What I learned from travelling

Well I’ve been back from my travels for a few weeks now but it feels like much more.  Bear Cub started school last week so we’ve been focused on that and the sense of ‘all-change’ has helped in returning to routine and normality.  It’s a different routine so that helps a little.

I’ve lost count of people who have asked me whether I had a good time, what was my favourite place and whether I was glad to be back.  Only a few, my closest friends who knew my reasons for going, asked me if I got out of the trip what I wanted to – did I feel changed by the experience and what was I going to do with what I’ve gained?

Obviously, travelling gives you a lot of time to think.  Once you are free from the pressures of your every day life you somehow realize you are never as trapped as whatever situation you’ve come from has led you to believe.  By the very fact that you are away means you did it – you escaped.  I congratulate myself for having gone.  For having done it, whether I achieved my goals or not.

I’m pleased to report however, that I feel I did achieve most of my goals:  I wanted an adventure – check.  I wanted to challenge myself, scare myself even – check. I wanted to get away from my life – check.  I wanted to change within; my perspective on my past, my present and my future – check.  I wanted to feel alive – check.  I wanted to gain new enthusiasm, focus and energy for the future – check.  I wanted to fall out of love (well I did say most of my goals)!

The trip did not change my life or massively change me but it did change my perspective.  And after all, how we think is the first step to changing how we act, who we are and who we will be.  As I suspected, the key was to step out of my life and to have an adventure.  It didn’t really matter where I went or for how long, as long as it was away and although I could have travelled for longer and further away – it was enough!  If there is one thing I would want to say to encourage any one out there thinking ‘I’d love to do something like that’ is to just do it! It may sound overly simple but I mean it.  To whatever your means are – do it! Create that adventure and that space for yourself so you can be centered, and hear, and find out who you are again, and find out where you want to go next.  If that for you means getting a friend to have your child for a night so you can book a SuperSaver train fare to Brighton for 2 days and walk on the beach and listen to music and write and breathe in the sea air, stay in a cheap hotel and eat fish and chips with the wind in your hair – if that is all you can do then I really believe it will be enough.  If you go with an open heart, expectant and wanting of change I believe it will happen simply because you’ve created the space to realize things you already know.  To give airplay to dreams you’ve pushed down under the daily grind, buried beneath your disappointments, responsibilities and pressures.

A word on the cost of my trip. I had to completely re-plan my trip after money issues meant I could not do my original idea of a road trip across the West Coast of the U.S.  I’m a single-mum in a debt-scheme due to my divorce and working only part-time in a fairly poorly paid job.  Yet I managed to do an amazing trip on a mega budget.  Here’s how I funded it: My house is meant to be remortgaged so I ‘borrowed’ some money from my son’s savings account (money put in there from the divorce) I feel really bad about this but I intend to replace it before the end of the year and I also hope that my son gained an experience he’ll remember for his whole life.  The other half of my trip was entirely funded through gifts from my friends.  I have the most awesome, amazing friend in the world.  I did not ask anyone for any money yet I was overwhelmed by how much support I had for my trip and how much my friends were behind me and championing me and willing me to do this adventure.  One friend even thanked me for going on my trip and therefore challenging and inspiring her and gave me a monetary gift as a response!  I wanted to mention this to show how much people will be on your side when you speak out your dream. You may think people will want to put you in your place or pull you down or think you’re crazy but the truth is you’ll find people mainly want others to succeed.  Your own dreams will in turn inspire others in theirs and they will want to get on board and support you in any way they can.  I was truly humbled and amazed as I saw this truth unravel before me.  I absolutely could not have done my trip without the help and support – both practical, monetary and otherwise – of my friends.  I want to be totally transparent about that.

One of the things that was most interesting about being away was the fact that every single day I truly felt like I was living.  Actually living in the moment.  In my life here in London I often feel like I am always rushing or otherwise waiting.  Rushing the days by looking forward to something to look forward to or waiting for something exciting to happen or just busy on the treadmill of life.  This mindset can make you feel like you’ve ‘wasted’ a day when you don’t get what you had planned done or even if you’re just relaxing.  Alternatively you feel like your days are rushed and full but with nothing that really and truly matters to you.

When I was travelling I never felt like this.  Each day that stretched out before me was not even thought about in a way and I certainly didn’t think about the day after that.  I just lived each day and loved it.  I have never felt more ‘in the moment’ and present in my life before and it was a wonderful and freeing feeling.  I suspect it is a key to lasting and everyday happiness.  How we spend the majority of our time, who we are with, what we do and what we look at needs to be what we want our life to look like and be like.  It is hugely important and key to our happiness and fulfillment.

So in that sense, it was life changing.  I just need to work out how to keep that mindset and not lose it now that I’m back home.  Time for change I think.

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Italy Part 2: Rome, Tropea & the (long) journey home

Rome

We’ve been using an Interrail One country pass for our train travel in Italy and it works out well if you get the slow regional trains but if you want to get a fast train you generally have to pay a 10 Euro reservation fee.  I considered getting the 3 hour train from Florence to Rome but with Bear Cub’s increasing frustration of travelling and cities and my increasing intolerance of his whingeing I decided the 20 Euros for us both was well worth it.  We arrived in Rome after just an hour and a half. Our new Air BnB host had advised us to get a taxi but I wanted to save money and add to the adventure so we opted for getting the Metro as it seemed pretty straight forward.  It was – just 10 minutes ride away from the main train station but then we had to find the apartment which was apparently a 5 minute walk away!  Now if there is one thing I have hated on this trip it is unclear instructions.  We were told to come out of the Metro station and the road we needed was ‘behind’ the station.  However, of course, this depended on which of the 4 exits you came out of at the station as to where ‘behind’ the station was!! It was so hot – about 34 degrees – and the back pack was so heavy.  We asked two different people, both of which either didn’t understand me and just pretended to know what I meant or simply didn’t know either.  Finally we found the right road – which really was almost next to the station.  It was then up hill. By the time we made it to the apartment I was fit to collapse and knew I’d hurt my back.

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Once I’d recovered our host, a lovely older lady who works as a scriptwriter showed us around the apartment and made me a wonderful strong, Italian coffee which helped to revive me.  The apartment was old and spacious and we had our own balcony from our room.  Our host, Angiola, was a very interesting lady and I told me all about how she’d been a successful scriptwriter but lost all her money after a bad business deal with a dodgy business partner.  She still writes but her style is quirky, almost weird storylines and she says the Italian market does not always ‘get it’.  She described to me a comedy she’d written about a woman in search of a ‘special kind of orgasm’.  Once the woman found the guy who could do this, she married him but found she was only in love with the other guy!! You meet the most interesting people on Air BnB stays!!!

