Thursday, 27 May 2010

Luxemburg and the Moselle

Rob –

Next door to the Belgian Ardennes lies Luxemburg.  This little country was rather a blank in my map of Europe,  being surrounded by much bigger neighbours and not really on the route to anywhere, but it was the natural next place, and the chance for me to add the last one to my ‘been to’ list in Western Europe.

Our route through Luxemburg - with bike ride (and return by train)

The border with Belgium was unmarked, except that the roadside trees suddenly started to sport white rings at headlamp height.  The same high rolling countryside and thick woods continued, making northern Luxemburg a most attractive area.  It is a linguistically confused country though, where officialdom writes in French – including all road signs and public notices - while newspapers write in German with random articles in French, and the populace almost all use a strong dialect of German – known as Letzebuergisch – amongst themselves.
The Lëtzebuergisch language

The small town of Clervaux had a large castle and a nice location but not much else, whilst in Wiltz, Garmintrude began to go mad, trying to send us up no-entry streets and dead-ends, and then directing us up ever steeper and narrower alleys when we refused to obey.   Maps and signposts proved far safer, but she wouldn’t have it and kept telling us to U-turn or take farm tracks for miles as we progressed down the correct and obvious route.

We stopped for two nights on a campsite by the river Sûre (French name) or Sauer (German name) near the pretty castle-topped village of Esch-sur-Sûre.  This is a popular holiday area, and the lovely wooded valley was lined with campsites.   Ours, which had been so quiet on a Thursday night, suddenly filled with German, Dutch and Luxemburger campers on Friday, as people took advantage of the scorching weekend weather.
Camping by the Sure

Summer arrived in earnest during our stay by the Sûre/Sauer, as the wind dropped and the sun reigned unopposed.  Out came our shorts, and we had the first barbecues of the trip, in the little fold-away brazier we’d bought just as an afterthought the day before we left the UK.

I went out on my bike one day to visit Luxemburg city, some 50km away.  It was an up-and-down ride, but along good and (mostly) low-traffic roads.  Unfortunately the city itself didn’t impress me much – it smacked too much of modern international blandness, many pavement cafes but little that was really unique, and even its buildings were unremarkable.  The one point in which it was notable though was its 18th century ramparts, towering massively above a deep gorge.  At their foot lay a small neighbourhood called Grund, now somewhat bohemian in character, which, from its narrow cobbled streets below, offered a fine perspective of the fortifications.
Luxemburg city ramparts from Grund

On the third day – Saturday 22nd May – we moved on, crossing Luxemburg (it doesn’t take long!) to the Moselle valley in the east, and stopped for the night on a carpark by the river in the village of Ehnen, in the heart of Luxemburg’s vineyard area.  This carpark had become a sort of unofficial aire for motorhomes.  A Dutch couple were here when we arrived, and by nightfall we were six vehicles.    The two of us sampled local Luxemburg white wines at a nearby bar.  I for one had never suspected that Luxemburg had any wines !
The Moselle wine route

Lesley’s bit –

Another day – another car park! One with an impressive aspect though, beside a large park right on the banks of the Moselle, with its massive barges, cars parked on their roofs, sailing past all hours of the day and night, carrying coal, scrap metal and sundry other heavy loads.
Charlie dog watching a barge on the Moselle - he's impressed - we can tell!

Rob was woken up around dawn to an apparently loud noise, which failed to register with me at all. Fearing a Luxemburg SWAT squad come to move on the merry band of motorhomers parked up for the night he got up to investigate, only to find it was an incredibly low flying helicopter going about its morning acrobatic crop dusting of the vines. Like a mad man he got up to take photos.
Spraying the vines

As it was Sunday, families soon began to set up camp in the park, staking out areas with BBQs, awnings, tables and chairs. Many of the groups seemed to be Portuguese. We are not sure why this particular area has pulled its migrant workers from Portugal, but they seem pretty settled. Portuguese can be heard in the streets in every town we passed through. In fact, the local patisserie in Ehnan was Portuguese and we breakfasted on typical bolos filled with sugary custard and coated with icing and almonds.
Morning on the Moselle

