A most excellent holiday on the Isle of Wight

Well, I’ll start by saying that I can’t believe that it took covid for us to discover the gem that is the Isle of Wight! Pre-covid, we didn’t really holiday in the UK, but the pandemic has changed so many aspects of life and has forced us to make a choice between no holiday and a staycation. We chose staycation, and while I know we’ll go abroad again as soon as we feel it’s safe and sensible to do so, we’ll also most definitely go back to the Isle of Wight. We had such a good time!

It didn’t start well. Firstly the weather forecast went from glorious sun and 20 degrees plus temperatures every day, to rain and grey most days and then our ferry crossings were delayed because one of the ferries is out of action. However, apart from the first night when I thought our caravan (and my car) might actually float away because the rain was so bad, the weather was actually pretty good and we both managed to get sunburnt despite wearing factor 20 (in my case, at least!) and the delayed ferry crossings allowed us to fit a bit extra into our holiday.

On the way there, our crossing was changed from lunchtime to 7pm so, not wanting to waste any precious holiday time, I booked us tickets to go to Portsmouth Docks which turned out to be an excellent trip. We saw the Mary Rose and looked around the museum first.

It’s incredible to stand there looking at the wreck of the ship which we raised in 1982, to think that King Henry VIII stood not too far away watching his favourite war ship sink during the battle of the Solent in 1545. It lay under the water for a remarkable four hundred and thirty seven years. There was apparently some question, when it was found, over whether we could say with certainty that it was the Mary Rose but I was amazed to read in the museum that we can actually put a date range on when the trees used to build the ship were felled! That’s almost too clever! Anyway, the age of the timber and the location of the wreck point towards it being the Mary Rose. The vast majority of the crew, including dogs, were lost when she sank despite her being so close to the shore, and we found many remains trapped in the ship and from analysis of the bones and artefacts found nearby, we’ve been able to assign probable roles to the men found. We can even tell where the men were likely to have been born, with reasonable accuracy. Just amazing.

Next we visited HMS Victory where you can actually board the ship because, in comparison to the Mary Rose, it’s a young ship having been built in the mid eighteenth century. Her most famous role was at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when she was captained by Lord Nelson.

Nelson won the battle, but was fatally wounded by a musket shot which lodged in his spine, having already lost the sight in one eye and most of one arm in previous battles, and died below decks on Victory. It’s here that the famous quote ‘kiss me Hardy’ was supposed to have been uttered. The men on Victory slept in hammocks, apart from Nelson who, having lost his arm but being unwilling to ask for assistance to clamber into a hammock, slept on a specially made bed which could be quickly moved if the space was required for battle.

I love this photo of HMS Victory which I took from the quayside, including the giant statue of a Royal Navy soldier taking his girl in his arms.

On to the main holiday then. We found our caravan easily and settled in and then sat the rain out on the first night and luckily the rest of our holiday was dry and mainly sunny.

On day one we visited a model village in Godshill ….

…. and then went to Shanklin to have a wander around. Shanklin Chine was closed (more about that later) due to the previous night’s weather so we walked down the to the seafront and found an arcade to waste a bit of time (and money) in. I did my best to win an Eeyore but didn’t manage it unfortunately. In the evening I went for a walk down to our local beach and found myself a couple of shells.

The next day we’d pre-booked tickets to Osborne House, which was, allegedly, Queen Victoria’s favourite residence and where she passed away in 1901. Due to covid, we were only able to visit the ground floor rooms but they were pretty impressive.

The house is 1.2km from what was Queen Victoria’s private beach, so we walked down there and had a really relaxing sit on her beach for an hour or so, where I managed to find a few more shells and a stone which reminds me of a panda.

On our way back to the caravan we stopped by the Garlic Farm where you can go on a couple of pleasant walks and learn about different kinds of garlic. This is an elephant garlic flower.

There is also the inevitable shop selling their wares so we bought ourselves quite a few garlic products.

On our penultimate full day the weather was good enough for us to sit on our beach so we slipped and slid our way down the very steep access path and set up camp for a while. Hubby even went in the sea (far too cold for me!) It really didn’t feel that hot, but it was obviously deceptive because we both got a little burnt. The sun is definitely stronger in the UK than it used to be.

Luckily for our burnt bits, we packed up mid-afternoon and decided to go and check out Shanklin Chine after it had been closed before. It’s so magical. There’s a lovely waterfall and then the stream is surrounded by beautiful woodland foliage throughout. At the end you’re rewarded with a gorgeous sea view and then on the way back up there are some rescue birds overlooking the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen, which reminded me of something you’d find on Skull Island. According to my mum, it’s gunnera.

