Merchant House, Eyemouth

digI recently rented Merchant House in Eyemouth for the weekend to celebrate a big birthday. Standing overlooking the harbour in Eyemouth the smugglers home was perfect for my family to stay in. I booked it through Crabtree & Crabtree but when we arrived I found out I could have booked directly with Gunsgreen House, which would probably have been cheaper.

A four-poster, 2 double rooms, a twin and a room that slept 3 meant everyone had their own space. 3 bathrooms one of which had a roll top bath in the middle of the room also meant no-one was left dancing in hallways. The house is full of secret hideaways and the floors below holds a museum, which unfortunately was closed when we were there.  There was also a fabulous welcome hamper with wine and milk in the fridge.

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For my birthday meal I wanted someone to prepare, cook and serve a meal on the Saturday night as I thought this would be far easier than going to a restaurant with 3 kids under 5. I searched around for caterers in the area and found Sara Event Catering in Ayton.

Right from the start the communication was excellent and Caroline Sara was extremely helpful in preparing a menu for the evening. Nothing was too much trouble and she was great at thinking of meals for children, a vegetarian and a very picky daughter so that everyone got something that they liked.

Prior to the dinner Caroline popped round to check out the kitchen and dishware so she could plan out the meal to insure nothing was left to chance.  On the day she kept in touch and her and her partner arrived in plenty time to make the meal. The meal itself was fantastic and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

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At the end of the evening the kitchen was left tidy and leftovers were all wrapped up or cling-filmed, which was great as it meant we managed to have lunch the following day too.

I’ve never used caterers before but would highly recommend the experience and if you’re ever looking for caterers in the Eyemouth area look no further than Sara Event Catering as everything about their service was excellent and I feel, extremely reasonable too.

 

 

 

 

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A week in Gran Canaria

Looking for some winter sunshine I looked at Gran Canaria to book a week long getaway. OH and I are not ones for lying on a beach so after much searching decided on an AirBnB apartment in Agaete – a small fishing village on the North West of the island. A long drive away from where the majority of tourists lie starfished in the sand.

imag5840We hired a car from the airport and drove anti-clockwise around the round island. We were not disappointed when we were shown around our new home for the week. The view of the mountains and Atlantic was amazing (the wine and beer left in the kitchen for us were also great). After stocking up on some essentials we chilled for the rest of the evening enjoying the first of many amazing sunsets whilst sipping wine and nibbling cheese.

The following day (Sunday) we drove in to the capital of the Gran Canaria, Las Palmas. It was the day of their annual marathon so the city was buzzing. Groups of drummers lined the route, helicopters and motorbikes followed the runners and the locals cheered and clapped as the sweaty athletes sprinted (or limped) past. There is also an old town aspect to the capital, which was definitely prettier on the eye than the new builds and chic shopping centre.

The weather on Monday was perfect for a drive, this time clockwise, down to Maspolomas where we found miles of sand dunes. Imagine the Sahara Desert but with a coast. img_20170124_180703_063

There’s a main road, which runs from Agaete round the majority of the island and is the sensible route to take if you’re going anywhere. Additionally, there is also a spiders web of roads, which wander through the middle of the island clinging to the sides of the mountains. These roads are seriously narrow, have sheer drops, crazy hairpin bends and don’t offer the chance to get into 3rd gear too often. However, as well as the near death experiences they offer, they also give you breath taking views. So after a wander over the dunes we drove back to Agaete through the mountains. img_20170124_180233_758imag5685Stopping off at Roque Nublo, a precariously perched volcanic rock and the second highest point in the island.

This drive messed with my hands and nerves giving me white knuckles, sweaty palms and muscle cramps as I tensed at each and every corner (and I wasn’t even driving!) but they also give some amazing views – img_20170125_170331_759the kind of scenes you wouldn’t normally see unless you’re the type that actually enjoys leaving the car behind and trekking up a mountain for hours. Incidentally, the roads were also full of cyclists. Lycra clad mentalists pedalling along the extreme roads, cycling just as fast as the cars could drive.

imag5734When I booked the break in Gran Canaria the last thing I was expecting to hear was that I could visit a coffee plantation. Yes! They grow coffee in the Agaete Valley at Finca Los Castaños. This was only a short drive for us but it was still another scenic trip into the valley where we loved the relaxed tasting of their own red, rosé and white wines accompanied with cheese made from cow and goats milk and some pork pate on chunky bread. This was then followed with a lovely cup of the only coffee grown and produced in Europe and some delicious home made cake. This was all enjoyed whilst being surrounded by orange trees, grape vines, coffee plants and lush green mountains. The word you’re looking for right now is bliss.

