Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Getting married again and again and again

Flipping heck it's cold at night here. Not as cold as England but somehow colder. In England you go go out but first put on your boots, cardy, coat etc. You do whatever, get a cold face and hands and then come in where you take off your coat, cardy, boots and, because generally, houses in Blighty are well built, insulated, probably carpeted and have effective house-wide heating. You can be snug and smug looking out of your double glazed windows at the drizzle and slate grey skies. Here, in Southern Spain, in this old finca with thick walls, draughty doors, single pane windows, stone slab floors and one fireplace it's the complete opposite. Outside (in the day) the sun is still pretty hot. It shines brightly in blue skies for 8 hours a day and you can wander about in a tee shirt and jeans a lot of the time. Come inside and you need that cardy, sometimes two, definitely slippers and occasional scarf to keep the blood moving and dew drops forming on your nose. The warmth of the day does not permeate inside and that's great for 9 months of the year but where we are now on Christmas Eve and it's a bit of a challenge. At night its just cold both inside and out. So if you are in England and its damp and wet and miserable. Put on the telly, crank up the heating, maybe have a shower or a poo in your bathroom without appendages freezing and think of us. Shivering by our computers with a blanket on our legs and trying to coax heat from the living room to our bedroom ...... Ah. Sod it! don't worry. We'll just go outside on the roof terrace, find a corner in the sun and drink our 1.59 Euro Cava with some Tapas and just have to make do. 

Mark, Helen, Chris Shady and Rachel - Agua Amarga
So, Christmas. In truth we hadn't given it much thought but there are a few things on. Mark and Helen, the owners are back for a couple of weeks so we spent Christmas day with them. Walking in the mountains, drinks down at the beach and then a sumptuous meal - for which we were not allowed to lift a finger. That goes against the grain but eventually managed.We are then off to Grenada for a few days followed by a few soirees with old friends and some new so it should be good.

So whats happened since I last posted a blog.

Saying our vows
Rachel and I got married. Again. Well, sort of. We decided, when we got married and made our vows on the mountain top in Miyajima in Japan that we would renew these vows every year. A sort of marriage re-evaluation process where we would think deeply about our relationship in the previous year and what, if anything, needed work in the following one. Plainly it's not really that process led and is very much a romantic affair. But we both thought it a good thing to really focus on our relationship at least once a year. Last year in Mexico we were fortunate enough to know Polly. A lovely lady and celebrant who gave our renewal ceremony a degree of legitimacy. And we made our promises in front of new friends on the beach wit the warm seas lapping behind us and palm trees swaying overhead. This year we transformed a derelict ruin at eh side of the finca into our 'Love Shrine'. 

The Love Shrine
We transformed this overgrown, rubbish strewn, jumble of old metal, rocks and plants into something quite lovely. Clearing it all, putting down a floor of flat rocks, creating a copse of white painted Pitas (a woody, tree like growth that supports flowers from a particular cactus), making some wooden structures like tables, seating and a fire pit and then sort of landscaping the area into a flowery garden with serpentine edges beside hard mud walkway scattered with bits of crystal rock. It took hours and was a real labour of love that was worth every ounce of sweat to create. Our close friends Gary and Mel flew over for the weekend to celebrate with us. How lovely is that. Didn't have to pay them or anything!!!! And so, once the sun had gone down, we four and two new friends - Margreit and Jos, gathered in the folly and we said our words. It was fantastic. The night was clear and the sky filled with stars, the folly was lit with tea lights in the Pita trees on the floors and tables. We had tears in our eyes, joy in our hearts, champagne in our glasses and good people to share this with. Thank you all and especially to Rachel.

Dogs. I mentioned the dogs briefly in the last blog. They have become an enormous part of our lives here. Their personalities and peccadilloes keeping us entertained, annoyed or entranced. We watch them interacting for hours and never get bored of seeing them in action. Most of us see dogs in an urban setting. Being led on leads, or running in a park. At most we see dogs doing agility stuff at a fete. These dogs have hundreds of acres of rock, scrub, mountain and valley to play in. 

Christmas morning Mizala Valley
They can be out foraging, hunting, playing for hours and there is no telling where they get to. But, when we walk them or I run with them in this environment you get to really appreciate the agility and abilities of these creatures. Their power and speed, their surefootedness, their sense of smell, hearing and sight and how they work as a pack. We have watched with wonder as they have sprang into action chasing hares or rabbits, been amazed as they have disappeared into the distance on the heels of a fleeing deer, all of them bounding over rocks and bushes as if it were a flat surface. And most recently being shocked seeing two of them in pursuit of a huge wild boar. Who, I am sure, chose to run rather than had to since it was twice the size of our biggest dog and has big tusks to boot. We have come to love these creatures and so dealing with their owner endorsed lifestyle of living as freely as they like has taken some getting used to. Although, what a life! Better, I feel, to have chased deer and ran wild and carefree than to live a more sedentary life in front of the fire. This view point was put to the test when one of their number - Pod - disappeared one day and remained missing and presumed dead for 10 days. During which time our imaginations ran riot as to what had happened. We had given up on ever seeing the little chap when he suddenly appeared - skinny, scabbed, cut and a bit rough around the edges but basically sound and demonstrating that as tame as these dogs are they are still capable of surviving.

