My Sunshiny Life

{May 8, 2010}   Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I don’t feel I can say I’ve been to Mexico – even though I have.  I haven’t seen the real Mexico.  I had preconceived notions of a dusty landscape, dotted with big, green cacti and a sombrero wearing Mexican man dozing in the shade on a rickety lawn chair.  I didn’t even see one cactus, nor a tumbleweed blowing down the middle of a dusty road. 

You won't find this scene in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a total tourist trap (with tourist prices).  The nightlife is garish and tacky, with 16 year olds dry humping all over town.  Serious frottage.  I knew I was out of my age range when I was staring at them and wondering if their parents knew what they were up to.

There wasn’t an awful lot to do in the area, unless you want to jump in a pool with the poor captive dolphins.  We decided to go snorkelling and again, my expectations were high, featuring turqoise water, neon fish and our little group happily discovering the joys of Mexican sea life.  ARRRRRRRCCCCH (sound of the needle coming off the nature lovers record).  Swap that idyllic scenario for a bunch of boats – far too close to the swimmers, oil slicks on the water and the smell of diesel permeating the air – making me feel incredibly seasick.  Yes, there were fish, but there were more people and we were all swimming on top of each other.   The frustration levels rose higher than the enjoyment levels, and after banging into the umpteenth person and telling a boat driver he was a moron for being so close to us I gave up.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed my holiday and relaxed by the pool with my book every day, loving it.  The food was delicious (although not super cheap), as were the cocktails.  I had a blast spending time with my friends and meeting new friends. The weather was A.MAZING.  I missed the week that everyone spent in the gorgeous villa, although I did get to go there for dinner and Tequila tasting (yum!) and it was LOVELY. 

The villa where my friends stayed the week before I arrived

One Tequila

Two Tequila, three...

I had friends staying in a fabulous resort – check out that pool!  We pretty much had the place to ourselves and you can’t complain about life when you’re sitting poolside, cocktail in hand, reading, gossiping and sleeping.

Now that's a pool!

But was it the holiday I expected?  Not by a long shot.  I’d love to go back someday and discover the real Mexico, away from the resort areas.


{February 18, 2010}   Sunshiny Ski Trip

There’s nothing quite like bonding with your team mates and I think the perfect way to do that is skiing. We went to Champagny in the French Alps, which is postcard picture perfect, a quaint little village with a cheese shop, very cute ski men in the ski shop (cheeky winks help tired muscles when you’re dropping your skis back) and a bubbling stream through the centre of the village.

Champagny Chalet View

Our chalet was absolutely beautiful and slept 19 people.  We had fabulous food, copious amounts of booze (sparkling water for moi) and even a pool, spa and sauna to soothe tired and aching muscles.  Before the trip I loudly proclaimed that I would NOT be getting into the pool, spa or sauna with the guys from work.  I don’t need to see my male colleagues in their swim shorts, it’s not an image I want in my memory banks.  I certainly don’t want them to see me in a bikini!  I got there, sans bikini, and would have gone in naked my muscles were so sore.  I couldn’t have cared less.  I settled for some borrowed shorts and a bra and swam, spa’d and sauna’d my little heart out.

On the first day we took it easy and everyone sat at the pub drinking after skiing.  I’m not drinking this year so that doesn’t hold as much allure as it once did.  I went back to the chalet alone, as dusk was darkening into night and appreciated the solitude and stillness, with snowflakes drifting down covering everything in a beautiful, white blanket of purity.  I caught them on my tongue and thought how lucky I was not to be in dirty, rainy, cold London.  Nature is so raw and powerful and we forget that as we run around the hamster treadmill of life in a big city.

When you’re learning you need a couple of things.  You need some buddies who are at the same level as you and you need a patient instructor.  We were lucky enough to have both of those things.  N, H and me were at the same level and took turns waiting for each other and assuring each other that we could do this, we could get down the mountain and we would get better. 

Another rest break for the dream team

Then we had S, who was our ski instructor for the day.  Normally a funky ass snow board instructor, he gave up carving it up the mountain for a day to teach us, and to rest his knee which he’d mutilated in a snow board accident a few years ago. He was better than our paid instructor the day before and he patiently stayed with us, repeating phrases like “use your edges”  and “follow the S down the mountain.” 

S our patient instructor for the day

S, our patient instructor for the day

Sometimes he’d tell us to stop whining and get up.  You need that when you’ve given up and are lying in the middle of a busy run.

I don't wanna get up!

