It’s been nearly two and a half years since I promised myself that I’d travel to different countries and experience their cultures, food, wine and lifestyles. Travel has a big impact on my life and wellbeing. Depending on the type of travel sometimes it’s good sometimes it’s challenging. My first trip was in October 2015 to Barcelona. It was an experience that I loved. From getting Euros, to ensuring my passport was in my bag and packing my flip flops to wear in the Autumn. It was an exciting and memorable experience. I’ll share why.

Being British means that towards the end of October the nights get darker and longer, the clocks turn back and for me the unwelcome gloomy days arrive. I remember landing in Barcelona in the early evening, leaving the plane and feeling the warmth hit and relax my body. My S.O. and I checked in to the hotel and went in search of food. We walked for less than ten minutes before we came across El Santet, a bar on the corner of some buildings. There was a gazebo set out on the pavement to sit under, with plastic chairs and tables. To me it didn’t look that inviting but it was late and we were ravenous for tapas and a glass of red wine. The food was delicious and to sit outside in the evening in October was heavenly. I’m not sure how long we were there for but it felt like an age with plates of tapas arriving and glasses of red being consumed.

We stayed in Barcelona for six nights, walked miles and miles and saw some of the most amazing architecture. It’s a city with so much to look at that I can’t choose a favourite. For me there were two of the most architecturally different buildings that I’d ever seen. The Sagrada Familia de Gaudi and La Pedrera also known as Casa Mila. Both buildings were designed by Antoni Gaudi whose eye for Modernist Design must have been incredibly forward thinking for the time and looking at the buildings it’s unbelievable that he was ridiculed.

La Pedrera was built between 1906 and 1912. It was added in 1984 to The World Heritage Site list and restored in the 1990s. It houses the original designs with a spiralling staircase, curved self supporting walls inside and out, as well as the most overwhelming creative rooftop courtyard consisting of decorative (robot like) chimneys covered with lime, broken glass or marble. Even if you don’t have a head for heights (I don’t), it’s a definite must to see.

Unlike La Pedrera I wasn’t fortunate to go inside the Sagrada Familia de Gaudi. A tip for planning a visit to Barcelona is to check which tourist attractions you can or should book online in advance. Sagrada Familia de Gaudi is prebookable with time slots for visitors which we were unaware of at the time. Despite this there were hundreds of people waiting to go in or absorbing the outside of the building. The Sagrada Familia de Gaudi is a project which is not yet complete. Over 136 years ago the construction of the building commenced and is still surrounded by builders and scaffolding. Additions to the building are questionable but decide for yourself whether you approve or not.

Not far away from Sagrada Familia is Parc Guell, a public park with a few areas where there is a charge to visit. The park is a delicious mosaic of colours, sculptures and gingerbread type buildings. Built in 1914 it too is now World Heritage listed. The entrance is enclosed by two beautifully curvaceous mosaic, gingerbread type buildings with tall lofty chimneys which lead to a magnificent mosaic salamander. From here steps lead you to the Doric columns which support a vast central terrace with seating all around providing great views over Barcelona. The park also is home to the Gaudi House Museum and a colonnaded pathway. No trip to Barcelona could be complete without seeing the park.

On our last evening in Barcelona we went visited the Tibidabo Amusement Park which is on a mountain. Getting there was exhilarating with a tram ride half way up the mountain and required riding on the funicular train the remaining way. The incline was steep, very steep. At the top of Tibidado is the amusement park alongside a walk up to a beautiful church Temple de Sargent Cor which at 575 metres above sea level has the most amazing view back down to the city and beach. It’s worth remembering the check the time that the funicular ceases to run and also that at such as high point above sea level it can get chilly as it did when we visited with the clouds rolling in around us. Not for those who are faint hearted is the colourful ferris wheel, a rollercoaster and the airplane ride which hangs precariously over the side of the mountain.

