Coniston March 2020

Monday 9th

Set off in the dry but the rain arrived heavily as I reached Ambleside. Had to make an emergency purchase of waterproof trousers because I discovered yesterday that I’m too fat for my old ones. Checked into a nice room in the Counting House at HF Holidays Monk Coniston. This house was once owned by Beatrix Potter and now by the National Trust who lease it to HF.

The first person I met was the first person I met here last July and to whom I took a violent dislike. Bollocks. For dinner I had veg quiche, salmon and veg, fruit salad. And a bottle of Coniston lager. I sat next to a Gove voter but the whole table agreed we wouldn’t talk politics. Jackie gave us a talk on red squirrels. I listened to The Archers who clearly think that what we need when there is a worldwide health crisis, is a traumatic storyline with multiple repercussions for most of the inhabitants of Ambridge. No dark humour now about Kenton concealing that he had run over Eccles the peacock.

Monk Coniston side entrance from The Counting House
Painting by Bertram Potter, Beatrix’s brother

Tuesday 10th

Lots of rain. Clambered into the vast waterproof trousers. All onto the bus. A short drive and 4 of us plus Dave the leader got off. We walked about 14 km in wind and rain and some respites of dry. From the A593 to Colwith Force in full spate, to Skelwith Force, Loughrigg Tarn, Grasmere lake, Rydal Water and Rydal cave then to Ambleside. I’d walked some of this with Carol in June 2012.  Hot chocolate (horrible) and the bus back. Lovely hot shower. Dinner of broccoli and Stilton soup, veg risotto and ice cream. Total sugar fail day. After dinner I played skittles and surprised myself by being very good at it. Last played 10 pin bowling when I was 16! I can see myself playing bowls in years to come!! A good day but more Tories. I was completely unable to hold back my views on the shower of shite they’ve given us. Mostly wet with some windy blasts.

Herdwick sheep
Sugar beet
Grasmere
Rydal Cave

Wednesday 11th

On the bus a short way. 11 of us plus Geoff the leader for the intermediate level walk today. The first part we had done a bit of yesterday. We climbed up a bit to Lingmoor Fell to look over Elterwater to one side and Grasmere to the other. We got just below Silver How (I got Carol to the summit in 2012) then we dropped down into Chapel Stile passing the place we had stayed in. Hard to think of how well she had been then just before dialysis kicked in. Along the valley to Dungeon Ghyll for beer then bus. Nice chats today. Mostly windy with some cold wet blasts. For dinner I had avocado and feta salad, boeuf bourguignon, fruit salad. We then had the HF inter house quiz. The team I was in did ok. One woman turned out to be a big Bruce fan.

Thursday 12th

In bus to Water Yeat. To Beacon Fell. Across the Blawith Fells to Torver. Windy but dry. Into the Wilson pub at Torver for soup and a sandwich paid by HF, A pub Carol and I visited in 2015. The pub has great loos! Interesting design using big slabs of slate and wood. Andrew bought me a birthday juice. Outside again to walk along Coniston Water to Coniston. A heavy shower as we reached the village. Into cafe where Audrey and Norie kindly bought me a coffee and A shared her cake. Back to the house. Quite a long walking day. Mostly dry. Dinner fresh fig salad, lamb with veg, choc mousse. Pre birthday lager. Quiz and chat. Starting to feel scared about the incompetence of our so called leaders (not the HF walk leaders).

At Beacon Tarn
Coniston Water
Coniston Hall, now owned by the National Trust

Friday 13th

Farewells to all my new friends. Drove to Wray Castle (National Trust), “this is not like most National Trust properties, there are no paintings or furniture”. An interesting building, one of the guides took me onto the roof (not normally accessible). I listened to a couple of guides telling the history of the place and how Beatrix Potter’s family had taken the castle as a summer let and she had met Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust during that time. I took a stroll to the boathouse and jetty and along the lake a little. Then into Grasmere where I knew not to go to the deli because I had a horrible coffee there previously so instead I tried the Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio. They do a Scandi food theme so I had an open sandwich which was really nice. Walked up to Allan Bank (more National Trust), “this is not like most National Trust properties, there are no paintings or furniture”. There were in fact some hideous ginormous paintings of the 3 people most connected with the house – Wordsworth, Coleridge and Rawnsley. I can’t think of Wordsworth and Coleridge without thinking of the Wordsmiths of Gorsemere which is one of the funniest radio programmes ever, Sue Limb, brilliant. Coleric is always under the influence and chasing after anything that breathes. Available on Audible. There’s not much to see in the house so I went for a walk round the grounds. The house is in a lovely location with views of lakes and mountains. Then I set off for home, calling in at Booths in Windermere where there wasn’t any panic buying. I got 18 loo rolls on a BOGOF promotion and got home without any problems during the Friday rush hour.

Wray Castle
Wray Castle
Windermere
From Allan Bank
Allan Bank House

The last few days have been good because I met some lovely people and had great chats while out walking. Also laughs. Today I felt weepy most of the day. I’ve got used to everywhere I go near home or in the Calder Valley being full of memories of things I’ve done with Carol and Chris. The Lake District is also full of both of them, walks, hills, lakes, cafes, pubs, restaurants, you name it. Carol rarely remembered anywhere we’d been. Whereas I’ve always been able to say which table we sat at and who sat where, going back years and years. I can’t not remember. A year ago I felt cast adrift. Now I feel shipwrecked, broken, shattered. Still alive but in pieces that have tumbled and spilt. We are all at a very strange period of time because of Covid 19 and Corona virus. As I walked about in the sun this morning in the loveliness of the Lake District it felt like the lull before the storm.

Alpes Maritimes February 2020

Friday 7th February

Got up at 2.45! Ice on car. M62 closed so a long detour. Met Bridget as planned. Flight from Liverpool smooth, a short delay before we left. Sat next to nice man, Carl and wife Linda. Norway was my last holiday as a citizen of the EU and France my first trip as a non EU citizen, no difficulties entering France. We walked from Nice Terminal 2 to T1 to the Hotel Campanile, busy roads with a heavy bag, did not enjoy, stashed bags. Walked into Nice along the prom in the sun. Café for salmon salad lunch, yum. Around city and bought a belt. Watched a drug deal. Onto the tram, back to T1, walked back to the hotel, collected bags, walked back to T1, tram to next stop. Onto the bus at Grand Arénas to Roquebiliere. An hour and a bit later Mel picked us up. Henk and Margreet here too. A reunion as we all met here in Berthemont les Bains with Space Between (Mel and Liz) 2 years ago. A delicious dinner thanks to Liz.

Grissini – aubergine puree with pomegranate raita
Burrata with tomato – sun dried tomato dressing
Blue cheese polenta – walnut sauce – garlicky cabbage
Chestnut and marscapone dessert with meringue and citrus sorbet

Tiddly om pom pom in Nice
Lots of fab old buildings in Nice
Nice style

Saturday 8th February

Out in the minibus with Mel to La Colmiane. It felt like we walked a good way. I struggled with ascents, felt weak and terribly tired. A lovely sunny day. The ground was very dry, no rain here for weeks. Very little snow. What there is is icy because of thaw freeze. I walked into an overhanging branch because I was looking where I was putting my feet, nearly knocked myself out. Burst into tears instead. We walked nearly to the Vacherie Anduébis. Reached about 1700m of height so 200m of ascent with some more ups and downs. Walked about 11km. Chinese style dinner. Very good indeed.

Chinese spring rolls – with sweet chilli sauce
Ramen noodle soup
Nasi Goreng
Pineapple with ginger syrup

Sunday 9th February

To Bairols in the minibus for about 1.25 hours. Bairols is at 850m. A lovely walk contouring round the mountains. Then 300m of ascent to lunch on a small plateau. Down a bit then up for 215m. I just can’t do the ascents, every step was a huge effort. We came back the same way including another 120m of up but over such a distance it wasn’t noticeable. We did 17km. Back at 7pm in the dark. Dinner excellent.

Socca – chick pea pancakes – Nice speciality – gluten free and vegan
Caesar salad
Spinach and chickpea stew with veggie dumplings
Red fruit fool with honey crisp

All very yummy, we were hungry having eaten all our supplies but not Bridget’s year old chocolate and the bears’ biscuits.

