Sicily – brrrrrrr

Well I don’t know about where you are but it’s blooming cold here. As we drove east (along the north coast) towards and beyond Palermo (more on that story in a second) we saw the extent of the cold weather. Snow on the hilltops. The spiky hills that plummet from well over a thousand metres straight into the Med with only a second thought for a thin coastal plain were sprinkled with a topping of snow, like icing sugar on a Victoria sponge. Except, slightly further inland with slightly higher mountains, the snow wasn’t a sprinkling. It was a thick covering, more Christmas cake icing than sponge cake dusting. We had, in an instance, gone from late summer to winter missing out autumn: fly-half to outside centre, what a pass.

proper snow in the hills

proper snow in the hills

We had sleet on the windscreen and when we ventured outside it was either a quick venture or we were togged up with hats, gloves ‘n all. Doris, bless her, has not improved. She’s better than she was ten days ago, bit intermittently and without warming coughs a bit at about 1500 revs. Ford garage next with full blown diagnostics me thinks. The problem is having a conversation with the mechanic with all the many symptoms, explanations and possible solutions being lost in translation. I’m not fond of garages (like a woman, when you find a good one do your best to keep them) and when you don’t speak the language, you can’t reason. And when you can’t reason you lose all control. That normally means unnecessary expense, certainly in my experience. Anyhow she still potters along as though it was her calling in life, starts first time, pulls relentlessly up hills and still returns around 32mpg, so there’s nothing stopping us doing what we want to do.

just another view on our journey...

just another view on our journey…

We were aiming for Monreal. Big cathedral on top of a hill just north of Palermo. We’d decided not to go into Palermo. The glossy D&K didn’t give it much of a write up and to do big cities we really need to find somewhere to park and then head in. This requires effort and with poor weather forecast we couldn’t summon up the energy. In the end we didn’t do Monreal either. Cutting a long story short we’d had a bad experience at Lidl in Palermo (height barrier which I didn’t go though, but sort of began to try – this led to a small discord in the normally harmonious Ladley relationship as we navigated our way out). And then the Sosta in Monreal wasn’t where we thought it was and what we found wasn’t somewhere we thought we would like to stay. And (another thing) the sleet was still falling……so we cut our losses, got back on the motorway and headed east again. And that’s the thing about motorhoming: don’t like somewhere? Struggling with the neighbours’ teenage children? Weather not quite what you expected? Move on. Fabulous.

Cefalu

Cefalu

We ended up at Cefalu, about half way along the north coast. What a lovely town, even in the near Arctic conditions. We parked up in the harbour on the far side of another huge rock that dominated the town, put on our warmest clothes and walked bent forward into the wind to this wonderful medieval town. It centres itself round a quite fabulous large Norman cathedral which is stuck on the bottom of the big rock. The bit of land left between it and the sea is filled with narrow streets and tall, ancient

all Christmassy (cathedral in the background)

all Christmassy (cathedral in the background)

buildings as you would have expected London to be built out of prior to the Great Fire. The closeness of the sea, the sheer rock face and the (apparently ‘best in northern Sicily’) small curving sandy beach make this a peach. It would be fantastic in the summer, but we caught it just right: late in the day with fading light, a stiff cold breeze, stormy seas and all the Christmas lights still twinkling. It gave us that winter feel that we had missed up until now. The decorations, shops and cafes were all v tasteful, obviously set out for the discerning tourist (and there were a couple of coachfulls kicking around). We had coffee sat outside in the cold and supped away. Christmas had come late to us Ladleys, but better than not at all.

image

image

Back at Doris the wind was still galeing. We looked round the harbour and chose to park under the huge quay wall where the wind was less likely to blow up Doris’ skirt. After about ten minutes an Italian man all gesticulations and machine gun chatter ran up to us and made it clear we couldn’t park there. He pointed to the top of the wall, threw his arms in a rainbow motion and in among a zillion words I heard ‘mare’. Ok, so if we park here the sea’s going to join us from over that huge wall…? He was right (and what a kind soul). I’m sat up in bed this morning writing this and the sea is launching itself up and over the wall like Steve Smith in his hay day and not only dousing the quayside but drenching the boats not so safely moored in the lee of the wall. We are out of harm’s way a hundred metres from waterworld…

we're afraid of no cold

we’re afraid of no cold

….but what a night. No TV (too windy for the dish), no internet (sorry Jones’ for not making the FaceTime connection), so we spoke to each other instead. We really ought to do that more often. Supper was sausage hotpot and a v good Italian radio station played old US hits we both knew and liked. Our night was interrupted by strong gusting winds, but it takes more than a gale to push a 3.5 tonne Doris over. Sleet, hail, thunder and intermittent rain reinforced why camping in bad weather attracts a different feel-good factor. However that does leave us with today. The forecast says it’s going to jump ten degrees tomorrow. Today will be much the same as yesterday. Dunno. I will try and post this but we may not move. We may dig in for the long haul (until tomorrow that is). We’ll see. Oh, I’ve just checked outside. It’s snowing.

image

Have a great party tonight. We’ll be thinking of you.

