Christmas in Virginia

2016 saw a multiplication in our grandchildren, from one to three. Sennen, born in January, lives with older brother Benjamin just a couple of hours’ drive away in Northampton, so we get to see them quite a bit.  Vivien, born in March, lives in Virginia, so we need to make the most of a visit there, given the time and expense involved in making the trip.

We were able to get out there in May to see the relatively new-born, but never having visited our daughter, husband and family at Christmas, it seemed like a good plan. And think of the money saved on Christmas trees and decorations, not to mention winter heating!

lego

Aden’s Lego Christmas village

Virginia in winter is much like Cheshire – just that the colds are quite a bit colder, and the warms a bit warmer. We went from around -9C one day to + 15C just before we left. We did get one good snowfall, though, which we seldom see around here. I even cleared snow from the driveway with a shovel, while other neighbours joyously started up their snow blowers and mini snow ploughs.

It wasn’t quite what we experienced a few years ago in Chicago, with their biggest blizzard in ten years filling the streets, covering the cars and closing the airport, but you can’t beat a blanket of snow for making the world look crisp and fresh for a few hours.

snow

Walking near Hannah’s house

cabin

An old cabin church

It being the right season, we got to go to our first hockey games. (That’s ice hockey, of course, but it’s just called “hockey” in North America: “field hockey” is less of a thing, I guess.) Great evenings, as are most American sports, whether you can follow them or not – lots of music, cheering crowds, audience participation, hot dogs and beer. A couple of minor fights on our first visit, but not a glove laid in anger at our second, which was a bit disappointing.

hockey

Our other American first was a rodeo. Many of the surrounding states had experienced a snow storm, so many of the competitors couldn’t make it, but there was enough to give a flavour – calf-roping, bull- and bronco-riding, and a couple of young women who did trick riding, including standing up on a pair of horses, Roman-style. Impressive, but impossible to photograph.

rodeo1

rodeo2

As often happens, I was struck more than anything by the opening of all of these events, with everyone standing for the national anthem. Patriotism is a serious thing in the US, especially, I suppose, among the people who attend these kind of events. The rodeo even began with a heart-felt prayer, of which the last line was “I know it’s not politically correct, but here in Virginia we can still say ‘One nation under God'”. Trump’s triumph summed up in a sentence. (I’ve written elsewhere about Christians in the US voting for Trump in huge numbers; this is not the place for politics.)

The actual Christmas period was spent at Wintergreen, in a house belonging to our son-in-law’s family. At the top of a hill, nestled in forest, and with a ski-resort a short walk away – not a bad place to stay! Only no snow this year – that would have made it perfect. (They filled the ski slopes with snow from huge freezer/blowers, so at least we got to see some.) Turkey dinner, lots of gifts exchanged, interesting company (including some visitors): a good time had by all.

wintergreen

View from the house

skislopes

Ski slopes

New Year’s Eve was curry night for Hannah, Aden and a few of their friends. Great to get back in the kitchen. Another curry night a week later for a couple of Hannah’s pub quiz friends, including a great singalong with fiddle-player Erin, learning a few new Appallachian tunes. Haven’t done that for so long!

We did a few other things – a couple of local walks, a drive out to Blacksburg, where Hannah works at Virginia Tech (freezing!), a trip to the Peaks of Otter in the Blue Ridge mountains – but mainly hung out (and tidied the garage).

blacksburg

Old house at Blacksburg, now a museum

trees

Birch trees near the Roanoke River

otter

At the Peaks of Otter

blueridge

Blue Ridge mountains – and a lonesome pine (all right, I know it’s not a pine, but it should be)

It’s great to have another family in such a different and interesting place. Looks like our time is going to be divided between Cheshire, Northants and Virginia in 2017. Bring it on!

 

Central Europe – and a Wedding

It’s been five months since I last posted on this blog, but I’ll catch up! Part of the reason for my negligence has been that I’ve started to study for accreditation as a Methodist Local Preacher, and that has occupied both my time and my attention since August. It’s actually the subject of another blog which I’ve just started – Wild About Preaching – so I’m in blogging mode at the moment. Anyway, the winter is coming and it’s nicer to sit in my warm spare bedroom than walk the streets.

Our daughter Kate got married this summer. She and Jez decided to have a quiet “destination wedding” in a place where they have enjoyed skiing holidays, Zell am See, in Austria. We were invited to join them, and it gave us the chance to pay a couple of visits to former Woodstock colleagues in that neck of the woods. So all good.

