Sunday, 22 October 2017

From England to France and Spain – October 2017

Ivy, Steph, Jackie and Brian
Ivy's Christening and first birthday was a lovely event, great to be able to say cheerio to that side of the family before heading off on our travels again. With our usual efficiency we had managed to go via Go-Outdoors in Coventry to buy a new ski jacket and new lightweight walking boots for me and then to Sainsbury's to buy Marmite and mustard for dad in Spain. Monday was the usual round of cleaning and baking before saying goodbye to Bella, Coco and Sue, while keeping track of hurricane Ophelia. We didn't think it was going to affect our sailing on Tuesday, but would it affect Sue's journey south, Dad and Elizabeth's flight to the UK or our French ski apartment owner Caroles return to France? Fortunately no, on all counts.

Brians niece Steph with Ivy
Brians daughter Fiona with Jenny, Becky and her boyfriend Harry
So having tried and failed to get our winter tyres on Friday and being promised they would be in on Monday, they weren't, we had to trust they really would be on Tuesday! We decided against starting to pack on Monday, instead cutting the hedge and going round to Sarah and John for a cuppa before out for a final curry.

Strange red sun as hurricane Ophelia approaches
Finally got the winter tyres on the car (its those 4 behind the single tyre)
Tuesday finally have to pack, both bags, and the car, so just starting the final sort when B got the call that the tyres were there, so off he went to get them leaving me to pack. In one way this was really good, no bickering, but obviously if anything is missing....... Now don't get me wrong, the car was rammed but it all went in, and without impeding the view out of the rear window. We must be getting better at this! 

The Tardis compartment in the boot
It Included 30 paperbacks in what appears to be one small pocket on the RHS of the boot that I have claimed as my own. He puts a can of oil in and says it's full, ha! if you have a Vectra see what you can fit in?

All these books (30) went into that small space
Packed and ready to go, incl skis on the roof (a bit wierd in October in England)
Quick bite to eat and we set off to Portsmouth, earlier than Brian would have liked but with an assault on both ears from me and mother he decided to give up the unequal struggle. Yes we were early but at least I wasn't stressed!

It's the second time we've got the overnight ferry and yet I still haven't explored the boat. Well with departure at 23.30 and disembarkation at 08.30 that doesn't give much time to sleep, which is the point, though sadly it eluded me this time, fortunately not him, and he does most of the driving anyway!

Day 1: Le Havre to St Jean d'Aulps in the French Alps. Toll charges €53
View from the back of the car park at the apartment
We couldn't believe the ETA the sat nav gave us, but checked that she was on French time and off we went buoyant and happy. The journey was pretty good until we finally realised that the ETA was to a way point we had marked to take us off the motorway to avoid some of the toll charges, it worked but perhaps not the best plan at rush hour, but it did only add the hour we had originally expected the journey to take. 
View from the front of the car park at the apartment. Ski slope is still green!
Fortunately Carole wasn't waiting for us at the apartment, she'd popped in and left it open so we were free to come and go at will. Unloading didn't take long and I'd just finished chopping veggies for our quick dinner when Jeremy arrived, we don't know Jeremy but he seemed very nice, and very appreciative of the two tins of Hammerite we had brought him. He'd posted a message on the valley expats email group asking if anyone was coming and could fit them in. It didn't seem much to ask!

View from our apartment window. A familiar scene, but much better with snow
It was lovely being back in the apartment, I so wanted to unpack, but that didn't seem in the spirit of the thing as we are not officially there till December, but it will make our arrival back so much easier. A good nights sleep and we set off for Perpignan, our elected midway stop in the south of France very close to the Spanish border. Nothing special but very convenient, and much better than doing it in one, though what we saved in tolls we probably spent on accommodation, but at least we didn't feel like a hazard on the road.

Day 2: St Jean d'Aulps ski resort to Perpignan in south of France. Toll charges: €53
View from our hotel window in Perpignan
Day 3: Perpignan to Altea-La-Vella, Spain
Friday, day three, and we arrived in good time in Altea directly behind Jane, who had come to let us in. We have slipped on our housesitting duties, we were meant to have been here from Monday to look after Pepa cat, but all agreed that Brian getting his lump removed was more important, so Jane had been on feeding duties. I guess it had to happen at some point in our housesitting career, so much better with an understanding family than a complete stranger. It was lovely, there was homemade breaded chicken, taken out of the freezer ready to fry, and we could relax and stare at the view with a G&T in hand, and breathe.

