After an adventure-filled trip to Köln, Düsseldorf and Bad Lauterberg (getting caught in the torrential flooding affecting central Germany), we found ourselves back in Berlin looking at a calendar that showed it was the middle of June. With the expiration of my Schengen visa only 2days away we discussed the various options of bailing me out of a German prison, should we risk completing the 3 month trip to Spain, crossing the border back to Germany via land and then attempting to board our flight as if all was dandy. After much deliberation we resigned to the fact that we probably couldn't forge an exit and re-entry stamp onto my passport, and I would no doubtedly be facing the wrath of Angela Merkel's hand-picked prison officers, should I not exit swiftly. Alas, it was the end of our European stint.
As we had to leave so suddenly, we barely got a chance to say goodbye to the wonderful people we'd met during our 2 month stay. Ellen was equally upset about only being able to fit-in 2 last days of Currywurst mit pommes! We'd accumulated a lot of extra stuff during our stay so donated 3 massive bags to the charity bins outside a nearby church. We said teary goodbyes to our lovely Portuguese housemate Tiago and wished him luck in Malaysia (he'd found out a couple days earlier that he'd been accepted a position for a German company in KL). He promised to come visit us in Australia, and we headed out the door to the airport.
We initially looked into Egypt as the next port of call, but realised Turkey was still not part of the EU (thank crickey)!!! We looked-up its weather forecast for the next couple months: 35+ and sunny. Nice beaches, great trekking routes, lots of baklava and gözleme. Yep. This fitted the general criteria we were pining for. Before embarking to this ideal destination, I convinced Ellen to suffer one more week of horrifically cold conditions and once-again detour in the complete opposite direction to where we wanted to go, and pop into England so I could say hi to my British family.
It had been 6 years since I'd first stumbled upon the quaint little town of Bideford in North Devon, and as Ellen had never visited the west coast England, I figured it was going to be a treat for both of us. I was pleased to see the charm of Devon's landscape hadn't changed much since I was first there, especially considering I didn't really appreciate it that much the first-time round.
We were staying at Hotel Mead (the family home that is constantly invaded by desperate lodgers of varying nationalities). The Meads were my kind of adoptive English family from my first year abroad in England. They weren't really given a choice as to whether they wanted to adopt me or not, their son Sam pretty much just moved me and Al Hawksford in because we were stranded Australians in need of shelter. But they've become like a second-family over the years so they generously housed Ellen and I (actually, again they weren't given an option. Their daughter Lucy arranged for me to surprise them when I told her I had to leave the EU, so they didn't know they were once again being invaded by 2 Aussies). The Mead children constantly offer the house as a Hostel for needy friends, so there was already another lodger staying when we arrived.
It was great to see them all again. The last time I was there the youngest son, Jamie was only 14 and wouldn't venture out of his room or talk to anyone. Now he's extremely sociable and even drove 1.5hrs to pick us up from our flight, so it was like meeting him for the first time. Unfortunately the eldest son Sam was back out in Oz, so we weren't able to catch up at all. It did mean, however, that we could sleep in his bedroom (something that was a massive treat for us). Although we loved our 2-months living in Berlin, nearly everybody sleeps on a mattress on the floor (I guess its all part of the "alternative" living over there) so sleeping in an actual bed is just the most blissful experience.
We loved staying with the Meads as the father, (Alan) is an incredible chef and cooked us some much needed hearty dinners. Ellen was initiated into the household with the token championship of Spoons (a card game kinda like musical chairs, but with spoons...and a lot more fighting). We were also given insider tips on the best seaside towns to visit during our stay, and local cuisine we had to sample. Lucy decided to take time-off from procrastinating in her room whilst on uni holidays and joined some of our expeditions.
Most of the towns I hardly remembered so it was similarly exciting for both Ellen and I. Westward Ho! (the only village in the world that is spelled with an exclamation mark) revealed the nature of the English "beach": a large windy stoney hill that flows into a freezing ocean of water with tiny waves that take 500m to break. It's actually quite a popular holiday spot for Brits, notably so by the massive games arcade located next to the beach. Along with the extreme wind was some typical English rain. We did what most brits do when down there in terrible conditions: get an ice-cream and go to the games arcade for warmth. Even though it was 10 degrees outside, we soon understood the deliciousness of Hockings ice-cream, and how easily it soothes a spirit damped by rainy weather.
The next day Appledore charmed us with its quaint cobbled streets, houses that were turned into half-art-galleries, and ridiculously intricate diorama's detailing North Devon's history in the Maritime Museum. Mother Mead (Mina) took us to a local pub for lunch that offered the best tasting pulled-pork in south-west England, although the house coleslaw actually tasted like it had been made with parts of an old house, so needed a nice ale to wash the taste away. This visit was then followed by a round of Hockings ice-cream down by the water. (there's something like 30 Hocking's vans that just cruise around North Devon, ensuring they monopolize all ice-cream-needy customers).
Ilfracombe put on the first display of sunshine for this year's English summer. We revelled in the slightly more bearable 19 degree heat and strolled the rolling coastline, sampling the local produce from the Fudge factories. Eating Fish'n'chips by the harbour resulted in us being attacked by a mob of the largest known living prehistoric Seagulls, who preferred the taste of human blood over fried fish. In the afternoon I introduced Ellen to the Cornish Cream Tea (2 fruit scones the size of your head, homemade strawberry jam, clotted cream, and a pot of tea)...naturally, this became her daily morning and afternoon "snack". Before leaving we strolled back to the quay to view Damien Hirst's 'Verity' sculpture which is currently on loan to the city. Although I hate the guy, and most of his works, I gotta say it was perfectly suited for the seaside location and looked quite impressive.