Boy was it a hot day. We hate driving on hot days. Rob behind a wheel, watching cyclists out on the roads, gets into a sour and resentful mood on hot days. So why on earth did we move on? We’d kind of hoped to do a bit of wine tasting, but the vineyards offering tastings were not open in Luxemburg. Probably just as well – a downside of being in a van is passing all the dégustations and knowing you’re just not going to be able to partake. Now if only we could manage to spit out the wine into the buckets provided... The trouble was that Rob had set his heart on a mini wine tour of this region, having once met a cycle tourist who recommended a bike as the perfect way to make a wine tour of the Moselle. All we could really do was decide to make a determined effort to plan for a proper wine tasting on our return through this area in a few weeks time. Maybe I could hire a bike for the flat stretch and we could do a mini wine cycle tour for just a few miles? Charlie could trot sedately by my side until I fall off drunk.
A perfect cycle route alongside the Moselle

Nothing was open in Luxemburg, but it was Sunday. However, nothing much had been open on Saturday, or on Friday for that matter and it begged the question of where do they buy their food? We hadn’t seen much in the way of food shops at all – small or large. Lots of incredibly clean streets, lots of smart clothes shops, masses of petrol stations serving lengthy queues of Germans filling up on much cheaper fuel (€1 a litre here for diesel)- but no food shops. Are they disguised?

We had seen no campsites on the Luxemburg side of the Moselle, but sprawling along the German bank there were loads, so we had headed that way, ending our brief affair with Luxemburg.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Belgium Again - The Ardennes

Lesley –

Garmintrude got us to the nearest Renault garage by about 10:15 a.m. on Saturday 15th May. The funny thing about the sat nav is that because it speaks to us in a female voice we keep referring to it as she and, despite saying we don’t name things, she’s sort of picked up the tag. I blame it on Rob.

Of course, as expected, the garage didn’t actually have a spare wing mirror for a Renault Master van. It could be ordered, but we’d have to hang around for 3 or 4 days and Bergen-op-Zoom, even with such a peculiar name, wasn’t going to hold us for that long. The best they could do was sell us a mirror for a different van and gaffer tape it on to our casing. €40 and all we get is a tatty looking make-do jobby. Lovely! We are doing a “it’s better than nothing”, philosophical approach, and it felt safer having the mirror in position for a day’s driving past the urban sprawl of Antwerp, down to the Ardennes.
Not such a good look!

We’re getting the hang of Garmintrude now. She can avoid motorways, but we can’t tell her we like pretty, scenic routes, which is a shame. She took us through the border back into Belgium right in the centre of the town of Putte.

Our route through Belgium to Luxemburg

We tried quite hard to make a stop in Mechelen. We drove right through the centre. I’m not sure we were allowed to actually. There seemed to be traffic wardens closing off the streets for an event of some kind, probably more Ascension Day stuff. The centre looked interesting from the passing glimpse we got, with impressive medieval and renaissance buildings, but we couldn’t park our van – the opposite of the tardis – small on the inside, large on the out – so, after criss-crossing the same streets a couple of times we gave up and travelled on.

Instead we stopped in the old university town of Leuven. Think Oxford on the scale of King’s Lynn with gilded cherubs on the stadhuis – lots of them – more than twenty. This was about the last large bastion of Dutch speaking Belgium and the switch to French seemed sudden just a few miles south. Rob reckons the split between the two parts of the country is almost Bosnian in the lengths they go to to disassociate themselves from the other. At least they’re not fighting.
Leuven - Grote Markt

At about the same time the language switched over, the landscape began to change too. We began to climb hills, small ones at first, but accompanied by woodland and meadows as opposed to flat fenlands as far as the eye could see.

