Tag Archives: travel

Tagbilaran to Bohol – A dance with danger

Bohol is connected to Panglao by a bridge so I needed a lift over. This part of my trip did not go well.

The only issue with visiting The Philippines is that whilst it feels quite safe, as a tourist you might as well be a walking wallet. A minority of locals take great pleasure in trying to con you or fleece you. It’s a lucrative business and tired travellers are easy prey.

I was collected from Mithi Resort and Spa by their free transfer van. I had pre-booked a connecting taxi from the port of Tagbilaran, over on Bohol, once we got there. You do this on social media, it’s cheaper as you can haggle and ask a few companies to get the best price.

When we got to the port, none of the taxis were marked. I asked the van man to tell me where the Valleroso and Ralle taxi was (a reputable taxi company based on Panglao). He started having a chat with a driver that I presumed was from that company and told me that this was my guy.

Wrong.

As soon as I got in the taxi and he showed me a price list and tried to charge me three times what I had already agreed. We had arranged a price in advance I told him, you’re not from Valleroso and Ralle are you?

But I was tired and it was so hot, I couldn’t be bothered to look for the driver I’d booked. He should’ve been standing there waiting.

So I took a chance.

Bad decision.

The man was in his thirties with a greasy face and a leering grin. He started flirting with me and seemed to enjoy it, despite my obvious discomfort.

Come swimming with me, he said. I’ll have to wear just my boxers but I can show you all the best coral. And after I can give you a massage.

No thanks.

But it’ll be fun! Come on. It’s ok, it’s ok, don’t worry!

He kept saying that but it didn’t help.

After what seemed like forever, we were finally at my waterfront hotel, two hours later.

I wait for you and we go swimming yes?

Maybe, I said, I’ll think about it.

I was hot and tired. It would be so nice to go for a swim. But was it safe? Probably not. As much as I wanted to see the coral, I wasn’t an idiot.

The hotel staff scrunched their nose up at this rogue and did not seem impressed. Another sign.

I came out again. Sorry I’m not interested I said. He deserved stronger words than that. He then aggressively demanded twice the price I had agreed with Valleroso and Ralle and I reluctantly parted with more cash.

I was distressed and went back to my room fuming. Anything could have happened. I had been so stupid, I had to be careful, I had to remember that as a lone female I was an attractive target. Too attractive clearly. I wondered whether he had tried that before.

At least the hotel, Dive Star, was nice. It was right next to the sea and you could hear it singing you to sleep at night. In the evening you could see all the traditional fishing boats motoring by, a pleasant hum.

I had arrived just in time for the sunset through the palm trees. I sat on a bamboo chair on the balcony and drank iced water. It was perfect.

The room was made in the local style with bamboo and rattan. There was even a small lizard scurrying about, but he kept out of the way. He’d left me a poo present on the bed. Charming.

The next day, I wondered whether I could trust the local tour guides.

I would go with the hotel’s list. Hopefully they would be reliable.

A tall, smiling local turned up and said he would take me wherever I wanted to go. I said I would trust his suggestions.

He was friendly and good company and we eventually started to have a good chat. I told him my taxi experience and he frowned and said there were not many people like that on the island but it did happen around the port of Tagbilaran because it was a hub for tourists.

He reassured me that I could trust him and anyway, he was happily married with a wife and two year old son. His second marriage he laughed, the first one didn’t work out.

I breathed a sigh of relief. His name was Peter and he was new to the business, having spent several years shipping scrap metal around the world. He was gregarious and lively, chatting to everyone we met and making them as happy as he was.

We were going to have fun!

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Panglao Paradise

Panglao was the best island I visited in the Philippines.

Why?

Fewer tourists and the local lifestyle did not appear to have changed as a result of them. A lot of rainforest was intact, though it was rapidly being sold off and cut down and stone houses were springing up. There were still some traditional ones made of bamboo, flax and rattan.

The hotel I stayed in there was the best – Mithi Resort and Spa, a peaceful secluded spot right next to the sea, with a small private beach, incredible snorkelling and luxury accommodation. It was so popular that the standard room had sold out when I paid for it, but the upgrade was worth it. Although I had not paid for a sea view I could see it from my balcony. The staff were so attentive and friendly.

I got there from Cebu by taking an Ocean Jet ferry to Tagbilaran and then the hotel picked me up and drove me over the bridge. It took a few hours.

