The House in Apremont
When your good friends ask you if you'd like to pop over to France with them to stay a week in their holiday home - there's only one answer. YES of course!!(And thank you!)
My friends bought their lovely holiday bungalow some years ago so I have visited two or three times previously, but they have completely renovated it since then, and it is absolutely gorgeous - and I'm not biased, I just love clean comfortable accommodation - ok, verging on luxury if I'm honest!
In fact the house is so popular, that they rarely get the opportunity to relax and enjoy what they have created, since it is rented out most of the summer months. The house is in the pretty village of Apremont in the Vendee region in the west of France.
Maison Blanc nestles between fairytale chateaux, ancient walled towns, traditional coastal resorts and natural wonders. But best of all, it's a real home from home, with every modern convenience, from Sky TV and Alexa to a modern fitted and fully functioning kitchen. There is also a washing machine in the utility room, which means you don't have to fill your suitcase with more clothes than you need. Towels and bedding are provided.
From the UK it is possible to either fly or drive, and we have done both in the past. This year we flew from Leeds/Bradford airport (local to us here in Yorkshire) to Limoges, but we have previously taken the ferry or flown from East Midlands airport.
For me the beauty of Apremont is the tranquil countryside and the peace and quiet, which may not be for you if you want to party. It is the perfect spot for family holidays, with a double bedroom, two twin rooms, a shower room with loo and a separate toilet. There are games and books in the cupboard, bikes in the garage, and the piece de resistance is the swimming pool in the garden, with plenty of sunbeds, so no need to get up at the crack of dawn to fight over your sun lounger. The home is tastefully decorated and furnished, and the lovely conservatory at the back of the house is light and airy. There are also a number of nearby activities and places of interest to satisfy everyone in the family - leaflets are available at the house.
Closest to the house is a small beach and river, which in summer has swimming and boating available to keep everyone happy, and the best thing is, it's just a 10 minute walk away.
Elsewhere, local amenities and nearby towns are only accessible by driving, so hiring a car is a necessity as public transport is nil.
After a busy and stressful year, I was ready for a little rest and recuperation, so reading a couple of books, relaxing by the pool and pottering around the shops was such a treat. We ate out on the patio when the weather allowed us and there was one magical moment in the late evening when we turned out all the lights as we were locking up. The night sky was a deep indigo and there were more stars than I've ever seen. It was such a clear night - and no street lights - so we could see millions of stars - not all of them very bright, but it conjured up such a perfect feeling of peace and tranquility.
The village has only a handful of shops - a patisserie, a Spar grocery shop, a pretty jewellery shop (yes I bought some earrings!) and a couple of restaurants. Highlight of the day was the stroll to the patisserie for fresh crusty French bread, buttery croissants and pain au chocolat. I was lucky not to come back heavier than when I started, because the bread is so delicious, we ate it every day, usually sitting at the outside patio table in the early morning sunshine.
One of the nearest towns is Challans, and we spent a couple of hours in the morning browsing the shops. It is useful to note that although it wasn't high summer during our visit, the shops operate siesta times and close around lunchtime, re-opening in the late afternoon. But there were still people drinking coffee and beer all day at pavement cafes - all very French!
St Gilles Crux de Vie is the nearest seaside resort to Apremont, with its charming small inlet harbour, Unfortunately we mis-judged the timing and only had a short time there before the shops closed, but we enjoyed a coffee in one of the many cafes and strolled along the harbour after the tide came in. There is also a fabulous old fairground carousel at the end of the pedestrianised street - very picturesque! It is also possible to get a ferry boat to the small island of Ile D'Yeu, though it is a place we have never been - maybe that's something for another visit.
St Gilles was originally two separate towns, St Gille de Vie and Croix de Vie, separated by the River Vie, and grew up around boat building, where today there are now five factories of leading boat builders. Anglers are able to hire boats for the day to take them out into the Atlantic for a spot of sea fishing if that takes your fancy.
Another day we ventured to the seaside resort of Les Sable de L'Onnes, which has the most amazingly long golden sandy beaches - a dream during the summer months, and ideal for young families. It is also the largest local port, bringing in fresh fish to the restaurants. There are plenty of water sports to choose from, though it was a little too early in the season to see much activity, other than wander round the boat yard and admire the small boats and yachts.
Les Sable is also home to the Golden Globe Yacht Race, last held in 2018, with a countdown to the next race in 2022.
I always love to visit La Rochelle with its traditional old harbour, and contrasting modern marina. There's also a fabulous 14th Century Lantern Tower and 15th Century fortress to explore, as well as an aquarium for the kids, a number of museums and a lovely beach. Of course we managed to find a few very nice shops along the way, pausing for lunch at one of the many harbour-side restaurants.
