Travelogue Dusseldorf: Colchester

COLCHESTER

2 – 5 June 2022

Christian had been invited to meetings with clients in London after the Dusseldorf Trade Fair. The dates happened to coincide with Queen’s Jubilee long weekend (2 bank holidays in the UK) and we were able to take that Thursday and Friday as leave between the work commitments in order to maximise the time with our friends in Colchester before having to go to London to resume the work agenda.

Barely an hour’s hop from Dusseldorf to London, there wasn’t much time to do anything besides find space for the in-flight hospitality, which (hardly surprisingly for a morning flight departing from Germany) was a platter of cold meats, cheese, butter and bread.

We had booked a car to take us from Heathrow to the train station and Alex had booked us train tickets online in advance, all to streamline the planes, trains and automobiles required to traverse London – with our 4-seasons-sized luggage – to get to our friends.

For once, everything went more than according to plan and we found ourselves at the train station with an hour to spare, which was a nice change to the usual breakneck high-pressure bolting we’ve been known to do to both catch and miss trains in the past.

The train was very civilised; not too busy, clean and new, with free wifi, so it was a comfortable commute out of the throng of London and evaluating what we could see of the towns at each stop along the journey.

Alex was waiting for us on the platform when we arrived in Colchester Town; fortunately, with a car that could accommodate our massive suitcases.

We were greeted with much excitement, a run down of the plans that had been pencilled for us and a check-in on whether there were any special requests from our side on activities for the coming couple of days.

Our hosts had done a fabulous job of creating shared contribution to our entertainment plan. While we would be staying at Robbie’s house, Alex and Luke were responsible for picking us up and feeding us Thursday’s dinner, Johnnie and Lisa would be hosting Friday’s feast and everyone would join us at Robbie’s for a feeding on Saturday afternoon.

We were taken to drop off our bags at Robbie’s before driving round to Alex’s new place. Just around the corner from the place she’d lived at on our last visit, the new spot was in Lieutenant House, the extensively refurbished officers’ mess of the old Edwardian army barracks. Best of both worlds with new and modern interior juxtaposing the historical building and surrounds.

Although there is much evidence of being a military town in more recent history, Colchester was first an ancient Iron Age settlement, once ruled by Cuneobelin ‘King of the Britons’. Following the Roman Invasion in AD43, a city was established on the site of Camulodunum and designated the Roman capital of Britannia by Emperor Claudius. Its destruction at the hands of Boudicca is well-documented, but the Roman settlement rose up again and the remains of several buildings from this period can still be seen on a trip to the town.

Roman Colchester probably had a population of 10-12,000. That seems small in today’s world but in those days England had a tiny population so, by Roman standards, Colchester was a large and important town, particularly because of its position near the sea.

As far as we know Colchester’s status as a Colonia, awarded by the Emperor Claudius, has never been revoked, however Colchester has been long classified as a town… until 2022 when it was awarded official city status as part of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

It was a lovely sunny day so we were able to lounge on the terrace – with Gary, Alex’s long-legged hounddog, naturally taking the best seat in the house and us arranging ourselves around him ? – catching up and catching rays before a leisurely lasagne early supper.

There were several festivities planned in town for Jubilee Weekend, so we decided to make the most of the pleasant evening and take a wander down to our first excursion; to the Arts Centre to attend the 35th Annual Ale and Cider Festival. The location was a converted church and we were briefed upfront that the standard practice is for guests to utilise the church’s graveyard as one would normally relax in a back garden, using the larger tombs as tables and benches.

With over 160 ales, ciders, Belgian beers, English wines, soft drinks and snacks on offer, and open from 12 noon to 11pm each day, we could have been there all weekend!

The countless kegs were arranged along the back and side walls with several servers talking the festival-goers through the options outlined in the printed menus. We had bought punchcards at the entrance, so it was quick and easy to order and start ticking off the options that intrigued us.

More in it for the novelty than the flavours, we tested some real very crafty craft beers that we would normally only order over our proverbial dead bodies… but since we were socialising in a literal graveyard, it seemed as close to those circumstances as we were going to get. It was a lively old time, sharing a laugh and comparing notes on beer samples with some of Alex and Luke’s friends.

