Brighton with the “girls”

Days with great friends are all the more magical when you laugh until it hurts.

Laughter FriendsToday was no exception.  A wonderful day in Brighton with some ladies that I used to work with in Londontown.  We met at the train station and after hugs hello, the laughter and incessant chatter began (together with a few “loving” insults – usually about age and the need for a toilet!)

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Our coffee break was somewhat interrupted by, ahem, good fortune.  That is to say a seagull using Jan’s head as target practice for a poop!  Ooh how we laughed.  But how can that possibly be good luck?

Isn’t there something glorious about being at the seaside and smelling the saltiness in the sea breeze?

Our day’s out are such a hoot, sadly we only manage to get together about once a year but each outing is so special.  Somehow we all revert to small children, giggling at the smallest of things, laughing at the craziest of things and generally reliving our yoooof!

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The lovely ‘young man’ who served us our lunch wasn’t quite sure how to take us…. more so after the second bottle of wine and raucous laughter.

After our delicious fish & chip lunch we headed along the seafront toward the Pier…. but stopping off for a ‘group selfie’ (Linda announced she’d NEVER do a selfie, errr) and a ride on the carousel.  Right from the off, Joan was saying she’d not go on it (grump!) but we managed to spot a small ‘seated’ area on the carousel for her to enjoy the ride.  Linda quite literally jumped at the horses and promptly managed to sit in front of the pole… clutching onto the poor horses’ ears.  Jan and I sat either side of Linda and laughed like drains as the horses went up and down… with each movement we thought we may lose Linda or the horse may lose their ears!  I loved seeing adults and children walk past and upon identifying that the laughter was coming from ‘ladies of a certain age’ riding the carousel, we would then see them exchange glasses and burst into laughter themselves!

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On the Pier Linda and Joan decided they needed ’99 ice-creams.  We suspected this later that this may have been a schoolgirl error due to their being dive-bombed by seagulls looking for food.  As Jan and I walked away (too much laughter!) all we could hear was the screams and yelps behind us whilst they bravely continued to eat their ice-creams.

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It would have been rude for us not to go the arcade on the Pier.  And I couldn’t help but tweet about it to our ex-employer…

Tweet_LovellsWe were so blessed with the sunshine too.  What a stunning day, perfect for a day of coffee, lunch, walking, silliness, a spot of tea, great friends and oodles of laughter.

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The Sanctuary

Gosh I can’t quite believe the news.  Ok so I’m late to the party and completely missed the announcements a few months ago… but the Sanctuary Spa is closing!

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The Spa has been part of my London life for many many many years.  Just a few cheeky examples of times there would be:

I took Mum one year as a treat.  We had a marvellous day mooching between the jacuzzi, steam room, swimming pool and of course treatment rooms.  We lunched together and felt totally pampered by the time we left in the late afternoon.  I can recall Mum saying how special she felt at having been treated to this day, spending it in a fluffy robe, being spoilt and how she’d never done anything so extravagant before.

I’ve been there with friends for spa days.  When you absolutely need some down time.  I love that no mobile phones were allowed in the spa and that you it meant that you couldn’t check your email or receive panic calls from the office.

I’ve been treated to days there by friends.  Most recently when I helped a friend’s parents organise, pack up and ship their possessions overseas and sell their family home when illness and frailty got too much to do the task themselves.  What a treat for me though and quite undeserved.  A day of pampering, a glass of bubbles, pampering treatments and luxury.

I’ve used the spa as a retreat when surprising people and returning to the UK from Australia.  It was a gem.  I used to get a flight landing at Heathrow in the early hours of the morning.  Piccadilly line into Covent Garden with my rucksack on my back.  Arrive at the Sanctuary and check-in for a day of jetlag recovery and spoiling.  Sleeping on the loungers in the warmth of the spa, drifting off whilst watching the carp fish swim beneath me.

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Only for me to emerge from the spa in the early evening, rejuvenated, relaxed, jet-lag-free and ready for a party!

I was also a member of the Sanctuary Spa Gym for women.  It was probably in the early 90s when it first opened.  I remember it being wonderfully inexpensive and just the perfect place for me to work off some blubber (not that there was much then!).  I used to get the tube to Covent Garden in my gym gear early in the morning and do a class or gym session before a shower and short walk to the office.  Then I’d head straight back there after work for another workout, shower and change before going out on the town.  I can honestly say it’s the only gym I managed to get to 5 times a week – always with the promise that I was in town and near the bar afterward!  It was a great gym and I was so very unhappy when they finally realised they could charge a whole lot more than they had been to those of us who were there from the beginning.

So when they finally close the doors at the end of this month, it’ll be with a little sadness.  I’ve enjoyed many visits to the Sanctuary Spa with many people, many occasions but always feeling that little bit more wonderful for it.

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We shall all certainly miss the swing!

Terminal 2 – Trial End to End Trial

Several months ago I received an email from Heathrow Rewards (I’m on their mailing list as a frequent flyer through Heathrow). This email however wasn’t telling me that I can get cheap perfume or reduced commission currency but more particularly about the newly built Terminal 2 and it’s reopening. The email asked for volunteers to test the new terminal.

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They were looking for four different trial phases to check the parking, signage, flow of passengers, the check-in procedure, security, boarding, passport control, baggage and pretty much everything that you experience at an airport when arriving or departing. The aim of the test phases was to establish that all the routines, training and building works were designed perfectly for the many thousands of people that would be traveling through Terminal 2.

More importantly that any ‘problems’ (teething or otherwise) could be resolved before the terminal is open to the public. Volunteers would be rewarded with a poke around the new Terminal and a promise of a wonderful goody bag after every trial.

I was intrigued as to what was really involved in an airport trial. I already do customer reviews of restaurants, hotels, leisure/sports facilities, physios and bars looking at the customer experience so wondered how this would be different.

Sadly I was only available for one of the trial dates, the final date – today.

For the past few weeks there have been automated emails advising me a little of the procedure for the day. Registering for a car parking pass, instructions for parking and a little more about what to expect. In the last week, I’ve received emails telling me how well the project is going and how the trials have helped iron out teething issues raised. Apparently there have been over 800 issues raised through these trials and 620 of these have already been resolved. Let’s see how they do today!

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The first group of arrivals were called for a briefing where the day was explained to us. During this briefing there was mention many times that we’d have a fabulous day. Pet hate… don’t tell me, let me decide if it’s a fabulous day thanks!

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Then we left the briefing and headed for the next ‘briefing’ stage where we were given our first assignment scripts.

My script indicated I was a gentleman passenger flying alone to Taipei via Bangkok. Flying with Eva Air. I had to collect a trolley and then pick up two pieces of hold luggage. Checkin at a desk and then head through security to the departure lounge and wait my flight to be called. My flight time at 1pm and boarding time approximately midday.

