contentedsouls

Join us on our travels around Europe aboard our Dutch Tjalk Francoise

  • Jill Budd

    After 6 years aboard our Narrowboat Matilda Rose in the UK, we took the plunge and shipped her across to Europe. After 2 years in Europe we knew we didn't want to return to the UK so took the plunge and purchased a 1902 20 mtr Dutch Tjalk called Francoise and are now continuing our travels of the waterways of Europe in a buxom wench

  • October 2019
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Hiding behind the metaphorical sofa

Posted by contentedsouls on 04/08/2019

Loved Hasselt with it’s woodlands (a relatively rare sight here) and quirky streets, but not their mooring fees, so we moved on!

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One of the many things I love about this country is the diversity of ‘stuff’ on the water; this is what we encountered as we left.

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We only had a few days left before we were to be boarded by The Pirates at Zwolle; time to muck out the spare room and make their beds, but no time to re-provision so Sarah and I did it together when they arrived and we bought cakes, a lot of cakes. They only had a few days and the Saturday was a write off as were pinned to the bank all day and all night which was, actually, quite nice as we had time to chill together. G and I are quite well practiced at chilling but, I suspect, Sarah and Andy have little opportunity (there is no ‘whisper’ button on word press but, because they’re young, they have to (ssh) w o r k). We still managed 2 memorable meals out before dropping them back to re-unite them with their car in Zwolle.

Our fire extinguishers needed servicing and we hadn’t been successful in finding anywhere to have them done. Moored alongside a cycle track I heard a van coming down the track, so I shot out to get Daisy (who was doing rolly pollys down the middle of said track). The driver stopped and asked me if we were waiting for batteries to be delivered; we weren’t, so he drove on to the boats moored further along – as he drove off, I saw pictures of fire extinguishers on his rear doors. G was duly despatched to hot foot it after him and he sorted us (well, the fire extinguishers) out on his way back. Good ol’ Daisy, we slept with peace of mind.

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We decided to head off round the Drenthe Ring as it was new territory for us; quite charming, with a lot of forestation and much like the English canals. We tried to get a TV satellite signal the first few nights, but due to the forestation, gave up trying . We then had a message from our friends, Marijke and Jan, to say that they were having a house warming party as they had just moved into a house next to the canal on the old Turfe Route. We changed our plans and headed off in their direction with lots of locks (most unusual) and lifting bridges. In the major town/city of Oosterwolde we came across one of these parallel lifting bridges (not the actual bridge in the pics) and it didn’t lift very high, ‘pop out and check the height at the back to make sure we’ll clear it’ said G – all but the wheelhouse was already under the bridge. I reported that the roof would, but…… the satellite dish still hoisted on it’s pole, which we’d forgotten all about…..wouldn’t!!!!!!!!!

Traffic, cyclists and pedestrians were already queued on both sides when G slammed the boat into reverse. I held the boat whilst G climbed onto the roof to dismantle the ensemble at eye level with all the waiting people. By the time he got it down, the town was pretty much gridlocked – I kept my head down, praying for a handy sofa to hide behind, but had to make do with pulling on a balaclava. Now you know why there are no pics of the actual bridge!

Great party, but slightly marred by the fact (as it was only a few kilometres from the bridge fiasco) that I was dreading that one of their guests might ask if we were the bastards who made them late picking up their kids from school, miss their hospital appointment, etc., etc. Nobody did, so the balaclava worked!

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This route is festooned with DIY footpath/cycling bridges – all of which swing, but the releasing/locking mechanisms are no two the same. Not to mention the difficulty of finding somewhere to physically get on and off the boat to try and decipher the working of them. Summer holidays and after school, the local children do them for you at the cost of around 50 cents per child; worth every penny, but most we encountered were in school hours.

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Whilst moored in Donkerbroek, we saw another barge approaching the mooring, so we shuffled Francoise’ large bum backwards into the reeds to make room for them, then we recognised the boat, Iskra, as belonging to John and Hilary (not forgetting Bert the dog). We hadn’t seen them for 4 years since spending time together in Cambrai and watching the Tour de France together – so that was a wonderful couple of nights and dog walking in the forest. Very grateful for that forest dog walking as, by then the first heat wave had hit us.

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I have now reached a photographic crises for the blog as my camera batteries are flat and I’ve lost the charger. I can’t find it anywhere and will, now, have to rely on IT support to get the pics off of my ‘phone and his camera.

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Back home!

Posted by contentedsouls on 20/07/2019

5 weeks post op flew by, and he had his post op follow up with his consultant by Skype – the wonders of modern technology saved us another trip to the Welsh borders – and cleared to leave the UK again. The insurance company had told us that they were happy for him to drive once he had been cleared by the consultant.

