“But why are you going to Amsterdam on your own? Is it because of an event?”
*Laughs* ‘Okay! So why are you going?”
“Because I can.”
“But why are you going to Amsterdam on your own? Is it because of an event?”
*Laughs* ‘Okay! So why are you going?”
“Because I can.”
I recently visited the fair city of Bruges (or, to give it’s Flemish name, Brugge) in Belgium. While on paper there was nothing grand or seemingly important about this four day break in a historic city, for me personally it meant a lot. Why? Because it was the first time I’d ever travelled abroad by myself. It has been something I’ve wanted, nay, known deep down I was capable of for a while but I never had the courage to take the leap.
So as something a bit different I’ve created a video of my travels in the historic city. View and enjoy!
I had the best time in Bruges by experiencing all the city has to offer and more (a highlight not showcased in the video was a very moving moment when I had an organ recital all to myself in one of Bruges’ many churches. I’d been wondering around the church and about to leave when a volunteer started playing. I sat in the pews and was almost brought to tears by the beauty of the music and the environment.)
For anyone considering similar I say simply this. Do. It.
Collecting my parents from Paddington station reminded me of my early outings to the English capital, back when I had depended on friends coming to meet me at the station and hold my hand as we navigated around the big smoke. So when I saw my parents approaching from the far end of platform ten I knew exactly how to make them feel at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings.
I stretched my arms wide, as if I was waiting with a banner at Heathrow arrivals, and exclaimed a little too loudly, “welcome to Paddington!”
“We’ve been here before.” Dad grunted.
“Oh yes, of course.”
“Good to see you!” Mum beamed as she grasped me in a tight hug. “We’ve missed you!”
“Mum, its been two weeks.”
“That’s a good point, when are you next coming home?”
“You’ve just got here Dad.”
“I didn’t go to the loo on the train, how long will it take us to get to Camden?”
I pulled out City Mapper on my phone. “Thirty minutes.”
“Is that to a coffee shop?”
“Well, no, it’s from Paddington to Camden station. I couldn’t guess on the coffee shop front.”
“Then I need to find the loos.”
“But they cost 30p here.”
“Yes but I’m not stupid with money like you.”
It’s always a weird feeling when your own Mother refers their child’s habit of super-saving as ‘stupid with money’, as if she’s never once mourned the closure of high street department stores on account of their free-to-use toilets.
Because of Mum’s firm stance on this matter we spent the first five minutes of my parents’ visit to the world famous London trekking up and down the length of the station to locate women’s facilities. Not sure where that features in Lonely Planet’s ‘Things to Do’.
When we finally found the toilets (meters away from where we’d first started) Dad dipped in and then swiftly came out.
“What is it?”
“I didn’t realise you had to pay.”
“I told you both before that they’re 30p to use.”
“I just thought that for men’s…never mind.”
Somewhere I could hear a dormant feminist awakening from a forty-year slumber. I rolled my eyes and changed the subject to that of the very average train journey they’d been on to get to Paddington.
Welcome to my very Cotswold parents. A Dad who thinks everything in London is a five-minute walk away, a Mum who would happily spend two days in the Paddington branch of Costa Coffee. Within the first ten minutes of their arrival I felt exhausted and ready for bed or a strong drink.
At that point Mum reappeared from the loos and, sensing that somewhere a feminist was setting up a GPS locator on my Father, I guided both parents down to the depths of the Bakerloo line. Unfortunately for us all it wasn’t just any Sunday in September, it was quite possibly be the last sunny Sunday of the year. In my planning I had not foreseen packed Tubes just as much as I hadn’t planned for the escalators to be broken at Euston and Campden stations.
“On behalf of Sadik Khan [Mayor of London], I apologise for the service on the Underground today” I said as we trudged up flight after flight of stairs.
Since moving to London some months beforehand I’d yet to visit Camden. I was raised in the small Cotswold town of Chipping Campden (which we all called Campden), near to Stratford-Upon-Avon (which we all called Stratford) so you can imagine how commonplace it was for Education Officers to assume our school was in the South East. Confusion was the most frequent reaction, on account of us being very white and middle class for the parts of London we were supposedly from. But right here and now in 2018 I was looking forward to trying something new at the suggestion of Dad. What harm could there be at trying something new and different?
