A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about mum

The rest of the holiday

St Albans, Farnham and Hemel Hempstead


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Edit from January 2019: Fleetville Emporium was demolished in 2016 or 2017, and Dolce Italia on St Peter's Street closed down and became a charity shop at around the same time. Little Marrakesh and the Meating Room are both still going strong though!

We've managed to fit a lot into the last few days!

On New Year's Eve we woke up to heavy frost;

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Dave and I then went to see my Nana, who is unfortunately laid up at the moment with a broken ankle she suffered on Christmas Day.

In the evening Dave and I were thinking about going into London to see the fireworks, but decided against it in the end because it was cold and wet, we were too tired and we felt more like relaxing at home with Mum and Kate and watching the fireworks on TV instead.

On New Year's Day we had a big family gathering and exchanged presents, things we had deliberately not done on Christmas Day this year.

Yesterday was also eventful. The first thing Dave and I did was go back to the church to pay our wedding deposit, give back the filled-in legal document and have our IDs checked. Then we met up with Mum at Dolce Italia café, where we had a hot drink and a cake and I managed to knock my tall glass of hot chocolate off the table into my lap. Thank goodness I was wearing black trousers!

On our way home Dave and I stopped off at the Fleetville Emporium, a large place filled with antiques, vintage clothing, secondhand books, records and lots more. Every time I go there, it's extended itself a bit more. Dave bought some shoe lasts, but I didn't get anything. I did however buy some delicious rum balls from Simmon's nearby.

That evening we went out for dinner at Little Marrakesh, one of my all-time favourite restaurants anywhere in the world. I love everything about this place - the decor, atmosphere, food and service! We shared the Moroccan Mezze as a starter; hummous, tabbouleh, saffron-marinated sautéed potato and carrot chunks, chopped beetroot, filo prawns, a red pepper mixture and crushed grilled aubergine. Then I had grilled swordfish with Moroccan rice and Dave had a tagine, though I've forgotten what kind. The food was as delicious as ever.

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We thought about going into The Boot for a drink afterwards, but it looked too crowded for us, so we gave a miss.

Speaking of food, for lunch today we met up with Emma and Mark at The Meating Room, a fantastic new gourmet burger restaurant in St Albans city centre. This is another place I would recommend to all visitors. The burgers all have local names; I had a St Peter's, their version of a cheeseburger, with a lovely, thick, juicy patty. The burgers all come with amazing rosemary salted chips. I found out that our waitress was from Romania, but had worked with Bulgarians in Romania so had picked up some words from them; I tried out the word for 'thank you' (blagodariya) on her and she understood me, or at least was kind enough to say she did.

Dave left for Manchester late afternoon. After that, Mum and I went to Hemel Hempstead to have dinner at Kate & Andrew's. Special mention to the delicious bread & butter pudding!

Back in St Albans, at about 11pm I'm getting a train to Gatwick for my early-morning flight back to Bulgaria.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom christmas sisters dave mum st_albans st_peter's_church hemel_hempstead farnham british_cuisine Comments (0)

Wedding plans get going!

St Albans


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Since yesterday morning Dave and I have caught up on sleep, been amazed at Mum's travel-themed redecoration of what was my old bedroom, looked round some of the sales in St Albans city centre and had a nice relaxed evening in with Mum involving her lovely Scandinavian meatballs, a fire in the grate, cherry brandy on ice and a game of Upwords.

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We have also been to the church to see the vicar about our wedding, and the cemetery to visit Dad's grave.

Our wedding date is now officially set!

Off to Manchester tomorrow for a night - a flying visit to see Dave's family.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:22 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom christmas dad dave mum st_albans st_peter's_church Comments (0)

Christmas Day

Veliko Tarnovo


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I wasn't quite sure how today would go, considering that it was Christmas morning last year when Dad lapsed into unconsciousness and never woke up. I thought of Dad even more than usual today, but having Dave with me helped massively whenever thoughts turned back to the horrible events on that fateful day a year ago.

The weather was very sunny and relatively warm, so in the morning we went on a long walk round Tsarevets Fortress, Gurko Street and the main street, taking photos with Dave's camera as we went.

On the way to the fortress;

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Tsarevets Fortress:

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Gurko Street;

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The rest of our walk;

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We also walked past my workplace, where I discovered a Christmas card to myself from Dave's parents in the postbox by the door. :-)

Unfortunately Dave dropped his camera's lens cap at the fortress, losing it for ever just after he'd taken some pictures of me standing on the Execution Rock. This rock overhangs the side of the hill; centuries ago traitors were thrown off it to their deaths. He dropped the lens cap to the side of the rock, but although I thought it may have landed on a ledge of earth a couple of metres below, I decided not to try and find a way down there in case I slipped to my death. Although it was very sunny, there was still mud around. At least it wasn't his camera that was lost!

