I’m baaaaaack!

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Okay, so it’s been a wee while since I’ve written a blog on this site and it’s safe to say it’s because I was getting really stressed out before Christmas. There was still so much to do to prepare for Christmas Day itself and I also had social media stuff to do. And then, on top of that, I was extremely tired. So, I thought ‘stuff it’ and then I thought ‘I’m a freelancer, I can do what I want’ and then I thought ‘I’m shutting up shop early’. And I did just that. I did all I needed to do with regards my social media business, I tied up some loose ends with some other work I was doing and then I shut up shop.

Thank goodness I did as I had a whole load of things to do (present wrapping etc) before the big day itself.

So, how was your Christmas and New Year? Did you have a good one? I really enjoyed the festive period this year. I think it’s because I decided to put my feet up and not do very much. I had my parents and a friend for Christmas Day (plus the kids and dogs), which was great fun. My parents stayed over so we had a quiet Boxing Day up until they decided to go home in the afternoon. I’d recorded the Call the Midwife Christmas special and we watched that before devouring a huge fry up (fried square sausage, bacon, potato scone and black pudding – yum!). The programme was okay, but a bit heavy on the tartan and red hair.

writing

I went round to a neighbours’ house for Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve), but didn’t stay for the bells as I was driving to my parents’ house the next day for dinner. My mum, who is a great cook, made us steak pie and home-made soup and it was heavenly. I love her steak pie and soup. My sister and her family were there and after dinner we played games and had a round of general knowledge.

Aside from those three events, I didn’t do an awful lot else except binge watch The Witcher (which I thought was okay, but it was jumping all over the place story-wise which was annoying) and Bones. Also started watching the BBC’s new Dracula. Saw the first episode, not sure if I’ll watch the rest of it. It was okay. I don’t know if it’s just me being fussy about telly or that telly programmes just aren’t that good at the moment. Nothing surpasses Game of Thrones or Carnival Row for me – they were just superb, perhaps I’m expecting too much. Am also enjoying Suits and I’ve discovered a French/Flemish programme on Netflix called The Thieves in the Woods which looks quite good.

Anyway, all this tv watching and resting has meant I am back this week feeling fully refreshed and ready to take on the world.

ideas

I’m back into writing and currently drafting up a script for a one-off tv show which I’ll not speak too much about just now other than to say I’m really enjoying doing it. Whether it gets on telly or not is another matter – I hope it does – but I’m enjoying the process of writing again.

Talking of which, the nose is back to the grindstone for The Jacobite’s Share which I am planning to bring out in March. Been drafting up the cover words and I’ll send those over to my cover designer later this week. In a couple of weeks, I will begin promoting the book and plan to do an online launch of it. So, watch this space. I also have another couple of books that need edited, so I will start working on those at some point soon.

What else have I been doing? A little bit of reading. I was sorry to hear that M C Beaton (creator of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth) died over the festive period. I enjoy her books. They are not heavy stories, but are great when you want a murder mystery that’s not just full of ingenious clues, but are warm and funny too. I’m currently reading the Agatha Raisin murder mystery The Haunted House. I am also still reading Mary Beard’s Pompeii, which is great. There’s a lot of things I never knew about Pompeii.

Right, I am going to finish up here and wish you adieu. Got a fair few things to do before the kids come in from school. Til next time.

Dawn xxx

 

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Four days in Austria… bliss!

So I went to Austria last week for four days to visit my good friend Val, who lives in the south of the country close to the Italian and Slovenian borders.

And it was fantastic.

Not only did I have four whole days to myself – although two of those were spent travelling – and get to see Val, but I got to experience a beautiful (new to me) country.

I’ve been in a number of European countries, but this was my first visit to Austria and I loved it.

Waiting at Frankfurt Airport for my connecting flight to Salzburg.
View from the flight from Frankfurt to Salzburg.

The journey there was quite long. I couldn’t get a flight from Glasgow for the day I wanted, so I had to travel to Edinburgh Airport instead. I flew to Frankfurt and then from there flew to Salzburg. Val met me at Salzburg Airport and we took the bus back to the city.

Schnitzel in Salzburg.

We spent the night in Salzburg, eating in the Mozart Cafe before finding a local Irish pub where we drank wine and enjoyed the karoake.

The following day we had breakfast in Salzburg and a good walk around. Unfortunately, we only had the morning in the city, but it gave me enough time to see some of it and it’s gorgeous. I now want to return to be a total tourist and go into the Mozart Museum and, more importantly, The Sound of Music Museum, which we found just as we were heading for the train south.

