“Listen; there’s a hell of a good universe next door: let’s go.”
I thought you might appreciate a bit of a travel blog as a change from the continual angst of a cancer blog :-). My coping strategy of storing wry observations for future use seems to have followed me to the beautiful and sun-kissed Isle of Wight and translated itself into the urge to tell you all about this place. Here are some views from our room, just for starters.
We dithered for ages over whether to book a holiday or not. The six to ten week ‘low’ certainly hit me like a sledge hammer, and we didn’t dare think of committing to this little break until I was keeping food in and down with a reasonable amount of certainty, and could make it from the lounge to the kitchen without a sit down. And even then we checked that we could cancel with no fee. That is what life is like just now. No guarantees. The main thing to understand about the Isle of Wight (for anyone who is unaware of it) is that it is very old fashioned – much like Cornwall of thirty years ago. The North of the Island is very sailing and yachtie-biased, leaving the very beautiful sub-tropical South for those of us who prefer a less active and less frenetic pace of life. The High Streets are busy and thriving with proper, old-fashioned shops that look as though they have been there for generations. We have driven all the way around the island now, and I am happy to report we have only seen one national chain outlet so far, although I imagine there are others lurking off the main roads. It is a very refreshing change.
Although we live quite close to the sea ourselves, we wanted a hotel which was practically falling into it – which is how we ended up choosing The Wellington Hotel in Ventnor. That and the fact that they included the ferry travel from Lymington in the price of the room. The five mile stretch of water between the mainland and the Isle of Wight is purportedly the most expensive in the world – you are lucky to get a return ticket for a car and passengers for under about sixty pounds (assuming you don’t want the 5.am sailing!). Of course we trawled Trip Advisor etc for reviews of the hotel before we booked it, and we came up with some real anomalies: some people absolutely loved it and the very odd few loathed it and absolutely savaged it online. I do feel sorry for the hard working folk who keep the hospitality industry alive. More of that in a moment. We decided we would take the risk as the hotel looked so lovely – an old Victorian building literally clinging to the hillside above the beach, with every room promising a sea view and most with balconies. As this was our first break of any kind in ages we booked the super deluxe room. Hang the expense!
It was with some trepidation that we pulled up to the hotel and checked in. We were led to our room. Which is gorgeous. The hotel is gorgeous. The views are gorgeous. The staff are gorgeous. OK – yes, the carpets are a bit tatty and old looking on the stairs, and the railings which separate the balconies are a bit rusty. Of course the railings are rusty. The hotel faces the sea and is constantly lashed by fierce winds that decimate paintwork in a matter of months. Don’t those detractors realize this? And in the grand scale of things, how important is it? As our most recent holidays have been on fairly swanky cruise ships I was more worried about crunchy white sheets and snowy white towels (which I have grown to love with a fervor bordering on obsession), and a clean bathroom (Virgo Moon in action I’m afraid), and on those fronts our room was more than satisfactory. I am sure that some folk are more interested in picking fault than getting on and enjoying their holiday. Or maybe that is their idea of fun. And to be honest, this is a three star hotel. It isn’t pretending to be five star or something it isn’t, so whilst you might find perfection around every corner in a boutique, mega expensive hotel, you’re probably not going to find it here. I read a cruise review once where the writer said they were pleased to report that their cabin passed ‘the white glove test’. Yes. That really does mean that this extremely picky and critical person put on a white glove specifically to check whether the steward had cleaned all those difficult nooks and crannies in their cabin. Complaining about obvious grime is one thing – but imagine checking that you have packed your white gloves! I think that is downright nasty. I would personally hate to be in the hospitality business. The staff here are gracious and kind and will do anything to help, but they must have to deal with some difficult situations.
For instance, we booked a room with a balcony because we wanted to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the sea, and to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air during the day when I needed to rest. The couple in the room next door booked a balcony room because they wanted to smoke. The two requirements are mutually exclusive, and the first we knew of it was when our room filled with smoke at 6.00 am on our first morning. We were pretty grumpy, as you can imagine, but didn’t especially want to confront our neighbours at that time. And they were probably quite within their rights to smoke – it was probably hotel policy but we hadn’t bothered to check. We had a really busy day yesterday and it was only today that we talked about it together; I guess we could have asked for a room change, but we like this room, and why should we be the ones to suffer all the upheaval? But then could we have insisted they move? With a Libra Ascendant this kind of situation is a complete nightmare for me. And I’ll never know how it could have worked out as we are leaving tomorrow and didn’t bother to ask Reception what they could do about it. I supposed hotel staff get to see and deal with just about everything and they probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at our dilemma.
We have already decided we want to come back here again. There is loads more to see, as our itinerary has been necessarily limited by my lack of stamina and need for a daily rest. The island seems to be a bit of a mecca for masochistic cyclists (we are talking some very seriously steep hills here, folks), but there is also a coastal path and endless public bridleways to explore. However, lest you think I have been lazing around doing nothing, I would like to say that the private path from the hotel down to the esplanade is made up of 81 steps, which I have personally counted several times. I was told to be very gentle in my attempts to improve my stamina, but there isn’t a lot you can do, stranded halfway up a flight of steps. Except sit down for a breather, which is what I did. I have done lots and lots of sitting down since we arrived, but it has been interspersed with quite a bit of walking, much of it uphill. I have to say that the public areas around here are very sensitively designed. It is really easy to find a seat and pretend to be taking in the astounding view whilst calming one’s pounding heart – nobody need ever know the truth. We have also found a really nice Tapas Bar, which happens to be at the bottom of the 81steps. I think I am getting a bit stronger with each climb. Now there’s an incentive!
We have both been able to escape the shadow of the last eight months – at least to a certain extent. We have slept well, eaten well, and really enjoyed being away from old triggers and reminders. Except for one incident yesterday, but it was kind of okay. We went to Quarr Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the north of the island. After a fabulous lecture from the guide we repaired to the onsite tea garden (not fabulous at all), and ended up sharing a table with two lovely ladies from Texas. One of them has family here and is a regular visitor, so we talked along those lines for a while, but eventually the conversation got around to our reason for being here and the whole cancer story came out. I realized this was the first time I had told anybody the whole thing, face to face, in the cold light of day. I am always better one step removed – either writing or talking on the phone – and I found the experience incredibly difficult. It was so hard not to cry at the more emotional and difficult points, and I really didn’t want to lose it in a public place with complete strangers. Their sensitive questions and a certain amount of sharing of experiences did make it easier, but again I realized how protected, and thus vulnerable I have become. It was a good experience though, and very thought provoking. To be honest, in these weird days post-transplant and pre-proper hairstyle, going to buy a paper can be a thought provoking experience.
Tomorrow we head home, and we are really sad. It has been like going to a Mediterranean town – blue sea, golden sands, and endless sunshine. We have been so lucky. And we will be back!
Wishing you sunshine in your heart