50 at 50

We have invited travel writer Bridget McGrouther to celebrate her 50th birthday with Saga Holidays. Travelling around the world for 50 days ticking off destinations and activities on her bucket list, Bridget will visit some of the far-flung destinations Saga customers have been enjoying for years.

Bridget will be trying activities she has never done; she'll get close to local people and have some great, fun experiences along the way. There are a few surprises too, and some of these will be chosen by you.

Bridget will be sharing her amazing adventure in a modern day diary online here and in the Daily Telegraph every week.

We also want to hear from you and all about your own travel experiences, so please share these with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Bon voyage Bridget

Bridget McGrouther

December 2013

My final day in Africa

December 18, 2013 - 12:43 pm

Tweetstake: 900

Twitter followers: 371

Diet: Omelette, raisin muffin, prawns in lemon and anchovy sauce, decadent chocolate dessert

Alcohol consumption: 1 Mosi beer, 1 glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc

Mozzie bites: Far too many – forgot to put my insect repellent on for first time in 50 days!

Exercise: swimming in Devil’s Pool

Hot flushes: came out in a sweat looking over the edge!

When I put my life in the hands of someone I had just met, letting him grasp my ankles as I squirmed flat on my belly peering nervously over the edge of Victoria Falls, I did wonder whether 50 days of non-stop travel had finally affected my sanity.

Zambezi River

Feeling the force of the mighty Zambezi rushing past as I clung desperately to the slippery rocks, I decided that if our guide Kelvin loosened his grip, it would be a headline end to my 50 at 50 journey. While this was the scariest, most exhilarating moment of my trip, climbing out of the current that races past Livingstone Island was also one of my happiest.

The roller-coaster ride continued as I was soon soaring in a helicopter above the Devil’s Pool that I hadn’t yet dried off from. The next second we were swooping over the Boiling Pot, through the famous gorges just feet above the swirling surf and within a knife’s edge of the cliffs.
Thermals buffeted us from all directions and a group of whitewater rafters waved as we sped by.
Our stomachs flipped as we rounded the bends until we stared face down yet again into the churning cauldron of rainbows and spray. A harem of hippos and one lone croc sunbathed in the shallows – I hoped we weren’t going to join them.

Hippos on the Zambezi River

This was certainly a fitting way to experience one of the Wonders of the World and leave my 50-day global tour on a high.

Just as David Livingstone’s heart remains in Africa, this very special continent has stolen mine.

Now as I sip a Mosi beer for my last sundowner on my incredible 50 at 50 journey, the zebras make their evening promenade past my Royal Livingstone conservatory and the monkeys get up to mischief in the trees.

I can’t quite believe that a sensational seven weeks have flown by and I’m packing up to fly home. I have loved travelling around the world in 50 days, aged 50 – what a unique, unforgettable experience.

Yes, I have my brand new passport full of stamps as a souvenir. But most of all I have a trunkful of treasured lifelong memories that I can’t wait to share with family and friends – all thanks to Saga Holidays UK.

Bridget x
   
     

Victoria Falls

December 17, 2013 - 12:41 pm

Diet: Yogurt and granola, omelette, prawn sandwich, crayfish curry

Exercise: historical walking tour of Victoria Falls

I could hardly believe that this was my second-last day on my 50 at 50 round-the-world trip. It was appropriate to end my long road here, just as Zambia is about to celebrate its 50th year of independence in 2014 and for me to follow in the footsteps of the Scottish explorer who inspired my love of travel. I remember to this day going on a school trip when I was 10 to visit the David Livingstone Museum in the humble tenement where he grew up in Blantyre, Glasgow.

I found his four-year trek across Africa absolutely riveting, with his wife dying in his arms; being mauled by a lion; famous meeting with the New York Post journalist Henry Morton Stanley who was sent to search for the ‘Greatest Explorer that ever Lived’; fighting for the abolition of slavery; eventually succumbing to malaria and having his faithful porters – Sussi and Chamu – risk their own lives to carry his body home. I enjoyed the tale even more listening to Luke Terblanche relate it all again during a Historical Tour of Victoria Falls.
Taking our tour from the Zambian side, I was a little disappointed to see that the water wasn’t flowing as fast as it had been when I first came to Victoria Falls five years before during July. Yet of course, the water levels vary at different times of the year and the best time to see the river in full spate is around April/ May/ June, when the falls are likely to span the entire 1.7km width – although it may be difficult to photograph because of the spray.

Victoria Falls

If you have time, it’s also worth viewing Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side where you can see the larger waterfalls. On the flip side, more activities are available during the season when the river is low.
David Livingstone is credited with ‘discovering’ Victoria Falls, bringing Mosi-oa-Tunya (or the ‘smoke that thunders’ as they’re called locally) to the attention of the rest of the world, naming them in honour of his monarch at that time in 1855. It’s significant that despite all the political changes and Zambia’s independence from Britain that the town Livingstone is still named after the explorer. It seems he is still loved to this day as much by the Zambian people as he loved them and fought so tirelessly for their freedom.

Catherine and driver Joseph accompanied me to the Mukuni Village where the Saga Charitable Trust funds a very special project in conjunction with the Butterfly Tree. The two organisations have worked together to provide a school for disadvantaged children as well as a maternity unit and health care provision, using charity funds donated by Saga Holidaymakers.

I had been asked by the Saga Charitable Trust to deliver a cheque on their behalf to the project which of course I was honoured to do.

SCT project Zambia

When I arrived at Mukuni School, some of the older children sang beautifully for me while tiny tots, whose curiosity got the better of them, climbed in through the open window to listen with me. The headmaster showed me the new dorms that had been built with SCT funds as well as the bunk beds and pile of brand new mattresses that only cost £100 to buy. It just shows how a little money can go a very long way in countries like Africa.

Children who have to cover long distances to attend school can now board from Monday to Friday. We passed a bore hole which has recently been provided bringing fresh water to the village.
Mrs Maseka, who runs the public health department, was an inspiration. She is responsible for helping deal with health issues on the front line and her efforts to provide local families with mosquito nets provided by SCT has really helped to save lives. She explained how the cases of malaria had dropped significantly as a result – and how they had not yet had an under-five die from the disease in the last quarter – something that has never happened before.

However, she quickly explained that this didn’t mean the project could be complacent as the government had withdrawn funds to spray homes with anti-mosquito repellent and the nets had to be renewed. Another shocking statistic is that HIV/Aids still affects around a third of the village residents meaning that, sadly, life expectancy is low and there is a high number of orphans. Education is key to combatting illnesses such as these and community health visits and workshops try to change attitudes to prevent disease and improve hygiene.

Mattresses

Mrs Maseka showed me the new dorm for expectant mothers who often had to walk miles to get to the maternity unit and told me that this was also helping to save lives as the mothers could rest before giving birth and receive medical treatment if there were any complications.

I was pleased to hear that when Saga guests came to visit the village, they would bring different essentials that are required – anything from text books and pencils for the schoolchildren to second-hand clothes.
I then presented the cheque to members of the Mukuni community – Simon Mwanza, the Chairperson; Angelo Keelo, the vice chairperson; Aggrey Kachuzu, the treasurer and Presley Mulenga, the headmaster.
I was given a tour of the village before visiting the craft market to stock up on hand-made gifts, at the same time helping to support the Mukuni Chiefdom.

Bridget x

Zambia - Royal Livingstone

December 17, 2013 - 12:39 pm

Tweetstake: 890

Twitter followers: 370

Alcohol intake: South African Sauvignon Blanc/ Chardonnay

Diet: Deep-fried camembert; fish; sundowner snacks

Hot flushes: had one too many sundowners on the river cruise!

After breakfast, it was time to check out and head to my next stop – Zambia, just across the river. After going through immigration and being driven to Livingstone, I was welcomed at the Royal Landing Jetty by Catherine on behalf of Saga.

I was taken in style by speedboat to the Royal Livingstone Hotel which has an enviable position just above Victoria Falls, near enough that you can see the spray from the hotel grounds. Check-in formalities in the very grand lounge of the five-star hotel decorated beautifully for Christmas includes a hand massage. A buggy took me to my room, where I was greeted by Beatrice, my smartly-dressed butler!

I had another cruise on the Zambezi that afternoon – this time in a smaller boat with an open bar. As it was a private hotel boat, it gave guests a chance to meet each other. After chatting to mum and daughter Nikki and Emily from Glasgow, they very kindly invited me to have dinner with them that evening. We even discovered we knew someone in common at home!

Again, we saw a lot of hippos, crocs and birds along the riverbanks and stopped on an island to have sundowners and snacks as we watched the dramatic sunset. We were just in time to see the wild zebra make their usual promenade on the lawns by the swimming pool when we arrived back at the elegant Royal Livingstone.
Bridget x

In the land of laughing hippos

December 16, 2013 - 4:04 pm
Diet: Tandoori kudu, chicken stir-fry, coconut ice cream

I enjoyed my two-hour flight in a tiny, six-seater plane to Kasane, close to Africa’s ‘Four Corners’, by the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We flew lower over the bush and therefore could spot more wildlife. The terrain was varied, from lush wetland around the Okavango River with its papyrus-fringed channels, reed beds and islands to thick forest and dry, Kalahari Desert.

The lovely Gwen showed me to my room and had lunch with me – we laughed as a cheeky monkey, her baby clinging on for dear life, swung through the rafters of the open-fronted restaurant and stole a sachet of sugar from the sideboard – with the hotel’s wildlife patrol hot on her tail. There were notices everywhere not to feed the wildlife or to leave sliding doors open as the monkeys had a habit of coming in and helping themselves to the contents of the mini bar!

Wild hippo, Chobe river, Botswana

I was just in time for a boat cruise that afternoon on the Chobe River that runs from Chobe Safari Camp through the National Park, bordering Namibia. There were hippos everywhere – some grazing on the island and many of them making a loud ‘ha, ha, ha’ call that sounds like they’re laughing at their own jokes.

Our guide was very informative and told us that a hippo is one of the most dangerous wild animals to encounter – along with lone buffalos. We saw one hippo picking up quite a speed trotting on land – they can run at 35-40 km/hour and as Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth runs at 37 km/hour, it’s probably best not to get involved in a race with them.

We got up close to a few freshwater crocodiles on the banks as they gave us the evil eye for disturbing them and slid off into the water. Other than Man, they only have enemies when they are up to 90 days old, so no wonder their lifespan can be as much as 100 to 150 years.

There were a lot of elephants bathing in the water, cooling down. Some were expecting, their pregnancies last 22 months, and most of the herd play a part in looking after the young.
At the dinner buffet that evening, I noticed some of the wildlife we’d spotted were on the menu – such as roasted warthog and haunch of impala – but I didn’t have the heart to try them.

Bridget x

Queen of the Delta

December 16, 2013 - 4:01 pm

Day 46

My first wake-up call was in the dead of night when I heard a lot of crashing about and some strange noises. Being too tired to do much about it and realising the sounds were moving further away, I just nodded off again.

The next wake-up call at 5.30 am was much softer – a freshly-brewed pot of coffee was delivered to my tent. How nice.

By the time I got ready and unzipped the tent flap, it was just getting light. I stood in awe as two hippos wallowed into the lagoon just in front of me – and realised that it was probably them that had caused the rumpus in the early hours. They are nocturnal and come inland to feed during darkness.

After a quick breakfast, we were taken the short drive to a nearby river where our mokoros or dug-out canoes were waiting. The water was so shallow that there was little danger of being attacked by hippos – which can be surprisingly aggressive at times.

Instead, it was so peaceful watching birds like the majestic African fish eagle and pied kingfisher hovering above the reeds and learning all about the flora and fauna from Rodgers as he punted the mokoro quietly along with the aid of a long pole.

He told me about the strange sausage tree where the sausage-shaped fruit weigh around seven kilos and can cause injury if they fall on you, so best not to camp underneath. Leopards also tend to crawl into the tree’s branches waiting for unsuspecting prey that come to feed there.

The abundant water lilies were really pretty and I learned how the plant acted like toothpaste for elephants, keeping their teeth clean! Lilies are also used by local tribes for food – and to purify water by drinking through the stems like straws.

Rodgers made me a necklace from one of the flowers and a ‘crown’ from another leaf and bloom, declaring me ‘Queen of the Delta’ for the day. I laughed and took a ‘selfie’ photo of us – not realising that it was the ‘in’ thing to do by presidents on the other side of the world.

male red lechwe antelope

We stopped on an island and a herd of skittish Red Lechwe – an aquatic antelope with legs shorter at the front than at the back and webbed hooves for swimming – bounded off. Seeing evidence of elephant dung, I had a careful look about, but there were none to be seen.

On the way back, I was lucky to capture a photograph of a rare baby malachite kingfisher which made a couple of bird-watchers with much larger zoom lens cameras quite jealous!

The morning’s activities had built up quite an appetite so I was happy to tuck into brunch – omelettes or chicken Florentine and a selection of salads. We had a few hours to enjoy a swim or siesta before the next game drive later that afternoon and as I wrote up my blog back at my tent, this time an elephant walked past the lagoon, grazing on the banks.

A monkey also cheekily threw the skins of the fruit he was eating down at me from a tree.

We were lucky again on our game drive that evening. As well as lots of birds, antelopes, elephants, hippos and wildebeest, we came across two big male lions snoozing under a tree. I was glad they’d eaten when I saw the size of their huge paws – even though they looked like a couple of harmless big pussy-cats in their slumber.

I was amused when I spotted a couple of zebra crossing the road in front of us and when warthogs trotted off, their tails sticking up defiantly in the air.

Bridget x

Getting the African massage

December 16, 2013 - 3:57 pm

Tweetstake: 851

Twitter followers: 360

Alcohol intake: South African Sauvignon Blanc for sundowners

Diet: Freshly-baked muffins, omelette brunch, three-course dinners

Exercise: ‘African massage’ on game drives!

Mozzie bites: Two – lots of insect repellent

Hot flushes: In a sweat being so close to Big Cats!

On the morning that we left the marvellous Maslow Hotel, Saga guide Perpetua and driver Nelson took me past Madiba’s home on the way to the airport. I was glad that I had declined the opportunity to take a photograph of the house as I didn’t want to intrude when the charismatic leader was so ill.

Little did I know then that later that evening, Nelson Mandela would sadly take his final walk to freedom.  I didn’t hear the news until I was far away from TV, radio, wifi or telephone signals deep in the heart of the Botswana Bush.

Pom Pom

Getting to Pom Pom Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta was an adventure in itself. I flew to a town called Maun from Jo’Burg with South African Airlines. Then I hopped on a tiny little four-seater plane and enjoyed being in the front, watching the pilot steer his craft over elephants and hippos to the rough landing strip by Pom Pom.

I was picked up by my guide Rams in a four-wheel-drive and welcomed by a singing female choir from the camp. What a way to arrive!

The friendly managers Linda and Clifton settled me into my new home – explaining that I always had to watch for wildlife on the way to my luxury tent and after dark would be accompanied back by one of the guides. The termite mound next to it (which was about the size of Ayers Rock) had been used by an elephant one night to lean against as he slept – waking up the guests with his snoring!

I had arrived just in time for lunch and had a couple of hours to settle in before afternoon tea and a game drive. I sat in front of my tent and watched as two delicate Chobe bush bucks flirted with each other under my deck. Apparently, they seek human company for protection.

No wonder. Out on our game drive, we soon came across a lioness nursing her two cubs. There was also a herd of elephants, hippos, lots of antelopes, buffalo and colourful birds.

I soon understood what our guides jokingly referred to as ‘African massage’ - bouncing around in the back seat whenever we went over bumps!

Rams and our tracker Rodgers found a nice spot for our sundowners as we watched the sky change from oranges to reds to lilacs while the sun set over the flat-topped acacia trees. I just loved soaking up the sights, sounds and scents of the bush.

Bridget x

 

Face-to-face with musical royalty

December 13, 2013 - 2:51 pm

It was sad to leave the camaraderie and ambience of Rovos Rail where I had met so many people and made so many friends, but Jo’hannesburg beckoned. Saga rep Perpetua Neethling came to meet me at Pretoria and we took a short city tour on the way to the Maslow Hotel in upmarket Sandton.

Pretoria is dubbed ‘Jacaranda City’ and I was pleased to hear that the Japanese love to visit when lilac flowers are in bloom on the 70,000 trees – much as we go to see the Japanese cherry trees in blossom. We also stopped off at the Union Buildings where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated in 1994 for a quick photo opportunity.

Bridget and Yvonne

Lynn Ott, of the Maslow Hotel, showed me to my room which was large enough to hold a 50th birthday party! But another surprise was in store - I had exciting company for dinner that evening with none other than legendary African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka! I didn’t feel worthy, but eagerly looked out my one-and-only fancy dress and shoes I had brought for special occasions during the trip.

It turned out Yvonne and I shared a lot in common, even though she has another two years to plot and plan before she hits the Big 5 – 0.

Everyone was in awe of Yvonne, from our friendly waitress to the managers on duty who all stopped to say ‘hello’ as she is so famous. After all, she has been an iconic figure in South Africa for more than 20 years and is now an ambassador for UNICEF.

Yvonne told me all about singing for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday and how Oprah had bought her the Louis Vuitton handbag that I had admired! It was a fun evening and I would really like to see Yvonne in concert sometime.

But where will I be next?

Bridget x

All aboard the Pride of Africa

December 13, 2013 - 2:45 pm

Much as I didn’t want to leave Table Bay Mountain, I was excited to receive tickets for Rovos Rail. This luxurious train, the Pride of Africa, was going to be my home for the next two nights as we made our way from Cape Town to Pretoria. It is an option that many Saga passengers enjoy by extending their holiday in style.

