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Too hot to sleep

25 Jun

At the risk of sounding completely British, which I know that I do from time to time, the weather at the moment is just too hot. After this spell of hot weather surely no one in their right mind can deny the existence of climate change. 35 degrees in June. What is the rest of the summer going to be like? Weather like this means that I can’t sleep and me without sleep is not good news for anyone.

I have tried all different strategies. The first, a classic in anyone’s book, was to sleep with the window open. A grand idea until a mosquito woke me up while it was buzzing around my ear at 2 in the morning. Annoyed I trudge out of the bedroom and go to find the insect repellent. That will do the trick. Only it didn’t. I woke up with 5 bites on my right legs and three on my left wrist. I don’t know what was wrong with the rest of my body that the menace decided not to eat the rest of me.

So I can’t sleep with the window open anymore. I now have fans in the bedroom which I have found make no real difference either. They just tend to circulate the warm air around. Plus, they are loud and keep me awake at night.

Two nights ago in utter frustration, I convinced myself that the living room was actually cooler than the bedroom. (This was after a short period of about 3 minutes when I was on the balcony with my bed sheet in the lovely cool evening air. I suddenly realised that if they can bite me 8 times by coming through the window, advertising myself as night-time-alfresco-all-you-can-eat buffet to the insect was probably not the best idea I had even had.) Of course, the living room was no more cool than the bedroom. The heat is affecting my brain and impairing my ability to make sound judgments. I am not sure what my excuse is for the rest of the year.

thermometer-693852__340Being on holiday when the weather is so hot is no problem. In fact, it is the reason why we book holidays. When we have to cope with wearing business dress and going into the office, it is just not fair. I can’t sleep, think straight and I can’t run outside!

This morning was the first time that I have been able to go running outside because the weather had cooled this morning. I got the trainers on quick and got outside before the mercury was pushing towards 30 degrees again, as it was by the early afternoon.

Of course, there are advantages to weather, such as a BBQ every night, not having to remember to pick up the umbrella before leaving the house in the morning and the washing drying in super quick time. On Friday, it was almost dry before I had even hung it out!

It has just turned nine in the evening here and it is still 25 degrees. I am hoping that the combination of the heat and the run from this morning has tired me out and I will drop off effortlessly tonight but I am not holding out too much hope. It is still too hot to sleep…

A long weekend in Edinburgh

22 Jun

This time last week I was getting ready for an early night for a subsequently early morning flight back to the homeland.

I normally take the morning flights because they are cheaper and then normally run like clockwork. Not last week though. To my frustration, the flight was delayed by over an hour because of “technical problems with the aircraft”: a reason that I find a little nerve-wrecking to hear as I am about to board. Because of this delay, I missed the train I had pre-booked and had to buy another, more expensive ticket.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Edinburgh at around lunchtime. I had booked a serviced apartment on The Royal Mile for us to stay in. It took a while to find it because the GPS had us walking around in an area not near where it was and the name of the place was different to the name I had received on the confirmation booking. The apartment was really nice and we had the option of self-catering as well. The only problem was it was on the top floor and we had to go up 7 flights of a spiral staircase to get to the top.

The rest of the day we wandered around, saw the castle and had dinner at an all-you-can-eat Pan Asian buffet. It was a bit unhealthy but the choice of foods was surprisingly good and I limited myself to one plate of desserts!

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On Friday, we did one of my favourite things to do in an unfamiliar city – a free walking tour! We were told some really interesting stories, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century to more recent times, about the city of Edinburgh. We were lucky that the tour leader was a student of the University and had been brought up there so the information was definitely reliable. We even visited the grave of Tom Riddle, which was the name of Lord Voldemort, before he became Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowling wrote the books while living in Edinburgh and it is thought that this was one of the many inspirations for her writings that she took from the city.

In the afternoon, we thought it would be a good idea to walk to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is moored in Edinburgh. I completely underestimated how long the walk would take and promptly complained for every step at the end of the journey. We got the bus back.

IMG_6622In the evening after a lovely and slightly posh looking haggis, carrots and tatties and a few drinks. What better way to finished the day off than with a Ghost Tour! Wooooh! Spooky! Or in this case not. As the summer nights are with us, it wasn’t all that spooky, walking around hearing, not so much ghost stories, than gruesome happenings, which we had mainly heard about on the morning tour. All in all, there were only about 2 stories about ghosts and hauntings and I wasn’t really all that scared at all.

