Staying in one spot but Zooming all over the place!

We were so relieved to have made it to our new home – the good ship Sunday – waiting patiently for us in Alimos Marina in Athens, Greece.

Our view from the front deck

Fortunately we just made it with a day or so to spare as only a day – maybe two -later, all Greek borders were closed and flights to Athens halted in order to keep the Covid-19 virus at bay. On arrival we had to hunker down and stay on board in quarantine for fourteen days.

Quarantine sunset

The time went quickly as we plenty to do – unpacking, finding places for everything and getting to know our new-to-us Lagoon 420 which was not only our new boat but also our new home.

Such a magnificent sky
Lucky we never tire of looking at boats

We had to make ourselves scarce “down below” while the canvas enclosure in the “cockpit” received its final fitting. Aeronautica, the company who we chose for the project did a fantastic job and we are thrilled with the result.

New canvas installed – tick

The new canvas gives us so much shelter from the sun and also fantastic privacy!

The canvas work gives us wonderful privacy
S/V Sunday looking like a new boat!

We were so happy to be back on the boat but it was strange not being allowed to leave it at all for fourteen days. During this time we enjoyed some great “lockdown” meals including wonderful Greek salads and also homemade soup as it really was quite chilly.

So enjoy a good Greek salad
Food takes on a new importance during lockdown. Mmmm mushroom risotto!
Yummy soup for lunch

One day soon after we arrived, Tim Whittaker from New Zealand came and introduced himself. He was on tenterhooks waiting for his wife Silke and two children Luca and Nina, to join him for the start of their sailing adventure on their newly acquired boat Polykandros.

Meeting Tim for the first time

With flights being cancelled all over the planet and Tim’s family in the midst of flying across from the other side of the world, it was it was nail-biting stuff. Would they arrive safely? And even they did, would they be allowed in? Greece had instigated a ban on the entry of non-EU non-resident nationals from March 18.

Thankfully, all was well we found out later (fortunately Silke and the children hold German passports) and there was another joyful reunion when their delightful little dog Lucy arrived in a special crate on a later flight.

Lucy just loves snuggles

We had some pretty average weather during our first couple of weeks including some heavy rain storms that dropped copious amounts of red dust all over our once white and gleaming decks. So quite a lot of time was spent cleaning!

This Sahara sand was all over the boat in every nook and cranny!
Cleaning kept us busy for a few days!
It was everywhere

Soon enough we were able to go out for exercise or to shop for food at the supermarket. The whole of Athens was by then in strict lockdown (from 23 March – six days after we arrived) and we were meant to text a special phone number to detail our movements and our reason for being out and about.

One of the many Athens “street cats” enjoying the peace and quiet
The promenade is usually heaving with people at any time of the day or night

As we just had our Dutch phone numbers, with data only plans, we were unable to comply with this rule. Fortunately we were only stopped once by the police just a couple of days before Lockdown was ended. They were fine and just reiterated what the rules were and gave us the number to send messages to.

So lovely to see that Spring was in the air
This gentleman was the only person we met on one of our strolls

Once we could venture out life was a little more interesting as we could walk along the seashore or around the massive marina (with at least a thousand boats!) or inland to the shopping street ( although the only shop open was the supermarket!)

So lovely to walk along uncrowned beaches
Very strange to see so few people
Spot the cats! Where there’s fish….
Just a few of the many hundreds of boats in our marina

We also paid a visit to the newly arrived Kiwis and met their little dog Lucy. The whole family soon endeared themselves to us and we extended our “bubble” to include each other.

Borrowing Lucy for a walk
Two other local dogs decided to come with us ra

At first it was a matter of borrowing Lucy for walks but then we started having tea and biscuits in the cockpit of each other’s boats and eventually a great mutually helpful and supportive friendship developed.

A completely empty beach – what an amazing sight for Athens!

One day early on in “lockdown”, we sent 13 year-old Luca up the mast to investigate a faulty steaming light. He was amazingly brave and miraculously seemed to enjoy be hoisted up in the bosun’s chair. This was a great relief to Jonathan and I as we both hate heights!

Preparing to go up the mast

His Dad Tim also had a turn as Luca tried but was unable to extract the steaming light globe. Unfortunately nor could Tim but he did take some great photos from the top of the mast.

Nina checks that her brother’s harness is secure
Up he goes!
Oh my, that is too high to even look!
Looking at the light

A photographer by profession, Tim has shared some of his wonderful shots with us. He and Silke also have a You Tube channel – if you are interested (you might get a glimpse of us too!) follow this link: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UC4qQDTkZBmiuWPZyyU4cb5A

Nina looking on anxiously as her Dad is hoisted up the mast
Dad’s turn
Some beautiful drone shots of our marina by Tim Whittaker
Drone shot of our marina with Athens behind

Another of the positive outcomes of “Corona Lockdown” is that we have had wonderful video sessions with family and friends, many of whom we had not communicated with this way before.

Family Zoom chat when our grandbird took centre stage!

We have really enjoyed and appreciated these Zoom, What’s App and Skype sessions and have had many great chats and good laughs.

Extended family Zoom chats are fun! Sometimes there are around 25 of us – all trying to speak!

It’s been especially lovely seeing the younger members of our extended family grow in confidence during these sessions. We have been introduced to hamsters, new kittens, been read creative stories, received demonstrations of home made lip gloss and entertained by one of our great nephews as he struck comical poses as he walked on and off camera behind his unsuspecting parents.

