Category Archives: The Travel Blog

Egypt and Home…

Kate: “I Woke up this morning to the wonderful sound of faint waves in the distance, interspersed with the jarring and nasal  noise of a (phalanx?) of trumpeter hornbills – I wasn’t sure if it was Tom in the snoring throes of waking up, or that the kids had found a musical instrument.  Once I had become more aware of my surroundings it was blissful and nostalgically present to realise that we were back in Southbroom, the place where our adventures began some 19 months ago.  Time I guess to reflect on our last couple of months of adventures that has led us back to South Africa, and perhaps sadly to put those adventures behind us.”

We were lost when we last left this blog in the remarkable forest of the de l’abbaye du Val des Choues… Once we had recovered from our embarrassing (but quite necessary) rescue we headed towards Mouroux – 50 miles i guess from the centre of Paris but near enough to Euro Disney, Paris and Versailles to celebrate the string of birthdays (and an often sidelined, and sandwiched between birthdays, anniversary.) 

Thomas, turning 9, was first on the list and Euro Disney was the destination. Yes – it was his treat but it was eagerly anticipated by all 4 of us! We may not look the type (what does the type look like) but the magic of Disney has infected all 4 of us at different stages of our life, and so with a for-the-day combined age of 40 we Rovered our way to the East of Paris and entered into a wonderland of spirit that the rest of the world hates and admires simultaneously. We are definitely more eyes open on the rest of the world, but we were helplessly, happily lost amidst the evening light show, the Great Parade and the joy that youthful imagination can provide. The queues for the rides were longer than at a Croatian Gas Station but well worth the wait… The Star Wars Simulator and then Roller Coaster were outstanding, but frankly everything is set on a very grand scale…

With birthdays on either side of the anniversary of our increasingly distant nuptials, it often becomes a moot or even missed affair. The kids however are becoming aware of the fractious or sometimes short-lived nature of relationships (thanks Donald and Hugh) and so have become insistent of making the 3rd of October an Event.  We celebrated this one in giddy style in Paris, and after quickly and painlessly training into Paris, we started off at the Eiffel tower before tuk-tukking towards the Louvre. I say towards because we did not actually make it there with our driver… he would have given any Bangkok or Ho chi min City driver a run for their money in terms of driving skills, but limited to a bicycle and determined to take the most direct route (whether he was going with or against the flow of traffic on a pavement or dodging pedestrians) his best efforts had an element of calamity about them. When his chain broke about a mile short, we paid him the full fare and wished him ‘Bon Chance’…  After weaving our way out of ‘our traffic jam’ we ambled into the Tuileries and lunched in the sunshine and amongst the pigeons.   The Louvre was unfortunately closed but it was wonderful to see the beautiful architecture, and a blessing perhaps to be a passerby that could soak in the beauty of Paris without having to run amok inside it.

 

With Emma’s love of cycling (she was an avid follower of the Tour de France whilst we were in Greece – in-spite of the German commentary and Dad’s poor explanation of why they bother riding in a Peloton) we thought it would be a great treat to cycle around Versailles. It was a lovely Autumnal day with the sun gracing our efforts and we had a leisurely time exploring the hectares of woods and gardens that surrounded the opulent Palace.  We skipped the queues for a dash inside and remained awe-inspired passers-by (and didn’t the Palace forget toilets?) but the grandeur and opulence seeped out from the centuries old stone and helped us understand how the French revolution came into play.

Emma’s 11th Birthday effectively bookended our European tour, we headed for our last ferry ride from Calais to Dover early the following morning.  It was the grey-est day we had experienced and pertinently it signalled that our summer was over and that the chapter of travel had also come to a close.

We headed back to Budleigh, Devon for a couple of weeks, where we able to give our last goodbyes to family, tie up a few loose ends and do a last pack of our miserly but worldly belongings. Sadly there was a host of folks we didn’t get to say goodbye to, but in the mayhem of gathering our wits before heading back to Africa, hopefully we’ll be forgiven for any rudeness. We had a great time going on walks with Bulu, picnicking atop the Jurassic cliffs and catching up with mum again.  We drove to Stroud, Gloucester for a day to say farewell to James and family as well as to see Annabel’s sweet shop, Coco Confectionery (an inspiring look at an entrepreneurial spirit  on her first of many successful ventures.) How we wish that Roald Dahl would have been able to see what imagination and spirit have conjured up in the confectionery department!  We hope that Annabel and her friend Sofia have the greatest of success, it is a must see if you are travelling through Nailsworth in Stroud!

On our last couple of nights we bid farewell to Hamish, Julie and little Abigail in London. David, Candice, Frankie and Riley have moved into Southfields (opposite H and J) as well, and given that for awhile we had considered settling in the UK it was thought and choice provoking to see such a happy enclave of such wonderful humans adding their light to London… thought and choice provoking…

I suppose that in this adventure we have been on an attempt to create a template for a more fulfilling life… In spite of fiscal protestations – when I managed the cheapest flight to South Africa routing through Cairo and the family discovered that a 10 day stopover was gratis, budget  went out the window and the Land of the Pharaohs needed exploring. 

As an aside we were intrigued to see how Egypt was doing after Hamish triggered the revolution there on his trip from London to Cape Town. We had done the requisite amount of research on the tourist traps and scams that would await us on arrival in Egypt (we did this for most countries) but we got hammered from the moment we arrived. I had read somewhere “a friendly face is just a route to your wallet”  – which is generally a sad and miserable outlook – but at 11pm a kindly face shuttled us through immigration ahead of the snaking and shuffling queue and ensured that our hotel bus arrived hastily. We weren’t afforded the luxury of gifting a decent gratuity to him (because he was an official?) and leaving it at that – but we ‘foolishly’ accepted his recommendation for a tour guide in the morning. I say ‘foolishly’ – because the most amazing tour of Cairo and Giza ensued and we were royally treated – it was no doubt a trail of patronage though – and in-spite of my misgivings I do fervently hope that some of our dollars have worked their way back to the gentleman who shuttled us through Tutankhamen international….

Despite the slightly inflated cash flow into Egyptian tourism within the first few hours of exploring Cairo we knew it was worth it.  The Cairo Museum was fantastic , it was helpful having guided information on who the Pharaohs were and how they fitted in and being able to touch most of the relics on display was unexpected.

 The side trip to a papyrus museum was the quickest demonstration of paper making anyone could have possibly seen.  The selling techniques of papyrus was on a new level and after a show, smash, splatter and roll we were introduced to the pieces we were expected to buy. We started with a piece of paper that would easily cover the wall of a modest lounge but managed to reduce the sellers expectation down to a meagre A4 size. Somehow we managed to walk away with 3. Amusingly we passed another half dozen ‘official’ Giza and Cairo Papyrus Museums…

The first glimpse of the Pyramids was inspiring. Over the top of the squalid ghetto that Giza appeared to be, it’s unfathomable that anyone wouldn’t draw their breath in the moment they first spot the 4500 years old, Fourth Dynasty Pyramids.

A camel trip was necessary according to the children and enthusiastically agreed to by our well-commissioned guide…  After a long sales introduction with a combination perfume and camel package being suggested we stuck to 4 camels, but Thomas having being almost thrown on the first attempt up decided that camels weren’t actually his thing and would prefer to take a horse and cart. That resulted in  2 guides taking us into the desert with 2 camels and 1 lame horse… Our guide was delighted….

Tom did not put up too much of a fight of getting into a cart (doesn’t like horses or camels) and was happy to go with Thomas, until Emma decided that perhaps camel riding (in the Giza traffic) was overrated… 5 minutes later and much to the mirth of the jockeys we settled on Tom and Kate on Camels and the kids in the cart.  They disappeared into the pyramid complex with the chain smoking toothless guy in their cart and left Mum to enjoy the camel ride and Dad to swear for the next half hour. 30 min later we were re-united in the shadow of Khufu’s Pyramid and the kids indifference to our half hour disappearance…

Once we managed to drink in the wondrous sites of the pyramids we had a great photo shoot and got to know our new furry friends a bit more.  Much to Toms relief Emma had a change of heart and was eager to ride her camel home.

We took a side trip and went into a museum next to the pyramids which houses a reconstructed Khufu Ship, built for King Cheops, from the 4th Dynasty .  It is not really spoken about and nobody makes an eager effort to sell a ticket, however it is well worth the visit.  Thank you Sue Prince for telling us about it!

