Photos I’ve taken while out walking

During this period of quarantine (I’m not using the l-word because I don’t like it) I’ve been feeling grateful that I live in an area where green spaces can be easily accessed. I’ve been going out for a daily walk and taking a photo when I do as a way of recording what I’m doing. These are some of the photos I’ve taken.

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I took this photo in an area called The Hollow, which Van Morrison sang about in his song ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’.

 

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Spring is my favourite season; I love watching everything come back to life.

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I love trees; being in a forest or anywhere wooded makes me feel calm.

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I feel like I appreciate my time in nature more now because of the restrictions that are in place. I used to take going outside for granted, but now I feel privileged to be able to do it.

 

Coming back to writing

The last time I wrote something that wasn’t a blog post was last September, when I sat down in a park in Lviv, Ukraine and wrote a piece of flash fiction. Since then I’d more or less decided to stop writing. I was submitting work which was being rejected, I didn’t get a grant I’d applied for and I felt that I was done with it all. I thought I was putting a lot of energy and effort into something that wasn’t going anywhere, which made me feel kind of sad. So I decided to focus my energy on other things, like yoga and sustainable living, things I felt would make more of a difference than my writing ever would.

Then COVID-19 and quarantine happened and I’ve started writing again. I started by writing a haiku and today I’ve written 100 words (not a lot I know but it’s a start) of some new non-fiction. I’ve decided I’m not writing fiction, but I’ve happy that I’ve discovered my creativity again.

Staying at home activities

1. Learning a new language. I’ve been using the Duolingo app for a few years now and it’s good because the lessons don’t take long and you can easily build up a language learning habit in just 5 minutes a day.

2. Baking. I think baking your own bread is one of the most useful skills a person can learn (especially now, when going grocery shopping is more difficult). I started off making banana bread from the Cooking on a Bootstrap website, and then started making other types of bread (I was a bit wary of using yeast when I first started but it’s not as daunting as I first thought)

3. Online yoga/exercise classes. I’m going outside once a day for a walk but I’m doing online yoga classes as well as I find it really helps me physically as well as mentally.

4. Online tutorials. I watched one earlier on how to make a tote bag from an old t-shirt. I don’t think I did too badly for a first attempt!

Inspiration for the isolated

One of my favourite books is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I first read it when I was around ten or eleven, and it’s always been an important book for me. Probably even more now, given the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. I’m looking to Anne Frank and her diary for inspiration.

Anne had just turned thirteen when she and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. She, along with her parents and sister Margot, moved into what she refers to in her diary as ‘The Secret Annexe’, which was some small rooms hidden behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father Otto worked. Later they were joined by the three members of the van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer, who was a dentist. They stayed there until August 1944, when their hiding place was discovered by the Nazis. Sadly, Otto Frank was the only Secret Annexe resident to survive the war; the others were killed by the Nazis.

I can’t even begin to imagine what life must have been like; being in hiding, in fear for your life and having to keep yourself occupied in such awful circumstances. At times they couldn’t even use the bathroom due to the risk of being discovered. And yet, Anne made the most of life in the circumstances. She read, studied, exercised and recorded her thoughts in her diary (as well as writing some works of fiction). She didn’t sit around and feel sorry for herself all the time; instead she did what she could.

I’m not in any way suggesting that being in quarantine is anything like hiding from the Nazis in a tiny apartment with seven other people, but Anne’s experiences (which she has shared with us in her diary) shows us that we can make the most of our lives, regardless of where we are.

Keep Calm and Don’t Panic Buy

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed myself getting a little bit anxious. I’ve been trying various things to limit my exposure to the media (including social media) which mainly means disengaging from it as much as possible and doing more productive things like cooking (I roasted some garlic last night for the first time and it was really delicious), reading, and yoga. There are a few sites offering yoga classes for free, and there’s also the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene. I’ve been using the Insight Timer app for meditation as well.

I went for a walk earlier (it’s sunny today although a little on the chilly side) and it was really nice to be out and about. I stopped off at one of my favourite coffee shops on the way back to my house, and I got the feeling I’d been one of only a handful of customers this morning. Another of my favourite coffee shops has closed for an indefinite period of time.

