Posts Tagged ‘Holiday’

I suppose grey skies and hour after hour of rain have to be expected in this country, but somehow, when I’m on holiday I am rather affronted by it.

Even so, being footloose in Cornwall is a treat in (almost) any weather and Geoff and I are making the most of our pre-Easter break in a lovely house near Falmouth. It’s the holiday home of friends who have kindly insisted we would be really helping them if we would give it an airing. Happy to oblige. Very happy, in fact.

It’s the second year we’ve been here, back in the beloved county of my childhood, but last year we were a month later and managed to go out and do a great deal of exploring.

This year, with rain falling like icy needles, we have been less adventurous, although a sunny day in Fowey was an unexpected treat within 24 hours of our arrival.

We went there to meet friends for serious nattering and lunch. OK, and tea. And cake. Geoff had a scone, making sure he put the cream on top of the jam, the proper Cornish way, thus not running the risk of being drummed out over the border into Devon.

After regaining our car from where it was parked near the top of the mountainside from which Fowey tumbles down so prettily into its harbour, we restored our lungs and other organs to their correct positions. The effort of the climb up a near-vertical hill takes its toll.

While Geoff dealt with the mess on the car left by a seagull with tummy trouble, I checked my phone. Among the emails, one caught my eye as its subject line was ‘Fowey’. But I’m in Fowey!

The email was from a London friend, Isla, a work colleague from years ago, who owns a holiday let in Fowey. I’m at the flat, she wrote, and the French guests I was expecting have just cancelled. Would you like to come and stay?

I called her from the car. You won’t believe this, I said, but we’re just down the road! She did believe it when we pulled up outside her flat two minutes later.

There followed almost two hours of wall-to-wall chatter as we caught up on each other’s news and she showed us round the flat: three bedrooms, each with an ensuite, large, light-filled rooms, beautiful gardens, a heated indoor pool – definitely the stuff of holiday dreams. Maybe next time, I thought to myself, but didn’t dare hope.

It was strange seeing Isla so far from where we normally see her, which is either in London or at our house in Dorset. Here she was, in an altogether different domain, wringing everything out of life in her recently adopted county. Like me she feels passionate about Cornwall and is undaunted by the long journey west, chugging down the A303 in her campervan as often as commitments allow.

When we’d arrived at her flat she was busy sorting bits and bobs to take to a charity shop. You wouldn’t like my old 12-string guitar, she asked, and so now Geoff has a new addition to his stable of instruments. He had the good sense to draw the line at accepting Isla’s father’s old set of bowls, or I might have had to administer some firm kind of punishment with those as my instruments of torture.

We headed back to our beautiful holiday-house-in-the-rain grateful for the joy that friends – and the occasional extraordinary coincidence – bring to our lives.


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Every time Geoff and I walk past the travel agent’s window we glance at the offers and sigh. Cuba? Bali? Fuerteventura? The daydreams start and we take off into our familiar world of “What if?”

Why, we’re almost unpacking our cases in that amazing poolside hotel …

Reality slaps us in the face. The travel agent’s holidays look nice, sometimes very nice, but they’re not for us.

We do our own planning and research, blundering and floundering around on the internet, confusing each other with pointless observations. We take hours over something that would no doubt be achieved by a travel agent in the time it would take to unroll and lay down a beach towel.

We played a particular blinder this week when choosing flight dates and an apartment to stay in for a break we’re planning in southern Italy late next month.

Not too difficult, you’d have thought, except that the airline prices fluctuated so much over the period of a fortnight that we found it hard to pin down the best (i.e. the cheapest) dates. We eventually managed that, only to find we hadn’t factored in any of the extras, such as luggage and permission to breathe.

Seats finally booked, we turned our attention to finding a place to stay. Should we try Airbnb, our usual resource, or one of the Italian holiday home websites. Tell you what, let’s try them all!

And that’s how hours slithered away from our lives, day turned to night, and we remained oblivious to meteors whizzing around the skies. Nothing could interrupt our search for the holy grail – a modest one-bed apartment with wifi, some outside space and within walking distance of the coast. Not much to ask, we felt, as we drew up long lists, and short lists, noting how some owners helped by posting useful photos while others merely confused with images of neighbouring towns, a beach 25km distant and a randomly placed plate of pasta or a bowl of peaches.

Soon, sitting side by side at our computers, Geoff and I were drowning in detail. If I never saw another flat with purple bed linen, orange curtains and 48 dinky vases of artificial flowers, it would be too soon.

The more we looked, the more critical we became. Almost all had faults and flaws that caused them to be crossed off our lists. Two flats in the same building even turned out to share the same sitting-room, a fact Geoff discovered just as his finger was poised over the Book Now button for the one with the disturbing lime-green furnishings.

