The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Sunday 28 April 2019

And then there was Italy!

Just before Easter I got back from a four-day trip to Cinque Terre in Italy, and while I'm completely knackered it was so worth it! I know it sounds like I never stop travelling - and truth be told I feel like my feet haven't touched the ground since I retired - but it wasn't actually planned that way! Of course no-one could predict having to fly back and forth to Wales due to my brother's illness and subsequent death. Then the trip to Sri Lanka in March had been planned before I even knew I was retiring, so it was to be my annual "winter sunshine break" before going back to work! Well as we all know it didn't quite work out like that! After that, my friend spotted that our local bus company was doing a trip to Cinque Terre in Italy in April (it has long been on my bucket list) and "should we go for it"? They hadn't done this trip last year as they tend to alternate years but the girl that we booked with said it's a trip that could reasonably sell out every year so we jumped on it and reserved in January. Good job we did too as there were only eight places remaining (I think) and no single rooms left. That meant my friend having to put up with my snoring in a twin room (I did forewarn her) but guess what? She snores too so it didn't work out too badly in the end!

Anyway, we dropped off my car at the travel agent's and picked up the bus at 6 a.m. It's only around 500 km to Cinque Terre but bear in mind that you have to go through the Mont Blanc tunnel (11 km/7 miles under the Mont Blanc) before you get into Italy and then down through the winding roads of the Aosta valley before you hit any kind of straight roads. So you're obviously not going to be breaking any world speed records here! In fact, our driver told us that the Italians had recently introduced "tronçon" radars. A "tronçon" is a "leg" as in the "leg" of a journey, so they know that if you went through one radar at place X in the Aosta valley you should not pass the radar at place Y in less than XX number of hours - if you do you have been speeding and they will catch you. Our driver said it works too! So now you know - if you are driving in Italy watch out for the maximum speed limits!

I always find it sad and kinda weird going through this tunnel though as our (very knowledgeable) bus driver was talking about the 1999 fire as we went through (has it really been 20 years?) and the changes that had been made to tunnel security since. The fire was caused by a refrigerated truck carrying margarine and flour catching fire, killing 39 people in the process, including a brave young Italian named Pierluccio Tinazzi who managed to ferry nine victims out on his scooter before being overcome himself and dying as he tried to save a tenth victim!

Pierluccio Tinazzi
Anyway, after travelling for a couple more hours, we stopped just after 9 o'clock for a break where the driver broke out the bread, ham, cheese, coffee and red wine that was provided by the company! Not that he drank any wine of course - I think only one man had a glass. Then again, I suppose the sun is always over the yardarm somewhere in the world isn't it!

Around mid-day we arrived in Genoa where we were treated to our first, four course Italian meal!!! Four courses!!! Crikey - and that is just routine in Italy - but it was so good!  And Genoa, of course, is where the bridge tragically collapsed in August 2018 killing over 40 people! Again, crikey! Can you see a pattern here? But when you see the landscape round there and realize it is subject to earthquakes and therefore how the landscape is virtually just mountains and valleys, you can imagine how difficult transiting Genoa had become because of that collapse!

Our driver was telling us that on one trip they were actually hit with a fairly substantial earth tremor but I was kinda hoping we could give that a miss! I've had enough "excitement" to do me! And, although we didn't get to see much of Genoa I have to admit it was a very beautiful city!

In another couple of hours we made it to our hotel where my friend and I had a decent enough twin room - and another wonderful four-course evening meal before going to bed for an early morning start the next day to visit Cinque Terre! Blimey, we hadn't even spent one night in Italy yet and we already felt like Tweedledum and Tweedledee!

Tim Burton's Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Friday 26 April 2019

Some (small) consolation!

I got an email yesterday from the lovely Canadian lady I met in Sri Lanka. L was asking if I had any news of our guide, Prasana, or our driver and his assistant. Sometimes when you go on these trips the guides give you their mobile phone number in case something happens but not this time. As we were heading back to the airport Prasana pointed out where the three of them lived  - the driver, his assistant and Prasana himself - (in the suburbs of Colombo) so I can only hope and pray that they and their families are safe.