Sicily – another day, another walk

After a day sat in and around Doris we decided that yesterday, regardless of the weather, we would get out. We had a walk planned: cycle (ok, so it’s not actually walking) round the bay till the Norman tower and then walk the 250m up the western promontory, down the other side and then continue clockwise round the promontory back to the Norman tower. Google Earth, a must have accessory for all up and coming spies, showed a path that zig-zagged up the hill and then down again. We knew, from our previous visit to the tower that we could walk all the way round the point.

Norman tower - start point for the walk

Norman tower – start point for the walk

But what about the weather? We try and watch Euronews most evenings (you’ll find it somewhere at the back of the remote control buttons after CNN but before Al Jezera). One highlight is checking the weather throughout Europe. A sort of ‘well done us for choosing Sicily as our winter sun destination’. Our main comparison is with Malaga and the Algarve. Give or take we lose out to both, but not by much. A ‘degree’ here,

broken sunshine and cold wind

broken sunshine and cold wind

or an ‘overcast’ there. Well currently we’re losing by quite a margin. Whilst that area did have some rain before Christmas which we didn’t have, they don’t seem to do low temperatures. Today in Tripani it didn’t make it above ten degrees and most of the time, in a v cool wind, it was closer to five. However, to be fair to our winter destination of choice, we only had the v odd shower and when the sun came out, and it did, we basked in it like seals on a rocky shoreline (although, like seals, we still wore at least three layers). The BBC tells me the temperatures will rise again at the weekend. Good. And all the better if it snows in southern Spain.

Before venturing out we did dress up like it was Scotland and with bikes ready, picnic made and, for the first time for a long time, flask of warming tea in the rucksack we pushed off.

mmmm, big bull

mmmm, big bull

It was a lovely cycle/walk. The weather was kind to us and at the top of the hill we had distant views back to the campsite and over to the hilltop town of Erice, under which we had wild camped just a week ago. From up here we could keep an eye on the bands of rain coming in from the sea and when we weren’t circumnavigating a pretty big brown bull who was guarding his cows, we were constantly amazed by the size and shape of the massive rock that we were walking round the bottom of – which according to the blurb we could scramble to the top of. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen, whatever.

mmmm, big rock

mmmm, big rock

On the way off the hill we saw how they were excavating marble (obviously big business here) and came across a big rock in the shape of a bear. Apparently local folklore has it that the bear lived on the promontory and killed anything that dared to walk on its land – until it was befriended by a young vagrant boy. He learned to speak ‘bear’

rock bear?

rock bear?

and persuaded the big furry thing that people were ok really and that he wasn’t to eat anyone anymore. The bear succumbed to the boy’s charms, reviewed the errors of his ways but ate him anyway. Actually I made the whole thing up – but you’ve got to admit the rock looks a bit like a bear?

The route back along the coast was fabulous. The path was really well maintained, easy under foot and with a wooden handrail where it was needed. There was a tiny chapel, a couple of caves and another Norman tower (which we’ve learnt scores were built and placed in a way so they could all communicate with each other with flags and smoke – unless a group of the guards go off fishing – doh). The sea was our constant noisy companion and still showed off its range of colours, including that fabulous turquoise blue – which I want to call ‘Old Spice Blue’ but I guess not many of you reading this would remember the advert.

another cave, my mate Alasdair would be pleased

another cave, my mate Alasdair would be pleased

We had a cup of tea on the top once we were a safe distance from the bull, but yet to be entertained by the rock-bear (what a diverse life we lead) but by the time we got back to where we had left the bikes we were both famished. We had been on our feet for nearly three hours. Multi-tasking, we ate our picnic and watched the turbulent

a couple of big engines keeping this promontory in place

a couple of big engines keeping this promontory in place

sea both at the same (as a woman C couldn’t quite manage both so looked up after every mouthful – only kidding; I don’t want to lose two of my three readers!) and noticed that in the distance was the mother of all fronts heading our way. We gulped down our last sandwich and cycled like Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton back to the campsite. We weren’t that worried about getting wet ourselves (at least three layers of clothing = warm and dry), but wanted to put the bikes away as unwet as possible having, on a whim, decided that today we would be packing up and heading east along the north coast back to Messina.

