Celebrating Birthdays

This past weekend I was invited to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday with her and 28 others in a fabulous location. Suffice it to say, we had an utterly brilliant weekend but I wanted to tell you about the location.

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If you’re looking to get together with friends or family for a little holiday or to celebrate a special occasion, I can heartily recommend renting Hackford Hall, Reepham, Norfolk. A luxurious country mansion. Lots to do with a tennis court, (indoor swimming pool), croquet, games room with pool table, table tennis & dart board as well as lots of wonderful entertaining space including a dining room table around which you can fit 30 people!

The house is set in beautiful grounds (32 acres) that are perfect for playing sport or perhaps relaxing with a picnic or bottle of wine. I was very impressed with the thought that has gone into furnishing the property and equipping it with everything you’d need… even for 30 people. Plenty of glasses, crockery, cutlery etc. Bedding that is top-end – love that the duvets are soft, fluffy down and feather. There’s lots to keep everyone happy for a holiday but also large enough that you can ‘lose’ people or escape the family/friends for some quiet time!

An amazing sumptuous location no matter what the event.

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Budapest Visit

Yet another wonderful flight with British Airways.  I was only slightly embarrassed when the Head Stewardess called my name and said she’d a message from BA’s Executive Committee.  Ahem… thank you for flying with us so often this year!

So I’ve made it to Budapest.  First impressions as I make my way from the airport to the City and my hotel, it’s quiet.  I mean it’s really quiet.  Cities usually have a noise about them or at the very least a hum of busy-ness but it’s missing.  Starkly to my ear it’s quiet.  I’m also aware of the buildings.  There are some of architectural note but many in disrepair and ‘grey’ in colouring.  Obviously this changes as we reach the city centre and tourism land but I’m wondering if there is a great deal of poverty in Hungary and if I’m going to be confronted with lots of beggars whilst I’m here.  It’s not in anything I’ve read nor any of my friends who’ve visited before me have mentioned it but I’m wondering…

This little break away in Budapest is courtesy of my Avios points and a very small amount of cash and once again I take no responsibility for my being here.  They sent me a very kind email which asked if I’d thought about visiting Budapest.  I replied (out loud!) that I had but had never been.  Scrolling down the email it encouraged me to book it… so I did!

As you know I rarely venture overseas if I can’t also add in an opera or a concert.  It’s always such a treat to be able to experience either of these things in a foreign country, often in their language and certainly in a new and exciting venue.  Tonight was no different.  I had been able to secure a ticket to see Madame Butterfly by Puccini at the incredible Hungarian State Opera House.  The Opera House is quite an imposing building on Andrássy út
but even the ornate stonework on the outside doesn’t prepare you for the incredible detailed interior.  I can’t do it justice in words so please look at my pictures.  (As always, click on the images to see in fullscreen)

Budapest Madama Butterfly & Opera HouseI even remembered to bring my opera glasses.  They were my grandmothers and then Mum’s and I don’t think I’ve ever remembered to take them with me before today.  What a splendid production.  An incredible performance from Butterfly herself.  The set design was cleverly simple as were the costumes.  However each were striking and effective to the storyline too.  Loved it.

During the intermissions I spoke with a lady sat to my right.  She is German and told me that she had now been to Budapest for a week’s holiday for the past 8 years! I asked her why she kept returning.  Her response ‘simple – opera, baths and coffee’.  Her itinery is always similar – Buda’s best thermal spas during the day, opera in the evenings and often returning to the spa late at night too.  She’s given me some tips for spas… so I’d best get some sleep now as I’m going to be visiting one tomorrow (I hope!).

Sunday
After feasting on a wonderful breakfast in the hotel (Sofitel Budapest) , walking shoes on, water bottle in backpack and we’re off…

My walk took me first along the river and over the Chain Bridge.  This bridge is one of the iconic pictures of Budapest but has another meaning for me.  The designer of this bridge also designed Marlow bridge – a bridge I know well from my childhood.
Budapest Bridges & ViewsI took the funicular train up to the Buda castle area.  Only a few minutes of a trip but I absolutely adored the wooden carriage, the antiquated structure and, of course, the magnificent view back across the Chain Bridge.  Well worth the price of a one-way ticket.

Budapest Furnicular RailwayI spent several hours walked around the Castle District.  I managed (unplanned) to also be there for the changing of the guards which is an incredibly regimented event with lots of high kicks from men in uniform!  Heading right first I discovered the Fisherman’s Bastion which has conical towers and reminded me somewhat of a Disney story or two.  The views back over the Danube are quite something from this vantage point too.  Next to the Fisherman’s Bastion is Matyas Church, Gothic windows and roofs decorated with stunning multicoloured tiles.  I was fortunate enough to be there in glorious Autumnal sunlight so the tiles shone.

Budapest Buda Castle Area
There were many Squares, intriguing street ways, museums, fountains and official buildings to explore in the Castle District.  I however was determined to find the Hospital in the Rocks.  I was ignorant of the history of Hungary so the trip has been fascinating to find out about it.  I didn’t know that they were under Communist occupation for many years (less didn’t know but perhaps didn’t have reason to consider).  I didn’t know that one of the longest battles during World War 2 was centred around Budapest.  Through an archway and down a stairway, I found the entrance to the Hospital and waited a short time until the next tour.  I had heard about the hospital being made up of underground tunnels but didn’t fully know what to expect.  If you’re in Budapest you HAVE to go.  During WW1 many people from Budapest dug underground and created their own caves where they stored possessions and were safe.  In WW2 the Government thought that they could use these caves by joining them together and creating an underground hospital over 1km in length, safe away from the bombing.  It was only ever meant to hold up to 60 patients, as an overspill from the main Budapest hospital of St John’s.  However when the main hospital was bombed it became the main resource and at one time there were over 200 patients in the cramped tunnel and caves.  They put in ventilation system and a water filtration system also.  There are now wax models of soldiers, doctors and nurses to show you how the space was utilised.  It really is quite incredible and surely saved many many lives.  What is also obvious from the models is that they were treating British and German alike.  Far far into the maze of tunnels is also a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker!

Budapest Hospital in the RockAfter a wander round the Castle grounds, I headed down the hill.  Views over Budapest were amazing in the afternoon light.  I’d not walked enough so decided to cross the river at the next bridge, Margaret Bridge, about 1.5km further along.  A lovely walk with amazing views across to Parliament.  Over the bridge and headed toward Parliament.  Sadly there’s a great deal of building work and resurfacing work being carried out in Budapest so for much of this walk I was directed between barriers and unable to get close to many buildings of note.  The ‘building’ route also took me much further along the river frontage to be able to ‘touch’ the Jewish shoe memorial.  I was able to see it but through wires so the pictures below are ‘borrowed’.  However it in no way lessened the impact of this memorial.

Danube ShoesAs the light was fading and my feet were well and truly aching, my sightseeing day needed to end with a cake and rest!

Dobos Cake it had to be with a piping hot coffee (see photo below).

After a hot bath and chill I was getting ready to go out to forage for dinner when I looked out of my hotel window and saw this.

