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40 Before 40: Challenge #39 Downsizing – Part 1

15 May

This is a long post so I have decided to write it over two posts so you don’t end up falling asleep before the end!

This is possibly one of the hardest challenges on the list because a) I have had to be really strict with myself about recycling, selling, donating and throwing away things and b) it’s quite difficult to work out when the challenge is finished.

I watched a programme recently about trying to live a minimalist lifestyle. A couple tried to live for 2 weeks with only 100 things in their apartment. The rest of the things that didn’t make the list were put into storage until the challenge was over. The programme explained that people who have less material possessions are happier because they don’t have to make decisions and so their life is easier and less stressful. After the experiment, the couple did take back some of their items that were in storage but also decided to get rid of some things, like clothing, for example.

The aim of my downsizing hasn’t been to own only a limited number of possession but to get rid of things that I don’t need or want. It is so easy to accumulate things that you no longer need, no longer want or things that no longer work.

Moving is a good time to sort out things. It’s also normally the time when you realise as you are packing everything into boxes that you own far to much stuff. We moved almost a year ago and this challenge began back then. However, it has taken me until now to be happy that I have genuinely sorted through all of my things thoroughly enough that I can say that I have downsized sufficiently.

Here are some of the areas that I have tackled in my quest to downsize:

Books

Books are my biggest downfall. I have so many books and I keep buying books at a rate faster than I can read them, even though I am a pretty fast reader. I’m not sure if this is due to a deep-rooted fear of running out of reading material and so I want to make sure that I have enough to keep me going.

The first thing I did was clear out my books. I tend to hold onto books even when I have read them so these were the first ones to go. I have made a promise to myself that I will only keep books that I think are incredibly amazing on my bookshelf after I have read them. This is why Bonfire of the Vanities is still standing on my shelf. I took these books to a second-book shop or gave them away to other people. Giving them to other people that I know is 100% better than taking them to the shop because at the shop I tend to have “a bit of a browse” and end up buying at least another two books. The net effect is what I am hoping for but it still means that more books are finding their way into the apartment.

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Next I was very honest with myself and looked through all of the books that I was left with and got rid of the books that I had no interest in reading. These were neither because of a rash purchase that I now regret or a book that had been given to me by someone that I didn’t really want to read. These books also made it to the second-hand shop.

There were also some books that I want to read in the future but just not right now. These books are now stored in the basement in a plastic box ready for when I want to rediscover them.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying expert (possibly not her real job title), claimed last year that a person only needs 30 books. I recognised that I had too many books and needed to sort through them and get rid of them but only having 30 is completely ridiculous. For example, do recipe books count towards that? If so, I should only have 24 other books and that is not going to happen. At least I have cut down my number significantly but reducing even further would just cause too much negativity in my life and no one needs that.

Toiletries

I had stacks and stacks of toiletries in the bathroom. So many, in fact, that my boyfriend was shocked when I and half of a large Boots store moved in with him. The weird thing is that I’m not the type of person who spends hours in the bathroom getting ready and taking hours looking after their skin.

The products that I had fit into a few broad categories:

  • Bargain products that I bought because I was saving money but didn’t actually need
  • Gifted products that I thought were too nice to use so they have been stood in the back of the cabinet gathering dust
  • Products that I bought but realised weren’t right for my hair/skin type
  • Products that I have been hanging on to because I want to use them but have never got round to

The easiest thing to do was to first throw away all of the products that were or looked like they were going out of date. I threw away quite a bit of make-up and also some hair products. Then I did the same with products that I discovered weren’t right for me.

I decided it would be best to sort the remaining items into: essential things that I use on a daily or weekly basis; things that I have been keeping for “best” but can use straight away; gifted products that are actually travel-sized and I can take away with me on trips when I only have hand luggage; things that I won’t use at all ,which were then disposed of.

I bought some small boxes so that I can organise everything to make under the bathroom sink look tidier.

This also has the extra benefit that I can see exactly what I have so I don’t buy things and then realise a few weeks later that I didn’t actually need to because I already had a stockpile loitering at the back of the cupboard.

