25 October 2013

To walk or not to walk, the choice is yours

Like most people who enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and the thrill of discovering where a path, dirt track or passageway will lead you, I enjoy looking at maps and planning trips to the countryside. Sometimes though, it's fun to just pick a place, and go! As a child I remember lots of times, usually on Sunday mornings, when my parents would say, "let's go out for a drive" and I would respond at times quite unenthusiastically asking where we were going and for how long... but then I probably just wanted to go out to play with my friends. Now that I'm a bit older I love picking a place on a map, packing a rucksack and heading off into the hills with no certainties about where I'm going or what I'll see.  

It still amazes me that less than an hour's journey from the hustle and bustle of Manchester, it is entirely possible to separate yourself from everyday life, leave your stresses and worries behind, and simply enjoy being free to wander through fields and valleys, past lakes, rivers and tarns, and over fells, hills and mountains. One of the things I love most about getting out into the countryside is the smell of fresh air - you just can't beat that clean and pure flavour that somehow just leaves a healthy aftertaste in your mouth. I am a firm believer that going for a walk in the countryside can be every bit as beneficial and as healing as an aspirin. In fact, the stillness of your surroundings and the sounds of nature are the perfect antidote to beating the blues!

It came as a surprise to me to find that walking and enjoying the countryside hasn't always been quite so easy. Freedom to roam our green and pleasant land hasn't always been granted. In the 1930's there was a mass trespass on the highest point in Derbyshire, Kinder Scout, by some 400 ramblers from Manchester who believed and demanded that they should be given the right and the freedom to access our countryside, much to the unease of local  landowners. The hardworking factory grafters and dockers spilling out of the smoky industrial towns of northern England looked forward to their weekends where they could fill their lungs with fresh, clean countryside air. Yet a small minority of wealthy landowners, some of whom were MPs, did not warm to the idea of their privileges being weakened by opening up their land to walkers. Over 400 walkers made it up to Kinder Scout, barging their way past angry gamekeepers and landowners, only to be arrested by police when they got back down for 'riotous assembly'. Luckily for everyone who now enjoys walking in the countryside in the 21st century, the public began to back these walkers and demand free access to the countryside; so much so that thousands began to protest and the right to roam remained on the public's agenda for some time until in 1951 in the aftermath of the second world war, the post-war Labour government decided that Britain should get its very first National Park, and it was, quite fittingly, The Peak District; along with one of my favourites, The Lake District, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. And as we know, there were plenty more where they came from.

With so many National Parks, woods, gardens and forests right across Britain, there is something for everyone. It is a travesty if we don't explore these places when our ancestors fought and fought for the right to roam this beautiful and unique land that we inhabit. Unfortunately, as well as stunning landscapes, we are also blessed with a rather varied climate which can make it challenging to enjoy the outdoors when it's cold, blowing a gale and bullets of rain are beating down on your face as you try your utmost to stay vertical along the mountain side. So the way I see it, we have two choices: a) put on your waterproof raincoat, pack a flask of hot tea and off you go; or b) wait until it's sunny and warm (nb. option b may incur a long wait).

As the Scottish-born, American naturalist and conservationist, John Muir, once wrote: 'Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves'. 

Here are a few snaps from my recent wanderings in the Lakes...  

Coniston Water
Levens Water, near Old Man of Coniston
View down to Coniston Water
Levens Water

Esthwaite Water, near Coniston
Esthwaite Water, near Coniston

22 April 2013

Sailing to Happiness

Sailing The Whitsundays, Australia
I was recently out with some friends and the topic of conversation led to a question: "have you ever had a moment in your life when you felt 100%, truly happy?" By 'happy' we meant deliriously happy - a time when life just seemed to make sense - where the world was your oyster - where nothing could have changed in that moment to make it any more perfect. I knew mine instantly because it was an experience that was etched in my mind the second that I felt this overwhelming feeling of happiness in its purest form. I was a young, sprightly 19 year old travelling the world at the time. More precisely, I was sailing on Condor, a world famous Maxi sailing yacht which has won every major ocean race in the world twice including the Sydney to Hobart. I was sailing with a group of like-minded, adventure-hungry travellers up in Queensland, Australia. We had been sailing during the day; soaking up the Australian sunshine and snorkelling alongside some amazing marine life in the Great Barrier Reef. It was whilst up on deck watching the sun set that I had this overwhelming feeling of complete happiness and gratitude to be in such an inspiring place and to experience beauty that some could only imagine. The sky was glowing gold then became a mix of deep red, purple and dusky pink. The water was still and calm and I remember not being able to stop smiling and just repeating out loud, 'wow, I am so happy'. That night I fell asleep on deck under the unforgettable Southern Hemisphere stars, that is, until I later got woken by a cool breeze followed by rather a lot of rain, which prompted me to speedily make a run for it and go below deck! If I think of being truly happy, it's this image that rushes straight into my mind...