IMG_4179I left the hotel and headed right toward the Jewish Quarter.  Again lots of squares and buildings that once again were ornate with carvings and clever architecture but right next door to ramshackled shells of buildings that appear unloved and disused.  There was also more building work being carried out and indeed the skyline of Budapest carries quite a few cranes.  Once again I realised that the streets of Budapest are really very quiet.  However at no time did I feel unsafe as I wandered aimlessly down interesting looking streets – no plan and no map!  I spied the Synagogue on my travels and my intention is to revisit this during the day before I leave.  After a few hours I found a small restaurant for dinner.  Great food but not noteworthy enough to tell you where (despite their being in the ‘Best Places to Eat in Budapest’)!

Monday
This morning I woke up with one of my headaches/migraines from hell and stupid stars in my vision.  So a leisurely breakfast and back to bed to get rid of my headache.

Several hours later I was up and out.  Feet still ached from the day before but I headed back toward the Jewish Quarter in the daylight hours.  My late start and a few wrong turns meant that I arrived at the Synagogue shortly before they stopped doing tours (which in the Winter is shortly after lunchtime!)  However I was able to see quite a lot by walking down the side streets and looking through the gateways.  Stunning once again.  It was evident that the Jewish Quarter was probably better maintained than other areas of Budapest.

Next I walked the labyrinth of back streets and alleyways through to find cake!  I’d been told of the Alexandra Bookshop.  But first, I found another cafe that I’d also been told of – the Muvas Tearooms.  This old-world tearooms is worth a visit.  The sandwiches, drinks menu and, of course, cakes are plentiful and add to the ambiance of old-world charm, ornate ceilings and mirrors.  The staff however are a little stuffy but hey!  A sit down with a sandwich and iced tea was most welcome.  As much as I was tempted by their selection of cake, I headed out again in search of the Alexandra Bookshop.  I knew there was a sumptuous cafe behind a bookshop front but somehow I didn’t expect quite this.  Truly incredible that you go through a ‘Waterstones-esque’ bookshop, up an escalator and see an archway.  Through that is the most incredible tea room.  It originally was the second floor of the former Paris Department Store and has chandeliers and fresco-style ceiling painted by Karoly Lotz – the same artist who painted rooms at the Parliament building.  Talk about grandiose and renaissance.  Hot chocolate and cake were also divine.

Budapest Dining
A short hour and a half to nip back to the hotel and get changed for tonight’s 160th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra concert.  It’s once again at the Opera House and a splendid affair.  Whilst waiting to take our seats I got chatting to a lovely lady from Budapest.  She’d travelled the world in her time and worked overseas including as a nurse at St Christopher’s Hospice in the UK.  Amongst other topics I asked her why there was so much building work in Budapest.  I was intrigued that so much was taking place at one time.  It all became clear when she told me of the war when a lot of Budapest was bombed.  Of the communist times in Budapest where nothing was done.  Then sadly the last Mayor was in office for many years but refused to do any renovations or repairs.  The locals watched as buildings that could have been saved crumbled away and with it pieces of history lost.  She said how envious they had all been that in Prague renovations had been undertaken for years and that tourists travelled there in droves for years to see their beautifully restored city.  However the new Mayor has instructed renovation and repair wherever possible.  Everything is it to be done immediately and by craftspeople to try to retain/restore as much original feature as possible.  The people of Budapest are very happy and she said also willing to be put out by all the building work for as long as it takes to restore the city to it’s former glory.  I, for one, look forward to returning to it one day to see this.

Budapest 160 HPOBartok: Dance Suite
Kodaly: Dances of Galanta
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Conductors: Gyorgy Gyorivanyi Rath,
Pinchas Steinberg

After the concert I took my dinner at Callas a restaurant right next door to the Opera House but had been recommended to me.  Great food, fabulous service and, once again, a building worth seeing.

Tuesday
My final day.

My wanderings this day took me along the Danube river front toward and over the Elizabeth Bridge.  I visited the Gellert Spa to look at the art deco interior.  I wasn’t brave enough to bare my scars to the world in the spa itself so didn’t get to see the whole space.  For those more adventurous the Gellert Spa or the Szechenyi spas were both recommended as places to visit, relax and enjoy.  Rudas baths were also recommended but apparently are a little more basic and have single sex days on certain days and times so check first.

Further along the riverside is the University.  Around this part of the City I got the impression that it was very studenty and I guess would be more lively in the evenings(?).  The University is huge in Budapest and I understand is quite something to be able to get a place here.

My journey then took me back across the river over, this time on a tram.  After a very short trip I got out and walked back in the direction of my hotel.  Stopping off for one ‘last’ teashop experience at Gerbeaud.  Gerbeaud is said to have the best cakes in the city… there’s a LOT of competition!

Budapest Wanderings
Sadly my time in Budapest was so short.  I certainly could have discovered more in a few more days and perhaps even plucked up the courage to visit one of the spas!  One thing that I realised part way through my trip though was that the Hungarian identity seems to be quite confused.  I think because of the war, of occupations, of communism etc, there have been hangovers from each of these eras and the true Hungarian identity has enveloped something from each of them.  It’s magicial in some respects because there is so much diversity and culture but in others I wonder what a ‘true’ Hungarian city would be like.  The opulence inside buildings isn’t reflected so much in the grey of the outside and streets.  Again is that a bad thing?  Each place holds a secret beauty inside.  My comments about poverty too may have been misplaced.  The local people I met and spoke with are happy.  Happy with what they’ve got but don’t have longings for material things, labels and possessions.  It’s probably quite refreshing.  The shops are simply stocked (with the exception of the tourist thoroughfares).  Pharmacies have everything behind wooden screens where you are required to speak with a pharmacist to ask for everything (even toothpaste I discovered)!

I’ll be back.

“Three Tits on Tour” in Verona

I’ve just returned from an incredible weekend in Verona, Italy. Those of you who know me well, know my love of Opera, travel and architecture. So Verona offers the perfect combination.

Add to that great company, a lot of laughs, good food and friendships then you’ve just about summed up our weekend.

Verona 20132 generalFor many many years I’ve had Opera in Verona on my ‘to do list’. Mum and I talked about going. I’ve discussed going with friends. But somehow it’s always seemed out of reach as I’d been told how expensive it was and how accommodation was almost impossible to get during the Opera season. Why I ever listened to anyone, I’m not now sure… but at the beginning of 2013 I booked my flights and then sent an email to a few girlfriends to invite them to join me. Two wonderful friends, Ismena and Kelly, booked flights and emailed me back to say they were ‘in’. I think now that my years of delay in going to Verona were so that I could make the trip with Issy and Kelly.

DSCN0568The three of us have been friends for such a short period of time in our lives. However the reason we met was because of cancer and with that bond there is an intensity of a shared experience and friendship that means months and year counts don’t really matter.

I remember seeing How to Look Good Naked, the Gok Wan show, a few days before my second surgery was due. (How to Look Good Naked Part I and Part II) As you will know from this website my surgeon had suggested I prepare for the possibility that I may need a mastectomy. Kelly’s experience on the show, coupled with my reading Lisa Lynch’s book The C Word and Janice Day’s book Getting it off my chest were all part of my preparation and journey.

Little could I have imagined then that I would soon meet all three of these incredible ladies.

