Sunday, November 27, 2011

Centre Parcs - first impressions

When Mr Traveller first suggested Centre Parcs a couple of weeks ago I was of mixed opinion. I'd been as a child, and again as a teenager, and loved it on both occasions. But I'd heard more recently about how overpriced it was, and a quick visit to TripAdvisor confirmed that, as well as reports of tired old damp accommodation (a huge no-no with our allergy-ridden gang), and rude, surly staff, and I became quite skeptical. But I had a look on their website and saw some reasonable last-minute, low season deals and got swept up in the romantic notion of riding bikes through the forests and swinging a giggling littlest hobo around in slow motion to a tinkly floaty soundtrack etc, and before I knew it I'd booked it.

So here we are, and first impressions, not so bad actually. The check in staff were great, polite, helpful, and really speedy. Our cabin, although one of the furthest points from the dome - a good 15 minutes walk at least - is warm and damp-free, and after the exploding house, quite a relief that we could be warm and cozy without constantly tending to a temperamental log burner. We've got a 2 bedroom Eden premium cottage, which sits just on the upper side of average within their ranges, and is the smallest size available. It's quite a cozy size, but it's plenty big enough for the three of us. The layout is a bit odd, and slightly annoying, with the littlest hobo's bedroom off the kitchen, and ours on the other side of the cabin, off the dining room - cue banging into the dining table in the middle of the night. The bathroom is off the kitchen too, through a door which on first impressions we assumed was a large kitchen cupboard (there isn't enough room for a large kitchen cupboard) and to get to the toilet from there you need to go through the kitchen, dining area and across the cold front porch. Again, fun at 2am. And while I make that sound like a logistical nightmare with a toddler in tow, it is all quite compact and relatively close together and the living areas are all open plan, so it's not as huge a chore as you might expect.

We hired bikes the moment we had dropped our car off in the car park, given the trek from our cabin to the dome. It was really easy and the littlest hobo loves riding on the seat in front of her daddy. Our first challenge was finding our way back to our cabin down the trails in the dark... a couple of wrong turns but we made it in the end, and laughed so much on the way. We were trying to imagine another scenario where we'd have the littlest hobo out on a bike in the dark in the cold riding round a lake. We couldn't!

The swimming pool is great, pretty quiet, as you would imagine at this time of year. They provide free flotation jacket thingies which all children without their own flotation aids and without a swimming certificate are obliged to wear. They're good, but a little big on the littlest hobo, who is still only around 10kg.

We also went in the experience factory, which is a giant warehouse typed space filled with bowling, mini golf, a huge indoor soft play area, a stage, squash, tennis and badminton courts, etc etc. It was pretty impressive, although you have to pay for most of the activities on top of your stay and they're not particularly cheap. I also noticed that there are quite a few things that are from age 3+, which is a bit of a pain with a 2 year old. I noticed people around who were clearly bending the age restriction rules though. and nobody seemed to be stopping them.

So far, I think we've been pretty impressed with our experience, everything has been clean, well run and we've had a lot of fun. There are a few little niggles, but nothing major, and it's probably worth putting up with them for the overall experience. We're feeling very virtuous after 4 bike rides (6 for Mr T) and 2 swims today, and looking forward to more of the same tomorrow.

10 days in Duras

I think it's about time I wrote an update! I've finally finished my assignment (keep your fingers crossed for my result) and we've left the incredible exploding house today and we're heading to Centre Parcs for four days.

While we've been in Duras, we've been on some great sightseeing trips, enjoyed feeling a little bit like a local in this little country town, spoken lots of French, and even managed to just relax and do nothing for a while. Sound idyllic? It was pretty good!

Our time in Duras started off with warm bright sunshiny days, followed by much cooler evenings, which required us to light the nerve-wracking fire then just wait to see if the house would feel like it was falling in on us again. Thankfully it didn't. Their second repair job seemed to do the trick and in spite of a few breath holding moments, everything has remained structurally sound for the rest of our stay.