This morning I was reading more details of the atrocities - it's so heartbreaking when the names, faces and stories start coming out - when in today's news they showed a picture of the one, "failed" suicide bomber whose bomb failed to detonate. He was pictured in the lift in the Hotel Taj!!!! And to think I had sent up a silent prayer of thanks when I realized that the hotel I stayed in on my first night had not been hit! It had been targeted but the bomb hadn't gone off! Like I mentioned before, if I am going to be alone before the start of a trip I always stay in a good hotel in order to feel secure, and to think this delusional, spoiled, brainwashed jerk had actually tried to hit the Hotel Taj!!! And it turns out this was the guy who had actually studied in the UK!

The staff at the hotel were unfailingly polite and helpful so I can only offer very small thanks to the powers that be that they were spared! Of course, that then meant that another poor couple ended up being killed by this jerk when he blew himself up at a small guesthouse nearby! Fate works in mysterious ways doesn't it - I'm just so sorry for that couple who happened to be "in the wrong place at the wrong time"!

Hotel Taj
After the end of our trip there was the possibility of extending the trip by taking a week to go snorkelling in the Maldives. Now I booked this trip when I was fully expecting to still be working and since I didn't have the leave (and most likely wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway), I chose to fly home straight after Sri Lanka. L and T, the Canadian couple, booked the add on, as did "Miserable Pete" and L was telling me he was a complete pain in the butt, as he had been on our leg of the trip. Unfortunately, people assumed he was with them (that's what I thought when I first met them too) and he was just as ungracious (and racist) as he had been with us!

She said he wasn't able to climb down the rope ladder from their boat into the dingy so he couldn't go snorkelling (hallo, you booked yourself on a snorkelling holiday in the Maldives!), then he burnt the tops of his feet and was totally ignorant in his behaviour towards the staff who tried every which way to make his stay better! In fact, he was the guy that was not ready for the bus on the first day (they had to wake him up), who, while we were all piling onto the bus to go into Ngombo, sat down to have his breakfast!!, and who we then had to double back and pick up on our way out of Ngombo. He didn't like rice (again, halloooo, you're in Sri Lanka!), he obviously didn't like people with dark skin (that's what made his living in South Africa such a puzzle to me), and then to top it all he realized he had left both his electric shaver and his iPad somewhere but didn't know where. Prasana tracked it down to our first hotel in Ngombo and on the way back was able to arrange a taxi to meet us in a layby on the way to the airport so he could get his stuff back!! Then he didn't feel he should have to pay the taxi driver (!!!!) because "he had only forgotten these things because they had hurried him up on the first day"! I tell you, there is always one on these trips but you would think that if you can't manage the physical side of it (or don't like "foreigners") wouldn't you think twice about booking with a company called Explore?????? I don't know, contrasting the experience I had with the lovely people of Sri Lanka and this guy's behaviour makes me want to scream!

Anyway, now that I've got "Miserable Pete" out of my mind, I'll have to start writing up my "diary" of our recent short trip to Cinque Terre - although I'm not sure even beautiful Italy would manage to please someone as thoroughly miserable as "Miserable Pete"!

Sunday 21 April 2019

So desperately sad for Sri Lanka!

I can't believe it! Although to be honest, I suppose we should all "believe" it shouldn't we! Those bastards are just getting sicker and sicker - whether it be killing muslims in New Zealand or killing Christians in Sri Lanka!The latest atrocities this Easter Sunday mornng in Sri Lanka just break my heart for the very gentle people we met. I stayed my first night in Colombo in a pretty luxurious hotel but thankfully it wasn't one of those hit in the bombings. Our first night on tour we did spend in a rather ramshackle hotel in Ngombo though. It was a pretty poor fishing village about 15 minutes out of Colombo. Oh there were a few nice hotels and some lovely small restaurants where you could eat really well, but basically it was just a poor village trying to make its money from fishing and tourism. I suppose the tourists will stay away now though won't they. And that was where St. Sebastian Church was. I remember it - slightly set back from what was, pretty much, the one and only road through town. So very, very sad!

