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 .

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Day 6/139: The circle is complete.

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We are now back in the caravan at Vilanova Park. Typically, we changed plans at the very last minute and drove from our hotel in Montpellier all the way down to Vilanova, bypassing Girona where it had been our intention to stop for one night to give us the chance to see around this famous Catalan town. Once we got past Perpignan and the going was relatively simple on such a lovely day, Mary said we could just continue smoothly back to Barcelona and beyond, rather than interrupt the journey with another stop. I agreed and that’s what we did. The sun was shining (with a bit of heat in it), the roads continued to be quiet and the Audi was purring. Why rock the boat?

The Pyrenees get in the way!

Our neighbours were delighted to see us but a wee bit surprised, having followed this blog and therefore expecting us on Ash Wednesday and not Shrove Tuesday. They explained how they had tried their best to rescue our toppled awning after the elements crashed it to the ground in a storm and they had clearly spent time trying to save the contents, especially the paperwork. We will have an awful lot of thanking to do. Having brought two new centre poles I’d bought from Perthshire Caravans, I quickly put them in place and that had the immediate effect of standing the structure back up, allowing us to walk around the inside. All that was left to do was tidy everything back into order and we were in business again.

Even got the lights back on.

We have two new neighbours, a French couple on the corner pitch Tayport Sandra used to be on, and a Dutch couple (with an extraordinary whistling African grey parrot!) directly behind us. Darren is still behind us as well and he is now driving a new left-hand drive Audi S3 which looks like it might be able to move a bit. The Dutch neighbours Henk and Aneke are still next door and right up on the corner next to the toilet block are Jeremy and Bernie from Yorkshire via Australia. F Section is completely full as is always the case in winter when this area gets more sunshine than any of the other parts of the site. Irish Billy is on the back row along with German friends Alexander and Monika while Tom and Margareth flew back in on Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday evening, it being Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday, Mary and I had a quiet dinner together in the caravan while the rest of the crowd went to the communal meal. We went up afterwards and reacquainted ourselves with Tom and Margareth, Fred and Jeanette and a whole host of other people we know not quite so well. Jeanette was looking really good and I joked that married life was obviously treating her very well since she and Fred tied the knot last year. Mary and I hooked up with Darren, Jeremy and Bernie to form a team for the weekly quiz and we romped it with an impressive total of 31 out of 40, getting 10 out of 10 in one of the sections.

It’s not all smiles however and we were appalled to hear that a Dutch friend, Fritz, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, had had a fall in his caravan and is now in hospital in Barcelona and not very well at all. It was also a bit of a shock to hear that Henk and Aneke’s loud friend Heidi is back home in the Netherlands and recovering from a stroke she had after being treated for a virus she picked up here. God bless both of these poor souls. These things tend to happen when you’re surrounded by a majority of people the wrong side of 60/70 and even older. Once again it proves that we all need to live life while we can, enjoy our time to the maximum and try not to waste a minute with things that basically aren’t very important.

Surprisingly I’ve had a game of Bridge, thanks to an invitation from big Steve who has put together a table for beginners. I have to admit it was quite fun to play a few hands and I’ve contacted my guru, the wonderful Mo Brodie, to ask her to send me a copy of her bidding notes again, as mine are all packed away in the flat in Dundee. Mo is away on a Bridge holiday at the moment but has promised to send me a copy when she gets back home. Thanks Mo! The bidding system Steve is using is different from what I was taught by Mo 7 years ago but I expect I’ll get used to it after a few errors!

I’ve pretty much got rid of that awful virus that plagued me all the time I was in Dundee from Christmas onwards and I just have a bit of a cough and a grunt first thing in the morning which I hope will soon disappear altogether. Mary is on form and went for a coffee in town with her pal Heather yesterday, coming back with an invitation for us to have lunch with some of her former colleagues next Wednesday. I will of course be much older by then as tomorrow, as you are probably aware, I become an official pensioner, reaching 65 far quicker than I ever imagined I would. I can’t be 65, can I? Me? Wee Georgie? That’s impossible, although my birth certificate shows that to be correct. Well, I’ll just have to make the most of it, won’t I?

Mary will keep me young I’m sure!