Sadly Lisa passed away earlier this year. Too soon. Too young. I miss her funny and poignant twitter posts in my timeline but I can still hear her mischevious laugh!

Issy and I, despite having a mutual friend met via Shine Cancer Support and subsequently discovered that we live a few minutes apart. What I also didn’t know was that on Issy’s ‘List for Living’ she wanted to see an Opera in Verona.

The three of us met up on Thursday afternoon at Gatwick and headed for the plane. Kelly confessed to being an opera virgin… and both Issy and I felt that by the end of the weekend Kelly would be converted!

A quick flight with BA however was marred a little by lack of organisation and wheelchair assistance particularly at Verona airport.  We eventually arrived at our accommodation and were warmly welcomed.  Quick to settle in to our fabulous Arena B&B we then set out in search of a light dinner, a glass of bubbles and an early night! What a fabulous find Arena B&B is. Literally 5 minutes wander to the Arena and the main square. Truly couldn’t be better placed. Affordable, friendly, clean AND best placed. Perfect. During our stay they were incredibly accommodating as Issy was exhausted after recent hospital visits and needed to rest on Friday during the day. They were also kind enough to get extra pillows and allow us to keep the room on our final day in case Issy needed a rest before flying home. Really exceptional and considerate service.

After breakfast on the balcony together on Friday morning, Kelly & I headed out to explore Verona. We walked and wandered down alleyways, across squares, through arches and over bridges. An exquisite historic city full of beautiful architecture and secret spots to explore. We might have stopped for a little gelati in the afternoon and perhaps a little lunch with bubbles!

IMG_3993After a short rest at the B&B, scrub up and beautify, the 3 of us headed out for a bite to eat before the main event for the day – Rigoletto in the Arena.

IMG_3991For this evening’s performance we had booked cheaper seats on the stone steps higher up the Arena. Still perfect for the ambiance and view of the stage but we were very grateful to our B&B for lending us cushions to sit on! What a performance! Perhaps not the best opera for Kelly’s first as it’s a little darker and deeper than others but certainly an introduction in an incredible setting. Late in the night the breeze got up and the odd exchange of glances took place between us as we envisaged the weather coming in and us getting soaked high up in the Arena. Little did we imagine that during the interval part of the set would be blown over! The interval was therefore longer whilst the stage hands set about fixing it. The oddest thing happened… well perhaps for an Opera venue. A Mexican wave was started… and the orchestra joined in! Hilarious.

Verona 20134 bridge Ponte Scaligero, VeronaWe woke up to another sunny and glorious day in Verona. Breakfast on the balcony amongst the vines. Then the three of us set out in search of the little City Sightseeing bus. A great way to see the sites, with tourguide in our ears and, if we’d chosen a hop-off/on option too.  Our blue route was perfect… and we’d also worked out that if we alighted by Juliet’s balcony we could stop at a restaurant, Antico Caffe Dante, that our B&B had recommended for a long lunch. I in turn cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough. Truly exceptional food of the highest calibre. The restaurant is set in Piazza dei Signori, romantically known as the ‘Drawing Room of Verona’, which is slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the main squares.

After lunch, Issy headed off back to the B&B.  Kelly & I headed up the Torre dei Lamberti, a tall medieval bell tower. Stunning views of the City and beyond from the top… however we truly did jump when the bell rang!!

IMG_3990A short rest and scrub up before a quick snack and then the biggest performance of our trip. Aida.

Not just any performance nor any date. We are not only attending opera in Verona during the Festival dei Centenario (100 years of opera in the Arena) BUT it is also Verdi’s 100th birthday year. Tonight’s performance is even more special as they are recreating the Aida performance given 100 years ago!

IMG_3992The entire Arena was packed. More seats have been created farther around the Arena and near the stage. The excitement as we took our seats (posh ones lower down the Arena!). Candles were lit by those attending the performance to recreate the atmosphere 100 years ago when there was no electricity and the public would light a candle to illuminate the Arena and stage. Now it is used to signify our presence at the event unique to the world.

DSCN0661 DSCN0664Beautiful spellbinding performance that captured and drew us all in. The costumes, stage and music were an incredible tribute to Verdi’s opera. Amazing.

Fair to say that Kelly is now an opera convert too!

Sunday was spent with another long lunch, a little sightseeing, gelati, prosecco and laughter before our flight home. Fabulous.

Castelvecchio, Verona Verona 20133sculptureOh, one more thing… Late one night this weekend we realised that because of cancer related surgeries there were only three breasts between us… hence ‘3 tits on tour’!

Next overseas adventure for 3 tits on tour – La Traviata in La Scala – http://www.abitofaboob.com/where-are-you-alfredo/

Australia 22/3-16/4

Many a trip of mine has been booked whilst under the influence of alcohol and this one is no exception!

For several years I’ve been plotting and planning on returning to Australia to catch up with friends I met whilst I lived there, some who have emigrated since I left and a few that beat me to explore Oz. My last trip was over Christmas and New Year in 2008/2009 – I remember feeling that I needed a break, so my brother covered me whilst I snuck over to Oz for a holiday! However I remember being utterly exhausted on that trip and wishing I’d had more time and energy to catch up with more friends. So since the end of Mum’s life (and the beginning of this blog) Mum’s death and my cancer diagnosis, it’s taken a while to make the time, have the money and feel comfortable being that far away from the medics.

In the past few months I’ve explored options, looked at flights, accommodation, what to do etc but always been stymied by what seems to be increasing airline fares. True to form though a late night/early morning booking was made using the tried and tested technique of Drink&Dial Bookings – in spite of friends present telling me to think about what I was doing and perhaps to sleep on it! Yes my first thoughts the next morning (apart from ouch my head hurts) was I’m leaving for Sydney in 19 days!

A quick scramble to organise a visa, arrange accommodation and announce to friends that I’m arriving and work out the finer detail of the trip before I’m on the plane leaving on the evening of 20th March.

I’ve loved the positive response from so many friends with plots and plans to meet up in different locations. So much so that I’ve added an extra leg into my trip too!

When I lived in Australia, I flew back to the UK at least annually so the long flight didn’t seem daunting at all. Although 10 years later I wonder how I’d managed to fly it so often and go straight to work/out to party when I touched down the other side of the world! Fortunately a friend had arranged for me to be met off the plane in Singapore and to be escorted to the lounge – what a total treat it was to have a hot shower, wash my hair, freshen up and change into clean underwear.

Feeling refreshed, refuelled on fresh fruit and bubbles, I boarded the plane for the last leg into Sydney.

My arrival time was at 7am on a Friday morning and I was greeted by some glorious sunshine and two very smiley faces. Lou and Georgia had met me off the plane and drove me to my ‘temporary’ home on the Northern Shores. I think we gossiped the whole way home where a minute after arrival I disemboweled the ‘goodies’ from my rucksack. Several kilos of English chocolate, a selection of biscuits, Marmite and, of course, PG Tips teabags. I think my status as the ‘best house sitter’ went up when these were delivered.