On our final day we went for a walk around the coastal path which was really good for the soul. There’s something about being up high and overlooking the sea that does you good.

We ended up in Yaverland where there’s a lovely beach and Wildheart’s animal sanctuary. We went into the animal sanctuary and had a look around. It’s only a small place, but we enjoyed it a lot. Afterwards we walked back around the path, enjoying the great outdoors.

On our final morning we had time to visit the Roman villa ruins at Brading due to our rearranged ferry crossing. This was also really interesting. Some of the mosaic floors, which are estimated to have been laid in 46AD, are pretty well preserved, really giving you a feel of what the villa would’ve looked like when it was newly built.

We had, completely unintentionally, chosen the weekend of the round the island race to return, so we were treated to amazing views of hundreds of boats sailing all round the island. We had a great view of this from the ferry on the way back. The photos don’t do it justice – it really was quite a spectacle.

I could wax lyrical about the Isle of Wight for much longer, but I think I’ll finish here and go and get myself some delicious garlic mayo for my lunch (probably with something else as well!) If anyone’s looking for a staycation location, I’d highly recommend the Isle of Wight – we had an amazing time and will definitely be back there again, and hopefully for a bit longer next time.

Dreams of Mickey Mouse

Some of you may recall our non-Jamaica party for two last May which I organised to take our minds of the fact that we were supposed to be jetting out to Jamaica.

When this holiday was cancelled, we swapped it to Orlando, and, as I type, we should be at thirty thousand feet drinking a gin and tonic on our way there. Even though it was cancelled a few weeks ago, I couldn’t quite bring myself to remove it from my phone calendar, almost as if that was accepting that we weren’t going, so this morning I’ve been assaulted by reminders!

I’ve no idea why it says Tuesday in the little box! Anyway, we honestly didn’t think, when we swapped to April 2021, that we’d still be in the situation that we’re in with Covid. April 2021 seemed so far ahead at the time, that we assumed the world would’ve beaten this virus by now, but onwards we battle!

As it turns out, maybe some things truly are meant to happen a certain way, because we wouldn’t have been going anyway. It’s Granny’s funeral on Wednesday when we’d have been three days into our holiday. Much as I love holidays, and Orlando in particular, I wouldn’t have missed this occasion and chance to say au revoir.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my favourite photos and memories of our previous holidays to Orlando. There are a lot of photos, so I fear this may take me a while to narrow down to something manageable.

I’ll start with our first trip, and our first visit to Magic Kingdom. This was our very first day in Orlando and I absolutely had to go and meet Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

I was so starstruck!! This was at the Crystal Palace where you can eat as much as you want from the buffet and meet Pooh bear, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger as they roam around the restaurant. Excited was not the word!!

Sticking to the character theme, on our third trip we went to Epcot for the second time and had lunch with Mickey Mouse!

Whilst we’re on the subject of Epcot, here’s some more Pooh bear spam!

Fabulous topiary. I think, of the Disney parks that we’ve been to, Epcot is my favourite. We haven’t been to Hollywood Studios because it seems to be weighted heavily towards Star Wars which we’re not particular fans of. Animal Kingdom is good and we enjoyed our day there because we got to see lots of animals and a couple of the attractions are really good (we went before the Avatar additions) but it’s not very Disney so probably Busch Gardens would suit us better (it’s on the list!) Magic Kingdom is awesome and I’m sure we’ll visit again, but it is more for the younger visitors while the young at heart such as ourselves would probably prefer to visit less frequently (but it should certainly be on the list for first time visitors in my opinion). Epcot, however, has a lot of Disney content to satisfy the child in me, but also has loads of other cool stuff. I guess it’s more educational with all the different countries represented. It also has possibly the best simulator ride in Soarin’. It galls me to say that given how much I love the Harry Potter simulators at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but it may just pip them for the actual ride, but not the queue where Hogwarts and Gringotts beat it hands down.

I have to share the next photo which I took at Epcot because it makes me smile every time I see it. This is Bruce from Shark Tale and I didn’t notice that he was trying to eat that poor lady until I looked at the photos of the day back at the hotel that evening!

As I seem to have moved into talking about each park, I’ll move on to Kennedy Space Centre. We’ve been to Kennedy twice and it’s a great day out. It’s about an hour’s drive from the International Drive area, but it’s an easy drive. Kennedy is also a fairly educational day and there is much less emphasis on thrill seeking. Having said that, hubby did find himself in outer space on our last trip.

There’s a really interesting bus ride around the park where you see and learn a lot about space launches. You might even spot a ‘gator lurking in one of the waterways around the complex.

