UK

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London the Hub Or the Brutal Congested City…You decide!

Do you share our Passion for travel? Would you like to see more of the world, do you think you have to save forever to take your first dream trip? Allow me to take you on a journey

Recently my husband and I decided to have some R & R in London as he was away for a month over Christmas & London…!

Now I consider London like being at home as I live in UK! So when we decided to head over to London  for a Business event in Ealing, we decided to also take some time out for “us” too :) Now Ealing is in the west side of London yet not really part of the London West end!

Last time I went to London I headed over to the Holiday Inn Kensington and enjoyed the Science Museum and The Ice Rink by the Castle! Dropped in at Harrold’s and enjoyed the ambience of The Borough of Chelsea!  So I wasn’t really expecting to be enamoured by Ealing town!

Keep in mind that we woke up at 4am to catch a 5am Train from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston and had to dash to the underground to get to Ealing Broadway for a 9am Start of the event.  Enter Ealing Broadway and we were pleasantly surprised indeed… Word of advice; If you’re going to be in London for more than a day, it’s worth buying a Visitor Oyster Card in advance, which they post to your home before you arrive in London. This is probably the best ways to get around London. If you do not do this and still plan to see London for more than a day, definitely buy an Oyster card at the Tube station…and by all means don’t get lost on the underground….Long story don’t ask :)

This part of London is definitely the Brutal congested rush hour City, Not very friendly!

But…we got to the Other side, though not the west end it was definitely A sight for sore eyes!

The streets were spotless clean… Oh you might wonder which parts of London I normally visit…but bear with me! Every time I go through London it’s never that clean! We headed over to The Ealing Town Hall and I fell in love with this part of London even more.

I love Old Architecture and the Town Hall is a handsome building that blends in beautifully with the rest of the street!

Ealing town is a lovely area to explore on foot, lots of lil cafes and shops. There are smaller shopping streets in the area. Don’t miss the Arcadia shopping centre for your generic buys!

Now we only stayed for the weekend and visited other places family and stuff, it was a kind of Whirlwind stop over but we made time to visit Walpole Park & Pitzhanger Manor House
An amazingly grand and gorgeous Manor House. (I did warn you I love old architecture). This work of art can be found at the entrance of Walpole Park. It is a grade 1 listed building and here is the bonus, there was a free art exhibition and apparently there are several all year-roundJ. And get this the park has some amazing landscaping; ornamental bridges, ponds, streams and a walled rose garden – one of my favourite sites. According to a local resident who chatted us up on our walk, in the summer months of July/August the area & park hosts a multitude of festivals  showcasing jazz, comedy, opera and, of course his fav, lashings of beer. Ealing indeed does have an abundance of lush meadows and parks; one is right across the Underground station that we walked through to the Town Hall!

Like I said I may not do this part of London justice as it was a whistle stop, so I hope I will do the city of Budapest More justice as it is our next stop over!

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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 It Not Only Takes Bravery but Determination in the UK

            I sit, exhausted, on the coarse burred covered heather oblivious to the prickles and thorns biting into my trembling tired legs. Elation overtakes my exhaustion, “I did it Les, I conquered it, I told you I would” I yell out in triumph to no-one in particular. My words carry across Bournemouth’s cliff top and waft in the cool wind. I look towards a sheltered thicket which Bournemouth’s West-Cliff is known for, and where my brother use to sit in his wheelchair and sighed. The town of Bournemouth with its jagged cliffs is part of England’s 95 miles of Jurassic Coast and runs along England’s south west coastline. It is the first natural World Heritage Site in England and is particularly beautiful. My brother and I had been lucky enough to spend our carefree childhood years living here in the county of Dorset in idyllic Southern England, playing amongst Bournemouth’s famous Chines. Our weekends were spent hunting for millions of years old fossils, clambering over oddly shaped rock formations, and pretending we were the long ago bootleggers who landed their illegal contraband on Dorset’s deserted beaches in the dark of night.

