The land of lakes, cakes & the brave

Did you know that you can become a Scots lord, laird or lady?  You simply purchase a souvenir plot of good Scottish land and the title comes along with it. Chartered clients, Norma and Rhys Rolfe, harboured no such desires while visiting there … rather, to spend time with family and enjoying travelling the countryside in their mobile home.  If you have spent any time on our Retire Successfully website, you would have followed these inveterate explorers across continents, and here is their account of their most recent trip.

It is hard to believe that we have been in Scotland for nearly three weeks … how the time flies. We so enjoyed the first two weeks with the family who all seem to be doing well. The six grandsons grow by the day and are all studying hard for their exams (or I think they are).

The bright-yellow rape was in flower and added to the beauty of the countryside.

Our motor home was waiting for us, and having stocked it for our trip, we set off for Buckinghamshire where we spent a night with an old school friend of mine. He has a large business and a farm, and it was very interesting hearing his views on Brexit and China as he does a lot of business with the Chinese.

We then drove up the M1 to the Eastern Yorkshire Coast, certainly not the best way to see the countryside, but a fast way to get anywhere. They are building vast numbers of new homes on what were green belts all over the country, but not improving the roads, and this is leading to more congestion. An interesting fact was that the country was able to rely on wind power only for a few months last year.

Home to thousands of birds

We visited Bempton Cliffs where the largest number of sea birds nest each year, including the Puffins. They number over half a million, and after the fledglings are able to fly, the rest of the year is spent on the water in the Atlantic Ocean. The Puffins are most interesting birds as they eat eels found 70 meters below the sea. Their chests are so powerful that they can flap their wings 400 times a minute.

Discovering Scottish history

We also visited Whitby abbey built in the 7th century. Whitby is famous because this is where Captain Cook started sailing, and where the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure, and Discovery were built. Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick makes much of Whitby whalers.

The weather and camp sites have been kind to us. The one in the picture is a good example. We are in Durham a lovely old city in Eastern Yorkshire with a magnificent old Norman Romanesque cathedral. We were able to visit our eldest grandson who is studying mechanical engineering at the Durham University.

Camping in the Scottish countryside

Off the beaten track in Bulgaria

Chartered Wealth Solutions clients, Carl and Santjie Geldenhuys, have unique requirements when travelling. While some prioritise balmy weather and a welcoming beach, others love the thrill of excursions. Some can’t imagine accommodation without heated bathroom rails or an adjoining spa.

For the Geldenhuys couple, a child-friendly location off the beaten track is essential, as they take the whole family with them. Join them as they visit their surprising selection: Bulgaria, and tell their story.

It started with a phone call from our representative at Dream Vacations (our holiday club).

She: Carl, I think I have what you have been looking for. Off the beaten track and very child-friendly. In Bulgaria.

Me: What is the cost for the seven of us? (oupa, ouma, two kids from London and their three kids, one still a toddler)

She: R1 747, but, unfortunately, you cannot use your club points. It is an RCI special.

Me: That is a bit stiff per day for four adults, two kids and a toddler.vShe: You have it all wrong. R 1 747 for the week’s accommodation in a ski-resort close to Razlog, 80 km south of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria.

Me: Done deal. Where do I sign?

This is the only advantage to having kids and grandkids overseas. Travelling together is a good excuse to discover new places with the Londonites, and the three grandchildren are seasoned travellers.

Autumn scenery from Bulgaria
Room with a view … a Bulgarian Autumn.

Bulgaria is cheap, dirt cheap, even with a weak Rand. A Bulgarian ‘Alps’ ski-resort is not well frequented in October. The Balkan Jewel Resort was just what we were looking for: centrally located to explore the natural parks and villages in southwest Bulgaria, and a kid’s paradise (they provide care for children of all ages during the skiing season when the parents are skiing). The heated indoor swimming pool was a major plus!

We rented a 4×4 Mercedes bus at the Sofia airport for R2 700 for seven days (about what you pay for two days in South Africa).

