One to Grow On

December 31, 2010

Kindness of Near Strangers

Filed under: animals, children, Great Britain, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 3:17 am

Those of you who have been following this blog since last November (or anyone awake and reading) must have noticed a drastically increased frequency of posts.  I mean,  I posted NOTHING for almost four months and now I’m writing something every couple of days?  Weird, huh?  Well, I’m suddenly in a hurry to get to the main event of our storyline.  In most ways our trip (and this story) starts and ends with Brandon’s leaving for Iraq and Brandon’s returning from Iraq.  Clearly, he’s home, and I’ve got photos, and stories, and I want to see this thing through in the same calendar year that it took place.  By tomorrow.  So, here goes.

When we last saw our heroes (that’s Rory and Nora and I) we were lounging around the home of the Pilbeam’s somewhere outside of Edinburgh.  Our time was short.  We knew Brandon was due home sometime in October, and we meant to be there, household established, waiting for him.  That gave us about three more weeks in Britain, then about three weeks at home, trying to settle in and get a house ready.  Out of our three travelling weeks we wanted to wring all the satisfaction and joy and  adventure and fellowship we could.  We wanted to make them count.  We wanted to spend our time with  friends.   And I absolutely, positively had to sell our car.

The Pilbeam’s pointed us toward the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on our way south to York.  Just like Mont St. Michel in France or Skellig Micheal in Ireland (both of which, due to lack of prior planning, we viewed from afar) Holy Island was a religious community separated from the secular world by thought and deed and the tide.  Now the ruins of an abbey, a National Trust property and some shops lure travellers over a wet road twice a day at low tides.   And, thanks to the Pilbeam’s, we got there just in time to roll in, stroll around, and leave again before the sea reached our rims.  Thanks, Ian!

We had also planned to go by Alnwick Castle, which was used as Hogwarts in some of the Harry Potter movies, but once there I calculated that it would cost us more than $70 to stroll the grounds and try to see exactly where Harry learned to play Quidditch.  Hmmm…  we backtracked to an overview, had a good look, and kept the money.  No regrets there. 

I have to admit, I have long wanted to see York.  The cathedral, the old town, the Viking museum:  I wanted to stay days and days and really take it all in.  We set up the tent by the loveliest little river imaginable a few miles outside town.  The plan was to stroll into town and take a bus back.  Well, we never once left the campsite once we settled in.  Those were our last few days in the Snug Bug, and that had a greater pull than York Minster.  

Here’s where the Near Strangers come in.  Long, long ago, early in the trip, we literally ran into another RTW family in a hostel in Queenstown, NZ.  That family, the Price’s, kept an excellent, timely (hpm-hpm) blog which I read every chance I had (as should you:   After our meeting we stayed loosely in touch, and they invited us to come for a visit if our itineraries allowed.  So, strangers?  Not really.  Friends?  Well, they are now.   Tim and Kirsten and I stayed up late comparing notes and swapping  tales and discovering one freaky coincidence after another.  Ready?  In addition to the biggie ( finding ourselves with our children on the opposite side of the world in the same hostel on the same day at the same minute, obviously!), we both own really old houses on High Streets, we both had (or have, in our case) a cat named Phoebe, and there was one other one I forget.  It was quite late.  Anyway, it was fated.  I love those guys.  

One of the many kindnesses they showed us was helping me to get the car listed on eBay.   Kirsten gaped but held back the tears as the contents of our car were disgorged into her entryway.  She gamely helped me to sort, repack and donate our stuff.  And we are talking PILES of crap.  And Tim did such a top-notch job guiding me through the car listing that it sold in five days for more than I paid for it.   I’m still smiling about that. 

We loaded up (a much reduced load, mind) with a few days to go before we could burst into Lucy and Thomas’s lives again.   We had just enough time to zip down to Cornwall to visit a family we met while camping in New Zealand. 