A very cold me outside the Mozart Museum.
Even McDonald’s is posh in Salzburg.
The Sound of Music Museum.
Salzburg Castle – I’m going there one day.

My lovely friend lives near Villach in a brand-new house overlooking the wonderful castle of Landskron, which was shut for the winter (I chose the wrong time of year to visit!). I fully intend to return to Austria at some point and go and explore that castle – I love castles. Apparently, it has a brilliant café where, in the summer, you can sit outside and enjoy the stunning view of the valley.

Landskron Castle,

Talking of stunning, part of the train journey south takes you through Carinthian mountains, which when we travelled down from Salzburg, was about a foot deep in snow. In fact, it didn’t stop snowing until almost the point where we reached Villach. We couldn’t see a lot because the mountains were shrouded by snowfall, but what I did see was an amazing landscape covered in snow, which was oh-so-Christmassy.

Villach getting ready for their Christmas festival.

Anyway, the following day, we went into Villach for a wander about. Unfortunately (again), they were only just setting up for their Christmas festival (I kept on missing things!), but I got a glimpse of their lights and what the festival would look like with its kiosks and ice skating and glühwein and everything else that goes with it.

The restaurant where we lunched – of course, I have forgotten its name!
Lunch – yum! Think the restaurant is called Charles!
Posh toilets.
Posh toilet door.

We lunched in local restaurant/bar which was just stunning (see the pics – sorry about the quality, it was the best I could get) and the food was lovely. We’d actually asked for a different dish, but I think we mixed the waitress up and she came out with these. It was probably my fault because I said ‘we’ll get the daily special’ to Val and when the dishes came out, Val called them a word that sounded a bit like ‘special’ so I think that’s what the waitress thought we wanted. We didn’t say anything but ate it anyway and it was lovely, kind of like a nice macaroni cheese.

Day four and it was time for me to go home. I was gutted because I had had such a lovely time with Val and seeing this gorgeous country she’s now staying in.  So, she dropped me off at Villach station and I began my epic journey home: train to Salzburg (two-and-a-half hours roughly), bus to Salzburg Airport (10 mins), flight to Frankfurt Airport, flight to Edinburgh Airport, bus to Glasgow, train home, picked up at the station by my dad who, along with my mum, were babysitting the kids for me. I was shattered when I got home. I left Villach on the 9.16am train and arrived at my actual home west of Glasgow just after 8pm that evening. As Val said, it was ‘planes, trains and automobiles’! It was so worth it as not only did I get to see my friend and spend some time with her (we had a good laugh), but it totally refreshed me – just four days away made me feel less tired and more energised, so it was well worth the journey.

Anyway, I’d like to thank Val and family for putting me up, my parents for babysitting and my friend, Jill, who was supposed to come with me, but due to circumstances, was unable to go. This time. Jill, we will go again next year, promise!

So, that was my week last week. That’s one thing I love about living in Scotland – it’s only a few hours plane ride away to the amazing mainland Europe.

Food – loved the food. I ate pork schnitzel, Austrian pastry and that pasta type dish, which was lovely. Val also treated me to some Austrian wine, which was delicious.

Scenery – loved the historical buildings, the mountains, the snow, the castles.

People – Austrian people are very friendly and nice and very helpful. Thank you to Matteo who helped me tackle the machine where I had to buy my ticket to the airport. I couldn’t work out how to work it, but he helped. And thanks to all the Austrian people I met. Also like to say a big hello to the British folk I met too – the people on the flights and those in the Irish pub.

Would I go back? – definitely, I loved it.

Dawn xx

Trying to relax, but not managing it

 

Woman relaxing on a couch at home

So the kids are off this week and what I should be doing is relaxing, but that’s not easy when you are used to going at a hundred miles an hour. Plus there are extenuating circumstances as to why I can’t just sit back and relax like the lady in the picture above.

Firstly, the girl is doing work experience at her uncle’s law firm. And she’s loving it. But it means there are no lie-ins for me as I – being a good mother and all that – get her up in the morning and see her off. I hate the idea of not seeing her off. I have been going back to bed, but it’s not the same as waking up later, so while I have been reading I have been unable to get back to that warm and cosy state of being that you are in just before you wake up naturally.

Secondly, I rather stupidly decided it would be a great idea to clean out the linen cupboard which was overflowing with old duvet sets and sheets as well as the newer ones. Now my kids are 11 and 14, so why was I keeping an old fairy duvet set of the girl’s or the boy’s Thomas the Tank one from when he was three? Jeezo I can be sentimental sometimes. But, yesterday, I just pulled them all out, put back the ones (ie the more mature bed sets) I wanted to keep along with my own bedsets, and took the old ones downstairs. They are mostly in great condition so I am currently working my way through a mountain of them with the view to washing them before donating them to charity. At the very least, the charities can get the money from rags. Hopefully, they’ll be able to sell a few of them. There was even my son’s Dr Who duvet set in there which I, for a brief moment, considered keeping for sentimentality then I gave myself a shake and threw it in the washing basket to go out.