Camden was bloody crazy. Absolutely insane. Music, people, street vendors, the atmosphere was stifling and unpleasant even for me. Thanking capitalism for the first time in a long while, we located a Caffé Nero and hid there for over an hour until Dad and I managed to coax Mum out. Taking a route that avoided the main strip, the three of us ventured to Primrose Hill to take in the view. Alongside the dozens of others chatting and selfie-ing at the top I absorbed the panoramic as Mum called out “is it worth it?” from behind. Once she and Dad had joined me and made their pleasing comments I gestured to the area I work in and pointed out a couple of the main sights along the cityscape. We took a couple of selfies and made our way back down the slope.
“It’s nice. But I don’t think you’ll come again, will you?” Mum asked of me.
I glanced at the pasty topless Brits lying on the dusty grass. “No, probably not. Besides, there’s a better view of London from the twelfth floor of my flats and that’s free.” I then remembered that the twelfth floor was also prone to what I called ‘decorative urban debris’ so swiftly changed the subject before thoughts were planted.
We ambled around the quieter streets for a bit, popped into a pricey hipster charity shop, popped just as quickly out, before eventfully admitting defeat and getting the Tube to Wapping, East London (i.e. my kingdom).
To prove nothing in my family ever runs 100% smoothly we suffered from a dramatic mini-incident on the Underground which chiefly stemmed from my foolishness, i.e. I forgot my parents weren’t me. At Euston station (where we’d changed trained) I rushed ahead and hopped onto the carriage with ease. The announcement on the coach was halfway through the familiar “train is ready to depart, mind the doors” when I suddenly remembered I wasn’t travelling alone, my parents were further down the platform, scrambling to catch up to my coach. I realised with horror that my parents weren’t going to make the train. I did the closest thing I could muster to screaming at Dad as beeps warned of doors closing. Dad got on just in time, yanking poor Mum in tow as the doors shut firmly on her right arm. When the automatic response released her from entrapment they revealed a few torn layers of skin but significantly more traumatic pain. As she fumbled around to put some anti-bacterial gel on the sore patch I felt awful. There may have been no physical damage but my impatience to wait two minutes had caused unnecessary stress and pain to the entire trio of us. At that point I decided that the rest of my parent’s visit would have to be drama free.
Seeking calm from the storm of the morning, on arrival at Wapping we went to my local pub and perched by the waterside with two bowls of chips. Thankfully Wapping lived up to the standards I’d set out to my parents and we all enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon. I took them on a walking tour down the old warehouses and cobbled streets before stopping at a place of personal significance. A spot on the north side stretch of the Thames where the river is wide and open and between oneself and the imposing Canary Wharf on the South is nothing but sparkling blue and passing boats.
“I happened upon this view and I just knew I had to do it. I had to move to London and I had to be here.”
As the evening came upon us each hour went by as swiftly as the Docklands Light Railway trains that passed by the window of my parent’s hotel room. Cider was consumed and food was dined on in the pleasurable surroundings of St Katherine’s Docks, but with our feet and bodies feeling the wear of the gummed-up streets and the oily tracks all three of us decided to call it a night at ten o’clock.
To be continued…
“I don’t think I’ve packed the extra pair of long trousers.”
“I left everyone in charge of their own packing, if you’ve forgotten anything you’ll have to buy it out there.”
“Can I pull over and check?”
“We can’t turn back now.”
“Please, it’s starting to play on my mind. I’m not sure if I packed them or not.”
“Mum, just let him pull over. I can’t take the suspense at 2am.”
“I’m pulling over.”
The Bennett holiday had begun.
This time the choice location was the Greek Island of Zante, located in the Ionian Sea (fun fact – in Greek the island is actually called Zakynthos. Who’d have thought, another culture manipulating foreign words just to suit themselves?)
Ah Greece, the land of fine olives, ancient culture, traditional music and, most importantly, free alcohol:
(Greece were robbed of their victory in the 2013 Eurovision, robbed.)
Because we were staying at an all inclusive the alcohol actually was free, free by the bottles of gallons (I wasn’t in the slightest bit smug about this). I was literally drinking wine by the pint.
In fact I wondered if Greece had the whole drinking culture nailed more than us Brits. I mean, why have one glass bottle of 750ml when you could have plastic bottles of 1.5 litres for half the price?