Cairo and Giza were a whirlwind and had been planned that way, we had been warned off a prolonged stay in Cairo and we had an early night at the airport Novotel as we had a dawn departure to Luxor the following day.  Luxor absorbed the rest of our Egypt stay and we chose an Airbnb, wanting to get the best feel of local life.  Our lodgings, in a ‘quiet’ (the Muezzin was spectacularly loud-and welcome) neighbourhood came with a driver/guide/host who was available to drive us around where ever we wanted to go and advised on local markets to do our shopping.

Our first afternoon we had a felucca ride on the Nile and quaffed our dinner whilst watching the sun set.  It was very quaint and peaceful and hearing the afternoon prays resonate up and down the Nile was quite enchanting.  We also felt home, back in Africa at last and not quite home, but with seeing familiar birds and some orderly chaos – somehow connected.

 

The Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor Temple, Colossi of Memnon, The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and the Mummification Museum kept us engaged throughout our whole stay. We squeezed in and into an air balloon for a ride over the Valley of the Kings at dawn, and most afternoons we popped into the Steigenberger Hotel to cool off in their pool, soak in the amazing sunsets overlooking the Nile and have a good meal.

Luxor has often been described as the world’s largest outdoor museum, and we tripped from one fascination to the next…  Occasionally we opted to go without a guide and others with one. The main guide we had in Luxor found us in Karnak.  We weren’t sure if we wanted a guide but after speaking with us for a while we decided he would be helpful to have. Amazingly, as it turned out, he had an acquaintance with one of Toms Egyptian work colleagues based in London. He was fantastic and helped us put a few pieces of the Egyptian modern and ancient puzzle together.

The hot air ballooning again was another crazy wonderful experience.  Due to the unfortunate accidents that have occurred in Luxor over the years, they have become quite strict and organised in the Hot air ballooning department (it’s relative)…  One of the rules being that the balloons are only allowed to take off from the same spot and consequently they had relays of about 15 balloons going up at the same time, 15 minutes apart.  Everyone hangs around for a while and then a siren is sounded and suddenly you are ushered to a balloon that holds about 20 people, giant fans blow air into the balloon, you scramble into the basket and then off you go! We drifted near enough to the Valley of the Kings, but still had amazing views of the Nile and farming land and mercifully we landed in the same spot we took off from.  Our pilot Nemo was a great character, he had scars on his face which we later had confirmed, was from one of the hot air balloon accidents.

Luxor, Cairo and Johannesburg came and went in a flash and it’s hard to believe that we have been in South Africa for nearly a month.  We have been completely spoilt since we have come back and need to take this opportunity, to everyone that has welcomed us into their homes, met up with us along the way and made us all feel so welcome and loved.  For those that we have not managed to see and were meant too, our sincere apologies, our home is open to all of you, if you happen to be passing through or staying in Hoedspruit!

For a quick brief roundup we have:

Had a big catch with Anni and Nick in their lovely home in Jhb.

Enrolled our children into a wonderful school in Hoedspruit.  Found a lovely house to rent.  

We spent a couple of nights with Chris Harvey at Rissington Inn, thanks so much for your generous hospitality great to catch up with you and JJ again!

 Squeaked in an unexpected visit to Londolozi, which was amazing. Thank you so much to everyone who made it possible, such a gift to catch up with you all again.  Meeting little Rosie MacLarty for the first time was a great highlight and we were honoured to be part of her  birthday celebrations!

We stayed at one of our favorite spots at Kruger Park Lodge, had Kai Goodman, one of Emma and Thomas’s mates from Londolozi came to stay with us for a few nights, much fun was had.

 

Janet and Mike so good to see you both again and your awesome boys.

We managed a sneaky 4 days to Sun City, with Anni and Nick. It has been a fun family destination over the years and never disappoints.

Somehow Tom has managed to work through all of the continued last-minute changes, I think out of all of us is the most relieved to be staying put for 5 weeks, he, is very much in his happy place (Southbroom.)

 Happy Holidays to everybody! We are excited about having some family around us for the end of December before a Jan 3rd slide into our new home… You are all welcome at anytime and we’d be delighted to hear your adventures over the past 20 months. We have begun a farewell Juststeppingout.com blog which will be our thoughts, feelings and highs and lows of the adventures – but are in the interim buoyed by the opportunity to have seen so much, so well and so together!

xxxxxx

 

Just Stepping Homeward

Just Stepping Homeward

We’ve read a lot of family blogs on our travels, a habit that has kept us sane and looking forward. Most of those blogs are enviously current – whilst we’ve been a bit slack about keeping up to date. Possibly we blogged more frequently when we had nothing to do but lap up sunshine – but recently homeschooling, work and a chaotic travel schedule has kept us from being regular bloggers. Another thing about the Family blogs is that they often tend to be written by a sole contributor and we’ve been lucky in that we have both enjoyed scribbling our thoughts, motives and enjoyments.

This, the preantepenultimate blog is a another joint effort. Last but three? Yes indeed – we are a short 3 weeks from touchdown at OR Tambo, Johannesburg, and we are currently in the land of Roast Potatoes and Rain, packing up our ‘English lives’ sorting out an itinerary in Egypt, and house hunting in South Africa. It’s weird to be going home and there will be a lot to reflect on and share on the next and last blogs – but for now we’ll catch you up on our travels up until a few weeks ago in the middle of France.

Bunkers hidden in the Albanian hills

We left the last blog hanging in Macedonia. Thomas at that point was hobbling around on 9 and 3/4 toes having stepped on a glass and we took a few extra days to stay in Lake Ohrid and have the medical nightmare resolved with frequent trips to the hospital. They deserve a medal – i’m not sure if even the Lady of the Lamp would have had any patience with the unwilling patient.
Stitches out (we thought – there was an outlier we had to do ourselves)- we hit the road again on a mostly uneventful trip to Montenegro from Macedonia. Our choices to get to Montenegro, where to pass Skopje, enter Serbia, turn left into Bosnia and route into MonteNegro or take the most direct route through Albania. Watching ‘Taken’ doesn’t do a heck of a lot for enthusiasm to visit Albania, but the general border animosity between the Balkan countries made our mind up for us and the Albanian gauntlet it was.

Finally out of Tirana!

We had carefully planned to miss the Capital Tirana, the Balkan equivalent of Ho Chi Minh but our dear GPS friend had other plans. The full chaos of Tirana is hard to explain but as we were not planning on over-nighting it in Albania in retrospect it was fun to get more than just the spectacular countryside views! GPS eventually had a melt and we had a full two hours, driving against the traffic, getting yelled at and trying to avoid the ridiculous number of badly steered Mercedes Benz’s. If you are wondering where Mercs end their lives head for the Balkans!

After trying to explain our plight to many helpfully amused Albanians, we eventually found someone who explained an escape route, however after 20 min down a deserted dusty road we thought we were lost to Albania forever, amazingly the dirt road reached a highway and we were on our way again. Albania is just as beautiful as all its surrounding neighbours and we have had heard wonderful reviews from fellow travellers on what a great place it is to visit especially if you keep to mountainous regions of the country.

Montenegro greeted us in 40 degree heat but was full of achingly beautiful views of the Adriatic. The Western Cape is magnificent but…   We stayed in the vibrant town of Herzog-Novi, a few minutes in different directions to Croatia or Bosnia and had a full week to soak up the charm of old Adriatic Castles and delectable food.

Thomas was out of swimming action and so we compensated by taking a boat out for a day and explored blue caves and a rather sinister yet historically interesting island called Mamula Island. A fort was built on it by Austro-Hungarian General Lazar Mamula to provide defense against enemy ships in the mid 1850’s . During World War Two the fort was converted into a concentration camp for prisoners from the local area by Mussolini and his Fascist regime. Sinister, intriguing and a place that history weighs heavily on you…

Unable to put Thomas in the water, we found a great way –  via submarine – to have his first taste  of the Adriatic!

We had a few days to fill between Montenegro and meeting up with Kalinka and family in Croatia, and as August is a possibly foolish time to visit the Montenegro/Croatian Riviera we opted for an inland jaunt to Bosnia.

Bosnia turned out to be more than just a blessed relief from tourist hell, but a startlingly different landscape, oozing peace with the gentlest and kindest of people.  We stayed on the outskirts of Tribanje with a very welcoming family and had another full week, staying in doors and home-schooling when the chickens were being dispatched but generally visiting the old town in the late afternoons to amble along the river and wander into cafes, gelaterias and the occasional bar.

