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!

Italy, baby!

In the optimistic spirit of celebration, rather than commiseration at the turning of another personal decade, Maria and I decided that the ideal way to commemorate our 30th birthday year would be to return to Sorrento, where we had a fantastic holiday nine years ago.

As I have the family to think about, and she has a big important grown up job, neither of us could go for the two weeks that we enjoyed last time we were there. We settled on a five day trip, and found a slightly more luxurious hotel than we stayed in last time!

We booked an airport hotel at Gatwick, as our flight was reasonably early in the morning and, having driven through the night before flying before, we don’t ever want to do that again! We stayed at the Gatwick Mercure, which was very nice and had good room service at 11pm. However, if you ever stay there, make sure to request a room away from the lift shaft. Our room backed onto it, and I didn’t get much uninterrupted sleep in between each occupant of the lift trundling suitcases in and out all night! However, the journey to the airport terminal in the morning was short and straightforward, and we had plenty of time after check in to find ourselves a good breakfast. Which was just as well, as it turned out.

Maria has coeliac disease, as I may have mentioned before, and so when we were booking the flights with BA we made sure to request gluten free food for the flight (there was a long list of tick boxes to choose from regarding food options in the booking process). However, when we were on the plane and the snack was being delivered by the stewardess, on requesting the gluten free snack, a cheese sandwich was offered rather than the ham sandwich. NOT helpful when you are allergic to gluten and are therefore unable to have any sandwiches at all, unless specially made with gluten free bread. However, as we had already had substantial breakfasts in the airport, we put it down to lack of knowledge on the part of the stewardess and declined the cheese sandwiches without further comment. However, on the way back, Naples airport didn’t have the catering options that Gatwick did, and so Maria was extremely hungry by the time we boarded. On being offered a sandwich again, I explained that we had ticked the ‘gluten free’ box due to food allergies, and couldn’t eat the proffered sandwiches (I had put myself down as gluten free in a gesture of solidarity with my friend, and also in the hope that fresh fruit might be offered rather than the yucky airline bread rolls!!). The steward on this flight at least did understand what gluten was, but told us that gluten free food is only offered on long haul flights. Well how chuffing useful was that. This should have been made far clearer during the booking process. If no other dietary requirements are catered for on short haul BA flights, the options tick boxes should not be a part of the booking process. I was (and still am, as you can tell!) really annoyed about this lack of service, and it will definitely make me think twice about flying with British Airways again. Rant over!

There was one very good part of our flight to Naples; flying over the Alps. I’m a bit of a sucker for trying to take photos out of the aeroplane windows, and I couldn’t resist trying to capture a picture (or twelve) of the Alps as we flew over them into Switzerland. Their peaks were standing proud above the cloudline, and I wa imagining what it must be like to climb those mountains, ostensibly in bad weather only to suddenly emerge above the clouds and be able to see all the other peaks rising up as well. We had been told that we would be passing close to Mont Blanc, but it was only when I got home and looked it up on Google Earth that I realised I had actually managed to take a half decent photo of it as we flew past. And this was it;

Mont Blanc

Isn’t it beautiful? Just the way it stood proud of the other mountains captured my attention, and I was so glad that this picture, of all of them, came out well.

The flight arrived in Naples on time, and we found the transfer to Sorrento easy, as there was a bus going directly there, waiting just outside the front door of the airport as we stepped out.

And that’s all you’re getting from me in this post. I’ll tell you more about the main body of the trip in other posts, but I think my rant about British Airways has taken up all of my available time today!

Never Eat Shredded Wheat…

…both a good tip to avoid¬†insulting your tastebuds with bland blah, and a great way to remember at which points on a compass¬†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 of  was Newport (and 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!

The pictures I meant to post!

Here are the two (old) pictures which I planned to post¬†on Wednesday¬†but couldn’t as I had lost the cable for my camera. I apologise for the quality, but I was simply too lazy to scan them on properly (my scanner is buried beneath a pile of stuff while I redecorate my bedroom) so this will have to do.

me in Amalfi 2000

Here I am, age 21 (just, I celebrated my birthday in Italy) standing by the seafront in Amalfi. Look how contented I look! Try to ignore how big my nose looks – it’s only because the sun’s shining on it. I don’t think it’s actually that big!

me and maria in italy 2000

And here’s my best friend Maria and I, in a bar one evening in Sorrento. I think we were probably sitting on the Piazza Tasso, the main square in Sorrento, watching the world and his wife go by. It was one of our favourite ways to pass the evenings! I don’t think we’ve aged a day, except when Maria turns into posh Solicitor lady, then she seems very grown up and responsible. My friend tell me that I must be grown up, now I have children, a husband and a mortgage. They don’t seem to understand that that doesn’t necessarily follow! I don’t feel any older than when I left school, and certainly no older than when this photo was taken, nearly nine years ago to the day.