It might also explain the tombstone craftsmanship.
Anyway, back to the hotel. It had an awesome infinity pool, WITH NO CHILDREN!
And some stunning sunrise and sunset views.
Don’t ask me to explain the yellow dot on the left. Just tell yourself it’s God. And yeah, that silhouette is mainland Greece.
The hotel’s entertainment was funny but not in the intended way. The Bennett clan being very British and dry in humourous outlook, we found the various failed attempts of the hotel’s animation team hilarious. One example was ‘botched Bingo’. Having done it outside for an entire season, two members of the team struggled to set up the Bingo projector inside, constantly trying and failing to prop up the canvas on a table, followed by difficulties putting a projector into focus. It was the apparent simplicity of the task which made it comic gold. Having sat down after a 18 hour day travelling and fuelled by a couple of cocktails we were howling at the two men. Later in the week the Greek Gods would reap their revenge on us via the kids club.
“The clown and donkey are heading towards us.”
But, saying that, the place wasn’t too shabby as a whole. I had muchos Greek yoghurt and hummus every day. Even the ants wanted in on the local cuisine.
The resort’s local town was a short walk away (but then holiday reps call anything under an hour ‘short’). It contained a suitable amount of tourist tat shops, bars, restaurants and had a lovely coastal strip. It passed the ‘makes Alice look sophisticated’ qualification so all was good there.
Particular highlights of the holiday included a visit to the island’s capital town which funnily enough was called Zakynthos. There we learnt you could purchase a range of goods including turd toys and spend money in a store called Euro Shop where nothing is a Euro.
(Brexit strikes again if you ask me.)
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Zakynthos is NOT the place to go if you have a phobia of Turtles. It’s basically the island’s spirit animal. There are frequent excursion trips to a see them swimming about so the only logical argument we could devise is that the turtle toy reps invaded sometime around five years ago.
No turtle is too weird or creepy looking to be on a shop rack somewhere.
If you don’t buy a piece of turtle merchandise you’re basically damaging the local economy and may be arrested on the plane. I luckily purchased a pair of tasteful turtle earrings thereby avoiding a fate of becoming turtle food.
Jokes aside (and I won’t dwell on it too much), but outside of the shiny streets and away from the club strips and bars that get featured on all those awful 18-30 Channel Four documentaries, behind all that is actually a tourist island that is barely surviving on their limited tourist season. For every one nicely done-up street there are at least ten falling apart in the local resident districts. It makes you wonder, if this island can only just hold it together then how is the mainland coping? These people were hardly living a life of luxury. But, like I said, that is a debate for politicians and scholars to have. When they pay me to impart my pearls of wisdom I’ll spend more time writing, less time taking random photos.
The island as a whole still remembers and suffers from the massive damage caused by an earthquake that hit the island in 1953. As well as the loss of most of the island’s historic buildings, the long term damage included mass emigration, with a high proportion of residents emigrating to the USA, UK and Canada following on from the natural disaster. This royally buggered up the economies of Zakynthos and neighbouring island Kefalonia.
In an attempt to remind people of what existed in the past and preserve it for the future, Zakynthos’ art gallery holds a collection of religious art and frescos taken from ruined churches and monasteries across the island.
That said, Mary doesn’t half look scary when she covers for God on his holidays:
And I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but why is there a cow here?
Another highlight of the holiday was a general trip around the island which took in all the cultural highlights Zakynthos had to offer. This included visiting the monastery of the island’s Saint, taking in some breath taking views out to sea (i.e. of a tourist-ified ship wreck) and a tour around the famous blue caves
We choose to not dwell on the boat only having a couple of foam noodles in case of a emergency and the bus parking strategy.
India and I may have also had a few too many of the free sweets and samples of the commonplace unbranded liqueur…
Which, combined with a hot bus, resulted in this:
You may well laugh, but we’re presently being considered to represent Greece at the 2018 Eurovision.
I used this holiday and trip out as a chance to get a selfie of the whole family – something which had only been done in the past with limited success. The difficulty was convincing Mumma Bennett round to the idea. To her the selfie stick resembled the work of dark magic.
