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Travel & Adventure

Travel & Adventure                                                              Blogs in this section:

The Expat Experience - the Adventure of Moving Abroad
Interview with Sonia Kilvington on life in Cyprus
Some of our readers are expats, people who have left their home country to live in another one. It can be a daunting and exciting thing to do. For many it works out well, for others it doesn't. Why do people take the risk? Today I'm speaking with Sonia, a British writer and journalist who lives in Cyprus. She has kindly agreed to share her experiences with us. 
road in village
Cyprus seaside
Sonia. How did you end up in Cyprus? How long have you lived there for?

I didn't ever plan to live in Cyprus, although I had always wanted to live abroad and have the expat experience! Originally I had thought of moving to Spain, but my husband said he thought I might prefer Cyprus as it is much smaller and has good facilities for my children (who were then aged 14 and 8). We took a long weekend visit to Oroklini, a pretty village twenty minutes outside of Larnaca and were shown the shell of a house, which was still under construction. I liked the layout and position; it had the Oroklini hills behind, and a distant view of the sea from the front. I was excited and impressed and we paid a deposit the next morning. It was Valentine's Day and my husband said it was my gift! We moved out to Cyprus on 1st October 2006 and have lived there ever since.
Was there a culture shock in the beginning?

There was most definitely a culture shock in the beginning! The thing we found it most difficult to adjust to, was the pace of life in Cyprus. We would set off with a list of things to do and return home having not fully completed one of them! Now we set off with an item or possibly two on the list and if we make say one-third of any headway on an item, we deem it a very successful day. If an item gets completed, we go for a glass of wine to celebrate! There is a Cypriot saying which translates to ‘slowly - slowly' and that is exactly how things are done…
blue table in cyprus
Are there other British expats? Other foreigners?

The village has a large expat community, which is very social. There are also many British people who own holiday apartments and houses who visit several times a year, and it's nice to catch up with them and their news. There are many nationalities living in Cyprus which include German, Russian and Scandinavian people.

Does your social group include Cypriots and have you learnt to speak Greek?

We do have Cypriot friends, although my Friday night girls group is all British. The Cypriots tend to go out in large family groups with several generations being present, whereas the British tend to socialise in activity groups. We tried and failed to learn Greek! Unfortunately, after six months I realised I was never going to be able to conjugate the verbs effectively and I gave up. My children learnt Greek at school every day and could eventually speak the language after several years - Greek is a very difficult language to learn, you need to work with a new alphabet, it's not like learning a European language; nothing is transferable!

photo of Sonia
swimming pool
old church in cyprus
Do you ever get homesick? What British things do you miss?

I don't get homesick, although I enjoy visiting my family when I return to the north-east. I miss shopping, as there is not much choice in ladies clothes and the prices are horrendous due to shipping and import taxes. I would kill for a Boots superstore!

What are the best bits of living in Cyprus?

The weather and the beautiful beaches in Cyprus are hard to beat anywhere else in the world. There is also a very active social scene and a slower more peaceful pace of life.
What are your favourite Cypriot dishes? Do you cook Cypriot cuisine?

I love grilled octopus with a village salad and dips such as tzatziki and tahini, and lamb chops at a tiny restaurant called The Green Door at Xylafagou.  At the top of the mountains in Troodos village, there is a restaurant which makes the best moussaka in Cyprus - they have spoiled me and I won't eat it anywhere else! At home we grill fish such as tsipoúra and sea bass, and we buy our meat and vegetables in the local village shops. We have amazing quality fresh food in Cyprus.

public square in Cyprus
Does your writing and journalism help you feel connected to ‘the big wide world?

Most definitely! As a writer you tend to have friends all over the world, as I'm sure you know Toria, the writing world is very sociable and offers a lovely sense of connection with other writers. The journalism has introduced me to many interesting people in Cyprus I would not otherwise have met.
Has living in Cyprus influenced your writing?

As a writer, I am influenced by my surroundings and this does have an impact on my writing. I located my second novel, the murder mystery Buried in the Hills, in my own village as I enjoyed including some of the local influences I was experiencing at the time of writing it. 

Cypriot culture has a long history of storytelling; you can feel the pull of the past, with its on-going celebration of tradition, here in the present. I think that being able to incorporate story elements from Greek and Cypriot culture has added something different to my writing. Relocating to Cyprus has been a special gift for me, both personally and for my writing!
We first met at Harrogate Crime Writers Festival. Have you been to festivals in other places?

I was just recently at Alibi International Noir/Crime Festival in Slovenia as a guest writer and it was a wonderful experience! The festival took place over a weekend in October. On the Friday evening, the writers and hosts went for a meal at a restaurant in the beautiful Slovenian countryside, where we were given a story title and a single day in which to write it! On the Sunday we read our stories aloud and answered questions from the host and audience. It was a magical time!
Do you have to be brave to move to another country or are you adventurous? Would you recommend the experience?

I think that with any major change in life, you need to be a little bit brave. Moving to another country is an exciting experience, although you can never foresee the future and there are always going to be unexpected problems and situations to deal with. Often people will talk about the risks involved in moving abroad, but in my experience, the benefits gained greatly outweigh any negatives. I am an adventurous soul, as I believe life is too short not to make the most of travel and other opportunities, which may be available to you for a limited time.

Thank you for talking with us Sonia, I hope some of our readers would like to share their expat experiences with us. 

