Travel plans for 2019

Travel plans 2019 - hand holding small globe

I’m the kind of person who is pretty much always a year ahead with travel plans, because there are so many places I want to see. It’s rare to start a new year with no clue of where we’re going – the bones are usually in place and I’m already thinking ahead to the following year. When your “to visit” list is long and your annual leave is short (in comparison), it’s inevitable you’ll think ahead.

This year was quite the exception

With the shambles that is Brexit I’ve felt wary of European travel. Neither the husband or I had any concrete “let’s do this” feelings as a result. The original front runner was our favourite place in Greece, but with rumours that Thomas Cook airlines are in some trouble, which is our only way to get there, that seemed a bit risky.

Also, as it’s my Mother in Law’s 80th birthday in June, I thought we should plan a trip with her. There’s nothing we could buy her that she doesn’t already have, and memories are so much more valuable than stuff. I know that in years to come we’ll look back happily on time together exploring a new destination. And of course we’ll have a great time while we’re there!

So, without further ado, here’s what we decided on.

March – 5 days in Lanzarote

Not a “to visit” list destination but the thought of a few days in the sun while the UK is struggling to make it’s way into Spring was very appealing! Food, drink, sleep, reading books, seafront walks and sunshine; what’s not to like? We’re going to head out into the island for the day too and visit Timanfaya National Park to see the volcanic landscape.

Travel plans 2019 Timanfaya National Park
Image from https://www.hellocanaryislands.com/

Late May – Bergen, Norway

Technically June, as we arrive at Bergen airport just after midnight on the 1st for 3 days of exploring with my Mother in Law. She mentioned to me many years ago that she would love to visit the Fjords, but was resigned to the fact she never would because the friends she goes on holiday with wouldn’t be interested. Step in the husband with her 80th birthday present! Bergen looks very pretty, with coloured wooden houses surrounding the old harbour, and a funicular railway up to Mount Floyen from where you can view the whole city below.

Travel plans 2019 - Bergen coloured houses

We’ll take the Bergen railway, considered to be one of the most beautiful and picturesque train journeys in the world, connecting with the Flam railway which holds the same accolade. We’ll do a couple of fjord cruises (details yet to be finalised) and probably get very confused by the midnight sun! I have to say that Norway has never been on my agenda. But once I started investigating it looks absolutely beautiful so I’m really looking forward to this.

September – New York baby!

Well, this one came completely out of the blue. Not that we haven’t talked about it – New York is on everyone’s list, surely? It’s just never quite made it to the top, for me, because of the cost, and the vast amount of stuff to see in a short space of time. You see, I always thought of New York as being a city break. Maybe 3-4 nights, running around like a loon, feeling the pressure from jet lag and perhaps not quite doing it justice in one trip.

But then, an email from Jack’s Flight Club advertising return Virgin flights for under £300 (not a typo) and a quick Airbnb search offering up an apartment in Greenwich Village at a very reasonable cost started the rudiments of a plan. The husband has been before and always said he’d love to go back. He wanted a slightly longer trip instead of a just a quick break. So we settled on 6 nights/7 days and that was that! I sent him a text about the flight offer at around 10.30am. By 8pm that same day we were booked!

Travel plans 2019 New York skyline
Image from TripAdvisor

We’ll do all the tourist stuff, obvs. It’s been 20 years since the husband was there, so he’ll benefit from a refresher!! Those extra couple of days will allow us the time to just hang out, eat (I’m excited for a reuben sandwich at Katz’s deli, which is right in our neighbourhood), chill, and soak up the atmosphere. Preferable to just running round like headless chickens ticking off places we need to see.

Oh, and it’s my first ever foray into the world of Airbnb, which I think could be travel-changing!

So there you have it!

Our planned and booked travels for the year 2019. None of which I would have predicted if you’d asked me this time last year. But all of which I’m super chuffed with.

