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!

 

Ugh – Holiday Blues!

Holidays, best thing in the world, right? Holiday blues, not so great! I’m doing my very best not to mope around with my lower lip on the floor, but I admit I have already looked up prices for a return trip and investigated timeshares in Orlando whilst wearing my Minnie Mouse ears (which will forever be known as my extra ears because Crush the turtle in Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot called them so). However, I have also learnt not to make holiday blues fuelled decisions so I’m trying my hardest to focus on the positive.

First positive aspect of being home? Well it’s two actually.

We really missed these two little furry things, and from the reaction we’ve had from them, I think the feeling was mutual! They haven’t left our sides since we got home.

Secondly, it was great to see the changes in the garden. Luckily (for the garden, not for people who weren’t on holiday) the weather at home wasn’t great while we were away so the greenhouse didn’t get hot enough to fatally dry out my seedlings and the rest of the garden got a bit of rain to keep it going.

When we pulled up on the drive we practically had to fight our way through the front garden because the grass has grown so long. That’s not so much of a positive, but it illustrates the difference a week makes! We have one more day off work so hubby’s planning to get the mower out tomorrow (hopefully it’ll make it through the meadow!)

The first thing I did after fussing our little furry girls was head out the back to check everything was ok.

This is the progress in the greenhouse.

Top left are my Sunflowers and Calendula and next to that are my Sweet Peas and Cosmos. They’re all getting quite big so I’ve started to harden them off ready to be planted out.

Bottom left are my Chillis and Spices. Woohoo – progress! The Habaneros and Cayenne Peppers aren’t showing any signs of life yet, but the Jalapeños, Cumin and Coriander have all germinated.

Bottom right is my Funky Veg. There were signs of life in the red Brussel Sprouts and the Rainbow Swiss Chard before we went away but now the purple Carrots, yellow Courgette and stripy Tomatoes have sprung up too.

I really need to think about where I’m going to plant all these now they’ve germinated. I don’t think I was confident enough that they’d actually grow to plan further ahead than sowing them!

Outside the greenhouse there’s now life in the raised beds.

On the left are my peas and on the right, carrots. No sign of the red onions or leeks yet, but I’m happy that it looks like we’re going to get peas and carrots. We ate in Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Orlando. It’s a Forrest Gump themed restaurant, and for those not familiar with the film, Forrest says of his best friend, ‘me and Jenny went together like peas and carrots’ so it seems appropriate that these have chosen to germinate while we were away.

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Next to the peas and carrots, the potato bags have grown hair!

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In the rest of the garden colour has appeared all over the place.

Top left is my Dicentra Bleeding Heart. This was from the sale table last year and was past flowering, so this is the first time I’ve seen its beautiful bloom. Next to that is a shrub that we inherited with the house. I don’t know what it is, but is has lovely yellow flowers which the bees seem keen on. On the end is one of many buds on one of my many roses. This is on one of my standard roses, but most of my other roses are in bud too.

On the bottom row are my orange Geum and my beautiful Erysimum. Both of these were from the sale table last year too. The Erysimum kept a couple of flowers all through Winter but now it’s exploded with flowers. They’re such a lovely bright pink.

Hopefully I’ll be over the jet lag enough tomorrow to get out there and do some maintenance. There’s a fair bit of deadheading and general tidying that needs doing. It feels quite overwhelming at the moment, but I know that’s the holiday blues and tiredness bringing out the pessimist in me.

Other positives about being home? I got to catch up on Gardeners’ World from the last two Fridays, although I did take my fix with me.

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I don’t have to put suntan lotion on every day because, well, it’s flipping freezing here! For anyone that’s interested, Boots Soltan Once doesn’t work as well as P20. With P20 I can put it on once before I go in the sun and, even if I’m in and out of water, I still don’t burn. I thought I’d give Soltan Once a go because it’s a lot cheaper, but it turns out that in this case you do get what you pay for. I didn’t burn horrendously, but I did have pink shoulders. It’ll be good enough to use here in the garden though if we get some warmer days, as long as I’m not out there all day.

My hair is back to its normal volume. I saw this meme on Facebook and had to post it because it describes exactly what happens when I go somewhere with high humidity.

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More positives. Of course, I get to see my family and friends, that’s a given. I can drink water from the tap (which I’m sure would be fine in Orlando, but apparently it tastes bad so I prefer not to).

Last, but most certainly not least, I can start researching, planning and dreaming about our next holiday (after the next two that are already booked, of course!) In the meantime, I’ll avoid thinking about the negatives until they become normal again, and I’ll content myself with living vicariously through my photos.

 

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!