Bridget on Rovos Rail

In the plush waiting room we were served bubbly and delicate chicken and cucumber sandwiches. Rohan Vos, co-founder and owner of Rovos Rail, came to introduce himself before giving a humorous briefing. 

My carriage was called Mzilikazi, after a great Zulu warrior, and my suite had two single beds in an L-shape, a desk, en-suite shower room and plenty of storage for cocktail dresses and spare luggage. I felt like I had stepped back in time and loved the elegance of ‘the most luxurious train in the world’.

Lunch was called by one of our hostesses sounding a gong. The menu and wine pairings were sensational – and service was slick. I particularly enjoyed our waiter Adam’s dry sense of humour and professionalism.

A couple from Frankfurt kindly asked me to join them and I also met Sandra and William Jamieson from my home town Glasgow, as well as Robert and Liz Clark from Sussex. It didn’t take us long to find something in common – Sandra, Liz and I were all celebrating our 50th birthdays – and had another glass of bubbly to toast the occasion.

We watched the world go by from the open-backed observation car – although for miles there was a vast, empty expanse of South African bush. Occasionally we’d spot an ostrich, springbok or exotic bird, but rarely fast enough to get a photo!

At around 6pm, we stopped at the village of Michnesfountain, designed by a Scotsman Jimmy Logan in the 19th century. If you were fast enough, you could catch a double-decker bus to the only hotel and enjoy a drink. If you missed it, you could walk 500 yards along the single street. En route, I wandered into the old Post Office and bought a couple of gifts.

Dinner was a wonderful occasion with the men wearing a jacket and tie while the ladies wore cocktail dresses. We ended the evening in the lounge sharing stories and watching the stars – just magical.

Bridget x

Penguins steal the show

December 13, 2013 - 2:31 pm

Exercise: Climbing to the Cape Lighthouse

Hot flushes: Felt a bit giddy looking over the edge!

Can you believe it is Day 41 on my 50 at 50 tour?

Cape point lighthouse

Saga’s cheery guide Andrew picked me up after breakfast and it took us about an hour and a half to reach the coastal national park on the Cape of Good Hope. Sadly, we had no time to join the Wiggle Waggle Walkathon – a charity fundraiser for owners and their dogs!

The scenery was dramatic, with plenty of wildflowers at this time of year. We also spotted herds of wild bontebok and eland.

Despite the strong breeze, it was nearly 30 ̊C so I was glad there was a funicular railway to the foot of Cape Point’s old lighthouse. After climbing to the top I stood on the cliff edge, looking down on sea birds fighting to land safely on precarious ledges.

Later we saw a wild ostrich family out for a Sunday stroll – both parents keeping a protective eye on their chicks. We also passed an ostrich farm and stalls selling the brightly-painted eggs. Andrew said his friends think these ornaments are South Africa’s answer to garden gnomes!

On our search for more big birds, this time penguins on Boulders Beach, we passed a baboon patrol guards who chase any baboons that come near civilization by using paint ball guns! I wasn’t sure if I entirely agreed, baboons can be aggressive and break into houses, but weren’t they here first?

Penguins in roadway

I’ve never seen so many penguins on one beach and with board walks for the tourists to keep their distance, the birds waddle in and out of the sea, running comically up the beach before the surf knocks them over.
You have to pay a small fee for the privilege of viewing the penguins, but as the African Penguin – or Jackass – is endangered, it seems only fair as the money goes towards trying to protect the species. You can also p-p-p-p pick up a sponsorship for a penguin (sorry, I had to get it in somewhere)!

We stopped at the pretty Simon’s Town, where I had to take a photo of the sign to show my husband of the same name. I also noted the statue of ‘Just Nuisance’, a Great Dane who was buried with full naval honours. Able Seaman Nuisance was made a member of the Royal Navy as he used to follow the sailors to the ships, boarding and disembarking the train on his own.

He was nicknamed ‘Just a Nuisance’ because of this, but as the sailors took the dog to their hearts, he was made a naval mascot.

Back at the Table Bay Hotel, I felt a million rand after a Universal Massage which uses hot stones and frangipani-scented oil to smooth aching knots. So what better way to top the day with the best-ever beefburger from room service and an ice bucket for my bubbly. Bliss.

Bridget x

Flying high in Cape Town

December 13, 2013 - 2:20 pm

Tweetstake: 871

Twitter followers: 371

Alcohol intake: Welcome bottle of bubbly and wine made by Rikus Neethling 

It was late when I arrived at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town. Having stayed at the same hotel five years on a Saga trip to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela on his 90th birthday, it was instantly familiar to me and I was glad to be back.

Sea lion on a jetty in Cape Town V&A Waterfront

Little did I know when I checked in, of course, that Madiba would pass away on the day I left South Africa. It was a sad time for the Rainbow Nation and the world to lose such an influential and charismatic leader. I always wish I could have met him.

It wasn’t until the morning that I could fully appreciate the view of Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront from the balcony of my suite. After breakfast, what better way to be introduced to the city than by a scenic flight?

The helicopter swept over the city with its powder-white beaches, Signal Hill and the distinctive Table Mountain, set for breakfast with its crisp white linen tablecloth.

The hotel’s driver, Naser, originally from Syria, took me on my next tour. He had a big personality and we soon worked out we were both Virgos, with birthdays within two days of each other. Although when we arrived at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, the guided trolley tours were full, Naser persuaded 10-year-old Hannah, whose birthday it was that day, to allow me to gatecrash her party with family and friends!

Fortunately, the children didn’t seem to mind and driver Howard gave us a one-hour, interactive tour, pointing out all the incredible plants in this leading botanical garden which is celebrating its centenary. As well as the plants we were all excited to see a family of owls snoozing in the trees.

Next stop was  where boats sail to Seal Island. There were seals in the bay – one of them jumping to take fish from a guy’s mouth who was sitting on the side of the quay.

Hout Bay

Beaches like Camps Bay are beautiful – though I wasn’t brave enough to visit Sandy Bay, South Africa’s only nudist beach! Apparently, the water is very cold so I don’t like to think of the effect that might have.

We also passed Constantia, Cape Town’s oldest cellar, which is included in a wine route of five different wineries round the outskirts of the city.

We drove to the peak of Signal Hill to take photos of Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles – as well as Cape Town below.

We also stopped by Bo-Kaap, the Malay Quarter where all the houses are painted bright colours – so perfect for the Rainbow Nation.

Lunch was cooked by my own fair hand – well, with a lot of help from Table Bay Hotel’s Chef Stelios. He decided to help me when he saw my lack of knife skills! It was fun picking fynbos (herbs) from the kitchen garden and he taught me how to make ceviche (one of my favourite spicy seafood dishes) as well as marinated lamb with mint and wild rosemary.

I was excited about dinner that evening. I had been invited by the hotel’s PR Sarah Prins to be a guest at her table along with charismatic local radio celeb Africa Melani and fine winemaker Rikus Neethling in Table Bay’s elegant Atlantic Restaurant. It was a fun evening and the food was mouth-watering – no wonder with Chef Stelios hard at work in the kitchen!

Bridget x

Madagascar magic

December 06, 2013 - 9:56 am

Tweetstake: 811

Twitter followers: 354

Alcohol intake: Malaza (Vin de Madagascar)

Exercise: Night walk though rainforest

Diet: Romazava (zebu stew); shrimp curry in coconut milk, river fish, hot/cold pineapple; ice cream  

Madagascar, with its red earth, is nicknamed the Red Island.

The soil is suitable for growing red rice which is exported to India and Pakistan and also for making bricks, piles of which were often stacked along the roadside while women transport huge towers of them balanced effortlessly on their heads.

My guide in Antananarivo told me that 80% of the population work in the countryside and they have big families so that their children can help on the farms as sending them to school costs a lot of money and was difficult to afford. I'm informed proudly that the people have a strong affinity with France (which you can instantly tell from their language) more than with Africa, although first and foremost they are proudly Malagasy, from Madagascar.

Mountain in Madagascar

We drove to Marozevo to visit Peryeras butterfly farm which actually had a lot more chameleons than anything else. Maybe they were the reason there were fewer butterflies? All different shapes, shades and sizes of chameleons were camouflaged in the greenery  and the guide explained that they change colour according to their emotions before he used a cricket to show how quick the chameleons snap up prey with their long tongues. He also showed me red tomato frogs, geckos, non-poisonous snakes (which I was brave enough to hold), colourful butterflies and large moths as well as a couple of crocs snoozing in the midday sun.

We arrived at Vakona Forest Lodge just in time for lunch. I was hungry having got up so early in the morning and enjoyed the home-made pumpkin soup as well as some breaded chicken and chips, even leaving room for some ice cream! Yet, by the time I finished lunch and got settled into my quaint rainforest bungalow with its mosquito-net covered bed and verandah, the clouds had gathered and a roar of thunder echoed over the trees. A flash of lightning. Huge drops of tropical rain soon put paid to plans to see the rehabilitated lemurs at the lodge sanctuary. I was told lemurs, like us, don't like going out on the rain.

By 5.30pm, the rain suddenly stopped as quickly as it had begun. This was perfect timing as I'd wanted to join the night walk that Vakona Forest Lodge organises for its guests.

Mark and Scott from San Francisco and their Malagasy guide Lova joined the ranger who led the way up a forest track, shining his torch into the bushes and trees. I was relieved to know that nothing is poisonous in Madagascar other than a scorpion's sting which is risky to children.

Within no time, our guide stopped and shone his torch on top of the tiniest chameleon. Apparently, they don't mind bright lights too much and we were able to admire his clever camouflage that made him look like part of a fern. He soon pointed out a couple more, although I didn't know how he managed it as they were so well hidden, but when the challenge went out that a glass of wine would be bought for the first guest to spot a chameleon, who else but I managed to find a little green one hidden behind a leaf. I'm not 50at50 for no reason!

Bridget with lemur

Our walk continued and amongst the array of wildlife were tiny tree frogs, a giant snail, crickets and fire flies sparkling in the darkness. We even caught sight of a rare pygmy kingfisher asleep on a branch. Like many birds, they can only be found on Madagascar which explained the parties of birdwatchers at the hotel.

Our guide then shone his beam up through the trees and picked out glowing red eyes. I was ecstatic to see my first lemur in the treetops, frozen in the spotlight and looking down at us. It was a dwarf lemur and I managed to zoom in for a reasonable photograph although just being there and seeing these terrific creatures in their natural habitat was very special.

Heading back to the lodge, we stopped at a hut which was lit up to 'admire' the collection of large spiders, busily catching insects in their webs. Spiders, I have to admit, are not my favourite and the scene was like a grotesque, live Hallowe'en shop window display and I was quite relieved to get back inside the atmospheric lodge for dinner.

My night walk companions invited me to join and share a bottle of their local Madagascar white wine, Malaza. I also tried my first Romazava, or zebu stew, a popular national dish. 'Mazotoa'  or 'Bon Appetit'! What a great end to another memorable day on this worldwide Saga Holidays adventure.

Bridget x

November 2013

Ask the wind

December 01, 2013 - 10:01 am

Alcohol: Cocktails at the Saga Gala event

Diet: More of my favourite fresh passion fruit

Hot flushes: Excitement of horse-riding on beach

It was pouring cats and dogs when we set off from the hotel for Le Morne. As I’d forgotten my waterproof and planned to see some of the highlights of the island afterwards, I wasn’t sure about going horse-riding.

However, half an hour later when we arrived at Haras du Morne stables, the rain  stopped and the sun came out. What perfect timing. My horse was called Aski – short for Ask the Wind – so I asked him if he could blow the rain clouds away while we were out for a trek. Being Mauritian, he kindly obliged.

My trek leader, a young guy called Pretam, said most of the tourists that came horse-riding wanted to go to the beach. I guessed it’s because not many get the chance at home to gallop along empty, white sands with twinkling, aquamarine water. It took me right back to my childhood when I used to take my pony on holiday to the Isle of Arran for the summer as we stayed at the same farmhouse in Blackwaterfoot every year, near a lovely beach.  

Le Morne mountain

The dramatic Le Morne mountain towered above us – it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its tragic history. The story goes that despite the British abolishing slavery in 1835, some liberated workers ran to the top of Le Morne to avoid being captured by other Europeans and – thinking they could swim home to Africa ­– sadly jumped to their deaths instead.

Trekking is available through forest paths on Le Morne and by the time we got back to the stables, it was so hot I wished I’d opted for the early morning trek where you can go swimming bareback with the horses. I certainly needed to cool down – although standing in front of the fan drinking lemonade and eating freshly fried fritters was just about as good!

Next stop was to the Chamarel Waterfalls, up a steep hill with panoramic views over the coast. The nearby mounds of Seven Coloured Earths are the result of lava erupting from a volcano many years ago. The range of shades represent various minerals.

Seven Coloured Earths

La Rhumerie de Chamarel is a pleasant spot for lunch and there is also the chance to do a bit of rum tasting if you’re up for it. I was sorely tempted as one of the cocktails sounded suspiciously like a Caipirinha, although I thought I’d better keep sober for my Saga Gala dinner later that evening with Francesse, a Saga representative. Quite a crowd turned out for the cocktails and dinner, 18 to be exact, and I didn’t find one guest who wasn’t enjoying their holiday in Mauritius. Well, that was hardly a surprise.

Homing in on their Scottish accents, I soon found a couple from Tillicoultry and chatted for much of the evening to Enid (as in Blyton), she told me. She turned out to be quite a character and probably better travelled than me considering all the Saga holidays she has been on during her retirement. It was heartening to hear she’s not daunted by travelling on her own.

I hope I’m still like that in 20 years’ time - 70 at 70 has a certain ring to it… I don’t want to leave Mauritius, but where to next on my 50 at 50 dream ticket?

Bridget x

Good Morning, Mauritius!

November 30, 2013 - 10:01 am

Diet: My favourite, fresh passion fruit, pineapple, melon, mango and papaya, all grown on the island. Crèpes, sprinkled with a little coconut, banana fritter.

Hot flushes: In a fluster when failing to take photos of spinner dolphins – they were too quick for me

On my first morning in Mauritius I decided to go for an early morning walk along the beach.

A fisherman sat by the rocks and hardly noticed as I sauntered past, even though I was a solitary figure on the sand. I kicked off my flip-flops and paddled in the clear, cool, shallow water.

Dolphin discovery

Breakfast was fun. Although a big restaurant, it was easy to get a table outside by the large pool or in a quiet corner. It amused me that the birds would fly in and out cheekily helping themselves to the self-service buffet when nobody was looking.

Then back to another morning out of the office, reading a good Penguin e-book on the sunbed and going for the occasional swim whenever it got too hot. Such bliss. Other guests were making use of the boat house, snorkelling, water-skiing and paddling in canoes. Some even had the energy to play volleyball, but I just watched, enjoying the entertainment without feeling the need to take part. The wifi or ‘wee fee’ as they call it here was excellent – easy to communicate on Twitter as well as Skype Simon.

The Dolphin Discovery catamaran cruise lived up to its title. Within no time, a pod of spinner dolphins somersaulted in the surf as the paparazzi on board all tried in vain to capture them on film.

I had positioned myself right at the front – as many had – yet was frustrated to end up with lots of shots of sea and not many dolphins or even fins. I should have just watched their fun without trying to take photographs – they were far too quick and agile.

We had been assured that the catamaran would keep a respectful distance so as not to disturb the dolphins who were feeding in a family group. However, there were a few speedboats accelerating through the waves at an alarming rate, cutting in front of our catamaran and depositing swimmers in the water like they were some kind of live bait.

However, we soon sailed on towards our next destination – a quiet coral reef for some snorkelling, unfortunately, as the water was choppy, there weren’t many takers.

The guys on the boat began to prepare the barbecue lunch – grilled fish, chicken and sausages with salads and banana flambé for dessert. I was surprised that I was the only English speaker on the boat – even though it’s the official language in Mauritius, most speak French or Creole. The other guests were German, Polish and Italian – I chatted with a nice couple from Florence, as well as Devi, my Saga guide for the day.
After lunch, I took the opportunity to board the small dinghy along with a handful of others to set sail for Coconut Island where we were happily marooned for an hour. On the way we passed a peculiar clam-shaped rock.

Tamassa Beach

Coconut Island was full of locals enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon having picnic lunches on the beach. Some holidaymakers had joined in one party and were dancing to music being played in the shade – much to everyone’s amusement.

Children were laughing and splashing around in the water – romantic couples walked hand in hand. Stalls along the shore and even in boats sold everything from coconuts and pineapples to snacks, drinks, jewellery, souvenirs and sarongs.

When I was dropped back at the hotel, I noticed the quirky telephone booth that the Tamassa Resort provides for guests to make free calls home was empty. As I was missing family and friends, I called anyone whose telephone number I could remember. A couple of my close friends were at home – but it was so good to talk!

Bridget x

Heaven on Earth

November 29, 2013 - 9:51 am

Tweetstake: 802

Twitter followers: 350

Alcohol intake: Phoenix (brewed since 1963) and Blue Marlin beer

Diet: Fruit, crèpes, banana fritters, white tuna, seafood, salads, barbecued chicken

Mozzie bites: 6

Hot flushes: Frequent due to the 30̊ C temperatures

Have you ever been watching a good film on the plane and one of cabin crew takes away your earphones just before the end? I will have to watch The Great Gatsby all over again!

I didn’t get a lot of rest during my full-on week in India so as we drove through verdant-green sugar canes, pineapple plantations and sleepy villages of Mauritius, my bubbly Saga representative Khurseed he told me it was time to take it easy.