Christmas 2017

Day 6/135: After Lyon, the sky turns blue.

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I was woken up at 08.30 by a sunbeam arrowed onto my face through a narrow chink I’d left in the curtain panels by mistake. So it was curtains for the Burtons! Mary got her cup of tea in bed while I popped out to Carrefour Express to get some bread and margarine. That would be my breakfast today but Mary kept with the cardboard option and had her Weetabix. Checkout from the Lyon Apart’hotel was 11.00 so we had tons of time to potter about getting packed and ready to leave. You know, we can’t praise these Apart’hotels enough. They are of cutting edge design, the beds are huge and oh so comfortable and the facilities are first class. We had 2 or 3 cooked meals thanks to the kitchen facilities in the room, there was nothing lacking in terms of necessities (bottle-opener, corkscrew, glasses!!) and used the fridge and microwave oven to our advantage. This saved us a king’s ransom in terms of eating out but also let us relax to eat with shoes off and (in Mary’s case) in her pyjamas! If you get the chance, we recommend you try one out. Here’s the bonus: 2 nights with everything included = 98€! And that was near the centre of France’s second biggest city.

            Vegan demonstration in Lyon.

Today’s drive was a simple one straight down the AutoRoute for 300 kms to Montpellier. The traffic was light and it was an absolutely beautiful day of unbroken sunshine. The big difference was we could detect some real heat behind glass from that sunshine and we began to feel we had left the cold and snow far behind. Mary reminded me that Uncle Terry back in Leeds had told us when we were there on Tuesday night that my late Uncle Brian had always quoted “After Lyon, the sky is blue” to capture that change in climate that you can really notice once you’ve done the trip a few times like he had done with Auntie Pat. And he was right of course. On repeated journeys, you begin to notice where and when things change.

For us driving to Barcelona via Clermont-Ferrand, it’s always just south of that town down towards the Millau viaduct that we begin to notice bluer skies and a definite rise in temperature. While over on the west of France, when we used to travel down to the Vendée with the boys for summer holidays, it was always the very instant you crossed the river Loire that everything brightened up and it became noticeably warmer. So today, the driving was very pleasant – but I still got a bit bored with being on a motorway so I started to look around for something to break the journey or I actually intended to give up our night in Montpellier and drive on to Girona. As often happens, I was handed a gift on a plate!

We were just driving through the area around Avignon when up popped a sign for, would you believe it, one of our favourite places of all time – Pont du Gard! Now this Roman icon was close to a campsite we’d stayed on several years ago, a place called (Translation warning!) Squirrel Wood! And during a heatwave we’d taken to swimming in the river right underneath the bridge – or to be precise the aqueduct – almost every day in an effort to stay cool and not die with the heat. That was the year we set off for the return flight home to Marignane airport but got caught up in a flash storm which was so fierce that everyone stopped on the motorway for over an hour. We arrived at the airport half an hour before take-off but they wouldn’t let us board and we had to buy tickets for a flight to Birmingham 12 hours later! Then we had to hire a car and drive to Prestwick where we’d left our own car!! Total nightmare! And the insurance told me I was the victim of an “Act of God” and should have allowed for such an eventuality! Thank you, God!

Anyhow, the thought of revisiting a great place we believed we might never see again was just too much of a temptation for us, so off the motorway I drove at the next exit, and 10 kms later we were parked up at one of France’s biggest tourist attractions. The cool thing about Pont du Gard is that you can’t see any of it until you get really close and that requires a 500m walk from the reception area. But when you turn that last corner and this immense, 2000-year old Roman construction comes into view, well, it has to be right up there with our first sight of Niagara Falls or the Eiffel Tower. And so it was. We held each other tight as we drew near and then crossed the river by a bridge built right at the base of the Roman edifice, so close that we could see the markings in roman numerals on some of the huge stones used in its construction. It was just wonderful, especially since there was only a couple of other people there to share it with.

                      The Pont du Gard

We did the lot. First down to the river where we used to swim to get the view looking back from below, then over to the right bank and up the hill to the viewpoint in line with the third and top level, then back over and up to the top of the left bank with a view back south. This also acted as our daily exercise regime! I lost a stone on the walk but unfortunately it was only the one stuck in the sole of my left trainer! We took a million photos and both agreed that, like our chance encounter with Colombey-les-deux-églises a couple of days ago, we had experienced something we will not forget. That’s what happens when you have the time to go places at your own pace and don’t need to be anywhere at a given time. How fortunate we are!

