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October 6, 2017

My worst airport fiasco: forgotten perfume, luggage mix-up, irate passengers and stolen music

Washington Dulles International Airport - photo Joe Ravi

Washington Dulles International Airport – photo Joe Ravi

What’s the worst airport disaster you’ve had? Hopefully nothing TOO serious but I bet quite a lot of you have lost luggage, missed flights or been stuck at the airport due to a strike or major delay. These days, just getting through security can be a nightmare. One of my most memorable airport fiascos involved a flight to South Africa from Greece in the late 1980s. It started off badly. My boyfriend and I were flying from Athens; the old airport was on the way to Piraeus and we had left it late to get a taxi. I remember the smog-fuelled struggle to get out of the city and along the crowded, dismal road to the airport, fretting about missing our flight. We got there with just enough time for Mike to get some perfume from the Duty-Free for me and some alcohol for his family. It was not until we were getting off the plane at our stop-over that I realised I had left the bag with my big bottle of Chanel No 19 perfume AND body cream on the shuttle bus. Nice present for whoever found it …

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

However, the real problem was in Africa. Due to political instability in many parts of the continent, South African Airlines had to fly rather circuitous route to get to South Africa, still in the grip of apartheid. I can’t now remember which airport we had to stop in, but I THINK it was Luanda in Angola. We were one of the first off the SAA plane. We’d been told that our luggage would be transferred to the next flight on to Johannesburg and we were to wait in the airport terminal until that flight was called. In those days the airport was little more than a big shed, with lots of gun-toting soldiers who seemed to have little idea what was going on but were very big on looking important. There was a rather shabby little bar but we didn’t have any local currency so we just found a couple of rickety chairs and prepared to wait.

We’d been told by the cabin crew that the stopover would be for about an hour but that there had been some problems at the airport and we should listen out for announcements.  No-one seemed to know what was going on and there was no tannoy system. Every so often someone would shout out the name of a flight and there’d be a mad scramble of irate passengers trying to see if it was their flight that had been called. We kept missing announcements but, after about three hours our flight was called and we went to the exit to board the plane. As the flight attendant checked our ticket she said, “Did you get your luggage checked on board?” We said no, because on the plane we’d been told it was going to be loaded onto the plane automatically. “Oh no,” she replied. “Didn’t you hear the announcement? The porters are on strike so everyone has to get their own luggage and take it out to the plane.” We looked around and all the other passengers were nodding in agreement and looking amazed that we’d missed this vital piece of information. “OK, you have to go over there to that building and identify your cases. Then get a trolley and take them out to the plane.”

Luggage - old suitcases

Old suitcases

In a huge heap on the floor of a vast warehouse were hundreds of suitcases. It took us ages to find ours, wheel them out to the plane, an unnerving experience in itself and hand them over to the guys who were waiting to load them on. They’d had to hold the plane up for us. The engines were going and the pilot glared at us through us through cockpit window as we ran up the steps. Entering the cabin, the passengers were also looking really angry as we caused everyone to wait on the plane in sweltering heat for almost an hour as we had to wait for another departure slog. We slunk into our seats muttering apologies and keeping our heads well down. By the time we arrived in Johannesburg we were over fours hours late – and very tired.

At the airport

At the airport

These days, you can easily claim for flight delays and it’s worth checking before you fly what the terms and conditions are for your ticket. With airlines like Monarch going into receivership and companies like Ryan Air cancelling flights left, right and centre, make sure you have good cover.  Read my Top Tips for Stress-Free Airport Travel for more help.

PS. On the return trip from South Africa, my suitcase was broken into and all the cassettes (yes it was that long ago) of wonderful African music I’d bought were stolen. We didn’t have insurance cover … lesson learnt.

This article was written in collaboration with FlightDelayClaims4U. What’s your worst airport fiasco? Do share in the Comment below – with any tips for avoiding it in future!

December 23, 2016

5 Christmas Decorations from around the world

Festive snowmen at Dunster Christmas Decorations Shop

Festive snowmen at Dunster Christmas Shop

Christmas decorations bring simple joy and delight; if you don’t agree, BAH HUMBUG to you! Unpacking the boxes of colourful baubles, bells, angels, stars, Father Christmas, candles, tinsel, fairy lights and wreaths is a magical experience. Many objects bring back memories of childhood, family, friends and places visited. Last year I wrote about the joy of a REAL Christmas Tree. This year I’m featuring 5 of my favourite Christmas decorations from around the world that have a special significance.

