Sandybrook Country Park (and a few bits and bobs).

What a truly excellent long weekend! Just what the doctor ordered.

I drove out of work on Thursday afternoon full of the joys of Spring (when the weather was still behaving appropriately for a season beginning with S) knowing that I had three days of rest and relaxation ahead of me.

My long weekend started with a trip to the theatre with hubby. I’d forgotten until a couple of weeks ago that in the deep, dark midst of the January blues I’d booked tickets to see Thriller Live at the Alexandra theatre in Birmingham so we’d have something to look forward to.

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For those who lived under a rock in the 80s, Thriller is an album by Michael Jackson. Now I realise that he’s somewhat of a controversial figure these days (I guess he always was, but for different reasons) but from where I stand, whatever he may or may not have done, (and I guess we’ll never know for sure now) his music is still iconic and I grew up with it. The first album I ever bought (on cassette tape from Woolworths!) was Bad and I loved it.

Anyway, the show was brilliant and really took us back to our school days. I didn’t know if they’d turned his music into a story like they have with We will Rock you did for Queen, or if it was going to be just like a concert. It was somewhere in between. There wasn’t a story but it wasn’t like a normal tribute act either. There are five lead singers, one of whom is a woman, and lots of backing singers/dancers. If you can get past the controversy, I’d highly recommend seeing it for a bit of escapism.

Anyway, on to the main event of the weekend – I was going on a mini break with five girl friends that I’ve known forever. We were heading for a return trip to Sandybrook Country Park near Ashbourne in Derbyshire. It’s a complex of fifty two lodges, ranging from one to four bedrooms, some with hot tub, set on a hill just a short walk away from the Tissington trail. We requested the same lodge, number sixty five, that we had last year. It’s at the top of the hill, one of the furthest away from the entrance so it has lovely views and is relatively quiet with little to disturb you when you’re sat in the hot tub or on the decking.

Last year we went over the early May bank holiday weekend and the weather was glorious. This year, not so much. I took the photos above on Sunday just as we were leaving which was, typically, the nicest day, weather-wise. The rest of the time it was pretty rainy, but there were breaks in the drizzle so we did all get to use the hot tub without being rained on (although some of us are such hardcore hot tub devotees that a bit of rain didn’t stop us!)

We headed into Ashbourne on Saturday for our pre-booked afternoon tea at Betty’s Sewing Box. Last year we walked along the Tissington trail to get there, but this year it was definitely a car kind of trip!

This place is like some kind of heaven mixed with cake! Not only does it serve a great afternoon tea for only £12.50 …

but it also has various crafts hanging around for you to have a go at …

and it’s attached to a craft shop…

This year we got to eat, drink and craft to a background soundtrack of the likes of Glen Campbell, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. Honestly, I’m amazed I ever managed to drag myself away! I did leave a little piece of myself in the form of a granny square that I knocked up over lunch!

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After we’d consumed our fill of sandwiches, scones and cake and drunk enough tea (or Diet Coke in my case) to keep the whole of Derbyshire hydrated we moseyed on into Ashbourne to have a mooch. We all have a bit of a penchant for charity shops (of which there are lots), and there’s a fabulous bear shop that I was very excited about returning to.

I came away with this gorgeous Charlie Bear called Shelby (a la Peaky Blinders) …

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and these books from a couple of charity shops.

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I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to which cost me lots of money! He did have ten percent off though (hope that doesn’t mean they’re closing down.

We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits. When we got back from Ashbourne with our spoils and full tummies, we managed to fit in a hot tub session before we knocked up a buffet tea and then set about the important business of chatting, laughing and reminiscing over a glass of Prosecco or three ….

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and in my case a couple of Bric Royales.

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This is a cocktail that I discovered when hubby and I went to Malta in January. It’s rosé wine with a shot or two of passionfruit liqueur added. Can you count a drink as a cocktail if it only has two ingredients? Not sure.

I signed up for Slimming World a couple of weeks ago, which probably wasn’t the best move given that I had my girlie weekend coming up. I followed the plan for the first week and managed to start a downwards trajectory …

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… but I wasn’t going to be beholden to it while I was away. I didn’t want to be awkward for communal catering, and I also wanted to be able to tuck into my afternoon tea and enjoy a tipple in the evenings, but I did try not to go mad.

I started each day, as I have been at home, with overnight oats that I made and took with me.

