Trees of life

I often find the adverts while scrolling through Facebook quite annoying, but recently one caught my eye. The Woodland Trust is dedicated to the protection of woods and trees throughout the UK by planting trees, restoring and caring for woodlands, especially ancient woods. In this particular advert they were offering the opportunity to buy memorial trees in a woodland of your choice and to help fund all this amazing work.

My dad grew up in the West Midlands, in the Black Country. My grandparents eventually settled in Halesowen and every Whitsun break as a child, my family would spend a week visiting them and going on lots of day trips. Heading off in my granddad’s mini clubman, we went to Clent Hills, Kinver, Hagley woods and many other lovely places for long walks on hills, through bluebell covered woods, in land sea-less sandy beaches (Kinver). There was always time for egg and cheese sandwiches and a cuppa from a proper teapot heated up with my granddad’s calor gas cooking ring.

These were treasured times that I look back on with so much love, the countryside was so beautiful and I loved spending time with my grandparents, especially granddad.

So imagine my joy when I discovered that there was a place just 5 minutes away from my grandparents old house in Halesowen called Uffmoor Wood. I made a donation and bought 3 trees in memory of my dad, granny and granddad Gardiner, in Grove 2 of the woodland.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go and visit along with my mum and son number two, Jake. We had a lovely walk and saw quite a few deer milling around on our way down to Grove 2.

The trees aren’t actually marked in anyway to identify who has bought which tree, you just enjoy the woods knowing that in some small way you are contributing to the vital work of the Trust.

Lost in France

Three years ago my good friend Annette gave me the most amazing present for my 50th birthday. In that year to celebrate becoming half a century I planned to do 50 fabulous things and this present certainly added to that fabulousness.

Annette gave me the use of her gite in the Dordogne area of France for the week and I took along 2 of my besties Bev and Deb. See what we got up to by reading this There and back again

Nestled in the heart of the Foret de la Double in the beautiful Hamlet of Chadenne are not just the one but now three gites owned by my fabulous friend. Since our visit Annette has been very busy renovating the 2 empty buildings that were next door to our gite.

In addition to Cepe, our home for the week, a 2 bedroomed perfectly formed beauty that sleeps 4, there’s Sanglier and Cert. Both have 3 bedrooms and sleep 6. All decorated to a very high and tasteful standard.

All three gites have their own private terraces and use of the communal outdoor swimming pool.

Please take a look at their website to see for yourself the wonderful photos and find all the information you need about the area and activities.

As I said in my original post, Annette is the most amazing host and as a guest you feel so welcomed in every way.

I am definitely planning another trip as there is so much more to see and do, also I really want to see the new gites and garden because Annette and her husband Peter has worked so hard to this all happen.

Walk the walk

Yesterday I went on a blustery and at times, soggy trip down memory lane. When I first started my nurse training in 1985 I lived in the then new nurse’s accommodation tucked behind the general hospital at Uphill in Weston Super Mare.

In those days student nurses were the slaves of the workforce. Sometimes I needed to let off steam after being bullied by the nursing assistants who believed they were in charge, being made to clean the sluice with a toothbrush or just having survived long stretches of very busy shifts (often 10 in a row).

I loved to walk the length of the beach from Uphill sands to Birnbeck Pier, it was a long enough walk to dampen down the frustrations, have a blub and to talk myself back into continuing my training. Thankfully these episodes of doubt were few and far between so often I could just enjoy the walk.

The walk yesterday was full of children chasing the tide out and dogs chasing balls. As the tide was only just going out the causeway over to the pier was quite treacherously slippery, but I made it over with no broken bones or without falling into the drink.

When I got to my destination I was saddened to see the state of the pier, I hadn’t see it for quite some years. As a child in the 1970’s I regularly visited Weston Super Mare and the pier on day trips with my grandparents, and of course I would have a little trot on it at the end of my walks during my training.

Birnbeck pier was designed by Eugenious Birch and was opened in 1867, it is the only pier in the country to link the mainland with an island, Birnbeck Island. Since 1882 it was the base for the RNLI to launch their rescue boats as it is the only location for launching in any tide. Unfortunately due to safety they had to relocate in 2016.

