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Bristol - Arusha

Heading back to our beloved Tanzania


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

For a number of years we have talked about visiting Tanzania during the 'Baby Season', ie. the time of year when the wildebeest and zebra return to their place of birth to to continue the circle of life with a new generation of babies.

Today we set out on the journey to make this happen.

Packing light is not an option when you are a photographer, and we are also taking a number of gifts for our Tanzanian 'family' this time. With my 600mm f/4 lens, known as Big Bertha, travelling in its own flight case, we are dangerously near the 60kg checked in luggage limit for the two of us.

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Big Bertha has to be sent as Oversized Luggage, as does the soft bag with gifts, and we reluctantly wave them goodbye at the special desk at Heathrow, and watch them being wheeled off into the belly of the airport. “Take good care of my baby now!”

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Dinner

Once we are rid of the checked in luggage, we proceed through immigration and go to The Commission pub to grab something to eat.

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Salmon with curried cauliflower

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Fish finger toasted sandwich

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Rekorderlig Strawberry and Lime

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I didn't quite manage Dry January, it's another three hours to go. Cheers!

Qatar Airways

Thankfully the plane for the first leg of the journey (London to Doha) is not full, and we are able to spread out a little with three seats for the two of us.

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There is a screaming child behind us, constantly screeching, crying and whining. While David finds it super-annoying, after years of working in a nightclub I can mostly tune out unwanted noise. I put my cervical collar on and drift off to sleep.

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Doha

The city looks quite spectacular as we approach the landing, all lit up in the early morning. I try to take some photos through the aircraft window, but fail miserably.

To reach the terminal building, we have a long bus journey following a slow luggage truck around the aiport apron. One we get inside, we are a little dismayed to find our connecting flight to Tanzania is not showing on the Departures Board.

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We follow everyone else downstairs to the departures hall anyway, where an official scans our boarding cards and tells us the gate number. It is a long way to reach the other terminal, and involves a train journey. It seems everyone in the entire airport are right here right now, and I find it a little uncomfortable when there is a massive crush for the down escalator.

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Like we did on the first flight, we have plenty of space on the aircraft for the next leg too, with two seats each. By the time we take off from Doha, it is daylight, and we have a great view of the city below.

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The flight is reasonably uneventful, and although I do manage to grab some sleep, it is very disturbed sleep as a result of taking Lariam this morning (antimalarial prophylaxis which causes dreadful nightmares), restless legs and the overwhelmingly bad BO wafting from the seat in front.

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Approaching Kilimanjaro Airport, we initially fly over the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which looks surprisingly dry, with clearly defined animal paths. Later we see cultivated areas, with green patterned fields; followed by the urban areas of Arusha. I cannot believe how much more sprawling the city has become since the fist time we visited in 2007.

Kilimanjaro Airport

After landing at Kilimanjaro, the international airport servicing Arusha and the northern safari circuit, we have to wait ages for the aircraft steps to arrive. The flight goes on to Dar es Salaam, and a number of passengers are continuing rather than de-planing here. A very inconsiderate such lady passenger decides that re-arranging her luggage is much more important than letting the other travellers off the plane, and spends ages blocking the aisle. Eventually she reluctantly steps aside, while still leaving her trolley bag in the gangway for us to step over. Some people should not be allowed to fly!

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Before we are allowed into the terminal building, we all have to line up outside and disinfect our hands.

There is a long queue for Visa on Arrival, and as we walk directly up to the immigration counter we are extremely grateful that we applied for ours before we left home.

Both Malisa (our driver-guide) and Tillya (the owner of Calabash Adventures, the company who arranged our safari) are there to greet us with enormous hugs! It feels like coming home to family!

Soon after we leave the airport, Malisa stops to get a small treat out of the car fridge for David – a Savanna Cider, David's favourite!

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Gran Melia Hotel

We see the rear side of the hotel from a distance, and comment on how lovely the balconies look. Expecting to be driving to the other side of Arusha to check in to the A1 hotel (a modern but somewhat soul-less establishment), we are delighted to be staying here instead. Despite being a large hotel, the Gran Melia is extremely nice and a completely different class to the A1. We are greeted with the customary welcome drink before checking in to our room.

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It is good to see that they are well ahead of the eco-game, using bamboo straws in their drinks

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Our balcony looks out over the front of the building, and we love the plants on the roofs below, making the outlook softer, adding insulation and creating more of a green space!

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We have a couple of hours before we are meeting Tillya and his wife Halima for dinner, so we take a walk around the resort.

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The central atrium

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Giant chess set on the patio

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The lobby

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The lounge

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Sculpture at the entrance

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The front entrance, providing a covered drop-off point for guests

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Love the old car!