Other than that, not a lot to report. A week of predictable sun (there’s something to be said about walking along the beach in a thin dress on October 1st), bottomless food/cocktails and the odd random conversation along the way (“do they prevent all male and female parties at Centre Parcs because they’re worried they’ll get murdered in the woods?” “…What?”)
I suppose a good gage of how well a holiday went is linked to how Papa Bennett adapts to the environment. As a comparison, he looks at lot better in Zakynthos than he did waiting for a plane at Birmingham International Airport.
And if that’s not the sign of a good holiday I don’t know what is. Well it helps if you don’t contract Swine Flu…
…And it’s also nice to get, after 500 million attempts, a decent family selfie by the sea. That too.
Some of you guys might be getting a little fed up of Alice posting “about me holidays”. Well, with the help of Simon Pegg, I’ve only got one thing to say to you people:
Haters gonna hate.
In true white, middle class style I’ve just got back from a break spent at the family’s holiday cottage (South Devon). The little village of Stoke Gabriel on the River Dart has, for many years, been a destination for the Bennett clan. It’s a location close to my heart, a little chocolate box of a village with plenty of charm and boats.
It’s pretty nice, huh? Well, as someone that’s been holidaying there for cracking on fifteen years I can certainly vouch that Stoke Gabriel is a village that keeps giving year after year.
Before we could reach our holiday cottage though we had to make a stop off in the local, equally pretty, town of Totnes. Not that Totnes isn’t a nice place to go:
In fact it prides itself on being a very welcoming place:
They even were very supportive and welcoming of national coffee shop chain Costa Coffee.
So much that Costa went “you guys are so nice that we just can’t build our coffee shop in your town, you guys use it for a charity shop instead.”)
It’s a nice enough place but it was just that, due to our desire to not spend Saturday parked up on the M5 near Bristol, we’d left the Cotswolds early enough to arrive in Totnes at 8:45am, six hours too early to get into the cottage. Morning spent doing the traditional Bennett activities of “Spotting The New Shops And Working Out If They’ll Last the Year”, losing Papa Bennett to the cheese stand in the farmers’ market, and Mumma Bennett going to Totnes Castle (owned by English Heritage). Not to visit the Norman castle, but purely to raid the English Heritage gift shop of raspberry curd.
Here is a helpful diagram to explain:
Top Paint/design skills there.
Once we’d spent a sufficient amount of time and money on cheese, jam and pies (courtesy of Morrisons’ reduced aisle and the effects on Papa Bennett), we headed back to the cottage to unpack and unwind. Well, three of us unpacked. I took to throwing India’s clothes across the room in a political statement-come-demonstration in a bid to force her to put her socks and swimsuit in a less in-you-face location.
Sunday we went to Kents Cavern, an extensive series of underground caves and tunnels. Much to my surprise, despite the poor lighting my new iPhone (I have an iPhone now, don’t you know?) took half decent pics.
However, don’t be fooled, the caves were dark at points and even had spooky faces in the walls.
Because India studies Human Geography she didn’t know what to make of it all. She felt very lost and confused in the cave systems.
“India! Don’t go down there!”
At the end of the caves there was an exhibition, including a reconstruction of human settlers using the caves for protection. I didn’t really understand what the curators were trying to portray – all of my hungover mornings with friends look like this?
Bacon, mindless staring into the abyss, a random baby showing up, what’s new there?
I found this guy very relatable:
Following on from the beauty of the caves, we progressed onto another natural feature: the tourist gift shop.
(David Tennant would have been very happy.)
Outside, India found a new outfit and posed for an attractive series of photos.
Another day we went to the up and coming town of Brixham:
As long as you’re not OCD on your hygiene it has a great sweet shop:
And if you’re not OCD on quality, there’s many shops stocking a wide range of products:
On the holiday there was also a family outing to the county capital of Exeter city. During our day out we went on a delightful free tour of the city which took us from the city centre right down to the historic quayside. Whilst we learnt a great deal of many facts and history about the city, highlights for me were posing with this cannon:
And this ferry sign:
Who said I wasn’t easy to please?
Speaking of education, I also got chance to visit a delightful little zoo in the village of Shaldon and learn all about a range of small animals, notably of the primate variety.
I even learnt a new language:
“Ah! So that’s why I’m still single! I need to up m seductive face…”
“…and learn how to get other females off my man whilst keeping his attention.”
