Holiday Catch Up part one

I need to tell you about our holiday, but I really don’t know where to start! We’ve been back for not far off a week now, and I’ve been back at work for three days, but I’m still basking in the distant rays of our time away. It was an absolutely AMAZING holiday! There wasn’t a single bad moment – not even when the weather wasn’t as good as we could’ve hoped for. I can’t call it the holiday of a lifetime, firstly because we’ve been lucky enough to have several ‘holidays of a lifetime’ so far and secondly, because I’m fully intending to repeat it once I’ve saved up again, but that’s the essence of it!

The holiday started before we’d actually left the country. We were flying from Gatwick and my Granny lives only a few miles from there so we headed down there the day before we were due to fly so we could spend some time with her. She’s had some health issues recently so it was great to be able to pop in and see her (and I’m pleased to report that she was in good health – no flies on Granny!)

We’d booked into a hotel just down the road called Hookwood Lodge. It cost me less than forty quid on booking.com and we couldn’t believe how nice it was for that price.

The hotel was set in beautiful grounds, the bed was super comfy and the bathroom had a rain shower head which was lovely. It was also five minutes walk from a homely country pub with a crackling open fire called the Black Horse, and I’d booked us a table for a pre-holiday meal.

I treated myself to a nice glass of vino and ordered fish and chips and hubby had a 0% Heineken (because he was trying to be teetotal (it didn’t last!)) and a big fat burger! Fed and watered, we hot footed it back to the hotel dodging the rain and excitedly tried to sleep before the next stage of our adventure.

We were up and out by half eight the following morning and made our way to Gatwick to drop our bags before we made our way through to departures for our traditional holiday breakfast. The airport was pretty busy with, presumably, like us, people trying to escape dreary January. We were delayed an hour and a half, but we were soon on our way, off to sun, fun and adventure. A couple of G&Ts (this is where hubby’s wagon tipped!) a film and some puzzles later and we touched down at Orlando International Airport where passport control was surprisingly quiet and we were soon heading out of the airport in our hire car.

This is actually when we dropped the car off, you can see the ship that we cruised on in the background (I’ll get to that in due course). Anyway, as we headed out of the airport we got stuck straight away in big traffic jam which turned out to be an accident involving four cars, at least one of which looked like a hire car. So, next time you’re delayed, whether on a flight or behind someone dawdling in the supermarket, just remember, that delay could well be saving you a whole load of stress and aggravation. If our flight hadn’t been delayed, we could have been heading out of the airport as that accident was about to happen. What an awful start to someone’s holiday.

Once we got past the accident, the rest of the journey was uneventful. We headed towards Universal Studios, spotting the volcano in Volcano Bay on the way, and found our hotel easily enough. We’d booked two nights in the Holiday Inn and Suites across from Universal.

The hotel was fine, not up to the standard of Cabana Bay where we normally stop in Orlando, but it had everything we needed, and it was a fifteen minute walk from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure which was our planned destination for the first full day of holiday.

As anyone who regularly reads my blog will know, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans both parks is my happy place. The first time we visited there was a ride in Islands of Adventure called Dragon Challenge which was a double rollercoaster. This closed a couple of years ago and Universal announced that a new Harry Potter ride was being created. The next two times we went to Orlando the ride was being built and it opened as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure a month after we left in June 2019. Naturally I had to add a trip to Universal to the beginning of our holiday to experience the new ride before we headed off to our ship.

I almost (some would say completely) obsessively checked the Universal app before our holiday to suss out the wait times for the ride and when would be the best time of day to join the queue and it seemed the best course of action would be to get there as early as possible so we headed over to Universal as soon as we were ready. Crossing those giant roads in Orlando is an experience, I can tell you! I didn’t count, but I’m sure the roads we crossed were six lanes in each direction and as soon as the green man (or was it a white man?) said it was safe to cross, the crossing starts counting down in red and the pressure to reach the other side starts to build! Your legs almost instinctively want to run and you feel like the cars waiting are starting to rev their engines in anticipation of zooming off the second it goes back to green for them regardless of whether you’re still on the crossing or not! Add to that the fact that cars are allowed to turn right on red in the states and it really doesn’t make for a relaxing stroll across the road!

