Life

no matter how far or how wide i roam

chalk-map-of-australia

and the way forward always in the end,

the way that you came, the way that you followed,

the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvellous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.

-- David Whyte, “Santiago” from Pilgrim

And so, this is my next adventure! After nearly 12 years in the UK, Tom and I will be calling Australia home again soon.

When I heard David Whyte read this poem in the recording of the On Being Gathering at the weekend, tears started falling down my cheeks and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. He put it so perfectly. Because that is really the point I have reached in my life….where I know the way forward is the way I came. It is another invitation. And the road still stretches on.

I want to write more about this, and I will, once the fatigue and stress and brain fog of packing up our life here - all the possessions and memories and clutter and baggage - begins to subside. Once the removalists have been and the belongings we are taking (or are allowed to take - nothing made of cane, bamboo or untreated wood! We had quite a bit of it as it turned out!) are on the container, and suddenly it’s just us and our suitcases, perhaps it will sink in. Perhaps I will be able to string more than a few paragraphs together.

We had hoped that our life here might burn down gently and quietly, like a big church candle. Instead, as I put it to a friend, it has been like a raging dragon riddled with syphilis, and every time we think we’ve cut its head off, it sprouts back and we have to fight it again. There has been a lot to deal with. It’s not been an easy year. It has not been easy couple of years, really. A lot has changed, in our lives and in this country. But we have faced everything together and we are a stronger, more resilient couple for it. And, as we’ve reminded ourselves often, if packing up your life and moving to the other side of the world were easy, everyone would be doing it!

Moving back to Australia is 100 per cent the right decision for Tom and I. We haven’t had a moment’s hesitation. At this point in our lives, Australia is where we need and want to be.

It will be an adjustment, for sure. I have been gone a long time. The Australia I lived in and left isn’t the Australia I’m going back to. John Howard was still the Prime Minister the last time I lived there, for a start! I will have to get to know a lot of people again, as they will have to get to know me - we haven’t been parts of each other’s daily lives for over a decade. I’m trying to have realistic expectations (actually, having no expectations would probably be best). But despite knowing that there will be some tricky moments, I also think it’s going to be amazing. For Tom and I to have some time out after a very stressful couple of years, to recharge and figure out what’s next for us, with the support of family around us…..well, that sounds like heaven right about now.

Australia has been calling us back for a while. We just had to wait until the time was right. And that time is now.

More soon, once I have emerged from packing hell!

xx Phil

what if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

violet-bakery-brownie

What if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

I like to keep busy. I’m not great at sitting still. Given a choice I’d rather be doing something than nothing. Give me a week off and I’ll fill it with day trips and walks and visits to pubs and galleries. And I love it. I love stimulation. But that’s not always what you need, is it? 

An unexpected flare up of an old wound saw me track down my old osteopath at her new digs at Kuu London for an hour of muscle manipulation and massage yesterday. I cried on the table, and it was much needed. Maybe keeping busy had distracted me. Maybe it has always distracted me.

And while I keep myself occupied and always find things to do...I’m not always very kind to myself. I tell myself I don’t need a massage, or quiet time. I meditate every morning...and it’s only recently I’ve stopped doing the guided ones and started sitting there in silence with only my breath for company. It’s uncomfortable. Lying there, having sore parts prodded and touched, was uncomfortable. No wonder I cried. I’ve forgotten how to do uncomfortable. 

Shoulder loosened and no longer in pain, I took my time going home. It was a sunny day and east London is full of beauty, characters and things to see. I found a new journal at Erbert (and got great tips on how to unclog my old fountain pen! Cheers Paul!) and treated myself to a brownie and iced tea at the Violet bakery.

I picked a table by the kitchen window so I could breathe in the heavenly smell of baking. I had nowhere else to be and for a change I felt calm, unhurried, unpressured. As a result, I lingered.

I took an obligatory photo or two then put the phone away. I wrote. I savoured every sweet, nutty, salty bite of my halva tahini brownie. I looked around. There were more dogs than cars in this quiet street, trotting alongside their owners. It was sunny, and with the warm cake-infused air I might have almost believed it was still summer.

As I ate the last crumb of brownie and walked to the train, I felt lighter. Battery not quite full, but recharged nonetheless. 

We so often wait for a wake up call before we’ll prioritise looking after ourselves, before we listen to our aching bodies and souls. Saturday was a good reminder to me to not put off self care until the pain is unbearable. But also, I don’t have to be in pain to be worthy of kindness and small treats. Those are the things that make life sweeter.

So this week, I’m going to try and treat myself more like my phone - and hopefully get my battery sufficiently recharged.

a guide to london's abandoned railway parkland walk

london-parkland-walk-sign

Tom and I were having a dinner party with our new neighbours (now dear friends) last year and Matt, the husband of the couple, had recently completed the London marathon. I asked him where in the local area he had trained for it. He replied that he often went along a route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park, which was an abandoned railway track. This caught my imagination (and Tom's) immediately! 