Bairols

Monday 10th February

Stayed at home day to rest my pathetic legs. Ankle ok after a sleep. Chatted with Liz, then went for a walk up round the village in the afternoon. Warm sun but very windy. Dinner amazing!

Pea/mint dip with pesto bread sticks
Celeriac soup
Risotto galette with taleggio cheese and salad
Chocolate flapjacks with orange segments

Tuesday 11th February

My mum’s 103rd birthday. Today Liz joined us. We drove to Belvedere and on up to the Gordolasque valley. Our route climbed about 400m through the forest and out to a clearing where a mobile mast was being erected. We continued a bit further to Le Crouset. Underfoot was icy and dangerous so we wore Pogu grippers and stamped in to get good grip. After lunch down off the east side to reach the road and back up another 100m to the van. Into Belvedere where we were invited into Dugald and Andrew’s home with a fabulous view. They have golden eagles regularly in sight from their veranda. They very kindly gave us tea and yummy scones with homemade Mirabelle jam. Off again to Carrefour then home. Curry dinner heaven.

Black pepper papadoms with raita and pickles
Vegetable pakora
Potato curry with coconut & vegetable lentil curry
Blood orange sorbet with orange curacao

Beer for me and Henk! Coffee.

Merens horses

Wednesday 12th February

South along wiggly mountain road with a variety of barriers between us and the vertiginous drops, either 3 courses of stones, 2 courses, 1 course or none at all. I’ve been along here at least twice before but still find the road alarming. Busied myself with the phone. Walked about a kilometre before starting to rise. Reached the Col de Lobe (wolf). We achieved nearly 500m of ascent quite quickly to gain the Cime de Roccasierra at 1520m with a couple of short scrambles. Fabulous views. We saw wood anenomes which were briefly wooden enemies. Along to a wide col and back on the other side of the mountain, returning to the Col de Lobe. Back to the minibus, eyes averted until Lantosque where we stopped for beer. Dinner delicious.

  • Beetroot/kidney bean and feta nibble
  • Tapenade with nan bread
  • Linguine with local tomato sauce
  • Tiramisu
Nearly at Cime de Roccasierra
Henk, Bridget, Margreet and Mel

Thursday 13th February

Walked from Liz and Mel’s house up through the village and then up and up for about 450m. Interesting to see the village from the high sides of the surrounding mountains. We swung round to a deserted hamlet called Les Crottes. Lunch there. Down of course. Turned off again to investigate the village’s canal irrigation system of which Mel is the head chef, a position he’s been elected to. The system consists of pipes and channels which take water from 2 high river downfalls and distribute it to every house in the village. We went back up a bit and along the pipes and channels. The pipe is about a foot wide and the channel about 18 inches. Alongside there is sometimes a concrete ledge which varies from 6″ to 12″ width. All with huge drops off to the side. One section had an iron rope to hold. We went along towards the first river on the right but had to turn back due to overhanging foliage. There’s a lot of work for Mel and his team to do to keep the channels clear. We then walked along to the next river which we had to cross, me mostly on my bum. Next a section requiring good balance on the 6″ ledge. Next we had to crawl on our hands and knees under a large overhanging rock. After the assault course it was a breeze trotting along next to the pipes. We came out near the baths. Stopped in at the fromagerie for some cheese. Last lovely dinner with Mel and Liz.

  • Mahammra – walnut and smoked chili dip – roast parsnip dip and dosai
  • Minestrone soup 
  • Cous cous with falafel/sweet corn sauce and lamb’s lettuce
  • Rhubarb and ginger ice cream

Farewell to Henk and Margreet.

La Zourciére taken from a very long way away high up the mountain

Friday 14th February

Up about 5. Farewell to Liz. Mel drove Bridget and me back to Roquebiliere in the dark. It was exciting to see the dawn from the bus as we approached Nice down the valley and the gorge of the Vésubie. Tram from Grand Arénas to T2 of the airport. Everything went well although there were long queues because the automatic baggage roller wasn’t working. Flight went fine and I got home about 2pm after doing a bit of shopping at Tesco in Prestwich. Carol and I used to shop there a long time ago. I still can’t cope with Carol not being at home to greet me one way or another.

Huge thanks to Mel and Liz of Space Between. As you can see we ate vegetarian all week, Liz is a fantastic inventive cook. Mel is a fantastic mountain leader and I enjoyed pushing myself a little bit. A lovely break with good company.

Northbound on the Hurtigruten January 2020

Friday 10th January

Got up at 5. A sniffer next to me on first flight to Copenhagen. Whilst sitting on the plane about to take off for Bergen I saw my suitcase on the luggage wagon approaching the hold. Good. It’s a lovely colour, turquoise.

Weather dull in Manchester, drizzly in Copenhagen and gorgeous over southern Norway. Snowy, icy rivers, lakes and mountains.

Arrived Bergen, straight onto bus to Hurtigruten terminal. Lovely clean roads and streets, so relaxing. Quite a slow check in queue because only one operator. Then another wait to embark. Eventually got on boat. My cabin is aft and my porthole looks onto the muster area. I’m next to the life equipment. That’s all my nautical lingo done.
I attended a safety demo about how to get into the thermal suit and then add the bouyancy aid.

I have a tea and coffee package included which means as many as I like all through the voyage. Off to dinner for a hot and cold buffet, all very nice, lots of salads. I pretty much had a little of everything. And a beer at £7.70 so not quite as bad as expected.

My cabin is a good size for one person. I think 2 would find it a bit tight. It’s definitely better than when Chris and I came to Norway in early September 2004. We had a disappointing cruise, tiny cabin, no room to move in the shower room and no space between the beds. Poor Chris was seasick, she was not a good sailor despite her love of water. Then we got to Bergen and loved it, we loved the fjords and all the places we stopped at just not the cruising itself. The next time we came was late April 2013 for Bruce. We went to Bergen by train from Oslo first and we really loved that trip. Plus Bruce sang just for us.
So this is my first time to Bergen by air and now I am at sea on a nice boat, not too big and not crowded, enough seats and places with WiFi.

My angels are with me, Chris who wanted to do the Hurtigruten boat trip, Carol who just liked the idea of a litter free country and beautiful scenery (she would have preferred I called her a ghost, given her desire to see one!) and me because I don’t want to be at home on Tuesday.

I attended an introduction to the boat with the manager and el capitan rocked up.
We left a bit late because the lift was being repaired. The lights went off at dinner and later in my cabin. The wireless is new today so the instructions didn’t work.

Cabin review

On this day a year ago we waited for Liz to join us before Carol’s life support was removed. I guess we made the decision to take it off the day before. Once all the tubes were out Carol was instantly more comfortable, unconscious and waving. She was paralyzed down her right side but her left hand was making up for it by waving, waving, waving. It was endearing and funny amidst the awfulness.

Leaving Bergen
I know it’s blurry but I liked the blurring on the sea

Saturday 11th January

On this day a year ago the bastards I used to work for forced me to take my redundancy papers by hand to HR. Liz and I had spent the night with Carol in the ICU so I had to leave her to drive to Bradford very early and fart around with the photocopier. Steve then took the paperwork in and did the by hand bit. I drove back to Leeds thankful that it was rush hour so the traffic was not at all rushing.

It took a while to settle to the rhythm of the ship. I quite like the rolling. My suitcase escaped noisily from the cupboard in the night. There’s a bit of vibration when we pull into ports but mainly it’s quiet.

164 people on board so the ship is comfortable and not crowded. Germans, French, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans plus assorted Scandinavians and Europeans.

After a long breakfast of fruit then some cheese and salad, chatting to 2 gay men, Philippe (French) and Alistair, who both live in Australia, I togged up well and set off into Ålesund. Chris and I came here on the cruise of doom. We stopped somewhere else and took the bus much to the consternation of our fellow passengers, the cruise staff said it wasn’t possible so we defied their nonsense and got the bus. I can’t remember much else other than we were glad to escape from them all. We had a coffee.

