Happy Chinese New Year

happy new year of the rabbit!  Jan 22nd is the official day for new year, but the celebrations can last for up to 2 weeks. 

1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

we are leaving the energetic Tiger year and entering the more quiet and introspective Rabbit – the Rabbit is a symbol of intellect and cautiousness and this year we should all be focusing on rest and working smarter not harder – take a moment to think before action, not rushing into something that you may later regret.

taking a pause and a breath is a really useful tool for calming the system. Qigong helps to cultivate calmness as well as compassion and kindness – movements are uncrushed using fluid, intention based movements to allow our thoughts and body to work in a balanced way. for more information about my Qigong classes, both online and in person, please message or email me.

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise.

Venice in winter

It was exactly 3 years ago that we were in Venice – celebrating our 25th anniversary – Covid was present in Italy, but at that time, it was relatively unknown about its vulnerability and the devastation it was going to cause on a worldwide scale. It was really nice to revisit for our 28th anniversary. We booked again with Kirker who have a reliable standard of quality with their hotels and restaurant recommendations. It also helps with the general flow of arriving, getting to the hotel and transportation. We took a very early flight, so arrived in time for lunch, eating at Do Forni, a very good classic Italian restaurant, and full of locals. There are so many restaurants in Venice, and generally quite expensive, so it can be quite daunting deciding; this was also not far to walk from the hotel – Hotel Splendid. Again, this hotel was reasonably priced for it’s prime position and the rooms very comfortable. Do Forni is a more pricey restaurant, but it obviously depends on how many courses you are going to eat, but the food was very good – we just chose a pasta dish each. In the evening we ate in a local family trattoria, Trattoria Alla Scala, which offered fish at a very reasonable price and was very good. Other restaurants that we ate in was Osteria all Testiere, a small restaurant with great sea food, not a big menu, but its all very fresh, seasonal and considered. It’s one of our favourites and we went there last time we came. You definitely have to book in advance as this only seats 22 people.

There are several types of eateries, Bacaro are essentially bars serving snacks and sandwiches, but this is all you need if a big dinner is planned or you have had a major lunch. Good areas for Bacaro are Dorsodoro, around the Academia, or near the Guggenheim museum – much less tourist area with locals standing at the bars enjoying their drinks and taking in the selection of Italian snacks. Around the Rialto fish and fruit market are lots of eating places, a good choice for snacks and light meals; it is very atmospheric there. The market is a wonderful place to see real living, in what is essentially a tourist city. Wonder at the colourful variety of fruit and vegetables – some so unusual.

Anniversary dinner was at Bistro de Venise – another old school classic Italian eatery – think Sheekey’s – lots of waiters milling around in black and white, incredible service, delicious food, much more refined, but simply presented in plain bowls and tableware. Again depending on how many courses and drinks you choose, expect to pay around 140 euros for 2 with wine. Our final lunch was at a trattoria – pizza, pasta and salad, very reasonable and tasty – Barbanera – the pizza and homemade tiramisu delicious – this was around 60 euros for 2. our big treat was to have a drink in the atmospheric Gritti Palace Bar, full of glamour and sophistication, but a lovely place to sit and escape the rain. its very romantic and comfortable and we just had a beer and tea around 5pm. It’s ideal for a pre dinner drink, but of course you are paying for the privilege to sit there, but see it as a theatrical treat. The Danielli Hotel is a similar experience, but we did find that a lot of the usual things that are open in January were closed for most of January – maybe Covid had an effect, but there did seem to be less open. Lots of places were refurbishing ready for Carnival which starts early February in Venice.

The weather was not great, a lot of rain and grey clouds, but we used the time to visit some galleries. Peggy Guggenheim is always good to see, and worth walking around the surrounding streets, as quieter and less tourist; Venini – an incredible installation of glass lamps designed by Carlos Scarpa – some reconstructed from 1961. Again use the opportunity to take the boat to the next stop along to the Giudecca and feel what it is like being in a part of Venice where people live rather than just tourists, its just a short boat ride opposite San Marco. Boat rides are very expensive – 9.50 euros each journey, so its worth buying a 2 day ticket which allows you to freely get on and off, this was 35 Euros per person for 2 days. Lee Miller and Man Ray – another interesting exhibition showing the relationship between 2 great photographers, housed in another lovely Palacio. It’s a good chance to see inside these Palacios and see the grandness of 16C living. note that a lot of the galleries seem to close on a Tuesday, so good to plan your day in advance.

