Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter fur balls

I'm currently being held hostage in my own home by tiny furry five-week-old tyrants.

One of the things about our move to Austin that I was most excited about was the promise of a puppy. We definitely couldn't have one in London (at least not a proper sized one!) so I've been counting down the days. On arrival though - with our sensible heads on - we realised that, as we're going to be out the country for at least 2 months over the summer, we shouldn't get one until the Autumn. Devastated. 


Thursday, 17 April 2014

A Birthday Weekend in Vegas

It was my birthday last week and it happily coincided with some of our favourite Londoners visiting the US. They desperately wanted to do Vegas and I'd never been - so six of us organised a last minute trip to the Wynn, Las Vegas for 48 hours of pretty unbridled hedonism.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Spring has sprung.

Spring has truly sprung here now. Every time we leave the house there are more flowers than the last - the verges are carpeted with bluebonnets and the previously brown creek valley trees are bight green with new growth. It seems almost unimaginable that it was so cold a few short weeks ago - Austin is blooming. 


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sunday Bread and Jam

Having returned from sunny Cayman without my parents the house was feeling a little bit empty. But what better way to fill the void left by my mother than by cooking up a storm in my shiny new kitchen - then at least the house smells like she's still here.

Strawberry season has begun in earnest in Texas - the supermarkets and road side stalls are overflowing with them, and so we bought them all. Then we made Jam. 


Monday, 7 April 2014

Paddling and Boating and champagne soaked Floating

Jon arrived last night (hurrah!). We let him off lightly after his week at work with an afternoon paddling in the pool at home followed by supper overlooking George Town Harbour - you cannot overestimate how delighted both J and my father were by gearless dry bulk carrier that was unloading as we ate (I know..)

But as soon as he was home and settled in we needed to a) celebrate his homecoming and b) send off my parents in style with a family day out on Frank Sound.

This is my absolutely my favourite part of the island - a beautiful, quiet, coral fringed lagoon - far away from the hotels and jet-ski rentals of Seven mile beach. We only saw one other boat all day.

We started with a snorkel - I'm always a little bit cautious in Frank sound as J's cousins have regaled me in the past with tales of sizable sharks - but the coral heads here are bigger and healthier than anywhere else on the island and without the tourist clamour the lagoon is silent - apart from the waves at the reef.

No more Morays - but plenty of Parrot fish, Guard fish, Angel fish, Dory's and another huge stingray (sing with me now theeeeeeree's  porifera, coelenterata, hydrozoa, scyphozoa, anthozoa, ctenophora, bryozoas, three! Gastropoda, arthropoda, echinoderma, and some fish like you and me...)

After half an hour I'd run out of finding nemo songs to sing at the fish and we were mostly t-shirt clad - keen not to spend too long lying on our fronts with burnt backs to the sun - so we swung by the dock to pick up the champagne and headed out to a sand bar to crack open our bubbles and toast a glorious holiday/even more glorious family.

Look. Hands free! 

Several bottles and lots of delicious manchego cheese later we chugged back in to shore to shake of the salt in the pool 

and to sit down for salmon, salami, salads galore and lots more wine - before sadly packing up and delivering my parents to the airport for their flight back to the UK and to organise J and I for our return to Austin tomorrow.

A brilliantly timed parental visit - just in time to settle us in - and bridging the gap between our departure from the UK and our return trip for the Summer celebrations. Eleven weeks and counting.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Cayman Kai and island touring

As M & D are new to the Island Lori (worlds-best-mother-in-law) who is, among many things, the worlds-best-Cayman-guide whisked us off for a day of coast line touring, National gallery viewing, beach basking and important-people-meeting (especially those who are coming over for our wedding in July).

We started our day at Cayman National Gallery. The Jamaican art exhibition I confess left me pretty cold but I loved some of the permanent Caymanian pieces on the second floor. Always a sucker for anything made of scrap metal.

And the brilliantly/hilariously titled 'ode to milo'.... 

Its a pretty small exhibition - we whipped round it in half an hour before taking the coast road up past Savannah and Bodden Town (the original island capital) to Cayman Kai - the most holiday-feeling part of the island. The part where even Caymanians come for a break. It's full of Floridian style houses, pastel colours, wooden boats and palm fringed beaches. 

After yesterdays marine adventures (read sunburn..) we were definitely ready to lounge in the shade.

Which we did. Enthusiastically. Armed with icy drinks and endless pistachio nuts (a vdB holiday essential) - venturing out in to the sun only to cool off in the sea and remind ourselves how good the shade felt.

