Saturday, 1 March 2014
As last year was my first ever foray into roof gardening I hadn't really thought about the quality of my soil. I threw seeds at it and enjoyed whatever grew. This year it occurred to me that the already dodgy soil had probably been weakened by last season's growing efforts. I also had very little joy with root veggies, and as Dave (my mate's hubby) pointed out, peas are pretty much weeds and will grow anywhere.
Pffft, so much for my green fingers.
He was also concerned about the lack of living creatures in my beds and so lovely Gill dug out some worms for me to bring back home. Most people leave friends' places with leftover party food or surplus alcohol. I had a Chinese takeaway box of worms in compost. Being of a squeamish disposition, I asked J to deposit them on upstairs for me and bury the little blighters before they became breakfast noodles for pigeons.
So this weekend we found ourselves digging the soil, watching out for my precious worms and flinging chicken shit at one another. Actually, to be fair that was a mistake and he happened to be in the way on my delicate sprinkling. As we started to dig the pellets into the rather damp earth, there was an unmistakable smell of, well, growing in the air.
After some Googling I dug some trenches for my spuds, whilst J got garlicking. I remembered to plant my jerusalem artichokes: who can resist farty soup? I also managed to do my bit for the bees who live on the other building and sprinkled some wildflower seeds on the other disused beds. This will also add colour, scent and interest to the other parts of the roof garden.
I also planted veg seeds. The weather is a little chilly as yet so I moved our greenhouse into a public part of the building, just behind the lift. It's a south facing glass fronted bit which is perfect for germinating. So I've popped the tomatoes (gold and red), dwarf beans, spinach and salad leaves there for the time being.
Anyway after running off snorking we cleared up and admired the flowers.
Every time I look at what I've managed to grow with very little effort and skill, I am amazed. Even my rather rubbishy fruit bushes seem to be getting excited about the view, sun and warmth. From smelly, brown, wormy soil, our food appears. Which is why Spring has to be my favourite time of year; promises of colour and beautiful scents...and an epic salad.
Sunday, 8 December 2013
Boil the kettle and make yourself a cuppa tea. In addition to this, make a cup of fresh jasmine tea, courtesy of your flatmate. Whilst it is brewing, take a punnet of Lidl's finest purple plums, wash, half them and de-stone.
Pop the plums in a small pan with cinnamon stick, star anise, whole cloves, zest and juice of a Satsuma; add a splash (a cup?) of pomegranate juice and the jasmine tea - without the spent leaves, obviously. The liquid should just cover the fruit. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and bubble.
When the plums are soft but not disintegrating, turn of the heat and just allow to infuse. The smell is fab and the colour vibrant red/pink. Add sugar/honey to taste.
Oh don't forget to finish making your own cuppa tea, otherwise it will have stewed.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
|Shorter. And Yellow car...|
What could possibly go wrong?
By the pretty route.
probably the Forum which we initially found through a gap in a fence before realising there was a fabulous walkway that took is right through the whole area. I'm not sure how long we wandered and explored but, as ever, we were almost devoid of company from hoardes of tour groups so it was beautifully relaxed.
Eventually we headed towards the Piazza di Trevi in almost exactly the
|Trevi, one last look|
The piazza was of course much quieter than the day before so we sat a while relaxing before heading off on the important job of locating something that was suitable. Even this went surprisingly well. Eventually we turned back with a vague idea of finding a spot for an early lunch. This would have been a leafy piazza near the Trevi if it hadn't been that they didn't start lunch outside until 12:30.
We'd decided on an al fresco lunch nothing else would do.
We passed several places, but none had the ambience I sought, until that is a flash of inspiration struck, there were several restaurants in the Piazza della Rotonda by the Pantheon, perfect! And only a few minutes away.
It was idyllic.
Eventually the tick of time reminded me that we needed to head back to our
The upside was we discovered the secret to not being hassled by restaurant touts was to be stuffing your face. Who knew? The walk back was relatively direct with only a little bit of a diversion and even that was to make it easier to pick up the essential faux centurion outfit.
I managed not to actually growl.
So anyway, the airport is having a bit of remodelling. This means that we had to go to terminal 1 to check in but back to terminal 3 for our gate. It's around about a squillion miles away. But that's okay, we still had bags of time.
And there's the rub, there is no punchline, no "oops" moment, no chaos. We got to our gate, we sat for a while, the loos were clean and we boarded without a single scrap of drama.
Which was quite perfect.
