A Treat in January

Instow Holiday Diary January 2019
Saturday 5th January:
Walked along the Tarka Trail from Instow. This stretch is along a disused railway line, so I liked it because it was easy walking; Husband complained that we were walking along a tarmac path; Kia was just happy to be walking anywhere. The trail crossed bridges, wound near the coast, and went through cuttings of ferns and grasses. It was peaceful and pleasant, and although we had to be aware of the occasional bike that whizzed past, it was very pleasant.

At one point we passed a couple of big old boats, which appeared to be inhabited. I’m not sure what living on a boat would be like – very like camping I imagine. No idea what they do for water or sewage, as the river wouldn’t be any use for either. Instow is on the estuary, where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet the sea (well, they actually meet the sea at Appledore, which is the other side of the river, but you can see the waves on the horizon from Instow.

We turned around when we arrived in Bideford. We checked the ferry to Lundy Island, but it only runs March – October. I didn’t buy a fridge magnet, as they all looked a bit naff.

Walked back to Instow and had coffee at John’s Cafe, which is the best cafe in the whole world (except that it has rather uncomfortable seats, and is a little pricey). Kia lay under the table while we had coffee, and then waited outside while Husband bought some juice. They didn’t have any orange juice (too posh) and the apple juice was all proper, locally produced apple juice, which was rather bewildering for Husband, as he had to choose which variety of apply he wanted. He chose cox’s apple juice, which is pretty horrid unless you like cox apples (which I don’t).

When we got back to the cottage, I checked my clever iPhone app, to see how far we’d walked (it felt like a long way). It was 10.6km, so perhaps not so very far. We had ham sandwiches for lunch (which didn’t fit very well with my sort of vague decision to eat only vegetarian food in January), with apple juice (see above) and ginger biscuits I’d brought from home (left over from Christmas, but still nice).

At 3:30pm, we had afternoon tea at Watersmeet Hotel near Woolacombe. This was a Christmas gift from Husband, and as a great lover of cakes and sandwiches, I was rather looking forward to it. I had been given a voucher, showing a dining room, but we were taken to a lounge area for the tea. (It turns out Husband had made the voucher himself, and downloaded photos from the hotel’s website, but tea is not served in the dining area!) The hotel is on the cliff edge, looking down into a bay, and we sat and watched waves crashing over the rocks.

We spent a few minutes taking selfies, as you do—most with my thumb in one corner, and then the tea arrived. There was loads, enough for four people, so we could’ve shared one. It was all so pretty, with cakes on the top tier, a huge scone in the middle, and sandwiches at the bottom. Everything was delicious, and I wrapped up the scone to eat later, and then ate most of the rest. (Not the Battenberg cake though, as I’m not keen on that.) It was all very lovely.

I hope you have some treats this week.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

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A Stolen Holiday

After a week with my sister in New York, I flew down to Florida.

The ‘boys’ met me at Miami airport. Actually, it was Husband (hasn’t been a ‘boy’ for many years) and my sons (who are also no longer ‘boys’) but they will always be boys to me. I was able to hug Son 1 before he disappeared through security for his flight home, then we went in search of food. I was starving. I bought a burger, which I ate in the open-top Mustang they’d hired while we drove across Florida. It is the best burger I have eaten. Possibly the best meal. As I said, I was starving.

Once death-by-starvation had been averted, I looked out of the window. We were driving along ‘Alligator Alley’ and I was keen to spot a gator. I saw swamp, and birds —lots of birds. There were long legged white birds, and dumpy buzzards, and a big brown fishing bird that sort of hung itself out to dry after diving. But I wanted to see an alligator. Son 2 kept pointing them out, but I kept missing them.

Then, suddenly, I saw one. It was huge, about the size of a double bed, and black, and evil looking—horrible. I no longer wanted to see an alligator, they were horrid; and I worried I might have nightmares. I stopped looking. (Note, I may have exaggerated the size very slightly.)

