Month: October 2013

Travelling in the Company of Locals

From singing solo in a church in Poland to eating live lobster in Japan, I’ve had some unforgettable experiences in the company of locals during my travels.

So what if I didn’t sing like Whitney Houston or believe the meal was really haute cuisine, I had an adventure in both instances that I wouldn’t have experienced were it not for my local hosts. I will never forget the horrified look on the faces of the audience when my croaky voice escaped my ever so pleasant face, and the joyous grin on my Japanese host’s face as I ate from the back of a lobster that was moving its tentacles.  It would have been rude to do otherwise.

Adventure and then some, right? In any case, they are both great stories.  I savour the memories of my travels with Habitat for Humanity International, not just for the work I was doing, but also for the local experiences. I always had a local host from the time I cleared immigrations to the time I returned to the airport. And what a difference it made to acclimatising and experiencing.

Without someone with inside information, I likely would have had a limited adventure, if only because I didn’t speak the language or understand the customs.

In at least one instance, which happened to be with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, having a local hostess was the difference in getting into the country and possibly being sent back to the UK or at least severely delayed.

I’ll never know. Anyhow, the point is that while exploring a foreign place on your own, which Paul and I often do, can be satisfactory; it can be extraordinary in the company of a local.

We’ve been to France more times than I can remember, a favourite place for a number of reasons—the food, the history, the nearness to England—and we always have a great time. This past weekend, however, we had an extraordinary time visiting Paul’s longest standing friend and his wife in Haute-Savoie, situated in the French Alps.

When he was eleven, Paul lived with Jean Pierre’s family as an exchange student. And Jean Pierre, of course, lived with Paul and his family reciprocally. The two men have kept in touch over the years, remarkable within itself.

But as Jean Pierre said, this holiday we ventured into deep France, parts of the country that tourists are unlikely to go, such as villages near a small town called Fessy, where his paternal grandparents lived, and the mountainous areas near Samoens ski resort, where his maternal grandparents lived. Both family homes are still in use.

Near Samoens, we sampled some delicious cider made by a quintessentially French cousin, took in some extraordinary views of the countryside, featuring traditional French homes, and ruins of alluring castles that are not on the tourist track.

Even when we visited Chamonix (where we’ve been at least once before), situated at the foot of Mont Blanc, we made new discoveries—a spot where the mountains, trees, and a small lake co-exist so harmoniously that it looks like a post card; a glacier that has metamorphosed over the years, shrinking in size, but is still breathtakingly beautiful.

The French appetite for life is magnanimous, not to mention their taste for food. Upon arrival, our hosts served up a traditional Swiss meal, Raclette, which is often served in Haute-Savoie, as well. Charcuterie, gherkins, perfectly boiled new potatoes, etc. are served with melted cheese, which happens before your eyes on a special hot plate.

Steeped in tradition, our hosts also dished up my favourite breakfast bread. Voila, croissants. Not to mention, the wine, but not for breakfast, and the much appreciated translations of the speciality dishes we sampled at local restaurants.

Admittedly, we had our first delightful meal before we reached our hosts, and though we found it adventurous to choose food without full knowledge of what we were getting (Paul’s French is limited, you know), we rather relaxed in the knowledge of our hosts and were, therefore, able to branch out, sampling fish that came from the local lake.

The lake. How could I forget Lac Leman, which is Switzerland’s largest land locked body of water but extends well into France? Well remembered it will be, along with our exploration of France in the company of locals.

All there’s left to do now is to brush up on my French. What French? Never mind. I’ll stick with the locals for a bit longer.

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Reinventing The Way We Use Good Thoughts

The more I think about  getting rid of bad thoughts, the more I’m convinced that this process is about reinvention, particularly when it comes to fundamentals.

How many times have you reinvented yourself, whether it had to do with career, fashion, family and so on? Sounds flippant to a certain degree, but reinvention is what we do when something becomes passe or no longer useful or beneficial.

Otherwise, we are stuck.

So why not do the same with thinking? In my latest Huffington Post blog, I take a look at moving forward, Getting With the New Programme. Another way to put it is to leave limiting thinking behind.

In doing so, we don’t abandon our fundamentals, rather we understand them more thoroughly, and use them appropriately to spring forward.

Sounds like a bit of reinvention to me. Nothing wrong with that! Happy reinvention.

Running in London, more than meets the eye

I’ve been running again. And though I haven’t signed up for the next road race, I’m up to 12 miles per week, even if a little old lady is faster.

Never mind her, the younger runners or the cyclists whizzing by, I’m in my own world and rarely come out for anything less important than crossing the road. That’s one of the things that I love about running; it’s just me.

On the rare occasion when I do come out of my thoughts, I catch some interesting sights. This week I saw a barefoot runner, life on a luxury houseboat and calm commuters making their way to the river bus.

Bear with; there’s more to this than meets the eye.

First things first, when I was a kid, I thought barefoot running was great. No better place for it than the Georgia countryside, vast plains if you will, and warm red clay underneath my feet. Never mind the odd thorn, bramble or rock.

But fast-forward forty something years and I wonder ‘why on earth’ or shall I say ‘why on concrete’ would anyone do it, especially on a frigid, damp day in London. No wonder the fellow in question was sprinting.

Still, he seemed to be having a blast. Maybe there was more to it than I could see. All the same, I’m not up for it. But I’ll tell you what I am up for—the river bus, but I’ll save that for last.

