Posted in Crete, Travelling

Let Loose Again

It has been about nine months since I have stepped foot out of the UK and at first it felt a little strange to be on the move. As I tore myself away from the familiarity and comfort of home, which has been the base of my lockdown life, a sense of muted excitement lulled in the air, mixed with a slight reluctance.

It felt like the world had shrunk and that anything beyond my locality was just a little bit scary. It felt like one of those times where it would have been so easy to stay put, so easy to stick with the familiar, so easy to stay at home. I was excited about heading to Crete but not at all thrilled about the journey itself which would take me to public locations where I would have to mix with people in situations that I hadn’t for nine months.

Heading to the airport, I lowered my expectations of what it might be like: check-in, the flight, getting through security, mixing with people, passport control… I imagined long queues, chaos, delays and disorganisation. This mindset was my way to avoid any disheartened disappointment where I knew the world was still figuring out how to deal with often changeable covid-related rules and regulations in public places.

Despite the unsociable early hour of the morning, thankfully we arrived at a relatively quiet airport, which was free from the usual mad rush of passengers starting the school holidays. This gave a promising start. I was hopeful. We immediately joined a not-so-long queue of fellow bleary-eyed passengers, and waited to get our documents checked before heading for a much needed coffee. As the queue shuffled along at a pleasantly steady pace, my spirit was lifted further and I soon realised that the entire airport operation was well organised and prepared. I almost felt guilty for my negativity but I was equally pleased to be proven wrong.

Papers checked, bags dropped, security passed and stomach fuelled, we were aboard the plane within an hour of arriving at Gatwick. And despite my awareness of the close proximity of the passenger in the seat next to me (which felt odd after so much social distancing) the thought that every adult on the plane had had their papers checked and in most cases had been double vaccinated, gave some element of safety.

Landing just a few hours later, I felt the welcoming heat of the Cretan sun and a warm gentle breeze on my face.

It felt good to be let loose once again. ☀️ 🇬🇷

Posted in Travelling

Social Distancing on the South Coast

When I was researching travel blogs, I remember reading a comment about how it can be important to reflect on your own local surroundings as well as writing about any visited distant lands. Given the current advice of ‘social distancing’ in the UK, which has meant that we have had to abandon our travel plans for now, this blog is me taking time to pause and reflect on the present situation.

We returned to the UK just a few days ago, with a mix of apprehension, curiosity and uncertainty. After a planned pit-stop weekend at home, we had flights booked to Spain (which left yesterday without us) but with events changing daily across Europe, it was clear that our travelling was going to be interrupted somewhat. The countries we had visited for the last 10 days (France, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Belgium) had shown no signs of any unusual behaviour, but we were hearing stories of panic-buying in the UK and lack of stock.

From across the Channel, it all seemed a little unreal and if I’m honest, a bit of a joke, but just to be on the safe side, before we headed home, we did buy one pack of toilet roll when our daughter at home in the UK said that she couldn’t find any to buy. With the situation becoming more and more drastic by the day, we arrived home with news of a lock-down in several countries – some which we had been planning to visit in the next few weeks. Resigned to putting our travels on hold, now like many others, we are settled at home and living as official ‘social distancers’.

Thank you Luxemburg!

On our first day back in the UK, we took a trip to the supermarket as we had nothing in the house. This was an interesting experience: there was a calm sense of almost-inaudible eeriness as people pushed their trollies around in hope of filling them up. Every so often, a customer was heard to exclaim, “I can’t believe it!” as they fruitlessly walked past an empty shelf or down a deserted aisle. I was quite astounded to see so many products absent, but I was adamant that I wasn’t going to allow myself to get annoyed. Instead, I felt the urge to start clearing up and flat-packing the vast amount of empty discarded packing boxes.

Continuing with an open mind, we mused on the profile of the customer who was buying up all those essentials, not just the obvious items but even products like sesame oil. I was so glad that I had bought that pack of precious toilet roll in Luxemburg before travelling home because we haven’t been able to buy any in this area. At odd moments, I half-heartedly find myself doing mathematical calculations on number of sheets x people in the house x visits to the loo. Plans for a compost toilet are in their early stages and use of newspaper or rags are up for discussion! In reality, it doesn’t matter; I am sure we’ll find some if we get really desperate. Toilet paper is the least of problems when you consider the issues people are faced with: jobs, health, finances, childcare, housing, isolation…

So far, I think I am doing this social distancing thing pretty well. Yes, I know we are only at day 4 so positive thoughts all round at the moment! Ask me next week and my optimism may be waining. Initially, I was worried that I would have endless hours indoors and end up watching pointless TV and eating for England, but the beauty of ‘social-distancing’ is that you can still go out for a walk, run or amble as long as you keep a sensible distance from others.