            My eyes drift down towards the beach and the 145 feet incline zig-zag path I had just run up. The Atlantic ocean which feeds the English Channel was causing Bournemouth’s sea to heave violently this morning, and the waves pummeled against the aging Victorian brick promenade. Quaint brightly painted little beach huts, over a hundred years old, stood poised and sturdy with their doors rattling against the wind. “I did it Les” I said this time mumbling to myself, tears suddenly welling up and rolling over my cheeks.  Only a few months earlier my brother had poked fun at my remorseful temperament during one of our conversations. “Go on, do it, be brave, look around at where we live Sylv, open your eyes to the beauty which surrounds us here. I challenge you to start to run again, run from Poole to Bournemouth and take in the allurement of Branksome, Alum, and Durley Chines. That’ll be about eight miles of hilly terrain. Conquer that dreaded zig-zag path from West Undercliff promenade to the top of the cliff, bet you can’t” he said.

              It was a challenge easier said than done for me to complete after my recent amputation. “Run again? I’m not sure really” I said. With a knowing look and brightness in his eyes he stares at me, “Yes, run again Sylv, focus on what’s around you, don’t think of the pain you feel, find your inspiration in what you see, remember and picture the D-Day boats departing from Poole and what the soldiers must have been thinking when leaving-many never to return. Follow the trail of the illegal smugglers through the heathlands, and run through Bournemouth’s famous Victorian Gardens, and Alum Chine’s Tropical Gardens. Gingerly run over David Rowell’s Suspension Bridge which Winston Churchill, as a teenager, fell from during1892. I say gingerly Sylv, as I know you are scared of heights even if it is only thirty feet in the air and sways in the wind. Wave hello to the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson as you pass by his ‘Skerryvore’ home. Jog around Sandbanks peninsula realizing you are running over the fourth highest land value in the world, and smile at the crew operating the working 1923 vehicular chain ferry. You can do it!” he said with a mischievous look upon his face.

            So reader, I did! I did it today. I took on my brother’s challenge and ran those long hilly eight miles ignoring the intense pain that resonated throughout my maimed foot. You see, the town of Bournemouth in the county of Dorset in England inspired my brother, it inspired him to live, and it inspires me as well. My short eight mile run along the coast is only a small part of the 95 miles of a wondrous geological marvel. Picturesque fishing villages and numerous coves dot the coast line. The splendid natural limestone rock arch over 140 million years old and known as Durdle Door is worthy of a visit, as are the white sea stacks known as the ‘Old Harry Rocks.’ Let your imagination soar when you visit 11th century Corfe Castle that William the Conqueror built in the parish of Swanage. Travel through market towns built by the Romans, and be awed by Bournemouth’s 1000 feet historic pier. When the evening draws in head into town and visit the numerous restaurants, clubs, and vibrant and friendly nightlife. Soar 500 feet in the air on the ‘Bournemouth Air,’ a giant helium balloon and take in the breathtaking views.

            This morning I wanted my brother to be at the top of the cliff cheering me on, perhaps he is in spirit, I would like to think he is. His love of Bournemouth and his inspiration and bravery in his twenty-five year battle to defeat the consuming cancer which riddled his body made him my superhero. Living along Bournemouth’s coast together with my brother’s constant happiness, and positive attitude throughout his life against all odds has shaped me into a woman who is brave enough to conquer my own fears, and defeat any obstacles which hinder my accomplishments in life.  He was and will always be my superhero,  and today I am also my own superhero.

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I stand at the counter of my humid kitchen, hair tied back and hands pressed against the hundred-year-old wood, peering into my glass cabinet for a measuring jug. I double check my sister’s rice pudding recipe, which is also my mother’s, which was also my granny’s. I run my finger down the blue patterned card until I get to the amount of milk needed. The rice pudding calls for two and a half cups of full fat milk.

Fat. I think my mother tried desperately to shield us from that word, which is why, amazingly, I didn’t hear it until the first grade lunchroom. “Who’s the fat girl in your class?” The freckled-faced redhead who would, ten years later, become my prom date, asked me in the lunch line, piling his yellow tray high with reheated tater tots. “What’s her name?”