Sonia's website:

Toria, November 2017

international travel, interviews, lifestyle, adventure, personal development

Book cover by Sonia Kilvington

Fancy a trip to China? Bob shares his China memories with us.
women singing
                                Tuesday afternoon in the park: Women singing in People's Park in Chengdu
Bob, what made you decide to make China a destination? 

I had my mind set on Vietnam, which I travelled to in 2015, but changed my mind and went to China. I have seen China as ‘the mother country’ influencing cultures in Vietnam, Korea and Japan, which adopted its script many centuries ago. I wasn’t disappointed.

Did you see the Great Wall? What sorts of things did you see and do? 

Yes. That and the Forbidden City and a number of sites around Beijing. I also visited Chengdu and Xian and took a cruise along the Yangtze River.

men looking through camera
monk in china
                  Men admiring blossoms in Chengdu                                             Monk at Temple of Heaven complex
Did China and the trip live up to your expectations?

Yes, and more. I loved the food too. We saw so much: large and even larger cities, boat rides, wonderful food, a good guide

Who did you go with and for how long?

I went with Imaginative Traveller and was there for nearly three weeks

chinese baby
women dancing
Were the people friendly and helpful? Did you manage to communicate with any locals or was all communication via your guide?

In the larger cities people tend to speak English. I met a young man in Beijing help me navigate the transit system and we exchanged e-mails. Sadly, we didn’t keep in touch.

What was the food like?

Loved the food, especially the ‘hot pot’ in Szechuan and the enormous ‘lazy Susan’s that are used to pass food around a large table.

woman and child
What was the greatest culture shock for you? What were some of the things that might surprise us or take us aback?

Toilets are squat and the areas where one evacuates are behind a half wall in very close quarters.

Did people mind having their pictures taken?

If you ask they will submit to a photo.

If you won the lottery would you go back?

Yes. To Shanghai this time and more of the east.

Thanks for talking to us, Bob, I love your portrait photos. 

Check out Bob's China photo video below. He visited a Chinese opera performance with shadow play, a theatre form with a long tradition in China. 

(Toria, October 2017)

It's a Class Act - Fancy a Game of Basketball?
Hi Marjorie, thanks for speaking with us at Old and Bold! Now let me summarise, you are 78 years old and play in the Class Act Team for the Senior Women´s Basketball Association in San Diego.


Why basketball? 

Basketball has it all: team play, great exercise, challenges to improve and fun.

When did you start to play basketball? 

I played in high school in New Jersey. There were no women’s teams in any sport at my University. When I moved to San Diego in 1973, I took up soccer. In 1997 (age 58), I found the SWBA and began playing basketball again.

How much training do you do? Do you do any other forms of training or exercise to keep limber for basketball? 

I play basketball 4-5 times a week (2 times full court) and take a lesson, often once a week. I occasionally go to the gym to use the workout machines.

How important is the social element of being part of a team or larger organisation? 

It is very important. The women in the league are very supportive of each other. As you can imagine, in our age group, we have illnesses, injuries and deaths, both of loved ones and of members. Members reach out to offer support. Some teams also socialize often together, celebrating birthdays and going to dinners, plays and concerts. I walk my dog with a teammate almost every day. 

Does your club the Senior Women´s Basketball Association have any other social events or activities they host? How busy does it keep you?  

The SWBA has an annual potluck dinner, a picnic and a Christmas party. They also offer coaching clinics, attend local college womens’ basketball games and sometimes appear as halftime entertainment at those games. Three of our local Universities have given us clinics with their college teams. One of our members, Laurie Byrd, also puts on a 2 or 3 day basketball camp for seniors.

What else do you do? I´m sure that there´s more to Marjorie than basketball! 

I tutor English as a second language for teenagers in Tijuana (our sister city in Mexico), foster kittens for the humane society, host foreign students coming to UCSD, travel, make photography books from my travels and take care of my 2 cats and dog. I am a widow but have 4 wonderful step children and 6 grandchildren that I see often.

What´s it like living in San Diego? Not much snow shovelling to contend with I assume. 

 It is paradise! Wonderful weather, unlimited outdoor and other sports activities, access to the ocean, mountains and desert, opportunities for activities at the various universities and cultural events, great zoo, etc, etc.

You have probably ticked off a lot of things off your bucket list – what did you enjoy doing the most? 

All of the above.

And finally, what´s still on your bucket list? Where can we expect to see you next? 

I’ve visited most of the places I want to visit internationally, now I’ll start looking more at North America.

Many thanks for joining us today Marjorie – it’s been great interviewing you! 

And a little more about The Senior Women's Basketball Association:
it is a non-profit organization based in San Diego, California. It is governed by an elected executive board. 

SWBA members are women from all walks of life: business owners, dentists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, homemakers, nurses, military and teachers. 

Participants must be at least 50 years of age. Our oldest player is 91 years. Any woman, age 50 or older, who enjoys basketball and shows good sportsmanship may join and play. 

We play three-on-three, half-court, recreational and competitive basketball. 

Our regular league play is divided into four sessions per year (summer, fall, winter, and spring) and runs for approximately eight to ten weeks per session. Each team plays two 30 minute games weekly under the supervision of qualified referees. These scheduled games are played Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings at the Mission Valley YMCA. 
We give back to the community by sponsoring girls ages 12-17 who are San Diego County residents. They may select any basketball camp of their choice within the state of California. We also sponsored two girls for wheelchair basketball this year.