This grade 2 listed pier has been closed to the public since 1994 and it’s been placed on the “at risk” register compiled by British Heritage as it’s in a very poor state of disrepair.

But all is not lost, rumour has it that the RNLI may potentially take back ownership of the pier and hopefully restore it to it’s former glory. In addition to this there is the fundraising organisation called Friends of the old pier, that are working very hard to help achieve this aim.

I really hope that the old pier can be restored and then maintained so it doesn’t get in such a state again. You never know who might visit, after all it was good enough for the Beatles in 1963!

Central Park’s most wanted

On my second trip to the Big Apple in 2003 with my 2 friends Dawn and Trina we decided to get up early and go on a boat trip around Manhattan and Ellis, Staten and liberty islands. It was an extremely cold day and one of the bridges was stuck with the ice and it took a little while longer than anticipated to return to our pier.

For some odd reason we didn’t eat on the boat despite it being a long trip, so by the time we were on dry land we were starving. Trina had heard of a pub in Central Park – The Tavern on the Green. It took a nano-second to realise this was no pub, especially when the manager took the time to show us around the crystal decked restaurant and the Lulu Guiness shop!

It was all going so well, we were all tarted up and smelling lovely from the freebies in the bathroom and comfortably settled in the top bar tucking into jacket spuds and sipping on cocktails.

Therein lay the problem! Dawn vs long island ice tea! At an alarmingly fast pace she became a semi-conscious wreck vomiting in the corner. I did my best for a while mopping up the sick and staying off the radar of the staff, hoping that she would recover and we could leave with no one being the wiser. But the very same manager from earlier in the evening spotted me with a handful of napkins from the loo and stopped me for a little chat about getting my vomit covered friend out by the back door as quickly as possible. Luckily Dawn was fully recovered the next day and we had a fabulous time the rest of the holiday.

So on the final day of our North American 80th birthday adventure my mum and I decided to have a stroll around Central Park. I couldn’t resist going back to Tavern on the Green to see if there were any photos of me and my friends as a warning not to let us in under any circumstances. But I’m happy to report there was no evidence of any wanted posters and we were welcomed in with open arms…. well not quite,  but we did find a lovely spot in the garden in the glorious sunshine where we could sit and people watch all afternoon.

We had time for a turn around the part of Riverside Park that was used to film the final scene of You’ve Got Mail when Kathleen and Joe finally get it together, before heading off for our flight home.

It was a perfect end to a wonderful holiday and I’m so happy we managed to go before all of the Covid madness.

 

“Don’t you just love New York in the fall”

It was a very long train journey from Niagara Falls to Manhattan, as we knew it would be. But it was fabulous, the train wasn’t too busy so we had a double seat each so we could spread out all our paraphernalia needed to keep us occupied for 9 hours. We had breakfast and lunch from the buffet car and once the sun came up we were treated to a variety of views along the way.

It was not our first visit to New York City, we first visited in March 2002 with my 2 sons and I returned in November 2003 for a 2 girlie trip with two friends. So we could spent the next 2 days mooching around and not having to stand in line at the usual tourist attractions.

This amazing city is the location of one of my favourite films “You’ve got mail”, in case you haven’t seen it the main characters Kathleen and Joe, played by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, are online friends who are unaware that they are book shop rivals in the real world. Joe puts Kathleen out of business when he opens up his book superstore, but in the end all is well and they get together and live happily ever after.

As we were staying in a lovely boutique hotel, The Belnord, in the Upper West Side we were well placed to visit the places used in the filming. Our first stop after unpacking was Café Lalo for a spot of dinner and cake. This is where Kathleen and Joe meet on their blind date. It’s a fabulously quirky café which has a very cosy feel with a relaxing atmosphere.  Next stop was Zabar’s supermarket, where Kathleen got into a bit of a pickle in a cash only line with a credit card. This shop is amazing, filled to the rafters with tasty goodies, we got a supply of munchies to see us through the last couple of days of our North American adventures.