So, how’s your week been going? My two are off school this week and next for the October break. It’s quiet this week with the girl doing work experience, but no doubt next week all hell will break loose when the pair of them get back to their usual arguing and bickering.

Anyway, my OU course resumed this week. I am doing a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. This module we are studying the life of objects first. It’s really interesting, all about archaeology and anthropology, which is right up my street. Been enjoying it so far.

Been gearing up for NaNoWriMo which begins next month. Thought I’d get off to a flying start by planning the book right the way through before I start writing it. Started that today. Had already gotten some ideas for a book down before, so went back to that and fleshed it out. I’ve gotten up to chapter four in the planning. Will get back to it again tomorrow.

Tolkein

Watched a great film recently about JRR Tolkien (pronounced Toll-keen). Tolkien, for that is the name of the film, charts the famous author’s early life from childhood right up until he begins to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It’s a lovely book and Nicholas Hoult is great in the title role with Lily Collins playing the love interest. I knew Tolkien had been a soldier in WW1 but I had no idea what a tragic childhood he had. Good film, recommend it.

Watched the latest Men in Black film starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thomson in the lead roles. Men in Black International is full of action and quite good, but it’s not a patch on the original movies. Sorry. Plus I’d guessed how it was going to play out at the beginning of the film. I knew who the baddy was from the word go. Sigh. Not a great film. It’s okay, but just okay.

What I am reading. Still working my way through M C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series. Am now on to the Curious Curate. Can’t believe how addicted I am to these. Then again, I was the same with the Southern Vampire series written by Charlaine Harris, the books that the True Blood tv series was based on. Was totally addicted to those too. I love it when you get a book or a series of books to read that you just can’t put down and you are desperate for the next one. I am afraid poor old Cranford is lying on my bedside table abandoned for now. I think I may give Agatha a short break and go back to that. I also have a number of non fiction books to read in relation to my course, but I’ll get through them in due course.

Right that about sums up my week so far. I need to get back to my washing Monro, so I will say adieu until next time.

Dawn xx

 

 

 

 

 

Jacobite’s, Cranford and a Visit to Austria

Hello and how are you? How’s your week been? Hope it’s been fine. I know that it is the start of a fresh new week, but I am running a bit behind with my blog posts.

So, what’s been happening lately at Nelson Towers? Well, autumn is well and truly trying to establish itself here in Scotland. Apart from the seasonal call of the Canada Geese as they rest in the River Clyde en route to their winter roosts, autumn has manifested itself in the changeable weather. For instance, on Saturday, it was really hot and sunny. However, yesterday, it was torrential rain. It wasn’t bitterly cold – not yet – but verging on cold. The rain was the main problem. I had planned to do a bit of gardening yesterday afternoon, but as it was still raining then and I wasn’t feeling well anyway, I gave it a body swerve.

Last week went by a in flash. I can’t believe it’s the start of a whole new week already! In saying that, from Wednesday til yesterday I wasn’t feeling at all good: it started with a nasty cold and merged into generally feeling yucky. Am alright today, so that’s good.

Jacobites – The Battle of Prestonpans.

So, what did I manage to get done last week? Well, let’s see, I’ve been doing a final edit on The Jacobite’s Share (sequel to Dusting Down Alcudia and out early next year). I’ve formatted it, but always go over it one more time because there are always typos in it. And I have found a few! I’ve also been working on building my small PR and social marketing business, which has been good. Have signed up to a few training courses and been out and about networking. It’s been very enjoyable. Another source of income will be online writing and I’ve been pursuing a few leads on that. So, it’s all coming together nicely.

Due to feeling rotten at the tail end of last week and the weekend, I didn’t manage to do any writing on my genie book nor start the editing on my two draft books. However, I will get around to those at some point soon. Still on my to-do list is completing the audiobook of Dusting Down Alcudia. Just haven’t had the time to get that sorted yet. That’s on the list for this week.