Unsure of what he meant, I stuck my tongue out at him and didn’t answer, but when I found my seat, I pushed my own tater tots— a favorite food— around the tray, no longer hungry. Looking back now, I realize that was the first time I heard someone defined or identified by something other than her name. And though I didn’t know then the full implications of fat in our society, I had a foul taste in my mouth, like I had just been exposed to a word that was dirty or bad. Fat, I learned in that lunchroom, was distasteful and undesirable. I determined that day to never let the word fat be associated with me. 

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and sugar.

We had rice pudding every Sunday in my childhood home. I loved to have mine with vanilla ice cream, the cool dessert melting with the steaming hot pudding until a cream colored pool formed in my bowl, grains of rice lounging in the middle of it. My mother doled out portions generously, and unfinished bowls were met with raised eyebrows and incessant prodding— rice pudding was wasted by only the troubled or insane. I had reached high school before I noticed my mother only ever gave herself a few spoonfuls of the beloved dish.

Place rice in a buttered baking dish. Add the milk-sugar mixture.

My great aunt became pregnant in the post World War II era, during the last days of the Nazi Occupation of Jersey, a Channel Island off the coast of France. By 1945, most of the Islanders had gone four years without a proper meal. My great aunt had become a skeleton, her hip bones jutting through her skin, her ribs creating waves in the contours of her body. When food shipments finally came in again, she hoarded supplies, stacking high on every shelf tins of meat, fruit and fish. Her cupboards, from then until the day she died, reflected her attitude toward having enough, as though, at any minute, she expected the deafening planes of the Germans to land again on her island.

  She was so thin, at this time, that the doctor told her to drink pints upon pints of milk— that if she wanted her baby not to starve the way she did, she’d better drink enough to feed her. Within three months, my great aunt was overweight. 

She began gorging on Energen Rolls- the forerunner of diet foods. Because they contained so few calories, she always felt hungry. For the second time in her life, my great aunt starved, but now for a different reason, and yet she continued to gain weight. By the time I knew her, she was embarrassed to even leave her house.

In food-conscious people there’s a small delay, perhaps only a half second, between placing one’s hand on the fork and then lifting the fork to the mouth. I watched it in my great aunt and in my mother, and I watched it in “the fat girl” at school. I didn’t understand until years later, when I noticed it in myself, that this happens when the fork carries something much heavier than food: shame. The shame of eating in front of others, the feeling of being big, the idea that every person around the table is counting how many times you lift that fork to your mouth.

In my experience, nearly every woman goes through some kind of battle with food. In an age where food abounds, our stomachs, of all sizes, still crave: acceptance, power, the constant assurance that we are beautiful. Instead of delighting in our food, taking joy in the company of the flavors and each other, we become slaves to it. In these cases, we no longer have the freedom to enjoy rice pudding. We can either stare at it, pretending we can’t hear our own stomachs grumble, or we can eat it with a side of guilt. 

Bake, uncovered, for two to three hours, at 300 degrees.

As smells of baking rice and milk fill the room, I dig out a silver photo album given to me by my cousin Jean at my wedding. It is full of old family photos. I turn to the page that contains the only picture I have of my great aunt. She wears a floral dress that falls to her knees— the photo is black and white so I don’t know what color, but I imagine purple— she wears her thick, dark hair in a practical bun. I notice her size, yes, but first, her smile.  She was so kind, I remember, ever willing to have me on her knee, to listen to my stories and to tell me her own. She smelled of polo mints and soft perfume, and as a small child I adored it when she’d rock me back and forth, folding me into her gentle creases.

Who’s the fat girl in your class? What’s her name? 

I learned at an early age to never ask for second helpings around my granny. She would tut her perfectly painted, pursed lips, and say, knowingly, “Ohhhh, Rach, be careful! You’ll end up fat.”

And there is my mother, who denies herself a proper helping.

And there is my great aunt, who stopped going out because of her size. 

And there is me, getting my wedding dress resized twice because I am losing too much weight, because I can no longer eat a full meal without feeling panicky.

