Living the Dream – 41. Guest Season

Guest season is upon us. We have two sets during the month of April. They are looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it. I just hope that the weather Gods got the memo.

Not surprisingly, moving to a house with a pool, in a hot climate makes for a higher visitor count. Of course, this is in part, because we are much further from friends and family now, so it’s not as though we can hook up for a quick coffee any more: But the proximity of the beach helps.

Guest Season Management

Turns out that living cheek by jowl with other people is not the same as being friends with them. Things are further complicated by the fact that the guests are on holiday, but for us, it’s another week. Having guests is a privilege, and I don’t intend to ignore them totally, but these posts won’t write themselves and contrary to what you may have heard, Nero’s Notes does require a little bit of work from me too.

Cyprus is blessed with a wonderful coastline and gorgeous beaches, but my Celtic skin is not best-suited to beach days, so those will be the times when I get my work done. When it comes to long barbecues and cold beers however, I will be front and centre.

I have been tasked with writing the house rules. These aren’t actually rules, more a plea, “Let’s talk about stuff.” In our experience, the key things to work out are meals and plans. We can’t put our lives on hold every time that we have guests, but we want our guests to have the holiday that they want. So the rules are an ice-breaker, an enjoinder to start a dialogue before everybody ticks everybody else off.

Money

In true British fashion, a source of awkwardness is money. We’re happy to provide people with breakfast and a light lunch, but thereafter, things need to be split.

“Should everyone pay for what they consume? Shall we split evenly? Your turn, our turn?”

“But you had a bottle of expensive wine and I only had a sip! I didn’t have a starter, and he had a dessert.”

The British way is to find a way that suits nobody, pretend that everything is fine and then complain bitterly to your partner in private.

To avert this, I have declared a kitty. Each person pitches in a cash amount to fund communal evening meals at home and communal meals / drinks out. This is the start point, and we adjust from there if there is an obvious inequity in consumption.

(Put another way, I’m not allowed to outdrink guests four to one)

What could possibly go wrong?

There. You’ve heard the theory. If you don’t hear from me again, assume I’m at the beach, having beer for breakfast.

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Working Tools 16. – Home Office

Since moving to Cyprus, I don’t commute any more. I am lucky enough to have a distinct home-office. It’s a converted carport, connected to the house, yet separate. Now, six months after arriving, I am onto office 3.0.

Desks

Home Office 1

This is a desk from Ikea where the height can be adjusted. I bought it with the intention of varying it through the day, sometimes sitting and sometimes standing. Lesson learned. Within days, I stopped adjusting the desk. It was a permanent standing desk, then a permanent sitting desk. Here is where I write letters, and sometimes work. It is not entirely analogue, my iPad Pro lives here and there is a small monitor on the wall. (It’s actually the doorbell, which also functions as an intercom to the kitchen, upstairs.)

Home Office 2

Turns out, an Ikea bookshelf makes for a perfectly adequate standing desk. The IT setup is a MacBook Pro with external monitor. The screen riser is a very high-tech solution, namely a ream of printer paper. My podcasting microphone lives on the boom and I have a Mastermind desk pad and Squire from the excellent Baron Fig. The small surface area enforces a minimalist approach, which minimises distraction. Focus is a real benefit of working on my feet and this is only enhanced by the new setup.

Feet Up

Central to my space, I have an armchair, where I meditate, read and nap. Trouble is, it’s a popular spot.

Home Office 3

The plan is that having a great workspace allows me to segregate my day. This is important. While Spice was tiny, I took to working in the kitchen, where I could keep an eye on her. While convenient, this very quickly blurred the lines between work time and downtime. Given half a chance, I’ll keep tinkering away for eighteen hours a day. Now, I am more able to switch off when I leave the office.

The next challenge will be the heat. Despite taking its time to arrive this year, summer is hot in Cyprus. Temperatures will reach 40 degrees centigrade (104 F) in the shade, and I’m sure that working on the terrace will seem very attractive. Surely that’s an element of #livingthedream? If it does get too hot, the home-office does have air-conditioning, so it may become a sanctuary.

