Remembering who you are? Overcoming fear, disappointment and failure.

I used to dream big dreams. Crazy, seemingly unachievable dreams. I used to encourage others to do the same. As a teen I secretly believed there was something special about me. That I was put here to achieve something big. I wanted to make a difference. I believed I could. I wanted to make people’s lives better. I believed life could be better – for everyone. I honestly believed I could do or be anything.

If you speak to a child, they still have this. You ask them what they want to be and do and it ranges from an astronaut to a bus driver to a rock star to a marine biologist. They believe it’s as simple as deciding what you want to be and do and you know what?…it is! It really is as simple as deciding what you really want to be and do and then working towards that. However, the tough part is staying the course.

I did do some pretty amazing things. I did see some dreams come true. Some pretty big dreams and then, I stopped. Why? I guess the bottom line is I stopped believing. Somewhere along the way I forgot who I was and stopped believing. Things got in the way namely disappointment, pain and failure. Life turned out to be so much harder than I expected.

However, the truth is the goal still stood and my chances were/are still the same, I just didn’t believe it anymore and this was the only real obstacle that stood in my way.

Unbelief, which is actually a lack of hope, can rob you of your dreams and your destiny.

Unbelief, which is actually a lack of hope, can rob you of your dreams and your destiny. It is actually the only real thing you need to overcome in order to get back on track. All the things you think are holding you back – that broken relationship, that mounting debt, that lack of resources, that lack of education, that tiredness, are not your real problem. Your real problem is lack of hope and belief in spite of these things.

Lets look at a few of these things that hold us back and how they are not true obstacles except in our own minds:

FEAR

Fear is the enemy of Faith. Fear is the monster under the bed. You kind of know the thing you fear probably doesn’t exist but it still has the ability to make you stay on the bed anyway. You’ve never actually seen this thing you fear (usually because it has not actually happened) you just worry it might happen – and yet it immobilises you.

Fear only has control over you because you let it.

To start with make yourself take a good proper look at the thing you fear, even if it’s just peeking through your fingers. Now this is the scary bit. What does this thing look like? If you look at it you may find it is actually a lot smaller than you imagined. But, let’s say this fear, when you look at it, is actually pretty ugly.   Ask yourself what can this thing do? What power does it actually have? What can it do to you? You may realize that even if it did it’s worse you can see you would get through it, or around it and most importantly on the other side of it, leaving it behind. Even if you look head-on to your fear and you know that by challenging this thing it is going to get messy, you may see just by facing it that just behind its murky, dark, intimidating silhouette there are tiny glimpses of light shining through. Beyond this shadow that is casting itself over your life is the source that is creating this shadow – your future! This may just give you the hope and strength to do battle with this thing because, at the end of the day the only way out and to that light that is waiting there for you like a promise is to get through this fear.

One thing is for sure, it doesn’t work to wait until the fear goes away. This troll will diligently guard the entrance to the cave you’ve found yourself in day and night. It is not going anywhere. Instead you have to feel the fear, face it, see it and proceed forward anyway.

If you let fear dictate what you do you will stay in that cave. If you let fear give you directions, you will just be guided down another tunnel. Its purpose is to keep you in the dark so you cannot see the big, beautiful, bright world that is out there for you beyond it.

Fear also tells us lies. It’s important to remember this. Fear is a big old bragger who loves to exaggerate its power. It will tell you lies about yourself, about others and about your circumstances and it especially tells lies about the future. Do not listen to fear. It is a liar. Sometimes fear might be telling you the truth about itself, but it never tells you the whole picture because then you might actually deal with it and leave it behind and it would lose it’s power.

Fear only has power over you because of what you believe about it but often those beliefs just aren’t true and this is why the truth (about anything) always sets you free.

It’s not easy facing fear but it is necessary.

Sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free.

DISAPPOINTMENT

One of the biggest things that prevents us from having hope and believing is disappointment. This is one that has taken me on a huge detour from my dreams in recent years. When things haven’t worked out how you hoped and when you’ve trusted and felt let down again and again it is easy to start to believe that perhaps you got it wrong. Perhaps the ‘good stuff’ is only for some people and you’re just not one of those. Perhaps it’s foolish even to keep believing – it just sets you up for yet more disappointment. In some respects this is true. Believing again does set you up for more disappointment, the potential is there, it could happen again – maybe. But what does the alternative look like?

For a long time I tried to ‘not believe’ and to not hope. I found I’d get disappointed anyway. And what it comes down to is a case of whether you want to just exist or live. We have to keep going. Somehow you have to pick yourself up and start walking forward again. It might be a crawl at first or perhaps you’re dragging your feet, staggering forward without the energy to jog let alone run but just make sure it is in the direction of your dreams and away from what has held you back. The alternative is to lay down and die and a life not lived is no life at all so that’s one disappointment all in itself.

Recovering from disappointment is very painful and often slow but, we simply must go on. Borrow the strength from friends and from God if you don’t have your own. Ask them to drag you but get moving, inch by inch, step by step and that disappointment will get further and further away from you and you’ll be able to look back on it because it will be behind you. You’ll see it was just another obstacle – one you really could get through and over.

The important thing is to not stay in disappointment – keep moving.

The important thing is to not stay in it. Do not stay in a state of disappointment. Your weapons against it are hope and faith and if you don’t feel those (which I didn’t) simply put one foot in front of the other and start walking until you begin to feel it – just don’t stand still in it.

PAST FAILURE

Linked to disappointment is failure. When things go wrong it destroys our hope and our faith. Especially when we feel we have caused or contributed to the failures by our own bad choices, wrong-doing or lack of wisdom, strength etc. We think we deserve the failure, we caused it so who are we to expect to get out of the circumstances we are in? We made our bed, we have to lie in it. Perhaps we’ve even had a second chance at something and felt we blew it – AGAIN, so we’ve used up our good vibes and don’t deserve any more and so we stop believing.

