Quaint is pretty much a great word for summing up the countryside surrounding our area. Although we would be classed as suburban and close to London with immediate access to the A2, the main route into the capital, just a 5 minute drive in the opposite direction takes us to the countryside and we find villages like Cobham, Kent where the houses are ‘Once Upon A Time-ish’ and the pubs are… well, quaint.

In fact what better than on a bright Spring sunny afternoon to mosey on down to a local pub and drink a cool beer in the pretty garden? Luckily for us, these local pubs all have outstanding food too which means phoning well before hand to make sure you get a table!

A closer look at Cobham reveals that it is a hamlet of Sole Street, the parish church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene – my favourite saint ever and the most important woman in JC’s life, the church is also home to brasses reputed to be the finest in England. Charles Dickens, one of Britain’s finest writers used to walk out to the village and set part of The Pickwick Papers there. Another claim to fame is the artist Richard Dadd, the insane artist, used to live here and murdered his father in these parts in 1843.

One last thing that must be mentioned about Cobham is it’s hall, Cobham Hall  A manor house has stood on these grounds since the 12th century but  it has been home to a public girls’ school since 1957. Once the 17th century home of the Earls of Darnley and in fact the 8th Earl of Darnley was the first cricket captain to attempt to recover the Ashes from Australia.

If you are ever on route to dover via the A2, this beautiful quaint, quintessential English village is well worth a stop off, just make sure you book a table atone of the pubs beforehand

I wish I had this shot for yesterday’s Gallery post!

Quirky is one of those descriptive words that explain a whole way of being in 6 letters and for me it’s a perfect word for describing your average British woman.

quirk (kwûrk)

n. 1. A peculiarity of behavior; an idiosyncrasy: “Every man had his own quirks and twists” (Harriet Beecher Stowe).

2. An unpredictable or unaccountable act or event; a vagary: a quirk of fate.3. A sudden sharp turn or twist.4. An equivocation; a quibble.5. Architecture A lengthwise groove on a molding between the convex upper part and the soffit.

The ability to take something out of context and add a little soupson of imagination and create a brand new identity. If there is one thing I adore about being British it’s our love of creativity, our passion of trying something new and more than that – not being afraid to give it a go.
I did a quick Google search which brought up some very interesting and quirky links, for example Quirky Travel, a blog only started up at the beginning of the year but already caught my eye. Then there’s the Quirky Traveller’s Tales offering a different insight to places you may have already been to but worth reading.
Do you have a quirky friend who you never know what to buy for when it’s birthday time? Here’s Quirky Gift
or Quirky Cakes

Holidays are the kind of thing I enjoy thinking about whilst outside my window it’s pouring down with rain. Dreaming of sunny beaches, ice cream, sun cream and ‘Yikes, I’d best go on a diet now so I’m ready for it.’ My mother has taken this to the extreme bless her and during December’s nightmare snowfall that had us all shovelling heaps of snow from our doorstep, she called to tell me she’d booked a winter break for her and her husband.

‘Oh, how lovely!’ I said whilst thinking – wish we could! ‘Where are you going?’

‘The Maldives, darling! Well we were getting so depressed looking out at all that snow that we just had to book something.’

‘Very nice too mum!’

So whilst the Maldives are a long way off for me and my brood, there are plenty of other opportunitues around for us to enjoy in the meantime, which brings me to today’s idea. Having an extensive knowledge of Italy after almost 20 years there and then having worked for the Italian Tourist Board in London too I am going to focus on one resort each week and tell you everything I know about it, if I’ve been there I shall show you my photos (promise not to bore you!) and being a lover of good wine and food I shall tip you off as to what to order where because Jamie Oliver was perfectly right when he did his Italy program, what they eat in one region will not be offered in another.

Italy is divided into 20 regions, each has its own USP (Unique Selling Point – I’m just trying to be clever) the peninsula offers, sea, country and mountains and has a 12 month tourism industry. Its capital and most of its major cities are renowned for their art, culture, history and beauty and the country has so much to offer that it’s a struggle to know where to start.

