Day 2/16: September in Vilanova

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I felt it was about time I updated you all on what’s been happening out here for the past few days. First of all, it’s hot! Very, very hot! The heavy rains and thunderstorms which welcomed us back have long gone and we are on our seventh consecutive day of unbroken sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. It can get really too hot in the caravan between two and five in the afternoon and even the awning becomes uncomfortable from time to time as the photo will show.

Pheeeww!

Pheeeww!

With such brilliant weather (weather neither of us expected) it is no surprise to read that we swan around in as little as possible for most of the day and have had to go swimming in the Med down at Vilanova beach, something we may repeat tomorrow. If my crude Spanish serves me well I believe the weather girl (Ah! Judith I miss you so!) has just said for the foreseeable future it is going to be sunnier and warmer!

We have already made loads of friends on the campsite, people of many nationalities including Dutch, French and Norwegian, but the only guy we have difficulty understanding is the very broad Geordie truck driver over the back who keeps telling us about ganging hea and ganging theya! Many of the regular returners appear to be back and Section F (Millionaires’ Row) where we are is almost full now. There are still a few holidaymakers here, mostly from England, but we are now officially in the Low Season and the costs have tumbled.

In the Magic Caravan, the new TV is now set up, alongside the new microwave and washing machine – which we used for the second time today- while we are also using a new kettle and have 24/7 Internet again thanks to Orange Espana. We now Skype and FaceTime regularly from the awning or caravan, allowing us to keep up with our 4 sons and the 2 grandchildren, Ben and Artemis, both of whom we’ve seen already. They are progressing well and we’ll no doubt see big changes when we come back for Ari’s christening just before Xmas.

Also at home, Greg has found a job locally in Montrose and has a 3-month contract of full time hours Monday to Friday to earn some much-needed cash for him and Karen. Fingers crossed there then! Gavin has now just gone back to work after Ari’s birth (she’s 3 weeks old tonight!) so Eve will be a little anxious, but no doubt her brilliant Mum Elaine will be able to lend her a helping hand or two having retired from her job at Angus College.

My cousin Renee and her husband are in the throes of moving house from Woodside to Blairgowrie, not very far but that doesn’t make a flitting any easier. But Renee will be winging her way here in 10 days time in the company of her daughter Teresa and granddaughter Becky. I just hope she brings me some cheap antihistamines (they’re very expensive here) and some Tetley’s tea-bags!

Despite the heat I had 3 sets of tennis with Fred today around five o’clock and totally enjoyed being back out on the court again even if I suffered a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 defeat. Fred also led us (on his motorbike) to a lovely village a few miles down the coast where we spent an excellent afternoon enjoying their quaint little buildings and houses, as well as a quick paddle at their beach.

The village rules

The village rules

Scott left this morning with his pals on a few days’ holiday to Hamburg where they’ll be taking in a Bundesliga match on Saturday. Let’s hope they have a great time and don’t do anything daft! Unlike Gavin who once phoned us in the wee small hours from Munich where he was attending a Stag Party to ask for directions back to his hotel as he was drunk and had lost his friends! Little Artemis will put a stop to that kind of behaviour I’m sure!

We raided the bins a couple of days ago and came away with a nice fold-leaf table which now has pride of place in the awning. All the long-term residents do a bit of scavenging from Eurocamp, Keycamp and so on, acquiring perfectly good furniture they dispose of at the end of the high season. People even appear to get settees and washing-machines off the scrap heap.

Well, everyone, that’s you up to date from your Catalan correspondents. It’ just gone 11 here in the Magic Caravan and the thermometer is showing 30 degrees, so I reckon a cold drink is called for. Stay tuned and don’t forgot to comment if you can.

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Day 2/8: Our first days back.

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So we had reached our Spanish home again.

As it was dark by then, and we were fairly frazzled by the horrendous weather we had driven through, we opted to simply level off the Magic Caravan, fix up the electricity and put down the bed. The rest could wait. Mary was keen to tell everyone we’d arrived so we went up to the bar for one drink and to use the Internet. While she was chatting to various members of the family, I glanced around to see if I recognized anyone, having already said hello to 3 or 4 of the staff. As I did so, a guy wandered in and stood in the middle of the bar, apparently checking his i-phone. I could hardly believe it! It was Fred, one of the group of friends with whom we had shared fun times together during our first stay here last February. And like us he had only just arrived so this was a great surprise and a really pleasant one too! Needless to say we shared a couple of drinks before retiring for the night.