In our own little family one session was devoted to being introduced to our “grandduckies”. They were just so cute and it was delightful to see them at such close quarters while they were still very young.

Our cute little grandduckies
So sweet!
The granddogs aren’t too sure
Aww sleepy head
Saturday morning in Mum and Dad’s bed

Another excellent Zoom session was with the bookgroup I belong to in Brisbane. Since we have been travelling (five years now!) I have just been reading the selected book and sending in my comments, with the occasional “live” participation when back in Brisbane. It was therefore so wonderful to hear in real time what everyone else thought about the book of choice for the month.

Zoom book group!

Our first month of lockdown provided many unexpected elements. Normally when we are travelling our world is very small and we are well used to being “just the two of us”. Lockdown meant reconnection with great friends, more extended family time than ever before, making new friends, and staying in one spot but “Zooming” all over the place!

Not a soul on our arm of the marina – Normally unheard of.

Count down to Quarantine

Our fabulous family long weekend at the beautiful manor house near Stratford-on-Avon was sadly over and we all went our separate ways across England and in our daughter Hannah and her partner Pieter‘s case, back to the Netherlands.

We had planned a few more days in England before taking the ferry back to France and driving to the Netherlands to stay at their place for a short while.

Looking back, we are so grateful to have had the amazing party and to have spent precious time with our family as soon after, Covid-19 stopped the world in its tracks and family visits and get-togethers were no longer possible.

We had a short but pleasant stay with one of my sisters in Beckenham in South London where we had the pleasure of spending some time with two of her grandchildren and taking some lovely walks in the spring sunshine in nearby Kelsey Park.

So many crocuses in the park!

While we were staying in Beckenham I was looking into the possibility of taking a quick trip to Australia while Jonathan flew back to Athens to oversee the last few jobs on our new-to-us Lagoon 420 catamaran before departing to rediscover and explore further the wonderful Greek islands.

Looking at possible flights to Australia!

At that stage Covid-19 was only just becoming an issue in most countries (although China and Italy’s experiences were beginning to get people to take notice) and everything was uncertain.

A magical old fashioned sweetshop in Beckenham

Well thank goodness I didn’t go as very likely I would have been unable to leave Australia and fly back to Europe to join Jonathan in Greece as flights into Athens were halted way before my planned return date.

We visited a small David Bowie-themed exhibition. He came from Beckenham and I first saw him play at the Three Tuns Pub there when he was still undiscovered and I was too young to be in a pub!

After a few days in Beckenham we left for the port of Dover driving via Bournemouth to say goodbye to our very dear friends.

The weather was still very wild and the van was being rocked around like a boat at anchor by the blustery winds on Dover seafront.

We decided to have an early night as we were catching a ferry first thing the following day. We were just drifting off to sleep when a massive explosion reverberated around the White Cliffs of Dover and shocked us awake!

Fireworks!

It sounded as though we were being shelled! We got up and looked out of the window and were relieved to see the explosions were only a sky full of fireworks out to sea right opposite our parking spot.

The new Virgin cruise ship having its maiden voyage celebrations

We realised it must be the maiden voyage party for Virgin’s monstrous bright red 17-storey cruise ship – Scarlett Lady – which was anchored out directly in front of us.

Scarlett Lady lit up like a Christmas tree

The fireworks were truly spectacular and we thanked Richard Branson for the great send off before retiring again for the night.

Thanks for the send off Richard Branson!

It was an early start the next day as our ferry was due to leave at 8am and we were meant to be at the dock at least an hour before. The weather was wild and blustery as we set off and we wondered if there would be delays with the ferries.

We soon found out that there were indeed delays as a big sea had developed overnight and the night ferries had been cancelled. We didn’t mind – being in our van meant we could have another cup of tea while we waited.

All aboard!

We eventually boarded a different ferry to the one we were booked on, at 9.30 for a 10am departure. Instead of landing in Dunkirk this ferry headed for Calais which meant we would save at least half an hour on our drive to Pijnacker in The Netherlands so the delay was minimal.

There were plenty of white caps

There were very few people on board and we had a pleasant if rather rough trip over to France.

Stormy weather!

Soon we were back in the Netherlands to spend the weekend with our daughter and her partner before they headed off to Austria for a week’s skiing. We stayed to house and cat sit!

Welcome back to the Netherlands!

While they were away Jonathan and spent much of the time hunkered down in their cosy little house as it was so cold!

So lovely to see Spring tulips again!

We did venture out to Delft to distribute some posters for a Comedia Del Arte workshop and a parent and child music and movement class that Hannah was organising. Sadly our efforts were wasted as by the time these came around Covid-19 restrictions were in place and they had to be postponed.

Shame, this workshop was cancelled.
This yellow car next to the yellow flowers in Delft were very cheering on a grey day.
Market day in the Cathedral Square in Delft
The town hall in Delft – where Pieter and Hannah are to be married in October.

Disaster struck our daughter on the last day of what had been a fantastic ski trip! She had an accident and damaged her knee! Luckily for her, the first person to ski up to her to help out was a renowned (for looking after top soccer teams) German orthopaedic surgeon who gave her some good advice and his email address in case she wanted to talk through the possibility of surgery and other options.

Such a great trip and then this on the last day!

The group of friends who had been skiing together arrived back on the same day that the Dutch foreign ministry updated its travel advice for Italy, advising citizens not to travel to areas affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

An amazing gourmet dinner at the restaurant where Pieter and Hannah plan to have their wedding celebration meal

By the early days of March the advent of Covid-19 in the Netherlands was becoming big news. On 6 March the first death was reported and by 12 March the government announced new measures that would be in effect until the end of that month. All events (concerts, sports) and meetings with more than 100 people were forbidden and the people were encouraged to work from home. Schools were to remain open but all Dutch universities were to suspend physical teaching until 1 April, but online teaching would continue.