I feel like there’s a fine line between being informed and having so much of an information overload that it becomes overwhelming and causes anxiety and panic. I really don’t want to be one of the people panic buying toilet rolls, so I’m just going to keep doing the things that are helpful, while trying to limit the things that aren’t.

 

Travel-related things to do when you’re not travelling

I don’t have any trips planned for the next couple of months, but I still want to incorporate some travel-related things into my life, mostly linked to places I’ve visited (or plan to visit in the future). These are things I’m currently doing.

1. I’m using the Duolingo app to learn some German before my trip to Cologne in a few months time. I’m also trying to learn some Portuguese as I’d like to visit Lisbon in the future.

2. Netflix has some good foreign language shows if you don’t mind subtitles. I watched Holiday Secrets in German, a Norwegian show called Home for the Holidays, and I’ve been watching a Ukrainian show called Servant of the People, a comedy about a teacher who becomes President of Ukraine. The real-life twist is that the actor playing the main character in the show was elected President of Ukraine last year.¬†

3. Watching travel vlogs on YouTube. I find this can be a bit hit and miss, I’ve found a few channels that weren’t as informative as I’d expected and the hosts were actually a bit annoying. I found a good one called Kinging-It while I was looking for a vlog about Cologne, and I’ve ended up subscribing to their channel.

 

Six countries in eight days

In 2007 I booked a coach holiday with a friend of mine. We looked at a few brochures to decide which destination we preferred, and eventually went for a trip that would take us around 6 countries in eight days. The tour would start in London; from there we’d travel to Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France. It sounded really interesting and we were sure we’d enjoy it.

When we arrived at the departure point in London we met some of our fellow travellers, then boarded the coach that would take us to Dover, where we boarded the ferry for the short crossing to Calais. After we met our guide in Calais, we finally realised that this was not going to be the relaxing holiday that we’d anticipated. Our guide talked us through the ‘house rules’ (so to speak) and we found out that we’d mostly be getting up at 6 am, with the occasional lie in until the decadently late time of 6:30. We’d also be spending a lot of time on the bus. My grasp of geography must have been pretty poor because up until then I hadn’t realised that.

After disembarking at Calais, getting on the coach, and paying a visit to the ‘magic room’ (the guide’s expression for ‘the toilet’) we travelled to Brussels, where we had an hour and a half to explore the Grande Place and get some food, before heading to our hotel. The next morning, we had a drive through the city before moving on across the Belgian/German border to a town called Boppard. We had 45 minutes at the most to look around before leaving for a cruise down the Rhine (which was actually quite nice because we got to see vineyards and castles as we sailed along the river) so we had some coffee and cake before rejoining the rest of the group. After the cruise, we got back on board the coach and went to our hotel which was on the outskirts Frankfurt. Some of the group decided to take the S-bahn into the city, but my friend and I decided to stay behind to make use of the sauna/steam room (we were also very tired which played a part in our decision).

After a delicious breakfast the next morning, we went to a beautiful little town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is very picturesque with cobbled streets and historic  houses. We had some free time to explore, then got back on the bus for our journey to our hotel for the night which was in Innsbruck. (Yes, we did spend a lot of time on the bus that day). We saw some beautiful scenery on the way.

After leaving Innsbruck the following morning we crossed the border between Austria and Italy, and headed for the next stop on our tour, which was Venice. It was very hot there, but they did have nice ice-cream and I enjoyed looking around the museums and the Doge’s Palace (most of the group had gone on a gondola tour, which I had little interest in doing). After spending the day in the city and seeing some pretty cool things like medieval weaponry and the stunning interior of the Doge’s Palace but also getting quite dehydrated I was glad to get back on the bus and go to our hotel.

The following day we went to Verona and saw Juliet’s balcony, before travelling to Lucerne in Switzerland, our next destination. It’s a beautiful city. My favourite things about it were the wooden bridge, the lake, and the Hofkirche. From there, we travelled to France, where we stayed one night outside the town of Dole, which is in the Franche-Comte region. We then travelled to Paris, where we had a guided tour of the city and saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and a few other places of interest. For dinner that evening we went to a restaurant which for some reason I’m convinced was in the 4th arrondissement, although I have no specific reason for this belief. Memory is interesting sometimes.

The next morning we packed our suitcases for the final time and got on the coach for the journey back to Calais after a very tiring eight days.