Hot on the Tourist Trail

While it is too hot to do much during the daytime, we feel obliged to take a few excursions, so an evening trip out to Bhoput, an alleged ‘fishing village’ seems manageable.

It is clear when we arrive that ‘fishing village’ is not such an accurate description for Bhoput, whose lanes are not only teeming with tourists but lined both sides of each and every street with stalls selling every kind of touristy object imaginable [plus many unimaginable items]. Amongst all of this rampant commerce there is little sign of the historic buildings and character we were promised, but we are not unhappy, since the broad sweep of bay is beautiful and the many restaurants offer a mouth-watering range of fish and seafood dishes, which is what we are after.

Towards the end of a food stall street, where stallholders are fanning their wares to ward off flies, an open air bar beckons. It’s flanked by a beautiful shrine adorned with shrubs and flowers.

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Shrines are everywhere-and sometimes in the middle of nowhere. Along one country lane many of them have ladders leading up to the platform and I’m curious as to why. Perhaps it’s ease of access? They are also decked with offerings-drinks, objects, flowers and food items

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Of course amongst the food stalls there are the customary deep-fried insects.

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While this may well be the future of protein for world nutrition we’re not tempted to snack on crunchy crustacea right this moment. Instead we peruse the plethora of fish and seafood restaurants that overlook the bay and I remember that it is, in fact Valentine’s Day. So as we settle into a table with a view over the sea, tables are filling up along the beach, too.

We choose a seafood starter to share, the calamari soft and not at all chewy [as it mostly is] then grilled fish with salad and corn. The sky grows dark as a boat with red sails glides out to sea, lit up, a Valentine’s party perhaps?

We decide we’ve probably done Bhoput and go to meet our taxi.

A walk around the backstreets of our area takes us through more market stalls and then we stumble upon a large Tesco department store. We’ve seen plenty of ‘Tesco Lotus Express’ outlets but this is the first large store we’ve spotted. Intrigued, we go inside [we’re still after coffee-making equipment after all]. In the entrance there are smaller shops with gifts and a lurid play area.

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The store is familiar and yet strange, but after an extensive search we find a coffee filter. It is disorientating to wander a supermarket that is so well-known to us at home and see the range of products so unfamiliar to us, like stepping into the bathtub and finding it full of Cherryade.

On the return we stop to look at the local temple, modestly situated on a corner at the top of town and a kind of oasis away from the teeming streets. We have yet to look at any more of Koh Samui but the weather feels too hot for traipsing around. There are, however a few days left before we return…

 

 

 

How we Roll-

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These days we cross the English Channel [our most trodden travel path] by taking the line of least resistance-and since we live a few miles from Poole that line is Brittany Ferries to Cherbourg, a four-hour crossing leaving at 8.30am.
Despite the proximity we know better than to hang about and we are sure to leave home by 7.00am. Once, inspired by Husband’s ‘It’s only half an hour away-we’ve got oodles of time-we don’t need to be there until five minutes before’, we arrived at the barrier just as the ferry was about to leave and winged it up the ramp with minutes to spare.
The ferry, the ‘Barfleur’ [named after a Normandy coastal town] is comfortable and familiar by now. We know that once on board there will be good coffee and fresh, buttery croissants as well as comfortable reclining couchettes in a quiet salon in the bowels of the ship. We know that we can mooch around the small boutique and peruse the eclectic array of merchandise both useful and otherwise. There will be WiFi and television news.
Mostly, these days the ship is peopled with retirees or young couples with pre-school children because since retirement we have the choice of avoiding school holidays. This time, however by setting off a little earlier we are beset by knots of excited, shrieking children who still have time for a quick taste of France before knuckling down to learning their tables. They gallop about the ship, throng around the games room, chase each other from the bar to the restaurant, use loud devices and shout to each other. I surprise myself by enjoying their excitement, which reminds me how I felt on early trips abroad when every experience was new.
A sulky boy wearing a onesie in a bear design makes several circuits past our table with his lecturing mother, prompting me to wonder what he has done and if his excitement got the better of him. A tiny, table-height toddler staggers about, chased by his doting father and shielded from protruding table corners by the various diners he is entertaining.
In the quiet zone I open my Kindle and continue reading Alan Bennett’s ‘Keep On Keeping On’, which is part diary/part memoir/part lecture in itself and a treasury of informative and amusing anecdotes. A couple of rows behind us two men slumber whilst between them a young boy plays on and with a mobile phone, the sound of which is just a little distracting-loud enough to hear but not enough to decipher. Husband, whose own hearing has been compromised during the last few years is immune to such irritations and dozes off easily.
We arrive to Cherbourg, disembark and set off-not tearing southwards as usual but this time meandering across the Cherbourg peninsula to the coastal town of Barfleur itself, where we have lunch and a wander around the curving harbour followed by drinking coffee. Then we continue a few miles on to St Vaast, another harbour town with a convenient aire for us to park up in.

