Summer holidays are approaching…

Another school year is as good as over. I feel old when I say it but I really don’t know where this year has gone! My oldest boy, J, will be going into year 9 in September, and B will be in his last year at primary school. My niece will be starting nursery and I’m expecting major envy from my little girl who has a whole year to wait before she gets to go to school.

And so my inevitable holiday planning starts. This has become similar to new year’s resolutions in how effective and useful they are, but one of these years I’ll get it right! So far, both boys plan to practise their musical instruments regularly, and I think both are planning to take part in the local library reading challenge. B is keen to clean out and decorate the shed at the bottom of the garden, and while J is less willing to do the work, he doesn’t want to miss out on a potential man cave and so he’ll be helping. E will carry on much the same as now, being alternately gorgeous, frustrating and hugely lovable. And I hope to dye lots of lovely yarn to stock my shop in the autumn. We’ve also got three weddings to enjoy, and at least one camping trip, hopefully more. I’ve bought us a rail card and I’m hoping that we might get a couple of day trips on trains in – E has never been on a train but she loves Thomas the Tank Engine and so I think she’d be thrilled!

That’s it so far. I think you’ll agree that there doesn’t look like there’ll be too much time to get bored!

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Positano and the Amalfi Coast

As I have mentioned before, this wasn’t our first trip to this part of the world. We had a two week holiday in Sorrento back when we were in university, and did a lot of travelling about and sightseeing during that fortnight. So, during this short break, Maria and I were able to revisit our favourite places and a couple that we didn’t see last time, with the minimum of stress.

spray on the rocks

The one place that we had determined to visit, even before landing on Italian soil was Positano. On our last trip we visited Amalfi, and we passed Positano on our ferry trip back to Sorrento. Positano fascinated us; this small town clinging to cliffs, with the houses built virtually in terraces up the side of the mountain. I wanted to see the place at closer quarters, and Maria was happy to oblige. I had only one condition; the journey HAD to be made by sea both going and coming back. When we visited Amalfi in 2000, we travelled by bus all the way round the Sorrentine peninsula and down the Amalfi coast and it was horrific! Don’t get me wrong, the views were sublime but I’m not a good traveller at the best of times and I was feeling so incredibly sick by the time I fell thankfully from the bus and hung over the sea wall in Amalfi. So I determined that never again would I make that road trip!

Liquid lunchThis day trip was much kinder on my stomach though. We made our leisurely way down to the harbour after managing to get into breakfast just before the end of the sitting. As it turned out, the ferries weren’t quite so frequent as we had hoped, and so we had a wait of about an hour and a half before the next one was due to depart. But there are many worse places in the world to have to unexpectedly pass some time than Marina Piccola in Sorrento, so we settled ourselves on a bench and watched the world go by. A few ferries arrived and departed while we watched, and a man did some business from the back of his little van selling fruit and vegetables to the tourists. Ice cream, drinks and granite (like slush puppies) sellers did a brisk trade, and eventually we gave into temptation and headed for a quayside cafe for some early lunch.

Jennie by the ferriesIt was so incredibly relaxing, sitting there with our glasses of wine in the sunshine. Eventually though, the wine was gone (as was the food – it wasn’tĀ a wholly liquid lunch!) and we headed back to the ferry stage. We found ourselves to be at the back of a very long queue, which meant that we had to sit inside for the journey to Positano – still glorious views, but not the opportunities for photography which I would have liked.

I think the boat ride took about an hour and a bit, although you’d have to ask Maria as she has a far superior memory to mine! I just remember a very relaxing time, watching the coast pass by as well as a number of smaller boats. I was surprised by the number of tiny villages we passed, nestled into little natural harbours which were barely more than little nooks and crannies in the cliff face.

PositanoWhen we arrived in Positano, the first impression it made was even more striking than the memory I had been carrying for the past nine years. We stood on the quayside for some time, taking pictures of the ferries, fishing boats and the glorious blue sea. After a little while we decided to explore. We only had a couple of hours to spend before the return ferry trip, but Maria’s guide book had assured her that this would be ample time to explore the vertical town. In the photo to the left, you can just see Maria in her red flowery dress standing in front of a display of pictures. Under the umbrella a man was working on a painting of Positano, and the other pictures were ones which he had painted previously and was offering for sale. They were lovely bright watercolours, typically Mediterranean in style and had I had any wall space left in my house I would have loved to have brought one home.