I don't wanna get up!

Skiing can be the most beautiful thing in the world, when all the planets seem to align, when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing in your hair and you’re gliding down the mountain, with snow flakes glistening in the air like diamonds. 

Skiing through sunshiny diamonds

Then it can be the most frustrating activity in the world and you wonder why the hell you’re clumping about on a mountain at all. 

I  threw an almighty tantrum on an icy steep slope when I couldn’t get my ski back on.  Sailors would have blushed at the shrieking curses I directed at the mountain, my ski’s and the snow that was trapped on the bottom of my boot, which was hindering the binding process back into the ski.  I would have thrown myself on the ground and kicked whilst screaming, but unfortunately it had taken me about ten minutes to get up after I had fallen over, so I threw my pole down instead (and then picked it up).  Thanks to my hero team of 3 people (N, A and D) who held me up and helped me back into my ski binding as we were slipping down the slope for TEN minutes.  Thank you for not leaving me there to have my tantrum by myself. I might still be there.

After two hours of skiing I finally saw the end in sight and tucked up, ski’s under my arms and headed in a straight line to the bottom.  I picked up speed.  Too much speed.  All the phrases I’d been fed through the day fled from my head in horror.  I didn’t know how to turn, I didn’t know how to stop and I’m sure I was going 30 miles an hour.  I threw myself into the snow to stop before I got any faster.  What courage you can find when you need to go to the loo.

So until next year, when I’m sure I’ll finally be able to nail the parallel.  For now, I’m still very ungracefully snow ploughing my way down the mountain.  But at least I get down.

The Ski Squad

{January 18, 2010}   Blue Monday

So today is meant to be the most depressing day of the year.  Psychologists have come to this conclusion by considering these factors; weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action.

Well, apart from the low motivational levels I hit all other five factors and I feel on top of the world!  Your life is what you make it and I prefer mine with a double helping of happy please. 

I’m taking action to get myself into some balmy sunshiney weather, with good food and good friends.  The anticipation of an exciting holiday is delicious and I’ve been researching flights and hotels for my San Francisco and Mexico trip in April.  The promise of much needed sun is brightening up my days already.  Arriba Arriba!

{October 28, 2009}   Halloween Pumpkin Works of Art

I snapped these fabulous shots of pumpkins whilst in New York recently. Those Americans sure do know how to celebrate the holidays. Fantastically sculptured works of art adorned shop windows all over town, much to my delight.

Sunflower Tower

Pumpkin Lady

Pumpkin Man

Pumpkin World

Pumpkin Warrior

Cheeky (kinda evil) Pumpkin Boy

{October 10, 2009}   Shumai Superstar

After working for the last three days in NYC I wanted to feel like I was on holiday.  Going away for work is totally over rated and I’d rather be at home in my own bed – but having the weekend in NYC was an upside of my trip.

Saturday afternoon was put aside to meet up with Tammy and J.C and to meet little Liam.  The last time I was in New York he was a little bundle swathed in blankets. Now he is a delightful little character that I’ve gotten to know through Tammy and J.C’s facebook updates.  He didn’t disappoint in person either.  Who can’t love a kid who is just as at home in Shun Lee, our dim sum restaurant – eating shumai and pork buns with finesse, as he is on the couch eating macaroni cheese.

Shumair Superstar

Shumair Superstar

The dim sum was ok, the company was fabulous and meeting Liam again was wonderful.  Liam’s verdict on Shun Lee dim sum?  It’s ok (said with a little shrug of his shoulders and the gesture below).  We were on the Upper West Side and the dim sum in China town is ten times cheaper and quite a bit better according to Tammy and J.C.  Next time I’m in town we’ll have to catch up there, I think I’d like them as Chinatown guides, as you could get it so wrong going by yourself!

It's ok

It's ok

Shun Lee Catch Up

Shun Lee Catch Up

{September 23, 2009}   Bellisimo

The bride and groom

I’ve just come back from Maratea, a cute little hillside town on the coast of Italy.  Just down from the Amalfi coast.  A gorgeous little spot that was chosen by Mr and Mrs J to celebrate their nuptials.  The four day event was a fabulous way to hang out with a group of lovely people.  I haven’t had that much fun since band camp, when this one time… Or school camp even when the boys…  never mind.  It was a LOT of fun.

I was chief bridesmaid, which I thought meant I’d have some sort of special tiara, or maybe even a sash for the occasion.  That is Miss Universe apparently, and I have to say there were a few sideways glances when I paraded out after the ceremony in my very high cut one piece – apparently you don’t do that at weddings, that’s Miss Universe as well. 