We’ve done a few road trips in the USA in recent years, but it’s been a long time since we’ve travelled much in Europe, so it was quite fun planning the itinerary. Kate works for Accor Hotels, so it seemed only fair to use them for our stopovers – Ibis and Ibis Budget was the way to go. We can’t get out of the habit of economising, and, frankly, the worst Ibis Budget is better than most of the backpackers’ hostels we frequented in India.

When I changed my car a year ago, I got one with a Europe SatNav, so that was good. To test it, I sat on the drive of our house and tapped in the address of the hotel in Austria. Route calculated, start now, don’t stop, and you’ll be there in 23 hours. Well, maybe not this time.

The day before we were leaving was the wedding of Emily, daughter of our good friends Chris and Tess. By special request, we reconstituted a band for the night made up of friends who hadn’t played together for years, and had enormous fun. So great to play with accomplished musicians, including Chris, the father of the bride..

The Channel Tunnel was the best option this time, so after an easy drive down on the Sunday morning, we got to France about 5:00 pm and drove a couple of hours to our first stop at Laon. We’d picked it purely on location but, as you so often find in France, we ended up having our first meal in a beautiful medieval town, and walking back to the car round massive walls overlooking the plains below. Magical.

laon

Laon

Next stop Stuttgart, and a mis-programming of the SatNav added two hours to our journey. Who would have known there were two streets of the same name, one in the town centre and one by the airport. Hey ho.  Then another long-ish run to Zell am See. The highlight, of course, was playing Kraftwerk “Autobahn” at high volume while cruising at 115 mph. It just has to be done – but not too often.

zellamsee

Zell am See

Hotel Tirolerhof in Zell am See: classic skiing lodge, with extravagant breakfasts and dinners, and a lake to walk around. What could be better? Well, a wedding. Horse-drawn carriage around the town, nice ceremony, live piano music, and the hordes of Kuwaitis who had descended on the town for the holidays cheering and waving as we drove by. The Arabs are just like the Indians, they love a good wedding!

wedding

Wedding carriage

After dropping Kate and Jez at the train station in Salzburg, we headed up into the hills to stay with Chris and Diana, who live in an area of the beautiful village of Faistenau called Vordersee (because it’s in front of the lake – my “A” level German is all coming back to me.) It’s perfect country for walking, and they had a garden full of birds. A delightful place to stay, and with warm hospitality.

faistenau

Faistenau

faistenau2

With the Taylors at the local brewery

After a few days, onward and downward: half a day in Salzburg (you have to see Mozart’s birthplace), then immense traffic jams on the way to Munich, adding a couple of hours to a reasonably short journey.

salzburg

Munich is definitely a highlight, if only for the Vittelmarkt, the food market, with its enormous open-air restaurant area. Pork, sauerkraut, dunkelbier (dark beer) and interesting conversations with other people at the table, all under a warm sun. I could live like that!

munich2

The Vittelmarkt at Munich

munich

What can I say?

On to Friedrichshaven. Again, mostly picked because it was halfway between two destinations, but with much more to it than we expected. It was the home and manufacturing centre of the famous Graf Zeppelin – an d you could actually have joyrides round the town in a small airship. It was also the base for the Junkers aircraft factory, and that was well worth a visit. Unsurprisingly, with these industries being so prominent, there’s wasn’t much left of the town after the Allies finished bombing it during the second world war, so it’s all new and very smart. Lake Constance (Bodensee to the Germans) is pretty nice too, with a whole variety of ferries, yachts, rowing boats and vintage steamers plying to and fro. A very nice stopover.

friedrichshafen

Friedrichshaven

zeppelin

A Zeppelin flies over the Junkers museum

We were en route to stay with another couple from our Woodstock days, David and Lindy, who live in a Swiss ski resort above Lake Geneva. (Lac Leman to the French – I’m enjoying this!) Dot, who is a Heidi freak, absolutely fell in love with their Chalet-style house, with its stunning views over the valley and Mont Blanc in the distance. I feared she’d be applying for a job as house-keeper. She insisted on dressing up and having a Heidi photo shoot. We walked in the hills above the spectacular golf course, heard the cowbells, watched the clouds over mountains, sat in an old inn drinking beer in front of a log fire.. Can’t complain.

meadows

mountain

heidi

Dot looks worryingly at home

davidlindy

David and Lindy. Now they ARE at home.