Hoping to sneak in a couple of UK visits too. Every year I talk about Cornwall. So, if we get another amazing summer like last year, that may be a long weekend contender.

And then it’s time to start thinking about 2020!

Have you finalised any travel plans for 2019 yet? I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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The Making of Me on Channel 4

If you’ve seen The Making of Me it needs no introduction. If you haven’t, here’s a precis. The 3 episodes follow 9 transgender individuals in their journey from man to woman, woman to man, or in one case woman to non-binary.

There’s no way I can think of to phrase this without it sounding condescending, so I’m just going to come right out with it and hope anyone reading doesn’t misconstrue what I’m saying. I find the whole concept of transgender fascinating. I find transgender people fascinating. And that’s not in a rude way, at all. I can’t emphasise that enough. I don’t look at people with gender issues as freaks, or weird, or anything negative at all. I just find it incredible that a person can be born into a gender and realise that it’s completely wrong.

Maybe that’s why transgender people get such a bad rap. The average person on the street can’t comprehend not being who they are. Most men have never thought about wearing a dress, much less hating their penis to the point of feeling like an alien in their own body. Most women can’t imagine wishing they didn’t have breasts to the point of wanting them surgically removed.

It’s an alien feeling to most people

That doesn’t make it an unreal feeling though.

I’m a great believer that if science says something is real, then it’s real. I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe in god. I trust that the moon landings happened, and I know that the Earth isn’t flat (if you think that, then stop reading now).

So the fact that science says people can be born in the wrong body, is fact for me.

What harm is it doing anyone else?

Back to the TV program. It’s wonderfully done. Sensitively filmed. There are no gratuitous surgery or genital shots. The focus is very much on real people with real feelings. How they feel at the beginning of the process, and how they feel at the end.

Cairo – female to male transgender; previously a very attractive female model – proof that “being pretty” doesn’t make you a woman.

Andrew – female to male transgender who couldn’t wait to get a mastectomy to remove his breasts.

Karen – male to female transgender who felt so strongly about being born in the wrong body that they were willing to put their professional career on the line.

And that, for me, is the crux of all this. Being transgender isn’t easy. It’s probably the most difficult thing any of these individuals have ever done. They risk being ostracised by their family, friends and work colleagues. And yet it’s still worth it. If that doesn’t tell you that trans is real, then I don’t know what will.

Imagine everything you hold dear in life

Your career. Your partner. Your children. Then imagine telling them something that might make them turn against you. Would you risk it? Could you risk it?

In episode 2, Pete comes out to his wife as trans. She’s filmed as saying that “transitioning is very selfish”. Is it though? Isn’t it more selfish to insist that someone live a lie to satisfy the image you have of your life and future?

I don’t know. You could argue that they should never have entered into a marriage if they weren’t the person they purported to be. But, for people transitioning later in life, today’s more open, more accepting society is their chance to be who they are. And don’t we all deserve that?

For anyone who doesn’t believe in, or doesn’t agree with, people transitioning into the gender they should have been born in, I leave you with this. Jackie, previously Simon, who signs off episode one with “I can just be me all the time. I can be happy.”

And the smile of every one of the 9 brave people who took part in this filming. Compare their before and after smiles. Compare their stance and their eyes. Look at how they hold themselves.

Then tell me that transgenderism is wrong.

Go on…I dare you.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A week in Oia, Santorini

It turns out that, for the 13 years I talked about going to Santorini, what I actually wanted was to go to Oia (pronounced Ee-a).

Of course I didn’t realise that when our plane landed on the runway at Thira airport after a busy few days in Athens. I was still full of the notion that we’d get a bus to the capital Fira. Maybe visit the ancient ruins at Akrotiri. See something of the island.

Nor did I realise it during the first afternoon we headed into the village to explore. In fact, based on how busy Oia was with cruise ship tourists and day visitors, the idea of getting out of the village seemed even more appealing. We retreated to our hotel, with it’s secluded pool and traditional restaurant, and indulged in some much needed R&R following a full itinerary on the mainland.