And there is my sister, who I hear crying late at night because she thinks she’s too big.

Fat, fat, fat. 

I throw the photo album across the room. I want to throw away with it every association I’ve ever had with fat. When did we ever begin to associate our worth with our size? When did we ever get the idea that life is better lived thin and flavorless, that if we aren’t in perfect proportion, we should be ashamed to leave the house?

It took me a year to begin eating normally again. Even today, I still get anxious at a restaurant, when the waiter places a large plate in front of me. Carefully, with the side of my fork, I portion off what I will eat tonight and what I will save. I blame this on society: on whoever made my great aunt embarrassed to leave the house, whoever gave my granny a complex about seconds, whoever thought naming a girl the fat kid would be humorous. 

The correlation between shame and food has lodged itself in the women of my family for long enough. I pull the rice pudding out of the oven. A thin, brown, skin has formed over the top, making it look just like my granny’s version, just like the version I watched my mother pull out of the oven on Sundays for years.  Methodically, I dish myself out a cup of it, and pull the sticky half gallon of vanilla ice cream out of the freezer. I march out to my porch, I sweat in the July sun, and I enjoy every last bite. I refuse to feel any kind of guilt or shame. I am doing this for more than me. 

I am doing this because there is so much more to life than fat.

Serve with ice cream and enjoy.

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Finding myself in Venice

When I flew into Italy with my husband I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The trip had been an attempt to pretend we still felt an anniversary was worth celebrating, although we had completely forgot to celebrate in a few years. Maybe he realised I was feeling more detached, from him, the house and even our children, or just maybe he had seen such a good deal on the Internet that he didn’t resist sweeping me off to Venice. Anyway, when we got there I was nervous, for years we hadn’t been really alone, not since the kids had been born, so I didn’t even remember what we used to talk about before all had gone to diapers and pacifiers, schools and textbooks and such.

 A late evening wander around Venice showed us a labyrinth of streets opening to huge squares, many dominated by wonderful little churches. The buildings seemed all a bit faded, with paints that had one day been strong and alive but were now just a pale shadow of colour, but they had personality. Narrow tall buildings, quirky and desolated, but full of life at the same time, with clothes hanging between buildings, providing a much needed shade in those sunny days, and loud voices in every corner.  We wandered around almost in silence, breathing in the moist heat that seemed to burn the air around us, so hot it was that day. We ate a delicious ice cream leaning against the sides of Rialto Bridge, watching the gondolas go by and listening to the excited chatter of tourists still enjoying the hundreds of shops nearby and later, when we were going back to the hotel, we sat on a bench along the way, overlooking the water. The moon was high and fat, and was reflected in the surface of the calm waters as if it was looking at itself in the mirror. The heat was almost unbearable and I kept feeling my clothes clinging to my body and couldn’t think of anything else but another ice cream. Suddenly a guttural sound came from nowhere, followed by a sudden flash of light that seemed to scare the moon that went to hide behind the clouds. Another thunder and the world simply seemed to burst. The rain was so heavy that it flooded the pavement in seconds, and when a lightning ripped through the skies and speared the water, it was as frightening as amazing. I felt Nature’s fight all around me and for a moment I even forgot I was being soaked by the rain, until my husband dragged me by the arm to a sheltered corner. I felt my heart racing from the surprise and the excitement of the storm. I had never seen anything so powerful, so different and in an instant I felt the urge to write about it. I hadn’t felt the urge to write for years, not since I settled down in my life as a mother and a wife. I turned to my husband and asked: “Do you remember how I used to write?” and he nodded, inquisitively. “I want to start doing that again” I said, feeling self-conscious of how stupid it seemed to want to do something for myself when I hardly had time. But I remembered how alive I used to feel when I let my characters dictate the course of stories, and fill my life with different existences, some of which I loved to the point I missed them, as if they were real people, others I hated with passionate anger. But all was with passion, a passion I hadn’t felt burning inside for too long.  John, my husband looked out to the water that kept receiving the lightning stoically and finally murmured: “We can turn the outhouse into an office for you to write without the kids bothering you”, and his smile made me realise he was happy too I wanted to be that woman again. I like to think he missed me too, the woman I had been before life had come in and I had let it sweep me under a blanket of responsibility. I realised, whilst looking at that fantastic show of nature’s strength, that I too could be who I had once been, the woman my husband had fell in love with, and surely missed. We both missed her, but when the rain finally subsided and we went to the hotel, we found her again in each other’s arms and by the morning we had found very much alive the love we both had thought burned out.