Now, of all the omissions of this blog, and they are legion, I just did a quick search and nowhere have I mentioned these folks.  That is shocking.  Rory really made these friends for us.  We were in the very south of New Zealand, camping on Purakanui Bay at a Department of Conservation site (kind of like a National Park, but no park or facilities).   Rich and Fiona and their girls were on a five or six-week trip over from England, and we all, kids and grown-ups, and Rich, hit it off right away.  Our evening watching sea lions frolic while the kids danced in the sand for joy is one of our highlights of the whole year.  Not only that, but we showed up on their doorstep in April, and they showed us a fine time.  We drove across Cornwall to see the sun set over their favorite beach, and when we go home they opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  The best part?  Unbeknowgst to them it was my birthday  

You can see how we headed straight back for a repeat.  In the interim they had had the good sense and amazing fortune to move from town to their favorite beach, so we got to see them in a new setting.  Thanks, Rich and Fiona and Edie and Megan and Ruby.  You guys are super star.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me tomorrow…  stay tuned.


December 28, 2010

Celtic Camping: I Can’t Recommend It

Filed under: children, food, Great Britain, Ireland, weather — midway2go @ 11:22 am

Two weeks in Ireland, a week each in Oban and the Isle of Skye in Scotland, followed by three sensible nights in an Inverness hostel and a visit to the Pilbeam family, themselves veteran world travellers ( and fabulous hosts who live just outside Edinburgh.  Can I recommend camping in damp countries whose high temperatures in August nudge 67?     Heavens, no.  We nearly froze.  Camping with two children is nothing like experiencing the pubs of Ireland (the only place in that green land where it never rains) or the castle B&B’s of Scotland.  Still… 

We scared ourselves silly (okay, I scared myself) hiking the Cliffs of Moher.    At the National Heritage Living Museum (or some such thing) in Ireland Rory learned his name means “Red King,” and for days he would only come when so called.  We had hours of fun poking numb fingers into tidal pools where the Cuillins ease into the sea.   We were shocked by the violence and passion of “The Troubles” bubbling right on the surface  in Derry (and I was shocked to find I had booked us into a B&B just a few door down from a police station which had been bombed the previous week.  Oops).   Anne Pilbeam’s chocolate mousse cups are legend in our house, and Ian’s tales of Sammy the Seal turned out to be true (he looked like a giant aquatic dog).    We walked the moors of Culloden on the anniversary of the day Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Glenfinnian to reclaim his father’s throne.   At the Scottish National Museum (one of the best we saw anywhere, by the way) we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the emigration stories.   An interactive display asked you to imagine you were leaving home, maybe forever, and we found that quite easy to do…  And we tell and retell every story Mr. Noel told us while we camped at the charming Alie River Hostel in Doolin.   So, cold?  Yep.  Heaps of lasting memories?   Well, the Red King hasn’t forgotten yet, and the requests for Irish Stew just keep coming.

December 23, 2010

Christmas Card Conundrum

Filed under: children, Food Allergies, France, travel — midway2go @ 11:00 am

Here’s the conundrum: I can send out Christmas cards (late, but, still…) and mention the blog, or I can use that time to update the blog, but then I can’t mention my newly updated blog in the cards because I don’t have time to send them.

Solution? I’ll take it one country at a time and keep it simple.  How about a few photos and no long, rambling stories?  Do I hear a hearty chorus of “Thank God”s out there?  Gee, thanks.   So, here they are,  highlights from France:  the Loire River (so much more interesting than the valley), Paris (from our miniscule balcony we watched the lights twinkle from Sacre Coeur across the skyline to the Eiffel Tower and beyond) Versailles (where we zipped through the Chateau to spend hours riding bikes through the gardens- Nora mastered the two-wheeler there!), and an evening spent watchng the sun set at Mont St. Michel.   Even without bread and cheese France is something like heaven.

August 5, 2010

Can’t go home again? Well, we tried.

Filed under: animals, children, Germany — midway2go @ 6:29 am

Here’s are the photos.  Words to follow when I can find them!