The dogs in their playground
We have had Rachel's parents visiting us. They in need of a break from the strains of an impending house move came ready to bath in the perpetual warmth we had spoke of. To sup cold white rueda wines and a glorious and ridiculously cheap little red number we have been drinking. They arrived and almost instantly the weather changed. A cold wind and grey clouds speckled the first few days putting something of a dampener on the mood and even when things improved the temperatures remained lower than before they came. No sooner had they left. The next day in fact. The temperatures went back up, the clothes came off and once again the naked gardener was seen rambling among the olives. Just their luck! Still the wine was plentiful and what they missed out of in the 'basking in the sun' department they made up for by 'basking in an alcoholic fug'. 

Maureen and Dave and photo-bombing Pil

As mentioned we got a visit from friends Gary and Mel. Very pleasant time here. Weather was warm, their company was superb as always and got to climb a nearby peak with Gary.

Its so nice getting visitors to this lonely outpost of civilization so anyone who is looking for a few short days away please come. However, we can no longer guarantee the weather, the wine, the number of dogs or anything that could conceivably go wrong.

Olive grove finished
There's not a lot more to say really. We have finished pruning, cutting and clearing the previously overgrown mass of mostly dead vegetation known as the Olive Grove and made it look like, well, an Olive grove. I nearly broke my neck falling off a ladder whilst putting the final touches on the love folly - bruises, scratches etc as I fell through the trees. Rachel fell down some stairs in the house. Nothing too serious as she landed on her bum - plenty of padding, We have been on nice drives to some beaches, done walks up to look out points have made a few friends Margriet and Jos and Gareth and Andrea and had tapas a few times in a bar in Los Gallardos. Oh yeah. We have worked at our on line teaching presence. Rachel has picked up several students and got glowing reviews and is actually earning some money. Not much money but more than me. I have one student and b ut cannot seem to attract any more. I obviously don't have the charming looks and smile that my wife portrays on her profile....grrrrrr!

So that's it for now. Happy Christmas everyone

Monday, 13 November 2017

A day in the life of the High Plains Drifters

Well here we are in the Mizala Valley, in Andalusia, in Southern Spain for our five month housesit. It was a bit of a surprise when we turned off the motorway to discover that the little village of Mizala was so …. little. More of a hamlet really, actually more of a little hamlet. It has no shop, no restaurant, no bar and only about 10 people. Although we have only seen three. So there goes the opportunity to sit around chatting, eating tapas and drinking with the locals.

To get to our lonely finca we have to leave the heaving streets of Mizala and continue on a progressively deteriorating road that goes from loose tarmac to dirt track with potholes over the 3 kilometre drive. It’s pretty remote. There are some nice ex-pat neighbour's about a mile back up the track but that’s it. The track stops at our house and, as far as I can tell, our address at this housesit is:

The last house in Mizala Valley, 
A few kilometres down the dirt track from Mizala,

So, picture any spaghetti western and that is pretty much where we live. There’s scrub, tangleweed, cactus, dirt, cracked earth, loads of old ruined fincas, limestone karsts, fissures and dried rambla (river beds). We live in a valley with 200/300 metre sides It has a few old terraces (no longer farmed) that are dotted with olive trees. The silence is ridiculous. No traffic, people, crashing waves, industry or anything apart from your own echoing voices and twittering birds.

The sun breaks over the mountains and light the valley at about 7.30am at the moment and the mountains turn from silhouettes, to gold, to orange and as the sun strengthens. It is beautiful and rugged and since nearly every day is sunny the first few hours of any day are glorious. Nights draw in pretty quickly and by 7.00 the huge night skies show themselves. No light pollution – just hundreds of stars and eerie silence and occasional bat.

Its not an easy place to live. It has solar but the input and storage is not quite enough. There is no mains electric so we have to be a little careful once the sun goes. Anything that drains power needs the help of the new generator. Water is mains but intermittent, so we have 30,000 litres of storage tanks to keep us hydrated when city hall is trying to save money. The finca itself is run down or being done up. Depending on your view point. There is a lot of land and its full of lots of things that are stabby and want to hurt you. But that’s why its remained looking like this since forever.

It’s a grower, this place. It’s so different from many places we have been in. Sometimes it’s challenging, sometimes it’s frustrating or boring. But then other times it makes you feel fantastic and free.

Rachel had to leave a little time after we arrived to fly back for a wedding of her dear friend Pam (Pammington) to Eric. So whilst she jetted about and enjoyed a party, a wedding and the company of old friends. I had to spend a few evenings getting drunk with Helen (the host) and her daughter and son in Law - Anna and Johnny. Good fun.

We have to go shopping once a week for provisions and get rid of rubbish which involves a 30 kilometre driver to Garrucha or Vera. The first couple of times we also took the opportunity to spend a little time on the nudist beach tanning our bits. But lately there’s been a bit of a chilly wind down at the beach so we have had to stop that shenanigans.

We are trying to build an online teaching presence and have signed up to several sites and are slowly getting clients. If this works out we can theoretically take them with us wherever we go and never have to make the decision of where we will actually put down roots again. It’s a very different feel to teaching in person but allows us to be masters of our own hours etc. So that’s us tied up for 3 or 4 hours a week. Workshy? No. Actually NO!

