Spain so far…

We have been back in Spain now for about 8 or 9 weeks I guess and it is treating us well.

The sun is shining (and apart from some adverse weather around Christmas where we had storms that ripped our awning apart :( ) we have been enjoying near constant sunshine.

Rather than write about our tales thus far I thought I’d show you some photo’s instead….

004One of our first trips out on arriving back was a trip to Marbella, it felt good to be back in the sun!

001Our main reason to hit Marbella was to take Tinkerbell to a new home. Her owner (our friend from the campsite) sadly died but thankfully we managed to find Tinkerbell a new family who love her to bits :)

008After dropping of Tinkerbell we headed into Marbella to meet some friends for lunch…..

003Enjoying the sunrises again…

027And lazy Sunday’s on the beach…

007Daisy was pleased to see us again…

021We are enjoying walking in the hills…

013The larger than life insects!

036And the pretty Christmas lights of Malaga…

024Friends came to stay over Christmas….

001and we enjoyed good food….

004good company….

007We celebrated the winter solstice…

010Making our own hats from ivy!

007And lots of chilling…

001Christmas Day and chilling whilst trying to avoid the storms outside!

014And enjoying the last sunset of 2013…

Happy New Year!!

 

Travel tales….

Bessy is back on the road and after 6 months in Northern France we have now relocated 1300 miles (give or take a mile or two) further south and are basking once again in the winter temperatures of southern Spain.

It was an interesting journey!! spread over 6 days with a days stop over in the Charente Maritime to catch up with old friends.

Torrential rain accompanied us for most of the way and a bout of road rage around Madrid, which ended in us having a bottle of coke thrown at the car (whilst moving I hasten to add!!) made for eventful and ever so slightly stressful days.

Campsites with no idea of the concept of ‘hot’ water made for even more stressful evenings…….but beer helped (to drink and not wash in!) and we are now back in our favourite region of Spain, amongst the mountains and almond groves with a view of the sea twinkling in the distance. Bliss.

Molly coped with her ordeal with her usual style – a whole range of meows we hadn’t heard before but is now re orientating herself with familar surroundings.

All is good.

Here are some piccies from our journey.

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Helping with the packing!

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And we’re off

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Rain….

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Camping in Pons

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Curious…..

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Walkies!!

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Early morning in Madrid

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The first rays of sun

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And after all the rain……a rainbow

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Riding up front

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Journeys end…… :)

Mushrooms….

A bit of fun today…….

With Autumn now firmly routed and the chill of winter days not far away the gardens here at Chateau Marconne have taken on a different look.

The lawns are now covered with rusty coloured leaves, the grass has finally stopped growing and everywhere you look there are mushrooms popping up. Encouraged by the damp conditions they are everywhere, at the edge of the pond, covering tree stumps and randomly peeking up out of the lawn.

I took the camera out with me and took some shots, now I need to find out if I can safely eat any of them – of if they will send me off on an Alice in Wonderland adventure!!

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The summer is over…

Like much of Northern Europe we have been experiencing an ‘Indian Summer’ over the last few weeks but within the last few days it has packed its bags and headed back to India.

It is cold – the sort of cold that makes your shoulders shoot up around your ears and has you hugging yourself every time you step outside.

School is nearly out for us and we have only two more weeks of guests until we are free to go.

Bessy arrives back with us next weekend when we go and collect her and bring her up to the Chateau so that we can start to put everything back in her and get ready to head off at the end of the month.

We are taking 6 days to travel down to Southern Spain, stopping for 2 nights near to where we used to live so that we can catch up with some friends.

Everyone is very excited (well me and hubby are) about our imminent departure and the prospect of life back on the road. Molly is ignoring the whole situation at the moment but am sure she will be very vocal about the whole thing once we get going….

So, what was our summer like? Well, it was busy, lots of guests and changeovers to do and the gardens took a lot to keep under control as did the gaggle of ducks we now seem to have. Some of the babies did survive the local cats and since the water rat’s demise the survival rate took a sharp rise upwards. We now have quite a colony of ducks on the pond and they certainly aren’t the quietest of critters but then when you are as cute as they are you don’t have to be.

All in all it has been fun….will we return next year for another season? You will just have to wait and see (meaning we haven’t decided yet!)