St. Sebastian Church, Ngombo

Thursday 18 April 2019

And finally!

Crikey, if I don't finish writing up my "diary" of my trip to Sri Lanka soon I'll forget what we did - and that is the point of this online diary business - well for me at least. It's to write down my memories so I can revisit them later should I wish! Trouble is, I've been away again and only got back last night. Now don't be thinking all this travelling was planned - mostly it wasn't - but "circumstances" happened and I feel like my feet haven't touched the ground since I retired, even if it was mostly of a pleasant nature! Oh well, hopefully it'll start calming down a bit from now on!

Anyway, our last evening in Sri Lanka was spent in Unawatuna where the beach was just lovely (although sadly we only got to spend one night there)! In fact one of my comments back to the travel agent was that it would have been nice to spend maybe another couple of nights there just to relax a little after what turned out to be a very fast-paced trip! I hope they take that into consideration when they are planning the next trip - I think people might appreciate it!

This was the day those of us that wanted to got to get up before the imps and pixies to go out whale "hunting". I have never seen whales in the wild before so I dutifully got up, got dressed in the dark and was on my way to our rendez-vous point by about 5 a.m. The trip organizers had thoughtfully put out sea sickness pills for anyone that wanted them "just in case" and since I didn't know how I would feel after about five hours on a boat out at sea I thought I would take one! It honestly didn't take too long before we came across a pod of dolphins (they were playing with the boat almost immediately), and then a group of pilot whales, which are much smaller than the blue whales we were after but just as fun!!!! But guess what, we lucked out! Now I don't know if we saw four blue whales or, more likely, the same two several times but boy were they impressive! My pictures weren't very good unfortunately and I felt that I was spending too much time trying to get pictures and not enough just breathing in the thrill of being so close to the world's biggest mammal - so I put my camera down and just enjoyed the moment!

When we got back to "base camp" we had a couple of hours to clean up before we headed off to our final destination of Galle - a pretty coastal town built by the Portuguese and then Dutch from the 16th and 17th centuries. Unfortunately this was the one time on our trip that it actually peed down rain so the tuk tuk ride to Galle was a white-knuckle event. The traffic and heat was horrendous, the rain torrential and what's more it was International Women's Day so there was a march also taking place made up of young girls all wearing t-shirts saying "I am the voice, not the echo"! Very appropriate!

In the end the rain stopped and we got to visit Galle and do some shopping before going out to a final, very good evening meal.

The next morning it was again up early and off to the airport. Our guide did ask if we wanted to stop and get pictures of the famous Sri Lankan pole fisherman, but when he explained that the legitimate fishermen were out there before dawn and that "our fishermen" were just locals trying to make a buck out of the tourists with the photos we gave it a miss!

So then we headed straight to the airport for my eleven hour flight back to Zurich. As I flew over the various landscapes I took the same picture out of the plane to show the different "seasons" we were flying through!

Leaving Sri Lanka

Over southern India I think

Somewhere over Turkey I think
When I landed in Zurich and turned my phone back on I got a "welcome to Turkey" message - I just hope they didn't charge me for data roaming! Anyway, I spent a very comfortable night at the Radisson Blu Hotel at Zurich airport before catching the train the next morning for my three-hour journey back to Geneva. We hit a snow storm somewhere around Berne - boy was I suddenly feeling cold!

When I got home we got a pretty heavy snow dump over night, which was somewhat unexpected, but happily the sun came out later in the day leaving the world looking a prettier place altogether!

Tuesday morning

Wednesday morning - now that's much better!

Tuesday 9 April 2019


Our first stop on leaving Kandy the next day was to visit the Botanical Gardens in Peredeniya. I remember when we were in Mauritius many years ago we visited the botanical gardens but made sure to hire a guide and it was so worth it. There were so many things we would simply have missed without her knowledge and the smell of the tree bark she handed to us to sniff has always remained with me - it was what they made Old Spice aftershave out of!