Muttley said goodbye to his bestest mate Marley the Staffie pup, and I pulled up my big girl’s pants to face the drive home with the trailer on the back (just to add a little extra stress). It actually worked out quite well, because G drove for awhile and then iced his knee whilst I drove. We left with loads of time in hand for the midnight ferry and plenty of stops to get out and walk about – in fact we arrived in time to watch the 8pm ferry leave, and we still had time for my last fix of proper fish & chips before booking in and being loaded onto the 10pm – nice for me because I’ve never done it in daylight before.

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Back on mainland Europe we continued to alternate the driving/ice machine routine until we were clear of Antwerp at about 3 am (the roads are a nightmare around Antwerp from 5 am onwards) and pulled over for 3 hours kip in a lorry park that had a cafe which opened for breakfast at 6am. Two individuals roaming free in the lorry park, however, decided that we didn’t need any sleep – I am totally amazed that nobody had caught the buggers and BBQd them; the racket was unbelievable.

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The journey I had been so dreading was, in fact, fine and G was able to comfortably drive for probably 2/3 of it – even Daisy (fairly) quietly put up with being confined in her cage when I drove.

It was sooo good to be back home on Francoise after all our travels this year – and even more so to find that all G’s hard work had paid off and that there was neither signs nor smells of mould, unlike the only other time we both left her!

We took our time unpacking and just ‘being home’ before setting off cruising again and, in the interim, enjoyed some time with our boat hosts, Vim and Ana. They took us out for a picnic on a sloop for the day, which was lovely, although the weather got a bit exciting crossing the meer coming home!!!!!!! It might not look it in the photo but, trust me, it was very lively

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Just as we planned to leave, we found a slight technical hitch – our rudder was no longer connected to the steering…oops.

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G was forbidden from fixing it – well I wasn’t going to be the one to explain to his surgeon that his new knee fell out whilst he was climbing down the rudder, so it was another day or two before we could leave and set off to meet the pirates, but we did arrive on time in the end. Despite compulsory stop overs with Jill & Gary and Vos and Andy en route

Pictures from our cruise to collect them including playtime with Jill and Gary in Sloten

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Hello! do you remember me

Posted by contentedsouls on 13/07/2019

Where was I? oh yes, we had just packed up the camper again and headed off back through the Netherlands, Belgium and (a bit of) France again,to get the ferry back to the UK to see the family, MOT the camper, and the minor matter of G’s knee replacement.

Due to G’s obsession with never being late, we were put on the midnight ferry instead of the 0200 – this would have been grand had we not arrived in Sue and Richards’ village about 0300 and so, not wanting to ruin a treasured friendship, we pulled over and had a few hours sleep. We were due to spend the night with them before picking up the boat keys and heading off for our sojourn on narrowboat Indigo Dream on Sunday. Despite the sleep, we still arrived at an ungodly weekend hour and woke them up. They seemed to forgive us and made us a spectacular roast in the evening and a slap up breakfast in the morning to see us on our way – thank you guys for your enduring hospitality; not to mention somewhere to live!

We did as much as we could, and saw as many as possible, before packing and heading to Oswestry, staying at a great little site within 10 minutes walk of the hospital. G was out of theatre 4pm Friday and ready for discharge by 11am on Sunday morning. That sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Not for me it wasn’t – it’s several years since I’d driven at all; more than I can remember since I’d driven regularly and never a long wheel base vehicle with no rear view mirror. I was bricking it and then was hard pushed to get the damn thing started as the battery was nearly flat.

The drive from Oswestry to Northamptonshire passed amusingly, with lots of ‘helpful’ information – mostly incorrect -regarding which side of the road I should be on and the colour of traffic lights, as he was as high as a kite on morphine. In many ways this helped to soften my tension and stress by making me smile. The amount of traffic on British roads!!!!!!

Daisy wasn’t overly happy when she got put in the cat carrier instead of, what she thinks of, as her rightful place on my lap. More, I feel, by luck than good judgement, I got us home in one piece and, thank goodness, Antony arrived to help us unpack – he’d done the bulk of it for us too when we first got there. I’m too far behind to go into detail but, suffice to say, we had some tremendous help and lots of giggles from and with the kids, I got to see G’s Mum and some friends (but nowhere near enough) and we did some gentle, pottery cruising pub crawls. I tried (not to say succeeded) to take on my new job roles with good grace so that G could concentrate on his physio 100%. He worked extremely hard and I am extremely proud of him – he reaped the benefits.

Having said that, I had to update my cv as follows:

Chauffeur, provisioner, cook, dish washer, cleaner, dog walker, refuse disposer, water tank filler, nurse, waitress and skipper (that lasted for about an hour!). I also refuse to discuss the urgent pump out mission and my fall down the steps and cracking a rib!

