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 3/252: Back to Balgay

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Despite staying up quite late chatting to Auntie Pat last night, we were all up and moving by 08.30. She gave us a brilliant plate of bacon, eggs and mushrooms and then sent us on our way with a big smile which we reciprocated. But we didn’t drive all that far, just over the A1 and along to Tynemouth where we had arranged to meet Dot, Scott Gibson and the kids at a place called Soccerdome. We spent an hour catching up with them and watching the bairns being put through their paces on the indoor pitches and I even snatched 5 minutes of Shootie-in with Sam. On one of the adjacent pitches there was a terribly strange game of footie going on which you can see below.

I think it's called Bubble-Foot

I think it’s called Bubble-Foot

At midday we said our cheerios and headed for home up the A1. Our only stop was at Kinross Services for comfort reasons and soon the familiar sight of Ninewells Hospital in the distance told us we were back in Bonnie Dundee.

Border crossing

Border crossing

However we were given a reminder that travel on the roads is fraught with dangers when we passed an accident just near Bridge of Earn. No-one appeared to be injured but there was a jack-knifed caravan blocking both of the southbound lanes and its tow car facing the wrong way back up the hill. The caravan was quite badly damaged and it looked like someone’s holiday had just come to an unexpectedly early end.

But thank God we have reached home without a care. Well done to the Audi for bringing us back so smoothly. The weather today has been excellent both in the North of England and in Scotland and tonight, as I sit at the dining-table typing this, I am aware that I’d forgotten what a grand view we have from our living-room window. Thank you for following us home. It’s been fun and the website statistics suggest loads of you have been tracking our progress. I leave you with our view. Home!

The Tay

The Tay

Day 3/251: Cross-Country

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Once off the boat last night, we had a clear run from Portsmouth past Southampton and up the A36 towards Bath. Except that, as the result of an incident the previous evening, they had closed that road only 19 miles from Bath. “Turn off your SatNav and follow the diversion signs”  announced the big yellow sign. Being well brought up, we did as we were told. Twenty minutes later, we were 26 miles from Bath! The diversion went on and on and on, slowly driving me insane. A decision was needed.

You’ve guessed it! I offered Victoria her job back on a temporary contract, she accepted, so Mary plugged her in. The lovely girl, obviously keen to please us, played a blinder, winding us through the hilly streets of North-East Bath and round to Kate & Dave’s house. I was still fuming at the ridiculously long diversion but Dave’s map showed it wasn’t actually all that bad (although I’m sure it could have been shorter). Anyway we had arrived and one cup of tea and one glass of wine later, I had relaxed enough to be termed almost human. Stress? Who? Me? Never!


We had an excellent supper from Kate and Dave and had a great catch-up over a couple of beers before I had to call quits and head for bed, exhausted after having left Bayeux early that morning. Mary and I slept like logs again last night and were treated to a full English breakfast before we set off on the road again at 09.45. After filling up at a petrol station, we took the M4 direction Bristol, swung right onto the M5 and headed for the Midlands.

Before we knew it (well Mary didn’t know it as she was catching up on her beauty sleep) we had reached the M1 near Nottingham and it was lunch time. We stopped for half an hour, had a bite to eat then jumped back in the Audi and drove up to Leeds. The rest of the way up the A1M up to Newcastle was a series of roadworks which slowed us down but by 5 o’clock we were pulling in at Auntie Pat’s new place in Ponteland. It was absolutely brilliant seeing her again and we were immediately impressed with her humour and positive attitude given the recent loss she has suffered. She and I went and bought us an Indian carry-out for tea and we’ve finished it with gusto. Mary is now helping Pat catch up with her Facebook page while I am bashing these words out on the laptop.


The plan for tomorrow after breakfast is to pop over to the Royal Quays to meet with some of Mary’s family then at about midday we’ll set off on the final leg of our journey back to Dundee where son Scott will no doubt be preparing a slap-up tea for his loving parents!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the past few blogs on our way home. Let me know if you still find them of some merit and I’ll try to send you a few words every couple of days or so over the summer.

Day 3/250: Tapestry

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Hey, we slept well past 9 this morning. It must have been yesterday’s long drive north. But we were quickly breakfasted and off into the centre of Bayeux to see the cathedral and the world-famous tapestry. The weather was very dreich but that wasn’t of any concern as we were going to be inside anyway.