Family photo at Dancing Bear park in Bulgaria
Dancing Bear park in Bulgaria

We visited Debarsko village, known for its 11th century underground church, the Dancing Bear Park close to Belitsa, Melnik (a village dating back to the times of the Roman empire) and the Seven Rila Lakes.

The Dancing Bear Park was an eye-opener. 25 bears are being rehabilitated, most “rescued” from gypsies, who have in the past “trained” bears to dance by placing them on hot plates, forcing them to “dance”.

Our tour guide, fluent in English, called her restauranteur friend in Belitsa. On arrival, we were treated to an unforgettable lunch of traditional Bulgarian foods and wine: R 600,00 for all seven of us.

The Seven Rila Lakes visit was both the highlight and the ‘lowlight’ of our trip. The lakes are situated in the Rila mountain, one of the highest in the Balkans. The 4×4 bus came in handy, as we traveled for two hours up the mountain just to learn that the ski-lift into the mountain was being serviced. We negotiated with an owner of a monster of a Pajero to take the seven of us up – an absolute nightmare, and undoubtedly Santjie’s “lowlight”. Our son-in-law equated it to his trip up van Zyl’s pass in Namibia. We also had snow en route.

Up and down the moutain to Seven Rika LakesBut it was absolutely memory making!

At the top of the route, the guys still had to hike another two hours to get to the lakes.

After a week in the Balkans, we moved on to Sophia, Bulgaria’s capital. There, we visited the Saint Nicholas Church, the city park and the Alexander Nevsky Patriarchal Church.

The downside of Bulgaria? English is largely non-existent. All signs are in Bulgarian (which looks like Russian to the ill-informed – that’s us) That is where sign-language, now our twelfth official language in South Africa, comes in handy. And it is international.

The kids and grandkids then moved on to London.

Family outside St Nicholas Church in Sofia Santjie and I intended to travel by bus to Bucharest, but departure was changed at short notice from a day trip to a night trip, so we would have seen nothing of the Bulgarian and Romanian countryside. Instead, we took a private shuttle (like our Uber). It was an absolute blessing as we were shuttled by a Romanian fluent in English. Though he had a university degree in Economics, he could not find employment as an Economist. This was surely the most educational five hours I have spent with an absolute stranger. Our guide was well informed regarding South Africa, even about the Guptas!

We detoured to the Church of the Virgin just inside Romania. Cut out of solid rock in a cliff overhanging a river gorge, it had been operational since 1220 but is now a tourist attraction.

Then we explored Bucharest by “hop-off-hop-on” bus and by foot. Memorable was the visit to Cismigui Gardens, the second largest city park in the world after New York’s Central Park.

Pelisor Royal Castle in Pelles
Pelisor Royal Castle in Pelles

Bucharest is an absolute jewel in comparison to Sophia. Modern with skyscrapers all over, it is very cheap, albeit not as cheap as Sofia. The two of us lunched on soup, a choice of three meats, and veggies for the equivalent of R 55,00 for both of us!

The next day was the absolute highlight of our trip: a shuttle trip with our new friend to Transylvania, the Alps of Romania. We visited the Pelisor Royal Castle in Pelles, and made a brief stop in Brasov, a beautiful village in the heart of Transylvania.

Couple outside restaurant in Transylvania
Santjie and our new Romanian friend outside the restaurant in Transylvania

Our shuttle friend took us for a late lunch at a very well-known sky resort in the mountains. We were treated to a starter, entré, main course and dessert, all very Romanian. And, of course, Palinka, the national drink of Romania. Our own mampoer would give it a good go.

We were back at our hotel at 23:00, having originally planned to be there at at 18:00!

Romania, and especially Transylvania, is an absolute must on anybody’s bucket list. Communication is no problem as they are fluent in English and all signs are bilingual.

We left for London the next day with mixed feelings. The trip to Transylvania is surely a highlight of our overseas’ visits.

