Day 284: The End of the Adventure

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The final day of our great adventure started with a ship announcement saying breakfast was being served in some area or other. It pulled us from the sleep we had managed to grasp after spending the middle of the night checking all was well, given the lurching of the boat and the horrible metallic clunking noises we kept hearing. Our imaginations had clearly been of Titanic proportion as the North Sea appeared to be pretty much a mill pond when I’d looked out at 04.00 a.m.

Our cabin

Our cabin

Our cabin number! Mum's birthday is the 21st of June

Our cabin number! Mum’s birthday is the 21st of June

After our own private breakfast in the cabin we went up a deck to get a cup of tea, giving me the chance I needed to get online and upload my latest post. Just as I finished, the announcement to return to the car decks came over the tannoy so we fetched our belongings, locked the cabin, handed in the keys and made our way downstairs to the car. It was a bit of a long wait but at last we were driving off the boat and onto British soil again, complete with a shower of heavy rain!

British Soil

British Soil

We took the A19 past York then north through the Tyne tunnel and on to Mary’s sister Claire’s house where we had lunch. Her other sister resident in Geordie Land, Dorothy, came over soon after and, while I had 40 winks, the girls had an hour or so of a catch-up as only sisters do. By 15.15 we were back on the road, this time the final leg of our homeward journey, via Coldstream, Edinburgh and Perth to our home in Dundee.

The Forth Road Bridge

The Forth Road Bridge

The Friarton Bridge at Perth

The Friarton Bridge at Perth

Our Flat (top left)

Our Flat (top left)

We arrived safely at 19.30 to be greeted by our neighbour Uncle Gerard who gave us the keys to our flat. We were genuinely overwhelmed to be back and had forgotten how lovely our home actually was. After we had eaten the mince and tatties Mary’s Mum had left for us, both Mum and sister Alison came over to welcome us back. When they left, we emptied the car, tidied things away and then went through to catch up on local events with Uncle Gerard, before calling it a day at around midnight.

Well that’s the adventure over, nearly ten months of driving over 10,000 miles around Europe with the Magic Caravan. It has been an amazing experience and we are delighted to have shared it with you each day on the Blog. Some of you have been tremendously faithful to us, tuning in without a miss to read of our antics and where we were going next. We have appreciated your comments, which brings me to the award of the final Golden Pen I promised to give out today. The pen goes to Marc and Jud Schmitt, our friends from Andolsheim near Colmar in eastern France, who have followed us in writing and put us up twice on the actual journey. Thank you both for the support, the bed and the delicious meals. We will be back!

I cannot finish without saying a huge thank you to Mary for putting up with me in the close confines of the wee caravan for all 284 days of the adventure. That probably deserves a medal on its own! And I must confess to not getting round to finishing the story of Socrates, but I promise that, while there will be no more daily posts, you will still be able to catch the final chapter of the sprinting snail of Sorrento in an e-mail alert you will receive once I’ve written and uploaded it. You will also get a Statistics post with all the numbers. We would like anyone who has followed the blog to send in a final comment just so we have an idea of who was following us on the adventure.

Mary and I set out last August to see Europe and try to live the dream. We think we did just that. It has been wonderful and we ran out of superlatives a long time ago to describe what we’ve seen and done. We are now back home in the flat, safe and well, if a tad browner. Thank you to whoever looked after us. All good things must come to an end and this one just has.

Goodbye

George & Mary XXX

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Day 283: Zeebrugge

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We both slept well again last night, meaning we had an enthusiastic if somewhat basic breakfast, showered and chilled for half an hour before we packed our things and went down to the car. And there, in the car park of the Ibis Budget hotel in Laon, northern France, waiting for us on auto-suck on the driver’s door of the Audi, was Socrates!! How he got there we haven’t worked out yet, as we still don’t quite see how a snail, even a sprinting snail from Sorrento, can get onto the bodywork of a car. But there he was, as large as life, stretched out of his shell home as if he knew we had stretched out of our Magic Caravan. Remarkable!

