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Day two – London to Milan

And now our train trip really began – with an early morning walk to the monument of travel that is St Pancreas international station.

We boarded the Eurostar with a slight familiarity of airport travel with queues, security and passport controls and then slept our way to France. The tunnel was a blur of about 20 minutes of darkness until we immerged into  France. Going at about 200km per hour, the trip lasted just over two hours and  dropped us in Gare du Nord. A quick metro trip to the Gare du Lyon brought us to the famous Train Bleu, a very stylish restaurant that we had wanted to have breakfast in.  In fact, whenever I talked about the travel plan, the sentence “ and then we’ll have breakfast in Paris” was my favourite.

A traditional part of old style travel, I thought and the décor most certainly reminded of Hercule Poiort movies. The food however, was a sad let down and very average.  A selection of bread which I had ordered in hope, turned out to be an old mini baguette and 2 slices of sliced pan…. My French was not up to commenting as I would have liked to but the review on google and trustpilot most certainly will. A gilded ceiling and age old tradition means nothing without good food. Maybe, lunch and dinner would be worth it but we didn’t stay long enough to find out.

Instead we went for a quick walk to the Seine and two hours later boarded the next TGV to Milan. The same classy train, very comfortable with power sockets and wifi and the amazing ever changing scenery as the plains of central France with their huge cereal fields turn into a southern looking agriculture with fields of sunflower and the alps in the distance. As I write this, the train that was nearly flying before, has moved past Lyons and we ‘re moving into lower alps around Grenoble. Going at a much slower pace, we head to the coffee shop for a late lunch and love our travels.

 The dining car, as it used to be called, is now an open standing area which, since we all have been sitting for ever, makes a lot more sense. Lunch was an unexpectedly nice quinoa salad and a beer with tea and biscuits to follow. As the alps turned to the plains of northern Italy, we arrived to Milan Garibaldi and the BAM ( Biblioteca degli Alberi park), an incredible urban area designed by a Dutch studio called inside Outside, it is part of the Porta Nuova urban project and comprises 10 hectares of extensions and a botanical collection. We knew nothing of the design and the ideas behind this project when we walked through it on our way to our hotel. Quite tired and on a mission to drop the bags and find some food, the impact of this space was still pretty amazing.

It made us think about the best of urban architecture and it made Milan look as if they were getting planning right, bringing nature back to the city and using the best of high rise architecture to do so.  The Vertical Forest Boeri Studio looked amazing. Aparently it won the International Highrise award in 2014 and hosts terraces with 800 trees, 11 000 plants and 5000 shrubs with a total of over 900 different species. Impressive !!!

However, our aim was  the “Best Hotel”.  A simple 2star hotel on a lovely quiet square in the centre of Milan brought the day to a very relaxing close especially as we found a great restaurant three doors up. Everyone at “Frijenno Magnanno” was  incredibly nice to the Irish with absolutely no word of Italian. He brought us courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and we decided on pizza and pasta and red wine and sat on the street in the mild evening in Milan. After month of planning, the travel days turned out magnificent.

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Day One of 20/60 – overland to Greece

After the Bread round gets off the Hamster wheel and travels to Greece overland. We called it 20/60!!!

From Bramblestown ……

After the bread round gets off the hamster wheel – and embarks on a long planned overland trip to Greece. As you may realise, we are long back and have been baking again for the last week but I did write while we were away and I would like to share my thoughts on this trip – and practise writing and blogging so please bear with me as I take you from Bramblestown in Gowran to London and then over land by train to Greece.                                                                                                                 This trip was long planned and well prepared. Exactly 40 years apart, my son and I  planned a trip for our 20/60 year and settled on Greece because we share an interest in ancient civilisations.

carrying the bags…….

He gave us both books to study for Christmas and since then I was reading about ancient Greece or rather working my way very slowly through a book that presumed much more education and knowledge than I actually have. But I persevered and gathered at least some knowledge. The deal was that I would pay for accommodation and travel and he would pay for food – and carry my bags all the way!!!

