Thursday, 29 December 2011

Twenty 12

Poster from the movie 2012

According to Maya Calender 2012 is the year that the world ends – or some feel it could mark the start of a whole new spiritual and enlightened era.
Either way, the new year is here, a whole 12 months full of opportunities, dreams and inspiration – or just over 11 months to doomsday... we better make it a good one eh?!

I am not so good with new year resolutions, I think because usually they are too general. I need specific goals and plans. And yet top of my list this year, as it was last year is:
To Make Myself Happy.

Strange I know, vague of course and selfish – most definitely.
But you see I have this awful problem, as I believe many of us do for relying on other people to make us happy.
And they cant. No matter how much we push them.

A little me time, some pampering, reading, writing, watching old movies, listening to classical music. It is always the little things that bring a smile to our faces.
This year – do them, I hope to. Forget about the washing up – schedule your time in. Don't change your plans to suit someone else, be selfish, smile.

Will you be making New Year resolutions on January1?

But to be more specific and goal driven I have decided to instead of making plans for the whole years based on a five minute whim on New Years Eve I will make out a month by month plan.
Pick five things and stick to it all month. And if I don't succeed (“get away negative and realistic voices”) then I can try all over again the next month, add to and take away as I please.
(Lists are one of the things that make me happy...!)

A little 'To list' for 2012
Make a start on my award winning book is in there somewhere in 2012, as is going on more adventures, taking more photos, seriously trying to make some head way with the family tree, reading, writing, and getting out in the fine country air.

Travel plans are also well underway, I have adventures lined up for the first six months of the year and can't wait to get out and do them.

So out with the old and in with the new and as Oprah Winfrey once said “Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.”

Are you looking forward to 2012 - anything big planned?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

There is no place like home

Home is where the heart is, it is where you hang your hat.
In the lead up to Christmas, many of us around the world will make the long or short trip home to spend the season with family and friends. And if we cannot make it home, it will certainly be on our minds on December 25.

So what is the big deal – where, who, what is home?

Some of us travel the world to find that something special only to find that it was at home all along, nestled amongst the rugged hills and expansive lakes or over the apartment block, across the estate wall and hidden down the back of a 20 year old couch.

Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. 
-John Ed Pearce

Home can be a building, a set of people, a memory, a feeling.
In Ireland we pride ourselves on providing that 'home' feeling. Countless times I have heard visitors a few days away from leaving the country sigh and say “I feel like I am home.”
Third generation Irish all over the world talk about coming home – although they might never have stepped foot on the island, why?

The funny thing is that we usually leave our own country to discover a new culture, to experience something different, only to take refuge in places, people and things that remind us of our own homeland.

For me, I think it is acceptance, a feeling of belonging. Somewhere where you don't have to try and fit in, you automatically do. Of course memories play a big part – positive and negative ones.
But if your home place is knocked down, or the people you grow up with move away, if you can no longer see the places you once played in, or touch the people you once loved then where is home?
Home is where your heart is.

Maybe that is why Ireland is referred to many as home – maybe we steal hearts. Or maybe we welcome people in, allow them to relax, to be accepted, to get comfortable – to belong. I hope we do.

Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. 
There is no fireplace like you own fireplace – There is no place like home.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Winter Solstice and the old New Year

Happy New Year! 
WHAT you don't celebrate the New Year on December 21st?

5,000 years ago in Ireland, the Stone Age Farmers would celebrate the start of a new year, the beginning to the end of Winter and the prospect of a bright new season on December 21, the Winter Solstice.

Light entering the tomb.

Scientifically it is the period when the earth's axial tilt is furthest away from the sun, but in lay woman's terms it is the shortest day of the year, the longest night making way for longer days.
All over the world different cultures interpret the event differently, in Ireland we believe it was an event of huge celebration, sacrifice, prayers and more than likely some alcohol, dancing and general merriment!

The event was such a big deal that 500 years before the pyramids of Giza were constructed, Stone Age farmers had co-operated to build Newgrange Passage Tomb, in the sacred Boyne Valley in Co Meath. The magnificent ancient temple which was re-discovered in the 17th century still conceals secrets about it's exact function.
One thing we do know is that it was built exactly to capture the special Winter Solstice. Every year on December 21 at approx 9am a narrow beam of light enters the roof box, travels down the passage and fills the rear chamber with light. The extraordinary occasion lasts only 17 minutes.

