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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Spain – it’s been personal! The first leg of our trip.

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Alicante

Well we’re here! Getting Bear Cub up at 3.45am was not the ordeal I expected and he seemed to cope with it better than me!  The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Alicante still fairly early in the morning.  I was very proud of myself that I managed to get us to our guest house by bus and not taxi as was tempting.  La Milagrosa was only a 5 minute walk from where the bus dropped us at the beach but with me loaded up like a packhorse with our stuff it took more like 10-15.

Alicante’s old town is beautiful – quaint and picturesque – exactly what you’d want and exect from an old Spanish town.  The B&B we stayed in turned out to be a real find. Though basic, it was clean, cheap and superbly located – in the old town and a 5 minute walk from the beach, opposite Basilica Santa Maria and with views of Castilla de Santa Barbara from the rooftop breakfast terrace. The Basilica of Santa Maria is the oldest active church in Alicante, Spain. It was built-in Gothic style between the 14th and 16th centuries over the remains of a mosque. Santa Bárbara Castle is a fortification in the centre of Alicante, Spain. It stands on the Mount Benacantil.

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On our first day we had a lazy explore and hit the beach in the afternoon after Bear Cub had tasted his first proper Tapas.  The beach at Plaza del Mar was crowded but lovely and with beautiful blue, clear, warm water so we enjoyed a dip, a splash and a play as well as a little snooze together on the beach in the sun 🙂  For dinner after a much needed shower we ate at a fish restaurant that was fairly reasonable and Bear Cub was fascinated and repulsed by the squid!

On our second day in Alicante, we ventured up the mountain to Castilla de Santa Barbara, Alicante’s famous castle.  We wisely took the lift up (€2.50 for me and free for Bear Cub) and walked back down (and got a little lost!) The views at the top were breath-taking and Bear Cub loved seeing the old cannons, battering rams and catapults they had there.  There also happened to be a great little exhibition on at the Castle of the ‘History of Alicante’ told by Play Mobil figures and scenes.  It was a bit pricey for what it was €7 for me and €4 for Bear Cub – but fun nevertheless and Bear Cub thought it was very cool!

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After a brief rest back at the B&B we spent the afternoon at the beach again frolicking in the sea and building sand castles – which it turns out I am rubbish at!  Then it was back for a shower and out for dinner – Pizza this time!

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On our last morning we made a brief visit to the Museum of Contemporary Arts which was also just opposite our B&B and had a lay on a park.  Then it was time to load up the pack-horse and head to the airport to pick up our hire car for the next week.  As we left the B&B I was a bit apprehensive realising it was the last time I would be sleeping in a proper bed for a good few weeks!

Valencia

Our first camping stop was in Valencia – two hours drive North from Alicante.

It has been eventful! It has been challenging!  First there was the ordeal of the car hire.  It turns out you can’t pay cash for the fuel and one-way fee I had outstanding and they only accept credit card.  I don’t own a credit card!  Nobody told me this!  I used the airport computer to transfer money from my bank account to my Post Office Travel money card which has the MasterCard symbol – apparently this was no good either as it did not have my name on it!  In the end I was forced to take their insurance even though I had already bought my own stand alone policy which saves a lot of money, and they took my debit card while I prayed it didn’t bounce after I’d moved most of the funds to the P.O card! It didn’t bounce – we were off!

The next challenge was getting used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  Little did I know this was to be the least of my challenges over the next 24 hours!

After wasting an hour deciding I didn’t trust the Sat Nav to take me to Pedralba, Valencia, we finally got on our way and thankfully Ru slept for most of the journey.  Arriving at our campsite in the Valencian countryside  – Campo Pedralba – run by a lovely Dutch couple Rinco and Annalieke – it was certainly rustic!  Absolutely beautiful, but rustic. Campo Pedralba has a cabin, a Yurt and 3 adorable Tipees as well as the field we had to ourselves.  There is a lovely outdoor kitchen for the use of campers. Immaculately clean with a great little pool that Bear Cub loved it was a little haven but felt very far away from the city and the coast.

