England

Happy New Year. As we say good bye to one of the most unusual years of our lifetime, it seems a fitting time for me to post another entry.

We entered 2020 in the unfamiliar position of having no trips abroad already organised. Our primary intention was to ensure we took the girls back to India again at some point last year. We then quickly added in our usual mix of relaxing breaks and individual holidays into our diary. By the end of January, we booked ourselves an all inclusive break to Phuket for the family, a girly break in Dubai, a weekend in Majorca for me, and a week long Yoga holiday in Sardinia for my husband, as well as four days on the Isle of Wight with some friends. However, by the time I returned from Dubai, it was becoming clear that the whole world was about to change beyond recognition. By now, we all know only too well, the impact the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 has had. The devastating effects of COVID-19 have been a matter of daily news for most the year, but the enforced restrictions have also thrown up a number of opportunities for change. I have time this to take a step back and reflect.

Unable to travel overseas, we turned our attention towards England. Like many other people, I’m sure, we’ve spent so much of our free time visiting foreign countries, that we’ve seen very little of the country we actually live in. This year, using the U.K. Government guidelines to direct us, we explored places in England.

Around our house

Around our house in North London, there are a number of interconnected nature trails, green walks and bridle paths, which sprawl out over several miles. So, within a few minutes walk from where we live, we were able to immerse ourselves in a feeling of being away in the countryside. For a short while, we were liberated for a short while from our lockdown. We discovered, that around London there exists a vast network of Long Distance Walking Paths, including the well known London Loop and Capital Ring Walk, which are easily accessible all over the city.

As the limitations on making journeys eased, we ventured slightly further out of London in all directions, and finally visited a few of England’s famous sites that had long been on our list, and some others that we found incidentally. Wherever we went, there was always a fantastic gastropub near by where we could refuel.

Further afield…

Less than an hour North, we made a half day trip to Hitchin Lavender, where the buzzing of the bees and scent from the fields, made our picnic feel like a meditation.

Out to the West we visited the neighbouring English Heritage sights of Stonehenge and Old Sarum. We also spent a few days in the Cotswolds, where we hiked to the source of River Thames, and cycled round lakes. Closer to home, we made a day trip to The Long Walk & Deer Park in Windsor.

Instead of Majorca, I went down for a weekend to Weymouth, on the famous Jurassic Coast. We stayed at the award winning Gloucester House Bed and Breakfast, and incorporated a visit to Durdle Door beach.

In the South East, we found there was much to see in the garden county of Kent. The quaintness of the old city of Canterbury, the variation between the coastal towns of Whitstable, Tankerton, Herne Bay and St Margaret’s Bay, and history at Dover Castle, set against the natural spectacle of the White Cliffs, all served to keep the whole family intrigued. On our way back we visited Battle Abbey, the sight of the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Reflection…

I know that 2020 was an extremely difficult year for so many. Perhaps now, more than ever, I remain ever grateful for all that I have. So, I want to take this moment to focus on some of the valuable lessons I have learnt:

Firstly, the positive impact on the environment of the global lockdown in the first half of the year, was a strong reminder of how much pressure modern living has had on the health of the planet. Some amazing photos that were circulated at the time, captured what regenerative power the Earth possesses. Seeing this has inspired me to be even more mindful of the effects of my own actions.

Being restricted in my freedom to travel, taught me to, ‘remain present’… That there is beauty and learning to be had everywhere. Where ever I am now, is where I need to be.

Most importantly, I am drawn back to Vedic ideal that has been that basis of much of my travels, and the inspiration for this blog:

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्). This Sanskrit phrase is found in verses of a number of Vedic texts which document the philosophy of Ancient India. It is most commonly taken to mean, ‘The Whole World Is One Family’. Although it has been necessary to spend most of the past 12 months living apart, little has done more to help us recognise our common humanity, than the COVID-19 pandemic. The solutions too, will only be possible by maintaining a collective responsibility and working together, as we have been. I hope that the ecological succession that emerges from this ‘forest fire of our time’, will allow us to thrive again for many years to come.

Dubai

Ten years after my first trip to Dubai, I came here for a third visit. As with previous holidays, I again picked the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This time was ’girls only’ , and I saw a vibrant other side to the Emirates!

The friend I came out with, also doubles up as my personal trainer back home, so although we did indulge in Dubai’s luxury, fine food and night life, we also kept physically active with invigorating runs on the beach, and comfortable workouts in the Mina A’Salam Hotel’s gym. On our first day, the outside temperature was colder than I expected, but thankfully, it warmed up over the five days, and we were able to enjoy the swimming pools too. Coincidentally, we’d timed this holiday at the same time as the English Premier League’s Winter Break, and so we met a few professional footballers, who seemed to have had the same idea as us. Towards the end of our stay, Ashley Cole had started up a soccer school, but none of the Premiership players signed up, and nor did we.

The restaurants, bars and nightclubs we went to are worth a mention. Each one delivered on quality food, intoxicating drinks and a party atmosphere that made the vacation.
During our time, we ate at; La Parrilla on the 25th floor of Jumeriah Beach, Trattoria Toscana in the Souk Madinat, and Tortuga at Mina A’Salam, drank at Trader Vic’s, and went clubbing at; 1 Oak, Base, Nargui Five and WHITE Dubai to see Maluma.

We filled the remainder of our time playing in the Wild Wadi Water Park which we had unlimited access to as Jumeirah Beach Guests, and relaxing and recharging by the pool, before we returned home to resume our duties as devoted mothers.

Chittenden, Vermont

My final trip abroad for 2019 was for a beautiful family Winter wedding in Vermont.  After arriving at Boston Logan International Airport, we drove three and a half hours through three states.  The journey was notable only for how magical the forests in New Hampshire look with even just a little snow.

