Hello world!

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Hi everyone.  Not long to go now before we set off on our European and perhaps world adventure!

Our new home for the next nine months

The front cover of my first children's book .

The front cover of my first children’s book .

Day 2/294: Dundee

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We’re home! We got back yesterday evening, two days later than we had planned, but I’ll tell you about that later. The main thing is that the fates have kept us safe and well despite a two-and-a-half thousand mile trek from Vilanova I la Geltru in Catalonia to Dundee in north-east Scotland. It feels good but it feels very, very different from our other life in Spain although we’ve already spent a short time with Mary’s mum, uncle Gerard, Scott, Gavin, Eve and the truly gorgeous Artemis our granddaughter, and that has helped us settle. We’ll be seeing George, Fiona, Daniel and grandson Ben tomorrow. You don’t always realize how much you miss your family, do you? Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.

When I last posted 6 days ago, we were still on the ferry. That crossing proved a very relaxing period and set us up for our drive to Bath where we stayed the night with Kate and Dave, the couple from whom we bought the new caravan. Our hosts were brilliant to us, feeding us tons of barbecued food in the company of their daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren before walking us around their home town and sharing a pint with us in the town centre. Listen folks, if you ever get the opportunity, then head for Bath where you will marvel at the impressive architecture and beauty of this west country town. It is absolutely gorgeous and we enjoyed it under a blue sky and midsummer sun which battled not to go to bed until we’d seen all we wanted.

Royal Crescent, Bath

Royal Crescent, Bath

Mary, Dave and Kate

Mary, Dave and Kate

After a good night’s sleep and a cracking breakfast on Monday morning, we bid farewell to the Bunclark family, climbed out of the bowl which holds Bath at its bottom and headed for the Midlands. Predictions of horrendous traffic and hour after hour of sitting in the car park that the M6 can sometimes become proved wildly exaggerated and other than a slow 10 miles due to a minor accident on the inside lane we made steady progress up through Birmingham and Manchester before swinging off to the East just short of Wigan and arriving at our next stop in Leigh at about two o’clock.

We had been invited for a late lunch by a couple we had met at the campsite late last year. Terry and Elsie dished up a fantastic homemade lunch for us and we spent a lovely couple of hours catching up on what they’d been up to since they left Vilanova. When we went to leave, we discovered a slightly worrying clunking sound I had been aware of over the previous couple of hundred miles had definitely increased in volume and frequency, but as the car was running perfectly well and there were no warning lights on the dashboard I decided to carry on up the M6 to Mike and Het’s in Kendal.

The Audi saw us all the way there, although I was aware that every time I decelerated, the clunk came back with a vengeance. Nonetheless we got there, to our friends’ house just outside Kendal. Not that we could thank Victoria for any help in the matter! Our previously wonderful Satnav girl decided the journey had been all too easy so, five miles from our destination, she sent us up a country lane towards the village of Sedgwick. Oh, it led to the house ok, yes, spot on. It was the six-foot wide lane with ten foot hedgerows either side and the two bridges we had to drive under hoping the Magic Caravan would fit through that made this section of the trip “interesting”! When we arrived and told our hosts how we had come there, they refused to believe us.

My friend Mike found the clunk coming from the Audi quite alarming as I manoeuvred the caravan onto his sloping drive and we resolved to take it to the nearest Audi dealer the next day. Fortunately we have a healthy attitude to adversity these days, so we decide not to get stressed by our problem but settle down and enjoy being with our friends. As the weather continued to be quite splendid, that evening was spent outside on the patio at the back: good food, good drink, great company!

Typically, Mike and Het had planned to show us parts of the Lake District during our 2-night stay with them so we followed the plans but only after we visited the Audi dealer at Grange-on-the-Sands at the northern tip of Morecombe bay. As we arrived, a dark cloud momentarily blotted out the sun. When we went in the blackness overwhelmed me. A quick examination under the bonnet and a close listen to the clunk led to a provisional but spookily accurate diagnosis of a failed clutch flywheel and a warning not to drive the Audi any further. Then came that awful moment those who have had a car inspected will recognize perfectly. the guy comes over, way too cheery with a look of abject pity on his face, and delivers the bad news as gently as he can. The bill would be into 4 (four) figures. Ouch!

All things considered, there was absolutely nothing that can be done. So we left the Audi with them, knowing they couldn’t repair it until at least Thursday but consoled that our friends immediately offered to let us stay with them for as long as it would take. Thank you so much, Het and Mike! The four of us then took a corporate decision to forget about our car and just have a great time over the following 3 days. And boy, did we?!

Mary with our hosts, Mike and Heather

Mary with our hosts, Mike and Heather

Mike drove us straight up to the copper mines next to which was his family’s mountain refuge when he was young. To get there he had to engage off-road 4-wheel drive and bump us up a potted track with holes and rocks aplenty. It was our kind of country and we loved it, as we did when we went back to the village where we had had an excellent lunch in the Black Bull Inn (I think!) Back at their house it was a few drinks, plates of ham sandwiches and a further catch-up, although Het gave in to my petted lip and let me watch some footie. Wednesday was even better, with a drive down to Morecombe, up to Hawkshead and even a short crossing of the lake on the Windermere ferry. On the way home, we chanced on Carnworth station which I begged to visit when Het pointed out that the excellent film “Brief Encounter” had been shot there. Terribly, terribly nice!

When the train arrives, will she get on?

When the train arrives, will she get on?

A hole in the ground

A hole in the ground. Spot Me and Mike.

Looking at things positively, we were with very good friends, a roof over our heads, food and drink on tap, Mike acting as a full-time chauffeur and in the heart of some of the best scenery in England. Not so bad, eh? I believe we actually forgot about the mechanical misfortune!

I'm the King of the Swingers...