The second half of our visit here brought a thick mist which hung in the air until approximately 3.30pm, when it would miraculously clear for the whole hour and a half or so before it got dark. It's only now, as the kilometers of Tarmac build up between us and Duras, and we travel over peaks and through valleys, all the while experiencing dramatic fluctuations in the weather, that we realise that perhaps the mist was just cloud, trapped in a basin where Duras sits. Anyway, it wasn't the sort of weather that encouraged you to venture out and explore your surroundings much, especially with the narrow country roads with sharp bends and deep ditches, frequented by many an elderly French gentleman in a flat cap and a beaten up old white van or 2CV, who would appear from nowhere and drive down the centre of the road to counteract the effect of one too many vers du van rouge at lunchtime.

Duras is a really pretty little town, surrounded by rolling hills covered in row upon uniform row of vines. The region is well known for wine aling with prunes, fois gras and duck amongst other things. Duras has everything I love about a town; a great market on Mondays, which we spent about 45 minutes walking around, and I'm told it's much bigger in the summer. I'm sad that the Christmas market doesn't happen until mid December, because I'm sure it would have been good. It has a reasonable butchers, and a fantastic boulangerie - I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the name of it, but if you ever find yourself visiting, it's the one that's away from the town square, near the war memorial and the town clock with an arch and a road running below it. It was a mere stones throw from the exploding house, so we were regular customers most of the mornings of our stay.

Duras from the top of the Chateau

Duras has a few restaurants and cafes, a reasonable sized supermarket as well as a small independent market and a tourist office. We found a small children's playground, hidden somewhat, near the schools, and not in the most impressive state of repair, but somewhere to swing and slide, non the less. After San Sebastian, where there was a playground every 100 metres or so, I think the littlest hobo was a little bit disappointed though.

It's a great place for English-speaking tourists to visit - I never quite worked out whether the French dialect spoken there is beautifully slow and easy to understand, or whether the locals were just particularly kind natured, but I enjoyed speaking French here, and there is a large British expat community who are eager to interact and help out, should you require. There's a strong feel of community, and a friendly nature to the town too - we felt welcome!

The jewel in Duras crown is the Chateau. It stands on the edge of the main town, an imposing landmark watching over the valley below. We visited with low expectations and were most impressed by what we found. A self-led tour, following the guide card you are given on entry takes you through the depths of the chateau, where the servants would have worked, up through the opulent living space above, to the top of the tower, where we enjoyed a 360 view of the town and the surrounding valleys. There were a couple of surprises along the way, and the littlest hobo really loved the whispering room, where two people stand in opposite corners and can chat away, hearing each other clearly, while anyone else in the room is oblivious to their words.

Shhhhh, it's a secret! What a novel way to get a toddler to practice whispering.

Duras was a great base for visiting Bergerac, the unique and exceptionally picturesque St Emillion, and some of the surrounding Bastide villages, but I think I've bored you enough for now, so those are a story for another day!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Baby, it's cold outside

I'm in the depths of trying to submit a module for my photography course at the moment, so not a lot of time for blogging between that and our sightseeing excursions, but I am saving up lots of exciting things for the coming days. In the meantime, I just wanted to share this with you:

Yesterday afternoon.....


This morning

Brrrrrrr - The thick fog hung throughout Duras right up until about 3pm, when we had bright clear skies but still pretty cold temperatures for about an hour. Thank goodness the heating system was fixed the other day!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Things that go BANG in the night

After our restless final night in the San Se apartment, we all gave a huge sigh of relief when we arrived at our current accommodation - a beautifully renovated house in the small town of Duras in the French countryside.

The house felt immediately welcoming, if not a bit chilly, having been locked up with nobody staying in it for a good few weeks. In the lounge is a log burner, which powers the central heating, so after a quick call to the housekeeper to work out how it all worked, we got everything toasty and cosy, and if anything we felt a bit too warm that night.

We spent Saturday getting to know our new surroundings, doing some washing, visiting a Christmas market, and a couple of friends of the owner of the house dropped by to welcome us. We  found out that the property was very new to the holiday rental market; they had only finished renovating it a couple of months ago, and we were the first people to rent it, which didn't come as a surprise to us.