Christmas Decorations

 Caribbean Lace Decoration

Lace Christmas decorations from St John US Virgin Islands

Lace Christmas decoration

With dainty white lace threaded with lilac ribbon, this is not a traditional Christmas decoration, but one that means a lot. My brother worked on yachts for many years and often didn’t get home for Christmas. In the summer he sailed around the Mediterranean and in the winter around the Caribbean (Visit Aruba). Even though he’s not a big fan of Christmas he often brought back lovely decorations from his travels. This one, made by Heidi, was from St John in the US Virgin Islands.

Quirky Kangaroo from Australia

Kangaroo Christmas decoratios from Western Australia

Kangaroo bauble from Western Australia

On a visit to Western Australia I finally got to see kangaroos in the wild. They were feeding beside the road at dusk and we got really close to them. So when I saw this bauble in a shop in Perth I just had to get it. VERY quirky and very Aussie! It’s strange for us Brits to think of the festive season in summer. I had a hot Christmas in South Africa many years ago – felt very strange to be having a BBQ outside on Christmas Day …

Mickey Mouse from Disneyland

Mickey Mouse bauble from Disneyland USA and other Christmas decorations

Mickey Mouse from Disneyland USA

I bought Mickey Mouse from Disneyland in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I was staying there with my American boyfriend and we went to Disneyland for the day as I had never been; it was brilliant. Along with Mickey Mouse I also bought Donald Duck and these have been two of my son Alex’s favourite Christmas decorations since he was little. He finally made it Disneyland Paris a few years ago and got to meet the real Mickey Mouse …

Dunster at Christmas

Dunster hand-painted Christmas Bauble

Dunster Christmas Bauble

This beautiful hand-painted bauble is of the medieval town of Dunster in Exmoor. Every year they hold Dunster by Candlelight, a magical Christmas festival of light. Hundreds of people visit to see the candle-lit procession, the market stalls, Dunster Castle, the shops and street performers. I was there this year (see Stargazing and Winter Joy in Exmoor) and bought this bauble from the very festive Christmas Shop on the main street as a special souvenir of a magical experience.

Nativity Scene from German Christmas Market

Nativity Scene from Bavarian Christmas Market Germany

Nativity Scene from Bavarian Christmas Market

This tiny Nativity Scene, inside a walnut shell, is from the Rottacher Advent Market on Tegerness Lake in Upper Bavaria. I bought it  on my first visit to a German Christmas Market and it means a lot. Not only does it represent the true meaning of Christmas, but is a reminder of that special trip and the resilience of people in the face of tragedy. That week there was a horrific attack on the Berlin Christmas Market. 12 people died and many were injured. Yesterday the market reopened and there was a positive spirit of defiance, in spite of the grief. This is one of my favourite Christmas decorations because it reminds me of what Christmas is really all about. Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All …

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Christmas decorations from around the world


October 10, 2016

Apples in autumn; a sublime treat for all the senses …

Apples at Snowshill Manor - Cotswolds - zoedawes

Apples at Snowshill Manor


by Helen H. Moore

Apples, apples, what a treat,
sweet and tart and good to eat.
Apples green and apples red,
hang from branches overhead,
and when they ripen, down they drop,
so we can taste our apple crop.

Helmsley orchard and castle Yorkshire - zoedawes

Helmsley orchard and castle

As memories of the summer fade and the nights get longer, autumn brings it own pleasures. The trees become resplendent in vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, purple, brown and gold. Villages throughout the land hold shows to judge the biggest marrow, pumpkin and onion, whilst, ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter‘ is sung at Harvest Festivals in churches and school children learn Keats’ Ode to Autumn. Chrysanthemums provide a glorious final burst of colour and bushes are bedecked with autumnal berries, ready for Christmas wreaths. The first frosts bring plumbers a new rush of customers. Restaurants rustle up hearty soups and pubs stock up on wood for cosy fires to warm thirsty customers. But for me, the simple pleasure of apples in autumn is hard to beat.

Varieties of apples in autumn at Helmsley Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Varieties of apples at Helmsley

Apples in Autumn

Not only do apples look and smell gorgeous, they also taste delicious and are extremely versatile. In his excellent cookery book Fruit, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes, “The apple is a miracle of a food, one without rival in the fruit kingdom – or any other kingdom, come to that. There really is no end to what you can do with this world-beating fruit – raw or cooked – in dishes sweet and savoury.” His recipes for Parsnip and Apple cakes, Apple bangers and Sardines with Fried Apples are just a few of the many ways of cooking these wholesome gems.

Peel an Apple

Peel an apple
Cut it up,
and cook it in a pot.
When you taste it, 
you will find,
it’s apple sauce you’ve got!