July 14, 2010

Rome for three, hold the pizza

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 3:20 am

July 1, 2010

The Happy Wonders of Agriturismo

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 5:09 am

We left Palau and ended up almost by accident in Cala Gonone, a town nestled into the base of a mountain on a gulf dotted with stunning  beaches and coves accessable only by boat.  Talk about happy accidents.  And what could make this one have an even happier ending?   How about an agriturismo perched on the side of a mountain with massive tent pitches?   The idea of an agriturismo is to have a working farm offer rooms (or tent space) to tourists.   The tourists get to see a farm up close, and the farm gets extra income.  This farm was well-known for serving up amazing dinners, family style.  The kind woman who ran the show (Signora McDonald?) didn’t bat an eye when I said we couldn’t have any gluten.  She barely flinched when I added milk and cheese to the no-no list.  I could hardly bring myself to mention my being a vegetarian, but I did, and she handled this final blow with grace and dignity.  She informed me that they couldn’t serve me fish, since all the meals featured the products from their farm, that they could only offer me an egg dish for my main plate.  I was thrilled.  A seafood reprieve!   We beamed at each other, Rory and her sons discovered that Pokemon transcends language, and a friendship was born.

Rory and Nora and I spent the next day taking a boat service from beach to beach.  The water was incredible.  The beaches were mostly white rocks, not sand, which hurt horribly climbing in and out of the steep surf, but didn’t cling and linger on our towel.  We spent a happy hour doing “math,” grouping and regrouping the beautiful jellybean-like rocks there by the sea.  

As fun as that was, my favorite memories will center around the food.    Both nights we started with an antipasti, marinated eggplant and roasted peppers for me, prociutto and other meaty delicacies for Rory and Nora.  Along with these came the best olives I’ve ever had.  I know, I know, I’ve said that before.  Still…   after that came, the first night, a simple pasta in a tomato sauce.  It was delicious.  So delicious,in fact, that when we weren’t served it the second night, Rory sat at the table and cried.  Really, it was that good.   Just look at those big, sad brown eyes.   The first night Rory and Nora were served braised “cabra.”  Nora didn’t care for it and swiped my fritata, but Rory polished off his and hers, raving about the complex flavor that reminded him of cheese.  He said it like meat from heaven covered with melted cheese.  I thought, after that, that he wouldn’t mind being told it was goat, and he didn’t, although he was sad to think it would be hard to find back home.  The second night we had the best lentil soup I’ve ever had, and I know beans.   After we ate we were summoned around back to see Signor McDonald roasting some suckling pigs by an open fire.  After fruit and coffee they came around with a digestivo,  mirto, a Sardinian liquor, like concentrated red wine syrup.  Monumental meals, both.  This may be the pentacle of camping.  We slept without our rain flap, under  a full moon as orange as freshly squeezed juice.  In the early morning I awoke  to the deep rumbling of bells as the sheep were brought to their breakfast.  All day we shuttled from one amazing beach to the next, and came back to a meal that was local, fresh, and delicious.   Possibly the rest of our camping life will  be, well, less.  Such a burden to live with.

June 29, 2010

Big Rocks by the Sea

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 7:05 am

Question:  What’s more fun than beautiful, swimmable sea?

Answer:    Beautiful, swimmable sea plus great climbing rocks!

Last week we floated across the Mediterranean on a ferry from Barcelona to the Italian island of Sardinia. Well, it’s heaven. We’re camping in Palau, on the northeastern corner in a busy part of the island called the Costa Smeralda.  Our campsite is surrounded by huge granite boulders and overlooks a tiny little inlet teeming with sea creatures. Rory spends all his time 30 feet off the ground, scampering around rocks and hiding from the sun and wind in a little cave he found, tucked into the side of a rock wall.   Nora filled up her bucket with sea snails, hermit crabs, and loads of kelp, before commandeering my dish pan and graduating to sea urchins and jellyfish.  She managed to catch five jellyfish before we learned that the gorgeous pink ones give a nasty sting.  She escaped unharmed.  An Italian named Aldo took us under his tutelage, and we learned all about urchins.  We sat there by the edge of the sea and ate the creamy orange eggs straight from the shell.  Then he took Rory out snorkeling to show him where to find them.   No wonder we came, planning to stay a couple of nights, and stayed a week.

