to be golden | spring Norfolk

I took a break from studying last week to take some photos of the blossom at the village church. It's not a long walk, maybe 5 minutes at most, but I needed it. Contract law is... dense, I suppose, and I seem to be chained to a desk for something like 8 hours a day. Whoever said university was the longest vacation you'd ever take may just as easily have said it was also a one stop route to Hollywood or something. Either way. I wanted out of the house for a bit, without the complications of a full-on dog walk, just wearing regular shoes and taking along my camera because I finally bought a leather strap for it. The road was busy, people going places, with visions and aims and expectations to fulfil. 

 For it being springtime and there being blossom everywhere, the sky was dark. I'd been using the light when I was working and it was only 2pm. Not particularly cold, in fact it was quite mild, temperatures somewhere in the low teens. Just overcast and windy with bands of dark cloud moving swiftly across the sky, different layers. The wind shook the trees and petals scattered, falling among the gravestones in the churchyard. Pink and gray is always a nice combination. I felt a drizzle, light rain on the side of my cheek, coming in at an angle in the wind. I pull my scarf around my shoulders, and reach for my hood, then drop it. The drizzle had turned into fat droplets. Solid, but falling in such a way that I was barely wet, and the air was still mild. I rarely feel the rain because I am always reaching for that damn hood. My hair was down and blowing around but I left it, as is. It would curl in the moisture. But I had nowhere to go, I would be walking home to a textbook telling me about mitigation and damages. A steady tip-tap of the drops falling on my jacket. It was like a subconscious reaction, to reach for my hood when it started raining, probably says a lot about me. A curly strand of hair... not any attempt at an emotional reaction, I'm not good at those. Not a dancing in the rain type moment. I'd never been one to celebrate tropical downpours or to splash in puddles with an umbrella. Just cold rationality, I suppose. That the hair actually really didn't matter right now, so I might as well stand out there and perpetuate the situation. I needed a break from the constant battle between the cold logic on which I pride myself and the futile search for something else.

I looked down the road where a shaft of sunlight had hit the tarmac, accentuating its blackness, slowly stretching towards me. Something I had grown up with, whenever I was in a rural part of Europe; looking along an expanse of road and watching the skies clear. The sun crawled forward and washed the street with mellow light, it was nothing extraordinary, in fact a normal occurrence around here, these sharp bursts of sun after rain. But maybe it was perspective, how the sun could sweep across the road and towards me, with golden fingers outstretched, as if brushing a layer of gold leaf. I waited, to be figuratively illuminated, to become part of that. To become golden. That's what it's about, for me. Gilded everything. Always chasing something. There were petals stuck to the soles of my shoes, glistening with moisture. So pale pink they were almost transparent. Such faded glory. They had been so perfect and yet one shower had been enough. How did that make sense? How could nature have made something so beautiful that could just go, so easily? There was the war memorial behind me, outside the church, shrouded in the fading blossoms, since even these tiny villages had lost a few young men. What did they have to prove? Could logic not have told them that there was no cause, no point... nothing to prove. 

I had nothing to prove, to anyone... but myself. Everyone else will say I've done fine and in all that cold rationality that I have usually.... it's probably fine. But I'll beat at it forever. Everything. I'll edit, save, edit, save, edit delete the photos I eventually post on this site. There'll be some tiny flaw - slightly underexposed, too much contrast, too much shadow. Cold rationality will tell me that nobody else will even notice. Only me. I'll open essays three times after I declare them done, because they're not ever finished. This post? This is probably version nine. I'll paint my nails, again, even though nobody will give the smallest damn that there is a bit of pink showing under the red. You know those animated characters from kids' TV shows who find themselves on roller blades, going downhill? I'm like them with the never good enoughs: can't stop now, don't know how. Or like one of those miners during the gold rush, heading out into the unknown on a wild goose chase for gold. Maybe in all honesty they knew it wasn't there. A bit like that idea of perfection, an unattainable idea of 'doing well', 'looking pretty', 'being successful'. Cold logic says that it's not there, you're knocking on the door of an empty house.

