Tag Archives: local

Around town

When I gave up my freelancing job to take a permanent, full-time position, I looked forward to security, stability, and a bigger paycheck. Unfortunately, I failed to realize how sad I would be to give up the flexibility to take a trip anywhere at any time–to Glasgow, Trieste, Bielefeld, or Prague, for example.

Luckily for me, Falmouth is not a bad place to be stuck for the majority of the year. It may not be as exciting, exotic, or glamorous as some of the places I’ve visited since initiating my travel blog, but it’s certainly not unattractive or boring. Because I carry a camera with me wherever I go, I can capture the little everyday sights that make Falmouth a wonderful place to be year-round. It’s these little touches of whimsy, creativity, and ridiculousness that make it easier to bear the long gaps in between holidays to other towns–and, sometimes, make me wonder why I’d want to vacation anywhere else at all.

yarn bomb
A “yarn bomb” in Penryn, home of many arty/crafty graduates of Falmouth University. These just appeared one day a couple weeks ago and, amazingly, have not been taken down by council authorities. We’ve also received several (smaller-scale) bombs around campus this term, and I’ve been equally surprised that the folks in Estates have let them remain in place. Pretty soon, all of Penryn will be covered purls and granny squares!
Project Penguin
I’m very curious as to what “Project Penguin” actually is, and what it entails (other than, obviously, graffiti left on Council property).
heart graffiti_edit
I think I’ve previously posted a similar photo of Falmouth heart graffiti. These are all over town, and whenever I am out on my walks I am always keeping an eye out to see if I can spot ones in new locations. A clever and creative person would come up with a way to make this into a game…
Over the past year, I’ve sat in on several meetings during which the students have begged us to lobby, on their behalf, for a bike rack at the bottom of the hill. The rack was finally installed a couple weeks ago, and what did the students do? Steal a shopping cart from Asda (something that happens on a regular basis, I should add), and park it where the bikes should be. *sigh*
gull garbage
Shenanigans aren’t unique to students. Here’s the mess left by a few of our many resident herring gulls after the Sea Shanty Festival wrapped up last weekend. When I awoke at 6:30 on Monday morning, I could hear the gulls fighting over all the scraps, and could smell the scent of garbage wafting through our open window. I can just imagine the conversation that people had the night before, leading to this mess: “Can we wait until tomorrow morning to deal with these overflowing garbage bins?” “Sure, no problem. What’s the worst that could happen?”
I photographed almost exactly the same scene last year, so I couldn’t help but do it again this year with a slightly more hi-def camera and a wider view of the landscape. This is definitely one of the most picturesque areas of our campus.
2014-06-04 18.33.18
Two things that Cornwall does particularly well: hedgerows and stone walls. The lichens, liverworts, ivies, and flowers ensure that there is a flash of color no matter where you go or what time of year it is. These purple flowers are so bright that, from a distance, they almost look like electric lights that someone has strung up along the sidewalk.
Some of the local buses could use a bit of an upgrade. However, you can still find beauty even amongst the decay–such as this origami crane created from a bus ticket and then tucked into the peeling upholstery. I usually see at least one ticket origami critter a week.
origami crane portrait
Here is a close-up of the folded critter itself. I think it is amazing that people memorize how to create animals out of paper. I have made these before, myself, but have then immediately forgotten how. I’d be really impressed if someone left behind something different, such as a giraffe or an elephant.
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Speaking of creativity, here is the amazing meal I had the last time I went to The Shack. I’ve already done an all-out review of the restaurant before, and we go there fairly frequently, so I won’t bore everyone by waxing eloquent every single time we visit. This was the first time in ages that I got anything other than the scallops, and it was totally worth the experiment–some sort of white fish (hake, maybe?) sauteed greens, and various tuber purees. I practically licked my plate clean. Seriously, that chef knows how to cook.
A view down one of the many “opes” in town. This one is just off High Street, and offers a lovely view over to Flushing. I know it’s there, and yet every time I pass it I always have the sense of having just discovered a little treasure. Needless to say, I’d love to live in one of the places down at the bottom of the staircase!
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When it comes to lovely views, it’s hard to beat the one overlooking Maenporth. This gem is only a couple miles’ walk from my apartment via the coastal path, and the reward at the end of the hike is not only the scenery but also the opportunity to buy an ice cream cone to cool you down as you sit and watch the waves. 
dramatic clouds
During my evening walk home a few weeks ago, the sky put on quite a show. Even though the wind was nonexistent at ground level, there were obviously a variety of air currents higher up. The clouds had been twirled into dramatic formations, looking in some places like marbled ink. If I’d been in the US I would have been worried about a tornado, but here that is not an issue. It sprinkled a bit just after I got home, but then cleared up by the following morning–not nearly as dramatic a finale as I was expecting based on the views I’d had during my commute.
Over the 5 years that I’ve lived in Falmouth, I’ve taken dozens of photos off our balcony. Even though I’m always looking out to the same harbor, the same square, the same buildings, the view never fails to impress–especially on the long summer evenings like the one’s we’ve had recently. When I snapped this photo, the sky actually looked quite pink to me, but came out very orange in all my images. No matter–it’s equally lovely either way.


