Tuesday, 18 October 2016

October Road Trip Day One: Bournemouth

A couple of weekends ago, I went on a little road trip to the south coast with my sister, Marie, and spent two nights away from home having a little fun for a change. It was my first weekend away- actually, my first holiday of any kind away- since the chronic pain began just over five years ago, so it was a long over due break, and exactly what I needed to put a smile back on my face after a few months of feeling pretty blue.

So, on the Saturday morning, we hit the road, and travelled about a hundred miles down to Bournemouth. When we left home it was grey and drizzly, but by the time we made it there the clouds were parting and the sunshine and blue skies were breaking through. We checked it to our hotel- nothing fancy, just the ever reliable Premier Inn- and after resting for a while, we decided to head on down to the sea front as we had several hours to kill before the concert we had tickets to that evening.

The sea front and the entire area surrounding Bournemouth beach was heaving with people, so it took us a while to get parked, but there was no way we were leaving without a walk by the beach. As it turned out, the Bournemouth marathons were taking place all weekend, and the sea front seemed to be the hub where everything was happening. It took a bit of effort to weave through the crowds to get to the beach, but there was a great atmosphere, and the view on the other side was more than worth it. Picture bright blue skies over a fairly-calm teal-blue sea, with small white-tipped waves breaking on to a long stretch of soft golden sand, with a few palm trees dotted along the promenade, and flocks of sea gulls flying over head. To our left was a view of the (ugly) Bournemouth pier, to our right, green-topped cliffs in the distance, and straight ahead, we could see boats sailing along the horizon. It was beautiful, and absolutely blissful.

I can't tell you how much I wanted to go dive in the sea for a swim, or at least go for a paddle in the surf, but I didn't have the strength. Instead, I settled for a short walk along the path beside the sand, enjoying the gorgeous view with an ice cream- although it was so blustery that half my ice cream ended up in my hair!

After five or ten minutes of conditioning my hair with ice cream, we decided to visit the beach-side Oceanarium aquarium, which is literally just a few metres walk from the sand. Marie and I had both visited the aquarium before, but since my last visit was more than half a decade ago, I couldn't remember much about it, so it was like visiting it for the first time again.

Unfortunately, I didn't get many decent photos from inside the aquarium, so please excuse the quality of the next few photos.

We  spent about an hour or so wandering around looking at all kinds of fish and aquatic creatures, including sharks, rays, seahorses, jellyfish, crocodiles, sea turtles, penguins, otters, and so much more. It had everything you'd expect to see in an aquarium, with the exception of sea mammals like seals and dolphins, which, thankfully, aren't commonly seen in aquariums in England. 

I particularly loved watching the beautiful green sea turtles gracefully gliding through the water, and the open-air penguin exhibit was pretty awesome, too. They have a group of humboldt penguins sharing an enclosure with the cutest little black sea birds with white tendrils of feathers on their faces called Inca terns, which we stood watching for ages because they were just that cute. I believe there's also an underwater viewing area at the bottom of the pool on the floor below, where you can watch the penguins swim under water, but I don't think we went past it- although, I did get to see my first otter swimming under water in the otter habitat.

As  a big animal lover, I can honestly say, I found all of the animals there really fascinating, and I enjoyed looking at pretty much all of them, from the menacing looking sharks to the tiny orange and white clown fish. Yep, I totally found Nemo!  All that I felt was missing was Leonardo Di Caprio circa 1996 gazing back from the other side of a tropical fish tank, but you can't have it all.

The Oceanarium is a lovely place to spend an hour or two, but you'd be hard-pressed to spend an entire day there, unless you're fond of doing laps. I mean, the place isn't tiny, but it's not exactly enormous, either. We saw everything there was to see in approximately an hour and a half, and that included stopping for a couple of rests, and lingering at several of the habitats. After that, we were ready to head for the exit, content with what we'd seen. At £12 for an adult ticket, it wasn't the cheapest way to spend ninety minutes, but we both enjoyed our visit, so we think it was money well spent. If you're an animal lover, I would recommend you pay it a visit, but buy your tickets online where they offer discounted rates.

After leaving the Oceanarium, we spent a few minutes admiring the view of the beach again, watching the surf lapping and gently crashing on to the shore, people strolling on the beach, a few braving the (presumably chilly) sea beneath the pier, cheeky sea gulls navigating the breeze, dogs paddling in the shallows, and the sea stretching out as far as the eye could see, beyond the horizon. I could've stayed there taking it in all day.

With the exception of watching my favourite bands perform live, I've always been happiest when I'm by the sea; I just feel so at peace there- probably because I grew up with so many trips to the seaside and made some of my happiest childhood memories at the beach. I've not been able to take a trip to the seaside or set foot on a beach in over five years, and it's been torture- it's just not natural for me. So, this short time spent looking out to sea was exactly what I needed.