I’m the King of the Swingers…

Thursday was just as good with visits to Sunderland Point and Heysham village; panoramas, estuaries, graves, churches, pubs, gardens, woods and even a rope swing! We had the lot! It was a source of great delight that Mike and Het appeared to be having just about as much fun as Mary and I were, despite them living in that area. Or if you weren’t, thanks for pretending you were, you guys! One thing about all of this visiting places seemed to be that all four of us were sleeping like logs at night and even Mary was having to give up and put her Kindle down after just a couple of hundred pages!

How true!

How true!

On Friday we were treated to a full English breakfast before Mike drove me back to Grange to pick up the car. I tried to pay the bill with twenty-pound note serviettes but they were having none of it and the debit card was duly bled dry. After stopping to fill up with diesel, I drove back to our hosts’ house where we hitched up the Magic Caravan and waved goodbye to our guardian angels, Mike and Het. We genuinely cannot thank you enough for your warm hospitality and we sincerely hope to be able to return the gesture in the near future.

Our journey back up to Dundee was pleasant and totally uneventful. We completed the trip from Vilanova to Dundee at 6 p.m. on Friday without a single drop of rain having fallen on the windshield of the Audi anywhere en route. No wonder my humour is dry! The sun shone on us from start to finish and the car never chugged once. Don’t forget it never actually broke down: I only took it to the garage as a precautionary measure.

So here we are, back home with Scott for the next three and a half months. Summer will be interesting, not least because it will finish with a vote for or against independence for Scotland on the historic 18 September. Guillem, his cousin and his grandparents are coming to stay a fortnight with us very soon, we hope to get to Tom and Margaret’s in Holland later on, I’m walking up Ben Nevis with the boys on the first of August and I might even have a week’s guiding work up the hills, having already turned down an offer to start this very day!

Adventure 2 is over, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed it!

Barcelona and us

Barcelona and us

 

 

Day 2/288: Channel

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I am writing this on the 8.30 ferry out of Caen heading for Portsmouth. We booked a cabin for the crossing and that’s where Lady Burton is just now, in the shower and probably doing girly stuff. I’m on deck 8, at a table having polished off a full English half an hour ago. The sun is pouring through the large windows, warming my skin and just making me feel good after a 6 a.m. start from our campsite in Saint Aubin sur Mer where we stayed last night.

OK, we admit it. We’ve broken the bed in the Magic Caravan! Unfortunately, the reason for its collapse is entirely due to the pull-out slats having broken free from their fabric links allowing them to move so that they fall off the supports either side. Boring, isn’t it? I’d love to tell you different but there you have it.

On Wednesday we left Pamplona and drove north to the corner, squeezed past the Pyrenees and entered France. A long boring drive across Les Landes took us past Bordeaux and then up the Gironde estuary to Saint Palais sur Mer, a place we’d been to twice before. On Thursday we visited the town, looking in on Erwan Ansquer’s family restaurant and giving in to a dip in the sea at 6 in the evening. It was certainly colder than the Med but we managed a 10 minute splash around before returning in time to watch the demise of England in the World Cup.

Tired out with the driving, we changed plans and drove only as far as Angers on Friday for a simple overnight stay. I did however remember to take a photo of the cheeky wee salad we had for tea.

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The final drive through Northern France and right up to the English Channel was done yesterday. Our campsite was a huge Yelloh Village site with all mod cons but we left it behind in the early evening and headed for the beach front to have a look at one of the places the allies (mainly Canadians) crossed to on 6 June 1944. This walk proved really interesting but in addition we saw 2 separate concerts as it was the Longest Day and therefore La Fete de la Musique in France.

Back at the Magic Caravan, Mary busied herself while I watched Germany take on Ghana, a cracking good match by the way. And that was it. Early to bed by our standards, a fitful sleep and an early rise.

We are now approaching the Isle of Wight: it’s got white cliffs too. Next blog will be from Dundee …………… Maybe!

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Day 2/284: Bye, Bye! Spain

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And then it was time to pack up and leave, only this time we had to undo the new caravan, load it up for storage, book and pay for it to be towed away, replace it with the Magic Caravan, live in it again for a couple of nights then tow it back to Scotland. Simple really! Just as we set to work on our tasks, God decreed that summer should arrive in Catalonia, meaning temperatures climbed steadily up beyond 30 Celsius, stayed above 20 all night long and chased us all into the shade for the greater part of the afternoon. We began to understand the concept of siesta.

To make things even more interesting, the mosquitos came back from their holidays and they were joined by a variety of crawling, flying, buzzing friends. One in particular interrupted me while I was typing the last blog post under the awning at about 8 one evening. I kept hearing little clicks like things were being moved and started to suspect a cheeky wee mouse might have checked in. But, turning towards the caravan door to alert Lady Burton as to my progress with the blog, there on the blue carpet was an unexpected visitor, one I had not seen before and one whose presence alarmed me somewhat.

It was like that evening in Waterside, our old house in Monifieth, about 5 years ago, when I went out to get something from the boot of the car parked in the drive and there, 2 metres from the rear end of our Corsa, stood an adult fox. Staring at me! My brain immediately posed the question: is it scared of me or am I supposed to be scared of it? I didn’t know the answer at the time so walked slowly backwards into the porch of the house, called Mary and Scott to come see and watched the beast jog casually round our cul-de-sac before heading back past the house and down into the 7 arches area of the Dighty burn.

So, I bent to observe this new “visitor” at closer quarters and saw that it was a huge beetle about 3 centimetres long, blackish-brown with a set of tusks/antlers/bazookas on its head. Mary fetched the iPad, we captured it for posterity and then it crawled below the chest of drawers and we went back to reading (Mary) and writing (George). A paragraph or so later, there it was again right in the middle of the blue carpet so I bent down to have a second look. That’s when it let me know it could fly! Vertical take-off, armour-covered wings, loud buzz, the works! I could fly too……. and did, up the step and into the caravan, knocking Mary out of the way and closing the door behind me rather niftily.

Would you pick it up?

Would you pick it up?

