Posted in Travelling to France

Are We There Yet?

Each summer, for the past twenty years or so, we have packed up our car, bundled the kids in the back and headed off to the Lot-et-Garonne region in France. Two adults and four children with luggage in a seven-seater Galaxy easily filled the space and the ability to stretch out or unfold was a valuable commodity.

This August, however, it was just the two of us. Our kids are no longer kids, and even if the youngest two siblings had wanted to join us, they couldn’t. Without a double vaccine, adults are currently not allowed to travel to France without an ‘essential reason’. Going on holiday is unfortunately not deemed to be essential and the two of them had not been double-jabbed at the time of departure. So with just us parents in our seven-seater, it certainly felt a little different.

When we first set off, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw empty space – a void that I was not used to. No teenagers slouched in their seats precariously held in by their seat belts; no limbs tangled in a blanket or draped over bags and no mishmash of piled high luggage limiting my view of the traffic behind.

I had taken advantage of our new ‘empty nest’ situation and had lavishly packed a multitude of items which would cater for any possible occasion on this holiday. I had a bag for my yoga blocks, belt and mat; a bag for my latest crocheting projects; an unnecessarily large wash bag; a bag for more clothes than days and a separate shoe bag with a range of footwear that I would probably not wear whilst away. Yet despite this, the luggage remained a meagre pile which lay low and lost in the boot.

The car was eerily quiet: no child had started on the snacks within five minutes of leaving home and no child was throwing up into a discarded empty plastic bag which had been found in desperation in a hidden side pocket. In the silence, I relished the idea of belting out a few tunes or enjoying a podcast at a higher than necessary volume. However, due to buying the wrong connector for my phone to access my playlists and podcasts (which I didn’t discover until underwater in the Eurotunnel) I soon realised that my entertainment was going to be limited to CDs. The upside of this was that it meant a trip down memory lane, delving into my music collection from years gone by.

As we drove, I felt strangely liberated singing aloud in-and-out-of-tune with no criticism from the back. There was no one to complain and no volume control needed to be maintained. I sang along to songs that I knew word for word which I hadn’t listened to in years: Barclay James Harvest, Melanie, Scouting for Girls and more.

At lunchtime, as family tradition dictates, my husband and I swapped the driving. Taking up the passenger role, I was free to fill the baguettes – baguettes which had been bought from a crowded and somewhat unsavoury service station. This year, it was quietly noted that we only needed one baguette. In the past, the kids’ unspoken rule was that I was the trusted lunch maker and with nostalgia, I recalled which family member had which filling. In my opinion, you can’t beat butter and marmite.

On these trips, crisps would often be passed back and forth, but it was hit and miss whether the bag would be empty before us adults in the front would even get a look in. This year, however, gluttony was rife as the crisps stayed firmly between my husband and me in the front.

After a doze, I became aware of an unusual comfort in my surroundings as I realised that I didn’t have a child’s foot propped at the side of my headrest. I sort of missed that foot, but I was equally enjoying the agreeable reclining position of my seat which had been newly unleashed in the space available.

As we swept past familiar fields of beckoning sunflowers and the undulating landscape of vineyards, I smiled a contented smile. Filled with nostalgia of the past and enjoying the tranquility of the present, I mused on how perhaps one day, when my husband and I are old and frail, we may be passengers driven by one of our children on this same journey through France. Will we be the ones snoring in the back, complaining about aches, asking for food and awaking from intermittent car naps asking, ‘Are we there yet?’

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 face masks, running

The Unmasked Runner

Everyone understands the severity of this virus and the majority of people agree that measures imposed to restrict the spread are vital, but today reinforced my view that we also do need to apply some common sense.

Here in Crete, the current rule states, ‘Mandatory use of face masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces.’ Earlier, as I was about to embark on a run, this ruling raised some interesting discussion in our household. Mask or no mask?

