Category Archives: Travel

Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum

It is five years since I went to Greece and Turkey and I have been enjoying the photos and memories recently.

We had a lovely girls holiday. apart from the night when I half carried, half dragged my friend to the hotel. We went when it was cheap and the holiday season had wound down, so there were no taxis to be found.

I stopped at the third shot of absinthe and told her to. She stopped after five. I danced around the room, giddy.

She was fine until we left the hotel to party in the centre of Kos.

She gradually got more intoxicated. By the time we arrived 20 minutes later, she was falling asleep.

The bar staff were worried and I didn’t want her to pass out, so I woke her up after I’d enjoyed my cocktail and we set off.

She said she wanted to sit on a wall and stay there and I reasoned with her. After a while she let me help her. It was a long walk back. She threw up the next afternoon.

We always say I’m never drinking again but how often is that true? The last time I was sick from alcohol was as a student. I liked to test how much I could drink. I could stomach 8-10 shots. I was usually sick after 10. I didn’t like the lack of control, so it didn’t happen often.

One time I got escorted home by some chivalrous students. They didn’t realise how long the walk was but they were men of their word. It’s dangerous getting drunk as a woman unless you have friends that are sober enough to look after you. Students think that getting drunk is a game but it can have lasting consequences.

These days I hardly drink at all. I’ve never liked alcohol unless it is a quality spirit or doesn’t taste of it. I used to make the odd pina colada. I used to have cocktail parties until a friend told my parents how amazing they were. They have been around every birthday since.

Anyway, back to Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum. Popular tourist destinations. There are castles at the ports of Kos and Bodrum and there is a lot of history between the two countries. We didn’t absorb much of that as we didn’t have time for the audio guide. However, the internet informs me that the Byzantines ruled after the Greeks until their empire crumbled. Istanbul fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 followed by Greece, as that was part of the same Byzantine kingdom. The sultans ruled Greece for 400 years, until the Greek War of Independence lasting from 1822-1831.

 

Pserimos

Bodrum

Kos

Bodrum

balalaika

All the world’s a stage

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September 10, 2017 · 6:35 pm

Housemate Heaven

Moving out of my parents’ house was the best decision I ever made.

I have now settled in to my new abode. The rent is reasonable at £375 a month. For that I pink-new-home-cards-simple-new-house-classic-ideas-wonderful-sample-animal-love-spread-doorget the run of the whole house, next day service on any repairs, a TV with two channels, all bills included and the perfect housemate.

Helen is my age, a lovely, bubbly, tidy, respectful and relaxed tenant with shoulder-length dark brown straight hair and blue eyes. She works at a local hospital organising heart operations, but she wants to be a personal assistant.

She should really be a counsellor, she is so good at listening. Her brother is a psychiatrist so it must run in the family. She will patiently listen to any drivel I spout and look like she is interested. We both like rugby, drum and bass (minus illicit substances) and watching crap on TV (First Dates). That was until my boyfriend “fixed” it. We lost Channel 4 and 5 and now we just have BBC 1 and 2.

So far the landlord’s mum has provided a brand new toaster the day after the old one blew the electrics. I thought I would need to replace the fuse but thankfully it was as easy as switching it back on (thanks Google and the flashlight on my phone). She also does all the washing up and the dishwasher whenever she pops round (once every couple of weeks).  What more could you want?

Credit: Chic On A Shoestring

Leaking-Washing-Machine

Well there is one thing, a washing machine that you can use on any setting. Currently it only works on 40 degrees, delicate cycle and a quick spin. But I am being fussy. The household appliances are a strange combination of 80’s retro (literally from that decade if not older) and brand new, with the “replace it when it’s broken” philosophy. The dishwasher is safe enough but put the washing machine on the wrong setting and you get water all over the floor when you open it. Without a mop it took about an hour to sponge it all up…

It is peaceful here. No nagging from my mother (which was constant and caused headaches), just freedom. I can do no wrong in Helen’s eyes except when I half finish chores (a bad habit).

I have yet to use the complimentary garden herbs – rosemary and lemon thyme. I cooked a meal for Helen the first Friday. I got a discounted pork shoulder joint (only £3.50) and roasted it for an hour with white wine and potatoes. It was delicious.