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a few photo’s from our summer…..

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Summer hols….

Last week we had my parents come and stay for the week…..my brother dropped them off at Dover and they came across as foot passengers to Calais where we picked them up.

A few days prior to them arriving the sun finally came out and shone for the whole time they were here.

We enjoyed trips out and lovely meals on the balcony of the gite they stayed in (above ours) and on the last night we dined on the lawn.

Molly enjoyed all the extra cuddles coming her way and it was lovely to spend some quality time with them both. Hope you enjoy the photo’s….

009First night and tea on the balcony

011Ice creams in La Touquet

002Pit stop in Peronne

020A 500 year old beech tree at the old Royal residence in Eu..

043Beautiful roses in the rose garden

032Me, Mum and Dad

055Fishing boat in Trepont

063Love this shot of Mr Seagull with the church in the background….well posed I thought!

IMG_3664Me, Mum and Molly

IMG_3800Market day in Hesdin

IMG_3802A raw foodies favourite stall!!!

IMG_3822Hubby admiring the view up on the ramparts in Montreuil

011It was a long way up !

021Last night, dining on the lawn :)

Its been a while…..

You last heard from us back in February when we stuck our heads up like two grumpy old bears testing whether it was time to come out of hibernation or not. It wasn’t, and we hunckered back down as best we could to see out the rest of what Winter threw at us.

By the end of March we were packing up in order to head to France and a six month stop off looking after a French Chateau before tracing our route back down south to spend a warmer Winter in the sun (we hope).

Well, since then we have arrived safe and sound and are back living in a brick built abode again. Bessy is parked up for the Summer and currently undergoing a well deserved ‘makeover’ – more of that in another post.

We both miss living in her, being back in a house – albeit a small apartment – feels alien to us now. Too much space makes things seem strangely disorganised. In Bessy, everything has its place but here is all seems very haphazard – more a nod to my housekeeping skills than anything else me thinks.

So, what is France like…..well, this is second time around for us having lived in La Rochelle for 18 months back in the early ‘noughties’.

Things are much the same – the French are generally a friendly bunch and our interactions with them thus far have been nothing but very charming. The region we are in – Pas de la Calais – is in Northern France and so much of the history in this area is war related. Both the First and Second World Wars played out heavily against the backdrop of rolling countryside here – indeed the Chateau was used by the English in the First and the Germans in the Second.

The Somme is only a few miles further down the road. On a sunny day it is a pleasant trip out but when the rain clouds roll in it is very easy to visualise what it must have been like for those soldiers stuck in the trenches for years on end. It definitely made quite the impact on me.

Agincourt is only just up the road from us, where Richard V had his major victory against the French in the Hundred Year War. Interestingly we picked up a leaflet and it told a very different story to the one I remembered learning about in history class!! Seems like there is a difference of opinion depending on what side you are on – lol.

The coast line here is lovely with the beaches near Epinard worthy of a visit. When the sun is shining you could be mistaken for thinking that you are in the South of France and not a hop, skip and a jump from the UK.

Talking of the weather, we have not been blessed with much in the way of sunshine since we have been here. A few sporadic days here and there interspersed with a lot of rain, wind and cold……as you can imagine I am not a happy bunny especially when I know down in Spain we would enjoying sun drenched days and balmy evenings sat outside.

But, we are here until October so have no choice but to hope for warmer weather and grin and bear it. Beer is helping, although hubby is onto the hard liquor now and the vodka has been opened……

Piccies of our adventures thus far……

008Getting ready to leave….

006At Folkestone

031Arrived – Chateau Marconne036Molly exploring042Molly making herself comfortable!014The pond and grounds009One of the resident ducks keeping an eye on the driveway…002 The coot with her babies018Finding my own Great Uncle ‘Bertie’ amongst the war dead 002Cycling in the forest003Picnics in the rain006Beaches on sunnier days004Lapping up the vit D when we can019Bessy having a rest in storage023Arras029The Abbey in Arras008More beaches…Optimized-013More Abbey’s…

Optimized-014Spring finally arrived but left again quite quickly :(

To be continued……

Update

IMG_5313Its been an interesting few months being back in the UK. Spending a ‘proper’  winter in Bessy has not been an enjoyable experience. We have battled against the damp, condensation being public enemy number one! and having to cope without running water in the caravan for a few weeks at a time has been hard work.

