Saturday, 29 February 2020

Seasonal Affective Disorders

Since our return from Lanzarote, the weather here has been dreadful: gales, rain, sleet, snow and floods. The bad weather has been relentless, day upon awful day.  After two weeks of unbroken warmth and sunshine, the re-entry into the winter of Northern Ireland was always going to be difficult. But this year it has felt much worse than usual, the weather having thrown down a challenge that even the Stoics would have found troubling.

A friend of mine told me that he and his family had only been on a winter holiday to the Canary Islands once. And that had been over twenty years ago. So why had they not gone on such a holiday since, I asked? Because after a week of lovely sunshine, the return to the winter of Northern Ireland had been so terrible that it had taken them several months to get over it. They decided not to put themselves through that ordeal again.

I knew exactly what he meant. They had gained a few days of summer but this delicious experience had then been painfully curtailed by the relentless wet and cold of winter. Emotionally, the continuing darkness and depression of winter was easier to bear without your hopes being raised and then dashed by a fleeting glimpse of summer.

This would seem to explain why a number of people we met at the hotel in Lanzarote had extended their time there, year on year. One couple from Newcastle told us that last year they had come for one month and this year they had doubled it. Another woman from Leeds told us that she came each year on the first of January and didn’t go back home until the first of May.

A Canadian I met some years ago said something similar. He was a successful businessman and had bought a flat (condominium) in Florida for winter holidays to escape the deep cold of Canada. Over time their winter holidays in Florida got longer and longer until they were only going back to Canada for the summer. Eventually, the summers in Canada got to feel cool and they sold their house there and moved to Florida.

When we returned home from Lanzarote we put the central heating on continuously for the first few days. Outside it was blowing a gale and snowing. I complained to everyone I met about the weather. Most shrugged with resignation. What do you expect, one said? It’s winter.

It took me quite a few days to be able to try a bike ride. I wrapped up in four layers of clothing and pedalled hard to get the blood flowing to hands and feet. Although the sun was shining when I set off, squally showers came in on the strong wind and during the ride I had rain, sleet and snow. Luckily I found shelter in barns to escape several of the showers but the last one caught me about five miles from home. I decided to press on through it. The temperature went down to 1 degree C and I was drenched and shivering by the time I got in. After a warm shower and hot tea with dunked ginger nuts, I perked up.

The next morning I sat down at the computer and began to search travel sites. Before the day was out I had booked two weeks in Mallorca for a cycling holiday.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

An Island of Deserts and Volcanoes

We’ve just returned from Lanzarote. It was our first visit there and it won’t be the last. You can, of course, rely on winter sunshine of 18-24 degrees C. But the island has so much more; the interior holds white-walled villages amidst a starkly beautiful volcanic landscape. We stayed in a small hotel in Costa Teguise, made up of three dozen apartments that surrounded a kidney-shaped pool. When we looked out from our balcony each morning we could see the hotel staff cleaning the pool. We stayed half-board and were delighted with the range of local dishes available for dinner. We also became quite addicted to the Spanish practice of cake (almond, apple or lemon) at breakfast.

I brought my bike with me and explored much of the island on two wheels. The main resorts are on the coast, but traditionally people lived inland to escape attacks from pirates. The centre of the island is a plateau at around a thousand feet, dotted with small white-walled villages that host traditional markets. They are surrounded by a range of volcanoes that rise to about two thousand feet. The landscape is desertified and exposed to the wind, which is constant and can be very strong. Succulents and cacti are common; trees are rare, although you do find palm trees and the odd eucalyptus and acacia tree in the villages.

The last big volcanic eruption was in 1824 and great swathes of the island are covered in lava. Strangely enough, when this lava is broken up into very small pieces it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and supports the cultivation of vines on the hillsides. However, the vines need to grow behind little walls or in pits to protect them from the ever-present wind.

I did some great rides through the lava fields and vineyards, explored sleepy villages and managed the long climb to the Mirador del Rio, a fantastic viewpoint at 1600 feet above sea level. Not bad for an old geezer. The island is much favoured by triathletes for winter training. On the ascents I was regularly overtaken by groups of riders from the Netherlands and Germany. But the descents were fast and I would often be able to catch them up at a cafe stop in the next village (menta poleo tea being my favoured drink).

T preferred reading and writing at the pool or visiting the markets. We spent a good part of each day beside the pool, either me joining T after a ride (which I did on alternate days) or both of us taking it easy in the afternoon following one of our trips out. I would lie on my back in the water and look up at the blue sky with hardly a cloud and the fronds of the palm trees swirling in the wind. On the sun lounger I read ‘Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither’ by Sara Baume, a very well written but sad Irish novel, and an entertaining Jo Nesbo thriller.

It was my birthday whilst we were away. When we came down to dinner we found that the maitre-d had prepared a special table for us, with flowers, candles and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket. It was a very nice touch from an extremely friendly and hospitable hotel. We met several people who were staying there for months on end. On the plane we talked about returning for longer next year. And after I had to walk across the tarmac at Belfast International Airport in my shorts in a howling gale with sleet at just 1 degree C, I was convinced that it was a great plan.