Bella Italiano – Our Highs and Lows

Bella Italiano – Our Highs and Lows

 

Buongiorno e benvenuto!

Italy has been our home for over three months in the last three years and it’s been an experience of Highs and Lows. One thing we adore is the language. I’ve had some great teachers along the way from a Campsite Receptionist, who is now a friend, to camper neighbours who shared their local knowledge.

Imagine the scene; Emilio in his 70’s, looked like he had come straight off the set of an Italian Mafia film and his younger wife Anna by at least 15 years, who fulfilled most of the duties, not in a subservient way, just as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. They spoke very little English, so between us we spoke French, pigeon Italian and the odd word of Queeny’s tongue. What an incredible hour we had together and thanks to them, had some amazing experiences in Tuscany. They even gave us their phone number is case of any issues whilst in Italy. And oh boy! Could we have used that half a dozen times in the last month.

During our time here, we’ve experienced Lakes in the guise of Garda and Trasimeno, stayed in a volcanic crater just outside Naples and overnighted outside a Benedictine Monastery up in the mountains; we had two free, wild jacuzzis and mud wraps in the mountains – courtesy of Tuscany’s natural thermal springs. We’ve watched the sun go down on our lakeside ‘home’ in Umbria and watched it rise through Tuscany’s evocative poplar trees.  We found flamingoes on the Po Delta together with a few million midges that must be on their winter retreat from Scotland. We’ve seen Pisa’s tower lean a bit, Florence’s iconic Duomo Cathedral and Pontevecchio bridge, been treated to sunset in our beloved Venice and visited the iconic hillside towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino of wine fame.  And that’s before we mention the Cinque Terre and the famous Stelvio Pass which was hair-raising and brilliant all at the same time. 

And then we had adventures of getting ripped off in San Marino’s tax haven principality, had our bikes stolen from a public space in Lucca, been subjected to the worst roads and motorways we’ve ever been on and took part in a chaotic, free-for-all junk-yard derby that made Delhi look like an empty supermarket car park.  Sadly our road-trip south, which had the intention of experiencing Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast, was thwarted by the crowds, crazy-frog drivers and a bit of rubbish navigating on my part. How we came away sane and unscathed is beyond us.

Although despite all this, I have to say that each time we return to Italy, we love it a little bit more. I think our first visit scared the be-gesus out of us. Once you know the rules for navigating Italy mindfully, then it’ll end up being a fabulous experience. So you must come and make up your own minds.

Check out our Interactive Map below for all our Italian highlights from 2016-2018.

 

 

Our Italian Realisations

As we reflect on our Italian adventures over the years, we’ve learnt a few things about our pizza eating, pasta making friends:

  • They have little road sense or road politesse 
  • The country seems strapped for cash and lots of the seaside towns in the south are really run down and unloved
  • Drivers NEVER make eye contact behind the wheel of their cars
  • They disregard any rules of the road – in fact there are no rules
  • They think nothing of driving on your side of the road and overtaking right in front of an oncoming vehicle
  • They love honking their horns
  • They will only fix Toll roads, the rest are at the mercy of time and grass
  • They don’t seem to worry about volcano eruptions or earthquakes – if it happens, they get on with it as they live in one of the most seismic active areas of the world outside New Zealand
  • The north/south divide seems to be opposite that in UK. The north is definitely the most wealthy and most populated with BIG tourists sights. Whereas the south seems to be more rural, less commercialised and where fewer tourists come
  • Italy has by far the best sunsets we have ever seen – there must be something about the seismic dust that makes it so evocative and romantic
  • And talking of romance, Italy has the most romantic vibe of all countries we have visited. Love seems to be expressed everywhere in the most idyllic of places – except behind the wheel of a car
  • And above all, we’ve found some of the sweetest, kindest and most wonderful people here.

Our 14 Highlights

1. Venice

Well you can’t say Italy without immediately thinking about Venice. And whilst it suffers hugely from both tourist erosion and flooding, somehow this community seems to continue life as if there were no problems – typically Italian. With its canals, gondolas, bridges and islands, Venice has to be seen both by day and by night.  Both deliver a completely different vibe.  Check out our experience here.

2. Dolomites

Northern Italy that rubs shoulders with Austria and Switzerland is all about the battle of the mountains. At one end you have the Dolomites with their towering spikes that can be seen for miles, to the more femininely curvaceous Alps at the western end. Both mountains spectacular in their own way, each offering a unique personality and Italian experience. Either way you will hold you breath and gasp. 

 

3. Stelvio Pass

When we think of Italian roads, the image isn’t good. Although think again when you ponder on the driving challenge that is THE STELVIO PASS. We’ve driven a couple of Europe’s ‘most dangerous roads’, although I have to say this was the most challenging of them all. Not only is the road in good condition, it is one of the most beautiful things you will ever experience. Driving from Bolzano is a must, if nothing more than to save your brakes. The wiggles that snake up to the mountain’s snow line are just so testing; one after another, after another. It is exhausting especially in a motorhome, although out of season most definitely doable and we highly recommend it. Check out our footage here.

 

4. Lake Garda

Nestled in the bosom of the Alps, Lake Garda is the largest of all the Italian Lakes and whilst it is incredibly busy, even in September, it is a great experience. Whether you choose to do it by car, bicycle (using any one of the ferries), kayak or moped, Lake Garda is a gift that keeps on giving. Intense blue waters, northern winds that provide the sail power for the windsurfers and atmospheric villages that cling to the lakeside edges, Garda has it all. Limone is a delight, Gargnano charming and Riva in the north, buzzy.

 

5. Porto Venere

Sat on the eastern fringe of the Cinque Terre National Park, Porto Venere has sadly been missed off the ‘Famous Five’ list. And it is beyond our comprehension why. With its harbour, peninsular and iconic Gothic church, its narrow alleyways full of characterful houses, Porto Venere is supremely more beautiful than the ‘five’ in our opinion. With fewer crowds to affect your experience, this is definitely one to put on your list.  Check out our footage here.

 

6. Tuscany

What superlatives can I use to aptly describe Tuscany that won’t undermine its tend charm and infinite beauty? So I will conjure up an image for you that may entice you to this Italian region. Imagine rolling hills, carved with sunflower fields and poplar trees that cluster together along roads and driveways, that in the autumn mists and sunrise light offer you a scene out of Gladiator. With natural springs hidden in forests that bubble and soothe away your aches and villages perched on hills that offer a grandeur in their lofty status and wine oozing from the acres of vineyards that cover the land. Tuscany has romance at its core with divine beauty etched into every piece of soil. I defy you to not fall in love with this region. Volterra, Montepulcanio, Montalcino, Pomerance, Talemone, Bagno Vignoni and the White Whale of San Felippo Bagnoni. Deliciousness on a map.  Check out loads of footage we have here.