We made it, although with the wind constantly blowing in our faces, not without effort and packed up ready for the off. We had an easy early evening followed by a tasty lasagna type thing for supper and some more leaves. We looked over the map and with the weather forecast to remain cold and a bit damp until the weekend we picked out a must see cathedral close by at Monreale, just south of Palermo, which seems to have a Sosta within walking range. We’ll need to see how Doris behaves and I have to get a top up for my Italian Vodafone PAYG SIM. So that’s the plan.

walking is what we do

walking is what we do

Looking out the window this morning it looks like sunny spells, but a cold wind. So we’ll see. No plans yet for New Year’s Eve. It’s never been a favourite day for us, but as is always the case in Doris, you’re never really sure what’s going to happen until it happens. Have a good Tuesday.

Sicily – and the weather came by

tough weather yesterday

tough weather yesterday

The wonders of modern science. Last night we watched Countryfile, without the heap of ironing that used to complete our middle-aged, middle class Sunday night. That was a good thing. The science was: the Internet (via JP’s Campernet) combined with the website FilmOnTV, which broadcasts live UK TV to ex-pats like us not within range of Crystal Palace. The Internet didn’t hold out to show Part 2 of Top Gear’s Patagonia’s expedition (we missed the first), but you can’t have everything.

It rained off and on all day like it said it would. The wind gusted to speeds that we had forgotten the wind could gust to and grey, low cloud hung about like a persistent cold. So we stuck to Plan A – stay indoors and do some stuff. Stuff included: bake a Bakewell tart; make a pair of VW campervan earrings (part of our ‘new hobby’ regime); do some sewing; read a bit; check some blogs; and a couple of times, pop out and check that the wind was still howling about our knees and the rain still making puddles.

Being in a small space with little opportunity to go out without preparing for a major expedition (it actually wasn’t that bad, but a bit of fiction doesn’t hurt anyone) could be frustrating and it’s fair to say that once or twice we were tripping over

mmmm, pastry not cooked long enough

mmmm, pastry not cooked long enough

each other (both physically and metaphorically). But it was a good day. The earrings looked more like blue Minions than VW buses and the pastry wasn’t cooked for long enough before we dribbled on the sponge mix, but we put it all down to experience. And it was good to catch up with an episode of Countryfile especially as at no time were we in danger of being smothered by an ironing avalanche. Talking of which, leaving aside the tragic news of the loss of another aircraft and the Greece/Italy ferry which is still struggling in the Adriatic (we’re on one of those next month, yikes), the huge dump of snow in the Alps made us chuckle when the British woman was interviewed on the news. It went something like this “well we were stuck at the airport for nine hours and then they took us to accommodation – this is it”, and she pointed disparagingly to a makeshift bunkhouse probably in a sports centre somewhere.

Ignoring the wonderful irony of getting caught in a snowdrift on the way to a ski resort, I’m sorry love but I’m not sure it’s the French authorities’ responsibility to provide anything other than basic accommodation for you and your clan – just because you get caught in an airport on the way to your skiing holiday just as the snow you’ve all being praying for landed all at once. In the same place. Where you wanted it. Frankly I’d have been inclined to provide them with a couple of shovels and a Clas Ohlsen instructional manual on how to erect a flat-packed igloo. Next they’ll be complaining that the hot chocolate provided by way of sustenance is just a tadge too hot for their liking. And could the Gendarme provide a babysitting service so that ‘Michael and I could pop out for a bit of avant-ski’. It’s not always someone’s fault and it’s not always someone else’s responsibility to solve the problem.

image

We did make it outside and I can report that it wasn’t snowing, although as I said yesterday, it may sleet on NewYear’s Eve. Actually ‘winter on our terms’ as C calls it works for us. There’s something cosy about being in and about Doris when it’s cold. Her heating it brill (her blow air heating can operate on gas – v efficient, and electric – manageable) and the insulation’s good enough to keep the warmth inside and the cold outside. When we’re cooking that turns up the rheostat and, pretty much in an instant, we are warm as toast. Outside I still managed to get away with shorts, but once on the rocky beach I wished I had put on trousers…

….because the sea was magnificent and I wanted to stay there. All of us have seen rough seas. Some of us have been on boats in choppy seas. We’ve probably all been spat at by the sea as it smashes against rocks and hurls waterborne insults to those of us foolishly close enough to listen. But if you think of those times, the sea we recall is a washing machine of greys, dark greens and frothy whites, all disappointed and angry like a fitting child stamping its feet in Toys ‘R Us because Mum won’t buy it the latest Barbie. It’s interesting in its ferocity, scarey almost. But it’s not a sea to be charmed by; not one to watch and watch. It’s a sea to thank a higher power you’re not on or (especially) in.

who left the non-fast turquoise fleece in there?

who left the non-fast turquoise fleece in there?

