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December 18th 2018
Published: December 18th 2018
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I’m not quite sure what has happened this year with me and blogging?? Maybe I need to have a more disciplined approach and do an end of the month round-up but there has been a huge gap since my last blog.

So, firstly, to fill in some gaps and then we will be up to date at the end.

Wednesday 29th August we set sail from Hull bound for Rotterdam and it was an 11 hour uneventful crossing. As Chris’s mum died earlier this year we don’t need to drive to the south coast to get into mainland Europe. It would avoid the horrendous traffic of the south of England. What we hadn’t expected was the traffic around Rotterdam!

Eventually we made the short drive to Amsterdam to a very nice campsite in Gaasper with a metro link to the city. It worked brilliantly and two 24 hour tickets, timed to the minute, got us into Amsterdam for three days. I was blown away by Amsterdam it is fabulously clean and the people are warm and friendly. The whole red light district and smoke filled “coffee shops” didn’t appeal at all and there is so much more to the city. It was overcast on our first day so we did a 90 minute canal trip which gave a wonderful overview of the centre. We had lunch in an old writer’s shop and the food was simple and tasty. We wandered the streets for a few hours and saw the Begijnhof one of Amsterdam's best known hofjes (almshouses). It consists of a group of houses built around a secluded courtyard and garden which provided modest homes for the Beguines - a group of unmarried religious women who lived together in a close community under vows of chastity...........a woman only residence a fascinating little oasis.

Day 2 we picked an area of the canals and just spent the whole time wandering soaking in the atmosphere of canal life. We stopped at the tiny Canal boat Museum; it’s on a canal boat. I went to a photography exhibition in an amazing old house.

Day 3 was the highlight for me and part of my desire to see Amsterdam. The Reykmuseum has a selection of Dutch masters but they are not me cup of tea. I had pre-booked tickets for the Van Gogh museum and it was fantastic. We arrived 30 minutes before our time slot to find not much of a queue and a lovely girl said to us just go in early! The paintings are amazing and so too is the way the story is told. I have seen several of his paintings over the years but a whole collection was something else. Three fascinating things for me, firstly galleries are so much quieter now as everyone is plugged into the audio guide, secondly there was no mention of Starry Night (arguably one of his most famous) and finally people were focused on him and the section with work from his contemporaries was almost ignored so I was delighted to see works from Manet, Monet, Degas and Rodin without the crowds!!

So that was the highlights of Amsterdam and I would love to see much more of Holland. The people obviously look after themselves, not many overweight people (must be all the cycling), the motorway service stations are amazing (clean and fabulous healthy food) and the men are so attractive they seem to age well. So Holland is well and truly on the list for a longer tour.

Our overall destination on this trip was our house in Spain and after the busyness of Amsterdam I planned a three day trip to the Ardennes forest in Belgium. The site was fabulous with a big pitch and spotless facilities and a bar where we spent a bit of time with a relatively newly retired couple Graham and Sue. They were on their first European trip in the motor home so we were able to share lots of tips. We did two local walks from the campsite, enjoying the quiet and beauty of the area. The drive from the Ardennes was interesting the roads in the Walloon area of Belgium were terrible just miles of concrete!!

Our next stop was Luxembourg and there is a campsite on the outskirts with a bus into the city. For day one we opted to cycle along the river into the city and it was all going to plan till we missed a turn and pushed the bikes up an enormous hill only to have to come down the other side to beside Jacob’s tower. We visited the fascinating Casemates built into and under the city walls. I was impressed with the cleanliness of Amsterdam but by comparison Luxembourg was clinical.
Book review.Book review.Book review.

The WARM book
However it is achieved in two different ways, in Holland by encouraging social responsibty and big fines for littering whereas in Luxembourg a huge army of cleaners descend on the city at 5am to clear up everyone’s mess. The cycle back to the site was much easier and it was good to get some real exercise. The site was full of really friendly people and our Dutch neighbour was interested in our helpx experiences and we chatted with an English couple Ann and Mark who had previously lived on Crete. Our second day in the city was by bus and as it was Saturday the centre was buzzing and we wandered around enjoying the sights, listened to music and wandered round the stall in Plaza Armas and then had a wander to the food market. Loads of organic and unusual veggies and I bought purple and yellow carrots for our helpx host. In anticipation of a week of veggie food we had delicious steak that we bought in a local butcher in Bastogne.

So Sunday 9th September we set off from Lux to Colombey-les-Choiseuls where we would spend a week with a helpx host Karin. We had a great time with her and her four dogs. She was an amazing host, a great cook and we loved the work. Chris had the challenge of laying flooring on part of the upper floor of the barn and I had the joy of gardening. It is something I have always loved and used to have an allotment and as we don’t have a garden in Spain I love to be able to spend time in those of other people. Karin was a lovely person with an interesting life and we loved our stay with her.

Driving from near Metz we had hoped to have an overnight, which we did at Issoire, and then a bit of time on the south coast of France. The area I chose was like Benidorm so we changed our plans and headed straight to the house in Spain, arriving midway through September.

