Day 270: Preparations

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You know the weather’s good when you are moving into the shade because it’s getting too hot and you’re still eating your breakfast cereal. That was us this morning, outside just before ten o’clock, sitting in the sunshine having fresh croissants with multiple cups of tea. We like that and it suits the new rhythm of life we have discovered.

Early morning pretty much doesn’t exist anymore as we generally stay in bed until nine even though I’m personally awake at eight most mornings. Breakfast is now a daily ceremony while lunch has become entirely flexible and can happen (if at all) at noon or at three in the afternoon, depending on where we are and what we’re doing. Tea is now rarely before seven and often nearer eight o’clock in the evening. We have accidently subscribed to the continental siesta and if we stay on site then one or both of us will be found napping mid-afternoon. Because of the rules on noise, music etc. there are no late sessions however and we are usually back in the Magic Caravan by eleven. Whether we go straight to bed is another matter as we are still owls who often awake well after midnight.

After breakfast I spent a couple of hours on the Internet arranging our journey back home. It looks like, by sharing the driving, we can reach Clermont-Ferrand the first day and similarly Calais by the evening of day two. Both places have loads of convenient budget hotels where we can rest our weary heads before going through the Tunnel early on day three and driving up to Leeds or Newcastle to stay with family. The following day we should be able to reach home in Dundee. So that makes 4 full days of travel to get us from Vilanova to Balgay Road. All going well of course!

At least we won’t be pulling the caravan all the way home, having definitely decided to leave it here in storage, ready for us to collect it when we come back, whenever that is! We are genuinely excited at the prospect of returning to Dundee and consider it something similar to looking forward to a long holiday in a familiar spot. We expect to see a few changes too, what with the programme of redesigning the Waterfront hopefully having made good progress during our absence. I hope we can find our way around the city centre! There is of course the added excitement of Scott returning from his own antipodean adventures upside down, while August will be all about Eve and Gavin becoming parents for the first time.

We will of course try hard not to settle in again as that will only make it harder to leave and come back here but I’m confident that we’ll have enough fun meeting you all again and sharing our experiences with you. I’ll also enjoy not blogging every single day as now and again it has been a bit of a burden keeping me up way past my bedtime so as not to disappoint my readers. Having said that, I’m really proud of my efforts at keeping you informed of our daily travails and hopefully you’ll maybe even miss that familiar late-night ping telling you the blog has just been updated!

As a treat we ate at the restaurant last night and as usual the food was excellent and the bill didn’t break the bank. Afterwards we spent an hour or so with our Geordie neighbours, Ian and Sue, whom we have invited to dinner on Saturday night before they pack up and leave for France the next day. Mike and Heather have also accepted our invitation to tuck into a Shepherd’s Pie fit for a king (I hope!) These four neighbours are wonderfully friendly and helpful and we feel like we’ve known them for years, so warm has been their welcome. We thank them kindly for making our 3 weeks on this part of Vilanova Park such great fun.

We’ll have to visit “Simply” tomorrow to prepare for Saturday’s meal. We don’t even have 6 plates!

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Day 269: Foix

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Ever since our last walk up into the hills, we had been promising ourselves a trip up to the reservoir we had seen from the top. So just after breakfast, I zoomed in on Google maps and selected a trail I estimated was about 6 miles long and which looped from the road up into the hills and back down again either side of the reservoir. The weather was windy but still warm and sunny with absolutely no chance of rain so today seemed perfect for our next bit of exercise.

Where we walked today

We drove up the windy road which leads past the campsite itself and parked in one of the few available lay-bys just south of the dam. With sturdy boots and backpacks full of drinks and sandwiches, plus binoculars and a compass, we made 3 unsuccessful attempts to find the start to the trail before finding an old aqueduct below which a path snaked under the road and off into a gorge. We followed this into the hills for about an hour before settling down in the shade and having our lunch.

As sometimes happens, we found it a bit difficult to regain our walking rhythm after eating but fortunately we came upon the fork in the road we’d been looking for, swung left up the hill and quickly got back into our stride. On exposed patches the wind was quite fierce but when it wasn’t blowing the temperature would quickly creep up and make us start to “glow” again. Half an hour of digging in uphill and we reached the plateau which afforded us further excellent panoramas of the coastline around Vilanova and the Mediterranean beyond.