I made the most of my time there. I found a great private driver hire company, Valleroso and Ralle. You gave them your itinerary and the driver would take you wherever you wanted for a reasonable price, just £30 a day. I asked different companies on Facebook (their companies are all run from social media) until I got the best price, as I was on a budget and kept going over it.

At 10am (I am not a fan of early starts) I went first to the Hinagdanan cave. It was not worth the visit, being small and already busy with tourists.You literally just stand on a ledge once you descended, there is nowhere to go.

The water looked a bit dirty too, I could see grease on it. The tide was out, so we could not enjoy the water. I saw a much better cave in Bohol where you can swim. I will write a post on that soon.

We went to the Blood Compact monument near the port. This commemorated the moment when the local tribe signed a peace deal with the Spanish, drinking drops of each other’s blood in wine in the traditional Cebuano style.

Next up was the pentagonal Spanish watch tower, built so the new settlers could be alert to local attack on all sides, and a church with a pretty painted ceiling.

I was able to get cash out at an ATM without being charged. They had a guard for safety, although the driver told me that they rarely had crime. Everyone knew each other.

I had read about a restaurant with panoramic views on social media, appropriately called Le Panorama, over on Bohol. I went there for lunch and had the best fresh prawns I had ever tasted, in a very tasty tomato sauce, with rice. It was midday but being on holiday, I had to wash it down with a pina colada!

After lunch I had asked the company where a good beach was that locals used, I avoided Alona beach as I had heard that it was packed with tourists and had litter. I won’t name the beach as it is secret, so it doesn’t deteriorate too.

There were palm trees all the way along the shore, only two other tourists and lots of locals fishing in one corner, swimming and snorkelling. One of them came up to me and said I should stay at his brother’s apartments and like everyone around there, said I should live on the island.

On the way back I wanted to try some traditional food so I stopped at a street stall selling fried chicken. I hadn’t seen any cafes or restaurants. The islanders seemed to eat at home. I asked for two pieces. The man went to the back of the stall and started hacking up chicken. People around gawped, even looking back from their scooters. I asked my guide what was happening and he said “you wanted two chickens didn’t you?”.

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May 19, 2020 · 9:54 pm

The Philippines – Cebu City

En route – Singapore Airport’s Butterfly House

It was my first holiday alone and I was nervous. Would I be safe?

I’d survived the 20 hour flight, thanks to a Singapore Airlines voucher giving me a free shower, like the relief of a wash after a festival.

Cebu City is a bustling, chaotic, hot, noisy, dusty city of around 100,000 people packed into a small space.

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My Grab app would not give me an option to hail a taxi so I got a metered one. “Make sure the meter is running when you get in” Lonely Planet advised, so I checked.

The driver, Marlin, had a side business as a tour guide. He put the price up by 200 pesos (about £3). When I asked why he said “I haven’t changed the sign yet.” He had two children, a girl of 4 and a boy age 14. The girl had been a surprise and he was still paying off the emergency caesarian.

Rows of cars trailed as far as the eye could see until the early hours. My tour guide dropped me off at 5pm and didn’t get home at midnight, on Valentines Day.

He was back to pick me up at 9am “no problem with traffic this morning, I come straight here!”.

It was cheaper than official tours and more flexible. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I could have lunch with him at McDonalds or nothing, as we didn’t have enough time, so I passed. After the 20 hour plane journey I still couldn’t stomach a burger.

Grey oblong concrete blocks rose into the sky, but they weren’t very high. It was an urban jungle.

There were only some skyscrapers in the Central Business District, and a mall which only took cash. Fortunately the restaurants outside it took card payments, as you got charged for withdrawals unless you used the HSBC ATM kiosk at the back round the corner.

There were no lanes on the roads and scooters, bikes and rickshaws were weaving around and jeepneys which are open air vans, their buses.

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We drove first to the Taoist temple, built in 1967 in one of the wealthiest areas, the gated hilltop community of Beverly Hills. Surrounded by the first bit of greenery I saw, skyscraper fingers framed the horizon. There were pagodas, dragons on the roofs and fountains. I admired the painted ceilings in the tranquillity.

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We then went to the city’s museum, a former American jail. It explained the history of Cebu and the islands, from the original bamboo and flax huts and reliance on fishing, to a failed invasion of Cebu by the Portuguese who were beaten by machetes, and then the Spanish in 1521, who decided to have an artillery attack from the boat before coming ashore and taking over with the famous Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese national, as their captain.

