2014: Reminiscing

It’s hard to believe that another year has been and gone – and 2014 came and went in a flash.

Like previous years, 2014 was one packed full of holidays. I didn’t quite manage the seven overseas trips made in 2013 and nor did I cover quite as many miles. But still, 2014 was a year of change, fun, spending money and living a little.

Marc and I at Kissimmee Airport after three days of flying the Duchess around Florida.

Marc and I at Kissimmee Airport after three days of flying the Duchess around Florida.

The year kicked off with nine days in Florida, where I was joined by my friend, Marc – also known as ‘Wickens’ (a school name that has sort of stuck). It was a chance for me to do some flying, to catch up with friends, do a spot of shopping and do a theme park or two as well. Marc and I managed to squeeze a lot in over those few days including three days of flying, trips to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, a couple of the Disney parks and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canveral on Florida’s east coast. There were a handful of shopping trips as well and even on our last day we were stocking up in a Tommy Hilfiger outlet and boarding the flight home with lots of paper bags – all containing things that wouldn’t squash into our suitcases!

The street on which my dad was born - Comely Bank Avenue - was somewhere Emma and I visited on our trip to Edinburgh.

The street on which my dad was born – Comely Bank Avenue – was somewhere Emma and I visited on our trip to Edinburgh.

In late March, I spent a few of my British Airways Avios on a trip to Edinburgh for my sister and I. It’s somewhere I have have always been fond of, and, since it’s where my dad comes from, it’s always good to show an interest. We had a couple of nights in a very pleasant Novotel hotel, a very snazzy hire car and did lots more shopping too. The car provided to us was a very basic and very square shaped Chevrolet Aveo. I wasn’t keen to be seen in the thing and nor was Emma. We agreed that the small premium for a slightly better vehicle (a BMW One Series) was money well spent!

We returned from Edinburgh on the first flight of the morning back to Heathrow at 7.00am since both us had to be back in our respective offices for 10.00am. It was exhausting but returning to the airport for another trip just two days later made this early start seem bearable.

Songkran celebrations take place every April in Thailand to mark the New Year.

Songkran celebrations take place every April in Thailand to mark the New Year.

On 2 April, the pair of us set off to Thailand, where we were to join our parents, who were already more than two weeks into a holiday. As a bit of an aviation nerd, it was exciting to experience the Boeing 787 on the first and last legs of the trip, flying with China Southern Airlines between London and Guangzhou. Even if the entertainment wasn’t up to much, I could easily keep myself amused with the electronic window shades. They were brilliant.

Me standing outside a temple in Thailand.

Me standing outside a temple in Thailand.

Our fortnight by the sea was wrapped up with two nights in bustling Bangkok, staying in the Chatrium Riverside Hotel and overlooking the Chao Phraya River from our suite – given as complimentary upgrade. Our visit coincided with Songkran (Thai New Year), as it has done many times before. The Thai people and many foreign visitors hit the streets in their thousands, all armed with water pistols and buckets of water. In one street, we saw the local fire brigade joining in this enormous water fight with the cannon on top of their truck! If you’re out in the street, you’re considered to be a part of the fun, so with our phones and money in waterproof pouches, we set out into the chaos.

The Andre Rieu concert in Zurich was great.

The Andre Rieu concert in Zurich was great.

In late May, I travelled to Zurich in Switzerland, again making use of the British Airways Avios points earned through loyalty to the airline and a credit card as well. With lots of points dying to be spent, I upgraded on one leg to Club Europe (the airline’s short haul business class) and took advantage of complimentary lounge access before the flight and a better standard of service during it. I am into classical music and decided to travel to see Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra performing at the Hallenstadion. This was to be my third visit to one of his concerts, having previously seen him in London and Birmingham.

A market and craft fair in the centre of Zurich.

A market and craft fair in the centre of Zurich.

The trip to Switzerland very nearly didn’t happen. Only the day before, I travelled up to my then employer’s head office in Newcastle. To make a day trip possible, I was booked on the first flight of the day up to Newcastle and the last flight back again. With my return trip being cancelled and no later flights that day, the airline transferred me to the first flight home the following morning. Unfortunately, this would have meant missing my 7.00am flight to Zurich. Anyway, the kind souls at British Airways refused my request to be transferred to an Easyjet flight at a cost of £85.00 but happily plonked me on a train to Heathrow via God only knows how many stations at a cost of £145.00. It didn’t make any sense to me. About six hours later than expected, I arrived back at home.