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This is the first batch I made. It’s just oats, fat free Greek yoghurt and frozen fruit layered up – free on Slimming World. Doesn’t it look like cheesecake? I was really hoping it would taste like it, but no such luck. It’s quite nice but cheesecake, it’s not!

I certainly indulged a little, as well as the afternoon tea and the booze, we had buffet teas with pizza, quiche, crisps and hummus (not all at the same time) and that’s my favourite kind of meal so I could have gone crazy, but I managed to reign myself in a little, at least more than I would have if I hadn’t just started Slimming World.

Anyway, wonderful weekend though it was, I think it’s left me a little sleep deprived – you never sleep as well in a strange place do you – so I can hear my bed calling. Only two more days to get through though – I have another four day week because I’m off to Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC on Friday. Whoop! Excited muchly!

 

Spring Bank Holiday Weekend

Life is for living, so they say, and I completely agree. But living doesn’t have to be big and bold, it can be the small things as well. The things that make you smile, make you laugh. The things that bring you calm, bring you peace. The things that make memories you will treasure for ever. This weekend was full of experiences that tick the box in every way. I was enjoying myself so much that I completely forgot to take pictures of everything, so I’ll have to improvise.

The weekend began with a meal out on Friday night for my very good friend’s birthday.

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We went to the Albert in Tamworth which, as you can see, doesn’t look massively special from the outside, but the food was delicious, and the service was good, and the company was excellent.

On Saturday hubby and I went on a bit of a garden centre crawl! We went for lunch at Wyevale, which we seem to have got into a habit of doing and we need to break the habit because it’s expensive both in cash and calories! I didn’t buy any plants, but I did come out with this beauty.

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Next we decided to have a look in the garden centre at Homebase but it was very disappointing – loads of bedding plants and not a lot else – so we decided to pop into our local garden centre, Halls, as recompense. Good move! I picked up a couple of plants from the sale table.

On the left is a Leucothoe and on the right is a Hellebore.  Both were half price, but they’ll both be fine with a bit of care. This is my third Hellebore now, and I like them because they’re evergreen and they flower over the Winter and early Spring when the rest of the garden is sleeping.

On Sunday, we had a day trip and overnight stay planned. We put loads of biscuits down for these two …

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… reassured them that we weren’t leaving them for long and headed off down the M40. Destination?

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Huge excitement! This was the fourth visit for me, but the first for hubby. However, there were first time experiences for both of us. First up they’ve completely changed the entrance to the tour. Now, rather than the main attraction in the queuing area being the cupboard under that stairs which was Harry Potter’s bedroom for the first eleven years of his life, you’re greeted by this sight.

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Pretty impressive! It’s a Ukrainian Ironbelly Dragon.

After this, the first half of the tour was largely unchanged, but it was great to see hubby’s reaction to it all, and I’ll never tire of gazing upon Harry Potter artefacts.

We entered through the Great Hall which was as awesome as ever.

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See the women with Hogwarts house ties on? They were on a hen do – what an amazing activity for your hen do!

Just a few of the sets (and they are the actual sets which were used during filming). Top left and going clockwise, the boys’ dormitory – see the RW on the trunk under the closest bed? Ron Weasley’s trunk. Then Dumbledore’s office – this looks exactly as it does in Hogwarts in Orlando. The Burrow, residence of the Weasley family. The magic is very much evident here with a jumper knitting itself, dishes washing themselves and a knife chopping a carrot completely independently. Finally the Gryffindor common room complete with Hermione’s and Harry’s outfits.

This is Tom Riddle’s grave on the left, which is somewhat more elaborate than the grave that I saw in Edinburgh in February, on the right, which was allegedly the inspiration for JK Rowling to create Tom Riddle.

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After the sets is the Hogwarts Express which was the first major change to the tour a few years ago and was the reason for my second visit.

This is swiftly followed by the reason for my third visit, the introduction of the Forbidden Forest exhibit.

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As well as the giant spiders, which move in and out of atmospheric smoke, in the Forbidden Forest you’ll find Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Hagrid.

Next we moved on to the first attraction within the tour that was new to me.

4 Privet Drive. The house has been there from the beginning, but now you can go inside and there’s a scene in the living room of all the Hogwarts letters flying around.

Next we moved on to the reason for visit number four, and the part I was most excited about – Gringotts.