 

Croatia had long been on the agenda and as die hard Game of Thrones fans, Dubrovnik was a must. We bolted from Bosnia almost pre-dawn as we had been warned that Dubrovnik would be crammed with fans eager to get to Kings Landing. After another typically hostile Balkan border crossing, we got there about 8:00 in the morning and had a great 2,5 hrs wandering around the ancient part of the city..

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik would be wonderful for a return visit in the dead of winter, with no-one around but we were soon engulfed by a sea of people and beat a hasty retreat for a dash up the coast and onto the languid Peljesac Pensisular. It hasn’t escaped us that we are as much a part of this throng of tourists as everyone else and just as responsible for the damage, anger and resentment that mass tourism brings to these ancient, awe inspiring places. Ignorant of just how tourism has ramped in the last decade and saddened by it too, our future travelling lives will attempt to miss the madness and hopefully not create more of the same somewhere equally beautiful.

Our destination on the Peljesac Peninsular was Orebic. Endless mile after mile of – ‘we wish we could linger’ scenery took us to a town that was busy but felt empty compared to our immediate Adriatic experiences. We had a blissful family time with the Rode family, Kalinka ( who Kate has been friends with since grade 0), Johan and their 3 children, Guiliana, Maxsim and Alex. Our 2 got on famously with them all and they had the bounty of 7 full days of swimming, playing, setting up beach shops and general mischief.

We took a day to explore a nearby island called Korcula which was a short ferry ride away from Orebic. It was especially interesting for us because we had by chance learnt about the life and travels of Marco Polo earlier on in the year and fortuitously there happened to be a Marco Polo Museum on the island. He spent some years on the island and was captured near there when he fought in the war between the Venice Republic and Genoa.

Goodbyes having been said, we were back on the road – destination Italy. Having been frequently on the move since the Peloppenese, we felt we needed to stay put for more than a week and so we booked into a humble villa in the mountains of Tuscany, 20 minutes outside Lucca, for a full 5 weeks!

To get there we opted for a drive through Slovenia and into Italy via Trieste. The ferry was an option but Slovenia seemed to random and fun to miss. We had two great evenings in the emerald forests on the Slovenian/Croatian border whilst the whole of Italy seemed to race past us as there August holiday drew to an end.

We wove our way through Italy and into Tuscany – knowing that we were heading somewhere quiet and a little backwoods-ish. We weren’t expecting a village with 70 residents perched high up on a mountainside with incredible views across a forested valley and across to a villa where Giacomo Puccini, wrote Madam Butterfly. Impossibly old (the village and some of the residents), immaculately looked after and a place we could live permanently – Villa a Roggio was perfect.

 

Off to explore Florence

 

We were close enough to Pisa and Florence for occasional days out, but otherwise it was a time to catch our breath.  Being in the heart of the Renaissance capital of the world, the kids learnt all about the great artists of that time that helped to bring us all out of the dark ages and into the contemporary age.  We took a day trip by train into Florence (once Tom had labelled us all with our address’s and telephone numbers) and visited some amazing pieces of artwork by infamous artists.  Florence was still overflowing with tourists so we weren’t able to see all the great pieces, however we still managed to see a great deal.

Day in Pisa

My mother (Gomma) visited for our last 2 weeks in Villa a Roggio. We picked her up from Florence where again we had a day exploring albeit this time with Tom.  We managed to see a museum dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, where many of his inventions were laid out in model form, showcasing the forward thinking man ahead of his time. We ambled along the famous Arno river and over the Ponte Vecchio

It was great to have her experiencing part of our great adventure. We took a weekend trip to the island of Elba whilst she was with us as none of us had been before and we were interested in Napoleons short exile there.  We visited both his homes which were apparently quite modest…………………….

We also visited Lucca a number of times as it’s a charming city that keeps pulling you back for an embrace.  It is surrounded by an impressive wall that has been constructed over many centuries starting from ancient Roman times to the 17th century. The walls make an incredible place for a cycle, and we rented bikes on several occasions and enjoyed the high views of the city. One lucky visit had us fortuitously tripping into the Festival of Lights, a supremely festive evening in the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini – another history lesson check!

 

As our imminent return to SA drew near, and the world adventure draws to a close we had promised Thomas as part of our exit strategy that we would take him to Disneyland Paris for his birthday. We have had quiet a hard time finding accommodation which is probably not surprising as France has for a very long time topped the World’s most visited country list. Our only criteria had been to find somewhere within driving distance to Disney and to manoeuvre that we plotted a 2 night stay in Chamonix – Mont Blanc, a week in Mid -France before circling in on Paris.

Chamonix was as breathtakingly beautiful as we had been told. Relatively quiet in the Autumn, we had the time and space to visit the Mer de Glace and Aguille du Midi as well as a few spectacular forest walks and a well finished Fondue. Two days was about all the budget could handle, and to be honest the chalet for 6 must cater for Hobbits only in the fine print. Only half of Tom could fit in the bath at any one time and the bags had to live outside…

 

 

Our middle of France destination, was Laignes. Near enough to Chatillon-sur-Seine and in the midst of the countryside splendour of Burgundy. We plotted 5 nights for Tom to get some work done and for Thomas to get into his happy place immersed in the forests. We thought it would be a wonderful idea to spend a few hours in the enormous forest around the Ancienne Abbaye du Val des Choues – but as so often happens expectations and reality stream differently.


Kate:

We left Tom working and the forest and abbey were only a 30 min drive away – knowing how magical the forests around Chamonix were it was certainly going to be a great experience. When we got to the forest I got the impression there was a 2.5 hr route we could take and helpfully there were some signs we could follow to make sure we were on the right track. I took a photo of the map as well as the signs and off we wandered into the woods… 

As we thought, it was magical. Peaceful, quiet, full of amazing variety of mushrooms (we have gone mushroom crazy), illuminous slugs and not a soul to be seen. After about 2,5 hrs we did not seem to be close to home but we had taken our time so did not worry too much about where we were. The signs we were following were still loyally showing us the way and so on we went for another hour until it was evident that the walk we thought had mysteriously disappeared.

After 4 hrs I managed to send a message to Tom that we were in a forest and we should have finished our walk 2 hrs ago but it did not feel like we were anywhere near the end. I managed to send him a GPS position and while he was working out where we were I switched off the phone to save battery which was predictively running out fast (who get’s lost in a forest with a full battery and signal?). 10 min later I tried to switch the phone back on, but our Thai Samsung dispatched a rebooting error and I got a green robot troll instead of a map.

No problem – stay calm, disconnect the battery wait a couple of minutes and the phone will reboot. Surely? No such luck today and the troll was back to stay…  We continued on following the signs, deeper into the forest suspecting that after 5 hrs the route will end somewhere.

The kids were being amazing and 18 months of hard preparation in Rice Paddies, on long bus journeys, hitch hiking and airport floors were invaluable. Tired and sore and not having eaten since breakfast they kept trudging on. Emma had had a melt down about an 1 hr before I had called Tom and Thomas was by her side encouraging her every step while I steamed ahead trying to find some good news. Every now and then I tried the phone but only the troll appeared. We continued to walk for another hour we had started to plan what we would do if we had to spend the night in the forest, we no longer had dappled light streaming through the leaves it was becoming dark and cool. Through the trees we finally saw a house, it had a menacing chain and no entry sign across it and I tried the phone one last time, it switched on and worked – only to die a glorious lithium battery death… I screamed unspeakable words into the forest. The kids gathered around and we all had a good cry.

Once that was over we trundled over the chain, rang the bell and nearly knocked down the door.  No one was home but we were at least near a road.  We emerged out of the forest – a little lighter now but the sun was not hanging around.  A few cars whizzed passed and we tried to haul them over but to no avail.  We had to start walking again but in which direction was anyone’s guess. Feeling defeated and still planning to sleep outside we dragged ourselves down the road.  Coming in the opposite direction we saw a taxi which was a strange sight in the middle of the country side.. Emma started jumping up and down sticking her thumb out but I did not have much hope because its light was on. However, he seemed to be more interested in 3 people wandering on the side of the road than the locals and slowed down, miraculously Tom was grinning at us from the passenger seat! We could not believe it – what a rescue and how he found us I don’t know.  We could have popped out anywhere but It was the most amazing relief… 


The rest of France, our journey back to England and our own Brexit is the subject of the next blog. For now we are bathing in the soft sunshine of Autumn and preparing our journey to settling down again. There is some general anxiety about where to live, where to school and just how committing to a future will play out – but the lessons of 18 months on the road have re-inforced that uncertainty is foreplay for something marvellously exciting around the corner!