Anyway, we made it and we headed straight for Hagrid, following the crowds and the directional signs being held by team members and we joined the end of a two hour queue! This, I know from my research, is about average, and given that it was a Saturday, wasn’t too bad. Indeed, as I continued to check the wait time whilst we were in the line (as you do) it went up to three and a half hours, so we made the right call joining when we did.

By the time we made it to the lockers (you’re not allowed bags and sunglasses etc on the ride) we’d been queuing for about an hour, and we were now pretty much into where the line will start once the hype’s died down and the wait time is shorter. We’d come through the entrance to Hogsmeade …

… and gone past the Hogwarts Express …

… and shortly we got our first view of the ride.

As you can see, it’s a rollercoaster and the passengers are in twos, one on Hagrid’s motorbike and the other in the sidecar. You zoom around the Hogwarts grounds on your motorbike and past various magical creatures including an animatronic unicorn and her baby.

The queue gets more interesting from this point on because you can see the people ahead of you zooming around and screaming on the ride, and you shuffle your way past various familiar props and locations from the books and films. Like Hagrid’s hut …

… and his vegetable patch.

Finally you get to what I assume is part of Hogwarts Castle and the excitement mounts because everyone knows once you’re inside, you’ve got to be getting close to the actual ride. Inside there are dragon eggs, lots of magical animal baskets and ancient wall drawings, and you can hear unicorns braying. Next you get to holograms of Hagrid and Arthur Weasley. Hagrid explains that he’s going to take you on a special Care of Magical Creatures lesson but he needs Arthur to magically duplicate the bikes so he can get you to the forbidden forest.

When we got to the actual ride we somehow managed to end up at the front of one of the holding pens which meant we got to go on the front motorbike. Much excitement! As I’m the true Potter fan, hubby said I could have the motorbike and he went in the sidecar. It was sooooooo good! You zoom around and get up quite a bit of speed. At one point you zoom right up to the end of the track and skid to a stop. Just as you’re thinking ‘now what’ you zoom off backwards at speed before skidding to a stop again. Then you drop (apparently seventeen feet) onto the track beneath before zooming off again. All the while the Harry Potter music is playing and Hagrid’s voice is coming through the speakers in each individual motorbike or sidecar. It was well worth the wait!

The rest of the day was really good. We wandered around Hogsmeade for a bit and had a look in the magical shops and popped into the Hogs Head for some Gilly Water and a pint.

The head moves and talks periodically.

Next we caught the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. I love love love the Hogwarts Express. In this direction you head out of the magical land and see London come into sight with the Knight Bus squeezing its way through the streets and then you get off at Kings Cross. We had a wonder around Diagon Alley and I may have bought another Potter hoodie!

We went on a few more rides and watched the Horror Make Up Show which was really good, and I got to meet Beetlejuice!

It was a fantastic day, but we learnt two things. One, don’t go to Universal on a Saturday if you can help it. It was super busy and lots of people had express passes which meant the wait times for non express were crazy! Hagrid doesn’t even allow express passes yet so goodness knows what that would’ve been like with! And two, don’t get a mobile ticket. There are some rides that you’re not allowed to take anything on, including your phone, so everything has to go in a locker. That’s fine, but the lockers are rented and reopened by scanning the barcode on your ticket which obviously you can’t do if your ticket’s on your phone and your phone has to go in the locker. It meant that hubby got to go on Rip Ride Rock it while I waited for him, but because it took forty five minutes, I then didn’t want to go and wait again so I didn’t get to ride.

We finished our day at the Hard Rock Cafe at CityWalk. We went here to celebrate my fortieth birthday and they do THE best fajitas in the world so we always have to go back there now.

The next morning we decided to go for breakfast at iHop on International Drive before we headed over to Port Canaveral to board our ship. Love iHop too! We had to wait quite a while – the whole of Orlando seemed to fancy pancakes that morning! No worries though, we did need to be at the Port till mid afternoon.