Speltbakers closes for three weeks in July and we set off nearly immediately (once the sourdough were fed and in the fridge and all the necessary paperwork was either done or packed) I had long wanted to try a longer overland trip but still we cheated at the start – and flew from Dublin to London. Over the years travelling to Germany with the car every summer, the ferry from Rosslaire to Pembroke and the trip all the way along the M4 to London are old friends that, for this trip, were deemed too expensive.  As a holiday start, Dublin airport however, did not at all compare to the ferryport in Rosslaire. I much prefer the summer journeys that start with a sunset or an early morning in Rosslaire and ferry travel is so much more travel than the  busy airport with its still massive queues, long waits and tight spaces.

Cartwright gardens

Anyhow, I appreciated the fast option, we took it and we arrived in London before midday on our first day of travel. Found our tiny room in Cartwright gardens right in the middle of London and settled right in. It was advertised as a studio apartment and looked like a room. On closer inspection however, we opened a cupboard – and found the kitchen sink and kettle and further search even unearthed cups, plates and saucepans. A very good value overnight for inner city London but as long term accommodation, which it obviously was, a little bit of an insight into city life and its lack of space! For lunch we found an ale house and I forced the travel companion to abandon the safe toasted sandwich and have a steak and kidney pie –  a first culinary success. On our way, we passed the British Museum in all its glory and discovered that as chance would have it, the exhibition “Luxury and Power: Persia to  Greece “ was in its last few days. Fate obviously and we immediately got tickets.

The British Museum

The British museum is an amazing place of flamboyant architecture and collections – all to be seen some other time. Today, we concentrated on three rooms of exhibits and for the very first time in my  60 years, I felt reasonably well educated. Having studied ancient Greece since Christmas, I recognised at least some names, wars, eras and problems and loved the amazing luxury and flamboyance of ancient Persia and how Athens tried to resist, realising -over 2000 years ago- that luxury and super wealth of few are a threat to democracy.

In the evening, we met the older brother of the 20 part of this journey who lives in England and together went to see the Mouse trap in St Martin’s theatre. In its 70 year and as the longest running play in the world, a must see if you’re in London. Our last plays in the West End had been the amazing Lion King with its flamboyant and brilliant dance, music and pageantry and the equally amazing Bad Cinderella  with its rotating stage and fabulous sets ( and brilliant story line and music). Here I was loving a play that is older than me and has one set and no costume changes. A classic murder mystery from the Queen of mysteries. I highly recommend it and no – I won’t say who did it!!!  The evening ended sitting in the street in the Spaghetti house, sharing pizza and feeling immense gratitude for family and the ability and gift of travel and looking forward to getting on the train tomorrow.

Quote of the Day: From Juvenal ( about AD 55 -130) Roman satirical poet 

Now we are suffering the calamities of long peace.

Luxury has settled down on us, crueller than fighting, avenging the world we’ve conquered….

…. It was filthy money that first imported foreign ways, and effete wealth that corrupted our era with its disgusting decadence.

( part of the Luxury and power: Persia to Greece exhibition in the British Museum)

….. to London

Place and meaning: We stayed in Cartwright Gardens named after John Cartwright who lived from 1710 to 1821. There is a statue and plaque to him in the gardens as a “firm, consistent and persevering advocate of Universal Suffrage, equal representation, vote by ballot and annual parliaments”. Apparently he was a naval officer who refused to “ draw his sword against the rising Liberties” The statue was erected in “sincere admiration of his unblemished virtue”   

On our way to find the roots of democracy, we already found one very determined democrat here in the middle of London.

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the pleasure of success

The Pleasure of Success

I have spend the last 2 hours trying to change text on my website. My son built the web site and left me a detailed page as to how to edit. Now this was in the summer but I take a while to get around to things……

I actually managed to change text boxes, which is sadly very easy but then I wanted to add a link ( also quite easy) and I could do it because do I know what an URL is???? anyhow, I persevered and to my major delight actually managed to put the right link onto the word here on the homepage. Check out our stockists and market here, now brings you to the right page, where you can actually check out our stockists and markets. Oh, the delight of success! when you do not give up and refer back to same son but persevere. Delighted with myself and with the website that is now back up to date and , rather than advertising a baking course that was over two month ago, now announces the fact that halloween barmbracks will only be available for another few days.

