Wish You Were Here? Travels in Bruges (*Video*)

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.

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Chipping Campden meets Camden Market: A Parental Visit to London

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…

Sangria, Selfies and Flamencos: Mallorca (Spain) 2018

There are two options as to when the Mallorca (English spelling Majorca) holiday began. The first possibility is when I caught India eating salsa at 3am as we finished loading the cars up with the suitcases, the scrambled logic being the dip was due to go past its sell-by whilst we were away. I looked at her in disbelief as she continued to eat table spoons of the stuff.

That was when I thought the holiday had began.

The other potential opener occurred in the check-in queue of East Midlands airport. After waiting for approximately 45 minutes the elderly gentleman in front of me started spontaneously vomiting. Someone further down the queue rushed to hand over a napkin seconds before the same passenger began throwing up again. Everyone started shouting at the man to stand still but the baffled passenger continued to wheel his vomit-coated case through the mess and around the tape barriers. Forget human consideration, people were terrified that this solo passenger was going to be on their flight. Dad meanwhile was running around the terminal and having no luck in finding someone to help and the cleaning crew were standing around the mess as if it would evaporate by itself. Then another woman collapsed, and another. It was 4:30am, I was stood in an irritable queue next to a pool of someone else’s vomit. The whole plane had to board in 15 minutes and I had not a drop of caffeine to run on. Miracles bloody well do exist.

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Airport chaos

The Bennett holiday had begun. 

This year it was an all-inclusive trip to the sunny island of Mallorca, Spain. For the benefit of the jury, here is a balcony photo.

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Despite the larger hotel in the background, Hotel Garden Village is a small complex for 16+, made up entirely of separate two storey blocks positioned around central entertainment (pool, bar etc.)

Compulsory scenic surrounding location shots (nature reserve and Alcudia)

While I knew we were in Spain over the course of the week I did have a few questions I wanted to take up with the local trade of commerce. For instance, I’m quite sure this is factually inaccurate:

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…That or we don’t ask questions

I don’t think the feminists were consulted on this, the upcoming sequel to ‘The Land Before Time‘:

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And this man is very misguided and/or up for disappointment

And then I realised the tourist board were in on the con too.

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To take this back a little, we were holidaying in the north, less developed, area of the island and just up the road from several historic towns including Alcudia.

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There are two sides to Alcudia, the newer part of the town that formed around the busy port and is now home to a number of tourist tat shops commercial outlets and bars. The historic town is located several miles inland and a short hop away on public buses (which run every 15 minutes during the main season). Because we’re suckers for culture and architecture we spent more days roaming the streets here than we did anywhere else during our stay. To say the place has charm would be a vast understatement, the main town has so few cars going through it the place is practically pedestrianised (and not a yellow line in sight!) as demonstrated by this reckless selfie.

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We went in on day for the market on Tuesday and were amazed by the range of products one could buy be you a local or a tourist.

Even India thought I was being weird for photoing underwear. Even India.

The main tourist square great for people watching…

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…And had great light for selfies (because I’m pretty sure that’s how the early settlers designed the place).

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After a few bevvies and a scoop or two (or three) of ice cream it was time for a wander around. Going in and out of shops I discovered some awesome tunes but due to data allowance I chose to record the clip. Common practice for me when abroad and also a weird thing to play back.

It looks like hidden camera footage from Watch Dog.

There was also a very nice old church in the centre.

I cam away with a lot of questions to put to religious leaders, chiefly how come Mary’s been dead for several millennia but still has amazing hair whereas all the Herbal Essence products in the world do stuff all for me.

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And why do us Brits keep jet-setting around the world when clearly in Mallorca the place to go on holiday is Bournemouth as demonstrated in this local tourist agent window.

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Speaking of culture, India on art everyone.

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Moving on…

Speaking of unculture, back at the hotel I was giggling over squiffy mini croissants and eating gummy sweets with large glasses of wine.

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I felt like a classy lady that night I can tell you

Also much to my amusement came the ‘lost in translation’ moments, including the night we ate a local child’s pet.

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And the dumping of random ingredients in water to infuse it including cinnamon sticks, carrots and potatoes.

The use of potatoes in water was followed by a ten minute lecture where we had to remind Dad that you can’t eat raw potatoes, even if you’re certain you ate them as a child.