There is also the prospect of reuniting with a wealth of SA family, friends, bush, Indian Ocean and for Kate the peace that sitting with a herd of Elephants brings. Anyway we’ll blog before reaching Cairo, finish the 7000 mile story and then give more of our thoughts and feelings on the Europe that we experienced.

Adieu!

Roving Europe

 

Roving Europe

I’m sure I’m not alone in having had a fair degree of geographical ignorance of what goes where above Greece and how the countries order themselves between Western Europe and Putinia. I’m penning this in Macedonia at the moment and as a family we are putting the Balkan jigsaw together. First a catch up…

I left England on the 23rd of July after a mad dash through the night from Devon to Dover in order to park the car on the Dover – Dunkirk ferry. Vera Lynn of  ‘Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover’ fame turned a hundred this year and It was quite poignant looking back at the receding cliffs on a much less perilous journey.

 

The industrial wasteland hugging Dunkirk was not memorable and reminded me of a windy day in Beaufort West but surrounded by industrial mistakes. A short hour later I was into the charms of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and then France again. The Sat-Nav had a meltdown en-route and so I managed three trips into France before finally crossing back into France and heading to Strasbourg for an over-nighter. Funnily enough and a few weeks later the kids have suggested getting the man to do the Satnav…

Leaving Brindisi

The route through Belgium and Luxembourg had been carefully chosen in order to take advantage of the lowest fuel prices in Europe (0.80 Euros a litre) and no toll roads. After a forgettable night in a hotel with no staff and a vending machine for check in, I started out on the route through Switzerland and into Italy. Originally, I had decided to overnight half way down the Boot of Italy, but the 17-year-old Rover was fit for purpose and after a few Italian espressos, back to back days of 17 hours of driving didn’t seem so bad after all. I reached Brindisi close to 10 o’clock at night with the knowledge that I had a 10-hour sleep before the Greek ferry.

Nice from far, far from nice!

We have always been a bit penny pinching at the start of our gallops abroad, and the Greek ferries come in two flavours – the Aneka Super-Fast (trust me it’s relative) and the Grimaldi option at about £40 less.  The Grimaldi option was as awful as the name promised and I’ll be sure not to skimp on ferries again (there is a Dubrovnik – Ancona Ferry not too far off).

We (all 200 hundred truck drivers, 500 Gypsies and myself) docked at Igoumenitsa  (Greece) at 1 AM and I found a delightful apartment within a stone’s throw of the port and got some shut eye before the last stage to meet Kate and Kids. Kate might have mentioned it in the last blog, but the solo travel was necessary as the kids were performing in a play that they had studiously prepared for the whole year. I was sorry to miss the little thespians’ efforts but we had a date with Greece and the appeal of having our own car to rover around Southern Europe was just too good to miss.

From Igoumenitsa I headed South for 4 hours and caught a ferry for Cephalonia/Kefalonia and wound my way around the magnificent island of Captain Corelli fame to the capital Argostioli just in time to meet the family fresh off a Ryan Air from Stanstead. The book has always been one of my favourites and the film one of my absolute worst. Regardless I looked for Antonio, Pelagia, Dr Iannis and Limoni around every corner… Kefalonia is an overlooked island, probably too big for the snobbish and amusingly you won’t find a German in sight.

Ultimately it was a mad 2500km dash which was worth every moment… Nothing quite like man time in an overheating car… I think I gave the boy racing Italians a run for the money, not by being fast but sedately and indifferently getting in their way. It may be the home of food, but it’s also the home of the fastest cars packed into the smallest packages (read underpants…)

Back to Kefalonia and sleepy heads risen, we bolted across the island at dawn and caught the first ferry across to Ithaca/Ithaki – an island made famous by Homer and his poetic Odyssey in which Odysseus makes his way home and where we splendidly met up with Hamish, Julie and Abigail (just short of ten months). There we had a gorgeous home in the achingly beautiful little village of Kioni and wasted no time in sinking ourselves into the Aegean and exploring all the local beaches, shrieking in delight at finding geo-caches, gorging ourselves stupid on lamb-on-the-spit and head-aching ourselves on Mythos (local beer.)

Ithaka has a surprisingly strong South African connection and we met more Saffers there than anywhere else on our travels. Ithaka is almost unfairly beautiful. Hundreds of idyllic coves washed by the bluest of Hellenic waters, rugged mountains watching benevolently over your every move and village squares with chatty locals sharing routine gossip… Thank you Hamish, Julie and Abigail!

A week isn’t enough in Ithaca and sadly it was soon time to move on… Travel constantly has you counter-guessing yourself on places that you have been, spots that you have just discovered and the wide unknown. Two ferries and a hospital visit later for Emma’s inevitable mid-ear, ‘she dives too much’ 75 Euro infections, and we were on the Greece mainland of the Peloponnese. We scooted South for our home away from home in Chranoi. We had spent an amazing 6 weeks here last year looking after horses (well)  and painting a few Greek houses (badly)and some tree stump removal and we were delighted to get back to a place that will always bring such fond memories of our year and a bit on the road.

Gogo Ruth met us again a few days later, and whilst I set up my office overlooking the Aegean the family visited Nestor’s palace, Koroni, Methoni, Pylos and frolicked in the Ionian daily. We scoffed Feta until we were bilious, discovered Saganaki (fried cheese) and watched local Greek Dancing.

One of our greatest highlights of the trip and possibly our lives was having a magical moment with a Logger head turtle.  The last time we visited Chranoi, Thomas found an old turtle nest that exposed old eggs that had hatched, at the time we marvelled at them but never thought we would have an opportunity to see a turtle lay her eggs.  The Peloponnese is the nesting home to a large percentage of Logger head turtles.  We had heard that we had arrived at the time of the year when they were nesting and on an off chance decided to one evening spend time on the beach in the hopes of seeing one come out and lay. We decided to try and find a nesting turtle on full moon so that we could use its light without having to disturb the turtle.  We used the knowledge of Thomas’s nest from the previous year and wandered down the beach late into the evening.  Quite amazingly we watched a turtle emerge out of the water.  We stood back awestruck and watched her head up the beach and dig her nest, within an hour she had finished laying and headed back to the sea.  We managed to get a quick photograph before she drifted back into the ocean, we all swam with her as she disappeared in the moon-lit sea.

With Gogo Ruth safely home via Athens and Cairo we debated long and hard on whether to brave the Albania route to Montenegro and Croatia or to add to our growing list of fantastic Greek must do’s. Gomma Sally had done a lot with the kids on Greek Gods and mythology and so we decided to trek North and visit Mount Olympus, a 7 hour and 600km drive via Athens. We found a pleasant enough apartment in Kokkinon Nero which is kind of like Margate, South Africa with another 250 000 people – mostly inebriated and mostly Polish. That might sound a bit disparaging about other cultures – it truly isn’t. It’s always great to see other folks on holiday – I guess it’s just awesome to see other cultures at play. Northern Greece and the Peloponnese don’t frankly belong in the same country. The Peloponnese is dirt poor and subsequently full of charm, Northern Greece is relatively more moneyed and affected by the desperate chase of the Euro. Our destination however was an appointment with Zeus and Apollo and we roused early to make the 1-hour trip to Dion, an ancient village at the foot of Olympus. We met Jannis a local tour guide who promise us a 4-hour trip to 4 waterfalls but inevitably only managed three in 8 hours (to our benefit!). Our trip included a huffing 3 hour, 6km hike to about 500m above the base (apparently in the steps of Alexander the Great) and a 1-hour swim in the 17C waters of the Gods. A little later we found a waterfall with a 5m jump that kept the family enthralled for hours. We desperately tried to give Jannis more than the 105 euro the trip was touted at, but he stubbornly refused a tip… Still haven’t worked out tourism in Greece! Mount Olympus was well worth the effort and a tranquil dimension to our otherwise hectic Greek adventures.

