A Travellerspoint blog

DEVIL'S BIT & LISMORE CASTLE

David had a one day locum in the village of Borrisolane, between Thurles and Nenagh. So back on the road again, but it was nice to break the journey between NCW and Wexford, and we stayed in a B&B on a farm overlooking the Devil’s Bit.
The farmhouse with the Devil's Bit carved out of the hill in the distance

The farmhouse with the Devil's Bit carved out of the hill in the distance


According to local folklore, the Devil was carrying his wife home in a wheelbarrow after a heavy night out. He could not push her over the mountain, so he took a bite out of the mountain to make a passage through. The chunk that he spat out landed 50 km to the South and became known as the Rock of Cashel. The cross to the side is to neutralise the influence of the Devil.
IMG_2250.jpg
We spent the rest of the week in Wexford at a cosy B&B called St George’s, which was relatively cheap [€25pp per night] but had everything one needs. The proprietor, Michael, was so friendly and helpful, which added to the pleasant sojurn there. We were very close to the original town wall and Selskar Abbey which both date back to mediaeval times, and the high street with many shops to browse in was just a few minutes walk down the road.
IMG_2271.jpgIMG_2263.jpgIMG_2264.jpgIMG_2266.jpg
Looking towards Wexford Town from the bridge over the Slaney River

Looking towards Wexford Town from the bridge over the Slaney River


Once more the weekend involved a long trek back to NCW, so we decided to take a different route, towards Dungarvan, over the new Waterford toll bridge.
IMG_2319.jpg
We then turned inland and happened upon the imposing Lismore castle on the way. The castle is the family home of Lord and Lady Burlington and though not open to the public, the grounds are.
IMG_2313.jpgIMG_2296.jpgIMG_2298.jpgThe riding house entrance to the castle

The riding house entrance to the castle

The lower, more informal gardens are resplendent with spring blooms of magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias. All this enchantment had Sandi hopping about like a mad March hare, capturing as many floral memories as possible.
IMG_2272.jpgIMG_2274.jpgIMG_2277.jpgIMG_2281.jpgIMG_2284.jpgIMG_2294.jpgIMG_2292.jpgThis stately avenue of yew trees is where Edmund Spencer is said to have written the Faerie Queen

This stately avenue of yew trees is where Edmund Spencer is said to have written the Faerie Queen


Sculpture by Anthony Gormley who sculpted the Angel of the North overlooking Newcastle-on-Tyne

Sculpture by Anthony Gormley who sculpted the Angel of the North overlooking Newcastle-on-Tyne


IMG_2289.jpgIMG_2288.jpgApple blossoms

Apple blossoms

The upper garden is a 17th century walled garden, surrounded by defensive walls.
IMG_2309.jpgIMG_2307.jpgThe contrast of "guns" and "roses", with flowers growing on the battlements

The contrast of "guns" and "roses", with flowers growing on the battlements


IMG_2301.jpgIMG_2304.jpgIMG_2305.jpgIMG_2308.jpg

Our last locum was in a country practice at Fethard-on-Sea, on the Hook peninsula in Co Wexford. The practice was very modern and well organised, albeit quite isolated geographically. We were accommodated in a cute holiday cottage with full amenities. A wonderful respite for stretching out, hot baths, and relaxed cooking.
IMG_2343.jpg
The hook Peninsula is very rural, with cultivated fields and cattle farms all the way down to the Hook Light-house, built in the 13th century, which makes it the second oldest working light-house in the world.
IMG_2345.jpg
We took an afternoon to explore the JF Kennedy Arboretum located near the original Kennedy homestead. The extensive grounds are magnificent with about 4500 species of trees planted in groups. Unfortunately Sandi sprained her ankle near the beginning, so dispatched David back to the van to fetch the Helichrysum oil. Within minutes of applying a few drops the swelling and pain subsided, so much so that Sandi managed to hobble around a fairly extensive area of the park and still appreciate its beauty. The wonders of Nature - aromatic medicine and surprisingly fragrant magnolias - what more could we wish for!
IMG_2321.jpgIMG_2322.jpgIMG_2323.jpgIMG_2324.jpgIMG_2326.jpgIMG_2327.jpgCherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms


Magnolia trees

Magnolia trees


IMG_2333.jpgThis magnolia had the scent of roses

This magnolia had the scent of roses

IMG_2337.jpgIMG_2341.jpg
Before leaving we drove up to the top of Slieve Coillte, from where one can see the whole peninsula, Waterford harbour and the Barrow river up to New Ross.

The weekend was again spent in NCW, but we discovered we could cut out quite a long stretch, via New Ross, by taking the ferry over Waterford harbour. It was expensive at €16 return, but shortened our trip by 50km each way, which at this stage we gladly paid, as the countless hours in the van, on the pot-holed roads, have long ago lost their rustic allure. We missed a turn on the way, so ended up barrelling along very narrow twisting country lanes for quite a distance [enough to put Sandi's back into spasm again!] We had planned to explore the Ring of Kerry and West Cork for 2 days before catching our ferry back to the UK, but plans changed as David had agreed at the last minute to go back to the same practice in Fethard-on-Sea for a day's locum on the day before we leave. So we took a slow drive back, visiting Killarney, driving over Moll's Gap to Kenmare and then onto the main Cork road.
The lakes of Killarney

The lakes of Killarney

We nearly knocked one over!

We nearly knocked one over!


Lake high on Moll's Gap

Lake high on Moll's Gap

Mountain sheep

Mountain sheep


Our last full Irish breakfast was had in a farmhouse B&B overlooking Bannow Bay. It was here that we discovered our first real toilet duck!
IMG_2356.jpg
The hedgerows are now full of white blossom, called Blackthorn, which produces sloe berries.
IMG_2359.jpg
Although the daffodils are starting to fade, the tulips, primroses, grape hyacinths, gorse and glorious trees filled with blossoms are appearing in gay profusion.
Cheerful, yellow and plentiful gorse

Cheerful, yellow and plentiful gorse


Primroses are peeping out between the grasses on the verges

Primroses are peeping out between the grasses on the verges


After finishing work for the day [the last patient arrived late!] we drove to Wexford, where we treated ourselves to delicious seafood chowder, Banoffee pie, and fortifying Guinness, before retiring for the night in the van [parked in the street]. Other than traffic, and a few early morning revellers returning home from the pubs, the night was uneventful [thank goodness, as we didn't fancy disruptions like the one experienced in the French Aire].
IMG_2368.jpg
Early the next morning it was "Farewell to Ireland", onto the ferry towards Wales, England and home to Cape Town on 3 May!

Posted by davidsandi 02:30 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

IRISH HOUSES, ROADS & CURIOSITIES

Being back in Ireland after a year, the same curiosities still amaze us.

Firstly the houses - which are either small, old and quaint, or large, opulent and brash. The small, old cottages may be linked together in terraces in the towns, or stand alone in the country. Mostly they are the shape of Monopoly houses. Inside they are very modest, with tiny rooms and low ceilings, with people spending most of the time in the kitchen with a smoky, open fire.
A humble cottage in Borris

A humble cottage in Borris


A terrace of cottages in Miltown Malbay

A terrace of cottages in Miltown Malbay


These humble terraces were built before the Celtic Tiger boom and have very small rooms inside. Note the pebble-dash finish which is very popular in Ireland

These humble terraces were built before the Celtic Tiger boom and have very small rooms inside. Note the pebble-dash finish which is very popular in Ireland


A bungalow; a single storey dwelling, also with pebble-dash finish

A bungalow; a single storey dwelling, also with pebble-dash finish


All the houses, which have been built during the boom times [Celtic Tiger] in the past 15 years, are large and modern. It seems as if the architects all over Ireland work from about 5 basic plans, with a few minor variations. Nearly all houses follow rectangular shapes with high pitch roofs and dormer windows. One seldom sees curves, pillars or balconies. There is an Irish saying: “The Irish used to have 12 children and lived in 2-roomed houses; now they have 2 children and live in 12-roomed houses.”
A typical Co Clare dormer with granite frontage and corner flagstones

A typical Co Clare dormer with granite frontage and corner flagstones


This 2-storey house shows how big the average house built in the boom time is.  Note the ubiquitous lack of garden and trees

This 2-storey house shows how big the average house built in the boom time is. Note the ubiquitous lack of garden and trees


The plastered walls are very often left grey by choice, although this may appear to look unfinished

The plastered walls are very often left grey by choice, although this may appear to look unfinished


New housing estates are very uniform in design

New housing estates are very uniform in design


We have hardly ever seen a vegetable garden or flower garden in any of these modern houses. According to some of the Caredoc drivers, the Irish are lazy gardeners. They seem to prefer gravel or concrete around the house, with sometimes a lawn or a few ornamental, spruce trees. We seldom, if ever, see trees growing near a house. Some do however have large swathes of daffodils fanning the driveways or lawns during spring.
Many houses in Co Clare favour a variety of colours. Featured here is the typical entrance with stone walls curving in towards the front gate

Many houses in Co Clare favour a variety of colours. Featured here is the typical entrance with stone walls curving in towards the front gate


A conservatory provides a welcome variation to the otherwise rectangular shape

A conservatory provides a welcome variation to the otherwise rectangular shape


Almost every house has some granite frontage

Almost every house has some granite frontage

We wonder whether the fondness for stone in the frontage of most houses represents an attempt to cherish the Irish heritage of building houses in local granite. There may be just a trim of stone around the door, or corner flagstones, or a full frontage of stone. A few houses are built entirely of stone and would then have a brick trim around the windows and doors.
IMG_2214.jpg
This old farm cottage near the Cliffs of Moher is made entirely of stone - even the roof

This old farm cottage near the Cliffs of Moher is made entirely of stone - even the roof

IMG_1982.jpg
Sadly, signs of the current financial crisis are everywhere to be seen, with 360 000 houses reported as empty, all around the country.
IMG_2253.jpg
It is interesting that the styles of architecture, stone-work and paint-work are the same throughout Ireland - grey, grey, and more grey. There seem to be no regional characteristics or variations, ,except perhaps in Co Clare, which had more houses that were painted in muted or bright colours.

The other thing that never ceases to amaze us, is the state of the roads everywhere. Mostly the roads are narrow and winding, with little or no shoulder to lean into when heavy trucks approach [which is frequent!]. Last week David had to scoot so far to the left, to avoid a truck passing in the opposite direction, that the side mirror was whacked, which was quite scary for Sandi, as she sits on that side.
IMG_1944.jpg
It certainly is a danger to pedestrians and walkers, as side-walks are rare. It is sad to see elderly people trying to get out for some exercise along the roads, being forced into hedgerows or ditches by passing cars.
IMG_2216.jpg
Potholes are everywhere and difficult to see and avoid, especially if filled with water. Some of the roads have been repeatedly patched or thinly resurfaced, only to fall to pieces again during the recent long spell of icy weather. All quite treacherous in fact, and quite reminiscent of some of the crazy Transkei roads at home.