The problem with this thinking is we are not acknowledging that failure is a part of life not the end of it. We struggle with anything negative – pain, failure, conflict, disappointment, fear – because these things aren’t ‘nice’ in fact they sometimes hurt – a lot. In our brains we equate pain with ‘badness’ yet there is necessary pain, good pain you could even call it: Child-birth, surgery, growing pains. It doesn’t mean the pain is nice, it can be pretty horrible, but it doesn’t mean it’s not necessary or that it won’t produce good things. We cannot go through life avoiding pain. If we do, we will also avoid growth.

There is such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘necessary’ pain.

It is very easy to get stuck in failure, to succumb to it and to make it your identity. Failure sometimes is your ticket to another chance. Don’t stay there. Don’t give up. Failure is not the final destination. If you let it, a failure can colour (discolour) or even dictate the rest of your life. This can be something you’ve messed up yourself or something outside of your control that someone else has done to you or that circumstances have dictated. Staying in failure makes you a perpetual victim. Some people never get over one incident, mistake or event that happens in their life. They make it their final destination rather than making it a lesson, a temporary set back or even a spring-board.

Failure is not your final destination.  It could be your ticket to another chance.

Accept failure, learn from it and move on.

Moving on from disappointment, fear and failure?

There is life to be had out there. The future is coming whether you like it or not so be an active part of it. Allow your heart and mind to start to see the infinite possibilities that could happen rather than dwelling on the disappointment, fear and failure that has already happened.

What you need to know right now is that it isn’t the end.

Whatever has happened has happened but where you are right now, whatever age you are, you are not at your final destination unless you stay where you are and do nothing. Navigate the obstacles of disappointment, fear and failure or whatever else is holding you back. See them for what they are; just obstacles. Yes they are in the way but they can be overcome. Don’t just lie down and give up.

If all you can do today is sit up, then sit up, if you can manage to stand, then stand, if you can take a baby tiny pigeon step, then do that. Just don’t stay where you are. As you exercise movement, as you look in the right direction, your hope will return and your faith will begin to grow. It may feel at first like you are making very little if any progress at all, but believe me you are because the changes must start in your mind and your heart before any lasting change can happen in the physical.

Decide today to wake up. Decide today to live.

Is it just me or is FemFresh and Vagisil sexist?

If you’re of a sensitive disposition look away now, ‪#‎fannyrant‬ coming up:

Am I the only person offended by the sudden onslaught of advertising aimed at women for feminine wash??? Every magazine I open has FemFresh shoved in my face berating me for using anything other than their specifically designed product and now I can’t watch TV without Vagisil popping up in between.

This is yet another advertising campaign designed to prey on the insecurities and create paranoia in women about their bodies once again. Yet another thing we’re being told we ‘need’ in order to be attractive and disguise the naturalness of our bodies. I’m sure we’ve all been successfully and adequately washing our fannies for years – It’s basic personal hygiene! We do not need a product aimed at us and pointed out to men to suggest the normal is abnormal. Just like fanny hair is now deemed gross, unsightly and a thing to be rid of (which incidentally stemmed from the porn industry).

If your minge really does ming then you probably need to see a doctor otherwise you do not need to spend your hard earned cash on yet another product subtlety oppressing the natural beauty of the female body. Besides, natural body smells are the sexiest in the world (except farts obviously).

I mean, is it just me who thinks this?…… #fannyrant over!

The Art of letting go

Is God a nice God?

Is ‘letting go’ a brave act of surrender or merely giving up?

They say the hardest choice you’ll ever face is whether to walk away or try harder, but what if someone else gives up before you.  Do you let them walk away? Or do we grab hold of their leg shamelessly losing all self-respect and let them drag us a long as they try to get away from us? Do we even have a choice?

I’m pretty sure there is an art to letting go.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have it! In fact I’m certain I’m absolutely rubbish at it!  It says a lot about me I guess.  I am fiercely loyal.  Ask any of my friends, they know full well and from experience, you mess with one of them I’d personally rip the face of the perpetrator if they wanted me to – they never do funnily enough.  I also work hard.  I believe life is difficult and meant to be worked at in order to get the most out of it.  I believe good things don’t come easily and you have to work to get them and work even harder to keep them.  I think this should be true of everything perhaps except love.  Surely love should at least come easily even if it’s like holding on to a slippery eel to maintain it – or at least in my experience.

I know relationships are hard work but shouldn’t it be easy to love someone and to be loved??

Cliché phrases come about because they usually have some sort of truth or wisdom in them even if they do become a little simplistic or sugar coated along the way.  For example, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is – I realize I secretly believe this.

The problem is whatever we secretly believe determines our outlook, expectation and experience of life to a large extent in my opinion.

Do I believe God is nice?  I believe he is good as in ‘just’ but do I believe he is nice?  Hmm, I’m not so sure… Would he do something just because he thinks I’d like it?   Doesn’t everything have to have purpose in the big ole master plan?

Recently I was given something so beautiful, so perfect, so taken from my innermost secret dreams that I wondered if it was too good to be true. Well, guess what?  It was!  So what was that about?  Did I just serve a purpose in the plan, did the experience exist for the greater good of the greater plan. Or was it just a bit cruel?  Not so much a sick joke in a sadistic way, but not very kind.

Certainly as I get older I’m less sure about much more and realize I actually understand very little.  I’ve been contemplating the notion of whether we have a ‘right’ to be happy and fulfilled in life which is of course the message sold to us in this generation more than ever.