The landlord is about my age, chatty and excitable with dark brown curly hair and bright eyes. She is a primary school teacher who lives in Bristol. Her parents help her manage the house they helped her buy (worth about £250,000 with a mortgage of just over £500 a month). They hoped she would stay in in the city but she went about four hours away to live with a boyfriend. That did not work out and she ended up staying there for the job which was better.

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Credit: Cardiff Caerdidi Tours courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent some quality time with her this weekend. She is also interested in rugby because her father was in a local team. Unfortunately rugby is a risky sport and he broke his ankle, shattering the bones in his leg. He never played again but kept it in his life by being the Chairman of the club and the ticketing association. We watched the Cardiff Blues lose narrowly to Munster (Ireland). I also went round the castle in Cardiff (Wales) and the National Museum. Apparently there isn’t much else to do there but it kept me entertained all weekend.

In other news I failed my automatic driving test for the second time. I failed the first one in February and the second one two days ago. The first time was because I had not had enough practice at parallel parking on a hill and was so shaken up after doing it correctly that I tried to get closer to the kerb wrongly. I ended up reversing out into the road. I forgot to put the car back into forward gear and then turned the wheel the wrong way. I got three minors (for going 40 in a 60 on undulating hills, for not being far enough into the middle of the road when turning right and for not looking ahead through the window before setting off).

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Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second time I was nearly back at the test centre (at that stage I had passed) when I lost concentration and thought it would only be a minor if I followed a van round a parked car. The man in the car waiting on the other side of the road was livid, gesticulating wildly. Of course it was a major – I should have waited. I got 7 minors including speeding (30 instead of 20), steering (not passing the wheel through my hands correctly) and going through an amber traffic light instead of stopping. If you are preparing for the test please click on this link for some advice.

As for my accommodation, it will probably be sold in a year or so but for now I am quite happy to stay where I am – this living arrangement works.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Driving, Life of Lydia, Travel, Uncategorized

How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

images (1)Fed up of feeling like a piece of meat on your holidays? Want to stick to blood donation for people?

Here is a bite-sized guide to mozzie magnets and the precautions you can take to get them to buzz off.

What are mozzies attracted to?

Carbon Dioxide

We can’t help attracting mosquitoes as they hone in on the carbon dioxide plumes we exhale. So we have to take steps to defend ourselves.

Please do not bother with citronella though, research have found it is less effective than DEET – the active incredient in most bug repellant products – protecting for merely 3 hours or less.

Hot Skin

Common areas include the forehead, wrists, elbows and neck. You can protect your head and neck with a buff, a versatile scarf that can be worn in a variety of ways.

According to research published in 2000 in medical journal the Lancet, pregnant women are twice as likely to be bitten due to being hotter and exhaling more carbon dioxide.

Dark clothing

Some mosquitoes are visual hunters that search people out from their outline against the horizon. No need to break out the camouflage from that army surplus store – there is a range of bug repellant clothing.

Scented perfumes, colognes and lotions

Unless the perfume is bug-repellant deodorant.

Cholesterol

A reason to exercise before that tropical holiday.

Lactic acid

A good excuse not to exercise once abroad.

Movement

Unless you are a statue impersonator you won’t have much luck with this, so cover up. You may feel like strutting in your Speedoes/bronzing in your bikini but you won’t look so good covered in bites.

Type “O” blood

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found mosquitoes landed on people with type O blood nearly twice as often as those with type A. O well, you will just have to follow the above advice.

Avoid going out at dawn or dusk as this is when mosquitoes are particularly active.

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My First “Airbnb” Experience

Prodigy 1

For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

ProdigyCard

The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

Sweaty beer cheer 89067_ORIG-pig_pen_smelly_kid_peanuts_charlie_brown

The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia, Travel

My First Ski Holiday

After crashing into a fence in training, I was careful in The Alps. We went to a place called Tignes near Val D’Isere. We flew into Geneva airport and got a taxi from there, which was more convenient than landing in France due to timings.

There were six of us, two of us being beginners who were technically intermediate, having done the day course. But we didn’t feel at that level. We stopped at Geneva airport where the prices made us wince. I paid about £5 for some Burger King chips. It was very clean, with adverts for watches, investments and diamonds. The people there were smartly dressed and coiffured. The average salary is 6160 Swiss Francs per month (£4319), with only 3.5% unemployment but it has been argued that living costs in Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – average 4000 Swiss Francs per month.