I did finally go home, the sky dark again with the threat of rain. Logic said to go before a downpour, for a dry jacket to walk the dogs tonight, and that there's an exam. I put the blossom and their ebbing glory behind me. I walked back, into my search for a gold mine that sense told me doesn't exist.  

 

“Logic doesn't stop you feeling. You can behave logically and it can hurt like hell. Or it can comfort you. Or release you. Or all at the same time” 
Dick Francis, The Danger

30 hours - Bangkok

30 hours on the clock. Standing in Bangkok airport, waiting. A quickly filling memory card, blistered feet and one pair of impractical flip flops, an Iphone metaphorically set to count down. A delayed internal flight, a long wait for baggage. Tactical discussions in the taxi on covering as much ground as possible, a reconnaissance of Bangkok's sprawling metropolis. The traffic moved in stops and starts, freeways and flyovers criss crossing as if an ambitious kid's lego creations; sharp edged high rises sprouted like thickets of concrete and steel along the road. A place that was the very defintion of urban - fast moving, dynamic, slightly harsh, ever evolving. 

The Chatrium was tucked away in the leafy Riverside district of Bangkok, a cell of calm inside a growing, pulsing body. The hotel was fronted by quiet bamboo gardens and paths flanked by white stones, green fountains and granite edging. I have a thing for a design hotel and floor-to-ceiling glass facades with sharp lines make my heart flutter. I liked what I was seeing. Inside were high ceilings, a slick lobby and slightly dark, cushy rooms big enough to live in. There was a balcony framed by thick curtains, with views over the Chao Phraya river and the roof tops, more high rises piercing the blue-gray sky, the overlapping flyovers a tangled rope in the distance. We left soon, ever conscious of ticking clocks, to wander in the neighborhood. Layla had stayed at the hotel years ago for a sports tournament and had fond memories of the area, for good reason. There were hundreds of narrow shops with red and gold lanterns strung to tiled ceilings, swaying in the evening breeze. Each one was a 'mom and pop' store of some kind - local tailors, hardware outfits, metal forges, fruit sellers, lantern makers, a garage, a speciality noodle place. Kids sat at rickety plastic tables, still in uniform, slurping thin noodles from steaming bowls of spicy broth as their grandparents lay on fraying sofas watching Thai soaps and their parents endlessly swept the storefronts. Commuters, walking from place to place would bow their heads at delicate shrines decorated; in memory of the king, the bell on the door of the local 7-11 never stopped ringing. Hawker owners fed the stray animals and school girls popped in and out of buses on their own, we stumbled across temples hidden in dilapidated courtyards and passed only one other tourist.

I thought of dad a lot, because of the river and the boats. I was surprised - the Chao Phraya is like an artery, flowing, keeping the city alive. We stood on the Chatrium's private jetty, waiting for the hotel boat to take us to the public pier a few blocks down, and it was a throwback to Rotterdam, dad's hometown. The working river with its tugboats, barges, the slightly industrial veneer, the scruffy sailors and their dogs, the quietly competent boatmen who steered us alongside a containership. I liked Bangkok already. Alongside the grit was - glamour, maybe, and a slightly rogue edge. Bangkok would be the one who managed to bluff their way into a super expensive, exclusive club they could never actually afford - and take the party by a storm. There was electricity, everywhere, and there was no way I'd be in bed on time tonight.

14 hours. A riverside breakfast, eating papaya, watching fish jump in the murky water of the Chao Phraya. Little birds flitted among the tables, out of the hotel's bamboo garden. Messengers, telling us to hurry, this day would wait for no one. We drew up our battle plans and studied the terrain, jumped onto the Chatrium's boat, climbed up to the metro station. The trains were futuristic pods, running entirely on tracks elevated above the city. They were crammed with daily commuters, men in suits and pretty women with perfect manicures and nice dresses, a handful of other tourists who looked, as I did, shamefully shabby in comparison. I felt even scruffier in the shiny malls around Siam Square, each tiled with wide, white marble slats. At Siam Paragon - the most instagrammed place on earth - the entire top floor was dedicated to sports cars. You could not help but stand and gawk as you came off the escalator and stood face to face with a shining black Lamborghini; next to an Aston Martin Store, across from the Rolls Royce store... there was a Mini, too, which made my car at home seem like a budget option. When London tried these stunts with super expensive cars, it just felt... pretentious. Bangkok pulled the enterprise off with natural flair.

