Berlin February 2022

Sunday 13th
Stayed Hotel Marriott, with parking. Car stays in car park, take keys with you.
Comfy, actually slept fine until 03:45 alarm.

Monday 14th
Shuttle to airport, I was sole mask wearer. Airport better but still only 50% compliance despite repeated calls on intercom. Yoghurt breakfast at Pret. At Security I got told off for not taking the iPad out of the case (because it’s a mini and I had checked that I didn’t need to).
Flight fine, 100% compliance. Arrived at 09.30. I went cabin bags only with easyJet. Train to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) then walked to Hotel Mercure near Checkpoint Charlie. Quite a long walk, but sunny. Left bag. Lunch at Beets and Roots, lentils and salad, excellent. Walked to Alexander Platz TV tower.
Back to check in.
Got takeaway salad from Mix and Match kiosk next to Hotel, too salty.

The Cube at Hauptbahnhof (main train station)
Remains from 12th century St. Peter’s church
The River Spree with the Reichstag (parliament) at the end
The Red Rathaus (town hall)
Fernsehturm (TV tower) Alexander Platz

Tuesday 15th
Nice breakfast. Supermarket for bottled water and German red wine.
Walked to Checkpoint Charlie then up Friedrichstrasse to Unter den Linden. The Hotel Sofia has gone, I pretty much knew it wasn’t there anymore after looking at Google Street View but I had to be sure. We stayed in it back in 1973 or 4, it was in East Berlin and was quite a rough hotel, my researches tell me it was known for gays and prostitutes and I was a bit young at 15 or so to realise that fully but I did know it seemed a bit dodgy. Gays were not allowed in the DDR. Onto Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate then to the Reichstag.
Into the Tiergarten (literally a zoo but it’s just a park) to see the Roma, Soviet and gay memorials. Across to the Jewish memorial, very emotive. It is across road from site of Hitler’s bunker which was a car park when I was last here.
To Potsdamer Platz, salad lunch in cafe then to the Topography of Terror museum which was much better than it sounds. It’s a fully referenced exposition of atrocities on the site of Himmler’s HQs. The site contains a preserved section of the wall.
Hotel then back to Beets and Roots for more salad.

Hotel Adlon, as featured in the Bernie Gunther books by Philip Kerr!
Brandenburg Gate
Memorial to gay people murdered during Nazi rule
Memorial to Jewish people murdered under Nazi rule
Potsdamer Platz
Remaining chunk of Berlin wall on Niederkirchnerstrasse
Wasn’t expecting that to still be there, no one in residence
Brandenburg Gate from the other side
Gropius building (restored)
How prisoners were classified
Checkpoint Charlie (replica)
Ampelmann (traffic light man) shop
Memorial to Roma and Sinti people murdered under Nazi rule
The crier or caller, from 1966, calling into the void
A rather louche moose in the Tiergarten

Wednesday 16th
Walked to U Bahn Stadtmitte, 5 minutes from hotel. Up Friedrichstrasse then took the S Bahn to Oranienburg. Walked 20 minutes through the suburbs to Sachsenhausen.
Sachenhausen was the primary location for the incarceration of homosexuals. The camp also had a section for Soviets. It wasn’t built as an extermination camp however that certainly didn’t stop the regime from committing murders and atrocities. The site is big to walk round and the area that is available for visitors today is about 1/6th of the size of the complex during the Nazi era.
After my visit I had overcooked pasta and veg in a café outside camp. The café inside the memorial only sold drinks and cake.
Back to Berlin. I got off at Unter den Linden to visit the Ampelmann shop. Back to Stadtmitte U Bahn. Supermarket for more water.
Hotel, then out to Italian restaurant very nearby, Lungomare. Lentil and sausage soup and beer. I make it better!
Bereavement group online.

Guard tower, Sachsenhausen
Memorial to those murdered by the Nazis at Sachsenhausen
S Bahn overground station
Entrance to Sachsenhausen
The grey outlines mark where barracks were, Sachsenhausen
Prison cell, Sachsenhausen

FFP2 mask compliance is about 99%. Most people know how to wear them, not many noses visible. It is requirement in inside places.
Also I have to give either proof of vaccination or proof of vaccination and ID in most indoor places: shops, cafes, restaurants and museums.