Once we’d finished our punchcards, we took a walk into Colchester town to a pub called 3 Wise Monkeys, where we were able to get more conventional options.

Shortly, Robbie joined us. He’d been in Glasgow overnight watching a football match and had just arrived back on the train. And as if that reunion wasn’t joyous enough, soon thereafter Johnnie arrived!

It was quite novel to finish up at the pub and be able to walk home, stretching some of the tastings out in the fresh night air. Everything in Colchester seems such a manageable distance apart too.

FRIDAY

Alex had pre-booked us into a 9am Bootcamp class with her. Chris and I weren’t quite sure what to expect – and he feared the worst, thinking it would be quite prancy and aerobic. Nothing of the sort, we were split into teams of 3 and rotated running across the field carrying a sandbag, hoisting weights, lifting and dropping medicine balls… all while the teammate tasked with setting the timing for each activity had to do endless ‘burpies’ (drop to the floor, do a push-up, jump up again sort of thing). It was hard work! But fun.

Alex then dropped us back at Robbie’s house so we could change, grab a bacon sarmie and head back out again for another outdoorsy activity; walking down the river to a little neighbouring village called Wivenhoe. The inspiration was to give Gary a walk, the motivation was the beautiful blue sky and sunny weather, which was a blessing for these parts that couldn’t be squandered.

We set off as a merry group, chatting as we walked and admired the scenery. And telling Gary quite often what a Good Boy He Was.

The walk to Wivenhoe earned us a pint in the lovely Rose & Crown on the riverfront. It was too hot to sit with Gary at the exposed tables in the front, so we found ourselves a shady spot in the secret beergarden at the back.

With an impending feast at Johnnie’s in just a couple of hours, we resisted eating at the pub even though there was the most heavenly aroma of fish and chips lingering on the air.

Good thing too because it real wasn’t long before we’d caught the train back and walked over to Johnnie’s house, which was literally around the block.

Ever the decadent host, Johnnie had decided on a multi-course carnivorous adventure explaining to his wife, Lisa (who had yet to meet us) “Souf Effricans love their meat”.

Ensconced outside the shed in the back of their wonderfully full and green garden, Johnnie lit a Weber to smoke a massive tomahawk steak which was cut into thick and juicy strips for starter samples.

Johnnie had built a DIY pizza oven over lockdown, in which a wood fire was kindled to start off the Korean ribs. They were finished off in the oven – alongside a rather large leg of lamb – and the pizza oven then used to painstakingly manage baking several flatbreads, which Alex had made from scratch at home and carefully wrapped in brown paper to prevent them sticking together.

The food, the weather and the company made for a truly memorable afternoon (even with the bottle of Killeputsch Jagermeister-lookalike we’d brought from Dusseldorf).

SATURDAY

The Queen’s Jubilee weekend having given us the 2 bonus public holidays meant that by the time Saturday rolled around, we felt like we’d already had a full weekend. What a treat!

We had committed to do a Parkrun on Saturday morning to sweat out a bit of the indulgent Friday feasting. Showing mercy, Alex and Luke drove us through to Mersea Island which was a flatter course along the water’s edge which should make the 5km track a little easier to manage under the circumstances (a brutal combination of the Bootcamp stiffness and the party effects).

Helped a lot by the weather no doubt (grey and overcast, but clear, and cooler than the previous days) we all ran really well, most setting Personal Best times, which was quite an achievement! … That earned us a Full English breakfast at a local restaurant.

Driven back to Robbie’s, we had time to shower, relax and watch a bit of telly (lots of coverage of the Jubilee festivities in London) before heading out to get last minute supplies for our reciprocal hosting duties later that afternoon, where Robbie had promised everyone roast chicken and chips.

We took the scenic route to the shops, ending off in Castle Park with its Roman ruins and War memorial statues. SO much history in this town-recently-turned-city!

By now the sun had come out and it was another beautiful day, which could not be wasted on chores alone, so we grabbed a cheeky pint at The Castle pub for time to absorb our surroundings. This included spotting that they did a Sunday Roast and, always being a meal ahead in the planning stakes, we immediately mentally committed to return the next day for our final meal before needing to leave for London.

Robbie’s house had a courtyard garden, which we took advantage of on our return home, setting up at the table outside so we could easily man the kitchen as well as bask in outdoortime opportunity.