But, as I talked about in a previous post, first impressions don’t always count.

Thanks to checking out the cruise ship schedule (all hail Tripadvisor reviews for that piece of knowledge) we knew that on day 2 there would be fewer visitors to the island, so we headed out once again and that’s when we both knew we wouldn’t be leaving this beautiful cliff top vision until it was time to go home.

Oia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to

Ever. It’s almost beyond belief. When you’re not dodging selfie sticks and crowds and arrogant wannabe models, it’s absolutely breathtaking. There’s no white sandy beach, no uninterrupted view of the horizon and no sound of the waves breaking on the coastline. Oia is built high up on a cliff, and looks out to the caldera which is dotted with islands created when the volcano erupted in 1646 BC.

The curved white Cycladic architecture is both retro and futuristic, all at once. The black lava rocks contrast dramatically with the blue sea and sky and the pink bougainvillea. The elevated position on the cliff face means you can actually see the currents in the sea below, while the sun glistens on the water like thousands of diamonds.

We ate breakfast overlooking buildings seemingly tumbling down the cliff face. Over the course of the week I never tired of the views once. I took multiple pictures of the same spots every day, because I couldn’t get enough of them. The whole village was a sight to behold.

See for yourself!

The best thing to do, surely, must be to share some photos with you? I can’t say this emphatically enough – NONE of these pictures have been changed in any way. No filters, no photoshop, just pure point and click on my camera phone.

See what I mean? Looking at these photos now just brings it all back!

At dusk twinkling lights start to appear as buildings are illuminated.

And even in the black of night the same view was illuminated by hundreds of lights giving the white architecture an ethereal glow and the plunge pools and hot tubs a bright blue hue.

I don’t think anyone could fail to be wowed by Oia. From an aesthetic point of view it’s incredible, but also from a logistical point of view – the way everything is built almost beggars belief!

Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Also yes.

If I’d only been visiting Oia rather than staying there I would have been very sorely disappointed.

Have you ever been to Oia, or Santorini? Let me know in the comments!

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The assisted dying conversation is still so important

Meadow of flowers with text "Assisted Dying"

I haven’t posted about assisted dying for a while.

OK, so I haven’t posted much of anything for a while, but let’s gloss over that!

Like many supporters of

, and believers in a change in the law to allow terminally ill people autonomy over their death, I was gutted when Noel Conway’s latest legal battle was unsuccessful in November.

Noel has been an unending powerhouse in fighting for a change in the law. Suffering with Motor Neurone disease, and wanting the assurance that he can end his own life when the disease becomes too much for him to bear, he has been through court cases and appeals, all with the support of Dignity in Dying. In November the Supreme Court – the highest in the UK – ruled that he could not appeal against an earlier ruling that he could end his life by assisted suicide at such time he deemed fit.

Dignitas

This leaves Noel in the situation of either waiting for his disease to kill him; a slow, dignity stripping and painful end, or seeking an assisted death elsewhere. The current choice of destination for Brits wanting to end their own life on their own terms is Dignitas in Switzerland.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know that my Dad wanted the option to travel to there rather than be ravaged by a late stage diagnosis of prostate cancer. What he actually wanted, underneath all of that, was what many terminally ill people want – the choice to end their life on their own terms, in their own home with their family around them, With that not being an option, Dignitas was the next best thing for him. Unfortunately his GP blocked the necessary paperwork he needed, on legal and ethical grounds, leaving Dad to face the very end that scared him most.

Geoff Whaley

Fast forward then to this week, and the heartbreaking case of Geoff Whaley and his family. Geoff too had motor neurone disease, like Noel Conway. Geoff feared the disease taking away any sense of living in his final months. Being alive is so different to living, and that wasn’t what Geoff wanted. So he made plans to travel to Dignitas and have control over his death.

