A Christmas Letter, 2016

Festive Greetings
This year I began my Christmas celebrations at Mottisfont Abbey where they were celebrating the twelve days of Christmas. Looking for each ‘day’ was a lovely way to explore both the grounds and the interior of Mottisfont. The Six Geese who should have been Laying were absent and children were encourage to find their eggs and replace them in the nests. The adults were happily removing them and tossing them back into the trees to give their offspring a good run around. I particularly liked the Three French Hens and the Nine Ladies Dancing (see above) were exquisite.
Twelve Days of Christmas at Mottisfont in Hampshire
My best and funniest memory of 2016 was balancing on the noses of two dolphins – and then they threw me up into the air and I plummeted into the sea. There was a big splash and a lot of laughter. But the dolphins kissed and made up when I surfaced. I had been sent to Cuba at very short notice (less than a day) and was glad I had this opportunity for a last visit before the Americans take over. The old cars are still there but have been spruced up and are now used as taxis for tourists.
Swimming with dolphins in Cuba
Prior to this trip I had spent two weeks touring Indo-China – dodging the traffic in Vietnam, exploring the temples of Cambodia and browsing the markets of Laos. Laos was my favourite of these three countries as the pace of life was so leisurely and we had a lovely guide, Pom, an ex-monk who gave us a great insight into Buddhism. He even persuaded some of us to get up at four in the morning to attend the Alms Giving Ceremony at dawn. Our reward? At visit to the morning food market in Luang Prabang. The Lao like their food fresh, so fresh that it is still alive when they buy it.
Valery with Pom, our guide, in Luang Prabang, Laos
Japan was my third, and last, long haul trip this year. We travelled everywhere by train including the bullet train which meant we could travel hundreds of miles in one day. For this reason, I took the opportunity to spend a day in Hiroshima and I was so glad I did as Miyajima Island is stunning and the Peace Park is certainly worth a visit. I was in Japan in November when it started to light up for Christmas and the decorations were stunning.
Christmas Lights in Tokyo, Japan
I re-visited Croatia, a country I have not been to for ten years. I was delighted to see that everything there has improved without affecting its naturally beautiful coastline. I went for long walks by the sea enjoying the rugged scenery and also having the advantage of regular refreshment pauses.
Umag in Croatia
Albania was a refreshing change. An emerging tourist destination it has some really interesting sites to explore – and all of them empty and in beautiful settings. We raced through the hills on a fantastic jeep safari. The cuisine was interesting as they cook large chunks of meat and then chop it up and serve it on the bone. Diners are expected to rip the meat off the bones with their fingers. I ate a lot of Greek salads during that trip – the feta cheese was the best I have ever tasted.
Jeep Safari in Albania
I was not looking forward to two stop-overs in Corfu on my way to and from Albania but took advantage of the opportunity to visit Corfu old town. It is an attractive little town and very interesting. The old town is situated between two forts, Old and New, but both built by the Venetians and offer great views over the town below.
The Old Town of Corfu on the Island of Corfu, Greece
Italy has once again been a regular destination for me. Puglia was lovely, especially as we were there in the spring when the fields were carpeted with wild flowers. This region has a rugged, natural coastline and an interesting cuisine in which broad beans (fresh and cooked) play a large part. One of my favourite places was Trans with it fabulous cathedral and pretty fishing port
Trani in Puglia, Italy
Walking in Bavaria was a new experience for me as we spent more time on buses, trains and cable cars than we did on our feet. But it was worth it for the amazing views and long downhill walks.
On the Zugspitzplatt above Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria
This year I also started volunteering for the National Trust on Brownsea Island. It is a lovely island with an interesting history. It is famous for its red squirrels and Sika deer but it is also home to a large flock of pea cocks and some very colourful hens. Both species bully visitors for tit bits when they are picnicking on the grassy areas.
A Red Squirrel on Brownsea island in Dorset, UK
_I re-visited some of my favourite haunts, Madonna di Campiglio in the Dolomites to ski in the winter and to walk in the summer. In the winter I discovered the area is not just about skiing when I walked to an amazing frozen waterfall.
Frozen waterfall in Madonna di Campiglio, Trentino, Italy
I also went back to Tuscany on a sightseeing tour. I never tire of Florence as there is so much to see there. And that is where I will be for the festive season – skiing in the Dolomites over Christmas and then moving on to Tuscany to celebrate the New Year._
On Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence, Tuscany
I hope all is well with you and yours and wish you a lovely Christmas and all the very best for 2017.

Published by: Valery Collins
Categories: Tour Manager Tales


  • Sandra Kennedy:

    25 Dec 2016 18:31:59

    Merry Christmas to you, Valerie!
    I enjoy your posts and photos. You are a true adventurer.
    All the best,

  • Valery Collins:

    26 Dec 2016 17:29:10

    Thank you for your comments Sandra – really appreciate you keeping in touch.
    Happy New Year. Valery

  • Will:

    21 Jan 2017 14:06:01

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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Author, Valery Collins

About the Author - Valery Collins
London, England

I have been addicted to travel since I was three years old and escaped from the confines of the family home and set off for Windsor – on foot. After qualifying as a solicitor I took a gap year and worked as a tour leader on a freelance basis. That was 20 years ago and I am still working as a tour leader. Over the years I have ridden camels, horses and an ostrich, walked and skied in mountains and followed the Inca trail and climbed towers and temples. I write honest reviews of my travels in the hope it will inspire others to follow in my footsteps.

Valery on the Zugspitzplatt above Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria

Recently I became a regular contributor to GPSMyCity and my city guides have been converted to Guided Travel Articles This week, 06 to 12 November 2017, you can try three of my guided travel articles free just click here.

Valery Collins