We have spent much of the winter tripping over extra heater and dehumidifier cables and what did seem like a very easy way of living when we were in the sunshine suddenly felt very cramped and stiffling.

We have been warm and cosy though which is just as well as I am not sure I would have got through it otherwise.

Whilst we may not be out of the woods yet the sun did make an appearance this afternoon and for about an hour it felt like a lovely spring day. Suddenly everything seemed better, the promise of warmer days ahead.

So, what next on our travels…….well we have deducted from our visit home that the UK really is no place to be living in a caravan and so we are crossing the Channel again in early April.

We have secured a position ‘caretaking’ a French Chateau and so for the summer months at least Bessy will be parked up, stripped back, dried out and given a makeover whilst we enjoy the luxury of living in a house again.

Then come the winter we will be heading back to the warmer climes of Spain where we will lay our heads back in the familiar hills and coastline of Andalusia.

The UK has been fun catching up with family and friends but I have to confess to preferring the more laid back approach to living adopted by our European neighbours.

I’m an outdoor kinda girl but I also hate the cold so I am feeling very couped up at the moment. We have hardly set foot outside other than to work, run or do the shopping as we both recoil every time either one of us mentions going out and doing something else. I need to feel free to be in the fresh air without the risk of getting frostbite before I will venture out.

So, the countdown is now on, things are being sorted before being packed up again (I am being ruthless and getting rid of even more stuff for the next stage of our journey) Nights out with friends are being had and visits to family sorted. Passports are up to date (Molly’s included) and we are trying our best to speak as much French to each other as we can.

I’ll keep you posted but you can expect normal service to resume here at Helen’s European Journey very soon – woo hoo…….

Getting ready for winter

The idea of spending a winter back in the UK was always going to be a little bit scary.

Living in a caravan down in Southern Spain in the winter is one thing, but being back in temperatures that drop considerably overnight is something else altogether.

Our routines have had to change to accommodate ‘drying’ out the caravan as condensation is enemy number 1.

This weekend we also tackled another problem, the awning roof freezes overnight (on the inside) and then the following day defrosts and rains waters down like a shower!

So, everything has now been double bagged in bin bags and what we don’t need either packed away in the car or gotten rid of.

People have questioned the sense of what we are doing and asked why we don’t just go and rent a house for our stay. Its a fair point and one that I thought about yesterday whilst we were knee deep in bin bags and the temperature hit 28F in the caravan due to all the heaters we were using to dry everything out!

Why don’t we just go and rent somewhere? The answer to that is simple. Money. We would need lots of it. The average rent around here for a 1 bedroom place is about £600. Add to that water rates, council tax, heating oil (most places in this area are oil heated) electricity and that’s before you have even thought about food and petrol and any other living expenses you may need.

Food is our main living expense and its not cheap, especially when you want to buy good quality organic fruit and vegetables which lets face it are the mainstay of my diet. It is crazy that I have to spend more money on buying fresh natural food than I do to buy processed, pre-packaged crap that nourishes me not a jot – but that is a post for another day!

If we wanted to rent we would have to go back to regular 9-5 employment. Back on the merry-go-round, the hampster wheel that we disembarked from many years ago. Back to spending most of our waking days in the pursuit of money so that we could pay just to live.

Being self-employed is not easy and more so in a world that certainly doesn’t encourage free thinking or working outside the box. There are no incentives, no pats on the backs or nice holidays at the end of it all. But, you know what I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since letting go of all my material ‘stuff’ I have been able to see just how much of a drain it is was on us; financially, emotionally and physically. Was my life any better having the latest fashions, iphone or 40″ TV????? or am I living a more authentic life now that I don’t have to worry about earning the money to pay for it all.

I get to do follow my dreams, live my passions and explore the world on my terms. At times it can be tough but it is so worth it because I feel like my life is much richer now than it has ever been, and that is the real difference. People think they need money to be rich, society has conditioned us to think that the more material stuff we have then the easier and happier our lives will be. But I disagree(you knew I would didn’t you!!)