334 stepsWe hadn’t come to Positano for the shopping though (having already planned plenty of that sort of therapy for following days in Sorrento!) but to explore, so off we went. Of course, exploring in Positano seemed to indicate travel in only one direction – up! So we found a set of steps and started to climb.

Funnily enough (that was sarcasm there, my friends) we were largely alone on our climb up through Positano. We stopped every now and then to catch our breath and exclaim at snatches of blue sea visible over walls, and also at the number of houses only accessible by climbing these very steps. This is the place to go to improve your heart health! Although I dread to think how long it would take me to climb these steps if I were trying to bring my weekly shop and a pushchair along with me.

I was so eager to get to the top of the steps and out to see a proper panorama that I was able to put to the back of my mind the threat of coronary failure and I pushed on. Maria is much slimmer and fitter than me, and was leaping up the steps like a veritable gazelle, although I have to give proper credit where it is due – she climbed all the steps in heels! A wonderwoman! Anyway, eventually we arrived at a road a fair way up the cliff, and decided that some liquid might not be the worst idea in the world, as we had to be fairly dehydrated by this point. And then we turned around and saw this vista;

positano view

It was completely worth the climb. We bought drinks, and could have looked at the view for hours were it not for the fact that the ferry would be leaving in about forty minutes. So, reluctantly, we made our way back down to the harbour. Not having had the breath to do anything other than focus on staying alive on the way up, on the way down I decided to count the number of steps we had climbed. I was somewhat hampered by an Italian man gently pursuing us wanting to talk about the Prince of Wales and what we thought of him and the rest of the royal family! I think I was probably quite rude, as I was both counting and descending the stairs at too fast a pace to hold a conversation! We were amazed though, when we got to the bottom and realised that we had climbed 334 steps in a relatively short space of time.

After a short look at the shops we boarded the return ferry and left Positano. I just have a couple more pictures I’d like to share with you;where we stopped for a drink

This is a photo taken from the ferry as we were leaving Positano. Circled in blue you can see the cafe where we gratefully stopped for a couple of Sprites after our long climb. 334 steps and we hadn’t even got to the top of that particular cliff! Looking at this picture, I’m disappointed now that we didn’t have the time to carry on and climb all the way to the top. However, there’s always next time!

And finally, another picture of some of the steps we climbed;more positano steps

Imagine being presented with this, on a very hot day after already having climbed a couple of hundred steps. It really did seem a little never-ending at this point, but I’m so glad we persevered. You can also see in this picture a couple of entrances to houses on this flight of stairs. Just carrying shopping or children up these steps would wear me out, never mind the preceding hundreds! The reason that Italians have fewer heart attacks has nothing to do with olive oil and everything to do with towns and villages like this!

Sorrento

VesuviusJust a couple of photos today. I am acutely aware that I’ve been meaning to write about my holiday for nearly a month now, but I just don’t seem to have the time! So I’m posting a couple of my favourite pictures.

The first one is the iconic image of Vesuvius from Sorrento that I’ve carried in my memory since I was last in Sorrento in 2000. Strangely, it was a lot larger and closer than I’d remembered, looming over the Bay of Naples. The cragginess of the outline only served as a reminder that this isn’t an extinct volcano, and could become active and extremely dangerous to the thousands who live on the slopes and in the surounding area at any time.

Jennie in Sorrento

This photo is to prove that I was actually there, and that I’m not just using a friend’s pictures! I think this might have been taken on the first day, which would explain the lack of beaming smile – I was worn out! All the travelling took its toll on us and we were asleep very early on that first night. Back to the photo; I’m standing by railings which are on the edge of the cliff on which Sorrento sits. Some of it (the old and new harbours, for example) are at the bottom of the cliffs, but the majority of the town is many metres above sea level. From the sea, we could see lots of staircases cut into the cliff face leading from the hotels at the top down to their private beaches. One way to lose weight whilst on holiday, and ensure that you get your daily cardio workout!