Unlike the British and the French "services" where one can stop to refresh, eat and use the loo, there is nothing in Ireland along the major routes. We had to develop "camel bladders", use hedgerows or the bucket in the van, as toilets are very hard to find! The same applies to shops and shopping centres, so unless one is prepared to stop for food or drink, which is expensive, it's "knyp, knyp, nip, nip" until reaching home turf.
Dotted around the country, along the sides of the roads, are some eclectic steel sculptures such as these.
IMG_2219.jpgIMG_2247.jpg

Some of the Irish expressions never fail to amuse: “now” is used for everything, “I am busy in the minute”, “Bye-bye—bye—bye—bye”, “slippy roads”, “scaldy urine”, and “will” instead of “shall”. "After" is a word often thrown in to sentences e.g. "I'm after getting a sore throat" or "I'm after going up the hill now". Some more delicious Irish names, which tickle: Eabha [pron Ava], Meadhbh [pron Maeve], Tadhg [pron Tige(r)] and Sadhbh [pron Syve].
“Kil” is the Celtic word for church, but in Co Clare alone we counted 18 out of about 30 villages beginning with Kil-. Kilrush, Kilkee, Kilmurry, Kilfearagh, Kilbaha, Killimer, Kilmihil, Kilmaley, Killadysert, Kilmutty, Kilshany, Kilnamana, Kilkichen, Kilbeacanly, Kilartan, Kilcolgan, Kilnefora and Killaloe. In Co Kildare and Co Waterford, one finds the mother-of-all: a town called Kill.

Posted by davidsandi 02:29 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

MONAGHAN TO DINGLE AND BACK AGAIN

After finishing the Caredoc shift at 6pm in Cashel we had a long 4 hour drive up to Monaghan Town, near to the Northern Ireland border, where we had a 2-week stint in a GP practice. We were accommodated in an apartment [with a kitchen - yippee] above the surgery in the centre of town, with a lake and a supermarket right next to us. Great to be able to put down some roots again for a while, as B&Bs are not our preferred accommodation.
Our apartment was in the blue block on the left, with the supermarket to the right

Our apartment was in the blue block on the left, with the supermarket to the right


IMG_2228.jpg
The early spring weather suddenly turned cold and we had howling winds and snow blizzards for several days!
Trying to capture the intensity of the snow-storm

Trying to capture the intensity of the snow-storm


It took another 10 days for the weather to warm up again. Over the Easter weekend David had 2 red-eye shifts at Newcastle West [NCW], which entailed a 4½ hour drive there, and back again, for the second time in a week. Long van journeys and Sandi's back are not compatible - so she feels like a crock after each trip! On the up-side, the daffodils are appearing, which is pure joy to behold.
Daffodils in NCW

Daffodils in NCW

IMG_2222.jpg
Good Friday is, surprisingly, not an official bank holiday in Ireland, although some businesses do close.
On Easter day, after a busy nightshift, during which neither of us got much shut-eye, we decided to explore the Dingle peninsula in Co Kerry. We drove through Tralee [The Rose of Tralee] and onto a narrow road leading to Conor Pass, where we saw warning signs saying vehicles over 2 tons could not traverse the pass. One of the GPs had recommended that we take the pass for its spectacular views over the peninsula. We didn’t want to get caught in a situation where we might not have been able to proceed or turn around, but eventually found a local farmer who assured us we would be able to get under the overhanging rock and through the narrow roads at the summit. In one section around a cliff the road was indeed only wide enough for one vehicle, and one could not see if there were oncoming cars around the corner. But we held our breath, put foot and got over.
There was still snow on the hills of the peninsula

There was still snow on the hills of the peninsula

Looking down the valley from halfway up Conor Pass

Looking down the valley from halfway up Conor Pass

Only one vehicle at a time could traverse this section of the pass

Only one vehicle at a time could traverse this section of the pass


The view from the pass overlooking Dingle and the sea towards the Ring of Kerry

The view from the pass overlooking Dingle and the sea towards the Ring of Kerry


We stopped in the pretty town of Dingle for a fine roast at Lord Baker’s restaurant, before proceeding further around the scenic peninsula.
IMG_2192.jpg
IMG_2195.jpgAncient stone walls and grazing sheep atop the cliffs

Ancient stone walls and grazing sheep atop the cliffs


Old "beehive hut" which was inhabited 4000 years ago. The stones were laid sloping outwards so the rain would run off

Old "beehive hut" which was inhabited 4000 years ago. The stones were laid sloping outwards so the rain would run off


Towards Blasket Island

Towards Blasket Island


IMG_2201.jpgIMG_2205.jpgIMG_2211.jpgIMG_2212.jpgIMG_2213.jpgIMG_2215.jpgIMG_2218.jpg
Then back to NCW for a few hours sleep before the next nightshift. Back in Monaghan, Sandi was making full use of the kitchen facilities, doing great Domestic Goddess impressions, producing fine meals from a frugal budget. Produce bargains can be found - it just takes time and culinary sleuthing to ferret them out!
Salmon, roasted peppers and asparagus salad.

Salmon, roasted peppers and asparagus salad.


We decided to celebrate Easter with bubbles rather than chocolates, as we had saved a very fine bottle of French champagne, which was given to us by a grateful lady in Cobh. When visiting the cathedral there, Sandi had found a handbag containing purse, cash, credit cards, diary ...... We managed to contacted the lady immediately, as she was local, and she arrived at the hotel where we were staying within minutes. She was so grateful to get her bag back, she sent a bottle of bubbly up to our room. It was utterly delicious!
IMG_2224.jpg
There’s little to see or do around Monaghan, so we visited St Macartan’s Cathedral above the town, which was actually quite beautiful, and also built in the last 150 years along Neo-Gothic lines.
IMG_2234.jpgModern tapestry behind the modern altar, contrasting with the old architecture

Modern tapestry behind the modern altar, contrasting with the old architecture

Ornate Victorian lighting

Ornate Victorian lighting


The weekend saw us traversing back down to NCW for one shift. The weather was lovely and sunny on the way down and we took a detour to view Lough Derg which is part of the Shannon River.
IMG_2241.jpgIMG_2243.jpg
We stopped in Ballina at the lower end of the Lough for a sundowner overlooking the Shannon river.
The bridge between the villages of Ballina and Killaloe

The bridge between the villages of Ballina and Killaloe

Houses across the river at Killaloe

Houses across the river at Killaloe

Posted by davidsandi 10:47 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

IRISH CURRENT AFFAIRS

Politics and the state of the economy are the favourite topics of conversation in Ireland [oh yes, and the weather]. Everyone is keen to give you their opinion of how the government, through its incompetence, and the banks, through their greed, have run the once prosperous country into the ground. David spends many hours with the Doctor-on-Call drivers, whizzing along country lanes to minister to patients “in distress”.
One of the well-equipped Doctor-on-Call cars

One of the well-equipped Doctor-on-Call cars


The drivers are a great source of information and local opinion. Many of them are farmers: Diarmud recently gave up farming sheep on his ancestral farm because the poor returns did not compensate for the hard work put in. Michael still farms “dry stock” [cattle for beef]. Philip invested €15000 in a new, potentially profitable energy crop called elephant grass, only to have half the crop die due to mismanagement [and ignorance] by the company hired to plant the rhizomes. Mike farms dairy cattle, but battles to make ends meet because the co-operatives are squeezing the farmers dry; previously they were paid 35c for a litre of milk, but now they receive only 23c, whereas the cost of production is about 28c per litre. Everyone agrees that during the good times, masses of money was squandered by authorities and individuals, and future planning was non-existent.
A typical farmyard near Newcastle West

A typical farmyard near Newcastle West

The recession is biting hard and the rate of unemployment has never been higher. Those who do still have jobs are having to adjust to cuts in salaries. The cost of living here is the highest we have encountered in Europe. In France we usually bought wines for about €2 a bottle; here one cannot find plonk for anything under €5 or €6 a bottle. Hospitals are downgrading many of their facilities to save money. Everyone seems to be struggling, which has not happened in the past 30 years.

Headshops are very much in the national news.
A Headshop in Wexford

A Headshop in Wexford


These are vendors of “legal highs”, which are open throughout the night, selling cheap chemical analogues of well-known drugs to kids of all ages. These products are readily available on school playgrounds too. They are difficult to ban as the chemical structure keeps changing, but can be really lethal. Several kids and adults have died using them recently. Several headshops have been burned down by local communities in Dublin, as the authorities are powerless to close them down. The drug "mephedrone" [Mcat or Meow], responsible for several deaths recently, has just been banned for free sale in the UK.

Protests are taking place in London today calling for the Pope to do the decent thing and resign. Everyone is disgusted by the enforced oaths of secrecy and cover-ups in the catholic Church, now coming to light. People who were sexually abused by priests 20-30 years ago, are now speaking out and demanding justice. Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Church in Ireland and himself involved in enforcing oaths of secrecy in the 1970s, is refusing to resign. Apparently a secret Papal decree was issued in Latin in 1922 to all Cardinals, instructing them to keep all cases of sexual abuse contained within the Church.
pope-benedict.jpg
The Pope has apologised to victims in Ireland, but the apology only came after public pressure, and laid the blame at the door of the Irish bishops. Now even the Pope himself has been implicated in cover-ups. We are surprised to learn that Good Friday is not a public holiday in Ireland, since 5 years ago! What is the Catholic Church coming to? A big national football match is scheduled for Friday and now the pubs have won a court case to serve liquor during the screening of the game.