                Lady Burton in her element!

The rest of the journey went according to plan, except that we turned up at the wrong Ibis Budget Hotel! Strangely enough, when Mary asked me why we weren’t taking all the bags in to the hotel, I insisted we leave them until we’d checked in. Just as well as we were in the wrong place! But I had a strange premonition that something wasn’t quite right, and as it so happened, I was correct! Cue spooky music! Tea was soup from a machine and 2 corned beef sandwiches (don’t ask!) while Mary had a boiled egg salad. I am writing this with a litre of Kronenbourg 1664 to the right of the keyboard and Mary has her head in a book. Tomorrow we visit Girona and finish our journey back to the caravan in Vilanova! I leave you with the two gypsies at Pont du Gard.

                 Note the woolly hat has gone!

 

Day 6/134: Travelling update!

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I thought I should let you all know how we’re doing on our journey by car back to Vilanova.

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We left Dundee on Tuesday morning and, despite the wave of snow that had passed by a couple of hours earlier, we had a carefree journey south. Our first big moment was only one hour into the long trip back when we crossed the River Forth by the new Queensferry Crossing, the first time we had had the opportunity to use the bridge since its opening last year.

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As we continued south, it felt like a million folk had been scared off by the snow, as the roads were very, very quiet, possibly the quietest we had ever experienced in our long list of drives south. We took the wee road down to Coldstream, crossed the border into England then opted for the Wooler road, stopping there for a bowl of soup before continuing on to Newcastle and Leeds.

We made good time and almost surprised Auntie Ellen & Uncle Terry by our prompt arrival at 16.00, the earliest we had predicted we would arrive. As always, we were greeted with open arms and had a lovely meal and catch-up with my Dad’s brother and his wife, both now in their 80s but doing really well it would seem. Naturally, we both slept like babies and, after a full English breakfast, we were on our way south again, down the A1M and M11 to London then the M25 round to the Dartford Crossing, over the bridge and down the M2 to the Channel Tunnel terminal just past Ashford in Kent. Luckily there were no delays at all on the approach to the Dartford Crossing and that was another first.

I had a quick 40 winks as we chugged under the Channel and Mary woke me with “We’re there!” as the train pulled to a halt in Sangatte just outside Calais. Off the train and straight off down the A1 with no formalities whatsoever to our first destination now leaves me with the impression that we’re about to give up this trouble-free, seamless travel for a situation we know nothing about. It can’t be for the best, can it? Anyway, enough politics! On our way down, we decided to attune our ears to French again by listening to the radio. But we began to pick up word of untold disruption around Paris after their heaviest snowfall in over 40 years, to be followed that night by temperatures down to -10C! As it was dark, we hadn’t really noticed the snow in the fields, only spotting the evidence once we reached Reims city where the streets were far from clear.

We found our hotel easily and managed to find a free parking spot on the street outside. The trouble was that our room was on the fourth floor and there was no lift! Thank the Lord we are reasonably fit 50 & 60 somethings otherwise we would really have had a problem getting the bags with our valuables up those stairs. Steep and twisty and not for the faint-hearted they were indeed!  A late tea of 2-day old boiled eggs and ham sandwiches was a prelude to a night of deep sleep and we awoke to a snow-covered scene outside on a very crisp, if not bone-chilling, morning. But intrepid travellers don’t let snow and ice stop them from seeing new things so off we popped for a day in Reims.

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Mary outside the hotel in Reims

The cathedral was of course our first stop to see where most of the kings of France had been crowned but we later found the Basilica of St. Rémy which was even more interesting. When we arrived there, we couldn’t initially get in because there was a funeral just ending and there were hundreds of mourners waiting outside. We eventually discovered that the deceased was a popular musician of the area who had died young but the whole thing with the drums and the music was quite something to see. Inside the basilica it was stunningly beautiful and we both agreed it slightly outdid the famous cathedral. Having had enough of churches for one day, we went for a stroll around the town to get Mary’s 10,000 steps on her Fitbit and to choose a restaurant for dinner. By the time we got up those stairs back to the room, we were both exhausted and quickly nodded off on the bed. Tea became a carry-out carbonara and the rest of the evening was TV, books and Spider Solitaire. Sorry to disappoint!

