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 the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On the road again

Posted by contentedsouls on 10/12/2019

Having, finally, got the boat generator fixed, we moved to one of my favourite dog walking moorings and Muttley and I filled our boots, with loads of playmates, for a week.

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Then he had his op to remove a nasty growth, right on the bend of his rear elbow; so we had to curtail his excercise for two weeks.

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So we went North in the van along the dyke to Den Helder for a bit of an explore

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We spent a few days on our beloved Rabbit Island before heading into Koudum – where another boat had the audacity to join us! We quickly forgave their intrusion however, because they bought playmates for Muttley (we had taken his stitches out by then).

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Koudum is also a lovely little town with nice walking, but it does seem to have a disproportionate number of cats which stop Muttley and I using the footpaths; having been under Daisy’s thumb since he was 8 weeks old, there is no way he’s going to try and squeeze past a hissing cat with an arched back. Even the ones watching us from a distance stared at him malevolently.

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Before we left, we needed to re-insure the camper. We then discovered that the camper wasn’t registered with the British driving authorities as a camper; just as a transit van and, as a transit van, we could only get insurance for 180 days cover outside of the UK. To re-register it as a camper we had to fit a table, an awning, and have a minimum of two windows on one side (not including the windows in the driving compartment). G made an excellent table on a swivel stand which lifts off and clips to a cupboard and we found somewhere to get the retractable awning fitted not too far away. Cutting a hole to provide a second window is an issue still to be addressed before our 180 days are up,we also have the luxury of a proper diesel heater this year. We also have a new, dedicated, box on the A frame of the trailer to house the generator so that it can be run whilst remaining securely in situ (photo below). Our thanks to Oba for the welding and Gerrit for the construction and enhanced design mods.

We then jumped through hoops on the ‘phone to get our S1 reciprocal health insurance cards (yes, we are both now officially OAPs) only to find that they will only issue them two weeks before we get to Spain; by then, of course, we have no address to receive them!

A monumental amount of organisation was required by the catering, provisioning and domestic department. We were leaving for 5 months and covering 3 seasons, so I made copious amounts of lists. Summer and spring clothes were vacuum packed at the bottom of the trailer together with a basic store cupboard; winter clothes for our 5 week stay (we now have a second house sit) in the mountains of France went in next; then travelling provisions for 6 days in the cold, and meals I’d made earlier and frozen. The situation was not helped by the fact that we took the van into the garage for a bit of engine tuning on Monday and we didn’t get it back until Tuesday afternoon –my intention had been to shop and load over Monday and Tuesday – before leaving Wednesday late morning. Without transport we could do neither, so it was all a bit of a scrabble. I always organise everything in appropriate bags and G is forbidden to get involved in the operation, or pack anything into the van – we can’t both move on the van simultaneously, so the domestic and house keeping department has to know exactly where she can put her hands on things. As head of IT, G is responsible for packing ‘phone/battery chargers, conversion plugs and all the myriad of things that accompany modern technology, and all I ask is that he remembers where he put them and that the stuff we need in transit is accessible.

Having winterised the boat, he then lurks over my last 4 shopping bags which aren’t quite full (waiting for the last bits to go in) and could not contain himself whilst I left him alone to have a pee! He grabs the paperwork I need (not all of it, naturally), slings it on top of the jam and marmalade and hoofs it to the van. Knowing we are going to be living in a very confined space for a number of days and need to be really, really nice to each other, I try not to shout, ‘bring that bloody bag back – why can’t you just leave things alone?’, but I can’t help myself either; although I did try to modify my phraseology!

We did get away on time and found a nice quiet stop in Belgium for our first night – when we left last winter, we stopped in the south of the Netherlands the first night, and were dug out of bed and moved on by the police, so decided not to risk that one again.

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Gotta love this nomadic lifestyle

Posted by contentedsouls on 14/11/2019

Pre op this year in Spain, G started to walk Muttley along the beach every morning to reduce weight and strengthen his leg muscles. Post op this year in England, he was soon walking the tow path and clambering over styles to get to the pub. Once back on Francoise, his enthusiasm for unnecessary excercise waned somewhat. My gentle hints regarding the fact that he was doing quite a lot of ‘research’ sat in my his armchair (translated as ‘nagging’ in male-speak), finally bore fruit and he has started taking Muttley out again in the mornings.