Relaxation was relatively short lived, we had to be up and back from the supermarket by 11.30 to ensure we were here when Jonathan, Lucy, Charles and Caroline arrived. Mission accomplished, we had lunch for all and dinner for us for Saturday and Sunday. We'd just finished a bit of sweeping as it's not only the UK that has had weird weather, hailstones the size of golf balls had given the trees a battering on Thursday. The family arrived, fortunately leaving before Tropical Storm Brian upset various planes and ferries. We've hosted Charles and Caroline at various houses (all with the owners permission of course) but it felt really odd hosting here with D&E (Dad and Elizabeth) away! We had a lovely afternoon, after lunch J&L went food shopping and to find the villa (which took a lot more finding than expected) leaving us with the kids. They very bravely went in the pool, we very bravely watched! Just as well they did as today is windy and a lot cooler with a bit of cloud, but after their hideously early start yesterday they were planning an easy day, and we too had a lovely lie in. It's hard to wake at 07.00 when it's pitch dark till at least half past.
Richard (dad) and Elizabeths lovely house in Altea-La-Vella with the Bernia ridge mountains behind
Little Pepa cat makes a rare appearance for a stroke

Even Brian got a stroke

Charles (with his 6 pack and pecs) and Caroline about to go swimming

Bravely in the water. Its sunny with an air temperature of about 24C, but the water is a bit chilly

Jackie contents herself with a swing

It does feel a bit like paradise here, sunny, warm and relaxing with plenty of rock climbing, mountain scrambling, hiking, drinking and eating. We're here until the snow falls in the Alps, possibly until Christmas or the New Year. It'll be hell!

The familiar view from the balcony as the sun sets. We have so many photos of this, but every night we just want to take more! Nice to look at the highest pointed mountain on the left and know we have stood on the very top of that!

The Bernia Ridge from the terrace as the last rays of the setting sun bathe it in orange light

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Housesitting in Stratford-Upon-Avon, preparing to depart to Europe – October 2017

Bella cat next to 'flower arranging by Jackie'
With thick white, moustache like bandage and swollen top lip, we arrived to meet Sue in Stratford-Upon-Avon, ready for our next house and cat sit 3km from the centre of town.

The two cats, Bella and Coco are fairly independent, but like company and a bit of fuss and, after a couple of hours of going through things in the house we took Sue to the railway station for her to catch a train to Manchester to meet hubby Darren and fly off to Portugal for their holiday.

Bella, eating and Coco being nosey
The bed is huge, but even so, one cat, usually Bella is quite able to stretch out, use half the bed and pretend to be asleep at bed time, giving us a look as we gently move her sideways to make room. As our time has gone on they have got friendlier, wanting fuss and we feel we’ve just about got to know them properly and its nearly time to leave, which is always the way and the reason we like housesits of 2 weeks or more to really get to know animals.

Despite the house being full of bowls of water for them, they are not sufficient
Jackie in the arms of a Shakespeare sculpture outside the RSC
Nonetheless it’s been a lot of fun with them and it’s also been a good time to relax and recover from my little lip operation, reading, jigsaw... The bandage is now off, a few of the dissolvable stitches were removed at a hospital visit on Monday last and, now the swelling has virtually gone it almost looks as though nothing has been done (apart from a numb top lip which feels a bit strange and will probably take up to 6 months for the nerves to reconnect and feeling to return). Assuming the test results come back OK there will be nothing more to do and we can move on.

Outside Shakespeares birthplace
So moving on we are and we’ve now booked a ferry to France for next Tuesday night to drive down through France to St Jean D’Aulps ski resort, drop of ski gear off at the apartment then drive on to Costa Blanca in Spain to stay with Jackie’s dad and Elizabeth until the snow appears in the Alps for our ski season through to the end of April next year.

