A Hairy (?) Weekend

I couldn’t think of a snazzy title for this blog post, but you’ll get the thread of it soon enough as to what the title is about. ‘Hairy’ can mean adorned with lots of hair, or alternatively a difficult situation, well, there was a fair amount of hair involved… and the weekend I am writing about, the one before Christmas, could have had some difficult moments emotionally, but thankfully nothing too awkward.

I have been living full-time as my true female self for almost eleven months, and up until the weekend before Christmas all of that time, at least away from my house, had been spent wearing a wig… for obvious reasons, because my own hair was not nearly long enough to be styled into anything feminine. I last touched my hair with a trimmer in early November 2014… and so thirteen and a half months after that I had an appointment with the lovely Paul Meekin at his stylish salon to finally get my hair cut, coloured, and styled. Earlier in the week I had had a colour test with him to make sure my skin would not have a reaction to the hair colour, and with that going fine it was all systems go for the weekend. My appointment was at 11.00, and not too long after I arrived Paul took me into his VIP room and my wig was removed for, hopefully, the final time, and he applied the hair colour – it looked an alarming orange colour in the mixing dish, but on the hair it looked promising, and I waited with a pile of magazines after he had finished while the colour took/set. Then a girl gave my hair a good wash and condition in the main salon rooDSCN1225e - first cutm, I sat on one of the reclined seats, and the girl pressed a button and then it reclined further, the sides pulled themselves up to caress my body, and the seat gave me a massage while my hair was attended to! I felt like I was really being pampered. Once that was done, and my hair towel dried, it was back into the VIP room where Paul blow-dried, styled, and ironed my hair… and when he was finished, surprise surprise, emotions took hold again as I could not hold back my tears because I was so overjoyed by the resulting look – Paul did such a wonderful job and it made me realise that women don’t go to a salon just to “get their hair cut”, they go so that they leave feeling good about themselves, looking good, and having been pampered by people who care about what they do… at least that was how it felt at Paul’s salon; see photo that he took of me following my first ever girly cut!

Once I had paid, both for my haircut but also my very own pair of hair irons, I gathered my stuff together, touched up my make-up after one or two more tears, and then left with Paul for lunch; as we drove, I couldn’t help myself but look at my hair in the car mirror! I was slightly worried that the fringe was a bit light, but now I realise that is only because my wig was SO heavy and unnatural by comparison. We picked up his partner at his apartment building, and then drove to a café owned by one of his friends who has just started up her own business, a place called Linen and Latte near Glengormley… and we had a FAB lunch, Louise and one of her friends were waiting at a table for us, and the three of us all ordered club sandwiches which were really tasty on lovely bread… and Paul and I went for dessert too, I had a lovely chocolate cake, he some apple pie; the service was really attentive, and the food good value, so I left a tip as we departed. Paul dropped me back at my car near the salon, and I offered Christmas wishes, feeling SOOO happy.

I had arranged to meet Kirsty at the Banbridge Outlet, but before that I popped to Boucher Road to return some clothes at New Look, where I tried on some boots; I suppose that was the first test of my new hair… and, of course, all was good… because now my hair looked totally natural, because it was MY OWN!! I met Kirsty in Costa, and it was just slightly deflating, and that was because I was hoping for an immediate OMG-type look from her when she saw me… and yet I sat opposite her only three or four feet away once I had got my mocha and, well, NOTHING! We chatted for a bit, and she asked me what I had been up to, I said I had been in Belfast, and so she asked if I had been shopping… uh, nooo, and so I actually pointed at my hair, and FINALLY the penny dropped, at which point I got the reaction I wanted, she was very complimentary and said it was so good… and, oh, it very much was!

