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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If you love New Zealand, you might like these…

Our Liebster Award Nomination

Our Liebster Award Nomination

Our Blogging Nomination

For me, blogging is a passion; no actually, writing and photography are my passions – blogging is a platform where I can express my creativity in a safe and reasonably anonymous way. After years of having a very public presence in the corporate world, being able to retreat to the wings and nurture my introvert whilst connecting to my writing passion is a joy. For the first time ever I am doing work that is wholesome, nourishes me and works with my strengths without compromise. Thank goodness for blogging!

So when, earlier this year I was nominated for the Liebster Award, an award for bloggers, by bloggers, it was a huge honour. It was recognition that someone from my writing peer group loved what I was writing and valued it enough to put me forward for this award, in a world where there are so many fabulous writers.  I’m so grateful, thank you Karolina Patry for the nomination.

 

Getting to know The Motoroamers 

Part of the rules of the Award is to answer 11 questions that your nominator has put to you, so that you can tell your story and share a bit of yourself to the blogging world.

These were the questions posed by Karolina:

 

1. What do you like the most about travelling?

Travelling gives us a freedom and simplicity that has enriched our lives beyond recognition. Being released from the Matrix has allowed us to follow the beat of our own drum and be the people we were destined to be. We feel whole, happy and US for the first time in our lives and travel has and continues to be our greatest teacher. Oh if only this were a lesson in school…

2. How do you fund your travels?

We have created a financial base for our lifestyle on the road that includes rental property and income from a share portfolio. In addition to that we still work digitally, both as a Happiness Coach for me and an Investor for Myles. We are currently building our travel blog community that is growing organically and slowly beginning to cover some blogging expenses, although our writing is for love, first and foremost and money appears well down the list.

3. What is your favourite destination?

We avoid having favourites, as in truth all places have their own unique characters and personalities. And we feel that to commit to anyone as a favourite would be to undermine all others we have visited and connected with in a different way. That said we love Poland for its depth of soul, Slovakia and Slovenia for their beauty and Romania just stole our hearts. So I think it is fair to say that we love Eastern Europe and what it offers our cultural sponge.

4. What destination is on the top of your bucket list?

We don’t really have bucket list places, as our full time travels are taking us to the most amazing places. Although I would love to see Japan with the cherry blossom and Peru has always been a place that has called me since a teenager. Aside of those, Canada’s Rocky Mountains are a must do for us, so we have plenty to be going on with, whether with our camper or some other trusty steed.

5. What is your best travel story?

I think our journey to become full time travellers is the best story. How we chose to swap corporate stress for happiness and live life beyond our fears. The story about how we faced and overcame those fears and created a transformational, nomadic lifestyle that belies the ‘traditional masks’ we wore in our old lives. The remaining chapters of our tale are being written as we speak.

6. What is the worst place you have ever visited?

We have come to learn that at some point there are going to be places that we are disappointed in, that somehow don’t match our expectations or have, quite honestly scared the bejesus out of us. There haven’t been many  although just a few. Travel and discovery are not always a bed of roses, sometimes the thorns are there for a reason.

Southern Italy was hairy with their lack of respect for the road and crazy driving, Cinque Terre was a definite disappointment and Vienna didn’t live up to my expectations. They are not what I would call ‘worst’, although definitely are places that we have liked least.

7. What nationality are you?

We are British with European hearts!

8. What kind of blogger are you? What do you like to write about on your blog?

What an interesting question. I am a creative storyteller; I love to write and am passionate about sharing experiences through colourful stories. I love nothing more than creating an engaging tale of our adventures and the countries or regions we are fortunate enough to visit. For me blogging is all about the love for writing and if I can engage my reader in our footsteps, then what a joy and a bonus that is.

9. What cuisine is your favourite?

I love all food, and my expanding waistline is evidence of this. Although my favourite – now that’s hard… it has to be the simplicity of French food – bread, cheese and a nice wine or Spanish tapas. Now that really gets my taste buds soaring.

10. What is your favourite Social Media and why?

I love both Facebook because of our interactions and connections and Instagram because it’s a showcase for my photography.

11. Have you ever lived abroad?

I guess if you can call Isle of Man abroad from UK, then the answer is yes. We were privileged to live there for 18 years, so for all intents and purposes we were Manx residents. And today we can definitely class ourselves as living abroad, as we are full timing in our camper travelling, for now, across Europe. The rest of the world is waiting for us in the wings.