Wish I was my cat

I am so easily pleased and will now try and add a picture to this blog. Well, that really wasn’t hard. The cat enjoying the gazebo on a day off. Now all that remains is to figure out how this will look on the website and to write sensible blogs from now on.Upwards and onwards. Anyone any ideas how to access this on my phone……………. a problem definetly for another day. The kettle is on and Savour weekend has been spent very well making the new website my own.

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Look up

Actually stuck with the plan and have been “running” nearly every morning. Barring market days – which are a very credible excuse – I have been out every day. I walk/run to “the tree”, a tree about one mile away which has forever been the minimum measure of any outdoor activity in this family. “I’ve been “to the tree” covers anything involving movement. So “the tree” is the aim as I persevere to try and turn the walk into a run with today possibly the first day where the run element was longer than the walk and ‘meet neighbours on the road and gossip’ element. Anyhow, we’re on track to survive moving for 10km and new runners have added a huge element of bounce that I thought was gone forever.

Also, the famous van has been bought and has arrived. Actually it has not really been bought, it has been signed for and will be mine in about 5 years time all going well. It is brilliant and thanks for your advice, the five seater van it is and the most useful car I ever had it is also going to be.

After the bread round took the new van to Limerick on Monday to take some measurements for a kitchen that will require a trip to IKEA over Easter. Driving on the motorway takes on a new dimension in a new car. No more listening to the engine making funny noises or the left front wheel rattling or wondering if the boot unlocked itself again. Basically, you have more time and leisure to look around and people/car watch which is a great hobby of mine. I love to watch and guess who does what why and who with and I would love to be able to write stories. I am a great fan of the late and amazing Maeve Binchy who did just that with amazing skill. So anyway, traveling on the M7, there was car stopped on the hard shoulder going the other way and a couple in a big white wedding dress and tux where there with their photographer posing for wedding pics. Now, apart from it being illegal, why would you do that? Boring stretch of road, no county boundary – or was it the boundary between Offally and Limerick? Was he the AA man and they met here when she had a break down? Did they crash their cars here and are now married? Did she have a break down and he stopped to help or did he have a flat and she stopped to change the tyre – and two years later to the day , they come back on their wedding day? See, the story is there to be written, I am just not good enough to pick it up. So frustrating and so annoying that I don’t actually have the nerve to stop and ask. Maeve Binchy apparently once fell off her chair in a coffee shop because she was leaning into the conversation at the next table. I have not quite done that yet but I would love to know the background to these many snapshots of other people’s lives that we see around us every day.  “Look up” is the name of a video widely shown on Facebook to illustrate what you miss when you permanently look into your own playdevice. It’s a great video, look it up and look around you and please , if anyone should know that couple on the M7 heading Dublin way last Monday, why the picture on the hard shoulder????? Maybe her parents house stood there before the motorway got built….. maybe they met there 10 years ago demonstrating against the new motorway…… please does anyone know??

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Easter in Limerck

Sitting in Jack Monday’s coffee house at Thomond bridge in Limerick. After a great weekend in a building site in Limerick and in the Burren in Clare, it’s time for some paperwork – Bank holiday or not. The rest of the family is still asleep in the building site or walking the river so I left cornflakes and orange juice amongst the mattresses and left to be civilized on my own…..

Just to give you the running update, I “ran” the three bridges in Limerick yesterday and today and even though I still walked large parts, I ran more than half and when I ran I actually moved forward rather than backwards and am profoundly grateful to have done the miserable “first time running in two years” wobbles in the privacy of my own back roads rather than on the ever so sophisticated river walk in Limerick city. 

