Thursday, 29 May 2008

The First Step .....

I started a life changing process today - I sent off the forms to start off the procedure for my early retirement. It's always seemed so far off, yet now it's only just over three months until until I finish work as a Staff Nurse in mental health - after 31 years! Those years have gone really fast and I've enjoyed most of them and feel I have done something useful in my working life and have helped people get their lives back on track.

But now I am ready to leave, it can be very stressful work and it's time for me to move on from that. So, though the thought of not being a working person anymore and having less money is a bit scary, the main feeling I have about my retirement is one of excitement about moving on to a whole new life.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Konnichiwa Bono!

Where has Bono turned up now? Why Japan of course! Today he was at Keio University in Tokyo to receive an honorary doctorate for his advocacy work against poverty in Africa. Bono will also speaking at the international conference on African Development in Yokohama the 29th May and meet with the Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

Michitake Watanabe, a first-year graduate student at Keio, said Bono's words opened his eyes to issues he had never considered.

"He is an amazing person," said Watanabe, who admitted he isn't a fan of U2's music. "It's really incredible that he doesn't seem to be confined by traditional frameworks like race or religion."

It’s really interesting that people who are not into U2 are now admiring Bono purely for his activist work, he’s creating a whole new fan base!

Bono also did some gardening at an event to plant trees in Tokyo's Odaiba as part of the Tokyo metropolitan government's 'Green Island' project. Odaiba is part of a sprawling man-made island in Tokyo Bay. He joined some children to plant trees at the project, don't think he's often used a spade! Below are some photos from this event.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Indian Head Massage

I treat myself to a pamper session at my favourite beauty salon once a month, I think at this stage in my life I more than deserve that. Today I've been for an Indian Head Massage - one hour of ultimate chilling out, it was heavenly! I had plans for what I'd do in my apartment and garden this afternoon and they've all gone out of the window because I feel so relaxed, ahh well, who cares, the jobs will still be there tomorrow......

Sunday, 18 May 2008


I went shopping for a jacket today. I knew what I had in mind, a light-coloured, long line linen jacket that wasn't too expensive. And what have I come home with? Two summer skirts and no jacket!

I've turned into a clothes shopaholic over the last year or so and this all started last year when my friends and I stayed at the luxury penthouse in the Clarence Hotel in Dublin last year(maybe you've already read about that in my blog, if not here's link to the story: ).

Staying at the penthouse was a big deal to us, it was very expensive and we had all saved for over two years for it, so we could do everything in style. Prior to doing this, I was never a girly girl, never fussed over clothes, hair make-up and I thought people who did this were wasting their money. For our trip to the penthouse we decided to have completely new outfits, perfect hair and make-up, we wanted to look the part! Surprisingly, I enjoyed doing all this, it was fun looking for the right clothes, bags and jewellery. Then, when I saw that I actually looked really good all dressed up it was a kind of revelation. I know this might sound strange, (and maybe this is wrapped up in me being overweight for most of my life) but until then I had never realised that I could look good! I also discovered I had a cleavage and am now not afraid to flash it and I would never have done that not so long ago!

And that was it really, a special experience that has permanently changed the way i look at myself. Funny how things turn out isn't it? Now, if only I can find the right jacket ......

Friday, 16 May 2008

Monaco - California - Cannes - in a Week!

First there was Bono's 48th birthday, celebrated a day early, on May 9th in Monaco at a small party with the likes of Brad Pitt and Prince Albert. He was toasted with champagne and strawberry cake!

The reason for the early birthday party was soon clear - the next evening where was Bono - why in California of course! He was guest of honour at Claremont College for the Performing Arts.

Then today he'd returned to Europe and was at the 61st Cannes Film Festival which he visits almost every year. Bono and Sean Penn took to the red carpet for the film premiere of "The Third Wave."

God knows where he's been in between these publicised trips, what an amazing life he leads!

Really like these two photos from Cannes, love how Bono's standing on the sides of his huge shoes in one, and then a funny moment is captured by the camera in the second.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Lefkada - Part Two

Wednesday 7th May 2008

Our Island Hopping trip today started at Nidri a large village 5 kilometres south of our hotel. Our boat was the Nicholaos, was a nice and quite modern. The weather was a bit iffy, a bit of cloud, and we weren’t sure how the day would pan out.

We set sail for the island of Meganisi at 9.40am and pulling out of Nidri we could see what a lovely location it was, the village was backed with craggy mountains and a green, mountainous promontory reaching out from the mainland and wrapping itself around the bay making a large natural harbour.

