Packing was frenzied and made more complex as we had to be prepared for the fluctuations of a UK Summer, a week of sun and heat in Turkey and outfits for my cousin's wedding. Then there was everything we had to take with us following requests from my Mum as well as the inevitable presents for my niece Amelia. 3 cases and just under our combined allowance of 60kg we were done! Next up, I wanted to leave the apartment in a reasonable state so project tidy up took place along with project laundry so that the place was ready or as close to ready as possible for Ashleigh (a colleague of mine from work) to move in to house sit for the time we were away. Oh the pressure!
There was moment at Passport Control in Melbourne where my heart jumped into my mouth! I have a new UK passport and assumed my Australian visa would have transferred through but apparently not. And the foray into this was led by the Passport Control Officer who was somewhat stern initially and asked me where my Aussie visa was and the fact that this was unexpected and it was a bit of a strange question flummoxed me and I didn't know what he was getting at. For a moment, we thought he wasn't going to let me through (although if I'd been more rational, I'd have realised not having a visa shouldn't be a problem leaving Australia and would be more of an issue upon return) and his convoluted explanation about how complicated this could be especially upon return and that I really should have thought of this earlier and that I would have to call the Immigration Department at some stage before my return to sort this out, really didn't help alleviate the panic and the hammering of my heart that I wouldn't be able to see my family as planned.
Anyway, cue the apologies and the deference to his superior knowledge and the pledge to be as co operative and receptive as needs be, meant he took us to another officer who made a phone call to someone somewhere that took about 1 minute and then I was informed it was all fine and sorted. I was in disbelief really especially as the the first guy made it sound such a problem and finding out about it took longer than that phone call! Anyway the main thing was that I could continue my journey and in my mind I thought that I'd probably have to deal with the issue when we returned but that was far far away and meanwhile there was a plane to get onto.
As it turned out, that 1 minute phone call did resolve everything and coming back through Passport Control was smooth sailing. So in retrospect, that incident took maybe 10 minutes at most albeit it was an emotional roller coaster but timing wise was probably shorter than going through the proper channel of transferring the visa like I should have done and no forms to fill!
Aside from that misadventure, the journey to Newcastle (my home town) went pretty smoothly although the 2 hours we had to transit in Dubai meant we had to get our skates on. This wasn't helped by the fact we were in the last row although the blessing of seats there was that the aisle seat (3 in a row) was reserved for crew so bar take off and landing and for about 5 seconds of turbulence, it was empty so more room for us.
I'd spent a bit of time planning how we'd spend the time in UK splitting it between two sets of families and organising different things. Two weekends were already taken up with the wedding and our week in Turkey so we were unable to spend a weekend in Hull but given that Steve's parents are retired and his brother tends to work weekends, the lack of available weekends weren't too big a problem.
The first leg of the trip began in the North East and Steve's brother Peter picked us up at the airport Saturday lunchtime. It was a blustery day and pretty cool in temperature and I began to think that not bringing a coat was going to be an issue. We headed South towards Middlesbrough which is where Pete lives. He's in the process of buying a new home there and the original plan was to stay with him but as these things turn out, the purchase was taking longer than expected so instead, my mother in law had kindly booked a cosy cottage in the Teeside country for us and so leg 1 of the trip began for us.
As an aside, I also started using #barleysontour to record at least one photo a day for our trip so if you'd like to take a look at that feel free to!
And if arrival day on Saturday was day 1 of the trip, by day 2 I had started shopping and not just for food! Happy days and a great start to the holiday.
On the Monday, my in laws joined us as well as Aunty Betty and Uncle Jim and we had a lovely day catching up over more M&S tasty delights as well as enjoying some fresh country air with a short walk at Guisborough Forest.
I didn't realise how much I'd missed the green green countryside of England and our mini break in Teeside really gave me the opportunity to enjoy some pretty views. Steve and I went for a walk near the cottage on the Tuesday morning. We went off in one direction which involved a tramp over a field with sheep and then a skirmish with an overgrown path with nettles and thistles galore. Being inadequately attired for the stings and the morning dew we changed direction which was far more successful.
We spent the rest of Tuesday exploring the small town of Yarm; voted best British high street as Steve kept reminding us. The weather was beautifully bright and sunny but not too hot and Yarm has a plethora of cute shops including a great deli and butcher's (they make a great pork and Hunter's pie) and lots of cafes and bistros so we also enjoyed lunch out. The historic viaduct makes it a pretty place too.
