Thursday, 3 August 2017

THE TIME I MET MY CHILDHOOD HERO

If you had the chance to meet your hero what would you do? Would you jump at the chance? Or would you run a mile in the other direction through sheer panic and nervousness?

Depending on how risk averse you are you may not want to meet him/her and risk feeling disappointed at how different they may be in real life to the person/personality you’ve created in your mind’s eye. Or if you’re like me and the opportunity arises wild horses couldn’t keep you away. 

A few weekends ago I was in the fortunate enough position to be meeting my childhood hero and first crush; West Ham United’s ex-goalkeeper and legend: Luděk Mikloško, or “Ludo” as he is more affectionately known. He told me recently that the nickname “Ludo” was coined for all us east-London types who couldn’t get their teeth around Luděk. You see, Luděk isn’t phonetic and the “ě” isn’t pronounced the “English” way and after a few attempts at trying to pronounce Luděk the way it should be pronounced I quickly came to see why a nickname was needed!  

But let’s rewind a bit shall we? Let me set the scene for you. I was a mere 8 years of age when Ludo came crashing into my life all the way from Czechoslovakia (as was). It was 1990: he had just signed for us (“us” being West Ham United football club) and I was a season-ticket holder in the family enclosure with my dad and little sister, Claire (our poor mum really was a football widow. And my dad, bless him, didn’t let a little thing like having two little girls [instead of boys] stop him from gently guiding his children towards the claret and blue path that he himself has been walking for so long). 

All I can remember thinking when I saw Ludo for the first time was how absolutely massive he was….even from the very back of the top tier of the stand! From my 8-year-old’s perspective it seemed like all he had to do was lift one hand in the air and we could “high-five” each other. He was intimidating and imposing and I was absolutely smitten. 

It wasn’t until a few years after this that I got to meet Ludo for the first time at the players’ training ground in Chadwell Heath. My dad, sister and I used to regularly make the 15 minute drive for the players’ autographs. I was about 13 years old and I still have the dog-eared picture that I got him to sign on one of my next trips back to the training ground. 
~1996~

A few years after that, when I was about 16, I took another trip to the training ground, this time with a good friend of mine during what was supposed to be our GCSE study leave period (mum, if you’re reading this now and didn’t know what’s what I did with my study leave then I’m really sorry). I sought out the one man I was after in a sea of footballers and thankfully I found who I was looking for. Luckily my long-suffering friend, also Claire (who knew, and still knows, all about my crush) didn’t mind playing photographer to capture another moment in time of Ludo and me. 

Of course I couldn’t have that picture unsigned so she and I went back the following week to get it autographed! 
~1998~

And somewhere in between all of my visits to the training ground (there were too many to count) my wonderful parents arranged for my sister and I to sponsor Ludo’s team tracksuit in the season of 1995-96. There it was in black and white, our names in the match-day programmes for the whole season, for the whole world to see….OK that may be an exaggeration: for the whole of Upton Park to see.
Pre-match in the dressing room with his actual shirt that he wore for the game :) 

OK, that’s the background; let’s fast forward to 2017 (purposely skipping the part about how upset I was when he left West Ham, how I cried for days when he got his one and only red card against Everton, and how I might have even phoned up a radio station on his birthday one year to get a song played for him: “Simply the Best” if I remember rightly……I can’t believe I’m saying all of this “out loud”!!!!)

Anyways, the year was 2017. The location was Jersey. The occasion was the Jersey Hammers Supporter’s Club’s End of Season dinner, and the guest of honour was, you guessed it, none other than Ludo himself. When I heard this all plans of being in Copenhagen with the husband to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary that weekend went out the window. To be fair I did tell the husband he could go to Copenhagen without me.

Important Disclaimers: 1) The husband is also an avid West Ham supporter and so didn’t mind re-arranging our Copenhagen trip. 2) Thankfully the husband knew all about my crush on Ludo from pretty much the day we first met and so knew what a big deal this was for me.