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Somerset

 

Walk and do not stop.

I have just started my journey up on those old wooden stairs that will lead to the side of that mountain-sized hill.

I am half way through when I realize that I should have gone to the gym before I start to take up on such challenges.

I have to see what is up there, what is everybody talks about. I need to, I have to!

I keep walking, my muscles are shouting at me ‘STOP DOING THIS!’

I carry on, and make it to the top. Oh, why did I think these old stairs will be the toughest part of this hike?

The giant, mountain-hill looks down at me laughing at me. ‘I will make it’ I tell myself and I pick up a piece of wood, that good as a walking-stick.

I carry on. I cannot give up. I came so far I will see what it is on top of that hill!

I remember that song that my father taught me when I was little. I remember I was struggling to cycle up on the hill where our house stood. He came next to me, pushed me to help me getting up on the hill, he looked at me and said ‘I drink milk, so I make it! I drink milk so I make it’!

I catch myself whispering ‘I drink milk, so I make it!’ as I start to walk up on that damn hill.

‘Why do I do this?’ I stop after a few ten-meters and sit down gasping. ‘I should just ask some of these fit hikers to take some pictures at the top with my camera. If my camera makes it; I make it. AT least I will have some pictures to show to the ladies at the bridge club’      

If those ladies made that hill, so will me!

I get up and keep walking, relying on my walking-stick very much. The sweat appears on my forehead in the shape of small purl-drops. It sparkles in the sunshine, as I step out of the trees and carry on walking on a green, tree-less land.

Young couples pass by me, and hikers with dogs. I should do this more often, I should go to gym to be fit.

I need to see this, I want to see this! I keep walking, but my muscles are in fire now. I am in agony. I think I felt similar pain when I first took a Zumba Lesson, five years ago. I have never gone back to Zumba, and now I regret it very much.

My legs feel like I am walking on and dragging heavy stones beneath my torso.

I see the end finally. I am walking almost three hours now. It is unbelievable that I am here, I am closer to the top and I am about to make it!

I step in a hole. OUCH! My ankle hurts terribly. I sit down and take my shoe and socks off. My ankle looks fine; it did not break although it has been twisted badly. My skin is read around.

I put my socks and shoe back, get up and rely on the walking-stick even more than before. I walk very slow, making sure I put little weight on my ankle.

When I make it to the top, the sun is high up on the sky. It takes me another two hours from the hole to top, as I walk extremely slowly.

The view is breathtaking. The walking-stick fall off from my hand and I sit down. The grass is long, green and fat. It feels like an expensive carpet. I can see villages, cities and a lake lying underneath the mountain-sized hill.

My eyes fill with tears of happiness. I made it.

I look around. ‘I am afraid of heights’ I think as I look down. I am at the edge. I laugh. ‘I am not afraid of heights anymore!’ and I lie down on the grass satisfied.   

   

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It is January 13, and I am standing very still. Steady but fragile wisps’ of snow dance mournfully around my feet; they must know that there’s no going back now and that they are to meet their resting place on what could easily be the greyest slab of concrete on earth…..

At a whopping minus 13 c, it is also one of the only times in my life where the hyperbolic cliché of ‘I’m freezing’ not only applies but is barely doing it justice. 

 

I pull my jacket tighter and squeeze my damp lapels in an unconscious bid to keep out the cold – that deep, bone-wrenching cold – and glance blankly over this barren land that seems to stretch for miles. It looks sickly and impossibly colourless; the air itself thick with secrets.