I’m known for going on about going for your dreams, about holding out for the life you’ve dreamed of and not accepting any less.  I still believe we should aim for the sky but I am less convinced we are entitled to this privilege.  I read a thought-provoking article recently that challenged the sense of entitlement today’s generation expects.  There are simply not enough dream jobs or dream people to go around.

When is it time to let go of the dream and start accepting reality?  But don’t the dreams to an extent also create our reality? My head hurts!

Even if we do want to let go, how do we do that?  How do you stop believing even something you no longer want to believe?

Recently I’ve been really gaining some spiritual revelations through The Magician’s Nephew by C.S Lewis while reading it to my son. Yes it is a kid’s book!  Like this is exactly what I meant about dreaming and hoping:

“Well, you know how it feels if you begin hoping for something that you want desperately badly; you almost fight against the hope because it is too good to be true; you’ve been disappointed so often before.”
― C.S. LewisThe Magician’s Nephew

Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to hope.  Hope is more than wishful thinking but I think it is also different to the certainty of faith.  I came to the conclusion that Hope can only come from believing that God is a good God and also a nice one.  When Digory (in The Magicians Nephew) resisted picking the apple for himself to take to his mother to heal her but stuck to what Aslan had asked him to do and returned with just one apple for him, he was sad and afraid that he had let his mother down – that his dream of seeing her well would no longer happen.  However, he’d forgotten about the power and heart of the one who had asked him to go on the task.  Of course, Aslan then gave him an apple to take to his mother.  The key was waiting until Aslan offered the fruit rather than taking it.  This is how it would have a lasting affect.  Aslan goes on to explain that although the witch would gain the benefits of the youth and beauty of the fruit, it was spoiled for her due to her stealing it, uninvited:

“Child, that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Oh, the fruit is good, but they loath it ever after.”
― C.S. LewisThe Magician’s Nephew

I’m sure it was no coincidence that I also heard Philip Yancey an Inspirational American author speak at the weekend on suffering and pain and our response to it.  He said many amazing things but the quote that stands out to me was, ‘Nothing that happened to you is irredeemable.  God is the great recycler who turns our junk into something better.’  So I guess there is always hope.  And as C.S Lewis says;

“When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start to go right they often go on getting better and better.”
― C.S. LewisThe Magician’s Nephew

It’s a scary thing to wait, and not take matters into your own hands.  To trust that there is an even better plan. One that is given as a gift to you rather than a poor reflection from something you’ve plucked yourself at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Image

I strongly suspect that this might be the Art of letting go.

What I learned from travelling

Well I’ve been back from my travels for a few weeks now but it feels like much more.  Bear Cub started school last week so we’ve been focused on that and the sense of ‘all-change’ has helped in returning to routine and normality.  It’s a different routine so that helps a little.

I’ve lost count of people who have asked me whether I had a good time, what was my favourite place and whether I was glad to be back.  Only a few, my closest friends who knew my reasons for going, asked me if I got out of the trip what I wanted to – did I feel changed by the experience and what was I going to do with what I’ve gained?

Obviously, travelling gives you a lot of time to think.  Once you are free from the pressures of your every day life you somehow realize you are never as trapped as whatever situation you’ve come from has led you to believe.  By the very fact that you are away means you did it – you escaped.  I congratulate myself for having gone.  For having done it, whether I achieved my goals or not.

I’m pleased to report however, that I feel I did achieve most of my goals:  I wanted an adventure – check.  I wanted to challenge myself, scare myself even – check. I wanted to get away from my life – check.  I wanted to change within; my perspective on my past, my present and my future – check.  I wanted to feel alive – check.  I wanted to gain new enthusiasm, focus and energy for the future – check.  I wanted to fall out of love (well I did say most of my goals)!

The trip did not change my life or massively change me but it did change my perspective.  And after all, how we think is the first step to changing how we act, who we are and who we will be.  As I suspected, the key was to step out of my life and to have an adventure.  It didn’t really matter where I went or for how long, as long as it was away and although I could have travelled for longer and further away – it was enough!  If there is one thing I would want to say to encourage any one out there thinking ‘I’d love to do something like that’ is to just do it! It may sound overly simple but I mean it.  To whatever your means are – do it! Create that adventure and that space for yourself so you can be centered, and hear, and find out who you are again, and find out where you want to go next.  If that for you means getting a friend to have your child for a night so you can book a SuperSaver train fare to Brighton for 2 days and walk on the beach and listen to music and write and breathe in the sea air, stay in a cheap hotel and eat fish and chips with the wind in your hair – if that is all you can do then I really believe it will be enough.  If you go with an open heart, expectant and wanting of change I believe it will happen simply because you’ve created the space to realize things you already know.  To give airplay to dreams you’ve pushed down under the daily grind, buried beneath your disappointments, responsibilities and pressures.

A word on the cost of my trip. I had to completely re-plan my trip after money issues meant I could not do my original idea of a road trip across the West Coast of the U.S.  I’m a single-mum in a debt-scheme due to my divorce and working only part-time in a fairly poorly paid job.  Yet I managed to do an amazing trip on a mega budget.  Here’s how I funded it: My house is meant to be remortgaged so I ‘borrowed’ some money from my son’s savings account (money put in there from the divorce) I feel really bad about this but I intend to replace it before the end of the year and I also hope that my son gained an experience he’ll remember for his whole life.  The other half of my trip was entirely funded through gifts from my friends.  I have the most awesome, amazing friend in the world.  I did not ask anyone for any money yet I was overwhelmed by how much support I had for my trip and how much my friends were behind me and championing me and willing me to do this adventure.  One friend even thanked me for going on my trip and therefore challenging and inspiring her and gave me a monetary gift as a response!  I wanted to mention this to show how much people will be on your side when you speak out your dream. You may think people will want to put you in your place or pull you down or think you’re crazy but the truth is you’ll find people mainly want others to succeed.  Your own dreams will in turn inspire others in theirs and they will want to get on board and support you in any way they can.  I was truly humbled and amazed as I saw this truth unravel before me.  I absolutely could not have done my trip without the help and support – both practical, monetary and otherwise – of my friends.  I want to be totally transparent about that.