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St Vaast is a delectable place; full of seafood cafes, narrow alleys lined with pretty seaside homes and beautiful gardens, boulangeries packed with luscious pastries, breads and tarts, a crowded marina and a working fishing harbour where sturdy mussel boats are tied up.

There are many, many West coast ports like this, with harbourside brasseries serving the freshest shellfish you can get. We take advantage and I am able to enjoy my favourite treat-a plate of fat oysters nestling on a bed of ice and tasting of the sea.

We stay 2 days despite the drizzly intervals and walk the coastal sea wall to see ‘La Hougue’, part of some anti-British defences of 1664. Then it’s time to move on.

 

 

TMTE than TOWIE…

               Here in the UK where get our share of reality TV the creative whizzes behind the shows display no signs at all that they are running out of ideas. One such programme is a day-to-day look at life in the county of Essex, a county that has gained itself quite a reputation during the last fifteen years or so, for its characterful populace and their antics.

                I must confess I am not a follower of ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and that all of my knowledge of said show has been gleaned from reading reviews or catching glimpses of the ‘slebs’ in glossy magazines whilst waiting for appointments [as explained in previous posts], but I’m guessing that fans of the programme could be forgiven for thinking that all there is to Essex is London overspill towns, spray tans, vajazzles and estuary vowels [for the uninitiated-Essex edges itself around the mouth of the Thames as it joins the North Sea and the inhabitants speak in a distinctive, unmistakeable accent]. It is easy to gain a preconceived idea of a place.

                I consider myself, as far as the UK is concerned, to be a South Wester-that is to say I was born in the South West I’ve spent most of my life living there, however I did spend some significant periods of my childhood living in both East Anglia [North Norfolk] and Kent, and although I know and recall both of these areas well I knew nothing of Essex until this week, when we journeyed Eastwards to rectify this gaping void of ignorance.

                Of course I was well aware that besides the sprawling conurbations of Basildon and Romford there were whole tracts of beautiful countryside, swathes of marshes teeming with wildlife, charming coastal towns and quaint villages and I have not been disappointed. We made first for Mersea Island in the south-an island only in that a wide, muddy causeway separates it from the ‘mainland’, given over largely to holiday parks, but also home to manicured villages with black, clapperboard houses with voluptuous gardens, village duck-ponds and wonderful pubs. We visited the Oyster Bar, indulging in an enormous sharing platter of crab, prawns, mussels, cockles, smoked salmon, smoked haddock and of course, oysters-accompanied by a Guiness [Husband] and a chilled white wine [me].

                Colchester, towards the East boasts the reputation of being the earliest recorded town in the country, although here my expectations were a little dashed. It is a handsome town, with some fine buildings but not spectacular. It has a modest, well-tended castle but I suspect all vestiges of antiquity were thrashed out of it long ago to make way for the ubiquitous likes of H&M, Marks and Spencer, Greggs and Tesco Express.             

                On again then to the East coast beyond Colchester, where were truly in the depths of the countryside, but near to the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe [across the water to the North in Suffolk]. It is an exemplary scene of rural England. So much for preconceptions-and all about three hours away!