Also on the list for this week is gardening. My garden badly needs done. I am afraid I have been sorely neglecting it so I’m going to spend a couple of days sorting it and filling up the skip I’ve hired (and that is currently sitting in my driveway) with detritus from my work. Hopefully, the weather will hold. Otherwise, it’ll be pretty miserable doing gardening in the rain and gale-force winds!! 🙂

What I am reading: have finished The Diaries of Miss Anne Lister and am now reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, which is a lovely book. I am really enjoying it. Saw the tv series starring Judy Dench as Miss Matty and loved it, and the book is as good, if not better. It’s funny and charming and just lovely to read. It’s about a group of gentlewomen leading their gentle lives in the village of Cranford in Victorian England. The characters are so brilliantly depicted and I’d love to just step into the book and go and have tea with them all. Ten out of ten for this one. I’ve also been reading M C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books – they are my go-to easy readers at the moment. I love the tv series and am really enjoying the books. They’re funny, quick to read and highly enjoyable. I am not a book snob, I will read anything and, so long as it has a good story and characters, I don’t care if it is a classic, literary fiction or more mainstream. Agatha Raisin is definitely in the latter category and I love the books. Looking forward to starting The Terrible Tourist tonight.

Stunning Austria.

So, I’ve left the most exciting news until last. I am going away for a four day trip to Austria in November and I CANNOT WAIT!! I am going with my friend to visit another friend who lives there. I’ve never been to Austria, but have always wanted to go. We’re spending a night in Salzburg (The Sound of Music tour here we come!!) and then going to our friend’s house in the south of the country, in the foothills of the Alps. Added to that is that there is a castle near where she stays and I’m itching to visit it. Am so excited!! My darling children – including my fur babies – are being looked after by my parents (thank you Mum and Dad) while I am away. They are staying at my house in what they are calling a ‘holiday’. I like the fact they look on staying at mine as a holiday. Anyway, hope they have as much fun looking after their grandchildren as I will have being away from them! Yay!

Right, I am going to end this here before I explode with the excitement of the thought of a few days away. New passport has been ordered, EHIC renewed and travel insurance bought. Flights and train fares have been organised by my friend. I just have to buy some Euros to take with me.

Okay, enough of Austria. I shall finish up this post now with my normal farewell: until next time.

Dawn xxx

What we did on our holidays…part 3.

Dunadd Hill Fort.

This is just a little post to say how much we enjoyed our holiday. Although the weather was not great until the Saturday morning when we were leaving, we still had a good time.

I forgot to tell you that we also managed to climb Dunadd Hill Fort on the Thursday afternoon. It dates from the iron age and was believed to have been the capital of Dal Riata. Here’s some pics…

This is where the kings were crowned by placing their foot in this carved out footprint. They must have had size 6/6.5 feet because my feet are size 6 and they fitted perfectly.
The view halfway up.
Going back down.

After the kids had been horse riding on Friday, and we had lunch, we had a quiet afternoon and evening back at the house. It was a bit drizzly outside, but I took the time to take some pics of the garden:

The little private chapel.
The bridge over the burn leading to the little woodland.

Yes, it was a good holiday. I am so glad we stayed here. It was remote, but lovely. Would recommend it.

Anyway, I shall finish this final post for this week here and wish you adieu until next time.

Dawn xxx

What we did on our holidays…part 2.

Carnassarie Castle.

Carnassarie Castle is only about three or four miles from where we were staying and is just outside Kilmartin. So, wishing to explore it, I offered to take the kids there. Being about ten in the morning and wishing to stay in their jammies a while longer (lazy sods), they declined, so I went myself with the dogs.

At first, we had the castle to ourselves, but as I was climbing up to it, I turned around to see a tourist bus draw into the car park below. Sigh. So, I hurried the dogs up and we explored it in peace for about ten minutes. The tourists turned out to be German and were most taken with my mutts. We couldn’t stay long because Millie (aka Mrs Barky Pants) lived up to her name. She is a fabulous wee dog, but sounds ferocious when she barks. She’s not.

Anyway, here are some pics:

There’s nothing I like more than exploring a castle, any castle, including those in ruins. You can climb right to the top of the castle to see a magnificent view. However, we – me and the three dogs – only managed to the second top level as the pug (who is a bit elderly) was struggling on the stairs. It was great.

Later that same day, me and the kids drove down to Inveraray to meet up with my youngest sister and her kids for lunch. They were coming to say overnight in the house with us, along with my parents and their dogs (although the latter stayed for two nights). We had a really nice lunch at the George Hotel, I’d recommend it. Anyway, our parents caught up with us there and me, my sister and all the kids did a tour around Inveraray Jail, which was fun. Then we all went up to Auchinellan where we had dinner – beautifully made by my mum who is a great cook (home-made steak pie, heaven!) – and wine.

The following day, we drove up to Tayvallich for a cuppa. It’s a gorgeous wee coastal village. We popped over the hill to a beach which had a stunning view of Jura. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t too great, but the kids still had fun hunting for dead crabs on the beach. My boy found a dead bird, so the kids had a short ceremony and burial for it.