Given an opportunity to do stuff we want to do then we are both really hard working. We have been doing stuff around the place both for our own physical/mental wellbeing and as a nice surprise for Helen who, I think, gets a little overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do. Do date we have been repairing the track and filling in potholes and ruts. Hard graft made easier only by singing of slave tunes and supping of cool refreshments. We have cleared the cactus garden of weeds and I got covered in little spines that left me sitting in a bath shaving my body hair like a drag queen to get them out and scratching for days. We have weeded the drive, cleared the palms and tidied the debris. Rachel has started a herb garden and is now overrun with tomato plants. We have both re stone walled a patio area and are removing old olive trees and seriously pruning those we leave in attempt to rescue the dying orchard. And we have created a love shrine to have our wedding renew ceremony in (more on that in a later blog). So we are keeping busy, losing fat, getting fit and starting to enjoy this latest adventure.

Oh I forgot, not sure how, to mention the dogs we are looking after. Rosa (aka Edna Snippypants – a canine librarian type who is smalled than the others but feisty as fuck forever making Phil yelp). Phil. Big lumbering, lovable dolt who looks like he is made of straw and seems to constantly get in the way of us wherever we walk because he likes some kind of human contact. Finally, Pod, Walks on tip toes the who time. There is a something of Steve McQueen (the Cooler King o the Great Escape) about him. There's a big enclosed area that he is always escaping from. Hes very friendly and patient and stubborn as heck. These three very different personalities are both amusing and worrying. They have hundreds of acres of unrestricted playground to run around in and chase rabbits through and that’s exactly what they do. Sometimes going missing for 8 or 9 hours at a time then turning up gasping for water and exhausted. I am sure we will be reporting more on them in the future.

As for people - Angela (my sis) and Howard came out to see us for a few days which was amazing. Finally able to play host to them for a while instead of taking their hospitality. Gary and Mel (old pals) are joining us for a wedding thingy along with the neighbours so stay tuned for that one and Rachel's parents are even coming out to see us and hopefully they will provide some fun and games for us to report

That’s it for now though. Dogs have just arrived after being out for 10 hours!!!!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Back on the road again!

What were we thinking. Hard on the heels of driving an old van to Scandinavia we decide to drive our old £400 Ford Fiesta ‘Ron’ down to Southern Spain. Ron was a bargain buy bought before we arrived in England back in the spring. After driving the camper, the Fiesta seemed fast, quiet and responsive. Our somewhat rampant imaginations likening the experience to being in an electric sports car – The new Tesla perhaps!?. Just for the record – we do know it’s not a Tesla but if we enjoy it as if it was one then these two delusional idiots just saved themselves thousands. Anyway we had lots of stuff to get down to our 5 month housesit in Southern Spain including two bikes which we are yet to actually ride, so a 2000 mile road trip seemed worth doing.

We had the car checked before going and after purchasing a service, an MOT and a travel tin of sucky sweets for £151.99 and we were ready to roll.

First stop Dover, then a ferry across the channel to Calais and over the top of Paris to head South down to Dijon.  Well, what can I say about Dijon… Nothing, actually. We stayed on the outskirts, we bought some pasta at a supermarket, we ate and went to bed. Didn’t have any mustard or anything.
Leon. No, sorry, not a lot in the brain about there either apart from hundreds of keen young freerunners with as yet unbroken bones, practicing tumbles and jumps. I guess the later lessons will deal with plummeting after mis-judging a leap and wearing hoodies.

On we headed. Now, with a respectable number of miles under our (cam) belts we at last decided to leave the expensive motorways and take more of a romanticised meander through the byways of France. We finally meandered along avenues of plane trees, dipped in and out of some sleepy villages where old men played boules in shady squares. Sadly. There were no lazy day picnics with baguettes, olives, wines, meats and tartes in daisy laden fields. (I love a tart in a field!).

One particularly large detour was to Carcassonne. It sounds as cool as it is. The old town part sits atop a hill. The place is surrounded with castellated walls and a moat with statues that remind you of Shrek. Inside there are cobbled streets, turrets and windows for archers to shoot the tourists from and of which there are many. However if one ignores (accepts) there will be other people then the visitor can enjoy the architecture and sympathetic décor and have a well priced meal in one of the numerous restaurants in the little alleys and nooks of this charming place.

Montpelier. Nice city that just feels really French! It has all those lovely Louis whatever style buildings with the nice roofs and all that French style signage on shops. It’s like the picture in your school French text book with boulangeries, patisseries, tabacs and lots of French looking people doing more daytime drinking in cafes than actual shopping. There is a nice park bit and a fine square with cobbley streets coming off of it. There is also a pretty cool palace/ governmental building that sits on high with great views of the surrounding metropolis that is dotted with some monumental street art.
Montpelier: Spot the street art
Moving on we slip across the border at Mary Aqua and into Spain. Prices drop instantly. Hooray!