Now there were just two contenders left on the short list. They both looked ideal, but how to choose?

We slept on it. Next day, thrashing into Hour 24 of the search and by now completely understanding why sensible people use travel agents, I spotted a chandelier in Apartment A that was so naff it made me shudder.

Oh no, I said to Geoff. Look at that hideous thing, will you? I couldn’t spend a week under the same roof as that. And the doors! Oh, no, look at those ghastly doors! Suddenly Apartment A was revealing its faults to me. First world problems, I know, and I am ashamed to admit to having such shallow thoughts.

At this point, Apartment B, a little bit quirky, it’s garden slightly rambling and unkempt, reached out to me in an Italian embrace. No contest.

I contacted our host-to-be, Isabella, who is now my new best friend. We’re booked and we can start getting excited. Perfetto!

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Now that the temperature dial has reset itself to normal I am heading off to an altogether different climate.

At least I hope it will be different. Geoff assures me southern Brittany will be warm, quite possibly hot, so we’ll need to pack accordingly.

Never mind the packing: that’s always a last minute, panicky business. It’s being in France that’s obsessing me.

The pair of us have been on elastic between here and Italy for as long as I can remember. It fits us and we fit Italy. We’ve been to almost every region of the country, we speak the language, we love the food, we understand the way things work (or, too often, don’t work) and we love everything about being immersed in its infectiously lovable madness.

Now it’s time to break the habit. Geoff and I are digging deep into our memories to get the vestiges of our once passably good knowledge of the French language to bob up to the forefront of the heap in our brains marked ‘speaking foreign’ –  and we are going to bury our prejudices about French food.

The prejudices are based on a few unfortunate experiences when passing through France en route (just practising my French) to Italy. They’ve been hard to shake off, but we are ready and willing to give the food a jolly good chance to disprove our misgivings. Rich and creamy, drowned in sauces, loads of meat – all of that is anathema to Geoff and me, so we’ll be looking out for French food lite and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.

Perhaps our main concern as we try and imagine ourselves in France is that, because it isn’t Italy, it’s out of our comfort zone. It’s different, it’s a challenge for us. It is therefore good for us. A sort of holiday with inbuilt effort.

We will be tested from the very start, as we’ll be staying in the annexe of a house whose owner warns us, in French, that his English is very poor.

I suspect that our conversation will initially be based around discussions about the pen of my aunt before we move seamlessly on to a brief discourse on the state of the Pont d’Avignon.

I might venture to impress him with my rendition of Frère Jacques and Geoff could break into Chansons d’Amour. I think Monsieur will be delighted by the entertainment.

If he even breathes the word Brexit I will fall into a dramatic faint. I cannot imagine the gloom that a discussion on that topic could cast over a holiday, so it won’t be tolerated. I must check before we get there how to say in French, “If you mention Brexit I’ll pass out. So don’t even think about it.”

I am also preparing a few choice words in my best franglais along the lines of “Je suis sorry but je have left mon beach body at home. In fact, je have jamais had one, being un petit peu sur le short side, but nous pouvons gloss over that.”

And then there’s the very important “Je suis hungry but if it’s tout de même with you I’ll pass on le horse meat and stick with une baguette, un kilo de fromage, et un unfeasible amount de vin.

“By the way, while je suis sur le sujet de food, je wouldn’t half mind un de votre best tartes au citron – et un grand one pour Monsieur Geoff. Merci beaucoup.”

I think we should get by with that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Two incidents on our journeys to and from Naples this month brought home to me the difference in the way The Young undertake travel from the way those, er, Less Young do so.

On our flight out, while Geoff alternately read, dozed and gazed out of the window, a young couple engaged me in conversation.

They were on their first visit to Italy. I learnt this because, while they demolished between them a full-size tube of Pringles crisps, they peppered me with questions.

Is it true the Italians drive on the wrong side of the road, was the first question. Yes, I said, and then froze when the girl – she was 23, I learnt later – said that they were hiring a car at Naples airport and she’d be driving into the city where they were staying for two nights.

My instinct was to shriek in alarm and say “Don’t even think about it!” because no one but a lobotomised loony with a death wish would willingly drive in Naples. It is one of the most crazy free-for-alls in the world. The joke about traffic lights being merely a suggestion is actually true in Naples. No one observes any of the rules of the road, everyone hoots the whole time, fists are shaken, tempers flare, shoulders are shrugged – and everyone, whether a driver or pedestrian, is permanently transfixed by their mobile phones so there is never any eye contact. It’s all done by feel or, more often, by bang, which is why most vehicles bear huge dents and grazes, and presumably the pedestrians too.