He set off this morning to post our ‘proxy vote’ forms for the upcoming general election and I had a lovely natter on the ‘phone with my mate Gill. We first met Gill and John on their boat in France and have stayed life long friends. We were nattering away about vague plans for the next year and people we have both met on our travels throughout Europe; the diversity of countries, cultures, and invitations to stay all over the world, when it occurred to me that G had been gone a very long time! I gave it another half hour before I ‘phoned him, as I was getting worried; his new found resurgence for excercise rarely lasts beyond 30-40 minutes. He was with another woman (NO, not the bloody Alexa woman), another woman. He was returning from the post office and met a lady walking her dog, the dog made friends with Muttley and she invited them both back for coffee – a regular occurrence amongst boaters; but not so much so with householders. Having said that, last time we were in this village, I was invited for a tour of a gentleman’s garden (NOT his etchings!) and we only found this mooring in the first place, because we got nattering to the owner whilst we were moored in the village harbour.

Well, it’s been a pretty eventful 12 months for us, apart from having to let both Baxter and Daisy go, Francoise has been a bit malicious. Our batteries died rather spectacularly overnight – lugging out and lowering in the new ones in a confined space was probably not what G’s knee replacement surgeon had in mind as post op physio. He also probably wouldn’t have recommended that G spend two days in and out of the water with a crow bar trying to get the prop shaft back in position, to free the propeller from the rudder, where it had decided to park itself. Another physical challenge for him was emptying, removing and replacing the washing machine that died half way through a washing cycle – does anyone know why they do that; couldn’t they just, ‘not start’?

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As always, we have met up with mates and met up with Facebook friends through Women on Barges and (I’ve been without a camera for some time now – so limited photos, only those provided by G) we are both still quite reluctant to leave beautiful Friesland and it’s incredibly friendly people. Many memories have been lost with the time lapse between blogs, but there are a few stories (all the right words but, not necessarily, in the right order) that I want to share with you.

Antony (G’s son) came out to stay with us in September to help us with some much needed work on our roof – the weather wasn’t kind to us and peed down with rain on the freshly painted roof – we took him to our favourite ‘eat and drink all you want’ restaurant in Opeinde; I suspect we got close to bankrupting them! all too soon his few days with us were over and I stayed in Heerenveen harbour whilst G drove him back to the UK. I have always said that Francoise sulks when G leaves her; this time was no exception. She started to ‘leak’ power and it peed down with rain all day and every day, so no help from the solar panels. Despite sitting in the dark reading my back lit Kindle and finding my way around by torchlight, with the invertor off, it soon became necessary to run the generator for an hour mid morning to keep the freezer going. I felt this to be the kindest time of day to the neighbours as there were loads of apartments set back from us. On day three of genny running, I had a visit from the local constabulary. A very nice man whom I invited in for coffee. The conversation went something like this;

He: ‘We’ve had a complaint, you’ll have to move, you have been here more than 3 days’

Me: ’There are no signs to say it’s 3 days’

He: ’No, but it is the town rule’

Me: ’I’m sorry I didn’t know, but I can’t move because it is illegal to move the boat single-handed in the Netherlands’

He: ‘It is, but you have to move’

Impasse.

So I baffled him with boat technology and showed him my ‘power leak’ when I turned the invertor on and we agreed that I would stay and run the genny for an hour once a day. 10 minutes after I started the genny next morning (in fairness, it’s not very loud and the apartments are well set back) my policeman was back – he’d had another complaint. We discussed options like me moving the boat singlehanded; against the law and therefore uninsured, also blowing a hooley. He really couldn’t have been nicer but he was in a bit of a pickle. The problem wasn’t my being there, the real problem was the  generator. So we visited the elderly couple in the ground floor apartment (ex boaters), joined up some electric cables and plugged into them. Problem solved and they wouldn’t take a penny for the electric we used. Needless to say, G bought loads of ‘thank you’ goodies back from the UK for them. When G got back we moved the boat out and discovered that the genny had blown a head gasket and, subsequently, discovered that it needed a bit of a re-build.