A lot of the campsites around here seem to be set up for caravans, not necessarily static ones, but certainly parked on a permanent basis with gardens, BBQs, bird tables and the assorted accompaniments for weekends away. There aren’t as many as I thought there’d be though. I sort of expected lots of little farm campsites, but they just don’t exist here, even though it’s a touristy area and quite a few motorhomes are moving about the roads. So where are they all stopping over? We squeezed into an attractive little corner of a campsite near Dinant, in a valley by a stream, and, after a peaceful sleep with no-one trying to move us on, we had a very relaxed start to Sunday 16th May – my birthday.

It’s a good feeling having nothing pressing to do. We drove into Dinant, which stretches either side of the river Meuse, the main run being overshadowed by the massive grey cliffs, on top of which sits a dark grey castle. Tucked underneath the castle is the looming mass of grey which is the imposing church with its towering steeples. Grey features heavily in Dinant, as do shops selling gingerbread in all sorts of fantastic designs.
Dinant looms

From Dinant we headed along the Lesse valley, detouring into the hills to look for possible campsites. After rejecting a couple as not quite our sort of places, or too pricey, we ended up at a smashing little place near Hulsonniaux. It looked like a perfect spot on the banks of the Lesse, with ducks and the internet. The joy of getting an internet fix and some electricity pushed dinner back to 10:30 p.m. - at this rate we’ll be having it about breakfast time.

Mind you, breakfast the following morning was about 11:30 a.m. We’re beginning to wonder whether this pattern of time keeping is good for us. Perhaps we should make ourselves rise early and do things because it’s beginning to look like we will have got no further than Finland when we find our year is up. As it was, Monday was rainy and we didn’t feel the need to do much at all. As the day progressed so did the weather and by late afternoon, when Rob had to go out shopping or have nothing for dinner, there was hail and thunder and the washing we’d done was hanging in the shower and in danger of staying there several days.
Good camping - great charcuterie
Rob’s bit - Jesus gave me 5 euros

Cycling back to the campsite down a steep lane, I was flagged down by a guy with a Mercedes parked off the road, but facing downhill in a different direction.  He explained that the ignition wouldn’t work, and could I help him manoeuvre the car towards the road so that he could bump-start it on the road with gravity?  After nearly half an hour of heaving this heavy beast back and forth we were nearly in position for the downhill start, when he tried the ignition again and hey presto ! it started.   During these exertions I started to feel it was all rather unreal, and half-wondered if Jesus might appear as a stranded motorist to test the sinner.
When the motor restarted, I exclaimed ‘Quel miracle!’, but he didn’t take the bait.  
Jesus wanted to give me money for my good deeds, which I tried to refuse, but ended up accepting €5 ‘pour une bière’.  So much for the test.

Back to Lesley –

Luckily there was a complete turnaround in the weather the following day (Tuesday 18th May) and not only could the washing dry, I could also lounge around outside the van and listen to the hoots of laughter from the many school children in kayaks. I managed a chunk of editing on the novel while Rob went on a long cycle ride.

On Wednesday we headed off in a southerly direction across the highest parts of the Ardennes. I drove for the first time. Some of you might have imagined I’d been doing my share all this time. I’m sure Rob imagined the same. It wasn’t too bad actually, despite being paranoid about something else attacking us on the left (but hey, the wing mirror has already gone, so what more could they do?).

This part of the Ardennes is heavily forested. Some of it is managed pine with a massive logging industry, but large tracts are lovely mixed deciduous, with lush colours of birch, copper beech, ash and lots more (I am regretting not buying a pocket tree spotting guide). As a side note, we went to see “As You Like It” last year and the blurb in the programme said that there is some thought that Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden was based upon descriptions of the vast forest that was the 16thC Ardennes.

The area had tourist hot-spots, but they all seemed pretty low key in the mid-May sun. There's quite a lot of military history here, with many leftovers from the Battle of the Bulge in Dec 1944. Many signs directing cross-country skiers and a distinct nod to chalet style architecture attests to much winter tourism too. We even came across the Belgian version of Hay-on-Wye in a village called Redu. On a tourist board it even said that the whole idea to create a book village was inspired by a chance meeting by one of the local big-wigs with the chap behind Hay. Redu was no Hay, though mid-week is probably not the best time to visit and I would guess at weekends and during the summer months all the many cafes are full and the little roadside tents are piled high with books.
Military buffs would have a field day around the Ardennes.