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They brought Catholicism and they are said to have found a figure of the baby Jesus, the “Santo Nino” and that this kept them safe. The five walled watch tower on Panglao and the fort of San Pedro did as well. Eventually the Philippines wanted independence from Spain and there were frequent uprisings. In this climate the Americans came and conquered the islands with the help of the rebels, in 1901 after a two year war. But hopes of independence were dashed as the Americans took over. 

The island nation then fell to the Japanese in December 1941, who established strict military rule in which anyone carrying local banned currency was killed. But the money continued to be used in the black market. Notices were put up everywhere warning of heavy physical punishment for any disobedience. Some locals were put in Prisoner Of War camps and there was a shirt there from someone that had worked in it for five months without being given another. They were beaten regularly by the fearsome Kempe-tei, the prison guards. The Americans helped the guerilla Filipinos once more, and this time The Philippines were granted independence, in 1946.

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There was a chronological trail of artefacts, from Japanese guns to a ceremonial Afghan sword bought from merchants.

I realised I’d been about two hours and felt guilty, it must be hot waiting in that car. The driver was cross, “you take too much time, we late now, you must go faster”.

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We stopped at the Basilica, a church with a piece of cross in it apparently from Magellan’s voyage, but I couldn’t find it! I saw the replica, which was enclosed in a stone dome with a nice painted ceiling. Then I queued up to see the holy relic, the Santo Nino, said to be found by the Spanish when they first landed and which brought good luck to the locals, as they all kissed and touched the glass, muttering and crossing themselves. There was a prayer area outside with stone carvings of what I had just seen and the arrival of the Spanish.

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I then visited a recent towering monument built in the 1990s, showing the settlement story, mostly with figures and with some boats and buildings. The Santo Nino was there as it is in every historical depiction.

Down the road on the right was the oldest house. We had been by the oldest street, a wide road with grey concrete blocks on either side. It was one of the ugliest cities I had seen, but the pleasant kind people I met made up for it. I got approached repeatedly by the same man to buy plastic pearls. Once in the house I was given a tour in English. It had been bought from the Filipinos by Chinese merchants in the 1600s. They had decorated the house with jade ornaments and intricately patterned blue and white vases. It had then stayed in the family for generations. The house was made of thick wooden beams and it was cooler than outside but still warm and airless.

Outside a father and son were playing a duet on a small harp and ukelele. The boy was about four and had obviously had a lot of practice.

I went to another old house, Casa Gorado. I am not sure how old as I was concentrating on the animation on the board in front, which showed how the Spanish had moved the Cebuanos up the hill away from the fishing by the coast, to land that they could not farm because the soil was unsuitable. They could grow corn though. The Spanish arrived in 1565, setting fire to a village and blasting another with cannons. Then Chinese merchants began to settle in the 1600s and they were allocated a part of town near the Cebuanos, but they were only allowed to trade if the changed their surname to a Spanish one and converted to Catholicism.

We finished the tour with the San Pedro fort. It looked grand from the outside but once in it was just the wall and nothing much was left. It isn’t worth visiting, but it is a good stop if you want to be near the port, as you go up the drive and right and it is down the road a short distance on foot.

My taxi driver decided to be honest and stick to his original price, so I paid him the inflated amount he first quoted in appreciation. I navigated the poorly signed full port and off I went over a smooth sea to Tagbilaran…

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My First Pandemic

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scientificanimations.com

If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.

The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.

“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.

Someone on the plane has a fever.

A poster at a bus stop, beside a nurse who was coughing profusely.

We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.

“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.

We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.

Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.

Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.

I’ve got a temperature.

My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.

“Do you need another ski holiday?”

“It’s not for long” he replied.

I said goodbye on the 1st of March.

“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.

He phoned NHS111.

“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.

The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.

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We never get ill. Not like this.

Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”

“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.

“You must isolate.”

“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”

Day 3:

“How are you?”

“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”

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On Saturday 14th March the panic started.

It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.

I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.

Boots nearby? sold out.

Boots in town? sold out.

Superdrug? sold out.

Argos? sold out.

John Lewis? didn’t sell them.

Online? sold out all over England.

This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?

Because we never get ill. Not like this.

The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.

A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.

“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.

“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.

I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.

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A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.

I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.

Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.star wars corona 2

Only £94 sick pay.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.