10 hours, and nowhere near enough. The sweaty, pulsing streets beckoned and we abandoned the sports cars for the roads crowded with tuck tucks and motorbike taxis, lined by hawkers selling every type of noodle imaginable. There were fewer other foreign faces, the more you wandered, and the few you did see were hustling, like us, covering ground without skimming over it. A stopover destination in a city that was already constantly moving, echoing with the footsteps of its own people and visitors.

We lost the afternoon somehow. In the maze of streets where we wandered for the obligatory Chang beer t-shirt, at the stall where we bought a mango for under a quarter of a dollar and the lady threw in a second for free. Waiting at the pier for a boat back to the hotel, watching a man who looked like he was barely scraping through feed the remainders of his own dinner to a local stray, and the dog lay his head on the man's hand. Sitting on the boat alongside some school kids, who seemed to use the hotel boats as shuttles from place to place.  Again we looked for sleaze, found nothing, it had either headed underground or been concentrated into tiny pockets that were far out of the way. I was charmed by the Thai culture; the courtesy and respect they had for their own people. Taxi drivers bowed to the staff in highway toll booths and friends genuinely met each other with the traditional greeting. They were hardworking, tolerant and humble, preferring to just look away and pretend I didn't exist when I pointed my camera in their direction. The youth hung out in mixed groups, I was jealous of the girls' straight, light brown hair and manicures.  Bangkok's locals were proud, too, of their city, that was clear. The public spaces were well maintained and immaculate, temples had been recently painted and most neighborhoods were safe enough that primary school children were sent home on the back of motor bike taxis. As the older kids poured out of school, you got the feeling that they worked hard and did well; enjoyed it, but also knew where the fun would be on a Friday night.

The second hand flew around the face of my watch, our battle plans fell away, we failed as generals, but made pretty good foot soldiers. We packed up in a flurry, having sat out too long on the balcony watching the party boats light up the Chao Phraya. Still scruffy, still sunburnt, out of battered flip flops and into jeans instead. Into the taxi and out of Bangkok, into a dark, steamy night, where every building illuminated and burst through the horizon. There was nothing like it, no other feeling, it had been like starting a race or sitting an exam, pure adrenaline. It was unlike India because the chaos didn't leave you feeling drained; it was more satisfyingly more gritty than Kuala Lumpur, strikingly less hedonistic than Dubai. Every electric billboard suspended from a glass and steel building, each sports car, all the towering office blocks showed progress, they were arrows pointing forward, screaming this is the way the world is going. With each step we took on Bangkok's streets, it was clear, it's these cities that are leaving Europe behind. Bangkok had grown up, pushed its misspent youth behind it and there was no stopping it now. Thousands of cars on the roads, but the traffic still flowed fast; each road had four lanes and flyovers laced the arteries together, so the blood would never clot. Oh hell, Europe, you have no chance. I'd visited European cities so many times, but never had done anything like this, there I'd slept like a baby and my heart rate remained constant.   Our cab rolled onto the freeway, leaving the glittering buildings behind us. Zero hour.

I am again going to direct you to this post on Layla's site for a really good guide to Bangkok with all the practical details you may want.  She writes much more... coherently than I do, without making all the info boring... she has a great sense of humour, and I am always fascinated by how we perceive the same places. She doesn't write in the way she acts, if you know what I mean... I mean in real life she's into anything fun/whimsical/live for the moment, preferably involving heights, speed boats or long haul flights, but she has a retrospective, thoughtful style of writing. Anyway. I hope you gathered from this that I really, really liked Bangkok - I surprised myself by how much I warmed to the place. It's an amazing city and so worth a visit if you're ever in the area/passing through. 
I plan to (finally) bake a little something in the coming few days and have a recipe up on the blog end this week. Hope that you all have a lovely weekend xx

the ebb and flow | lemon-blueberry loaf

nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

It was our dad who picked us up from Heathrow the other day after our trip. He was waiting in arrivals, a smiling face in the crowd. Two weeks ago he'd been there himself. His homecoming. In three days he would be back. His departure. It's odd, in families like ours, where people keep coming and going. In families which are absence and reunion. We flow like rivers. Rivers run dry, it's a reaction to absence. Slowly, rain trickles down and the level picks up. The currents move you along as usual. There's a reunion and your river is full.

