Showing posts with label travel writing.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel writing.. Show all posts

Sunday, 11 February 2018

A walk by the lake

Nepal, as you know, is home to the Himalaya. I can gaze at their snow-capped enormity from the rooftop in my apartment in Pokhara. It is also home to tigers, rhinos and leopards, to drongos and vultures and soaring golden eagles.

And it has beautiful lakes and rivers. It is an easy drive from Pokhara to visit Begnas or Rupa lakes, to sit by the still waters with a plate of mo-mos and watch men fishing from low-lying canoes. But, closer to home, Pokhara has a lake of its own - Fewa Lake - and I’ve spent many happy hours wandering beside it. 
I take the dusty path into the park, pause to watch an indeterminate number of young men playing cricket on the football pitch, and then turn to stroll beside the lake. The water is murky - and I know there are problems with weed and falling water levels, but from the path it looks unruffled and peaceful. I reach for my camera ... making sure that the picture doesn’t include the young woman who must wash her hair in this lake. 


I stroll on, with an detour round an army base, to rejoin the lakeside path beside the ghat where pilgrims gather to take boats across to the little temple on an island.    

Buses turn round here; hawkers sit beside white clothes filled with trinkets: necklaces, earrrings. Women sell oranges (it is the orange season here and they are wonderful); a man offered fresh-cut coconut. One man, his limbs grossly distorted, begs beneath a holy tree. There is even a public toilet, 5 rupees for a ‘short stay’ and 10 if you need longer, and a little whiffy, so I’ve not investigated.

I leave the general mayhem behind and wander on north. When I first visited Nepal this was nothing but a narrow path. Now it is paved, with plenty of garden cafes to sit with a lemon soda or mango juice (and maybe cake) and watch the world go by. Local families walk here, stopping to buy juice or nuts or water from the Tibetan women who trade beside the water. 

There is a fish farm - the water in the concrete pools is stagnant and surely unused, but there are nets in the lake and local restaurants offer ‘Fewa Lake’ fish. I shudder to think what else might be in this water. For, looking closely, there are still makeshift shacks here where people live. Women do their laundry in the lake, and drape shirts and trousers and blankets over fences and hedges to dry. What water must they use for washing themselves? And for cooking? I pass a couple of outflows but don’t investigate them.

It is a conundrum. I love this lake, and walk beside it almost  every day. I love its ripples and its green reflections and the crowds heading for the temple. But, although I will not photograph them, I cannot ignore those who eek out an existence on its shores.

But I do love its little boats. Shall I go boating? ... maybe not today.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Introducing ... Everlasting

I have made it to Lilongwe without adventures. Hurrah! And there, to welcome me at the airport was Everlasting. He is my guide, and that really is his name. He has slightly grizzled features and most of his own teeth. His trousers were made for a fatter man. And he laughs.

We will, I realise, be together for the whole six weeks I am here. And so I have set about finding out more about him. His children, all four, are young adults now (though he is not too sure how old they are). One son plays for the Malawi national football team - and Everlasting swells with pride just to think of him.

'How often do you see him play?' I ask.

'Oh I hate to see him play. In case someone kicks him and he is hurt. Nobody can bear to see their child hurt.' I can see from the look on his face that he may need to be restrained from running on the pitch to give the other lad a what-for, and to kiss his son's bruises better.

He has shown me Lilongwe - it is a complicated city, with some magnificent buildings (largely unused, and funded by loans from China), some huge houses behind walls and metal gates. And there are areas of high density housing with markets and African bustle. There are also significant areas which have been set aside for development but not yet been built on. The city is a 'work in progress'.

By the time you read this, I shall be on the road heading north. I may or may not have access to wifi. Please, should you wish to comment, be assured that I shall get back to this blog eventually, even if it takes a week or more.

But I leave you with a picture, not of Everlasting, but of some soapstone hippos - they perch by the pool of my Lodge in Lolingwe.  And I like the smiles on their faces.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

What's happening with this house then?

What with all the fun I had in Ecuador and the Galapagos, you might have thought I'd forgotten about that house we're building in Nepal.

What house? Well, for those of you who weren't around last year: I went to Nepal last September, to visit friends and to see how things were after the earthquake. To be honest, they were tough. Not only had stuff fallen down, but no tourists were visiting - so there was no money to get on with the rebuilding. The mountains still glorious, hotels and restaurants empty, and the Nepali struggling to make ends meet.