Apple Sauce - image

Apple Sauce – image

On a visit to South Tyrol in northern Italy, I was taught to make traditional Apple Strudel by a farmer’s wife in a farmhouse high up in the mountains. You can watch her making it in this video.

I remember Mum baking apple pies and bottling chutneys to use up the surplus apples in autumn. She added pieces of apple to her home-made mincemeat and every Christmas I add it to a jar of shop-bought mincemeat, (along with a good slug of brandy for added oomph.) One of my first memories of apples is picking up a windfall from my grandmother’s back garden, checking for worm-holes and then biting into it. Juice squirted out and its sharp tang took my breath away. I don’t know what flavour it was but it wasn’t the sweetest of fruit.

Windfalls for sale - apples in autumn - zoedawes

Windfalls for sale

The Apple Tree

Away up high
In an apple tree
Two red apples
Smiled at me
I shook that tree
As hard as I could
Down came those apples
And mmm were they good!

Red apples in Autumn at Helmsley Castle Gardens Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Red apples in autumn – Helmsley Yorkshire

Apples play a significant role in our cultural heritage. They symbolize abundance, prosperity, temptation and much more. Adam and Eve in the Bible,  the Golden Apples of Hesperides in Greek myth, Newton ‘discovering’ gravity via the falling apple, Johnny Appleseed wandering across America planting apple trees.

Johnny Appleseed Song

(sung to Do you Know the Muffin Man)

Do you know the apple man,
the apple man, the apple man?
Do you know the apple man?
He planted apple seeds.

He wore a pot upon his head,
upon his head, upon his head.
He wore a pot upon his head.
His name was Johnny Appleseed.

John Chapman was his real name,
his real name, his real name.
John Chapman was his real name;
But, we call him Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed - painting by Joshua Brunet

Johnny Appleseed – painting by Joshua Brunet

An apple a day may well keep the doctor away, but for once, this medicine tastes scrumptious. These days we can get apples all year round, from all over the world, but there nothing tastes better than freshly picked English apples in autumn … Over 2000 varieties have been grown in England and their names have a charming resonance that epitomises our quirky country: Adams Pearmain, Chivers Delight, Lord Lambourn, Gascoyne’s Scarlet, Knobbed Russet, Potts Seedling and of course, the perennial favourite, Cox’s Orange Pippin. If you don;t have an apple tree of your own, this autumn find your nearest orchard (like Helmsley Walled Garden in Yorkshire), visit a Farmers Market, go on an Apple Day outing, visit your local greengrocer, if you still have one, and if push comes to shove, get down to the supermarket; wherever you can, grab yourself a bag full of apples and enjoy the sublime taste of autumn …

Helmsley Walled Garden apples in autumn - zoedawes

Helmsley Walled Garden

I found these charming Apple Poems on the, when researching poetry for this article.

September 3, 2016

TQT Object: Italian Espresso Coffee Pot from Milan

In this occasional series of articles, The Quirky Traveller Object is something I’ve brought back from my travels over many years. It usually has a strong personal meaning and invariably brings back happy memories of the wonderful people and places I have visited around the world.

Italian Espresso Coffee Pot from Milan

Bialetti espresso coffee pot - zoedawes

It was the colour that attracted me. The shiny red coffee pot stood out from the other coffee makers on the shelf in the tiny hardware shop in a quiet suburb in Milan. I was staying with a fellow Travel blogger Simon Falvo, in her cosy Milanese apartment just down the road from the shop. Every morning we had a cup of coffee and a croissant at the little cafe next door before heading off into the city centre to look round.

Milan caffes - collage zoedawes

We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the city centre around Il Duomo, Milan’s dramatic Cathedral. The Piazza is a lively place with tourists rubbing shoulders with locals, admiring the architecture and taking selfies in front of the cathedral’s ornate facade. We wandered through the gorgeous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, its Romanesque decor home to luxury brands like Prada, Versace, Armani and Louis Vuitton. The cafes and bars were busy with people sipping Campari or coffee, chatting and watching the world go by.

Camparino in Galleria Milan - zoedawes

When I told Simon I wanted to get an espresso coffee maker to take home she said the shop nearby sold them. She recommended the Bialetti pot as it’s easy to use and a classic style. That red pot was crying out to be mine, so I handed over the 35 Euros and the elderly shop-owner wrapped it up in brown paper. Simon gave a me a packet of Lavazza Coffee for a genuine taste of Italy.

 Italian Espresso Coffee Pot - zoedawes

As soon as I got back home I made myself a little cup of rich, dark, strong Italian memories. Every day when I heat the pot up on the stove, hear the water bubbling away and smell the espresso coffee I remember one of the most interesting cities in Italy, friendship and relaxing in the sunshine.