How many million syns? Don’t care! Eggs over easy with hash browns and bacon AND birthday cake pancakes. Yummmmm! We barely ate for the rest of the day.

Now, I think, I’ll finish because I’ve written a lot just about the first couple of days and I have a whole week on the ship to tell you about yet! And the ship was AMAZING, so I’ve probably got a lot of words waiting to spill over about that too!

A Weekend in London

I’m currently 40000ft above the eastern coast of Canada enroute to Orlando.

Exciting stuff, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch you up with the goings on of last weekend. Obviously I’m not going to be able to publish this en avion so I’ll try to do it as soon as I get WiFi.

So, last weekend then! I was up and ready early and trotted myself down to the railway station to be at Birmingham New Street for my train to London at 10.10. This was a bit different to past trips to London because Virgin have lost the rail contract so it was my first trip with Avanti West Coast. All ran perfectly though, so far so good. Long may it last.

I arrived at Euston and headed straight for the tube. This was a solo trip, blissful me time, and I discovered that my AirPods really came into their own. So nice to march around the underground listening to music with no pesky wires to get in the way. Love my AirPods.

Jumping off at Tottenham Court Road I navigated my way (thank you google maps) to my hotel for the night, Mimis.

Now I was expecting a bijou room given that it’s description on booking.com was tiny room with tiny rubbish but wow! They really weren’t kidding!

I reckon the whole thing, including bathroom was three metres square! It had everything I needed though, and some I didn’t (coffee machine – yuck!) and, most importantly, it was clean, quiet and two minutes walk from the purpose of my visit! Palace Theatre.

My Dad bought me tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for Christmas – such excitement! Love love love Harry Potter. Which is a good thing because the show is split in two halves, both approximately two and a half hours separated by about the same amount of time so you’re watching it for hours!!

I won’t give away any of the secrets of the show, but I can give you a summary of the plot because you can buy the book anyway.

***** LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS *****

So, it’s nineteen years since we last saw Harry et al and the gang are all grown up. Harry works in the Ministry of Magic and is married to Ginny Weasley and together they have three children, James, Albus Severus and Lily (significance obvious for even the most cursory of Potter fans). Ron and Hermione are married and have two children, the oldest of which is Rose. We pick up the story as Albus and Rose are starting Hogwarts (James is already there). On the Hogwarts Express Albus meets Scorpius, the very blonde son of Draco Malfoy. Upon arrival at Hogwarts, Albus becomes the first Potter to be sorted into Slytherin while Rose finds herself in Gryffindor. This pushes Albus together with Scorpius, who as a Malfoy had to be in Slytherin and the story begins.

Albus witnesses a meeting between Harry and Amos Diggory, now infirm and in a wizarding nursing home (imagine firecrackers going mad and crazy zimmerframes!) and learns the story of how Cedric Diggory was sacrificed in the triwizard tournament and he also discovers that Hermione, now the Minister for Magic, has a time turner. Together with Scorpius he decides to steel the time turner in order to go back in time and save Cedric in a misguided mission to make things right between Harry and Albus who have a difficult relationship, and give Cedric his son back. Along the way they fall under the spell of Delphi who introduces herself as Amos’ niece.

As you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan. They succeed in saving Cedric but back in real time things have gone awry so they go back again to try and put it right and yet again the real time is wrong. Among other things, when time is changed, Cedric becomes a death eater, Snape is alive, Dolores Umbridge is Headmistress of Hogwarts, Albus is in Gryffindor, Scorpius is the school stud, Ron and Hermione aren’t married and Hermione is living underground because she’s wanted for various crimes.

Anyway, the upshot of it all is that Harry and his motley crew have to find another time turner to go back in time and save Albus and Scorpius when they get stuck in Godric’s Hollow on the night that Voldemort gave Harry that scar and it turns out that Delphi is the daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange and had an entirely different motive in helping Albus and Scorpius.

I loved it. The guy who played Scorpius absolutely made it for me. The way he chose to play the character was brilliant. They were all brilliant but he stood out for me.

