Final thoughts from abroad…….

Final thoughts from abroad…….

After 8 days on the road we finally made it home to sunny Chester (it actually was sunny!) on Friday, just in time for my birthday. It was lovely to be back, I wasn’t sure how I would feel but yes it was great. The house was left in excellent order by the family, thank you guys and time shared over the birthday weekend has been lovely.

Now that we’re back, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide a few reflections, a few things to share that I have observed, learned or would like to learn, written in no particular order…

Appreciate the simple things, blue skies, sunshine, warmth on your back

Actively appreciate being well, lots of people aren’t

Learn to speak the language if you want to live comfortably in another country

Even if you do, you will always be an outsider

Other countries really value and invest in their public services and public servants……, sports centres and community space even in the smallest of towns

Compromise is vital

Look around and be inspired

Try to inspire others

Take the time, at the time to recognise and value that you are having a good time

Take the opportunity to live amongst new people and learn from them

Live in the moment

Try to find out more before you judge

Try to not to judge

Love the twinkle of sunlight on the sea

Don’t be too hard on yourself, celebrate what is good about you

Drink alcohol and enjoy it but build in dry days even when it’s sunny!

Mix with people of all ages and particularly enjoy what young people can offer

Remind yourself to smile and show others when you are happy

Laugh when things go wrong

Save your anger for the big things

Nature is bigger than all of us, appreciate how small and insignificant we actually are

Love different plants and animals that you see on your travels

Love the different foods (well most of them!)

Love Chinese Bazaars!

Value differences, don’t expect or wish for things to be the same as at home, that’s not why you’ve come abroad

France and Spain are vast countries, so much open space, even 3 months just scrapes the surface

Waves change the shoreline every single day, the sea is blue but a different blue everyday, nothing stays the same

You actually need far fewer belongings than you think

Efficiency is good, bureaucracy is tiresome

Care for and truly appreciate family and friends and stay in touch….

That brings me nicely to what I want to conclude with…. I would like to start by giving my thanks to my friends and work colleagues, who from the outset encouraged and helped to fuel the madness of this first adventure, keeping me going for the last few months in my job. Thanks too to my brilliant family for egging me on and providing reassurance that all would be well at home and full encouragement to be mad and seek out fun and pleasures. My greatest thanks go to Mike who helped me turn this vague plan into the most brilliant reality. Mike was really the organiser in the background and he could never be sure until we arrived somewhere if things would be ok. He was also the driver, covering more than 5,000 miles in 3 and a half months. I believe not everyone could spend such an intense time with their partner, luckily we really could, growing and sharing everything along the way. Out of interest Mike never read any of my blogs before posting so he had no part to play in my version of events. Without him the adventure would never have got off the ground so I give my thanks publicly. I know that he has been keeping his own probably very different account of the trip and this will appear in the hard back book that Greg is creating for me as a fantastic birthday present, which I look forward to immensely.

Lastly I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my blogs and for the many encouraging and supportive comments you have given to me. Sometimes when I have missed home those comments made all the difference. So thank you.

Would I do it again. Oh yes! Our next adventure will be a trip to Australia in the spring to see Rosie. Other adventures are very much on the cards and who knows, maybe I’ll take up the travel blog again. Until then, au revoir, adios and goodbye x

Dipping a toe in ……

Dipping a toe in ……

As I write my penultimate blog, I am sitting in a hotel bar in the tiny northern Spanish town of Burgo del Osma. We have already come some 1000 kms since leaving the beautiful, peaceful, slow paced village of Torrox and the life we had known since early October. Now it is very cold outside here and a temperature of -5 is expected tonight. Having had a brief look around this surprisingly lovely town we’ve been driven back to the bar by the cold and the fact that it is Sunday evening and everything is shut! This is quite a smart hotel but wine is 1€ a glass and comes with an offering of olives, so forgive me ……

We said our goodbyes to some really lovely people, lovely times and also to the sea which will not feature again until the ferry to Portsmouth.

