There seems to be a scarcity of UK retirement blogs out there (other than those proffering financial advice) and in the absence of my being able to read about other people's experiences, I instead offer you my own "Great Big Retirement Adventure."

My husband (Mister E) and I have moved from the initial concept through the planning stages to implementation and this site is intended to record the whole process. What I am seeking from retirement is now very different to what I thought I was planning and has gradually developed into a quest for fitness and a desire for simplification, with a transition away from both a highly organised lifestyle and the personality traits reflecting a pedantic professional career. Indeed I recently described myself as "a goofy idiot" who enjoys smiling at sunflowers; a far cry from the pre-retirement professional and an indication of just how far I have travelled.

Please visit from time to time and do add your comments. The blog is in reverse chronological order but popular posts and those highlighting our journey are specifically pinpointed below on the right hand side together with a list of topics covered. Alternatively you may prefer to look at the summary or wisdom we have acquired or even our have done list with its retirement atlas and dip in and out of the blog using the links given.

Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Monday, 20 November 2017

It's Definitely Not Grim Up North - 1 of 2

Mister E had a desire to visit the Northern tip of New Zealand, so we headed North in a small Toyota Yaris. I'm not too sure why we failed to upgrade the rental car as we subsequently did on South Island, but it felt somewhat Bohemian setting out with the bootspace fully laden in such a small vehicle especially when we bounced over every pothole, crawled uphill and proceeded gingerly over gravel roads. There was even one point where we were stopped by a Police Officer who suggested we were going a little slowly (80kph when the speed limit was 100kph) but it all added to the sense of adventure.

We had decided in advance to proceed in a leisurely fashion towards Cape Reinga. Even so we still moved on every night, except in Pahia. It did detract from a sense of leisure and relaxation as we repeatedly packed and unpacked but then this was no beach vacation.

Our first stop was Puhoi, a small village settled by Catholics from what is now the Czech Republic, beautifully preserved and worth the coffee stop and exploration which we paid it. 


We proceeded onwards exploring Leigh and the empty sands on the wonderful  beach at Pakiri after lunching in style overlooking a pond of water lilies at the Brick Bay Sculpture Park. There the menu proved that New Zealand can serve up superb salad even if there were days when we struggled to find an alternative option to fish and chips or pies. 

We  discovered that a harbour in New Zealand is very much a natural sheltered entity with no added protection from a breakwater or other construction. We also learnt that when people say the country's weather is changeable, they mean by the hour and not by the day; we quickly got into the hang of layering up and then shedding.

  Our first night on the road was spent at a little bed and breakfast in Warkworth. So many places in New Zealand have English namesakes but bear very little resemblance to them. During our trip we found bed and breakfast to be of an extremely high standard although we were curious as to the reason for electric blankets on the beds; perhaps they have been unused over the winter and need airing, we mused. One cold night later and we understood!

Our room had a patio overlooking lemon trees laden with fruit. Nearby there were daffodils and other spring bulbs in flower. Roses were blooming, together with lavender and a magnolia tree; strawberry plants were fruiting whilst fuschia plants hung heavy with clusters of red bells. On the verges there were masses of white altar lilies and red hot pokers, growing completely wild. Cherry blossom, however, was only just beginning to flourish. With the sun passing through the Northern sky too, the brain begins to ache trying to understand how all of this can be "normal."

Meeting up with the eldest and his girlfriend again the next day we took in  a Farmers' Market (quite a musical affair with bands and singers competing to entertain) and then later a coastal walk over stacked limestone formations or "pancake rocks."

We all stayed that night near Waipu settled by Scottish immigrants with an interesting history outlined on boards in the square as well as in a local museum. One of the advantages of jetlag however was that we were up early to catch a magnificent sunrise over Bream Bay (so called because Captain Cook caught caught fish of that species there).

That set us up well for a magnificent day which we spent together in and around Whangarei, enjoying the waterfall, sculptures around the harbour, and the scenery at Whangarei Heads. We parted mid afternoon when they returned to Auckland for work and Mister E and I headed ever Northwards.