Things that I don’t use or don’t work anymore

I had a collection of things in the basement that didn’t work or I didn’t use anymore. We took the things that didn’t work to the local recycling plant and disposed of them properly. I got rid of things like a stop watch which had stopped working years ago and a couple of mobile phones. We ended up taking a whole car full of things to the recycling/waste disposal place. Here is how full the car was on one of several trips. I must add we did take some things for family while we were there – it wasn’t all from our basement.

Things that I don’t use anymore were trickier to get rid of. I tried to sell as much as possible. I sold some resistance exercise bands that I had only used twice, a pasta machine. some unopened perfume and some other things on a Facebook site. I sold some jewellery on an ebay-type site. I also got some money for my old German textbooks. In the end, it added up to quite a bit of money. It was pain sometime waiting for someone to collect something and then them sending a message to say that they couldn’t make it but it was worth it overall. Of course, there were some things that I wasn’t able to sell for one reason or another so these ended up being disposed of at the recycling centre.

That is the end of Part I! Are you still awake? I hope I haven’t bored you to death. The conclusion of my challenge will be posted later this week. I hope you check back to see what else I manage to organise and tidy!

 

 

Films I’ve recently seen

12 May

I am still going strong with my eight Challenge for my 40 Before 40 Challenges – to watch all 250 of the Top 250 films on iMDB. Over the last few months I have watch some films that I have really enjoyed and a few that I haven’t.

Here are the films I’ve been watching lately:

8. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Finally I have watched the last LOTR film in the trilogy. I can’t say that I enjoyed it all that much. You might remember that I had high hopes for the trilogy after watching the first film which I enjoyed but I don’t have a lot of love for the last two installments. Just not my sort of film but I can understand why they are so popular.

97. Bicycle Thieves

This was a black and white Italian film about bicycle thieves. The main character finally finds work but needs a bicycle or he won’t be able to do the work. His wife sells the best linen so that he can get back the bike that he pawned. Everything is going great with his new job until someone steals his bike. He and his friend look everywhere trying to see if the bike has been sold for parts or if they can see anyone riding on it in town. In desperation he ends up stealing a bike and getting caught.

98. The Kid

This was the shortest and sweetest film I have ever seen. It’s only 52 minutes long and is a Charlie Chaplin production. The Tramp character finds an abandoned baby and raises him as his own until the mother who abandoned him find him and wants to take him back. There is a happy ending though but I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it yourself.

133. The Gold Rush

This was another Charlie Chaplin film but it wasn’t one of my favourites. It about men trying to find their fortune during the gold rush and the hardships that they go through to try and find it. There are some funny scenes like when The Tramp cooks his shoe to eat it and when his friend is so hungry that he imagines that he is a giant chicken and plots to kill him.

140. Room

This is an interesting film. I have never heard about this film before but it was based on a bestselling book. A woman is kidnapped by a man and is held hostage. She ends up having a son with him but she plots their escape so that they can be free again. I would recommend watching it if you have the chance.

142. The Seventh Seal

This was an odd film. It starts off with a knight playing chess with Death. He says that so long as they are playing the game he can’t be killed. Later in the film, Death tricks the knight into revealing the strategy that he is playing so that he will be able to beat him at chess. It’s set during the time of the plague and the religious angle of the film is interesting. I don’t think I got the ending though.

149. V for Vendetta

This film was based around the story of Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It is set in the modern times but curfews and strict controls limit the population. A masked man (who I thought sounds a lot like Rowan Atkinson but it turns out it wasn’t him) incites the population to rebel and overthrow the corrupt government on 5th November. Keeping in mind the politics of today, I think it would be quite a good idea to recreate something similar in real life.

151. The General

This was a silent film which, because of this challenge, I have fallen in love with. It’s about a man who works on the railways who ends up being a war hero, despite the fact that he has been told that he can’t enlist and the woman he loves has said she won’t marry him until he wears an army uniform. The film had quite a lot of humour in it and it was amazing to think that the film was made over 90 years ago.