IMG_5470The collection of the trolley, locating my two pieces of luggage, checking in and even security went very smoothly. (I’m a particular fan of the bigger security trays in T2). In fact I’d say I flew through all of this and then had time to kill in the lounge. Heathrow had laid on lots of drinks, snacks, muffins, chocolate bars, yoghurts and magazines to keep us fed, watered and occupied. Also traveling around the terminal were magicians, caricature artists and balloon makers as well as some arts and crafts competitions for the younger trial testers.

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I was chatting to a lovely gentleman who’d done two of the previous trials and was happy to do the final one to see the end results. He told me of a few of the things they’d picked up before and also of the contents of the goody bags (alarm clocks, travel plugs etc). Fortunately for me, he was also on the same flight journey and knew the ropes!

At about 11.30 there was a short presentation about the airport, a short speech from Brian Woodhead, Operations Director at BAA. We learnt a little more about Terminal 2. How the original Terminal 2 (AKA Queens Building) was opened by Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth some 60 years ago and on 23rd June 2014 they will return to open the new Terminal 2.

We were then encouraged to take part in a short film about Terminal 2, dancing, singing and generally smiling that will be cut into a music video as part of the promotional film and also include other clips from the day and previous days.

As soon as this finished, our flight’s boarding gate appeared. Oh but we were also encouraged to pick up our packed lunch and take it with us on the journey. However the queue to pick up lunch was mahoooosive and many of my flight companions decided to grab lunches after this flight and before the next. Oh how we’d regret that decision!

We headed off in search of our boarding gate. Yes you know it – it’s the furthest gate to get to. Truly it is. A long long way, up escalators, double backing on yourself at different levels, walkways and tunnels and eventually to this bank of departure gates. It all looked very pleasant and functional. I’m not sure if there’s enough seating if the airport departures were at full capacity but they must have done their sums. Also a word of warning for anyone with weak bladders, small children or elderly travel companions – there’s quite a distance between toilets so go when you have the chance!

It was minutes until our flight was called and we were going through.

Oh except we didn’t really get a flight to Bangkok or Taipei!

Once through the gate we get to swap our flight instructions for those of an arriving passenger. This time I’m a young(ish) woman and arriving into Terminal 2 on a flight from Warsaw. Our instructions are that the flight was meant to arrive into Terminal 1 but due to lack of gates arrived here and we were then to make our way through to Terminal 1 arrivals to continue our journey.

Simples……

Or so we thought. Off we set. Down the escalators, along the passenger tunnel, round the corner, along travelators, following signs the whole way. Down another set of escalators and then we stop. There’s a queue. Quite a long queue and it goes around the corner in the tunnel. It’s getting hot down there. We’re not sure where we are. There’s no seats. It’s getting hotter. There’s no toilets. It’s getting hotter still. After quite a while a member of staff approaches our section of queue and advises us there’s an ‘incident’ and we’ll be moving along shortly. They then go further back up the queue and tell the same tale. Some time later, they return with others carrying bottles of water. Once again we’re advised that there’s an incident but this time we’re told that the firemen are dealing with it. Once again this message is told many times to differing parts of the queue. I make a comment that perhaps the PA system isn’t working in the passenger tunnel hence the individual Chinese whispers. All the time it’s getting hotter, people are now in search of floor space to sit down, some are getting worried that we’re cramped together in a passenger tunnel with nowhere to go but most of all it’s hot and we’re hungry (remember we didn’t have time to pick up our lunch).

IMG_5477Another chunk of time later we’re told that there’s one of the new air conditioning units has caught fire and although the fire is out, it is bellowing out pungent black smoke. This means that noone can get down the passenger tunnel and out of the location we’re being held in. Hmmm I think our testing may have found a flaw – surely there must be an alternate way out?

After another period of time we’re told that we’re going to be ushered back to the departure gates to await further instruction. Fine for a trial but in ‘real life’ you wouldn’t have arriving passengers mixing with departing passengers without going through security!

I won’t bore you with all the detail but suffice it to say that there was a lot of scurrying around by staff with perplexed faces and a few muttered swear words too. We were told to find a seat and then told we needed to evacuate the area and were once again bunched up waiting for an exit from this area, minutes later told to take a seat again. What a complete mess. Seriously, if this was the final ‘live trial’ I’m wondering what training has taken place or are the staff also ‘test volunteers’?

Soon we were again told we were on the move and OK to go. We went back down another set of stairs, apparently enroute back to the departure lounge. A long walk and several travelators, one of which came to a juddering halt with us on it. When we were all underground once more (different area to the last disaster) we came across two escalators and two lifts which would apparently take us back upstairs. Only one escalator and one lift were working…. eventually (yes you guessed it) the only escalator working stopped. We bunched up again, the staff member who was meant to be assisting us was heard to say “F’ing Hell”, an engineer turns up and attempts to reverse the escalator that isn’t running and fix the one that’s stopped. This takes yet more time and eventually although he gets both working in an upward direction, proceeds to only let groups of 20 or so people on to the escalators at each time.

It is quite some time later still that we find ourselves back in the departure lounge… and in search of that illusive lunch that we’d stupidly not queued for earlier!

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After stuffing a few bites of a sandwich we were on our way again. Back in character and as if arriving from Warsaw. We needed to get to passport control and then to head toward Terminal 1 arrivals area. When eventually we reach the passage way to the Terminal 1 arrivals, we’re greeted by security who advise us that the test member of staff has had to go elsewhere due to the fire.  There would be no further instruction scripts and that the trial has now ended early.

We headed for the exit. I was desperate to breathe air. We were stopped only briefly to have thrust in our hands a slip of paper with the url to provide feedback from today and our goody bags… or should I say a Terminal 2 umbrella and an empty Heathrow nylon bag. That’s all we got for the day… well apart from claustrophobia, heat exhaustion, tired feet and a feeling that we could have been doing something so much more interesting instead.

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So very very disappointed with the day. My observations were very simple:

The ‘bosses’ were there and shouting about Terminal 2 when it was going well… didn’t see them again later on.
If the passenger tunnel was the only route or arriving passengers at Terminal 2, what would happen if this event happened in normal business day? Or perhaps a passenger was taken ill in the tunnel? Surely there’s an alternate route?
How would it work if planes were constantly landing and disembarking yet more passengers into this tunnel?
Why did the staff not know how to communicate with the ‘passengers’?
Was there any communication amongst the staff to relay the procedure and manage the situation?
That’s a lot of dissatisfaction in return for an umbrella and nylon bag.

And finally… is it really going to open in a few weeks time?

