Iceland: The One Day Out…

Husband was finally free of our hotel room after 3 days isolation. With only one day left, we were set to make the best of it…

It was our last day in Iceland. And at last we could go down to the restaurant and have breakfast together, instead of me dining alone and parcelling up breakfast items for him. I wondered what our fellow diners would think of my appearance with a man- Had I picked him up somewhere during my lone travel escapade? Bonded on a bus or in a bar and shacked up together in the hotel room?

We’d one more task to complete for the return to the UK and I was determined to get it over and done with before our day out. We’d to fill out a ‘passenger locator form’ for each of us. I sat down with my laptop and found the form. To begin with it seemed simple and I began to congratulate myself [always a bad idea]. I got almost to the end, to the request for the serial numbers of our return-to-UK, lateral flow test kits, which were resting on a cupboard top in our house, ready for our return. Horrors! Who knew? I tried various numbers on forms, to no avail, gnashing my teeth and groaning. Then I had a brainwave. I could ring our neighbour to go in and look at the boxes in our house. Hooray! I rang her, and she, kind soul that she is, dropped everything and went upstairs in the house to look at the kits. She talked me through her search, a number here, a number there…I tried all the numbers. None of them was correct.

The time ticked away. Soon we’d need to be in the lobby to await our bus for the tour. In desperation, I turned to Monsieur Google for help and got an answer. The numbers would have been on the invoice email. I looked at my inbox, which yielded no correspondence from the company, Randox. I looked in the trash. There! There it was- an email with some serial numbers! I keyed them in and pressed submit, holding my breath. And it went. Phew. We had to do it all again, of course, for Husband, but then we were done.

We began donning layers for our day out. The outside temperature was set to drop to -9. I was glad of my thermal tops and fleecy walking trousers. We were ferrried to the bus station as I’d been the previous day and went to the counter to pay for the day’s tour. At this point things went in our favour. The fact that I’d already taken the tour alone and Husband had missed it was known to the ticket clark. She looked at me. ‘There’s no charge’ she said. ‘Forget it’. After all the trouble I felt tearful when faced with her kindness.

We boarded the bus- together this time- . Our tour guide was not the world-weary Johanna of the previous day but Albert, a mature, jovial character who began with his -clearly much practised] jokes as we swung out of the bus park. The day was bitterly cold but the sky was a sparkling blue and not a cloud in it. And we were out together…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

How Reykjavik was Wrecked [Part 1]

Regular readers of Anecdotage will be familiar with my travel posts. They are, in the main, a devoted homage to travel in general- to seeing new places, meeting new people, sampling novel cuisines and experiencing different cultures. You could not fail to understand, in reading my posts, that Husband and I love to see parts of the world that are not our own.

I’ve described how we’ve kept travel within our own shores these last two years, and while a holiday rarely goes without a hitch, I can only think of a few in my life that can be said to be a total debacle. This one, though, this first foray into a foreign country since the Plague started, this trip is a complete fiasco.

Here then, not for the faint-hearted traveller, is the first chapter of a cautionary tale:

We prepared, as I’ve described in the last two posts. Thus armed and ready [or so we thought], we left our airport hotel and trundled through the airport procedures, including showing our barcodes, displayed on our phones, from Iceland Covid security, which denoted our vaccine status and that we were ‘fit-to-fly’. So far so good. It seemed remarkably easy and we went through security into departure, on to the gate and in due time, boarded the plane. From the tiny, porthole window a double rainbow was visible, perhaps signifying ‘good luck’ or ‘bon voyage’, I thought. Hooray! We were on our way. In spite of it being Easyjet, the flight was fine, a comfortable three and a half hours during which the clear weather turned cloudy and we descended down into a snowy Kevlavik Airport, where we disembarked into the building, had our passports stamped, picked up our suitcase and strode towards the exit.

Here, then was one last desk before the exit to the transfer buses. We’d need to show our barcodes again. The man and woman behind the counter looked at us. Could they see our PCR ‘fit-to-fly’ test result certificates? We’d been unable to upload these before leaving home but had the print-outs, which we showed them. They studied the certificates. ‘These are no good’ they said. ‘You’ll need to do a test here and follow covid rules while you wait for your results’. When we asked how long this would take we were told ‘up to 24 hours’. ‘But it could be sooner’ the man reassured us. ‘You might get your results by this evening’. 24 hours. 24 hours of missed time out of a 4 day trip. I asked what we could do about our Northern Lights tour, which was booked for that evening. He shrugged, ‘you may get the results before then’ was all he would say. We were told we could walk around outside, but were not to enter any crowded places such as shops, malls, restaurants or bars. Outside the building a raging blizzard was blowing across the tarmac.

