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50shadesofsun

News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Family love and celebration

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As days continue to pass by, amazingly it is now just a week until Lisa and I are due to fly to Spain to begin our new life in our home in the Mediterranean sunshine. Right now, we are in the United States of America halfway through a holiday in Lisa’s home country.

Saturday and Sunday have been special family days. Two days ago we travelled to upstate New York to visit Great Aunt Nina and her son Anthony. Neither of them had seen Lisa for many years and had never met me.

mumNina was aunt to Lisa’s late mom Mary but, being close in age, they had been more like sisters.  Today, Aunt Nina is 92 years old but certainly doesn’t look or sound like it. She is a lovely little lady, full of spirit and totally aware of everything that is going on. I say ‘little’ as Nina is just 4’9” tall.

Years ago, she moved from New York City to the rural area with her husband Tony.  There, they ran a dairy farm as well as growing corn and grass for hay. In the early years, all milking was done by hand of which Lisa has fond childhood memories but one thing she did not know was revealed by Aunt Nina. She said that when she first moved to the farm she only had city clothes and was soon driving the tractor while wearing high heels. Now, that would be a great photograph.

In the area in which Nina and Anthony live is an absolutely fantastic barbecue restaurant and takeaway. It uses open charcoal pits to cook the tastiest chicken I have ever encountered. It is called Brooks and, on the strength of what I tasted, I strongly recommend trying it out if you are ever in the region of Oneonta, NY.

Having said a very fond farewell to Nina and Anthony, we set off yesterday to meet Lisa’s oldest sister Gen, her husband Billy, and their children Maria, Jamie and Pam along with her partner Scott. All eight of us enjoyed a superb buffet brunch that also served as a celebration of my birthday. In fact, it has been very many years since I have been joined by so many people on my birthday.

It was an occasion of good humour and family celebration as we were asked questions about what we had done so far in the USA, what we still have planned and our upcoming move to Spain.

Lisa and I are two-thirds of the way through our great adventure. Part one was the transatlantic crossing that I had dreamed of as a child, part two is our current tour of four states in the north-east of the USA, and part three will be our arrival in Spain, heralding the start of our new life.

Birthday footnote: Thanks to everyone from whom I have received birthday greetings, either personally, via Facebook or via email. So far, 63 years and many more to come (I hope). Actually, 63 is a good number as it means I can say I’m 21 again, for the third time.

Pictures at top from left – Aunt Nina and me; she is standing while I am sitting.  Lisa’s sister Gen, right, with daughters Pam and Maria. Lisa with Aunt Nina. Inset – Lisa’s late mom Mary and her Aunt Nina had been like sisters.

 

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Calmer weather is good news for all

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With better weather and much more settled sea conditions since reaching the western Atlantic, certain entertainments that had to be postponed have now all caught up, much to the delight of Anthem of the Seas cruise director Luke Aerosmith. His smile has changed from the fixed one he sported through the bad weather to a genuine one now.

In fact, it is a testament to the tenacity of the entertainment staff that none were actually cancelled, just rearranged.

Yesterday afternoon, Lisa and I saw The Gift in the ship’s Royal Theatre. This was the performance which was postponed from October 31 as the rolling of the ship had rendered making the pre-show safety checks impossible. But the show went ahead yesterday. The Gift is an original Royal Caribbean production created exclusively for Anthem of the Seas. Billed as a musical journey of fantasy and illusion that begins one stormy night with the arrival of a ‘magical gift’, it was very enjoyable to watch.

Good weather has also allowed the crew to open the pools, that had been blocked off, and outdoor activities headed by the RipCord freefall simulator by iFly and North Star which takes guests into the air above the ship, giving them 360 degree views of the world that they have not seen before. In the jewel-shaped capsule, passengers climb to more than 300 feet above sea level to see fantastic views of the ship and the ocean.

Actually, as the ship’s movements owing to the huge swells and high winds are now behind us, I do need to add a figurative footnote to my comments the other day. Praise is still due to the food and beverage staff for the way they continued to prepare, cook and serve our meals but there were some breakages. Most notable of these was the loss of 300 to 400 dishes in one go in the staff mess. Apparently everyone got stuck in to help clear it up. Similarly, the Music Hall bar suffered losses of bottles of drink and glasses while there was a tremendous crash of glasses that I heard in Two70.