We had a fabulous time, and although we won’t be able to recreate our holiday perfectly when we return in September (as GG and our friend Gareth won’t be there) I hope that we can at least revisit our favourite places and create some more happy memories to add to the huge bank that we made back in 2000 when we last went to that part of Italy. And there will undoubtedly be more photos to share with you once I get home!

Tour bus experience in Malta!

Almost anywhere I go on holiday, I try to take a tour bus early in the trip, to give me some ideas as to where to go later on. Malta was no exception. There are two tours to choose from, the North and the South tours, and as we had already had a fairly good taste of the south of the island when we went to the Marsaxlokk market, we decided to take the North tour.

We got to the bus stop fairly early in the day, as the tours finish before tea time in the early evening and so we had to pack it all in earlier rather than later. We had pre-booked our tickets, so getting on the bus was reasonably smooth.

lamp in Valetta

A lamp in an archway in Valetta

¬†We didn’t get off the bus at each stop; we’d already had a look at the itinerary and planned where we would be stopping. We had already decided to spend a day in Valetta, and so just passed through the city on this part of the tour, taking interest in our surroundings in preparation for our later visit. We also passed a few other stops, including the gardens at St Anton. I think that, had I not had the two children with me, I might have stopped here, but I don’t think that it would¬† have been fair to expect the children to spend a considerable amount of time in the gardens. Our first stop was at the Mdina Glass factory. It was huge! If I’d had more money, I would have bought

me on tour bus

Me on the tour bus

loads of the stuff. It¬†was just the sort of thing that I like; very colourful, happy colours and lovely, striking shapes. After I win the lottery, I’ll head back and fit out my new house with all the lovely glassware! You could watch some glassblowers at work, although how they could stand the heat, I just don’t know. There were also some lovely glass representations of famous works of art, such as Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’. However, what was more in my price range was the jewelry.

Cheeky relaxing

Cheeky relaxing in the sunshine

My lovely Dad bought me a couple of pieces to wear, which I will have to photograph and share with you later on. I also bought a bracelet for my friend Maria, as well as some glass beads for future craft projects.

After making our purchases, we relaxed outside the factory, whilst waiting for the tour bus to return, and I had a can of Kinnie, the soft drink made in Malta which I have grown to love! The boys also enjoyed the break, as you can see in this picture of Cheeky having a bit of a cat nap, tipping his hat over his eyes, Indiana Jones style!

Our next stop was the Ta Qali craft village. I had been very keen to visit this place since reading about it, well in advance of our holiday. It is situated on an old air field, and the shops are all in old Nissen huts. I must admit that when I imagined what it would look like, I was way off course. I imagined a fairly barren field, dotted with a dozen or so Nissen huts. I was wrong! I didn’t have time, in the two hours I was there, to visit all of the shops, so I’ve no idea how many there were. The area was lush with trees and cacti as well, so it really was nothing like I imagined.¬†¬†

Ta Qali craft village

Ta Qali craft village

¬†This was the ‘main street’ of the village. There is an eclectic mix of jewelry, woollen and lace goods, glass products and more touristy items for sale. I bought a couple of things, and again I could have bought much more, given the money! There was a particularly lovely hand made lace stole which I would have loved to have brought home for Maria, as she loves her scarves and shawls, but unfortunately ‚ā¨200 was a little over my budget! After a spot of lunch, we got back on the bus and travelled on to our next stop.

in to Mosta

On the road into Mosta

¬†This was the entrance to Mosta, and you can see the Mosta Dome just to the left of the centre of the picture. We decided that, again, and disappointingly for me, it wouldn’t be fair to the kids to stop at Mosta as there wasn’t really much for them to do. So we moved on to Mdina. Mdina deserves a post of it’s own though, so I’ll save that, too, for another day.

narrow maltese road

A narrow hilltop road in Central Malta

¬†The roads from Mdina to the north of the island were…interesting, to say the least! They were very narrow and rutted, and definitely not the sort of roads to be navigated by the faint hearted! I can’t imagine any bus driver in Britain being particularly happy to have to traverse these sort of roads! However, after about half an hour, we came back into a series of villages, and relatively better roads.

Bugibba road surfacing

Road surfacing on the seafront at Bugibba

Once reaching Bugibba, we thought that we were on the home straight. We had decided not to stop at the beach, as it was already four in the afternoon and we hadn’t brought any beach things (swimming costumes, towels, etc) with us. We thought we had made the better decision, until our driver decided to literally physically move a sign which proclaimed a road to be closed for roadworks. He couldn’t see anything happening and so decided he didn’t believe the sign, and stubbornly went ahead regardless. Well, the photo above shows what we saw a short way further down the road! The whole coast road was shut for the road to be resurfaced, and despite many minutes of arguments between the workers and our driver, we were not allowed to drive over the fresh surface. Can’t imagine why! We were sat in the blazing hot sunshine for a good twenty minutes before the bus driver reluctantly reversed all the way back up the hill, and then spent a further twenty minutes trying to find his way around the back streets of Bugibba to get back on his usual route! We eventually arrived back in Sliema nearly an hour later than anticipated, very hot, tired and in need of a long, cold drink in the coolness of our apartment.

