Category: Travel-tastic

Cheers, Steve!

I had an email from the CEO and co-founder of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer, the other day – thanking me for posting my 150th review. Wasn’t that nice?!TripAdvisor logoNow, the cynics amongst you might think that this was a computer generated email because Steve Kaufer is far too busy and important to email ickle ol’ me. But I like to think otherwise.

On a serious note, TripAdvisor is a site I rely heavily on when planning trips and I really value the insight shared by other travellers. I never book a hotel without referring to TripAdvisor as it’s a great way to get real people’s opinions, and I think it’s important to contribute as well.

A while ago I posted my top 5 tips for writing a TripAdvisor review. You can read them here.

I recently found out that you can also review flights on TripAdvisor, so have been doing that too. I couldn’t speak highly enough about Malaysia Airlines after our trip to Penang (read about that herehere, here, here, and here) and Kuala Lumpur (read about that here, here, and here) – the service, comfort and food were all faultless. On the flip side, our flights to and from Greece (trip report here and here) with Thomas Cook were really uncomfortable; all squished in with hardly and leg room or arm room. Ironically the inflight magazine boasted how all of the fleet were now lots more comfortable with great inflight entertainment – not on our metal bird they weren’t! I reviewed both honestly and truthfully, to give future travellers an idea of what to expect.

TripAdvisor has also been instrumental in planning our trip to Rome for my 40th birthday, and our trip to Santorini for our 10th wedding anniversary next year. Super exciting!

Are you a TripAdvisor fan? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

 

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A weekend in Whitby – part 2

Whitby is easily “doable” on foot, which meant we could park up at our B&B on Saturday and not have to use the car again until we set off for home 2 days later. As I mentioned in my part 1 blog post, Whitby is situated on two sides of the river Esk, with attractions on both East Cliff and West Cliff, and our B&B was on West Cliff, a 5 minute walk from the harbour.

After a chilled Saturday afternoon of fish and chips, ice cream, amusement arcades and a live pub band in the evening, we set off with intent early on Sunday morning to see the sights. It was a beautiful morning with bright blue skies, the sea was sparkling and, with a spring in our step, we crossed the bridge over to the East Cliff side of town and headed for Whitby Abbey.

The cobbled streets were deserted as we followed the signs for the 199 steps which climb to the top of East Cliff, through St Mary’s churchyard, and towards the abbey ruins. I didn’t count the steps on the way up, I was too busy gasping for breath and willing my lungs not to collapse, but I did get a few pics looking over the town.

At the top of the steps the churchyard looms large, with it’s ancient gravestones all worn away and gnarly from years of exposure to the elements of sun, wind and rain. I can imagine it would be quite eerie on a grey day, but the blue sky was perfect for taking some photographs and enjoying the best of the morning.

The Abbey had only been open for about 15 minutes when we arrived, which meant that we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We declined the audio guide, preferring instead just to wander at our own pace and marvel at the sheer size, scale and detail of the architecture. It’s very impressive. I always find things like this pretty mind blowing when you consider how old they are and that modern machinery and construction didn’t exist when they were built. The weather conditions were just perfect for photographs, so I took a lot!

Whitby Abbey

Look, it’s me!

Me at Whitby Abbey

After a slow meander back down through the gravestones and the 199 steps (still not counting!) we crossed over to West Cliff, and headed towards the beach.

At low tide the beach is accessible from sea level, across and round the rocks, but we had to climb up the hill and back down again, much to the sorrow of our already aching lower limbs! The whalebone arch is another Whitby tourist attraction, and is an actual whalebone – the 15ft jaw of a Bowhead whale shared with Whitby from Canada.

Whalebone arch Whitby

Whitby has a history of whaling, whereby all parts of the caught whales were used in industry – skin for leather, blubber for oil, etc; and also has a strong maritime connection, being the home of the infamous Captain Cook who moved to the town as a fishing apprentice in his teens. All of the boats used in his great journeys of discovery were built in Whitby, and there’s a statue of him on the same site as the whalebone arch, looking out to sea.

We were thrilled by the colourful beach huts!

Beach huts Whitby

And stood soaking in the rhythmic to and fro of the sea. It’s just so calming, don’t you think?