But not here. Not yesterday. The sea was maelstrom of tussling waves, fighting violently with the rocks for space on the shore. There was argy-bargy, cufuffle and fisty-cuffs. It was everything you’d expect a stormy sea to be but it had something else. Colour. Somebody had turned on the washing machine and left a non-colour fast turquoise fleece in the mix. That additional blue, picking out the brilliant white was hypnotic. C went back to Doris to pick up her binos (so she could work out whether or not the black diving bird was a skewer or some sort of tern) and came back with our waterproof jackets. Eventually, after about a million photos, we dragged ourselves away, although we popped out later at dusk just to check we hadn’t missed anything. Fabulous.

I'm watching you...

I’m watching you…

Supper was stir fry chicken and we had a couple of FaceTime calls with Mary and my bro Kevin (who’s now back at home). As at now we are officially the only van on the site. Our Czech friends left yesterday for the South Coast as (apparently) there’s some overhanging rock somewhere down there which enables you to climb in the rain. The UnGermans left yesterday as well and I have just spotted the other Italian van that arrived on Boxing Day leave just now. Weather looks a touch autumnal, so I’m not sure where that leaves us today. I’ll try and let you know tomorrow.

Sicily – forgotten what day it is

I spoke to my brother yesterday evening. He and his two girls (and Winston the chocolate lab) were with our Mum and Dad, a sort of late Christmas. It’s fair to say that our parents are technophobes, or more accurately struggle with using computers, tablets (other than those prescribed) and smart phones. Apples are to be polished and given to teachers and Androids are probably something they may remember from a 70s sci-fi movie. That doesn’t make them any less lovely, it just makes them similar to lots and lots of other older folk who just can’t get it. So, with his iPhone and FaceTime at the ready, we all communicated with each other by talking and looking. It was great to see them all and with my Mum and Dad quite animated, I think I can say the same for them and us. Certainly it was good to see Kevin’s face and those of his two girls.

weather's turning...

weather’s turning…

I remember having a discussion with myself sometime ago along the lines of ‘wouldn’t it be a wonder if we could call each other and watch at the same time?’ I think we had just bought our girls handheld TVs for Christmas and, for me, it was the natural progression. And here we are, probably just over a decade later, doing just that. So what next? In thirty years time (about the generational gap between me and my parents) what new technical wonder will be so ‘out there’ that my brain will be unable to rationalise how to use it? Or have we all grown up in the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) culture that as things become more and more technically complex, using them will be come commensurately easier and easier for anyone who knows how to swipe an Android screen and recognise a green telephone icon for what it is: dial this number you idiot. Let’s hope so; but I’m not holding my breath.

My brother also told me he was enjoying this drivel….most of the time. His main comment was ‘what do I want to know about rocks for?’ Indeed. Note to self. Stop talking about rocks (and I guess plants, sea, shrubbery, trees, eagles, vultures, cows, sheep, etc).

San Vito - confused?  Round Norman tower

San Vito – confused? Round Norman tower

We decided to cycle into San Vito Lo Capo yesterday morning, have a cup of coffee, soak up a bit of the atmosphere, have a good look at the beautiful cliffs, the wonderful mediterranean pines, the green cacti with the funny pink prickly pears on top, and see if we could spot the magnificent birds of prey we saw the day before up in the hills. We foraged for some stuff at the slightly larger than the other village’s supermarket (which was a Sicilian version of a Royston Vesey ‘local shop’ serving the locals) we had used before, and then we had a coffee at the posh cafe that couldn’t cope with an Englishman asking for two simple coffees in poor Italian. Surely the same thing couldn’t happen twice?

bigger than a big hill

bigger than a big rock

First I have to say that San Vito is a lovely seaside town. Its small bay is bounded on one side by a hill as big as a very big hill (if not bigger), and the other by a spit of land with a lighthouse on it. The harbour by the lighthouse is large, but not industrial; there’s a small fishing fleet and a number of gin palaces (but seemingly not lived on like the Marina where Ned and Barbara’s boat is moored). The bit in the middle is a beautiful curving sandy beach which, with the last of the sun for a couple of days (according to every forecast I’ve looked at) brightening the colours and reinforcing the shadows, looked every bit a perfect holiday beach – although yesterday there were no sandcastles, no beach volleyball and absolutely no bikini clad wonders. Shame.

lovely harbour

lovely harbour

oblong church

oblong church

The town is big but not huge and, although almost all closed, there were plenty of eateries and the like to satisfy hungry tourists. But the small town square with oblong sandy coloured church and posh cafe was open for business. And when we got there most of the outside tables and sofas were taken with

posh coffee - rubbish baristas

posh cafe – rubbish baristas

well-to-do locals and the odd group of bronzed and toned climbing dudes. What they must have thought of us turning up wearing our cycle helmets atop our Berghaus ultra slim (but very purple) beanies, is unclear – but as it has been for a while now, we were beyond caring. Anyway, the drinks. I caught the barista’s eye and slowly with hand gestures asked for two long coffees, one normal and one decaf. ‘Si.’ No further explanation required.

