2000-12 (DECEMBER, 2000)

Wells, England

Andrea and I borrowed Louise's car and went to Wells for the weekend. We left early on Saturday morning and were over there by 10:30am. We had a wee wander around a church (St Cuthbert's) and the cathedral before heading over to where we were staying, on the outskirts of Wells. We had a room in a stately home (simply called 'Beryl'?!) with a day-glow pink, four-poster bed. At this point the rain came in and sight-seeing was quickly abandoned in favour of sitting in bed watching TV for the rest of the day. That evening we dined in a groovy little pub called 'The Fountain'.

On Sunday the rain was still coming down, so we decided to have a leisurely start to the day and then make our way home via the A roads (not recommended, given Britain's obsession with building roundabouts every 100 metres - presumably some sort of rural employment scheme). Doing so meant skipping such Wells tourist delights as Wookey Hole and the Cheddar Gorge. We took a minor detour to see a village called 'New Zealand' - four houses and a post box, as it turned out. We were home by mid-afternoon on Sunday. Nice.

Christmas Silly Season... - London, England

Went like this...

Christmas 2000 - Cyprus

Day One (The longest day): Our adventure began at 13:00 on Friday when our taxi collected us for our journey out to Heathrow. Heavy Christmas traffic meant the (normally) 40 minute journey took well over an hour. The first leg of our flight (to Athens) was scheduled to depart at 16:35, but we were not in the air until just after 17:45. None of us were too bothered, though, as this surely meant less stop-over time in the character-full establishment known as Athens airport ("Ho ho ho" - hollow laugh, with the benefit of hindsight). Touchdown in Athens was at 23:00, local time. Our outbound flight to Larnaca was due to depart at 01:15. We finally took off just before 04:00 - lucky I brought the dominos and a pack of cards! We touched down in Larnaca just before 06:00 and jumped straight into our mini-van for the 1 hour drive to Erimi where we were to collect our hire cars. Next was the 20 minute drive to Pachna, where Andrea's mum, Coral, lives and where our accommodation for the next 9 days is. 18 hours after beginning our journey we were finally able to jump into bed.

Day Two (The shortest day): We awoke at 13:30 and did not rush our rising, washing and sorting ourselves out. At about 15:00 we wandered up to Coral's house, a walk of about 5 minutes. Cinnamon Cottage is magnificent. Originally three houses, the main house is now comprised of two huge living areas (one is used to house a massive kitchen), joined by an archway that used to be a fireplace, and a bedroom/ bathroom complex. The main living room is spanned by a massive stone arch. My first task was to wrap the last of the presents, that I had bought at the airport. With eleven of us here for Christmas, there is a fair stack under the tree. Next I went out to take a few snaps before the sun set. Hugh took us on a short walk to the top of the hill the village is built on. The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting and snacking. Dinner was a feast prepared by Coral - gorgeous! After the meal we were treated to Cypriot coffee, freshly brewed at the taverna across the road, as well as Zivana, the local home-brewed firewater. Fortunately we were tucked up in bed (before 23:00) just before a monstrous thunder, lightening and hail storm blew in.

Day Three (Christmas Eve): After a bit of a late start (it's very cold in the mornings) we pootled up to Cinnamon Cottage. Coral volunteered to be our guide for the afternoon, so Andrea, Bobby and myself all piled into her 4x4 and off we went. First stop was Omados, a cute wee village some 8 miles from Pachna. Here we visited a traditional Cypriot house that had been opened for display. We also visited Andrea's favourite glass shop. Next stop was the village of Lofou, where we stopped for a late lunch (fantastic mezze) and another village stroll. Our drive back to Pachna wound it's way through the mountains and took in some breath-taking scenery and a magnificent sunset. Home for 40 winks and then out again for our evening meal with the whole Christmas crew. The venue was The Vine Leaf in Pissouri. Another massive meal, Greek dancing and 800 bottles of Coke later (I was driving) we were home by midnight.

Day Four (Christmas Day): We began with a stroll up the hill above the village. Next was a bit of log chopping to earn our Christmas dinner. A quick shower and then a bit of a sit in the sunshine whilst the crew assembled. A few of us went into the tiny church next door and lit a Christmas taper each. The walls in the church were festooned with wax body parts (legs, heads, etc.). Apparently, one of the Orthodox Cypriot beliefs is that if you have an illness or problem with a specific part of your body, you can help it heal by placing a wax model of it in a church. Fortunately, no-one in the village had a sore willy whilst we were there. I took a Polaroid of a group of kids, who were so taken with it, that I had to give it to them. At 13:00 Bobby went across the road dressed as Santa to hand out presents to the local children. By 13:30 we had all gathered at Cinnamon Cottage and it was time for our Christmas dinner at Linos Taverna across the road. Cristaki, our host, greeted us at the door. We had a scrummy lunch (including being forced to drink more bloody Zivana). After lunch, Andy and I went for a wee walk to settle our stomachs. When we returned to the cottage, we discovered the clan waiting for us - it was present opening time! Caroline was the Master of Ceremonies for the occasion (which took over 2.5 hours thanks to her insistence that each gift be individually opened in full view of the clan!). I received some fabulous gifts, including a 'Best of Father Ted' video, which was quickly put on for our evening's entertainment. Turkey sandwiches in front of 'Home Alone' rounded the evening out.

