A Tale of Two Rivers

As the sun sets on the river Thames, we now find ourselves on a new dawn on the river Vienne. We’ve arrived in Chabanais!

And now let us go back ten days when we still didn’t have our French visas, therefore we couldn’t book a definite day to travel and Charlie, our lovely dog was too ill to have his travel Pet Health certificate issued. The sale of our apartment was due to complete on 20th June which would mean we would soon be homeless.

We set off for our long awaited visa appointment on 8th June, armed with reams of paper, enough to wallpaper our lounge! So much photocopying that our old printer almost died of exhaustion, so our neighbour took it off our hands. Our second printer was already packed! Our 10.30am visa appointment seemed to be shared with at least 50 other people, still it was a day out!

Meanwhile, back at our our apartment, the hot water pump had packed up and finding a plumber that could replace it within a few days was a challenge. While Steve organised a plumber and two new front tyres for our car, I was back and forth to the vets to to get blood and poo tests done for Charlie. His symptoms pointed to a nasty parasite, so the vet started treatment while still waiting on the results. Thank goodness Charlie got better and his certificate was issued on Tuesday 14th. The very day the removal company and the plumber descended on our home.

Later that day, we received the e mail from the visa centre saying our passports were back from the French Embassy and ready for collection. But no actual confirmation of the visas being approved. Even on the French Embassy website, there was no confirmation. We had to wait anxiously until 8.30am Wednesday 15th when I collected them and nervously opened the envelopes and looked inside the passports and we’d been approved! Bienvenue en France! Couldn’t quite believe it and I admit I shed a tear. When I arrived home, Steve dashed off to get a new front tyre fitted and yes, if you’re keeping up, I got a puncture in one of the brand new tyres on Tuesday night!

We were now booked on Eurotunnel 07.50 Thursday 16th with a nice 5am start! After such an exhausting week, with not much sleep, we decided to take up our friends Lucie and Tom’s kind offer to stay overnight at their place in France.

But there was still time for a little more stress on our way to Folkestone with an accident closing the M25 resulting in us missing the train, along with many other passengers. But the staff met us with a smile, no fuss and booked us on a later train. The friendliness, facilities and efficiency at the terminal were a very welcome surprise. Charlie was happy as he had longer to play on the agility course set up in the dog area! We drank a bucket of coffee!

Were these signs for us not to go? ….. were they heck, nothing was going to stop our “aventure français”.

We arrived early evening in pretty Chitenay, (pronounced as you may think!) in Loir-et-Cher.

We were given a lovely French welcome and met Lucie and Tom’s young children for the first time, so did Charlie and he finally relaxed enough to receive a lot of fuss and cuddles from them! Lucie and Tom moved to their beautiful house in March. It will be their long term family renovation project, along with the gardens and woods. An idyllic location for their children to grow up in.

And potentially, only a few hours from where we may find our new home? Next morning, fresh croissants and coffee for breakfast and dear Lucie sent us on our way feeling refreshed for the first time in weeks.

Finally, I now feel we can get really excited as we are here. Our little rental house is right in the village centre and 2 minutes walk from the river, the local café and local shops.

Now the house hunting begins!

What next ….. new location to be ‘chilled at sunset’?

Finally, I’m writing a blog post, well just a short catch up really, as the gap has been much longer than intended!

I can’t believe its 19 months since we arrived back in England from Spain. In fact, I think we’re all wondering how the last two years or so have vanished so quickly when we’ve been locked up, quarantined, socially distanced, masked, you name it, we’ve all been through it, haven’t we?

Back in October 2020, our plan was to return from Spain, decorate our apartment ready to sell and move on. But like the best laid plans things took longer than expected. Two buyers later and our sale is completing next month. Life also got busy, back to ‘normal’ spending time with family and friends. I became a volunteer at the vaccine centre in Chertsey Hall and felt a part of a real community sprit. It was very hectic and I have sanitized hundreds of chairs and had some great laughs!

We also joined the `’Big German Shepherd Club’ walks on many Sunday mornings.

Then, there was my lovely part-time job at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands which ended up lasting a year but I have made some truly special friends there.

We imagined moving to the English countryside for a while but our hearts weren’t quite there. Our budget was being pushed more and more with the ever increasing property prices, also there are lifestyle choices to consider, especially at our age! After many months of Steve showing me beautiful country houses online, we took a short trip to South West France and viewed some properties. Decision finalized, France would be our next adventure! Right now I’m thinking, goodness another language to try and learn!

