Lovely bedroom

On my first day here in Malawi I am staying in the Kiboko Hotel in Lilongwe, which is unpretentious but perfectly comfortable. I have been upgraded to an executive room and what fun the bed head is with these huge camelions keeping watch on me. Eeek! They are not that big in real life, nor very common in Malawi, I believe.

The wall hangings are beautiful and I am particularly impressed by the framing. It’s lovely to be in Malawi among the warmest-hearted people on the planet. Sure their communication systems don’t work well but their welcome is very real and they are very proud that their country is known as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’

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Arriving in Malawi

After a smooth, but long, trip via London and Johannesburg, the arrival at Lilongwe is very pretty, at least on the outside of the building. Inside it’s not so good. There are four processes for immigration. First the visa form must be authorised and no-one asked for all that supporting evidence that I had compiled. Next you must pay the visa fee of $75.00. This takes ages but does produce a receipt. Then the visa itself gets written by hand and stuck into the passport – very pretty. Finally, you are in a queue for immigration and that’s all done. It only too 45 minutes or so.
In the baggage hall there are trolleys (good) but my luggage is not there (bad).

A charade is then played whereby it is pretended that there is a system for locating it and ensuring that it will come tomorrow. In fact, I will just go back there tomorrow and personally look around the luggage hall for it. Without it I cannot go on with my work here so here’s hoping.  Yup. Found the luggage the next day so on with the plan. Sorry the jackaranda tree is on its side!

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Pedalling for Scotland – well for Malawi actually

My very short trip last weekend might merit a blog post, since it was 45 miles by bicycle. I was part of a group who raised funds for girls’ education in Malawi. The ride itself was fine because I had used the project as an excuse to get fit and to abandon all other responsibilities in favour of cycling. It was great to have that motivation and the imperative to leave my desk and take to the roads and cycle paths.

Nearly 8,000 people took part in the event, some cycling 93 miles, some 10 miles and most of us doing 45 miles. Some people had not obviously trained much, nor were in the best shape but it was an ‘all shapes and sizes’ kind of event. Once the sleek, speedy, lycra-clad chaps (mostly men) had woven their way through the crowd and headed off to beat their own internal targets, the mere mortals pedalled on in a sociable way. There were rest/feeding stations on the way. The first ones were busy but there was more space and shorter loo queues as we got nearer Edinburgh.

Sadly someone had put tacks on the road in places so as to sabotage this happy event, resulting in lots of punctures and delays. How horrible is that? Luckily our group didn’t have any problem other than the rain and a bit of ‘maybe I should have trained more’.

A couple of years ago I would never have contemplated attempting that distance but, in the end, it didn’t feel very far at all. The only injury I sustained was hurting my back when moving rucksacks to make space for the bike in the hostel the night before. Silly. As well as the fun and the sense of achievement, we raised over £4,000.00 for our two charities – for girls’ at secondary school and young women at university in Malawi. I am heading off to Malawi shortly so watch this space for some stories.

 

 

 

 

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Hot cycling

I normally cycle in Scotland where wind, rain and midges are the major challenges and not necessarily in that order. How exciting then to come upon this ‘Group Cycling’ event in Florence – on a hill above Florence to be precise. Here hundreds of people cycled on gym bikes (I think this might be ‘spinning’) to music and loud encouragement. The moves were demonstrated by chaps up the front doing what the gang should be doing.

This seems a very strenuous activity and it was being done in 34 degrees Celcius. I can hardly walk on the flat in that heat, far less pedal furiously. At least one person looked as if he was about to have a heart attack. Emergency services were all around, as they needed to be. Respect!

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How to open a bottle of wine

You couldn’t make up the series of things that have gone wrong on this Italian holiday. I am a very positive person but there comes a point when even I fail to see the positive side of ‘challenges’. I won’t bore you with luggage issues, or key issues but would anyone believe that it took three corkscrews to open one bottle of wine? The first corkscrew broke in the cork. The second one didn’t work at all. I tried a knife and a pliers-thing and then went back to the supermarket for another corkscrew. Having run of out isn’t-this-an-adventure, I did not even attempt to return the faulty one. Mercifully the third one worked.