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My first camping experience was to be a baptism by fire.  Why oh why did I not practice this in England before? I’d sort of had a go at putting my tent up in my mum’s garden but without the tent pegs and this was the part that proved to be a big problem! The ground was rock solid from the scorching sun!  It was 6.30pm and still 32 degrees and I sweated and stressed over this tent for an hour at least tying to get the tent pegs in using a large rock and bending most of them in the process!  I finally got it up in a fashion.  Bear Cub who was understandably, bored hot and bothered by now was hungry and tired too!  I was stressed and close to tears and wondering if the whole thing was a bad idea! Camping? Abroad?  What was I thinking?? After a quick pasta dinner and a much needed shower – I seriously have not sweated so much in my life – It was bedtime!  Bear Cub slept like a log and I hardly slept a wink!  It was just so hot in the tent and I couldn’t get comfortable.  Plus my head was full of worry – about the tent pegs, about being an irresponsible parent, about the whole trip – while Bear Cub slept peacefully on.

The next day was an early start and I was exhausted.  But we ventured to Valencia (40 mins away)in search of the Oceonografic – Valencia’s famous aquarium – apparently one of the biggest in Eurpoe and Bear Cub is a huge fan of sea life!  As usual in the past 24 hours, things did not go t plan and due to a series of bad directions, miscommunications  and travelling in circles, we finally got the right bus to the aquarium.  thankfully it was worth it. The Oceonografic was very impressive and Bear Cub was enthralled, though a little too tired to enjoy it fully due to the long walk in the hot sun.  But we watched the amazing Dolphin show, saw sharks and Beluga whales up close and every kind of fish that must exist.

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On the way back to the camp site we stopped in sleepy, quaint Pedralba where no body seemed to speak a word of English – the butcher didn’t even know the word for sausage which made for some interesting gesturing! We bought dinner and returned to the site and cooked on the lovely outdoor kitchen.

It’s another late night for Bear Cub at 9.45pm and I’m writing this in the dark while he sleeps next to me through an almighty thunderstorm – wind, rain, thunder and lightning – the lot! If the tent is still standing by the morning – I’ll be amazed!  Well this was meant to be an adventure!

Castellon

Well the tent stayed up so my skills can’t  have been as poor as I thought and I slept a little better too.  After taking down the tent (much, much easier than putting it up) Bear Cub had a swim in the little pool while I chatted to our lovely hosts who in one word became my camping saviours – Decathalon!  Decathalon, as I discovered to my utter delight was not just a camping show but a camping superstore – an outdoor adventurers heaven and the holders of stronger tent pegs, a mallet, a cotton sleeping bag liner (much cooler than a bag) and a mini stove and pan set that I left with an hour later.  Plus new sandals as I was very annoyed to find my Merrell geek sandals broke already less than a week in!  Equipped for anything we headed for Castellon and arrived at Camping Ribamar under two hours later.  This time we’re right by the sea and I am not just pleased but downright chuffed and patting myself on the back and doing a victory dance to say that I am tying this in a tent I put up like a pro with my new gadgets and in a fraction of the time and sweat as before! High-fiving myself as I type this.  I also cooked us a pasta dinner on our little stove and pan set!  Camping Ribamar is situated actually in the Natural Park of Sierra de Irta. The site is really well equipped but much more commercial than Campo Pedralba and bigger and busier and therefore much noisier.  The little kids seem to be allowed to stay up al night here! Bear Cub is asleep next to me so it doesn’t seem to bother him but I’m not good with noise. but I am slowly adapting to camping.  Better stop now and close the tent as I have a feeling I’m being eaten alive by mozzies!

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We plan to visit Peniscola tomorrow which has to be good if it’s named after the male most *troublesome body part and a soft drink!

Adios Amigos!