On board, the retail teams started their sales two days ago as they strive to relieve guests of any spare cash. Well, that’s a bit unfair as the goods being sold are quite reasonably priced and represent very good offers.

Anthem’s maiden crossing of the Atlantic is coming to an end. Today, Tuesday, is the las full day left before we reach the Statue of Liberty early on Wednesday and dock shortly afterwards. Once we reach the United States, Lisa and I are spending another nine days on holiday in some of the north eastern states. This blog will continue to record our progress and bring you news about places of interest to tourists and anything else that takes my fancy.

Keep tuned to www.50shadesofsun.com to continue reading this blog.

 

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Day of celebration for Halloween and anniversary

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Day 6, November 1st.

Awoke this morning to find Anthem of the Seas has left low pressure, high pressure and hurricane force winds behind and moved into calmer seas and, wow, we saw the sun.

Just after lunch, ship’s time, we were really close to where the Titanic sank. It was strange to think of the horrors of 103 years ago while we sailed by in the sunshine. I never realised that the Titanic was only about 450 miles from its destination when it; struck the iceberg.

Ok, back to yesterday. It being Halloween, plenty of the passengers were in party mood last night and there were costumes absolutely everywhere.

For Lisa and I, the day was special as it was our wedding anniversary.

Strange to think that it was four years ago that we married on Fort Myers beach in south west Florida. It all took place at sunset (a glorious sunset as it turned out), in company with family and friends, while dolphins played just off the coast.

By ‘strange’, the ceremony could have been yesterday but it could also have taken place years ago. We love each other deeply, are more than comfortable together and are looking forward to very many happy years ahead.

Our celebration started early with a special breakfast served in our stateroom as part of a romance package bought when we booked. It was good but not great as not everything was provided as promised, so this was pointed out to Guest Services on deck 4. The result? We had the whole package given to us again. This started with another breakfast today. This time, it was perfect.

There should have been a performance of a play called The Gift last night but because of the sea conditions it had to be rescheduled for tomorrow afternoon. No complaints from us; safety has to come first. Good news, though, was that we were able to have our evening meal earlier than originally booked. So, we dressed up in style and header to Anthem’s quality free restaurant called The Grande.

Yesterday, this blog talked about the grandeur of the golden age of cruising with its ornate staircases, dining rooms and décor. Well, The Grande may only be on one deck, so no ornate staircase nor high ceilings with impressive lights, but it is Anthem’s attempt to keep alive part of the tradition of yesteryear.

Its menu is impressively exclusive, its food is superb, the service is perfect and guests are requested to dress formally – definitely how it used to be done. The décor of the restaurant is designed to portray it as a quality establishment, which is exactly what it really is.

My meal was escargots followed by roast tenderloin of beef while Lisa chose lobster bisque with pasta pescatore as her main course. We both chose one of our favourites, key lime tarte, for dessert. The whole meal was a culinary delight and we are both looking forward to enjoying the final evening meal of our cruise in The Grande, on Tuesday evening.

 

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Not all ‘progress’ is an improvement

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Has the golden age of cruising gone forever? Undoubtedly, the answer has to be in the affirmative if you hanker after the grandeur for which the liners of years gone by were noted.

Being aboard the world’s newest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, you cannot help but acknowledge that it is a very fine vessel but, at the same time, it has to be realised that it has been built to meet the perceived demands of today’s passengers.

I say ‘perceived’ demands as that is what all companies do; they design new products that they believe will appeal to potential consumers. Unfortunately, they are not always successful.

In the case of Anthem, Royal Caribbean has done a good job – but not a great one. Not having sailed with RC before, much of my time has been spent listening to the views of other passengers and, although there is no guarantee of a good cross-section or a representative sample, views being expressed were strikingly similar:

“It’s a great ship but they could have done more”, “I loved the old promenade which made you feel like you were in a street. The new esplanade just doesn’t have it”, “Very disappointing, I would not cruise on this ship again”, “They have gone more for the impressive features such as the North Star and i-fly but really these are just gimmicks”, “Seaplex is just a waste of space”, “Boardwalk and Central Park are sadly missed”. It is interesting to note that these comments were heard in general conversations and were not the result of direct questioning. It may be thought strange that there are no positive comments but none have been omitted. Perhaps the reason for not hearing positive comments is that human nature means that people are more inclined to complain than give compliments. I am absolutely sure that some people would have given positive comments had they been asked for their views.

