Garden Frost

It got cold. I know it’s not heavy, wintery frost but I wasn’t expecting any at all. October isn’t usually icy. The change to the garden jogged my memory, I was reminded that I used to write garden blog posts. Over the last few months I have taken a few pictures but not really thought about putting them together with words.  Let’s try that today…

I like it when steam rises off the fences.
My veg patch was littered with rogue snap dragons, violas and other pretty, uninvited guests this year. I left them all.
It is properly autumn now.

Frosty
What’s this daft rose doing out now?
leafless fig.
Leaf abundant fig.
Wasp and hornet.
Fig chutney
I don’t know when this was. August?

Another rogue. I have not identified this pale orange gourd. Classic pumpkin or mutant butternut?
Whatever it is, it got turned it into a very large pan of soup

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Menorca. Our Half Term Holiday

Es Talaier. Our fave beach.

For the longest time I have really, really wanted to go to Menorca. I don’t know why, I’ve just had it in my head that that was where I wanted the next family holiday to be. I probably saw it on the telly and thought it looked like a paradise that was easy to get to. Also, I was vaguely aware that there was good food to be found!

Mitjana. Probably better when it’s not raining and you don’t have to hang out with nudists.

Getting There

We got there the usual way, EasyJet from Bristol. It worked out to be about £400 cheaper than flying via Flybe from Exeter, which annoys me because I could walk to Exeter airport from home in about 40 minutes.

Where to Stay

I spoke to a friend who went a year or two ago. She told me where she’d stayed and where she wish she’d stayed instead. The wish place was Ciutadella. It’s just under an hour by car from the airport, which is pretty much the entire length of the island. It’s quite a small island.

We Airbnb’d it. I won’t tell you which villa we stayed at cos we didn’t like it. It looked the part but not only was it on a busy road, it also reeked of must and mould. Not good. It’s such a shame because it was a beautiful space, the gardens were big and the pool was lovely. If they’d looked after the inside like they did the outside, it would have been perfect. It was only a ten minute stroll to the nearest beach (Sa Caleta) and a supermarket wasn’t that far either. We booked in February, if we’d done so a few months earlier there probably would have had a better crop to pick from (I fell in love with a farmhouse surrounded by beautiful fields but nope, someone else had got their mitts on it first). You can’t win ’em all.

Sa Caleta.
Sa Caleta.
An avarcas wearing, beer drinking, lie down near the pool.

What we ate

Menorca has a reputation for its very good food. Therefore I assumed it would be dead easy to find a cheap little cafe or restaurant that local people loved. Well, bum, we didn’t eat out at any of those (wherever they were hiding). One place (a cafe in the main square of the capital city, Mahon) barely served real food at all, it was gross. I also disliked the food at the restaurant we went to in Fornells. We chose a busy one ( because that’s what you’re supposed to do) and again, it was half arsed. I had stuffed aubergine as it’s a Menorcan classic but it was effectively brown slops on a plate. The other place we tried was in Ciutadella and it was the nicest, which wasn’t terribly hard. We ate grilled cuttle fish and patatas bravas and we actually quite enjoyed that, even with the party of ants that had joined us at our table.

It boiled down to this: we couldn’t afford to eat in the restaurants that give Menorca its good food rep. I didn’t get to eat the caldereta de langosta that I had my heart set on because it was too expensive. It’s sad day when you can’t even afford “peasant” food.

The markets, on the other hand? Yesss! Sooo much better and loads of fun. I really enjoyed using some dodgy Spanish to ask for what I wanted (a huge change from my chickening out on last year’s trip to Spain). We went to the fish market in Ciutadella twice. We came back with loads to put on the bbq and it was delicious. Then there was a food market on the Saturday morning too where we bought locally made bread with sobrassada, eggs and some fruit n veg. We took it all back to the villa and had a lovely lunch with yummy stinky cheese that’s made on the island as well.

I almost forgot the fish market/deli in Mahon. That looked fab but I was too full of crappy omelette from the crappy cafe to enjoy all the pretty tapas. We got a couple of things but dammit, I wanted it all! Gutted.

Meh, I didn’t research and paid the price. I’m forever cursed with being a lazy food snob.

Oh, I liked the gin a lot even though it’s “not real” gin (it’s distilled from wine not grain). It was interesting, refreshing and tasty but I preferred it with schweppes, not lemonade as is traditional in a pomada. Came home with a bottle of that, some vac packed cheese and sobrassada.

When you tell the kids that conejo is chicken…
Yuuuummmm!!!
Fella selling pineapple from his wheelbarow. He was lethal with his blade

Stuff to do

You go to Menorca to go to the beach. You just do. It has loads of them. Beach too full? Walk to the next one. That one full? Pop across to the next etc… This is another reason why it’s a good idea to come in the half term hols. I gather that in July and August Menorca is heaving with people. Like sandy sardines in a tin. We avoided all the ones near resorts assuming they’d be busiest. We parked at Son Saura twice. The first time we went to Bellavista, which was very nice but the next time we parked here, we walked a bit further to Es Talaier. It was stunning. A beautiful, beautiful beach. There were a few jelly fish but we swam in the warm water anyway. The boys had never swam in the sea before and were beyond excited! I, however, didn’t swim too vigorously because a boob would bounce out the bikini if I got too enthusiastic.