Vesuvius at sunset

And finally, for today, Vesuvius at sunset, it’s peak masked by a blanket of cloud. Had I been a proficient artist I could have captured the colours in the sky much more effectively than did my camera, but you’ll have to make do with this! Isn’t it beautiful? We stood and watched the sunset for ages, having gone down to the old harbour in the almost village-suburb of Marina Grande speciafically to see it from such a good angle. In fact I think that we saw Vesuvius pretty much each day at this time, from various viewpoints.

More to come, I promise. I’ve lots of lovely pictures of our trip to Positano, the local harbour festival, the Amalfi Coast from the boat trip we took and of our hotel. However, at the current rate I’ll be lucky if I get all of that written by Christmas! Oh well, please bear with me!

Never Eat Shredded Wheat…

…both a good tip to avoidĀ insulting your tastebuds with bland blah, and a great way to remember at which points on a compassĀ are north, south, east and west (start at the top and work clockwise for Never=north, Eat=east, Shredded=South and Wheat=west). This is something that a coach dirver I encountered early this morning would have done well to have committed to memory.

This morning I took some friends to catch a bus for the start of their holiday. We had been instructed by the holiday company to meet the bus at Cardiff Gate services, at junction 30 of the M4 motorway, so we duly arrived, quarter of an hour early, and waited. And waited. And then waited a little longer. At twenty minutes past the due time for the coach to arrive, we phoned the holiday company who connected us to the bus driver, who in turn told us he was at Cardiff Gate services. We couldn’t miss him, he was in a big green bus. Well, we drove round the whole area and there wasn’t any bus to be seen, let alone a big green one. So we called back and I asked him exactly where he was. And then something clicked. I asked him at which junction he was. He was at junction 33. But worse than that was that he was unmoveable about the fact that he believed himself to be at Cardiff Gate services, while I was at Cardiff West. Argue as I may, he wouldn’t believe me. I’ve lived in Cardiff for eleven years now, and I think I know my city as well as anyone. But let us study a map.

M4 junctions

As you can see, we were at Cardiff Gate, and not at Cardiff West. The giveaway is that we were waiting at services distinctly on the right hand side of the city, i.e. east. The only thing we were west ofĀ  was Newport (andĀ England, if you want to get fussy). By no stretch of the imagination could we be said to be west of Cardiff.

However, eventually the coach driver conceded that as he was travelling to England, he would be passing us and would pick up my friends so we should stay put (good of him, offering to collect them from WHERE WE WERE TOLD TO BE!). En route, he had obviously worked out his mistake (the big signs saying ‘Cardiff Gate Services’ as he came off the motorway were probably a bit of a giveaway, to be honest) and was very cheery and jokey when he arrived. I just feel sorry for the people further down the route, as they would have had an extra forty to forty-five minutes waiting time added to their journey, just because the driver couldn’t tell his east from his west.

I’m keeping in regular contact with my friends as they journey towards the start of their holiday, and am hoping that they are keeping a good eye out of the window to make sure that the driver doesn’t end up taking them a few hundred miles in the wrong direction!

Surely it’s not November already?

I could have been forgiven for mistaking today for a November day. This morning, driving across Cardiff before breakfast, it was dark, damp, miserable, windy and generally as unlike a typical August day as I have ever seen. I was wearing a jumper under my coat, for goodness’ sake!

Whinge over. I’m sure the ground is benefitting from the hydration, blahdeblah. I’m seriously considering petitioning the council/assembly/government to move the summer holidays to either June or September though, so that the kids have half a chance of getting out in the sunshine once in a while during their holidays!

Thank you for all your comments recently; please don’t think I’m ignoring you! I’m just paying a flying visit today, but will be sure to read them all and reply tomorrow. Hope you’re all keeping well!

Maltese buses

If you go to Malta, you simply have to take a couple of bus journeys on the local transport whilst you are there. It is an experience not to be missed! The fares are extremely reasonable and the journey will not be one that you soon forget!