During the couple of hours break I wandered off down Shaftesbury Avenue and had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. I had been here once before, but years ago and I couldn’t remember it. It was great. A bit of an odd choice, I guess, to go to on your own, but whatever!

Atmosphere was amazing.

Food was amazing!

London was vibrant and buzzing when I came out of the theatre and that’s the only time I wished I had a companion – a nice glass of vino would’ve gone down nicely. I had an early start the next day though so it was probably for the best.

After a poor night’s sleep (too hot and not enough pillow) I emerged from the hotel before nine am into a very Sunday morningish London. Streets were pleasantly quiet as presumably the revellers from the night before were snoozing away still. Not sure I’ve ever seen London so peaceful – it was lovely, almost like I had it all to myself. I was booked on a City Cruises boat to Greenwich at ten am so I meandered my way slowly in the direction of Westminster Bridge, taking in the sights on my way.

The boat trip was really good, again it was quite quiet and I was first on so I got a seat at the very front (downstairs – I may be from up North in the eyes of Londoners (I’m not, Birmingham is not the North, we’re in the middle) but I’m not hardy enough to be outside for long in January weather) so I got a great view.

The commentary was really funny and informative.

Did you know there are thirty two pods on the London Eye? One to represent each London Borough.

HMS Belfast which was built in the same shipyard at the Titanic in Belfast. She served in the Korean War but now she’s a museum. She’s sitting on what is now one of the cleanest rivers in the world (doesn’t look it, I don’t recommend drinking it) but in days gone by, the smell coming from the Thames, the Great Stink, caused by Londoners disposing of their waste in the river inspired the Victorians to design and build the sewer system. Prior to that the Thames had become ecologically dead. These days it has a thriving eco-system and Londoners’ waste apparently goes to Essex (sorry Essex!)

Apparently most rivers only flow one way, but the Thames changes direction twice a day and it rises and falls five to seven metres. This made London susceptible to flooding so a barrier was built to protect the Thames and Londoners from storms from the North Sea.

The designer of the Shard was offered one million pounds for his design of the tower. He said he’d prefer to take the Penthouse suite instead. He sold that a few years ago for thirty five million pounds. Shrewd!

Once in Greenwich I visited the Cutty Sark, a Tea Clipper that used to bring us tea from China and also wool from Australia. In today’s money the value of a full load of tea was six million pounds. That’s a lot of tea.

After this I made my way up to the Observatory, slowly! It’s flipping steep. I could’ve done with some crampons and a rope! It was worth it for the view though.

I probably should’ve got the audioguide because I feel like I still don’t know much about the Observatory, but I was kind of all informationed out by that point.

This is me in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

Phew, I was tired after all this. I did twelve and a half thousand steps both days, which, given that I was sat on a train for an hour and a half each day and in a theatre for five hours on the first day, I think is quite a lot. Could do with a holiday now. Oh ……….. well would you look at that!

Six on Saturday 4th January 2020

Happy New Year folks! I hope everyone enjoyed the festivities. I certainly had a lovely, long and relaxing break. Two whole weeks off work and, given an upcoming change in circumstances, I could almost completely switch off because my challenges are now someone else’s and my new challenges haven’t commenced yet. More on that another time I’m sure.

So, here we are on the first Saturday of January and it’s time for the first Six of 2020. I have to admit I did precisely zero gardening over the break – I am absolutely a fair weather gardener. I hate the cold, and while I feel awful wishing for hot weather given the devastation it’s causing over in Australia (is Trump still denying climate change? Numpty!) I can’t help but dream of lazy, hazy, sunny days in the garden. Still, we’re now well past the shortest day so things are on the up!

Anyway, I forced myself out in the garden this morning to check the garden and find some Six inspiration and, now my hands have warmed up again, I can show you what I chose to talk about today.