Venice is for walking and getting lost, you can try and look at the map, but it just frustrates you, give yourself enough time to find your proposed destination and if you get lost, even google maps can be confusing –  you will always find a sign directing you towards either san marco or the rialto bridge, which means you can then hop onto a boat back to your hotel or a recognisable site.  by the end of our visit, we realised that it was actually quicker walking everywhere than taking the boats. Another museum worth seeing, the museo fortuny, a beautiful old palazzo owned by the artist Mariano Fortuny Madrazo, which he restored to be his home and work studio, producing beautiful fabrics, artworks and clothes – remember those gorgeous pleated evening dresses;  on his death, his wife left the property to the council as a preservation of art, and so now it houses temporary exhibitions.

You can also read about our other Venice trips on previous blogs. https://christinawilson.wordpress.com/2020/01/24/venice-in-january/

12 days after xmas

Friday is the twelfth day after christmas and is traditionally the day that you take down your xmas decorations- so dont forget!    jan 6th is epiphany and is the day the three wise  men (magi) brought their gifts to the young Jesus;  so especially in Latin American countries, the 6th Jan is usually the day that presents are given rather than 25th december.   On the night of the 5th, instead of stockings, kids leave their shoes out, stuffed with straw. It’s not Santa who comes in the middle of the night leaving the children presents. Instead, it’s the three magi who come bringing gifts for the kids, just like when they gave the baby Jesus presents in honor of his birth. The straw in the children’s shoes is for the Wise Men’s camels to eat.

To celebrate the Epiphany in Spain there are often parades featuring the three magi…  it seems it doesnt take much excuse to put on a parade in spain, throughout the year there is always a festival, parade or street party to either celebrate a saints day, or notable date in the calendar! thats what I love about spain, its cultures and traditions that are still family celebrations.

I wish that I was there in spain to celebrate – have never made it at this time of year – one day – its even been mild and sunny above 20C!

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winter solstice

Known as the winter extreme in Chinese wisdom, the 22nd December sees the Winter Solstice – a magical time of year when the daylight is at its shortest and night is at its longest and darkest. Its the moment when yin reaches its peak, pauses and the spark of yang ignites and the ascent into light begins again.  Its this precise meeting of yin and yang that heralds the possibility of new creation, both spiritually and emotionally. In this moment of stillness feel that anything is possible.  It’s time to say goodbye to the woes of the year and look forward to the brightening of the longer days and the goodness of the future. 

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one year i managed to catch the full moon known as the ‘harvest moon’ – so called because it signals the time when corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice – the chief indian staples are ready for gathering.   here is the full moon on the padstow estuary – its the view from my friends’ house. its actually one of my favourite images in my book stolen glimpses.

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buying gifts is such a difficult thing….

what to buy each year becomes a dilemma – here is my list of what usually works for most of the family.

  1. curzon  cinema vouchers or membership to local cinema, could be any of the lovely independents that are around ,  2. tate, v & a membership or any gallery subscription – older kids seem to have preferred the Barbican, which also gives you discounted access to the gallery and cinema, 3. ticket or gift voucher to the theatre, maybe somewhere unusual like Wiltons or Sam Wanamaker theatre or National Theatre, 4. daunts book voucher or again any local bookshop, 5. anything from aesop, 6.  anything from the wonderful art shop cornelissen 7.  food gifts from la fromagerie ,Lina stores or my favourite Italo in Bonnington Square , 8.  jewellery from Tidy Street, Liberty’s or  sweet pea,, 9. ceramics – Conran, Japan House – at the moment, I love Japanese bowls from Sway gallery 10. candles from cire trudon or Tom Dixon’s fab new shop 11. a treatment from the Cow Shed, my husband got me a voucher last year for my birthday and the pedicure was pretty amazing. 12. of course there is a night’s stay in a hotel somewhere in the countryside, and there are so many lovely hotels to stay in and one extra – a course in ceramics, a language, drawing or just about anything – there are so many courses on offer at city lit and the neighbouring adult colleges. lots of independent shops such as Momosan, Native and Co, Tidy Street, Couverture and Garb store, Vanil. remember most of these places have a website and you can get gifts delivered.

Robert and Alfie’s favourite shop for classic  men’s clothes with style,  visit  J.Simons  shop on chiltern street –  it brings together a handpicked selection of American, Continental and British brands, classic loafers, harrington jackets, jeans and even includes a few vintage pieces – perfect if you want to find your male partner or friend a gift.  i love the pendleton shirts!  you go in there wishing that they did the same things in womens sizes.

