This week… escape from lockdown

So the UK is more or less out of lockdown. It feels weird. Or rather it’s a strange experience trying to revert back to life-as-usual. After over 100 days of lockdown the world has turned and it feels we’re like waking up in another dimension altogether. Stepping outside your front door and picking up where you left off simply isn’t an option. This week I visit the dentist for a check-up and the experience leaves me a little shaken, I have to admit.

Despite a careful process of masks, face shields, sanitiser and more, lying captive in the dentist’s chair with someone inches from my face, after weeks of isolaton, is a little scary. This is the new reality. We have reemerged from hibernation and the goal posts have moved. I wonder if Cinderella felt this way after 100 years of slumber?

The show must go on

Hotels, attractions, pubs, hair salons and more open for business this weekend. There’s a cautious feeling of optimisim but it would not be true to say we’re all rushing out with wild abandon, outside of London. It somehow doesn’t feel right when the pandemic is still raging elsewhere in the world, and actually flaring up again in some regions. Still, there’s the economy to consider so on with the show as the UK picks itself up, dusts itself down and ventures out.

Shogun in Shizuoka

Shizuoka, Japan.

This week I travelled to Shizuoka in Japan courtesy of Zoom and Explore Shizuoka. Shizuoka is a prefecture situated on the Golden Route halfway between Toyko and Kyoto with the Tokaido Bullet Train. The area runs alongside stretches of beautiful coastline with stunning mountain ranges. It is also home to Mount Fuji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are six train stops along this stretch, Atami, Mishima, Shin-Fuji, Shizuoka, Kabegawa and Hamamatsu. The region was the inspiration for James Clavell’s novel – Shogun – about 17th century English navigator John Blackthorne who becomes shipwrecked off the coast of Japan and is held captive by samurai warriors. I read Clavell’s book years ago and the virtual tour makes me want to read the story again. Shogun was based on an actual series of events involving William Adams, a real sailor who reached Japan in 1600. Adams became involved with the future shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and eventually achieved high status. You can visit many of the places linked to William Adams. Trivia note: The book was made into a successful mini series starring Richard Chamberlain in 1980.

Open for visitors

The British government currently advises against all but essential international travel. Some parts of the world are slowly reopening and look forward to welcoming UK travellers soon. Here’s a brief round-up of a few destinations that stand out this week.

Svartifoss waterfall. Photo Inspired by Iceland

Iceland is a short flight from most of western Europe and offers the chance to explore without seeing a soul in sight. There are seven different regions and experiences include the Northern Lights, forests, fijords, culture and more. It’s a varied and fascinating country that benefits from time to explore. Floating in a geothermal pool is appealing to dispel the knots of tension in the body, the result of weeks of uncertainty, and I dream of bobbing along in warm water while gazing up at fluffy white clouds.

Geothermal pools, photo Inspired by Iceland.

Closer to home The Scottish Highlands and islands tick all the boxes for a staycation, wilderness holiday and an Isocation one.

Seilebost, Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris. Photo Visit Scotland.

Cooksons Adventures organise memorable trips from discovering a Roman shipwreck in the seas in southern Italy to being the first to pilot a private submersible in Antarctica. It’s a yacht trip around the carved coastline to expore the area’s natural beauty that catches my eye this week. Small steps. Scotland has inspired literature, poetry, art and folklore for thousands of years. It’s the other end of the country to where I live but it’s on my wish list and I’d like to take the sleeper train for ease and sustainable travel, not to mention a sense of romance. I’ve obviously watched Hitchcock’s North By North West too many times!

“Anyone can travel, but not everyone knows how to explore.” Henry Cookson, adventurer and founder of Cooksons Aventures.

At the start of the year Cookson announced that all of their adventures would be made carbon neutral,

Denmark opens to British visitors this month.

The Danish borders are now open to visitors from the UK as the British government have announced a travel corridor to Denmark from 10 July, without the need to quarantine on return. Tourists will be asked to complete documentation confirming that they intend to spend a minimum of six nights in the country. Denmark offers unique Scandinavian cuisine, history and sandy beaches. New accommodation options include the five-star luxury and sustainable-focussed hotel Villa Copenhagen and Jørgensens Hotel, a beautiful 18th century renovated mansion in the coastal town of Horsens. I really fancy staying in the architecturally designed tree top huts at Løvtag in North Jutland.

