Friday, 10 July 2015

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Road!

Just recently lots of cycle lanes have been popping up near to where I live. We seem to have a lot more cyclists in the area of late, which is doubtless due to living by the Olympic cycling route. Anyway, the reason for my sudden interest is that I am currently in the Netherlands - home of much cycling and bikes that you peddle backwards to stop. I have observed a couple of issues...

Firstly, their roads are VERY much wider than ours. They have more than enough space to have sensible sized footpaths, cycle paths and roads. Some even have space for trams. Our roads are typically very narrow. Far too narrow to accommodate all these things safely. We're told that the Dutch system is being implemented where I live, but it isn't really because we don't have the space to do it properly.

Our local highways department has narrowed already narrow roads and halved the width of footpaths in order to install cycle lanes. It's just plain crazy and pretty dangerous for all users, I fear.

My second observation, as both a pedestrian and a motorist in Holland, is how terrifying it is to get around here. As a driver wanting to cross a road, you have to cross a wide footpath and then wide a cycle lane (sometimes with bikes coming at you in two directions). If you're turning left, you also have to get across a lane or two of cars. The bikes whiz along at pretty high speed, in great numbers and have the right of way. It's a very hairy experience trying to cross roads here as a result - and they have clear rules that seem to be obeyed pretty thoroughly. Worse still is that mopeds seem to be able to use the roads and the cycle lanes, appearing out of nowhere as you slowly try to negotiate your away across all these lanes. As a pedestrian, it's just as bad. You stray into the cycle lane and you will be obliterated. Crossing at junctions is a nightmare as bikes come at you from all directions. Heaven knows how you get out of your front gate if you have a footpath and well-used cycle lane in front of your home.

I can't see how any of this is safe. The reality is the Dutch system is hellish to navigate and requires huge amounts of space - that we don't have - at least not near where I live. Perhaps you get used to it? I really don't know. All I do know is that I've never been so stressed walking or driving anywhere before.

I can see the advantages of cycling as a healthy and eco-friendly alternative to driving, but I'm really not convinced that 'following the Dutch system' on our tiny roads is the answer. I'm not convinced it's the answer to cycling in the Netherlands either for that matter.

I'm not anti-cycling or anything, I'm just pro no one getting hurt.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Loving Airbnb!

When I saw my uncle and my cousin recently, they had stayed in the Netherlands using Airbnb. I'd heard of it, but hadn't really thought about using it for until I heard about their experience.

My business partner and I needed to go to the Netherlands (and some other places) ahead of an event we're running out there. So, I thought I'd look into the new fangled Airbnb thing.

You just hop on to their website ( tell it how many are in your party and when and where you'd like to stay. Although it wasn't easy to find, you can also search on number of bedrooms, WiFi etc, too. Hey presto! You get a list of possible properties. If you click on the map, as you move, it'll ping up properties that follow you. It's really very cool. You can then view the properties online.

All properties are people's homes. There are boats, eco houses, apartments, houses... all kinds of places to stay. Some are whole properties and others are simply rooms in someone's house. All budgets are catered for.

I applied to rent a property in Antwerp (Belgium) for two nights. You apply for properties by telling the owner about yourself and your party. I know from one owner that they had a group of 'youths' stay who had caused some problems, so they now only allow family groups. I assume I didn't sound like someone who might wreck the place, and so our host agreed to let us stay. Hurrah!

You have to provide ID to Airbnb before you can apply for places, but this just involves either signing in using Faceache, LinkedIn or by sending them a pic of your passport or driving licence.

We emailed to make the arrangements and then I drove to his apartment. The international roaming on my phone decided to wander elsewhere, rendering my phone inoperable and so I couldn't contact the host to let him know we were there. But, he'd figured out that I had a problem when he tried my number and so he'd been watching the street to see if a car with British plates arrived. Bless him! He came and found us and all was well. Good lad :D

His apartment was AMAZING. It was beautifully clean and immaculately furnished. It was in a lovely part of the city within a 10 minute walk from the city centre, the station and the zoo (well worth a trip if ever you are in Antwerp). Our host had left us a box of biscuits, a bottle of wine and lots of mineral water and fruit. Really kind of him. Not something you'd ever get in a hotel on my budget!

So this was out base for two lovely days. It cost far less than two hotel rooms in a European city would have cost. In fact, the whole trip is costing just over £50/night - and that is for two-three rooms each night. Not bad eh?

I'm now typing this post from the second Airbnb stop on our journey. This time we are in a residential area of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Again, we have really friendly, helpful hosts and a great place to stay for far less than a hotel.

Two advantages of Airbnb, aside from the cost, is that your hosts can tell you all about the local amenities and sights, and you get to experience the area as a local rather than as a tourist in a faceless hotel. We've already made friends with the owners of the local cafe here in Utrecht who were really helpful to us when we first arrived.

