Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Trip to France - Monday

Monday December 17th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

Last day at the chateau and no need to rush - just soak in the atmosphere a bit more. No doubt at all, this should be an excellent location for next year and I'm already thinking about doing a longer break the year after!

I had time to call in a couple of places on the way down to Toulouse airport. First stop was Montaigu de Quercy to fill up the car with fuel. Much to my surprise, the tourist office there was open and I was able to pick up a couple of dozen leaflets on local attractions that should allow me to build up a much better list of things for people to do. One leaflet was for a cave site quite close to the chateau. If I'd known it was that close, I might well have tried to visit it.

Then on to Lauzerte to visit the Tourist office there. This turned out to have more or less the same information as the one in Montaigu. But nice to see the centre of this little city again
From there down to Moissac, which contains one of the areas most famous sites - the cloisters next to the Abbey of St Peter. I arrived during the long lunch break and after quite a bit of walking around I was finally able to find a restaurant that was open - and jam packed it was too. It did do a very nice pizza though.
Then back to the Abbey and a walk around the cloisters. I do always enjoy walking round cloisters for some reason.

The Abbey of St Peter

Views of the cloisters

Then off to Toulouse airport with plenty of time for some reading and listening to music.

This has been a really useful trip and confirmed to me that we definitely do need to see the properties in Italy as well. Don't know when though - maybe February?

Trip to France - Sunday

Sunday December 16th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

After the efforts of yesterday, today would be far more of a recuperative day. A short 20 minutes or so of yoga first thing - mainly based on one of the "energizing" sequences from Tara Fraser - then a long bath while working through loads of notes for one of next year's theme. Breakfast at sometime around 10:00. It had been a colder night than the last couple and the swimming pool had frozen over.
The frozen swimming pool
The chateau from the main road that runs past it to Courbiac
My trip out today was pretty short but did cover some good stuff. First down to Montiegu de Quercy, only about 4km away, for a look round the "Ecomarket" supermarket which opens for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. This does have just about everything we might need in a emergency, so its good to have it so close. The town also contains a bank with cashpoint, a pharmacy and even a tourist office.
Next on to Lauzerte, a well-preserved medievel "city" on a highside about 20km away from the chateau. This might be a really good place to point people towards on their first full day - somewhere really nice to see yet not involving too much driving. I was able to buy a guidebook to Quercy which looks really good as it has loads of sights close to the chateau, rather than just focusing on the major sights that are slightly further a field.

The Church in the main square in Lauzerte

Some of the older buildings in the main square at Lauzerte
Then back to the chateau and a final run round all the rooms checking I'd taken the pictures I wanted in each, and could remember the full layout. The occasional new view is found, such as the roof detail below.

It had actually warmed up rather nicely by early afternoon and so I decided to tackle the walk around the entire property, something that takes about 90 minutes. Firstly up onto the hillside opposite and along the top in search of a good view of the chateau

The chateau from the hillside opposite - virtually all the visible land belongs to the chateau
At one end of the hill opposite, there was a small clearing in the trees and a long view out towards the Atlantic, which can apparently be seen from here on a very clear day with binoculars. The nearby hilltop town of Tournon D'Agenais is on the far horizon, slightly right of centre, just where the mist kicks in.

On the way round the southern tip of land, I came across a whole area filled with cut logs, which had remained covered in frost all day and looked really interesting. So I spent an hour or so taking 50 or 60 close up pictures of wood, leaves, moss and so on. None quite to the standard of, say, Andy Goldsworthy, but an interesting way to pass the afternoon

This would probably look very nice printed to A3 size.
Back to the chateau just as it began to get a bit darker. Spent a couple of hours going through my notes from yesterday's trip out - only about half of which are fully legible! Then a trip down to the "professional" kitchen to look at the various bits of equipment this has. It is quite small but will be ideal for our use I think. I am particularly taken by the large skillets, which I will definitely be making lots of use of I would think.
Dinner again tonight with the family. A totally amazing scrabbled eggs starter (due to the use of their own eggs) and then another chicken meal with roast potatoes and sprouts with chestnuts. All very nice. More 1E a litre red wine and more pointers on what we might face next year from our guests. Apparently some people can be awful - but I guess that is inevitable. Paul and Pippa's comments on this will be taken very seriously.

Trip to France - Saturday

Saturday December 15th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

One of the most challenging aspects of our plans for next year is due to the decision to run back-to-back breaks in a single country, moving from one location to the next on a changeover Saturday. When we tested the run in Spain a month or so ago it was a pretty long trip but certainly do-able in the time available. However, in the last week or so, I have come to appreciate that the France changeover was an even longer journey, and might be quite difficult to do in the time allowed. Today would be an initial test run for next year.

So I departed the Chateau at about 6:30am with the temperature at -5 degrees. It was pretty slow going for the first hour as I made my way back to the motorway, but then things speeded up quite considerably once I did get on the toll roads. The road sign that said Montpellier was 275km away was an unwelcome reminder of just how far my planned jourmey was. It was brightened a bit by some fine views of Carcassonne from the motorway, as well as some decent music on a French radio station.
But just after Montpellier, it actually started to snow! Now this hadn't really been something I had expected so close to the Mediterranean. For an hour or so it was actually quite heavy and my speed took another dip. Once off the motorway near Avignon, I stopped and took a couple of pictures of the snow on some baby fruit trees.