Back into France and on our way home. Our final stop before a night next to the Tunnel in Calais was at Troyes. Yet again, a convenient and unresearched stopover proved to be a beautiful ancient own, with some of the best medieval houses I’ve seen, and the usual pretty decent menu touristique at one of the restaurants – more pork and sauerkraut (or as the French call it, choucroute – tee hee).

troyes

Medieval buildings and restaurants – all you want, really

And after all these years of visiting France, we finally achieved what we thought was impossible. On our last night in Calais we had a bad meal. Our own fault for mvisiting a restaurant in the Calais equivalent of Cheshire Oaks, a McArthur Glen Designer Outlet. At last we can rest easy – French food is not always perfect.

Copenhagen and Oslo

We have our American friends from India, the Okies, staying with us for a few weeks. Five days after we collected them from Heathrow we were off to Copenhagen for a kind of twin mini city break. We stayed in an Air B & B apartment for a few days, then took an overnight ferry cruise to Oslo for another two nights, before a final night in Copenhagen in a nice apartment a couple of blocks away from the red light district. Nothing but the best!

In fairness, the district also had some smart design shops and the best breakfast deal in Copenhagen – fresh-baked bread and cheese, Danish pastry, freshly squeezed orange juice and a cappucino for £6. Cheap anywhere, but astonishing there.

Yes, it’s expensive. We had a couple of meals out, on the ferry, in Oslo, and in Copenhagen, and the prices don’t bear thinking about. Apart from that, we cooked at home a couple of times and made use of what seems to be the national food – kebab shops. Some stretches of road were a more or less continuous line of them, all more or less identical in their fare – shawarma in pita bread, burgers, fries, pizza, coke and the occasional fried chicken. We did manage to find an Indian-run place where we had fish pakoras, which were quite good.

Brunches and lunches were the best, though, with beautiful breads filled with salmon or tuna mousse and lots of salad.

Highlights for me were the botanical gardens in both Copenhagen and Oslo, with palm houses and landscaped rock gardens and lakes. The Viking boat museum in Oslo, and thr surrounding area, were well worth a visit – and we got senior citizens entry rates! The  Edvard Munch museum in Oslo was in the middle of setting up a new exhibition so – bad news – just a few paintings on show and – good news – it was free.

Each city also has a pretty new, modernist-designed Opera House. Of the two, I much preferred Oslo. Copenhagen, though, is a very noticably green city, with lots of parks dotted around the centre.

Apart from that, as we generally do, we just enjoyed wandering the streets and getting a feel for the place. What really stands out in Copenhagen is the sheer volume of cycle traffic, all speeding down special tracks on every main road. Bike-friendly in the extreme. We rented bikes ourselves on the last day, and made several faux pas in our obedience to the cycle traffic rules. Not as easy as it looks.

Copenhagen = Little Mermaid and Tivoli Gardens to most people. Well, the Little Mermaid is very underwhelming (its main feature is the hordes of tourists having their photo taken in front of it), but the Tivoli looked suitable grand from the outside (you had to pay to walk around, so maybe next time).

Good company with the Okies, good sights, and a lovely lunch in Oslo with a couple we met in Mussoorie about six years ago and kept in touch with on Facebook. That’s the way we like to do it.

Yes, we did really go there

Yes, we did really go there

Abe feeds Dot the first of several shawarmas

Abe feeds Dot the first of several shawarmas

Caption competition, Copenhagen botanical gardens

Caption competition, Copenhagen botanical gardens

Heron in Copenhagen botanical gardens

Heron in Copenhagen botanical gardens

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Apartments where we stayed in Copenhagen

Apartments where we stayed in Copenhagen

It's that mermaid

It’s that mermaid

Old doors in Copenhagen

Old doors in Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

Leaving Copenhagen for our cruise

Leaving Copenhagen for our cruise

Sailing up the fjord into Oslo

Sailing up the fjord into Oslo

Oslo botanical gardens

Oslo botanical gardens

Viking ship museum

Viking ship museum

Beautiful capturing of human relationships in stone and metal

The wonderful Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo

The wonderful Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo

Beautiful capturing of human relationships in stone and metal

The best breakfast in Copenhagen

The best breakfast in Copenhagen

Waterside living in Copenhagen

Waterside living in Copenhagen

If you can't beat 'em..