Es Talaier

Oh, and Mitjana is gorgeous too. Sort of. There was a big group of loud teenage school kids on a trip plus a load of crusty seaweed spread across the shoreline. We walked further on and found a teeny cove to climb down to but I bust a flip-flop, which put me in a mood and there was nowhere to sit apart from a small spot next to Ugly Naked Guy.

Es Talaier

Caves! There were cool caves. Man-made by real cave men! We all really liked it here. The youngest boy absolutely loved clambering all over these. And you do have to climb a little bit to get to them. Good views when you’re at the top. I don’t think I’d want to live in a cave but they were fun to stop by.

The caves at Cala Morell

What else? I dunno. We went to Fornells but thought it soulless. Very grey. The littlest boy said it was like being on the moon. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t do it for us.

I’d like to have tried a couple more towns such as Es Mercadal and Ferreries. We ended up running out of time and felt like it wouldn’t be much of a holiday if we were rushing round trying to squeeze in as much as possible. The aim was to take it easy so we missed out on a few things.

I did go shopping though! Got some new shoes! Oh my, they are so comfortable and I’ve worn them everyday since I got them. If you find avarcas, get yourself a pair. I’d like all the colours of the rainbow, please!

In Ciutadella I found three (or even four) fabric shops and two places that sold yarn. Can you believe I didn’t buy any?! It’s not a woolly sort of place. The yarn wasn’t Spanish, so I wasn’t interested. OK, there was some Katia in an indoor market in Mahon but that’s not what I wanted.

Fornell. Like the moon but wetter.
Avarcas

Conclusion

It’s more expensive than Venice! I feel naive for not knowing. But I’ve been and I’m glad of that. Box ticked. We’ve got some saving to do now. No more holidays abroad for quite some time. It’s been an indulgent couple of years. The children are old enough to buy us some freedom so we’ve been taking advantage of that. I also received a little bit of money when Nanna and Grandad died; I think they would have wanted me to enjoy it. I certainly did! Thanks N&G for Amsterdam, Spain, Venice & Menorca! It’s back to camping in Dorset!

A few more pics below.

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Nice bit of garden
crochet spotting
Fornells
Can you imagine what this terraced garden would look like in top notch condition?
Ciutadella
A tower thingy at Sa Caleta
Sa Caleta. Lots of pretty rock bits for clambering over. “Don’t go near the edge!”
Mahon. Not as nice as Ciutadella
Mahon
Mitjana

xxx

Two Nights in Venice (On the Cheap)

This time last week I was in Venice. It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It was awesome, I was literally in awe. Every five minutes someone heard me say “this place is amazing, I love it!” The husband started getting annoyed, “you’ve already said that.”

Have you been to Venice? It’s amazing, I love it! I went expecting to say goodbye to a lot of cash and, if necessary, sell my soul. Yet, our budget didn’t burst its banks at all. This wasn’t actually going to be a post about how you can do Venice on a budget, it was just going to be my usual thing of whacking up pictures and saying what a nice time I had. However, I want you to go to Venice too and I don’t want you to dismiss it because you think it’ll cost the earth.  It doesn’t have to.

Getting There

We did Ryan Air on the way there and Easy Jet on the way back. This wasn’t my job. Another person in our party of six sorted out flights. He found the best times and prices. It didn’t occur to me to choose two different airlines but this saved us money. We booked in November/December so I can’t remember how much it was, around £100 pp return from Bristol. Just over, I think.

Once you’re at the airport you can get a water bus but it’s half the price to get the train. We wanted to be fancy so we got the bus. A private taxi would be even fancier and they really zooom across the water!

That building in the middle? A hospital!

Where to Stay

It’s Airbnb all the way for me. My job was to find accommodation and I didn’t bother looking anywhere else. Seeing as we were three couples, we needed a three bed place. This was also booked in November/December and I think that was too late. Many suitable apartments had already gone and there wasn’t loads of choice for nice places. The best bet is to leap on flights as soon as they’re released and book somewhere to stay at the same time. Don’t dilly dally. However we did manage to find a clean place with a nice view out the back and three bathrooms. It was right near a stunning looking hospital in a pretty square with plenty of bars. Nowhere took longer than fifteen minutes to walk to. Unless you got lost, which we did. Frequently.

The view from our kitchen window. Sadly, there was no access.

What We Ate

Oh my goodness! Everything I ate was fabulous. The only thing I didn’t care much for was the gelato. I don’t know if I had a duff one or if it’s because I’m normally all about umami but I didn’t like the dense texture. It was sturdy ice cream! If we’d have had time (and emptier bellies) I would have gone to the Boutique del Gelato; apparently it’s top notch.