It was with a mixture of trepidation, excitement and a lot of nerves that I counted down the days until the evening of Saturday 8th July. Would I be disappointed when I met my hero, the man I’d idolised for so long? Would he be a nice person? What would I say to the man I’ve loved and adored ever since I was 8 years old? How on earth was I supposed to keep my cool and not declare my undying love for him whilst at the same time throwing my arms around him, all within the time it would take him to introduce himself to me?!? 

However I had no time to dwell on these “worries” because my meeting him was brought forward by 24 hours when the husband announced that Ludo and a couple of others from the Supporter’s Club would be in town for a few drinks on the Friday evening if we fancied joining them. 

I didn’t want to go out on that Friday night; all I wanted to do was go to bed thanks to a bit of a late night the night before, and a lot of nerves about meeting Ludo in a social setting rather than as a fan at the training ground. The thought of meeting him was beginning to stress me out and I’d even convinced myself that maybe I shouldn’t go to the dinner, let alone out on the Friday, and risk having my childhood heart and dreams shattered. The husband wasn’t having any of it though, bless him, and knew I’d regret not going and practically forced me out of the house. And boy am I glad he did.

Other than saying it was one of the best nights of my life I really cannot tell you how good a time I had. Any reservations I was harbouring about whether or not he’d be a nice person were dispelled within about 30 seconds, but he probably thought I was a bit of a moody cow when he introduced himself to me, only for me to reply with “I know who you are” in not the politest of voices. Great first impression!

After six or seven (small) bottles of Prosecco, lots of laughs, embarrassing stories and a million selfies and pictures later I meandered my way home with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face. I like to think that I meandered in an endearing way, but it was 1:30am and I hadn’t eaten for more than 12 hours so I’d say that a stumbling, bumbling, (dribbling) mess is a more apt description.
The only downside to Friday being so good was that Saturday had a lot to live up to. 

Alas, Saturday’s dinner was brilliant but in a different way; I had to “share” him, for one thing (boo!!!!!), and I didn’t take as many pictures as the previous night……..ah who am I kidding, I felt like a professional stalker photographer by the end of the night. On a serious note though it was great hearing Ludo’s answers to the questions everyone had submitted for the Q&A session, and listening to a room full of supporters reminisce about the good-old-days, their conversations sprinkled with names I’ve not heard in a long time, brought back many happy memories.
 
~1996 - 1998 - 2017~

And so it was with a happy, but very heavy, heart that I hugged my hero/crush goodbye, purposely not looking back as I reluctantly put one high-heeled strappy sandal in front of the other and made my way to our waiting taxi…..but our gem of a universe wasn’t done yet and she had one final surprise for me up her sleeve. 

Cue: Ludo’s Sunday night dinner with the supporter’s club’s committee members. Am I a committee member? Nope; but you guessed it: I was there for the dinner. Someone must have taken pity on me and allowed me and the husband to gate-crash the final-supper (John, thank you SO much!). I’ll admit I wasn’t on great form. I was jaded, feeling ill (ahem, hungover) and drinking water only, because I’m pretty sure I had been drunk since the Thursday night. 

By the way just a tip, if you’re sitting next to someone you’ve loved for like, ever with the hangover of a 3 day drinking binge running rampage through your body, do not, I repeat do not, order a fishy, cheesy starter. It almost ended in disaster but it wasn’t anything an impulsive Jack Daniels and coke (or 3!) couldn’t sort out (Carol, thank you!)

After a few more selfies, stories, laughs and giggles the bill was settled and the clock struck midnight, bringing with it the carriage that would transport me back to my real life (thanks for the lift, James!) This really was going to be the last goodbye.
As I was being driven home the magnitude of the weekend I had just had was beginning to dawn on me.

It was as if someone had pressed “pause” on reality and had allowed me to spend 48 hours living my dream. I realised then, that on Friday evening I became Alice and I had been handed the key to my very own Wonderland. As the weekend passed I absorbed every single second, drank in as many details as I could and crammed in as many memories as my mind would allow, because I knew that my once-in-a-lifetime, never-to be-issued-again, Wonderland-pass was only valid for 48 hours…. and there was no “top-up” option available. 