Except we got two Macchiatos, although fair play to the guy one was decaffeinated. Oh well, small steps.

last of the sun for a while?

last of the sun for a while?

We cycled round the harbour and along the quay for the hell of it and made our way back to Doris for a late lunch. For the record, and to annoy my brother even more, our pair of collared doves that joined us for Christmas are now our best friends. They are regular attendees at the Ladley’s dinner table and are particularly fond of scrunched up bran flakes. And, as fabulous wildlife eye candy, they’re more than welcome (until we get close to the bottom of the bran flake packet when they can push off and blag from someone else). We also found a new friend today. A not that attractive but homely white and orange cat. Ordinarily cats and birds don’t mix but either there was some in-place OSCE brokered ceasefire or the cat was bone idle, blind or both. Anyhow we found ourselves feeding both at the same time. I’ve probably got fleas now.

The rest of the afternoon was a frenzy of cleaning and washing. C put some laundry on and cleaned Doris’ insides. I cleaned the outside windows, our walking shoes and some other stuff. Cleaning is cathartic, but only up to the point when it isn’t. So after about an hour I put my running kit on and tried my new skipping rope made from the rope we bought to tie up Evinrude (our blow up canoe) and a couple of those brown doughnut shaped floats they use on yachts for, well, I have absolutely no idea. Anyhow my record was forty seven skips, although mostly it was ones and twos. I can, though, testify that it’s blooming hard work and whilst I wasn’t quite breathing out of my ears like I do when I run, I can see why boxers use it as a training tool.

Mrs Mop

Mrs Mop

C went for a run and as it started to get dark we fell into our time old regime, which last night, included FaceTiming my folk – and thanks to Kevin for being there to allow that to happen.

birds know something...

birds know something…

Today the rain has come. If I look to the weather app it’s says rain all week. Wednesday predicts sleet. Sleet? I’m not sure what all this is going to do to our plans, but today we’re staying put. Have a great Sunday.

Sicily – Boxing Day

It was big mountain day yesterday. I’d spotted a high col between two peaks on the range of hills that form the backbone of the peninsular we are camped on. At 650 metres it would be quite a climb and looking at it from a previous day’s outing it seemed to follow a route that was straight up. Boxing Day has always been a time for us to rub out some of the excesses of Christmas, initially taking part in orienteering competitions and then at School (when we weren’t skiing) we put together a families orienteering event in the local woods with mince pies and gluwein. Yesterday would be no different.

big mountain day

big mountain day

We both woke late which is testament to Doris enabling us to sleep well. The weather looked like it might be a mixed bag, so after a quick breakfast C knocked up a packed lunch, I sorted out our trekking gear and off we jolly welled. The route took us South along the coast for about a mile before we turned inland and started to climb. I’m not sure what drugs the weather had been taking the previous night, but the sea, all navy blue with turquoise streaks, smashed against the rocky bay hurling brilliant white surf high into the air like Trent would have thrown Pixie in the Strictly finals if the unsophisticated British public hadn’t voted her off. Harrumph.

image

The first half of the climb was a barely tarmaced track laid to service a communications tower on a hill off to one side of the valley we were walking up. The comms tower was an option to walk to if we thought the col was getting a bit naughty. I’d checked on Google Earth the night before (the best app on the market – who needs the CIA now when you can find Russian nuclear missile sites without

not yet half way up

not yet half way up

leaving your sitting room?) and it was an easier climb both in distance and height. The tarmac track was a so and so. It was straight up, at an angle that asked your toes to say hello to your shins. We trudged on, mostly head down. At the junction where we had the option to head off right for about another half mile to the tower, or continue to climb straight up and reach the col, I passed the choice to C. Without flinching she said ‘I want to make it to the top’. What worried me was the state of the track that led on, but I need not have fretted. The locals had flattened a path all the way to the top, including hairpin bends to level the gradient and white rocks to mark the way. In fact everywhere we looked on hill there were marked tracks, signposts to unpronounceable peaks and fab views. Very German, but with that touch of Sicilian style.