However, I began to hate his ice machine with a passion (although, joking apart, it was a godsend and worth every penny) as it linked itself across the narra and G for 80 % of our waking hours. This meant that I had to keep moving him or run up the front, down the towpath, and back on the boat to fetch something, and then retrace my steps – he and it, effectively, divided the narra in half. My afternoon walks with Muttley sometimes incorporated a pint! No doubt, being driven about by me, equally brought on G’s own alcohol needs! He did rather like my dropping him off at the pub, going off to do the shopping and then picking him up again, though.

So how many people can you get on a narra for a short cruise over lunch?

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Daisy always seems to be in her element on this boat; even more so than on Matilda Rose and Muttley loved the plethora of houndie dog beds

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Talking of Matilda Rose; there she was up for sale and sold again 2 weeks later

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We cruised to places with fond memories

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and Muttley and I revisited some favourite walks

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We, literally, watched these guys hatch, thrive, and follow us around

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For all our travels, there really is no finer place than England on the waterways in the spring

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Heading for home

Posted by contentedsouls on 12/06/2019

 

Having packed up the van and trailer and cleaned the apartment, we were in urgent need of sustenance, and headed for our favourite little roadside cafe for their menu of the day. Delighted to find it was a special ‘BBQ’ day and I had the most heavenly gambas cooked on a griddle over a wood fire – for me, the perfect finale.

We had decided to take a different route back and stay off the motorways whilst we were still in warmer climes. A good decision, but the downside for me was more roundabouts requiring Daisy to use me as a stabiliser via her claws although, on balance, it was worth the additional pain. We had a fabulous drive winding through the mountains, climbing to meet the snow covered levels.

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Back down the other side and our night stop.

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This was a new (and free) motorhome stop over – in fact, we never, ever, paid for any stop overs. A cafe on site, much to our delight, was open for breakfast where we were served with cold coffee and olives. Much as I’ve come to love olives, they’re really not something I want to eat at 9am. When we sat down, the sharp sunlight was in my eyes so I tried to pull the curtain across – at which point the curtain, complete with curtain rail, came away from the wall! The lady went pretty ballistic (even though it was just a matter of slotting the pole back into it’s slots) and Graham blamed me for the fact that she took forever to serve us with our bacon, egg and….chips! weird.

Dropping back down into France, we turned off the motorway to get decent coffee, by now it was 12.00 and, therefore, they were serving lunch; not coffee. We had an excellent lunch with superb service but our ‘French’ brains hadn’t caught up with us and I think there were as many ‘por favor’s’ as there were ‘merci’s and svp’s’ chucked into the conversation as we tried to re-tune our brains. Both waitress and locals alike thought this was highly amusing.

We stopped in a forest overnight and it rained, which was a bit of a novelty, and I realised that I had actually missed the rain. It made me remember something that a friend had said to me, after wintering in Australia, that he had missed the demarcations of the seasons. Late evening, the police turned up and I thought we were going to get moved on again (like our first night stop on the way out in the Netherlands).

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There wasn’t a problem though, the dog handler took his dog for a walk and the other one needed a pee too!

We arrived in the Champagne Region in the village of Gammery on our 30th wedding anniversary. We had been there by boat before and we were looking forward to a bit of Champagne tasting and buying at some of the 40 odd independant houses, followed by a meal at one of our favourite restaurants. The first part went well.

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The second part didn’t materialise as France, Monday and Open don’t work. An elderly gentleman assured me that the little cafe would open at 6pm, so we lowered our gastronomic expectations, found a slot alongside the bar and river and dropped the bed down (once done, store cupboards can’t be reached) in anticipation of collapsing into bed after dinner. 6pm came round and then 7pm and, on phoning, we were told, ‘Lundi ferme’. I can’t believe we let ourselves get caught out by this again.

Searching around on Google, G found a bar in town that was actually open! we shot up there to find they didn’t do food, so G had a beer and I had a glass of Champagne and, when we told them it was our anniversary, took pity on us and gave us a bowl of peanuts on the house; they then, very casually, mentioned that we might just catch the boulangerie before it closed. G shot off and returned triumphantly waving a loaf of bread – gotta love a hunter gatherer man and I  managed to refrain from asking him if he’d managed to shoot the odd pastry or macaroon whilst he was there.

Just as we were settling back into our dodgy French, we had crossed the border and spent the night in the centre of Antwerp. It sounds horrid and noisy, but it was quiet and in a beautiful park with fabulous Muttley walking and Daisy mousing.

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The next morning we packed up, Daisy assumed her position (at least it was now cold enough to put some protection under her for my legs) and headed home to Francoise.

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Arriving back I was mightily relieved to see she hadn’t sulked in our absence and covered everything in mould (like last time), so G’s hard work had payed off. We now had 8 days to catch up with Gary and Jill (moored opposite on Noorderzon) unpack the van, move the van and Francoise to Koudum, re-pack the van and retrace our steps wheels back down through the Netherlands, Belgium and (a little bit of) France to catch the redeye ferry back to the UK.