Tamassa Resort

On the horizon, craggy mountains pierced wispy clouds in the azure-blue sky and by the time we arrived at the Tamassa Resort I felt as giddy as a pupil let out of school early.

A quick change into swimwear and I headed straight for the sunbed on the pristine sands lapped by turquoise water. It was the destination I had been dreaming about for days - just a shell’s throw from my beach-front patio.

Slowly, with the warm sun on my back, I began to relax; listening to the lulling sound of waves; the sing-song of murmuring French voices and the gossip of palm trees rustling in the sea breeze.
Mark Twain was spot on with his description of Mauritius in 1896 - this was Heaven on Earth.

As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I reflected on my 50 at 50 trip so far. The blissful calm of this afternoon was right up there on my most relished experiences.

I soon nodded off to sleep and woke just as the sun began to set. There are few sunsets that I’ve seen that have been quite so dramatic and I could hardly tear myself away – even to get my camera. The great ball of fire seemed to take an eternity to sink lower towards the horizon, streaking the sky with bold brush strokes of pinks, crimson and flaming orange.

As I sat motionless, savouring the scene, it struck me that I had hardly taken a moment just to soak in my assault of experiences. It was so rewarding just to stand still while nature gave a dazzling display of such breath-taking beauty.

Bridget x

Udaipur

November 28, 2013 - 12:29 pm

Tweetstake: 795

Twitter followers: 349

Alcohol intake: Sula Sauvignon Blanc

Devigarh palace

Diet: Stuffed! 50 different dishes from poppadoms, naan breads, pickles, curries, desserts and petit fours in honour of 50 at 50, at Taj Lake Palace. Private dinner in the Devi Garh by lebua hotel’s intimate candlelit Sheesh Mahal restaurant plus a pineapple-flavoured birthday cake. 

It took 10 hours to drive from Samode to Delwara, nestled in the Aravali Hills. We stopped off at Bijay Niwas Palace en route, but I’d recommend checking in for the night in this peaceful former mansion with garden villas, friendly staff and a lovely pool.

We travelled on Delawar and stayed at Devi Garh by lebua, a former 18th century palace fortress which has been converted into a luxury hotel with only 39 suites. Our suite, more like an apartment,was built white marble, with the most incredible panoramic views from its shuttered windows and balcony.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that we could fully appreciate the position of Devi Garh. High on the hilltop, we were able to look down on the surrounding village while we ate breakfast as Delwara’s residents went about their daily business.

There was not too much time to watch the people go by and we were soon off to explore Udaipur, famous for its lakes and palaces. 

After a relaxing cruise of Lake Pichola, we took a private ferry to the beautiful Taj Lake Palace which was built as a summer retreat for the royal family but is now one of the leading hotels in the country. Its lily pond was used as a setting for the Bond film Octopussy starring Roger Moore.

We just had time to visit the must-see City Palace, built in 1725, which houses the Sheesh Mahal with its glittering mirrors from Belgium, ornate courtyards, panoramic views over the lake and city, as well as the Palace of Lord Krishna.

In the morning, after a relaxed breakfast and a blissful couple of hours by the Devi Garh pool, we had to pack up and leave for Udaipur airport, saying a sad farewell to our driver Mr Singh, the ‘Schumacher’ of India.

I kissed Simon goodbye and while he flew to Delhi and on to the UK, I checked out my next destination...Mauritius!

This 50th birthday just keeps going!

Bridget x    

A rainbow colour

November 27, 2013 - 9:43 am

Diet: Romantic dinners for two!

Our early morning visit to Amber Fort near the pink city of Jaipur is also one that will stay more permanently etched in our memories than the dazzling vegetable dye designs that are used to decorate the elephants that plod their way trunk-to-tail to the entrance of the ancient Rajasthani Fort.

Jaipur

I was relieved to hear that these gentle beasts of burden, patiently carrying tourists two-by-two on their backs, are protected by law and only allowed to make five journeys a day during peak season with their mahouts.

If you want to travel by elephant, however, you need to get in the queue by about 8am, otherwise you end up waiting a long time in the baking heat.

It’s not just the fort that is impressive – a huge wall with watch towers snakes over the hillsides. The name ‘Amber’ isn’t after the semi-precious stone but from the Hindi name for ‘sky’.

Inside, we found the Jag Mandir, or Hall of Victory, as well as the famed Sheesh Mahal, a room where all four walls and the ceiling are embedded with glittering mirror pieces imported from Belgium. We also looked down on the courtyard through the Queen’s window – women weren’t allowed to be seen in those days.

Amber Fort was started in 1592 by Raja Man Singh but completed by his descendant Jai Singh more than a century later.

Maharaja Jai Singh II built the nearby Pink City of Jaipur. It was originally painted yellow but was changed to pink in honour of Prince Albert’s visit in 1876 as the colour was considered more welcoming.

We had quick photo stops overlooking the deserted Jah Mahal Palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake as well as the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds). This five-storey building has 953 sandstone windows (or jharokhas) which were built for royal ladies to sit behind to watch everyday life and processions without being observed themselves.

Queens window Amber Fort

The Jaipur Royal family still live in part of the colourful City Palace but the other half has now been converted into an interesting museum. An eclectic collection includes an armoury, two enormous water jars which are the largest pieces of silverware in the world, as well as a portrait gallery and textile museum displaying clothes worn by former Maharajahs. We couldn’t quite believe the size of an enormous polo outfit worn by one Maharajah who, due to a thyroid problem, grew to be 7ft and 4ft wide.

My favourite part of the palace was the inner courtyard where the doorways are elaborately decorated with peacocks and other designs depicting the four seasons.

It’s amazing to think that even as early as 1728 sundials told the time within two seconds of accuracy. Jantar Mantar, one of the biggest observatories ever built, still stands with different sundials used to calculate time and horoscopes. Maharajah Jai Singh II had a particular interest in astrology and took six years to construct his impressive observatory.

Well, time is certainly racing on for me! Next stop Delwara.

Bridget 

x

In the mood for romance

November 26, 2013 - 2:30 pm

Diet: Couldn't eat for excitement!

Hot flushes: Just anticipation at entering the Taj Mahal!

Bridget in Temple Shoes

We’d been advised by Shakeel not to bother going for the sunrise tour to see the Taj Mahal as during the peak tourist months from November to April, the queue can be lengthy and the early-morning mist often shields the monument like a veil. By the time we arrived at 8am, the light was caressing the dome and minarets, gently waking this Wonder of the World to face another busy day of international admirers.

The majesty of the Taj Mahal simply left us spellbound. Nothing could have prepared us for the undeniable beauty of this white marble masterpiece, intricately carved by 20,000 of the most skilled craftsmen brought together from Persia, Turkey, France and Italy.

We edged closer, taking photographs and queuing patiently to pose on the bench made famous by Diana, Princess of Wales.

As we prepared to step onto the platform, we had to cover our footwear with ‘temple shoes’ to protect this Jewel in India’s crown from all the footsteps beating a path to the tomb’s door. It was only now that we could witness the mastery of the craftsmanship and marvel at the thousands of shimmering precious and semi-precious stones intricately interwoven in the marble and sparkling in the sunlight.

Bridget at the Taj Mahal

We agreed it was the most awe-inspiring architecture that we had ever seen – made all the more incredible by the time of its construction during the early 17th century. The tranquil, regal presence of this monument to love was such an incongruous contrast to the world of noise, poverty and hard-sell just outside its pristine gates.

Our trusty driver Mr Sawai Singh steered us skilfully through the mayhem on a six-hour drive to our next stop, Samode Palace. They say that Indians have two sports – one is cricket, the other is honking, although luckily our driver only tooted if absolutely necessary – unlike everyone else behind the wheel.

As we were shown to our spacious suite in this former palace with a four-poster bed and a whirlpool bath on the private rooftop terrace, we felt like Maharajahs.

The calm, courteous staff made us feel safely cocooned, yet beyond the guarded entrance, we were able to wander back in time to a life that has continued for centuries in the quaint, Indian heritage village of Samode.

It didn’t entirely rest easy that while we resided in opulence, the residents in this cobble-stoned community still queued at water pumps, collected firewood and women in bright orange saris carried out back-breaking work in the fields.

That evening we were treated to a private poolside dinner on the rooftop in flickering candlelight, with a log fire and our very own waiter. A truly special and memorable occasion. 

50 at 50 is proving the trip of a lifetime and I'm only half-way through! Next stop, the amazing Amber Fort.

Bridget
x
 

Delhi and Agra

November 25, 2013 - 9:41 am

Tweetstake: 732

Twitter followers: 348

Alcohol intake: Beer!

Diet: Fresh fruit, omelettes, ice cream and croissant pudding at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Wonderful long lunch at the swish Imperial Hotel (we’d just missed PM David Cameron who had been there the day before).

Kebabs at the Bukhara restaurant at ITC Maurya Hotel – we watched chefs make the biggest family-sized naans for about 20 people!

In New Delhi, we visited Mahatma Gandhi’s tomb, Raj Ghat, where his ashes are laid to rest in a peaceful garden.

Raj Ghat

In respect to India’s former great leader, we were asked to remove our shoes and walked barefoot to his cremation site, where an eternal flame burns in his memory and orange garlands are strewn over a simple black marble platform.

In the afternoon we drove past India Gate (a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died fighting for the British Army in World War I) as well as grand government buildings including Parliament House. Humayan’s Tomb, we were to discover, is a monument that many say inspired the Taj Mahal. It was certainly impressive, especially at sunset.

We set off for Agra early to avoid Delhi’s rush hour. We made good time, helped by a new private Jaypee highway that was the first (and last) time that we were to see an empty road in India. It’s probably because the cost of the tolls is too high for most locals, but it shaved a good 30 minutes off the usual four-hour journey.

We were staying at the Jaypee Palace Hotel and the manager explained that in time the new highway would lead right to its door! This will certainly make a difference to tourists on the trail of the Taj Mahal. Shakeel was our sharply dressed Saga guide and he took us to Mehtab Bagh – or Moonlight Garden, where we were able to enjoy our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna River. It shimmered in the haze and even from the opposite side of the riverbank, we could hear the murmur of the crowds as they wandered around in ant-like procession.

We were suddenly mobbed by children who appeared from nowhere and wanted a photograph with Western tourists that they rarely saw in the village they’d travelled from.

Agra Fort’s army of beggars and souvenir touts is about as off-putting as the stench from its moat, but once you cross the drawbridge, an inner calm descends – at least late in the day when most of the tourists have gone home. This was where Shah Jahan, the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal, had been kept imprisoned by his son. Aurangzeb not only locked up his father for years, but is alleged to have murdered his two brothers in order to steal the crown.

Agra Fort Balcony

Sadly, heartbroken Shah Jahan is said to have died on the balcony of the private rooms in the fort, gazing forlornly at his beloved Taj Mahal in the distance.

The Mohabbat – an all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood Show - told the love story behind the mausoleum built in memory of Shah Jahan’s favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal after she lost her life giving birth to their 14th child. A white marble replica of the Taj Mahal that in itself had taken 10 years to craft shared the spotlight alongside a glittering cast of actors.

Dinner was at the five-star Oberoi Amarvilas which hinted at a silhouette view of the Taj Mahal in the light of the full moon from the restaurant windows. As the monument isn’t lit up at night, I wondered just what the coach-loads of tourists on moonlight tours of the Taj Mahal hoped to see in the darkness!

I just couldn’t wait for the morning to take a close-up look at the world's most famous monument to love.

Bridget X

Love is in the air

November 25, 2013 - 9:20 am

Tweetstake: 734

Twitter followers: 342

Alcohol intake: Kingfisher beer and Sula Indian Sauvignon Blanc

Diet: Curry, curry, curry and naan bread for eating curry

Mozzie bites: 0 (not too humid at this time of year)

Hot flushes: Spicy curries bring me out in a bit of a sweat as does driving on roads in India

Simon and Roses

There were two lovely surprises waiting for me when I arrived in Delhi. One was my husband Simon who had taken a week’s holiday to travel with me in India. The second was that he had brought me a large bouquet of red roses. Considering he’s a Yorkshireman, not normally known for his romantic gestures, I reckon that means he must have been missing me as much as I had him.

It was our first meeting with who would turn out to be our trusted driver Mr Singh – a Godsend on busy Indian roads. He’d laugh as a brightly painted Tata lorry with ‘Blow horn’ painted on the back would come screaming down the road in the wrong direction, saying: “In your country, this not possible. In India, anything possible…”

He’d then teach us a few useful phrases – ‘Ram, Ram, Sa’, complete with the lotus symbol prayer-like clasped hands for ‘hello’ or ‘haiti mera sathi’ meaning ‘the elephant is my friend’. His favourite, which he often said with a friendly wobble of his head was ‘Tikka, tikka’ or ‘OK’.

Our first taste of the traffic mayhem began in Delhi where we were stuck in jams with everything from rickshaws, tuk tuks, camel carts, oxen and scooters to private-registration Mercedes. Mr Singh referred to the sacred cows that wandered across the busy streets as ‘traffic controls’. They’re also considered lucky, as are donkeys, though neither are on a par with the same quantity of good fortune as an elephant – as long as you don’t run into it, of course.

Old Delhi with its crowds, noise and squalor was in complete contrast to the smart, wide streets of the affluent New Delhi area with its mansions, embassies and upmarket hotels.

However, our first stop with our guide was to Prayas, a project for disadvantaged children that is supported by the Saga Charitable Trust. There are an estimated half a million children in the capital, many of whom live in dangerous and desperate conditions along the railway line.

Lost children who run away from home and end up jumping on trains to cities like Mumbai and Delhi, are picked up by volunteers looking out for them to offer protection.

At first they try to reunite the children with their families and house them in a clean temporary shelter donated by the railway. If they can’t find their relatives they are looked after in more permanent accommodation.

That Friday was a holiday and although we’d interrupted their viewing of a Bollywood film, they still listened and watched us intently with wide eyes and shy smiles, especially when they saw the sweets that we had brought.

Saga holidaymakers often like to make a call to meet the children and hear about the project in return for a small donation.

The children who are not lucky enough to be found by Prayas can end up living rough on the streets, begging for a living or worse, being picked up by child traffickers in real-life Slumdog Millionaire scenarios. Small fists would often rap on the windows of our car to get our attention at traffic lights, followed by acrobatic displays to earn a few rupees. I was worried they’d get knocked over.
Next stop: Mahatma Gandhi’s tomb.

See you soon,

Bridget X

Phnom Phen

November 19, 2013 - 12:54 pm

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

When I watched ‘The Killing Fields’ all those years ago, I never in my life thought that I’d ever come to ‘S-21’, the former school used as a detention and torture centre by the Khmer Rouge.
The visit is life changing – I just couldn’t comprehend the cruelty and death toll caused by Pol Pot and his comrades. Two million were slaughtered – many tortured for months before they were taken to the killing fields.

It was even more sobering that both my young guides – Cham and Hov – had lost relatives to the Khmer Rouge. Only seven survived S-21 and of these, only two are alive today.

Phnom Penh paddy fields

The serenity of Cambodia’s tranquil and idyllic countryside just didn’t compute with these horrors.
We had followed Route 6 to Phnom Penh past verdant green paddy fields with palm trees for mile upon mile. Water buffalo wallowed in ponds blooming with lotus flowers; farmers drove ox-carts to the village markets; there were duck farms, chickens and roadside stalls selling everything from sticky rice to fruit.
Cambodia’s gentle, friendly people are still faced with the hardships of poverty. Eighty per cent work in the paddy fields and earn little money.

A small tip brings a lot of gratitude. When I stepped on board a cyclo, I felt sorry for my old driver as he huffed and puffed in the sweltering heat along the busy streets seething with scooters. An original method of transport in Phnom Penh, it’s a bit like a tuk tuk, except with human pedal power.
We pulled up at the impressive gates of the Royal Palace and as you walk into the grounds, you can’t help but be filled with awe. The opulence and grandeur is staggering.

Dating to 1866, the Silver Pagoda still has its original floor, made of more than 5000 silver tiles. The gold Buddha glitters with no less than 2086 diamonds, the largest 25 carat stone decorates his crown.
Still the residence of the King, a blue flag indicated that he was at home – although there was no invitation to join him for birthday tea!

Hadn’t he heard about my Big 50? Perhaps he will follow me on the rest of my journey on Twitter.

Bridget x

Siem Reap Cambodia

November 19, 2013 - 11:49 am

Bridget’s Diary

Tweet Stake: 682

Twitter Followers: 331

Alcohol consumption: Angkor Beer

Diet: Khmer curries with lemongrass, fresh fruit

Mozzie bites: Four – one the size of a squash ball

Hot flushes: 30C and high humidity has me in a hot sweat

My first night in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and I was invited to a cultural show at Fou-nan Restaurant. It felt a little strange having a table for one surrounded by larger groups of mainly French diners but nobody seemed to notice once the dancing began.

Fou Nan dancer

Before and after each course, we’d be treated to a performance – each signifying a different theme from the Fisherman’s Dance to the Peacock’s Dance. I reckon it was the Khmer answer to Strictly.

They saved the best to last – the Aspara Dance is from the Angkorian era and I was soon to see these half-women, half-goddesses carved on the sandstone pillars of the temples. Their circular movements and poised positions symbolise hovering between Heaven and Earth.

The following morning, I was up before dawn to catch the sunrise on spectacular Ta Prohm Temple. Overgrown by jungle and vines, as well as the setting for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider, I did feel a little like Lara Croft exploring these ancient ruins. It was worth getting up early as I had the temple almost to myself.

Next stop was Angkor Thom, which dates to the 12th century and has 54 towers with four faces of Buddha, representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire.