Where to Eat in (and Around) Falmouth III: The Pandora Inn and the Courtyard Deli

Thanks to a photo taken by my sister-in-law during her recent visit to Cornwall, I now know what I look like when I go out to eat:
I used to be a normal person, and just eat my food, but now I stop and photograph it first. I’m also really obnoxious about leaning over and photographing everyone else’s food, which is what I’m doing here to my husband.
But you know what? Someone needs to take on the task of reviewing every single restaurant in Cornwall, and I am willing to be that person. If my culinary experiments save someone else from a bad meal, or help them order the best thing they have ever eaten, then it’s worth the social price I pay for being so annoying come mealtime. And thus I bring you the third installment of Where to Eat In (and Around) Falmouth.

First up is The Pandora Inn, which we recently visited with my sister-in-law and her daughter. The Inn is a gastropub, or a pub that serves classier-than-normal food. While that is certainly a nice feature of the establishment, it is perhaps even more noteworthy for its fantastic location:

It is right on the waterfront, with an outdoor eating area that extends onto a dock jutting out into the water. You can actually arrive there by boat if you like, but since we’re not fancy enough to have one of those, we just drove; it’s approximately 15 minutes away from Falmouth, depending on how fast you are willing to drive on Cornwall’s windy narrow country roads.

The Inn dates back to the 13th century, as you might guess after getting a look at the thatched roof, flagstone floors, and low-beamed ceilings. It was damaged last year when a big fire broke out, but after a series of restorations the Pandora is now back in business.

We were able to get a nice table outside, but a powerful squall quickly drove us indoors. It didn’t last very long, but by the time it was done the seats were all quite wet, and none of us was particularly interested in getting a damp bum. It’s a shame we had to eat indoors, because it was very dark inside; it would have been quite cozy on a cool winter evening, but in the middle of summer it felt rather like a prison (also, the lighting made it difficult to photograph our food).

The Pandora Inn has won awards for its food, but I have to say that I was pretty disappointed in my meal. I ordered the “crab salad,” which I envisioned as a big bowl of leafy greens with some lump crab meat on top. What I got was a tiny pile of greens, several slices of (admittedly very nice) sourdough bread, and crab meat in a shell:

I am not a fan of brown crab meat, and so I only ate the white stuff–of which there was not much. I really had wanted a salad and I was bummed to have gotten so few greens. I sometimes forget that the British idea of salad is quite different from the American one; there is often much less lettuce, and dressing is not guaranteed. It’s really strange considering how obsessed Brits are with growing veggies in allotments; surely they would then be more excited about incorporating that produce into their meals?

Sasha was also a bit unimpressed with his meal. He had ordered a crab sandwich, but he reported that the crab flavor of the meat was overwhelmed by the mayonnaise used to bind it together. What the sandwich lacked in quality, though, it certainly made up for in quantity; although you can’t exactly tell from this photograph, the ciabatta bun was massive and it was packed full of crab.

Luckily, our two companions fared better. Our niece, Linnani, ordered the appetizer portion of the steamed mussels and was given this massive bowl full of goodness. (How impressive is it that a 6-year-old has a taste for mussels? I didn’t even try them for the first time until I was in my 20’s. She has quite a mature palate!) According to Linnani, the mussels were “done the right way;” she wasted no time in eating every last one.