Angiola’s place was fantastically located to access all the sights of Rome by the well-connected Metro (which really was just 5 mins walk away) and Angiola had a wealth of knowledge of the area and acted as a great tour guide.  After some lunch we caught the ten minute Metro ride to the Colosseum.  It really is quite an awesome sight as you emerge from the modern metro station and immediately you’re faced with a world-famous ancient relic!   The sun was so hot so it was difficult to do anything except amble along at a snail’s place.  We visited the Roman Forum (Roma Forma) and the Palatine Hill (Palace of the Roman Emperors).  Bear Cub wanted to see a real ‘Roman’ – I think he meant Roman soldier – and we happened to see a guy dressed up within minutes of arriving at the Colosseum.  I excitedly pointed him out to Bear Cub only to have him reply, ‘He’s not real mum, he’s a fake!’ When I asked him how he knew he simply replied, ‘It’s obvious! He just took his helmet off and Roman soldiers don’t have hairstyles like that!’

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The heat really zapped our energy so we headed for the nearest restaurant and shared a lovely mushroom pasta dish.  We have saved a lot of money by buying just one meal to share when we have had to eat out.  This has saved Bear cub wasting food and helped me to lose some weight!!  Exhausted we headed back to the apartment in Libia.  Angiola had warned me that they had a bit of a mosquito problem and without air conditioning it was impossible to have the windows closed at night.  I always get totally munched by mosquitos so was grateful when she offered one of those spiral things that you burn to keep mozzies at bay – how do they actually work?! Anyway in the morning I had just 2 bites and I think they had been acquired earlier in the day so it seemed to do the trick.

Angiola was great at making suggestions that would entertain and occupy Bear Cub as well as interest me and so she recommended a day out at Ostia Antica.  It was roughly a 40 minute train ride away and was a perfect balance of history (some really well-preserved remains of an ancient town) and space for Bear Cub to run around and explore.  You needed little imagination to pretend you back in the past walking in the ancient town when it was alive and vibrant and the walls provided a fun maze for Bear cub to explore and climb and let off steam.  One of both of our favourite features were the wonderfully preserved mosaics in the gym and bathing area of the palace and the amphitheatre.

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We were only a few stops away from the beach area so after we’d exhausted Ostia Antica and ourselves we headed there to chill out a bit for the afternoon.  It wasn’t a very nice beach to be honest, compared to others we’d been to, but Bear cub, now a fully fledged water-baby and lover of the sea, still donned his swimming trunks and went for a dip.  we headed home late afternoon stopping off at the supermarket to buy some food for dinner and lunches the next couple of days to keep our costs down.

We had three nights in Rome as I was aware we’d been moving around a lot and also there was a lot to see.  For our final day I planned a schedule specifically for bear cub as he was really beginning to miss kid-company and his frustration was affecting his behaviour – badly!  So we headed for Rome’s equivalent of Genova’s ‘Kid city’ – Explora.  Explora is aimed at under-12’s and is a space for them to create, explore, play and learn.  Although relatively small it had a lot packed in including water play, a real fire engine, a mini shop, bank, garage and vegetable patch and an area for creative workshops.  Bear cub took part in one of the workshops where the children had the chance to make their own recycled paper and then decorate it and turn it into an instrument – some castanets.  Although the workshop was in Italian, Bear Cub thoroughly enjoyed it and the guy running it did his best to speak English every now and then to him to make sure he understood what to do.  Time at Explora was limited to just 1 hour 45 minutes and could have done with being a little longer but we managed to fit a lot in to the time and finished with a nice lunch in their very reasonably priced cafe.

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We then went to explore around the Flamina area but really it was too hot to walk around much and another meltdown was imminent from Bear Cub (or maybe me it was hard to tell by this point!)  I have to say at this point on our travels it was difficult to know whether Bear Cub really was being a little s**t or whether I was being a prize b***h! It had been a long time away from home for him.  He was missing home, his friends and his routine.  We’d had a lot of intense time together just the two of us and perhaps it was a little too long for him.  Am I being a good parent by taking him on this trip or a selfish and irresponsible one?  I flit between the two but generally feel it has been a positive and important experience for both of us.  I’m not sure how much of the details of the trip he will remember in time but I do hope it will at least give him an open mind and sense of adventure for life!

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Anyway, Bear Cub was hot and tired so we took a ride on the Land train around a lovely park we discovered an hopped off at the nearest play park.  This seemed to calm things down a lot. Until it rained and we missed the land train back! :-/

We eventually caught the next land train (25 minutes later) and by chance met a really interesting lady and her daughter.  I have loved on this trip how in chance meetings you can have such interesting conversations with interesting people of all walks of life.  I couldn’t help but notice the lady as she was alone with her daughter, like me and Bear Cub and she also spoke English – she was Canadian.  As is often the case, our children got chatting first – Bear Cub will talk to anyone and is often a great ice-breaker for me as I’m much more shy at meeting new people than he is.  We got into a conversation and it emerged that the lady was also a single mother (separated from her Egyptian husband) but still living in Egypt.  She had left Egypt on the very day all the violence broke out there and had extended her stay in Italy to try avoiding returning while the unrest was at its height.  The great thing about travelling and meeting other people with different lifestyles and circumstances is that it puts into perspective your own experience.  This lady told me how as a mother in Egypt without a job and separated from her husband she had virtually no parental rights.  She wanted to leave Egypt but was not allowed without her husband’s permission.  He had parental responsibility due to her circumstances and with no family of her own in Egypt it had been a long and difficult time for her.  She told me how it is frowned upon in Egypt to be divorced and a colleague of hers at the University she works at continued to wear her wedding ring for over a year after her divorce to avoid criticism and frowns but also the very pressing and unwanted advances from Egyptian men!  Compared to this lady my own ‘rough’ journey seemed like nothing.  She told me of an online community she is starting up called ‘SOS – Start Over Sister’ and I in turn gave her the details of More than a Mum.  It is empowering to know there are some amazing, strong, single-mums all over the world doing great things in small ways and inspiring their children!

With 3 nights in Rome we felt like we adequately ‘did’ Rome and were very ready for our final stop in Italy and indeed final stop of our travels – some relaxing beach time in the beautiful, coastal city of Tropea in Calabria.

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Tropea

Even with fast trains, it took almost 6 hours to reach Tropea. Just over 5 from Rome to Lamezia Terme Centrale and another 50 minutes from there to Tropea.  Bear Cub was great for most of the journey and was occupied doing a puzzle I’d bought him at the Explora museum and his Usbourne Travel Activity book for Little children which I really cannot recommend highly enough!   However the last couple of hours he was truly awful.  Again the lines began to blur between whether it was my tiredness and bad mood fuelling his behaviour or vice versa but I was close to the edge by time we arrived and had the usual trouble of locating the hotel which was apparently 500 metres from the train station.  Everywhere felt much further in the heat of the sun with a whingeing 4-year-old and a back pack that is heavier than him on your back! However, we finally found it and checked in.  The hotel was 3 star and again although basic it was clean and very reasonably priced for high season and in a great location.  Once we rested and showered we ventured out for dinner and to explore and it was then that I realised what a beautiful place Tropea was.