Naturally, the majority of the time was spent at the wedding functions.  However, there was enough time in between for us to take on a couple of short hikes too.  For our first trek, we ventured North from our accommodation, the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, along some of the snow covered trails in the forest.  The following day, we headed West, this time navigating an icy path down to the frozen Chittenden Reservoir lake.  Although we the ski season should have been well underway, there hadn’t been anywhere near enough snow, and all the pistes were closed.  As you might expect, ‘climate change,’ got the blame.  Nevertheless, a few flurries here and there, and the festive vibe ensured the atmosphere and wedding photos were as the bride and groom had hoped for.

Our return flight was scheduled late in the evening, which gave us about five spare hours on our final day.  As avid collectors of Hard Rock Cafe Guitar Pins, my brother-in-law and I decided that this time would be best spent by taking the opportunity to add to our collections with a pin from Boston.  In order to do so, we paid an extortionate fee for parking, and so restricted ourselves to walking around the Faneuil Hall area and North End after completing our purchase, in which the most striking features for me were the number of Irish pubs, and Italian restaurants, respectively.  I am aware of Boston’s history, and perhaps other parts of the city may be more interesting, but as the Cold Front finally rolled in, after a quick meal at Antico Forno, our thoughts quickly turned to the warmth of the airport departure lounge.  We may well have reason to pass through Boston again in the future, and if we do, will be sure to explore the other areas.

As with many of our holidays in the past few years, one of our main considerations was whether this trip would have enough benefit for our children.  In the end, the precious time spent with family, experiencing the magic of the natural outdoors, getting in more physical activity, and seeing first hand, some the effects of global warming, was justification for pulling them out of school for a few days.  We look forward to more travels ahead.

Disney World, Florida

This one was for the kids!  A couple of years ago, we had discussed organising a two week fly-drive vacation to Disney World, Florida, amongst our wider friend circle, and identified this Summer as the one to go in.  In the end, we made the trip with one other family. Knowing this holiday was inevitably going to be expensive, we waited for a flight sale to book our flights and car hire in a package, and opted to fly in to Tampa, as this worked out considerably cheaper.  We also waited for Disney’s Two Weeks For The Price of One promotion on their Multi-Park Entries, before purchasing our passes.  We rented a 9 bed / 7 bath Luxury Villa at Solara Resort, Kissimmee, co-hosted by Margarita and Maireddy.  Despite being much bigger than what we needed, due to the affordable price, it fell comfortably within our budget, and the space itself was the perfect environment to relax in for both the adults and children as we took time out from the amusement parks.

The tickets we purchased gave us 14 days unlimited entry to six Disney parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot Centre, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach Water Park, and Typhoon Lagoon Water Park.  Making the most of all that was on offer (and indeed all that we had paid for), required some logistics and planning.  Our package included Magic Bands, which although not essential, were a nice feature, that simplified daily entrance to the parks, allowed us to check in at the Fast Pass+ queues for the rides, connect the Memory Maker Digital Photo Pass, and left us with a nice wristband  souvenir each.  Magic Bands can be purchased as extras by day-trippers if desired, but otherwise the plastic credit card style Admission Cards you get on  your first arrival do the same job.  In our case, to collect, activate and link our magic bands, we had to visit the Guest Relations in Disney Springs, which was a bit inconvenient and time consuming, as it would have been so much easier if we were simply able to do this in one of the theme parks.  Once our wristbands were linked to the My Disney Experience App on our smart phones, we were finally, fully operational.  With this, the Fast Pass+ feature allowed us to reserve queue jumps on three rides at one park per day, but there were limitations.  We only seemed to be able to book the Fast Passes up to ten days (the website says 30 days) in advance, and not all the rides were available all the time, but nevertheless, it made a huge difference to the quality of our experience.

We picked a peak time of year to visit, there were large crowds, especially in The Magic Kingdom, it was very hot and humid, and there was some rain most days.  Thankfully, as we had so many days available to us, we didn’t feel a pressure to cram everything in.  Guided by the availability of the fast passes, we deliberately never spent much more than half a day at a particular theme park in one go, and minimised the number of meals we ate there, as we were keen to avoid the largely poor quality expensive fast food.  I believe that having this luxury meant we weren’t all exhausted all the time, and could enjoy the attractions.  At $25 per day, parking was steep, but an unavoidable extra cost.   To compensate for this, we were a little thrifty when it came to souvenirs, checking the Disney Outlet Stores, unofficial souvenir stores outside the parks, and online retailers, before buying the gifts we wanted.

Aside from the Parks, we spent some quality time with our Floridian family, had fun in the pool and other facilities at the villa / resort complex, and went shopping for bargains in the Orlando Vineland and Orlando International premium outlet malls.  We made the decision to not go to the Waterparks, although they were included in our ticket price, giving us some ‘days off’ from Disney, that really proved to be reenergising highlights of their own.

My memory of going to Disney World as a child is of fast rides, meeting my favourite Disney characters, and the spectacular fireworks shows.  As an adult, the experience is quite different.  The rides definitely seemed slower than 30yrs ago, I was much more aware of the crowds, and have lost the patience for queuing that I used to have.  So, to ensure the main objective of the holiday was being met, we asked the children for their thoughts: ‘We loved everything!’, ‘The Everest Ride was my favourite,’ said our eldest, ‘I liked the Toy Story Rollercoaster best,’ said the youngest, ‘We didn’t mind queuing in the heat,’ were the happy responses we got.  This was a fabulous holiday, in which the kids had a great time, and will hopefully remember for a long time.