I ummed and ahed about how to help. And then I met a family, in the mountains, whose house had fallen down - and it was going to cost just £1500 to rebuild it. Not quite peanuts, but surely I could raise that? We can't rebuild a city, or even a town - but we can rebuild a house.

Not any old house. This is a family I know - the top storey had collapsed and they were living on the ground floor, in the rubble, and hoping that aftershocks wouldn't dump the whole thing on their heads while they slept.

So I launched a project, which you can find here. And I wrote a book, After the Earthquake, and every penny of profit from that is going towards building this house. (If you live outside the UK, or don't use Amazon, I'm sure you can find it if you go hunting. Do contact me if you can't find it.)

And how has it gone? Well, the appeal site is misleading, as I've been given much more than that. And the book is selling well.

And (drum roll) ... we have a house!!!! Well, have the money for the house, the foundations are down and the walls are on their way up. One family can sleep peacefully again.

What's more - we have begun a second house. This is an older couple, from a village high in the mountains, who spent the monsoon in a tent.

I'm proud of us all - we did what we set out to do. But if anyone is new to this appeal, and (like me) can't imagine just how dreadful it must be to be old and in a tent with the monsoon battering down, then then please follow the links.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

After the Earthquake - the first bit.

It's almost here - After the Earthquake - my little ebook about Nepal. I know I said that last week, but now it's nail-biting time. The copy edits should be back any day now.

So, while we're waiting, here is the beginning:

It was a Saturday morning in April. I rolled over, half asleep, to turn on my radio and listen to the News.
Early accounts were disorganised. An earthquake had rocked Kathmandu. In the foolish light of dawn I believed it was nothing more than the earth grumbling, far beneath the city. But, as I carried on listening, the full devastation became clearer. I made tea and turned on the television. All those glorious temples, reduced to rubble. Families wept in the streets, for themselves, and for the thousands who had died. Villages flattened. Avalanches crashing down the mountains, taking tents and trekkers with them.
I felt as if I were drowning in helplessness. It was hard to eat, to sleep in my warm bed, knowing so many shivered in tents in the parks of Kathmandu, and who knew how many were searching for shelter in the mountains.
What of my friends? Where was Tika? Shobha? Bhadra? Ajay and Upama? Those who had kept me safe and laughing since my first visit to Nepal nearly fifteen years ago. It was a few days before I knew that they were all safe, but they were frightened. The ground hadn’t stopped quivering. My feeble efforts to support them were not enough.

Now, five months later, I’m going back to Nepal. I can’t abandon them, these friends of mine, considering all they’ve been through.
We’ve all seen those after-the-earthquake pictures: the ruins in Durbar Square, temples where the faithful once rubbed shoulders with tourists wielding selfie-sticks; where incense wafted across crowded streets and made my eyes water. We’ve read of villages flattened; of families facing the ravages of the monsoon with nothing but a bit of borrowed tin above their heads. We’ve read of avalanches and death in the mountains.
Yet – I confess – I’ve been reluctant to go back. Even now, in the sterility of the Departure Lounge at Heathrow Airport, I have misgivings. I will not exploit the needy, nor gawp at their misfortune. I’ll not gaze at people living in wretched tents. There is something uncomfortable about travelling from the comfort and safety of my western home to a country where the needs are so huge. Might I be seen as patronising? What use could I be? I can’t rebuild a home. I can’t even cook something edible over a fire. I can play with children – surely scant consolation for people who have lost everything.
But Tika has invited me. I’ve known him since my first visit here. He has guided me through an adventure or two in the past. We want to see you, he said. Stay in our home, he said. It is enough to stifle my qualms. Besides, there is no resisting Tika.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

In four days ...

I'm heading back to Nepal.

No, I've not packed. But I have done a lot of thinking.

As you know, I have friends there and have been asked to help promote Nepal's tourism industry. It has been floundering since the earthquake. Bookings are down. Too many hotels are empty; too many restaurants quiet. Mountain guides stand around and look at maps. Yet these are hardworking people, trying to rebuild a country. For that they need money - the sort of money that tourists can bring.

I've had several people ask what they can do to help. I've had a generous donation (Tika will help find a home for that) but not everyone has money to spare. I've been given goodies to squash in my suitcase to take up to villages in the mountains (Tika will help carry them).