Anyway these gardens were very different from Mauritius - less "intense" to a degree because they were more spread out, but still very, very beautiful. But crikey it was hot! And we saw a whole gaggle of little school kids dashing about playing tag while we were all hopping from one shady spot to another! Still, it wouldn't do if we were all the same would it! But the gardens were truly amazing and it was here, apparently, that Earl Mountbatten often stayed during his time as "Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, Southeast Asia" during WWII!

These little devils were never very far away!

A google image - I couldn't "capture" it!

That's not a very good picture but those are actually bats in that tree - known as flying foxes!

Prasana, our guide - he was excellent!
After leaving the gardens we stopped off at the Luckgrove Spice Gardens - which, again, were really interesting to me. Our guide was very knowledgeable but "weird" in an "Elvis has left the building" kinda way. I don't really know how to explain it but by the time we had gone through the tour he had asked me very insistently for my telephone number!!!! He found out that I lived in France and since he "loved France" I guess I was fair pickins'!  Not that it worked of course but he was sure gonna try! Their spice production was very much centred around ayurvedic medicine - indeed that was their biggest export - and towards the end we all got a short massage (designed to make us buy stuff I guess) that was really great. They used a kind of "hot" oil for the massage and my neck and legs really did have a lovely warm glow after the massage (or it could just have been the handsome young man that was massaging me!). I bought a few items but I was happy to do so anyway because that is an area that really interests me!

Before heading to our final destination of Unawatuna, we stopped off at a small tea plantation. Now frankly this didn't interest me so much because "tea" - you know - but the tea they served us at the end of our visit was actually quite delicious and very refreshing (and not a jug of milk in sight)! They showed us how to drink it with "jaggery" - basically raw sugar - but they don't drop it in the tea they dip it and then take a bite. Either way it was delicious!

But the thing that really caught my attention was when we left the tea plantation we passed a flatbed truck going in the other direction … on top of which was an elephant being transported further inland! Our guide explained that elephants are working animals in any case, but to see an elephant being transported as we would see a cattle truck was really weird. I guess it's the little things that stay in your mind isn't it!

Monday 8 April 2019


Crikey, I don't half get side-tracked don't I!!!!! Anyway, back to Sri Lanka again! Next day we headed up to Kandy, which is situated in the centre of the country. Actually, and going off on a totally different tangent (yet again), I read "The Tea Planter's Wife" by Dinah Jefferies sometime ago, which is set in Ceylon (as it was then) and loved it. I've read a few of her books and love the way she manages to give you the feel of the place in her writing. I remember her describing travelling down to Kandy for supplies and so on and now, having seen the place for myself, I can see how evocative her writing is!

Our hotel for this night was the fairly majestic Queens Hotel. Well I say "fairly majestic" as it had obviously been pretty classy and, I suppose, fashionable, many years ago, but I have to admit it was a little "tired". Oh the main reception and dining room and so on were pretty nice, all beautiful wooden floors, but the rooms and the bathrooms definitely needed money spent on them and updating!

Queens Hotel, Kandy
Actually, my room had a kind of small corridor leading off it with a door to an adjoining room (I'm guessing) and then on to my bathroom, but I did find it somewhat "spooky" so whenever I feel like that I always wedge either a chair or my suitcase up against the adjoining door "just in case"! On our trip there was a group of three friends who travelled together once a year, having met up in India on a previous trip. They were about my age, I would guess, or maybe just a couple of years younger. Anyway, while they were friendly enough they pretty much kept to themselves and did their own thing, so I got quite a shock the next morning when one of the woman said she had had a man banging on her door during the night. Now these three could put the booze away and there was also much drinking and revelry coming from a wedding party at the same hotel, but she said it frightened the life out of her! I don't know if she called reception but I certainly would have and asked them to send someone up to make him go away! Then the next morning we were told to put our suitcases outside our rooms by 7.30 a.m. so that the porters could load them on to the bus. I was at the end of a long corridor in the penultimate room and there was a Buddhist monk just "prowling" around as I was putting my suitcase out. All the different nationalities were pretty much kept on separate floors and I'm 100% certain he wasn't staying in that corridor so I made an excuse to go back to my room "to check on something" and he was just coming out of the last room in my corridor where the door was unlocked! You know, the one with the adjoining door to my room! He wasn't staying in that room and he definitely gave me the creeps, what with the hotel having a bit of a feel like the hotel in "The Shining". Can't say I was unhappy to leave there!