Our last full day in Belgium for the time being ended with a brief stop in La Roche-en-Ardenne, a small town in a wooded valley, which is overlooked by a large castle. Again, the place looked like in the right season it would be heaving with tourists, many of them crammed into the little tourist train and being driven up to the battlements. The last half hour of shop opening times was spent in the excellent charcuteries. A good point to note – forest areas attract hunting which makes for a magnificent choice of sausage products. They had to sweep us out as they shut up shop.

From La Roche we drove to the Nisramont dam, where there was designated motorhome parking. It wasn’t quite wild camping, but it was free and no-one moved us on. The spot by the river Ourthe, just a few metres down from the barrage, was lovely and we dined on charcuterie washed down with trappist beer to the throbbing accompaniment of the hydro-electrics.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The midnight knock and a broken mirror – bad luck in Holland, 14/5/10

At 1:30 am I became aware of bright lights further along the seafront.  A car drove slowly past, torches were shone and there was a firm knock at the door.  The two policemen explained in perfect English that wild camping was outlawed in the whole of Zeeland province, and that we would have to either stay awake all night or move on.  There was little choice.  Shame, even at this time of night it was a lovely place.  We packed up slowly, and drove on to nearby Domburg where we stopped in a carpark and wondered what to do.   Check things on the laptop?   We did, and amazingly found an unsecured wi-fi connection, and that lucky fact kept us occupied and awake for a couple more hours.   Finally it was just too much, and as dawn was breaking we found a more isolated car park near the dunes at Oostkapelle, where despite the bye-laws we caught up with some sleep for a few hours.

Our route through Holland after the midnight knock

We were, inevitably, tired all day.   We intended to start a longer journey south to the Belgian Ardennes, but as it was such a nice day we decided to take a roundabout route across some of the dams and barriers that connect all the islands of the Rhine Delta.  The longest was the storm surge barrier across the mouth of the Oosterschelde, a kind of mega Thames barrier that lets the tides through under normal conditions but can close to block dangerously high surges.   We came to the town of Zierikzee, which was picture postcard-pretty.  The main square was full of cafés and restaurants where people were enjoying the good weather, and the small centre was otherwise surrounded by canals and waterways.  Our route then took us along dykes and over bridges past a lot of reclaimed land, until we hit the ‘mainland’ at Bergen-op-Zoom.

Approaching this town on a straight but quite narrow road, there was a sudden loud bang on the left-hand side of the van, as a passing bus smashed into our wing-mirror.  We stopped as soon as we could (unlike the bus), but there was nothing to be done.  I picked up what fragments I could from the road, and we retired to the local Macdonalds to research Renault dealers on their free internet.   It was now 6pm and clear we weren’t going much further, an internet search found us another minicamping on a farm in pleasant, Norfolk-like countryside east of Bergen for the night.
Our poor van

Lesley’s small note –

Charlie picked up an admirer at the campsite - a girl of about ten, daughter of a guy who spoke excellent English, having lived in Canning Town, London, for several years. She made friends with him by giving him dog treats and insisted on taking him for a walk with Rob, even though she was in her pyjamas and ready for bed.

We have definitely slipped into our own peculiar time-warp though. Dinner seems to be getting later and later – 10 p.m. tonight.

Into Holland

We had never intended to go through Holland, but from Brugge I looked at the map and realised that the border was hardly any distance away.  Some of the areas in the Rhine Delta, in Zeeland province, sounded like they were worth seeing in a low-key sort of way, so we decided to take this opportunity.

Into Holland - the islands and waterways of Zeeland province

It drizzled as we left Brugge and headed north-east, back past Damme again and on ever-smaller tree-lined roads across the endless flatness that looked so much like the English fens.  At one sleepy village we rounded a corner and found ourselves in Holland.