Some people do regret the passing of the former grandeur of the liners of yesteryear, with their grand staircases and stately restaurants often three decks high. Similar features do still exist on some vessels in use today but not in the very newest. Modern? Yes. Progress? Yes and no.

My wife Lisa has previously cruised with Royal Caribbean and has always held it up as the company that sets the standard for others to beat but some of those comments resonated with her. She expressed it this way: “I am sad to see that Royal Caribbean is no longer the leader of the pack. Anthem shows that for all its much-hyped improvements, the company is no longer outstanding; it now does everything the same as its competitors.”

Nothing in all this should detract in any way from the professionalism of the crew in providing everyone with a safe and, hopefully, enjoyable experience.

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Rough seas don’t phase restaurant and cooking teams

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Day 4 of our transatlantic crossing aboard Anthem of the Seas.

Sea conditions are now the roughest of the entire trip, according to our captain’s reading of the weather forecasts. Our speed has been reduced to minimise the side to side rolling motion and the course has been changed slightly for the same reason.

Talking of the captain, when he was mentioned in the last blog I used the phonetic spelling of the way he pronounces his own name when making PA announcements. His name is actually Claus Andersen, so perhaps jokes about ‘close’ are better than being nicknamed ‘santa’. Just saying, lol.

Anyway, a promise is a promise and the main subject of this blog are the dining facilities on the Anthem. It is necessary to say here and now that this only relates to the free restaurants, not the speciality ones which all make an additional charge.

There are four main restaurants, in addition to the buffet, that are freely available to all passengers and are part of what Royal Caribbean calls its Dynamic Dining experience.

Gone are the fixed meal times, always at the same time, in the same restaurant, at the same table and served by the same staff. The new idea is supposed to be better. It gives passengers the right to choose when and where to dine which will be perfect for some but not so for others. Some people really do prefer to eat at a set place at a set time. But there is not a main dining room, so that choice seems to be no longer available.

Windjammer Market Place is the impressive buffet restaurant with the self-service stations laid out just as the name indicates – including one with gluten-free food. It is very popular and seating is at a premium, which is why many couples first find a table at which one of them sits while the partner gets his or her food; then they change places but, by the time the second person get back with food, the first is already finishing. In our case, being that I am using my wheelchair, Lisa makes two trips and we still end up eating separately. So, good food, great layout but popularity makes for a less than comfortable meal.

Silk offers cuisine from Asia, including both oriental and Indian dishes. With wait staff dressed in style, it affords an enjoyable meal in convivial surroundings.

Chic is a modern restaurant where we ate last night. It served us delightful dishes with Lisa’s dessert being carrot cake with ice cream. She told our waiter that it’s the best carrot cake she had ever tasted. She also loved the ice cream and asked exactly what is was, to be told by the waiter that it was strawberry flavoured with carrot. Interesting and delicious.

Dinner at the American Icon Grill has attracted us back for breakfast and lunch too. I think that, so far, this restaurant has spoken to us more than either Silk or Chic but that is not to criticise them; equally great quality food and excellent service. It’s just personal preference.

I have not mentioned The Grande here because we eat there for the first time tomorrow when Halloween costumes are welcome alongside normal dress. We’ll look forward to that as it is also Lisa’s and my wedding anniversary.

So far, no dish has disappointed and service has been excellent with nothing being too much trouble.

Just how the catering staff are coping so well in such difficult weather conditions is totally beyond me. I’d have thought there would be spills and breakages everywhere but, so far, not so many.

 

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Rock and roll in theatre as ship does its own dance

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Day two of Transatlantic crossing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, Weather is not so good today, winds got up to force nine on the Beaufort scale with the sea level varying by six metres causing the ship to perform its own dance as pitches and rolls – but it really is not too bad. In fact, given the weather conditions, I’d say that Anthem is a very stable ship.

We are about one-third of the way across and we are being kept well informed by the master Captain Close who makes regular and sometimes more frequent announcements over the public address system. Lisa now refers to these announcements as ‘Close calls’ and whenever the captain meets passengers as ‘Close encounters’.

