Thursday, 30 March 2017

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this day in Marchs past

My twelfth #ThrowbackThursday post already and these trips down memory lane are some of my favourite posts to put together. I love remembering everything we have seen, heard and done since I began blogging in 2012!

March 2013 was a life-changing month for both myself and for Dave although we didn't realise its full implications at the time. I blogged a particularly apt Soren Kirkegaard walking quote on the 27th of the month as we were walking daily around Austin, Texas, at the time and had previously had a week in wonderful New Orleans. I thought of this trip as 'holiday' and wasn't blogging my travels as I do now so there aren't any Austin photos. (The image instead is Dave's competition winning shot of the Brecon Beacons.) Our house was so bitterly cold on our return from America that we decided we never wanted to winter in the UK again. As it turned out, this was the seed of our caravan adventure and we haven't!

Bilbao harbour through
the ferry window 
A year later we had just returned from our first touring winter and were pitched up in Bailey at a nice Horam campsite while we got our Polegate house sorted out and habitable again. I remember feeling overwhelmed by how much accumulated stuff I had and Bailey felt much more like home than our house did. Although we were only away about five months I now had a remarkably different perspective on how I wanted to live and what was important to my day-to-day happiness. I had taken a sabbatical from my job which then wasn't honoured by the company concerned so a bout of eBaying decluttering provided the dual benefits of a income until I found alternative employment and the therapeutic effects of a good decluttering. We also began thinking about whether Polegate was a actually where we wanted to continue living or if a complete change of scene would be beneficial.

Walking man in Limoges 
March 2015 saw us visiting Limoges in France and I still love this metal walking man we saw attached to a wall there. Limoges  has a very pretty medieval old town. The art deco railway station is definitely worth a look too. I had forgotten how grey the French weather was until I saw the foreboding clouds over the station in my photograph!
We were about seven months into what would become twenty months of wonderful caravan living having sold our house the previous September. We had wintered mostly in Spain and were now making our way northwards for an exciting spring and summer touring the UK.

Spring colour in the Perigord 
We were in the beautiful Perigord region of France in March 2016, again heading back northwards after a sunny winter split between French and Spanish campsites. Spring flowers were everywhere and our Bois du Coderc campsite was surprisingly quiet despite being in the ACSI book. We think it is just far enough off the main European migration routes to avoid the majority of caravanners and motorhomers. Great for us as we could enjoy a tranquil week there - perhaps not so good for the campsite's profits!
Lifewise we had decided we wanted to buy a lock-up-and-leave flat somewhere and Dave thought that the south west of England would suit us best. We planned pretty intensive flat-hunting on our return and were already spending hours on RightMove. We just needed to spot that perfect place ... !

And now we're heading up through France again with our heads full of plans for 2017!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Homeward bound

Tomorrow will be our last day in Spain, for this season at least, as we are then homeward bound. We have returned to Camping Les Medes at L'Estartit for a few days and will put our caravan into storage nearby before zooming up through France with just the car and a couple of cheap hotel overnight stops. Have you ever tried getting the contents of a caravan and a car into just the car? It's a marvel of tessellation!

I'm feeling maudlin as I always do when one of our travel seasons comes to a close. It's especially sad this time though because I don't know how difficult 'our' government (we didn't bloody vote for them and they certainly don't represent us) will make it for us to travel in Europe in the future. Article 50 was triggered today so 'our' Brexit (we didn't bloody vote for it and it certainly isn't what we want) will shape and no doubt significantly restrict what we can do in the future. Will we need individual country visas again? How much further will our currency be devalued against the Euro? We've already noticed the exchange rate dropping every time Theresa May opens her mouth. If she keeps up that ridiculous toys-out-of-the-pram bargaining stance, even Portugal and Greece will soon be too expensive.

It feels very strange happily sitting here amongst people from at least eight different European countries and seeing the disgusting anti-Europe vitriol on Facebook spouted by the predominantly right-wing media back in England. All so stupidly short-sighted - unless you're one of the very few elite people who are going to make an absolute killing out of all this. I don't think the rest of us will even get what the Leave campaign shouted about, let alone what the people who voted leave actually thought they would achieve. There's no extra NHS money, that's for sure.

I wonder if this will be the last time we will return Home from Europe? Not that I want or intend to stop travelling you understand. It's just that if the Tories get the Brexit they want, I don't think that England will feel like my home any more.

Harry Whitewolf has perfectly summed up today in his new poem:


The U.K. should begin with an F
And have a C after the U,
And it should end in E D
Now that we’ve left the E.U.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Upcoming music gigs I'm eagerly anticipating!