* perhaps this should be amended to ‘the mind’

Peniscola was beautiful; a little walled village high on a mountain overlooking a beautiful beach. Unfortunately Bear Cub was too tired to climb to the top to see the castle, which I would have liked to do, so we headed for the beach instead and into the clear, blue sea and he was delighted to find fish swimming around us! On the way back to the campsite we stopped off for dinner at Alcossebre the nearest town to our campsite which was just beginning to come to life for the evening at 7pm!  We’re gradually getting used to the siesta when everything pretty much shuts down from 2-6pm and children seem to stay up a lot later here.  It is pretty much 33 degrees every day until 8pm so it is impossible to put Bear Cub to bed any earlier than 9/10pm.  We are getting around this by letting him have a sleep during the day usually when we are travelling in the car.  It has worked so far although I think the tiredness is beginning to catch up on him. It’s off to our last stop in Spain tomorrow before we venture to France.

Girona

The journey from Castellon to Girona was our longest yet of around 3 hours so we stopped for lunch in Tarragona.  One thing I am discovering as a hidden cost is the huge amount of toll roads on the Spanish highways.  It is of course possible to avoid them by taking a different route but this can add up to a couple of hours on to your journey which is undesirable with a four-year old in tow! I really should say my one of my saving graces when travelling around so far has been a brilliant Smart phone App I saw recommended on Money Saving Expert called ‘Nav Free’.  It is a Sat Nav App that is free and requires no Internet connection – unlike Google Maps.  I downloaded the App for Spain, France and Italy and so far it has been great.  You can also switch it to walking mode which has helped me to find places in towns and villages.

Our campsite in Girona was Can Toni Manescal and turned out to be my favourite so far in Spain despite being the most basic.  We had lovely views of the Pyrenees in the distance, a nice pool and it was basically run by a family on their farm so the air was filled with the sounds of Cocks crowing, donkeys hee-hawing and ducks quacking.  The friendly host, Llorenç ran the campsite from their lovely farm-house and they also provided the menu each evening which turned out to be the best food I’ve had in Spain so far, particularly their ‘Coloured salad with fresh flowers from the garden’ – this was possibly the best salad I’ve ever had.  On the two nights we stayed we were treated to grilled pork loin, barbecued sausage and grilled giant prawns.

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When we visited the town of Girona just a short drive away I fell in love.  We parked by the old part and crossed the little bridge into what seemed like a magical land the centrepiece of which was the stunning Cathedral.  I don’t usually like paying for looking round churches but it was so beautiful on the outside I wanted to see inside and Bear Cub was unusually keen too.  At 7 Euros it was worth it as the Cathedral was stunning.  The best word to describe it was awesome.  It really did fill me with awe.  I’m not sure if there really is something special about Holy buildings themselves or just the effect of so many people seeking God and talking to him there, but there was most definitely a tangible feeling of peace and holiness and I found it centred me in some way.

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For the afternoon we headed back to the campsite for a lazy session by the pool and then I prepared to fit everything back in the back pack as we would be returning our car the next day to Girona airport.  This was quite a task as we had spread out somewhat over that last week pretty much dumping stuff all over the car and had acquired a few items too including some camping materials.

On the morning we left, Bear Cub woke up feeling ill but I suspected he was  so let him sleep over-tired in the car while I packed down the tent and attempted to squeeze our life into the backpack.  Then it was off to the airport to return the car and then to the train station to travel to Perpignan for the French leg of our trip!

Au Revoir!

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Is there such a thing as ‘The One’?

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No I’m not talking about Neo and the Matrix, but you know… the One! Soul Mate.  Life Partner. Destined one and only!  I used to be very sure that there was.  Growing up since my mid teens as a Christian and being a self-confessed romantic I felt sure God would lead me to the man who had been prepared in advance for only me and we would therefore be completely compatible in every way and he would be my prince and rescue me from all messed up views due to a lack of a strong Father figure and we’d basically live happily ever after.

As you know, this was not my story and it didn’t work out anywhere close to how it was meant to in my head seen as I am now divorced and a single parent!  So did I make a mistake?  Did I simply not choose wisely? Did I give up too easily?  Did God get it wrong? Of course I have gone over all these questions many times in the past few years and it’s caused me a lot of fear with regards to whether I would ever be able to make a ‘right’ choice of partner in the future.  The whole experience made me distrust myself more than I distrusted God about it and I am often heard to proclaim how ‘bad I am at relationships’.

However, recently I had a bit of an epiphany:

There is no such thing as ‘the one’ unless you choose one!