Sunday was a day for getting ourselves organized, mainly by erecting the awning and then slowly unpacking everything. Around midday who should appear at our door but Carol and Rob, the scousers we met in May/June so we caught up on all their news. Next it was Kate and Dave, friends of our pals Mike and Het. This new couple had set up on the very pitch we were on before we came back home in June and after general introductions we were invited round for drinks after tea that evening. How nice was that?

Around this point the heat became quite oppressive so we retreated indoors just in time to escape an eye-popping thunderstorm that assailed the site for half-an-hour and left a river running by on the road in front of our awning. Luckily, as our pitch is slightly sloping left to right and front to back, the water behaved itself and ran under our rubber carpet and out the back underneath the caravan. No damage incurred.

The Rain in Spain

The Rain in Spain

That evening we walked the long twenty metres to Kate and Dave’s where we enjoyed a glass or two in the company of two other friends of theirs, Kirsten and Kjell from Norway. Everyone was quite impressed that I could spell Kjell’s name, but as any Dundee United fan will tell you, Kjell Olofsson was a legend down Tannadice way in the mid-to-late 90s and he was the reason “Love (Kjell) is in the air” became a favourite tune at United matches.

Monday was warm and sunny and we spent quite a lot of time in town buying food and some new furniture for the awning, including quite the bluest chest of drawers you ever did see!

Quite a change from pine!

Quite a change from pine!

Tuesday wasn’t warm but roasting hot, forcing us to seek shelter in the shade of the 3 trees on our pitch as the temperature in the awning reached 38 degrees! Shorts and sandals had by then become the attire of choice, although this did allow our most unfavourite insects ,the mosquitoes, to have their evil way with us, leaving Mary as usual distressed by the amount of venom she had taken on board. As I speak she is nursing a collection of lumps on her lower limbs while I have my fair share of bites but strangely to my hands and elbows.

Yesterday’s main job, despite the heat, was to get to the Orange shop and recharge our monthly Internet account which we managed to do at the second time of asking, giving us access in the caravan and awning 24/7 for the next 30 days. That’s the main reason why I was able to update you yesterday. After tea, I met up with Fred and we went up to the bar to try and see the England game but all we got was Spain playing a friendly v Chile so we gave up after we’d had a blether.

I did note another excellent victory for Scotland, this time 2-1 away to Macedonia, so it appears that “wee ginge” has got the lads up and running at last. Did you know BTW that Gordon Strachan is an Honorary President of my beloved amateur club Kelso? It’s because he married the sister of Kenny Scott, ex-secretary of our club. I’m told he even attended a game once and also explains why Kelso’s ex-manager Colin Murphy, mine host at the Hawkhill Tavern, ended up speaking to Eric Cantona the night Leeds United won the final English First Division in 1992.

Last night late on, we were treated to that most interesting of continental phenomena, the rainless thunderstorm. We had a spectacular twenty minutes of flashing lights and loud cracks as the storm moved across the Med skirting Vilanova but leaving her dry and intact. We watched this from the road outside the Magic Caravan at 11 at night with the thermometer showing 24 degrees.

That’s one reason why we’re here.

Day 2/7: We got here….just!

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As promised in post 2/1, we left Troyes on Friday morning and headed for Clermont-Ferrand. Five minutes into our journey, a flashing warning light popped up on the dashboard display and I recognised it as the glow symbol used to warm diesel ignition. The car felt fine so I ignored the annoying little flasher and left the town, although at the first incline I could sense a definite lack of power under my right foot. Could the Audi be in limp mode? It had happened once before, on our way back from Killin after Munroamers 2012 with the boys. I had learned then that a fault in the engine management system tells the computer to protect the car by restricting the rpm to 2500.

