It certainly will be a year to remember! There have been “significant” birthdays with parties to match, great news, great travel, great theatre – and the odd disaster.
Just after Christmas, we were horrified by news of the Tsunami. Sue’s brother, John, and his wife, Jackie were caught by it in the Maldives. Fortunately, they escaped relatively unharmed – although I am sure they are still having nightmares. Our own rather cold mini-disaster (see The Heating Saga) was put into context as more of an inconvenience than anything else. Nevertheless, once Easter was over, we escaped to Summer Lodge, a splendid country house hotel in deepest Dorset, for a weekend beak just to warm us up.
Then, at the end of April, we went to southern Spain for nine days visiting the three major Andalucían towns of Seville, Córdoba and finally Granada. It was a good time to be there – the weather was hot and dry without being sweltering and nowhere was too crowded. The Moorish gardens and buildings were the main focus of our trip although we also enjoyed discovering what Tapas and Sherry really taste like. Seville, the capital of Andalucía, is a good introduction to the region. We stayed in a splendid old Moorish building which is a real maze of floors and rooms. I am sure there are still people lost trying to find the breakfast room. Córdoba is a more intimate city with a stunning Mezquita, once the second most important Mosque in the Islamic world. Once the Christians took it over in the 13th Century, they built a Gothic Cathedral in the middle of the Mosque – architectural vandalism but nevertheless, impressive.
The Alhambra, perched on a hill on the edge of Granada, was undoubtedly the star of the trip. The palace, set within a small fortified city, is justifiably world famous for its intricate plaster-work and cooling water gardens. We were staying at a hotel just outside the city gates and one evening, we decided to go back into the walled city to have supper at one of Spain’s famous Parador hotels. Walking back to our hotel though the old city was one of our most serene experiences on any holiday. The stars were shining, the temperature balmy and the Alhambra deserted apart from the occasional resident strolling home. We really felt as though we had travelled back in time to the 14th Century. Top
At the beginning of July, we arranged a surprise 80th birthday party for Sue’s Mum. There was a good representation from all four generations of Mum’s family including all of Mum’s UK-based brothers and sisters. The rain held off and a marvellous time was had by all in the garden. And yes, the birthday "cake" (see picture) did have 80 candles - although the "cake" itself was made by Paul, using plywood, his power saw and a drill. Sue made a more edible version which did not have to stand so much heat. The occasion was made even more special by Dave and Vicky announcing that they were expecting our first grandchild at the end of January (2006).
The second major birthday was Paul’s 60th in October. Sue arranged a weekend away at Summer Lodge, the country house hotel we had used in early spring. On the Saturday night, Lelia (Paul’s sister) joined us as did both the boys and their partners. Sadly Paul’s Mum had to cry off at the last moment due to a severe stomach upset. We were all spoilt by the hotel staff and had a marvellous meal together in the evening (and a bottle or two). Top
Also in celebration of the same birthday, we pushed out the boat (or should that be the airplane?) for our main holiday in September. There was almost a disaster at the start. As we arrived at check-in, Paul remembered that, following Foreign Office advice, he had photocopied our passports – and left them in the scanner at home. There was no way we could get home and back to the airport before the flight took off. So Sue was left at the airport to re-arrange flights whilst Paul went off to meet Peter who had kindly offered to rescue the passports and drive up half way. The first night of our holiday was therefore in a Heathrow hotel instead of Singapore as we had planned. Our revised flight left the following morning and arrived in Singapore only a few hours later than planned. We spent three nights there and so had time to explore a bit of this fascinating island state. The Botanic Gardens are stunning with a massive Orchid collection – we could understand how gardeners get obsessive about them.
For Sue’s birthday, we went to the famous Raffles Hotel. The Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in the hotel’s Long Bar – it is a bit like a theme park with an endless procession of coach tours being delivered for a rushed drink. The custom of throwing empty peanut shells on the floor does not improve the comfort. A Sling (or two) in the restaurant bar was far better.
From Singapore, we flew on to Bali, initially spending a few days in Ubud, the cultural capital and then transferring to a hotel on the beach at Sanur. Our hotel in Ubud (the Amandari) is undoubtedly the best we have ever stayed in. It has 30 Balinese-style bungalows arranged to represent a village. Service standards in Asian hotels are in a class of their own but this one was exceptional, even by Asian standards. The place was serenely peaceful and spiritual. We really felt like honoured guests of the Balinese – it was difficult to leave the village to do the visits we had planned. The Balinese people were the highlight of the trip – wonderfully friendly and gracious. It was a crying shame to read a little later that Muslim extremists had set off bombs with the objective of disrupting the tourist trade that is so vital to a relatively poor people. Top
Peter and Fran have been planning their wedding next June. They are both working at Domino’s Pizza in nearby Andover. Both are now fully qualified store managers and were delighted that their store was awarded “best in the country” this year.
Dave and Vicky had a difficult time selling their Bournemouth flat. Offers were thin and their first buyer dropped out just before exchange of contracts. Fortunately, the market picked up a bit in September and they have now moved into what Dave calls their first grown-up house. It is in Winchester (more convenient for trains to the Bank’s London offices) and has plenty of room for the new baby when it arrives. Top