Wednesday, 31 December 2014

This is Christmas 2014 (Beth)

So, that Christmas thing that I mentioned in my last post, the one I was worried would feel a bit weird. Well, it was different. In my head, Christmas usually starts creeping in at the end of September and really begins when I make my cake, usually around Halloween. This year of course, my head space was rather occupied by the small matter of relocating the contents of a five-bedroomed house into an attic and a campervan and a few other small matters of decorating, organising, etc. etc.... a few months on the horrors have only faded slightly and any day I anticipate a phone call from our tenants to say that our possessions have burst through the ceiling, but anyhoo, Christmas.

Pomster Christmas

So there was no stress about buying gifts, cleaning the house ready for visitors or getting round the shops before the children broke up for the holidays. I didn't have to cook for extra people and I didn't have to spend three weeks telling myself that it would all be over soon.

We didn't have to haul three boxes of decorations out of the attic and spend two days putting them up. I made a few felt decorations for the 12 euro tree we bought and we filled the gaps with Lidl chocolate decorations, 4 euros worth of baubles from the Chinese shop and pom poms from a craft packet looped through with cotton. Our colourful rugs, cushions and even bunting from the van look festive year-round, so adding them to the sterile white villa added the splash of colour we needed. Total decorating time = 1 hour. Job done.

The pile under the tree on Christmas morning was considerably smaller than it has been in previous years at our house, but I don't think the boys even noticed. I noticed the difference in wrapping though, another bonus!

I didn't spend a fortune on a decent turkey from the butchers, we had a chicken which I spent more time than usual preparing and it was delicious. I even managed to find sprouts to complete the meal. I had a jar of mincemeat which I used to make mince pies and for once my handmade pastry (at home I use a food processor) was perfect.

Through the magic of the internet I watched the Queen and Nathanial and I had our customary post-dinner snooze on the sofa while the boys watched the usual festive televisual fare.

Actually, apart from missing being with a certain few people, Christmas was very relaxing! There was much eating of chocolate and other goodies and not a whole lot else. We enjoyed skypeing everyone on the big day and even did a bit of sunbathing (no sunburn!).

Our usual Boxing Day walk along Bournemouth prom was substituted by a walk along Guardamar beach. It was slightly warmer.



I think I will take many elements of this Christmas forward with me to future celebrations, whether in the van or at home.

As far as New Year goes, we are busy getting ready for the arrival of our older chidren Ethan and Lauren and Steev (Lauren's boyfriend) so all attention is focussed there and I might be the only one of us who realises what day it is.

Happy New Year to you and yours, where ever you are. I hope it's a good one for you. I'll be trying to worry a bit less in 2015.

Beth x

Friday, 19 December 2014

A Little Bit of Tom (sorry it's late)

Doesn't this look like Boba Fett's spaceship Dad? Yes son.

This is what happens when you take Tom to a churchyard then ask him to write about it.

Some more from Alfie (sorry, we're very behind)

The Master at work

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Learning Journey (Beth)

Getting out of your comfort zone is definitely a learning experience. Some people, like Nathanial and Tom are constantly on the lookout for new adventures. Others, like me, are content to be pulled along on some of those adventures and will usually enjoy the ride, but rarely are the escapades instigated by me. Others, like Alfie, have to be cajoled, threatened or dragged into the adventure and will usually protest and/or complain for the duration. Perhaps after the event you will get a grudging admission that some enjoyment was had, but usually not.

Yes Mum, yes Dad, it is a lovely view. When can we go home?

Almost every day on this adventure we are having to learn something new. Where can we get water? Is there a shop near here that sells fresh milk? How do we ask for directions in a strange language? As well as the practicalities, we are all learning how to adapt to being together all of the time, living in a small space. I can't help but feel that whilst challenging at times, all of the newness and the problem-solving requirements are a good mental workout. Also, there is a certain buzz to be had when a particular problem is surmounted.

We have been asked a few times if we are trying different foods. Because we are on a strict budget we are not really eating out, save for the odd take-away lunch so our opportunities for eating new stuff is limited to whatever the chef (me) is willing to prepare. So far we have almost exclusively stuck to what we know from the English supermarkets when shopping for food and whilst Tom really wanted us to buy - and eat - the whole rabbit we found in Lidl's chilled section, I was less enthusiastic at the prospect. Ditto octopus tentacles. I am pretty adventurous when it comes to trying food when eating out, but slightly squeamish when it comes to preparing meat that isn't ready-portioned and wrapped in cellophane. I think this is a perfect example of what I said at the beginning, but somehow I can't see Nathanial volunteering for kitchen duties in the spirit of pioneering.

Please can we get it Mum, pleeeease!!