Newgrange Passage Tomb
(c) fifiheavey

To imagine the thought, work and effort that went into capture this moment 5,000 years ago blows my mind. And it certainly places a huge significance around the Winter Solstice and December 21. Of course the end of a bitter winter, of almost hibernation and the prospect of longer days and more sun for a population that relied so heavily on the land for survival is epic. But I think there was more to the event than that, something spiritual, a rebirth of life.

Roof box where the sun light enters during Winter Solstice above the entrance to the tomb.

This year 31,531 people applied in the Winter Solstice lottery to be chosen to see the event at Newgrange. (No I didn't get it!)
The sun enters the tomb from December 19 -23, but only fills the entire chamber on December 21. 50 names are randomly picked, and a group of ten get to see the captured sun on each day.
What a way to start the new year before it even begins!
To apply for the 2012 lottery enter here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Get away, run away

Do you have a runaway place? A specific location you have bookmarked in your mind that in a time of crisis you can call upon. Somewhere to get away from it all, a site where you will find inspiration, serenity and hope?

This may seem like a strange idea, most people probably don't forecast a crisis in their life, they don't prepare for a doomsday, a catastrophe, a life changing event, or even a slight break down.
I have.

St John's Lake, Co Leitrim
(c) fifiheavey

I know there will come a point in my life when I will need to escape, maybe for a few hours, a day, weekend, a week or even in the extreme six months. I know this because the universe is guaranteed to throw some rotten eggs along life's journey. And when something happens, something that unhinges my normal daily rhythm I will need to stop, think and re-organise. In order to this I will need to runaway, to my chosen place and ponder.

(c) fifiheavey

Hence, my runaway place. But I can't just have one place, depending on the problem, the time, my budget, life circumstances, I need to have a few options:

A few hours - this place needs to be close by, easily assessed and cheap. For me it is on top of a no longer used reservoir tank beside my homeplace. I have used this place quite often to ponder things over, from it I see into at least four different Irish counties, I see towns, mountains, roads, houses and cars. The air is clear and fresh and with almost no disturbance. All I need to get there is a pair of wellies!

A day – a whole day to discuss the pros and cons, to debate with myself. A place of beauty and serenity is needed here and most importantly silence. In Ireland the best place for all three is Glendalough, Co Wicklow. The valley of the two lakes has a monastic site and round tower and is perfect place to listen to your inner self while taking in the rugged landscape.

A weekend- a few days to really indulge in deep thought. With this amount of time I need to really evaluate life. Here I have a choice of two destinations: Athens and Rome. Both places hark back to the beginning of civilisation. Ancient ruins, deep excavations, narrow streets and excellent food. Perfect places to seek inspiration and yet also realise how small me and my problems are in the scheme of things.

Trevi Fountain, Rome
(c) fifiheavey

A week- a mini break down, a need for escape and a quest to find answers. To re-discover what is important, to re-organise priorities. Israel is a must. It amazed me in a few days, imagine a whole week? If I went looking for answers, I believe I could find them here, here in the Holy Land, where the majority of world religions converge and intersect. The country, although controversial is special.

Dome of the Rock and Wailling Wall, Jerusalem

Six months- this must be serious! Things must have really went belly up and I can only imagine that my mind is in a jumble, that there are plenty of voices shouting to heard, but no one is listening. This sort of situation demands only one location: India. I have not been there, I know very little about it but have heard and read about people who have had some amazing experiences there. Thousands of people seek spirituality here, submerge themselves in prayer, meditation and thought and re-emerge the better from it.

So if you see me packing my bags for India – stay clear and wish me well!

Do you have a runaway place?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

City vs Country

I love cities, I love the noise, the pace, lights, people and 24/7 entertainment.

Cities are sexy.

But after a visit to Dublin's Fair City a few weekends ago, I have started to rethink my perception.
Because I also love silence, simplicity, space and most of the beautiful aspect of no traffic!

Maybe I am getting older, maybe I have no patience what so ever or maybe I need to own up to being a through and through bogger.* But in the war of city vs country I think country is edging its way out.