We drove to the west side of Florida, and onto Sanibel Island. We were staying in Sanibel Moorings, which is where we stayed twenty years ago. It’s still lovely. We’ve hired a condo for a few days. It is very pretty, with lots of beach art on the walls, and pastel-coloured furnishings. There is a kitchen (complete with massive American fridge), two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a lounge, and a balcony (enclosed by a fly-net) overlooking the beach. Everything is very clean and comfortable.

It was dark when we arrived, so we unpacked, and the ‘boys’ went out for dinner. I went to bed (you might remember, I had been awake since a very early number!)

Day 1: We went for an early walk along the beach. There are shells everywhere. There are also birds everywhere: little sandpipers that run along the water’s edge looking for food, huge pelicans that glide over the sea like fighter-pilots, tall white birds (egrets, I think) with their funny yellow feet. The sea is full of dolphins, but we didn’t see any today.
There are also lots of palm trees. There is something very exciting about palm trees.

We strolled towards the lighthouse. It doesn’t actually have a house, and is more of a ‘light-pylon’; but I guess it does the job.
We then went back to the car (because when you’ve hired an open-top Mustang and have stolen a holiday in November, you kind of want to cruise in the sunshine while you can). We drove to Captiva, the next island. There were lots of expensive houses, and mangrove swamps, and strips of beach. There was also Santa, climbing a palm tree, which feels wrong.

We went to Bailey’s Supermarket and bought bagels for lunch. There was lots of fresh fruit. There were also cartons of orange juice, from Spain. This feels very wrong (in the UK, all the orange juice is from Florida). The world is mad.

For dinner, we went to a fish restaurant. Sanibel has a lot of restaurants, and most of them are fish restaurants. We went to one which felt a bit weird when we entered, as it was big and sold tee-shirts; it felt more like a sports centre. But once we were settled into a booth, eating fresh hot prawns (which Americans call “shrimp”) and drinking cold beers, it felt just fine. Eating in America is always good.

I will tell you more about our ‘stolen holiday’ soon. It feels sort of naughty to be here in November!
Have a fun week and take care.
Love, Anne

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La Guardia

I hardly slept at all last night, so when the alarm on my phone rang, I was glad to abandon the ‘not sleeping’ of the night. I didn’t check the time, I simply grabbed the clothes I’d prepared the night before and disappeared into the bathroom, trying not to wake my sister. This was, perhaps, a mistake.

I got myself ready and repacked my suitcase, adding my pyjamas and wash-bag, then struggled with the zip. Eventually it closed. Then I checked my passport and ticket for the 2,000th time, and decided I may as well leave. I knew it was a little early, but it seemed daft to sit anxiously waiting in the bedroom (keeping Ruth awake) when I could just as easily sit anxiously waiting at the airport. And you never know, after all, if there’ll be delays on the way. So, I kissed her goodbye, trying to not think about how long it might be before we see each other again (because I didn’t want to cry) and I left.

The hotel doorman hailed me a cab and lifted my bag into the back. Was I meant to tip him? I hate the whole tipping culture, because I never know what’s right – I’d rather just pay a fee. I gave him $1, it had taken him all of ten seconds, and he looked surprised. I have no idea if that was because I’m not meant to tip him, or because the tip was too small.

The taxi driver told me there is no set fare to LaGuardia, only to JFK and Newark airport. I wasn’t sure whether this was true, so spent the rest of the journey anxiously watching the meter as it raced through dollars, hoping I had enough money.

Then, when the meter reached $9.50 (no idea where we were because I wasn’t looking out of the window) there was an awful noise, as if a wheel was going to fall off. The driver pulled over and went to check under the car. It turned out we had run over a cone (he had my sympathy, I did that once on a school run, but that’s a different story). I sat in the taxi, while he struggled to remove the cone from where it was jammed into the wheel arch. It took a few minutes.

Eventually we set off again (which was good, because I didn’t think I’d be able to hail another taxi from the place where we’d stopped, and I wasn’t sure what to do). The driver reset the meter at $0, which was nice of him.

Then, all very quickly, we arrived at La Guardia airport. I checked my phone. It was 7.30am. I have no idea how that happened – whatever time did I leave the hotel room? I had set my alarm, using the voice activated app, for 6.30. In one hour (apparently) I had showered, packed, said goodbye to Ruth, gone downstairs, got a taxi, stopped while a cone was removed, and driven to La Guardia. All in less than an hour?

