Category Archives: Travel

It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since the last post and the blog has been silent. We were away in France and intentionally offline. It was very exhilarating and enjoyable to recap on time together, time alone without a white noise, book time and wonderful walks along the Cote Sauvage. Or simply watching sea and boats disappearing over the horizon.

We did discover a few good things in France again. We fell in love with Sel de Guerande and rock hopping. The ferocious sea breeze can be sometimes too mind blowing.

On the return home, we embarked on the house renovations. There was an excitement followed by disruption, dust biting and some inconveniences on the top of sometimes quite stressful moments. The end result as usual was not as perfect as envisaged, but it was a learning curve for us and we are not as idealistic about all the process anymore. One more thing was discovered: builders and internet abundance are not often compatible. Their catalogue from the builders’ supply shop hardly matches Amazon even. Gratefully, we are nearly finished and getting back to so called normal family life, but what’s normal here?!

As the world goes more crazy/beautiful everyday, it has been a challenging but so far a good year. I enjoy the ride so should you.

Here’s the photo diary of what was keeping us busy. Enjoy

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The Mito Principle

In my early years I was a car guy. I subscribed to Road and Track and every month I will get the magazine with the news and views of the latest cars. That publication had terrific writers and besides the cars to ogle at, the reading was always a delight.IMG_7688
At that time, like most, I dreamt of owning the latest cars and my dreams will be updated each and every month. My favourites back then were the Cizeta Moroder, Ferrari Testarossa and the Porsche 959. All stratospherically priced vehicles. If wishes were horses, I would have ridden.
As the years passed, my philosophy on owning things started to change. It became less of idealising objects and more of a sense of enjoying the beauty and utility of them. I expect if I can easily afford something, I am happy to own it, if possible. Still now I check the number of things I acquire because I am losing patience with being surrounded by stuff.
A couple years ago, at my first job away from home, I was prompted to get a second car to avoid having the family running up and down the motorway to drop me off on weekends. A buddy at work wanted to trade in a Saab Aero for a Land Rover so I ended up with a two litre turbo that ran like a thief. I enjoyed the long commute home on the big roads, swiping through the long bends and feeling the taught suspension balancing the car through the curves.
I changed jobs and then worked on the other side of London, the busy side, close to Heathrow Airport. There the quick acceleration worked against me on one particular evening when I got two speeding tickets from the Variable Speed cameras. I was nothing short of furious.
Those cameras have been hell in driving along that road, you have to keep your eye on the speed notices all the time toIMG_7693 avoid a loud PAX! That evening I lapsed and while under no danger, I was ticketed, twice
The Saab was already ten years old and starting to demand expensive repairs so I decided to get rid of it and set a new criteria for a replacement.
The new car must be under the tax band, slow to accelerate and cheap to run. With my parameters set, I started my search. I got a good price for the Saab and that served as a downpayment for the next car.
I found an Alfa Romeo Mito for sale that matched all that I wanted in a car. It was less than a litre in engine size and had many modern comforts that the Saab lacked. I got it for a song because the owner was pressed to migrate and to my surprise the car drove beautifully. It is a joy in the lanes! I took it through the Chilterns one weekend soon after I got it and it was one of the best country drives I ever had. The car is nimble and enjoys being thrown into corners where it just sticks to the line you carve from the steering wheel. Fun, fun, fun!
There is no doubt it is slow. You do get a quick take off from a standing start and that is exciting at traffic lights but by the time you hit 30mph, you are chugging along. It is very hard to break a speed limit in this car. Just what I wanted.IMG_7694
Recently the notice came for me to renew the road tax. I immediately got online and the process was one of clicking three buttons in quick succession without any exchange of money. Super!
Then there was the renewal of the insurance; which at £300 for the year makes me feel like the cat that got the cream.
I am somewhat smug about this entire episode but in standing aside, I will like to take from it some principles that might help me in other areas.
First was, I made a list of what attributes I was looking for. At that point it did not matter what make or model, just what qualities were important to me.
I then looked for a vehicle that was the closest match to that list. When the ad for the car came up, I already knew it was the one I wanted. I was able to move swiftly, without much hesitation and acquire it.
Those two points seem to form an approach I can expend in other circumstances. First decide on the qualities you want to work with and secondly when you find them, move promptly and confidently.

Cazabon at Belmont

Belmont is a neighbourhood, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad, bordering the Queen’s Park Savannah, the large central park located at the north end of the city. Belmont is a collection of tight lanes with houses pressed close to their front gates. It is a great place to live and be close to all that the capital city has to offer including the national Carnival that precedes Lent.