171. Cool Hand Luke

From the title of this film I was expecting to sit down to watch a western and I was pleasantly surprised when it was about a prisoner who repeatedly tries to escape. It reminded me a bit of Shawshank Redemption. The best scene of the whole film was the egg eating scene when Luke attempts to eat 50 boiled eggs in an hour for a bet!

181. A Wednesday

This was a thriller set in Mumbai. A retiring police commissioner retells the story of his most interesting case – a terrorist called in a bomb threat and the race was on find the bomb and stop it before it exploded. There is a twist at the end of the story when the terrorist reveals who he is and why he has turned to violence. I really enjoyed this film.

200. Spotlight

As I was watching this film, I realised that I had seen it before. The film is based on a true story of a Boston newspaper who investigates the alleged abuse of children by Catholic priest in the area. It’s a powerful film and shows how much the abuse was covered up by senior officials in the Catholic Church.

211. Hachi: A Dig’s Tale

Why is it that films about dogs are always sad? This was a sweet film but I don’t really understand why it is in the Top 250 Films. I think it probably is because people are suckers for films about animals. It also featured Richard Gere playing the part of a grandfather which I thought was weird and made me feel far too old.

I have now watched 165 films. Only 85 more to go!

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Long weekend in Krakow

8 May

I’ve wanted to visit Poland for a long time. Poland is now the 30th country in Europe that I have visited. I am aiming to have visited 40 by the time I reach my 40th birthday. I do have quite a bit of time left to achieve this!

Here is what we got up to on our weekend away:

Wieliczka Salt Mines

After almost missing our pre-booked tour because of Uber drivers consistently cancelling on us, we finally made the 20 minute drive to the Salt Mines.

All of the mines are underground and we only saw a fraction of the mines that have been excavated. The sheer size of the place was mind-blowing. I didn’t realise that salt in its purest form is grey and not white. Without having a guide it would have been impossible not to have got lost.

Some of the chambers inside the mine had salt sculptures in them, like this guy here,

who was important in establishing Krakow as a city, and Pope John Paul II.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

This was perhaps my main motivation for wanting to visit Krakow instead of any other city in Poland, which sounds sick and morbid. But after learning so much about this period of history in school and more recently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz I wanted to experience the place itself.

This was another guided tour that we had booked in advance. It is possible to walk round yourself and see the camps but having a guide meant that we got detailed information and could learn more in a short space of time.

I’ve visited a concentration camp before in Dachau, outside Munich but I wasn’t prepared for the scale and the horror that this place revealed.

I wonder if the human race has learnt anything about this awful time in history when equally horrifying genocides and displacement of people is continuing to happen today?

Free Walking Tour

Free Walking Tours are always a must for us on any city trip. The city itself isn’t very big but the tour took us on some less well-trodden paths. It was interesting to hear about how the city grew and developed, the legend of the dragon and more recent history, such as John Paul II training to be a preist at the start of the Nazi German era and later returning as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Boat trip

We took a small boat trip on the Vistula River which gave us great views of the Castle and parts of the city that we wouldn’t be able to see by foot.

Food

I very seldom complain about food and there were certainly no complaints about anything we ate in Poland. I had some good recommendations from Polish friends and we also stumbled on some great, small local places.

There was even a street food festival (where isn’t there one?) and we tried some meat, pierogi (dumplings) and sheep’s cheese.

I was surprised by two things. Firstly how clean the city was. Normally everywhere seems dirty to me after living in Switzerland for so long. But the streets were really clean and well maintained. Secondly, I think I heard more English being spoken on the streets than any other language. One evening we were treated to a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone as we walked past a English bar.

I hope that the next 10 destinations that I visit for my challenge are as good as our trip to Krakow was!

40 Before 40 – Challenge #26 update

7 Apr

This is possibly one of the most fun challenges that I chose for my 40 Before 40 list of challenges. I am going to learn 40 different origami designs.

I must say that some of the designs are a lot harder to make than they look. I did start making a butterfly and gave up because I got completely lost about what I should fold where. I might come back to it later and try again because I don’t like to be defeated by something that seems so simple. I haven’t been

In a strange way I have found it quite relaxing. It’s very satisfying to take a piece of paper and turn it into something different entirely. It tends not to take very long as well which means the satisfaction is immediate. I have noticed though that it is incredibly difficult to fold a piece of paper exactly in half so that all of the sides are in line. If you don’t believe me try it yourself. Perhaps it’s just me.

