What I did last summer 2016

On the evening of Friday June 24th 2016 I took a plane to Los Angeles for my first stop on my 6 week trip, visiting Jo.

Fun times with Jo in LA and Santa Monica!

Dinner in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Beach and Pier

Onto San Diego with Jo to visit her siblings, Jamie and Jessica. Love that city - and those kids!

Thai food and beach time at La Jolla with the kids.

First stop London, where I met up with old friends I'd left 21 years ago to move to California and see every time I come back to visit. It felt like we saw each other yesterday- great friends will do that for you.

Patsy never changes
Christie was not from 21 years ago but a friend I met through Adobe and I loved seeing her again
RIchmond Park with Dave and Gina, who always find me a room in their home
Dear Lucy
Clare, Serena, Gina, Cathie and Elin, the Mums I shared play dates with
Of course, we found the men in the pub after dinner
Then Heathrow to Marseilles
Wonderful lunch with Jean-Renaud Boulay who picked me up from the airport. Thanks J-R!
Quiet backsreets
Port of Marseilles market

On my life's bucket list was a cookery class in France, and I was so excited and nervous as I took the train from Marseilles to the small village in the hills of Provence to start that dream.

The hotel Berard was exactly as i'd seen on the website - situated in a beautiful hillside village with views across the valleys to the neighbouring hills and villages. My gorgeous room looked out over these views with the swimming pool below where I would spend my afternoons after our classes had finished. Pictures below of my first meal at the hotel - I knew I'd come to the right place!

Buffet breakfast every day - the French know how to do this!

Our introduction to the cooking school started with a visit to the beautiful herb, vegetable and fruit gardens where Chef Berard started his cookery instruction with us. Huge thanks to my friend and cooking companion, Photographer: Nathalie Fischler, who took many of the following photos from our blissful days at the school.


Me and my cooking friends in the kitchen with Chef Berard

The graduating class

Some gorgeous foodie pics from Chef Berard's kitchens and Nathalie's camera

Chef Berard choosing fish at the local market before we went back to cook

Lunch every day was on the vine-strewn terrace, where Chef Berard's wonderful sous-chefs were served up the food we'd prepared. My cooking companions and I were thoroughly spoilt and only had to sit and be waited on with the perfect rose wine and the Provencal cooking from our class.

Wonderful memories from this week in Provence, great food, great friends, great location and great chef!

Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, our nearest coastal town
Tomatoes in the farmers' market
Is this paradise or what?
I got my graduation certificate!

My next stop on this journey was at the end of a train ride to Geneva, where I was able to spend a few days with my dear friend Lynda and her husband Pete, in their gorgeous home just outside the city.

Great few days with Lynda, then off to Bruxelles to see my great friend Bea. My first time to this beautiful city and over the next few days Bea showed me around that region including trips to Ostend and Bruges

After a magical few days in Bruxelles, it was back to the UK. I flew to Birmingham and picked up a rental car for the rest of my time there. So fun driving on the left hand side by myself! First stop was favorite cousin David's house in Kenilworth where I spent a few days visiting with his wife Gill, and other family in the area. These two are the best fun people around!

Next northwards to visit sister Judy.

On the way I was able to have a pub lunch with Liz and Nick (sister-in-law and nephew)

It was so great to hang out with Judy and her family in her gorgeous home in Yorkshire, too short but good times

Will, Judy, Pete and Jack (we missed you Lizzie!)
Their horse
Their lovely home
Brilliant hike in the North Yorkshire moors
Our destination!
Dog Sasha

Judy and I spent a lovely day in nearby York, and took a boat cruise down the River Ouse for a better view of the city.

Then I drove south to meet up with Helen. who is always so much fun to hang out with. We know each other from university and that's going back a long way! We kicked off our 3-day visit with a wonderful trip round Hardwick Hall, beautiful Elizabethan buildings and grounds in Derbyshire dating from the 1500s, and owned by the National Trust

My final few days in England, I spent overnight with Brenda and Paul in Oxfordshire, then a quick coffee with Melissa in her lovely village of Cobham in Surrey before coming to the end of my 4 week European trip at Heathrow Airport.

Next, flying away to spend a couple of weeks with Kevin! Woohoo!

So where is Belize?

We had two weeks in Belize, so we divided up our time into one week in the jungle and one week on the beach. Good decision!

The Jungle in Belize

Our first hotel, Lamanai Outpost, was only accessible by boat along this river.