struggling to find presents for men, go along to the aesop shop in soho – their products are all plant based, high quality and specially made to benefit the skin and absolutely smell beautiful. last year i bought a foaming shaving balm for my husband with a steel dish for him to whip up the foam with his brush – he is very old fashioned and still likes to wet shave.  a lot of men hate bits and pieces, collective memoirs, so finding something to buy them  can become a bit of a challenge.  a guess this means that you have a limited list;   here are a few places that i know robert will always be pleased to receive from  -any products from  kiehls,  scarves and silk handkerchieves from peckham rye, vintage books and out of print books  from the numerous antiquarian book shops on cecil court, poetry books from  daunts, I still think that they have the best choice of books, and the re issues of classics such as Agatha Christie and Dickens are so beautifully presented that they can be the start of a collection, travel notebooks from smythsons – you can even have your own initials embossed on the beautiful leather covers, margaret howell for vases and accessories , rapha for absolutely anything cycling, brooks for classic cycling bags,chapmans for classic bags.

the boys love fresh boxers, from the great basic uniqulo boxers to the supremely quality cotton boxers from sunspel – their cotton is just lovely; even the girls like to wear them for holidays.

forever autumn

such an apt song for now , forever autumn justin hayward;  autumn is one of my favourite times of the year – its the gentle closing to summer and the breaking in of dark winter nights.  some may say its a bad time as it ends the long balmy nights, but i quite like wrapping up warm on an evening, curling up on the sofa – too lazy to venture out in the dark……

one of my new art cards available from my website
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one of my favourite images – from my stolen glimpses book

suffolk in the autumn

I love going  to suffolk out of season – still the warmth of the sun, the breeze of the wind and the to and fro -ing of the sea; lots of lovely villages, but one of my favourites is Dunwich – a small sleepy village famous for its birdwatching. its hard to believe that it was once the unofficial capital of east anglia and the main port for trading of wool timber and fish.  there is apparently a 3 mile coastal walk to walberswick which is worth doing.  the ship at dunwich looks like a popular place to have sunday lunch, but you must reserve. there is also the lovely cafe by the beach car park, reminiscent of an old scouts hut, serving old fashioned knickerbocker glories plus great fish and chips.  stop off at dunwich forest and take a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty. on the top of the cliff top visit the National trust cafe, surrounded by fields of heather – it really is quite magical with all the changing colours.

we usually end up at Homebase in Lowestoft – so its a good excuse to pop to Kessingland beach for walk to take in the fresh sea air.  it always reminds me of Dungeness with its pebble beach, wild flora and incredible light. this is not a tourist beach, always quiet even in the height of summer.

Walberswick is easily accessible from Southwold, park at the water tower and make your way to the harbour, cross the pedestrian bridge at the end furthest from the sea and then walk down to Walberswick beach; then loop back to the harbour edge and take the short ferry ride back over to Southwold fish harbour and enjoy some fresh caught fish a Sole Bay fish and chips.

we have had the cottage 6 years now,  but we have explored the coastline on each of our short visits,  and each time we are pleasantly surprised at how naturally beautiful it is.

autumn equinox

an equinox is the moment in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun’s disk  which occurs twice each year.  today the equinox is due around 8pm – its the official end to summer and the start of autumn.  lots of cultures celebrate the equinox, including the mexicans for whom it is a big time of year.   i feel so sad for all these hurricanes and earthquakes that have affected parts of the world – we may complain about the rain and the grey days, but at least we are relatively free of these intense forces of nature.

on an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. they are not exactly equal, however, due to the angular size of the sun and atmospheric refraction. the word is derived from the Latin aequinoctium, aequus (equal) and nox (genitive noctis) (night).

beaches in Andalucia

we are on our annual family holiday in Vejer and September is a perfect temperature…. we have had the house 22 years now, watching our little one grow from one to 23 years old and still loving the area and especially the beaches.

one of my favourite beaches in andalucia is El Palmar – popular for surfing in the winter and the local beach to our village of Vejer de la Fronterra;   its quite a long beach and the waves can be strong, but the sea is fresh and exhilarating.  we tend to go to the far left of the beach which is a little bit quieter, but if you go towards Conil, there is a much more younger audience and lots of surfing and cafe and bars to choose from.

Zahora, hidden away, this natural beach is within a bay, so a bit more sheltered than the wider open beaches and is perfect for children;  however, when the tide goes out, its very shallow with lots of rocks, and a long way to walk out to swim. friends have noted that its like a Caribbean beach; if you walk up towards the lighthouse from Zahora, you will reach Manguete beach – a beautiful wild beach with nothing built on it – access by this road is more difficult as its an unmade dirt road, but well worth the journey. In the summer months, there are lovely Chiringuitos, pop up beach restaurants, but they tend to only be there from mid June to mid September.