 

8. Po Delta

On the western coast, just a stone’s throw from the Venice magnet you come to flat lands that you wonder what beauty they can hold. Although for a completely unique and diverse landscape the Po Delta region is awash with wild life and salt-flats. And with this type of scenery you get flamingoes. Swarms of them – and mosquitos sadly. Although if timed right, a tour around the delta and Comacchio will give you a completely different perspective of Italy.

 

9. Alberobello and Matera in the south

The south has many undiscovered gems and given that most tourists go for the easy to reach northern regions, Alberobello and Matera are relatively unscathed by tourists.  Alberobello with its famous Trulli houses are quaint and one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen. White washed buildings and their round stone roofs transport you back in time as you wander around the cobbled streets of this UNESCO village. In contrast not more than 45 minutes drive away you have the rock village of Matera. Carved into the hillside with caves that dwellers called their homes Matera will delight you. Overlooking its river gorge, walks, bird watching and café culture will entice you to this place and make you wonder why you have never been before.  Check out our footage here. 

 

10. Paestum – Greek Temples

So many flock to Pompeii to see the famous, ancient Roman city and its fickle volcano Vesuvius.  Although it is for this very reason that we searched for something more authentic and not an expensive tourist trap. Heading past Naples, past Solerno and on towards Agropoli and you will find a far more genuine and less crowded monument. In fact Paestum is a Greek archeological site and its temples are in a great state, the best we have ever seen. It is definitely worth travelling a little further south to see this place.  Check out what we saw here.

 

14. Amalfi

The Amalfi coast is certainly beautiful and given that driving a motorhome along its roads is forbidden, we decided on approaching it by sea. We took a ferry from Salerno (where there is a campsite about 15 minutes down the road) and disembarked at the town of Amalfi. The town is, like many of it sibling resorts, crowded with coach loads of tourists, although if you get away from the main high street some of the views of the town from up above are great. Just for the sheer hell of it, we would highly recommend taking the bus back. Although it takes nerves of steel as the bus driver throws the vehicle around narrow lanes and steep overhanging cliffs, it is certainly an experience. Check out our experience here.

 

Making the most of your Italian adventure

 

1) Despite Italy’s reputation, do come as it is beautiful – if you plan ahead to the specific sites you want to see then it becomes much more pleasurable.

2) To cover Italy’s extensive miles, we suggest you take the toll roads and suck up the fees if you want to minimise brain ache and wear and tear on your vehicle. It’s not always pretty, although the ride is not pretty on some of the main roads.  Even the non-tolled motorways are shocking.

3) Italy has some amazing cities and palatial cathedrals, that rival Spain, although when visiting these Italian icons, stay in a campsite and take the bus. Crime here is rife.

4) Don’t make our mistake – pay for car parks and DO NOT park in side streets, even if there are cameras and other vehicles around.

5) If you go to Pisa, you’ll only need to see the main Cathedral and tower – there is nothing else – so an hour tops we would recommend.

6) Put Venice on the list, although stay at the site (if with a motorhome) on the inside of the city – Tronchetto, which is just over the bridge, that way you can experience Venice by day and night, which is very special.

7) See Florence out of season as the crowds are crazy and go early if you want to climb the Tower. Our advice for the best view of the city, is to walk to Michaelangelo’s statue, up the 167 steps – yes we counted them – the view over the entire city is exceptional.

8) Do not miss Italy’s eastern coast, south of Venice into the Po Delta. It is a nature lover’s paradise and a stunning natural environment, although keep away from the coastal towns as they are not pretty.

9) Bare in mind that any Italian with a motorhome will go away in it over the weekend, even out of season. So don’t expect to find Sostas (equivalent to French Aires) with much space.

10) Italian kids don’t go back to school until third week in September, so campsites are still classed as high season until then and then they close down anywhere from end of September to end of October.

11) I’m sure the Amalfi coast is lovely, although do not go in a motorhome unless you have a very strong constitution for driving. Campsites are limited and Motorhomes are not allowed on the Amalfi road. Go for a week’s holiday instead or even better, go on a cruise! It is the maddest area of Italy that we have experienced and that includes other main cities like Florence and Venice.  

12) Expect the unexpected here and you’ll be ok.

13) The fresh pasta and mozzarella here is incredible, as is their cheap wine. Stock on their baked beans found in larger supermarkets so that in your trip back up through western Europe you have supplies, as the French just don’t do Baked Beans!

14) Learn a few words of Italian as it is the most musical language ever and actually not difficult to converse with a handful of stock phrases. The best phrase I learnt was ‘Posso’, which means ‘Could I?’ From here you can say ‘Could I have’, ‘Could I pay’, ‘Could I buy’.  They appreciate the effort, even if it means you have to resort to Google Translate for the rest.

15) And finally, do come. We’ve not seen half of Italy yet and we still love it, you just keep your whits about you.

 

So our conclusion on Italy? There are many pockets of beauty in amidst some unlovedness, with crazy drivers and rubbish roads.  It is a bit like a sweet and sour dish. There are most definitely two flavours to Italy and whilst we will always go back, we do so with eyes wide open and our nerves braced.  For all our Italian adventures including Florence, this page gives you all our posts and videos. Italy in a nutshell.

 

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A Guide to Exploring Denia, Spain

A Guide to Exploring Denia, Spain

 

Delightful Denia, sat in the south east corner of Spain teeters on the edge of the Costa Blanca magnet. And yet Dénia could not be further from the Costa image that has been generated by decades of tourism to this sunny, southern fringe of Europe.  Authentic, vibrant and offering a wide variety of things to see and do, Dénia draws us back year after year. 

We are not great ‘returners’ to places because there is so much of the world to see, why would you want to have a return visit to somewhere? And yet, we all have our favourite ‘go to’ places where we feel instantly comfortable and pretty much ‘at home’. Dénia is that place for us. After five visits over the last three years, we strangely find ourselves magnetised to this corner of Spain and especially during the winter months, provides just a little sanctuary for our travel weary tyres.

And each visit opens up something new to us drawing us further in to Dénia’s irresistible charm. So much so that we feel we have now compiled a super list of things to entertain and delight you as you make your way to Spain’s southern beach belles. Why not swap the tourism of the coast for a little bit of authentic Spain wrapped up into a dynamic ball of culture, gastronomy and entertainment. 

 

Here is our Guide to this fabulous destination that could offer you a winter get away or a summer vacation with relaxation and activity blended together like a perfect cocktail. 

 

1. A peak into Dénia’s history

Dénia’s story begins way back when it was the capital of the Muslim Kingdom – if you are a historical purist then you would have to acknowledge evidence of Dénia’s prehistoric existence going further back than the history books can reveal. May be back then there was little interest in the town’s southerly location and oceanic position, although certainly as we crawl along the historical timeline we can see why Dénia was so widely admired by outsiders. 

The Greeks, Muslims, Christians and French have all placed their mark on Dénia in some form or another; whether it’s been to trade the raisins that were a strategic export from the town for over 100 years or using the 11th Century castle to protect their kingdom, Dénia’s place in history is firmly set.