But what makes the whole thing even stranger is that we took a photo of Socrates stuck to the Audi using our Nikon camera. And when I downloaded all the photos from today on the boat, the picture of the snail had mysteriously vanished! Honestly, all the other photos were there but not the special one we wanted. We simply cannot understand what went wrong!

Anyhow, I placed Socrates safely in the French grass, bid him farewell and we drove off in the direction of Belgium, heading for the ferry port at Zeebrugge. Just a few miles up the road I stopped to get some diesel and luckily there was a small Carrefour behind the petrol station so we went in and bought our lunch, tea and tomorrow’s breakfast, probably saving ourselves about a thousand pounds! The next hour was an idyllic drive through the fields of northern France, iconic in their lack of hedgerows allowing the crops to creep right up to the roadside.

Lunch was eaten in the car at a motorway car park where we wasted an hour or so just chatting about the adventure which was rapidly coming to a close. We reminisced about favourite moments but there really have been so many sights and sounds that we’re not sure how we are going to organize them. Thank God we decided to keep this blog otherwise we might have forgotten the half of what we’ve seen and done.

We brought A Ferry!

We brought A Ferry!

In no time at all we were at the quayside in Zeebrugge where we waited around for half an hour before check-in opened, allowing us into the car park area from where we could access the café and get a cup of tea. At four o’clock we had to be back to get through passport control and then it was a matter of waiting at the boat side until the gates opened and we were waved onboard. We had the marvellous sight of dozens of bikers and guys on Lambretta scooters returning from some rally or other leading us onto the vessel in a roar of motorcycle engines mixed in with the put-put of 2-stroke machines.

Arrived!

Arrived!

As the weather closed in, we left mainland Europe and headed out into the North Sea on our way back to the “Island” as that German guy in Neckargemund called it back in September of last year. We toasted our adventure up in the bar where we watched English TV for the first time in we don’t remember before returning to our cabin for a welcome night’s rest.

As I type this, the sea’s getting a wee bit choppy!

Day 282: How to avoid Paris

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Boy, did we sleep well last night! Maybe it was because we were sleeping in a bed we didn’t have to build for the first time in three months. Or perhaps it was the 600 or so kilometres we had driven during the day to get to Clermont-Ferrand in the Massif Central. Whatever the reason, we appreciated the recharge our batteries were given and we bounced out of bed just after eight, had breakfast, packed our things and headed north.

Passing Vichy

Passing Vichy

The first thing of note was passing Vichy, the erstwhile capital of supposedly unoccupied France during WWII and home to the administration of collaborators who shamed France during the conflict. Next it was a place we were genuinely tempted to stop at: the town of Nevers, home to the sanctuary of Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes whose reputedly incorrupt 130-year old body still lies in the Chapel of Saint Gidard at the Sisters of Charity. We decided to write this one down as a definite must-see on our return journey in September, so drove on towards Paris.

Never say Nevers!

Never say Nevers!

Capital Letters

Capital Letters

Mary took over the driving just past Nevers and she did very well indeed until we started to meet the Parisian traffic just outside one of our favourite spots, the chateau of Fontainebleau. That called for me to assume the wheel again and maybe just as well because it got really hairy for the next hour until we had skirted the south of the capital, swept round its eastern perimeter and then moved off towards Rheims and our final destination for today, the small town of Laon where we had spent the night on a previous visit to France many years ago.

Moulin near Moulins

Moulin near Moulins

The new town is called Soissons Neuf!

The new town is called Soissons Neuf!

Unlike last night, there were no accommodation problems to be dealt with as the hotel we had chosen had loads of rooms available and we were soon settled in. I had 40 winks while Mary got online using the free Internet connection and when I awoke we drove the short distance to McDonald’s where I had my tea. While I munched on a couple of cheeseburgers, Mary called her Mum and sister Claire to let them know how we were progressing on our long journey back to Scotland.