There were some crazy people having a paddle; I know I said the weather was unseasonably good, but I can’t imagine the sea would be very pleasant in mid October!

We stopped off to play the 2 pence machines in the amusement arcades – a must on any visit to the seaside – before walking along the pier out towards the sea. Imagine my delight when I saw that the lighthouse was open to the public!

Whitby lighthouse

I’ve never been up a lighthouse, you don’t get many of them in landlocked Birmingham! I gladly handed over my £1.50 (such a bargain, it’s cheaper up North) and began the climb. Not gonna lie, it wasn’t that much fun, it made me very dizzy (it’s a small and narrow lighthouse with nothing but steps inside, so you just go round and round and round) and very out of breath, but it was worth it at the top for 360 degree views across Whitby and out to sea.

There was a hairy moment on the way back down when we had to cross paths with people who were climbing up (think about a very narrow spiral staircase with wedged steps and two humans going in opposite directions) but it was well worth it, and something I will always look back on with a smile.

Feeling like true seamen (snigger) we then decided to follow in Captain Cook’s footsteps and head out on the open water. There are lots of pleasure boat trips moored up on West Cliff offering a 25 minute trip out of the bay for the princely sum of just £3, and we settled on a traditional wooden looking boat with a pirate flag!

The trip was both bracing and informative, with details of Captain Cook’s background, voyages, and eventual demise at the hands of Hawaiian natives in 1779. The boat was a 40% size replica of the Endeavour, used by Cook in his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand from 1769 to 1771.

We rounded off our day with the most delicious late lunch at the Abbey Wharf restaurant (read about that in my part 1 blog post), enjoying the last of the afternoon sunshine and congratulating ourselves on having the best time!

I would 100% recommend Whitby for a weekend away; there’s enough to do to keep you occupied without feeling overwhelmed or rushed, and the seafood alone is worth the journey.

Plus, it’s very pretty by night too! (photo credit to the husband)

Whitby at night

Whitby harbour at night

Thanks Whitby, we loved you.

Read part 1 of my trip review here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A weekend in Whitby – part 1

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that part of my birthday present from the husband last year was a weekend in Whitby. You don’t remember? You don’t memorise every post I ever share? I’m disappointed…

Anyway, with getting our flat ready to sell (i.e. painting everything shiny new and hiding all the bad bits with rugs and furniture) and then moving into our new house, and then holidays and general stuff, I only got around to cashing in my trip the weekend before last, having booked it a few weeks before. If you follow me on Instagram (what do you mean, you don’t? More disappointment…) you’ll already know a bit about my trip.

Headline – it was AMAZING! Seriously one of the best weekends away I’ve had in absolutely ages. I didn’t stop grinning like a loon and making happy noises all weekend. Of course, the fact that we had great (if unseasonal) weather helped a lot, because while the British seaside in the sunshine is quaint and enjoyable, in rain and cold it just involves dodging from amusement arcade to amusement arcade and stocking up at the off licence before snuggling in bed back at your B&B.

Where we stayed

The British seaside is rife with B&Bs, which can range from delightful boutique rooms to out and out scabholes (I’ve stayed in both types, over the years). Using Whitby’s association with Dracula as a basis for our stay, the husband suggested Bats & Broomsticks which is a themed B&B without being tacky or cheesy. With only 3 bedrooms it has a cosy homely feel (as homely as a room with a four poster bed and a bat hanging from it can feel!) and the décor is incredible; moody, gothic, snakeskin wallpaper, wooden fireplaces, stone gargoyles, leopard print towels, a basement breakfast room where a beautifully cooked full English breakfast is served by candlelight and eaten with cutlery with grim reaper carved metal handles. Very quirky, certainly an experience (a good one!) and it’s position at the top of a hill gave our legs a good workout too.

Where we ate

Fish and chips at the seaside is practically the law, and Whitby apparently has 2 entries in the top 20 fish and chip shops in the country in 2017. However, with the good weather on Saturday came lots of day trippers and tourists (like ourselves) which meant long queues and few spare benches or places to sit and enjoy our national dish. So, instead, we took position on an outdoor terrace at The Pier Inn, overlooking the bay, and had pub fish and chips, which was so so good (which shouldn’t have been a surprise; if you’re positioned by the sea you have to make sure your seafood game is strong).

