Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Christmas from A Wandering Widow

Happy Christmas and a healthy, adventure filled New Year to you all.

Christmas seems to come around faster each year and before I know it I am planning for what the New Year might bring.  I truly hope you have quality time with family and friends and the chance to kick back and relax over the holiday break.

Thanks, so much, for reading my blog this year.  Knowing I have readers all over the world is a great incentive to get out and do interesting things to write about. So, thank you, thank you, thank you!

With love,  Miriam

  This is my local beach. The  pohutukawa, is known  as the New Zealand Christmas tree because it blooms at this time of year.

Christmas is, above all, about family.  Here is my precious little Christmas angel
My grandson helps set up the nativity scene
My solution to a playful cat and a two year old grand daughter
Because you're never too old! I asked Santa for a Ferrari...he just laughed!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bath - that most elegant of Georgian cities

It is often said that you should never return to a place which holds special memories for you however there are always exceptions to that rule.  I jumped at the chance to revisit Bath when a friend of mine, now living in England suggested we meet there.  I have a deep fondness for Bath, firstly because I am a great fan of Jane Austen, one of the city's most famous daughters, who, ironically, lived there for only five of her 41 years and, by all accounts, hated it. She preferred the country and her family's impoverished circumstances made life in the town difficult. I love Jane's satirical wit and her keen eye for the foibles and pretensions of Georgian society which are the mainstay of her novels. Another reason to love the city was memories of the happy time spent there with my late husband.  He loved New Zealand with a passion but I remember him getting all misty eyed in Bath and telling me "I could live here"  I was amazed, that was the only time in his life he ever said that about anywhere other than home.  Interestingly, it was only after he had died that I researched his family tree and discovered his grandparents had come from Bradford-on-Avon, a beautiful village close by.  He never knew that but I wonder if  there was, perhaps, some sort of ancestral pull.
Shops, including a very fine ice cream shop, line either side of the bridge
Bath Abbey aglow in the sun
Sally Lunn's shop dating from 1680

I had a hugely enjoyable first day in Bath hanging out with my friend and her three lovely children.  Catching up on news we wandered the streets, admiring the timeless architecture, slurping on ice creams, visiting the original Sally Lunn's shop and marveling at the devils and angels on the carved stone ladders fronting Bath Abbey. The warm sun shining on the Cotswold stone gave the whole city a golden glow.  All too soon, though, it was time for Sarah and her family to leave for home so I climbed the hill up through town to check into my delightful hotel, The Queensberry.

The timeless view from my hotel room

Bust of  Goddess Sulis Minerva, Roman Baths
Later I decided a warm swim at the new Thermae Spa might be just the thing but when I saw the queue stretching up the road and around the corner gave it a swerve and went to the Roman Baths instead.  What a happy change of plan!  I had been there as a 14 year old and again in 1998 with my husband but I still enjoyed it as if it was my first visit. At 7pm in the evening it was almost deserted so I spent a long blissful time soaking up the atmosphere and history of the place, enjoying the vastly improved displays, happy as could be. 

HINT: go to the Roman Baths very late in the day (check opening times, they change with the seasons) by then the day trippers have gone and other tourists are at dinner.

To complete a fantastic day I treated myself  to a fig and honey julep cocktail in the hotel bar. The view from my room looked over Georgian Houses and chimney pots with a mellow moon gleaming over all.  So romantic, so story book, so unchanged for hundreds of years.  I tried to capture it in a photo, unsuccessfully, sadly.
Inside the Roman Baths

I was up early next morning, had breakfast at The Olive Tree, the fine, highly rated restaurant at the hotel and then off for a walk around the famous Royal Crescent, the Circus and up and down picturesque lanes. With no cars, no people and my vivid imaginings of how it would have been in Jane's day, I was perfectly content despite the change in the weather to cold and blustery. Next stop was the Jane Austen Centre for a short film and a tour with an excellent guide.  I thought I knew most things about Jane but I learnt a lot more like the fact that that the only, and well known, portrait of Jane was done by her sister, Cassandra, and was said by everyone at the time to look nothing like Jane. As a lover of old costumes and clothing it was a pleasure to see original garments from Georgian times.  It was early in the day and there were only two other people on the tour, New Zealanders!, we're everywhere!
The b
The elegant, Georgian, Royal Crescent overlooking the town

Next stops were the very grand Assembly Rooms with their magnificent crystal chandeliers and Bath Abbey, where I was lucky enough to catch the choir rehearsing.