To Moscow via Mongolia … in the Tsar’s Gold Train

In July last year, Chartered client Darrell Adrain, embarked on her adventure of a lifetime: a Trans-Siberian rail journey from Beijing to Moscow via Mongolia on the Tsar’s Gold Private Train. Here is her account of a trip that she describes as “a real bucket-list trip that I can highly recommend!” Enjoy her adventure along with her.

Elderly Caucasian female on trainIt took some courage to embark on this journey on my own since being widowed. I joined a group of 15 people, of similar age and with the same love of travelling. The tour was organised from beginning to end by a travel agency in Simon’s Town, which specialises in journeys to unusual destinations.

Departing on 4 July, we flew to Beijing where we spent three days visiting highlights: the iconic Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall of China, the Sacred Way, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City – all sights I had never seen before.

Scenes from Beijing
Scenes from Beijing

Our exciting train journey began with a crossing over the Gobi Desert at night in a clean and comfortable Chinese train that glided over the rails. The Desert – which is only two percent desert – comprises mainly dry gravel planes and sandstone cliffs. There are great reserves of coal, copper, gold uranium and other minerals; it is estimated that up to 10bn tons of coal exist beneath the golden sands of the Gobi Desert.

Having crossed the border into Mongolia, we were welcomed onto the Tsar’s Gold Train: 21 carriages, three dining cars. The train was designed and built in St Petersburg as the Tsar and his staff’s mobile office while they travelled across Russia in the early 20th century. The team of dedicated staff included an onboard doctor (carrying a huge emergency medical backpack) and a tour director.

On the Tsar’s Gold Train_ Travelling in retirementOn the Tsar’s Gold Train In addition to our group, there were 120 other tourists on the train, representing 16 different nationalities. Each group had it own leader, with Russian guides travelling with us all the way to Moscow.

How luxurious were our compartments! Red velvet curtains and carpets, two single beds with a table between, vodka and fruit, re-charging plugs under the table, wood panelling with ornate gold designs, a newly renovated shower room, and two new toilet and basin rooms at each end of the carriage. Our conductors (a married Russian couple) looked after us day and night, ensuring clean ablutions, hot water for tea and coffee, and neat beds with turned-down covers.

Our dining car was sumptuous: beautifully laid tables for four; varied four-course menus for lunches and dinners; breakfasts were English and Continental (fruit, yoghurts, cereals, nuts, eggs to order). The Russian-styled meals always comprised a salad starter, a bowl of delicious soup, a main course of fish, meat, chicken, pasta and desserts of different kinds, followed by tea and coffee. We ordered drinks which we paid for at the end of the trip in either Euros or USD.

Our first stop, on 10 July, across the rolling grasslands was Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, an unbelievably bustling city! The country’s total population is three million and one million live in the capital city. There were traffic jams and no shortage of latest cars: Lexus, Merc, and the newest SUV! The economy is booming owing to huge mineral and mining deposits, and livestock farming. The country’s GDP grew 10-fold between 2000 and 2012.

Map of the Across the Gobi Desert to modern and ancient Mongolia
Across the Gobi Desert to modern and ancient Mongolia

It was the Nadaam Summer Festival. Everyone wears splendid cultural clothing and comes to town to celebrate and to see traditional wrestling, archery and horse-riding events.

We explored Mongolian temples and Buddhist monasteries. We visited the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park situated in the Mongolian Alps, where locals displayed their competitive talents in horse-riding, archery and wrestling. The largest equestrian statue (40m high) in the world is made of 90 tons of steel: Ghengis Khan on his horse holding his famed golden whip. What a spectacle! We climbed up through the statue to see the view of the undulating countryside.

Ghengis Khan statue and Gorkhi-Tereli National Park
Ghengis Khan statue and Gorkhi-Tereli National Park

Mongolia is a beautiful country and it was a surprise for all of us. Friendly people invited us into their home, a yurt (comfortable round canvas tent-like structures, heated by coal fires, hence Ulaanbaatar has the worst pollution in the world). Ulaanbaatar is also the coldest capital in the world, with minus 41degrees C in January.