All too soon leg 2 was upon us and we found ourselves headed back towards Newcastle Airport ready to embrace Turkey!
Days in Turkey passed by quickly. That heady combination of sunshine, lounger by the pool, buffet breakfast, regular lunches, decadent dinners, constant supply of ice cream, cakes, cocktails, beer was just too easy to relax into. I tried to combat it with a dose of aqua aerobics here and there but really barely 30 minutes of splashing around was a feeble attempt! We're grateful to Graeme for heading poolside every morning come Hell or hangover to mark our territory with towels on sun loungers so that we never missed out on what he called "prime real estate!"
Amelia would go into dancing mode and took her cue when darkness fell! Darkness is dancing time apparently. Post dinner strolls to the childrens' funfair also kept her entertained. It was amazing to see how much she has developed since we last saw her at Christmas. Her conversations are far more in depth and her vocabulary pretty extensive these days. Her iPad skills have also come on; she can enter the PIN to unlock the screen, now knows the difference between YouTube and downloaded content and can skip ads!
In the week we were there she went from wading in the childrens' pool to being able to "swim" with floats and without anyone holding her in the deep pool. It was great to see her confidence in the water grow. I took her for her first manicure as a girly bonding experience and she loved it. She'd been asking about nail polish for ages and I-Lin told me she often watched I-Lin paint her nails with great fascination. Up until then I have to admit that Steve was her favourite over me and she was a lot more wary of me but I think the manicure was a turning point for us!
The week went by so quickly and before we knew it we were on that transfer bus ready to fly back to Newcastle. We arrived back around midnight and it was dark and cold and windy. The travel obviously meant Amelia had interrupted sleep and when we arrived back at Newcastle Airport she had a moment that I term "turning feral" when she had a meltdown and tried to bite her daddy all over a bottle of water! Usually an entertaining delight and often providing moments where she melts your heart with comments like: "Thank you Daddy for paying the money for the swimming pool" and "Thank you for drying my hair" there are also times as with all 2 year olds where nothing can pacify her. She really is developing her own character and personality though.
Next leg was a jaunt to the Lake District for the wedding of the year! We were there to celebrate my cousin Joanna's wedding where she married her childhood sweetheart Chris.
Views from our rooms and the bar area of the hotel were picturesque and our first glimpses were moody shades of grey; all very dramatic and a wonderful backdrop for a wedding. We only hoped it wouldn't rain on wedding day.
I spent the Friday night with I-Lin, Amelia and my cousins Carine and Zoe and we headed into Windermere for dinner at Wild & Co. It's a child friendly bistro type restaurant but not child friendly in the way that the existence of a play park deems it so but more because the children and parents are made to feel welcome and relaxed and there's grown up food and nutritious food for the little ones.
On the whole the food was good. There were some inconsistencies but really we were just happy to be there, to be treated well and to enjoy the company which we definitely did. Amelia loves being with a crowd and kept us and the taxi driver entertained during the journey back with her rendition of Old McDonald which she sings as Old McFarmy!
Wedding day dawned grey and misty but the radiant bride chased those clouds away. Joanna is a talented designer and her talent came through with the visual displays and creative touches. I loved her "guest book" which was essentially different coloured fingerprints of her guests that formed part of a picture of a bunch of balloons. And she even provided wet wipes to clean those inked digits!
It was an emotional ceremony. Joanna's mum, my aunty, passed away when Jo was around 10 or 11 but Jo ensured she was there. There was a frame with two photos of her; both in her youth and one with my uncle. Jo looks so much like her. There was also a printed statement; "If Heaven wasn't so far away, we know you'd be here."
Amelia was the flower girl and we weren't convinced she'd walk down the aisle and we almost expected I-Lin would have to go down with her or she'd skip that part. But to our surprise, she latched onto Jo's pretty bridesmaids and was happy enough to walk down with them. She didn't quite master the scattering of rose petals from her basket but we were so proud that she did the walk and behaved impeccably during the service. In fact, she was so taken with the bridesmaids that she called them "The Princesses" and took every opportunity to dance with them during the evening celebrations. She even whispered to one mid dance, "Guess what? I'm the best dancer here!" Nothing like confidence in a 2 year old!