However much as I love La Rochelle it was a bit of a trek for our driver (otherwise known as my friend's hubby) and a six hour round trip drive, so it's probably worth spending a separate few days there. Being a port, of course, the seafood is delicious, and no visit to France would be complete without a meal of Moules et Frites (mussels in a delicious cream sauce with fries for those who don't parle Francais).
There are boat trips around the coastline from La Rochelle, including one to Fort Boyard, which has had a chequered history and was latterly briefly used as a military prison. Am I the only one who remembers the strange TV game show filmed there with Leslie Grantham (of Dirty Den East Enders fame) and Melinda Messenger?
Our last night in France as we made our way back to the airport was an absolute gem - and another place which we discovered was so interesting, it would be good to have spent more than a night there. We had booked a small gite in Saint-Priest-sous-Aixe just outside Limoges so we were near to the airport for our morning flight. What a perfect spot! We didn't really know what to expect but the little hamlet was a touch of paradise.
Our little house was a converted barn, part of a complex dating back 1,000 years, and largely owned by one family. The owner had an English father who served in France during WW11, married a French girl and stayed there. The little house had everything we needed for the night, including wifi, and a fully stocked, if rustic kitchen. The rickety stairs led to two bedrooms - a double and twin, with a loo upstairs and a toilet and shower downstairs.
We enjoyed a relaxing glass of wine in sun loungers watching the kayakers navigate the small weir as they made their way downstream, which we followed up with a relaxing stroll along the riverbank, passing some very rusty tractors which haven't seen any work this century! I think it was yet another one of those absolutely perfect moments where you totally let go and relax.
We ventured into the nearby town of Limoges, which was so pretty, with its porcelain shops and medieval buildings. The Rue de La Boucherie is not to be missed, with its quaint doorways and beautifully restored architecture. The original butchers shops now house such diverse businesses as an historic library, antiques and a seamstress - not a butcher in sight! As always in France, there are museums and churches to visit, but our time there was fleeting, so definitely worth another visit.
The perfect end to a lovely week!
Booking information for Maison Blanc in Apremont available here or here or here (take your pick). With grateful thanks and much love, as always, to Paul and Gillian Hargreaves for a fabulous break.
Anne H here, recently returned from a lovely short break in the South of France, which is somewhere that I have never been to before, and was on the top of my bucket list. A friend and I went for four nights staying at a lovely little apartment, booked through Booking.com called Colonna which, apart from being on the top floor with four punishing floors to climb, had every amenity and creature comfort.
We were based in the old town which is really pretty and full of fabulous bars, cafes and restaurants, many with impromptu musical performances in the evening. It is really accessible for the promenade and the new town and all its amenities and travel links and has loads of sights to see within its narrow, pedestrian friendly streets.
On arriving on the Monday afternoon we grabbed a quick snack in a local cafe before tackling the climb to Colline du Chateau to see the sun dropping over the red-tiled rooftops and blue Med.
The views were stunning and well worth the walk through beautiful gardens to the site on the top of the hill with wonderful waterfall and stunning vistas of the city on all sides.
From here we walked down the other side of the hill to the port, spying a Russian oligarchs super yacht - the first of many. Then back to base for a quick brush up and wash before heading out to dinner at Restaurant Acchiardo which was a gem of a find and somewhere we frequented again during our stay.
The next morning we set off for a visit to the Cours Saleya Markets in the market square in the old town one street in from the the Mediterranean. This particular day was the flower market - and what amazing blooms they displayed too! We grabbed a quick breakfast of coffee and croissant at one of the cafes lining the market before heading off to the Tourist Information office to find out about buses and trains that link Nice to other tourist spots along the coast with our sights firmly set on Cap Ferrat for lunch.
On our third day the weather took a turn for the worse and was very grey with rain forecast, so we started the morning on a bus with a trip to the Musee Matisse which was only a 15 min bus trip, and well worth the journey as there were gardens to walk and enjoy as well as the incredible artworks in the Musee.
The easy bus ride to Cap Ferrat on our second day was perfectly timed for lunch by the harbour at a small Italian/French restaurant called Nonna where we enjoyed a relaxed lunch while watching the world go by.
We then took the walk around the peninsula following the path that hugs the coastline, taking in the stunning views and admiring the fabulous villas overlooking the sparkling sea.
On the afternoon of the third day we braved the train service to go to Antibes and wander the streets which were pleasantly quiet. Sadly the Picasso museum was about to close so we were unable to go there but maybe that is for another time. We enjoyed a drink by the market and enjoyed a lovely dinner at a restaurant recommended by the waitress at the bar (who had originally hailed from Canada).