Barcelona has so many places to visit the markets, the beach, the Montjuic mountain (accessible by cable car), Miro’s art installations which are dotted around and tempting you to find them as well as churches, museums, galleries and La Rambla. It offers a great sense of history, culture, flavoursome food and wine. Six days was not enough time to see everything although we were exhausted from the walking and sightseeing. I love Barcelona and the fact is, is that there is so much to see which gives me a great excuse to return. Barcelona provided not only warmth from the sun but from the people too however………

George Orwell wrote in his Homage to Catalonia in 1938, ‘I went to have a look at (Gaudi’s) cathedral, a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world’.

Take a look, I’ll let you decide if you agree.

Atrium Prestige, Rhodes, Greece

Only a four hour flight from London, there’s a place where I can be away from it all, here in Rhodes, Greece. Not only is the weather warm, the sky is blue but the hotel too is pristine. I am staying at the Atrium Prestige Hotel ( ). On our arrival we were guided into the palatial foyer with chandeliers and a glass of fizz to welcome us. From here we were transported by golf buggy down hill to our room which is simply decorated with a pretty trailing ivy design and butterflies on the ceiling. The doors open out to a seating area and we are fortunate to have our own pool which overlooks the white villas below and the glistening and calm ocean.

It takes me a while to grasp that the reception area was at ground level with the rest of the hotel, apartments and villas cascading down towards the ocean. There are two main swimming pools and surroundings full of colour from plants, flowers, trees which complement the sky, white buildings and ocean. There is a small delicate chapel next to one of the swimming pools accessed by an arched white bridge.  

The main building houses an adults playground. The spa pool is amazing with two jacuzzi type beds incorporated into the pool. There are three spouts blasting water which is rather painful to go beneath and numerous jets pumping out water too. Being filled with salt water means that you don’t have to swim but can float as the jets move you around. All of the pools at the hotel contain salt water which is much nice than swimming in chemicals. The spa has treatment rooms which you can book as well as a sauna and hammam. The hammam is a vast steam room, large enough for corporate business meetings. For those feeling energetic there is a well equipped gym to use too. 

Near to the gym is an Greek BBQ restaurant, one of four restaurants. The Asian and Aegean restaurants are close to the sea whilst the gourmet restaurant (where breakfast is served) sits high in the main building with a glass edged balcony providing fantastic views out over the ocean. The hotel serves delicious food, wine and the hospitality is exceptional.  

There are of course a choice of bars here, two at the pool and one as you leave the tunnel which leads down to the black sandy beach. Follow the board walks and you’ll find countless parasols and loungers awaiting sun worshipping travellers.  

The Atrium Prestige provides a relaxing environment and I’m sure most travellers would use the time to have a morning lie in however here that would mean missing another great phenomenon, sunrise. A much better choice would be to watch dawn which fortunately occurs directly in front of the hotel. The red, yellow, green and blue colours at dawn provide a vivid rainbow across the horizon and precede a speedy sunrise. 

Our stay is only mard by the pathways which when damp due to the early morning air or the efficient cleaners become slippery. As the paths do slope down to the ocean it can be quite hazardous.  

If you want warmth, blue sky, great hospitality and somewhere that you don’t want to leave (we didn’t the whole week) The Atrium Prestige is an awesome place to go!  

Farm Fest Music Weekend, Uxbridge 2017

Yesterday I went to Farm Fest in Uxbridge. Set on beautiful farmland with a lake and two wooden retreats to hire. People had pitched up tents to listen to a variety of music, from rock to folk and gospel.