On the same day in Greece (12 March) The first death from COVID-19 in Greece happened and by 13 March Greece closed all educational institutions, cafes, bars, museums, shopping centres, sports facilities and restaurants in the country.

On 13 March the local supermarket shelves In Pijnacker looked like this.

On 16 March, all Greek retail shops were also closed, two villages with infections were quarantined, and all services in all areas of religious worship of any religion or dogma were suspended.

The following day every available employee worked flat out to fill the shelves again

We had purchased our tickets to Greece departing Amsterdam on 17 March to return to our catamaran “Sunday” and were anxiously following developments in The Netherlands and Greece.

Magnolia – one of the first signs that spring has arrived

I can remember wondering if Greece had overreacted as things seemed much more laid back in the Netherlands and even more so in the UK where schools, restaurants, pubs, indoor entertainment venues and leisure centres, (even then, with some with some exceptions) were still open. These institutions weren’t closed until March 20 when there were already more than 200 deaths.

So 17 March came round and it seemed as though we could travel to Greece to return to S/V Sunday. It was hard, as always, to say goodbye to Hannah and Pieter but at that time we had no reason to imagine that they would not be joining us on the boat in May as planned.

Social distancing happening but soon everyone will be crammed together in a tin can!

Schiphol Airport was busy and quite crowded and we felt conscious of the vulnerability of all travellers there so we kept our distance where we could but realistically we were about to sit in a narrow tin can with hundreds of people in very close proximity so there seemed little point in keeping two metres apart in a queue!

Waiting to board

Once on the aircraft we had only just sat down when very fortunately we were moved to the extra legroom seats with no one across the aisle from us.

We were very fortunate to be moved to seats with extra leg room and away from other people

We arrived in Athens around 8.30 pm and were amazed that there was no one in passport control and no notices with information about Coronavirus! Not even in Greek, as far as we could see.

We had hired a car for a week in anticipation of preparing for dropping our lines the week after that. Of course, that was not to be. Firstly because everyone arriving in Greece from 18 May onwards was required to self isolate for 14 days but in addition to that, starting from 6 a.m on 23 March, movement outside the home for all citizens and visitors was permitted only for a number of specific reasons e.g. essential travel to and from work, food shopping, visiting a doctor etc.

Great to be back on Sunday.

People were also allowed to exercise once a day but anyone leaving their home for any reason had to send a text explaining their reason for being out. The measures were to continue (initially) until April 4.

Normally a hive of activity, the marina was very quiet

Fortunately, before the restrictions came into force we managed to get a few things done on the boat, including the installation of sunshades – made while we were away – that enclose the cockpit, giving us privacy (in the marina especially) and shade in the heat of the simmering Greek summer. We were so thrilled with these – they really do look fantastic!

Our new sunshades being fitted
These were going to be amazing in the blistering heat of the Greek Summer
Jonathan looking rather stunned at the amazing change sunscreens

Over the first couple of days we were also able to shop for food and other essential supplies such as wine and beer! Unlike Australia, the Netherlands and the UK, there didn’t appear to be any panic buying. There was plenty of everything – including loads of toilet roll!

It was great to see the supermarkets had plenty of non
We even found a hand blender at the supermarket!

Suitably provisioned for a good two weeks and more, we settled down to wait out our quarantine period.

Enough food for our quarantine and beyond!
There was no toilet paper shortage in Greece
All the essentials!
Everything nicely stowed

Party time – before the world changed

Having been in lockdown for a full six weeks you’d think that I would have had plenty of time to catch up with my blog, but alas, no.

Our lockdown view

Perhaps the memories of the freedom we had (until recently) to gallivant around Europe is just too difficult to recall in our present circumstances. Maybe it’s just other activities have seemed more appealing or more likely, I’ve been procovidernating. Regardless, I have resolved to push on now and get writing!

We had been staying with friends in a sweet village called Berwick St John in Wiltshire. The previous day we had had an amazing, exhilarating but thought provoking encounter with the local hunt (https://saltytalesfrombalihai.com/2020/04/14/tally-ho-sailing-friends-and-an-unusual-encounter/).

An unexpected meeting

That night there was a tremendous storm and we were thankful to be tucked up in our campervan and sheltered from the turbulent weather by the sturdy house belonging to our hosts.

By late morning, the weather had settled a little but was predicted to get rough again later in the day, with gales and flooding forecast. We set off for Bournemouth, just over an hour’s drive away, to pay a quick visit to our good friends there before heading to Suffolk to spend a couple of nights with Jonathan’s younger brother.

On our way to Bournemouth in filthy weather

The bad weather brought us good fortune as after leaving Bournemouth the roads were almost empty – in fact we didn’t have to stop at all until we were brought to a halt at by a flooded road and diverted just shortly before we had reached our destination.

It was no surprise that there was hardly any traffic on the road

Once off our planned route, we muddled our way through the back roads and by-ways and eventually arrived at Jonathan’s brother’s house.

The full moon was a welcome sight

After a happy but fleeting visit- one of the highlights of which was an extremely delicious full afternoon tea in a farm shop in nearby Elveden – we headed to Birmingham where we were meeting our daughter Hannah and partner Pieter off a flight from Amsterdam.