Pin It!

Italian Espresso Coffee Pot - Pinterest

What country do you think makes the best coffee? (I don’t mean ‘grow’ but ‘make’ as in produce a great drink.) For me it’s Italy and the country that surprised me most for excellent coffee was Canada. I’ve visited a few times and always been impressed with the quality of their coffee and it’s almost impossible to buy instant coffee, which is a good sign!

Read more about Milan and a very quirky building here.

May 4, 2016

Remembering Menorca, island of happy family memories

Zoe and Alex on yacht in Mahon harbour

Enjoying Menorca

This photo was taken by my brother, who lives on Menorca in 2007, during a very happy holiday with my son. Every year from when Alex was four months old we went out to stay with Graeme on this lovely Mediterranean island. We stayed in Es Castell, outside Mahon, the capital of Menorca, and spent most of our days either on one of the many beaches or pottering about the harbour in Mahon. Gra was usually at work on one of the many luxury yachts moored in the harbour and we occasionally went aboard to get a taste of the high life!

Mahon harbour view Menorca

Mahon harbour view

Our favourite beach was Alcaufar, only a short drive from the flat, with a charming hotel overlooking  the sheltered sandy bay, which was perfect for children and families. Often my Mum would come out to stay as well, and I have vivid memories of her sitting on the balcony overlooking the beach, reading a book, whilst Alex paddled in the shallow water and I sunbathed. Colourful fishing boats bobbed about and locals chatted outside their white-painted holiday homes which line one side of the inlet.

Alcaufar beach Menorca - zoedawes

Alcaufar beach

Gra has an old ex-army Willies Jeep and when he had time off we’d zoom around the island with the roof off and the windscreen down, with the breeze keeping us cool as we explored the many beaches, pre-historic sites and attractive villages. One day Gra took Alex onto some wasteland and let him have a go at driving the Jeep – great fun for them both but a bit nerve-wracking for Mum!

Alex driving Willies Jeep Menorca

Alex’s first driving lesson

Menorca is renowned for its excellent sailing conditions and my Dad (who’d originally bought the flat my brother now lives in) had a little yacht which we took out sometimes, mainly up to the mouth of Mahon harbor to a bay beside Fortress Isabel. After we sold it, Gra usually managed to get us a trip on a friend’s boat and on one memorable occasion we went out on the ‘Red Rocket’ which was a fast as it sounds.

Red Rocket Menorca

The Red Rocket

The island has many connections with Britain as it was a valuable strategic position in the Med but its history goes way back to pre-history. We spent many hours wandering round the ancient Taulas and Talyots that are scattered all over Menorca, as well as the Naveta des Tudons, a boat-shaped funery monument on the way to the old capital, Ciudadella. This city has impressive Moorish architecture and a lively port.

Naveta des Tudons Menorca

Naveta des Tudons

Menorca is famous for its fiestas and the beautiful black Menorcan horses that parade through the towns and rear up on their hind legs. One summer we went to see one of the Equestrian shows and we were able to get up close to these maginficent animals. I never managed to get a ride on one but maybe one day …

Menorcan horses at Equestrian Show

Menorcan horses at Equestrian Show

My brother’s apartment is in Es Castell, which is a few minutes walk from the attractive fishing harbour of Calas Fons. It has a great view overlooking the Agamenon Hotel and Mahon Harbour. Many an evening, after Alex had gone to bed, we’d sit on the little balcony with a gin and tonic and watch the boats sail by, including some big cruise ships.

Mahon Harbour from Es Castell apartment Menorca

View from Es Castell apartment

Very soon I will be returning to Menorca for the first time in six years. I can’t wait to see what has changed there, and more importantly, what hasn’t. I’ll be staying in Cala Galdana for the first few days, then back with my brother for a week. You can follow my return visit with Spanish Tourism via #mustseemenorca.

Calas Fons - night menorca

Calas Fons at night

December 31, 2015

Top travel experiences of the year

Kempinski Ishtar Hotel Dead Sea Jordan - image zoedawesIt’s the end of the year and, along with many others, I’ve been looking back over the past 12 months and reflecting on all that has happened. On a personal level it was a big year as my son finished school and started university in Liverpool, so much of the time seemed to be spent nagging him to revise. I was also redesigning my training and coaching business to focus on the tourism, hospitality and creative sectors. But there was time for some top travel trips and very special memories in 2015.  Here are my favourites; some unsual ideas for your own holiday next year..