Some pictures taken during those 8 days

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To say we were both pretty exhausted is putting it mildly!

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Picnics and punctures

Posted by contentedsouls on 13/05/2019

We made our slow way back to the apartment; sightseeing, lunching out and then finding some nice little overnight places to park. In the early hours of one morning we were woken by a light knock on the door (my first thought was, ‘oh no; not the police saying we can’t stop here – as happened one night in the Netherlands) which sent Muttley ballistic (good boy Muttley). It turned out to be a pretty little yellow breasted wag tail knocking for food; rather like swans at your side-hatches.

The night we arrived back, we had rain overnight – the only rain the whole time we were there – and a howling gale which was strong enough to blow the skips outside up the hill. The wind kept us awake for two consecutive nights and, although  the apartment didn’t rock, it shared many similarities with boat life: the water pressure (never good in the first place) reduced and reduced until, finally, stopping altogether. This involved an emergency summoning of Geronimo and a lot of sympathetically standing with him scratching our heads and looking sadly at his water tanks – which were, apparently, the Spanish equivalent of the bane of his life. Having mustered my sympathetic face for as long as I could manage, I beat a hasty retreat before my supressed giggles exploded; leaving Graham and Geronimo to some extra male bonding time. We also quickly found out that the electric circuits were inadequate. Any attempt to run more than 1 appliance in the kitchen at a time (or any room) resulted in overloading the circuits. However we swiftly developed a morning routine of boiling the kettle for tea, then the toaster, then the coffee machine before running the washing machine when necessary. In the saloon, obviously, Daisy’s fan heater took the ‘one appliance only’ slot but we were able to run the oil filled radiators from other rooms and put them in the saloon (we always have extension leads in the camper).

For the first time in 12 years, since giving up the day job, I started to really feel retired as there was no boat to work on, so our spare time was our own and, once I got over the guilt of such self indulgence, really rather loved it. With only cooking about 3 days a week and making up picnics, our time was our own and I devoured a significant number of books in the sun whilst Graham flew his drone. Not all our picnics were ‘picnics’ though and we did get into a few scrapes due to G’s over enthusiasm for boldly taking a Ford Transit van where no Transit vans should go. There are a lot of marshy national parks which are quite water logged under the apparently dry, firm, surface and we only just managed to extricate ourselves by putting the foot mats under the front wheels when we discovered this the hard way. Another day we set off and drove through a flooded track; only to discover that the bottom was covered in sharp flints!

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Whilst G was wrestling with this ‘little opportunity’, Muttley Daisy and I took ourselves off out of earshot and whiled away an entertaining hour watching a couple trying to persuade their respective horses that they would enjoy a swim – horses 1, people 0!

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G’s plight was helped by the weather as it was one of only two cloudy, chilly days – perfect for when you have heavy, physical work to do. He was also spurred on by the fact that the Rugby 6 Nations would be on later in the afternoon.

This turned out to be the world’s most expensive picnic because, when we went to get the tyre repaired, it was too badly damaged. So we left it at the garage for two new tyres (couldn’t match the other one of course) and to put the new ones on the front and swap the fronts to the back, whilst we toddled off for lunch and a bit of sightseeing. Returning at the appointed hour, we were informed that they couldn’t get the front locking bolt off, so had to put the new tyres on the back. My first thought was delight that the puncture hadn’t been in the front tyre – we really would have been in the do do! We then had to take it somewhere else where they couldn’t sort it out whilst G waited either, but they did commandeer another customer to drive him home and they collected him the next day when it was fixed. In the end it was neither cheap, nor easy, with only the help of my Spanish phrase book.

On another day, a young Italian couple joined our picnic spot, and made the same mistake as us with the marshy stuff. Except, when they felt the front wheels spin, he put his foot down and sank all 4 wheels up to their axles a long way in. International Rescue couldn’t help without getting stuck ourselves, so we called our Spanish friend (previously the son’s au pair) who lived just up the road. She went to a great deal of trouble (including providing an Italian speaker who lived in the village as translator) and got a farmer out on his tractor to pull them out – we only found out later that the rescued couple not only didn’t give him drinks money, but didn’t even recompense him for his petrol. We were mortified as this reflected so badly on us; both as individuals and as Brits.

Around this time, G had a date for his pre-op for his knee replacement. We arranged it so that my friend Wendy could fly out for a week and then they would both drive back to Valencia together to catch their respective flights home. Having booked all this (plus car parking at Valencia and coach ticket to Northampton for G). They promptly cancelled it and the flight was non- refundable! Fortunately, they re-booked his pre-op for the day before his op, so we didn’t have to fork out a second time.

