Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Zip World Velocity at Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda, North Wales – we finally did it!

Was it exciting? Of course it was – it was exactly how you thought it would be, an exhilarating whizz down “the fastest zip line in the world” and at 1 mile long, the longest in Europe. You must book in advance and get there before your allotted time to sign in etc. We were a group of 6 – 4 “zippers”, 1 observer plus 1 who was just 2lb over the weight limit (remember this is with all your clothes and boots on) so couldn’t take part. We were kitted up in red boiler suit, hard hat, goggles and harness. .

I expected the boiler suit to be padded, but it is thin nylon so you must wear warm gear underneath. The staff fit you into the harness to make sure everything is safe, then we walked up a bit of a slope to the little zipper, the first shorter zip wire across to the truck which takes you up the steep quarry to the BIG zip wire!

Basically, you lie down on the platform, they attach your harness to zip wire carrier, adjust your straps and you stretch out with your feet on the metal bar. The worst bit then is “let go of the platform now..” which leaves you just suspended while they check straps again. 3-2-1 and off you go! What a fantastic buzz!

The difficult bit is when you stop at the end and they bring the platform up to support you (still lying flat out) as they release the carrier. We were all a bit wobbly as we tried to stand up and you can see why there are weight restrictions. They record your weight on your wrist band so that they can adjust the carrier – add a small ‘sail’ to slow you down a fraction or add weights if you are very light. The heavier you are, the faster you go – on average 1 mile in around 1 minute.

We checked with the doctor before booking for my husband, explaining that there is actually no physical lifting which is what sets off his angina, so he had the go ahead and he has had no ill-effects at all, not even in the days following. If we two oldies can do it, it must be worth a try! Our friend is on a diet so we are all going again when he has lost a few pound – mind you, they are planning the same zip wire attraction in the Bahamas next year. Mmmm…

India - Tombs and Temples and wonderful sights to see

Of course, what you really want to see on this tour of the real India is the tombs and temples, the splendour of the architecture and carvings celebrating kings and gods. And we certainly weren’t disappointed.

You can see Golconda Fort from Hyderabad, so a tour is a must. It is an impressive structure, and I loved the notion of great wooden gates with huge rounded metal spikes at around 12-15 foot height “to repel elephants”. Oh yes, and the moat where crocodiles would repel foot soldiers – naturally.

Nearby are the Qutb Shahi tombs, an excellent example of the basic structure of tombs and mausoleums and superb craftsmanship. Many of the mausoleums were built up to 100 years before the Taj Mahal. The Tombs of the Bahamani Kings were beautiful with exceptional carvings that tell a story of gods and the trials they endured – art lovers could spend days just studying the tombs in this region of India!

Bidar Fort is another splendid fortified structure, this time with a winding path up to the top plus 168 shallow steps, each marked with orange and yellow stripe at the edge to show you are being led to a Hindu Temple. At the Ibrahim Rosa mausoleum, Bijapur, there is a great example of the “walking tree” – a banyan tree that puts down aerial roots so that it appears to travel long distances over time.


A highlight of the trip has to be Gol Gumbaz and the whispering dome. A beautifully proportioned building, it has an impressive unsupported dome and as you enter, there is a particular spot to stand on and clap your hands - a brilliant echo! Climb a steep, uneven set of stone steps within a very narrow spiral in the tall corner tower to reach the dome gallery, elbows rubbing against the walls sometimes.  

“Just whisper then listen” the guide told us. Wow is appropriate at this point – the quietest whisper echoed clearly around the dome. He then went to the other side of the gallery, rustling a piece of paper against the wall of the dome. Pure magic – we could hear it loud and clear. What an incredible feat of engineering.

Cave temples at Badami are carved out of the rock face, decorative carvings on the walls and pillars depicting stories of Vishnu, Krishna and the Hindu gods. The beautifully-carved temple above the main one was, apparently, a practice run! Many people wanted photographs with us, including two giggly little girls who thought our names were extremely funny for some reason.

A well-known visitor site to witness the sunset is at Hampi. It does involve a bit of a climb to the temple, then a scramble over smooth boulders to find the best spot to see the land below lit by the golden-red rays of the setting sun. An extra attraction was the monkey gods – two men in exotic brightly-coloured costumes, clearly attracted to Andy in particular!