Top travel experiences of the year

Getting up close and personal with grizzly bears in British Columbia

Grizzly bear cubs Knight Inlet BC Canada - zoedawes

I have never experienced anything like it. To go grizzly bear watching and get within a few metres of these huge, furry beasts as they make their way along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest is truly wonderful. I can still picture the misty, rain-dappled waters of Knight Inlet and see powerful paws delicately turning over stones to find tasty morsels hidden below. With highly knowledgeable, friendly guides, a variety of transport modes, clothing, equipment and excellent meals all provided by Knight Inlet Bear Lodge, there is really nothing to think about except enjoying every moment.

Gary and Zoe Knight Inlet Lodge BC Canada

Being without internet connection and far from ‘civilisation’ is also a great for a ‘digital detox’; much needed in this day and age. If you love wildlife, the outdoors and bears this will be perfect.

Finally visiting Petra and floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan

Petra from Siq Jordan - zoedawes

In Autumn this year I fulfilled TWO life-long ambition on a memorable trip to Jordan. I first saw a picture of Petra and of somone floating in the sea reading a newspaper when I was a child. Since then I have wanted to experience both., but had no idea they would both be possible in the same country – Jordan. The ancient city of Petra didn’t disappoint, being much bigger and more impressive than expected. The Dead Sea was very different. The whole area is now a big resort with large modern hotels catering for holidaymakers from Jordan and further afield. It has the air of a posh Blackpool, though many of the hotels were half empty due to the current situation in the Middle East. We stayed in great luxury at the Kempinksi Ishtar Hotel (NINE swimming pools!). ‘Swimming’ in the Dead Sea is a highly organised activity, with help in covering yourself in mud (very gloopy) and floating for a few minutes. It’s very difficult to stay upright and the water stings like crazy if you get it in your eyes. But I did it and have the photo to prove it!

Floating in the Dead Sea Jordan - zoedawes

There are many other sights to see in Jordan, we had no problems in Jordan and I would highly recommend visiting now, subject to the usual Foreign Office advice.

Discovering British Royal Heritage on first trip to Germany

House of Hannover - Marienburg Castle

Have you been to Germany? I hadn’t until this year, when I went to explore sites relating to the Hanoverian royal family. I stayed in Hanover (Hannover)  which is only a short flight from the UK and a very buzzy city. Highlights of the Lower Saxony trip included the baroque beauty of Herrenhausen Gardens, historic Celle with its beautiful castle and medieval town, beautiful Buckeburg Castle and a guided tour of charming Marienburg Castle.

New Town Hall Hanover Germany - zoedawes

If you’re looking for a weekend break with a difference, pop over to Hanover and you’ll discover a city of vibrant culture, relaxed night life, good food and drink in a historic region with very regal connections.

International Happy New YearWherever you are and whatever you do, have a VERY Happy New Year full of quirky travel and much joy.

December 24, 2015

The simple joy of a REAL Christmas Tree

Decorated Christmas Tree - zoedawes

It’s the smell of pine that greets us every morning. It’s the irregular branches and chunky needles. It’s choosing the right Christmas Tree; about 6ft tall, chubby shape, dense boughs and a pointy top on which Father Christmas perches. It’s bundling it into the car and having to put down the seats to fit it in, getting them covered in needles. It’s leaving it outside in a bucket of (usually) freezing water overnight in the vain hope it might stop those needles dropping. It’s bringing its festive treeness into the house and setting it into its stand, wiggling it round to get the ‘right’ side facing out. (Because all Christmas Trees have a front and a back – didn’t you know?)

Christmas Tree bare branches - zoedawes

It’s testing the fairy lights from last year, discovering one set doesn’t work and the box with the spares has gone missing. It’s draping them around the Christmas Tree, finding they won’t quite reach all the way but another set is too much. And then deciding you can never have too many fairy lights. It’s opening up the old shoe boxes of decorations and immediately being taken back to Christmasses of childhood, when life was simple and oh so very exciting. It’s cherishing each decoration which tells a story of the person or place of which it’s a reminder.

Christmas knitted snowman

It’s placing the decorations just so, balancing them on branches at just the right height. It’s deciding that at this time of the year, more is more. It’s stepping back and seeing if the overall effect looks good, then tweaking things a bit to make it just perfect.

Gold Elvis Christmas decoration from Graceland - zoedawes

It’s turning on the lights and going ‘Ahhh yes’ as the doughty little tree comes to life for the next few weeks. It’s putting the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. It’s playing Christmas songs and sharing the charming spectacle with friends and family. A real Christmas Tree brings childish pleasure at its simplest and most beautiful. I love it …

Christmas Tree angel - zoedawes

Merry Christmas, whether you have a real tree or not, whether you are at home or far away, with family, friends or on your own. May all your festive days be merry and bright ….

Christmas Tree fairy - zoedawes