Another highlight was a brief glimpse of the Palais des Papes in the centre of Avignon - a definite visiting priority it seems to me.
Once past Avignon I was making my way towards Apt - the nearest decent sized town to La Moliere and containing a large supermarket and at least two wine co-ops. But I didn't really have enough time for a longer stop, making my way straight out of Apt and up to Saignon, perched on a hillside above Apt.
Saignon from the Apt road
Saignon was totally deserted - not a single place open. So when I did meet up with Tim, we had to return to Apt for something to eat. Tim wasn't totally sure of the way to La Moliere from Saignon but we found it ok. We met two people on the property doing some work outside and then hit rather a snag. They didn't have the key to get into La Moliere and they needed to try and call a local cleaner to get it. So while I wandered round taking some pictures, they made a series of increasingly frantic calls to various people
The view towards Mont Ventoux, hidden by clouds in the distance

The central courtyard of La Moliere, such a contrast to the summer views when all the vegetation is in full bloom

In order to allow more time for the cleaner to get our message, we went down to the sister property to la Moliere, just through the olive trees. This would also be available next year if we wanted it, should we sell out. Oddly enough, we did have a key for this one and so had a good look round. I thought this one was pretty good inside - 7 double or twin bedrooms, all en suite, a decent kitchen, etc. Tim assured me that La Moliere was decorated to a higher standard that this one, so it should be fine.

La Moliere from the swimming pool area of its "sister" property up the hill

But the main concern when we knew we wouldn't be able to get into La Moliere was my failure to be able to draw some sort of plan of the interior so I could get an idea for room allocations, etc. So we will have to try and cobble something together over the coming months and then link them back to Tim's photos of the interior. Not ideal. However from what we could see from peering through windows, La Moliere is really lovely inside and so none of this should really be a major problem.

One other thing though could be tricky. Apparently, this part of France will get completely jammed up on certain weekends next summer as people from Northern France make for the south for their holidays. This could easily double the length of the journey for us and it is about 5 hours already. But we think the first holiday weekend is the week after we make the journey, so maybe we'll be ok

After being dropped back in Saignon, I decided to have a short drive back to La Moliere to make some notes on directions, etc. Then I drove down to Apt and stopped at one of the wine co-ops, "Chez Sylla". This turned out to be a very good move as they had loads of detail about local wines as well as many other leaflets for things in the local area. So I am fully stocked with info now. And this place also sold numerous wines by the litre, priced around 1E each. So definitely a good place for us to buy from I think.

I set off back about 5:30 intending to stop for a meal somewhere. But my progress was pretty good and I made it back to the Chateau just after 11:00. A total journey of just over 1,100 km taking over 10 hours. French radio broadcast an opera this evening which helped pass the time and Carcassone looked great lit up as I passed by. But a very tough day overall.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Trip to France - Friday

Friday December 14th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

The temperature dropped well below freezing overnight and there is a thick mist around the Chateau this morning. After a quite late night and a long day, I slept really well and had a very leisurely start to the day. A bit of yoga first thing, some reading in the bath and breakfast in the Great hall at 9:00 or so.
First photo of the Chateau , the view from the apartment across to the gallery first thing in the morning and -3 degrees
I discovered this morning that the children are home-schooled and their routine is set around their work on the farm. I am very interested in home-schooling as we would have done this for Emma if we'd had to stay in London longer than we did do.
Pippa had time to give me a quick tour of the entire house and then she had to take one of the dogs to the vets. I was free to explore as much as I then wanted to. So I have started to draw a plan and take the first few pictures of what will probably be loads. The Chateau has a very complex design and it is actually quite hard to really see how it all fits together. But it is an amazing place and will be perfect for us for next year, I can tell that already.

The Great Hall

One of the twin bedrooms - this one is the Tour Forge
After a long and detailed go round the entire property, I took a walk down to the far end of the valley on the pool side of the property. This shows just how vast and imposing the place really is.

The fog seemed to be clearing slowly so I then set out for a drive to Villeneuve-sur-Lot. I hadn't got very far before the fog descended again and rather wiped out any more photography for today. Villeneuve is a biggish town about 25km away and had quite a pretty cathedral in the centre. I was mainly looking for hypermarkets (of which I found two) and tourist offices where I could pick up loads of leaflets for local attractions. There was a Christmas fair in the centre of the town with a very cute highland calf.

As it would be dark by about 5:00, I didn't stay long and travelled down to Agen and across to Moissac. I should have come through this town on the way last night but missed it somehow. On the way back to the Chateau I had a call from Linda and Emma who had reached Boston in a blizzard, which might cause problems for their return if there is more snow. When they rang they were waiting for Victoria's Secrets to open, so seemed well set for some shopping.

Back at the chateau and two hours spent drafting some ideas for the "Learn to Relax" themed week, listening to Amina on the ipod - an Icelandic group I saw supporting Sigur Ros and one of my favorite new bands. I have a very rough outline with one or two sections beginning to get filled in. Today's work was mainly on introductory ideas. Also, in order to get myself better acquainted with the chateau, I have been trying to sketch out our introductory talk to the group, explaining everything they'd need to know.

Another terrific dinner with the family this evening. A thin soup that was delicious (not sure exactly what it was, but it may have just been a homemade chicken stock), followed by chicken and vegetables. Pippa called it typical local "peasant food". Given the conditions, it was perfect. And interestingly, the house red wine, which I'm really enjoying has turned out to be from a local co-op and can be bought in 10 litre plastic bottles for about 1E a litre! This will be an excellent way to serve wine on our breaks.

An earlier night tonight before tomorrow's early start and huge drive.

Trip to France - Thursday

Thursday December 13th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

An early start - 4:15am - to take Linda and Emma to Heathrow for their flight to Boston, then onto Gatwick for my trip to France. I have about five hours to wait for my flight but have already checked in for the flight and only have hand luggage, so I can go straight through into the departure lounge. We are hoping that some of our travel next year can be done with just hand luggage and so speed us up considerably.

My journey was pretty uneventful. Gatwick was very quiet but then so was Toulouse airport when I got there. No queues at the hire car office for instance. I tried to follow the suggested route to the Chateau given by Google maps but this was harder than it could have been in the dark. The last 30 km seems very slow, passing through many tiny villages (some of which seemed very nice looking I thought)

I arrived at 8:45 and was met by Pippa and her youngest daughter who I think is called Janine but seems to be known as "Mole". The chateau looks amazing already, even in the dark with a couple of spotlights on it. The chateau is battened down for the winter and only a few of the rooms are being heated so it does feel quite chilly walking round to find my room. I am in the "apartment" which is the room they recommended that Linda and I have next year. It has two bedrooms, and a lounge and kitchen of its own, so it will be better for us for running the business, etc, when we are there.