Thursday 17th
After a good night of sleep I managed to get out a bit earlier. Took the U Bahn to Unter den Linden then the U5 heading east. Got out at Magdalenenstrasse station on Frankfurter Allee straight into the massive complex that was the HQ for DDR Security. One very small part of the complex holds the museum. It’s not entirely logical in layout and some things could be better explained. I felt quite depressed at the lengths the regime went to to suppress freedom of thought.
I worried that when my mum and dad and I visited mum’s friend Ilse and gave her stocking and razor blades for her dad, that Ilse might have been subsequently investigated by the huge network of informers.
At the time we joked that the hotel rooms we stayed in were bugged but from what I’ve learnt today it would have been extremely likely.
The weather today was vile and the wind really howled when I stood in Erich Mielke’s office. The whole building is a fascinating study in 1960s/70s brown. I particularly liked the chairs covered in fake fur (I was allowed to sit on one!)
Afterwards I did think of looking at a Wall exhibition but the weather was a bit challenging, hard to stay upright, the U Bahn station had a lot of daytime drunks and undesirables in it so I cancelled that plan and got a train back to Unter den Linden. Short stop for a salad lunch. Walked back to the hotel to get a break from the wind.
After a reprieve from the wind, out again to take in the massiveness of the former Nazi Air Ministry, Goering’s empire, a huge building that is now the Finance Ministry. It had dull yellow lights on in some of the ground floor rooms which revealed ancient looking dusty box files which were a bit untidy! There I was thinking this would be an entirely computerised department! I only saw this as I walked past on the outside.
Then there was an intense but thankfully short cold windy downpour. Back to my warm room.
Out to Fontana di Trevi on Leipziger Strasse for beer, chicken in gorgonzola sauce with veg and then an amazing tartufo, my first proper dessert since October last year. Well worth waiting for.

Stasi HQ
Entrance to Stasi HQ, built on so you couldn’t see who was getting in and out of cars
The current Ministry of Finance, previously the Ministry of Aviation during the Nazi regime
Museum of Communication, previously the Ministry of the Post Office
Brass tablets outside buildings to show who lived there
Stasi boss Mielke’s sitting/bed room in Stasi HQ with bathroom at the back
East German concrete remnant, nothing to do with the wall
Art Nouveau building from 1905, built for the Württembergischen Metallwaren-Fabrik (Württemberg Metalware Factory). They originally made tableware but moved to armaments during both world wars using labour from Sachsenhausen and also set up their own concentration camp. Still in business doing tableware and coffee machines.
A small part of the Stasi HQ complex
Mielke’s office, his desk at the far end
Mielke’s “private” room

Friday 18th
Walked to the Jewish Museum. Stunning building by Daniel Libeskind. From the outside it’s even difficult to photograph, inside it’s difficult to walk round. The intention is to make you work and to put your mind a bit out of kilter. Clever use of technology to tell the stories of lives. I spent hours there.
Had some delicious inexpensive beetroot soup in the café.
Back outside I walked round the exterior of the Topography of Terror and the timeline exhibit. Despite the over the top name, the site is very well managed, a thoughtful way of dealing with hard facts. Yes the site was where atrocities were systematised but the museum has carefully worked out how to acknowledge that whilst also explaining the history.
It was by then very cold and wet so I went home to my room. Out briefly for wine and water.
Out later to go to an Art Deco brasserie which turned out to be shut for the duration. It was next to Gendarmenmarkt which has 3 huge buildings, concert hall, French church and German church.
Instead I went to Maximilian’s just off Friedrichstrasse for goats cheese and beetroot salad with sauerkraut and a glass of beer. Very good.

The Jewish Museum
Memorial in the museum garden
Art Nouveau building on the same street as my hotel, 1904. Restored
Opposite the Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum
Each disc represents one life, there were 10,000 discs in this hall
After some children had finished jumping about on them
Trying to show the scale of this work
The huge Ministry of Finance
Gendarmenmarkt, concert hall on left, French cathedral on right
Art Deco restaurant, sadly closed for what looked like a long time

Saturday 19th
It was very cold today, we had terrible winds overnight, I couldn’t sleep and all the bikes and scooters were blown over again as well as some fencing panels and a big potted tree nearby. I decided to be indoors as much as possible.
This was the day I did too much on top of all the other museums.
I went to The House on the Wall, a large rambling exposition which desperately needs a curator to make it make sense. It’s well meaning but could be so much better.
Then I went to The Bunker near Anhalter station, this was a bit better.
I tried a different restaurant tonight but it was shut so I ended up at the Italian Lungomare across the road again.

