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Sometimes the best holidays are the ones you least expect…
After a long and turbulent year, Sarah is dreaming of the five-star getaway her sister has booked them on. White sands, cocktails, massages, the Caribbean is calling to them. Continue reading

Holidays from Hell


Zanna Mackenzie

So, it’s September and the end of the peak holiday
season, the schools are back and summer seems but a distant memory. We all look
forward to those weekend escapes and week-long holidays but do they live up to
the great expectations? Sometimes yes – but, it seems, most of the time, no
they don’t.  Am I the only one who finds
there is an inexplicable and confusing difference between how a hotel/holiday
cottage looks in the photos on the internet or in the brochures compared with
the view you get when you’re actually standing in the property?

Booked via a reputable cottage agency a property we
stayed in during a break in Norfolk looked fantastic on the internet, the
reality was unfortunately quite different. The lounge sported an ultra-creepy
ancient lace and white silk christening robe pinned to the wall which gave the
whole place a very unsettling ghostly atmosphere
– we avoided the lounge and
sat at the dining table in the kitchen all the time instead!

In Keswick in the Lake District our property had an
added extra which wasn’t welcome – a mouse which liked to come out for a night
time stroll. The whole place had laminate floors so you could hear it scuttling
around everywhere – we didn’t get much sleep and left after a few days. Then
there was the barn conversion near Ambleside which sported a dilapidated
caravan right outside the kitchen window – needless to say that didn’t feature
in the internet photos!

A log cabin in Scotland’s Argyll had a strange and
rather unpleasant smell which refused to dissipate even with all the windows
open and a bracing Scottish gale whistling through the rooms. It also had a
bathroom which you felt grubbier, not cleaner after visiting – I still shudder
at the memory of that one.

In North Wales there was a property with the added
convenience of the railway line ten foot from the lounge window, all the
crockery in the kitchen rattled alarmingly from the vibrations of the high
speed trains en route to Holyhead.

Holiday disasters don’t seem to be restricted to the
UK either. In Greece there was the studio apartment with a bathroom not much
more than a hole in the floor, ripped sheets on the bed and a grapevine so
overgrown you had to fight your way through to the front door
like a fairy tale
prince trying to machete his way through the forest to rescue his princess. In
Romania – when it was still under the old Communist rule – our flight was
diverted from Bucharest due to fog and our plane instead landed in Timisoara and
was immediately surrounded by armed guards. We were herded onto a bus like
criminals and put up in a dingy tower block of a hotel with mould all over the
walls, damp bedding – with 10 people to a room!

On reflection there have been some vacation
successes scattered in amongst the never-again- hols, so in the interests of
presenting a balanced view of vacations here are some of my holiday highlights:

*Ten days touring British Columbia in western
Canada, breath taking scenery, excellent standards of service, friendly people
and the most gorgeous and romantic B&B on Vancouver Island which only had
one room – a whole suite with its own sundeck right on the water’s edge.

*An ultra-tasteful little cottage in Snowdonia that
looked even better than the internet pics (!!)  had stunning views of the mountains and a
little study/writing room with views of said mountains.

*A cottage next to a private beach in south west
Scotland – step out of the door and there was the sea – spectacular and
blissfully peaceful too.

To prove to us that you don’t need to endure traffic
jams on the M6 or flight delays at the noisy airport one of our best holidays
was barely four miles from our own home! We house (and pet) sat for some
friends who own a barn conversion set in 2 acres of grounds – the sun shone, we
sat out in the gorgeous gardens all day loving having all that space around us,
read, ate, chatted, walked the dogs and totally and utterly relaxed. There was
no urge for frantic sightseeing, no unfamiliar surroundings in which you
struggle to settle or sleep, no long journeys or having to pack everything but
the kitchen sink ‘just in case’. 
Holidays can come in all styles, lengths and budgets, and sometimes they
even manage to be relaxing…

The Love Programme
Thanks to an embarrassing incident involving a
wedding and her ex-boyfriend Marcus, Lucy has to leave her home town in a hurry
and needs a place to escape to for a while.