Dinner is held in the Great hall with all the family. I meet Paul (Pippa's husband) and Uncle Richard who is down for a few days, plus the two kids, Suzanne and Mole, and several dogs. There is a huge fireplace at one end which is kept going all day at the moment with some very large logs. We have hot mulled wine and a three course meal which is really delicious. I start to explain where we are up to with everything - how things have changed and developed since the summer when we had our first contact, how we still have gaps in our planning but that things are falling into shape. Already I am getting lots of useful points to bear in mind, mainly because they have had courses of various sorts run at the Chateau before. So, for instance, it is very important that rooms be allocated to guests in advance so guests don't try to race down to get the rooms they want! Apparently that has happened before.

So we stay up till after 12:00 chatting about stuff. I'm sure already that this is going to work out really well.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Lots of things . . . .

Friday December 7th 2007


A varied few days with plenty of interesting developments/ideas. We have had quite a few telephone messages requesting information on the breaks next year. Are these people who don't have access to the internet? I am not expecting too many people to get in touch with us directly - at least until they want to talk about a booking - as the website contains so much info. We do have a rather nice brochure, available off the website, and this does print well. But we don't have glossy, professionally printed brochures.

On Wednesday this week I went up to London to see Elena. We are hoping to finalise the new Teach Yoga Syllabus document over the next few days. As always, Elena has loads of interesting views on things. I get her firm views on a range of course topics and should be able to finish the document now. We met at Pret a Manger at Marble Arch, sitting upstairs as it poured with rain outside.

Thursday morning was spent finishing the changes to the syllabus document and giving it a last polish. I sent it to Camille for comments and she got back to me quite quickly with a few interesting thoughts on more general matters. She hopes to review the syllabus over the weekend.

And then an email from one of my yoga course fellow participants, with some questions about the most recent weekend. We exchange a few emails over the course of the evening and more interesting points arise.

In respect of Well Being Breaks itself, this week has been mostly about finalising the last of the planned ad spend for this time of year. Now to sit back for a month or two and see what response we get. The last couple of ads we signed up for were one offs for quite cheap rates, one in the launch issue of a new magazine called "Soul and Spirit" and another in a free magazine distributed around some of the posher bits of London.

The website still needs some stuff completed as well, but I haven't really made much progress on this over the last week. This time next week I will be at the chateau in France that we are renting next summer. I am hopeful I will be leaving a relatively clear slate at that point.

Now to get ready for Linda's Christmas meal out with her colleagues from Active Pilates!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

More yoga teacher training . . .

Sunday December 2nd 2007

Yoga Teacher Training Course, Victoria, London

A change from usual today as I drove up to London for my yoga weekend. At 8:00am, the A40 flyover at Paddington is already congested - not idea why. For once I am a bit better prepared for this weekend, mainly as it is a weekend I am pretty nervous about. Four hours of posture labs each morning followed by a four hour assessed practicum each afternoon - all the standing postures.
So the morning is spent with Camille teaching. The posture labs are aimed at being a sort of revision session for each posture. This would be fine except that many people haven't been able to prepare their initial working sheets and so have nothing to revise against. This is mainly due to now knowing this was the course procedure until quite late on.
Course attendance is also down as there are just 8 of us today. Most people seem to be under quite a lot of pressure from the course workload. But that said, there are clearly some people who are relatively well on top of things. Romana and myself are fully prepared and one or two others have quite good notes, even if they are not complete. But most people are saying they are doing little in the way of actual yoga practice at the moment. I have had a dry cough for the last few weeks and this has certainly been enough to stop me doing anything else. But this lack of practice does meen that a day like today is really tiring.
Camille's teaching is really focused again and I'm sure we all feel that is really good at this stage. We cover 7 postures today and have 6 more to do tomorrow. My draft posture notes certainly get loads of new points and embellishments. My main concern is the lack of practice on adjusting and modifications - something I expect to fine really hard.
After lunch, our practicum is with Elena. We are split into two groups and have a go each at teaching the postures from this morning to each other. Elena stops us every so often in our groups to run through some detailed points, and at other times she calls the whole group together to run through a few things. This usually involves her picking someone to demonstrate a posture and then have the others critique the posture. My decision to initially test myself on the postures I find personally to be the hardest therefore backfires slightly as I then have to demo the ones I am worst at - for instance, parivrtta parvakonasana.
Mid-session, Elena pauses for a brief digression into the dangers of overworking in yoga and the effect it can have on your immediately relationships. She and husband Rod are off to Thailand for three weeks over Christmas and there seems to be the suggestion that Rod had insisted on this in some way. I can certainly relate the the impact lost of teaching can have. Linda is out four night's a week teaching and is usually not in the best mood when she gets in - tired and with various grumbles about things - and it does have an impact.
By mid-afternoon I am feeling pretty low. There is so much to know for each posture and we are continually being picked up on what seem like dozens of points. But by later in the afternoon I feel a bit better. My attempt to teach the entire class one posture without notes actually goes better than it might have done. Elena's format for the afternoon also encourages us to be a bit less serious and more relaxed, even thought he practicum is technically part of the continual assessment marking for the course.
As the course finishes, I am entrusted with key duties for tomorrow but within half an hour I have lost the codes for the doors. I have to call Linda to find Camille's mobile number and then leave it with Camille to sort out for the morning. I am totally exhausted and was barely able to drag myself out of the hotel and find somewhere to eat. I am in bed by about 9:00 in what has to be the worst room I have had so far in my times up in London. I certainly won't be staying here again
Awake early after quite a good night's sleep. The exhaustion of yesterday obviously needed fixing. I've time to read some of my current book - Kenny's The Great Books - then off to collect the car and drive down to Victoria. I passed a girl walking close to to the hotel who looked very worse for wear - either drink or drugs related. She said she was ok though and wobbled off in the opposite direction to me.
It is raining quite hard as I sit in the car outside the Light Centre where our course is held, waiting for Camille to show up hopefully with the code numbers. Sarah and Bridgit both arrive as I'm waiting and sit in the car with me, before Camille arrives on her motor bike. She managed to speak to Elena only 20 mins earlier, but at least we are able to get in. Otherwise our class might have to have been held at Victoria station!
Six more standing postures to revise today. Victoria and Rhea don't make it in, but Christina and Eve are here today - so 8 again. Today's lesson also includes much more anatomical info on the postures than we have had before and I, for one, think this is really good. Word leaks out as well that we have all passed the anatomy test from last time. Camille thinks this test should be more related to yoga postures and I would be inclined to agree. I felt I had definitely passed the anatomy test, but, at the same time, I don't feel that I really know the material as well as I'd like to. So I am going to try and keep doing some anatomy reading, maybe from one of the books specifically aimed at yoga teachers.
People are increasingly tired as the day goes on and we are all crashed out in restorative postures when Elena arrives after lunch for our afternoon practicum. I am paired up with Romana, Christina and Claudia for the afternoon's session. Things proceed as they did yesterday but with a slightly greater emphasis on making adjustments. I am paired with Romana for the first of these little adjustment sessions. She and I generally sit next to each other on the course and get on pretty well - lots of teasing of each other but quite friendly (I hope). Then later I am paired with Christina for Warrior II. Christina always looks really great when she is doing the postures but I make one or two little adjustments and this goes ok as well. I still think this will be a really hard part of the course though.
This afternoon's breif digression includes a chat about how long people on the course have been married. Sarah is missing the next weekend as it is her wedding in Cape town. Elena is coming up to 10 years I think, but everyone seems surprised that Linda and I have been married nearly 20 years. This surprise is mainly due to those people who saw Linda at the Yoga Show and thought she looked really young. Linda didn't believe me when I told her this later on!
At the end of the afternoon everyone is pretty exhausted again. We now have a seven week gap till the next weekend and I am filled with good intentions of getting up to date and even a bit ahead. Elena reminds us that we ought to be well advanced in our thinking about our chosen elective and that we can send her a one-page summary so she can check it is suitable. I have already done my first draft of the slide presentation for this so it would be unfortunate if it turned out I couldn't do this topic. But they are not due till April so everyone does have a lot of time left. I might try and write the text for mine quite soon and get it out the way.
Elena and I have arranged to meet up in the next week to go through the last points on the new syllabus document, which she wants to use on the course beginning in February. As she is away a lot till January, it would be really good to get this finished for her.
No quiet trip home tonight where I can sleep on the coach. Instead I have a drive to Cambridge to collect Emma whose term finished last week. Luckily she has some friends on hand to help carry boxes down the three flights of stairs and we are soon sorted out and on our way home. And as we haven't had an photos on the blog for some time, I thought I would put up a couple of Emma rowing for her college team in the Fairburns 2007 event a few weeks ago.