Our apartment looked over Puerto De Las Nieves making it only a short walk down through a cactus garden and along the coast. The working port boasts a string of fabulous fish restaurants. We could easily have dined in a different place each night and not been disappointed. As the area isn’t full of tourists there were very few menus with photos or waiters trying to coerce us to a table so it was great to wander and choose at will without pressure. imag5707Additionally, the lack of beach seekers meant the meals were reasonably priced and didn’t break the bank at all.

As well as the amazing fish dishes we also managed to eat like cavemen when we dined in a restaurant, which had been carved out of the mountains. Restaurante El Centro Guayadeque The menu was fascinating. Eventually OH decided on a Steer Steak, which, when it arrived, covered the whole plate and looked like at least half of the beast. I had chicken skewers, which I couldn’t finish but wanted to. Both dishes were beautifully flame grilled. Like Fred and Wilma, we ate our meals sitting at a stone table in a cave, which was surprisingly cosy.

I could go on and on and tell you about everything else we did and every meal we ate but I’m already way over my usual word count so will stop now.

So, in summary, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about Gran Canaria. Perhaps thinking it’s just a place to go and lie on the beach. This certainly isn’t the case. Gran Canaria is an absolutely beautiful island, which has something for everyone and even more if you venture off the beaten path. I, for one, wouldn’t hesitate to go back.imag5675

Venice – top tips

  1. Get a water taxi from the airport to your hotel. 2016-07-12 18.52.11
    Yes, it’s expensive but you will arrive at your hotel (or as near as the canals allow) feeling like James Bond.
    The alternative is the airport waterbus which takes ages, can be overcrowded and doesn’t offer you the wow experience of seeing Venice when you first arrive. Obviously the waterbus is a heck of a lot cheaper.
  2. Book a Free Walking Tour. 2016-07-15 17.40.23.jpgThis is a great way to get to know the city as it takes you off the normal tourist routes, gives you loads of information about Venice and at the end they give you a brilliant map of Venice, which advertises great shops and restaurants to visit.
  3. Learn how to stand. If you can stand at a counter to drink  and eat you will save a fortune in Venice. Venetians will pop into a cafe or bar stand at the counter and drink their coffee or a small glass of house wine called an ombra, pay a euro and walk out again. If you sit you pay more.
  4. Eat like a local. Don’t eat in restaurants that show photos of food. If you want to avoid the tourist traps look out for osterie and bàcari that sell Cicchetti (also sometimes spelled “cichetti” or called “cicheti”) These are small cheap snacks that you can stand and eat with your ombra. Or if you want something a bit bigger look out for the restaurants that don’t usher you in but have small menus with only a few options.
  5. Learn how to sit on anything that isn’t a chair. As I’ve said if you sit you pay. Therefore, fountains, steps leading up to bridges, the side of a canal all make great places to take the weight off. We found a great spot close to our hotel next to the canal where we would drink like a local (see no. 6) and eat pizza (see no. 9).
  6. Drink like a local. There are little shops that sell you wine straight from the barrel into a plastic bottle for just a few euros. This means you can grab a couple of plastic glasses from your hotel room, find a spot with a view and relax for a couple of hours watching the gondolas go by. 2016-07-14 15.46.39
  7. Don’t get a gondola until you’ve done no.6.

    Whilst sitting ‘drinking like a local’ we witnessed nose to tail gondolas slowly going past, the passengers engrossed in their phones or looking completely bored. It looked like the most unromantic thing EVER. If you have to tick the gondola box go off the tourist route to avoid the traffic jams and make sure you get a gondola with a steel end looking like the ones in the pic. 2016-07-12 17.44.04If it doesn’t have a steel it’s not a registered gondola.

  8. Shop with locals.  Venice is full of tourist shops full of imported masks, fake Murano glass and leather that has been sprayed with a ‘real leather’ scent. Look out for authentic Italian artisan’s shops to spend your money in. You’ll find these off the tourist routes in back streets usually with unassuming signage.
  9. Eat in the streets2016-07-16 16.41.06Sandwiches, paninis, rolls, slices of pizza can all be bought hot from shops and enjoyed next to a canal – couple it with no. 6 and you’ve got the best picnic ever.
  10. Get lost.  The best way to explore Venice is by wandering the streets without a map. Get up early and see Piazza San Marco when it’s empty. Cross the Rialto bridge when it’s deserted and best of all watch the locals getting ready for work. If you can, walk until your feet hurt and then get the vaporetto back at sunset.

Gleddoch – Hotel, Spa & Golf

So last weekend, for the want of anything better to do, OH and I headed to the west coast. We booked a night in the Gleddoch Golf and Spa Hotel, a dog friendly hotel not far from Greenock.

On parking we could see from outside what had been an old, secluded, country house had now been extended up the hill with a new build. Not that you could see the modern extension in any of the hotel’s online pics, of course.