How blessed was I that when I announced my Sydney dates, Gav & Anita told me that they were leaving for New Zealand on holiday for the first few weeks of my holiday (hopefully not because of my arrival!). Anyway they were kind enough to ask me to house sit for them…. such a hardship as their house is uber gorgeous inside and out. Anita also lent me her car for my time in Sydney on the condition that I gave Georgia her first driving lessons in it! A tough life in Sydney for me then.. uber fab house and a convertible car to drive around in!

A quick turnaround, find out how the house and car work and before the jet lag sets in, I head into Sydney on the bus.

I have an appointment with the best optician in the World, George Skoufis. Seriously, I’ve been to many opticians since returning from Australia. I have many pairs of glasses to prove it too. Sadly most of them don’t really work for me… I’ve also wondered if the constant headaches that I’ve been getting are due to my eyesight – I know I’ve checked this out in the UK already but I trust George. My eyes were tested, pictures taken of my eyeballs and my old glasses compared. Surprise surprise the prescription isn’t right for me and I leave with an order for a new pair of glasses. I am due to return however before I leave Australia as he’d like to take the eye pressure readings one more time. He’s concerned that the pressure is so high and said normally he’d refer me immediately to the ophthalmology department at the hospital but needs to ensure that the pressure hasn’t been increased because of the flights.

Just as I finish up with George, my friend Steve turned up and helps me choose the right frames. Steve now lives in Melbourne and I’m visiting him (and his family) later in the trip. Kindly he’s lent me his satnav so that I know where I’m going in Sydney and also on my Great Ocean Road road trip. Fortunately there was enough time to have a little lunch and catch up before he dropped me off to catch a bus home. I was bushed by the time I got home but I knew I had to keep going a little bit longer to beat the jet lag as soon as possible. Gav & Anita had now set off for NZ. Just time before I fell asleep for Lou and her family to pop over for some PG tips and chocolate before I took a quick hot shower and bed.

Dave, my Sydney flatmate, had told me to keep my first Saturday free for a ‘secret adventure’. My only instructions had been to bring a posh dress and a hat! Hahaha I’ve got a rucksack… Dress I can do but a hat??

I met Dave nice and early (no problem with jet lag) and we were driven out of town. All dressed in our finery (well I didn’t have a hat and foolishly was wearing a UK summer dress in the Australian summer heat!).

Dave had organised a truly Aussie day. Passes to the Directors Box at Rose Hill Racecourse for Ladies Day. You’ve got to love the races with free flowing champagne and canapés!  I even won several bets so came away with the same money I’d taken – a great day all round.

Ladies Day, SydneyJetlag caught up with me though so no after race partying for me in Sydney.  Dave put me on a bus home and I could just about keep my eyes open long enough to find my way into bed.

I had arranged to spend Sunday with Lou and another friend, Kath, who’s living in Sydney for the year.  We met in The Rocks area of Sydney, perfect in the sunshine for a wander around the markets before lunch.  We had chosen a little Thai restaurant with a small balcony that overlooked the harbour.  Perfect.

After lunch we wandered down toward the harbour with a quick coffee and cake stop on the top of the museum.  Fabulous views and.. great cake!

Finishing off our day with a glass or two of bubbles in the Opera Bar.

Australia

Tuesday’s delicious treat was to meet up with Lou and Georgia, frocks on and ready for a splendid afternoon tea (with bubbles, of course) at the Queen Victoria Building.

Australia10

Nothing better than being part of a surprise birthday party.. the other side of the world!  My lovely friend Rich turned 40 on Wednesday and there was a little surprise supper party for him planned… together with the most divine Tiramisu Smash from Gelato Messina.

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Thursday evening I’d planned a drink (or several) with a mixture of Sydney friends, ex-colleagues and ex-clients.  Some of whom had lived here when I did and others had since migrated to Sydney from London.  I figured The Opera Bar would be an easy place for everyone to meet.  Everyone knows it and it’s a Thursday night – easy, right?  Not so… firstly it’s Easter Thursday so no work tomorrow… ie everyone out for a cheeky drink.  Secondly, it started raining so the already busy outside bar area was now crammed into the small area of shelter meaning I was impossible to spot.  Annoyingly because I’d had difficulties with the Australian SIM card too (and had no WiFi on my UK mobile) I wasn’t able to get messages to everyone to say exactly where I was.  I found way too many messages later from friends who’d not been able to find me in the bar ;-(

However there was a posse of people that did find me.  Lots of gossip and drinks with some gorgeous colleagues from jobs I’d had in Sydney and London.  A few old drinking buddies from Sydney and some more from London too.  A wonderful evening and I feared a wonderful hangover on Friday too!

Friday is a super special day.  Lou kindly gave me a lift to the train station and dropped me off at this sign (don’t you just love the Aussie ways!)

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I got the train into town and waited for my very special friend, Colin, to arrive.  Colin was the Sales Director at the company I worked with in Sydney.  During my time in Sydney, Colin and I went on many business trips together and had a great bond during our working lives and since I left the company and the country.  I’m always so chuffed when he makes time to meet with me when he’s visiting the UK every few years and love it when we’re able to meet in Australia.

Today we chose to eat at a restaurant on the harbourside and took these little snaps after lunch.

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That’s us in the reflection!

Rich, my newly 40 year young friend, have a little penchant for bubbles – you may have noticed that I had already from this blog.  Rich was keen to show me 360* Bar in Sydney Tower in Market Street and share some bubbles there.  There wasn’t a bar there when I lived in Sydney and apparently it was now the place to be.  Frustratingly today though they were only open to a private booking… grrrrr.  Aha but then I remembered the Blu Horizon Bar in the Shangri-La.  Rich had never been there so I felt like the tour guide!

It had always been the go-to place when I had friends and family visiting in Sydney… after I’d been taken there for pre-dinner drinks by a handsome man who’d flown over from the UK one Valentine.

Australia1It truly does have some spectacular views of Sydney, a wonderful selection of cocktails (try the Strawberry Cloud… or bubbles) and really is a special spot.  I loved taking Mum there all those years ago and again loved showing Rich this bar too.

Easter Sunday I was spending with my old flatmate, Dave.  We had decided to truly revisit some spots, including meeting up at my old home.  Dave bought our apartment after I left but boy has the development expanded!

Australia3We then headed to my favourite Thai restaurant, Doy Tao in Newtown for their Volcanic Chicken.  Some things remain the best no matter how many years you’re separated!  (see top left of above picture).

An early Monday morning flight to Perth and a time difference meant that I still arrived at silly o’clock…. and was greeted by a grinning Jax.  Jax and I were best of friends in the early 90s and did much adventuring, travelling, bubbles drinking, partying and general misbehaving together!  In fact there was little of the world or Chelsea that was undiscovered by us at the time!

Now I’m pleased to see that at least one of us has become vaguely sensible!

I was due to be in Perth only a few days and Jax and her hubby kindly offered to host a party in my honour.  As well as allowing me to invite my Perth friends, it also gave them an opportunity to invite their own and show off their newly acquired home.  I’d forgotten how well my friends get on with Jax too… last time I visited Perth we’d all had a blast and since my departure a few had met up!

Jax also spoilt me rotten surprising me by taking a few days off work so we could spend the time together.  How special to be able to do that and really truly catch up.  In the mornings we took their dog to the beach for a long walk and play in the sand.  Giving Mischa a runaround but also allowing long uninterrupted chat time for us.  Utterly beautiful and precious times.