Such a delicious afternoon tea!
Evidence of the storms the previous day

We stopped for the night in a pub in Nether Whitacre recommended in the “Brit Stops” book which details places where camper vans can stay overnight for free. Many of these are pubs and all they ask of you is to go in and have a drink or a meal (or both!) in return for a night in their car park.

“Bread and beer, the traditional substance of Englishmen” – hmm not good English but I get what they mean!

The pub was within easy reach of Birmingham Airport and we managed to find Pieter and Hannah quite easily without having to enter the paid parking area (there was no free drop off/ pick up arrangement.)

It was still grey, windy and rainy so we decided to head first to nearby Leamington Spa where my parents and younger brother had lived many years ago.

Leamington Spa

Our children sadly never met my father who died too young. It was therefore very special to show Hannah the Church where he had worked for a short time before he died and where we held his funeral service and his ashes were interred. It was my first time back for almost 40 years so it was a very emotional experience.

The Church where we farewelled our Dad and the garden (right) where his ashes are buried
The stained glass windows of All Saint’s Church

We walked round to look at the house where my family had lived in the upper storey apartment and we had a delightful chat to a lady who had moved into the house many years earlier but quite a long time after my Mother and brother had moved.

My parents and younger brother lived in the upper storey apartment of this house

Still reminiscing we walked in the beautiful riverside gardens nearby. They looked glorious even in the incipid spring sunshine.

Jonathan and I well wrapped up!
The weather was warm enough for the squirrels to wake up from hibernation
It was wonderful to see all the spring flowers
It was a great day for a walk!
The river was very swollen after all the rain but the swans didn’t seem to mind

Eventually our wandering took us over the river to an excellent restaurant in a converted cottage called The Drawing Board.

Inside the Drawing Board with Annuals on the bookshelves

This great little eatery had games and vintage children’s “annuals” (story books issued once a year, usually at Christmas) containing all the favourite cartoons from my childhood such as the Bash Street Kids and Denis the Menace, as well as Dan Dare and Captain Hurricane. Lots of atmosphere and the food was delicious too!

A great little eatery with lots of atmosphere

After a long lunch we drove on to another pub for the night which was close to Stratford on Avon, which in turn, was near to our final destination, Talton House – a grand country residence set in 34 acres of woodland, fields, lawns and gardens.

Our home for the night with Hannah and Pieter
One of the many statues dedicated to Shakespeare and his plays. Alas, poor Yorick!
The River Avon, with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the background
Another view of the RSC theatre
Talton House, just a few kilometres/miles from Stratford on Avon

Twenty-eight members of our family were gathering at this magnificent old manor house to celebrate our brother-in-law’s milestone birthday.

Arriving at Talton House in the campervan
We found a good spot to park round the side

Our first meal together was reasonably chaotic even though my sister had superbly organised every item of food that was to pass our lips over the weekend. The Aga kitchen range was the problem as it didn’t heat things as quickly as we were used to and regulating the heat was quite a challenge! Nevertheless, all of us (except for some poor people who had to work a full day and then drive a considerable distance to get to rural Warwickshire) were able to sit at the magnificent dining table and enjoy a delicious and memorable meal.

The magnificent dining room at Talton House
The host (birthday boy) and hostess

The following day was celebration time. Sadly the weather was terrible but who cared? The house was so big (huge kitchen, dining room, four reception rooms, games room, hot tub etc.) we all found plenty to do – including raiding the massive fancy dress cupboards on the upstairs landing for the birthday parade and cake cutting ceremony.

Relaxing by one of the numerous open fires
Singing round the piano was a popular pastime
…as was sitting round chatting

After a fabulous lunch of home made soups with a variety of cheeses that would shame a top restaurant and fabulous oranges and mandarins that we had bought at the roadside in Portugal, we all went our separate ways to prepare for the festivities.

Cousins catching up

At three pm we reconvened for the dress up parade and after cat walk twirls and many photos we danced with abandon to “We are Family” on repeat.

Spot the sailors

Characters from Hogwarts, English country gentlemen and a stylish Lady of the Manor, University professors, Mary Poppins, a French onion seller, a thief, a crocodile, a jester, a bride and many others jostled for space on the dance floor. My crazy family!

We are family!
Girl power! (Cousins and second cousins)
We were so happy to have our daughter and her partner with us for this weekend of family celebration

After the cake we wandered off for walks or the hot tub or a little lie down before the big feast that the birthday boy most generously paid for.

The birthday boy blowing out his candles with a little help from his friends!
Thanking my sister for all the work she’d put in to making the weekend such a success

The meal was prepared and cooked (with an able assistant) by the proprietor of the beautiful house, who is also a chef by profession.

Pre-dinner drinks

We had dinner in the large hall In order to fit all the adults round the table together. It was such a fantastic experience!

Dinner is served. My brother playing butler
The food was amazing!

The following day there was more eating, walks in the flooded countryside and games in the table tennis/ snooker room.

We loved this notice
We thought we might get flooded in but the roads were just about passable
The flooded fields
There were thick carpets of snowdrops
Follow the sign to the flooded roads

It had been a really wonderful weekend and looking back we feel so thankful to have had this big, joyful, family gathering shortly before the Covid-19 virus stopped the world in its tracks.

Tally Ho! Sailing friends and an unusual encounter

A peaceful stroll with friends across the undulating grassy fields surrounding the tiny Wiltshire village of Berwick Saint John was abruptly interrupted when we became aware of a dull rhythmic rumbling – a thundering sound that was relentlessly drawing closer and closer towards us. Then we heard the sound of joyous barking.