Edinburgh 2-6 May 2014

My youngest brother and his family live in Edinburgh. At the moment it’s the same country… well at least it’s also in the United Kingdom. However there’s a big vote soon where the Scottish people get to decide if they want to be their own little country and separate from the United Kingdom. My brother and his wife are all for this change. I however don’t have enough information to make an informed choice nor am willing to invest the time to unearth the information. However I do feel a little like a strict parent and believe it’s like having a teenager leaving home. If they want to go then they should go entirely… no borrowing money, bringing your washing home or popping in for dinner! We softie southerners will await the result of the vote. Oh one more parental comment – if you don’t get independence, will this be the end of it?

For simply ages, I’ve received little postcards, notes, Skype calls, video messages and phone calls from my Scottish nieces to say they’re missing their Auntie Anna soooooo much. They ask when am I coming to visit and how many sleeps it is until I do etc. So this long weekend (a bank holiday in both England and Scotland) I ventured across the border!

Such a cuddly pair of wee girls. The oldest aged 8 and the youngest only 4. My flight on Friday night wasn’t due in until late and by the time I reached the house it was nearly midnight. But not to be deterred from the earliest possible Auntie Anna cuddle,the girls had had a plan, a very cunning plan. Very early bath, early to bed and a promise that I wake them on my arrival for cuddles, warm milk and a midnight snack. Cunning eh?

Saturday morning started with two wee girls delivering a cup of tea to me and climbing into my bed for a chat and a cuddle. I love these moments with them. A little bit snoozy and chatty but excited about the day ahead.

In Edinburgh this weekend is a festival called Tradfest. The festival is in its second year and it aims to reintroduce Scotland to it’s culture, crafts, traditions and arts.

We headed up to the City Centre after breakfast to watch and walk alongside the May Day Parade. The parade itself seemed to be way more political than promised and we were constantly being forced to take leaflets about politics, war, religion or independence – surely not what was promised or intended for the festival parade? There were a few groups in the parade dancing, singing with bagpipes and drums etc but far fewer than the more politically charged paraders.

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The parade concluded at the Pleasance Theatre where we had read there would be crafts, music and dancing together with space for a picnic lunch. Again this didn’t match the promised description in the Tradfest brochure or website. We found a picnic bench and sat eating our picnic anyway… well until the table seemed weighed down with leaflets and someone pointed out that a sign above the girls head indicated that they had joined the communist movement! My brother wandered inside to see if there were crafts and other happenings worth visiting but came out disappointed once more. Such a pity as a MayDay Parade through Edinburgh would be a perfect platform to advertise the Festival and for tourists to partake.

My brother had heard that there was a family friendly storytelling event taking place in the afternoon telling the tales of the Edinburgh Beltane Stories. So shortly after lunch we headed to the Story Telling Centre to enquire that these tales were family friendly. As we waited for the start of the storytelling we made ourselves comfortable in the cafe with indulgent hot chocolate and cake.

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This event was in two parts. The first where a gentleman told the story. Fortunately my nieces are very good at watching plays and listening… a blessing as the story was slow and I’m not sure greatly rehearsed or the mixed audience totally considered. Sadly I don’t think we learnt a great deal from this part of the show. My youngest niece just seemed to be quite put out that it was sold as a storytelling play but yet there was only one person on stage – surely “this isn’t right”, she kept asking?

The second half was more interesting for us. A shadow play. After a brief break we returned to the auditorium to find a shadow box had been set up and a tale was about to be told via music, words and shadow puppets. This was much more engaging for the children and we heard and remembered the story being told.

Before supper time the youngest said she had to make a birthday card for her husband to be (aged 4!).  She’s got it all worked out.  Apparently they’re going to be in London and she’s going to live with me until the wedding day (when I have to do her hair and makeup).  When they’re married they’re going to live next door so they can pop in to see me whenever they want.  Anyway the poor chap’s birthday card was actually a picture of me and her big sister.  Recognise me?  I’m on the right…

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After the youngest headed off to bed, the 8 year old and I had some time for ourselves to play some games. It’s fabulous she’s just at the age when she’s started to enjoy board games, understand strategy and eager to learn some new things. My brother has a selection of the games that we had as children and we managed a few rounds of Connect4, backgammon and her first game of Mastermind. Let it be said that I certainly didn’t win them all!

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Remember this?

Sunday was a very exciting day in this household. Firstly my younger niece was heading off to the birthday party of her husband to be. I heard, at length, all about Joe. Plans for marriage and life together and that they are going to live in London in the house next to mine when they’re married. Until then my niece is going to live in my house and I’m going to help get her ready for her wedding day. She wasn’t sure when this was to be but eventually settled for when she was an adult… perhaps when she’s 8!

Secondly, my oldest niece was today taking part in the TradFest. She’s been learning to play the fiddle and her fiddle group are part of a parade along Portabello Promenade.

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My role in getting the girls ready was, of course, hair and makeup.

Here’s a little clip of Iola practicing her fiddle pieces with me before we headed out to the parade.

So after a little play on the beach and some ice-cream the very serious part of the day the performance and parade began. I’m soooo proud of her!

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Monday – My brother had arranged tickets to head to the Dynamic Earth exhibition in town. The exhibition was created for the millennium and apparently is only just hanging on with attendance down. We were keen to find out more, excited to see dinosaurs and hopefully going to learn something too. I was surprised at how much the tickets were – surely not!

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An exhibition for all ages. The exhibition is underground and I couldn’t help but feel a little claustrophobic at times. It seemed as if you couldn’t escape the route that was designated and that the only time you could use the toilets was at the beginning and end (surely a mistake when wanting to attract groups of people with children!). Points of the exhibition were interesting. The iceberg was, according to the girls, ‘incredible’. Sadly the dinosaur exhibition is apparently only on during the week and we saw a film about the wildest weather that turned out to the weather on other planets not our own! There were various points at which the children could turn a handle, press a button or talk to an interactive television but these seemed to be sparsely set around the route and not always worth the wait as other children got to them first. Sadly I don’t feel we learnt a lot and my brother didn’t feel that they’d be returning or recommending it particularly. What a shame and perhaps why it’s not doing so well.

Unsurprisingly the smallest niece was bored, tired and very very stroppy by the time we headed home for the bus.

Tuesday – my final day

Up early so that I could have breakfast with the munchkins before Iola headed off to school. She has a school trip today to a Mosque and I’m going to try to meet up with her when she arrives back from the trip for a quick cuddle before she finishes school and I head off to the airport.

My Auntie Anna duties aren’t quite over though. I walk the youngest to nursery and I hole myself up in a coffee shop for a few hours whilst she’s there. I asked her last night if she’d prefer to hang out with me instead of going to nursery for these few hours but she was desperate to see her friends as she’d not been with them for 4 whole days!

At 11.30 I’m back to collect her and she doesn’t stop chatting about what’s happened at nursery for what seems like an age. Eventually I’m allowed to get a word in and suggest we head down to the canal and find a cafe for some lunch together. She continues chatting all the way there!