In France Nathanial and I ate a lot of Camembert, having never really eaten it at home. We also ate quite a lot of croissants, pain-au-chocolat and almondes, all of which we did eat at home but the French ones are so much better. We are missing them a little now we're in Spain. I have discovered that I can make a delicious rice-pudding with long-life milk and risotto rice. I wonder if you can make risotto with pudding rice? If memory serves, it is cheaper to buy.

Another new thing we have learned is that you can rent a lovely Spanish villa for not a lot of money in the winter months. Secondly we learned that Spanish villas are designed for HOT weather.We have also discovered that Spanish electricity is pretty pants. Don't expect to be able to use the electric heater in your chilly villa if you also want to cook your dinner/dry your hair/iron your clothes, because the power will trip out. We have surmised that these are the reasons we seem to be living in a ghost town where all the neighbouring villas are unoccupied, but we are enjoying the extra space all the same.

I am learning more about myself too. As someone who has always told herself that my motto is 'worry about it when it happens', I have noticed on this trip that the phrase 'I'm worried that.....' falls from my lips on a very regular basis.

I'm worried that the boys will climb up that wall. Oh, they already have. I'm worried the boys will fall off that wall.

I'm worried that the van will tip over when you back it on the drive..

It's a bit steep, this road we're down, can't even see over the horizon!
I'm worried that we're about to re-create a scene from 'The Birds'

I'm worried that Christmas is going to feel really strange (more on that later).

Perhaps over the next few months I will manage to ration my use of the phrase, or perhaps I just need to give my "'ead a sheck" as Nathanial would say. I'm sure a certain amount of worrying lends a degree of caution to proceedings. Sometimes it's hard being the only grown up in the family.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Altea (Nathanial)

We have heard that one of many places to visit whilst staying in El Albir, is Altea and its Church called the ‘Virgin de Consuelo’. We have been told Altea is at the heart of what Spain is about. Beth and Alfie fancied a day around the campsite so me and Tom went for a ride. We made a picnic, filled the water bottle and set off. 

Tom riding into Altea

The road ran parallel to the tram line which was very exciting for Tom, we do love train lines. Once we got into town though it got pretty busy and hilly and there were no paths, never mind cycle lanes. Tom is completely fearless around this stuff but he looked so little on the road with all the traffic. Normally we don’t do roads.

One of the streets Tom found in Altea

Once in Altea it wasn’t hard to see why it is so loved, all the streets are white washed and very narrow and cobbled. It is on the brow of a hill so the views were great. We found the Church, which is amazing, but to be honest, for me, following Tom through the streets was the highlight. 

Inside the Church was quite bland, as you can see

I wish I was as photogenic as Tom

Tom wanted to lead the way so who was I to argue? Bless him he found the most stunning side streets and back allies, and he managed to lead us all the way to the beach. We then rode back on the promenade to the campsite, but not before stopping at every play area along the way for Tom to try out!

This way Dad!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Orange Grove (Nathanial)

Orange Grove is a lovely little campsite near El Albir, about ten kilometres outside Benidorm. We have booked in here for nearly three weeks as my Mum and her fella, Colin, are on holiday in Benidorm with some friends and we are going to spend some time with them before heading even further south.

Orange Grove, a place to relax

The campsite is run by ‘Dai’ and ‘Derek’, a Welsh man and a Geordie - there’s got to be a joke in there somewhere - it only holds thirty odd campers and is filled with Brits, Scandinavians, Dutch, Germans and French. The site is extremely clean and all the campers are very friendly and mainly full time travellers. The weather is amazing and the campsite is full, it’s not hard to see why, there is such a lovely feel to the place and a real sense of close community.

Beth relaxing after a hard day of.........................................washing underpants!

We are the only ones with kids on the site but everyone is took with Alf & Tom and find them a proper comedy act, which makes a change from a terrorist group!

Check mate, Rooster turned out to be a real sore loser, the table nearly got turned over!

I found the pot washing area the main point to get information from, there was nearly always someone washing their pots when I was washing ours. It seems Portugal has been very wet so far this winter and a lot of people are coming back to the Med. Ron, my Yorkshire friend, was very informative and had come back from there himself. Food for thought.

Playing petanque

It seems this area has a micro climate which is different from the rest of Spain, something to do with being surrounded by mountains, so it has a relatively steady temperature all year round.

God love him for trying, it really wasn't that warm, he lasted about ten seconds

It’s nice to be based somewhere for a while and get the awning out and the chairs and rugs. It seems like we have been on the road for ages. Even in the gites, because we didn’t have the van and our stuff, it just felt like a pit stop. Now it feels like we can have a good breather, and it’s also nice to have other people to mix with, so far it’s just been the four of us, which I have loved, but it is nice to feel part of a community.  

Orange Groves' table tennis reigning champion, I knew all those years playing in the Day Centre would come in handy one day.