Today I went straight up Aksla viewpoint which is 418 steps. It was extremely windy so I held on to the rail. The cafe at the top was shut. Terrific views even on such a wet day. Back down I did the Art Nouveau circuit. Bumped into David and Jackie from Hong Kong. I went and dripped in Raccoon coffee shop, excellent coffee.

Lunch of salads with delicious salmon followed by a small plate of hot veggie pasta and a cheese and grain mix followed by berry compote. Getting more than my 5 a day.

Watched a Northern Lights film. Docked at Molde, quick whiz round with Lynn and Jan from Kent. Still wet.

Dinner of slither of salty cod with tiny veg, salty lamb in mustard sauce with tiny potatoes, tiny cinnamon apple with ice cream. Too much salt for my no salt diet. Sitting with Glenda from NZ, Jan and Marj from Oz and Martin from Switzerland.

The MS Nordlys passed us to lots of tooting, must be terrible for the neighbours.

MS Lofoten passing us
Art Nouveau in Âlesund
The MS Vesterålen
Sea view

Sunday 12th January

£2.76 for each hot drink. I’m on at least 8 a day so the hot drinks package is excellent.

After breakfast with the boys, we docked at Trondheim, I walked into town. Noticeably colder here and the pavements were slippery in places. After my leg experience I am very cautious on slippery surfaces. A nice walk round the town, not raining and some light. After passing the old church and the cathedral, I crossed the old bridge to Bakklandet old warehouse area and went in the first good looking coffee shop, probably also old. A&P were in it too. An excellent espresso then back to the ship for lunch of salmon salad plate, hot plate, caramel dessert with berries, cheese and crackers.

Bimbled about on board, sun and dry ish so stayed out a while, found a spot with shelter from the wind and hot air on my legs! Drank tea in several different lounges. The further up we go, the fewer hours of light.

Dinner thin vegetable soup, poached salmon on mash with fennel and roast veg, berries with soured milk dessert, all very good.

Attended talk by the hotel manager which was informative on the mechanics of how Hurtigruten run the ships.

More wet
The old church in Trondheim
Trondheim cathedral
Bakklandet area
Bakklandet
Great coffee shop
Bakklandet
Tricky entrance
Bakklandet
Munkholmen (Monk’s Island) near Trondheim

Monday 13th January

Breakfast, then we docked at Ørnes, ice on deck. Watched the loading/unloading. Nice spot.

Midday almost dark!

On the way to Bodø

Arrived Bodø at 12.40, Inger picked me up in the red Nissan. 5 minutes later we were at her home with Steve who had come home for lunch to see me. Bouncy little dog, Rosy and later big fluffy cat. Lovely home and good soup and great to see them both. It’s about 16 years since we had the App Soc Psy reunion.
2 hours was a bit too short so I will simply have to return! Very impressed they’ve been together for 46 years.

Back on the boat. Read my Patrick Gale. Vegetarian dinner this evening. Beets with goats’ cheese, mushroom burger with bell pepper sauce, lingon berries with oaty cream and a flower on top. All quite tasty, but the oaty cream was a bit strange and overall there wasn’t enough quantity.

Talked with G over dinner, she is the same age as me and a year further into her widowhood. Other widows totally get it. And also parents whose children have died. I’m not saying they’re the same thing.

Tried to disembark at Stamsund but they wouldn’t let me off the ship because it was rolling too much. Those returning had to jump on carefully gauging the right moment. Reminded me of doing this with my car going from Islay to Jura. Chris was driving and did it perfectly.

Farewells to Philippe and Alistair, lovely boys who made me laugh. They are off at Svolvaer and then to further adventures with dogs.

Alistair had found a recommendation in Lonely Planet for the Styrhuset pub, the oldest in Svolvaer. So I trotted about on the grit and ice, turned out it was pretty much next door to the Hurtigruten terminal. I knew I remembered the name from the year before last. Anyway it was not old either externally or internally. It reminded me of a 1980s gay bar but sadly lacking the customers. It was the sort of bar Carol would have loved. I had a beer and slithered back to the boat.

The boat stopped at the Trollfjord in the dark, no spotlights. They dished out hot sweet tea with a tiny tot of rum in a souvenir mug. Then they turned the music off and we took in the view as our eyes adjusted. Magical spot. Water flat as a pond.

Ørnes
Ørnes
At sea
More at sea
Inger
Steve with fluffy cat, they weren’t actually doing this when I was there!
Return to Svolvaer
Svolvaer
The old bar, Styrhuset!

Tuesday 14th January

Carol up a mountain in Naxos
Chris and Carol in Milton Keynes before going to see Bruce

This is the day at last. I drank some Jura whisky to take away the taste of the tea. Carol didn’t die until 5.45 in the evening so now it’s time to sleep. I need to get this day done. I’ve almost learnt that it’s possible to introduce myself to people without saying as the first thing that Carol is dead.

After breakfast we docked at Finnsnes, a nice little place. Much colder up here.

I deliberately missed the crossing the Arctic circle ceremony. Involves getting ice down your neck and castor oil, horrible ideas.

Lunch then out at Tromsø where it was only light for a hour and a half.

With my grippers on I walked over thick ice to the Polar museum in the dark at 2.30, that’s 1.30 UK time. Took them off for the museum. Exhibits were a lot about seal and polar bear killing. I found them upsetting and not very respectful. Next was a floor about Roald Amundsen, then one about Fridtjof Nansen. Interesting because Chris and I went on the actual Fram ship in Oslo.

I wanted to look round the shops but the grippers are not good on hard floors because they damage them. By then I was getting tired and scratchy and irritable because too many layers, too hot. Wanted a beer but settled for a nice coffee.

It was seafood buffet night so I had cauliflower soup, salmon with veg and rice and a little reindeer with potato followed by small spoons of 3 desserts.

Sat up with Marj and Jan laughing away about snores and farts. Just what the doctor ordered.

A funny day. Not marked it as such except for photos and Bruce and music on Facebook. I finished the L’Occitane perfume Carol gave me and wore my Born to Run shirt.

Drinking whisky.

Finnsnes
Finnsnes
Gisund bridge
Tromsø
Polarmuseet (Polar museum) Tromsø

Wednesday 15th January

Docked Havøysund. Stepped out briefly, dark, cold and windy. It was so windy this morning I thought the deck door would take my arm off.

Timetable today is packed. It would be possible to eat breakfast up to 9.45 and start lunch at 10.30! I got up early to try to have a longer gap between meals. Especially as I have to do the late sitting for dinner today.

It turned out the trip for those going to the North Cape, a whole 2 km away got cancelled because the North Cape complex was snowed in. This reverted the lunch times for everyone.

Upon arrival in Honningsvåg I went to find the Honni cafe but despite an open door and lights on, was not serving coffee. I went to the very good museum and learnt about the Nazi occupation and destruction of the town. Also a good Sami exhibit.

I found another cafe with no proper coffee, another slightly strange place so I had a quick drink, no espresso today.

I had a late lunch on the boat then watched a film about the North Cape peninsula.

I was nearly ready for my snowmobile trip, long John’s and various other layers on when there was a call to reception. The trip was cancelled because a car accompanies the snowmobiles on the road and the snow plough was busy clearing snow in the mountains and not where we would be. I was a bit relieved as it was cold and snowing quite a lot then. Instead I did my packing.

At about 5pm I was standing up and the boat appeared to run into something. There was a loud bang and I fell into the mirror. Titanic!

Dinner was celery soup, Arctic char, choc mousse, berry sorbet and soft meringue. I had a Trollfjord beer. It was fun to be with the dinner crew after all. I would have missed them if I’d gone on the snowmobile trip.

Chatted with Marj and Jan. Early to bed, no aurora. Lots and lots of roll and roll. I don’t get queasy but just can’t sleep. Did eventually.