On the way down

Coming down for once presented us no difficulty and we were soon on the road heading for the reservoir which we discovered lapping against the shore not 5 metres from the road. Once we reached the dam we crossed over and took in the spectacular views down the steep side while admiring the 28 meter deep loch it was holding back. There were no turbines here, telling us this was more of a Lintrathen-type water reservoir rather than a Pitlochry generating station. We were surprised at how far away from the dam we had actually parked and didn’t particularly enjoy the last kilometre walking along the narrow country road.

Well I’ll be dammed!

Before we reached the car we stopped to snap this chap, unfortunately quite, quite dead!

A one-metre long snake!

At the car we shed our boots and socks and thankfully donned our comfy sandals again. You could almost hear our feet sighing with relief! We were back at the Magic Caravan in 15 minutes, delighted with our day’s efforts but a tad on the weary side. I was asleep within a short time while Mary settled down for a game on the i-Pad before making the mince and tatties for our tea. The rest of the evening was spent in front of the TV and bed was much earlier than usual for us.

Our tans continue to improve on walks like today’s and we even swopped sunglasses to try to avoid having white patches on our faces but Mary does have a bit of Panda eyes at the moment which she’ll be hoping to smooth over before we come home. The next few days promise to be warm and sunny, becoming hot in the afternoons, despite the giant depression which has been sitting over most of Europe for the past couple of days. Although many folk are complaining, we find the climate brilliant as it’s warm and sunny but never totally roasting which always chases us indoors.

I guess we’ll have to put up with it!

Day 268: Fitness

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Surprisingly both of us were able to get out of bed this morning. OK the legs were a bit stiff but apart from that there appeared to be no ill effects from yesterday’s gay gallop! And we’re not the only ones, not by a long chalk. The general fitness level of the over-60s out here is quite remarkable. They can be seen most days striding out down into town or doing a couple of circuits of the camp site while many of them jump on their bikes and cycle up and down the paths specifically built for such activity. Swimming and tennis are not beyond them either and we really do admire their determination not to sit at home and await the inevitable.

All of that is so different from the lifestyle of the previous generation once they reached the age of retirement. I have little or no memory of seeing my parents or my aunts and uncles do anything that might have been called exercise other than my Dad coming over to the field for a kick of the ball with me and my mates and he was definitely not 60 when he did that. Nor do I recall any of them doing anything particularly active beyond a certain age although none of them seemed to have any physical impediment to such. They all busied themselves with their families and domestic business with little thought to their own health and well-being as was probably the case for the vast majority of the population.

So the good old days certainly weren’t the golden age as the elderly folk out here appear absolutely determined to prove. The attitude is one of resolving to use their bodies as long as they are working (and sometimes even when they aren’t!). I know there has been a shift to something similar back home but the difference is that the warmer, sunnier climate actually encourages people to go out and be active in the fresh air with no need to sit inside and watch the television because the weather is being unkind. Remember also that these people aren’t all rich as many have emphasised to us. Oh no, they find it cheaper to live out here than to be at home and they also find they make friends and acquaintances much more easily on a campsite than in a block of flats.

Am I having a rant just now? Maybe you think so, but I often sit here under the awning and watch older folk enjoy such a rich experience that I regret I never saw my own dearly departed Mum and Dad benefit from such an environment as this. I don’t suppose Mum would ever have got on an aeroplane anyway but Dad could have driven her here without any fuss as you’ll recall he was a bus driver all his working life. The good news for anyone who has parents living abroad just now is that they are very likely having a wonderful time, probably not doing themselves much harm (unless they drink and smoke to excess) and are quite possibly going to be with you a bit longer than might have been the case – unless they are run down by a tram in Barcelona like Gaudi!

I stayed fit yesterday by having another fantastic three sets of table tennis with my neighbour and friend Mike. I sneaked victory again but, like the day before, it was 2-1 in the third and deciding set. I am hopefully going to have a regular game with Mike now and am eternally grateful he has reintroduced me to a sport I had frankly forgotten how much I enjoy. There is a chapter in Book 2 of my autobiography about the regular family table tennis sessions we used to have in the living room of our flat on South Road but I won’t spoil the fun by telling you the ridiculous antics we used to get up to: you’ll just have to wait until I get myself a publisher!