I went to the check-in desk (I felt my inability to set an alarm excluded me from using the automatic check-in machines). I checked my bag into the hold, which cost me $25. The American Airlines website said this had to be paid in cash, but actually the opposite was true, and I had to pay by card. I was given a receipt, which was identical to my boarding card, so that might prove tricky. Then I went through the security.

Security is always stressful, with too many people, bright lights, cross voices – and too much distance between my luggage and myself while they check why I had set off their alarm. I also worry about being zapped by X-rays in their body scanners. But it was no worse than normal, and the security guy was very nice about the whole bottle of water I’d forgotten was in my bag.

I checked the boards, and my gate number was already showing, which was unexpected. I bought a coffee and cinnamon swirl (in a strange place where you help yourself to both and then pay at the end).

Now I am sitting at the gate, waiting. I have two hours until my flight. It has been a lovely week in NY with Ruth. Soon I will be in Miami, where Husband will meet me, and I’ll have a couple of days of sunshine before we fly home. Am so looking forward to seeing him again.

The gate is filling up, and they keep asking if anyone will trade their ticket and travel later, as they have over-booked the flight. I do hope my seat hasn’t been sold twice. Now they are stopping people as they board, and saying that all hand-luggage has to be checked into the hold. This is worrying, because I have my computer. Am signing off now, and will go and find out what’s happening.

Have a good day.

Love, Anne x

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Walking Through Manhattan

We decided to walk up through the districts of Manhattan. We weren’t sure we could manage to walk down, and then walk back up to our hotel, so we decided to brave the subway. Bearing in mind that we walked 21km by mistake in Central Park, I was slightly worried that we might spend all day going the wrong way on the subway, so I asked the concierge, who assured me it was easy—and promised to send a search party if she never saw us again.

Actually, it was very easy. There were ticket machines, and you can pay for a single journey (seems to be to anywhere within a certain time). You can also pay for multiple journeys, and pass the ticket back to another person at the barrier (we were told to do this by the woman in the ticket office, so it’s allowed). All we needed to know was which line, and where to get off, and the concierge had told us that.

We decided to get off at the WTC stop. It feels very odd to me that the World Trade Centre is no longer there – when we lived in New Jersey, we brought so many visitors to the twin towers, and you could see them from Route 17 (the main road nearest to our house). Now there is just a memorial to 9/11, and a museum. Actually, there were several memorials and museums, each showing something different. I have never been in them, and I found I didn’t want to this visit either. It’s too close, I know (vaguely) people who were killed, I would find it too upsetting.

We walked up the island twice. Once we took the China Town, Little Italy, Greenwich route; another day we walked up the West Side. I think I preferred walking up the west side, as we saw more ‘real’ New York: homes and schools and places of work. We stopped for lunch in a little Italian cafe, and while we were there it started to snow. The snow grew heavier, and we decided to stop again, for pie and coffee (really, I only come to New York to eat). By the time we left, the paths were slushy and slippery, and the snow was being cleared by men with snow-blowers, and the traffic was at a standstill. It was pretty though, and made me feel it was nearly Christmas.

We sat in the hotel lounge, watching the world struggle past, glad we weren’t caught up in the rush-hour chaos.

The other event of note was that, during one of our walks around Central Park, we did actually manage to see that Mandarin duck I told you about. It was on the south lake.

The poor thing was surrounded by photographers with long lenses (not that it seemed to take any notice). There was even a news crew there, interviewing people. They interviewed me: Are you excited to see the duck?
No, actually, I wasn’t, because we have a whole flock who visit our pond at home.
I don’t expect they used my interview for their super-excited news report.

It was pretty though, and I’m always surprised by how ‘painted’ they look. A lot of photographers were happy to see the one there anyhow.

The week ended all too quickly, and my sister had to return to Canada. It has been wonderful to spend time together, walking and chatting and eating (and drinking lots of coffee). I don’t like thinking about how rarely we’re on the same continent. I have a whole lot of selfies to remind me of the week, though I have to admit, I’m not very good at taking selfies, and it’s not always easy to spot the famous monument we’re in front of (because usually I miss completely).