The drizzle turned to rain as we took the larger road that led to the tunnel under the Westerschelde waterway.  When we saw the price of over €7 for our van we nearly took the last exit and turned back, but at the last moment we persisted and 6km later (yes, it was some tunnel) were driving in the rain towards the Dutch town of Middelburg, on the island of Walcheren.

We stopped in Middelburg for some shopping, vowing to come back tomorrow for a better look during the weekly Thursday market.  The town had some nice old streets, and a large central square dominated by an ornate stadhuis or town hall, but all in all reminded me of a British provincial town centre, all chain stores and rather bland, with few places selling food or other essentials.  It was, however, surrounded by an attractive ring of canals.

We were sure we would find a campsite somewhere out on the nearby Walcheren coast, and drove first to Veere.  This small port village has an illustrious past, when in the C14 to C16 it traded extensively with Scottish merchants, and two large stone houses are even now referred to as the ‘Scottish houses’.  Today it is a quaint, sleepy place with an oversupply of grand buildings, and lots of tea-rooms for the visitors.

The roads of northern Walcheren led us across flat farmland and through stands of woodland, until we reached the village of Oostkapelle, and found a “minicamping”, or basically a farm campsite.  It was a well equipped place, catering to a mix of caravans and tourers, and for €16.50 with electricity & free showers, it did us fine.

We spent Thursday 13th May – my (Rob’s) birthday – slowly exploring the local area.   We went first along the North Sea coast towards Westkapelle, where we found a stretch of road alongside the beach with a number of motorhomes and cars parked up.  We had a walk by the sea, and noted the place for later.

The village of Westkapelle was attractive, tucked in  a corner of the island behind high sea-dykes, and dominated by a lighthouse that looked like a church tower – in fact it was built on a mediaeval church tower, to which the light was added in the 19th century.    Most of the village had been rebuilt after the war, as Westkapelle had been the scene of an allied landing in 1944, when the dykes had been breached and much of Walcheren flooded.  A small monument atop the dyke recorded all this, alongside a WW2 Sherman tank.
Westkapelle from the sea dyke

As it was Ascension Day – hemelvaart in Dutch – Holland enjoyed a bank holiday.  Despite this, Middelburg’s weekly Thursday market was still on, and we spent much of the afternoon there.  It was a busy affair, and we came away with a chunk of Dutch cheese with cumin, a smoked sausage, some samphire and a green vegetable grown on the salt marshes called ‘lammsoren’. We also partook of the local “fast food” – fried fish in batter called “kibberling” and freshly preserved herring on bread.

To end the day we decided to watch the sunset from the dunes near Westkapelle, and camp wild there for the night – after all, we had seen other motorhomes and the site was quite ideal.   We had a nice meal with aperitifs and cava, and enjoyed the spectacular sunset over the sea – it was a lovely evening.  We noted with amusement that the other campers all drove off after sunset, but when no-one had appeared to clear us off by 10pm we reckoned everything would be OK for the night, and settled down.
Aperitifs on the beach - spot the dog!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Ostend to Brugge

Day two of our journey
Lesley - 
Sleeping in a car park isn’t so bad you know. Ok, so it’s really called an “aire”, but essentially it was just a car park by a lake. I do like the safety in numbers aspect though and there were about five motorhomes in this aire, and another eight in the one just round the corner. Now that was just a car park – at least our aire had a lake.

If I thought I could manage it these days it would have been easy to hire a bike at the aire and cycle round Ostend. As it was, we caught the park and ride bus the very short distance into town, getting off at the Albert I Promenade to look at the 1953 casino built on the sea-front which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an old Eastern Bloc town square.

The Casino and the marina
Ostend is another pleasant sea-side town with a marina packed with expensive looking yachts. How many times will we be saying that?