30+ years on there is very little to see of the wall, other than where it has been deliberately preserved. Sometimes there are markers like these.
The DDR symbol
Keith Haring’s work on the wall, sadly not preserved
This facade is all that remains of Anhalter Station
Bunker used during WW2 air raids, prone to flooding so not great
Gropius building
More markers to show where people lived

Sunday 20th
Set off on the U Bahn to Zoologischer Garten station. Had a quick look at the Gedachtniskirche but it was not open. Also cast my eyes down the Kufurstendamm. Got back on the tube for a few more stations to Olympiastadion. I was the only person at the station, by then it was raining heavily. Walked up to the Stadium entrance but it was shut to visitors because of an event. Back to the train. Got off at Bülowstrasse. I do worry that I’ll accidentally get off into a bad area but this was fine. It seemed quite trendy, I passed 3 nice looking cafés all shouting vegan! I didn’t go in because I can’t see with specs, mask, hat on a wet day and it makes me quite cross.
I crossed over the Landwehrkanal to reach the Memorial to German Resistance. It’s located in the Bendlerblock building on Stauffenberg Strasse where Stauffenberg was executed.
This is an excellent museum and is free. The best ones I’ve been to have all been free: Sachsenhausen, Topography of Terror, Jewish Museum and this one. This one even gave me a book of pretty much everything in the exhibits. It felt strange to be in the offices of Stauffenberg and Fromm, they are all full of exhibits. It’s good to know that there was so much resistance.
I walked back via Café Dallmayr which is in the ex Ministry of the Post Office now a museum of communication, this is one museum I did not visit, and had a great apple cake.
Wish I knew how the abandoned scooters work as I would have got round a lot quicker! It’s an app and a cheap rental system. Not much helmet wearing though so potentially lethal.
I’d wanted to see the Funkturm and the victory column but it’s been a bad week wind wise for going up anything. Also the Bauhaus museum but that was shut today.
I’ll need a holiday now to recover from museum overload.
Nowhere open other than Vapiano to eat so I took the plunge. I’ve been avoiding it all week.
I’m now totally au fait with providing my vax proof and my ID at all restaurants.
Did that, I was then given a card, this notched up all my spends. Next I went to the order point and ordered my salad, presenting the card. I was then given an electronic gadget and had to ask what it’s for.
I got a beer on the card, sat down and waited for the gadget to do something. Quite quickly, it was only salad, it buzzed insistently. I exchanged it for my meal.
The food was fine but the fiddling about is just an excuse not to pay some people to wait tables.

On Kurfürstendamm
Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, bombed in 1943
Olympia Stadion, built for the 1936 Olympic Games and the site of Jesse Owens’ 4 gold medal wins
Bendlerblock courtyard, site of the murder of Stauffenberg and many other conspirators who tried to overthrow Hitler
Bendlerblock, now a museum to those who resisted the Nazi regime

Monday 21st
Got up and came home. The hotel gave me a packed lunch because I was too early for breakfast. I walked to Stadtmitte U Bahn and left the lunch there. I had forgotten to say to them no bread, etc. A man picked up the bag of lunch and then he too left it on a bench. It was all wrapped up so I hope someone hungry got it.
I couldn’t even find the platform let alone the airport express train at Friedrichstrasse so I just got on the only train I could see going to the airport. That worked fine, got there in good time even if it did stop at every single station.
Because I only had cabin bags, (I’d paid for a large cabin bag which allowed me to have 2 bags in the cabin) I was eligible to do Speedy Boarding. It took me nearly half an hour to get through Speedy Boarding because the couple in front had not done something or other so it ended up being Very Very Slow Boarding.
Then security, this time I thought I’d get it right and got the iPad out of the case but no I got told off for not having Berlin airport plastic bags for my toiletries, I had to have to full works scan and open up my case.
Once I’d done all this, I was thinking I’d get some breakfast however it was time to get to the gate and there were panic messages saying it was 20 minutes walk away. It turned out to be about 7 minutes. No breakfast! Then the bloody flight was delayed by half an hour so I ate what easyJet call a snack box which was crackers, hummus, red pepper dip, olives and a baklava. It was ok.
The flight back was fine, a bit of a bumpy landing. It took forever to get through border controls. I felt sorry for all the German people arriving in maskless Manchester. What a rude shock for them.
Free taxi back to my car at the Marriott, the driver ignored all the speed limits. I got home to find my house still standing, but no internet. It came back of its own accord much later.

I still don’t really know how to do holidays. I spent a week without any conversation with anyone apart from my bereavement group but that’s a fairly normal week anyway. I just did it in a different location. I managed not to stuff myself and put on loads of cake. Hey ho, guess I’ll work it out eventually. At least I don’t mind my own company and it doesn’t stop me doing stuff. I didn’t bother with any gay bars because by the time I’d been out sightseeing and then found somewhere to eat, I was knackered each night. Most nights I sorted my photos, read my book and drank some wine.

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
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
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.


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.

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.

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.