Havøysund
Honningsvåg
Honningsvåg

Thursday 16th January

Breakfast with the girls. Vacated cabin. Sat in front lounge. One moment full dark, the next dawn. Started to see sunlight bouncing off the edge of the world so the light will soon be back. Arrived Kirkenes, located suitcase, located airport bus. 20 minutes drive in the countryside to tiny airport. It has 4 gates, numbered 21-24!
Farted about with luggage, farted about with electronic baggage check in.
Delay leaving supposedly while they got the bags on and removed the something and the mice! So curious as to what the something was. Runway sweeping and de-icing. ICE IT WAS ICE! Tired is my excuse!
A blizzard before we set off. Short runway.
Flight 1/3. Kirkenes to Oslo. Middle seat, both sides hogging arm rest. Right wearing thick wool making me itch, left synthetic making me hot.
Oslo to Copenhagen was easy. Sat with a man in the wrong seat but he was moved so I was able to stretch out. Only an hour, got in early, just as well because it was a long way to the gate, nearly 15 minutes walk.
Copenhagen to Manchester. One of the cabin crew walked down the aisle bent over saying “seat belts” reminiscent of Two Soups! Why is there always a group of tossers on every flight to Manchester?

I waited for the suitcase to come round the carousel but it had decided to stop over in Copenhagen. I reported this to Global Baggage Solutions and filled in a form by hand. The boy then typed this into his computer. He said the case was trolling about in Copenhagen and would return the next day.

Kirkenes
Bye bye boaty
It really was this colour, from the bus on the way to the airport

Friday 17th January

I waited all day for the suitcase, received 7 emails about it. Found out the boy had mistyped my postcode and not typed in my village so pretty much no chance of the case ever reaching me. I sorted that bit out. Despite it having arrived in Manchester at 9.30 am, it took until 8.30 pm to get to me. It came home very grubby and with one lock and zip opened. However all the contents are ok. Meanwhile I have no fresh veg because of having to stay home all day.

Northumberland October 2019

Friday 25th

Rain. Rain. Huge rain. It took Liz and Ariel 5 and a half hours to reach me from the Forest of Dean. I watched TV turning the heating off and back on as their journey time increased. A pit stop and a transfer of interesting luggage (an axe and a bag seemingly full of footwear) from one Skoda Yeti to another and we were off into a wet time warp where for at least half the journey Google Maps told us it would take 3 hours and 22 minutes. If only. 5 soggy hours later we reached Church Cottage in Kyloe. Our landlords had kindly unpacked our Sainsbury’s delivery for us and left us a bottle of organic prosecco. Cheers.

Saturday 26th

Great to see our views across to Lindisfarne. We went shopping in Berwick. I managed to get run over by a car. My foot was trapped under its front wheel for a while but I came away completely unscathed, not even any bruising. I frightened myself and my friends and the driver for which I am truly sorry. I didn’t look before I crossed the road the second time because when I’d crossed it first I looked both ways, saw cars only going one way, saw cars parked facing the same way so made an incorrect assumption. I was lucky the driver was going slowly and that I was wearing new Doc Martens that are very rigid. Of course it was my left foot. But remarkably there is no damage. I have wanted to be dead but I don’t actually want to die. Not yet, not until I’ve finished sorting out the stuff in my house. And not then either. It was a salutary reminder that all it takes is one microsecond of inattention. I am walking around with so many dead loved ones I’m not that surprised it happened. After calming down from my idiocy we went to Cheswick and walked by the sea. Liz and I managed to walk in an area containing unexploded ordnance and quicksand! Back to gigli made by A. Yum. Started watching The Laundromat film with Meryl Streep about the Panama Papers.

Sunday 27th

My foot is none the worse. Remarkable boot. Not even a mark on the boot. From Craster we walked along by the sea to Dunstanburgh castle. At Greymare rock we sent Carol’s ashes off into the sea. A seal joined us while the crashing waves took the ashes away. Called in at Howick Hall for the slowest tea ever and an incorrectly delivered order then walked around the gardens. Back home along the lanes as the sun descended. Liz produced borscht, scrummy. We finished watching the Laundromat. Good movie.

Monday 28th

Ariel and I walked a good part of the way up The Cheviot but decided not to try the summit as it was very boggy and cold on the dark side. Instead we stayed in the sun to descend and bimbled about in some woods. We got back to Liz, a blazing fire, delicious kedgeree and a really rubbish film, Call Me By My Name which Netflix told us included “strong sex”. Only if you are a peach. It was very boring IMO.

Liz took this lovely photo of the steps near our cottage

Tuesday 29th

Billy Shiel’s boat from Seahouses around the Farne Islands. Good weather, a bit of bouncing on the waves, a lot of birds and a huge lot of seals, all sizes and ages. Only £15 for 90 minutes. Fab. Pit stop at the Ship Inn. To Ros Castle, a short steep climb for 360 views. Descended to magnificent burnt orange sunset. I made the green Thai curry, possibly the first time I’ve really cooked for other people since Carol died, and I enjoyed it. We tried to watch Capote movie but Liz and I fell asleep. Lovely day.

Wednesday 30th

We drove to Lindisfarne across the causeway. Straight into Pilgrims’ Coffee which sold nice coffee but was short on competent staff. Up to the castle for a good look round including a history talk. Around Gertrude Jekyll’s garden, over to the priory, the parish church and back to the car to get across the causeway before the tide came in. Home for lunch, then A and I went out for walks in different directions. I stayed out until dark. Dinner and another terrible movie, Roma.

Thursday 31st

We did our own things during the day. I went to Lowick and bought bread, then to Doddington. I did a circular walk to find a hill fort, a stone circle and a cup and ring stone. The paths were very overgrown with bracken and gorse and indistinct for most of the walk. I had to micro navigate using a mix of old and new tools all the way round. I found everything, well I found the hill fort easily enough, I wasn’t sure about the cup and ring marks because I didn’t really know what I was looking for. The stone circle (rems of) only had a solitary stone in a swamp of bracken. There may have been more but I didn’t want to do any more bracken than I had to. I got back to the cottage. We dined out at The Black Bull in Lowick 2 miles away. We all had really nice dinners. Back at the cottage we moved away from awful films and played Bananagram, Liz was very good and I was delighted to have been able to use the word buggery.

Liz and Ariel saw this hare on their walk

Friday 1st November

We set off to have a look at Kielder Forest, as we drove we talked about coffee at the observatory. But unlucky for us the road was being resurfaced just at that point so we couldn’t get there. Instead we had a look in the Alpnhaus (why no ‘e’?) where there is a swish B&B and an Alpine shop, all feeling pretty remote. We carried on to Corbridge where we stopped for our coffee, by this time it was well into the afternoon. Eventually we rocked up at The Moorcock in Norland which is on my doorstep and ate very well in the pub. I can’t rate this place highly enough. Then back to mine to recover from yet another mammoth journey.

Wedding anniversary

I drove over to Near Sawrey, it’s near to Hawkshead. I stayed in Belle Green B&B. Carol and I had stayed there I think 4 times before, definitely 3 times. The last time was the day the EU referendum was announced. Ann and Steve were very welcoming and I felt safe. I went and had a meal in the Tower Bank Arms, it was nice being out in the very dark.

Over breakfast I had a chat with Sally, a visitor from Wisconsin. We hit it off instantly, she’s a photographer with a keen Beatrix Potter interest. I told her about the “behind the scenes” tour I’d booked at Hill Top in the afternoon.

I walked down to Esthwaite Water and selected a spot for Carol’s ashes that didn’t have much obvious footfall but was still overlooking the water. She and I loved this place, we never saw anyone there when we went, it’s such a beautiful spot. I buried the ashes and spoke these words, feeling slightly foolish so did it quietly.

Give me a drink. You know I have always wanted to get married, not for always, but just for once in my life I wanted to live out my love for a man like they did. I suppose you think I mean I want to walk down the aisle in white with my friends watching, but that’s not it, that’s not what this feeling is to do with. Or not all of it, because of course I would love to do that. But that’s easy to laugh at. What I want is to hold his hand in public. And what I want then is to hold his hand in front of the television for several evenings a week, and if you don’t understand that, if you don’t know what that feeling is, if you don’t know why it’s like that then you know nothing, nothing, nothing.

Neil Bartlett, from Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall

Our wedding was just right for us. We didn’t go mad. Our clothes were a bit odd, it was one of those times fashion wise when there wasn’t much around for gender queers, it was all a bit baggy trousers.