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A winter’s scene in Reims

We took it easy getting ready to leave on Friday morning but were soon gliding down the motorway towards our next stop, Dijon. Well, at least until I spotted a sign for Colombey les Deux Églises. “Isn’t that where Charles de Gaulle is buried?” I asked of Lady Burton. Her reply was that she thought it might be, so I swung off at the next exit, followed a surprisingly tiny road for about 20 miles and drove in to the very village where the ex-president of France and war-hero was laid to rest. There was a large exhibition and museum on top of a hill dedicated to the great man and outside was a gigantic Cross of Lorraine in a memorial garden. We then drove into the village itself  where we found the cemetery and the grave of de Gaulle (but not before getting a ticking-off from a policeman for parking on the wrong side of the road!).

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La Croix de Lorraine

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The last resting-place of Charles de Gaulle (the white grave on the left)

As we reached Dijon about tea time, it started to snow again only this time it continued for the rest of the evening. When it stopped, the temperature plummeted below zero again and everything froze. Luckily we’d raided a supermarket en route and were able to cook our own dinner as I’d booked an Apart’hotel this time. The room was very well-equipped and we felt right at home. Having discovered that the rates for the underground car park where we’d left the Audi were 10€ for up to 24 hours, we were able to have 2-3 hours visiting Dijon after Saturday breakfast before heading off south again. We also left it late to avoid the predicted heavy holiday traffic making for the ski resorts of the French Alps (that’s where all those hundreds of Brits who passed us at 100 mph were going!) But there was only one small hold-up on the motorway and that was an accident with 2 write-offs. With the weather cold but bright we made Lyon for 5 p.m. The SatNav on my iPhone took us smoothly to our next Apart’hotel, we checked in, parked in their private garage and went to our room.

What a pleasant surprise to find an absolutely beautiful studio-style room with great kitchen facilities, a big, comfortable bed, modern dining table and chairs and a desk. Brilliant value for what we paid! We chilled out on Saturday night, made ourselves a Spag Bol and sank a bottle of Côtes du Rhône to celebrate. Maybe it was the driving, maybe it was the wine, but I slept soundly again and we awoke at 9.00 ready to tour Lyon. Yes, we know it was Sunday but we had no choice but to Ho see what was open. After breakfast we walked 500m to the Metro station, bought a day-pass each and set off for old Lyon.

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Place de la Republique, Dijon

When we alighted at Vieux Lyon (no kidding!) we were right next to the cathedral and as it was raining we went inside. At the door we were greeted by 4 heavily-armed soldiers coming out. Now, it just so happens that I had seen 4 similarly tooled-up soldiers outside our hotel in Reims 2 days earlier and just yesterday we’d seen 4 armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Dijon. This suggested to us that France takes the continued terrorist threat very, very seriously and intends to be ready to respond quickly to the next attack. These guys were packing large, automatic weapons and clearly meant business should they need to act.

The cathedral under renovation was nothing special I have to admit and we quickly moved on to the old narrow streets and the bridges over the Sâone river. Mary noticed that our Metro tickets were also valid for the funicular to take us up the hill to the Roman amphitheatre so we went there and enjoyed a couple of hours in the now pleasant sunshine. A few streets away stood another huge church dominating the entire town and Mary said she’d read it was a Basilica dedicated to the Blessèd Virgin Mary. Definitely worth a look, we thought. How lucky we were to choose to visit what turned out to be a wonderful church ( two actually with one on top of the other!) with tons of things to see.

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The Fourvière Basilica

Back outside, we admired Lyon from the viewpoint, took a few photos then walked back down the hill to get our daily exercise. We crossed the Sâone, walked through a couple of squares and found ourselves at the river again! What? The notice told us we were now about to cross the famous river Rhône. Ah-ha! We did not realise that Lyon stands at the confluence of TWO great rivers which merge to form the mighty Rhône as it heads for the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue (white horses, remember?) west of Marseille. So, having learned something new, we took the Metro to go visit a famous façade painted 3-D style to create a wonderful optical illusion and can report it to be even better than they say.