26 March 2013

Treat yourself...Ritz style

Not so long ago it was my lovely Mum's 60th birthday. Of course, this meant that spoiling her and making her feel extra special was an absolute must! Blessed with lots of lovely family and friends, we planned a very secret few days away at a farmhouse in Pembrokeshire, followed by a BBQ birthday party in the garden. Several presents later, off we went to London to have afternoon tea at the Ritz. If there was ever a time to get dressed up, this was it! 

Walking through the Parisian inspired Picadilly Arcade at the entrance of the famous London landmark at 150 Picadilly is a wonderful way to start an afternoon of pastries, perfectly cut finger sandwiches and cakes, along with no fewer than 17 different types of tea to choose from. I'm not really sure I could name 17 varieties of tea! We opted for Earl Grey which was served to us in very dainty cups and saucers, as you would expect. As well as the scrumptuous treats laid out before us, we were served by some very friendly waiters who, coupled by the exquisite surroundings of Palm Court, made the whole experience just how I hoped it would be. 

After just about managing to eat everything laid out in front of us, we enjoyed a leisurely hour or two wondering around the long gallery, taking a trip to the powder room and listening to the dulcet sounds of a grand piano and fitting songs like a 'Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square'. The Long Gallery is a lovely space leading off to lots of other rooms such as the Restaurant, where diners can look out across the Italian Gardens.

Opened in 1906, the French chateau-style hotel has welcomed them all, from King Edward VIII and the English aristocracy, to Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward. Churchill, Eisenhower and de Gaulle even met there for Summit Meetings during the Second World War. I recently discovered that Wallace Simpson and the Prince of Wales dined and danced in Palm Court, perhaps in the spot where I sat with my Mum drinking our glasses of champagne and admiring the chandeliers. Take a look at my photos and maybe treat someone special to an afternoon of glamour...Ritz style!

Palm Court

Don't mind if I do!
My Mum & I thoroughly enjoying our afternoon tea

The Long Gallery

The Powder Room

The stairway leading up to the bedrooms
Picadilly Arcade

30 September 2012

Inspire Language Learning: Blogger Challenge

inspire language learning

So...is it for love, travel, intelligence or money that we learn languages? 

Choosing to learn a language is a tough choice with so many to pick from, so getting allocated a language on arriving at secondary school made the process a little easier. After dabbling with ‘Le Club Francais’ in primary school I hoped to hear bienvenue, but instead, it was a bienvenidos for me from the Spanish teacher. I was far from disappointed; a few rolls of an ‘r’ later and I was hooked, intent on taking in every word the teacher uttered. As a young budding linguist going through school, it was the feeling of being able to converse with people in another language and read what others couldn’t that made the process of learning Spanish so exciting.

As I progressed, I realised that it was possible that languages could open doors for me. As someone who had a flair for languages I began learning Russian but it was Spanish which I took to sixth form and then to university. Learning a language became a powerful tool that I realised I could use for a career and for studying and working abroad. I decided to travel through South America for two months during a gap year before university. The ability to speak to the local people I encountered whilst zigzagging my way through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru ignited my passion for learning languages.

Studying in the Basque Country and Galicia, taking Mandarin classes in China, teaching English to some adorable children in Buenos Aires and living with a family in a remote part of Nicaragua have given me experiences that have shaped my values and the person I am. The value of learning a language can come from these kinds of life-altering experiences or it can simply come from the satisfaction of being able to order a plate of dumplings in Polish or ask for directions to the Brandenburg Gate in German.

