Well this has been a busy year for us, so I thought I'd harness the power of the internet to let you all know what we've been up to.
We started off the year on the beach in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. We went out to Perth for Alison's cousin, April's, wedding
and then spent time travelling round the rest of the country, crossing from West to East. We had Christmas in Perth, including Christmas Day (and my birthday!) on the beach -
The weather there was absolutely scorching - it was 42 degrees on Christmas day! We spent a lot of time just relaxing and going to the beach - the water was superb, very clean and warm with strong breakers and surf. The wedding was great, lots of new people to meet, including Alison's extended family out there, Uncles, Aunts the lot. We spent time out in the outback at a koala sanctuary and realised what a furnace it is in the interior of the country then flew over the outback,
to Cairns where we had ourselves booked into a luxury hotel for New Year.
Which is how come we ended up strolling along a beach at midnight watching the fireworks in Cairns. One of my abiding memories of the place is seeing swarms of fruit bats, literally thousands of them, flying out on the evening thermals to feed in the rainforest - it was like watching a scene from a Hitchcock movie .We also went diving off the Great Barrier Reef for 3 days and saw our first shark! The photo below was taken before we saw it!
Then it was down to Sydney for a week and finally, after 3 glorious weeks, back home. One of the best holidays, if not the best, we've ever had I would say. It was a nice mixture of travelling, socialising, sight-seeing, doing things and relaxing. The food and drink were very good and the weather was superb. The only place it rained the whole time was out in the outback at Ayers Rock! Where it NEVER normally rains! (Next year I'm going to offer my services as a rain maker to the UN or some such). We flew back to Heathrow on the Monday, landing at 7 and went straight into the office. It wasn't too bad that first day, but it was only really that evening that the jet-lag hit us (the jet-lag was time-lagged!) and we were going to bed at 10 at night and waking up at 3 and doing the housework for a few days before it wore off. After that trip, anything else would have paled into insignificance so we didn't actually do anything else in the early part of the year. We were too busy making plans for our summer adventure....
We've been thinking about buying a house abroad for some years now. We've been to various countries and nearly bought in different places for some time, including France, Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria. But last year we went to Croatia for the second time and just felt it hit all the right buttons. Sooooo ... when we got back to London we decided to sell the flat we had in Hammersmith and to use the money to buy a holiday home in Croatia.
I started learning the language in preparation and looking into financing the deal. I also tried to see whether I could get a sabbatical from work at HSBC. Unfortunately they don't do sabbaticals (the bank that likes to say... "not now!"), which left me in a predicament. Should I try to cram the whole house buying trip into 5 weeks or should I just cut my losses and leave and branch out on my own? Not being a career minded kind of person and not really enjoying myself at HSBC, I handed in my notice in April and left work in May. We reasoned that Alison would be able to carry on working and I'd be away for 3 months and come back and get a similar job to what I had before. Oh the optimism of the young (and the not so young who don't have kids to look after!!)
Anyway in the middle of May I packed the car one morning, got in and set off for Croatia with the aim of finding a holiday home for us, learning the language and travelling around the country getting to know it and hoping to find a new career out there in tourism or something. There is a lot more information about my Croatian adventure on this website, including fairly regular news updates from Croatia as well as photos and links to other websites for those who are interested in finding out more.
To give a brief synopsis for those who don't want to trawl through the rest of the site, I started off in Dubrovnik,
staying with a family, then travelled round Bosnia and Montenegro for a few days, including a night in Sarajevo
(one of the highlights of the trip in a macabre way) and then travelled along the Dalmatian coast via Split, Sibenik
and Zadar up to Zagreb. I spent just over a week in Zagreb where I met a lot of people through other people's contacts and then decided to head back down to the coast to Istria, which is near the Slovenian border and which I felt would be the most likely place for us to find the kind of house we were looking for. In Istria I again stayed with a family and eventually spent some 2 months with them, having my meals with them and generally being treated as a member of the family - in fact they ended up calling me their adoptee! Alison came out a couple of times, in between dashing off to France, Germany and New York! In Istria we found 2 places to buy; one, a small, 2-bedroom, renovated house in a small fishing village,
is now finished and ready; we have a separate website for it, grandly named Casa Funtana. The other house is much more of a long-term project; it is a shell really, certainly not habitable at present, but has good prospects for the future.
