared two starters, one main (the wild prawn risotto) and a desert. 20170716_133417Look at me staring lovingly at that fruit of the forest tart. I really wished I had ordered one all to myself! A great way to end the trip. We left so satisfied and raving about Portuguese food and hospitality all the way back to Luton.

Porto – I really hope we will be back soon!