There was another super yacht to admire in the harbour as well - also Russian and purported to be one of the largest private yachts in the world.
On the Thursday we took ourselves off by bus to visit Eze a village perched on the hill top with stunning panoramic views out to sea. The oldest building dates back to the 1306 along with a tangle of gorgeous medieval streets house art galleries, cafes and shops.
Walking up through the village we arrived at the Jardin Botanique which is renowned for its succulents and not least the magnificent views. Quite a test for me as I have no head for heights, but I finally made it to the top with a little encouragement. Given the beautiful weather the village was very busy and full of tourists, so finding quiet corners was a challenge.
From Eze we shared a taxi down to the coast and picked up the train to take us to Monte Carlo and observe the high rolling lifestyle of this principality.
Of course you have to start at the Casino with a drink and snack at the Cafe de Paris which was not as ridiculously expensive as I thought it would be. The city was preparing for the Grand Prix so some parts of the harbour area were off bounds.
So we made our way to the old town to see the Palace and take in the pretty streets that lead to it.
We both felt it had a strange almost Disneyesque feel - almost too pristine to be real. But worth a visit and wander round.
Not least for views of yet more impressive yachts.
All in all we had an action packed four days but so enjoyable and blessed with some sunshine to. I can definitely recommend a visit to the Riviera - Monte Carlo didn't really appeal that much, but everywhere else we went was lovely, though we never ventured to Cannes, so think this is one to re-visit.
Anne C here. I first visited Budapest nearly 35 years ago when it was still very much an Eastern bloc country with limited resources and little investment. How times have changed! Hungary's capital is now as vibrant a European city as many others in the West, though what sets it apart is the stunning architecture, its historical legacy and the majestic River Danube.
The visit was a Christmas gift from my bargain-hunting daughter, who manged to get us two return flights from the UK and four nights in a central hotel for under £200. She managed this by booking as soon as the budget easyJet flights were announced, and bagging a very cheap room at the Easy Hotel in the Oktogan. I mention the latter specifically because although the hotel was about as basic as they come, it had everything we needed - a bed, a teeny bathroom and just about enough space for hanging clothes for four nights (no toiletries, breakfast, food, or room service, and cleaning was extra!) It was about the size of a ferry cabin, but since we spent all of our time sightseeing, it was perfect for our needs.
The first thing we normally do in a new city is find the hop-on-hop-off bus, which takes various routes until you get your bearings and a feel for the place. Having been before, I wanted to check out the Matyas Church in the Buda part of the city, which dominates Budapest from the hill opposite Parliament. I had previously been impressed by the stunning facade of the Holiday Inn next to the church, which had fabulous mirrored panels so the church was beautifully reflected. Sadly it is no longer there - the hotel is now just rendered and very ordinary looking.
However that cannot be said for the rest of the cities of Buda and Pest. The view from behind the church is stunning, looking down on the Danube and in particular, showing the Parliament building in all its glory (See close up first picture and looking down on the building from the castle area).
We visited in early May so the flowers were in bloom and the sun was shining, showing off the fabulous architecture to its best advantage. We visited St Stephen's Basilica, which is absolutely stunning. It took more than 50 years to build and represents the shape of the Greek cross, with the dome of the building matching the height of the nearby Parliament buildings. The Basilica houses the mummified right forearm of St Stephen, and bizarrely, on St Stephen's Day (August 20th), the arm is taken from its resting place and paraded around the streets.
No visit to Budapest would be complete without a riverboat trip on the Danube - and we managed to do this twice, once for an evening cruise, and another daytime trip. Without doubt the evening cruise was stunning - we bought tickets from the hop-on-hop-off company - which also included dinner. My gluten intolerant daughter was a little apprehensive about the food, but it was delicious, including both traditional Hungarian dishes of goulash soup and stuffed cabbage, to salads, chicken in paprika and a spicy pork dish, with three free drinks included.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink in the city, from international chains to local independent restaurants serving traditional Hungarian fare, though I particularly shunned the lamb's liver in its fat in favour of a delicious schnitzel!
The Hungarian Parliament building was the largest in the world when it was completed in 1902, and features a domed roof, beautiful frescoes and an impressive main staircase. We visited both during the day and at night when it was beautifully lit - as was the rest of the city, giving it a magical feel.
However, Hungary does have a chequered history - much of which I will not have room to mention, but we did visit the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial to the 20,000 Jewish men, women and children who were shot by the right wing fascist Arrow Cross Militiamen during WW11 and whose bodies were thrown into the Danube. The memorial, featuring model shoes was unveiled in 2005 and was conceived by film director Can Togay and created by scupltor Gyula Pauer.