My next stop is Florida. I have to travel on my own again, so that will be stressful. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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I am writing this from the hotel lounge in New York. I arrived, and so did my bag, so that was something of a relief. The flight all went smoothly, and I managed to get through immigration and find a the taxi rank, and got to the hotel — with all my possessions. My sister Ruth was arriving from Calgary, so we tracked each other by phone.

We are staying at The Sheraton, Times Square, which is perfectly placed midway between Times Square and Central Park. I arrived and checked in first, and the nice man at the desk upgraded me to an spg room (which means we can use the spg lounge — which is the lounge for their card members). We can go into the lounge for coffee and drinks, and they serve a breakfast, and nibbles in the evening. I’m sitting in there now, as I write this, watching people outside as they hurry through the New York rain.

We’ve had a lovely couple of days so far, with great NY cold-but-sunny weather (though Ruth informs me that NY cold is nothing compared to Calgary cold!) The time difference is annoying, as I wake at midnight, ready to start the next day. We’re sort of managing a compromise, so I stay in bed until 6am, and Ruth gets up early.

Day 1: We ate dry bagels in the deli opposite the hotel. Then they started to wipe the table, so we guessed they wanted us to leave (even though they had spare tables). We recamped in the hotel lounge and ate a second breakfast, with more coffee, and chatted some more.

Walked up to Central Park. Ruth is a talented wildlife photographer, and there are rumours that a Mandarin duck has been seen in the park, so she was keen to find it.
We saw sealions on the edge of the zoo, and lots of squirrels and sparrows, and a little bird called a ‘crested titmouse’ and robins­ – which are not the same as the friendly little bird in the UK. But no Mandarin duck. We saw the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sculpture that my children climbed on 20 years ago. But no Mandarin duck. No ‘Birdy Bob’ either (he gives guided bird walks, but we arrived too late). There were lots of people though – masses of them; all taking photos of the autumn leaves and faded chrysanthemums, and reflections in the water.

We actually spent longer in the park than planned, as it turns out that Ruth’s sense of direction is as bad as mine. We walked up the east side, all the way to the north edge, then crossed and walked down the western side. Except, we didn’t, and after walking for about an hour we realised we had turned north again, and were back at the top of the ball-field. We also walked the wrong way around the reservoir (it has one-way signs, but we didn’t notice them until we left). It was a long walk – we walked 21.5km according to my phone app. My legs really ached! But we had some good chats, and it was so nice to be together after months and months apart.

Later, we went to see the dregs of the Veterans Day Parade. It really was the dregs — am assuming the actual parade was much better. We saw people in matching hats, and a woman walking her dog (not sure if she was even in the parade or had just decided to walk on the road as there were too many people on the path). We managed to miss the tanks and soldiers and most of the bands. The most interesting thing was the two men in black hats standing on the corner of a tower block, watching the crowd. Am guessing they were keeping us all safe.

I’ll write more another day.
Hope you don’t get lost today.
Take care,
Love, Anne x

Feeling Nervous at Heathrow

I’m writing this in the BA lounge at Heathrow airport – sitting as near to the washrooms as possible because I am somewhat nervous. I’m travelling on my own — which is so not my favourite thing — because I’m meeting my sister for a week in New York (which will, if I arrive in one piece, be wonderful). The thing is, I am a nervous traveller at the best of times, but to travel alone is a whole new area of potential disaster.

My main fears are getting lost (I am the person who always parks in the same spot at Morrisons otherwise I never find my car again) and losing track of time. The time thing is very real – since my surgery I have no sense of how much time has passed, and doing something for 5 minutes often surprises me when I see the clock has moved an hour. At home, I live by alarms; when out, I follow Husband – so being here, on my own, is fraught with worry.