Those ruddy broken pots!!

I know I grinned all day long, so much my face hurt. In the morning, Carol gave me a card and these tickets that she’d kept for 14 years.

So when it came to her funeral, I knew exactly which poem to read (W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues). We managed 10 years of marriage and 26 of being together.

After my own private ritual, I walked to Far Sawrey along the road and then cut up through an old wood and across some fields. Then back to Near Sawrey in a circuit. Sally and I met up again at Hill Top for the tour which was nice because it wasn’t as madly crowded as when Chris and I went there a few years ago.

I headed for home, stopping briefly for a scone at Claife Viewing Station, then over on the Windermere Ferry. The last time I did the ferry, they’d taken off the man who collected the money and replaced him with ticket machines that were completely incomprehensible and slowed down the whole process so much it created enormous queues and frustration. I wrote a letter of protest it made me so cross. Now the machines have gone and the man has returned to take the money off the passengers. Win!!

Poland September 2019

Saturday 7th

Travel all easy with easyJet from Manchester to Krakow. Made a new friend, Vicky on the flight. Eventually found the driver who took Cathy, Richard and me from the airport to the Vienna House Easy hotel. We missed the briefing but Remi the leader left us some notes. Had a Zywiec beer in the bar. Beer was ok, a bit gassy and I’m already that way inclined! Krakow is nice and dark, I like that, reminds me of the 70s. The driver took us through what looked like the fun part of the city.

From the hotel room

Sunday 8th

Fabulous breakfast! I woke very early but didn’t hear drunken Graham and his partner who woke up the rest of our corridor so I was clearly fast asleep at that point. We are a group of 8. Plus Remi. Stowed our bags and went off for a walking tour of Krakow with Kasia, she was very good. A marathon was taking place so we dodged around it. Got cash and had lunch in a veggie and vegan cafe. Falafels, bulgur wheat, salad and mineral water for £5. Nice food but slow service. Returned to the hotel to collect 2 of the party who had already been round the city. Into a large minibus, I guess that makes it a maxibus. An hour and a half later we arrived in Zawoja to the Hotel Jawor. Straight out to hike up a little hill, very humid. Out to a local restaurant. I had beef goulash with pancake. This was a fried potato cake with a small amount of beef. It was tasty. Shared a side order of vegetables with Cathy. Bottle of beer. Whole lot for £7. I can see I’ll be ordering lots of sides of veg. Walked back in the dark. Very little going on here. Walked total of 12 km.

Monday 9th

An eclectic breakfast. I’m finding the language hard so glad we have Remi the tour leader, nothing here is dual language, oh except for last night’s menu. Anna our mountain guide for today rocked up, lovely woman who works as a midwife with premature babies. Maxibus arrived (from Krakow) and took us a whole 15 minutes up the road to an entrance to the national park. It was damp and misty and no views but the route had been adjusted to avoid the risk of lightning. Walked to a mountain hut where we lunched. I had fried egg with 2 large scoops of mashed potatoes, lots of fresh herbs on them and a bucket load of sauerkraut. Couldn’t eat it all. Everything costs so little here that at first you think great, but then there is an uncomfortable feeling that you are not paying enough. Massive contrast with a couple of weeks ago in Switzerland. Then we trotted down all the way back to the hotel. Started to rain again but not as heavily as it is doing now. We saw 5 fire salamanders, I’ve never seen one before. Lovely. Dinner in the hotel was great. I had chicken with mashed potato which had a pea purée on top, ok mushy peas but so sweet and fresh plus salad. Then apple pie and ice cream. This was enough for an entire family and delicious. I had a beer which Remi recommended. Also good. Beer only comes in half litres so one is plenty. Stair rods, I’d forgotten about them but here they are still in fashion. Walked total of 11 km.

Tuesday 10th

We packed up and left the hotel. We drove for about an hour south east into the Tatras to meet Justyna, today’s guide. From Siwa Polana we got on a little motor bus, called a train but not a train, hard seats, for a few kilometres. Then on foot up into the mountains, crossing quite fast flowing rivers which we helped each other over, guide did not check we were ok. Some of it was hard work and slippery and on which I was very careful. The high point was a col at 1459m so we climbed about 450m. From there down to a mountain hut for our lunch at Hali Ornak. Hard going down and then the hut was completely rammed. Sunny day, easy for people with pushchairs to reach from the other side. We queued for loos and food. I had a sausage with mustard and stale bread. Left the hut on an easy wide flat path following the roaring river. A quick nose into a gorgeous gorge then back on track to a shepherd selling smoked sheep’s cheese for 50p, actually pulling it off the fire, the guide set off before I had finished. We passed the sheep who were being milked. Our guide went fast a lot of the time, and then set off again soon after the slower ones had caught up which is not the way to do it IMO. So most of the day felt like a rush, no time to drink, blow nose, take photos. We got to the minibus that was waiting for us. The driver took us to Hotel Bel Ami in Zakopane. This was said to be a tired hotel but my room is less tired than the last place which had a mouldy shower, non draining washbasin and a cracked loo and something nibbled me in the night. Bel Ami has no mould or cracks and the water drains away. The shower fitting is loose and so is a fine balance to get it right and I had to move the fridge so it sticks out into the room in order to plug it in. But I have a balcony with a view and the room is ok. Wifi is pants. Out to dinner in fab resto, Barowo Zohylina, with people in traditional dress, a folk band and stuffed creatures (less good). Excellent food. I had pierogi (dumplings), mine were deep fried, like samosas without the spices. Shared a housewife salad (chicken) with Cathy. Good beer. Walked total of 14 km. Mountain kilometres.

Wednesday 11th

My ankle and leg were a bit sore after yesterday’s walk so I decided not to go out with the group today. Had to sign a release form. Today’s walk was the longest and possibly quite hard, they had to get up and have breakfast at 6 too. So I had a lie in. Breakfast not great, instant coffee! I set off about 8.30 for the Tatra museum, quiet in the town. Had a not great coffee then went round the museum. Some set pieces of rustic interiors, some stuffed animals, a lot of rocks. Next to the Wladyslaw Hasior gallery. Interesting artist, at first I felt uncomfortable then got his sense of humour. Steampunk before it was invented. Back to hotel for a freshen up then out to veggie cafe. Had beetroot burgers in mushroom sauce with salads. Ok, sauce not quite right with the beetroot. Looked in the outdoor gear shops for bargains but don’t need anything. Back to hotel to change footwear and out again to Art Gallery at Oksza villa close to hotel. Nice leisurely day and have walked a good few kilometres but slowly and have also rested leg. Met up with the gang again. Out to Barowo Zohylina Niznio restaurant with a traditional band, this time embellished with dancers. A lively meal. Much vodka on the next table. I had potato cakes with fried potatoes and carrot salad followed by tinned fruit salad and ice cream. First course disappointing because I misordered and second because not fresh. A poor day overall for food but the restaurant was fun. 10 km.

Thursday 12th

Packed up and off by minibus to a crossing over the river Dunajec. After I’d used both the men’s and the women’s loos Louise and I did some mime and acquired our lifejackets which Remi had insisted upon. Onto the wooden raft with 8 Poles and 2 punters who punted us along the river for a couple of hours. Some slightly faster bits but a lovely gentle way to travel. A short walk to the “mountain” hut where I had a sandwich I’d made and I bought an apple pie and ice cream. Yum. Soon back to sugar free and salt free. The rest of our party turned up an hour later having walked the same route. A hot walk along the river and through the town of Szczawnica and up to Hotel Polaris which despite being an ex communist hotel is in a good location with lots of trees around. It’s been refurbished so isn’t grey. The loo wasn’t working in my room but a chap came up quickly and sorted it. He said he had been many times to do that so just as well it’s only one night here! Apart from that I like this hotel the most. Out to the bier Keller for pre dinner beer. Then across the square to smart restaurant, Cafe Helenka. Had large piece of local quiche with sausage and cheese in it and salad followed by crème brulée with mini meringues. And 50 cl beer. Fortunately only a short walk back up the very steep hill. 5 km.