I did not fear death, but I did fear the journey. When I eventually got the ‘green light’ from Dignitas, a weight lifted; I was able to get on with living without the constant mental anguish over my death.

This is the key for so many people who want the choice of assisted death. Fear hangs over them and overtakes every day – days when they could be making the most of the time they have left. My Dad was a living example of this; he was consumed by wondering how ill he would get. Would the cancer take his mobility? Would he end up bedbound? Unable to go to the bathroom? Would his death be everything he didn’t want it to be?

Horribly, for Geoff and his family, someone made an anonymous phonecall to the authorities to alert them to his plan. Imagine involving the law in a dying man’s wishes? Imagine the selfishness and self-centredness that would lead you to try and turn a dying man and his family into criminals?

Criminal charges

Because that’s one of the major issues here. Anyone who assists a person to make their way to Dignitas and end their life can face a criminal investigation and up to 14 years in prison. Geoff’s wife had made the arrangements for him because his disease had already stripped him of the use of his hands to make the calls and send the emails himself.

Thankfully, although a small mercy, the police decided not to proceed with any criminal charges. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Geoff’s final weeks were blighted by the threat of investigation and criminal charges against his family.

Geoff travelled to Switzerland with his wife, children and close friends. He ended his life independently by drinking a cup of water laced with barbiturates.

Tellingly, his wife Ann said:

I wish the law let me have him for longer.

Geoff, like so many others, had to end his life earlier than he may have wanted to because of logistics. He had to be well enough to travel to Switzerland. Had the UK law been different, Geoff would not have had to expedite his death for fear of missing the opportunity.

In a last show of strength, Geoff wrote an open letter to MPs. In it, he implores them to consider the real effects of the law on real people and real families.

No family should ever have to endure the torment we have undergone in recent weeks.

You can read the full letter here.

The reason that people like Geoff and Noel fight the fight is not for themselves. It’s for the future of other people who might find themselves in such a position. And their fight isn’t without results.

Change of heart

Although every assisted dying bill has so far been overruled in the House of Commons – the most recent being the bill brought forward by Lord Falconer in 2015, the tide is turning. Some MPs are becoming vocal in their support for a change in the law. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, who I listened to in Parliament last January as he spoke of the potential for an assisted dying law to be exploited, and therefore his inability to support it, has now come out with a very different view.

He concedes that, with safeguards in place, assisted dying could be a viable legal option for terminally ill people. He has publicly gone on record as saying he is now in support of looking at the law surrounding the controversial topic.

There’s still much to be done. Change won’t come overnight, and nor should it. But the fact that high profile cases such as Geoff’s are making politician’s think more about the situation and how they themselves might want to proceed with the same circumstances can only be a good thing.

RIP Geoff Whaley.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Changing reading habits

Changing reading habits - teddy bear reading a book

My reading habits have, as an adult, always been fairly predictable. I like fluffy chick lit. I’m not ashamed of it either. I’m more than capable of deeper, more meaningful, insightful reading. But there’s something about the cosy warmth of a book where you know, in the first few chapters, that two of the main characters will end up in a relationship. Wondering how they’ll get there but knowing they will. It’s a personal indulgence, and I rarely deviate.

18 months ago though, during our week in Greece, I did deviate! Unusually, for me, I squeezed some paperbacks into my luggage (I’m usually too laden down with shoes and have been relying on an ereader in recent years. But it’s just not the same). And our apartments had a swap bookcase, where you could leave your read books and pick up something left by another visitor. Weirdly my eye was drawn by The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.

Changing reading habits - my first thriller book (The Couple Next Door)

It didn’t give me the usual immediate squishy feels. The contrast between the high drama of the book and the relaxed nature of lying on the beach and occasionally paddling in the sea was strange, but I devoured it. I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter, the next twist, and find out what the ending would be. I always read voraciously, but in a “predictable” book (and I say that in the nicest possble way) there isn’t the same intensity and urgency.