Since we were so close to Austria, we decided to jump on a train and visit Vienna for the day during our trip. Budapest is as close to Vienna as we in Yorkshire are as close to London, so just a couple of hours on the train. Rocking up to the ticket office on the day for us to visit London would normally incur a charge of around £150 each depending on the time of day, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it cost the equivalent of around £40 each.
The day however, was a bit of a disaster! It poured with rain so badly that we were completely soaked to the skin, so spent most of the day on the ever-popular hop-on-hop-off bus. Actually, Austrian and Hungarian history is intrinsically linked through marriages, wars and conflicts, so we got to hear some of the history from the opposing side!
There are museums a-plenty in Vienna, from those specialising in art, to science and technology to military history. Since Mozart was Austrian, there are also museums and concerts dedicated to classical music. We stopped off briefly at the Military Museum (I'm the daughter of a serviceman who died in the service of his country) where we saw the actual car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian/Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie the Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated, which sparked a chain of events leading to WW1.
Mostly however, we just wanted a hot drink and to dry out!
It is worth noting that a form of bubonic plague decimated the population of Vienna in 1679 - part of the great plague which swept through Europe (including London) at the time. Memorials have also been erected to commemorate those who died, and which brought the city to its knees.
The photograph above is of St Charles' church, which was later commissioned by Emperor Karl VI and built in the 18th Century, dedicated to his namesake Karl Borromaus (Charles Borromeo), who was revered as a healer of plague victims.
Back in Budapest, we spent our last day on a daytime Danube cruise, a wander around the city centre, taking in the sights for the last time (and indulging in the ice cream cornets sculpted into the shape of a rose!)
There are so many statues in Buda and Pest that I lost count of who they all were! This fellow Imre Kalman, was a famous Hungarian composer and could be found sitting outside the Operetta Theatre, so I had to stop and have a photo with him!
You will note from the background that the building opposite is currently under renovation, and this is true of a huge part of Pest. There is a tremendous amount of building and also of renovating many of the old properties including a number of outdoor squares where history tells us of specific group gatherings, but most I think will end up being home to restaurants and alfresco dining.
I was particularly interested in seeing Heroes Square, which I remember I had visited previously on a very dark and miserable day back in the 1980s. This time the sun was shining and the atmosphere seemed much lighter.
Budapest is famous for its healing thermal waters and spas. A visit to the citadel, or fortress, in Buda is the highest point of the city, but also is close to the water supply and thermal springs - the hottest of which can reach around 27 degrees centigrade. Bathing in the waters is a legacy from the Turkish occupation, but is still popular today. Visitors interested in visiting one of the thermal springs may find this guide useful, although it wasn't on our agenda.
Gellert Hill, close to many of the spas, is names after Gellert, a holy martyr bishop who was put in a barrel and thrown down the hill in 1046 for trying to bring Christianity to the pagans. Local superstition existed for many years that the hill was haunted. At the foot of the hill, however, is the traditional art deco Gellert Hotel which also houses on of the most famous of thermal spas.
Tourism is now huge in Budapest with tourists from around the globe - we heard and saw so many different nationalities while we were there - including a lovely couple from Tennessee we met on the little funicular railway up to the castle area, so a complete change from my previous visit when tourism was virtually non-existent.
The currency is forints, but credit cards are widely taken, and some places also take euros.
It is impossible to relate all the history and things to do in one small blog, but if you're planning to go, do buy a good guide book as it is such a lovely city and well worth a visit!
I am so pleased to say I haven't got the same number of wardrobes to clear out as the other Anne as I do try to keep on top of it and assess what I have and haven't worn on a year by year basis. It is still surprising however how much you can accumulate whilst still telling yourself you really haven't bought that much.
I have discovered I seem to have a large number of coatigans that I really haven't been wearing. I think the idea of them is fabulous and they should be such a brilliant transitional piece, but I really don't seem to reach for them at any time. The one above is from COS and as a more weighty piece it has had a bit more wear. Now I re-look at it, I think it is a bit too shapeless and really needs to hit the charity pile.
This one is also from COS and although lightweight and much more of an oversized cardigan than a coatigan I have still not got much wear out of it. This might be one to try and sell as it is still looking pretty good. COS have similar one in grey on their website at the moment, but I will resist.
And last but not least is the keeper, this heavy weight cardigan from Boden which I like for its structure and colour. Lets see if I start to wear it more this spring - otherwise it is for next winters cull.
Boden do some nice knitwear and well worth a look if you like colour.... obviously not for me then!