We wandered into reception, which was full of Chesterfield couches and club chairs. Obviously, I looked just like the kind of customer they would roll out the red carpet for carrying a bulging, well used, Asda bag full of dog food, chews, a water bowl and blanket. Classy. However, the receptionist was warm and friendly as she booked us in. She gave us our key and advised us that although we were more than welcome to go up to the room via the inside of the hotel it was recommended to take the car up to the car park as it was a bit of a trek and there were a lot of stairs.

So OH, the dog and me humphing my Asda bag, all went back out to the car and drove up to the first car park and looked around for an entrance. Nope. We drove up to the next car park. There were no signs but there was an open fire door so I checked it out and right enough found No.5. The room was fantastic. Concealed lighting, huge comfy bed, all the bits and bobs you could ask for (my favourites – free bottled water and biscuits) and a large walk in shower with multiple settings.  2016-07-02 18.28.21Not long after we took the dog out for a walk around the side of the golf course and explored the hotel grounds. The view from the hotel was stunning – right over the Clyde to Dumbarton.

Later we then tried to find the hotel bar, which OH had spotted next to reception. Remember we were now 2 carparks up from there? First off we walked along the first corridor. Nope. Dead end. Next we found the restaurant. Looked around there. Nope no sign of the way to reception. Back tracked. Started again. Another dead end. Back to the restaurant and through it to the pre-dinner sitting area where we were stared at. We persevered and walked through the on-lookers. We found another corridor and walked slowly along it looking for signs. There were none for reception but we did find the pool. We then met a waiter who pointed us in the right direction down stairs, then more stairs and another corridor. We eventually emerged into the reception area. It was only at this point I thought about leaving breadcrumbs…

…too much wine later and high heels in hand it was like a scene from the Crystal Maze as we tried to retrace our steps. Giggling and using stage whispers we found our way along corridors containing wheelbarrows, found numerous dead ends and eventually, and thankfully, found our room again.

It felt like no sooner had our heads hit the pillow than the fire alarm was going off. Oh yeah, suddenly I was wide awake. Good Morning Dumbarrrrrton! To be honest, it was after 9 but that’s not really the point.  I gingerly made my way out to  the car park wearing sunglasses even though it was dreich. The only one delighted with the rapid exit was the dog who darted off to the golf course to help with watering the fairway. It turned out the alarm was down to an electrical fault and the ongoing building work. I was just glad the alarm stopped when I nipped back to the room to take my phone off of charge. 2016-07-03 09.14.16.jpg

Not long later, showered and dressed in clean clothes this time, we left our room and went for breakfast. It was chaotic. I’m hoping it was due to the fire alarm and this was not the norm. Dirty plates were on the cold buffet table – probably dumped when the alarm went off and forgotten. Serving dishes were empty, juice jugs were lacking and there were tables needing re-set with people waiting.  One waiter – actually the one that showed us how to get to reception the night before – was sprinting between tables trying to meet everyone’s needs. White sugar here, more butter there, here a jam, there a  knife, everywhere some toast toast.

One chap who had been helping himself from the hot buffet returned and sat at the wrong table, which was completely cluttered. Surprised that he had no clean cutlery he asked for some without questioning it. His wife joined him and looked around confused as he wolfed down his bacon and sausage. She lifted a cup that was in her way and asked if it was his. With bean juice running down his chin he shook his head. She struggled to find a clear place to put the cup down again. She then asked if he had seen her phone. More head shaking. It was only when the wife spotted her phone on the other table that she realised they were at the wrong table. Oh the hilarity as they got up and moved. The man quipped, “I wondered why I could no longer see the Clyde”  as he returned to his own table not worrying about his faux pas. Other diners laughed along with him. I’d have been mortified and would have had to leave my breakfast as I allowed the ground to swallow me up.

To be fair we enjoyed our stay. I found the scene at breakfast hilarious – even when my toast turned up only toasted on one side. The trek from room to reception was a highlight and the surrounding scenery and room were brilliant. The staff were friendly and helpful and if it weren’t for the fire alarm turning breakfast into a comedy sketch it would have received high marks. Well, apart from the fact that there was no tv in the bar so we couldn’t watch the footy and had to speak to one another.
To recap – bits were so bad it was great 🙂 

Isle of Mull

OH has been at me to go to the Isle of Mull for eons. To be honest it’s not really my thing. Usually when OH wants to do something outdoorsy I will volunteer to sit in the car and read my book or sit in the hotel lobby and write. The promise of scenery doesn’t hold me as much as a good atmosphere in a pub does. So, on the promise of wine and much merriment, I eventually relented and looked up dog friendly hotels and ferry times.

2016-06-17 12.37.27The dog appeared to love the ferry – sticking her muzzle between the bars and sniffing the sea air as we made our way from Oban to Craignure. OH had planned a route beforehand that would take us down the island to Fionnphort – the very edge of the island where you can catch another ferry over to Iona – a small and beautiful island with a population of only 120 people. Our trip down made me realise the difficulties of travelling lengthy distances on a one-track road. Passing places became friendly places to stop and wave to other drivers. However, the novelty soon wears off and quickly you learn to drive as if some idiot is going to speed round the next corner at you. I’ve decided I’m going to invent a plastic hand that attaches to your car and waves for you whenever your car comes to a passing place. I’d soon be a millionaire. Well, maybe I’d make a few quid at least.