(Sylvia was in conversation with Marjorie, September 2017)

How fast can you run? How high can you jump?
Age is no excuse it seems, not even if you are 100!
man high jumping
Hello Mr. Kaschke! Thank you for joining us on Old and Bold... and offering to answer some questions about your inspirational organisation `European Masters Athletics´…

What is the ´European Masters Athletics´? How did it start?

The EMA Association is the former EVAA (European Veterans Athletics Association. We changed the name at the General Assembly in Izmir 2014 to make sure that people have a positive approach to MASTERS than to VETERANS.
A short overview of our history is published on our homepage

What is the EMA and what in your opinion is the most important contribution it makes to the lives of participants and spectators?

EMA is a regional Masters Athletics organisation that organizes European Championships. We offer to athletes stadia, indoor, non-stadia, mountain running, marathon championships for both genders starting with the age group 35 and up.

Competition is one of our goals but we like to transfer other messages as well:  “Athletics for life”, “You are never too old”, “For ever young”. We like to motivate people to become active and to stay active. Well-being, healthy and fit for all ages, being together with active people, friendships, social community of active people are only some of our intentions for participants but also for spectators.

You don't need to be an athlete but you can participate as a volunteer, judge, official as well to be part of the athletics community. And it is not a question of age, not a question of nationality, not a question of religion – just be together with people who enjoy life and put the goal “Quality of Life” in the top ranking of their one lifestyle.

men running in a race
So what events do participants compete in? Are they modified to accommodate certain age ranges?

Athletics is sprinting, jumping, throwing, running. It is up to you and up to your fitness in which events you like to participate. How about mountain running or marathon – it depends on your own goals. Younger age groups are fit for all events. Becoming older you have to have the skills and the fitness to do pole vaulting, hurdling, triple chase, triple jump, etc. If you are more than 80 years old, you should better avoid technically difficult events – but there are still old Masters who are able to do it …

So who are your participants in the events? Are they, or were they, professional athletes in these disciplines or did they come to the sport at a much later stage in their lives? Or is it a mixture of both?

Most of our participants have always lived an active life, but not only in athletics. Only a few were high class athletes but they have to see that others can have better results.
There are people who started very late with athletics. They love the atmosphere, friendships and the being-together with people with the same goals.

Did I see right that you have an age group for 100+? Really?? Have you had any competitors that were 100 years or older? What range of ages do you cater for?

Looking at the history of our people, they thought that when you are retired you had better stay at home. But society has changed and is still developing. During the Olympics of 1984 in Los Angeles the first Marathon for women took place – a no go for women … what was considered to be as “common sense” back then. Ten years before the veterans/masters movement in athletics started, nobody expected that 70 year-old people could run fast, jump high, run long distances. Now have a look at the result lists of Aarhus or the world records in Masters Athletics … it is unbelievable how the results have exploded. In Aarhus we had 30 new European Records and 13 World Records in different age groups.

athletics prize giving
If you are an enthusiastic athlete, how do you enter for EMA events?

Just check our website, click on the event and follow the instructions. There is always a help-desk if you need a support. But there is also the national athletics federation who will assist you to get into the events.

If, on the other hand, you are an enthusiastic athletics spectator (such as myself) how do you get tickets to watch?

You never have to pay for any championship. You are free to come, sit down and watch the events. If you are at home share the ambience on life stream.
But why just sit there and watch? Just be part of us and apply as a volunteer – you will have a lot of fun during the day … but it can be hard-work as well. The Local Organizing Committee will offer you food and beverage, equipment, and sometimes accommodation and transportation-

The EMA is a large organisation, or it certainly seems to be – how many events does it organise or is it affiliated with?

EMA is partner of European Athletics and cooperates with IAAF and World Masters Athletics. As President I am also a representative in the WMA Council.
We are not affiliated with International Master Games – this is an independent organisation.

Throughout the year 2018, we shall be offering the EMAC Indoor in Madrid (March), the EMAC Non-Stadia in Alicante (May), and the World Masters Championships Stadia in Malaga (September). We are expecting many people from around the world who like to come to Europe.
two women athletes
The EMA also hosts an academy and various research and study projects, how did that come about? What could I learn in your academy and who can participate?

The Academy was founded by me in 2007 in Helsinki. The goal of the academy is to work closer with universities in terms of research on fitness, ageing, well being, gender problems (like menopause in 50+). These researches are always done during our championships and published on our website. People who are interested in our seminars are welcome to attend. The research is accessible for people who like to get feedback of their own training and lifestyle.

You have held a very successful event in Aarhus, Denmark – the European Masters Athletic Championship 2017. It was covered by many news organisations, including the BBC and we are incredibly disappointed to have missed it. Where and when is the next event?

Have a look on our website. We always publish the next championships and with a click you can be connected with the homepage of the organizer. You are welcome to meet us this year in Wroclaw for the Marathon and in 2018 you might participate in Madrid, Alicante, or Malaga. But there is only one point you have to take care of: you have to be affiliated in an athletic  club in your city. If you like to enter in one of our events just follow the instructions. Your national governing body of athletics will give you a green light for your participation when you are a member and you are not suspended.

So what´s next for the EMA?

