Month: October 2019

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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We bought a campervan!

Of all the unusual things I’ve bought over the years, (a pair of maracas from eBay when drunk, for example, I didn’t know I’d bought them until they arrived a few days later), I never thought I would (part) own a campervan. You see, I’ve never been camping, or had any desire to do so. I’ve never stayed anywhere without a toilet and shower under the same roof as my bed. Yet here I am, indulging my husband’s dream, and feeling rather excited about the prospect!

His previous childhood itch, of owning a Harley Davidson, has been scratched. As beautiful as his bike is, it’s sitting mainly unused in our garage as the UK road conditions get worse and biking becomes less appealing to him. Now it’s time for childhood dream number two; a campervan, a mini home on wheels that will take us up hill, down dale and everywhere in between.

Most people associate campervans with the iconic VW, but that wasn’t an option for us. Original (old) models are rare and often unreliable, while the newer ones are hugely expensive.

Instead we’ve gone for a Mazda Bongo.

A what, I hear you ask? I’d never heard of them either, and admit that the name is quite comical. But the husband, being the nerd thorough fellow he is, has been researching campers for a long time. He confidently announced to me that the Bongo is the way to go. It also has a bit of a cult following, and a real community on hand to help. There are dedicated Facebook groups regular real life meet ups organised around the country.

Bongos were never sold in the UK market. All the ones on the UK roads have been imported from Japan. Sold as an 8 seater utility vehicle over there they’re prime for all sorts of conversions; with owners adding cupboards, beds, cookers and more. The DVLA is reportedly getting stricter on reclassifying newly converted vans, so we went on the hunt for one which had already been converted to our needs.

Introducing Bodhi!

The Bongo community is big on naming their vans. Whilst ours will be known as “The Van” in the most part, we had to give it an official moniker as well. This comes purely from the husband, who has a love of the film Point Break and the main surfer character Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze. Bodhi is also a Sanskrit name meaning “awakening” or “enlightenment”. The Buddhist concept of Bodhi is spiritual awakening and freedom from the cycle of life, which seems pretty apt (if all goes to plan and I take to campervan life!)

Bodhi has a sofa which pulls out into a full length bed, a two ring gas cooker, a fridge, a table and a sink. His roof lifts up sideways, which is quite unusual, but gives us full height for standing up all the way along the van. He has a leisure battery to power the electrics, but he can also be hooked up to a mains electricity point on a camp site! He has interior lights and plug sockets, and cupboard space for storing essentials.


Where to?

I mentioned in my last post that the Jurassic Coast is on my travel hitlist. The husband has already found a campsite with seaviews overlooking Durdle Door, so that’s pencilled in as a to-do next summer. In the meantime we’ll find our campervan feet, work out what kit we need (I didn’t know that portable compost toilets were a thing, but having one of those in an awning next to the van rather than trekking across a field in the middle of the night after too much wine makes much more sense), and start our foray into freedom on wheels!

I also get to buy important pretty things!

Things like cushions, rugs, duvet covers, and fairy lights! Although this is proving more stressful than I thought, as we try to decide on a theme. Decorating a small space is a big responsibility!

Here’s me when we collected him last week.

I’m sure there’ll be many more Bodhi posts as time goes on; from interior pictures to our adventures!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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An updated travel hitlist

I’ve been lucky enough in the past couple of years to tick some places off my travel hitlist (namely Dubrovnik, Athens and Santorini), so obviously I need to replace those places with more!

It’s been ages since I wrote my travel hitlist part 1 and part 2, so here’s an up to date version. Some are the same, some are new, and all of them look amazing!

Seville

Travel Hitlist - Seville

I was inspired to visit Seville by Nina’s blog posts and photographs – she loves it so much she’s been twice. It has a reputation for fabulous architecture, incredible tapas and is the home of flamenco. Plus it has a very temperate climate so is an ideal year round destination.

Lisbon

Travel hitlist Lisbon

This was firmly on my first list and remains there untouched; second only to Seville on the city break wish list. Traditional trams, small streets and pretty coloured buildings. Sign me up!

Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Closer to home, but seemingly harder to fulfil because we always look to going further afield when it comes to holidays (and summer in the UK is such an indecisive fellow). But plans may be afoot for this one…watch this space!

Cornwall

Another one that continually seems to evade us, and I appreciate that a whole county is being pretty vague, but highlights for me would be Tintagel (with the new walkway recently opened at the castle), Looe (I’ve only ever been there when the now defunct Looe Music Festival was taking place), and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’d love to venture as far as Penzance and Lands End, but so long in a car really puts me off!

Golden Triangle, India

This has been on my list since forever, and will remain on my list until I’m able to go there. The husband ums and ahs about going there (the amount of travelling and potential of Delhi Belly put him off!). At some point this may mean that I travel without him. I feel that it’s probably the one trip on earth that I’ll regret if I don’t do it, so if I have to go it alone then so be it! (not alone alone though, obvs, on some kind of group tour where I’ll probably hate everyone and they’ll hate me).

Frigiliana, Spain

This looks like one of the prettiest whitewashed Spanish villages I’ve ever seen, and I know people who have been there and said it’s absolutely beautiful. There’s nothing to do there so it would be a few days of good food, chilling by the pool (it’s in the mountains) and marvelling at just how picturesque it is. Maybe a day trip by bus into Nerja, which is the nearest coastal town. Sounds like a good use of time to me!

New York

Obviously this is a bit of a sore point for me, as we were supposed to go this coming September; taking advantage of super bargainous flights and an incredibly good Airbnb deal. If you read this blog regularly (not that I’d blame you if you didn’t – my posting schedule is intermittent at best!) you’d know that the Airbnb fell through and left us high and dry. Despite my protestations that “New York can go fuck itself” I do still really want to go there, if only to say I’ve been! (especially as two people in my office are going soon and I will have the jealousy)

Of course there are LOADS of other places in the world I’d like to go, but I’d say these are currently the most pressing; the ones I’d like to tick off before any others. Which to do first? We’ll have to see what happens!

Do you have a travel hitlist? Where in the world are you just dying to visit? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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