Are you with us here? Prisoners in our own caravan for the first time since 2 nasty geese sent us scurrying for cover in Neckargemund (see “Goose on the Loose!” Day 48 of the adventure). Eventually of course I had to go back out, use the upside down container with something slid underneath method and release our “friend” to the wide-open expanses of Vilanova Park. Mary was quick to consult Mr. Google who suggested our visitor had been a rhinoceros beetle whose appearance is quite alarming but whose demeanour is fairly innocent and highly unlikely to pose any form of threat to us. Well, how were we to know?

It just so happened that one of our favourite places, La Cantera (the Biker Bar), decided to celebrate being open for 15 years and we went up to see what was happening last Sunday. We’re glad we did because not only were the bikers out in force with all their wonderful machines, but there was live music and dancers recreating 50s USA. We sat with two friends from the campsite, Chris and Lise, and were well entertained for an hour or so, even joining in at the end. Typical!

Which dream was it?

Which dream was it?

Now calm down, girls!

Now calm down, girls!

So, on we went with the packing. The awning on the Bailey was taken down, washed and folded away over 2 very warm days, the carpets and groundsheets were taken up and gradually all the trappings of our exterior life outside and under the awning were carefully fitted into the big caravan. Our possessions were divided between the 2 caravans according to our needs, I went up and paid for the storage and signed a contract with the owner of the farm and I arranged for the Vilanova Park guys to come on Friday 13 to tow it up the road. After a Spanish blip or two (“Manana” “Did we agree Friday?” “Sometime this day…. I think”) the new caravan was towed away after I had positioned it perfectly for pick up, using the astonishingly brilliant motor-mover which allows you to move a ton and a bit of caravan to the precise inch with a remote control! Personally I think it’s a form of witchcraft!

Looks big once the awning's gone

Looks big once the awning’s gone

We then manhandled the Magic Caravan back onto the pitch where we set it up again just like the pre-Easter days, except no awning as we were to be leaving in 3 days. Although things were tight inside and we had a short issue regarding bumping into each other a lot (I think Mary was doing it deliberately), we soon reverted to our previous existence and there was no harm done at all. By now we had both finished our employment and were free to enjoy the last few days in Vilanova. Swimming became a daily treat – or maybe it could have been a necessity  – as the temperatures continued unrelentingly, chasing us down to the beach or into the upstairs pool on the campsite. You could now walk almost straight into the Med with hardly an Oh! moment and you were dry 5 minutes after coming out.

Fancy one of these?

Fancy one of these?

On Friday we celebrated with 6 other Dutch football fans as the “Oranje” stuck 5 past the bewildered world champions. And didn’t Spain go quiet the following day! All of a sudden the people we know who live here became Catalans again and not Spanish! Strangely enough we got to know quite a few new folk during the last 2 weeks as the Irish came to town, bringing with them their own inimitable brand of opinion and humour. Sure it’s a lovely place, the Spain!

Saturday saw us take the Scousers, Rob and Carol, to the airport for their flight back to Liverpool for the summer, and then we spent a couple of hours in town buying souvenirs and things for the grandchildren before I insisted we go home to check everything was in working order for watching the England-Italy match at midnight that night.

Two exotic birds

Two exotic birds

We decided to go out with a bang so spent the afternoon and early evening of Sunday, our final day, with another Dutch couple, Rob and Vera, at the Gay Pride parade in Sitges. Now let me tell you, this is something different! It was eye-popping to see so many gay people openly parading up and down the promenade, quite obviously proud to be what they are. It was brilliant and a great advert for “live and let live” philosophy. We four of course ended up having our photos taken with some of the more “interesting” people on show but in many cases we were not quite sure if we were embracing a man or a woman! We went into the bar on the way back to the caravan to say cheerio to the members of staff we have gotten to know so well while we’ve been here, Pili, Naty, Nelly and Joel.

Take your pick1

Take your pick!

My new best mate1

My new best mate

And on Monday we hitched up and left after saying goodbye to a veritable throng of well-wishers mainly Dutch. Walter came round to check I was doing everything correctly and give me some last minute advice like the old sage he thinks he is. He ended up insisting I detach the battery on the new caravan before they towed it away. I must admit he’s a bit of a father figure for me out here and I know if I need to learn how to do something then it’s Walter I will consult. Joke his wife had promised me a game of golf before I left but unfortunately I was so busy that we simply couldn’t fit it in. We’ll try again in the autumn.

Look what we crossed

Look what we crossed

Just before ten o’clock we hugged, kissed, waved and drove away leaving them to enjoy the sunshine in peace. Our journey north through Catalonia and Aragon was excellent, we entered Navarre around four o’clock and we were parked up on the campsite in Pamplona by five. Food then football then a glass of wine then 9 hours in the land of Nod. We were both on great form this morning and decided to drive into town to see the place made famous throughout the world by its amazingly brave or reckless bull-runners. As is often the case, we expected little and got a lot! Pamplona is pretty, spacious, well laid out, friendly and welcoming and has in its cathedral as good an exhibition on the development of Western thinking as you will find anywhere.

Mary and the bulls

Mary and the bulls

And Mary at Pamplona bullring

And Mary at Pamplona bullring

Unfortunately it’s past my bedtime so I’ll finish this post………. in a totally different country! Yes, we leave for St. Palais-sur-mer tomorrow morning, a 250 mile journey from Pamplona up to the top right-hand corner of Spain, sneaking into France, up to, around and beyond Bordeaux then a left back towards the Atlantic coast, Royan and finally our destination.

Nope! I woke up at 6.30, couldn’t get back to sleep (it was too sunny!) so decided to insert the photos now and post this just before we leave for France. I leave you with 2 snaps from yesterday.

Pamplona Town Hall

Pamplona Town Hall

Mary, as she sees herself most days!

Mary, as she sees herself most days!

 

Day 2/269: Winding down

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As the end of May approached, it became noticeably warmer once the sun was up with the temperature climbing quickly into the twenties and staying there until sunset. However, even then, we could feel that it wasn’t cooling down very much after dark and a check of the forecasts showed that the average overnight temperature was now between fifteen and a roasting, stop you from sleeping seventeen. As always in warmer climates, the days have become punctuated with the sudden arrival of banks of unfriendly-looking clouds and the low growl of thunder in the distance. We have experienced one or two heavy downpours recently but still no real need to look out a raincoat and wellington boots!