June 22, 2010

Having a Ball at the Guggenheim

Filed under: children, homeschooling, Spain — midway2go @ 4:27 pm

Okay, I’d read all the stuff about the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  I read about the building’s  being so much better than the collection.  I read about the programs for children at the museum (plenty in Euskara and Castillian, nothing in English the day we went).  I read about the revival of the city.  I even read about how you shouldn’t go to the museum just becasue that’s all foreigners come to Bilbao to see (didn’t quite get the logic there).   What I did not read about is the amazing playground opposite the museum or how great for kids some of the installations are.  A permanent series of works by Richard Serra called The Matter of Time had us talking about memory and about how the past runs into the future and all while sounding for echoes and racing through those enormous steel structures that seem to close in over you then open up and wrap around on themselves.  Very cool.  One of my favorite moments happened in the exhibition of Anish Kapoor’s work.  He is an artist who does all kinds of stuff, like designing the Cloudgate in Chicago and a roomfull of what he calls modern ruins and what Rory and Nora and I thought looked like, well, piles of poop.  Anyway,  before he did Cloudgate he had been working with voids, these half-egg shapes that looked like velvety nothingness inside.  After that he became interested in a medium that reflected everything back out, that sent all the light and energy back, but changed.  Basically, he made really beautiful funhouse mirrors. 

Rory and Nora could have spent all day in there.  It was like the Mirror Maze at Wookie Hole, but so much better.  I watched this guy get in front of one of the mirrors and kind of  bob his head to one side, then the other.  Then a woman stood there doing graceful plies, like ballet class.  All very self-aware.   Well, Nora and Rory got up there and did it all: head-bobbing, bending, the works.  They  danced the robot; they did the Egyptian; they got down on the floor to see how it looked from the bottom.  And every adult in the room looked on, grinning,  probably wishing, like I was, that I could see what they were seeing.   Everyone, that is, but the guard, who stood by, arms crossed, making sure they maintained their distance from the surface.     It was great.  I hope Kapoor knows the pure joy he gave the world with those pieces, and I hope he enjoyed them half as much as we did.

June 20, 2010

Father’s Day and Rainy Days

Filed under: children, Spain, weather — midway2go @ 6:18 am
Well, it’s Father’s Day, and while the kids and I have sent our private greetings to our important dads I thought it was worth noting here.  Any more holidays and this blog will turn into a living calendar, which isn’t very interesting.  So, time for a flashback to Galicia…
We woke up to rolling gray clouds and wind, happy to be warm and dry in our hotel in Finsterra.  On an old plastic tricycle Rory  Nora took turns careening down the path in front of the hotel, making a ninety degree turn halfway down that more times than not spilled them off into the grass, screaming with pleasure. Good thing they had a chance to get some energy out; we had in store for us one of the most draining car days in the history of the automobile. We were off to explore the Costa da Morte, the Coast of Death, the backcorners of Galicia, already the backwater of Spain, which is, you might say, the backwater of western Europe. None of the three maps I had showed enough detail to make sense of the small tracks branching off from the unlined road we found ourselves on. We drove in circles, popping out to follow a cove around, but then to lose the road to the tip of the cape only to find ourselves facing a t-intersection, both ends of which led to towns we’d already driven through.

