Category Archives: Holidays

Surprise!

I love surprises; giving them, that is. And in October we pulled off a cracking one. My brother Bob lives in Spain in the Costa del Sol, and with his 70th birthday rapidly approaching, my sisters and I decided to surprise him for his birthday, after checking with my-sister-law Lesley what their arrangements were for this day. After all, we didn’t want to arrive and find they had gone away on a trip themselves to celebrate.

As the three of us hadn’t had a holiday together for two years we agreed we would make this trip a week long, instead of just a couple of days. I’ve been to Spain on many occasions – staying with my brother, Lesley normally arranging flights and Bob meeting us at the airport; and the last time booking through a travel agent ­– but this was the first time we were “going it alone” which meant I had to find a suitable apartment for the three of us; not an easy task. Then there were flights to book, and arranging a taxi from the airport. I found the whole thing very nervy and stressful and couldn’t relax until we were finally in our apartment. The apartment was disappointing in that it was shabby, not at all looking as clean and fresh as the photos showed, but the linen was clean and the beds comfy and we did have a lovely view out over Benalmadena Marina in one direction, and mountains, town, and busy main road and 24 hour bars in the other – very noisy all night. Still, it was only for one week and we were close to the beach and promenade.

Room with a view of Benalmadena Marina.

Bob’s birthday being the next day, we spent a lazy morning, grabbed a bite of lunch then made our way up to the venue. We peeked around the wall to where we knew they would be, spied Lesley who pointed that Bob was inside the bar and in the three of us walked. “Surprise!”

“Surprise!”

“Happy Birthday To You…”

Oh and how it was. The look on Bob’s face, at first disbelief, then confusion, then utter joy at us being there for him was pure magic and a treasure to behold and remember. One of the bar staff, realising who we were, grabbed Bob’s camera and began taking photos; we were too engrossed in our hugs and kisses and tears (mostly Bob’s!) to notice or even think of taking a picture. Everyone (apart from Bob) at the party along with all the local bar owners knew we were coming and made us most welcome. A good time had by all.

After a fabulous day we fell into bed exhausted but woken up a few hours later by lightning. No thunder, just a marvellous nature light show out across the sea. The flashes continued until daybreak when torrential rain came down and thunder like I’ve never heard exploded all around. One clap was so loud, the building shook. We later found out it woke the whole town. Apparently some 1,200 lightning bolts were recorded in the Malaga region that morning. (News report detailing the storm)

The rain stopped but the morning overcast so we ventured by bus into Malaga to explore the city, hoping to take the open-topped bus tour. Bob joined us. When we reached Malaga the rains came again. A quick dash into a restaurant for a coffee whilst it eased. It didn’t, so we made for a shop selling pac-a-macs and thought to explore the magnificent cathedral close by. The queues were horrendous so we decided to take a bus up into Mijas, our favourite town, and have lunch there. There was an hour wait for a bus so instead we went back to Benalmadena to enjoy a meal there. We found out later that most of Malaga had been badly flooded due to the rain, and nearby Torremolinos and Mijas without electricity for most of the day. Good job we didn’t go.

The next day, and for the remainder of our visit, the temperature was back up to 28 degrees, the sun shining gloriously and we managed to spend three days relaxing on the beach ­­– bonus! ­­– as well as partaking in our favourite things when holidaying­­, such as food and Sangria – of which we’ve now become experts.

Enjoyable lunch at Marina on our 1st day.

It was a tearful and sad farewell when it was finally time to take the taxi back to the airport and home but a week I’m sure our brother will look back and remember with love and fondness. As will we. And I will certainly miss the sunrises over the Marina!

Not a bad view to wake up to each morning

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Beaches, Boutiques and Beatles

20171012_145549Earlier this month, hubs and I took ourselves off for a few days to Chester (north of England). AJ had some meetings arranged, so I tagged along and we made a short break of it. Chester is a gorgeous place, very close to the border of Wales. It’s a walled city, founded as a Roman fort in 79AD. You can still walk the city walls and view the amazing medieval buildings, most of which were restored in Victorian times. The main shopping centre has The Rows, said to be unique to Chester. These are continuous galleries reached by steps and forming a second row of shops above those at street level. Pretty little boutiques and charming coffee shops are in abundance here. Some parts of The Rows still boast original 13th century buildings, making Chester a truly fascinating place.