I’ve discovered a whole new enjoyment of literature

In case you haven’t read it, the premise of The Couple Next Door is around the kidnap of a baby which has happened while the parents were next door having dinner with their neighbours. They have a baby monitor with them and they’re only footsteps away, so what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, as the book goes on to detail, with twists and turns right up until the very end. Thriller fan or not, I would definitely recommend it!

What effect have these changing reading habits had on my choice of books since? I now actively seek out thrillers as an alternative to my set ways of reading, and I have to say I can’t get enough! I stock up for bargain prices during charity shop binges so I always have a pile to get through.

Do you have a genre of choice when it comes to reading? Have you read The Couple Next Door? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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5 things I’m looking forward to in 2019

Things I'm looking forward to in 2019 - young smiling girl running through field with text "things to look forward to in 2019"

I don’t buy into the whole New Year thing. It’s just another day. A passing of time. Only the fact it comes with a new set of numbers really changes it from the year before.

That said, here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2019.

I’m going to be an Auntie!

By far the biggest thing to happen this year, my sister and her boyfriend are having a baby, due in July. I’ve already known for quite a while. I went to their private 10 week scan just before Christmas which was just beautiful.

Things I'm looking forward to in 2019 - baby scan

They’ve now had the 12 week scan and everything is as it should be. I was amazed, even at 10 weeks, to see the detail in the scan, the shape of the baby and it’s little stumpy arms and legs! As you’ll know if you’ve read this blog for a while I have no maternal feelings at all! That said, I cannot wait to be cool Auntie Kel, buying all the shoes and having fun days out with my niece or nephew.

My job

Sad but true! This sounds like bravado but it’s honestly not. Getting made redundant from my previous job last year was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It made me reassess what I want from a career, and what I want to put into it. I’ve only been in my new role since November, but already I feel more motivated than I have in a very long time. The company is very forward thinking, I’m already looking after a brand, and I know there are lots more good things ahead.

My garden

To say 2018 was the year of the garden is an understatement. Our garden makeover combined with one of the best summers I can remember in years meant I was outside as much as possible. From early barbecues in April through to planting bulbs as late as October, I took every opportunity to be in my happy place.

Things I'm looking forward to in 2019 - flowers and pots in my garden

The joy of seeing plants come to life and everything look so pretty will never fade for me. Really hoping for more of the same this year!

More holidays and seeing more new places

This will hopefully be on my list of things to look forward to until the day I die! Unusually we’ve started the new year with nothing booked or even planned. This is mainly due to the Brexit uncertainty and not knowing what effect it will have on the travel industry. That said, I am currently researching a trip to Bergen in Norway. It’s my Mother in Law’s 80th birthday in June and she’s always wanted to visit the fjords.

Things I'm looking forward to in 2019 - seeing more places (coloured houses in Bergen)

Basing ourselves in a city then doing trips out on the water seems to offer the best of both worlds, so I’m 90% sure that will happen.

As for the rest of the year…who knows? (the husband keeps telling me he doesn’t want to do long haul flights anymore. There’s some work for me to do there!)

Whatever other opportunities come my way

A bit of an ambiguous one this, and not just because I’d run out of things to look forward to! More so that we’re only 6 days into the new year, so who knows what lies ahead in the next 359 days? Things can change so quickly and dramatically that there could be events and plans out there way beyond my comprehension. Isn’t that part of the fun of this wild journey we call life?!

What are you looking forward to in 2019? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Instagram Top Nine of the Year

Camera on a wooden table with text "Top Nine Instagram photos"

The Instagram Top Nine of the Year has become “a thing” in recent times. In case you haven’t heard of it, a third party app will analyse all the likes on your photos of the year and show you a collage of your top nine pics.

Without further ado, here are mine!

Collage of my Top Nine Instagram photos

I thought it might be fun (for me, and also anyone reading, hopefully!) to hear more about the story behind each of the top nine pics. So, here goes!

