Tag Archives: 40Before40

A weekend in Kiev

15 Oct

Over the weekend I was visited my 33rd European country – Ukraine. It seems that there are always political news stories about Ukraine and I confess that I don’t read enough to know 100% what all the implications are.

A few people gave me raised eyebrows when I mentioned where I was spending the weekend but that didn’t stop me from having a great weekend in Kiev.

Kiev city

Kiev is a very smart modern city. I loved the old style buildings from the Soviet era mixed in with the new. The city was vibrant and full of life. All of the churches we saw were incredibly stunning. We didn’t realise that it was the start of a long public holiday when we arrived and on Saturday the Main street was closed to traffic. Being able to stroll down the street of a European capitol city and enjoy music and fire-eaters is something special.

Monuments

I love that many Eastern European countries have lots of monuments and memorials to people and battles that we’re not so aware of in Western Europe. I think one of my favourite monuments was in Kiev. It was called the People’s Friendship Arch. It’s beautifully made and commemorates the 1’500th year since the city of Kiev was established.

Chernobyl

The highlight of the trip was a full day tour of Chernobyl. I haven’t seen the HBO series and before going I didn’t know a great deal about the disaster and what actually happened. The tragedy happened during my lifetime but I was only 4 so I don’t remember news reports at the time.

You can only visit Chernobyl if you have a guide because specific areas are still dangerous and there are no road signs so I can imagine it would be easy to get lost if you don’t know where you are going.

We joined a group tour and our tour guide was fantastic. She could answer all the questions we put to her and had a great sense of humour which, in a case like this, must help to keep you sane.

The videos and photos that you have seen of creepy dolls, abandoned school buildings and former inhabited places overgrown by weeds and vegetation are true. I think my overwhelming feeling was of sadness. Not only did people leave a thriving new city which had the very first supermarket in the whole of the Ukraine but they thought that they would be coming back to their homes in a few days. The land we visited will never be inhabited again because, on a long-term basis, it’s not safe for human habitation.

We were regularly checked for radiation poisoning but I felt this was more a bit of entertainment than anything else. We had a dosimeter with us the whole time that told us how much radiation we had been exposed to. For the whole day we had been exposed to the same amount of radiation as you would be exposed to on a one hour flight. Also if you were contaminated, what could you do? You can’t take a pill to change it. What’s done is done.

 

 

Food and drink

No trip away is complete without sampling the local food and drink. We stumbled upon a local microbrewery and decided to have a beer tasting which included 6 beers.

We also tried borsch – a traditional beetroot soup, khachapuri – originally a Georgian dish and delicious dumplings! Now I’m back home it’s definitely time for a few salads to compensate for how much I ate.

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Passport Stamps

Of course, one of the most exciting things about visiting a country that isn’t in the EU is that I got another two stamps in my passport.

In November I will be heading to Tenerife for some winter sun and then to Nice and Monaco, which will become the 34th country I have visited in Europe.

A long weekend in Belgrade

26 Sep

Last weekend I was experiencing the delights of Belgrade in Serbia with a group of friends. Serbia is the 32nd country that I have visited in Europe, which means that I am slowly inching towards my goal of visiting 40 countries in Europe before I turn 40.

I was expecting Belgrade to be similar to Bucharest, where we visited in February this year but I was pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and clean. I would even argue that it is nicer than many cities in the UK. I was glad that we had a Serbian native in the group; it meant that it was easier to communicate (though I am sure it would be ok to visit even if you didn’t know any Serbian) and we went to some cool places that weren’t crowded with tourists.

Here are some of the highlights from our trip:

Food

I felt like all we did was eat. Serbian cuisine is very hearty, full of meat, potatoes and general deliciousness. I was surprised that it was allowed to smoke in the restaurant that we ate in on the Friday night. It has been so long since I have eaten indoors at a place where smoking is allowed. The atmosphere was great, especially as there were musicians going from table to table throughout the evening. Luckily, they didn’t come and seranade our table! In Serbia there is a type of salad that is basically just cheese. So I am now a reformed salad dodger.

On Saturday morning we had a traditional Serbian breakfast which is savory pastries with spinach, cheese and meat, as well as a yoghurt drink. Somehow the breakfast didn’t fill us up and we decided to have a unlimited mezze-style lunch. The idea was that they bring you small plates of food until you tell them to stop. We managed to eat everything from the list and then ask them for more. It’s important to get your money’s worth on holiday.

We had an impressive all you can eat brunch on Sunday which left us completely stuffed and was, compared with Swiss standards, incredibly cheap. We definitely didn’t go hungry.

Drink

Serbian beer is very tasty and I was happy to try several different brands. We also managed to find a Serbian cider which was a bit too sweet for me. It reminded me of Kopparberg.

Schnapps are also popular but I’m not a fan of drinking schnapps in general so I avoided partaking whenever possible. We also did some late-night drinking in a couple of trendy places.

Churches and architecture

Churches seem to be everywhere in Belgrade. I love looking around churches and those that we saw at the weekend were some of the most ornately deocrated buildings that I have ever seen. One small chapel in the Belgrade fortress also sold bottled holy water, famed for its healing properties but I decided not to purchase one.