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Ponds with mosquito-eating fish along the covered walkway from the drop-off point to the reception and lobby

The grounds are more akin to a botanical garden, with the large free-form swimming pool blending in with a natural lake and waterfalls, all connected by walkways and bridges.

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Dinner

Having known Tillya for 13 years, and also communicated with his wife on several occasions via email, it is great to finally meet Halima in person.

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The hotel buffet is very nice, especially the dessert section, and we have a lovely evening catching up on news, hearing about Tillya's future plans and discussing politics and current affairs.

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Tender beef kebabs, fried yam, a local green vegetable similar to spinach, taro crisps, chicken kebabs, prawns with sesame seeds and a spicy sauce, plus a bowl of delicious dhal

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Some of the selection from the dessert buffet. Shhh, don't tell anyone, but I went back for seconds. With so many different dishes to choose from, it would be rude not to!

And so the first day (and second, technically, as we left the UK yesterday) of our latest trip comes to and end; and after 32 hours of travelling, it is a relief to get into bed.

Thank you Calabash for arranging yet another safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged safari tanzania heathrow cider doha arusha big_bertha calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area kilimanjaro_airport qatar_airways savanna_cider the_commission_pub oversized_luggage malisa gran_melia_hotel psanone_supermarket tillya halima dessert_buffet Comments (5)

Bakotu Hotel - Mandina Lodges

Transfer Day


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Transfer day. After a leisurely breakfast, we get picked up for the transfer to our next – and last – lodge on this trip. The journey takes the best part of an hour, with the last half on dirt tracks that the driver describes as “African Massage”.

Mandina Lodges

The modest track leading down to the lodge from the main road is not indicative of the opulence that meets us at the lodge. Linda, the manager, greets us warmly and gives us a briefing about the lodge and its surroundings. I am a little disappointed that we do not have a private guide as advertised in the brochure, but share with a single lady from the UK. I can, however, understand the desire to keep staffing levels down this late in the season, especially as this evening there are only five of us staying.

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Reception area

Porters take our luggage as we are shown to the room along elevated wooden boardwalks.

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The rooms are nicely spread out to allow for plenty of privacy.

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There are nine rooms at Mandina, including four floating lodges, one of which we are staying in.

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Our lodge is # 3

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As we are in the third room from the main public area, there is just one lodge beyond ours. The gangway from the main boardwalk leading across to our room varies in steepness according to the level of the tide.

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The gangplank leads to a floating terrace where there are two sunbeds, plus a covered area with a couple of chairs and a table.

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Another gangplank leads across to the room itself, which is also floating on the river.

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The room has a small balcony that wraps itself around on three of the four sides, offering great views up, down and across the river.

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The wood panelled inside is spacious with a four poster bed in the centre of the room.

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The en suite bathroom is open to the elements out the back of the room.

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A preservation order forbids the owners to bury pipes under the lodges, so the toilet is fitted with a de-compostable plastic bag which takes a bit of getting used to. It is changed every day, but flushing it can be a little awkward, and the sound when you pee is rather disconcerting.

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Once we have settled in, we check out the large free form swimming pool.

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We're amazed to see a Pied Kingfisher nonchalantly sitting at the edge of the pool.

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He dives down into the pool, not for food, but to cool down in the hot, midday sun.

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Dotted around the pool are covered sunbathing areas (or rather shady areas to get away from the sun), again spaced apart for privacy.

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There is also a firepit, surrounded by chairs for sharing stories and keeping cosy on those chilly winter evenings.

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A large wooden deck leads down to the river, where the lodge's boats are moored.

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The restaurant features large, heavy metal chairs and ornate mosaic decorations on the floor.

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We saunter down to the bar area, where there is a little bit of a cooling breeze.

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David is delighted to find the bar stocks cider, while I choose a non-alcoholic ginger drink with a real punch.

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Fancy going all the way to West Africa to drink British cider!

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My ginger punch looks like mud but tastes delicious.

The bar overlooks the mud flats around the mangroves, which are dry when we arrive, but as we stay for a while drinking and enjoying some lunchtime sandwiches, the water rises with the tide.

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The mud appears to be moving, and on closer inspection we see hundreds of little Fiddler Crabs.

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Odd looking Mudskippers, who appear to have legs, fins and wings, also frolic in the shallow waters.

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The flowerpots attract Red Billed Firefinches.