Since Spain is to be our home for a little while we have concentrated on getting the language under our belts. It’s so much easier than Japanese which after 18 months still had us pretty well flummoxed and we hope to come away from Spain with enough to get by in most circumstances. We are staying in a little village iin the South called Mizala. It’s about 50km North of Almeria so our drive is down the East Coast of Spain. Through Costa Del Civil Uprising (Catalan was trying to go it alone and have many a scrap with the elected government) on past some other Costa's to Andalucia (love the sound of that)

Tarragona street festival
Tarragona was an unexpected joy. We stayed with a charming young thing in a well-placed apartment and had a good nose around the city. Lovely streets, amphitheatre, sturdy walls, shady squares, an excellent walking area with all sorts of shops and a back drop of the blue, blue Med to set it off. There was a festival when we were there. It doesn’t matter what it was for since they all seem similar. Crowds of people lining the street, floats with Madonnas, noisy fireworks and ridiculously dangerous roman candles and Catherine wheels attached to effigies of dragons or bulls squeezing through the throng. Fantastic! Down with H&S.

Our final day was just a short burst along some free Spanish motorway through rugged hilly landscape. A slip road, a short stretch of B road, under a bridge onto a D road and into the Mizala Valley and onto a road that gradually wasn't. Until next time Chicas!

Yum. Tapas

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

UK part 2, Sorry,forgot, so overdue!

Memory is a transient thing. At times vivid; sometimes clear; usually selective and sadly, often sketchy. I urge you all to commit events to something more permanent than the neuro-network of your brain. Whether it is the collecting of a mementos, a few words in a diary, a blog or the snap of picture. These things are actions of worth because they return so much more than the effort they take.

If only I did as I said! Were it so, the UK blog and accompanying pictures would be so much more…Or would they? With only me giving witness to these events I can tell you all sorts of things. Suggest that Rachel and I live lives that would be the envy of starlets. That we have done marvelous things and have friends even. I’m rambling. For those who know us – you know us for what we are and hopefully want for nothing more. For those who don’t, well you would soon figure it out. So here is the UK blog. Overdue, under-cooked but filled with a few tasty morsels ….

The Scandinavian Adventure finished we returned back to our freeloading ways of taking food and lodging from friends and mainly family. We probably outstayed our welcome on several occasions and whilst we are sorry we are also self-serving and ignorant. So. Make no mistake we will be back unless legal paperwork reaches in the meantime.

Gary and Mel are our oldest joint friends. They didn’t exist before Rachel and I (I mean they did. Just  not in our worlds). Consequently, it was a big thing to be there for their small and beautiful wedding. We have shared much with these folk and it was an honour to be amongst the few close family members at the do. We arrived in Crawlie and managed to convince a farmer to let us park in his farmyard just a few 100 metres from the venue. We therefore arrived all glowing on our bikes (the hotel had banned our down-market mobile home to grace their manicured tarmac) and left several hours later to pedal home happy and full of champagne.

Our second big event on returning was to re-evaluate what we would do next and that was narrowed down very slightly by figuring out what we didn’t want to do. Namely, to continue living in Crawlie and travel around Europe. Crawlie was perfect in so many ways but you can only cover so many miles at 60mph without air-con whilst worrying that something would break. The idea of spending summer months in the van no longer appealed so she had to go. And go she did. Like shit off a shiny shovel. I placed the add in Gumtree at 9.30am and by 12.00 we had sold her. All too quick! There was no time to have one last forage; one last cosy up in the comfy bed; one last engine catastrophe. We felt a little bereft. In truth she will probably run without a hitch for the next two or three years now. Sadly not with us driving her though. So good luck John Smith may you cover happy miles.

We did a few housesits whilst we were back. These to give us a location near to people or away from people. Depending on your perspective. Ipswich was nice with a dog that looked like Barbara Streisand (go figure the breed) and just a short way from Colchester; one in Weymouth. A fantastic seaside town of yesteryear with Punch and Judy stall, dripping ice cream, tatted-up Londoners with out of place walks and muzzled dogs and people swimming from the knees down in the still cold water. 

We stayed in a cosy cottage with miles of running to be had amidst rolling downs and sheep shit. Here we got to see Holly, Jim and new grandson Teds – more in a bit on that - and, due to excellent timing, got to meet up with an old friend who happened to be sailing around the United Kingdom with his dog in a 55 year old, 22ft long Waverley yacht. Peter Matheson is a singular man. Driven, Focused, mad and looking for something – although, not sure what. Anyway, Pete was 3 months into his voyage and hoped to make some money for childhood cancer. ‘Bumble Ahoy’, as the voyage was known, followed fairly closely on the heels of a similar piece of big hearted madness called ‘Tractor Bumble’ involving an old open topped tractor and travelling 8,000ish miles around UK and up to the arctic circle and back and is to be followed by ‘Giddy up Bumble’ – Yup! You guessed it. Crossing the Pyrenees and some more stuff on a donkey – Donations to any of these would be welcome as its costing him personally a small fortune to do this stuff. 

We stayed in a great Victorian place in Colchester. Opposite the Recreation Ground and just 2 mins from where I grew up as a boy. I was tempted to go smash some windows, play on the swings and set fire to stuff in the Lanes.