One of the things that was most interesting about being away was the fact that every single day I truly felt like I was living.  Actually living in the moment.  In my life here in London I often feel like I am always rushing or otherwise waiting.  Rushing the days by looking forward to something to look forward to or waiting for something exciting to happen or just busy on the treadmill of life.  This mindset can make you feel like you’ve ‘wasted’ a day when you don’t get what you had planned done or even if you’re just relaxing.  Alternatively you feel like your days are rushed and full but with nothing that really and truly matters to you.

When I was travelling I never felt like this.  Each day that stretched out before me was not even thought about in a way and I certainly didn’t think about the day after that.  I just lived each day and loved it.  I have never felt more ‘in the moment’ and present in my life before and it was a wonderful and freeing feeling.  I suspect it is a key to lasting and everyday happiness.  How we spend the majority of our time, who we are with, what we do and what we look at needs to be what we want our life to look like and be like.  It is hugely important and key to our happiness and fulfillment.

So in that sense, it was life changing.  I just need to work out how to keep that mindset and not lose it now that I’m back home.  Time for change I think.

Italy Part 2: Rome, Tropea & the (long) journey home

Rome

We’ve been using an Interrail One country pass for our train travel in Italy and it works out well if you get the slow regional trains but if you want to get a fast train you generally have to pay a 10 Euro reservation fee.  I considered getting the 3 hour train from Florence to Rome but with Bear Cub’s increasing frustration of travelling and cities and my increasing intolerance of his whingeing I decided the 20 Euros for us both was well worth it.  We arrived in Rome after just an hour and a half. Our new Air BnB host had advised us to get a taxi but I wanted to save money and add to the adventure so we opted for getting the Metro as it seemed pretty straight forward.  It was – just 10 minutes ride away from the main train station but then we had to find the apartment which was apparently a 5 minute walk away!  Now if there is one thing I have hated on this trip it is unclear instructions.  We were told to come out of the Metro station and the road we needed was ‘behind’ the station.  However, of course, this depended on which of the 4 exits you came out of at the station as to where ‘behind’ the station was!! It was so hot – about 34 degrees – and the back pack was so heavy.  We asked two different people, both of which either didn’t understand me and just pretended to know what I meant or simply didn’t know either.  Finally we found the right road – which really was almost next to the station.  It was then up hill. By the time we made it to the apartment I was fit to collapse and knew I’d hurt my back.

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Once I’d recovered our host, a lovely older lady who works as a scriptwriter showed us around the apartment and made me a wonderful strong, Italian coffee which helped to revive me.  The apartment was old and spacious and we had our own balcony from our room.  Our host, Angiola, was a very interesting lady and I told me all about how she’d been a successful scriptwriter but lost all her money after a bad business deal with a dodgy business partner.  She still writes but her style is quirky, almost weird storylines and she says the Italian market does not always ‘get it’.  She described to me a comedy she’d written about a woman in search of a ‘special kind of orgasm’.  Once the woman found the guy who could do this, she married him but found she was only in love with the other guy!! You meet the most interesting people on Air BnB stays!!!

Angiola’s place was fantastically located to access all the sights of Rome by the well-connected Metro (which really was just 5 mins walk away) and Angiola had a wealth of knowledge of the area and acted as a great tour guide.  After some lunch we caught the ten minute Metro ride to the Colosseum.  It really is quite an awesome sight as you emerge from the modern metro station and immediately you’re faced with a world-famous ancient relic!   The sun was so hot so it was difficult to do anything except amble along at a snail’s place.  We visited the Roman Forum (Roma Forma) and the Palatine Hill (Palace of the Roman Emperors).  Bear Cub wanted to see a real ‘Roman’ – I think he meant Roman soldier – and we happened to see a guy dressed up within minutes of arriving at the Colosseum.  I excitedly pointed him out to Bear Cub only to have him reply, ‘He’s not real mum, he’s a fake!’ When I asked him how he knew he simply replied, ‘It’s obvious! He just took his helmet off and Roman soldiers don’t have hairstyles like that!’

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The heat really zapped our energy so we headed for the nearest restaurant and shared a lovely mushroom pasta dish.  We have saved a lot of money by buying just one meal to share when we have had to eat out.  This has saved Bear cub wasting food and helped me to lose some weight!!  Exhausted we headed back to the apartment in Libia.  Angiola had warned me that they had a bit of a mosquito problem and without air conditioning it was impossible to have the windows closed at night.  I always get totally munched by mosquitos so was grateful when she offered one of those spiral things that you burn to keep mozzies at bay – how do they actually work?! Anyway in the morning I had just 2 bites and I think they had been acquired earlier in the day so it seemed to do the trick.

Angiola was great at making suggestions that would entertain and occupy Bear Cub as well as interest me and so she recommended a day out at Ostia Antica.  It was roughly a 40 minute train ride away and was a perfect balance of history (some really well-preserved remains of an ancient town) and space for Bear Cub to run around and explore.  You needed little imagination to pretend you back in the past walking in the ancient town when it was alive and vibrant and the walls provided a fun maze for Bear cub to explore and climb and let off steam.  One of both of our favourite features were the wonderfully preserved mosaics in the gym and bathing area of the palace and the amphitheatre.

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We were only a few stops away from the beach area so after we’d exhausted Ostia Antica and ourselves we headed there to chill out a bit for the afternoon.  It wasn’t a very nice beach to be honest, compared to others we’d been to, but Bear cub, now a fully fledged water-baby and lover of the sea, still donned his swimming trunks and went for a dip.  we headed home late afternoon stopping off at the supermarket to buy some food for dinner and lunches the next couple of days to keep our costs down.