On Saturday evening, we got the fire booted up again and made the most of the satellite TV, watching x-factor (I know, I know) while doing a bit of research online for our travels over the next year. We were marginally aware that the room was feeling pretty warm, and even went to check the radiators in the rest of the house, which were roasting.

Suddenly, there was a strange noise from the kitchen end of the room - we looked at each other and came to the conclusion it was the ice maker in the fridge. But the noise grew, and within a few seconds the deep rumbling felt like it was shaking through the entire house. There was an explosion in the roof space above the kitchen end of the room, and before our eyes water started pouring from the ceiling, down the walls and even from the fuse box. The whole house was still rumbling, pipes clanging and we weren't sure exactly what was going to happen next.

I ran up the stairs and grabbed the Littlest Hobo out of her bed; a rude awakening from her deep slumber, then raced back down the stairs, just as a second explosion happened in the floor below the cupboard in her bedroom - by this time the water was pouring down in that bedroom too. Then the lights went out in half the house too.

Mr Traveller threw water into the logburner to put the fire out apparently not the done thing, we now know, but he didn't do any damage, and he did stop the fire, which was the main thing), while I took the Littlest Hobo outside and phoned the housekeeper, who showed up a few minutes later with her husband. They were greeted by the sight of Mr Traveller in his bare feet with trousers rolled up to his knees as he mopped up all the water. Amidst fraught calls between plumbers, the owner back in the UK and who knows who else, we managed to clean up and make the house safe, or as safe as we could, given we didn't know where exactly the water had gone to within the walls. The housekeeper offered to take us to her maison d'haute for the night, until the plumber could come in the morning, but we opted to stay in the house, concluding that there'd been enough upheaval already for the Littlest Hobo that night, and apart from the possibility of being a bit cold, it should be fine now that it was all turned off.

The plumber arrived early on Sunday morning to survey the damage. He confirmed that the central heating system had exploded (it didn't actually take a plumber to work that out, once we had established that the world wasn't ending, and the house wasn't falling down). and set about mending it. I was quite impressed - I'd been all set with a second possible house lined up in the town, but he actually dealt with it quite quickly and we all crashed into bed for a lunchtime nap to make up for being up half of the night.

All was well until about 5 tonight, when we lit the fire and checked the radiators every few minutes for the next half hour - nothing. Something wasn't working. We decided to call the housekeeper, who in turn called the plumber. While we were waiting to hear back from them, the rumbling and banging started again. I took the Littlest Hobo outside, and Mr Traveller put the fire out. So now we sit here, slightly chilly, and wait for what tomorrow will bring. I really hope they can fix it - it's such a gorgeous house, I don't really want to move from it - we're supposed to be here another week and the Littlest Hobo is so much more settled with less moves. We're lucky that it's not too cold here yet - 18 or 19 in the day, 8 or 9 at night, but I think it might be too cold to manage the whole time without any heating.

So much for a relaxing couple of weeks - I'm really ready for a  bit less drama now, it's been a rough few months, and I think we're all longing to just relax for a while. We've also been talking about whether the night time call from the man from the water board was an omen - was it a warning that this was going to happen, or is this a second (or third, if you count the Littlest Hobo's adventure into the chest deep sea as one too) warning, or the thing that we were being warned about? Ugh, it's a nerve-racking business, all this!

So, a demain...

Friday, November 18, 2011

San Se spooks

I'm in the process of pulling together a full San Sebastian update, but just had to share this in the meantime....

The apartment we stayed in in San Sebastian was pretty funky - a slightly run down looking art deco building which had been recently renovated inside. It had some really original old features, but appeared mainly modern inside. When I first walked into the room that the Littlest Hobo would be sleeping in I had a slight shivery feeling but brushed it aside and got on with getting it ready for her to sleep in.

The gorgeous view from our spooktacular apartment. 