I feel as though my life is much better now that I have less. I have done the other side, had the big flash house, four bedrooms, ensuite bathroom, double garage, utility room, underfloor heating, amazing views……all the trimmings and yes it was lovely but it was also exhausting maintaining it all. We worked like maniacs just to pay for it all and to be quite honest by the time we made the decision to sell it felt like a noose around our necks. The funny thing is over ten years later people still ask me if I miss it.

I guess they see that image and then look at us living in a caravan and think that we are down on our luck. We must have hit rock bottom, bummed out and are scraping the barrel.

The truth is that I am so much happier living my life this way. Even with winter fast approaching and the promise of snow by the end of the week looming, which is where this post started! This is my choice, actually it is our choice and we are embracing it as we do everything in our lives. Feeling it, living it and experiencing it  – and more importantly preparing for it!

This week we are making sure we have everything in place in case the weather does turn foul as has been promised. Extra food supplies, candles and torches and enough gas in case we lose electricity, draining the water from the system and switching to manual (buckets for the waste water outside and bottles of water to wash inside) as pipes will freeze and burst otherwise oh and coats for the cats to keep them warm and snuggy – especially for the old boy.

Doing this makes me appreciate what I have even more, a roof over my head, food in my stomach, a place to wash and clean myself and my clothes and the people that matter most to me by my side. The rest is just frills, decoration and the thing I have discovered over the last few years is that I am definitely ‘minimalist’ when it comes to decor :)

 

 

 

Someone shut the door – its cold outside

Its been just over a month since we made the journey back from Spain and spent a very hot weekend discovering Madrid. I remember how we stopped often in shaded cafes for a cooling beer or jug of ice cold water and there was even a surprise discovery of an organic ice cream parlour where I had a delicious mango sorbet – not raw but definitely vegan.

Its remembering fun times like these that is keeping me going as the temperatures drop and the layers of clothes I find myself piling on every morning gets larger.

Last night was the coldest since we have been back in Blighty with temperatures hovering around 3 degrees. We survived of course and with the electrical heater set on timer overnight we were snug as bugs.

This morning there are reports of the first snows of winter – some just a few miles down the road to us and the rain here is decidedly icey. I must admit that we had hoped that winter would not show its face quite so quickly but it seems that mother nature has other ideas.

Our routine has now changed to include the daily wiping down of windows so the condensation doesn’t pool at the bottom and rot the wood and the hum of the dehumidifier is now a regular background noise for us. Once a week we lift the mattress to dry out the underside and turn it over and everything that we are able to seal has been done.

To say I am looking forward to Spring is an understatement but I am also trying to take the time to enjoy the changing seasons. The autumnal colours of the trees are glorious – must go and take some pictures – even though the weather belies the fact that we are still in the autumn season!! and last weekend we went out to the seaside to breath in some sea air.

Unfortunately this consisted of us being battered and buffeted by the wind so we quickly retreated to the nearest tea shop to enjoy a pot of ‘tea pigs’ peppermint tea to warm our bones.

I did manage to take some photo’s though which give a good idea of how blooming cold it was!!

Really trying hard not to think about the beaches I left behind in Spain…….lol

Ok winter – bring it on!!!

Spain to the UK

The 1st of September saw our departure from Spain back to the UK on the next stage of our ‘European Journey’.

Leaving the Costa del Sol coincided with the worst forest fire in the area for 100 years. It began just up the road to us and it was scary to smell and see all the smoke and watch the water planes and helicopters buzzing over head.

Luckily for us the wind was blowing in the opposite direction but this was taken just a few miles away from us. Sadly though people lost their lives, property and animals perished. It left us feeling very sad to leave the area at such a time when much help was needed and it was with heavy hearts that we drove away in the middle of the night to get up to Madrid whilst it was still relatively cool.

Once back on the road with the sadness of saying goodbye to friends and the worry of the fire behind us we fell right back into the routine of towing Bessie. We made the 350 mile trip up to Madrid and found the campsite with relative ease. Manevouring onto the pitch was a little tight as is most common with a lot of campsites. Too many pitches are squashed on and not enough thought given to the turning circles required of a rig 37ft in length.