20171012_121617We took the train from Chester into Wales and the seaside town of Rhyl. The weather was lovely, our trip being placed between the two storms which hit the UK this month: Ophelia and Brian. Rhyl has a gorgeous sandy beach and a long promenade, just perfect for dog walking. We really missed Vivvy and kept saying how she would have loved it there with all the other dogs. We did take her back a stick of doggie rock though 🙂

20171013_152317Then it was time for a trip down memory lane and a day visit to Liverpool. I absolutely love this city, it’s vibrant, friendly and steeped in culture. Naturally, the Beatles influence is everywhere, from the musicians who pepper the streets serenading the shopping public, to the restaurants and museums. Of course, we had to do the touristy things, like visiting the Cavern Club and taking that Ferry Across the Mersey. Well, you have to, don’t you?20171013_145537

It was a really lovely trip and we packed a whole lot into a short time. I’m starting to enjoy mini breaks like this one almost as much, and sometimes more than full-blown holidays/vacations. Here’s to the next one…

Brief Interlude

October didn’t work out quite as we had anticipated and carefully planned. We hoped for a five day break in Cornwall, one of my favourite parts on Britain.  It was a last minute booking due to work pressures on Peter and timescales on three big projects.  I decided on The Cormorant Hotel in Golant, near Fowey (pronounced Foy), right by the river and named after the main seabird that inhabits the area.  Luxury boutique-style hotel, seems the trend at moment, but small with friendly staff.  We had a river view room with a Juliet balcony overlooking the garden and wonderful coastline leading down to the sea.  

The weather had taken a severe turn for the worst and the south west was landfall for Ophelia but early last week she had not arrived.  The journey down was beautiful crossing moors including Bodmin Moor famous for Jamaica Inn. Interesting small towns along the route offered coffee and lunch. Finding the hotel was like a treasure hunt despite directions but eventually we arrived and settled in for the night.  Pre-dinner drinks offered unexpected entertainment in Anne and Ron from New Zealand.  Anne is an international judge of Airedales and the couple were enjoying a break in her judging schedule.  They had arrived from Baltimore that day and were due in Yorkshire at the end of the week.  We spent an interesting hour listening to hilarious stories of the world of top dog shows including Russia as well as their lives in Australia as breeders and farmers. Time for dinner.

Wonderful menu choices but I opted for local scallops, mixed fish chowder with honey pannacotta for desert, topped off with an excellent bottle of Spanish Rosé. Sorry photo of scallop starter gone wrong!

Next day after a breakfast including lots of local produce we set off of Fowey, home of Daphne Du Maurier.  Peter was feeling a little unwell but we set off as planned towards Mousehole (pronounced Mowzle) where we had booked a small, fisherman’s cottage.  Fowey was well worth another visit as I didn’t make it to the Du Maurier Museum.  The weather turned showery so we made our way to Falmouth for lunch and a wander.  Next was Penzance, Newlyn then Mousehole as there are great artists galleries as well as home of the Newlyn Artists. We had planned a coastal walk to really visit these the following day so went to find our cottage.  It was better than expected, so comfortable and well equipped with a scrumptious hamper of local food and a good bottle of wine.  We planned to light a fire in the hearth following a forage for food from the deli in the village which was highly recommended.  I became more concerned over the next few hours about Peter but we continued as planned.

During the night Peter developed a high fever and finally told me he had difficulty peeing, was in pain and it was getting worse.  He insisted on waiting until morning before trying to see a doctor.  Early in the morning I made the decision to take him to Penzance Hospital.  We arrived at 9am and he was seen at 9.15am.  The staff  were wonderful, Peter has “Men’s Problems” as he insists on referring to his symptoms.  The doctor fitted a catheter and told us to visit our own doctor when we got home, if we were residents there he would have carried out further tests. We left hospital at 12.15 and I knew Peter wanted to go home although he said no.  We packed up and drove home, 6 hours in the storm which had hit with a vengeance.  Our own doctor has referred him urgently to the local hospital but his appointment is not for another week.Then the catheter will be removed, testing will begin, diagnosis then treatment.  I hope by November we will know what lies ahead.