With no options, we went to a small side booth, where medics in PPE gear waited with swab sticks in hand. We got swabbed. The euphoria from arrival had begun to ebb away as the realisation of our situation seeped in. I found our bus. I was not about to ask how we’d get to our hotel, 50 minutes away in the capital so we sat down and made the journey to the bus station, transferred to a minibus and onwards to the Grandi by Center.

We checked in, advising the hotel staff of our situation. We could get room service, they told us. At this point we weren’t too pessimistic. The Northern Lights tour had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions [the blizzard], so we’d be able to go the next night, after receiving our results. We’d have to eat dinner in our room and would not get to visit anywhere until the following day, but we could go for a walk around the vicinity and get our bearings, which we did. The Grandi was in a great area, with many lovely venues. In the fading twilight we strolled the pavements, taking great care as in many places they were pure, unadulterated sheet ice and lethal in their slipperiness.

Having perused the meagre and eye-wateringly priced meals available on the hotel’s room service I got online and found meal delivery services, resulting in our eating Domino’s pizzas; adequate, less pricy but not the sampling of local cuisines we’d hoped for. Also we were able to get BBC channels on the room TV. We’d cope tonight and be free to roam next day…or not…

Travel Travails Continued-

Last week I described the tangled web of bureaucracy involved in preparations for travel in these plague-ridden times. I’d ploughed through the covid vaccination pass instructions, overcome the troubling and confusing business of ordering tests and ascertained the whereabouts of the mysterious ‘drop boxes’. I’d purchased our tests for return. I’d written a timetable for us to ensure we do the correct things in the right order on the appropriate days leading up to departure and on our return. I was not feeling confident or smug, but I was feeling I’d done as much as I was able to get us prepared.

The plague feels like it’s lasted a long time, now. Does anyone elase out there long for the days when, if we wished to step beyond the confines of our own, squidgy little island we could just bag a passport and go? It’s bad enough for Husband and me, that we also have to be mindful of carting along the correct medications and in the right quantities [as contingency, you understand] as we get older and more decrepit.

This is all before we even begin to think about packing anything. Normally, at this time of year we’d be jetting off somewhere hot, for winter sun, a chance to loll about on a lounger sipping something cool and delicious. It’s always tricky packing for an extreme temperature change and we’ve come adrift before on our return, freezing to death on a frosty station, waiting for a train to come. This time, because we’re travelling to a notoriously cold place we’ll be all prepared, or at least I do hope so!

News today [Tuesday] has it that the return-from-abroad tests are being dropped. I begin to feel incensed that I’ve bought them, until I see they’re to be dropped from the day we return. We’ll still need to do pre-flight PCR tests and find out about the pre-return ‘passenger locator forms’.

Owing to changes to our flights by that highly-rated, luxurious airline, Easyjet, we’ve had to jiggle the dates of our trip. Easyjet saw fit to change our return flights to a different airport from our departure one. I wonder which operative thought this would be a good idea? Fly from Gatwick, London and return to Luton, many miles away…Suppose we’d opted to drive to airport?

Our flights on Monday morning are indecently early, at 8.00am, meaning Sunday trains, a hotel stay and a rude awakening, which provokes a frisson of anxiety. The time window for the PCR fit-to-fly tests is 72 hours, but 48 hours needs to be reserved for the results to come back to us. I’ve worked out that if we do the tests, register them and drop them off at the fabled ‘drop-off’ box nearest to us we should just about get the results before we depart for the airport- provided everything goes as the company, Randox, suggests. Hmmm…

For now, though I’m turning my attention towards all things warn and cosy. My Peruvian hat with flaps has arrived, I have my fleecy lined walking trousers and sufficient thermal layers for the ascent of Everest [no, we’re not going there!]. If we don’t get off the ground, one thing is guaranteed- I’ll be warm enough for the journey home!

Australia 2011: Alice Springs and Adelaide

We’d arrived to Alice Springs and the end of our exploration of this enormous country’s red heart. True, we’d only scratched the surface, only had time for a brief flavour of the extraordinary landscapes, but we’d still a lot more to see and do. We had time for a peremptory examination of Alice Springs, a town I’d hitherto mainly associated with the Nevil Shute novel, ‘A Town Like Alice’ and film of the same.