We will have the Marathon in Wroclaw (Poland) on September 10th.
The Balkan Masters Games will be at the end of September – one of our council members will attend.
In Vilnius (Latvia) European Athletics invites us to come to the convention and meet the European Federations' key persons. That is at th end of October.
Frankfurt will be in November our city to have a seminar of “Management and Governance in Masters' Athletics”.
The first weekend in December our Council will come together in Lausanne to have the annual meeting.

man celebrating victory
And finally, what advice would you have for old and bold couch potatoes like myself?

Just get up, move your body with others. Focus on your own quality of life because it will open your doors you have never seen before. It is your own responsibility to fill your life with joy and happiness – it is the only thing that counts :-)

And a bit about you please!
You are President of the EMA, I assume this is a full time job. Does it keep you busy and ´out of trouble´ (as it were…). What do you do in your role?

In the “real world” I teach Physical Education, English Language, Physics. My students are between 12 and 17 years old.
My presidency is a volunteer activity that is not paid. Our council receives the expenses back and a daily allowance is paid when we are working for EMA.
During the year I work two hours a day for EMA, but at championships we are the “early birds” and the “nightingales” as well. In a leading position you always have the responsibility to act and to make decisions. But you are never protected of mistakes, trouble, problems.
Management and governance in EMA always means you have to find solutions and to have a sense of balancing your actions. I am a team orientated person. The responsibility is handed over to the different officers of my team - “nobody of us lives on an island – we have to act together!”
women hurdling
Are you an athlete yourself? Have you, or do you still compete in any athletics events yourself?

When I was in puberty I started to attend an athletics club. I had so much energy that I needed an activity to work really hard – five times a week for two hours. It was an inner feeling to find my own boundaries and to be together with young people who had another approach to their life: no cigarettes, no drugs, no alcohol but friendship and support. My coach was my model and other athletes as well. So I was pretty successful  not only in multiple events but in 400m, 800m, 400m hurdles, and pole vaulting as well. I never stopped being active in athletics, ran some marathons and focused at the age of 50 to run the New York Marathon. But I also competed in Cross Country Skiing, Triathlons, played football, volleyball and basketball.

Today I like to participate in teams. Relays are my favourite. But as President I am not participating in our own championships. People look at you and when you are no longer top you have some comments in social media that are not very positive.

Thank you Kurt for your taking the time to share information about this great organisation with us! This is certainly inspiration to get off our couches and get moving!

Sylvia from Old and Bold interviewed Kurt Kaschke, EMA President

jon snow game of thrones

Fashion Queen behind Game of Thrones
I´m not sure if you are a Game of Thrones fan or not, but even if you´re not you won´t be spared copious amounts of exposure to the series in forms of Internet and media coverage. So let me share an exciting (at least for this boldie) discovery – April Ferry, the fashion designer for `Series 6 Game of Thrones`, is 85 years old and very very bold!

Wow. Seriously, that is pretty impressive stuff. So who is April?

The crimson mohecian sporting April was born in 1932, in North Carolina (USA), as April Cecilia Gaskins. Her career started as a dancer on Broadway and in 1968 she turned to costume design – the list of films she has worked on is a “who´s who of the silver screen” and includes The Big Chill, Donny Darko, Robocop and Terminator 3.

However, her greatest success was the television series “Rome” for which she won an Emmy in 2006. She takes her craft seriously and immersed herself in ancient history for this programme; but seeing Mark Anthony (James Purefoy) prancing around in the short skirts she designed for him really was a joy!
james purfoy as mark anthony
April Ferry

Her beautifully crafted costumes for Series 6 “Game of Thrones” are eye popping and I can´t wait to see more from her!  April Ferry – Old and Bold salute you!
Sylvia Campbell, August 2017

Whoever thought sports could be this much fun?
International Sports Events for Golden Oldies.
What is even more fun than travelling down under to watch a sports match? To travel down under to compete in one. My game of choice would be a rugby match against the Bundaberg Rum Ruckers in Queensland, Australia. Why them? Well, every time someone scores a try, it doesn’t matter which side, every player gets to drink a shot of rum. In the end who cares who won, a great time was had by all.

So how do I know this? Well, I had a most interesting conversation with Paul Guest, the organiser of Golden Oldie and Vintage sports events. He works for VSL, a participation-based sports travel company from New Zealand, which has been organising sports festivals around the world since 1979. You can check them out here:

rugby referree
group of women hockey players
I had heard of Masters competitions for older serious competitors, but not of Golden Oldies sports which are a fun alternative for amateurs. No scores are kept and prizes are given for things such as the best dressed team! Paul told me of a ladies’ netball team from New Zealand, who dressed as purple mermaids for the Opening Ceremony held at Sea World in San Diego, USA. Purple being the team colours of SOS Golden Oldies from Christchurch. In fact, during their 28 day tour of the United States, the ladies wore 28 different matching outfits – all in purple!

Are contact sports suitable for oldies? Paul says yes, each sport is adapted. In rugby, for example, if you wear red shorts, people can only do a holding tackle, and if you wear gold-coloured shorts they can’t touch you at all. Anyone over 35 can enter, some teams are mixed, men and women. According to Paul the oldest competitor in a cricket festival this spring was 86 years old! Over 50 teams from around 15 countries entered the 17th Golden Oldies World Cricket Fest in Barbados.  

musicians on stage
To pinch a quote from Paul’s website: ‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing’ (George Bernard Shaw).
To find out more about Golden Oldies Rugby in the UK and elsewhere, have a look at:

Next April 10,000 Golden Oldies will descend on Christchurch to celebrate the biggest sports event ever on the South Island of New Zealand. So, if you play: Netball, lawn bowls, squash, rugby, hockey, basketball, cricket, softball, football (soccer) or golf, then start saving your pennies, this should be the party of a life time.

