Day 4/15: Tibidabo surprise!

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So we’ve finally found a moment to catch our breaths. Today we actually did things we would normally do on a bright, warm Saturday in September like tidy up in the caravan, under the bed, in the awning, under the gazebo etc. That’s because Greg and Karen have gone home. We drove them to Barcelona Estacion del Norte on Thursday at 16.30 and off they went on the Megabus of all things! Such a pity that that particular bus broke down 3 times en route to Paris, meaning that the poor souls only reached home this afternoon, but Greg told me they’ll almost certainly get the full fare back so that makes up for the nightmare a little.

We have had a brilliant time with number 3 son and fiancée here at Vilanova Park campsite over the past 9 days and we’ve all four genuinely enjoyed their stay. They were in a Lifestyle chalet again, not five minutes from our pitch and we spent equal amounts of time in our caravan and in their chalet, although I cooked the last 4 meals at theirs just because there was more room.

One of the things I got them to help me with was putting up our Gazebo which we’ve had for 2 years but never used. Disassembled and with no instructions, it turned into a Krypton factor type puzzle but we followed a certain kind of logic and eventually worked out which poles went where. Mary was absolutely delighted with it when she got back from town and I’m sure we will spend many a happy hour beneath its not insubstantial shade.

On Sunday we’d promised to pick Scottish Annie up from the same bus station in Barcelona which meant we had to miss out on taking the kids back to the Biker Bar but we made it up to them by driving down to Roc de Gaieta, one of the most beautiful villages in Catalunya. Greg and I even managed a wee swim off the beach while the girls looked on admiringly!

Wet ones!

Wet ones!

Tuesday was an absolutely stonking day. After breakfast of bacon and eggs we prepared a picnic, jumped in the Audi and sped off to Tibidabo, the high hill to the North-West of Barcelona. The weather was again really good to us although there were some clouds to be seen and the sky wasn’t for once clear and blue. However, once we were up there (at the second attempt, thanks to Victoria not being able to find a signal) we were treated to a fantastic view of the Catalan capital and the Mediterranean beyond. They say that on a good day you can actually see Majorca from there.

Duck!

Duck!

This time though, you have to remember we were with 2 youngsters and, as Tibidabo is famous for the funfair it has perched on its uppermost slopes, there was always the chance that this visit would be different from our previous ones. And so it turned out! Once we had taken in the view and gobbled up our picnic underneath the funfair’s aeroplane, we bought some tickets and went for it despite butterflies all round. Well, that was great fun and we really enjoyed (is that the right word, Karen?) being swung out over the steep slopes of Tibidabo in a mock-up of the first ever plane to fly from Madrid to Barcelona. It felt like being in an Indiana Jones movie.

They're fine, honest!

They’re fine, honest!

Once back on terra firma we decided to stroll down to the north end of the plateau top, a maze of paths joined by children’s chutes. As I stood at the bottom of one I’d just slid down, waiting to capture a photo of Greg as he emerged from the silver tube, I noticed Karen wide-eyed and telling me “it’s behind you”. Suspecting another annoying wasp, I spun round with hand raised, only to find myself face-to-face with a wild boar! No kidding, there it was about 5 metres away and heading straight for me. Have you any idea how quickly you can get up a flight of stairs when motivated?

Bacon, anyone?

Bacon, anyone?

With the 4 of us up above the path on a wee wooden bridge we watched the creature wander about below us then suddenly jump up to a level opposite us before thankfully wandering off down a path. Suspecting it was a young boar (no tusks you see!) Greg and I tracked it away down through the bushes before the four of us moved on towards the car park and some more great views. But on our way back to the funfair we were attracted to an East-European group of young folk who were standing close to the animal taking photos. Emboldened, we joined in and got some really good shots before the interesting boar (is that a contradiction?) slunk off into the bushes.

We spent a bit more time looking at the churches on the hill before deciding it was time to drive back to Vilanova where I had a nap while the others did various things they needed to do. Mary prepared her lessons for the next day and Greg and Karen went for a swim at the pool. That evening I prepared a cheeky wee sausage casserole for us all and the evening finished with a classic game of “Newmarket”.

On the Wednesday, despite the soaring temperatures and while Mary was at work, Greg and I finally had that game of tennis we’d been trying to have since he arrived. Although he claimed he’d overdone his warm-up against Karen, my 6-4 6-4 triumph against him was as sweet as ever and cheered me up no end. Nice to know you’ve still got something worth cheering about! Our final evening was by request Dad’s Spaghetti Tuna in Martini sauce which proved as tasty as it always does and then a final few hands of cards together before we had to say “Last Jack in the Box” and go to bed.

