Thursday 29 June 2017

Reconnecting with family and friends in the UK

Sadly, in the last week of April 2017, after Trav and I had been living and working in Bucharest Romania for a month, we heard news from family in the UK that Trav’s dad had become gravely ill. It had been less than three months since the death of his mum.

Trav immediately returned to the UK to be with his dad during his last days.

Just a few days later, after his dad had passed away peacefully, Trav returned to Bucharest and together we packed our bags to leave Bucharest and travel back to the UK to be with family and to prepare for the funeral.

First, we flew into Scotland to meet with our son Iain who lives in Glasgow and our son Ben who lives in Edinburgh.

The silver lining in the dark cloud of our bereavement was that for the second time this year, and in a short space of just three months, we would get to spend more time with our sons, with my own mum, and our much-missed family in the UK.

Blue skies over Glasgow
Our son Iain and his lovely girlfriend Alice

During our few days in Scotland, I also took the opportunity to attend a Romantic Novelist’s Association lunch in Edinburgh. It had been several years since I’d met up with my friends in the RNA Scottish Chapter. When I saw on our group Facebook page that a lunch meeting was being arranged for the morning I arrived back, I jumped at the chance to go along. I took the train from Glasgow and it was wonderful to see blues skies over Edinburgh and all my Scottish writer friends again face to face.

Edinburgh Castle in the sunshine

Blue skies over Princes Street Edinburgh
With Rosemary Gemmell in Edinburgh

With Eileen Ramsay - chair of the Romantic Novelist's Association 

It was wonderful to catch up with my Scottish writer friends in Edinburgh

Also, while we were in Edinburgh, we got together with our son Ben and his lovely girlfriend Hayley and all her family.

Trav and I with Hayley and Ben at the bowling club

Hayley is a ladies champion bowls player and there was a match being played that day at the local bowling club. It was a fun day and a welcome chance to spend quality time with Ben and Hayley especially when in just a few day’s time – the day after his grandad’s funeral – they were looking forward to their three-week holiday in Orlando Florida.

Hayley in action

Hayley's mum Andrea and Graham

Fun at the bowling club with Ben and Hayley and her family

Trav and I travelled down to England by train and were once again so grateful to our best friend Dina, who had generously offered to share her home with us again while we were in the UK.

Hanging out with my best friend Dina

In the days before the funeral, we managed to have some fun times with Dina in our old home town of Widnes and we also got to spend a great day out in Liverpool - exploring all the tourist sites like the Albert Dock and the Caven Club.

The day of the funeral was an emotional one for all the Horton family. For Trav and his brothers, Rob and Stuart, to lose both parent’s in such a short time was heart-breaking. As it was for all eight grandchildren to lose their grandparents. Their legacy of course will live on in them all and also in their one great-grandchild, Aaron, who lives in South Korea and whom they sadly had never met.

A short time after the funeral, on a solemn grey and rainy day in May, Jimmy and Dot’s ashes were buried together in the same Runcorn cemetery where their parent’s had been laid to rest. A small and intimate service was held with just their three son’s and wives present. Trav, being the eldest of the brothers, said a few words over his parent’s grave while we all held hands and said our last goodbyes.

For mid-May, initially from Bucharest, I had booked flights to London in order to attend the Romantic Novelist’s Association Summer Party. This writer’s networking event is a great opportunity for writers to get together with publishers and agents and other writing professionals. As I had been out of the country off and on for almost four years, I also saw this event as a great opportunity, not only for me to meet up with my writer friends, but to put my finger back on the pulse of the writing industry and to see what had changed over the past few years.

I had hastily re-organised my travel arrangements and I was very excited to be accompanied to the event and staying with my lovely writer friend Linn B Halton, who lives outside London. Linn and I hadn’t seen each other face to face (if you don’t count Skype) since the Festival of Romance several years before so you can imagine how much we had to talk about!

Ready for the RNA Summer Party -with my lovely friend Linn B Halton

Linn and I travelled to London together by train, had a fabulous lunch in an Italian restaurant in Piccadilly, and then caught up with other Romantic Novelist’s for pre-party drinks. It was so great to see everyone again. Below are a few photos with my lovely writer chums!