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Our hotel was literally on the edge of the historic part of the town with its characterful and picturesque little streets and shops and restaurants.  Tropea is set high on a mountain with a sheer  drop to the beaches below.  The main road led straight down to a truly wonderful panoramic view of the beach below and the striking Chiesa Dell’Isola. Even at 7.30pm the sea was a vibrant turquoise blue and the sand smooth and golden.  I smiled.  I began to relax.  This was going to be a great way to end our travels.

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We were booked to stay in Tropea for 5 nights to really have a beach holiday as an end to all our hectic travelling to enjoy the sun, sea and sand, relax and have fun – and that is pretty much what we did.  Bear cub loves the beach and is constantly in the sea.  His confidence in water has grown rapidly and even when he had a little scare (and a big one for me) – when he went in too far without his arm bands when I was not at the water’s edge and i had to rush in and save him – it still didn’t put him off!  I however was put off swimming for a day after being stung by a jellyfish! I am really scared of jelly fish anyway and have never been stung before.  It was only a little one and not very bad at all really but it was quite a shock!

A couple of days we ate at the restaurants where you can always find a cheap pasta dish but many days we also opted for a cheap meal from the Pizza snack bars where you can get a giant slice and a drink for just 4 Euros.  During the day we would buy rolls and filings from the shop and make our own picnic lunch on the beach.  Our days were mostly spent on the beach, in the small play park near the train station and ambling around the little shops in the old town.  It was also nice to have the hotel room as a base for when Bear Cub got tired and he watched quite a few hours of Italian children’s TV and given how active we’ve been on this trip, I didn’t feel guilty for it at all!

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It’s been a very healthy trip for us both despite the amounts of pasta, bread and pizza we’ve consumed. With all the outdoor activity we must have been exercising more than I realised as I have never been so happy with my body – even in pre-baby days!! I’m sure within a few weeks of being back in London the comfort food and lack of exercise will change that but for now I look and feel the best I have in a long time – physically, spiritually and mentally!

On our last full day in Tropea there was still time for one more unexpected experience and adventure!  We decided to make the most of the beautiful beach.  We settled down for the day and a man with two little girls started to chat to me.  He was from Milan but had lived in many countries and spoke very good English.  When his wife joined us we all got chatting and they told me they had just finished renovating an apartment in the old town and invited me to come and have a look and a ‘cocktail’ that evening with Bear Cub so he could play with their two girls toys.  I have been known to be a bit naive when it comes to men and never really know someone has ‘designs’ until they actually make a move.  I was a little suspicious of this man’s friendliness and hospitality but figured seen as he was there with his children and wife he was just being kind and Bear Cub really enjoyed having children to play with.  When his very beautiful and sophisticated wife met us in the square to take us back to the apartment and we approached the gate to the property, I suddenly realised that these people were probably millionaires!  I have never seen such a stunning apartment – if you can call it that – it was huge! As soon as you walked in a massive open arch way revealed a direct view of the sea and the beach below the cliff.  ‘Milan Man’ as I’ll call him showed me around the place, which was on two floors, pointing out details such as the tiles he’d had imported from an ancient Church in Calabria and a vase that was bigger than Bear Cub and hand-made from Sicily.  He then pointed out one of the balcony’s and explained to me that he had something special in mind for this place – something that I will enjoy on my next visit to them when I will be their guest (!) – a mini swimming pool and jacuzzi! He said all of this in front of his ‘wife’ so I still wasn’t sure if they were just really friendly or if he was making a pass. Was this intelligent and very beautiful woman oblivious to her husband’s, albeit subtle, advances or did she simply not care/mind?

Anyway, I had a lovely evening with them sitting on the amazing balcony watching the sunset over beautiful Tropea, sipping Prosecco and eating exquisite nibbles.  Milan Man was actually an ex-professional gymnast and actually competed in the Olympics for Italy 20 years ago and he readily demonstrated some impressive moves for the children (and me I think!).  At the end of the evening I was sent of with a string of authentic red Cipolla onions, which are famously specific to Tropea, a business card pressed into my hand and a ‘promise’ (from him not me) that I would be back.

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I have to laugh at the situations I have found myself in on this travelling adventure.  I think I could have been away longer.  Much longer in fact.  But for Bear Cub the last couple of weeks have been tough and because they’ve been hard for him, they’ve been trying for me too so it is definitely time to go home.  We still had the exciting trip of an overnight train from Salerno to Milan before flying home to London so it would be an adventure until the very end.

Unfortunately the journey home turned out to be one of the most trying days of the whole trip!  I think a combination of tiredness, long journeys and the prospect of imminently being home was all too much for Bear Cub and his behaviour was at its worse.  The tiredness, long journeys and heavy back pack also meant my patience was at it’s thinnest – an unfavourable combination!  I’m pretty sure that the only thing that stopped me doing something I’d regret at some points was the fact that we were constantly in public places!  We had a long stop of 3 hours to fill in Salerno before our night train arrived and there was absolutely nothing to do at the train station.  Thankfully we managed to stagger out of the station and the sea front was a 3 minute walk away so Bear Cub could let off a bit of steam and I could seethe in silence!

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When we finally did get the night train Bear Cub was so excited at the thought of sleeping on a train that he was hyper.  I was also looking forward to the experience having never done it before but our spirits were dampened when we discovered we’d be sharing our tiny cabin with another couple and their small child! This meant it was very cramped and I had to further try to contain Bear Cub’s excitement which further wound him up! Needless to say we did not get much sleep that night and arrived pretty exhausted in Milan at 7am the next morning.  My tiredness meant I felt even weaker and it felt like the backpack had somehow doubled in weight overnight.  We also had to get another train from Milan Porta Garibaldi to Milan Centrale where we would be getting the bus to the Milan Linate airport.  Fortunately once we reached Milan Centrale it was a very big station with many really good cafes.  In fact we found one that not only had great coffee (much-needed) and pastries but also free wi-fi and iPads you could use which kept Bear Cub occupied while I consumed a lot of caffeine.   I’ll spare you the details of the numerous meltdowns and tantrums we had at the airport and skip to arriving at Heathrow feeling like a foreigner in my own country.

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It was so strange to hear the English accents all around me.  It didn’t sound real, as if they were putting it on and faking it – either overly posh or dramatically cockney!  When the lady at security was foreign I suddenly had a rush of admiration for her and for anyone who has come from the comfort of what they know in their own country and settled in another culture, learned another language and engaged with another people, another lifestyle.  It is no small thing I now realise.  Having been the foreigner for even such a short time.

And so my travelling ends but I’m hoping my adventure is just beginning or maybe I should say continuing…

Italy – Part 1: Genova, Pisa/Lucca, Florence

Genoa

In Genova I found a beautiful city full of character and intrigue – far more interesting than I ever expected.  I also came across a man of exactly the same!