My mum actually made the Father of the Bride speech because my Uncle Alan is quite a traditional Chinese man and it's not really a Chinese tradition for the bride's family to make a speech but at the same time he wanted to respect the Western tradition so asked my mum to speak on his behalf and she did a great job. It was sincere with some wit and humour too.
Guest favours were sunglasses in all different colours and as good fortune would have it, the sun came out after the wedding breakfast and it turned into a glorious afternoon so drinks on the terrace and the garden games like giant Jenga and giant Connect 4 went down a treat. In fact Connect 4 got pretty serious at one stage!
The day after the wedding, there was a spontaneous family (cousins mainly) trip to the flagship Lakeland store in Windermere. For those unfamiliar with Lakeland, it's a store filled with all sorts of household novelties, gadgets and gizmos. It's amazing what you can buy there. I was taken with a dish drainer of all things. But it was no common dish drainer! This one can expand and has a drainage plug! It also cost the equivalent of $100 and came in a pretty big box so Steve vetoed it!
We also had elevenses in the cafe there. I can't say we were particularly hungry having indulged in the breakfast buffet at the hotel but my family find it hard to resist a good feed. I think Steve thought it might have been excessive but he wasn't going to fight this one having won battle of the dish drainer! And he was convinced after he enjoyed a really good Eton Mess so smiles all round.
After a cheesy family photo outside the store we all went our separate ways. Steve and I headed to Manchester with Wesley and Aaron (or as I call them WesRon) to spend the night at Wesley's home. He now owns a home and we wanted to see it. Aaron lodges with Wes so it was great to be able to have a glimpse into what home and life looks like for them. Even more important was the chance to meet Webbley's new girlfriend, Sophi! Aside from Aaron, and given he lives with Webbly he kind of doesn't count in this situation, Steve and I were the first of the family to meet her so it's a big deal! Sophi brought me some much needed nail varnish remover and cotton wool so I like her already for helping me out!
WesRon were very hospitable taking us and Sophi to dinner in Manchester and Wes gave up his bedroom for us. It was fun to just sit around together after the wedding celebrations and have a little bit of downtime. Webbly has this huge comfy sofa and all 5 of us fitted on comfortably!
I caught the train to Hull and then a taxi to my in laws' and the talkative driver brought me up to date with the city's developments and the impact of being European City of Culture for 2017!
In the slideshow, I've included a photo of a photo of Steve and I that hangs in my in laws home and we calculated that it must have been taken in 2003 when Steve and I went on our first holiday to Cyprus together. We don't have old photos up so seeing it was a bit of a reminder of how young we once were!
The three days we had in Hull, we continued the theme of eating well with a great Welcome to Hull dinner of fish and chips British style and continued with a pub lunch at The Pipe and Glass and squeezing in a great British fry up.
Most importantly we caught up with some close friends. We had dinner with Jon and Adele and spent a day with Andrea and her two boys Ethan and Aiden. Ethan seemed to take a liking to Steve and in the photo they look like best pals and not like they'd only met for the second time in their lives!
The cousins and my mum and dad and the Halls all came and we had a "family holiday" altogether. It was reminiscent of our Christmas holiday when they came to see us but this time we were a bigger group as Zoe could join us and her husband Leigh came over the weekend.
It was a great place to stay and by this time the weather turned and the English Summer was switched on and then some! Previously when it was blue skies and sunshine, it wasn't that hot but this time round it was definitely Summer time to the extent that the outdoors ping pong playing resulted in no shirts for the men! Spirits were high especially as ping pong soon became a drinking game!
There was plenty of room for outdoor fun from the ping pong to kicking a football and chasing chickens - that was Amelia. She also befriended the owner's dog, Cocoa to the extent that she told us that she no longer liked her own dog Eddie and that she liked Cocoa more!
Indoor fun included card games, play dough for Amelia and Aaron brought his Wii with 4 or 5 hand sets. Zoe and I-Lin watched a film one afternoon and it was great to just be able to be together.
We ate out a couple of times but my sister the Project Manager, devised a spreadsheet allocating shopping responsibilities, mealtimes and clean up duties to us all! Steve and I cooked one meal but were let off pretty lightly! Dad cooked a Chinese feast one night. Carine made a couple of batches of soup for lunch and brought her juicer and a whole tray of mixed fruits. Zoe baked pretty much every day - bread, scones, cakes. We definitely ate well.