Holy Trinity Church
Apart from relaxing we’ve been for a number of walks to and around Stratford town centre and along the river Avon and seen the local sights of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan Theatre, Shakespeare’s birthplace, his grave and a few pubs and tea shops, of which Stratford abounds!

Being relatively close to friends and family in Solihull and Birmingham, we have managed to catch up a bit as well. 
Shakespeares grave
My sister Denise and hubby Paul came over for the day on Wednesday and we went for an 11km walk along the Avon, into Holy Trinity Church where only I was prepared to pay the £3 ‘donation’ to view Shakespeare’s grave near the altar, then on into town where it was crowded out with all the rides and stalls for the annual Mop Fair that visits the town at this time of year. Some of the rides are huge and swing people high into the air upside down and while it looks fun, the engineer in me sees that none of them are bolted down, the feet resting on lumps of wood on the tarmac road. I suppose they are safe, but they just don’t look it!

We want to come in!
On Thursday Abi visited us from Hall Green, having left little Sooty cat home alone and we did another very similar walk from the previous day, but this time in reverse. It’s an indication of how many times we’ve housesat for Sooty and got to know Abi that now she’s a friend and visits us housesitting elsewhere.

Now that I'm in I'll sit here in the middle of the jigsaw in order to get attention!
Owl stroking in Stratford!
We returned to Jackie’s mums at Alvechurch yesterday to start sorting out our ski gear and summer rock climbing gear for our forthcoming trip to Spain and France. Suddenly our next trip has come around and we’ve realised how much we need to sort out and buy, so mild panic has set in. It wasn’t all stress though as, in the evening we went round to our friends Ian and Helen to see how the finishing touches to their house extension is coming along and to go out for a curry in Stirchley. We weren’t the only people feeling stressed as they were still working when we arrived, having just finished the first coat of paint on the newly plastered walls and Ian jet washing the front drive in semi darkness now that the skips have finally gone. Nice meal in Stirchley at the Balti Hut Tandoori Restaurant and then a sad goodbye to them as we won’t see them again until May next year (unless they come out to see us in the Alps!).

With Denise and Paul outside Stratford rececourse
More sorting and panic buying today, tomorrow, Sunday is my great-nieces christening in Solihull (possibly another quick blog entry for that), back to Jackie’s mums for Monday and an Indian curry with her, pack the car on Tuesday, final meal early Tuesday evening, drive to Portsmouth and catch the overnight ferry to Le Havre. 

A perfect after walk stop, tea and scones!

Denise and Jackie in the arms of Shakespeare

On the chain ferry over the Avon

Abi and Jackie on our walk

Swans on the Avon. I call it art

Jackie playing with Coco cat, looked on by Bella cat

Coco cat playing


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Birmingham Housesitting – September 2017

With Abi in the Mughal-e-Azam restaurant

Left mothers with chicken carcass to make stock for soup for when he couldn't open his mouth en route to the hospital via Sainsbury's for a cooked breakfast to fill him up, only for his phone to ring and the op be cancelled - no surgeon! Very irritated we went straight to Sooty, only to get a message from Abi "the conservatory door is open, is it you?" Do we always get spied on? Apparently not, she just gets messages about the conservatory door!

Sooty cat drinking from the bathroom sink
So a relaxing week as we had planned little, assuming he wouldn't be able to eat/talk/laugh. We've pottered in the shops and had the wheel bearings on the car changed and an MOT, exciting things like that! We caught up with Rob and Alex for a curry on Saturday which was lovely before going to the airport to collect Abi and Mary.

He did have a busier weekend than me, helping daughter Fiona's partner James fit a new bathroom. Sooty and I sang along to Oliver on the TV, much better for me to be alone in the house!

Monday night curry in Diwans with Tim, Fiona, Jill, Bill and Mark
Bathroom fitting at Fiona and James' Buy to Let
Fortunately the op postponement wasn't long and he was snipped yesterday. He's very swollen, but not in pain, but yes, trying to stop him talking/laughing and drinking wine is a problem! He has a big plaster over his top lip so looks a bit odd but that hasn't got to stay for too long.

Abi as ever has been a star, we are still here, but heading off to Stratford upon Avon tomorrow for a last minute sit for two cats, so a little more chilling before packing up and heading off.