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

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Archive for February, 2020

Out and about with SueNoproblem and Vic

Posted by contentedsouls on 27/02/2020

Thursday it was time to collect Sue and Vic from the bus station. It’s not so easy to get in and out of the back of the van at the moment, due to various calamities with our plastic steps: the first one we left behind after a night stop; G managed to reverse over the second one, and the third one we bought was nice and solid and folded flat when not in use – sounds ideal but, when we unwrapped it and set it up, it was exactly the same height as the floor of the van, so of no help at all! As a temporary measure, anyone needing assistance to get in has to be, somewhat unceremoniously (and most definitely undignified), be shoved in from behind by Graham. So, as is usual when we all get together, they were in hysterics within two minutes of their arrival.

We only have two belted, forward facing, seats and the surrounding mountainous terrain is not conducive to sitting comfortably on sideways facing bench seats, so we hired a car for the duration of their visit and it was delivered promptly the next morning. We certainly maximised our usage of it.

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Having done the markets and stuff, Sue decided to ask Google to find a restaurant up a mountain – Google obliged!!!!! The mountain road consisted of hairpin after hairpin and was a favourite road for peloton’s of cycling teams in training. They undertook us on the way up, and overtook us on the way down. Not a road for those of a nervous disposition; particularly with the sheer drops.

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Sue and I both sampled a couple of Irish coffees in different places; just by way of research and comparison you understand.

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Vic was just happy to sample an all day ‘full English’, a curry, and I did make him sausage, beans and chips once – so he didn’t have to eat the unknown surprises of the local menu del dias all the time.

As always, our time together flew passed and it was time to stuff them back into the van for their epic, return overland journey, back home.

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They left us Wednesday lunchtime and we didn’t have long to brood because, by Friday lunchtime, our Dutch friends Gerrit and Gezina arrived in their motorhome – we knew they would be arriving at some point, but we didn’t know when. With their arrival came Muttley’s BFF, Diesel, and Daan the cat. I was utterly delighted that Daan chose to sleep with me in our bed on several nights – such a joy to share my bed with a purry puddy again.

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Down on the other beach there was still signs of destruction from the storms – all of those  concrete blocks used to be on the prom.

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We had a jolly few days together before they headed off further South in their motorhome.

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After they left we had 8 days to explore at a more leisurely pace ……… and be struck by a moment of madness which, fingers crossed, I’ll be able to share with you in the next blog. 

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Moving in to the villa in Xabia/Javea and an horrific storm

Posted by contentedsouls on 20/02/2020

Having hired a north facing two bed apartment in Oropessa last year – which was permanently dark and cold, with no sun on our outdoor balcony, and being constantly plagued by noise from the builders doing winter refurbishments – we decided to dig our hands a bit deeper into our pockets this year and rent a villa with gardens all round and a pool.

Our first ‘surprise’ was that the villa wasn’t solely ours; we had only rented the top floor, whilst the ground floor is occupied by the owner and her two young sons. Whilst it is in our remit to use the gardens and pool (should the pool ever get sorted after the winter); it’s not the same as having your own privacy and letting the dog wander. Our second surprise was that there were no sheets, duvets or towels supplied, and the cooking utensils consisted of two frying pans, one huge saucepan and a kettle that barely holds enough for two cups of tea – this place is 3 bedroomed and sleeps 6.

I asked what we were meant to do for heating and was pointed to an open, unfurnished, hearth in the lounge – perhaps we were expected to nip out and buy a grate and a lorry load of wood! We were advised not to use the two electric wall heaters in two of the bedrooms because, if we did, the lights would fuse. We were also advised to use the shower near the kitchen (and nearest the gas boiler) if we wanted a hot shower, and not the shower or bath in the family bathroom because the hot water didn’t reach to the far side of the house. Hmmmmm……. At this point the lady took one look at my face and suggested that perhaps she should go out and buy us a gas heater. I concurred that that would be a very good idea. We are here to enjoy the warmth and the sun; not die of hypothermia overnight!