On Sunday we ate at Abbey Wharf, on the opposite side of the bay, again sat outside on their upstairs terrace, and both ordered their seafood paella off the specials menu. It’s a dish that will live on in my memory for a long long time; huge chunks of white fish, salmon, giant prawns and so many mussels that we built a jenga style tower of shells by the end of our meal, all encompassed in creamy flavoursome rice. Just stunning.

I’ll tell you more about what we got up to in another post (I have a lot of pictures and stuff to say!) so look out for that. Until then, here are some photographs I took in the town.

Seagulls are rife, as you’d expect, which is another reason it made sense not to get fish and chips and sit on a bench! (we saw one man get swooped upon from a great height, and I don’t share food!) and you can just smell the sea. The town is on two sides of the port, connected by a bridge. West Cliff has a big beach and is probably more touristy (traditional amusement arcades and fish and chip shops), while East Cliff has quaint cobbled streets, cute shops and the Abbey. More on that next time!

Have you ever been to Whitby? Do you like the British seaside?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A day out in the Mani Peninsula, Greece – part 2

After spending the morning visiting the Diros Caves and Gythio, we started heading back towards Stoupa, planning to stop at Areopoli on the way. Areopoli is a small mountain village with typical stone houses, small winding streets and small nooks and crannies. There’s very little to do there, and wandering round doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes (even with photos) but it’s a super quaint and picturesque place that we were very happy we visited.

Take a look for yourself!

Isn’t bougainvillea just the prettiest flower? I wish it would grow in the UK, I’d cover my house in it!

Imagine having this little nook to swing in?

Areopoli archway swing

 

I loved the umbrella avenue. These had actual lightbulbs in, I bet they look so pretty at night.

With the afternoon heading towards evening, we started the long winding mountain drive back to Stoupa, having had a fabulous day, but somewhat relieved that the mountain driving on the opposite side of the road was over!

Read part 1 of our day out in the Mani here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A day out in the Greek Mani Peninsula – part 1

Despite having been to Stoupa 4 times previously, I’ve never really explored any of the surrounding area (unless you count the 2km coastal path walk to the neighbouring village of Aghios Nikolaos). I’ve read many times that that the scenery is incredible, but I choose not to drive when I’m overseas (never done it) and the public transport is nigh on non existent (there are 4 buses a day which run on GMT – Greek Maybe Time, I kid you not!)

On this year’s trip, however, I decided to bite the bullet, hire a car, and get out and about.

I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. Not quite as nervous as the husband (who, until a few days before, had said he wouldn’t come in a car with me driving “on the wrong side of the road”). He’s not a great passenger in the UK, so on unfamiliar winding mountain roads (and I mean winding), with sheer cliff drops and crazy Greek drivers overtaking on bends, he was something of a nervous wreck!

First stop, about an hour’s drive from Stoupa, was the Caves of Diros.

I first went to the Caves of Diros with my Dad on my first visit to Stoupa many years ago. We went on an organised coach trip, which I always find quite restrictive because you have to stick to a set timetable, and there’s lots of people on the coach, and the bendy roads can feel quite sickly in a big vehicle. This time we went at our own speed, stopping on the way to take come photographs from the top of the mountain. The colour of the sea in this part of Greece is just incredible, it looks photoshopped, even to the naked eye.

After a winding descent we followed the signs to the caves, spotting some beautiful ceramic shops along the side of the road.

The journey through the caves is done on a small rowing boat carrying up to 7 people and the man in charge. It takes about half an hour and covers 2.5km. At times you really have to duck down so as not to hit your head on the rock formations above, and the boat can be a little wobbly in the water, which is crystal clear below. It’s hard to comprehend that you’re looking at millions of years of stalagmite and stalactite formations.

I tried to get some pics, which was difficult because of the lighting and the momentum of the boat, but you can get an idea of how impressive they are from the handful that turned out ok!

When you leave the boat you walk through another lengthy stretch of caves, before coming out into the bright sunshine and the aqua sea and bobbing boats of Diros Bay.