On the night of the England vs Columbia game us three got the night off. We stuck him in a chair with a whiskey and he was content all night long (well…ish – we all remember that game).

Tell you what, the Spanish commentators don’t half get passionate about their football World Cup

On another night we played mini golf.

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And if all else failed we just sat about the pool with our sangria and watching the resident duck fly in for a swim. That or laugh at my failing to grasp the English language when I go the words flamingo and flamenco mixed up “flamenco shorts AND t shirts, that is a bold move.” “Well it would be if it actually were flamenco dancers…”

The facilities and entertainment at the hotel was pretty good actually even when the entire complex had a power cut one night.

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In case you don’t know what a blackout looks like…

It was in the evenings I was also reminded of how classy we all are as a unit when we want to be. For instance I still don’t understand why Mum hasn’t been called back to present on Gardener’s World

Dad also started doing reckless things like turning the Jacuzzi on in the evenings and keeping it running when performances were taking place yards away.

Next thing you know the selfie stick is being waved about like nobody’s business and we all start adopting weird signature poses.

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India with arms, Dad with scary smiles, Mum looking very chilled and me…well me reminding myself why I’m single.

The next morning we ventured further along the coast to Port de Pollenca with it’s scenic docks and it’s random home wares which were also rather pricey.

And because we hadn’t taken a family selfie for five minutes naturally my stick was out again.

At the end of the week we left knowing that the 32C temperatures were little above what was being experienced in Britain (i.e. no smug points to be had there) but we returned having had an enjoyable and chilled week away from our varying stresses of real life. I have racked up a mega awesome playlist of Spanish songs on my Spotify playlist, discovered cream of coconut liqueur (which is the best) and saw a Spanish version of Poldark from the coach as we headed back to Palma airport. Based on all three I’ve decided that I need to move to Mallorca and join Alcudia’s local police force (in the words of mum “you don’t get Aiden Turner working as a special police constable in the UK”).

That said before all of that came a two more pressing tasks:

A) How do we get Dad on the plane?

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And B) how do we stop ourselves having so much fun on the free bar?

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The answer to both? Kicking and screaming.

“They Do Like Their Turtles Don’t They?” Zante (Zakynthos), Greece, 2017

“Ah.”
“What?”
“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.”
“No.”
“Mum, just let him pull over. I can’t take the suspense at 2am.”
“I’m pulling over.”
“Fine.”

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.

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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?

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It might also explain the tombstone craftsmanship.

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Anyway, back to the hotel. It had an awesome infinity pool, WITH NO CHILDREN!

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And some stunning sunrise and sunset views.

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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.

“Oh no.”

“What?”

“The clown and donkey are heading towards us.”

“Jesus Christ.”

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.

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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.

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Look at me, I look like ruddy Audrey Hepburn

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.

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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:

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And I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but why is there a cow here?

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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.

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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.

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Voldemort lives!

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…

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…And it’s also nice to get, after 500 million attempts, a decent family selfie by the sea. That too.

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A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

“If Brexit happens I’ll change my name to Stavros and move to Greece” Corfu, 2016

The holiday began in the same manner as nearly all our family breaks do; at 2am with a sister running around with last minute packing and a cat stubbornly refusing to get out of the car.

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With much howling and struggle, India finally found her glasses. Squeak the cat on the other hand was more susceptible to food bribes so was less of a challenge.

The Bennett holiday had begun.

This time round the destination was North Corfu. A delightful Greek island with a geophical position which none of us were able to identify. India’s famous get out clause of “I study Human Geography, not Physical” would become a happy addition to our trip whenever we saw something of natural beauty on the island.

We were flying from Birmingham International airport, located in the Midland’s region of England. Birmingham airport is well renowned in Britain for it’s charming characteristics, such as it’s excellent value duty free lines:

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It’s attractive underwear selection:

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…And it’s unique and inspirational way of dealing with broken down facilities:

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Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to fully utilise Birmingham International Airport as our plane started boarding on time (well, as on time as planes are). Thanks to a delightful couple spending all their time in duty free (who can blame them – see pictures above), we ended up sitting on a stand still plane for 45 minutes longer than need be. I had a quick flick through the magazine during this time and found some delightful articles, including this one:

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Watch out – next season Thomas Cook will be releasing the new Unisex eau de parfum. They put a cat in a room with too much food and milk and whatever comes out first gets shoved into a bottle and sold for £70. An organic fragrance for him AND for her.