Genova was to be our first Air BnB experience.  I was happy to say goodbye to camping though I have to say it turned out to be far more enjoyable than I thought from our dubious start! That said, I was looking forward to a) not having to drive anymore and b) sleeping in a real bed!  Many people had told me about Air BnB and after the prices of hotels seemed extortionate after the cheapness of campsites, I thought we’d give it a go.  If you’re not familiar with Air BnB it is a booking system where (mostly) people who have spare rooms in their own home put you up and it is much cheaper and often gives a more authentic experience of the town or city where you’re staying too.    So we had booked to stay with Lucia in her apartment just 5 minutes walk from Genova Brignole station which greatly appealed as I knew I’d have my very heavy backpack and that Bear Cub would be tired.

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Dropping the rental car back at Nice station had been very stressful (I’ll spare you the details) but thankfully getting the train to Ventimiglia first and then Genova was straightforward.

Lucia’s directions were great and it really was just 5 minutes from the station.  I immediately loved the apartment when I saw the lift!  It was one of those old fashioned ones you see in movies with the metal cage outer door you open first and then 2 wooden wardrobe like doors behind that with a wooden fold down seat inside.  Her apartment was on the 6th floor, old and full of character.  It had a really lovely and peaceful vibe as did she.  Our room was very large with the most wonderful and huge round bed! I was honestly more excited about this than Bear Cub was.  Lucia showed us the bathroom and explained that one of the guys staying with her had his friends visiting so we needed to use just one of the two bathrooms that night and not the shower room.  It was at this point that I heard Bear Cub jabbering on in the hallway to someone enjoying a conversation and that is when I saw him.  He’d overheard Bear Cub ask me what the lady had said in Italian and I explained my Italian was much worse than my very poor French.  And he (understanding me) offered to help with any translation I needed – I later found out he spoke 5 languages!  I asked him where he was from and he hesitated then said, ‘Actually I am Mexican and German!’  I’ve never yet met a sexy German so I am going to call him ‘The Mexican.’  I didn’t know it at that point, except for he was extremely warm and kind and had a wonderful vibe about him, but The Mexican was going to teach me a lot about myself and relationships within just 24 hours – less in real time! (see separate post on my here).

Everything about The Mexican was ‘cool’ and not in a trendy cool way but it a real meaning of the word cool way – effortless, genuine, kind, authentic, interesting, interested, intelligent, deep, laid-back, comfortable in his own skin and just really, really ‘nice’.  Again not in the flimsy, mediocre, sickly meaning of the word but the original, complimentary definition of ‘nice’.  At this point in my head I just thought, ‘What a nice man.  He seems really nice’.  Then he asked Bear Cub if he wanted to see a wolf!  Now there are not many people who know me who don’t know my loves in life other than music and chocolate (and red wine and cake) are dogs!  Big dogs!  Well The Mexican had the coolest dog I have ever seen.  Also mixed race – he was a Husky and German Shepherd mix and absolutely gorgeous!  Now I firmly believe you can tell a lot about a man from his dog.  Indeed you can tell a lot about a person if they do or don’t like dogs.  Again this dog had not been chosen for image or status, it had been chosen for challenge and experience. The Mexican didn’t make decisions for them to be easy or convenient he made them to prove people wrong and to live life to the full and have experiences.  All this was shown to me through his choice of dog! And furthermore, he was travelling with said massive, intimidating, gorgeous dog.  This was only as mad as a woman travelling on her own with a 4 year old!!  I immediately knew we’d be good friends 🙂

On the roof, where the Wolf was kept, I met The Mexican’s friends who had just been cycling in The Alps! You can also tell a lot about a person by their friends (as well as their dog) and they were as lovely and crazy-adventurous (I mean cycling in The Alps??) as he was.  Bear Cub and I had been winding each other up more and more in the last 2 days so he really enjoyed having some ‘man time’ with them and they were all great playing with him and chatting to him.  It felt great being at Lucia’s place.  I exhaled and relaxed there.  It felt safe and in some strange sense I knew I was in exactly the right place in the right time in my life.

We were tired so Bear Cub and I made some pasta and had the most wonderful hot shower (it felt so good to be in a clean bathroom) and fell asleep in the fantastic round bed! Despite it being huge, Bear Cub managed to star fish in the middle of it and hog most of the space all night though!

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The next day we set out to explore Genova. One of my favourite experiences was sitting outside a cafe, drinking proper Italian coffee, in one of the lovely Piazza’s opposite a huge church watching a talented violinist play some wonderful pieces.  Suddenly I felt like I was truly in Italy and I knew it was going to be good.

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I was very aware that the first half of our Italy leg was going to be lots of sight-seeing and Cities and potentially boring and tiring for Bear Cub so I was really pleased  to discover that Genova had a lot on offer for children.  We visited La citta dei bambini a place roughly translated as ‘Kids City’ which was a little like a cross between the London Science Museum and a soft play centre.  And we visited yet another aquarium!

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All this and walking in the intense heat meant Bear Cub was exhausted by the evening.  We bought some fish from the market to cook for dinner to save money and headed back to the apartment.  After Bear Cub was tucked up in the huge, round bed I got chatting to The Mexican, over a bottle of wine until 2.30am!  It is both amazing and frustrating that you need to go to another country to meet someone you really connect with but then as the Erykah Badu song says, ‘I guess I’ll meet you next lifetime!’ I have some wonderful memories of Genova 🙂

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Pisa/Lucca

The next day we were off to Pisa but ended up going for a stroll to the beach and getting a much later train than planned.  It only took an hour and a half on the fast train though so we still managed to visit the leaning tower when we arrived before a late dinner.

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Again we’d booked through Air BnB and it was just ten minutes walk from the tower.  The place was clean and a great location but lacked the soul and character of Lucia’s place in Genova.  I’d been to Pisa before years ago and as I remembered it is a bit of a dump in places, however, I also remembered the beautiful little town of Lucca that was just a short way away.

The next morning at Breakfast we got chatting to a young couple from Spain (and Croatia) who mentioned they were driving to Lucca that morning and so offered us a lift.  I like to think Bear Cub was a good contraceptive to many young couples we met along our trip as I could see in their eyes that unspoken exchange of looks between them that said ‘Let’s wait a few more years for kids eh?’ as Bear Cub questioned them, threatened to ‘blow them up’ repeatedly and generally acted weird in their faces! Anyway, we had a lovely day in Lucca.  We actually hired some bikes from right outside the station and I was so glad Bear Cub had learned to ride his bike without stabilisers not long before we left for the trip.  Lucca is the most gorgeous, little walled village and you can actually ride all the way  around on the walls of the village in just 20-30 minutes at a leisurely pace.  We stopped at a play park and bought some fresh cherries and then once we’d been round the whole village we went in and explored the lovely little streets and shops within Lucca.  We found a lovely little coffee shop and enjoyed some pastries and then climbed to the top of Lucca’s own tower which amazingly has a tree growing at the top.  The view was stunning.  We had some lunch at the cheap cafe we’d found and then returned our bikes before getting the train back to Pisa which only took 30 minutes.