But, you know, best-laid plans and all that....but suffice it to say, last weekend when we had an extra day (thank you Bank Holiday) we decided to go for a long walk and finally check out the abandoned railway track. It's one of north London's best-kept secrets and I'd highly recommend doing it if you live in the area.

Londonist has a pretty good guide to the walk, which we used, but I will add my own observations and recommendations below.

First of all, get yourself to Alexandra Palace station and then make the uphill climb through the park to Ally Pally itself. The views really are lovely from up here.

view-from-ally-pally

Then head west down hill, through more of the park, where the trail starts. It's not very well sign posted, so you do need to know where you're going! There are some nice landmarks in this part of the park, including one of the oldest trees in the area - included in an Ordinance Survey in the 1860s. If you keep walking past that, going pretty much straight, until you spot the Little Dinosaurs play centre, then walk a little more past that, veering towards the right, and you're nearly there. Look for a graffitied wall and a long green tunnel, as seen below! Now the adventure begins!

tom-parkland-walk

It's pretty easy to follow this part of the walk, it goes through Muswell Hill and there are a few information boards along the way, showing you what was meant to be the railway:

 We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

Once you hit Highgate, it gets a little confusing - because the most direct route is to go via the road to Highgate, but we wanted to keep going through the woods. Again, not brilliantly signposted but we walked some of the way through Highgate Woods, sticking to the Eastern path. Follow this for a while, then look for a gap in the fence near the keeper's lodge to take you out on to the street, then cross the road into Queen's Wood to continue the walk. 

queens-wood

I really enjoyed Queen's Wood, it is a lovely ancient parkland and you could probably spend all day exploring here (it's 52 acres!). There's a diverse range of plants, trees and wildlife. I was quite taken with the frog pool (but spotted no frogs!).  

bittersweet-nightshade

To continue on the Parkland (south) walk, follow the Capital Ring signs, which take you off to the right. You'll come out at a road called Queenswood Road - now, you can cross the road and keep going through the park but we weren't sure, so we came off here. If you do this too, go right up the hill and follow this road along, going past some very nice houses (!),  until it eventually becomes Wood Lane and you come out on the A1, Archway Road. Go left down Archway Road, turn left at the Boogaloo Pub down Holmesdale Road and you'll see parkland on the left and where the walk starts again.

It's worth taking a very quick diversion to your left, just a couple of hundred metres, where you'll see disused train tunnels that have been turned into London's only bat sanctuary! 

 The bat cave!

The bat cave!

parkland-walk-sign

Then you head off down the track, which is much more defined than you've experienced so far! And it's pretty much a straight line all the way to Finsbury Park from here. 

I found it such a peaceful walk, even though there were other people around - mostly runners and fellow walkers, the occasional cyclist. It does appear to be a well kept local secret. The parkland has grown almost wild over the abandoned planned railway structures, making it quite beautiful….like living, abstract art, in a way. Take your camera, as there's something to catch your eye at nearly every turn on this walk. These were our favourites:

 Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

 Arty arches!

Arty arches!

 Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

 Plant art!

Plant art!

We finally got to Finsbury Park and the heavens opened, so we ended up back on a bus to Hornsey - which was on our way home - where we went for a little stroll and found ourselves in the Great Northern Railway Tavern for a much-deserved cold beer! 

summer-fruit-hornsey
beer
phil-with-beer

For more on the Parkland Walk, you can visit the Friends of Parkland Walk website. Also check out Londonist for all the other walks in London they've done and recommend! 

travel: food, drink and inspiration in Berlin

kreuzberg

When you think of Berlin, perhaps you think of the Wall, the Reichstag, or Checkpoint Charlie. Every city guide will mention those, and with good reason – they are must-sees. But Berlin is also a paradise for creatives, dotted with artisan coffee shops, funky bars and galleries, cutting-edge restaurants, eye-grabbing street art, green spaces, museums, food stands and flea markets. The spirit of reinvention and possibility permeates every corner of this city. Whether you’ve got a week or a weekend in Berlin, if you want to be inspired, you’re in the right place.

kadewe-leuchturm-notebooks

Stationery lovers will be in heaven at KaDeWe, Europe’s second largest department store after Harrods, where there is a whole floor of notebooks, cards, paper and every writing implement you can imagine with which to pen a masterpiece. We spent ages trying to pick which colour Leuchturm notebook we wanted! And foodies, make your way to the sixth and seventh floors where you’ll find the food hall to end all food halls.  