We then drove down to Lochgilphead for lunch. At first we couldn’t find a café or restaurant that was big enough to take us all (there were seven of us – the girl had declined to come with us. Teenagers!), but we eventually found The Smiddy bistro, which was able to accommodate us. Can I just say that The Smiddy makes the best Cullen Skink I have ever tasted. It was so good, that me and the kids went back there the following day.

Anyway, we said farewell to my sister and her kids later that afternoon. It was such a shame they had to go home for we were all having a great time. However, my parents were still there and we had a nice meal in the house with some wine.

On the Thursday, me, the boy and my parents drove up to Crinan with the dogs and took them a walk. There’s a really nice cycle path there and the scenery is just gorgeous. We had a cuppa in the local café and then parted ways. My parents went home and we popped into Lochgilphead for supplies. We then went back to the house, fetched the girl and returned to Lochgilphead for lunch at The Smiddy again.

Friday, and the kids went pony trekking. Me and the girl had already done this on the Monday and she loved it so much, I agreed she could do it again. The boy, who had not wanted to do it on the Monday, now wanted to do it, so I booked them both into the Lunga Riding Stables.

This place is on the Lunga Estate on the Craignish Peninsula and surely has the best scenery for horse riding in Scotland. It’s gorgeous. On the Monday, my horse was Winnie and, thankfully (for I was a bit nervous), she was a gentle soul. The girl had Paddy, who was a bit mischievous. She got him again on the Friday and the boy was on Ralph. They both really enjoyed it and while they were away, I took the dogs down to the beach for a bit of adventure. I basically love exploring and that is what we did. We had a wander about the estate and then went back to where the car was parked. We literally sat in the car for about 15 minutes before the kids showed up on their horses. They were both red faced and smiling. They’d loved it.

We went back to the house for a final dinner and to pack (although I had already basically packed).

I’ll fill you in on our last few hours in Auchinellan House in the next post. Til then.

Dawn xxx

What we did on our holidays

Okay, so me and the kids headed north last week to spend a lovely week in a Victorian villa near Lochgilphead. Auchinellan House is the main house in the Auchinellan estate near a tiny village called Ford (which is a few miles away from Lochgilphead). It overlooks the picturesque Loch Ederline and is surrounded by lush greenery and forest. There’s a stream running down one side of the garden and a little pathway through the trees. It’s magical.

The view from my bedroom window. The weather has been a little overcast and drizzly, but it’s still gorgeous.

The house itself is lovely. Although it needs a little bit of work on it, it’s still an impressive holiday home. There’s a living room, a library, kitchen, dining room, a toilet, two bathrooms and eight bedrooms. As the payer of the holiday, I bagsied the bedroom with the best view (see above). Let’s face it, I’m the only one who will truly appreciate it. My kids are 14 and 11 and not interested in views. I, however, enjoyed it very much. There was nothing nicer than waking up to the birdsong, opening the curtains and seeing that view.

So, what did we do on the holidays? Well, we arrived on Saturday afternoon so our first full day was the Sunday. I took the kids down to Kilmartin for lunch in a local hotel. We went to the Kilmartin Hotel for something to eat. The décor there is in dire need of being updated, but the food was fine, if a little pricey. I ordered the smoked fish with a mornay sauce and veg. The kids just had chips and onion rings – they have restricted and awful diets, but will not eat properly. I have tried everything to get more nutritious food in them, but they rarely go for it. Anyway, we ordered and our orders arrived within ten minutes, which makes me think the dishes weren’t made from scratch there and then. My food was burning hot – had it been microwaved to reheat? And the girl’s onion rings were a bit soggy – also microwaved? That’s the impression I had about the food. My dish cost me nearly £14 and it wasn’t worth the money. Anyway, it filled a hole and gave me the energy for the rest of the afternoon.

What we did was to visit Kilmartin Museum which exhibits artefacts found on archaeological digs in the area. Before we went in there, we popped into the local church next door where mediaeval (and earlier/later) grave markers are on display.

Kilmartin Church.
Some of the grave markers.

We also popped into the museum next door which is there to display some of the ancient finds they’ve found in the area.

After that we took a wee drive around the area just to have a look around.

So, that was Monday. I’ll tell you all about Tuesday in the next post. Til next time.

Dawn xx

Barcelona!

Oh my God! What can I say about Barcelona that would do this city any justice? It’s an amazing place with the most stunning architecture…I’ve included some pictures of a tiny fraction of the buildings above, but there are far bigger, better and stunning buildings in this city. We just didn’t have the time to see them all.