If you can’t beat ’em..

A Quick Trip to the USA

We had our third grandchild in March, but thousands of miles away in Virginia, so April found us feverishly booking flights and getting over there to visit. We had a very cilled two weeks doing little except hold Vivien and walk round local parks. Oh, there was a Huey Lewis concert, a trip to the ball game and a kite festival in the mix.

Strollin', just strollin'

Strollin’, just strollin’

The reason for the trip

The reason for the trip

Mother, daughter and granddaughter

Mother, daughter and granddaughter

Huey Lewis and the News - great concert

Huey Lewis and the News – great concert

Vivi's cousin enjoys the kite festival

Vivi’s cousin enjoys the kite festival

The kites!

The kites!

At the Star Wars-themed ball game

At the Star Wars-themed ball game

We had another grandchild in January, but at least she is able to come and visit any time!

Being a real nanny with Sennen

Being a real nanny with Sennen

Kenya

This is the second post about our trip to Africa in March 2016. We spent two weeks in Uganda teaching in a village school, and then had just four days in Nairobi – but very full days!

Departure from Entebbe airport featured a very strange security check which we also endured at Nairobi on the way out. I’m still trying to figure out what its usefulness is. Basically, as you are driving into the airport, all the passengers need to leave the vehicle and go through a metal detector, then get back in the car and drive in to the car park or drop off zone. Maybe there will be the occasional terrorist who forgets to leave his bomb or gun in the car and gets caught, but it seems unlikely.

Anyway, with not too much of a delay at immigration, we were met in Nairobi by Nate and Joie for a ride across town to their beautiful home near Rosslyn Academy, where Nate works. A good sleep, and it was time to meet the family over breakfast. Will and Annie had grown, and Kajsa and Peter had appeared since we said farewell to them at Woodstock.

Our first day there was Sunday, so with it being Nate’s only free day, we were treated to a day out at Crescent Island Game Park – “where you walk with the animals”. And, indeed, we did – giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, gazelles and.. sheep. All in a beautiful mix of African savannah (complete with acacia trees) and open forest. Definitely a highlight. On the way we got great views of the Rift Valley from a road along the escarpment.

rift_valley
 

Annie was impressed with the hippo skull

Annie was impressed with the hippo skull

deer
 
wildebeest
 
pelicans&spoonbill
 
zebras
 
zebra
 
giraffe
 
giraffe2
 

The flowers were spectacular, as well as the animals

The flowers were spectacular, as well as the animals

Kajsa was trying out her photography skills

Kajsa was trying out her photography skills

forest_track
 
Day two, and a morning walk in the local Karuna forest.
I guess not manycitieshavethis kind of wild area within their borders, with miles of forest paths and a pleasant double waterfall as a focal point. Big enough to get lost in, so we did, walking a bit further than planned and only just getting Kajsa to preschool in time for her afternoon session. I must confess, I fell asleep after lunch, and didn’t quite revive in time to go and watch the basketball match at Rosslyn – Dot filled in for me. It did give me a chance to finish editing my Uganda video, though, so I wasn’t completely lazy.

Karuna Falls

Karuna Falls

That evening we had a meal out at a local Ethiopian restaurant. Yummy.

ethiopian_meal1
 
Day three, Tuesday – time to hit the big city and find those markets. It’s about 10 kilometers from the Burchells’ house to the centre of town, but it took about an hour and a half to claw our way through the traffic – probably the worst I’ve seen anywhere, to be honest. We struck lucky and found a multi-storey car park at the InterContinental Hotel, right in the city centre, so that worked out well. From there it was a fifteen-minute walk to the Maasai Market, just by the bus station. (I mention that because no one seems very clear where it is on any particular day. So – Tuesday: bus station.) Of course, it was just what you’d expect, in a positive sort of way: plenty of wood carvings, painted soapstone dishes, beads, paintings and the ubiquitous tee shirts. (“I’m your boyfriend, not your ATM”; “Keep Calm – You’re Kenyan”.) We got some nice stuff to supplement what we bought at the Frickadellen in Uganda.

Nairobi traffic

Nairobi traffic

Maasai Market

Maasai Market

After that it was a snack in the Swahili Restaurant. I was tempted by matoke, but stuck with a masala omelette), and a quick flip round the indoor City Market before heading home.