Another added issue has been with our internet, now fixed.  We have had to buy a new television, phones and await the next thing! October has been a challenge!!

If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Which is precisely what I managed to do last month for a few days. With Dave on the mend following his op, my friend Avis and I slipped away by coach, visiting the beautiful county of Warwickshire, England for a “Bluebell Walk”. The bluebells were out early this year, and are stunning. Knowing this and when combined with a touch of literary culture, Avis and I we were in for a treat.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

First to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (William Shakespeare’s wife). I visited here back in the 60s, as an 11-year-old on a school trip, and well remembered the thatched building and gardens, although 50 years on one now enters through a different building to reach the cottage, and the gardens have expanded. Following a brief history of the house we were allowed to wander at leisure with staff on hand to explain and inform. I’m certainly glad I didn’t live there – no mains electricity, no water on tap and no central heating; one could well imagine how difficult life was back in the 1500s. Outside, I was disappointed to see that the bluebells amongst all the colourful tulips in the beautiful front garden were the Spanish non-native type. They certainly wouldn’t have been found here in Shakespeare’s time. I hope the gardeners dig them all out soon.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Then on  to Stratford-upon-Avon. Again, it’s some 50 years since  first exploring this town. The main street on which William Shakespeare’s house  is located is now pedestrianised, thankfully, but a large visitor centre now sits incongruously alongside it. We decided against doing the house tour; instead we took a pleasant walk through Stratford and enjoyed a spot of lunch.

Walton Hall Hotel

A few miles outside of Stratford we arrived at our hotel, set in 65 acres of park and farmland. What a fabulous place! Although the main part of the hotel is modern, it’s built in the grounds of a large 16th century mansion (history & info link) recently owned by the late Danny La Rue.  The rooms were lovely, the beds so enormous they could easily sleep 4 persons! And joy of joys, I had a balcony too so as the dawn chorus started, I opened the French doors and enjoyed my early morning coffee outside as I listened. Bliss! The food was excellent, the staff faultless. In fact, it’s one the few hotels I’ve stayed in where I wish I could have stopped for longer, only the bluebell woods called and thus, after a delicious breakfast we were on the road again, heading for Coughton Court (pronounced Coat-un). I’d never heard of this National Trust Tudor treasure until this trip. Can’t understand why.

Once there, we headed straight for the woods and the bluebells, after all this was the main reason for our trip. There were swathes of them. And the scent glorious. If you’ve never smelt an English bluebell wood you are missing a treat. However, there is only so much one can say about bluebells, but I did take lots of photos, mainly for painting reference.

Of course, Thugs Bunny and Mr Tumble had to get in on the act!

We spent several hours wandering around enjoying the spectacle before heading back to explore the house itself. Coughton Court is still occupied by the sixth generation of the Throckmorton family, infamously involved in the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I in 1583 and put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Inside, we could wander freely, allowed to touch things, sit on the furniture, even try on some of the Tudor clothes on display. Helpful guides were on hand to explain items and various histories of the house and family. Coughton also boasts magnificent gardens, better than Hampton Court apparently, but I have to admit we were too exhausted to venture further so settled on coffee and cake instead. This is definitely a place to go back to. To read more about the house and the Throckmortons I’ve included this link .

Coughton Court

Time eventually caught up with us to make our way back to the coach and home. A lovely, relaxing two days and a much needed break. Now patiently waiting for the next one.