To Russia, with love and lots of friends

Across the border into Russia, we travelled through the valley of Mongolia’s largest river, the Selenga, to Ulan-Ude, capital of the republic of Buryatia. It is a fascinating city, with a strong Buddhist culture and the largest sculpture of the head of Lenin. We walked around parks with beautiful flower beds, saw many high-rise buildings and old-style wooden buildings with ornamental trimmings. We watched Cossack dancing and attended a local concert … then back on the train.

The next highlight was a day around the beautiful 640km long Lake Baikal – the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1700m) fresh-water lake in the world. It has its own microclimate around its shores! There are 39 train tunnels spanning 200 kms alongside the lake! Amazing railroad construction started as early as the turn of the 19th century.

Images from Lake Baikal
In and around Lake Baikal

On a clear day you can see 40 meters into the lake, home to numerous species of animals and plants, and the only fresh water seals, Nerpas. The omul – the most popular fish in the lake – is the main food source for the locals. Highlights were Port Baikal and a ferry trip across to the village with a huge food and cultural market. Some brave tourists swam in the icy waters, and we were treated to an evening BBQ and picnic on its shores, while being entertained by local musicians.

ln lrkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’, with its many neo-classical and wooden buildings decorated with ornate fretwork, we visited the Memorial Decembrist Museum, in a house set up by the wives of noblemen who had been sent to Siberian prisons. These nine wives brought culture, music and books to lrkutsk.

We enjoyed a concert, featuring grand piano music and singing in a gracious dining area furnished in the style of those times (1850s). Many religions are practised there, and Russian orthodox and Roman Catholic churches abound. We were treated to a fabulous lunch by a Russian family in their dacha (summer home) in the Taiga forests next to a beautiful lake: salads, soup, breads, a chicken dish with broccoli, desserts, vodka and coffee!

lrkutsk, the 'Paris of Siberia'
lrkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’

Situated on the Ob river, Novosibirsk (the largest city in Siberia) was a great place to stroll around and explore Siberian wooden architecture, monuments, the Opera House and a lively music and art scene. lt’s a well-known scientific and education hub. Novosibirsk is the richest part of Russia, with reserves of oil, gold, nickel and coal, transported via the rivers South to North, and via trains from East to West.

Novosibirsk, the richest part of Russia, with reserves of oil, gold, nickel, coal
Novosibirsk, the richest part of Russia, with reserves of oil, gold, nickel, coal

From the train, we viewed the diverse landscape of eastern Siberia and enjoyed talks on board about the region: the Gulags, 1905 Revolution, and prisoners sent to labour camps (by mid-60s 20 million had passed through the Gulag system of camps).

We had vodka-tasting with typical Russian snacks and red caviar, experiencing first-hand the Russian festive customs of hospitality and toasts! We were treated to a typical Russian tea ceremony, a popular cultural activity with the samovar, biscuits, cakes, chocolate, cranberry juice and sherry. Russians are the biggest tea consumers in the world!

Experiencing first-hand Russian festive customs of hospitality and toasts

Yekaterinburg, the capital of Ural Federal District (33 hours east of Moscow by train), is located on the cusp of Europe and Asia. Here Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered in 1918. On this spot, a gorgeous Byzantine-style ‘Church Upon the Blood’ was built in 2003 to commemorate that tragic historic event. The city has a Soviet look about the buildings, opera theatre, railway yards, and is a University and education hub.

Yekaterinburg is located on the cusp of Europe and Asia
Yekaterinburg is located on the cusp of Europe and Asia

Our day in Kazan was extremely busy – it is the Tatar capital on the banks of the Volga. We visited the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia, and the huge Kremlin, now a World Heritage Site on account of the many historic buildings. There are 140 different temples and mosques in Kazan, and everyone lives in peace.

On 19 July, we arrived in at the Moscow station, 850 years old. This city has a population of 12 million, but, include daily commuters and it rises to 15 million. 10% are Muslims, labour migrants from the republics. Our guide said there is no unemployment in Moscow, no ghettos and many people have dachas (cottages) in the country used in September.