People everywhere! Taksim Square, Istanbul
(c) fifiheavey

Born in London but reared in the country side I have spent all my life wanting to live in a city. When I got the chance to do so in the best city in the world: Melbourne I loved every minute of the five months I spent there. And since my return to Ireland have dreamed of one more chance at city living.

Why? Because of everything. Everything a city offers to a young lady like myself. Thousands of people flashing before my eyes every day, never ending possibilities to spend my evenings and 24/7 entertainment. Close proximity to shops, events and glamorous venues.
Who wouldn't want to the live the high life?!
But in my fictional city life I had forgotten about the downside to any city.
A need for patience,a tolerance of traffic, fumes, too many people, too many places, no silence, no reflection and because of the high cost of living – no money.

I often quarrel about having to drive 30 -60 minutes for a good night out, or to an event, or to my favorite shop. But it takes the same amount of time or longer to cross Dublin city, or indeed any city and don't even get me started on public transport!

Plenty of space in the country. Downpatrick head, co Mayo

Is Dublin amazing – yes. Did I have a super good time – yes. Will I return soon – yes.
Do I want to live there ... eh no not really.

When travelling I love cities, they have so much variety, so much to see and they really showcase their culture, but for a more stable residence I think I will have to pick country over city.... for now!

City Vs Country – which one wins for you?

*Irish derogatory term used by city people to describe those who reside in the country side, whether or not the land they live on is in fact bog. A bog is not a toilet facility but a wetland that accumulates peat, a deposit of dead plant material that when harvested can be used as fuel.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Christmas cards and Seasons greetings

I love Christmas cards, picking them out, writing, sending and receiving them. I love the idea they represent and the small smile they produce. I even like sticking the stamps on and mailing them.
So when I heard an acquaintance exclaim:
“Christmas cards- what a waste of money. This year I am gonna just send around an email.”
I was aghast.

I am not anti-technology, but this really stopped me in my tracks. Enough is enough.
Not Christmas cards – no way.

I seamlessly transferred phone calls into texts, I write emails instead of letters, I gratefully moved to digital cameras, stopped flicking through catalogs and now shop on line, send tweets, 'like' everything without an explanation why and have a virtual movie collection.

But I will not give up on Christmas cards.

Seasons greetings from those far and near are special. When you receive a lovely red envelope, with a colourful card inside and a personal message inscribed, you smile. You smile because that person whether just two doors down or two thousand miles away took the time to wish you festive greetings. They picked the card, searched for your address and sat down with a pen to wish you Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
Distant relative, old work colleague, best friend or indeed someone who once shared a moment or two with – they remembered you. In this the happiest of seasons, they took the time out of their busy work schedule or personal crisis to send you a smile, a wink or a hug just in time for Christmas.
Maybe the message was short, a lengthy letter or indeed an invite to re-connect- but it was personal.

Christmas cards were made to remember those in some way have touched your life – by just being an annoying aunt, for someone who made room on their couch for you or for a friend or loved one.

Whether it crosses several oceans or just a doorstep, make someone smile – send a Christmas card.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Not welcome in Istanbul

Istanbul, previously known as Byzantium and or Constantinople is a cultural and historical hub.
It is the only metropolis in the world to sit on two continents - Asia and Europe and because of this has enjoyed and endured one of the most interesting history in the world. It is a maze of beautiful architecture and promotes itself as a “modern Muslim city.”
This place sounds right up my alley – history, culture, architecture, religion – it even has a reputation for a unique night life.

Taksim Square, Istanbul
(c) fifiheavey

But when I visited last month, it didn't live up. It didn't even stand up.
Because I didn't feel welcome.

The city is amazing, old and new buildings contrast, streets wind up and down, history pores from almost every street corner. And yet it did not come together for me.
The colours and smells from the late night shopping around Taksim Square were intoxicating, the puffs of coloured smoke and strange taste of the hookahs entertained and the music pumped all night long.
On the other side of the city, the Blue and the Suleymaniye Mosque dominated, they commanded respect. The Grand Bazzar, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia - all were fascinating.

Taking a puff of a Hookah
(c) fifiheavey

But I didn't feel safe, I didn't feel welcome and above all I didn't feel respected.
I love finding myself in a new city, the strangeness, the unknown, the difference. You can't beat being somewhere for the very first time. Yes you must take photos, see the sights and dine in local cuisine. But you must also wander, drift away, tuck your camera away and observe, blend in and see the city as a passer by.

