Refreshment for the Soul


Every year for the last 4 years I have looked forward to one particular conference, the annual Swiss Group for Mass Spectrometry (SGMS) meeting – a niche scientific meeting, which takes place in the stunning location of Beatenberg, a village situated high above Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. The meeting only lasts 24 hours but I always leave feeling refreshed.

Looking from Beatenberg toward the snow capped mountains in the distance

Looking from the Dorint hotel in Beatenberg toward the snow capped mountains in the distance

The air is cooler, fresher, cleaner. You can hear the goat and cow bells ring out over the meadows, see the blue-green lake below and the eagles gracing the sky above. And if that doesn’t sound idylic enough, on a clear day you are blessed with one of the best vistas that Switzerland has to offer. For directly across from Beatenberg you can see the snow-covered Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau. These three peaks are some of the highest and most impressive mountains in Alps and make up one of the most famous and emblematic sights in Switzerland.  You can not help but be in awe. 

The Alps at Dusk

The Alps at Dusk

I can and do spend some time just staring out at the mountains. Meditating.  Watching the sun set at about 5.30pm and the mountains getting a red-orange hue across them or seeing the first rays of sun spring from behind the mountain peaks. Magical.  I am not sure what it is about the mountains but they have a calming influence on me.  After the hecticness of a busy work day, being selfish and taking 10-20 minutes just for me to clear my mind and with no distractions, truly is refreshment for the soul.

Evening light over the Alps

Evening light over the Alps

 Written by Catherine Evans Joines



Is there more to autumn than dank dark mornings?

There is no mistaking it. The misty mornings, watery sunshine, longer shadows and the darker evenings.

Autumn is here.

autumnal long shadows

autumnal long shadows

Now others might be rueing the end of another summer, but not I, my friend, not I.  Autumn, for me, is an amazing time of year and here are 6 (British and Swiss) reasons why.

That autumnal outdoor feeling – get yourself outside, whether it is on foot or on a bike, and just explore.  I love wandering in the woods or around a Tierpark (animal park) like the one in Sihlwald, near Zurich.

A wolf at the Tierwald in Sihlwald near Zurich

A wolf at the Wildnispark in Sihlwald near Zurich

The “Herbstmesse” or autumn tradeshows are in full swing.  This is something for those danker, wetter days, as mostly they are undercover.  Not that I am biased, but I rather like the Zugermesse.  It lasts 10 days and there is something for everyone, from the home improver to the chef, from the fitness fanatic to the holiday seeker, from the foodie to the wine-lover. The kids love the farmyard enclosure. Personally I just love wandering round the stalls and seeing what is on offer.  But be warned these tradeshows are not for the faint-hearted, they are huge. We went last weekend and we walked for 3 and a half hours without sitting down!

The “Chilbi” or “fair” comes to town.   This weekend in my village, we have bumper cars going round the roundabout instead of cars.  The main streets are completely closed for 3 days as the village comes together and enjoys the fair and celebrates the end of summer.

Steinhausen Chilbi - the main roads through the village are closed for 3 days for the fun fair

Steinhausen Chilbi – the main roads through the village are closed for 3 days for the fun fair

It is almost time for the ski season and so the preparation must begin in earnest.  Now this involves hard work as well as a little bit of retail therapy for some new socks and thermal undergarments (sexy, eh?). A new exercise regime working on strengthening the leg muscles and increasing flexibility has begun.  (Let me tell you, sitting against a wall is quite painful after about 45 seconds!)  But I know that all this effort will be worth it, when I can start the ski season in December without any stiff legs!

The traditions….halloween is almost upon us and I love fancy dress plus who can resist the jack o’lanterns, apple bobbing, toffee apples and pumpkin pie? Then the Christmas markets will start, but not before I am back in the UK for work, which nicely coincides with one of my favourite UK traditions, bonfire night on the 5th November. While most other countries stand outside and watch fireworks in summer, we stand outside and watch them in autumn, often in the rain! But nothing quite beats wrapping up warm with hat, scarf and gloves, wearing sturdy boots or wellies and then heading out to friends or to the town firework display and bonfire, partaking in some mulled wine to keep warm, plus a hot dog and toasted marshmallows, if you are lucky. But best of all you can write your name in lights (ok,  in sparkles) with the sparkler.