City Market

City Market

Day four, Wednesday – glass factory, and a nice lunch. Joie was keen to keep the kids off school and visit the Kitengela Hot Glass factory on the other side of Nairobi, not far from the National Park. 36 kilometers, and Google maps laughingly estimates 1 hour 13 minutes (or 1 hour 09 minutes without traffic). After three hours we arrived. We lost about 25 minutes down an unmade road by missing a sign, but the rest of it was just a mixture of horrendous traffic and driving the last 5k or so over roads made up of dumped and levelled rocks (much too big to be called gravel).

Street market

Street market

Worth it, though: fantastic to watch the glass being blown and shaped in a huge, domed building, with a shaft of sunlight focusing down from the open chimney 50 feet above our heads, Magical. So we bought a couple of glasses for our Friday night wine treat – a great memory.

anselm_glass
 
glass_making2
 
glassmaking2
 
Utamaduni Craft Shop was in the same sort of area, and was highly recommended, so we went there for lunch. Good food, great setting, but the crafts were way more expensive than the market.

So that was it – four great days in Nairobi. Definitely a place we would return to, but the roads are a real downer – getting anywhere is a massive undertaking in terms both of time and the energy needed to crawl and dodge through the traffic. On the other hand, it’s beautifully temperate, sunny, and abounding in beautiful vegetation and birdlike. I think I could be persuaded to fly south for the winter.

And thanks to Nate and Joie for the great hospitality. You – and all our other Woodstock friends – are welcome to stay with us anytime. We don’t have a glass factory – but there’s a Shell refinery. And no wildlife park – but there’s Chester Zoo!

Uganda

This was our first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, and was a memorable one. We spent two weeks working in a village school in Kamutuuza, in the Masaka state of Uganda, then had four days visiting former Woodstock colleagues in Nairobi, Kenya. This blog is about Uganda. There’s also a video on YouTube which probably conveys a better sense of the place than words can. So, why Uganda?

As long as we’ve been in India, we’ve had a home in Liverpool, thanks to our friends Carol and John – apart from the two years they spent in India, that is, working in a much harder setting than ours. After they returned around 2005, they became involved with a school in Uganda. Tower school was built by the Just Care charity about 20 years ago, and Carol and John have over the last ten years contributed massively to its development, both by frequent working visits and by taking teams along to participate in maintenance and development projects and in teaching.

It was obvious, therefore, that we’d take the first opportunity to go along to see the work they had been doing, and meet some of the people they had talked about. John didn’t participate in this trip – there wasn’t enough to do to make it worthwhile – so we joined Carol and Brenda, a six-visit veteran, in a two-week trip. Of course, if you know Carol, you’ll understand that just observing was out of the question, so we ended up with a classroom teaching schedule, as well as taking part in sewing lessons (Dot) and playing board games (me). There was also plenty of activity on Sundays. And all in 30-degree plus heat, sleeping under mosquito nets and doing all our own cooking. A bit of a drastic way to avoid the UK winter!

A lot of the effort and expense came before we left. Yellow fever vaccinations (at £75 each), diphtheria, tetanus and polio vaccinations (thankfully free), stocking up on the materials we wanted to take (pencils, books, games), carefully packing all we thought we might need, including an excess of medicines and first-aid, online visa application for Kenya – we seemed to spend weeks just getting ready. After so many years throwing our stuff into cases at the last minute for travel from India, I think we just had too much time on our hands.

Still, finally on the way. We dropped our bags at Carol’s in Liverpool, drove home, then travelled across by bus to spend the night there before our ridiculously early start. At 3:00 am we were scraping ice off John’s car and loading up all the bags for the trip to the airport. At 3:30 am next day (local time, so only half past midnight on the body clock) we finally arrived at the Peniel Beach Hotel in Entebbe and climbed inside the mosquito nets for a whole five hours’ sleep before the car came to ferry us all to Kamatuuza. (Our trip was longer than Carol and Brenda’s, since we were travelling via Nairobi, to facilitate our visit later on.) Manchester to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Nairobi, three hour layover, Nairobi to Entebbe via Kigale (Rwanda).

We spent a couple of hours after breakfast changing money and stocking up on our fortnight’s food before we left, and we stopped for lunch and photos at the equator (has to be done), so it was arouund 4:30 when we arrived at the school, to be met by all the children with their carefully-prepared welcome routine of singing, dancing and drumming. We really were straight into the African vibe.