Cham the guide

My guide Cham was very knowledgeable about the fascinating history and knew just the angles to take the best photographs – which came in handy when we visited the largest and most crowded Angkor Wat.
This famous Hindu temple is represented on Cambodia’s national flag and was built during the reign of Suryavarman II. The divine residence of Vishnu, the King himself was to reside here after his death.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat boasts the biggest moat in the world which is thankfully no longer filled with crocodiles.

Built on five levels, symbolising the connection between Heaven and Earth, you’re faced with a steep climb up wooden stairs to reach the top. The route down felt even more precarious than my Sydney Harbour Bridge climb as this time I wasn’t even hooked on!

For more daredevil adventure, I took a scenic helicopter flight over the impressive temples to grasp the sheer enormity of the former Khmer Empire. Just my luck, there was a thunderstorm with lashing rain when we were all set for lift off.

Not to worry, within 20 minutes, the storm had cleared and – even better – a rainbow appeared over Angkor Wat as we took off. I’d never flown over a rainbow before!

This 50-day journey is offering the most amazing experiences – no crock of gold could have guaranteed such wonders.

Next Stop Phnom Penh. See you there!

Bridget x

Hi - Ho Chi Minh

November 14, 2013 - 2:25 pm

Tweet stake: 640

Twitter followers: 325

Alcohol consumption: 333 and Saigon Beer

Exercise: Dodging Hoi Chi Minh traffic

Diet: Sensational Saigon street food

Hot flushes: A bit hot under the collar wearing a motorbike helmet during my Vintage Vespa tour of Saigon after dark

Days 17 to 20
My first impression of Ho Chi Minh city? The traffic is crazy. My heart was in my mouth en route to the OSEDC Vietnam Orphanage that the Saga Charitable Trust has been supporting for over two years.
Scooters, taxis, buses and bikes came from all sides and within a hair’s breadth of my window, the bonnet and back bumper of the air-conditioned car. Just how many members of one family including pets can fit on the back of a scooter? Yet it made for entertaining viewing during the drive to the suburbs where the orphanage is located.

OSEDC Vietnam Orphanage

OSEDC or the Organisation for the Support and Education of Disadvantaged Children is run by the director Nguyen Van Nghia and volunteers like teacher Nguyen Cong Ton. They offer food, shelter, education and training to these children – many of whom are disabled – so that they have a brighter future, with an incentive to be able to support and look after themselves in adulthood.

The Saga Charitable Trust has donated funds to help fix the roof, support the IT section and, in the near future, raise the floor level of the dormitories to avoid the flooding that had happened just the day before I arrived. Saga holidaymakers like to come to listen to the children playing traditional Vietnamese music in the band that has been formed by another volunteer teacher Mr Fong. They give small donations to help the orphanage and sometimes buy the handicrafts that are made here by the children.
I was privileged enough to enjoy a short concert and the children certainly seemed to enjoy playing their music as much as I liked listening to it.

The Saga Charitable Trust helps projects worldwide – if you’d like to find out more, please visit www.saga.co.uk/saga-charitable-trust

Saturday’s early morning ‘speedboat’ ride on our motorised canoe along the Saigon River to Cu Chi Tunnels was a breath of fresh air. It’s a great way to travel with the wind in your hair and the opportunity to watch the brightly-coloured boats with their protective eyes painted on the bows.

Our destination – the Cu Chi Tunnels – are as fascinating as they are blood-curdling as this underground warren was used during the Vietnam War. We were shown the vicious but ingenious traps that were used to kill or wound the unwary – before being given the chance to crawl through a small section. Considering the claustrophobic and clammy tunnel once used by the Viet Cong had been widened for tourists, I was glad that we hadn’t yet had lunch! It was a very tight squeeze and airless.

Duong guide

There was just time on our return to take a short tour of the old colonial city, including the former Presidential Palace; the Cathedral; Dong Khoi Street; the Opera House; City Hall and Old Saigon Post Office, designed by none other than the French architect Monsieur Eiffel himself. 

My guide Duong was a bit of a character. The first phrase she taught me was a vital one: ‘Bee Ba Ba Ba’ which is a request for the local 333 beer. That’s how it sounds, anyway, don’t ask me how to spell it. On my Vintage Vespa tour of Saigon, I soon learned: ‘Mot, hai, ba, yo!’ meaning ‘One, two, three, cheers!’
Considering that there seems to be no Ho Chi Minh Highway Code and you take your life in your hands crossing the road, I had been apprehensive about clambering aboard a scooter. Fortunately, though, I wasn’t driving, so I clung on for the white-knuckle ride through Saigon’s seductive city streets.

Strangely, though, with the breeze on my face; exotic smells of spices wafting in the air; people-watching from a moped perspective (ie which rider was flirting with whom); buzzing past bustling night markets; the bright neon lights and orchestra of tooting horns soon began to have a hypnotic effect.
First stop was the Zoom café where I met the rest of our night riders. David and Judy Duncan were fellow Scots from Edinburgh, now living in Saigon; while their Cambridge friends Nigel and Janet Piper had come to visit from their new home in Cambodia. Small world.

Bridget and Vespa

The first street café or quan (bia hoi) served seafood soup flavoured with chillies and lemongrass; stir-fried noodles and could it be frogs’ legs? Obviously, there’s still a French influence here in addition to the historic architecture.

At the second, we made our own rice paper wraps with hot sauces, beef in garlic and a squirt of lime juice while watching deep-fried seafood pancakes cooked on open-air stoves.
Despite all being in our 50s, we were game for a nightclub stop and were pleased to find the band was playing 70s’ classics. Being dropped off at the hotel felt as romantic as Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday – until I caught a glimpse of my helmet hair in the mirror…

A more relaxing way to feel like a local is to take a Bassac cruise on the Mekong Delta. Here on board these comfortable, authentic, wooden cabin cruisers, you can keep one eye lazily on life along the riverbanks as you lounge on the sunbeds in the breeze floating quietly past fishermen, barges and waving to children going home from school.

Bassac cruise

As I’ve come to expect from Vietnam, the food is out of this world – fish in lemongrass, tiger prawns in coconut, home-made pancakes with chocolate and banana – and as much to eat as on most cruise ships.
Our friendly ‘family’ of 20 mainly European passengers disembarked to wander through the jungle to a local village – where we were taught by our enthusiastic guide all about the ‘outdoor supermarket’ of fruit, vegetables and even medicinal cures growing in the thick vegetation. Curious children followed in our footsteps with big eyes and wide smiles.

The next morning, up at sunrise to watch turquoise kingfishers darting to catch breakfast, we enjoyed our own bacon and eggs on board before setting off in a smaller canoe to Tra On floating market. We bought drinks from ‘mini-bar boats’ and the sweetest fresh pineapple lollies carved in front of our eyes.
All the boats jostling for position with their drivers in conical hats steering with one foot on the rudder as they called out their wares was truly a foodie and photographer’s nirvana.

Bridget x

So long Sydney

November 08, 2013 - 9:33 am

Tweet stake: 598

Twitter followers: 318

Exercise: Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge; wandering through the historic Rocks.

Bridget on a sea taxi

Hot flushes: Looking down from the top of the ‘coathanger’ brought me out in a bit of a sweat!

I wouldn’t recommend climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge to anyone who is afraid of heights, although you are hooked to a ‘slider’ to ensure that you can’t fall off.

The climb is up ladders in places and there are a lot of steps, but even our Express tour was at a leisurely pace and guide Darren Moore stopped often enough for photographs and to admire the 360 degree views from the world’s largest (not longest) steel-arch bridge.

Richard and EH Holden Premier

In my victory video at the top, I proudly declared that although the Opera House had just turned 40; 50 at 50 was having the climb of her life scaling the 81-year-old bridge; but that the oldest person to make it to the top of the 134m pinnacle was the grand old age of 100.

I was collected by Richard Graham, driving another classic Aussie icon – an EH Holden Premier. This mode of transport seemed particularly appropriate as ‘Horace’ the car had also just turned 50 though I hate to admit seemed in better nick than me.

A sparkling bonnet in Portsey Blue with an ivory cream roof and the squidgiest sheepskin-covered seats, as well as a Venetian blind in the back window, meant that we toured Sydney’s hidden gems in style.

The idea of the Sydney Detour is to get away from the well-beaten tourist sights and to live like a local for a day. That meant driving through the city, out to the beaches where we lunched at a neighbourhood café (Jed’s Food Store) and pulled up at an idyllic bay overlooking the harbour.

My last supper in Sydney was at the prestigious three hatted Quay restaurant with bird’s eye views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as we ate our way through a mouth-watering menu.

Peter Gilmore made the contestants on Masterchef try to re-create his trademark Snow Egg dessert which tastes cracking! (Sorry…)

So, having said ‘G’Day’ to Sydney, I’m now flying to my next new destination – Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, here I come…

Love Bridget x

 

Sydney

November 08, 2013 - 9:17 am

Tweet stake: 550

Twitter followers: 310

Alcohol consumption: Smoothie shots for brekkie; fine Australian wines; great coffee

Diet: Seafood in top restaurants; back to fresh passion fruit for brekkie as well as the odd macadamia muffin!

When people ask me where I most like to go in the world, I often answer ‘wherever is next’ as I especially like exploring somewhere new.

Woollhara Prawn popcorn, chilli sauce and iceberg

Yet despite the fact that I lived in Sydney 20 years ago when I worked on Cleo magazine – or maybe because I did; I never tire of going back to that spectacular harbour city. The familiarity of the sunshine, beaches, gum trees, rainbow lorikeets, cockatoos, blooming lilac jacarandas and old friends is like nectar to me.

A packet of TimTams makes me smile; browsing David Jones; going to the fish markets; catching the ferry to Manly Beach – they all bring back such happy memories.

So I was over the moon to set eyes on the sail-shaped Opera House and coathanger Sydney Harbour Bridge from my Shangri-La 24th floor hotel room. It has to be one of the most special views in the world.

I’m lucky enough to have some very good friends in Sydney. I have known Deb since nursery school but she emigrated to Australia with her family when we were 10 years old. Last week she turned 50, so how fortuitous was it that I landed unexpectedly on her doorstep just in time to celebrate our milestone birthdays together?

Bridget with Koala

We didn’t waste any time – we met for lunch in Jonah’s restaurant with its cliff-top panoramic outlook over Whale Beach.

On Monday, I got picked up from Circular Quay by water taxi – surely the best way to travel – and was taken for a VIP tour of Taronga Zoo. Our keeper Paul Davies trained in Edinburgh and London Zoos and was quite a character.

We got up close to a koala bear, kangaroos and wallabies, but didn’t touch them so as not to stress the animals. Sydney Zoo puts a great emphasis on conservation and Paul was like an expectant father telling us that one of his endangered bilbies might be pregnant.

Actress Angelina Jolie is in Sydney filming and took her children to a Roar ‘n’ Snore, while I’d just missed Prince Harry who had been staying at the same hotel as me.

More great food and home-made sodas for lunch at Chiswick, a neighbourhood restaurant in Woollahara, where they grow most of their herbs, fruit and veg in a kitchen garden.

I was supposed to go surfing in Bondi that afternoon, but there was too much surf for beginners, so it was cancelled! What a pity… I couldn’t wait to drink gallons of seawater, pose bedraggled in a wet suit and wonder if a shark was below me… Actually, you’re far more likely to die from a mosquito bite than a shark attack.

Bridget with Kangaroo

It’s definitely haute cuisine at Shangri-La’s Altitude Restaurant on Level 36. The panorama stretches all the way over the harbour to the Pacific Ocean – and as the sun sets and turns the Opera House a rosy hue, no wonder so many couples get engaged in such a romantic setting.

I had just the cocktail – a Diamond Martini which costs a cool $10,000 and has an engagement ring in the bottom of the glass. I hasten to explain to Simon, my husband who may be reading this, that it was just a mock-up courtesy of the hotel.

The martini was real and very strong, so it was just as well that I stuck to one or I may have failed my breathalyser test the following day. This is a necessary requirement before you’re allowed to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge.

More on that soon. Must dash, I’ve got a date with 50-year-old Horace!

Bridget x

Amazing Argentina

November 04, 2013 - 12:32 pm

Tweet stake: 440

Twitter followers: 290 – thanks for following my 50-day trip!
Alcohol consumption: Copious Caipirinhas - my new fave cocktail; Argentinian fine wine; Quilmes (Argentinian beer).

Exercise: Walking the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of Iguassu Falls; swimming in Hotel Mabu thermal pools; tango dancing; polo playing

Diet: Steak, steak and steak! Growing even larger canines to cope with Argentinia’s appetite for beef.

Hot flushes: The tango has brought out my hot-blooded side.

Bridget at Iguassu Falls

Days Four and Five:
Iguassu Falls are just one of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever see on this earth. The first glimpse of this New Natural Wonder of the World which starred in the film The Mission takes your breath away.
Taller than Niagara Falls and almost as wide as Victoria; Iguassu boasts the highest number of falls – around 275, depending on whether it’s the rainy season.

On the Brazilian-Argentinian border, there is as great a rivalry as between their World Cup football teams as to which side is best. I’d have to say you can’t see one without the other. You may get more panoramic views of the falls from Brazil; but the rainforest surroundings in Argentina give you a better chance to escape the tourist hordes. Both allow you to peer over the edge if you dare into the cauldron of the Devil’s Throat as it spits out water, swallows and rainbows with thunderous force. Despite wearing a waterproof, I still wet my Big Jones pants at the splendour of it all.

Tango lesson

Days Six to Ten:
One kiss on the cheek, the customary greeting in Argentina, and I was smitten. Buenos Aires is suave and sophisticated with a surprisingly European flavour. Much of the grand architecture is French or Italian influenced – as is the cuisine, though Argentinian beef is by far the favoured national dish. Fine wine, too –the bottle-shaped palo barracho trees (nicknamed ‘drunk trunks’) line July 9th Ave, the widest boulevard in the world with as many as 12 lanes in places.

In this hot-blooded Latin American country, passions for football, tango and polo run high.

So how lucky was I to learn to dance with Senor Juan Carlos Copes, one of the finest tango performers of all time? This living legend is to tango dancing what Rudolf Nureyev was to ballet or Michael Jackson to moonwalking.

A true gent, he managed to teach me my first faltering steps of the smouldering tango, though I was glad Craig Revel Horwood wasn’t there to witness it.

Luis Veiga, the owner of the most traditional tangueria in town, invited me to a private dinner with his family and friends. This charming and charismatic local celeb then reserved front-row seats for me at the El Viejo Almacen, which he saved from closure back in 1996 and has greeted guests to every day since. Its old-fashioned intimacy is in ‘Starck’ contrast to the colourful cabaret Rojo Tango. Staged in the five-star Faena, the Philippe Starck-styled hotel lures pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Madonna.

NH hotel

I felt like a superstar in my glass-walled NH Hotels City Tower penthouse suite high above the rooftops.
I was also privileged to swing a ‘taco’ or polo mallet for the first time with Marcial, the brother of the world’s No 1 Argentinian player – Adolfo Cambiaso. It wasn’t as difficult as I imagined it would be and I’d recommend even novices trot along to www.polo-tour.com for a full-day experience which includes lunch with members of Argentina’s most famous polo family.

So 10 days of my 50-day journey have galloped by and with a click of my ruby slippers, I’m now on a plane bound for the Wizard of Oz…my second home since I once lived there. What pots of gold are waiting to be discovered over this rainbow? I can’t wait to find out!

Love Bridget x

October 2013

Yabba Dabba Doo! Im in Rio!

October 25, 2013 - 11:14 am

Twitter followers: 240 - it's great to have you with me!

Alcohol consumption: For research purposes, Brazil's national drink Caipirinha made from cachaca rum, lime, sugar and ice.

Christ the Redeemer

Exercise: Footie on Copacabana Beach, swimming in Rio Sheraton hotel pool and climbing mountains.

Diet: All-you-can-eat barbecue at Rio's Estrela do Sul, passion fruit and guava for brekkie, tropical juices and gallons of water.

Hot flushes: I'm catching World Cup and Olympic fever!

WHAT a difference a day makes. One minute I'm at home in the sleepy Yorkshire Dales, the next I'm going off around the world in 50 days with Saga Holidays.

Like all the best parties, especially New Year's Eve, my celebratory 50th birthday trip has kicked off in Rio de Janeiro, home to the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. I'm already nuts about Brazil!

Day One of my global adventure dawned with a beautiful sunrise, a tuneful chorus of tropical birds and surf pounding the beach just below my hotel balcony. There's nothing like the sound of the sea to make you feel you're truly on holiday.

Sugarloaf Mountain

My first ports of call included two of Rio's most iconic sights; Christ the Redeemer crowning Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain. As both are reached by cliff-hanging climbs - one by funicular railway, the other by cable car, it's lucky I have a head for heights.

Unless you suffer from vertigo, I'd recommend picking a clear day to make the most of the drop-dead-gorgeous 360 views. I almost misted up when we arrived at Corcovado's summit to find the world's largest Art Deco statue spirited away by the clouds. Yet suddenly the heavens parted and there towered one of the newest Seven Wonders of the World, welcoming me with open arms to the start of my spectacular journey in the Southern Hemisphere.

Artwork in Rio

Day Two continued the roller-coaster ride, taking a guided tour of Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela. This shanty town may be one of the poorest parts of the city but there is an over-riding sense of community in this enterprising warren built one on top of the other.

Day Three arrives and I'm being picked up in a jeep to explore the rainforests of Tijuca National Park before soaring up, up and away on a scenic helicopter flight over the city that never stops partying.

Friday night in Rio looks like it could get lively, especially as a couple of friends from Aberdeen have unexpectedly turned up in town. It's enough to make me dance a Samba, so move over Strictly, Plataforma here we come and we are ready to PARTY!