Here are the first ten of the origami designs that I have made. In case you don’t see the connection (!), all of the designs are animals.

  • cat
  • dog
  • fish
  • shark
  • pig
  • rabbit (I think it looks more like a kangaroo)
  • frog
  • fox
  • turtle
  • crab

Here are the photos as evidence. Are they good enough that you can which animals are in each photo?

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Challenge #29 – Update

27 Mar

From the list of The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read, I have now read 33 of the books. This year I have had another good start to my reading year and being able to read some books and authors that I haven’t heard of before has helped.

The majority of these books have been so good that I have hardly been able to put them down for a break and I have noticed that I have been forgoing watching TV so that I can get through the books even faster.

With only 7 more books to go until I can cross this challenge off my list, you might think that it will only be a few more weeks before I am declaring that this challenge is complete. However, I seem to have unintentionally left the longer books until the end and there is a book on the list that I have begun but abandoned because I found it too boring. So, this might be a tricky one to complete.

Here are the books from the list that I have recently read:

Notes on a Scandal: What was she thinking? by Zoe Heller

I couldn’t put this book down and I read it in a few hours. It’s the story of a female teacher who has a relationship with a pupil. The story is told from the point of view of a fellow teacher and the confident of the teacher who has the affair. I would say that the reader learns a lot more about the person narrating the story rather than the details of the affair – her motives and interest in the story is slowly revealed as the story progresses.

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

I didn’t realise that this book had been made into a film until after I had read it. The book tells the story of a girl nicknamed Bone and her relationship with her mother and step-father. Her relationship with her step-father is abusive and her mother struggles to admit that there is a problem that needs to be solve. The ending was very emotional and I also found it confusing – the resolution was not what I expected to happen.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

This book was slightly odd. It starts off by the three main characters reminiscing about an event from the past and then the book switches to a third person narrator. The main character is suffering from a mental breakdown but it doesn’t become clear until later in the book what brought on this breakdown. There is also talk of her daughter who seems to have been taken from her because of health issues but these aren’t discussed or explained in detail. I thought the book had a dream-like quality about it – some parts of it didn’t seem real and I’m not clear about how or why some of the events described happened. It was a confusing read.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

This is the story of two Native American families over a number of decades and how their lives are affected by one another. The chapters are each told by different characters during different years. It’s interesting to see how one character views events differently to others. You feel involved in the story because the whole book has a conversational style about it – as if you are just sat down having a coffee with someone and they are telling you a story. There is also a complicated love triangle between the two families which makes the story a bit juicier but also brings sadness to the story as well.

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

This was an historic novel that is based on the life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (I haven’t heard of him before either). In the story Friedrich falls in love with a girl, who is lower than his social class but he intends to marry her anyway. I was glad that I can speak German because there were quite a few German phases or words used in the book. I got annoyed reading another book recently that was set in France and had some French words that weren’t translated. It was possible to work out what they meant from the context but it could have been that I misinterpreted them.

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

This is the story of a young, privileged woman called Lily Bart, who lives in New York at the turn of the century. She likes to gamble and gets into a lot of debt and these debts force her to make decisions that make her situation, relationship and life even worse. I liked the main character and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her; everything she tries to do to make her life better end up backfiring and people are not kind to her and believe malicious rumours. I did take a lot time to enjoy this book. I felt like the story was slightly boring in the beginning. It was only in the second half when things start to get worse and worse that I wanted to read quicker to find out what was going to happen to her.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Even at the very start of this book, I knew I was reading something that was going to be epic. The book starts with the narrator, Richard Papin, revealing that because the snow came down the police didn’t find the body of his college classmate for ten days. What a way to start a story! I was hooked straight away. The book is his recollection of the events that led up to that point, from how he ended up choosing that college, how he ended up being accepted into a strange group within the university. It was a long book but I couldn’t put it down. The ending was unexpected as well.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This book has such a sad ending. It tells the story of Edna Pontellier who realises that she is in love with a man who is not her husband. She struggles with being a wife and a mother and doesn’t have any interest in raising her own children. It is clear that the man she is in love with has the same feeling about her but they are both trapped because of the norms of society. I realised a few pages from the end what was going to be the outcome but it did make it any less upsetting.