Shaldon also had some other charming features, such as the local custom of leaving labels on beverage fruits…
…A large mermaid (one which puts my housemate to shame)…
…and a very large passive-aggressive sign targeted at dog fouling:
It truly is a very wonderful place.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Devonshire holiday without a few technical issues and scraps in the cottage, the main one of this holiday being the internet. The broadband, for whatever reason, decided to be rather temperamental for most of the week. At the lowest point we had two laptops and my mobile phone all desperately trying to look up website information, with no one having any success whatsoever. Amongst the shouting “I’M TRYING TO LOG ONTO THE SITE!” and “try turning it off and on again” and even the classic “oh just give it here! You’re doing it wrong! Huh, it’s not working” I was sat in the middle just laughing. “Great family holiday this is, I come for some relaxation and get lumbered with a geriatric broadband connection! Get the leaflet drawer out, we’d have found out about the Red Coat guides half an hour ago if we’d gone there first.” Inadvertently the broadband issue turned into a family competition every time it went down. Never has Googling cinema times of Jason Bourne been so exciting!
Overall, aided hugely by good (well, half-decent) weather we all had a great time once again in Devon. Now that it’s SEPTEMBER…
(Sorry, not sorry)
…it’s all a go-go on Autumn/Halloween/Christmas. The day we got back from Devon the weather changed instantly. Seems God wants to start buying his tinsel early this year.
But if you think that’s miserable enough, just take a look at this pointlessly long sign for sale in a gift shop n Totnes:
How did that make you feel Mr. Seagull?
The traditional Easter family holiday 2016 to the island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries, region, Jandia (and for the record it’s pronounced ‘HANdia’, not ‘JANdia’ – ruddy English tourists, I’m not telling you guys again!) Anyway, the holiday could probably be best summed up in three quotes. The first being the aforementioned (roughly translated as “I’m sorry sir, I speak very little Spanish, very little!”). The second, ‘Do you think he looks in the mirror and thinks “45 years old and I’m performing with a wife who can’t even sing Shania Twain right”?’ The final, “oh for Christ’s sake India!”
Working backwards, the latter exclamation was caused when my darling sister made what can only be described a very silly mistake. My sister, who is currently studying an MSc degree in Geography at Cardiff University (a Russell Group University I add). I was taking in the view, photoing the delights of Birmingham airport…
…When I heard “oh. Do we have any glue?”
Now, bearing in mind we hadn’t even left British soil at this point, I turned to my right and saw this:
Cue quote number 3.
The holiday had begun.
Trying to block out my ever-so-clever sister trying to establish whether chewing gum could work as a bonding agent, I turned to my yoga music and the Thompson in flight magazine to distract me.
Despite being on holiday though, the magazine only made me think about the state of my glass surfaces back at home.
(“Hmm, you smell lovely darling. Is that a hint of disinfectant I’m smelling?” “Yes, I accidentally sprayed the window cleaner on my neck. Sniff the mirrors though, they smell delightful!”)
Once we landed and got to the hotel after a long journey in buses where health and safety is just a ‘minor detail’…
…we got to the hotel. And a lovely hotel it was/is:
India made herself at home very quickly. Almost too much at home…
(For the record, that isn’t a posed photo. I poked her a few times and she grumbled, so I assumed her to be alive).
A few days in and I was torn as to whether I should be asking the local police to remove the crazy homeless lady from my room:
I on the other hand took to making the most out of being somewhere more exotic than Swindon. Even if that did mean posing in locations in my costume that couldn’t be much further away from water if it tried…
(Eager eyed readers will notice that the sea is not located on the balcony or anywhere near said author.)
Near to the hotel was a beach, where papa Bennett (much to India’s annoyance) actually ended up being the centre of a nice photo.
And we soon discovered that segway-ing was a popular activity along the promenade.
In addition to this, the hotel also had it’s own closed down zoo located a 15 minute walk away.
A bit spooky really, but hey, every resort needs one!
Food/drinks were all inclusive, although that didn’t stop me being an annoying heath freak all week.
My consumption of apricots and sunflower seeds went through the roof.
A day trip around the sights of the island was a definite highlight. I don’t know if it was intended or not, but I think there was a classic case of lost in translation with the tour operator:
I tellin’ you, ain’t nobody ‘fit’ on that bus.
