My husband is gluten intolerant

It’s recently become apparent that my husband is gluten intolerant. He’s always been a bit “loose of bowel” shall we say (sorry if TMI!) but we thought that was just him. More recently we started noticing patterns of stomach troubles when we’d eaten something particularly wheat heavy (fajitas, pasta bakes) and I suggested it may be wheat related. A few other symptoms later and I started to read more into it. I became convinced he had coeliac disease.

He went to the doctor with his symptoms, and she immediately said he’d need to be tested for coeliac. He was keen to start cutting out gluten immediately. But all of the resources say you shouldn’t do that until you have a diagnosis. You need gluten in your diet in order for your body to react to it so you can get an accurate test result, as advised by Coeliac UK and all other health organisations.

The good news is, he isn’t coeliac

The bad news is that the nurse who gave him his results was completely dismissive of all the symptoms he has. She pretty much sent him on his way. He’s going to book a follow up appointment with a doctor to discuss further. Meanwhile, we have self-diagnosed him as having Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI). I know self diagnosis isn’t ideal, but it’s all we have right now. We’ve come to this conclusion because he’s cut gluten out completely and is already feeling heaps better. So there has to be something going on.

The thing about NCGI (and coeliac) is that it’s untreatable with medication. That means a diagnosis doesn’t really benefit you in any way. All you can do is cut gluten out of your diet.

There are two aspects to finding our you’re gluten intolerant

One is the practical side of things (cutting out gluten containing foods – more stuff than you would realise), and the other is the emotional side. The husband is, understandably, struggling somewhat. He keeps realising things he won’t be able to eat from this point forward and I guess, in a way, he’s in mourning. Food is a big part of our lives, as is eating out, so there’s a lot to think about.

Since this all started I’ve gone into research overdrive. I figure that the more information I have, the better I’m armed to deal with this for both of us. I do the food shopping and the cooking, so non gluten containing ingredients are my responsibility. While the husband is dealing with the emotional side of things, I can be the practical person working out what all of this means and – more importantly – how we’re going to face it with as little impact as possible. For people living together any kind of food intolerance is obviously going to impact both/all of them; both in and out of the home.

My advice if your husband is gluten intolerant

(Or your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, housemate, mother, brother, sister – you get the idea) is to do your research. Find out as much as possible about gluten containing foods. Look for gluten free replacements where available. Most supermarkets will have a gluten free section in their dried, refrigerated and freezer sections. The choice is much much better than it used to be. Decide how you’re going to tackle it as a household. For example, we’ve both switched to GF bread, purely because I don’t eat a lot of bread anyway. It doesn’t make sense to have two types in the house and, more importantly, I don’t want to contaminate things like butter and the toaster with GF containing breadcrumbs.

I have pretty much deglutened (not a word, but you know what I mean) our house, just to avoid accidental consumption by the husband while he’s getting to grips with it all. Soups – a lunchtime staple for him – have been carefully checked to make sure they’re ok (many tinned soups contain wheat flour, so his daily choice has been severely curtailed). Condiments have been cleared out – if it’s got gluten in, it has no place in our cupboards. My supermarket shopping trips now consist of avidly reading labels for suitability (helpfully, all allergens are shown in bold in the ingredients list, so there’s no need to read every single thing in detail).

Personally I’m taking this as an opportunity to be more food aware…

…and also as a little bit of a challenge (that sounds like I’m getting enjoyment from it, which obviously I’m not). I’m determined that he won’t miss out on some of his favourites just because of the dreaded G. There’ll be things I’m going to cook from scratch where previously we may have bought pre-prepared or takeaway. While he comes to terms with it all, I’m on hand with a GF version wherever possible. It’s a learning curve, but we’re in it together.

I’d love to hear from you if your husband is gluten intolerant (or you, a loved one, etc!) Going forward I’ll be sharing my GF finds and tips with you as well.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Thinking about my Dad

It’s been 3 years, 4 months and 8 days since my Dad died. I don’t count the days and weeks, but a quick mental calculation when I started planning this post was easy enough.

3 years, 4 months and 8 days is a long time. Try imagining 3 years into the future. Its impossible. Or think about the past 3 years. I’ve started and finished jobs, moved house and been to new countries. All things I would have discussed at length with my Dad.

So why this post, after 3 years and 4 months and 8 days? It’s not like I don’t think about my Dad daily. But sometimes, like at the moment, I think about him intensely. Almost all consumingly.

It’s all circumstantial, I know

I’ve been job hunting and interviewing and I know I would have had pre-interview prep talks with him, and post interview dissections of how it all went. He’d have been super excited that I got my job offer and a pay rise. So there’s that.