We had three nights in Rome as I was aware we’d been moving around a lot and also there was a lot to see.  For our final day I planned a schedule specifically for bear cub as he was really beginning to miss kid-company and his frustration was affecting his behaviour – badly!  So we headed for Rome’s equivalent of Genova’s ‘Kid city’ – Explora.  Explora is aimed at under-12’s and is a space for them to create, explore, play and learn.  Although relatively small it had a lot packed in including water play, a real fire engine, a mini shop, bank, garage and vegetable patch and an area for creative workshops.  Bear cub took part in one of the workshops where the children had the chance to make their own recycled paper and then decorate it and turn it into an instrument – some castanets.  Although the workshop was in Italian, Bear Cub thoroughly enjoyed it and the guy running it did his best to speak English every now and then to him to make sure he understood what to do.  Time at Explora was limited to just 1 hour 45 minutes and could have done with being a little longer but we managed to fit a lot in to the time and finished with a nice lunch in their very reasonably priced cafe.

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We then went to explore around the Flamina area but really it was too hot to walk around much and another meltdown was imminent from Bear Cub (or maybe me it was hard to tell by this point!)  I have to say at this point on our travels it was difficult to know whether Bear Cub really was being a little s**t or whether I was being a prize b***h! It had been a long time away from home for him.  He was missing home, his friends and his routine.  We’d had a lot of intense time together just the two of us and perhaps it was a little too long for him.  Am I being a good parent by taking him on this trip or a selfish and irresponsible one?  I flit between the two but generally feel it has been a positive and important experience for both of us.  I’m not sure how much of the details of the trip he will remember in time but I do hope it will at least give him an open mind and sense of adventure for life!

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Anyway, Bear Cub was hot and tired so we took a ride on the Land train around a lovely park we discovered an hopped off at the nearest play park.  This seemed to calm things down a lot. Until it rained and we missed the land train back! :-/

We eventually caught the next land train (25 minutes later) and by chance met a really interesting lady and her daughter.  I have loved on this trip how in chance meetings you can have such interesting conversations with interesting people of all walks of life.  I couldn’t help but notice the lady as she was alone with her daughter, like me and Bear Cub and she also spoke English – she was Canadian.  As is often the case, our children got chatting first – Bear Cub will talk to anyone and is often a great ice-breaker for me as I’m much more shy at meeting new people than he is.  We got into a conversation and it emerged that the lady was also a single mother (separated from her Egyptian husband) but still living in Egypt.  She had left Egypt on the very day all the violence broke out there and had extended her stay in Italy to try avoiding returning while the unrest was at its height.  The great thing about travelling and meeting other people with different lifestyles and circumstances is that it puts into perspective your own experience.  This lady told me how as a mother in Egypt without a job and separated from her husband she had virtually no parental rights.  She wanted to leave Egypt but was not allowed without her husband’s permission.  He had parental responsibility due to her circumstances and with no family of her own in Egypt it had been a long and difficult time for her.  She told me how it is frowned upon in Egypt to be divorced and a colleague of hers at the University she works at continued to wear her wedding ring for over a year after her divorce to avoid criticism and frowns but also the very pressing and unwanted advances from Egyptian men!  Compared to this lady my own ‘rough’ journey seemed like nothing.  She told me of an online community she is starting up called ‘SOS – Start Over Sister’ and I in turn gave her the details of More than a Mum.  It is empowering to know there are some amazing, strong, single-mums all over the world doing great things in small ways and inspiring their children!

With 3 nights in Rome we felt like we adequately ‘did’ Rome and were very ready for our final stop in Italy and indeed final stop of our travels – some relaxing beach time in the beautiful, coastal city of Tropea in Calabria.

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Tropea

Even with fast trains, it took almost 6 hours to reach Tropea. Just over 5 from Rome to Lamezia Terme Centrale and another 50 minutes from there to Tropea.  Bear Cub was great for most of the journey and was occupied doing a puzzle I’d bought him at the Explora museum and his Usbourne Travel Activity book for Little children which I really cannot recommend highly enough!   However the last couple of hours he was truly awful.  Again the lines began to blur between whether it was my tiredness and bad mood fuelling his behaviour or vice versa but I was close to the edge by time we arrived and had the usual trouble of locating the hotel which was apparently 500 metres from the train station.  Everywhere felt much further in the heat of the sun with a whingeing 4-year-old and a back pack that is heavier than him on your back! However, we finally found it and checked in.  The hotel was 3 star and again although basic it was clean and very reasonably priced for high season and in a great location.  Once we rested and showered we ventured out for dinner and to explore and it was then that I realised what a beautiful place Tropea was.

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Our hotel was literally on the edge of the historic part of the town with its characterful and picturesque little streets and shops and restaurants.  Tropea is set high on a mountain with a sheer  drop to the beaches below.  The main road led straight down to a truly wonderful panoramic view of the beach below and the striking Chiesa Dell’Isola. Even at 7.30pm the sea was a vibrant turquoise blue and the sand smooth and golden.  I smiled.  I began to relax.  This was going to be a great way to end our travels.

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We were booked to stay in Tropea for 5 nights to really have a beach holiday as an end to all our hectic travelling to enjoy the sun, sea and sand, relax and have fun – and that is pretty much what we did.  Bear cub loves the beach and is constantly in the sea.  His confidence in water has grown rapidly and even when he had a little scare (and a big one for me) – when he went in too far without his arm bands when I was not at the water’s edge and i had to rush in and save him – it still didn’t put him off!  I however was put off swimming for a day after being stung by a jellyfish! I am really scared of jelly fish anyway and have never been stung before.  It was only a little one and not very bad at all really but it was quite a shock!