Video of the choir rehearsing at Bath Abbey - excuse the quality.

I poked my nose into the Pump Room, mentioned in Jane's novels as a place for high society to meet, gather, gossip and flirt.  Nowadays people seem to prefer to take tea from silver tea sets placed on starched white tablecloths than to sip on the sulphurous mineral waters but other than that not much has changed.  Very elegant indeed.
Inside the Georgian Assembly Rooms

The Gin Bar - dark windows on right
Strolling aimlessly but happily for the rest of the day I was delighted to spot the bar I had had a drink in with my husband and where he had become misty eyed.  Now a gin bar it is little changed and I was awash with nostalgia but so pleased to have found it. Then it was off to the train and back to join my family in London.

I know now that I will go to Bath any chance I get.  It is a beautiful place and I understand how my husband was bewitched by it. Revisiting did not disappoint.

HINT: Spend a night or more there to have at least some time without the countless bus loads of day trippers.

Monday, 21 November 2016

A Taste of Spain - My Empanadilla Inspired Pie

Everywhere you go these days you will see tapas on the menu in bars and restaurants.  For me, tapas are a favourite way of eating.  I love sharing multiple small plates with friends, getting to enjoy a variety of tastes and flavours in a convivial way.  There are many stories about the origin of tapas but probably the most likely one is that in a bar in Seville small plates (tapa means plate), were put over glasses of sherry to prevent insects falling in and over time the habit of placing tit bits of salty food on the plates was developed to ensure guests continued drinking!

 Tapas are ubiquitous all over Spain now days so to complete my series on Menorca I would like to share my take on the Empanadilla, a popular tapa.  Normally served as a crescent shaped finger food pastry I  altered the original recipe to make it into a family sized pie suitable for a meal for my family.  I think it worked pretty well, tasty and a taste of Spain....just what I wanted


1 510gm tin of tuna in oil
2 tablespoons of oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large red capsicum finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped
300gms of tomatoes finely chopped
15 large green olives stoned and chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of paprika
2 sprigs of parsley chopped
2 hard boiled eggs finely chopped
Enough sheets of puff pastry to cover the top and bottom of your pie tin
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of a mild flavoured mayonnaise
1 beaten egg

Drain the tuna.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and capsicum, sauteing until soft but not browned.  Add the garlic and continue frying until fragrant.  Add the tomatoes, you can use tinned but don't put too much liquid in.
Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated but not all of it.  Add the flaked tuna and season with the salt, pepper, paprika and parsley. Fold in the olives, egg and mayonnaise.  Then set aside this filling to cool completely.  If you fill the pie while the filling is warm the pastry will go soggy.

Heat the oven to 200C.  Line the pie tin or flan dish with pastry.  Fill with the cooled filling and cover with pastry.  Brush with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until baked and golden.
This is equally good served hot or cold with a tossed salad and a bowl of olives.

The traditional accompaniment for tapas is sherry and the sherry should be served cold or lightly chilled. A glass of sherry would go just fine with this recipe.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

7 Things Worth Knowing About Menorca


There is every type of accommodation you could wish for on Menorca from luxury lodges to eco cabins and everything in between.  Be warned, some of the more popular beaches are crammed with Brits on package holidays.  If this is not your thing, and if, like me, you prefer to get among the locals, hiring a villa in a small town or village is the way to go.  We hired a villa which came with all mod cons and a swimming pool, it was perfect. I  like a bit of authenticity when I travel so one of my great pleasures was to go to the village store each day to buy food along with the locals,

Villas for rent are available throughout the island - this was ours, we loved it.

  • BUSES - The buses on Menorca are luxurious and the drivers are polite and friendly.  There are large bus depots at both Mao and Ciutadella with routes servicing a lot of villages.  However, there are many places impossible to get to by bus and the timetables are also very limited.  Bus transport on Menorca is comfortable and pleasant but it takes forward planning to make it work.
  • TAXIS - We discovered that there was only one taxi on the island licensed to take 5 passengers.  As we were a family of five it meant taking two taxis most of the time, an expensive exercise.  The taxi drivers we met were prompt,  friendly and obliging.
  • RENTAL CARS - We did not hire a car, managing to get to many places by bus or taxi but we all agreed that another time we would, for at least a few days, in order to explore more of the island.  It is important to book a hire car well ahead of your holiday because demand is high.   Poppy Cars  www.poppycars.com is highly recommended, but be careful and read reviews of hire companies before booking.
  •  FERRIES - There are regular ferry services to mainland Spain from both Mao and Ciutadella
  • CYCLING -Menorca is also perfect for cycling holidays with its relatively flat terrain and lots of cycling/walking trails