We bought our first provisions– brawn slices and black pudding – in a traiteur; this is one of the reasons we travel, to taste the full range of foods on offer.
From Ostend we moved on to de Haan. Guess what? It was a pleasant sea-side town, no marina though. It was Cromer with a large tidy-up and a dose of elegance, and lots of bathing huts – you certainly need them with the windy conditions on this stretch of coast (similar to the stretch the opposite side of the North Sea actually).   De Haan clearly thought itself a notch above de Panne along the coast, and unlike the latter had kept all its Edwardian buildings and style, and was dotted with large villas in half grand town-house, half mock Norman cottage styles.
De Haan's seafront and "Normandy" style villas

From the coast we headed to Brugge, or Bruges to give it its French name, via some pretty tree-lined avenues running alongside canals. We had a brief look at Damme, which has a very impressive town hall and old buildings – enough to place it firmly on the coach party trail. It is now little more than a picturesque crossroads on a canal, but in its heyday was a rich town.  Looking down the 8km length of canal from Damme we could see the church spires in Brugge. Unfortunately we lost the road that ran alongside the canal, but found another canal (there are plenty to choose from), by a tree lined avenue, and stopped there to have a bit of a picnic, while several different groups of cyclists, including a party of OAPs, rode past.
You're never too old...

The sat nav is turning out to be more useful than Rob expected. It got us painlessly to the aire in Brugge, and we walked into town with Charlie via the Minnewater Park. Our first impressions of the city were that it is every bit as lovely as the guide books describe it. As the sun began to dip below the Flemish gables we sat outside a cafe and had Belgian beer – very tasty indeed.

Rob -
Brugge made a strong impression on me from the moment we crossed the ring-road to enter the historic centre.  The historic core has survived almost unspoilt, a maze of mediaeval streets lined with ancient houses and religious buildings with barely a hint of the 20th or 21st centuries in its architectural styles.  The tourist crowds were stifling in the middle of the day, but if you ventured into town before 10am you would share it only with the locals – flocks of pupils cycling to school, or people walking their dogs.  I ventured twice into old Brugge at this early hour, and these were my best memories.  On Tuesday I took my bike and rode around for a couple of hours, looking at first for an open bakery, but then just enjoying myself and exploring further and further parts of the town.
Views of Brugge

Tuesday’s weather soon turned colder, and rain threatened for much of the day.  We  took a boat trip along the canals – interesting and picturesque, but boy it was cold.  We explored a bit more generally, and particularly liked the renaissance interior of the Holy Blood Basilica, which was painted in rich reds and golds over every inch of stonework.  The name comes from one of the many biblical ‘relics’ produced en masse in the middle ages, and purporting to be a vial of Christ’s blood as washed from his wounds by Joseph of Arimathea and brought back from the crusades by a Flemish knight ( a mere 1000 years after the crucifixion, but why spoil a story ?).  Apparently the miraculous vial was dry until 6 p.m. every Friday, when it mysteriously liquefied, until the year 1325 at any rate. Being the run up to Ascension Day, when the vial gets paraded through the streets of Brugge, it was out on show for some veneration, so we got to see the glass surrounding it, if not the actual item.
Views of Brugge

We had left our sleepy dog for some hours in the van, a situation he seemed quite happy with, but so had eventually to return there.  The weather then turned very rainy, but being inside the van by now we were not too bothered by it.