To go for walks along the dock.

To blow my youngest sister a kiss at university in Liverpool.

And say hello to some old friends...

When the heat of the sun got too much even for the shade we sloped back in to the car and off to join a family friend for a quintessentially British afternoon tea back in town. Earl Grey, finger sandwiches and fig rolls - on a breezy patio by the yacht club. Definitely the best cup I've had since leaving the UK back in January.

We finished our day with Jon's grandmother, drinking champagne by the canal and convincing each other that 'we're definitely more brown than red'...


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Seeing stars - Cayman's Bio-luminescent Bayou Bay

As I said preciously, I've been taken to try and find the bio-luminescence several times before by Jon - so I wasn't holding out much hope this time. We were promised though that tonight was perfect; warm, still and moonless.

The bay, up by Cayman Kai on the North side of the island is a brisk 30 minute boat ride from the yacht club dock. By the time we set off the sun had set and the combination of sunburned skin, sea spray and a head wind meant we were all shivering by the time we slowed down to enter the bay.

With all the boats lights off we could see the wake from the back of the outboard motors glowing softly and as we chugged in to the still shallow water it became brighter. Impossible to photograph. I tried valiantly. I have a lot of black squares.

The glowing light from above was an eerie blue green and in my shivering state I was pretty unconvinced about the thought of throwing myself in to pitch black sea.

I will be forever grateful that I did. Stepping down in to the water, because the bay is so shallow and still, was like sliding in to warm soup and every movement of our arms and legs around us created bursts of sparking light. We slipped on our snorkels and ducked our heads under the water. Making 'sea-angels' with the light and lying still in the dark before moving suddenly and creating cascades of glittering light along our arms and legs.

as you can see - tricky to photograph!

Like being in a black and gold snow globe, or the web of life from Avatar.

If you float silently and still enough to quiet your own light you see fish slipping through the water below like silver ghosts.

The light, although too faint to photograph can be seen from a couple of meters away so bursts of activity from fellow swimmers were a comforting reminder that you weren't entirely alone in the dark.

by the time we had spent nearly an hour in the sea mesmerised by our own glittering hands and feet the outside air was feeling far too cold to get out in to. I'd been so transfixed that I barely noticed that a jellyfish had draped its way lovingly round my arm... Youch.

If you do nothing else in Cayman. Do this. We went on a family friends boat tour - but there are loads of companies that will organise a private outing or trips to join - or if you're feeling energetic you can paddle out in a Kayak with these guys - I imagine that's even more magical.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Stingray kissing and Moray avoiding

When the sun seems to shine and you've had too much wine its amore... Or in our case a Moray. A large and menacing looking green one. Fortunately I had mum to hide behind and it opted not to come ALL the way out of its coral cave. I have vivid childhood memories of poring over the Guinness book of records with my brother and can assure you that the Moray eel has a second pair of alien style jaws. This terrified me as a land-lubbing 11 year old and as a snorkeling 27 year old I beat a jolly hasty retreat.

The day was not all fear though - we started with a boat ride out to Stingray city from one of the millions of canals 

can't take them anywhere!

Stingray city is the name for a sand bar close to the reef where Caymanian fisherman used to clean and gut their catch before heading in to the shore. Stingrays (clever cats) realised that this was a much easier way of getting fed than catching it themselves and have grown to associate the sound of throbbing boat engines with lunch. 

They're wild but happily skitter through the waves towards you in search of squid, pressing themselves against you and winding through your legs like sea kittens. 

Their undersides are silky smooth, and they're utterly shameless in their hunt for food - happily being stroked or held in exchange for squid, melting away shamelessly as soon as they smell it elsewhere. 

Completely enchanting. And Lori is apparently quite a stingray whisperer. 

We spent a happy 45 minutes splashing round in the sea with stingrays before reluctantly jumping back on the boat for a short ride to deeper waters and coral heads just inside the reef.

A lot of the coral in the Caribbean has been damaged by the sheer numbers of tourists but the marine parks here are fighting a valiant battle to protect it - and the fish (and the aforementioned eel) are truly astonishing. Tricky to photograph with a snorkel mask and an iphone. Didn't even try and snap the moray monster!

We made a quick stop home to shake off the salt in the pool (sorry Lori..!) and re hydrate ourselves

...before heading out to try and see the Bio-luminescence - something Jon has tried to take me out to see at least three times before to no avail. I can't confess I was holding out a great deal of hope. It is almost undoubtedly the most beautiful thing I have ever done. Photos to follow.

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