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After a shower we went to explore the leaning tower a bit more and did plan to climb up until we found it was 18 Euros.  Bear Cub was really disappointed until I found out you had to be 8 years old anyway to climb up so he wouldn’t have been allowed even if I had thought it worth the money.  We went to the Duomo instead and this was where I caught one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip.  I was just looking at something and turned around to find Bear Cub praying, unprompted and out loud.  It was the cutest prayer about life and love and asking God to not let any aeroplanes crash! He’d been winding me up so much but my heart melted seeing him talking to God so earnestly.  He then asked me to pray with him – so we did! 🙂

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Florence

Bear Cub and I had been winding each other up more and more over the last few days and it hit fever pitch when we got to Florence.  I don’t know if it was the heat or the tiredness of the sheer amount of intense time we’d had together but, Bear Cub’s behaviour had gotten notably worse and brattish and my patience and tolerance had grown dangerously thin!  We basically needed a break from each other.  And so it was a complete God-send when we arrived at our new Air BnB place in Florence to discover that the room we’d booked was still occupied so they upgraded us to their ‘Attic’ room which turned out to be a lovely little self-contained flat complete with its own kitchen, bathroom and balcony.  It looked brand new and was lovely and just what we needed.  It meant we had our own private space to chill out in, unwind and have a bit of space.  It was perfect!  We ventured out for some ice-cream from a real Gelateria and popped to the supermarket which was literally 4 minutes from the apartment and stocked up on food for lunches and dinners for the next 2 days.

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The next day was a Sunday and I woke to stomach cramps (which explained why my tolerance was wearing so thin) and Bear Cub was just not interested in going anywhere, so although we were in lovely Florence, we ended up spending most of the day in the flat and it was just what we both needed! It seemed like a shame in some ways but was absolutely what was required for the sake of both our sanity! We did go into the centre late afternoon and visited the Cathedral which even just from the outside was breathtakingly imposing, and we also found a play park for Bear Cub to let off some steam.

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Our time in Florence ended up being the most uneventful of the trip so far, but we were both too tired to be bored or disappointed.  It certainly worked to renew our strength and we could set off for Rome feeling relaxed.

France Part 2 – Marseille – Ramatuelle/St Tropez – Frejus/Nice

Marseille

We already had a campsite booked near St Tropez so Marseille seemed like a good stop in between from Lanuejols. The only problem was, French holiday season had literally started this weekend so I was warned it would be difficult to find anywhere.  One of the first places that popped up on my Internet search was a Facebook page called ‘Yes We Camp!’ in the L’estaque area of the Marseille coast. It called itself an ‘experimental’ campsite. It had been set up since April 2013 and would run until October 2013. It was a community project aimed at developing a space that was eco-friendly (dry toilets and sun-warmed showers) that was open to people from all over the world to come and share and help build and develop the space. There was also a programme of workshops, music and artists. It was also 7 Euros a night including breakfast! I sent an email. I got a reply saying their booking system says they are full but they will make an exception for Bear Cub and I. I was a little apprehensive at staying at what sounded like a cross between a music festival and a hippy commune so I also sent off an email to a ‘conventional’ campsite that was also cheap. They came back to me saying they were full so Yes We Camp it was!

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It took ages to get there. In miles it was not so far but coming down the constantly winding mountains in a car that can only cope with 30 mph on any incline made for a slow and tiring journey. Once we got to the coast we stopped for lunch in Montpelier in the old part of the city and it was actually really lovely. A very characterful and elegant city.
When we finally arrived in Marseille, all I knew was that it was in the L’estaque part of the city. Amazingly I found some signs and stumbled across the campsite. My first impression was ‘where have I brought my child to?’. All though very ‘cool’ looking it looked very ‘unfinished’. It was built on a disused patch of concrete land in the port of L’estaque and basically consisted of some scaffolding structures that housed various caravans, old boats and pods an cabins that had been made into makeshift accommodation for campers. There were also a few astro-turf ‘platforms’ just a few inches of the ground to accommodate campers who brought their own tents. I’d been informed by email that there was no room but an exception would be made for us. What this meant was that we had to erect our tent on the actual ground next to one of the platforms on the first night and could move to a platform for the second night. However, this was easier said than done as it turned out underneath the gravel on the ground was concrete!!! We ended up putting up the tent using stones to hold the ropes out and tying the front to one of the platforms. It was very flimsy but remembering our first night of camping I felt the tent would survive one night and so would we. We had a quick look around the camp at the ‘dry toilets’ (gag) and sun-warmed showers – I wondered if we could do 2 nights!

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We were tired and hungry and I am ashamed to say we resorted to evil MacDonalds!! I NEVER eat MacDonalds yet on this trip we have done twice! Mainly because I have found it to be one of the only places with strong, free Wifi! They also always have a park outside so I can get to work booking our schedule while Ru has some kid time and plays. I was kind of dreading going back to the campsite but we reluctantly did so only to find the whole place buzzing with a great vibe. Music was playing and the bar had opened and people were beginning to mill about. It was not a very big campsite so was not too crowded. Yes We Camp has it’s own currency – Gastons – and you have to go to the Gaston van to buy them before you can get any drink or food. It gave a real feel that this was indeed it’s own little experimental world.  Bear cub found a little boy of 5 dancing his heart out on his own in front of the DJ and promptly went and joined him while I headed to purchase some Gastons. This was where I met the ‘French Toy Boy’.

‘French Toy Boy’ was a cheeky chap with a friendly open face, good looking (and knew it)and with a quick tongue. He must have said something about me in French to his companion as when I didn’t respond he said ‘You don’t speak French then?’ His English was very good. He had in fact lived where I work in London and he’d done everything from working in Hostels to being an unofficial social worker to an Au Pair. We got chatting . He started flirting. It was then I realised he didn’t realise I was on ‘old lady’ so I hit him with the line that usually gets them running ‘Yes I’m here travelling with my 4 year old son’. ‘Damn!’ he exclaimed before he could stop himself and then ‘How old are you then?’ The French, I’ve found, are very direct. ‘Guess?’ I said – my favourite game. ‘Well I would have said 26 but now I know you have a kid then maybe you are 30 or 31?’ It always amazes me that people think if you have kids you must be old when my mum had my sister and I at 19! Anyway it was a lot of fun to see his face as I continued to say ‘older’ as he worked his way up the 30’s! By time I said ‘yep’ at 37 his eyebrows were almost touching his hairline! So I thought that would be it – I’d successfully scared him off and given my ego a massage in the process 🙂

However, I then kept running into him – lastly in the communal showers!!! (He did have a great body, though a little short for me). He continued to flirt. I told him I was probably old enough to be his mother and asked his age to which I was shocked to find the answer was 23!! A baby! He was however, great company and we had some fun and at 37 I was taught how to properly French-kiss for the first time! In my head it was meant to help me get over the guy I was here to get over – let’s call him ‘The Artist’ (I know, I need to date a maths lecturer or computer engineer in future – all artists and musicians are trouble and hereby banned!) but it didn’t :-/ I just felt guilty for some reason and missed him even more! Still progress to do on this one.