Do you like my use of the royal We? It was all my fault I didn’t know where I was going. If they’re no help navigating at least they don’t criticize, either. Rory and Nora had no idea we were driving in concentric circles all over the northeastern corner of Spain. They sat happily doodling in their books, listening to a Harry Potter audiobook on the iPod, trying to ignore my wild muttering. We passed some pink signs that promised the “Route of the Dolmens,” so off we went, chasing down stones marked on my Tourist Map of the Costa de Morte as islands in blue, nowhere near roads. We drove down the secondary roads, to terciary roads, then on gravel tracks, tracking down these Galician cousins to Stonehenge and the mighty standing stones of the north. Over dinners and around cafe tables I’ve been telling the kids stories from the Outlander series, by Diana Galbaldon, which center around travelling through time by passing through standing stones. This has really peaked Rory and Nora’s interest, and willingness, to drive for ages in mist and rain to look for old rocks.

We finally chased down what had to be the final track to the “Dolmen de Pedra Cuberta,” or the dolmen of the covered stone. We turned off the gravel road through a valley, surrounded by small plots of cleared land running up the sides of the hills. A path, barely wide enough for a car, bumped along, weeds and rocks scraping under the car, puddles from days of rain obscuring the tire ruts. Finall, after maybe 300 yards, my faith in the quasi-all wheel driveness of the Green Eel found its end, and we stopped. On foot! I cried, and, glad to be out of the car, Rory and Nora tromped on, pushing through tall wet grasses and quickly learning to avoid a low but violently prickly weed. Even I was beginning to have a hard time seeing this adventure as, well, fun, as the path dribbled away to almost nothing. I noted that the couple of farmers working in the valley sure were doing a lot of yelling. Gradually I noticed that some of it seemed to be directed to our side of the hill. Twenty feet on I thought, Gosh, it seems like he might even be yelling at us. So, there we stood, on a hill in the rain, trying to decipher screamed Spanish on the wind. I tried hollering back, “Are you talking to us?” which made the tiny little figure in the distance more animated. Were we walking on landmines? Was this hollow ground? Was this place protected by a fierce little band of Galician farmers, all wearing navy wool sweaters and funny black hats and wielding hoes, some rural Knights Templar? If so, why lure tourists here with the funny pink signs? Finally I made out that all the action was at the beginning of the path, back where we came from. I screamed my thanks, and we headed down, past the parked car, all the way to where we first turned off the road. There they were, huddled together against time. I will say that, though obviously less grand than the more celebrated stones circles that I’ve visited in Britain and Brittany, these guys really had their pull. They are so much a part of nature, not small but almost invisible at first, but definately placed,very on-purpose. Rory and Nora had a go at time-travel (too far from Beltane, thank goodness), and we toyed with the idea of a Covered Stone Family Picnic, but Rory said it felt disrespectful, so we slogged our way back to the Green Eel, tore down the wet path in reverse and slid out of there, back on the trail of pink signs and ancient connections.

We found one more grouping, without the help of the Farmers’ Local, and were foiled twice by tracks turned into lakes. By the time we crossed the main road I had had enough of small scale sightseeing and was ready to get on up the road. We finally fed onto a highway and got caught up in something like rush hour in A Coruna just before 4pm. Maybe a mad rush in the rain to get back to work from siesta? Not very traditional, surely. We made it through the city and, at last, into the part of Galicia known as the Rias Altas, the High Rivers, where the highest cliffs in Europe stand above the crashing Atlantic, where massive rivers carve the land into fingers reaching out to sea. I had been looking forward to this for a long, long time. I thought we’d stand at lookouts, cooing happily, then tuck into a rural hotel and have a nice big fishy dinner. We headed up, off the main road again, only to find that the weather was getting uglier and uglier. Little streams began to run parallel to the road. Once or twice they crossed the road to fall away down the opposite shoulder. Our road was climbing up to mount those massive cliffs, and I started to get a little uneasy. Twice we drove through enough water to make me nervous, nothing dangerous, but a couple of inches that had me creeping along. Near the top our way was blocked by a couple of work trucks cleraing a tree that had blocked the road. I asked one of the men if they road was closed. No, it was open. I asked if it was dangerous. Yes, it was. I asked did it get better from here? No, worse. We turned around. We drove the long way around, only to find that in the closest town to the cape whole stretches of the main road were under water. One of the tiny little cars, the kind they have here that runs on a moped engine and only merits a tiny little moped-size license plate, was stuck, quickly becoming stranded. It was then I gave up on traipsing around the cape. In this weather we’d be more likely to be blown over the edge or go down the maginificent cliffs in a mudslide. No, in this mild hurricane we’d just keep driving.