“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”

“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”

I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.

My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for a single cabbage.

Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.

I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.

I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was  actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.

The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.

But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.

My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.

From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better.  His sore throat eased and he no longer had a temperature.

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.

The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people have few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.

Help others more and read the news less.

Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus onto their hands. It is so unlikely, but why take that chance.

People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.

The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.

One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.

Do you think she’ll get worse?

A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.

There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.

“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.

“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.

“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.

“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”

“Well no, that’s true.”

“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.

“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”

“Will I get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”

“Well have you got a good immune system?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”

“No.”

“You should be fine then.”

She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.

A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.

A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.

Walk with Jonny's mum

The beautiful Pigeon Tower above Upper Rivington Reservoir in Lancashire. Copyright literarylydi

I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.

No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.

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That land is now shut.

On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read

“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.

At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.

I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.

There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.

There was a video of the actor Antony Hopkins playing the piano with his cat on his lap.

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Classic FM/Instagram / @AnthonyHopkins

I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.

No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.

But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.

We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.

Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is good to keep in mind: “if you can keep your head, when all about you. Are losing theirs[…]you’ll be a Man, my son”.

My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.

As they said in another war: “Keep calm and carry on.”

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A Little London Trip

Last week I had the pleasure of a paid trip to London.

I made the most of the last evening and morning there by seeing my cousins and visiting the National Gallery.

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Copyright literarylydi

Looking at masterpieces from around the United Kingdom is always enjoyable and there is always something to catch the eye of someone creative such as myself.

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Copyright literarylydi. Can you guess what famous painting this is and the artist?

I almost always forget my sketch book. Once again, I bought one. I only had an hour. I just managed to do a quick sketch in that time. When I finished and put the book down, I heard a collective gasp from a group of school kids age 6-7. “How did you do that?!!” a girl asked. “Practice”, I replied. “You can do art like this if you practice.” Another girl said “I have loads of sketches in my art book”. “Keep practicing!” I said, “it’s a lot better than watching TV”. Hopefully I inspired a future artist. I wanted to go to art school after sixth form, but my mum persuaded me that it was not a stable career and I am grateful for her for encouraging me to pursue a more stable existence.

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I dislike the stress, rudeness, noise, crowded and polluted conditions in London. People would push past you constantly, even if there was plenty of room. Time is money and everyone has somewhere to be urgently. Travelling on the tube in the rush hour was an awful experience and made me feel ill. It was hot, smelly, dirty and uncomfortable. I had to jump on and hope people made way for me, it was the only way to travel. I try to walk where I can, it’s a much better experience and there is so much to see. Each area of London has its own identity, a patchwork quilt of little villages, with their own history and culture.

It was a relief to return to my city with it’s clean cool air, smiling people and relaxed atmosphere. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I was so happy to be home.

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Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

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November 18, 2018 · 8:59 pm

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

Update and Stanage Sunshine

Hello readers,

Apologies for taking a whole year out of blogging.

Time blurred by packing and planning for a 5 week tour of New Zealand (via Singapore) in November last year.

To get the best experience you need to take least several weeks off work and have a couple of grand saved. We went in December which is the height of their summer and you can then use the bank holidays to minimise the impact on annual leave.

We stayed at Air BnB houses to save on accommodation costs. We got recommendations from friendly locals who were warm and welcoming. Tourism is big business in New Zealand and there is so much to see and do.

I caught up with everything and shivered my way through the winter, mostly hibernating in my bedroom in a onesie.

In Spring I was catching up with family and I turned another year older. I am sorry to say that I am now in the last year of my twenties.

I have had a lovely summer holiday sunbathing, cycling, canoeing, visiting castles and medieval villages and seeing the Tour de France whizz by in a little village of around 1,000 people an hour south of Toulouse. When I got back I reconnected with an old friend and enjoyed getting to know local folk by joining a walking and jogging group. The jogging group is fun and friendly but is on hold while I rehearse for a work carol concert. I am also still enjoying netball twice a week and I have recently switched from driving lessons in a car with gears to one without. After over two years trying I am hoping that taking the gears out of the equation will get me to test stage again, like I was in the summer before my skills hit the brakes. Since I got even busier it has been hard to find time to blog.

The last few weekends have been incredible. I’ve been to Anglesey, Wales, a really scenic spot which again I would highly recommend, and much cheaper than the tropical paradise holiday as far away as you can fly (32 hours non-stop or you can make it more bearable with a stopover).