As you would expect, Greg and Karen were rather subdued on Thursday morning in anticipation of the end of their holiday, but Mary and I jollied them along as best we could until it was time to take to the road again and brave the streets of Barcelona. We got them there ok and after a tight set of hugs we left them to finish their own adventure while we made our way back to Vilanova and a wee rest.

Yesterday I finally got to work on putting the photos into my new book and I’ve made reasonable progress today as well. Sitting here in the awning just after midnight, we’ve been treated to one of those classic continental thunderstorms we get every so often and it provides us with quite a show. This morning I managed to book our flights home to celebrate Mary’s birthday (I won’t say which one but she’s 49 at the moment!) and we’ll be flying to Edinburgh via Brussels for a change just to save a few bob. We’ve managed to arrange to be back for 5 days from the 29 October and we hope to see as many of you as possible in the Invergowrie Inn on Hallowe’en for her party.

Midnight flashes

Midnight flashes

Dundee Sandra’s friend Amanda and her Dad have come back for a week’s holiday and she’s been complaining that I don’t post on my blog often enough. Does she have any idea what it’s been like these past few months? How I ever found time to do a full-time job I really don’t know! Now where have I heard that before? Bye for now!

Got this photo from my cousin down South.

Wee Georgie plus girls from Yorkshire

Wee Georgie plus girls from Yorkshire

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Day 4/7: First Week

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So that’s us been back a week already and it’s been quite busy to tell the truth. Monday was a day for the food shopping down at Lidl (yes, my favourite supermarket now) and making progress with the awning, now that Mike and I had done the repairs to the floor from underneath. We battled on through increasing temperatures to lay the floor in the awning and we put down the new jigsaw mats we had brought with us. By mid-afternoon, Mary was having a well-deserved siesta and I was in the swimming pool cooling off as best I could. Later on, we met a nice Scottish couple here for a few days from outside St. Andrews of all places. They were Charles and Catherine and we struck up a good rapport with them very quickly.

Tuesday we were off to Barcelona at ten o’clock to pick up Greg and Karen at the bus station. We soon had them back at the site and ensconced in their Lifestyle chalet again. Believe it or not, this is their 4th visit to Vilanova, having come out for the first time to attend my sixtieth in February of 2013 along with George and Gavin. Scott was in Australia, remember? Greg treated us to tea up at the Mas Roquer restaurant before they went off to play table-tennis while I went back to watch a Champions’ League game in the caravan.

Wednesday was us up at the crack of dawn (well, half past seven) as Mary was starting her first day teaching the staff at the Prysmian factory up the Vilafranca road. She was naturally quite nervous and suffered a wee bit of “first day at school” anxiety but of course she cruised it as she always does and came out cursing the inability of Spaniards to organize anything correctly. However it’s over with and we’ll see what next week brings. I took a while to find the access road to the factory when I went to collect her and drove past the factory three times before I worked out what I had to do to reach the poor soul standing in the blazing sun waiting for her knight in shining Audi to drive over the hill. Unbelievably, we couldn’t see the Barça game at night as there is an argument over money between the club and the TV companies.

Thursday was a great day as I went and had a round of golf with new neighbour Charles up at the course you pass on the way up to the watchtower. It’s an 18-hole par 54 i.e. every hole is a par 3 and it’s beautifully set out and maintained. We paid 20 Euros each for the round, hire of clubs (7, 8, 9, P wedge, S wedge, putter) and 4 balls plus trolley. Not bad for the equivalent of £15! I’m hugely proud to report that, despite not having played golf for close on 4 years, I held my own, avoided anything worse than a 5 and totalled 76 for the round. Charles struck a neat 65 and gave me a couple of really useful pointers which helped me a lot. Thank you Charles. That evening we were round to Walter and Joke’s for a glass or two with a few friends and Greg and Karen joined us later on. At the start of the evening, the men were treated to the Ajax v Celtic game live on Dutch TV. Bonus!!

Reus

Reus

Today was brilliant as we took Greg and Karen to Portaventura near Salou where they had pre-booked tickets for a day in the Water Park. Not our style of course, we went on to Reus to visit the Gaudi museum and learn even more about Reus’ proudest son, the genius behind the Sagrada Familia. We had an excellent time there and managed a tour of the old town before it was time to pick up the bairns again. They’d had a wonderful day scaring themselves to death on outrageous water slides, so the four of us wore broad smiles on the way home.