Moving to the EU after Brexit certainly throws up challenges, a lot of research, visa issues, shipping belongings etc etc…. Now we cross our fingers that our visa appointment, early June, (after two month wait) will result in a huge ‘Oui’! Then, we will be on our way, first stop Chabanais, Charente where we have booked a rental property and storage for three months.

So, I must get back to packing and say goodbye for now or ‘au revoir pour l’instant?

Los Vélez to New York!

After months and months of lovely hot sunny weather, the first really cold snap and very windy weather arrived here in Vera (15C – when you live here that’s cold!). So, what should you do? Yes, visit Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco where it’s a balmy 5C!

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In fact Vélez Rubio, Vélez Blanco, Chirival and Maria are the four villages of Los Velez and are situated in the northern corner of Almeria province amongst the Sierra de Maria – Los Vélez Natural Park. The landscape is stunning with mountains, pine forests and the area is also steeped in history. 

Forty-five minutes drive and climbing 2800 feet aproximately, the sky is blue and bright and the air crisp and very fresh! As you approach Vélez Rubio, the pueblo is dominated by the church, Iglesia de la Encarnación.

It was built in the 18th century and is meant to be one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Almeria.

The main alter is an amazingly detailed wood carving and some 65 feet high. The façade includes the arms of the Marquises of Villafranca and Velez who built the church.

As always, I’m not sure my Samsung mobile phone camera can do it justice?

The next stop is the Miguel Guiro Archaeological Museum to see more of the history from prehistoric remains and the Arab and Roman eras. The prehistoric caves and paintings at Cueva de Los Letreos and La Cueva del Gabar are UNESCO World Heritage listed sites. Cueva de Los Letreos dates from 5000BC with paintings of men, women and animals. It was here that the figure of Indalo was discovered. You see the Indalo man symbol everywhere in Almeria and it is believed to offer protection from misfortunes! We’ll see!

Time for a short lunch and then a 10 minute drive to Velez Blanco. The castle, Castillo Palacio is set high up on the rock and more than 1000 meters tall looking down on the pueblo. It was built on top of an old Arab castle in the 16th century. Sadly, only the exterior has been preserved to this day. You can take at tour but now it’s winter opening hours so it was closed when we were there. (We should have checked first!)

You will also see the remains of the Iglesia de la Magdalena on the hillside near the Castillo. In the church are the graves of the first two Marquises of Los Velez.

There are quite a few hotels here but they are all closed until the spring. But still a pretty place and nice to just wander around, soak up the atmosphere and stop for a hot coffee! Near to a bodega is the brightly coloured Fuente Caños de Caravaca (fountain) from the 18th century featuring the Vélez Blanco arms.

In the summer when the streets are buzzing with tourists and all the cafes and restaurants are open,  it would be lovely to just sit outside with a drink and watch the sunset.

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So, Los Velez to New York?

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Met Museum of Art NY

Well, the marble patio from the Castillo was actually purchased by George and Florence Meyer Blumenthal in 1913 and was the centre piece in their house on Park Avenue, Manhattan. He gifted the patio to the Met Museum of Art in 1945 when he died. The patio was removed in blocks and placed in the museum storage until 1963. (Blumenthal’s house was demolished.) After further, research the patio was reconstructed and installed and during the construction two arches and other modern elements added by Blumenthal were removed. It now serves as the entrance of the Thomas J Watson Library showcasing the museum’s Italian Renaissance statues.

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1997 to 2000 the patio was closed for refurbishment with a new floor of the same Macael marble put in which closely matches the original patio floor.

I didn’t expect this cosmopolitan ‘ending’ when Rhona (my blogging buddy!) and I set off to visit these sleepy pueblos!! But you never know what you might discover!

 

Coming soon ….. ‘what’s in Colin’s trug this week!’

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Airport lounging

 

So, here I am sitting sipping my coffee at Almeria airport. I’m feeling a little apprehensive about my trip to the UK, and try to distract myself with a little people watching. We all love people watching, don’t we? And there seems to be almost a pattern of behaviour when flying so I couldn’t resist making a few observations for a blog. However, photos were a no no!!! Shame!