Since Thursday we have travelled west to Seville and then back east and north via Córdoba and Toledo to arrive at our current destination. I decided on the title for this blog based on the fact that we have briefly touched on the beauty of so many cities over the last few days but realise that we have not been able to do any of them the justice that they deserve. The photo is of a stained glass window in the Mezquita in Córdoba which represents hope and good cheer to me. My observations from our very brief visits are really only superficial and based on very little other than gut feelings. Seville seemed to be a huge, thriving, vibrant and sophisticated city of overwhelming scale and beauty, especially coming from Torrox. It was refreshing to spend time amongst people of all ages including university students, such a contrast to the more aged population of other places we have stayed in more recently. It was lovely to experience the generosity of spirit amongst local people who really went out of their way to help us, especially on the bus. For the first time people seemed to operate some kind of queuing system, otherwise unknown over here. It seemed as though food and drink were key to the experience of the city and we really enjoyed both, starting off in a self service shisha bar!

Córdoba was a two hour drive from Seville which included mile after mile of wide open and immaculately cultivated plains. Patchwork quilts of colour and then dry dusty rolling hills en route to Córdoba which proved to be such a contrast to the sea and mountain vistas of previous weeks. An outstanding feature of the journey from Seville was the extraordinary bright, shining beacon seen in the distance, so bright that it seemed to be emitting light rather than merely reflecting it. A search of The Google helped us pinpoint it as the only solar energy tower in the country. It was completely stunning and could be seen for miles. I have to ask, why aren’t there more of these solar energy plants especially in a country with so much sun…..?

We arrived at Córdoba and stayed at the Oasis hotel, situated across the river from the old town and the famous Mezquita cathedral. We walked to this incredible landmark and were again amazed by its scale and architecture, previously seen in a jigsaw completed last Christmas. It made me question further the potential inter-relationships between different religions and cultures. There was plenty to see in the city once again but very limited time on this trip. Perhaps worthy of some amusement was our experience of eating out in the old town in the evening. We made the stupid mistake of totally over ordering food, anticipating tapas not raciones. We ended up with three huge plates of glorious food, literally enough to feed the five thousand, much to the amusement of fellow diners. You might think that after three months in the country we would have worked this out!

Anyway from Córdoba we drove on to Toledo, the former capital city. Unfortunately within a very few miles of leaving Córdoba our engine warning light came on in a fairly aged car that has so far served us so well, basically watch this space and hope we make it back without incident!

Toledo is another beautiful city, full of wonderful architecture and history. It also features many, many gift and souvenir shops with marzipan and steel both being local specialities. Shops parade the steel in many forms including small to enormous vicious looking knives and suits of armour for all occasions! I had a lovely encounter with a woman in the Cathedral marzipan shop where I was trying to buy a selection of treats for my birthday visitors. Despite our language difficulties we found out that we share our big birthdays with one day’s difference and high fived each other for celebrations next week. Tasting of marzipan goodies followed so I hope recipients of these delights will enjoy them too!

To be truthful we have both been saturated with beauty, culture, architecture etc and actually recommend city breaks rather than whistle stop visits to fully appreciate the glories of Spain’s major cities.

We left Toledo this morning and hit Madrid’s road chaos, made far worse by roadworks which without warning meant that seven lanes of traffic had to filter into one lane and this with no culture of letting anyone in!

Anyway arriving in Burgo, we really have now hit autumn/winter. Where temperature in Andalusia rarely fell below 20 degrees in the day or 8 degrees at night we haven’t got beyond 9 degrees today. We are also now back to the vistas of northern Spain which we first encountered at the start of the trip. Here the buildings are much darker, no longer being of the lovely Andalusian whitewashed appearance. We have also had mile after mile of golden leaved oak trees replacing the olive trees and have experienced as many different, fascinating and beautiful landscapes as you could possibly imagine.

