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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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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The Cement Mixer

Posted by contentedsouls on 17/01/2020

Not a phrase I ever expected to head up a blog with. It sounds like one of those dodgy Duolingo short story titles – ‘a stranger in the park’ or ‘my passport is under the cat’. Now, before you think I’ve completely lost the plot, although I am willing to accept that I probably have, we have been living a very isolated life since around the middle of November – although we did speak to some nice people on Christmas day – and yesterday we had a lot of excitement.

Firstly, our HO’s rang and asked could we stay on for an extra couple of days, and then……….wait for it ……….somebody drove up our hill. I was fortunate enough to be sat outside and could, therefore, get the maximum excitement out of this long, slow process and the anticipation of their imminent arrival – so what could they possibly want? I was down to the gate with my best welcome hat and the bestest bonjour accent that I could possibly muster. Now some of you, who have stuck with my travelling ramblings over many years, may just recall my attempts to acquire a hot water bottle in a French pharmacie. I, at the time, was pretty impressed with my dodgy combination of minimal words and miming abilities ‘une bouteille d’eau chaude por le pied’ etc., etc,.

I was nicely warming up to being on the ‘guessing end’ for ‘cement mixer’, which is what my visitors were after. Washing machine? Spinning clothes drier? Jacuzzi? Clearly, their miming abilities were not up to my standard, as I obtained a hot water bottle; whereas they did not obtain a cement mixer – well, not until after I made a ‘phone call to the HO’s.

We had three little rescue Dacshund/cross dogs to cuddle here and each had a totally different personality. Betty, bless her, was very elderly and had moments of not quite knowing where she was – it was reminiscent of Baxter’s last year and nice to be able to gently re-assure her . Charlie just wanted cuddles, and Eric could bounce for England if he thought anything exciting might happen; like someone coming to borrow a cement mixer. Breakfast and dinner times were hilarious as the house turned into a race track for the four of them (Muttley soon picks up on other dogs’ habits and joins in).

We went to the nearest, and very beautiful, neighbouring 14th/15th century town on a desperately raw and cold day, where everything was still shut down for Christmas and New Year.

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The weather turned a lot nicer and we were happy to just chill in the sunshine and walk around the lakes apart from a couple of trips out. Albi and it’s vast cathedral was impressive.

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Gaillac was stunning.

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Most of all, we loved the company of the dogs and the contrast of moving from the bottom of the valley to the top of a hill and the views.

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Time to pack, again, and start the next road trip into Spain. 200 and something bloody days I’ve been trying to learn Spanish……time to put it to the test!

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Eric (other dogs are available) that’s disgusting!

Posted by contentedsouls on 05/01/2020

So who’d have thought it? Yet again it’s not light and I’m up and talking to you lot again for the second time in less than a week.

Now, as you know, I’m new to this pet sitting malarkey, but I’m beginning to suspect that pet sitting with your own pet brings a whole new dimension. All those wise and experienced dog trainers will tell you it’s all about routine and consistency with dogs, but poor old Muttley is now having to fit in with OBR’s (Other Bugger’s Routines). Although he is particularly enjoying OBRs this week – we are not.

The current gang of Daschoundy guys have breakfast. Muttley has never eaten, or wanted, breakfast in his entire life. Now he does. He’s always had a dodgy stomach, and more so recently with the medication for his cushings, glaucoma and stuff so, if you are house sitting and he wakes you up to say he needs to go out, you don’t argue; particularly when there is a rather nice abstract rug in the bedroom which has a WHITE background. Did he need to go out? – did he hell, he went straight to the utility room where the OB’s breakfast is stored and dispensed. This, of course, wakes them all up so they need to go out for a pee and then come in for breakfast … so, result, Muttley gets breakfast and then goes back to bed downstairs whilst I’m left cuddling Eric on the sofa. This, in itself, would be a rather nice start to the day if it wasn’t still dark and extremely early and Eric didn’t release his gastric juices with great gusto. Eric’s farts are bad enough to evacuate the entire neighbourhood, except we don’t have a neighbourhood, as we are even more remote than the previous sit. So, for company, we rely on each other’s conversation which, largely, consists of, “Eric, that’s disgusting”. If there was such a thing as a ‘farting for England’ competition, I would wager every last penny of my pension on Eric to win.

What we do have, however, are the most spectacular views across the valleys and hills. This week we are up high with a 360 degree panoramic view, which means we get to enjoy every drop of sunshine available. Some days it’s been glorious and we have been able to sit out and bask in the warmth with a G & T, and others it has been bitterly cold. Not a shabby view to wake up to on New Year’s day 2020.

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This was the town on the opposite hill from us, Castelnau de Montmiral, which was incredibly beautiful but like a ghost town and absolutely freezing. A drop of sunshine would have made these pics spectacular.