Once coffee was done, we drove20151220_152411 to my house, because Kirsty was coming over to help me erect and decorate my Christmas tree… partly because she had not been over for some time, but also because if she had not come over then I would not have bothered decorating it just by myself. I treated myself to a new tree a few days beforehand, one of those with fake snow on the branches, and I was really pleased with it because the branches were nice and bushy and to me the snow looks quite realistic; when Kirsty folded down the branches some of the ‘snow’ fell onto the carpet… but I reckon it looks nice. Anyway, to cut a long story thankfully shorter for you readers I’m sure, the tree ended up looking fab (see photo), Kirsty cooked me a lovely starter and main course while I failed (alongside a list of numerous previous Masterchef contestants) to cook a chocolate fondant. I had an enjoyable evening, as well as the morning after… but alas Kirsty had to leave at around 12.30pm, and at that point the weekend did get a bit difficult for me, because I suddenly felt alone with Christmas looming like an ugly grey cloud… and so much chocolate was consequently eaten.

But, overall, it was a great weekend… with another major milestone crossed on my amazing journey – my own hair finally on display to the world. Over the next few days at work I had many compliments about my hair, from “Wow, I can’t believe it, it’s brilliant” to a couple of “is there something different about your hair?”, the overriding opinion was that it was rather better than before and more natural. During the week I caught my reflection in the train window a couple of times when it stopped at a station… and I was so pleased… a new look for the New Year 🙂

Away with the Canaries… AGAIN

I am writing this post on Christmas Day but, being alone at this time, I want to write about anything other than Christmas to avoid bursting into tears for the third time today… preferably recalling more enjoyable, recent times.

In my last blog post I mentioned Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have not been clinically diagnosed as having this but I am totally certain that I suffer it to some extent – every year in autumn and winter my mood is lower, I find it difficult to get up in the morning when the hours are short and especially when there has been a prolonged period of dreadful weather (today being typically awful, with grey skies and increasing rain since before 10.00am this morning), and so on….

…so this year I thought that I would do something about it, at least for a short period, and so I decided to go away for an end-of-year holiday, in mid-December. I had thought of doing something new, as I have become more prone to adventure and willing to try pretty much anything (except for bungee jumping, parachuting, and vindaloo curries) at least once, and the idea of visiting one of Germany’s Christmas markets came to mind… but the price of the flights last-minute (for I only started planning at the start of this month) was ridiculously expensive, and I am not made of money. Then I figured that that was a dumb idea, because if I am already suffering from S.A.D. then surely I need to go somewhere with at least a marginally better climate to home, and so I looked for the cheapest flights possible to somewhere reasonably warm… and ended up booking a return flight to Lanzarote for only £84! Less than two weeks after I booked that, as well as three nights half-board at a reasonable hotel and ridiculously cheap car hire, I was setting off on my break. Canaries here I come… AGAIN… only six weeks after I had left Tenerife! So… this is another holiday post, and as I’m lagging behind a bit in what I want to write to you about, I’ll cover the whole break in one post… probably with the usual bucketful of photos.

The only downer was right at the start of my holiday in that I had to get up at 2.15am as my flight was departing from Dublin at 6.15am!!! But it was worth it, as I was leaving Lanzarote airport at around 11.00am in my little hire car for a full day of exploring… in BEAUTIFUL sunny Stonework beach, N Lanzaroteweather, 23C and a cloudless blue sky. After a couple of stops along the east coast,
passing some nice beaches and coastline, I got to Stonework Beach near Orzola at the northern tip of the island… my first favourite spot of Lanzarote (see picture, above right); there was a bit of a breeze, but the temperature was still wonderful, and I was warm enough in just a girly T-shirt. There was quite a swell in the sea, and some great waves for surfers. From there I headed up a pretty scenic road to a small village called Ye, and then toLa Graciosa Island Lanzarote a viewpoint that offered a lovely vista of a long, thin island, called La Graciosa, pitted with collapsed volcanic
cones (photo 2, left). After some more driving around, and a few little stops, I ended up walking very happily in my T-shirt on a scenic beach… in December!!!! With time getting on, I started heading south to my hotel, through the amazing Timanfaya Volcanic park that I would see much more of the next day (see logo statue right, and late-afternoon photo below)Timanfaya statue. Shortly after 6.00 I checked into my hotel in Playa Blanca and was given a glass of Cava by the friendly porter who showed me to my room; the hotel had taken onboard my request for a quiet room, and it was perfect, away from any noise, and very spacious inside too. I dressed smartly for dinner in summery, floaty trousers, a thin top and matching cardigan, and ate outside… in December! Such fun… and a very enjoyable dinner too, with a HUGE buffet spread, including fish cooked freshly by a friendly chef in front of me; the waiting staff were very friendly… and madamed me several times.