Posted by davidsandi 14:19 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

KELLS, COBH AND ST PATRICK’S DAY

After leaving Spanish Point for the last time we drove up north to the old town of Kells, famous for the Book of Kells, which is a beautifully illustrated manuscript of the Gospels. The original has been housed in Trinity College, Dublin, for hundreds of years, so we tried to view a copy while in Kells. It was advertised as being on display at the local Council offices, but when we asked where it was we were informed it was no longer there, but there was a copy in the church. So off we went again, but alas, the church was locked. No Book of Kells viewing for us this time!
A residential street in the centre of Kells

A residential street in the centre of Kells


IMG_2040.jpg
The GP let us stay in her house for the week, which was nice, as we could cook and eat some healthy food again. Although the TV didn’t work, and the bedroom was rather musty, we did see wonderful sunrises from the bedroom window.
IMG_2008.jpg
The surgery is right next to a mediaeval monastic church and commune, around which the town developed. There are remains of several old Celtic crosses and a round tower used for defence.
The best preserved South Cross next to the round tower

The best preserved South Cross next to the round tower


A second big cross in the graveyard

A second big cross in the graveyard


The Market Cross down in the town

The Market Cross down in the town


Detail of the Market Cross

Detail of the Market Cross

On the way down to Newcastle West, we overnighted in the Caredoc facility at Nenagh, as David had a red-eye shift. We stopped briefly in the quaint village of Adare on the road to Newcastle West. Sandi found a stick-on glittery green shamrock to decorate the van window, in honour of St Patrick's Day.
IMG_2058.jpg
Newcastle West is a small, unremarkable village south of Limerick. We stayed in the local hotel which was crummy. One of the home visits during the night was to a known rapist in the community, living in comfort on Social Security benefits in a Council house. Although he is now beyond much physical exertion, the driver regaled David en route with many tales of his unsavoury antics over many years in the community. Female doctors are not allowed to visit this chap without a male chaperone - even now! On Sunday the village held its Paddy’s Day parade, which consisted largely of tractors, lorries and local farm implements, as well as the ambulance and fire engine.
IMG_2064.jpgIMG_2063.jpgIMG_2062.jpgIMG_2060.jpg
Then it was down to Co Cork, where David had two red-eye shifts at Midleton. Sandi secured accommodation at the old Commodore Hotel on the seafront in nearby Cobh, which proved to be a real treat. Cobh [pronounced Cove] has a long maritime history, as it overlooks one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
IMG_2098.jpg
We arrived just after dark and decided to take an exploratory walk to enjoy the perfectly windless evening and lights twinkling on the bay. Quite enchanting!
When Queen Victoria visited, the name was changed from Cove to Queenstown, but with Irish independence it became Cobh. The architecture is in the style of English coastal towns, such as Brighton, with a bandstand and seafront promenade. Sandi immediately felt drawn to the town, and said she could live here, since the atmosphere and pretty curved terraces reminded her of Bath.
IMG_2102.jpg
This crescent was modelled on the famous one in Bath, UK

This crescent was modelled on the famous one in Bath, UK

This steep row of houses was built to house seamen, and is called the Pack of Cards

This steep row of houses was built to house seamen, and is called the Pack of Cards


The Commodore Hotel is 150 years old and still decorated in its gracious, original style.
IMG_2069.jpg
St Colman’s Cathedral commands a position above the town, and is quite the most magnificent we have yet seen. Completed in 1916, it took 45 years to build in Neo French Gothic style. It is built of Dalkey granite with dressings of Mallow limestone, which are carved most intricately, and cover every inch of wall and arch and roof. Its bell-tower boasts a carillon of 49 bells, which play melodies on special days.
IMG_2067.jpgIMG_2089.jpgIMG_2074.jpgIMG_2073.jpgIMG_2079.jpgIMG_2081.jpgIMG_2087.jpg
At the SouthDoc treatment centre David met Michael Norton, an ex-Zimbabwean and CT medical graduate, now living and working in Ireland. He invited us to supper at his home, where we enjoyed a wonderful evening with him, his lovely wife Caroline, their charming 2 sons, and another fellow guest, an Afrikaans doctor, Kasper, who spends several months a year working in Ireland.

On St Patrick’s Day we signed up for a Titanic walking tour of the town. Our witty guide, Pat, regaled us with many historical insights [and personal opinions], as the three of us walked around the town in the icy wind.
IMG_2096.jpgThe memorial to the locals who helped rescue the survivors of the Lusitania which was torpedoed in 1916

The memorial to the locals who helped rescue the survivors of the Lusitania which was torpedoed in 1916

IMG_2100.jpgThe jetty from where the passengers embarked onto the Titanic on its last voyage

The jetty from where the passengers embarked onto the Titanic on its last voyage


The tour ended in Jack Doyle’s bar [the famous boxer from Cobh] at the top of the town, where we stopped for a glass of Beamish stout with Pat. David had a couple of hours much needed sleep in the van in the hotel car-park, as the hotel refused to allow us to stay beyond check-out time, while Sandi sat working in the warm hotel lounge. Then it was time for the Paddy’s Day parade, which was marginally more glamorous than the one in Newcastle West 2 days earlier.
The Mayoral grandstand on an open trailer

The Mayoral grandstand on an open trailer

The parade gets going with a pipe band

The parade gets going with a pipe band


Sandi decided to stay put at her lounge window vantage point, out of the biting wind, where we both celebrated with an Irish coffee after the parade was over - along with scores of others who had by now packed the place out!
IMG_2113.jpg
The hotel had other festivities planned, but we could not stay too long. We did however manage to get upstairs to watch some Irish dancing, dominated by the cutest little sprite, Eva, who apparently won everything there was to win at a recent talent show.
IMG_2127.jpg
Groups of girls treated us to a display of Irish dance

Groups of girls treated us to a display of Irish dance


We then headed back to Newcastle West for the night shift. We stopped in at the local Chinese restaurant for a quick supper, which David promptly threw up at midnight. He was feeling pretty grim with fever, but fortunately managed to get a couple of hours sleep on duty, which together with some Disprin, helped control the pyrexial shakes sufficiently for him to do a couple of home visits and complete his shift. Some more Disprin and he felt ready to face the 4-hour drive to Wexford, where he collapsed in the hotel room and slept like a log. Not sure whether this was due to a virus or an accumulated lack of sleep, but he was very pelele-poo-poo for a few days and needed lots of TLC!

The next 3 days were spent working in Wexford. The hotel deal included a 3-course dinner, which was very good, and free use of the gym, sauna and pool. David insisted on giving Sandi a Paddy's Day treat and bought a special-offer voucher for a back, head and foot massage. The back massage was reasonable, but she felt that her students gave a better hand and foot massage after their first day at aroma school!

We visited the Irish National Heritage Park, which was supposed to be an award-winning display of life in Ireland from 9000 years ago up till the Middle Ages. It was boggy and wet and thoroughly underwhelming, and the camera battery died halfway through our walk around the park.
IMG_2133.jpgA Dolmen, or burial stones over a grave

A Dolmen, or burial stones over a grave

IMG_2147.jpgIMG_2148.jpgSchool children have added their contributions to the exhibit

School children have added their contributions to the exhibit

A message stone engraved in ancient Ogham script

A message stone engraved in ancient Ogham script


The following week David worked in a GP surgery in New Ross. The 4-storey town house was built towards the end of the 18th century, and has had several generations of doctors living and working there.
IMG_2160.jpg
The stable at the end of the garden housed 2 horses on which the GP used to make home visits, way back when. The kitchen, larder and pantry are in the basement, with a callbox of bells from the parlour and rooms “upstairs”. The wood-panelling, stairs and banisters are all as they were 200 years ago.
The town used to be an important river port, as it is on the wide Barrow river, and many emigrants departed from here during the Great Famine.
The Dunbrody, a replica of emigrant ships used during the great famine, anchored at New Ross

The Dunbrody, a replica of emigrant ships used during the great famine, anchored at New Ross


At last the weather starting warming up and we started to see crocuses appearing along with the first daffodils in gardens and along the roads. IMG_2046.jpgIMG_2158.jpg
Bushes full of bright yellow gorse blossoms are clumped together throughout the countryside.
IMG_2157.jpg
The weekend was spent working at the CareDoc in Cashel and we found ourselves back at Sister Fidelma’s B&B.
Ancient laws adorn the walls

Ancient laws adorn the walls

Posted by davidsandi 12:30 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

HOME FROM HOME IN SPANISH POINT

We went up to Miltown Malbay near Spanish Point on the west coast of County Clare, where David was booked to do several ‘red-eye’ shifts [midnight to 9am].
IMG_2004.jpg
Fortunately, the doctor usually doing these shifts is a SA doctor who lives here with his wife, and they have gone to SA for a holiday. They kindly let us use their house, which is fantastic for us to have a 'home' for a while. We can cook and have our own space, which is so important to us after constantly being in somebody else's space. It also saves us loads of money in accommodation and meals. This became our base for three weeks, from where we made several trips across country to work in GP practices, returning each time to MM.
The first few nights were very quiet so David got several hours of sleep, while getting paid!

We are lucky to be 500m from the most beautiful beach at Spanish Point.
The icicles were still clinging to the rock-face on our beach walk at midday

The icicles were still clinging to the rock-face on our beach walk at midday


IMG_1900.jpgIMG_1903.jpg
Just up the road, on the other side of Milltown Malbay, is White Strand beach, where Dusty the dolphin apparently comes to play with the bathers throughout the summer!
IMG_1913.jpgIMG_1914.jpgIMG_1917.jpg

David has just finished a week in a GP practice on the Curragh near Kildare, which was very different to the first GP job. Here were lots more social problems among the patients; drugs and alcohol and teenage pregnancies, as it is an army camp community. The Curragh is a vast expanse of grassland extending over 5000 acres, which is rich in limestone. This is the reason that the area is renowned for breeding fine race-horses, as the limestone gives them strong bones. The nearby race-tracks of Curragh and Punchestown are very popular with the Irish.
Sandi had found us a good deal at the Carlton Abbey hotel in Athy [rhymes with fly, and Nye] about a 30 minute drive away.
The ancient gate-keep guarding the bridge over the Barrow river in Athy

The ancient gate-keep guarding the bridge over the Barrow river in Athy

Back in the house in Spanish Point, life is settling into a routine. It is beginning to feel like home. David works [or sleeps] at the ShannonDoc centre up the road at night, while Sandi braves the house alone, and we spend the daytime leisurely watching TV, going for walks if the weather is not too bad, corresponding, reading and cooking. The weather is freezing most days, and David has to scrape the ice off the windscreen of the van most mornings. Really can't wait to have a bit of proper sun in May, rather than this weak Irish excuse for a sun!

David took on a one-day locum for a GP in Enniscorthy, which entailed 4 hours driving in heavy rain and sleet to get there, and another 4 hours the next evening to get back. During a walkabout at lunch-time, he visited the cathedral, which was decorated inside with stencilled art; unusual and rather beautiful.
IMG_1929.jpg
IMG_1927.jpgThe painted ceiling of the bell tower

The painted ceiling of the bell tower

After a couple more red-eye shifts in Miltown Malbay, we travelled across to Borris, Co Kildare, for 2 days in a GP practice. Borris is a pretty, rural village in the foothills of Mt Leinster, and we had a lovely view from our B&B over the valley, village and viaduct. The viaduct was built 150 years ago to carry logs by train down to Wexford, and apparently one of the longest in Europe.
IMG_1942.jpgIMG_1946.jpgThe fields are still covered in frost at 10 am!