Because we could reach 70-80 mph downhill I was unconvinced so soldiered on to Nevers as planned. After a bit of dithering we found the “Espace Bernadette” and inside the wee chapel there lay the body of Bernadette of Lourdes, reputedly uncorrupted inside a glass sepulchre wearing porcelain masks on her face and hands.

We sat on the front bench and said some prayers then just meditated for a bit, but we were plucked from our reverie by a priest who suddenly came to stand in front of us and proceeded to describe Bernadette’s history in German to invisible listeners behind us. Upon turning round we found we were now at the front of a horde of German pilgrims who were merrily reciting the rosary out loud in their own tongue! Undaunted we joined in! How weird was that? After a few minutes we left the chapel and went and sat at the mock-up of the grotto of Lourdes which had been built in the grounds. Having visited the true grotto, this model was pretty but that’s all.

Next stop was Magny-Cours, again as planned. Thanks to our beloved Victoria, the queen of Tom-Tom, we found the house we were looking for and introduced ourselves to a very shocked and surprised Janine and Catherine, cousin and aunt to my cousin Renée. We stayed for about an hour, explaining who we were and what family we had. The situation was slightly surreal but the coffee and cake thankfully wasn’t! These new far-off relations were lovely people and we really enjoyed our short visit to their home but we had to press on to our next hotel in Clermont-Ferrand.

On our way there we met a couple of very long steep inclines which the Audi simply couldn’t deal with as it usually did and I knew then that something was badly wrong. However we got to the hotel finally and settled in for the night. Using the free Wi-Fi I checked out Audi forums to try to get an idea of what might be wrong but all I could establish was that there were a hundred different possibilities and that the car was definitely in “limp mode”.

Next morning I searched for an Audi garage online and found one……… 500 metres from our hotel! I was there by eight o’clock to find them opening for the day in the VW section but not in the Audi half. Fortunately the VW technician agreed to run our Audi through the computer to print out the faults and was then able to tell me I needed a new sensor for the particulate filter, the short-circuit on the old one being the reason the computer put the car into “limp mode”. I was told I could get a new sensor from Audi… on Monday when they opened!

After I’d explained we were meant to be in Barcelona that evening, the guy called in his top technician, fitted a new sensor, test-drove the car, pronounced it in perfect running condition and charged me only for the new part (70 Euros). At last, a major stroke of luck. By 11 a.m. we were climbing through the slopes of the Massif Central as if they weren’t there! Down, down to the Millau Viaduct we sailed, onwards to Béziers then away westwards towards Perpignan and the Spanish Border. Just after Béziers it started to rain heavily as dark clouds crowded together in a threatening sky while huge, scary rumbles of thunder and shocking flashes of lightning filled the air. The rain became so fierce that we pulled off the motorway 3 times for safety’s sake and to give the driver a break before venturing out into clouds of spray and maniac drivers doing over 80 mph when visibility was near zero and there were lakes of casual water on the road surface. Crazy!

Slowly but surely we worked through the storm which finally abated to just normal rain between Girona and Barcelona, leaving us to travel the last 50 kms of our 660 kms trip in reasonable conditions. After such a traumatic day, our long-awaited arrival back at Vilanova Park was a wee bit of an anti-climax but we were delighted to see our Magic Caravan waiting to greet us when we turned down the lane to our reserved pitch. We’d made it!

You know what? I’ll tell you more tomorrow!

Day 2/1: Off again!

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So, we’ve left Dundee behind, driven down to Hull, taken the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge and then cruised through the Ardennes to the town of Troyes, east of Paris. We’re staying in a city centre Ibis budget hotel which is perfect for our needs and I’ve just demolished a Chinese takeaway! It has been very, very warm today with temperatures in the low 30s and still the high 20s here at 11 o’clock in the evening.

Bye! Bye! GB

Bye! Bye! GB

The crossing was smooth although the vibrations coming from the engines were a little OTT and must have kept some of the light sleepers off their kip. Fortunately we were both pretty catatonic and slept like logs (wooden not mathematical ones). Come to think of it, even those wooden ones don’t sleep. do they? But we did sleep the sleep of the just and the innocent and that really helped on the 6 hour drive south today. Being incredibly tight-fisted, we avoided all the motorways and enjoyed the pleasures of the hills and rolling farmlands of Ardennes. How beautiful they are! Our comfort was ensured by the Audi’s a/c system which kept up a constant blast of chilled air to stop us from roasting in our own juices inside the car.