Should we start with the ski resorts? As they’re enjoying a bountiful season and I’d eat my blog to get some skis on now and whizz down a couple of pistes – oh the good old pre-twin days! Or should we start with city breaks? There are so many of them and each one  more interesting than the last…Rome? Venice? Florence? Trento? Or how about the beaches as we’re sitting in the cold and dreaming of warm, barmy sunny evenings, a glass of chilled wine and a nicely coming on sun tan.

After much thought, I have decided on a 1st post on Sardegna, or rather a part of it – The North of the island where I spent my First Italian holiday and my last before moving back to the UK and funnily enough where we are booked to go this year.

Of course, we all love a little general information to read before deciding and many of your questions can be answered on the ITB web site so please look out for My Italy posts in the future, Sardegna coming this week.

Call me crazy, call me bonkers but I must have sailor blood in me as this baby here represents to me my dream holiday.

An Ocean Liner more commonly known as a cruise ship – a holiday at sea with every entertainment and pastime you could possibly imagine.

There hovering around the top of my ‘ To Do Before I Die’ list is a cruise.

Not a posh cruise where one has to dress up for dinner and fellow guests are studying what you’re wearing in order to place you in their scale of 1 – 10 to decide whether you fit or not. No no.

I have got to see this to believe it!

Give me a family friendly, massive ocean liner where every day the four of us can get lost in the swimming pools, cinemas, shopping malls, tennis courts, crazy golf and in the evening be entertained by the onboard crew.

My cruise passion was born as I watched my uncle board an ocean liner in Southampton back in the 70’s. He was going to Australia and that for me, not quite 10, conjured up such excitement. As the family said their goodbyes all I could do was ask questions and interrupt.

‘Where is Australia?’ I asked my parents as I watched my grandmother wipe tears from her eyes, as granddad held his son by the shoulders and then shook his hand pulling him towards him and hugging him in a singular masculine movement.

‘On the other side of the world.’

On. The. Other. Side. Of. The. World? Unimaginable. How cool was that? Wait till I tell them at school tomorrow, that my uncle was going to the other side of the world, they would be so impressed.

My uncle was a’Gap year student’ before the name was coined and he returned with hundreds of photos and gifts. I got a koala bear… a toy one of course.

Alfredo’s gulet

The closest I have got to my dream cruise so far is a boating holiday. We boarded our gulet at Monfalcone, a harbour placed at the top of the Adriatic Sea not far from Trieste and our captain, Alfredo, set sail as the sun started to descend in the warm afternoon. We head across to Umag on the Croatian coast in time for dinner.

My first ‘cruise’ took us down the coast as far as the beautiful city of Rovinj stopping off at breathtaking beauty spots along the way.

Rovinj, Croatia

This was the life for me. No shoes on board, shorts, t-shirts, diving off the side when anchoring in the secluded secret bays along the coast, catching your dinner fresh from the sea and smelling in sea air from morn till night. Bliss.

I would jump at the opportunity to repeat that holiday aboard the Turkish Gulet that hadn’t received its new sails in time for departure and I would also dive at any opportunity to spend time on a cruise ship, imagine being invited to review one! I’m getting excited at the thought alone.

I’m in blue to the left, My daughter in the centre my son taking a photo

So back to that dream of mine, well many companies have 25 night trips skirting around the Caribbean Islands on an Ocean Liner which offer Kidzone to keep the children amused, sports and swimming pool for the other half and a Spa centre plus gym for me! I assure you I would love every single second of this kind of holiday and I am keeping my fingers crossed as one day I will go and I shall tell you all about it.

Now where did I put that nautical t shirt of mine?

The photos have been scanned as they were taken back in 2002!

Look at that choice of red wine!

I suppose many have seen recently in the papers and dotted around internet the excellent promotions being organised to fill up our ferries going back and forth to France. Well at £18 for our car and all four of us, we thought we’d give it a go and booked up for a day trip to France.