A couple of days we ate at the restaurants where you can always find a cheap pasta dish but many days we also opted for a cheap meal from the Pizza snack bars where you can get a giant slice and a drink for just 4 Euros.  During the day we would buy rolls and filings from the shop and make our own picnic lunch on the beach.  Our days were mostly spent on the beach, in the small play park near the train station and ambling around the little shops in the old town.  It was also nice to have the hotel room as a base for when Bear Cub got tired and he watched quite a few hours of Italian children’s TV and given how active we’ve been on this trip, I didn’t feel guilty for it at all!

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It’s been a very healthy trip for us both despite the amounts of pasta, bread and pizza we’ve consumed. With all the outdoor activity we must have been exercising more than I realised as I have never been so happy with my body – even in pre-baby days!! I’m sure within a few weeks of being back in London the comfort food and lack of exercise will change that but for now I look and feel the best I have in a long time – physically, spiritually and mentally!

On our last full day in Tropea there was still time for one more unexpected experience and adventure!  We decided to make the most of the beautiful beach.  We settled down for the day and a man with two little girls started to chat to me.  He was from Milan but had lived in many countries and spoke very good English.  When his wife joined us we all got chatting and they told me they had just finished renovating an apartment in the old town and invited me to come and have a look and a ‘cocktail’ that evening with Bear Cub so he could play with their two girls toys.  I have been known to be a bit naive when it comes to men and never really know someone has ‘designs’ until they actually make a move.  I was a little suspicious of this man’s friendliness and hospitality but figured seen as he was there with his children and wife he was just being kind and Bear Cub really enjoyed having children to play with.  When his very beautiful and sophisticated wife met us in the square to take us back to the apartment and we approached the gate to the property, I suddenly realised that these people were probably millionaires!  I have never seen such a stunning apartment – if you can call it that – it was huge! As soon as you walked in a massive open arch way revealed a direct view of the sea and the beach below the cliff.  ‘Milan Man’ as I’ll call him showed me around the place, which was on two floors, pointing out details such as the tiles he’d had imported from an ancient Church in Calabria and a vase that was bigger than Bear Cub and hand-made from Sicily.  He then pointed out one of the balcony’s and explained to me that he had something special in mind for this place – something that I will enjoy on my next visit to them when I will be their guest (!) – a mini swimming pool and jacuzzi! He said all of this in front of his ‘wife’ so I still wasn’t sure if they were just really friendly or if he was making a pass. Was this intelligent and very beautiful woman oblivious to her husband’s, albeit subtle, advances or did she simply not care/mind?

Anyway, I had a lovely evening with them sitting on the amazing balcony watching the sunset over beautiful Tropea, sipping Prosecco and eating exquisite nibbles.  Milan Man was actually an ex-professional gymnast and actually competed in the Olympics for Italy 20 years ago and he readily demonstrated some impressive moves for the children (and me I think!).  At the end of the evening I was sent of with a string of authentic red Cipolla onions, which are famously specific to Tropea, a business card pressed into my hand and a ‘promise’ (from him not me) that I would be back.

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I have to laugh at the situations I have found myself in on this travelling adventure.  I think I could have been away longer.  Much longer in fact.  But for Bear Cub the last couple of weeks have been tough and because they’ve been hard for him, they’ve been trying for me too so it is definitely time to go home.  We still had the exciting trip of an overnight train from Salerno to Milan before flying home to London so it would be an adventure until the very end.

Unfortunately the journey home turned out to be one of the most trying days of the whole trip!  I think a combination of tiredness, long journeys and the prospect of imminently being home was all too much for Bear Cub and his behaviour was at its worse.  The tiredness, long journeys and heavy back pack also meant my patience was at it’s thinnest – an unfavourable combination!  I’m pretty sure that the only thing that stopped me doing something I’d regret at some points was the fact that we were constantly in public places!  We had a long stop of 3 hours to fill in Salerno before our night train arrived and there was absolutely nothing to do at the train station.  Thankfully we managed to stagger out of the station and the sea front was a 3 minute walk away so Bear Cub could let off a bit of steam and I could seethe in silence!

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When we finally did get the night train Bear Cub was so excited at the thought of sleeping on a train that he was hyper.  I was also looking forward to the experience having never done it before but our spirits were dampened when we discovered we’d be sharing our tiny cabin with another couple and their small child! This meant it was very cramped and I had to further try to contain Bear Cub’s excitement which further wound him up! Needless to say we did not get much sleep that night and arrived pretty exhausted in Milan at 7am the next morning.  My tiredness meant I felt even weaker and it felt like the backpack had somehow doubled in weight overnight.  We also had to get another train from Milan Porta Garibaldi to Milan Centrale where we would be getting the bus to the Milan Linate airport.  Fortunately once we reached Milan Centrale it was a very big station with many really good cafes.  In fact we found one that not only had great coffee (much-needed) and pastries but also free wi-fi and iPads you could use which kept Bear Cub occupied while I consumed a lot of caffeine.   I’ll spare you the details of the numerous meltdowns and tantrums we had at the airport and skip to arriving at Heathrow feeling like a foreigner in my own country.

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It was so strange to hear the English accents all around me.  It didn’t sound real, as if they were putting it on and faking it – either overly posh or dramatically cockney!  When the lady at security was foreign I suddenly had a rush of admiration for her and for anyone who has come from the comfort of what they know in their own country and settled in another culture, learned another language and engaged with another people, another lifestyle.  It is no small thing I now realise.  Having been the foreigner for even such a short time.

And so my travelling ends but I’m hoping my adventure is just beginning or maybe I should say continuing…

The Mexican

Meeting the Mexican confirmed to me my theory that there is no such thing as ‘The one’ in that there can be many ‘ones’ – well not perhaps ‘many’ but definitely more than one!