Photo 1 – January

This was actually taken on New Years Day 2018. We hadn’t left our house in over a week (by choice, may I add) and thought perhaps we should integrate into society before the inevitable return to work. I thought it prudent to start the year wearing sparkles; why the hell not!

Photo 2 – February

A Sunday afternoon in February where I was forced to get dressed because a man came round to give us a quote on our garden makeover. This is actually a man’s t-shirt, from ASOS, I like the print. I remember captioning this picture with “double boobs” because both the pinup girl and myself were braless!

Photo 3 – February

We had a casual dress code at my old job; jeans were pretty much the norm. I’d worn these boots in an effort to have warm feet and legs under my desk in the office, but it still didn’t work!

Photo 4 – September

Taken in Oia, on the island of Santorini. This was our 10th wedding anniversary trip. Oia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. One of these days I’ll actually get round to blogging about it!

Photo 5 – September

Posted on our 10th wedding anniversary, during the aforementioned Greek trip. The photo was originally taken on our wedding day, in Mauritius. We got married on the beach – it was idyllic. This is my most favourite of our wedding photos; perhaps of all time. You can read about our wedding here and here.

Photo 6 – August

2018 was the year of the garden, thanks to an incredible summer. I was out there as much as possible – planting flowers, eating food barbecued by the husband and having the occasional drink! This was taken on a lazy Sunday afternoon; my favourite kind of day. I made sangria a couple of times over the summer, and it was a hit. More of the same in 2019 please.

Photo 7 – September

Another one from our 10th wedding anniversary trip; this was part one – Athens. After a less than auspicious start on arrival the day before, we woke to beautiful blue skies for our first day of sightseeing. This was taken in Syntagma Square, opposite the Hellenic Parliament building after we’d watched the weekly Changing of the Guards ceremony. Read more about our trip to Athens here.

Photo 8 – December

A recent one here, taken just a couple of weeks back when we went to my “new job” Christmas party. I approach work events with trepidation, because who knows which Kelly might make an appearance! (my drinking has been known to take me by surprise – not big, and not clever). But it was a really good night, I was well behaved, the husband met a lot of my new work colleagues AND I go to wear my sequin trousers!

Photo 9 – April

Sequin skirt – say no more! This was an unnecessary and unseasonal purchase; who needs multi-coloured sparkles in April? The answer is obviously me! This skirt will never not make me smile. In fact, if we manage to leave the house to eat today, I think I’ll wear it. Starting last year with sparkles went down well, so…

I posted much less than usual on Instagram towards the latter part of the year, but I still absolutely love it as a social platform – it appeals to my nosy side (permission to look at other people’s lives, what’s not to like?!) and it’s a great way of documenting and looking back on your own life; days out, holidays, outfits and shoes!

Find me on Instagram here.

Did you do your Top Nine? Did it bring back good memories?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - entrance with 2 unicorns

2018 is the third year that the Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival has been at the Botanical Gardens. But it’s the first year I’ve actually been.

If you read yesterday’s post about our trip to Blenheim Palace, you’ll know we missed out on tickets to the Winter Wonderland outdoor light experience. Instead I suggested we visit the Palace and the Cinderella exhibition, and then head back to Birmingham to visit the Magic Lantern Festival.

When we got back to Birmingham the weather changed for the worse and it started to rain. And rain. Then rain some more. The thought of a wet and squelchy walk, especially as we’d forgotten our umbrellas, was unappealing. So we abandoned the plans, and made new ones.

Magic Lantern Festival, take 2!

Last Christmas we didn’t leave the house between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, which isn’t exactly healthy! So we decided to rearrange our plans for 29th December, which would force us out into real life!

I’d read good things about the festival from previous years, but didn’t know what to expect. Short answer – it was brilliant! There was a great mix of festive and none festive decorations; wonderfully lit, brightly coloured and really well spread out. The pitch darkness meant they look great on photos too!