There are some incredible-looking administrative buildings in the capital and they are all lit up at night which I think makes them look even more stunning.

Markets

We visited a market, which was a fresh produce market but also incorporates a flea market. Thankfully, we had already eaten by the time we walked around the market so we weren’t tempted into buying anything. I found it interesting that there were meat stalls or butchers where you can order your meat and they will prepare it and cook it for you so it can be picked up later in the day. It seems like a really good idea.

Escape rooms

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I love an escape room. We managed to do two while we were in Belgrade. We finished the first one so quickly that we had time to do a second one. The employee was very impressed that we managed to solve both of the rooms so quickly. We almost beat the record for both of the rooms. She even suggested that we enter the Escape Room World Championships which I am sure would be great fun and would possibly be the only way I will be able to claim that I have competed in a World Championship! We’ll have to see if anything comes of that in the future.

The Beach

I was shocked that there was a beach in Belgrade but there is. Of course, the beach isn’t on the coastline to the sea because Serbia is a land-locked country. The beach is a man-made beach on a lake. The weather was beautiful and I would have definitely gone for a swim if time had allowed. It was just nice to relax in the sun with a cold drink.

Thanks to Stefan (translator and organiser extraordinaire), Mark, Araz and Markus for being great travel companions on this great weekend.

I will soon be visiting my 33rd country in Europe in two weeks when I go to Kiev for a long weekend.

Update on #40Before40

1 Sep

It is now two years since I decided to start my 40 Before 40 challenge. Basically I set myself 40 challenges to do before I become 40-years-old.

Here is the second annual update about how things are progressing.

To date I have completed 11 out of the 40 challenges. It doesn’t sound like a lot but I have at least 10 of the longer challenges started and well under way. I do still have three years left to go but I know that this time will fly by.

Here are the six challenges that I have completed over the past year:

Challenge #3 – Go paragliding

Challenge #17 – Write a diary for a year

Challenge #25 – Cook every recipe from one cookbook

Challenge #29 – Read The 40 Books that Every Woman Should Read

Challenge #31 – Take up a new sport

Challange #39 – Downsize

Here are some of the challenges that are currently in progress:

Challenge #2 – Visit 40 countries in Europe

So far I have visited 31 countries so far but by the end of 2019 that total should be up to 33. I have already chalked off all of the main countries off the list. Now I am left with some of the harder to get to places to get to. I hope that I will be able to visit at least 3 more countries next year but I will have to see when is the best time to visit some of the places.

Challenge #8 – Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list

I have seen 168 films from the list, so there is still some work to be done. I haven’t watched anything since around June time. I think movie are the sort of thing you enjoy more in the winter time. As the nights are drawing in, it means that it won’t be long until I sitting watching films again.

Challenge #26 – Learn how to fold 40 origami designs

The designs actually take longer to make that I thought they would but I have enjoyed learnign the designs that I have made so far. This is one challenge that I hope to have completed before the end of 2019.

Challenge #27 – Read 40 novels in German and Challenge #35 – Read 40 non-fiction books

For most of this year I have been reading English non-fiction books and these two challenges have been forgotten about. I am planning on focusing on these challenges in the last three months of the year.

Challenge #37 – Have a haircut at least 4 times a year

I prefer going to the dentist that going to the hairdresser. I have been doing well on this challenge until my haridresser ghosted me and moved back to the UK. I am now not convinced that the replacement I have found is right for me but I will stick with her or find someone else to do this so that I keep on track.

I have also decided to make one change to my list. I am going to change my Challenge #40 from starting and maintaining my own travel website to create a piece of artwork. I never intended on changing any of the challenges that I had chosen but after trying to start writing for this website, I realise that writing about travel wasn’t giving me as much enjoyment as I thought it would. The whole point of the list was to make sure that there were things on the list that I would enjoy doing. So, sorry, but that challenge needs to be replaced.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #3

26 Aug

Challenge Accepted. Challenge Completed!

My third challenge from my list is now completed. I have always wanted to go paragliding and for one reason or another I have never got around to it.

I began trying to complete this last year. During our trip to South America we tried and failed to arrange the excursion; first in Mendoza in Argentina with the Andes as a backdrop (but communication issues meant that we didn’t manage it) and then in Iquique in Chile with the landing spot on the beach (but the wind was too strong and we weren’t allowed to go).

Fast forward to yesterday and my third time lucky in Interlaken, Switzerland. Although it would have been a lot cheaper doing this activity on holiday in another country, we did have the added benefit or being able to choose a day to go when the weather was good to avoid being disappointed. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The skies were blue without a hint of a cloud and the sun was shining.

First of all we had to choose our pilot. When I found out that one of them was called Haydon, which is the same name as my nephew but spelt slightly differently, I knew that I had to fly with him. He was Australian as well, which meant a lot of banter and jokes during the flight.

Taking off was much easier that I thought it would be. You basically have to run as fast as you can until you take off and you run out of ground. I didn’t even have time to be nervous because it happened so fast. Plus the staff did a great job of making me feel completely at ease but perhaps not when someone mentioned, “We should be ok. I watched the Youtube video last night and I think I can work out how to do it.”

