Monday, 30 June 2014

My travel report - summary

Would I recommend going on a luxury train journey for a special celebration, assuming that your budget allows it? After our recent experiences, I would give a resounding yes. From the moment we arrived at the National Parador San Marcos in León in northern Spain at the start of our holiday until the moment coach driver Antonio drove us back to Santander Station on our last day, we were thoroughly spoilt. It was definitely five star service from beginning to end.

Meet the crew - as we were welcomed on board
To be honest, we weren't quite sure what to expect.  We had downloaded an outline of our journey, but we didn't know the details until we arrived. Ana, our lovely tour guide, gave us a handout with details of each day's programme and answered all our questions. She spoke good English as well as Spanish and French and was at our disposal from breakfast at 8.30 until after dinner at 21.00. Her enthusiasm was endless and she definitely helped to make the holiday a great experience for everyone.

We had expected that many of our fellow passengers would be American or British, but to our surprise the majority were Spanish, with two Argentinians, a Belgian (with a Spanish wife), an Australian doctor and the two of us.  It was an interesting mix.

We had been asked to complete a form prior to our holiday with any special requirements, so I took advantage of this to mention that I don't eat any meat (though I eat fish and shellfish) and that I don't like tomatoes. I was impressed by the fact that any time that the menu was unsuitable for me, including meals taken in restaurants on our journey, Ana came to discuss the options with me. I suspect that some of the other passengers were a bit envious of this attention!

One of the luxurious carriages
We had a full programme, with city tours of León, Bilbao and Santander, plus excursions on the coach to towns in between where we visited several museums and churches. Our train travelled through some stunning scenery so even when we were on the move we weren't bored.

The food was superb and - apart from breakfast, obviously! - it was accompanied by fine wines, coffee and liqueurs. Did I mention that I'm about to start a diet?

I can't fault the organisation. Once we handed over our cases in León to be taken to our suite on the train while we saw the city sights, everything was done for us. All we had to do was enjoy ourselves. If there were any problems, we weren't aware of them. The staff were professional but also very friendly and helpful towards us.

Most of the other passengers were continuing on the train to Santiago, so we were expecting to say our farewells after breakfast on our last day. However on our final evening Ana told us that we could join the others on their morning visit to the Museum of Altamira and the picturesque town of Santillana del Mar. Antonio would then drive us back to Santander in time to catch the train to Madrid. What a bonus!

We discovered these in our suite on our last night
Apart from our memories, we have some tangible mementoes of our fabulous holiday. This long lasting red rose, guide book, hand written note, leaflets and photo were on our bed when we returned from the Casino on our last evening - as well as a bottle of cava chilling in an ice bucket. A lovely thoughtful gesture that put the finishing touch on our wonderful holiday.

Did anyone spot the chocolates? They've all been eaten now. Did I mention that I'm about to start a diet?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My travel report - part 2

I woke up just before the campanilla (bell) was rung - probably because I was excited and anticipating our second day.

I enjoy train travel, especially when the train is going through scenic countryside with breathtaking views of mountains and rushing rivers. There's nothing better than sitting in a comfortable seat, being served a delicious breakfast, while admiring the scenery (unless of course it's sitting in a comfortable seat and being served a delicious lunch with fine wines!)

Outside the Palacio Real in Madrid

The photo above, I have to confess, is nothing to do with this trip. It's a photo taken in Madrid with John's niece Fiona and I'm wearing my brown hat - but after the comments on my last post I felt an obligation to include it here! I think the brown hat would have looked ok with the clothes I wore on this holiday but that my new hat looked better. OK. Back to business and my travel report.

On day two we were taken by coach to the Roman villa of La Olmeda, with its amazing mosaic tiled floors. We then visited a couple of Romanesque churches before having lunch at the Restaurant Los Templarios where we were greeted by two of the waiters.

Photo courtesy of Mr Over-60-and-over-here as my camera battery went flat!
It was a tasty meal with a lively atmosphere and a few elderly couples got up to dance. We all had to be dragged away by Ana, our tour guide, before we could join in with the dancing.  After all we had a train to catch up with at Mataporquera as we were due to spend the night in Villasana de Mena, which meant another two and a half hours on our train. Not that we minded, as we had more stunning scenery to admire.

On our last full day we visited Bilbao in the morning then had lunch on the train as we headed to Santander, which was our final stop.

Outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
I am wearing a lightweight casual jacket in this photo as it was windy (so no hat!) but not too cold. We were lucky that the long range forecast was wrong and it didn't rain, and in fact most days were warm enough not to need a jacket. We discovered after we returned home that it had been raining in Jumilla during our absence, so the sun really must shine on the righteous!