What great questions, thank you Karolina.

 

Pay it Forward

In return for my nomination, it falls to me, in my acceptance, to ‘Pay it Forward’. There are a lot of people who are sceptical about awards like this that have a chain letter feel to them. Although I think in today’s modern world driven by success, the Liebster actually isn’t about getting a badge. It is about how bloggers around the world support each other, encourage us to write and share our stories and promote each other in a vastly competitive arena. And in truth, there is no competition – only stories, learning and shared experiences.

This is why I decided to accept the nomination, because I loved the idea that I could pay it forward – that I could promote other bloggers in my genre who have the courage, like me to put words on paper for the world to scrutinise. It’s not easy to blog, especially, if like me you are a perfectionist. It takes time, patience, being in the right space and a whole heap of technicalities. So to every blogger, I honour you and what you do.

I am therefore delighted to nominate the following five very special bloggers for this award, in the true and ethical Pay it Forward philosophy.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Questions for our Nominees

If our nominees decide to accept this award nomination, then they must create their own blog, like this one and answer the following questions that we have posed. So if you are ready guys, here are your 11 Questions;

  1. What was the journey that brought you to travelling?
  2. How has travel changed you and how does it enrich your life?
  3. If Travel was a teacher at school, what would be included in their lessons?
  4. If there was one piece of advice you could give travel dreamers, what would it be?
  5. If you could give a gift to a newbie traveller, what would it be and why?
  6. What type of place or places do you feel the greatest peace?
  7. What have been your biggest challenges?
  8. If you could choose three words that sum up what travel means to you, what would they be?
  9. If your travels were represented by a jigsaw, what would this look like; the corners, the straight edges and the middle pieces?
  10. What has been the most meaningful experience you have had?
  11. What one memory stands out most to you from your travels that makes you smile?

 

The Liebster Award Rules

To keep this positive and encouraging system going, there need to be a few rules. There is a comprehensive blog from The Global Aussie that you can follow here who shares all the steps you need to follow should you be nominated, accept and reciprocate. Here is the essence of the steps to take:

  • Create a blog like this, that acknowledges and links to your nominee (that’s me). In it share your passion for blogging.
  • Then answer the questions I have given to you above.
  • Look for your own 5-11 personal blog recommendations that you wish to nominate and include those in your blog as I have done with links to their websites.
  • Create 11 unique and creative questions for your nominees to answer
  • Go to The Global Aussie website where, should you decide to accept, you add your own Liebster Award blog directly to the commentary section at the bottom of the page which registers your nomination.
  • Add a comment to my blog below, to say if you wish to accept the nomination.
  • Then finally, drop an email to your nominees, and the person who nominated you, with a link to the blog you have written.

Entries end on 25th Dec 2018 and the winner will be picked on the 31st of December.

Thanks again to Karolina for your nomination and good fortune to us all come the end of December. For more information about our blogs and our adventures just check out our website

3 Natural Parks in France not to miss

3 Natural Parks in France not to miss

France is one of Europe’s most popular destinations and with just under 250,000 sq miles, you could be forgiven for not seeing it all. We’ve been visiting France for a couple of decades, made easier by my parents who had a house in Brittany going back 10 years ago. It’s a beautiful yet vast country that is so diverse we never tire of it. With more than 150 Les Plus Beaux Villages dotted around the country that ooze character, France will charm you. And away from the obvious main sights of Paris, the lavender fields of Provence and the southern resorts and beaches, this country has some incredible hidden secrets. Three of which we were about to discover as we travelled from Chambéry, south of Annecy to Beziers on the south coast. Check out the three Natural Park treasures that we passed through in a bid to head for the coast.

Chartreuse Natural Park

Our route; Les Manches, Chambéry to Grenoble, 65km (about 40 miles).

Having nestled ourselves at a lovely campsite just outside Chambéry to do some much needed repairs to our van, our feet started itching on day 4 as though they had been tickled by a feather. So we headed south and looking at the map, the motorway was not an option, it rarely is for us. We love the road less travelled and when the map shows us a bit of greenery, all the better. It can get us into trouble at times, although on the whole the secrets we’ve uncovered have been amazing.

Chartreuse Natural Park was one of those amazing secrets, even though for most of our passage it was shrouded in low cloud. Sometimes whilst the sun certainly enhances a vista, we could just sense that there was beauty here. With Chambéry at the northern end and Grenoble in the south, the route is actually doable in a couple of hours.

