Sunday, 19 October 2014

Flying to Amsterdam with KLM

Sweaty palms, heart thumping, stomach churning, clock-watching, arguing....

The symptoms many of us exhibit if we are catching a flight to go on holiday.

No matter how experienced we may be at flying, the stress of getting to an airport and onto the plane has never dissipated. We worry about timings, car parks, buses, luggage, queues, security's a wonder we ever go away. If we're travelling with children, whether toddlers or teens, keeping them from screeching, sulking and dawdling makes it all ten times worse.

I've always believed that travelling to an airport is a lot like giving birth - painful at the time but all forgotten once it's over....until the next time.

The best we can do is make every effort to reduce the aspects of flying which add tension to the trip. One way is to choose a local airport which, as well as offering the convenience of being closer to home, often has the added advantage of being smaller, with easy car parking near to the terminal.

KLM have invited Dougie and I to try out our local airport, Humberside, so we will soon be flying hassle-free from there to spend two nights in Amsterdam,  KLM's original home. Interestingly, where we live in South Lincolnshire, we could also have flown with them from Leeds Bradford, Norwich or Birmingham: all are under two hours drive from our home. In fact KLM fly from 16 regional airports in the UK, more than any other airline. Who knew?

KLM assure me that a shorter drive to the airport will avoid the scenario shown in the video below: it's a funny clip but my heart was beating fast as I felt the stress building up in the poor mother who is about to explode...

I've had a look at Humberside Airport and am delighted to see the car parks are within walking distance of the terminal - that's reduced my tension levels another notch because we won't have to wait for the bus. I'm also hoping that as it's smaller, the queues will be shorter and we won't have as far to walk to the gate. It should be smooth and quick. More time for shopping? Excellent.

I'll be reporting back after our trip to let you know how we get on but, in the meantime, let's have your tips for Amsterdam. We only have 48 hours once we touch down at Schiphol Airport and are looking to see what the city can offer families of all ages, not just a couple of middle-aged empty nesters like us. If you know some quirky attractions, great places to eat or just somewhere for us to stand and stare then let me know.

In the meantime, I have cases to pack...


Saturday, 18 October 2014

More from Trish Takes Five

Thought you might like to have a read of the latest columns I've written for the Lincolnshire Free Press. The final one has content regular readers may remember but the first two are brand spanking new...

Finding out about Exeter University, its alumni and the possible inspiration for some Harry Potter locations.

If it's good enough for J.K. Rowling...

Dougie and I de-cluttering my mum's garage. An illuminated cocktail fountain anyone?

One mother's clutter is another aunt's treasure

X Factor sparks some memories of talent shows for Mum and me.

An emotional rollercoaster


Monday, 13 October 2014

Book Review: Love in Small Letters by Francesc Miralles

Enjoy the little things, 
for one day you may look back
and realize they were the big things.
Robert Brault

Like many readers I think I can gauge whether a book is for me by the front cover, the blurb on the back cover and, occasionally, a quotation at the beginning. The colour of the cover for Love in Small Letters reminded me of One Day by David Nicholls so was instantly appealing and the above quote had me nodding in recognition.

What does the blurb on the back say?

"When Samuel wakes up on 1st January he is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing exciting or unusual - until a strange visitor bursts into his flat, determined not to leave. The appearance of Mishima, a stray cat, leads Samuel to a strange encounter with the enigmatic Valdemar and his neighbour Titus, with whom he had previously never exchanged a word, and is the catalyst for the incredible transformation that is about to occur in the secluded world he has built around himself. 
As unexpected friendships develop out of these encounters and a childhood love is reignited, Samuel discovers, for the first time, how small everyday acts can have the power to unleash a hurricane of feeling and awaken the heart from its slumber." 

That's all three boxes ticked.

Originally published in Catalan in 2010, this is a new translation, by Julie Wark, of an acclaimed novel by Barcelona born, Francesc Miralles. Conscious that you are not reading the author's exact words, you have to trust the translator to capture the soul of the writer and not just the words. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this is the case but there was certainly a good rhythm to the novel, the words flowed with ease and this very engaging little book was a real pleasure to read.

Samuel, a lecturer in German studies and linguistics, is a self-contained but lonely man and we see him on New Year's Eve, bringing in the New Year on his own, with a bunch of grapes (one to be eaten on each chime). The sudden appearance of a stray cat frustrates him and causes his normal routines to be turned upside-down. Within a few days of the cat entering his life, he has met his neighbour in the upstairs apartment and caught sight of Gabriela, a girl with whom he once shared a brief, tender moment when he was a young boy.