The fields are still covered in frost at 10 am!

Brenda's B and B where we stayed

Brenda's B and B where we stayed

After another 2 days in a practice in New Ross, it was back to MM yet again [3 1/2 hours drive]. We took a drive up the coast to the nearby holiday resort of Lahinch, where there were dozens of surfers in the water.
IMG_1972.jpgIMG_1974.jpgA quaint-looking pub in Ennistymon

A quaint-looking pub in Ennistymon


We decided to have another look at the Cliffs of Moher, before we finally bid farewell to Co Clare, as we had only glimpsed them in foul weather on our last visit.
The view from above the cliffs across Lahinch Bay

The view from above the cliffs across Lahinch Bay


The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher


IMG_1986.jpgIMG_1987.jpgSandi in reflection, with the Aran islands in the background

Sandi in reflection, with the Aran islands in the background

Mr Stubby was also starting to sprout random spots of rust, so David decided this was a good time to do some patching up. It proved to be more tricky than he anticipated, because even on the sunniest day there was always a sea breeze, which blew the masking paper and paint all over the place! It was only by using the golf umbrella as a wind-barrier and waiting for brief lulls in the breeze, that the job got finished [certainly far from a professional-looking outcome!] Once again we had difficulty starting the van, but this time even a jump start did not help. We called the RAC, who sent a mechanic from Kilfenora, 20km away, who declared our battery was just not powerful enough for starting the van, when conditions were suboptimal. This made a lot of sense, as we often had starting problems when it was very cold or it had been standing for a few days. So after 3 hours of reshaping the battery bracket, and 170 euro later, we had a new, larger and more powerful battery. The end to our starting problems at last!
So bye for now, from the nomadic Nyes, as we continue on our freezing midlife-madness-meanderings!

Posted by davidsandi 09:31 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

BACK TO THE GREEN ISLE

It was strangely familiar being back in Ireland again - 1 year on. We have nearly run out of money and need to work for the next 3 months to replenish the coffers. Many months after posting the blogs on our three months in Ireland last year, we eventually loaded the photos to illustrate them. You may wish to take this opportunity to have a look at some of those photos. The blogs about St Patrick's Day, In the sticks in Co Galway and Northern Ireland are particularly interesting. [For the dummies: click on Table of Contents and select a blog to view - the Irish ones are near the bottom.]

We started with a week at a very smart, modern, well-run practice in Dublin. We had to take a cut in pay as they refused to pay for accommodation, which they are supposed to, but as it was all arranged at the very last minute it was that or no job for the 1st week. So it was better than nothing.

Sandi had found us a good deal at the swanky Burlington Hotel, which was a 10 minute walk [mostly in the rain] to work for David. She has been doing an amazing job of finding us the best deals for accommodation, spending hours and hours on line. Accommodation has become even more expensive since we were last here, and hotel deals can be found on-line which are cheaper than B&Bs. Generally B&Bs are €40 pp [= €80 per night for both of us!], whereas we have now had two fancy 3-4 star hotels for €50-60 per room [without breakfast though]. The rooms are luxurious and spacious, and we smuggle our cup-a-soups, muesli, wine and take-aways into the rooms! When washing up the dishes, we make sure we leave no grease around the basin or on the towels! Another good 'hotel meal' we have found is smoked salmon [always on special at Lidl, a cheap supermarket], i.e. anything which doesn't need cooking can work in a hotel room!
Sandi can't decide whether to cut her hair or not

Sandi can't decide whether to cut her hair or not

Then we travelled down to Cashel where David had a few night shifts with CareDoc from 6pm to 9am. Sandi had found us a B&B close by.
IMG_1897.jpg
There we were introduced to the fictional world of Peter Tremayne, who writes murder mysteries set in the 7th century in this part of Ireland. The main character is Sister Fidelma, who is a young, attractive and well-educated, Celtic Christian, who is trained as a dálaigh, or advocate, in ancient Brehan law, and who has a natural talent for solving crimes. The books also provide an absorbing perspective into a relatively unknown time in history, where the living conditions are primitive but the morals are admirable, and women have a highly respected and equal place in society. We were surprised to discover that there are websites, a large world-wide following, and an annual Sister Fidelma festival in Cashel.

The Rock of Cashel is an ancient home of kings and bishops, which we visited last year.
IMG_1890.jpg
Nearby is Hore Abbey, which was captured from the Benedictine order by the Cisticercian monks in the 13th century, and now lies in ruins.
IMG_1888.jpgIMG_1894.jpgIMG_1895.jpgThe Rock of Cashel seen from Hore Abbey

The Rock of Cashel seen from Hore Abbey

Sadly the daffodils are not yet in bloom, as they were this time last year, due to the very inclement winter weather since October 09 - but hopefully they'll be blossoming soon, so that we can get lost in their abundance and beauty once again.

Posted by davidsandi 09:32 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

THE TIN MINES OF CORNWALL

We spent the next two weeks of our winter travels with Judy and Rob in Ebford. Once again it was "re-" time with the kind cousins. Time needed to recoup, reorganise, and prepare ourselves, plus repack the van in preparation for the next 3 month’s work in Ireland. Temperatures were generally just above or below freezing, and we had another light snowfall.
IMG_1863.jpg
Rob and Judy's cottage

Rob and Judy's cottage

IMG_1865.jpg
David discovered first-hand the danger of “black ice” on the road outside Rob and Judy's cottage when he slipped and landed with an ignominious plonk on his bum! We decided he must need "grounding", so he got into the soil by working on Judy’s raspberry beds, as she was still recovering from a broken arm.

On the weekend we visited the Kruger family near Truro in Cornwall, where they've been living and working for the past 18 years. It seems forever ago since David and Anton got up to mischief at Medical School together. Apart from the arrival of sons on both sides, little else has changed! Kay produced some wonderful Cornish dinners, including grass-fed roast beef, an instant addiction!
They live in an old, granite stone farmhouse, which they have been renovating for the past 18 years. As Anton and his sons are keen surfers, they are ideally situated with North and South Cornish coastlines readily accessible to them.
Anton and Justin checking out the surf

Anton and Justin checking out the surf

IMG_1816.jpgIMG_1819.jpg
We failed to find any surf, but after admiring several stretches of the rugged Cornish coastline, we settled for a chilly walk over the cliffs from Chapel Porth towards St Agnes to the ruins of the Wheal Coates tin mine. The engine house sits high on the cliff, while the mine shaft reaches down to sea level and below.
IMG_1813.jpgIMG_1809.jpgAnton and Kay

Anton and Kay

IMG_1810.jpg
Cornwall is dotted all over with similar relics of a bygone, very active mining era.

The next day we strolled around the pretty town of St Ives.
IMG_1843.jpgIMG_1841.jpgIMG_1830.jpgIMG_1825.jpgIMG_1831.jpgIMG_1833.jpgIMG_1835.jpg
We stopped in for a pint and some hot chips in a quay-side pub, before heading back for our last night with the Krugers.
IMG_1838.jpgIMG_1836.jpg
Monday dawned crisp and clear, and we set off to explore Falmouth, before crossing the Fal river on the King Harry ferry. It is propelled slowly across the river by clanking winches drawing on 2 fixed chains, and is the oldest chain ferry in existence. It is also the most expensive in relation to the short distance [£4.50].
IMG_1847.jpgDavid up on the bridge, assisting the skipper!

David up on the bridge, assisting the skipper!

Sandi opted to stay in the van for the short (and chilly) crossing

Sandi opted to stay in the van for the short (and chilly) crossing


Many large ships park in the river for long periods, waiting for better times

Many large ships park in the river for long periods, waiting for better times


We crossed over to the Roseland peninsula, and looked around the pretty village of St Mawes. .
St Mawes castle looking across the Percuil river

St Mawes castle looking across the Percuil river


The view towards Falmouth and Pendennis Castle

The view towards Falmouth and Pendennis Castle


On the way back to Exeter, we found some healthy looking veg at an "honesty stall" on the side of the road and stocked up with leeks [Judy's favourite] and curly-leaf cabbage.
Sandi admiring Brussel sprouts on the stalk

Sandi admiring Brussel sprouts on the stalk

Back in Ebford, we did a final sort-out and attic-stack [Judy and Rob kindly allow us to store what we don't need in their attic in between touch-downs]. During this time, we were actively communicating with Locumotion in Dublin, as David’s locum for the first week in Dublin fell through, and situations changed daily. It was very stressful and unsettling, as we could not finalise any accommodation arrangements until the job was secured, and many good accommodation deals on the internet fell through due to the constant delays. To add to the stress we had awful connectivity problems with our broadband, in spite of a £15 top-up, making accommodation searches a veritable nightmare of frustration for Sandi [who reckons she deserves a sainthood for her patience and self-control]. Eventually it all came together, with only 2 days to go, but Sandi managed to secure good accommodation for us at the 11th hour.
This caricature of David's grandfather, Charles, hangs in the bathroom

This caricature of David's grandfather, Charles, hangs in the bathroom


With the Irish Ferry booked, we drove for 4 hours up to Pembroke Dock in south Wales, encountering a snow shower on the way. We then crossed the sea for 4 hours, followed by an almost 3 hour drive in the dark up to Dublin, finally arriving exhausted at the Burlington Hotel at 21:30.

Posted by davidsandi 11:56 Archived in England Comments (0)

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FRENCH WAY OF LIFE

We both really enjoyed living in France. Contrary to popular opinion the people we interacted with while shopping were really polite and friendly and always wished one a “Bon journée”. The shopping experiences were good too; the village and street markets, although full of character, were a bit daunting unless one is able to express one’s desires fluently, but the supermarkets are superb.
IMG_0990.jpg

Every small town seems to have at least one, Super-U, Hyper-U, Intermarché or E. LeClerc, and they are big and modern with an amazing variety and selection of high quality goods.
IMG_1048.jpg
IMG_1047.jpg
The variety and scope of dairy products is mind-blowing; all sorts of cheeses from cow, goat and sheep, yoghurts, creams, etc. The selection of French wines was dazzling and we bought many kinds for about €2 a bottle, notably an excellent Bordeaux red which we got on special for €1.85 a bottle! We made the mistake of trying a local Vendéen white, which was undrinkable, and went into the pot! Otherwise the quality was faultless; even the French Jaffa cakes were better than the British ones! Sandi is still besotted with her perky little plaid French cap, found in a street market in Montmartre many moons ago, which has been worth its weight in gold during the cold, frosty winter.
IMG_0449.jpg

Although we didn’t come across many kids, the French children are generally polite, well-mannered and respectful of their elders. The teenagers seem not to indulge in binge-drinking as they do across the English Channel. There seems to be more emphasis on family life, with the whole family having lunch together between 12:00 and 14:30 every day, and grandparents forming an integral part of the extended family. Is this the secret to civilised society?

