Monday, 11 December 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 3

It’s me again…..Hiiiiiiiiii!!! 

I don’t know if you remember (I wouldn't blame you if you can’t) but one of the last times we spoke I told you all about my time in Napa Valley, sampling the wines that the Castello di Amoroso had to offer, and how I enjoyed the guided tour of a magnificent castle (you can remind yourself about that right here, and if you’d like to read about my 24 hours in San Fran just hop on over to here).

So, after making sure I was very reserved with how much wine passed my lips in the tasting session, I hopped into the driver’s seat, did a head count to make sure none of my party had snuck back into one of the 95 wine rooms, and waved goodbye to the castle and all that lovely, lovely wine! Lake Tahoe; we were officially on our way.  
The drive was about 4 hours, give or take comfort-breaks and photo-ops, and it was so nice to be able to take in the changing landscape. One minute I was looking out of the window at rolling fields and grape vines, and the next snow-capped mountains were visible as far as the eye could see. What I wasn’t so keen on were the windy roads, the snow flurries that whipped up every so often, and the high winds that I was convinced would blow the car right off the edge of the mountain road! But we made it in one piece and I have never been so glad to get a drive over and done with. 
We arrived at our destination just as the sun was beginning to set, taking with it the last of the day’s warmth. The trade-off between the warmth, for the stunning colours the setting sun cast overhead was definitely worth it. 
Now I can’t tell you much about what there is to do, the best places to eat etc….at Lake Tahoe as we were only there for an overnight stay to break up what would have been an even longer drive to Vegas. But what I can tell you is where we stayed….. The Cottage Inn, which is on the west shore of the lake. Price-wise it hit the spot. Setting-wise we absolutely lucked out. I loved this place.
This place – both the destination and our digs for the night - was gorgeous; think log cabins snuggled safe and sound under fresh snowfall, a blanket of perfectly fallen, unspoiled snow rolled out before you in every direction until it meets the lapping shores of the lake, houses that had all but disappeared underneath the most perfect of white coverings....
Determined to make the most of our limited time here we donned as many clothes as was humanly possible, wrapped as many scarves around our necks as we could manage, stuffed our hands into cashmere-lines gloves and headed out to explore our snowy backdrop, the cold taking our breath away the second we stepped outside.
 
 
 
 

Upon our return to the Inn’s communal gathering area I sprinted (waddled like the Michelin Man probably, what with all the layers I was wearing!) to the open, roaring fire, made myself comfortable on the closest seat available, stretched my legs out, generally made myself at home, and had every intention of staying there for the rest of the evening, sipping on the mulled wine and munching on the complimentary snacks that the owners were happy to provide for us. 