So here we are in the fourth hotel since my last blog. Each place has had its own charms and quirks. What they have all offered though has been just the warmth that we lacked in the house in Torrox. Tomorrow we are heading for Pamplona and will then move on through Bordeaux and Rennes before catching the overnight ferry back to Portsmouth on Thursday night.

I will let you know how the return trip goes and will share some reflections next time. Until then stay warm!

Hellos and goodbyes……

Hellos and goodbyes……

Knowing that we only had 10 days left in Torrox, we looked at the things we still wanted to experience and also the things we wanted to revisit. One must was to sit on a beach in Nerja, but more of that to come. Nerja as a town has been an enduring pleasure throughout our time on the Costa del Sol but we still hadn’t visited the caves located nearby. So we went to explore and in fact they turned out to be an unmissable part of the area’s offering. I have visited a number of caves in Europe over the years, being married to someone with strong geological and archaeological leanings (I was going to say nerd but thought that was too strong!), but seeing a huge 32 metre column underground where stalactites joined stalagmites was truly incredible. We also spent a second day in Nerja sunbathing on one of the glorious beaches. Leaving the place in the late afternoon we had the wondrous experience of seeing the sunset over the sea, a changing and spectacular wonder that lasted throughout the magical drive back along the coast road, hence the photo for this blog.

Another place we wanted to revisit was Malaga. We had no particular plans for the day except a vague and ultimately fruitless search for warm jumpers. We ended up walking miles around the beautiful city and having lunch at a beach bar eating a mix of seafood delights including clams. If you’ve never tried them I urge you to have a go, they really are small nuggets of concentrated sea and utterly delicious, especially when you mop up the garlic broth with bread. Of course the sun shone and the sky was blue……As well as much walking we also went back to our favourite bar for evening drinks and to watch the varied antics of the staff, patrons and passers by. Malaga really is a wonderful and underrated city, maybe it should stay that way. I know I’ll be back.

We fully intended to go to Granada too as it’s not that far from here, hoping to visit the Alhambra, but the difficulties encountered in trying to get tickets either online or by phone left us so frustrated that eventually and regretfully we gave up. From what I’ve seen the Spanish are very clean and organised but love to complicate things with unnecessary bureaucracy. Why do they need to know our ages for example when buying tickets? So I anticipate and hope that forthcoming visits to the cities of Seville and Córdoba will be more straightforward as they won’t require advance bookings!

I hadn’t planned on mentioning hair appointments again but the most recent experience may provide amusement. In contrast to Denia, and despite a recommendation, Friday’s encounter was rather less successful! Let’s just say that I spent two and three quarter hours in the place and in the entire time I was the only person who actually had a hair cut and there were plenty of visitors. Another example of communication challenges as despite my best efforts, let’s just say the result was, well think Mr Spock – I know it will grow!

Language issues still prevail and will definitely form part of my final reflections. For example in Nerja I took the opportunity to try to replace an item of makeup that had run out. When we got home I realised that the thing in my bag was not what I had asked for. How do you explain that easily? Then how do you let your neighbour know that their dead canary is on their roof terrace? And how do you explain to the man in the Chinese Bazaar that the firelighters you want are for an indoor log burner not the outside BBQ? These sound like some of the ridiculous sentences you have to work with when learning languages at school, in fact you never know when they’ll come in useful!

We will be leaving Torrox on Thursday on the next part of the adventure, allowing eight days to get home. Part of the preparations have included planning last get togethers with lovely neighbours. So tomorrow we have a day in prospect with Jenny and Roger. We plan to do a walk in the mountains behind Nerja, then lunch in the village of Maro close to the caves and a game of pétanque in the afternoon. They will be the first recipients of my sea glass creations, as small thanks for their kindness. Then on Tuesday we are going to the square with Gill, the artist, for a tapas lunch. It has been great to dip into the lives of others and much to be learned from them.

Wednesday will be a packing up day and then we will be heading west to Seville then onto Córdoba and Toledo.