While we were on holiday, we used the local buses for a few journeys. We went to the Marsaxlokk quayside market on the Sunday, Mum and Dad went to Valetta and Dad and I paidĀ a second trip to Mosta to visit the church and see the dome. There will be more pictures of the Mosta Dome at a later point, but suffice it to say that it is WELL worth a visit, and definitely shouldn’t be missed if you get the opportunity to go.

bus

The majority of the buses we encountered on Malta were similar to the one above – very old, generally British buses with sliding windows, no air con – that didn’t matter as the windows were left open all the time, and the driver never shut the door whilst driving! – a variety of old seats and minimal suspension! However, they were obviously well cared for to have lasted so long, especially in the driving conditions over there, and, from the outside at least, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were much newer than they actually were.

inside bus

Ā I thoroughly enjoyed the bus rides, though. The picture above is of the inside of the bus we took to the Marsaxlokk market, and the reason that it’s tipsy is that the bus ride was like a fairground ride for the entire forty minutes that the journey lasted! I usually get really travel sick, but on this bus I just bounced right along over all the pot holes and lumps in the road, and loved every minute! You can’t really see very well from this picture, but it looks as if each bus is assigned to a particular driver, as they seem to personalise the ‘cab’ area with pictures. Most of the buses I saw had religious images up front, although I saw one or two with football logos for British teams like Manchester United or Liverpool.

flags painted on bus

The flags painted on the side of the buses are a common occurrence in Malta – the Maltese are apparently very proud of their links with Britain, and so the crossed British and Maltese flags are visible often. Also, on the tours we went on, there were regular references to British related parts of their history.

The buses were definitely an unmissable part of our time in Malta, and I’m so glad that we managed to use them a few times. I prefer to take local transport when I visit somewhere, rather than the tourist transport all the time. I think it gives you a much better insight into the local community, and how the local people live. Plus, you get to see lots more places as the bus goes into all the smaller towns and villages to pick people up and drop them off. And it was cheap! Local journeys only cost 47c, while the longer one to Mosta cost us somewhere around ā‚¬1.13 each way. Far cheaper than Cardiff, where I have to pay Ā£1.50 for a one way ticket to the city centre – a journey that only takes 15 minutes in reasonable traffic.

We also went on one of the Maltese tour buses, but far too much happened on that to add to this post. Another time, maybe!

Mosquitos

I chuffing hate mosquitos. This may be asking for trouble, but can someone please tell me what their purpose is on this earth, other than plague the hell out of Brits abroad, and (obviously more seriously) killing millions through the transmission of disease?

I saw a few mozzies while we were in Malta, but as I wasn’t bitten didn’t really think anything of it. However, in the course of my packing, I obviously managed to bring a couple home with me. I discovered this the morning after we returned when I found a few fresh bites on me, and also a couple of (dead) mozzies in the laundry that I washed as soon as we got home.

GG went out and bought me a stick-thingy from the pharmacy which is supposed to relieve the itching. It doesn’t work. And so I spent a further two (hot and uncomfortable) nights hiding under my duvet, hoping that I wouldn’t inadvertently stick a limb out from the covers whilst asleep. Of course, I did, and woke (having been dive-bombed by a gleeful insect) with fresh bites on my leg. Grrr.

That evening, I stayed up later than GG, who was asleep by the time I finally came into the bedroom. You can therefore imagine his confusion when he woke up to find me atop a step ladder in our bedroom, brandishing a rolled-up magazine, glaring at the ceiling. You see, I went to get changed for bed and spotted that self same (as I like to think, anyway) mosquito sitting on the ceiling over MY side of the bed. That’s another thing I didn’t mention – GG hasn’t been bitten at all. How is that fair? Anyway, so of course I had to squish it, or spend another night cowering under the bedclothes. So I did. And I slept much better as a result!

I think now that all my Maltese immigrant mosquitos have been squashed or washed, but I’ll certainly be more careful next time I’m abroad to make sure that I don’t bring anything like that home with me again! Meantime, I’m left with the itchy little bumps over my arms and legs, which are really hard to resist scratching. And with a paranoia verging on the insane which makes me scrutinise the walls and ceilings before I turn the lights out at night, as well as shaking out the duvet before I get into bed (another thing that may prove unpopular with GG before long, methinks), I believe that it may take me longer to forget my most annoying souvenir of my holiday than it will take for the bites to subside and stop itching.