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Fionnphort

When we arrived a Fionnphort we (me really) decided not to catch another ferry but to allow the dog to have a walk and perhaps leave Iona Abbey for another visit. I have to admit the scenery was amazing. With the colour of the sand and sea you could have been anywhere in the world.

From Fionnphort we headed north towards Tobermory, where we were staying that night. O2016-06-17 16.59.43n the way back up we just had to stop for a Kodak moment outside Salen where 2 boats sat looking completely abandoned and unloved but extremely picturesque.

After taking a multitude of snaps we took to the road again until we reached Tobermory, where we were staying for the night. Our hotel turned out to be quite fabulous.

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Room with a view

Well the view from The Western Isles Hotel certainly was. The hotel itself was a little tired but it was dog friendly, had great staff/service, tasty food in the restaurant/breakfast room and everything you could need in a hotel room – not to mention again the view, which was phenomenal.

During our stay we literally travelled the length and breadth of the island. To my surprise I was impressed with the scenery, this was helped with the fantastic weather we had, which unfortunately you can’t rely on. Well, it is Scotland afterall. During our visit we didn’t see any otters but we did see some red deer, a Golden Eagle in the distance and I’m sure I saw the red feathers of a crossbill. There were also numerous ravens, grey backed crows and hunners of Highland Coos too amongst the other more regular wildlife on the island.

OH stuck to his promise and we enjoyed ourselves in the few pubs there are in Tobermory. The atmosphere was lively and we had a laugh with both locals and visitors alike. I managed to beat a Canadian at pool but was then thrashed by a local (boo). We met a couple from Motherwell who got us totally trashed and unable to make breakfast on Sunday morning – so that was definitely a good news – bad news moment.

All in all it was a top weekend and I won’t bore you with anymore details but I will leave you with just a few of the many pics I took and a recommendation you should go too.

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Tobermory

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View from Art in Nature, Calgary

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Beach at Calgary

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Tobermory

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Western Isles Hotel

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Anchors at the harbour in Tobermory

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Traffic jam in Mull

4 hotels and a holiday

As you may have noticed I have been on holiday for the last fortnight. If you haven’t, you really need to go back and read about Me, my mum and Amsterdam to catch up ;p

Over the last couple of weeks I have managed to check into 4 different hotels. This isn’t my norm – I usually book a self-catering apartment for the duration but as I spent my first week with my mum, my second with OH and the weekend in the middle with both of them, my brother and his wife, it just kind of happened that I became a hotel bed hopper.

I view myself as pretty easy pleased. I don’t need fancy stuff to keep me happy or so I thought. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to turn me into a hotel room snob. Previously, I’d have maintained, a hotel room is solely a place to sleep in between wining and dining. That was was no longer true! I was running around like a demented sniffer dog, checking out if there was hand lotion, a sachet of hot chocolate, a complimentary biscuit and a mini-bar. If there was a free sewing kit I was ecstatic.

On one occasion it was “hurrah” there’s free biscuits – swiftly followed by “lemon f’ing curd biscuits?!?” On another it was “I can’t believe there’s no mini-bar!” This is highly telling of my new found hotel room pretentiousness as, of course, I’d never purchase anything from a mini-bar anyway. I’m far more inclined to smuggle in a packet of jelly beans, a tube of Pringles or a bottle of wine (I say inclined, I mean always) rather than paying something silly like €2.50 for a Mars Bar. By the way, who does pay that for a Mars Bar?? I mean, I totally get that someone might in Amsterdam but no stoner with the munchies is going to be staying in a hotel with a mini-bar…see told you I was utterly pompous.

So, I was in 4 hotels and they were the NH Amsterdam Schiller, the Malmaison Edinburgh, a big old country house in Co Durham and Aldwark Manor Golf and Spa Hotel near York.

You may wonder what one was the best but really they all had their own idiosyncrasies. The hotel in Amsterdam had all the toiletries (and a free toothbrush from reception because like a total twat I had forgotten mine). It was original Art Deco and it’s bonus ball was Tom Jones live in the brasserie (if you don’t already know this you didn’t click on the link above – go back! ;)).

The Malmaison lost points due to the lemon curd biscuits but it did have a lovely large room and the Rangers squad staying overnight prior to the Hibs match. I like to think my loud snoring kept them up all night and my intimidating chat in the lift with the RFC suit lead to Hibs beating their asses 2-1 the following day. This stay also followed on from an eating experience at The Kitchin where I was able to watch Tom Kitchin in the kitchen so, as you’d expect, most things fall into insignificance after that and sadly, the Mal’s breakfast did just that.