On the way to Meganisi we passed numerous green islands, and in the distance peaks of the Greek mainland, Ithaca and Kefalonia. We sailed down the western side of Meganisi , which apart from 3 villages on the north of the island, is quite wild. We were headed to a cave towards the south of the island. We were able to sail right in, the resident seal that is regularly seen there was resting on the little beach inside, but put to flight very quickly as the boat chugged in disturbing her rest. It was pretty inside with very blue and clear water and amazing striations and rock formations that looked almost like abstract art.

After this we sailed back up the coast of Meganisi, we saw wild goats scampering on the steep cliffs topped by verdant greenery that characterised the coastline. We sailed into a picturesque bay on the north of the island which had a village perched high above it. Joanna said it was a pretty, traditional Greek village, Spartochori, and we could walk up to it if we wanted. Seeing how high it was I wasn’t sure but decided to go because it sounded lovely. The first part up a fairly steep road with lots of hairpin bends wasn’t too bad, but then came steps, a lot of them! Hard work but we got up there and the view down to the harbour and beyond was stunning.

The village was lovely, very Greek with lots of colour and whitewashed walls. Narrow, winding cobbled streets , cats lying silently in the warm sun, that peace and quietness was so relaxing, such a different world from my own. I could have wandered through those narrow winding streets for hours, but we didn't have much spare time.

We had a drink in the Lakis taverna, where we would be returning the following night for a Greek evening. We were pleased to hear that Joanna has a deal with the one local taxi to take people up to the village from the harbour - so no traipsing uphill again!

We slowly made our way down the hill admiring the view as we did. It was so much easier going down! We reached the pretty little harbour and got on board the Nicholaos once more.

The Nicholaos headed further round the craggy coast of Meganisi to the beautiful Bay of Atherinos where we were going to have our barbecue. The bay was like an angular horseshoe in shape with a sandy, pebbly beach, with very little shade. There was a ruinous taverna there, otherwise there was nothing else of man's making.

We stayed there for two and a half hours just chilling out on the beach with no others there except our tour. Our lunch was cooked on the beach by the crew and the captain's auntie, consisted of tsatsiki, Greek salad, pork kebabs and bread, it was delicious. It was all very relaxing, no sound except birds, the sea and the quiet murmuring of the people.

We then headed back towards Lefkada, we circled the island of Skorpios, bought by Aristotle Onassis in the early 60’s and still owned by his sole heir, grand-daughter Athina. Though she lives in Argentina now and hardly ever visits. But there are still staff employed to keep the island and it’s houses ticking over, some actually living on the island - just in case she decides to visit. Cushy job or what?!

We saw the port with beautiful mosaics that Aristotle had built and the two speedboats that were owned by his now deceased children, Alexander and Christina, were still docked there as if they were both still alive, suspended in time. A little creepy I thought.

We pulled into one of the few places “outsiders” are allowed to, near the church where Aristotle, Alexander and Christina are buried. We couldn’t go further than the tiny beach so I didn’t bother getting off the boat. By now the weather had become cloudy and a cold wind was blowing - it was freezing and everyone just wanted to head back to Nidri. Joanna brought up stones from the beach for us who had stayed on board as they are considered lucky, a sweet thought, she was a really nice woman and a good rep. Mercifully the stop was short and in no time we were in Nidri, and the taxi was waiting for us to go back to our hotel.

Thursday 8th May 2008

Woke up feeling dreadful, I had a migraine from hell and felt really sick - the last thing I wanted on holiday as I know it isn’t just a few hours and done with. I blamed the extra strong cocktail I had last night even though I,d got some coke to water it down.

I felt awful all day, vomited a few times and didn’t leave the room. In the meantime Joanna had rung to cancel the Greek Night trip for that night as there weren’t enough people booked to make it worth going. I was so pleased - I knew I wasn’t well enough to go and this way we didn’t lose any money!

Saturday 10 May 2008

Our last full day in Lefkada and I felt much better and I had my first proper meal at breakfast for two days. We noticed the dining room was much busier, gradually over the week more people were arriving, but it was still not over busy which is what we like!

Soon we were sitting in a taxi heading for the nearest large village called Nidri to do some shopping. I felt like a prisoner let out of jail! It was so nice to feel well again and leave our hotel and see new sights. I thought I might last an hour or two shopping before I felt tired due to being a bit weak having been so ill and not eating, but we actually managed to shop for four hours before thinking that might be enough!

Nidri is a large village, along the main street are a few hundred yards of tourist shops interspersed with local shops and tavernas that the locals frequent. Just off the main street, were houses, one of which had a very vociferous African Grey parrot on the little balcony trying to get everyone‘s attention! It wasn’t over the top tourist-wise and still had the feel of a Greek village, though I suppose in high season it would have a different “feel”.