The final leg of the journey is to Goa by local (6.15am) train, in this case an hour late but a surprisingly comfortable journey, wide seats with sleeper bunks above if you want them. Our packed breakfast from the hotel was “interesting” with cold chips, a boiled egg, 2 small bananas and juice. The chai wallers come along the train regularly offering sweetened milky tea or coffee. We had clear views from the windows, and even better view by hanging out of the doorway to capture a photo of the front of the train as we rounded a bend! 

The old town is an interesting mix of Indian and Portuguese style, architecture and food. Our visit to one of the main beaches of Goa was a bit disappointing, very busy and touristy so not the wide expanses of beach we were all expecting.

As the Explore India outline states, this is an opportunity to experience the real India outside the usual Golden Triangle. It inevitably covers a lot of ground, and every day brings you to a new sight and experience. It is tiring sometimes but never boring, and always lives up to its promise of being memorable, whether you want to explore the food, art and architecture, history and/or culture of this incredibly diverse region.
Full reports on www.silvertraveladvisor.com

I took part in a Press visit to India - Hyderabad to Goa - with "Explore" January 2017. 
January is a good time to visit India as there are lots of celebrations for Hindu New Year. Hyderabad was heaving, literally hundreds of thousands of people crammed along narrow streets, vying with bikes and taxis for a tiny stretch of path to walk along. A lively, boisterous atmosphere as people jostled to visit hundreds of market stalls set up on the way to the Temple.

We were hemmed in at one point between pedestrians, motorbikes, taxis and 3 cows so only stayed for a short while as it was too difficult to move around. It is a fascinating mix of brilliant colours, noise and atmosphere (but not bad smells despite the animals wandering around). Tiny shops and stalls along the narrow streets are full of richly-coloured fabrics, very difficult to resist – maybe a silk scarf or two? As a mix of Hindu and Muslim people, it was fascinating to see them side-by-side, the women in full black burka chatting and laughing as they bought fabulous fabrics alongside Hindu women in their own traditional dress.
Outside the main cities, each village has its own celebrations and traditions - as we all do. We drove past a field at Changlara, and were lucky to spot the annual market selling pairs of oxen, all beautifully decorated to give a bit of competitive advantage. This was an unexpected chance to speak to local farmers who were all keen to be photographed, explaining that this market was specifically for the poorer farmers who needed the animals for work on the land. They were certainly magnificent beasts in their finery – quite alluring really.
Even in the big towns, animals are left to roam freely, ignoring people and traffic content in the knowledge that ultimately everyone will avoid colliding with them. You soon become blasé about the animals once the novelty has worn off.
Accommodation and food      
We stayed at different hotels over our 10-day trip, 2 nights each at Hampi and Goa, so the full tour provided by Explore will include more nights’ accommodation. The earlier hotels were sometimes a bit basic, often noisy and in need of some renovation, but later ones were much better. The first hotel in Hyderabad, Quality Inn Residency, was comfortable with a very good choice at breakfast although rooms on the front were noisier due to the major road works outside.
The Krishna Heritage at Badami is a beautiful colonial-style set of buildings offering a large suite rather than just a room for each guest, and the next two nights at Krishna Palace in Hospet were also very comfortable. Our final two nights were in Goa at the Heritage Panjim Inn, excellent food and bar (few and far between in some areas we visited) and a wonderful 4-poster bed!
Breakfasts were a bit hit and miss, resorting to small square slices of sweet sliced bread toasted (almost) and some form of jam, though no butter, and omelette sometimes, but the better hotels offered a much better choice whatever your taste. Lunch was generally an interesting mix of dishes that we could all share and try something new. Clarks Inn in Badami is a vegetarian restaurant, as many are in India, serving lovely subtle flavoured food, not too hot but very tasty – I would certainly eat there again!