Food preparation time was fun as we all pitched in and the place had a big enough kitchen for us all to get involved. Amelia loved it and exclaimed on the first night, "Ma Ma, it's like a party!" She went from making pizza dough to helping with juicing to icing cakes! She also loved hanging around with her aunties and uncles and having people on hand to carry her and entertain her!
As well as food, we had a day out in York where the boys found pubs to enjoy and the girls went shopping and had a very civilised lunch at Betty's. As we wandered down one of the narrow lanes, Amelia walked past a bearded tramp with lots of bags and asked Aunty Carine who that was before answering her own question with deliberation and wisdom with ; "I think it's Santa"! Oh how we laughed!
We continued with the shopping with two morning trips to the Designer Outlet centre which was only a ten minute drive away so we weren't going to waste that opportunity.
Steve's parents came to see us twice for the day and the second time they brought Uncle Jim and Aunty Betty. That was partly the reason for selecting this location as it meant they could visit for a day trip reasonably.
That evening we had a BBQ and Jean and Gerald had bought all the food, Steve was in charge of manning the grill! That all went well and he had a little helper who is Gerald's goddaughter. He did warn her of the hazards of undercooking chicken and I couldn't help but smile when I heard him tell her that the chicken must be cooked or people could get very sick...pause...and they could die! For level 1 of food hygiene for a 10 year old I thought the message was a touch on the morbid side. I wonder if her declaration that she was vegetarian soon after had anything to do with this? But then after she saw the food, she soon changed her mind!
There was a post BBQ challenge in that Steve couldn't figure out how to disconnect the gas! It took him and ex engineer Uncle Jim to successfully accomplish the task.
The next day we went into the city centre and revisited some of our old haunts. It was fun to walk by the old Post Office building which was converted into apartments back in 2001 and I was the first to buy and move into one! It brought back some memories of life pre Steve and when I was young, free and single. It was just pre Steve; we met back end of 2001 and started "courting" early 2002. No longer young, no longer single but still pretty free!
We also swung by the first two offices I ever worked in and certainly I was with my second employer for a number of years so that office was pretty familiar to me. It is now empty as they have moved to bigger offices on the other side of town but Land of Green Ginger (the street name) still brings back some happy memories and the unique name of the street has always been part of the charm.
Wimbledon also started whilst we were in Hull so all the talk we had about going for a walk around East Park or to the coast for fresh air actually resulted in sofa time watching Wimbledon and eating berries! I ensured I had a shopping day though!
Our last evening in Hull was spent at The Falcon Inn which was taken over 8 months ago by a very talented couple that we have the pleasure of knowing. Lindsey and Richard used to run a very special little restaurant called Artisan that Steve and I used to love visiting and staying after the last guests had departed ,enjoying a drink with Lindsey and a natter with Richard. Artisan closed whilst we have been in Australia and Lindsey and Richard took a break before taking on The Falcon.
We knew it would be good so suggested dinner there with the family and we had a wonderful meal The Chateaubriand was exceptional combining deeply satisfying flavour with contrasting textures of buttery beef and crispy chips stacked Jenga style. All the other dishes were tasty too but the Chateubriand deserves a special mention.
Saturday was a fun day and started off with a full English breakfast at "Elizabeth's" in Sunderland. "Elizabeth's" is a little cafe which has existed since I was born and my parents used to go there and obviously have continued to do so. My mum tells me that when I was a baby, the former owner Elizabeth and some of the other waitresses would carry me so that she could eat in peace. And one of those waitresses was there when we paid this visit! The current manager knows my mum and I-Lin quite well as they meet there regularly on a Saturday morning with Amelia who was keen to chat about her recent holiday and the fact that she'd been on an aeroplane!
We had a quick mooch around some of the shops and Steve spent some time with Amelia in the Disney Store watching Cinderella!
In the afternoon we headed to Newcastle to an old warehouse for an event called The Boilerhouse Steamer which happens monthly. A number of food stalls gather together and there's live music and general buzziness. Not unlike Vic Markets on a Wednesday night here but a bit more intimate. All the cousins showed up (except Wesley as was in Gibraltar meeting Sophi's parents for the first time. Naturally we made him feel bad for forsaking us for his other newer family!) and we caught up with Joanna and Luke and ate our way through crepes, curries, steak, pizzas, kebabs, doughnuts, ice cream, ice lollies and were fuelled by local beers and I enjoyed an espresso martini and a few other fruity alcoholic numbers.