The event is run to raise funds to support for female asylum seekers and their children. The farm supports two large houses and The British Red Cross contact them to take in vulnerable women. These are women (and their children) who may be escaping human trafficking, domestic violence or homelessness. Apart from all experiencing vulnerability they are unable to access support within the British system as they are not UK residents. The Catholic Worker Farm help the women engage with solicitors, provide food, shelter, medical treatment and a safe loving environment. If the women do access Legal Aid they are only entitled to £300 worth. Anyone who knows the legal system knows that pays for an hour, not enough to support someone who has been trafficked to Britain.
The CW Farm is the only place in the South East of England that provides such a service and many of these women would have had their children removed from them without their support. The Farm receives no funding from the government and look to the local community and sponsors for support. The housing accommodation alone costs £3000 + per month.  Check out their website and perhaps put their next festival in the diary

Campervanning – Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands

On 2nd March 2017 we moved on from Magnetic Island to Airlie Beach. Our drive takes us to a less humid area and Martha happily escorts us to Flametree Tourist Village which is run by a British couple who had been working hard to improve the camp site. Staying here feels cooler, there is less wildlife around us and this allows for a better few nights of sleep. The only downside is that we are some distance from the nearest shops and our liquor supply had depleted. 

The site help us to plan our next days journey to the Whitsunday Islands. There are so many tours on offer however we choose to do a one day excursion in which we are collected from outside the site at 7am. Thankfully we are the last to get on the coach and the journey to the boat was only about a twenty minute ride. We travelled with Reef Cruises who made sure all the passengers were well fed and watered throughout the day. Our first stop was reached after a 60 minute boat ride. It required us with stinger suits and snorkelling gear in hand to decend onto a small boat that takes us to the a small sandy bay to the south east of Hook Island.

We are given an hour and a half to snorkel. The stinger suits are tight, hot and not particularly nice to manovere into. My fetching look is completed with goggles and a snorkel. I opt to wear a life jacket too. This stops me from the worry of having to ground myself by standing on the reef something I have no desire to do and something which our guides have to remind other over and over again. The reef is lacking colour according to those who have seen it before and through our journey around Australia bleached white pieces of reef have washed ashore. Not being the strongest of swimmers (another reason to wear a life jacket) I swim with caution. Oh and did I mention my other fear, fish. Fish that might nibble my toes. I have no idea where this fear came from except that when I was a child I dug a hole on the beach only to discover a dead fish. Since then fish with faces have not been a favourite thing of mine.

Anyway, I paddle out to the reef. The fish are wonderfully coloured, stripy, spotty, iridescent, large, small, even larger and I appologise to each one I pass. I am invading their territory and after a while of watching some of them dash away from me I realise they are scared of me too. I’m not surprised by this. There are a lot of other snorkellers here with me. I look up to see a woman looking at me and make out the she is saying turtle. I swim (or should I say float) towards her with my head in the water. Beneath me I see the most impressive turtle tucking himself into the reef. He is about arms reach away but I darent touch him after all my fingers are important and who knows what would happen if I patted him. I am previleged to be one of three watching the turtle and after thanking the lady I continue floating along. The reef is mind blowing. It moves in the most incredible way, some opening and closing, showing their internal vivid colours. An hour or so later I leave the water, peel off the wetsuit and dry on the beach in the warmth before rejoining the main boat to be taken to our next stop.

A guide leads us up to the Hill Outlook at the Great Barrier Reef Park. From here there are amazing views over the sparkling white sandy beaches with the bluest of blue waters which vary from an aqua to a deep sumptuous teal blue. Cameras click everywhere trying to capture the moment and obviously I join in too. The colours here are spectacular and after a while of obsorbing our surroundings we walk down to the beach. Exhausted from the paddling earlier I opt to stay on the beach whilst others snorkel once again. From the beach I can see huge Manta Rays swimming, easy to see with their dark scales contrasting against the clear water. Due to timings we are required to walk back across the island to meet up with the boat for the final part of the day.

We are taken to Daydream Island to relax. There are lots of choices of activities including swimming in the pools, having a drink in the pool bar, sitting on the beach, Visiting the three mermaid sculptures and viewing the sea life in the aquarium. We choose the swim in the pool. It is a hot, hot day and I enjoy not having to fear my toes being nibbled. Following this we sit on the beach. The beach is covered in what I think is fossilised coral. I sounds like glass when walked on and the patterns with in are wondrous. After photographing the mermaids we visit the aquarium before making our way back to the boat. On the way we see wallaby or wallaroos, I’m not sure which is which. Once on board the boat we are served Tequilla Sunrise to signal the end of the day and the commence of our journey back to the mainland.