I was a little more miffed getting back. As we left the sky ramp we were "greeted" by two official people that were obviously checking something. So I had my boarding pass and passport in hand to see what they said as we had *no* idea. It wasn't until one of them barked passport that I realised. So this is new. And as I said to the rude idiot, it really would have been helpful if you'd indicated we needed to show our passports there.
Because we still had to do it at border control.
Seriously, WTAF? As the elder offspring pointed out when he flew back to the UK via Manchester a few weeks ago they didn't have the same thing. Is this Her Majesty's finest just making all visitors and returning citizens feel as welcome as possible?
And then I got to border control. So I presented my passport, already irritated at doing it again and...
Official: Looks at passport, looks at me, looks at passport, looks at me...
Official: Are you sure this is you?
Me: Err, yes.
Official: Raised eyebrow
Me: It's ten years old and I've changed a bit...
To be fair she was really nice. And it's true I have changed quite a lot as anyone who knows me closely enough to have seen my passport will attest! So we were back in Blighty and all we had to do was get home. Via the Piccadilly line. Joy. And reminders of all that makes this fair country of ours so tedious to live in...
So what of Rome? It's been years since I was last there and I'm glad I went back, more importantly I'm glad I could take me eldest there and imbibe him with the chaotic joy of Contrary Touring. I don't miss the beggars, but I did remember quickly how easy it was to blank them out. But I will miss, until the next time, the unadulterated pleasure of turning every corner and seeing something that simply makes you say...
Monday, 2 December 2013
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; nine belly dancers, eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; ten Taskiouine a-stamping, nine belly dancers, eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup.
And there you have it, my perfect Christmas!
Sunday, 1 December 2013
You may recall that yesterday we were somewhat irritated by ticket touts and their incessant behaviour. That just wasn't going to happen again. The plan was simple, get to the Colosseum early, avoid the queues, ignore the touts.
Especially ignore anyone that says "do you speak English".
Perfect. Now as we intended to be there for 9am when the ticket office opened and it was a 20 minute walk (without distractions) my keen mathematical mind told me we would need to leave at 0840. Stat.
Which was why we left at 9:21... This was down to two things a) the elder offspring being a teenager and hence incapable of waking at stupid o'clock and b) a discussion about whether a coat was a good idea. It was. He went without. The walk though was pleasant and we kept the distractions to a minimum, taking in the sights and talking about what we could see. In Parco del Colle Oppio the elder offspring asked whether a structure we could see was an aquaduct. We couldn't really tell and as it seemed close I checked on Google Maps. Nothing. Except, some distance away, the Colosseum.
It was a bit like that scene in Star Wars where they talk about a ship heading to a small moon before realising it was actually a space station. It's very big. And big enough with little else big to appear to be just beyond some trees when it was really quarter of a mile away.
But first we had to negotiate some iffy looking Roman soldiers that would pose with you for money. It would have looked brilliant if one of them wasn't in wearing a woolen beany with some modern logo or other knitted in instead of a helmet. We declined.
We also ignored every tout as we discussed whether the outside would have originally been clad in marble as the stone and brick work showed signs of of regular patterns. We marched in, we queued for less than a minute, we bought tickets and in we went. As with the Castel Sant'Angelo the elder offspring was free as he's under 18!
It's a pretty impressive place, though the groups on guided tours were less impressive. More like hoardes of stampeding wilderbeests with electronic guides glued to their ears blissful of all that was going on. Which is a shame as they didn't get to linger and ponder the effort needed to build such a place, or even carve a single column. All lost as they moved incessantly to the next spot.
And they paid much more for this.
Still, mustn't grumble. I wonder if anyone gazed in wonder at the ancient graffiti carved in to the marble seating? The only problem was the rain started so I took a parental decision, we either buy a brolly from a brolly tout or back to the hotel for the elder offspring to dry up and get his coat. The hotel won and it wasn't long before we were back as well as laden with goodies from a local supermarket we found. It was picnic o'clock!
Oh, the brolly touts...
They are like rodents, swarming over the dampness of humanity trying to get you to buy their wares. As we walked through the park we saw yet more scurrying desperately towards the Colosseum in the hope of getting a sale. We turned down a lot of brollies.
Snacks eaten we were off again. Next stop the Fontana di Trevi. It was a fabulous walk over, peering down side streets, gaping at unxpected tableau, trying not to be squished by distracted drivers. Any thoughts of being able to dance in the fountain were of course ruined by the two policemen who had the job of stopping people going in. Or climbing on the sides. The area was packed and then. Suddenly. The crowd vanished...