On leaving Diros, we headed from one side of the peninsula to the other to the seaside town of Gythio, which had been recommended to me as a pretty place to visit. Gythio is a harbour town with some cosmopolitan seaside restaurants and bars, and pretty coloured buildings. It was fairly quiet when we were there, during the heat of the day, but we had a little wander and some lunch. For me it had more of an Italianate feel than Greek, with the pastel buildings and the intricate balconies, but it was nice to sit right on the seafront and have some food and a refreshing drink.

By now it was early afternoon and time to start heading back towards Stoupa, with a stop at Areopoli planned on the way. More on that next time!

Have you been to mainland Greece? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A week in Greece

Last week I flew to my happy place in Greece, a small village called Stoupa; nestled in the base of the mountains on the Mani Peninsula. I first blogged about Stoupa here. Whilst I’m not usually a fan of going back to the same place multiple times (it’s a big wide world out there, after all) there’s something to be said for finding a place in which you’re completely at ease, completely relaxed in an instant, with incredible food, scenery and people.

That place, for me, is Stoupa. Which is why I’ve been there 5 times.

It’s testament to the village that it’s hardly changed at all since I first went there around 16 years ago! And that’s the appeal of the place. Whereas holidays, for me, are often about exploring and finding where everything is, the beauty of Stoupa is that you already know everything there is to know. It’s like putting on a comfy jumper and cosy slippers.

I first went with my Dad, then my Dad and his wife went, then my husband and I went and so, after my Dad died last year, it seemed fitting that his wife, me and the husband would all go together, as we all love it so much.

With no further ado, here are my pics!

Do you have a favourite place in the world where you feel instantly relaxed and at home?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A visit to Batu Caves, Malaysia (aka the day I got punched by a monkey)

About a 45 minute train journey from Kuala Lumpur is the town of Batu, home to the Batu Caves. Have to admit I wasn’t even aware of them until Hannah International blogged about them, but they were immediately on our list of things to see whilst in Malaysia.

Train and Metro travel in KL was very straightforward, clean, reliable and cheap – we could probably learn something from them here in the UK! So we bought our tickets, hopped onboard, and headed off to Batu.

There’s no way to miss the site of the caves when you leave the train, because pretty much everyone is going the same way, and you can see them from the train station anyway.

The site comprises of 3 cave temples. We started in the Ramayana Cave, which was only consecrated as recently as November 2001. Passing a 50ft tall statue of Hanuham, inside the cave is very picturesque, with paintings and fairy lights that depict the story of Rama.

A short walk from the Ramayana cave is the main Temple Cave, which is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. The limestone forming the caves is said to be around 400 million years old, but the main cave (the Temple Cave) has only been a dedicated temple and place of worship since 1890 when a consecrated statue of Sri Murugan Swarmi was erected. The current statue stands at 140ft high, and is the world’s tallest Murugan statue; costing 24 million rupees (approx. £300,000) and being made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint (thanks Wikipedia!)

There’s currently a lot of construction work happening, both in the prayer area outside of the cave, and in the cave itself, so there was a lot of scaffolding and abandoned piles of bricks (it would seem that the Malaysian approach to health and safety is very different to Western cultures!)

There are 272 steps up to the Temple Cave, and we felt every single one! There are macaque monkeys everywhere; climbing the vertical face of the limestone, climbing the stairs, and sitting on pillars almost like statues. They’re very tame and have obviously learnt to scavenge food from tourists over the years. They can be seen picking up empty food wrappers and eating from them, as well as accepting food from visitors.

Inside the first cave are Hindu shrines, and yet more steps leading through to the cathedral cave which has an opening to the sky. Inside is very damp and dank, again with questionable building work going on.

The trouble with 272 steps to the top is…you guessed it…the same amount to come back down. Ouch!

Batu Caves looking down

It was well worth the visit, obviously not from a religious point of view (for us) but the colours and the imagery and the natural caves were incredible.