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After lunch we retire to our new home for a siesta in the midday heat.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds africa pool bar birding crabs swimming_pool cider west_africa kingfisher transfer siesta boardwalks finch gambia firepit bird_watching the_gambia the_gambia_experience firefinch wild_birds bakotu kotu mandina_lodges makasutu mandina floating_lodge makasutu_forest four_poster_bed outside_toilet mangoves mud_flats fiddler_crabs muskippers Comments (6)

Home - Carlisle

A slow start to our Scotland Adventure

-50 °C
View In search of the Hairy Coo - Scottish Highlands 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Although we booked this trip some months ago, it wasn't until the very last minute (two days before departure to be exact), that we actually decided we were going to go. As many of you will know, my dad was very poorly recently, and we were unsure whether we were going to be able to get away at all.

Anyway, here we are, setting off for the long drive to Bonnie Scotland.

Apologies for the quality of today's photos, they are all taken with my mobile phone.

Motorway Madness

It doesn't start well. Just outside Birmingham we hit the first traffic jam. We see two fire engines, an ambulance and the Incident Manager go past. Oh dear, I hope it is not serious. At least we are just delayed, we are not involved in the 'incident'.

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Without notice, the traffic starts to move again and within seconds we are up to normal speed, with no sign of the incident that slowed us to a stand-still in the first place. How very odd.

It doesn't last long, however, and soon we are slowing right down again. This is when motorbikes come into their own – we see the whole chapter of Satan's Slaves go past, some 50+ bikers, weaving their way in and out of the lines of slow-moving cars.

Leaving the M5 and joining the M42, we arrive into another stationary traffic jam.

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Once we're on the M6, the story is the same – another load of slow moving traffic! There is one benefit: we may not be going anywhere fast, but at least we are getting in excess of 75 miles per gallon.

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Picnic lunch

The plan was to come off the motorway to find a small, rural place to have a leisure lunch in the countryside, but as we are making such slow progress, we are concerned about the distance we still have to travel, so pull into a Motorway Service Station where we have a car-picnic in the car park. Not quite the same.

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Without notice the Sat Nav decides to give up the ghost, forcing us to get out an old-fashioned map. Thankfully, the further north we go, the less traffic there is, and David is a master navigator anyway, with a non-rivalled memory for routes.

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Premier Inn and Beefeater at Carlisle

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Finally, after over eight hours on the road (the journey should have taken us 4½ hours), we eventually arrive at our overnight stop in Carlisle, where a very welcome drink awaits the driver.

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I ask for a pint of Morgan's Spiced and Coke (four measures topped up with Diet Coke). It goes down well.

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We both have fillet steak, mine with a salad and David's with chips.

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I'll drink to that!

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So much for being good and only having a salad with my steak: a churros sundae with a large Tia Maria isn't going to do my diet any good!

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When it comes to paying, we are really pleased when the waitress lets us use a discount code from an out-of-date voucher that doesn't even include steaks! Double success!

Full of good food and drink, we retire to bed ready for another long drive tomorrow.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:45 Archived in Scotland Tagged map cider birmingham steak sat_nav beefeater carlisle traffic_jam premier_inn churros_sundae tia_maria morgan's_spiced Comments (1)

Kilimanjaro - Ngorongoro

Let the adventure begin


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Much too excited to sleep, I wake early this morning. Far too early. It's going to be a long day having had a mere two hours sleep.

We take breakfast in the lodge before Tillya and Malisa arrive to whisk us away on the start of our adventure. The first stop is in Arusha, at a different supermarket to the one we usually use. To David's horror they don't stock Savanna Cider!

While Malisa goes off to get us some brand new tyres for the safari vehicle, we enjoy a leisurely coffee.

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Nice wheels!

Having not slept well for the last three nights, I dose on and off as we make our way from Arusha towards Ngorongoro. This journey is becoming very familiar – it is now the fifth time we have driven this stretch over the years.

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Kisongo Market

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Kisongo Market

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Kisongo Market

Along the way we see three funeral cars for the children killed in the horrendous accident last week involving a school bus that plunged down a ravine killing 36 children. Later on in our journey we pass the exact spot it happened, but unlike some other safari vehicles, I request Malisa does not stop as I really don't feel the scene of such devastation should be treated as a tourist attraction.

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Cattle Crossing

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Yellow Billed Storks nesting at Mto Wa Mbu

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Yellow Billed Storks nesting at Mto Wa Mbu

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Yellow Billed Storks nesting at Mto Wa Mbu

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Butterflies at Mto Wa Mbu

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Although we usually have a picnic lunch box, today Tillya has arranged for us to take lunch in Karatu, at Kudu Lodge.

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Dining room

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Vegetable soup - lovely and peppery

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Creamy coconut chicken curry - delicious!