We find a cafe, Mimi’s Bakehouse, which looks just the ticket for an Auntie Anna lunch and treat. The decor is beautifully done. A little like an old fashioned parlour. When our lunch arrives Celeste is quick to point out that there must be fairies here too… they knew her favourite colour was purple (her knife is purple) that her favourite drink is apple juice AND that it’s in a beautiful cup with a perfect straw, that the sandwich filling is her favourite – egg AND that the crisps are her favourite flavour. I mean how could they have possibly known that?

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After lunch we purchased some cakes to take home with us which were presented in the most adorable cake box.

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We rushed home in the hope that we’d get the chance to ‘bump’ into Iola outside school as her trip had returned a little early. Sadly we missed her so no more cuddles before I headed for the airport and home.

Classic FM Concert

As someone who tries to ‘do it all’ the following will come as no surprise!

My friend, Andrew, is celebrating his 40th birthday this year. As part of his celebrations he was keen to take a few of us to a Classic FM Concert at the Albert Hall. Typically it was this evening… only an hour and a half after my plane from Dubrovnik landed in Gatwick!

Logistically it is possible. Gatwick to the Albert Hall in 90 minutes. As we all know that’s only if the trains are working to timetable, the taxis are plentiful at Victoria and, of course, my plane is on time.

The plane landed early… but there was only one member of BA ground crew available so we stood (me at the front of the line) with the door open, waiting to get off. Frustratingly this was over 15 minutes. I could see my escape but wasn’t able to make it! Rushed through passport control, no baggage to collect and headed to the trains. Spotted the first train that said Victoria and jumped on just before it moved off. A few minutes in to the journey the ticket officer told me that I’d not got the right ticket and I was fined £39! Not happy at all. Arrived into Victoria and the taxi queue had relocated and was empty (aha that’ll be the tube strike today). Walked out and found a taxi. Arrived at the Albert Hall at 7.30pm exactly…. but the concert started at 7.30pm! Not bad though.. just missed the first piece.

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ClassicFM host two concerts a year at the Albert Hall. The tickets sell out quickly and the program is made up of a mixture of known pieces and favourite numbers. The audience is mixed too. Definite highlight for me was to hear Hayley Westenra live.

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What a treat for us all to enjoy this concert with Andrew on his birthday.

Time for a sneaky beer afterward too in the Queens Head. It wasn’t long before we realised that the bar was also filling up with musical instruments – ha, it appears to be where the musicians head after performing too!

No tubes home… a selection of buses later and I’m home and falling into my bed. What a fabulous evening.

Dubrovnik

A very early Saturday morning start so grateful Kelly suggested staying at the Gatwick Sofitel the night before a new adventure.

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Kelly in high spirits playing ‘splat the dots’ at the departure gate!

My friend Kelly and I are both flying business class for £50 courtesy of a British Airways companion voucher. So as you can imagine it’d be rude not to start our trip by tucking into a little bottle of champagne for the flight. OK so it was an early start but we added some orange juice so it’s a Bucks Fizz, sort of breakfast drink, right?

Our early start at this end did however mean that we arrived nice and early into Dubrovnik ready to check into the hotel, leave our bags and head out to explore everything that Dubrovnik offered.

What we hadn’t realised was that this weekend Dubrovnik was under siege… from 35,000 Catholic Youth!

Our quick arrival was therefore not as easy as we’d hoped as no taxis were allowed anywhere near the City and we had to do a rounded diversion to our hotel. Not too much of a drama and we were grateful that we’d not booked something in town or otherwise we would have been schlepping our bags for miles on foot to check in.

Our hotel was the Rixos Dubrovnik. Yes, of course, we managed to get a good deal for our twin room with balcony overlooking the ocean… The hotel is huge and I’m not sure we’d have loved it as much if we were there during the summer season! But perfect for this weekend. A wonderful extensive buffet breakfast and Wifi included. Approximately 15 minute walk to the City Walls but not for the fainthearted as it is up and down some hills (but no steps!).

The clouds are looming when we check in and shortly after we’ve done so, the rains start. A hot chocolate on the balcony bar upstairs whilst we regroup and decide what to do. Chatting to a fellow traveller who’d been there for a week, she tells us that nothing is open in the CIty today because of the ‘Youth’… oh joy!

But we’re here to explore so decide to talk a walk down to the City to get our bearings and work out a plan of action and where everything is for tomorrow…. surely something must be open?

What we hadn’t quite thought through was that as we decided to venture down the main hill to Pile (the City Walls) and a walk that should take us 15 minutes in total, 32,500 Youth are walking up the hill toward us. You’d think they’d spot me in my fluorescent rain jacket but clearly not – I know this particularly by the amount of umbrella spokes in my face and bumps from teams of people coming toward me.

Hey ho, it’s all IMG_5458an adventure. The walk however takes well over an hour and even when we finally make it to the City Gates at Pile we’re told by the police that noone can enter until the ‘youth’ have all left.

Fortunately at that point we notice a restaurant (Posat) is open and that it has the perfect view of the City Gates so we’ll be able to assess the situation but with a hot drink and a local cake.

 

Whilst we had arrived from the UK travelling light and a little unprepared for the weather, we’d known the forecast had been rain. How come the Croatian Catholic Youth hadn’t realised it’d be a rainy day? We noted that they were all dressed in the uniform Converse canvas shoes which were no sopping wet and no waterproof jackets (or one or two). Really?

So our ‘entry’ into Dubrovnik City was delayed by several hours. With hindsight it was probably a good thing as on entering the City Walls, we spotted a wallhanging announcing Dubrovnik FestiWine. Oooh! Approximately 20 steps further on and through the CIty Walls, we were drawn to signs on our right, again indicating the FestiWine. I think it took us all of about 5 minutes from entering the City Walls to trying our first wine (having registered, obtained our tasting glass AND walked the whole 20 steps!)

FestiWine DubrovnikOK so who out there knew that Croatia had such delicious wine? Seriously some of it is extraordinarily good. Our ticket officially enabled us to try 12 wines but as it was the last day and none of the winemakers were keen on taking our ‘tokens’ we sampled quite a few more! Starting with the sparkles, whites, rose, desserts and then the reds. Kelly was chief notator and her ‘tasting notes’ were smiley (or not) faces and little quotes from yours truly. I think the best one was “QUOTE… DIRTY” Matzo Zivkusic “The red looks as young as the man serving it”; Vina Milacic 2009 “Dirty edge on a light wine”; Norris Violic dessert wine “Love but no commitment”; Volarevic Vinogradi “Pink BBQ wine”; Karajancic Vinarija “White wine with an empty finish”. Hehe I can see a career in wine reviewing!