Suddenly over the crest of a hill a large gang of dogs followed by a massive throng of horses and riders appeared – heading straight for us. It was the local hunt!

A large gang of happy dogs came over the crest of a hill

Remarkably, this was the first time that our hosts Meryon and Suzy and mutual friends Tim and Pim had ever seen this uniquely British sight despite their innumerable walks through the English countryside over many years.

The dogs were closely followed by a cavalry of horse and riders

Now I would be the first person to be totally revolted by a gang of riders and a pack of hounds intent on chasing a terrified fox and ending its life in a most inhumane way. However, this was a drag hunt with no animal being chased and I have to admit the sight of the dashing horses and baying hounds was truly breathtaking. (Note: I acknowledge drag hunts can inadvertently end up with attacks on wild animals occurring and do not condone this.)

A sight rarely seen when out for a quiet stroll

It seemed to me that the people on this hunt were perfectly happy to trail the hounds who were following a scent that had been dragged over the fields by a human. Horses, hounds and people were thoroughly enjoying just being outside on this splendid day (see video)

The horn blowing (see video), the thundering hooves and the overjoyed dogs were quite a thrill to see

As a horse lover it was magnificent to see mounts of all shapes and sizes (and colours) enjoying being part of a herd, cantering up hill and down dale in the fresh crisp air of early spring.

Horses of all shapes, sizes and colours

The humans were also having a ball and were of very different shapes and sizes – from the tall and regal looking red coated master of the hunt to the black hacking jacketed, red cheeked and beplaited little girls on their Thelwell ponies and the hefty, strong and tweedy farm labourers on their sturdy steeds – and everything between.

Having a break

The dogs too looked overjoyed to be running with their pack through the countryside at top speed.

The dogs loved running with a pack

For a little while, dogs, horses and people stopped for a break on a flat piece of land where we happened to be standing – close to where the farmer who owned the land was sitting on his tractor.

The master of the hunt pauses to take stock

The hunt master chatted with the farmer, asking if the sheep in the field below would be worried by the hunt and having a general chat about the weather, the turnout etc

There were some beautiful horses

While they were resting the horses, the riders conversed amongst themselves catching up on the usual topics – family, friends, work etc.

There were also some very skilled riders

Then the dogs were off again encouraged by the harsh tooting of the Master of the Hound’s long brass horn. The hunt participants followed the urgent blasts – some cantering, some at a trot and others, tired from the morning’s exertions, taking up the rear at a dignified walking pace.

The hounds were larger than I expected
On the move again

When the air was still again and peace restored we resumed our walk and agreed that whatever the rights or wrongs of drag hunting, meeting the hunt completely by chance had been an incredible and unique experience.

Peace is restored in the lovely Wiltshire countryside
On our way back to Meryon and Suzy’s
Some of the riders stopped for a drink at the local pub – right next door to our hosts’ house

We had arrived at the Dorset port of Poole from Cherbourg just that morning after a restful but windy crossing.

The trip to Cherbourg from St Georges de Didonne had been easy and we had a very pleasant stop in Mariel-Sur-ley-Dissais where we bought delicious bread and even more delicious pastries.

Always something interesting to see as we drive along
One of the many beautiful chateaux that we saw as we drove
Even the wrapping looked wonderful
These beautiful tarts tasted as good as they looked!
It was great to see that Spring had arrived in France

Our early arrival in Cherbourg had allowed time for a quick stroll, a hasty shop for various cheeses and lunch at a North African cafe near the port before heading to the ferry.

Driving into Cherbourg
We loved this retro poster for the restaurant
Lovely tableware!
A very enjoyable middle Eastern meal

Originally we had been scheduled to depart France in the late afternoon but only found out after we arrived and were sitting at the head of a non-existent queue that the crossing had been rescheduled and would be leaving around midnight.

The ferry route from Cherbourg to Poole in Dorset

We were fortunate to be offered a double room with en-suite at a vastly reduced cost in compensation for the time change so we arrived in Poole feeling very fresh early the next morning having slept most of the way over on the almost empty ferry.

Driving on to the ferry
Shame we couldn’t just sleep in the van!
The ferry was almost empty
Arriving in Poole

It was wonderful to catch up with our four friends who we had originally met on the Sail Indonesia Rally in 2015. We had a great time together eating wonderful home cooked food, drinking wine and talking, talking, talking.

A beautiful Spring day in England
Such a narrow lane to Berwick Saint John!
The tiny village of Berwick Saint John

That night we were very glad to be parked in the front drive of Meryon and Suzy’s beautiful home sheltered from the ferocious overnight storm that brought down trees, caused floods throughout the country and had wreaked havoc on the roads.

There were snow drops everywhere!
Wonder how many souls live there now?
Parked in front of Meryon and Suzy’s beautiful home
Our hosts looked after us superbly

Please note: We are/were not travelling at the time of Corona Virus – this blog is from some weeks previous when we were all free to travel at will!

Meeting the Cockleshell heroes

Our adventure through Northern Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar had been marvellous but we had a big family party to attend in England so it was time to start the long drive back to catch the ferry in Cherbourg, France.

The long trip back begins
We went a slightly different route but you get the picture!

The first part of the trip took us from La Linea in Spain, on the border with Gibraltar, following the coast southwards, and passing famous holiday resorts such as Marbella, Torremolinos and Malaga.

The resort town of Arroyo de la Miel
Torremolinos – the famous Costa del Sol package holiday destination

At Malaga we turned inland and before too long we could see the glowing snow covered peaks of the Montes de Málaga in the distance.