In 18th century the Spanish regained control of this important region and it has been firmly in charge ever since. Now a modern grip has been placed on the town offering respite to tourists albeit not in the same way as its Costa cousins around the corner.  Dénia manages to maintain its authentic roots, charm and unobtrusive personality – that is until festival time. More on that in a moment.

With its busy fishing port and ferry hub for the Balearic Islands, Dénia refuses to remain passive in Spain’s economy. With its discrete hotels and restaurants positioned along the pedestrian promenade that stretches from sandy beaches, marinas to craggy coves, Dénia demands attention from those intent on passing by on the nearby AP7. Will you be one of them?

 

2. Our 3 favourite things to do in Dénia

 

Walking around the harbour, marina and promenade

The enormous marina oozes opulence as you weave your way through the Nautical Club and observe the gin palaces on display alongside the town’s promenade. For a moment you can gaze at their lavish lifestyle and dream. In stark contrast next door the fisherman moor up their rigs ready to off-load their daily catch in preparation for the fish market. Between 5-5.30pm every night, it’s worth heading into town to watch their antics and get a real cultural feel for Dénia’s working personality. Serenaded by parakeets that fly between the palm trees that lines the coastal road you can also admire the mastering of the Balearic ferry coming into to dock at 3.30 each day.  If you fancy the walk around to the breakwater behind the ferry terminal, you are rewarded with gorgeous views as you look back to the town’s skyline – particularly beautiful as the sun sets. A solar powered boat will happily escort you from just behind the ferry terminal back across the harbour to the main town promenade – all for free. 

 

Dénia’s markets

There’s nothing more authentic than a local market, where you rub shoulders with residents going about their daily lives. I love the feel, smell and look of markets with their vibrant colours and regional fare on display to tempt your taste buds. Dénia has two weekly markets; Monday morning’s market is all about clothes, shoes and accessories located at the western edge of the town at Mercadillo. And Friday morning is all about the fruit and veg stalls which is just two blocks away from Dénia’s shopping area – Marcos de Campo. Two streets of stalls draw you in with their calls of ‘Todo Euro’ – all for a £ – and there are certainly some bargains to be had. Although they don’t do much for the reduction of plastics sadly. 

At the top end of the Friday market area, there is also an indoor market, which is well worth a butchers, as they say! With meats, fish and bizarrely some vegetables too, this is a permanent market area and is great to wander around. So treat yourself to a coffee or chocolate and churros and just watch the market world unfold before your eyes.

 

Come in March and experience Las Fallas

Dénia may be a working port and a hub for authentic Spanish life, although you come mid March and the whole town takes on a completely different vibe. Firecrackers pop, bands play through the streets, traditional Valenciana customs come out of the wardrobe and 50ft statues appear through the streets. Las Fallas, the most bizarre experience that has to be entertained if you are in Spain in March. Throughout the whole Valencian region, this ancient tradition that stems from carpenters brings towns along this eastern coastline to life. For a whole week, these incredible works of art that have been crafted during the year are presented to the town. A competition for the best in their category, are vied for and money awarded for the most original art form. Papier maché, steel and wooden structures loom above you with intricate detail, which at the end of the week are burnt! It is just something you need to experience, just once in your life. Check out more about the festival by clicking here. 

 

2. Rides for cyclists

Dénia is positioned beautifully in a basin nestled between the Montgó Massif and Mount Pego creating a landscape of orange groves and almond trees. With these comes a lot of gorgeous flat cycling routes. For those looking for something more challenging, then just a few miles inland you will find plenty of mountains to test your skills, like the Col de Rates.  Cycling teams from all over Europe come here to train in the winter, so serious cyclists are well catered for.

 

gentle cycle through the orange groves

The route from the northern side of the town on the Via Verde to Els Poblets is fabulous. With the heady aroma of orange blossom from the acres of fruit laden trees, this car-free ride is wonderful. With the site of Mont Pego to entice you, this is a super leisurely ride. A quick refreshment at Els Poblets and then take the same route back, or along the coast if you are a looking for an alternative. From Camping Los Pinos, it’s a 18 mile round trip. From Dénia centre it’s about 11 miles. 

 

 

A challenging cycle around Montgó

If you are looking for something more testing or you have an electric bike like we do, then why not give the Montgó circuit a go. The ride will take you up the challenging mountain route from Dénia to Javea and then hugging the lower edges of the mountain you head back into Dénia on a good 19 mile round trip. And the views at the top are spectacular.  

 

A cycle to Jésus Pobre Sunday market

Another nice stretching cycle takes you out of Dénia out to a little mountain top village that each Sunday has a gorgeous  artisan market. So armed with strong legs for the ascent to the village and some pennies for a bit of lunch and a beer, you will be in for a treat on this fabulous cycle.  

 

3. Our 3 favourite Hikes for walkers

Dénia offers some wonderful walking, with gentle strolls along the coastline to more stretching hikes up through the Montgó Natural Park. Take your camera, your binoculars and of course water and layers as the afternoon winds can brew up suddenly in this area. Whilst we’ve not scaled the heady heights of Montgó as yet, we do have three favourite walks that we recommend. 

 

A saunter up to the Pepperpot

You can either join this walk from Dénia, if this is where you are staying and walk along the coastal promenade, or from Camping Los Pinos at Les Rotas. As you wind your way along the Mediterranean Sea, the crashing waves are mesmerising. This south easterly edge can be a bit breezy in the winter and early spring, especially whipping up in the afternoon so you will often see surfers trying their luck on the waves. Just past restaurant Mena, you follow the signs for Torre del Gerro and wind steeply up the hill to what is lovingly called the Pepperpot. This building that purveys the coast below it is actually the remnants of a 16th century fortification built to protect against pirates. The views from up here are magnificent. For instructions, you can use this link. If you’re feeling energetic, you can carry on up across the hill over towards San Antonio Lighthouse, although this is a big stretch and will take you another 2 hours round trip. 

 

A hike up to Javea’s windmills

This is a great climb up into the hills overlooking Montgó. Not only are you treated to superb views that can on a clear day take your eye up towards Valencia, your nature-loving personas will adore the wild rosemary, lavender and 650 other species of flora that call this landscape home. En route you will come across a run down and abandoned village that is now home to some amazing graffiti artwork. Perhaps locals see this as a blot on the landscape, although it is certainly a unique vantage point. As you continue to climb, you cross Las Planes and towards the ancient windmills that were built to maximise the winds that blow here to farm their wheat. Now mostly restored these windmills, some of which have been converted into homes, have incredible views over the Javea shoreline. It’s a walk that requires at least 3 hours and some sturdy boots, although a great hike of about 6 miles. For routes check this link out

 

A Walking Tour of Dénia

Every town seems to have their own free walking tour and Dénia is no different. If you head to the main Tourist Information Office you will be able to pick up information about their Walking Tours. We took ours during their LAS FALLAS festival in March 2017 and the tour takes in the Old Town as well as all the festival statues that are created specifically for this event. It is well worth visiting in mid-March to experience this extravaganza. 