The rest of the day was spent at the Halls mainly in the garden which Graeme is devoted to! To the extent that when it rains the first thing he thinks of is how good it is for his grass! Admittedly though, it's a lovely garden and during our few days in Sunderland, I loved seeing Amelia popping out and enjoying playing outside. Needless to say, she loved being able to play with everyone in the garden and when Zoe brought out her baked goods, the day was made even better for her and the rest of us! Jo's brand new shiny husband is a professional football player and it was pre season training but he drove up to see us after a strenuous week in Leicester so it was wonderful having everyone together (no Webbley of course who had put Sophi well above our needs - wink!)
And then we only had 3 days left. We spent Sunday with Graeme and I-Lin making the most of the time and we all headed out to Newcastle for a final big family dinner. Monday and Tuesday was about spending time with Mum and Dad and Amelia at my Grandma's place. My Aunty Danz and Uncle Peter cooked lunch for us which was delicious on the Monday and Dad cooked on the Tuesday. We were showered with their love through their cooking. Time with Amelia was spent eating cake in a local coffee shop and playing with sand and play dough. We even left her with the men, that is my Dad and Steve whilst Mum, Aunty D and I had a quick jaunt into the city centre for a browse around the shops and it was fun to spend time with just them.
And then it was D Day - Departure Day. We had final cuddles with Amelia before I-Lin took her to her Gran's and went onto work. It was heartbreaking to say good bye and I think this trip has been the hardest to say bye bye. Steve says it's because Amelia is a proper little person now with memories and thoughts and that makes it harder to leave her. I wonder if it's because we were spoilt with all this family time that was fun, special and just so nice to immersed in.
And in a nod to the sombre mood of D Day, the sunshine disappeared and it turned cold, wet and grey just like our mood!
Luckily it wasn't made worse by a traumatic flight and things went smoothly including remaining within our baggage allowance which had troubled Steve for a while given my numerous shopping trips! Well, strictly speaking we weren't within the allowance but we weren't penalised which is all that counts. We were half a kilo over the 60kg hold allowance and were were definitely over the 7kg hand carry allowance which because it was a full flight, they did weigh which is rare! My hand carry came in at 9kg and Steve's a 8.5kg and as soon as I found out they were weighing hand carry ons, I quickly and sneakily hid my hand bag (which was also pretty heavy)! And in spite of being so over, nothing was said and we progressed on our merry way. I notice the couple checking in next to us though were told there hand carry was too heavy and they had to pay some luggage Tetris! So although I said "I told you so all along and you stressed unnecessarily" to Steve, I had to admit we were pretty darn lucky!
The Newcastle to Dubai leg went by quite quickly and although it was a full flight didn't feel too bad. It was a bit hot and I was in a middle seat between Steve and a stranger but the 7 hours went by quite quickly. We then had to speed through transit at Dubai as we only had 90 minutes and Dubai is pretty busy but we made bang on time with enough time for a quick freshen up.
The long Dubai to Melbourne leg was with Qantas on the upper deck of a new A380. Although still economy, these are great seats as they were a pair so no strangers to fight over the arm rest with and there was additional space between the window seat and the window with an additional storage compartment that Steve pretty much put everything in! Plus there were only 30 passengers in this section and 2 stewards to look after us so service was very attentive and nothing was too much trouble including fixing my TV screen. If you can fly in this section, I definitely would do it as it's the same price but so much better. No toilet queues all the way down the aisle either and speedy off boarding. There's even enough room for a work out as we watched one young, fit gun go through some exercises by one of the exits where there was a square of space. He managed to do squats, lunges and stretches and work up quite a sweat! And no we didn't follow suit! I bent and touched my toes a couple of time out in the back where no one could see me but that's as far as it went!
We managed to sleep quite a bit; Steve more than me but we missed a meal so it must have been pretty deep sleep!
And the welcome continued as we came home to a fantastically clean apartment, fresh flowers, a thoughtful gift of a bottle of wine and fresh milk in the fridge. Thanks Ashleigh, house sitter extraordinaire.
Reacquainting ourselves with Melbourne life has been fun this weekend in spite of the pangs of missing everyone and the quiet contrast of just the two of us but that's for the next post!
In the meantime take a peek at what Amelia has been up to this weekend. She's been baking with Aunty Zoe again and is so proud of her cake which I have been reliably informed is delicious!