The first 4 nights were okay, but last night was interesting... She woke up at 3am and was sobbing when I got to her, I assumed it was because I'd taken a while to get to her, cajoled her along, took her to the loo then got her back into bed and persuaded her back to sleep. 20 minutes later there was an almighty scream followed by sobbing and cries for mummy. she clung to me the moment I got there, and wasn't keen to let go. I lay down next to her and resigned myself to be there for a while. A few minutes later Mr Traveller appeared in the room too, offering to swap rooms, but I sent him back to bed and said I'd be fine. he lingered a while longer than I would expect then disappeared off back to bed. I untangled myself from the Littlest Hobo's arms and jumped into the other bed in her room. Then she started saying, over and over, 'ít's okay, it was just a person, don't worry, it was just a man'. Suddenly the shivers that I'd had when we first arrived started up again. I told her it was just a dream and to go to sleep, all the while silently asking my Gran to protect us!

We fell asleep, and I woke an hour later to knocking, like someone was at te bedroom door - it was ajar, and clearly nobody was there, but the knocking continued for maybe 20 seconds, then stopped and I eventually dropped back off to sleep.

In the morning, all the Littlest Hobo could talk about was this man. I asked whether he was in her dream or in her room, and she was adamant that he was in her room. She was desperate to get out of the room and shut the door behind us. But she didn't stop talking about the man that had been in her room. When Mr Traveller woke up I started to tell him what had happened, and before I'd got any further than mentioning the screaming when she woke, he told me that he'd come into her room because he'd had a dream about a man who was trying to push his way in through the door, and claiming to be a water inspector. He'd woken up and felt frozen and scared - that was when he came into the Hobo's room. while he was telling me this I had the same blood freezing feeling that I'd had both the night before and when we first arrived.

It was a cool apartment, but I'm mighty glad we're tucked up in the French countryside tonight instead!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Donostia San Sebastian: a full tummy, a great view and a happy toddler too!

San Sebastian, what can I say. I think I've fallen in love with this pretty little city. We weren't even planning to go there (planning, what planning?), but a couple of weeks ago, when I mentioned that we were getting the ferry into Bilbao, my friend Sarah said that her husband had proposed to her in San Se (as the locals call it), and it was really pretty, and then I mentioned it to my uncle, Roger, who's pretty well travelled when it comes to Spain and he agreed. So that was it, we went to San Se.

View of La Concha beach at sunset, taken from the harbour

And what a treat we've had. Situated on the northern coast, with an uninterrupted view out to the Bay of Biscay, only 20km from the border with France, in the Basque region, San Sebastian enjoys a mild climate, and is a favourite holiday spot of the Spanish. It's mid November, and we've experienced temperatures of between 16 and 24 degrees. You can't often say much better than that for the Northern Hem at this time of year.

The city is sprawling; with three beaches and numerous suburbs. We stayed in the Gros neighbourhood, in a cool but spooky apartment overlooking the Zurriola beach, the one favoured by surfers, as it's out of San Se bay. I reckon it could give Bondi a run for it's money, and we enjoyed building, and destroying sandcastles there, as well as a quick and unplanned, fully clothed, dip into the surf by a certain miss Hobo, who stepped off an ankle deep sand shelf and landed in water up to her chest. It probably wasn't my best parenting moment when I laughed once Mr Traveller had whipped her up into his arms, but thankfully, true to character, she took it all with a smile.

The centre of the city is made up with a shopping district, with some pretty good shops (well, it was my birthday while we were there!), the working harbour/beachfront, and the Parte Vieja (old town) which was full of spectacular medieval architecture, and had me walking around with a crick in my neck, it was so amazing to look up at.

Looking through the Parte Vieja to the cathedral
But the Old Town has another reason to bask in it's utter brilliance, and that is one of the big reasons that SanSe is often referred to as the gastronomic capital of Spain: Pintxos.And loving food in the way that we do, us Travellers couldn't get enough of these magnificent morsels that we found on bar after bar after bar.

Jamon pintxos with huge legs of Jamon hanging behind the bar in the background

Most people will be familiar with tapas, and pintxos (pronounced pinchos) are the basques version of tapas - rumoured to be the best on offer. The bars in the parte vieja offer a veritable feast of pintxos; some just a simple piece of bread or a croissant filled with the delectable jamon, others much more elaborate, such as the Mackobe - a mini kobe burger in a ketchup bun served with plantain chips.

