The Minster at night

York Minster at night taken with my cool new iPhone 4S - handheld

Tonight was our last night in York. We walked downtown to have dinner and on the way we passed the Minster. What is a Minster? According to the publicity material provided, Minster Churches are basically churches that were established in the Anglo Saxon period as missionary teaching churches. York Minster is also the Church of the Archbishop of York. He is the most senior bishop in the North of England. It is where he has his seat, called a Cathedra, which makes York Minster a Cathedral as well.

Not all Minsters are Cathedrals, and not all Cathedrals are Minsters, but York Minster is both. The York Minster is the largest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe and was built over a period of 250 years.

So there you go. It seemed worth a photo.

So that was Christmas

I’m writing this at 10:30pm on Christmas night sitting in the living room at Aspley Guise trying not to nod off to sleep. The day has been a blur of presents, food and drink.

The day started early as the kids woke up and discovered a trail of reindeer hoof prints leading from the chimney to their bedrooms. Santa’s beer and snacks were gone and in exchange there were presents stretching from one side of the lounge to the other.

For 30 minutes it was a present opening frenzy. The kids found that Santa had answered every wish they had on their list. I found that Santa had managed to organise, among other things, a new iPhone and Jean found that a D&G watch she had spotted in Italy had been delivered by the jolly red guy.

Lunch was for 12 and included a turkey the size of a small horse, ham on the bone and potatoes roasted in goose fat. This was followed by the traditional pavlova (made by Gill) and ice cream (home made by Jean to an old Italian recipe). By 3pm all 12 of us were struggling to move.

From there it was all downhill. A round of party games saw us through to a light tea and suddenly it’s – now.

After events like today it’s traditional to thank the ladies for the spread and the blokes for bringing the booze. So thank you ladies and gents, our first UK Christmas.

Buon Natale

It’s Christmas time already and with only a few days to go we are in the UK, waiting for the snow to start falling and frantically checking our Christmas lists – twice. Jean, the girls and I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our loyal and lovely friends and readers a Buon Natale (as the Italians say) and a full, fruitful and enjoyable new year.

We have really enjoyed sharing our Italian adventures with everyone over the last 9 months and appreciated all the feedback we have received. And even though we are no longer in Italy we will continue to write about our adventures over the next few months wherever they happen to take us.

Once again Buon Natale and best wishes to you all.

Jean, Graeme and the girls.

Keeping the girls warm this winter – warning cute alert!

Winter means warm clothes. That means both us and the girls. So when we made the last visit to our dog groomer in Siena we did some winter coat shopping for the girls. The buying criteria was two-fold. Firstly, warmth for the girls on cold winter days and secondly, out-right cuteness.

In Troyes it was cold enough for the girls’ coats to be used and after a walk in the brisk 4 degree temperature we all adjourned to the bar for drinks.

Our night in the Alps

Girls relaxing in our room at La Ferme de Cortanges

After our trip through the Alps from Italy we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in the small village of Cernex located in the Rhone Alps region of France, very close to Switzerland and only about 30 kms from Geneva.

Our hostess was the lovely Rachel Schneider at the beautifully presented La Ferme de Cortanges or Cortange Farm in english. It is an old farm house which Rachel and her husband have restored and turned into a thriving business.

Every room of the seven room establishment was dressed differently and all were located around a comfortable central salon.

For dinner Rachel recommended a local restaurant which served traditional french cuisine. The team headed there for a delightful meal – €41 for four courses plus a bottle of excellent white wine.

After a wee taster from the kitchen of Mussel Soup I tried the fresh oysters and Jean tried the fresh salmon. Both were great. The oysters weren’t quite Bluff Oyster quality (for non New Zealand readers Bluff Oysters are from the deep south of New Zealand and available each year for a limited season. they are fat and full of flavour – for kiwis the benchmark by which all other oysters are measured).

For mains we couldn’t pass by the Boeuf with Bearnaise sauce which was followed by a selection of cheeses from the cheese cart and then souffle with fresh berries for dessert. All stunning.

It was the first time we had taken the girls to dinner in a formal restaurant for a while and, thankfully, they behaved.  Daisy even took a shine to the young couple sitting next door to us and spent time starring at them as they ate.

I didn’t want to ruin their illusion but the Boeuf and Bearnaise sauce on their plates had more to do with that than anything else.

Next day it was fresh fruit, croissants with homemade jam, and a mix of cheese and salami for breakfast then back into the car for an early start as we headed deeper into France.

Cenobio del Dogi in Camogli

On the way north we stayed at Cenobio Del Dogi, the same hotel on the Portofino Coast as we did heading south in April. Our conclusion after a second visit was much the same as after our first visit.  This is a grand hotel in the spirit of the 1950s or 1960s and it’s easy to imagine Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni sweeping down the main staircase on their way to drinks and dinner. The owners have resisted the temptation to modernise the hotel and have maintained (at considerable cost I suspect) that wonderful historic feel of a classic grand hotel.

We had drinks and dinner in the bar, surrounded by persian rugs and big easy relaxed armchairs. We had breakfast in the formal dining room with hand painted friezes on the walls and full length windows that showcased the view along the coast. We left wanting to return and spend longer than a night – a week would be a good start.

The drive to France

Apologies gentle reader, it has been nearly a week since our last post in Positano. I am writing this on Sunday morning in a hotel room in Troyes in France, just 3 hours south of Calais and with three days before we cross the channel to England.

In the last few days we have stayed a night in the Rhone Alps a few kilometres from Geneva, a night on the Portofino Coast and two nights in Rome.

With between 3 and 5 hours driving each day the last few days have been a blur of motorways, tunnels, mountains and fields.  The temperature has dropped from Positano’s warm 18 to Troyes’ chilly 2 degrees. Jean took the dogs out for their morning constitutional around 10am and returned declaring its “ski field” cold outside. As proof, if any further is needed, she then broke out the gloves, coats and woolly jumpers for the day.

I have a feeling that the girls will be wearing their new Italian coats for their walk. You haven’t heard about the coats? I’ll make sure to post some pictures later for your amusement.

Also I’ll be posting stories about Rome in winter, the trip through the Alps to France, the place we stayed on the Portofino Coast and a wee video we made about driving in Positano, all in the next few days.

As soon as I write them.