Yesterday morning I went for a gorgeous 8 km run around my local area and it was perfectly fine. At the start of my run, it was lovely to bump into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. When I say ‘bump into’, we actually stopped and had a catch-up, each standing on opposite pavements with the road as the sensible safe space between us. For a good number of years, we had been playground mum friends, but since our children have grown up, we don’t see each other often, which is a shame, but if I hadn’t gone for my ‘social-distancing’ run, then I may not have seen her so it was a bonus!

Observations during my run were that most people are mutually maintaining a respectful distance from each other in public areas. Where necessary, it was acceptable to cross to the other side of a road, veer off onto the pebbles on the beach or pause and reroute in order to avoid a person or to distance from a group of people enjoying a more spaciously aware chat than usual. People moved out of each others’ way and we did it with a smile.

It was lovely to be able to say ‘Good morning’ to everyone I ran past. This is, however, with the exception of one person and I must belatedly apologise to them. In my somewhat poor defense, I was at a rather tense moment in my Archers omnibus podcast (if you listen, you know what I am talking about!) and so I have to confess, I skirted around the lady without acknowledging her.

I circulated the Oyster Pond at least once to ensure social distance

There was only one slightly awkward moment on my run when I was about to turn inland and run down an alleyway. Coming towards me, down this particular narrow walkway, was an elderly woman walking her dog, so I turned and jogged along the grassy area just off the beach until she was clear of the alley. As she exited the path, she appeared to look nervously across to me. I hope that this was because she didn’t want to pass too closely to another individual rather than her feeling offended that I had deliberately waited until the alley was clear, but better to be safe than sorry.

People will have various thoughts on this difficult and unfamiliar situation that we are currently experiencing here in the UK and elsewhere; there may be acceptance, denial, refusal, confusion, sadness, uncertainty – even humour. Whatever these unusual times bring to us over the coming weeks, if you don’t have any symptoms and do have the opportunity to go out and enjoy the outdoors, I highly recommend a walk or run. Exercise can be a real tonic for both physical health and mental well-being.

And if you are out and about, please don’t forget to smile and call out a friendly hello to anyone you pass at the now socially-acceptable-greater-than-usual distance. If you do see me and I ignore you, it will only be that I am gripped in the middle of a dramatic moment in a podcast – I apologise in advance!

Posted in Travelling

Le Ski

Skiing is a glorious activity particularly when the conditions are ideal: plenty of snow; a cloudless, blue sky; a beautiful sun, which feels wonderfully warm on your face and a crisp air temperature that is suitably cold enough to allow you to wrap up in appropriate ski gear.

And those were the conditions we were hoping for as we drove the twelve hour car journey to the French Alps, leaving Storm Dennis in the UK.

Good old Storm Dennis (if you say his name enough times, he soon starts to feel like a long lost relative) led to some interesting family chat on the journey: the origin of storm names, the definition of a storm and what happens to the name of a storm as it crosses the border to another country.

It was one of those fun family banter sessions that any eavesdropper would think highly mundane, particularly the part when, having found out that there is no storm name beginning with Q, U or X, Y and Z, we, of course, needed to suggest a few.

Finally arriving just before ten p.m in Le Grand Bornand (a lesser-known ski resort which is best kept that way – we don’t want too many of us English clogging up the slopes!), we sighed with welcomed relief that the lovely local establishment ‘La Croix St Maurice’ would still serve us food despite the late hour. They thankfully agreed to rustle up some pizzas. Settling down with a bite of a slice, we relaxed and unwound ready for the next few days skiing.

Although I have been skiing for many years, I am now not a skier who likes to go too fast: I am more of a leisurely skier, who enjoys taking in the surroundings and musing on life as I ski. Saying that, I am secretly proud of my recent recorded speed of 51 km/h. It’s just when I compare it to my eldest daughter, who has exceeded 90 km/h then it doesn’t sound quite so fast!

On the French slopes, it’s amazing to see almost toddler-aged children on skis – children as young as three years old. Without a care in the world, there are those that look like they were born with a pair of skis attached to their feet as they shoot down the slopes with skill and speed. Meanwhile others look a little bewildered as though someone has just left them at the top of the slope and given them a nudge. Yet they still manage to reach the bottom in one piece and without fuss, almost clueless as to how they got there. You should hear me when I am negotiating a slope that is a little too steep for my liking!