Australia6My final evening in Perth I had arranged for friends to meet up at the Garden Bar in Perth.  So fabulous was my timing that an old Young Farmer friend from home, who now works in the mines as a fireman, was passing through Perth on this very evening!

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Sad to say goodbye to Jax as she put me on my early morning Thursday flight to Melbourne – so wish we lived nearer.  I had one night in Melbourne on my own and was staying in the Adina Apartments in St Kilda.  With the time difference there was only a short amount of time for me to re-explore St Kilda before bed.

Friday was another early morning start and I headed back to the airport to collect the hire car and meet up with Kath, who was flying in from Sydney.  We’d chosen to do part of the Great Ocean Road together… it was something I didn’t do when I was in Australia and it’d always been on my list.

Whilst waiting for Kath’s delayed flight, I organised the paperwork for the hire car.  I was pleased as punch that they’d upgraded our hire car to a four wheel drive.  However whilst walking through the car park, one rucksack on my back and my daypack strapped to my chest, I failed to notice the speed-hump until I tripped over it.  To my horror I fell like a sack of spuds onto my front, sunglasses went flying and was then pivoted spreadeagled resting on my chest/daypack.  I was mortified.  Not because I felt like an idiot for not seeing the speed-hump.  Nor because my knee was bloody killing me.  But more because I couldn’t get up or move… I was pinned to the ground by my rucksack!  Oh the shame!

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Some kind young men from the car hire company helped detangle me from my rucksack and back onto my feet.  They even managed it without laughing!

The good news from this episode though was that when I spotted there was no parcel shelf to hide our luggage in the car, I returned and asked for a car that would hide our stuff as we’d be doing a road trip and getting in and out of the car for walks and site-seeing… the Europcar manager was very quick to offer us a red Mercedes sporty little number!  Hehe I couldn’t help ask if it was because of my ‘incident’.  He shrugged and said he’d not seen a thing 😉  So Thelma & Louise set off on our trip.

Our route was along the Great Ocean Road with two nights stay along the way.

Australia5Twelve Apostles and London Bridge

Australia4Port Fairy.  Cake and coffee at Rebecca’s Cafe.  Accommodation at Villa 7 in Hearns Beachside Villas.

Back to Melbourne and a stay at the wonderful Adina Apartments in Flinders Street.  Dinner at the very in vogue Movida for some top tapas.

movida-card-1.11After running Kath to the airport so she can fly back to Sydney, I dropped the hire car off and returned by train to the Apartment.  A few chores (washing and ironing!) and I noticed the state of the bruising on my leg.  It’s most definitely more colourful.

A special evening with friends in Armadale.  I first met Nik and Darius in the UK and spent many evenings dining out in London, escapes to the country and a spot of polo.  Great partners in crime.  Was so sad when they returned to their hometown of Melbourne but pleased to see them so settled with two magnificent children.

A bonus of spare time in Melbourne is their fabulous coffee.  I’m sorry but they really really know just how to make the best coffee ever.  Several visits and much time drinking fabulous coffee and people watching from DeGraves Coffee Bar.

On my final evening I was able to meet up with a new friend I’d met in Chamonix, Deb.  Always a joy to meet up and have a jolly good catch up over a glass of sparkles and then some wonderful Japanese food.  Great fun and we would be in so much trouble if she lived in the UK or I in Melbourne!

Early the next morning I headed out to Flinders Station to get a train out to Hurstville to see friends, Steve and Val.  (More about the train station later!)  All I knew about the day was that Steve had told me they’d planned my perfect day.  Turns out they were right!

First stop, I got to have a cup of coffee at home and catch up with their gorgeous kids.

Next lunch… at Yering Station Winery.  What a stunning location for lunch beautifully situated in a architect designed glass building with views of the surrounding vineyard.  The food was exceptional.  Most recommended.

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A short stop in the wine vault after lunch for a little tasting session and purchase.

Next stop:  Domaine Chandon.  We did a short tour of the bubbles making process before a tasting of their fine fizz.

Australia13WARNING:  The world is way smaller than you can possibly imagine.  Remember I said earlier that I’d be returning to my visit at the train station?  Well whilst I was stood on the platform I looked up to see (at a distance) a chap that looked like someone I’d met in Spain on the Walkactive Retreat.  Only he travels with his wife and I couldn’t see her anywhere.  Look at the picture below at the chap with a daypack on his back… no wife in view.  Just then a train arrived and I didn’t get the chance to approach.  I spotted his wife then stand up and join him in getting on the train.  Just time to say hello and goodbye before the train sets off in the opposite direction to mine.  Small world indeed.

So imagine when I heard the dulcet tones of Maureen and Jeff sampling the bubbles too…. wow a really small world!

Australia14Lastly on our adventure day out was a new venue… and where we can get our dessert.  Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.

Australia11My evening Chez Cox was with a very tasty Greek Meze of deliciousness with the whole family back at their home.

They were right… my perfect day!

The final few days of my Australia trip was spent in Sydney.  I’d extended my dates and returned to Sydney so that I’d be able to catch up with a friend, Ness, who travels for 9 months of the year and was returning to Sydney just as I was leaving.  However not really a hardship as it gave me the opportunity to spend some quality evenings and daytimes with some special people.

A day with PJ and his family.  Loved their new home that has been designed and built since my last visit.  Great to spend time with their boys who are now so much more grown up!

Taj on the monkey bars… his first time the whole way across.

Kai on the new slide.

My old buddy, Guts, joined us for our evening meal in the local RSL.  Truly Aussie!

Next stop and such a treat.  The afternoon with my lovely friend, Mini and her hubby, Alex and little Daniel.  Aussie barbie with more old friends in the evening.

I also had a bit of a medical day.  Collected my new glasses from George Skoufis.  Love them and can see again!  Then a visit to the skin doctor.  I don’t understand why in the UK there’s very little done to check moles and skin for melanoma yet it’s on the rise.  In Australia I remember clearly dropping into the skin clinic in your lunchtime, stripping down to your underwear and standing on a podium whilst your skin is inspected by a Dr.  It was just something you did every year.  In about 2000 this ‘check’ picked up a dodgy mole that was removed quickly.  I’ve asked at my UK doctors about a check and they don’t really understand why I’m asking or deem it necessary.  As someone who is prone to moles, freckles and lumps and bumps, I’d like to know if there’s anything odd… I also can’t see my own back!  So whilst in Australia I figured I’d pay for the service.

IMG_3896All checked and all OK.

Gavin and Anita are now back from their overseas travels and I’ve moved upstairs.  The house is a buzz with birthday celebrations.  Little Patrick is no longer little!  To celebrate, a day spent out on the boat with Gavin (captaining), Anita, Georgia, Patrick and Issy.  Although to be honest Patrick spent most of his time hanging off the back on the donut or a wakeboard.  Then again it was his birthday!

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A short break in proceedings mid-afternoon when the girls headed home and left the boys to it… well boys and toys!