The shouting didn't bother me, the hassle didn't affect me, the comments didn't even take a flinch.
It was the looks.
As I walked alone down the streets (appropriately dressed), trying to get my bearings, politely smiling and shaking my head to various offers from street stalls, I felt weary and anxious.
The sellers were unlike the men in Marrakesh who forced you to buy something you merely glanced at, they were aggressive about it.
They did not appreciate my lone status, I felt like it insulted them. But even in a larger company with men at the table they showed no greater respect. They stared suspiciously – not grateful at all for our custom.

The best kebabs in town
(c) fifiheavey

My thoughts on Istanbul are surprising to me, I am usually so open to cultural differences, to a conflict in ideals, manners and beliefs. But what I experienced in Istanbul was stronger than a difference. It was stand off-ish.

I felt like they wanted me to know – you and your ideals are not welcome here.
My friends felt the same way, acquaintances back home also understood my explanations.

“You are not in Europe now” a friend was told during an exchange in a bar one night.
He was right, of course – but we were in the former European Capital of Culture, in a country that once campaigned to be part of the European Union.

Two trams pass by at the gates to Galatasary High Square on Istikal Street
(c) fifiheavey

Did I miss the point – have I got Istanbul all wrong?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Having faith in Israel

Question of the week: “So aside from being arrested for trying to bring aid to Gaza what else would take you (forced or not) to Israel?”

Despite what you may read, see or believe Israel is much more than a conflict zone. It is one of the most historic, cultural and above all spiritual places I have ever visited.
Whether you go seeking answers to divine questions, want to discover ancient history and culture or need to see the fraught political and religious scene for yourself – the Israeli experience is one that will amaze, confuse and above all intrigue you.

This is one destination which I would implore you to research before you visit. A basic idea of the history of the country is really not enough. If you don't put the effort in before you leave home, you will be left bewildered once within Israeli borders (defined or not).

Although religion and spirituality is interesting to everyone, those who believe, who have faith in a a greater being, part of a church or not should find their visit to Israel extra special.

Each region in Israel is different geographically, but one of the prettiest area is that of Galilee, here where Jesus was reared you will find Nazareth, Mount Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River. A beautiful area, the Sea of Galilee (a lake) looks just how those who would imagine it from the bible – a working lake with fishermen still hauling in fish.
For me the place which stood out in this area was the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised. It looked like paradise with flowers in bloom, otters and fish swimming merrily and people singing hymns as those dressed all in white descended down the steps into the important water.

The Jordan River, Israel
(c) fifiheavey

Close by to the Dead Sea (a must visit) in the south is the majestic Masada mountain. An important site for the Jews, Masada was a site of mass suicide by a group of rebel Jewish who would not allow themselves to be captured by the Romans. It is difficult not to feel proud of those rebels, to admire their will and to reflect on the Jewish people on top of that desert fortress.

At Masada
(c) fifiheavey

Jerusalem. The word evokes emotions, feelings and pictures that probably differ for everyone. Some people see Jesus dying on a cross, others see the Wailing Wall or the Dome of the Rock. Others again see violence and destruction. But no matter how you feel about this place, it is epic.
Religion is central here, but so is history.
The ancient city is surrounded by walls, inside it is a maze of tiny streets, of Jewish, Christan, Muslim and Armenian quarters, school children, trades people, pilgrims ans tourists. Despite the outward appearance this is a working live city.
Outside the great walls, the Garden of Gethsemane is an important site for Christians. Although the garden is disappointing, the church makes up for it. Inside the town, I was let down by the lack of a table in the Room of the Last Supper, but did not expect to see the tomb of King David underneath the building.

The Stone of Anointing, also known as The Stone of Unction, which claims to be the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial.
(c) fifiheavey
And then there is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is massive, it is dark and bright, you shuffle upstairs and down, you see blood stains on stones, wood from crucifixes, alters and shrines. And in the middle is the tomb, the tomb of the resurrection.
“Here Jesus was crucified in the middle of two others – and here is where he resurrected.”
Simple to say, not so easy to comprehend.
But there it is, in front you, you can touch the stone, you can see the sacred decorations, hear the wailing pilgrims, smell the incense.