Emma looking like she's been working hard

Emma's team competing in the Fairburns 2007 event in Cambridge. Emma is the third rower away from the cox and is about to get covered in water from the rower in front!

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Yoga Show 2007

Sunday November 25th 2007

The Yoga Show 2007, Olympia, London


Linda has two days teaching on the Stott Pilates stand at the Yoga Show so we have an early start and a drive through the rush hour into London. Not something you'd want to do everyday but not as bad as it probably could have been.

The Yoga Show is scheduled at the same time as the Erotica 2007 show and I am keen to discover how many people will be going to both. Dita von Teese is performing at the other show and I'm sure she'd like to go on a Well Being Break next year. I thought it was interesting that the other show started several hours later than our one and goes on into the evening. Perhaps people who go to Erotica shows are not early risers.

We found the Teach Yoga stand and then the Stott area, checked where Linda would be working and then had time for a quick explore. I am weighed down with Well Being leaflets to distribute on the Teach Yoga stand, but the stand is dominated by acroyoga who are performing on the front of the double stand. I think this will really distract people away from both Teach Yoga itself and from me trying to get rid of as many leaflets as possible. Still acroyoga is very spectacular to watch.

Some acroyogis performing

There are a few people at the show that I have come across before, including Julie Hanson and Sue Woodd who I met in June on the Chi Yoga holiday I won at least year's Yoga Show. I spotted them from a distance early on but was keen to meet them with Linda later. Meanwhile Linda has started her work and was soon demonstrating Pilates matwork on one of the big stages.

Linda (on the raised stage) demonstrating STOTT Pilates matwork on one of the main Demo stage at the Yoga Show

On the way round to see Linda I met Tracy from my Yoga Course and her friend Ruth. We sat and watched Linda doing her stuff and it turns out that Ruth is interested in becoming a Pilates instructor. We arranged a short chat with Jill, the STOTT examiner and Ruth is planning to sign up for a course early next year. Ruth is a massage therapist which is something we remain interested in for next year. Meanwhile Tracy and I chatted about the yoga course and the next homeworks due for the practicum this weekend.

Linda has a few breaks during the day and we have a wander round looking for nice tops that Linda could get. Last year there were loads of really nice hippy outfits but this year is pretty sparce and we can't find anything she likes. I bought some old copies of Yoga Magazine and various other bits and pieces.

We also watched the most amazing demo by Duncan Wong, a martial arts and yoga person who was able to do some amazing things. Later I saw him doing a spot of adjusting on one of the acroyoga girls that might have been more appropriate in the Erotica show next door. I also saw Sharon Gannon, this year's star of the show, who, oddly enough, seems to have hair died the colour of broccoli. I don't see her partner, David Life, who always reminds me of Iggy Pop for some reason.

I had a short session "working" on the Teach Yoga stand answering questions about the course. Once or twice I spotted the odd Well Being leaflet disappearing off the stand. Not flying off in vast numbers, but the odd one going every so often. I was hoping to get rid of between 200 and 500 over the weekend. No sign of anyone wandering in from the Erotica show though.