I've known for a very long time that I have way too many clothes, and since leaving my "corporate" jobs, I no longer wear the same kinds of outfits as I did. So when Anne H told me she had become hooked on watching Marie Kondo, the Japanese de-cluttering expert, I also took a little peak!
While some of her techniques are a little twee (I don't thank my clothes when I throw them out!) I do agree that if some things "give me joy" (ie I love wearing them, love the colour or they have sentimental attachments) then I will keep them, but going forwards I do know that I don't attend corporate hospitality nights at the ballet or business dinners any more, so I don't need those kinds of outfits.
I have too many items of clothing to put on the bed, as Marie Kondo makes her clients do - I would never see my bed again, the pile would go up to the ceiling - so I started to do one wardrobe at a time (I have 10) starting with coats and jackets.
I also have clothes in sizes ranging from a UK size 10 (that was a long time ago!) to a size 22 (fortunately I've lost weight since then!) but I have kept most of them even though I know I will never wear them again.
I have to admit that the session did not go as planned. For our photo shoot, I picked out a couple of things to keep and a couple of things which I knew I would get rid of - but actually it did not work out the way I thought it would.
I love the slouchy red jacket - in fact I love most things which are red, so this is a keeper. It wasn't expensive - in fact it was one of those impulse buys online from a company I had never heard of, so wasn't expecting it to be very good quality. However, it is wool and although it has only 3/4 sleeves, it is quite dressy and easy to wear.
However, I had it in mind to keep the tweed jacket bought a few years ago in Debenhams from the Rocha.JohnRocha range. I had worn it for work and always felt it was a useful piece. However, looking at the photographs taken by Anne, we both decided it had to go!! It is too big, there is too much going on - a fussy neckline, peplum bottom, pockets, and it's double breasted - which makes me look even more dumpy than I am.
I think I have realised that I can look in the mirror and feel I look ok, but then look at myself in a photograph and I look completely different in the item. How weird is that?
The pink jacket, I wasn't sure about until I put it on. This is a boxy-shape linen Jaegar jacket, and I suppose I bought it for the label since I never particularly shopped there and don't own many Jaegar pieces. I know it's the wrong season to wear it, but it didn't feel right, and I don't think the style does me any favours, so that's going!
Finally, the pink Wallis coat has been in the back of the wardrobe for years, and I thought it was probably not going to make the cut. However, once I put it on and saw the photographs, I was pleasantly surprised.
It isn't a heavy Winter coat, but will be perfect for Spring as it's comfortable to wear and hopefully looks ok either with dark colours or even white or cream for lighter days.
In all of the photos I am wearing black tailored trousers from M&S (similar here), and the lace blouses - one black and one off-white are from Kaleidoscope. Mock-crock boots from Faith years ago - similar ones here.
I'm still working my way through the wardrobes but I do have a pile of clothes now for the charity shop and I've put quite a bit of the better stuff on eBay.
Next up will be shoes - of which I have more than a couple of hundred pairs (42 pairs of flip flops...)
We both love travelling - sometimes together, sometimes with our respective families, and sometimes with other friends, so for the New Year we have just had a little planning get together to see where 2019 will take us.
But first, we thought it would be a great idea to have a look at where we went last year - some of which were on our respective bucket lists - which means we can now cross them off and move on! And we have already identified where we would like to travel to next.
First up Anne C visited Iceland in January with her daughter Louise, whose birthday she celebrated in Reykjavik while they were there. It was on Anne's bucket list to see the Northern Lights, though sadly despite going out on four occasions, they didn't appear - a huge disappointment for her.
Having said that, they had a fabulous time, visiting the stunning waterfalls at Gullfoss, taking a dip in the geothermal springs of the Blue Lagoon, whale watching, appreciating the beautiful yet simplistic and oddly shaped church of Hallgrimskirkja, and seeing the boiling geysers at Blaskogabuggo. To note from the photo that specialist clothing was required because it was so cold!
For anyone interested in learning more about that trip, more details can be found here and here.
And to the other side of the world and a completely different eco-system, Anne H flew to Costa Rica in Central America with another long-term friend. Their escorted touring holiday took them through stunning rainforests, across amazing countryside, to beautiful hotels with golden beaches, up volcanoes and alongside lakes and eco-systems.
It was a country of real contrasts, from the flora and fauna, the animals and the terrain, through from Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, into the cloud forest of Monteverde to the beautiful beaches on the Pacific coast .Truly a holiday of a lifetime! More details about this trip here and here. And of course Anne had her own specialist clothing - but of a different kind!