The feeling of being up in the air, hands and arms dangling free, was completely liberating. I genuinely felt completely safe throughout the whole flight. We were only up in the air for about 20 minutes, which went by very fast, but it worth it for the views.

Before landing you can do some rollercoaster tricks and loop-the-loops but I get sick just watching people on the teacup rides at fun fairs so I decided not to. I was more than happy to cruise down and enjoy the view instead.

Landing was almost as easy as taking-off. You have to start running a bit when you hit (not literally) the ground and after a few steps you are back on terra firma.

I am so glad that I made this one of my challenges and I have no idea why I left it for so long to do it. I would highly recommend anyone to try this, unless you have a fear of heights. I could have happily gone straight back up to do another flight as soon as I had landed.

40 Before 40: Challenge #39 Downsizing – Part 2

23 May

Later than planned here is the final instalment of my Challenge #39 – the challenge to downsize and get rid of anything that I don’t want or use any more. You can read the first instalment here.

Here are the other things that I have been tackling in my quest to get rid of things I don’t want or need:

Clothes

This was a big problem for me. I had so many clothes but nothing to wear! How many things have you heard people make that complaint? I had so many clothes that didn’t fit because I hadn’t tried them on when I bought them and still had the labels on them or because I’ve put on weight and can’t get into them anymore. Admitting that you are never going to get into a particular pair of jeans or dress is pretty hard to do. Some clothing that I did clear out and take to a textile recycling place I have been hoarding for at least two years. It was time to get rid of them and make some space.

I also had clothes that fit me and I had worn but I didn’t like the way they looked on me. This is again is mainly due to buying things that I didn’t try on. I made a promise that anything that I didn’t feel comfortable in I would also go rid of. That got rid of a surprising amount of stuff. I made a promise not to buy anything without trying it on!

Sports clothes are always a problem for me as well. I have so many t-shirts that I got when I completed a race that I don’t think I ever need to buy another one. Hence, there is no way that my t-shirt for running the Manchester Marathon will ever find its way into a bin.

Possibly the best thing that I did to help me organise my clothes was buying a new wardrobe. It sounds silly but having enough space helps me to see exactly what I have so I’m not searching around in drawer to find things and makes it easier to get ready. I made me realise that I have about forty T-shirts but I only wear about 5 of them on a regular basis.

Scrapbooking

I have a lot of articles from our local paper from when I was younger and playing sport that my mum saved for me. I wanted to keep them but they weren’t ordered in anyway so I decided to put them into a scrapbook. All you need is some glue and scissors and a book to stick them in. It’s a far better way to preserve the photos (and the memories) than in a paper folder that could get damaged. It did take a while to sort through and there were some duplicates but it was great fun putting it all together. 

Emails

I decided to extended the challenge to sorting through my emails so that I stop getting annoying emails about products that I don’t want or need. Obviously this isn’t really downsizing but it is clearing out unwanted stuff. Previously, if I received an email about a product or a service that I had signed up to then I was just delete it. And so, the annoying emails would stop coming. Instead, I unsubscribed from the emailing list. This has saved me so much time – I don’t have to read and delete emails that I have no interest it. Also, I no longer get a sinking feeling when I check my inbox and I see that it is just full of junk that I don’t want. Instead I have a lot more time to read the emails that I want to spend time reading.

I have been surprised about how many mailing lists that I have had to unsubscribe from. And how difficult some companies make it for you to unsubscribe. Even though I began this exercise about 6 months ago, I still get unwanted emails from time to time. I would be easier just to delete them and forget about it but I am determined to unsubscribe from them.

Kinternet-1013673__340itchen items

When we moved in together, we ended up with two of quite a few things, such as plates, cutlery and glasses. None of these items had any sentimental value so it wasn’t difficult to part with them. It was also an opportunity to sort out the cupboards and organise them. I threw out herbs and spices that were well passed their use-by date and made sure everything in the cupboards was in a sealed, labelled jar to prevent it from spoiling and so that I don’t accidentally use salt instead of sugar. The flat that we have moved to has one of those pull out cupboards; it is harder for packed food to get forgotten about at the back of the cupboard.

Organising the basement

We bought some plastic storage boxes and filled them we things that we need but we don’t need on a daily basis to make more space. We now have boxes dedicated to Christmas decorations and wrapping paper, one for important documents that we need to keep and so on. We also have a bike stand mounted on the wall. This gives us more space and we don’t need to move the bike every time we go down in the basement to get something. It is a little annoying to always have to go down into the basement when we need to wrap something or chose a greetings card but it make a difference that it is well organised.

Making the decision to downsize and get rid of things has been a far longer process than I thought it would be. I didn’t realise how much stuff I had accumulated and how difficult it would be (in some cases) to make a decision and throw something away. One of the hardest parts of this challenge is making sure that I don’t go back to accumulating things again. I must keep my booking buying habit under control, for example.

I feel like I have turned a corner though. Life seems to be less stressful without hanging on to things that I don’t need. Long may it continue.

 

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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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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