Friday 13th

We walked down the hill and along the river to a 3 minute ferry. First to Sokolica at 747m. Along interesting paths with some exposure but in the main with good handrails up the very steep parts. A popular area and a good lot of people out walking. I managed to keep up well and felt both my strength and my stamina returning. After a lunch break we carried on to 982m at the Three Crowns, a high point we had seen from the raft the day before. This was reached by a metal staircase with handrails that popped you out at a tiny platform with great views and a siege of flying ants, late here, we’ve already had ours. It was a tight fit on the platform so a quick photo and then off again because people came up behind, good however that up and down walkers were segregated. Felt like a good achievement for me and gave me back my confidence. Then down all the way to Kroscienko. Ice cream. Late minibus to Krakow. Quick shower and flooding of bathroom and out on foot to Kogel Mogel restaurant. Cabbage and truffles. Apple pie. Wheat beer. Very good food, very slow service. Getting up soon. Over 15 km.

Saturday 14th

Up at 5. This is 4am in UK. Cathy and I got straight onto the tour coach which quickly collected another 50 from various hotels. We arrived Auschwitz about 7.30. If you visit you may not eat or smoke and you are limited to a small size of bag, no rucksacks, belongings are security scanned. It would have been helpful to have had this information in advance and not just as we got off the bus. Time for a wee, then issued with headset, receiver and guide. Then we were divided up into smaller groups. The guide was the granddaughter of a local man who had died in Auschwitz. The first tour was around the Auschwitz complex. You walk round at a speed which means you don’t have time to read the displays of e.g. written evidence of the crimes. Many of the displays are harrowing, demonstrating the mechanisation of genocide. Returned the audio kit and there was enough time for a coffee in a restaurant just across the road, we were the only customers. Back onto the coach to drive the short distance to Birkenau. What is staggering is the immensity of the site. We viewed wooden huts, the selection area, the blown up gas chambers, the Soviet built memorial. We don’t have the words to express how awful it was but we must never forget especially these days when there are revisionists and the far right is growing in strength. Returned to Krakow near the main square. After putting my head in the cathedral and hearing the bugler I walked to the Jewish quarter and wandered around. Made my way back to the hotel bumping into Louise and Richard searching for an entrance to the botanical gardens. I tried to find a bakery and did find 2 but both shut. Over 11km. Remi appeared to say goodbye to those of us getting the airport transfer. Once at the airport I managed not to see any of the others again and didn’t get to say goodbye to them, for which I was sad. The flight was fine and I got home close to midnight, a very long day indeed. 2 days later I’m still tired. Over 11 km. I lasted an hour at home before missing Carol kicked in.

Switzerland August 2019 Pt 2

Wednesday

Train from Wengen to Kleine Scheidigg. From Kleine Scheidigg to the Jungfraujoch (the col below the summit). Nice new train. The train stopped at Eismeer station (3159m) in the tunnel so everyone could get out and look through the viewing windows to the Ischmeer glacier. This station is one up from Eigerwand which was the one connected with the 1936 tragedy. Since 2016 Eigerwand is no longer in use.

At the top, 3454m at Jungfraujoch you walk round on a signposted route. It was ok and we were lucky to see the views before the weather came in and obliterated everything. I didn’t go in the ice palace or out on the snow as I am still wary of slipping. I stamped my Jungfrau passport and had a horrible and expensive sandwich. Decided to go back down. The train does not stop for viewing on the way down but the ticket person gives you a small bar of chocolate, clearly something UK train operators need to adopt. I looked around Kleine Scheidigg. Cheapest postcards! Then I walked down to Wengernalp station, nice to leave the crowds and the selfie sticks. Caught the next train down from Wengernalp. Bought an almond croissant from the nice bakery in Wengen to make up for the sandwich and ate it near the church. Dinner of salads, vegetable (spinach) roll and veg, cheese and bread. The boys (Adrian and Mark) and I are going to eat out in a Swiss resto tomorrow but W the bigot asked if he could tag along and it was not easy to say no although I was very tempted. We have recruited some more to the party so I should be able to avoid the nasty old git. Why he wants to eat with 3 queers is beyond me. I have failed to shake him off at meals.

Fluffy the Alpine chough
Aletsch glacier

Thursday

Today involved a great many types and changes of transport. Train to Lauterbrunnen, cable car to Grütschalp, train to Mürren. Mürren was delightful, traffic free, high. I fancy a holiday there. Walked through the village to the cable car to the Schilthorn (2970m). You go up most of the way to Birg and switch for the final 500m. Misty. I was 11 when On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came out and I’ve wanted to go to Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn ever since so this was a dream come true for me. It’s all very silly but I loved it. Had a ristretto in the revolving restaurant. We stayed about an hour but it was much more relaxed than the Jungfrau so a pleasant visit. Back down in the cable cars to Mürren, ate my very nice cheese and tomato on whole-wheat sourdough sandwich from the baker’s in Wengen then a cable car to Stechelberg. Onto a bus to the Trümmelbach falls which is a touristy thing. I walked up the 140m of the falls. Ok but back with the pushing and shoving so not as enjoyable. Falls were pretty amazing, all inside the mountain. Took the lift some of the way back down. Onto bus then train to Wengen. Out to local restaurant with Adrian, Mark, Jim, Tony, Janet and Phil. I had a dark beer, rõsti, crème caramel. Janet and Tony shared fondue and Janet had a flaming ice cream. Good company and good fun. W the bigot had changed his mind about coming with us after all. Perhaps 3 really is 3 too many queers. He had to make a dig at me of course and referred to my “ostentatious hat”. When I haven’t got anything to do I’ll consider how to pimp my cap. Or not.

These get used to great effect by Diana Rigg
I should really just let James get on with sorting out Blofeld
Piz Gloria
Quite a long way up
Inside the Trümmelbach Falls
Fluffy the Alpine Chough

Friday

Cable car to Männlichen. Walked to Kleine Scheidigg, bumped into Chris and Linda going the other way round. Arrived at Kleine Scheidigg, sat in cafe and Jo and Mark pitched up going the same way round as me. I had an ice cream and some juice, back to no sugar on Sunday. Chatted with some Australians but they wanted to talk about Brexit and I just want to put my head in a bucket. Looked through the telescope at the north Face of the Eiger. I can’t imagine how Uli Steck climbed it in 2 hours and 22 minutes. Caught the train to Wengen with Jo and Mark. Shopping in co-op. Packing. A free farewell drink from the hotel (small beer for me, you can get beer in 20, 30 or 50 cl. amounts). A dinner with cheese in everything including cheese soup, reports of this were not great. I had salad starter, salad is just cold food really, nearly always cold omelette or quiche. Then further carb overload of cheesy pasta, potato, cheesy quiche, sauerkraut. Apfelstrudel and small choc meringue. Sat by the church with Jude and Chris. I have now walked the whole of the route between Männlichen and Wengen.

Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg
Toothy rocks of Männlichen

Saturday

I woke at 2.37 which was rubbish because the alarm was set for 4.30 and of course I couldn’t get back to sleep. Switzerland is an hour ahead to make matters worse. I went down just before 5.30 to find members of the group sitting in the Poirot entrance hall in the dark waiting for the call to breakfast. It really looked like we were waiting for the dénouement. I didn’t think I’d want to eat but managed my usual breakfast and made a large cheese sandwich for later in the day. We trotted off to the station in the dark, the luggage and Olive went by milk float. Train to Lauterbrunnen, train to Interlaken, train to Basel, train to Gare de Lyon. On this train we had 32 reserved seats but some people had already sat in them and didn’t want to move, however we managed to sort this out without any fighting! The train did not have any guidance as to where the seat numbers were located on the outside of the carriage so unfortunately most of us were at the wrong end of the carriage which meant we had to do a lot of passing suitcases over people’s heads as basically the selfish seat stealers had created a total log jam. We all eventually got our seats. Bus to Gare du Nord, passing Place de la Bastille and Place de la République. Very hot in Paris, over 30 degrees. Eurostar to St. Pancras, at one point there was a call for a doctor, farewell to fellow travellers (I shook W the bigot’s hand very formally). Got onto train to Leeds at King’s Cross by a whisker to find Ruchi and her mother travelling to Peterborough. They were being helped by a Millwall fan, who also helped me with my bag, He was keen to demonstrate that not all Millwall fans are racists or homophobes and actually he was a nice man! Got to Leeds, straight into M&S to get a salad as part of reverting to my high veg diet. There was a large woman who was totally off her face struggling to adjust her bra. She asked the checkout guy to help her, so he tried to but unfortunately her large breasts escaped, all mightily unnecessary. Leeds station full of very drunk people, but also quite a lot of coppers. Got onto my train to Halifax, with only a few drunks on it. Arrived Halifax and got into my taxi and home just after 9.30. I had been awake for a very long time. I was looking forward to my lovely bed but I knew it would be hard to walk in the door to the empty house but actually it was even harder than I had imagined, just wanting Carol to be here. There is nothing I can do that makes it any better, the double grief is shit. I’ve fallen back to earth.