The drive was long and we dozed as day became night and the hills became mountains which grew until they were snow-capped and touched the sky.

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We finally arrived at our “Bonjour bonjour” chalet 1550m up in the Alps. It was in a little chalet village and did not look like much from the outside. We had a hard time finding it as it was not clearly marked. I was jealous of one nearby with a ground floor swimming pool.

But it was lovely inside, with soft carpets a wooden communal dining area, a homely glow and young, enthusiastic and welcoming chalet staff.

They had kept dinner back for us and so we had a late meal which was delicious, including a creamy courgette soup (with cream, thyme and coriander) and a salted caramel pie, all cooked in the kitchen next door by a gourmet chef.

I kept a diary of my ski learning and experiences.

Day 1

On the first day I was too tired to write in it, flopping down after lessons on the green (beginner) slope. The instructor found out whether I was suitable for the intermediate class by taking me to the top of a small slope which looked incredibly steep as a newcomer. I am not good with heights but I was determined to work with it. I lost it though and shrieked and told him he was not to let go of my hands. He did and skied backwards as I rocked clumsily down in the biggest snowplough I could manage (your skis are in a triangle shape with the narrow bit at the back or a backwards pizza slice). I spent most of the day getting to grips with the fear enough to learn and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow after another wonderful meal.

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Day 2

We started our lesson with the sun peeping over the peak. Our instructor was called Christophe, a calm patient teacher who couldn’t stop grinning at my Franglais (English with a bit of French). He was observing at this stage mostly so I spoke French to get more tips, as he didn’t always understand our English. It was a lot about getting balance with your feet and leaning forward, knees bent, turning with your legs rather than the upper body. Christophe had us circling ski poles around us as we went down to remember to focus our weight on our feet and move with our legs. As he said, “it’s all in ze ‘ips”. What follows is from my diary:

“Today we did more work on the green slope with parallel and snowplough turns. I was told to relax the upper body and turn from the hips. I did a blue run and chairlift for the first time.”

blue blue 3The slope starts where the first dot is on the left.

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Chairlifts and steep hills

The chairlift was a bit scary but I soon got used to it. It swept you off your feet so you had to bend your knees ready and watch it. It felt quite exposed. Also after spending the first day on the nursery slope the blue one looked awfully steep and it was quite intimmidating heading towards the bottom in order to turn. At some point you get used to it and launch yourself down it, knowing that the worst that could happen is probably that you’ll slide to a stop.

Back to my diary:

“In the morning I had a bruised leg from the awful boots (Head) the day before. It hurt a lot and I had to take unofficial breaks. But by lunch they were fine. I got a bit of friction burn on my left foot. I got new boots from the hire company yesterday night and they were lovely and padded, very comfortable. I think the make was Dalbello, an Italian company specialising in ski equipment. They retail at around £200.”

My boyfriend had brought his own boots so he was ok. It’s mostly a problem for newcomers to the sport. Apparently you get used to the pain.

“I also got a new hat as the other one was too big. This one is a good fit. I love that my skis match my slope onesie.

For lunch I had a lovely pizza with cream in, squares of prosciutto-style beef and rocket on top. The food here is fantastic and they serve American size portions. I had it with a piña colada cocktail for the pain around my ankles, the boots squeezing the sore muscles from before. It was cheaper than a vodka and lemonade and much more tasty, although cocktails here are nothing compared to back home. Needless to say I felt nothing in the afternoon.

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my massive pizza and cocktail and Andrew

I couldn’t go back to the chalet on a blue run as I forgot my lift pass. Then we tried to go from half-way down via a bus. But when I got my skis on and headed down the hill I lost my courage and started snowploughing really slowly. I got picked up by ‘securité du piste’ as it was the end of the day, the light was fading and he wanted to close the piste. He pointed at me and said “béginneur, béginneur”. “Non non!” I insisted “je suis intermédiate!”. He was having none of it and wouldn’t go until I got on the back of his snowmobile. I stomped over in a huff and we were off, whizzing down narrow mountain tracks. This was actually quite fun so I didn’t mind in the end.