Mary to her credit has religiously attended school Monday to Thursday, bringing in some spending money to keep the wolf away from the caravan door. It’s reached that time of the year when the work is more or less finished and assessments are the business of most days and even I have put young Guillem through his paces with a 35 question oral test which thankfully he managed to pass despite the odd blip. His progress has been hampered by the fact that he only sees me once a week for a couple of hours of English at a time but he’s come on over the past 6 months and I’m confident his 2-week stay with us in July will give him a boost in his language.

On that subject, Ramon decided it would be appropriate for us to meet up with the rest of his family and get to know each other so we were duly invited for lunch one Sunday down at their flat in town. Now Sunday lunch in Spain is quite different from the old traditional English version! We were picked up at twelve and driven to their house where we spent a couple of hours chatting over a large selection of nibbles including homemade tortilla and some very delicious black pudding. Then the other guests arrived: Ramon’s Mum and Dad from north of Barcelona and his sister with her husband and their adopted Chinese daughter Gao. They’re the ones who own the restaurant in the Gotica district.

The 3 Gs

The 3 Gs

With the arrival of Guillem’s grandmother, everyone else was thrown out of the kitchen and she set to doing what we were told she did best – cook! And boy was she good at it! Prawns in garlic followed by some of the tenderest beef we had ever tasted backed up the earlier starters and by the time pudding came round I think we were all struggling a wee bit. Guillem got a belated Easter cake plus some other chocolate delights as well and we helped them work on this treat while getting to know a little bit about Gao who is 10 years old and will be coming to Dundee along with Guillem and the grandparents. Throughout the afternoon and early evening we blethered away in a variety of 4 languages, mainly French and English but a fair amount of Castilian Spanish and a whole load of Catalan predominantly from the older couple.

Just in case you think that all we do is eat and drink, I can assure you all that that is definitely not what it’s like over here: it’s just that these occasions are interesting enough to put on the blog so you get an impression of what happens to us. Most of our days are fairly standard with housework and shopping and such like taking up some of our time but you know what we’re like. We try to keep chores as brief as possible so that they do not become the main activity in our lives, leaving us free to experience new things, learn lots, make new friends and of course enjoy our adventure.

Mary still has classes to prepare for most of the week while I am kept really busy working on my writing and planning ahead for the future. We now have our return journey sorted, the ferry is booked, the campsites in Pamplona, St. Palais and Caen reserved and we have also arranged three nights with friends as we make our way through England back to Dundee. We’ll be staying one night with Terry and Elsie from Leigh near Wigan. They were with us on that classic night last Hallowe’en when we had a party and I surprised the life out of Mary by producing Scott from behind a mask! We’ll also be having two nights with our close friends Mike and Het up in the Lake District. We were actually to be going to the Dent Beer Festival with them the last few days in June, but Scott’s leaving date for his European adventure means we wanted to get back and share some time with him before he catches his flight to Amsterdam.

Speaking of which, we’re going to be flying to Amsterdam ourselves in mid-August to spend a week in Holland at the invitation of our friends Tom and Margaret Bakker who live in the North. We are really looking forward to this visit as we have become quite close to this couple despite the age difference and we have spent many, many happy hours in their company. It will also be only our second time over there after we started our big adventure in August 2012 with a week in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Etten-Leur. If you don’t remember, just check out the early days of the Blog at:

www.georgeandmaryadventure.wordpress.com

Tom and Margaret have only just left for home a couple of days ago and we had them round for dinner the evening before. They’ve just texted to say they’ve reached home safely so that’s good news. After all, driving home isn’t quite nipping down the carriageway from Perth these days and it’s a long haul up through France and England after we’ll have driven 300 miles north to the Spain-France border at St. Jean-de-Luz. Even although that Dutch couple have gone, we’re still assured an invite to the famous “Happy Hour” thanks to another Dutch partnership, Walter and Joanna (Joke for short) who live on the end of the row behind us. These two speak brilliant English (as do Tom and Margaret) and Walter’s dry humour is indeed something to savour. He reduces me to tears of laughter almost every time I’m in his company.

On Friday past we spent the day inland in the town of Vilafranca les Penedes, famous as the centre of the internationally-renowned wine growing region of that name. The weather was excellent, I had a brilliant “menu del dia” in a restaurant on their Rambla and we passed the afternoon (Mary doesn’t work Fridays) strolling around their quaint old town streets admiring the modernist architecture of the buildings. We also found a statue dedicated to the “Castellers”, the townsfolk who practise the Catalan sport of human tower building. Check out this link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castellers_de_Vilafranca

He ain't heavy....

He ain’t heavy….

Then, out of the blue, we received an invitation from Beti and Ramon to attend the Vilanova Wine Festival with them on Sunday, so we took the bus into town and met them on the Rambla where we spent a couple of hours finding out how things work at a wine festival. There was lots to see and do and Ramon helped me buy my own glass in a cradle worn round my neck and suggested the best wines to try. Mary and Beti weren’t drinking so they played with Guillem or sat down for a coffee at one of the series of cafés along the traffic-free avenue. At one point we wandered into the Placa de la Vila and stumbled across some tightrope walkers showing off their skills and giving the children lessons. Guillem joined in enthusiastically and quickly went from full body support to just one hand. Impressive!

You boy, come down from there at once!

You boy, come down from there at once!

Sorry, couldn't resist!

Sorry, couldn’t resist!

To round off a great day, Ramon treated us to a meal at a posh restaurant right down at the beach. The food was exquisite, but listen, the view was absolutely to-die-for and luckily Mary had the presence of mind to take a photo. Enjoy!