We ate our Christmas dinner very late, because we didn't get back from our walk until between 1 and 2pm, which is when we started cooking. We had homemade tarator to start; for the main we had herb-sprinkled chicken breasts cooked in foil, roast potatoes, stuffing, carrots, leeks fried with mozzarella cheese (an experiment I shall definitely repeat) and lots and lots of lovely handmade bread sauce.

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We were so full after this we had to have a lie down for a couple of hours; it wasn't until we got up that we realised the thought of pudding had not even crossed our minds! We were still too full to eat anything - we didn't have anything else until about 10pm - so until then we opened presents and relaxed. I had some presents for Dave waiting in the UK, plus the plan was for him to choose his main present from me tomorrow in Veliko Tarnovo before we left for Sofia, so the only thing I had for him to open was a box of Bulgarian baklava and kadaif. Amongst other things, from him I got a really interesting-looking book called 'This Way Southward' by A. F. Tschiffely, published in 1940. It's an account of a journey through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. He also got me a lovely calendar using photos we took in Ecuador last June.

Speaking of books, Emma and Kate each got me a really good book as well. Emma got me 'What Caesar Did for My Salad: The Secret Meanings of our Favourite Dishes' by Albert Jack and Kate got me 'King Harald's Saga'. I will keep all of these with me in Bulgaria to read after Christmas, rather than take them back to the UK on Saturday!

Before we had tea we played a game of Mapominoes, a game Mum gave us. As the name indicates, it's very similar to dominoes, but each card is a European country and you can only put one country next to others if it shares a border with them. You also get Transit cards which you can say is a particular country or sea. A very good idea for a game!

Tea was quite brief because we still weren't as hungry as we could have been. We didn't have the Christmas pudding at all in the end, because we knew it would be filling.

All day I kept a Christmas candle burning for Dad. Mum had given it to Dave to take with him to Bulgaria.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:13 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged christmas sisters dad dave bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street Comments (0)

Back to Sofia - Dave arrives for Christmas

Sofia


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Dave arrived today at Sofia Airport, but not until 23.50 so I had quite a few hours to myself in Sofia before then. My bus journey from Veliko Tarnovo was uneventful and I arrived at Hostel Mostel mid-afternoon.

On my walk from the bus station to the hostel I suddenly heard lots of very loud twittering and chirping on my right hand side; I turned round and saw a bushy tree the same height as me, filled with sparrows! I stepped up right next to them and none of them flinched or flew away. It reminded me of when Mum visited in October and said that the sparrows reminded her of how common they used to be in London forty or fifty years ago.

It looked like a really good place - before I was taken to my room I had time to send a quick email on one of the free computers and take note of the free pool table! The private rooms were in a separate building three minutes away from the main hostel; the room was excellent and I
liked the common room and kitchen.

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Shortly afterwards I went out to do some shopping. I admired the clearest view of the mountains yet, walked to the fruit & vegetable market to look for brussel sprouts (unsuccessfully - I've heard they they only appear on sale in Bulgaria for a couple of days per year), visited one or two shops and when my legs got tired I sat down in Sveta Nedelya Cathedral for a bit. There was a service going on; a group of people were standing in the middle, flanked by six poinsettia arrangements. Choral music filled the cathedral, but I couldn't see any choir anywhere so I assumed that was through a sound system. I bought and lit a beeswax candle for Dad.

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On my walk around Sofia I noticed several streetsellers selling branches of fir tree, branches from another type of tree (which I think it traditionally brought inside the house at Christmas in Bulgaria) and other branches which had ribbons, stringed popcorn, (I think) sheep's wool, and other decorations attached. I think this last type of branch are traditionally carried by children as they go carol singing from house to house from midnight on Christmas morning onwards.

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I got a free dinner at eight o'clock - pasta with tomato sauce and salad. As I was eating, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation two guys sitting near me were having. I listened, puzzled, because it sounded similar to Spanish but also different. I was just pondering whether to ask them where they were from, when another girl walked up to them and asked 'de dondé eres?' (Where are you from? in Spanish). They replied 'Chile!'. I nearly laughed - when I was in Ecuador, every time I asked the students which Spanish accents they liked the most and least, they always said that they found Chileans very difficult to understand. Now I can see why! It sounded very different to Ecuadorian Spanish.

I took the bus to the airport terminal late at night, at quarter past eleven. Somehow I ended up getting a free journey, because although I checked with the driver if it was going to the airport or not he never asked me for the fare (like the girl at the hostel reception said he would) and there were no conductors or machines to give money to. On the way there I saw other people get on and then get off again later without having paid anyone anything, but the driver never said anything, so I just got off at the terminal and hoped for the best.