I must admit that the trip from Hull to Zeebrugge was a bit of a bargain so I have no hesitation in recommending it to all who may wish to take a drive on the continent. The one-way trip for 2 people and a car came to £139 including a 2-berth overnight cabin with en suite. Take the saving on diesel off that as well, not to mention the nervous energy. I bought the dinner/breakfast combination on board (£24) and that got me an all-you-can-eat dinner last night and a full buffet breakfast both continental and cooked this morning. Great value!

Speed bonny boat!

Speed bonny boat!

Tomorrow we drive down to Nevers to visit the incorruptible remains of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, will try to pop in on my cousin Renée’s cousin on her father’s side who lives in Magny-Cours (famous for the French Grand Prix), then it’s up into the Massif and Clermont Ferrand before stopping overnight in another Ibis hotel, this time in Issoire on the way down to the Millau Viaduct again.

As we had an hour to spare on our way to Hull we tried to pop in to see Uncle Terry and auntie Ellen in Leeds. Oh, we saw them alright, except it was in Ward C3 of Chapel Allerton Hospital where Ellen is recovering from a replacement hip operation she had on Tuesday. What a brave person she is, and what a happy welcome she gave us when we strolled in. It was nice to see my cousin Gillian too, no matter how brief our visit was. I wish all my family in England the very best (as long as you don’t win the next World Cup!)

I offer a welcome to anyone new to the Blog. Although I won’t be posting every day, I will keep you up-to-date with year 2 of our adventure with 2 or 3 posts a week. Remember to keep the comments flooding in as we really enjoy reading what your take on things is while we’re so far away living with Johnny Foreigner!

A special kiss for our 2 brilliant grandchildren, Ben and Artemis. We love you dearly. XX

We’ve been in Troyes for 6 hours now but still haven’t seen the wooden horse. I’ll ask at the Greek restaurant!

 

Miracle

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A most wonderful thing happened last Thursday. We were given a granddaughter. The great wonder of nature allowed our son Gavin and his wife Eve to produce and bring into the world a most beautiful baby girl to whom they gave the names Artemis Isabelle Eloise, a trio of elaborate vowels. At 8 pounds 9 ounces, she was no delicate flower but a genuine goddess of hunting, a “chubber” as her ecstatic father cruelly labelled her on her first photo on Facebook.

Artemis is only the second girl in the Burton dynasty in the past 37 years! We have managed to churn out boys by the dozen but the distaff side had resisted resolutely, so you can imagine how extreme was our delight when Gavin announced that we had a granddaughter. She is an absolute gem of a child (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?) although I haven’t gone the past 5 nights stealing an hour’s sleep every so often just to keep me alive.

Eve, Artemis, Mary and me

Eve, Artemis, Mary and me

Meanwhile we are packed and ready to leave for the ferry at Hull tomorrow evening. All our family cheerios have been said, hugs have been exchanged, the odd tear has been shed and the car has been laden with all the articles we have bought to smarten up the Magic Caravan when we get back to Vilanova. Speaking of which, the campsite have already arranged for our caravan to be brought out of storage and left on our pitch in advance of our arrival next Saturday. Now that’s what I call service!

The summer has been excellent back here in Dundee with weather well above average and a general warmth we haven’t felt for a long time. We’ve put ourselves about and caught up with everyone on both sides of the family as well as the vast majority of our long-term friends. Open Day last Saturday was a great success with a continuous houseful of acquaintances until two in the morning after which we slept long and sound as you might expect.

I had a meeting with Lainey, my illustrator, yesterday and we agreed on a final version of Socrates for the front cover of the hard copy example. Lainey is a lovely girl and I am confident she will produce a series of drawings to enhance my children’s book, which we hope to have in the shops by Xmas if all goes well.

Well, the transfer window has closed and Bale is now a Real Madrid player. But Burton has signed a 10 month contract with Vilanova I la Geltru. Watch this space!

Our wee angel!

Our wee angel!