Our first joint trip of 2018 was to celebrate Anne H's birthday with a visit to Bruges in Belgium - a beautiful city which Anne C had already visited - which certainly helps since you know the best parts to see. This time we took an overnight ferry with P&O from Hull - part of the experience as that was such a leisurely journey - to Zeebrugge and then finished our journey with a short coach ride.
Of course Belgium is famous for its delicious chocolate, which we enjoyed at every opportunity, but the buildings are also stunning. We stayed overnight in the fabulous Academie Hotel, and spent our two days visiting museums - the Diamond Museum and St John's Hospital Museum, to name a couple (but there are loads more) and generally walking around the picturesque streets. We did avoid the Belfry of Bruges Tower, from the famous scene in the movie "In Bruges" starring the rather gorgeous Colin Farrell, because we are both scared of heights, and believe me the stairs to the top of the tower are very scary!
Anne C went off again with her daughter in April, this time to the Big Apple in the US. There's quite a story behind this visit, which she will talk about later in the year, but suffice to say that it was rather more of a business visit than a holiday. However, when in New York, you can't just sit in the hotel, so she managed to take in the very moving 9/11 Museum, a wander around ChinaTown and Times Square, and a trip up the Rockefella Centre (less scary because you go up in a lift and can't hang out through the windows!
Anne C is a bit of a sun-worshipper, which necessitates frequent trips to Greece. Her first visit of 2018 was to the island of Thassos with hubby Peter and two friends, although the weather was a disappointment (unusually for June - floods and torrential rain). She also holidayed there the previous year, and information on that trip can be found here and here. Her second Greek holiday was back to the stunning island of Santorini, where she and her family have been holidaying for almost 20 years, which she has written about extensively here and here.
Meanwhile Anne H returns year after year to Tropea in Italy, where she has family. Incidentally, both of us have previously visited the other's regular holiday destinations - Anne C has been to Tropea and Anne H has been to Santorini).
Last year, Anne H took her daughter and other family members for a girly holiday and a bigger family reunion. See here and here for more information about Tropea from previous visits.
Then Anne H was off again - this time with her blogger daughter Lizzy to Club Med La Plantation d'Albion on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. This was an opportunity to enjoy an all-inclusive break, take in the stunning scenery and marvel at the colonial plantation houses. But for them it was an opportunity to catch up, unwind and chill, so their most strenuous activities involved reading and visiting the hotel spa!
But we don't just hop on a plane every time we go away. We have a beautiful country of our own, and probably as we get older we may well ditch overseas holidays and opt for staycations in the UK. This year we managed a couple of mini getaways together, to Liverpool and London, while Anne H went to Bristol with an old schoolfriend.
Both of us have previously done business in Liverpool during our working lives, but we wanted to experience a different side of the city, and the touring exhibition of the Terracotta Army from China gave us the excuse for a couple of days there.
We also took in a visit to The Cavern Club made famous by The Beatles, took pictures of us with the statues of John Lennon and Cilla Black, and climbed aboard the Ferry Across the Mersey - that of Gerry and the Pacemakers' famous footballing anthem.
In August, for Anne C's birthday, we headed for London for a more relaxing visit to Anne H's blogger daughter Lizzy (who is also Anne C's god-daughter) in Notting Hill, where we mooched around the shops and headed up west for lunch and another mooch around Covent Garden.
Our final trip of 2018 was our annual Christmas outing - not actually a holiday - which was to the beautiful Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Phew! Until writing it all down we hadn't realised how many trips we had taken between us, but it hasn't deterred us from planning our 2019 trips. Anne C is currently packing for a business trip to Hong Kong and China with a client as we speak, and hopefully can give us some information on the visit on her return. She is also flying off to Budapest in the Spring - which was a Christmas gift from her daughter, and will be returning to Santorini with hubby again later in the summer.
Anne H is heading north of the border to Scotland with her Costa Rica friend for a touring holiday taking in the stunning Highlands and some of the cities within our own shores. She will also be making her annual visits to family in Tropea as usual.
So what of our joint trips this year? We haven't got anything booked yet but have been looking at a riverboat cruise in Venice and another big trip in 2020 - hopefully a cruise to Hawaii no less!
* All our trips are self-funded, but if any travel companies would like to collaborate, please let us know!
The end of the year is always a good time to share some of our blooper photos - those pictures which should never really see the light of day! But we're not proud and it's always fun to look back on those shots which should have made the cutting room floor.
Go on Anne, just bare your teeth!
Not to be outdone, the other Anne can bare her teeth too - and pull a face at the same time!
Is there anything down there???
Strictly.... here I come - never mind the white bra showing though...
What's that on the floor????
Just listen to me when I'm talking to you!
Words fail me!
Hurry up I'm getting wet!