The snow covered peaks of the Montes de Málaga
Strange to see snow when we had been so warm in Gibraltar

We stopped for the night in Valdepeñas, in central Spain and the next morning drove on to El Puente de Sabiñánigo near the French border.

Time to stop the night in Valdepeñas

We enjoyed most of the drive as there was some stunning scenery along the way but around midday we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by thick fog. Fortunately it didn’t last long and we had blue skies for the rest of the day.

No doubt we were in Spain – we saw these black bulls that symbolise Spanish culture everywhere.
A moody sky and interesting rock formations
There was plenty to see en route
Fortunately this fog didn’t last for long but it was quite disconcerting

The area of Sabiñánigo has always been strongly linked to sport and, especially, to cycling. Our stopping place for the night was next to a fine looking municipal building which had a hostel attached and a nice looking restaurant.

Almost at Sabiñánigo

After a wander around the town we went into the restaurant and were told it could serve us but warned us a big group of young people would be coming later. We were in our own little section and had a delicious meal and the crowd was quiet and not at all a nuisance.

The municipal buildings near our camping spot

It wasn’t until the next day and we saw the bikes in the air (photo below) and the sign at the entrance, that we realised that the hostel catered for cyclists and the group at dinner was probably there to take part in a cycling event.

Bikes in the air – taken as we left Sabiñánigo

The area is famous for holding “The Quebrantahuesos” one of the most important amateur cyclist races in the world. The town is also a frequent start and finish point of the Vuelta a Espana.

From El Puente de Sabiñánigo we headed for the French border and within forty minutes we were crossing over into France.

On the Camino trail once again!
The French border post
In France at last

Soon we were driving in the Pyrenees and had some enticing glimpses of snow covered mountains before turning west and making for the Atlantic Coast.

Glimpses of the Pyrenees
Glorious mountain views
A small French village
This overhang looked very worrying from our rather tall campervan
Going through the fly fishing region

By the time the sun was setting we had arrived at our destination – the resort town of St Georges de Didonne. We stopped in a car park right next to the beach and the next morning we decided that a bit of exploring would be in order.

Arriving in St Georges de Didonne.
Winter trees silhouetted in the setting sun
Our overnight spot right next to the beach at St Georges de Didonne.

The beach just beyond our parking spot was littered with oyster shells so it was no surprise to see – in the middle of the harbour – rows and rows of buoys marking out oyster beds.

So many oyster shells!
Lots of buoys indicating where the oyster beds lay

Our walk took us passed the old but still active lighthouse and port buildings – long abandoned by the looks of things.

The lighthouse and old port buildings in the distance
In summer you can take a tour of the lighthouse
The old port office – No longer in use

Around the headland we strolled along the rocky shoreline where we encountered a memorial to the heroes of Operation Frankton, a daring World War II commando raid in which a small group of British Royal Marines were taken by submarine to the area and dropped off at sea near St Georges de Didonne.

The memorial commemorating Operation Frankton

The ten men then paddled (over several nights and hiding by day) five collapsible canoes (kayaks) 100 kms to the port of Bordeaux where they planted limpet mines on German cargo ships halting the distribution of goods and thereby disrupting the German war effort.

A close look at the Cockleshell Heroes’ memorial

As we read the memorial dedication, Jonathan recalled a film from his boyhood that had made a great impression on him called “The Cockleshell Heroes”. This highly fictionalised account of Operation Frankton had left him with a lasting memory of this extraordinary and heroic mission.

The brave men involved in the heroic operation

We walked as far as the sweeping main beach which in the summer months is packed with throngs of holiday makers.

A glimpse of the coastal path
This beach is heaving with people in the summer

Thankful that we didn’t have to share the delightful coastal path with any of the 50,000 or so summer visitors that arrive each year, we slowly meandered our way back to our campervan to head for Cherbourg where we were catching the ferry to England.

We were very fortunate to have the coastal path to ourselves

Gibraltar- You Rock!

We hadn’t seen enough of Portugal but definitely wanted to visit Gibraltar before heading back to England for a huge family celebration.

Farewell Portugal! We’ll be back!

So we found ourselves bidding a premature “farewell” to Portugal, crossing into Spain and heading straight for the Spanish border town (with Gibraltar) of La Linea de la Concepción.

Rock on (dreadful pun, sorry)

On the way we stopped to sleep the night outside Seville and promised ourselves we would be back to get to know this interesting city famous, among other things, for being the birthplace of Flamenco dancing and the fact that the famous explorer Christopher Columbus is buried there.

On the outskirts of Seville

By late morning the following day, we had arrived in La Linea and were parked in a massive car park next to a marina just a stone’s throw from Gibraltar.

From our parking spot we had an amazing view of the famous Rock of Gibraltar although it was totally shrouded in mist when we first arrived.

Our first glimpse of the Rock (underneath that mist somewhere!)

Regardless of the weather we were keen to cross into Gibraltar as soon as possible. A few minutes walk and we were at the border where we were able to walk through the customs post and just show our passports before arriving on the other side.

Crossing the border from Spain to Gibraltar

We were amazed to find that before entering into the metropolis of Gibraltar we had to walk across the airport’s one and only runway! That was a first for us (in how many other countries can you get anywhere near the airport runway, let alone cross it?) and really took us by surprise.

The extraordinary experience of walking across the runway into the metropolis of Gibraltar
Yup, keep walking no planes about to land!