Løvtag tree huts in North Jutland. Photo Visit Denmark

This one is a little further to travel but perfect for planning a longer stay. Perched at the tip of Cape Yamu on Phuket’s peaceful east coast – overlooking the cyanic sea. the Andaman Pool Villas at COMO Point Yamu were conceived by Italian designer, Paola Navone. The interiors are in sleek whites, accented with splashes of deep blue with a backdrop of panoramic views of Phuket’s rugged east coast.

Point Yamu, Phuket.

I’ve often heard people say about accommodation ‘it’s only somewhere to sleep’ when travelling, as opposed to a holiday. On European road trips, I’ve stayed in some last minute, modest B&Bs or hotels, some really lovely and some not so great. Where you stay, however, will be super-important for those ‘longer-stay, less-often’ holidays we’re going to be taking. COMO Point Yamu will be reopening on 30 September 2020.

Phuket, photo COMO Point Yamo.

Museum news

Nick Knight’s stunning new exhibition Roses From My Garden opens this weekend in the gardens at Waddesdon Manor. This week I updated my original review published pre-lockdown in February, with a new published feature Up Close with Nick Knight for Travel Begins At 40, talking to the iconic fashion photographer via Zoom about his work, his approach to image making and why he’s excited about the future.

Tate St Ives.

I’ve missed exploring exhibitions so I’m happy to hear that Tate is planning to reopen all four galleries on 27 July: Tate Britain; Tate Modern; Tate Liverpool; and Tate St Ives. To manage numbers and ensure safe distancing visitors will need to book a timed ticket online in advance. These will be available this week at tate.org.uk together with the latest information and guidance on how to visit. Tate Modern will reopen with Andy Warhol and Kara Walker’s Hyundai Commission Fons Americanus. Tate Britain will reopen with Aubrey Beardsley and Steve McQueen’s Year 3 installation. Tate Liverpool will unveil new work by Mikhail Karikis, and Tate St Ives will reopen the Naum Gabo exhibition. So there’s plenty to see and experience.

Social historian Antonia Keaney at the baroque 18th century Blenheim Palace.

This week Blenheim Palace announces new virtual VIP specialist tours led by social historian Antonia Keaney. The online tours will each be limited to a maximum of six people. The topics will range from the Palace’s contribution to WWII and the life of servants to fashion through the ages, as well as the stories of some of Blenheim’s most illustrious women. Tours incorporate 3D digital experiences, props, video and still imagery and last for around 45 minutes. Cost £40 for up to a group of 6 family and friends. Blenheim has also launched a series of fortnightly Zoom seminars by authors for up to 100 guests. Cost £5 per person.

In my inbox

Highland Village Museum, Iona, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Discover Canada have launched a new digital content hub. Canada Nice is a one-stop-shop for exploring online including a guide to travelling safely this summer, podcasts, free virtual backgrounds to download for your next Zoom meeting or social event, and more. I was planning to visit Canada in the autumn. The event and the following trip on the stunning Rocky Mountaineer was cancelled last month, so I content myself with exploring online for now.

Baby chicks

Humboldt Penguin chick. Photo Birdworld Park and Gardens.

Old proverb: don’t count your chickens until they hatch, or in this case, baby penguins. A Humboldt penguin chick was the first to hatch last month at a wildlife park in the Cotswolds. Celebrations seem to have been delayed until the chick was continuing to thrive.

The Humboldt penguin is a native of South America. In the wild the penguins are classed ‘Vulnerable’ and are under threat from climate change, overfishing and the acidification of the oceans. The penguins reach a maximum height of 70 cm and weigh up to six kg so the Birdworld baby chick has a way to go yet.

Greater Flamingo chick. Photo Birdworld Park and Gardens.

In the meantime, a pair of greater flamingo chicks hatched out at another Birdland park in the pretty town of Bourton-on-the-Water. Apparently this little fluff ball was the result of a record egg-laying spree during lockdown, with seven eggs now beginning to hatch. It seems the peace and quiet of lockdown led to an amorous encounter or two amongst the greater flamingoes.

“These are the first eggs to have been laid by the birds for more than 10 years and for us to see these cute little chicks hatching out is amazing.” said head keeper Alistair Keen.

The typical lifespan for the greater flamingo in captivity is an astonishing 60 years. A bird at an Australian Zoo lived to be, surely a record-breaking, 83.

So that was my week. How was yours? Let me know in the comments if you travel and how it feels to be out and about in the world again. For those who are still battling the virus I send you my heartfelt good wishes.

Let’s see what this week brings. Stay well and safe.

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