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11073571_10101900839855469_4445226531970279845_nI also bought Voltaren (we call it Voltarel) gel and paracetamol. I would recommend it for skiing as it works quickly to tackle pain and inflammation and can relieve it at least half the day. Be careful not to overdo it though, it is possible to overdose with it, as Andrew reminded me when I was putting it on every hour. Andrew got his boots changed too as a bit of his snapped off. I had no blisters or falls today. I had one fall yesterday trying to parallel turn. I keep doing a snowplough with my weaker foot. The chalet has a hot tub which we are looking forward to using.

Last night we went to Knights – a lovely local pub. I felt sorry for the empty one next door. They had table football and a snooker table there unlike Knights but there were just two people and some sorrowful staff.

The mountains are truly beautiful with breathtaking scenery, especially when the sun shines on them and the snow glistens and sparkles. The taxi driver “Renault” said that there had been 11 metres last year but there was only 1.85 this year. Perhaps it is global warming.”

 Day 3

“I am elated after going down the blue run I didn’t manage yesterday. My boyfriend kindly joined me as I am not sure I would have gone by myself. He said he may accompany me a bit every day. It had a 45° slope which was not very wide, so it was easy to pick up speed. Either side of it were flat narrow runs. We passed a nice icicle cave.

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We got back in time for cake at the chalet and this time we managed to use the hot tub before dinner.

For lunch I had a steak sandwich and chips. Lunches here average €15 but this was only €9 so it seemed like a bargain at a “Fast-Food” restaurant. Skiing went much better, mostly because the pain went after lunch following repeated Voltaren applications. My bruised ankle and sprained ankle muscle were agony yesterday and this morning.”

Day 4

“It is sad that tomorrow is our last day of lessons. We have had a great time. Today I went from the top of the mountain to the bottom on a blue run, right down from Le Lac to the chalet at Les Brèvieres (via a chair lift to get to the top). It was the most terrifying experience and the scariest day. Going down to the chalet involved a lot of hills, often one after the other. My boyfriend said more experienced skiers liked them for speed. They whipped past me and my boyfriend went off piste as he got bored but he got chased by a dog near a village and struggled to ski away as it was flat. I screamed most of the way down. I also fell at the bottom but it was a smooth “elegant” fall. I was going fast and lost my balance a little. One ski wobbled and I crashed into a barrier for the first time since doing the intermediate bit of a day course at Castleford. It was a snow wall, so it didn’t hurt. In the lesson we went down our steepest hill yet.

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Terrifying ski lift. This does not quite convey the height.

Day 5

Today involved a lot of hills. Steep hills, the like of which I had never gone down before. It was terrifying but you felt you had achieved something. We had our last taxi drive with Renault. He had nicknamed me “Jambon” as I said I had sore “jambons” instead of “jambes” – legs. We had our last lesson with Christophe. He was great but I needed more intensive instruction. Doing better parallel turns would have prevented pain in my ankle and shins from brake turns, where you dig your skis in on a turn to slow down. I was fully bending my knees to brake turn, meaning that my knee that I had not had leg support on ached with the strain. I was prudent enough to buy knee supports from Boots for the trip which helped avoid this. I think they were about £20 each but definitely worth it. Someone also recommended glucosamine supplements. However my (former) doctor dad says that you don’t absorb vitamins from pills because they need to be combined with minerals and co-factors to be absorbed and these get removed in the synthesising process to make them into tablets.

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Run down to the chalet from the mountain top.

I stopped about four times doing the run from Val Claret to the chalet yesterday. The sight of the slope disappearing in front was too much. You could not see how steep it was on the other side. With Christophe we did our steepest run yet. I had made friends with another learner, Angelica, who was so fearless that she had been moved up from beginners. An instructor told me that 80% of skiing is confidence. Angelica is a singer and her husband Peter works in I.T. She is from Colombia and he is from Belgium and they met in London.

It turns out we are both scared of heights so we help each other out. Peter accompanied me 1601002_10101895959909919_5853577083654662311_ndown from Le Lac yesterday, kindly encouraging and praising me. He is a snowboarder and is so good that he was chatting to Angelica whilst boarding, when we were on a chairlift dangling above a death drop. Angelica has an 18 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. She speaks Spanish, so I have been able to practice that as well as my French.