Today I was minding my own business as I sashayed down the mountain, deep in daydream, when I heard a scream – a continuous high-pitched scream that was approaching me at high speed. Judging by the flow of the noise, I knew it wasn’t an injured skier splayed out on a nearby tree so I deduced that it was an out of control child heading towards me.

Glancing back, I saw this very small person (about 3 or 4 years old) hurtling down the slope screeching like a banshee. Slight panic hit me because I wasn’t sure how to help and, to be perfectly honest, I was a little concerned about doing myself an injury in some pathetic haphazard rescue attempt.

Luckily, out of nowhere and as if on cue, the older brother (and when I say older – he must have been all of six or seven years old) swiftly caught up with his younger sibling. He skied alongside her calling out encouraging words of support as he then subtly manoeuvred his skis slightly in front to cause her to position herself at more of angle across the slope to help her slow down.

It all happened so quickly and it was just admirable to watch. He was like a trained member of the SAS, who switched into action as soon as he heard the first note of the scream. Meanwhile, I continued slowly downhill feeling a little ashamed that I hadn’t stretched out my arm to even pretend that I was trying to help. In all honesty, I was best out of it as I probably would have unintentionally done more harm than good, however I shall definitely be musing on how I could be more effective should someone require my help on my next outing on the slopes.

Posted in Travelling

Bratislava

Whilst in Vienna we discovered how easy it was to jump on a train to visit Bratislava in Slovakia and so we decided to make the most of the opportunity, particularly as it was another country that neither of us had been to before and it still felt quite exciting to be able to make these random, unintended decisions.

Buying tickets was a smooth operation due to the effiiciency and helpfulness of the Viennese ticket office and in just over an hour on a comfortable train ride (which was perhaps a little overheated) we arrived in this neighbouring country. With a ticket option to return the same or next day, we arrived with no plan other than to explore Bratislava.

St Martin’s Cathedral

When you arrive at pretty much any bus or train station, you are not usually entering a city from its best side and Bratislava is no different. (With more thought, I am sure I could list examples of picturesque train and bus stations in the best parts of town, but generally in recent experience, the stations have been to the edge and not in the most salubrious areas of a city.) So, although Bratislava looked a little drab at first, the more we walked, the more we discovered what this city had to offer – so much so that in the afternoon we made an impromptu hotel booking to stay the night so that we had longer to explore and enjoy the Slovakian delights.

St Elizabeth’s Church

During the morning, we wandered through the old town; there was a sense that there was more to see and if you ever travel anywhere with my husband, you always know that there will be no stone left unturned wherever you visit! I’m glad we continued to explore because Bratislava is a lovely place.

The old town was quaint and cosy mixed with an imperceptible feel of affectionate neglect – a bit like a favourite slightly worn sofa that has memories and history. It was comfortable to wander the cobbled streets in a city that didn’t feel the need to deliberately spruce up and ‘put on an act’ to attract tourists.

As we ventured further, we headed up the hill. At the top, Bratislava’s castle majestically watches over the old town and we battled icy winds to take a look. Whilst up there I was desperate for the loo. Luckily there were facilities, but unluckily there was an 80 cent charge. I scrabbled around in my bag for the correct change – unfortunately without success – and so I handed over a 20 euro note thinking (but not necessarily expecting) that perhaps I would hear a, “Oh don’t worry about it, have your wee for free”. But no. (And I agree, why should she?) Instead I watched this guardian of the toilets painstakingly count out the change and even dip into her own purse to salvage the remainder as the toilet coffers were insufficient. (Note to self: next time, carry change.)

Bratislava Castle

Relieved and refreshed, we continued on to the more modern parts of Bratislava, which included a shopping centre. This was – as far as shopping centres go – lovely. Usually, I am not a huge fan of shopping centres (I dislike being inside), but with its high glass ceiling which let in copious amounts of light and with minimal people milling around, it was definitely ‘decent’. It even included a welcoming ‘Decathlon’, which I decided I had to have a look around. I had no intention of buying anything – not because I didn’t want to but because frustratingly I couldn’t fit anything extra in my rucksack.

After an injection of the retail world, we ambled along a path which bordered the River Danube. By this time the sun was shining and it was lovely to leisurely stroll along the river, especially having just made the decision to stay longer in Bratislava. This decision led to a relaxing evening, which, of course, included sampling the local beer!

Posted in Travelling, Uncategorized

Wind in Wien

When you have to hold onto your woolley hat for fear of it being blown away, you know it’s a windy, windy day.