The view from our table

The view from our table

Right, that’s us up-to-date. The next two weeks will be all about preparing to come home for the summer so we’ll be busy with the 2 caravans most days although I want to get “Wee Georgie” off to the printers’ before we leave. Oh yes, and of course there’s the little matter of the World Cup in Brazil!! This time round I feel obliged to support Spain, not because they’re the holders but because we’ve spent most of the last 16 months living here. At least that’s my excuse! Who will you be supporting? Let us know. Bye!

Wine to go. Class!

Wine to go. Class!

 

Day 2/268: End of Season

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Slowly but surely we have been getting to know the ins and outs of our new caravan, appreciating to the max the wonderful extra living space that we now have. I doubt if I’ve ever heard Mary so enthusiastic about anything we’ve ever bought before, with perhaps the exception of that set of tea towels I bought her for her birthday a couple of years ago! Now we can sit (or lie!) in separate rooms, we can be in the caravan at the same time without seeing each other or asking the other to move to let me past, we can use the loo in comfort and we can even have a shower without going to the toilet block.

It’s strange but we’d never really missed these basic comforts when we lived in the Magic Caravan. Somehow or other we must have simply adapted to the constraints of our situation, just like we adapted to having a hugely reduced income when we started the adventure. It certainly shows you how flexible we can all be if we decide to alter our lifestyles and do something more fulfilling. In truth, modern caravanning is nothing like it was way back in the 50s and 60s when gas mantles provided naked flame light in the rooms and middle-of-the-night sprints to an unlit and unheated toilet block were standard. No, no, Mary describes our new dwelling as like living in a hotel, so plush and well-appointed are the trappings of the Bailey Pageant Burgundy Series 7!

I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed though. It’s still like being in a war zone when it rains! Not that it rains very often over here, but when it does, as I’ve told you before, it briefly tries to make up for all those dry days at a stroke. It starts with a mild plink-plonk above your head, picks up tempo to a rather interesting light drumming, takes it up a couple of notches to a “that sounds heavy” level then lets you have both barrels like the last line of a Green Day chorus until you can’t hear yourself think! The noise is quite surprising, a bit like if you’ve ever sheltered beneath a corrugated iron roof to escape getting a soaking. I did that last summer up in the mountains around Glencoe with my group of Germans when I was working for Rob Roy Tours. Not that we could escape getting drenched up in those parts. It wasn’t so much a hike that day as a paddle! Scotland at the height of summer, eh?

So, back to May in Vilanova. Our Dutch friends, Tom and Margaret, decided to throw an afternoon get-together to say farewell to all their friends on Sunday 18. This coincided with Scott’s arrival later that evening at El Prat airport, Barcelona, which meant that, while the assembled company got stuck in to drinks and snacks and quietly got merry, Georgie boy sunk a whole deck of Fanta Limon Zero as he doesn’t drink and drive, unlike some out here. I wasn’t feeling at my brightest that day, having slightly overindulged the previous day while watching a feast of exciting football from around Europe.

The boys on their way to the Final

The boys on their way to the Final

Although both the Scottish and English Cup Finals were up for grabs (well bottled Dundee United!) and three of our tangerine-bedecked lads, Gavin, Greg and Scott were at the final in Glasgow, all eyes and ears over here were firmly fixed on the winner-takes-all clash at the Camp Nou where Barça needed to beat the visitors Atletico Madrid to steal La Liga from them on the last day. Despite going a goal up, the Catalans could not however thwart the wonderful exuberance of Simeone’s cracking good team and an equaliser was enough to hand a well-deserved  title to the Madrileños! The locals were gutted of course but there was a surprisingly large contingent of Atletico supporters in the bar and they celebrated in style while the beaten men cursed and dragged themselves back to their homes for a cosy evening of spite and bile!

I must correct a terrible oversight from earlier in the month when I failed to mention how delighted I was that my old favourites, Dundee F.C., won the Championship title on a day of ridiculous tension and more than a tincture of controversy. While Dundee were holding on to a 2-1 lead over Dumbarton at Dens Park and thereby securing the title, their challengers Hamilton Academicals kept their hopes alive by hammering 10 (yes, ten!) past a beguiled Morton who had defied all the odds by defeating Dundee two weeks earlier. As I listened to the goals raining in at Greenock, I knew, as did everyone in Dundee and beyond, that an equaliser from Dumbarton would send Hamilton into the Premier League and force Dundee to try for promotion via the play-offs.

Thankfully, Dundee held on and the celebrations on the pitch were unrestrained and so well-merited. It was brilliant that my eldest, George, got to see the second half live and even better that my grandson Ben was with him at his first ever football match. And to make sure the day was almost perfect, George ensured that the wee man joined the pitch invasion at the end and gave us this classic photo!

Dundee's next keeper?

Dundee’s next keeper?

So, there we were, sober as judges at Tom and Margaret’s farewell “do”. On two occasions our hostess had come over and whispered in my ear, asking me to go and get my guitar and give the assembled guests a tune and on both occasions I had responded in the negative. But when she asked for a third time, well, God bless her, I crumbled and fetched the said instrument of torture. In fact it was a really good move because, as sometimes happens when I play for a group of guests, I chose the songs they wanted to hear luckily and the whole party quickly warmed up and moved to a new level. By the time we were roaring out the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”, the pitch was jumping and we almost took ourselves over the edge with a second rendering of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by your Man!” Just wonderful, so it was!

 

Old rockers!

Old rockers!

At eight o’clock we zoomed off to the airport where we picked up a smiling, happy Scott before driving back to Vilanova Park where we caught up on what’s been happening in his life over a chicken-and-chips takeaway. Delicious! Scott was very impressed with the new caravan and elected to sleep on the bench bed rather than slink next door and spend the night alone in the Magic Caravan. This proved very helpful to us as he was able to report on how comfortable the make-up bed was at the end of his stay.