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Honest it’s just a painting!

But we were getting weary so we made our way back to the Apart’hotel via a shop where we bought things to cook for our tea. We have now eaten it and I’m writing this while Mary is watching Casualty on BBC iPlayer!

Right, that’s us up to date. I’ll report back in a couple of days when we reach Vilanova. Tomorrow it’s down the road to Montpellier via Valence, Montelimar, Orange and Avignon. Might meet the odd Pope: you never know!

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On a bridge over the Saône (or was it the Rhône?!)

Christmas 2017

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It’s Christmas Eve and I thought I’d take the opportunity to fill you in on what has happened recently and what we intend to do over the festive period. We’re back in the flat, having flown home on Monday past, another eventless journey where everything went well and there were no surprises whatsoever. Except that while Mary was standing in the queue to board at Barcelona El Prat, with only about 150 people in front of her (including a young woman with a trolley case, a backpack and a guitar – no, they didn’t let her through!), I did surprise her with her Boarding pass which included Priority Boarding, allowing us to wander forward and join a queue of about fifteen!

Safely back at the flat, we unpacked all the presents we had brought back with us, got the heating up to scratch to chase away the chill (even though it wasn’t particularly cold here in Dundee) and settled down. Mary was in time to attend her Slimming World class and see her sister Alison being awarded for reaching her target and now being officially “slim”. Mum came round at seven o’clock and we caught up on what’s been happening in Mary’s family while we’ve been travelling. Not much, as is usually the case when you’re working and have kids to look to, but we’re past that now, seen it, done it, got the scars to show, and have so much more time to ourselves.

This week has been devoted to preparing for Christmas. Shopping in Dundee took up Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and the evenings were all about wrapping presents and writing last-minute cards. We saw Greg for a pint on Wednesday night and have since seen Gavin for lunch on Friday and Scott and George on Saturday. George’s visit was to drop off grandson Benjamin for the day and that was a particular joy for us. Among other things, we ended up at the Olympia swimming centre, waves, rapids, flumes and inflatable obstacle course included. Mary and I had the best of times with Ben who eked the last ounce of energy out of both of us. My next nightmare may well include trying to walk along a very slippy, wobbly landscape with a one mile drop below or hurtling down a red tube plunged into total darkness but holding my dearest grandson in my lap!

Then the excitement was cranked up. My cousin Renée called to say she’d just received a delivery of a box of 100 copies of my first book “Socrates, the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento” which I’d ordered for reprint last week. That was great as I didn’t have a single copy for myself, never mind my customers. A couple of hours later a knock on the door announced the arrival of a box of 50 copies of my new book “Bonjour Socrates!” which I hadn’t expected to get until after Christmas. Once again, the thrill of opening a box to see for the very first time a creation that had been in my head for the past 2 years was way up there with my top twenty good moments. The illustrations have been drawn by Becky Moran, the granddaughter of cousin Renée who distributes my books while I’m away travelling. She’s done a grand job and I hope she’s proud to have her name on the cover of a book to show all her family and friends. Here’s the cover.

Christmas will be mass at 10, popping in to see George and his family, driving up to Gavin’s for Christmas meal then back to Dundee to spend a couple of hours with all of Mary’s family. We’ll see all four of our boys, their partners and the 2 grandchildren (plus 1 step-grandson!) which is always a good thing, isn’t it? Unlike the tradition in some quarters, we don’t do falling out with one another at Christmas so we’re looking forward to a really nice day. On Boxing Day, George, Benjamin and I are going to Dens Park at midday to see the Dundee v Celtic game (we’ll probably get reamed!) and that should be good fun too.

OK. Just time to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2018. Thank you all for your continued support over the past 12 months. It is much appreciated! I leave you with the new back cover.

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Day 6/77: Christmas Markets

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We’ve had another adventure you know. This time it was to go and visit the Christmas Markets, not quite in Germany but so near that you really didn’t know for sure which country you were in. Which explains the strange events surrounding our arrival on Easyjet at Basel Europort last Friday. You see, we know Basel is in Switzerland (you can call it Basle or Bâle as well depending on which language you are speaking at the time) but we didn’t know that the airport straddles the border between Switzerland and France, meaning that when we passed through passport control and saw Sortie Suisse we just assumed that was the exit for everyone.