 

We left Greece with a fair amount of trepidation. Just having got used to the typical Greek disposition of rudeness and indifference we expected the Balkan countries to be more of the same. Frequently in this blog and on tour for the last 16 months I’ve mentioned that anticipating anything is a useless effort. Inevitably we got to the border and they told us that our car insurance was invalid. I had a fruitless argument with some know-it-all’s at Be Wiser Insurance in England that the letter they gave me wouldn’t qualify as an insurance Green card and that was tested at a 90 Euro cost at the border. Admittedly I was getting nervous as we crossed into Macedonia and with our roaming on the networks crashing – I was thinking about doing a U-turn… But then a funny thing happened… Vodacom (Bless you) hitherto useless in Europe suddenly fired up, the GPS (female) started working and the countryside started reminding us of home.

We can only have been in Macedonia for about 30 minutes when we all agreed that it was the most agreeable country we had ever been in. Flanked by mountains and forests we headed for Lake Ohrid, a UNESCO heritage site that is split between Albania and Macedonia. I can’t imagine anyone not being floored by the first vista of Ohrid. One of the deepest lakes in Europe (tectonic) flanked by a medieval town with forts and churches from the 12 and 13 centuries that reflect in their own shadows in the water – crammed full of Balkan tourists – bursting at the seams with politeness and thank-you for coming-ness and marvellously still boasting communist era cars, police and broken windowed concrete megaliths squeezed between the most charming town cobblestoned town.

We checked into an apartment owned by a Macedonian commerce legend who greeted us with a ‘few’ tots of Raki – something between mampoer and grappa – and unpacked and landed we headed for the beach/lake shore.

Somehow, we have managed to avoid major medical disasters throughout our travels. A low point was having to hitch with Emma to a hospital in Phuket for an ear related malady, but nothing would prepare us for our first afternoon in Ohrid when Thomas jumped on a glass and smartly parted with a quarter of his toe. My first aid training immediately kicked in and I applied pressure to the gaping wound. I think I might have been alright but Kate collected the piece of Thomas’s toe that had been severed and just as I was assuring Thomas that he would be fine I lost my lunch and then my wits… Thankfully cool hand Kate was on site and a paramedic appeared out of nowhere. A zodiac and a taxi were summoned and within half an hour Thomas had been scooted across the bay, taxied to the hospital and crudely stitched up. If, god forbid I ever have a major emergency, please – please let it be in Macedonia…

Like I said – prepare for everything and anticipate nothing. Thomas won’t forget his hospital trip in a hurry – I think there is a Balkan disposition to ‘deal with it’ and the NHS / Discovery gloves were off, but for 15 euro’s and the efficiency and professionalism that were thrown in…

A few days later and Thomas is hobbling around. We managed a trip to a 400 BC village today and Kate and Emma have busied themselves around Ohrid (read ‘Horrid’ according to Thomas) bicycling up to the monasteries, forts and lake shore. I’ve been spoilt with Wi-Fi which means I’m keeping up to date with work and after a few meetings on Tuesday we have a date with Montenegro on Wednesday. We’ll be heading via Albania but if Macedonia is anything to go by we can’t wait for more of the Balkans…

Montenegro is a short stop to seeing Kalinka, Johan and kids in Orebic, Croatia, before a ferry ride to Italy and a villa in Tuscany. Gomma Sally will be coming for a visit and Rome, Florence and Pisa are all scheduled. I’ll head back to London for a few weeks before we leave Italy criss-cross France and head back to the UK.

We have an agent looking for a rental for us in Hoedspruit and we are getting in touch with the Southern Cross School with an eye to being back on Terra South African firma Mid October… a short holiday in SouthBroom for Xmas and then a normal life?

 Loads of Love from FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) 

Tom, Kate, Emma and 9 ¾ Thomas

 

Stepping Out…

 

Chick rescued from falling off roof

 

Stepping Out Again…

It’s super early and the dawn is breaking to another fabulous (if not surprisingly for England) sunny day. The gulls are squawking and cawing and the 3 chicks that have hatched into the world on the roof above my mothers bedroom are eagerly awaiting their breakfast. They precariously pad their way up and down the tiles, no doubt oblivious to their never ending views of farmland and the winding River Otter, but at least one fell off and we had to return it to the roof, unceremoniously but effectively.

So much has happened since the last post which was rounded off as we were about to head to an adventure in the Finnish/Lapland snow.

Our 2 weeks in Finland were magical – it’s always special up there. Reconnecting with cousins was full of fun and giggles and having time to catch up with William and Nina in their Lapland life was great. Spring was approaching, but there was plenty of snow to keep us busy on the slopes. Emma took to skiing like a duck to water and once Thomas had a quick refresher lesson he too was bombing around in the forests following his cousins into places which were a little too hairy for me.  I preferred sticking to the wide open slopes but in usual form I managed a fall from whilst l was from navigating the ski lift. A 10 yr old boy kindly lent me his ski stick to get up, but honestly how you are meant tuck your legs under you and push yourself onto your now oversized feet is beyond me. After rolling around in various angles and the line of skiers grew I was finally lifted up by the armpits and plopped back standing. My ego was bruised for a short while but my bottom was bruised for the rest of the holiday.

 

One of the biggest highlights of the kids year was meeting up with Maya Groch in Green Park London. It has been over a year since they had seen each other and although they’ve kept in regular Skype touch they frolicked as though they had never left each other’s side. We spent a few hours walking around the park and headed to Buckingham Palace to see if we could spot the Queen but she was being a bit shy and so we headed off to the School of Rock musical instead. They had a great time, making a memory that will certainly last their lifetimes.

 

 

 

The month of May we were on Bulu (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) duty, while mum and the Finnish side of the family spent time in the Kruger Park and Southbroom. As the days started to get warmer she started to paddle around in the estuary and now her new game is to chase after stones and try and pounce on them as they plop into the water. So simple yet hours of entertainment.

 

“Mum, when are you coming back home?”

 

We have been enjoying every moment of the summer. It has been sunny for weeks and just recently very hot. We have spent a good portion of the days outside exploring as much of the surrounding areas as possible. One of Emma and my favourite things has been biking on Sunday’s. There is a fantastic 20 mile cycle path along the river Exe that starts in Exmouth and with the help of a Ferry to Starcross winds up to Exeter and then loops back to Exmouth again. There are great country pubs along the way for a refreshing drink or bite to eat and it always makes for a pleasant day out.

 

Many evenings have had us out on the beach. It has been buzzing with families enjoying the sunshine, sparkling waters, and crystal clear light. Tom has been fishing with great enthusiasm, after many attempts he finally caught a beautiful fish, we have know idea what it was, if anyone here reading this post knows please let us know!

 

 

We visited dear friends Kalinka, Johan and their wonderful 3 children in Cobham, Surrey.  Kalinka happened to introduce us 24 yrs ago, and is entirely responsible for this happy marriage! We are currently planning a trip to Croatia with them middle of August.

We caught up with a dear friend Philippe who came from Belgium to meet up with us for a day in nearby Sidmouth. We also roller-coasted ourselves dizzy at the Devon County Show, visited Escot Wildwood, took many visits to the Bicton Park botanical gardens and ventured as far as Plymouth for a visit to the otter sanctuary.

 

Father’s day was spent canoeing and kayaking on the river Exe canals. We had spent so much time cycling on the edges of it, it was great to be in it. Very peaceful, beautiful scenery and a few swans with their cygnets to keep us company. Midway we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Double Locks and a much needed rest.

 

Emma has learnt to make pasta which has been a delicious treat. They both tried their hand at sewing and have done a great job as well. Emma made a skirt and Thomas managed to make a couple of dresses for Mrs Berry Johnson.

Emma got her ears pierced and it must have been catchy as the very next day  Gomma went off to have hers done too!

 

Mum and I have been doing our small bit for the environment by clearing out about 5 acres of Bolsum which has been choking up the river otter and various other places around England. We found a patch along one of our walks and decided to have a go at clearing it. A beautiful, plant from the Himalayas, but frighteningly one plant can disperse over a thousand seeds. Our patch used to have pine trees growing on it but they had to be chopped down as they were interfering with some electric poles. The Bolsum quickly choked the area and so every morning between 5:30 – 8:30 we started our mission. We managed to clear much more than we thought would be possible by pulling them out, stomping them near the roots or chopping the heads off the ones that had already started to burst with flower. During the weeks of clearing it was very hot which in itself was helpful as most of the plants that we stomped wilted, although there were a few die hards that would look merry and bright the next day. Mum will continue to do some head chopping once I have gone on the ones we have missed. We shall see next year if our efforts have turned the area into a meadow full of native flowers or if the Bolsum once again rears its pretty head.