The city had been beautified over the last few years for the Soccer World Cup, completed just before our arrival: floral displays, hanging flower baskets adorning the streets, abundant trees and flowers in pavement gardens and through Red Square towards the Kremlin. Fairy lights light up the buildings of the GUM shopping centre in the evening, and Lenin’s Mausoleum can be seen across the Square. St Basil’s Cathedral is an amazing sight day and night!

The World Cup – an opportunity to beautify Russian cities
The World Cup – an opportunity to beautify Russian cities

Our visit to the Kremlin was incredible; there was so much to see: 800 years of Russian history and artistry in one place.

Going down into the Metro is an amazing experience: the longest escalators ever, filled with people going up and down at 9pm! The trains travel at 40kms an hour, stopping at beautifully decorated stations underground, tiled to perfection, with artwork on ceilings and bronze statues – a free history lesson and art exhibition all in one!

Sadly, our time in Moscow came to an end as we departed on Friday evening to return to Johannesburg via Dubai.

So ended an epic and legendary rail tour, a total of 7858 kms. lt was a most remarkable journey for me, especially seeing such a vastly different part of the world and the pleasure of making new friends with similar interests.

Entertaining at Chartered House

Our Chartered clients often share the many ways in which they are keeping themselves mentally challenged, in keeping with the LEARN category of the Wheel of Balance.

From career related learning, to leisure activities such as Bridge and photography, to online courses and games, to creative activities, like painting or dancing. And then … there is the annual Chartered Quiz.

In September, we hosted a Spring quiz for our clients at Chartered House. Teams were named after famous international pubs, such as The Crown and Anchor. Who would have thought there would be a team called The One-eyed Rat?

The competition was fierce, with teams rushing to devise the correct answers to questions across eight categories, including “Current Affairs”, “What in the World?” and “Masters and their Masterpieces”.

The general knowledge of the Chartered clients and planners proved impressive, belying the quotation from the quiz category “Who said that?”: Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. (Do you know what famous physicist said that?)

Maritime team prevailed, and beaming team members received their prizes. David Wallington was the winner of the draw. Filled with a delectable meal and a sense of achievement, the 2018 Chartered Quiz teams concluded the evening with the promise to challenge their rivals again next year.

 

Taking time to see the beauty all around … And to hear it!

Chartered Wealth Solutions clients, Cecilia and Ralph Auret, travelled to Cape Town two weekends ago, to listen to a mass Church choir.

On the way, the Arets saw beautiful snow on the mountains – a Spring surprise! And, in Houtbay, they savoured the best fish.

The highlight, though, was the choir. Cecilia and Ralph’s trip is testimony to the principle of finding joy in ordinary things, as advocated by Ingrid Lee Fetell in her extraordinary TED Talk.

(Don’t miss the takeaways from that TED Talk in this newsletter – and you can click through to listen to the whole talk … it is well worth the standing ovation she received!).

Rolfe notes from the Emerald Isle

Norma and Rhys Rolfe returned from France to spend three weeks taking care of their family’s homes and pets … a bit of rest and relaxation after their six weeks on the road.  Now they find themselves in Ireland for a month before they return home to South Africa at the end of September.

For the first time in over a hundred years, Ireland, a country with a sad history, is experiencing a greater number of people returning to the country than leaving it. The little towns and harbours on the coast are very quaint, and so much has been modernised and improved here since Ireland became a member of the EU. The roads, farms, buildings and facilities have improved since we were here in 1975 and 2007.  We enjoyed driving down the Hook peninsular to Tramore just south of Waterford where we spent a few days.

We are so enjoying the Irish, who have a very dry sense of humour and are a very friendly people. We are in the South-East at the moment where Gaelic Football and Hurling are the popular sports. They seem to make things very casually and are certainly in no rush. I think Ireland is a very easy country to live in, without the weather. I think, even with the weather, we could live here.

