Sunday, 29 November 2015

Down to earth with a bump

After what seems like a summer of gallivanting around the world we are back home and have been for a few weeks. So for now there are no more views of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge or the Acropolis in Athens. Just the country lane up which we live, which looked pretty good a few weeks ago when the photograph, below, was taken. Here in the north west of England we had a bit of an Indian Summer and a mild Autumn after a dismal (proper)Summer. The colours were as good as any in New England and this was little Olde England.

But after the winds and rain of recent weeks the trees are now bare and the lane itself is a sea of mud. Some days we have had a moat at the end of our drive and we have only been able to get out into the lane in a car or wellington boots.

When we returned from the wedding, which was the subject of my last post, it seemed strange not to be getting ready to rush off somewhere, as we had been doing for most of the Summer and I have to admit that inertia set in.  However, after all that time away there was quite a bit of catching up to do, as well as finalising the itinerary for a trip Down Under next February/March, which will give husband a chance to meet up with some of his distant relatives, living in New Zealand. It is going to be an awfully big adventure and like nothing we have ever done before. We have been hoping to make this trip for some time now, but it was not feasible while we were working. Yes, I know that we have been away a lot recently. This is our post retirement gap year, but we are not doing it as 52 successive weeks. We are pacing ourselves, as we have a long list of countries around the world that we would like to visit.

Last week  husband's oldest school friend and his wife came for lunch. Working out a menu was a bit of a challenge as he can not eat nuts and his wife is lactose intolerant. The main course was not a problem but the majority of deserts contain some form of dairy products and I was determined to make use of our harvest of cooking apples. After rummaging through my collection of recipes I eventually found a couple of suitable deserts and we had a good day catching up with them.

You could be forgiven for thinking that life at the moment is pretty rosy, but it has not all been a bed of roses. A few weeks ago my Mini Bluebell was reversed into in the car park of a local shopping centre, denting the driver's door and badly damaging the panel behind it. I was stationary at the time and the other driver admitted liability. Neither of us was injured which was the most important thing. My shopping trip was cut short and I spent the next few days fielding telephone calls to and from my insurance company, the other driver's insurance company and insurance company car body repair shops. I reluctantly decided to allow the bodyshop, of the other driver's insurance company, to get my car repaired because they appeared to be able to do so sooner than my insurance company's bodyshop. It may have been a mistake as the nine working days that it took to do the repair was far longer than I had expected. Okay, I had a courtesy car, but it was awful and I only drove it when I really had to. It was a Vauxhall Corsa, which is not a suitable replacement for a Mini. Apart from the fact that it was black with white go faster strips and looked like a zebra - it drove like a tank. Even with the driver's seat in its' highest position I was not able to see any of the bonnet and neither could I see some of the dashboard. That week and a half without wheels seemed to be a long time. On the tenth working day my six and a half year old Bluebell was returned to me looking sparkly and as good as new. It is great to have her back. If you are wondering why I can not walk - I can, but the nearest bus stop is a mile from where we live and there are no pavements or street lights. Consequently it is essential to have transport.

Then we come to our broadband situation, which has been a sore point in this cottage since the beginning of the year, when we theoretically should have been able to have superfast broadband installed. After two failed attempts to have it installed we had to accept that for us it could not be done. We were too far away from the cabinet serving our location. By chance a few weeks ago husband found out that one of our neighbours had managed to get superfast broadband installed. Work has been done to improve the line out to where we live. So now we also have it and husband is happy!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Another knot tied

Another month and another wedding. This time we did not have to travel as far as California, but it was far enough for us to need to spend two nights away. This time the wedding was in the very attractive Cotswold village of Bibury, which is about a three hour drive from where we live.

We could have driven down on the day of the wedding, but the last time that we did that for a wedding we were late and ended up following the bride into the church. Had we been late for this particular wedding we would probably have missed the whole ceremony, as it was a civil service at an hotel. So we drove down the afternoon before the wedding, arriving late afternoon.

After a quick unpack we had a walk around Bibury and made the use of the last of the day's sun to take some photographs. The wedding was at the Swan Hotel, which is where we were staying.

I had previously spent a night there as a teenager, returning to Yorkshire from a family holiday in Devon. Bibury did not seem to have changed much in the intervening years. It is pretty unforgettable with the stream running through the middle of the village.

That evening we enjoyed dinner in the hotel restaurant, followed by a good night's sleep.

Unusually for England the weather was warm and sunny and the hotel decided that wedding would be held outside in their garden, which was lovely and very unexpected. However, the was one problem. Most of the ladies were wearing heels, which kept sinking into the damp grass! The ceremony was very brief and we then had celebratory drinks in the garden before moving inside for the wedding breakfast and party. And another member of the family is no longer young, free and single.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Sea, sun and storms

Another month, another destination, another airport and another airline. This time we were flying from Liverpool John Lennon airport to Barcelona in Spain. As we left the departure lounge to walk to the plane we were instructed to use the back staircase to board the plane, which meant turning left after entering the plane, but this time we were not in Business Class. This was our first flight with Ryanair and all passengers travel cattle class with them. Their colours are navy and canary yellow. The latter making the inside of the plane so bright I felt as if I needed to wear my sun glasses! The flight was uneventful but cramped, with a descent and landing which was painful on the ears. We are not in any hurry to fly with Ryanair again.