There was a short break in proceedings and a little gasp when Anita noticed that my ankle was very swollen and foot had turned a rather unwelcome black colour.  Given that I was due to make the long flight home in a few days we thought it prudent to visit a Dr.  So off we went.  My foot didn’t hurt at all.  My knee only hurt when walking up stairs and if I put any pressure on it but otherwise I was fine.  I felt a little like a fraud really but I was urged to be sensible.

The Dr I saw at the medical centre was British.  He took one look at the colour of my foot, ankle and knee and after hearing what had happened in Melbourne (and trying hard not to laugh at me!), suggested that I shouldn’t fly home.  He talked about DVT, blood clots, bruising etc etc.  Apparently the discolouration of my foot was the bruising travelling with gravity downward.  He asked if I had insurance.  I did.  He then asked why I looked disappointed… most people would be delighted to extend their trip to Oz under insurance.  So I told him we were recording with the Rock Choir in Abbey Road a few days after I returned to the UK.  His eyes lit up and he confessed to it being a dream of his to record there.  He sings and writes songs – who knew?  He suggested my giving myself an injection on the flight home.  I didn’t feel comfortable with this.  He then suggested that I take regular aspirin from now until a few days after I land in the UK.  I felt OK and wasn’t in pain.  I could do this!  He wished me luck with my knee/leg/feet but more importantly with the upcoming recording.

In the evening, I was able to thank Gavin and Anita by taking them out for dinner somewhere special.  So very grateful for the use of Anita’s car in Sydney and having such a des-res to stay in.  This also meant that Patrick could have some of his friends over for a barbie ‘without the parents being home’.

My final evening was all a little squishy.  Ness was only able to see me on this final evening (having rescheduled) and I’d planned dinner with Lou to say thank you and farewell.  So a quick drink in Manly with Ness – sadly not long enough to find out what’s really happening and then dinner at Hugos with Lou.  A lovely spot and perfect for a girly evening out.

Well that’s the end of my marathon trip.

One last picture that I took.  I arrived in Sydney just after Mardi Gras – love this pic

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A long flight home ahead and no club lounge or shower half way round…

Chamonix & Christmas

I was invited to spend Christmas in Chamonix this year in a stunning chalet.

ChamonixWith great friends, old and new (and some crazy Christmas jumpers and socks!).

Chamonix1We had fantastic weather and great skiing conditions.

Chamonix2I had to leave the party on Boxing Day and fly back to the UK… fortunately in business class with bubbles!

IMG_3110And then back to Chamonix on 1st January for several more days of skiing and fun.

Chamonix3A perfect way to spend Christmas.  Thank you Jeff and Andy for your hospitality.

Escape to the sunshine

OK Ok so I sort of disappeared on you all. I would say sorry but actually I’m not sorry at all!

I decided that I really truly utterly needed a break. A getaway to the sunshine and calm sea. When looking at destinations I had one minor problem or perhaps a restriction. I realised my passport is to expire in January and therefore I can’t go to any US countries or indeed places that may need a stop over there!

And then I remembered…

I remembered that a place in my past that I have visited a number of times and which has an instant ‘…and breathe’ moment for me, was Greece. I carefully cleared my diary of appointments and sent apologies for meetings that I was to be away for. I kept an eye on offers, flights, holidays and travel mailings. I found lots of tempting offers to Cities around the world, faraway places that I’ve not explored, safaris and also activity-type breaks. I also found glamorous locations with long white sandy beaches and azure blue waters… however although offering deals they weren’t quite up to the ‘bargain’ level I had set for myself. OK so perhaps I do have some Scottish blood in me after all!! And there were no ‘irresistable’ offers to Greece either!

I’ve also discovered that being a single traveller for a ‘package-esque’ holiday is as expensive as if I was part of a ‘couple’! Yes, before you chirp on about it, I did almost consider finding a ‘date’ for the holiday on the basis that a) there’d be deals to be had and b) it’d be cheaper than going solo! But sanity prevailed (or perhaps my need to get away).

My departure date was set – the day after my Royal Marsden appointment. No matter how that appointment had panned out, I was determined to go away. Believe me, I had thought through the various scenarios too!

On Wednesday I was heading out to see my Dad and Stepmother. They always tell me how fabulous ‘their’ travel agent is in their local town, so I thought I’d quickly pop in and book something up…. I gave them my ‘wish list’… departing on Friday (ie 2 days time), to Greece, pool, balcony, tea & coffee/kitchenette, nr beach, quiet, quiet, quiet and, of course, sunshine please…. oh and a bargain! She looked at me and laughed. She then told me she’d been looking for herself and there was nothing out there! Apparently the tour operators didn’t buy in as many holidays this year – apparently we’re not meant to want to leave the UK this summer (Olympics and recession) – but actually because of the lack of accommodation, the prices have gone up and they’ve sold out! Oh!!

I thought perhaps not Greece then. And then I figured I’ve still got a couple of days…

That evening I sent an email to a friend who works for Travel Counsellors. Within a few hours I received an email with a choice of four Greek locations. 30 minutes later it was booked. Super excited to be returning to Zante.

Zante holds intense feelings for me… good and bad. My first visit was over 30 years ago, as a child with my family. My parents were still together and I remember fondly us all sneaking out in the middle of the night to patiently wait on a beach for the turtles to appear and lay their eggs deep in the sand. I’m quite sure we weren’t quiet as we all lay on the sand waiting for what seemed like hours. I also remember the turtles finally appeared and holding my breath for an age in the hope that they wouldn’t be scared off by my breathing and my heart pounding with excitement at their arrival. I remember long sunny endless days playing on the beach and in the pond like waters. Challenging my brothers to build the best sand castle or to swim the farthest away from shore. I also remember my youngest brother (probably aged about 7) getting horribly sunburnt and being covered in Greek yoghurt to take out the heat from the skin! I guess 40+ years ago we weren’t aware of the damage that the sun can do and although we applied suncream it was probably only a low factor and once a day! Zante was an island of locals… and tourists were few and far between. Landing the plane we had been asked to get into brace position and only when we’d landed (with somewhat of a jolt) had the pilot mentioned that the runway was only just about long enough so he had to put the brakes on quickly and heavily to stop in time.

The next time I visited Zante was a difficult holiday. Mum and Dad had separated not long before. Mum invited me to go on holiday with her and my youngest brother (my oldest brother was working that summer) muttering something about wanting to see us and spend time with us. My friends urged me to go and suggested that this was her way of apologising and therefore I/we should go. Somewhat reluctantly I agreed.

Mum and I had a very difficult relationship at the time due to her leaving Dad and us. My little brother had a friend come on holiday too. It wasn’t until the plane had taken off from Gatwick that Mum said that her new boyfriend and his family were also on holiday in Zante and we’d be joining them. I think she knew that if she’d told us before the plane left that I wouldn’t have gone.

Mum allegedly didn’t leave us for anyone else and allegedly was single. I always wish this had been true but I knew otherwise. Prior to her leaving us, there had been a couple of instances when I’d answered the home phone to an old friend of hers asking to speak to her – she was somewhat takenaback when I said that Mum was ‘staying’ with her that weekend… some mumbling and then said pretended that she’d rung the wrong number! Another time, his daughter called to say thank you to Mum for baking cakes and filling the fridge for her weekend return from university… she’d allegedly been staying with another friend that weekend! I never did mention either of these calls to Mum NOR Dad.