I feel very lucky to have been on this trip. A few weeks after this Cyclone Debbie hit the area. Not only has she destroyed parts of the island which have been closed for the next year but two of the three mermaids were swept away too. In some ways perhaps Cyclone Debbie will have a positive impact on the reef. This has been too commercialised and it may have a chance of recovery from the tourists who accidentally step on it not visiting for a while. Our guides were amazing I have to say, not only did they police the reef area but they provided an alternative to snorkelling by letting customers use a glass bottomed boat instead. When the tours are up and running I would highly recommend joining one and I would suggest a life jacket to stop the temptation of standing up.

Camper-vaning, Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia

We board the forty minute journey on the ferry in the early evening towards Magnetic Island. Our site for the next few days is in Bungalow Bay Koala Park. There are very few people here, although it is the low season it is still very warm. With no one around we spot an isolated outdoor shower made with corrugated metal and pitch up nearby. This proves to be useful providing an opportunity to cool down during the hot days ahead. 
A ten minute walk takes us to Horseshoe Bay. Here there are a few shops, restaurants and bars. The beach is sandy and there is a swimming net to keep us safe from the crocs.

Further on from Horseshoe Bay is a rocky track. From here two remote beaches are accessible although they do require some stamina to get to them. We chose to walk the 2.5 km path to Balding Bay, a hike up and down hill over boulders and stones which is challenging in flip flops (I’d recommend trainers). The boulders house geckos and I’m an convinced a snake slithered under one as I approached. At the end was the sandy isolated bay. In hindsight the name should have given away that it was a nudist beach. 

We also hiked 4km to the Forts Walk. A World War 2 fortification which has great viewing points down and over the island and bays. At the top of the walk is a tower with a 360 degree view around the island. On our descent we were told that a koala had been seen and that the path was marked by a stick. Thinking that was a great idea I kept looking out for a pointing stick, which in a path with a lot of sticks was not easy to see. I did spot a Koala not far from the path, sleeping low enough in the tree to touch. It’s a long walk in 29 degree heat so lots of water is needed.

At the camp ground is a Koala Park (hence the name) as well as a lot of free roaming wildlife. In the evenings we were surrounded by cockatoos, Rock Wallabies, raccoons and possums. The Koala Park is open for tours at specific times. They run a breakfast with the Koala event a few times a week if there are enough bookings. Unfortunately for us they didn’t and so we joining the general tour. The ranger was very informative, telling us about the environment and the animals. She took our group of eight around, for two hours and encouraged us to hold the animals. This was met with apprehension from some especially me when she seemed to realise my fear of lizards and crocodiles and asked me to carry them back to their enclosure. We were introduced to and held baby saltwater crocodile, numerous lizards, mischievous birds and a extremely long, heavy python. For a small fee I had a photo taken with a Koala which sounds easier than it is. The young koala was more interested in his surroundings rather than posing for the camera. The animals are well respected here and never pushed to perform. 
If you join the afternoon tour, you are invited to feed the Rainbow Lorikeets at 4pm. They seemed to know it was feeding time on our approach and swarmed into the trees ready to feast. 

Magnetic Island was incredibly hot. The parts of the island I had time to explore were well worth the ferry ride here and if you love animals it’s a great place to visit.

Camper-vaning Millaa Millaa Waterfalls and Tablelands, Queensland, Australia

Following the previous days snake excitement we drove from the beach area into the Tablelands. The road towards Millaa Millaa was winding and steep however our reward was to drive up to the most vivid double rainbow I have ever seen. The Tablelands are green and plentiful of trees and cattle, reminding me of Sussex in England. 

Our stay at the site in Millaa Millaa was brief due to us arriving at near darkness and leaving early to tour the three waterfalls near by. Australia being Australia is set up for tourists and the tourist route is a 15km road laid out so that the waterfalls can be visited in a loop and accessed by the free parking (which is everywhere here) available.