I’m extremely lucky to have such a fantastic space, so time for me to make the most of it and do some work.

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And the Winner is….

Last week I decided to give myself seven days to choose who was going to be the winner, Sean or Jana. Time’s up.

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Living the Dream -40. Walking

I have always been a fan of walking, in theory. In practice, less of a fan. There’s weather, traffic and other people. Largely therefore, I have gone through life seeing walking as a means to get from A to B. Much like a taxi, but slower.
I documented elsewhere, how I accidentally became a walker. Since then, I am a zealous convert. Most of the time, I am able to keep my walking habit within reasonable bounds, however, once a year, I spend a whole week walking, doing twenty miles or so a day.

Fitness

Thus far, I have completed three of these annual trips, a slightly slimmer man each time. Our first camino week involved the Pyrenees and on every ascent, I repeatedly wheezed that I was going to lose some weight. I did, mostly by turning my daily commute into ten miles walking a day. Recently however, I have changed my daily commute again, now to twenty seconds or so. As a result, some of those banished pounds have returned to my midriff.

The Plan

As I write, I’m five months from the next segment of the camino, with maybe twenty pounds to lose. The weather here is improving, so I will start my daily swimming routine soon. Spice is growing up, and so will enjoy a daily stroll beyond the confines of the garden and, and I am now a member of the Cyprus Rambling Club, which will get me out walking every second Sunday.

Dora

This weekend, I joined my first walk of the year, around a village called Dora. As I may have mentioned (once or twice), we have had a very wet winter, making for verdant views evocative of central Italy rather than Cyprus. I have never seen the island this green. Grudgingly, I’ll admit that the rain has done some good. I’ll still be glad to see the back of it though. The views were stunning and the weather kind. We were at altitude, had some hills to climb, and at eight miles, this was a perfect training walk for me. Talking to a fellow rambler, we marvelled at how the desire to walk takes us to places that we would not otherwise find. Here, less than half an hour from my house, were gorgeous views of valley and vineyards, as far as I could see. The only other people we met were a couple of goat herders, shepherding their flock across the path as we headed back to our start point.

Good Walking land

Benefits

Walking is good for you. Physically, mentally and dare I say it, spiritually. Get out there and do it. If it’s raining, put a coat on. You are, in fact, waterproof, you know.

Working Tools -15. Tripit

Tripit is another digital tool. Last week, I wrote about analogue tools, so this week, something truly digital. I travel a bit, and Tripit is now my goto tool for travel plans.

Camino de Santiago

The best way to demonstrate why I like it, is to provide an example. I am walking the Camino de Santiago, following the Via Francés, which runs from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, five hundred miles away. I am doing it in stages, a week a year, for five years. This year will be the fourth. We are starting in Léon and finishing in Triacastela, one hundred and ten tiring miles later.

There are many ways to walk the Camino, and my walking-buddy Stuart, (I know, it confuses everybody) and I have settled into a routine where we pre-book our overnights. We’re both creeping up on fifty years old and after our first camino decided that dormitories have had their day for us. We share a room in a cheap hotel. Now, we walk at an easier pace, and often enjoy a leisurely lunch, secure in the knowledge that we can roll into our chosen village at six pm, our bed secured.

Camino by Tripit!

The Process.

I sit down with the guide book to plan our next stage. First criterion is that both Stuart and I are very lucky in that our wives put up with us disappearing for a week each year to go walking, and we don’t want to push our luck. We stipulate that we will go for no more than eight days. Two days travel and six days walking.

Task 1.

International. Stuart starts from Dublin and this year, I start from Cyprus. We need to get to Léon to carry on from where we finished last year. I use RometoRio and Skyscanner to work this out. This year, we will be landing in Madrid, and taking a bus to Léon. Leaving, we will be getting a bus from our finish point to the town of Sarria, overnighting there, before getting a train to Santiago de Compostela, and a bus to the airport there. That worked out, I book my flights, and Stuart books his.

Task 2.