On our last day we also visited Riverside park to see the place where Joe and Kathleen eventually meet properly at the end of the film.

 

I am a big fan of Sex in the City which is also filmed on location in New York City, so after a hearty breakfast at Alice’s Tea cup we went in search of the Magnolia bakery where the girls bought their cup cakes. This shop is a beautiful delight of cake heaven and it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite, we bought a couple to eat later after a wander around the places we missed on our previous visits. I did want to get a photo on the bench outside the shop, a la Carrie and Miranda, but someone was sat on it and showed no sign of moving anytime soon.

 

Before we sat down to enjoy the cakes we managed to work our way through our list of places we wanted to see; The Dakota Building, The New York public Library, Grand Central Station and The Chrysler Building. We had a pit stop in a little park to eat our fabulous cakes before picking up the High line and walked all the way down to the West 20th exit to visit Kleinfeld Bridal Shop of “Say yes to the dress” fame for a little peak.

I loved this day of wandering around in the beautiful sunshine, because we had no rush to get anywhere and no queues to wait in and no tickets to buy. We were able to take in the beauty of the architecture and the amazing mix of old and new.

 

 

Niagara in the Fall

We had a lovely brunch and one last mooch in some shops in Toronto before getting the bus. It was a relatively short trip to Niagara, in just over an hour we were at the bus station hailing a taxi to our hotel.

The following day, after an amazing All you can eat breakfast we made our way towards the incredibly loud roar of the falls. But nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking sight of the American and Horseshoe falls.

On the walk up to the main hub and visitor centre to get a closer look, we came across a statue of Nikola Tesla. I knew he was the inventor of alternating current (AC) electricity, but I didn’t know about his connection to this area. In 1895, along with George Westinghouse, he built the first hydroelectrical  power plant in Niagara Falls. The statue on the Canadian side was unveiled in 2006.

Tesla

True to form I found myself in a tunnel, a very soggy walk down a path behind the Horseshoe falls, resulted in a very wet experience at the end out on an open platform at the foot of the falls.

But that was nowhere near as wet and wild as the boat trip right up to the mouth of the falls. I tried my very best to film the experience, but there was no way I could hold my phone and trying to keep my balance while being thrown around the boat and pelted by gallons of water. But what an experience and it was made much better because a lot of our fellow passengers were Italian and they were very animated at every thrilling moment.

As with every location on this trip we needed to get up high, so we took a ride up the Skylon Tower to have a gander at the magnificent view from above the spectacular falls.

The wonderful end to this fabulous day was the magical light show on both the falls that was just stunning.

 

We had a very early start in the morning to catch the 6.30am train to Manhattan.

Now for the important part for anyone staying on the Canadian side needing to travel to the American side…….

Allow more time than you think you need and make it absolutely clear that you need to cross the Rainbow bridge and the US border. This is our experience; When I booked the taxi I definitely said we needed to cross the border, but the first 2 taxi drivers refused to take us, the second driver was particularly rude and shouted abuse at me as he drove off. Thankfully the third driver was amazing, he was very friendly and incredibly patient at the border. Be prepared to be in the office for about 15 – 20 minutes being asked questions and fingerprinted. But a couple of stamps in our passports later and we were on our way to the Amtrak station with 5 minutes to spare.

Next stop The Big Apple

 

Doing our best in Toronto

Our 5 hour bus journey from Ottawa to Toronto was broken up at a quintessential truck stop in the middle of nowhere. It was just your average place to buy chocolate, supersized bags of crisps, apple pie and handguns! it certainly was an experience for 2 ladies from the UK.

truck stop

Our fabulous hotel, The Chelsea, was a short walk from the bus station and as soon as we settled in we wasted no time in making our way to the CN Tower. Due to our central location we were there within 15 minutes.

The Tower did not disappoint, after a high speed ride in the outside glass elevator we were on the Sky pod level at the very top enjoying the spectacular and breathtaking view. Next stop down to the lookout level and of course we had to trot across the glass walk and jump up and down like loonies. A lot of my friends said I was brave to do it but as it can take the weight of 14 fully grown hippos I figured I was safe! We survived that to take our place in the scrum to get the best video and photo of the beautiful sunset.