This is the bank run by goblins, and where anyone who is anyone in the Wizarding world has a vault full of treasure. This section of the tour was amazing! I didn’t expect them to have done it so well! It looks so like Gringotts in Orlando that it felt really strange not to be heading behind the head goblin teller to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride, but we soon found out that there was even more to the exhibit than just the main floor of Gringotts. There are other items on display and there’s even a replica set showing Gringotts after it’s been ravaged by a dragon, and there’s an exciting extra which I won’t ruin for anyone who might go.

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After I dragged myself away from Gringotts, I knew I still had two treats to come. Namely …

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Diagon Alley, and, the piece de resistance …

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Amazing, incredible day! I’d recommend a trip to anyone. Even if you’re not a massive Harry Potter fan, it’s still worth a visit. Oh, and the shop is AWESOME!

We reluctantly left the world of Potter behind, but were soon feeling excited again because we were heading for a visit with my ex-boss and and his wife who live nearby. R retired at the end of April, and we’d had this visit planned for months. I worked for R almost continuously for fifteen years up until I moved to my current job and we had a great working relationship which, over the years had developed into a great friendship. I’m very sad that I don’t get to see him very often now, but I’m happy for him that, after seriously paying his dues to the company for over forty five years (I know!) he now gets to relax and do the things that bring him joy. His retirement also gave me the opportunity to meet his lovely wife, and for the two of them to meet hubby.

We went out for a delicious Italian meal in St Albans, and as I knew we would, had a great evening and all got on like the proverbial house on fire. I have lots of family who live down south, so hopefully we’ll be able to meet up when I’m en route to them – gives me a good excuse to take a whole day off work as opposed to my normal half day!

We headed back this morning after having a guided tour of the garden, which I was very interested to see because R is a keen vegetable grower so I was intrigued to compare his fledgling seedlings to mine.

Speaking of which, despite having caught hubby’s cold (the only down side to the whole weekend!) I headed out to appraise our garden, and there’s good progress.

On the top row left to right one of the potato plants has buds. Strangely it’s the second earlies not the first, but hey, who am I to argue with nature? The carrot seedlings have developed their first true leaves so I definitely need to thin those out. The strawberries are starting to develop which means I need to sort out some netting to keep the birds off. They’re all mine! The peas are getting bigger so I’ll have to go on the hunt for some sticks for them to grow up.

In the greenhouse, bottom row left to right, I repotted the yellow courgettes because they’ve got quite big. I’m keeping two myself and I’ve got four more which are going to good homes. The purple carrots are now looking like proper carrot seedlings but they’re not quite big enough to pot on yet. Last but not least, the jalapeño seedlings and coriander plants are coming on nicely.

What a perfectly balanced weekend! Good food, exemplary company, an awesome day out and a bit of gardening! What could be better?

Oh, anyone know what this little fella is?

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He took a liking to me!

Doesn’t time fly ….

…. when you’re having fun?

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How is it our last full day in Orlando tomorrow? Clearly we’re having far too much fun because it has flown by! Soon we’ll be back to work, struggling with jet lag and the rest and relaxation will be all but forgotten, but, and it’s a big but, we’ll have the memories and our batteries will be recharged.

Orlando isn’t generally a relaxing holiday in the way that a beach holiday is. We’ve averaged over twelve thousand steps per day (including Saturday when we spent nine hours of the day sitting on our derrieres on a plane) and we’ve been awake, if not up and out, before seven thirty every day (admittedly this is helped by us being five hours behind our body clocks, but still ….). On a typical beach holiday I reckon we average about twelve steps a day and sleep about as many hours! However, I think (jet lag aside) I come back more refreshed and recharged after a holiday in Orlando because my brain is almost completely removed from reality. Everything is exciting, exhilarating and extraordinary. I may sleep less in terms of quantity, but the quality is better because the days are physically tiring and my brain is switched off from anything of concern in the real world.

So, what have we been up to?

Day one we were up and out early because we’d booked a day at Discovery Cove. We grabbed an Uber and we were there around nine am. Discovery Cove is an expensive day, but the price you pay is all inclusive. It includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks …

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… towels, fish-safe suntan lotion, use of a life jacket or wetsuit, snorkel equipment and access to the Grand Reef full of rays, tropical fish and (safely behind glass) sharks.

There’s also a lazy river …

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… a serenity beach …

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… a walk through aviary …

… and a marmoset island.

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You can pay a bit extra and do various activities such as swim with dolphins, feed the rays or seaventure which involves putting on a weird space helmet and walking under water, but we just had the basic package because we didn’t want to be tied to particular timings.