During the potato famine in the 1840s, one million people died and one million more emigrated. A mass grave at Skibbereen is the burial site of eight to 10 thousand people. The population of Ireland in 1840 was over eight million. After the famine, in 1851, the population numbered 6.5 million, and today the population is 4.7 million. Interesting figures.

The first Temperance Hall in Europe was built in Skibberdeen in 1833; this has been replaced by 26 well-patronised pubs.

We visited the monument to Michael Collins, a leader of the IRA, who was ambushed by members of the IRA who were dissatisfied with the peace agreement in 1922 of which Collins was a signatory.

Markets are very popular in villages and towns, in spite of all the supermarkets. The fare on offer is fresh but more expensive. I could not resist a nice Plaice and a kilogram of prawns, plus local cheese and some veggies. All very nice. We do enjoy buying local cheese in the areas we drive through.

In Skibbereen Main Street, the buildings have been painted in different colours instead of the old cement colour, making a huge difference to appearance. We stayed in Bantry Bay, a beautiful area on the South-East coast. Unfortunately, it was raining, but the forecast for the next day was good. Yesterday we went to Mizen Head.

Our road trip today from Dungarvan to Blarney was beautiful, especially the little fishing village of Ardmore, a quaint little town on a beautiful bay. The countryside is beautifully green, typical Ireland.

The 12th century round tower is one of the best examples of these structures in Ireland, built by the Monastic monks to safeguard their valuables and themselves if attacked. The St Declan’s church stands on the site of the original monastery next to the tower. There are 9th-century carvings set in unusual panels on the western wall.

We visited Blarney, a few kilometres outside Cork, famous for its castle and the Blarney Stone. The weather remained good, fortunately, and we continued to enjoy the Irish and Ireland.

For those of you who follow the travel diaries of our clients, Norma and Rhys Rolfe, you will not be surprised to find that they have been on the move again in their motor home. Not only tourists this time, they are also cat, dog and garden caretakers. Here is their summary of their recent travels: We have just returned to the UK, before the ferries and Chunnel were closed because of the heat. The temperatures and dryness were quite debilitating, and Normandy and the UK look like the Free State in winter. Things have cooled down now which is quite pleasant. We arrived back in time for the families to depart on their holidays, while we look after gardens, cats and dogs … it is quite useful to have old folks around sometimes! I must say, we do enjoy staying in a six-bedroomed house on our own after six weeks in the motor home. We are not complaining, though. We had a wonderful six weeks in France, big and beautiful with a cosmopolitan population of very friendly people. Watching part of the Tour de France was certainly interesting - one does not get the full impact on television. The passing parade lasts for about three hours, and the cyclists pass by in a blurred flash. Watching the World Cup Football final in a pub was most interesting, especially with France winning. It was a little like South Africa winning the rugby World Cup in 1995. We found Brittany most interesting and enjoyable and plan to go back again next year. It is a section of France we have day-passed to a large extent to date: it is out on a limb (a little like Wales in that they have their own language and dialect). When their family returns home to the UK, the Rolfes are off again … this time, to Ireland. No doubt we will receive wonderful accounts of their adventures on the Emerald Isle.

When in France … for the World Cup!

For those of you who follow the travel diaries of our clients, Norma and Rhys Rolfe, you will not be surprised to find that they have been on the move again in their motor home.  Not only tourists this time, they are also cat, dog and garden caretakers.

Here is their summary of their recent travels:

We have just returned to the UK, before the ferries and Chunnel were closed because of the heat. The temperatures and dryness were quite debilitating, and Normandy and the UK look like House on the River Bankthe Free State in winter. Things have cooled down now which is quite pleasant.

We arrived back in time for the families to depart on their holidays, while we look after gardens, cats and dogs … it is quite useful to have old folks around sometimes! I must say, we do enjoy staying in a six-bedroomed house on our own after six weeks in the motor home. We are not complaining, though.