So, now you’ve got this far, I suppose you want to know about the monkey incident I referred to in the post title? Go on then…

I was taking some pics of the macaque monkeys, which as I mentioned were very tame and seemingly fairly placid. So the husband asked if I wanted to be in a photograph with one of them. I thought it would make a fun pic if I leaned towards it, as if I was blowing it a kiss. Monkey had other ideas – he screeched and lashed out at me, properly boshed me one and scratched my cheek! Luckily for me (!!!) the husband managed to catch the aftermath on his camera. Thanks husband!

Batu Caves monkey punch

Look at the venom on that primates face!

You can read my previous Malaysia trip posts here, here, here, here, here and here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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What we got up to in Kuala Lumpur – part 2

As well as generally walking around the city, eating from random food stalls under bridges and getting a bit lost on the metro, here’s what else we got up to during our time in Kuala Lumpur.

Little India

Like GeorgeTown in Penang, Kuala Lumpur has a Little India region in the Brickfields area of the city. The first time we visited was at night time, in search of curry, and also expecting street food stalls. The area was strangely deserted, which we thought odd, but on the plus side we found a great restaurant where the husband had what he declared to be one of the best vindaloos he’s ever had. We headed back there during the daytime, again looking for the elusive food stalls, but a combination of tiredness and lots of rain put paid to any major exploring of the area.

Inside the PETRONAS Towers

The first thing we were struck by was the high level of security – bags have to be scanned through an airport style scanner and large bags checked in to a cloakroom. Everyone has to go through an airport style body scan and there are only a certain amount of people (probably about 40) in each group, which is colour coded. You have to stay within your group at all times so the visit is more regimented than at KL Tower but it does make for a better flow and quicker exit! First stop is the skybridge.

Entrance to the Sky Bridge Petronas Towers

Interesting fact – the bridge is not securely connected to either of the towers! Because of the height of the buildings and the need for them to have a degree of movement in strong winds there is leeway for the bridge to move in and out of the towers at the point where it connects them, which sounds more alarming than it actually is! Also, the bridge is 2 stories high – one used for tourists and the other used for people who work in the offices to move from one tower to the other. Next stop is the viewing platform, which is as high as you can go in the building, but this was a bit of an anti climax after the open air views from the KL Tower, because the top of the PETRONAS Tower is enclosed by glass and has lots of steel structural supports on the outside. We were glad we went up but, for us, the towers were far more impressive from the outside than the inside.

ChinaTown – Jalan Petaling

This again was an evening visit and by now the husband was all walked out, Chinese fooded out and shopped out, so our visit was fairly brief. We bought a few bits in the market and had food at a street restaurant but I chose well and he didn’t and the experience wasn’t that great so we didn’t hang around very long.

Thean Hou temple

This was our last stop during our 3 days in KL and the rain was absolutely torrential. It’s outside of the centre and not easily reachable by public transport, so we took a cab up into the hills and were dropped off at an eyeball pleasing site of reds and golds and beautiful lanterns.

Unfortunately there are areas of the temple which aren’t undercover and had become slightly flooded and the rain was bouncing off the floor so we couldn’t explore the gardens properly but it was such a beautiful, peaceful and serene place. I loved the strings of lanterns and can only imagine how beautiful it is at night when it’s all lit up. The temple hosts weddings regularly and is also a mecca for the city during Chinese religious festivals.

Read Part 1 of my Kuala Lumpur trip here.

Would I recommend Kuala Lumpur? Absolutely! It’s a fascinating city of old and new, many districts and religions and foods and we had a great time. As part of a 2 centre holiday though, like ours, I’d recommend hitting KL first and then Penang. We found that the fast pace of city life after our 5 days in chilled out Batu Ferringhi was quite exhausting and because everything in Penang was so fantastic, we compared KL to it sometimes unfavourably, which is totally unfair. Perhaps, also, just 3 days wasn’t long enough to do everything at our own pace rather than cramming it all in, and it meant that we had to crack on and see stuff even in the rain because we didn’t have time to waste waiting for it to dry up!

Read about the first part of our Malaysia visit, to Penang here, here and here.