Anyway I will have to conclude this week’s blog as my iPad is refusing to charge- Adam where are you when I need you? So have a good week everyone and the next time I’ll blog will be when we’re back on the road and meanwhile thanks for your support and lovely comments.

Days out, nights in …….

Days out, nights in …….

The week began with morning coffee at El Manolo’s in the square. We had already noticed a small crowd building and soon realised that a funeral cortège was making its way towards us. It was a sight to behold and heartening to see as absolutely everyone stopped what they were doing and stood up respectfully. Always sobering too to be a small part of something likely to touch many in a village where everyone appears to know each other. During the afternoon I walked out to the cemetery to see how local people manage their dead. I was surprised by how accessible the commemorative marble plaques were and to see how the relics and accompanying photos were stacked in small groups and adorned with fresh flowers, clearly well cared for. I spent time reading the inscriptions and was amazed by the long lives so many had had, mostly reaching their 80’s and 90’s. I can’t help but feel that the sunshine and slower pace of life could well be a contributing factor…..

During the week we spent a day in Torre Del Mar, a beach resort closer to Malaga. We walked for miles along the promenade and went to the local market (which just happened to be on that day!). We also happened to see large numbers of parrots, much tamer than we had seen elsewhere. They were feeding and nesting close by seemingly without fear, another real delight for me as a parrot lover and wannabe owner. We had actually partly gone to Torre to look for warmer clothing, having concentrated our packing on the requirements of summer weather. As usual though we timed the day badly leaving the shopping element until after lunch, which of course coincided with siesta when everything is closed. So we returned without success but still having had a most enjoyable day!

So on Friday we went off to Malaga to continue the search for boots, socks and warm things!

Having gone in by bus, a journey of an hour and a half, we started the day with hot chocolate and churros, a treat as befits any good jaunt, hence today’s photo. This is a national breakfast speciality and the hot chocolate is so thick it has to be scooped up with the delicious warm doughnuts or eaten by spoon. We didn’t plan on any official sightseeing on this visit but arrived at the main square to loud and lively uproar anyway. It turned out that there were several huge red tents causing the noise and sense of frenetic excitement. They were showing off some famous Spanish football trophies including the European Championship Cup and the World Cup. Huge crowds of people were queuing to have their photos taken alongside these cups and a general party atmosphere accompanied their wait.

Malaga really is a very vibrant and buzzing city which I absolutely love and which seems to offer more and more with each visit. Just walking through the streets listening to and watching the variety of buskers and street performers is a joy. The indoor food market was also fascinating in its variety and display and Mike bought a supply of spices which have already been put to excellent use at home. We eventually stopped at what has become our usual haunt, the Picasso bar, for tapas and a couple of drinks, all enjoyed in the glorious November sunshine. Mike eventually got his Shopping Badge for tolerance and patience in adversity, as I fought my usual battle to buy a pair of boots. I am a) incredibly choosy and b) have probably the worlds most difficult feet. By 6.30pm the mission was accomplished! Socks were also purchased but not yet the warm clothing that I know will be needed very soon.

As mentioned previously, the mornings and evenings are now very cool, and we don’t have the benefit of central heating, so we decided to meet the challenge of trying to light a fire in the wood burning stove. There is a storage room in the house full of logs and a box of firelighters but no instructions! Following my gung-ho and consequently unsuccessful first attempt, we consulted The Google and Mike has now officially earned his Firelighting Badge (note that’s two badges in a week!). Despite having a good supply of logs, there was no kindling, apparently an essential ingredient in successful fire making, so yesterday we walked to a piece of waste ground near to the sea, foraging for dried sticks, roots, broken bits of bamboo etc. We did well quickly accumulating enough kindling to last us until we leave but realised how odd this must seem to the many people observing us from their balconies. My pleasure in this activity was way beyond what it actually merited! Anyway since then we have enjoyed glorious blazes each evening!

We are now much clearer about plans for the return journey. However for the next week and a half there is commitment to enjoy the time remaining and to make the most of the heat, sunshine and blue skies which I know we will really miss when we’re back in the UK.