PS: Meanwhile, I feel a painting coming on…

 

Venice

On Monday 20th February I set off for the airport to fly to Venice Marco Polo Airport. Very excited! I met Rhiannon, my niece, we had lunch and flew off at 15.20 in fog. We were assured by Easyjet staff that our plane had extra sensors so no worries.  We landed at Marco Polo safely on time at 18.30 Venice time.  Only had hand luggage so cleared quickly and went to the Alilaguna Water Bus to Lido.  I had done this in the past but all was changed, much larger and modern!  Very exciting but dark of course and yes misty.  With the help of a handsome young official we boarded our vaporetto (water bus) at Lido for our hotel at St Elena. He was concerned that “it was dark there and did I know my way!”  Rhiannon was slightly disconcerted by this conversation (in perfect English) but I quickly reassured her that I knew where we were going.  We arrived at the hotel and I explained who we were BUT I was speaking bad Spanish instead of bad Italian!  The Reception Staff were amused by this but it set the tone for our whole stay of friendly, helpful service.  We had a wonderful supper in the hotel restaurant, with our first bottle of Prosecco of the stay, and an early night.

Next morning we were up refreshed and raring to go.  Had a good breakfast for 9 Euros each and set off. We bought 3 day Vaporetti passes which were so useful in that we could hop off and on as many times as we wanted without hassle of buying tickets each time.  That morning we walked into San Marco alongside the Grand Canal, sadly still in fog, but in good spirits. We passed the Giardini Gardens, the site of the Biennale Exhibition featuring International Artists shown in 1920s Pavilions representing the different countries staged every 2 years. It is also the start and finish of the Venice Marathon, yes a full Marathon!  We passed The Arsenale where the great shipbuilding industry was based helping support the power of Venice.   It was Carnavale which is a very special time in Venice, lots of people in elaborate costumes posing in the hope a photographer will feature them.  I spoke to several international photographers over our stay who said people queue up to be photographed free and just want a copy.  For the photographers it is an ideal opportunity to expand their portfolios.  Two of our favourite subjects are featured below, in many ways it was like stepping back in time.  Venice was packed and buzzing with excitement.  We walked miles that day until we were exhausted and went back to the hotel for another superb dinner and yes more Prosecco.  Our hotel was on the tip of the main island but in a less crowded residential area with a park and small restaurants.

I was pleased to remember my way around and Rhiannon enjoyed being guided to familiar sites including St Marks Square, the Campanile, the Doge’s Palace and less famous parts which featured Venetians going about their daily lives including the police boats, ambulances, garbage collections and delivery men all on the canals.  Everything is transported in by boat which adds to the traffic on the Grand Canal.  We walked through the Fish Market and Rialto Market, hence the statutory photo of Rhiannon on Rialto Bridge.

One morning the hotel arranged a special water taxi for us to Murano to a glass factory.  It was fascinating to see glass blowing skills in the tradition which dates back to at least the 15 century.  We didn’t buy any but it was wonderful to see.  Sadly our video didn’t come out well enough to show you.  That day we also visited the Guggenheim Museum as an antidote to the beauty of La Serenissima.

A high spot of my trip was meeting up with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for 18 years.  We studied together for our Masters’ Degrees, although Louisa was 30 years younger we became firm friends.  She married a Venetian after returning with her degree and now has three beautiful daughters and lives on Lido.  She lectures to Art Tours, Cruise Ships, at the Biennale Exhibition and to various visiting University student courses so continues the experiences we had.  Louisa took us to a wonderful Venetian restaurant, Anice Stellato, which was hidden away where we had one of the best meals I’ve had for a long time.

Sadly it all ended too soon.  Rhiannon will return with her boyfriend Jon and take a trip on a gondola, not something to do with your aging aunt! I think it will be my last trip but one I will treasure.  We took off on Friday 24th February in fog! Whilst I had wanted Rhiannon to experience Venice set against a bright blue sky the misty, foggy conditions added to the glamour and mystery of this beautiful city.

I’ve attempted to give you a flavour of Venice but please try to visit yourselves if you haven’t been already, if you have I hope it brings back good memories.