Changing the subject, I am astounded! No, that’s not an exaggeration. Yesterday, we went to see two shows put on as part of the Anthem of the Seas entertainment for its thousands of passengers. And, yes, that word does accurately capture my feelings and please realise that I have spent time as a theatre columnist and critic during a long journalistic career.

First up was We Will Rock You, the smash-it musical show. My experience of travelling with other cruise lines in no way prepared me for this presentation. What the audience was given was not a show based on the famous West End production . We got the full two hours.

It was professional, slick, and used the Royal Theatre’s stage trap doors and rising sections to great effect. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that the audience was left wanting and we all seemed to leave with smiles on our faces.

Until I experienced this show, I would never have imagined entertainment of such high quality being available on a cruise ship. A huge ‘well done’ to Royal Caribbean and all those involved.

The second show was Spectre’s Cabaret which took to the stage in Two70, one of the ship’s new facilities. The production made the most use of the venue’s advanced computerised audio visual capabilities that combined with both on stage action and aerial gymnasts to provide a highly technical multi-media show.

It was brilliantly done but, although I appreciated the technical expertise and that of the artistes too, Spectre’s Cabaret was not to my taste. Another guest, with whom we shared a table, said that he ended up wondering what it was all about. He left Two70 confused.

So far, Lisa and I have eaten in the American Icon Grill and Silk, which serves Asian cuisine, for dinner; the Windjammer Market Place’s buffet and American Icon, again, for breakfast; and eaten hot dogs from the Seaplex Dog ‘van’ and pizza from Sorrento’s for lunch. More about dining on board in my next blog from Anthem of the Seas at www.50shadesofsun.com

 

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Crossing the Atlantic on world’s newest cruise ship

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Wow, our first full day at sea, on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas en route from the UK to USA. Launched earlier this year, Anthem is the newest and third largest cruise ship in the world It has been a hectic couple of days, even more so for my wife Lisa, as on Monday we moved out of our apartment in Wales and then yesterday we had to journey for more than seven hours to Southampton docks.

Actually, the journey was remarkably easy as, this time, we had chosen to go with Eavesway Travel, a company that has a service dedicated to cruise passengers. Once you join the coach, you can forget your luggage as the next time you will see it will be at your cabin door.

Lisa and I were the only passengers from North Wales and so were picked up by driver Paul at 6am and taken to meet up with a coach that had started in Blackpool. All went so smoothly, our second driver Peter (hmm, Peter, Paul but no Mary?) was friendly and chatty as he stashed away my wheelchair and we sat in the accessible seat area because the steps up to the main passenger compartment were too much for me.

Anyway, we enjoyed a good journey arriving very much as Peter had forecast. We arrived at Southampton at 1.32pm which was pretty good as he had earlier estimated a time of 1.30pm.

Boarding procedures were simple, straightforward and speedy. We were soon in our cabin, an accessible stateroom on deck 10. On this cruise we chose an inside cabin with a great view of the sea. Yeh, I know that sounds unlikely but it is just what we got. On the far side of our room from entrance is a floor to ceiling ‘virtual balcony’, see picture above. This a simply a superb idea; it gives the appearance of a balcony, complete with floor and rail, with live pictures from cameras mounted on the ship. Each stateroom’s virtual balcony is programmed to show a view that means that what you see and hear matches what you feel.

It is a tremendous innovation and makes life in an inside cabin really different and more pleasurable – and there is a remote control to change the sound volume or turn off the feature altogether.

We are trying various restaurants, using the Dynamic Dining options, and I will be blogging about those later in the week. A good start was made last night in Silk that specialises in Asian cuisine while Windjammer Market Place buffet did not disappoint at breakfast time.

Weatherwise, so far so good, we enjoyed some sun this morning with so far comfortable sea conditions; gentle movement but no more.

More soon from www.50shadesofsun.com aboard Anthem of the Seas.

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Two days to go until we head for better weather

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Dateline: 24th October 2015.  It’s a cold, wet and quite miserable Saturday in what passes for autumn in North Wales; actually, not only here but across the UK generally the weather outlook is no better,

In fact, yesterday a storm warning was in place for this weekend and into next week and, although nothing at all like the scale of Hurricane Patricia, meteorologists were predicting winds of up to 60mph, heavy rain and, in mountainous areas, snow at higher levels. Today, though, the forecasts have become less extreme but still very wet and cold.