Modern Alice is a pleasing place with a hint of wild west about it and enough shops, bars and restaurants to satisfy passing tourists. I still have [and wear] the rust coloured safari shirt patterned with Australian wildlife that I bought there. By now we’d passed a substantial part of the UK autumn in the southern hemisphere- their spring, and Christmas was not too far ahead, would be upon us once we got back home. But there was little in Alice to herald the event, and it was hot, although by this time we were well acclimatised.

We had a domestic flight arranged for Adelaide, where we were to spend a couple of nights before picking up the next [and final] van for our trip along the south coast. Our hotel in central Adelaide was swanky indeed, the room uber modern with one of those glass bathrooms in the centre that leaves you exposed to your room-mate whatever activity you may be engaged in. Hmmm…

Unlike Alice, Adelaide had moved into full Christmas mode, our hotel foyer bedecked with decorations and Christmas trees and across the street, a department store entrance bore a sleigh complete with reindeer and Santa Claus. And all of this in sweltering heat, the tinsel glinting in sunshine as the air wobbled above the pavements. I suppose anyone who has grown up in what to us is a topsy-turvy climate is accustomed to snowy scenes in stifling temperatures, but it felt incongruous to me.

Adelaide itself I considered to be an elegant, beautifully laid out town with attractive parks and wide avenues. It also seemed to be a bit of a party central, the restaurants and bars not short of revellers of various kinds.

All too soon it was time to leave and to collect our third van of the trip, which was to take us along the famous South Coast Highway and a spectacular coastline, if the guide books were to be believed. There were to be more sights and experiences before our arrival to Melbourne, but best of all, if all went well I’d get to meet up with someone I hadn’t seen since childhood!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Best Trip to Date…

The words ‘holiday of a lifetime’ are strange and dispiriting, I feel, implying that future excursions are off the cards. How are we to know that a trip is a ‘holiday of a lifetime’? It is something you cannot say until the possibility of travel is no longer there for some reason. For the majority of us, this reason is only going to be extinction, or such catastrophic incapacity as to make travel impossible.

There are places and explorations, however that render all other trips insignificant, that if asked where are favourite holiday or travel experience was we would answer without hestitation. For me, that trip is our tour of New Zealand in 2011. And I will endeavour to write and show all the reasons why this experience tops everything else to date.

For a start, the idea was hatched [by Husband] as a grand retirement jaunt, both of us having turned in the towel on teaching that year. Then it happened to be New Zealand’s turn to host the rugby world cup, which was an obvious lure for Husband. Myself, I’m not as averse to rugby as I am to other sports and the watching of international games was to provide an extra frisson and reason to love these very special islands.

In order to take in as much of the rugby as possible whilst also seeing most of New Zealand we opted for campervan hire, and given that we were acccustomed to vans and camping this seemed the most suitable way for us to travel.

The expedition did not have a great start, since on arrival to Heathrow we queued up to be told that our Quantas flight to Brisbane was cancelled and we’d have to go next day, spending the night at an airport hotel. This meant that our onward connecting flight to New Zealand would no longer be possible. With no options, we gnashed teeth and went to the hotel, returning next day for a flight to Australia-but to Singapore, which we duly boarded, having been blithely assured we’d be ‘sorted out’ once we got there.

At Singapore it was about 2.00am and we queued up, bleary-eyed, at a Quantas desk, finding ourselves at the very end of a long, snaking line of disgruntled passengers. Much later, at the desk, the staff member seemed to be at a loss to know what to do with us, finally adding us to the next flight to Sidney, which is at least Australia, so we’d be nearer to our destination!

Who knows what time it was when we arrived to Sidney? It was late. Dark. We dragged ourselves to the airport hotel, to wake after what seemed no time at all for another flight-to Christchurch! At check-in I believed I was hallucinating when the woman at the desk asked us to open all our luggage for scrutiny, after which we barely made it on to the plane. By the time we touched down at Christchurch I was beyond calculating how many hours we’d travelled, or how many hours we’d missed or gained.