The people of Menorca have their own language, Menorquin, a dialect of Catalan with its roots in Latin, Italian and French.  It is quite different from Spanish.
For example, here are a few useful words and phrases:
The beach in Menorquin
Bon dia - Good morning
Please - Si us plau
Thanks - Gracies                                                                         Goodbye - Adeu
How are you - Con estas
Sorry - Ho sentim
I don't understand - No sentec

The city of Mao is also known as Mahon (Spanish) but the locals prefer Mao (Menorquin).
You will become a friend if you use some Menorquin words


 Menorca has its own unique cuisine, drawing on influences from the various countries that have occupied the island over the centuries.  It is different from Spanish cuisine in a number of ways, for example, the far greater use of cheese and dairy products which is a legacy of British rule.  Here are a few Menorcan delicacies worth trying:
Mayonnaise - Gets its name from Mao, where it was invented by a French chef during the French occupancy
Stuffed aubergines - ( Moorish influence)
Seafood - all kinds
Menorcan Cheese ( Queso de Mahon) - which has won many International awards 
Ensaimadas - the soft, fluffy breakfast breads baked in a spiral shape
Sobrassada - minced pork with paprika - a spreadable salami type product, sometimes eaten with honey
Lobster stew - very expensive but, I'm told!, worth it
Xoriguer Gin - (British influence) Menorcan gin is made with grapes, not grain.  It comes in many flavours, the most popular being the Pomada, a long lemony refreshing drink, drunk at fiestas and often on tap in bars. It is sometimes served as a slushy.


Menorca boasts more than 1500 monuments dating from the Talaiotic culture, 2000 BC. These are unique and many are still in an excellent state of conservation making the island a paradise for keen archaeologists.

There are plenty of fiestas celebrated throughout the year.  Get in and enjoy the fun.

A Talaiotic monument in Mao

UNESCO biosphere status was awarded to Menorca in 1993 due to the exceptional conservation efforts of the residents.  Apart from its pristine waters and coastline Menorca has 700 square kilometres of nature reserve criss crossed with walking trails through farm lands, canyons, lush woodlands and coastal dunes and wetlands.  Bird watchers can spot Peregrines, Osprey, Vultures and Eagles on their walks.


Markets are held weekly at various towns around the island.  Stalls offer fantastic value leather goods and the usual T shirts and souvenirs. The ubiquitous leather sandals, worn by everyone on the island, the avarca,  is on sale everywhere.  I bought mine at a shop on the main street on Mao and found it was no more expensive than those on sale at the avarca factory shop.
My picks for souvenirs are leather goods, avarcas and gin. 

Handbags, sandals and belts are excellent buys at the market

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Fornells, Menorca - a quintessential Spanish fishing village

Our first impression of Fornells was of dazzling white washed houses gleaming in the bright sunlight but this wasn't just an impression, fortunately this is how it really is.  Originally a fishing village, Fornell's is still a base for lobster fishermen, albeit now it is more of a tourists' playground. Blessed with a deep sheltered bay 5 kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide it is perfect for all sorts of water sports, however, we had not come to play on the water but rather to soak up the atmosphere of this exquisite village.

 We were captivated from the moment we arrived at the waterfront lined as it is with palm trees and enticing restaurants boasting starched white table cloths and gleaming crystal. Having two young children in tow  those restaurants weren't for us, though, unlike the former King Carlos, who was a regular visitor to enjoy the village's famous lobster stew, eye wateringly expensive at 70EU per serving.

For us the delight in Fornells was wandering the pretty waterfront and the quaint back streets. It is a small place with a permanent population of just 1000 so it didn't take long to wander around but we loved every moment of it, picking and poking at the waterfront market, climbing the sea wall to get a good view of the harbour, eating ice creams under a shady palm tree and admiring the Llauts, the traditional Menorcan fishing boats, jostling against sleek and expensive leisure boats at the water's edge.  Along the back streets we imagined a simpler life in the sparkling white houses lining paved streets and alleyways some with the most attractive rainwater down pipes I have ever seen.