Fireworks on November 5th in the UK

Fireworks on November 5th in the UK

The food….”wild” season is upon us and there is lots of game in the shops, but best of all for me it is the vegetables and fruits we have in autumn: the pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato, plus the figs and dates. Warming soups, cheese fondue and raclette can all now reappear on the menu and stay til April!

Fondue at Christmas time

Fondue at Christmas time

What do you like about autumn? Or even why you don’t!.

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

A walk in the woods and why it is important to honour the promises you make to yourself

About a month or so ago I made a promise to myself to try to spend more time outside. Well in my first ever video blog post (be kind), I confess that today it almost didn’t happen, even though it was a stunning autumn day.

If you don’t honour the promises you make to yourself, who else will?

If you want to spend more time doing something then give yourself permission and time to do it.

The important things in life need to be prioritised, otherwise they will get lost amongst all those things we “should” be doing.

For me, I love being outside, walking, exploring and relaxing.  And in this short video I chat a little more about why I love to walk in the woods in autumn – the original topic of my blog post today!

Here is some autumn inspiration.  

The results of my walk in the wood today.

There are so many ways to enjoy the autumn. Here are just some.

There are so many ways to enjoy the autumn. Here are just some.

A snapshot of an autumn day in Switzerland

A snapshot of an autumn day in Switzerland

Loving the autumn colours

Loving the autumn colours

A beautiful autumnal scene

A beautiful autumnal scene


And now over to you….you too can enjoy the autumn!!

And just in case you are procrastinating, this is how I deal with it!

Written by Catherine Evans Joines


Power of a Break and a BONUS Post too!

Power of a Break

I have my summer holidays later than most and this year was no exception. We visited the lovely island of Kos and I took an almost complete “tech” sabbatical.  It was an excellent way to just get back to doing what us humans have done without aids for thousands of years….communicate face-to-face with each other…no need for electronic gadgetry. With the distractions gone, you can just get on with living in the now, which I found totally refreshing.  It is amazing how much you later remember when you are actually fully engaged in the moment and how time isn’t blurring into a stream of sameness.  Mind you, I admit that this is much easier to accomplish when you are on holiday….next challenge is to achieve this in “normal” life!

self-imposed break from technology

A refreshing break with no technology

A refreshing break with no technology

So after my semi-self imposed break from technology I took some time to actually just do those things that are important to me, that fire me up and help me have outlets for my energy and creativity other than the 9 to 5.  There has been quite a lot to digest, and I will share more in the coming weeks, when I again find time to really focus on my writing. And although I do realise it has been a few weeks since I lasted posted here at Leisure Guru, I haven’t been entirely dormant on the writing front.

Previously I wrote about my hopes for Leisure Guru and mentioned I was preparing a guest post for the Emerge and Evolve Magazine……well…. ta da!  My “6 (and a bit) business travel tips” have now been published. So I am keeping things ticking along and working towards more “Perfect Days“.

guest post published – 6 (and a bit) Business Travel Tips

So what’s next? Well I have few more posts planned on my “personal discoveries” from my holiday to Kos plus we are coming into one of my favourite seasons….autumn, quickly followed by winter….so expect articles on good winter warming foods, my ideal winter’s day, winter sports and a whole lot more. But for now, why don’t you head over and read my tips for making the most of your next business trip so you see more than this….. (and yes, I did take a picture of the inside of an airplane!)

See a lot more than this on your next business trip

See a lot more than this on your next business trip

Post written by Catherine Evans Joines

The perfect leisure filled life? It’s going to take some hard work . . .

Dreams - Bernhard Edmunds
As part of The Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 day blog challenge, Catherine’s spent the last few blogs talking about the importance of finding out what you’re really about, what you want your life to look like and prioritising how to get there.

Now, I’m temporarily in a slightly more fortunate position than Catherine who is still leading a double life of corporate chick and wannabe leisure addict. In April, I took a year sabbatical from my corporate job when my husband was offered a 12-month work contract in Abu Dhabi. As fate would have it that’s morphed a bit and after 2 months in the UAE we’re now living in Bangkok for 3 months, due to head back to the Middle East at the end of September.

