Category Archives: Travel

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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Road Trip 2017 – Yellow Stone & Salt Lake City

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Last month I posted about the first part of our road trip. Way to much in the trip to put into one post. Especially with pictures. After leaving the B&B in Kellogg Idaho we drove to Bozeman, the closest place … Continue reading

Road Trip 2017

IMG_0757Last year Linda, a friend from school, and I went on a road trip taking a southern loop that took us down through Oregon, California, across to Phoenix, then up to Vegas via an old ghost town, Oatman. This year we decided to take a northern loop. We didn’t think anything could top last year but this one measured up.

This year we went across Washington, Idaho, Montana. Dropped down through Yellow Stone National Park, then into Salt Lake City, across to Reno and up to Bend Oregon. We tried to time the trip so we wouldn’t risk snow in Yellow Stone and miss the hot weather in Utah and Nevada. We didn’t do that. The weather was perfect until Salt Lake City where we hit almost 100 and held that heat until we were on the last day of the trip. Yikes!!!!

Weather doesn’t deter us from having a great time and we adjusted using shade and A/C. The first night we spent in Kellogg Idaho at a B&B. This is the third one I’ve stayed at, Linda’s first. LeMaison Sur Le Hill is five stars plus. I still need to do a review because I would so recommend staying here. It can’t get better. We arrived there around four o’clock and were greeted with fruit, cheese and wine on the patio. The gardens were … I can’t say enough. I tried to take pictures but they don’t do it justice. Our hosts took time to sit and visit with us making the experience even better. 68305856We stayed in the garden room but saw the other suites and there isn’t one that isn’t fantastic. Susan is an artist and it shows in the décor. Here is the link if you’d like to see pictures and read the reviews.

There is a great restaurant next to LeMaison Sur Le Hill with a fantastic menu. Before dinner we walked around town. As you can see from the picture Kellogg isn’t a bustling metropolis at least not on this side of town. But then it was Sunday evening.

I’ll try to write about more of the trip in future posts, we saw to much for just one. Next year…. Ummm something to think about.

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Flaming June

June has been a surprising month not at all what I had anticipated.  Finally, Peter and I managed another 3 night break away after months of me suggesting places from Spain, Croatia, France, Scotland and back to Wales.  On Monday 12th we sat having a “sundowner” when I mentioned an apartment I had found in Bowness-on-Windermere in The Lake District, Cumbria.  “Book it” says Peter, the only available date was Friday 16th for 3 nights, yes the following Friday!  It was available so I grabbed it.  Well someone was guiding us as it was a beautiful, attic conversion in an old house in the woods above Bowness with a great view of Lake Windermere from the sitting room window.  With stops the journey took over 5 hours (nothing to our friends in US) but to us Brits it’s a long way!!  Everything is comparative, we never thought about 6 hour round trip to airport when we lived in Spain.  It was well worth the effort. Friday evening we had a superb meal in a local bistro with good wine. Suitably relaxed we walked the half a mile uphill back to our retreat.  It took a long time but a comfy bed awaited so a good incentive!

Saturday morning we woke to brilliant sunshine which lasted the whole weekend.  Hot but fresh – perfect.  After a breakfast of fresh Danish and good coffee in a local bakery we got a boat (cruise boat) across the lake (one mile across) to Lakeside.  A steam train then runs alongside the lake for about 5 miles which was a real treat.  We stayed on and made the return trip, full of nostalgia for me as I remember steam train journeys as a child.  Boat trip back to Bowness, much busier now with tourists of many nationalites.  We managed to find a wonderful deli run by a young couple with a range of meats, cheese, pickles, olives etc but we decided on pastrami sandwiches, the best I’ve had since I was in Manhattan over 10 years ago – well worth the wait!  We found a secluded sheltered spot and ate our picnic over-looking the lake.  We were unsure what to do next but decided on a movie, air conditioned theatre and friendly staff.  Popcorn too.  The movie was Churchill starring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson which has had some bad reviews but we enjoyed it.  We could have booked a three course meal at a local restaurant  for afterwards (including the movie ticket) but saw the deal after we had seen movie!  I was tired so maybe not best time for a big meal but I thought it was an enterprising idea for cinema and restaurant.  We had an Italian instead which was just right.  Up the hill again and another great night’s sleep.

Sunday back to the lake but we crossed this time on a small ferry which pulls itself over on wires, I don’t understand how it works but it was a great way to cool down!  On the other side we walked up to a restored Claife Viewing Station originally built in the 1790s which had wonderful views of the lake. Next we walked 4 miles (and back!) alongside the lake through woods,  families were picnicking on the “beaches” generally enjoying the rare sunshine.  It all reminded Peter of Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie, Ohio, where he attended a conference.  Some of you will be familiar with this place.  Back to the deli and we stocked up for evening meal in the apartment after packing so much into 2 days.  One treat awaited for the next morning before returning home. (Note the rare photo of the Smiths together!)

My book club read this month is Haweswater by Sarah Hall.  Coincidentally, Haweswater Reservoir was 20 miles north of us so Peter was happy to divert.  A valley was flooded to create a new reservoir to supply water to Manchester and a dam constructed.  The work commenced in 1929 and was completed in 1940. Inspired by the building of the dam the book is a fictional story about the village of Mardale that was originally in the centre of the farming community, their lives and the impact of the dam.  I was so overcome with the beauty of the place I forgot to take a photo! Peace and tranquillity with all that history under the water.  It was an emotional experience, I have discovered my family originally came from this area in the 1790s so Cumbria remains in my genes.  I recommend the book which is a well researched first novel by a sensitive writer. I’ve also read and enjoyed The Wolf Border Sarah Hall’s latest novel which was also set in Cumbria but begins in Idaho about the re-wilding of wolves the Lake District.

I always feel I’ve been away ages following one of these breaks and think I enjoy them more than longer breaks these days.  Just to note the weather has returned to “normal” for summertime which makes the whole weekend even more special. Another June Surprise was an unexpected lunch with friends at their house. Two added guests arrived which I think will make you smile!

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.

 

Jamaica 2017

DSC01840.JPGThis is our second year in Jamaica and again it didn’t disappoint. The view of the cruise liners is right off our balcony. The weather is in the 80’s but most days there is a warm breeze that makes walking into town nice.

This year there are six of us and we have the villa which is a 3 bedroom, 3 bath plus a powder room. Balcony wraps around to include the bedrooms and a common area with big table, bar, and couch.

The pictures don’t do it justice.

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In addition we had a roof patio with lots of room and a lap pool.   So easy to get spoiled with this one.

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Last year we were so busy we didn’t get out to tour Rose Hall an old sugar plantation and home to the White Witch.   Kris in particular could hardly wait for this year to see it.   She even bought a book in the airport last year on Rose Hall and the White Witch.   The tour was even scarier after reading the book. And, of course we took the night tour. More then once it had me spooked to the point my feet engaged before my brain.   Here’s one of the websites with lots of pictures.

And a picture of our group just before the tour began and we still all had dry pants.

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Jamaica remains one of our favorite places.  Love the weather, the people and all the decadent amenities.