Jacob_buying_bananas

Jacob, our driver, bargains for bananas on the way to Kamutuuza

sweet_potatoes

Sweet potatoes on sale at the roadside

equator

Hands across the equator

Next morning we visited the classes to say hello, sang a song at the open-air assembly, and prepared ourselves for the fray. A daily diary approach would be a bit tedious, so instead here are some of the highlights.

children

Nursery students welcome us

Teaching – and the Students

You have to start with this – it was the kids who made the trip. We took one lesson a week with each of the seven primary school classes, so fourteen lessons in all. The theme waas the Easter story: songs accompanied on my ukulele, African artwork on the Easter theme, plenty of storytelling, and a treat for the children – a chance to draw pictures and use coloured pencils. I reckon there was about a 3% loss rate on the pencils each lesson, but they lasted the two weeks, and with classes of up to 70, most of whom live in poverty with no possessions, that wasn’t a bad result.

boy

The faces of the students are full of character

boy2

girl

The kids loved the singing. They have a natural exuberance and sense of rhythm, so action choruses pretty much become expressive dances. They also loved the stories, particularly the acting-out and dramatisations we improvised. And some of the artwork they produced was OK, consideringh it’s not something they ever do. The Uganda primary curriculum book is thicker than War and Peace, and the kind of work they were doing was insane – I seriously couldn’t even understand some of ther maths questions, let alone attempt to answer them. Most of their education consists of copying from the board and memorisation, and I suspect many of them are just baffled.

students

Showing off their work. Notice the fine stick man illustrations!

There were two useful lessons on one of the boards, though: how to deal with a snake bite, and how to repair a puncture in a bicycle tyre.

One of the classroom rules was “Speak quietly”: very unnecessary, since the children barely raise their voices, out of respect, and you have to lean over them to hear their answer – especially when the girls lower their heads and curtsey as they speak.

classroom

Dot in action

Church, Sunday School and the “Born Agains”

The first church service , for the whole of the Bexhill Secondary School, which shares the site with Tower Primary, started at 7:15 am. That constituted a lie-in for the kids, since their normal day begins with a 4:30 am bell for the first study session of the day, before school begins at 8:00 (or is it 7:00?). Traditional hymns and songs from Mission Praise, but accompanied by a Yamaha keyboard with its built-in reggae rhythms – weirdly attractive. The first Sunday was Harvest Festival (remember, we’re on the equator with a couple of harvests a year). Offerings included live chickens, which screeched around the church before being hypnotised asnd placed among the vegetables and bananas, and everything was auctioned at the end of the service.

jackfruit_auction

Jackfruit auction

The “local” service at 10:00 am: we did that the first week, but the second week we did the primary Sunday School at 10:30. More joyous singing and dancing, and an eight-year old interpreter when I told the story who never missed a beat. Amazing.

The highlight, though, has to be the “Born Agains” service in the afternoon: a classroom packed with up to a hundred teenagers singing, dancing, praying and teaching each other with no adult input at all. If these are the leaders of the future, then Uganda has a chance.

worship

The “Born Agains”

Food

We mostly cooked for ourselves, and I enjoyed my self-appointed role as chief chef. (Chef chef?) We ate out a few times in Masaka, where there are a couple of good Western-style restaurants. Plot 99 overlooks the city, and has a nice menu and cool thatched huts; Frickadella is on the site of the offices of a Danish children’s charity, and specialises in a Friday night barbecue, a feast of grilled meats and salads presided over by a Greek chef.

We were also invited to two houses for meals. One was a very basic house in the middle of a banana grove – unfinished concrete floor, bare brick walls, no electricity or plumbing, chickens in the living room. One was a modern, well-built house, with all mod cons including a flat-screen TV. The hospitality was the same in both places and, interestingly, so was the food. We ate exactly the same at a staff dance party.

Ugandans have a very limited diet. The meals in every case consisted of matoke (mashed plantain), “Irish” (potatoes, so called to differentiate from the more normal sweet potatoes), rice, cabbage and either pork or beef stew. So three massive helpings of carbs, a small amount of green vegetable, and a small amount of meat with gravy. I’ve honestly never seen plates piled so high with food as those at the party, but it’s filling rather than nutricious.

matoki&beans

Our first taste of matoke and beans

The children are not so lucky. For them it’s maize porridge (“posho”) for breakfast; thicker maize porridge with beans for lunch, and more of the same for dinner.