Fortunately, having arrived by camper, we had our own bedding, towels, pans and utensils on the van -I never ever leave home without the emergency fan heater, a hot water bottle and, of course, a corkscrew. We were also to find out, to our cost, that the one shower with hot water was notoriously unreliable and was maliciously willing to burn or freeze you on a whim should anyone touch a tap or flush a loo anywhere else in the house – the pilot light for the water heater (on demand system) was outside and frequently blew out should the wind be coming from the wrong direction.

However, this place is pretty much South facing and gets the sun all day long, pouring through the conservatory windows in the morning. The owner of the property (whilst clueless as to what’s required in the rental market) is an utter delight and only too happy to point us in the direction of places she thinks we might enjoy. She also helps me with my Spanish conversation and did stop her boys from playing football inside in the early hours before school (which sounds horrendously loud in our bedrooms). It only happens now when she’s out!

So, enough of my moaning – we are boaters and, therefore, adaptable and pretty resilient.

We moved in on the Wednesday and, by Friday, we were getting warnings of a really dangerous storm; of the lock up your daughters and board up your windows variety. Before it hit us on the Sunday, we did little more than unpack, eat lunch out, drive around a bit and shop for towels, bedding and stuff from one of the multitude of Chinese bazaars – they are legendary here, and the first port of call should you need to buy anything – a sort of mix of Woolies/Poundstretchers/Wilco.

The people in these bazaars speak (not surprisingly) Chinese and Spanish, so asking for an item you can’t find is always great fun and rather reminds me of playing family charades at Christmas – this year, however, I had an extra set of tools in my toolkit; a bit of Spanish vocabulary!

Towels were easy; we spotted piles of them everywhere so just a matter of picking the sizes and colours we wanted.Sheets were pretty much a doddle too – I just needed to specify, ‘para dos’ and ‘para uno personnes’. In fact,the conversation didn’t even start to get interesting until we hit “shower mat,” on my shopping list.

‘And now I want something for the bathroom,’ I muttered proudly in my best Spanish, ‘for the floor, to put your feet on (I haven’t yet learnt stand) after your shower,’

‘Si, nececitas una alfombra de bano’ he patiently replied, as he whisked out a selection. I managed to over ride my burning desire to shout, ‘ole’

The next item was another hot water bottle (for Sue) and, despite my success with the “alfombra,” I wasn’t quite as confident with this one as, those of you with the stamina to keep following my blog for all of these years will know, I got into quite a lot of trouble with this one in a chemist’s in France!

In I plunged with the literal translation, ‘Una botella para agua caliente’ adding the Spanish for, ‘for my feet at night,’ in the interest of further clarification.

No puzzled looks, no mime required, just a straight forward, ‘Si. Una botella de agua caliente,’ That was it – a nice, straight forward, literal translation.

Now some of you might be wondering why, if I knew I was going to buy this stuff, I didn’t look it up on ITranslate before hand – trust me; my way is sooooo much more fun!

The storm hit late afternoon on Sunday; the full moon/high tide driving the 24 ft plus waves into the shops, restaurants and seafront apartments. It took no pause at the protective barriers they had built, and hurled huge blocks of concrete around as if they were no more than lego bricks.

On Wednesday we went to Denia, which hadn’t been hit so badly, but it was still cold and miserable.

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We didn’t go to the seafront in Javea until Thursday, as they had asked everyone to stay out of the way whilst they got on with the clean up. The amount of work that had already been done was impressive, with one or two places re-opening to serve coffee.

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After wandering along the front, we walked down to the port – I was utterly amazed to see the fishing boats coming in and unloading their catches; the boats must have gone out the day before! Rather them than me!

Twice a day, the fish catch is auctioned to fishmongers, hoteliers, local supermarkets, etc. The stall is opened (on the side of the auction house) where we can buy it fresh from the boats. You always know when it’s going to open, as a queue of patient customers quickly forms. It would appear that you can also do a private deal with the skipper, if you have contacts, as I watched this man approach a boat, shared a few words, chose a fish, and cycled home with his dinner hanging off his handlebars – a poor shot because I tried to take it surreptitiously.

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The port waters were calm again, but the sea outside the sheltered port still heaved and swelled angrily.