Still the spirit in our home is really upbeat, despite what the weather is doing outside, as we are spending our last weekend here before setting sail on Tuesday to cross the Atlantic aboard Royal Caribbean’s luxurious cruise line Anthem of the Seas.

Following a week at sea, we will view the New York City skyline and then see the city grow larger as we approach before docking in Port Liberty. Actually, I wonder if you realise that the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island is not in New York at all. In fact, geographically, it’s in the neighbouring state of New Jersey.

Anyway, once we leave the ship, Lisa and I are spending nearly 10 days touring the north-eastern states of Massachusetts, New York (the state, not the city this time), Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Being born and growing up in the city, in the Bronx to be exact, Lisa has an everlasting attachment to it and she can hardly wait to show me more of the area. We started my tour last December when we stopped off in New York City on the way back from our trip to Hawaii, now it’s time for part 2.

This time, of course, apart from a brief visit to the UK to collect Pooka and Prissy from the cattery and then wish them bon voyage on their overland journey, we will be flying to Spain to start the newest chapter in our lives in our new home.

And the weather here today just redoubles the feeling that we have made the correct decision when choosing to move to be close, well just a 10 minute drive, to the Mediterranean. The area has an average 320 days of sunshine a year. Actually, neither during the crossing of the Atlantic nor on our NE America holiday, do we expect to enjoy the best of weather conditions. It won’t be until we reach Spain exactly three weeks tomorrow, on Sunday 15th November, that we expect to see reasonable weather.

Some people have asked about how the sunny weather will affect my MS. It is true that both hot and cold do have an effect but we are all different. Some people cannot take the heat, some find the cold difficult and others don’t like either but just feel happier somewhere in the middle. I have found that it is the changing temperatures that have the most negative effects for me. When we visited Spain in April and May, I found that my condition improved a little. Longer sunshine means more vitamin D, which is something else that’s good for fighting MS.

I’ll keep you up to date on developments.

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Just two weeks until our next step

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While the timer on the right of this page is counting down the days until my beloved wife Lisa and I arrive in our new home in southern Spain, there is an important milestone date coming up before that.

In just two weeks, on Monday 26th October, we actually move out of our Colwyn Bay home (although, technically, we will be tenants until the end of the month). Then, after a one night stay, we will be boarding a coach taking us to Southampton where we will board a ship for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

Lisa is a seasoned cruiser and this will be our fourth together but the earlier ones have all included stops along the way with shore excursions available. However, this time, once our ship sales from Southampton, the first time that we will be setting foot on land is after it docks in the USA. A week at sea should be a great adventure and we are so looking forward to it.

The ship is Anthem of the Seas, currently one of the largest cruise ships in the world, that belongs to the Royal Caribbean Cruise company. We will be going on board during the afternoon and she will be setting sail in the late afternoon/early evening.

On board, as multiple sclerosis causes my mobility to be extremely limited, the only way for me to get about will be by using my wheelchair. Because of needing extra room for the chair and my need for a level entry shower with a seat, we have booked an accessible cabin. From previous experience on other ships, this should be ideal for my needs.

On this trip, our stateroom (as cruise lines call passengers’ cabins) is an inside one; so we won’t have an outside view of any kind – or at least we wouldn’t on most ships. On Anthem, though, we will have a ‘virtual balcony’ which will let us see outside. In reality, it is a closed circuit television system giving live views from strategically placed cameras so that we will be seeing the view that corresponds with our position on board. So, if it all goes to plan, what we see should be exactly coordinated with the ship’s movements that we can feel. Very hi-tech and clever.

Of course, I can’t let this trip pass by without blogging. That is why we have prearranged unlimited internet access for the whole cruise. I don’t want to bore you all, so maybe not every day, but you can expect at least three if not four blogs direct from the ship.

On the night of Samhain, which you probably know as Hallowe’en, Lisa and I will be celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary and then, during our holiday in the USA, it will be my birthday. How old? Well, since you ask, 63 this year but age is only a number.