Like some perfect storm it was several guided tours that had arrived at once.
We sat. Chatted. Absorbed the detail of what we could see. And wandered on safe in the knowledge that we were some distance away from the stampede. We had also switched to using GPS to navigate, no, not that one, Gosh Pretty See. This was a technique developed in Contrary Towers to allow you to take apparently random paths to the place you want to go without any hope of retracing the steps later. A bit like our recipes.
This meant we stumbled on a fabulous little piazza, interesting little side allies and even a building that had obviously suffered action during the war. Eventually we wandered in to the Piazza della Rotunda, glanced at the Pantheon (which we had been going to see) and instead stopped to admire the fountain and the surrounding buildings. It was very civilised.
At this point our general plan ran out of destinations so we picked the next stop as being the Isola Tiberina, not so much because we wanted to go there, but because we needed a rough destination.
And what a fabulous wander that was. We passed through the Largo di Torre Argentina and found a fascinating set of ruins set in a hollow. On their own they were interesting. Another English lady passed by and said to her companions "this is like such and such a place, but we have to pay a fiver to see that!". So true. Rome is littered with such sites, never mind the big headline places, look for the gems.
Like this one.
In one spot was the central exedra of Pompey's portico. The place used as senate house. The place where Caesar was assasinated on the 15th of March 44BC. I was a little bit excited. This was where by one act of disloyalty and murder the world changed. It was a pretty big thing. Huge.
I prattled on about this as we wandered on, taking a totally GPS driven route until, by chance, we found a kosher burger place on Via di Santa Maria del Pianto. If you're ever there look for Fonzies and try their chilli burgers, utterly gorgeous.
We realised we were now in the Jewish quarter and kept stopping to look at a myriad of different things. What puzzled us was the police, so many and the numbers increased as we got near the Great Synagogue. I have no idea of what was going on, but goodness there were lots of Police. And TV outside broadcast units.
Whatever, we had an island to invade.
And we did. Isola Tiberina is tiny. I suspect it is inabited because they decided to use it as a stepping stone to span the river, but it's very cute and worth a look. It's a shame we'd eaten as I would have liked to stop in the sole restaurant there!
After a while of chatting about what we could see and the elder offspring seeing how close he could get to the omnipresent Jackdaws, we set off, our destination the Circo Massimo.
I'm sure it was fabulous in its day but now, well, less so. But that was okay as the adventure was in the journey, this was merely a waypoint. I did suggest to the elder offspring that we have a race. He declined as he obviously realised he would be humiliated by my massive running ability.
Or something like that.
The penultimate waypoint was to be the Colosseum, which was fab as we got to see the outside in a very different light. Though the brolly touts were still busy (no more rain) and had been joined by the trinket touts. We happily ignored them all.
After one final brief pause we headed back over the final mile to our hotel, weary, but I like to think pleased with the day of wandering in a giant circle around Rome. It really is the best way to see any place. Fact.
Come, look at my shop, Madame! Finest épices from Berber lands...I give you good price!
My shop is near here, out of the market so I pay no taxes. Much cheaper there! I give you good price!
Non merci (increasing exasperation)
Madame, madame! Welcome, you need the main square? I show you way...
No I prefer to be lost. Merci.
You need argan oil for your skin, good for your body, for massage? I give your boyfriend Moroccan viagra?
No, he's fine, he has no need of that.
|Flying carpet, madame?|
There is something called Ensemble Artisanal which has a selection of all the goods you can find in the souks. However because the government directs the prices, you don't need to haggle but they are obviously set at a premium. The shop assistants in this collection of shops look rather depressed and do not offer interesting information about their goods. I suppose they think this is the least fun way of doing business? Is the haggling part of the entertainment value?
Still, back to the souk and the familiar feeling of exasperation as you want to look in these treasure chests of brightly coloured goodies but dare not show interest as you will be pounced upon.
As it happens, getting into haggling mode is quite easy. So here is my contrary guide to getting good price...
- Be hormonal
- Do not look too keen
- Know exactly what you want and know roughly how much you want to pay
- Do not let the person you are with interfere - if they show weakness, you are lost and as a woman, utterly stuffed. You will not get the price down if the salesman knows your partner is happy to pay
- Depends what you are buying...we learned a shed load about herbs, spices, customs and interesting things from Abdel the Berber. Happy to drink his tea, learn stuff and then buy some tagine spices and eucalyptus crystals from him
- However if the herb prices are non negotiable, make sure you get the quantity you request and if you only want a gram, ensure you only get a gram - not 20!