Back at the hotel we did our own thing until fatigue started to get the better of us although we had enjoyed an evening of our favourite music which I organized in random order to keep the surprises coming. We marvelled at Mama Cass singing “Dream a little dream of me”, welled up at John Lennon’s “Woman”, danced to Oasis’ “She’s Electric” and dreamt of being home listening to the Proclaimers’ “Sunshine on Leith”.

Anyone need a DJ?

Day 281: Bonjour la France!

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Having actually set an alarm to ensure we were up nice and early, we were both awake and sitting waiting for it to go off at 07.30! All those final kind of things were done, spare food was distributed, umpteen neighbours came to say farewell and have a safe journey and I went and passed on my condolences to my French acquaintance whose wife had the stroke yesterday. The news was not good however and her paralysis up one side has already been classed as irreversible. Poor lady!

Our nearest neighbours, Mike and Heather, waved us off along with the big Dutch lad next to them and that was us on our way out of Vilanova Park and up the hill to the caravan storage. At least that was what we thought! When we got there, the place was deserted and no amount of horn-blasting succeeded in raising the owners, so we detached the Magic Caravan and left it at the farm while we returned to the camp site to get help. They did contact the owner who promised to open the barn immediately, but it was a bit embarrassing to meet Mike and the Dutchman up at reception, having just wished them a pleasant summer!

Back we went, and this time our beloved home was put into a nice, cosy barn along with a dozen other caravans and motor homes with whom it will share the next 3 months. We were sad to leave it there but at least it will be protected from the blazing sun and the other elements. I checked it was all locked up and then we were off again, this time to “Simply” to get a few bits and bobs we thought would come in handy on the journey. Finally, at just after eleven, we hit the motorway and headed for France.

Montserrat

Montserrat

Do we smell garlic?

Do we smell garlic?

We made excellent headway in the good weather, crossing the border and getting as far as the A75 at Béziers where Mary took over the driving for the next 100 kilometres to give me a wee break. This meant that she became the first of us to drive across the famous Millau Viaduct at the Gorges du Tarn, an absolutely fantastic spectacle and one which persuaded us to pull into the visitor centre on the north side. We walked up the hill of course to take in the brilliant view of this modern miracle of engineering and we took some good photos as you’ll see.

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Crossing the Millau Viaduct

And look who's driving!

And look who’s driving!

From there it was up into the Massif Central, reaching well over 3000 feet at times and then steeply downhill to our destination just south of Clermont Ferrand.

The top of the Massif A75

The top of the Massif A75

On the way down we stopped at a McDonalds and had our tea. Guess what? When we arrived at our chosen hotel, an entire school party were just checking in, having booked all the available rooms! Fortunately there were 3 other hotels in the precinct as is often the case in France and we found a room at a “Quick Palace” motel.

A great place for breakfast?

A great place for breakfast?

The room is tidy and clean, we have our own bathroom and shower, the TV works and the Internet is fast and free. That explains why I’m able to do this post at roughly the usual time. I hope I manage to put on the photos because I think they’re really good.

Can we extend a special “thank you” to Marion & Mel for following our blog all the way from day 27 in Ochsenfurth to its near conclusion now? We are delighted they found it interesting enough to keep up with the adventure. Please accept our kind thanks for your faith in us.

I hope to be writing tomorrow’s blog just east of Paris but can’t say for sure. On verra!

The Millau Viaduct

The Millau Viaduct

 

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

 

Look! A water spout!

Look! A water spout!

 

 

Day 280: Last Day in Spain

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Our last full day on site at Vilanova Park started with a couple of heavy showers but brightened up quickly thanks to a really hot sun which dried the roads in minutes. Still, it was satisfying that the awning was safely tucked away in its bag in the toilet of the Magic Caravan. Any optimism was then dashed as we all heard that the lovely old French lady three up on the other side of the row had had a stroke and been whisked off to hospital in Barcelona. At this moment we have no idea how she is but our thoughts are with her and her husband.