On top of being able to live in these new places, I’m incredibly blessed because I don’t need to work in a ‘traditional job’ whilst we’re away (in fact visa restrictions actually make it really tough to), and financially we can afford for me not to (it’s tight but doable). Even luckier, I have a hubby who is fully onboard with me wanting to ditch my corporate lifestyle in favour of running the show myself (via an online business that leaves lots of time for leisure). In fact, I think he feels like the PoW watching his buddy scale the prison fence and make the bid for freedom,  “if she manages to do this and get away, perhaps there’s hope for my escape. . . ”

Nirvana right? A whole year to work on getting the dream life so I don’t have to go back to the big company prison? Except here’s the rub, the bit I’m quite ashamed I’m actually going to say–

it’s a hell of a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.

There I said it.

The reality is that there’s something quite comforting in working for the corporate machine. The pressure is on them; they make the calls, set the direction of travel and schedule the work. There’s an enforced routine, human interaction every day and, if you’re lucky, feedback on how you’re doing. And after ten plus years I’ve learnt the rules and know what to do to survive. Now even if you hate your life in this machine (and trust me, I really really did), when it all gets stripped away suddenly you realize you’re standing on your own, metaphorically naked, and feeling more than a little bit vulnerable.

Now don’t get me wrong, during my first few weeks I loved it. I devoured my new leisure time. I read every book I’d been wanting to read for the last 3 years, I sat outside in the sunshine watching the world go by, I did my weekly shop in the middle of the working day when it took 30 minutes instead of the 90 minute weekend hell, I had time (and energy) to make food from scratch. I consumed blogs on travel imagining all the places I could now go to. I created my dream board, drew a ‘get a life’ tree (more on this in another blog), decided on my top 5 goals to make this my best year yet and did all that absolutely essential planning Catherine has been blogging about. It was really quite fabulous.

Except now I’m 100 or so days into this experience, and I notice my mood is starting to change, it’s getting tougher to make dreams a reality and I knew I was in trouble last night when I thought about my old corporate life and seriously considered going back. “It wasn’t that bad, it paid well, it was relatively secure’ all flashed across my mind. This of course is total BS – I would often start work at 4am and finish late into the evening; our honeymoon was the first time in 18 months hubby and I had spent longer than 7 consecutive days together (travelling for work having kept us apart previously). My old corporate life had more than a few serious flaws.

So where does that leave me? Well I have a vast array of great dreams, ideas, possibilities and opportunities – the world is my oyster. The problem is, that despite the dream board and goal planning, I don’t appear to have a terribly detailed map to navigate this new world. More problematic still, is the reason that map is missing, is because I haven’t drawn it yet.

It’s all on me now.

If I fail at making the most of this opportunity then it will be entirely my own fault.

I am the master of my own destiny and potentially my biggest saboteur.

And that quite frankly is, in equal parts, the most exciting and terrifying position I have ever been in. And what it’s taken me 100 days of dreaming, goal setting and prioritizing to realize is that creating my new life’s map, that will help me get to that awesome leisure filled life, is going to take a lot of hard work. In fact standing at the beginning of this journey, having already experienced some bad days, false starts and set backs; I’d say it would be a safe bet that this is going to be the hardest change I have ever had to make.

So following on from Catherine’s 30-day blog challenge, I’m going to take on a little challenge of my own.  I reckon building a new life is a bit like building a house, you’ve got to start by getting the foundations right. When you have that you know the base is solid and everything that gets added on top will hold fast.

When Catherine and I founded Leisure Guru we said we wanted to take the hard work out of leisure, and making the transition from dreaming to doing is hard. And let’s be real here, 99.9% of folks are not going to be able to take a sabbatical to help them become a life long leisureholic. So I’m going to try to do some of the legwork for you guys, I’m going to see what it takes to build those foundations. By the end of it I’m going to be honest, I won’t be able to draw your life map, only you can do that, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to pass you a template that you can adapt rather than a blank piece of paper.

So let’s see how we get on, someone pass me a spade so I can get cracking on these here foundations – no wait – too hard – anyone know where to hire a mini digger . . .