After a while of chatting, relaxing and talking about the holiday so far, each of us sharing what our “best bit” had been so far, we all decided that food was in order and we made our way to a nearby restaurant that the owners recommended. Please don’t ask me for the name as it totally escapes me. By this point I was tired, cold and hungry (what a cracking combination!!) and all I wanted was to go to bed. I don’t think I was very good company that night!! 
The following day dawned bright, clear and crisp. We hauled our belongings into the boot of our car, trying as hard as we could to stay upright and not let the ice under foot and gravity collude to make us look stupid!!
And so we were officially en-route to Vegas via Death Valley. 
It was going to be a loooong day.
There was a lot of “nothingness” as we drove and we were on the same road, the US395-S, for about 6 hours!! It was eerily quiet and we passed hardly any other vehicles……at one point we drove 80-odd miles without seeing another living soul. 
I didn’t know what to expect from Death Valley, all I knew was that I made sure we had enough fuel, water and provisions before embarking on a trip through the hottest place on earth. 
It’s tiring sitting in a car doing nothing and we would often find ourselves staring out of the window, committing to memory the stunning landscapes and scenery we were lucky enough to be witness to. But despite not wanting to miss nature’s feast for the eyes, sleep would get the better of each of the passengers and heads would eventually bob up and down, or gently rest against windows; sure signs that the driver had only themselves for company. But the sleeping beauties were brought out of their respective reveries by the loudest growling, grumbling, thunderous sound imaginable. I was in the driving seat at this point and had absolutely no idea what was going on. My grip on the steering wheel tightened, all of my senses on red-alert, I was ready for….well I’m not really sure what I was ready for/to do, but that noise was scaring me……it turns out the noise was from the engines of some fighter jets that had been taken out for a spin and scaring the living daylights out of tourists in the process 😉
As we rounded a bend we could see a large group of people gathered at the edge of one of the canyons. We parked up and made our way to the group. As we neared we could see that they hadn’t just stopped off for a glimpse of the planes on the way through as we had just done; these guys were here on a “fighter jet spotting holiday” (who knew those sort of holidays even existed?!?). There were tripods, cameras and lenses of all shapes and sizes going on. 
These guys were going to capture some fantastic shots; much better than the ones I was hoping to snap on my phone!!! Fun fact: We got chatting to a guy there and it turns out he was from the next town to where we used to live in Essex!! 
For a plane geek like me, this was definitely a highlight of the day, and possibly of the whole trip!! 
Death Valley was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The sheer expanse of nothingness makes you feel like you’re the only person the whole world. And the colours of the canyons, and the different layers of rocks was just breath-taking.
Prior to embarking on our trip we (I say “we”, but what I really mean is our friends!!) did some research and found that Badwater Basin was, relatively speaking, in our neck of the woods and so we decided to make a de-tour for a visit.  
Badwater Basin is famous for being the lowest point in North America; 282 feet (58.5 meters) below sea level to be precise. You might think “that’s no biggie” but when you walk out on the plains, look back at the rock face and see the sign that marks “Sea level”, the magnitude of being that far below sea level begins to sink in. 
And here's a zoomed in, albeit, blurry close up of the sign... 
 
At Badwater Basin, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. Newly formed lakes do not last long though, because the 1.9 in (48 mm) of average rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150 in (3,800 mm) annual evaporation rate. This is the greatest evaporation potential in the United States, meaning that a 12 ft (3.8 m) lake could dry up in a single year. (Thanks Wikipedia)
 

 
 

Death Valley also offers Sand Dunes and some funky trees to lark about in and have an impromptu photoshoot at. And if I didn't look so awful and tired in the pictures I'd let you see the ones with me in them, but as it is you just get the nature ones instead.....
After a few more diver-swaps the desert gave way to civilisation once again and the bight lights of Vegas could be seen twinkling on the horizon, calling us, beckoning us to get a move on and delve into and enjoy the entertainment it had to offer us. 
That’s all for now. Buckle up for the next instalment….probably in another six months’ time 😉

Thursday, 3 August 2017

THE TIME I MET MY CHILDHOOD HERO

If you had the chance to meet your hero what would you do? Would you jump at the chance? Or would you run a mile in the other direction through sheer panic and nervousness?

Depending on how risk averse you are you may not want to meet him/her and risk feeling disappointed at how different they may be in real life to the person/personality you’ve created in your mind’s eye. Or if you’re like me and the opportunity arises wild horses couldn’t keep you away. 

A few weekends ago I was in the fortunate enough position to be meeting my childhood hero and first crush; West Ham United’s ex-goalkeeper and legend: Luděk Mikloško, or “Ludo” as he is more affectionately known. He told me recently that the nickname “Ludo” was coined for all us east-London types who couldn’t get their teeth around Luděk. You see, Luděk isn’t phonetic and the “ě” isn’t pronounced the “English” way and after a few attempts at trying to pronounce Luděk the way it should be pronounced I quickly came to see why a nickname was needed!  

But let’s rewind a bit shall we? Let me set the scene for you. I was a mere 8 years of age when Ludo came crashing into my life all the way from Czechoslovakia (as was). It was 1990: he had just signed for us (“us” being West Ham United football club) and I was a season-ticket holder in the family enclosure with my dad and little sister, Claire (our poor mum really was a football widow. And my dad, bless him, didn’t let a little thing like having two little girls [instead of boys] stop him from gently guiding his children towards the claret and blue path that he himself has been walking for so long). 