We had to meticulously pick our way through all our drawers to ensure there were no items we would be requiring to use when we got back home and it was quite amazing the little things we discovered lying hidden within their confines. Meanwhile the heavens kept threatening to open but never actually managed to cause us any concern, restricting itself to two-minute sprinkles of warm Spanish rain, not even enough to chase the sun worshippers away from the outdoor pool where so many of them prefer to spend every waking minute.

Around four o’clock, Mike and I went up for a final challenge match for this series and once again there was barely a cigarette paper between us while I had the lion’s share of good fortune and shots off the edge, sneaking victory by two sets to one. We toasted our recent excellent sport with a pint at the bar then I came back down to the caravan to find Mary had made brilliant progress inside, with all areas hoovered, washed, scrubbed and made ready for the 3 months’ storage. I promised to join in as soon as I’d had my post-match kip and the next 90 minutes were spent in the land of Nod.

All we had left for tea was a pizza which we were still eating when Carol’s other half Rob came over to wish us farewell. Typically he ended up staying an hour or so, recounting for us over a cup of tea his life in Liverpool and his work in the shipyard there. Just another friendly neighbour popping in for a cuppa and a chat, part of the daily life here on the camp site, the life we have learned to love so much.

And then it was a final check that we had everything packed either in the caravan for leaving here or in the Audi for bringing home with us. I told Mary I was going to write up this post early so that it could be on the Blog using the bar’s Internet as we will have no service tomorrow morning. So we strolled up there for the last time on the adventure, uploaded today’s post and raised a glass to Vilanova Park where we will return in 3 months and of course to our beloved Magic Caravan.

Tomorrow we wave it goodbye and set off on the long journey home. Next stop: Clermont-Ferrand.

Day 279: Disassembly

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We awoke to ten minutes of thunderstorm this morning and that determined how the rest was spent. Fortunately, as is often the case in places like Spain, the sun came back out almost immediately afterwards and everything dried off in about 15 minutes. Having checked the forecast again, we decided not to take the risk of being left with a wet awning and carpet on Monday morning, so the awning had to come down.

Over the next couple of hours we disassembled, unhooked, detached, spread out, cleaned, folded and packed the awning roof, the doors and windows, the skirt, the rubber carpet and the poles. We even managed to get them all to fit into their carry-bags which was a first for us. So, when all was done, we were assured we could leave all that gear in the Magic Caravan over the summer and not come back to find it covered in mould and stinking the place out.

Next we drove down to “Simply” for a few things and while Mary shopped, I went to the bank to get our Euros for the return journey, filled up with diesel, checked the tyre pressures and then joined her in the supermarket where, among other things, I bought a set of emergency bulbs as required in France. Maybe they were required elsewhere in Europe when we didn’t have any with us, but it’s far too late to worry about that now! Nobody’s perfect.

Heather and Mary

Heather and Mary

By the time we got back to Vilanova Park it was almost time to join Mike & Heather for tea so we settled for nibbles instead of a late lunch. Ablutions were carried out at the last minute and, looking and smelling at our best, we walked the 5 metres to our neighbours’ pitch where we shared a couple of drinks before they spoiled us with a great pork casserole followed by freshly-made crepes with a variety of fillings. The meal was delicious eaten outdoors and we spent the entire evening at table on the road in front of our caravans where the sun continued to shine until dusk.

Los 4 amigos!

Los 4 amigos!

Mike and Heather are a genuinely nice couple with whom we get on really well and they have invited us to go down to their place in the Lake District at the end of August for a party they’re having. As we’ll almost certainly still be in Scotland at that point, there is a very good chance we’ll be taking them up on their invitation as we’ve enjoyed their company enormously. They also think they’ll be coming back to Vilanova Park sometime in the autumn so we’ll likely see them here as well.

Mike and Mary

Mike and Mary

These pancakes are good!

These pancakes are good!