Read more about it further along, an interview with Paul Guest, which will cover fundraising examples, what to do if you don’t belong to a club, and the social life surrounding these events.

If you want to find out more about Golden Oldies, watch this Youtube clip

It's not all about rugby, check out the gentler sports such as lawn bowling!
 Paul Guest from Golden Oldies Sports is here
to answer all your questions!

picture of man giving speech
Our readers really enjoyed finding out about your organisation, Paul, but now we’ve got lots more questions for you.
How can people afford to travel half-way across the world to compete in a sporting event for Golden Oldies?

The majority of groups and teams attend a World Festival every two years and in between they do lots of fundraising. The usual fundraising ideas such as bake sales, fashion shows, etc. However, there are some very creative Golden Oldies out there. For example, one rugby club from Texas do something very unusual: they raise cattle and sell them off to raise money. There are socio-economic differences though in the type of accommodation chosen, some people stay in luxury hotels, others book simpler accommodation.

What about the social life during these festivals?

The ethos of Golden Oldies is Fun, Friendship and Fraternity. The social life is what they come for! All festivals have an opening ceremony with a parade of nations and Welcome Party. Participants get to march behind their country’s flag and many teams dress up in their national costume or special outfits they have designed themselves. Apart from informally getting to know others and socialising on and off the field, there are dinners where prizes are awarded, not for winning, but for all sorts of other reasons – spirit of the Festival, Best Dressed, Oldest player and the team that travelled furthest! At the 2010 World Rugby Festival Finale Dinner in Sydney, Australia, the average beer consumption was 10 pints per head! As you can imagine, great fun was had by all.

You have mentioned mainly groups and clubs attending these events. What if an individual who doesn’t belong to a club wanted to go?

Get in touch with me and we will introduce you to a group or create a new team. No one is ever left behind!

What economic impact do these events have on the host cities and towns?

For example, at the 21st Golden Oldie Festival in Cardiff, there were over 100 teams with players from 43 countries. The economic impact was over £4 million. Unlike professional sporting events, where teams travel with their own support staff and chefs etc., our participants rely on services in the host cities. The economic benefit is therefore considerable.

What other impact do these events have?

We work hard to make sure there is a legacy. All Golden Oldies Festivals have a charitable partner for whom we donate equipment and fundraise, - using the same example, the rugby festival in Cardiff, we helped raise £30,000 for Wooden Spoon Wales, the rugby charity for disadvantaged children. A new woman’s rugby club came out of the festival as well who have now grown to over 50 members. We also work with host clubs to develop hands-on projects such as coaching clinics, eg. a cricket coaching clinic in Capetown.

group of men dressed up as asterix
How did you get involved in this work and what is your next goal?

After studying Physics and Philosophy, I worked in sports promotion and events organising (sports camps, Paralympics, etc). I travelled to New Zealand where, through a colleague at a different company, I met Peter and Dianne McDermott, the owners of VSL. They introduced me to Vintage Carnivals and explained they were taking over Golden Oldies from Air New Zealand. Their passion for sport and developing their events was infectious. I was hooked! After 4 years in Auckland I returned to Britain to develop the UK side of this international business, focussing on developing Golden Oldies in particular. It can be long hours. but anything this rewarding doesn’t feel like hard work.

man drinking beer
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Paul was in conversation with Toria.

Time on your hands? Put gold in your pan…

Not too posh to pan

Do you think of gold panners as dusty men crouching in cold water in old worn out clothes – desperadoes of poverty seeking the glint of gold more in hope than reality? Well, you could be right in your assumptions about quite a few of them, but there were and are others too…

Gold fever did not just strike those who were financially desperate; established people were also prone to catching this fever. The Mitfords, the forerunners (albeit vastly classier) of the Kardashian clan also caught this disease.  David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale, better known as the father of this early 21st century celebrity family with one son and six famously beautiful daughters, also followed the lure of gold – to Ontario, Canada.

Unity Mitford
Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford
                             Unity Valkyrie Mitford                                                                      David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford 
And this is where reality starts to become stranger than fiction. David Mitford (Baron Redesdale) had a gold claim in Swastika, Ontario. And yes, his youngest daughter Unity Valkyrie Mitford was conceived in Swastika, Ontario, Canada. The very same daughter who later became so enamoured of Hitler that she attempted suicide in Munich on the day war was declared and as a consequence suffered severe brain damage.

Now some would say that conflicted Mitford family politics (some far right wing and some far left wing siblings) and her own personal and political instability were the cause of her demise. But I would have to add that being born in Swastika, with the name of Unity Valkyrie would have certainly added an element of “nomen est omen” – how could you possibly escape a portended fate like that?
Ok, so what about the gold panning you ask? Yes, that´s what this article is about after all – Mitford had a claim in Swastika but no gold was ever found on it, however, he and his wife enjoyed the outdoor life. His neighbour however, a chap called Harry Oakes, did strike gold, establishing a gold mine that was the most productive in the Western Hemisphere, and ultimately proved to be the second-largest gold mine in the Americas (bet that hurt!). Harry Oakes eventually was knighted and became Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet of Nassau.