Much as I love living in the countryside with the amazing fields of rapeseed all around us, I do love the city as well. The building site is right in the city centre, across from John’s castle and is suffering the first wave of gentrification which is lovely to see. After a long day in IKEA thinking kitchen worktops and presses, we arrived on Saturday evening with a trailer full of goodies, unloaded, spread the mattresses and admired the building works in progress. Unpacking the amazing Caesar salad from Glasrai and Goodies in Gowran ( the good traveler comes prepared!!), we sat down for dinner – the good traveler also brought some Costellos from home and planned the weekend. In the city, you don’t even have to figure out when mass is on Easter night, you just leave the house when the bells are ringing. So come quarter to nine, we were literally called out and joined St Munchins parish for Easter night and as luck would have it, joined one of the best Easter night ceremonies I have ever been at. A lovely choir, an honest and meaningful ceremony that adapted the old and infused with new. Admittingly I was probably not fully awake after the old testament readings in the dark but when the Gloria was sung, when the lights sprang on and the bells rang, I jumped to attention and did believe that he truly is risen and that we might still have a chance in this church, which I stubbornly refuse to give up on.

Easter Sunday saw us in the Burren, which was home for 5 wonderful years. Once a year at least I have to see Mullaghmore and walk the Cregg road at the foot of the mountain. Once a year we try and get everyone together in this place. It is a place where I come for the big decisions in my life or if I need peace I cannot find anywhere else. If landscape holds magic as the late John O Donohue so often said, it holds it there and seeing the children that used to play there when they were children, when I had to help them over the walls and butter their breads for the picnic – seeing them nearly 15 years later still falling into the water, still messing, still pushing each other, still not happy until everyone is wet has a certain bit of magic as well – especially when they turn around to me to say “careful Mama”, as time slowly turns the tables and I sincerely hope I have another 15 years until they actually have to help me over that wall.

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Cars, cars, cars……..

After the bread round, I came out of the bake house, having done the evening prep to three boys in an open shed surrounded by cars and car parts, one shouting across the yard to the other” you can’t race, you can’t afford fire proof underwear”. Really?

It’s good to know he can’t race – because he’s only 14 –  but weird all the same that all three are car fanatics, driving up and down our lane for years until such time as they can get their liscence to drive the road. The oldest, finally heading for the dream and studying motorsports technology in Oxford, is just planning to buy a rally cross car. Apparently this is the best way to get the finance for Oxford together and give him the much needed experience to built an engine. Other people, I say, just work and put the money in the credit union. Not so, in this house as I  keep my fingers crossed that some other fanatic will actually buy that car off him when he is finished. For the purpose of building this rally cross car, the ancient mini ( that the other chap bought 2 years ago) is pulled out of the shed and put under tarpaulin outside. That too, by the way, was “an investment” and was going to be sold off at a profit when done up and driving. It has been done up to a point but is still far from driving and everyone is ignoring the fact that you cannot insure a classic until you’re 25 ( a long way off for all of them!)

In the process of convincing me that I wanted another dead car in the yard, the promise was that “we’ll dismantle the helmet and the mini can have that space”. A helmet in any other house, is a thing you put on your head – preferably when you are cycling. In this house it is a soap box – in the shape of a helmet – that was built last summer and pushed down St Patrick’s hill in Cork when the boys, together with some equally mad friends joined the Red Bull Soap box race. The Headcases was their team name and headcases they are. Needless to say, the helmet remains undismantled as the mini joined it in the yard and the only open roofed space that we have – which, while the kids were small and reasonable, housed my outdoor washing line – is now being got ready for the new member of this car family – with the 14 year old saving for fire proof underwear……

While the jury is still out whether being such a push over is good parenting, I head off for my run to the tree. Made it all the way there and back in reasonably fast pace and thinking I might be able to at least run half those 10km in June. While running, I think and make plans ( I cannot abide loud music on my ears) and dream again of the next plan of having a mobile van on the road, a beautiful old bread van, branded as “Speltbakers on the go” and serving all the villages and countryside long left without a bakery. The sun is shining and the plan is good. The boys always say they can design or refurbish something for me. The Mini-man, who is studying for the leaving, is even talking about joining the business for his gap year but really – a betting woman would put money on that Logo going around on a rally car with some son in fire proof underwear or there was a plan of a “Speltbakers mini pizza”. You figure that one out and watch this space.