1. Compost Bin

I discovered, thanks to a new colleague, late last year that certain county councils work with http://www.getcomposting.com to provide better value compost bins and luckily Birmingham City Council is one of those councils so I ordered one pronto, along with a kitchen caddy to save me trekking out there (in the cold – brrrrrrr …..) every time I peel a spud or crack an egg. I’m excited to get going, although I’m well aware, as with so many aspects of gardening, that I need to exercise what little patience I have, given that there’s not so much as a tea leaf in the bin yet, and the worms haven’t set up camp. As I’m typing this my mind is whirring and wondering if I’ve placed it in the optimal place. I’m not sure the sun spends much time here due to next door’s forest. I’ll ponder that point later.

2. Hellebores

I have a few, all from the sale table in Notcutts. If I see one on offer I tend to grab it knowing that it’ll have lovely leaves in the Summer and will then cheer my chilly heart with flowers in Winter.

This one is in my birthday planter and I’m pretty sure I shared a picture of it in flower around this time last year. It only had one flower then and it appears to only have one this year too, but I’m still grateful to it for showing up.

I have two others, these two photos are just one of them but the other looks exactly the same so I’m wondering if I snaffled them both from the sale table at the same time or if they’ll produce different blooms when these buds open. Time will tell. Looks like I’m going to get quite a few flowers from these two anyway. Whoop! I’ll keep an eye on them and make sure to snap the evidence. I’m excited to see what colour/s they are.

3. Christmas colour

Apart from the Hellebores there are still some plants fighting to bring joyous colour to the garden.

The Cyclamen is obviously no surprise but it’s such a lovely colour that I wanted to share.

More unexpected are these two ….

One of the Calendula that I grew from seed last year. They got really lanky but this one in particular, which is in a pot outside my She-shed, has bloomed almost continuously since mid Summer. I was really happy to see its cheery orange bloom waving at me as I made my way up the garden path.

This is the St. John’s Wort which we inherited with the garden. It’s beautiful in the Summer full of big, bright-yellow petals but I’m sure it doesn’t normally hang on to any flowers after Christmas.

For my final three points I’m going to share some of the garden related Christmas presents that I got.

4. Christmas plants

I bought these myself from hubby. I think he likes it when I buy my own presents! Means he can reimburse me for a gift that I definitely love without him having to battle the Christmas shopping crowds, and, in this case, I’ve had a nice time browsing a garden centre! Score on all counts!

Another beautiful Coprosma and a really big Cyclamen.

I just love Coprosma leaves. They seem to have so many colours in them and they change throughout the year. The one I had already seems quite slow growing, but they both should get to about fifty centimetres eventually. I’ll have to find a good spot to put this one. They seem to cope ok with shade, of which I have plenty, so I should find somewhere it’s happy.

I have several Cyclamen now, but none as big as this one. I have a place in mind for this one alongside our fence where I can see it from the kitchen when it’s flowering in the Winter.

5. Christmas seeds

I’m set for this year’s homegrown veg! Last year I tried petit pois, carrots, leeks and red onions. The red onions did nothing, the leeks eventually produced spring onion sized leeks, but the carrots and petit pois were really successful and they’re probably my favourite veg to eat too so I chose to go for those again, but different varieties this year. I thought I’d try runner beans too. I would never think to buy runner beans, but whenever I’ve had someone else’s homegrown ones I’ve enjoyed them. The packet says ‘vigorous’ but I figure it’s easy to prepare runner beans and freeze them for later in the year if I get a bumper crop.

I have six varieties of Sunflower too. I’ll have to decide whether to try a couple of each or whether to save some for next year. I need to think how much space I have that’s suitable to plant them out.

The final seeds are a pollinator beebom. I love this idea. When I can bear to take my hands outside again I’m going to prepare an area that I can explode this bomb in. I know just the place.

6. Froggy bird feeder

This is the kind of thing I love in the garden. Cute little characters to add interest. Of course, we’ll probably end up feeding more squirrels than birds but hey, they need to eat too! I’d rather they eat seed that we put out for ‘animals’ than my bulbs! I don’t know if this will be the final resting place for this feeder or if I can find somewhere else but for now this is where it is.

I won’t be around with another Six until February because I’m away from home for the next three weekends, but in the meantime why not check out the Propagator’s blog for other Sixes.