While the flight lacked the high spirited musical apparel experienced on other flights…:

…Once we took off Thomas Cook did a lovely chart to remind us where we were in relation to the world.

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Soon we had landed in Corfu, well Corfu International Airport to be precise. Corfu International Airport may be smaller in size compared to other airports. But it is not to be sniffed at. It is probably one of the best airports in Greece due to a number of factors lifted from British airports. It’s growing popularity can be placed on it’s great value duty free:

It’s reasonably priced, excellent quality 4.80€ coffee:

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…And it’s handling of broken down facilities (as inspired by Birmingham International Airport):
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(They’re still working on the queuing system)

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Outside the airport we had to deal with the shocker that was being in a country where the sun actually shines. It was very hot. At 35 degrees it was by far hotter than anything we’d ever experience in the UK. Walking around at midnight in t shirts and thin dresses was quite a big deal for us until we were well into our seven day break.

Driving up to our hotel located in Roda we couldn’t but be a little concerned. During our one hour transfer this was a very common scene:

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And this…

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Literally piles of rubbish, casually sitting on public highways and in the centre of residential towns. On a bus full of British tourists there were muffled comments and concerns. When I first saw several mounds of rubbish I thought I’d say ‘rubbish’ whenever I saw one to break up the journey (this was at 14:00, when I’d been awake since 1:00 and had only slept for two hours beforehand anyway. I was desperate). This amusing game soon got boring when I realised I was saying ‘rubbish’ in every other sentence like a girl with a mild form of Tourette’s. I suppose it’s easy to forget of all Greece’s finical troubles when you’re fighting your own battles across the stream.

On arrival at Ramira Beach the family breathed a sigh of relief. Never had we been so settled by the thought of entering a gated community.

The hotel itself was great. We’d end up spending a good deal of time there utilising the all inclusive facilities. That said, Papa Bennett never did feel satisfied with the quality of the fire extinguishers.

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(I also found a dead moth outside our room. Given we arrived on the 23rd June, the day of the EU vote, I should have taken this for what it was. A terrible, terrible omen.)

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Food at the hotel was pretty decent in fairness. Points for the integration of Greek food into a client base that was predominately English, French and Eastern European. For instance I think Jamie Oliver himself would have been proud at the custom of deep frying broccoli:

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I also discovered a new foodstuff I love. Fried cheese is the worst but the ultimate bestest thing to ever happen to me, I swear.

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Grilled cheese in a beach front restaurant? Don’t mind it I do!

Probably one of the few places where the hotel didn’t quite meet expectations was the entertainment. The reps did a sterling job, don’t get me wrong, but it just wasn’t at the level we’d been spoilt by on other holidays.

(Yes, I was aware I was filming children, no I’m not proud of it.)

Not wanting to disappoint, I stepped in to demonstrate my skill set should the hotel seek out new talent:

There was also this scary image in the theatre:

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…And the weird painting.

Of course this was all overlooked by the fact that the hotel had a creperie WHICH STAYED OPEN UNIL 1:45AM!!

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That eatery will always have a place in my heart. Always.

The local town to the hotel is Roda Village. Roda was full of attractive shops which were always open:

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With attractive displays:

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And furnished with the unique ability to literally rent anything:

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There was also this:

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Anywho, Roda was a lovely town. In fairness my photos do the place very much down, it was a bustling little community full of beach side bars and restaurants which cater to all and tended to be catered by Brits. Always a bit surreal giving a drinks order slowly to make yourself understood to then have a tanned cockney repeat it twice as fast back at you. Besides, the town had inflatable sea creatures and ultimately that’s all you need in a tourist town.

The other top shopping destination on the island is Corfu town. The family went there one day, opting to go by boat to take in the dramatic coastline scenery (remember what I said earlier about India and her Geography knowledge?)

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Corfu town was, again, very nice. Of course there was the tourist tat there:

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And the What the Fudge is This Doing in A Hot Country? Stuff:

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(We all decided that only one country/global region would seriously consider this look, and it ain’t Scarborough.)

No island capital would be complete without some dodgy photoshopped advertisements either.