At Santander Cabo Mayor lighthouse
I've realised that in the photos posted so far, even though they weren't all taken on the same day, I'm wearing my blue linen trousers with a pink or red top. I also packed black linen trousers and several blue tops, but didn't have any photos taken when I was wearing them.  Clearly I'm not a very professional fashion blogger!

What I noticed was that the black linen trousers didn't appear to crease as much as the blue pair so I wore them an extra day. I'll bear that in mind when packing for our next holiday.

The photo below shows me wearing my new dress, with a pink scarf (in case it turned chilly) and navy shoes. Being self critical, I think sheer dark tights would have looked better or maybe a lighter shoe, however these shoes went well with the navy trousers that I wore most evenings. Any suggestions to improve this look?  

Santander Casino
On our last evening we had the chance to go on an optional visit to Santander Casino after dinner. Now I don't want to encourage you to gamble but, as you can see, the stained glass windows there are stunning, so it's definitely worth a visit. Confession time coming up: readers, I played roulette! It would have been rude not to, wouldn't it? I changed five euros for two chips and with great excitement placed my first bet. It was just like in the movies, except that for some strange reason - though I didn't win - I received half my stake back. I was a bit disappointed when I saw what I'd been given, as for a second I thought I had actually won something and I was waiting for piles of chips instead of just one.

When we returned to our suite that night we found a lovely red rose, a box of chocolates, a guide book and hand written note on our bed. That's not all as there was a bottle of cava chilling with two champagne flutes beside it. What a lovely end to our trip! Except that wasn't quite the end of our holiday, as we then spent one night in Madrid on the way back and returned to Alicante via Valencia.

Joanna and her husband Agyeman had read my book "Retiring the Olé Way" while living in the USA and Joanna had contacted me via facebook with a few queries prior to them moving to Valencia. It was a great opportunity to meet them both and I'm happy to report that we all got on very well, so we are now real friends as well as facebook friends!

Please note that I'm wearing my black linen trousers with a bright blue top in this photo, which proves I didn't spend the whole holiday dressed in pink and red tops with blue linen trousers.

I will do a summary of our holiday in my next post.  If you have any questions, please comment below and I'll try to answer them.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

My travel report - part 1

We had the most amazing holiday on the luxury train between León and Santander: visiting many interesting places and making some new friends too, which for me is the ideal holiday. I'm not a lying on the beach person. We stayed in Alicante for our first night before continuing to León via Madrid.  We had booked a hotel for one night in Léon as well, because the luxury train journey was starting in the morning so we didn't want to worry about being there on time.

As this blog is mainly about fashion, and I have already shared my travel wardrobe, I thought I would start by telling you how successful my holiday capsule was. Readers, I wore every item I had packed with the exception of the following: one pair of socks (in case it was cold, as my feet get cold easily. Luckily it was warm every day); a spider bag for any serious walking that we had to do (we didn't, as they took us by coach to the city centres and places of interest); and an umbrella because rain had been forecast (it didn't rain!)  I only wore my Mango jacket once, when we went out for dinner followed by a trip to the Casino in Santander on the last night of the train trip. As we were dropped off at nine o'clock I decided to wear the jacket, though it wasn't strictly necessary. Could I have coped with less items? Yes, if I was prepared to do some hand-washing, but this was billed as a luxury holiday so I wanted to take advantage of not flying and being able to take a larger case.

Sitting beside Gaudi, facing Gaudi's Casa Botines in León
Please note that I didn't include the hat shown above on my original packing list - that's because I bought it on impulse while wandering around Alicante! I'm not really a hat person, but it seemed like a sensible buy when I knew we would be walking in the sun - and Mr Over-60-and-over-here didn't shudder too much when I tried it on.

After a walking tour of León followed by some free time, we were taken by coach to the National Parador of San Marcos for a delicious lunch before joining our train at San Feliz.

Cava and canapés to welcome us on board our train
As we don't usually go on package holidays, we were a bit wary about what the other passengers might be like. We quickly bonded with David, an Australian travelling on his own, who had a similar sense of humour. We discovered that most of our fellow travellers were Spanish or from Spanish-speaking countries, however our tour guide Ana spoke excellent English and one or two other people knew a few words of English too. We decided to listen to Ana's explanations in Spanish as well as in English, to make up for our Spanish classes having finished for the summer! It was good to hear the English version too, in case we had missed something.

Our suite was a bit snug, which is to be expected on a train, but we had a double bed with room underneath for our cases, a wardrobe with plenty of hangers and a decent shower, so it was better than travelling on the trenhotel to France, which is my only other recent experience of long train journeys. We sorted out our bags then showered before changing for dinner, and decided to go to the lounge area so we could sit and enjoy the scenery.