I’ll start in ‘departures’, where in and amongst the queuing hoards at check-in, my interest falls on a couple of seasoned ‘baby boomer’ travellers. They are cultured, adventurous, language savvy and looking at ease. Each is sporting the biggest backpack. They dress in beige and grey trousers with logoed tee shirts featuring some clever and witty slogan. Stomachs are accentuated by 40 year old bumbags (now back in fashion). Can’t make out if these people are stooped with age or the weight of their back packs. Trendy or stupid? I prefer a case with handle and wheels! Baby boomer man drops his phone and bends down to pick it up, the weight is too much and sends him sprawling into a couple of young guys in front who lift the back pack off him, so he can stand up again. There is no substitute for youth however trendy you try to look.

So, why are most people impatient and grumpy in the cafe? It’s probably been an early start, need a caffeine fix, anxious about flying etc etc. But always, there is an angry English person being rude to the Spanish serving staff. Ranting in English, not one word of Spanish. The staff just look on bewildered and their ‘crime’ was serving a latte instead of a cafe con leche. High drama indeed!

I am sat close to the exit of the Duty Free Shop and I spy a tiny, very, very thin, mahogany stained old lady, Almeria’s ‘Madge’ (character from ‘Benidorm’) . She is loaded with her bottle of gin and fags and grinning from ear to ear. Was she just pleased with herself or had the earlier gins just kicked in? Bless her!

The mobile phone eh! What would we do without it? Conversation was thin on the ground, most people were either fixated at their screen or plugged in. The nodding heads of the under 35’s or maybe now 40’s, sporting earphones or if a teenager, enormous headphones. They look like they should really be outside guiding the planes to their gates! It is funny how technology has gone into reverse, phones and earpieces are just getting bigger and bigger, keeping up with waistlines and egos. Occasionally, the phone rings……YES! I’M AT THE AIRPORT HAVING A COFFEE ….. CAN YOU HEAR ME ALRIGHT? Half the airport looks up and says ‘yes’!

Out of the corner of my eye I notice a young couple with a baby desperately trying to collapse and fold a buggy with the military  precision akin to packing a parachute! They are trying not to disturb anyone by whispering to each other and goodness, how much hand luggage does a little baby need?

Then, how could I not mention the business traveller. Always appears stressed, in a hurry, last person to turn off their mobile or laptop once on the plane. They frantically call their office to make sure the world can survive their few hours of being incommunicado? No, I was never that bad!

Finally the fun part, you’ve  queued at check-in, you’ve stripped and queued at security, you’ve had your €3 bottle of water confiscated, you’ve queued at the gate and you’ve queued on the ramp. At last you are one step away from the plane door. That last couple of feet are filled with anticipation and trepidation. You start to look around the bodywork of the plane, are there any cracks, signs of metal fatigue, can you smell a fuel leak and then you are in and there’s that feeling of no longer being in control! You have to rely on the pilot. You slowly make your way down the aisle passed the ‘economy plus’ who smile and stretch their legs at the ‘cattle class’ passing. Then, you’re in the main cabin looking for your seat number, watching with amusement as the struggle for the overhead lockers goes on and there it is 23C. I look down at my seat which is filled with a man tapping away on a 10cm keypad. “Are you sure you can’t sit somewhere else” he indignantly says as he is forced to gather his belongings.

He’s gone, I relax into my seat and dig out the in-flight magazine ready to try and fill the boredom of the flight. Then as I’m flicking through the pages, the intercom sparks into life…”Good morning ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately I have some bad news, due to a technical issue ……….”

 

 

 

Computer versus Common Sense?

Last week, I was sitting on a plane, thinking about my next blog post? I had been in England for a week and had enjoyed a glorious English summer (unusual). The countryside looked so green and lush and gardens were bursting with colour! Plus a few BBQs, country pubs and a tea party at my aunt and uncle’s and I was pondering why we decided to leave England?

I realised I was looking at England through the eyes of a tourist and sorry, but there are a few things I don’t miss, like the grey skies, cold winters, rain and the M25 ‘carpark! I certainly do not like the rush rush, the hard sell and the more and more computerised lifestyle that England has embraced.

Then a few experiences I had there really set me wondering if the geeks that design computer programs ever consider using common sense or just keeping human beings?

 

I forgot when popping into Sainsburys, that the self-service check-out tills have been ‘breeding’ in my absence and I’m directed to one in a polite but firm manner. Of course as a ‘trainee’ still, I made a mistake scanning and needed a human being to help me. Then, I scanned a bottle of wine and needed another human being to confirm I was over 18 years old!