I also saw a Facebook memory of when I got my Dad tattoo, while he was still alive, so he would get chance to see it (he was pretty underwhelmed, tbh, Dad wasn’t a tattoo lover!)

My Dad tattoo

There’s also the presentation I had to do in my current job about my life (sounds a bit weird eh?) All staff have to do a 5 minute session about their background, childhood, family, likes and dislikes. I guess it’s to help you know and understand your colleagues better. I thought I’d get away with it, being on a 3 month contract. But I thought wrong.

Anyway, I’ve known since before Christmas that I had to do this presentation, although I didn’t finalise it until the night before it was due (what can I say, I work better under pressure!) I’d been mentally planning it for a while. And I knew I had to include a section about my Dad, and his illness, the late diagnosis, and his scuppered plans for an assisted death if that’s the route he wanted to go down. It’s such a big part of my life and who I am that I couldn’t not acknowledge it. It was also an opportunity to bring the Dignity in Dying message to a captive audience.

I was surprised by how emotional I got telling my Dad’s story in front of what is, essentially, a group of strangers. My voice cracked, I had to fight back tears and I didn’t remember all the things I wanted to say, but I had people come up to me afterwards and say they agreed that a change in the law is needed, and other people who shared memories of their own parents when they were alive. It was good and bad, and happy and sad all at once.

It’s just a mindset

You may have read my posts on grief and talking about death, and this is neither. It’s just a mindset. A mentality. A thought process and awareness that I’m going through.

Not that I didn’t already know it, but it’s been a deep and intense reminder that my Dad’s death changed my life; not just through him not being here anymore, but through the impact he had and continues to have on me consciously and subconsciously.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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2020 plans

I don’t make resolutions. They’re daft. But I do like to have something to aim for at the start of the year (yes, I’m aware how contradictory that sounds!)

Here’s the 2020 edition!

2020 plans

Pay off my credit card

Hello, my name is Kelly, I’m 42 years old, and I always owe money on my credit card. It’s quite ridiculous. I have sufficient money in the bank to pay it off, but that’s not the point. I need to deprive myself of monthly earnings to clear what I owe. It’s not a lot, or anything. Just that I get close and then something happens (like Christmas) and I use my credit card for ease then don’t get round to paying it off and it mounts. 2020 is is the year I will become a financially responsible adult. Honest! (not in January though, my car insurance and MOT is due).

Get a job

2019 saw me “part company” with my previous employer, and it was a really shit time but taught me a lot of things. I’m currently 1/3 way through a 3 month fixed term contract, and it’s a kind of weird workplace, but I’m learning from it <<side note – everything in life should teach you things and be a learning experience>>. Anyways, I’ll be officially unemployed again at the end of February. So I need to find and secure the next chapter in my working life. (I was going to make a flippant comment about maybe winning the lottery before then, but I don’t play the lottery, so who’s the fool?) Needing a new job rather than wanting a new job changes your decision process, so I’m more likely to accept a job that wants me (!!) but I’ve been selective in my applications so everything I’m going for is something I’m interested in. I have a second interview and another couple of things lined up for (way too) early Jan, so we’ll see what happens!

The year of the Bongo

Did I mention we bought a campervan? Acquiring Bodhi (as our Mazda Bongo is named) as late as October meant we wouldn’t be doing any overnighters in 2019. But 2020 is going to see us heading off, setting up, and sleeping over! We need to start getting ready for when the good weather arrives; our inside is set (fairy lights and cushions) and we’ve had some days out (the kettle works perfectly). But it’s time to start thinking about toilet arrangements, awnings and where to go.

And that’s pretty much it!

Nothing more solid than that. Because you can’t predict this weird thing called life. You just have to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Let me know your 2020 plans in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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2019 in review, with highlights!

As the New Year approaches rapidly I always think it’s interesting to look back at the 12 months that have passed. Not in a congratulatory or self-pitying way. Just as a round up and reminder. And of course to pick out my 2019 highlights.

I couldn’t possibly do my decade in review, because that would be way too long and detailed, but needless to say the biggest and most life changing event was losing my Dad. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to lots of places and build a strong marriage (at the beginning of the decade I was fairly new to being a wife, whereas now I’m a veteran!)

In a nod to the decade “thing”, I will post a comparison pic – it’s actually my old vs new passport photo. I’m not doing too badly!

2009 vs 2019 - passport photo

My passport, on the other hand, is no longer European, sob…

So, 2019!

I started the year full of gusto, in a new job that felt very promising and full of great people, with travel plans afoot (as always) and hoping for another incredible summer after the great wonder that was Summer 2018.

I’m ending the year feeling a little more jaded, in a different (temporary) job; having learnt life lessons, employment lessons, and intuition lessons. If something feels wrong then it probably is! That said, an amazing Christmas holiday has made me happy and content, and that’s the most important thing.