Cabo de Trafalgar, is the famous beach from the battle of Trafalgar, totally unspoilt with nothing built on it – lots of kite surfers frequent this beach when the conditions are right for surfing – a finer sand its completely unspoilt and during the summer can have fewer waves for swimming as it is in a cove like position; the next beach along is Canos de la Meca   a smaller hippy beach, again a bit sheltered, but very busy in the summer – only worth going to out of the busy August period; the sea can be less wavy as there is a ridge in the sea that breaks the waves –  the far end is rugged with cliff tops but also attracts nudists, again wilder with no buildings built on it.  

Zahara de los Atunes is a  fishing village by the sea with a long windswept rugged beach, popular in the summer with tourists – there is a lovely bit by the old town and a long stretch further down towards the newer apartments;  we like to eat in the hotel Don Antonio and then sit on that part of the beach after and watch the sun go down, but if you stay in the old town, our other favourite restaurant la Taberna de la Campero.

Yerbabuena beach, just at the start of Barbate and next to the pine forest is a beautiful setting, especially at this time of year. There are a couple of chiringuitos there in the summer.

Conil is more built up than the other beaches, but has a fantastic long wide beach and the sea is perfect for wave jumping – again, the end nearest Vejer has a bridge that takes you to a wilder non built up part, but the other end has 2 fantastic eating places right onto the beach, La Fontanilla.

Bolonia is a great beach with the added attraction of some Roman ruins, dunes and the odd cow or horse stepping out on the seafront; – if you go left its quieter with cafes on the cliff top, right are the ruins.  Tarifa is hip, young and a magnet for windsurfing and kite surfers, but also has the wonderful dunes nearby;  between Tarifa and the dunes is the beach Valdequeros, which has a fun beach bar.

Calas de Roche are a series of coves, seven in total, accessible only by walking from the road 10 mins, and down steep steps, but they are really beautiful and wild beaches, surrounded by fossilised rocks. the waves are quite strong, but if you paddle around the rocks there are lots of pools to step into. there are no facilities for food, but in the nearby marina there are a couple of spanish style restaurants, El Pastor and El Nautico de Conil

La Barossa has more hotels around, more built up, but again a fabulous long beach; San Lucar de la Barrameda is an old fishing village by the sea, famed for its seafood – its one of our favourite towns in spain – not at all trendy, just full of locals from jerez and seville searching for the famous prawns.  Seek Bajo de Guia and eat at casa Bigote – classic traditional food that is always of a high quality.

www.andalucia-house-vejer.com

cadiz and ribbons

i cant resist a haberdashery shop, so visiting some of Cadiz’s shops is like entering an aladdins cave of ribbons, bindings, threads and trimmings –  it is also a great opportunity to buy yet another beautiful set of ribbons to add to my collection- the collection that is designated for when i have time to sew myself a beautiful dress, or make that quilt of vintage and found fabrics!  I also use ribbons to reinforce tears in dresses – they work well as they are not only pretty, but have bound edges – use the sashiko stitch to patch the tears.

if you have never been to cadiz, then you must – its a charming old city, especially around the fruit and fish market, which now re-opens in the evening ; to get the full experience you should come in the morning for the produce, and then stroll the edge of the market where there are lots of food and tapas stalls  that sell snacks – we decided on amazing freshly squeezed fruit juices and tortilla for lunch.

Cadiz is one of the least well known of the spanish cities -built on the Atlantic coast, its crumbling buildings are reminiscent of Havana.  fishermen line the coastal walls to catch their daily fish ; wander through the many stalls of the fish market and see the locals selling their freshly picked home grown herbs and veg – anything from camomile flowers, chestnuts, sage flowers to wild asparagus.  its great to see that market life is still in abundance, when in many cities, the growth of the supermarkets has killed local trading.  i love the fact that spain still has shops that solely sell one thing – scissors and knives, tobacco and cigarettes, ribbons and trimmings.  its also a great place to buy the typical flat soled espadrilles – nowadays everyone seems to make them with high wedges. our favourite restaurant is el faro – faded old school tradition and a bit more sophisticated, its your chance to dress up and leave behind the flip flops.  on your way out of cadiz, stop at their sister branch, el chato but purely to take a late afternoon swim. another interesting restaurant is el  Balandro.

wander around ‘El Callejon del Duende’, the streets dedicated to flamenco singers past and present;  bars that look interesting are Circo Duende and Cafe Teatro.

we recently discovered the beautiful botanical gardens, Park Genoves just near to the city beach area – and next to the  Alameda walkways and old trees, its a peaceful haven in what is a busy port city.

there is also the site of the old amphitheatre, which has been recently restored to visit too, so lots of interesting things to see.

in london, i love to browse in V W Rouleaux –  you can choose beautiful ribbons, trimmings and lots of other interesting flowers and tassels – everything and anything to make your hat or costume pretty, or just to simply find the  essential tie backs for your curtains.