We stopped at Kawakawa. Everyone raves about the Hundertwasser toilets there but forgets to tell you that the main street too shows the hallmarks of his modern art. He was the pioneer of what he called transautomatism, where art focuses on the fantasy of the viewer rather than of the artist. The town and toilets were certainly colourful.


We finished our day at Paihia where even the oyster catchers failed to shy away from us, just like a kingfisher earlier in the day. Ultimately we checked into another excellent Bed and Breakfast, Morepork Riverside Lodge approximately 8 km out of the town.

Fortunately we had made the excellent decision to stay there 2 nights (we ought to have made it 3) and the owners, Paul and Barbara, who went out of  their way to make us welcome, recommended and organised for us a day out on the Bay of Islands. It meant an early start the next day (easy with jetlag) and, if you ever visit, then getting out onto the water is a must. 

We saw fur seals and dolphins which entertained with their playful antics especially racing the boat when it finally sped away, leaping higher and higher in their effort to keep up. I managed to film a fantail which was almost mobbing me and then we spotted our first Tui when exploring Russell where we disembarked; poor Russell, once decried as the hell hole of the South Pacific, is now a genteel and charming settlement across the bay from Paihia.

You might think that day had turned into a bit of a wildlife safari and it ended in the same way because, when we returned to Morepork Riverside, Paul was about to feed his alpacas and chickens, so yours truly could not resist going to help.

To be continued.............

Saturday, 18 November 2017

New Zealand - First Impressions

 Arriving at Auckland airport late morning, we immediately transferred into our waiting taxi to head to Takapuna on North Shore where we had arranged to stay so as to be close to the eldest. Our drive across Auckland revealed a city of little wooden houses nestling amongst volcanic upthrusts of earth until we bypassed the Central Business District where multi-storey buildings vied with the iconic Sky Tower to dominate the Haruki Gulf. The water itself was awash with marinas and sailing yachts giving credence to Auckland's reputation as the City of Sails.

We had time to kill before we could check into our hotel. So, leaving our bags in the lobby, we went to avail ourselves of coffee in a neighbouring bar. Tuning in to the Kiwi version of English required a little adjustment and sadly it was probably the worst coffee that we tasted all trip (we were later advised to stick to flat whites), but of greater surprise was the politically incorrect poster on the wall indicating a fancy dress event where "the tradies would get the ladies." Somebody had told us that travelling to New Zealand was like turning the clock back several decades but we had not expected to encounter such outmoded sexist attitude from a country that heralded in the vote for women as far back as 1890. 

Our motel room although scrupulously clean was very simply furnished with decor and a desk and chairs that would not have looked out of place in an office; something that we would find repeated in many places. The bed was comfortable and so much so that we forgave the establishment the view of the dustbins from the bedroom window. Indeed superb mattresses and electric blankets seemed to be a feature of many of the places in which we stayed.

We forced ourselves to stay awake although the eldest did come straight from work to take us out for dinner. New Zealanders seem to eat significantly earlier than we generally do in the UK, going to bed and rising earlier too. Fortunately when you are still adjusting to the enormous time difference, that suited us well. Our first encounter with New Zealand food was a little surprising too when we discovered the British love affair with fish and chips holds fast at the Kiwi seaside too. There's none  of our traditional cod and haddock though, and whilst the fish is beer battered it was, to us, the unfamiliar hoki or tarahiki. 

That time difference played a part in waking us early the next morning and we were out with the morning commuters to walk to Milford and then back to Takapuna along the coastal walk with magnificent views across to Rangitoto a volcanic island that is now a nature reserve. Indeed lava flow intercepted the beach from time to time including petrified tree stumps from an ancient forest. The local birdlife was extremely friendly and curious and whilst some of the flora was familiar, other species were a complete novelty including the pohutukawa and rata trees some of which were beginning to flower.

We took a local bus (always a novelty) to Devonport where the Naval base is situated, with magnificent views of the city skyline and with its own elegant wharf and main street, before ascending Mount Victoria and North Head. Old charm elegance sandwiched between volcanoes. No litter, no grafitti and everyone friendly and talkative, oh and we also found some good coffee after all.