2019 highlights

Every year has its ups and downs, and 2019 was no exception. But when I think of the best things, off the top of my head, these are the three that come to mind.

The birth of my nephew

After a really shitty pregnancy during which she was pretty much constantly poorly, and a 3 day labour, my sister gave birth to a 10lb 2oz beautiful baby boy by C-section on Saturday 27th July. It’s my first time being an auntie and it’s filled me with a new sense of pride and delight. Jacob is a joy (now he’s stopped crying when he sees me, and rewards me with smiles instead!) Being part of his first Christmas was incredible. I love him so much!

2019 highlights - my nephew

Easter weekend in Paignton

This was totally unplanned and very last minute! The weekend before Easter we were watching Four in a Bed on TV and I said how nice it would be to have a short break at the English seaside. We haven’t been to Paignton for many years. The husband has happy memories of childhood holidays there, so we found a B&B and off we went.

Last time we were in Paignton it was quite run down. Lots of places were closed and not much going on. We were thrilled to see there’s been some investment in the area, with seafront pubs reopening and lots of people around. It helped that the weather was unseasonably excellent for Easter. We went to the zoo, went on a steam railway, went on the fairground, met up with friends who were staying in Torquay, and had an absolute blast.

2019 highlights - a weekend in Paignton

Read about our weekend here.

Buying a campervan

The highlight about this was seeing my husband’s face as he lived a childhood dream. He’d gone on and on AND ON about it for months; looking for the right one and umming and aahing about what to do. Then we found Bodhi Bongo at the end of September. We picked him up in early October, and have already had some great times with him. No overnighters yet, but watch this space in 2020!

2019 highlights - Mazda Bongo campervan

What are your 2019 highlights? Thanks, as always, for reading!

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Autumn winter in the great outdoors? Go on then!

Any season that isn’t summer is not my bag. Summer is the absolute dogs danglies. Autumn is, in my opinion, the worst season. Spring means summer is coming, and winter at least has Christmas. Autumn? To me it just signifies the end of the good stuff (summer) and the beginning of the cold of winter. I don’t understand how people get excited about autumn.

I’ve already posted about my dislike of September (the beginning of Autumn, if so many are to be believed!) a few years ago.

I read about pumpkin spice lattes (I don’t drink long coffee drinks), jumper season (I prefer t-shirts), wrapping up in hats and scarves and boots, sitting in front of the fire and going for autumn winter walks.

And I Just. Don’t. Get. It.

You don’t really see autumn colours when you live in the suburbs of a city. Sure, my garden is covered in leaves and they’re a range of colours, but that doesn’t bring an appreciation of the beauty of autumn. It just brings a mulchy mess that ruins the grass!

And as for winter, it’s barren and cold, with no greenery, dull dark days and the only brightness in months of darkness is the excitement of Christmas.

Confession: I may have changed my mind a little bit, all thanks to Bodhi Bongo!

Overnighters in our campervan are very much for longer days and warmer weather. But as a day van, Bodhi has opened up new possibilities for us outside of summer. Our van has a twin gas hob, we have a kettle and a griddle pan and lots of space, which brings a whole new dimension to going out for the day.

Our first trip out was to Sudeley Castle which I posted about here.

November

In November I experienced a whole new take on Autumn. The husband suggested driving down to the Forest of Dean for a scenic drive and a wander. I was enthusiastic but wary. Autumn isn’t really all that, right?

The drive alone was beautiful. Being in the campervan you’re much higher than a normal car, so you can see a lot more. More colours, more streams, more bridges and tree lined roads.

Bongo drive to the Forest of Dean
Bongo drive to the Forest of Dean
Bongo drive to the Forest of Dean

We parked up in Speech House Woods, which is maintained by Forestry England, changed our shoes, and off we went!

Autumn Winter Bongo in the Forest of Dean

It wasn’t long until I stopped in my tracks, looked all around me, and declared “this feels like an autumn fairytale!”

I’ve never seen such beautiful shades of orange, rust and gold, interspersed by blue skies and evergreen leaves. The air was crisp, there was a blanket of leaves underfoot and trees of all shapes and sizes.

Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean

It definitely turned me into a fan of Autumn walks! So much so, that, a couple of weeks later, we headed up to the Clent Hills, which is just a short drive from Birmingham. At their highest point, Clent Hills rise to 1037ft, with 360 degree views over multiple counties.

Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills

December

And so to Winter, where surely the drop in temperatures and bare branches would hold no interest for me? Well, such is my new zest for outdoor life (!!) that the suggestion of a post Christmas drive to the Wyre Forest was jumped upon by me. I adorned myself with coat, scarf, hat and gloves (all the things I sneer at!), packed our campervan bag with all the essential (teabags, sweeteners, kettle, bread and sausage) and off we went.