We did a further housesit in Chelsea Harbour looking after a lovely house and dog and got to spend time walking in London. Boy did we walk. Miles and miles each day. 2 hours with the dog then traipsing the streets and taking in all sites. Buckingham Palace, Horseguards Parade, Picadilly, along the Thames, Regents, Hyde, Richmond, St James’ Park, Saatchi Galley – Fantastic display on Selfies, The Natural History Museum (Which is the best - whale skeleton or diplodocus?), The V&A, The Wallace Collection, Kings Road…..The list goes on. I had no idea there were so many posh houses! What a great few days. And finally, the last sit in Salisbury. Again to see Holly and co and enjoy all the beautiful countryside and architecture that there is to see there.

So, back to Holly (my daughter), Jimmy (the husband) and Teddy (the grandson) who is the centre of their world. We got to spend a fair bit of time in different places eating walking, drinking and generally having a jolly time. They both work part time in order to give the little chap and each other the time together that they deserve and, although its all fairly new, I have high hopes for the arrangement. Teds gets loads of quality attention and they get the right amount of work/home balance so can give their very best to both. Its enviable and they are fortunate they can do so. Both Holly and Jim are loving parenthood and I understand that Teds is enjoying childhood too. He’s a lovely little chap and raises all sorts of emotions and memories in me – certainly enough of the good stuff for me to openly embrace grandadship. I am 56 after all!

My eldest son (who lives in London and was on holiday during the London housesit – grrrrr) has got engaged and is due to marry the lovely Victoria next year or so. We had a little champagne breakfast in Colchester when he was there to celebrate. They are a beautiful couple and were they rich I would expect Hello Magazine to do a full page photoshoot when the big day arrives.

My youngest son Rob lives in Colchester so it was easy to spend time with him and Justin and there very hairy cat. Rob and I like climbing so we took the opportunity to go a few times and even get some outdoor climbing done in Kent. A great day spent chatting where I had one of those seminal moments when I came to realise that my son was no longer a boy but a man. Well done Rob.

Rachel's niece Katy turned 18 when we are home and we got to spend a pleasant evening with her and her family to celebrate. Well done Katy but sadly its all downhill from here on in.

We had meals with old friends, rekindled some lost friends and hopefully cemented all those important relationships that may seem to be minimised when we are hundreds of miles away but actually aren’t. We hope you guys know this. We love you and need you.

I think that’s about it. Just, in closing, a very special thanks to Dave and Maureen – Rachels parents – for your generosity, wine, lumpy bed and terrible company. And my sister and Howard who repeatedly offered us a room and food.
Onward we go. Our next bit of life involves a drive down to the south of Spain in Ron (the burgundy fiesta) and a housesit for 5 months.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

NEST - A final hop, skip and jump through Denmark, Germany & The Netherlands

So this is the last bit. We are picking our way back to the The Hook down different ways where reasonable detours allow so not loads of proper sightseeing to report. Eve so there are a few thing worth a mention so here they are...

The buried lighthouse - A lighthouse that is being slowly buried by moving dunes and is facing a sorry end with the eroding cliffs speeding a few metres a year towards it. I reckon the place has 5 years before it's gone and good riddance to it. It's shit. It's a crumbling light house with a smattering of sand covering the lower floor due to the doors being removed. The surrounding buildings have been knocked down and the place resembles a disused building site rather than a tourist attraction. There are a couple of scabby dunes nearby and these do, to be fair, stretch off into the distance. But all in all it's just a good place to have a piss and move on.

The singing trees of Aalborg - Now I thought these two might be rubbish but we were pleasantly surprised. Sir Cliff Richard... The radiant one. Did a concert in the town in 87 and planted a tree. The town put a little interactive speaker beside the tree and at the push of a button you get to hear one of his songs. This then became something of a tradition and there are now dozens of these trees and speakers dotted about in the Music Park. Artists come to the town, play a gig and then plant a tree and get their little bit of recording established beside it. The result is that there are trees and music dedicated to BB King, Beyoncé, ZZ top, Placido Domingo, Willy Nelson et al.

The Afsluitdijk Causeway - The A7 road sits atop this impressive dam that was created in the twenties to protect the existing coast by forming a huge lake. It runs between two pieces of coastline in the Northern Netherlands and is 32 km long, 90 metres wide and 7 metres high. This then forms an enormous lake by pinching a load of the North Sea. It's very impressive. Look on a map and just wonder at the engineering involved! Wikipedia quotes figures that are simply staggering.

Edam - Nice place. Small historic centre that not surprisingly has lots of cheese shops. We stayed for free in a cheese and clog making factory-cum-museum. All a bit cheesy - ha ha aha!? But free for us to stay and get a little tour. in the morning. Ended up buying some Pesto flavoured Edam and Marijuana favoured Edam. That second one will make a hell of a joint!

Zaanse Schans - I visited this place years ago and apart from a giant yellow clog going missing nothing has changed. But thats the point of the place I guess. It's a 17th century renovated village with working windmills and lots of lovely green and white wooden buildings to wander about. I am still astonished about how many gift shops they used to have!

So thats it. 3,700 miles of road travelled. We have laughed, oohed and arrghhhed, sworn, spent far more than was good for our bank account and like all good adventures we fell in love with an unlikely heroine - Crawlie The Wonder Van.