On the positive side (see, I can’t resist it!) I had many happy memories of my student days trying to get into bottles without suitable tools and the wine here is cheap and lovely.

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Lismore – wet and charming

Nippy Chippy van
A welcome sight when getting off the ferry

On the final day of our ferry-themed jaunt around the West of Scotland we went over to Lismore, by ferry of course.  Lismore is an island, ten miles long and about one mile wide, lying in Loch Linnhe at the southern end of the Great Glen. Of more immediate interest to us on the wet and breezy Sunday morning was the ‘Nippy Chippy’ van which sold HOT tea/coffee and home bakes, made by the young woman’s granny. Delicious.

Heritage display in the centre
Eerie museum of life in the ‘old days’

We had been told of a ‘coffee shop’ in the North of the island (otherwise why would we be there?) but it is way more than that. It is a heritage centre with a museum depicting life on the island in the 19th century. It was eerie in its stillness and the recorded conversations of the time. The café there is so welcoming! There is good wifi (how do they manage that?) and they don’t mind you sheltering out of the wind and rain all day.

whitewashed houses
The High Street of Port Ramsay

Since this was a cycling holiday, we did go a bit further afield and came to the charming high street of Port Ramsay – not a Starbucks to be seen! The local phone box is being turned into an information centre. There is a ferry from there to the mainland but not often on a Sunday so we gave it a miss – – another time.

 

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Hidden gem and great sandwiches

It was a great start to a day that deteriorated badly later on. But it started with a free trip on the Corran Ferry – bikes and foot passengers travelling for free. We needed coffee and something for lunch on a 30 mile trip with no shops. The  guys on the ferry told us about the  Clovullin village shop. Yes! What a find. As well as coffee, bacon rolls and fruit the owner made us the best-ever ham rolls for lunch.

The wind whipped up after the first hill and it was the hardest ride we’ve ever done. Finding a place to eat that lunch was a challenge because it was impossible to be standing in the wind and rain for long before getting hypothermia.  When we did find a nook we enjoyed those rolls as no food ever. So do call into Clovullin when you are on Ardnamurchan. It’s not technically Ardnamurchan but Morvern … maybe.

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Turntable ferry – Glenelg

The highlight of an adventurous day on bikes was the last working turntable ferry in the world.  This is the community owned Glenelg to  Kylerhea ferry which is manually operated and only takes six cars. It runs across the Kyle Rhea straits south of the Skye Bridge in Scotland.

We biked 41 miles around from Kyleakin, under the Skye Bridge,. The day included two viewpoints of 900 feet each. Spectacular. Exhausting. Felt great to have achieved it, tough though it certainly was.

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Smooth tram-train link – finally!

Hurrah! Edinburgh finally has a covered, more-or-less warm and step-free link between the tram and the Fife train line – Edinburgh Gateway. If that wasn’t exciting enough there is a heater which can be operated by the travelling public. This is in the waiting area, out of the wind and rain which is so often a feature of our train stations in Scotland. Well done ScotRail!

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Serious Sunday drinking

I got on the train in Edinburgh about 12.30 on a Sunday, which is time for a lunchtime drink for many people, I suppose. I was joined by two young (in their 30s) women and the mother of one of them. These well-dressed, friendly, lovely women had gone to Edinburgh for the night and spent it in different bars, according to their phone conversations. Getting out their supplies and plastic glasses, they drank two bottles of wine between them in the first hour and then a can of premium lager each in the next 15 minutes. We all got off the train then (total journey an hour and twenty minutes) and their plan was to go drinking for the afternoon before going home to their families.

I have led a sheltered life, I know. #Gobsmacked.

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