Christmas themed lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - snowman and reindeer
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - reindeer and presents
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - gingerbread house and presents

Whimsical fairytale lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cute insects and toadstools
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cute insects on a toadstool swing
Multicoloured teapot pouring into teacup
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - large chinese style dogs
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival fairy with moving wings holding butterfly
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - brightly coloured snail
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - plants and insects

Flower displays everywhere!

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - blue LED flowers
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - blue and pink LED flowers
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - bright pink lotus flower
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - lilac LED flowers

Animal lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - lion and monkeys in jungle setting
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - elephant
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - penguins and birds
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - light up peacock
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cartoon style dolphin and shark
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - giraffes and zebra
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - zebra and palm trees

Finally, my favourites – the pandas!

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - animated pandas with painted flowers on their bodies
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - 4 pandas and a superhero panda

We got the tickets for the bargain price of £8.50 each via Travelzoo, and it was well worth the money. If you’re quick you can still catch it, as the last entrance is on New Year’s Day. If not, I’d definitely recommend it for next year.

The same organisers also do festivals in Leeds and London. Have you been to any of the locations?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Christmas at Blenheim Palace

2 weeks ago we went to “Christmas at Blenheim Palace“.

Yes, I’m still talking about Christmas! Today is perhaps the last official day of Christmas, before it turns into New Year, so I need to get this post in!

Now I didn’t even know Christmas at Blenheim Palace was a “thing”. But my Mother in Law has been to something similar at Chatsworth House, and wanted to take me for my birthday. The husband found the Blenheim Palace event, and a plan was made.

From late November til early January the gardens of Blenheim Palace are turned into a Winter Wonderland light trail. There are thousands of fairy lights and light displays that run through the gardens, creating a magical walk around the outside of the palace and beyond. Unfortunately the tickets for that were already sold out (at least those available at suitable weekend times, taking into account the drive back to Birmingham from Oxford), so we just went along in the daytime to see the Palace decorations.

We arrived fairly early, before the huge crowds, so had a little wander round and perused the Christmas Market stalls.

Entrance to the exhibition is timed, with timeslots every 20 minutes. We were booked in for 12pm, but went in at about 11.45.

This year’s theme was Cinderella. The main entrance hall was decorated with a grand dining table; opulent with candlesticks, fancy dinnerware and Christmas trees everywhere!

Poor Cinderella’s table was tucked around the back, away from the grandeur.

From there we wandered through rooms and rooms of beautiful decorations, trees and garlands, while the Cinderella story was told along the way.

The ugly sister’s room

Beautifully bedecked in jewelled pink, blue and purple. Clothes were strewn on every surface as they planned their outfit for the ball.

Cinderella’s room

In contrast, poor Cinders’ room was much more sparse and plain (as plain as it can be, when hosted in a palace!) There was an original Singer sewing machine, with fabrics and cottons for Cinderella to make her own outfits.

The Prince’s room

Spot the invitations to the ball spilling off the table, along with his velvet cloak ready for the ball.

Cinderella’s carriage

Absolutely beautiful; covered in fairy lights and surrounded by pumpkins!

Midnight room

Full of clocks, and a clock decorated Christmas tree – a reminder to Cinderella that she must leave the ball before the clock strikes 12!

The ballroom

Breathtaking in white and silver, with flower and crystal decorated tables and roaring log fires.

Topped off, of course, by Cinderella’s glass slipper!

Everything was beautifully done, with so much effort and detail. Our only gripe was that the rest of the palace was closed off for the duration of the Christmas event, so we didn’t get to see any of the rooms other than those that were part of the exhibition. At £28 per ticket it was quite expensive for what took no more than 30 minutes to walk around (and we weren’t rushing either).