As chief of the bridesmaids, what you do have to do however, is risk public humiliation by speaking in front of a room full of people.  To say I was nervous is the understatement of the year.  I was having anxiety dreams about it three months ago!  Two days before speech day, I was out by the pool, overlooking the ocean, trying to write out my speech long hand on some scrappy notepaper.  Then I practised in front of my huge crowd of six people.  I nearly threw up, developed an awful stutter and kept laughing slightly hysterically.  NO, the preparation wasn’t going well.  So I changed tack and told everyone at the wedding on a one on one level that I was beside myself with nerves and asked them to laugh loudly, even if bits weren’t funny.

The big day arrived.  Mrs J will remember it as her wedding day, I will always remember it as the day of the speech.  We had 5 hours to get ready, which you think would be ample time for us to put a bit of slap on and paint our toenails.  You’d be surprised at how quickly our prep time disappeared.  40 minutes late we sashayed down the aisle, to the relief of all of those who were assembled, as menacing black clouds rolled in over the hills.  I was given a bottle of Kalms, with the instruction to have 2.  Over the course of the evening I chugged back the entire bottle, they were natural and must work psychologically.  I was past the placebo effect, what I really needed was a valium.  In the absence of ‘mothers little helper’s’ champagne would have to do the trick.

Many glasses of champagne later, a little before dinner dancing and then it was time to be seated for dinner.  Speech time was drawing closer and my nerves were increasing by the second.  Normally an alcohol lightweight, I was chugging back full glasses of red wine, with it seemingly having no effect whatsoever – well in my mind anyway.  The bride did lean over at one point, shift my glass slightly away from me and suggested I eat more food and drink less wine.  Apparently slurring isn’t looked upon favourably in speech making circles.  The other speeches happened around me and I noted that the best man had props – he’d only brought in a toy trumpet that had to be blown at certain parts of the speech.  I didn’t have any props!  I was done for.  The best man’s speech went on for 40 minutes, prolonging my agony.

The result is a little bit of an anti climax really.  I got up, I spoke, people laughed and then I sat down.  No public humiliation, lots of positive feedback  and then on with a magical night of dancing under the stars.  In light of my success I might take up public speaking for a living, conquering your fears and all that.  I suspect I’d turn into a raging alcoholic however, so will stay on my chosen career path and give the bright lights and lecturn a miss for now.

Here’s a toast to the lovely bride and groom, thanks for a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful (there’s that stutter again) day, I had a fabulous time.  mwah x

Shy Flowers

{July 25, 2009}   Drinking Fountains in Rome

Before going to Rome, Lisa told me there were drinking fountains all over the place so you could fill your water bottle up.  Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t do tap water and I sniffily dismissed the notion.  But this water was spring water anyway and absolutely delicious.  Fresh, cold and wonderful in the city heat. 

Drinking Fountain in Rome

Drinking Fountain in Rome

{July 22, 2009}   Fireworks Festival

When walking around in Lipari last Sunday we heard cannons going off. It was a bit weird, but we weren’t going to war with the neighboring island, it was the sign to say ‘let’s let off a load of firecrackers tonight’. Not that we knew that at the time, as we continued about our business, slightly concerned we could be called to arms at any moment.

We went to play Scopa at a bar around the corner. It’s a Sicilian card game, which even has its own special deck of cards. I suspect the boys were making up the rules as they went along, but without Lisa’s guidance how was I to know?  It didn’t take long for us to befriend Katie, a Canadian nanny who was on her last night in Lipari. We had a few drinks and were joined by her friend Cassina, another Canadian nanny who had lived in Lipari for a year. What a fabulous way to spend a year! Local knowledge is everything and they let us in on the local’s secret, taking us down past the port where we watched the most sensational 15 minutes of fireworks. I don’t know what they were celebrating, I don’t even think the locals know… Something about a saint. Well that’s good enough for me, any excuse for a pyrotechnic extravaganza!

Lipari Fireworks

Lipari Fireworks

{July 21, 2009}   Sensational Stromboli

A couple of days ago we went on a boat cruise and took in the island of Stromboli.  To be quite honest I was a grumpy beeeeeatch all day on the boat.  I am not a seafaring sort of girl and have to guard my lily white skin from the sun as well, so I was under the cover of the boat canopy all day, along with the other sweating, speedo wearing old hairy men. GROSS!  Being brushed past by a wrinkly old hairy body (and thats the women as well) is not my favourite idea of how to spend ones day.  Imagine the whole day on a hot tube, while feeling slightly sick and being brushed up against by nearly nude old people.  Yep, it was that good. 