Picture the location: I was up a fairly remote mountainside, with the exception of a smattering of houses – some occupied, others not. The landscape is largely untouched, where proud olive trees stand collectively in the fields, fields which are separated by low walls made up of precarious piles of stones. The bell tinkering of the sheep, who roam daily in a nearby field at sunrise and sunset, had silenced. The lonesome farmer had already moved them on. Looking around across the expanse of the land, I saw no one. It was here, on this mountainside, that I would begin my run. First along a deserted dirt track and then on a trail that would lead me down the hill – down a quiet tarmac road which sees very little action.

Starting track

My initial thoughts were how could I possibly run with my nose and mouth covered with a mask – the temperature was already in the mid 20s and a full sun was shining. However, as I pondered further, I realised that if I didn’t, strictly speaking I would be breaking the ruling. I mulled over what I perceived to be the madness of running in a mask; the idea of exercising and thus breathing heavily whilst constricted by a fabric covering didn’t sit well in my mind. And yet, to fully comply with the ruling, anyone out in public should wear a mask. Surely this is where common sense had to come in?

The CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) states that ‘masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people’. As we all know, Covid-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (about 6 feet or 1.83 metres to be precise) and the importance of mask wearing where people are close to each other is clearly understood. The chances of me coming in close contact with anyone on this run was next to none. In fact, not next to none, it was none. If I was to meet another soul walking or running then we could easily maintain the distance of the road width (approx 3-4 metres) should we happen to pass each other.

I pondered further on the ruling versus common sense. After about 2 km, I would have to pass through a tiny village (with one small local convenience store and a taverna) and then a second village, which although larger, would still be fairly empty due to the early hour. Continuing downhill, I would eventually reach the quiet sea resort of Almyrida, which sits nestled in a gentle and quieter-than-normal bay. Here I would end my run. Here I would mingle with the somewhat despondent local employee in a cafe who, if his establishment was lucky enough to be selected, would be tending to the odd tourist seeking breakfast. August had ended, holiday makers had left – or not even arrived, the place was quiet.

Almyrida

After much thought, I decided to carry my mask as I ran. That way, should I meet anyone along the way, I could easily put it on at a safe distance before we crossed paths. I decided that I would wear the mask when going through the villages, but not along the deserted road. And so finally I set off.

For the first kilometre, despite not meeting a soul, I felt an element of guilt. I almost expected a police officer to stroll out from behind a prickly pear cactus as if waiting to catch me! Just before reaching the first village, I did actually pass an older lady who was strolling up the hill on the opposite side of the road. For the record, she wore no mask. This made me feel a little easier; I wasn’t the only one who was applying some common sense in our remote surroundings. In fact, she was the only pedestrian I passed for the entire five kilometre route. It was that remote.

The prickly pear patrol

As I reached the second larger village, I stuck to my decision and slowed to a masked walk. The tavernas had not yet opened and the local store was empty so other than a couple of cats, I was the only life form on the road. I suspect that many would consider me a touch over cautious; others perhaps not. Once through the village, I unmasked (keeping it close to hand) and continued down the twists and turns of the silent tarmac, yet still on the lookout just in case my sweaty undressed face met another. Soon, however, I arrived at the beach, masked up and headed for a well earned breakfast. Whilst contemplating my journey down the mountain, I released a final sigh of leftover guilt mixed with a feeling of ridiculousness at my worry of breaking a rule which was based on close human contact of which I had none.

On the home straight

Upon returning to the house, I googled a little further and was pleased to find that the CDC have a section entitled, ‘Feasibility and Adaptations’ which suggests that mask wearing is not always possible in all situations. It mentions running and suggests, ‘…conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others.’ So after my initial concerns, my subsequent research and the sight of another lonesome maskless runner later in the day, I am content with my decision to be a law abiding citizen whilst applying an element of common sense.

Posted in Greek taverna

A Taverna Tale

We had just finished a delicious meal of beautifully prepared traditional Greek food at a gorgeous taverna located in the heart of a small, peaceful village.