But the thing I really need help with is the promoting-tourism bit. I've no training in marketing. Efforts to sell my own books are a bit hit and miss. But this time the marketing matters - and I haven't the faintest idea how to do it.

At the moment, I don't even know exactly where I'll be going (Tika will ...). All I know is that I shall write about what I find - and that the writing will be slanted towards encouraging other people to visit. No doubt I'll spend time with friends, but that will not be the story. No doubt I'll sit by the lake in Pokhara and ponder, but that will not be the story. I hope I climb to the tiny coffee plantation, on the path towards Begnas Lake, to drink some of the best coffee in the world - that will only be part of the story if the lack of tourists is affecting the family.

And so please, my loyal blog-followers, can you help with the promoting-thing. If you think I'm missing something, or should emphasise something else, tell me. Ask questions (I'll have internet connections, at least some of the time). Bang on about it on Twitter and Facebook. If people get irritated that's fine - as long as they get the message.

Nepal is open for business. And it's still beautiful.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Nepal - not long now

The summer is creeping by - and before I know it I'll be catching the plane to Nepal. It's hard to believe it's come round so quickly - just one month now, and I'll be on my way.

It's been hard to keep in touch with how things are there - reports are confusing. The British foreign office advice is to avoid most of the mountain treks, although they feel Annapurna is safe. The Nepalis insist that most treks are open (or will be once the monsoon is over) - of the well-known routes only Everest is still closed. There has also been a recent suggestion that the seismic activity has not ended, and the south-west border with India could be a bit wobbly. On top of that, the monsoon has brought storms and landslides this year.

All of which would suggest I'll see nothing but destruction. However, we all know that the media loves a trauma and overlooks the ordinary. It's hard, from this distance, to estimate the extent to which the aftermath of the earthquake and monsoon have left people struggling, or whether they have picked themselves up and I'll recognise the resilience and humour that I've met before.

As you know, I'm going because friends in the county want me to. My own focus will be on reconnecting with those I know and love. But I also know that the country needs tourists: they are essential to kick-start the economy and help get the country back on its feet.

So here's a question. What do you want me to look for?

Are you interested in the state of the temples? The mountain treks? Whether hotels and restaurants are functioning? The state of the roads? Whether people feel defined by disasters or are they resilient enough to feel they are putting it behind them?

I don't know yet if there will be an ebook, but do want to write - here, if nowhere else - about everything that tourists might find when they return to Nepal. It's my small contribution to helping the country get back on its feet. Which is why I need to know what you need me to try to find out.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Nepal - a thank you.

I can't begin to describe how it has felt being on the receiving end of so much support following my decision to visit Nepal in the autumn.

There have been comments here, and on Facebook and Twitter, that anyone can see. But that is the tip of the iceberg (forgive the cliche) - it's private messages from people I've never met that are particularly touching. People who have neighbours who are Gurkhas, returning to the country to find out if their families are alive and their homes still standing. People with sons and daughters who were in the country at the time and have listened to terrifying tales every since they came home - the guilt of survivors. People who have asked what I need to take with me - offers of help to buy goodies.

It's been humbling. I feel as if I'm carrying many hopes and expectations with me - and yet you know I can promise nothing in return and that doesn't seem to trouble you. I carry your love as well as my own with me on this journey.

I have no idea what I shall find there - apart from a generous and resourceful people who are busy putting their lives back together again.

I can only tell you that I will write about it. I can't promise an ebook (I'll take that decision when I get home), but there will certainly be plenty of blogging (though maybe unreliable blogging, as internet connections might be interesting). There will be photographs - though I'll keep images of devastation to a minimum.

Ps - not blog next Monday. I'll be in Barcelona ... cue Freddie Mercury impressions ...

Sunday, 7 June 2015

When it is okay to go back to Nepal?

Here's the dilemma ...

I'll not repeat myself - you know my thoughts about the earthquake in Nepal. But what can we do - from the comfort of our sofas - to help?

We can give aid, of course - and millions have. The international agencies are all there, with their relief supplies and expertise. And they are needed - families are still living in tents and the monsoon looms. Yet the Nepali don't want to rely on handouts to sustain them for a generation or three. They are an independent people who need to reboot their own economy. Once that is up and running many of those currently rebuilding the schools and temples can go home.