The good news is that, once we reached the town of Cistierna, our train was staying there for the night so we had the chance of a decent night's sleep. The bad news, which Ana broke to us over dinner, was that we would be woken at 8 in the morning by the campanilla/bell!  There were a few groans when she announced this, however we knew we had a full day ahead of us so an early start made sense.

What was interesting was the fact that not many people dressed up or changed for dinner. When we're on holiday, John and I always like to take a shower or bath before changing for our evening meal, even if we're only wearing smart casual rather than dressy clothes. Somehow it doesn't seem like a holiday if we wear the same clothes that we wore during the day-time.  What about you? Do you like to dress up a bit for dinner when you're on holiday?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Not travelling light

Regular readers will know that I try to encourage you all to travel light, especially when you are flying to your holiday destination. Unless you are going for a long holiday, it is perfectly feasible to board your plane with just a carry-on bag containing all your holiday clothes, which I have done on numerous occasions.

I have created several holiday capsules, which have just 10 items of clothing (plus undies, accessories etc). I usually like to practise what I preach, however I have a confession to make: this afternoon we are going away for one week's holiday, but I'm not travelling light!

These are the clothes that I will be packing shortly:

On the left you can see my Sloan-fit petite navy trousers from Banana Republic with a sleeveless top (also BR) and a Wallis blouse, which I will be wearing for dinner in the evening.  On the right there's a black and white Mango jacket and two pairs of Lands End linen trousers. The jacket is for cooler days and for going out at night, whilst the linen trousers are for walking around the various cities that we will be visiting. In the centre you should be able to count eight tops, as we are going to be away for a total of eight days and I'm not sure how easy it will be to wash clothes on the train. The tops are from a variety of brands including Gap (navy top), Jacqueline Riu (red sleeveless top), Whistles (black), Mango (navy and white stripes), M&S (pink), and Phase 8 (polka dots). As we are travelling by train and not flying, I am taking a fairly large suitcase for this holiday, so I am indulging myself for once.

I also plan to take my new polka dot dress - here it is in case you've forgotten what it looks like! I'm expecting to dress up for dinner on at least three evenings, so I will also be packing a smart pair of shoes, some jewellery and a clutch bag.

In case you haven't realised, I am very excited about this holiday.  John decided to treat us both to a luxury train trip from León to Santander in northern Spain for the last of his 70th birthday celebrations. We will be catching a train from Alicante to León via Madrid on Friday morning, but we are spending tonight in Alicante (we have an appointment with our tax adviser first thing on Friday!) so tomorrow will be the first day of our trip. I will be wearing the blue linen trousers, red sleeveless top and navy cascade cardigan (not shown) when we leave home, plus one of my two pairs of Decathlon ballerina walking shoes. The other pair will be in the suitcase so I can alternate my walking shoes, especially as I'm hoping it will be warm in northern Spain!

We will be spending one night in Madrid on our way home. We have been told there is lots to see in Santander and we only have one half day there on the train trip, so we will be spending a few more hours in Santander before catching a later train back to the Spanish capital.  One option for the return journey to Alicante was to go via Valencia, which we decided to go for. I'm delighted to say that I'm meeting a facebook friend Joanna and her husband in Valencia, as we have several hours there between trains, which should be fun.

Have you ever been on a special train journey?  If so, where did you go?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Flower power

I've shown you my favourite patterns - polka dots and stripes - but I do have a couple of other patterned pieces in my wardrobe, most of which I've owned for several years. Here is the outfit that I wore to the theatre on Saturday night:

Flower power seemed an appropriate title for my outfit, as the event in the theatre was a concert from the 70s and 80s, with music by Queen and Abba as well as Spanish singers from that era. The pattern is probably a bit large for me, but it's a beautifully made blouse and I enjoy wearing it.

More flowers: this time one is pinned on my lapel plus I'm wearing a floral patterned dress, which I wore to my niece's wedding last year. The pattern on this dress is a bit more subdued than the one above so more suitable for a petite.

Here's the white jacket again, making its third appearance in my blog this month. It first appeared worn over one of my spotted dresses in the "Spots before my eyes" post, in case you can't remember it.

The photo above shows John and I receiving an award of a lovely painting for our support of the Ruta del Vino and local businesses. The painting is hanging on the wall just above our PC and we were surprised and delighted to receive this recognition from our local Spanish community.

Finally, a photo of my son Mark helping me celebrate my wedding to John, just over five years ago. I chose a floral dress rather than polka dots or stripes - perhaps subconsciously I wanted to choose a slightly different dress from my usual style for such a special occasion.  Plus John liked it when he saw it in a shop in Murcia city, so it was obviously a winner!