Timanfaya Sunset 1

I awoke on Saturday to another beautiful day and, after a plentiful breakfast from another bountiful buffet (where I got ‘ladied’ by a waiter), I set off for a full day of exploring. My first stop was one of the number one tourist attractions on the island, the Timanfaya Volcanic Park… and rightly so, because the scenery is stunning and other-worldly, different from anything I have seen before, a landscape drowned in immense lava flows from the last major eruption lasting six years from 1730 and littered with numerous volcanic cones in assorted burnt colours; see photo below of one example from the park itself. At the car park one of the tour guides said “my dear” as he gestured me to the next tour bus, which soon left, along an extensive road through some of the major volcanic sites; he stopped several times while the tour tape explained the history of the area, and he was kind enough to roll the door window down so that I could take some photos without reflections in the windows. There was also a geyser near the car park that sprayed passers by every so often. The only aspect of the park I didn’t like was that the experience was all a bit synthetic compared to Tenerife, in the park itself it is practically impossible to stop anywhere to take a photo – I understand that they don’t want people wandering all over the volcanic rocks, but it would be nice to have a few stopping places for marvelling at leisure at the amazing scenery.

Timanfaya conescape 1c

After the park, I headed north, for more exploring and much photo taking, I got a bit hungry… and decided for the sheer novelty value of it tMe and my ice creamo have an ice cream, just because it was mid-December and the weather suited it. Then I went to my favourite place on the island, a place with what I consider to be magnificent, unspoilt scenery and, best of all, little-discovered and in fact devoid of any tourists. One reason is because it was not easy to get to – I had to drive off the main road, beyond the suburbs of a small town, down a gravel road, and then at a make-shift parking spot walk a half mile to the coast and then another half mile to the spot where the coastal photo below is taken. To me the waves were lovely to listen to, nature and nothing else, and the red rock in the distance quite unusual and
spectacular; I may return and explore further. I visited quite a few other
sites, and took loads of photos, but I won’t detail them laboriously or drown you in photos… though I will soon put more photos on my Flickr page if you are interested. I always think that there is a certain romance in watching the sun go down at the coast, seeing the sun dip below the horizon… although I didn’t have anyone to share it with… but it was rather nice, the photo below is of the sun setting beyond the still ‘harvested’ salt works on the island; the best thing of all, the sCoastal red rocks 1un set at 5.55pm (nearly two hours later than at home), and yet the temperature at that time was still 21C! In the evening I went shopping in Playa Blanca for bargains, haggling with a guy in a perfumery to get a bottle of my favourite My Burberry for a very reasonable price, and then spending rather too long in an electronics shop as an Indian guy tried to flog me a camera that must have been a fake for the price he was trying to sell it for… and so I was not tempted to buy even though he madamed me to death. The staff at dinner was really nice, I asked one of the chefs what the meat was that he was slicing off a leg bone and he joked “donkey”, and when I looked agog he laughed and said it was lamb. As I ate outside, quite late, there was some quite enjoyable entertainment at the Arabian bar nearby, belly dancing… though it was more the music I enjoyed, having little interest in the actual dancers… but as I sat back after my dinner and finished off my drink, I wore a huge smile on my face, having had SUCH a good day and feeling SO on top of the world.