The hotel in Co Durham’s jacuzzi wasn’t working but it’s redeeming feature was Scarlett from Gogglebox was in the pool when OH and I tried to lose some wine pounds in the spa. She’s a lovely girl and even though OH had a million questions for her (thankfully he only asked about 100) she was adorable and chatted away with a genuineness that made her even more appealing that she already is. As soon as I got back to the room I messaged Mini-me to let her know who I’d been swimming with. She was extremely impressed (she didn’t rate Tom Jones and was only mildly amused by the Rangers squad) She immediately asked if I told her she was my favourite (because she is – closely followed by Gyles). I admitted I hadn’t because I didn’t want to be gushy or impose on her. However, OH did and her stories in the sauna of Jonathon Ross’s Halloween party were great.

Finally, the hotel near York, as well as the toiletries, huge bedroom and working jacuzzi also had a golf course. Fortunately, the kind chap in the golf shop let me borrow a golf bag he brought in specially from home for me. Due to golf etiquette I wasn’t allowed to share one (and I thought I was posh). This enabled OH and I to have a round of golf. Well, it enabled us to start a round of golf…turns out my brand new pair of golf shoes started to rub around the 2nd…by the 6th I couldn’t bare to walk any further and I made poor OH take me back to the 19th hole.

So to summarise – it doesn’t matter if you have hand lotion, a shower cap or a lemon curd biscuit in your room. What really makes a holiday is the people you meet on it and we met quite a few special people. What was even better was being able to spend some real quality time with my family, which can’t be beat.

Incidentally, on the way home we decided to take a detour and visit Staithes – a small, picturesque coastal village in North Yorkshire. I didn’t know before we got there that Old Jack’s Boat was filmed there (for those of you that aren’t grandparents it’s a kids program with Bernard Cribbins in it) OH took a pic of me there claiming it was yet another star spot… Staithes

For more pics of my holiday you can check them out on instagram here 😉

Me, my mum and Amsterdam.

I took my mum to Amsterdam last week. To be honest, I used emotional blackmail to get her to come on holiday with me. OH had no holidays left, Mini-me now has Teeny Mini-him to look after and I didn’t fancy toddling off on my own so I managed to get her to agree to chum me on the promise of a cultural city break. Her friends thought it was great her daughter still wanted to go on holiday with her but she was quick to disagree with them and told them I was only taking her because she was fourth reserve. Not true really (second maybe :p). We’ve been on holiday a few times before, just me and mum. We’ve been to Rome and Dublin and both times were a good laugh. Dublin especially as we managed to pick up a random Irish guy who took us out for the day in his bright red sports car. What a hoot that was!

To me, mum is ageless. In my head I’m still in my twenties so obviously she has to be in her forties. The only thing that IMG_20151029_170344gives away her age is her inability to cross a road. In Rome she was horrendous and kept dithering in the middle of the road – mopeds darting either side of her. Before we left for Amsterdam we were well warned (by my brother) to watch out for cyclists. Beware the silent traffic – look in every direct three times before you cross!

So heeding all warnings we arrived safely in Amsterdam and checked into our hotel. It turned out that a famous Dutch chat show was filmed in the hotel and they were expecting Tom Jones that week  (RTL Late Night). Surprisingly, Mum wasn’t impressed and didn’t jump at the chance to thrown her knickers at him. A whole host of famous people were in and out of the hotel – not that we knew any of them apart from Tom.
imageWhen we weren’t waiting to cross a road, we spent our time wandering around canals, visiting art galleries and museums, drinking wine and spending our euros in beautifully quaint shops. The restaurants we visited all had their good points and we didn’t have a bad meal. Mum’s favourite meal was in De Duvel in the Pipj district where she had belgisch vispotje. When it was described to us the waitress said it was fish something – it sounded like buttz. I asked if it was fish pie. Nope but this time it sounded like fish puttz. I asked if it was fish cakes. Again nope. Mum ordered it anyway and when it arrived she decided it was fish bits the girl had been saying as it was crammed full of different bits of fish. Mum loved it. Now that I am home and have just looked it up I have discovered that it was Belgian Fish Stew.

My preferred dish was duck with honey and apricots, which we had in a french restaurant called Restaurant Bonjour. It had a cinnamon pear and chestnut flavoured mashed potatoes to accompany it and it was heaven.

We both loved the ambiance and service in Van Kerkwijk where there were no menus just a cute waiter to describe the dishes, making them all sound fantastic.