 

The kids have had another term at Stagecoach, where they have been putting a play together called Street Child. It was about how Dr Barnardo was inspired to open safe housing homes for children during the Victoria era. It was beautifully put together with much dancing and singing although at times it was a tear jerker. The kids played their parts wonderfully, Emma was a policeman and Thomas a workhouse boy. James, Jacqui and Annabel managed to come down for the afternoon to watch them which was a great treat. Thank You!!

 

Whilst I have been writing this Tom has started to embark on a mammoth journey across Europe. We have organised a get together in Ithaca with Hamish, Julie and little Abigail, after which we want to continue a bit more travel before heading home at the end of the year. Initially we were all going to fly down, but after some pondering decided it would be worthwhile taking our 17yr old Rover along for the journey. As we were on a bit of a time limit with the start of the adventure Tom left for Greece 3 days before us. I will let him fill you in on the details….

We will be updating again soon…

 

 

Hello 2017!

The last few months have been full of the delights of family, wintry days and hunkering down in warm homes. We’ve grounded our spirits and found some stability whilst catching up with school, learning some new skills and doing a little soul searching.

 There has been a lot of fun to boot and after some wonderful Christmas celebrations, we brought in the New Year with the matriarchs of both families.

New Years on the Beach

Whilst my mother improbably swam off the pebbly beach at Budleigh Salterton the rest of us wrapped up warmly as we watched fireworks celebrating the arrival of 2017!

The year got started fairly workmanlike- Tom wrestling with computer programming and the kids and I have had regular weeks of school. We also bought a car to help speed us around Devon and are delighted with our 17 year old Rover that was sold to us after the 90 year old owner finally agreed to stop causing havoc in it. We had it for about two weeks before a farmer from Exmouth helped re-arrange the back end of the car!

Being slightly more mobile we had end of January dash off to Oxford and a great family gang of us descended on the Randolph Hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Blenheim Palace and the Ashmolean Museum was fantastic. We also loved the City of Dreaming Spires for it’s grand presence and architecture and had fascinating walk around Balliol College.

With the help of my mother (Gomma) taking on the cultural aspects of the school curriculum, things are chugging along. Recently a chance to tie the history of Civilization as well as the history of Art together presented itself and the kids and Gomma raced off for London.

Loose in London

After training it up to Paddington Station, 3 days were spent touring museums and galleries, including the Courtauld and National British Gallery.  They focused their time on some of the famous impressionists, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Stubs and Constable and at the British Museum they waded into the history of civilization. Perfect timing got them to Buckingham Palace just in time watch the Coldstream and Grenadier guards on parade.

Outside of school trips, they are  enjoying street dancing, drama school as well as karate.  We have also taken to learning how to play a keyboard.  Tom gave me a keyboard for Christmas and at the time I must be honest and admit that it wasn’t received with much enthusiasm or jubilation.  My experience with piano lessons in the past, was an experience I would rather forget and so it stayed wrapped up tight in its box for a few weeks.  With encouragement from the rest of the family it was decided it should at least come out and be displayed for the kids to tinker on.

They began to plink plonk along, learning their scales and I tentatively may have had the odd plink as well, until my birthday came around and I was given an online piano course by my brother James. I have enjoyed the course thoroughly and found satisfaction in the fact that the plinking has on occasion turned into a respectable tune. So, thank you, Tom for the rather random present and to James who gave the last push, that has brought us much fun.

Emma continues to bake or cook at every opportunity – there frankly aren’t enough hours in a day to satiate her appetite for cooking and she probably feels that her opportunities are rather limited.  She has also taken to exploring every restaurant, diner, coffee shop – actually anywhere where food is being offered in any form and it will be sampled and well critiqued!

 

Thomas started the year off in conjuring up spells.  It began with a spell ceremony on Old Years Eve, with us all placing our wishes for 2017 into his cauldron (it may be a Potjie Pot).  The potions and spells have being going through various degrees  of extravagance and splendour. We never know when we may  find ourselves  tripping over cauldrons, crystals, wands or potions that are scattered around the house and garden. There may be a bright career ahead in medicines and pharmacology – ahead of becoming a wizard hopefully.

 

              

Old Years Ceremony                 Butter Beer                                    Fire burn and Cauldron bubble… 

Just recently, Spring has marched in and the hibernation is coming to an end. the urge to adventure has once again stirred and the kids and I have a trip to Finland this weekend to see the last bit of remaining family that so far we have only been able to catch up on skype. Tomorrow it’s a dawn start for London, a few days in the Capital before a Wednesday flight via Helskini and straight up and into the Arctic circle. Spring there has not quite sprung so time for some snow fun, skiing, tobogganing and maybe a few snowball fights.

Mid-April will bring us home again and we have a small window to catch up with Emma and Thomas’s dear friend Maya Groch. Fingers crossed!

We have a trip planned to Greece with Hamish, Julie and Abigail later on in the year and will be heading for Ithaca (huddled next to Cephalonia). Towards the end of August we are contemplating a visit to the USA. This is very lightly pencilled in at the moment but I have had a yearning for many years to explore some of Americas wild places. Whilst it is so vast and with so many options – Alaska, Redwoods, Yellowstone and Yosemite are high on the list.  It is always fun delving into more detail about what these wild places have to offer and i’m sure that over the next few months the strongest pull and the next ‘Where to?’ will materialize.

Lots of love from us all!

 

Just Settling Down

It has been an absolute age since we last posted a blog, not necessarily because we have been frantically busy but more because life has had a bit of a normal edge to it. We have been holed up in England and have watched Autumn pass into Winter – our first Winter since South Africa 2015. We could have bolted home to the sunshine – but with nearly all the combined family here we have found our warmth in the familiar faces of those closest to us.

Our last blog had us packing up our lives again in view of the Ionian Sea and venturing onto Athens with no plans whatsoever. We had made a trip to Ancient Olympia, which of all the Ancient Greek spectacles was my favourite, and deliberately scheduled Athens for a stroll around the Acropolis. We bus journeyed out of the Peloppenese and settled in a very quiet neighbourhood of Athens for 4 nights. We had a rooftop garden with a view of the mountain, and it was there that Kate and I sipped red wine and contemplated ‘where next?’

The Acropolis was memorable for its crumbling splendour and the thunderstorm that washed over us en-route to the top. It is very hard not to be impressed by what they built 5000 years ago and the views of the sprawling and somewhat messy city below, had us wondering what progress humanity has made in the interlude. Gazing up from an Athenian hovel at the Acropolis in its’ heyday must have created the impression that the future would be rosier and kinder. Presently, standing beneath the ruins and gazing down at bric-a-brac Athens, realizing that not much has changed seemed improbable. That I guess amidst the 2016 goings on – is poignant.

Our decision to head for England was in a large part due to the arrival in the family of Abigail Rose. Hamish and Julie celebrated their delightful little girls entrance to this world, whilst we were in Greece and we were eager to see our niece and ensure that Christmas was a family orientated affair. We meddled with the idea of a new Workaway posting in Mallorca – then Sicily – almost France, but ultimately here we are in England.

Perhaps our travel feet were getting a little weary, but either way it’s been fabulous to unpack our bags and settle into Devon with Sally (The in-England Gomma to the kids). Kate and the kids have roared into action on the schooling front and bit by bit the discipline has fallen into place, the times tables into order and the writing and reading have become un-halting and clear. I meanwhile, have started a new career, and commute between the weekends from Devon to London and back. Business Intelligence Consulting may seem a stretch for a simple field guide but the weeks have flown by with my nose pressed against a computer screen, and coming out of the office sometimes feels as though I’m stepping out of a time capsule. The work is exciting, challenging and a far cry from looking for animals – but I’m loving every moment of it.

Amidst work and schooling there has been some fun as well. We’ve had a few trips to London and visited the museums. We had forgotten that on school half terms the whole of Britain also head to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, and so we’ll need another few visits to fully appreciate it all. The children have begun modern dance lessons in Exmouth, and begin drama classes in Exeter early in the New Year. Summerhill Prep School definitely gifted them with a love of the theatre and arts, and whilst they do miss the school it has been wonderful to live close to arty institutions.