Place de la République
Gare du Nord
Welcoming us to Eurostar

Switzerland August 2019 Pt 1

Friday

It took me hours to pack my bags. It felt very strange to be setting off for a holiday with no Carol to see me off. No-one to give the contact details to.

I went on the Grand Central train from Halifax to King’s Cross. I sat with a couple of actively retired vicars from Halifax. They told me about their 4 sons. The wife vicar was Swiss and delighted that I was travelling to Switzerland!

I walked to my hotel on the edge of Russell Square in the heat. My room was on the top, 7th floor and was even hotter than outside, no air con but noisy from lots of huge air con units in the courtyard below. Also smelly from frying in the kitchen.

The first thing I noticed in the room was that a person could climb out of the window. Not a good way to go.

I got on the bed and promptly fell fast asleep.

Then I went to Waitrose in the Brunswick centre to buy breakfast. I have to leave too early to get the hotel breakfast.

Back for more dozing then out to Carluccio’s for beer, cheese and pea salad and veggie balls with hummous, broccoli, tomato and a very thin crispy bread thing. All very nice. This ended up as the best dinner of the holiday. They asked me if I had any allergies. Guess this is after the Pret mess.

If I ever do anything like this again I’ll book my own hotel, a Premier Inn would have been fine.

Opposite the President hotel off Russell Square
Delicious!

Saturday

I was too hot to sleep well. Got up at 5 and took a taxi to St. Pancreas. The driver was way too chatty for so early.

Met the tour leader, Philip and some of the party of 31. First of several reminders to be vigilant, a lesson from being gay for 40 years is that you always have eyes in the back of your head and assess situations quickly, at least I do, survival.

Sat next to Jim from Kansas. Ate my fresh fruit and yoghurt.

Once at the Gare du Nord we walked round to the Gare de l’Est. I bought a salad in M&S which I had on the TGV, still sitting next to Jim.

Arrived mid afternoon in Strasbourg. Nice clean and cool hotel Mercure opposite station. The room was on the 4th floor and was even easier to fall out of than the President in London.

I went and looked at the cathedral which was heaving. Got told off for not taking my cap off. I suspect God has better things to worry about but of course I apologised and took it off. I find people taking selfies more bothersome. Some people had gone in just to sit and fiddle with their phones.

We went to a restaurant very near to the hotel called Le Dix. I sat at the wrong table with an 80 year old bigot. What fun. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who found his opinions didn’t go down well. He was anti vegetarians and vegans. Kept repeating the same “joke” endlessly, about 10 times. Made unsatisfactory comments about queers.

For my dinner I had veggie quiche, aubergine tomato cheese thing, would be great on cold winter day! Fruit tart. Small glass of beer courtesy of my new Welsh friend Adrian.

On Eurostar
Never forget

Strasbourg

Strasbourg cathedral

Sunday

Nice buffet breakfast. Fruit, yoghurt, rye bread, cheese, tomato, juice, coffee. This turned out to be the best breakfast of the holiday.

Trotted off to Les Ponts Couverts which I expected to be enclosed but they were not. Perhaps they had been in the past. It was nice walking before it got too hot. I tagged onto a random tour group briefly. At a bakery the leader said this is where I buy my bread, it’s very good, there was a queue out the door so I got a sandwich from them which was ok.

Returned to hotel to reconvene. We got on a very comfortable train to Basel, then crossed on foot into Switzerland at last, got stern looks from the frontier guards.

Train 2 took us Interlaken Ost. From there train 3 to Lauterbrunnen and then the smallest train up up up to Wengen. No vehicles are allowed in the village except for the electric truck that took all the bags and some of the less mobile people up to the Grand Hotel Belvedere which is grand to look at. They let a few small vans in but no private vehicles.

My room is on the top floor, fabulous views, top notch for cleanliness, lovely clean air, smell of woodsmoke. I actually felt something like happy. The first time. The windows are the worst yet for safety.

Dinner was a help yourself buffet, I had salad, pasta and creamy veg, cheese and dark bread. Ok but not haut cuisine.

Monday

Breakfast buffet, I had fruit (tinned, WTF?!) and yoghurt, cheese and bread and coffee.

I walked through the village, getting cash on the way. The co-op for salad and a nectarine.

I set off for Wengernalp but it was hot so I got halfway and hopped on the train at Allmend. Had a conversation entirely in German giving some directions to an elderly woman. At Wengernalp (1880 m) I wandered about until I found a quiet bench to eat my salad. The salad was very boring, needed a dressing. I found the dressing sachet at the bottom of the box, so the last third was ok. I started to walk back down and chatted to a Swiss woman keen to practise her English. Then I met a young Canadian who was an absolute delight. We took photos for each other. She restored my faith in humanity. I got back to Allmend and got the train back from there.

Bimbled about. Lipton’s apple and cinnamon tea in my room.

Dinner: salads, quiche and gnocchi and green beans, fruit mousse.

Went with Jude and Chris to sit near the church and watch the sun go down on the mountain. Popped in church, immediate feeling of calm and peace. Watched hang glider come down off mountain in rapidly failing light, bit scary to watch but we think they landed ok.

Enormous fireplace in the hotel

Allmend station

Tuesday

After breakfast of fruit and yoghurt and a boiled egg, we went up to Männlichen by big cable car from Wengen. I then walked another 100m of ascent to the peak at 2345m. Back down to the village to catch the train to Lauterbrunnen. From Lauterbrunnen to Zweilütschinen, from Zweilütschinen to Grindelwald. I popped in the co-op for another salad and then through the village to the small but very long cable car rising from 1034m to 2168m. I had my picnic at the top, did a bit of the “cliff walk” a metal path dangling over precipitous drops and then back down, getting a car to myself. As I got into the car an alarm went off and a man ran across to the controls. The alarm stopped and I went off down the mountain. A car coming up contained Tony and we waved at each other. He later told me that on his descent, there was an announcement about a problem and that passengers were to remain calm in the cars. The upshot of this story is that nothing further happened and he was safely brought to land without having to dangle. However this is one of my worst nightmares!

Back in Grindelwald I had my first ever iced coffee, it was ok, not sure if I want lots more of them but it worked well in the heat.

Too hot so I, and others from our party, took the train to Kleine Scheidigg and then another back to Wengen.

Salad, goulash, mousse. Sat with Adrian and Mark outside.

Indeed!

Snow shoes Mercantour, February 2017

Fri 10th

It’s exactly 3 years since Chris and I took her last holiday to Finland where amongst lots of other things we went snow shoeing. She was so happy on that trip and we had a lovely quite magical time.
I’m still in bits and not really coping that well as yet.
I stayed last night in the Hilton at Liverpool airport and did actually sleep well. That’s something that’s slowly starting to improve as in I do sleep through sometimes now.
I’m writing this on the plane and just met my 3 companions for the week, Bridget, Pat and Graeme who are all in the row behind me.
A smooth painless flight with EasyJet. Only 2 hours. Arrived Nice at 10a.m. To be met by Mel who drove us to Berthemont which is an hour up the road.
Lovely to see him and Liz again. Pat and I are in the top gite and Bridget and Graeme in the bottom one.
Unpacked then baguette lunch with beer.
Mel showed us how to adjust the snow shoes to fit our boots and how to fit a Pogu mini crampon.
Bridget took us for a stroll round the village to warm us up. Nice in the sun.
Dinner with Mel and Liz. They showed us round the house.
Dinner – cheese twists with chilli, mozzarella salad, soup, daube (beef with orange) with polenta, roast spuds, broccoli and creamed mushrooms, custard and meringue pud. All amazingly good. Wine.
Sleep.