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Friday we trundled off into Gaillac. Wow! I thought Mirrorypoiks was amazing, but Gaillac was sensational.

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Just Albi (ALBI, not ALDI) to be done now, and then it’s off to Spain to see if, after all my hard work, I can understand anything anyone says to me. I’m also intrigued to see how Muttley fairs back into his own routine on the van without OBR’s.

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Our first house sit experience, Southern France in the Midi Pyrenees.

Posted by contentedsouls on 03/01/2020

As I mentioned at the end of the previous blog, our beautiful house – our home for the next three and a half weeks – had a lovely little ‘trout tickling’ type brook running through the front garden, babbling happily across the pebbles. En route, the sat nav had told us to cross the adjacent bridge; the home owners (HO’s) had warned us not to follow the sat nav and had given us very exact directions. It transpired that, back in 2014, our happy little babbling brook had turned into a raging torrent and taken the bridge out and flooded their house. Friday it rained, and it rained, and it rained. By Saturday lunchtime, our babbling brook had, again, turned into a raging torrent and risen by 2 metres. The water was now coming across the road and threatening to cut us off from civilisation as we know it – it’s quite an isolated location. Muttley chose the increasingly dramatic situation to have a problem with his eye and needed to go to the vet. So G left with Muttley in the camper – higher clearance, than the car that they left us, from the rising water level and also providing him and Muttley with somewhere to sleep should conditions deteriorate further and the house get cut off entirely – whilst I stayed with little Roly, the Norfolk Terrier, and we moved their little car to higher ground. My anxiety was not soothed by a phone call from the HO’s friend to make sure we were OK.

Nothing else to be done but ‘wait and see’. We contacted the HO’s and appraised them of the situation, but they were remarkably sanguine about it all. What a delight not to be up and down all night adjusting ropes. The ‘babbling brook’ broke the bank beneath the house and then the rain stopped and, eventually –after a few days – the water receded. The problem being, in the bottom of a valley in a mountainous area, that the water continues draining down into the river for several days after the rain stops.

Meet Roly; he and Muttley were hilarious together. I only ever saw them touch noses and bums once, but they were always together and, rarely, more than six inches apart, with a studied air of indifference.

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The weather improved dramatically, to the point where we were able to sit outside Christmas day, and we did loads of pootling about in the snow capped little mountain villages and the local markets, buying way too much food and finding lots of gorgeous places to walk the dogs. For the first two weeks I was without a camera so, I’m sorry, you missed the ‘snow capped’ bits and the chateaus that are now Michelin restaurants; unless you saw them on Facebook from my phone – I have absolutely no idea how to get my phone photos onto the blog; I have always been technologically deficient.

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We do make me laugh; as boat dwellers and, occasional, transit van dwellers, we are totally used to abiding in very small spaces and, despite his making a monumental amount of noise whilst I’m trying to write or learn Spanish, and I nag him to death and ask him to be quieter, we have co-existed for many years without either of us committing murder – so far! So here we are in this giant sized beautiful house: 5/6 bedrooms (not sure; more than I can count), 3 bathrooms, library, craft room, gym room, study, drawing room, movie room, et al. I dreamed of going to be able to sit in a separate room for a bit of peace and quiet; to study, read, write and paint – bliss.

Where do we end up living? In the dining room and galley kitchen together, with the rest of the house shut down for fear that we would loose all our ‘stuff’, the dogs and maybe each other! Then there were the STAIRS! We were two flights up; four really as each staircase curled around and was the equivalent of two; not only did they provide us with excercise but, also, endless amusement. I don’t know if you’ve seen the English TV advert (Stena stair lifts I think?) where the elderly man struggles to the top of the stairs carrying tea up to his wife and she shouts, “Graham love”, because she wants him to bring her something else. I know it’s juvenile, but neither of us managed to climb those stairs without the other shouting down, as we neared the top, “Graham love” or, “Jill love”.

Our other source of constant amusement was the sat nav ladies pronunciation of the local place names. Castelnaudry became Castley nordree and Mirepoix; Mirrorry poiks. I know; we are easily amused.

We found a charming little bar/cafe in a neighbouring village owned by a delightful English couple who had lived in France for 20 years. Their clientele was a delightfully eclectic mix of French and English people and, on Christmas day, their guests; Bulgarians, Spanish, Italians. Our two visits to that place, with interesting people to speak to, just rounded off our very isolated sojourn and stopped us from going gaga. Would we go back? Yes, but not for the best part of a month. Two weeks would be lovely, but we found out that we are much more gregarious than we’d thought!

On our outing to ‘Castley nordree’ we spotted a boat belonging to someone I know through Facebook, so we invited ourselves round for a cup of tea, as you do.Thank you Brenda.

