I’m really missing ……?

Everything seems really glum while we’re all in lockdown and I don’t know anyone who’s not missing someone or something at the moment (and most are missing multiple someones and somethings!) I’m doing my very best (and mostly succeeding) to keep my chin up. I’m very lucky that I have lots of home-based hobbies which I’ve been able to enjoy even more than usual over the past ten months – crocheting, cross stitch, gardening, reading, jigsaws, DIY and, of course, blogging.

I’ve been pondering on what I’m missing most from ‘normal’ life, and I came up with the following.

So, starting top left and going clockwise, first is a photo from just over a year ago when I went down to London to watch both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it represents a few things that I’m missing. First is days out, particularly trips further away from home than the local park and possibly involving overnight stays, the second is going to the theatre and the third is time on my own because this was a trip I took on my own and it was blissful me time.

Next is driving! Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not missing sitting in heavy traffic, being cut up by Audis and BMWs or spending a fortune on diesel, and I’m happy that the environment is benefitting from fewer cars on the road, but I’m missing driving in free flowing traffic and I’m missing the headspace that I get from driving. I used to process the happenings of the day in my head on my way home from work and gear myself up for the day on the way in. There is also a sense of community from knowing that most of the cars around you contain people who are also commuting and contributing to keeping the world going. Home working has lots of benefits, but it is very insular.

The third photo represents eating out! Sometimes you just want someone else to cook and serve your food, but it’s not just that, it’s the looking forward to it, choosing where to go, choosing what to wear, being surrounded by other humans – it’s the whole experience.

Finally, I miss browsing in shops, garden centres or otherwise. I used to enjoy browsing round WHSmiths looking for nothing in particular, running my fingers over book covers and flicking through magazines. I could still go and browse some garden centres as they are still open, but it’s not the same when you have to wear a mask, you can’t break up your browsing with a slice of cake in the cafe and you’re scared to touch anything in case it might be tainted by covid!

Along similar lines, first in this second set is going out for drinks (and possibly some cake!) There’s something luxurious about sipping a cold Aperol Spritz in a beer garden or enjoying a cold glass of vino in the pub before a meal. It’s not the same when you have to pour it yourself and drink it in your living room with your washing drying on the radiator and BoJo on the telly telling you there’s a zombie apocalypse coming!

Next is my niece’s hand and the photo represents family. I’m so grateful that technology enables me to keep in touch virtually and that the rules allow me to see one family member at a time for a walk, but I miss my family that live further away. It was especially hard not being able to see people at Christmas. I haven’t seen my Mum for over a year, I’ve got nieces and a nephew who are growing up really quickly and other special people that I’ve only been able to see on doorsteps or far too fleetingly.

Skipping down to the bottom left now and you’ll see some of my lovely friends. I know I said only a few paragraphs ago that I miss me time, but it’s hard not being able to see friends and relax together as well. It’s all about balance. Zoom calls are a good substitute, and they do enable me to ‘see’ long distance friends that I rarely saw pre-pandemic, but it’s not the same as physically being in the same room.

I couldn’t find a photo to illustrate my last point perfectly, but my question marks are as close as I could get! I miss planning and spontaneity! I guess they’re the flip sides of the same coin but you really can’t do either at the moment. Planning’s out of the question because we don’t know what the rules will allow at any given date, but we also can’t be spontaneous because we have to weigh up every situation to determine if we really need to leave the house, and if what we want to do is safe, somewhat negating any spontaneity.

In addition to all this, what I’m REALLY missing at the moment is going on holiday so I thought I’d try to pick my five favourite holidays and live vicariously through my own past!

I don’t know if it’s just because they’re freshest in my memory, but my first two favourite holidays happened last year. The first was in January when we went on a Caribbean cruise on Harmony of the Seas, preceded by a couple of nights in Orlando. I wrote a couple of posts on this at the time so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

These pictures really sum up some of the best bits of the holiday and trigger off lots of other happy memories. Not that I need that – we were on this holiday this time last year so every day when I log in to Timehop I see the joyful posts that I wrote one year ago. The photo top left is the reason that we went to Orlando before the cruise. There was a new ride at Islands of Adventure – Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – and I was desperate to go on it. We had to queue for two hours but it was sooooo worth it! The last photo, bottom right, is an air boat. This was a trip we did on our last day before we went back to the airport. It was absolutely freezing, but it was really good. We didn’t see any gators though – apparently it was too cold for them. The rest of the photos are of the cruise part of the holiday. The ship was just amazing! And huge! Ours was the one dwarfing the cruise liner docked next to it in the top middle pic. It had so many facilities – an ice rink, climbing wall, surf simulator, water and dry slides and, as you can see, a zip line. Hubby conquered his fear because he’s not keen on heights. It was really fun. Bottom left is us in the Bahamas where we swam with pigs which was awesome! The round window was in our cabin and it was just so relaxing to sit in it and gaze out at the sunny ports that we were docked at or the waves rushing by.

I could wax lyrical for hours about this holiday, but this post’s already turning out pretty long so I’ll move on to my next favourite holiday which was Edinburgh for my birthday in September.