 

Gallery

Winter Solstice

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Today, Winter solstice, is one of my favorite days of the year. From this day until June the days will start being longer. I took the picture here yesterday around 5:00. It’s dark out there, really dark. I’m not a … Continue reading

It’s That Time of Year Again

So, here we are again at that time of year when everyone seems to go crazy, often completely overboard just because it’s Christmas. A special time of year, yes, but Christmas is only 1 day. One day, not 3 months, which is how it now seems to be. It was back in August when I first spied Christmas cards and mince pies for sale in the supermarket; mince pies with a use-by date of 31 Oct 2016! And as we hit December running, I can’t find my usual things in the supermarket, because shelves have been reorganized for Christmas stock – row upon row of chocolates and sweets and all the good things to eat. Horrendous queues at checkouts; one would think we’re going to be snowed in for 6 months with the amount people buy “just in case unexpected visitors arrive!” The stress and worry, never mind cost, usually on credit cards that take over a year to pay off, of buying gifts for everyone including neighbours, the cat, and anyone else who happens to pass or ring the doorbell. Houses in our town decorated since October with icicle lights blinking from the guttering, and Christmas trees on sale in November, which will have shed all their needles by 25 December.mr-mrs-snowman

I may sound a bit of a grouch, a kill-joy, Scrooge, a person who hates Christmas, but I am not. Quite the contrary. I think it is a magical, wonderful time of the year. I just wish it didn’t start so early, that the commercialism wasn’t so intense because nowadays, that sparkle, that anticipation has been killed. It just isn’t the same any more.

In my childhood home, the Christmas tree didn’t go up until Christmas Eve, long after we kids were in bed so that in the morning, there it was in all its glittering glory with our presents – mostly handmade by my parents: clothes and toys, just a few each, stacked underneath. As children in the 1950s and early 1960s we were extra lucky, although we didn’t realise it at the time.

Every year my German grandmother would send over a large parcel to us in England. It would be packed with all the lovely, delicious treats of Christmas that were then unobtainable here: glittering Advent calendars, iced gingerbread hearts and Lebkucken, and Pfeffemusse, marzipan filled Stollen, and so much more. I think it was smell of that parcel I remember most, that wonderful spicy cinnamon and ginger smells that said “Christmas is coming.”

tree Christmas in the Domino house is a very quiet affair now. We do have a tree, an artificial black one with gold baubles and one two other little sentimental decorations. We stopped doing presents years ago, except for the littlest children, and how much simpler and more enjoyable it has become. We’d rather folk spent their money on themselves, not on us. We don’t have turkey to eat, we don’t like it. We might indulge in a Christmas pud and a few mince pies, but no crackers to pull on the table. No fuss, no hassle, simply a large enjoyable meal in good company in an atmosphere of calm serenity to relax in.

Don’t get me wrong. I love large family gatherings. The noise, the laughter, the company, and I do so wish I could have all of my family at mine one year, but we are many and scattered far afield. Thank goodness for the telephone and internet so we can at least speak to each other even if we can’t share a hug and a kiss. The thoughts are with family. With friends. With those we have lost and those who are new to the fold. With memories. To me, this is what Christmas is all about: Family. Not the gifts, not the food, not the decorations, as much as I love seeing them. It’s also about magic. Father Christmas and sleigh bells, and the Christmas movies to make you laugh and perhaps shed a tear.

I’ll leave you with what is one of my favourite Christmas carols. Apologies if you’ve heard it before but I’m sure many haven’t. Whatever Christmas means to you and whatever you do this Christmas, do have a good one. A safe one. A warm one, from the heart.

Silly me: I meant to include the English lyrics. These are the closest and best I’ve come across for translation.

The Bells Never Sound Sweeter

The bells never sound sweeter
Than at Christmas-time.
It’s as if angels would sing
again of peace and joy,
How they sang at blessed night!
How they sang at blessed night!
Little bells with their holy ringing,
The earth chimes along!

Oh, when the bells ring out,
As soon as the Christ child hears them,
He swings from the sky
Hastily down to earth.
He blesses the father, the mother, the child
He blesses the father, the mother, the child.
Little bells with their holy ringing,
The earth chimes along!

It chimes with a sweet sound
Far across the seas,
So that all will take delight in
The blessed Christmas-time.
All rejoice with beautiful song,
All rejoice with beautiful song,
Little bells with their holy ringing,
The earth chimes along!