Cichetti. I don’t know the name of this place. It was our first bit of Venetian grub.

Cicchetti!! Wowsers, I loved all of it, even the salt cod and pickley fishy things! Cicchetti is a bar snack a bit like tapas and you need it in your life. We went to several places to get our fill and each time we also ordered prosecco. Yuuuum!!! Stand at the bar and eat or you can sit too. You might have to pay extra to sit though. Cicchetti is cheap and you can easily fill up on it for a few quid. Try All’ Arco for traditional/local and also Acqua e Mais for a cone of deep fried calamari and shrimp. If you’re on a super tight budget, this sort of thing is great and you don’t need to go mad on the drink, which bumps up the cost. Having said that, a bottle of prosecco is pretty much the same price as a pub here, so much cheaper than I thought it’d be. And so much tastier.

Seafood spaghetti at Trattoria Alla Scala
The husband’s monkfish.
I don’t remember the name of the place this was from. But it was so good!

Waiters will tell you that you must order seafood. They’re not wrong. It’s what I ate both nights and it was delicious. The first night we went to a restaurant we’d found on Trip Advisor. In we went, winding our way through tables whilst chatting to the restaurant guy about reservations. As we talked, he escorted us right past all the diners, through the kitchen and out into the alley at the back. We thought we’d been kicked out but actually we were waiting for a table. Others were already there, snacking on chilli pesto gnocchi and little glasses of spritz. We were given the same and told how to hold our plate and glass (!). A few minutes later the guy we’d spoken to introduced us to a bemused looking man in blue gloves and an apron. We were told to follow him. We did and ended up in another restaurant a two minute walk away. At the Tratorria Alla Scala there were no tables for six so they got some other diners to budge up and in we squeezed. We got complimentary glasses of prosecco, grissini and gorgeous garlicky tomato bruschetta. Main meals were around 18 euros, which I think is ace, especially as we paid that much for dinner in Amsterdam last year and didn’t get any extra stuff (not even a smile).

I can’t remember the name of the restaurant we went to the second night but it was a lot of sharing platters and ours were delicious. Oh man, I ate way too much in 48 hours. I haven’t even mentioned, the sneeky chips, pizza, sweets, pastries or any of the other things I stuffed in. I couldn’t sleep the first night cos my tummy was so full. Yet I still didn’t spend that much money! Honest! And I bought yarn! (Not from the posh wool shop though as I had Pretty Woman experience in there, so… big mistake, huge!).

Stuff to do.

I think it’s safe to say that this was very much an eating holiday. I’m a big foodie and my bestie’s husband is a chef so it was always going to be about food. That means we didn’t have time to visit other islands or go into any of the touristy places you’re supposed to visit. If you wanted to go up the tower in St Marks’ square though, I think it’s only 6 euros. The Basilica di San Marco is free to enter, as are a couple of other places. Just standing in St Mark’s square is breathtaking, you don’t need to spend money there! You don’t even need to go there at all. The whole of Venice is amazing to just walk around and gawp at.

More pictures below, ones where the tower isn’t chopped off!

One thing which was total bucket list territory was a ride in a gondola. It was made cheaper by the fact that all six of us squeezed into one boat. It was essential that our tour included a goggle at the Bridge of Sighs but the bloke we chatted to said it didn’t work into his 30 minute route. We wangled a 45 minute trip for 120 euros. Usually they’re thirty minutes for 80 euros. The alternative was spending more on an hour or finding another fella who was nearer to the prison. Whatever, it was worth every penny. We all loved it, I even got over excited when I saw a little crab perched on the side of a canal! If you want the gondola man to sing you have to pay extra but I would probably pay for him not to sing. Luckily our guy only came out with interesting facts about what we were seeing. He even knew where George and Amal got married and had their do. Real Venetian culture!

The Bridge of Sighs. Casanova is the only man to have escaped from prison here. Thanks for that bit of info Gondola Man!

Things I wanted to do but didn’t get the chance? There’s a market by Rialto bridge. I’d like to go there. Next time I’d go to art galleries too and time it with Carnevale! That sounds like an alright weekend…week? There is loads to do and I did what I wanted to do, saw the things I wanted to see and came home happy.

Basically, if you want to do Venice on the cheap don’t spend money in the San Marco area and you’ll be fine. Eat cicchetti and get the train over. Also, you don’t have to have your accommodation on Venice itself. Burano or Murano would probably work out cheaper. There you go. Boom. Bargain holiday in one of the most beautiful destinations in the entire world.

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A book shop with a lot of books. We could see the back of our flat from here.
I’ve now got sucked into buying a tacky fridge magnet wherever I go.
Rialto Bridge. 11pm. Over sunned, over proseccoed, up since 3.30am.
There was a rainbow!
Breathtaking. We wandered into St Mark’s square quite by accident. The best way to “discover” it, I thought.
shoppin
To commemorate the people who died of the plague. I think. That’s what we were told.
Venice innit.
I’ll give you ten points if you can spot it.

All pics are my own or the husband’s, taken on our phones. xxx