Much of the Nepalese economy relies on tourists. Tourists bring money enabling people to sustain their lives for themselves. And for tourism to reclaim its place in the economy the walkers and climbers and temple-visitors and those who, like me, just love the place, must go back.

For those wondering - the sun still rises over Everest. It stains the snow pink and slides warm fingers into the dark Himalayan valleys. The air at daybreak is sweet and clear. Everest base camp is still closed, but Annapurna is waiting. Machhapuchhare (the Fish Tail Mountain) stands guard over Pokhara.

Buddhas still watch from their stupas. Kali enfolds the faithful in her many arms. Prayer wheels rattle on their axes. Monks wander in their flowing robes. Children always ready to play.

The monsoon will make things more difficult - and Nepal does not expect visitors when torrential rain brings floods and landslides. But by the autumn the sun will shine again - and the hotels and restaurants will be waiting.

But ... is it really that easy? Temples have crumbled. Some families will still be in tents. This was a poor country before the earthquake - many will be destitute now. Might tourists be seen as 'cashing in' on their trauma?

I have a problem with 'poverty porn.' I flinch at such a pejorative term, but I am deeply discomforted by those who visit developing countries and gawp at the poor. I've seen tourists taking photographs of women washing themselves at communal taps, ignoring the reality that these women would choose privacy if they could. Others smile at barefooted children, as if they are cute, as if the lack of shoes might be appealing and not evidence that the family cannot afford shoes. Destitution should never be a tourist attraction.

It will be impossible to visit Nepal and turn blind eyes to the destruction of the earthquake. Some people have lost everything. I cannot build their homes. I'm not qualified to teach the children nor administer medical help. I will not take their photographs, but if I do nothing is that no more than passing by on the other side?

I have friends in Nepal. I know they need visitors. But do I go soon, and remind you what a wonderful place this is, tempt anyone with time to buy a flight to Kathmandu and discover the place for themselves? Or do I wait until the tents are back in storage and families all have somewhere dry to live?

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Malaysia, with a picture or few.

It's taken a while, but I think my head is - at last - catching up with my body. I have the headspace to begin to reflect.

Just so you know - there will be no book this time. It was a wonderful, reflective journey and I feel refreshed by it. But I steered clear of adventures. I rarely stepped off the well-trodden path. (And I have other writing plans I'll tell you about another time.)

But - what I will do is post, with pictures, about each place I stayed. And, just to kick this off, I've gathered some images of Asian gods. I visited temples, mosques and churches - and continue to muse on the commonality of people's need to explain life outside ourselves and the stories that become beliefs in the process of searching for that explanation. I make no comment on the rights and wrongs of any belief system - I simply marvel at the complexity of such systems and the rituals that go with them. Do I really need to add that I find it abhorrent that anyone should use anything defined as 'religious conviction' as an excuse for violence?

I have not included pictures of churches - most people know what to expect in those and Far Eastern churches are similar to anything you'd find in Europe.

I was made welcome in several mosques - once suitably covered I was encouraged to wander, to ask questions, and to ponder on the tenets of their faith. They were peaceful places. I have no problem with respecting their request to be sensitive regarding photographs and putting those online. And so the first image is from the outside of a huge mosque in KL.

Followed, without comment, on a succession of religious images. Some - to western eyes - look strange, or fierce, or comic. But they are all sacred to someone. And a reminder of our glorious diversity.

We all makes sense of our lives in our own way. How bland the world would be if we all told the same stories.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Gap of Dunloe

My daughters might never speak to me again for writing this. For the first time I crossed the Gap of  Dunloe we did it together, and the day was so wonderful it has become part of the family story, a 'do you remember when' that still makes us smile.

I simply couldn't resist doing it again, and it was different - my excuse for writing about it now.

For a start, we went the 'wrong way round', beginning with a boat trip across the Killarney Lakes. I had forgotten how long that takes, chugging across the water, the mountains benign in the sunshine. Holly trees clung to the waterwide. Reeds swayed in the breeze. From time to time the boatman told us Interesting Things, but I forget all of them. I was more intent on just being in the boat, bobbling along on the water and looking up at the mountains.

After several days with no rain, the water levels were very low - so low that at one stage we had to get out and walk along the bank or risk grounding. And when we arrived at Lord Brandon's Cottage the quayside was about a metre higher than the water, involving some inelegant scrambling to get out of the boat (and complaints from a heavy tourist who seemed to think everything should be organised just for him. There's always one.).