Check out our gallery here….

 

4. Our 3 favourite places to eat

Dénia is a Mecca for food, as you might expect being both in Spain and on the coast. If you love seafood, then you. are going to love Dénia’s eating experiences. We have found three amazing places to eat that are our go-tos when we are here.

La Republic – Denia Marina

This is a place to come for a special event. It’s a five course meal for €21 and with views over the Marina and out to sea, it is a stunning location, with great prices. We adore it here. Read more about this special place here.

 

Fuegos – Bar and Grill

If you are looking for something more earthy, then you will never go wrong with this local restaurant. Always busy and in the four visits we’ve had here, we’ve not been disappointed. With a Menu del Dia for €14 and their house speciality half a chicken, this place is excellent value. 

 

Llaollao

Not a restaurant, although a must when you visit Denia – the frozen yoghurt shop. This is a great treat and if you can imagine your naughtiest ice-cream fantasy with toppings galore then you will have come to the right place. Located in the lower end of the buzzy Marco de Campo shopping street, Llaollao can’t be missed. It’s fluorescent green – and for between €3-4 you can have a tub of frozen deliciousness with toppings that take you back to childhood. We highly recommend it. 

 

5. Things to see beyond Dénia

You could easily while away your time in Dénia alone with buses, bikes and your own feet to guide you. Although beyond this magical town is a plethora of other sites that are worth exploring. For many of these we have hired a car, or had friends take us to these spots, so if you have additional transport, these are definitely worth looking at.  

 

The caves at Benidoleig

Not more than 15 minutes by car, or if you are feeling fit, you can cycle to (especially if you are electric assisted). The mountainous region surrounding Dénia is a jigsaw of natural and historical pieces that need to pulled together to complete your visit here. Whilst not the longest caves we’ve been in, they are of great archeological and scientific value. For a mere €3.90 per adult, €2 for children, this is definitely worth visiting. For more information check here.

 

Jalón Valley –  Almond Tree Blossom

Just 20 minutes by car inland, you weave your way through the Gata de Gorgos and reach the small town of Jalón, which if you are in the area in February is a must visit destination. With orchards of Almond trees, which are the first to blossom, this is a magical site. With the frame bordered by mountains, the pink and white flowers are worthy of photographing and walking through. The scent is heavenly.

 

Javea/Xavia

Javea is a popular tourist destination with its protected bay and shelter from the magnificent Montgó Massif. From Denia it is only a 15 minute drive away and buses will also take you there. It’s worth exploring for its harbour, coastline and old town. There is also a ferry that runs to and from Denia to Javea for €18 pp if you want to top off your experience. It runs from April to October – for more information and timetables, click here

 

Stand on the Greenwich Meridian point at Beniarbeig

Only 15 minutes away by car, or slightly longer if you cycle, you will reach the lovely little town of Beniarbeig. Famed for its old bridge monument and its Greenwich Meridian Point. Standing at this spot seems strange when you think you are directly in line with London a mere 1200 miles away.

 

Guadalest

If you have your own transport or can hire a car, then slightly further afield it is really worth visiting this gorgeous region. Just 15 minutes from Benidorm, Guadalest is steeped in history and is known to be one of the most highly visited sites in Spain. With its a reservoir surrounded by mountains and the castle and old town perched precariously on a precipice, Guadalest is full of charm. For a mere €4 you can enter the castle house and indulge in its history and bask in the views that, on a good day will take your gaze to the Benidorm coast. 

 

 

6. 3 Recommendations for sleeping

Dénia feels like home to us and each winter it draws us back. If you love the relative safety of a campsite then you’ll love  Camping Los Pinos.  At the southern end of the town, away from the buzz of port life and nestled in amongst the pines, you will feel a warm welcome from this family run site. Just a minute’s walk from craggy coastline, this site is perfect for watching sunrises, walking and cycling. The longer you stay the cheaper the site. For stays over 7 nights you pay only €15 and over 21 nights just a mere €12.50. It’s a multi-cultural site with a lovely mix of Dutch, German, British and French all connecting and social events at night, if that is your thing. Although this site is getting so popular that you will need to book.

 

Wild camping isn’t officially permitted in Dénia, like many places in Spain, although we do see vans down at Fernando’s restaurant at the northern end of town. Interestingly on Google Maps, it’s listed as an RV Park!  (38.847934, 0.102204). Although it’s a bit too busy down there for us with vans side-by-side. A night or two seems to be tolerated alongside the marina (38.837167, 0.120973).

 

If you ever need camping accessories or van supplies, then there is an excellent store up in the near-by El Verger. Just a 15 minute drive north, you will find an extensive offering of everything to do with camping, motor homing and caravanning. There’s even an Aire here if you need an overnight stop or services. (38.861775, -0.007745).

 

And if you prefer hotels or apartments, then why not check out Hotel Port Dénia by the Marina or the Bravasol Apartments in Las Rotas, right by the campsite. The apartments overlooking the coast can be rented for €29 per night if you are staying for 21 days or more. 

 

 

Final thoughts

Dénia has so much to offer and after three years and five visits, we still find new places to explore, by foot, by bike and further afield by car. Rich in gastronomy, festivals and day to day life, Dénia is ready to welcoming you with open arms and a warm heart. Each time we leave, it gets just a little harder – and that is coming from two free nomads roaming the world.  So next time you are heading for the Costas on the south coast, just make a short diversion off the motorway and check out the delights of Dénia – you’ll not be disappointed. 

 

 

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Bilbao and its Guggenheim

Bilbao and its Guggenheim

Think of Spain’s Bilbao and what comes to mind? Ferries, industrial port or perhaps the most iconic building – The Guggenheim Museum.

Set on the northern coast of Spain, Bilbao is much like any other city you pass through; enormous, all-consuming and  a tad impersonal. Remember that my views are coloured by being a predominant introvert who finds the vibrations of cities easily overwhelm my senses.  

And as we drove inadvertently through the centre of Bilbao’s hub, with congested streets, towering six story buildings rising like vertical umbrellas, I was left with the same detachment that I feel in many of the cities we visit. Had we made a mistake coming here?

Still we have come to appreciate after three years on the road, that travel is made up of a myriad of experiences. Each one we either love or tolerate and yet all of them are necessary to broaden our cultural horizons. So we valiantly continue to put cities on our agenda; some we end up adoring like Zagreb, Bratislava and Seville and others just don’t really do it for us like Vienna, Salzburg and Florence. 