We walked through one of the narrow lanes leading from the main street to the harbour area which was lined with tavernas. We picked one and had a drink there looking out at the lovely view. The harbour was lined with yachts, a few tourist boats, and fishing boats. Almost opposite was the hilly, green promontory that juts out into the sea south of Nidri and loops round creating a large bay. Just offshore is the island of Madouri - turtle island. It was very relaxing sitting there watching life go by.

After a while we looked for a taxi to take us back to the Ionian Blue. It took us quite a while to find one, there don’t seem to be many! We eventually ended up with the man who had brought us to Nidri - maybe he's the only taxi in the village!

We got back to our hotel and changed and went down to my favourite part of the hotel, the broadwalks by the sea, to relax for a while. I love it down there, all you can hear is the sea and birds. Then we went for a swim in the gorgeous, modern indoor pool which was very warm and relaxing, a good way to chill out after a long day shopping!

We got dressed up for dinner that night as it was our last night and then went to the bar lounge. Julie had a champagne cocktail and I played safe and just had water!

Sunday 11th May 2008

Our last day. I always hate it when you lose your hotel room, I feel homeless! We had to vacate by 12 noon and before leaving I had one last look at that gorgeous view from our balcony, I know I’ll never have a hotel room view like that again, in all it's different moods, it was perfect.

Our pick up was on time and it was a pleasant 40 minute journey back to Aktion airport at Preveza. We checked in and went through to departures and waited for boarding. It is a quiet airport, and I noticed inbetween the runways that the grass had been cut and rolled in big bales, just as if it was a farmer’s field and not an airport!

Our flight roared into the blue sky and we left Lefkada behind. I loved the island, loved the fact it was not too touristy, that life had a slow pace. It made me realise that our lives here in the UK are very controlled in comparison. I didn’t see any CCTV cameras. It all felt more “human” in a way. I know things feel different when you are on holiday and there will be problems in Lefkada, it won’t be perfect. But it made me think of my bustling life, rushing about, stuck in traffic jams, watched by CCTV, lost without mobile phones and computers and how we are controlled in almost everything we do. It did me good to get away from all that for a short while.

I know I'll often look back and think of Lefkada, the blue sea and sky, the mountains that turn pink in the evening. The warmth of the Greek people, the swallows swooping and gliding, the rainbow colours of the flowers. We had chosen this island for our holiday because we had not
heard of it, and it turned out that Lefkada was truly a hidden gem in the sapphire blue Ionian Sea.

If you want to view all my photos from Lefkada please follow this link:

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Lefkada - Swallow Island (Part One)

Saturday 3rd May 2008

My holiday did not get off to a good start the taxi not arrive on time so I rang - oh said they, it's been booked for 2am! WHAT?? I asked for a taxi to be sent NOW. There was a 10 minute wait and I watched the minutes tick by. Once the driver arrived and I told him what had happened he ended up more anxious than me about getting to the station. On the way he told me how crap the dispatch staff were at the taxi company! I made a mental note to never use that company again.

The taxi got to the station with one minute to spare, the driver shouted,

"The train's not in yet, hurry up, hurry up!"

I rushed in, the train arrived a minute later, and soon I was safely on, phew! the journey was uneventful and I met up with my friend Julie at Manchester airport and we went to the airport Travelodge where we were staying overnight.

Sunday 4th May

Got up 9am and went to breakfast. It was a shambles to say the least. Both hot water and coffee machines were not working but there was no sign on them to say so. The only way for ALL customers of getting hot water was via one small electric kettle that was a slow boiler! There were no cups, glasses, juice, croissants, muffins, grapefruit, or coffee. There were only 2 staff in the very large restaurant and they tried their best but could not cope. People were getting very annoyed and asking for money back. I will be writing a letter of complaint when I return home.

Our flight left on time and was only 3 hours to Preveza a military airport on the Greek mainland. Lovely area, lots of green islands, many very rugged, inlets, bays, flanked by huge mountains on the mainland. It was mild with sun and blue skies, great to have left that rain and grey behind in Manchester.

We were quickly through passport control and got our baggage. The First Choice rep greeted us with,

"Welcome to Egypt"!!

We did a double take, had we come to the right place?? She quickly realised and said she'd been in Egypt last week! We were transferred to our hotel with another couple by taxi. The journey took about half an hour along winding roads then across a causeway and onto Lefkada.

Our hotel was thehe Ionian Blue built onto a hillside right to the sea overlooking a sea strait flanked by large mountains. Our room faced this gorgeous view, it was an absolutely stunning sight. The room was lovely, modern with a large balcony where you can relax and soak in the view.

Monday 5th May

This was our chill out day and we explored our hotel. It was set into the steep hillside in a series of terraces reached by lifts and wooden walkways. It was very well designed, with lots of areas to sit and from nearly all you could see the blue of the Ionian Sea.