My sister-in-law’s meal, roasted hake with crab crushed potato, pak choi, and red wine reduction, showed why the Inn is considered a gastropub. Combining mashed potatoes and crab is a fantastic idea, since those are two of the best foods ever. Despite how fancy it looks–and how delicious I am told it was–the dish only cost £16, which is pretty reasonable in these parts.

I hadn’t been blown away by the savory portion of the menu, but I admit that the dessert selections looked pretty tasty. I opted to order only a mint tea, but my sweet tooth was satisfied vicariously thanks to Linnani and Liseli.

Linnani ordered a trio of Cornish cream ice creams (2 strawberries and a vanilla), which arrived on a bed of crushed digestives; they were topped with 2 chocolate straws and a slice of starfruit. Linnani wasn’t much impressed by the starfruit (which is fair enough considering that the stuff is practically tasteless even in the best of times), but she demolished everything else on the plate.

Liseli went for a British classic: the banoffee pie. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it is described on the menu as “crumbly pastry, toffee and caramelised bananas topped with whipped vanilla cream and toasted almonds.” I am not a big fan of banoffee pie–or, indeed, of desserts in general, as I have previously mentioned–but I would have loved to get an entire order of those caramelized bananas and toffee. The whole thing looked pretty rich and decadent and Liseli was pleased with her purchase.

All in all, I wasn’t blown away by my first trip to the Pandora, but I think it is worth a second shot. Next time around, I will try to go on a sunny day so I can sit outside, and I will order something a bit more “upscale.” Judging from what I saw on Linnani’s and Liseli’s plates, the Inn is definitely capable of some quality fare, and perhaps Sasha and I just failed to select things that played to the kitchen staff’s strengths.

In order to have a proper British experience, Liseli worked hard during her visit to sample all the local “delicacies” that she can’t get back in the US. She had Scotch eggs, pasties, cider, fish and chips, and, in a special nod to Cornish cuisine, cream tea. The last of these was obtained at a lovely little establishment in the center of Falmouth called the Courtyard Deli. I’ve seen signs for it before on the main drag, but I’d never before gone in; I now wish that I had started visiting ages ago, because it has all sorts of wonderful things on offer.

You reach the Deli by taking a little alleyway between two storefronts on the main thoroughfare through Falmouth’s shopping district; you’d never know that it was there if a) you hadn’t seen the street sign they set out each day, or b) someone hadn’t told you. On this particular occasion, the restaurant was recommended by our friend Jodie–the same wise and helpful person who lent me the Lonely Planet guide for my Italy trip, and whom we were meeting for our afternoon indulgence.

The place is both literally and figuratively a little oasis in the middle of town. When you sit out in the courtyard, you have no sense of the hustle and bustle around you; you could just as easily be somewhere rural. The countryside feeling is enhanced by the big garden off to one side of the courtyard, as well as all the decorate floral plantings surrounding the eating area.

In addition to serving cream teas, the Courtyard Deli also has a selection of baked goods, cheeses, and meats, and in the evenings they do tapas. (Note: I will definitely be returning for some tapas, so watch this space for a follow-up post.)

(A tower of fresh bread)
(A plate of enormous fresh meringues)
(Some local produce was also on sale. Look at those cute little carrots!)
Brace yourselves, I am now going to admit something terrible: I don’t really like clotted cream. This is a real shame, because I love the idea of having a Cornish cream tea–the tea, the scones, the jam. But the cream itself is just more than I can handle. It is incredibly thick and dense and rich, like a combination of butter and whipped cream–two things that I don’t particularly adore, either, so it’s no surprise that their love child would also not be to my taste. Also, how can any one person be expected to have a whole pot of tea, plus two scones, plus the stuff that goes on the scones? My stomach is just not up to that challenge.
Linnani and Liseli did the wise thing and split a single order between them. They tried eating the scones in both the Cornish way (jam first, cream on top) and the Devonian way (cream first, jam on top); I think they were undecided as to which was better. Like me, Linnani was not a big fan of the cream, and ultimately preferred her scones with jam only. Sadly, she was not too impressed by the tea, but I’m sure that’s a taste she could acquire over time–it took me a while to appreciate that flavor, so I can sympathize.