Bridget x

My last UK based blog

October 18, 2013 - 11:29 am

Tweet Stake: 260

Twitter followers: 120 (30 new followers this week – and I didn’t even bribe them).

Alcohol consumption: Lots of bubbly to toast the happy couple – not touched a drop since – honest, Mark.

Wedding couple

Exercise: Daily dog walks (I am going to miss them); non-stop dancing at the wedding reception; final keep-fit session with my hunky toy boy trainer Mark (going to miss him too – but not the squats); last badminton game until 2014; running around mad trying to get ready.

Diet: Four-course wedding meal with sticky toffee pudding (guilt), wedding cake (more guilt), cooked Sunday breakfast (think scrambled eggs are good for you – haggis not so much!), seafood salads, chicken with chargrilled veg, herbal teas, sparkling water, 1 coffee per day.

Hot flushes: Getting more frequent in the final countdown.
 
APPARENTLY, I suffer from dromomania. Luckily, it’s not a virus and you needn’t declare it on your travel insurance. It’s an uncontrollable urge to travel the world and that’s exactly what I’m going to do – very soon!

This is my last blog before I leave London Heathrow on Tuesday for my 50-day globetrot. It’s been a joyful week, not just from the euphoria of my impending getaway, but also due to the happy occasion of my niece Stephanie’s wedding in Scotland last weekend.

Bridget and Simon at wedding

It was a beautiful sunny day, we didn’t get too totes emosh and we danced the Gay Gordon’s with swirling kilts until our feet protested. It was great spending time with family and friends before I set off on my amazing 50 at 50 adventure – I won’t see them again until Christmas.

The honeymooners are now in blissful Bali – but no, they needn’t worry three will be a crowd as that’s not where I’m heading.

If you do want to know where I’m going, then all has been revealed in The Daily Telegraph online and in the travel section of the newspaper tomorrow - Saturday, 19th Oct 2013.

How exciting. I can’t wait for Telegraph readers to join the journey online and on Twitter @50_at_50. I’m looking forward to receiving suggestions on what sights I should see and where I should go – within reason, please.

I’ve started to pack – and as usual our little dog Minnie is throwing herself in my suitcase. How can I break it to her that I’m going away for 50 days?

Bridget packing last UK blog

At least my husband Simon has booked flights to come and meet me for a week halfway through my journey – so he can bring anything I leave behind. Meanwhile, he says he’s going on an enforced she-tox, like I’ve been on de-tox!

Can you believe there are only four sleeps to go? Passport, tickets, money – and Big Pants. All the essentials are packed.

I’ll travel in style to the airport in a chauffeur-driven limo just like every Saga long-haul passenger. Please wave me off if you happen to be at Heathrow on Tuesday afternoon or better still, Tweet “Go, Bridget, Go”!

Love Bridget x

My new hair do

October 11, 2013 - 3:54 pm

Twitter followers: Ni-ni-ni-ni-ninety

Alcohol consumption: Drying out but bubbly now chilling for my niece Steff’s wedding this weekend
Exercise: Daily dog walks, cardiac rather than cardio exercises with Mark (he’s stepped it up a gear or three), sprinting round shopping for last-minute travel essentials.

Diet: Prawns, salad, grilled veg, nuts, seeds, chicken, salmon brochette, using virgin coconut oil instead of olive oil for cooking, one or two chocolate cranberries (half healthy?). Looking forward to wedding nosh-up!

Hot flushes: A bit hot under the collar with the blast of Errol’s hairdryer.

Bridget arrives

FIFTY is the birthday that just keeps on giving. As a reward for all my hard work in the gym – or perhaps just because I look so dishevelled running ragged trying to get ready to leave the country for 50 days, Saga Holidays kindly invited me to a London salon for a makeover.

Mane man, the cool Errol Douglas, has been voted Britain’s 2013 Most Wanted Creative Talent and his celebrity clientele reads like a list of who’s who.

Errol soon licked my locks into shape. He’s about to turn a nifty 50 himself next year and is running a style campaign for 50s and over.

My Hair Hero took one look at my bobbed locks and sheared them short in an urchin style that I hope you agree has shaved years off me. I’ve lost a decade. Never mind 50 at 50, it’s more 40 at 50 now! I’m over the moon with my new look – I’d been meaning to have the chop for ages but could never pluck up courage, so thank you, Errol!

Bridget and Errol

Keeping my hair under control when I’m travelling in hot and humid climates could have been quite a challenge, but Errol promises a little Moroccan oil should re-vitalise my poker-straight hair – even when it’s as jet-lagged as me.

I may have ended up looking like Boris Johnson, disembarking planes after overnight flights, but Errol has cut my hair to make it fall into line with a quick Miss Piggy flick!

With any luck the hair loss may help my weight loss – I haven’t jumped on the scales this week but definitely feel the waistband is getting looser.

My new, trimmer look in all ways is just in the nick of time for my niece Stephanie’s wedding.

As I pack for the weekend, it’s dawned on me that the next time my little dog Minnie sulks for not letting her climb in my suitcase, I’ll be leaving for 50 days.

Wow, it’s my stomach that’s all flyaway now…

Please #jointhejourney @50_at_50. Just 11 sleeps to go!

Bridget x

A visit to Penguin Books

October 04, 2013 - 9:00 am

Tweet Stake: 212 (is that two little ducks and one on a diet?)

Twitter followers: 80 - an old-fashioned number of days for going around the world and I even have envious newspaper travel editors #joiningthejourney @50_at_50 now!

Alcohol consumption: Not nearly enough.

Exercise: Daily dog walks, running after Mark, getting run ragged, soon to be running free.

Diet: Salad, fruit, fish, grilled veg, egg white omelettes, water, nuts, seeds, budgie fodder…given half a chance I’d devour fish and chips like neighbour’s dog Sid would a Saga mag.

Hot flushes: Have changed to flashes of a Detox Diva in deprived distress.

Healthy omlette

Since turning 50, my life has been like a really good book that I just can’t put down. The countdown to 50 at 50 is picking up pace with just over a fortnight to blast off.

A visit to Penguin Books in London was a real page-turner – and their suggestion of downloading eBooks onto my mini tablet  cuts down the weight of my luggage.

They very kindly made an apt selection for the countries I’m visiting and have shared the opening chapters (along with possible clues to my destinations) with readers of this 50 at 50 website which include best-selling, globe-trotting heroes like Paul Theroux.

Bridget on an exercise bike

What’s more, Sid the tenacious Jack Russell won’t be able to tear my eBooks to dog-eared ribbons!

Poor Mark (my very own Mr D’Arcy) deserves a medal for the less envious task of trying to lick me into shape for the trip. I may be getting leaner but it’s at the risk of turning meaner!

Egging me on to do early morning exercise when I’m tired/peckish/both was never going to be easy even for the bravest of men. I’m working on that right hook!

Yet my mood does lighten considerably when I step on the scales to see how much weight has dropped off and I feel much fitter running around shopping for travel essentials.

While I may not have a lot on my plate food-wise, the to-do list menu is full to the brim…

Leaving the country for 50 days requires a bit of preparation – not helped by the trials and tribulations of new technology such as slimmer-and-quicker-than-me laptops, tablets, phones and digital cameras clever enough to cope with social media. I wish they’d provide me with some NFC (near field communication) so that I could work them out.

Minnie in the suitcase

Thank goodness Saga Holidays have ironed out the itinerary - booking flights, transfers, accommodation, adventurous activities, guides, travel insurance and a chauffeur-driven car to the airport (just like they do for all their long-haul passengers).

I’m finding it hard enough to pack my own suitcase, not helped by my dog Minnie trying to climb in – along with my husband, friends and relations! Most admit to being ‘totesjel’ (totally jealous).

Roll on the 50 at 50 Bon Voyage party, 50 hours before my plane takes off to who knows where?

Just 18 sleeps to go…

September 2013

Saga Magazine photo shoot in London

September 27, 2013 - 9:00 am

Tweet Stake 180! At least I'm losing the darts player beer belly thanks to Mark

Twitter followers 73 (I even have a seniors' dating site following me!)

Exercise Daily dog walks; body sculpting exercises with Mark (will lunge at him if he makes me do any more squats!); lots of running up and down stairs (because I forget why I've gone up); Jumping Jacks to amuse the neighbours; Thurs badminton club 

Hot flushes A few on Friday night after red wine and an after-dinner cappuccino (kept me awake all night as no longer used to coffee)

Diet Scallops; venison (lean); chocolate pudding (oops!); tuna with sweet potato; chicken; roast veg; spicy prawns; 0% fat yoghurts; fruit

Bridget with her new passport

WHAT an exciting week it has been! I was really looking forward to receiving a copy of the October Saga Magazine as the Travel feature is all about my 50at50 round-the-world trip.

I was asked to attend a photo shoot in London (my first) for the article and had a lot of fun with photographer Dan and picture researcher Marianne.

Far from glam, however, I had to put on various outfits from  safari shorts, polo gear, an Akubra hat to swimwear  complete with snorkel and mask! Could these be clues to my destinations?

I don't suppose I'll be asked to be a Bond girl or get a modelling contract but with all that dressing up, no wonder a seniors' dating site is hot on my Twitter tail.

Just don't tell my husband, Simon…and don't let him contact the dating site when I'm away globetrotting for 50 days! The unfortunate thing is that when the Saga mag landed on the doormat, our neighbour's Jack Russell Sid pounced with a vengeance and tore it to shreds!

My Saga mag is now a rag!

Just as well there is an online version which you can read here.

I hope it will encourage readers to #jointhejourney on Twitter @50_at_50. It's easy  really. If I can do it, anyone can!

Ripped Saga magazine

Thank goodness Saga didn't take the risk of posting my new passport with Sid waiting by the letterbox. Instead, it was delivered to me in person  complete with some interesting visas.

That's thanks to Heidi at Saga Holidays who provides the all-inclusive service of arranging visas for Saga guests before they travel. Having queued for hours in many an embassy, that's a real blessing and all part of the care that I've come to expect from Saga  even before I've set foot on a plane!

I may not have the full itinerary but you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to get some clues from those colourful visas.

Now I am sworn to secrecy but it won't be long until I can reveal all. Just 25 days to go…Yeehah!

Bridget x

50th Birthday celebrations continued

September 20, 2013 - 11:49 am

Tweet Stake: 115

Twitter followers: 63 – a great year to be born

Alcohol consumption: errr… Friday - several bottles of champagne shared with 8 friends but wised up and changed to wine about 2am with glass of water before bed (3am).
Sat - After tentative water and afternoon tea, fizz from 5pm (it was my 50th celebrations!)
Sunday - water, vodka and DIET lemonade.
Mon-Thurs - herbal teas, one coffee per day, fruit juice with sparkling water.

Exercise: Daily dog walks; outdoor fitness centre at Grange over Sands prom; 2-mile jog with Mark (felt more like 5!) and cardio training; Thurs badminton club; laughing til sides hurt

Hot flushes: a few at the weekend, due to getting ‘totes emosh’ (totally emotional) with my friends

Diet: No breakfast on Sat; turkey and cranberry pie from butcher with salad; birthday cake; Sunday pub lunch; fridge leftovers; Mon-Thurs back on detox…honest, Mark!

Champagne time

This 50th birthday malarkey isn’t half fun. Last weekend, I hired a holiday house near the Lake District so that I could party with my friends, sister-in-law and two dogs. As I moved from Glasgow when I married my Yorkshireman to live in the Dales, I don’t see my Scottish friends as much as I’d like, so it was great to use turning 50 as an excuse for a girlie get-together.

They came from all over the UK, from Carnoustie and Edinburgh to Belfast and the Dales. We haven’t laughed so much in ages – our faces were sore and sides well-exercised.

The TV wasn’t on once – not even for X-Factor. There were too many hilarious X-rated tales on tap, mainly involving one friend’s Internet dating exploits.

Outdoor fitness fanatic

My chums, bless them, even tolerated a tutorial on Twitter. They couldn’t believe that after my years of staunch Facebook denial, I was raving about social media and encouraging them to Tweet! They’re now following me @50_at_50 to make me smile when I’m far from home – how Tweet! It’s easy to #jointhejourney, please give it a go. The great thing is that even with a bit of a birthday blow-out, I still managed to lose a couple of pounds – thanks, Mark. He’s stoically trying to keep me on the straight and narrow before my curvylicious 50-day globe trot.

Afternoon tea - don't look Mark!

Wherever you end up in life, though, it’s not what you have but who you have that matters. Got to go before I get too ‘totes emosh’ again.

Only 33 days left…woohoo!

Bridget x

Bridgets Diary 13th Sept 2013

September 13, 2013 - 2:00 pm

Twitter followers: 50 – has a nice ring to it @50_at_50

Facebook: hey, one thing at a time!

Alcohol consumption: glasses of bubbly and vodka with DIET lemonade during hen party. Herbal tea and water since personal trainer Mark’s regime began on Monday

Exercise: daily dog walks, two fitness sessions with Mark, Thurs badminton club, hen party diva dancing, elbow bending at bar. Impressed?

Hot flushes: not so many since the detox

Diet: salad and blue soup

Bridget as a bunny

Well, here it is again. Friday 13th in the year 2013. Does that make it doubly unlucky?

I agree it’s unlucky for some – like those forced on a detox diet during British Cheese Week.

Yet, I do want to be fit at 50 (in both meanings of the word) and strong enough to cope with 50 days of global travel on the trot – or rather not – if you get my drift.

My very own Mr Darcy lookalike personal trainer Mark has been flexing his muscles and has banned champagne, chocolate, coffee, coke (as in the fizzy drink) and cake for the next 40 days until I jet off.

Bridget stretching with Mark

I’ve almost survived a week so far (OK, four days) but I have a girls’ reunion weekend coming up in honour of my 50th birthday so the detox has an unlucky chance of going out of the window if, like my namesake, I choose vodka and Chaka Khan. 

Just don’t tell Mark! He thinks I’m going to the Lake District to spend the weekend walking with my friends, stopping occasionally for a glass of water and a couple of carrots.

Well, he can jump in the river… and we all liked Mr Darcy in the wet shirt, didn’t we? I fear the fridge at our cottage will be crammed with as much booze as it was at my niece’s hen party which was a blast.

Bridget leaning over the gate

There were 19 of us in a penthouse apartment in Liverpool, dressed up as 90s icons. I was Bridget Jones, of course, wearing a fireman’s helmet, a short skirt, Big Pants and singing All By Myself on the Karaoke.

I had a bunny girl outfit, too, but didn’t realise I would end up eating like a bunny all this week…salad, salad, salad. Blue soup would be a bonus.

I can’t wait to open that first bottle of champagne, girls. If anyone sees Mark, don’t tell him about Mr Bollinger.

Roll on D-Day (departure day) - just 40 days to go now and counting.

Bridget x

Meeting my Personal Trainer!

September 06, 2013 - 9:21 am

Bridget's Diary 6th Sept 2013

Tweet Stake 23 (not bad for a beginner)

Twitter followers 25 (more than doubled overnight!)

Facebook: 1 entry pending

Facebook followers: 0

Alcohol consumption: 1 bottle of champagne, 1 vodka & lemonade, 1 shared bottle of wine all on birthday - water since!

Exercise: Daily dog walks, one-hour fitness session with Mark, Thurs night badminton club, lots of elbow bending at the bar

Hot flushes: Had to throw covers off last night but may be due to Indian Summer 

Diet: Birthday cake, mainly…

I still can't believe I'm 50!

Bridget and Mark doing press ups

Well, I must say turning 50 was much more fun than I expected. I was so spoiled - apart from the odd cheeky card, of course.

Flowers, a 50th birthday balloon (so all the neighbours know) and vintage champagne (a reflection of my age?) arrived special delivery. When a bouquet was delivered from my husband, village florist Wendy and my neighbour Sandra sang Happy Birthday like singing telegrams on the doorstep.

Then it was a lazy, champagne hazy day and off to our local Yorkshire Dales pub for another celebratory drink followed by a calorie-laden dinner in a favourite restaurant. Feast before the famine sort of thing.

Mark giving Bridget a piggy back

The 50at50 preparations are hotting up and the launch at Saga HQ in Folkestone went well - thanks to all who attended. The crèche children dressed up in costumes from around the world and even from space, the next big tourism frontier. I wonder if Saga could add a detour to Mars on my 50-day journey? I'd rather go to Venus - they'd understand me there.

Even the thought of getting fit at 50 has been made less daunting by the arrival of hunky personal trainer Mark (a Mr Darcy lookalike) except with a lot more muscles. You should have seen the mouths of the rest of the passengers fall open when he sat next to me on the train from Leeds - in a pair of skimpy shorts - him, not me.

Did they think he was my toy boy? My son? My bodyguard? Will he fit in my suitcase? He could certainly carry it - with me in it! Mind you, it's early days…maybe I'll want to leave him behind after the diet and fitness plan he has in store!

I dare you to get fit at 50 with me and Mark - or just take my place?! On the fitness regime - not my 50at50 adventure. I'm not swopping that with anyone!

Bridget x  

50th Birthday Blog

September 03, 2013 - 10:20 am

50th Birthday Blog
By Bridget McGrouther

Tweet Stake: 0
Twitter followers:10 (bribed them)
Facebook entries: 0
Facebook followers: 0
Alcohol units: 1st of many (it is my birthday)
Exercise: 1 long dog walk…to the pub for lunch
Hot flushes: 5 (mix of excitement and alcohol)
Diet: starts tomorrow

I can’t believe I’m 50!