Having looked at the weather forecast of strong winds (which was confirmed by the exaggerated swaying of the rather precariously positioned tree right outside our appartment window) we ventured out for our first full day in Vienna thinking that we were prepared for the wind (52 mph) However, it was not until we were outside that we fully realised the strength of the air current.

Emerging from the tube into the centre of Vienna, I wrapped up, zipped up and try to glue my hat onto my head. My hands were safely tucked inside gloves and then pockets and my scarf wrapped tightly around my neck. A loud clang to our right made me jump in shock as I thought a piece of construction material was about to hit me. It turned out that the huge sudden gust of wind had blown over a set of low railings where improvements were being made to the nearby area.

Although we had to battle against these intermittent strong blasts of bitterly cold wind on our self-guided tour, we still did manage to look up and admire the grandeur of the beautiful buildings, which are certainly plentiful in Vienna. It’s quite a majestic city.

St Stephan’s cathedral

As we continued to stroll along, I glanced to my right and noticed a street cleaner – the poor man was frantically trying to use his litter-picker to grab twigs and small branches (that had fallen from trees in the wind) as they danced and swirled in defiance off the pavement and across the road. He tried to work as quickly as possible before the next gust swept them up out of reach. His dedication to the job was unquestionable!

The Spanish Riding School

Due to the piercing wind, it felt like sounds around me were being picked up and thrown about by each hefty gust: a bell ringing, then snippets of a conversation from a passer-by’s phone call and then the angry rattling of some plastic red and white tape that was cordonning off a statue in repair. Every noise seemed momentarily enhanced and then swept away.

Museum of Natural History

Despite the wind, we still managed to soak up the city of Vienna. After visiting the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the vastness of the buildings here felt accentuated. Ornate archways, interesting statues and sculptures and impressive structures make it a city to visit – wind or not!

I will end with my favourite monument, which made me pause and reflect – the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial. Brilliantly designed by Rachel Whiteread, this library is described as ‘introverted and non-accessible’. Those words gave much food for thought and contemplation about this monument and what it represented.

Posted in Travelling

A wet day in Vilnius

We arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania last night after a four hour bus ride from Riga, Latvia. Finding our appartment was relatively easy as we decided to exit the bus station from the main entrance rather than the back way out. This may sound like an obvious strategy, but during our travels, we have discovered that we have an odd tendency to use back entrances, e.g we exit bus stations via less apparent paths and, when sightseeing, we often seem to approach key landmarks from their rear, thus not viewing them in their full glory at first and we have a slight delayed reaction of realising that we have actually reached the intended sight!

Today has been a wet day in Vilnius so we have walked less than our usual day’s quota of steps on a first day in a new city. Instead, we visited two museums, each distinct from the other: first the ‘Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights’ and then the ‘Vilnius Museum of Illusions’. In fact, you couldn’t get two more dissimilar museums.

Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights

Set in the very building of the former KGB headquarters, this museum was a stark reminder of Soviet occupation in Lithuania. When entering the actual cells of the former KGB prison, little was left to the imagination particularly where death sentences were carried out.

Prison cells
Sacks of documents shredded by the KGB

What stood out to me was the reminder of how recently Lithuanian independence was achieved – in 1990. It was thought-provoking to consider what my life was like growing up compared to what someone of a similar age in Lithuania may have experienced under Soviet occupation.

Vilnius Museum of Illusions

This museum was a fun surprise: there were more optical illusions than initially perceived and you can play at your leisure! A brief explanation accompanies each illusion, where visitors are encouraged to discover the sensory exhibits for themselves.

You can spend time trying to understand the science behind the illusion (and if you choose, there are enthusiastic employees on hand to explain things) or you can just have fun playing around with the illusions and taking pics of yourself in wierd and wonderful ways!

So what to do on a rainy day in Vilnius? Try these two museums. In walking distance from each other, they are both definitely worth a visit whatever the weather.

Posted in Travelling

Off to the Opera!

Tuesday 29 January 2020

Just over 24 hours ago, we arrived in Riga bus station totally unfamiliar with our surroundings. After a four and a half hour journey, we descended the bus, loaded up our backpacks and began the walk to the Old Town in search of the apartment that we had booked for four nights.

I felt a certain lethargy – that semi-sleepy feeling after being cooped up for too long. Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints about the bus (LuxExpress) and the journey. In fact, it was comfortable and efficient with free hot drinks available as well as a personal screen with enough choice of entertainment to please anyone. Actually, I was quite pleased to finally watch ‘ Darkest Hour’ which has been on my watchlist for a while.