For now let me tell you about the luxury houseboats, which are moored between Battersea and Putney. According to one estate agent, the boats have two reception rooms and four bedrooms. Not your average narrow houseboat with a low ceiling, is it? Quite surreal to be honest, which is why I chalked them up as permanent exhibitions or river homes for the rich and famous.

This week, however, I caught a glimpse of a person on one of the floating luxury apartments. And suddenly, it dawned on me that this could be a regular person who had carved out an ideal lifestyle—idyllic views, fresh air and their own river bus. Yes, the river bus.

Just then, I heard it, tooting a rather composed horn. I looked up and watched it near the port. Meanwhile, very orderly commuters gathered and then made their way down the gangway.  What a vast difference to London’s train stations and bus stops during rush hour.

Breaking my run, I watched in amazement until the last passenger was on and seated. And then observed the bus move off into the Thames and cruise towards central London uninterrupted by traffic or signalling delays.

Though river buses are not as plentiful as trains or regular buses, there are several connections from Putney to Greenwich.

In the meantime, I re-set my running App and got back to the task at hand. Soon I shot past my building and headed towards the heliport, a helicopter coming in for a landing. With serenity in the distance, I remembered another thing that I love about running.

Soon it would be over and it would be coffee time, which is croissant time for me, just me. More than meets the eye? Interesting, indeed.

Do You Have a Monster Within?

Crazy question, isn’t it? I thought so too until I got thinking about thinking rather obsessively, in the interest of researching and writing my second novel, The Blindsided Prophet.

Available now in e-book and paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most online retailers, it launches officially Monday. But what does it have to do with thinking?

A whole lot is the short answer.

Modern-day prophet Isaiah Brown thinks deeply not only for himself but also for the sake of others, too. And before it is all said and done, he proposes to leave people thinking their way out of chaos and into calm and serenity more often than not.

Deep, right! That’s why I’ve dedicated my latest Huff Post blog to mind matters, a subject so big, I simply couldn’t get it all done in one go.

Part I: Negative Thinking, Monstrously is hot off the wire. Check it out? And find out for yourself whether you have a monster within. Scary? But remember, all monsters are not created equally. Some are cute and cuddly like Cookie Monster while others are a bit grisly, if you will, like the Incredible Hulk.

Best to get to the bottom of this, but that comes in part II later this month.

For now, read with an open mind and answer the question for yourself: So, do you have a monster within? Do tell right here, on Facebook, Twitter or the Huff Post.

England, full of tantalizing surprises

I hate to love surprises. You didn’t read wrong; it’s true.  Whenever someone has a surprise for me, particularly Paul, I do everything I can to spoil it. I snoop, I guess, I badger, but thankfully, he’s got my number and turns a blind eye to my childish behaviour most times.

Because when he unmasks the surprise, I love it.

This past birthday weekend he planned two grand surprises, as impressive as the time he got me all the way to the airport before revealing that he was taking me to Amsterdam for the weekend. Imagine! The first of the two weekend surprises, I had managed to finagle out of him, long before we set out, but the not the last one. I didn’t find out until we were yards away.

First things first,  a week away from surprise number one, I cajoled Paul until he gave in and arranged a guessing game. He would answer ten yes, no questions of my choice. 1) Are we staying in the United Kingdom? Yes! 2) Is it somewhere we have been before? Yes! 3) Is it Babington House? Yes!

Fireworks! I got packing and Paul got relaxing. He had planned the holiday well in advance to avoid disappointment. On the Friday before my birthday we drove to the English countryside in Somerset.

Long before we got there, I remembered that I hadn’t packed my toothpaste, my robe or a face cloth. I always take the latter because hotels in Europe don’t always have one. Well, well, well, I needn’t have worried. Luxury is the word at Babington House. Feasting my eyes upon the tree-lined driveway and then the grand house, I remembered.

Yes, they had all these amenities and more in our room. We didn’t have to ask for a thing, except a glass of champagne. Anyhow, the room was just as I remembered. Paul had arranged the same one. Spacious and attractive, it had a freestanding, elegant bathtub in the middle of the bathroom.

The main house had a few changes such a massive guestroom, off limits unless you were the guest, which used to be a huge relaxation room, where chairs hung from the ceiling literally. The location of the restaurant had changed, but the food, every meal, was fresh and delicious, although not a patch on surprise number two.

I am getting there. Bear with! From enchanting grounds with breath-taking views to a cosy library with the most exquisite and comfy chairs, Babington House is one of England’s best holiday spots.

Now, for the second surprise. The Monday after my birthday, Paul worked as usual, came home and suggested we go out for dinner around 8.30ish. And no matter how much I coaxed, he kept quiet until we arrived in Knightsbridge and even then I had to guess it—Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental.

OMG was all I could say. And after a wonderful dinner in the most delightful atmosphere, I can tell you that Heston deserves his most recent Michelin Star for this very restaurant. If you go there, get anything! It all looks wonderful and simply must be. But we had the prime rib for two, most uncharacteristic of us, and it was divine, as was the serving of brown bread ice cream. Heaven!

Shame that Heston didn’t actually turn up there, but he does cook, design each and every recipe and test, test, test like only he can, so I am told. What can I say, the man is busy. In his absence, I managed to stash a keepsake—the menu. Shush! Now, I have never been one to behave so ridiculously, but with two major surprises within days of each other, I was feeling elated.

Some might say it was the wine. Good point, but anyone who knows Paul knows that these two surprises, back to back, are to be cherished and remembered for a long time.

Just kidding. The man is full of surprises and so is his England. Oops! Mine, too.