Autumn Winter Wyre Forest

Turns out that even winter in the forest is a joy! There’s a surprising amount of green thanks to coniferous trees, and the low winter sun creates beautiful shadows and casts a glow through the trees.

Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest

How does our campervan make autumn and winter walks more enjoyable?

When you’ve been for a walk in bracing temperatures, you (I) need a little downtime before bundling back in the car to go home. Having Bodhi Bongo means we have plenty of space to take off all our layers, change our muddy boots and stretch out (and stop sweating!) before we head back. We can have a cup of tea and some food sitting at a proper table. So far we’ve cooked bacon sandwiches, cheese and ham toasties and sausage sandwiches, all fresh and hot. It’s a real novelty and makes it so much fun. Who thought I’d look forward to watching a kettle boil on a gas stove?

Buying our campervan at the “worst” time of year means that we still have the very best to come! But,, rest assured, when autumn rolls around in 2020, I’ll be chomping at the bit for days out. This is a year round hobby for us, and I’m excited to see where we end up in the future!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Does your employer really care about you?

It’s not enough these days for employers to pay their staff for a job well done. As employees we want more. We want to feel part of something bigger. We want to feel like our employers care.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! While money is most people’s prime motivator for going to work (because, obvs) we also benefit from relationships with colleagues and a feeling of achievement.

It’s fairly common these days, certainly in my job searches, for ‘good working culture’ to be mentioned in the job advert. Employers may class themselves as ‘great to work for’ or having a ‘family feel’. But how much of that is all talk?

Only a mercenary (or stupid) employer would tell their staff that they’re just a number, contributing to the bottom line, but there are nice words and then there are the associated actions.

Is your employer all they seem to be? Here are some signs that may suggest they’re not!

Terms and conditions of employment

So you know what your salary will be, and how many days annual leave you’ll get. Great! But don’t forget to read the small print.

  • Does the company have compulsory shutdown over Christmas? They may require you to use some of your annual leave to cover those days.
  • Are you entitled to any sick pay? If not, that’s pretty shitty, don’t you think? How can an employer really care about you if they don’t pay you for genuine illness, be that physical or mental? Many employers will put a cap on the number of acceptable sick days in a year, but not allowing any at all really sucks.
  • What’s your notice period? If things don’t work out on either side, are the terms equal? Do you have to give them more notice than they give you?
  • What are your entitlements in case of grievance during the first 2 years? Employment law only kicks in when you’ve been an employee for 2 years. Prior to that there is a recommended procedure for grievances and disciplinaries, but this can be over ruled by whatever is stated in your contract or handbook.

False and broken promises

If you were promised a salary review or promotion that never seems to happen, that could be a sign that your employer doesn’t really care about you. Introducing additional levels of management into the hierarchy so you end up further down the food chain could be another.

Treatment of other staff, and obvious favouritism

  • Favouritism exists in most workplaces in the same way as teachers pets’ exist in schools – it happens. But ask yourself is the favouritism justified? Also, is there fickle favouritism? If the flavour of the month changes when new staff join the business, perhaps the organisation, or certain people within it, are not as caring as they make out.
  • Is there a high turnover of staff? In some sectors and jobs – like telesales organisations – this is quite normal. In others it may be cause for alarm. If people disappear without being allowed to work their notice, or even say goodbye, perhaps the employer isn’t as nice as they pretend to be?
  • What’s the general feel amongst other staff? Are their grumbles on the grapevine? Dig a little deeper under the shiny facade and you may find that others have experienced issues you may be concerned about, like lack of pay review.

Flaunting their success without rewarding staff

In my first ever job my manager refused to have a brand new car because he said it portrayed the wrong image to customers; that the company was making too much money at their expense. Replace the word customers with the word employees, and the same can apply. Business owners and senior managers are obviously entitled to reap the rewards of their work and their positions of authority, but when the staff are working hard and their salaries aren’t being reviewed while the people at the top are clearly having a financial whale of a time, it can leave a sour taste.

What to do if this applies to you?

If you feel that your employer doesn’t care about you, you have 2 choices:

  • Suck it up and deal with it
  • Look for another job

It’s that simple! Sometimes we can forgive the actions of our employers because we’re happy with other aspects of our job; like our colleagues or the easy commute. But if you’re finding the same issues arising over and over, or that you’re becoming increasingly unhappy both in and outside of work, maybe it’s time to start looking around.

What are your thoughts on caring employers? Have you got any good (or bad) stories? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Enjoyed this post? You may also like:

Settling in to a new job

5 top tips for dealing with job loss

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Days out: Sudeley Castle

I hadn’t even heard of Sudeley Castle until we started researching places to go for our first day out in Bodhi Bongo. We wanted somewhere not too far. A place that my Mother in Law would also enjoy. Somewhere we could have a wander round before making tea and cooking bacon sandwiches in the campervan.