According to local British expats, since the Brits [rosbif] moved into the countryside in their droves, things have never been the same. Apparently they presented so many bounced cheques, that the government has now made them illegal - and they shop lift. Sandi was stopped at the check-out of the supermarket one day, and asked what she had in her Tesco shopping bag. We are sure she was questioned only because the cashier thought she was British - thanks to the distinctive shopping bag - [and therefore a potential shoplifter?] In spite of everything that could sour relations, the French seem to be very accommodating to the immigrants.

The countryside is quiet and the roads far less congested than the English ones. There are only 65 million people here spread out over a very large area. One gets an impression of lots more space, and property is still considerably cheaper than in England, in spite of the strength of the euro. The French do not have to pay any car tax or road tax, but one does pay heavily to use the toll roads.

The houses, generally, in the villages are very drab and dull in appearance, and they do not have gardens of any consequence - unlike the lovely British gardens we've seen - but some of the sunrises were breathtaking.
IMG_1104.jpg
Apparently the French are more concerned with functionality and interior comforts, than worrying about how things appear externally - not a bad philosophy, holistically speaking. The houses are nearly all built in stone with terracotta tiles on the roofs. All the windows have shutters, which often remain closed all day, giving most villages a ghost-like and deserted appearance during winter.
a_french_village.jpg
We did drive along a very picturesque valley in the south of France, between Rodez and Figeac, where the villages were very attractive, but this seems not to be the rule. One evening we met a young man who is moving to Bordeaux to get his family out of congested and “nannified” England. He can afford a house with a garden near the beach for what he could sell his pokey, urban flat. Although, as a modern first-world country it is heavily regulated, it is not nearly as bad as the over-regulation in Britain. The French are not as burdened with being politically correct, but you do not mess with a policeman! The yobs in the UK could learn a bit of respect for these law-enforcers!

Unfortunately the French do not have the same respect for their animals. Like the Italians they are proud to wear fur coats in public. Hunting is a popular pastime, every Wednesday and Sunday, when most farmers can be heard shooting pheasant, hares etc. Only twice a year are they permitted to shoot deer and boar. We saw hundreds of cows up to their hocks in freezing mud in mid-winter when it would have been more humane for them to have barn shelter, or so we felt. One hardly ever sees a fence in the countryside, as the stock is contained by electrified wires around the fields [the use of which is apparently banned in the UK].
IMG_1169.jpg
So one gets the sense of wide-open pastures, unlike the patch-work of stone walls and hedges covering England and Ireland. Nowhere did we see any animal rescue shelters, such as one finds often in England.

In spite of some shortfalls, there’s a lot going in favour of living in France, and we've missed living there many times since leaving. Vive la France!
IMG_0910.jpg

Posted by davidsandi 10:06 Archived in France Comments (0)

REFUGE FROM THE BIG FREEZE

VENDEE AGAIN

snow

We drove west along autostradas all the way across the Italian country-side to the French border, reaching it by dusk.
IMG_1740.jpg
We had aimed to get to Nice by 19:00, which we did, so we pulled into an Aire [off-road comfort stop places] and warmed up some left-over chicken stew for supper. Not feeling tired yet, we decided to push on, otherwise we would have to drive 15 hours the next day to Vendèe. We drove until 23:00, then snuggled down for the remainder of the night in another Aire. But ...... about an hour into our slumbers we were rudely awoken by 3 men trying to break into the front of the van. Fortunately, when they saw us peer out behind the curtains, they jumped into their ready-and-waiting car [parked beside us] and sped away on the autostrada. Although it left us mighty spooked for the night we were very thankful that neither ourselves, or the van, was injured.

As it happened, we ended up driving for another 15 hours the next day, as we were determined not to sleep another night on the road. We decided to avoid toll roads, as it would have saved us only an hour, but would have burned another hole in our pockets, as toll fees are ridiculously expensive. We were however surprised to find ourselves climbing over several mountain passes, up to 1045m, in the Cevennes National Park, which was not clear from our map. There was plenty of snow on the ground, it was very misty, and rather hair-raising when looking at the looooong drops beside the winding roads.
IMG_1749.jpgIMG_1756.jpg
At one point we went around in a circle, as David refused to follow Molly’s directions [our Satnav] when she wanted us to head south for 27km over some more passes, but eventually he relented when he realised it was the only way. We finally arrived at La Maison, Vendèe at 23:00, to the sight of Christmas lights twinkling in the house windows. So although exhausted, we were immensely relieved to be warm and with friends [2-legged and 4-legged]. What a treat to see Max, Minnie and Claudette, the fine felines, again.
IMG_1757.jpg
Bob and Bear have been very welcoming and provided us a soft place to fall, until the weather conditions improve such that we can cross the Channel back to the UK. It has been a time to catch up with our blog, watch birds and squirrels feeding, make some repairs to the cupboards in the van and take the cats for walks in the snow.
DSCN5590.jpgDSCN5599.jpg
We were lucky enough to catch sight of 2 roe deer in the back garden at dusk one evening. Daily we look at the weather conditions in the UK on BBC 1; heavy snow-falls, sub-zero temperatures and black ice on the roads, causing severe survival conditions. Here in Vendèe we are having some light snowfalls and temps of -8 °C to +3 °C.
The cats tend to cramp one's computer space - but Sandi doesn't mind!

The cats tend to cramp one's computer space - but Sandi doesn't mind!


They also know that Bear's lap is really warm

They also know that Bear's lap is really warm


Claudette having her turn in the new cat bed

Claudette having her turn in the new cat bed

No opportunity to sun is wasted

No opportunity to sun is wasted


Bear, a great bird-lover, had erected a bird-feeding structure outside the kitchen window, and it was fascinating watching the colourful variety of visitors feeding on the sunflower seeds, peanuts, niger seeds and suet balls. She spent many hours each day cracking garden-harvested walnuts for her beloved birds - and the squirrel box wasn't forgotten either. We saw great tits, blue tits, marsh tits, nuthatches, green finches, chaffinches and a few gold finches who were attracted by the niger seed. And of course robins, blackbirds, thrushes and lots of LBJs.
Blue Tit

Blue Tit


Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit


Goldfinch

Goldfinch

We thoroughly enjoyed our visits with some English friends of Bob and Bear, Maggie and Robin, who have been farming in the area for the past 20 years. Robin showed us a 1936 wood-frame truck he had bought in Paarl and shipped back to France, still bearing its original CJ licence plate! We walked around their pond which was frozen as solid as we felt. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr!
IMG_1764.jpgIMG_1768.jpgIMG_1776.jpgIMG_1780.jpgIMG_1778.jpg

Bob found an abandoned beehive in the snow, and managed to extract several bottles of honey from the comb.
IMG_1759.jpgIMG_1760.jpg
Sandi relishing the thought of eating her huge pomegranate - a New Year's treat bought at a Venetian foodstall

Sandi relishing the thought of eating her huge pomegranate - a New Year's treat bought at a Venetian foodstall

Bob and Bear took us to Emmaus, which is an organisation that provides shelter and work for disadvantaged people. David bought a French clown doll for 50 cents in the shop, but the bric-a-brac on sale outside was covered in snow and ice!
IMG_1787.jpgIMG_1788.jpg
Bob and Bear on a shopping trip to Roche-sur-Yon

Bob and Bear on a shopping trip to Roche-sur-Yon

David enjoying a tarte au citron

David enjoying a tarte au citron


Many good meals were prepared and enjoyed in the big kitchen

Many good meals were prepared and enjoyed in the big kitchen

After two weeks the weather forecasts in the UK finally improved, and we could book a ferry crossing from St Malo to Portsmouth. Sadly we bade farewell to our friends, the cats and the warm snug. we drove up to St Malo in the rain, arriving at the ferry in the dark. After a good supper on board we tried to settle down on the recliner chairs we had booked for the night. In spite of having a wide-screen TV to ourselves, we had difficulty settling down as we were irritated by some rigging outside which clanged all night long.

Arriving in Portsmouth next morning, the sun was shining [yippee], as we drove down to Ebford. We noticed that all the snow and ice from the previous week had melted, and were awed, yet again, by the power and wonder of Nature.

Posted by davidsandi 09:08 Archived in France Comments (0)

NUOVO ANNO IN VENEZIA

rain

Molly [our GPS] got us a bit lost due to a new highway near Venice which was not on her radar, so we had to double back a long way and eventually found Camping Fusina, the only campsite near Venice that stays open all year. It is also an expensive site, costing €31 per night, and most of the facilities are closed down for the winter. It is situated on the lagoon, directly across from Venice, but unfortunately the cloud and rain made the visibility very poor for the first three days.

We decide to take the bus into Mestré [mainland Venice] to buy an internet connection; but with very little English spoken, after 3 shops we still had not succeeded. By then it was 12:30 and everyone closed for lunch, but because it was New Year’s Eve, they were staying closed. We were feeling quite low, so we stopped in a bar for some Roquefort pasta for lunch. With a long weekend ahead we headed glumly back to the campsite, hoping to use their advertised internet facility, only to be told it was not operational in winter! With the rain and cold we are starting to feel the effects of S.A.D. [seasonal affective disorder].

It is New Year’s Eve and we are cold and damp and feeling very isolated from loved ones, so the last thing we feel like is cooking dinner. We settle for cold hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise, and warm the cockles with some vino brulé which we make on the stove. We could hear lots of fireworks from Venice across the water, but could not see anything due to the heavy fog.

We woke up to another miserable day, and feeling rather dispirited, we forced ourselves to get going, but missed the bus into Venice by a minute. We then had to catch the water ferry across to the city, which was quicker but much more expensive.
Approaching Venice by vaporetto

Approaching Venice by vaporetto


IMG_1590.jpg
Being Capodanno [New Year’s Day] we thought Venice might be rather quiet, especially with the soggy weather, but it was choc-a-bloc with tourists! Those “in the know” wore wellies or thigh-length waders, as the high tide water level was about 20cm in places. In popular thoroughfares, the authorities provided raised walkways, but in other areas one could not get past.
IMG_1592.jpg
Shops were selling plastic-bag boots to gullible tourists for €15 a pair. In many places the water lapped way over the thresholds of doorways, which must make for very damp interiors! A lot of shop doorways were protected by raised metal sills, which were fixed firmly in place to stop the entry of water.
IMG_1688.jpgWater pump in action

Water pump in action


We explored the narrow alleys, waterways and bridges connecting the 117 islands that make up the city.
IMG_1599.jpgIMG_1603.jpgIMG_1597.jpgThe only gondolier we actually heard singing!