I should note that her complaints had nothing to do with the quality of the food provided by the Deli. Sasha and I split a homemade shortbread cookie, while Jodie and her husband had a couple of the chocolate chunk biscottis, and all of the baked goods were delicious. The waitress was also very friendly and helpful, delivering our food in such a way as to keep it out of the roaming hands of mischievous Noah:

(That’s a laugh-face, not a cry-face.)
The staff were also quite tolerant of Noah’s interest in harvesting and consuming their nearby edible plants. Maybe they should add fresh fennel and mint to the menu so they can charge him next time.
The Deli was quite a nice little find and I am kicking myself for not visiting it earlier. I can see myself returning often, whenever I need a calming cup of tea and a relaxing atmosphere in which to consume it.
 (Semi-blue skies over Falmouth, as seen from the Courtyard Deli.)

The Eden Project

Last week Sasha and I had houseguests: his sister and her daughter, both of whom were visiting Cornwall for the first time. One of the places that we took them was a must-see attraction here in the Southwest: The Eden Project, winner of a 2011 British Travel Award and home to the world’s largest indoor rain forest. Sasha took me there the first time that I visited him in the UK, and since then we have returned many times for many reasons–to see the plants, to attend an outdoor concert, to buy unique Christmas gifts in the extensive gift shop. It is a great place and it was nice to have the chance to share it with someone new.
The Eden Project was born way back in 1995, when a clay pit in Bodelva, Cornwall was nearing its end as a productive mining site. Botanical developer Tim Smit–who is responsible for the restoration of another of my favorite Cornish attractions, the Lost Gardens of Heligan–found out about the site while looking for a place where he could establish a collection of internationally important plants. Architects eventually thought up the idea of placing the plants under a series of bubbles, which could be comfortably settled on any surface–even a reclaimed mining site. According to the Eden Project’s website, the resulting construction process set a world record for the amount of scaffolding required. It took several years to improve the landscaping and construct the greenhouses, but finally, in early 2001, the Eden Project was ready to open its doors to visitors.
The whole point of the Eden Project is to celebrate plants and the connections between plants and people. So, if you’re not really into botany or gardening or eating your fruits and veggies, then I suppose it’s probably not the place for you. That said, the Eden Project does its best to have mass appeal, regardless of your attitudes toward all things green. The facility has both indoor and outdoor portions, both of which are sprinkled with displays that showcase plants and culture, and some of which allow you to have a hands-on experience with the flora.

The outdoor bit has species from a number of habitats, but there is a particular focus on Cornish plantlife. In the past, there was a large earthen sculpture by a local artist who also provided decorations for Heligan; this time around I noticed that the Project had acquired one of the locally made recycled metal sculptures that I’ve wanted to buy for a long time. I am not sure of the name of the artist, but he used to sell his pieces–many of which were birds–out in Discovery Quay. If you look closely at the eagle above, you’ll see that many of its feathers are made from forks and other “upcycled” cutlery. These things probably take forever to make, which is likely why they cost a small fortune. Anyway, I think it’s great that the garden profiles and celebrates local artisans.

Many of the Project’s displays are aimed at educating people about the diverse ways in which we humans interact with plants–sometimes unknowingly, as when we use plastics made from corn products. The displays also provide information on the ways we intentionally harm plants in the wild. For example, there are exhibits showing how native plants are impacted by intensive mining efforts (an issue of particular interest here in Cornwall), and both agricultural and grazing practices.

The garden also showcases the many benefits of flora–as medicine, food, decoration, perfume, whatever. One of my favorite finds this visit was a huge field of lavender, a plant that has long been valued for its scent. It was particularly popular among the Eden Project’s small, flying, buzzy visitors.

Pretty much every time I’ve gone to the Eden Project, the visit has been timed to take advantage of the tasty menu in the eating hall. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that this time around because we had a bit of an emergency prior to our departure from home–Sasha’s niece got locked into the guest bedroom and had to wait there until we could find a handyman to come dismantle the door and get her out. After that traumatic experience, we were all willing to give her pretty much anything she wanted, so of course we indulged in some of the unusual Cornish cream ice cream flavors on offer at Eden. I passed up the intriguing lime-and-cardamom in favor of mango and passionfruit, while the others sampled fancy versions of caramel, chocolate, and strawberry.