The remainder of the group trickled in, and, being such engaged eaters, each stopped to peek at the stove, stir a thing, sample, add a something, offer some sage advice, sample again. It was wonderful and the kitchen smelt like heaven.

Robbie had recently bought an airfryer, so even I was able to contribute, offering to man the chips and showcase the wonderment of this modern domestic miracle machine. I cheated a bit, splitting the bag of oven chips into batches, pre-cooking and seasoning each batch and then throwing them all in together as the more sophisticated bits of the meal were nearing readiness.

Robbie had outdone himself! Prosciutto and green asparagus starters, followed by the golden roasted quarter chicken legs with bright green steamed broccoli stems and TWO sauces; a traditional bread sauce (which was a childhood favourite of his that none of us knew about) and a heavenly white wine and mushroom sauce.

We ate, we laughed, we shared stories, we debated the playlist, we drank, we laughed, we ate some more. What a brilliant day!

Once the others had all left, Chris, Robbie and I turned on the telly to watch the Jubilee Concert being held outside Buckingham Palace. We had tuned in quite well into the show and were greeted with Rod Stewart belting out “Sweet Caroline”. Not his song. How odd.

That was not the last surprise in the eclectic collection of performers, young and old, classic and contemporary, British and international. No clear golden thread of who or how these artists had found themselves on this line-up, interspersed with speeches by Prince Charles, Prince William, an Attenborough and the likes.

The lights show, projected onto and above the Palace, was truly spectacular in quality and pure magnitude and we wondered how they could have practiced it without giving the game away.

It was soon lights out for us; having had a very long and very full weekend.

SUNDAY

Sadly, Sunday was our time to leave Colchester. We held true on our last hurrah being the Roast at The Castle and were seated at a big table at the window (the weather had turned and it was most certainly indoor conditions) by 11h30, ready and raring to go.

We had the most delicious plate of roast lamb and ALL the trimmings; Yorkshire puddings, 3 veg, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing…  and 2 large gravy boats provided without even having to ask. If we lived in Colchester, this is where you would find us every Sunday for sure.

Alex and Luke drove us down to the train station for our 1pm train that would see us in London within an hour.

With a train strike on the go and heavy luggage in tow, we didn’t hesitate to grab a cab to get us to our hotel, the Dorsett in Shepherd’s Bush.

We had made arrangements to go and visit friends of ours from South Africa for Sunday sundowners at a Jubilee street party in their road in Hampton Hill. Although only a few miles away, it was still a good half hour in an Uber so we headed straight out so we’d be able to make the most of our time.

They were delighted to see us! We spent a couple of quality hours at their kitchen table, catching up on the 5 or so years it had been since we saw them last (when we’d done a flyby visit past their old house in Twickenham on our way out of the previous UK flit), before testing out their street party.

Good on the UK government; they had encouraged citizens to celebrate Jubilee in style by not only closing off portions of the roads that applied, but also providing an allowance to be spent on party requirements like food, marquees, equipment etc! It was such a great opportunity for neighbours to get to know each other, and very patriotic with Union Jack bunting and party favours.

Such a pity it was a Sunday and this was a work trip, because we had to be sensible and return back to our hotel at a reasonable time in order to accommodate the Monday workday – a particularly early start since the UK was an hour behind South African time, so we’d be logging on at 7am to keep in sync.

MONDAY

Largely uneventful as a working day, I had logged in and been glued to my laptop all day while Christ went off in a taxi (thanks to the train strike) to his work appointments. He did have a very successful day and returned with gushing stories about the sites he’d seen and how many innovation ideas he would be able to return home.

We were supposed to have met Faye for an after-work drink and a catch-up, but with us in West London and her in East London and a train strike to contend with, the logistics would be so cumbersome to get from A to B that we might as well not have been in the same city at all.

With no commitments, we decided to rather take a walk around our neighbourhood and find a curry house to enjoy the last meal of our trip. We lucked upon the Rajput and had a(nother) very large meal with a BYO bottle of red from the convenience store next door.

Again, we revelled in the opportunity to walk off our meal on the way back to the hotel. So much so that we bypassed our door to do a lap around the Shepherd’s Bush Green across the road.