I’ve been to a festival in London and even got sunburnt in late September and I’ve been on a weekend away with the walking group to Stour Valley, Suffolk, exploring the coastline there at Orford Ness, the island that the Ministry of Defence used to test bombs and detonators – so it was important to stick to the path. It is now owned by The National Trust, a nature and heritage conservation charity which was founded in 1884 when Octavia Hill, a social reformer, was asked to help preserve Sayes Court garden in south east London. In 1885, Octavia raised public awareness of railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.

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Octavia Hill, social reformer

Today it has over 3.4 million members and it is currently seeking to ensure that Britain’s coastline is maintained. There was a map at Orford Ness showing how the project was doing. It is about half complete.

I am not a National Trust member but I often visit their land, stately homes and cafes. I am a member of the Ramblers Association, a charity whose goal is to ensure that routes and places people go walking are maintained and enjoyed.

I also enjoyed a walk across Essex farmland on the group’s weekend away, with friendly horses and cows and alongside a Wind in the Willows river with rowing boats sliding by, admiring thatched cottages.

I’ll post the highlights along with more current events.

I made my first apple crumble of the Autumn season today with apples from the garden. An easy dessert but so tasty and warming, it was lovely. I used oats, brown sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon for the topping and I got a good crisp finish with that.

These photos are the best I can do with a camera phone as I can take ages when I have my proper camera with me, but here is what I have been up to this weekend:

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I like country walks in the nearby Peak District. It is such a privilege to live so close to such beautiful scenery and wild nature. It was peaceful on Stanage Edge today, with a slight breeze and occasional sunshine. The sky was reflected in the rippling pools of standing water. Stanage is a beauty spot, a long gritstone edge popular with climbers, ramblers, fell runners and mountain bikers. You can walk along the top for miles and the views of the surrounding hills and valleys are incredible, especially when the sun illuminates all the bright colours of the landscape which inspires local artists.

We walked to Stanage Pole -a replica of a boundary marker that divided Sheffield, South Yorkshire with the High Peak, Derbyshire.

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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.

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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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My First Ski (Accident)

whistler Ever since I watched skiers from the longest highest unsupported gondola in the world I have wanted to try it.

I was having the trip of a lifetime with my aunt. We took a coach from our hotel in Vancouver and drove for hours towards Whistler resort. After going past a large lake with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks we began to ascend and the snow started and deepened around the road. Whistler Creekside in the afternoon     whistler-view

On arrival we were greeted by the homely lights of wooden lodges and chalets. At the bottom was a fancy bar where I enjoyed a delicious Earl Grey lemon cocktail, truffle fries and fondue. Maybe this sort of food is part of the reason behind it being named the Number 1 Resort in a ski magazine. Apparently it is pricey though, a keen snowsporter told me it is £70 a day just to ski. 470033_10100541308911379_959251302_o Then we got on the 4 person gondola. We travelled at a standard height to the top of Whistler Peak and I admired the sight of skiers zig-zagging and curving down the slope. It looked so exciting I wanted to hop off and try it. There was a father and son with us. The boy of about 7 had been snowboarding so much that he was already “better than me” the dad said proudly. The boy looked up admiringly. 461643_10100541308786629_541747113_o  458266_10100541307913379_562161844_o

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View from the glass floor of the gondola dangling above a mountain with no supporting post in sight.

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Sky High

Then we carried on to Blackcomb  – the peak opposite, in a 10 person gondola with a glass floor. Skiers and snowboarders joined us, enthusiastic, chatty and exuberant from their alpine adventures. There were fir tree forests but even here there were people off-piste skiing, darting around in the sparser areas. At the highest point the 10 foot trees looked like matchsticks and we could see the whole valley blanketed in snow. The phrase winter wonderland must have been inspired by this. I was quite nervous when we got that high, especially when someone said “I wonder what would happen if we fell now, look, we’re only supported by that wire up there, there isn’t peak2peak-after-a-snowfallanother post for miles”. I imagine I wasn’t the only one who wanted to slap him. You should definitely put it on your to do/bucket list. I’ll never forget the experience.

