I’ve had some close shaves in my time thus far, and those were memorable as in to remind me not to do that again. There have been some good and fun times too, and with each experience you learn more about your strengths, and find ones you didn’t think you had. I’m in my fourth decade, a little bruised from the ride so far, but you learn to pick yourself up and appreciate things more, and also realize what is really important (and am still learning). I could tell you, but it’s something we all need to discover in our own way.
Running across the Ponte Vecchio at 3 a.m. alone. This was a magical moment for me as I ran home as I lived Oltrarno, and I marveled at the beauty of Florence. No one else was around; the moonlight shined on the Arno, and the streetlights lined the cobbled streets lighting my path home. I could hear my own footsteps as I stood in the middle and imagined the historical events that had occurred on the bridge; Giuliano de’ Medici being stabbed there on his way to church, and had Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo stood where I was now for inspiration? The Ponte Vecchio is never quiet; it is packed each day full of tourists and traders. For a few hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. it’s empty, and if you ever get a chance to walk across the bridge alone, do so. I was coming back from a party, and for a few precious moments I had the bridge to myself.
Watching the sunrise on Lipari Island. Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands in Italy. I’d intended to visit for a couple of days and ended up staying a couple of weeks instead. I bumped into a lady called Hermione Del Bono on the hovercraft over; she was English and had met an Italian on holiday when she was younger, and moved to be with him. She offered to let me stay in her hotel (Hotel Carasco), but I was happy to stay in the Youth Hostel, which was a castle. However, due to events (see the volcano tale) I took up her offer. One day I woke up and saw the sunrise from my hotel room, which was over looking the sea and watched the brightest and largest sun rising from the horizon and the sea. Due to the position of the island, the views were clear and unobstructed. It was one of the most beautiful things to watch, as the sea was still and the sky completely clear. I hope to be so fortunate to see such a sight again.
Clinging to the side of the volcano on Stromboli. This was the day I nearly died, and made a pact with God. I learned some huge lessons in one day, but the whole tale can be a short story in itself. I climbed the active volcano in Stromboli, except the weather was bad, raining and windy, and no guides would take us (not advised), so we went alone. That wasn’t clever, but there was a group of us. The thing was I was at the end of the group helping a slower member, and we were told to follow a different path by the man in front of us. That was a mistake as we ended up climbing on molten ash (which is dangerous and slippery), and we both nearly slipped off the edge. We managed to climb into a crater, but the group had left us, (as the way down was on the other side). It got dark, and windier, and it wasn’t safe to climb down or go any further. Watching an active volcano erupting in front of you barely meters away was incredible, and was definitely not planned. I remember watching the sun rise, with the volcano still throwing around some lava, as gulls flew around. I’d prayed to survive, and I now had a bargain to keep with God.
The lengths I’ll go to for a cheap bottle of Stolichnaya. I used to plan my flights to stop in Dubai for the excellent Duty Free. Usually I had a couple of hours to browse and planned my purchases on my way back to save carrying it around. However, my plane was delayed, and left me only 30 minutes for me to get my connecting flight. What to do? Get the £3 bottle and risk missing the flight, or have faith in my abilities. Somehow I managed to get off the plane, run down to the shops, buy the Stolichnaya (I knew where it was, but no time for anything else!), run and pee (I hate toilets on the plane), and then find my other boarding gate. I did it in 20 minutes, but the ironic thing is the bottle stayed in my freezer for 5 years!
Having my first independent place. My first place was a house share in London with some University friends. I moved in on my 21st birthday, to a three storey house complete with two cats—George and Arthur. The owner (Noel) was renting it out and going off to Bequia to sail on a yacht to nurse a broken heart, and wanted tenants to look after the cats as well. It was a great place, fab parties, and Concorde would wake me up each morning.
Lying alone (very ill) with gastroenteritis in the Marco Polo in Kathmandu. I’m not sure how close I was to dying here, but it wasn’t good, and the hospitals there were not safe. I had left my trekking party and was going to venture alone; maybe spend time in a monastery or do smaller treks. I was alone, but the illness didn’t hit me until a couple of days later, and I think it was from some ice I had in a drink. A girl who had been on the same bus getting into Kathmandu knocked on my door after a few days to ask if I wanted to go out. I struggled to get out of bed and let her in; her name was Frankie, and she saved me. She had rehydration salts and looked after me. I couldn’t eat for 2 weeks, anything I drank came straight out, and I was shivering with a temperature. Frankie is a dear friend still, but if I hadn’t had the courage to speak to a stranger on a bus, and then tell her where to find me if she wanted to have company, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I was weak, vulnerable, and no one knew where I was in the world except a girl I had briefly spoken to on a bus.
Getting my motorcycle leg (muffler) burn in Bali. A split second mistake, when my Japanese friend, whose English was poor didn’t hear me yell, “Stop!” when she took off on a hired moped for the day, when I was still climbing on. It hurt, there’s a scar, and more tales to go with it. It did however persuade Emirates (it was well bandaged) to bump me up to Business Class, as I said if anyone bumped into the wound, I would need medical treatment.
Being in the gravel trap at Copse in Brands Hatch. I was working at Brands Hatch as a hostess for an event, and we were allowed to drive around the circuit as a perk or to have a pro driver take us around. I opted for a driver take me around to do a lap, and we ended up being in the gravel trap at Copse—a famous corner in Brands Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit. We had to be towed out by the crane, and I loved every second of it. The driver on the other hand was a bit embarrassed, but that was a once in a lifetime event, where many famous drivers have exited a race from ending up in the gravel trap at Copse.
Making a cup of tea for Stirling Moss. If you haven’t heard of him, he is a legendary Formula One racing driver who was a guest speaker at an event I was organizing. When asked if he needed anything, all he wanted was a cup of tea with milk and one sugar.
Surviving being snowed in during a Nor’easter. I once lived on a beach in Massachusetts, and there was a Nor’easter arriving. I’d not experienced one before, and made sure I had stocked up on chocolate and snacks. My landlady lived next door and told me it would be fine, and if the power went we’d figure something out. I was literally snowed in. I woke up and the windows had at least 8 inches of snow (there was no light), and I couldn’t open the door, as there was nearly 2 feet of snow. I watched from the back glass doors the sea crashing onto my deck; I wasn’t frightened, but watched in awe how the sea and the snow were in control.
Stranded at Lukla Airport. Lukla Airport was (in my day) a cleared gravel path, which doubled up as a landing strip for aircraft, flying in trekkers from Kathmandu to climb on Everest. There was a little shed with a table, a man and a walkie talkie (no airport lounge access) where it can squeeze in a maximum of five people. I recall in March 2000 wandering down to edge of the mountain, looking out for any sign of a plane. That was the only way we would find out if any planes arrived. We took it in turns to look out, as cellphones were in their infancy. I actually had a satellite phone (my brother gave it me as a precaution), but that was no good unless I had anyone to call. The weather had been so bad, the clouds made flying impossible and on day three, the queue for the pool table got longer. My days consisted of drinking my vodka supply (taken in my Sigg bottle for such emergencies) and playing pool with anyone around. It made me realize that life is simple and people survive.
I hadn’t washed for a couple of weeks (water freezes after a couple of minutes) and wearing make-up wasn’t important at all compared to wearing layers, and making sure you had enough batteries for your torch. We got the second plane out eventually, and the plane was like a 5 year old flying a remote controlled plane for the first time. The entire journey was turbulent, and it is the only time I have ever thrown up on a journey as we dodged some mountain tops, and skimmed a few ledges. I was glad to be back on land, and grateful. I didn’t think I needed to do that again, but I went back a couple of years later.