Moving on to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, which together make up my happy place! I just feel, as soon as I emerge from City Walk to either turn left for Islands of Adventure or right for Universal Studios, a surge of happiness and a weight lifting. It’s pure fun, escapism and excitement.

I’ve found it difficult to narrow down my photos of these two parks but I’ve just about managed. I’ll start with my two favourite rollercoasters.

On the left is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and it’s amazing! It was new last year and we were really lucky that we managed to go pre-covid and ride it. We had to queue for two hours to get on it, but it was worth it. The queue was amazing going past Hagrid’s hut and with a view of Hogwarts for some time and then the actual ride was exhilarating. You sit in pairs with one on the motorbike and one in the side car. Hubby let me have the motorbike since I’m the main Harry Potter fan and it was great! At one point you’re speeding towards the end of the track with your heart in your mouth wondering how on earth this is going to end, and then you screech to a halt and go backwards before stopping in the dark forbidden forest and then free falling to the track underneath. Amazing!

On the right is the Incredible Hulk coaster. The queue is less impressive but is still Hulk themed and atmospheric but the actual coaster is brilliant. One particular part is my favourite – as you approach the end of the tube in the photo going relatively slowly, all of a sudden the Hulk roars and you’re propelled forward pushing you back in your seat and possibly evoking a completely unintentional squeal of excitement (or is that just me?)

There’s so much about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I love, that I can’t possibly show it all so I’ve chosen a few select photos.

Top row starting on the left is inside the Hog’s Head pub where we stopped for a gilly water, then Hogwarts Castle and Hedwig in her cage sitting on Harry’s case in the queue for the Hogwarts Express.

Bottom row left to right is the Hogwarts Express which is one of my favourite parts of the Wizarding World, the Leaky Cauldron where we’ve stopped for lunch a couple of times and the Knight Bus.

We spent my 40th birthday in Orlando and we splashed out and visited Discovery Cove which is completely different to the hustle and bustle of the other parks. Discovery Cove has a daily crowd limit of 1400 so it’s not busy (apart from the restaurant at lunchtime!) and is completely relaxing!

The day is quite expensive, but is all inclusive. You can arrive early and get breakfast, then you can go and get your life jacket or wet suit, snorkel and fish-friendly suntan lotion, and then you can grab a sun bed or you can go snorkelling in the Grand Reef with rays and tropical fish and a segregated section with sharks or you can float around the lazy river stopping off to wander through the aviary. At lunchtime you can get a yummy lunch before choosing how to spend your afternoon. You can swim with dolphins although we’ve chosen not to here and you can laze around in the deliciously warm water in the sunshine.

Sticking with the water theme and moving on to a different park but returning to Universal, is Volcano Bay. We’ve stopped at Cabana Bay twice, once with a volcano view which was so nice to wake up to.

This has been my screensaver on my work laptop for the past couple of years. That pool that you can see has a wave machine that starts every so often signalled by the drums and there are a couple of awesome water rides in the volcano. One is a trapdoor ride right from the top to the bottom and the other is an aqua coaster which is super fun. There are plenty of other water rides/slides in the park and probably my favourite is the lazy river from where you have a view of our hotel.

I think I’ve probably bombarded you with enough information and photos now, so I’ll finish, but I am getting hungry so I feel compelled to share one last photo which was my 40th birthday dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on City Walk and is probably my favourite meal ever, and I’ve had it all three times that we’ve been to the Hard Rock! Behold, the chicken fajita!!

A to Z of a lockdown

Animals – as soon as we were able, we did our bit to support animal attractions that had been forced to close for months. All the animals still had to fed, watered and cared for during lockdown and some came close to having to put animals to sleep. Edinburgh zoo is currently considering whether they have to send their two giant pandas back to China as they’ve had very little income for twelve months.

Baking – I, along with most of the UK going by the empty flour and sugar shelves in the supermarkets, felt a need to bake. Very yummy it was, but unfortunately not good for the old waistline!

Crochet – I’ve never crocheted so much in my life! Lockdown made me feel that I needed to be productive and crochet was one of the ways I did this.

Dog bite – I got bitten by a dog on the beach in Norfolk in between lockdowns and ended up in A&E and on antibiotics.

Exercise – I managed to mitigate the baking a little with exercise. The gym was closed so I found other ways of exercising, enjoying the outdoors when the weather was good and building our home gym for when it wasn’t.

Fur babies – a massive upside to being home so much has been spending lots of time with Olive and Tinkerbell. It’s really comforting to look round during a day of working to see them snoozing on the bed.

Garden – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve thanked my lucky stars that the pandemic didn’t happen when we were in our tiny flat with no outside space.