Julian Littman and Charlie Dore 
I've just received my brand new Peter Mulvey album, Are You Listening, which I helped Kickstart back in February. It's fab and you should get yourself a download via Amazon US / Amazon UK!
We've only got another week on mainland Europe before we head back to Devon so are planning our entertainment once we return. Fortunately we've already spotted a half dozen or so appealing gigs during the next three months, some in Devon and some further afield, and I am going to tell you about the April/May trio here.

Charlie Dore is playing at Kingskerswell on the 20th of May. We discovered and I blogged about Kingskerwell Parish Church as a South Devon music venue last summer and I love the space for its wonderful acoustics. It's a bring-your-own-cushion venue with a lovely atmosphere and don't forget your cake money for half time. Having previously heard Charlie play at Hailsham Pavilion, I believe her music will perfectly suit Kingskerswell so this gig should be a real treat.
Charlie will be joined by Julian Littman and supported by Peter James Millson and Totnes Pop Up Choir. Tickets are £13.75 including booking fee and you can Buy Online Here. Check out the rest of the Kingskerswell season too.

I first discovered Kirsty McGee several years ago when I blogged for Theatrical Eastbourne. I love her voice and style. I supported her Those Old Demons Kickstarter too and now we plan to finally actually see her play live! Together with Robert Garson as the duo Ocotillo, Kirsty will be at the Hawthorns Hotel in Glastonbury on the 26th of April. I've tweeted the Hotel to find out how to buy tickets and hope they answer soon!

Thirdly is a band we don't know much about, The Hothouse Four, but they have a regular engagement at a very local-to-us venue, Wellies Of Wellswood. Their next gig is on the 4th May - the night after my birthday. They play Western Swing and American roots music which we both enjoy so we're planning to book a table and enjoy a good meal whilst tapping our toes.

So I have got these three gigs to look forward to when we get home, plus another three in June which I will tell you about closer to the time. In the meantime, have a scroll through these South West listings from WeGotTickets and see what catches your eye!


Saturday, 25 March 2017

Social Media Icons for my Blogger sidebar

I've had a Spring Clean tidy up across my two blogs, Stephanie Jane and Literary Flits this week. I thought the sidebars particularly were beginning to sprawl and their multiple social media widgets took ages to load on our campsite-strength wifi. Maybe it wasn't not so noticeable on home-strength broadband? I liked the streamlined look of social media icon sets I saw on other blogs so had a search around. It turns out that Bloglovin and Goodreads icons aren't standard in many matching icon sets (free ones anyway!) so that did limit my choice somewhat, but I eventually decided on these smart monochrome icons by Alfredo at IconFinder.
I chose to include Bloglovin , Etsy , Facebook , Goodreads , Google Plus , Instagram , Pinterest and Twitter .

Fitting the set together into a neat block with all their individual links was quite a faff, but I am really pleased with how they look now.

Recently I also did away with the Google Ads from the top of each blog's sidebar so these now only appear under posts. Instead you will now see (in desktop view anyway) my chosen Advertiser Spotlights. This feature is on a monthly rotation and I host four different promotions each month. They are mostly affiliate links to businesses I love, but you can advertise your business/event/book launch/etc too if you want! Anything with a bookish connection is welcome on Literary Flits and pretty much everything else will probably suit Stephanie Jane. There's more details here including image requirements and pricing. I am currently taking bookings for May onwards, but could just squeeze in an April Spotlight if you get in touch before Monday!

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Millennium Olive Trees of Calig

We took ourselves on a walk from the opposite side of Calig a couple of days ago and discovered a duo of ancient olive trees in an orchard just out of town. A bright green signboard drew our attention to the orchard and we were both glad that it had. Otherwise we would have passed by thinking 'just more olive trees'! They are one of the most predominant crops in this area and have been for centuries meaning that certain trees are now considered millennium olive trees or Oliveres Millenaries. There are over 4000 such specimens in the Territori del Senia which encompasses Alcanar, Benicarló, Càlig, Canet lo Roig, Cervera del Maestre, Freginals, La Galera, Godall, La Jana, Mas de Barberans, Peñarroya de Tastavins, Rossell, Sant Carles de la Rapita, Santa Bàrbara, La Sénia, Traiguera, Ulldecona and Vinaròs.

Of course no one actually knows exactly how old each particular tree is - scientists aren't cutting them down to count rings! - instead, membership of the 'club' is determined by a tree's circumference. For an olive tree to be included in the inventory, it must have a trunk perimeter of at least 3.50m at a height of 1.30m above ground. There's more information on this on the Millennium Olive Trees website.

These are the two stunning trees we saw:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

With both Mother's Day and Easter galloping towards us at great pace, retail businesses are falling over themselves to offer us the best deals so I have an excellent selection of money-saving offers and discount codes for you this month.

I'm starting with a generous 35% off promotion at The Body Shop, but you need to get your skates on to take advantage of this offer because it finishes at 9am on the 27th of March. Use checkout code 14666 to activate your discount. Certain product ranges are excluded from the offer so do double check first to avoid disappointment! Further details are available on The Body Shop website.