All I can remember thinking when I saw Ludo for the first time was how absolutely massive he was….even from the very back of the top tier of the stand! From my 8-year-old’s perspective it seemed like all he had to do was lift one hand in the air and we could “high-five” each other. He was intimidating and imposing and I was absolutely smitten. 

It wasn’t until a few years after this that I got to meet Ludo for the first time at the players’ training ground in Chadwell Heath. My dad, sister and I used to regularly make the 15 minute drive for the players’ autographs. I was about 13 years old and I still have the dog-eared picture that I got him to sign on one of my next trips back to the training ground. 
~1996~

A few years after that, when I was about 16, I took another trip to the training ground, this time with a good friend of mine during what was supposed to be our GCSE study leave period (mum, if you’re reading this now and didn’t know what’s what I did with my study leave then I’m really sorry). I sought out the one man I was after in a sea of footballers and thankfully I found who I was looking for. Luckily my long-suffering friend, also Claire (who knew, and still knows, all about my crush) didn’t mind playing photographer to capture another moment in time of Ludo and me. 

Of course I couldn’t have that picture unsigned so she and I went back the following week to get it autographed! 
~1998~

And somewhere in between all of my visits to the training ground (there were too many to count) my wonderful parents arranged for my sister and I to sponsor Ludo’s team tracksuit in the season of 1995-96. There it was in black and white, our names in the match-day programmes for the whole season, for the whole world to see….OK that may be an exaggeration: for the whole of Upton Park to see.
Pre-match in the dressing room with his actual shirt that he wore for the game :) 

OK, that’s the background; let’s fast forward to 2017 (purposely skipping the part about how upset I was when he left West Ham, how I cried for days when he got his one and only red card against Everton, and how I might have even phoned up a radio station on his birthday one year to get a song played for him: “Simply the Best” if I remember rightly……I can’t believe I’m saying all of this “out loud”!!!!)

Anyways, the year was 2017. The location was Jersey. The occasion was the Jersey Hammers Supporter’s Club’s End of Season dinner, and the guest of honour was, you guessed it, none other than Ludo himself. When I heard this all plans of being in Copenhagen with the husband to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary that weekend went out the window. To be fair I did tell the husband he could go to Copenhagen without me.

Important Disclaimers: 1) The husband is also an avid West Ham supporter and so didn’t mind re-arranging our Copenhagen trip. 2) Thankfully the husband knew all about my crush on Ludo from pretty much the day we first met and so knew what a big deal this was for me.

It was with a mixture of trepidation, excitement and a lot of nerves that I counted down the days until the evening of Saturday 8th July. Would I be disappointed when I met my hero, the man I’d idolised for so long? Would he be a nice person? What would I say to the man I’ve loved and adored ever since I was 8 years old? How on earth was I supposed to keep my cool and not declare my undying love for him whilst at the same time throwing my arms around him, all within the time it would take him to introduce himself to me?!? 

However I had no time to dwell on these “worries” because my meeting him was brought forward by 24 hours when the husband announced that Ludo and a couple of others from the Supporter’s Club would be in town for a few drinks on the Friday evening if we fancied joining them. 

I didn’t want to go out on that Friday night; all I wanted to do was go to bed thanks to a bit of a late night the night before, and a lot of nerves about meeting Ludo in a social setting rather than as a fan at the training ground. The thought of meeting him was beginning to stress me out and I’d even convinced myself that maybe I shouldn’t go to the dinner, let alone out on the Friday, and risk having my childhood heart and dreams shattered. The husband wasn’t having any of it though, bless him, and knew I’d regret not going and practically forced me out of the house. And boy am I glad he did.