IMG_20160409_213656Belmont House in Kent, England, is the home of the Harris family. The third Lord Harris was the governor of Trinidad and Tobago between 1846 to 1853. In Port of Spain today there is Lord Harris Square and in San Fernando, the second largest city, there is Harris Promenade. He was married to a Trinidadian and their son later became a famous cricket captain of England.

I learned of Belmont House through some research done by Mrs FTF on a painter I mentioned to her some years ago, Jean Michel Cazabon. Cazabon is considered one of Trinidad’s first internationally known artists. I’ve always admired his landscapes and I had a book showcasing his work when I lived in Trinidad. It turns out that Lord Harris was a patron of the artist and owned a sizable collection of his work. Many of those pieces are now kept at Belmont House.

With the daughter in Warsaw for two weeks, we took the four-seater Mito for a round trip through Kent. There was a tour of Belmont House early in the afternoon and we were unusually on time after taking the long way around London on the M25 via Gatwick Airport. It was my silent protest to the Dartcharge and a chance to see rarely visited areas of Kent. The rain made the drive slow but the views were great as many parts of the road ran along high valley sides.

We made an impromptu stop at the Beacon restaurant. Everyone was cramped from being curled up the last two hours. The building is located atop the side of a valley that was at the time of our arrival shrouded in mist. The interior was beautiful and as we had the place to ourselves, we all enjoyed walking around taking in the paintings and other design features. The snack was tasty although it was the smallest machiato I ever had. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the view across the valley was truly restful.IMG_20160409_125140

Belmont House was cold so we kept our coats on and with Little One on my back we followed the group tour around the house. It was a tiny group and the entire exercise had an intimate air. The house is small as stately homes go and we appreciated this because we had had enough after an hour, the length of the tour. The group knew from the start we were there to see the paintings so when we got to the room with the largest collection, everyone stopped and insisted I go in first.

A full set of water colours were on display in the master bedroom. Very delicate, very beautiful. To see these views of the island in the late 19th century always creates a sense of nostalgia, especially when you recognise a location. I was allowed to stay back and take in the collection if I wanted to. I declined as I knew there were more in other rooms and the guide was very knowledgeable. I did not want to miss a tidbit.

Downstairs, just off the main entrance hall where the last Lord Harris was known to have his afternoon tea, was the best piece, View of Port of Spain from the East

Nettle Diary Entry 02.2016

In January I went to Warsaw and spent one afternoon checking out few shops with natural fabrics to inquire about nettle or hemp samples.

I didn’t manage to google any shops myself, but with a little tip off from the old friend, I started at a fabric shop in Mokotow. It was recommended as the long established and well supplied shop for all those with zeal for tailoring or home sewing. Astonishingly, the place was buzzing on Saturday afternoon with all types of customers, from older ladies trying to find a fabric matching the existing outfits to funky dressed younger crowds scouring for some unique pieces. I was taken in with their stock, unfortunately only natural local cloth I came across was Polish linen.

Nevertheless, I was prompted to call in to another linen shop, just two tram stops away. Before hopping on a tram, we popped in the adjacent shop, enticed by interesting and quite eclectic stuff, like second hand or recycled fabrics, hand made laces and oddish clothing.

The next linen shop in Mokotow, looked like run by one family and it had nothing of hemp or nettle though the owner was quite intrigued by my inquiry. As he walked us to the door, he admitted that since he runs the shop for 20 years, no one ever came by to ask about fabric made of nettle.

It didn’t dampen our spirits, we simply loved the tram ride up north towards Centrum – it was bright sunny winter day and you can feel Saturday buzz of the city. We changed by Politechnika for metro, again changed for a new metro line and resurfaced right on Aleja Jana Pawla.

On the next stop off Hala Mirowska – the old indoor market hall, we visited another fabric shop. We were told it is a must to see since it opened in PRL times and still continues the same style of service. It was bizarre to step into the past, all display and older ladies selling the cloth as they used to for decades. Once you decide on fabric, it will get measured, cut and you receive a hand scribbled piece of paper to take to a cashier across the shop to pay. Though this time, no nettle  or hemp fabric was available and with no smile on her face the lady bid us goodbye.

Tracing our footsteps from years before, we strolled to a last linen shop on our list, situated right on Marszalkowska. The owner was closing for the day but she let us in. It stocks Polish linen only, fabrics and ready made outfits alike and it turned out the owner was quite chatty and well informed. Although, she could not help me in my research on Polish nettle fabric as such, but mentioned a company producing a hemp clothing, possibly from Lodz, and encouraged me to check out the Polish Chamber of Flax and Hemp.