But arrival to the small, homely airport was like stepping out of a blizzard into a warm bath; the staff friendly, the arrival pain-free. Then we walked out into spring sunshine, to where a taxi driver waited, his door open ready for us to sink into a seat and we were off to see if the hotel that had expected us 24 hours ago still had our room available…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Tented Travels-1

Before we got our first van, during our first few years together Husband and I toured European countries using tents. This was in part due to the penurious nature of our lives [we’d come together in similarly, newly-single circumstances] but also knowing that travel was a shared interest. We’d also both gained plenty of experience as campers from both childhood and as adults. I’d already single-handedly hauled four children off camping in my battered Volvo, with mixed results.

One of our very first trips as a couple was to the South of France and on round to the Italian Riviera, then Tuscany; an ambitious holiday to undertake in my ancient car with my parents’ cast-off frame tent. In its heyday, the tent had already been many miles, but still had some usage in it. Nowadays of course, tent technology is much advanced and bendy hoop tents have more or less taken over the camping market.

Husband, ever the map fanatic, is a competent route planner. We travelled down the centre of France. Overnight stops are tedious when using a frame tent, so we planned our sleepovers using Formule 1 hotels. For the uninitiated, these are remarkably cheap, chain hotels dotted all over France on industrial estates. They are clean and comfortable, and usually situated next to a budget chain restaurant, too. The drawback is that the rooms do not include en-suite and employ a colour-coded system for the bathrooms, which is tricky if you need the loo during the night, since the rooms are accessed by numbered code. We used to overcome this by leaving a shoe lodged in the doorway when we dived out at night. Red-doored rooms must use the red-doored lavatories, and so on, which might mean a bit of a trek.

On our odysseys through France we still see Formule 1 hotels, flanked by Buffalo Grills or some similar restaurant, although they’ve largely been superceded by Premier Classe hotels, superior only in that they have a tiny, integrated toilet and shower cubicle in one corner.

I’ve no idea whether, in these early days of tent touring, discount camping cards existed, but if they did we had no knowledge of them, no ACSI or Camping and Caravan Club cards. We simply did a day’s travel, stopped to look for a site and pitched up.

To begin with we had lilos, inflated by foot pump, and sleeping bags which zipped together. After a couple of trips I decided I’d become too old to dive out and across fields for the loo, so Husband recycled an old toilet seat by attaching it to a bucket. This became the precursor of the porta-loo.

Our tented trips were made not only from necessity, but for preference. We’ve always enjoyed the freedom of touring this way, but there is something magical about sleeping in a tent-a magic that I still feel nostalgic about, even though we’ve swapped tents for vans. It’s something about how close you are to the air, warm and cosy with a waft of breeze and a gentle flap of canvas…magic!

Solo to Africa

I followed up my first piece of solo travel, a ski trip to Bulgaria by booking [that same year-1996] a holiday to The Gambia, West Africa. I’d realised I could cope on my own. No, there was nobody to sit next to on the plane. No, there was nobody to make hissed asides about the other passengers to. No there was guaranteed fellow-diner, fellow-planner or fellow-sharer. But neither was there anyone to disagree with my preferred itinerary, to set an agenda, to complain if I wanted to look in a shop, go on a trip or chat to strangers.

Africa, though was a leap of faith; far further from home, far more alien. And this time there’d be no skill to learn, no tuition as a prop, no ready-made group to tag along with. But it was a package, meaning there would be a tour guide and a good, big, anonymous hotel with what looked [from the photos] to be pleasant rooms and facilities.

Profiting from my experiences of the Bulgarian trip, I weathered the flight, the transfer and my first meal without feeling reduced or pathetic this time. But it was curious to note that there was a disproportionate number of middle-aged, single women on the plane. and as we collected our cases in arrivals, taxis began to zoom in and disgorge beautiful, young black men, into whose arms these women flung themselves.

After we’d touched down in Banjul and a tractor had fetched our luggage I went along to the team talk, the one where the tour operator tries to flog you as many expensive trips as they can. One or two sounded appealing and I ended up opting to go along on a two day outing later in the week, to the interior by mini-bus and staying on an island in the Gambia River, which sounded interesting.

The hotel grounds extended to the beach and I ventured along there on that first day. My room, along with most others was situated amongst the landscaped tropical palms and flowers and giant monitor lizards could be spotted weaving their way around the gardens, tongues flickering in and out in a hunt for tasty prey. On the beach I sought help from a friendly gay couple in taking care of my belongings while I set a tentative toe into the sea, where the waves were lively, to say the least. During this cautious bit of paddling a young man who seemed to be passing by engaged me in conversation, offering to be my ‘guide’. I declined.