Classic pintxos include a piece of bread and a 'spear'to hold the topping in place. This one had goats cheese, walnuts, and, according to the barmaid 'sugared fruit', I suspect it was quince, but any pintxos expert who can verify would be most welcome!

The done thing in San Sebastian is a pintxos crawl - visiting a succession of bars, having a drink and one or two pintxos in each place. We took sandwiches for the Littlest hobo (no room for allergies at the bar, but children were very welcome) and managed three bars in any one session - I think we would probably be classified as pintxos lightweights.

The whole bar area was covered with pintxos - at a guess 20 varieties to choose from

San Sebastian was a really child friendly city. Not only did we enjoy the beaches, but there were play areas around every corner too, and the Littlest Hobo's particular favourite, a merry-go-round, built in 1900, complete with groovy Spanish pop music, right on the sea front. Handily enough, it was right next to the Parte Vieja, so everyone was happy! There are also a couple of great attractions for kids - the funicular railway, which we walked to, but sadly it was closed for refurbishment, and a hands on science museum that we read a lot of positive reports about, but didn't actually make it out to. The Spanish take their children everywhere, which means that they are always made welcome. The biggest problem we experienced was with timings - the littlest Hobo is used to eating dinner by 6 and being in bed sometime between 7 and 8, and the playgrounds are still heaving at that time; culturally, they just shape their day to the beat of a different drum. This wasn't a big issue per se, but it made eating out in the evenings near impossible; by the time the restaurants were open (it seemed to be 8pm onwards) the littlest Hobo was ready to flop into bed. This made me thankful again that we stay in self catering accommodation and we can make our days work for us. 

San Se merry-go-round
Romantic San Se takes you in and envelopes you in warm fuzzies. For somewhere that wasn't even on the radar until 2 weeks ago, I really enjoyed our time there. We originally only booked for three nights, but decided to extend after we arrived. I would definitely go again, although might book a different apartment next time, lest our night time visitor felt the need to return!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crossing the language barrier

I didn't think that much about language issues when planning our trip to Spain until a friend asked me a few days before we left 'So, do either of you actually speak any Spanish?' 'No' I replied, still not giving it much thought. I'd been to Spain twice before, and to the Canary Islands several times and had always got by with a meagre Ola and the odd Por Favor. And Mr Traveller can speak near on fluent French, and can do a wicked Spanish impersonation. And, well, Spain shares a border with France, and they sound kind of similar, so um, we should be fine. Then she reminded me of the story another friend had told us, about her time travelling in South America when she tried to buy a torch, and became the spectacle of the store when it turned out that she was asking, repeatedly, for the Olympic flame. And she too was fluent in French, in fact her husband, who she was travelling with at the time, is half French, so that whole close proximity and sounding similar to my naive ear thing, well, clearly it doesn't stand the test. But still, for some unknown and slightly odd reason, I heard what she was saying, but the alarm bells did not ring.

Maybe my mind was still relatively absorbed with my Gran. Maybe I had been assuming that terribly ignorant and unattractive trait that the British are famous for, believing that everyone should speak English. Maybe it's been way too long since I visited a non-English speaking country, after years of living in Australia and America, and using up our major holidays on trips to visit friends and family back in England, or else exploring said countries (plus the odd trip to New Zealand, where lo and behold, they speak English) and I had just forgotten what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land. 

We were in Korea only 4 months ago; we weren't just the only non-Korean speakers, but also the only Caucasians, to the point that the Littlest Hobo became a novelty spectacle wherever we went. But I didn't feel so much of a fish out of water as I did yesterday morning, when I wandered around San Sebastian desperately seeking contact lens fluid, clutching my trusty iPhone with google translate app all set up and ready to go. I didn't feel as embarrassed as I did when i pulled open the lift door today and nearly knocked my neighbour flat, but I couldn't think of the Spanish word for sorry. We actually gave up on having dinner out tonight, and headed back to the apartment to reheat left-overs from yesterday, despite the fact that it's my birthday today, because it all seemed a bit too difficult trying to order allergy friendly food for the littlest Hobo when we couldn't read the menu and would have to rely on good old google translate to tell the waiter/waitress what our constraints were.  