I remember as a teenager I used to get very excited at a day trip to France, back then it was new and seen as very chic, something to boast about in class and nudge up your street cred a couple of notches. Then we all heard about Booze Cruises, people making the journey to visit the hypermarkets and stock up their home bars to the hilt. Photos of cars laden with crates and crates of beer unloading at Dover made us all giggle and look down our noses a bit at the peasants who obviously ‘Had a Problem’

Well that’s just what we did last week, such peasants! :) We caught the 9.15am boat and eagerly climbed the stairs to the restaurant for the well advertised Full English Breakfast – Buy One Get One Free or BOGOF as they are commonly known. I joined the queue whilst Paul and the girls grabbed a table and collected my breakfasts which looked absolutely delicious. I got to the till and my smile was wiped clean from my face when I was presented with a bill for £18.36 (2 x ketchup, 2 x Farmhouse b’fast, 2 x cups of tea)

‘Buy One Get One Free?’ I asked.

‘Have you got the voucher dear?’

No, I didn’t have a voucher and therefore I wasn’t entitled to the offer even if it was advertised on their website with no mention of voucher.

Promotions beckon

A little disgruntled but not enough to ruin my day, we visited the onboard shop to collect our 6 bottles of wine as advertised on their website. Queues of customers lined up with boxes of J.P Chennet Chardonnay and I too collected my box and joined the queue.

‘Have you got your voucher love?’

‘What this one?’ I offered her a voucher that had been given to me at check in claiming 1 free bottle of wine.

‘Yep, that’s it.’ One free bottle of wine, how are you paying for the others?’

I pulled out my print offs from their website showing Full English Breakfasts – BOGOF, and the promise of 6 bottles of wine and asked why I couldn’t access any of these excellent offers. A manager came over and with a pained expression explained it depended on which link I had gone through as to what I was entitled to.

‘But that is not explained on your web site is it? There is no mention and I find that very misleading.

Needless to say a shrug of the shoulders and I’m a ‘very sorry’ is all I got. It was quite obvious he had had thousands of similar complaints and just redirected us all to the web site with a ‘Maybe try contacting them directly’

Booze Cruise winter 2010

We didn’t let this ruin our day either, not the foul weather, not the bad meal we had at Citte’ d’ Europe but now it is time to find a few answers from P&O and ask for a little clarity on their website methinks.

I would still throughly recommend these day trips as excellent quality. Just make sure you get the right link so as not to be disappointed with your gifts or lack of them like we were.

Group photo in Tate Modern, London

I only have to think the word Italiani and I have a smile on my face. I can say, hand on heart, they are the friendliest, noisiest, chattiest and most patriotic people I know. You cannot BUT be pulled to them and their view on life. They are convinced theirs is the best diet in the world and turn their nose up at our poor English cuisine, you will not, I repeat, will not win a discussion with them over food, trust me just leave it, even if your dad is Gordon Ramsey. They know their country is one of the most beautiful in the world, after all it offers everything, sun, sand, mountains, skiing, countryside, good food EVERYWHERE and they produce most of it themselves. And I would urge anyone thinking of a visit to go, having worked for a few years at the Italian Tourist Board and lived in Italy myself for close to 20 years  it’s like a second home to me.

I was lucky enough this week to have my very own ‘italiani’ over in London for a few days. My best friend Enrica with an entourage that puts Madonna to shame, her husband and their beautiful daughter Vittoria (asleep in her buggy) Max’s two children from his previous marriage and Enrica’s sister who has a very impressive camera and I dread to think how many photos she took home of London with her. Sadly for us, the weather wasn’t palying ball, as we stepped out onto the South Bank to make our way to the Tate Modern the heavens opened and as we raced for the final tunnel that would lead us to the Art Galleries’ entrance we found it was blocked off for repair! Aaaarrrrggghhh! We lugged the two heavy buggies up steps and raced them round to the old power station that houses this marvellous Exhibition house and that is why dear reader we look like drenched rats in our photo :)

We were lucky to catch up with Serena too who is over for six months to improve her English and work/live the London life for a while. And as we stood here for our photo, in the Turbine Hall below us a carpet of sunflower seeds laid out wall to wall. It’s only on closer inspection you see the artist Ai Weiwei has hand crafted each seed from porcelain. 100 million seeds forming a seemingly endless landscape. Go here to see a video fo the man himself and the beauty of his sculpture.

This is my entry for I in Alphabe Thursday over at Jenny Matlock’s and now I’m heading over to see what everyone else came up with.

Photo credit – Tate Modern