The next day we visited The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a live museum tour, where a person dressed in the costume of the 17th century takes you underground for a tour of how life was like in Edinburgh in the Middle Ages and beyond. Interestingly, because the city is so hilly, over the years they have just built on top of houses rather than knocking them down and starting again. This means that the city today is just one layer of the city, many more lie beneath. We were able to go underground and see the houses and the conditions that people would have had to endured. It was a really interesting way to learn about how life was. I think that this is far more effective than reading about history from books.

It got quite hot underground so I was glad when we could resurface. It wasn’t just escaping the heat that I was excited about; it was also our next stop: a gin distillery.

I have been to plenty of breweries but never to a gin distillery. The distillery was Pickering’s Gin at Summerhall Distillery and I can highly recommend it. The distillery only started in 2013 and is still relatively small but is already the official Gin of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is quite some going. The actual distillery is just three smallish rooms in an old veterinary school which is now one of the biggest arts centres in Europe and is home to many start-ups and art projects. We had the lovely Lisa, who had left Australia to come to Scotland to distill gin, explain to us the process and the challenges that the business faced in the beginning. It was fascinating from a business point of view and also to see how a kraft distillery operates. Of course, the best part was the tasting! Pickering’s currently have 3 gins: the original, the 1947 reciepe and the Navy Gin, which is 52%! My favourite was the 1947 reciepe gin as the flavour was a bit smoother than the others. On these sorts of things, I normally feel obliged to part with money and buy at least something but this time (and maybe it was because of the gin) I had no problem parting with my money for a bottle! As I say, I highly recommend this tour if you ever go to Edinburgh.

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After a nap in the afternoon, we headed out to see some former work friend of mine, who now live and work in Edinburgh. It was great to see Martin and Katie. I don’t think we have seen each other for 4 or more years but it was like we had never been away from each other. No awkward silences. This for me is a true sign of friendship: when you can carry on as if no time at all has passed. We had some cocktails at a bar and then headed to an Indian restaurant called Mother India for some delicious food. There is indian food in Switzerland but somehow it is not the same as in the UK when you go out, have a few pints and a good curry.

On the Sunday, we were heading back to Liverpool after lunchtime but there was time to walk to Holyrood Palace and see the Scottish Parliament. I don’t wish to offend anyone but the Scottish Parliament really isn’t a nice looking building. It’s sort of a mismash of ultra modern with a bit of traditional but too many glass surfaces. Just my opinion. And it doesn’t look as big as it does when you see in on the TV.

A 4-hour trip back to Liverpool, through the lovely green Lake District, meant that there was time to appreciate the beauty of the English countryside as well. A relaxing evening drinking beer in the garden and the weekend, as ever, was over too soon….

The Road to Hell…

14 Jun

They say that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions and if this is true, then I definitely have more than one foot on the cobbled stones. You see it was never my intention to have an extended pause from writing my blog when I got back from holiday. But it happened. It was an accident, an unintentional slip after I had tried so hard to continuing to blog while I was in Asia.

Sometimes when circumstances are difficult we manage to solider on regardless, like when I persevered blogging, without a laptop, but using an app on my iPhone which was made even more infuriating by my fat fingers mis-typing every second word. When things are infinitely easier, we tend to slip up.

I arrived back in Switzerland after my adventure (on reflection, it definitely was an adventure) and was straight back into work mode. It saddens me how easy it was to slip back into the work routine. Get up. Work. German lessons or hockey training (depending on what day it is). Home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Within a few days and back into the frustration of daily work trivialities, it is easy to forget how big the world is, how many possibilities there are out there and how amazing my experiences on the other side of the world were.

So in the last six weeks that is what I have been up to. It’s nothing very exciting but it is what it is. One of the things that I am terrible about doing, when I get back from holiday, is sorting and organising my photos. I take thousands and thousands of photos. A lot of the time, I take pictures of things that are not even that interesting but I was determined this time to sort them properly and make a picture book so have to look back on. The actual organising of photos took at least 3 days (I did say I take a lot) and in the end I got bored so there are some that are not yet sorted properly.

Making and editing the actual book was like reliving the whole holiday: things I have seen, things I have eaten, things I refused to eat (they have some quirky things that are classed as food in Asia). It already brought back some great memories and as they say a picture paints a thousand words.

I did head to less humid climates in May – Manchester. It was a trip I had planned in October last year with a friend. The reason was the 25th Anniversary Take That tour. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were all too tragic and well documented. The concert didn’t take place. It made me realise that we are living in a time when violence and terror is now on our doorsteps, whereas just a few years ago was confined to places that we can’t spell or would never ourselves visit.

Nevertheless, I flew back to Manchester because it was time to see friends and family: People who I am separated by distance on a regular basis. Time at home can sometimes be extremely time pressured but it also gives some unexpected surprises, like bumping into my godmother at the supermarket.