Have you ever been to Kuala Lumpur? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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What we got up to in Kuala Lumpur – part 1

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur mid afternoon on a Friday and took a taxi from the airport to the city. There are two options when you buy your taxi voucher in the arrivals hall – metered taxi or fixed rate. I asked which would be the better option and was told it depends whether you want to take a risk with traffic (!!) so we decided on a fixed fee which was the right decision. The journey from the airport to the city took over an hour (it’s quite away a way from the centre) and when we got towards our hotel we were snarled up in gridlock traffic which would definitely have taken it’s toll on the fee meter.

We were staying in the Hotel Berjaya Times Square, in the Bukit Bintang region of the city, which is a huge place connected to a huge shopping mall (I’ll review the hotel separately). Our room on the 25th floor afforded us views of the storm that was rolling in, and we feared we may not be able to get out to explore that evening due to the torrential rain that coincided with our arrival. Luckily it subsided by evening, and off we went to Jalan Alor; a renowned street of hawker food stalls which is touted as a must visit in KL.

Have to say we were disappointed. After some exceptional food experiences in Batu Ferringhi, Jalan Alor was overly busy, overly samey and not overly appealing. We initially settled on a brightly lit restaurant which randomly had a Christmas tree in the corner, and ordered a selection of food…which never came.

We watched other diners arrive, eat and leave, and still we sat there. Every time we enquired on the whereabouts of our food we were told “it’s coming” then, finally, after about 40 minutes, they bought out just one of our dishes and it was completely wrong! By mutual agreement with the waiters we left and went searching for another place, eating a very tasty beef dish, but by then it was late and the experience was somewhat soured. There was nothing about Jalan Alor that made us want to return, and I think this is because it paled to anything we’d experienced in Penang.

Rising bright and early the following morning we were greeted by bright sunshine and blue skies, so we set off to arguably KL’s most famous landmark – the PETRONAS Twin Towers. We found our way to the city centre and then entered a stunning high end beautifully air conditioned shopping mall, from where we tracked down the Bukit Bintang covered walkway which is a direct and safe way to cross the city and reach the towers. I was very much looking forward to seeing them but didn’t expect to be as overwhelmed as I was by them – they were absolutely incredible. The shape, the symmetry, the way the metal and glass structure glinted in the sun, just wow.

 

We took far too many photos, oohed and aahed a huge amount and had a wander round KLCC park which is at the back of the towers took some more photos.

We tried and failed to get tickets to go to the top (fully booked, we booked them for another day) then headed off to find the Menara KL Tower and try our luck at ascending that.

Although KL Tower isn’t as tall as the twin towers, it’s actually higher with better views due to it’s elevated position on a hill. Because it’s so high and so distinctive you can use it as a navigational point even if you don’t know where you’re going, so we wandered through the streets, occasionally referring to the map and sweating profusely in the midday heat and humidity.

Unlike the Twin Towers, which have usable space on every floor, the KL Tower is a needle design with a narrow body and 2 wide round viewing platforms at the top – one open air (the highest point) and one enclosed (a few metres below). There’s a few ringgit difference, pricewise, between the two viewing platforms, but why would you go all that way and then not go to the very top? Strangely quite a few people did, which seems odd to me, and certainly wasn’t an option for us.

The rounded open air viewing platform gives 360 degree views across KL and the surrounding areas, including across to the Twin Towers.

It also has two Sky Boxes – glass structures built to stand out from the side of the platform, overlooking the ground below. You can stand in the glass box and get photos taken which was very cool, although I imagine someone with a fear of heights might go a bit wobbly legged! I found it incredible and well worth queuing 10 minutes for.

The only negative to our visit to KL Tower was that, after being on the Sky Deck, you then have to go down to the enclosed observation deck (which seems pointless when you’ve already seen the best views from a higher level) and we had to queue for around 20 minutes for a lift back down – the queue snaked half way round the space. It would be better to manage the number of people up there at any one time and keep the exiting procedure shorter and less frustrating.

In the evening we headed back to the PETRONAS Twin Towers to see the fountain light show on the lake behind the towers, and once again we were awestruck. The towers are all lit up at night, and with the backdrop of the night sky they’re almost more impressive than during the day.

The lightshow and fountains, which are set to music, are beautiful and mesmerising and everything was just wonderful!

More about KL in my next post!

Missed out on posts about the earlier part of our trip, Penang? Read about it here, here and here

Thanks, as always for reading! x

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The Big 4-0: Where to Go?