Being at ‘Yes We Camp’ did turn out to be a really fun couple of days though and certainly added to our ‘experience’ of travelling. We also got a boat to the main town, which Bear Cub loved, and had some amazing Crepes at a Creperie in the centre of Marseille.

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I don’t know what it is about Marseille but I have never been in a place where I got so many compliments from young men. In one day I was called ‘beautiful’ and ‘a model’ by 3 different men! So if ever I feel low in the self esteem area I know I just need to take a trip to Marseille! 🙂
Bear Cub enjoyed the freedom of ‘Yes We Camp’ where he could stay up late and go wherever he wanted really but we were both also looking forward to getting some beach time again.
Ramatuelle/St Tropez

I had thought the journey to our next campsite – Les Eucalyptus – would be the most straight forward as it was just up the coast from Marseille and less than 2 hours away. It actually turned out to be one of the most stressful! Suddenly, when we were only 40 minutes away, the Sat Nav told me to turn off the motorway.  I thought it a bit strange but it had been pretty good so far so I did and continued. After around 20 minutes it suddenly went crazy and then simply said ‘no route found’. Whatever destination I typed in it said the same. I knew I couldn’t be far so continued for maybe another 10/20 minutes before I realised I was actually heading back where I came from! I was so annoyed! I turned around and headed back for the big motorway. It added 40 minutes to our journey but as soon as I rejoined the motorway, we should never have left in the first place, the Sat Nav randomly started working again. Hungry and stressed (again) we stopped for lunch by the beach and bought a bucket and spade and Bear Cub had a ride on the merry-go-round and both felt a little better.
Again, I had a bit of trouble finding our campsite but it was exactly between a lovely little village n a hill called Ramatuelle and the bustling, vibe of St Tropez. The beach was literally through a gate of our campsite and 100 metres away! We got the tent up and then headed out for dinner and thought we’d check out St Tropez.

I have never seen anything like St Tropez! Firstly the sheer amount of traffic in one tiny town was incredible. We circled for half an hour trying to find a space to no avail. While circulating I felt like I was in some weird special episode where ‘The only way is Essex’ meets ‘Made in Chelsea’. I have never seen so many fake body parts and pretentious looking people in my life! In the end we had to drive to Ramatuelle which was the same distance the other side of our campsite. It was still tough to find a parking space here but we eventually did and the lovely little village was a welcome surprise. We went to the first restaurant we saw and ordered quickly. However, the service was slow. Painfully slow! Bear Cub was bordering on a meltdown and we were both close to being too tired to eat when it finally arrived. In fact we even left before the dessert that was included in the meal. To make matters worse there was a police diversion the way we came so I had to somehow find my way back in the dark along country roads to our campsite!

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Les Eucalytpus was a small site in a great location close to the beach as I said. It was literally just a campsite with a toilet and shower block but was very well kept and clean. Most of the campsites I booked for our French leg were via ‘Cool Camping’ which I highly reccommend, however, Les Eucalyptus did have one completely scathing review. It was so in-depth and long and bad it did make me think twice about booking it and I did meet a family in Lanuejols who said they didn’t book there because of it.  However, I always feel things are sometimes a matter of perspective and depend on what a person’s expectations and desires of a place are.  We actually enjoyed the campsite. The only part of the review I could agree with, which was a bit annoying, was that is was very close to a private resort on the beach that played very loud ‘party’ music until quite late at night. However, we’d just come from the campsite in Marseille which was a bit like a music festival and there had been quite a storm on the last night and Bear Cub had slept through all of it oblivious, so I wasn’t too worried.  (In fact after our Yes We Camp experience it has made me determined to take Bear Cub to an actual music festival next year – something I would never have been brave enough to do before this!) Apart from the loud music, for a beach holiday it was perfect. Also at 8am every morning the ‘bread man’ would drive in and toot his horn and you could buy fresh bread, croissants and other pastries for very cheap.

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It was nice to be on the beach and Bear Cub had a great time playing in the sea and with the sand. We also continued our daily reading of ‘Life of Pi’ together. Bear Cub was absolutely riveted. I kept expecting him to get bored but he insisted I read more and more of it to him just occassionally asking what certain words meant. I’m sure it looked like I was a pushy mother forcing her 4-year-old to read modern literature instead of nursery rhymes!

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On a motherhood note, and to prove it has not all been fun and plain sailing, Bear Cub suffered from really bad constipation while we were here (sorry for TMI factor but that’s parenting!) probably due to all the bread and pasta we were eating. So much so that we had to go to the chemist to get some immediate relief. And when they say ‘immediate’ boy do they mean it!!! It is so glamorous being a mum :-/ He then proceeded to go the other way for a few days which believe me, was worse!
We had 3 nights at Les Eucalyptus to slow down our pace and had some good beach time and it was much needed after our busy schedule.
Frejus

Our next stop was just an hour away along the coast line in the seaside port town of Frejus. we were staying at a Youth Hostel that had been recommended to me. We couldn’t check in until after 5.30pm so we headed for the port and arrived to find a vibrant food market along the sea front. They were selling some delicious hot cooked food as well as fruit and vegetables. We bought some fresh cooked ham, sausages and chicken which ended up providing lunch and dinner for two days.
Annoyingly we could not find the hostel for a while but then some young guys actually drove us there (we followed them) and it turned out we’d been a stones throw from it but missed the turning as it was quite hidden. The Frejus Youth Hostel was a great location. The hostel itself was very old but it was set within its own Wood and you could choice where to put your tent anywhere you liked. They also had kitchen facilities so we could cook rather than eat out (our little gas stove had run out of gas just the day before! It had been a good excuse to dine out for our one posh meal of the trip so far and I had an amazing seafood risotto!) Again it was all very basic but was in beautiful surroundings with a supermarket close by and a 5 minute drive to both Frejus and the other little port town St Raphael. The only problem for me was the amount of mosquitos. After the first night I woke and Bear Cub and I counted 20 bites on my body!! I’m slightly allergic to them too so they swell up and throb as well as itch so not fun 😦

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I think the tiredness had been catching up with BearCub again and also the fact that we’d had so much intense time together as his behaviour had got increasingly difficult over these next days so I was pleased we would soon be reaching Italy where he could sleep in a proper bed – though he seemed to sleep just fine in the tent – just needed less late nights!