The next month will continue to be high paced as a trip to Edinburgh is planned and I have my German exam looming on the horizon at the beginning of July. For those of you who know me this is good enough reason to give me a wide berth until the afternoon of 8th July. Before exam stress levels =off the scale.

Until the panic sets in, I am happy  sit on the balcony, watching the sunset over my little garden while updating my blog. This feeling may not last long. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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Last few nights before home

1 May

After the Farewell dinner and drinks, I did not get up early on Thursday morning. I got up and transferred to my next hotel in the city, which happened to be the one where I had stayed for the first two nights in Bangkok. I hadn’t planned anything specifically for today because I knew after being on the road for so long I wanted to have time to relax and just do whatever I wanted. Also, from experience, the Farewell drinks on these sorts of trips never finish before midnight so I had already taken that into account.

I spend the day trying to stay cool and doing some shopping. One thing about the shopping centres in Thailand is that they are well air-conditioned and huge. The main shopping centre near to my hotel was Terminal 21 and each floor has a theme. The London themed floor even had a double decker bus parked on it!

The next day was an early start as I had booked to go on a trip to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This was a film that my dad had made us watch countless times when we were growing up so it one sense I felt obliged to go and see it. To get there we got into some motorised boats and were given life jackets that would have been useless in an emergency. The scenery en route was lovely and the river itself seemed relatively clean.


If I am brutally honest I was a bit disappointed. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be a lot bigger than it actually was. The bridge was original but was reconstructed after the allied bombing shattered the bridge.

After the viewing of the bridge, we went to the museum which told the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and what the conditions were like for the POWs who were forced to build the bridge. Again, this was an eye-opener and part of history that I never learnt about in school. Something else to go on the history reading list when I get back home. The facility is also continuing research into the POWs who were detained and forced to build the railway and, if you have a relative who was a POW, you can receive all the details that you have about them for the cost of the print out.

There was also a cemetery to visit where more than 6,000 of the POWs who died are buried. The cemetery is impeccably maintained and even while we were there there were 6 gardeners tending to the lawns and flowers.

We drove for about 40 minutes and then took the Thailand State Railway from Nam Tok to Tha Kilen. The scenery was stunning along the way as we crossed over the Tham Kra Sae Bridge. It was interesting to travel through the countryside and see a bit how local people live. The carriage was nice but even in our “expensive” carriage for tourists who pay slightly more than the locals for nicer seats, it wasn’t so comfortable. The seats were wooden and across the train tracks you could feel every bump and divert along the way.


We transferred back to our hotels. This took longer than expected, partly because it was Friday evening. The Bnagkok traffic really is crazy. It seems that there are more rules in Thailand than in Cambodia or Vietnam but the vast quality of vehicles is mind blowing. It takes so long to get anywhere. The problem is that the public transport, like trains and metros, are not part of the infrastructure in certain parts of the city but as there is no alternative people have to sit in the traffic.

The next and penultimate day I had a bike tour of Old Town Bangkok. It seems crazy to be cycling round in Bangkok in the heat but this was why I had booked onto the morning tour. Luckily, the weather had cooled down a bit and it was a bit cloudy. It was still hot as we were cycling though. The tour was not quite what I expected but in a good way. We cycled along through back streets and residential streets. It reminded me a little bit of the opening credited of Naked Gun. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a Go-Pro because I am sure that it would be interesting to play it back and see the whole tour again. We did get some strange looks when we were cycling around.

I asked our guide why more of the locals didn’t cycle around the city. She explained that Thai people are a bit lazy and that it was dangerous! But not so dangerous that tourists can’t go around the city. I had already checked that the company had comprehensive insurance(!)

On the tour, we saw the hotel where Hangover 2 was filmed, tasted Roti – a sweetened version of the Indian dish, which is served with condensed milk and sugar and bananas, cycled through Chinatown and visited Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples. What I didn’t realise is that 60% of Thailand’s population is descended from Chinese and you can see this in the influences on food, religion and in the faces of the people (That sounds a bit racist but that is not how it is intended).

At the Buddhist temple, which was a temple dedicated to friendship and partners, the guide gave us a lotus flower and showed us how to fold it. I can’t remember if I mentioned but on the night Tuk-Tuk tour I previously did, they showed us how to fold the lotus flower but this was a different technique. Being the smart arse that I am I did two different folds on my flowers. We actually went into the temple and left the lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha. I’m not really sure how I felt about this as I’m not a Buddhist but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

The last stop was to feed turtles at another temple. There were so any turtles it was unbelievable and the greedy things would come straight up to you and eat the lettuce leaves out of your hands. Some of them were big bullies and would literally push the other smaller turtles out of the way. All’s fair in true love and war.