Remembering my Gardeners World 2-4-1 card which I hadn’t yet used this year (last year we visited Wollerton Hall gardens using the card) I came across Sudeley; just over an hour drive away in the Cotswold village of Winchcombe, with lots of associated Tudor history. It looked perfect for our inaugural voyage!

What a place!

Entry to the castle is down a long winding driveway to the main car park. From here the castle isn’t visible; enter through the gift shop then take the wild winding path down to the ruins of the old 15th century banqueting hall. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered off the beaten path; it’s very informal – almost like you’re trespassing!

A cross between a museum and a stately home

Sudeley charts some of it’s 1000 year history through exhibitions, short films and original artefacts, while also opening a handful of rooms lived in by the owners when they’re in residence.

Elizabeth I’s christening gown hangs in one of the exhibition rooms, as does a waistcoat belonging to Charles I (he took refuge in the castle during the civil war).

In another room is an ornately carved wooden bed, adorned with bed covers made for and slept in by Marie Antoinette.

The artefacts and storyline of the history of the castle, like everything, is wonderfully done but largely informal; making it a pleasure to just wander and soak in everything this gem has to offer.

Sudeley is also famed for being  the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within the grounds. The tomb of Katherine Parr – final and surviving wife of Henry VIII – is situated in St Mary’s Church within the castle grounds. This was not her original burial place; her body was discovered some 200 years after her death and reinterred within the church in the late 1700s.

The whole of the castle is surrounded by beautifully tended gardens, including the Elizabethan Knot garden. The Secret Garden is accessed through an archway in a hedge to the side of St Mary’s Church. Being October the gardens obviously weren’t in full flower, but still very lovely to wander around.

Wander at will

One of the things we found very surprising, and refreshing, about Sudeley Castle and the grounds was the feeling of openness. There were no designated paths to follow. No arrows telling you in which direction to walk around the building or, signs telling you to keep off the grass. It felt like everywhere was accessible and welcoming; like the owners really want visitors to be there, to immerse themselves, and to enjoy Sudeley in their own way.

Sudeley Castle is a truly wonderful place; beautiful, well looked after, true to its history, educational, informative and a joy to visit. Do go there if you can!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Let’s talk about death

Let's talk about death - close up of typewriter with word death typed on white paper

Death. It’s not a topic most of us enjoy thinking about, let alone talking about. But talk about it we should. It is, after all, an inevitability for all of us. (Unless anyone reading this has discovered the secret of immortality and is keeping it to themselves?)

My first memorable experience of death was when my Great Nan on my Mom’s side died when I was 7. My Dad’s Dad died when I was 8. My Mom’s Mom when I was 13 and my Mom’s Dad when I was 18. Each of these experiences affected me, all in different ways and with different depths of emotions due to my age and understanding. I cried and I wished they could come back and I grieved and there was a difference in my life afterwards. But ultimately I guess my life pretty much went back to normal.

The ongoing impact

It wasn’t until my Dad died 3 years ago that I really understood the ongoing impact of death. The combination of experiencing loss for the first time as a proper adult, and also losing a parent made me truly look at my own mortality. My Dad’s death also taught me a lot about the way I think, feel and approach the subject; especially because he wasn’t an old man (he was only 59).

I’ve developed a real dislike of the softly softly language used around it. I’ve posted before about really disliking the term “lost the battle” when it relates to cancer or other illnesses. “Gone to a better place” grinds my gears, because there’s no better place than being alive and with your family.

I recently read an article, inspired by a Twitter post, which looked at other people’s thoughts, and that in turn partially inspired this blog post.

Have a read: Whatever you do, don’t say ‘dead’

Why do many people struggle to say the word dead? Why do we try to dress it up into something else? The end result is still the same. The person is gone. How you refer to it isn’t going to make any difference.

My Dad is dead

Personally, for me, I sometimes say “my Dad id dead” for the shock value…as much to shock myself as anyone else. I need that reality behind the situation. I can’t dress it up into something less harsh. He died. He’s dead. He didn’t “pass away” (there was nothing gentle about his final day), he isn’t “with the angels” (we’re not religious, and neither was he).

None of this makes it any easier to deal with, of course. There’s a hole that will never be filled. But using different terminology doesn’t change the situation.

I think the article makes a very valid point that language is subjective, and what works for one person wouldn’t work for another. Some people need to soften the blow, especially where children are concerned. There have been times when I’ve said “my Dad is dead” and my Mom has said “oh don’t say it like that.” What works for one person doesn’t work for another. But not talking about death isn’t good for us either.