Other than being unlucky in arriving in Bugibba at the exact time that they were resurfacing the road, the tour was really great. There was an audio commentary the whole way which was very interesting and informative, and really reinforced by previous impression that the Maltese are proud of their British links, as well as being very in touch with their own history over the past centuries. They still, for example, refer to Mdina as ‘our old capital’ despite the fact that it hasn’t been the capital of Malta since the fifteenth century!

Early morning travel

Recently I was travelling to work at an early hour in the morning. I choose to start work early because then I finish mid-afternoon and get to spend some time with family or friends as well. Anyway, when I’m not rushing to catch my bus I quite enjoy going out at that time in the morning. It is so quiet and peaceful, and everything smells so fresh and lovely. So, by the time I reached the bus stop I was already in a pretty good mood. Imagine how that was bolstered, then, by the arrival of a double decker bus at the stop! I thought that I had written before about my total throwback to childhood that I experience when I get to ride upstairs on a double decker bus, but I can’t find the post so my memory must be playing tricks on me (again!). I remember travelling on buses with my mother in the holidays when I was very young and being thrilled if she let us sit upstairs. This was in the days pre-CCTV on public transport, and there was a periscope-like device which the driver could use to see what was happening on the top deck. I used to love sitting in the front seat upstairs and peering down this tube, watching the top of the driver’s head as he drove the bus! I know, simple pleasures for simple minds and all of that! Anyway, ever since then I have considered it a treat to sit upstairs in a double decker bus.

One lifelong ambition of mine is to, at some point, hold an HGV driving licence. I have a good friend, Chris, with whom I share this ambition, although it does stretch further as we have said that we would at some point (not necessarily all at the same time!) like to hold every class of licence pertaining to driving road vehicles in the UK. I think the plan is to start with fork lift trucks and work our way up the spectrum! Anyway, part of my HGV driving dream is to do a reasonably long journey (ideally involving a motorway) in a large lorry. I love the idea of thundering down the road while feeling quite high above the tarmac, as opposed to driving a car where you can sometimes (especially in our old Ford Escort which we have thankfully exchanged now) feel as if your behind is skimming the road surface.

But back to my journey. I sat in my favoured upstairs front seat and watched the world go by for my short journey to work. The roads were very quiet with few other commuters at that time in the morning and so we had very little unpleasant stopping and starting. The tide was high and the river estuary which I cross was beautifully, serenely full. In preparation for the warm autumn afternoon which was to come there was mist rising over the buildings in the city centre which lent quite an ethereal appearance to the approach. The streetlights were just starting to snap off as we reached the outer limits of the city centre, heralding the arrival of the sunshine. I arrived at work feeling energised and invigorated by my peaceful journey; would that all commutes could be so pleasureable!

Birthday trip

My husband and I haven’t had a break away without the children before, except for an overnight last year when we went to my friend Owen’s wedding. So when my mother in law offered to look after the boys for us, we were more than happy to take her up on the offer! We both celebrated our birthdays last week, so it seemed the ideal time to dash off somewhere for the weekend. We didn’t want to visit London again, as we’ve both been quite a few times, and decided to go somewhere we’d never been before. We also wanted to go somewhere that we’d be unlikely to take the children and where we could both relax. We were dithering between Dorset and the Cotswolds, but after looking at some Oxford guesthouses we decided to go there. We chose to stay at Burlington House, a guesthouse just outside the city centre. It looked lovely on the website; just the right mix of comfort and luxury as well as a good breakfast menu! Also, Burlington House doesn’t allow young children to stay, which was great for us. As we were having a break from our kids, the last thing we would have wanted was to be surrounded by other people’s children, bombing up and down the corridors at all hours of the day and night!

We left Cardiff on Friday afternoon after we’d collected the children from school. It took us two and a half hours to get to Oxford, as we decided to give the motorway a miss and go by the scenic route. It was lovely seeing more of the places we were passing, but husband got a bit fed up of roundabouts by the time we finally arrived! Once there, we went to our room and were delighted. It was at the top of the house, with a huge bed, ensuite bathroom and nice selection of coffee, teas and nice biscuits. Another nice touch was a bottle of mineral water on the hospitality tray. We had only been there for about ten minutes when we had a phone call to the room from the hotel manager, inviting us downstairs for a glass of juice with him. While we were downstairs he gave us a map of Oxford, recommended some local restaurants and showed us some adverts of things going on in the city. We were so impressed with this thoughtfulness, and it really helped us to get the weekend started nicely.

We went from the B&B to an Italian restaurant called Cibo! for dinner, and it was lovely. We had three courses and I had risotto for the first time in a restaurant. It was so relaxing and lovely, and such a nice change to both be out somewhere with my husband, and not to have to rush home! More about the rest of the weekend to follow…!