We  headed back along to the lively sea front, planning to gamble a few pennies in the arcades, but it was so packed with people, we walked in and straight back out again. Instead, we sat and people-watched for a while close to where the marathon was being organised. There were runners of all ages, dog-walkers, families, couples, groups of friends, locals, tourists, young people, old people, even people in fancy dress. At one point, three guys dressed as Boy George, Jack Sparrow, and a blond cowboy (a character I couldn't place) came strutting past, on their way to who knows where. It was so random, but the atmosphere was really fun and upbeat, and it wasn't a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

We were going to find somewhere for a bite to eat, but I was in need of a rest, and we couldn't find anywhere with a drive-though, so we bought snacks from M&S, and had a picnic in our cosy little hotel room while watching The Big Bang Theory, before getting ready to go out.

Here's where I admit that the main reason for our road trip was to see Ronan Keating in concert. I'm not much of a pop music fan these days, but I've been a big fan of him and Boyzone since I was nine, and old habits die hard. My best friend and I have been going to their concerts together since 1997, and we were supposed to go see him together in Cardiff in September, but she couldn't make it at the last minute. As I'm too wobbly to go off gallivanting anywhere by myself (though I was very tempted to try), I had to sell the tickets, but eventually convinced my sister to go see him with me instead, and even coaxed her in to seeing him the night after in Brighton, as well! We thought we'd make a weekend of it along the coast. It probably sounds really sad, but it was something I needed to do to put a smile back on my face after a crap year that's included two more diagnoses, worsening symptoms, and barely leaving the house for anything but medical appointments. I needed a good concert or two to help snap me out of my funk, and thankfully, it worked like a charm.

I feel happiest and most like myself at gigs, and before I got ill, I went to a lot of them. It was a big part of who I was (and still want to be), and losing that part of my life feels like I've lost a big part of myself. I think it's the only thing I truly begrudge about my health conditions; missing out on the gigs I long to go to. It sucks. I can only manage one or two a year now, but I'll happily take a gig or two a year over none at all any day of the week. I hope I never have to shut the door on that part of my life entirely. 

We headed over to the Bournemouth International Centre and made it in to our seats in time to hear the last few songs from the support act, a Cypriot solo artist and guitarist called Nikolas Metaxas. He had a beautiful voice, which I found surprising because I rarely find myself enjoying support acts. Or pop music. Apparently he came second in the Greek version of the X-Factor.

After what felt like forever, Ronan and his band, The Shams (made up of six or seven musicians and a backing vocalist), kicked off the show just before nine pm, sending a venue mostly full of grown women in to an excited frenzy. Who could blame us? The man may be pushing forty, but he's still drop dead gorgeous, and ageing like a fine wine. I'm digging the salt and pepper stubble he's now rocking. I think he's going to be quite the silver fox in a decade or two.

The gig was absolutely amazing, and definitely one of his best tours yet. They performed most of the songs from his latest album, 'Time of My Life', along with a few classics like 'Lovin' Each Day', 'Life is a Rollercoaster', and 'When You Say Nothing At All'. In the middle they performed an acoustic set of  four songs which was just gorgeous, and I welcomed the opportunity to sit down and rest, and just listen for a while. He paid tribute to his Boyzone bandmate, Stephen Gately, who passed away in 2009, with 'One More Song', and even added in a rendition of Van Morrison's 'Brown Eyed Girl' before the show was through, which had everybody up singing, and dancing along like crazy. The atmosphere was electric.  Ronan's vocals were some of the best I've ever heard, and his band were on fire, too, beautifully playing everything from guitars, keyboards, and drums, to bodhrans, flutes, and accordions, and more, between them. 

It  turned a bit chaotic during a few songs, after a woman collapsed in the row in front of us. The people around her did a good job of looking after her, but the staff didn't seem to know what to do, holding her up like a rag doll before someone finally went and got her a wheelchair after five or ten minutes. I guess they're not used to people passing out at gigs in Bournemouth. She didn't return to her seat during the show, but I hope she was alright.

Aside from the distraction, having to move out of our seats for a few songs and the people behind us bitching and whining about us standing up (as almost everybody does at concerts; imagine that! *Rolls eyes*), I had a fantastic time, and enjoyed every second of the show. It was amazing from start to finish. I left even more excited about going back for round two the following day.

By the end of the gig, my legs were like jelly, and I was ridiculously stiff and sore, so it was back to the hotel room for me, where I crawled in to my PJs, broke out the heat patches, and crawled in to bed. We watched a movie I've forgotten the name of and shared some chocolates, and I eventually drifted off to dream land, exhausted after one of the most fun and active days I've had in years, and excited for what the following day would bring.

Part two coming soon...

1 comment

  1. Oh I am SO glad to hear you had a weekend away and had fun doing the things that make you feel TRULY you! That is really heartening and touching to hear and I hope that you can feast on those memories for months to come. Never thought of Ronan Keating as being attractive before but looking at your pictures- yess! I like the one where it looks like he is looking at you! Was he?
    I went to an aquarium in Guernsey over the Summer and YES, I had exactly the same problems with taking photos!!! Nigh on impossible to get them clear!
    I loook forward to part 2!


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