A Natural Undertaking

A while ago I came across a funeral company local to me called A Natural Undertaking. I’ve been following them on Facebook for a while now, which probably sounds quite morbid, but their approach to, and way of talking about, funerals is very refreshing. For a start, their strapline is “funerals celebrating life.” Run by two women who want individuals and families to be aware of the different options around funerals, they offer anything from traditional through to unique ceremonies. They also encourage people to speak more openly about death, to help remove the stigma and also ensure that people who are dying have the kind of send off they want.

They even have an all electric hearse, for those who are thinking about the environment even when they’re not part of it anymore, or a VW Campervan for those making the journey to the great campsite in the sky (how’s that for not referring to death by it’s actual term?)

Let's Talk about Death - white electric hearse at a Natural Undertaking
Let's Talk about Death - silver VW hearse at a Natural Undertaking

They also promote and participate in Death Cafes. They sound horribly morbid, but are actually just a place for people to come together, drink tea, eat cake and talk about death.

Afraid of death

You might think from all this straight talk that I’m not afraid of death. You’d be wrong. I’m petrified of it. Mainly from a missing out point of view, because there is so much in life to be lived and loved. So much to experience, places to see, cuddles to be had, laughs, finding out whether Brexit will ever actually happen! The process of dying scares me; the idea of suffering, of being in pain, of people I care about seeing me deteriorate. But talking about it in hushed tones or euphemisms doesn’t change the inevitability of it.

I’ve seen death. I saw my Dad in his coffin the day before his funeral. For some people this would be troubling, but for me it helped my grieving process. My Dad was most definitely not alive anymore! That sounds obvious (and very reassuring, bearing in mind he was to be cremated the following day) but what I mean was, I saw first hand that a body is just a vessel. Without a smile, a frown, a hand gesture, warmth, a body is just a body.

I talk about death quite a lot. Not seriously. Mainly with a dark sense of humour. I talk about who we’ll leave our house to when we die, and what I would do if the husband died before me. It’s all fairly light hearted. I think, for me, it’s because my life has been irrevocably changed by the death of my Dad, so death is a very real concept to me. It makes me want to do more, see more and experience more, because life is finite, whether we talk about it or not.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Norway in a Nutshell daytrip

I mentioned in my previous blog post that we wanted to experience the fjords without the length and cost of a fjords cruise from the UK. Whilst researching the best way to do this, I came across the Norway in a Nutshell trip.

Norway in a Nutshell does what it says on the tin – it’s designed to show you the best of what Norway has to offer in one short trip. Now I’m sure purists will say you couldn’t possibly experience the best of a country in a day, and I’m sure they’re right, but for us this was a great way to get what we wanted from our long weekend.

If you google Norway in a Nutshell you’ll find tour operators offering the trip; just select your date and times and book a ticket through them. This is, of course, an option, but don’t be mislead. NiN is a trip concept put together for visitors, but actually comprises of different travel operators with coordinated timescales, meaning you can transfer from train to narrow gauge railway, to ferry, to bus and to train again with relative ease. If you pay a tour operator for your NiN trip, they will book it through the individual operators and issue you with one ticket – obviously for a fee! But, with some research, it’s easy enough to do it yourself.

Tripadvisor is your friend

There are multiple threads on the Norway travel forums with people offering advice on itineraries and timings. I found it invaluable in gathering together information to plan our trip.

Also, do refer to companies offering Norway in a Nutsehll, as they will show their itineraries and times so that you can then go and book the various elements independently.

First things first; decide on your start and end point. You can travel from Oslo to Bergen, Bergen to Oslo, or do a round trip starting and ending in Bergen, which is the option we chose.

Our journey itinerary was to be as follows:

  • Train: Bergen > Myrdal
  • Narrow gauge railway: Myrdal > Flam
  • Ferry: Flam > Gudvangen
  • Bus: Gudvangen > Voss
  • Train: Voss > Bergen

Originally we’d planned to do the NiN trip on the second day of our visit, but certain trains weren’t running on Sundays, so that wasn’t possible. This meant we needed to do it on our first day. After not getting to the hotel until the small hours, it made sense not to start too early,. We caught the 11.59 train from Bergen Central station, heading to Myrdal, up in the mountains.

The scenery as you leave Bergen and head into the mountains would have been beautiful, but the weather was poor with lots of mist and low visibility. We did have moments of great views, but it wasn’t all I’d hoped it to be, unfortunately!

Myrdal station is 867 metres above sea level, and even in early June there was still snow on the mountains. There’s nothing at all to see or do here; just a small station with a shop and cafeteria. Again everything is mega expensive – they wanted £5 for a Norwegian pot noodle!