We were already certain that we were going to enjoy the rest of our trip.

Friday, 17 November 2017

My Circadian Rhythms Need a Reset

Exhausted and bog-eyed, stuck in an alien timezone, my circadian rhythms are apparently adjusting only very slowly.  I'm suffering from jet-lag after returning from a trip to the other side of the world. I did mean to blog whilst I was there, but was distracted by a hectic itinerary.

After 5 weeks of living out of a suitcase (or to be absolutely correct 2 wheeled holdalls), I am now seeking to make sense of a fascinating experience and wondering how best to describe it to you. This blog was never of course intended as a travel log but there is so much that I want to share from our trip that it's simply a question of how to  begin. Unfortunately that beginning has been hampered since our return 4 days ago, by constantly waking at 4am and falling asleep by 9pm, with muddled thinking in between times. If that wasn't bad enough, I can hardly walk after returning to the gym to do 3 fitness classes yesterday. Zombie-like, both physically and mentally, you have to have a certain level of fitness for long haul travel.

I have discovered that retirement offers time to travel surpassing that of any other period of life. The problem is that it is not necessarily as easy to mobilise as in our backpacking youth when there was a total lack of both responsibilites and neuroses. Much as I might love to fling a few possessions into a rucsack, sling it over my sholder and head off into the blue yonder of cultural experiences, age has brought awareness, wisdom and with it consequential limitations.

I now have a greater understanding of the spectrum between enjoyment and endurance, input and return, satisfaction and reward. Travel is planned accordingly and whilst there is no easy answer to the disorientation that follows a 30 hour journey from take off to landing with a 13 hour time difference between each, at least neither Mister E nor I had work to contend with and return to the following day. No wonder extended vacations in far flung destinations are very much the preserve of only the young and the retired. 

I know that there are many who are propelled to relinquish both home and lifestyle for a life on the road or water in order to fulfil longheld ambitions that have often fuelled an early retirement. There are also others who are content to settle down with their cottage gardens, log fires and the constancy of family, friends and familiarity on the doorstep. I doubt that I am unusual in imagining myself ardently pursuing either option but in reality keep dipping only my toes in the sea of discovery whilst simultaneously failing to create a proper haven of tranquility in which to rest and replenish. To my way of thinking, waves of adrenaline and excitement feel higher when they rise from the plains of contentment. Get too comfortable though and extraction can seem daunting.

Our latest trip was planned on the back of the eldest relocating to New Zealand earlier this year, offering an opportunity to see him again after a lapse of 7 months since his departure. With a distance of over 11,000 miles to get there we realised that the end had to justify the journey, so as you can imagine there was significant deliberation in looking to ensure a "perfect" trip.

So we considered:

1) Means of transport, of which the only obvious one (unless we wanted to make a 6 month trip out of our little adventure and go by ship) was air, which led us to consider a variety of carriers eventually plumping for Emirates which provided taxi transfers to and from the airports at the beginning and end of our journeys there and back, as part of the airline service.

2) The route to get there, especially as we initially discussed undertaking a number of stopovers until we realised that we still couldn't eliminate all overnight flights and would be continuously to-ing and fro-ing from airports. In the end we concluded flying directly with a 2 hour change-over at Dubai (and Brisbane too on our return) was the better option, although we opted for the luxury of business class; theoretically if you are going to be in the air for 26 hours you might as well be horizontal on a flat bed seat with an unlimited supply of champagne.

3) The length of our stay taking into account that the eldest's accomodation is unsuitable for staying guests. How long does anyone want to live out of a suitcase for? We settled on 5 weeks.

4) Our itinerary; unsure whether or not this will be the only trip we ever make to New Zealand, we wanted to see as much as possible and, therefore, consulted with everybody we knew who had travelled there. We picked up some tremendous tips and ideas which I was then able to work into a journey around both islands which afforded oppportunities to rendezvous with our son.

5) Our accommodation where there seemed to be a choice of hotels, motels, homestays, bachs, B&Bs, and motorhomes. In the end we opted for a mix of everything except the motorhome experience, which we though might be a little snail-like crawling around  with our home on our backs, unable to separate from it. 

