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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Summoned to the Headmistress!

Posted by contentedsouls on 06/03/2020

(and pictures of our new house)

Since we have been here, we have hired the services of a legal/translator lady to guide us through the infamous and legendary paperwork and officialdom that accompanies all Spanish bureaucracy. Due to the process of trying to establish residencia and, latterly, buy a house here, it has been necessary to make many visits to this lady – let’s call her Maria (and if she ever reads this blog I am unlikely to live long enough to move into the new house!).

She is a very large and intimidating lady (for which, read ‘immensely scary’) with a highly developed sense of sarcasm. Our relationship  didn’t get off to the best of starts when, in my nervousness, I missed the wiggly bit over the ‘n’ off my pronunciation and consequently told her that her daughter had ten assholes, instead of ten years.

Us Brits, when summoned to legal meetings, expect the work to have been done before you get there, then be told of progress, timescales, and what you need to do next. Telephone calls are put on hold for the duration of your meeting and 15 minutes later, you leave. The Spanish way (in our experience so far) is entirely different.

When we get to a meeting with Maria, she opens our file and commences to read all incoming emails etc., to find out what’s going on. Graham was next to get into trouble because this reading of stuff takes quite a long while and he’s not very good at silences. So he asked her a question (how very dare he – he’s only paying her!) and got told,

“Please be quiet, this is complicated and I need to concentrate,”

At the last meeting we attended, we both got a terrible fit of the giggles when G got told off 4 times; 3 times for trying to ask a question and then,

“Don’t look at your ‘phone – you can do that at home,”

By now I was bursting with suppressed laughter – not helped by the fact that G kept nudging me under the desk. In desperation to get an important question asked I, finally, resorted to jumping to my feet and waving my hand in the air – she wasn’t expecting that! We both managed, somehow, to hold it together long enough to get out of her office before giving way to our hysterics.

Her ‘phone rings frequently and, despite her ‘concentration,’ she takes every call. Each call involves both parties talking simultaneously and growing in volume as they each attempt to shout each other down and get as many words in as possible should the most momentary of pauses occur. Consequently, meetings go on for hours and I rapidly loose the will to live.

The exact same process occurs if you have the misfortune to be in the car with her; constant ‘phone calls (hands free) of the, ‘I can shout louder than you,’ variety.

On one momentous occasion, I was in the car with Maria and she was, of course, overshouting someone on the ‘phone and pulled over (on a zebra crossing – natch!) when she spotted somebody she needed to speak to on the pavement; winding the window down, she and the man proceeded to simultaneously shout at each other (right across me). Sensing a slight distraction in Maria, the bloke on the other end of the ‘phone seized the advantage and yelled down the ‘phone as fast and as loud as he could. I kid you not, my ears were ringing for the next 24 hours!

Interestingly it seems to work for them, as all ‘phone calls are terminated, by both parties, simultaneously – so both must have got what they needed from the ‘conversation’. They would be utterly brilliant at Prime Minister’s question time.

Having said all this, it’s part and parcel of getting involved with a different culture and it’s always both interesting and entertaining. In addition, Maria gets the job done; she was magnificent – and speedy – when the house purchase started to get into trouble (perhaps I’m not the only person who finds her scary!).

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When we went to, ‘just have a look,’ at the little house, it just wrapped it’s arms around us. The situation was perfect for us for winters; up in the narrow winding streets of the old town, in walking distance of shops and restaurants, 95% Spanish population, no garden to maintain, massive roof terrace, and easy to secure for 6 months of the year.

I wasn’t ready to be tied to bricks and mortar yet, but G confessed that he would like to have a comfortable bolt hole should something happen to either of us – neither of us could cope with Francoise single handed; the maintenance doesn’t get any easier as we get older. So we, first, negotiated with each other.

Provided that we could continue our road trips (and I’m thinking house sitting in France and Italy on the way down) and, from the house; Southern Spain, Portugal and Morocco, I was happy to go ahead. My additional requirement was that the 3rd bedroom (currently in use as a craft room) was to be my ‘quiet’ room – in return, I offered him a new bells and whistles TV in the lounge (with the proviso of a max of 43”!).

I thoroughly enjoyed the negotiations with the estate agent; particularly as we were in such a strong position. Not only were we cash buyers, but it didn’t really matter to us if we bought it or not. We could always find something else. So I put in our offer (to include furniture) and left the estate agent to talk it over with the vendor, adding that I thought the offer fair and I wouldn’t go any higher; it was that or we’d walk.