On this trip we covered a range of historic places around the island, including churches, a wind mill, a cave, a goat farm, mountain views and an aloe vera farm. We covered it all in one day. In one of the churches we discovered both how Jesus dealt with annoying disciples and, coincidentally, how he invented the ‘fake phone call’.
Thus answering one of my ‘big’ questions: “How did Jesus deal with the people he really didn’t have time for? All those followers and there wasn’t one he just got fed up of?”
In the same church I learnt the Virgin Mary coined the fashionable ‘Western Catholic in mourning’ look hundreds of years before the religion was even established.
No wonder she’s sad.
I also learnt a valuable Christian lesson that day: I’m going to hell while the Priests, Cardinals and Popes are going straight to Heaven on fast track. Think of it like Amazon Prime, but you can’t buy it, well, you sort of can, but we don’t like to talk about it.
On the trip I discovered given despite unstable economic climate, some villages are able to really prioritise the important things:
At the aloe vera farm we learnt about the many uses of the plant, in a way that totally wasn’t a sales pitch for us to buy their products, not at all. We all got to take a bit and try it out. Most people played about with the chunk of goo and then binned it. Not me though. I stashed it in my bag and used it to drive my little sister insane for the rest of the day.
Totally worth the slime patch in my bag.
We also went into a cave:
…avec steps which pushed some of those health and safety guidelines.
Near to this cave was also this sign:
It was a sign was stoping to photo.
In Fuerteventura the people are big into goats, like seriously big. While there are reasonable grounds to this (goats almost outnumber people, or maybe it’s one goat every three people, I really can’t remember), I felt that the island should be pushing the bird/fish route. I mean, I’m not on the tourist or marketing boards, but the island does look like either one of those animals:
They’re missing such a trick.
Although you can buy a lot of goat tat if you want. Examples include:
…And whatever the heck this is:
Even I found that top too wacky to handle. I mean where does one even start?
Statement number two: The entertainment was pretty good at the venue, even though the photoshop skills of some of the acts left a bit to be desired:
That is some impressive balancing skills I must say.
There were highlights and lowlights. There were some good acts. The trio above did put on a good show and were very watchable. Justin Smith (last name is a guess) and Insignia (again, I really can’t remember the duo’s name) were, well, interesting shall we say. They did create a fun addition to the night when we played “guess that song”, and I’ll admit India and I were the only two people probably on the whole island dancing to Justin’s rendition of the Phil Collins’ hit “You Can’t Hurry Love”.
The hotel’s main source of mild entertainment were the flashy touch screens that were located everywhere:
It was through these touch screens that I learnt what noises the animals make in Spain:
I am now one step close to becoming at one with the animals. I tried my cat impression out on the hotel cat, but with little joy. I really need to improve my Spanish.
Speaking of Spanish, that takes me to my last statement and also the title of this post. I am truly embarrassed to say that despite repeated attempts to get back into Spanish and despite my hard grafted B grade at GCSE, my grasp on the language is terrible. I can understand 1000 times more than I can speak, but that was of little use to me when I needed it most. Time and time again I am deeply embarrassed by how everyone in the world is expected to speak English and/or German. To combat this I tried on serval occasions to ask questions in my broken Spanish. Ecstatic that a young English girl in a nice dress could speak Spanish, what followed was either multiple questions about my education or long flowing sentences that, for better or worse, I could not understand. On one occasion I literally said “vino blanco y Irish Cream por favour” and got the happiest waitress all night because of it. “Hablo muy poco” became my signature phrase. I know I keep saying it but I truly need to improve my Spanish!
As always, it was a good holiday and a nice excuse to put my feet up.
Favourite bit: help yourself prosecco
Not so favourite bit: Having to tear myself away from a) Pajaja’s village donkey:
b) the adorable baby goats (i.e. kids) on the farm.
They’re little devils but they’re so cute!
Hilarious moment: when the hotel cat wanted to come in and hang out in our room but we had nothing to offer it (drawbacks of all-inclusive hotel rooms). What made it so hilarious was India struggling to deal with the cries of a cat when she knew she couldn’t offer him/her anything. The girl was in absolute torture (which, as a result, was hilarious for me).
I tell you what, when you look at photos like this you’d almost think we were a normal family…