Fortunately I had some other friends who were holidaying further round the island and spent a couple of days/nights with them. My brother was upset too so I didn’t think I could leave him for too long. There was one particular night that still haunts me today though. We had gone along to a ‘family dinner’ with Mum, her boyfriend and his family. Toward the end of the meal I remember my little bro getting more and more upset until he eventually said he was going back to the villa (remember he would only have been about 14). I followed him home. When I got in, I found him in floods of tears, angry and wishing Mum wasn’t with him. He’d worked out that if Mum’s boyfriend wasn’t around then Mum and Dad would be back together again. Sometime later he fell asleep. I stayed in his room, stayed guard in case Mum came home. She didn’t. We were up early the next morning and the three of us (my little bro, his friend and me) headed out early and found ourselves a little beach to hang out on all day together. Nothing more was ever said about it but I can still recall his twisted and upset face with rivers of tears streaming when he stood in the kitchen that night.

So you see Zante holds mixed emotions for me. A past, some that I’m trying hard to recall and some that I’d rather find and then delete in their entirety.

Getting here…

The flight here should have been 3.5hrs and I arrive at Gatwick at 4am, check-in, phaff and get on the plane for a 6am departure. I’m reminded (snob bit!) why I’ve not done a package holiday for a while when I’m seated by the ‘wedding party’ heading to Zante to get married. They’ve already been on the bevies (apparently topping up from last night). The language is loud and blue. The music is played without headphones… oh joy, I think at least it’s only 3.5hr flight.

Or that’s what it should be.

The turbulence gets worse as we approach Zante island. The pilot descends to land and then puts the nose up once more, leaving the airport behind us. A few minutes later he tells us that we can’t land due to the storms. We also don’t have enough fuel to continue circling waiting for the storm to pass. He’s made the decision to head to Athens for a refuel by which time he hopes the storm will have gone and we can return and land, late but there.

Much disgruntlement from the wedding party who announce that it’s OK becuase it’ll give them more time to drink the bar dry! Oh Joy Joy Happy Joy Joy.

We land in Athens and watch the plane being refuelled. The stewards and stewardesses are brilliant… they come through the aircraft offering snacks and drinks and also put up with the endless questions and moaning about why we’re in Athens. They arrange for steps to be bought to the plane when we’re advised we’re not leaving immediately… not to get off the plane, as we’re not allowed onto the tarmac, but so that people can get some air and sit on the steps for a minute or two. One of the wedding party then starts getting really anxious and crying… she can’t cope without her ‘fags’ and demands to be let off the plane to have a fag (cigarette) but this is denied so she then threatens to have one on the stairs (near the fuel), this is denied so she cries!

After nearly 3 hours the pilot announces that the storm is still over Zante and planes aren’t landing there. Plus if and when we can, there will be a queue of aircraft trying to get in. Apparently the airport isn’t big enough to house the planes overnight and now the crew are at the end of their working hours. We’re staying in Athens.

Not sure for how long but we’re told that we’re being put up in a hotel. We’re also told that we need to collect our baggage and get on coaches… another hour or so passes and we’re finally on coaches and heading to ‘hotel unknown’. At 18:48 I’m checked in and heading to my hotel room… a mere 15hrs after I checked in Gatwick! 10 minutes later I’m requested to be in the dining room for a buffet supper. No one knows how long we’re there for or what time we need to be up but I’m assured by hotel reception that I’ll have a call in good time to wake up and head back to the airport. An hour later I’m in bed and minutes later asleep.

I was a little surprised when a man walked into my 5* hotel room at 5.40am though! Oh I don’t think I mentioned that I hadn’t bothered unpacking my suitcase just stripped off and in bed getting some sleep. Poor chap is probably in therapy now but backed out of the room quickly ‘Sorry sorry sorry’. After a few minutes I came to and realised that perhaps this awkward chap was in fact my ‘wake-up call’…. interesting approach, many other hotels use the phone or knock on the door… but hey perhaps this is how they do it in Greece!! I call down to reception to discover that the coach is leaving at 6am (by now it’s 5.50am and I’m not dressed or showered!). I hurridly brush my teeth and dress into the same clothes that I’d been travelling in yesterday…. I must ming, so liberally spray some perfume!

I’m the last one on the coach and get several ‘stares’ from my fellow travellers. I discover that some of them received wakeup calls at 4am and some were told by reception last night that there would be breakfast buffet from 4am and the LAST coach leaves at 6am! It was at this point that I realised that at no point had a ‘register’ been taken of us from leaving the plane in Athens nor were we counted on or off the buses… would they have even noticed if I’d not been there??

Greece September 2012

The flight, fortunately, from Athens to Zante was uneventful – except that by the time we arrive we are all tired, smelly and feeling more than a little antsy at losing so much of our holiday-chilling time! However we were also grateful when we spotted a plane on the tarmac that had clearly been ‘hit’ by the lightning and sported some blackened paintwork!

Zante’s airport has now been extended (at least the runway has in length, if nothing else) and therefore there are more flights coming in and out of here. The island has been built up and is now a hive of tourism… so very different but I guess in all these years, it really did have to change or else I’d have to wonder why it hasn’t!!

My chosen holiday location was a short walk from the bars and restaurants. Away from the town of Zante. Importantly a self-contained little studio apartment with a balcony. I figured that way I could stay in or eat out but certainly watch the days/evenings pass whilst continuing to write more of my book from the balcony. Aaagh the greatest of plans.

Greece September 20123

This is where this entry is better portrayed with a few photographs.

Greece September 20121

My days were spent relaxing on a beach. My evenings with an early meal out (or via the supermarket and home for an easy meal on the balcony). Early nights and late mornings. Bliss.

In the many many years since I was last in Zante a great deal has changed. There are many many more hotels, apartments and bars. A quiet beach is much harder to find. However the music being played in the bars and out into the evening air is still the same – regulars during my holiday were Papa don’t preach; Come in Eileen; and Karma Chameleon!

One day I walked around the island and into Zante town. Apart from along the front which was buzzing with new bars, the town is very similar to how I remember.

Greece September 20122

I met some lovely people, but mostly was able to enjoy my own company, read a book, write my book and relax. I met a number of Greek ‘Tom Conte’ waiters but managed to resist any urge to recreate any scenes from Shirley Valentine.

Great holiday and even I managed to get a tan… well sort of a magnolia colour!

Joanna Hall Training Camp

Since attending the Walkactive Introduction in July, I’ve been keenly keeping up the walking.  Once a week I head into Hyde Park for a training session with Joanna.  It’s great fun with lots of fabulous people.  I’ve also discovered new parts of Hyde Park that I didn’t know existed as well as feeling like I’m getting there.

On my own I’ve been attempting to do at least 7,000 steps a day to keep up the fitness.  I’ve got such a long way to go to get my fitness levels back and to lose some weight at the same time but it’s a start.  My ankles and calves play up on occasion but if I don’t do anything stupid it’s manageable and I need to do it to get fitter so a little pain can’t be a bad thing?