Indiana Jones?
We took many walks around this area, hearing new sounds - animals and insects - and seeing new vegetation
Where we relaxed after our long days!

The main focus of any trip to the inland area of Belize has to be visits to the many Mayan temples in the area. The Jaguar Temple was our first experience of the Mayan culture, a walk away from our lodge and with our amazing guide, Eduardo, we were given a lesson into the history and culture of this indigenous people, living here from 2000 BC to the 16th century when the Spaniards arrived. Lamanai was the longest continually-occupied site by the Mayans in Central America. They thrived here and eventually drove the Spanish out and burned their churches. When the English arrived, they colonized the area and produced both rum and sugar. Equipment from the old sugar mill remains scattered throughout the jungle, and a strangler fig has started growing over the old brick building.

Eduardo continued our education showing us how to get the juice out of a coconut and how to make corn tortillas from scratch!

Meeting David Pendergast and his wife Elizabeth was a highlight of our Belize Trip. They happened to be staying in the Lodge and gave Kevin and me a personal showing of the Mayan artifacts he and his team had excavated 40 years previously. He was in charge of excavations here between 1974 and 1986 and had recently come back to continue cataloguing his finds, A huge job - we were so fortunate to catch him there during his 2 month stay at Lamanai Lodge.

Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge

This was a gorgeous hotel in the Belizian rainforest, and despite going on crazy adventures - caving, rapelling, etc - we lived a luxurious life for a few days. Customer service was king here and we met some very interesting people during our stay.

Our bedroom was the largest bedroom I had every been in, with hibiscus flowers strewn over the floor, bed, bath and toilet! Every day, a new towel sculpture greeted us.
Relaxing by the pool
This was our bathroom and hot tub, One of the biggest questions of the day was whether to have an indoor or outdoor shower #firstworldproblems.
Another very famous temple (we couldn't pronounce this so we called it the Tuna Sandwich Temple!) with another fantastic guide. We were also joined by this really great young couple from Indiana (who have since got engaged - awww!)

The ruins of Tikal in Guatamala, an ancient Mayan city where we spent a day, but could have spent longer.

Beautiful butterflies everywhere
Lots of steps to climb!
Howler monkeys were everywhere in Belize and Gautamala, very noisy and very tame!
Shout out to some of our amazing guides, who have not only dedicated themselves to learning English at a very high level but also paid for intensive courses to study their own and Mayan culture and history to share with us tourists, Our utmost thanks and respect to Goldborn, Elmer, Hector and Eduardo.

We had time to stop at the famous Belize zoo on our way back to the coast to begin our second week on the beach, The zoo was founded in 1983 by Sharon Matola, when a number of animals who had been trained to appear in a movie set in Belize were left behind. Sharon set up this zoo to care for them and has been looking after injured wildlife ever since. The Belize Zoo focuses on educating visitors about the wildlife of Belize through encountering the animals in their natural habitat. I wish I had more photos - these don't do it justice. This was such an interesting part of our trip.

The Beach in Belize

This is what it feels like to arrive at the Caribbean coast of Belize!

I'll take it!
Our "room" for the next 5 days!
Our balcony
Our bar!
Fascinated to see this guy being elevated above the water. Looked fun - don't know the name for it!
Bicycling was a great way of getting around.
Pondering how are we so lucky?
Couldn't stop smiling!
We spent many hours playing cards (and eating peanuts)

Then everything changed. Hurricane Earl hit during our 2nd night. No power for the rest of our trip. So much damage to this already fragile coastline. The Belizians suffered a lot, both on the coast and inland where so many of their crops were ruined, their main livelihood (losses to agriculture exceeded US$100 million).

Hurricane Earl was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane to impact Mexico since Hurricane Stan in 2005

We were lucky. We were leaving this devastated place. And this tiny plane is how we flew back to Belize City from our little coastal town. Kevin spent quite a bit of time reassuring me it was safe. They didn't even tell us to wear our safety belts!

And we were so happy to land safely in Belize city!

A final photo - back home after the most amazing trip of my life. A few thanks to give. Thanks to Adobe for allowing me to take this great sabbatical, thanks to my patient husband who had to stay home while I disappeared for four weeks, thanks to everyone I stayed with on my trip in Europe - your hospitality was incredible and made my adventures so much more fun! And thanks to my little suitcase who managed to carry everything I needed for six weeks!

OK where to next time?


Created with images by Grant Wickes - "2014Apr12_DFW Airport Planes_098"

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