The waterfalls each different could be heard before your eyes were able to see them. With so many tourists travelling around we made an early start and stopped at Millaa Millaa falls first. 

Zillie Falls

Ellinjaa Falls

After the waterfalls was the long drive back towards the coast and to Townsville. Our destination was to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island. On route we took a detour to a shopping mall. After being inside for about 40 minutes, we walked back towards Martha (camper-van). As I went to get inside I saw a man opposite Martha holding what I thought was a snake bag. We went over to him as he retrieved a carpet python and secured it in the bag. Two snakes in two days! 
Only afterwards did it occur to us that the snake was close to Martha and that our snake had disappeared to the underside of the van. It couldn’t have been, could it?

A snake in the van! Ellis Beach, Queensland, Australia.

A warm evening in the camper-van, parked up where the ocean and beach meet led to choosing to leave the side and rear doors open for the night. No one else has pitched up near by and leaving the doors open cools the van and let’s me fall asleep listening the the waves lapping at the shore. 
I wake up in the night, it’s dark, quiet and I try to ignore that I need to go to visit the toilet. The waves lashing on the shore and are not helping me to relax. The moon lights up my clothes which are next to me and wriggle into them whilst still on the bed. I recall that my headlight is on the kitchen unit near by and that my shoes are tucked just beneath the bed within arms reach.
With my body sitting on the bed, I reach under to pick up my shoes. Something doesn’t feel right and my eyes focus on an object sliding. I jump back and question in my mind what I felt and saw, ‘I think there’s a snake in the van’! Then a few seconds later I reassure us both, ‘It’s only a small one’.
A jumps into action, grabs the light and shines in under the bed. ‘It’s not small’. We whisper to each other and come up with suggestions. Using my shaking hands I decide to Google ‘Snake in a van’. The choices to select on the illuminating screen mainly come from Daily Mail articles and include Man finds snake in (builders) van. All of which are useless and I put my phone down.
Questions and suggestions are batted between us whilst our visitor slithers beneath us.
‘How are we going to get it out?’
‘Could we give it some chicken?’ (I have a vision of a table draped with a cloth and A showing the snake a menu, ‘Grilled or fried?’) (That and we don’t have any chicken in the van!)
‘What did they say the other day?’ (At Hartley’s Crocodile Farm, I really should pay more attention when someone talks!)
‘Where is it now?’
And finally with A’s head still under the bed and me sitting in the centre of the bed, he asks me to look and see where the snake is. Barring in mind it is 4.30am, dark and in my mind a snake may be weaving his head up the back of the van AND who knows it may launch up at my face if it put my head over the headrests at the back. I say, ‘No!’

The reply is that we need to know what’s it’s doing and after about minute or so, I muster up the courage, turn the torch on, on my phone and peer over.
There he is brown, long and sliding, thankfully along the floor in the rear of the van. I see his head, triangular in shape, with dark eyes and a flicking forked tongue. I should point out that neither of us know our snakes. I watch him move with caution, ‘I can see his head and he’s going out the back’. This response is greeted with, ‘Take a photo, no one will believe us otherwise’. At this point I have a vision of Instagraming a live snake encounter, just to prove I’m telling the truth. I decline, for a moment until I see the snakes head disappear along the side of the van and then click. A has left the tail end of the bed and joined me. We watch the snake leave slowly. Both of us shocked, shaking and speaking in whispers, just in case he hears us.

The snake disappears, we don’t see where to due to the darkness outside. We sit quietly for a moment, before giving each other a did that really happen look and laughing at bizarreness of the moment. Laughter which carries on for the next few days in disbelief.
Both shaken we try to find out who our visitor was and laugh again when a snake expert posts:

Now wide awake with no chance of relaxing and going back to sleep, we visit the toilet, make a cup of tea and watch the sunrise on Ellis Beach. We check the ground every so often and place our seats a little way from the camper-van. After all who knows where the snake has gone? He was last seen slithering towards the underside of the van.

To be continued…….