Thursday, 27 December 2007

A Spanish Honeymoon

7 months after we left on our voyage of discovery, our Poop in Europe Tour is coming to an end. The Fellowship of the Poop broke 2 weeks ago when we tearfully said goodbye to our beloved cherubs Joshi and Elli at Lisbon Airport for their flight back to London (kindly chaperoned by Michelle) to stay with Papops and Grandma. Moses had said his goodbyes to the kids in the morning because he was to be spending the day (and night as it transpired, naughty thing) with Raquel. After months of travelling, exploring, wandering round France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, living cheek by jowl, sleeping, eating, washing, dressing, studying, chatting, laughing, singing, dancing and sharing every moment together in a single 5 x 2 metre room, all of a sudden, just like that, Von and I were alone.

For the whole 2 hour drive back to Oleiros from Lisbon we were quiet. Missing the kids before they had even taken off. Only our thoughts to keep us company. Reflecting on what an incredible truly life changing experience this year has been. Travelling like we have as a family has validity in itself. We are definitely stronger now than we were before we left. We know each other better. And what we know we like. Loads. It has been an experience that has dug a deep well that will last our little family for many years to come.

But the best thing is we don’t have to go back to what we were doing before. Our travels have opened the door for a chance to live in Portugal. With this view down the hills from our place. And it’s a chance we are grabbing with everything we have. We now have a future that is Portuguese. We will grow old there. See our children, grandchildren and probably great grand children actually be Portuguese. The possibilities of what that entails are so exciting that as soon as I ponder on them for just a minute, a thousand images explode through my imagination. Particularly how Von, Josh and Ellie (and not forgetting Moses and Angel) will be able to grow in ways that life in London simply does not permit. My prayer is that I will not waste the abundance of time available in this life unfolding before us.

Madrid & Barcelona
We spent a few days in Oleiros saying farewell and thank you to our truly lovely new friends. Cleaned up the house, packed up the motorhome and set off for London, with Madrid and Barcelona planned stops along the way. We knew this was the last trip we would take in the Mosiemobile. So it was a little sad too that we were also saying goodbye, maybe only for a while, to life on the open road.

We stopped for the night just over the border in a wee town called Alcantara and nipped into a couple of cafés just so we could hear the noise we knew we’d hear. We have found the Portuguese to be a very quiet people. Polite, good natured and respectful in public. The Spanish in comparison are so very different; they are unbelievably loud, brash, passionate and expressive. Even with just a few people in a bar, its sounds like there could be 100. I think I like Spanish culture, but because it seems more obvious, more immediate, it doesn’t intrigue me as much as my experience so far of Portuguese culture. As the border is just 90 minutes away from us and Madrid only 5 hours, I think Von and I will make regular forays here in future.

Spanish landscapes are just jaw dropping gorgeous in parts. Cork trees are magnificent on their own, but when they’re planted in such vast numbers, they take your breath away. We stopped at a campsite just outside Madrid for the afternoon, took Moses for a long walk through the countryside and then headed into the centre for a night out. 2 hours waiting for a bus wasn’t much fun but we reminisced on the days we were first married with no car and spent far too much time waiting for buses and trains in London. Madrid has a lovely vibe to it. Lovely old centre which doesn’t really wake up to party til 2 or 3 in the morning. We found a delicious and posh restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet and there we were, Von and I, on a date. No responsibilities. Just the 2 of us. Wonderful.

As the trip in and out of town was a little tricky we decided to leave the next day for Barcelona. And boy is it far away from Madrid. 13 hours of driving later we arrived. As the closest campsite was also a fair way out of town, about 13km, we decided to hire a little car and to stay for 3 days. This really was turning out to be like another honeymoon for us. Wandering hand in hand around Barcelona’s bohemian old quarter either side of the Rambla, popping in and out of shops and cafés, exploring the Picasso museum, marvelling at all the various Gaudi buildings and then taking evening strolls on the beach. Loved it.

Barcelona has a reputation of being one of Europe’s best cities and it’s clearly a fun place to be; the bohemian parts rival the best of Covent Garden and to be so close to the sea must be extra special in summer. But for me it didn’t live up to the hype. Apart from the rich heritage of arts and music, the dominant culture seemed to be that same old same old soulless modernist commercialism that is at the heart of so many of our cities. Maybe if we stayed there again with someone from Barcelona it would be different. We would see the city not as a tourist but from the inside out and have the chance to meet the people that have clearly made it a remarkable place for so many others. Next time I think we’ll fly though. That drive from Portugal is a beast.

Blocked by the British
The final leg of the Poop in Europe tour was upon us. A drive straight through the centre of France (stopping off regularly for Almond Croissants – how do they make them so scrumptious) to Paris and then north to Calais for the ferry to the white cliffs of Dover and for England. We had booked the early morning crossing in order to leave us plenty of time to arrive for my Dad’s 70th birthday bash. Unfortunately the border control officials said the tick treatment issued and certified by a vet we’d seen in Barcelona, was not acceptable for the British authorities. So we would have to see another vet in Calais and wait 24 hours before being allowed to board a ferry. It was gutting that we would have to miss the party and also bloody typical of the immovable systems of control that plague my country. Not once did any official even look at Moses to make a judgement on the risk. It was simply the wrong brand of tick treatment, so the right box on their forms couldn’t be ticked, and nothing would convince anyone any differently. Welcome home Andrew.

Finally we arrived in Dulwich, London, to the house of my parents where I was born. Great to see the kids again and Moses went a bit nuts with excitement at seeing my Dad. Christmas was lovely with Josh and Ellie really enjoying being with their grandparents and cousins again after so long. It’s now the day after boxing day and my family has gone to the ballet to see the Nutcracker. I’m at home in bed suffering a little from a dodgy flu. Although probably just exhaustion from all the Christmas shopping!

Anyway, that’s about it from me for 2007. Just to say a Merry Christmas and the most happiest of new years ever to you all.

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