Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Three Cocks, Wales

In memory of Marty. We will remember you often, especially when good food and red wine are around. You are, and always will be, missed enormously by us both.

We got a lovely invite from my cousin Katrina (Treen) and her husband to go up to Wales to where his parents live for the Easter long weekend. So on Good Friday we caught a couple of trains to Reading and were met by Katrina at the station and drove to their house. They are both amazing cooks and she started a lamb curry when we got there and she and Olivia cracked the first of what would be three bottles of bubbly whilst she threw the ingredients together.
Martin was at work and so the three of us enjoyed a few drinks and waited for diner to cook. The smell in the kitchen was divine and little did we know that this was a sign of things to come for the rest of the weekend. When Martin finally got home we ate and it was well worth the wait. The curry was incredible and went down a treat. He had to work in the morning and we picked him up after lunch and headed off for the valleys of Wales. There had been really intermittent weather that week in England and it continued on our drive too. For a while there it was snowing really hard which was really exciting and we all hoped that there would be heaps of snow when we got to Wales too. We arrived at Martin’s parents place that afternoon and sat down for some home made cheese sticks and Treen's big bottle of Champagne! Martin had warned us that his mother spoils them whenever they go there and he was so right. She had cooked up a huge roast leg of ham and chicken with all the trimmings with probably the best cauliflower cheese either of us had ever had. To cap things off she had also made an enormous trifle that was also delectable.After the amazing dinner we played a game called ‘Deal or No Deal’. Martin’s family got the game on another holiday but nobody could be bothered to figure out how to play it so we persevered and finally sussed it out. We had a great night to say the least. On Easter Sunday Martin’s father took us for a drive up into the surrounding hills and countryside. It was so stark and beautiful and Martin and Olivia took their fair share of photos whilst the rest of us stayed put in the car. When we got back to the house Martin, Treen, Olivia and I went to the pub across the road for a quick pint before we all left for Easter lunch at a favourite local restaurant of theirs called ‘The Griffin’. We had no idea of how much of a treat we were in for. The food was amazing and the wine list extensive. When we had finished eating Martin’s parents went home and left us at the pub. Treen had bought us an Easter egg each that you decorated yourself. So we asked the other people that were waiting for a table and the waiting staff to judge whose egg they thought was decorated the best. We put a 10-minute limit on the decoration time and set to it. It was so much fun and the results were hilarious. We finally called it quits and caught a local cab back to the house and started another session of ‘Deal or No Deal’. After a ‘few’ nightcaps we finally headed off to bed for a well earned sleep.
The next morning we had a huge breakfast and then hit the road for the journey home. The first stop were the ruins of an ancient Priory. It was bitterly cold there but was well worth it as it was such an incredible setting and beautiful. From there Martin and Treen were keen to take us to this little village they had been to years before for some extra special bangers and mash but when we got there the kitchen was closed and there was no food at all. We tried pickled eggs but they weren’t anything special. So we continued on and were all getting really hungry by now when we came across a famous local restaurant called ‘The Bell at Skinfrith’. Treen suggested that we try in there and Martin insisted that there was no way on Easter Monday that you could just rock on up and get a table at this of all places. He was sure that we would need a booking. So she went in and minutes later came out with a triumphant smile on her face and said, “I told you so. We have to wait a few minutes for a table for four!” It was well worth the wait also. The food was once again sublime and the red wine that went with it superb. Our final meal capped off an incredible weekend of gastronomic wonders, great company and beautiful landscapes. It was almost a relief to get on the train at Reading and head for home to rest after all that feasting.

Arohanui Livi and Tama xx

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Praha – Prague, Czech Republic