Happy Birthday to me. It’s official. I’m half a century old today. The Big 5–0 has arrived and I’m taking very… deep… breaths.

Being born in 1963, I didn’t ever consider what year I would turn 50 until recently. And then the irony struck – 2013, how unlucky it might seem.

It’s a good job then that I’m not superstitious and that I’m a glass half full rather than empty kind of gal (especially if we’re talking champagne). Break open the Bolly as I’m going all out to embrace my 50th year.

I may be older than the Forth Road Bridge (it’s only 49), but I’m otherwise in good company as Captain Sparrow himself Johnny Depp; Elle ‘The Body’ McPherson; Hollywood heart-throb Brad Pitt and sultry singer George Michael are all in the same boat.

So yes, I’ve been opening birthday cards with jibes about how I’m now old enough to go on a Saga holiday. Yet – you know what - I can’t wait, as that’s exactly what I intend to do.

Saga is taking me by the hand on a trip of a lifetime. Like a Fairy Godmother, the over-50s holiday specialist is waving a magic wand above my bucket list of most-want-to-see destinations to turn it into reality.

Move over Phileas Fogg and Michael Palin – there’s a new globetrotter in town. I’m younger, fitter(?), most definitely fatter and aiming to be faster.

For I’m hell-bent on celebrating my 50th birthday by going around the world in 50 days, rather than the traditional 80. I don’t even mind how - whether it’s by hot air balloon, micro light flight or vintage Vespa!

I can imagine sky diving from Sugarloaf Mountain; monkeying around in Madagascar; dancing the tango in Buenos Aires; bungee jumping over Victoria Falls – yeah right, let’s not get too carried away!

If it sounds like the dream ticket (and, let’s face it, my husband, family and friends would give their eye teeth to join me), then you can hang on to my coat-tails. You don’t even need to carry my bags or leave the comfort of your own armchair.

For, like a modern-day Bridget Jones, I’ll be logging my adventures in a diary by blogging, Tweeting, writing a newspaper travel column and posting photos and videos on Facebook – just as soon as I learn how.

Leaving home from the Yorkshire Dales on 22nd October 2013, I have 50 days to get ready for the biggest adventure of my life. For despite being a seasoned travel writer, I’ve never been on the road for seven weeks non-stop.

It takes a bit of planning – even with Saga helping to tailor-make my route and arrange exciting activities. How will I cram all I need into 20 kilos of luggage? How many jabs will I have to endure? Will I manage to squeeze back into a bikini – or even tankini – ever again?

To help prevent my bingo wings reaching full house and build the stamina required for the trip, Saga has lined up Mark Carter, a muscle-bound personal trainer. He promises to get not just me fit – but you too, if you want to follow in my so-far-unused, designer-label trainer footsteps.

Scarily, it will involve healthy eating and even exercise, so I need to drink at least a month’s worth of champagne today.

Like me, you can’t wait to find out where I’m going, can you?

Then join me on this incredible journey – 50@50, here we come…

Bridget x

Round the world in 50 days - follow Bridget's journey

 

Destinations

November 2013

Zambia

December 09, 2013 - 9:02 am

Zambia is regarded by many as the ultimate safari destination, while the world-famous Victoria Falls hold their own special appeal. Pristine landscapes, superb wildlife and excellent accommodation all combine to make this an African destination of choice.

Victoria Falls

Water attraction

The Zambezi river attracts adrenalin junkies in search of the ultimate white-water rafting experience. The river feeds the falls: look out for rainbows, listen to the roar of the water torrent, get drenched in the clouds of spray – experiences you’ll never forget. To see the unique phenomenon called a ‘moon bow’, you’ll need to view the falls under a full moon, when the light catches the spray and creates a rainbow at night.

Vast and wild

Everything in this country is on a vast scale, be it huge lakes, breathtaking sunsets or just the wilderness stretching as far as the eye can see. National parks and game reserves cover almost one-third of the country. The South Luangwa National Park is one of the best, where you can see nature in the raw.

Zebra in Zambia

Set off on foot in the bush in the company of an expert guide and armed scout – it’s the best way to immerse yourself in the sounds and smells of Africa, with a chance to see giraffes and big cats. Whether on an elephant-back safari or on a sunset cruise, you will capture the vibrant and welcoming spirit of Africa.

Sleep ‘almost’ under the stars

Zambia offers exquisite accommodation in riverside and safari lodges and camps. Every level of comfort is available from simple tented camps to luxurious lodges with all mod cons. All are designed using local materials and to make you feel close to nature. Listen to hooting owls at night, watch elephants drinking from the nearby water hole, spot the varied birdlife by the lakeshore.

Factfile

Zambia covers an area of 752,614 km2 that is home to 14.2 million people. The country gamined independence from the UK in 1964 and the capital is Lusaka.

South Africa

November 26, 2013 - 10:57 am
Lion cubs with pride

If you’re after adventure and excitement, look no further than the diverse landscapes and wildlife of South Africa. Exhilarating safaris through protected National Parks offer chances to catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring Big Five – buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino.

Dramatic, curving coastlines and golden-sand beaches populated with penguins beckon; towering mountains loom over vibrant, cosmopolitan cities teeming with a melting pot of cultures, the legacy of a rich history of immigration. A country boasting spectacular, unspoilt natural beauty, South Africa will not disappoint…

Cape Town
Known by the locals as ‘The Mother City’ and with a motto of "Spes Bona" (Latin for "good hope), Cape Town covers an area of almost 2,500km2.  With a population of 3.7 million, it’s the second-most populated city in South Africa after Johannesburg, and the provincial capital of the Western Cape.

Overlooking this colourful, vibrant hub is the accurately – if unimaginatively – named Table Mountain, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, boasting an estimated 2,200 species of plants, more than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom! Here the average cost of a meal for two in a restaurant is £18.77, a Coca Cola is 50 pence and a pint of beer is £1.13.

Victoria Falls

Johannesburg
Affectionately known as Jozi, Joburg, Joni, Joeys or as the Zulu name eGoli, meaning ‘place of gold’, the city of Johannesburg was formed in the 1880s after gold was found in the Witwatersrand, a range of rocky hills that surround the city. The discovery had an unexpected consequence – originally there were no naturally occurring trees, but when gold was first discovered as mining companies quickly set up a horticultural nursery where experiments were conducted to test which trees were suitable for mine props.

Today Johannesburg is the world’s largest ‘urban forest’ with an estimated 6 million trees growing within parks, on pavements and in private gardens.

The average cost of a meal for two in a restaurant is £21.90, a Coca Cola is 63 pence and a pint of beer will set you back £1.

Livingstone
Livingstone is named for the British missionary explorer, Dr David Livingstone, the first European to explore this part of the world. In turn, he named a spectacular waterfall 6 miles south of the town in honour of his monarch, and they are still known today as the Victoria Falls. Approximately twice the height of Niagara Falls, the Victoria Falls boast the largest sheet of falling water in the world, and is a popular tourist destination.

Fried caterpillars

Make sure you try…
Caterpillar! Mopane worms, the caterpillar of the nocturnal emperor moth, are part of the staple diet in rural areas and considered a delicacy in the cities. They can be eaten dried and crunchy, or soft and juicy in a tomato or peanut sauce.

They pack a hefty nutritional punch too, but if you’re a bit squeamish, perhaps opt for biltong. This air-dried meat – usually beef – is like jerky but cut in slightly thicker strips, and is considered by many South Africans to be an undeniable part of their culture.

South Africa is two hours ahead of GMT

Madagascar

November 22, 2013 - 3:54 pm

If you want weird and rare, beautiful and extraordinary, fascinating and endangered, look no further than Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world. Scientists believe it ‘broke off’ from the African continent some 160 million years ago. This isolation makes it the paradise it is today, with a stunning biodiversity – 90% of its wildlife is unique to the island.

Lemur with babies

Lemurs and other creatures
Lemurs are the appealing, furry creatures that have contributed to Madagascar’s fame. They look like a cat crossed with a squirrel, with long noses and very large eyes. Some are small, some are big, some have ringed tails, others red eyes, yet others a chic black and white fur ruff. Their fur can be white, black, or every shade of grey and brown.

More than 70 species are scattered in all parts of the country – all of them endangered due to hunting and habitat destruction – while scientists believe some have yet to be discovered and identified.

This amazing country is also home to half the world’s chameleon population, to the fierce spiny-tailed iguanas and garish frogs whose lurid skin tones highlight their toxicity.

Twitchers will get their fill, with over 300 bird species recorded on the island and 60% unique to the area. One they will not see, however, is the elephant bird, the largest bird in the world, which is believed to have been over three metres tall and became extinct in the 17th century.

Tsaranoro, Madagascar

Vanilla, orchids and giant trees
Madagascar is the world’s leading supplier of vanilla, and also exports sugar, coffee, bananas and peanuts. The Madagascan periwinkle has anti-cancer properties and is used in drugs to treat leukaemia and Hodgkin's disease. 

The island’s plant kingdom equals the animal kingdom for its rich diversity. Here you will find towering palm trees on the shoreline, mangrove forest along the entire western coast, grassy plateaux, forested mountains and deep tropical rainforests where hundreds of species of orchid brighten up the gloom. The most spectacular trees are the giant baobab in the western province of Menabe, which soar 30 metres into the sky. The trunk of one ancient baobab tree can hold 120,000 litres of water, a feat that stretches its plump girth to an impressive 12.5 metres.

There is much for tourists to enjoy in Madagascar beyond the idyllic golden sand beaches. High on the list of must-sees are Isalo National Park, famous for its sandstone massif and great pinnacles of rock, and Tritriva Lake in the steep crater walls of an extinct volcano, famous for its turquoise blue waters.

The living and the dead
The population of 22.29 million people speak Malagasy and can trace their ancestry to Polynesian settlers, mixed with an Arabic presence, Bantu tribes-folk and more recent European arrivals. This fascinating cultural blend makes Madagascar a unique holiday destination.

Baobab Alley, Madagascar pink sunset

Antananarivo is the capital and largest city with an area of 587 km2. In second place is Fianarantsoa, which sits in the middle of Madagascar's richest wine and tea-producing regions. Much of the old city, founded in the 19th century, is a jostling mass of crumbling buildings that sit at a vertiginous height of some 1,200 metres above sea level.

Antsirabe, founded as a health retreat for lepers in 1872, became a popular spa town with French colonialists in the 1920s. Their influence can still be seen around the elegant streets, which bustle with pousse-pousse, the local equivalent to the rickshaw.

The afterlife is very important in the Malagasy culture and departed ancestors remain part of the family. Burial mounds are a common site, and exhumation ceremonies are held every five to ten years amidst great celebrations. Bodies are re-dressed in special cloth as a good-will gesture to protect the sacred life-force! The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ambohimanga perched high on a hill outside Antananarivo was once the home and is now the sacred final resting place of the Merina dynasty.

Practicalities
Madagascar is three hours ahead of GMT. The average cost of a meal for two in restaurant is £14.03, and you will pay 62 pence for a coke and the same for a pint of beer.

Mauritius

November 19, 2013 - 4:42 pm

Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multilingual, in the India Ocean but geographically part of Africa – welcome to dazzling, enchanting Mauritius. Created by underwater volcanic eruptions, this tropical paradise 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African mainland remained uninhabited until the 16th century.

Mauritius

Famous for…
The island, which covers an area of just over 2,000km2, is famous as the home of the legendary dodo. Although it became extinct in the 17th century, it has become the national bird of Mauritius and appears on the national stamps. It’s also an appealing fictional character in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”.

A little history
Pirates used the island as a stopping off place, the Dutch occupied it, the French brought African slaves to work the sugar plantations, the British captured it in 1810, and the island finally achieved independence in 1968.

Mauritius today
Other influences from India, China and Africa have blended with the island’s colonial past to create a friendly multicultural society of 1.3 million people, where different religions and races co-exist, and where Indian temples can be found next to colonial mansions. Most people speak French and Creole, and English is also widespread.

Hotel Tamassa

It is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, where the life expectancy of 73 years is the highest of all developing countries. Sugarcane is the main crop, symbolized in the green for agriculture in the national flag. The other three colours are blue for the sea, red for freedom and yellow for sunshine. Mauritius is four hours ahead of GMT.

Tourism and nature
White sand beaches and luxurious hotels are just part of the island’s attractions. But as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, it is also a paradise for those who enjoy hiking, mountain climbing, diving and ecotourism. Its lagoons are protected from the open sea by the world's third largest coral reef, and Mauritius has one of the highest rates of returning tourism in the world.

As most of the food is imported, it can be pricey but you can still get a meal for two in a restaurant for £24, a coke for 62 pence and a pint of beer for just over £1. Food is as diverse as the country itself, so you can easily expect a croissant for breakfast and enjoy a curry for dinner.

What to see
Far too much, which may account for high rate of return tourism! Take your pick from the Black River Gorges National Park, home to an amazing collection of indigenous plants and birds; the Sacred Lake of Grand Bassin, surrounded by temples and sacrificial sites and the most sacred Hindu site on Mauritius; the 100-metre high Chamarel Waterfalls and solidified dunes of coloured volcanic earth; Le Morne mountain; or the Royal Botanical Gardens where you can savour the aromas of ginger and sandalwood as you explore this exotic paradise. And this is just a taster, all assuming that you can tear yourself away from your lounger on some idyllic beach!

Delhi

November 13, 2013 - 1:49 pm

India

One sixth of the world’s population live in this melting pot of cultures, religions and varied ethnic groups. This is a vast country full of contrasts: cows amble in traffic jams; ancient temples sit side-by-side with ultra-modern glass tower blocks; and landscapes are as varied as the country’s curries. Every type of tourist, from adrenalin junkies to those seeking the ultimate in pampering, will find their fill. Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur are four-and-a-half hours ahead of GMT.   

Agra

The Taj Mahal is the honey pot that attracts tourists to Agra. Everyone has a vision of this iconic building, but it is even more breathtakingly beautiful seen in real life than on any photograph you have ever seen.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world, and the ultimate act of love by Shah Jahan, who built it in 1560 as a memorial to his favourite wife after she died giving birth to their 14th child. You’ll need to get up early if you want to see the Taj Mahal at its best. In the early morning the monument is bathed in beautiful soft pink light. The air is pleasantly cool and the bulk of that day’s tourists have yet to arrive. Come midday and the harsh sun turns the Taj white. As the day progresses the colour changes one last time as moonlight turns it golden.

Taj Mahal in sunrise light

It took around 22 years and over 20,000 workers and craftsmen brought together from Persia, Turkey, France and Italy, to complete it. Architects also used 1,000 elephants to transport the building material. The monument stands testimony to Mughal ingenuity and architecture, right down to the pillars that are cleverly tilted outwards so that they would fall away in the event of an earthquake.

Other things to see

UNESCO has recognized the importance of the monuments in Agra by designating the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri as World Heritage Sites. Few forts in the world have a more fascinating story to tell than that of Agra. Originally planned as an impregnable military structure, the fort acquired all the elegance, lavishness and majesty of an imperial palace.

Within the fort walls is a complex of buildings, several of which are made of pure marble and have beautiful carvings.

Agra is also…

… a town covering  an area of 1,880 km2, home to 1.8 million people who speak Hindi. It lies 200 km south of New Delhi on the banks of the Yumana River, which provides 70% of Delhi’s water. The water also feeds what is Asia’s largest spa. Two other notable facts are it is the birthplace of the Dîn-i Ilâhî religion, and it’s the town in India with the second largest number of self-employed people.

A meal for two in a restaurant will cost £5.05, and you’ll pay 15 pence for a coke and 81 pence for a pint of beer.

Jaipur

Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan, is a romantic realm of resplendent palaces, mighty fortresses and regal maharajahs that lies in the western deserts of India.

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Known as ‘The Pink City' after being painted terracotta in 1876, it claims to be the first planned city of India, with each street running east to west or north to south. It took about four years to complete the major palace, roads and squares, and huge fortification walls and seven strong gates were built around the city to protect it. Today it covers an area of 112 km2 and has a population of 3.1 million people. The official language is Rajasthani.

Jaipur is the oldest exporter of gold, stone and diamond jewellery in Asia

Why come here

You’ll want to visit the Amber Fort and the earlier palaces built inside Raja Man Singh. These are stark in comparison to those built by Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Jai Singh just a few decades later, when the Mughal influence had permeated the Rajput court. Splendid and ornate halls of audiences, residential palaces and gardens are there to be admired. Of special interest is Shish Mahal, the delightful palace of mirrors – where all the walls and the ceiling are imbedded with glittering mirrors guaranteed to dazzle you.

The Maharaja's City Palace is a sprawling royal residence that occupies around a seventh of the area of the city. Its main attraction is the museum and armoury displaying an arsenal of pistols, blunderbusses, flintlocks, swords, rifles and daggers. Jantar Mantar is the largest stone observatory in the world, a collection of 14 astronomical instruments used to scan the celestial bodies with extraordinary accuracy.

Food and festivals

Mishri Mawa is the signature dish of Jaipur, made with milk, cardamom and pistachio nuts. The average cost of a meal for two in a restaurant is £4, while a coke will cost 18 pence and a pint of beer 61 pence.

On January 14 each year, Jaipur hosts an enormous kite festival, and on this day the people of the city take a dip in Galtaji, then pray to the sun god to bless them.

The people of Jaipur love to play polo, and the local dance is the Kalbelia. This is performed by women, while men join in playing snake instruments and chasing the women.

Palace on the Lake

Udaipur

The city lies in the state of Rajasthan and is also known as the City of Lakes or the Venice of the East because of its eight beautiful lakes. With its romantic lakeside setting, Udaipur is also graceful with palaces, ghats and temples. It was founded by Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 and now covers 64 km2. The population of 600,000 people speaks Hindi.