More work for Linda through the afternoon. We managed to get Linda to meet Camille for a few minutes at one point. Camille seems very pleased with the proposed work next year, which is good.

And I eventually had a quick stop by the Chi Yoga stand and talked to Julie for a short while. They have done three sessions today on various subjects connected to their new book. She isn't planning any more retreats but was interested in how our plans were going.

Towards the end of the afternoon I met Natasha who was one of the poeple I met last April when I attended a couple of hours of their final teacher training exams. We had a talk about the course and I mentioned I was doing some editing of the material which she seemed to think was an excellent idea. She seems to have worked really hard for the last few months of her course and that has set me thinking about the sort of work load I should be planning for. I also met Rob, another person I first met in April at the exams. Both Rob and Natasha are teaching now and seem very happy with how the course went for them. But it turns out only 5 passed out of 12 who started it - something which has also given me something to think about.


Another early start to drive down to the Yoga Show. I don't think either of us would have been very pleased to have been doing the Saturday as well. On the other hand, it turns out that the STOTT girls who stayed in London on Friday all went to the Erotica show after the Yoga Show finished having wrangled some free tickets. On that basis, Linda and I would have gone as well. They were full of stories of odd looking people as was Julie Hanson who also apparently went on Friday it turned out when we met her later that morning.

And so to another day very like Friday but probably even busier for Linda as one of their team was sick. I spent several hours on the Teach Yoga stand today as acroyoga were doing workshop demos elsewhere. I even made a sale of a yoga course to a nice blonde haired girl who was there with her mum.

Linda supervising some Pilates matwork teaching

The Teach Yoga stand has a beautiful file full of the current course information and looking so much better than our copies do. I was joined late morning by Romana, who I often sit next to on the course and we were comparing notes on how things are going. She did a demo class with Camille and Elena while I sold the occasional cd and manned the rest of the stall. Camille had baby Ida with her who is really quiet and very cute.

And talking to Elena, I noticed she had added an "introduction to the course" session for the course beginning in February. I asked if I could teach this and was rather surprised when Elena said yes. So I hope February 3rd is free for me to do this.

Linda and I managed another walk round and a longer chat with Sue Woodd, the tai chi teacher from June's holiday. Meanwhile I had spotted a Thai massage place and after Linda returned to her teaching, I was able to book a short session which was pretty good. It would be really good to know how to to this properly.

And that was just about it for the weekend. A few hundred leaflets seemed to go eventually. Wonder if any will produce hits?

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Progressing a few things . . . .

Wednesday November 21st 2007

Longworth, Oxfordshire

Now that the website is up and running, it is time to move on to other things. Generally we try to focus each week's work around a small number of ideas and by changing each week, things move forward in all areas. This last week's main ideas are food and travel.

Over the years we have, like many people, accumulated a vast number of recipes from all sorts of different sources, stored in all sorts of folders and files. We have recently collected these together and are trying to impose some sort of order on them. In part this is to arrive at a more focused idea of what we will be cooking on the breaks next year. We need to get a better idea of what menus might look like and we have developed a list of ten food principles which we are applying as we sort through the piles of stuff. For instance, would we want to eat it? Does it have any sort of consistency with the idea of well-being? How much would it cost to feed twelve people? Does it have any sort of "wow" factor. And some dishes might be far too complex to cook for a dozen people but might work in combination with a lot of simpler dishes.

When I was younger I worked for 18 months in a professional kitchen and the main thing I learnt there was the discipline and organisation needed to cook for larger numbers. Since then we have been "keen amateurs" but have built up a pretty good repertoire. So now we have some order to our cooking plans and for the next six months we will be practising a number of proposed meals each week. Last night it was marinated mushrooms, grilled asparagus wrapped in ham, monkfish with tomato and olive sauce, and peperonata with a salad. Little portions of each as a tester of each.

Our travel plans for next year are somewhat complex. We are planning to take the land rover with us round Europe and so the logistics of moving from one venue to the next are not straightforward. And Linda will need to return to the UK during some of the weeks for various reasons. We have also been sorting out the travel plans for Eve - our life coach. Her plans need to link closely with ours. But the low-cost airlines are now taking bookings well into next year and there are some bargains to be had. Flying to Rome next August costs just over £100 return. One of the Toulouse-Gatwick flights is only £30. And the ferry to France with the land rover is only £150. So we have started booking a few things.

On other matters, we have managed to sort out some dates when Camille Litalien, one of the teachers on my yoga teacher training course, will be able to come over and teach the daily classes for us. These will occur at two of the bigger break venues when Linda and myself will have to be concentrating on food and other admin, etc. Camille will be bringing her "little family" and it should be fun to have a baby in residence. The breaks in question are the Chateau in France in late June and the second Italian break in Barberino next August.

Other work this week is centred around this weekend's Yoga Show in London. Linda is now teaching with Stott Pilates for much of the day on Friday and Sunday. Elena rang me the other day and I will be meeting her early on the Friday to see when I might be available to answer questions from prospective students. In return, Elena has said we can have some Well Being leaflets on her stand so I am furiously printing them at the moment. In the room next door to the Yoga Show is apparently the "Eurotica 2007" show where the burlesque artist Dita von Teese will be performing. I wonder how many yoga fans will be distracted by this other show? And if Dita von Teese comes round the yoga show, I will be more than happy to give her a leaflet about our breaks.

And finally, Linda and I saw "Into the Wild" last week. This is based on the book by Jon Krakauer and is one of the few books that Linda and I have both read. This was a very long film at just under 3 hours but was a really great adaption. I was particularly struck by how it avoided over-romaticising Chris McCandless but including a lot about the hurt that his actions caused to his parents and sister. Recommended highly.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Another yoga teacher training weekend

Sunday November 11th 2007

Yoga Teacher Training Course, Victoria, London


For most of the last week or so I have had a bit of a cough. It does seem to have got a bit better in the last few days but is still a nuisance and has resulted, once again, in me not doing as much preparation for this weekend as I had wanted. It is Anatomy test weekend and quite a few course participants are feeling stressed out as a result. When I first arrived this morning there was just Rhea around and she seems very concerned at the moment, not just about the test, but also about the workload for the entire course.