Until the next journey....

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

NEST - Norway 3 - Campers please keep your trousers on!

Following our walk from the previous post and before our boots are even dry we hit the Ryfylke route. Its a great drive which offered up plenty of wow factor right to the end of the day when we bed down in Sauda on a harbour wharf and did clothes washing... Thank goodness I am getting right old washer woman's hands from washing in sinks all the time.

I think having a good walk really lifted our spirits and although all is mist and rain and up and down and winding roads seen through fogged windows, it's still all very impressive. And especially today because we are doing the Prekstolen walk. Pulpit rock, as it's known looks down down down to the waters of a fjord. It's impressive and the view is awesome (Here used as the English superlative meaning awe inspiring and not the passé American usage which can be applied to a cat shitting on a doorstep or someone eating two Big Macs). 

Unfortunately it's a bit of a cattle market to get there and back. A sort of human banger racing event. Coach loads of struggling, sweating, limping, tourists keen to keep their trainers clean. There are of course many able bodied folk but throwing all the different capabilities into something this strenuous on narrow paths is bound to cause congestion and a wearing of patience. I must add I do not count ourselves among the elite by a long chalk But seeing impending rain heading our way we took no prisoners on the downward leg. Literally reaching the van as a torrent fell about us.

Another night of free camping. This time on a charming waterfront overlooking a bridge and large mound that was magically lit by a late evening breakthrough of sun at 11.00pm. 

Stavanger. I have long harboured a wish to go to Stavanger. It sounds so cold and desperate. Battle horns will be heard and mighty axes will be found embedded in oaken doors. Or... There will be many British tourists fresh off a P&O cruise all looking around the very quaint styled old harbour town area buying everything from troll figurines to Norwegian hats. We spend a pleasant hour or so then skiddadled off to find what the tourist books describe as "A charming stretch of endless beaches and quaint industry"... The cynic in me might suggest that the more obvious attractions of the copious stench of spray on cow shit hovering over the fields and lots of slow moving tractors would be more accurate. 

We did turn down one little path from the main road to enjoy a picnic in some woods but found the proliferation of 'no bum sex' signage a little too suggestive of what might me expected if not indulged in. Suddenly this route came to the end with a thank you notice bidding us goodbye. Strangely only after this sign did the odours and tractors go and were replaced with fantastical smooth rocky mounds and boulders. The sort of vista you might see in a spaghetti western with a Stetson wearing cowboy shooting his rifle in. Pools and grassy mounds stocked with groups of different farmyard creatures huddled together with all the camaraderie found only on the cover pictures of The Jehovah Witnesses 'Awake' magazine.

Just arrived at a lovely little campsite in a bay. The sun is shining, irds are tweeting and the view is gentle and relaxing. We take time to clamber over rocks and look at the colourful array of seaweed and sea anemone visible in the clear, lapping water

We finally reach Kristiansand sometime after this. It's got a huge natural park area where we rambled for 6 or 7 km before getting to the ferry point only to be told it would be delayed for 2 hours. Denmark will have to wait but we are eager to leave Norway. It has been an interesting time and undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places on earth but come on Norway. Sort your shitty weather out if only for a couple of months in summer. There is little point of having long days if they are dingy and wet! We complete the 2 hour crossing sometime after midnight and catch a few hours in a noisy truck stop before I literally pull Rachel from her bed at 6.30 and we head off. There is no real plan for the next few days because we have to get through Denmark, Northern Germany and half way down the Netherlands in 5 days. Not a huge distance but it is us, we don't like to hurry and with our 60mph sort of limit it will take time. More in the final chapter next time.

NEST - Norway 2 - Crikey Kate

It's mid June and we are driving through ice fields, still covered with metres thick drifts of snow along a high plateau with a frozen lake stretching before me. It all takes your breath away and frazzles the brain trying to concentrate driving through the rain with poor visibility on narrow roads and take in all that is around you. Today has been bleak once again and it seems only right to settle for the night somewhere equally bleak. Namely on a spit of land that divides an ice lake. Our view in either direction is frozen water surrounded by snow covered valley walls. It's pretty dramatic and after cooking a hot pot and drinking hot chocolate we hunker down in clothes under our duvet and sleep like logs.

Wow. That was a fresh night. But man is it good to open the blinds to all that nature!
Today turned out to be a day of mixed emotions. The good ones were that we were driving along the beautiful route of Guartfjell. This takes in spectacular valleys and waterfalls although it is tinged by the ever present rain or drizzle that seems to be a permanent feature in Norway. We thought this drive would be less taxing on Crawlie after the strains of the previous two days and so it proved to be until rounding a corner Rachel discovered the accelerator wasn't working.

"Oh now what?" We both cried. We pull over to the side of the road, put out our warning triangles and did some swearing not unlike John Cleese in Faulty Towers before he starts beating the car with a tree branch. 

Luckily, After a couple of minutes, a friendly mechanic comes by, identifies the problem and puts a clamp on the throttle cable which has come loose. Good as new! We start the engine. Expecting a welcoming roar but instead are greeted by misfiring. It sounds like a repeat of Germany. And since we are in the middle of nowhere we decide to limp to a nearby village and call out breakdown...AGAIN!