The first thing we noticed once we had crossed the runway was that the mist that had shrouded the famous rock was gradually dissipating (thank goodness!) and the second was how English Gibraltar was!

Thankfully the mist started to dissipate
And there it was!

Within minutes of entering the country (all under 7 square kilometres of it) we had seen a British telephone box, two red post boxes, several notices in English and the very British street name of “Winston Churchill Avenue”. “Good grief”, “I say”, “how very jolly” we chorused in our best English accents!

So strange to see a British telephone box so far away from Britain!
A British pillar box made in Scotland!
Another post box in that iconic red!
There were even British police cars!
Can’t get more British than that Bulldog!

We decided to head first for harbour (the lure of boats is always hard for us to resist) and on the way encountered many historical remains, particularly from the early 18th Century when Spain tried to regain the territory from the British who had been given control by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, after the Anglo-Dutch victory in the War of Spanish Succession.

Approaching Land Port – originally the only way into Gibraltar other than by sea
Rebuilt in 1727, this gate had been the scene of bitter fighting in thirteen sieges

During the 18th Century Gibraltar was besieged and heavily bombarded during three wars by Spain but the attacks were repulsed on each occasion.

The name of this gate shocked and horrified us

By the end of the last siege, in the late 18th century, poor Gibraltar had faced fourteen sieges in 500 years. It was just fascinating to see the various historical remains in grey stone rubbing shoulders with the stark modern concrete and glass skyscrapers.

The Moorish Castle a medieval fortification on The Rock
Fascinating to see historical remains rubbing shoulders with the stark modern concrete and glass skyscrapers.

We eventually found the marina area with restaurants at the water’s edge. It was pretty but we felt uncomfortable – it seemed to be full of ex-pats who were there to be “seen” rather than to enjoy a meal.

Nice enough marinas but not a good atmosphere quayside

A little disappointed, we moved on towards the centre of the “old town” where there were plenty of dining options – many of them English style pubs with typical English fare including fish and chips,bangers and mash and steak pie.

Typical British pub fare!

In the historic old town we came across various interesting sights – including a Statue of Lord Nelson. Apparently his body was brought to Gibraltar in his badly damaged battleship HMS Victory- after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He was eventually buried at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Lord Nelson will never be forgotten in Gibraltar

Further on we saw the remains of the 16th Century Southport Wall and it’s three gates – one built in 1552, one in 1883 and the latest in 1967. The wall fortifications were first built following an attack by Barbary Pirates.

The oldest Southport Gate

Later, close to the Southport Wall and gates, we stumbled across the small but absolutely beautifully tranquil Trafalgar Cemetery where the remains of some who had died from wounds after the Battle of Trafalgar (and other sea battles) are buried.

The beautifully tranquil Trafalgar Cemetery
The remains of men mortally injured in the Battle of Trafalgar lie here

Another peaceful and lovely spot was La Alameda Botanic Gardens which was full of palms and other plants from many parts of the world (including a Silk Oak from Australia).

Another peaceful and lovely spot – La Alameda Botanic Gardens
It was beautiful to see these bright flowers so early on in the nyear

Above the botanic gardens we could see the historic Rock Hotel in all its Art Deco glory. We thought it would have been an ideal setting for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery!

An ideal spot for a murder mystery

It was too late to travel to the top of “The Rock” by the time we had found the location of the cable car so we decided to head back to the van and return the following day. As we walked back in the twilight we were anticipating with excitement our trip “up the rock” the following day.

The Governor’s residence
Walking back to the van in the twilight

Well I have to say, we were not disappointed. The whole thing was an extremely memorable experience from the cable car ride to the top of the Rock, 426m above sea level, to meeting the Barbary Macaques, and from walking the precarious paths to seeing a glimpse of Africa over the 14.3 km (8.9 mile strait).

Early morning view of The Rock from our campervan
Our view facing the other way!
This time the cannons were uncovered when we passed the Governor’s residence

I can’t explain why but seeing Africa loom out from the clouds on the horizon thrilled me to the core. Maybe because I was born in Algeria and felt my birthplace calling? Perhaps just the vast range of travel possibilities were beyond that gorgeous strip of blue? Who knows, all I do know is that it was a visceral experience.

A perfect day for our trip on the cable car

I took so many photos that I have found it almost impossible to choose which ones to include in this blog.

That tiny peak above the clouds is Africa!
A little more of Arica
This seagull looks out longingly to Africa

As we only had the morning to explore we decided to spend our time up there walking the trail around the Rock rather than spend time going round the famous St Michael’s Caves, a network of limestone caves located within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve that have been used throughout history for military purposes.

What an amazing view of Gibraltar and in the distance, Spain
Looking down on the other side of The Rock
The dramatic Rock of Gibraltar
Fortifications on The Rock

At the very top of the Rock where the views were stunning, we found O’Hara’s Battery completed in 1890 and continued in active use during World War II.

There was a little museum in the underground area where the gun and engine rooms and shell storage were located. An atmospheric tunnel carved out of the rock led from the engine room to the gun.

Distance across the Straits 25,000 yards – Range of gun 29,500 yards
Down in the engine room at O’Hara’s Battery
The atmospheric tunnel

Apart from the view of Africa, the highlight of our morning on the Rock was observing the very cheeky Barbary Macaques – the only wild monkey population on the European continent.

A baby Macaque checks Jonathan out
Just casually sitting on the wall with Africa as a backdrop

Although they receive plenty of fresh food every day they will still steal from tourists given half a chance. We witnessed a daring attack while waiting to board the cable car back down to the bottom.