Goa was also a favourite for food. This was the old town of Goa rather than down on the coast so a fascinating mix of Indian and Portuguese food, style and architecture. We went to a small local restaurant for dinner, lots of tiled door frames and traditional features with a great atmosphere, friendly staff and excellent food. Wine is often in short supply, or extremely expensive, but beer is always available. 
For our last day, lunch was at The Ritz Club in the town. A very dingy set of stairs up to the first floor – as Andy said, more Ritz cracker than Ritz Hotel! – to a waiting doorman leading us into a beautiful restaurant. Food was exceptional, the fish Thali going down very well with most of the group. I stuck to dry chicken tikka and shredded salad which was very tasty, and fresh pineapple juice was served in a pineapple-shaped glass jar with lid.
This restaurant is so popular with locals, they were queueing out of the door for at least half an hour to get a table. The whole point of the tour is to experience India as it really is, so restaurants were chosen because local people eat there. We relied on Indira to choose dishes that gave us a chance to experience lots of new tastes, and this worked out perfectly.

 Typical thali dish

 The next blog about the trip to India features Tombs & Temples

Thessaloniki Part 2 – for lovers of the arts, history and gastronomy 
Travel out from the city to Vergina to visit the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Another ‘must see’, this is an amazing museum above the actual burial chambers. A fantastic collection of artefacts in gold and other precious metals, all displayed to perfection. I think that few people in UK have heard of these finds, even if they have studied Ancient Greece, or aware of the historical importance of the region. Absolutely worth a visit. www.visitgreece.gr

Not far from this site is the Moni Prodromou Monastery, set high up on the steep sides of honeycombed cliffs and a myriad of caves used by monks for rest and contemplation. Walls of the central church are covered in murals depicting biblical and historical scenes. We were warmly welcomed with a cup of rich, black coffee and a traditional sweet of crystallized green fig with honey – difficult to get into with a fork but worth the struggle!
Still in this region of northern Greece is the historically important city of Veria. The starting point for a tour is the mosaic-covered memorial to the Apostle St Paul who preached from the steps in the square to the first Christians in the region. It is a fascinating town with narrow twisting streets in the Christian Quarter, to escape persecutors more easily, and a strong Jewish Quarter with a beautiful synagogue now, sadly, rarely used. This once housed the sacred scroll in a gilt-lined cabinet but now lost as it was taken during WWII.
A highlight of our visit was the Gerovassiliou Domain winery. What a spectacular setting, with new buildings housing ultra-modern winemaking equipment, landscaped gardens, and exceptional artworks indoors and out by internationally known Greek artists. Not only do they produce smaller quantities of high quality wines, using only their own grapes, but these wines consistently win recognition and awards, ranking 6th in the world for some of their red wines. Yet we would never instantly think of Greek wine as the quality one to buy. 
Having tasted 5 of them, including a sweeter dessert wine I would not normally enjoy, I can confirm that they really are remarkable. Not only can you enjoy a tour of the winery and sample a range of their wines, they also have one of the biggest collections of corkscrews in the world – you would not believe there could be so many ways to open a bottle of wine! www.gerovassiliou.gr

Clearly, for lovers of food wine, art and culture, Thessaloniki and this region of northern Greece is an exciting place to explore and should be listed as an exciting travel destination for the future. The city has 15 UNESCO monuments, 29 museums, festivals and concerts happening every year. Public transport is frequent and includes travel further afield. There are thermal baths available around the region and Kerkini Lake is a centre for lots of outdoor activities, so whatever holiday experience you prefer Thessaloniki seems to be an excellent option. 
Also see the first part of the blog and the full reports at 

Thessaloniki - a surprisingly exciting city destination
Despite a cool evening breeze, though still very warm to us, the bars and cafes along the promenade are packed with locals enjoying the balmy evening, chatting and drinking with friends. There is a lively buzz and friendly, vibrant atmosphere, a feeling of being relaxed and safe in the city.  Thessaloniki is an ideal base to explore the area, particularly for those interested in the history and culture of Ancient Greece, as well as the superb food and wines.
The 7 km- long promenade is focal point for people to walk, jog, cycle or simply stroll along by the sea, passing the White Tower - an emblem of the city, its name referring to a prisoner painting it white in exchange for his freedom, covering up the walls blood-stained from executions. 

First impressions as you drive into the city – old buildings, not architecturally beautiful as many are 20th century rather than older styles, and everywhere covered in graffiti. However, this first impression should be ignored! Walk around narrow, cobbled streets down to the sea, the old port having been revived with new museums, photography gallery, cinema and various cultural centres for different exhibitions, events and celebrations throughout the year. This is also the favourite spot for dreamy-eyed young (and old?) lovers to stretch out and talk into the night. Sounds good to me.