Baron Redesdale was not successful in this venture, so it was probably fortuitous that some of his daughters were better prospectors and that things panned out financially a little better for them;  Diana marrying into the Guinness brewing clan (before marrying that Moseley) and Deborah marrying the Duke of Devonshire.

my grandparents
My grandparents in the North Canadian wilderness
But not all prospectors or gold panners were rich, far from it. My grandfather `grubstaked´ (supplies or funds furnished to a mining prospector on promise of a share in his discoveries) a prospector called Pete in the Canadian northland. Pete was a WW1 Veteran who was severely shell shocked and unable to cope in post-war urban society.

My grandfather, also a WW1 veteran, wounded at Vimy Ridge, understood these pressures only too well and grubstaked Pete to prospect in the Canadian wilderness. It never brought my grandfather any riches, as the claims Pete staked never amounted to any real profit. However the tranquillity of being in and working in nature had a calming effect and helped to restore Pete´s health. After a while he was able to cope with a quiet life living with his sister on the family homestead. Riches can be found in many ways…
To give an idea of scale, the nugget is about the size of a small fingernail.
small lump of gold
my mother gold panning
Gold panning attempts seem to run in my family – my Grandmother came back with a nugget from her trip to Alaska and my mother also tried her luck panning (photos above) in the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta, Canada. She came back with this little nugget but the true value she found was in the unique experience despite a sore back!

We may associate gold panning with the past, such as the gold rushes of the Canadian northlands, California, Australia and New Zealand; but some gold ´rushes´ are still taking place today.  The gold however may be now made by the companies offering gold panning holidays; some which include travel to the gold fields in private jets, I guess Wallis Simpson was right when she said “You can never be too rich or too thin”!

Here is a small sample of the many gold panning experiences you can try today but there are loads of companies offering bespoke panning experiences – hope something pans out for you!




New Zealand:


Do you know of any exciting gold panning destinations that we have missed out on? Care to share? Please let us know and we will post your information!

Sylvia and Gail, July 2017

For a look at Dawson City during the gold rush check out this guardian article:

If you would like to find out how the town of Swastika got its name and why it wasn't changed during WWII, then see the link below.

 My father told me about these Akhal - Teke horses when I was child. It was one of his unfulfilled dreams to own one.
You went where on holiday?

All I knew about Uzbekistan is that they have these amazing horses called the Golden Horses of Samarkand. That’s it. So, when I found out that Bob, whom I met when we were both students at the University of Toronto many, many years ago, had been to Uzbekistan, I was full of questions. Bob is an experienced traveller and takes amazing photos, some of which have won prizes. 

Bob, why choose Uzbekistan?

I knew about cities such as Tashkent and Samarkand on the former Silk Road. I flipped through a G Adventures flyer and thought: the price is right, the tour the right length; I had to get a visa, which is not required now for Canadians, by sending my passport to New York City. 

Tell us a bit about your journey. How long did it take to get there?

I flew from Toronto to Tashkent via Istanbul with a long layover and about a four hour flight from Istanbul. Tashkent Airport was exactly as a friend described: chaotic with no baggage handler; most passengers were Uzbeks hauling enormous bags with good purchased in Turkey for resale. It took me about two hours to get through. Had my ride set up and the rest was great.
people in front of yurt
Bob on left in front of Yurt in desert
What were some of the highlights for you?

Cities are unique and are like open air museums. Tashkent was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1966 so is relatively new. Still, interesting to walk around. Samarkand is amazing with the Registan and mausoleums. Bukhara is different again and largely Tajik speaking. Khiva is amazing. Food is good. Anthony Bourdain joked of Uzbek cooking: ‘all you can eat if all you can eat is plov.’ (pilaf).

Did something disappoint you? Were there any serious difficulties?

We travelled west by road which was built by Russians and is in poor repair with our driver often stopping to navigate potholes. There is a short stretch built by German engineers, which was smooth, but not long after we were on the bumping road again. We flew back from Nukus to Tashkent. I had a thermometer confiscated. I guess they had to do their job!

What kind of accommodation did you stay in?

Three star hotels mainly. The Hotel in Tashkent was a large Soviet-style hotel, but otherwise they were small inns. Very nice. We also stayed one night in an inn in the mountains (eco-tourism) and one night in the desert in a yurt.

Bob and tea shop lady in Khiva. Note the gold teeth, they are a mark of status. 

Did you travel with a group? Do you have to be fit to go on such a journey?

Small group of five: two Canadians, one American and one Irish. Guide was Rustam who spoke Russian, Uzbek, English and his native Tajik (similar to Persian).
You need to get used to the strong police presence, it’s a unique area, largely ‘untouristed’. Individual travel is not encouraged. I suggest you go with a small group. 
It helps to be fit but we didn’t do a ton of walking except up to castles in the desert. It was worth it though, absolutely magical.  

thank you for sharing with us Bob. Love your photos.