Salinas sunset

Sunday was another sunny day – how lucky was I, huh!! EXACTLY the weather I went away to find. Another day of exploring (I don’t do relaxing / pool), more so inland than the other days, marvelling at the other-worldly lava flows almost devoid of vegetation, and also the envineyard fielddeavours of the locals to farm the land as best they can – see right for a vineyard, where cones of ashy lapilli are raked out of the land to plant vines in the fertile ground below. I eventually ended up at another really interesting tourist spot, a volcanic cone called La Caldera Los Ceurvas which was the very first one that made up the eruptive activity of the 1730s – it was a bit of a walk to get to the cone itself, which was fine, and then I started walking around the base of the cone… and then inside it!! It was sooo eerie, but lovely and peaceful, with bold, colours of ochre… and the amazing thing was that the landscape actually smelt burnt! But despite that, as I walked further around the cone, there was some flora Volcano Geraniumand fauna, including these beautiful geraniums. After visiting a number of other places, including Teguise which is one of the bigger and more attractive old towns on the island, I eventually ended up at the very volcanic coast not too far from my hotel near the salt works where there is an impressive natural feature called Los Hervidores, basalt columns of rock jutting into the sea, with a cave all the way under one of the rocky spines (see photo below) through which sizeable waves crashed like thunder. Alas the sun was going down, and I returned to my hotel and started packing for my departure the following morning. I had a lovely final meal, greeted by a friendly wasiter who as usual said “Good evening madam”, treating myself to a very good half bottle of Spanish wine… and proving that I can still walk in sizeable heels when tipsy! While I was eating my dinner I was surfing on my tablet and playing Words With Friends, I was chatting to one guy on it and telling him about the lovely bath I had and he said “Bet your boobs didn’t freeze when you got out!” – uh, no! 🙂

Los Hervideros 1

Sadly Monday morning I left my hotel about 8.45am for the airport, though there was just time for one or two short stops for photos before getting there; in the arrivals area was a Christmas tree… anLanzarote Xmas Treed I guess as it is Christmas Day then I should include a picture of it. Several hours later I was back in Dublin… to totally grey skies, pouring rain, and single-digit temperatures… but I didn’t mind, as I had had three, perfect days of holiday away in a place I had not even considered venturing to prior to a few months ago… and although this afternoon, on my own at Christmas, I have been very upset a couple of times, writing this blog and reviewing my photos has cheered me up – that’s what these happy memories are for, a temporary lift to S.A.D. and some at least temporary buoyancy for my mood during Christmas.

I hope you all have a good Christmas yourselves, however you are celebrating it.

xx

 

 

 

 

 

ENT, RUA, SAD – Normal Life In Acronym World

Since I returned from my great holiday in Tenerife the weather at home has been pretty appalling – I know, Ireland and the UK are hardly renowned for loads of sunshine and warmth in autumn, but this year it has been reported that November has been the dullest on record, and strong winds, persistent rain, and blankets of grey skies have been generally relentless… and so someone like me (or a valued friend of mine, as I found out recently) who suffers from self-diagnosed SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can, and has, got pretty fed up with getting out of bed one day after the next to miserable weather. Luckily life has been pretty good otherwise, though as I write this now, with Christmas just around the corner which I am really not looking forward to, I am feeling a bit down. I wonder if my lack of enthusiasm will show in this blog, as I catch-up from early-November to mid-December…

In mid-November I had an appointment in ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) in a Belfast hospital to have an examination of my nasal passages and throat owing to my long-running throat problems with post-nasal drip, a condition which means either a runny nose with no warning or too much phlegm. Anyway, the rather uncomfortable examination revealed nothing that looked damaged or untoward, which I left feeling quite relieved about. In the lift on the way down to ground floor the door opened on the floor below the one I had entered and a girl from one of my Meetup Groups got in, which was a nice surprise; we chatted all the way to the car park, and swapped phone numbers for a potential future cinema meetup.

In the last few weeks I have become more efficient at getting ready, and it normally takes me barely more than an hour now to get ready from out of my bed to out of the door; one day I even did it in 57 minutes!

In late November there was quite a chilly period and it snowed on the hills above Belfast… but, despite being a fair-weather person, I went for a walk with my group to the top of Cave Hill and I did enjoy the company… even if it took my face about an hour to defrost over some nice chat and a scone and tea.

