En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

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After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

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Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

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A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

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Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

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View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

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There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

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This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

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A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Twinkle twinkle

It’s the first weekend in December and here at Gidday HQ, that means that it’s time to get festive and put up the Christmas tree.

I love doing this, especially as I only do this every second year when my Christmas is a London-based one. It reminds me of living at home in my late teens/early 20’s when, for a few short years, Lil Chicky and I would set aside an afternoon to decorate the Christmas tree at Mum’s together. The tree itself usually needed some MacGyver-like ingenuity to ensure it stood tall and straight for the festive period and bore up under the weight of copious amounts of tinsel and general Christmas bling.

So today I pulled the boxes down from the high cupboards. I tested all the lights and untangled the string of gold beads that I drape in lieu of tinsel. And I laid out all of the ornaments I have collected over the years – from my travels, gifts from friends and family and nods to my Dutch and Australian heritage – and with the jingling bells of Christmas movies on TV in the background, Gidday HQ  got  a dose of Christmas spirit. Here are just a few of my favourite festive things…

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My wreath has had an Aussie update this year

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I bought this fantastic festive tea-light holder in Dusseldorf in 1999

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The tree gets quite full so in recent years I’ve taken to displaying some ornaments separately – the gold and red baubles are personalised ones from Mum and the one in the middle is a nod to sisterhood from Lil Chicky

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Here’s a bauble from a work trip to the Big Apple in 2005  (it had to be done)…

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…and this hand-painted glass bell was purchased in Rynek Glowny (the main square) in Krakow in 2012

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For years my tree has featured this hand-made (not by me!) angel – this year she’s sitting on an apple to keep her upright.

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I love this fabulous shoe, unearthed from a Christmas stocking during one of my bi-annual pilgrimages Down Under (my mother knows me well).

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Lil Chicky snuck this back from our Amsterdam trip in 2013 and hid it in my flat for me to find…

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…and she gave me this one courtesy of her trip to Japan in 2014.

I have A LOT of Dutch ornaments. I just can’t help bringing a little piece of my ancestry back from every visit I make.  You see, there’s a fabulous Christmas shop down by the Singel flower market in Amsterdam – I’m sure I’ve kept them in business – where I spend my last day on each visit working out how to get these fragile purchases a) into my already full luggage and b) back home in one piece.

I’ve managed to restrain myself – here are just two of them…

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Anyway, the deed is done. The tree is up, the lights are twinkling and Alfie Bear has donned his Christmas hat, ready to join in the festive fun. And there are already a few presents under the tree with this year’s Christmas bonanza from Mum arriving a couple of weeks ago.

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Alfie Bear is a fixture at Gidday HQ, having come into my life as part of a redundancy gift in 2008 – he loves Christmas as much as I do.

So if I go missing in action at all, you’ll probably find me sitting on the comfy couch at Gidday HQ  admiring the view…

There are 19 sleeps to go until the big day peeps – are you feeling festive yet?