So when I failed to see our friend Marc, who was coming to pick us up, at the Arrivals gate, I called and asked where he was. “I’m at the arrivals gate!” came the happy reply. We looked around carefully. Lots of people waiting for arrivals, some with a sign clutched to their chest announcing “Family McDonald” or “Lebois Pharmaceuticals” but no Marc. “Can you see the stout man with the white shirt and furry hat?” I enquired. “Nobody like that here” Marc replied, “Are you sure you’re at Arrivals?” I went looking but couldn’t find him.

I moved further afield to the right, over by a big glass wall. And there he was!! We approached each other and stopped at the glass barrier. “You’re in Switzerland” he laughed. “That’s why I couldn’t find you!” To say I was a little puzzled would be a real understatement. “I know Basel is in Switzerland” I said slightly peeved. “No, no, no you don’t understand” continued Marc with a big grin on his face. “You’re in Switzerland but I’m in France!” he said through the glass. “What?” We were a metre apart and speaking to each other from different countries! Turns out there was another exit marked Sortie France further to the left which we didn’t see at all. A quick hike upstairs, along a corridor and back down got us safely into France and able to give Marc a hug.

The snow was falling as we drove north to Colmar where Marc and Judith (Jud) live but we weren’t going out that evening so no worries. I should tell you that Marc came to Dundee as my French Language Assistant in 1981 and did his year’s work in my Department at St. Saviour’s High School, a year during which he fell for sixth-former Judith Cashley. They’ve been together ever since and are now parents and grandparents. Marc is an English teacher at a school in Colmar while Jud teaches English TEFL-style in a variety of enterprises.

Safely back at their place, we spent the evening catching up with them on what had been happening over the past couple of years, and had a glass or two to celebrate along with their daughter Laura (Lo-Lo) and her two cousins (from Dundee!). It was once again fun to hear them all talk English with strong Dundonian accents then listen to Laura and her Dad switch seamlessly to French. Laura even took a phone call in German which was even more impressive! It turned out she works as a translator in the Marketing Division of the Swiss Co-Op.

A Bonnie Decorated Shop!

They could “bear” the cold!

We awoke to heavy snow falling outside so postponed our visit to the Colmar Christmas Market until the afternoon. The city centre was within walking distance for us so off we went around 1 o’clock, leaving Marc and Jud to get on with their normal Saturday. Mary and I enjoyed our stroll around Colmar, seeing all the Christmas paraphernalia and sampling their food and drink, especially their hot Glühwein which warmed our bellies. We met up with our hosts around 4 o’clock at the station from where we took the train up to Strasbourg. We’d visited this town before 5 years ago but that was to see the European Institutions (the man told me I had no right to get into the Court of Human Rights which I found quite ironic!).

The 4 of us – freezing!

Anyway we spent a couple of hours visiting the Christmas illuminations then headed for a restaurant once we’d met up with the girls again. It was cold, very cold, minus umpteen, but we enjoyed the sport and all had a great time, including on the train back down to Colmar. Marc made two trips from Colmar station in his car to ensure we all got back to their flat quickly to escape the cold. At home, Marc and I shared a couple of drams while the girls reminisced about Uncle Gerard who had been her French teacher at St Saviours’s and it was the wee sma’ hours when we rolled into bed, knackered but happy.

The cold was having an effect on me!

Sunday was snow turning to slush then rain so once again we dilly-dallied to give it time to go off. It didn’t! Eventually we got in the car and Marc drove us to a village called Ribeauvillé which holds a medieval market at Christmas.

It’s not fair!!

Keeping warm

They even had a disco!

Some folk round here are tall

What a braw time we had in this commune, shopping for presents and souvenirs, lunching on pasta-sausage-sauerkraut, warming ourselves at burning tree-trunks and sampling evermore hot Glühwein. At one point I was even put in the stocks but brought the place down by announcing this was punishment for Brexit! Ribeauvillé was good fun and we hardly noticed the sleet that tried but failed to rain on our parade. Jud served us up a chicken dinner when we got back and the rest of the day was spent in conversation with them and their family.