The second half of the climb was easier than the first, although the distance longer and elevation higher. C, bless her, just kept going. I was just in front and, looking back and checking that she still had all her faculties and associated humour, I saw a front coming in off of the sea. I sensed then that we were in a bit of a race: the top (and a promised mountain hut) or a good soaking. I am, by military qualification, trained to take up to eight soldiers to the snow level provided I have recced the route before. As such, although I am in no way a hill-walking expert (although as an infanteer it’s what much of our training was about), I do appreciate some of the extreme risks of walking, especially in poor weather. We were fairly well prepared with some wet weather clothes, but nearly always with rain comes strong winds and heading to a col where the wind might be channeled, and tired and damp with sweat (and in our fifties…), I wasn’t keen to stay up on the hill any longer than necessary.

oops, weather closing in

oops, weather closing in

As we reached the top, behind and almost on us was a sea of black and grey cloud pushed hard by a strong gusting wind; in front, over the col was a sea of, well, Mediterranean blue in the distance below us. Caught between the Devil and the (….no, that’s just unnecessarily corny) we

hut built for our lunch

hut built for our lunch

realised that the hut was closed. There was a second hut a further hundred metres up on a small pinnacle. We headed for that. As we reached it and got in through the broken door (strange looking hut, all windows above hip height, a couple smashed) the clouds engulfed us, the wind rattled through the broken pains and the rain came. But we were dry. And, as if by magic, lunch was served. Fabulous.

I then envisaged us togging up (we were already putting on spare clothes, it was getting chilly – C had put on every layer of clothing she could find and stuck a backpackers towel on her head and topped it with a thinsulate hat so she looked like Mary, adding some reverence to the proceedings) and, without a compass in thick cloudy damp fog, following the trail of white stones off the hill and back to the village below us. Then, all of a sudden, the rain blew over and whilst the sun was a distant friend chatting to the TK Maxx checkout lady at till six whilst we were still waiting at the back of a long queue among the jars of jelly beans and multicoloured peppers, the wind dropped and everything seemed much calmer. We took our chance.

final ascent

final ascent

every piece of clothing

every piece of clothing

Actually, other than the fact both of our thighs screamed out for a rest towards the bottom, the trip down was a breeze. The views, which we had failed to spot on the way up as we focused all our attention on making progress, were expansive and far reaching. A lack of sun dowsed the colours, but it was still a spectacle. At the bottom we stopped by the series of small rocky bays gouged out by a relenting sea, had a merry dance with a herd of sheep determined to head our way, and walked back to the campsite through the trees and ever present rock climbers tackling the sheer face of the escarpment behind the site.

sheeps

sheeps

A bit knackered we made it back to Doris. Tea was a must have commodity and, between derobing and unpacking, we settled down for your typical Boxing Day spread: cold meat and chips. Yippee!

we're in for some cold weather...

we’re in for some cold weather…

saw this and liked it

saw this and liked it

We’re in for a cold spell. We’ve woken to light rain this morning and the day time temperatures are due to drop below ten degrees for four or five days. It’s hardly the snow the UK is getting, nor is it the balmy sunshine plaguing Malaga at the moment. So what happens now is up for discussion. We’ll see. Have a great weekend.

selfie at the top - not sure what C's thinking...

selfie at the top – not sure what C’s thinking…

Sicily – Boxing Day

in case we forgot

in case we forgot

Our best Christmases have probably been skiing in Alpbach, Austria. We had three in succession recently where we hired a chalet and the girls came and sometimes brought friends. Privileged is an understatement. Log cabin, snow, family and a boot full of Christmas decorations and presents. Skiing on Christmas Day, mostly plenty of snow and glittering frosty evenings looking out across the valley to splodges of sparkling lights where other chalets and farms had lit up pine trees. A sky full of stars and, when we stayed for New Year as well, the best fireworks display this side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Fabulous.

we had friends round for Christmas

we had friends round for Christmas

So why would we exchange that (which we could afford on my salary) for a tin box, a reasonably stringent budget and no sign of family this side of La Manche? Did this question actually cross our mind yesterday? Did we, at any point, think that we would have preferred to be in Alpbach. Of course you couldn’t have that discussion with yourself without being reminded of everything else that comes with being able to spend two weeks on the slopes. Countless, unending Emails, complicated school parents, a strict time regime, school politics, a ‘to do’ list as long as a piece of string, meetings and meetings, and so on and so forth. So would we (could we?) go back? I made the imagepoint yesterday that we miss our girls terribly. And as we connected with nearly all our friends and close family there was a major tug there. But, and it’s a huge But, we were able to really focus on all of those we spoke to (and saw via Skype and FaceTime) yesterday. We’ve been able to do that every day for the last six months. That’s the difference. This new life gives us time to think about, talk through and then communicate with those we know and love without the complications of ‘normal’ life getting in the way. That, in itself, is not worth two weeks in a ski resort. No way. So it didn’t cross our minds (although to be fair, we may do Christmas differently next year, but not in a seismic way).

When we weren’t talking to people we walked. It was another one of those ‘let’s just pop out along the coast for a bit and see what’s what’ that turned into almost three hours on our feet, photographing the rockery plants we didn’t recognise, staring upwards marvelling at the audacity of some of the climbers as they picked their way up sheer faces, visiting caves that in any other part of the world would have been major attractions (but here were just there) and generally being glad to be out on our feet for another day.