I’ll be 40 in December. 5 months today, in fact.

40 mug

I’ll spare you all the “how did that happen” bollocks, all the “I still feel like I’m in my 20s” bollocks and all the “if I could do it all over again” bollocks, because a) it’s bollocks, b) it’s dull and c) it’s pretty obvious! It happened, because life. I don’t know how old I feel, really, because I don’t know how 40 is supposed to feel, but I certainly don’t act how I think 40 year old grown ups acted when I was a kid. And I wouldn’t do it all over again, thanks. I’m very happy and settled in my life, with myself, with my relationship and with my home, compared to school years and early 20s which were a troubled cocktail of confusion at times!

The biggest issue I have with turning 40 at the moment (and I reserve the right to change this to sheer panic as the date gets closer!) is how to celebrate. More specifically where to celebrate. I’m not a party type person. Not to say I don’t like parties, or social occasions, or fun (I do, and I excel at them, at least in my own head!) but the thought of having a party for me just ticks no boxes at all. If anyone were to organise a surprise party for me I would be livid. It would also be pretty impossible anyway, because my birthday is on 20th December and people tend to be so caught up in Christmas parties/works parties/shopping/visiting family/spending money on presents that there isn’t necessarily room for ickle old me in their plans (this is not a pity statement in anyway, I’m cool with it, I’ve had 39 years to be ok with it and the people that matter always make a fuss regardless).

So, back to the impending 40th. I know it’s just another day, and another year older, and nothing will change, but somehow it feels like I should do something a bit special. And I have always thought/expected that something special would involve a trip. A holiday. And I always wanted the destination to be Goa or New York.

Now the time has come to make plans though, neither of those are really feasible. There’s the proximity to Christmas, obvs. I don’t want to be away over Christmas, because that’s family time, which therefore means travelling before Christmas and having a really long Christmas holiday which neither my bank balance or waistline would thank me for. Also, with moving house this year, annual leave is at a premium i.e I don’t have enough left to take time off for a long haul trip (that’s Goa out of the question). And New York would be incredibly cold (although pretty) and what if we got snowed in and couldn’t get home for Christmas Day? Too risky.

I suppose I could plan the trip for January, but it’s not my birthday then, so…

This leaves me the option of Europe. And while there are heaps of places I want to go in Europe, most of them lend themselves to summer. Lisbon? Summer. Seville? Summer. Dubrovnik? Summer. I’ve been to Prague, and I’ve been to Budapest (for my 30th). Flight timetables tend to be less regular as Christmas gets closer and the limited annual leave I have left gives only a couple of days window of opportunity to fly.

My first thought was Amsterdam. I do want to go there, but don’t really link it with any particular season in my head, so it seemed like a decent idea. It’s a short flight from the UK and there are lots of airlines serving Schipol airport. But the husband said he thinks of it as more of a warm days/light nights destination for wandering the streets and sitting outside street cafes, so the idea was shelved.

So far the frontrunner is now Rome. It has enough epicness to be worthy of a 40th birthday (History? Check! Architecture? Check! Food & wine? Check, check, check!) It’s close enough to fly to for just a few days; the last few years have been surprisingly mild in December, and it will probably be less busy than high season which means shorter queues for attractions, more choice of hotels and less crowded restaurants. I like the idea of hunkering down eating steaming bowls of pasta and sipping red wine in cosy cafes in between marvelling at the Coliseum, St Peters Basilica and the Spanish Steps. There’s an early morning flight from Manchester on the day of my birthday, which would be a pretty exciting start to the celebrations, and the flight home leaves us enough time for last minute preparations before Christmas Day.

Part of me thinks I’m being selfish wanting to be away so close to Christmas, when we’ll already have lots of stuff to do. But then the spoilt brat in me thinks it’s not my fault I was born so close to Christmas (thanks, Mom!) and that if my birthday was any other time of year there’s be no issue in going on a trip. I’m already kinda compromising… (told you, spoilt brat!)

What do you guys think? Should I plough on regardless? Wait til January? Is Rome a good idea or do you have any other suggestions? Help an aging girl out…!!

Thanks, as always, for reading x

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