(Toria, July 2017)

click here for a link to Bob's YouTube photo collection of Uzbekistan

“Now I know the things I know, and I do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you!” – Dorothy Parker

I love quotes – they can be witty, pithy, make you laugh and think at the same time. So in our age of twitter and snap chat et al I give you twitter length wisdom from across ages.
To me this quote epitomises independent spirit and not letting yourself be judged by others. Dorothy Parker was a poet, critic, journalist and author – not to mention a famous wit! Way to go girl! But how did good ol´ Dot age? After battling alcoholism for most of her life she died on June 7, 1967, of a heart attack at the age of 73.

In her will she put her money where her mouth was and bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and  following King's death, her estate was passed on to the NAACP. Her ashes remained unclaimed in various places, including her attorney´s  filing cabinet, for approximately 17 years – but frankly I don´t think she would have given a damn (now that´s a stab at another cracking quote…)!

(Sylvia, July 2017)

man in Himalayas
An amazing trek in the Himalayas

I’d like to welcome Pradip to our blog today. Pradip is a Later Life Coach and among other things, works with people preparing for retirement life. This spring Pradip went on a trek in the Himalayas to raise funds for Age UK Essex, where he is a Befriending and Voice Network volunteer.
Pradip, going on a trek to Nepal seems a daunting adventure, how did you prepare for your trek?

My training for the Himalayan Trek started from the day I agreed and registered to take part in the trek. From thereon, my physical and mental psyche kicked in and I was able to maintain a strict diet and training regime. For 6 months, I trained in the Cotswold, Hadley Olympic Mountain Bike track and several rough terrains in beautiful Essex along the River Thames.

So your training included cycling and walking? Did you get any tips for your preparation from your trek company, not only on how to train, but what to pack?

My training included cycling, swimming, gym and plenty of walking on rough landscapes in the most beautiful parts of Essex. In preparation for the trek I received plenty of help and advice on trekking gear, boots, waterproofs, diet, cultural awareness, high altitude awareness and of course on my personal training programs.
We were given a check list of what to pack for the trek and the essential items we were to carry ourselves. The heavier sleeping bags, waterproofs, toiletries and change of clothes were packed separately.
group of people at top of mountain
Can you tell us a bit about your trek?

I travelled with my trekking team of 8 on Easter Friday for a 10-day period. We flew into Kathmandu where we met our experienced trek guide, Nagima Sherpa, for briefing. Next day we flew into Pokhara with a short drive to our starting point at Nayapool. From there we walked continuous for 6 days, stopping at tea houses and staying the nights at simple guest houses.
We walked through some treacherous terrain following the devastation from Nepal earthquake two years earlier. Most of the villages en route have been rebuilt as were the main traffic roads with building work still continuing. Some of the trekking routes are still uncleared and challenging to pass through. I couldn’t see any ruined houses as these may have been cleared to rebuild on.
I met many locals and they were always very warm, friendly and pleasant. Being able to speak Hindi, it was enjoyable to engage in conversations with them. Our normal greeting was “Namaste” which is an ancient Sanskrit greeting meaning "The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you". The villages were spotlessly clean and decorated with colourful prayer flags (similar to our bunting flags)
The guest houses were very simple, single beds, some with a pillow and blanket. However, I carried my own sleeping bag. The walls were very thin, with very poor lighting and no heating at all. At Gorepani (last village before the summit) there was no electricity, so the LED torch I carried helped with unpacking and repacking our luggage. Heating was an adapted oil drum with tube for a chimney and a hole cut out for wood burning. All guests dried their wet clothing and boots huddled around the wood burner.
An army marches on its stomach, they say, what was the food like?

The meals were simple, delicious and ideal for slow release of energy. My favourite meal was “Dal Bhat” which in England is a vegetarian Thali. The dish consisted of rice, two vegetable curries, lentil/pulse soup, pickles, salad and poppadums. These were “eat as much as you like” and served by our friendly porters. With all meals and stops I always enjoyed either fresh lemon teas or Masala Chai with fresh ginger. The menus were standardised for all guest houses and they included most common western dishes of Pizza, pasta dishes, noodles and a large variety of local breads. Although not so authentic, my fellow team members were spoilt for choice. The local beers were of excellent qualities, which I tasted when we reached our final guest house and in Pokhara and Kathmandu.

Did you meet other trekking groups along the way?

I enjoyed meeting many other trekkers, traveling in both directions. They came from UK, USA, and several European countries including Russian speaking states, Chinese, Indians, Koreans and many more. They were of different age, size, and physical abilities and in differing preparedness for trekking. At Tadapani, we meet two French children aged under 10 and going through some studies with their parents before their meal. We even enjoyed sing-along with a large Austrian group at lunch time when it had been raining all day. It certainly brightened our day.

Were there any Sherpas attached to your group?

We were accompanied by five Sherpas, including 2 women. Each Sherpa carried approximately 25-30 kilos. They were extremely resilient and walked with us every day, often arriving at our guest house well before we did. They were very punctual in collecting and bundling our luggage every day. I carried a ‘day bag’, which had an in-built 2.5 litre water bladder, a fleece, some waterproofs, camera and my snacks. My snack bars were very nourishing - granola cookies, freshly baked in most supermarkets in England. I bought several packets on the day of my travel and wrapped each bar in cling film, ready to snack on when we stopped for short breaks. I guess my day pack weighed about 15 kilos, with separate walking poles.
men resting on mountain side
man standing in fog
What was a highlight for you?

