So there is a very strange thing happening here. I am on holiday on my own for the first time in my life. I guess that the second time will be the time I get to go to Kili – not that I am viewing that as a holiday by any means.
The one good thing about being where I am is that the Hotel has a gym. I have to say that I would have never ever have thought those words would ever come out of my mouth until a few months ago. When I have seen gyms at hotels I have stayed at in the past I have thought that anyone sad enough to go to the gym should really get a life and get into the bar. Now I have changed my mind. I think that now you can go to the gym and then go to the bar afterwards and drink even more than you would have done anyway!
I wanted this week just to get away anywhere warm so I could chill. I have worked hard recently, relentlessly even. I have had one half day off since April, and that is probably not healthy for me. I started looking a week or so ago (all a bit lastminute.com I know) for places anywhere on the planet that would give me some heat, some relaxation, were not too full of the “Lager & Kebab” brigade, that didn’t involve a 12 hour flight, but also that gave me something to do. Tough challenge!
I thought of the Caribbean, but decided that for seven days in an untried place that I just didn’t know where to start. And of course if you fly west then coming back you have the east/west redeye/jetlag to cope with the next day. Sad to think of work before you even go, but there you have it. For a 7 day break I thought I’d rather not worry about it. I then had some advice/thoughts from people at work who suggested the Far East. I duly googled Koh Samui/Phuket/Krabi/Bali until they all made my head spin (the places, not the people at work). I haven’t got time to think about all of this. I then worried, honestly, that as a single person going to Thailand that I may be viewed as a sex tourist. How scary is that? I also decided that (in conjunction with the above) that 15 hours or so travel time was not what I wanted to do.
So then I got it – the Red Sea! I love snorkeling, and so googled the only place I have ever heard of over there, Sharm El Sheikh. Perfect! Guaranteed dry, about 80 degrees F this time of year, and I can snorkel to my heart’s content. I therefore get some good exercise too, and so duly go about finding me a place. After way too many hours on Tripadvisor and the like, I settle on Sharks Bay, a resort just a little out of the “commercialism” of Sharm. I hate commercialized by the way. Passionately. Although Sharm at this time of year seems overrun by overeager (and always overhungry) Russians, whom I have had the slightly dubious pleasure of seeing before on holiday (although I am sure they say equally adverse things about us Brits), I go for it, and pay my money. Hilton Hotel is #8 of 39 hotels in Sharm El Sheikh on Tripadvisor. I’m off!
So flippers, snorkel, mask and the works packed, I head off at 5 am on Saturday morning, mildly trepidacious, totally knackered, to Gatwick airport, about a two hour drive from me. Sadly, that ended up being the most exciting part of the day. I had even booked premier valet parking, so you can drive up to the front door and just get out, and leave some nutter to go and thrash your Porsche anywhere they like without you knowing it. Good luck to them – have fun!
Anyway, having got to the check in desk, they tell me that as my passport runs out early next year, (I knew this), that the “Egyptian authorities are unlikely to let you in”. WHAT?!! Unlikely to let me in for a week’s holiday in their diarrhoea-ridden country? FINE! I of course didn’t think that at the time. I stood there dumbstruck, disbelieving that I had worked up to this, got packed, got up at 4.30am, and would now have to drive back home with nothing. Paid a grand for it too. Gutted. So I duly got my car back from the valet park and drove back home, unbelievably depressed.
That afternoon I went into Oxford to see if I could find a travel agent (fed up with online options) to get me something quickly. I went to Trailfinders (with whom I booked my Tanzania flights for Kili, and who were very good), but they sort of looked at me strangely when I said I would like a holiday that same day to anywhere on the planet. They said they weren’t that sort of company. I don’t blame them. I ended up walking along the main shopping drag, and stumbled into WH Smith. As I walk upstairs, very low key, I stumble upon a book signing. It is Sir Steve Redgrave, signing copies of his new book “Inspired”
Now I would say if you asked me to name three sporting heroes, that I would have Steve Redgrave in my top three. Probably alongside Muhammad Ali and Jack Nicklaus. Don’t get me started on Ali. He may have his own bigotry, but my God he succeeded, and in a very dignified manner, when the bigotry and racism of the USA would have knocked down many a lesser man. Nicklaus inspired the sport of my youth, my golf, and he is as far as I am concerned the greatest sporting “gentleman” that ever lived. He epitomised fair play, courtesy and respect, as well as being the greatest golfer ever, Tiger Woods included. Redgrave however, gave me one of my greatest three most exciting and emotional moments in sport.
In case you are interested, the other two were were Sunderland winning the 1973 FA Cup Final, and then England winning the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup Final.
So above is a picture of the victorious British Rowing Coxless Fours. Redgrave, second from left became the only person to win a Gold medal in five consecutive Olympic games. I watched every one of them live (Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney). The aftermath of that moment in Sydney is of course immortal and timeless for anyone who watched it. I punched the air with the ecstacy of every guy in this country and others who wishes that they had a tenth of the guts, determination and desire of Sir Steve Redgrave. Especially when you consider that he is a Type 2 diabetic.
Anyway, I find myself buying (delightedly) a copy of “Inspired”, and asking Steve to sign it for me. He talks to me freely and easily, and I tell him I need some inspiration for my forthcoming climb to Kilimanjaro. He tells me to do lots of running if I can, but in any case to really concentrate on stamina, for the slog up Kili is “long, slow and very very hard”. “Work at it” he says, and “good luck”. He signs my book “Good luck for Kilimanjaro….”. I feel like a groupie at a rock gig who has just been kissed or touched by her hero and never wants to wash again. The book therefore will not just be read by me, but will be coming up the mountain, hardback or not.
Digression over, I do eventually find a holiday leaving the next morning from Birmingham, to go to the Canary Islands. I would probably have chosen anywhere else but here, and to tell you what an exciting time I am having, I have spent most of this, my third night here, typing this. They at least let me onto the plane, which was my first criteria after the fiasco the day before.
I am getting some good exercise here, walking and in the gym. Not as much fun as snorkelling, but the weather is perfect – 80 degrees or so every day and cloudless, so that works for me.
More of this and my exploits later in the week……