Harry Potter – bizarrely Harry Potter has played a big part in keeping me sane over the past year. I listened to all the books on audible and hearing those stories again was strangely calming. When I was furloughed we set the spare room up better for working from home and gave it a Harry Potter theme. I made 3D models and splashed out on Lego Diagon Alley which I love love loved building.

Improvements – we made several home improvements. Apart from the Harry Potter room, we also stripped the wood chip and redecorated our living room, built a catio so our furry girls can get some fresh air, had our loft insulation upgraded and replaced all our double glazing.

Jigsaws – I’ve done loads! My friend sent me this one which I really enjoyed.

Kindle – once I’d worked my way through all seven Harry Potter books on audible, I switched back to my Kindle and I discovered the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley and read the six that are already released. They’re really good. I’ve got loads of books on there so I’m all set for the rest of lockdown.

Lego – hubby bought me Lego Hedwig for Christmas which triggered my Lego joy!

Masks – I was hesitant to start off with because BoJo was telling us that masks didn’t help with stopping the spread of covid, but once they told us we had to wear them I embraced it and made a few. It’s become almost a fashion statement. In Scotland I wore my Harry Potter one when we went to the Elephant House cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the books and my dinosaur one when we went in search of wee Nessie.

Netflix – along with Disney+, Prime TV and iPlayer, Netflix has kept me entertained. I’ve watched Tiger King, Picard, Safe, Bridgerton, Mulan, Moana, the Stranger, Fleabag, Pete’s Dragon, Inside Out, Brave, It’s a Sin and goodness knows what else!

Online deliveries – many of them entirely superfluous to my needs! I ‘needed’ heart shaped cutters to make heart shaped sandwiches for Valentine’s Day and glitter for us to make Valentine’s cards so we could avoid shops. Our poor postman looked absolutely terrified every time he knocked on the door, which was almost as many times as the Amazon delivery driver.

Pooh bear memes – there have been loads of memes and funnies around. If anyone is yet to see David Attenborough narrating Boris Johnson cleaning a chair in a vaccination centre, I urge you to visit YouTube to rectify that. Anyway, me being me, I was drawn to the Pooh bear memes.

Quizzes – during the depths of lockdown we joined two friends every Sunday evening on FaceTime to do a quiz that their local pub quizmaster had moved online. I’ve been so grateful for technology during this time – I was able to virtually see more of some friends than I did before lockdown.

Rowena – this is my great aunt, Rowena. She passed away in February and I wasn’t able to go to the funeral because I was still in my isolation period after catching covid. I watched it online though, giving me another reason to be thankful for technology. It was hard seeing my family on the screen, but not being able to see them in person when it’s been so long.

Staycations – we were really lucky that we’d booked a foreign holiday at the end of January so we had the memories of that to keep us going, but we still felt the need to get away when we were allowed and we went to Norfolk in July for a couple of nights and Edinburgh for my birthday in September.

Tennis afternoon tea – I had tickets booked for the ATP Tour Finals at the O2 in London in November and that got cancelled so I made us a tennis themed afternoon tea as recompense.

Unbooked holidays – we should’ve been going to Jamaica in May and that was cancelled so we had a non-Jamaican party for two instead with Jamaican themed food and Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff playing all day. We swapped that holiday for Orlando in April this year, but that’s been cancelled too so, unlike the photo below, the adventure doesn’t begin, not just yet.

Virtual tours and shows – tour guides have become creative whilst they’ve not been able to offer physical tours and they’ve moved on line. The tour below took us all round the different Harry Potter locations in Scotland. I’ve also watched several West End shows on line, and Cirque du Soleil and next week I’m going to Iceland (virtually).

Working from home – this was my first day working from home when I actually bothered to get dressed before lunchtime and clearly made an effort with my breakfast. you can see why I had to rearrange the room – it was a bit depressing facing the wall all day.

Xmas – I don’t like shortening Christmas, my Grandad used to say that shortening to Xmas was crossing out Christ, but X is such a stupid letter and I couldn’t think of anything else. Despite the restrictions, we had a good day. We walked in the park in the morning with some family and then my Dad (who’s in our bubble) joined us for the rest of the day, the first time I’ve seen a member of my side of the family on Christmas Day for years.

Yawn – working from home has meant an extra hour of sleep each working day which I really appreciated through the Winter when I normally struggle with seasonal affective disorder and live in an exhausted fog for four or five months. I also appreciated it when I did succumb to covid because it really wipes you out and I needed sleep. Of course there’s no change for our Olive – she’s a gold medal snoozer!

Zoom calls – thank goodness for zoom, teams, WhatsApp calling and FaceTime. They’ve kept businesses going, but they’ve also kept friendships going and families together.