You see, I could easily imagine a future with this lovely man.  I could picture our troop of beautiful little mixed-race kids – ¼ Mexican, ¼ German, ¼ St Lucian and ¼ English! I could see us travelling around in a camper van with the family experiencing new places, having new adventures, talking into the night and planning new dreams as we collectively conquered our goals.  I would be happy with him.  He found me interesting and listened when I spoke. I found him fascinating and inspiring.  I knew we’d be good friends.  I knew he was solid. An exceptional man.

I am extremely fussy and hardly ever fancy men but as with all fantasies ‘The Mexican’ can of course remain ‘perfect’ in my mind.  Our future is solid, certain and unspoilt.  We will of course forever find each other engaging and attractive.  I won’t ever need to know his bad habits and he won’t ever need to be annoyed or irritated by me. It can remain perfect.

That said, what really inspired me about The Mexican was his approach to life.  He was single-minded in wanting to achieve his dreams and live life to the full.  He knew that travelling and experiencing new things is what centred him and brought him ‘back to the middle’ when it was needed.  I loved his sense of adventure and just the way he seemed to enjoy life.  Amongst the million and one things we talked about that night I realised that meeting the ‘right person for you’ is all about having the same outlook on life.  Not necessarily the same actual goals and plans (though that does of course help) but it’s about finding someone with the same way of thinking as you.  The same approach to life.  It is no good being with a ‘settler’ if deep down you’re an ‘adventurer’.  That doesn’t mean your family hols are climbing Mount Everest, it just means you’ll understand when your partner feels the need to travel to feel alive or to escape to find a new experience.  If you have a similar outlook it can be an adventure you work out together and you won’t feel fazed or threatened by it and neither will they feel trapped or guilty for feeling it.

Meeting the Mexican made me think a lot about what I should and shouldn’t accept and expect in a partner.  It was very healing and empowering.  The experience at least showed me what is possible in a man.  That really are out there not just in the movies!

I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again but he will now always be a part of my journey and a significant part at that.

Italy – Part 1: Genova, Pisa/Lucca, Florence

Genoa

In Genova I found a beautiful city full of character and intrigue – far more interesting than I ever expected.  I also came across a man of exactly the same!

Genova was to be our first Air BnB experience.  I was happy to say goodbye to camping though I have to say it turned out to be far more enjoyable than I thought from our dubious start! That said, I was looking forward to a) not having to drive anymore and b) sleeping in a real bed!  Many people had told me about Air BnB and after the prices of hotels seemed extortionate after the cheapness of campsites, I thought we’d give it a go.  If you’re not familiar with Air BnB it is a booking system where (mostly) people who have spare rooms in their own home put you up and it is much cheaper and often gives a more authentic experience of the town or city where you’re staying too.    So we had booked to stay with Lucia in her apartment just 5 minutes walk from Genova Brignole station which greatly appealed as I knew I’d have my very heavy backpack and that Bear Cub would be tired.

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Dropping the rental car back at Nice station had been very stressful (I’ll spare you the details) but thankfully getting the train to Ventimiglia first and then Genova was straightforward.

Lucia’s directions were great and it really was just 5 minutes from the station.  I immediately loved the apartment when I saw the lift!  It was one of those old fashioned ones you see in movies with the metal cage outer door you open first and then 2 wooden wardrobe like doors behind that with a wooden fold down seat inside.  Her apartment was on the 6th floor, old and full of character.  It had a really lovely and peaceful vibe as did she.  Our room was very large with the most wonderful and huge round bed! I was honestly more excited about this than Bear Cub was.  Lucia showed us the bathroom and explained that one of the guys staying with her had his friends visiting so we needed to use just one of the two bathrooms that night and not the shower room.  It was at this point that I heard Bear Cub jabbering on in the hallway to someone enjoying a conversation and that is when I saw him.  He’d overheard Bear Cub ask me what the lady had said in Italian and I explained my Italian was much worse than my very poor French.  And he (understanding me) offered to help with any translation I needed – I later found out he spoke 5 languages!  I asked him where he was from and he hesitated then said, ‘Actually I am Mexican and German!’  I’ve never yet met a sexy German so I am going to call him ‘The Mexican.’  I didn’t know it at that point, except for he was extremely warm and kind and had a wonderful vibe about him, but The Mexican was going to teach me a lot about myself and relationships within just 24 hours – less in real time! (see separate post on my here).

Everything about The Mexican was ‘cool’ and not in a trendy cool way but it a real meaning of the word cool way – effortless, genuine, kind, authentic, interesting, interested, intelligent, deep, laid-back, comfortable in his own skin and just really, really ‘nice’.  Again not in the flimsy, mediocre, sickly meaning of the word but the original, complimentary definition of ‘nice’.  At this point in my head I just thought, ‘What a nice man.  He seems really nice’.  Then he asked Bear Cub if he wanted to see a wolf!  Now there are not many people who know me who don’t know my loves in life other than music and chocolate (and red wine and cake) are dogs!  Big dogs!  Well The Mexican had the coolest dog I have ever seen.  Also mixed race – he was a Husky and German Shepherd mix and absolutely gorgeous!  Now I firmly believe you can tell a lot about a man from his dog.  Indeed you can tell a lot about a person if they do or don’t like dogs.  Again this dog had not been chosen for image or status, it had been chosen for challenge and experience. The Mexican didn’t make decisions for them to be easy or convenient he made them to prove people wrong and to live life to the full and have experiences.  All this was shown to me through his choice of dog! And furthermore, he was travelling with said massive, intimidating, gorgeous dog.  This was only as mad as a woman travelling on her own with a 4 year old!!  I immediately knew we’d be good friends 🙂

On the roof, where the Wolf was kept, I met The Mexican’s friends who had just been cycling in The Alps! You can also tell a lot about a person by their friends (as well as their dog) and they were as lovely and crazy-adventurous (I mean cycling in The Alps??) as he was.  Bear Cub and I had been winding each other up more and more in the last 2 days so he really enjoyed having some ‘man time’ with them and they were all great playing with him and chatting to him.  It felt great being at Lucia’s place.  I exhaled and relaxed there.  It felt safe and in some strange sense I knew I was in exactly the right place in the right time in my life.