Playing aeroplanes amongst the dead flowers!
Just singing in the rain!
I can't get this jacket off!
Happy New Year - here's to a healthy, happy and peaceful 2019!
If you remember our Christmas outfit posts from last year, you may recall seeing Anne wearing a similar dress to this black one, but in champagne. It's one of her favourite dresses and in fact she loves it so much - it's so easy and comfortable to wear, that she bought this similar one in black from Chesca.
In fact it is billed as a coat, but you can wear it as a dress if it's buttoned up, so it makes it really versatile.
It's not cheap at £175 but can be worn over skinny trousers to keep it casual, or dress it up with jewellery to keep it glam.
The jewellery and handbag are rose gold, with the pretty necklace from Jon Richard at Debenhams (currently half price), and rose gold drop earrings from Simply Devine. The rose gold handbag was bought on the Greek island of Thassos last year.
Anne H's velvet jacket from Massimo Dutti is the Slim fit single button style available at £139. It comes with matching velvet trousers but that's just all a little bit too luxe for her so she has teamed with her trusty MaxMara black trousers.
The sateen sheen blouse is also from Massimo Dutti and is available at £ 59.95. With its classic straight fit and simple lines it is perfect for wearing with smart or casual trousers.
The trouble this time of year is that all the clothes colours are really drab, so Anne deliberately set out to find some winter white clothes.
The pearl-trimmed sweater was bought at Iizzy boutique in Bury which has some really nice pieces. She has teamed the sweater with winter white thick leggings from Hallhuber at House of Fraser. They now have only black ones online here.
The Chelsea boots in cream are from Amazon - Anne was a little apprehensive about these as they came direct from China - not known for generous fitting of anything - but despite her quite broad feet, they go perfectly with the outfit and are also really comfortable.
She has matched her sweater with faux pearl earrings and necklace - and even a pearl watch - which she had in her jewellery box from years ago - pearls are so versatile and never go out of fashion.
This next top is also very simply styled in this season's beautiful forest green silk with keyhole neckline and comes from COS. Not the cheapest of tops as it costs £89, but it is definitely something she will wear time and time again. The long necklace is from Mint Velvet and was purchased last year and shoes are black suede courts from Dune.
We are down to casual days at home now, with this orange sweater and suede trousers combo. The sweater has front pockets but the detail is all in the back with diamante and bows down the centre for a bit of sparkle. The top came from Emphasize in Romford, and David, the owner, travels the country to all the local country and specialist shows. This was bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate this year, but they do not have a website as all the stock travels with him.
The trousers are from Next and are a lovely soft suede - bought after the summer sales for the fabulous price of £7.50 - we love a bargain! Similar ones here in grey are much more expensive!
Each year we have a Christmas-themed day out - usually to a country house - and this year we chose the beautiful Chatsworth House in Derbyshire to get us into the mood for the festive season.
First thing to say is that it was absolutely the correct place to go - it was simply stunning.
Most of the houses we have visited in the past three years have had a theme, and Chatsworth was no exception, this one being "Once upon a time at Chatsworth" featuring all the wonderful classic stories from our childhood - so perfect if you want to take your little ones with you when you visit, since the home itself - although stunning - is probably not that interesting for tots.
There were seated areas where a pre-recorded voice-over tape read fairy stories and there were also strolling players reciting stories to visitors as they wandered around the house.
Look out for classics from Beatrix Potter, Cinderella, the Princess and the Pea (complete with mattresses), Sleeping Beauty, James and the Giant Peach, to name just a few. Pictured above is Arthur the dragon - that's a new one on us and wasn't around when our girls were young!
For us oldies though, looking around the stunning rooms of this gorgeous country pile and marvelling at the beautiful decorations, was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Chatsworth is still the family home the Cavendish family - otherwise known as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and their families.
Back in the 16th Century, Bess of Hardwick - who later became the Countess of Shrewsbury and the second most powerful woman in the country after Queen Elizabeth 1 - married her second husband, William Cavendish. They bought Chatsworth Manor for just £600 in 1549, and began to build the first house on the site.
Cavendish died in 1557, and Bess married twice more, latterly to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, who was appointed as custodian of Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned at various times at Chatsworth.
Bess also built the nearby Hardwick Hall, renowned for its unique collection of 16th and 17th Century tapestries, embroideries and furniture, and which was owned by the Cavendish family until 1957 when it was given to the government in lieu of death duties, and is now operated by the National Trust.
We could obviously write pages about the history of Chatsworth, but if you are interested, there is lots of information available here, here and here, but if you go to the website, the history covers 4,000 years and gives more detail about the house and the fabulous rooms.