My friend coughs weakly from somewhere behind me but no one else in the group has yet attempted to move or speak more than a few words – all ten of us understand that we must exercise our greatest respects for we are standing in the confines of a terrible part of history that automatically commands such reverence.

 

The sign on the plain brick wall confirms where we are – Birkenau – the second Nazi death camp born out of Auschwitz (or ‘Oswiecim’ to the locals). It is less famous here than Auschwitz itself and yet there is something much more deathly about this place; it’s like a silence, a space, an overwhelming flatness that you cannot speak of, only feel it weigh on your skin. We are in open – air but there is no bird song and signs of life seem uncomfortably far way.  Even the trees appear too somber, too brittle to flex with the demanding press of the wind.

As the tour guide walks us over the gravel, pointing casually to the tiny, solid row upon row of shacks and workhouses, we see into the gaps, if only in our imaginations, and witness how many victims would have been squashed together here with just one tiny wooden bed for refuge. There was no running water and the stone floors, we are told, would have been alive with bugs, excrement and illness.  We hear passing names of the few survivors that managed to last years of living in this grotesque abuse of humanity while others remain unnamed, lost. I wonder grimly if in this heavy air, I am breathing in some recycled, unfinished part of them, crying out, needing to be more than just a fleeting number. I can feel their childhood dreams folding; locked and screaming.

We arrive at the crumbling brickwork of a building whose vast iron chimneys once exhaled the frightened dust of human beings shipped here by train for ‘processing’ – for elimination. I kneel down and run my fingers over the icy metallic train tracks that delivered many an innocent woman, man and child to their final destination. No, this is no ordinary tour. This tour indirectly forces us all to question the complexity of the human condition in all its darkness and light.

Even with every fact that is offered to us by our part-polish tour guide, there is a sense among us that we will never really know this place, never fully understand how it came to be. More ominously, there is a darker sense that if we surrendered to it or offered our full minds to the deeds carried out here that it would somehow take us too and never let us leave.

 

Thankfully, the bus that has now arrived does let us leave. And as we pull away, comfort and gratitude entering my chest, I turn my attention to all of the defiant, hopeful spirits that somehow survived this place, those who found ways to stay alive, warm and brave no matter what hardships they faced and who lived to tell us the stories that have changed history.                                                                                            

You see – and I smile now with you – everything ultimately has its place and sometimes it is the darkest, dampest, deepest soils that produce the greatest flowers.

Flowers that otherwise would have remained hidden.

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     My wife Cheryl and I settled on a two-week British adventure: one week in London and a second week driving around southern England.

     Despite having driven in England once before, doubts started to creep into my thoughts about one minute after booking the trip. Would a 64-year-old brain still retain the ability to drive on the left acquired years ago? The answer turned out to be “sort of.”

     At the end of our week in London, we picked up our car at Heathrow. All went swimmingly and we were soon sitting in a lovely little Kia Cee’d heading for the multilane M25 motorway.

     I was still nervous and a little rusty. Cheryl, however, was very nervous being disoriented by the 180° switch in perspective and alarmed at my apparent inability to keep the car a safe distance from the curb.

     After hearing “you’re too close, you’re too close!” several times, I seemed to be getting my bearings. But then, less than five minutes into our trip and about ten seconds after Cheryl encouragingly told me “you’re doing really well”, I missed a slight curve in the road and drove the Kia up and over a raised curb that punctured the left front tire.

     The rapidly flapping and clanking sound coming from the left suggested we were now well beyond the flat tire stage and quickly verging on the driving on a rim stage. I finally stopped the car on a busy off ramp.

     I got out and examined the left front tire which was no longer a tire but more a large black pretzel twisted around and over the wheel rim. What right-hand drive confidence I had possessed mere minutes ago had entirely dissipated and I was wishing for nothing more than a rescue from this motoring nightmare.

     Luckily, the rescue came. Cheryl called the rental car emergency number and managed to arrange for roadside assistance. Within twenty minutes, not one but two Royal Automobile Club vans appeared to remove the dead tire and replace it with the temporary spare from the trunk.