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You know it's a decent place when the public toilets have individual terry towels

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The lodge has beautiful grounds with this stunning Variable Sunbird flitting around

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After lunch we continue on our way, entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area at Lodoare Gate and drive to my all time favourite view over the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater.

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Entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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View over the crater from the rim

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Malisa assures us these are in fact lions. We take his word for it.

Malisa tries to speak with these Maasai women, but they either don't know, or refuse to understand, Swahili, only talking in their own Maa language.

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As we are arriving at our lodge during daylight hours for a change, we quickly shower and change, and head for the bar to wait for sunset and maybe even some stars later. I can really feel the altitude this time (we are at 2,326m/7,633 feet here), and with my lungs still being rather weak from the recent bout of pneumonia, I actually struggle to walk. I am therefore very grateful when the staff take pity on me and give us the room nearest the reception (which is still down two flights of stairs, but at least it is on the same level as the bar!).

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Our room

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Great view from the bed!

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The outside terrace of the bar

Choosing an appropriately named Ruby Cabernet (it is our 40th wedding anniversary tour after all!), we settle down to watch the clouds roll in and the shadows getting longer across this mesmerising vista.

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Great view

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Great wine

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The sunset is a total non-event, but the moonrise more than makes up for it.

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For dinner I choose a local dish called Kuku Wa Kupaka (Traditional Swahili favourite chicken simmered in coconut curry sauce served with naan, boiled and Tamu Tamu Rice), while David has the poached red snapper in garlic sauce.

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Chicken Curry

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Red Snapper

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Cream and Yogurt Mousse Cake with Chocolate Sauce

At this altitude the air is really quite cold tonight and I am feeling very grateful for the hot water bottle I discover in my bed when we return from dinner.

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This amazing adventure was made possible thanks to Calabash African Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:21 Archived in Tanzania Tagged children adventure africa safari tanzania moonlight moonrise stars ngorongoro cider ngorongoro_crater night_sky african_safari african_food moon_rise calabash calabash_adventures ngrongoro_serena ngorongoro_conservation_area moonshine starry_night Comments (1)

Home - Gatwick

On our way to yet another trip

I hadn’t originally planned on including this day in my Moldova blog, but as a couple of amusing incidents happened, now that it is time to write it all up, I have changed my mind; so here goes:

In order to avoid an early start and any hassle associated with long distance motorway travel in the UK, we decided to drive up to Gatwick the day before and stay in a hotel. After checking in to the Premier Inn near the airport, we head straight for the outside bar to enjoy a pint of cider (or two) in the warm summer’s evening.

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Also in the beer garden are a table of ‘virgins’ - air stewardesses from a well-known airline. They completely freak out when a few wasps are attracted to their food; screaming, waiving their arms about and running around like demented beings. Their hysteria is complete when the resident cat saunters over to check out their dinner. The girls abandon their table, complete with plates of half-eaten food, and seek safety from the dangerous beasts of Surrey inside the pub. Hmm. This is the calibre of people we have to rely on to be calm, efficient, and business-like in the case of an emergency on a flight?

This is our third visit to Gatwick Manor, and we are not sure whether to be flattered or worried that the restaurant manager still remembers us, especially as it is four years since we last came! We must have made quite an impression.

I often find appetisers are more interesting than entrées on the menu; so like many times before, I choose three starters rather than a first and second course.

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STILTON & PEPPERCORN MUSHROOMS - Sautéed button mushrooms on a garlic toasted muffin with peppercorn & buttermilk sauce. Topped with crumbled Stilton.

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KOREAN-STYLE PULLED CHICKEN dressed in a hot red pepper sauce. Served on noodles with red onion, soya beans and red pepper in a soy, lime & chilli sauce. Finished with sesame seeds and a honey & chipotle dressing...... and ..... CARIBBEAN-STYLE PORK MINI RIBS, slow-cooked and served in a sweet and spiced jerk marinade. Accompanied with cooling kale coleslaw and a jerk barbecue dip.

David is more of a traditionalist, and after his Stilton and peppercorn mushrooms, he has SLOW-COOKED LAMB SHOULDER, cooked for 8 hours and served with mashed potato, buttered seasonal vegetables and a rich red wine sauce.

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For dessert, David predictably chooses the apple and blackberry crumble with custard and ice cream.

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I, on the other hand, go for the cheese plate.

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Having eaten – and drunk – too much, and with the room being way too hot, sleep evades me, and I toss and turn throughout a restless night.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:54 Archived in England Tagged food restaurant airport drink cat pub virgin cider gatwick wasps premier_inn gatwick_manor Comments (2)

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