Guggenheim's home - Bilbao old town view

You really could be forgiven for thinking that Bilbao is just about the ferry. And yet in the last twenty years, it has taken its rightful place on the tourist map. Its most significant draw is the masterpiece of the Guggenheim museum and whether you are an art lover or not, this building is renown around the globe for its architectural brilliance.  I’m neither a great artist nor an art fan if I’m honest, although sometimes there are things that are so iconic that visiting is a given.  I love that visiting somewhere new can influence how I think and feel or affect my perspective on life. And that’s why a visit to a place as iconic as the Guggenheim felt important. With its curves and light attraction everything about this building attracts the eyes and creates intrigue. Despite the art within being priceless, the building itself makes a statement all of its own.

Guggenheim museum view

With a tantalising tease of the cityscape from our lofty campsite at Kobeta, we took bus 58, which goes every 15 minutes from right outside the campsite into Bilbao old town. The €1.35 fare was a steal, allowing us to save our energy for the promenade along the river Nervión. 

On a still winter’s day, this city aspect was pleasing to the eye, providing a moving atmosphere that coloured our memories.  Our city preview from the previous day was fast fading from my mind. The architecture bordering the river, (that has its source in Burgos), is an eclectic mix of colonial, modern and medieval and it fringes the river banks with a certain je ne sais quoi. Whilst Bilbao, as the most active shipping port second only to Barcelona, has obvious roots in industry, make no mistake – this city is rebirthing and presenting its creative transformation to its European counterparts. Check out our gallery of pics below. 

For now though let me share with you the virtues of the Guggenheim. Although I am not steeped in knowledge about the museum, I just knew I wanted to visit. I had heard its reputation for being one of the most incredible pieces of architectural art in the world and that alone made me want to go. And there’s no doubt that it is more grand than the grandest thing you can imagine.

Our arrival at the Guggenheim could not be mistaken as this magnificent curvaceous beauty seemed to rise up from the industrial port’s ashes with grace and power. It is not an understated building and with pieces of artwork around the outside, I was captivated before I even entered its doors. Yet enter we must, as this was an experience I had been waiting for.  

We paid our €16 per person and passed through the well guarded security. There are three levels, each one offering a slightly different artistic theme. The first, Room Zero blew my mind and messed with my balance. A mirrored room gives an impression of Alice in Wonderland and as I watched the looping video, the way the images bounced off the glass walls is quite magnetic, making 3D seem like child’s play.

Accompanied by our audio guides, which come as part of the entrance fee, we learnt about the museum’s design by Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry. The huge project came to fruition in October 1997 and has transformed the dockland water’s edge image beyond all recognition.  

Built in titanium, glass and limestone, this is a masterpiece, which in different lights takes on completely different faces. And in many ways, you could almost be satisfied by seeing the outside of the museum such is its craft and beauty. Although the inside will challenge you in more ways than one.

Guggenheim Close Up
The Guggenheim curves
The Guggenheim's artwork

With an open atrium in the museum’s heart, Bilbao’s newest creation cries out to be admired. Splendid are its curves. Magnificent are its angular glass windows and resplendent are its halls that house such dynamic pieces of work. From Picasso to Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and a host of other artists from decades past, the Guggenheim is a centre-piece for self-expression and an almost eccentric interpretation of the world. Well that’s how it seemed to me.

The first floor was a real challenge.  The descriptions on the walls alone introduced a whole new language to me that provoked intellectual thought.  If only I had been able to photograph them, I could have convey their linguistic demands more eloquently. 

The halls are intriguing, leaving you wondering whether these minimalistic white washed walls were a stroke of brilliance or an obscene waste of money. One room simply had two televisions playing news from CNN. Another had memorabilia stuck to the walls with an edition of The Sun catching my eye. To the modernistic gallery of contemporary work that challenges our concept of space and time. The modern world confronted by artists set on complementing progression and challenging the very heart of the world’s evolution.

One of my favourite pieces was The Tent without a Signal. A 10ft tent-like construction, which inside simply held a circular set of metal benches. An odd sight for an art museum, although the artist has made a huge statement to  technology and how it consumes our lives behind our devices. The tent covering is made from metallic fibres that scramble mobile phone signals, rendering them useless. The space is therefore held as a sanctuary to profound silence that allows the audience to truly contemplate the depth of their souls. This seriously appealed to me as a Meditation Teacher.

The other incredible hall is a permanent feature called The Matter of Time. Artist Richard Serra’s ‘rumination on the physicality of space and the nature of sculpture’ offers a playground for adults. With enormous spiral structures made from steel you are invited to walk through their metallic form. It felt oddly like a Universal truth – such a small speck in an expanse of space. Weaving my way through the curves and the mazes, I felt transported into an out-of-world experience where for a moment, fear set in as I realised that I could be on another planet. And yet when viewed from the upper atrium, their structures were so simple and yet the steel designs challenged my spirit through that simplicity.

Leaving the museum, we were engulfed in a mist – as if in one last artist act of creativity; the Guggenheim’s moat came alive, piquing my curiosity. Every last bit of detail is invested in provoking the artist within. I highly recommend visiting this sensory journey that is so much more than a museum. It is architecture, craft, imagination and self-expression in their very purest forms. And it has to be experienced, just once in your life.

Bilbao has been built on a foundation of industry and trade and yet is embracing its evolution into a contemporary city. It does still have some way to go, although with UNESCO bridges and of course its brain-child the Guggenheim, Bilbao is redefining itself year on year.

The Guggenheim mist

 

Facts for your visit

  • The Guggenheim museum is closed on Mondays.
  • Not all the Guggenheim exhibitions will always be open as often they will be setting up halls for new presentations, so better check before you visit.
  • There are no photos or videos allowed in the museum halls so don’t be tempted as there are guardians everywhere.
  • The Guggenheim Bar is very nice offering a good deal on the local delicacy Pintxos – Tapas. 3 Tapas and a drink for €9.
  • Don’t take large bags into the Guggenheim, as you will be required to store them in the cloakrooms.
  • The shape and lights of the museum interior may cause some issues if you have sensitive eyes or migraine tendancies, so be aware of this before you enter.
  • The Guggenheim is disabled friendly with lifts to each of the three floors.
  • Getting around Bilbao is easy with the buses and trams that zig-zag the city’s network.
  • Within half a day we had absorbed all we wanted from the city, most of which was within the hub of the Guggenheim itself. Unlike, say London, there are very few other major draws, except perhaps the 17 bridges that span the river and the Artxander funicular that takes you up to the mountain of the same name, giving you a great panorama of the city.
  • If you are visiting the city with your camper, The Kobeta Camping Aire (43.25955 -2.9636), which for €15 per night inclusive of electricity and services, gives you a great spot for watching the city and visiting by bus.
  • If you come with dogs, remember that they are not allowed on buses without a muzzle, nor will they be allowed in the Guggenheim museum.
  • And a sensible note! Wear comfortable shoes, as just walking from the old town to the Guggenheim and back again will reward you over 12,000 steps and 9 kms. Trust me, my blisters will confirm this very well.