Stages. We are pretty comfortable at around eighteen miles a day. Less than fifteen feels too little and twenty plus feels a slog. Using the guidebook, I identify likely stop points, and then search accommodation options online. I tend to use booking.com. Twin beds, private bathroom and access to a laundry service or washing machine is essential. We carry everything that we need for the week on our backs, so the ability to wash and dry clothes is non-negotiable.

Task 3.

Finally, we get to Tripit. I go to my email, which is now full of booking confirmations from airlines and hotels. I forward all of these to Tripit. This is where the magic happens. In moments, all of the bookings are collated into an itinerary that is available to me online or on an app in my phone. Each booking is summarised on a master view, and I have the ability to drill into the detail. The reservation number, the cancellation terms, the payment status, everything. For example, in one of the bookings, this is listed under Notes:
“Notes. This room features views of the Santa Mariña Church. It comes with 2 single beds and a private bathroom.”

Advantages

Everything that I need is stored in the app and online. I can share the trip plans, so that everyone is in the picture. I am able to add notes and pictures to any item in the itinerary.  We are not pre-booking bus tickets, we will buy them on the ground, but I am able to save the schedules in the itinerary, both the buses that we plan to take and the fallback options, because, well, life happens. Stuart and I are both now looking at the route, reading blogs, seeking out sites to visit, churches to see, even restaurants, (we take lunch very seriously). All of this can be added to Tripit.

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Good triumphs over evil

Good triumphs over evil. That’s how a good story ends, isn’t it? It was looking bad for a while, but in the end, good found a way and won the day. This is the conventional logic. Writers ask readers to identify with the protagonist, and in return there is an unspoken promise that the hero will win.

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Living the Dream 39. Zambartas Wine Tasting

“Zambartas.”
“Bless you”, rejoined Margaret.
She’s a wit, my wife. Zamabartas is indeed a winery, a short drive from the mountain hideaway. I had booked us “Experience 3” for the afternoon of Margaret’s birthday.

Background

I am fond of a glass of wine. In fairness, I’m fond of a glass of pretty much anything, but sensible, grown-up me tends to gravitate towards a glass of wine. I am a long way from expert, but I have, through practice, gravitated beyond the adjectives red,white and pink to describe wine. Over the years, I have struggled to find wines in Cyprus that I enjoy. Initially, I could only find local wines that were very cheap, and frankly, barely drinkable. Fear not, I persevered. Gradually, the choice increased. I was able to enjoy barely drinkable wines from all over the world. Of late, it has been possible to find good imported wine, at a price, and in one of our favourite restaurants, we were served a lovely crisp white; from Cyprus, called Zambartas.

Experience 3

We drove into the village of Agios Amvrosios. I was suspicious, there are unambiguous, prominent signs directing visitors to the winery. Reading road signs in Cyprus is usually more of an art than a science, but not even I could get lost following these arrows.
Experience 3 is a tour of the winery followed by a tasting of five wines with matching canapés. The naming could obviously do with some work, but that is my only criticism. We were hosted by Adriana, a witty, personable polyglot with a passion for people and wine. Mags and I joined a young couple visiting from the UK, and the four of us had a cracking time.

The Wines

I’m not going to write an extensive, detailed review of each wine. I lack the expertise and the inclination. The detailed appraisal of individual wines has no joy for me, I’m all about the combination of company, conversation and wine.

Our first was Xinisteri. Exquisitely described by Adriana as a “Veranda wine.” Light, easy drinking, either alone or with lunch. We worked through another white, a rosé, up into a couple of reds, the last of which is a big boy new world style Shiraz. I was going to write, “these won’t win many awards”, but actually, some of the wines are winning awards. What I mean is, that not one of the wines struck me as exceptional. They all struck me as good and approachable. There is sufficient variation across the line, for me to be confident that every guest to the mountain hideaway will find something that they like.

I left with boxes of wine of different shades and tastes, and fully expect to go back to Zambartas and try some other Cyprus wineries.

The last drop

Everyone sees #livingthedream differently. For me, a group of friends on the terrace, the coals burning, wine glasses full, IS the dream. There is nothing better.