6) What to book in advance, but ultimately it was very little except for the first two nights' accommodation and the car hire. We really wanted the flexibility to change our plans to  fit in with the weather.

7) Which clothes to take as New Zealand is notoriously changeable weatherwise and was just emerging into Spring as we arrived, and finally packing something for all weathers and seasons.

8) Funding our stay as 5 weeks is too long to carry sufficient wads of notes for but, conscious that some of the places we would stay might require us to pay in cash and, as it is never wise to rely entirely on one credit card, we obtained a second that permits cash withdrawals free of interest and transaction fees.

9) The administrative burden of home in which respect we made sure that bills scheduled for payment were set up in advance, carried iPad and laptop to access records and e-mails as needed, relied on our neighbours to keep an eye on our property.

Was it a successful trip? Yes.

Would we recommend it? Definitely but more of that when I bore you with further blog entries.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Summer Holidays 3

Let's call it impetuosity, because I don't think there was an awful lot of planning involved on our part, but, after three nights at home following our Norway visit, we hit the road again. Our trip this time was initiated by the youngest requiring the transportation of her worldly goods to London ready for the final year of her university degree. 

Travelling from the North, we always abhor the levels of traffic that inevitably confront us from the Midlands onwards and this journey did not disappoint, especially with an average speed in single figures through London. The traffic jams there were enlivened  by a cyclist in a daydream colliding with the rear of our car whilst we were stationary, not to mention the hooting of car horns whenever we hesitated momentarily in deciding which lane to join at unfamiliar traffic lights. How the city drivers would cope with North Yorkshire's rural tractors and spatially unaware and painfully slow octagenarians at the wheel, I cannot imagine. Maybe it would be worth organising a cavalcade down the M1 just to find out.

Still if our journey into London was bad, leaving at 3pm to head into East Anglia initially via the M11 was even worse; so slow it coincided with the end of the school day and presumably an early finish for some commuters. Does it always take 3 full hours to drive just over 90 miles in the South?

At 6pm, however, we were drawing into the drive of our friends' house and the journey was forgotten for a couple of days whilst we delighted in their hospitality and explored the neighbouring town of Woodbridge with its link to the sea, working tide-mill and historic links with boat-building and both sail and rope-making.

However, we returned yesterday, a Friday, when it seems everybody is on the move. We joined traffic jamming just before Cambridge and seemed to keep it with us for the rest of the time we were on the A14 and until we finally turned off the A1. It took the best part of 6 hours to travel 250 miles. It's true that in retirement not only have we left commuting behind us but generally have picked and chosen quiet times for longer journeys. Perhaps it makes you cocky or maybe we just hadn't considered that if we were setting off mid-morning the rest of the country would be doing the same. Stuck in the middle lane going nowhere, I had a premonition of English roads in the future, rooted in permanent gridlock. It was certainly a salutary and tiring lesson in the weariness of road travel and a reminder of the advantages of life in remote and rural Northern enclaves (until you need to head South, that is).

Well it was another enjoyable stay, but after those journeys I suddenly feel the need for a rest, not a holiday. In retirement the distinction between the two is no longer blurred.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Summer Holidays 2

We moved on from our stay in the Lake District with somewhat indecent alacrity. One night at home and then we were off again; this time to Norway with a burning desire to view the fjords. It sounds mad but so long as the underwear count holds up, it forces you to unpack immediately, makes repacking easier and denies you the opportunity to mess up the house before you leave.

 Research had suggested that a trip to the Norwegian fjords might best be undertaken from the sea and so a cruise it was.

Now we have tried big ship cruising before: just once as a kind of celebration back in 2011 when I moved from the firm I had been a partner in to take up a part-time consultancy in readiness for retirement. I had expected that cruise to be like the Titanic without the iceberg, but the vessel was so enormous that it seemed on occasions a little more akin to Benidorm afloat. This time, therefore, we were particular in choosing our cruiseline and ship with great care, settling on Olsen Lines and its MV Black Watch. We wanted a vessel that looked like it could weather the oceans rather than a floating tower block.