Sun drenched alleyways
Such a pretty down pipe

 It was blisteringly hot so for a time we sought refuge in the cool, simple and perfectly lovely little church of St Antoni taking time to admire the ceiling paintings of the village and the harbour. St Antoni is the patron saint of Menorca and every January Fornells has a public holiday and fiesta to celebrate him. Next we set out on a walk to the Tower.  Built in the 17th century to defend the village against attacks from Barbary pirates the tower was less than successful in that role but nevertheless still stands as a reminder of a volatile period in the history of Fornells.

Fornells and its harbour feature in ceiling paintings in the village church of St Antoni

The Fornells Tower at the harbour mouth

Hot and sweaty after our walk in the sun we retreated to a tapas restaurant for a cold beer and some lunch. The restaurant, Sa Taupa, is one road back from the sea on a pedestrianised street and was just what we were looking for.  NOTE:  you always pay  more for a sea front restaurant. This one had no view, although I understand they have a good view from their roof top terrace but children are not permitted up there. We were just happy to enjoy the street life and the passing parade of strollers.  It was cool and shady, the tapas were delicious and it was peaceful, our two year old obligingly sleeping right through the meal.

Satisfied and tired after our day in the village it was time to leave, rather reluctantly.  Our taxi driver had promised to return for us but something got lost in translation and he didn't arrive. There is only one taxi on the whole island licensed to take five passengers and he was it so I waved farewell to the rest of my family as they took a different  taxi home and I waited for the next one...it was a very long wait not unpleasant at the waters edge but meltingly hot.  Finally the taxi that had taken my family home returned for me.  The driver told me his temperature gauge said 44 degrees, no wonder I was hot! My family told me later that the taxi driver was worried about me waiting in the sun, although I was under a palm tree, and had made the long trip back especially.  What a lovely man! 
Slightly worrying name for a fishing boat!

We all loved our day in Fornells.  It was everything I hoped a Spanish village would be and definitely a highlight of our stay on Menorca.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

One day in Mao (Mahon), - Capital of Menorca

Tempting though it was to spend every day lazing around the pool we also wanted to explore this lovely island so it was "all aboard" the bus to Mao, or Mahon as it is also known. The bus trip from Port D'Addaia is long and circuitous but an ideal, cheap and comfortable way to see different parts of the island.

A working farm right in the middle of town
As our bus pulled into the centre of town we were astonished to see a fully working farm, complete with hay bales, tractors, donkeys and barns  surrounded by office buildings. No doubt the farm has been in a family for decades, if not hundreds of years and they're not moving for anyone!  We were off for a stroll down the hill towards the harbour on the attractive, pedestrianised main street. We stopped here and there to drool at pastry shop windows or to try on the very comfortable, local avarca sandals, worn by everyone, man, woman and child, on the island, it seems. Our happy small fry enjoyed the occasional ice cream stop, some of the adults did too, just quietly!

Main street of Mao
Avarca sandals used as planters

Strategically important in the Mediterranean, Mao has been fought over, and occupied at various times, by the English, French and Spanish who have each left their mark on the architecture making it a pretty town with attractive buildings. While under British rule, in the 18th century, Mao became  the administrative capital of Menorca and with a population of just 30,000  it is big enough to be interesting and small enough to be pleasant.
The historic centre of Mao

The town Hall
Nearing the boat harbour the town opens out at a square housing two churches, the town hall and the fish market, the historic centre of Mao. High cliffs dotted with mysterious caves tower over the broad, elegant staircase leading down to the water where we were heading to take a cruise on what is the largest natural harbour in the Mediterranean. It is sheltered and scenic and we enjoyed the passing scenery of  attractive villas lining the slopes, mussel farms in sheltering bays and the English arsenal, with its bright red paint contrasted against the greenery.

A view over the inner harbour

Picturesque ancient, rustic cottages nestle amongst the shrubbery and I spotted a house I'd love to live in built right out into the water accessed by its own causeway. We passed through the short St Jordi canal to the colossal 18th century La Mola fortress and also Lazareto quarantine island, built in the days when contagious diseases from sailors and travelers were rife. Our boat stopped at a sheltered bay for underwater fish viewing from the boat's glass bottomed chambers, pretty underwhelming, actually, but the lush sea plants were worth viewing. The cruise back passed a traditional Spanish windmill high on the sky line and the very pretty 18th century garrison town of Es Castell. I strongly recommend this cruise on Yellow Catamarans, it is an hour long and at 12 euro per adult and 6 euro per child, very good value.
I'd love to live in this house

Part of the La Mola Fortress

Traditional windmill - no one was tilting at it!