Working Tools -14. Writing Instruments

Writing Instruments

Writing instruments are important to me. I consider myself a writer and keep several journals. I own a notebook company. Of course, writing instruments are important to me.This post could run to pages, and I daresay that this is a subject area to which I’ll return. I will try not to go on too long today.My love affair with pens and pencils is similar to my relationship with bags. I adore finding and using the write instrument for the purpose at hand.

Matching

This “matching” is more important to me than any subjective or objective measure of quality or merit. For example, I own a Pelikan 805 Stressemann fountain pen and I own multiple Mitsubishi Uniball UB-150 gel pens. For my bullet journal, I will always reach for a Mitsubishi rather than the Pelikan, even though the Pelikan is a magnificent fountain pen, that is expensive and a joy to own.
Writing a letter to a friend, I will always reach for a fountain pen. Often, I might reach for several, changing pen, nib and ink, mid-sentence. Drafting a chapter, or a blog post, I might use a pencil, a rollerball, a gel pen, a fountain pen or, at a push, a ballpoint. Which will depend on where I am, and how the mood takes me.

A beautiful Writing instrument
Isn’t she gorgeous?

Tools

Ultimately, the writing instrument should simply be a working tool. It shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter what we use, it matters what we do with it. Nevertheless, it helps if you enjoy using your tools. I definitely enjoy mine too much. I even have pencils coming by subscription. Heck, I even bought a notebook company!
Analogue writing is mounting a comeback in this, the digital age. There is much research that using pen or pencil stimulates parts of the brain that keyboards simply don’t reach, and the success of Moleskine and Field Notes has led to the launch of multiple competitors.

Everpresent

Whether I be hiking the Camino De Santiago, or sitting in a coffee shop, I am never without a writing instrument and a notebook. Marie Kondo would approve; they bring me joy. Handy for making a shopping list too.

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Debut Novel Syndrome

Debut Novel Syndrome is, of course, well-known. You haven’t heard of it? Shame on you. Alright, I confess. I made it up. As far as I am aware, which is as far as the first page of the search I just completed, Debut Novel Syndrome is not a thing. It should be though.

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Living the Dream – 38. Six Months

Six months? You’re kidding.

As I write this, we are a few days short of six months #livingthedream. I wrote last week about how I had become distracted. Before I could address that though, I had a Pen Show to do. London was great fun, and travel went well until the final leg. The airport is forty minutes from the mountain-hideaway. Usually. On Monday, it was one hundred and fifty minutes away. Ho-hum. I also brought home a gift, a sniffle. (The sniffle has become a full-blown head-cold now.)

Wins

That notwithstanding, I have managed to play two rounds of golf, been wine-tasting and eaten some tasty suppers out. As promised, I had a word with myself, and am back on track, or at least moving closer to the track.

I am hitting my move goals on my Apple Watch, which are 30 minutes exercise and 850 calories per day. I’m doing that through my static bike and walking with Spice in the garden. Beer consumption is down, although I remain far from abstemious. My trousers remain VERY tight, so there is plenty of work to do on the diet and exercise front, but I am confident that being more aware of the calories that I am putting in, and making more effort to burn them will quickly have me heading the right direction.

I suspect that the above might be over-sharing, but hey, I’m nothing, if not honest.

Margaret

Margaret is beginning to feel a little better. What she went through is not something that anyone should ever go through, but she is much stronger than she believes. We’re both ready for the wet winter to evolve into a warm Spring and we are making a real effort to go to new places and do new things. She has some travel booked, and we have a slew of visitors coming.

Spice

Spice is alternately infuriating and endearing. A proper tomboy, she is a digger and an eater. She likes nothing more than snuffling around in the garden and bringing in all sort of bugs, pieces of wood and assorted junk. Then, she curls up to sleep and is a canine angel. She sleeps through the night and is pretty much house-trained.

The next six months

We are beginning to see how our year is going to shape up and although the weather remains a mite unreliable, we do now get the odd glimpse of the spring and summer to come.

First sun in six months?

We are very lucky to have this opportunity, and we are both looking forward to the next six months.

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