Looking up at the Wailing Wall
(c) fifiheavey
Away from the intensity of the Holy Sepulchre is the Wailing wall. Mysterious and majestic, it beckons you, you move closer, you touch it – see the requests, hear the crying. And it is special.
The glare from the gold roof of the Dome of the Rock, commands your respect and your intrigue.

No all your questions will not be answered in Israel – but ask the right ones and you may be enlightened.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Trusting Tripadvisor

I have a love hate relationship with Tripadvisor.
I love the idea (a place where real people give their honest opinion of their accommodation provider) – I hate the result (Fake reviews and hotels sabotaging others credibility).

Saying that, I have never booked a hotel and not consulted Tripadvisor, before I send off my credit card details I always take time to scroll through the comments, skimming the positive ones and closely reading the complaints.
But all of what I read is taken with a large shaking of sea salt. Too many negative comments and I swiftly dismiss the hotel, but too many positive ones and I begin to get suspicious.

The ASA Advertising Standards Authority started to investigate the website in September for fake reviews and the investigation has led the website to change their global slogan from “Reviews you can Trust” to “Reviews from our Community.”
There are thousands of fake reviews on the site, whether or not they can be easily spotted by those administrating the site is not for me to know. But there are there and you need to be weary of them.
Hotels need good reviews, their business depends on them. But in my opinion they need bad reviews too – just so we know they are real.
There are thousands of tourists (note: tourists not travellers) who exaggerate everything, who expect five star standards in a minus two hostel, who don't enjoy their holiday so blame the hotel, who didn't like the food, the texture of the bed linen, the view from their window or the foreign language on the TV ... bad reviews like these help me choose my hotel.
Room with a view in Greece
Tripadvisor has over 45 million reviews with 23 new opinions every minute (I, myself am a senior contributor) and although there are some great tips for travllers hidden among the reviews, obviously with this level of traffic you will find many which are untrue.
Travel Guide giant Fodor are collaborating with Tripadvisor, from 2012 their guidebooks will include hotel reviews alongside professional accommodation recommendations – so their value is still seen as worthy.

As a result of complaints Tripadvisor have set up new customer phone liens to help eliminate “untrue” reviews – but who are they to trust – the hotel owners? is a website set up by accommodation providers who are boycotting the site. Of course I understand that any bad review can damage their business but the site was not set up to just publish “good” reviews – that defeats the purpose.
Are you looking for a plush hotel or a traditional cottage?
Melbravo Resort Fiji (c) fifiheavey

Here are my tips for using Tripadvisor:
  • Decide what you want the hotel to excel in. If you want to party, night time noise won't be a problem, if you want to relax a lack of entertainment will suit you fine, if you have no kids you don't need a clean kiddies pool etc.
  • Skim the positive reviews, yes friendly, clean, helpful, blah blah - if there are no negative reviews in the top 20, book with extreme caution.
  • What was the negative comment about? (my pillow was soft ... the lighting was dim) Do you care? Would that thing bother you?
  • Where is the reviewer from? Have you read any previous reviews from this person?
  • The main words to seek out are: food poisoning, bed bugs, double booking, no locks on door, money/ jewellery stolen, prisoner of war camp – if you see these it would be wise to reconsider your option!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Too much trust in tour guides

Depending on location, situation and age we all have different expectations from tours and tour guides, but there should be one quality that we all agree on: Tour guides should be unbiased.

Stopping for a picture below a watch tower in Bethlehem October 2011
(c) fifiheavey

Everywhere in the world, at some time has experienced conflict, political, religious, cultural or racial disturbances. And one thing that we are sure of: there is always two sides (maybe even three, four, five – but definitely two) sides to the story.
When I visit a place which has or currently is experiencing some sort of conflict I like to walk away from there with a rounded understanding to all the facts, opinions and ideas that surround the situation – not the propaganda I can get from staying at home.

Recently I stopped off in Israel and Palestine for three days, with a severe shortage on time, the best and only way to see, hear and touch the places I wanted, was to go on a tour.
Israel has intrigued me for a long time, as a Roman Catholic I have grown up hearing stories from the Bible, tracking the life of Jesus Christ, the places he visited and the miracles and lessons he conducted. Place names in Israel have been embedded into my mind from the repetition of these tales.
Israel and Palestine have been glaring at me from my TV set for years and although very removed from the situation, the topic is a lively one in Ireland.
Days before we set off on our cruise to the Holy Land the question of UN statehood for Palestine had dominated pages of Irish newspapers, as our Tanaiste openly stated he would back Palestine in the vote.