In December 2007 we met a woman named Petra from Prague at a Christmas Party in London. She was on her way to New Zealand for a 3-month trip and we told her to get in touch with my family in Wellington. She did and ended up staying with them for 5 days. She then went up to Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty to stay with more of my relations there and since then had emailed us endlessly about coming to visit her. So we did. She met us at the airport and drove us back through the city to her office. She gave us a cell phone to use whilst there and we agreed to meet up later on that evening when she would take us to meet her friends for dinner. Olivia and I caught the local underground (metro) into the centre of Prague and started exploring. Petra called us and we met up and then walked through the city. It was so stunning and the camera virtually didn’t stop snapping. We ended up at a restaurant called ‘U Vejvodu’ which was nothing short of amazing. Most of the women at our table were drinking a local dark beer, which is apparently good for the breasts so Olivia decided that she had better have one of those too. I settled for a pilsner and the massive glasses they came in had me smiling from ear to ear. For dinner Petra recommended that Olivia have a Czech lamb dish and I have the ribs. She was right on the money. They were scrumptous. When we had finished we went for a walk through Prague and when we got to the Town square were absolutely blown away by everything. It was so stunning all lit up at night and you could see why Walt Disney had based his famous castle on the one here as it was truly magical. We then met up with our friends from London Greg and Ana and went to an Aussie bar for a quiet drink. After organising that we meet up the next day whilst sightseeing, we all went home for bed.
We caught the bus and tram into town the next morning to check out some of the sights. We decided to start back at the Town Square so that we could see it in the daylight.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominates one side of the Old Town Square. It's a powerful looking Gothic church with a baroque interior. The Old Town Hall Tower & Astronomical Clock are opposite the church and are also fabulous, it's such a beautiful square - fairytale like!After endless wandering around the little lanes we ended up back at the Town Square and decided that it was beer o’clock and sat down at one of the pubs for a rest. Greg and Ana met us there and we told them about ‘U Vejvodu’ and said that we would love to take them there for lunch. So after a bit more exploring we arrived back at ‘U Vejvodu’ for what was another incredible meal. Ana had ghoulash, Olivia had a yummy anti-pasto and soup, Greg had the ribs and I got a kilo knuckle of pork. When our meat arrived Greg and I got out our cameras and took some video clips of them and the girls just rolled their eyes at us. After lunch we caught the tram up to check out Prague Castle and the monastery that sit atop the hill overlooking the city. An undercover tram guard asked us if we had tickets and Ana and Greg handed theirs over. They had bought tickets that were valid for 24 hours and according to the guard they were expired by some 35 minutes or so. He then demanded 70 Crowns each as a fine. They had no choice but to pay this. Luckily for us we had valid tickets so we escaped that penalty. The castle was amazing especially the monastery and the view from up there was awesome. We had a big walk around up there before walking down the big hill back in to town.That night we met up with Petra and she took us to another restaurant where we met some more of her friends. After another delightful meal we all went nextdoor to a nightclub for a night of dancing. Not long after a Sri Lankan workmate of Petra’s called Vajira arrived with his friend Tomas. He took us up to the bar and got us some shots of some local drink and it seemed like every time we turned around he would be saying time for another one aye? Needless to say we had a great night that night and he said that he would love to catch up with us again before we went back to London.

The next day was another day filled with sightseeing. We spent a large part of the day around Charles Bridge on the river. It's a very romantic sight and was nice to stroll across although it is of course vert touristy with lots of people selling art etc. We had some nice wines at a bar overlooking the bridge. There are also great views of the castle from the riverside.