How we got there…the ship docked in the early hours that Friday morning at Barcelona’s port. We took a taxi to the airport, dumped our suitcases with Left Luggage (because we were flying home later that day) and then took a bus from the airport to the Plaza Espanya near the city centre.  Look how amazing this square is…

And here’s what else is near there…

It’s the Museum of Catalunya. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go and see it. Instead we headed down a wide tree filled street (stopping at a really nice wee pizza place for lunch first) to find the Sagrada Familia (pictured at the start of this post) which is something I’ve always wanted to see. The place was hoaching with tourists, but it was well worth having a look at…the cathedral is truly inspiring and amazing to look at. Every nook and cranny is filled with exquisitely carved modern art. As you can see from the cranes, the building is still not finished more than 100 years after it was first begun. I loved it.

After that we headed for the city’s beach area which my mother assured us wasn’t that far to walk. It took us about an hour with a stop off for some drinks because the weather was so hot. Because it was Good Friday, there was a right festival atmosphere about the city and the place was jumping with locals and tourists. There were a range of street stalls and myself and the kids spent the rest of our holiday money on bits and pieces to take home – I bought two lovely fans painted in a modern style. I was really hot on holiday, but I knew I’d use them again back home…being a right Northerner, I get hot in muggy weather and stuffy offices, so the fans will come in handy. Plus we do get the odd hot day in Scotland. There are also some cheeky folk who would point out that I am a lady of a certain age who is hurtling towards 50 and therefore menopause, but as I am still only 25 (in my head) and will be forever, this will never happen!

Anyway, after the beach we walked up the packed Ramblas. It was uncomfortably busy, but didn’t put me off the city…in fact I’d love to return there for a long weekend at some point in the near future. We caught a bus at the Placa de Catalunya to get back to the airport in time for dinner and then our flight home. We only had a few hours in Barcelona, but I loved it. Verdict on Barcelona: fab. Will definitely go back. Only issue: I had the song ‘Barcelona’ by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe ringing through my head the entire time I was there and every time I think of the word ‘Barcelona’. It’s a great song, but really annoying if you can’t get it out of your head!

Anyway, that’s the holiday. We arrived back home around midnight that night and it was great being back in Scotland, but I really loved the holiday. We all loved the holiday.

Right, so back to real life. This week is the first full week I’ve had since leaving work and it’s already Wednesday and I don’t know where my time is going? Okay so this week, I have walked the dogs every day (and got soaked on Monday), I have had lunch with a friend (down at Ardardan today) and visited my father-in-law yesterday who is very old and frail. On Monday morning I also went to a pilates class with another friend. These events took up a few hours each day, so that’s my excuse for not achieving a huge amount over the last three days. The big news is that I have gone back to writing my book for adults…the one I started last year. I can’t say it’s been easy getting back into the swing of things, but I have written up my workplan and I intend to stick to it.

The rest of the week will be spent doing the bits and pieces around the house that need doing and assembling my new bike. I have great plans to take the kids out cycling more over the summer. There are some great routes around here plus I have a cycle carrier which we can use for further afield.

Over to books and I am currently reading: Caroline Moorhead’s ‘Martha Gellhorn: A Life’, which is a great read. On holiday, I got through several books:

The first three were fantastic. You cannot beat a Pratchett for humour and a good read, and Joanna’s books are just so funny and a great beach/poolside read. I had hoped to enjoy McIlvanney’s book more because he so revered as a writer, but it was alright. I doubt I’d read it again.

Right, I think I will finish up here and say adieu until next time! See you then.

Dawn xxx

All Aboard! Bermuda, Madeira and Malaga

Hello, how’s things? How are you? What’s been happening with you? Am back to relate the next part of our epic journey across the Atlantic. Last week, I shared our days in the Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios. Today, it’s Bermuda, Madeira and Malaga.

Firstly, though here’s a quick view of the ship. As you can see, unlike the pic above, the sun was splitting the sky. We had about three days of overcast, but still warm enough to sit out weather and the rest was glorious. Our ship was the Norwegian Epic and it was excellent. The food was excellent, the evening entertainment was good, the bars and restaurants were good and the cabins comfortable. We went to see the Broadway show of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which was brilliant, a dance show and a magician. The kids had their own clubs to attend and spent a lot of time at the ship’s waterpark (pools, flumes etc). They had a ball.

Now for Bermuda. What can I say about it? It’s incredibly flat, incredibly expensive and there’s not much to see there. We spent some time in Hamilton, which is a nice town with very expensive, exclusive shops and not much else. I don’t have any pics because I accidentally locked myself out of my phone around about then and couldn’t take any. The biggest thing the kids had about Bermuda is that they were nervous about crossing the scary Bermuda Triangle (thanks to Scooby Doo for that one!), but we reassured them and they were fine. Verdict on Bermuda: meh!