PS Earlier in the day I had worn a jacket over this dress. No prizes for guessing which one it was!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Earning my stripes?

Following on from my previous post about my love of polka dots, my other favourite pattern is stripes, so I thought I would show you a couple of examples from my wardrobe.  I suggest that Robin, who isn't a fan of either pattern, looks away now!

I've built up quite a collection of striped tops and I also have a striped dress. I know that ideally, being short, I should wear vertical stripes to make me look taller and slimmer, but the majority of striped items in my wardrobe are horizontal stripes. I'm not quite sure when this love of stripes started, but over the years my collection has grown and the good news is that stripes never really go out of fashion!

This is my striped dress, which I bought two years ago with the help of my personal fashion adviser (aka my daughter Kate!) to wear for nights out during the summer months and especially for my 65th birthday party.

I've worn the dress with a white jacket in summer, and I also wore it a few months ago with dark tights and shoes plus a dark jacket, so it has proved a versatile buy.

During the winter months I have several striped jumpers to choose from:


To create a longer, leaner line with my winter jumpers, I can wear a jacket or cardigan over them that matches or blends with my trousers. Wearing a longer scarf as in the first photo also helps to draw the eyes down and minimises the horizontal effect.

However I'm a bit short of striped tops for summer.  The one below was bought about 18 months ago and was a bit of a change for me as it is in yellow, which isn't necessarily my best colour, but how could I resist the uneven stripes?

My most recent purchase is the following top, which I bought in Mango - that should be good for my street cred! I can wear this top with most of my summer bottoms: I have shown a pair of black linen trousers as well as the white pair that I wore today.


I think that the way I wore it in the first picture is more flattering than the second photo, as the cascade cardigan helps to make me look taller and slimmer.  However I'm not a fashion model or film star, so does it really matter whether I look slim or not? I don't think so. Also, as regards 
   blogging about fashion, I'm no stylist. I understand the "rules" however my aim is to encourage 
   you to break the rules when it suits you and discover your unique fashion style.

   Today was pretty hot, so when I went out dressed in my striped top, white linen trousers and
   sandals I felt cool and comfortable. Isn't that what fashion should be all about?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Spots before my eyes

Today a parcel arrived from Wallis, with a new summer dress that I had ordered.  I had looked around town first, as I like to support local shops whenever possible, but most of the dresses were either a bit too skimpy for women of a certain age or too dowdy for this particular over 60 woman!  Wallis have a petite section so I decided to browse their on-line store. I was slightly disappointed by the limited choice as there were lots of maxi dresses (not my best look), several lace dresses that I liked but thought would only be suitable for evenings out plus a couple with polka dots. After dithering for a while over the polka dots, I finally decided on this dress:

I liked the dress as soon as I tried it on, as it is a flattering shape and just touches my knees. That's the problem with being short - so many dresses fit me ok on top but are far too long and look dowdy on me.  I decided to get a second opinion by giving a fashion show for Mr Over 60 and Over Here.

"Haven't you already got a dress like that?" was his immediate reaction, which proves that men DO sometimes notice!  This of course was one reason for the dithering as there are two similar polka dot dresses in my wardrobe, but the one above will be far more versatile, especially for our forthcoming holidays.

This is one of my other polka dot dresses.  As you can see, the neckline is different, the dots are smaller and it's longer - well below my knees. Nothing like my new dress and not as flattering either. It may very well go into the recycling at the end of this summer, if not before, however it's very comfortable to wear, which is always a plus point with me!

This is me wearing the other polka dot dress, which is clearly shorter than the one above. It is also v-necked with smaller polka dots and, though you can't see because I'm wearing a jacket here, it's sleeveless and the back is v-necked too. This dress is probably more suitable for evening occasions as it shows a lot more skin when it's not covered by a jacket.

I like polka dots and, because my skin is freckled, the slight pattern suits me.  As well as three polka dot dresses (!!!) I have a blue and white polka dot top, which I also enjoy wearing.  Another favourite pattern of mine is stripes, but I'm wary with floral patterns, which have a tendency to look too old lady on me. (I know, in many people's eyes I am an old lady at the advanced age of 66!)  Do you like wearing patterns and, if so, which ones are your favourites?

To end on a slightly more serious note, many of us women of a certain age may experience spots before our eyes, also known as floaters.  I went to my optician when I first experienced this a couple of years ago to have my eyes checked out, so I know it's nothing serious, although if the floaters get worse I also know to have them checked again. One of the many joys of getting older!