IMG_20151026_192603One evening we did a candlelight canal tour and on our way back I insisted that we walk through the red light district -assuring my mum it was one of the must do things in Amsterdam and any cultural visit wouldn’t be complete without it. Initially she said that it wasn’t too bad. We were walking past windows full of sex toys and saucy outfits at the time. I therefore, veered her down a side street where I could see red lights above some of the windows. She didn’t like that bit at all. She was surprised at how good looking the girls were and thought it was sad they had to be selling themselves. No amount of explanations around free choice, licences and the girls being in control dissuaded her. To her it was still someone’s daughter. And at that point her own daughter was dragging her 71 year old mum around the red light district. Needless to say, we went back straight back to the hotel.

I forget how old she is. To me she is just my mum. I don’t see her getting older.

I’m glad she came with me to Amsterdam. We had a great time. Even if she wasn’t impressed with what her daughter was doing in the Red Light district (dragging her around – not working!)

A Nice Journey. Not.

As mum (I’m so tempted to call her Maxi-Me but she’d go daft) and I are off to Amsterdam on Monday OH and I aren’t dining out this weekend. However, I’ve recently realised that I wrote a blog post about the awful start to our holiday in Nice earlier this year, which I didn’t post so I thought I’d share it now. Just in case you need your weekly dose of Dear Lorraine…

So anyway as I said….It was a disastrous start to our holiday. Part of the initial problem was due to the fact that we had downed 3 bottles of wine at my mum’s before going to bed too late for our 4.30 am alarm call. When OH got up he was still half asleep and unhappy at the prospect of driving. I was just unhappy because I always get stressed before holidays. I am never happy until I am sitting down in the apartment/hotel room/rented house. And just so you know, this time it was a rented apartment booked through AirBnB, the website that gives you the option of renting a room, shared house or whole house. 2015-06-15 17.07.03We had booked a whole house in Nice on the French Riviera and that was where we were heading – leaving an unusually bright and sunny Scotland behind.

I was trying to remain chilled and OH was bumbling about in the house packing last minute bits and pieces so, being totally ready and prepared, I made myself a coffee and poured it into a travel mug for the car journey.

I then picked up my suitcase and took it out to the car. This was the first bit of bad luck as the handle on my suitcase gave way. Arghhhhh. It ripped right from the fabric and was completely unrepairable, even if I had the time. I’m trying to look on the bright side and think at least it didn’t come round on an airport carousel burst or I’d have had to complain, try to claim compensation and been really annoyed at someone else instead of being able to totally blame myself.

I went back into the house to grumble loudly to OH who was less than sympathetic. He lugged his own bag out and got into the car leaving me to lock up. Second mini disaster. I got my travel mug and keys, set the alarm and left the house only to find something was stopping me getting my key in. As I bent to see his keys blocking the lock I managed to pour coffee down my light blue trousers and shoe. I was not amused. Of course I now couldn’t go back into the house because I had set the alarm so I marched back to the car to blame OH for the whole sorry mess. I thrust my travel mug into the car, muttered angrily and returned to the house to try and lock the door again.

Eventually back in the car we drove away from our house.  I attempted to drink my coffee but of course it was dripping all down the mug and over me. Tissues were flung at me and we travelled to the airport in silence. Well, we did until we got stuck in traffic approximately a mile before the airport. That mile took as 20 minutes and started us bickering again. It also made us late parking in the long stay car park. There is nothing worse that standing at a (shuttle) bus stop waiting for someone else to pick you up. We both tried to judge if we would be able to walk to the airport faster than the bus would take. Thankfully, before we decided, the bus turned up and ferried us the relatively short distance to the airport. We rushed inside and into security where it was like a cattle market. Prime bits of meat being penned, prodded and pushed along in perfectly formed queues. Stripped of all our personal belongings and made to walk through metal detectors we eventually managed to scurry to the departure gate and straight on to our flight as it was last call to Nice. We had just made it!

By the time I sat on the plane I was shattered. The red wine, lack of breakfast and general rushing about had taken its toll so I decided to get some shut eye. Sleeping on public transport is not my forte but I was going to give it a good go. 5 minutes into my nap and OH woke me up to ask if I wanted coffee. Eh, no! Of course that was me. I’d had 5 minutes so there was no getting back to sleep so it was the in-flight travel magazine from cover to cover to pass the time as, obviously, my kindle was stored safely in the overhead locker and I was in the middle seat  .

Thankfully, we managed to get out of the airport pretty smoothly in Nice – a slight difficulty in finding the bus ticket office but a quick stop at the information desk solved that and before long we were on the bus hurtling towards our well-earned break. I knew it was only a couple of stops so I didn’t mind that the bus was packed and I couldn’t get a seat. I wanted to be in prime position for getting off of the bus.

I saw our stop, picked up my bag, pressed the bell and watched the bus stop tearing past. I saw the next 3 stops go past too as I frantically pressed the button. Nope. The bus wasn’t for stopping – it was like something out of Speed. 3 kilometres down the road and eventually another passenger went up to the bus driver and demanded that she stopped. Half a dozen people alighted alongside us.

