|Birthday road trip route.|
FIRST LEG (RED)
On the 19th I drove from Gloucester to Edinburgh. I was supposed to pick up my friend Cathryn at Birmingham station, but due to work commitments she had to cancel and take the train up the next day.
As I was about to join the M5 near Tewksbury, I pulled over for hitchhikers standing by the side of the road with a banner.
Turned out they were two lads in their last few months of sixth-form, doing a 'jailbreak' for Cancer Research UK. The idea was to get as far away from home in twenty-four hours as possible on ten pounds.
When I told them I was headed to Edinburgh, they leapt on board. It was quite exciting - they hadn't been to Scotland before and we kept getting text and phone updates from their friends saying where they were. One guy's dad worked for Thompson's and they donated flights to the Canary Islands, which I felt was cheating a little as they'd planning it in advance. Seemed fairer that everyone should turn up on the day and have to start from scratch.
It really made the journey go a lot quicker chatting away, and coming over Shap was absolutely beautiful as there was snow on the mountains. I dropped them in the centre of town before driving up the road to my friend's house. Really lovely lads, having fun and raising money for a good cause.
The 20th was my actual birthday - I turned the big three-oh! (30), which doesn't bother me in the least. I've had a fun-filled and action-packed decade to date so bring on the next one.
My friend Martine had her birthday last month and our other friend, Ruairi, bought her a voucher for a meal at Edinburgh's best seafood restaurant, Odine. We decided to use it, and found an expensive bottle of champagne waiting for us when we got there! (Thanks Ruairi x)
It was myself, Martine, Cathryn and Laetitia. Martine and Cathryn were with me in Rwanda - a crazy couple of years. Laetitia had left Rwanda by the time I arrived, but I ended up living in her house:
|The house that Laetitia and I both lived in in Kisimenti, Kigali.|
When I was having problems with the landlady at the end of the first year, someone suggested e-mailing Laetitia. She was really supportive and when I got back to the UK it was amazing to discover that she lived just around the corner from Martine. Small world. It was wonderful to spend my birthday with such close friends in such a yummy restaurant. The food was sooooo good and we rounded off at Bobby's Bar, then another I don't remember so well... before stumbling home.
|Bobby's Bar and the famous dog it's named after.|
SECOND LEG (BLUE)
The next day, Cathryn and I drove down to Hull to catch the overnight P&O ferry to Zebbrugge. It was a fairly calm crossing and we had a cabin with a shower! Slight improvement from the days when my mum used to take me to Germany and you had two bunks to a room.
I was a bit disappointed by the ferry, which is a hangover from the 1980s. Unlike Norfolkline (now DFDS Seaways), you don't get internet access, which I think is a bit stingy on a thirteen hour voyage.
But we arrived in Zebbrugge early Tuesday morning and drove half an hour south to Torhout, where our friends Lies and Kassim live. They've just had a brand new addition to the family - wee baby Noah, who is an absolute heart breaker.
It was Lies' birthday on 24th so there was more cake and presents.
|Flemish beer stew.|
I believe the recipe goes something like:
1. Braze beef chunks in butter and remove from pan.
2. Brown onions.
3. Add meat to browned onions.
4. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Add one or two bottles of Leffe Brown and a dollop of mustard.
6. Cook for up to four hours depending on the meat.
7. Simmer and leave overnight to marinate (very important!).
Add corn flour to thicken if required. Or apparently, throwing in a slice of buttered bread does the same!
THIRD LEG (ORANGE)
Slightly stressful dash home. We set off in good time but had the nightmare scenario of going round in circles. Every time we tried to leave Torhout, we found ourselves coming back into it!
Ended up doing a 100mph dash in zero visibility rain to the ferry. Dangerous and irresponsible...but kinda fun. We made it with ten minutes to spare.
Another smooth crossing to the UK with plenty of duty-free crammed in the boot, plus lots of chocolate and beer from Belgium - we like shopping with Lies because supermarkets there allow you to sample lots of food (and even wine!) whilst you're walking around. Very pleasant shopping experience.
Pulled up outside Cathryn's house and helped her to take her shopping inside. In there five minutes, came out to find a parking ticket! In the middle of a back street in Southwark, some weekend-working red menace in a helmet had appeared on a scooter from nowhere and given me a fine for parking too close to a drop curb!
Sod's bloody law. He was a really nice guy though, even apologised!
Nice to know that even though most of Southwark council are probably about to lose their jobs, there's still money in the coffers for moped riding moto meddlers to work Saturdays.
LEG FOUR (PURPLE)
Despite the offer of a bed for the night, I drove the final two and a half hours home to Gloucester. Got here, drank wine, ate chocolate covered waffles and relaxed in front of the TV. It's been a most excellent way to spend a birthday and I'm looking forward to seeing what excitement my 'dirty thirties' may bring.