The next day was a very interesting and activity-packed one. The morning was to another meetup group event, this time to Ulster Museum to visit the annual RUA (Royal Ulster Academy) art exhibition, where RUA members and other artists submit their work and the subjectively-best work is chosen for their annual display; this event was one of many that a nice guy called Jim has posted up this year since I joined this group. There was actually some very good art work there, both paintings and also sculptures, including a knitted crane! After that many of us went to Café Renoir for a really good lunch with much chat; I had quite a tasty burger. Next on the agenda was a lone-trip to the cinema to see Matt Damon’s latest film, Martian, about how a guy tries to survive on his own on Mars – I thought it was very well done… and near the end I cried… which I never thought I would do at a film set in space! Then I headed over to the Lisburn Road for supper with my BFF Kirsty at a coffee shop we like.

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At the end of November my car was at the repairers for a couple of days to have a minor bump sorted out – the guys there were really nice, the older one kept addressing me as “love” and desperately tried to give me a lift into the centre of town… though I had over an hour to kill before a dentist appointment and so I walked as it was, for once, dry… although on the Saturday I did accept a lift as it was rather wet. Having got the bus into Newry, I popped to the ladies, and there was a woman at the sink in only her bra changing her clothes!! In the evening I enjoyed another fabulous meal at Blu in Belfast with my two friends Kirsty and Michelle.

Work is pretty much the same as ever, not terribly interesting, but at the same time no bother in terms of my new life, apart from occasions when stress makes my throat feel tight and keeping my new voice going becomes somewhat exhausting; many guys are very well mannered, holding doors open and so on. A girl on my team is getting married at the end of this month, and I enjoyed organising a collection for her; she seemed to enjoy being spoilt with the resulting presents which it took me a VERY long lunch to decide upon, as well as flowers… I just hope she likes them. I have had several lunches out with colleagues past and present at Dublin, a favourite venue being the Art Of Coffee which serves lovely sandwiches on Italian bread.

I had an uneventful gender clinic appointment… although once again, when we covered my throat issues, she stated that many transsexuals carry on life with their “normal” (???) voice… although how they do this satisfactorily I can’t imagine because to me living life as a woman but making no effort to sound like one makes no sense at all… and to me only now do I have a voice which, at least in my head, finally DOES sound normal.

I have run out of things to say, not many of which I am sure are that interesting; next time I’ll write about a measure to at least temporarily halt my SAD.

x

Another Adventure Abroad (part 3) – Andrea’s explorations

At the end of part 2 of my adventure recollection in my previous post I was saying goodbye to my walking group, because they were heading straight back to a miserably wet home while I was lucky enough to be staying on for another two and a half days in the blissful sun of Tenerife… and seeing a wealth of magnificent and varied scenery that my group had only touched on. I also planned to suss out some good walking routes should my group wish to come to Tenerife again. I anticipate that this post will contain quite a few pictures and perhaps not so many words – I can’t imagine immense detail about my convoluted but carefully-planned route around the island is of huge interest and, anyway, the landscape in the pictures speaks for itself.

Once I picked up my hire car, a nippy  Seat Ibiza, I headed quickly awP1070227ay from the arid southern coast
and large touristy coastal towns in search of more scenic vistas inland, and it was not long before I found some as I got to Arona; this picture is of Roque Imoque nearby. From there I took the road up towards Mt Teide, the volcanic peak dominating the island, stopping many times to take photos, explore side roads, and enjoy the views as my route climbed higher and higher; at one parking spot there was a fairly elderly guy wearing a huge sombrero standing there merrily strumming away on a guitar. Eventually I reached Teide National Park, marvelling at the bleak but dramatic landscape – lava flows blanketing the barren lands, bizarre rock formations, and jagged peaks, as well as the conical volcano itself; it soon turned out that there were many marked paths in and around the park, and it was a shame my group had not been on any of them. I was also astonished by the odours too, there was the scent of pine from the trees growing amongst the lavP1070258a, but also the burnt smell of the blackened land itself. I did not stay at the park for too long, because I intended to visit the next day, and I also hoped to get down to Los Gigantos to see its cliffs before the sun had set. As I headed down the west side of Teide I could see the island of La Gomera beyond the top of the Gigantos cliffs (see below), though by the time I got down to a viewpoint for the cliffs the sun had descended to the clouds above La Gomera and so I was alas just a bit too late.

