Poor little Squeaky

Our poor little cat, Squeaky, has hurt his toe. Actually he just broke a toenail, but for cat it’s slightly more significant than for a human as they can extend and retract their nails, so there’s a big chance of infection if the nail is jagged and catches on their skin.

So he had his toe bandaged up and because cats are cats and like to pull off bandages, he had to have a cone put on his head as well.

He didn’t like it very much.

In fact, he didn’t like it at all.

Have you ever seen a more forlorn looking animal?

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Surely not…

 

Sometimes I wish my eyes were deceiving me.

No Mess, No Stress!

Hygiene pants for a dog?!

Has anyone actually seen any animal wear one of these in Qatar?

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Cayman Islands

On the way back from Cuba, we ended up with a 7 hour stop-over in the Cayman Islands.

What a contrast with Cuba – from a country stuck in the 1950s, to a rich island famous for tax evasion!

One of our friends used to live in the Caymans and told us that if we had a chance, the one thing we should try to do is take a trip out to Sting Ray City.

Sting Ray City is a sandbank just north of Grand Cayman where Sting Rays congregate.

We managed to find a company called EBanks who took out small groups on jetskis – brilliant!

Sting Ray City

Yes, this is a photo of a photo! I really should find out what we’ve done with the original…

Anyway, the trip was brilliant. The sting rays were enormous, and so friendly.

At first I was petrified of them (thinking of Steve Irwin), but it turns out they’re really not dangerous. The sandbank doesn’t break the water, but you can stand up and the sting rays graze past you, like cats rubbing against your legs.

The tour included being dropped off at our hotel. Obviously, being on a 7 hour stop over, we didn’t have one. So instead, we asked to be dropped off back at the airport.

This worked really well in theory. However, turning up at the airport, dripping wet in our swim stuff, was a new experience; suitcase in one hand, snorkel in the other!

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Crazy Cuba

A few weeks ago we came back from a fabulous holiday…

Coming into land

Coming into land

We had a quick stop in Chelmsford for my Aunt and Uncle’s Golden Wedding Anniversary, and another one in Florida for my brother’s beautiful wedding, we headed off to somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to…Cuba!

Our first stop was Varadero, which we were enticed to by the promise that you can swim with dolphins.

My advice to people thinking of going to Varadero, is don’t.

The dolphins were not wild, they were in a pen. And Varadero seems to be a place where people just go to sit in all-inclusive resorts and get trashed. Frankly that’s not exactly the reason I wanted to go to Cuba.

Let’s go to Havana.

Capitolio

 

Havana is where the history is. What an amazing place.

Blakey

Bumping into Blakey!

Hilariously, the very first person I saw on the street in Havana was someone that I used to work with at Sky News!

What a small world.

The Malecon

 

We stayed in a little family run house, called Casa Blanca. It was right on the Malecon (the Cuban version of the Corniche).

It was great, slightly dodgy from the outside (like many places are, given that Cuba is such a poor place), but inside it was a beautiful apartment.

The whole place looks like it has been stuck in the 1950s.

CarsCars

And one other tip, if you do go to Havana…there’s a great little restaurant called Casa Miglis. The food was the best we had in Cuba and the setting was beautiful.

Casa Miglis

A trip to Havana is definitely recommended.

 

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Squeaky’s Squiffy Eye

One morning we noticed that one of Squeaky’s eyes was a little bit smaller than the other. We didn’t think it was anything to worry about too much though and decided to wait till evening to see if things got any worse.

When I got home from work, Squeaky didn’t come to see me at the front door. Unusual for a cat that’s always hungry.

I found him on the sofa, but he barely lifted his head when I went over to him. The poor little thing had a big swollen eye and could barely open it.

Squeaky

So off we went to the vet.

The vet then looked at Squeaky’s eye and said, “Ahhhh, there’s something in it!”

He rubbed it with some cotton wool, but whatever it was in his eye didn’t come off.

He thought it might be an insect that had bitten into his cornea, so he put anaesthetic drops in it waited for them to work and then rubbed it again.

The foreign object stayed put, so he grabbed a pair of tweezers.

He pulled it and on the second attempt out came a spike from a plant that was about 3mm long, and had been wedged right in the middle of his pupil.

Poor Squeaky! No wonder his eye was the size of a balloon. But throughout the whole thing, although he’d wriggled a bit, he’d continued to purr.

The vet was pretty surprised, “It’s very unusual for a cat to let me do that. Normally we’d have to put them to sleep. He acts more like a dog really.”

Then he paused

“And he is more like the size of the dog as well.”

He has a point…

Then, as if to prove it, Squeaky needed to have one of those cones put on his head to make sure he didn’t rub his eye. He couldn’t fit into the one for cats, he was too big. He had to have one for a small dog instead.

He can’t help being a gigantacat. We have his mother here, and she’s tiny. I can only assume his father was a small panther. Or a horse.

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Road safety

I’ve just been emailed a poster by the Ministry of the Interior.

Driving here is horrific, and anything that can be done to improve it is welcomed with open arms.Road Safety

It’s just a shame they didn’t finish their sentence.

“Reckless driving will lead to grave…”

Grave what? Consequences? Injuries? Repercussions?

I guess we’ll never know.

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The search for the Northern Lights – Part III

After being overcast for the entire day, at around 6pm I saw a star.

Then another appeared….and another…and slowly the whole sky cleared.

Suddenly a faint light appeared in the sky to the north behind the disappearing cloud. Then it disappeared again.

After a while it was back.

I said to Felipe that it could well be the Northern Lights.

Always one to tell things as they are, Felipe said, “I hope not, that’s rubbish.”

We watched, waiting for the sky clear for about an hour and a half, all the time walking up and down a road, trying desperately to keep warm.