After 48 hours they accepted; part of me was pleased – because it is the perfect house for us – and part of me felt a bit flat at the thought of being tied (however loosely) to one location. G was thrilled skinny.

So here it is; not villa and pool stuff, but a proper Spanish town house. You’ll find the odd person lurking in some of the pics.

The view from the roof terrace – yes that is the sea.

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Roof terrace and built in BBQ (it also has a big marquee/sunshade thingy, that fits over that frame).

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… and the rest; you can’t see it on these, but the kitchen is surprisingly big.

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Getting the van up some of these streets is going to be interesting – if we succeed, there is a parking space!

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So, one more visit to the notary with the headmistress, and we move in (if we choose to) in less than a fortnight. OLE !

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I really should know better….and a Family visit

Posted by contentedsouls on 02/03/2020

In the 7 or 8 days between G & G leaving and the family arriving, we popped over Montgo (bloody great hill with a national park) and down the other side into the Provence of Valencia a number of times. We found the area a lot less over run by expats and loads of lovely little tucked away restaurants where the food was delicious, cheap, and no English was heard. We also found more national parks and dog friendly beaches for Muttley.

G suggested we go back to one of our favourite little restaurants on the beach for lunch. Then he, oh so casually, mentioned that he had seen a really nice little town house just up the road.

‘Why don’t we make an appointment to have a look, whilst we’re in the area,’ he said.

‘But we agreed that we wouldn’t buy a house for a few years, and that we’d explore new areas every winter,’ I replied.

‘Yes, but we could just have a quick look to see how it compares for the money with places we see in other areas,’ He glibly replied.

I really should know better by now; never trust a Graham when he replies with such logical ‘off the cuff’ responses! He doesn’t do “logical or off the cuff,” he’s more of an um, err, well perhaps ummm, sort of man.

So……. we went out to walk the dog and buy lunch and, after a few days of haggling, bought a house. We have exchanged this week and we shall be moving on 16th or 17th March. I hasten to add that We are NOT going to sell Francoise – we did not need residencia to buy the house (although buying a house will certainly help us to get residencia). This allows us to continue living as we have been, pre-Brexit; boating through Europe, road trips and house sitting, with the added bonus of a comfortable, well equipped, base; our ‘rentals’ have not been ideal so far. It also means that both sets of kids and the grandchildren can spend some time there in the summers.

These are pictures of the beach – about 2kms below our little house; taken with my back to one of our favourite  restaurants

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The family arrived at 10pm, so we only had 3 full days; we certainly didn’t waste a moment of that very precious time!

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An added bonus was that we took them up to see our new pad – just from the outside – but were spotted by the vendors and they invited us all in, including Muttley, so the kids now have seen where they’ll be spending some of their summer holidays. It was very kind of them and we were extremely grateful.

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As we drove over the hills a fret moved in, so we had a quick looksee and beat a hasty retreat back into the sunshine.

We took them up to Sue No Problem’s ‘restaurant on the mountain’ and Karen didn’t fare to well on the mountain climb – up or down – having an attack of the jeebies and collywobbles, but she still said that it was her highlight of the three days!

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For Andre I think that – apart from the beaches – his highlight was probably his duties as fresh “orange juice monitor”. Every morning he picked oranges off of the trees and juiced them for our breakfasts. The little video (link below) that Karen made and expertly edited, shows how seriously and proficiently he undertook this duty.  Please go to You Tube link in ‘Comments’

I have mentioned, in the previous blog, how we had only one working shower – and decidedly dodgy, at that, should anyone touch a tap or flush a loo elsewhere in the house! Also that the use of electrical appliances was limited to one at a time.

I have to admit that I was concerned as to how the family would cope with this type of living – especially with Chenelle being a teenage beautician in the making – but I underestimated them, and they took it all in their stride; clearly boaters in the making!!

Most of us, heading towards the shower, tackled the problem by making Chenelle accountable if she let anyone touch the water supply – an extreme temptation for Andre. If they did, she was going to get chucked into the cold manky swimming pool; that pretty much fixed it! Cool Karl – the tough man amongst us – didn’t seem to care. One evening he saw that I was prepping supper in the kitchen and never even told me he was getting in the shower! Goodness knows how many times I must have doused him in freezing or scalding water.

Thanks for coming out guys, it was great fun.

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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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