A common sign outside Holy places in Israel
(c) fifiheavey

But I had a limited knowledge on the background, history, divides, opinions etc. I had done some research but the more I read the more confused I got. So I left the research and instead placed all my trust in the tour I had booked.
We had booked the Christian tour, I wanted to know about all the religious places in Israel, but again time was limited, so we had decided it was best to start where we at least had some previous knowledge.

On our first day in Israel we visited Nazareth and Galilee, our tour guide was a born Israeli Jew. Although he left hardly no time for photos at destinations and moved super quickly through the landmarks, his information was second to none. He really knew his stuff, he had charts, photos and so much background information that a migraine was inevitable at the end of the day. He was a liberal man who had traveled throughout Europe, experienced other cultures and came back to his home nation with an open mind.

He was exactly the tour guide we needed for day two: Jerusalem and Palestine. But on that day we got a different tour guide, an American who had met the love of his life un Israel and converted to Judaism. His speech was clear, he was easy to listen to, did not rush through important places and did not produce any migraines.
But he was biased, he really was an American Israeli and as we set off towards Palestine (or the West Bank as he called it) we were left in no doubt who was right and wrong in the current conflict, who he was backing and how the one sided situation came about.
My friend and I were the only Europeans on the bus full of Middle Americans, so political questions seeking a little more info were sort of taboo.

Posters about the UN vote and deceased Palestine Leader Yasser Arafat on the streets of Bethlehem
(c) fifiheavey

Although annoyed, we accepted this as we knew we were getting a Palestine tour guide as we crossed the (undefined) border – but he was even worse. He stuck rigidly to the Christian religious side of the tour, there was no mention of any border, conflict or even slight disagreement. With a limited English vocabulary, questions once again were off limit.

On the third day we were once again returned to our original tour guide, but we had moved on from Palestine. We did get to ask him some questions and did come home with a much better understanding of the situation, but our disappointment with the transparency of the guides is hard to forget.

Slap on the wrists for leaving the responsibility of my education to the tour guides. 
My bad experience has given me the resolve to read up on the conflict and return to the Holy and contentious land.
Do we place too much trust in tour guides? 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Leave the real world behind: Go Cruising

"Watch you don't catch the menopause” was one of the nicer comments I received from peers when I informed them of this year's big holiday: A Cruise to the Holy Land.


The Holy Land is not really your regular vacation destination and for good reason – it certainly is anything but regular! But that is worth a few posts of explanation!

Cruising is quite a stereotypical holiday, not usually associated with those looking for adventure, youth, excitement or culture. Middle aged Americans are the typical clients, large families gather to celebrate a big occasion and some honeymooners have been starting to hop on board – but what can it offer to the rest of us?
Everything, Anything and more!

Vision of the Seas docked in Istanbul (c)fifiheavey

As usual, this year's holiday was supposed to be a cheap sun holiday firstly because of budget restraints but also because I just wanted to relax and not rush around trying to fit every single thing of cultural and historical interest into my itinerary But that was soon scraped and next thing we found ourselves booked on to a 10 night Royal Caribbean Cruise to the Holy Land: relaxation with a dash of culture and spirituality, history, conflict and context!

It was me who had the apprehension about the cruise, the clientèle, the lack of things to do, the somber night life, the monotony ...
And how wrong I was.
 It was like entering a different world, one of luxury, relaxation, stress and hassle free. No money carried on board, no luggage to be tolerated from place to place, no tough decision over places to eat and drink, no language barrier .... total bliss!

Open deck
The cruise ship was amazing (despite being 13 years old) glamorous and spacious with fabulous outdoor and indoor pools, jacuzzis, sun bathing space, bars, a casino, lounges, creative open spaces, a spa, a gym, a shopping mall, theater and some fine dining rooms.
Even our cheapo last minute room was superb. Small but adequate, with loads of storage and wardrobe space, a TV and the option to turn off all the on ship announcements! (And enough room to host some parties!)