Tomorrow is our last day in Spain on the Adventure. We have to admit that Spain has turned out to be much, much better than we ever imagined it would be and nothing like the stereotypes we see on the television. The Spanish are friendly, hard-working and keen to please, even if they are ridiculously loud and what might appear to be inconsiderate when on the site. Vilanova Park is also by a country mile the best site we’ve ever stayed on in the whole of Europe and we’re sure we’ll be happy staying here long-term starting in September.

Just like we’ve been feeling of late, Scott has texted us to say that now he’s preparing to come home he’s beginning to have regrets and hopes what time is left in Oz won’t fly by too quickly!

Aren’t we greedy!

Day 278: Light at the End

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That huge task we started to a couple of days ago, getting everything organized for our departure on Monday, suddenly began to feel as if it were in the final stages of completion at around midday today. The morning had been spent packing what we had decided to leave under one of our two bench seats, I had started to load the car boot with the stuff we’re bringing home and Mary had worked her way through a small mountain of clothing, separating it into leave, take and throw out.

It was hot again so we paused for a drink of Coke and that’s when we realised there wasn’t an awful lot more to do. There were 4 bags in the awning, one full of other empty bags, 2 filled with rubbish and a fourth with items Mary was bringing home. Once I’d been to the bins, four became two then one after I packed Mary’s bag in the car. What was left related to the awning and so couldn’t be processed at this point. Indeed such was our efficiency that I’m not sure there is much to store below the other bench seat.

The community here is quite inspiring. The Welsh guy came over with a bag of ice he couldn’t fit in his freezer, Scouse Carol came round with all sorts of stuff she no longer needed before going home and we got rid of books and various unwanted articles and food. Add to that the fact that we are invited to dinner at Mike and Heather’s tomorrow tonight and you can see there are loads of friendly neighbours all helping each other out. It’s a bit like it used to be on South Road in Dundee in the late fifties and early sixties, a group of families all looking out for each other and ready to lend a hand when necessary.

We are not so generous when we play table-tennis however. Both Mike and I are competitive by nature and neither of us wants to lose a game so we pull out all the stops when we face each other over the combat table. Rally after rally goes beyond 20 strokes with a recent couple up into the forties, while we now expect the ball to come back no matter how good a shot we play. That’s the way it played out today in the late afternoon, a “no quarter asked, none given” type of duel in the sun, providing both of us with an excellent workout as a bonus. Luck was on my side as it turned out although I admitted to Mike at the end that I’m probably playing as well as I have ever played in my whole life just now. The result matters a bit, as it always does, but the sport is fantastic and I’m extremely grateful to Mike for reintroducing me to a game I’d forgotten I could play.

After tea Mary and I went for a stroll around the site up by the restaurant and pool, watching the holidaymakers enjoying their annual break. The Irish are here in force now and it is a joy to hear their lilting accents borne on the breeze as we walk around. The kids have a ball too, especially down at the pool and at the disco which plays for them outside the bar on the recreation area. We have to admit to trying out the crane machine in the games room, something Mary loves to play. On her second turn she again came up trumps, nabbing a lovely soft tiger which will be heading to Ben when we get back. Well done, Mary, the Queen of the Crane.

Very late on, a couple of Spanish families moved in behind us, probably for the weekend as usual. It therefore got rather noisy again and they were still chattering away at about one-thirty in the morning after setting up their vehicles well after eleven. Like I’ve said before, the Spanish weekenders don’t really respect the normal campsite rules like the long-stay folk do but then again most of the latter are senior citizens so there aren’t loads of kids with them, are they? In any case it doesn’t and won’t bother us much as they are entitled to their weekend break. They just happen to talk awfully loud!

The weather is forecast to be stormy and wet over the weekend so we’ll have to be careful as to when we take down the awning as we don’t want to store it away when it’s damp. A nice sunny, dry Sunday would be appreciated, thank you, God! Or is it the BBC that makes the weather?

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