Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Mama, Mama, many worlds I've come,
since I first left home" -Robert Hunter

After saying our farewells to all things British (including family and friends), we headed West across the Atlantic. Timing our return to the States with the Thanksgiving holiday, there was only one place to find the Napoli family: Barefoot Beach, Florida. Longing for a Thanksgiving full of sunshine, family, friends and priceless sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico, we were not left disappointed.

Thanksgiving Day on the beach with MJ, Teena and Marty.

Thanksgiving Day involves far more than just a few Napolis. We were fifteen strong this year, with all the usual suspects (5 Napolis, 6 Cassells, 2 Carlsons and 2 Przybylskis). Continuing the annual tradition of champagne and snacks on the beach, with twenty-four pounds of bird roasting upstairs, everybody was in good form.

Taking advantage of the holiday to its fullest extent, Rachel and I stayed in Florida with Marty and Teena for two weeks, enjoying wonderful nights out and glorious days on the beach. A trip to Florida is never complete without Marty and I casting our lines into the water and hoping for the best. After a couple hours up to our waists in the Gulf of Mexico, we ended up with seven catches each.

Father and son in the cool November waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether it's a salt water catfish or a yellow striped ladyfish, we'll take anything that will bite at the frozen shrimp on the end of our lines.

As always, we had an excellent time with my parents in Florida and look forward to many "Barefoot" Thanksgivings to come.

With our return to the US accomplished, and Thanksgiving behind us, we loaded up our backpacks, ready to make one more stop before heading to Chicago. Fulfilling a promise to our dear friends Mark and Kelly Campbell, we made the final stop on our "Round the World" trip their home, located in a quiet corner of North Carolina.

A gorgeous North Carolina sunset on a crisp December evening.

Mark, Kelly, Rachel and I became friends back in 2002. Rachel and Kelly were founding members of the band Lounge Car and performed in some of Chicago's finest cabaret venues including The Hot House and Maxim's. With Rachel and Kelly often busy collaborating and recording music, Mark and I usually found ourselves in the kitchen creating delicious feasts for the band. When Mark and Kelly left Chicago in 2004 to fulfill their dream of rural life in North Carolina, we promised to build a visit to their country home into our world tour.

Rachel and Kelly catch up over some BLTs, fresh fruit and a bottle of Riesling.

Mark and I get in the spirit of my inaugural Stateside curry dinner decorated with sparkling "bindis" we brought back from a street market in New Delhi. The menu consisted of Aloo Gobhi (potato and cauliflower), Sag Paneer (spinach and Indian cheese) and Yellow Dhal (spicy lentils). The cooking lessons we took in Dharamsala, India certainly paid off!

While Rachel and Kelly have a friendship molded in creating beautiful music, the foundation of my friendship with Mark is our shared passion for cooking delicious food. Mark is pictured above with his famous smoked pork shoulder, which was later hand pulled, smothered in homemade North Carolina BBQ sauce and served with fresh collard greens straight from the garden.

We even found time for a quick toss of the frisbee while the pork was smoking and the sun began to set.

Rachel and Kelly were busy inside recording a few tracks, while Mark and I tended to dinner.

Our visit to Mark and Kelly's couldn't have been a better transition from a busy Thanksgiving in Florida to a hectic Christmas season in Chicago. We found ourselves wandering through their woods, reading on the front porch and walking their dogs, feeling comfortable and optimistic about our imminent return to the Midwest. It was a wonderful visit and we can't wait to see them again.

Home Sweet Home, "Campbelloni" style.

Well, there you have it. Fifteen months, twenty three countries (is that all?) and we made it back to Chicago safe and sound. Be sure to check back to Donkey Crossing soon for a final summary, including the highs, the lows and some memorable 'in between' moments from our "Round the World" adventure.

We were greeted with both sun and snow on our return to Sweet Home Chicago.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"And in Foggy London Town,
the Sun Was Shining Everywhere"
-Frank Sinatra

Although it is never easy to leave the Holdsworth family home tucked in the rolling green hills of West Yorkshire, we always look forward to heading down to London. We never seem to have enough days to savor the lively capital, with its scores of famed landmarks and hidden gems.

One of our favorite "Off the Beaten Path" places to visit in London is the Columbia Road Sunday Flower Market. Tucked away in a couple bustling lanes in East London, the market is a true flower lover's paradise. The best deals are to be had at the end of the day, when a beautiful, exotic bouquet can be yours for just five pounds.

From the little known Columbia Road Flower Market, to the grand scale of the London Eye, Parliament and Big Ben, there is never a shortage of remarkable visual sensations to be had in the city.

In addition to seeing the sights, we always spend plenty of time with friends and family in London. We had an especially pleasant visit with Rachel's brother Andrew and his wife Eva this time around, as we helped them settle into a new home. Installing loft flooring and moving major appliances is not a regular activity during trips to England, but we were glad to lend a hand at Andrew and Eva's new home. It also reminded us how much we look forward to having a kitchen of our own in the not too distant future!