It was easily 25 degrees in the midday sun as we lugged our suitcases back up towards our apartment. There were very little words between us as we sweated our way along the coast.

The house numbers started at 67 and we had to walk up to 303. Needless to say my feet started to blister and my face was the colour and shape of a tomato. I was a pretty sight. When we got to number 303 there was a push button entry system and no obvious signs for what button I had to push. I started pushing them all. No-one answered. OH was pissed off, I was pissed off and, I swear, it was the sunniest day of the year. My t-shirt was sticking to me, as was my hair. You could have planted rice on my back it was that wet. I pressed every button again. I sent a text to the apartment owner. I tried to piggyback on to someone’s Wi-Fi to see if I could get in contact with someone that could help. All to no avail.  OH insisted we went somewhere to sit down for a drink. We ended up in a crumby pizzeria sharing a pizza. It was then that I received a message asking if I was at the door number 233 on a completely different street as I had been given. Eh? It turned out there was 2 entrances and her buzzer was on the back door not the front. Arghhh.

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The problem pipe

We finished up our pizza and, not even stopping for the toilet, made our way to the back door and (thankfully) were invited inside. When we got to the apartment door we could see there were men drilling. Plumes of dust filled the air. Pierre, our landlord, apologised profusely for the mess and explained they’d had a broken pipe the day before. The whole apartment (and the one below) had been flooded. Therefore, they had the workmen in doing an emergency repair job and as there was no water, could we come back later?

I felt like Mary and Joseph when there was no room at the inn. Desperately we asked, “Can we just come in for a short while please?”

“Oui, oui. Would you like a bierre?”

Would I?  Without hesitation. “Oh yes please!”

Well long story short. He only had one bierre but he had a large bottle of ‘cidre’, which had my name all over it. I drank the majority of it before I realised there we no water and therefore no toilet!

I must have taken on the shape and form of a camel at that point as it was approximately another hour before I got to relieve myself. It cost me the price of a diet coke in a French café but it was worth every penny.

When we returned to the apartment Pierre was still there as the work men were just finishing up. He proffered us a bottle of Champagne as way of an apology. I swear it didn’t hit the sides.

So that was the start of our holiday. Thankfully, the champagne was the start of it getting better.2015-06-15 20.49.27

Tunisia – The torture

Mini-me and I got up on our first day in Tunisia and made our way to the dining room. The food was plentiful and varied so I’d say anyone that couldn’t find something to eat had to be Mr Picky from Pickeringham. My favourite bit was the omelette hot plate where they cooked omelettes on demand. Just perfick!

After breakfast it was the welcome meeting – yes they’re annoying, yes you’d rather be sitting next to the pool but you just know if you don’t go to them you’re going to miss something important. So off we trotted to the downstairs meeting room where we heard all about what excursions were available. Mini-Me was only interested in having a Turkish bath or whatever the equivalent was – maybe a Skanes Shower or Monastir Mop-up. Anyway it turned out there were spa treatments available in the hotel so the little one was happy.
Since the hotel seemed to be on its own in the middle of nowhere we decided to go on the Market Fever tour which took you to the biggest market in North Africa, then on to a wine tasting finishing up at a Golf Club for lunch so big one was happy too.

All signed up for the souks we went to look for the spa and met what looked like Jack Black’s Tunisian cousin. He was eager to show us around the hammam and talk us through all the procedures available. The building was very impressive and was obviously purpose built with treatment rooms, saunas, large hot slabs and hydro tables. We were easily talked into buying a package and as we wanted to start our holiday with fresh skin we booked up for that afternoon. Mini-me who is far better at haggling than me managed to get an extra facial thrown in – one for that day and one before we fly off. She gets her skills at haggling from her dad ;p

Skint already, we found ourselves a couple of beds by the pool and relaxed before our afternoon of being pampered. Well I say pampered but there was a fair bit of torture included in the package too but they lure you into a false sense of security before that by giving you your own cute wicker basket containing a robe, slippers, fluffy towel, scrub mitt and locker key and asking you to change.
Guided through the impressive building we then had our robes and slippers taken off us and were shown into the sauna and abandoned. 20 minutes later we were prawn like and almost at the fainting stage. Mini-me spotted a tap and thinking it would be cold water turned it. Almost immediately we were engulfed in more steam as the water hit stone. It was too much to bear so we left the sauna and immediately felt better – but not for long as a cuddly, busty lady stripped us of our bikini tops. I got a chance to witness the torture first as Mini-me was her chosen victim.

We had every bit of dead skin removed from our bodies and some bits which were still attached too! This was not a gentle treatment and I feared she would draw blood as she scoured every inch of my body. She even took great delight in pointing out the skin she had removed – yeuch!