My grace and good humour was in short supply and I relished the time we had off the boat.  We had a quick look around Panarea but were going back there so didnt worry about an exhaustive trek.  Stromboli was another story, it was a funny little port town, with very few inhabitants and a live volcano!!! How is that for a draw card!  Before our trip the rest of my group had been enthusiastically trying to talk me into climbing up to the top.  Adventure is not my middle name and I didnt want a bar of it.  I dont have many rules in life but staying away from hot lava would have to be on the list.  When they realised it was a five hour there and back trek (in the heat!) they decided against it too. 

Taxi, Island Style

Taxi, Island Style

Then we went and had dinner.  I really felt like a lovely big prawn pasta to brighten my mood, but when the prawns came out, tiny with shells still on, it was nearly my undoing.  There were prawn legs all through my pasta!  WHY? Why would you do that?  Youre meant to eat the shells as well.  I wanted to throw myself on the ground and cry, stamp my foot, and kick off into an ear splitting, screaming tantrum.  Of course, I’m an adult so I did no such thing, I just whinged constantly through dinner and viciously poked the offending prawns to one side.

Lisa had squid ink pasta, which is delicious apparently.  I didnt want any, I only like calamari rings, thats as far as me and squid go.

Crustacean Pasta (with the crusts still on!)

Crustacean Pasta (with the crusts still on!)

Squid Ink Pasta

Squid Ink Pasta

Getting back on the boat wasn’t so bad, at least people had clothes on this time and because the sun had gone down I could join the rest of my group on the roof.  It made the world of difference to my grumpy persona, having some personal space and the fresh sea air. 
Then we settled in off the island of Stromboli in the very calm sea (things were looking up) to watch the volcano erupting.  How bizarre!  The photos I took on my little snappy snap camera were rubbish so Ive nicked this image from a postcard.  What a magical experience.  Every time the earth would eject a stream of magma, it would briefly light up the horizon and everyone on the boat would cheer.  It was a very surreal experience. We then lay back on the deck, and fell asleep under the starry sky for the hour long trip back to Lipari.  I must remember that if I’m ever in a grump again, watching a volcano erupt will balance my mood.  Very cathartic.
Sensational Stromboli

Sensational Stromboli

{July 18, 2009}   Pantsville Panarea

We left the sleepy shores of Lipari to party our pants off in Panarea yesterday.  The island is gorgeous, apparently like the Greek Islands, not that Ive been there yet.  White washed buildings, blue paint (the town must have got a special deal for the amount theyve used) and stunning ocean views.  There are no cars on the island and everyone gets around in golf carts.  We took one to the beach, a 20 minute walk in the heat of the day was not even considered and we handed over a kings ransom of nine euros to be driven 5 minutes.

Whitewashed Paradise

Whitewashed Paradise

Stunning Clifftop Sea View

Stunning Clifftop Sea View

The day was searing hot, a little bit TOO hot for my delicate constitution and even under an umbrella (AND parasol, just in case the sun got me) I lay there breathing shallowly, panting like a dog.  I had to retreat to the restaurant at one stage to get out of the brutal sun (any excuse for food is a good one!).  We finally got some relief from the sun as it dipped in the sky and our thoughts turned to our party plans for the night.

Knowing how expensive Panarea is we had our own mini party before decamping to the “clubs”. We bought food, grappa, wine and other necessary supplies.  So far so good.  We scoffed ourselves silly on the best Italian food – parma ham, buffalo mozzarella, stuffed artichokes, risotto balls. HEAVEN! 

Chad with the Grappa Grimace

Chad with the Grappa Grimace

Corruption of an Innocent

Corruption of an Innocent

Panarea was listed in all the guide books as THE place to paaaaartay, well I dont think the travel writers have been here recently!  The islands have been affected by the credit crunch for sure, as the emptier restaurants are obvious and slow trade in the shops is testified to by the locals.  We thought it might have been a bit quiet, but we didnt count on it being DEAD!  We couldnt believe there was no one in our demographic out and about.  It was like there was a war on and all the 20 and 30 somethings had been drafted.  We were left with the old and the very young.  Most disturbing to be drinking next to a bunch of 14 year olds, it was like a tragic school disco.

et cetera