Cones in hand, we toured the two biomes–the Mediterranean and the rain forest. Although it is the latter that gets all the attention–it does, after all, contain over 1,000 different species and have a roof high enough to fit 2 Big Bens stacked on top of each other–it is the former for which I have a soft spot.

One of the things I love is how it recognizes/celebrates ancient bacchanalia festivals. I’m not really into sculptures and carvings in general, but I have always liked these particular statues, placed amidst the grapevines; they convey a sense of movement so you feel as though you’ve just wandered in and disturbed the locals in the middle of a big party.

Although much of the Mediterranean biome is devoted to showcasing edible species such as grapes, citrus fruits, and olives, there was also a display on plants that are frequently used in perfumes. I’m not sure whether this was a new display or one that I just didn’t remember very well from before, but, either way, I enjoyed reading about all the nice-smelling species and how they are joined together into concoctions that make us smell nice. In many cases, you can rub the leaves gently and get a whiff of the scent left behind on your fingertips.

In fact, one of the neat things about the Eden Project is that there are few barriers between you and the plants; not only are you not prevented from coming into contact with plants, but these sorts of interactions are actually facilitated and encouraged (especially in the education center). The plant above was something I ran into–literally–in the Mediterranean biome. I accidentally brushed my arm up against it and then I couldn’t stop petting it because it was so soft.

Once I could finally be dragged away from my new friend, we headed over to the world-famous rain forest biome. It has been previously been visited by numerous celebrities, including Queen Elizabeth II, David Attenborough, and Bear Grylls (Angelina Jolie may also have swung by during her visit to the Eden Project in 2005). Since our last visit, they’ve installed an indoor helium balloon and a lookout platform, both of which allow visitors to get a bird’s eye view of the tropical plants. Unfortunately, because we were there so late in the day, we didn’t get a chance to try those out. Still, the view was pretty nice down on the ground.

One of the weird things about the biomes is that local birds always find their way in; it can be very jarring to stand under a papaya tree and then look over and see a blackbird or a robin hanging out in a nearby patch of bamboo. There are also some captive resident tropical birds–most notably white-eyes–that help keep the invasive ant population in check. You used to only catch occasional glimpses of these, but during this last visit we saw lots of them flitting about in the branches.

The curators (if that is the right word) at the Eden Project work hard to create a “total experience,” recreating not just habitats but also touches of the human cultures that can be found in those environments. As you wander around, you find little paintings and sculptures tucked into the foliage, and there are entire displays devoted to explaining how plants impact particular groups of people, and vice versa. A large portion of the rain forest biome, for example, looks at the effects of banana plantations on tropical habitats.

We were the last people in the biome, much to the annoyance of the guards. They eventually had to round us up and usher us out so they could close up for the evening. We happened to time our visit so that it coincided with the first night of some sort of festival, which was a bummer for us but highlights one of the great things about the Eden Project–they have all sorts of things going on. During the spring and summer, there are several evening concerts known collectively as the Eden Sessions; Sasha and I attended one with Martha Wainwright and Paolo Nutini a while back, and it was pleasant despite some intermittent rain. During the winter, the staff create an ice skating rink and turn the garden into a winter wonderland. Other special events have included the Eden Marathon, a circus, and an eco-motor car show.

As I mentioned earlier, I am also rather a fan of the Eden Project’s gift shop, which is stocked with many things edible, artsy, garden-y, and fair trade. It’s a great place to go to find interesting and unusual presents for people; although the items can be a bit on the pricey side, at least you know that you are spending your money on ethically-made products created in sustainable environments. Despite the fact that I’ve got practically a biome’s worth of plants already, I couldn’t help but buy a new addition to my botanical collection during our last visit, and I also picked up a few edible items to include in my next Foodie Penpals package.

My best souvenirs were free, though: some good photos of flamingo lilies (anthuriums), which I hope to include in my upcoming book in the section on “other things that are named ‘flamingo’.” To boot, I have memories of time well spent with family–which, of course, is priceless.

Note to travelers: The Eden Project is a great place to go during Cornwall’s notorious rainy weather, since many of the garden’s attractions are indoors. If it is nice outside, you can take advantage of the newly-installed climbing wall and zip line. However, all of this comes at a cost–tickets are a rather steep £23 apiece these days, so make the most of your purchase by staying all day!