All in all the tour was great: it exceeded my expectations and was a great last thing for me to do in Bangkok. In the afternoon, I wandered around some shopping centres and had a manicure and pedicure which I never do at home and was unbelievably cheap in comparison with what we pay here.

The next morning it was time to pack my bag and head to the airport. At the airport I had a Thai massage. It was more expensive that you could get for it in town but I had Bhat to use up! Thai massage is fully clothed and involves the therapist pressing on pressure points. I was seriously concerned I was being assaulted. It felt so awful and really hurt while she was going it. She was slapping me about and kneeing me in the back while pulling my arms until they cracked. I was convinced that I would have bruises all over me the next day. When she was finished it did actually feel ok and I felt a lot better. The price we pay for relaxation!

I arrived home in Switzerland to a lovely 18 degrees which was great because a few days earlier I had heard it had been snowing and I only had sandals to wear home. My trip had been a lot more than I had expected but I was sure that a night in my own bed was going to be like a dream come true…

A Grand (National) Day Out

10 Apr

For the weekend, I popped home for the weekend to watch The Grand National. The most famous steeplechase in the world is possibly the only event that I have placed a bet on in my life. I am discounting the times when we have gone to the races or even the greyhound races as a family and have done our own “in-house” betting; in which we each put a pound in and the winner gets to keep the money in the pot.

Going to the races live was not a opportunity that I was going to miss. I sorted out an outfit with a dress and hat that I already had. I decided to buy a new pair of shoes (without a heel) so that I would be able to comfortably walk around and enjoy the day without the agony and worry about staying in hills all day. More on this later…

thumbnail_IMG_5123On the day of the race, the weather was glorious and that is not an understatement. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was out in style. The metaphorical cloud on the horizon was the fact that several rail companies in the north west were striking on the final day of the National – the day that we had tickets for. Luckily, there were still trains from Liverpool Central to Aintree at the time of the day when we needed it. No other trains were running at all. It was quite funny to see the train schedules on the screens in the train station and all of the trains going to Aintree and nowhere else.

We arrived in good spirits and soaked up the atmosphere while we waited for the racing to begin. There is a walking tour of the actual race course that you can do before the races start but my new shoes were already being to rub and hurt me like crazy so I gave that one a miss. It was also possible to see where Red Rum, the most famous horse to ever run in the National, was buried near the Finishing Post.

I didn’t bet on the first race because I was a bit indecisive and I realised that the races aren’t as exciting when you know that you will not benefit financially from one of the horses crossing the line first. For the second race, I put a fiver on Finian’s Oscar to win. I chose the horse because it reminded me of Finigan’s Wake, the novel by James Joyce. The luck of the Irish was on my side because I won 18 pound, 75 pence when the horse crossed the line first. And it was much more exciting to watch as the race enfolded.

I won another 6 pound on the next race and then I guess my luck ran out because I didn’t win a penny after that. It was still exciting though. The atmosphere when The Grand National finally got underway was thrilling. After two false starts and a lot of groaning and disgruntled spectators, the crowd erupted in excitement. It is always difficult to work out which horses have fallen, who is still in the race and if there is still some chance of financial gain at the end of it. But without the benefit of the TV and the list of the horses who have fallen popping up on the screen, it is virtually impossible. No surprise that there was no final win for me.

Meanwhile my feet were painful and blistered. I had managed to cope in the knowledge that I would just need to get the train, then the bus and I would be able to the shoes off and put my trainers on. Luckily I didn’t have to wait that long as there were people handing out flip-flops to ladies, like me who had worn unsuitable shoes for the day. The best thing was they were free! I would have paid a lot of money for those flip-flops if they had made me. The relief was instant and I was a lot more comfortable on the way home.

On the Sunday, I caught the train and headed timage1o Manchester, where I met my brother and his kids and we drove to my mum’s house. I was treated to a lovely, and unexpected Sunday Roast, and we went for a walk to feed the ducks. On the way back, we managed to see some lambs who had been born only a few hours before.
All to soon, as it always seems to be, it was Monday morning and I was back at the airport again, queuing to have my bag scanned and waiting for the plane to be ready to head back to Switzerland and back to work…

First Christmases

22 Dec

This Christmas is a Christmas of firsts: my first ever, real Christmas tree and my first Christmas in Switzerland.

Growing up we always had an artificial tree and I have always dreamed of a real Christmas tree. There is a small farm not too far up the road so we went there and picked out a tree. The only problem is that when you look around at the trees and they are standing proudly outside, they look a lot smaller than they do when you get them home and have to find a place for it to go. We did choose the smallest one we could find but it is quite wide at the bottom so it takes up quite a bit of space in the living room.