I have hundreds of these

I have hundreds of these

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At this point I’d like to have a go at Jeremy Clarkson. I know this is pretty off the wall (that is in the context of the current post, but not if you step back and think about the things you want to have go at) but stay with me, there is a link. I’m a fan of Top Gear. I love cars, top-notch engineering and the beauty of some of the works of art that they race round the track. I even enjoy the boyish humour; it’s so good to watch something which isn’t double wrapped in PC cellophane and inspected by the H&S committee and various other sub committees before it’s broadcast. But their imageincessant knocking of motorhomes (and caravans) misses the point by a continental mile. I remember Clarkson asking a caravanning old lady “what do you do on holiday?”. She replied “erm, well, ehh, we empty the loo.” #thatmakesapoint. Doubtless this was a carefully selected soundbite among plenty of others which included “I like to base jump” and “I’m often caught out gallivanting with my twenty-five year old toy boy.” But that’s journalism for you. I wished he’d have asked me. “Actually Jeremy we spend ninety percent of our time outside and if you had the energy to come and join us for a couple of days you’d lose a few pounds which, let’s face it, you could afford to do.”

And that’s how we spent our Christmas Day. Ninety percent of it was outside. We cooked and ate breakfast (bacon, mushrooms and fried eggs) outside. We walked for about five miles, including a couple of stiff climbs, outside. We met a ninja cow outside. We practised a bit of skipping (my new fitness craze) outside. We peered into a couple of limestone caves (blurb says they were once a wooly mammoth’s maisonette) outside. And, whilst I didn’t empty the loo (outside) I did replenish our water (from outside). It’s a healthy existence and for us that’s perfect.

Ninja cow

Ninja cow

We managed to cook a pretty full Christmas dinner, with roasties ‘n all. And with reasonable wifi we picked up the end of Strictly, Doctor Who and University Challenge (Paxman is even rude to middle aged people; how does he get away with that?). It had been as good a Christmas as we remember, of course lacking in the warmth and cheer provided by others, but with Skype, FaceTime and phone some of that void was filled.

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So what’s next? No major Boxing Day clear up, no hangover and checking the bank balance no belts need tightening…..and with no ‘best ever’ Boxing Day sales to head off to there’s more cash for that fabulous ‘almost a liquid’ coffee they serve over here. Have a good day and a great weekend.

Sicily – Merry Christmas!

Well, we made it. And I guess if you’re reading this you made it too. Well done. It seems v strange to be having Christmas all on our own. For the past twenty-nine years our Christmas’ have always been family orientated. We have, perhaps foolishly, had massive bashes with at one point, nineteen relatives staying. Three times, if I

why the climbers come here, just behind the campsite

why the climbers come here, just behind the campsite

remember correctly, C and I have stood on the threshold waving the last guests goodbye and saying under our breath ‘we ain’t ever doing that again’. It’s not that we don’t love our close relatives. We absolutely do. On their own, in pairs or small groups they are lovely. Adorable even. But bring the Ladleys (mine) and the Cubberleys (C’s) all together (including us) and no fuse is required. Add some alcohol, simmer and hey presto you have a vindaloo of a recipe, all spice, hot chilli and terrible indigestion in the morning. But that aside, doing this without Bex and Jen close by just isn’t quite Christmas. We’ve spoken to them and will speak to them again and again over the next couple of days, but it’s not quite the same. We miss them. And knowing that they don’t read this (shame on them) I can repeat it twice without seeming all pathetic: we miss them.

Oh well. We have our own little piece of Christmas here on the El-Bahira campsite. Doris is more Christmassy than Oldham town centre (not difficult) and C’s now finished decorating Doris’ insides and has carelessly spilt Christmas out onto the furniture and floor under the awning; all tastefully done. So we’re looking like we know which Christian festival we’re celebrating. We have two and a half neighbours. Behind us is a German registered motorhome recently joined by another German campervan. Two couples and a young lad. I know they’re German vans (the white ‘D’ on a blue background gives the game away) and their number plate indicate they’re from Munich (German registrations give a further clue to where the vehicles is registered). But they’re not speaking any dialect of German I have ever come across. So let’s call them the UnGermans. Well the UnGermans have some coloured lights and a candle lit Advent arch outside their vans. Last night they were preparing for Chriskindl (not St Nikolaus, who pops round to Munich on the 6th December) to bring presents and Christmas cheer. They were burning incense and, with something bubbling away nicely on the outside cooker, it all looked and smelt lovely.