Afterwards we went for a wander around the grounds, following the path for the Winter Wonderland trail I mentioned earlier. Due to the huge amount of rain and the poor pathways it was a soggy mushy mess underfoot. It actually made us glad we hadn’t been able to get tickets, as it wouldn’t have been a pleasant walk, and would probably have ended up with one or more of us on our ass in the dark!

We had a lovely lovely time, but I do think the organisers should consider value for money a little more next year. And definitely sort those paths out!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace runs until 6th January 2019, although the Christmas Market ended on 16th December.

Have you ever been to a stately home at Christmas? Do you still have your decorations up in your own home? (We do!)

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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5 ways to deal with disappointment

Person holding picture in front of their face showing a drawing of a sad face. Text: dealing with disappointment

Disappointment. It’s a fact of life. Not a nice fact of life, but one most of us have to deal with, nonetheless.

Special occasions can be a huge source of disappointment. The anticipation in the build up to the event, the high expectation to enjoy yourself and have a great time – there’s a lot of pressure. This is further exacerbated when the world around you seems to be having the best time; the most amazing birthday, fantastic holiday or cosiest Christmas.

That’s not to say all events go badly. Of course they don’t! But, if anything, that makes it even more upsetting when things don’t go to plan.

Take Christmas, as an example. Our insta feed is full of the biggest trees, the prettiest gifts, the fancy meals and family get togethers. Christmas is a pinnacle in many people’s annual calendars; we use it as a measure of how far along we are in the year, how ready we are during December (how many people have asked you if you were ready for Christmas this month?), how we feel during December (hands up if you’ve uttered the immortal “I just don’t feel Christmassy” line this year!) Of course we want it to the be the best one ever. And, if it isn’t, our heart rightly breaks a little.

The same goes for other occasions. Disappointing holidays – when we’ve spent time and effort and hard earned cash to getaway – leave us feeling crap. Disappointing gigs; maybe the band is late, or the sound is poor, or the crowd are obnoxious and spoil things (talking from experience seeing the Foo Fighters at Wembley this summer – the crowd were bloody awful) – we feel crushed.

How do we deal with it then? What can we do to ease the inevitable disappointment?

Allow ourselves time to wallow a little

It’s ok to feel angry, upset and hurt. I certainly find it helpful. Glossing over your feelings can often lead to resentment. Acknowledge the disappointment, feel it deeply, and then move on.

Direct your disappointment at the source of the cause

I’ve been guilty of taking my feelings out on the wrong people; either by being vocally upset with them or withdrawing and being sullen. That’s not fair on anyone. Make sure you’re not dragging other people into your disappointment and associated feelings.

Keep a sense of perspective

In most cases, the event we’re disappointed in or at is not a one time only opportunity. Christmas comes around once a year. So do birthdays. There will be other gigs and holidays (hopefully). Try to remember that you can always improve things next time around. If it’s a special occasion that has been spoilt, try to take the attitude that it’s “just a day”.

Try to look for a silver lining on that cloud

After the Foo Fighters gig our group of friends spent the following day together and had an absolute hoot. We drank in the sunshine, laughed at ourselves and each other, and had a great time. Despite a 2 day rainy start to our holiday in Italy, we saw the most amazing stormy skies and sunsets. It’s rare that there’s absolutely nothing good you can take from a situation.

Try to “make up for things” by arranging an alternative good time

Perhaps it’s a nice meal to cheer yourself up, or visiting friends, or just something you didn’t plan to do but know it will raise your spirits. Erase bad memories by making better ones.

Most of all, as so many people have said and will continue to say, don’t compare your bad time with the wonderful lives of friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Especially Instagram! It may just leave you feeling worse, when that person’s truth may be a bigger disappointment than your own. Concern yourself with the things you can control, and try to move past the negativity and back to a shiny happy place.

(in case you were wondering, part of my Christmas was pretty crap thanks to the rotten behaviour of some people, hence the words of “wisdom”. Trying to take my own advice by making the rest of the holiday enjoyable, and memorable for the right reasons).

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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