My second mode of transport - a Yamaha XJ6N.

My second mode of transport – a Yamaha XJ6N.

In the middle of July, I moved out of the family home in Winnersh and moved into a flat in nearby Sindlesham. I figured that at 29 years of age, I really ought to move on. Whilst living at home was great and much cheaper than my current home, it was the thought of still living with mum and dad at 30 years old that frightened me.

It was also in July that I had a moment of madness. Wanting to do something different and whacky, I decided to get myself a motorbike licence. I booked myself onto an intensive course offered by the Mytchett based Excelerate and was ready for the tests after five full days of training – beginning with the module 1 (in a controlled environment and completed within 10-15 minutes) and then the module 2 (about 45 minutes on the road).

Sneaking off to the do the training was short lived, however. Even though I wasn’t living at home any more, my mum had noticed that I was going out a lot and she wanted to know what I was up to. “I’ll tell you later”, I said, suggesting then that we go to Nirvana Spa. Knowing that she probably wouldn’t have approved of what I was up to, it was the best place to break the news. Even my mum wouldn’t have raised her voice in the peaceful and tranquil spa!

With the training completed and both tests passed, I went bike shopping and made a purchase – my Yamaha XJ6N. With a 600CC engine, it was something that I was capable of handling but it was nippy too. Even the fastest of cars couldn’t beat me when the traffic lights changed to green.

I’ve ridden well over 2,000 miles already – obviously safely, since I’m still here to talk about it – and it’s a lot of fun. Even now, I’m happy to jump on the thing and set off without a destination in mind. Not long after I bought the bike, I ended up in a retail park next to Fratton Park in Portsmouth, where I had a quick McDonald’s before heading home.

My colleagues at Home Group covered my desk in banners, party hats bunting when I left.

My colleagues at Home Group covered my desk in banners, party hats bunting when I left.

At the beginning of August, I decided to leave Home Group, where I had worked as a Housing Officer for nearly two and a half years. It was a job that I enjoyed a lot but after moving house, I realised that I could only live on my salary – there would be little in the way of saving and holidays would happen only very occasionally. Leaving behind so many residents that I had got to know and like, along with my colleagues in the office, wasn’t easy.

Just a few days later, I began working for a Hampshire based housing association, and, within a matter of weeks, the position became permanent. Permanent employment isn’t something that I thought I would ever give consideration to again but this was a good company with good residents, staff and benefits. It was an offer too good to refuse.

In October, I took another holiday, but this time on my own. The rest of the family were scattered all over the world on holidays and I felt the need to get away too. I ended up in Marrakech, Morocco. This was my first real experience of Africa, having only visited Egypt previously, and that was a whistle stop whilst on a cruise.

With my flight stopping in Lisbon, I spent the night there and continued down to Marrakech the following morning. The plan was to explore some of the Portuguese capital during the 18 hour stopover but I didn’t venture into the city, instead staying local to my hotel on the edge of the airport.

The Koutoubia Mosque can be seen from all over Marrakech.

The Koutoubia Mosque can be seen from all over Marrakech.

Marrakech is a city I loved and one that I will definitely return to. I had opted to stay in a traditional guest house – the Mon Riad. It was simple but small and cosy with faultless service too. It was the ideal base from which to explore the city and offered easy access to the vibrant Medina. Morocco offered everything that I look for in a holiday – fantastic value for money (I spent just £40 in three days), culture and warmth. The Moroccan tagine is a dish that I enjoyed plenty of times on my short trip – packed full of meat, vegetables and spices too.

So, that was 2014. Here’s to the year ahead! It’s the year that I turn 30 and whilst I don’t know quite how I will be celebrating, an epic trip to somewhere far away is almost certainly on the cards.

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1 Response

  1. Paps says:

    Super shot of the ‘Avenue’ Michael, first time I have seen this one – so many memories are flooding back. x

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