Doris, all Christmassy like

Doris, all Christmassy like

Our other neighbours are Czech: Mum, Dad and three pre-teenage kids. I had a chat to them this evening. They celebrate Christmas but Santa doesn’t feature. ‘Little Jesus’ comes on Christmas Eve and doles out the pressies. Between climbing (all five of them climb) Mum had been cooking all day. That’s impressive in itself, but when I tell you that they arrived in a Ford Tranist van and have a single Coleman tent to sleep in and only an outside double burner on which to cook Christmas lunch, you have to give them a round of applause. Anyhow C decided to knock up a small present of sweets for the three children (well she’s not quite Little Jesus, but it’s a nice touch) all wrapped in a Christmas napkin and a gold bow. Dad came round immediately afterward with two cans of Czech lager. Result! Don’t you just love Christmas?

So it’s all v festive here even if we’re not plagued with George Michael’s Last Christmas every fourth song on the radio, TV adverts for the upcoming ‘best ever’ Boxing Day sales and pressure to do just one more shop to buy goodies that we shouldn’t really be eating and drinking if we knew what was good for us. And now we know how Santa does it. We all think he’s scurrying round delivering PS4s (with the newest game ‘Slow Death to Aliens and Orks with Big Guns and Huge Explosions) to millions of children who probably haven’t been good enough to warrant the expense and certainly don’t need their senses swamped with any more violence, all on the same night. But he actually did most of Western Europe – but not the Czech Republic as Little Jesus does that – early in Christmas Eve, so he’s only got the US (and there’s some time zones to play with there) and the UK to worry about. Simples!

come on, look at me!

come on, look at me!

We’re helping Santa by having not written a list and we used the elves at Amazon to do most of his work for us. But who needs presents? We are overburdened with surprises here. We had a clear plan today: pop out and get some salad, cycle back, email family and friends with the Cat’s Christmas circular, go for a run and fill the small voids left with some down time, reading and the like. Well we did the first bit (tick) and imagebagged a cup of coffee in the other local village just south from here (two long coffees, one normal, one decaf – no confusion today – tick and gold star) and we foraged for what we needed (tick). Then, however, it all unraveled. We should have been heading back to the campsite to do what we needed to do, but the large bay on which the campsite nestles in one corner shouted “come on, cycle round me – look here there’s another Norman tower you’ve not looked at.” Fifteen miles later and with some piercing vistas (think again to the northwest coast of Scotland with almost no population but with newer, pointier hills, translucent seas, greener greens and, I don’t mean to bore you, no midges and about ten degrees warmer) and you have it. It must be one of the prettiest bays in Europe. The Norman tower was a special one, built on four concave walls which, according to the accompanying sign, is apparently better at stopping bullets. Frankly I’d have spent less of the money I had extorted from the local surfs on clever architects fees, and more on building thicker walls. Especially as the fort was later taken when the guards were all out fishing. Doh.

Norman castle...

Norman castle…

It was a lovely couple of hours. Nothing strenuous, other than a cardiovascular session for the senses. But a real testament to the fabulousness of this small piece of Sicily.

the orange flower took my attention

the orange flower caught my attention

We got back in time for a late lunch which we ate outside. It’s not hot, unless you sit directly in the sun and out of any wind, but during the day it’s warm enough to kick around in shorts and t-shirts (cycling requires a hat – the air temperature is cool enough to become cold if you’re cutting through it at a terrific ten miles an hour). We had a quick wander up to the main climbing rock just outside the back of the campsite, strolled back in and realised we really needed to email everyone with the Cat’s letter. So that’s what we did. Whereas writing Christmas cards is, I find, a singularly single-dimension act (knowing that I have just helped remove a tree from a forest which, unless I write something which is long, interesting and witty, will lack warmth and bring little joy to the recipient), sending an email with the Cat’s letter attached (three drafts, the original two turned down by C and then Bex; it’s a tough business) and adding just a few simple ‘Happy Christmas’ lines is instantaneous and, on Christmas Eve, could not be more current. So we did that.

A run each followed by supper which was a joint effort of spag bog (we will be looking like Linguine by the time we make it to Greece) and green leaves, and, without the TV on we began to answer some of the replies we had already received from the emails we had sent earlier. Now that’s what I call communication. Throughout we were accompanied by Christmas melodies played generously to us by ‘Radio Santa’, an Internet radio station I found a couple of years ago. It is broadcast from the North Pole (no, no, come on, really it is) and plays non-stop Christmas music throughout the day. Just what you need when you need it. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? And, uncannily, just outside Doris’ side door you can hear the bells clanging from around the necks of the local sheep and goats chomping away at the cacti.

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So happy Christmas to you all. We intend to do not a great deal other than potter around today, phone family and friends and put our feet up. We will be thinking of many of you we know. Don’t worry about us….at all. We’re already having one of best Christmas’ ever. Till tomorrow.