We go through the rigmarole of Rachel's phone not working and my Skype reception being poor on my internet only phone sim, then we give up and seek assistance from the local store. The manager lends us her phone to call England for about 20 minutes, allows us to stay in the closed shop until the breakdown lorrry was sorted and even gave us cakes for sustenance. Thank you to that incredibly kind person.

So far we have had to replace a blown head gasket, get new water pump, timing belt, 4 new sparks, new coolant and oil, ran out of cooking gas so had to buy Danish bottle and adapter and the zip on Rachel's coat we bought a few weeks ago broke. Now we have a broken throttle cable and the van sounds like it's going to die again. Great!

The breakdown guy arrives and is not worried about the throttle as the temporary fix and says it is as effective as getting the new part. However he cannot figure out what the misfiring is about. He hopes that one of the new spark plugs is faulty but hasn't got a replacement and can't get the right one until morning so we are treated to another night in a garage forecourt.

Next morning we try the spark plug. It's no better and so we have to go to a proper garage nearby. They are busy so can't look until 2.30pm and since they close at 3.30pm  are unlikely to fix it if it needs something expensive. So they look and are still not sure so order new HT leads and ignition system that will arrive midday the following day. We love spending holiday time in garages so treat ourselves to yet another one and spend our time reading, playing backgammon and hoping that it will only be the leads and not the ignition system or something worse in the most expensive country in the universe.

Bloody hell! It was just the leads. And now Crawlie is running like a dream. Better than ever and she is like a young Colt wanting to get on the road. We therefore pay the still ludicrous cost (although cheaper than we had mentally prepared for) price. £150 and get the hell out of Dodge (Forde).

You know with this latest fix our confidence has risen. Crawlie purrs along. Sure she isn't fast but she is fast enough. And without doubt we are still thrilled to have her. She trundles up and down mountains undeterred. She goes for hundreds of miles smiling the whole time. The enormous interior space hidden in a comparatively diminutive exterior is so, so .....Tardessy. We look at big fancy wagons and scoff. Yes scoff! All that wasted space...pah!. Even so. The incessant rain and strain is getting us a little down and we need to pick ourselves up. This trip has not turned out as we expected. We have not had the opportunity to socialise since it has often been drizzling or cold and due to those mechanical faults our schedule is shorted by over a week. Yes, yes Crawlie. I know you are sorry and it's all in the past....... How did I ever get to love a car? 39 years of driving and never once saw any car as more that a a vehicle and now, here I am having imaginary conversations!

We have given ourselves a talking to and we head off over the Vikafjell plateau which is all far away views and mountains and beauty and camp near a town called Voss where we decide to buy some waterproofs for a big walk we have planned. Norway prices are too pricey as you know so we find a Salvation Army store and Rachel finds a wacky three quarter length, purple, sou-wester material coat and I buy a lightweight rain jacket that turns out not to be waterproof!

The Hardanger Tourist route has all the usual suspects. Waterfalls, tunnels, views etc.
and, in one tunnel, a space agey roundabout which Rachel is very impressed with. See video in gallery. We park up in a carpark that is not meant to be 24 hours but is just a few km from the walk we are doing the next day and as other campers are staying we decide to join the herd. It's a nice quiet spot surrounded by soaring rock faces. Luckily we get talking to some Netherlanders who are driving up to the top car park to pay the exorbitant £30 parking fee in the morning and are offered a lift. We in turn offer to pay half for the parking...everyone's a winner baby ain't no lie. Come 4.45 they arrive but have themselves got a lift from their hotelier so it's all free. Good. I was regretting the 50% offer.

Trolltunga (trolls tongue) is an amazing walk. It starts with a 400 metre climb on a very steep rocky path so gets the blood flowing good and early. Overall it's 22km from base back to base and is a fantastic trek - picking your way through rock strewn flats, crystal clear mountain tarns shimmering in this day of rare sun. Past colourful lichen, ice lakes and fields of snows that are still only muddied with a single trodden path. The route only opened two days before we did it. Our early start means that most of the time there are only a few people dotted around heading the same way. Later on for our return it is a very different story with the majority starting around 9 or 10 in the hope of finishing by 8 or 9 that evening... About 3 hours before sunset. We therefore swam against the tide. A good feeling. Each hill we crest brings a new sight and the path is so diverse that even when there is nothing new the walking still keeps you focused. After 8 km of walking Rachel breaks through an ice cap over a stream and stumbles down a couple of feet. Banging her knee really hard on some rocks. It swells dramatically and fast and causes her to limp quite badly and requiring frequent stops to apply ice - luckily we got lots of that! The last 3 km was a lot slower and because there is a lot of snow and ice in this part of the trek she was rightly nervous.

Finally we reach Trolltunga, which is a fantastic geographic feature of granite in the shape of a poked out tongue that sticks out from the side of a sheer drop over a long wide mountain lake many hundreds of metres below. Here like everyone else we click pictures , watch a wedding proposal and apparently missed a male stripper before setting off down to the comfort and shower inside Crawlie. Going down takes forever! Rachel hobbling. Me trying to steal some of the thunder coz my newish hiking boots had given me several painful blisters. We take a slight wrong turn at one point and end up following a french family with a GPS who tell us that we are actually on the quickest route to the car park. Only after following this fast walking demon for about 45 minutes do we discover he has gone completely wrong and we are forced to walk an additional 2 kilometres. 