However not to be disheartened we made camp, sorted the cats out and then headed into Madrid for the evening for some well deserved food and a little glass of beer!

Getting into the capital city required two buses and as is usual with buses in Spain the trip was a white knuckle ride with us being thrown around and left dazed by the time we got to our destination. Thankfully a lovely evening ensued as we wandered the streets taking in all the sights and atmosphere before finding a lovely, romantic bistro and enjoying a rare meal out.

Returning back to the campsite was an equally hell raising experience and this time in the dark and at speed we had little chance of locating our stop until the very last minute and then the driver wouldn’t stop for us. Not sure why he decided to not tell us we were coming up to our stop as he only had us and one other couple on board. The universe smiled on us though and the other couple came to our rescue and arranged for another bus to bring us back and this time we managed to alight the bus at the right stop.

It didn’t spoil our evening though and we had a good giggle about it before retiring to bed and repeating the process the following morning so that we could see Madrid in the daytime as well.

Madrid is a lovely city where they have managed to retain the old buildings, character and essence of the place unlike other capital cities we have been to where all the history seems to have been erased in place of new high tech buildings.

Perfect blue skies but a little cooling breeze accompanied us as we mooched around the streets taking in the sites and sounds.

Street artists were aplenty; although I’m not too sure what this last guy was all about, maybe Dougal aka The Magic Roundabout (sorry but only the English will get this one) just about to go to the local disco!!

Beautiful side streets – love the way this tree is just there in the middle of all the buildings :)

Lovely buildings……

And a square that reminded me very much of St Marks Square in Venice greeted us as we slowly meandered our way across the city to the botanical gardens for a picnic lunch.

After a lazy few hours in the sun it was time to walk back to the bus station.

More fancy buildings…..

A dubious looking museum……

And a fast food outlet that didn’t really think its name through too carefully and we were back on the bus for our relaxing (ahem) trip back to the campsite.

After our two day break in Madrid we started the serious business of driving back up to the channel tunnel and the first night saw us in Pamplona, Northern Spain. No photo’s of this rather non descript campsite I’m afraid but with its cold showers I wasn’t overly impressed!!

Setting off early the next morning we got our first glimpse of the Pyrenees and some rather nasty black looking clouds…..

Molly took to riding shotgun and as you can see there is lots for a little cat to look at…..

But eventually it all proved to much for her and she collapsed on my lap exhausted……

Next stop Angouleme and a campsite we had last stopped at 10 years ago.

The Lake was a gravel pit in the war where British troops used to land and be squirreled away by the resistance to fight the Nazi’s.

The nights grew cooler the further north we drove and Oscar needed a little extra warmth in the evenings.

Next stop was Brevident and another campsite with Lake. The early morning mist provided a lovely photo opportunity although I’m not sure this picture shows how lovely it looked – or cold lol

On leaving the following morning and traveling around Rouen I managed to mess the directions up – in style. Unfortunately it was about 100 miles before I realised that we were heading east towards Paris and not north towards Calais……an ‘oh shit’ moment if ever there was one.

Because we had already spent a lot of money on toll roads that morning we stopped and purchased a local map and found our way back to the toll road that we did need via all the D and N roads. It proved to be a false economy as 8 hours after we had set off we found ourselves back on route but only 80 miles further north than when we had started out that morning and with 120 miles still to go!!

6 beers – in about 30 minutes – that evening helped soften the blow and we went to bed to prepare for an early rise to get to the channel tunnel and our train back to Blighty.

The cats were checked in at the Pet passport control first and with their ‘checked and controlled’ sticker on the windscreen we proceeded to the main check in and boarded the earlier train. 25 minutes later we were heading out and onto the roads of Folkestone.

My mantra – ‘drive on the left, drive on the left’ helped me negotiate the first 10 minutes or so and then I fell back into the old habit of driving in the UK.

Several hours later we pulled up outside my parents house where we spent the night before heading up to Thetford the following day.

So far Norfolk has delivered warm, hazy sunshine (although I am sure it won’t last) and we will be at this campsite for about a week whilst we plan our next move!

A lovely English sunset marked our first night back in Bessy as we both breathed a sigh of relief that we had arrived back after 1500 miles safe and sound and ready for the next stage of our adventure…….an English winter!!