I wondered whether I would ever get the chance to try snow-sports as most people were already at intermediate stage that I knew or didn’t ski. People said it was risky, cold and expensive. Our holiday will cost more than £1,000 for a week just for the basics. An opportunity came round a few months ago when a new friend, Andy, a doctor working as a G.P. He said that he hadn’t been but wanted to as well. Perfect. So we booked a pricey £175 day course at Castleford Xscape, an indoor slope with real snow, at -5 degrees Celcius. It would be 8 hours and I expected to be quite confident by the end of it, ready to go on to intermediate ones later. fixedthumbnailer

Shin-Bang-ExplainedBothersome Boots

I was expecting to be fitted for skis and boots but it was every man/woman for themselves. I got the size of my feet but they were too small. I got the next size up but didn’t know how to put mine on, so I thought they didn’t fit. So I finally went back and the assistant thought my foot might have a high arch so gave me another pair which they said weren’t as good. It really wasn’t. It dug into the back of my leg and was quite sore after some hours. I went back and worked out myself how to get the boots on. You had to tear it apart to fit it. It’s even more important to get a good fit with them if you’re a woman – the structure of our knees means we’re more likely to get injuries. Skiis were heavier than they looked. ski-boot_1007324cProfeetInfographicImage Andy was getting frustrated with turns and got the instructor to give him some personalised tuition. The teaching was too general for me too. I was doing turns with snowploughs, which is where you make a pizza slice shape with your skis, the end of the slice being the front of your skis and then go back to parallel skis. Mine were fitted too long and I struggled to stop them crossing, which makes you fall. It was a gentle slope so we didn’t pick up much speed. We copied and were given the occasional tip. Then after a nice lunch around £7 of a burger and chips I had more energy for the beginner/intermediate bit of the lesson. We spent a long time going from half-way up the main slope.

Tricky Turns

It was higher but I still felt safe as although I couldn’t do parallel turns, I could do snowplough ones that slowed me down. We hadn’t been told anything about where your foot should be in the boot. Parallel turns in skiing look easy but they are not for the beginner. Every time one foot would drag and I would do a triangle (snowplough) turn instead. It was getting frustrating. I asked for help but the instructor said I was fine. I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Chillfactore-beginners

Crash Landing

I’d been dreading going up to the top as it was higher than the highest slope I’d launched myself down sledging. Now I was on two tiny sledges attached to each foot and had far less control and surface area. If I fell backwards I might break my neck and that would be it. If I fell on one side I might dislocate something. Fall too hard and I might even break something. But the instructor told us to fall if we were going too fast or turn across the slope. I fell off the pomola (seat for one person on a wire) on the first try and then couldn’t get up on my massive skis. Turned out I was in between sizes so they had fitted skis which were too long and I felt like Pingu ice-skating. When I finally started down the slope I couldn’t see the bottom.

maxresdefault It was terrifying, but what could go wrong? The instructor had said that he wouldn’t have taken us up there unless he was sure we were ready, so we shouldn’t worry. I didn’t believe that. He had a schedule to keep and he was going to carry on regardless. I didn’t feel my turns were developed enough but we were following him in loops so we would be fine…surely. I did two turns and was just relaxing and thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all when one foot wouldn’t turn.

The edge had become wedged in the snow. I jerked my foot to free it. It came free suddenly and turned straight as it did. My other foot spun round with it and I was going straight. I looked at the teacher but his eyes were elsewhere. I’d be ok I thought, I’d turn across the slope. But when I tried to turn my feet in my boots one size too big (I was between sizes there too) they wouldn’t budge and I continued to slide down.

My speed began to snowball and I started screaming at the top of my lungs. My eyes were watering at the blast of icy air, people were blurs and the slope seemed to clear as I hurtled down. I couldn’t turn and in the panic I didn’t know what else I could do. My experience was similar to this video but faster. An instructor later told us that the top speed down there is 35 miles per hour. beginners

Suddenly three quarters of the way down, the instructor appeared and yelled “sit down!”. I was like a rabbit in the headlights so it took me a short moment to process it. But then I imagined breaking my neck as I fell over backwards. Should I roll? Then I might break something too. But before I could do anything the fence zoomed towards me and it was finally flat so I could turn. I braced myself and stiffened my shoulders. I’d hit it on the side to minimise injury. SMASH CRASH THUD THUD. My body was a projectile that collided with the wooden and (thankfully) plastic mesh fence. I hit it on one shoulder, grabbing for the mesh to slow the impact. The force of it rotated me and I hit it on my other shoulder and cut my chin on the plastic, such was the speed. The impact then threw me backwards.