The only gondolier we actually heard singing!


There are hundreds of similar shops, selling mostly Murano glassworks, ornaments and jewellery, and exquisite masks in all shapes and sizes. Some shops specialise in creating extravagant ball-gowns and costumes for the famous Venetian balls.
IMG_1636.jpgIMG_1640.jpgBeautifully crafted marionettes

Beautifully crafted marionettes

Some of the mask shops sold various designs of the historical "beak" mask, and it was quite exciting for Sandi to be able to tell David the story behind it.
Beak_line_drawing.jpg
During the Black Death plague in the early 14th Century of the Middle Ages, which killed more than half the European population, doctors and those collecting the dead bodies wore masked hats fitted with a beak-like protrusion, which was filled with aromatic plant materials. The fragrant plants no doubt helped to protect the wearers from disease, as well as filter the stench of the dead and rotting bodies they had to remove. The story of the Medieval “beak” is well known in the history of aromatherapy, so it was delightful finding ceramic versions of it in the many fabulous mask shops in Venice.
IMG_1631.jpg
Hope some of our past aromatherapy students see it on the blog, as the only picture available for their course notes was the line drawing.

We found delicious toasted focaccias for lunch at a street stall, but had to eat them on the trot, while window shopping, as eating them inside cost-a-plenty. Venice is not for shoppers-on-a-shoestring. When we wanted to have a pee, the sign on the WC demanded €1.50! That would have been €3 for both of us!
IMG_1700.jpg
Holding on in the rain is not easy, but when we could hold on no longer, we found a coffee shop with a toilet, where we could buy hot chocolate, thaw out a bit and relieve ourselves, all for €3.40!

We joined the queue to go into the Basilico of San Marco. It is a beautifully ornate building on the outside, and covered in mosaics on the inside and outside.
IMG_1701.jpg
IMG_1626.jpgIMG_1652.jpgIMG_1645.jpg
The parquet stone floors have survived millions of feet walking over them, but still look perfect. We get annoyed when so many tourists blatantly ignore the warning-signs not to take photos, but in spite of the temptation, we didn’t take any. The precious stone-encrusted gold panel behind the high altar where St Mark’s remains are buried, is exquisite [and worth the extra €2] to behold.
gold_altar.jpg
We watched the Moors strike the hour on the clock-tower,
IMG_1648.jpg
followed by the never-ending peal of bells from the top of the Campanile tower.
IMG_1644.jpg
After a hot shower back at the camp-site, and some chicken stew for supper, we felt a good deal more positive at the end of the day. The gas heater warmed up the van well, but we were alarmed to see the carbon monoxide level climb after we switched the heater off! The gas aggravated Sandi’s headache so we have to be very circumspect in using the heater.

The next day, January 2nd, we set out early by bus for Mestré, so that we could use the internet café before going into Venice proper. This time we were much better prepared, as we wore our wellies, but it was still freezing cold and wet, wet, wet! Undaunted, we caught the no 1 vaporetto up the Grand Canal, getting off to explore the Rialto Bridge and surrounds.
IMG_1685.jpgIMG_1686.jpgIMG_1679.jpg
The rain came down steadily, so out came a collage of umbrellas.
IMG_1668.jpgThe streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!

The streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!


The market really shows one what a dead chicken looks like!
IMG_1671.jpgIMG_1672.jpg
The restaurant windows are far more appealing!
IMG_1641.jpg
Then back onto the vaporetto chugging past an amazing array of water-side buildings displaying both grandeur and decay. If it wasn’t for the uniqueness of the canals, and the histories behind the place, it would be easy to mistake Venice for a slum. It is hard to be sure whether Venice is sinking, or flooded or both. It is incredible to think that these buildings have survived, intact, for hundreds of years, without collapsing into a damp, mouldy sludge.
IMG_1667.jpg
IMG_1595.jpg
IMG_1611.jpg
We explored some more alleys and shops, punctuated by coffee/chocolate pit stops.
View across to the island of San Giorgio

View across to the island of San Giorgio

In the afternoon we took a boat trip to three islands. First stop was Murano, where we watched a master glass-blower tease out a molten ball of glass into a prancing horse in about 60 seconds.
IMG_1711.jpgIMG_1713.jpg
The showroom had some exquisite glass sculptures, chandeliers and jewellery, but all very expensive, so we explored the shops instead.
IMG_1715.jpg
Next stop was Torchello, which was the site of the earliest civilisation in Venice, with a church built in the 6th century.
IMG_1717.jpg
It was quite a walk to get there from the boat, and still raining cats-and-dogs. So, after a cursory look around, we decided to head back to the dock, popping in to a cafe on the way for a hot chocolate drink, instead of freezing outside.
The last island we visited was Burano, with rows of brightly painted houses, which we were just in time to appreciate in the fading light. The sun came out just in time to set as we landed.
IMG_1728.jpg
We were escorted into a lace shop, where we watched an old lady making lace. It takes seven women months to make each piece, as each woman contributes a different stitch.
IMG_1730.jpg
The route back to Venice took much longer, as we stopped to hitch up a broken-down boat alongside, and towed it back to the pier ......... slowly!

We decided to treat ourselves to a 2-course tourist menu for supper in a restaurant near San Marco’s Piazza. They served the bare minimum they could legally get away with for our €13, and still charged a whopping €12 for a half bottle of vino casa. A complete rip-off, as the food and wine were both rather yukky. At 19:45 we began the long trek homewards. First a walk to the vaporetto jetty, then a longish wait for the boat, then a chug back up the Grand Canal for 45 minutes.
The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up

The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up

We had two bus rides ahead of us before getting back to home-sweet-[icebox]van. By now we were getting anxious that we would miss our connecting bus at Mestré station, as we did not want to stand waiting in the cold again. We managed to catch the bus from Venice to Mestré, just as it was leaving, and arrived at the station with 2 minutes to spare - feeling very relieved. When the connecting bus to the campsite failed to arrive, we realised that it must have left early, and set about trying to work out when the next one was due. Two more no.11 busses came and went, but were not headed for Fusina. It was bitterly cold and windy, and our feet felt like ice-blocks after 12 hours cramped into our boots. The waiting room at the station provided no relief as it was full of unsavoury characters who smoked, drank and chattered, and obviously “lived” there. We were very obviously unwelcome, as this was their turf, so we headed back outside again, preferring the fresh air to the fetid air. Eventually, more than 2 hours later, our bus came, and we dragged our frozen limbs on board, getting “home” to our cold, damp van by 23:00. It was during that long wait that we decided to abandon the next leg of our Italian trip and head for warm shelter with our new friends in France.

We were extremely cold during the night, in spite of wrapping up in many layers, and when we woke next morning, there was a layer of ice on the inside of the windows [which Sandi scraped off and nibbled]. The mist had cleared and we witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Lido.
IMG_1733.jpg
It was -4 °C outside [and felt like -14 in the van!] and the Dolomites in the near distance were thickly covered in snow!
IMG_1735.jpg
Our minds now firmly made up, we packed up and headed for the autostrada in the direction of France.

Posted by davidsandi 13:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

BUON NATALE IN PALACE PONTE DI LEGNO

snow

It is only 150 km between Merano and Ponte di Legno, but we anxiously kept close tabs on the weather forecasts, to decide whether we could risk the Passo del Tonale at 1800m in our van. It was a clear day and the roads were dry, so we decided to give it a go, although 3cm of snow was predicted.
We had to first go back down the valley between the Dolomite range of mountains,
IMG_1335.jpg
then back up towards the Alps again.
IMG_1344.jpg
We ascended the pass slowly and carefully, and were thrilled to get safely to the top.
Barriers to catch the snow along the pass

Barriers to catch the snow along the pass


At Passo Tonale village on top of the pass, we stopped to watch the many skiers on the pristine pists.
IMG_1367.jpgIMG_1370.jpgIMG_1373.jpg
The descent into Ponte di Legno was also fine, and it was a great relief to arrive safely in the snow-covered village.
IMG_1388.jpg
The reception lady at the Palace was surprised to see us as she pointed out that we were only booked in from the next day! She hardly spoke any English, but also told us that her boss was angry with Flexiclub Timeshare, because they never get paid, but would nevertheless try to sort it out. Very unprofessional to address such issues to guests though, as it didn't make us feel very welcome. We hope they do sort it out, as they'd obviously agreed to the booking, otherwise we wouldn't have been issued the voucher. Anyway, we certainly do not intend paying again for our accommodation for the next 10 days, as we have already paid Flexiclub. Just to add injury to insult we were charged €70 for an interim room for the night, as our apartment had not yet been cleaned. The room they gave us was dingy and dark and we felt quite depressed, but determined to make the best of it.
Palace Ponte di Legno

Palace Ponte di Legno


The next day when David asked to move into our apartment, they said it was only being cleaned that morning and would not be ready until 16:00! With David’s non-existent Italian [with much “prima” and “pronto” and huffing] and their minimal English, he could not persuade them to let us have access any sooner! Italians really seem to relish their f-u attitude! We were seething, but short of squatting in the foyer with all our bags, in protest, there was little we could do except sit it out.
So we donned all our winter woollies and went out to explore the neighbourhood. It was a crisp, clear day at minus 10 °C!
Hansel was out, but Gretel was in.

Hansel was out, but Gretel was in.

IMG_1390.jpg
Within 20 minutes we were in the centre of the village, marvelling at the frozen fountains
IMG_1395.jpgIMG_1396.jpgIMG_1398.jpg
and the frozen Oglio river coursing through the town.
IMG_1397.jpg
The Catholic church had interesting carved, wood doors with an unexpected, rather esoteric eye.
IMG_1399.jpgIMG_1400.jpgIMG_1402.jpg
At precisely 16:00 David went to ask for the key and they gave it to him with a smile - as if all their previous refusals hadn't occurred at all. Our apartment is much nicer, more airy and light, up on the 3rd floor with a balcony overlooking the valley and the village. It is comfortable except for the lack of a few basics such as an electric kettle and a hairdryer, which one would expect from an “international” resort. Also drinking tea from tiny, Italian coffee cups does not work for us, so thank goodness we could fetch our own mugs from the van!