During our afternoon we spoke at length to some of the winemakers. Croatia really is a relatively new commercial market but some of the vines are gloriously old. I think my favourite wines were from the winemaker Korta Katarina and Ivo Cibilic, demonstrated such passion about the wine made, the story behind it and indeed the taste of both the white, Posip and red wine, Plavic Mali, were wonderful.

During our FestiWine experience we also met two chaps on holiday from the UK. David and Gino. They’d been to the FestiWine the day before and had therefore returned to try some more as well as enjoy and buy bottles of their favourites. Great to chat to them and try some more wines but also find out what they’d already discovered in Dubrovnik. I ended up chatting with Darrell from Decanter Magazine.. pleased to hear that my favourite wine was also one that’s been commended more than once by Decanter and him.

Croatian WinesSome hours later and as the FestiWine drew to a close, we headed back out into the Old Town. Needless to say we might well have been a little piddled so food was most definitely in order. One piece of cake and a BA breakfast (with bubbles) clearly wasn’t enough! On the recommendation of David and Gino we located Gills restaurant (which was open) and headed upstairs to a free table. Honestly our meal was delicious (or that’s how we both remember it) but perhaps not enjoyed to the best of it’s promise due to the wine imbibed! I had some delicious tuna tartare and Kelly the sea bass.

By the time we’d finished our meal, we figured we probably ought to have another sample of Croatian wine. As both the boys and others had recommended a cheeky little wine bar on the next street, we headed to D’Vino. This turned out to a top recommendation indeed. On entering D’Vino you feel as if you’ve been there before, many times. It’s home. But actually it’s better than home as it comes with experts in wine and, what seems to be, an endless supply and range of deliciousness.

We took our seats at the bar and the barman, Patrick, quickly established the type of red wine that we liked and set about finding us a Croatian wine that we would love. We said that we felt we’d like to try two wines for the end of the evening… one wine and then a finisher. He so got it right for both us of and with all four wines. Whilst he thought about which wines he told us a little about each winery, winemaker, how many bottles, grapes, oaking etc etc. I love knowing a little more about what I’m drinking but the bar is also perfect little hideaway if you just want to drink a glass or two of wine in a quiet nook and peace. The owner of the bar is Sasha Lusic who’s family emigrated to Queensland in Australia to avoid the war.  Sasha returned to Croatia to open this wine bar in his homeland only a few years ago. How wonderful to be able to return to his homeland and heritage and run such a successful business. I’m quite sure his parents must be so very proud and apparently have suggested moving back to Croatia to be near him. Again how enlightened to then be able to return and follow the new path that his son has created.DSCN1462

Just as it started to rain again we left the bar, walked down the alleyway back to the main pathway in the Old Town. The limestone pathway is now glistening and shining in the moonlight and rain – utterly magical. Poor Sasha, who left the bar with us to walk part of the way home to his moped had to experience our rendition of singing in the rain along the beautiful pathway… of course it was in tune and quite a spectacle (in a good way)! At the very least it bought such a smile and giggles to all three of us.

Sunday

Today should have been the day that I chose to wear shorts but instead I’d worn less yesterday on the basis that there was less to dry out from the rain… I think now I’m writing this up a week later that perhaps this could be why I’ve a streaming cold and cough.

There were several things on our ‘to-do’ list of Dubvrovnik and two definitely required a clear vista and sunshine. Cable Car and City Wall Walk. Fortunately today it appeared (despite the gloomy weather forecast) that we would be in luck. After breakfast we headed into town with our ‘walking shoes’ firmly on.

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There’s no doubt at all that the cable car does give you some of the best views over Dubrvonik Old Town and the islands beyond. It certainly gives you a totally different perspective and also helps to realise that Dubrovnik truly is a small and beautifully formed City.

However we learnt later that there’s a fortress at the top of the cable car but as it’s a different business entity it’s not advertised within the cable car nor is the price of entry included. What a shame we didn’t know we could visit it. The cost of the cable car is an extravagance by Croatian standards on its own at Ku100 return with the cost having risen by Ku30 since last year. If I were doing it again, I’d get a one-way ticket to the top, see the Fortress, have a snack and drink in the cafe at the top and walk back down (there are zigzag pathways the whole way down).

When we returned to the City Walls, we headed for the old marina in search of some fresh calamari to share for lunch together with some water – sustenance for our next tourist adventure, Walking the City Walls.

The City Walls wrap around the Old town and were some of the perfect vantage points to keep the City safe in times of war. They form a fairly narrow pathway (hence it’s only one way traffic walking around it) and there are many many steps. I clearly didn’t count them but in one guidebook I read that there are over 3,500 steps! Once again, an absolute must whilst you’re in Dubrovnik but with a word of warning – take water and good walking shoes! You can do it in sections by coming down from the Walls for a break and returning to complete it but this has to be done on the same day. We were fortunate enough to be in Spring sunshine and it was hot up there… if you’re visiting in Summer, be prepared for heat and sun (hat and sunscreen?)

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Once down we walked back on ourselves at the street level to find a little ‘secret’ bar that was cut into the rocks just outside the City Walls. What a perfect way to see the sunlight change.

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After a brief siesta back at our hotel we headed back down the hill to the Old Town for dinner. Once again we were working on the recommendations from people we’d met at FestiWine and headed to Proto for dinner. Proto was personally recommended but also appears in many reviews and guidebooks as 1st or 2nd in the list of places to eat in Dubrovnik. We both had a soup to begin with, Crab soup and Fishermans soup – these were both utterly delicious, full of flavour and absolute hits for us both. However our main meals we were good but both of us felt were lacking something to be ranked so highly – perhaps we chose badly or know that they couldn’t match up to the starters.

Back to D’Vino for our ‘finishers’ before heading home. Patrick and Sasha spoilt us rotten with two more delicious wines – v happy bunnies!

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Monday
If you were in Dubrovnik for longer than a few days, I’d suggest hiring a car and driving away from the City. Montenegro was spoken about by others who were there for longer as was Lokrum island.

For us, on foot, we chose to walk toward Lapad and in search of the Cave Bar. A lovely walk and into an area that perhaps during the Summer would be my idea of hell. Lapad is clearly set up as a holiday resort. Big hotels with pools, little stretches of beach, karaoke bars and a strip full of restaurants and bars serving ‘English food’. Sadly there were also many many feral cats that were running around eating scraps and waiting at the feet of people eating. This was out of season. Not my idea of fun at all but each to their own. At the end of the ‘strip’ our walk took us to the beach and a oceanside pathway. Back to being stunning again. The sun was shining, the water glimmering and small islands in view. It wasn’t long until we stumbled across some steps down to some outside tables and a cave entrance.

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It’s (not surprisingly) closed during the winter months as it’d be a touch damp as the waves would lash into the cave entrance and no doubt full to the brim with tourists in the summer. For us, it was utter perfection – Spring sunshine and open!