It’s been good to get back on the bikes too, we have covered miles going into El Albir and back. We took them on the tram to Benidorm and me and Tom cycled to a place called Altea, which was a bit hairy; the Spanish don’t have the cycling lanes like the French do.

And the showers! They are amazing. I did build a little shower room in the van, which is great when we're on the road, it means we don’t have to be stinky, but it is slightly tight, there’s certainly no stretching out in it. These ones are red hot, mega powerful, and big. Great stuff.

I doubt it's going to be a white Christmas at Orange Grove, but lovely and sunny :)

The shorts are on, the chicken legs are out

A couple more days of driving and we are now near Benidorm. We had one last night in France at the foot of the midi Pyrenees, and then into Spain. 

Our last day in France, not a bad view to go out on
The last leg of France was looking decidedly more dry and terracotta, as if to say ‘you are about to leave France so get ready for a change’.
Almost immediately the landscape changed from lush green country side, to dry rocky dust mountains. All the grape vines have now been replaced by miles and miles of orange trees. It's goodbye ‘Bonjour’ and hello ‘Hola’.

Neither me nor Beth are very good friends with Spain, we got robbed near Barcelona last year (and let's not mention my Spanish friend from my last job) let’s hope this trip can help fix the broken relationship. 

A rare picture, a fitting farewell to our first leg of the adventure


As I hoped, we woke up to be surrounded by the mountain range, absolutely glorious. A couple of years back I walked up a few mountains, and I remember saying to a friend of mine how much I enjoyed it and I couldn’t wait to do another, there was just something i really enjoyed about being around mountains. He then said something which has stuck with me ever since, he said how ‘powerful mountains were’, and in that sentence, he completely summed up how I felt.  

Lagrasse - a mountain village
We’re having a day off driving so we go to explore the village of Lagrasse. As with a lot of the rural French villages, there is a sense that time has stopped somewhere in the fifties or sixties and never really moved on. This gives a feeling of stillness, as well as the fact that the whole of France just closes down from 12 pm- 2 pm, normally just when we’re getting ready to explore, but we’re in no rush.

Lagrasse - A village stuck in time
Lagrasse has some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen, the village was built in the medieval times and still gives off that aura. We walk through the village to an old Abbey and do the tour thing, then pop into the cemetery on the way out.

Inside Lagrasse Abbey

One of the rooms in Lagrasse Abbey
 The cemetery is on the village edge, then it kind of blends in to the mountain. As with all cemeteries’ there is a sense of peace about the place, but to be at the foot of a mountain as well,  there is almost a feeling of sedation.

These three must have been important
Lagrasse graveyard blending into the mountain
I absolutely loved Lagrasse, the roads, the village, the buildings, and the aire was situated amazingly, I got a lovely sense of calmness from it, Beth………..says it gave her the willies??? ** Sometimes we're on such different pages in life.  

**Editor's Note

As a young child I watched the film 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' and it left a lasting impression on me. As we wandered around Lagrasse it had the same eerie, desolate feeling that I got from the film when Dick Van Dyke, Truly Scrumptious and the children first arrive in Vulgaria. The village was at the top of the mountain and practically deserted. I swear there was not a single child to be seen and I was half expecting the child-catcher to put in an appearance at any second. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Carcassonne (Nathanial)

Today we have driven through the ‘midi Pyrenees’ to a place called ‘Carcassonne’. This was recommended to us to visit, and I would do the same to anyone reading this. Carcassonne is a great town with a section of it in castle grounds restored to its medieval origins; it’s absolutely stunning, and it's situated in a mountain range to top it off.

Just about to enter the castle grounds
In here we visited a medieval torture museum, thinking this would be more up the boy’s street for entertainment. Oh my God!  If they don’t have nightmares tonight, I will eat my woolly hat.

The entrance to the torture museum. They didn't come out smiling like that.

What the Spanish inquisition did for torture was truly barbaric, how anyone could actually have thought up those devices is beyond me. They must have held meetings with critical staff and had ‘thought showers’ on how to inflict the most pain without killing someone. I wouldn’t have liked to have been taking those minutes. I wonder if they had biscuits?

We saw devices which cut off nipples, expandable tools which were made for breaking bones, used on both men and women and a helmet with a ‘gagging strip’ on it, which women who talked too much had to wear - me and the boys actually liked that one. There was even a saw to cut men in half from the crotch to the head, if they were found to be gay.
I think next time we will go to the knitting museum.

One of the streets in Carcassonne

From Carcassonne, we have just driven another 40mins in pitch black through the mountain range to an aire, we have no idea what our surroundings are like but I can’t wait to explore them in the morning. I’m hoping we are going to have a couple of days here, I do like being around mountains.

One of the many amazing sites driving through the midi pyrenees