Bottom right – that is one messed up finger hand if you ask me.

But that said Corfu was also a very nice place to visit generally.

A town full of culture, pretty side streets and rustic buildings. Worth a visit, it was only a shame we couldn’t have spent longer there. I mean after all, it did give India plenty of stunning camera shots for her collection.

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While this was going on though, back in the UK all hell was breaking loose thanks to the outcome of our EU Referendum. As we were in a foreign country, our only news outlet was Sky News and the limited information we were getting from peers back in the UK. As Greece is two hours ahead of GMT we were discovering the news way before the people of Britain had even woken up. Safe to say on the first morning of our holiday the atmosphere within the family and indeed the hotel was shock, fear and anger. Nobody could quite believe what had happened. Staff understandably never mentioned this topic, but the hotel guests were not so close lipped. Given the mixture of cultures staying at the hotel, the place was awash with gossip and debate. Every so often I’d hear a couple talk away in German then say “Merkel” or “Hollande” and I knew exactly what they were talking about.

One evening we were eating our crepes and chatting away about something other than the EU, when two Polish men asked us if we were from England. When we said yes one man responded “why did you decide to leave Europe? Crazy decision!” Bizarrely we then had to tell these men that we wanted to stay. We kept repeating that we wanted the UK to remain part of Europe as if these two men eating strawberry shortbread ice cream could reverse the decision. Instead our pleas intrigued two German women to get involved with the conversation. The Polish men explained that their window business was now going to suffer but that they would find the work elsewhere if they had to, the German women kept saying “you all voted out? Why?” Their confusion was no doubt fuelled by Sky News’ wonderfully inaccurate map of the UK, which to those who weren’t native English speakers, would indeed support this belief.

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The real result was a lot more complex and diverse and was a patchwork of blue (vote leave) and yellow (vote stay). Granted blue ultimately trumped yellow in the vote, but if I saw the same picture for, say, Germany, I’d understandably assume the country all wanted to leave. The 48% to 52% closeness of the vote didn’t seem to get through to other countries based on what we heard out and about and saw on the news.

The funny thing is before I went off on holiday I had heavily joked that if the country screwed up in the vote to remain in Europe I’d claim asylum in Greece. It was said as a passing comment when nobody believed the impossible could ever happen. How strange that what can be considered a witty joke one day can turn into a cruel jest the next. We honestly did have a good time in Corfu as a family, but we could never really shake off the fear of what we were coming back to. The only humour we could take from the whole experience is Papa Bennett rushing to the pool side with news updates which five minutes later were vastly out of date. That and naming India’s various mosquito bites after members of the Shadow Cabinet who had resigned. We called the worst bite on her knee Jeremy. You take what humour you can from a bad situation.

As the last days approached there was time for last minute glam shots including me doing my yoga on the jetty, looking moody on the rocks and looking glamourous with my family.

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Oh and there was also time to squeeze in a outing on a pedalo. Just because.

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(And on the last night we played a trivial guessing game which I won and papa Bennett lost. The score card ended up looking like something from Numberwang and I’m totally not smug about the fact I won. Not. At. All.)

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So yeah, I’d say it was a good holiday. Would like to go back soon.

Sorry, what’s that? Nigel Farage and Scruff the dog have become Emperors of England, while Borris is now King of the North? And Nicola Sturgeon of the People’s Republic of Scotland is rising up on her dragons of war? Dammit, I knew I shouldn’t have overlooked that dragon cloud over Albania.

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It’s the ruddy moth all over again. Sod it, TAKE ME BACK TO GREECE!!

“¡Pardon señor, hablo muy poco Español, muy poco!”

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…

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…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:

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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.

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(“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’…

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…we got to the hotel. And a lovely hotel it was/is:

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India made herself at home very quickly. Almost too much at home…

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(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:

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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…

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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On the trip I discovered given despite unstable economic climate, some villages are able to really prioritise the important things:

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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:

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…avec steps which pushed some of those health and safety guidelines.

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Near to this cave was also this sign:

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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:

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They’re missing such a trick.

Although you can buy a lot of goat tat if you want. Examples include:

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…And whatever the heck this is:

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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:

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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:

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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

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Not so favourite bit: Having to tear myself away from a) Pajaja’s village donkey:

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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…

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Almost.