Wendy came out and we had a ball – taking her to our favourite places and finding new ones. It’s such a delight to travel with a ‘native speaking’ friend who can ask the chef to, “choose us food that you would serve your friends”. He chose well! The time flew and all too soon G drove her back to the airport. Shortly after, Mick stopped by overnight (we hadn’t seen him since we wintered together in France when we bought Francoise.

The days drifted away gloriously and we felt that we had all the time in the world but, suddenly, the days were gone and there wasn’t enough time left to do another road trip – it was time to pack up and start the long drive back. Would I do it again? Oh yes!!!!!! I’ve loved this little bit of non-English speaking Spain; the people, the language, the food and the weather.

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A rude awakening by the locals

Posted by contentedsouls on 01/05/2019

I crashed out of a deep sleep by the noise of full pelt bang, thump, base music. Soon followed by shouts of “Orlando, beunos dias” and loud volume, rapid responses in all things Spanish that I couldn’t decipher. Then another radio – again full volume – on a conflicting channel. Within another 5 minutes, the apartment reverberated with the sounds of grinding machines.

We should have thought about this; it was out of season and the time when the apartments are re-furbished for the summer rentals – sitting out on the balcony was impossible for fear of flying debris (i seem to have lost the photos of great chunks of masonry on our balcony from the floor above) and paint! The other thing we should have thought about was the aspect of the apartment; North facing, so it never got a jot of sunshine and was permanently cold. Fortunately we were left 3 oil filled radiators and we had the electric fan heater off of the van – all of which we ran round the clock (even though it was lovely and warm outside). If our rental hadn’t included utilities we’d have been seriously in the do do! Daisy was apalled and took to her ‘cocoon’ in front of the fan heater by day and the bidet next to the radiator, when it was switched off overnight.

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It only took us 2 hours to come to the conclusion that ‘Orlando’ was either hard of hearing or very lazy and we did, quite quickly, get heartily sick of hearing his name being shouted. We were, sort of, pre-warned about the need to access our apartment to paint the balcony by a ring at our doorbell one evening. An elderly gentleman with a beard presented himself with the name of Geronimo – after all the ‘Orlando’ stuff, this was too much for me and I had to remove myself to another room in paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter, leaving G to wrestle with Geronimo’s, self professed, perfect English! I’m sure, when he was born, he was the apple of his Mother’s eye and Geronimo seemed a perfectly good name; or maybe, her labour was so long and so hard that, when he eventually popped out, she shouted Geronimo and the name stuck – I suppose it could have been worse; he could have introduced himself as Eureka! Either way I was, by now, in total hysterics and requiring an emergency supply of Tenna Lady. Needless to say, his ‘perfect English’ took a phone call to our landlady to unravel (and yes, his English was a lot better than my Spanish). We agreed to take ourselves out for the day to leave them access and we packed a picnic and drove down to a deserted beach where Daisy could run free outside. The odd hiker that we encountered was highly enchanted by the idea of me walking a dog and a cat.

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Needless to say, having purposely stayed out of the way all day, they hadn’t got around to starting on our balcony when we arrived back.

Mike and Annie turned up to stay for a couple of nights, which was fabulous as we hadn’t seen them since the ‘excitement’ of Utrecht’s narrow, bendy bridges. We didn’t have a lot of choice re taking them to lunch, but we did find a little pavement bar doing a menu de dias; a beer each, bread, salad, a choice of starters, mains and puds – all in, for 10 euros each. We went back their several times and found that a whole bottle of wine between the two of us was also included!

After their visit, we went on a road trip in the van to visit an old Air Force pal of G’s and take in some of the scenery further South. We had planned to be gone for a week, but told the builders we would be gone for 3 days and wanted the balcony sorted before we arrived back.

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Gary and Rita’s place was lovely and they looked after us so well. Their area was much more geared to English speakers (including a book shop stocking only books in English where I finally managed to purchase a Spanish/English phrase book) than ours, and far more restaurants and shops open. After lunch we watched the fishing boats coming in and going straight through to the auction room.

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Each crate went passed on a conveyor belt and the buyers bid via a hand held device for each numbered crate. A number of species was still alive, like squid, and climbed into adjacent trays – so some would have gained a bit and some lost! Amongst the buyers were the people who owned the adjacent wet fish stall who opened it up and put it straight on sale – doesn’t come much fresher than that and it is all so cheap; very easy to eat both well and cheap in Spain.

We then went up to look at a little, remote, finca which G had seen for sale – just because we could – but the details failed to mention that it was 1 of 3 terraced cottages. Not much point in being beautifully remote if you have two lots of neighbours attached.

