I was already awake before the alarm went off and outside there was still the coldness of the night. I made myself some tea and tried to eat something but my mind was busy with the anticipation of the long journey ahead of me and I felt unable to concentrate. Holidays have always seemed more exciting when you begin so early in the silence of those twilight hours. As I pulled my case through the deserted streets, I looked around one last time at the familiar places which I would not see again this year. Above, there were still some stars twinkling brightly and the thinnest sliver of the moon. On the train, other passengers snuggled up in their coats and sweaters and slept or flicked through newspapers. My eyes tried to become adjusted to the pitch black landscapes whizzing by outside and I wrote letters to friends. Little by little as day began to break, the countryside around became white and I was mesmerised by the tiny flakes falling constantly from the sky which became thicker the further South we went. It was a route I've travelled many times and which I've talked about before; I saw the places between Jena and Nuremburg thick with snow, including the graveyard I always looked out for and imagined how magical it would be to explore the silence of the deep, dark woods or go sledge-riding.
The flight from Munich to Birmingham was one of the loveliest I've ever been on. When we took off, there was a stunning patchwork of white fields beneath us and above the clouds, it felt so good to see the sun again and catch its dying rays in an unending sunset with green, orange and purple stripes on the distant horizon.
And then there were the days London. That first day spent wandering through the parks where big grey squirrels chased each other around the flower beds and later in the British Museum where I thought of Rose's beautiful story which made me want to rediscover Greek culture and the ruins of their lost civilisation.
Blossom in December
When night fell, the windows of the beautiful eighteenth century Georgian houses glowed with light and their Christmas trees decorated with red and gold.
Lemon cheesecake in its "jewel box."
Christmas decorations on the South Bank.
A visit to the National Gallery shop after looking at the paintings to find the most beautiful tree decorations.
Self-portrait on a bitterly cold winter's day.
The rest of my time was mostly spent in museums, theatres, cafes, browsing endlessly in favourite bookshops and of course, eating! . There was the cheesecake and coffee in Pret, the beetroot cake at the Royal Academy, the Japanese pastries with red azuki beans on Piccadilly, the visit to the foodhall of Fortnum and Mason but most of all, the macaroons fron Ladurée which I've been badly missing since they left Galeries Lafeyette in Berlin. Entering the shop with its golden walls and pyramids of macaroons, you know something amazing is waiting for you. Every one is a miniature masterpiece and the way they melt in your mouth makes you feel you've gone to heaven.
The days were cold and clear but with enough sunshine to warm your face. Heavy snow was forecast for Thursday so I spent most of the evning in our chilly hotel looking out of the window hopefully, drinking tea and reading I Capture the Castle, a book I've fallen totally in love with. Sadly only the tiniest amount fell and the streets were their usual grey when I awoke the next day.
The statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds with the Anish Kapoor exhibit in the courtyard of the Royal Academy.
The unusual, and tasty beetroot cake
A perfect raspberry macaroon (my fingers were suffering a bit with the cold here).
My selection from Ladurée
Fortnum and Mason
Oranges studded with cloves and some baguettes in Fortnum and Mason.
The last morning, we decided to skip breakfast at the hotel and go for brunch at Carluccio's, an amazing Italian cafe close to Russell Square. Just outside were many stalls selling food from all over the world; Mont d'Or cheeses and bread from France, baklavas, Portuguese pastries and custards, jewelled cupcakes, Korean dumplings; everything looked absolutely delicious in the glimmer of the morning sun. It was then that I regretted not being able to eat everything.
When you come in to Carluccio's, the first thing you see is the most exquisite and tempting range of cakes which makes it difficult to think of anything else. I somehow managed to find enough self-control to first order a coffee and eggs Florentine with toast, hollandaise sauce and spinach before choosing the Italian lemon tart which had caught my eye the second I saw it. The pastry was perfectly crisp but crumbly and the filling was thick and not too sweet. In the windows, large pyramids of chocolate pannetones stood like beacons drawing passers-by in and at other tables, people chatted over steaming cups of hot chocolate, savouring this special moments of gourmandise.
Arriving back in Derbyshire last night, I found the snow waiting for me when I was least expecting it, transforming the landscapes of my childhood just as it had done so many years before. As I write to you now in my icy room with its high ceiling, fingers frozen, big thick snowflakes are falling, old Christmas music can be heard from the kitchen and there is the delicious smell of apples and cinnamon. Everything around seems so silent and dark as the ground begins to freeze. I hope there will be many more days like this to come and I promise you some recipes soon. Happy holidays!