Oh well, back to giving Lisa what little help I can as she cleans our place prior to moving out in two weeks. 

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Dream the impossible dream…..but sometimes our dreams do come true

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Left: The beautiful Na Pali coast, Hawaii in December. Right, reindeer in Norway, in July.

Dream the impossible dream? Ok, ok, what’s he rambling on about now?

To tell you the truth, my dreams only really started to come true after I met Lisa. Let me explain.

I first married in 1977. It was on 26th February to be exact, I was 24 years old. Over time, the relationship deteriorated until we were finally divorced on 5th September 2011. Somehow it had managed to last nearly 34½ years. It should have ended years earlier but inertia kept it going.

It was not a life in which I was happy. Of course, there were good times but overall neither of us were enjoying the marriage.

My earliest dreams that I never, ever thought would come true were as a youngster. My mum (who would eventually become a top breeder, exhibitor and international judge of Pembroke Welsh Corgis) sold a couple of dogs to someone in Honolulu. It sounded so exotic but was so far away, so out of my reach.

Australia was another country on my dream list, also sparked by mum exporting dogs there.

Similarly, at high school there was a trip to the USA but it was expensive and I thought it was too much money to ask my parents to find. So I said that I didn’t want to go but, in reality, I would have loved it.

During my first marriage, I wanted to go on a cruise but that was not to be. In fact, I had dreamed of crossing the Atlantic on a liner since that form of travel caught my attention as a child watching television.

Then it all changed. I won’t bore you with exactly what happened and when; it is enough to say that Lisa and I met virtually at first, playing a computer game. That was in October 2009 and after two years, and two divorces, we married.

married2  Lisa and I on our wedding day at sunset.

Not any old marriage ceremony for us though. We married on a beach in south western Florida, where Lisa then lived. It was at sunset on 31st October 2011, it was attended by Lisa’s mom, sister, brother in law and two of our friends whom we had also met online. That was my very first trip to the USA. A dream wedding in a dream location, with dolphins playing just off the beach.

A cruise holiday was next on my list and that came true in 2013 after I received a £1,200 grant from the short break fund of the UK’s Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was great, two weeks on board with various shore visits in and around the Norwegian fjords. That was on Lisa’s dream list too as her dad’s family were from Norway, so she is half-Norwegian.

A second, week long cruise, followed a few months later. This time we few to Milan for a circular cruise around the Mediterranean. A day on Sicily ticked off a second dream on Lisa’s list as her mom’s family came from there, making her half Sicilian.

Last year, we enjoyed an absolutely magnificent holiday. In December, we flew to Honolulu (childhood dream) and enjoyed three full days there visiting a luau and Pearl Harbour– among other things. After that we boarded a ship for a seven day cruise around the Hawaiian islands, with shore excursions every day. The whole trip was warm and sunny, even in December.

We then flew to New York (high school dream) and spent three full days there. My ex had never wanted to go to NYC but Lisa was born and brought up there and so I was given my own personalised tour with a very special tour guide. Highlights were riding to the top of the Empire State Building, going to the famous Radio City Music Hall to see its Christmas Spectacular, Times Square, Central Park, the 9-11 Memorial which I found very moving, the Rockefeller Center and store windows all decorated for Christmas.

Added to that, we travelled a little outside the city to meet up with Lisa’s other sister and her husband, plus their children and grandchildren.

Needless to say that the weather in New York was more wintry than in Hawaii but we went prepared for both.

This year, we are in for quite a busy time this autumn. In October we are sailing on an eight-day Atlantic crossing (childhood dream) from Southampton to New Jersey, then spending nine days touring several north-eastern states. We fly back – and then we are moving to Spain. There we will be able to escape the rainy British climate and be able to soak up sunshine for much of the year. And that is fulfilling a dream that I only had early this year.

Do I have dreams left on my list? Oh yes, a cruise taking in Australia, an African safari (photos only, no shooting), a Caribbean cruise and a second trip to Hawaii are all high up there.

But my biggest dream has already come true and I live it everyday. I am talking about meeting and marrying Lisa. She is the one true love of my life, my soulmate, my lover, my best friend – my everything. We make each other so happy and so full of life that my illness, my multiple sclerosis, pales into insignificance. That’s what dreams are made of.

 

 

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