But from then on, for the next couple of days I was dogged by the young man. Whenever I stepped out of the hotel gates he was there. He accompanied me up the street, followed me around the tourist market, opposite the hotel, approached me whenever I braved the beach, haunted my every waking hour. I was unable to shake him off-even when I took a trip along the beach to a neighbouring hotel to see a girl I’d met on the plane who was on a drumming course. He came with me into her hotel, sitting with us as we tried to chat, until her drumming teacher came along and spoke to him and he made a reluctant exit.

From then I felt free and the week’s adventures began…

Ski 96: Part 2

It was the first morning after my arrival to the ski resort hotel in Borovets, Bulgaria, 1996. I’d retired to my room the previous evening, having dined with a reluctant but polite couple and was resigned to more humiliation at breakfast, although my mood lightened at the prospect of the day ahead. I knew I’d need to get into my borrowed ski suit and take the lift down to the ‘boot room’, where I’d be kitted out with boots and skis and get to meet the instructor.

The boot room, in the bowels of the hotel was a hive of activity, with instructors marshalling differing ability levels to make groups. I gravitated towards the call for beginners, nervous grins and feeble jokes giving their status away. Whilst I was on the fringe of this group, it consisted of those whose partners were seasoned, or at least intermediate skiers and had gone to other groups, so I was not to be the only single person during the daytime, at least. There was common ground in our shared nerves and soon we were confessing our anxieties as we were kitted out and shown how to put on the boots. Then our long-suffering instructor, Georgi led us, stumbling, out into the bright, white snow as we carried our skis and poles and I thought I’d never worn anything so uncomfortable as ski boots in my whole life.

Outside the hotel, on the nursery slopes, we got our skis on. We were to learn to sidestep up the slope and, most importantly, how to stop, using the famous ‘snow-plough’ method. We all set to, following Georgi’s instructions as best we could and with varying levels of success. We fell over a lot, the tumbles causing much hilarity and I could understand the term ‘break the ice’ as we all bonded over our ineptitude. By lunchtime we were already a bunch of mates with a shared purpose and I could feel the warm relief of belonging even in the freezing snow.

You can’t underestimate how tiring learning to ski is. At the end of the day we were all ready to collapse. I couldn’t wait to get out of the boots, which I was sure had given me blood blisters on my lower legs. But everyone was eager to debrief our experiences in the hotel bar, myself included, so before hot showers and dinner we repaired there for hot chocolate and brandy, a beverage whose restorative powers were a match for the exaggerated recounts of our day.

‘You must come and eat with us!’, one friendly couple told me. There were no more lone dinners. Hereafter we skied, dined, drank, shared stories and spent our evenings as a group-joined by spouses or friends from other groups but firmly a set of companions with experiences in common.

The following day we were to learn to master the button lift. This dastardly contraption was to become my nemesis. A circular seat attached to a line must be grabbed and straddled in order to ascend the slope. Skis, however remain on the snow and must be kept in perfect parallel throughout the ascent, otherwise you must let go and start again. Could I keep parallel? No. I could grab the seat. I could get onto it. But my skis became wayward, uncontrollable limbs, veering off at angles after a few metres. Each turn was a failure and I needed to be fed back through the turnstile by the ever-patient Georgi while the remainder of the group waited at the top. Seven times I tried, finally making it to the top on the eighth go, arriving to a cheering group of what had now become firm friends.

The Loneliness of the Short Distance Skier.

Are you someone who is comfortable to travel alone? Are you confident in crossing borders, boarding planes, boats or trains, or solo driving? Are you happy eating meals alone at a table in a restaurant, nobody to share your day’s experiences or make plans with? Many people are fine with single holidays. There can be benefits. You can please yourself, eat where you want, stay or go, choose to have company or not. But it takes nerve to dine alone, to travel with an empty seat next to you, to explain to a tour guide that you are not with anyone else.

During the 90s I took two lone holidays, both in the same year. The first was an experiment, prompted by a big change in my life and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious after booking it. In fact, as the departure day approached I became increasingly stressed at the idea, waking at night at the thought that I’d be alone, that I would be an object of pity or derision.

My decision to try skiing turned out to be a sensible one. As I dithered and wondered whether to cancel the trip, a friend convinced me to view it as if I were on a course and since I was used to undertaking training for work this idea gave me more confidence. Skiing has never been a budget holiday option, but this was 1996 and I’d found a week’s trip to Borovets in Bulgaria, including flights, hotel, lift passes, ski hire, boot hire and tuition, for the princely sum of £500. I’d also borrowed a ski suit and was good to go.