But first off today is Swami's next lesson on yoga philosophy. She seemed a little put out that she had only had four homeworks in since the last weekend. I sent mine in during the week and it came back with quite a few comments. She didn't agree with a lot of what I had written, that's for sure! This morning we are learning more about yogic physiology - prana, nadis and charkras to be precise. I tend to take much of this with a pinch of salt but I am also aware that most of it can be viewed in less literal ways. For instance, the chakras can be viewed psychologically.

Next up is Ivor lecturing on the digestive system. This is rather late as it could be tested in the Anatomy test tomorrow. The group's anxiety about this test does break through into some questions to Ivor about it, but he seems to think we should all be ok and gives a few hints about the format of the paper. For instance, we now know it contains some diagrams of the skeleton and muscles and asks you to label various features using a list of possibles. There are several extra items on the list, so it can't be entirely done by elimination. But at least we aren't just given the pictures and told to label them, which would be much harder. So I for one feel ok about it.

On Thursday this week Elena rang me and we agreed that I would do a short speech to the group about the way this course teaches the asanas, the posture labs, practicum, etc. This would be the first thing this afternoon. I can tell the group are a little puzzled when I announce that Elena has asked me to talk to them all. But armed with a short handout, I am soon in full flow going through the detail of how the course is set up. The response is rather as expected. Few people have really got to grips with what is involved and what needs to be done between now and the final exams. And as I suspected, this would have been an ideal session to have included in the very first two hours of the course back in June. We overshot my half hour slot but I thought the session went very well.

Elena starts the next session by emphasising that she does see the feedback process as being important and she does want us to take it as seriously as she does. Then she launches into her next technique lab - twists and inversions - and follows much the pattern that she has done to date. A long flowing sequence to warm us up and then a run through the specific postures in her usual playful and spontaneous manner. Tracy called it passionate during our session but I think many of us feel that a more analytical and detailed approach to each posture, with time to take notes, would probably be better.

I stayed after the final session for a little while distributing a few copies of the Well Being brochure to Romana, Eve and Elena. I would like to get rid of a few more and see what feedback I can get from them. Elena and I have a brief chat when we are packing up and Elena suggested that I could put some Well Being leaflets on her stand at the yoga show in a couple of weeks, which would be a very interesting idea. She and her husband were kind enough to give me a lift to my hotel, which was just as well as I had entirely the wrong idea about where it was.

As always I was pretty tired after a day's course and didn't go that far for some food. No doubt I should have done loads of revision for the test but probably managed less than 30 minutes all evening. Instead I read more of Nooteboom's "Roads to Santiago", a really fascinating travel book about Spain which has loads of stuff about the country's history.


Time for another hour or so revision first thing this morning at the hotel and then a half hour walk from the hotel down to Victoria through Hyde Park. It lightly drizzled the whole way down but didn't really spoil the walk. I was totally hooked on a couple of tracks on the ipod this morning as well, especially Sonic Youth's "Pink Stream" from their album from last year.

Elena had appointed me "master of the keys" as she wasn't going to be at the course today. So I actually arrived at 9:00 to open up early and had time for another hour of revision, focusing on diagrams of the body and labelling muscles, bones, etc. By just before 10:00 there was only Swami, myself and Sarah and I did think that maybe everyone had bottled out of the test. But most people turned up soon after.

Swami's lecture this morning lasted three hours, which was perhaps a touch too long and covered the rest of her chakra lecture and an examination of the contents of the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika", one of the earliest yoga texts to mention specific asanas (16 in all). This was actually very interesting stuff I thought, but three hours was a very long lecture.

A brief lunch break during which I talked to Sarah about Well Being Breaks. She has just finished a management course of some sort and was telling me last time that she was really keen to get involved in project work. So I wondered if she might like to review our brochure and website and see what things she might do differently if she were in charge. I'm hopeful this might produce some interesting feedback but I'm also aware that she is getting married in a month or two and so might be busy with far more important things.

Then it was the anatomy test that we have all been fretting about. And I thought this turned out to be a bit easier than it might have been. I reckon I scored somthing like 58 out of 77 which I think ought to be enough. In the brief ten minutes break afterwards there were a few people who found it really tough, but you never know. I think the test format should have helped people do better than they might have thought.

After this we have a class of over three hours on the use of props. Again I found this to be a really long session and I was just about finished by 6:00 when we finally came to a end. A brief chat to Christina and Suzanne who were here today but hadn't heard my talk yesterday and then a dash for the coach and sleep most of the way home.

Post website completion, I had thought this week might be a little more relaxed but I have already thought of loads of stuff that I need to get started on.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Website launch

Wednesday November 7th 2007

Longworth, Oxfordshire

An important day today. After over three months of work, the website has finally launched on the world. True, it isn't perfect and has one or two little gremlins (one of which currently stops the online booking system from working!) but it is good enough for the moment to get us started.

Since getting back from Spain I have worked just about non stop on the website. Last minute projects included getting Google maps for each property location. For a while I thought we might be able to include directions from the nearest airports but that proved slightly too much at this stage.

But I am already working on the list of enhancements for the first major upgrade which we are tentatively setting for two weeks time.

Our first press advert appears tomorrow and I have made a decision about some of our next advertising, selecting "Healthy" magazine, the one sold at Holland and Barrett. This apparently sells over 250,000 copies and is precisely the type of readers were are targetting. I have signed us up for three adverts beginning with the January edition published on Boxing day. This means we have now spent about 75% of our planned marketing spend.

Now to see what impact this all has. A nervous time as we wonder whether our product will find its market.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Spanish Trip - Saturday

Saturday November 3rd 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

The trip to Spain has been a great success and we feel much more certain of our ability to deliver the breaks we want to in these locations. We can now visualise ourselves actually there doing the breaks and we have loads of great ideas to fine tune what we are doing. So a very good trip we feel.