Over the Channel to Belgium

We crossed the Channel on a cold and rainy early May day – Sunday May 9th to be precise.   Driving rain pursued us from the M25 down the M20 towards Dover, and we stopped only twice en route – once, to fix with tape the new Renault wiper blades that seemed to come with a different attachment from the one our 5 year-old van expected, and secondly, to buy new pigtail hoses for our two Camping Gaz 907 cylinders, purchased only yesterday but unusable without these parts.  Like so many things in preparing this trip, we glibly assumed it would all be easy, and were left rushing around at the last minute when it wasn’t. Thankfully, Kent Motor Caravans near Maidstone saved the day, and we were knocking on their door at 10 am as they opened.
The journey begins 
We caught the ferry to Calais rather than the tunnel, on cost grounds, but I for one was very glad.  I haven’t caught a Channel ferry for nigh on 20 years, and it seemed once again like ‘real’ travel.    If you’re crossing the sea, cross it by sea for goodness sake - get out and walk around so that you can see the sea, feel the movement of the ship and watch coasts receding and approaching.  Or at least that’s what I feel, and that’s what I did.  Despite the drizzle and biting wind I thoroughly enjoyed our 90 minutes and it felt like a suitably ‘real’ milestone at the start of our adventures.   Charlie seemed unfazed by the momentousness of the events and slept contentedly in the van in the ship’s hold.
 On the ferry
Arrival at Calais seemed mundane.  We drove off the ship and seamlessly onto a motorway, and without lingering we drove north-east past Dunquerque and towards the Belgian frontier.   We descended from the motorway just before this point, and soon passed a small blue-and-stars Euro plaque announcing ‘België’ and we were in another country. Almost immediately we turned left to the coast, and arrived in the resort of de Panne.
 Beach huts at de Panne
The Belgian coast is one long chain of seaside resorts interrupted by a couple of major ports, and only in a few stretches does the natural landscape of high sanddunes backed by woodland still exist free of urban encroachment.  De Panne is the western extremity of this chain, and is a pleasant-enough place of medium-rise seafront apartment blocks which have superceded the fin de siècle townhouses with their gothic twists that must have stood there a few decades ago.  It had a broad seafront promenade which was whipped by the biting wind, and the customers of each café huddled behind lines of upended beach umbrellas that stood as windbreaks in rows across the sands.

We got as far as Ostend that night, and found its municipal aire, a few spaces in a car park by an area of parkland, and the starting point for a park-and-ride shuttle bus to the town centre (which was not far by foot either).   Our first celebratory meal of the big trip was sausages we had brought from home.

Our progress on day 1 - the journey begins!

Monday, 3 May 2010

On the Move

It’s so cheesy, but for the last week I’ve been humming “The Final Countdown”. I’ve never even seen a Rocky film, but a quick Google tells me the song is, appropriately, by Europe. The lyrics begin:
We’re leaving together
But still it’s farewell
And maybe we’ll come back,
To earth, who can tell?

It’s been a week of farewells. Our social life has never been so good. We’ve been out every night, or entertaining friends in the nearly empty house with meals served on the last dregs of crockery to be packed, an eclectic mix of mismatched, chipped plates.
We are both so tired now that we are in danger of sleeping through the first week of our trip, when we get there that is. Still, as the title says, we are on the move. One heavily packed van and one car have reached Stansted. No, we’re not flying out, we have family there.
The van is stuffed full until we can unload boxes of treasured possessions and emergency suitcases – wedding, funeral, job interview clothes – at various family members who have kindly offered some space.
The last moments in Leicester were pretty hectic, but they only followed on from final days there which whizzed past in a blur. We thought five weeks would be enough. We thought we’d have plenty of time. Rob had planned a couple of days cycling – they didn’t happen.
Advice to anyone planning a long trip abroad – start early – time flies.
The house has never looked so good. Well done Rob!
My last actions on leaving the house? I grabbed the pepper mill, some pegs from the line and a large bag of dirty washing to take to Mum’s (I didn’t even do that when I was at university!).
It was a race against time to get everything done and in the end we lost. We seem to have left loads to be done and we could have given ourselves another week, but we decided that it was better to get some of our stuff on the move. However, Rob has to go back up to the house tomorrow to pick up the car which never sold and now has to be stored, and to do a final, rather larger than we would have wished, tidy and lock up.

I’m now in the Kleenex zone. Goodbyes to friends, goodbyes to sisters, goodbyes to parents – it’s just not worth putting on mascara these days.
We think we’re organised though. We can get to our money. We’ve set up the new laptop we were forced to buy at the last minute when our not so old one upped and died like Mr Bojangle’s dog. My clothes all fitted in the van in the end – employing the “squash ‘em in” technique helped.
It really is the final countdown!