A quick sandwich (note for daughters - the little cafe is much improved, so no cotton-wool bread wrapped in cling film) and it was time to find a pony to take me over the Gap itself. And this is where things unravelled a bit. There was only one pony, defended by a determined Irishwoman intent on taking me in her pony and trap. Should I stick to my guns, ride alone across the mountain, or accept her offer (even though I knew she was probably taking a backhander for it)?

I took the pony and trap - and can tell you that it is as uncomfortable as riding but at least you can't fall off.

The main difference fom years ago - there is now a tarnacked road the whole way. Where there was once a stony track, now there is a proper road and even the occasional car. Which makes the whole thing more hazardous than it was, with pony carts, cyclists, walkers and cars all sharing a narrow road.

However, it is still astonishingly beautiful. The road winds along a valley before zig-zagging up the mountainside. Sheep nibble at the short grass; birds fly high above the mountainside. The ponies haul the traps up to the saddle and then the view stretches out below. The river burbles, lingers in small lakes, and the tumbles on down towards the sea. And the mountains, blue and mysterious, loom over everything. Trees dominate the lower slopes; the higher slopes are vast and craggy and wonderful.

So it wasn't the day I expected it to be. There are some magical days that should never be repeated. But would I go back to the Gap of Dunloe again and again - oh yes. And there are pictures, but they are still on my camera, so that will have to sit till I get home.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Just when you were wondering if I was ever going to write about Cuba ...

Well, the manuscript is almost back from the copy editor. If it's too smothered in red it might be several days (or even weeks) before I can tease it into an ebook. But it will happen.

It already has a blurb:

It’s time for JO CARROLL to pack her rucksack again, and this time she’s heading west, to Cuba.
Everyone, it seems, has been to Cuba, or wants to go to Cuba, or knows about it. Cuba, they insist, is on the brink of change. A market economy will finally see off the old cars and rationing. They’ve been saying that for decades. But what face does Cuba present to a tourist in 2014?
She finds salsa, of course, and cigars, and wonderful coffee. But what surprises wait for her when the music stops?

It even has a  cover:

For which, as usual, I am indebted to Mark Smart.

And if anyone should ask nicely for a review copy, then you can have one. Just get in touch.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

So, when am I going to write about Cuba ...

Let's start at the beginning. Yes, I'm going to publish an ebook about Cuba - and it should be ready towards the end of June. The manuscript is currently with a copyeditor, the title is more or less fixed and my wonderful cover-person has been busy.

But I'm more cautious about this book than I have been about the others. Before I went to Cuba I was deluged with advice - everyone, or so it seemed, had been there or knew someone who had been there and knew where I should go and what I should buy. Then there were those with strong political views who seemed to know what I should think (they don't know me very well - telling me what to think is never a good idea!).

On top of that, I have no Spanish. Well, I didn't when I left home - I've blogged about my efforts to learn the language and develop my miming skills. But it means I have only impressions to work with, as my discussions with local people rarely developed beyond telling them where I was from (though I did get Brownie points for not being American).

So I'm biting my nails in launching this book. I might upset those whose advice I ignored. I might upset those who hoped I'm come home a raving socialist or even ready to worship the gods of the free market.

I don't wish to upset anyone - but do not feel a need to compromise. I've written about my experience of Cuba (which was mixed). I hope I've approached the country and its people with respect - that feels more important to me than pleasing all my well-wishers. Only time will tell if you agree with me.

That title: Vultures Overhead.

And it will be followed by a print book which includes all three Over the Hill ebooks, entitled From The Outside Looking In.

That should keep me busy for a day or two.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

I promised you Cuba pictures.

It will take time to get my Cuban stories into some sort of order, but here - as promised - are a few of my photos.

I've begun with this picture from Havana, as it typifies much of Cuba. This is taken in one of the main streets, and shows how some of the lovely old buildings have been restored while those next door are left to fall down. The extent of the restoration is impressive - there are some beautiful plazas, especially in the oldest part of the city. But - and this is a huge BUT - the restoration is concentrated in areas where the tourists go. Much of residential Havana is crumbling.

I took this from my bedroom window in Sancti Spiritus, at about six in the morning. This man walked up and down the streets, calling loudly enough to wake the cockerels. He had bread and biscuits in the box on the back of his bike. It is now possible for someone to set up a small business in Cuba. Maybe he was up all night, baking. Yet I never saw anyone come out to buy. I hope he was more successful round the corner.