We have a late flight back this evening and Nigel and Zoe were happy for us to stick around most of the day. After packing up (and trying to find ways of bringing lots of goodies home with us) we met for drinks and delicious lemon sponge cake (made with their own lemons) in the main outdoor courtyard. We only had one or two things we thought worth discussing further - things like the plan in respect of keys during the week, and so on.

Afterwards, Nigel and Zoe took us on a tour of their house. This is decorated quite beautifully and full of features that we really like - especially the huge open shower with the sloping tile floor. We'd both like something like that back home in the UK.

It remains lovely and warm and we sit outside for the last couple of hours before we set off back. Next week is a really busy week for both of us. The website finally launches on Wednesday and our first adverts also appear this week. Linda has her final lot of exams and I also have some tests coming up. So lots to do and things could look very different in a few weeks time.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Spanish Trip - Friday

Friday November 2nd 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

So finally we manage to do our trip to Granada, postponed twice previously for various reasons. This involves a drive of about an hour past the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. Our aim is to check out some of the cultural sites and the shopping situations. After all, Zara is a Spanish brand - so Linda says - and it is important to find out whether things are much cheaper than they are in the UK.

After we manage to squeeze the car into the smallest parking place ever in the underground car park Nigel had recommended, it takes us less than 10 minutes to find a Zara store and confirm that, yes, things seem much cheaper here. Then it is off for a potato omelette for breakfast and the chance to see some sites

Fountain close to the cathedral
Our first stop is the cathedral, one of those buildings that took years to finish - 180 years in this case. It is tucked in among the other buildings around it and has very few open vistas. But it is a fine building.

The cathedral from the Plaza Bib-Rambla
The main nave of the cathedral
We are too late to get into the Royal Chapel to see the tombs of the "Catholic Monarchs" Ferdinand and Isabella. The chapel shuts for a siesta at 1:00 and re-opens at 3:30. So we wandered into the Albaycin, the city's arab quarter and soon came across a cake shop selling pistachio-topped pastries, which were very good.
Linda with cakes outside the cafe Baraka in the Albaycin
We made our way up through the numerous shops selling clothes and various other middle eastern bits and pieces eventually approaching the Sacromonte area of the city and with views out across to the Alhambra Palace - one of the great buildings of the world and Spain's most visited monument. But we had decided to leave the tour of the Palace for another day though.

Our first view of the Alhmabra Palace from the Albaycin.

A later view of the Alhambra with Mont Veleta in the Sierra Nevada behind it, covered with the first snow of the new season.

We did make it to the park next the the Alhambra though and then back round towards the main shopping area so Linda could acquire a few choice items. Then a much needed beer at a cafe after all our exertions. It was 25o C in the city today yet Mont Veleta has snow on it already and this won't fully melt until the middle of next summer.

Then we just have time to go and visit the Royal Chapel and see the tombs of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, together with their daughter, Joan the Mad and her husband, Philip the Beautiful. The main alter in the chapel is quite extraordinary - a huge gold covered piece about three stories high featuring dozens of lifesized statues of various christian figures. Yet even this is surpassed by other alters in Granada - the Chantel in the Basilica of San Juan de Dios or the main alter in the Basilica of Neustra Senora de Las Angustias are even more elaborate.

After this, we are just about fit to drop but make it to a supermarket for two pizzas to have back at the house (and which turned out to be very nice indeed)

Spanish Trip - Thursday

Thursday November 1st 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

A quiet day today after the long day out driving yesterday. While Linda got herself ready, I worked through quite a large amount of the information I had brought with me about Google Checkout and the booking system details. I am also starting to think about how best to incorporate lists of "other activities" that could be done at each location. I have a good list for this property and a modest list for the second Spain. Other properties will, hopefully, get their own lists later.

One of the other activities we hope to have available for this property is a range of massage treatments and the house book has one or two suggestions. So I gave Jo Hopkins a call to talk about the treatments she and her husband offer and sketch out what we were trying to do for next year. This all sounds very promising and is a good add on to our other stuff.

We had intended to visit Orgiva market this morning but when we get to the square in the centre where we assumed the market was held, it wasn't there. So we had another wander round, finding another hippie shop and reviewing more cakes and pastries in the shop on the main street. We also had a good look round the "Olive Branch" English secondhand bookshop opposite Orgiva church. And the kiosk by the church stocks English newspapers every day brought in from Madrid.

Back to the villa to drop things off and a chat with Nigel and Zoe about yesterday. We discovered that today is a holiday in Spain (all-saints day) which is why the market wasn't on. Then we were off to the nearby village of Lanjaron for more research, checking out the shops on the main street, several restaurants - including one with great views over the valley - and the spa which attracts people from all over Spain (the Balneario de Lanjaron to give it its full title). Some of our guests might fancy visiting a luxury spa for a day

Local whole hams in one of the produce shops in Lanjaron

Linda in the park opposite the spa in Lanjaron

The view south from Lanjaron - the ruined building to the right is a muslim castle

Back to the villa for the afternoon and more work for each of us. Linda continued with her Pilates work while I read some material on sales and marketing that I'd brought with me - not very thrilling but also not areas that Linda and I have much experience in. And it is less than a week till our first national advert appears now

I also managed a little swim - November 1st, 25o C air temperature and an unheated pool still at 22o C. Not bad at all.

We decide to try out the stove in the lounge tonight. We are big fans of open fires at home and it was really nice to have one tonight while we had tea. A phone call from Emma while we were making tea to see if we'd go and visit on Sunday just after we get back from Spain, which will be nice. And tea tonight is the rest of the chicken we bought earlier in the week with loads of fried peppers and more patatas bravos. A bit spicier that the version we did for Nigel and Zoe.

Spanish Trip - Wednesday

Wednesday October 31st 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

Our big day out and one that we were approaching with some trepidation. After we have done the first three weeks in our Moorish Farmhouse next spring, we then do a further three weeks at the Hacienda across the other side of Andalucia. On the middle Saturday we have to move from the one property to the next, leaving after everyone else has left the first and arriving hopefully before anyone at the second. We figured the drive couldn't be more that four hours, but that we should test it. We would also try and draw a plan of the second property and take lots more photos. And hopefully we would also have time to see a little of the immediate area.