This in turn causes us to miss our rendezvous for a lift back to our van so then have to start walking another 5 km and thumb a lift after about 20mins with a heaven sent angel from Australia on a driving holiday. A long and challenging day but once back we make hot pot, turn on the heating and sleep the sleep of the righteous.

Monday, 26 June 2017

NEST (Northern Europe & Scandinavian Tour) - Norway 1 - Oh my giddy aunt!

Without doubt the jewel in the Scandinavian crown. Norway builds upon the lush lowlands of Denmark, the heavily wooded ...er...woods of Sweden and then adds in mountains, fjords, craggy rocks, torrential rivers and pricing gone mad. £36 for 4 kilos of washing!!! It's true. Plainly we didn't pay it But the launderette place woman didn't even crack a smile when she quoted the price. Why would she? With chocolate bars at £2.50, 10 small cans of Heineken at £26 (in a supermarket) and pretty much everything requiring a mortgage to purchase this is the normal. So anyway let's talk about this beautiful country...

Day 1. We cross the border and within a few miles a huge moose lumbers out of the forest. Very exciting seeing one up close. Apparently the adult male weighs about 700 lbs and grows to 2 metres to the shoulders which leaves a whole load more to be concerned with if you count the neck, head and yearly renewed antlers (or paddles as they are know) which span nearly 2 metres across...... Good example of England crazy weights and measures system there miles/kilometres/pounds/kilos. 

We were going to stop in Trondheim and head up to the Artic Circle but the consequential loss of a week with a sick car would take up too much time and petrol  money, so we content ourselves with getting to within 300 miles and bank 4 days to keep our pace more leisurely to work our way down the west coast.

The trouble with driving long distances is that it becomes difficult to stop. You get sort of wrapped up in the drive and the need to cover miles so upon reaching Trondheim we decide to keep going until we eventually stop on a path to a disused quarry for the night. Quite pretty even if it doesn't sound it.

Oh yes. We are experiencing the weirdness of the  Scandinavian summer. Sunsets at something like 11.40pm, then it's a little bit darkish for a while then everything is bathed in light again 3.15am. It really messes with your head and times when we would normally hit the sack we are thinking shall we go walking or running or whatever.

The scenery becomes more and more impressive as we start to move south again and lakes and rivers, fjords and mountains are now always in sight. We stay on the marina in a sleepy little village called Vinjeora one night and just as we are about to go to bed - it's 11.15pm - some fishermen/towns folk start moving stuff about on the dock like its midday. Why not? It's bright enough. It's in this same spot that the next morning we spend some romantic time with with the sliding door wide open, looking out on the lake and do some post coital otter watching. two of them frolicking on the banks.

There are recommended tourist routes dotted around Norway. Driving or biking routes that take in exceptional scenery and from Kristiansund we take the first of these on our list. the Atlantic route. A beautiful drive where we stopped at pretty much every available pull in to click pictures and gasp a bit. The winding road twists and turns through land and seascapes. Trees and lichen covered rocks are reflected upon crystal clear water of lakes or the placid fjord waters from the Atlantic. Along the way there are numerous short hikes where you can leave the van and head off to get lost in stunning views across the ocean from a craggy height or over the water splashed land that is dotted with channels and ponds. Our drive meanwhile takes us through tunnels, over bridges and upon ferries - each slowly ramping up the charges we will have to eventually pay for all this loveliness. We finally park up for the night in Isfjorden (ice fjord) for the night and end the day with a bike ride up the fjord to look at the scenery - starting at 10.15pm.

Today we really put Crawlie through her paces by following the Trollstigen route that rises up and up and up through loads of hairpin bends to a magnificent viewpoint....in theory. However once again theory spites practice and today it used the mediums of rain, mist and dark cloud to do so. 

No sooner had we set off the skies darkened and stayed darkened and moody all day. On the one hand somewhat disappointing but on the other it makes everything look menacing and foreboding. With everything bathed in half light and shrouded in mist it makes you think of trolls, Norse gods and Kirk Douglas as a Viking. This route has it all - steep drops, lush pastures, thick forests, ribbon lakes and tumultuous waterfalls crashing down hundreds of feet. Crawlie soldiered on, no complaining, slow and steady, up and down, on and on soon taking a long downward road where her brakes were overheating and the gears crying out for some relief. It's strange that you get so disorientated here. You feel you are near sea level because of the lakes and you suddenly come across a vista that shows you to be hundreds of metres up and similarly thinking we were still a long way up on this day we rounded a bend and are suddenly confronted by two huge cruise liners that are unloading passengers into a long string of coaches. Soon they too will have the magnificent views of cloud, rain and mist to enjoy..

All of this loveliness all blends into one. And , since I wrote this daily in rough at the time, I realise I may be over stating or repeating my feelings. this is something you will have to forgive. As I have said before. These blogs are to capture our thoughts and feelings and memories so we can look back at them one day and relive it all again.