Day 2 started with a lovely substantial brunch in Fran’s Diner, a quirky retro delight serving very tasty food by attentive staff. Then we headed north to midtown in our quest to find the Casa Loma. It was a bit more of a trek than we anticipated especially when we thought we had arrived, only to discover we were looking at Toronto University! In our defence it did look kind of old, but we needed to do a few more thousand steps before we could reach our final destination.

We were rewarded by the first sights of the Casa Loma poking through the trees. This Edwardian mansion was designed by E J Lennox and built for Sir Henry Pellatt who made his fortune harnessing the power of Niagara Falls for electricity.

This castle is a delightful assembly of towers, turrets and tunnels. Anyone who knows me knows there is nothing I like more than exploring towers, turrets and tunnels and they were in abundance here.

What we didn’t know before we visited is that Lady Mary Pellatt, Henry’s wife, was the first Chief Commander of the girl guides of Canada. She dedicated most of her adult life to girl guiding and was awarded the Silver Fish Award, which is the highest award in guiding for her outstanding service. As we are both guiders in the UK it was a real treat to discover the exhibition in the castle dedicated to Lady Mary’s life and achievement in guiding.

After a very lovely and relaxing mooch around the castle and grounds we made our way downtown for a spot of dinner and to enjoy the light show on the CN tower.

CNN3

 

Due to being incarcerated in Ottawa Jail Hostel, we only had 2 nights in Toronto which was nowhere near enough. But it’s a good excuse to return, will definitely do the Edge walk at the CN tower when I go back, the queue was too long on this visit.

Next stop Niagara Falls………

edgewalk

Bang to rights in Ottawa

Originally when we planned this trip we were going to travel from Montreal to Toronto by train, but while searching for accommodation a little hostel popped up on my search that seemed far too interesting to ignore. So we decided on a pit stop in Ottawa.

We stayed in the Ottawa Jail Hostel, first opened in 1862 this was the city lock up for many years. Centrally situated this hostel has been cleverly converted to accommodate many a weary traveller. There are 4,6 and 8 bedded dorm rooms,  deluxe double rooms with en-suite facilities. We however had one of the double cells, converted from original cells there are single and double rooms. They are very bijou, furnished with ether a single bed or bunk beds, a table and clothes rail, it really is like being in prison! if you are claustrophobic I would probably give them a miss. Showers and toilets are shared but cleaned on a very regular basis. One of the original inmates of our cell was Patrick O’Shea in 1886 serving time for theft. Included in the room price is a very substantial buffet breakfast with cereal, eggs, fruit, bread, bagels, cheese and lots more on offer with unlimited tea and coffee to wash it all down with. A word of warning though, there is no lift in the original part of the prison and there are 6 floors!

Ottawa is the constitutional and political capital of Canada and the centre is very compact and easy to explore on foot. The 2 days we had there were the wettest of our holiday, so it kind of hampered our enjoyment of the city, but only a little bit because we’re Brits and won’t let a bit of rain put us off!

We had a good nose around the parliament buildings for free,  in a bid to try and stay a little drier. We did want to climb the Peace Tower but unfortunately it was closed for restoration work. The sun did make an appearance long enough for us to explore Byward Market, have some lunch and buy some delicious goodies to prepare later in the hostel’s kitchen for dinner.

 

Next ……. road trip to Toronto

Montreal Marvels

Every four years a great sporting event happens and the highlight for me is the gymnastics. In 1976 I was only 9 years old but I do remember watching Nadia Comaneci get the first ever perfect 10 in the Montreal Olympic games.

Our lovely hotel was only a hop, skip and jump away from the Olympic Park, so that was our first port of call when we arrived in Montreal. After a quick pose in the Place Nadia Comaneci we made our way to the main stadium with the intention of taking the funicular to the top of the tower. The stadium boasts the highest inclined tower in the world standing at 175 metres. Just a short ride affords the most amazing panoramic view of the Olympic park, Botanical gardens and the rest of the city.