     Somehow we made it back to the rental car lot where we dropped off the crippled car, completed an accident report form and surprisingly were given another car to drive. We headed out again, this time with a brand new Ford Focus with all four tires. Before I knew it, we were on the M25 heading east.

     Eventually, we made it to our first B& B in Hawkhurst, a small village in Kent. After a fitful night of sleep, I felt somewhat prepared for another day of driving. After all, we were staying in Hawkhurst for two nights and would only be making relatively short daytrips to local historical sites. I assumed the driving would be somewhat easier. It turned out I was wrong.

     As we drove onto smaller and smaller roads, they became narrower as shoulders disappeared and were replaced by hedges, stone fences and hedge-covered stone fences. When we passed through small towns and villages, the navigating became even trickier with local vehicles parked right on the street.

     Savvy drivers knew when they could make it unscathed past parked cars and, when they couldn’t, they stopped and waited for the opposite lane to clear before proceeding. I thought I was catching on to this space-judging thing until I errantly tried to squeeze by oncoming traffic and a line of parked cars taking up half my lane.

     Just as Cheryl shouted “watch out!”, I heard a dull thud. Our passenger side mirror had taken a swipe at the driver’s side mirror of a parked car as we passed and I feared the worst. Luckily, both mirrors collapsed but didn’t break. Ours suffered nothing more than a slight black mark but my driving confidence took another big hit.

      The next six days were a blur of narrow roads, roundabouts and hedge-covered stone fences but somehow I survived. At the end, thanks to Cheryl’s now expert navigating skills, I even managed to safely exit the M25 and find the rental car lot.

     At first, I swore that I would never again attempt driving in England. Yet after a couple of weeks, like the mother who suffers through childbirth, I was quickly starting to forget the pain and stress of my British driving experience and entertaining the possibility of doing it again.

 

     Why not? The next time we wouldn’t undertake as extensive an itinerary, we’d book a minimum of three nights at each B&B and Cheryl could take on some of the driving duties. Maybe we’d even rent a car right away after getting off the plane at Heathrow and drive straight to Cornwall in one five-hour mad dash. Then again…..

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Sometimes it is the thought of imminent fear, not fear itself, that stops us in our tracks. To think of this possibility is one thing, to experience it is another. Two hundred and seventy five stairs didn’t seem bad , I wanted to take a chance.

The guide lady had said fitness was required to climb up the cathedral’s tower. Fitness, not only strong bones but a strong heart too. I had been warned but as usual I didn’t listen.  When silly questions shot out of me without permission, our middle aged guide answered. She told me against climbing under fear’s influence.

 If there’s one downside to being young and stubborn it is this; you don’t know better until you are in the deep or until you find yourself cooped up, hyperventilating on a loop staircase going upwards, latching to sanity by the rail’s metal.

 I blame my curiosity and gothic architecture for my unfortunate halt. It was March, rain was thrashing the streets and the York Minster tempted my senses.  The gargoyles and sculptures, staring down at the passersby’s  bobbing dark umbrellas lured me inside. I had to see to believe their stares were meant to ward off devil, legends claimed. Once inside, warm candle light and a circular stained glass window made me pause. The window was much like the postcards my late grandfather sent me when he visited the Notre Dame in Paris, an odd familiarity. It was reverence coupled with human enthusiasm for recreating beauty, the fumbling of the past against the present.

The ticketing officer brought me out from my childhood when he asked if I was interested in touring the central tower. It was meters above earth, promising an unforgettable view of York and the north cities off the horizon. Fearless, I had agreed.

An hour later I was silently cursing myself, my bravery and stupidity. There I was then, halfway between heaven and earth rationalizing with myself the need to finish the climb. Despite the vertigo that settled comfortably in my limbs first, despite stalling the line of movers, climbers, fearless beings.  I sat on a window vault, heaving. The circular walls  around me closed in. On them was ink and carvings. Initials, promises and assertions of visits.  Dates and names to those who passed before me. We leave our legacy in stone, with stone we cannot erode. I thought of pulling out a pen, I couldn’t yet move my fingers.