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For our second day at Frejus we went to St Raphael and visited the beach and Bear Cub played in the water while I read. Back at the campsite we made our dinner and at the kitchen area found ourselves surrounded by 7 French men of varying ages where only 2 spoke very little English. However, they seemed to be very sweet with Ru who jabbered on to them anyway.  After Ru was asleep in the tent I went to use the Wifi at the hostel and on my way back from the showers one of the French guys asked me if I would join them for a drink. I was going to say no but then thought I’d have just one so sat down for a glass of wine. The guy who had invited me spoke really very little English so the conversation dried up pretty quickly. He then started tapping away on his phone. He kept fidgeting about nervously and then finally showed me the screen where his ‘translator’ had written ‘You are a very beautiful woman!’. ‘Merci Beaucoup’ I replied thinking him very sweet. It was only when a little later he showed me the screen again which said ‘I don’t want to offend, but do you want to spend the night with me?’, that I wasn’t quite so impressed! Around the same time one of the other guys casually pulled out a gun to show the others. It was real, it was loaded! It was time for me to go to bed!!! ‘French phone guy’ walked me back to the tent and in pretty clear English this time said very abruptly, ‘Give me a kiss!’ to which I simply replied ‘Non!’ He got the message and sulked off! Never a dull moment eh?!
We were up early the next day as I wanted to get the tent down before breakfast so we could leave for the 1 hour drive to Nice to drop the rental car off as soon as we’d eaten. I felt a little sad, very proud and mostly pleased to pack up the tent for the last time. This city girl was definitely converted to a camping adventure queen!

France has been wonderful: Beautiful, freeing and expansive for me inwardly as well as outwardly.

I wonder what adventures Italy will hold….

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France Part 1 – Planes, Manses & Lanuejols

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Perpignon – Planes

After getting a little lost (again) we actually managed to return the hire car to Girona airport no problem.  We then had to get a bus back to Girona train station where we would be getting a high-speed train to Perpignon via Figueres to start the French leg of our travels.  My plan was to drop the backpack in Left Luggage and walk round Girona town again as we had a few hours before our train.  However, one thing I have learned about travelling with a 4-year-old is to ‘under plan’ everything and to allow double the time to do everything.  Bear Cub had woken that morning complaining of a ‘funny’ tummy.  I was worried at first that he had eaten something that disagreed with him but I soon realised he was literally exhausted and the many late nights and early mornings had finally caught up with him despite napping during car journey’s in the day.  He really did look ill, poor bear, and was very pale.  I put him to sleep in the car and he thankfully had almost an hour while I dismantled the tent which gave him enough energy to make it to the airport and the train station.  However, I could feel an imminent meltdown once we’d reached there so we decided to hang out in the cool air-conditioned train station.  Bear Cub actually constantly kept falling asleep and napping on every chair he sat on.  It at least kept him from being bored so that before we knew it, it was time to board the train.

The High-speed train was lots of fun and the changeover was smooth except the journey was so short, Bear Cub was a very grizzly bear indeed when I had to wake him at Perpignan.  We then had a very stressful 40 minutes of trying to locate the Hertz car hire place which was supposedly ‘at’ the train station – me sweating and straining with the huge backpack and Bear Cub in tears from tiredness.  It’s amazing the internal dialogue I have had in terms of my parenting along this journey.  It ranges from patting myself on the back and thinking I’m doing pretty good as a mum when Bear Cub is ecstatic at spotting a lizard or climbing a ‘real’ mountain, to wondering if I need to report myself to Childline when I’m forcing my son to trail round a railway station in 34 degree heat with a backpack on his back while I hiss and moan at him for being whiney!!!  Anyway, it turned out the Hertz place was actually not in the station but across the road and down the street.  By now it was 6.30pm and I was aware we still had a 2 hour journey ahead of us to our campsite. What made matters a little more daunting was that I soon discovered that the car we’d been given had the power of a moped and was no match for the winding roads and steep hills of the Pyrenees!! At some stretches we were crawling a long in 2nd gear and must have looked quite a comical sight – though at this stage I wasn’t really finding anything funny!! Bear Cub immediately fell asleep and I was left to take in the breath-taking scenery.  I really have never seen such amazing views and it helped to calm me and quiet the voice inside condemning me for my bad parenting!

The journey was long and was pretty scary on some of the steep bends around the beautiful Pyrenees but we eventually found our campsite and it was well worth the journey.

L’orri de Planes is an Ecological Country House with a Gite, rooms, Eco-tents and free camping sites too.  It was small but perfectly equipped, immaculately clean, with a pool and WiFi.  The ethos of the owners, Arif and Marta is to create a site that is as sustainable as possible.  The food was all locally sourced, everything was recycled, the whole place was solar-powered and everywhere you looked were signs advising you not waste water, lights or any energy.  The restaurant is apparently known to serve some of the best food in the region and we gratefully sampled a delicious Lasagne when we arrived exhausted from our journey.  By this time it was almost 9pm and Bear Cub was beside himself with tiredness.  I relented and asked Arif if they had any rooms free so we could get a good night’s sleep and he did but also offered us the cheaper option of the Gite. The Gite was actually like a Scandinavian style hut like hostel with 10 beds in the room.  There was only one other person staying in there so we opted to sleep on the mezzanine level which had 4 beds and a measure of added privacy due to being elevated.  This was the best decision Id made that day and we stayed 3 nights with Bear Cub sleeping until 10am one morning and much better for it!

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L’Orri de Planes is a great place and I can’t recommend it enough.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and Bea Cub especially enjoyed a ride on Le Petit Train Jaune which is an open top train that takes you on a ride along the cliff top edges of the Pyrenees.  We also climbed a mountain (just a little one) and paddled in a natural waterfall/river.  With more children at the site Bear Cub even made some friends so it was smiles all round!

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Manses near Mirepoix

After feeling much more rested we headed to our next stop – Belrapayre – Europe’s only Retro Trailer park in Manses near Mirepoix.  Coline, the owner along with her husband, Perry had warned me that it was their annual retro airstream meeting that weekend so if it was a quiet stay I was after it was not the place! I thought it sounded like fun but opted for just one night just in case.  I now wish I’d stayed longer!! We had a fantastic time!

Driving everywhere in France is beautiful.  Passing fields packed to the corners with Sunflowers, hills, mountains and trees you can’t help but drive along with a smile on your face.

We found Belrapayre fairly easily thanks to NavFree France and the place immediately has an impact on you. Belrepayre is not only full of amazing, immaculately restored retro Airstream trailers but the whole place is decorated to fit in with the retro feel.  The reception is a trailer adorned with classic, American car signs, 60’s decor and mannequins kitted out in the appropriate gear.  The trailer pitches are surrounded with pink flamingos and the walkways have half old cars and old-fashioned bath tubs filled with flowers.  The play area has a real old double-decker bus and London taxi parked up and a red phone box that made us feel at home 🙂

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Perry and Coline are fantastic people and have a wonderful story to tell. Perry, originally from Surrey U.K, was actually one of the most famous clowns in Europe and his Father was a well-known British actor.  He persuaded Coline to run away to the circus with him and they eventually had their own circus that travelled round Europe along with their four sons.  After many years they sold the circus and set up the Airstream Retro park that is Belrepayre and what a wonderful place it is.  They are the perfect welcoming guests and everything is a bit tongue-in-cheek, kitsch and fun!