Just recently we were in London again and visited Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park where we roller-coasted ourselves into overdraft and then when my mum, Ruth arrived, we visited Hampton Court Palace for a day of revisiting Henry the Eighths failed marriages.

At the very present we are in Stroud, Gloucestershire for a family Christmas with the Wigleys, before heading again to London for a family Christmas with the Imrie’s, albeit on Boxing Day. The children it seems don’t mind the idea of a double Christmas.

2017 is around the corner and it’s hard not to reflect on the year of JustSteppingOut. The children have blossomed and grown under the weight of new cultures and ideas and we hope are better for it. The insecurity of taking them out of the parade that is school has been very real at times which in part explains why we are having a settled end to the year.

There are honestly no regrets about the broad concept of upping and moving our lives. In retrospect, we wish we had included Indonesia and a few volcanoes, Halong Bay in Vietnam would have been bonus and there is a sunken city on one of the Pelopennese fingers that we didn’t get to snorkel above. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were plotting to keep heading south from Thailand and into Malaysia and Indonesia before scuttling our travels in Australia. The European leg of the year of travelling was unexpected but we wouldn’t have it over again and with a taste for travelling free and loose, there is always a chance that 2017 may throw somewhere and something exotic into the mix.

It hasn’t all been roses as one would expect – plenty of tears and the occasional pangs of self-doubt have surfaced along the way, but family time together has been a resounding mission accomplished and we may be a family but 2016 has also moulded us into 4 firm friends. Being a little more in the world has also made us more aware of the precarious situation that humanity has steered towards, but we’ve drawn comfort in all the beautiful places we’ve been to and the amazing new friends that we have made. We’ve also celebrated at a distance all the wonderful things that have happened in the lives of our friends at home. Marriages, engagements and bouncing babies seems to have been the recipe for 2016 and whilst we missed all of it it’s still been very present in our hearts and minds.

Our immediate 2017 plans are to remain in England, forge ahead with a new career and up the intensity in schooling. There are no plans to push the kids into the English schooling system quite yet and we’ll only think about a return to South Africa when Spring arrives – an Imrie Article 50 if you like.

For now though, it’s Christmas Eve – potatoes to peel, presents to wrap and mulled wine to quaff… Wherever you are in the world, thank-you for sharing in our 2016 adventure of Juststeppingout and we hope that the holidays are filled with the people you love most and that the spirit of happiness carries you into an exciting and prosperous 2017. Chat more in the New Year!

Loads of Love from all of us…

xxxxxxxxx

 

Hellenic Blues

Hellenic Blues

All good things come to an end as they say, and this blog is being written within 10 metres of 20161013_165720-1the blue, blue Aegean. The wheel of time turns as does the season here and as it grows a little colder day by day, we have started looking for our next adventure. We race down to the beach mid-afternoon everyday to pick up Wi-Fi and see which positive responses (if any) we’ve garnered from Spain, Italy, France, Cyprus and Switzerland – on the phenomenal Workaway website. We have a positive hit from Switzerland and are just evaluating our next leap over a few cold beers and a table flat sea…

Gogo Ruth, my mother has come to visit and in a flash gone again. A very forlorn little boy was left in the driveway of Peripetia as Ruth and I headed for the airport. I’m getting used to that – just over a month ago Emma was in inconsolable tears when we waved Sally (English Gomma) goodbye in Devon. It has shaped our thinking and so we have a month left of ‘travel’ before two settled months in England, hopefully a brief stint to Finland and a return to South Africa and some job hunting. We all want and need to be near family and to be perfectly honest there is a yearning for the bushveld as well. Anyway, enough of the maybes and a quick catch-up.

The weeks have slid by in Greece as fast as Bernard’s amazing olives down the trachea… this has been an amazing Workaway experience that at 5 weeks in, has divided the days into a gentle work schedule till lunchtime, a frolic in the Mediterranean every afternoon and the untroubled sleep of the-on-holiday, at night.

Peripetia Farm is a Grecian slice of heaven and its German hosts are wonderful. Kate tackles the horses and vegetable garden, I paint the house and battle with tree stump removal, and the kids play with the 12 year old Alex.  We’ve thought about a permanent move to Greece but will appropriately leave that to a better moneyed future…

It was Thomas and I that caught the bus to Kalamata to fetch Ruth and hire a car so we could doodle around the Peloponnese. We got to the bottom of the Greece bus top conundrum by having someone explain that if the stop isn’t apparent just look for a good old fashioned plastic chair. Once found, Thomas determinedly occupied the chair in a not specifically obvious place until the first bus approached and I managed to flag it down, but was scowled at when we explained we were going to Kalamata: “this bus Athenia” the driver shouted waving me out the door. Anyhow, the next bus dropped us at the airport and a few hours later, Thomas was re-united with his grandmother.

The car we hired was a post-box red Fiat panda about the size of a golf cart, with the power of a lawnmower, but that has admirably got us to most of the places we had on our visit list. We braved the right hand side of things by taking our first excursion south to Koroni, a magnificent town on the top of one of the Peloponnese fingers. There we spent two magic hours crawling around the 6th century Byzantine castle that not only makes an

Discovering Karoni

Discovering Karoni

impressive un-scalable fortress but also gives grand views of the meeting of the Aegean and Ionian Seas.

Our next trip was to the pleasant little village of Agios Andreas just 10km away where we had chartered our own sailboat to celebrate Thomas and his 8th birthday. Annika, the relaxed and friendly Dutch skipper of our sailboat, engined us south beyond and around Koroni and into a spectacular bay that allowed us 2 hours of snorkelling in the aquamarine water and some rather amusing attempts at the perfect dive from the deck. On the way home it was sails up and we made 5 knots with just the sound of the boat cutting through the water to disturb the view.

Emma’s birthday treat was a day sea-kayaking and the lawnmower took us early morning to kayakingPylos and Navarino Bay, the scene of an epic naval battle fought in 1827 during the Greek War of Independence. (Pylos has its own remarkable history and features in Homer’s Odyssey.) We met our guides, got a thorough briefing and then tackled the smooth waters of the bay, Emma and I piloting one boat, Kate and Thomas in a second and two guides trying not to capsize out of amusement. We had great views of a castle, rafting up every so often to get some of the local history theatrically explained to us before heading out to a thrillingly wavy open sea. After a few hours of paddling we stopped in a beautiful snorkelling bay and then took turns jumping off a 10 metre cliff jump (there may have been a belly flop or two!)

Our last adventure was a trip to Ancient Messinia, about an hour of Greece’s twisty roads away. We spent two hours in absolute awe of the excavation that revealed the daily life – 2500 years 20161006_123236ago, and whilst the background to it all we need to find later on the internet, it was still a marvel to be surrounded by the ancient architecture. To be honest a long lecture may have spoilt the crumbling splendour of it all.

The rest of our week with Ruth was spent with Kate and I doing some work in the mornings and then afternoons spent down by the beach, sipping on wine and working our way through a healthy amount of Greek salad.

With the birthdays behind us, it’s been back to reality, a check on the dwindling finances and some earnest discussion about where to, if anywhere, next. We still have the prospect of a trip to Ancient Olympia, before the Fiat is returned, and then our last few days at Peripetia before a few nights in Athens and her famous attractions. Hopefully by then we’ll know where we are headed.

How good has Greece been? Well for those of you who have been here you’ll know that it is simply a magnificent part of the world, well suited for its gods, and a totally unmissable holiday destination. This little family have adored every moment of it and it turned out to be a particularly suitable place for the birthdays, within easy reach of England. As Europe turns cold 20161006_135237locally the weather has been, for the olive growers, monotonously perfect. The end of November is when they are going to start to pull the olive harvest in and currently the gnarled old trees are absolutely laden at the moment with the small green oil variety, but they’re hoping for some rain to help swell things along. The eating variety, are larger and purple – the traditional Kalamata olive and we’ve been fortunate enough to eat Bernard’s (our host) own olives. They’ve been pickling in olive oil, black pepper, herbs, lemon and a few other spices for over a year and have been eaten at most meals and often in between.

We’ve all managed to acquaint ourselves with a few Greek words and I’ve managed to take it a bit further by learning the intricacies of Greek that allow you to tell feral dogs to bugger off. My German has improved and that has been useful as this small village of Chrani is more German than Greek. That is the glory of the EU I suppose – for as long as it lasts – but most Greeks appear to want their beloved Drachma back in hand.