On our agenda for this afternoon we had a few museums to visit and a thirst to find out more about Dubrovnik’s history. We headed for the bus stop in Lapad to take us back to the Old City. (Amusing moment was watching 3 policemen direct traffic around a roundabout!). The bus seemed particularly expensive for a short trip and for the two of us it would, in fact, have worked out cheaper to take a taxi but hey, you live and learn.

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I’d been looking forward to visiting the Natural History Museum. I’d seen something about a Mollusc exhibition that looked interesting and colourful. We entered the Museum (it was free) and wandered round. Disappointingly it appeared more like a school science project with few exhibits and little information to learn or be absorbed by. Many of the ‘exhibits’ were badly put together sea creatures and more like a school class project. It was only by the time we’d climbed to the very top floor, did we see the mollusc exhibit. Set out in a fun way with the shells hanging from the ceiling it was visually stimulating but sadly lacked content and explanation.

Time for lunch and we were in search of a good seafood risotto. Where best to go but to the Old Marina? Certainly filling and with seafood however not the black risotto we’d been expecting but did the job before we headed back into the Old City for more exploration. Our wanderings took us up and down small alleyways and pathways. There’s certainly so much more to the Old City than the tourist route. Disappointed though that an exhibit we’d hoped to see ‘War Photos’ wasn’t open until the 1st May (only a few days time). We’d both really hoped that this would give us the insight into what happened in Dubrovnik through the photos and now having seen the city from the cable car, the city walls and on foot we would be able to understand more fully what happened in the very recent history.

In the evening we returned to Posat, the restaurant we’d sought refuge in on our first day. A definite foodie must. Loved this place, it’s ambiance, food, wines and, of course, views over Pile and the City Gates.

After dinner we thought we’d go for a nightcap somewhere different. There’d been a jazz bar, Troubadour, that we’d spied on our wanderings. It looked wonderful. Great atmosphere created even more spectacularly by the notes of the jazz reverberating around the City Walls. However on checking our Kuna currency situation we realised that we could be in trouble if they didn’t take cards (we’d budgeted just enough for our taxi to the airport tomorrow with a few Kuna for a light lunch). So where else are two ladies to go but home… errr d’Vinos! Back to our bar stools and Sasha and Mark working. Tonight we tried yet more wines and were once again not disappointed.

Tuesday
Our final day and we still had a few places left on our ‘to-do’ list. One being the Franciscan Monastery and Old Pharmacy.

I loved the stonework here in the monastery most. I was also fascinated by the old pharmaceutical equipment. Looking back you may believe these to be fairly barbarian but actually I think them to be quite advanced. Many of them not far from the items now used but perhaps slightly cleaner! There’s still a pharmacy on the site and I was pleased to see that not only stocking ‘today’s items’ they also had some tinctures and creams made on site.

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One other bonus for us in the Monastery building was a room with some photographs and history. of Dubrovnik. Just these few photographs gave us much more of an insight into what happened to this City and indeed at how recent this dreadful war was. How shocking it is to see photographs of people who have lost their lives protecting their homes – not soldiers who’ve signed up to ‘war’ – but young men who would have been sharing their birthdays with me.

Dubrovnik War Pics

I think until we saw these pictures I certainly hadn’t been aware of how much of the city had been devastated and in the last 20 years rebuilt. No wonder the roof tiles in the City were so red and clean… it wasn’t a renovation project it was necessary after the devastation. Pieces of the City Walls now obvious to us as repaired and replaced by limestone and marble. And, mortar holes and gunshot wounds in the side of buildings. I just wish we’d been able to learn more about this from City itself… particularly as many of the people we’ve met would have lived through this dreadful time.

Our final meal in Dubrovnik had to be at the Dalmatino Konoba and had to be black risotto. This restaurant is hidden down an alleyway and described as being ‘authentic’ but also as having a ‘limited menu’. For us, this is the perfect description and makes it a ‘must visit’ restaurant. We weren’t disappointed and shared an utterly delicious black risotto dish of epic taste. Yes the surroundings of the restaurant are authentic but that’s what we’d like as our last meal here. Perfect.

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Just time for our last walk up the hill and back to the hotel before heading to the airport and home.

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General observations:

Not many signs.
Not much history obvious to the eye with information or signing available to all.
So when was the war, what happened etc. Are they trying to hide it away?
Longer than a couple of days city break – hire a car and see more of Croatia.
Take a planned guided history tour OR a multitude of reading before hand to understand the history of the City.
Visit D’Vino
Head out on a wine/winery tour and if you can, visit Korta Katarina 

Abbey Road again! – 19 April 2014

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AnnaGoAnna at Abbey Rd

I know many people would give their right arm (and probably a leg too) to be able to record at Abbey Road. So it’s an absolute honour to find our Rock Choir back in Abbey Road Studios for a second year.

Although that honour must surely go to our Rock Choir leader, James (Jim) Hawkins.  Jim’s work on Soundcloud.

Jim has worked tirelessly to make the arrangements, coordinate arrangements, calculate costs, chase payments, engage producers, engineers, photographers and, of course, book Abbey Road Studios etc.  In addition he’s worked one-2-one with the soloists to perfect each of their performances, run extra choir rehearsals and drilled us in ‘torture’ sessions so that our timing, pitch, intonation and musical accents were perfect. Thank you Jim for being ever patient and so generous of your energy, expertise, spirit and time.

As with last year’s recording session we concentrated on one main song. This year our Choir chose ‘Proud’. The soloist for Wimbledon Choir was Natalie who I think you’ll agree, pun intended, has done us ‘Proud’.

Juicing Retreat – Juicy Oasis, Portugal

I believe in juicing.

Wow I never thought I’d actually say that out loud! All those of you who’ve been following me on twitter, Facebook or reading a few posts here will know that I’ve been ‘giving it a go’. However I NEVER expected that I’d be making the above statement after only a few months. If my Mother was alive, she’d probably refer to me as a ‘juicing crank’, say I’m turning into my Granny or juicing as a ‘fad’. If Tish and Kerry were still alive, we’d be crazily swapping recipes and learning about the benefits of each ingredient.

So armed with the experience of my recent 7 day juicing programme (and how I felt during and after the 7 days), I wanted to take it further. I wanted to understand more about how I can maintain the level of health gained, understand more about the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, pectin, etc etc that can be obtained via just juicing. Is it sustainable for longer periods. Indeed is it advisable for longer periods. Although I know with the lifestyle I lead that practically it isn’t possible but how can I incorporate it best into my lifestyle? As I’m about to enter the world of full-time employment again I also want to know that I can continue to do it and feel fabulous whilst working a full week.

I looked around at different programmes and read many articles and information. However I knew that I realistically needed to immerse myself in it, with the experts on hand, to fully understand it.