You need nerves of steel even to think about driving in Naples. You don’t need to be 23, on your first visit to Italy, with a boyfriend’s life as well as your own to consider, and a terrifying ignorance of how to drive on the left. “Are the pedals sort of in the same order, then?” came another question.

I invoked Geoff’s help. The most important thing, he told the girl, as she casually tipped the final crumbs of Pringles into her mouth, is to hold your nerve.

Soon after, sated with crisps and their heads full of our pleadings to be careful and not be intimidated by anything on the road, especially a lorry attached to their bumper and hooting wildly, love’s young dream slipped into a carefree sleep. Geoff and I, of course, worried about them the whole time we were in Naples.

On the return flight I settled myself into my seat with my usual battery of comforts to hand: iPad, selection of books, bottle of water and iPhone for snapping photos of Geoff asleep with his mouth wide open – I’m so childish.

The seat to my right was taken by a young man who had only a book with him. After a little judicious focusing I could see it was about starting your own business.

The book totally absorbed him throughout the flight. He really deserves to succeed if he has that amount of concentration, I thought, and no Pringles to distract him, either, much to my relief.

Later, when I’d noticed that the young entrepreneur was already striding away from the carousel with his smart piece of luggage while Geoff and I were still walking into each other trying to locate our un-smart one, I realised what a wide chasm exists between us and them – ‘them’ being the young, confident, world-at-their-feet travellers. We might have been there, done that, picked up the knowledge, but they’re discovering and learning and emphatically doing their own thing. I suppose we were like that once, though it’s hard to believe.

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It’s odd trying to adjust to normal life after returning from holiday. Eight glorious days of not needing to know the date, let alone the day of the week, came to an end when Geoff and I found ourselves back at Gatwick this week, all the fun over.

So many times this particular bit of the end of a holiday, the bit poised between over there and back here, has been made more miserable than it need be because the grim, grey English weather has broken the spell within seconds of landing. The heart sinks, the brave smile gets switched on and the memory of carefree days with minimal clothing gets wiped away in the hustle to pull on a heavy mac.

The car journey back home from the airport is blurred by the spray thrown up by lorries as slap-slapping windscreen wipers work at double speed. Jams and crawling queues add to the misery, and sour thoughts condemn and blame everyone and everything for the holiday being over.

Not this time, though. Heading down the aircraft steps a cloak of warm sunshine settled on our shoulders, seemingly hardly any different in temperature from Naples, which we had left only the other side of lunchtime. What it lacked was the gently suffocating cotton-wool dampness of humidity that we had grown used to during our week away but, delightfully, here at glowing Gatwick there was just a crisp and beaming bright sun and a blue sky. What a wonderful welcome back to Blighty!

Naples may have been hot and humid but it was entirely bearable and anyway we were fortunate to have aircon in our high-ceilinged rented apartment. Walking around, which we did on a major scale every day, all over the city and beyond, was never too uncomfortable in the heat and we took plenty of pit stops. It was our third visit to Naples but we found so much to see and do – and it didn’t all revolve around the food, I promise.

The only serious challenge from the weather came on the day the heavens suddenly opened on us, without warning, while we were absorbed in a longed-for visit to Herculaneum. We steamed ourselves dry when the rain eventually relented and felt we had shown admirable British grit in coping with neither an umbrella nor a rain cape, both of which appeared de rigeur among the other (far more sensible) visitors.

One afternoon we took an open-top bus out to Posillipo, on the western outskirts of Naples, famed for its beautiful houses and cultured lifestyle. Artists have captured it and settled there over the years, inspired by its buildings, its amazing views across the bay of Naples and its light.

I was excited to see Posillipo after recently reading a biography set there. Geoff took a few photos while I speculated about who lived in which of the wonderful old houses we passed.

After a little while I turned to Geoff and asked: “Does some of this look familiar to you, or is it just because I’ve read so much about it?”

“It’s familiar,” he said. “We took this very same bus trip 11 years ago.”

Of course he was right. We had been here before. How ridiculous that we hadn’t realised before even climbing on to the bus. But it really didn’t matter That’s one of the great things about holidays. Easy come, easy go – especially when the sun’s shining.

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THE thing about going away for a holiday is that you have to come back – and all that entails. It can be just a car journey but, for many holidays, it means a flight and a drive home from the airport.

I’m always glad to come home, even if I’ve had the time of my life when away. There is something so comforting about the familiar. We have a friendly house that behaves itself in our absence and it doesn’t take much to crank it back into full working order once we set foot inside and call out a cheerful “Hello, house!”