What I needed was a short burst of uber fitness and so I signed up for Joanna Hall‘s training camp in La Manga.  I’ll confess that the lure of sunshine also played a factor.  How much easier is it to get out there and exercise when the sun is shining?

I opted to keep costs down and share a room with a ‘stranger’.  Turned out to be a very lovely lady by the name of Elizabeth.  Ooh we’ve had a jolly good giggle all week – a perfect roomie for this trip.

I received the itinerary shortly before we left and can’t help but note that I was a little aghast at the early mornings ahead.  Eeek.

LaMangaItinerary2011What a totally fabulous training camp (errr bootcamp!).  The early mornings were a struggle to get out of bed for.  It was still pitch black!  However when we were out there doing our stuff around the golf course pathways and watching the sun rise over the hills, it was stunning.  The only sound was our footsteps and the odd brrr of a lawnmower as the grounds team got the golf course ready.

LaManga 20112Evidence that I can get up early and do exercise!   Honestly though it felt amazing.  We’d then head back to do some stretches in the icy cold pool.  Followed by more stretching on the rooftop whilst watching the sun finally rise.  What an amazing view (the sunrise not us!).

LaManga 20115A short break for a beautiful breakfast on the terrace.  We all fell a little in love with the Eggman… boy he can cook eggs, anyway you want them!

LaManga 20117Just enough time to digest our breakfast and we’d be off again.  Either a technical session on the impeccably groomed football pitches, a walk to the ocean with hill climb intervals…

LaManga 20113Or the dreaded 7km mountain climb.  The path went on and on and the sun got hotter as we climbed… but boy when I finally made it to the top it was a very special view.

LaManga 20111La Manga resort is as beautifully groomed as any great golf course should be.  We timed our walks to avoid the golfers (they’re not up early for the sunrise walk) or we’d be ‘off resort’.  The only exception was for our return from the mountain climb with special permission granted for us to return along an agreed route with only a couple of golf holes and were asked to pause, if necessary.  On our return however one ‘lady’ golfer decided to take a pot shot directly at us!  What a pity to be so pathetic.  We’d deliberately waited well behind the tee for the group to take their shots and then to gather their buggies and start walking up the fairway.  We had then walked around the corner, along the path and were heading for home.  So for her to go back and take aim was utterly ridiculous.  Fortunately she missed but it did make me seethe!

A fun dinner on the final evening with great food and wine (although perhaps we should have abstained… ahem!)

LaManga 20114 Where I received this award!

photo-9An invigorating holiday/bootcamp/training camp and I returned feeling so much fitter, more supple and healthier.  Great fun group of people and hugely encouraging trainers in Joanna and Ange.

Paris

I’ve been to Paris many times but not for quite a few years so when British Airways ‘suggested’ I visit, I agreed and booked my flights.

I chose to wander the Paris streets.  For the most part I’d visited many of the ‘destinations’ so figured that a good walk and wander turning left and right would lead me to places I’d not yet discovered.

Paris1And a few new ones, such as a visit to Mariage Frères – Maison de Thé à Paris for a delightful spot of lunch.

Mariage FreresAlso to the Tea Museum

Paris2To the Pompidou Centre

Paris3And the brilliant sculpture park next to it (every City should have one of these):

I’m remembering another time in Paris.  Probably about my fourth visit here… with a man. I’m still not sure if he intended it to be a romantic break.. I’m rubbish at these things… so let me explain what happened – do try not to laugh (at me!).

He (let’s call him P) invited me to Paris for the weekend. He premised it by saying that he had managed to score first class Eurostar tickets really really cheaply and would I like to join him. Well I didn’t give it another thought. First class Eurostar tickets, cheaply and to Paris.. well you would, wouldn’t you? I didn’t question anything else. He said he’d organise everything. So we went after work on the Friday. Eurostar had only just started operating then and I didn’t know anyone who had been on it. We had a first class dinner on board with some lovely wine and great attention from the staff. Arriving in Paris in good time and heading to the hotel that P had arranged. Even when we got to our room it hadn’t occurred to me that this was anything other than two mates going away on a cheap ticket to Paris. When I questioned the double bed and asked if there had been a mistake, P looked a little crestfallen. Oh dear. He sorted out a twin room and nothing more was said about it. I still don’t know if I read it wrong. I still don’t know if it had been a genuine mistake. I still don’t know if his intentions had been different. I need more of a clue than that.. in fact I need Fred Flintstone bashing me over the head to let me know what the gig is…  But that’s all I remember of Paris on that occasion… I know we must have done things, seen things, met up with people etc but all I remember is being mortified that I had messed up big time and worried about our friendship. I wonder….

On a completely separate occasion/tangent a man (N) flew from London to Sydney (where I was living at the time) to take me for dinner…. it didn’t occur to me that it was Valentines day… nor that he would be doing it for any other reason than he was to be in Sydney for 24hrs. Again it wasn’t until afterward when a friend virtually slapped me and gave me a look as to question my sanity, that I wondered if the intention had been anything other than dinner with a friend in Sydney. Doh!  He was quite delicious too… messed it up again?

On this trip to Paris, I noticed very strongly that the French are still smokers. By that I mean that nothing appears to have changed. It has in the rest of the world. Most countries now you can’t smoke where food is being served. Here every table is set up with an ashtray and most tables are occupied by smokers. My hotel room has an ashtray and there was never any question about a smoking or non-smoking room. On most streets, people are wandering along with a cigarette on the go. It’s all ages and both sexes. I’m amazed that nothing has changed and so openly you can buy and smoke wherever whenever and with whomever. Is that a bad thing? I guess it’s just something that we’ve got used to in Australia, England and the USA… I’m sure in other countries too but it does seem at odds with a world I know now, to see people smoking so openly. I don’t miss it smoking one bit though.

Another observation from this trip is the amount of small dogs there are. They’re everywhere. Ladies carrying them in their handbags, on their laps, under their arms and taking them into every store, shop, restaurant or bar. I understand pets. I grew up with a cat, a dog, rabbits and lambs but our pets were able to walk themselves! I don’t get it. I really don’t.

There’s something I find wrong about going into a good dress shop and finding a small dog at my ankles sniffing the hem of a dress. Or in a restaurant, looking over and seeing them occupying a seat at a table.. or on the metro, a small dog taking up a seat whilst someone stands up. Surely that’s not right… is it?

OK I’m on the Eurostar back to London. I have to say I’m looking forward to returning home. Even typing that feels strange for someone that is always looking for somewhere new to explore. I wonder if that is why it feels so right… I’ve explored Paris before and it held nothing new to me… in fact I think it disappointed me. It felt overcrowded, dirty, frenetic, uncaring and ‘difficult’. Gosh that sounds scathing and I hate myself for saying it as I’m sure that many places that I love and have loved could be described in a similar way to other people. For the sceptics out there I’d like to also add that I did go off the beaten track, I walked around areas that weren’t on the tourist map, I did my left or right thing often and I went to the end of the metro line on more than one occasion to see if there was more ‘local’ kindness than in the centre. All I found was people being busy, a rudeness that I’d not experienced in France before and an unwillingness to be friendly. Such a shame that they’re obviously so busy with their own lives to consider that ‘the foreigner’ may be of interest to them or find something about them interesting!

So home time.