My ex was not a ‘wrong’ choice.  It just didn’t work out and the right choices were not made to enable the relationship to continue.  Just like to a certain extent your happiness is a matter of choice – i.e. you’re as happy as you choose to be – the right partner is the one you choose.  Bar of course those who are a clear bad choice as in they are damaging to you in some way.

This is not to say I believe you should choose just any old person.  I still long to be swept off my feet by someone who rocks my world, mind and body all with one look/word – which is no mean feat.  I want a best friend, some one I respect, some one I can have lots of fun with and talk all night with and some one I fancy the pants off! I am extremely fussy and hardly ever fancy anyone so it is quite a tall order to even turn my head.  But what I am saying is once all those boxes are ticked (which is hard enough to do in the first place) there is no need for the agonising over whether they are the ‘right’ person or ‘the one’.  By choosing someone and loving them, you make them the one.

I think there are many ‘ones out there – a few people with whom we could make a happy, healthy, fulfilling and therefore successful relationship with.  This is not to say it would be easy and plain sailing.  It may well be that your choice means you have your work cut out for you with many hurdles and obstacles ahead, but it will always feel worth it, because you chose the person and made them ‘the one’.

50% of why I have come away on my travels is to get over a man I loved who didn’t love me.  We were quite nearly perfect together except for he couldn’t choose me.  He is not my ‘one’ simply because he didn’t choose me!

I guess there will be another ‘one’ but in the mean time I need to put a few countries, a big bit of sea and hundreds of miles in between us in order to get over it and move on.  Life is beautiful and time is precious and not to be wasted.  There is fun to be had in this wonderful world and adventure called life.

Let the games begin!…

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So we have finally set off on our travels.  I can’t believe we’re really going to do it, but we are.  I really am going to backpack round Europe for the summer with a four year old!

It was a manic week of getting everything ready, buying a tent (special thanks to the very helpful David at Blacks Ealing), learning how to put up a tent, battling with a sore back and the prospect of carrying a heavy backpack, realising I hadn’t left enough time to receive my interrail pass and having to pay special delivery, realising it was holiday season for the Spanish, French and Italian in August so madly trying to book a few campsites so we’re not stranded when we’re out there and of course getting waxed and having a pedicure (priorities!)  The good thing is I didn’t really have time to think too much and get nervous. In fact I think I  finally tipped the scales so that I was more excited than scared seting off.

Backpacking with 4 year oldThe very helpful David at Blacks – Ealing

I’m excited about what I am going to experience with Bear Cub (who insists he is going to stand on the top of the Eiffel Tower on the flag and take a picture of himself even though I’ve told him we’re not going to Paris!) and I’m excited about being in the outdoors and feeling that sense of being alive and perspective you only get when you’re close to nature.  But I’m most excited about the possibility of new change in me.  I’m trying not to put pressure on myself but, I don’t see how you can’t be ‘awakened’ in some way when you simply take yourself out of one situation and put yourself in another.  I’m sure to discover new good things about myself (and Bear Cub) as well as new bad and ugly things too and I am ready!

The first leg of our trip is Spain.  We start in Alicante and then move on to Valencia, Castellon and Girona before getting a train to Perpignan in France on 31st July.

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We decided to hire a car for this first leg and have booked a guest house for the first 2 nights so that BearCub can catch up on sleep after being woken so early on Tuesday morning.  We’ve then booked some campsites which look like real gems (I’ll let you know if they turn out to be as good as they sound).

My friends and family have been incredibly supportive giving invaluable advice, contacting friends who live in Europe for local insights and very generously giving us money towards the trip even!! It’s wonderful how encouraging and excited people seem to be about our trip and I really do hope it will turn out to be inspirational for others as well as for us – especially as I plan to finally start the book I’ve been writing in my head for a while now!

I’ll finish with this incredible poem that a good friend sent to me last night and I have fallen in love with it.  Every line resonates with me for my impending adventure with Bear Cub.

I wonder what adventures Bear Cub and I will have had by time I next blog next week?!

Adios! Au revoir! Ciao!

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

John O’Donohue