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Another update on Challenge #8

16 Mar

I have been cracking on with this challenge over the past few months. The sofa is starting to show signs of wear and tear because I have been sitting on it for so long. However, I feel like I am starting to make progress with this challenge. I have now watched 151 of the 250 films, which means that I have 99 films left to watch – psychologically this is very important. I am beginning to think that I am going to be able to get through this challenge.

Here are the films that I have seen recently:

15. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I must admit that this film lost me somewhere in the middle. Rather than the main action being about Froggo taking the ring back to Mordor, there seems to have been a switch to a lot of sub-plots that are happening. After being so pleasantly surprised after seeing the first installment of the series, I now feel a bit deflated. I hope that the final installment that I am still to watch is better.

21. City Of God

Any film that starts with an armed gang of men and young boys chasing a chicken down the backstreets of Rio is always going to be a winner. This was the story of a ghetto in Rio in the 1970s and the violent drug gangs who run it. It’s gory and graphic in places but it tells an interesting story and is based on a true story.

55. Cinema Paradiso

This film won the Oscar for the best foreign language film. As the name suggests the story revolves around a cinema. The cinema burns down leaving the projectionist blind, so a young boy takes over the responsibility. The projectionist tells the boy he must leave because he can achieve better things. The boy becomes a famous film maker and returns years later to his home town. I really enjoyed this film.

56. The Lives of Others

A couple are investigated by the secret police in East Germany. The man who is put in charge of their surveillance ends up becoming involved in their lives. The whole film is in German but I did use English subtitles because I am not sure that I would have had understood all of it.

66. Oldboy

If I had’ve known what this was about before I sat down to watch it, I’m not sure I would have. It is probably one of the most gruesome films I have seen in a long time. It’s a South Korean film about a man, who is imprisoned in a room for 15 years, but he has no idea why or who is keeping him captive. When he is released, he sets out to get revenge but ends up falling in love with a woman, who later turns out to be his daughter. It’s all very disturbing.

147. Elephant Man

The story of John Merrick is well documented but I still found this story quite shocking and incredibly sad. I also never knew that Anthony Hopkins was in this film which was a nice surprise.

148. Wild Strawberries

This was a first for me –  a black and white Swedish film. What would we do without subtitles! I found it to be quite a weird film. A doctor is on his way to collect and honorary doctorate and on the journey to the ceremony he has a series of nightmares and day dreams about his past that have always made him feel uncomfortable. It was a good exploration of the meaning of acceptance.

152. Warrior

I’m not so sure why this is so high on the list. It’s about two estranged brothers, who independently decide to enter a mixed martial arts competition because both of them are broke. I thought you could see the plot twists coming a mile off – the elder brother is a physic teacher struggling to pay the mortgage, the younger one is a former Marine who deserted. Having said that, it was more about the action out of the cage than in it. The brothers also have an alcoholic father and come to terms with the circumstances under which their mother died.

170. Mary and Max

I have never heard of this film before but it had an all-star cast. It was an animated film (Wallace-and-Gromit-esque but a bit darker) about an eight-year-old Australian girl who is being bullied so she becomes pen pals with an older Jewish man living in New York. It was a really emotional tale because both of the characters have hardships and their friendship is something that helps them through those times. A must watch.

180. Gone Girl

I always get this story mixed up with The Girl on a Train because I read the books at around the same time and the stories both involve a grown woman going missing. It was a powerful story about manipulation and revenge and follows the plot of the book very closely. I had forgotten how horrifying some of the scenes in the book were though.

187. Platoon

 

188. Hotel Rwanda

This was one of the films I was dreading watching because of the subject matter. I watched this after watching Oldboy (above) so the scenes of genocide weren’t so horrific as I was expecting. I didn’t know a lot about the genocide in Rwanda apart from that there was one and thousands died. It was well acted and it felt like I was watching a documentary or a film than something for entertainment. At the end of the film, it is revealed that the film was based on real events which I found chilling but also awe inspiring.