Other than saying it was one of the best nights of my life I really cannot tell you how good a time I had. Any reservations I was harbouring about whether or not he’d be a nice person were dispelled within about 30 seconds, but he probably thought I was a bit of a moody cow when he introduced himself to me, only for me to reply with “I know who you are” in not the politest of voices. Great first impression!

After six or seven (small) bottles of Prosecco, lots of laughs, embarrassing stories and a million selfies and pictures later I meandered my way home with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face. I like to think that I meandered in an endearing way, but it was 1:30am and I hadn’t eaten for more than 12 hours so I’d say that a stumbling, bumbling, (dribbling) mess is a more apt description.
The only downside to Friday being so good was that Saturday had a lot to live up to. 

Alas, Saturday’s dinner was brilliant but in a different way; I had to “share” him, for one thing (boo!!!!!), and I didn’t take as many pictures as the previous night……..ah who am I kidding, I felt like a professional stalker photographer by the end of the night. On a serious note though it was great hearing Ludo’s answers to the questions everyone had submitted for the Q&A session, and listening to a room full of supporters reminisce about the good-old-days, their conversations sprinkled with names I’ve not heard in a long time, brought back many happy memories.
 
~1996 - 1998 - 2017~

And so it was with a happy, but very heavy, heart that I hugged my hero/crush goodbye, purposely not looking back as I reluctantly put one high-heeled strappy sandal in front of the other and made my way to our waiting taxi…..but our gem of a universe wasn’t done yet and she had one final surprise for me up her sleeve. 

Cue: Ludo’s Sunday night dinner with the supporter’s club’s committee members. Am I a committee member? Nope; but you guessed it: I was there for the dinner. Someone must have taken pity on me and allowed me and the husband to gate-crash the final-supper (John, thank you SO much!). I’ll admit I wasn’t on great form. I was jaded, feeling ill (ahem, hungover) and drinking water only, because I’m pretty sure I had been drunk since the Thursday night. 

By the way just a tip, if you’re sitting next to someone you’ve loved for like, ever with the hangover of a 3 day drinking binge running rampage through your body, do not, I repeat do not, order a fishy, cheesy starter. It almost ended in disaster but it wasn’t anything an impulsive Jack Daniels and coke (or 3!) couldn’t sort out (Carol, thank you!)

After a few more selfies, stories, laughs and giggles the bill was settled and the clock struck midnight, bringing with it the carriage that would transport me back to my real life (thanks for the lift, James!) This really was going to be the last goodbye.
As I was being driven home the magnitude of the weekend I had just had was beginning to dawn on me.

It was as if someone had pressed “pause” on reality and had allowed me to spend 48 hours living my dream. I realised then, that on Friday evening I became Alice and I had been handed the key to my very own Wonderland. As the weekend passed I absorbed every single second, drank in as many details as I could and crammed in as many memories as my mind would allow, because I knew that my once-in-a-lifetime, never-to be-issued-again, Wonderland-pass was only valid for 48 hours…. and there was no “top-up” option available. 

I was officially the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. I had spent a brilliant weekend in the company of someone I have, so far, spent 27 of my 35 years looking up to, staring at posters of, cheering on, posing for pictures with, talking about and smiling stupidly at the mere mention of his name (this last one still holds true to this day and the husband knows that if I’m angry with him or sad about something he can say the two magic words that are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Every. Single. Time: “Luděk Mikloško”. Stupid aren’t I?). And he turned out to be nicer in real life than I could ever have hoped or imagined. 
The moral of this (long!) story is to choose a hero who doesn’t only meet your expectations in real life but one who surpasses them in the most wonderful ways imaginable and unimaginable. If you do this I promise you won’t be let down when the time comes for you to meet them.  

I’m not sure if he will ever read this, but if he does, Luděk it was an absolute pleasure to spend time in your company and get to know you. The warmth and friendship that you showed not only to me, but to all those West Ham supporters who attended the dinner, will not be forgotten. 