We found a good place to park (2 euros for 4 hours) and, just as we approached the Tapestry museum, we noticed a huge school group from St. Somethingorother’s going in. That told us to make a U-turn and go to the cathedral first. What a lovely visit that was, a beautiful church of Gothic style but well-restored to a good clean finish. Even the crypt had been given a scrub!

   
  
Once we had seen enough of the cathedral it was time to tick another box on our bucket lists by finally seeing the Bayeux Tapestry. Armed with our Audioguides, we walked the length of the 70-metre tapestry stopping at each of its 50-odd sections to listen to a description of what we were looking at and how it fitted in with the tale of the Norman Conquest in 1066. We have to say that the presentation was absolutely first class and advanced our understanding of this famous battle, it’s causes and its repercussions. We left beaming. Sorry there are no photos but taking them is strictly forbidden.

Lunch was taken in a wee town a bit further up the N13 then it was up the road to Cherbourg and the ferry port. After a second attempt (how I ended up driving down the same hill twice I’ll never know!)  we reached the check-in at just after 3 o’clock, 2 hours before cast-off and the UK on the other side of the Channel. The crossing – I’m writing this on the boat – is really quite smooth with just the odd bump and we’ll be arriving in Portsmouth at 7 o’clock GMT. then it’s a 2-hour drive to Bath where we’re staying the night with our friends Kate and Dave, the couple who sold us the big caravan. Tomorrow there’s a long drive to Newcastle.

Just for the record, Victoria is still unemployed and we have taken to just following the road signs, a policy which so far has been highly successful. No-one has suggested she be re-employed!

  

Day 3/249: D Day

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Now that Victoria is unemployed and due to sign on at the Buroo any day now, I spent the last of my waking hours last night working out a route all the way up to Bayeux which avoided any toll roads. We have 3 devices which can do this for us in an instant, but we’ve decided their results cannot always be trusted. As an experiment, we were to use only a plan I had devised using an ordinary map, moving from town to town on D roads (Departemental) and saving 50 Euros in the process.

Now that we are snuggled up in our hotel in Bayeux, I can confirm that the human brain is indeed superior to the computer, as we have had a virtually flawless journey of 500+ kilometres on roads any of us would be happy to use. No back streets, no vineyards, no forest trails. It all worked out really well and with the weather behaving itself and not a drop of rain to smear the windscreen, the Audi took us from Saintes to Bayeux via Niort, Parthenay, Thouars, Saumur, la Flèche, Le Mans, Alençon, and Caen. A great journey on a great day with my favourite person navigating for me. I only made a couple of mistakes on roundabouts but that’s to be expected I suppose.

  
We saw some interesting countryside, a village or two worth stopping at, the odd jet fighter or “convoi exceptional”, a tractor or three and one police car. They watched us pass, drove after us, scaring us to death then overtook us and left at the next exit. What a fright! We took more breaks than usual, including coffee in a wee café where the owner hit on Mary because her French was so good (and because she’s gorgeous of course!), a huge Super U where we bought lunch which we had in another town whose name we don’t know, and a Leclerc supermarket ( 1 point to Scott!) whose toilets were lovely! 

   

Tomorrow we are going to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry then we’ll be catching the 5 o’clock ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth before driving up to Bath where we’re staying with Kate and Dave who sold us the big caravan. I know, we lead a really boring life, don’t we? 

Here’s King Billy’s castle!

  
 

Day 3/248: Tom-tom tantrum

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We slept very well in our interesting room in the Hotel des Voyageurs in Urdos. After breakfast, we were quickly on our way through the gorges and valleys of the North Pyrenees, driving through heavy rain and thick morning mist. For the first three hours, we never saw the sky at all and I spent my time concentrating on staying on the road. We took the motorway at Pau, leaving the high mountains behind us but soon found the spray a problem so dropped back onto the D roads which proved much better than their big, expensive cousins.

  
The idea was to get up to Bordeaux then just take the A10 to our destination Saintes. It seemed in theory no big problem, but I hadn’t reckoned on Victoria having an off-day. Well, let’s just say we managed to visit some of the great wine-growing areas of Bordeaux. I’m sure you’ve heard of St. Emilion and Graves? We were there today, not out of choice but purely because our dear SatNav girl glimpsed a perfectly reasonable route to the Motorway. 

