Croatia, Ukrao Si Mi Srce!

Beach holidays have never really appealed to me – the idea of staying on a resort and seeing nothing but the beach for a week is not my ideal definition of a vacation. That was until we travelled to Croatia at the beginning of June. I am not one for ‘holiday blues’ but Croatia stole my heart and I have been missing it nearly every day since we came back. Edward and I both agreed to go back someday to explore more of this beautiful country (and possibly some of the neighbouring ones).

It all started back in January when we began chatting about travelling somewhere to celebrate our second anniversary… I had my mind set on Greece until I stumbled upon photos of Croatia whilst browsing Pinterest. I was in love with the country before we had even landed. The colours, the language, the food, the history, the sea, the mountains… What is there not to love?!

Dubrovnik from Old Town walls.

We wanted a relaxing holiday away from the touristy crowd of the main cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. We opted instead for the calm of Šipan Island and booked a room with Hotel Božica. The hotel was perfect: beautiful room, private beach, cosy lounge and bar area, delightful menu, friendly staff and many activities on offer.

Still, it would have been silly not to visit Dubrovnik whilst we were there! We landed in Dubrovnik mid-morning and our transport was only picking us up late afternoon, which let us well enough time to visit and take in the sights. We mostly just wandered around, marvelling at the colour of the water and enjoying the sunshine, but we also walked the walls surrounding the Old Town – a hike well worth the stunning views of the city and its harbour.

View of Dubrovnik harbour from the Old Town walls.

We didn’t do much for the rest of the week. After being dropped off at the hotel by speed boat – another amazing way to take in the views of the coast – we headed straight to the beach for an evening swim.

Evening swim in Croatia.

The following morning we made our way to Šipanska Luka, the only other village on the island. It’s a good walk – I would say around 16K round trip – but a lovely one. I had decided to take my hiking/running hydration backpack and I was happy I did; it’s the best way to carry water for a long walk in the hot Croatian sunshine and this nifty little bag can hold all the other essentials: sunscreen, snacks, etc.

Šipanska Luka

Šipanska Luka was very quaint – small but charming. We strolled around the harbour for a while and finally found a beautiful secluded beach where we relaxed for a couple of hours before walking back.

We had a delicious dinner at the fancy hotel restaurant – they only use fresh, local produce – before heading out again to photograph the spectacular sunset.

Spectacular sunset over Šipan Island.

The next day started with another hike, this time along the coast and through lush woodland paths. Šipan’s landscape is varied but one thing remains the same no matter where you stand on the island: the fantastic colour of the water. The most beautiful blue I’ve ever seen…

Coastal hiking path on Šipan island.

We started our last morning in Croatia with a sunrise yoga class on the beach. The hotel has a private beach and only a few other people were attending so it was intimate, and very pleasant. The rest of the day was spent swimming, snorkelling and lounging on the beach.

Croatia, and Hotel Božica, was a little piece of paradise and our week there was one of the most relaxing I’ve ever experienced. Croatia, mislim da sam zaljubljena u tebe…

July Books

August already? Where has time gone?! Not so long ago I was planning (and unfortunately cancelling) Canada Day celebrations, and now a new month is here… Despite its rocky start, July was good and we spent it surrounded by friends, family and mountains. It was a good month but a busy one, which didn’t leave me with much time to read… However, I was lucky with the two books I managed to squeeze in – they were quite different but both very enjoyable.

July Books

Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression | Sally Brampton
As someone who suffered from depression, I can say Sally Brampton’s account of the illness is very accurate – and terrifying. My condition was never as severe as her but I found myself in her words; the ones describing the feeling of despair as much as the ones explaining the ‘waves’ you go through during remission. I was perhaps luckier than Sally and reading her story made me grateful for the life I have now, for every little bit of happiness. It also made me more empathic towards those who suffer with major mental illness. I have years of experience working with a marginalised clientele (mental illness, homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution, etc.) but Shoot the Damn Dog showed me a different aspect of pain. An excellent book I would highly recommend to about everyone but especially to anyone affected by depression whether you suffer from it or someone close to you does.

Eleanor & Park | Rainbow Rowell
I often saw this novel banally described as a book about first love… It’s much more than that. Yes, it is a love story but the author also touch serious themes such as domestic and child abuse, body image, bullying and identity. The way the story is told – alternating between narrators and a beautifully poetic prose – is particularly enticing. A light read in size but a rather emotional one at times.

August usually holds a more laid-back atmosphere as we settle into the last of the summer months… Hopefully it means being able to spend more time in company of some good novels!

Happy reading!