We reached Poon Hill Summit on the 5th day, blessed with clear weather, considering the previous two days we endured torrential rainfall and prolonged hailstones. The highlight of the trek is the breath-taking view of the Purnima mountain range.
We started our climb to the summit in pitch darkness at 4.00 a.m., the path lit by my LED head lamp. The final 100 meters was the most challenging at high altitude. The meaning of being out of breath took on a profound meaning for me. After every 5 steps, I had to wait to catch my breath. My heart must have been pounding overtime and felt it was about to burst out of my chest.
Reaching the summit was such a relief and an overwhelming joy at seeing the glorious sunrise. I was just stunned and excited. The exhaustion disappeared and I ran around the Poon Hill area like an excited child full of energy. The atmosphere was just electrifying with cool crisp early morning breeze. I felt I could just sit there eternally and absorb the majestic views. I hadn’t quite realised what I had achieved until we returned to our guest house. At breakfast I pulled out my cognac hip flask and enjoyed our celebratory sip with my team mates.
river in mountains
man sitting on rock in river
A low point?

We walked through constant torrential rainfall throughout the day, with water cascading down as we climbed steep rock face. Equally treacherous was the water flowing down, as we descended through steep slippery forest landscape. Each foot step had to be perfectly made to avoid slipping, or losing balance. I was very tense and hot as I was covered in waterproofs, which doubled up as a boiler suite. At one point, I happened to look up and a chill went through my back at the prospect of navigating yet another very steep climb with water cascading down on my boots, making it difficult to see the ground.

A touching moment?

During a particularly steep climb and exposed to hot sun, we took a break. Sitting on the rock face, I noticed a man’s head bobbing up as he reached the ledge. He was carrying a cone-shaped basket, following behind him were his wife and a teenage daughter, each carrying a basket full of provisions. I looked again at the man and what I saw took my breath away. The man was carrying an older frail man in his basket. I wiped away tears in my eyes, just in time to take a photo.
group trekking up mountain
Tell us a bit about the other people in your party? Is this kind of a trek possible for people of all ages and levels of fitness?

Our team consisted of 8 people, aged 28 to 69, each with differing physical fitness, weight and size. Two men aged 67 and 69. Two rather large ladies who were determined to reach the summit and they were not disappointed. It helped me tremendously to put in some training with well-worn-in trekking boots and suitable trekking clothing. Being prepared helped me to enjoy the whole experience much more.
What did you learn from your experience?

My love of outdoors was a huge bonus and I enjoyed the life changing experience. I now see my life in a much more positive way and feel I can take on any of life’s challenges.
I now realise how we can all be physical and mentally resilient. Our mental capability and body are like a 4-wheel drive vehicle that hasn’t been driven through rough dirt tracks.

Will the experience of going on this adventure feed into your work as a life coach?

My trekking experience has taught me how we can handle any life challenge. It has also had a profound impact on my work and how I inspire and support my clients going through their own challenges in life.
We can choose to live our life to the full with passion and without fear and triviality. This has raised my expertise to become a uniquely insightful later-life coach.

Thank you for sharing your amazing experience with us Pradip.

It has been a privilege to share my story and I would like to thank Toria for inspiring me to write. I am indebted to all those who have given me moral support on this journey and all who donated generously to raising funds for Age UK Essex.
If you would like to find out more about Pradip, check out his website:

Toria, July 2017
man standing on mountain

Flocking hell...

I have been arm wrestling with Charles Darwin about a blue tit. If there was a Darwin Award for birds, this tit would win hands down – were it not for our vigilant rescue operations. If you are asking ´what the flocking hell is a Darwin Award? ´ The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honouring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.  

Here is a link:

My long suffering (cause of suffering undisclosed) husband and I have been playing daft blue tit rescue all spring. We have a perky but grey cell challenged little blue tit who lives in the area and was determined to make our house his home.

Rescue operations have included dismantling a 20 meter long vertical drainpipe to free said blue tit from certain death under the tarmac after he managed to fall down it (doing what I never got the chance to ask him) but he fluttered out after his ordeal looking surprisingly perky… dismantling our bathroom pipe covers to let him flutter out through the French doors after managing to peck his way through the insulation and into the pipe system of the wall (with the help of the local woodpecker who likes to remodel properties); removing the first attempts of a nest he built in  another drainpipe (we had a dry spring), and like many housing estate builders who attempt to dam floodplains with family homes, he probably thought, oh… this dry drainpipe will do…

But the little beggar actually gave me quite an emotional little flutter yesterday, I found this lovely little (now empty) nest under the clothesline – I assume it´s his, everyone else´s is occupied… and (picture included) he wove it beautifully out of human hair, and on closer inspection it actually looks like mine. There was something so rewarding to think that we have bonded to the extent that he thinks my hair makes great interior decorating; really I feel like I have been adopted by nature. The only mystery is how he got it. Probably a discovery for another day…

I can only recommend the joy that having a bird feeder in the garden brings. I have been feeding the birds over the winter – actually I am a big fan of ´year around feeding´ since I learnt about it in the UK. It makes sense to me that food shortages for birds can occur year around. Especially when birds have young in the nest they will need the high protein foraged foods to feed their offspring and can feed themselves off the bird table; this will enable them to more successfully raise all their offspring to maturity. Great advice on year around bird feeding from the RSPB here:

Do you have any bird stories you can share with us? I would love to hear from you!

Sylvia, June 2017

blue tit
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