Our path took us up into the misty shroud, sadly leaving the warmth of the autumn sunshine behind, and wound up the mountain road to the Col du Grenier. With a left turn we entered what I would class as rural France. Hillside and valley hamlets with one bar, one church, a boulangerie and a clutch of houses. The feel of the place was heart-warming as a sense of authenticity grows the deeper you drive into the mountain shadows. Lush green pastures are home to cows with Swiss-style bells around their necks and the promise of devine diary produce. Rich meadows provide sanctuary to rare plants and the skies, I’m sure if we could have seen them, would be littered with swallows, buzzards and other raptors looking for their prey.

Sainte-Pierre d’Entremont is a gorgeous stone village that begs you to stop and explore. With walks galore up into the natural park and, if it is your thing, why not take the ‘Route de Savoire Faire’ which takes you on an artisanal journey offering you an insight into craftsman’s trade typical of the region.

As you wiggle and wind up, then down like a rollercoaster, you slowly fall in love with this Park and after driving through Le Sappy, a quaint ski resort, you start to make your descent into Grenoble. Capital town of the Alps, France can be proud of this winter sport’s hub with its University, river, chateaux and cable cars. Grenoble marks the end of Chartreuse and offers a gentle introduction into the second of our trio of natural parks that we entice you to explore.

Check out our Gallery below to get a feel for this gentle giant with its pine clad snaking roads.

Vercors Natural Park – Balcony Road-trip Extraordinaire  

Our route; Grenoble to Chateau Julien near Villards de Lans then onto Die;  105km (about 70 miles).

I love venturing into new land with little or no knowledge and then exiting feeling richer for the experience. This was certainly true of the Vercors region. Whilst we didn’t have time to explore, what we found and researched in and around our route, was enough to have us rushing back in a heart-beat. For now we had to be satisfied with this little taster of what is a limestone kingdom that will have you mesmerised by its massive character. A protected environment from 1970 you immediately feel the Park’s prowess as you leave Grenoble and climb up into the unforgiving route south.

This Park is a huge contrast to the gentle curves of the Chartreuse. The luscious Alpine valleys suddenly give way to towering gorges, steep rock faces and twisting roads that look like a serpentine.  Huge plateaus of rock rise from the earth in some regal dominance that has expletives rushing from your mouth as you turn each corner. Caves hidden deep within the rocks make this a fabulous region for climbing and potholing, France’s Vercors mountains are a thing of beauty. This fringe of the Alps is home to World War 2 history with museums and memorials dotted throughout the region and yet their biggest secret and greatest challenge are the balcony roads. These are routes of stunning vistas and little passageways that are barely wide enough to fit two vehicles side by side. With cliff overhangs that are mouse-holes for giants, the unassuming and unprepared of us in 2.50m tall vehicles may need nerves of steel to even attempt them. After a lot of research and reading Our Tour’s blog on the area, we decided that to attempt any of these roads with our camper would be fool-hardy, and that a bicycle or motorbike were the only real options for exploration. So this was for another day.

Still after a couple of nights wilding at the Chateau Julien plateau, just west of Villards de Lans, where autumn’s grip was already obvious, we vowed to return for a closer inspection. Until then our path south must continue and so we headed for Die.

Secluded by mammoth pines that would give Sequoia National Park in US a run for its money, we coursed our way downhill to the alluring valley below. Classically glacial, this valley on the D518 was beautiful, passing through rural villages and farmer’s fields basking in the seasonal sun. Then suddenly we approached the tunnel that I had seen on the map – would this be doable? Well we were about to find out.

I love tunnels; you enter with one perspective and then you enter and you wait; like a child at Christmas, waiting for the view to open up, like that present you’ve been poking for the last two weeks. A new vision awaits at the other end and I always feel just a little excited. Well we were not expecting this vista. Our route up until then had been straight as a die (excusing the Die pun!!), that was until we reached the Col de Rousset and that tunnel. Coming out into the light, we were greeted by the most magnificent view – yes I nearly cried! What a dreamboat of a view that was. Suddenly it was like being back on the Stelvio Pass in Italy, which we had mastered only a few weeks earlier. Twists, turns, corners and switch backs where our challenge and a descent of 700m in a matter of minutes. And it was like there was an invisible curtain that, once through the tunnel, drew back to show this new landscape, which rugged design was home to hundreds of vultures. They soared in their flocks above us, enjoying the thermals that kept their lofty view of the dots beneath them. Oh wow, I was in heaven. With rock faces that had more layers than a Christmas cake, you could see clearly how geology and history had played their part in this amazing region of France. Imagine the ancient legacy held within those stratum.