Now Madeira is a totally different kettle of fish: a beautiful, cultured, historic island with lots to see and do and where you don’t feel like you are getting the Mickey taken out of you every time you take your purse out.

 

Here’s me on the cable car at Funchal. The view was fantastic and the kids loved being on the cable car. We had a drink at the top, a wee walk around (we didn’t do the lovely park there because the kids were champing at the bit to go back down and spend their holiday money) and then back down.

Funchal is a beautiful old town with lots of stunning buildings and things to see.

It has stunning parks one of which has a great view of the harbour where our ship (left) was docked. We all spent our holiday money buying gifts and things for ourselves. My mum – a near professional shopper – and my girl – also a near professional shopper – spent a happy hour in a large international clothes shop there and came out armed with bags and happy smiles. The boy, myself, my dad and my niece waited for them at the nearby park where the boy spent his time hunting out and watching, with a fascination on his face that I haven’t seen since he was tiny, the little lizards that lived in the rocks there. If he could have, I’m sure he would have taken one home! Verdict on Madeira: loved it! Would definitely go back. Shame we couldn’t have stayed longer.

Now to another place I love. I’ve been before and was really happy to be back…Malaga in southern Spain.

It’s a stunning city with some wonderful architecture…

It also has stunning castle, Castilla de Gibralfaro, which dates back to the 10th century and includes some of the best views of the city. Recommend this as a tourist destination: not only is it very reasonable to get into (don’t buy an organised trip! just go), but it’s got a museum, café and you can wander all round the ramparts. If, like me, you love exploring castles, you’ll enjoy this one. NB while we dafties walked up the flagstoned (and extremely steep) road up to the castle, doing our knees in and almost needing leg transplants when we arrived, you can actually get to the castle by a normal road around the back. In saying that, I actually enjoyed the ascent and descent.

The ramparts and the views…

The museum…

One of the stunning buildings at the foot of the castle. This is their awe inspiring town hall…

Although I’ve shown you the images in this order, I actually took them the other way round. We did the castle first and then went into the city to enjoy the beautiful and ancient architecture. We stopped off at a little bar down a side street for beer, enjoyed the ambiance and, quite frankly, I could have just stayed there. I love the city. Verdict on Malaga: love it for its architecture, history, friendly people, lots of things to do and see. Will definitely go back.

Right, am going to finish up here now. Next week, it’s the end of the holiday and what a way to spend it: Good Friday in Barcelona a city I’ve been dying to go to for years. Til next time!

Dawn xxx

Orlando, the Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios

So, as promised a quick overview of the holiday. Above is me – still peely wally (ie very pale for my non Scottish readers) – at Disney’s Magic Kingdom with Cinderella’s Castle in the background. Yes I am wearing Minnie Mouse ears and a Micky Mouse t-shirt…it’s a prerequisite of going to Disney! There were tonnes of families in matching t-shirts and ears and hats and my family were no different…except my dad who refused point-blank to wear anything like that. So we just called him a ‘bah humbug’!! Hee hee.

Anyway, first impressions of the Magic Kingdom…We took a free shuttle bus from our hotel to the park early in the morning. We arrived at Epcot and took the monorail to a steamboat port and got the boat across the water to the Magic Kingdom. It was a nice way to arrive, but a bit drawn out. Anyway, I was shocked by the amount of security on the doors of the Magic Kingdom…shocked, but not surprised.  Disney, like most other big parks, is a potential target for terrorists, which is horrible. Anyway, we got through the security (it was like being in an airport it was that much) after standing in the first of many queues that day. We walked through the gates and into a lovely faux town with lots of shops selling hugely overpriced food, drink and gifts. Everywhere was the sickly sweet scent of sweets or cakes or something. There was no magic…not for me anyway.

We walked up towards the castle and into the area where the first ride we wanted to go on – Space Mountain was – unfortunately the queues were horrendous. We had bought a day ticket, but you can’t pre-buy day tickets for Disney, websites only allowed you to buy two days or more, so you can’t pre-book fast passes for a day either. We tried to book it on the machines in the park and we got help from a very nice Disney employee who was a whizz on them, but we couldn’t get a fast pass for Space Mountain for that day (the queue was over two hours long). We did, however, manage to get fast passes for the Haunted Mansion, Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean and a couple of other rides, so we took those. We also went on the train that goes around the park a couple of times.