lemon-blueb-3-1.jpg
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

You learn to pick it up where you left off. Changing seasons, hair cuts, height. The same jokes, the same fights, the same people. Absence. Maybe it taught me things. You learn to appreciate someone's presence - waking up in the morning and knowing everyone is home. Small things. Seeing the coffee cup on the sideboard and knowing that someone's already awake and pottering around. Getting back from a cold, wet walk with the dogs and finding the lights on, fresh towels hanging in the hallway and knowing that someone is home. If people were around all the time, wouldn't I grow complacent? I know I do, because in the short periods that dad's work has been more from home, I just sort of get... meh, too used to it in a way. I wonder what it's like for those who have grandparents living in the same town; or where normality is having all your people under the same roof, a dad who works the 9 to 5 at an office. It's just not - not a concept to me, for some of us jobs are in other places, there are dusty port cities all over the world, nucleated families who are together but apart. The absence puts the every day, the ebb and flow, into perspective. Time seems to tumble down a waterfall. From above, from the outside, it seems to be barely moving. But deep in the swell, when you're swept up in the currents, things go fast. There are whirlpools of thoughts, everyday events that you only recollect when the spinning has stopped and you're on the other side, sitting on the banks with everyone and you're looking back and thinking "I can't believe that much time has passed". Because the truth is that it will rain. And your river will rise. And you don't notice it rising because you're in the water and totally taken along by the flow.

nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

The last time dad was visiting I was still practicing for my driving test. This time, last week, I drove him to our local train station with a full license. The sky was smooth and slick, cool, monochrome gray, like tiles in a Kinfolk kitchen. The radio raved about the 4cm snow expected overnight and worse ice. Howling wind through the ribs of trees over the Broadland marshes, the landscape in muted green and brown, fields fallow and hedgerows bare. Dad and I stood on the platform, the wind eating through our clothing, looking over the tracks into the distance. A long straight path. We talked, just like normal, as if we were like the three other passengers. Just off to the city for the afternoon. Not that my dad had three trains and two planes and twenty four hours of travel ahead of him. Alone. But we talked, about trains and wood working and the London Underground, as dads and daughters do on drafty rail platforms in January. The train arrived on time. "Go", my dad said to me as he moved towards the carriage. The little station was eerily quiet. Down a country track, in the middle of the Broads, a part of that muted landscape. There was an old rickety bridge, the rail house needed painting, there were a few arbitrary tracks leading to it from the fields. I wanted to wait. To watch him and the train leave. But he didn't like to see me stand there. He wanted to see me go home. Always his little girl. That was absence, somewhere he'd missed me swim out of the shallows and into the channel. "Go now" he said again. Our rivers, running dry. By tomorrow they'd start filling again.

I went. Over the wooden bridge and his train left. I turned back to watch it, from the bridge, I waved to him and waved to the retreating train as it cut through the murky browns and greens.

nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

My car was one of the few parked in the pebbled lot, nestled in the brambles and the naked branches. I sat for a few minutes, door locked, and listened to a blackbird, remembering all the boring day to day questions I'd forgotten to ask my dad. Never mind, I thought, there's next time, and next time, it will be spring, our rivers will be full.

nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

So here's a lemon blueberry loaf. And a funny story about how this was the first gluten free recipe I wrote myself, and how I miscalculated and forgot a cup of flour, but it still turned out ok, albeit after three days in the oven. What I'm trying to say is that if you'd like to start baking gluten free, this loaf is ahem very forgiving and you can't go wrong because I've remembered the cup of flour. I'm calling it the 'house loaf' because I think it's the most requested recipe of mine, and I know it may seem slightly odd to pair lemon and blueberry but it's seriously so addictive. A zesty, sunny shock of citrus from the lemon and a bright sweetness from blueberries. Not to mention the vitamin C and anti-oxidants that winter loves to sap. This loaf has a very light crumb with all the yogurt and is not overly sweet, more of a breakfast or snack loaf. To keep it simple I generally do a 1-1 rice flour oat flour mix, but I see more people concerned about trace levels of arsenic in brown rice - if that's you, I've tried a new option, it's in the recipe notes. Either way, I really hope you try this. The comfy sweater of loaf cakes. Sending lots of winter brightness your way. Happy weekend xx

nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)
nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

Lemon - blueberry loaf

// gluten free + dairy free option // makes 1 9x5 inch loaf

1 cup (100g) oat flour, certified gf if necessary
1 (120g) cup brown rice flour OR 1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour and 1/2 cup (60g) millet flour *
2 tablespoons flax meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (150g) light muscavado sugar or coconut sugar
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup (60ml) melted coconut oil
2 free range eggs
1 cup (240ml) plain yogurt (I used goat yogurt, use non-dairy or regular as you wish)
1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (this was 1 1/2 medium lemons for me)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (150g) blueberries, fresh or frozen (frozen will make the batter a bit blue, but I find that so pretty)


Preheat the oven to 175’C / 350’F and line a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl combine the flours, flax meal, baking powder and soda, salt. Add the cup of blueberries and toss them through so well coated in flour – this stops them sinking to the bottom. Set aside.

In another large bowl, combine the coconut oil, two eggs, sugar and lemon zest. With a whisk, beat together till smooth and dark brown. Add the vanilla and 1/4cup (60ml) lemon juice with the yogurt and beat again till smooth and pale. It always reminds me of thin tahini at this point, probably a personal thing.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and use a flexible spatula to combine till moist and even. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake till the top is cracked and golden-brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean – probably about 1hr-1hr 5 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Being gluten free and fairly light, it will be a bit fragile but if you would like neat slices, wrap the cake in foil for a bit and refrigerate and then cut.

The cake will keep, in an airtight container in the fridge for about 5 days but freezes and defrosts very well.

notes

*There are some concerns about trace levels of arsenic in brown rice. I’ve done some research into this and found that in the UK and EU, imports of rice are very closely regulated and surveyed for arsenic. There are strict standards and that seems to make brown rice products sold through UK/EU companies very much food safe because the sources are regulated . I buy my brown rice flour from a British brand. I don’t know in the US, though, how much regulation there is and I understand the concerns came out of the US initially. Either way, I know this can be off-putting if you don’t know the sources of your flour, so I’ve tried cutting the rice flour with millet flour . For the first time tested the recipe with half the quantity (1/2 cup or 60g) millet flour which acts very similarly in baking, and it worked just as well. So you have another option if you don’t want to go with all brown rice flour, though I wouldn’t recommend going above a 1/2 cup millet flour because it can be slightly bitter and also a bit pale yellow, which works ok here for the sunshine effect but it may become too much. Hope that helps.


nutmeg and pear | gluten free + whole grain lemon-blueberry loaf cake (refined sugar free + dairy free easily)

nutmeg and pear favourites

Bangalore

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
There were white towels hanging on the clotheshorse; they looked even brighter against the pale cream walls. There was a new toothbrush by the sink, an unopened tube of toothpaste. Two lip balms by the bedside table. Moisturizer that was infused with coconut oil. My feet made a familiar slapping sound, skin on the heavy marble tiles of the staircase, I remembered to put all my weight on the arm holding the dark wood bannister and swing my legs down the steps. Grandma had bought the yogurt I’d always eat, they always remember, from the towels to the yogurt. I sat at their dining table, wicker chairs, grandpa turned on the TV. 6:30pm. It was dark out, the lights were glowing amber, moths fluttered and cast shadows on the walls of the patio. I listened. To the whirring fan overhead. To the chit-chat of Tamil television from the living room, the neighbors’ kids ringing bicycle bells. A car reversing; in India the parking sensors sing. A pressure cooker, a tomcat on the wall. Stillness, the warmth of day dwindling. Grandma moving steel dishes, looking for the sambar.
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