Knowing that the average age of passengers would be relatively high, we insured against being the most youthful by bringing the youngest with us too. There was no insurance for her but she fulfilled the need for patience and understanding admirably, as well as making more use of the ship's gym than anyone else on board.

I don't think we have transformed into cruise devotees but we did have a splendid time. The food, although wonderful, was not on tap 24 hours a day as with some companies and with stricter meal times there was less gluttony to offend. There were only 680 passengers (maximum capacity is 804) and nowhere was ever too busy. The Captain was a gentleman and overly generous with the drinks at not one but two cocktail parties. Also, and whilst I have no objection to dressing up, evenings generally erred towards the casual rather than smart, and formal nights to the smart rather than black tie, unless you were Scottish, like most of the guests (as we sailed from Rosyth near Edinburgh), when your clan kilt was in order. For  days at sea, of which we had two, there were plenty of activities including lectures about the ports of call and my beloved Pilates classes. To see a film we didn't even have to huddle in a darkened room in the bowels of the ship and, whilst there was a cinema, there was also a variety of films available to view in the cabin on the TV system.

I can see the attraction for many elderly guests of holidaying in this manner, although I am not sure that were I to be reliant on a zimmer frame or someone pushing me in a wheelchair that I would be quite at ease on a ship. If that iceberg materialised the prospect of transferring to a lifeboat safely has to be in doubt and, on a more mundane level, boarding a tender to be ferried to ports of call would be difficult if not impossible.

We pretty much had an onboard hot (39 degrees C) tub to ourselves; the rain even kept onlookers away and it was a perfect vantage point to luxuriate through the fjords in which we cruised amidst typical Norwegian low cloud. Indeed for a time I thought that we may have found a country with worse weather than Scotland based on recent experiences, but the Captain ever optimistically would announce the weather forecast at midday and then say that he was hoping it would be better at the head of the fjords when we made our ports of call. Fortunately his optimism was based on solid foundation and ashore we avoided the dankness that generally accompanied our passage through those mighty fjords, enabling us to undertake some splendid walks and truly appreciate the magnificent scenery.

We stopped at Flam, Olden and Bergen and had no need to undertake any organised tours although plans to travel on the famous Flam railway were thwarted by a mega cruise ship tying up on the dockside, leaving our understated but elegant vessel anchoring offshore and giving the 3000 passengers on board the floating skyscraper a monopoly on train tickets. Fortunately neither it nor the other ships docked in Bergen spoilt our pleasure or the view on other days, probably because they were too large to manouvre through some of the smaller fjords on which our cruise concentrated.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Summer Holidays 1

It is more than a month since I made an entry here, attributable I confess to taking a break, not from blogging but from our usual activities and familiar patterns and places. Yes I have been on what, when you are working, is called a holiday but, in retirement, is better known as travelling or going away. I'm not sure of the distinction other than the fact that retirement can sometimes be viewed as one long holiday when, free from the constraints of the workplace, we can finally seek to live life to the full.

So a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves back at our favourite haunt in the Lake District, staying in a wooden lodge overlooking the beck on what is known as the Langdale Estate but which a hundred years ago was actually a gunpowder works. The estate now seeks not only to blend with its surroundings but also incorporate some of the features of its industrial past like the water channels, wheels and millstones.

These days a smart hotel and individual lodges lie amongst this wooded area nestling under the shadow of the Langdale Pikes. For us it now feels like a home from home with easy access to the high fells for long distance walking.

Except this year I gave anything with a noticeable gradient a miss in the interests of trying to stablise my wobbly knee. Instead and whilst Mister E, the youngest and those staying with us took full advantage, I strolled in a more gentle fashion with my camera, read books  and even visited the recently opened spa. 

Now I am not a great fan of lying back and relaxing. I  much prefer to be on the go with lots to think about if action is not an option, but I have to say that 4 hours dipping between hydrotherapy pool, steam rooms and saunas all surrounded by trees and mountain air certainly conveys a feeling of well-being, as does breathing deeply and inhaling the majestic scenery.  

As the Lakeland and nature poet William Wordsworth described it:
 "Alive to all things and forgetting all."