Once we arrived, it felt good to get off the bus and stretch, but trying to get our bearings in the dark early evening took a little longer than we wanted as we stood in the cold damp drizzle. It was exciting to be somewhere new but there was that sense of uncertainty of where the apartment was, what it would be like and how easy it would be to find.

Now 24 hours later, we are already referring to the Cuba cafe (an absolute find of a bar a couple of streets away from the apartment) as our local; we have done our ‘mini weekly’ shop at the nearby Rimi supermarket and we have booked tickets to the opera – yes, the opera! This is on top of the 19,000 steps of sightseeing, which included taking in several places, such as the Freedom Monument, the Museum of Occupation, the Town Hall Square with the House of the Blackheads and also the orthodox Nativity of Christ Cathedral amongst others.

It’s odd how one day you can feel like a complete stranger in an unknown city walking down roads that are totally unfamiliar that you have to keep pausing to check the map, read street names and/or look back to assess your bearings. Then, the next day you feel such a sense of familiarity and you can wander around without your nose stuck in a map (well, almost!).

Our local!

Wednesday 29 January 2020

This morning, we went for a run around the local park area and tonight we shall be sitting in the dress circle watching ‘Turandot‘.

A quick pic on my run this morning.

When packing for this trip, I asked one of my daughter’s if I should take a particular smartish shirt and she said yes because there may be an occasion to look nice if we go out in the evening.

This may be the first and last time that I attend the Latvian Opera House so this is the evening that I shall make some attempt to not look like a backpacker. I certainly can’t guarantee posh opera clothes (no way do they fit in a hand luggage sized bag!) but at least I have ironed my shirt and I shall endeavour to comb my hair.

Posted in Travelling

Two Tickets in Tallinn

Yesterday we bought two tickets for a late evening cinema viewing at the (un)glamorously named ‘Coca-Cola Plaza’. After a long, yet satisfying day of sightseeing, a film seemed like a good option and we both wanted to see ‘Bombshell’.

As tourists, we had wandered through the delightful cobbled streets of Tallinn’s old town, seen the wonderfully preserved buildings and learnt about the history of this charming city, but for the evening, we decided to do as a local may do and go to the cinema.

Earlier in the day, we had carried out the necessary internet research to find out cinema locations and screening times in Tallinn and we had also gone for a stroll to locate the cinema so that we knew where to go that evening. Whilst there, we decided to double check that the film was definitely not dubbed, so I politely asked an employee in the foyer,

“Excuse me but do you speak English?”

“No,” he curtly replied.

I smiled at him and I felt an awkward pause as I realised that our short-lived conversation was already over. I had ignorantly made the assumption that he would speak English because every other local person I have talked to so far has spoken at least two languages. (Please note: I am shamefully aware of my lack of Estonian.)

After a few moments, he clearly felt the awkwardness too and pointed over to a colleague at the ticket booth. I approached her and, having established her language expertise, I tentatively asked,

“Is this film in English?”

She looked up at me with a raised eyebrow and a look of disdain:

“Of course,” she replied.

(She said nothing else.)

Was it that she saw me as a complete fool for not realising that in Estonia many films were shown in English?

Was it that she didn’t think the film ‘Bombshell’ was even worthy of translation?

Or was it that she thought I was a buffoon for thinking that a film might even be dubbed into Estonian?

Whatever she thought, I’m not sure; I think the meaning of her look was lost in translation.

The screening

All in all, our research led to a successful result: not only did we watch the film in English, but it proved to be a rather luxurious cinema experience (especially appreciated after our respective 25,000+ steps from sightseeing).

Much to the delight of my co-traveller (aka husband), the choice of food was rather more extensive than our local cinema’s offerings in the UK. On display in glass-fronted shelving were caramel or salty (‘soolane’ – I had to look that one up) flavoured popcorn, bacon or barbeque ‘curls’ and of course, the obligatory cinema nachos. There was a separate area housing a range of powdered toppings too. (Not sure how many additives were in these powders but they weren’t taken advantage of so it didn’t matter.)

For me, the plush seats were my favourite – top notch comfort into which you could sink. We also each had a personal swivel table on which to put our consumables, but the icing on the cake was … wait for it…a button to press to recline the chair – yes, a button! I don’t know if my cinema viewing is limited but I felt like a child with a new toy and I was adamant that I was going to watch the whole film in the recline position whether it was comfortable or not. Why? Because I could. If I had a button, then I was certainly going to use it!