On the Monday we decided we had better stock up on provisions for the next week, as heavy snowfalls were predicted for the next few days and the shops would be closed over Christmas. We found a supermarket but it closes on Sunday afternoons, all day Mondays and 12:30 to 15:30 every other day of the week! So it looks as if we will have to jack up the van to put on the snow-chains and shop on Tuesday in the snow storm after all! The freezing temperatures also make it difficult to start the van, so we may have to bring the battery indoors and charge it up overnight before we can go anywhere. We left a bag of large roasting potatoes, which Bob and Bear had brought us from England, in the van, but found that they had frozen solid! Although we tried, we couldn’t even make mashed potatoes with them. We also found all the cans of of food, like baked beans, lentils etc. had frozen solid and were bulging top, bottom and circumference. Even the cleaning fluids like Handy Andy was frozen solid. But the cherry on the top was the hot water bottle [a.k.a. the Rat] with its contents frozen solid as a rock - in spite of a double layer of covers. The joys of an European winter!
IMG_1583.jpg
Feeling a bit homesick we decided to jolly the place up a bit and put up some Christmas decorations, plus our supply of fresh [scrumped] holly - so the apartment looked quite cosy.
IMG_1458.jpg
IMG_1329.jpg
Much of our time is spent indoors reading or watching DVDs on the laptop at night. We were not expecting any internet connectivity here, so it was with great excitement that we suddenly heard a blip from the laptop, informing us that we were linked to an unsecured wireless network [we even dropped the game of Scrabble halfway!] Unfortunately it has proved to be a very fickle connection, and perhaps more frustrating not getting connected, as our expectations have been raised! We still have a backlog of travel blog postings, with Paris and Switzerland still to be edited and uploaded, and are really missing being in touch with our loved ones, especially at this time of year. This will be the first time that we have spent a Christmas alone and out of touch!

On Monday night and Tuesday about 25cm of snow fell in 24 hours,
IMG_1414.jpg
transforming our views and enchanting the soul.
IMG_1407.jpgIMG_1410.jpgIMG_1417.jpgIMG_1420.jpg
As the van was snowed in, the next day we decided to walk down to the supermarket with empty rucksacks on our backs. The snow-graders had already been busy since about 06:00.
Poor Mr Stubby a.k.a.snowmobile

Poor Mr Stubby a.k.a.snowmobile


IMG_1448.jpg
The temperature had risen to +2 °C, so the snow started melting, which meant the roads became increasing sloshy, and passing cars a hazard! Electric cables and trees also dropped snow-bombs on unsuspecting victims below.
IMG_1421.jpgIMG_1422.jpgIMG_1426.jpgIMG_1429.jpgIMG_1436.jpgIMG_1437.jpg
IMG_1444.jpgIMG_1445.jpgIMG_1446.jpg
We loaded up with wine for gluhwein, chicken [the last 4 thighs in the shop!], vegs and pancetta, to provide for Christmas and the days beyond. We could not believe the size of this Mortedella, and bought a piece once it was cut.
IMG_1442.jpg
David looked longingly at the skiers on the slopes, but unfortunately both of us are experiencing trouble with our knees, so our skiing days are not to be. Being indoors much of the time, and with no connectivity, has meant that we have finally started to plan our future clinic, and given us a chance to evaluate what we still need to research.

On Christmas Eve the church bells pealed out melodies for about 10 minutes at midday, and many more times over the next 2 days.
The Christmas Faerie

The Christmas Faerie


On Christmas day we had rain and wind, followed by calm air and snowfall,
And the next snow blizzard was upon us

And the next snow blizzard was upon us


followed later by some sun and clear skies.
IMG_1472.jpg
We had bought each other a little present, which was actually quite difficult to do, as we are always in each other’s company when we are out near shops! Sandi cooked a delicious lunch of chicken thighs [very large ones], potatoes and veg with gravy on the gas ring, as there is no oven. The angel-chimes danced around and tinkled, as we ate by candlelight.
IMG_1452.jpgIMG_1453.jpg
We spent the rest of the day reading, listening to music, watching DVDs and browsing through family photos on the laptop. It helped to compensate for not being able to contact any one.
Nightfall in the valley

Nightfall in the valley


We got some connectivity again for a few hours on Boxing day, so it was with great excitement that we could send and receive emails and talk to some of you on Skype. Then we lost it again on Sunday morning for good – very frustrating! We went out for walks into the village and window-shopped.
IMG_1476.jpgIMG_1478.jpgIMG_1481.jpgIMG_1482.jpg
This tabby cat was very cosy, curled up among the expensive furs in La Bottega.
IMG_1489.jpg
After treating ourselves to delicious pizza for lunch, we discovered that the river was full of spectacular icicles.
IMG_1503.jpgIMG_1499.jpgIMG_1495.jpgIMG_1485.jpgIMG_1488.jpg
The sunshine brought everyone out into the centre of the village. Many of the older women boast full fur coats, which must cost a fortune. [Who's ever heard of animal rights?] Many of the dogs also sported furs.
IMG_1558.jpgA doggy kennel for a poorer dog

A doggy kennel for a poorer dog


This Ice Bar made of solid blocks of ice, looked fantastic with the sun shining through it.
IMG_1563.jpgIMG_1566.jpg
The Italians seem to love colour on their houses, with yellow, ochre, peach, guava, red and orange being the favourites. Such a welcome change from the drabness of the French houses.
IMG_1550.jpg
IMG_1505.jpgIMG_1511.jpgIMG_1577.jpg
The church had erected a stable for a donkey and a heifer, both of which seemed to crave our attention.
IMG_1512.jpg
Snowfights, igloos, icicles and bathing ducks were all to be found on our climb up the hill back to the Palace.
IMG_1515.jpgIMG_1520.jpgIMG_1522.jpgIMG_1531.jpgIMG_1547.jpg
On our last day it had snowed again lightly overnight. David had to warm up the battery and charge it overnight in the apartment. In spite of that the van still struggled to start. After clearing a path with the snow-shovel, David was able to back the van out of its “snow-bed” without too much difficulty. The problem came when, after packing our stuff into the van, we reversed into a parking bay, which we failed to realise was overlain with 15 cm of snow! After some ice-pick work, and laying chains under the wheels, Sandi and a helpful passerby managed to push us clear. After that it was all downhill, following the Fiume [river] Oglio all the way down the valley towards Venezia. The traffic coming up the opposite way was very heavy, probably due to school holidays and New Year.

Posted by davidsandi 08:36 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

MERANO, ALTO ADIGE

SUDTIROLO or SŰDTIROL

sunny

The little town of Meran [German] or Merano [Italian] spreads across the valley at an altitude of 300m, with majestic snow-covered peaks rising up to 3000m all around. These views are from our windows!
IMG_1237.jpgIMG_1239.jpgIMG_1242.jpg
It has a very Bavarian feel about it, especially since it was part of Austria until the end of the 1st World War. The German language seems to predominate, which makes communicating a little easier, as David still remembers a little German from his student days. It is a famous spa town, like Baden-Baden, and was in its hey-day 130 years ago when Empress Elisabeth [Sissi] of Austria frequented the town for its health-giving climate. They boast 300 days of sunshine a year here, and a stable, mild Mediterranean climate throughout the year. In summer the public gardens are full of sub-tropical plants. It is indeed confusing to the body to bake in the sunshine coming through the apartment windows, then to walk outside in minus 3 degrees covered in many layers of clothing!

We are staying in a Hapimag timeshare resort building on the 5th floor with stunning views across the valley and of the snow-covered mountains around us. The two-roomed apartment is comfortable and modern, and they provided a modem on request, which was great, so we could stay in touch.
IMG_1275.jpg
IMG_1261.jpg
The house-keeper fortunately spoke English on our arrival, but otherwise English is hardly spoken or understood and we have to manage with a very crude version of German-Afrikaans. Still have to try to learn more Italian for when we visit Venice and Rome later. Though how those intentions will pan out go depends on the weather. We've realised it will be almost impossible to sleep in the van, even at these temperatures, so hopefully it will warm up by the end of next week, and we'll find space in campsites near Venice and Rome - although it seems there are very few open during winter in these areas. It will certainly test our philosophy of "living in the present"!

The courtyard below us is obviously pleasant in summer, but at the moment the swimming pool is frozen solid with at least an inch of ice! IMG_1276.jpg
A tree in the middle, covered in ripe persimmons, yielded Scrumping Dave a couple of it's delicious fruits under cover of darkness! It's incredible to see heavily laden persimmon trees in many gardens - so near, and yet so far!
IMG_1262.jpg
The next morning, Sunday, we woke to the pealing of church-bells all over town, which continued for several hours. We then wandered down into the centre of town and found ourselves in the midst of an extensive Christkindlmarkt along the banks of the Passira river. Lots of decorated wooden chalets selling a variety of regional foods, exquisite Christmas decorations, glüwein, hot foods, cheeses, salamis, cakes, honey etc. Just as well we're on a tight budget otherwise Sandi would have stocked up on the tempting foods for months!
IMG_1217.jpg
IMG_1219.jpg
These decorations had wonderful aromas as they were made from star anise, cinnamon sticks and other spices

These decorations had wonderful aromas as they were made from star anise, cinnamon sticks and other spices


IMG_1222.jpg
IMG_1257.jpg
Apfelstrüdel

Apfelstrüdel


The Kurhaus, now used as a conference centre

The Kurhaus, now used as a conference centre


An artwork constructed out of mosses and other natural substances

An artwork constructed out of mosses and other natural substances


The cold air definitely stimulates the appetite, so it wasn’t long before we succumbed to this variety of glüwein called Krambambuli - hot, spicy red wine with a few squirts of dark rum sprayed onto the top of the mug - delicious!
IMG_1284.jpg
Later we tried the local "Forst" beer and rolls with wurst mit sauerkraut Yum!
We bought some of the regional specialities, speck and spinatknüdeln and spekknüdeln, to cook in the apartment. Sandi boiled these filling little dumplings [Canederli Tirolesi] in salted water, and made a scrumptious broth to eat with them. She decided we would eat them for breakfast - though we're not sure if this is when they're meant to be eaten, but we needed to put something hot in the bellies before venturing out for the day.
About to tuck into a hearty breakfast of spinatknüdeln und spekknüdeln

About to tuck into a hearty breakfast of spinatknüdeln und spekknüdeln


Lunch of salami and Mortadella, cheese, etc. and bubbly.
IMG_1263.jpg
We've fallen in love with the wafer-thin slices of Italian pancetta, which are totally scrumptious, whether eaten at breakfast, with eggs, or at any other occasion!