It was great to be back in our lovely house with fabulous views and the tranquillity of village life. We launched back into life here and enjoyed a fabulous social with our walking group, re-connected with the gym and did our first walk of the season. The new teacher at school Teresa was happy for me to continue helping each Thursday and also spending half an hour with Virginia, one of the other teachers. There are only 7 children left in the school, all taught in one class. I also started a weekly session with Inma and Irina, two girls doing their Cambridge B2 this year and half an hour with Francisco my neighbour who is 6. As our usual gym has changed its programme to more energetic morning classes I found another one for Pilates and yoga. So at the ripe old age of 63 I tried yoga for the first time, no mean feat but I enjoyed the challenge!!

We booked a trip with the local tourist office to visit some local cave art, a site not open to the public. It was all in Spanish and we were the only foreigners but it was fascinating and we managed to understand the bulk of it.

We had lots of plans for October till December which included applying to become resident, transferring the motor home onto Spanish plates and building an external summer kitchen and roof on the back terrace of the house, to name but a few.

The best laid schemes of Mice and Men (the words of one Rabbie Burns) were scuppered when on 15th October we got the news that Chris’ beloved Aunty Pat had passed away peacefully. She had an arrangement with her friend Joan and they rang each other every morning and this day there was no answer from Pat. Chris flew back the next day and I couldn’t join him as both of my daughters, Finn and Keith were visiting for a week. We had a lovely time together and of course the village folk made a huge fuss of Finn, the Spanish are baby crazy. We enjoyed some lovely food together and a couple of trips out and it was good to have them at the house. Idg, Keith and Finn had a couple of days near Malaga before home. Amy and I packed the house up and had a day on the coast together before staying at El Altet for the night (it avoids a 5.15am drive in the dark to Alicante. )

Chris had spent a difficult and emotionally draining week dealing with everything necessary following Pat’s demise. We used to joke with her that it would take three skips to get rid of all of her stuff and it was a real challenge. However she was an organised woman and there were notes for Chris about what to do for the funeral, including about the quality of the meat for the wake!! I did what I could to help with some of the early sorting at the house. Tricia, Chris’ sister came up from Totton and sorted all of Pat’s personal stuff; there will be some well-dressed people in Forest Hall. The funeral went well and she got a good send off and afterwards we went to the Benton Conservative Club, her regular haunt.

To have a break from all of the work sorting the estate Chris and I went to the Lakes for two nights. It’s his spiritual home and we stayed at the YHA in Borrowdale. I bumped into an old friend Sue and her husband Tim who were having a break. The autumn colours were stunning and we planned a walk round Crummock water, however after an hour Chris fell on his new knee. He is stubborn and insisted on walking till we found a road, eventually some kind people gave us a lift back to Buttermere to get the car. Back at the YHA I got him an ice pack and gave him regular painkillers.

We came back to Spain on 8th November and knew we would be back in the UK 2nd to 9th December as we had initially planned to spend Christmas in Spain. We decided to have Christmas in the UK with Adam and Barry, Chris’ sons who always spent Christmas with Aunty Pat at her house. The house is to be sold as part of the estate so it will be the last Christmas. We managed to fit in a walk with our group and also a meal, when the walk was cancelled. We come to Spain for the winter for many reasons but one of them is the weather and this year it has been very unusual. October has been the coldest for 8 years and November one of the wettest ever. December however has been good!

One of the highlights of the year for me has been the publication of a book of walks by our group WARM. I have been involved with the project acting as proof-reader and editor and I was quite emotional when I saw it in print. I have loved being involved and it keeps the grey matter ticking.

The visit to the UK earlier this month was pretty frantic for me as I had lots planned. We arrived Sunday and I headed off to Jarrow to stay with Imogen. Finn is growing so fast and I got to do a bit of abuela-siitng, including an overnight when Keith and Idg went to Edinburgh for a rugby match. I had dinner with Sue and Jane in Newcastle, nonstop chat and laughs and pausing only to drink and eat!! Tuesday I met up with my old learning set for meal in Sedgefield in an ostentatious place called the Impeccable Pig!! Wednesday it poured with rain and Amy and I went to see “A star is born” and then had a lovely Italian meal together. Before; long the week was up and Chris decided not to come back as he still had loads to do at the house. Someone had to be in Spain to sort out collecting the new Spanish number plates for the motor home and some documentation to do with the house. The weather has been mainly dry and sunny and I have just pottered about, I have jobs to do on the motor home this week and will head back to the UK for Christmas on 23rd. We have a flight back on 3rd January, in time for the 3 Kings celebrations here in Spain.

We are having Christmas day for four and then Amy, Imogen, Keith and Finn are joining us on Boxing Day. Those of you who know me well will know how organised I am, so I have planned the menu, bought the non-perishables while I was back in the UK and have a Tesco internet shop being delivered at 4pm on 23rd!! After these two meals the house will then be emptied and all that is needed is someone to buy it!!Chris has rented a container to put some stuff in and is hoping to buy somewhere small.

So to everyone who reads these blogs can I wish you A Merry Christmas and Happy and Prosperous New Year 2019!! For us the next adventure is Southern Africa March 20th to May 11th, but more of that next time.

Love

Norma xx

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