Downtime for Scott

Downtime for Scott

We quickly resolved to spend the next 2 days locally and enjoy the good weather, given that the forecast was not the best. The first day, after we had deposited Mary at her work in town, we came back to the campsite and had a “no holds barred” tennis challenge. Scott raced to 4-0 in the first before the old man took control and ran out victor by 7 games to 5. Set 2 was a more straightforward stroll in the sunshine for yours truly and it was just a pity that the 6-3 win was not celebrated by the traditional leap over the net. Not nowadays dear readers! Still, I think the wee man was quite impressed that I can still move (a little!) around the court and he admitted he had not expected me to return some of his shots which he thought would be winners. It’s nice to know I’m still alive!

On the Tuesday, Scott came with me to pick up Guillem and then wandered around the Rambla by himself until Mary finished work. They then spent a couple of hours in town before I picked them up in the Audi after I’d finished at Guillem’s. That evening, we decided to hit Barcelona reasonably early next morning but for a change I said I would drive into the city to save us time with it being Scott’s last full day for this visit. And that’s what we did on the Wednesday, me driving us into Barcelona and straight up the Tibidabo hill for a reportedly splendid view of the city from above. That is, assuming that there isn’t a thick fog! By the time we were at the top of the hill I could just about make out the side of the road! There was unfortunately no alternative but to turn and drop back down below the cloud by which time the view was more at block of flats height and the vista was gone. Mary and I will no doubt get to admire the panorama on a future visit but for the moment, sorry Scott, maybe next time.

Scott plus famous Gaudi lizard

Scott plus famous Gaudi lizard

All was of course not entirely lost. We called upon the assistance of the lovely Victoria, roused her from a winter slumber, gave her a few moments to literally recharge her batteries and then asked her to take us as near to Park Guell as she could. She obeyed like the good girl she is (are you listening, Mary?) and soon we were in an underground car park at the bottom of the hill. From there it was onto the outside escalators and back up the hill without a car to worry about. With the weather holding we had a very enjoyable couple of hours in Gaudi’s famous park but left in plenty time to get back to Vilanova in time for Mary’s class. After work she joined us at the bar and we had a good, family chat outside on the terrace until near bedtime.

Serious father and son shot. Gorgeous, and Scott's not bad either!

Serious father and son shot. Gorgeous, and Scott’s not bad either!

Son and Mum. Sweet!

Son and Mum. Sweet!

In the blink of an eye, we were waving farewell to our youngest at the airport (again!). We think Scott enjoyed his second visit to Vilanova Park and his gypsy Mum and Dad and he has absolutely promised us that it will not be his last either! We love you being here with us, Scott, and we sincerely hope it won’t be too long until you come back – mainly so I can whip you at tennis again! As we drove back on the C31 to Vilanova the sun came out again and stayed out (except at night times) for the following week, just to remind us of one of the reasons why we’re here.

Met this guy in Park Guell

Met this guy in Park Guell

The following day was a duvet day for both of us but I soon got into the zone and back to work on finding and inserting old photos of Dundee into my memoir “Wee Georgie”. This part of the final preparations for publication has been much more difficult than I could have ever imagined as I have to ask permission for use to the owners of every photo I want to have in the book, except for family photos of course. So far the search has been successful with D C Thomson’s, Retro Dundee, Dundee City Archives and a private collection by Norman Moore all giving me access to their wonderful photos of Dundee in the late 50s and early 60s. Here’s a sample.

Lochee West Station

Lochee West Station

I hope to finalise the permissions in the next few days and then I’ll send the text file and photograph files off to Great Yarmouth Printing Services who did “Socrates the sprinting snail of Sorrento” for me in December. I have been in contact with the head printer there and we’re closing in on a definitive version and format for publication. It’s getting quite exciting, I must admit!

Well, that’s Scott’s visit documented so I’ll stop there and send you a report on the rest of May tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed today’s contribution. Stay happy and try to find time to enjoy yourselves. We certainly do!

This woke us up one morning!

This woke us up one morning!

Day 2/246: Samaritans

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After those 2 anniversary days in Montblanc and Barcelona, we badly needed a quiet day to recharge our batteries so Saturday was very slow. We got up late, ate late, lazed around and did as little as possible, although I had to nip down to Simply for a few groceries in the afternoon. While I was there, I got some diesel and also jet-washed the Audi to thank it for performing so well on Thursday. I took in a couple of Premiership games on the telly after tea then Mary and I watched another chapter of the first series of “The Bridge” on DVD which she gave me as a present at Easter. By the way, our Danish isn’t half improving and we can say “yes” (ock) and “fine” (braw!).

At lunchtime on Sunday, we met up with Andrew, my friend and fellow footie fan from Derby, and his wife Janet. Andrew drove us up into the hills to a favourite eating spot of his, Juanita’s, a wee Catalan restaurant quaintly situated behind the cement factory! Honest! Our lunch was very different from any we had had before as there was no menu at all and they just brought you bowls and trays of tapas with beer and wine to accompany them.

The food just kept on coming for the next 2-3 hours, olives and crisps followed by anchovies, salted baby eels, ham croquettes, pork scratching, bread with cheese and Serrano ham, gambas done in garlic or just cooked plain and stuff we barely recognized. When we’d finished eating, the waiter put 3 bottles on the table (Peach Schnapps, Whisky and Bailey’s) and walked away, expecting us to help ourselves to as much as we wanted. Quite amazing, especially as we were charged 13 Euros a head at the end! Outside as we left there was a huge, long table filled with about 20 hairy bikers all tucking into the fare on offer.

Back at the campsite we bid farewell and thank you to Andrew and Janet then returned to the caravan for a siesta to make sure we would be wide awake for our guests, Tom and Margaret, for a tea of haggis, tatties and butternut squash. This time the unusual turnip substitute did not require a hammer-drill and hacksaw to prepare, leaving me with plenty time to get things sorted before our guests arrived just before eight. It was still quite warm enough to eat happily in the awning and we had a lovely meal. Haggis was a first for our dear Dutch friends but they cleaned their plates with great enthusiasm, even leaving room for our fresh fruit flan (heart-shaped as it was the Spanish Mothers’ Day, el dia de las Madres.)

Haggis - the rich man's Edam!

