Monday, 9 January 2012

Stamp collecting

So the last few years have seen me complete my goal of Visiting Every (inhabited*) Continent Before I’m Thirty, take a honeymoon, book a few holidays we (shouldn’t have) spent all our savings on, attended a few destination weddings and hen dos and coerce my darling husband to take me on, or at least not tell me off for booking, a rather large number of weekend breaks.
I’m not going to lie, one of the main reasons I get up and go to work every morning is so that I can earn enough money to see the world and experience its wonders. There are other reasons as well (and no, not just so I can buy Chanel handbags) but that is pretty high up the list of motivators!

Growing up with a rather internationally focussed family I was lucky to holiday abroad a lot as a child, and to spend a lot of time, not just in hotels and holiday resorts but also in family homes in residential towns and really life and breath the local culture. I started a “top five” list of places I was desperate to visit when I was at school, when I was probably about 13 or 14 (I date my school memories based on the form room I was in at the time). I think this is why the list I came up with included Moscow, Cairo, New Orleans, New York and Ghana.
I think you can safely say that I was heavily influenced by the TV and Film I watched at the time (Poirot: Cairo, Dr Zhivago: Moscow, Friends: New York) and the literature I managed to get my hands on (one of my fave books from childhood, Great Comfort: Ghana , Interview with the Vampire: New Orleans).
Have I managed to visit those places?
Not all of them. Cairo and New York got ticked off quite quickly (New York repeatedly so) , Moscow is being a bit evasive – I keep meaning to go, but other places keep popping up. New Orleans is the same. I almost booked to go to Mardi Gras last year en route to Rio Carnival but sadly I’m not a millionaire, nor have I perfected the art of teleportation and time travel, and so I had to be realistic. Ghana, well, that one keeps dropping further down the list as I find more and more places to drag Mr G along to.
I have however been lucky enough to visit a number of other exotic places in the meantime, South East Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Australia, North and South America, northern and southern Africa, the Middle East, the north, south, east and west of Europe and a few tropical islands here and there. I’m really pleased with some of my stamps. My current fave is the Mauritian Dodo. Too cute!
Shall I tell you what I haven’t done?
Travel around my own country.
Until 2007 I had never been further north in the UK than Yorkshire. That year was the first of two trips I made to Scotland, both to Edinburgh. I turn 30 in just under three weeks and I’ve still never been to Ireland nor Wales – and I have family living in both! I am ashamed of myself.  I did swing by Cornwall once for a girl’s holiday when we were 15/16, but I don’t recall much from that trip, I popped in to Brighton for a night and to visit one of my Power Puff Girls in Sheffield at uni, again, the details are a bit hazy, a few hen dos in Bath and Cambridge get me a few more ticks and I went to the Cotswolds in July last year for a gorgeous wedding. But that’s it. I’ve never been to Oxford (unless you count Bicester shopping village?), Manchester, Liverpool (a European Capital of Culture, no less), Newcastle, Birmingham. I’ve never seen Stonehenge, Cheddar Gorge, the Angel of the North, Fountains Abbey.
Shameful really isn’t it? I’ve spent time and money exploring the world and yet know nothing about my own country’s geography. I suppose I could justify it by saying that I spend a lot of time in London – one of the greatest cities in the world. Or maybe I’m just being lazy?
Nothing demonstrates my complete lack of domestic geography better than some puzzles we have at my parents’ to play with over Christmas. They’re wooden jigsaws of various places with country/state/county borders denoting the shape of the pieces.

Now, I looked at the one of the world and I put it together in less than three minutes. Easy peasy. The states of the USA? Probably less than seven minutes.
The counties of the UK?
Well, it blows my mind that the other day on CBB (I don’t watch it, but I caught a round up with that chick that’s married to that drummer**, the other day), Kirk from TOWIE couldn’t pin point where Las Vegas was on a map of the world. And he’d BEEN there. He’d been on a plane, booked some flights, arranged visas/ESTAs. Surely he must have had some idea? Nope! I think he stuck it up in Siberia or something!
Well that was me with the counties of the UK puzzle. Hours I tell you. Literally hours. Like, an episode of Dr Who, and two Harry Potter films (we do lots of pyjama snuggling in front of Christmas DVDs in my parents’ house on Boxing Day) and I was still going. I’m so stubborn so I refused help for a long time but in the end I completed it with a few clues on motorways and the rest by shape-and-hole trial and error.
And that is one of the reasons I included Number 10 on my list of resolutions for this year: to travel more, including within the UK.
To that end, in addition to my trips to Ireland (for a wedding) and to the USA’s west coast (roooooooooad triiiiip) and hopefully a little trip in the late summer, to spend all Mr G’s hard-earned Olympic overtime cash, I vow to visit at least two new places that don’t require a passport. I’ll put my hands up now and admit I won’t be doing any of the nature stuff: Britain’s wonderful  beaches, the Lake District, the New Forest, the Peak District (where are these places?! Are they near each other?), but I’m going to focus on the cities. I’m a city girl – I need shops, cocktail bars, boutique hotels… Any suggestions?
Answers (topically) on a postcard please…
* I caveat the goal with “inhabited” as my aunt maintains that I haven’t completed the goal unless I visit Antarctica. As the standard of boutique accommodation are not quite, erm, up to the level I would expect for the £8,500 it would cost (yes I have looked in to it. No I won’t be going for a while yet) I’m choosing to leave this one out of the “goal” and just claim that I completed it.

** I’m getting soooooo old!

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