I don’t know whether this holiday was so good because we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go due to COVID rules, or if it was because we hadn’t had a proper break since January, or if Edinburgh just really is that amazing, but whatever the reason, we loved it. We had a little Airbnb which felt safer than a hotel and everywhere we went measures were in place and were being followed.

The photo of me with wine I suppose could’ve been taken anywhere, but it reminds me of how relaxed I felt and what a good day we’d had. The restaurant that we were in is Makar’s Mash Bar which, as you might expect, does lots of different kinds of mashed potato. The multi coloured photo is at Camera Obscura which was extraordinarily good. The next two are fairly self explanatory – the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh Zoo.

The middle row were all taken on my birthday when we went on a day trip to Loch Ness, stopping off at various picturesque sites on the way there and back. As you can see, we saw wee Nessie!

Bottom left is Holyroodhouse Palace which is the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh. She stays here every July (well, presumably not this past July!) for three weeks. When I say here, obviously not in the ruined abbey but rather in the intact palace next door.

Next to Holyroodhouse palace are the slightly less grand toilets at the Elephant House cafe where J K Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter books. Fans over the years have graffitied the walls and, after initially painting over the scribbles, the cafe relented and the graffiti is now a tourist attraction and tribute to J K.

This next holiday feels like a really long time ago now. I think it was March 2013 and we escaped the cold British climate to the marvellous Maldives.

I would urge anyone who gets the chance, to go to the Maldives. It really is paradise on earth. I remember trailing behind the guy showing us to our water bungalow down the boardwalk in the bottom photo just looking around me in awe at how beautiful it was and not quite believing that we were actually there. I’m not sure I’d ever seen so many different shades of blue before.

I’ve included a photo of our terrace because we spent a lot of time on there so it feels very evocative of our holiday. There’s really not a lot to do in the Maldives other than swim, snorkel, read, eat and drink so if you’re someone who has ants in their pants then it may not be for you, but we loved our week of utter relaxation. The snorkelling is amazing! It was the first place that I snorkelled and it’s kind of ruined snorkelling for me because anywhere else I’ve been just isn’t a patch on it. You only had to be knee deep to be surrounded by all manner of fish but if you went further out there were rays too and potentially hammerhead sharks.

Most holidays to the Maldives are all inclusive. We had the same table every night and the same waiter which was really nice because we got to know him. The food was delicious. They did a different theme each night. Unsurprisingly hubby enjoyed the American night with the burgers but I preferred the Indian night when they did loads of curries and dahls with different kinds of bread.

Speaking of food, there was no shortage of that when we went to Las Vegas!

We got married in Las Vegas in 2008 and we went back there for a week in 2011. We took a bit of a risk getting married there never having been before, but luckily we loved it. I can understand how it’s not for everyone though. Everything is extravagant and larger than life. There are lions in the MGM hotel, a replica of the Grand Canal of Venice in the Venetian and you can see all those lights down the Strip in the bottom left photo taken from the top of the fifty percent size replica of the Eiffel Tower! That little bit of sky that you can see above the canal is actually the ceiling, kind of like the enchanted ceiling in Hogwarts’ Great Hall. The lions live in a pride in a huge complex a few miles away from the strip and a two or three at a time are brought over to the MGM a couple of times a day. All the animals that we saw in Vegas seemed well looked after, and it is fascinating to see them, but I always feel in a quandary over whether keeping animals in captivity is too big a pay off for the conservation work that is enabled through animal attractions. The final photo is one of my favourites. It’s me at Hoover Dam and I’m standing in two states! My right foot is in Nevada and my left is in Arizona.

Back to Europe for our final stop to say kali mera to Corfu.

We’ve been to the same hotel in Sidari in the north of the island three times and loved it each time. I’m sure we’ll go back sometime. The people are so friendly in Corfu, the weather is perfect and they have ouzo! A bit of an acquired taste, apparently, but I love it! One of life’s great pleasures is decamping to the bar after dinner with that sun kissed glow on your skin and a slightly dizzy feeling after a day in the sun, to relax with a nice glass of ouzo and lemonade.

Unlike the Maldives, in Corfu there’s lots to do. One of our favourite days out is to go to Kassiopi just around the coast. On our first trip here we stumbled upon Karavi beach which is only accessible by scrambling along the cliff edge through the undergrowth. Once there, you’re rewarded by an almost deserted pebble beach that’s probably only about twenty metres across at its widest. The picture bottom right is me sitting in the shallows on Karavi beach and loving life. The photo’s slightly blurry because we got suntan lotion on the lens (this was pre-decent camera phones) but I really like the arty effect that it produced.

The rocky outcrop is colloquially known as monkey rock – you can see why. This was taken on a day trip to paradise island which is another beach only accessible by sea, this time a long expanse of pebbles where they have a beach barbecue.

The ice cream is a treat indeed! They’re a bit like a cornetto but they have crunchy chocolate going through them and they’re about twice the size! I’ve never seen them anywhere but Corfu and it’s almost worth going just for one of them!

I’ve been writing this post slowly all week, savouring my photos and my holiday memories and although it has made me yearn even more for a time when we can go on holiday again, it’s also made me feel very lucky that we’ve been able to enjoy these times and that we have them to look back on to get us through these lockdown weeks and months when things seem otherwise somewhat Eeyoreish. I hope you can find some sunshine and happiness in the photos.

2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

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!