We went down to the pool area which was quiet as was the whole hotel it was the first week of the season. There was a beautiful infinity pool with wooden boarding around it all very modern as was the whole hotel. We lay there for a while in the sun until it got too hot for me and I went for a walk through the gardens to the seafront. It has boardwalks with loungers and umbrellas, very peaceful right beside the sea and, again, not very busy, no fighting over sun loungers here! Swallows swooped and soared all around the hotel. There were even some swallows nesting the hallways and I learned that a swallow chatters just like a budgerigar! Every time I see a swallow I will think of this beautiful hotel and Lefkada, as they are everywhere.

We went to see our rep Joanna for the welcome talk. We booked three trips, one round Lefkada, one island hopping, and one Greek night on Meganisi. We’ve also booked a pampering treatment in the spa here at the hotel.

Tuesday 6 May

We were early for our trip around Lefkada today. We were picked up outside the hotel at 9.35 and drove up the coast to Lefkas Town right at the north of the island. The bus only had about 16 people in it - we are quite happy about that!

We went past the fish ponds and over the bridge onto the mainland to see St Mavra Castle. It was very ruinous but picturesque and in one corner was a sweet little Orthodox church. It was tiny and very primitive. It had once had beautiful frescoes on its walls but they were covered up with white plaster by the Turks. There was an icon with flowers draped around it - an Easter tradition (their Easter was last weekend). Plus hanging around it were votives for health, babies, relatives who had passed over etc.

We went back to Lefkas Town to look around the small archaeological museum there, but when we arrived there had been a power cut so we did not go into the exhibits. We had decided to go back on the coach to our next stop, a monastery. We’d just sat down on the bus and they rang Joanna to say the power was on so we trooped back in. We were half way round and the power went off again, so we gave up for good this time and went onto our next destination! We passed by the only set of traffic lights on the island which Joanna said rarely work, and sure enough they didn't!

We travelled on the a monastery called Faneromenis. The church here was much grander than the little church in the castle, it reminded me of one of the Ukrainian churches we had visited, lots of gold glinting everywhere, chandeliers, icons. Up a few steps leading off the main church was a little chamber with hundreds of metal incense burners hanging from the ceiling, icons and a stand to place candles in memory of departed loved ones, I lit a candle for my mother. All the candles created a beautiful flickering light and atmosphere. While I was there two old women dressed in black came in, kissed and touched the icons, prayed out loud and lit candles.

Outside there was a mini zoo of goats, birds, an ostrich, chipmunks, and peacocks, one of which was pure white and he gave us a wonderful display by opening his tail and strutting about. There were also stunning views from the monatery down to Lefkas Town far, far below.

We then travelled up and up into the huge, craggy central mountains to Joanna’s home village, Karya which is still very traditional with a pretty square. Joanna told us her grandmother had 18 children, the last being twins at the age of 55!! She must have hundreds of cousins!

We wandered about the village went into an embroidery shop and both bought lovely cushion covers, mine had turtles on. I also bought a cardigan/shawl which will look great either for casual or dressing up. We saw a few postcards but they must have been on display for years as they were all faded and curling up at the corners! Needless to say we decided not to buy any!

We had a few drinks in a café on the square run by a Greek and his English partner who was a real character, you wonder how a middle-aged English woman ends up in this village high in the mountains of Lefkada . The postman passed by and she said he hardly ever gets to deliver anything! We saw him pass by 3 times in the short time we were sitting in the cafe with the same small bunch of letters in his hand. As we left we saw him sitting and smoking in the tiny post office, letters beside him.

The driver now headed towards the west coast of Lefkada over rugged hills and sweeping deep valleys, full of yellow and purple flowers and the eternal grey-green of the olive trees. Soon we had stunning views of the west coast from up on high, it was less green here and rockier. We manoeuvred round the tightest hairpin bends (thank heavens there isn't much traffic !) gradually getting lower and lower and eventually got to the sandy beach of Kalisthma. It was a lovely location surrounded by towering hills, the beach was long and sandy and not a single person was on it!

We had a packed lunch here of a large ham and cheese salad roll, lemon cake, banana and soft drink . We ate it at a very modern bar called Copla right on the beach, it was warm and sunny and we were shaded by large umbrellas. all very relaxing

Then on it was to our last stop a Vassilikis right on the south of the island. It was a lovely bay full of windsurfers and boats, with shops and tavernas hugging the harbour. It was a lively place and for the first time we were able to have a look around some shops!

Joanna told us that Lefkada was named after a cape at the south of the island that has a lot of white rock, "lefko" means white in Greek.

We travelled on north once more along the east coast of the island, and around every corner was another stunningly beautiful view, Lefkada is a gorgeous island. We were dropped off at our hotel after an enjoyable day that gave us a good overview of the island.