Eva, Andrew and I get ready to tuck into the inaugural curry feast on the floor of their beautiful home. New furniture had yet to be delivered.

Andrew and Eva weren't the only family we saw in London. On a sunny October morning, I crossed paths with none other than the Royal Family. Prince Charles, accompanied by a Saudi Prince, was taking this horse and carriage to Buckingham Palace, while Queen Elizabeth II was in the carriage ahead with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

A quick trip outside of London took us to Bedford, where we visited our dear friends Kate and Roger Woods. Kate is Rachel's Godmother, and has taken great care of us on two occasions during our world travels. You may recall our time with Kate and Roger at their fantastic home in Southern France last April (Donkey Crossing in France).

Kate recreated the indulgences of France with her delicious duck cassoulet.

In true French form, the meal lasted for hours and featured many wonderful courses and fine French wines. Roger is pictured above with the first of many culinary delights.

After our visit to Kate and Roger's home, where we were joined by Helen and Oz, we made our way back to London for more friendly cheer. Our official 'London residence' is traditionally the lovely Highgate home of our friends Mike and Seemi. Seemi and Rachel have been best of friends since high school, while Mike and I are the added bonus to their friendship. The four of us have always enjoyed big laughs, large meals and grand nights out.

Mike and I get a bit excited while tending to pork and leek sausages in the oven.

Seemi, Rachel and high school chum Heidi strike a pose at Seemi's 33rd birthday party in the Highgate flat. We are extremely grateful for the many times Seemi and Mike have opened their home and inflated their "aerobed" for us!

Mike and Seemi pose on the River Cam during a day trip to Cambridge. Mike is seen "punting" down the historic river, which snakes through the grounds of various colleges of Cambridge University. We learned the hard way that punting is nothing like rowing, and that we should have hired one of the university lads offering to take us along the river.

One of the world's biggest myths is that English cuisine can't stand up to that of its European neighbors. With the not so lively traditions of roast beef, Yorkshire puddings and boiled sprouts a thing of the past, London has turned itself into a culinary destination for 'Foodies' from around the world. With big name chefs such as Gordon Ramsay (who is always using the f-word), Jamie Oliver (formerly known as The Naked Chef) and Nigella Lawson (known for licking her fingers and talking seductively to her sweet and savory treats) regular faces on the Food Network, England has resurrected itself as a culinary heavyweight.

One mandatory stop on any Foodie's tour of London is a visit to the Borough Market. Situated on the South bank of the Thames River, and a short stroll from London Bridge, Borough Market is a culinary experience beyond compare. With scores of fine cheese, bread, oil and chocolate vendors, the butchers and fishmongers are perhaps the most impressive stalls to visit. With more choices of game, oysters, fish and sausages to satisfy even the most adventurous of palates, Borough Market is undoubtedly the place for fine and fresh ingredients in London.

For those who don't fancy preparing their fresh fish dinner from scratch, these fishmongers offer up hot seafood stew for immediate enjoyment.

The cheesy Swiss dish called Raclette wasn't the best thing that passed our lips, but one can't complain about boiled potatoes and sweet gherkins smothered in hot, gooey Swiss cheese.

One of my favorite stops in London food markets is the oyster vendor. Fresh from the coastal waters of nearby Colchester, I can't resist an oyster or few whilst browsing what else is on offer.

Nothing can beat a fine pint of locally brewed Fuller's Ale after a long day of walking through the streets and parks of London. Our friend Adam and I are pictured above, taking charge of the hand pumps at Fuller's Brewery situated on the Thames.

Though it may seem like all we do is eat, drink and visit friends in London, Rachel and I always find time to wander around the city aimlessly. For miles and miles, and hours and hours, we navigate through a multitude of London's distinct neighborhoods. While we both have our favorites, part of the fun is uncovering interesting new places to introduce to one another.

After many visits to London, this was my first visit to St. John's Wood, the home of Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles recorded nearly every number one hit at Abbey Road, and it continues to be a pilgrimage site for music lovers of all generations.

Some residents see the presence of graffiti across the neighborhoods as a sign of deep seated urban decay, while many see the art form as beautiful and free. Either way, this artist does a fine job camouflaging himself in pink street wear.

This view from the top of London's Hampstead Heath caused a moment of alarm on an otherwise gorgeous, sunny day. We learned from local residents and park employees that the smoke was coming from a fire at the 2012 Olympic Village. In an attempt to revitalize East London, billions of dollars of investment is being thrust into the area to prepare for the 2012 Summer Games.

As you can see, we had another brilliant time in London. As always, it wasn't easy to leave, but we felt very fortunate to have been able to spend so much time in our beloved England and can't wait to host all of our generous friends and family back on our home turf. Cheers everyone!

Next on Donkey Crossing: We report on our first couple weeks back in the States and our memorable visits to friends and family in sunny Florida and rural North Carolina.