At 7:30pm, we gave up and headed into the warmth for some food.

Disaster!

Apparently dinner was 6 till 7pm sharp.

Everything had been cleared away and the restaurant locked.

This was the only restaurant in Abisko Turiststation. The only other places to eat were in Abisko town, a two hour walk away. Don’t be silly, it was out of season, there wasn’t a taxi to be seen in the place!

We warmed up for a short time, then headed out again towards the town.

Whilst we’d been defrosting, the lights had expanded and grown.

Now there was a huge swirl in the north and a trailing line of light extended all the way across the sky over our heads.

This was it! This was what we’d come to see! Even Felipe was impressed!

We did feel slightly cheated as the lights are much fainter that you see on the photos. Turns out that’s because they have an exposure time of over a minute.

This is what my photos looked like:

tempWe spent so long staring at the lights that we never did get dinner that night. We also are unlikely to ever feel our toes again…but at least we can say this trip was a success, unlike the tornado hunting expedition.

Still, who needs a tornado when you could have the Northern Lights?

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The search for the Northern Lights – Part II

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We set off up the mountain to try to break through the cloud and see the Aurora Borealis.

At first it was quite a pleasant walk, albeit a bit chilly, but after about an hour, we were scrambling up the mountain on all fours. With all the snow and ice covering everything, we were slipping down the slope almost as much as we were making headway.

As it got steeper and steeper, we realized it was going to be almost impossible to navigate our way back in the dark, so we sat down on a rock.

With a temperature of -10C, sitting still isn’t recommended.

Soon we were very cold, and realized that our plan of sitting at the top of the mountain and waiting for the Aurora was sadly flawed.

I could see the headlines: Weather Presenter freezes to death in attempt to see the Northern Lights.

It was time to head towards the warmth.

After defrosting with a glass of wine, we headed out again to wander around.

This is where we had a rather large stroke of luck.

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The search for the Northern Lights – Part I

I’d long been fascinated by the Northern Lights, but had never seen them. I knew this year was supposed to be the height of the sun’s activity, so the best time to see them, and therefore there was only one thing for it: a trip to the top of the globe.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t such a hard sell to my husband as I thought it would be. After the fiasco of the tornado chasing, I expected a flat no, but he actually sounded quite keen!

I booked the long haul flights to Stockholm first, and then looked for somewhere north. Kiruna is the furthest north city in the country, so off we went!

The difference from Doha to Kiruna was somewhat startling:

Doha from the air

Doha from the air

Kiruna

Kiruna from the air

It was only when we arrived in Kiruna that we realised that November was out of season. This meant that there was only about one taxi in operation and as a plane had arrived full of passengers, it was busy.

I had been in touch with the hotel about the possibility of airport transfers, and they’d said they didn’t do them and we should just get a taxi from the airport. At no point did they say that we might want to book it in advance.

We had to wait an hour for a taxi to turn up. Thanks for that Hotel Ripan.

Anyway, there were a couple of signs at the airport that you don’t see every day, like this one:

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

Although being out of season, there weren’t actually any husky dogs to be seen.

We eventually got to our hotel around 3:30pm, by which time it was dark. It was also completely cloudy, which meant that there was no chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

We chatted to several locals and scoured the internet, and discovered that there was better chance of seeing the Northern Lights in a little place called Abisko, which was about 60 kilometres away.

Abisko was more promising than Kiruna because there was less ambient light, so any aurora would be easier to see. Plus the geography worked in our favour, because Abisko has a mountain range to its west, so the clouds often break to the lee of them,  just over Abisko.

The were two trains to and from Abisko every day, so we could get there fine, but the return times were really unhelpful: the last one back was at 3:30pm. I guess this was because we were out of season. As we had a hotel booked in Kiruna, and our flight was at 6:10am the following day, we were going to have to take a taxi.

Taxis in Sweden, like most things, are eye-wateringly expensive, but this was our last chance to see the Aurora Borealis, so we had to bite the bullet. Just don’t look at the total as you sign the credit card bill.

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

So, we made it to Abisko…but disappointingly it was completely overcast! In fact it was cloudier than Kiruna had been when we left. So much for the helpful mountains!

However, happily we discovered that there was a ski lift which would take you to a mountain station which was usually above the low clouds. Perfect for seeing the Northern Lights!

Then came the bombshell: the ski lift only is in operation from Thursday to Saturday, and it was a Sunday. Disaster.

This is where we had a really bad idea: we decided to hike up to the mountain station.

The fact that we weren’t really dressed for hiking and didn’t have torches didn’t put us off. Plus the path was a summer trail so wasn’t really very well marked.

Despite this, we decided that we would go up the mountain in daylight, wait for the aurora to show up, then head down again in the pitched darkness.

In hindsight, this wasn’t really the best plan we’d ever had…

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Hello Chicken!

My sister arrived in Doha, but unfortunately picked a bad day.

She landed at 5:50am on the day they shut the Corniche. We set out on what should have been a 15 minute journey…and hit traffic.

Our pitiful speed was 100 metres in 10 metres, so we had to abandon the car and walk.

Morning Traffic

Morning Traffic

As I walked along, a kind lady leaned out of her stationary vehicle to offer me a lift! How I chuckled as I ambled past her.

We had to walk back to the car with all the luggage. Fortunately though, Qatar Airways had lost my sister’s suitcase so at least they didn’t have to carry too much!

As usual there were some stunning manoeuvres as people tried to cut passed a car or two, and some people seemed to fall asleep leaning on their horns.

One accident happened right next to us as we wandered up the road.

All in all it was a good welcome to the country for my sister and her husband! In the immortal words of D:Ream “Things can only get better”!

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