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Back at the apartment, the builders had finished with us, but not the rest of the building – we looked forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings when they didn’t work and we could have a lie in….oh no. A bit more into the season now, so the local ‘events’ started up on the beach (a few yards down the road) at the weekends.Whether it be horse racing, cycling, mountain bikes, roller skating, et al; the common denominator was the loudest PA system I’ve ever encountered.

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Moving into bricks & mortar in Oropesa del Mar

Posted by contentedsouls on 05/04/2019

We were greeted by the lady with the keys to the apartment at the allotted time, and were pleasantly surprised to find we were on the 2nd floor (it could have been the 6th). The first thing we noticed was how cold it was inside; although they had put 3 oil filled radiators on – we assumed it was cold because there had been no heating on over winter. So back down in the lift (which responded reassuringly promptly) to start mustering the menagerie and their requirements and our few clothes. Heavily laden, we found the lift occupied by builders and locked out of use; so up the stairs again like a pair of over loaded mules – in fairness, it was the only time it happened; but I didn’t know that at the time!

The apartment itself was, although by no means luxurious, considerably more comfortable than I feared it would be considering how cheap the rent was. Also, the quality of the knives, pans and paella pan, were excellent; so all we needed to liberate from the van was our coffee machine, fan heater and toaster, and give the place and crockery a bit of a clean. The blurb, when we booked it, said we would have a cleaner once a week which seemed highly unlikely as it wasn’t very clean when we moved in– and I’m not house proud. By this stage it was around 1.45 pm and we had eaten neither breakfast or lunch, so we dumped everything, left Daisy in her cocoon in front of the fire, grabbed Muttley and went off to find some food.

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Trying to eat on Monday 14th January in a coastal resort is not that simple. Eventually we found an open Supermacado – due to close at 2.30pm – so I suggested we pop in and get some basics like bread, milk, olives and cerano. G suggested that we walk a bit further up the street to see if there was an alternative and there was; but it didn’t appear to do food.

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Leaving G to order the beers, I hot footed it back to the Supermacado to get some bits before they closed for their afternoon siesta. Given that it was 2.10 pm, you can imagine my mutterings when I found that, not only was it closed, but their ‘afternoon siesta’ was to last the entire time we were there (ironically, they appeared to be getting ready to re-open the day we left)!

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This, of course, was all G’s fault because he stopped me from going in when it was open. The beer was some consolation, and at least it came with peanuts. Just about to order a second beer, the loud bell over the bar was rung – this resulted in an unseemly tussle to untie Muttley from around my legs, without falling flat on my face, and get to the bar before we were told the bar was closed. With two more beers firmly clutched in my mitts, we were pleasantly surprised to receive two delightful little cheese omelettes in bread – gotta love the free tapas. It took a few more trips to that little bar before we discovered that the bell was rung whenever someone won a prize on a scratchcard!

Heading back to our accommodation, we took in our new surroundings and realised we were only 20 metres from the prettiest of the two beaches, and the one that caught the last of the evening sun before it set. After a bit of unpacking, and knowing we wouldn’t last until the 8.30 opening of any restaurants, we sunk the last of my ‘one pots’ and settled in for an early night – I, particularly, was delighted to see that every window had proper black out shutters and was looking forward to a long lie-in in the morning, undisturbed by the light of dawn …………….. little did I know what the morning would have in store for me…..

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Road trip to Spain–part 3

Posted by contentedsouls on 02/04/2019

Having re-packed the van (a lot of trips up and down the hotel stairs with litter trays, dog bowls, etc. – as the lift is always full of cleaning trolleys at check out time), it was only a short drive to the coast on Saturday; a stone’s throw from Oropesa. However, we hadn’t rented the apartment until the following Tuesday – G’s ability to arrive everywhere early expands, pro rata, with the estimated travel time – so we found ourselves a nice little spot by the beach to park up for a few days.

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This was no hardship.

Following a picture G posted on Facebook, we were contacted by Carla who was just up the road having lunch (Carla was G’s son’s first au pair and G had met her on several occasions whilst in the UK visiting family). It wasn’t long before she turned up at the van and filled us in as to all the best places to eat both well and cheaply. She also rang our apartment owner and managed to bring our ‘moving in’ date forward to Monday.

Sunday we followed Carla’s recommendation and walked Muttley along the beach to Torre Nostra to eat Paella. Again we got the food timing thing wrong again and the lovely (but non English speaking) lady indicated that her paella wouldn’t be ready for 2; 2 what was quite difficult to ascertain –2.00pm, 2 hours? It mattered not to us, sat outside in the sun with a beer and a few calamari and olives to reduce the likelihood of starvation and malnutrition before the allotted ‘2’ arrived. This, when it came, was a delicious – and snormous – paella Valencian at 7 euros each. Not quite sure where the rest of the afternoon went, but it was close to dark by the time we got back to the camper.