Haggis – the rich man’s Edam!

Monday was relatively quiet although very, very warm and we spent almost the entire day outdoors but under the shade of the tree. Factor 30 or above has now become a “must” to protect our skin from the raging sun and I have to wear a hat constantly when outdoors. In the evening I watched Liverpool throw away their chance of winning the Premiership title, conceding 3 late goals to end up dropping 2 vital points to Crystal Palace. I felt sorry for Steven Gerrard but that was all.

The following day we spent some time in town at various shops then came home and prepared for work. Unusually, I would have to take Guillem to the eye clinic where he had an appointment to investigate a case of “red eye”. That went fine, we did our lessons and had tea together when his dad came in. Both Mary and I emerged from our respective tasks unscathed but that’s when it all got a little crazy.

At around 9.30 we drove back into the campsite and proceeded down the main road in the direction of our caravan. Just at the point where there is a crossing leading to the bar and restaurant, I caught sight of a woman sitting on the tiled ground at the top of a flight of stairs. A second closer look confirmed that her face was covered in blood and she appeared to have a serious eye injury. Did I drive on? Of course not! These Good Samaritans parked up and went to her aid. By now she was back on her feet, dazed and confused, but it was also obvious that she was blind drunk. After a bit of a struggle I found out her husband’s name and ran to the bar to fetch him. Only then did I realize the woman was our Danish neighbour from next door before we moved. Typically, her husband was pretty inebriated as well, leading to a bit of a pantomime before we got them both in the Audi and off to St. Anthony Abat Hospital.

All the way into town, Kirsten (the injured lady) kept going on about how she hated her husband and no longer had time for him after 40 years of marriage. This was in broken English with Danish thrown in but we certainly got the gist of what her loosened tongue was telling us. Once at the casualty department. I explained the situation to the receptionist as the Danish couple spoke good English but no Spanish. The next thing I know I am in the treatment room holding Kirsten’s hand while she shouts about her failing marriage and the nurse sews 3 big black stitches into her eyebrow with no anaesthetic as far as I could see, unless you count the 3 litres of white wine she had drunk (Kirsten I mean, not the nurse!). At one point the injured Dane claimed me as her new husband!

Back out in the waiting room, she started to slap away Mary’s comforting hands and try to kick her completely perplexed husband whom I was really beginning to feel sorry for. We eventually got her back into the Audi with Mary for company (poor soul, Mary that is!) while Leif and I filled in the paperwork and he paid up with his credit card – 120 Euros by the way. I said I would bring him back the next morning with his wife’s E111 to get his money back. That’s what I did, dropping him at the Ford garage to pick up his own car which had been in for a service.

On Wednesday afternoon, they came down to say “Thank you” with a bottle of wine for Mary and a bottle of real Scotch Whisky for me. I felt a slight irony there! Kirsten’s face was a terrible mess with her eyebrow hugely swollen and touching the skin below her eye keeping it firmly shut. She had what we would call “a right keeker” and it looked like she was going to be displaying the results of her folly for some time to come, even back in Denmark as they left the following day. That Tuesday night, Mary and I sat in the caravan thinking yet again “Why does it always happen to us?”

You’ll be pleased to know that the last couple of days have been very quiet in comparison with Tuesday’s episode and that we have found time to go about our normal business of getting to know our new caravan and how it works. We are still very excited about living in it and thankfully we both appear to be sleeping well in the new bed.

I shared my other haggis with Scots Bob on Thursday night, a warm beautiful evening which we spent outside at the white table and stayed until long after Mary had returned from work and joined us. Another friend, Jem, sat with us for a drink but didn’t fancy the haggis! The new seat and back cushions were given an outing and they were very comfortable indeed, adding to the pleasure of the event. As always, the world was put to right by our philosophical meanderings.

At some point we were joined by an English girl who just wanted to share our conversation so she said. Her step-father came around soon afterwards to ask if she was being a nuisance but we all said she was fine and enjoying herself. That was a big mistake. She quickly became a nuisance trying to be the angst-ridden centre of attention so we packed up and sent her home.

Mary and I spent yesterday shopping in town, buying wee things for the caravan and awning. She then went to the hairdressing academy and got her hair done again, emerging as she did the first time like a Hollywood star! We went down to the beach café for a coffee and just sat and watched the people down on the sands under a perfectly clear blue sky and a temperature of 26 degrees. At night there was a live blues band on up at the pool and we caught the second-half of their excellent gig.

Mary en route to the beach

Mary en route to the beach with new bag

Tomorrow we have lunch with Guillem’s family to celebrate his Dad Ramon’s birthday. We’ll be meeting Ramon’s parents who will be coming to live with us in Dundee for a couple of weeks in July with Guillem and his 10-year old cousin who is a Chinese girl adopted by their family.

Fancy joining us over here? We’ve recently checked prices for 2 and 3 roomed chalets with Lifestyle in October and November of this year and they are quoting £20 a night. That’s a bit of a no-brainer, isn’t it? So, if your own life style offers you the possibility to come and give this place a try, get on with making the arrangements and we’ll help out in any way we can. You won’t regret it, we assure you.

We have now paid up to 15 June on site here, meaning that shortly afterwards we’ll put the big caravan into storage, hitch up the Magic Caravan and slowly head back to Dundee for the summer. We’re both looking forward to that actually, but we will have the pleasure of Scott out here shortly and that will be a big thrill as it always is when one or more of the family comes out.

As I sit here in the awning typing away, the sun has just set behind the hill. The temperature is slowly dropping down to “warm and comfortable” and the light has at last lost its dazzle allowing me to see more clearly what I’ve written on the laptop screen. I’ve written quite a lot because I’m in that kind of a mood. Mary is reading in the caravan now and we’re both content doing our own thing today. Life is good. Very good. We’re about to watch the Eurovision Song Contest …… in German! I’ll leave you with Mary and her new hair.

"Never seen you looking so lovely...."

“Never seen you looking so lovely….”

Day 2/245: Let’s do something different!