While exploring the old town we discovered the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen. The Notre Dame’s interior is absolutely exquisite. I won’t be able to do it justice by describing it, so just look at these photos.

From a roof top terrace enjoying a little tipple or two we noticed a very large mound of greenery in the distance looming over the city. This is the Parc du Mont – Royal and it’s huge, it’s the site of an eroded ancient volcanic complex. The walk to the top is a steady winding incline that seems to go on and on forever. Or if feeling more energetic there are very steep woodland paths and staircases to climb. On either walks you are treated to beautiful scenery and trees galore in shades of orange, red, green and yellow. Our reward for getting to the end of the long and winding road was the amazing view from the Belvedere Kondiaronk lookout in front of the Chalet du Mont Royal. It seemed like we were on the very top of Montreal and couldn’t get any higher.

I was wrong….The highest point as it turns out is the 46th floor of the Observatoire Place Ville Maria. The floor to ceiling glass panels ensured that the 360 degree views were phenomenal. We spotted a pretty roof terrace on the 44th floor and decided to take a closer look. It was part of the restaurant and it was time for another drink, well apparently they are none too friendly in this establishment if you only want a drink.

As with Quebec be prepared to speak French or at least try.  Montreal is a fascinating city with a good metro network. As we were staying for only 4 nights we only saw a small part. Good excuse to return.

Next stop Ottawa……

Quirky Quebec

Our journey started with a very turbulent flight to Montreal, I think we only had 3 hours of smooth flight in the whole 7 hours. I must admit I enjoy a bit of turbulence so it didn’t put me off my film fest.

18 hours and a bus ride later we had arrived in Quebec. My heart sank a bit on the taxi drive to our hotel as it seemed quite a way out of town. The Bate’s motel lookalike had a very comfortable room and a lovely warm swimming pool to relax in. Once we got our bearings and worked out the bus routes it was all good.

bates motel

The best part about our location was our close proximity to the Montmorency Falls, it was just a short bus journey away. Situated and protected in the Montmorency Falls Park, the waterfalls are 83 metres tall, that’s 30 metres taller than Niagara Falls. The sight and sound of the falls from the suspension bridge is breathtaking. For the brave (and slightly fit) tourists there is a staircase all the way down the cliff to the foot of the falls.  The 487 steps are more than manageable on the way down, but I found the ascend just a little more challenging, fortunately there are quite a few places to stop and take a well earned breather. The park around the falls and the main house are stunning, and we were so lucky to see it in autumn.

Quebec is an exceptionally pretty French city, Vieux Quebec is a UNESCO world heritage site and this so well deserved. It’s full of beautiful architecture, quirky shops and cafés and divided into the lower and upper cities. These are connected by either a steep walk or by the funicular. Travelling down the cliff at a 45 degree angle and track is 64 metres long, it was first opened in 1879. Originally it was propelled by a water ballast system, but converted to an electrical system in 1907. It’s a lovely way to get to the lower city and port, but I still felt the need to challenge myself by taking the picturesque steep walk back up.

While on our day out to the falls we saw the Queen Mary 2 sailing into port in the distance. So on our second visit to Vieux Quebec we knew we needed to make our way to the port to get a good look at this beautiful ship. When we tracked it down we noticed a smaller less elegant boat offering a return trip up the Saint Lawrence river. I don’t usually like boats as I tend to feel sick just looking at them. But the on-board tour guide was so entertaining and knowledgeable that I didn’t feel the need to frequent the loos to vomit at all. It was a very relaxing journey that returned to port just as the sun was starting to go down, giving the city a lovely magical glow.

Quebec is an amazing place to visit but a word to the wise, it is a predominantly French speaking city, it is everyone’s first language. There are many people in the shops, cafes and restaurants that do speak English, but it is not guaranteed. I brushed up on my school girl French as soon as I booked up our trip, also quite a few holidays in France helped me to remember. They really do appreciate you trying to speak in French if you can.

Next stop …back to Montreal

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