Burning from the inside out

Now that’s what I call a loaf!

Anyone for roast wild boar?

Mary standing in front of her Mum!

On Monday, our hosts had to return to work (we had said farewell to Marc the night before) but Jud ran us to the station at about 3 o’clock for the train down to Basel. We knew we had a few hours to spare before our evening flight back to Barcelona at 21.15 so we set out to explore Basel city centre as much as we could. The first problem we had was paying for the left-luggage box as it only took Swiss francs, again something we’d totally forgotten about. However, a change machine saved the day, we dumped our backpacks inside and off we went to see the town.

Basel is entirely in Switzerland and sits on both banks of the Rhine which heads north into Germany thereafter. Lady Burton and I sought out the Munster cathedral and then the Alte Rathaus (old Town Hall)  during a two-hour walk in the absolute pissing rain! But we’d come prepared and were not going to let the weather spoil our visit. And it didn’t!

Around 7 in the evening, after tea in McDonald’s, we caught the shuttle bus from the train station to the airport (Swiss side!) and took the flight to El Prat where our good friend Darren was waiting to pick us up. By midnight we were both in bed asleep! Phheww!

We’re going back to Dundee on Monday for Christmas and the New Year and maybe a couple of weeks extra to see a bit more of the family but before then we have a flying visit from little Guillem and his parents Ramon and Beti. They’re coming to visit us on Sunday and we’ll probably have lunch somewhere in town. It’ll be great to see them all again as we really miss them since they moved away to Blanes, north of Barcelona, where Beti has a new dentist’s job. But I do hope the weather is as nice as it has been of late, despite the slightly lower temperatures than usual, even down to 5 or 6 degrees! (I know, that was really sarcastic of me, but I couldn’t resist!)

Hopefully we’ll catch up with several of you over the holiday period and beyond so don’t hesitate to give us a ring on 07751063145 or 07775615051 and arrange for us to get together for a blether. It’s what we do!

The pooping log

Christmas here in Catalunya has some very different traditions and they celebrate on different days as well including St. Nicolas (6 Dec) and the Epiphany (6 Jan). The kids get presents on Christmas Eve by hitting a decorated log called Caga Tio (the pooping log!) with a stick to make it “poop” presents. Beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), they give the tió a little bit to “eat” every night and usually cover him with a blanket so that he will not be cold. The story goes that in the days preceding Christmas, children must take good care of the log, keeping it warm and feeding it, so that it will poop presents on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve they put the tió partly into the fireplace and order it to poop. The fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, as people dont have open fires any more of course. To make the log poop, they hit the log with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tradition says that before beating the tió, all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to pray, asking for the tió to deliver a lot of presents. This makes the perfect excuse for the parents to do the trick and put the presents under the blanket while the kids are praying. The tió is often popularly called Caga tió  meaning Poo log. But listen to this! The nativity scene also includes the “caganer” or “pooper” who is doing his business just outside the stable. Yes, it takes all sorts!!

He is, honestly!

Merry Christmas to all my readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed following our adventures and I hope we have just as many to relate in 2018. And I hope Santa is really good to you! XX

Well, one of us looks good!

 

Day 6/54: Warmer

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So that’s us back in our caravan in Vilanova I la Geltru. We are tired, out of sorts and certainly a bit jet-lagged but we are extremely happy that our trips to Paris, Toronto, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston all went so well and that there were no major mishaps. Some folk might say we were lucky but, y’know, the more experience you get doing that stuff, the more you can anticipate possible problems and avoid them before they happen. Accidents will always be possible but, with careful planning and a confident approach to travelling, negative outcomes can be kept to a minimum. Especially when it comes to getting around big cities, I think Lady Burton and I are fast becoming experts in urban transport systems and I can’t think of a Metro system that has left us scratching our heads …….. yet!