I returned up the hill to my B&B in Tamaimo and checked in with the lady co-owner who did not speak much English. Later her husband advised me on local places to eat but, once changed into a smart dress, a quick drive along the main street highlighted that his recommendations for a lady to eat were fairly tatty-looking bars, and so I drove down to Los Gigantos. I ate in a lovely little place called The Fisherman’s Inn, on the terrace overlooking a small harbour – yes, I ate outside… in November!! The food was good, although the menu was a bit too geared away from local dishes towards standard European/British dishes – I chose as local as possible, having prawns in a garlic sauce and local fish with Canaries potatoes and salad; I enjoyed my meal… and I think I enjoyed being repeatedly addressed by the owner as “my dear”… though he did seem a bit of a gigolo.

P1070263

The next morning I once again awoke to beautiful sunshine and, after an average breakfast, left for a day of exploring. I started by touring an excellent loop covering the north west corner of the island along the TF-82 and TF-436 roads, which are hardly as hairy as some Tripadvisor comments make out (just anointed with numerous hairpins), descending first to the quaint old village of Masca, with outstanding cliff and mountain views along the way; I was able to see where a famous walk starts, noting it for my group. I then headed onwards, with amazing vistas P1070293of ravines and steep hills around every bend in the road, eventually ending up passing immense cliffs several hundred metres high to reach a lighthouse at the northwest tip of the island… which I didn’t stay at for long as it was thronged with visitors. I returned to Tamaimo via a different route, with some lovely coastal views, and then headed up to explore Teide National Park in depth. Mt Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, at over 12000 feet high (3700m for European readers), and is still an active volcano; it last erupted over a hundred years ago in 1909, but its devastating power is much in evidence in the surrounding landscape, with immense lava flows, layers of ash and cinders underfoot, and a generally barren landscape. As one explores the park, it becomes clear that the volcano at some point in the past was much taller and wider, as a long line of ridges and massifs extends north-south to the east of the peak which is a former crater-line. There are numerous pull-off points and car parks to explore the park, and many footpaths too. There is much to see, much more than a portion of one day can afford, with changing lighting throughout the day highlighting different areas of the park at its best for me like me who enjoys taking photos with care, but this was my first time to Tenerife and I wanted to see as much as possible until I am able to return. I did a couple of little P1070318walks, one around the Roques de Garcia (rock formations jutting out of the ground at the base of the volcano), and then drove on, eventually descending on the scenic TF-24 road, with splendid views down to the coast, at times on both sides of the island. As per the previous evening, I had an agenda to meet before the sun went down, which was to catch the cliffs of the Punta De Hidalgo on the northern coast, which this time I got to just in time (see below). I drove a short way back to my hotel at La Laguna, the second city of Tenerife – the city was beautiful, as an evening stroll after dinner proved, with many pedestrianised and cobbled roads lined with old buildings of much character, as well as a good assortment of stores. My hotel was mixed, however – the room was lovely and spacious, but the food in the evening was bland with a menu unrepresentative of the island.

P1070342 Punta de Hidalgo

Sunday was my final day on the island and, again, I was lucky to have lovely, sunny weather. After a quick stroll around the city centre, buying an item of clothing for moi and a Christmas present for a friend, I headed quickly on to explore the north-east corner of the island, dominated by the Anaga massif and forest. Once again I witnessed stunning vistas of the coastline, ravines, and peaks as I drove mile after mile… but alas I did not have time to explore every part of the island that I would have liked. After a drive east along the southern coast as far as the road would go, I headed towards the airport, stopping along the way for a stop at a coastal village for a quick, windy walk at a beach and then a change of clothes from summery attire into jeans and top for travelling. I got to the airport at around 5.15 and, after a friendly chat to the guy at the hire-car desk, checked my bag in and then wandered around duty-free, reminded that as seems to increasingly be the case these days, the offerings in duty free are not the bargain that they used to be.

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At 11.30pm I was home, in a very chilly and rather wet Northern Ireland, having had a wonderful holiday in an island full of surprises. I think I will be returning to Tenerife, and other Canary islands, quite soon…

x