There are images of Che Guevara all over Cuba. His image is on the walls of bus stations, private homes, on the bank notes. I shall, in time, write about him - but for now here is a statue of him holding a child. Whatever you think of him, I liked this - it's small, and hidden between hedges like an apology. But I've no idea what that stag with the gremlin on its back is doing on his shoulder.

Cuban art is wonderful - and everywhere. This is the painted water tank, on the rooftop of a home I stayed in. Imagine - going to all that trouble just to paint a water tank! I sat on that rooftop to read, and to write, with pigs snuffling in the yard next door and the sun going down over the sea.

This is a square in Trinidad (the town) taken through a window. It is as immaculate as it looks here - beautifully painted with trimmed bushes in the plaza and palm trees giving a little shade. If I'd been able to take a picture a little to the right of this, you would be able to see the steps where I spent hours listening to the music. There are less manicured corners in Trinidad - but a curious tourist has to step outside the normal thoroughfares to find them.

Finally, this is the front porch of my casa particular (like a Homestay) in Viñales. The only thing missing is me - on one of those rocking chairs. I had some serious rain while I was there - what a shame, there was nothing I could do but sit and read. Well, what would you have done?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

You travel alone?

One of the great joys of travelling is meeting other people. Conversations generally begin with, 'Where are you from?' It's a world-wide opening that really means, 'Let's find out more about each other.'

But, for a solo traveller, it's often followed by, 'You travel alone?'

I enjoy travelling alone. I meet great people that way, and find myself in unexpected and wonderful places. (Ok, sometimes I make mistakes, but that's not a direct consequence of being on my own.) I'm very happy to talk about the excitements and struggles of travelling alone, and to contribute an anecdote or two to any travelling chatter.

Yet what this question really means is, 'Why do you travel alone?'; which, in turn, means, 'Why don't you have a friend or partner who wants to travel with you?'

I make no secret of being widowed. It's no mystery. It's not shameful. It's not what I would have chosen, of course, but it's the card I was dealt. I deal with it.

Generally I manage a brief resumé that reassures my new companion - I am not alone because I am a witch, nor because I smell. I have a patter that moves our conversation on to travel topics, where we've been or long to go, and unexpected joys we've found along the way.

But sometimes I don't feel so charitable. While my mouth prepares the usual spiel, my head is saying, 'Mind your own business. I travel alone - you got a problem with that?' Which is, of course, unkind and unnecessary and would prove I am the witch they think I might be. Travellers ask personal questions very quickly - we know we have a limited time, and conversations are precious, not to be wasted on talk of the weather (unless you're stranded in Somerset, that is). I just wish they could come up with something more original, or less intrusive.

All this is not very generous of me - and, were I ever to have said what I was thinking I'd have missed out on some of the most wonderful people. I just wish there were a different preamble that meant I didn't have to justify travelling alone before we can get down to the serious business of buying a beer.

(Where are my photos - I'll get them on the blog for Monday).

Sunday, 11 August 2013

It's that time again!

It's time for the e-book festival again. Cally Phillips has been working her socks off for months, to bring this wonderful, online festival to you - free! There are fiction people and life writing people and poets and bloggers and playwrites and comedy writers and spiritual writers and teachers of creative writing and digital publishers and

and a travel writer!!!!!!!

Yes, I've got a slot there this year - but not till next weekend, so you'll have to wait for that. (A resident travel writer - how about that for a contradiction in terms!)

Today is Day One - so I'm going to shut up now, so you can go and see what's going on over there.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Thank you.

It's been humbling, this past week or so, to be on the receiving end of such support, helping me wave to my little ebook as it sails into the high seas of Amazon (and Smashwords and Kobo).

I'll not begin to name anyone - you know who you are. Besides, if I try to list you all this will begin to look like a school register and I'd hate anyone to think you were simply a name to be ticked off.

You just need to know that all those tweets, the 'likes' on Facebook, the messages here and by email, the reviews - each one has felt like a little hug, given me a frisson of excitement, affirmed my belief that launching this book has been worth working for.

Thank you.

What a puny post. Yes - but I don't want to dilute it by waffling. I need you to know how much I appreciate you all.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Strange things to buy in Venice.