Day Five (Boxing Day): We began relatively early (for us on holiday) and were away by 09:45. Bobby, Andy and myself took the car down to the coast around Limassol. The sites included: the Sanctuary of Apollon Ylatis (800BC); Kourion Stadium (200AD); Kourion beach (in search of a mid-morning coffee); Kourion Amphitheatre (200BC) and mosaics (500AD); the house of Achilles and the house of Gladiators (both also at the Kourion site); Limassol Town and Fort (closed); and Kolossi Castle (1300AD). Back home by 17:00 for a quick siesta and then back up to Coral & Hugh's for 18:30. Dinner tonight was at The Old Schoolhouse - good mezze. Home again for plum pudding and custard - yum! In bed by midnight - early start tomorrow.

Day Six (Shopping Day): The earliest start yet today in order to take advantage of the shops being open for a half day in Lefkosia (Nicosia). Andy was feeling ill today and so chose to stay at home. Five of us took two cars and were on the road by 08:30. We drove to Lefkosia via the Troodos mountains which were spectacular (there was lots of snow at this altitude). Stopped for coffee on the outskirts and caught our first glimpse of the watchtowers on the Green Line - the UN patrolled border between South (Greek) Cyprus and North (Turkish) Cyprus. The line passes through Lefkosia itself making it the only divided capital left in Europe. We parked up in the centre of town and spent the rest of the morning wandering around the shops. At one point we were able to climb up on the wall and look into the wasteland that is the buffer zone between the North and the South. We took the elevator to the observation floor on the tallest building in Lefkosia. From here you can look out over the entire city. The vista North included a massive crescent and star carved into the mountains overlooking the city - a big 'two raised fingers' to the south. Michael, Lynda and myself left Bobby and Coral in Lefkosia and headed back into the mountains to look for the Kouris dam. The dam is pretty impressive. As the sun set we travelled upstream in search of a secret spot where you can find turquoise- and lapis-coloured stones in the river gravel. By the time we found it, the sun had long since slipped from the sky and we searched for the aforementioned stones by torch light. Of the twenty or so that I found, I was later disappointed to find that I do not have a treasure hunter's eye - most of my 'turquoise- and lapis-coloured stones' turned out, in daylight, to be gravel. We dined, that evening, at the house of 'Nick The Fish' - voted by all to be the best swordfish any of us had ever tasted.

Day Seven (The hottest day): We got away earlyish for our day trip to Pafos. We were unable to locate the turn-off to Palaia Pafos (Aphrodite's Temple) but we did get to look out over the coastline named Aphrodite's Birthplace. Once in Pafos, or more accurately Kato (Lower) Pafos, we took in: the Fort of Pafos; the mosaics at the House of Aion (350AD), the Villa of Thesius (200AD) the House of Orpheus (200AD); and a beautiful Odeon and Agora. Towards the end of the afternoon I accidentally popped open the back of my camera and lost most of the days pictures. Bit unhappy about that. We met up with Michael and Lynda for a coffee and then made our way into Pafos town centre to do some late afternoon shopping. I drove us back to Pachna and we dined on Christmas leftovers at Cinnamon Cottage.

Day Eight (The last full day): Today we took the back roads through the mountains to find Palaia Pafos (Aphrodite's Temple - 1200BC). It was very windy when we got there, but the site was worth seeing. The House Of Leda was also nearby. Next up was Pafos again to mop up the sights we missed yesterday: the Pafos Baths (Turkish); the Tomb of Kings; and "Saranta Kolones" Castle, a Byzantine castle. Chilled in a beach front café for an hour or two and then made our way over to Limassol for dinner at the Syrian Club. Home by midnight.

Day Nine (Travel day): Up at 06:30 and away by 07:45. We traded our hire cars for a taxi at Erimi and bid farewell to Coral, Colin and Marie. Check-in and duty free shopping formalities were done in double-time and our plane took off early, would you believe. We touched down in Athens at 11:45 and were off again by 13:15. A taxi collected us from Heathrow and we were home by 19:00.

New Years Eve 2000/01 - France

Twelve hours after arriving home from Cyprus, we were off again - this time to France for New Years Eve.

Andy and I were up and out the door by 08:10 in an attempt to be at Waterloo for the 09:03 train to Dover Priory (and thus the 11:30 ferry to Calais). As it turned out we had cut our timing too fine and arrived on the platform to see the tail of our train disappearing along the track. Frantic phone calling ensued as we attempted to contact Mark, who was coming to collect us at Calais. Our next train was an hour later and from there we made it onto the 12:45 ferry.

Mark and his brother Paul picked us up and drove us to the cottage, near St Omer, that they and five others had rented for the coming week. We were greeted with homemade vegetable soup, homemade prawn & crab cakes and glasses of mulled wine - damn, Neil is a fine cook.

The evening began with a glorious meal. Nine of us sat down to eat from an enormous tub of homecooked, Thai-style seafood and rice. The champagne flowed from then on and we toasted a midnight for each country represented in the room (plus a few extra for good luck). I wasn't the first to bed when I finally packed it in at 03:30, but then I wasn't the last either.

Next morning began as only the morning after a night on the champers can - slowly, quietly, and with many attempts to remember one's own name. It took a fried breakfast, two litres of water, two neurophen and a brisk four mile walk through the ice-bound farmlands that surrounded our cottage in order to begin to feel vaguely human again. Dinner consisted of a monster Roast - chicken, lamb, potatoes, cauliflower/broccoli and cheese sauce, green beans, carrots and celeriac mash - yum. The evening was whiled away playing cards, Trouble & Strife, Jenga alternatives and Mean Charades (the sole purpose of which is getting people to mime stupid, embarrassing or downright impossible movie titles, etc.). Oh, and maybe a beer or two.

Andy, Paul, Mark and Myself arose at 07:30 the next morning in order to get the two of us back to Calais and onto the 09:30 ferry back to Dover. We were back in London by 12:05 and I was in work, sitting at my desk, by 12:15. I was asleep at my desk by 12:35.