We treated ourselves to a couple of drinks up at the bar last night, the first time we’ve done that since we got back from touring.  While Mary was outside skyping I was invited to join the English couple whose daughter was the partner of Blur’s drummer. What a breath of fresh air those two were! I spent the whole evening discussing with the husband whether people are born with a natural aptitude for language acquisition and Mary became embroiled with his wife in whether there was an afterlife and was there a correlation between religiosity and an addictive personality! None of the “Did you see Jeremy Kyle yesterday?” in those conversations, let me assure you all. Seriously they were a very charming couple who have come over for a long cycling holiday and are gutted after someone stole the husband’s very expensive custom-built bike from the back of the caravan while they were having a coffee break somewhere in France.

I also found time in the afternoon to discuss with Mike and Ian which route home would be the best and I now know the roads to take which combine simplicity and speed with the minimum of tolls. We don’t have a definite date for leaving yet but our flat will be vacated in the near future and we expect to start our journey home within a fortnight.

We can’t wait!

Day 267: Sitges

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Mary was up first this morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and desperate to grab the day by the horns and grapple with it. I on the other hand was more inclined to languish in bed for longer than I normally do, catching up on my blog posts before having breakfast. We made a decision, given the good weather and almost zero chance of rain, to walk the country trail to Sitges and return via the famous railway path our old friends had pioneered in February.

In preparation I popped up to the site shop and bought a baguette which I then filled with cheese and ham for our lunch. I also packed a couple of litres of water, the binoculars, a compass and some warm clothing just in case. After the forest of Neckargemund we take no chances. Before we left, the lady I had assisted with directions around Barcelona on Saturday came down to return the camping book I had lent her. She reported she and her husband had successfully met up with their daughter and her boyfriend at the café we had previously visited with Mum and Kate.

Having told me earlier that her daughter was at the Olympic Park in Barcelona I had assumed her to be a sportswoman or a musician. It turned out however that it was her daughter’s partner who was performing there. When I enquired as to which instrument he played she told me he was a drummer in a rock band. My curiosity pricked, I naturally asked if I might know this band. She replied that she was unsure but had I ever heard of a band called Blur!! After I had picked myself up off the ground, I recounted to her how my pastiche of Blur’s great hit “Country House” had latterly become the theme tune of St. Saviour’s High School, a song our teachers’ band “Dire, Dire, Dire!” performed at the final concert the week our beloved school closed for good.

Glass House

Just after midday we drove down into Vilanova, parked at the east end of the harbour and set off on the yellow bicycle trail to Sitges. This path meandered through the suburbs before entering a wood and then swinging round an exclusive residential area and the local golf course, emerging on the western extremity of the famous town of Sitges, the erstwhile gay capital of Europe. We covered the 5 miles at a reasonable pace, arriving just after two in the afternoon and having lunch in a beautiful little park garden before walking down to the beach promenade.

Trying to look manly!

From there we made our way into the centre of the town where we had gone with the boys the day before my birthday. Tea was taken on the terrace of a seafront café and we had great fun spotting all the old queens as they minced by! On this second occasion we had absolutely no problem in identifying the “lifestyle” of the people we encountered and I must admit it was a bit of an eye-opener for both of us. We also found time for a quick wander up and down the narrow streets of the town before we retraced our steps to the promenade and followed it to the western end where the railway path began.

Sitges promenade

Sitges promenade

This route back proved more difficult to walk as the surface was strewn with rocks and stones but it was unbelievably adventurous as it squeezed itself between the rail track and the Mediterranean, rising and falling where the trains went through tunnels and skirting the very edge of the cliffs above the sea. Intriguingly, we kept meeting single men on this path, men not dressed for a day’s hiking, indeed one in sandals and Speedos! There was clearly no reason for Mary to feel ill-at-ease if you catch my drift but I began to feel a bit jumpy.

Halfway along the trail we spotted a couple of guys just standing by the rail track before they disappeared down towards a small cove, above which flew a rainbow flag. When we reached where they had been standing, we were astounded to read on a signpost that we had arrived at the world’s first nude gay beach! Our education was then complete but I sneaked a quick photo as proof. On no account should this image be blown up for greater detail (but I know you will!)

Don't look too closely!

Don’t look too closely!

Leaving these gentlemen of leisure behind, we then spotted a couple of young women sunbathing nude down at the next cove and I just had to get the binoculars out to check if that was really a cormorant standing close by them! That moment made me feel much more normal again. The trail then hugged the railway line really closely for the next kilometre or so and we were treated to several trains thundering by less than 2 metres from the footpath. How exciting!

Health and Safety?

Health and Safety?

