2015: A Year In Review
So, another year comes to an end. It feels like only a few days ago that I was sat at my computer writing about all that had gone on last year. Now I’m talking about 2015 including my holidays, turning 30, a change of job and home ownership as well. It’s been another good year.
As I seem to do every January, I returned to Orlando, Florida [click for post] at the beginning of the year. I was joined by my friend, Kelly, and we set off for a week of fun in the sun, including theme parks, a bit of shopping, and, most importantly, some flying too. It was a fun week with several stops at the city’s most popular attractions and eateries across the state. The weather in Florida was a little out of ordinary whilst we were there and several days of flying were cancelled because of poor weather including a less than acceptable cloud base along with heavy rain. With only 36 hours until our flight home, we eventually got into the air, and I was signed off again for the multi-engine piston and instrument ratings.
I never get bored of Orlando. The shopping is good (and on the whole, cheap too), there are an astounding number of restaurants serving up every food imaginable and the state is undeniably the theme park capital of the world. My favourite parks – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (next door to each other) – are visited every time, without fail.
We did spend a day at Wet ‘n’ Wild – Orlando’s near 40 year old water park, conveniently situated on International Drive. Despite a number of visits to Orlando, it was back in 1997 that I last visited. I was only 12 years old. Since then, the park has seen a handful of new slides added (there are now 17 altogether) but it looked really quite sad. There were few visitors, the majority of the food kiosks were closed and a large portion of the park was closed for renovation. One contributing factor may have been that it was the middle of January; it was a little wet and the temperature was barely 20 degrees! Still, a good day was head, and it was nice to get in one last visit before the park closes at the end of 2016.
In March, I took my first step onto the property ladder, buying a house with my sister in Shinfield. Property prices in the area are sky-high so going it alone was not an option. Everything happened very quickly when the right property came up. It was put onto the market at lunchtime and we had viewed and offered by dinner time, with our offer being accepted the following morning. There wasn’t even time for the estate agent’s board to be put up outside.
We vacated our rented flat in Sindlesham and it was a huge relief. The property itself was very ordinary and Romans (estate agent) did a pretty dire job of looking after us as tenants! They felt that their only duty was to collect rent and not in any way to provide other services e.g. repairs. You will find a little more here.
June saw me turning 30 and I was keen to have a memorable one! I’ve never been a big drinker so the very ordinary night out in town was never going to be an option. Instead, one of the countries on my ‘must see’ list was visited – Vietnam. I travelled to Hanoi, Phu Quoc Island and Ho Chi Minh City, seeing sights such as the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi, the most amazing beaches in all of Vietnam and the more hard-hitting War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
I left Vietnam for visit number 14 (I think) to Thailand, which was a chance to rest before heading home.
Nine flights were taken on this 13 night trip, staying in five different hotels. All were rated 4-5* and all were special for very different reasons – some with their excellent facilities, others with a top notch breakfast and others with a service that well exceeded my expectations. I was feeling unwell on the trip to Vietnam and my short spell of illness climaxed at the Lotte Hanoi when I announced at the pool that I was “going to be sick” before doing exactly that. The staff did the most amazing job of taking care of me – not only in their on-site nurse’s room but also later in the stay, when they would occasionally call to make sure that I was on the road to recovery!
You can read more about the trip to Vietnam here.
In August, I left my job at First Wessex in Aldershot, where I had been a Neighbourhood Manager. I went into the job believing it to be for only 5 months, but it became permanent, and I soon started to dislike the long and semi-rural journey to work. I also felt that the permanent work made me feel a little too comfortable and it stopped me from pursuing my dream career. I took up temporary employment much closer to home, in a very similar role, and was much happier.
Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, my sister took me away to Warsaw in Poland as a 30th birthday present. Poland was not a country that I had visited previously but I was fond of Eastern Europe, having already been to Hungary twice, so it was a perfect choice. Our three night trip was again a success and enjoyed by the both of us. The food here was excellent and value for money was impressive too. The meatiest stodgiest dishes could be purchased for £5-£6 per person in some of the better restaurants and for much less elsewhere. Doughnuts too were enjoyed in vast quantities and they were widely available for around 30p-50p each.
On Bank Holiday Monday, we had booked ourselves a day return flight from Warsaw to Krakow. At around £28 each return with LOT Polish Airlines, it was great value for money, and it saved us a number of hours on the road. The flight time was only around 40 minutes each way and the convenient flight timings meant that we could enjoy a full day in Krakow – and from there travel to Auschwitz. With the time available to us, we had to settle for a half day trip to the former Nazi death camp, which was far from enough. Given the chance to go again (and I will one day go again), I would prefer to explore both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau at my own pace. There is much here to absorb and it’s impossible to do this as you are hurried around by a very time-conscious tour guide! Entry to both camps is free although it is a requirement to book tickets in advance. We paid around £26.00 each for a half day tour, which included return transportation from the centre of Krakow (around 90 minutes each way).
A more detailed account of my time in Poland and the visit to Auschwitz can be found here.
In early September, my motorbike was taken on it’s longest jaunt yet – down to Land’s End. Leaving at lunchtime on a Saturday and returning by dinnertime the following day, it was a lot of miles in a very short space of time, but the trip was hugely enjoyable. On the way down, we stopped in Bodmin and ‘glamped’ (or, more appropriately, we slept in a shed). After some dinner and an early night, we woke early and hit the road for the remaining 50-60 miles, until the road became sea and we could ride no further. From there, it was a long ride home. 600 miles were added to the odometer over that weekend.
It wasn’t too long after returning from Land’s End that I decided, after finishing work slightly early one day, to go for a short ride on my bike. As per usual, I didn’t set off with a destination in mind, and I would turn in whichever direction took my fancy each time I reached a junction. Remembering my recent trip, I thought it would be useful to have some better luggage in case I ever decided to do it again, so I stopped at the Infinity clearance warehouse in Camberley and bought a bag. On the way home, I swerved to avoid a car at a roundabout, and did so awfully, resulting in me and my bike falling to the floor. With repairs required, that was to to be the last time I would ride my bike for more than 2 months! Thankfully, I came away just about unscathed, with damage to a toe and a graze on my knee! After this accident, I told myself that I would never ride without adequate protection. Even at low speed, little or no protective clothing is going to result in substantial (and irreparable) damage to the rider.
Having enjoyed Warsaw so much back in the summer, I returned again in early December, and another great time was had. I used the last of my British Airways Avios to upgrade to Club Europe and an excellent hotel was chosen for the stay. I used the time to explore places not visited previously including the enormous Jewish cemetery, where there are believed to be in excess of 200,000 marked graves, including that of Adam Czerniaków (head of the Warsaw ghetto Judenrat). He bravely took his own life when ordered to round up Jewish people for deportation to Nazi extermination camps. His time in the Warsaw ghetto was documented in his diary entitled The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniaków. It is a book that I picked up shortly after returning from Poland and one that I look forward to reading immensely.
You will find pictures from this trip and others on my Instagram page.
Until next year…