Country

It’s poor, of course, but we saw no open begging as would be common in India. It’s very much rural and agricultural, with everyone in the villages having quite an extensive plot on which they grow bananas and potatoes and raise a few chickens. There are also cassava  and tapioca plants, and lots of maize is grown to make the posho.

bananas

Banana plantation

It’s very lush off the main road, with interminable rough tracks of red clay winding around the scattered houses. We drove off road for two miles or more to reach a school we visited, and some of it was along what would barely classify as a motorcycle enduro track.

fetching_water

In the village

bike&bathroom

Yes, mud huts – but it’s just a latrine

I must mention the birdlife. Waking up in the dark around 6:30 am to a tropical dawn chorus is a memory that will remain for a long time, amd I loved the tree in Masaka which was shared by several nesting storks and dozens of weaver birds.

weaver_bird

Weaver bird building its nest

Masaka, the local city, is actually pretty pleasant all rouund. The roads are lined with shops, small factories and many, many bars, but there’s space, trees and a bit of other greenery here and there, and it’s all set on a rolling hillside. It all seems very familiar after travelling in India – people everywhere trying to make a living out of very little.

market

Secondhand Western clothes dominate the main street of the market

plantains

Plantains for sale

squash

Multicoloured squash on sale

dresses

Colours of Africa

ludo

Look closely: this Ludo game features English football clubs

lallana

Nice to see a Liverpool shirt

Oddly enough, the driving is much easier than India, mainly because most people follow the rules of the road, and drive pretty sensibly, and no one uses their horn unless it’s necessary!

One thing you do notice is that every mile or two along the road there is a mission hospital, school, development project or some other evidence of external aid. Surely they will have to start standing on their own feet at some point.

Two weeks doesn’t make you a country expert, but we felt quite at home. If this is Africa, I could take some more.

fishing

Fisherman on Lake Victoria

stork

Stork on the shore of Lake Victoria

 

A Walk in Wales

We’re determined to get out more this year (yawn.. again?). I was encouraged by a BBC programme investigating the optimal amount of exercise for health and fitness: turns out that it’s 150 minutes a week. Now, we do about 50 minutes swimming each week, walk to and from church (that’s 30 minutes), so we’re already halfway there. A couple of 40 minute walks, or a half-day ramble, will just do it nicely.

We bought a couple of walking books – that’s a start. One was a big hardback, with walks around the UK. £2.99 in a charity shop. Much more modest was Circular Walks in North-East Wales, a thin black and white paperback for £4.50 . We also had returned to us from 12 years storage in a friend’s house a few old books about the Wirral and the Sandstone Trail in Cheshire, and “Walker’s Britain”, with another stack of good walks. Finally, I bought a nice 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map of Cheshire, and I’ve taken note of the other ones we’ll need.

So no excuses then. Pick a book, pick a walk, and off we go. A couple of weeks ago we did a walk round Frodsham, at the start of the Sandstone Trail, and hopefully we’ll keep doing stretches of that nice long-distance path through the year. This week, though, we went for something even closer, round Hawarden.

We’re still getting used to living so close to Wales. It takes about ten minutes to cross the border, and there’s quite a lot of places within 40 minutes or so. Hawarden is even closer – a 25 -minute drive. One of its interesting features is the Gladstone Library. William Ewart Gladstone was a Liverpool-born Prime Minister in the 19th century. He died in Hawarden, and in his later years established a library as a home for his collection of 32,000 books. It’s Britain’s only “Prime Ministerial Library”. Today it’s a residential library, running a range of theological and cultural courses – and they have a nice café, where we ended up for lunch.

The 5-mile walk itself was average, with a few pleasant wooded sections, a couple of roads, and rather too many muddy fields. That’s winter walking in the UK for you. Still, no rain, and a nice chilli afterwards, followed by half-an-hour reading the papers in leather chairs in the library. Very gentlemen’s-clubby.

corn_mill

Industrial archaeology: an old corn mill.

stream

Plenty of water in this stream.

mud

Glorious mud. Winter walking in England.

sheep

Spot the black sheep.

stile

Yes, that’s a deep pool of water on the other side of the stile.

bridge

A nice rustic bridge – this time we go over, not through, the water.

daffs

Welsh daffodils.