We were tired so Bear Cub and I made some pasta and had the most wonderful hot shower (it felt so good to be in a clean bathroom) and fell asleep in the fantastic round bed! Despite it being huge, Bear Cub managed to star fish in the middle of it and hog most of the space all night though!

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The next day we set out to explore Genova. One of my favourite experiences was sitting outside a cafe, drinking proper Italian coffee, in one of the lovely Piazza’s opposite a huge church watching a talented violinist play some wonderful pieces.  Suddenly I felt like I was truly in Italy and I knew it was going to be good.

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I was very aware that the first half of our Italy leg was going to be lots of sight-seeing and Cities and potentially boring and tiring for Bear Cub so I was really pleased  to discover that Genova had a lot on offer for children.  We visited La citta dei bambini a place roughly translated as ‘Kids City’ which was a little like a cross between the London Science Museum and a soft play centre.  And we visited yet another aquarium!

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All this and walking in the intense heat meant Bear Cub was exhausted by the evening.  We bought some fish from the market to cook for dinner to save money and headed back to the apartment.  After Bear Cub was tucked up in the huge, round bed I got chatting to The Mexican, over a bottle of wine until 2.30am!  It is both amazing and frustrating that you need to go to another country to meet someone you really connect with but then as the Erykah Badu song says, ‘I guess I’ll meet you next lifetime!’ I have some wonderful memories of Genova 🙂

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Pisa/Lucca

The next day we were off to Pisa but ended up going for a stroll to the beach and getting a much later train than planned.  It only took an hour and a half on the fast train though so we still managed to visit the leaning tower when we arrived before a late dinner.

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Again we’d booked through Air BnB and it was just ten minutes walk from the tower.  The place was clean and a great location but lacked the soul and character of Lucia’s place in Genova.  I’d been to Pisa before years ago and as I remembered it is a bit of a dump in places, however, I also remembered the beautiful little town of Lucca that was just a short way away.

The next morning at Breakfast we got chatting to a young couple from Spain (and Croatia) who mentioned they were driving to Lucca that morning and so offered us a lift.  I like to think Bear Cub was a good contraceptive to many young couples we met along our trip as I could see in their eyes that unspoken exchange of looks between them that said ‘Let’s wait a few more years for kids eh?’ as Bear Cub questioned them, threatened to ‘blow them up’ repeatedly and generally acted weird in their faces! Anyway, we had a lovely day in Lucca.  We actually hired some bikes from right outside the station and I was so glad Bear Cub had learned to ride his bike without stabilisers not long before we left for the trip.  Lucca is the most gorgeous, little walled village and you can actually ride all the way  around on the walls of the village in just 20-30 minutes at a leisurely pace.  We stopped at a play park and bought some fresh cherries and then once we’d been round the whole village we went in and explored the lovely little streets and shops within Lucca.  We found a lovely little coffee shop and enjoyed some pastries and then climbed to the top of Lucca’s own tower which amazingly has a tree growing at the top.  The view was stunning.  We had some lunch at the cheap cafe we’d found and then returned our bikes before getting the train back to Pisa which only took 30 minutes.

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After a shower we went to explore the leaning tower a bit more and did plan to climb up until we found it was 18 Euros.  Bear Cub was really disappointed until I found out you had to be 8 years old anyway to climb up so he wouldn’t have been allowed even if I had thought it worth the money.  We went to the Duomo instead and this was where I caught one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip.  I was just looking at something and turned around to find Bear Cub praying, unprompted and out loud.  It was the cutest prayer about life and love and asking God to not let any aeroplanes crash! He’d been winding me up so much but my heart melted seeing him talking to God so earnestly.  He then asked me to pray with him – so we did! 🙂

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Florence

Bear Cub and I had been winding each other up more and more over the last few days and it hit fever pitch when we got to Florence.  I don’t know if it was the heat or the tiredness of the sheer amount of intense time we’d had together but, Bear Cub’s behaviour had gotten notably worse and brattish and my patience and tolerance had grown dangerously thin!  We basically needed a break from each other.  And so it was a complete God-send when we arrived at our new Air BnB place in Florence to discover that the room we’d booked was still occupied so they upgraded us to their ‘Attic’ room which turned out to be a lovely little self-contained flat complete with its own kitchen, bathroom and balcony.  It looked brand new and was lovely and just what we needed.  It meant we had our own private space to chill out in, unwind and have a bit of space.  It was perfect!  We ventured out for some ice-cream from a real Gelateria and popped to the supermarket which was literally 4 minutes from the apartment and stocked up on food for lunches and dinners for the next 2 days.

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The next day was a Sunday and I woke to stomach cramps (which explained why my tolerance was wearing so thin) and Bear Cub was just not interested in going anywhere, so although we were in lovely Florence, we ended up spending most of the day in the flat and it was just what we both needed! It seemed like a shame in some ways but was absolutely what was required for the sake of both our sanity! We did go into the centre late afternoon and visited the Cathedral which even just from the outside was breathtakingly imposing, and we also found a play park for Bear Cub to let off some steam.

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Our time in Florence ended up being the most uneventful of the trip so far, but we were both too tired to be bored or disappointed.  It certainly worked to renew our strength and we could set off for Rome feeling relaxed.