Boy feeds carp!

Boy feeds carp!

But we diverted down to Coma Ruga on the coast to let them see the carp in the thermal spring which nibble your feet. We were greeted by a party of seventy-somethings all bathing in the spring, thus scaring the fish a bit, so there was little nibbling but we still had a whole load of fun.

Carp nibble Scottish couple!

Carp nibble Scottish couple!

It’s only going to be 25 degrees tomorrow so we might have to wrap up! Thanks for all your comments by the way. It’s great to know that so many of you still follow our adventures. Special thanks to Shirley who only knew us for 5 minutes but never misses a post. When are you coming back to Vilanova?

Just in case anyone still needs a copy of “Wee Georgie”, I have 6 left (out of 500!) available from my website at www.socratesthesnail.co.uk or if you’d like the electronic version then it’s available at www.amazon.co.uk or .com. The follow-up is scheduled to launch at Waterstones of Dundee in about 6 weeks, so watch this space.

This is what I want to nibble!

This is what I want to nibble!

Day 4/1: St. Christopher or not!

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I don’t really know who looks after us on these journeys but I can tell you that we have once again reached Vilanova I la Geltru completely unscathed despite 1500 miles of road through Scotland, England, France and Spain. The weather was good, the roads were good, the Audi was good and my driving was not bad either. So, having avoided the completely random incidents that sometimes befall travellers, here we are back in Spain, sound in mind (at least I am. I’ve never been sure about Mary) and body (at least she is!) There are a million things that can go wrong when you embark on adventures like we do, so maybe it’s the positive “nothing’s going to happen” thinking that does the trick, but here we are in Vilanova for our third year over winter and our fourth visit in total.

As reported by my pal Mike, the caravan was waiting for us on our pitch so the first job was to get the motor mover to turn the thing round and wiggle the caravan into position. But was my wee car battery up to the task? The Burgermeister Walter said “no chance”, most of the others expected the worst, but George’s gamble paid off and, once I’d reconnected the terminals, the battery gave the motor mover all the power it needed to move our big caravan into the exact spot we wanted. Read it and weep, oh ye of little faith.

Soon after, Het came by and told us husband Mike was over at Chris’ chalet, so that’s where we headed for a couple of beers and a catch-up. By the time we returned to our pitch, we’d been invited to Mike and Het’s for tea and had met our old Dutch friends Walter and Joke. Tea was a full English from Mike and was delicious but by 10.30 the eyelids were closing and we had to respectfully retire to our bed. We both slept like logs (or kings as they say over here). With 4 windows open and no sheets or covers over us we managed to cope with what was a very warm night and we suspect there’ll be a few more of them to come.

The caravan this morning

The caravan this morning

Breakfast was outside as usual then we started to put up the awning which we did with the help of a new neighbour Charles, all the way from St. Andrews! We quickly found out we had mutual friends and we exchanged notes on life over the past 10 years. When Mike popped round on his bike and saw the awning going up, he suggested we finish the job we started last year, reinforcing the caravan floor from underneath. So that accounted for the next 3 hours, squirming around underneath the caravan with our heads in the chuckies, with no room to turn or indeed breathe and no end of foreign spiders running all over us. But we did it, and the caravan floor is as good as new.

A blind man tried to put up the awning!

A blind man tried to put up the awning!

Greg called to let us know that he and Karen had just left Dundee on the bus to London from where they travel to Paris tomorrow and then down here to be with us on Tuesday. We have 2 other friends who travel from here to Scotland by bus regularly so it’s not as unusual as it sounds. Hope you both have a comfortable journey, kids.

Munroamers 2015: Five go wild in the country!

Munroamers 2015: Five go wild in the country!

Mary and I then spent some time on the awning again before shower and tea beckoned. Refreshed, we wandered up to the top pool bar where we were treated to our favourite band from around here playing traditional Spanish music (all pasa doble and so on) in a totally idyllic situation, warm and not a breath of wind. We’ve just come back because it’s past bedtime and the Sandman is knocking on our windows. We better let him in.

I'm not missing my grandchildren of course!

I’m not missing my grandchildren of course!