It was amazing to see Dave again, as you can imagine. Thankfully the OK-Supertrans taxi service desk was still open, so we took one of their taxis to the hostel.

Posted by 3Traveller 05:15 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains market airport spanish cathedral christmas hostel buses dad sofia bulgaria mum orthodox_church traditional_customs Comments (0)

Mum returns to the UK, I stay on in Sofia

Sofia


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We went down to breakfast at Hotel Niky at 8 and after that finished we walked to Sveti Sofia church, the oldest church in Sofia. It's been restored many times but you can still see foundations of its earlier incarnations in the crypt (some through glass panels in the floor).

On the way there, however, we came across a tiny, circular church with Roman remains outside it. It was in a courtyard that had the President's Building on one side. We went inside the outer, front part of the church, but didn't go into the inner bit because we were in rather a hurry. I made a mental note to come back again later or tomorrow for a proper look. After looking at the Roman remains for a little bit we walked on under the arch at the side of the President's Building, past the Archaeology Museum and onwards. We passed by St Nicholas Russian church, distinctive with its onion-shaped golden domes.

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Once we got to Sveti Sofia church we bought some thin beeswax candles from a stall in the front section and then went into the main part of the church. We were transported with delight... the walls and ceiling were made of brick, but the bricks were very thin ones and you could tell that some of them were very old. In the inside of the big dome in the middle of the ceiling, we could see the bricks going round in circles. Icons and murals or saints adorned the walls.

At 10 o'clock the stairs down to the crypt opened and we went down to explore. We looked round lots and lots of very old brick and stone tombs and sarcophagi from the Roman city of Serdica, which stood where Sofia stands today. One or two of them had wall paintings inside and in one room there was part of a mosaic. We also saw the remains of the earlier Christian churches that stood on the site of the present-day (but still very old) church. We both thought it was really interesting and were glad we'd come.

We left the church quickly, however, because as soon as we'd come back up from the crypt we saw that while we'd been downstairs, a coffin had been placed in the nave, in front of the iconostasis. A group of schoolchildren were entering through the main door. We lit and placed our candles before leaving through one of the side doors.

We walked to the President's Building as quickly as we could, in order to catch the changing of the guard, but we just missed it. Once we got back to Boulevard Vitosha, we bought some more little cakes from the same shop we'd been to the day before; 250g of florentines, 2 of the long syrupy batter things and 2 candied orange slices dipped in chocolate. We didn't eat any of them yet, though, because we stopped at a café for a coffee and a big chunk of Black Forest Gateaux. Somehow Mum ended up with a cup full of hot milk instead of a coffee with milk, but she said she didn't mind! I had an espresso.

Back at Hotel Niky we ordered a taxi, packed up our stuff, ate the orange slices dipped in chocolate, checked out and took the taxi to the airport. After Mum had dropped off her hold bag she had a decaf cappuccino at a cafe and we looked without success for some batteries for me (I'd forgotten to bring my battery charger with me). Then she went past a checkpoint and up an escalator to the bag checks and duty free. I watched her go out of sight and then took a taxi back into town.

After leaving Mum at the airport, I took a taxi back into town and walked to Nightingale Hostel, where I was to spend the following two nights. Whilst checking in and paying, I met a chap from Ipswich who had just come from Budapest. He told me that people arrive in Budapest intending to spend only a couple of days there, but end up staying for weeks or even months! Budapest was already on my priority-to-visit list. I'm definitely going to visit after I finish in Bulgaria next summer.

A couple of jobs needed doing after that; topping up my Bulgarian phone at a Vivacom shop and getting hold of some AA batteries that worked. Once I'd done those, I walked to Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.

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The interior was very impressive, with massive candelabras hanging from wonderfully painted ceilings.

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Only one of the candelbras was lit, so most of the ceiling was left in gloom; the effect of the lighting was very atmospheric. In front of an icon near to the front, I saw a relic. I think it was a small piece of bone. Then I paid six leva to go down into the crypt next door and look round the wonderful collection of historic, colourful icons.

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It was late afternoon by now, so once I had finished gazing at icons, I walked back to the hostel. I missed the hourly changing of the guard outside the President's Building again, but never mind; I knew I'd get more chances the next day. On my return, I sat up in bed with a tub of vegetable and mayo mixture and a cheesy bread I'd bought at the airport earlier, which turned out to have vegetables and chopped-up pieces of frankfurter inside. I read the rest of 'Travels in England in 1782', by Karl Philipp Moritz, on my Kindle. He went to London, Windsor, Oxford and Derbyshire - fascinating.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:10 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art airport cathedral hostel sofia bulgaria mum icons orthodox_church roman_remains boulevard_vitosha Comments (0)

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