But it got much better than this, when taking the hotel bus from Heathrow to the Holiday Inn to collect my hire car. The bus driver had no change for a £5 fare and there were several of us with £10 and £20 notes. But, hey, no problem, I could pay by bank card. ‘No, computers down’ the driver said proudly. Knowing this, did the driver ensure he had plenty of change and used his common sense, no! We had all been waiting over an hour for the hotel bus and then he suggested we all go back into the terminal and get change – would he wait for us  – no! In order to be allowed on the hotel bus, a few of us clubbed together and paid for others tickets, knowing we knew we would be refunded at the car hire desk on arrival. The car hire company didn’t hold cash in their plastic card world and so I was informed that only after my return ride back to Heathrow, could I then claim the money by photocopying my bus tickets and then e –mailing them and waiting 21 days for a computer to refund!

My lovely Mercedes hire car had a super-duper on-board computer which had a bright red triangle light which lit up when I was driving too close to the car in front – common sense? No, just annoying as I was bumper to bumper at 10 mph on the M25!

Getting ready for my return, I thought I would check-in for my flight indoors on the computer – common sense, I think so. It was simple, all I then had to do on arrival at the airport, was go to the ‘bag drop’ desk at BA terminal 5 Heathrow and go through security and have a nice leisurely coffee.  But I was directed to a computerised check-in desk, where I had to scan my boarding pass, print off my own luggage tag and attach to my case as instructed by the computer. (Well, OK but I don’t remember applying for the job of BA ground staff….)

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My case happily wobbled along the conveyor belt, got stuck and the computer flashed up ‘congratulations, your luggage has been refused !!!’ and then ‘wait for assistance’. After all this, a human being was required and said to me ‘don’t worry, it’s OK madam, you have probably not put the baggage label on correctly’, quickly followed by ‘oh! madam you did do it correctly!!!!’. Shock, horror I could understand a computer or had I just used my common sense? Anyway, the human climbed onto the conveyor belt and rescued my case and then had to over-ride the computer and re start the whole baggage check-in again.

From all the hustle and bustle to Almeria airport, where you disembark and walk across the tarmac to the terminal where the pilot is waiting to bid you farewell! I am very quickly reminded of the personal touch in Spain and yes, this is sometimes very slow and could even be mistaken for lazy or disinterested. But I think that basically the Spanish resist against a rushed and computerised lifestyle plus it saves their jobs. (Except Spanish banks but that is another ‘post’!)

Anyway, I’m now a qualified supermarket check-out person and airline check-in person  and all unpaid labour! I’m looking into the future when I will be loading the baggage on the plane or even flying it!!???

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Chilled on fun deck!

 

We decided to celebrate our birthdays (I forget which one now!) and our silver wedding anniversary with a special holiday. Chilling on fun deck and cruising out of Barcelona, taking in the South of France, Italy and Montenegro and finally back to Barcelona.

We arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday and had our first mini taste of Barcelona. We checked in at the hotel and headed straight to La Sagrada Familia, just 10 minutes’ walk away.

Wow, the Gaudi masterpiece is just stunning, beautiful, amazing captivating …… Our tour included going up one of the towers – the passion tower – looking out over Barcelona city!

Now, my challenge is how many of the hundred plus photos to feature on this post as none of them really do justice to this spectacular structure due to be finished 2026! (Visit http://www.sagradafamilia.org for all the history – fascinating.)

We will definitely go back to Barcelona and visit all the sites!

After a morning stroll around the city we boarded the ship Saturday lunchtime and set sail for Villefranche Sur Mer which is nestled between Nice and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat on the Cote d’Azur.

Still a fishing village with so much charm and French chic but bustling with locals and tourists. We decided to spend most of our time there after catching the bus into Nice for a few hours.

Nice was hectic as the Monaco Grand Prix was on…..poor Steve, so close and yet so far…..another year?

Monday we docked in Livorno, west coast of Tuscany, Italy. A cruise gives you a real flavour for places but it is impossible to visit all the sites in a day. So, we decided to visit Lucca and Pisa with Tuscanybus.com which was an excellent service and tour. Lucca is known for the well preserved Renaissance wall surrounding the city plus Lucca is the birth place of the opera composer Puccini.