So many bars and restaurants to choose from, especially the cool shaded tables set out in the street. What we associate with southern European countries – envy really – is the opportunity to sit, eat and drink with friends without huddling in boots, coats and woolly hats! Take a half-day city tour and you will really get a feel for the history of Thessaloniki and Greece from ancient times. Clearly a strategic position in the Aegian sea, there were three distinct ages of occupation from Romans, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Given this history, looking more closely at the city, there are fantastic churches, synagogues and mosques that contain preserved sections of frescoes and finely-detailed mosaics. 
The last major fire was 1917 – curtains set fire in the kitchen of an old wooden-construction house, the fire spreading rapidly and destroying huge areas of the whole city. Best to avoid working in the kitchen I think.  It really is worth having a guided tour, although you can explore on your own using the hop on- hop off bus number 50 @ 2 Euros for the day (when we were there). Their leaflet also suggests short walks you can do from the bus stops. www.expertguides.gr 
This is a big, bustling city full of life and plenty to see. Traffic is a bit hectic, so you have to have your wits about you, but it is fine if you keep to the proper crossing places. It is not ideal for anyone with mobility issues or wheelchair-users, although across the Bay it is quieter and easier to get around. However, if you love to explore during city breaks, this is a great place to visit. Next blog is about places to see in the area
Full reports can be seen www.silvertraveladvisor.com  , via their link on their Facebook page 26th August 2017, and were also featured in 50+ Magazine

Had a great day making my Open Spine bound book at Carole King’s workshop on Wednesday. Lots of different papers to choose from for the cover so this time I picked a very girly, red-hearts on blue background – definitely not my usual choice! Bit fiddly in places, but we all finished on time and everyone’s was very different.
We were lucky that Carole had cut the two card covers for each of us beforehand, and each bundle of pages (signatures) so that we could focus on creating the book. As the tapes go across the spine of the book on the outside, they have to be stuck to the inside of the cover board - so we cut out layers to match where the end of the tapes would be stuck. You can just about see the drawings measuring where to cut in the pictures here. Stuck outside cover on one board then carefully stitched all the pieces together. As you can see from the spine of mine - almost a perfect pattern!
I love my book so will use it for all the small sketches and paintings I have done over the years rather than just look at a beautiful – but empty – book! Look out for her courses contact@nantdesigns.co.uk and other courses at Ceridwen Centre, Drefach maggie@makeitinwales.co.uk

Kathakali – the classical dance drama of Kerala, south India - UK Tour 2017.

Theatr Mwldan, Bath House Road, Cardigan Ceredigion SA43 1JY www.mwldan.co.uk

17th October 2017 7.30pm – touring other theatres in UK until 18th November

Note if you book tickets in advance, there is often an invitation to see how the magical 3-dimensional make-up is applied before the performance. Scenery is minimal, but the characters just take over the stage with their fierce, imposing and elaborate costumes and head-dresses. It is mime story-telling accompanied by four drum & percussion players on stage setting the rhythm and pace. As you would expect, it is a bit difficult to follow the story in detail, but there is a short film shown before they start to explain who the characters are and what the story is about. In this case, the ugly wicked step-mother wants to kill the princess, sends the hunter to bring back her heart but he kills a deer instead, the prince wakens her from her poisoned sleep etc etc – so a traditional storyline.

As an all-male cast, it is interesting to see facial expressions of the quite dainty “princess” who wears a modest costume compared with the other characters. For the other characters, it is exaggerated head and body movements to suggest feelings of love, hate, anguish, and definitely anger. Brilliant suggestion of step-mother opening cosmetic jars and applying lipstick, regularly pushing up her heaving bosom (bit like Les Dawson!), and cooking the heart the hunter brings – even scraping her fingers around the inside of an imaginary bowl to get the last bits to eat!
If you enjoy visual theatre, exotic costumes and traditional Indian music, this is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the classical sacred drama developed more than 500 years ago. It also reminded me of my trip to India earlier this year - see another blog here and full reports on www.silvertraveladvisor.com