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The next thing on the agenda following our return to Vilanova was how to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. With the day before being Mayday and therefore a public holiday, we had the opportunity to spend 2 days, Thursday and Friday, doing something different. The weather was already in “guaranteed sunshine” mode so we were absolutely free to go where we wanted indoors or outdoors.

Where's the dragon?

Where’s the dragon?

Lots of our friends had visited a small town up in the mountains called Montblanc, the legendary place where Sant Jordi slew the dragon, so we decided that we would drive up there and get a taste of the medieval life. It was a bit like George and the Dragon driving up to see George and the Dragon! Sorry Mary! The trip up into the mountains was quite exciting in itself as we took the recommended back roads (did I call these paths “roads”?) instead of belting up the motorway. However there was no harm done and we reached Montblanc around midday safe and sound.

The legend

The legend

Parking proved a bit of a nightmare, what with it being a popular tourist attraction and also Mayday, but we eventually found a spot only a couple of hundred metres from the town walls. Upon reaching them, we were delighted to see that we had arrived at the main gate, the Portal Sant Jordi, and we were able to read all about the legend and discover why Montblanc brought in thousands and thousands of tourists every year.

George at his gate

George at his gate

We opted firstly for a walk up on the walls of the town with excellent 360 degree views, affording us the chance to read the various information boards (Catalan, Castellan, and English) which detailed the history of the town and the surrounding area which had suffered some difficult times after the British reneged on a treaty and left the Catalans to the fate of the invading French. That was nice of us! Bottled water was taken on board every few steps as the thermometer climbed past 25 degrees and kept going

The town walls

The town walls

.

They have dragon's blood on the menu!

They have dragon’s blood on the menu!

Does she look happy?

Does she look happy?

 A stroll through the town, still decorated for their annual medieval week, took us to a wee square where we enjoyed a bit of shade and a sandwich or two, then it was up to the top of the hill for a view over the countryside before returning to the car which we could not immediately enter, so hot had it become inside. Once we could sit inside with the a/c at full blast, we consulted Victoria for the first time in ages and asked her to take us to the monastery of Poblet further up in the high hills. The lovely girl did as she was asked and 50 S-bends later we parked in the huge car park necessary to cope with the visitor numbers for this famous attraction.

Poblet

Poblet

However I’m afraid it didn’t quite hit the spot with us and we just had a quick stroll around the grounds and a peek inside the church before heading for the café and that’s where I received a text message saying that old Auntie Cissie’s agitated state had necessitated a transfer to Murray Royal Hospital in Perth. We were somewhat saddened by this turn of events and slightly lost the appetite for further adventures, but as fate would have it I suddenly remembered overhearing two French folk talking about a fantastic place they had gone to in this area where you could drive to the top of a cliff and see miles and miles all around. I recalled they had said the road up was “interesting”.

Siurana

Siurana

So, to get us back to enjoying our day away, we checked out a physical map we had brought with us and managed to spot a name I recognized as being the place on the cliff top. Its name was Siurana. With a great deal of help from the lovely Victoria, we tracked down this village after driving up the bendiest road ever which included an uphill right-hand hairpin that even with the Audi I had to take in first gear. Now that was steep!

Did we really drive up here?

Did we really drive up here?

The reward for our adventurous spirit was one of the best viewpoints we have ever been to, perched as it was on top of a sheer cliff plateau of red sandstone. Brilliant! We took in the sights for an hour or so, had a coffee at a wee café in the village, got the mandatory photos then negotiated our way back down the cliff and through the mountains south to Reus and a final motorway sprint back up to Vilanova.

Not surprisingly, it was an early night for us both and even Mary only read about five pages before the book fell from her hands!

The following day. Friday, was indeed our anniversary and we had chosen to spend it in Barcelona, seeing a bit more of the big city. Yesterday’s efforts however had left us with cotton wool heads and it was nearly 11 o’clock when our Dutch friend Tom drove us down to the station where we caught a train to Franca station in north Barcelona. This allowed us, after a spot of lunch, to stock up on water and stroll around Ciutadella Park, one of our favourite spots in the city and the home of the beautiful Cascadas, featured in an earlier post. Our master plan was to go and see the famous Dancing Fountains of Montjuic that evening, so that left us with several hours to move around as we wished.

Now that's what I call a flagpole!

Now that’s what I call a flagpole!

We plumped for the healthy thing to do and walked for miles around two famous districts of Barcelona, Born and Gotica, older areas with warrens of vennels, old buildings and quirky shops. We almost made it into Santa Maria de la Mar basilica but our timing was out and they shut the doors literally in our faces. Was it something I said? We also tried to find a restaurant belonging to Guillem’s aunt where his Dad had promised us a free meal, but again because of timing I’d had to cancel before we left as it would have restricted our freedom to be where we wanted when we wanted. Another evening maybe!

Before the show, at the Venetian towers

Before the show, at the Venetian towers

After much ado in the city and tea in a restaurant in the Bullring on the wonderful Placa Espanya, we made our way uphill to join the crowds on Montjuic waiting for the nine o’clock start to the Dancing Fountains. We were not to be disappointed and enjoyed a fairy tale half-hour of water, lights, colour and music as the dozens of fountains on the slope bounced up and down to the rhythm of some lovely music.

Take it as.... Red!

Take it as…. Red!

Affy bonnie!

Affy bonnie!

Our favourite

Our favourite

As the spectacle faded we entered the Metro system, got our way back to Sants railway station and caught the ten o’clock train back to Vilanova. As we emerged from the station, the last bus to the campsite came round the corner with perfect timing (we were 5 minutes too late, but this is Spain!) so we were back at the caravan by eleven o’clock and asleep by 11.02!

We still have loads to tell you about this week so I’ll stop there and try to post some more tomorrow or the day after. I’m going for a shower now as I’ve been typing this in the awning and the mercury reads 42 degrees with all the vents, windows and doors open. It’s a cooker, as Gavin would say!

A final look at Siurana

A final look at Siurana

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