We had a lovely lunch in Tovière, a gondola ride up from Le Lac (the French call them bubble lifts). Le Lac was where we  had our lessons until yesterday when we moved to a Val D’Isère slope. The torture boots were not as bad today. The first two days were agony. On Wednesday the pain went after lunch. The alcohol that lunchtime helped lower inhibitions meaning I skied better, as you need to be relaxed to have flexible knees which can take bumps in the snow. Just one drink, you do not want to lose your balance.

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Lunch was the best today. Main meals were reasonable for here, at €13-25. It was in a big wooden hut. You picked what you wanted from salads, chocolate mousse, tarts dripping with fresh fruit, mille feuille (a dessert with layers of light pastry and layers of cream/custard filling). I had egg and ham with chips as it was the cheapest option at €12.50, following a heated discussion with my boyfriend regarding my spending binges on drugs and alcohol (see Day 2).

The delight of this was that the chef would ask you what you wanted and cook it on the spot while you waited behind him. Angelica gave me relationship advice over lunch, reminding me to have my own life and to let my boyfriend have his, to let him look at other women and appreciate them with him. She also said one baby was 3kg and her oldest 5kg and that she only had two hour labours and delivered both naturally. Peter said there was a lot of blood. I said I was quite happy to wait 10 years for that as seeing placentas and their delivery on television had put a stop to another episode of broodiness.

The restaurant filled up from 12.30 and the room also filled up with smoke from the chef who was clearly under pressure. It was probably coming out of his ears too. It was nice to get out to the clear crisp mountain air again.

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Then the afternoon was spent dangling over the mountain in a metal frame and hurtling painfully down hills on two pieces of plastic. I felt like I was bungee jumping without a harness or rope on the lifts. It was thrilling though. I stopped halfway down on one slope, started crying and saying I could not do it. I stopped at the top of most hills. The heaped-up powder made for a bumpy ride. All in all a great end to the lessons.

All this week the sun has shone and it has been clear. Tomorrow it will snow 30cm or so and we are going to go swimming if we cannot ski. My boyfriend wants to go down a glacier again, he seems quite excited about that. He has been supportive, inclusive and lovely, it has been so nice. Apart from a few tantrums we have been fine.

Trouble and Tantrums

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Christophe

I had one when after practicing for an hour, I could not parallel turn as one foot snowploughed and then I fell because of it. My boyfriend had skied to the side, sat down and just watched silently as I struggled to stand and fell again. It is very difficult to get up on your skis, you have to bend your legs to one side and try and take the skis off with your hands which requires some force. I got angry and threw down the skis, kicked off my boots and shouted at him to help and not just stare. Andrew, seeing a situation, swooped by to calm things. He has been a good Samaritan with that and lending money when my boyfriend did not give me any for the next day.

Then my boyfriend had a massive sulk because after getting him to retrieve my helmet (I was limping) having struggled to find it with no offer of help, my skis disappeared. I had left them to one side of the tourist centre with my poles when I had gone on a quest to find the helmet.  It had turned out that the company advertised as being on the ground floor (Ecole du Ski) that we wanted were based inside another company’s shop (Skiset). All I had to go on was an arrow 10929953_10101900818802659_7137242760941157693_npointing down agonising narrow winding stairs to a confusing rabbit warren of shops. After seeing that my skis were then gone, I went into the tourist centre and luckily they knew that the police had taken some. I did not know if they were mine. More painful steps followed as I hobbled down. The police looked down their noses at us. They would not show me the skis until I had described the colour. In my panic I spoke Franglais – ‘bleu, blanche et green’ without realising.

They showed me them and did not appear to believe me when I said yes. Then they got me to describe the poles before producing them. I do not know the French for those, so I resorted to mime and English (like a typical 10376722_10101900820414429_7835497072131890154_nEnglish tourist abroad). When I went in saying ‘je cherche pour mes skis et poles’ they did not understand. I had to rephrase ‘J’ai oublié mes skis’ as I could not remember the word for lost (perdu). Lost I certainly was. Luckily they understood my boyfriend’s English. Taped to my skis was someone else’s lift pass that I and the police assumed was mine (I had forgotten where mine was). They pointed to it. It is worth over £100.