Our return from Madeira was as uneventful as the journey back from our last holiday, a year ago, had been manic, exhausting and nerve-racking. On that occasion, our flight from Italy had been grounded because of fog so we had to stand around outside for three hours being told nothing until two coaches suddenly pulled up and we were herded inside. Geoff and I, of course, ended up in the second coach with the driver who’d just been dragged out of bed, had hardly bothered to dress and had a violently shaking right arm. It was an eventful journey to the back-up airport 100km away, especially when the panic-stricken driver became lost and couldn’t reverse the coach.

Actually, we were panic-stricken too, but by that time we’d given up hope of ever seeing England again, let alone our home.

We did make it back, 12 hours after the due time, and it was no thanks to anything to do with Italian efficiency (an oxymoron if ever there was one) or budget airline communications (another oxymoron).

This time, though, flying back from Madeira, there were no such dramas or delays.

Geoff likes a window seat so I sit in the middle, not daring to look out in case my mind should actually compute that we are all the way up there and the world is all the way down there and the pilot really is telling the truth when he says we’re flying at 38,000 feet. How ridiculous!

This leaves the aisle seat for someone else, which is something of a lottery. Will it be a snoozer, a chatterer, a fidget, a noisy scoffer of crisps, a bookworm, a listener to tinny music crashing through earphones, a crossword puzzler?  Pot luck, or should I say Lady Luck, this time had a treat in store for me: a man of such inordinate handsomeness that I had to keep taking sneaky peeps at him.

“The chap next to me is absolutely gorgeous,” I whispered to Geoff.

“Thank you,” he replied, looking smug.

His Hotness was probably about 28 and very tall, dark and smouldering, with a sportsman’s physique and good clothes. He may have been a model, I suppose, so it was understandable we’d have been seated next to each other, what with my catwalk career about to start any year now. We could have swapped backstage tales from London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks, but instead we sat in studied silence, me reading and him in a trance as his huge headphones blotted out his environment. I certainly hope it was blotted out, otherwise he’d have noticed me taking subversive eyefuls of him.

After that, coming home might have seemed an awful let-down but it really wasn’t. Storm Katie saw to that – just as she saw to the felt from the garden shed roof, ripping it off and flinging it to the ground. Ah, it’s good to be back.

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ANOTHER soggy, disappointing torrent of rainy weather this week, after a solid seven days of sunshine, has served to remind us that we must always be grateful for small mercies.

After such a disappointing summer it was natural we should all agree we deserved that last hurrah from the sun that perked up our spirits so much. It was the usual old con trick, though, and after getting used to the delightful run of blue skies and warmth, here we are again, plunged into the damp chill of normality.

How lucky were those who had the opportunity to benefit most from the sunny week. Among them, totally against the odds, were my sister and brother-in-law. As long ago as last January they stuck in a pin in the calendar to choose a week in a rented cottage on Exmoor. They could never have known what good fortune awaited them.

Dismal week followed dismal week all through the summer, right up to the first day of their holiday, when the gloom lifted, the sun put his hat on and Exmoor embraced them with joyous bright warmth every single day.

The weatherproof gear they’d filled the car with stayed where it was, untouched for the duration, and their many walks on the wild side saw them sometimes taking cover from the heat of the sun, not the rain they’d feared.

They deserved this slice of luck as their last holiday had been dreadful. It was to have been a brief escape to winter warmth in the Canaries, but ended up with my sister laid low with a gastric virus for the whole week, too ill even to leave the apartment.

Geoff and I have had holidays spoilt by the weather, but it shouldn’t happen too often now that we have learnt always to check when our friend Roly is going to be away. As soon as we know if he’s seeking R&R anywhere in the UK, we know we must stay at home, secure in the knowledge that where Roly goes, the worst weather will be right over his head.

His visit to Sussex last month coincided with monsoon-like rainfalls all over the county. He goes north and roads are closed to cope with the gushing torrents, west and freak snowfalls block his way, south and the gale-force winds threaten to blow his destination off the map.

It’s become one of those serious jokes now. We hear on the radio of flood alerts or blackouts caused by storms and we just know that Roly will be somewhere in the vicinity, trying in vain to have a happy holiday with his long-suffering and equally optimistic wife.

Roly is sanguine about it, in a True Brit way, but our hearts do bleed for them both and we yearn for them to have a change of fortune. It’s strange because Roly is a proper countryman and you’d think he could second-guess the weather by observing such arcane things as which way the cows are lying, or how many rooks he saw flying backwards before breakfast.

Perhaps he should pick up a pin in January and stick it in a calendar, in the way my sister did. His expectations will always be low, as they can only be when any of us are thinking of holiday weather in this country, but from where Roly stands, anything warmer than freezing will be a heatwave and anything drier than soaked to the skin 24 hours a day will be like a break in the Sahara desert. And a novelty, too.

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