Thank you doesn’t do justice for what you brought to Jersey with you that weekend, or for the time and genuine interest you showed each and every one of us. But the beauty is in its simplicity:

Thank you.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 2

In my last post I told you all about the first leg of our US road trip, and I had every intention of getting the rest of the posts live pretty sharpish after that. But then life went a bit pear shaped and everything non-essential took a back seat.

But life has settled down a bit now and I’m back with the my next instalment....

So having said our goodbyes to San Francisco we headed north towards Napa Valley. We were spending the night at The Bergson in Calistoga which was the most darling hotel ever....I loved it.

**Top Tip** If you're planning a trip to Napa Valley then make booking your accommodation a priority. We left ours quite late and we had terrible trouble finding anywhere with availability (although the "Vacant" sign in the picture above makes me out to be a liar!).

We made our way at a leisurely pace to The Bergson, stopping off in the gorgeous little town of Sonoma. Sadly none of us took any pictures but it's a typical all-America town; a Town Hall taking pride of place in the centre of the square with the cutest looking shops dotted around the edges.

If you're ever in the area and Sonoma isn't on your agenda I recommend that you carve out a bit of time to visit, even if it's just to browse the shops and grab a coffee...maybe you can take a few pictures for me!!

I promised you in my last post that I had a cracker of a castle to share with you and that's what today's post is all about. The main reason for our trip taking us north to Napa valley was to take in the stunning scenery. Oh who am I kidding? We were totally there for the wine!!! But the scenery was stunning.
As anyone who has been to Napa Valley will know there are so many wineries to choose from and one of the toughest decisions of the holiday (for me, at least) was which winery do we go for. After much deliberation and “um-ing and ah-ing” we went for Castello di Amorosa, for no reason other than it’s a castle!

According to our tour guide the owner of the castle, Dario Sattui, has "a bit of a thing for castles". So much so that he had one built, you know, as you do! Sattui wanted this castle to be as authentically 13th century as it was possible for a castle in 21st century America to be. So he researched and researched some more. He sourced only the best materials for his castle from Europe; he wanted his castle to look and feel as if it had come straight from the 13th century to the extent that the construction of the castle was carried out the way it would been carried out in medieval times (we’re talking no electric tools, no modern day equipment!) According to its website and flyer, the castle took 15 years to build, has 8,000 tons of hand-squared stones in its walls and of its 107 rooms a whopping 95 are dedicated to making wine!!! Let's take a look shall we?!?
We had pre-booked a wine tour at the castle. I think we were there out of season and so buying tickets on the door, on the day, probably would not have been too much of an issue. But I can imagine that the tours are very popular in high season and so to avoid disappointment you should probably think about booking your tour in advance.
There were two types of tickets available: $40 or $50. We went for the $40 ticket. As well as your choice of 10 wines to taste (from a set list of white, rose, red and dessert wines), the price of the ticket also included a guided tour of the castle. All in all we were there for about 2 hours. From memory the only extra perk that the $50 ticket bought you was an additional two wines to taste.
We were very  surprised to see one these hidden in the depths of the castle....
I made my way as quickly as I could away from this particular contraption ;-)

As you can see from the pictures above the castle itself is gorgeous but that's nothing compared to the grounds it sits in. I haven't got as many pictures of the view as I thought I had, but the few I do have paint a beautiful scene.

So after swigging back the wines we had chosen from the list (well in my case, as the designated driver, had the teeniest, tiniest of sips of each wine), and after parting with more money than we usually would for 2 bottles of wine, it was with a heavy heart and a wistful glance back at the castle, that we made our way towards the exit, our minds already on our next destination: Lake Tahoe. And whilst I was sad to be leaving behind 95 rooms full of wine, I could not have been more excited to be headed to the lake. The only disappointment for me was that we were only going to be there for 14 hours. We were stopping off at Lake Tahoe en-route to Vegas. But more on Lake Tahoe in the next post. I hope to see you there.
Before I go, here's a bonus picture just in case you guys have been missing me ;-)


Bye for now....see you in Lake Tahoe real soon.

xKx