7:00pm. I’d seen upstairs, in the room that used to be mine, the notebooks were still there. From that year I’d lived in this house. The year I would sit, at 7pm, studying geography or biology, math running through my head. An odd, out-of-body feeling, I wasn’t sure if perhaps tomorrow, I should be back in the car going to school. I needed to go sort my tie and find the wretched leather belt. Check facebook, see what I missed. But that was three years ago - facebook and school. The problem with this house, with this place, was that it was so deeply caked in memories, every thing was a time suck. The house was big, too big for my grandparents really, with high ceilings. Grandma had planted succulents in little terracotta pots; the Dutch clogs that were a gift from dad years ago, grandpa had cleaned the photos on the walls. You’re home, the grandparents said to me, feel at home. Straight away, I did.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
6:30am. AC running, the room was cold. Barefoot on the colder tiles, mosquito net over the windows, the balcony beyond. Bougainvillea cascaded over the tiles of the neighbor’s roof in a rich swathe of riotous pink ; pine trees and coconut palms fluttered slowly, like wings of a bird in to land. The sky was coral, fading somewhere to peach, elsewhere to blue, the moon a skinny crescent over the rooftop. I could hear the morning activity downstairs; grandma and grandpa are up so early they could run a racing stable. The steel vessels were filled with water, grandpa sat in his chair, reading the BBC on his I-pad. The air smelled fresh, a dog was barking, the place was coming to life. The cleaning ladies were out with their coconut-branch brooms, swirling the dust into hazy clouds, but the sky was clear, tropical blue, a color engrained deeply somewhere in my subconscious, in the same way as how I could interrupt my grandparents’ Tamil conversation with some comment without ever being able to speak a word.
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

Bangalore moved quickly, scrambling to stay ahead; a socialite at a shiny dance. A new mall had come up, next to our old haunt, we went in anyway. Some kind of smug satisfaction in thinking ‘ok so there’s a rooftop bar here, but you’re still not as cool as Phoenix’. In Phoenix, the old haunt, Zara was still packed with the cool crowd, every foreigner was queuing at Starbucks, the Apple store sold tech like the Belgians sell hot waffles on a snowday. Our bookstore still had the dusty, musty shelves of old books, the old Macleans you can’t find anywhere else. But there was a Le Creuset store now, across from it. I was happy, but it was strange; Sephora and it’s sensory overload were taking over real estate, there was a Kiehl’s next to an ayurvedic cosmetics place. At the gated complex where my grandparents lived, the boys had switched from obsessive cricket to football. One wore a Chelsea shirt, another’s dad drives a Jaguar, more and more of the girls were wearing shorts, a bunch of people had adopted rescue dogs. I stood, at the end of our road one day, watching a kid in a Barcelona shirt kick a football. The perimeter fence of the compound was behind him, bougainvillea grew there too. In the distance against a powdery evening sky, the silhouettes of buildings, they never used to be there. The ball bounced, a truck hooted, a dog barked. I could’ve been anywhere. But it was India and my grandparents’ place for sure.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

I knew it was, because grandma would take us to her grocery store, and I could find pomegranates bigger than baseballs. I would sit on my grandparents’ swing, the jula on the patio, and I could hear the sing-song Hindi ads interrupting grandpa’s cricket matches, and grandma would be sorting the coriander leaves, or perhaps popping mustard seeds in a steel pan. The maids of the people behind us were washing clothes on a stone slab, someone was looking to buy an electric car. I went out in the heat, looking for the family of kittens Layla and I had adopted; one was stuck in a drain, we coaxed him out. There was a stray dog who had befriended the guards, I called her Jessie. The old tomcat Bob was embroiled in bitter feuds with a younger, fitter male; he ended up with a bloody leg, sleeping on top of the Jeep belonging to a woman who fed all the strays.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