Written by Morag Young

Blueprint for Life

Over the course of the last 30 days or so during the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge a blueprint for my life has been evolving.  The challenge has been a great way to focus on the specifics of how I would like things to develop in the future, and to enable me to make small steps toward making that happen.

I decided to pull everything I have learnt or figured out together into a cloud diagram, which I thought I would share (please forgive the child-like appearance. Art and Design was never a strong point!).  There is much to do and I am looking forward to seeing how things evolve in the coming months.  It is just such fun exploring life and leisure.

life blueprint

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 29

A travel hacking success story – A 10-day Canadian Adventure with my Mum

A few years ago when I was living in the UK, I had accumulated enough BA miles for a free trip to Canada. Even better yet, through regular use of my BA American Express Card I was also able to take a companion, my Mum, along for free.  All we had to pay for were the taxes.  Two return flights to Montreal for under £375.  Can’t really do better than that, or can you?

flights for under £375 for 2 – London to Montreal return

Canadian Flag

Canadian Flag

With the flights taken care of we only had the accommodation, car hire and insurance to think about.  Travel Insurance for me is easy. During all my time in the UK, I used only one company, Insure and Go.  The test of an insurance company is not how cheap it is, but how they respond and recompense in the event of a claim.  Having had the misfortune to require their services twice in previous years and being suitably impressed with the customer service, support and no-hassle manner in which everything was dealt with, I had no hesitation in taking out another year long policy with them. Even better news, is actually they were quite reasonable with their premiums.

avoid the extortionate insurance offered by car hire firms

Well the car hire was with Hertz, but booked through Ebookers, who had a promotion on at the time and so we saved approximately 20% off the car hire charges.  By booking through Ebookers, it was possible to save (a lot) on the collision damage waiver and cancellation insurance, which the car hire firms love to charge at more than the daily rental for full coverage. (Although I had travel insurance, CDW is often not included.  And I won’t hire a car without this insurance, as I don’t want to be paying for a car I didn’t even own, if God forbid, there was an accident!). So even more money saved here!

internet deals for the accommodation

Accommodation was slightly more tricky as we had no set plan for our trip to Canada.  We knew that we wanted to spend some time in Montreal, visit Niagara Falls and the wine region and see Toronto in our 10 days. But how long we would spend in each location was totally free-flowing.  Before we arrived, I booked up our hotel in Montreal but that was as far as I got.  This was definitely an alien concept to my Mum, who I am sure would have preferred to know much further ahead of time where she would be staying.  The idea of booking things so last minute and online (without phoning ahead) took her right out of her comfort zone. But she trusted me that it would all work out and it did. In fact it was quite exciting sitting together at the internet corners in various hotels searching for the best deal for the coming night or two and making the decisions together on where to stay.

Catherine at Niagara Falls at Dusk

Catherine at Niagara Falls at Dusk

some positives and negatives to booking last minute

Booking hotels last minute can have its pluses and minuses – if the hotel is empty, you might be able to get a cheap deal, as often the hotelier would rather have some money for a room than none at all. But if you want to visit a popular area waiting to the last minute can mean that the only options left are really expensive or you have to stay a little further out. In our 10 days we experienced both ends of the scale.  To book the hotels, I used a mix of discount hotel websites but each time we tried to stay in the same “extended family” of hotels – the Comfort Inn chain of hotels. This enabled me to gather some more loyalty points, which I converted later back into airline miles, ready for another trip!

but the flexibility is amazing

My Mum and I had a super holiday and as we had not booked up all the hotels in advance this enabled us to even change our plans. For example when we drove into the picturesque town of Gananoque (right in the middle of the Thousand Islands area on the St. Lawrence River) we decided that 1 night was simply not going to be long enough and so immediately booked a second at check-in.

Town Green in Gananoque


Or when we found that after a couple of days we had seen all we wanted to in Toronto. So instead of staying longer we decided to leave and take a detour via Ottawa on our return journey to Montreal. I just loved this flexibility.

Toronto CityScape

Toronto CityScape

It was a fab holiday and I have no idea exactly how much I managed to save on the overall cost, but I do know that what I did spend was well worth it.   I had such a great time with my Mum, just exploring and following where our curiosity led us.  Highly recommended.

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 27 and 28.