We had around a 30 minute wait at Myrdal station until the train to Flam came into the station. The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard gauge railway lines in the world, with 80% of the journey running on a gradient of 5.5%.

You’ll pass through 20 tunnels, have a short stop at the Kjossfossen waterfall where you can get off the train and see the falls from a viewing platform, and then head down the mountain into the lush green valley of Flam with it’s picture perfect wooden houses. The journey takes about an hour, and is very beautiful.

Thanks to the impeccable timing we didn’t need to kill any time in the harbour; instead going straight to the ferry which was to transport us during the main event – the fjords. Now I don’t have a lot of ferry experience, but this one was absolutely fantastic! I didn’t manage to get a picture, but have found this one as I just had to share!

Photo credit: Plugboats.com

The ferry was electric, so it was all but silent as it glided through the water. This made the whole trip so much more enjoyable, because there were no distractions. It’s zig zag design means that there is sufficient viewing space on the vessel so that every guest has at least 1 metre of space, even if it’s at capacity. Inside there were plush leather seats, good toilets and a snackbar serving tea, coffee, beer, wine, sandwiches and pastries. Because the ferry wasn’t fully booked we were able to move around to different seats during the 2 hour journey, as well as venturing onto the outdoor deck and different levels for photographs and to soak in the majestic landscape.

From Flam we travelled through Aurlandsfjord before joining the narrow Nærøyfjord, both of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We passed small coastal villages, towering cliff sides, and more waterfalls than I’ve ever seen; some tiny trickles seemingly appearing from nowhere, others gushing into the fjord.

It was an incredible two hours.

We arrived at Gudvangen and once again the next step of the journey was easy to access – the bus was sitting waiting for us. This was the only part of the trip that couldn’t be pre-booked as the buses only accept cash payments, which wasn’t a problem as we were already aware of it. The coach took us through very narrow hairpin bends (such driving skill required here!) and past yet more powerful waterfalls, mountain views and green valleys before dropping us off at Voss station for the final leg of the journey.

Not going to lie, by this stage we were all pretty tired – turns out that sitting around and looking at beautiful scenery for hours is exhausting! The train from Voss back to Bergen had multiple stops which made it a longer journey, and the scenery wasn’t that great so this was a matter of just waiting to get off, stretch our legs and find somewhere for dinner!

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m sure it’s impossible to capture the wonder of a country in just one day, but the fact that the Norway in a Nutshell trip is so widely revered and traversed is testament to it’s popularity, and we certainly felt satiated by it.

How I booked our Norway in a Nutshell daytrip

Train travel – this was all booked through NSB online. For the first leg of the journey (Bergen to Myrdal) there was an option for NSB Komfort seats costing just an extra £6 (ish) each. I was able to select our seats in advance and the price included free hot drinks for the duration of the journey. Knowing how expensive Norway is, this was well worth the money! There are no seat reservations for the Myrdal to Flam leg of the journey, but you are guaranteed a seat – they don’t overbook the train so there’s nothing to worry about there. We had prebooked seats from Voss to Bergen, but there was no NSB Komfort option on this train.

Fjords ferry journey from Flam to Gudvangen – I booked this at visitflam.com and was issued with an email confirmation which we used to board the vessel.

Bus from Gudvangen to Voss – as I mentioned this was cash only.

Create your own trip to suit your needs

As I said earlier, you can start your Norway in a Nutshell journey from Oslo if you choose, or go from Bergen to Oslo. You could do the trip in the opposite direction to the one we took, so the ferry would arrive into Flam and you would then take the narrow gauge railway up to Myrdal, rather than down into the valley as we did. You can also tailor the trip to take as long as you want – you could arrange overnight stays in Flam or at some of the fjords coastal towns (some of the ferries do stop offs between Flam and Gudvangen). It really is up to you.

We had a wonderful day, and the fjords really are an incredible sight. Nature at it’s best!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Read about the rest of our weekend in Norway here.

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A weekend in Bergen, Norway

When you reach a certain age, you have most of the worldly possessions you want, and experiences become more important than “stuff”. That’s why, for my Mother in Law’s 80th birthday in June, we took her away for a weekend break to Bergen in Norway.

She’d mentioned a long time ago that she’d love to see the Norwegian Fjords, but didn’t think that her usual travel buddies would be up for it. I stored that nugget of information and dragged it out at the beginning of this year to form a plan.

Now I love my mother in law, and she loves me, but I don’t think either of us would want to spend longer than a few days together, so a Fjords cruise was out of the question (as well as being very expensive and not really appealing to me anyway). Instead I researched where to base ourselves in Norway in order to experience the Fjords for a day, and also see something else of the country.