 

Cathar Country

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Although the route South from Niort (where we stayed last night) to our next stop in Carcassonne is simply down one motorway to Bordeaux and then across another to our destination, we just didn’t fancy 5 hours of boredom and 40-odd Euros in tolls, so I plotted a new course across to Angouleme, down to Perigueux, further south to Bergerac, continue on to Agen and then take the motorway past Toulouse and over to Carcassonne. Now that sounds a lot more romantic, don’t you think? And that’s exactly what we did.

Using the Nationale and Departementale roads gives you the chance to see the country in all its glory. As well as coming to understand the 3-dimensional aspect of the terrain when you move from plateaux to hills to valleys and even gorges, across rivers, over viaducts and through tiny, classic French villages with the Mairie, La Poste and the inevitable Boulangerie, you can pick up on the crops growing all around and at what stage the harvest is. We saw hundreds of fields of maize, presumably harvested already as there were no cobs to be seen anywhere, never-ending fields of sunflowers beyond their best and with withered heads drooping and a third crop we have not managed to identify (it looks like millet). Fortunately we chanced upon a farmer harvesting his sunflowers in the same way as we all know wheat is gathered using a combine harvester which is driven directly into the crop. Impressive!

We found our hotel without any bother here in Carcassonne, a town we visited a few years ago for a wedding of all things. The old town on the hill is quite fantastic and we have great memories of that wedding reception at the top of the hill in a fancy hotel from where they set off all the fireworks to celebrate not the wedding but the 14th of July which is of course “La Fête Nationale” in France. We always used to be in France on that date with the boys and we’ve seen some brilliant firework displays, often accompanied rather weirdly by lightening storms. The one we saw on the banks of the Rhône, sitting not 100 metres from the Pont d’Avignon, will live long in our memories.

We had pencilled in a possible stroll round old Carcassonne after a bite to eat but I ruined that by lying down for “a wee five minutes” and fatally closing my lids as the words “I’m just resting my eyes” slurred from my mouth. Three hours later I woke up, just in time to get ready for bed, but as Mary is online doing her “Whodunit” course with Professor Sue Black, I’ve decided to pen a few words for the readers. I’ve had good feedback from those who follow the blog saying they particularly like when I describe the various journeys we undertake on our way to and from Vilanova. Maybe if life is just too busy at present and you can’t find time to do the travelling yourself then my descriptions will at least give you a flavour of what it will be like when you eventually do find the time.

At one point today, driving through the hills around Bergerac, sun beating down, road deserted, crops bending in the breeze and chilled-out music on the radio, we glanced at each other and could tell we were both in a really good place. Smiling came naturally to both of us. Mary squeezed my hand on the gearstick, turned her head and said “I know”. I knew too.

Quite different I assure you from the beginning of our summer back in Dundee. From the moment we got back to the flat, the priority was to help Scott prepare for the big job interview he would be having a week later, an interview in which he played a blinder and landed himself a really good first career step as GP referral instructor at a new gym in Stenhousemuir. Then it was the arrival of our wee Spanish kids, Guillem and Gao, accompanied for the trip by Gao’s Mum, Rosa. Midway through their fortnight with us in Dundee, attending the King’s Camp Sports Club every weekday, Gao’s Dad Marc came over for a few days to see his wee lamb wasn’t missing him too much. We had a particularly successful trip to Blair Drummond Safari Park and grandson Ben came along for the ride. Then at the end of the two weeks, Guillem’s Dad Ramon arrived for a four-hour visit before taking the kids back on the plane. Talk about flying visit!

I think they enjoyed the Safari Park!

I think they enjoyed the Safari Park!

The Robertsons

The Robertsons

After that we had about a week catching up with our families before we were off to Powburn for the annual long weekend at the scout camp with Mary’s family. This year pretty much everyone made it (including Scott) so we had a particularly good time and got in a couple of healthy walks around the countryside. Which set me up nicely for the annual Munroamers expedition with the four boys, starting the day after we got home from Powburn. George, Gavin, Greg, Scott and I drove up to Loch Morlich on Monday morning, parked up and penetrated into the Cairngorms via the Chalamain Gap, then it was over the Lairig Ghru and up, up, up, to the top of Braeriach (3rd highest on the Munro list), round to Sgor an Lochain Uaine (5th), up to the top of Cairn Toul (4th) then back down into the Lairig Ghru, although Scott and Gavin sprinted up the Devil’s Point (130th) to bag the fourth Munro. The rest of us were a bit weary so just walked down the steep slopes to the Corrour Bothy where we intended to spend the night.