Cheb & Františkovy Lázně, Czech Republic

Petra had taken a couple of days off work so she could take us to her hometown to meet her parents and stay with her Mum. So the next day we got in her mates car and headed off with her cousin for Cheb. We were about two thirds of the way there when we heard this almighty bang and felt the car lurch. She stopped driving and I looked out my window and saw that the wheel had come off the hub and was grinding against the undercarriage. We were so lucky that we had been driving slowly up an incline and that nothing more serious happened. She called her father and he got a local mechanic to come out to take a look. I changed the tire and put on the space saver spare and her parents came out to meet us on the road. We got into her Dad’s car and she drove the other car to her Mum’s place in Cheb. Her Mum had cooked some local specialties for dinner and as you can imagine it was outstanding.The area where she lives is famous in the Czech Republic for spas and treatment centres. Unfortunately we were unable to get booked in for the whole spa treatment that day but the massage was so good. In former days Europe’s royalty would visit Frantiskovy Lazne and stay at one of the spas to utilise the healing properties of the natural spring water of the area. The architecture there is incredible and there are buildings that have been operating as spas for centuries. We all went for a walk in F.L and Olivia was told to rub the stomach of a statue of a little boy as it’s supposed to bring good luck with future pregnancies. We also got to try some of the spring water from one of the many fountains and to be honest they were really salty and quite foul. We finally stopped at a hotel that Petra’s father used to manage when she was a child and had hot chocolate there. Petra’s mother disappeared and came back with some three packets of these special wafers that are particular to that area as a present for us that was a pleasant surprise for us both.When we got back to her Mum’s house Petra suggested that we go to a local pub near to her house where we would meet one of her childhood friends. It was called the ‘Royal Taps’ and it was a really cool bar. Basically you sat at a table that has its own taps. Each of you gets a glass and then you fill your glass as you drink it. At the end of the night or when you have finished they tally up how much you have had and then you pay that bill. The cool thing is though that there is a big screen with all the table numbers listed on it. Each time that you fill up another glass that volume is added to your table. When you fill a virtual glass on the screen an animated man comes walks across the screen and then puts a tally mark next to your table name. If your tally becomes higher than the table above you move up the ranking. (paste video clip here) We had so much fun at this bar as you can imagine. After that we sat up in the lounge talking and I played on the guitar that was in the lounge. Petra’s mother got out a special bottle of vodka that he brought from Russia and had been saving for a special occasion and we had a few shots of this and all the while she was making an apple strudel from scratch. The smell of fresh baking filled her flat and we couldn’t wait to try some the next morning.After breakfast the next day we went to the hotel that Petra’s father managed for a massage. It was fabulous! Then we drove back to Prague and on the way stopped at the Krusovice brewery for a quick look and toilet stop.

Back in Prague...

Petra had taken an extra day off work so we could go and see her friend Jana at her place and we went over there for what was supposed to be afternoon tea (or so we thought). When we got to their place we met Jana's partner Radim who plays basketball for one of the local Men's teams and must be at least 6 ft 10. He was seated when we came into their kitchen and we he stood up to greet us he just seemed to keep going up and up! He was massive! We also had the pleasure of meeting their daughter and Olivia absolutely loved that! Radim had gone out to buy some local cake treats and Jana brought out this massive box of all these incredible cakes and pastries for us to try. Talk about decadent. To go with it she offered us a coffee and then a shot of a local plum brandy called slivovice which her grandmother had made. It was delcious. We then had some port and decided to have a couple more as you do. Then they asked us if would like to go swimming at a local pool which had slides and saunas so we all packed into their car and off we went. It was great fun! We met Radim sister there and had a very relaxing swim and sauna and of course played on the slides. Radim's sister then asked to come around to her house for dinner and once there she cooked us a stunning dinner typical Czech style. YUM! The next day Olivia and I arranged to meet Vajira in town by the riverside overlooking the famous Charles bridge.

We then spent the afternoon walking around Prague and went up to the top of a park that bordered the town from which there was a commanding view of the whole of Prague.
After a good look around there we walked back down and Vajira asked us if we would like to go out for dinner together and took us to this gorgeous little restaurant on the river that specialised in fish & seafood. Our meals were so tasty as was the local wine the Vajira chose. At the end he insisted that it was his treat and refused to let us pay some of the bill saying that it was his pleasure to meet us and to take us out. He's such a lovely guy and we hope we can return the hospitality when he comes to see NZ one day. The next day we went sightseeing in the Jewish quarter and saw some amazing old architecture and again took lots of photos. We stopped at a really nice little pizzeria and had a delicious lunch before continuing on our self guided tour of this awesome city.
For dinner that night we ended up back at … yup you guessed it ‘U Vejvodu.’ As sad as it sounds the fact that we went to the same place three times in 1 week gives you a good idea of how great the food was there! We usually try different places everytime!Before going to the airport we went into Prague on the final day and did the tours that we mentioned earlier. It was really sad to see how badly the Jewish people had been treated, not only in the World Wars but also over history. Their cemetery had many layers to it as it had been filled and then reused again and again as the city wouldn’t allow Jewish people to be buried elsewhere. We went back through the main square one last time and once to have a last look at the stunning buildings. We then had one last meal of Czech food and met Petra briefly to say our farewells.When that was all said and done we collected our bags from her flat and caught the bus to the airport for our flight back to Stansted. We will never forget our trip to Prague, Cheb Františkovy Lázně nor our wonderful, generous host Petra and her lovely family. It was so nice to have a local to show us the places to go that us tourists would usually not find. We hope that we can show some of those places to Petra in New Zealand one day.
Lots of love
Livi and Tama xx