Set slightly to the edge of the taverna was a table with four chairs, where three local men were each enjoying a cold Greek coffee frappe and a cigarette or two or three…The fourth seat was occupied by the waiter (also the taverna owner) who joined his friends for a chat, a drink and a smoke in-between serving customers.

At intermittent stages over the course of the evening, a bell was rung in the kitchen. This prompted a delayed reaction from the waiter/owner where he would slowly rise from his seat, stroll inside, collect the food, serve the customer and then return to his position at the table with his friends to resume the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, he did an excellent job in his role as front of the house. He was friendly, helpful and attentive and his relaxed demeanour was welcomed with a casual, homely approach that was perfect in this local family taverna.

As our meal came to an end, I pondered on what was going on in the kitchen. In the relentless heat of 30+ degree temperatures, juggling the timing of all the orders, the women were cooking the starters and main courses. Earlier in the day, the women had no doubt prepped vast quantities of vegetables, including countless tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, aubergines and courgettes for the array of mezze dishes. In advance of service, the women would probably have spent hours baking moussaka, boureki and pasticio. And we haven’t yet even considered dessert production. I was exhausted just thinking about the late evening hours that would be spent washing up and cleaning in preparation to begin the whole process again the following day. Factor in bringing up children – that’s a handful.

Who is paying?’ asked the waiter/owner as he brought the bill over to our table. Standing patiently beside the table waiting for our answer, he wore a slightly dishevelled look as if he’d just got up from a relaxed afternoon in front of the TV and had been disturbed by the doorbell.

‘He is,’ I replied indicating to my husband, who happened to have the cash in his wallet having been to the ATM earlier in the day. Another meal, it might be have been me paying: a joint account and together 30 years, it makes little difference who puts the money down at the end of a meal. On this particular evening, it was my husband who happened to have the cash.

In response to my answer, the waiter replied, ‘Ah, it’s always the man. The man, he always pay.’ Musing on the implication of his remark, I smiled outwardly in polite passive agreement, whilst inwardly chuckling at what I perceived to be the irony of his comment. He may have had to momentarily vacate his seat at the table with his friends but there was a hidden hive of activity in the kitchen. 😉

Posted in corona virus, hobbies, Travel

Time Well Spent

With my travels unexpectedly interrupted by the spread of the corona virus, on more than one occasion it has been mentioned by friends and family, “Oh but you must be bored,” or “You poor things not being able to travel.” When I hear this, I find myself having to justify why I don’t feel either boredom or self-pity. I thank them for their concerns with an underlying feeling of guilt because at this point in time, there are far more pressing worries in these ‘COVID-19 times’.

Initially we did have to adjust and accept the fact that we could not continue our travels to Spain, Croatia and then take the planned long road-trip through Italy to Crete. However, it has actually been relatively easy to recalibrate and I am certainly not in a position to be dwelling on my misfortunes of not being able to travel. There are clearly other people on whom to focus: the elderly, the vulnerable, the key workers and how the effect of isolation and inaccessibility to vital resources can be managed.

“Oh, you must be bored?”

Bored? No. It is not worth dwelling on what you can’t do. The best thing is to focus on making the most of the opportunities that are presented by unforeseen circumstances. In this case, I have settled into home-life just loving the fact that I have time to discover new hobbies as well indulging in long-term loves, which I never had time for before or which I was too exhausted to do when my job dominated my life. I can now spend hours at a sewing machine, learning Greek, running an increasing number of kilometres, cooking, yoga, catching up with the classics on audiobooks, chatting to my family and friends, crocheting, thinking about and writing a number of unfinished blogs, reading paperbacks and also e-books on a Kindle, painting doors and walls, growing vegetables and herbs, catching up on TV, listening to podcasts, as well as learning through thoughtfully-selected online OU courses.

“You poor things not being able to travel.”

