I have a mountain of untaken leave. It’s been more than five years since I last had a summer vacation of more than five working days. This year. I’m doing my best to at least take my annual allocation of twenty-five days, so I booked leave from 18th July through to today, 3rd August.
When I was planning it, it seemed a vast swathe of time. I was going to get so much done: write some stories (note the ridiculously optimistic use of the plural), catch up on all my admin chores, read half a dozen books and still have time to do some travelling with my wife.
In practice, not so much of that happened.
In the first week, I discovered how tired I’d let myself become and how hard it was completely to switch work off. For example, I’d finally arranged to go see the last Harry Potter film and I spent the hour before the performance pacing the street, pitching a bid to a client in a conference call. For the second week I left my phone and laptop behind and headed for Stresa on Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy.
I’d spent some time at the Swiss end of the lake at Ascona a few years ago, but that didn’t prepare me for how beautiful the lake is as you head further south. So many mountains are visible and the land is densely forested.
Stresa was a resort for the rich and famous a hundred years or so ago. The hotels are grand but not cool and seem to me to have fallen behind on the luxury levels that guests expect. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Bristol: friendly staff, great outdoor pool and good indoor one but with small rooms and cramped bathrooms and a bar that was lit so badly it seemed like the common room in a posh old people’s home.
We crashed by the pool for a couple of days and then went by boat to visit the big local attractions: the Boromean islands and the gardens that are dotted around this part of the lake. The boat rides are fun and the islands didn’t disappoint. Isola Bella has an impressive Chateau and an astonishing tiered garden that is over the top in its desire to impress but is beautiful nonetheless. Isola Madre has a large country house that is nicely designed and has great views. The gardens are large and filled with exotic plants. My favourite garden was on the shore of the lake: Villa Taranto which is huge, skillfully landscaped and has the most impressive displays of water lilies I’ve ever seen. We also went to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso. This is set into sheer cliff face. The voyage across is would be worth the trip in itself but the Hermitage provides a space of great peace and panoramic views.
Stresa itself was a bit of a disappointment. The restaurants are mostly in the town square rather than on the lake front, the food is cheap but you have to look hard to find good Italian food and even harder to find a good selection of wines. Still, there are hordes of tourists in the streets, desperately looking for something to do in the evening.
This week, we stuck with the Lakes and Mountains theme and took a day trip to Thonon Les Baines on the French side of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). There is beautiful harbour/marina below the old town and there are many good fish restaurants. It felt like a day out at the seaside.
Idid get some reading done: “Einstein’s Trunk”, “Started Early, Took The Dog”, “Playing for Pizza” and most of “The Watchers”.
I made less progress with writing. I did a thousand words of a story about a man who is diagnosed with terminal cancer (not a cheery summer read) but I have maybe another three thousand left to write.
So now it’s back to work and having barely enough time to sleep. I will try to claw back as much time as possible for writing. I hope to post new stories and the final parts of two of the existing ones during August.
Thanks for listening