New accessories retailer FY stocks an eclectic range of jewellery, beauty products, home decor and stationery items. Featured in lifestyle magazines including Stylist, Vogue, BuzzFeed and Sleek. FY is the perfect place to shop for a fashionista Mum! Even better, you will get free worldwide delivery for whatever you choose to order and, if you sign up to the FY newsletter before placing your first order, you will be entitled to a 10% discount. Check out FY's Mother's Day selection and maybe pick up a treat for yourself too.

If spring weather has your thoughts turning to the great outdoors then this Alloutdoor offer might appeal. Whether you’re off for a short weekend break or a lengthy cross country journey, Alloutdoor have the products you need. With over a decade of experience founded on a passion for adventure they know the value of the right gear for the right job and have individually selected the best brands and products from around the world to ensure you have the essentials at your fingertips. From tents to backpacks, clothing to accessories, you can find pretty much everything you need here and get a 5% sitewide discount with the checkout code ALLOUTDOOR5 which is valid for all customers throughout March. Happy travels!

Homewares, jewellery, gifts and clothing with a luxurious and historical theme can be found at Museum Selection which is a beautiful website I recently discovered. They offer worldwide shipping and I love the gorgeous designs of far too many items here! As a seasonal incentive, Museum Selection are offering a 10% discount for new customers across their website shop. Simply use the discount code SPR17. I'm not sure how long this code is valid for though so don't wait too long to take advantage.

And I think I will finish up with a superb Easter chocolate offer from Thornton's. If you're the type of person who can do their Easter egg shopping ahead of time and NOT then need to do it all over again just before the day itself - that's so not me then! -  hop over to this Special Offer page where a variety of chocolate eggs and Easter treats are 2 for £10 or a generous 5 for £20. The choice includes filled dark, white and milk chocolate personalised eggs and very cute milk or white chocolate rabbits.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Sunday afternoon cycle - Vinaros to Cases

Machine gun post near Cases 
We cycled all the way to Catalonia today! Yay us!
Admittedly this feat only actually meant about a three hour pedalling round trip, but it was fun to pass under the Welcome to Catalonia signpost on the N340.

We drove from Calig and parked near the outward point of our previous Benicarlo to Vinaros cycle so we could continue along this stretch of the coast. It was a glorious day so the promenades and restaurants were packed. Fortunately the car park is huge so we had no trouble finding a space and unfolding our bicycles. The route is on roads through the edge of town for the first 10-15 minutes which could have been hairy were we in the UK, but here drivers are patient with cyclists and gave us a wide berth when they did pass. Eventually, just after an uphill curve, we spotted the beginning of a dedicated cycle path and this continues all the way into Cases. There were stunning sea views all the way!

View from the Vinaros-Cases cycle path 
After detouring to zoom round a potential campsite for next year, Camping Estanyet, we pedalled into town. Cases was even busier than Vinaros. We paused at a little Tourist Office kiosk to pick up a couple of local hiking maps, pleasantly surprised at its being open on a Sunday, before continuing straight on as far as another campsite, Camping Cases, which didn't look as promising for future trips. We didn't immediately realise that this was about as far as we would get. We tried cycling further, but had to rejoin the N340 which was heading to a grim-looking industrial plant and wasn't fun. We decided to about turn and look for lunching opportunities in Cases.

It soon struck us that, while we might have enjoyed the excellent cycle path facility, we hadn't seen any bike stands or bike parking since Vinaros. A quick zoom around Cases revealed only one bike hoop which had a restaurant table so close to it as to be unusable. Despite many cyclists, there was nowhere to lock up bikes and weirdly, none chained to railings or lampposts either. Where were they all? Hmmm! Fortunately we hadn't been sure whether any food places would be open - they all were - so had packed an emergency apple! We ate this on the prom, hoping it would provide energy enough for our return to Vinaros.

Machine gun posts near Cases 
I was intrigued by the sight of these two Civil War machine guns posts just outside Cases. We had seen them on the way in and couldn't work out why they were just offshore. You can see in the first photo that Curious Dave nearly got his feet wet in reaching one to peer inside! According to a handy signboard (in four languages!) the concrete emplacements originally faced out to sea from above the waterline and were part of extensive anti-fascist defences along the beach here. Since the 1930s, sea moving the shingle underneath has turned them around so they now seem to glare inland. As well as these two, there was another single post about half a mile further on.

Once back in Vinaros we were pretty tired. It turned out that the 'flat' cycle route had been slightly downhill on the way out! We thought again about lunch, but couldn't make a decision so instead treated ourselves to coffee and cake (and a caipirinha for Dave) at The Royal Bar before heading home.