A Family Summer Holiday In Portugal

18 October 2014

It feels like our family holiday to Portugal in September was just days ago but in actual fact we've been home for a good month now (where does the time go, seriously?) and so I thought it best that I get my behind into gear and write about our fortnight of sea, sun and sand. We'd never been to Portugal before - apparently Nando's doesn't count - but we all loved the country and to be able to spend quality family time together was truly lovely.

We stayed in a beautiful private villa in the Algarve which perfectly accommodated all of our needs, and I was really grateful to have our own abode as opposed to a hotel. It meant that if I needed to rest - which I did, lots - I wasn't stuck in a hotel room away from everyone else, and could cater to the needs of my evil chronic illness without getting too lonely. Our villa was surrounded by vast vineyards that stretched for miles which made it incredibly peaceful, and we used a hire car to travel to and from the gorgeous nearby beach towns. 

With nine of us in total and some real personalities in the mix - my cousins Faye and Lorraine can make me laugh no matter what and our fabulous grandma Queen Jean is the most hilarious woman on this planet - there was never a dull moment and as I've only ever been on family holidays with my parents and brother before, it was such a fun change to jet off with a bigger crowd of our clan. You can't choose your family, but I'd pick these.

If you've read my blog before you'll know that I'm a big believer in making the most of a bad situation and I strive to not let my illness come in the way of my enjoyment. However, often it's impossible to just 'get on with it' and have fun as you're physically not well enough to and no amount of positive thinking can change the fact that you've got a chronic illness that affects every bodily function, every second of the day. I don't want to detract from what a lovely holiday we had but I also think it's important to address it - I really wasn't very well whilst we were there. There wasn't a single day where I felt well enough to get up and my well-practiced brave face, sadly, came in extremely handy. 

Being in a different setting hit me pretty hard and whilst I tried to look on the bright side and think, "even though I'm inside on the sofa, I've got a gorgeous view" but I was so gutted to be trapped in a body that doesn't work properly that I got stuck in a "this isn't fair" rut and found it hard to get out. Every ME sufferer has times when they feel emotionally down and unfortunately, mine came whilst we were in Portugal. I struggled with feelings of huge disappointment and frustration that on most days, I had to lie in a room with no windows, in bed by myself, whilst there was a world of palm trees, summer breeze, sunsets and laughter outside. It's rare that I can't pull myself out of a negative frame of mind, but I wanted more than anything to enjoy it and a disease that I've got no control over stopping me really hurt. With the bad bits explained, let's get back to the best bits.

One of my favourite evenings was when we drove up to a restaurant, so high in the mountains that we could see Spain, and had a night of great food and red wine accompanied by an English expat who sang us Johnny Cash and Elvis songs whilst Queen Jean shook her stuff. As soon as we got home Faye took charge of the iPod, Lorraine took charge of the Long Island iced teas and we relived our childhood with Britney, Ashanti, Blue and every other 90s artist that you can possibly think of. I think at some point Paul Weller came on and Mum jumped in the pool too, which is always a sign of a good night.

We visited the stunning city of Tavira where I fell in love with the beautiful architecture and most importantly, the gelato. All cobbled streets, rivers and al fresco dining, I could've strolled around all day and would love to come back with Will in the future. My first trip to Tavira started with high pain and fatigue levels and ended in tears and an urgent departure which didn't do much to lift my spirits, but we were able to come back the next night for our last evening of the holiday and I was so, so happy. I soaked in all of the prettiness, took some lovely photos, enjoyed our final supper as a family and had one more gelato. Bliss.

Sometimes it takes a step back and a little bit of perspective to snap you out of an "ME is ruining my life" funk and now that we're home, I've been able to appreciate that I even made it onto the plane considering I'd just been on a trip to Centre Parcs with Will and his family - read about that here - and had a busy few weeks prior to that, also. I can't help it that I experienced lows whilst we were there but I'm pleased to say that I'm experiencing highs looking back on our holiday and all of the fun we had - besides, in an average week at home I don't leave the house, so the fact that I can count on one hand how many times I left the villa shouldn't make me feel bitter or sad, it should make me feel proud and glad. I did more than I've done in years and got through it, with plenty of happy memories in tow.

To say that I'm grateful for my family would be a huge understatement and I can't thank them enough for taking such good care of me and ensuring that we all had the best possible holiday, ME or no ME. They're my favourite bunch and am so lucky to have them.

Did you go on holiday this year? Have you ever been to Portugal?


Our Break at Centre Parcs

15 October 2014

At the start of last month I went away for five-day break with Will and his family to the place beyond the pines, the place we went to every school holiday without fail, the place where wild deer casually come to check out your back garden and the place where you would happily live if you had the option. That's right, people - Centre Parcs. I've got so many fond childhood memories of Centre Parcs and it's definitely one of my 'happy places'. 

One of the reasons I love the big CP is for its chilled out vibe. Despite living in the countryside, I can't spend much time being 'outdoorsy' these days due to my ME and there's something quietly relaxing about being surrounded by trees and wildlife. A little haven away from 'business as usual', it's like nobody at Centre Parcs is stressed about work or refreshing their Twitter feed - everyone is simply happy to be there with each other.

When Will and I came with my family in February, we hired what Centre Parcs call a 'duet', which is essentially a bike with a wheelchair on the front. At first I thought it was pretty darn cute but it soon transpired to be pretty darn unsteady, so we opted for a tandem bike this time around which is even cuter and made me constantly sing this old song.

If you also live with a chronic illness, have mobility issues or a health problem that makes it difficult to go on holiday, I'd absolutely recommend a short break to somewhere like Centre Parcs. There's something for everyone - "so many activities!" - which enables you to do as much or as little as you like without feeling like you're missing out, as the setting is so peaceful and pretty. The cosy villas are incredibly homely if you need to rest and besides, everyone is there to relax which means it couldn't be easier to go at your own pace.

It's always lovely to spend quality time with Will's family and even lovelier to go away with them, and I'm so thankful and appreciative to have such fantastic memories of our trip. 

Have you ever been to Centre Parcs?