The book examines the idea of cause and effect: what are the consequences of small acts? Did feeding a stray cat inevitably lead to him finding a lost love? Samuel has a keen interest in literature and philosophy so the book is peppered with references to fascinating stories by Kafka, Goethe and Graham Greene plus quirky definitions from Rheingold's dictionary, They Have a Name for It. The music of Mendelssohn also weaves its way magically through the pages. This makes for a beautifully intelligent yet refreshingly simple novel.

I did feel some disappointment, however, as the novel seemed too short. I wanted more - of the characters, the plot, the quotes and definitions. Love in Small Letters was, for me, love in too few letters.

Love in Small Letters was sent to me to review by the publishers, Alma Books. 
Price: £6.39 from Alma Books


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Castles, cows and cascades

Our visit to the Northumberland coast seems a long time ago, probably because it was. I've only touched on what we did during our short break, sharing our fabulous apartment by the sea and a perfect day exploring Seahouses. Fancy hearing a bit more?

"Shall we go to Chillingham Castle today?" Dougie suggested.
"What's it got?" I replied, conscious we had two teens to entertain and the weather wasn't looking brilliant.
"The only wild cattle in the world," he announced, knowing this might interest me, as much for potential blogging material as anything.
"Tell me more," I replied.
"Chillingham Castle, a 12th century stronghold, was the basecamp for the 1298 attack on William Wallace by King Edward I."
"Ooh, Braveheart!" I was interested now. "Go on!"
"Park designed by Capability Brown in 1752."
"Like that. But what about the cows?"
"Sole survivors of herds of cattle that once roamed the forests of England. Far rarer than the Giant Panda. Completely untamed. Never been touched by human hand. Potentially dangerous. Can only be visited with a warden."

Despite this last nugget of information, it got the thumbs up and we all clambered into the car. As the castle didn't open until midday, we decided to see the cattle first. The car park was situated up a fairly steep, narrow path. There were only two other cars there and, looking at the map at the gate, the meeting point for the warden was some distance across a field.

It wasn't looking good. We weren't in the right garb for a start. My shoes were fairly sturdy but suede and Rory's girlfriend, Juliana, was wearing the flimsiest sandals known to man - just a couple of thin strips of turquoise leather. I was hungry and needed the loo.

Dougie strode on across the field and the rest of us followed in his wake, shooing away the flies and dodging the sheep droppings. We reached the hemmel (a hut where we would meet the warden for the tour). There were no toilets.  I had envisaged being transported on a covered trailer but it looked like this was a walking tour. Another couple were waiting and looked better prepared: walking boots and cagoules.

We had two minutes to decide whether to stick it out and wait for the warden or do a runner back through the field. We chose the latter, aware that we were probably missing a unique opportunity to see the magnificent wild beasts but that there was likely to be a mutiny if we stayed.

It was only 11am so we were still far too early for the castle opening. A change of plan was necessary. Luckily Alnwick was near so we had a show of hands as to whether to see its castle (the setting for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies) or the garden. As we'd taken Rory to Alnwick Castle on a Harry Potter day many years before, we opted for Alnwick Garden, despite the rain beginning to spit.

The Alnwick Garden is a contemporary garden, designed by the Duchess of Northumberland, and can be visited if wearing sandals. With a large, colourful map of the garden in our hand we tried to plan the next few hours so we could  see all of the different parts of the garden and make sure we caught the half-hourly displays from the Grand Cascade. But first, food.

We headed towards the Treehouse, a gorgeous part of the garden - all wobbly rope-bridges and wooden structures. I've heard The Treehouse Restaurant is excellent for proper meals but we just wanted something quick so The Potting Shed was perfect for us: cosy, informal and serving the most delicious sausage sandwiches.

The rain stopped just after we'd finished eating (there is a god) so a very pleasant time was spent mooching around the rest of the fascinating garden. We loved the mirrored stainless-steel water sculptures in the Serpent Garden but, all agreed, our favourite bit was a visit to the Poisoned Garden where guide, Bridget, took small groups of us into a locked part of the grounds where many highly poisonous plants were growing. Children in the group were mesmerised by her talk, open-mouthed at how long it would take to die, and how gruesome a death it would be, if you ingested various berries and leaves.

I think we were safe, gobbling up a few Krispy Kreme doughnuts from The Pavilion, another excellent eatery in the garden. We sat on the terrace, oohing and aahing as the fountains on the Grand Cascade came to life, and watched little children ride around at its base on John Deere mini-tractors.

Funny how a day can start one way, plans change and yet it can all work out for the best. I still want to see the potentially dangerous cattle and I know Dougie wants to return to Chillingham Castle, if only to paint his face blue, don his kilt and stand on the ramparts shouting, "FREEDOM!"

grand cascade alnwick garden
Wish I'd been small enough to have a go on the tractors.
Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden

alnwick garden
What can you see through the arched window?
(Memories of Play School anyone?)

The wobbly rope bridge from The Treehouse

A warm welcome in The Potting Shed