When people expressed an element of feeling sorry for us for not being able to travel, a sense of awkwardness set in when I considered my current situation. I wasn’t a key worker, I wasn’t a front line NHS worker, and I didn’t have to worry about my job – whether I would lose it or put myself at risk by working. Having already given up work with the plan to travel, no one was expecting me to be anywhere to do anything at any time. So it was easy to adjust to the changes: I was just in a different country than I had intended to be in. I certainly didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. For the time being, travelling has to wait, which it will.

With time at home now available and in an attempt to contribute some sort of worthwhile support in this current lockdown, I signed up to be an NHS volunteer. Once accepted, with much anticipation I prepared to be immediately busy helping others, however no alerts came (or have come) through. Although initially frustrating, I can only assume that the lack of request calls has to be a good thing. So what else could I do to help?

With recent discussion on whether face masks are beneficial or not to help prevent the spread of the virus, I am now busily putting my sewing skills to good use and making these. This was prompted by a request from my brother, who lives in London (with its concentrated number of corona cases) where he asked me if I could make some face masks for him and his family. This has since sparked off further requests so now I am feeling vaguely useful. My contribution maybe small, but it is valuable to some.

Face masks #handmadebyluce

None of us planned for these last few weeks and who knows what life will be like over the next few weeks or months. But, cliche to hand, don’t forget that every cloud has a silver lining – you just have to make sure you find it.

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 Travel

French Glorious Food!

Dressed in black salopettes and sitting opposite me in a restaurant on a French ski slope, a wise man was once sipping a rather luxurious looking ‘café Viennois’ and said, “This is what I go skiing for.”

It’s true. Food and drink can be an important part of a skiing holiday for some people, but perhaps not the reason for booking one! Here in the Haute-Savoie région, particular sumptuous consumables have become firm favourites in our family. They are not necessarily unique to this region so you may have enjoyed them elsewhere, but wherever and whomever, when ordering these heavenly French recipes, you know your taste buds are in for a treat.

A favourite ‘Schumy pizza’ with goat’s cheese and honey

Fondue

An absolute must is a fondue. This has become a firm family tradition: an evening out that includes a shared pot of heavenly fondue where every single calorie of melting cheese is worth it. After a few hours skiing, sufficient energy is burnt off so it is, of course, understandable that one deserves a treat of dipping countless cubes of bread into the rich cheese deliciousness for one evening. It would be rude not to! I’m sure the compulsory green salad on the side is only there to ensure that the arteries relax a little during the meal.

Fondue Savoyarde

Les crêpes

Another must-eat is the well-known French crêpe. (I speak on behalf of my family on this one as I don’t usually eat them aside from cadging a corner of someone else’s.) In the UK, we seem to wait for that one day in the year to allow ourselves to indulge in pancakes, but here on the slopes, they are readily available and provide a welcome afternoon treat and essential sugar fix after a few downhill runs.

Toppings are plentiful and diverse and a quick family poll would suggest Nutella as the most popular choice (with a large dollop of ‘chantilly’ on those occasions of additional indulgence). However, the more traditional may opt for the lemon and sugar or if you need a boost, go for the Grand Marnier crêpe because they will lavishly soak the pancake in alcohol. They certainly don’t skimp!

Tartiflette

Tartiflette is a gorgeous French dish and although it is traditionally made with ‘lardons’, we did find one restaurant that made a welcome vegetarian version without the bacon. Sadly, they no longer offer it and so with veggies in the family, we have reverted to a homemade version using, of course, the local cheese. The Aravis region is famous for its Reblochon, which is a soft-rind cheese with a slight nutty taste and is the basis for a tartiflette. Add potatoes and onions (and lardons if necessary) and you have the most delicious golden brown and bubbling cheesy meal. Staple ingredients at their best.

Our homemade tartiflette with Reblochon

When I think back to that wise man’s words, he can be forgiven for his exaggeration. Obviously the skiing is the main reason for a skiing holiday, however it would not be the same without the glorious French food. Bon appétit!

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!

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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.