It was absolute bliss…and the film was pretty good too!

Posted in Travelling

Oodi Central Library

It is not often that I enter a place and find myself unable and unwilling to speak due to the utter bliss I feel as I avidly soak up my surroundings.

Welcome to the most loveliest of places – the Oodi Central library in Helsinki. It is a place of thriving tranquility where people of all ages can sit, chat, work, scroll, think, write, read or even learn a skill.

There are three floors altogether: a cafe on the ground floor and then on the second floor – spaces to play electronic games, make use of a 3D printer, sew fabric on one of the sewing machines or work in peace in a private glass booth.The top floor, where I am writing this, comprises various seating areas: work stations, sofas, communal tables, isolated chairs, a sloped wooden floor and so the list goes on. It took me a while to decide where to sit as it was all so inviting.

As I sit and write, I am aware of a soft, gentle hum of voices but if I choose to, I can tune in on a conversation close by or switch off completely and get lost in my own thoughts. Glancing around, there are individuals randomly seated absorbed in their own books; to my right is a long table busy with a hive of quiet activity, where people work on open laptops; meanwhile over to my left four young girls chat on lounge seats around a low coffee table and in the far corner by the window, crossed-legged on the wide, wooden ledge sit a young couple playing Monopoly borrowed from the library shelves that stand in the central area of the top floor.

Someone has found a comfortable spot to read the newspaper!

Really, words do not suffice to describe this wonderful calming, yet productive space. It’s strange because people seem lost (and so relaxed) in their own little world and yet it feels such a extraordinarily sociable environment. If Helsinki is on your list of places to travel, then I highly recommend that you take a couple of hours out to relax in the Oodi Central library.

Posted in Travelling

Hounslow to Helsinki

On our day of departure, I started the morning with a refreshing 5km run along the sea front. It was one of those beautiful sunny, cold crisp mornings, which is my favourite kind of weather. When I was teaching, my daily two mile commute (hardly warrants the word ‘commute’ I know, but I was heading to work so in theory it was) took me along the sea front and I would often wish that I was out on a run on those early mornings rather than driving to work. So before leaving for my travels, I was keen to make the point to myself that I no longer went to work! It was beautiful: there was one moment when I was staring out to sea and the sun beamed through the sparse broken cloud, which looked just like a thin layer of cotton wool that had been gently teased apart. The ray of light shining down on me felt like some sort of sign (don’t worry, nothing deep and meaningful) – like a thumbs up to the fact that I was enjoying a run rather than going to work!

We left after lunch – first a 30 minute walk to the train station and then a 2 hour train ride to Victoria followed by a tube to Hounslow where we were staying the night in close proximity to Heathrow ready for our early morning flight the following day.

I hate taking the Underground but on this occasion it was the most practical means to get to our hotel for the night. Being rammed into a crowded tube train during rush hour made us contemplate the poor timing of our departure and it momentarily took our minds off course from the excitement of our impending flight.

Tightly packed in the carriage, I watched the boy next to me (I’m guessing he was about 15) contemplatively touch the packaged sandwich that he had inside his Pret-a-Manger bag. I could almost sense him wondering whether he could feasibly eat his sandwich standing up in a jolting tube surrounded by commuters.

He eventually decided that he would attempt this feat. I grimaced as I smelt the aroma of fish waft into my nose. I didn’t think anyone in their right mind would choose to eat a sandwich in such dire surroundings and certainly not a tuna sandwich (the smell – urgh!), however the poor boy must have been starving because he worked so surely and intently to open the package and he literally couldn’t take his eyes off the sandwich for a single second.

As I now sit and reflect, I can forgive him. (How gracious of me!) He was desperately hungry and he didn’t realise he was standing a few centimetres from a vegetarian who last ate meat 37 years ago and can’t even remember a time when fish was on her plate.

Early Tuesday morning we arrived at the airport. We had an easy flight on a half-empty plane, where I was able to enjoy the first of my downloads (‘Treadstone’ on Amazon Prime if you’re wondering. I’m so pleased I spent that packing time prioritising my entertainment!)

I spotted this jacket of a man sitting near me on the plane – an exciting job to have!

The tube, the train and the English sea front now all seem like a long way away as I write this in our home for the next three nights: a centrally-located apartment in Helsinki with the added thrill of use of a sauna and laundry room. Luxury and necessity all in the same basement!

So now it’s time to discover this European city…

Arrival at Helsinki train station
Everyone loves a reindeer in lights in front of a statue next to a Christmas tree!