Surprisingly, Bideford's tiny museum was playing host to a remarkable collection of sketches and prints from Dali, Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Warhol. After a 2-hour visit there, the sun poked its head-out from behind the usual rain clouds for a second consecutive day, so we made our way along the river to Instow. By the time we reached the small sandy village, every pot-bellied male over the age of 50 had made his way down from the pub to the water's edge and was baking in the sun wearing nothing but his underwear, still clutching his pint of lager. I sat on a bench and did some painting whilst Ellen eagerly watched the British Military test their WW2 Amphibious weapons that we'd learned about in Appledore's Maritime museum. (apparently the military are ok with testing dangerous weapons around children swimming).
Seeing as Ellen was now well-informed of the Cream Tea, Lucy decided another day trip to Westward Ho! was required so she could try the infamous Cream Tea from 'Tea on the Green' café. We knew two of the waitresses who worked there and thankfully they were both working when we went in. We were treated to an extra indulgent amount that far surpassed even Ellen's monstrous appetite.
Exeter put on a typically British rainy day for us. We took shelter in its natural history museum, which turned out to be wickedly awesome! Afterwards we tried out some Cornish pasties for lunch, before checking out some contemporary art galleries, the Cathedral and the old city ruins. The rain died off a little so we made our way to the Quay, where we frolicked with a somewhat menacing gaggle of swans. In the evening my friend Miranda and her boyfriend Craig picked us up and took us to their new apartment. Miranda had heard about Ellen's Cream Tea fetish so had spent the afternoon freshly baking a batch. We caught up over afternoon tea, and then began feeding their landlord's family of guinea pigs. They were super cute and one had a messy tuft of curly hair, so was naturally associated as being me in guinea pig form. We played with them for hours, so when the sky turned dark & Miranda gave us the ultimatum of spending the night as opposed to bus-ing it the 2.5hrs back to bideford, we gladly accepted.
Miranda and Craig offered to make lasagna, but I convinced them to let me take the reins as I could do it authentic Italian "nonna" style. I don't think I'd actually ever made lasagna myself, and as I was so engrossed in conversation I wasn't paying complete attention to the cooking. Every now and then I would add a strange ingredient or quantity, and when I received concerned looks I simply justified it as "oh, that's how nonna does it". Even the layering I made up as I went, and Miranda exalted "wow, all this time I've been making lasagna completely the wrong way!" I did intentionally crisp a top layer sheet the way my nonna does, which everybody loved, and it tasted pretty darn great, so all in all it was a pretty successful fake-authentic cook up.
After we ate, Miranda pulled out Taboo proclaiming we had to play a game before going to bed....we ended up rotating teams 3 times over a 4 hour period, and finished every single question in the box. It was after 4am and Miranda had to start her 6-hour mid-wifery shift at 7am. We felt pretty bad for her when we were going to sleep, but then felt even worse the next morning when we woke up and realised it was after 1pm, and she had already been to work and come back. She was on-call for 8 hours later that night so we figured it was a good idea to head back to bideford so she could get some rest in. We said farewells to the guinea pigs on the way out & headed to the bus. Before we got to the station Miranda and Craig demanded we try an authentic Exeter crepe from this super old man who'd run a crepe stand for the past 300 years (he was pretty old). We tried his speciality: Maltesers and maple syrup. It was pretty freakin great, about on par with the delicious nutella crepes we'd munched on in Paris.
I wanted Ellen to experience a night-out in the small village of Bideford. Thankfully on Saturday night 8 of the mere 15 people I know in bideford under the age of 25 were all back from uni, and keen for a reunion. Unfortunately my old local pub Quiggley's, had been shut down the previous month (Hawk I know you must be gutted) due to a high lead content in their Ales...or something?
As the rugby was on I figured we could do pre's at the Meads before heading out. I was planning on a slightly more civil evening as both Lucy and Jamie headed out to parties, but when the boys turned up with a half-full 20L cider goon bag and a 1L bottle of vodka (between the 5 of us) I knew it probably wouldn't be. I had forgotten the name of the other popular bar in town was "Crabby Dick's" (even funnier when you're drunk) and how the bouncers in bideford don't kick anybody out for anything, ever. We met up with a bunch of the girls who'd been out to dinner. Once initial drunken catch-ups were said, Harry was strip-teasing on the dance floor and his clothes being flung onto the massive 5m swordfish hanging from the club ceiling. Instead of kicking him out like any Aussie bouncer would, security climbed up and retrieved his clothes, re-dressed him and then sent him off to the bar for another drink. (You've gotta love small country towns).
Ellen remembers a bit more of the evening than me, and she seemed to really enjoy it, especially meeting everyone and hearing tales of what I got up to when I was there back in 2007 (eg: my polite manners at dinner parties and impeccable church attendance on Sundays....**shifty eyes**....)
Alas, our week was up and we needed to head to London to see some of Ellen's friends before jetting off to Turkey. We cooked the Meads one last Thank-You dinner and played one last competitive round of Spoons, before re-packing our over-sized packs and enjoying one last sleep in Sam's extremely comfortable bed.
The next morning we said our goodbyes, and got dropped at the train station by Mina and Lucy. It was incredibly sad for me, as I recalled the numerous times they had driven me there previously. Even Ellen was super sad to leave, as she had once again fallen in love with another unexpected part of the world. As the train pulled away from the platform, a slight down-pour of rain began pattering against the windows. This was a truly typical British farewell.