Yes the majority of people on board are over 60 and are American, but there is everyone and anyone mingling around the ship. The young and old from all over world mix, eat, drink and dance in perfect harmony.
We were not a few hours on board getting to know our surroundings when we had met fabulous people we became best friends with for the next ten days (and hopefully longer!)
Dining room mates, pool side pals, stool bar buddies, disco divas, theater companions and on shore excursion travellers formed our whole new world.

Showboat room

The destinations (Istanbul, Haifa, Jerusalem, Athens, Kusadasi) were obviously a huge part of the cruise, but even on all day cruising periods it is impossible to get bored. There is so much to do, that relaxation even takes back seat. The night life is of course what you make it – if you stay within your group of friends or couple well then you will be missing out. Everyone is so open, everyone wants to talk and have fun, to learn about different countries and cultures without ever getting off the ship.

The food was excellent, buffet or formal there was so much choice. There were two formal nights on board which allowed us all to dress up and pretend we were on Titanic (without the iceberg and drama ...) I loved that everyone joined in, donned their best and enjoyed the fine life.

Take off - leaving Istanbul behind (c) fifiheavey

No you don't need to win the lotto to go on a cruise, it is actually quite cheap keep a look out for deals on line. And yes you can bet your American dollar (the currency used on board) that I will be going on a cruise again ... soon!

Cruising is a stereotypical holiday for those looking for an unconventional good time!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Cruising to the Holy Land

Sorry for the lack of posts in the two weeks I was living the high life cruising to the Holy Land!
It was quite the experience, and one I will be delighted to tell you all about.

Here was the schedule:
Details to follow .....

Itinerary Information:

30 Nov (Tuesday)ISTANBUL, TURKEY
08 Oct (Saturday)ISTANBUL, TURKEY14:00
09 Oct (Sunday)CRUISING--
10 Oct (Monday)HAIFA, ISRAEL09:0023:59
11 Oct (Tuesday)JERUSALEM (ASHDOD), ISRAEL07:00
12 Oct (Wednesday)JERUSALEM (ASHDOD), ISRAEL19:00
13 Oct (Thursday)CRUISING--
14 Oct (Friday)ATHENS (PIRAEUS), GREECE07:0018:00
15 Oct (Saturday)EPHESUS (KUSADASI), TURKEY09:0019:00
16 Oct (Sunday)CRUISING--
17 Oct (Monday)ISTANBUL, TURKEY05:00

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

No photography allowed

You have waited in line for a few hours in line, saved for years, sacrificed your social life, left your loved ones behind and travelled over seas and continents to see (insert landmark, painting, iconic, historic item etc) only to be greeted with the “no photography allowed” sign.

What do you do?

Option 1: “Yeah fair enough, I suppose the (*insert item*) is a really big deal and I don't want to disrespect the (Gods/ ancient tribe/ locals/ museum management) by taking a picture. The memory of seeing this (*insert*) will last forever, the feeling of being here, of standing it it's presence – nothing can take that from me, the pictures in my mind will be 100 times better than any measly effort to try and capture the essence of this (*insert*).

Option 2: “What?!? – no F**ing way – I don't care I am going to take a sneaky photo anyway.”

In my case, both of the options have applied in different circumstances.

My illegal photo of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome
(c) fifiheavey
I understand that flash photography can ruin ancient manuscripts and I can also understand that museums and such places need people to come and see their items instead of just looking at a photo. They also don't want any crap blurry shots circulating around the globe ruining their reputation.
And I respect their ideals.

Skulls from Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary, Prague
(c) fifiheavey 
But sometimes, it just doesn't cut it with me, as I have described above there were times when I sacrificed and put in a hell of a lot of effort to go and see items and therefore feel I deserve to take back a picture.

Right of wrong (probably wrong) I know I am not alone, everyone does it. And with sophisticated camera phones now, looking inauspicious has become a lot easier. Photos are taken and nobody knows – no one gets hurt.
Check out for all the illegal photos of things you are not allowed to photograph!

As I said I do respect the ideal of no photography and a lot of the time I obey it, but it depends on my frame of mind and the amount of respect I hold for the place or item (or how scared I am of the security people!)
Sometimes it is better to reflect on the memory of the visit, than to stare at an illegitimate photo or video footage – it gives it more meaning.