I was officially the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. I had spent a brilliant weekend in the company of someone I have, so far, spent 27 of my 35 years looking up to, staring at posters of, cheering on, posing for pictures with, talking about and smiling stupidly at the mere mention of his name (this last one still holds true to this day and the husband knows that if I’m angry with him or sad about something he can say the two magic words that are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Every. Single. Time: “Luděk Mikloško”. Stupid aren’t I?). And he turned out to be nicer in real life than I could ever have hoped or imagined. 
The moral of this (long!) story is to choose a hero who doesn’t only meet your expectations in real life but one who surpasses them in the most wonderful ways imaginable and unimaginable. If you do this I promise you won’t be let down when the time comes for you to meet them.  

I’m not sure if he will ever read this, but if he does, Luděk it was an absolute pleasure to spend time in your company and get to know you. The warmth and friendship that you showed not only to me, but to all those West Ham supporters who attended the dinner, will not be forgotten. 

Thank you doesn’t do justice for what you brought to Jersey with you that weekend, or for the time and genuine interest you showed each and every one of us. But the beauty is in its simplicity:

Thank you.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 2

In my last post I told you all about the first leg of our US road trip, and I had every intention of getting the rest of the posts live pretty sharpish after that. But then life went a bit pear shaped and everything non-essential took a back seat.

But life has settled down a bit now and I’m back with the my next instalment....

So having said our goodbyes to San Francisco we headed north towards Napa Valley. We were spending the night at The Bergson in Calistoga which was the most darling hotel ever....I loved it.

**Top Tip** If you're planning a trip to Napa Valley then make booking your accommodation a priority. We left ours quite late and we had terrible trouble finding anywhere with availability (although the "Vacant" sign in the picture above makes me out to be a liar!).

We made our way at a leisurely pace to The Bergson, stopping off in the gorgeous little town of Sonoma. Sadly none of us took any pictures but it's a typical all-America town; a Town Hall taking pride of place in the centre of the square with the cutest looking shops dotted around the edges.

If you're ever in the area and Sonoma isn't on your agenda I recommend that you carve out a bit of time to visit, even if it's just to browse the shops and grab a coffee...maybe you can take a few pictures for me!!

I promised you in my last post that I had a cracker of a castle to share with you and that's what today's post is all about. The main reason for our trip taking us north to Napa valley was to take in the stunning scenery. Oh who am I kidding? We were totally there for the wine!!! But the scenery was stunning.
As anyone who has been to Napa Valley will know there are so many wineries to choose from and one of the toughest decisions of the holiday (for me, at least) was which winery do we go for. After much deliberation and “um-ing and ah-ing” we went for Castello di Amorosa, for no reason other than it’s a castle!

According to our tour guide the owner of the castle, Dario Sattui, has "a bit of a thing for castles". So much so that he had one built, you know, as you do! Sattui wanted this castle to be as authentically 13th century as it was possible for a castle in 21st century America to be. So he researched and researched some more. He sourced only the best materials for his castle from Europe; he wanted his castle to look and feel as if it had come straight from the 13th century to the extent that the construction of the castle was carried out the way it would been carried out in medieval times (we’re talking no electric tools, no modern day equipment!) According to its website and flyer, the castle took 15 years to build, has 8,000 tons of hand-squared stones in its walls and of its 107 rooms a whopping 95 are dedicated to making wine!!! Let's take a look shall we?!?
We had pre-booked a wine tour at the castle. I think we were there out of season and so buying tickets on the door, on the day, probably would not have been too much of an issue. But I can imagine that the tours are very popular in high season and so to avoid disappointment you should probably think about booking your tour in advance.
There were two types of tickets available: $40 or $50. We went for the $40 ticket. As well as your choice of 10 wines to taste (from a set list of white, rose, red and dessert wines), the price of the ticket also included a guided tour of the castle. All in all we were there for about 2 hours. From memory the only extra perk that the $50 ticket bought you was an additional two wines to taste.
We were very  surprised to see one these hidden in the depths of the castle....
I made my way as quickly as I could away from this particular contraption ;-)

As you can see from the pictures above the castle itself is gorgeous but that's nothing compared to the grounds it sits in. I haven't got as many pictures of the view as I thought I had, but the few I do have paint a beautiful scene.