Despite these close encounters with the Barcelona to Valencia Line, we arrived safely back at the car, 10 miles under our belts and chuffed to bits that we had done the entire circuit. There had certainly been enough en route to keep us interested! Needless to say, after tea, we were both soon out for the count and missed almost the whole evening. I managed a Skype call to Gavin, my brother Joe and their respective wives but that was all we had energy for. The day had been wonderfully exciting and we went to bed truly contented with our lot.

Amidst all these pluses there was one single minus. Midway through making the tea, we ran out of gas! I had hoped it would last until we left Spain but we have run out of luck. I’ll have to buy a Spanish bottle and regulator tomorrow as there is nowhere you can exchange or refill the British Propane bottles on the continent because it appears they use a different fitting over here. I would have had to get one when we come back in September anyway so no loss really I suppose.

What a gay day it’s been!

Day 266: The Muse

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This morning I repeated the routine of yesterday at breakfast time. Outside in the sunshine I had my Frosties and cups of tea then took up the pen to write, a real pen this time and writing on a Tesco notepad as Mary was setting up the laptop for a pre-arranged Skype call from Scott. All of a sudden the literary tap came on and the words began to pour onto the blank page more easily than they had done in a long time. Within half an hour we had Socrates 10 down in ink and Mary’s reading of the first draft was very encouraging.

The next hour occupied both of us in a brilliant call to Scott during which we caught up on his latest adventures and discussed possible scenarios for next year including his work, studies and living arrangements. He sounded really well and positive about things in general but, like us, he is reaching saturation point with travelling and seeing new places so is similarly looking forward to going back to Scotland. For him that could be in eight or nine weeks while for us it’s now less than three and it’s strange to think that in August all three of us will be back in the flat in Dundee (at least for a wee while).

Mike came round shortly after we finished our call to Scott and we set our next table tennis game for three o’clock again. When that hour arrived and we took up the bats, we had another close encounter with scarcely a couple of points between us per game but today I managed to get the upper hand, albeit after 3 deuces in the third game of the final set. Now that’s well-matched! After our sport was over we joined the girls on the bar terrace and had a cool drink under an increasingly hot sun.

Clash of the Titans!

Clash of the Titans!

The weather can be a bit strange here in Catalonia. Although it is generally sunny most of the time, the area is subject to some quite strong breezes which can turn momentarily into fierce gusts, causing tents and awnings to strain on their moorings. The worst of the wind is very unpredictable and can appear to come out of nowhere with little or no warning. On the other hand, the sun warms the place up most days by ten o’clock and the temperature seems to peak between four and five in the afternoon when a hat and shades are a must.

Having mentioned our day trip to Tangiers over dinner last night I felt obliged to don my Fez and Jalaba again and visit our two closest neighbours, Mike and Heather and the Geordies Ian and Sue. The garb was well received by both and I think it gave them a bit of a laugh. I just hope they don’t think I’m some kind of crazy Scots lunatic! Mary served up a nice Carbonara around seven but she wouldn’t let me eat it with my fez on!

After tea I had a sudden panic that I hadn’t done the previous day’s post and the readers would be wondering what was wrong, as I have never missed updating the blog since the very early days of the adventure in Belgium. But strangely, with Socrates on my mind, I found it difficult to bash out the usual 500 words and it was approaching midnight when I was finally in a position to post both Day 265 and Socrates 10 once Mary had given me the thumbs-up.

With the addition of this post you now have plenty to catch up on. Enjoy!

Day 265: Geordie Dinner

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The weather was cracking good again today with just a bit of a breeze to stop it getting uncomfortable. I took breakfast outside in the sun then settled down to see if any inspiration came my way to allow me to finish Book 1 of Socrates. Nothing! I then turned my attention to putting up a couple of washing lines as Mary wanted to do all the laundry on such a fine drying day. Goodness gracious, she’s turning into her Mum ………. at long last! Soon the pitch looked like a Daz advert with smalls and not so smalls flapping in the wind.

At some point, neighbour Mike came over and asked me if by any chance I fancied a game of table-tennis. I couldn’t believe my luck quite frankly as I hadn’t had an opportunity to play my second favourite sport since Erwan Ansquer left St. Saviour’s. I of course accepted his invitation and we set three o’clock as the time for our first encounter. In the interim we busied ourselves with domestic chores and planned a few adjustments to the awning suitable for a long-term stay over here.