In my last post I showed you how goods arrive at their destinations. Here I have some of the things you can buy. I have not included anything from a street stall, most of which are crammed with bags and scarves and masks and little models of St Mark's. All these were in shop windows (except the one that was on my table ... that will become clear). I do not claim that this is not representative of things you can buy in Venice - simply things that caught my eye.

Suppose you've been walking all day, your feet ache ... would you buy these?

Speaking personally, I value my knees to much - though I can see that they are rather wonderful colours.

If you don't fancy shoes, how about jewellery?

When I saw this, it struck me that it resembled a collection of green nipples. But maybe green nipples are your thing ...

You can buy dolls in many shapes and forms.

These are dressed in their finery, and are presumably meant to sit on the side and be admired. No use to my granddaughter then.

I can't see her playing with these, either. They're glass, and the colours are lovely, and might look good with the sun behind them.

Maybe the grandsons would like masks? There are masks all over Venice - and some of them are truly beautiful. I'm sure many tourists swaddle them in bubble wrap to get them home. And how many unpack them and wonder - what are they going to do with it now?

It's all getting too much. Time for this:

Sunday, 19 May 2013

On arriving in Venice at sunset

There's nothing exceptional about Marco Polo Airport. It's all corridors and lights and hurrying people. It would help if their directions were better, but, hey ho, I found the boat into the city eventually.

It was about 6.30 in the evening. It had rained all day, but clouds were being frightened away - though it was still grey to the west. But here the sun was low over the water, taking over from the rain, glittering, like diamonds scattered across the lido. White water - in the wake of the water taxis - whooshed into rainbows.

Sun crept across the buildings. Marble was stained with evening yellow. Solid red walls became a luminous orange, or deep rose-pink. The spring-green of trees as bright as jewels. People, wandering along by the water, insignificant beside the magic of the buildings.

There was the chug of the boat, of course, and the smell of diesel, but that soon forgotten as we edged towards the city, bouncing in the wake of vaporetti and water taxis. The slap of water against the boat. Closer to the buildings, the sun lower in the sky now - and the shady corners darker here, like little mysteries, places to hide dark deeds. If my grandchildren had been there we'd have told stories of derring do, of swashbuckling, and maybe of love - for the sun went down and stars dared to twinkle.

I could have told myself stories, of course. Scribbled them down, even put them on this blog.

I didn't. I went out for pasta and wine. (Well, what would you have done?)

ps. If anyone hasn't seen the excerpt from Bombs and Butterflies on my website, you can find it here.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

65 Things to Do When you Retire - Travel

65 - only 65?

Well, there are 65 in this wonderful book, which includes a piece I've written on taking a gap year.

I know, you're thinking that the government wants you to work till you're 96, by which time you'll have one foot in the grave. But you've got another foot - and than one won't be ready to push up daisies for a while yet. There's a world out there, and it's getting easier and easier to get out in it. Go on,  dust off the suitcases, or the rucksack, or the campervan - and off you go.

(I know, your offspring say you shouldn't. You're wondering if your stomach can cope with too many culinary surprises. What if your knees give way? But you can, you know you can. And do it now, before the government asks you to keep going till you reach a century).

And I think you should buy this book first - it will give you some great ideas, and even steer you round a pitfall or two. Even better, the proceeds go to cancer charities.

You're in the UK - you can buy it here. And those in the US can find it here.

Read it and dream ...

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

I can't tell you yet but ...

You know that 'keeping a secret' thing? When you really, really want to say something and you've agreed to keep your mouth shut?

So, I've agreed not to post links to 65 Things to Do When You Retire: Travel before it comes out on 9th March - because that's when you'll be able to buy it.

Do you remember, ages ago, I wrote about an editor appearing from behind a metaphorical tree while I was looking the other way and asking for a piece on taking a gap year in retirement? It's here, should you want to read it again - and get a flavour of just how excited I was. And I now know I'm in the company of some wonderful travel writers from America which makes it even more astonishing.

Anyway - I'm not showing you the cover, nor the blurb, nor anything else I've agreed not to show you. But I am reminding you it's coming out - not only because I'm looking forward to an excuse to eat cake and feel generally pleased with myself, but also because this book will raise money for cancer charities. Which is almost as good a reason for you to get ready to buy it as its contents! (I think much of the practical information is more useful for those living in the US - but there's still some great ideas for those of us across the pond.)

(I haven't really told you much, have I ...)