Such a pretty place and we sampled our first Italian ice cream!

After chilling in Lucca for a few hours, we moved on to Pisa which as expected was super busy with tourists, but still amazing to visit. The leaning tower of Pisa, 185 feet of white marble! But the bell tower is not the only attraction in the Field of Miracles – Campo dei Miracoli. There is the Cathedral, Baptistery and ll Duomo (Italian for The Dome).

The following day, we arrived in Civitavecchia Port and took the train to Rome S. Pietro just 40 minutes away. Well, as the English playwright John Heywood said…Rome wasn’t built in a day… and for sure even on the best ‘hop on, hop off’ bus tour, it is a challenge to visit all the awesome sites in a day! But before we took the bus, we walked only 15 minutes from the station to the Vatican City, the smallest city in the world (110 acres) and where the Swiss guards still serve as the military force.

St Peter’s Square and St Peter’s Basilica are stunning and vast and again, impossible to really capture in a photo. Especially, in a sea of Japanese tourists with either umbrellas or selfie sticks!

We had a 10 hour exhausting but fun day. Apart from the café, where we stopped and had 2 coffees, 2 small pastries and 1 small bottle of water. I jokingly commented that the bill will be huge as there was a cash machine by the door…28 euros later!! Still, we had plenty of cents to throw in the Trevi fountain in order to get that perfect photo.

We strolled around the area and took a peek at the Pantheon, a former Roman temple. But Steve wasn’t allowed in as he was wearing a vest t shirt, so did I, but my shoulders were good to bare….ha! ha! Back on the tour bus, through the streets and more tourist points of interest until we reached the Colosseum – another wow to finally see in real life. Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre and the largest ever built.

Back on the bus, final photo opportunity was the Altare della Patria, a huge monument built to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.

Phew, just minutes away from the station we chilled in a lovely Italian café with fresh pizza and ice cold Peroni beer.

My step counter had almost exploded….our poor feet!!

Good morning to Wednesday, as we docked at Salerno, a port city in Campania and about 1 hours’ drive from the Amalfi coast. We went ashore for coffee and a strolled around and just wanted to relax after Rome. Didn’t fancy a boat trip for the day when we were cruising anyway!

After a day at sea, we started sailing into Venice at Friday lunchtime, a place we have both really wanted to visit for many years. Every passenger was out on deck with their cameras. Breath-taking as we sailed by Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and the excitement just kept building. (Also couldn’t believe there were four other cruise ships dominating the cruise port skyline when we docked!).

We were half an hour walk from where our dear friends Dee and Rob were staying – we were all going to share the Venice experience!

Plus we met with Italian friends Angelo and Marco who immediately advised us the best way to see Venice was to ‘walk Venice’……the step counter was ready again! They also took us to the Venetian Ghetto area which a lot of tourists miss. (The ghetto was an area where Jews used to be compelled to live by the government.) We sat outside eating Venetian style tapas (cicchetti) and drinking good Italian wine, just bliss soaking up the atmosphere with the boats passing by. We walked back to the ship and Venice at night looked magical! Venice didn’t disappoint.

Next day, we all met up and started the step counter, crossed a few canals, caught a water taxi to Saint Mark’s Square and took a boat trip to Murano, famous for its long tradition of glass making.

A factory visit, a showroom visit, glass pendants for Dee and I, lunch and back to the real hustle and bustle!

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Somehow, we walked by Doge’s Palace, through Saint Mark’s Square, by Saint Mark’s Basilica, the clock tower, took photos of the Bridge of Sighs without losing anyone! Stopped at a café for a well-earned drink, and then finished walking over the Rialto Bridge and meandering through many narrow streets, over so many tiny bridges back to the hotel.

Farewell Venice, it didn’t disappoint, did I already say that? We will go back there, for sure.

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Sunday morning we docked in Porto Corsini. With a large marina and then beaches and pine forests, pretty. We took the local ferry and bus into Ravenna and strolled around the market etc. The ship sailed early afternoon and we enjoyed cruising across to Montenegro.

Kotor Bay is the deepest natural fjord-bay in the Med and the sail in scenery was stunning.

We visited the walled medieval old town of Kotor, winding streets and squares and Romanesque churches, shops and cafes. It was a bit touristy, but great fun and was a lovely port to end our fantastic cruise!

We had a final two days cruising an chilling back to Barcelona and home to Antas.