So we set off around 10:00 travelling up towards Granada on the dual carriageway and then east on a road that ultimately leads towards Cadiz on the western coast of Spain. Our main surprise on the journey was the beautiful landscape that we were in throughout. For most of the journey we passed through vast fields of olives with large mountains on all sides. This is nothing like the Spain that people are used to and could be a very interesting aspect of the holiday for people coming to stay with us.

The journey ended up taking just over three hours and was 265 km. But it was actually a really nice drive and I don't think we'll be bothered too much by it next year. When we got to the right general area we decided to try and find the property straight away although we weren't due to meet Angel, the owner, for several more hours at 5:00. When we got to it we were rather surprised to meet a number of local Spanish people who appeared to be living in an attached farm bulding and were working round the back of the property. They spoke no English and phoned Angel to discuss the strange English people that had turned up. Angel does speak some English and despite the phone line being really bad I was able to agree with him that we could see the property straightaway as the poeple there had keys. That suited us much better than seeing him later on.

The property is very different from our Moorish farmhouse and is a genuine hacienda basically all on its own on a hillside. It is arrange around three sides of a central courtyard and has a number of terraces around it, together with a pool and sun terrace that has views out across the open countryside for miles and miles

So where we can have some help from Nigel and Zoe at the first property, for this one we are very much on our own. The property was also closed up for the winter and so we weren't seeing it at its best. But nonetheless, it was very possible to get a reasonable idea of how we might organise things. However, though we had about 30 minutes to go round, it turned out that we missed lots of stuff we should have looked at - mainly on how the main kitchen is organised. But nothing that would be likely to cause us a major problem for next year.

And we did get some pretty good extra photos, some of which are shown below with others on the gallery pages of the Well Being Website.

The main entrance to the Hacienda

The main lounge / dining room of the south wing

Linda making her way from the main lounge of the south wing to the second, smaller lounge in that wing.

One of the bedrooms in the north wing

The inner courtyard looking towards the entrance to the south wing

One of the main undercover terraces - this one is attached to the south wing

The view from the pool terrace towards the "white village" of Villamartin in the distance - the pool hadn't been used for several weeks before our visit and will not be this colour when we next stay!

View back to the hacienda - mid picture half way up the hill - from the road below
So the property has some really big rooms, plenty of space to sit outside, eight large bedrooms (only two of which share a bathroom) and some great views from the pool across miles of open countryside.

But much of the attraction of this property relates to its location on the edge of the Grazelema National Park and we now had time to explore this over the course of the afternoon. First stop was Villamartin for food and drink in the main square of the old part of town. We were remindered of a little version of San Francisco with all the roads going up and down steep hills. We found a tourist information office where we could collect our usually armfuls of leaflets for local sites and the girl inside was also able to give us a large map of the village and tell us where the nearest large supermarket was. So more extensive research on the contents of local supermarkets and the produce we can buy nearby.

One of the streets on Villamartin that reminder us of a tiny version of San Francisco

Then we set off into the National Park itself for a drive to Grazelema via several other Pueblos Blancos. Again this region is so unlike what you would normally expect of Spain with lush forests despite it being very late summer here. And all the villages we passed through were exceptionally beautiful.

We had time to stop in Grazelema itself for a walk round, collecting more guidebooks and leaflets on the way and examining several more cake shops. Then it was back towards the route home. This took us from Grazelema to the village of Zahara de la Sierra on a winding road that continually revealed some fantastic views. We also saw some of the local eagles circling round one of the major cliff faces we passed. Yes, this could certainly be an interesting area to explore further.

A typical bar in the centre of Grazelema

We were on the way back about 6:00 - our first experience of a really long drive in a European country at night. Our rental car has a daily display of info such as how long you have been driving that day, how far you've gone and what your average speed was, etc. By the time we got back to the villa we had been in the car for nearly 9 hours today and had travelled 625 km, with less than 3 hours outside the car in all that time.

As we walked towards the villa I saw a shooting star, the second I have seen in the past three weeks (after over ten years without seeing one). I take this to be another good omen, especially after what had been a pretty tough day (though very useful)

Spanish Trip - Tuesday

Tuesday October 30th 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

After last night's late night we decided on a relatively quiet day today. We had originally thought of going to Granada but have decided to leave this trip till later in the week. We did have a brief talk this morning with the agency we have booked the second Spanish property with and we have arranged to go and visit that tomorrow. It is at least a three hour drive each way to this property and we have been quite tempted to not do the trip but we really have to.

So Linda did some more Pilates work and I started on my anatomy revision for my next yoga weekend in a couple of weeks time. I also borrowed Zoe's laptop and had a quick look at the Well-Being website to see if there had been much progress while we've been away. There has definitely been some moves in respect of the online booking system, so that's good. I also logged on to our account at Google Checkout and our test payment appears to have been released to our bank account, so that system has passed its first test.

My other main project through the day was in drawing a plan of the entire property and taking loads of photos so we can really get it all set in our minds. Some of these are shown below with more on the galleries pages of the website

The "blue inner courtyard" - very cool in the heat of the day

The open outer courtyard where the evening Pilates class will be held when fully shaded

The house from the Petanque pitch under the olive trees

Linda studying her Pilates manual on the villa's terrace - this is where the evening meals will be served on our breaks (with a bigger table)

One of the twin rooms in the property

The view south towards the village of Los Tablones and the Contraviesa mountains from the terrace of the apartment (the Sierra Nevada mountains are to the north of the property)

The view towards the inner courtyards, with the blue courtyard hidden in the shade. Above it you can just see the terrace of the apartment

Another evening meal out in Orgiva tonight - delicious gazpacho soup with cut up peppers, tomato and onion followed by a shared paella "of the house". Not bad but we can easily match this standard ourselves we felt.