With Linn having lunch in London

Pre-party cocktails with lovely writer friends

With Mandy Baggot

With Talli Roland who also writes as Leah Mercer

With lovely Liz Harris

Soon, Trav and I felt ready to move on again. As we don’t have a home of our own in the UK anymore and, as we still have wanderlust to travel, we were keen to take up our nomadic adventures again and there is nothing like losing people to remind us of the fragility of life and how quickly time passes.

Our flight from London to KL via Singapore

Trav and I want to travel the world together while we can
, while we still have our health, and before we get too old to do so. Of course, we love and miss our family and friends, but we appreciate they have busy lives too and being close geographically to them is no guarantee we would see them often as we'd like anyway. So 
I'm so grateful to the times in which we live; when we can keep in touch with our loved ones whenever we like on the internet and, thanks to affordable air travel, no place and no one in the world is much more than 12 hours away from us.

A farewell meal with my family before leaving for SE Asia

So we left the UK to fly back to Asia. We took a flight back to Kuala Lumpur and, while in a taxi to our hotel in KL, we had some wonderful news from Orlando Florida, where our son Ben was on holiday with his girlfriend Hayley. He had proposed and Hayley had became his fiancée.

The newly engaged Ben and Hayley in Orlando Florida

We were thrilled and so excited to see their proposal on video and to see how happy they are together. Our driver must have wondered what was going on when he heard me squealing and tearful on the back seat of his taxi!

After a good night’s sleep in KL, the next morning, we headed straight for the Perhentian Islands off the east coast of peninsula Malaysia. We flew with Air Asia from KLIA2 to Kuta Bharu - a 45 min flight and then took a bus and a boat over the Perhentian Besar (the larger of these islands). It’s a place that has been on our radar for a couple of years now but we have never been in Malaysia during these island’s short season - between May and September – after which all boats stop going there and all accommodations close down.

What is special about the Perhentian Islands you may ask?

Well, for one they are incredibly beautiful - the beaches are white sand beaches and said to be some of the best in the world - and the diving and snorkelling too is said to be amazing. But there is one other very special reason that we headed out to the Perhentians at this time and that is to do with my current Work In Progress. I needed to go to these islands for research purposes.

In my next book, I have a heroine who is establishing a turtle conservation sanctuary on an island– and so for a week I was going to be staying at a turtle conservation center to learn all about sea turtles and turtle hatcheries and baby turtles while Trav went diving.

If I was really lucky, I hoped that on Perhentian Island I would get to see baby turtles hatching and then help to release them to the sea. If I was really really lucky I would get to see a nesting turtle returning to the beach that she had been born on at least thirty years before, to lay her eggs under the light on the moon, before making her way back into the sea.

Please do join me here on the blog next time to find out more about the beautiful Perhentian Islands and to find out exactly how very lucky I was!

Love, Janice xx

Sunday 11 June 2017

A fabulous month in Bucharest Romania!

Having spent close to a year in Thailand, Trav and I were feeling ready for a new challenge. So when our friend Miha, who we’d first met over three years ago on the island of Utila in the Caribbean and then again more recently on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand, asked us if we would be interested in helping her out with the initial set up a new dive centre in Bucharest Romania - we thought about it for a little while - and then happily accepted!

Our friendship spans the world. Miha and I first met in the Caribbean.
This is us catching up in Koh Tao Thailand.

Miha is a highly qualified diver – a PADI Staff Instructor – like Trav. She is also an astute business woman and she had identified a growing appetite for scuba diving in Romania (her home country).

Miha’s plan was to teach diving courses in confined water (pool training) in Bucharest and then to offer open water training (to complete PADI dive qualifications) in various high-end beach resorts in Greece and elsewhere. Being able to help out a friend as well as enjoy some diving in Europe, we agreed to fly to Bucharest. I’d never been to Eastern Europe before and I knew nothing of Bucharest – even confusing it with Budapest initially – but all that changed at the beginning of April this year when, after visiting our son and his wife and our grandson in South Korea, we flew on from Kuala Lumpur to London and then to Bucharest Romania.

Romania is a breathtakingly beautiful country. In many ways, its landscape reminded me of south west Scotland, with its lush farmland and rolling hills. Old town Bucharest is a beautiful city with ancient buildings and a rich history. It has a Parisian feel too with many pavement cafes and its own ‘Arch of Triumph’.

It soon struck me how affordable it is to live there and I estimated the cost of living and of goods to be around half that of the UK. With low cost flights from the UK to Bucharest – and a hot and sunny summertime climate - and a flight time of just an hour or so, it is a truly amazing getaway destination for Brits. From the moment we arrived, I started snapping photos of the breathtakingly beautiful city.