 

Overall I am so glad we visited and it reaffirms my thinking; despite my lack of love for cities, they hold great secrets and cultural treats, so visiting is an essential part of a traveller’s itinerary and my education, which feels influenced forever. Check out our final gallery below.

 

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A letter to Travel

A letter to Travel

 

Dear Travel

When you were our holidays, we loved the precious time you gave us, where we had the space to retreat, rejuvenate and reconnect.  Into the mix you would offer us a brief glimpse into the culture of our temporary home. Whether that was food from the local hostelry, a street market that would tempt our culinary delights, or perhaps even a regional celebration that honoured a local custom. You encouraged us to dip our toes into a way of life that seemed far removed from our own stressful existence. Returning home we would often recall our experiences and studiously review our photo album, sighing with a longing that accompanies that inevitable back to reality.

Sometimes because of the way our lifestyle panned out, you were simply days out or short breaks away; we loved the escape you opened up for us, which quite simply used to get us away from life’s grind. A day-trip in the car or a city break gave us a destination to blow away our corporate created cobwebs. A rare treat to remove ourselves from the daily routines of professional and domestic chores which, in that moment, made us feel alive.  Whilst these may have been all too short, sometimes they were all we could squeeze in amongst the stress ball of life.

 

And then three years ago, you showed up in all your glory –  Travel, the full frontal experience. You gave us a chance to fill our lives with adventure, freedom and choice – riches beyond our imagination. And whilst we look back at our vacations and short breaks with fondness, they neither fulfilled us nor changed our lives. Their healing necessary although their longevity impermanent.

Yet the opportunity to enjoy every inch of your personality has been profound. You are the greatest teacher, the most flamboyant of moments and you provide the most deep-rooted memories that exceed every expectation. We feel privileged to have connected with you at such a deep level. To have shaken hands with your hospitality and ridden the rollercoaster of adventures that have taken us to the peak of joy and the depths of stress. Each one proving that we are alive and free.

You are not, it must be said Travel, always joyful. You are at times like a teenager throwing tantrums that capture us in your trail of destruction like a shoal of fish. Testing, pushing, stretching – although it is in these tempestuous moments that our characters are defined, refined and honed. Our coping mechanisms are so much more resilient because of your challenges. 

Travel, you have taken us on a journey that with each step makes our heart beat as fast as a pair of star-crossed lovers on their first date. Around every corner you gift us with fresh vistas that take our breath away. You present us with stunning sunrises that herald a new day and powerful sunsets that gather the joys of that day underneath their rose-coloured veil. 

For the last three years you have invited us on your journey of discovery revealing far more than just the cultural uniqueness of the countries we have visited. You have subtly mentored us to look within and understand more about our nomadic selves, uncovering the simplicity of life that exists beneath the stars. With your help, each day we remove ourselves from the corporate and commercial hub that imprisoned us and start to relish the truth that is entwined around life.  How little we need to thrive; how little our materialistic possessions define us and how much more freedom we have when we grab the reigns from life’s galloping horse. 

With these gifts that sit underneath our eternal Christmas Tree, how enriched our life has become. Each morning we awake with gratitude as the sun dawns and with eager anticipation we await the day’s lesson. It’s not always an easy class, as sometimes you throw a curve ball or two to stretch us. Although thanks to your solid foundation we cope so much more easily with those tests.  Our stress from the old days are a dim and distant memory as deep wounds heal themselves and a fresh perspective graces our minds. 

Home for us now can be found wherever our tyres stop for the night. That temporary abode is as homely as any brick wall and front door. We have embraced the open road and the wide open spaces that span the globe. And so when our wheels stop from their incessant roll, we breathe in the peace from the sanctuary that you have carved for us; beside the beach, in the bosom of the mountains or nestled beside a babbling brook.

Is this why when we return to the source of our birth ‘home’ that we feel so unsettled?

The girl who was a home-bird, who found the security of her house comforting and stabilising – now craves the open road. The itchy feet syndrome never feels so real as when we are drawn back to UK. Sometimes for three weeks, sometimes for three months, we have pitstops that are always purposeful and necessary although feel so strange. What a dichotomy. Returning to the nest yet not feeling at home.

Travel, this is your greatest puzzle. You have captured our hearts so gently and gracefully that we feel almost lost in the familiarity of our home country. And this is nothing to do with those we hold dear. They remain the same gorgeous and kind-hearted souls that we love unconditionally. No this is more about us and how we have been affected by your infectious path.  We have learnt to be mindful in every moment, although I must confess that our minds often wander to the day when we return to the road. 

We never really appreciated what it meant to have itchy feet as we lunged from one stressful situation to another in the corporate web of yesteryear – driven only by the next pay check or weekend retreat. Now blessed by a self-generated freedom, the generosity you have shown us makes us crave more. An addiction that feeds the soul, nourishes the mind and nurtures our human instincts for discovery, adventure and evolution.

With every passing day we find ourselves longing to return to your route-map and are thankful for the love and support we have to follow our dreams. Travel, you have enriched our lives and we look forward to our homecoming as our tyres hit the tarmac for yet another new adventure.

Travel, we thank you for the lessons, the discoveries and the personal realisations that have made us grow as human beings and, and with hope as our companion, may it be for many years to come. Draw us further into your web of intrigue and massage our life with experiences that create a page-turning book of intrigue, passion and discovery.

With love and gratitude..

 

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Oradour-sur-Glane, remembered forever

Oradour-sur-Glane, remembered forever

Oradour-sur-Glane, an unassuming name on France’s map that looks like any other of its neighbours. Yet this innocuous village bears deep scars that speak a thousand words of horror.  It is a story that needs to continually be told so that memories of Oradour’s families can be kept alive and honoured.

On our pilgrimage to connect with Europe’s World War history, we have travelled east to Treblinka in Poland, south to Bovec in Slovenia and Kalavrita in Greece and west to the harrowing region of Ypres, Verdun and the cemeteries of northern France. So when Myles said he wanted to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, it made perfect sense. I have heard others talk about their visits to this village, ravaged by war, although had no idea about its history or what we could expect there.  One thing was for sure, our experience would undoubtedly be moving if our other commemorative visitations were anything to go by. 

From memorial stones and razed killing fields to the profound and stark images created by the Birkenau railway just west of Krakow. What would our souls be called to learn at this little-known village in central France?  Check out our memorial visits on this interactive map.

 

 

Our visit to Oradour-sur-Glane

It seemed fitting that our visit to Oradour coincided with All Saint’s Day –  1 November. An important day on the Religious calendar when the dead are remembered and celebrated. What a symbolic day to be visiting a memorial site where a village fell to its knees, at the mercy of an army set on retribution and annihilation.  