We had two nights in Barcelona, which gave us a day to expore the city before we embarked on our  cruise, which was another first. Our day in Barcelona was Friday 11 September, which happened to be the Day of Catalonia and a public holiday. Most of the shops and some of the tourist attractions were closed, but we did manage to get into

the Catedral de Santa Eulalia, which is so enormous that it felt like a railway station without trains. The area around it is so built up that it is impossible to take a photograph of the outside, but we did manage to see the geese that live in the cathedral cloisters, of which there are thirteen - one for each year that Saint Eulalia lived.

Late the next morning we joined our fellow passengers to board the cruise ship. By the time that we got to our cabin it was early afternoon and time to find some lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the ship. By the time that we sailed from Barcelona, at around 6 pm, the fine sunny day had turned to cloud and rain. Everything was going smoothly until the early hours of the following morning when we sailed in a ferocious thunderstorm. The ship, which was enormous, was tossed around a bit and with torrential rain pouring onto our balcony it felt as if we were in a washing machine. After about two hours we sailed out of it and docked at our first port of call - the French port of Marseille. Here we took the shuttle bus into Marseille and had lunch at a cafe around the Old Port - Vieux Port.

Late that afternoon we left Marseille to sail onto the next port of call, which was Livorno in Italy. From Livorno we had hope to get to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. So had rather a lot of other people and the bus was full, which meant that we did not get to Pisa. Instead we had a walk around Livorno and a leisurely drink in a cafe before returning to the ship for lunch. Our third port of call on the following day was down the Italian coast where we docked at Civitavecchia - the port of Rome. We had visited Rome for a few days some years ago, so did not want to go on an organised tour, but hoped to be able to get the train to Rome. However, getting from the cruise terminal into the centre of Civitavecchia took longer than we had expected so we decided that we would explore the port area instead.

We were surprised to find a pleasant little town with some old buildings, an open air market which I always find interesting, a beach and a promenade. By now the weather had improved from warm cloud and sunny intervals to blue sky and hot sunshine, which allowed us to sit in the sun on the ship in the afternoon.

The following day was a day at sea. With the improved weather we were able to relax in the sun by one of the ship's swiming pools, while we watched the world go by. Late morning a local pilot boarded the ship to guide it through the Straits of Messina, which run between the boot of Italy and the island of Sicily - below.

Leaving Sicily behind we headed north through the Ionian Sea into the Adriatic Sea and our next port of call which was Kotor in Montenegro. The following morning I was amazed to pull back the curtains and find this spectacular view.

We were anchored in the Bay of Kotor, which looks like a fjord. The small towns around its' shores were built by the Romans, giving them a Venetian feel.  The scenery was just stunning. The ship's lifeboats ran a shuttle service to get passengers to and from the harbour. This was a reassuring experience, as the lifeboats were much more substantial than I had expected them to be.

Now there was only one day of our cruise left and that was another day at sea. This time we sailed along the west coast of the Greek island of Zakynthos/Zante, before heading towards Piraeus - the

port of Athens, where we were to disembark. We now had a two night stay in Athens. By the time that we had disembarked and settled ourselves into our hotel it was late morning. We then took the hotel's shuttle bus into the centre of Athens for a spot of lunch, followed by an open top bus tour of Athens in the afternoon. Athens was very hot as was the top of the bus, but at times there was a pleasant breeze - the pros and cons of an open top bus. The tour took us around the main points of interest in the centre of Athens - past the parliament building which has recently seen a lot of controversial activity.

In front of the parliament building the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by two presidential guards wearing Greek national dress. I don't know how they wear those outfits in the sweltering heat.

By the end of the bus tour we were in need of refreshment. Then we caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel for a much needed dip in the hotel swimming pool. The next day we went to the Acropolis, which is actually an area of Athens and not the building on the hill top. The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world.

The monument on the hill top that can be seen from almost everywhere in the city is the Parthenon. It is built from Pentelic marble, which gleams white in the sun and epitomises the glory of ancient Greece. It was completed in 438 BC, is dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos and is the largest Doric temple ever built in Greece.

The Parthenon appears to be pretty much in the centre of Athens, which is a vast city. This is the view from just one side of the Parthenon with buildings as far as the eye can see.

That afternoon we enjoyed a leisurely beer in Syntagma Square - the square in front of the parliament building. This was the weekend of the Greek General Election. The fourth since 2009. We watched as television crews set up their equipment in Syntagma Square in preparation for the result of the election later that night. After the drama of the previous election earlier in the year, this turned out to be a quiet affair.

Our holiday was about over. We were to fly home the following day. But there would be another twist in the tale before we made it home. Thunder storms and heavy rain were forecast for the Athens area. As we prepared to leave out hotel for the taxi ride to the airport storm clouds were gathering over Athens.

We had not driven far when the heavens opened and we were engulfed in a spectacular storm. Initially there was wind with thunder and lightening, both sheet and forked. Then there was torrential rain and hail stones. The road was awash with water. It was like been driven along a river. It was an experience! Unsurprisingly our flight back to Manchester was delayed. In fact nothing much seemed to be happening at the airport that morning. We heard that some flights had been diverted to other airports, to avoid the storm. Our plane had been held back at Manchester, in the hope that the storm would be over by the time it reached Greece, but as that was not the case, the air traffic controllers had had to divert the plane around the storms until it was safe to land. By the time that we took off, about one hour late, the storm was over and we had an uneventful flight back to Manchester.