We found haven just south of Viveiro in a beautiful 15th century manor house-turned-hotel. The next morning the road we had driven through was on the front page of the regional newspaper; it had worsened through the evening until it was a river running through the town. I saved a clipping. We spent two nights at the Pazo del Trave, and although I hate to have missed the views from the Rias Altas I did enjoy the quiet and the rest I found there, and now I have a great excuse for bringing Brandon back!

 We spent a couple of nights there, hiding out from the rain and making good use of the wifi to plan our next few moves.  We drove five hours along the coast, out of Galicia and into Asturias.  We spent a great afternoon a the Museum of the Altamira.  The caves of Altamira were inhabited more than 18,000 years ago, and folks lived in them off and on for thousands of years until a landslide blocked the entrance about 4000 years ago.   When the caves were reiscovered in the late 1800’s, th first scientists to go in bevlieved the paintings they saw there to be a hoax.  The colors were too vivid; the perspective and execution, too avanced to be authentic.  Further study proved these paintings to be genuine paleolithic art, justabout as good as it gets (or as good as we’ve found so far!)  THe cave itself is closed to the public, but a “Neocave” was built in the museum, all the bumps and crags of the cave, faithfully rendered, with none of the damp and chill of the real thing.  We had visited the Pileta Cave in Andaluscia, with much simpler paintings from abouthe same time frame.  While the paintings were less elaborate I loved the experience of climbing up to the cave entrance, then following the slick rock path down past the stalagmites and stalactites dripping with water, watching the shadows throw by the gas lanterns.  I found it really easy to imagine sheltering my family through the long cold ice age winters there.  The Neocave, on the other hand, was pretty slick.  The rest of the museum was amazing and answered lots of questions we had about life 15,000 ago.  We spent four happy hours there, then headed back into the pouring rain.

Our next stop was Santillana del Mar, a medieval town so well preserved that our usually reserved Lonely Planet guidebook gushes on and on, claiming it looks like a movie set.  Well, it would have to be a movie involoving lots of animals lined up two by two… 


June 17, 2010

Ten Years in Barcelona?

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain — midway2go @ 5:50 am

I found a Will Shortz book of crossword puzzles at our last hotel, and I´m feeling the effects…   Today is mine and Brandon´s tenth anniversary!  And Rory and Nora and I are in Barcelona!  Is that a good clue, or what?  

We´re in an internet cafe off the Ramblas, the street in Europe where you are most likely to have something stolen right off  you.  This is my own opinion, based on years of antecdotes and thumbing through guidebooks.  I´m typing with my backpack in my lap, so we´ll make this quick and save photos for later.  We surprised ourselves by catching the bus this morning from the campground 10 miles north of town.  Rory and Nora said we wouldn´t be up in time…  We´ve turned into nightowls here in Spain.  We strolled through the market and had a fabulous breakfast at a stall in the back.  I had fried eggs with fried potatoes, Nora had  slice of Tortilla de Patatas with some zucchini, and Rory had filet mignon with potatos.  He´d been looking thin again since his last growth spurt, and I think the refried beens and lentils for days on end weren´t satisfying our growing Jethro.   I can see how having  a teenage boy could get expensive. 

We´re off to visit yet another aquarium, although I think we just saw most of the ocean for sale on ice in the market.  We´ll stroll around, stop for coffee, look at the living statues, but all the time I´ll be thinking of ten years ago, a roomful of family and friends, and Brandon.   Happy Anniversary!

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