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Here’s some pretty pics of some of our outings; the quality is not great yet as I’m still learning how to get the best of the new camera. This is Foix in the mountains to the south.

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This is our nearest village, Bastide sur L’Hers, a 10 minute walk, but 30 minutes if you have Roly with you! It sports an excellent butcher, small store and a dog groomer (who was delightful, but took a large chunk out of Muttley’s ear!). The river was up to the top of the arches at it’s worst. The pictures here show it well on it’s way down again. At one point this must have been navigable as there is an old lock.

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Dog walking round lakes

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And then there was the magnificent Mirepoix and another drive up into the mountains.

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The rest are a somewhat random collection of pics from our dog walks.

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Suddenly it was nearly over and time to start cleaning, packing and cooking for the HO’s return. My apologies for the blog overload but when the sun is shining, you are in the Midi Pyrenees, and you have a new camera……

Out of respect for the HO’s privacy I have not included their beautiful home or precise location – they were wonderful and fascinating people and made sure we were left with everything we could possibly need. Thank you both for your company and hospitality. Bisous to Roly, who near broke my heart, again, when we had to say goodbye.

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The lady of the house speaking

Posted by contentedsouls on 20/12/2019

Our second night stop was in the woods just outside Luxembourg, with plans to walk to a bus stop and go into the city in the morning – we woke to a filthy morning and subsequent lack of enthusiasm. Rustling up plan B, we decided to drive through the city for a quick looksee and were glad we hadn’t made the effort to do more, as the entire city was being dug up – they appear to be installing tramways?

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Not exactly picturesque! So we saw what we could and decided to carry on to Metz.

We have very fond memories of Metz from when we cruised there on our narrowboat 4 years ago and we were both keen to go back there. Park4the night suggested a spot just off of the river and we managed to ‘stealth park’ overnight in a little rural square without drawing attention to ourselves. Having given Muttley a good run down by the river and eaten dinner quite early, G set off on a mission to find the little bar that we’d had so much fun in last time we were there. Amazingly he found it – his memory of places is incredible – and it was disappointingly quiet at first. By the time we’d downed our first Picon beer, it was filling up rapidly. It’s a tiny place, so very intimate; you really can’t avoid socialising. Sure enough –just like our previous visit – we were soon involved in a number of diverse conversations in a weird mixture of languages. The evening didn’t disappoint.

The next morning we headed off towards Strasbourg, stopping for coffee in a little village tabac. Each person who entered did the usual round of bonjours and shook our hands; how I’ve missed that aspect of France – much as my head loves boating in the Netherlands, my heart really misses the charms of France.

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Having, eventually, worked out how to get tram tickets for us and Muttley (although we strongly suspected that we paid way more than we needed to), a fellow traveller explained that the trams would not be stopping in the city centre for security reasons. Unbeknown to us it was the first day of the Christmas market and everyone had to be security checked before entering the city. Poor little Muttley not only experienced his first tram ride, but he had to endure over 30 minutes of being down amongst a throng of feet as we slowly shuffled forward towards the security checkers; we tried to guard a space either side of him but it was nigh on impossible, he stayed completely calm and I was so proud of him – we certainly wouldn’t have gone if we’d known.

on Sunday we arrived in Bresse and scrounged a bed for 3 nights with Marcelle and Gorge (well, Gorge wasn’t there for the first two nights); they’d come out to the boat for dinner with us previously in Friesland whilst they were travelling on their camper. Bless Marcelle for her wonderful hospitality, despite the fact that she’d only got back from a month’s camping safari in South Africa the night before! She lent us her car so we could go to the market and, at least, I could muster provisions a meal for her and Gorge whilst she picked him up from the airport. It was my first chance to cook on a woodburning range and I loved it – it goes without saying that I now want one! Somewhere around here my camera finally, completely, died so this is a picture of Marcelle’s Mum’s dog, and one pic from the livestock market – I have no pictures of Marcelle’s Belgian Shepherd but, as you can imagine, Muttley was somewhat dwarfed by his new friends!

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Wednesday we stopped somewhere between Montpelier and Nimes before moving on to our first house sit, where we were due for supper with the home owner’s (HO’s) Thursday evening. We thought we’d visit Carcasonne during the day and have a light lunch but, even in the winter, there was nowhere we could park the van and the trailer. So we pootled through some villages and found a little restaurant for lunch in Fanjeau – France being France, a ‘light lunch’ wasn’t going to happen and we arrived at our new, temporary, home embarrassingly stuffed. Fortunately for us, our blushes were spared because the HO’s had also been taken out to lunch by friends and their stomach’s had suffered a similar fate. So we introduced the dogs and enjoyed a convivial light supper with them before they left in the morning.

So, yes, this is the lady of the house speaking and there is plenty of room for a Mercedes AND a pony.

We also have a river at the front of the house and that was about to make it’s presence felt!

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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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