A lot has happened during that period, in fact so much has occurred that my mind can't quite compute how it is only 43 days since our Alton Towers trip.
I'll start with my first foray the into the world of Urban Exploration or Urbex as it is known. For those unfamiliar with the term, Urbex is the exploration and photographic documentation of urban environments that hidden or off limits for most people. Some Urban explorers go up, to the rooftops of the highest buildings. Others go under, to the hidden world of sewers and tunnels. But the area that fascinates me is the exploration of decaying and dilapidated buildings. There are a number of forums that cover the world of Urbex, with some amazing photographs and reports of buildings that have been left to the elements. Old hospitals, cinemas, schools, factories and mills hold a fascination for me. Buildings seem to hold echoes of the life that once flowed through them.
A friend of mine from Rossendale Chris Lord is a superb photographer and an avid Urban explorer. Most of his explorations are in and around the Rossendale area which is where I grew up. The familiarity of his subjects and the techniques he uses draw the eye and make you want to find out more. We'd discussed me accompanying him on one of his trips for some time, particularly as I wanted to learn how to use the expensive camera I was bought for my 40th birthday last year.
I drove up to Rossendale early and after picking Chris up we went to an old mill in the area that has been out of use now for over 40 years. A bit of sneaking, ducking, climbing and crawling was required to get in which would have been quite easy for me once upon a time, but in my autumn years......not so much. Chris was far nimbler and more adept than me and he moved around with confidence. Once inside the pitch black was pierced by his powerful torch whilst the one I had brought with me was laughably feeble by comparison.
We spent probably an hour walking around the different areas of the old mill taking loads of photographs and Chris showed me some camera tricks which are used to achieve dramatic effects, including light painting like below. In this instance, I stood with my back to a camera on a tripod and he stood in front of me and painted round my outline with a torch with the camera set to a long exposure.
The mill was one of the biggest in the area and up until the 1960's had employed more than 500 people. All the machinery was long gone but some of the equipment was still kicking around and the old engine room retained some of it's former grandeur.
Part of the Urban exploration code is to take nothing, damage nothing and leave things exactly as you find them, which we were very careful to observe. After a further look around we left as we had come in. I really enjoyed the experience and will undoubtedly return to the topic for future writing projects. I also have a much better understanding of my camera which I will put to good use.
The following weekend Mel and I flew to Naples to start our two week holiday with a week on the Amalfi coast. We'd both been before and it is one of my favourite places in the world. We'd planned our week months ago which is unusual for us but it didn't become real until we jumped in the hire car and started the frenetic and slightly scary journey to Sorrento. It takes some time to adjust to people driving millimetres from your rear bumper and overtaking you on blind mountain corners but eventually I adjusted and was whizzing along cliff-top roads with Italian abandon before I knew it.
We arrived at La Solara Hotel in the early afternoon, a beautiful hotel that I have stayed at previously. We were shattered from our early start but I wasn't going to let tiredness get in the way of gluttony and within minutes I was tucking into my first pizza whilst taking in the stunning views.
We spent a week exploring, eating, walking, eating, sunbathing, eating and taking in the beautiful scenery but mainly eating. Some of the food we ate that week will never be surpassed as far I'm concerned. Using the travel bible that is trip advisor we hunted down some of the most extraordinary culinary experiences I have ever had and I have eaten in some lovely places over the years. I was having to swim half a mile per day in the Hotel pool just to stop myself getting Channel 5 documentary fat.
The highlight of our week was undoubtedly our day in Capri. We actually went there by accident. We had planned to visit Positano by boat but missed the ferry by 20 minutes. We'd both been to Capri before and whilst it is lovely neither of us had any desperate desire to return. However, crossings were every 20 minutes so we hopped on a boat and chanced our arm.
We decided against the cliff lift and chose to walk up the steps to the top of Capri which is the second time I've made this schoolboy error. By the time we got to the top I was in need of a lung transplant and only a lemon slush drink saved my life. It was at this point that Mel seized an opportunity to partake in her own 'where's Wally?' photo. See if you can spot her.
After an hour or so walking round the shops and trying not to laugh at the price of things we decided on a whim to hire a scooter. I've always hankered after a Vespa but Mel has refused on the basis that she quite likes her husbands alive and breathing but she relented in Capri as the roads were quiet. The rules for hiring one were quite strict as the following conversation will demonstrate.
Man : Do you have a driving licence?
Me : Yeah
Man : Can I see it?
Me : No, I haven't got it with me.
Man : But you do have one, you say?
Me : Yeah
Man : Ok, not to worry. Just sign here in case you die so that nobody will think it's my fault or responsibility.
Me : Ok, thanks......
With that, we were off, tearing up the mountain roads looking like a pair of out of work human cannonballs. Some of the roads seemed to cling impossibly to the sides of cliffs like this one here which genuinely took my breath away.
Mel went from a scooter sceptic to demanding we buy one for our time in France in about five minutes. It was such a brilliant way to tour the island though I wouldn't dare ride one on the Italian mainland. My body would remain intact for about five minutes.
The rest of the week was superb with minimal interruptions from work. I had timed my holiday really badly and there were several work related issues that were playing out back in the UK that demanded my involvement but thankfully this was limited to a few calls in the evening.
On the Sunday we commenced the second leg of our holiday, rising early to drive back to Naples. From there we flew to Paris and after a bus transfer across the City we got the train down to Limoges which took about four hours. Mel's parents met us at the station as they were working hard as usual completing the holiday home renovation and had been there for two weeks already. Within 40 minutes we had arrived at our house in Chalus ready to start a second week. The premise was that Mel would relax, cycle and run as she always does and I would help Fred with the work on the Gite. Work put a bit of a spanner in the works though as I had to spend a few hours each day helping out with situations back at home as needs dictate but there are far worse places to be working from. The weather was unbelievably warm, far too hot even to sit out on our newly laid patio.
We had some great meals out, caught up with our friends in the evening and had a really relaxing week. The final stages of our project are in flight and the place is looking really good, much better than I had imagined in my wildest dreams.
Whoever holidays in our place will be assured a brilliant time in very comfortable surroundings in one of the prettiest and greenest parts of France. Our week there flew by and all too soon Sunday morning arrived and we were packing to come home.
It was at this point that Mel realised that in the midst of making all of the transfer arrangements she had somehow booked us onto a flight for the wrong day. Instead of the Sunday, we were booked onto a flight on Monday. There was no way I could extend our holiday, even by a day so a series of frantic calls to £1 a minute Ryanair hotlines (the robbing, exploitative scumbags) ascertained that the only option was to book two new tickets at a cost of £500. It was an incredibly expensive end to a holiday but not even the impish little shit Michael O'Leary could tarnish one of the best fortnights of my life. Great memories come from great experiences and I'll remember those two amazing weeks long after I forget about the painful body blow of a few hundred quid.