Three weeks went by, I felt at home, people stared at me at the mall like they’d never seen a girl in shorts before. I took an auto rickshaw; we went to a doctor’s office deep in a leafy Bangalore suburb; we avoided people we knew, years and lives ago. It was a foggy morning on our last day, my grandparents were wearing matching red fleeces, a stray dog sniffed at the hand luggage. We had tight connections and they wouldn’t let my grandparents into the terminal; procedures madam. We waved to them, I waved goodbye to the concrete jungle that the garden city was becoming, block after block of flats, grid after grid of housing complex. Cars, trucks, bikes on the road. I thought of my family of kittens, Jessie, my grandparents, Bob and his fights, change. ‘Wait for me’, I whispered, as the plane took off. Practical info My sister has also done a stunning Bangalore/Mysore/trains guide on her site, where she has kindly used my photos and added a lot of useful info, so I'd recommend reading that post if you'd like some more details.

Sleep: well we stay in a rather nice Mediterranean style townhouse in a gated community with a tennis court, pool, palm trees... no I totally do not mean to make you jealous. There are lots of reliable chains like Taj and Oberoi in the city centre and knowing Indian hospitality I'm sure they're amazing, and also less out of the way.

Do, see and shop

The area around MG Road is what I am going to call the center; it's where it all happens. There are great places to find nice sandalwood carvings and un-tacky souvenirs, jewelry stores for real gold stuff and great atmosphere in general.

You should visit the Vidhana Soudha which is really impressive as the seat of the Karnataka state government. From here you can get to Cubbon Park which is also great for culture - picnicking families Indian style, frolicking young couples, lots of plants. It's also car free.

Not in the same area (nearer MG road again) is Lalbagh Gardens for similar sights but there's also a lake which is nice for a walk around.

Phoenix Market City is my mall!! I know it's a mall but you have to visit, ok? Also they have one of the best stores for really worthwhile souvenirs that are both nice looking (I would buy all the plates and dishes and dark wood chairs) but are also made working with local artisans and craftsmen; keeping all those arts alive. That's Fabindia but there are quite a few other home furnishing stores that are worth a visit. Also Om Book shop for cheap books and older books (Dick Francis, alistair Maclean) and the sales at many known brands - Zara, Steve Madden, Aldo - are way better than in Europe. And also Apple products... and you might as well to go Big Bazaar because it's fun. There's groceries toys clothes houseware the works.

The other mall that's worth a trip is UB City which is in town near MG road etc and it's where the cool kids go... I was invited to a party there when I was a cool kid (yes those days existed) and it's got all the designers - both international and local talent. It's all fountains, glitzy tiles and great people watching. Also all the above mentioned cool kids used to go get smashed and have an ahem fun time in a neighbourhood called Koramangala (in the south-east). I've never been because I'm not that cool (if at all) but it was the place with all the nightlife, bars, etc, so if you're into that sort of thing, it all used to happen there :)

If you don't have time to take a train trip to see some of the everyday India I would recommend taking a drive - my old drive to school believe it or not was a really nice insight into village life- cows, pastures etc. Try a drive from the Whitefield road area to Indus international school :)

Eat Go to my grandparents' house and ask my grandma to make you chappatis with my vegetables - I wouldn't know the name but they're a colourful combination of carrots, beans, peas and some unpronounceable gourds in a broth-y spicy mix. Also ask for sambar - lentils, carrots, raddish, pumpkin, some other guord, a secret spice blend. Ok I joke but at Phoenix mall the places for Indian food that are always always packed are Copper Chimney which is pretty fancy and also Raj Dhani where you can get all these different chutneys, lentils, rice, veggies... in steel dishes, on banana leaves. Also try the Indian version of Starbucks - Coffee Day, which all my friends used to swear by.

Just a heads up that the traffic in Bangalore is bad. Like, really bad. A 5 minute drive can take 35 if a tractor parks somewhere inconvenient. So always leave with plenty of time. Taxis themselves are quick and cheap, they are also really into Uber these days. And there's also the good old auto rickshaw. Oh and the Metro works in the centre-sort of area around MG Road, it's very clean, safe and efficient.

Hope some of you found this helpful/interesting. The snow is starting in Norfolk... big hugs xx