So after swigging back the wines we had chosen from the list (well in my case, as the designated driver, had the teeniest, tiniest of sips of each wine), and after parting with more money than we usually would for 2 bottles of wine, it was with a heavy heart and a wistful glance back at the castle, that we made our way towards the exit, our minds already on our next destination: Lake Tahoe. And whilst I was sad to be leaving behind 95 rooms full of wine, I could not have been more excited to be headed to the lake. The only disappointment for me was that we were only going to be there for 14 hours. We were stopping off at Lake Tahoe en-route to Vegas. But more on Lake Tahoe in the next post. I hope to see you there.
Before I go, here's a bonus picture just in case you guys have been missing me ;-)


Bye for now....see you in Lake Tahoe real soon.

xKx

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 1

On 24 February the husband and I along with two friends boarded a flight to Gatwick; it marked the beginning of our 10 day whistle stop tour of the west coast of the US.

Our itinerary was jam packed, our suitcases not so much (I'd need space to bring back all that shopping I was going to do, right?) and my excitement levels were simmering away on the verge of spilling over.

Whilst I've been on holidays before and I've been to the US before, I've never had a "touring" holiday, the sort that you have to live out of a suitcase on because you're never in one place long enough to justify unpacking. And to be honest, not only have those sort of holidays never appealed to me, the thought of those sort of holidays made me turn my face up in what was arguably a really ugly way!

Because when I go on holiday I want a relaxing time, I want to do nothing, I want to sit and read and chill and I want the most demanding decision I have to make to be what to wear to dinner that night. So whilst I was excited about this trip I was also a teeny bit reserved about how I would feel about the nomadic experience.

So the plan for our trip:

24 - 26 February: San Francisco
26 - 27 February: Napa Valley
27 - 28 February: - Lake Tahoe
28 February - 3 March: - Las Vegas
3 - 4 March: Escalante

That's 888 miles according to Google Maps if you go direct from one to the other. We didn't do the route direct and we had (planned) de-tours in between and annoyingly not one of us thought to check the mileage in the hire car at the beginning and the end of the trip, but we definitely did more than 1,000 miles over the course of the holiday!

So without further ado, here's my run-down of the first few days of our holiday



24 - 26 February 2017: San Francisco

Where we stayed - Stanford Court

Whilst the hotel's location was great and not too far from the touristy things we wanted to do, the biggest pain in the backside was the fact it was situated at the top of a hill! Which meant at the end of the day when we were tired and aching from being on our feet all day, we had a ruddy steep hill to hike up before we could collapse in a heap and give our feet some much needed respite.

As we were only going to be in San Fran for a couple of days were didn't spend that much time in the hotel aside from sleeping and eating breakfast so I can't tell you much about the facilities it had to offer, but the bed was comfy and I don't remember having any issues with the shower. The hotel certainly fulfilled our needs and I don't think it was overly priced either.

**Top Tip** If you're booking a hotel check their cancellation policy. We were able to cancel up to 24 hours in advance without having to pay anything, and this allowed us to search for the same room at a cheaper price a few days before we were due to arrive. This paid off as we found the same room on a different website for. We booked with that website and cancelled the original booking without incurring any lost deposits etc...

OK enough of the boring stuff already. You guys want to know what we got up to right?

Day 1: This was a nothing day as we arrived at the hotel at 10pm and we did nothing more than find our toothbrushes and wash kits before falling into bed.

Day two: We were booked on the official Alcatraz Tour and after having breaking at the hotel we wandered down to the pier at a leisurely pace, making our way through China Town and tackling some of the mighty hills that San Fran is so well known for.