You have to remember, however, that this was Bulgaria. Seasoned skiers would baulk at the idea of Bulgarian slopes, which are considered ‘easy’. Easy was fine for me; the easier the better!

The fact that I don’t recall the flight out indicates that it was no problem. I arrived to the airport at Sofia and found the ‘courier’ waiting at the barrier. Then I got my first experience of singleton stigma.

‘Which party are you with?’ asked the young man.

‘I’m not with a party’, I replied. This confused him. It was several minutes before he gave up the question and indicated the coach I was to board. I slunk to the back of the bus and sank down into the seat, where I stared out of the window until we arrived at the hotel.

I checked in and found my room, after which I was to get a second wave of humiliation in the restaurant. Armed with a book, I made my way to a table laid for four. It took some time for a waiter to approach, presumably due to my solitude. The tables around me began to fill up with chattering ‘parties’ until the only remaining spare seats were at my table. A couple entered the room and surveyed the scene, in which there were no remaining empty tables, then slowly made their way to mine-and sat down. I thanked them for sitting at my table.

Next week: The transformative power of shared activity…

India 1998: Down

As we continued our tour bus descent out of Ladakh, following the shelf-like, dirt roads and stopping to wait for repairs en route, the temperature warmed a little and the mountainsides became greener, whilst also gaining humidity. Pockets of cloud hugged the hillsides and hung in the air. But there were also remnants of snow clinging to shady rock faces, grimy with road dirt and fume deposits.

In a valley with a gushing river tumbling over rocks was the De Lai Llama’s residence, allegedly, modest, elegant and spare. Opportunistic sellers of warm socks and prayer flags were dotted around the villa, their stalls canvas tents.

One spot had become a shrine dedicated to lovers, where couples came to be photographed having taken marriage vows, framed in front of an elaborate heart.

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We came to Manali and the ‘Highland’ hotel-an unappealing travelodge-style building made from white concrete, but with views down the misty valley. Manali was damply humid and thronged with backpackers, its shopping areas bustling, its streets and entrances occupied by stray dogs. There were myriad ‘health’ shops touting remedial medicines for all kinds of ailments, the town having a reputation as a health spa. We took advantage of the ‘hot baths’, donning our swimming gear and piling into a steaming pool with fellow tour members.

In a back street we encountered a hairy, white yak, and extraordinary beast with alarming curved horns and long, flowing white hair, looking like a creature from a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. But while the yak was saddled and available for rides we declined the offer.

Next day our bus continued on downwards until the steeply plunging sides of the valleys petered out into hillsides. Husband had been missing coffee, a beverage that had been lacking from our diet for many days, so at our morning rest stop we asked for a cup each, a request that was met with a glass of hot, sweet milk. Several attempts and glasses later we gave up and had tea.

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For our last night’s stop before returning to Delhi we got to stay in unaccustomed luxury in a beautiful hotel called ‘Timbertrail’, which boasted magnificent views over the surrounding, wooded hills and a sun terrace with a swimming pool. The sun emerged and by now the temperatures were warm enough for a dip, plus some relaxing on a sun-lounger.

The next day’s travel was by train, on down to Delhi. Trains in India are a delight, with a gentile, 50s ambience. Uniformed staff walked the carriages, serving meals on trays. No sawdust sandwiches and plastic-wrapped flapjacks here-but pristine crockery and cutlery and a freshly prepared curry.

And so back to Delhi, to our original hotel.

We planned to go out for a meal together, our entire group with Adrian, who’d been our excellent guide and good-natured companion throughout the adventure, coaxing, explaining, planning and keeping everyone on track and happy.

This was India’s national day, their Independence Day. Delhi was closed. In our hotel, quiet as the grave, there were no bar facilities, no leisure facilities, no facilities. The swimming pool had been drained.

We had a day to kill before our flight back to the UK. We had a desultory walk in the nearby streets, which were deserted. Our fellow tourers lolled around in the lounge area, although when one or two began to play cards they were prohibited from such a frivolous activity by members of staff.

This, then was the mother of all anti-climaxes. Adrian succeeded in finding a restaurant that was open. We went there. We ate a meal [alcohol-free]. We slept, rose, got our flights. A strange ending. But the entire escapade made memories to last a lifetime.