We had a wonderful six weeks in France, big and beautiful with a cosmopolitan population of very friendly people. Watching part of the Tour de France was certainly interesting – one does not get the full impact on television. The passing parade lasts for about three hours, and the cyclists pass by in a blurred flash. Watching the World Cup Football final in a pub was most interesting, especially with France winning. It was a little like South Africa winning the rugby World Cup in 1995.

We found Brittany most interesting and enjoyable and plan to go back again next year. It is a section of France we have day-passed to a large extent to date: it is out on a limb (a little like Wales in that they have their own language and dialect).

When their family returns home to the UK, the Rolfes are off again … this time, to Ireland.  No doubt we will receive wonderful accounts of their adventures on the Emerald Isle.

Baguettes and berets for the Rolfes

Chartered clients, Norma and Rhys Rolfe, have clearly been bitten by the travel bug, and have spent the better part of their Retiremeant™ travelling the globe.  Here is their latest update, from Burgundy, in the land famous for the Eiffel Tower and romantic assignations.

As we continue to enjoy our sojourn around France in record-breaking heat, we enjoy the memorable sites of beauty and interest. France is undoubtedly a country for travelling, eating and drinking. With a population of 66 million (equivalent to the UK) and a country three times larger, driving in France is a pleasure.

We did so enjoy our week in Paris and Versailles but are now getting great pleasure driving through the little villages and the countryside. The little hillside town of Vezelay, with its narrow winding streets and interesting shops, was indeed picturesque. The Bascilique St Madelaine on the top of the hill is a UNESCO site and one of the starting points for the Camino de Compostela. This was obviously interesting for us having walked part of the Camino.

A Basilica is an oblong type of building with a central nave and isles, with a slightly raised platform and an apse at one end. The naming of such a church is granted by the Pope. Beaune, pronounced Bone, is the capital of the Burgundy wine-growing area and is a beautiful walled town. The walls have been preserved as they house wine cellars.

Lake Annecy, the town, and surrounds are most attractive and very popular tourist destinations. We had some lovely rides on our bicycles, and our behinds have taken some punishment. We now have a lovely camp site looking out to the Alps and Mont Blanc.

What a privilege to be able to enjoy such a beautiful place in perfect weather.

Take a chance on dance

This month we focus on relationships. It’s February, after all – the month of romance, of connecting and of celebrating the people special to us.

Each week – each day, really – the world presents new research, a new angle or scientific finding that slightly shifts the way we see the world around us. And last year was no different.

New research has shown that older people who participate regularly in some kind of physical exercise can undo aspects of the mental signs of ageing – both physical and mental.

But did you know that dancing has the most powerful effect of all of them?

Dance as if no-one is watching

I have never been a great dancer myself. I have tried ballroom dancing but my tendency to aim for only perfection made it a job rather than a joy.

Then, recently, I signed up with a wonderful friend of 10 years who runs a Nia dancing class – I love it! It is free dancing, so no right or wrong moves, and I have found it so much fun … but it is also good for my health, according to researchers.

A recent study assigned older volunteers – on average, aged 68 – to an 18-month weekly course of learning either dance routines or endurance and flexibility training. The findings show that both groups exhibited an increase in one area of their brains – the hippocampus. This part of the brain is easily prone to age-related decline and therefore affected by the various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The hippocampus helps with memory, leaning and balance.

That physical exercise helps to slow down age-related decline is no surprise. As Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study and an expert based at the German centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany, explains: “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity.”

But that dancing was the more effective of the two is what piqued my interest. The non-dancing group did normal exercises, exercises that were repetitive – as most exercise is (too much so, if you ask me!). The dancers, however, were presented with a new challenge each week.

Dr. Rehfeld adds that in comparison, it was only dancing that led to noticeable behavioural changes in terms of improved balance. This was because the dancing group was given changing dance routines with different rhythms and steps. That’s the creativity of dance for you. In her view, “Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”

So, we have it from the experts then: dancing can improve overall health, brain speed and memory. Moving and learning from something as lovely as dance? What a graceful way to age. Or, as the case may be, not age. 😉

Happy dancing!

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