195. The 400 Blows

This was a French film about a boy struggling to fit in at school, who also has to deal with his neglectful parents. I was disappointed. Not a great deal happened in the film and if I am honest, I was a bit bored half way through, even though some scenes were very funny.

206. Amores Perros

I realised fairly quickly that I have seen this film before. I watched it anyway because it was a long time ago that I saw it. It is three separate stories that intersect into one during a car accident. The subject matter is forbidden love (between a man and his sister-in-law), loss when a model is scarred for life after being involved in the crash) and remorse after a former assassin cheats his way into some money and goes to find his daughter, who he left behind years previously.

219. Prisoners

I do love a kidnap story and I think I might be becoming an expert in them because I had virtually guessed who did what to whom before the film was three quarters finished. When two girls are kidnapped, it leads to one of their fathers, taking the law into his own hands but he ends up getting more than he bargained for. It was tense at times and interesting to see the view of a revengeful father figure rather than someone who sits back and lets the police do their job. But if he was then the film wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

230. The Bourne Ultimatum

One word to describe this film: intense. From the beginning it was all action. I have only seen the first film from the Bourne series but I don’t think that I missed out from not seeing the others. I do think that the music had a significant impact on how dramatic the action was. The pace of the film was good in the sense that there weren’t big build ups to storylines which I find boring.

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Spending a day in Liechtenstein

12 Mar

If you have been following my blog, you might recall me saying back in February that my next trip to another European country would be in May when we go to visit Poland. I had a feeling that I would be getting itchy feet long before then and I was right. So I decided to visit Liechtenstein for the day.

Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe and is only 1 hour and 20 minutes from Zurich by train. I was surprised when I got there to see that there was so much snow on the mountains and the temperature was a lot colder than it is in Zurich.

As the country isn’t big, everything in the city centre is easy to get to by walking and there are plenty of museums. Here is what I go up to:

Vaduz Castle

I hiked up to the castle, which is on the top of a  hill looking down on the city. I’m not exaggerating by saying ‘hike’. It’s a pretty steep path up to the castle. Unfortunately, the castle isn’t open to the public because it is the permanent residency of the Liechtenstein royal family. I thought that was a bit of a shame. There are 130 rooms in the castle so I would have thought that it would be possible to open it up to visitors for time to time. They can’t possibly use all of those rooms all at once. Even the Queen let the public into her residence when she was skint. Perhaps that’s the fundamental difference between the British royal family and their European counterparts – money. However, the castle is still impressive even if you can’t see it from the inside.

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The Stamp Museum

This is only a small museum but it is free to visit. There are some cool interactive tools, like being able to browse through the whole of the back catalogue of Liechtenstein’s stamps. I also didn’t realise that stamps used to be printed by engraving the design onto metal and then these engravings were used to make the individual stamps. Some of the examples on display showed how detailed the engravings are.

There was also an exhibition about the history of postcards which was interesting, especially as people don’t send them these days. Did you know that the stamp didn’t always used to be in the top right hand corner? Sender used the position and orientation of the stamp to communicate secret messages to the recipent.

Sculptures in the Street

As I was walking around the city and taking photographs, I noticed that there was a lot of art in the street. There is a large contemporary art museum (which I wasn’t in the mood to visit) so the city has a feeling of being quite arty. I like art and sculptures being in the street – I don’t see the point of things being locked away behind closed door rather than been enjoyed by people.

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Liechtenstein is the 29th country that I have visited in Europe which means that I have another 11 to visit before I can tick Challenge #8 off my 40 Before 40 list. Plus I now know how to spell it properly!

We have decided to have a few long weekends in different places this year rather than two weeks somewhere. Our next planned trips will be in Poland (May 2019), Luxembourg (July 2019), Serbia (September 2019) and Ukraine (October 2019). It could be that I end up being spontaneous and book a few more trips in the meantime but I will try to restrain myself.