Over the course of the week we explored the little town with many large villas and hotels dating back to its golden era. The architecture is predominantly "Bavarian". Sandi was quite struck by the colours of houses when we entered Italy - ochre yellow, rich pumpkin orange, and unusual mossy-lime green. Wonderful to see colours other than grey and brown, which is all we've seen for months. The weather is crisp and very cold with the skies blue and sunny. All around us Europe is experiencing plummeting temperatures [10 degrees less than usual for this time of year] and heavy snowfalls. Looking at CNN weather news it's clear that we're in the ONLY little spot in Italy that is not covered in snow - even London is under 4 inches of snow. Ooooh - and we're heading up to 1200m at Ponte di Legno on Saturday, with an 1800m pass en route!
IMG_1264.jpgIMG_1250.jpgIMG_1249.jpg
The Passira river tumbles over rocks as it rushes through the town to join the Adige river, but the water is frozen solid where there would normally be little eddies among the rocks at the edge.
IMG_1228.jpg
An ice-rink had been constructed on the Piazza Therme and the little ones were using these aids to help them skate!
IMG_1227.jpg
Many shops shelter under ancient arcades, and the streets are narrow and cobbled.
IMG_1229.jpgIMG_1271.jpg
The Duomo of St Nicholas dates back to the 13th century and is a fine Gothic construction.
IMG_1270.jpgIMG_1269.jpgThis enormous lock is on the inside of the main door

This enormous lock is on the inside of the main door


Further up the river there is a bridge called the Roman bridge, although it was built in the 17th century.
IMG_1272.jpg
Tucked into corners in the streets one may come across a personal shrine such as this.
IMG_1273.jpg
On the Thursday we decided to take the plunge and spent a couple of blissful hours in the thermal baths. They are full of radon which is apparently radioactive! but therapeutic. It is exhilarating to swim outside as well, when your body is in water at 37 degrees, but your head is in air of minus 3 degrees! Lots of bubbles and pummelling and relaxation.
IMG_1281.jpg
We are starting to get into the Christmas mood with some decorations we couldn't resist buying at the market.
IMG_1232.jpgIMG_1244.jpg
This artist lady made lovely frames and ornaments with mosaics of cracked glass.
IMG_1321.jpg
Tomorrow we head off to Ponte di Legno for 10 days, and according to the weather forecast we will have new snowfall of 3cm tomorrow, and a white Christmas next week! Time to get out the snow-chains!

Posted by davidsandi 08:49 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

ON TO ITALY VIA SWITZERLAND

It was a tough 12 hour journey from the Vendeé to Morges [our Marc & Jocelyne refuge], partly due to rain and darkness. We had planned to stop over in a lay-by to sleep for the night, but decided at 4pm to push on, as the lure of sleeping in a warm bed was strong. We arrived in Morges just after 10pm and we slept like logs for 10 hours! This is the sunrise over the Mont Blanc that we woke up to!
IMG_1173.jpgIMG_1176.jpg
Mr Stubby developed a wheel vibration at 65mph on the way, so Marc made an appointment for a wheel alignment check with his mechanic. The mechanic pointed out that the front tyres had worn erratically, so we ended up fitting two new winter tyres, which should help in the snow - even though it burned a hole in the purse!
Views from the apartment over to Lausanne in the distance,
IMG_1182.jpg
and over Lac Leman to the Alps
IMG_1180.jpg
Francois and Marion and Anne Christine came for supper and Jocelyne fed us exceedingly well as usual: starters, 2 helpings of main, 2 of dessert, followed by chocolates, bricelets and coffee! Our waistlines are ever expanding, which was not helped by a similar experience the next day when Christian came for lunch!
Christian enjoying his "Ostrich egg" dessert; Pèches avec crème vanille

Christian enjoying his "Ostrich egg" dessert; Pèches avec crème vanille


We walked down to the shops for some specific last minute Swiss items
IMG_1184.jpg
and came across these black berries along the way [no idea what they might be]
IMG_1188.jpg
On the Friday evening Jocelyne took us into Lausanne to the Christmas market at Place St Francois. The lights were gorgeous and the vibe was good as everyone stood around drinking vin chaud. Sandi found a delicious cornet of Spanish churros.
IMG_1196.jpgIMG_1197.jpg
Jocelyne and Sandi with the Cathedral lit up in red, which you can just see in the background

Jocelyne and Sandi with the Cathedral lit up in red, which you can just see in the background


Sandi about to milk that Swiss cow!

Sandi about to milk that Swiss cow!

Marc reckoned that we would not be able to cross the Brenner Pass from Austria into Italy with the van without winter tyres all round, so recommended that we go via the Simplon Tunnel. One has to drive the vehicle onto a train which takes you through the tunnel, but the height restrictions looked as if we were not going to fit! Anyway David measured the van again and reckoned that we would actually fit without having to let the tyres down. If we didn't fit, then our choices were to negotiate the high passes of Brenner or Grand St Bernard or drive around the coast via France [a very long detour!] We wanted to catch the 10:30 train as the next one after that was only at 13:30, which would mean that we would get to Merano in the dark.

We set off rather anxiously in the dark at 07:30 on Saturday morning for the two hours to Brig. There was snow on the ground at Brig, but fortunately the roads had been cleared. We bought our ticket and drove on to the train with our mirrors folded back. At last we could relax!
IMG_1201.jpg
While sitting in the van on our way through the tunnel for 20 minutes we made sandwiches for our breakfast, and we out the other end before we even finished chewing. The remaining 5 hours of the trip down, from the Alps via Milano and up the valley to Merano was easy, as it was mostly on autoroutes, with umpteen tolls to pay along the way [not as expensive as the French ones though!].
Buongiorno Italia!

Buongiorno Italia!

Posted by davidsandi 22:46 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

VISITORS FROM SCOTLAND

rain

The much anticipated visit from our South African friends living in Scotland, Bernie and Estrelita, finally dawned. We picked them up in Niort and headed back to La Maison in the gathering dusk, very ready for Sandi's fine pot of minestrone soup and baguettes that were waiting for us. Plans for the weekend included meals with as much regional cuisine as possible, and taking in some local sights and activities. The weather was not kind to us, but we managed to duck into a cafe for a meal or a drink when the rain came down.

On the Saturday we headed off again to the street market at Fontenay-le-Comte. IMG_1052.jpgIMG_1051.jpg
We bought a Tarteau fromage, a local speciality, just because it looked intriguing. It tasted like a very bland, light, baked cheesecake, and is apparently best eaten with preserves.
IMG_1077.jpg
After browsing the market we walked the Route de la Republique looking for hats for Bernie and Estrelita, because they fancied Sandi's chic little Parisian cap, eventually retreating from the rain for a coffee.
IMG_1059.jpgIMG_1057.jpgIMG_1054.jpgIMG_1058.jpg
We then found a cosy restaurant near the market where we had a good 2-course lunch.
IMG_1060.jpg
We peeped into the church on the town square.
IMG_1066.jpgIMG_1067.jpg

We had heard that there was to be a Christmas market at Vouvant on the Sunday, which we visited, but unfortunately it was underwhelming.
IMG_1076.jpg
What proved more interesting was a cafe offering vin chaud. We then came home and made more vin chaud and all got cooking in the kitchen.
IMG_1080.jpgIMG_1078.jpg
Sandi has always liked violets and found violet syrup in the supermarket, which is divine when added to champagne!
IMG_1087.jpg
Here is the mistletoe we picked on the way home, which looks good with the holly.
IMG_1083.jpg
Sandi was fascinated with the raindrops on the window.
IMG_1072.jpg
We had raclette for supper and Bernie enjoyed it so much she licked her plate clean!
IMG_1101.jpg
On their last day we took them to see the local nursery which seems to specialise in topiary,
IMG_1095.jpgIMG_1097.jpg
and old olive trees.
IMG_1093.jpg
Having eaten like gourmands all weekend, it was sad to see it come to an end, but the memories linger on.

In our last week at la Maison it rained almost constantly. David got very frustrated trying to ascertain where the water was leaking into the van. After sealing the whole windscreen area, it still leaked! [hoping that when Bob returns he will have a brilliant solution] The other nagging problem is the big speakers which keep wrenching free of their moorings every time we go over a bump. Sandi has come up with the idea of creating a sling for them to rest on which we think is going to work!

Sandi produced a series of profound quotations for David to ponder while he sprinkled the porcelain.
IMG_1137.jpg
Max and Claudette keeping warm near the woodstove.
IMG_1102.jpg
Claudette became more and more sociable and ended up sleeping on our bed most of the night [and day too!]
IMG_1114.jpgIMG_1109.jpg
IMG_1151.jpg
Minnie discovered that the best way to warm one's belly is right on the radiator.
IMG_1115.jpg

After raking up 15 large bags of leaves from the quadrangle, sweeping the house and mopping the kitchen floor and chopping loads of firewood, we were ready for the owners return on Sunday evening. We liked Bob and Bear [Francesca] immediately and bonded with them at once. They have spent the past three months motoring up and down the Florida coastline in their boat, which they are hoping to sell. They surprised us with a monster hamper of English Christmas goodies, including mince pies and mini Christmas puds, as a “Thank you” present, as well as two gorgeous porcelain kitty mugs [from the cats!]
IMG_1149.jpg
Bob, Bear and the Tinsel Strangle

Bob, Bear and the Tinsel Strangle


The next day Bob tackled the tricky van jobs with David, and together they managed to sort out the gas flow to the heater. It turns out the tap was hidden and in the “off” position, but this was only discovered after all the gas lines had been disconnected and blown out with compressed air! Then the window leak was sorted [we hope] and the recalcitrant speakers finally bracketed into position securely.

We were taken out to dinner at Mervent as well as to a Chinese restaurant the next day in Roche-sur-Yon where we met some good friends of theirs.
What's good about Christmas when you can't eat these?

What's good about Christmas when you can't eat these?


We were offered a 7-day sit in Rome [2 dogs, 3 cats] from 30 Dec to 6 Jan, but it didn’t work out for us, so we declined after 3 days of frantic Googling. Parking the van securely was the obstacle [Rome being notorious for crime, congestion and parking problems], as the only place we could find was a campsite, outside the city, at great expense – €300 for the week – and we’d not even be there to use the facilities. And that’s even before the cost of public transport to get around, food, etc. We’ll get to Rome at some other stage, and accept that this was not meant to be for now.

Finally there was time for a quick kiss under the mistletoe, before we bade our sad farewells.
IMG_1165.jpg
Leaving La Maison was an emotional experience for us, as we had just made some new friends, and of course, missing the kitties is the biggest lump-in-the-throat thing imaginable. So strange not being be-catted, especially at night, for the first time in 7 weeks. We feel very blessed to have had this experience.
IMG_1166.jpgMax saying goodbye

Max saying goodbye


One final golden sunrise before we bid la Maison Neuve "adieu".
IMG_1104.jpg

Posted by davidsandi 09:03 Archived in France Comments (0)

(Entries 31 - 45 of 92) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 »