I’d like to say I had a fantastic time at Disney, but after a whole day (and around nine miles of walking according to my Fitbit) traipsing around the park I came away with a kind of ‘meh’ kind of feeling. I was quite disappointed in it. I felt the rides we did get on were quite old-fashioned, there was nothing fantastic about them. Also, you had to wait ages to get your picture taken with a character. I didn’t come away feeling like I’d had an amazing day. I just felt I’d paid an awful lot of money for a non-descript kind of day.

Above the view from the train in the Magic Kingdom. Verdict on Disney’s Magic Kingdom – meh.

Now Universal Studios is so much better.

We did Universal Studios the following day and it was fantastic. As a huge Harry Potter fan I, of course, was desperate to do the Harry Potter bits of the parks. We bought tickets for the two Universal Studios parks (as well as the fast passes, although we still had to queue, but not as long as folk who didnt have the passes) just so we could really enjoy both Harry Potter sites and the train between the two, but we got so much more as well. The first bit we headed for was Hogsmeade (pictured above and below).

It was amazing. The place felt so real and the attention to detail was amazing. We went to Ollivanders to buy wands and I picked up a couple of book marks too. This area also houses Hogwarts itself which we also visited. Then we went to the station to get the Hogwart’s Express to Diagon Alley.

The train journey itself is amazing. It has old-fashioned carriages with individual wee rooms. On one side, you can see out the windows and watch the ‘journey’ to ‘London’, but on the other, you are looking at the frosted glass of the doors between the room and the walkway and you can see the shadows of Harry, Ron and Hermione and hear their conversation. The journey doesn’t last long and takes you to ‘King’s Cross Station’.’s

Diagon Alley was nearby, as was the Night Bus (see below).

Diagon Alley was packed and we didn’t do the ride at Gringott’s (although apparently it’s good, but I don’t like rollercoasters so I didn’t want to do it).

Once we’d had our fill of Harry Potter, we decided to explore the rest of this park. It was fantastic. There are lots of places to see and things to do and it’s here we did the Transformers ride (which is AMAZING – you really feel like you’re in the middle of a battle between the Decepticons and Optimus Prime and his ‘men’, it’s terrifying in places, but such a thrill – you are in a city trying to escape the Decepticons and you get shot at and you tumble off the top of a sky scraper and it’s all so real you squeal all the way through it, but are secretly loving every minute of it), the Despicable Me ride and the Shrek ride. The Despicable Me one was amazing too, although not on a par with Transformers, and the Shrek one was good, but tamer.

We also saw a parade. We missed out on the Disney parade in the afternoon because we were doing the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so it was nice to catch this one. Here’s Gru et al dancing and singing in the streets…

And a view of this park across the water…

After we’d tired of this park we took the Hogwart’s Express back to the other park and did the Jurassic Park ride and a few others.

Some more views of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade from a bridge that led us to the Jurassic Park ride.

The Jurassic Park ride was really good. It’s a river ride. You get on your ‘boat’ and go into the enclosures, dodging animatronics dinosaurs along the way. It ends with a long tip and splash into the water and is really fun. We followed this by popping into the King Kong ride. None of us were that bothered about doing it – in fact my mum was going to sit out because she couldn’t be bothered waiting in yet another queue – but we were all so glad we did. It’s really REALLY good. Again you are in a ‘car’ driving about Kong’s island dodging dinosaurs and large spiders and other beasts. This is done mostly with SGI and it’s so lifelike. It was exciting and scary and thrilling and, well, if we had the time or energy we would have done the ride again and again and again. It’s great…almost as good as the Transformers ride.

If I remember rightly, King Kong was the last ride we did that day as we had to catch the bus back, but we also squeezed in a few others along the way. We would around 10 miles that day according to Fitbit and we could hardly put one foot in front of the other by the time we were finished, but we all had a really good day.

Verdict on Universal Studios: loved it, would definitely go back. It’s fantastic. Recommend it.

Oh nearly forgot, my thoughts on Orlando. It’s immaculate and very modern, but I felt it was soulless. There is no culture to the place. It’s pretty enough, but I prefer old cities and towns with hundreds of years of history and buildings to match. We stayed at the Days Inn Hotel, which when we first arrived we weren’t that impressed with, but it was immaculate, the rooms were comfortable, the staff were lovely and it had a really nice pool area that the kids loved.

Our last full day in Orlando was taken up by the Universal Studios trip. The following morning we got up early (aching from all the walking we had done over the previous two days, but it was worth it), took a taxi to Port Canaveral and caught our cruise ship, the Norwegian Epic. More about that in the next blog post…I just loved the ship and the places we visited.

Til next time,

Dawn xxx