Breakfast at Gatwick helped us survive the journey back and we finally managed some sleep on the flight to Barcelona. With the wonderful Tom and Margareth picking us up at the airport again, we were soon back in the caravan. I very quickly crashed out for 3 or 4 hours (well, you would, wouldn’t you!?) but Mary is only now heading off to bed as midnight chimes in Spain. Guess what I’ve been doing tonight? That’s right, because it’s a Champions League night. I’ve been half-watching Real Madrid hammer the wee team from Cyprus but I’ve been doing something more important …….. Booking our next trip!! Yes, I’ve just bought 2 returns to Basel for the weekend of 8-10 December to visit the Christmas Markets with old pals Marc & Jud who live not too far from the airport but actually in France. I should tell you that those 2 returns with Easyjet have set me back the princely sum of ……… £127!! And that includes paying for sitting together! At those off-season prices, if you have the chance, you’d be a fool not to take it.

I want to thank everyone who has followed our over-the-pond adventure and a particular thanks to anyone who bothered to comment on what we’ve been doing. Georgeandmaryadventure will come to an end one day, but not quite yet!

Flying in to Barcelona

Day 6/53: University

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Simply a question of getting up and checking out. Easy as that. So when the maid knocks and comes in and you’re both lying in bed admiring the view over Boston harbour, you need to let her know she’s not yet welcome. We did!
Downstairs at checkout we got the final bill, except that it was double the price we booked at! Mary went for the jugular, letting the poor guy know this needed sorting …. and fast! Within 15 minutes all was in order and the guy was grovelling at Mary’s feet to be forgiven. But we’ll be checking our credit card carefully to see things have turned out well.

Next I gave the big case and my backpack to the “janitor” who tagged them, gave me my receipt and stored them away until evening. That left us free to take shuttle and subway back to “little Italy” where we had brunch in an absolutely classic American-Italian diner.

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The British are coming!!

Batteries full again, we retraced yesterday’s steps to the Paul Revere house where we learned much about the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere to alert the good folk of Lexington to the approach of British troops. This brave act was later of course immortalised by William Longfellow and the poem probably made Revere’s ride a legend more than the deed ever did.

We then continued down the Freedom Trail, firstly across the Charles river to see the USS Constitution built in 1794, known affectionately as “Old Ironsides “ because the British cannonballs reputedly bounced off its wooden, yes wooden, sides. It was really cold out today so we chose not to linger for too long down by the water where the wind was particularly sharp and biting. On up the slopes of Charlestown we climbed, our final historical target obvious as it towered above Boston at the top of the hill.
The memorial, very similar to the Washington Monument, commemorates the battle of Bunker Hill, won by the British but at a terrible cost in lives, and a huge inspiration to the Colonials to continue the war. Heavens it was cold up there on that hill, persuading us to search for the nearest Subway station to get back Downtown. iPhone maps found us one half a mile away and then obligingly showed us how to get there. Wonderful!

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Bunker Hill Memorial

When we reached the city centre we continued north on the red line we had used when going to see Doug the day we arrived. It was my turn to say where we were going and I was absolutely determined to walk the leafy campus of Harvard University before leaving.

The subway took us right there and we had a delightful stroll through the famous area of American and international study.

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Harvard Library

At one point and despite the sign at the door, we sneaked into the Harvard Science Centre and had some soup and a coffee, ready to make out we were visiting lecturers from the University of St. Andrews should anyone query our presence! Our final walk was round the Harvard Law School area and that was it.

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Touching John Harvard’s left foot. Lucky?

Our own tourist trail was over and all that remained was to return to the hotel, collect our luggage, give everyone a tip (5 dollars each, like it or leave it!) and travel to the airport.

Check-in and Security went smoothly, we had our dinner in the airport and then we boarded the Norwegian Airlines Dreamliner 787 to London Gatwick. Boy, is that a big plane! I think it’s probably the largest aircraft we’ve ever flown in. As I write this post, it’s 11 p.m. eastern time so 4 o’clock Tuesday morning to you. The backseat flight screen is telling me we’re 2115 miles from London and we’re 40,000 feet above the Atlantic. It’s a bit bumpy just now and Lady Burton is holding me just that wee bit tighter! But she should not have feared as we are now having breakfast in Gatwick Airport prior to our flight to Barcelona where Tom & Margareth will once again be waiting to take us to Vilanova.

My parting shot for today, tonight, yesterday(?) is entitled “Stating the Obvious!”

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Boston Drain!

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