Sat 11th

My mum’s 100th birthday today.
Breakfast in the lower gite. Croissants coffee toast muesli yogurt.
Out to Le Boreon. Walked up to the Col de Salese at 2100m. Climb of about 600m. Hard work and felt v tired and out of breath as did others. Stunningly pretty and lovely.
Lunch – salad, cheese, ham, bread.
Back down with some practice at going down slopes. Dig heels in, back straight and knees bent!
About 6km or so.
Back to Berthemont. Rugby – Wales got beaten by England so Mel not a happy bunny.
Dinner – chilli popcorn, hummus, big cooked cheeses, gnocchi with fried cabbage and onion, cooked fruits with cream.

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Graeme and Pat
Graeme and Pat

Bridget and Mel
Bridget and Mel

Sun 12th

Drive south for 45 mins. Walk up to the col at the base of Roccassiera then to the ruined village of Rocca-Sparviera, looked into little chapel right up the mountain which had Templar crosses inside. Back up to the col and back down to the van.
Lunch – pasta tuna salad, boiled egg, bread, cheese.
About 13 km of distance plus 1300m of up and down. I did this walk with Liz and Mel but without the old village last time I was here in 2008. Lovely walk.
Dinner – crispy pastry things with beany inside, French onion soup, couscous with meatballs and tomato fresh sauce, choc nut fruit cream dessert. Delicious.

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Pat having a little rest

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Old village high up the mountain

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From doorway of chapel

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Genuine wolf poo

Mon 13th

Out in minibus to Rimplas near Valdeblore passing ski station. Maginot line fort. Walked to La Couletta and stopped for lunch at 1400m.
Lunch – potato salad, ham, cheese, peanuts and hot apple juice in effort to reduce my post lunch heartburn. No plantar fasciitis today as on feet for much shorter time. Only 600m of up and down today. Lovely walk. Stopped in St. Martin Vesubie for Pelforth lager and small shopping.
Dinner – tapenade on crispy toast, spinach tarte, fish stew with roast potatoes, oranges with lavender. Yum.

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Maginot fort

Roof in Rimplas
Roof in Rimplas

Tues 14th

To Le Boreon. Snow shoed up to Le Refuge Cougarde at 2100m. 1200m of up and down. Lunch inside refuge which was shut. Beany artichoke salad.
Graeme lost a snow shoe on way back down however Mel located it and fixed it back on.
Got a bit better at the snow shoe shuffle and the heels down descent techniques. Used the heel lifts to go uphill and the rear clips so as not to trip on steep descent.
Saw a chamois and some wolves in the wolf park just their tales.
Songs in my head
Climie Fisher – Love Changes Everything
Be Good Tanyas – Lakes of Pontchartrain
Dinner with Liz and Mel in their house – heart shaped pastry puffs, beetroot and goats cheese, pasta and sauce with beef strips, creamy fruity pudding. All fab.

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Bridget, Graeme, JR and Pat

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The big courgette
The big courgette

Weds 15th

Mel took us to the Tinee valley, another very steep sided valley about an hour and a quarter away. Up and up and up to Col de la Couillole at 1680m. Snow shoes to Sommet de Countent at  1990m.
Saw a black squirrel.
Back down, very hot and sunny, sloppy snow.
Tip: put pole through hole in snow basket in order to keep poles joined together and easier to use when needed comme ça.
Stopped at La Colmiane ski station at Valdeblore for Leffe beer for Mel, Graeme and me and hot choc for Bridget and Pat.
Dinner – dips, chard soup, butter chicken, basmati rice, chana dhal, lentil and potato curry with pitta. Home made coconut ice cream with melon liqueur. Yum yum.
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Thurs 16th

Utelle. Gorgeous walk up to the Sanctuaire de la Madone d’Utelle. 380m up. Quite steep on last 150m to reach plateau.
Went round the church. No quality control re the art in the cloister. Heard some singing/chanting.
Stopped in Lantosque for a St. Thomas beer. Good beer.
Back at the ranch, Bridget went for a horse ride with Liz.
Final meal upstairs with Liz and Mel.
Blue cheese and walnut (their own) on toast. Pasta with truffles. Big salad with eggs, ham a la Nicoise. Pineapples with booze on. Freixenet. Stayed up late with Liz and Mel.

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Band of travellers

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Fossil

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The bells of Utelle

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Lintel in Utelle

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Door in Utelle
Door in Utelle

Fri 17th

Up at 6.30. Breakfast at 7. Left at 7.45. Had to take mountain route diversion because of landslide on main road. It was very high with vertiginous drops, OMG! Then raced along the motorway to the airport. Seemed fast after a week of pootling along.
Easy flight. Slow on motorway getting home.
How lovely it was not driving or cooking and being in a beautiful and dry place with good company!
Videos from the trip.
The holiday was run by Mel and Liz from SpaceBetween.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

MAPandCOMPASS

Shropshire December 2016

This trip was booked back at the beginning of the year. We didn’t then know that it would be such a necessary time away.

Mon 5th
We were late setting off from home which meant we had quite a chunk of driving along the M6 in the dark and then Google Maps took us along lots of country roads, all gradually getting smaller and smaller.
Bush Cottage is down the end of a mile of rough track. We had to stop several times to get out and clear branches that had fallen down, then we came to the ford which luckily was low enough for us to drive across.
It’s a lovely little Landmark Trust property, tucked away and feels very remote, although in actual fact the nearest neighbours are less than half a kilometre away, and they sell logs and kindling. The ground was frozen so these may well be needed.
We unpacked quickly and then had a Spanish omelette prepared by yours truly.
Sat drinking wine next to the open fire.

Tues 6th
Got up slowly and decided to walk from the cottage to Kinlet church, about 2 and a bit kilometres away through woodland and across fields. It took a little over an hour to reach the church in the fog. A very dull day, the fog barely lifting.
We explored the church and its wildly ornate Tudor effigies. Then we had our sandwiches in the church near the organ with the heater on! We left some money for the electricity.
Returned on the same route, collecting some wood for the fire although we’re not supposed to do this. I really can’t think a small bag of old windfall wood is going to be noticed. I drove about 200m to the farm next door and bought a bag of dry logs for £4, money in the honesty box.
Later we drove up the track in thick fog and through very very thick sloppy mud to The Pheasant at Neenton. In places the fog was so thick I could only just see the road.
I had a very good tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and peas. Carol had a big beef pie with chips and veg. We sampled some local pale ales.
Back through the fog and then a slide down the muddy track. Mud has been a big feature on trips this year.

Weds 7th
Drove across to Ludlow in a weak wintry sun but actually much warmer today, double figures and very little mist.
We spent a good time checking out all the nice shops and had lunch at The Green Cafe which is near to the hydro electric bit of the River Neme. It’s named for the green and isn’t an eco cafe. Carol had beef brisket with watercress, cauliflower piccalilli and mustard mayo. The bits I tried were very good. I had butternut squash gnocchi with deep fried sage leaves and taleggio cheese and leeks. This was simply excellent and good value too.

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Thurs 8th
A driving around day. First to Claverley which has 3 pubs, quite a lot for the size of the place but only one operative, to look at the church which has some ancient wall paintings. And effigies of a chap with 2 wives.
Then to Cleobury Mortimer for a look but not much happening there although the ironmongers was good. Then to Bewdley for not a lot but nice clean loos in the Medical Centre which is right by the car park, if you were in need of a hairdo then this is the place to come as you will be spoilt for choice. Home to Bush Cottage via Highly which is a long sprawly village.
It’s chicken pasta chez nous tonight.

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House near the church in Claverley

Fri 9th

Home again.

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Bush Cottage

 

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Bush Cottage

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

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