We're considering ditching Spain and taking a slower meander through France, mainly because we've learnt from earlier trips that less is more and taking it at toddler pace is an absolute must, but also because we can speak the language. 

At least sorbet is sorbet everywhere... I think.

It's not that we're having a terrible time - we're having a fantastic time actually; we're revelling in each others company, doing everything we want to do (with the exception of dinner tonight, which, in fairness probably also had a lot to do with having been out for hours and hours and feeling ready to flop in our pj's), stuffing our faces with delectable tapas, and San Sebastian is an amazing city - it's romantic, full of history, a gastronomic delight, superbly toddler friendly, and moderately warm for mid November in the Northern hemisphere. I was delighted this evening, when we walked into the bakery and the Littlest Hobo chanted Ola with the rest of us without a second thought, but that's only one very small step. But I think, if I'm truly honest, we are a little embarrassed by our naivety, by our lack of preparation and ignorance that makes me feel somewhat green around the gills at this travel business, when in reality it's something that we've been doing for years, just by a different name, because it wasn't a permanent, everyday state. I feel that we should have known better, and now it's too late to do much about it. Our best option is to tuck it under our wings as a lesson learnt for next time, and go and drown our embarrassment and celebrate our next challenge, whatever it may be, in a glass or two of Spain's finest Rioja. Ole!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Any port in a storm - 24 hours on the Cap Finistere ferry

Brittany Ferries Cap Finistere

When we first planned to head to Spain from the UK our trip was going to be 7-9 weeks long so it made sense to take the car. Being a bit cautious of sea-faring vessels, I initially assumed that we would take the short ferry crossing across the English channel to France and then drive, but after our 4 hour ferry crossing from Roslare to Pembroke in September I admitted that Mr Traveller might actually be on to a winning idea. Primarily, the Littlest Hobo would have the freedom to roam around and explore in a way that appeals to any toddler and makes far more sense than having them strapped in a seat for hours and hours on end. .

Cost wise, it was probably about even - to drive we would’ve had the shorter ferry crossing, fuel costs for 14 hours driving (not cheap with European prices) and probably two overnight stops with that length of journey, possibly three if the thought of 3 days of constant travel just seemed too ridiculous. Flying and then hiring a car would’ve taken us way out the ballpark. The ferry to Spain took 24 hours, and cost approx £400 give or take £50 depending on the date we crossed and the cabin we chose.

Our Outside 2/4 birth en-suite cabin

Now that P&O have discontinued this route, Brittany Ferries offer the only option from the UK to Spain - they run two ferries - Cap Finistere and Pont-Aven, and a couple of different routes. We opted for a Portsmouth to Bilbao crossing on the Cap Finistere, which is the smaller of the two ferries. Initially we booked a luxury cabin, the top one offered, which came with a double bed, a tv and a lot more space than any of the others, and planned for the Littlest Hobo to sleep on a fantastic kids air bed that friends lent us. After a bit of a stuff up on my behalf though, (and for those who know us, yes honestly, it was all my fault and nothing to do with Mr Traveller!), we ended up with a 4 birth outside cabin and a refund of £40! I was pleasantly surprised by the cabin, which was on the 8th deck, although there wasn’t a lot of floor space, there was enough room to move about, the beds were a decent size, and Mr Traveller only felt marginally claustrophobic up there on the top bunk. The Littlest Hobo’s bed side even fitted, which was a big plus once it got a bit choppy! The room was en suite, with a surprisingly good shower. The room was well lit, with two plug sockets and piped music available. There was a thermostat to adjust the temperature as you wished, and a large port hole with great black-out curtains.