At three on the Dot Mike came round to fetch me and we walked up to where there are 3 table tennis tables set up permanently outside next to the boules pitches opposite the bar. Battle commenced after an initial knock-up which suggested we might be evenly matched and so it proved. I took the first set, Mike won the second and he won it 2-1 in the third. Amazingly the largest winning margin was 21-16, showing just how close every game was, including 2 games that went beyond 20-20.

There was barely time for a wee rest and a shower before we were off round to Sue and Ian’s for dinner to which they had invited us yesterday. Along with Heather and Mike we squeezed into their awning and enjoyed an excellent meal of Dutch toast and pâté with prawns, pork casserole, whiskey ice cream and generous helpings of various wines. At the end I got out the Ardbeg for sampling of what I consider the best whisky in the world. The over-the-table chat was absolutely superb with Geordie Sue on fine form while I revelled in an audience who had never heard my most outrageous school stories before.

To stick to the camp site rules (unlike the Spanish) we called it a day at about eleven o’clock and returned to our own caravans. Mary and I agreed it was brilliant to have such lovely neighbours with whom to share some of our time. Back in the cosy bed we chanced upon the film “American Gigolo” with Richard Gere but about halfway through, the Sandman ambushed both of us. I honestly can’t recall who switched it off!

Tomorrow I intend to have another go at finishing the adventures of Socrates, the sprinting snail of Sorrento, but as usual it will depend heavily on whether or not I am visited by the Muse. Don’t panic, I’ll finish it eventually, I promise. Just don’t hold your breath!

Day 264: Scalped!

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When we woke up this morning we decided not to get up right away but to watch the rest of “Alfie” which had failed to record the previous night. So, with a cup of tea to hand, we lay and watched Michael Caine sweep the girls off their feet one after another with his Cockney charm. Mary, who hadn’t seen the film before, was very angry with his 1960s male chauvinist pig attitude and his poor treatment of the girls he met, but even she had thawed and fallen under his spell by the end. Although this movie gave us his famous “My name is…..” opening line, I still prefer his even more famous “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” from the original “The Italian Job”.

As soon as I emerged from the awning after breakfast I was snapped up by next door neighbour Het, thrown into a chair with a towel around my shoulders and given the haircut I had requested a couple of days previous. The event drew a bit of a crowd, if the truth be told, and for once I did not feel comfortable as the centre of attention when every amateur stand-up comic in the campsite (my loving wife included!) had a go at me verbally. My hairdresser also played to the crowd and at one point left me the spitting image of Derek Jacobi as I Claudius from the magnificent BBC series.

I CLAVDIVS

I CLAVDIVS

The couple from behind the Magic Caravan came over as well and I could tell right away that they were Geordies by their accent. Mary got into conversation with the lady and soon they were exchanging notes on St. George’s Crescent, the Quarry pub and the Piper all of which this woman knew having lived close by. Small world, eh? When my haircut was over, the consensus of opinion was that it had taken years off me and, although I felt it was now a bit short, I really liked the finished article.

Call the police! I'm being groomed!

Call the police! I’m being groomed!

To repay the kindness we went into their caravan to see if we could discover why their dongle was using up huge amounts of data and causing them to run out of credit after only a few days instead of a month. Luckily we discovered the problem was a programme running in the background and after Mike had uninstalled it, his computer started to behave normally again. Then the Geordie couple asked about the new terrestrial TV installation I had in our caravan and next thing they were off into town to buy the same digital set-top box! It was a great piece of mutual helping each other out, especially when they returned with a couple of Ped-Eggs for us to use on our now thick-skinned heels.

Mary and I drove down into town later to get a pair of reading specs for me as I had broken my fifth pair the day before. Supermarkets in Spain don’t seem to sell such items but you can get them in bazaars I’m told: we found a nice pair in a chemist’s on the main road and made do with that. I am under strict orders not to break these ones but honestly I must be Uri Geller because every time I touch the bridge the specs just fold in two and fall apart!

Back at the Magic Caravan I sat outside for a read and fell asleep again in the sunshine just like yesterday. It was lovely outside but thankfully not quite as hot as yesterday due to a breeze which kept us cool all day. After tea I gorged myself on a crate of strawberries we’d bought at “Simply” for 1 Euro 50. They were huge, red as …….. Strawberries, and quite delicious! Friday night was indeed a quiet affair for us although there was a disco going on up at the bar outside under a gigantic full moon.

With my lack of hair I am now officially freezing!

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