It was a quite productive Saturday afternoon, funny and filled with trips down the memory lane. Warsaw was buzzy, filled with tram noises and getting ready for Saturday night fun. I truly felt like I got a few good leads to follow in my research. And a cherry on my cake was the Saturday evening in beautiful Warsaw just starting as the sun was setting and the lights were turning on.

Van Gogh Alive Exhibition

Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_ProjectLast weekend we spent in Warsaw, Poland, where we went to visit the multimedia exhibition on Van Gogh. The show is touring cities of the world for some time now. Of course, we took the chance to see it.

The show was a story of Van Gogh’s life and art, how entwined and inseparable they were. The story was told through his personal letters and paintings, starting with his Dutch childhood, how he decided to pursue painting, artistic choices, personal tragedies and struggles leading  up to his suicidal death. It was amazing to read his own words explaining what it meant for him to be a painter, his own outlook on life, learn how important it was that he was self taught artist, his ethos.

Multimedia display walks a visitor through Van Gogh’s early paintings, showcasing changes, giving a background of what was going on in his personal life. Then it moves onto a period in Paris where he joined the Impressionists.

Exhibition creators refer through his letters to his mental troubles leading to self imposed Van Gogh’s stay in asylum and showcasing the south France period paintings, fascination with stars and landscape. The display ends by bringing in events leading to his suicide. The show is accompanied by Van Gogh’s contemporary music (especially Erik Satie).

I found the exhibition was a good way to talk about Van Gogh, the artist and man as it could easily bring together a set of paintings and shoot at you with multiple screens and close ups entwined with his letters and sketches.

The most striking for me was the assembly of his auto-portraits, close ups when you cannot stop being pulled to Van Gogh’s eyes and noticing changes in his mental state in those wild, very evocative looks he gives. That was the best of the exhibition, the modern technology allowing such a connection.

Here’s a link for you to have a glimpse of the experience.

And here are my two favourite quotes by Van Gogh himself:

“At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky.”

Vincent van Gogh

“To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace”

Vincent van Gogh

Funnily, in Polish translation the fling notion was completely omitted!

Van Houten Cacao for sale!

Dutch Cocoa 100% available from Ftfoutlet on eBay

Van Houten Cocoa

I rediscovered an old classic cacao this year. Van Houten cacao was the one we used to make hot cocoas, desserts and cakes in my childhood. It was the 100% of pure goodness in times, when you can hardly find in shops a bar trying to mimic real chocolate – (my childhood was at the end of the communist era in Poland with shortages of nearly everything).

The Van Houten family traditionally made cocoa by a process they invented. Later, they invented the Dutching or Dutch method, where cocoa powder is treated with alkaline salts, making it darker and milder. This made it possible to create a chocolate or hot cocoa, by blending with milk or water easily.

It all makes Van Houten cacao perfect for patisseries, baking or making traditional cocoa drink. It is mild and creates a rich and velvety drink – our family’s favourite treat. I was fortunate to spot the old brand and now I’m sharing the good news with you.

I found it again in the French shop this year and we fell for its dark colour and richness. We decided to bring with us some of this goodness straight from France. We found Van Houten cacao to surpass in taste the chocolate or cacao available here in the UK.

Van Houten 100% Cocoa for Sale

Van Houten 100% Cocoa for Sale

It comes in boxes of 250g, no sugar added, with the traditional Van Houten logo. Just as I remembered it from my childhood. I’ve set up the FTF eBay shop and you can now buy it here.

Soundtrack to the drive…

One of the favourites tracks we listened to on the tour of Poland drive. Two Polish sisters, “Ballady i Romanse”. I translate:

What will remain of those years?
Maybe memories none.
Smoking in the staircase, showing off.
We sense something, fearful of something,
But generally we having a good time.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Sitting on the citadel’s wall, wine drunk and stoned.
Soothing nerves with laughter,
Worried with grandparents’ funeral.
But parents feel well.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
We invent our deaths,
Now finding it tempting.
Who dies is who lose, who lose is who dies.
We sense something, fearful of something,
But generally we having a good time.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Sitting on the citadel’s wall, wine drunk and stoned.
Soothing nerves with laughter,
Worried with grandparents’ funeral.
But parents feel well.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Sitting on the citadel’s wall, wine drunk and stoned.
Soothing nerves with laughter,
Worried with grandparents’ funeral.
But parents feel well.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Do you know?