Scott and Greg playing in the snow

Scott and Greg playing in the snow

Gavin with Braeriach behind

Gavin with Braeriach behind

I did spend a cosy night on the floor of the bothy in the company of a motley crew of Scottish and English people plus a couple of  student girls from the Czech republic. The boys tried sleeping outside the bothy in a couple of tents we’d carried up but unfortunately the weather deteriorated badly during the night and they were pretty much drowned in the valley. So when the Tuesday dawned, we abandoned all thoughts of bagging Ben Macdhui and Cairngorm itself as originally planned, but opted to just walk out of the Lairig Ghru in horrendous weather conditions back to the Chalamain Gap and the car two miles beyond. When I say “just” I of course am making a ridiculous understatement as the walk up the valley over several boulder fields in pouring rain with heavy backpacks was a huge challenge for us all. But 12 miles later and just about able to talk, we reached the cars and drove back the hundred or so miles to the flat where we had curry and beer as planned. Day 3 was a walk on the Lomond hills from Falkland just to stretch the legs again then I let the boys go back to their girls as required!

Munroamers 2015

Munroamers 2015

On the 12th August, we also managed a beautiful evening having dinner in the very posh Lands of Loyal Hotel in Alyth with cousins Renée and Stef, courtesy of a wee bob or two left by our dear Auntie Cissie who passed away last Christmas. The meal and the setting was brilliant and we raised a glass to our dearly departed Auntie. God bless.

Renée and Mary

Renée and Mary

So did we rest now? Of course not. The next day we drove all the 200 miles to Joe & Mo’s house in Lochcarron where I had arranged to work with my brother on finishing the editing of the follow-up to “Wee Georgie”. We did that, but still found time for some great trips, especially lunch in the Applecross Inn via the outrageous Bealach Na Ba and my first visit to the Isle of Skye, crossing on the dinkiest ferry you ever did see. Absolutely wonderful and thank you, bro and sis-in-law. And when we got home to Dundee we had to put the flat up for rent, prepare for Scott moving away and get the place ready for Margaret and Tom coming to visit from Holland.

Mary, Joe and Mo

Mary, Joe and Mo

Are you tired? We certainly are! Goodnight!

That time again

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The last 2 weeks have been mental!

Classic pose

Classic pose

We have sent our Dutch visitors Tom and Greeta back to Petten happy and smiling and more than impressed with the great country that is Scotland. We took them to see Glamis Castle, the Falkirk Wheel, St. Andrews, the Beech Hedges at Meiklour, Dundee Law, the Verdant Works museum, a private viewing inside Camperdown House (the original Kamperduin is a mile from their house) the Tay Whale in the McManus Galleries and Birnam Highland Games.

Look at the size of his!

Look at the size of his!

They had mince and tatties, a fish supper, bacon and eggs for breakfast, a pair of Arbroath Smokies, had a drink in Mennies, their first ever pub and attended the folk night in the Fisherman’s Tavern in Broughty Ferry. They even got to my granddaughter’s birthday party where they were introduced to a girl from Schaggen (not pronounced the way you are thinking) near where they live in Holland.

Wonderful music!

Wonderful music!

Well, you can't not do this one.

Well, you can’t not do this one.

Next we hired a van, loaded it up with hand me downs from various family and friends, added some new stuff like a bed and mattress and took it all to Scott’s new flat in New Carron, Falkirk. That was the easy bit: building the ottoman bed was a killer! Scott has started work with Falkirk Council and will soon be running the GP referrals at the new gym in Stenhousemuir. Well done, son!

My first flat was a tad less well-appointed!

My first flat was a tad less well-appointed!

Simultaneously we put the flat on Gumtree for the forthcoming year, had loads of interest but all failed for various reasons and it is now in the good hands of a professional letting agent. So if you know someone needing a luxury penthouse flat in Dundee………

The view

The view

And then on Wednesday morning, with the flat cleared, we left, drove to Leeds for tea with Terry and Ellen, left at midnight and drove to Poole ferry terminal where we got the 8.30 boat to Cherbourg this morning, after which we drove a further 330 miles to our hotel in Niort, France where I’m writing this.

Atmospheric sunrise pic on ferry

Atmospheric sunrise pic on ferry

So nothing much has happened really! I’ll tell you about the rest of the summer (Oh yes, there’s more!) later. Bye for now, George and Mary XX