Charming little bay of Es Castell

Back ashore we headed to the Xoriguer gin factory, about 5 minutes walk along the waterfront.  All I can say is, what fun!  So many different flavours of gin and tastings are free.  Purely in the interest of research, well that's my excuse, we thought it important to try as many as we could but pretty quickly realised it was best to have just a teaspoon of each or we would have soon  been out on our ears.
Gin tasting heaven
We all enjoyed the Pomada which is lemon flavoured and usually drunk as a long summer drink.  We were having so much fun we suddenly realised we were in danger of missing the last bus of the day for Port D'Addaia. This necessitated a long sprint all the way up the sloping main street to the bus depot.  Thankfully we made it, hot sweaty and tired, and settled back into our seats to enjoy a much shorter route home followed by a cooling swim back at our villa. We had enjoyed our day in Mao but knew we would go back....there was more to see.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Menorca, Spain - A perfect family holiday in the sun

I'm used to planning  my own travel so  it was a real treat to have someone else decide on the destination for a change. My son and daughter-in-law had booked a family holiday to Menorca and invited lucky me to join them while I was visiting them in the UK.  I had never even heard of Menorca let alone been there so it was a real thrill to go on an unexpected holiday to somewhere new.
The marina at Port D'Addaia, Menorca
Menorca  is the smallest and most eastern of Spain's Balearic Islands.  It is also the quietest and most natural, making it a perfect family destination. Popular activities on the island are aquatic sports, hiking, horse riding or just chilling out and if archaeology is your thing there are more than1500 archaeological sites on the island dating from the Talayotic era. Then, of course, there is the crystal clear water lapping golden beaches, bars for sampling sangria and tapas and quaint small towns and villages to stroll around and soak up a bit of Catalan atmosphere. My diary says 'First impressions of the island - green, largely rural, traditional white, tiled farmhouses, stone walls, donkeys and hay bales, lovely."
Our villa at Port D'Addaia
As a family of five, including two young children, renting a villa seemed to be the best option for us.  Ours was in the  village of Port D'Addaia on the northern side of the island, and it was perfect. Set in a quiet, leafy street of stand alone houses  Villa Sonja has a private garden and a lovely swimming pool. Within minutes of arriving my grandson was happily splashing around in the  pool and as far as he was concerned the pool was the very best thing about this holiday.

Endless hours of fun in the pool
As for the adults, relaxation was immediate. There was wine to sample, paella to eat, books to read....bliss.  My daughter in law is a wonder at discovering all sorts of local delicacies and made sure we got to sample the local meats, cheeses, wines etc.  It was fun ticking them off her list. Port D'Addaia is a sleepy place consisting of a couple of restaurants, a gift shop, a small supermarket and a bar,  and I  loved it.  My days started with a cup of coffee on the balcony looking out on a rustic farmyard, the only sounds, bird calls and a gentle murmur  in the fragrant pines bordering the property.  Then it was off up to the village to buy the  huge, fluffy, sweet rolls called ensaimadas, the traditional Menorcan breakfast.  I enjoyed queuing up with the locals in the village shop waiting for these sugar dusted delights to come out of the oven and  saying good morning,"Bon dia"in the local dialect, to the shop assistant.
My grand daughter enjoying her huge breakfast ensaimada, hot from the oven

Some days we went sight seeing around the island, some days we stayed around the villa and relaxed or took a stroll down the hill to the marina past beautiful white washed villas, their gardens resplendent with pink and red oleander and bougainvillea tumbling over walls. 
Port D'Addaia gardens were a vibrant display of oleander and bougainvillea

One afternoon we sat at the small open air bar at the marina, sipping beer and sharing tall tales, another afternoon in the large friendly bar in the village, it was just delightful. Since our villa had no internet connection it was a wonderful excuse to head to the village bar for a cold drink and a chance to use their wifi - purely for research purposes, you understand.  So there you have it, a brief introduction to Menorca.  There is more to come.....
Delicious, authentic paella
Long, lazy lunches at our villa