Best friend Fiona is convinced now would be a good
time for Lucy to get herself a new life with some potential for romance thrown
in. Fate seems to agree when Lucy is given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to
star in a TV show and be a contestant on The Love Programme – two weeks of
luxury living on a grand Highland estate coupled with, she hopes, fun and
romance in wildest Scotland.

When Lucy meets Paul – the young, handsome owner of
the Highland estate – she thinks she may have found the love of her life but
who is the mysterious Hannah and what part does she play in his life? When she
discovers that Marcus is planning to follow her to Scotland to win her back
Lucy has some serious soul searching to do. Does she have a future with Paul,
with Marcus or is she yet to find the man of her dreams?
About the author Zanna Mackenzie: Mackenzie lives in the UK with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.

Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!
Formerly a travel agent and therapist (she has qualifications in clinical aromatherapy, crystal healing, naturopathic nutrition and herbalism) she loves walking the dogs and gardening – that’s when she’s not writing or reading!

Zanna has written two novels, The Love Programme (Astraea Press) and How Do You Spell Love? (Crooked Cat Publishing) and both were published in early 2013.

Read an extract of The Love Programme below:

The Love Programme
“Just sit on this suitcase, will you, Fi? I can’t
get the stupid thing shut!”
Fiona, obligingly perching her bottom on the bulging
case so Lucy could tug the zipper to close it up, said, “I can’t believe you’ve
agreed to do this. You’re going to be on a TV show about love! Won’t you be
embarrassed having everyone know all your business?”
Her face red from doing battle with the suitcase
and, thankfully, managing to win, Lucy shook her head. “No, it’s all for a good
cause. Where else could I get a few extra weeks off work and live the life of
luxury whilst a man tries to impress me with extravagant dates? Plus, I’ll be
getting relationship coaching from a top expert.”
Lucy checked around the room to make sure she hadn’t
forgotten anything. “Do you think I’ve packed the right clothes?”
Fiona lay back on the bed, stretching and spreading her
arms out around her as though she was making the duvet version of a snow angel.
“How should I know?”
“Mel said the programme is being recorded at the
home of some Scottish laird. It’s a real mansion with a spa and acres and acres
of land.”
Fiona pushed herself into an upright position,
suddenly all attentive. “A laird, eh? Sounds interesting. What else do you know
about him?”
“He’s not going to be one of the dates so don’t get
all excited. He’s just rented his home out to the TV production company. Apparently
he’ll be away on business most of the time we’re there, so we probably won’t
even get to meet him.”
Fiona shook her head. “Shame, how exciting would it
have been? Meeting a real life laird would be amazing.”
“He’s probably about sixty, balding, as round as he
is tall and arrogant to boot.”
Fiona slapped Lucy on the arm. “Don’t spoil it for
me. I was just picturing him as about our age, the classic tall, dark and
handsome type. Big brown eyes…” She sighed happily. “Is it just me or do you
find all those green wellies and Barbour jackets the country gents wear
incredibly sexy?”
“No, it’s definitely just you!” Lucy shook her head
As Fiona stared into space, no doubt continuing her
little country gent fantasy, Lucy flopped down onto the bed. “Do you think I’m
doing the right thing?”
“Of course you are. This could be a life-changing
“I’d like to be able to go on dates without feeling
guilty about Marcus all the time.” Sighing, Lucy added, “I want to be free to
have relationships like everyone else does.”
“I know you do. So, how can you doubt if you’re
doing the right thing? You have to go to Scotland. You know you do.”
“I suppose so but will you be okay? I hate leaving
you with your wedding just weeks away. There’s still some preparations to do
and I am chief bridesmaid. Maybe I shouldn’t go. This is all crazy, I won’t go.
I must be mad even contemplating it.”
“You’re going! End of story! The wedding is being
perfectly managed by my mum and by Luke’s mum, so no worries there.” Fiona
hauled Lucy to her feet. “What time’s your train?”
“I’m getting the overnight sleeper up to Inverness
and then Craig, the TV guy, is going to meet me at the station and drive me to
the country estate.”
“I’m so envious.” Fiona sulked, folding and unfolding
the corner of the duvet around her fingers.
“I thought you were happy with your
“I am.” Fiona sighed. “But a girl can dream, can’t