After an hour of narrow roads through vineyards, we emerged into a wee town whose name I forget and decided to use their facilities. Bad choice! They were hole-in-the-ground dreadful, but nonetheless we were forced to use them. We followed that up with lunch in the town square and it was over our Al fresco meal that I decided to give Victoria the sack! Yes, we switched her off, I studied the map on my I-Pad and 10 minutes later we were back on the main road to Bordeaux. A quick sprint up the A10 and we were in Saintes. The hotel was found easily, not the classiest place we’ve ever been in, but still adequate for our needs.

I was pining for food so McDonald’s was chosen for tea-time and we spent an hour or so there. It proved to be one of the nicest McDo’s we’ve ever been in, the staff were brilliant, the service ultra-efficient and the welcome warm. Back here at the Balladins hotel, I’m writing this while Lady Burton is playing Solitaire and simultaneously watching “The Matrix”. It is warm again and it has stopped raining.

Tomorrow we have to drive all the way to Normandy, Bayeux to be precise. We’ll try to avoid the horrendously expensive French motorways again but we’ll have to use them for at least a short part of the way. Hope the rain stays off. But should we give Victoria another chance? Let me know.

Day 3/247: And they’re off ….. again!

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We’ve left Vilanova Park behind us and driven up into the Pyrenees mountains today, just to find a new route home to Dundee. We’re safely ensconced in our hotel in the tiny village of Urdos, just on the French side of the Somport Tunnel. It’s 12 degrees, raining and the hills are shrouded in a thick mist. Just like Scotland in fact.

At 3 o’clock this morning we were running around outside our caravan in a thunderstorm, trying to get the items we still had outside back inside and out of the rain. We managed to fit the blue chest of drawers and a couple of the white plastic chairs inside before the heavens totally opened and drove us back in, leaving our large black plastic chest, some more chairs and a li-lo to get soaked. We knew that would cost us time in the morning and would lead to us missing our 9 a.m. Departure as planned. I fell back asleep surprisingly easily given the loud claps of thunder and constant flashes of lightning which joined in with the rain drumming on the caravan roof. Mary settled down to a game of Spider Solitaire on her Kindle Fire as I snoozed away.

On the stroke of eight I was up and back outside to start the task of drying the things we would be storing inside the caravan. It would be a disaster to leave them damp in the caravan for the next 3 months! Mary did the breakfasts while I got things back into shape, working as quickly as I could and getting really quite angry with the weather for surprising us after about 4 weeks of blue skies. Burgermeister Walter came round as promised to check everything out and I had deliberately left the caravan tyres unchecked just to give him something to do. He busied himself for 20 minutes getting the 2 tyres inflated to the correct pressure then he bid us farewell as did his wife Joke. 

Finally at about 10.30 we were able to wave everyone Goodbye and drive off in the direction of Leida from where we made for Huesca then swung up to Jaca and into the mountains. After a stop for lunch (steak and chips) We drove deeper into the gorges before finding the Somport Tunnel which took us through the last of the mountain barriers and into France. Urdos was just beyond the exit from the Tunnel and our hotel was on the main road which turns out to be the only road in the village. Once settled in our room (comfortable, cute and charming) we went for a walk around the place. We found a graveyard. That was it! Absolutely nothing else to see or do as everything is closed. But the scenery is fantastic!

  
  
  
The above 3 photos show the entrance, inside and exit from the Somport Tunnel.

We’ve had tea, using food we brought with us as we knew the restaurant would not be open, Mary is in the bath and I am sitting here with a glass of wine writing this. The rain has stopped and the view from our window is really quite bonnie. A good night’s sleep and we’ll be off in the morning, heading for our next hotel which is in Saintes (I hope you’re following us on a map!) a town we’ve been to a couple of times before. Then on Wednesday we’re driving all the way up to Bayeux where we’re hoping to see theTapestry before we get on the ferry in Cherbourg on Thursday. I’ll update you as we move along if I possibly can.

It’s nice speaking French again after so much Spanish! Bonne nuit.