As we drove into the village of Oradour-sur-Glane just north west of Limoges, it was clear from the map that there were a large number of cemeteries around the outskirts. Nothing necessarily unusual about that per se. They were sheltered from the road by trees to create some privacy for those buried there. Yet the grim reality soon stood out, as this village turned from a name on Google Maps to a village martyr.  Separated from the new village by a road and underground walkway, the ruins of an entire community lay bare as we drove past in mesmerised silence. Only one expletive uttered from our mouths, which was one of incredulity. Oh my god! 

Parked up opposite the ghost village, images went through my mind about what unfolded here and, more importantly why. A story that would not really become any clearer as we entered the commemorative arena, built by its modern day citizens. 

The first thing that struck us as we walked to the entrance was a 100ft statue. A monument of a woman being engulfed by flames. Engraved words triggered the beginning of a story that we knew would not have a happy ending. The events that unfolded on 10th June 1944, told simply by this statue, began our Oradour journey. 

‘Ici des hommes firent a leurs meres et a toutes les femmes, les plus grave injure. 

Ils n’epargnerent pas les enfants.’

‘Here men made to their mothers and all women the most serious insult  – they did not spare the children.’

As we walked across a flat tarmac pavement towards the Oradour village plaque, we were taken down some steps generating a surreal feeling of going into another world.  Underneath the ground a shop, a ticket desk and a museum greet you giving you options. Turn right into the museum where upon you pay 2€. Or go straight on towards the ruined village, which is free to enter. As we had been travelling all day we only had time to do one or another, so we chose to visit the village, where we knew we would feel the soul of the place.

Through a dark tunnel, adding to the atmosphere of Oradour’s tale, we were presented with a photographic project that the community is still working on. Their aim is to collect pictures of every single inhabitant of this tortured village and honour them on this Remembrance Wall. And so like our experiences at Auschwitz, seeing the faces of young and old made the whole experience more real and poignant. This was no longer a story, or movie to immerse ourselves in – this was real life. This was a moment in time of people’s lives, captured by these images.

I felt my heart skip a beat as I saw families; generations of mothers, brothers, fathers, aunts and grandparents, dads and sons all lined up on both sides of the tunnel. The eldest I saw was 81 and the youngest just 2 months old. This truly set the scene for what were about to witness. 

Returning to the surface, the cleverly created tunnel that protects the village, really transports you from the new to the old. Streets in tact with pavements and electric cables for the tram that travelled through the beating heart of this place. Yet then the stark reality dawned on us as we saw the fire torn buildings, with chard rubble strewn where the rugs would have lain. Rusted shutters at the windows that now just let the wind course its way through. Signs for the garage, the café, the boulangerie, the sabot maker and the coiffure.  And the faint yet distinct smell of smoke still hung in the air making the massacre all the more real. The walls vibrating with the sobs of scared children looking to their mothers for answers. Fear trodden into the dust that has settled between the buildings holding secrets of their death. 

So what events unfolded here to create such a travesty?

 

Oradour’s Massacre – the why’s

There is some ambiguity about the reason for this insane massacre on a peaceful village where children played on their bicycles and cafés bustled with war-time stories. Because only 6 people survived and the commander who order the attack died days after, the real justification for this attack has many shades of truth. The definitive reason may remain buried beneath the rubble with the muffled screams of those who perished.

One of the suggestions was that it was retribution for the capture of a German officer. Another that it was because of Resistance activity centred at the village. Or that it was simply German frustration over the D-Day landings that occurred just four days earlier.

The why’s are tough for us as we try to get our heads around such atrocities. Yet however you look at it, the reason for this act of terror can never be settled in any sane mind. What seems more poignant is the unfolding of events on that day in June 1944. A mere 74 years ago, where 24 hours saw terror run through this community leaving only the echo of the victims’ screams for mercy.

200 Nazis stormed the village on 10th June where upon they rounded up the community. Women and children were taken to the church and men and boys over 15 were gathered, ostensibly for the purpose of an identity check and a  search for explosives and weapons. Those held captive in the church, after a failed attempt to gas them, were shot and then set alight. The men were separated into 6 groups and taken to different barns, where upon they were shot from the knees down. Only intending to wound and prevent escape, the Nazis then covered them in straw and wood and set them on fire, left to die the most horrific death. 

Then they burnt the whole village, looted homes and businesses and left without any explanation. The Nazi troops  headed up to Normandy to join the fight against Allied troops from the D-Day landings. In Devine retribution, many of those soldiers and the Nazi commander Diekmann, who ordered the massacre were killed and in a cruel twist of fate never brought to justice. 

 

Oradour’s memory

Some time after the massacre and whilst the smoke still rose to the sky, French President, Charles de Gaulle ordered the village remains to be left as a memorial. To honour one of the biggest massacres on French soil, Oradour would serve as a reminder of the atrocities, the victims and the horror. Only 6 people survived; 642 were brutally murdered, including 205 children and each and every one will be remembered by generations to come. To walk in the footsteps of their terrified souls as they were led to their deaths is a surreal and sobering act. And if you are in the area, a visit to this village martyr to pay your respects is a must.

Whilst it seems the world has not learned its lesson, we can only hope that memorial sites like Oradour serve to remind us of the importance of kindness, love and respect. 

Check out our Gallery of photos from our current World War visit by clicking the image below.

 

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New Zealand – The trip that Changed our Lives

New Zealand – The trip that Changed our Lives

New Zealand 2015 – a trip that unwittingly shaped our lives into one we never need to escape from.

 

New Zealand – Our ‘where it all began’ story

The years have treated us well and we often look in the mirror and gasp at where the years have gone – nearly 30 years married – really? Where did that time go?  In October 2014, we started to plan a celebratory trip for our 25th Wedding Anniversary and decided it was a significant milestone to tick something from our Bucket List. And New Zealand was on both of our lists. After some deliberation, we agreed that the best way to experience it was to hire a motorhome, enabling us to get into the real heart of the place.

We splashed out on a six week tour and hired our van from Iconic Motorhomes. After years of running three businesses, having 12 hour days and working 7 days a week for far too many years, we agreed we were worth it.  With my love for organisation we had ourselves a rough route and highlights. One of these were tickets for ICC Cricket World Cup in Wellington and, high on the list was a White Water Rafting adventure somewhere along the line.  What a great trip this was going to be.  One of my dear friends, the wise old bird that she is, said that New Zealand would have a profound impact on us – although we were not expecting her prophecy to evolve as it did.

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

Prior to us leaving for our trip, I shared some concerns about how we would cope for such a long time in a 7 metre van. We had 25 years together as a couple yet with a certain amount of independence thanks to our careers – and now, suddenly we’d be in each other’s space – how would we fare? Would my high maintenance tendencies be all too much to bear?

After our 24hr flight to Auckland and then onto Christchurch, we were ready to collect our temporary home – Baz we called him.  We loved the idea of travelling with our home, allowing us to explore every nook and cranny. A bit of wild camping was on the agenda too and thanks to a great freebie app CamperMate we were able to source some incredible spots along the way.