I didn’t know what had happened to Mini-me as she had been whisked away as neatly as my skin. Still topless I was shown to the shower. Obediently I hosed myself down and emerged to be covered in mud. Its an odd sensation standing with your boobs out allowing someone to smear grey muck all over you but it has to be said not an unpleasant one and definitely an improvement on the scrub.

Covered in clay I was then abandoned in the sauna once more. I didn’t even last the 20 minutes this time and emerged sheepish like to be ordered to shower again. My reward for being clean was to get my robe back and a cup of mint tea, which I drank in a room full of comfy settees and cushions.

Just as I had finished my cuppa Mini-me emerged topless from a room with the busty woman who was now wearing a large brown waterproof overall that went down to her feet.

It wasn’t long before I was naked and face down on a long wet table with water pouring down the length of my body. The busty woman then started oiling up my body and massaging my muscles. I would like to say she was more gentle without the scrub mitt in her hands but I would by lying. This woman had stronger hands than a fireman who does one handed press ups for fun. I was pummeled!
When told to turn over I discovered that there was a face guard that had to rest on my throat. Ipatatoooot was supposed to stop me being splashed but it just made me swallow. Lots.

Steamed, peeled, covered in dirt, washed, oiled and mashed I felt exactly like a potato!

Thankfully for our last session we were reunited and Mini-me and I lay side by side (still topless) as we had our final massage, which was relaxing, fragrant and enjoyable. At last the pampering bit!

30 minutes later, and as Mini-me had her facial to get, I left her behind and went back out to my sun lounger to enjoy the last of the day’s sun.

And yes I did remember to put my bikini top on first!

Tunisia – day 1

A couple of months ago Mini-me and I were chatting about holidays and things to do. After a glass or 2 of wine we decided a week in the sun doing nothing except soaking up the sun and drinking cocktails was the definite way forward. OH and her bf weren’t getting an invite – this was going to be a girly, mother ‘n’ daughter sunshine romp! As it was much cheapness it didn’t take me long to book an all-inclusive holiday in Tunisia.

I had to work right up until the last minute as I was oncall and unfortunately ended up having to go out and do a visit grrr. However, as this didn’t give me a lot of time to pack it ended up being a good thing as I didn’t keep putting last minute essentials into my suitcase as I usually do when I have time and room to spare.

Leaving our home town well and truly behind Mini-me drove us to the secure car park next to Edinburgh airport. Although it was £36 to park for the week it turned out to be hassle free and money well spent. As, as if by magic, the screen next to the barrier lit up with our surname (having electronically read Mini-me’s registration) and invited us to take a ticket and then to park anywhere we found a space. We then walked to the nearest bus stop and in less than 5 minutes a bus picked us up and deposited us at the airport. There was no queue at check-in so we skipped ahead to security and with no liquid nitrogen or hidden bombs in our shoes we were allowed through to test as many perfumes as we wanted.Image

Stinking like two expensive hookers but looking like a middle age mum and daughter going on holiday we hit the bar and ordered our first drink of our trip. £9.10 for 2 drinks – roll on all-inclusive alcohol!

Even before we had finished our drinks our flight was being called and before we knew it we were sitting on the flight and ready for take off.

You could tell it was a holiday flight and everyone was gearing up for a fun time as there were people drinking cans of Tennents behind me and women sneaking drink from their duty free stash in front. The pilot soon put paid to this and made announcement involving the illegality of it and the police being there to greet the flight when we landed. It was just a threat at this stage but it ended up being one he had to follow through on because then some complete twat decided to have a fly ciggie in the toilet. Then, when he was caught, instead of putting it out properly he threw it into the paper towel bin and nearly set the plane alight. The pilot sounded really pissed off with his next announcement and obviously the police had to be contacted this time.

Thankfully it wasn’t as ‘exciting’ as it could have been and our flight details didn’t need to be mentioned on the 10 o’clock news!
With hindsight I maybe should have tried to set the flight alight as we may have got through passport control a bit quicker. It was the worst bit of the holiday so far! Everyone was tired, pissed off and short tempered. Including Mini-me who nearly started WW3 when an glammed up old German woman tried to push in the queue in front of her. Mini-me was haivng none of it and put the glamorous granny firmly in her place, which was behind Mini-me.

Eventually, we got to our hotel and were immediately shown to the dinning area where thoughtfully they had left out some bread and salad. Unfortunately, before we got there a swarm of locus descended on the buffet and wiped it out within minutes. Mind you, grated carrot on flat bread turns out to be quite nice when you’re tired and hungry.

We were then given our room key (minus our bags) and off we trotted to see what delights were in store for us. A swan made from towels holding a couple of sweets tried to hide the fact that the room was best described as adequate. Saying that, it was clean and had air conditioning so it was better than some beach hotels I have stayed in.

The bags arrived and we departed to search for the bar. Mini-me was on lager and I decided it was a gin night. We sat til midnight making sure there was consistency in each drink. Happily there were no issues with the free alcohol.