‘I am scared too, you are not alone.’ called a lady who stopped by my feet, heaving.

I nodded hysterically.  ‘I’ll stay with you,’ she added.

One step, two steps, three steps, breath.

Four steps, five steps, a gentler heart beat then wind.

‘I can see light,’ I said.

‘I know,’ the lady panted.

I’ve climbed many towers since then but I can never forget the wind fondling my hair and the intense, epileptic rush in my legs. The rooftops donned in red bricks. There were other cities off the horizon, there were treetops and people as small as ants. There were bell chimes from the adjunct tower sending waves down my spine. There was a photograph of my face whiter than the clouds.

If there’s one downside to being young and stubborn it is this; you don’t know better until you are on top of the tower, breathing a lungful of midday mist and midday chimes. Fearless.

 

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Corinthia Hotel St Georges Bay, Malta

Does your New Year’s Resolution include travel? I want to go to the Corinthia Hotel St Georges Bay Malta and have dinner outside. This picture is practically making me drool! I have never been to Malta and I think I just might book by March 31, 2015  and stay at this luxury hotel for 50% off!

Corinthia Hotel Budapest
Corinthia Hotel Budapest

I loved my visit to Budapest but I did not stay here at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest. I have not been in Europe for awhile and this sale is making me think it is time to return. Wandering the streets in Europe after growing up in California has always made me feel that history books have come to life. Maybe that is what I need to do next.

Corinthia Hotel Lisbon
Corinthia Hotel Lisbon

During my seven years of sailing the seven seas, I only spent one day in Portugal in the city of Lisbon. Returning there is on the top of my list of dreams. Staying at the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon for 50% off seems like a great match!

Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg
Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg

During one summer at sea, I spent many afternoons at St Catherine’s Palace in the gardens whenever we had a call in St. Petersburg. I remember the golden statues and it seems fitting to stay at the Corinthia St Petersburg with such a stunning lobby. I have to admit I am only going back there in summer!

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If you dream about Big Ben in London, stay three nights but only pay for two at Corinthia Hotel London  thanks to the Corinthia Hotels Annual Sale.

Where will your dreams take you in 2015? Share your top wishes below–they might come true!

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After finishing college I couldn’t stay in the countryside any longer. I was living in a county full of people whose idea of culture is drinking cider and comparing tractors. I needed out.

            At the time London seemed like the center of the world. Every time I had taken a day trip there I felt a buzz of excitement riding on actual buses with two floors, instead of the coaches we referred to as buses in Somerset. I would stand on the left side of the escalators (the biggest pet-peeve of any Londoner) and gawk at the advertisements for plays and events going on around London before arriving at the underground, which at the time seemed like more of an experience than an actual means of transport.

            The move to London meant freedom from the boredom of the countryside as a teenager. Freedom to do what I wanted and be what I wanted.

            The move was initially a huge shock to my system and people from countries I’d never heard of speaking languages I didn’t know existed suddenly surrounded me. I felt like I had been living in a bubble my entire life and somebody had just let me out. I began to absorb the concept of the world in all its entirety by watching and listening to the diverse masses of London talk and pray and dance and sing and live. I watched life unfold in all its different ways and felt myself grow.

            There are so many different sorts of people in London who are there for so many different reasons. So many potential friends and lovers and enemies. I savored the vast anonymousness of it and at the same time I basked in the knowledge London offered me the potential to become anything and everything I dreamed of. 

            Whatever mood I was in London responded; exhibitions, parties, parks, museums. A lot of it was free. A lot of it was incredibly overpriced. I felt strength from the knowledge and experience I was gaining simply by being in a place. There’s so much to discover by just wandering and taking buses to the edge of the city and back again. Always new sights and experiences and people to meet.

Although now I have chosen to move onto different places, London started a fire in me that is still burning alight now. I spent three years there witnessing my ambitions and dreams grow and London hardening me to the ways of the world. By the end of my time there I had grown into a sort of dependency that was difficult to let go of, and although I’m longer in London, London is still a part of me.

 

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