June Books

Most of the first week of June was spent on a beautiful private beach in Croatia, which gave me plenty of time to catch up on my reading. I usually prefer more active and ‘culturally-filled’ holidays but it was bliss to be able to unplug and just relax in the sunshine with a good book. I actually read four books in a little less than four days…

June Books

Confessions of Modern Women | Spadge Whittaker
I loved Spadge first book and I was very much looking forward to reading her latest one so when she ran a promotion for her birthday, I jumped on the occasion! I’d like to say I read it in one sitting, but I actually had to stop after the second chapter because I was giggling too much to see the words… I didn’t laugh as much as I did with Braver Than Britain, mostly because many of the confessions are cringe-worthy (which is funny in itself) and in some cases, a bit too relatable. Definitely a must-read if you are a modern woman – or just because. For those interested, the book is available on Amazon for ridiculously cheap.

The World According to Bob | James Bowen
This book has been in my to-read list since the minute I finished the first instalment of Bob and James’s story – the powerful story of a man ‘saved’ by the cat who adopted him. This second book recounts how the bond between the two friends grew even stronger and how James came to write the first book, A Street Cat Named Bob (which I also recommend). I was very touched by James’s life, not only because of our shared affinity for cats but because after working with a marginalised clientele for years I am always happy to see the so-called success story. And in James Bowen’s case, it was quite a success, indeed!

Still Life | Louise Penny
I rarely say a book is bad but sadly, this one truly is. I chose it from the Kindle store purely because the story was set in a village near Montreal and I quickly regretted my choice, though I ended up finishing the book. It is badly written, with useless and interminable descriptions of cliché characters and a istery so easy to untangle that you can only wonder how it took so many pages to do so. To be fair, it was Penny’s first novel and hopefully the following ones are better – I can’t tell. I did find interesting to see life in Quebec from an anglophone’s point of view but that’s about it.

The Kicking the Bucket List | Cathy Hopkins
It wouldn’t be a proper beach holiday reading list without some chick lit! The story of three very different, estranged sisters reunited after their mother’s death. It’s well written but the changing of voices is sometimes a bit confusing. Otherwise, it’s a light-hearted novel most times but it touches serious subjects and can get a bit emotional at time. A rather enjoyable beach read…

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) | Brené Brown
After coming back home, I got into some more serious reading with this self-help book about shame, authenticity, imperfection and acceptance. Here’s an extract from the back cover: ‘Based on seven years of ground-breaking research and hundreds of interviews, I Thought It Was Just Me shines a long-overdue light on an important truth: our imperfections are what connect us to each other and to our humanity. Our vulnerabilities are not weaknesses; they are powerful reminders to keep our hearts and minds open to the reality that we’re all in this together’. It is excellent, very eye-opening and I highly recommend it!

Happy reading!

Being Canadian

Last weekend was Canada Day and the country’s 150th birthday. On the same day last year, we had just received the keys to our new house and I was still getting my head around a new job so the festivities – or their absence – went unnoticed.

This year, however, we had plans for grand celebrations! We were to host a barbecue for friends, colleagues and probably a few neighbours; many Canadian classics were on the menu and my dad had even sent me a box full of Canadian trinkets (flags, bunting, etc.) for the occasion.

Unfortunately, we had to cancel… Edward’s mom has been admitted to the A&E early Thursday morning and spent most of two days in and out of the hospital. The stress and worry left us both shattered and in no state of mind to entertain. Thankfully my mother-in-law is now well and finally received the right medication for her condition. I was slightly disappointed to cancel but it was for the best… There will always be a next weekend!

Not celebrating Canada Day as I had intended doesn’t mean ‘home’ wasn’t on my mind. Thanks to social media, I was able to follow most of the celebrations taking place in Ottawa and London. After posting a ‘Happy Canada Day’ message in a Canadian Expats group on Facebook and explaining the whole ‘cancelled barbecue’ thing, I received dozens of kind comments, encouraging words, poutine recipes and several invitations. Invitations from absolute strangers to go out for a drink, to meet-up for a meal or to join in at another Canada Day barbecue. Someone even offered me a train ticket to London to take part in the festivities at Trafalgar Square!

So much kindness from strangers and fellow expats prompted me to reflect on what it means to be Canadian.

Before moving to the UK, I would have never described myself as Canadian or even French-Canadian; je suis québécoise. For many, Canada is a huge, cold country full of people drinking double-doubles, watching ice hockey, eating poutine and maple everything, apologising lots and ending all their sentences with ‘eh’ – and that’s all they know. The truth is, Canada is extremely diversified. From year-round rainy Vancouver to the frigid winters of Quebec, passing through the majestic Canadian Rockies and the dry plains of Saskatchewan, there is a variety of landscapes, people, cultures, traditions and languages. Having lived in Quebec all my life, I was particularly aware of the difference. Quebec is often isolated from the other provinces, not only because of the language barrier but because the culture is also largely distinct. I never described myself as Canadian because I didn’t ‘feel’ Canadian.

I have been in England for a little more than 16 months now and I proudly announce to anyone willing to hear me that I come from Canada. Although I still make the distinction and often say that I am French-Canadian (partly because it explains my strong accent), I can now relate to other Canadians. Mike Myers once said that there’s nobody as Canadian as a Canadian who no longer lives in Canada and I’m starting to believe he was right!