We flew from Manchester into Bergen with SAS airlines

Flight to Bergen over Manchester
SAS airlines flight from Manchester to Bergen

Our flight didn’t take off until 9.30pm, meaning we landed just before midnight and jumped in a cab to our hotel. We knew that Norway was an expensive country but here was our first experience – around £60 for a 12km cab journey. Ouch!

Day one – Norway in a Nutshell

Day one was a full one. I’d independently booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which involved a walk to the train station, then a train into the mountains, a funicular train back down the mountains, a 2 hour fjord cruise, a bus and then another train back to Bergen. It was an itinerary that took around 9 hours in total, but was such a wonderful day with the most incredible scenery. It sounds more stressful than it is; all we really had to do was sit down and then transfer from one method of transport to another! I’ll do a separate post about the logistics of the trip – it’s worth booking independently as it can save you money, too. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side (for the whole weekend, actually!), so some of the views weren’t as good as we’d hoped, but actually the clouds and mist made the fjords even more atmospheric. They’re incredibly beautiful and mesmerising, and photos cannot do them justice.

Kjossfossen waterfall Norway
View from Flam railway Norway
Waterfall from Flam Railway
View of Gudvangen from Flam Railway
Nærøyfjord Gudvangen Norway
Nærøyfjord Gudvangen Norway
Nærøyfjord Gudvangen Norway

Day two – wandering the streets of Bergen

We spent day two having a mooch around Bergen. It’s not a huge city, and easily doable on foot.

Bergen centre view to funicular railway
Velkommen flower cart in Bergen
Traditional ship in Bergen harbour
View across bergen harbour
St Mary's Church Bergen
St Mary's churchyard Bergen
Wooden painted houses Bergen

One of the main attractions is the Bryggen old wharf and wooden houses. This area is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and dates back centuries as a trading point. Behind the house fronts are numerous traders and workshops which are worth wandering around, and a few gift shops which, you guessed it, are very expensive!

Bryggen wooden houses
Bryggen wooden houses
Bryggen wooden houses
Bryggen wooden houses
Uneven wooden staircase Bryggen
Bryggen alleyway
Norwegian troll
Bryggen street manhole cover
View of Bryggen from across Bergen harbour

The centre of Bergen is dominated by the Fish Market, which is partially indoors and partially outdoors, with covered seating and heaters. We had a wander amongst it although we didn’t eat. I did have a chat with one of the lobsters awaiting it’s fate, though!

Lobster tank at Bryggen fish market

After lunch it was STILL raining (I hadn’t expected a tropical holiday, but apparently the weather was particularly bad for the time of year, according to a local). Umbrellas up and jackets fastened we took to the backstreets for some street art spotting, before heading back to the hotel.

Street art in Bergen
Street art in Bergen
Street art in Bergen
Street art in Bergen

Day three – Mount Floyen

Our flight home wasn’t until early evening on day three, so we’d saved heading to the summit of Mount Floyen until then. Floyen is classed as a “city mountain” and is 400 metres above sea level at its peak. There’s a super quick, super modern, super efficient funicular railway which goes from the centre of town to the top of the mountain in just a few minutes.

Fløibanen funicular railway station
Fløibanen funicular train
Fløibanen funicular and view from Mount Floyen
Fløibanen funicular and view from Mount Floyen
Fløibanen funicular and view from Mount Floyen

At the summit there are a couple of cafes, a children’s playground, some walks, some goats (rather random!) and views over all of Bergen. It was well worth the time, and definitely worth doing while you’re in Bergen.

View over Bergen harbour from Mount Floyen
View over Bergen from Mount Floyen
Goats at Mount Floyen summit

Top tips if you’re travelling to Bergen

Don’t expect a budget trip.

Nothing is cheap here. We already knew it was an expensive city and had paid for as much as possible in advance. Food and drink is particularly expensive; there’s no such thing as a cheap bite. If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage I’d suggest buying a bottle at UK duty free and taking it with you – that’s what we did! A small glass of wine was around £10, and the husband paid £13 for a litre of beer. A 1.5 litre bottle of Sprite from the supermarket was £4.

Cash isn’t king.

It seems that much of Bergen is attempting to go cashless. Paying by cash isn’t particularly welcomed; in fact the restaurant in our hotel only accepted card payments. Be sure to have a method of paying by plastic just in case.

It doesn’t have a great cuisine.

I could be doing the city a disservice, because my mother in law is a fussy eater, so we didn’t go to any traditional restaurants. But there didn’t seem to be any dishes really synonymous with the area. In fact there were a lot of pan asian restaurants and places serving pizza. It wasn’t a foodie holiday.

We had a great trip and saw some wonderful sights. I’m not going to pretend that the weather didn’t have a bit of a negative effect on things (I bloody hate rain!) but mother in law was super chuffed, which is what it was all about!

Have you been to Norway? Let me know in the comments!

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