We intend to re-develop the place over the next couple of years, putting an extra floor on and separating it down the middle to form 2 separate, but adjacent holiday homes with shared gardens and swimming pool. Of course, the timetables are to a large extent dependent on finance. And given that we don't have any money at the moment, the timetables may have to be more elastic than originally anticipated! :-).
I got back to London at the beginning of November and am looking for a new job now. I was originally planning to be back by about mid-September but it took longer both to find a place to buy and to organise a kitchen for it. I have to admit that by the end of my stay in Croatia I was getting a bit bored and probably lonely as I had moved into the house on my own in order to furnish it and organise everything it needed for letting. I was pretty much chomping at the bit to come home, but managed to drive the car off the road into an earth bank, which further delayed me by a couple of weeks. However I got back in time to organise a surprise 40th birthday party for Alison - incredible I know, everyone thinks she's still about 12. I think she enjoyed it - she was certainly very surprised. We went to a small restaurant in Hammersmith that we know and everyone was in a darkened room (good thinking Angela to turn the lights out!) so she got a bit of a shock - it was great to see the expression on her face.
Of course, coming back that late in the year wasn't brilliant from the perspective of job-hunting - pre-Christmas is always very quiet and this year is no exception. I'm hoping that things will pick up next year. I'm not bored though as I have plenty to be getting on with; creating a website for the house and also doing some programming at home to brush up on my skills, which are now seriously out of date - unfortunately the demand for Croatian speakers has not increased in the meantime. I met a lot of estate agents in Croatia who were keen to target people in the UK so am looking into how realistic it would be to work with them on it. Other than that, there always seems to be plenty to do in and around the house. I often wonder how people manage to fit it all in with a 40+ hour working week - they probably don't!
Anyway enough from me. I'm now going to let Alison bring you up to date on what she's been doing this year
Well, aside from keeping "me old man in the manner to which he has become accustomed", I managed to keep myself busy over the summer months - of course I always had Diesel and Bilko to keep me company (our 2 year old kitties) as well as Valerie round the corner and Nick's cousin Peter, who would come out to the "country" in Chiswick from his "town house" in Notting Hill - more often than not to cat-sit when I disappeared on my weekend jaunts. Work was pretty hectic all summer and what with that and trying to fulfil my role as Chairperson of the Chandos Chamber Choir (anyone interested in hearing about future concerts, just let me know!), weekdays were fairly full. As well as making a total of three trips to Croatia (and no, I still can't speak a word of Croatian!) I organised a weekend in Germany with colleagues from work - we went to Tauberbischofsheim,
the Olympic Fencing Training Centre, which is where my former boss spent part of his youth before going on to participate in two Olympic Games in the 80's. He relocated from London back to New York this Summer so the trip was our farewell "gift" to him - we all got a fencing lesson out of it too, which was great fun! Other weekends away included a visit to Paris to spend a long weekend with Sara, Thierry, Emily, my goddaughter, and Chloe; a trip up to to the Derbyshire Dales to visit my sister and her family
; another trip to Germany, this time Düsseldorf, to attend the wedding
of a very good friend I made whilst living there back in 1988!! and then in late July a trip to New York with a friend from work. Despite our flight to JFK being some 8 hours delayed in departure from LHR(!), we had an enjoyable few days visiting museums, meeting up with colleagues at GS, wining and dining, shopping .. as you do! We were fortunate enough to stay "gratis" in an apartment, which was owned by the former head of our department in London (on the upper East side - one of those blocks with its own doorman and canopy over the entrance!), which was a great location for starting the day by jogging around Central Park (when in Rome ...) and even more fortunate to be given a tour of Woody Allen's former town house, which has since been purchased by same former head of our department in London. It's massive inside, has its own security room, goodness knows how many bedrooms/bathrooms, two "elevators" .. I could go on .... We also managed to get ourselves invited out for a boat tour round the Hudson River ... and that was it really
It would be great to hear from other people what you have been up to.
Lots of love
Nick and Alison