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From cement mixers to guns

Posted by contentedsouls on 07/02/2020

Post Script to previous blog (for those of you who have the slightest interest). Our only visitors high on the hilltops in the Midi Pyrenees – who called by to borrow a cement mixer; as you do – did, indeed, drive back down the hill with a cement mixer hanging out of the back of their vehicle. Should any of you find yourselves at the receiving end of a similarly confusing request; French for cement mixer is ‘betonniere’ and, in case it should happen to me again whilst in Spain, the Spanish is ‘mezcladora de cemento’ – obvious really.

Van all packed up, we set off over the mountains and down into Spain; as usual, relying on the app park4night to decide on our first night’s stopover. Not for the first time, we found ourselves heading up a narrow, twisting, hill climbing road, with no choice but to push on as there was nowhere to turn round (I can understand that the satnav does it sometimes as it doesn’t know that we’re a van, but ‘Park4night’ should know better. Eventually, we reached the location at a slight widening where – albeit with some difficulty – there was room to turn and go back down in the morning. What a beautiful view we had from our deserted eyrie across the valley to the next range.

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Climbing out of my bunk the following morning, I pulled back the curtains to find that we were surrounded by men with guns. I rubbed my eyes, cleaned my glasses and pinched myself – all to no avail. We were still surrounded by men with guns. Then a car slowly came passed us – the driver swigging from a bottle of beer – and pulled in in front of us; it was a bit like a scene from Breaking Bad. Waking Graham, I said (possibly in a slightly higher voice than normal) “there are a lot of men out here with guns,”. “mmm,” he replied, “is the kettle on?” “but….” and then we heard the dogs; they were hunting of course and we’d managed to park right in the middle of the spot that they had designated for the day’s shoot.

We couldn’t resist driving back through Oropesa (where we rented for 3 months last year) to pay a visit to our favourite little bar where we used to sit and watch the sun go down but, sadly, it was still closed for the winter. We parked for the night next to the sea, in the place we used to park to take Daisy for walks along the beach – sad in some ways but, in another way, it felt like we were paying homage (if that makes any sense).

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Our next destination of note was Denia, just a stone’s throw from our rental in Xabia/Javea and, as always, we decided to stay to the outside of the town. Park4night took us down a road that was closed for forthcoming repairs, so we thought we’d be clever and use the satnav to wend our way in from the other end – to no avail; the other end was closed off too.

We wound up in the most beautiful spot which was the car park belonging to the adjacent seafood restaurant. “Hop out and ask them if we can stay overnight if we eat in the restaurant,” says Graham.

At this stage, I should point out, that Graham has a theory (he has many, but for now I’ll concentrate on this one). I have been learning Spanish – through Duolingo – every day, for 200+ days for around an average of an hour and a half a day. Duolingo advertises “learn a new language with just 5 minutes practice a day”. Graham’s theory? “If you’ve been doing an hour and a half a day, you must be bilingual by now”. Hmmmmm. He is also developing a rather alarming tendency to send me in like his own personal 4G Itranslator without a second’s notice. My Spanish, if operating at all, is strictly limited to a speed of 1G and, even then, requires at least some prior notice to gather my thoughts.

So, like the dutiful little esposa that I am, I hop out trying to muster the most relevant words I can as I cross the car park towards the entrance – only to find that there is refurbishment work going on and the restaurant would be closed until the 14th February, but the owners were about and I did manage to ask if they minded if we slept in their car park overnight. Well, what I actually managed was more like, ‘Is possible, sleep here tonight please?’ It was close enough and they were more than happy.

We had the most delightful afternoon – with some of the best views in town – nattering and sharing beers with the guys parked in the stealth van next door, after they returned from their kayaking jolly. One was National Police and the other was a ferry skipper (Gibraltar to Tenerife) and they had been ‘let out’ by their wives for a couple of days to go kayaking. As an aside, the ferry skipper (who spoke perfect English) encouraged me to speak Spanish and helped me ‘unlock’ my tongue-tied stage fright for the first time.

As with boating, we continue to meet fascinating people whilst travelling in the camper.

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