For me, learning languages is not about money, love or intelligence. The most important benefit of learning a language, as I see it, is for the unique travelling experiences it can bring. Learning a language has given me access to a world of culture, fed my hunger for knowledge and allowed me to embrace moments spent with diverse people in the most remote of places. And the best part: all these experiences grew from that very first Spanish lesson at school.

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31 July 2012

Let's DIG THE CITY, Manchester!

A Look at Manchester's Urban Garden and Flower Festival
Manchester: you've given us an Irish Festival, a Jazz Festival, an International Festival, a Histories Festival, and now you've given us our very own Urban Garden and Flower Festival, AND we're still only in July with so much more to look forward to. All this week Manchester City Centre has been celebrating the 'Dig the City Urban Garden Festival' with the main event taking place inside Manchester Cathedral where over 30,000 flowers have been on display in stunning and incredibly creative floral displays taking visitors through Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', down the stairs to visit Eliza in 'My Fair Lady', across the room for a taste of 'Brown Sugar' and finishing up at 'Wonderwall.' Make sense? 

The photo to the left is a section from one of my favourite arrangements, 'Singing in the Rain' (Radcliffe Floral Art Group)

Manchester Cathedral during Dig the City

To the right is 'Brown Sugar', in the Rock & Roll, Pop section of the Cathedral (Hale Barnes Flower Club)

To the left is a section of the stunning 'Madam Butterfly' arrangement from the 'Timeline of Composers' section (St Mary's, Prestwich). 

 Beautifully positioned in the Cathedral, 'Walk Through the Fire' really does make you stop and look. Another favourite of mine (Bolton Floral Art Group).
'Singing in the Rain'
With 15 different areas to visit around the Medieval Quarter of Manchester, Dig the City has been an ambitious project and I think it has been successful in terms of bringing people and organisations together. As well as the Cathedral, the brand new National Football Museum (which I have yet to visit!), Manchester Arndale and the newly re-branded Corn Exchange (formally the Triangle) have all put on events and activities to get into the flower power spirit. On top of all that, I enjoyed a bit of a wander around the surrounding Cathedral Gardens, the Jubilee Garden, Groundwork Manchester's 'Living Street'  and community gardens growing everything from lettuces to parsley and tomatoes. I spoke to one of the many keen and passionate volunteers about the community gardens and it was fantastic to hear how all the food growing would be going to the Booth Centre to be put to good use (the Booth Centre is a day centre that provides activities, advice and support to homeless people in Manchester).

The Volunteer Legacy Garden outside the Cathedral
    Great to see The Corn Exchange, now back to using its historic name, taking part in the floral festivities of Dig the City this week...

The building's atrium floor was transformed into a Mad Hatter's tea party display from that well known classic, Alice in Wonderland. A large round table was scattered with vintage mismatched china teacups and cake stands adorned with soft lemon and dusky pink roses, peonies and sweet peas. The table was surrounded with baskets of flowers, classic books open on aged pages waiting to be read.  As a sucker for afternoon tea I thought the display was simple yet elegant and a very creative way to take part in Dig the City.
As someone who feels passionately about people having access to green and open spaces in urban areas, it's great to see that an event like Dig the City has generated so much interest. We need some big things to happen in this city before I will be saying how wonderful and green Manchester is, but getting people (and more importantly children and young people) interested in gardens, flowers and plants and growing your own food is a good place to start. I hope Dig the City will become a permanent feature in Manchester's summer events calender. Congratulations to everyone involved!

2 July 2012

The Sky's The Limit: Manchester Day Parade 2012

Wandering down to have a nosy at the third Manchester Day Parade recently on 10th June made my Sunday afternoon a very fun and enjoyable one! More than 45,000 Mancunians came out to celebrate the city's diversity and the achievements of community and social groups across Manchester. The Parade was made up of over 2,400 participants  who danced, drummed and weaved their way through the streets of Manchester City Centre, adorned with a dazzling array of costumes and impressive structures.

A huge congratulations to everyone who took part in the Parade and helped to bring communities together in a fabulous display of Mancunian pride! For anyone who didn't manage to make it to the Parade this year, have a look at the photos below for a taster & get yourself down there next year! You won't be disappointed!

For more photos please visit my Facebook  page: www.facebook.com/CuriousChristina