  

Day 3/224: Valencia

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At the end of April, I decided to spring a surprise on Mary by whisking her off somewhere for our anniversary (17th would you believe!). Some of our friends had recently been down to Valencia for a couple of days and had brought back good reports so, as it was far enough away to call it a trip, but not so far as to require whole days of travelling, I plumped for that. Valencia is Spain’s third city so I reckoned we’d find plenty to keep us amused over the two days we’d be there.

I had the internet to thank again for making it possible for me to find appropriate trains and a reasonably-priced hotel that wouldn’t break the bank. I managed to find a ten o’clock fast train to Valencia, a modern hotel just a couple of miles from the old town and a slower train back at five o’clock on the Sunday. The whole thing came to less than £120 so I reckoned we were getting value for money as well. The internet also provided me with all the information I would need to ensure we packed in as much as we could into the 28 hours we’d be there. Mary of course remained clueless about my intentions.

The day before, I had a quiet word with Tom, our Dutch friend, and asked him to drive us to the train station for the 10 o’clock train the following day which was actually a Saturday and also our wedding day, the 2nd May. Tom as usual agreed without a thought and so the whole plot was ready to be hatched. We then decided to call all the pals over on Friday evening to celebrate our anniversary but I was careful to take it easy on the wine, knowing it would be a fairly early start the next day. I hoped Mary would do likewise and not let her hair down! As usual we had a brilliant night and the guitar even came out for a while, attracting a group of young Spanish kids who danced on the road as I played!

It got slightly awkward when the new Dutch lady just behind us came over and asked if we could repeat the dose, guitar and all, the next evening when she intended to have a party to celebrate her birthday. I was forced to accept her invitation in front of everyone and promise to play the guitar for her just so Mary wouldn’t get a sniff of what I was planning. I knew that when we got back I was going to have to apologize for not turning up!

At 8.30 on Saturday morning, I got up, made a cup of tea, woke Mary up, wished her “Happy Anniversary” and told her she had about 40 minutes to get ready for a night away from the caravan. The panic was a wonder to behold! Clothes and girly stuff was crammed into a wee case along with hair-dryer and straighteners and, give her her due, she was ready just as Tom drew up outside. On the way to the station in Tom’s car, I told her where we were going and she was absolutely delighted. The tickets I’d printed two days before worked a treat and we took the 10.01 express to Valencia!

It took just under 3 hours to get there and we quickly worked out how to get to the hotel using the Metro which was impressively clean, unsmelly and simple to negotiate. When we found the hotel, just off a magnificent roundabout and thoroughfare, it was way better than I had expected, modern, quite plush with really comfortable spacious bedrooms. After a bite to eat at the Burger King nearby, we were back into the Metro and a short ride down to the old town. We spent the whole afternoon and early evening there, wandering around the narrow streets, visiting the wonderful cathedral (we even saw what was claimed to be the Holy Grail there!) and just sitting at a café in one of the many squares watching the world go by. I’m glad to report that Mary loved it!

Our last visit was to a famous church, Santa Maria de la Pilar, which we eventually found despite its almost invisible entrance, and when we went in, Mass had just started so we settled down and gave our feet a break while we tried to follow the Spanish. We got back to the hotel about eight at which point we opened a bottle of “Tres Erres” wine which I’d hidden in my bag and raised a glass to ourselves. By half past ten we were both sound asleep!

Great place to have Sunday lunch!

Great place to have Sunday lunch!

Incredibly, Sunday was even better because we visited the renowned Cite de las Ciencias and the other ultra-modern buildings which stand down in the river bed. It would appear that many years ago Valencia was victim to a devastating flood which destroyed a good deal of the city and cost millions. Pragmatic to a fault, the city fathers decided that would never happen again and drew up plans to divert the river around the city! What a brilliant solution! They did exactly that but then, flushed with success, set about creating special things in the now dry and fertile river bed. Where we were visiting was just one example of their clear thinking on town planning. Dundee, I hope you’ve been listening because you definitely weren’t in the 60s!