My boyfriend was exasperated. He sulked and spoke angrily to me until I cried. I was tired – it is hard to sleep when you have achy shoulders and are hot. We were now late and had no way of getting back other than a €30 taxi which Andrew kindly paid for. It was just down the hill, a mere 10 minute ski down.

On Thursday I then tried to use the out of date lift pass the police gave me to use for a chair lift but could not – mine was on my bedside talbe in the chalet. So my boyfriend had another strop, saying ‘this keeps happening doesn’t it, you should’ve put it somewhere safe like I told you to.’ But since those fiascoes we have been getting along really well. Rose Heart (4)Maybe it helps that he can see how I am working with intense fear to get down the mountain. We understand each other so well. I have never known a boyfriend so well, but then I have never been with anyone else more than two years. We have  a heart duvet and lamps in our room like a honeymoon suite, so I call it the love shack. The boys have gone to the local pub tonight but I am too tired and the cocktails there are even more awful than on the slopes, so I am keeping it girly painting my nails. Tomorrow we will have more fun at 2600 metres in Tovière…

Day 6

“This morning I asked the boys whether they had talked about football, Top Gear (as the show is no more due to its presenter punching a producer I should explain that this is a mindless car show) or ladies on their night out (all of which they had before). Apparently the topics were the state of the economy, politics and whether there was a year 0. Well it was a partial Durham University reunion.”

I did not get time to do any more on my diary but I went down an even steeper hill and my first red slope. When I say “went down” I mean on my bottom, front and stepping. I skied a little. I cried and panicked as I started down a hill that seemed to have no end. My boyfriend was exasperated once more as I sat down and slid down in protest but was extremely patient considering it took a long time to get me down. A lady from the chalet stopped to comfort me, saying she was the same at first and telling me it wasn’t that bad. I unclipped my boots, applied a liberal amount of Voltarel, popped a paracetamol and then decided I would just throw myself down and hope for the best as I was getting bored.

I was sorry to leave Tignes but would be happy to return and I will ski again once I can afford to. I have an even more expensive holiday to save for this year…

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Potty About Potsdam

Today I am celebrating the second anniversary of my blog, which I started as a response to unemployment. A big thank you to all you readers and especially my followers who continue to inspire me.

So much has happened since then. I was soon employed and am now able to go on holidays and have driving lessons. Driving is still scaring me but apparently I have good handling of the car. Speeding is my main problem, as everyone else does so I feel like I am holding them up, but it is also quite fun. However I am aware that having points on a provisional licence would not be ideal. My instructor is right to eye that “speedo” like a hawk. The amount of time I spend waiting for buses alone may justify the expense of a car. In today’s fast-paced society, time is money. I’m also saving for a house but the deposit alone is £60,000 so even though I am responsible for half, it’s going to take me years if not decades.

But I digress. As promised here is Potsdam in December. We went on a walking tour which wasn’t worth the money but it’s a lovely city.

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The Germans are almost as excited about cycling as the Dutch.

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Bahnhof is German for station.

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A reconstruction.

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Building work is transformed into art and a cement mixer features a family for no apparent reason.

 

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French influence.

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Excellent reconstructions.

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A church seen from the palace (reconstructed due to extensive bombing in the Second World War).

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Glienicke bridge where three spy exchanges happened between East and West Berlin from 1962-86.

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One of Potsdam’s many parks. People used to try to swim across to West Berlin from here in the Cold War days.

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The Christmas market here looked more authentic and less touristy than Berlin’s.

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Beer-lin at Christmas

December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.

I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.

Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.

It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.

Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.

There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.

Berlin Photo Tour

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

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This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.

 

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Schnitzel was nothing special.

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The apple cake was delicious.

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Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.

Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked  “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.  

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.

It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.

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You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.067

Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.

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Source: ampelmann.de

The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.

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The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.

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The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.

The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.

There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.

There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-geisterbahnhof_21_01606Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.

Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.

Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group”  has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.

The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.

This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West.  The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.

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Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.

The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.

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All photos on this page Copyright literarylydi. Please ask for permission before using. Thank you.

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You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.

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Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.

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January 27, 2015 · 9:21 pm