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The staff responded immediately, three of them running in on all sides. One instructor I’d chatted to earlier, a tall guy with black-framed glasses and black spiky hair kindly asked questions. He reminded me of the actor Jeff Goldblum. I said I had a sore neck and started crying at the idea that I might be paralysed just from this. But as I lay on the snow with everyone gathered around I realised that it was an ache not a sharp stabbing pain like a broken bone as someone ran up next to me with a spinal board.

“I’ve just sprained it” I said weakly. Should I test it out or was that too risky? What the hell, I didn’t want to be carried off and create even more of a scene. I sat up suddenly and bent my neck. It was sore but thank goodness, not fractured. The staff gently pushed me back down.

“No sudden movements, we don’t know what your injuries are yet.” “It’s ok” I insisted, “I’ve just sprained it. I can move it fine.” He asked if anything else hurt. “My back”. I said. That ached from the fall. “Could it be broken?” he asked. “No it just aches, I’m fine.”

Andy appeared. “I’m a doctor” he announced and everyone visibly relaxed and looked to him to sort things out. He asked how I was. I tried to get up and this time they allowed it, helped by three staff. My boyfriend appeared. “Are you ok?” “Yes” I whimpered, as Mikhail-Maksimochkin-accident-stretcherAndy and the first-aider helped me to the first-aid room.

The health and safety officer was a young girl with dark eyes and hair scraped back into a small ponytail. She was brusque and dismissive. It was clear that I’d embarrassed them with this accident which required an incident form and a bump note. Andy did tests for broken bones and they were negative. He thought my nose might be broken because it looked bruised but he felt it and it was fine, just dirt from the fence.

The girl wiped the blood off my chin. It bled again but she didn’t notice as she was busy getting my account as briefly as possible. She clearly wanted it over and done with but looked sympathetic as she told me I was the fourth person to hit the fence that month. Andy had to ask for a plaster as blood was slowly pooling on my chin. I’d bit my lip as I crashed and that was stinging a bit. There wasn’t enough blood for it to drip onto my mum’s ski suit luckily. There were only bandages and massive blue plasters in the first-aid box.

The instructor came in as I was giving my statement, apologising. “Why didn’t you sit down?” he asked. He asked if I really needed the plaster. I said they’d had to put it on as my chin wouldn’t stop bleeding. He went out, saying he’d come and see me afterwards. Finally my boyfriend appeared. He said he didn’t want to crowd me. When he’s hurt he doesn’t like too much attention but likes to “get on with it”. The first-aider refused to let me complete the last hour of my lesson so I went upstairs to the cafe in a huff and sat at the window watching Andy confidently winding down and my boyfriend having fun. He looked up often which was nice.

When I booked the last hour days later, the receptionist stated how much it was. Although staff had said they’d make a note on the system they clearly hadn’t. I said I hadn’t been able to do Lesson 5 as I’d crashed and hadn’t been allowed to complete it. She said she wasn’t sure if I could get it for free and that she’d check. After speaking to an instructor she booked me in.5aac3a674db76fb1e01b4ab8f426987317038ae0

When I went back two days later I was in the 9pm slot on a weekday so it was wonderfully quiet and I didn’t have to worry about what other skiers/snowboarders were doing and whether we’d collide. My boyfriend was going to ski but at £25 (the same price as an hour’s lesson) even off-peak he didn’t bother. I built up confidence and faced my fear, pointing myself towards the bottom of the slope from the top but in a snowplough so that I could slowly turn. The coaching was personalised in that I got two tips in the hour but it was mostly again a matter of copying the instructor. Unfortunately we couldn’t see what his feet were doing in his ski boots, which is probably what prevented me from improving the last time. You need to know where to put your weight in your foot. You need to literally be on your toes when you turn. My boyfriend gave me useful tips on the way there that would have been useful in training. My arms and shoulders were achy, my knees had purple bruises, my chin had a Harry Potter mark on it and there was a red spot on my nose but I’d been really lucky. At least the incident support was great and I didn’t get any serious injuries. I didn’t get too confident or foolhardy and now I know what can go wrong I won’t take risks but will slowly build up my skills.

As my Yorkshire champion instructor said “if you have the tiniest bit of doubt in your mind, don’t do it.”

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The beautiful Kate Middleton is a skiing fan. She was first spotted kissing Prince William on a ski holiday.

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