Die gave us a lovely stopover for lunch where, with a serviced, free Aire, it offered us the perfect opportunity to have a quick skeet at this surprisingly authentic and non-commercial town. We’d not seen anything industrial since Grenoble – what a joy that was.  Yet the most interesting landscape change was that we had noticeably entered into northern Provence, evidenced by the abundant lavender fields that were beginning to grace the land.  And even though they had been harvested months ago, there was still a purple and mint hew that draped over the valley. Oh how I love Provence and we know in our hearts that we only skimmed the surface of this region of France although return we surely shall.

Check out our Gallery below to get a feel for this regal limestone region that will test your driving skills should you choose to do the balcony roads.

Cevennes National Park – The many faces of Cevennes 

Our route; Gumiane to Portes, Mont Aiguoal and La Couvertoirade;  345km (about 200 miles).

The third of our Parks held a mystery and a diversity that we had not seen in our other two Parks.  The Cevennes fall in the catchment area of three different French regions; Rhône-Alps to the east, Languedoc-Rousillon to the south and Auvergne to the north and it is almost as if each area brings its own unique character to the party. With part of its personality coming from the Massif Central in the north and the limestone Causses to the south, this area is impressive.

As we left our wild overnight spot at Portes’ castle, it felt like were entering Narnia – the deeper we drove the more wild it became, with seemingly one road in and one road out. We wound gently around the mountains with horsechesnut trees as our cheerleaders – wow this is seriously conker heaven. Thousands of them in their spiky cases just waiting to drop their loads. Autumn is just such a fab time to visit this region as the oak, chestnut and beach trees start to dress in their golden colours. 

Our destination, after leaving our castle retreat was Pont de Montvert, which is at the foot of the highest mountain in the Park, Mont Lozère that reaches a moderate 1700m. Hiking is good in this area and so is simply enjoying the village’s quiet, rural vibe. It’s certainly worth a stop and there is an 80 place car parking area suitable for campers on the hill which is easy enough to get to.  Famous for receiving the 2018 Tour de France and also being a stopping point for Robert Louis Stevenson who travelled this route with his donkey. This village is worth checking out. 

The one thing about the Cevennes that struck us most is how the landscape changed every 30 minutes. Around one mountain you have tightly forested routes with the occasional glimpse of the mountain’s sumptuous curves. And then around the next corner, suddenly everything opens up and you find yourself in a granite gorge carved by the Tarn river. Purple heather dots the ground offering a break from the relentless, yet beautiful greenery and white outcrops of solid limestone rock dominantly rise up through the earth creating a punctured vista that is definitely not man-made.

The roads course through the terrain with just the odd rural village hanging in the middle of nowhere with its obligatory and oversized. church. Vultures soar way up on the thermals looking down at the tiny images beneath them and goats and cattle treat the roads as if they are their very own.

Heading up to Mont Aiguoal and the France Meteo Observatory for our next overnight stop was a total joy. The vista was a 360 degree panorama with sunsets and sunrises to die for. With a blend of Yorkshire Moors and the Grand Canyon, it feeds all your senses and for us felt like a magical experience.

To top it all off, the Cevennes stakes claim to no less than seven Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Although some might argue that a number of them are not truly in the heart of the Park, let’s not get into the semantics of geography. We managed to squeeze in two of the villages whilst on our passage through the region; Aigueze on the eastern fringes and La Couvertoirade on the south west tip of the Park. Both are, as always, steeped in history and in particular La Couvertoirade is unique because of its windmill and its tale of the Knights Templar who built the 12th century castle which now protects this little maze of cobbled streets within its citadel walls. This is on our top 10 of our 32 visited so far.

So the Cevennes Natural Park has something for everyone; ornithologists, outdoor lovers, geologists and photographers. Simply just driving around the mountains and through the gorges will seriously entertain you over a couple of days.

Check out our gallery of images of this lovely area.

So three very different and yet beautiful Natural Parks that are just calling out to be explored. With few tourists and the most rural perspective of France imaginable, taking the road less travelled will enrich your experiences beyond doubt.

 

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