I then found Juicy Oasis in Portugal. A Yoga, Fitness and Juicing Retreat.

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Fortunately there was a place sharing a room with a stranger in the Retreat in less than a month. Before I headed to the Retreat I wanted to make sure that I was prepared – mentally and physically. I read lots, continued to juice twice a day with one small healthy meal for dinner or lunch. Last week I also joined in with the Big Juice Spring Clean – a 5 day programme of juicing as a community – via Facebook and twitter, all participants can keep in touch and also watch daily videos from Jason Vale (The Juicemaster) about the daily juices.

My flight left early on Saturday morning. As I packed my bag with lots of sportswear, a couple of pairs of trainers, swimsuits and a tennis racquet, I contemplated slipping into the case an emergency supply of nuts (ooh how my tastebuds have changed since juicing – previously it would definitely have been chocolate). However I decided that the only person I’d be cheating would be myself and carefully put the packet of nuts back in the cupboard.

The cost of the Retreat isn’t small however is good value for money. The Juicy Oasis itself is wonderful 5* luxury. The property has been recently refurbished to a truly high standard. The furnishings carefully selected and feel luxurious. The price also includes (as well as the juices and supplements) a programme of activity that keeps you busy both in mind and body throughout the day. I reduced the cost slightly by being able to use my BA frequent flyer points for my flights to and from Portugal.

I was met at the airport and ushered into a minibus with another ‘Juice Retreatee’ for the 1.5hr transfer. The journey flew by as we chatted but not without noticing that the vista changed from City to country to beautiful wilderness. As we cross a bridge, our driver pointed out the Retreat nestling the other side of the river. Wonderful.

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Milly, the lovely Retreat Manager, met us at the door, checked us in and after dropping our bags into our respective rooms, took us on a quick tour of the Retreat. Wow Wow Wow! I just knew instantly that I was going to love it here. AND the sun was shining.

It didn’t take us long to settle in, meet 2 others who were there for a 28 day programme (including my roommate, Sati), enjoy our first juice and then head off to the gym to work off the ‘flight legs’.

Throughout the week you are able to join in with any or all of the activities. For some it was an escape from a busy life with a detox. Others joined with every activity. Most however dipped in and out.

Below is a little video of the ‘daily activity boards’ to give you an idea of our itinerary.

As you can see the activities were varied and filled our days.  You could choose what you  joined in with or indeed opted out from.  I tried everything.  With the exception of the final day I did the early morning walk. Leaving the Retreat and seeing some of the beautiful vista outside was a morning jewel for us all.

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I couldn’t get the hang of rebounding…. any of you who’ve done any aerobic-type classes with me, will know that my balance and coordination can leave other exercisers bashed and bruised. What I will say, is thank heavens for the post on the exercise platform that I was able to hang on to as I bounced off the rebounder!

We were extremely fortunate that Jason Vale (AKA The Juicemaster) was also at the Retreat for most of the week. Ordinarily people pay to be at the resort with Jason and hear first hand why he’s got the name the ‘Juicemaster’, listen to his story and see first hand the energy and enthusiasm he has for creating a healthier society. Truly blessed to have some of his time. Oooh and play some tennis with him – boy is he competitive!

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The films each evening were yet more education into healthy eating and juicing. Obviously there has to be an element of objectively watching them as they’re filmed by advocates of juicing and perhaps not as two-sided as they could be. I certainly learnt an enormous amount from them though and indeed if every you needed the motivation and encouragement to truly join the Juicing Revolution, I’d recommend watching all the films.. in that order!

Another truly wonderful thing about Juicy Oasis Retreat is the Eden Spa! In the ground floor of the Retreat is a special place. The main spa room smells and feels relaxing. Just entering the space sort of puts a spell over you. There’s a small warm pool to lounge in. Beds to lounge on. And the most wonderful Cacoons.

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I so wish I could afford to have one of these in my garden. Within minutes of lying down in a Cacoon with the gentle rocking motion created by your breathing, I was asleep. Amazing naps which were so refreshing and deep.

Also in the spa were treatment rooms offering a plethora of pampering, sports and detox treatments. During my week I took advantage of the spa for both pampering and detox purposes. I’ve never had a colonic, despite a number of friends trying to persuade me previously. Before I left for Portugal I read up about the health benefits of a colonic. I read comments and reviews about any pain/discomfort etc. I attended the colonic talk on my first day and this confirmed that I would ‘try’ out this treatment whilst I was there. I won’t lie, the first one was a little uncomfortable – although I realise that I was a little more tense than I needed to be! I won’t go into more details but suffice it to say that I ended up having three colonics during my week. The first two with coffee (hey I had to have some coffee during my week’s Retreat!) and the last with wheatgrass. It’s difficult to explain how I felt after a colonic except to say lighter and more energised. Perhaps too much information for many of you and I’ll leave my comment there but suffice it to say that I do recommend them and will have more (when I find a good practitioner).

I also had a reflexology treatment booked with an English lady call Aoife. Wonderful treatment. Absolutely blissful, relaxing and clearly this lady has magical hands. During this treatment I mentioned problems with my knee since my fall in Australia and that I’d noticed that Aoife offered Myofascial massages but that I understood her appointments to be fully booked this week. Kindly she offered to work for another hour on Thursday so that I could have treatment on my knee. Fascia is the soft tissue component of the connective tissue that provides support and protection for most structures within the human body, including muscle. Myofascial release is a soft tissue therapy for skeletal muscle immobility and pain massage.

It didn’t go unnoticed to me that Phyllodes is a soft tissue sarcoma that is within the connective tissue of the body either.

OMG Aoife really does have magic hands. For an hour she gently manipulated the skin, gently massaged and touched my legs. I can’t explain more about what she did except to say that whatever it was it felt fabulous. After the treatment I rushed upstairs to join everyone for soup i.e. ‘warm juice’. I suddenly stopped at the top of the stairs stock still as the reality dawned… no pain in my knee! For over a year I’d been unable to walk up steps and stairs without shooting pains. It’s gone. Totally. For the rest of the week I cautiously walked up and down stairs waiting for the pain to return.. so far it’s still missing! Wow – what a joy. Incredible. More information about UK practitioners here.

Finally I also indulged in a deep tissue massage. I hate touchy feely massages. If you’re going to massage, then get right in there1 Oh Boy she knew how to do that. Fantastically and skilfully manipulated and pummelled.

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Juicy Oasis – Walk to Dornes – 10 April 2014

 

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Group Photo at Juicy Oasis – FABULOUS NEW FRIENDS

 

As a solo traveller to the Juicy Oasis Retreat I was unsure who my fellow Retreatees would be. Shortly after arrival I realised that we’d have a ball all week. A grand mixture of people from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Dubai, Spain and, of course, England. I’d not, however expected there to be four of us from within a square mile of my house!