That sense of freedom was as potent as the fields of lavender in Provence; powerful, heady and very here and now. A real sense of the canary released from its cage as it flew with wild abandon and joy. That was how we felt in our early days as we chalked up our experiences.

And some of those experiences are now priceless memories, sunk deep into our subconscious photo album. I will never forget my first sight of Lake Tekapo en route to Queenstown. The colour of the water was indescribably blue, a blue that I’d never set eyes on before. And it was one of the first times I remember crying, feeling so overwhelmed at the beauty of it. Now I use my tears as a true measure of how a place feels to me and how its beauty gets caught underneath my skin.

 

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand
Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

As we sat in comfort in our motorhome, we were amazed by the eclectic mix of campers. Motorhomes like ours, vans, trucks and cars – each with their own home-from-home touches, albeit sometimes a bit rustic. Camping is just a way of life here for locals and visitors alike and it was starting to stir something deep within us. I loved the wildness of everyone ‘getting away from it all’ and how we all shared a love of our natural environment. And sometimes those campers had a real influence on our journey because of their stories. And sometimes they became life-long friends. 

Seeing how people travelled in New Zealand was a complete eye-opener. Sheltered from the opportunity to travel by our corporate hamster-wheel, we learnt how life outside package tours really thrives. And more importantly travel provides an authentic connection with life, nature and culture. Don’t get me wrong we had some very nice short breaks although nothing with a genuine submersion into a country’s customs. And our motorhome journey exposed us to this connection and we were hooked. I knew that our holidays, from this point forward, would change beyond all recognition.  

My other profound insight was how nourishing I found the transience of our travels. Whilst I love people and their experiences, as an introvert I also love my own company.  I remember when Myles asked me how I found our NZ trip – for me it was the freedom to move I enjoyed most. And bear in mind that this comes from the woman who always needed roots and direction. Yet this trip taught me about my love for exploration, how much I adored going to a new spot every day and the fluidity that our lives were richly abundant with.  I relished the space we found in between our connections with other travellers and, paradoxically enjoyed the distance we could create if we needed it. What a joyous realisation this was about life on the road.

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

And what of the ‘living in a box’ concern, I hear you ask?  Well I had no reason to worry as we soon found our groove. When you have a deep relationship, it matters not a jot whether you are in the same room or apart, you have a thread that binds you as fine as silk and as strong as metal. And whilst it wasn’t all plain sailing, our ability to work out our niggles brought us closer together. I wasn’t a nightmare and I surprised myself how easily I adapted to the small space. 

By the end though we were both ready to go home. Our six weeks had been amazing although we felt it was time to return. We often reflect back on our highlights and experiences and really do feel that we celebrated our 25 years together in style and honoured our marriage – without doubt.

 

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

So how did this trip change our lives?

In isolation it was easy to put our New Zealand trip into a ‘bucket list’ box and see it for what it was. Super memories and incredible experiences. Although when two weeks later, your introvert husband who had clearly been mulling things over said, “How do you fancy going travelling for a year”, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

Until that moment, life had resumed its normal rhythm.  I returned to the school where I was teaching meditation and my weekly volunteering job at the Donkey Sanctuary. Myles took to his office and had the odd game of golf. And I got back to my healthy regimes.  

It was a defining moment. The world stood still as I took in Myles’ question and contemplated the enormity of what he was suggesting. You see we had got ourselves caught up in a new hamster wheel. Whilst our move from the stress of our corporate days had to some extent ceased, we had created a new norm with a new wheel in Somerset. Whilst many of our routines were nourishing ones, we both still felt the chasm that our New Zealand trip had filled. We didn’t feel complete and we found ourselves drawn back into the Matrix of conformity, where Sundays were set aside for roast dinners and Monday-Friday norms were honoured for fear of failing our peer group expectations.

And it was New Zealand that showed us how travel could enrich our lives; its simplicity, choice and freedom all filling that gap which had crept into our lives.  New Zealand suddenly became a profound event and not the extended holiday we had imagined.

So what did we do with this realisation that our missing jigsaw piece was travel? Well our circumstances supported Myles’ ‘gap year’ plan giving us the budget to travel and get our ‘house’ in order. Then after our year we could come back to truly settle down with travel being the centre-piece of our lives. 

From that point our search began for a motorhome that would suit our needs. Yet a weird mix of excitement and fear crept into my mind as I battled with the shadow of doubt and anxiety. It felt like such a big change; letting go of so much. Was I ready to be a nomad – albeit for a year? 

My fear played havoc as ‘What if’s’ clouded my mind and storms of anxiety brewed in my heart at the prospect of leaving everything behind. Although the turning point was my mum saying how she had regretted not doing something similar with my dad years back. Her need for security and roots were so strong that she couldn’t leave. “Life is too short not to,” she said supportively.  So the decision was made in that moment – we were going to make this happen.

Within four months the van was ordered, delivered, insured and all our material ties severed. Plans were in place with military precision and checklists in every room. And on 4th March 2016, we said our goodbyes and set off for the European sunset with a year of adventure. Although neither of us said it, we wondered how we would feel after six weeks, given our New Zealand wall?

In fact it was a positive milestone, a moment of realisation. The awakening you get when suddenly you find a rhythm that you have been searching for all your life. An ease, a simplicity and a sense of happiness that filled every cell in our body.  I knew that I had found my missing jigsaw piece and that this was going to be so much more than just a gap year. In the same way that New Zealand was always more than just a holiday.

I fell in love with the simplicity of life on the road. I woke up to the notion that material things don’t define life or happiness. I connected with all the things that really brought out the best in me; like writing, photography, nature, learning about different cultures and quite simply being! Watching sunrises and sunsets, feeling grateful for each day that graced my life, gaining a new sense of purpose. We found digital work that embraced our talents and the world became brighter, lighter and multi-dimensional. Sounds became deeper and life’s experiences more meaningful as we delved into languages that were alien to us and cultures that offered us an alternative perspective.

Lots of people have called us lucky to live the life we do and for sure we feel incredibly blessed, although we have not arrived here by luck. As the famous quote from golfer Arnold Palmer says,

 The more I practise the luckier I get.

Over the years we have worked our fingers to the bone to reach a position of comfort which by its very nature has been difficult and often painful. Although our commitment to our long-term future has paid off and despite a nervous break down or two between us, we have rallied through, become stronger and more determined to be in that state of happiness and contentment. So luck is not the driver of our chariot – we are and continue to be so.

With travel as our teacher and the world as our classroom, we look back at New Zealand and all that it showed us and realise how pertinent that experience was to the rest of our lives. And however long we are blessed to do this, we will always be thankful to The Land of the Long White Cloud for creating a fire in our bellies for exploration and the inspiration to change our lives to one that we no longer need to escape from.

Change is possible, fear can be overcome and life can be the happy place that we all desire if you have vision, work hard and have the determination to turn your dreams into reality.

 

Dreams come a size too big so that we can grow into them.

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