However, so far, I have met a very nice lady at the check-in desk, who told me exactly where to go (had to go on the scary monorail and get off in the correct place). She even drew me a map to the lounge (am travelling on air-miles, so all rather special). And my name has only been called over the tannoy once (left my coat in the washroom, but I might not mention that to my family). I managed the whole ‘no liquids, computers out, watch your bag disappear into the distance with strangers while we check why you set off our alarm’ security just fine – though I guess I might have left things there but not yet realised. Am hoping as I scatter my possessions merrily around the airport I don’t cause the whole thing to grind to a halt. But it should be fine, it’s not as if I can get on the wrong plane—or get off at the wrong stop. Can I?

Talking of possessions, I also have a niggling worry about my checked-in luggage. I’m sure that they usually attach a sticker to the back of the passport, which acts as a receipt if your bag is sent to the wrong place. But I don’t have one. I have checked — no sticky label. Does that mean my suitcase was sent off without a label? I was too nervous to notice, and I don’t remember. If so, will label-less luggage reach New York? Seems doubtful. But I don’t have time now to go to a desk and try to sort it out; I think I’ll solve the problem when I get to NY.

When I arrive in New York, I have to find the official taxi rank, and give them the hotel address, which is safely stored on my phone ready for when they bring the tiny immigration form for me to complete. I know I have to remind the driver that there is a set price for a taxi to Manhattan (just in case he forgets, and puts on the meter). And Husband has prepaid for the hotel, and I have a dollar to tip the man who carries my bag, and then my sister will arrive, and all will be fine. At least, I hope all will be fine.

Shutting down now, so I can go to check the board. Then I need to buy a bottle of water for when I arrive…and some chocolate. I will let you know how I get on.

Have a safe week (and try not to leave your coat anywhere by mistake).

Love, Anne x

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The Runway with a Pedestrian Crossing

The Runway with a Pedestrian Crossing

 If you’ve never flown to Gibraltar, it’s almost worth it for the airport alone. We initially arrived by car, from Spain, and were very surprised when we had to stop and wait for a plane to land. The road, and path, go right across the runway, and all traffic and pedestrians are stopped before the planes can land. Football matches in the nearby stadium also have to be paused, just in case a ball should escape and roll into the pathway of an incoming plane.

It is both bizarre, and rather wonderful. We weren’t there long enough to walk across it (my family were keener to see the wild monkeys) but it’s on my ‘one day’ list.

When we left Gibraltar, we managed to experience the little airport from the inside. I checked the Google ratings before we left, as I wanted to see if there were cafes. I was interested by the one-star ratings (they’re always the most interesting reviews to read, and often tell you more about the person writing it than the establishment being reviewed). Most of the one-star reviewers for Gibraltar airport were Spanish and based their rating on the belief that the airport was on land stolen from Spain, so shouldn’t exist anyway. (Not getting into the politics here, but am tempted to whisper the names of the cities in Morocco owned by Spain even though they are clearly within a different country.)

There was also however, an interesting review by someone who admitted that they had never actually landed in Gibraltar—as every time her flight had been diverted to Malaga. We investigated further, and discovered that unless the pilot can clearly see both ends of the runway, they will abort the landing and fly to Malaga. Which means of course that the aeroplane is then in the wrong place for the departing passengers and they all have to be bused to Spain. This caused a little consternation for Husband who tends to arrive at the airport 16 hours before the flight (just in case) as the family (all strangely strong-minded given their submissive parentage) were not easily persuaded to travel hours before the flight to a little airport which we could walk to in twenty minutes.

All was fine though. We arrived at the airport a couple of hours before the flight, and the check-in desk was actually open (a rare novelty for my family). There was then an excited few minutes when the boys spotted the price of the alcohol in the duty-free shop (I didn’t know it was even possible to buy Vodka in bottles that big!)

We walked from the airport to the plane. I was lucky enough to be sitting between chatty daughter and chatty husband, so it was quite difficult to finish reading my book. Daughter then looked at her holiday photos, and spent a happy hour deleting all the selfies that the boys had taken when she left her phone unlocked for a few minutes.

Final checks were done, the crew took their seats, and I concentrated hard on my book as we hurtled down the runway, trying to not think about all those cars and people who had been crossing a few minutes earlier, or about the length of the runway and the deep blue sea that was waiting at the end. Then we were up, Gibraltar was falling away behind us, and our holiday was finished. Thank you for sharing it with me.


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