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Road trip to Spain–Part 2

Posted by contentedsouls on 18/02/2019

We had travelled through Luxembourg en route and filled up all the gerry cans in the trailer with diesel at 1.03 euros – this lasted both the van and the generator (used to run the fan heater whilst away from houses) but, whilst my ‘catering department one pots’ were also doing well, the wine and pet food departments were both swiftly depleting so it was supermacado time. We pulled off the main road and found one where we could park the van and trailer; not always that easy and, leaving G in the van, trundled off for my first Spanish catering department experience. Only a small supermarket but the fresh fish counter had me dribbling; I couldn’t utilise it in the van (my smelly socks were bad enough) but it foretold, very accurately, of the delights in store for us when we reached Oropesa. If I only want a few things I just take a bag in with me; emptying out my purchases at the till; it seems the Spanish do this too. Unfortunately, the lady in front of me at the checkout queue had done the same but had managed to break something in her bag which was full of a sticky liquid. I stood and twitched, aware that G was waiting for me, as a long Spanish dialogue ensued whilst each item of her shopping was meticulously cleaned off with copious amounts of kitchen roll; followed by the checkout conveyor, the checkout scales between each item and,finally, her ‘bag for life’ meticulously disinfected! When I finally returned to the waiting G I expected to be greeted with, ‘where the hell have you been?’ or, at least, ‘I thought you only wanted a few things!’ but, to his credit, he never said a thing (I mentioned in the previous blog that we were being nice to each other – aware of our small living space!).

We really weren’t far from our destination now so, in much need of showers and dinner out (I, for one, was pretty fed up with the ‘one pots’), we booked into an hotel in Tortosa for two nights. This went fairly well given that we were on the 4th floor with the cat and the dog as we had a lift – except it was the only lift, and the demands on it by both guests and domestic staff were extreme; one cleaning person and associated cleaning/laundry trolley left no room for guests – let alone Muttley – and the wait could be interminable. So what with the 4 flights AND the 3 steep flights up to the main entrance I found it pretty hard going; especially after spending 18 months in the flat lands of the NL. Daisy slept happily in the bidet with no concerns for my pain.

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After soaks in the bath and a nap, we headed down to reception about 5.30 to enquire as to where we could get the best Paella. One of the biggest delights about travelling for me is that a) you have no idea what anyone is talking about b) you have no idea how anything works and c) you don’t understand what anything is on the menu. Our first mistake was that we had become used to the Dutch early eating hours (5.30 – 6.00 pm with everywhere closed by 9.00pm – not in major cities, obviously; but we are not ‘major city’ types of people).

We head off for recommended restaurant and it was closed, so we found a local bar and consumed a beer in leisurely fashion before returning to said restaurant; still closed. No problema (see how quickly I am picking up the lingo), we’ll walk up into the main town and eat there. By now it’s 7 pm and all the shops are open and all the restaurants closed. Somehow we got tied up with young Spanish tourists who spoke English and were heading to a restaurant highly recommended by Trip Advisor so we followed them gladly at their invitation – it was closed. They informed us that it would be open about 8 ish but, by then, we were a long way from the hotel and shattered so we left them to it and headed back. En route home we found a covered market with food stalls open and we sat and picked out delicious Tapas (unlike any I have eaten before or since); we engaged in conversation with two Spanish policemen who were eating there before going on night duty who informed us that we had, ‘found the best Tapas in town’ and we certainly enjoyed them, so all was well that ended well.

Breakfast in the hotel was a sumptuous buffet; the coffee fabulous with the expected choice of juices, cold meat, cheeses, fruit etc. Now, I’m not much of a one for cold foods at anytime of the day, let alone breakfast, so my eyes lit up when I spied eggcups and a big bowl of eggs. I handed my egg, joyfully, to the lady and returned with my coffee to the table to make my bread and butter soldiers whilst I waited the 5 minutes (well 5 fingers held up anyway – so one assumes) that she indicated it would be. I waited and waited. Nothing. I tried to re-engage the conversation with her but she stoically avoided all contact with me. The following day at breakfast I saw a lady pick up an egg and put it in an eggcup – I pounced on her and she was very happy to show me how to squeeze the top of the egg and shell it!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why one needs an eggcup for a sub zero temperature hard boiled egg I’ll never know; it would appear that she had been trying to tell me that the eggs had already been cooked for 5 minutes. However, I’ve jumped the gun and missed our first full day there.

The hotel was right next door to a lovely huge park with an avenue of beautiful Plane trees which was perfect for Muttley and, once again, gloriously warm if you stayed in the sun and out of the wind. Although it did hold one potential hazard – what appeared to be a pergola at the entrance to the park, contained rather a lot of domestic rabbits, so I needed a bit of a detour to find an alternative entrance/exit for fear of frightening the children when Muttley tried to eat them.