Aquarium and Botanic gardens

Aquarium and Botanic gardens

Our Sunday in Valencia was fantastic, except that the temperature surprisingly rose to 25⁰ as expected but then just kept rising. By one o’clock it was 34⁰ and as we made our way back to the station, one of those green cross signs outside a chemist showed it was now 41⁰! Phhewww! Scorchio! We decided to go and hide in a café to await the 5 o’clock train home. I knew this train was going to be an hour and a half slower getting to Vilanova but I did not realise just what a trial that would be, especially as the heat began to bring on one of Mary’s migraines. This train was crammed, stopped everywhere, at one point went BACK 20 kilometres and didn’t get us to home until about ten at night by which time we were both very tired. Having some of the Tarragona Young Mental Fleet for company on the train didn’t make the journey any easier!

Anyway it did little to spoil our enjoyment of a great weekend in Valencia and it goes without saying that we thoroughly recommend a visit there at the earliest opportunity. It was fresh, clean, well-presented, lovely weather verging on too hot, friendly, easy to get around and there were no rip-offs at least in the places we visited. Mary’s final assessment upon reflection was that it was probably even better than Barcelona, if only because there were fewer people in the streets. The cathedral was not to be missed although the Sagrada Familia remains our favourite by quite a long way.

Since our treat we’ve settled down to a very quiet existence, punctuated by the odd trip out, usually with Tom and Greeta. We’ve had 2 trips into the hills around the Garraf Nature Park between Vilanova and Barcelona, a couple of great lunches, and coffee at a very expensive restaurant on the seafront in the village of Garraf, one frequented by the Barcelona football team, Messi and all! The rest of the time has been spent soaking up the brilliant weather we get in May, going for a swim in the sea and enjoying afternoon siestas.

We had another Sunday lunchtime up at the Biker Bar with Tom and Greeta, but this time the two male old farts gave in to temptation and bought themselves a genuine “La Cantera” t-shirt which they immediately donned to allow the standard naff photos to be taken. Here’s front AND back!

two fierce bikers1

Two fierce bikers!

That's not so scary1

That’s not so scary!

I have been in a particularly fertile period of writing lately and suddenly, after a fortnight of intense concentration, I find myself closing in on the last couple of chapters of the follow-up to “Wee Georgie”. I have enlisted the help of some former classmates to jog my memory of S1 and S2 at Lawside Academy, as well as contributions from brother Joe and Uncle Gerard. The first book is still selling at Waterstones but the big news is that I have uploaded it to Amazon both as a paperback and as an e-book for Kindle. It is already selling in USA and Australia so fingers crossed that the word gets out in these parts of the world. On the back of the success of “Wee Georgie”, Waterstones have already promised to take the next book and I’ve asked them to sell both the volumes of “Socrates” as well.

Last Sunday we were invited down to Ramon & Beti’s to have lunch with their family again and finalise the arrangements for the two kids, Guillem and Gao, coming back to Dundee in July like they did last year. As always it was a splendid time and I even managed a quick swim in the swimming pool which is for their block of flats. Sorry no picture! Gao’s Mum Rosa is going to fly with the kids to Edinburgh, have the day there after I pick them up then fly back alone in the evening. Guillem’s Dad Ramon will do something similar on the day I take them back to Edinburgh for the flight home. The kids are booked in full-time at Dundee University’s Sports Camp just down the road from us so we won’t be as inconvenienced as you might think.

The kids and us

The kids and us

The Sola family

The Sola family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, we’ve booked our ferry from Cherbourg for the 18 June so will be leaving Vilanova about three days prior to that. We’ll be asking Kate and Dave in Bath and Mike and Het in Kendal to put us up for a night on our way back through the UK, so with a bit of luck we should be back in Dundee in time for Mary’s Mum’s birthday on 21 June. You never know, we might even stick to our plan!

Happily, Mary’s sister Dorothy, her husband David and the two kids Beth and Zack arrived yesterday to spend a week at Vilanova Park and I’m pleased to report that the weather is excellent, so I hope they have a great time. I brought Guillem to play with them last night and they had a ball! I am writing this outside in the sunshine while they’re all down at the Vilanova beach and seeing the Cow statue! Yes, it’s a cow not a bull.

Beth, Zack & Guillem

Beth, Zack & Guillem

I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying yourselves as best you can, but do remember to take a break now and again and let your batteries recharge. By the way, watch out for June’s special travel edition of The People’s Friend. I’ve an article in it about Barcelona’s unfinished Gaudi-designed cathedral, the Sagrada Familia. I even got paid for writing it! Woo-Hoo!

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