City of palaces

The City Palace is made up of a series of restored palaces resplendent with mosaic glasswork and frescoes.

Many palaces have been converted into luxury hotels and used as film locations, most notably in the James Bond film Octopussy. The Lake Palace was also the home of the Octopussy character.

It’s not surprising that such a romantic city has become a favourite marriage destination among celebrities and politicians from around the world.

Do not miss

While in Udaipur, you should try to see the Jagdish Temple, whose carved columns are a fine example of the Indo-Aryan style, and Sahelion Ki Bari gardens, an oasis of lotus pools and marble pavilions that were created for a princess’s handmaidens as part of her dowry.

Eating out

The average cost of a meal for two in a restaurant is £4.30, while a coke will cost 15 pence and a pint of beer 76 pence.

Phnom Penh

November 13, 2013 - 1:35 pm

Phnom Penh
The capital and largest city of Cambodia sits on the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River. Originally called Krong Chaktomuk, meaning ‘City of Four Faces’, the city was founded in 1434, and has been the national capital of Cambodia since the French colonial era. Some 14% of the country’s population lives in this city that covers 678.5km2.

Royal Palace Cambodia

The ambiance
As you wander around the city, you can only marvel at the skill of the motorbike riders as they negotiate their way through the chaotic traffic of cars, bicycles, pedestrians, rickety tuk tuks and numerous street vendors. While keeping an eye on the chaos, do look up to admire the colonial buildings and pagodas that grace the city, and visit bustling markets with their unusual smells and exotic items.

Do not miss
Cambodia's capital beguiles visitors with its oriental temples and monuments. The extraordinary Royal Palace dates back to 1866 and features the aptly named Silver Pagoda, so called because its floor is clad in 5,000 silver tiles.

The National Museum is a fine example of Khmer-style architecture and the kingdom's cultural wealth is reflected here with over 5,000 pieces on display dating from the 4th-13th centuries.

Street vendor selling fried insects

In complete contrast are reminders of the country’s recent violent past: the Cheung Ek Killing Field where 20,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime were buried, and the Genocide Museum.

Phnom Penh describes itself as a ‘Centre of diverse economic and urban development’. What this means for the tourist is that ATMs which were non-existent 20 years ago are now to be found everywhere. You’ll also find stylish bars, restaurants and fashion boutiques, and areas becoming popular as art hubs.

Food and drink
Street food vendors are everywhere, but what they are selling may not be to your liking, unless you wish to taste fertilised duck eggs and spiders, both popular street food. In a restaurant, the average cost of a meal for two is £9.36, a coke will set you back 33 pence and a pint of beer 62 pence.

Siem Reap

November 11, 2013 - 9:50 am

Cambodia is one of south-east Asia’s smallest countries, but packs plenty of reasons to visit it, from striking Angkor Wat to the stark reminders of the Pol Pot regime, and from teaming cities to deep jungles rich in exotic fauna and flora. Cambodians, despite their horrific violent past, are gently, friendly and welcoming.

Cambodian Royal Palace background at sunset Pnom Penh

The country is six hours ahead GMT.

Siem Reap
The capital of the province of the same name lies in north-west Cambodia, and is the gateway to the Angkor region. The city’s name means ‘Flat Defeat of Siam' (today's Thailand), a reminder of the age-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer people. Siem Reap has an aptly named night-life area known as ‘pub street’.

Some figures
A striking statistic about Siem Reap’s population of just under one million people, is that the average age is 21, with around 50% of people aged under 25.

One third of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and eating out is cheap by our western standards: a meal for two in a restaurant costs £12.47, while you’ll pay 28 pence for a coke and 47 pence for a pint of beer.

Temples in the jungle
One of the main reasons visitors come to this part of Cambodia is to visit the impressive legacy of temple complexes from the ancient Khmer empire, which are now part of the 400km2 Angkor Archaeological Park. Thick jungle encroached and obliterated the empire’s successive capitals, built between the 9th and 15th century, until they were rediscovered in the 1800s. The fabulous remains are now protected by UNESCO.

The most memorable sites include Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm, and the park's crowning glory, Angkor Wat. Dedicated to Vishnu, it is one of the largest religious temples in the world and the best example of Khmer architecture.

The three towers of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Temples on film
The Ta Prohm temple of Angkor Wat became the celebrated setting for the blockbuster adventure film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, staring Angelina Jolie. 

Saigon

November 06, 2013 - 3:27 pm

High rises and pagodas, incense and the fumes from thousands of motorbikes, streets teaming with vendors and monks collecting alms – these are just some of the contrasts that assault all your senses in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, the gateway to Vietnam.

Ha long bay Vietnam

Modern and traditional collide in a cacophony of sounds, while the city’s poignant past is never far from the visitor’s eye: the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum are on every tourist’s must-see list.

In history and in figures
Some 6.6 million people call this city home, including a large Chinese community who live mostly around the area called, unsurprisingly, Chinatown. Ho Chi Minh City occupies an area of just over 2,000 km2, making it the largest city in Vietnam. The country is six hours ahead of GMT.

Saigon grew from a small fishing village known as Prey Nokor, and it was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh city one year after the end of the Vietnam war. It is still often referred to as Saigon, and the river that runs through it still bears that name.

Food everywhere
It may come as a surprise that coffee is one of the most common drinks in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s the best city in Vietnam to get street food, and Pho, a traditional noodle soup, can be had at any time of day. If you would rather eat your meal in a restaurant, you can expect to pay £8.87 for a meal for two, 30 pence for a coke and 62 pence  for a pint of beer.

Cao Dai Temple

What to do and how to do it
In addition to seeing the sometimes gruesome reminders of the war, the city also boasts the Notre Dame Basilica, reminiscent of the city’s French colonial past. The Suoi Tien Amusement Park and Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens are also worth a visit.

But Ho Chi Minh is a paradise for shopaholics, whether in a smart shopping mall such as Diamond Plaza on Le Duan, or in busy Ben Thanh Market on Le Loi. This is the place for good, inexpensive clothes (get a shirt or suit made almost while you wait) and souvenirs: silk, lacquerware and colourful bags.

Whatever you buy, remember that bargaining is a way of life here, and considered the most common way to buy things.

Sydney

November 01, 2013 - 12:24 pm

Captain Arthur Phillip who brought the first convicts and settlers to Sydney Cove in 1788 described it as “being without exception the finest harbour in the world”. The ten million people who visit the capital of New South Wales and Australia’s largest city every year must agree.

Australian pie

Sydney equals diversity, in its culture, food, shopping, the experiences it offers and its population of 4.5 million people, known locally as Sydneysiders. One in eight people are over 65. Although the city covers an area of just over 12,0000 km2 , it hasn’t stopped growing yet, and will will need around 770,000 new homes by 2036. Sydney is ten hours ahead of GMT

Glorious food

The green chicken curry pie favoured by Australians is a good interpretation of Sydney’s diversity, combining a Thai standard in a British pastry casing! There’s more to food here than Vegemite, barbies and tinnies. Seafood features prominently and it’s no surprise that Sydney’s fish market is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and the world's second largest after Japan.

You can expect to pay about £47 for a meal for two in a restaurant, £1.78 for a coke and £3.57 for a pint of beer.

That bridge

Everyone’s seen pictures of Sydney’s bridge, but here are a few lesser known facts:

the locals call the bridge The Coat Hanger due to its distinct shape;

Sydney Harbour bridge

it is the widest span bridge in the world;

the top arch rises and falls about 180mm due to changes in the temperature;

when the bridge opened it cost a horse and rider three pence and a car six pence to cross;

horses and riders can no longer cross, but there is a special lane for bicycles and you can walk across for free.

and that opera house

Its design was chosen in 1957 at an international design competition and building costs rocketed from the original estimate of $7 million to $102 million. Today the opera house hosts more than 1,500 shows every year.

Sydney Opera House
Beaches and films, and cricket

The smallest beach in Sydney is McKell Beach at Darling Point, accessible only by boat at low tide. The most famous is probably Bondi Beach. Up to 40,000 people spend Christmas day on the beach every year. In 2007 it was the setting for the Guinness World Record largest swimsuit photo shoot with 1010 bikini-clad women.

Sydney is a popular setting for films, and features in more than 229 Hollywood and Bollywood films.

And finally, they rather like playing cricket in Sydney...

October 2013

Buenos Aires

October 29, 2013 - 9:29 am

Cosmopolitan, sophisticated, a place where you’ll find the latest fashion trends and where you can while away some time at sidewalk cafes – it’s not surprising that Buenos Aires is sometimes called the Paris of South America. But read on, this vibrant city is so much more.

As the capital of Argentina and the country’s largest city, it covers an area of 203 km2 and its population is estimated at around three million people. The locals have a hot, steamy reputation, and you only have to watch them dance the tango to get the idea!

This archetypal Latin dance originated in the more populous areas of Buenos Aires and in 2009, UNESCO declared it part of the world’s cultural heritage.

And when is a handshake a kiss? When you’re in Buenos Aires. A kiss on one cheek is the standard greeting, and failing to follow this custom is thought rude. Buenos Aires and Argentina are three hours behind GMT.

Seeing

Among the city’s numerous sites, the Teatro Colón is one of the most famous and most beautiful landmarks, and ranks among one of the best concert venues in the world.

If you decide to explore the city by subway, beware that although the lines are supposed to run up to 10pm, they will often  shut down when it’s not busy.

Perhaps one of the least expected celebrations here is St Patrick's Day, which each year is marked with a massive downtown pub crawl.

Speaking, eating

The official language is Spanish and as in Spain, dinner is served late here, usually after 9 p.m. You can expect to pay around £25 for a meal for two in a restaurant, with drinks costing 98 pence for a coke and £1.32 for a pint of beer.

You may prefer to drink wine though. There will be no shortage of choice as the country is the fifth largest wine producer in the world.

Sport and football, now and always

Buenos Aires will host the youth Olympics in 2018, but it’s football that is the passion that grips the nation. With more than 24 professional football teams, Buenos Aires has the highest concentration of clubs in the world. And it’s not unusual for grocery stores to stop selling alcohol if a football game is taking place nearby.

Iguassu

October 29, 2013 - 9:27 am

Taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide, Iguassu Falls are the result of a volcanic eruption that left a large crack in the earth.

The majestic falls set in the rainforest on the Brazil-Argentina border are not the world’s biggest or widest falls, but their spectacle can truly be described as awesome. 

The falls in numbers
The falls are in fact 275 falls along 1.6 miles of the Iguassu river.

Devil’s Throat (Garganta do Diablo) is the highest and most impressive, at 269ft, but the average falls measure 210 feet.

During the rainy season from November to March, some 450,000 cubic feet of water goes over the falls every second.

What people say
Devil’s throat is one-and-a-half times the height of Niagara Falls, which prompted Eleanor Roosevelt to comment “Poor Niagara” when she first saw Iguassu. UNESCO has declared the falls a World Heritage site.

When to go and what to do
Spring and autumn are the best time to see the falls. The weather is too hot and humid in summer, and the water levels are much lower in winter.

You can walk along the canyon on the Brazilian side, see the falls from above on a helicopter flight, from below in an inflatable boat that goes right under the falls, or join the Rainforest Ecological Train to take you right up to the falls.

Did you know?
The word Iguassu roughly translates as 'big water'.

Iguassu and Hollywood
Iguassu Falls has featured in many movies. Can you name them?

Here are a few to get you started… Moonraker (1979), The Mission (1986) and Mr. Magoo (1997).

More recently you will have seen the falls in Miami Vice (2006), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Rio De Janeiro

October 22, 2013 - 8:33 pm

Rio de Janeiro

Nicknamed ‘The Marvellous City', the city's name means ‘January River' because it was discovered on January 1, 1502 by explorer Gasper de Lemos.

Christ the Redeemer statue

Some 6.32 million people, locally called ’Cariocas’, live in the city that covers 1,260 square kilometres.

Rio is four hours behind GMT (during BST). It was the capital of Brazil for almost two centuries from 1763 to 1960.

Speaking, eating, seeing

Brush up on your Portuguese, the main language spoken, to order a restaurant meal for two that will cost you an average £28.57, and you'll pay an average £1.00 for a Coca Cola and £1.14 for a pint of beer.

Must-see sights include Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, Ipanema Beach, Copacabana Beach, Sambodromo, Macacana Stadium and Tijuca National Park.

Sugar Loaf mountain

Football, bicycles and more...

Bicycles are a popular form of transport with around 200 kilometres of biking paths, making Rio one of the top 20 best biking cities in the world.

The city first hosted the Football World Cup in 1950, and will again in 2014, from June 12 to July 13. An estimated 3.3 million tickets will be available to watch the matches.

Rio will host the Olympic Games in 2016. The Olympic village will house 17,700 beds in 9,460 bedrooms over 48 buildings. Golf will be reintroduced as an Olympic event, after a 112 year gap. The sport is very popular in Rio.

Top 10 famous Brazilians :

Ronaldo

Neymar

Pele

Ronaldinho

Adriana Lima

Kaka

Anderson Silva

Alex Rodrigo Dias da Costa

Gisele Bundchen

David Luiz

Errol Douglas

Errol Douglas MBE

With more than 30 years’ experience in the hairdressing industry, Errol is the President of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing. He has scooped some of the most coveted awards in the industry, including:

  • MBE for services to Hairdressing
  • 2013 winner of the Creative Head’s Most Wanted ‘Creative Talent’
  • Hair Magazine’s Hair Hero 2013
  • London Salon of the Year 2011 (London Lifestyle Awards)
  • Cosmopolitan’s Ultimate Man of the Year 2008
Errol Douglas

Errol has now launched a range of new generation electrical styling products in partnership with Corioliss. The Treat & Style matt-black tools maintain hair condition to achieve a luxury finish at home. A Keratin capsule system is built into the styler to give mega-shine with a steam infused treatment to moisturise and protect hair. The range also includes an infrared dryer for speed, shine and a frizz-free finish.
erroldouglas.com
boots.com

Errol's tips for great holiday hair - low maintenance is the key

Errol and Bridget discuss

Everything on holiday conspires to dry up your hair, from the sun to the sand, chlorine and humidity. The solution is to apply a high potency Moroccanoil hair mask to damp hair, pop on a 70s cover-all floppy hat (think Jade Jagger) and head to the pool. Just rinse out before dinner for glossy locks.

Embrace the natural direction of your hair. If long, braid your hair during the day for natural waves in the evening or opt for a more polished fishtail braid for the red carpet look.

Divide dry hair in four sections, spray each with a light hairspray and pop in four heated rollers, to give you natural body that isn’t ‘over done’ when you go out.

Always wash out sea and pool water with cool water, as hot water over-stimulates the sebaceous glands.

What to pack

Penguin Books have prepared a bespoke reading list for Bridget to enjoy while she's travelling.

November 2013

Week Six

December 03, 2013 - 10:30 am

The Village is the next book recommended by the Penguin Books’ curators.

The Village

Author Nikita Lalwani was born in Rajasthan, India, and raised in Cardiff.  She now lives in London.
Her first novel, Gifted , was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa
First Novel Award and won the Desmond Elliot Prize for New Fiction. She was also shortlisted for the 2008 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.

Attempts to capture the "real" India almost inevitably result in ill-tempered debates about authenticity. Into this debate steps Nikita Lalwani. The Village is a masterclass in compression, zooming in from a wide-angle establishing shot to focus on individual lives.

The novel is set in an open prison camp in north India, a fictional place based on those that have been operating across the country since the 1960s.

Even though the camp has no perimeter, there's an unnerving sense of constant surveillance. There are at least three levels of "seeing": the villagers who observe the BBC crew; the foreigners with their lenses, prying into local lives; and the prison guards spying on both. Everyone is watching everyone else.

Read the review and the first few chapters.

Week Five

November 18, 2013 - 10:43 am
Around the World

It’s time to throw some classic adventures into the mix to tempt Bridget to pick up another e-book to read during her 50 at 50 global tour.

The curators at Penguin Books have travelled back to the 19th and 20th centuries with two very different stories that both revolve around copious amounts of money!

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Phileas Fogg, from London, and his newly hired French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager (his entire fortune) set by his friends at the Reform Club.
This is one of French author Verne's most acclaimed works. Bizarrely, a journey by balloon has become an image closely associated with the story but it was never deployed by Verne. It was briefly brought up in chapter 32, but dismissed, as it "would have been highly risky and, in any case, impossible.”

The Beautiful and the Damned

Read the review and the first few chapters.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Beautiful and the Damned followed Fitzgerald's debut, This Side of Paradise, and secured his place as one of the great American novelists.
It is the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather's fortune, their marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and greed – a devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife.

Read the review and the first few chapters.

Week Four

November 05, 2013 - 10:54 am

Ghana must go front cover

The Penguin title that nearly broke Joanna Lumley’s heart released for Bridget’s 50at50 journey!

Readers following Bridget McGrouther’s 50at50 journey will know those clever little penguins have curated a bespoke reading list for her to enjoy while she is travelling around the world.

This week Penguin has released another title from the novels they’ve put on an iPad so Bridget can pick up a ‘book’ any time she wishes.

Whether it’s on a long flight, relaxing after a busy city day or lounging in a far-flung retreat there will be a book to suit her mood – with travel or a personal journey at the centre of each story.

The chosen titles link to Bridget’s travels - sometimes directly, sometimes tenuously and sometimes the journey may be a little off-beat but she can rest assured there will be plenty of top authors’ stories to amuse and entertain her along the way.

Bridget’s followers can join the journey and read the first five chapters of each book free of charge – and if they wish to read on there’s an opportunity to buy the iPad book at 25% off the retail price.