After you leave a property, you get to review it, and the host... and they get to review you too :D

I have to say that I can highly recommend Airbnb and I might even look into hosting. Really looking forward to the next three stops on our trip.

I can also get my friends a £16 discount. Email me if you want the code.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

How To Lose Weight: From FatBat to FitBit

Here's the thing about losing weight - you want it gone NOW, or by next Saturday at the latest. But that's just not going to happen, unless you're aiming to lose half a pound, in which case you might just be OK.

I was exactly the same, but as soon as I accepted that the weight had taken years to pile on and wasn't going to be in any rush to leave, I suddenly found that I could get on with it. And you know what? I haven't needed to lose the whole lot anyway to feel better in myself and about myself. In fact, after two stone, people started to notice and I could get into much smaller clothes again (I'm comfortably in a 16 now and can just about squeeze into 14 as long as I don't need to eat, sit or breathe <g> - down from a 22!!!). All good stuff!

If all you want is to look good in that little black dress again, you'll be searching for a quick fix - and they really don't exist. I've tried all kinds of things and none of them work, so save your dosh. If you look at losing weight as being a programme to get you HEALTHIER though, you'll tackle it very differently. So look to be healthy, which will happily also make you look gorgeous eventually.

There's a really simple formula to losing weight. Eat less than you burn off and you will lose weight. Simples. So, EAT LESS AND MOVE MORE. More specifically, eat less in quantity AND try to cut out the cack we all consume. I have ditched all the processed sugar and processed carbs. I'm eating lots of salad and fruit. I try to ensure that my diet is balanced, so I eat a lot of tuna, salmon, chicken and eggs to ensure I'm getting essential protein and fats. I also take a multi vitamin and an Actimel or Yakult, just to be certain that I'm not missing anything. I dumped cordials too and now drink a lot of water. And I drink Ovaltine Options. Those have been a real life-saver - they tick my sweet tooth box and they're quite filling too.

Yes, it's boring, but I feel so much better for it.

I'm finding the food side of things perfectly manageable and I haven't really felt hungry. If I do feel hungry, I go with it and get something healthy to eat. We've had two family birthdays this month and so I've had cake. That was fine. I got straight back on with the diet afterwards. No problem. In fact, once a week I eat a bit more because it's supposed to give the metabolism a bit of a kick.

I needed to lose five stone and so I embarked on my weight loss mission on 1 February 2015 - five months ago. I joined a gym and did lots of exercise, much of which I hated. I've managed to tear something or other that joins my sternum to my ribs while I did some weights, and I have no idea what I've done to a tendon in my thigh, but it bloody hurts. So, I cancelled the gym membership and invested in a FitBit and I have lost as much weight using this as I ever did at the gym.

There are lots of things out there like the FitBit, but that's the one I have and so it's the one I'll tell you about. Specifically, I have the FitBit Flex. The FitBit is a little bracelet you wear that monitors your movement. It counts the number of steps you do in a day and it's surprisingly addictive. I make sure I do at least 12,000 steps a day (10k is what's suggested). This is making me fitter, building muscle and helping me to lose the weight. It's GREAT and it's EASY to do. You can challenge your friends via FitBit too, so that's quite fun if, like me, you CANNOT lose... EVER :D

You can record the food you've consumed on FitBit too, so you can see when you've messed up and you can get out and do some extra walking. You'll often find me pounding the streets late at night desperately trying to burn off any excess calories. The neighbours must think I'm bonkers. Well OK, they already think that, this just confirms their suspicions.

I lost the first stone really quickly. It melted away in about three weeks. The second stone took longer and the third one has been a devil to shift, but I'm nearly there - just two pounds to go. I expect the fourth and fifth stones will be harder still, but I'm up for the challenge. It really helps that I am already feeling so much better about myself - and I look a LOT better too. You really don't need to lose all the weight to feel very much better about yourself, so it doesn't matter if it takes me another six months to lose the next two stone. I want to do it safely and in a way that I will be able to keep it off.

I set myself lots of little targets rather than focussing on the end game. In two pounds, I will have lost three stone. Five pounds after that, I will be 10-stone-something. OK, it'll be 10 stone 13lbs, but a win's a win, right? Three pounds after that, I'll have lost as much weight as my little boy weighs!!! You see? Lots of little targets.

Here are the obligatory then and now pics...

Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better. I even have ankles!

So, just do it. Want to be HEALTHIER. Forget the quick fixes. Every step you take makes you a teeny bit fitter. Every pound you lose makes you a little bit healthier. A pound is actually quite a lot. Go and look at a bag of sugar. That'll weigh about two pounds. See? It's quite a lot, isn't it?

Go for it!

Jane x

PS. Just to be clear, I'm not in any way medically trained and nor am I a nutritionist. I'm just a FatBat who's hoping to become a FitBit ;)