cookies-cream-berlin-experience

Cookies Cream leads the way in the ‘cordon vert’ trend, serving edgy and extravagant vegetarian food – expect dishes like apple gyoza served in celery, walnut and thyme broth, and yellow beetroot gnocchi with olives. What’s more, you’ll feel like you’re in a spy film trying to find the hidden entrance to the restaurant in the car park at the back of the Westin Grand Hotel! We had the set menu which was a bargain €55 for four courses and included all their signature dishes. It was a meal to remember. We still talk about it.

schillerburger-berlin

Even your burger comes with a side of philosophy in Berlin. We thought the best veggie burgers were at Schillerburger, full of mustard and pickles in traditional German style. They have branches dotted all over the city. We frequented the one across the street from our favourite bar! 

coffee-and-cake

If you’re a cake lover, Berlin is your city. Kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) is a German institution and any neighbourhood café will have something freshly baked and delicious – espresso bar Café µ in Friedrichshain served a carrot cake that was even better than my grandmother’s; The Barn in Mitte is a world-renowned coffee roastery whose flat whites are strong and essential pre-shopping refreshment before you hit the arty boutiques of Schönhauser Allee; and even vegans don’t miss out, as Goodies Vegan Café has a sumptuous selection of cakes as well as excellent coffee.

hops-and-barley-beer
hops-and-barley-bar-berlin

Friedrichshain is my pick of the trendy neighbourhoods. The streets are lively and colourful, practically every block of flats has a mural painted on it. After a walk and browse through its many unique shops (no chain stores in sight here), unwind with a halber liter (a bit over a pint) of one of the beers or ciders at Hops and Barley, where they brew everything on the premises. Their pilsner is incredibly tasty, with a zesty citrus flavour.

 Don't forget to visit a photo booth! They're great fun.

Don't forget to visit a photo booth! They're great fun.

Getting around is a cinch – Berlin is a cycle-friendly city and you can hire bikes very easily to zip around on. There’s also the U and S Bahn trains, which will get you from the outer neighbourhoods of the city into the centre of things in about 15 minutes. It’s also one of the most walkable cities in Europe. Wear comfy shoes and don’t forget your Fitbit!

michelberger-hotel-berlin

We liked staying at the funky Michelberger Hotel – a former factory complex, where the décor is a delightful eclectic mixture of vintage and warehouse hipster. I wouldn't recommend staying in the loft room, however - it was a rickety wire ladder to get up to the bed, which was too much like a mattress on the floor for my liking. Which was a shame, as the rest of the room was very comfortable. Worth double checking when you book that you have an actual bed! But otherwise, there’s an excellent bar and restaurant on site and the hotel is mere moments’ walk from the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall and, if you’re in town to catch an international music act, the Mercedes Benz Arena. I would stay here again quite happily.

 Berlin Wall, East Side. 

Berlin Wall, East Side. 

 

One thing’s for sure, you’ll be plotting your return to Berlin before you’ve even left - however long you spend there simply won’t be enough.

Have you been to Berlin? What are your top tips for enjoying this wonderful city?

weekenders on our own

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It's such fun
- Lou Reed

Sometimes the best days are the unplanned ones. 

shoreditch-street-art-a-nahu

We expected rain, being stuck indoors, winter still blowing its frosty breath over the city. Instead, it was pleasantly overcast when we met our friends at Old Street tube and took the scenic route, through the streets of Shoreditch which are like galleries with vast, colourful murals everywhere you look, to a cafe for the best vegan burger in London:

essential-vegan-burger
cassava-chips
street-art-broadway

 

Then we walked around Columbia Road, past Hackney City Farm where we saw baby goats frolicking in the grass, and then up to Broadway Market where we stood elbow to elbow with East London's hipster population jostling for vintage clothes, killer brownies, raw milk, giant cheese toasties, coffee and sourdough bread. I came for Frida.

 Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

 

Then we walked back to Haggerston along the canal. The sun came out and we unpeeled ourselves from our coats with glee. We made a brief stop at Proud East for probably the best Virgin Mary I've ever had:

virgin-mary
phil-and-lisa
phil-and-tom

Refreshed, we walked further along Regent's Canal up to Islington. The air was cold but the sun was out, and I could smell the sweet perfume of violets on the banks, wood-fired stoves in the canal boats, and coffee from the riverside cafes. We saw a group of friends drifting along the river in a floating hot tub. I took note of the company for future reference!

We wandered through Camden Passage, as the stallholders began to wrap their unsold wares in newspaper and box them up, and there was still a queue at the Breakfast Club. We stopped for a pint in the Camden Head (our new favourite place in this part of town).

tom-camden-head

When a day turns out to be unexpectedly fun, in the gentle company of true friends with whom you can just be yourself, with delicious food, refreshing beverages, the weather surprisingly fine and the promise of spring hovering on the horizon.....these are the days that I live for.