To get over our jet-lag and catch up on sleep, we checked into the Intercontinental Hotel for our first few nights. The Intercon is the tallest building in Bucharest and, from the top floor lounge, the city-scape, especially at sunset, looked magical. Here we met up with Miha again. It was so lovely to catch up with her and to discuss our exciting plans together.

Bucharest Old Town at sundown as viewed the Intercontinental Hotel

The Intercontinental Hotel is the tallest building in Bucharest

Meeting up with Miha again in Bucharest

Fun lift selfies!

Trav and Miha discuss business in the boardroom!

Miha so generously shared her home, her family, and her country with us!

Then we moved into our new home – a generously proportioned house that Miha was renting just outside the city close to the airport. Trav and I had a large bedroom with an en-suite bathroom downstairs and Miha had the same upstairs. The large living room and outside balcony area was a great space for entertaining and for study/classroom work. There was also a kitchen downstairs and a spare room for all the dive gear. At the front of the house there was a busy highway and at the back open farmland.

Our spacious new home just outside the city

The sitting room and outside balcony were great spaces to entertain and train/study

At the front of the house there was a busy highway and at the back open farmland

Some of the most memorable times we had in Romania were when Miha generously introduced us to her family and we were invited to parties with Romanian food and traditional dancing! We were also invited to spent a weekend in the countryside with more of Miha’s wonderful family, who generously shared their Easter lunch with us on their apple farm. In contrast to city life in Bucharest, they have an idyllic and timelessly wonderful rural lifestyle, with hens and goats and acres of rolling fields filled with apple trees.

Above: pictures of us at a family party with traditional Romanian food and dancing!

Above: Photos of our amazing Easter weekend in the Romanian countryside with Miha's family

Country life: Romany with their horse and traditional wooden cart

We stopped at the side of the road to chat to this man and his wife and to buy smoked cheese from him. The most delicious smoked cheese I've ever tasted.

In Bucharest, we met lots of Miha’s good friends, who we now consider to be our good friends too. Special love and thanks to Ana and Claud and to Roxana and Kookie for their kindness and hospitality.

Evening drinks on the terrace with Claud and Ana at Roxana's and Kooki's house

A party at Roxana and Kooki's house

Me and Miha

Ana and Claud
Me and Roxanna

One day, while Miha and Trav were busy with diving business, my lovely new friends Anna and Claud, who were also our first dive trainees, took me to Mogosoaia Castle, a beautiful Brancovesc style palace with an ancient chapel. It was an amazing day and the weather was so sunny and perfect - as you can see from the photographs.

Photos above are from Mogosoaia Castle

Photos above of pool training sessions with PADi Open Water Trainees Ana and Claud and Theo

Also during our time in Romania, we did a trip into nearby Transylvania and got to visit Bram castle – otherwise known as Castle Dracula! I absolutely loved this trip – a big tick off the bucket list for sure!

The beautiful countryside of Transylvania

On the way back from Transylvania, we also got to stop off at the equally famous and historic Pele Castle.

Sadly, a month after being in Romania, we heard news from family in the UK that Trav’s dad had become gravely ill. Although he had been ill for quite some time, it still came as a shock when it had only been three months since the death of Trav's mum in mid-January. Trav returned to England to be with his dad during his last days. He then returned to Bucharest after his father had passed away and, just a few days later, with our work in Romania done, Trav and I said a fond farewell to Miha and to our new friends and we returned to the UK to be with the family and to prepare for the funeral.

Sadly, Trav's mum and dad both died within three months of each other.

Again, we were grateful to our best friend Dina, who once again so generously offered to share her home with us for what would be another month back in the UK. The silver lining in the dark cloud of our bereavement was that we got to spend time with our UK based sons Ben and Iain, and with Dina, and with my own mum and our much-missed family in the UK.

You can find out more about Miha's dive center by clicking this link to her website Blue Rides Planet and her Facebook Page.

Next time here on the blog, I’ll be chatting about our month reconnecting with family and friends. I’ll also be sharing my newsy lunch with writer friends in Edinburgh attending the Scottish Romantic Novelist’s Association and my big trip to London to attend the Romantic Novelist’s Association Summer Party.

Love, Janice xx