Somewhere along the way we ‘adopted’ a lovely, jovial, lockkeeper who escorted us through locks and bridges for a day or two. He asked where we were mooring for the night and we said the first place we could moor out of town. He said that he knew of a mooring where we could get beer when the garage door was open (!???) which had a beautiful garden and that he would cycle to it and take our ropes. True to his word, he and his friend were there to ’mark the spot’. G and I have Bluetooth headphones that we use to communicate whist mooring; unfortunately, our lovely Jack’s the lad lockie didn’t realise that and thought he was talking to G ‘man to man’, I, of course, was picking up every word of their conversation. I had a front rope on and G was pushing the back end across to throw him a rope. It was quite shallow, so the boat was reluctant to swing across. ‘She’s coming …. slowly’ says G to lockie. ‘Sounds like my wife’ quips the lockie, in reply. It was my snort of laughter from the front that alerted him to the fact that G was wearing a mic …. bless him, he was absolutely mortified and couldn’t look me in the eye until after he’d downed a couple of beers on the back of the boat (the garage doors were closed ?!!!).

We are now at our winter mooring and heading off to France towards the end of this month to house sit in the Midi-Pyrenees for the whole of December, before travelling about in Spain for two weeks and moving into a little finca in southern Valencia for 3 months on 15th January. Not as easy as it was last year re insurance and stuff; but more on that another day.

If you are hearing loud popping noises, it’s my poor old brain exploding as I continue to learn a decent amount of Spanish, whilst trying to recover some French and being polite to the locals in Dutch and/or Fries. Aaaaaaagh!!!!!

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It was time to say goodbye–Queen Daisy’s (Miss D cat’s) story.

Posted by contentedsouls on 09/11/2019

Some of you who were personally involved with Daisy already know, but many of you who have shared her adventures and have been her adoring fans for many years through my blog; don’t. As devoted followers of Daisy’s nomadic adventures, I owe it to you to tell you what happened. I had so many things to tell you – but first, I have to do this.

Despite at least three bowls of water in the boat, she started to demand that I turn a tap on; climbed into the dinghy on the roof to drink, lapped rainwater off of the stern and the gunwales of the boat. Suspecting kidney problems, we went to the vet for blood tests. Our concerns were affirmed that she had early onset kidney function loss and we put her onto a specialist renal diet which, amazingly, she loved.

Our generator died, so we had to go into a marina and, whilst G was nattering to Mr ‘fix the generator’, Daisy sauntered down the pontoon to G, chomping upon her freshly caught mouse. G picked up the remains of the mouse and threw it into the water; Daisy launched herself into the water after it. It seemed to happen in slow motion; I screamed at G and, with a lightning reaction, he caught her mid leap.

We got out of the marina as soon as we could and moved to one of our favourite moorings, where Daisy could run her bullying tactics on the local dogs who had the audacity and temerity to (try to) walk through her territory.

On Saturday she stopped eating.

Monday we took Muttley to the vet to discuss the nasty growth on his back leg, I discussed Daisy’s loss of appetite, and made an appointment to take Daisy in the next day, having thought that the vet would have prescribed an appetite stimulant. No problem, Daisy is always happy to zot into her carry case which, usually, means picnics and new adventures. This time I let her down.

She never came home.

Her kidneys and liver had shut down. It didn’t seem possible with all her shenanigans over the previous few days, and the vet couldn’t believe that she had continued as she was. The vet said that she had hung on, purring away on our laps, because of our special bond. I asked if we could take her home for a few days and was told that it would not be kind to her, so we had to call it. She died peacefully snuggled into my arms – a place she rarely left.

What a girl. Do you remember the night we thought we’d lost her in France, when she managed to get herself locked into the VNF office and then, having worried us to death all night, came home the following morning complaining that she had no food or litter tray all night? The time I opened the side shutters on Matilda Rose and threw her half way across Tixall Wide before she landed with a splosh in the water? When she dropped a live rabbit on the dinner table in the middle of Sunday lunch (which took off down the boat with Baxter and Muttley in hot pursuit)? The ‘little mouse with clogs on’ that she let go of in the boat and lived with us for 6 months whilst Daisy spent every night gnashing her teeth at it whilst it ran around our bedroom ceiling? The wonderful walks along the beaches in Spain earlier this year whilst the locals looked on in astonishment?

She was one extraordinary lady who chose to live with us for eighteen years and our lives will never be the same without her. So I am going to share some pictures with you, and then a movie that my dear friend Marijke made for me; having so recently having had to say goodbye to her own beautiful dog Binte and who understands the pain. Thank you Graham, Marijke, Sue and Gezina (in no particular order) for being by my side whilst I try to come to terms with this.

I never saw it coming and, somehow, thought her to be immortal. I think you did too.

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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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