On top of the world!

An adult Macaque spied someone eating snack food in the cable car gondola coming up the hill . Before the cable car had even stopped the Macaque made an enormous leap right into the cable car and with one agile and swift movement whipped the bag out of the person’s hand and was out again.

“I once had a farm in Africa”

There were several nervous tourists who started screaming which stirred up some of the other rascals and then there was mayhem. Snacks were flying monkeys and people were shrieking, there was panic in the air.

Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth. Who would of thought these cute little monkeys could be so naughty?

One of the monkeys jumped on the back of a diminutive tourist who was beside herself with fear and just stood there yelling, squawking and cowering which of course made the monkey bolder and absolutely certain that the lady was hiding food. So it kept jumping back on her back each time someone drove it back. Eventually peace was restored but everyone was left feeling a little rattled.

Little baby enjoying a carrot

Despite the dramatic end to our morning we had thoroughly enjoyed our walk on this iconic and historic landmark.

On the way down again

Gibraltar You Rock!

Journey to the end of the world

For thousands of years it was believed that the rugged and forbidding Cape Saint Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) in Sagres, Portugal, was the end of the world.

The Cabo de São Vicente – the end of the world?

It’s really not surprising as this wild and wind blown spot, with 75 metre high cliffs, is the most southwesterly point of mainland Europe. Beyond that point was the big unknown until all that changed in the 1400s when brave explorers like Vasco Da Gama opened up the world to exploration and discovery.

The wild and wind blown cape

Standing at the cliff edge gazing down at the swirling and heaving waves far below it was easy to understand how easy it would have been to believe the fearsome legends of serpents and a supernatural vortex where the setting sun was dramatically submerged by the immense, unknown ocean.

The end of the known world pre- 15th Century

Now Cape St Vincent is a popular tourist spot and home to a 24 metre (79 ft) lighthouse which safeguards one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The lighthouse safeguards one of the world’s busiest shipping laneS

Built in 1846 over the ruins of a 16th-century Franciscan convent, the lighthouse hurls a powerful white beam 60 km (the second most powerful beam in Europe) into the dark expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

We were astounded to see quite a number of fishermen hanging off the cliff face trying to catch fish from immense heights. I couldn’t help think what would happen if they suddenly caught “the big one” – surely they could potentially lose their balance and tumble down into the churning sea below! I’ve never thought of fishing as an extreme sport but I understand how it could be now!

Can you see the fishermen? They cast their lines from the top of the cliffs
More fishermen here (circled) crazy!

Near the lighthouse there was a small museum dedicated to ships, exploration and the history of the lighthouse which we enjoyed going round.

The museum had lots of models of ships like this one
There were also a lot of exhibits on the history of the lighthouse

On the way to Sagres we were intrigued to see – having recently been in the Netherlands- many windmills. They were completely different in style to the Dutch ones but there seemed to be as many as you would normally see driving around the Netherlands!

We were amazed to see so many windmills
They were very different in style to the Dutch ones
This one had lost a sail

We called in the Fortaleza Sagres after our visit to the museum and although it has great historical importance, as it ably protected the town from North African raiders in the 15th Century, there wasn’t a lot to see.

The Fortaleza Sagres

It was from this fort that Henry the Navigator devised his 15th century expeditions to the uncharted seas around the western side of Africa, which heralded in the golden era of Portugal exploration.

We were looking for a suitable place to stay the night and took a look at the designated campervan parking spot on the peninsula. To our amazement there were more vans parked together there than we had seen for a long time (the last place being Honfleur, in France.)

After camping on our own for so long it was a shock to see all these vans
Just too many people for us

So we kept on driving and decided to look elsewhere for somewhere to stay – away from hoards of people.

While looking up possible places to stay we discovered that there were some Neolithic remains in the Sagres area. Of course we just had to go on a menhir hunt! It took us a while but we did eventually find a beautiful specimen.

We eventually found this stunning menhir

It was getting late so we headed to Alvor , about 20 km from Lagos. It was a real shock to see once again, stacks of vans all crowded in together in a muddy and stark field which we later learnt is affectionately called “The Pit”. We opted to park near the Alvor nature reserve where it was a little quieter.

More crowds in Alvin
We just had to find somewhere quieter

The following morning we went for a fabulous walk through the dunes in the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve.

The boardwalk in the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve was beautiful
This was such a fabulous facility for the townsfolk and the tourists alike
The beach was wonderfully clean

Even though it was early February it felt as though Spring had arrived. There were flowers and trees budding and plenty of bird life. In the distance across the estuary we could see the charming white-washed houses of Alvor town.

It was so lovely to see spring flowers blooming at the beginning of February
Birds were singing and building nests already
Such a pretty town of white washed houses

Later that day we drove on to another spectacular piece of coastline near the resort town of Carvoeiro.

Quite by accident we found Praia da Carvalho – a small but delightful beach, surrounded by steep cliffs that you enter via a “secret tunnel” and enclosed steps.

We set off for a cliff walk
First we had to climb down these stairs
Then this tantalising glimpse of Praia da Carvalho
To get to the beach you have to climb these stairs
Looking back up to the cave entrance

The sand is fine and a rich gold colour and the sea turquoise and as clear as gin. There are caves high up in the cliffs that would have been great to explore and a little one actually on the beach that looked as though it had been a shrine at one time.

The beach from the other side of the cliffs. Lots of caves high up!
Peering out of the small cave which might have had a shrine in previously
The “shrine” cave
The water was crystal clear!