Dinky-di shower

En-suite bathroom

I couldn’t find much about our ferry online, apart from what Brittany Ferries had on their own site, and a single review on trip advisor which was pretty negative, so I didn’t have high expectations. The food in particular had received bad press, and if our experience on Brittany Ferries was anything to go on, I wasn‘t expecting any sort of gastronomic sensation, I was just hoping it wouldn‘t lead to any gastroenteritis either! The first evening we ate at the Salad Bar which was up on the 10th (top) deck, as the main restaurant couldn’t serve food until 6.30, which proved to be too long a wait for the Littlest Hobo. It was actually surprisingly tasty, if simple, fare. For breakfast, the Littlest Hobo and I had a full cooked brekkie in the main restaurant which was great value given that under 5’s eat free, then took Mr Traveller some breakfast bits and pieces that we’d bought in the Bon Marche café shop. All in all, I thought the food was okay, given we were, after all, on a ferry not a cruise.

The other thing I’d been unsure of was the children’s facilities on board - I knew there would be something but not sure what. We quickly discovered the children’s play area on the top deck, which claimed to be for supervised 5-12 year olds, but was perfectly suited to our two-and-a-bit year old and I can’t imagine any twelve year old comfortably using it. The area is covered, but it was a bit too chilly when we were leaving the UK to stay out there for any length of time, although it was great in the warm sunshine the next day. I had been hoping to see an indoor soft play area for small kids like we’d experienced with Irish Ferries, but there wasn’t one. As the Littlest Hobo appeared to be the only child on our crossing (really, I’m not exaggerating for dramatic effect, she really was the only one) she was able to choose which movies we watched in the children’s area, although a few adults gathered around to watch with us once Toy Story 3 was rolling. They also gave her a kids toy box with any food ordered, which contained plasticy, easy to break toys aimed at kids who were a few years older than the Littlest Hobo, but they kept her so happily amused that we barely broke into her backpack of toys that accompanies us on our travels.

Childrens play area on the top deck
Somebody was enjoying it

Mr Traveller has been known to get a bit queasy when out on anything more than a millpond, and the Littlest Hobo had projectile vomited on our last ferry journey (which we suspected to be for reasons other than the ferry, especially given she’d known ferries as a regular form of local public transport for the first 20 months of her life in Sydney, but weren’t sure), so I was curious to see how we would get on going  across the notorious Bay of Biscay, especially as we’d ended up travelling in mid November as opposed to our initially planned early October departure. When we first left Portsmouth all was well, and by the time we went to bed some 3 or 4 hours into the journey, things were getting a little bit rocky, and we’d identified that bending over forward was definitely best avoided, but we all went off to sleep without too much hassle. As far as I recall, the horrendous rocking started at around 11pm - 6 hours into our trip, and reached it’s peak around 2-3am when we were all awake and feeling the brunt of the extreme rocking and rolling. At that point I was thinking never again, but in hindsight now it seems less dramatic, although I am glad we’re driving up through France on our way back, and I won’t be rushing to suggest another 24 hour ferry in the near future. We got off the boat about 4 hours ago and I still feel like I’m bobbing about as I lie stretched out in my wisely booked room on my comfortable bed in Bilbao.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is it time for the next chapter?

My beautiful, inspirational Gran

Gran's funeral is over. I've said my final goodbye. I delivered my eulogy, not without shedding quite a few tears, but I've been reliably informed that I was coherent, and for me that was enough - I don't mind that my emotion showed through, as long as they could hear me at the back. I've hugged my family, chatted with old friends, and taken a final walk around Gran's little house, which still feels like she's there. We drove back down the motorway, analysing what happened, allowing anger and sadness to pour from our aching souls as the words tumbled from our mouths and the wheels whizzed over the tarmac, putting the miles between us and the heartache, and somehow the combination of these actions soothes a little.

My Gran has filled my thoughts for the last few weeks, rightly so. But now it's time to move on. I'm painfully aware that this travel blog hasn't really been that for my last few posts. But I also think that one of the best things about our current lifestyle choice is the flexibility that we have given ourselves - the ability to change plans as and when required, which gave me the opportunity to be in the UK when I needed and wanted to be, so ultimately that has become part of our journey.