I'm going to shut up now and let my pictures do the talking......  (warning...there are a LOT of pictures, so you might want to grab a cuppa before scrolling any further)

What's really annoying is that the camera doesn't capture the gradient of the hills and they actually don't even look that steep! But they were!!! We were told by a local resident that this was the steepest hill in the city. Yup, I marched up that hill like it was nothing.......I may have needed a gallon of water at the top though ;-)


Those pastel colours are just too cute!! 
Not sure I'm loving the shower room set up!
  And I definitely would not be happy about the loo situation either!!
I'm pretty sure I heard the husband asking an Alcatraz official if there was room for me here on a permanent basis.... ;-) 

We took the audio tour of Alcatraz and would highly recommend it. Without it you're not going to have a clue what you're looking at or the history behind it. I don't think it cost any extra, but be sure to check whether it's included in the type of ticket you're buying. 

After we escaped from Alcatraz we strolled along the harbour towards Pier 39, we saw the Sea Lions that languish in the sun there, we ate lunch at a great place called Baudins (home made tomato soup poured into a sour-dough bread roll.....it was soooo good!) and we rode the tram from the harbour the whole length of the line to Union Square.... 
Just hanging out, lovin' life, as you do....

Day 3: Something we all agreed we wanted to do while in San Fran was to hire bikes, and we lucked out as our hotel had bikes that guests could use free of charge!! (More shopping dollars for me - Woo hoo!!!)

We cycled from our hotel through the streets of San Fran and in true tourist style we followed all signs to the Golden Gate Bridge. We were so lucky with the weather; whilst it wasn't boiling hot, the sun was out and the sky was blue.

After a million stops for photo opportunities, and a few breathers after being challenged by those infamous hills, we made it to the bridge. It was gorgeous. Whilst it would have been nice to see the bridge immersed in the low lying cloud that is a common sight if the Google Image search results are anything to go by, I was more than happy to forgo the cloud in favour of the sun and warmer temperatures!

Cycling across the bridge was an amazing experience and it wasn't until I was half way across it and looking out at a huge expanse of water that I really appreciated how wide the bay is and how huge the place is!  
  
Not sure why but I love these two pictures of me :-)

As this was our final day in San Fran before making our way to Napa Valley, and in a bid to save time, we decided to take the ferry back to our side of the bay. It was a welcome relief for our legs to be ferried back.

Once back on familiar turf we headed towards our hotel and took advantage of the flat streets while they lasted and cycled as far as we could. It wasn't long before we were faced with the the prospect of those dreaded hills and so we de-saddled and huffed and puffed our way back to our hotel, pushing our bikes alongside us.   

We lunched in one of the hip neighbourhoods and I felt well at home......NOT!! I was about as far out of my comfort zone as it's possible for someone to be! This place looked nothing from the outside but the huge queue of people waiting to be served was a sure sign that this place was a gem. So we took our place in the queue and waited. And waited. It was a very informal set up inside with people encouraged to share tables with strangers. It was either that or you didn't get a seat! That's not quite how I'm used to having my lunch but when in Rome and all that.


On our way out of San Fran we navigated the Windy Road which, as the name suggests is a road that is really windy. It's difficult to get pictures of it in "real time" because the hedges and the angle of the camera mean you can't actually see any of the windy-ness. But here's a picture I found online that shows you exactly what I'm trying (so badly!) to explain!
Image via

 Then it really was time to leave San Fran behind....

I don't for a second think that we covered everything that San Francisco had to offer in the two days we were there (actually it was more like a day and a half) but we had a blast and we didn't feel cheated out of anything. But it was time to get our skates on....Napa Valley was calling us and I couldn't wait to get there!

Part 2 is coming soon. I've got a cracker of a castle to show you :-)

Have you visited San Francisco? What would you recommend that I didn't see? Let me know in the comments below; as always I'd love to hear from you. 

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xKx