With your ticket you also get free entry into, and parking at, SeaWorld and Aquatica, and for a bit extra, Busch Gardens, so you could make your money go even further if you wanted to do all that too.

We had a great day. Really relaxing. I love the lazy river and the serenity beach. We went there for my fortieth birthday eighteen months ago and it was supposed to be a one time only, day of a lifetime thing, but it was so good that we had to do it again!

On to day two and it was Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the itinerary. This is our third visit, so we pretty much know what we’re doing now, and in what order. On our first visit we start off in Universal Studios …

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… and take in all that has to offer, then we take the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure.

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On our return trip, we do it the other way around because then we can ride the Hogwarts Express in the other direction. You see all sorts of magical Harry Potter goings on outside the window during the trip, for example, Hagrid flying on his bike and the Weasley’s Ford Anglia, and they’re different each way. Unfortunately it didn’t go quite according to plan this time. All was fine on trip one, but today while we were waiting in Hogsmeade Station to go back to Kings Cross, the Hogwarts Express got a technical fault so we couldn’t ride. All was not lost though. In true American great customer service style, everyone was given a single ride express pass as compensation so we ran over to the Hulk coaster which had an eighty minute wait earlier in the day and got straight on that. It’s my favourite coaster so I was disappointed that we hadn’t been on, but didn’t want to wait in a queue for that long.

I could go on and on (and Ariston) about the various aspects of the Universal Parks, but there’s so much in them that I’d be writing for days so instead I’ll just share some of my favourite photos from the two days.

They’re nearly all from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I enjoy other parts of the parks as well, but the Wizarding World does have a special place in my heart!

Day three we went to another Universal park, this time their water park, Volcano Bay (the one we can see from our bedroom window).

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Volcano Bay is literally two minutes walk away from our hotel, and we have a dedicated entry point from the hotel as well as access an hour earlier than normal park hours.

We were up and in early because we wanted to get on a couple of the big rides before the queues built up. We managed to get on four rides, including Ko’okiri which  is a body plunge through a trapdoor at the top of the volcano which plunges you into the water below, and Krakatau which is an aqua coaster in a canoe which takes you soaring up and around the volcano.

We’d booked premium seating which was a great idea.

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We had our own little space with comfy sun beds and, most conveniently, our own locker which meant we didn’t have to keep traipsing back and forth to the lockers. We could also order food and drinks direct to our seats.

Here’s the volcano up close and personal.

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There’s a pool at the base and every twenty minutes or so the bell goes off signalling that the wave machine is about to start. Much splishy splashy fun was had!

I think my favourite feature is the winding river.

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Here you just float around without a care in the world on your ring, until you decide you’ve had enough.

Here’s a few of the slides we went on, including a view of the volcano from the back.

We’re going back to Volcano Bay again tomorrow to relax on our last day. Hopefully if we get there in the early admission hour we’ll be able to book premium seating again. It worked out as about £65, but it was well worth it for the comfort. Tomorrow is looking like there might be some rain as well so it’ll be good to have a roof, even a canvas one!

Our final destination of the holiday, which we visited yesterday, was Epcot.

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I have to get some Disney in!

First things first, we had to meet Mickey Mouse! We booked character dining at the Garden Grill.

I wasn’t quite as star struck as when we had lunch with Pooh Bear and his Hundred Acre friends a couple of years ago, but I was pretty close!

We spent quite a while in Future World exploring. Several of the rides/attractions are educational which makes a pleasant change. We learnt about the ecosystem and the work Epcot does to try to reduce its carbon footprint on Living with the Land.

It was soon time for something more frivolous though so we went and sat in a giant shell and watched Nemo and Dory and then went to Turtle Talk where we were entertained by Crush. Totally awesome dudes and dudettes (you have to say that in a California surf dude style!)

We queued for ages to get on Soarin’ but oh boy Pluto, was it worth it! Amazing! It really felt like we were flying over some of the world’s most iconic sights.

After this we headed for World Showcase and we explored all the countries. The International Flower and Garden festival is on at the moment and there were some beautiful floral displays, as well as these amazing topiary figures.

We hung around until nine pm so that we could watch IllumiNations. That was well worth the wait, and the ensuing nightmare of getting an Uber along with the rest of Epcot!

Right, it’s late so I’m off to beddy byes. I’m too tired to proofread so apologies for any errors!