Now we're back at my parent's house. We've unpacked the bags and put an exhausted Littlest Hobo into bed, we've taken a little time to decompress, staring wordlessly at the television and computer screens. Now it's time to find some accommodation in Spain, start thinking about the route we might take when we drive back up through France, look at the weather forecasts and decide which clothes we need to take. And I think I can feel just a little bit, just the very tiniest bit, excited. What a relief; I was beginning to think I had lost my wanderlust, but no, it's there, it's just been hanging out under a heap of family baggage for a little while. Watch this space... the planning is underway.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I thought it was Saturday when I woke up

...then I got that sinking feeling you get when you realise it's actually Friday, and you've still got another whole day until the weekend.

Then, as I began to shake off that obligatory bleariness that comes with being woken too early by a 2 year old a few days after the clocks have changed, I remembered that it didn't really matter that it was Friday after all. I got up with the Littlest Hobo and set ourselves up in the lounge with a bit of kids telly and my laptop while we waited for true morning to arrive, and Mr Traveller pulled the pillow over his head and drifted back into the land of nod which was fair enough, seeing as it's his turn for a lie in today. And so our day began, in the way that many of our days begin these days.

I spent the day doing washing, taking the car to the tyre place (again...) and going to the supermarket, and Mr Traveller and the Littlest Hobo talked to his mum in Brisbane on the webcam before making profiteroles ready for our friends to come over and go to the local fireworks display tomorrow. We had a nice day, doing nothing extraordinary.

After the upheaval and sadness of the last couple of weeks, it's nice to return to our strange kind of normal. But I do feel like I'm in a slightly weird place at the moment. Before all this happened, I was desperate to get going, wishing the weeks away until we could go somewhere new and getting slightly frustrated with down time, because it meant that time when we could be travelling and making the most of this opportunity was being wasted. Right now, I could give or take our trip down to Spain, and our flights back down to the Southern hemisphere in January seem like something someone else told me they are doing, rather than our plans. We've decided to go to a different area in Spain, so that we can spend less time driving, and more time experiencing the country, and I know nothing about that area - normally I'd be researching like crazy now, trying to work out what I wanted to see, where we should stay etc, but I just gave it a ten minute glance last night, and now I really can't be bothered.

I'm sure that my mind is quite occupied with the upcoming funeral, in fact, as I am typing this I realise that I am probably trying to numb myself down so that I can get up in front of everyone and deliver a eulogy - I want to do it, but it's certainly throwing me a new challenge - although that's probably no bad thing.

But this mornings start to the day, getting up at our own pace, spending time with the Littlest Hobo, having the time to thrill her by involving her in our mundane tasks, and yesterday's visit with friends, Wednesdays trip to Bath, it's all reminding me why I love what we're doing. Right now I'm glad that it was so easy to be here, with my family, when I needed to be, and next week, when the hard bit is over, I will be able to appreciate once again that Mr Traveller has the opportunity to cook to his hearts content (and us to eat!) and I have the chance to write again, and to develop my photography, all while spending more time being a family and enjoying each others company, to run on beaches and splash in puddles, and to see so many things that we've never seen before, or never had the time to stop and really appreciate before, all while the Littlest Hobo is still little.

Enjoying the vast expanses of Newquay beach

This was one of those posts where you start writing something, and somehow you start wandering on the way and it turns into something completely different. I just pointed it in a direction, and let it change route undirected on the way. That is, after all, one of the things we tend to enjoy when we're on an adventure, so I guess I'll just let it be.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Filling in some of the blanks...

Thought it was about time I added a bit of background info to this blog, so I've just pulled together an about me section:

Charles Fort, Cornwall
After a series of unfortunate events meant that we had to put our 'regular'life on hold, we took the opportunity to fulfil a dream and travel for a year or two.

Myself, my husband, and our 2 year old toddler are spending some time with family in the UK, and seeing a few snippets of Europe on the way, before heading back down to the southern hemisphere in early 2012 when we'll travel Australia and New Zealand in a motor home. We'll also be travelling across the US and Canada in 2012... and who knows where else!

We're Brits who were living in Sydney, Australia immediately prior to our departure in June 2011. We are also Aussie citizens, and our daughter, having been born in Sydney, also holds dual nationality.

We're using our travels as an opportunity to search our souls about where we want to settle after this - England or Australia. With family in both countries and a different set of benefits with each choice, the jury is still out.