We made up a mixed bunch of lovelies. Ranging in age, both men and women and, of course, levels of fitness and health. But what we definitely were also was supportive of one another. We had a jolly good giggle too! The daily schedule of activities meant that there were many times when we you busy doing something and seemed to only catch up with some others at juice times! Or me and my roommate at bedtime.

Oh and to answer the question that seems to be most asked about my Retreat. Did we just have juices? YES! As you can see from the programme they were spaced throughout the day. Varied in deliciousness. Full and balanced with nutrients and vitamins. As we were on the ‘Winter’ programme at the Retreat, our evening Juice was warm… i.e. Soup! On our departure day we were allowed to order food for lunch or takeaway for our journey…. every taste of my salad was an explosion in my mouth. Amazing how much I craved good healthy salad food.IMG_5023

So what did I ‘gain’ from doing the Juicy Oasis Retreat?

I strongly suspect that you’ll be seeking the answer to ‘how much did she loose’ question… I would too. However what I actually gained (and lost) was so very much more than that. Weight-loss is a by-product of the experience… a welcome one.. but not one that is anywhere near the top of my list.

My headaches are gone. At least I’ve not had one single headache/migrane since part way into my first 7 day juicing experience. There’s a part of me that is constantly checking that they’re still not there. Certainly there’s a part of me that’s celebrating that I wake up when my body wants to wake not when the ‘nighttime’ headache gets too bad to bear. Finally I’m able to think more clearly without the drumming in my skull. I don’t need to lie down in a darkened quiet room. I can read without feeling as if I’m looking through a windowpane in the rain. I’m also no longer popping prescription and non-prescription medication to find some relief from the continual headaches. Gosh if I’d known I could shift them with juicing months/years ago, I’d have done it in a heartbeat… Hmmm maybe I should tell the neurologist, Dr, MRI team etc how I shifted the headaches?

I no longer have shooting pains in my knee when walking up steps – thank you to the myofascial massage skills of Aoife.

My skin is glowing with health (and noticed by quite a few people).

My eyes are brighter and the whites truly white!

My teeth are whiter.

My energy levels are soooo much better than they were before. I now wake up earlier and have a list of active jobs to achieve each day that no longer seem ‘impossible’ to do.

My digestion has improved.

I feel lighter and less ‘clogged’.

I’m feeling ready to take on new activities. Looking for a bike. Joined a tennis league to accompany the tennis coaching sessions.

I work out how I can fit in a walk to the shops/friends/activities into my day rather than leaving it until the last minute and jumping into the car.

Oh and yes I did lose weight. 😉 2kg (4lb) lost – however given the exercise that I was doing on the programme and in the afternoons playing tennis, I wonder if some weight was gained in muscle! I did however take four measurements before I left (waist, bust, belly and thigh) – total lost was 28cm!

Would I recommend it? Would I go again? Hell yeah!

PS I think Jim Carrey’s clip on YouTube explains a lot.  There’s a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to live and a time to juice!

Mothering Sunday

For quite some months I’ve thought I should pop in to visit Mum but have driven on by.  I’ve felt guilty that I’ve not given her a bit of a spruce up and polish.

When my friend announced on Saturday night, that instead of his usual train route, he would need to get a train to Mum’s village and be collected by his golf partner, I could see no reason for my not visiting Mum (and offering him a lift down to his golf match).

AND it was Mothering Sunday, so perhaps even more fitting.

I hastily packed a bag with a trowel, secateurs, kitchen roll, cleaning wipes, a dustbin bag and baby oil – hehe Mum would find it highly amusing that this collection of items was what was required to give her a scrub up!

When I arrived I realised just how long it’s been since I visited.  Her memorial stone almost hidden under newly grown turf.

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I did feel guilty but then again it’s not where Mum is now.  She’s dead.  Her memory lives on but her physical body is gone.  I don’t need to visit a stone to remember her.  However lovely it is to be there and tending her stone.

IMG_4857Happy Mothering Sunday Mum x

 

 

Singing

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Our wonderful Rock Choir leader, Jim, is today running his first All-Singers Saturday Workshop.

Tickets have been on sale for a while although selling out speedily and are open to anyone to attend. As we arrived for registration this morning I was pleased to see that there was a healthy amount of Rock Choir people AND a good proportion of non-Rock Choir people. A range of ages and a plus for those of us in the Bass section, lots of men.

As you know from my previous posts I love singing. I’m quite sure I’m not good at it (don’t tell anyone) but I love being totally absorbed in music at rehearsals, learning how to harmonise, singing as a choir, performing locally as well as Wembley, O2 and Albert Hall… and of course recording at Abbey Road! I’ve said it before, the escape from reality for 1.5hrs every week whilst every cell concentrates on the music, interpretation, words, harmonies and sound is so energising.

Today’s workshop we are steering clear of Rock Choir’s ‘MagicFM’ playlist and learning some new songs. The first two from The Beatles – If I Fell and Because. The second pair from The Eagles – Peaceful Easy Feeling and Hotel California. A pleasant change and challenge to do something completely new to us.

I also loved having the music score. In Rock Choir we learn the voice parts by ear with only the lyrics to refer to. Reading music isn’t something that everyone can do and Jim took time to explain the differences between the notations on the score, what they meant and what they were called. I would like to think that this little insight into musical scores will give confidence to some of the singers to learn enough to read music.

It’s funny to think that when we used to jam mostly The Beatles songs with Howard Jones after school in Wycombe that I don’t recall either of The Beatles pieces.

The morning flew by with us learning all our parts for The Beatles songs. The arrangements have been slightly modified so that there were 3 parts – well done Jim for creating a new sound.

Exhausted already, we broke for lunch. Whilst we were out a five piece band arrived and set up their kit.

We were greeted after lunch with the sound of the band playing and warming up. Lovely to listen to. Then back to rehearsals. We returned to the two songs we’d learnt in the morning for some final tweaking. Then the Eagles pieces learnt.

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Mid-afternoon the band returned. What a treat to perform with a live band. We sang our way through our new repertoire, perfecting and redoing certain aspects with the band.

Considering we were there for only one day, learning 4 songs is quite an achievement. I wouldn’t say we were up to concert standard but we could, mostly, hold our own! Jim had also arranged for a recording to be made of each song. I’m hoping the sound engineer captured enough for a (very gifted) editor to piece together and produce some recordings that sound great. As soon as they’re available I shall add them into this post.

Our final joy of the day was an hour or so of an open sing-a-long with the band. Attendees were invited to sing solos with the band and perform to us. What incredible voices we have in the room.

I am truly hoping that Jim puts on more workshops. Clearly by the lack of a spare seat today they will sell out quickly so do follow Jim’s progress on his website, twitter @JamesHawkinsMus or on Facebook.