A group of us decided to go out for dinner that evening and again the food was very good, after which we went to a display of Sri Lankan dancing (and drumming - which was pretty impressive). Both the men and the women wore beautiful costumes and as long as it doesn't go on forever I actually enjoy it very much!

Anyway, the whole point of that stopover was to visit the Temple of the Tooth (which, it is said, contains a shrine housing one of Buddha's teeth), and the temple was indeed really spectacular! Whenever you visit these temples you are expected to cover your arms and your legs (at least as far down as your knees - both men and women) AND your head must be uncovered and shoes are not allowed (although you could walk around in socks). Now at some of the other temples I saw people in shorts, which I thought was disrespectful, but nobody said anything to them. At this temple, however, there was no way anyone would have gotten in if they didn't meet the strict dress code. The men went in through one door and the women through another, and although I had on long trousers and a shawl to cover my arms, there was a lady security guard there who tugged my shawl high up to my neck and knotted it (the shawl not my neck)! Our guide, Prasana, told us that one time he had a Turkish lady on one of his trips and she insisted that she was going to keep her veil on - but there was no way she would get past the security at the temple like that! Oh she kicked up a big fuss but there was no doing. My thoughts are "if you are adamant that you are not removing your veil, why go visit a temple in the first place"? Doesn't make sense to me!

The temple, of course, was stunningly beautiful but very crowded and I was as hot as hell with my torniquet of a shawl! But it was definitely worth a visit, although I felt my pictures couldn't do it justice so had to use some google pictures to try to show how beautiful it was!
The lake at Kandy

The Temple of the Tooth
As I say, I don't feel that even the google pictures do it justice - but it really was just stunning and so worth the visit!

Thursday 4 April 2019

And I thought winter was over!!!

I had an appointment set up for today to get my winter tyres switched to summer tyres but when I woke up the electricity was off and I looked out my window to see this. Damn!

Actually that wasn't the half of it as it snowed most of the morning, so I would guess we got about eight inches in all, judging by the state of my car. The garage just laughed when I called them to cancel the appointment - obviously they were up to their eyeballs in snow too. Still, it didn't last too much longer as the electric came back on (and hence the heating), the sun came out and the roads are (finally) looking pretty decent again after the snow plough came round. Hopefully most of it will be gone by morning, although I understand getting to work was, once again, a laugh a minute for most people!

Tuesday 2 April 2019

I think I'm in love ... well not really, but "yay" me anyway!

I had an appointment last week with my bank to organize the final pay-off of my mortgage at the end of this month. I had calculated I owed about 90,000 Swiss francs (that's just over $90,000) but "allowed" 95,000 in my calculations just in case. Well I was bang on and I'm so glad 'cos if I had messed up somehow and "forgotten" or "missed" an additional, massive amount I would have been totally screwed now that I've retired! Anyway, I'm all signed up and "it's all mine!!!!!!" as of 26 April. So that's a relief! As I was talking to her, though, I happened to mention the situation of my brother and how we had managed to sign him up for a funeral package just before he died so that everything was taken care of for his sons … and that's when she pulled out the relevant paperwork for me! Well actually it wasn't telepathy as she reminded me she had actually called me for something when I happened to be in Wales for the funeral so had put together the basic "package" and intended to bring it up at my appointment. Wise minds think alike I guess. Not that thinking about your own funeral is a barrel of laughs but I realized that I wanted to avoid my sons having all that to deal with "if and when". It doesn't cover a burial plot but I want to be cremated anyway, so she said I would have to sign up for spot in a "cremation pillar" if that's what I wanted!! Nah, I told her I wanted to be cremated in banana leaves (not possible apparently - although I think a raffia coffin is) and then my ashes scattered on the mountains behind my house. Apparently that's illegal but then there's not much they can do about a carrier bag with a hole in it is there! And since the mortgage insurance will now drop off my monthly payments the amount saved will now pay for my funeral package. Great fun! I just have to mention it to my boys now, but at least that's checked off my "to do" list! That should be an interesting conversation next time they come for dinner!