We’ve enjoyed some of the culture differences and in some cases – absurdities. The children love the local supermarket, but to suit the budget we often go a bit further afield to the Kalamata Lidl supermarket. There they’ve discovered that to make you spend more they hide everything you could possibly want – keeping you and a fistful of euro’s in the store longer. Then when you get to the checkout they ensure that you stand in election-long queues next to shelf after shelf of impulsive buys. To help the slow service along the tellers fight amongst each other, answer telephone calls and occasionally disappear to shave or shower….

Most of the kind comments on this blog have commented on how well and how big the children are looking. Spending time with them hasn’t slowed down their advance on their teens – teeth have fallen out at regular intervals, they’ve grown out of clothes and shoes a few times on this trip and I suspect that they’ve mentally aged faster than that even. We continue keeping abreast of world events, and on Sunday both kids were up at 4am to watch the great second farcical debate in the US. Maybe after all this travel we have finally lost the plot!!!

Yassou, Ta Leme, xxx

(And an update as soon as we know what’s next!)

at the little port, Agios Andreas

at the little port, Agios Andreas

 

 

Greece!!!

 

GREECE!!!

GREECE!

One of my favourite fictional characters is Dr Iannis, the wise and wonderful voice of reason in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. His poetic descriptions of the beauty of Cephalonia are comically and continuously interrupted, but his vivid scribblings about the quality of Greek light and air are enough to make anyone want to visit. Tragically we aren’t in Cephalonia but are perhaps close enough to agree with him on some of his points. If you haven’t read the book you are missing a masterpiece (skip the movie it stars Nicolas Cage)….

at the little port, Agios Andreas

at the little port, Agios Andreas

So With Dr  Iannis in mind, we arrived in Greece. Comically too it would seem, because whilst the light and clarity of our environs were enviably remarkable, we hadn’t met a Greek Greek yet and weren’t about to be disappointed. Our normal procedure when landing in far flung countries and short of sleep is to take the easy, in-airport option of transport. It might cost a bit more but alleviates squabbles and dour attitudes on arriving. Being in Europe we thought we’d try a different approach and catch the local transport straight off the plane, I mean how far apart can these worlds possibly be? We really tried our hardest in Kalamata Airport to find transport and after a lot of fuss were eventually directed to the bus stop which was a short walk down the road. Amusingly the stop never materialised and had either been blown away, stolen or never actually existed. Drenched in sweat with bags in tow we eventually stumbled into a garage to ask for assistance and were re-assured that we could catch the bus from the garage itself. When I asked politely when, “It’s a Sunday”was the explanation and so could be “whenever”. This was our first introduction to GMT – Greek Maybe Time.

Eventually we snared a taxi, which although expensive included a history, geography lesson and a glowing endorsement for Donald Trump. It seems as though the world is a bit too small. En route we were particularly intrigued by the miniature houses that occupy prominent positions on dangerous bends. “Those are for the people who died in accidents,” Costa explained, ” there used to be lots of road deaths but now all the bad drivers are dead and so it’s gotten better…” The speed at which Costa was going when he explained this had me wondering if he had already ordered his own spiritual curb side lodging.

20160921_163426The road to Chrani hugs one of the southern bays of the magnificent Peloponnese, Greece’s largest peninsular and the place where (the Peloponnese inhabitants believe) most of Greek ancient history unfolded. The Mediterranean was a sleepy blue and we were entranced by it from the moment we set eyes upon it. Whilst the Sunday Orthodox Church bells rang, we hit a supermarket before meeting Iris, our Workaway host, and then were driven to the farm. Peripetia sits rather spectacularly up the hill above the town and commands a sweeping view of the sea and the well-olived areas between. As a bonus we were shown to our own two bedroomed cottage, complete with 3 cats, 2 dogs and 5 horses and were immediately reassured that we weren’t going to be disappointed with our lodgings. For the past two weeks it’s been a place of real joy and laughter for the family.

Our work normally begins between 8 & 9, and has included gardening, painting, chopping wood collecting-carabsand getting a boat ready for sea. There has been some horse stuff to do, which has been left to Kate and the kids as I’m frankly terrified of the beasts. The three of them eagerly muck out the paddock, move them between feeding areas, feed and groom them and just recently have started riding. Feeding the dogs and cats has been my privilege.

Every afternoon we have trekked through the the ancient olive orchards down to the beach and settled under thatch umbrellas in front of the Maistrali cafe, where the beer is approvingly cool and the water tantalisingly warm. It’s been so clear that the snorkelling has proved a big hit with the kids when they haven’t been paddle boarding our kayaking.learning-to-groom

It’s an uneventfully serene way to spend every day.

 

It was months ago that we were contemplating just where we would be when the kids birthdays come around and with a week to go it’s unfathomable at just how lucky we have been. Our hosts have justifiably made the difference: committed and friendly Iris, the amazing can-do-anything with his hands Bernard, who constantly cooks up delicious evening feasts, and the energetic son Alex who has e-outridekept the kids (mutually I hope) entertained. They’ve brilliantly

More Icecream!

More Icecream!

allowed Gogo Ruth to come and visit us and she’ll be here in a weeks time to celebrate the birthdays. Thomas has demanded a sailing trip and Emma is keen on a kayaking expedition but outside of those two expeditions we’ll be hiring a car and visiting a bit of Ancient Greece. If you don’t see a blog in another fortnight or so you’ll be able to guess that the right hand side driving has proved too problematic.

 

In summary our move to Greece has been bliss and we are hoping to make two months of it at the very least. As far as experience goes we’ve made this a bit of a holiday and the educational trips will start in earnest shortly. Culturally it’s far easier than the Far East, but sadly – not all roses. The Greeks have been smashed by the economic downturn and the strain on many is plain to see. Those that have work often do it for less than €400 a month

Mucking out paddock

Mucking out paddock

and in the little villages a good proportion of the houses have been boarded up as the owners have left for greener pastures and a number of properties are for sale. Hard times for a hard people, but I’m reminded writing this that unemployment rates are worse at home and the economic conditions just as stagnant. I guess it’s about what you are used to.

Economics aside I can also understand why Greece was on the verge of being expelled by Europe, it frankly doesn’t belong in an organisation synonymous with cold, grey countries. We are just a trip from Johannesburg to Durban from North Africa and haven’t seen a pizzle cloud since we’ve been here. The days are long, the water is Hellenic blue and the family are a lobster red. More beach time here in a week than a full holiday in KZN.

20160920_155458

Getting to know local Greek culture will take a bit of effort – they aren’t as forthcoming as I  imagined, but that I earnestly hope is a sign of the times rather than a permanent disposition. Don’t get me wrong we have met some perfectly lovely people. Sophie at the local supermarket is as friendly and welcoming as a sunbeam, but that might be because she thinks I’m Irish. She asked me where I was from and I said ‘Iris,’ as in: Bernard and Iris. Given that today we got a free bunch of carrots I’ll leave it at that… Rea, George and the rest of her family at Maistrali Cafe are some of the nicest and most accommodating people I’ve ever met. Yesterday they gifted the children a tub of ice cream…. But in many other places the lower lip and sulkiness is overwhelming. It’s a tough time to be local and maybe as founders of democracy they  are dismayed at world events too. I don’t know what other reasons cause the relative gloominess and the children don’t care, they think tsatziki is lovely and by proximity the people serving it too… It does make me reflect on how special it is to be South African, and how we keep smiling in adversity.

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One of the boons of our little cottage has been that the satellite TV beams its offerings in the German format. We’ve watched Star Trek nightly and taken turns at our own hilarious translations but have mostly been relegated to watching the only English flavours in Sky News and CNN. Why go through all the trauma? Well it’s been an education for the kids and I suppose that taking them around the world requires that we augment their education with all the crap that being a global citizen involves. Thomas asked this morning about who ‘Canada’s Stolen Daughters’ are, they’ve asked about Syria and Aleppo and think Donald Trumps hair is too funny for words…. Thankfully there is no SABC, though they probably know more about Jacob Zuma and South African politics than half of parliament.e-greek-flag

Anyhow, fun in doses in the Grecian sun. It is mesmerisingly beautiful, and we are overwhelmingly happy. We are hoping we can do two months before the Greek winter sets in,
but would happily pluck the olives and stay to enjoy the warmth from all the wood that we have collected and cut…

 

Yassou, Ta Leme!

xxxxxx