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The Airstream meeting in the evening consisted of everyone dressing as retro as possible and enjoying a special 3 course meal with a live French duo performing and the evening culminated in the annual slap-stick performance from Perry and one of his sons, Correo, who is also a professional performer.  Nothing is taken too seriously and a lot of fun was had by all.  Perry ended the evening with a DJ set as his alter-ego ‘Johnny Lotion’.  Somehow Bear Cub managed to stay up until midnight and we had a fabulous time.

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This stop was the one where I first made some real friends who made a real impact on me and I intend to keep in touch with.  Dr Egbert Mulder is a Director of the biggest Yoga centre in Amsterdam and has attended the Airstream meeting 3 years in a row.  This year was the first on his own with his 3 children since he separated from his wife.  Egbert was a successful businessman and consultant and decided to radically change his life and do something of ‘meaning’ so sold his businesses and now focuses on developing the centre. He was amazingly wise and calming and hugely positive.  He kept reminding me that ‘Life is something that happens while we’re busy making plans!’ He also showed me some great techniques for dealing with stress.  It was interesting to me that he told me ‘stress’ is not about being busy, it s about any negative emotion.  And all negative emotion immobilises us.  We’re then unable to think straight, make decisions or plan ahead.  We are literally incapacitated by all negative emotion.  We therefore need to deal with ‘stress’ so that we can move forward in to the future.  This was spot on for me.

Another lovely person I met was Lenka, a Thai Massage Therapist from Czech republic.  She instantly befriended me and we talked for most of the evening.  I also attended one of her workshops the next morning and it was wonderful!

All in all Belrapayre was a great experience and I fully intend to go for the Airstream meeting next year!

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On the way to our next destination we stopped at Carcasonne which has a beautiful and magical castle with lovely little shops, artists studios and cafes within its walls.  We didn’t have time to pay and go in the castle part itself but loved the bustling vibe and Bear Cub enjoyed playing Knights and hunting Dragons in the grounds.

Lanuejols

Our next stop took a lot longer to get to than I anticipated as we basically had to drive down to the coast before we could go up back into the Mid Pyrenees and our skateboard car did not like the windy roads at all! It took almost 4 hours and our petrol tank was low – really low! I can tell you now I was praying like mad! It was a Sunday and all the little petrol stations, few and far between were closed.  I was kicking myself for not filling up in Millau the nearest big town to our site which was actually 40 mins away! By the skin of our teeth we limped into Domaine des Pradines exhausted – more from the stress and worry than anything else.

I have to admit, Domaine des Pradines was my least favourite campsite so far.  It was rustic and wild which I’d come to prefer to the more commercial campsites but I found the toilets and showers dirty and the facilities a bit unkept.  However, Bear Cub had made friends before I’d even finished putting the tent up (which I now have down to a fine art by the way!) and with a small pool, two parks, a table tennis room and tennis courts, he was more than happy! For me it was a bit isolated.  There was nothing outside of the park except for the little village of Lanuejols which didn’t have much and was not exceptionally pretty like some of the places we’d seen.

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I got to work booking our next stop.  We did have a campsite earmarked that was again in the Natural Parks and mountains but the owner had irritated me by refusing to communicate to me in anything but French even though she was actually English! After her first email I replied in my very basic French politely saying my French was poor.  She simply sent a much longer, more complicated reply in French! I had to use Google translate in the end! It took 3 emails back and forth just to find out how I could actually book.  Now I know us English are very lazy with languages and I admit I’ve been ashamed of my French while here when Ive come across Swiss, Dutch and Czech people all fluent in both French and English.  However, I felt she was taking her point too far – especially as she was English! So we sacked that one.  Besides, we felt we needed to get back to the coast and the beaches and away from the winding roads of the Pyrenees in our ‘skate-board’ car.  It was pretty taxing winding down a mountain for hours on end at 30 mph!!

We have been in France for just a week and it has been exhausting and exhilarating.  We’ve already experienced so many different sides of this beautiful country.  The French countryside  is both inviting and embracing, it massages your soul into peaceful reflection and the sights and smells literally lift your spirits as you take them all in.  I’d also personally finally begun to feel the changes within myself that I so desired on this trip: Clarity, vision for the future, peace and being okay with being on my own.

I already have a lot to thank France for and I think this is the start of a lifelong friendship.  I’ve always fallen in love easily but I’m falling fast even for me with France!Image

Travelling sideways

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I see my reflection looking back at me in various windows.

Travelling my journey to new found places within me as well as without.

My expression is non-perplexed.  Serene even.

A curious, demure look privately exciting myself,

at the prospect of the next discovery that awaits at my next stop.

A revelation about myself revealed by a place.

Unwrapped before me in the form of challenges and fears faced and conquered.

Gradually I begin to embrace the fear.

I ride anxiety, using it to propel me onwards, upwards and beyond my own barriers I’d previously believed impenetrable.

This is what growing feels like.

This is how life sounds when it’s allowed to breathe: A glorious exhalation, letting out limitations.

I watch them float away from me and know they will never return.

My wings are stretched.

I am poised to fly.

An extra word about Girona…

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So Girona turned out to be my favourite stop in Spain.  It was a long journey to Girona from Castellon so we stopped for lunch in Tarragona.  Suddenly everyone seemed to speak English and I realised how isolated I’d been really only having had two adult conversations in a whole week!  It’s funny how many people can be around you yet somehow you’re trapped in a box with you somehow on the inside and everyone else on the outside.  However, it was short lived as in Girona I still struggled to be understood but there were notiably many more French speakers around us being so close to the border.  However I was amazed as I watched our host and owner of our campsite, Can Toni Manescal, Lorenc speak at least four different languages to guests!  The site was probably the most basic and oldest we’d been to but I loved it.  We were high up with amazing views of the Pyrenees in the distance and Ru loved the swimming pool.  It was great to see his confidence growing in the water.  He also finally found some friends which helped to alieviate my guilt at dragging him across a country with only me for company!

But perhaps the best thing about my stay in Girona was the food!  Lorenc put on a set menu each evening of delicious, home-cooked food.  Most impressive was the fresh coloured salad with flowers (yes real flowers) from their garden.  I have never tasted such a delicious salad!

After the first night we drove into Girona itself where a wonderful delight met us in the form of the most gorgeous little town I’ve ever seen.  We crossed the river over a cute little bridge into the old part of the town and visited the imposing Cathedral.  It had a real impact on me.  It actually felt like a real spiritual experience.  I’m not sure if it was to do with the building itself or the fact that many have sought God within its walls and the presence of many heartfelt prayers was almost tangible, hanging peacefully yet expectantly in the air.

We’re off to France tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to it.  My French is poor (in fact Bear Cub’s is probably better than mine!) but it somehow seems more accessible and I have always had a strange draw to France.  So well see what tomorrow’s adventure brings!

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