After everything was signed I asked her if she could tell me how much interest I had saved by paying off my 17 year mortgage in seven years and she said she couldn't do it just like that. So when I got home I took my original loan amortization paperwork and worked out that I saved roughly €32,000!!! I know it's complicated switching from euros and Swiss francs but that's the way it is over here. Wow, €32,000 (that's almost $36,000)! I tell ya, it was so worth it knuckling down and throwing as much as possible at that mortgage. Well, in all honesty, if I hadn't done that I wouldn't be retired now (or any time soon I suspect). So yay me!

On the not so "yay me" side, I just received my mobile phone bill covering the period I was in Sri Lanka! Bloody hell. €120!!!! It's usually about €30, and since I crossed the border every day for work I knew to keep mobile roaming turned off, but 5-6 times when I was in Sri Lanka I switched it on briefly to check my messages! Well lesson learned I guess!!! And another horror story … I was in the newsagent's on Saturday buying stamps and I told the man next to me to go ahead as I was rummaging about in my purse. So he asked for one of those little "roller thingies" to roll his own cigarettes "because they were cheaper that way". Out of curiosity I asked the lady how much a carton of 200 was and she said €86!!!!! Bloody hell, I used to buy my ex's cigarettes every week in a vain bid to stop him going into town to buy them (after which he always ended up legless in the bar opposite the newsagents - yeah, that really worked well!), but crikey! €86!!! And to be honest my ex would get through two cartons a week because he would light them up and leave them burn in the ash tray after only taking a couple of drags!!! I'm so glad I'm not paying for them any more. He did tell me around this time last year that he had quit smoking three months earlier. Good for him as I'm sure it can't be easy. But I did point out how glad I was not to be living with him at that time - or any time since actually!!! I don't know if he has remained "quit" as I don't have any contact with him by choice, but since my next door neighbour was taken seriously ill in January (hospitalized with pneumonia) and she has had to quit I can see how hard it is on her. But she no longer has that rasping cough and sounds so much better! I'm so glad I never started though!

On a totally different subject (Brexit - yay Brexit) I had dinner with my old friend last Wednesday and it was good to have a catch up after so long. She is British and lives in France like me. She has her paperwork pretty squared away to get her resident's permit for France to be followed by her request for naturalization. I'm gonna wait until this whole debacle is sorted (if it ever is), so she's ahead of the game at least. It was important to her anyway because she gets a small UK pension which her daughter is using while she is studying in the UK and there is some talk that UK pensions of British expats might no longer be index-linked! Great fun, screwed over again, after not having a vote to begin with. Anyway, she was telling me that her son has just been offered a job in Switzerland. For which he needs what they call a "frontalier permit". For which he needs proof that he is legally resident in France. For which he now needs to apply for a resident's permit. And for which the local French administrative offices are no longer giving appointments for us to hand in our paperwork! Like I saw on a sign in Wales - "bollocks to Brexit"! I'll drink to that!

And finally, I had my appointment with another tax guy today after getting the shock of my life when the last "expert" told me that I would have to pay €29,000 tax on my 132,000 lump sum when I was expecting to pay just over €9,000! I went back and forward with him until a colleague in a similar situation took it up with the local tax authorities, who basically told her my "expert" didn't know his a$$ from a hole in the ground. So I got an appointment with this other guy today. When I showed him what expert no. 1 had given me he burst out laughing and said you had to be careful as there were a lot of "charlatans" out there (I know, that probably sounds better in French than English!). But he confirmed what the tax people had told my colleague and now I will be paying the €9,000 figure and not his €29,000 figure! Wow! Just wow! I'm so relieved. As I told my new "I'm in love with you" tax guy, I just want everything to be in order as I can't afford for the tax people to come back in a couple of years time saying I owe them €20,000 (plus a fine probably). So a good day all round. And "yay me" like I said!