I've always had wanderlust. Don't know where it comes from. When I was 26 I bought a 'round the world' ticket and flew off to New York. I thought after a year travelling I would have 'been there, seen it, done it' and it would be out of my system. Of course it didn't work like that. I travelled for two years and only went home when the money ran out. Then life took over for a few years, and travelling was confined to month long trips around Christmas, and shorter city breaks.
In 2009 Jim retired. Not to be outdone I also gave up work - at least for the forseeable future. We gave our flat in Amsterdam back to the housing corporation, gave away almost everything else and set off for India. We travel for seven to eight month stretches, and go back to England and Holland in the summer; because we want to stay in touch with family and friends, reflect on where we've been, and take time to plan the next trip. We'll do this for as long it's fun..... then - who knows.....
At the moment, just enjoying this incredible life.
December 13th 2012
Tuesday 11 December. 'Get ready for the coldest day of the year', announced the 'Daily Mail'. We weren't leaving the cold weather behind, Venice will hover slightly above freezing point – 'but it'll be prettier', joked the taxi driver. 7am, cold and dark, and we were on our way to London - the first leg of our journey. Boston train station is never a hive of activity – one track in, one track out. The waiting room was still closed; the platform deserted. But we were looking forward to our 25 hour plus trip. A kind of semi-grand tour to start with, that was the idea. None of the indignity of being stripped of belt and shoes, body checked and made to stand in line for what can seem like hours. We'd booked the Eurostar from ... read more
December 3rd 2012
Feeling lazy, I lounged on the settee. BBC Breakfast News was on a roll. Endless items of bad news. Same old. Same old. But then something different. A woman talking about living rent-free in London. I roused myself. Pricked up my ears. And that's how I heard about TrustedHousesitters.com. It seemed tailor-made for us and our nomadic lifestyle. We had to give it a go. It's a great thing to be trusted. It feels like a gift. All it took was an e-mail and a phone call - 'I just wanted to hear your voice' - and we'd got our first assignment. The tiny village of Flitton, in Bedfordshire was far from any bright lights, but we wanted to see hidden corners of England, live for a short while in tucked away places, and meld in ... read more
November 25th 2012
An ordinary woman. An extraordinary woman. Miss Hilda Craven was born in 1892 and lived to the age of 102. She was ruled over by seven different British monarchs, and lived through two world wars. She saw the first step into space, the development of electricity, atomic power and the digital age. While the world was turningon it's head and changing beyond recognition Hilda stayed the same. She left school at the age of 13 with one qualification – needlework – but began working immediately as a 'day girl' for the local butcher. She worked six and a half days out of seven, helping in the house and looking after the children, and was paid 1/6d a week. Her Sunday half-day was taken up with going to chapel. She worked for families in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and ... read more
November 1st 2012
Highgate Cemetery. Fairyland with an edge. The padlocked wrought-iron gates barred our way. In the inner courtyard, a flock of twenty-something pigeons took flight as one, filling the silence with a flutter of wings, and the emptiness with a scratch of charcoal grey. In the eastern cemetery a skinny fox sauntered amongst the tombstones, turning to look back at us, tongue lolling from the corner of his mouth, before he disappeared from sight into the depths with the dead ones. Highgate is high theatre, a feat of excessive Victoriana - a feast for the dead and the living alike. A custodian arrived; setting his shoulder to the gates, leaning his body into them, he pushed them open. Silence. Once hearses filled with flowers, pulled by black horses adorned with feather plumes, waited here. The cemetery lies ... read more
August 1st 2012
Amsterdam's Brown Cafe's are said to be timeless, so I set out to discover how good a 1969 guide book would be in the present day city. Stepping into my friend John's apartment is like falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Walls lined with books waiting to transport the unsuspecting to worlds of fantasy and the realms of imagination. At the very least to a step back into the past. In this case, the Amsterdam of 1969. The 'Fun Lovers Guide to Surprising Amsterdam'* beckoned from the shelf. I was immediately hooked. More than a restaurant/pub guide, the quirky little book provides snippets of history, personal stories about owners and is a veritable wealth of information. It got me thinking - could a 1969 guide have any value in modern-day Amsterdam? Did these places still ... read more
July 25th 2012
Apple pie goes back a long way. The first Dutch recipes appeared in the late 1400's. That's way before Rembrandt van Rijn and all those old masters. In Amsterdam, Dam Square and the Singel existed, but none of the other main canals had even been thought of. Apple pie beat them all to it. Of course it was a little different then. The case or 'coffyn' as it was charmingly was no more than a casing – a container of whatever was within; a way of carrying it around. Because there were no baking pans, the crust was probably – well, crusty and horrible. It's said that baking time was measured by the number of prayers a person had to say until a pie was ready. But gradually, with changes to cooking methods and ingredients, pastry ... read more
April 5th 2012
What a place! This whole museum should be in a museum. Dusty and cavernous, it's overwhelming, inspiring, breath-taking, all at once. Step through the door and the statues crowd in on you. Galleries stretch off into the distance, empty and silent; look up and domed arches shield the first floor rooms quietly waiting their turn. You could be locked in for months and still not see it all. The treasures far outweigh the available space; the museum is literally bursting at the seams. Stories about the basement store abound - it's said that some sculptures have sunk into the floor and need to be excavated. Until 1996, security simply involved locking the door at night. Outdated, out-moded, unique, a true spectacle. The stars of the show are without doubt the fifteen hundred treasures excavated from the ... read more
March 29th 2012
The Western Desert is vast, stretching from the Nile and the Mediterranean to the Sudanese and Libyan borders. The Great undulating Sand Sea contains some of the largest dunes on earth. The strange rock formations of the White Desert litter the sandscape like meringues gone mad; and the charred dark peaks of the Black Desert exude an other-worldly feel. It's an isolated, desolate, sometimes eerie landscape. Out on a limb, away from the desert circuit road, lies Siwa, a tiny, tranquil, still largely traditional oasis, surrounded by ruins, springs and date palms. But Siwa is changing. Mahdi Hweiti has lived in Siwa all of his life. 'For every person it's different. I cannot be away from my village for more than a week'. When Mahdi was a boy there was no road at all - not ... read more
March 15th 2012
The donkeys, dwarfed by the Colossi of Memnon, gave an occasional shake of the head and waited patiently. The cart, a simple affair, was ready in no time. A matress, covered with an old blanket, was thrown on the back and a bolster cushion snatched from 'Dreams of Memnon' the small cafe where we'd met Abdul and Ali. Ali twitched the reins and we were off. Traversing narrow dirt roads, bordered by shoulder-high sugar cane and vivid green fields of wheat. A day in the country, a break from the monuments. A day in twenty-first century, not ancient Egypt. We followed small canals, which ran in straight lines through the fields and off into the distance. Mudbrick houses - were they half-built or falling down? - were surrounded by livestock; tethered cows, sheep imprisoned in palm ... read more
March 15th 2012
In Luxor it's not possible to go far without hearing the shouts of the horse and carriage drivers hustling for a ride, or seeing overburdened donkeys pulling carts piled sky-high with everything from sacks of grain to gas cannisters. Away from the antiquities trail, Luxor is still a working farming community and families rely on their animals to make a living. Some of these animals are in poor condition, overworked, over-loaded and underfed. Animal Care Eqypt (ACE) is there to make a difference. We were shown around by Jan from Coventry, who's worked as a volunteer at ACE for eight years. 'I came on holiday with a friend', she explained. 'I could've turned round and gone right back - I thought men in skirts, what is this place'? And then she met one of those men, ... read more