This week’s choices focus on the African continent:

An African Love Story front cover

Ghana Must Go by Taiya Selasi
Waterstone’s describe this book as “a stunning novel, spanning generations and continents. It is a tale of family drama and forgiveness, for fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, focusing on the simple, devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart, and of the incredible lengths to which a family will go to put itself back together”.

Read the review and the first few chapters.

An African Love Story, by Dame Daphne Sheldrick is story of Love, Life and Elephants
“Africa has never been so vividly described. I read it straight through and it nearly broke my heart” – Joanna Lumley

Waterstone’s gives this novel a five-star rating. “This is an incredible story from Africa's greatest living conservationist. A typical day for Daphne involves rescuing baby elephants from poachers; finding homes for orphan elephants, all the while campaigning the ever-present threat of poaching for the ivory trade.”

Read the review and the first few chapters.

October 2013

Week Three

October 15, 2013 - 9:59 am

Two more Penguin titles released for Bridget’s 50 at 50 journey!

Fever tree book cover

Readers following Bridget McGrouther’s 50 at 50 journey will know those clever little penguins have curated a bespoke reading list for her to enjoy while she is travelling around the world.

This week Penguin has released two more titles from the 16 novels they’ve put on an iPad so Bridget can pick up a ‘book’ any time she wishes.

Whether it’s on a long flight, relaxing after a busy city day or lounging in a far-flung retreat there will be a book to suit her mood – with travel or a personal journey at the centre of each story.

The chosen titles link to Bridget’s travels - sometimes directly, sometimes tenuously and sometimes the journey may be a little off-beat but she can rest assured there will be plenty of top authors’ stories to amuse and entertain her along the way.

White dog book cover

Bridget’s followers can join the journey and read the first five chapters of each book free of charge – and if they wish to read on there’s an opportunity to buy the iPad book at 25% off the retail price.
This week’s choices are both stories about life in Africa:

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
Author McVeigh gave up a career in media to write her first historical first novel. It seems she made the right move with Waterstone’s recommending the novel as a ‘Top Rated’ product and customer reviews giving it 4.3 out of 5 stars.

Read the review and the first few chapters.

White Dog Fell out of the Sky Eleanor Morse
Waterstone’s describe this novel as an ‘incredibly moving and beautifully drawn, intimate portrait of Africa’
Botswana, 1976.

Read the review and the first few chapters.

Week Two

October 08, 2013 - 2:14 pm
Fraction cover

If you have been following Bridget’s 50 at 50 journey you will already know that those cute little penguins at Penguin Books have curated a bespoke reading list for our 50-day globetrotter.

Whether it’s on a long flight, relaxing after a busy city day or lounging in a far-flung retreat there will be a book to suit her mood – with travel or a personal journey at the centre of each story.

The chosen titles will link to Bridget’s travels - sometimes directly, sometimes tenuously or maybe a red herring - but she can rest assured there will be plenty of top authors’ stories to amuse and entertain her along the way.

Bridget’s followers can join the journey and read the first five chapters of each book free of charge – and if they wish to read on there’s an opportunity to buy the iPad book at a special discount available through Saga.

Midnight in Peking cover

Every week we will reveal two of the Penguin 50 at 50 books and provide a review for each.
Last weeks 50 at 50 choices were NW by Zadie Smith and The Lower River, by Paul Theroux.

This week’s choices are A Fraction of the Whole, a novel by Steve Toltz, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008 and Midnight in Peking, a best-selling true story by Paul French.

A Fraction of the Whole review - read the review and the first few chapters.

Midnight in Peking review - read the review and the first few chapters.

So join the journey and enjoy a good read as Bridget’s 50 at 50 world adventure gets under way.

September 2013

Week One

October 08, 2013 - 2:26 pm

Penguin Books has joined Bridget’s 50at50 journey!

NW and The Lower River

Those cute little penguins have curated a bespoke reading list for Bridget and they’ve put 16 novels on an iPad so she can pick up a ‘book’ any time she wishes.

Whether it’s on a long flight, relaxing after a busy city day or lounging in a far-flung retreat there will be a book to suit her mood – with travel or a personal journey at the centre of each story.
NW and The Lower River

The chosen titles will link to Bridget’s travels - sometimes directly, sometimes tenuously and sometimes the journey may be a little off-beat but she can rest assured there will be plenty of top authors’ stories to amuse and entertain her along the way.

Bridget’s followers can join the journey and read the first five chapters of each book free of charge – and if they wish to read on there’s an opportunity to buy the book at www.penguin.co.uk.

Every week Saga will reveal two of the Penguin 50at50 books and provide a review for each.

This week, Bridget’s 50at50 choices are NW by Zadie Smith, shortlisted for The Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2013, and The Lower River, by Paul Theroux, an author whose ‘travel writer’s eye for hard, clear material detail of the world around him’ is much-celebrated

This week, Bridget’s 50 at 50 choices are:

Week One

NW by Zadie Smith –read the review and the first few chapters.

The Lower River by Paul Theroux – read the review and the first few chapters.

Mark Carter

October 2013

THE THREE WEEK DETOX

October 03, 2013 - 2:45 pm

THE THREE WEEK DETOX

Bridget’s current diary is VERY indulgent, jam-packed with events where hearty food and drink are a central focus.

The chances of her abstaining from a 50-day feeding frenzy on her round the world trip are slim.

Tough measures are needed, and I recommend a 3-week detox diet - it's the ultimate health and beauty boost and the perfect way to prepare Bridget for her trip.

Detox super foods

WHAT IT DOES

A simple detoxifying diet for a week will help your body to rid itself of toxins, to re-balance and run more efficiently. It can also relieve a host of health problems, from abdominal bloating and indigestion to headaches, poor skin condition and loss of energy.

This pain-free detox programme aims to eliminate common allergy inducing  'toxic'  food and drink from your diet for three weeks. After a few days Bridget and you, because I would love Saga readers to join us, will notice improved body shape, energy levels and self-esteem. Food portion size is not a problem because the recommended foods are high in fibre and low in fat. Drinking plenty of water will be important.

ELIMINATE THE NEGATIVES

Wheat & Dairy: Bridget will be removing wheat and dairy foods from her diet. These are two of the most common food types which - without you even realising it - could be leaving you feeling bloated, tired and even contribute to food cravings.  Replace bread, pasta and some breakfast cereals with wheat-free alternatives: rice cakes, cereals and porridge oats. To eliminate dairy products without suffering, use soya, soya yoghurts and cheeses.

Red Meat: It's hard to digest and often contains a high level of saturated fat. Avoid red meat products such as bacon, ham, pate and sandwich meats because they often contain high levels of salt and artificial preservatives. Replace red meat with low-fat chicken, fresh fish or eggs.

Refined Carbohydrates: Cut out cakes and biscuits and any other 'junk' snacks. These continue to be BANNED Bridget! Snack on fruit, vegetables and add plenty of steamed vegetables to meal choices.

Saturated fats: Butter, margarine, all fried foods, mayonnaise and crisps are off the menu while you're detoxing. You can use a little olive oil, coconut oil or flaxseed oil to dress salads and cooked vegetables.

Additives: Avoid all artificial preservatives and additives including sugar, ready meals and packaged foods for the detox. Wherever possible choose organic products. Flavour your ‘cooked from scratch’ food with plenty of garlic and onions - both vegetables are renowned for their wonderful cleansing properties.

Drinks: Avoid tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, full-strength fruit juice and squashes. Instead, drink a minimum of 2 litres of water throughout the day, plus green tea, herbal teas, diluted fruit juices and cleansing apple cider vinegar in warm water.

MARK’S SUGGESTED DETOX MENU

Porridge with banana

BREAKFAST

* Porridge. Use a banana or sultanas to sweeten and soya milk
* Poached or boiled egg on brown toast
* Avocado on brown toast
* Soya yoghurt with linseeds, sunflower seeds and a little honey
* Muesli with soya milk or water

LUNCH

* Salad with baked sweet potato
* Potato salad made from chopped jacket potato with French dressing
* Pasta salad using brown pasta with steamed vegetables

DINNER

* Steamed or grilled fish (4 servings a week) with steamed vegetables
* Grilled skinless chicken breast (no more than 2 servings a week) with steamed vegetables
* Brown rice with steamed vegetables and tofu
* Bean or lentil stew served with brown rice

SNACKS

Brown rice and vegetables

Fruit, raw vegetables, raw nuts and seeds (unroasted and without salt or coatings)

DETOX BOOSTERS

To boost the detox effects of the diet, in the morning…
* Drink a glass of warm water with the juice of half a lemon to cleanse your system.
* Eat two pieces of fruit mid-morning
* Eat two servings of fresh, stewed or baked fruit after dinner

EXERCISE

While modifying her diet – exercise will also continue to be a key to success for Bridget during this detox. In particular cardiovascular exercise will play a major role so there is still plenty of work to do Bridget!!

Do not panic at the thought of exercise. We all do cardiovascular exercise every day, without paying much attention to it, but it's best to do it regularly and deliberately.

Here are some examples: walking, running, cycling, swimming, and even rowing. Aerobics classes are fine if they have sustained movement. Stretching and toning doesn't qualify. You should do this exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time at a pace that elevates your heart rate but doesn't tire you out. Most people over 50 years old who are starting out choose walking as their exercise. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and some comfortable clothes.

Bridget enjoys her running! There are people in their 80s who run marathons and dedicated runners who started in their 60s. Walk first, then if you want to, start a walk and run routine and then get into your running. The basic guideline for how much cardio you need for good health is walking 150 minutes a week. If you want to make your walking harder, walk faster or uphill.

Sports? If you're a badminton player, then stick with it – Bridget trains once a week at her local club. I know she works hard because she beat me (just) when we last played. But remember, get in shape to play sports, don't play sports to get in shape.

Let's sum it up. Start walking at whatever ability you have and work up slowly until you are walking briskly at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week.  You can get by with less time if you run, swim or cycle. You can do your exercise 10 or 15 minutes at a time if that works better for you. If you do vigorous, high impact exercise, take a day off between sessions.

Good Luck everyone!

Mark x

September 2013

HOME and AWAY exercises

September 24, 2013 - 1:43 pm

OK, Bridget, we have had enough of your excuses – too busy, too tired, too hung-over, too everything -  we know it’s not possible for you to hit the gym all the time so here are some home exercises that will come to your rescue!

This is a rescue plan, devised for Bridget, but for any women over 50 who want to improve their fitness. Join in, it’s fun.

Yes, fun! Body sculpting is fun!

Jumping Jacks

These are great to do at home and to help lose weight and keep fit. Do them for one minute, a number of times, to speed up the metabolism. These can be done when watching television or in front of the windows to amuse the neighbours! Bridget will very comfortably be able to do 20 minutes’ minimum of jumping jacks a day.

Staircase shuttles

Lifts and escalators make us lazy and some of us have forgotten the long- trusted stairs – I know Bridget had! Why not try repeats of going up and down your  staircase at home. While Bridget is away she is going to make a point of walking up and down stairs. Aren’t you? At home she is incorporating staircase shuttles into her exercise and this is a great way to lose weight from the lower body.

Rope Jumping

If you have a rope, that’s great. If not, there’s still no excuse, simply simulate the method of rope jumping! Bridget has started with 25-30 counts and then increased it as her stamina allows. This is a wonderful cardiovascular exercise, one of Bridget’s favourites!

Squats

Squats are a compound thigh exercise, which can easily be done in the confines of your home. Beginners can do this exercise against the wall or free hand once they are more confident. I have been incorporating squats when out walking and jogging with Bridget. She’s not a fan!

Lunges

This is also a compound exercise which I have been using to work Bridget’s thighs and her gluteus muscles. This exercise can be done on a level floor as well as using a staircase. The only difference is that you will keep the leg in front on the stair and do the exercise, then change the leg and repeat. Easy!

Push Ups

For the upper body, this is 'the' exercise. It works not only your chest, but your triceps as well. You can start with one set of 15 repetitions and gradually increase the number of counts and sets. Bridget has started off doing ‘half’ press ups. This involves her putting her knees on the floor for extra support.

Kicks

Kicks are a wonderful, yet simple, exercise which can be done at home. You can add variations: Front kicks, side kicks, cross kicks and back kicks. Start with one set of 15 repetitions and increase the number of sets and repetitions as your fitness levels increase.

Bridget walking her dog Minnie

Abdominal Exercises

There are many abdominal exercises, which can easily become a part of your schedule. Some of them are crunches, sleeping scissors, oblique crunches, sit ups, leg lifts, etc. Bridget has always wanted a six pack, she might just get one now!

Walking and jogging

Although walking and jogging are not home exercises, Bridget and I have included them as a part of her exercise routine. She can take her dog, Minnie, to the park and fields, and exercise at the same time.

I’ve also recommend that Bridget parks her car a little further away from the shops… 

Good luck,
Mark

The 50at50 fitness plan

September 10, 2013 - 2:00 pm

The 50at50 fitness plan

Hello,
Bridget seems to be actually enjoying eating different foods and thinking about how they help her body.
Drinking lots of water has brought the usual moans about visits to the bathroom but I am ignoring that – perhaps these breaks are just excuses for taking a breather from exercise routine!

Keeping active is a key to healthy lifestyle.  A regular exercise routine not only burns fat but also supports your body and brain functions. Over 50s men and women can feel years younger by performing exercises that burn calories plus tone and strengthen muscles and bones.

Bridget will be travelling around the world but despite a lack of exercise equipment, it will be possible to work just about every muscle in her body using body weight exercises.

She will perform these exercise two or three times a week on non-consecutive days – this will allow for sufficient recovery. She will also be able to do them out in her hotel room, on the beach or even in the Australian outback!
 
Here’s the plan:

Warm up
Preparing the body for exercise is important for people of all ages and fitness levels. Bridget’s warm-up period will begin with slow, rhythmic activities such as walking or jogging. She will also do some easy stretching exercises before moving on to strength and endurance activities.

Aerobic exercises
The most important part of regular exercise programmes is aerobic exercise. This increases overall activity of the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) for a sustained period, such as walking, cycling or swimming. Over time, aerobic activity conditions your body to be able to perform a greater amount of work with less effort. Bridget’s aerobic exercise will be featured over the next few weeks. Follow her on Twitter to see how she’s doing and perhaps let her know how you are doing, too!

Strengthening exercises
In addition to getting Bridget’s body toned and making all movement less strenuous and energy consuming, muscle strengthening and conditioning will help support her joints.

Core Strengthening Exercises
Your body's centre of gravity is the "core", the area around your trunk and pelvis.
Good core stability is where pelvic, lower back, hip and abdominal muscles work in harmony. They provide support to the spine for just about any activity.
Over time, a weak core can make you susceptible to poor posture and injury. 

Flexibility (stretching) exercises
Bridget will be undertaking a lot of stretching exercises to serve a number of purposes. These include maintaining full motion in her joints, keeping muscles from shortening and tightening, preventing or lessening the effects of arthritis and injuries by increasing agility and mobility.

Cool Down
Bridget will be participating in vigorous physical activity and it is important for her not to stop suddenly. Abrupt stopping interferes with the return of the blood to the heart and may result in dizziness or fainting. Bridget will be shown how to gradually reduce the intensity of her exercise and end all her training sessions with a few slow stretches.

So that’s the plan! Watch this space for updates, nutrition advice and health tips plus exercise routines.
Join the journey and follow Bridget on Twitter @50_at_50

50at50 - Get fit campaign for Bridget

September 09, 2013 - 2:15 pm

My name is Mark and I am Bridget’s personal trainer.
I am tasked with getting Bridget fitter and healthier for her 50-day journey around the world.
We have 50 days to prepare, but I hope this will be the start of a lifestyle change for Bridget so she can feel fab at 50 and the next 50 years!
Why not join our journey?

Bridget will be glad to hear that rather than strenuous exercise we will focus on activities that are easy to carry out. That also means no excuses!

At 50 and over women gain weight for various reasons - their metabolism rate slows down and the menopause brings significant body changes.  A diet plan will help Bridget eat healthily and in turn clear the body of toxins and lose stubborn fat.

The simplest part of Bridget’s new regime will be to drink lots of water. This will be extremely beneficial for maintaining her body temperature which will go up due to exercise.

The 50 at 50 plan begins with a plan and a ban:
• No alcohol
• No Caffeine - coffee and fizzy drinks
• No wheat and gluten - pasta, bread, cakes, biscuits
• No processed foods
• No sugar
• No cream, low-fat spread, butter and cheese
Got that Bridget?

Photo of a variety of fruit

The good news that Bridget will still have plenty of great foods to choose from:
Meat: Beef, chicken, turkey
Vegetables: Lettuce, carrot, rocket, spinach, sprouts, water cress, leek, peas, peppers, mushrooms
Fish: Mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, cod, prawns, crab, trout
Fruit: Berries, apple, mango, coconut, grapefruit, melon, pineapple
Dairy: Feta, goat’s and cottage cheese, natural yoghurt, eggs
Nuts/seeds: Almonds, walnuts, brazils, cashews. Poppy, pumpkin and flax seeds
Oils/fats: Sesame, almond, coconut and olive oil, humus
Grains: Brown or basmati rice, pulses, lentils, rice cakes, oats, couscous

Photo of a variety of nuts

So to summarise, the diet goals for Week One:
• Drink water, at least 10 glasses a day, and green tea
• Cook with extra virgin coconut oil
• Keep a food diary
• Exercise

That’s it from me for now. My next diary will outline Bridget’s exercise plan and I will also take a quick look in Bridget’s fridge to see if she has thrown out the cheese and chocs!

New 2015 brochures out now!