This past year, I got to connect with some amazing fellow expats and realised we have a lot in common: we are annoyed by the same British quirks (why aren’t window screens a thing here?!), we miss the same Canadian food (dill pickles, anyone?) and, more importantly, we share similar values. It will sound like a big cliché but Canadians are kind, polite and welcoming; we honour respect, freedom, education, inclusion and equality and we are not afraid to speak up for what we believe in – though we will probably promptly apologise in case anyone was offended!

I’m obviously generalising here – there are impolite, uneducated, disrespectful racist pricks everywhere, even Canada – but from my experience, Canadians live up to their international reputation and it’s something to be proud of. I know I am.

All of this doesn’t mean that I prefer Canada to Britain; I am a proud Canadian by birth but my heart is in England. I chose to build a life here, not only because it’s Edward’s homeland (the option of him moving to Quebec was open and we discussed it extensively) but because I fell in love with the UK and its people. And even though I’d happily exchange Theresa May for Justin Trudeau any time, I don’t plan on moving back. Instead, I’ll carry on living according to my Canadian values while integrating many of the British customs and ways of life. Being an expat is all about adapting while remaining true and authentic…

Peak District | Bleaklow Head & Higher Shelf Stones

This hike was planned for the beginning of June but a miserable weather forecast forced us to postpone until two weeks ago. I’m glad we did; it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We left home early hoping to beat the heat but it was already 24°C when we pulled over on Snake Pass at 8.30AM.

Pennine Way to Bleaklow Head

The walk started on the Pennine Way – where it crosses the A57 – and followed it for a little more than two miles to Bleaklow Head. The well-trodden path is easy to follow and the ascension is so gradual that we were not sure we had reached the summit until we saw the cairn marking it. I have to say, it was a bit underwhelming… Despite being almost as high as Kinder Scout (2077 ft. for Bleaklow Head versus 2087 ft. for Kinder Scout), Bleaklow Head offers nothing of the views you get from the Kinder range just across the road.

We greeted a group of trail runners before continuing on the Pennine Way. It was our first navigation mistake. We should have gone back on our steps slightly to take a branching path towards Wain Stones and Dowstone Clough; instead, we followed the Pennine onto Clough Edge.

Bleaklow Head Summit

It was a happy mistake… The Pennine Way is a National Trail going from the Peak District all the way to the Scottish border. It passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain and this section was no exception. We took a small detour to avoid a family of sheep and followed a brook down to a shallow river. It would have been the perfect spot for lunch but it was still early so we dug snacks from our backpacks and carried on. From there, the trail goes up and crosses with two minor footpaths, including the one we would have taken had we known we were heading in the wrong direction!

Shallow River along the Pennine Way

We noticed our blunder when we reached Clough Edge and saw that we were walking towards the Thorside Reservoir and not away from it. After a quick look at the map, we decided to follow an almost invisible path through the moors to try and find our way to Higher Shelf Stones, our second waypoint of the day.

We ended up on Glossop Low where we had another quick look at the map before following a rough, boggy trail eastward to Torside Castle, where it rejoined the Pennine. We found our way onto the original route and carried on walking… Until we realised we were lost again!

Clough Edge & Torside Castle

To be fair, navigation in such featureless moorlands can be quite a challenge. We must have taken a wrong turn and ended up, once again, in the middle of a boggy moor. There was no path – none that we could see, anyway – so we climbed on a few boulders and took a look around. We could see Higher Shelf Stones’ trig point in the distance and decided to forget paths and trails, and simply walk towards it. Easier said than done!

The plateau was relatively flat but the terrain was very uneven and it was muddy despite the dry weather of the previous week. We zigzagged through for what seemed like infinite miles but finally reached Higher Shelf Stones with a sight of relief. The sun was at its highest point and the temperature was nearing 28°C; we were more than happy to have some lunch, rehydrate and let our sweaty tees dry a bit.

Higher Shelf Stones Summit

The main ‘feature’ of Higher Shelf Stones is the wreckage site a few metres from its summit. In 1948, the B29 Superfortress Overexposed of the US Air Force crashed in the hills (unfortunately killing the 13 men on board) and the debris of the plane have never been moved. The site became a bit of a memorial with people leaving poppies and little white crosses.

It’s quite impressive to see such a massive aircraft reduced to pieces… No one really knows what happened but it is believed that they were flying too low in the thick fog that sometimes covers the Peak District. The time has passed but it remains an emotionally charged place and people wander around in a respectful silence.

B29 Overexposed Crash Site

From there, the hike back to the car was smooth and easy. We followed another stream all the way down Crooked Clough to the Doctor’s Gate, which took us back on the Pennine Way near Snake Pass.

Once back in the car, the new fitness watch informed me that we had walked 16K, taken almost 26,000 steps and burned 1,346 calories in a little less than six hours. It was a short hike but in the heat, it felt enough.

A perfect Sunday!

And what is the best way to cool down after a sweaty hike under the summer sun? To watch the sunset sitting on the back of a motorcycle winding its way down little countryside roads…

I love Sundays.