Some interesting snippets however are that during WW11, the house was given over to girls from Penrhos College, Colwyn Bay, Wales since the 10th Duke felt that schoolgirls would be better tenants than soldiers!
Before they arrived, the entire contents of the house were packed away in just 11 days, and in September 1939, 300 girls and their teachers moved in for a six year stay. The whole of the fabulous house was used - including the state rooms, which were turned into dormitories.
In 1944, Kathleen Kennedy, sister of the late President of the United states John Kennedy, married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington and elder son of the said 10th Duke, though sadly he was killed in action in 1944, and she died in a plane crash in 1948. His younger brother Andrew became the 11th Duke in 1950, and married Deborah Mitford, one of the famous Mitford Girls, and sister of Nancy, Diana, Pamela, Unity and Jessica.
The magnificent house has also played the part of Mr Darcy's magnificent home in Pride and Prejudice, while The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley was also filmed there.
But back to the house and a fabulous day out....
We couldn't help but marvel at the fabulous art works on show and how they have cleverly incorporated the Christmas decorative themes around them. Chatsworth's Devonshire Collection of art is famed for its breadth and is a reflection of the family's eclectic tastes, having been built over a four hundred year period. It encompasses Elizabethan tapestries, superb portraits and bringing the collection up to date, there is even a magnificent golden sculpture by Damien Hirst.
During the Christmas season, there is also a very tasteful Christmas market - no boozy bier kellers here, just wonderful country-themed goodies from lovely scarves to pretty lights, and locally sourced yummy food. Entrance to the house is timed because it does get very busy from morning until night-time with special events, nativities and twilight tours.
There is plenty to do and see at any time of the year, not just Christmas. There are country walks around the grounds and gardens, a farmyard, a playground, educational activities and talks, as well as the obvious house tours and even a masquarade ball!
The estate also hosts weddings, and there is an abundance of local holiday and overnight amenities for the tourist trade, since the House is situated in the Peak District, such a beautiful part of England.
We ended our day out though with another old-fashioned English tradition - afternoon tea, in the Cavendish Restaurant, where we finished our fabulous day out. Cheers!
I am just back from a couple of nights in Bristol, catching up with a school friend and enjoying my first visit to this fabulous city. I had always heard glowing reports of it and I was not disappointed. Sadly the pictures don't really do it justice as although we avoided any rain the weather was rather grey. We stayed in the Clifton area, renting a small apartment and making the most of this beautiful part of the city.
We ventured through the leafy areas, past the famous downs and Bristol zoo into Clifton Village to view Brunel's famous Clifton suspension bridge and enjoy the many Georgian buildings that this area abounds with. The Village itself is so pretty with many boutiques, quirky shops and places to eat or enjoy a relaxing coffee.
Bristol is an easy city to walk so you can take in much of it's stunning architecture and history and it abounds with green spaces and pretty areas.
Top of our list to visit was the Harbourside which covers an extensive area incorporating loads of bustling bars, restaurants, art installations, historic attractions and places to visit. Bristol has been a trading port since the 11th century but is probably most known for its involvement in the slave trade which is featured in the M Shed museum. It was also home to John Cabot who discovered Newfoundland in 1497 and a replica of his boat, The Matthew, is moored in the Harbour.
We were particularly keen to visit the SS Great Britain which is another Brunel's engineering feats. We caught the little ferry across from the other bank and instead of immediately boarding the ship we went into the dry dock to view the incredibly preserved hull of the ship.
It is really cleverly done and you can look up to view the bow of the ship from below. There is a giant dehumidifier that ensures the air is kept to the perfect level of humidity to preserve the ship and stop the rust developing further.
The interior of the ship has been restored and you can walk through the first class suites and dining area through the kitchen and into steerage class where you truly understand what the journey must have been like sailing to America. They even have sounds and smells wafting through the ship for added affect. To think that this ship sailed the world 32 times since the mid 1800's, including navigating the treacherous Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope, only retiring in 1933 is incredible and a testament to the amazing engineer that Brunel was.
On our last day we made our way to the Old City with its cobbled streets and little alleyways to see some of Bristols oldest buildings, with particular focus on St Nicholas Market and Cabot Tower. The Tower offers far reaching views of the city but as the weather was grey and misty we didn't venture up the the top.
The glass covered St Nicks market, which dates from the 1700s. was a real treat with is array of independent traders and cafes. We enjoyed a lovely traditional brunch at the Be Natural Kitchen but there is every type of cuisine on offer in the market so visitors are spoilt for choice.
We finished our trip with walk through the arts quarter and up the Christmas Steps before heading back to Temple Meads station and our respective train journeys home.