No photography allowed inside the passage tomb at Newgrange.(c) fifiheavey
So what do you think let me know do you obey the no photography sign?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Better than the real thing

Sometimes the lead up to an event is better than the actual occasion, the excitement, preparation, the day dreams, the factor of the unknown.

But this year I am not going to let this happen – I want my holiday to be so much better than anything I could imagine, so I have stopped – stopped googling, reading reviews, staring at beautiful digitally enhanced photos, slumping over the itinerary for hours ...

A hectic work life situation has played a huge part in this, but just as I started to panic last week that I have not done enough for my impending trip, I stopped and thought “No.”
This year it will be different, this year I will go on a relaxing holiday, I will go with the flow, chill, unwind and untimely enjoy myself.

Of course I am keeping an eye on the world news for my holiday destinations, especially Israel which is hotting up just in time for my arrival. But that is it.
I do not know what one Israeli Shekel can get me, I have no idea what the Dead Sea looks like, the hotels in Istanbul could have blown up by now and haven't a notion what kind of people will be on the cruise ship.

Israel currency
This year I want to be surprised, I don't want to compare photos of the Athens Acropolis to pictures online and I will be open to all suggestions for things to see and do.

Usually I know my destination inside out, I have a definitive list of things that I must see and do, I know exactly how much the taxi will cost from the airport to the hotel, and in all the planning I usually forget to relax (unless I have a specific time allowed for such!).

Obviously I have an idea of some of the things to see and do, we even have some tours booked for Israel, but for the majority of the days there is no schedule, no plan of action, no timescale ...
(As I write this I am starting to imagine mayhem ...)

Day dreams of sunbathing on a cruise liner are helping me get through the dreary busy work hours, but these are general images, nothing specific because when I get there I want to be wowed.

The week before is exciting, but it will not be the best part of my epic holiday.
Have you been let down after an unbelievable lead up?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Knowing me and knowing Ski

When you travel you learn about places, people and things from all over the world, but you also learn about yourself. Months on the road, by yourself, with people in good places and bad you come to terms with who you really are.
You learn things about yourself that you never knew. Some good, some bad.

I have always known that I am organised, efficient, and at my worst: scheduled, but what I didn't know was my issue with control – more exactly my fear of not being in control.

Learning to let go on The Remarkables, New Zealand (c)fifiheavey

Of course on the road, you plan things and more often than not they do not go according to plan and despite some dismay at this (maybe a few hissy fits) I grew accustomed to things steering off course. I quickly adapted, and put a plan B, C or even Z into place. But even when things don't go as planned, you can stay in control, you can re-direct the troops and carry on, re-focused.
Concentrating (c) fifiheavey

“Let go”


“Stop Thinking”

“Go with the flow”

On top of a snow covered mountain in New Zealand, hurtling towards the bottom at what must be record speeds with no plan, no idea, no alternative to my disposal, my nightmare was realised.
My ski instructor told me I had “control issues.”

You see skiing is fun, or at least it is supposed to be, you the skis, a snowcapped mountain and the fresh air. In this game however you have to submit your control, you have to go with the mountain, the skis, ignore your instinct thoughts ... relax ... glide ... smile ... stop.

I wanted to have fun, I wanted to have so much fun with everyone else and enjoy skiing. I wanted to excel through my beginners group to intermediate with my boyfriend, I wanted to show that I was better than some seven year old brat - so I concentrated really hard to get all the moves, to learn how to sweep from side to side and stop before I feel off the edge.
Ski lifts on The Remarkables (c) fifiheavey
The ski instructor told me I was trying too much, I needed to let go.
This concept was alien to me.

In the videos I look rigid, stiff, my turns are forced, my feet locked into a “wedge” shape. I wore the bruises from the ski lifts for weeks, the trauma of having to hurtle my body forward seconds before I fell to my death across a cliff took longer to disappear. But the effects of not being able to “let go” have never left me.
Over and over, I recall children diving to get out of my way, ski couples huddling in fear, and teenagers gasping in shock as I fly my way down an intermediate slope and throw myself to the ground, as my boyfriend laughs himself into a hoop.
Snowboarding as the morning sun breaks out.
(c) fifiheavey

Sometimes having fun can be hard work – I knew I should have picked snow boarding!