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Quick to learn, we went in search of somewhere to buy full fat milk for Daisy before the shops closed at 1.30; I don’t think I have ever seen so many different varieties of milk and, inevitably, I picked up fully skimmed instead of full fat (it clearly said so in English in the small print….doh!). We sat out and had a light lunch of squid and prawns, and I was going to leave the ‘useless’ milk on the table but G handed it to a man begging on the streets, before retiring for our siesta. This time we left for dinner at 8.30pm and the recommended paella restaurant still wasn’t open, so we walked back to the place that the Spanish people had guided us to the night before. By then, of course, it’s well gone 9pm and the place is packed; not a seat to be had if you hadn’t made a reservation! The look on our faces must have been priceless and they took pity on us and said we could eat at the bar if we wished; we did wish, and very good the food was too, but it was way passed my bedtime by the time we left. On the way home we found the begging man had drunk his milk (or tipped it down the drain) and slung the empty carton on the pavement!

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Road trip to Spain

Posted by contentedsouls on 15/02/2019

It didn’t start well! it was lunchtime by the time we set off having winterised the boat and we were both pretty stressed but we found a lovely place to moor park overnight by lake Roermonde. Catering and housekeeping department had cobbled up some decent ‘re-heat in one pan’ meals which we scoffed and walked Daisy and Muttley before assembling the bed for an early night. Happily and soundly asleep, we were woken by the Dutch police who said that we couldn’t stay the night; it was illegal in their province. So poor old G got dressed and, by then wide awake again, drove 1 1/2 hours to a service station near Maastricht on the Dutch/Belgian border. The lady in the van stayed in bed with Daisy. An extremely noisy night with lorries coming and going; so not a lot of sleep.

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The second night we used an app for overnight parking and stayed by the Moselle in Gironde without being hassled and it was really nice to be back in the land of happy bonjour Monsieur/Madame territory and engage with some people playing boule. To our shame, we couldn’t stay awake long enough to avail ourselves of the village bar which would have been nice; but we were so tired after the previous night’s debacle and we re-heated another catering department one pot.

Daisy has taken to sitting on my lap the whole time we travel; which is fine on the motorways but I turn into a pincushion on back roads and roundabouts – it gives a whole new dimension to, ‘3 points of contact’.

It has taken some adjusting for me to live on the van – and no doubt for G too because it has been a bit of a ‘man cave’ for him as he travels to and fro from the NL to England and, usually, sleeps on it whilst there. By the third night we had a bit of a system going; the bed started to free up and pull out more easily and we had learnt that only one of us could move at a time. We also learnt to be gentle with each other because it is not a big enough space to have a row.

Then, of course, there is the toilet issue – l bet you wondered how long it would take me to get around to that subject? I have the porta pottie and we tended to get on the road about 9 ish and stop for breakfast and coffee mid morning and avail ourselves of the facilities. I must have been in my early 20’s when I last did a road trip through France; I remember the service stations as being really clean and with great food compared to their British equivalents – not so anymore. Now I was encountering loos without toilet seats and loos full of men rectifying plumbing; thank goodness the ‘holes with footprints’ days have gone as my knees can’t handle that procedure anymore!!!!! We won’t dwell any longer on this subject; suffice to say it did become a bit of an ‘issue’!

These photos were taken at an overnight stop by the Rhone at Cruas, just outside Montelimar and we were going to go into the city in the morning to load up with sweeties but, to be honest, it was too bloody cold and we wanted to push South to warmer climes asap.

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It was still very cold and, when the wind blew, it was icy as we climbed over the mountains and into Spain. Being ‘off grid’ we couldn’t use the fan heater so relied on the two gas hob rings to warm up the van in the mornings. Unfortunately Daisy (being a heat seeking missile) also gravitated to the gas rings and doesn’t have a lot left in the way of eyebrows or whiskers!

Once we crossed into Spain the motorway service stations took a marked upturn; immaculate loos and bacon and eggs for breakfast AND their coffee is the best I’ve ever drunk. Looking for our place to stay the night we ended up in the craziest, tightest, windiest, mountain village (trailer on the back) with the sat nav playing silly sods and I have no idea how G managed to negotiate through it without taking out someone’s doorstep or window box. He stuffed the phone into my hand and said ‘which way do we go?’. ‘I don’t know where we are so I don’t know’ I responded. ‘Where the blue triangle is’ he replied sharply. ‘If there was a blue triangle I’d know where we were’ I replied angrily. Our first ‘nearly’ a row though; so we’d done well. We did find our ‘place for the night’ but we couldn’t open the doors for the strength of the wind so had to drive back into the valley to find shelter – a shame though as the views were fabulous up top. By the end of our journey the next day the sun was (and continues) shining and the icy winds had gone. Time to slow down and start enjoying ourselves.

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