After the purchase of the Christmas tree, we went to eat fondue. The farm has a Fonduestube (stube: a small hut or place where food and drinks is normally served) and we got a free glass of Glühwein as a thank you for buying the tree. The little problem was carrying the thing home, down quite a big hill, in the dark, after quite a few drinks. All’s well that ends well though.

My other first is spending Christmas in Switzerland for the first time. Normally, I make the trip home for the festive period. At my previous employers, there was a complete shut down between Christmas and New Year so I could book my flights home in June (or early) knowing that I had the time off. But that isn’t the case at my new employer.

In addition, there is a funny system in Switzerland that I still haven’t got my head around and which I complain about on a regular basis. Here if a bank holiday falls on a weekend, you don’t get the time off. In England, a bank holiday on the weekend means that you are entitled to another day off in lieu, normally on the Monday. So this year is particularly bad because Christmas Day is a Sunday so we only get the Monday (Boxing Day) as a holiday. I can only say that the idea that Europeans get more holidays than in the UK is a christmas-tree-christmas-1796131_1920.pngmisconception.

Apart from one year when we had a family holiday to Tenerife at Christmas, I have spent every Christmas in England. The holiday in Tenerife was a little bit strange – swimming, BBQ and karaoke as Christmas Day activities. This year it will be Fondue Chinose and no Queen’s speech.

I was beginning to regret not coming home for Christmas a few weeks ago but with reports of Storm Barbara on the rampage, I am better staying put and not travelling during the worst of it. Better to be prepared for not going home than to be expecting to go home and then the flight is cancelled because of bad weather. Or worse, the flight isn’t cancelled and the flight experiences extreme turbulence.

Besides, with Facetime I can still see my family for Christmas even though it is not the same at being there in person. And, I will be flying home in January anyway, when I hope the weather will be more favourable to travellers!

 

 

Missing things

29 Oct

Some time ago, I posted about things I miss about home and recently I highlighted the BBC news article about the difficulty faced by expats who decide to move back to their homeland. This got me thinking about the things that I would miss about Switzerland if I left today:

  1. Public Transport

Everything runs on time. Ok, there have been a few times when the train is a few minutes late, but nothing like as bad as it can be in the UK. The Swiss public transport is relatively expensive for tourists but you are paying for a service that is on time and gets you where you want to be.

  1. Clean city

There never seems to be any litter. This is partly because there are lots of bins and ways to get rid of rubbish so there is no excuse for people not to dispose of things properly. And partly because there are team who patrol around sweeping and tidying!

  1. Respect

People have respect for others and their property. I don’t think this needs a lot of explanation.

  1. The Mountains and Lakes

For example…

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  1. Public Transport (again)

You can always get a seat on a train (generally). The Swiss transport system app also tells you if the route that you want to take is expected to be busy so that you can prepare yourself. When I was studying for my accountancy exams in Manchester and I had to get the train in, I would never be able to find a seat/have to stand/sit on the floor.

  1. Poor English

I find it quite endearing (and at times hilarious) hearing English being used in not quite the right way. One of my personal favourites is ski-driving instead of the English word skiing. The confusion comes because the German word is “skifahren” which literally translates to ski drive (“fahren” is the word that is used to drive a car). I am not making fun of non-native English speakers; more that I find it interesting the linguistic differences between languages.

  1. So many activities

Skiing, swimming, hiking, sailing, Nordic walking, running, paragliding, paddle-boarding, volleyball, Frisbee, photography, painting, rowing, ice hockey… the list goes on and all available in pleasant weather.

  1. Safety

The crime rate is low in Switzerland. Therefore, the need to worry about things like coming home late at night are reduced. That isn’t to say that there is no risk at all and it is advisable to be vigilant at all times but

  1. Not having to drive anywhere

You want to go skiing? No problem, just take your skis on the train and the bus and you will be dropped off directly at the gondola at the resort. The connections are really great. However, having said that, I now have access to a car and I have hit the road for the first time in over 4 years (and on the wrong side of the road!) While the car is more convenient in that I can go and come back when I like, but at the moment I am a nervous driver as I have to remember, not only to stay on the right side of the road but also get familiar with all the signs, speed limits and signaling.

  1. Quiet laws

I appreciate the fact that noise is prohibited at certain times of the day and on certain days so that you are free to relax and unwind. That isn’t to say that I haven’t found myself on the receiving end of noisy neighbours though. I have now moved twice in Switzerland as a direct result of being fed up with noise and decided to move for the good of my health.