Europe in a dash

Of course the aim of this one year trip was to spend most of our time in India. Due to my injurious delay we ended up in the UK in the summer school holidays which rendered nearly all travel prohibitively expensive. So, when the month ticked over it was time to be off to visit friends in Europe.

Part 1: Sicily

First off the list were Mick and Kath in Sicily. Out first experience with Ryanair wasn’t too bad. There was a big delay by the time we flew into Comiso. The car rental queue was not so much very long but very slow and took over an hour. Poor Mick and Kath endured the wait with us. By the time we set off in convoy it was around midnight. We had to park the car one side of the river and all pile into the Toyota Landcruiser to make the last leg to the farmhouse. It had changed massively since our last visit in January 2014. The inside looked fabulous and we were treated to a brilliant bean and vegetable stew by Kath all harvested from the land around. The kitchen had been done really well and main room was beautifully homely, of course decorated with many Afghan and Moroccan homewares and furniture. The real bugbear has been the electricity which is still to be connected. There is a generator that provides part time power but solar, and therefore full-time power, is still in the pipeline.

Waking the next morning allowed us to appreciate the beautiful setting. Jackie, having been mauled by mozzies during the night was keen to move to the ‘matchbox’ (their small flat) in Modica. Kath had to be in the UK the next day for work so took the bus to the airport. The matchbox had also changed a bit in that the last time we saw it, it was being pretty much used as a storeroom. It is very compact but a nice space. The mezzanine bedroom area works really well despite the occasional head knock. Parking was easy in the town but as usual in Modica there was a bit of an uphill walk to get to the matchbox.

Mick needed to devote much of his attention to the other bugbear of the farmhouse, the river. It had decided to destroy much of the ford in one of its bad moods. This had led to Mick’s early departure from the UK to fix it. There had been a trail of nuisance in getting the materials and lining up the labour to help fix it.

We used the time to do some further exploring and top of our list were the legendary mosaics of Piazza Armerina. Luckily, Mick and Kath’s friend and local real estate personality Ramsay, had advised us that the satnav would lead us to the middle of a field if we used it. He was bang on for that one as that’s where we ended up before having to use old school techniques like following signs. Easier said than done but we arrived there reasonably early (again advice from Ramsay) and beat much of the increasing loads of coaches that seemed to bring only crowds of old people. The mosaics were quite amazing and those with the wild animals and the bikini girls were a great source of fascination.

The following day we had a late afternoon drive to Pozzallo and finally a splash in the Med. We did some exploring on the south coast seaside towns the next day. It was a pretty coastline, but the towns often were littered with deserted buildings that were a bit of an eyesore on the drive. Eating out was excellent and of course reasonably priced. Laura and Oriol from Spain arrived after the second day with a strong desire to stay at one of the yurts on the farm. The threatening deluge of rain never eventuated so the farm was never cut off as predicted and the ford was repaired. There is a hell of a lot of work that has gone into the farm and I have to say I would no longer have the energy or at least the desire to undertake a project like that. It has been an adventure for them and I think life should be nothing but an adventure.

Part 2: Malta

There is always a lot of fuss involved with flying, especially the 25 minute flight to Malta from Comiso. After locating the car hire people (not that easy despite having an office at Luqa Airport) my first surprise was that they drive on the left. I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a breeze after driving in Italy where there is a certain ‘style’ to driving that I am pretty used to now. One thing I am not used to however is their occasional suicidal acts of overtaking on blind bends. Nuts.

We stayed in an Airbnb in a lovely part of the capital, Birgu which is across the harbour from Valetta but part of the same network of cities (I think).  The second surprise on arriving at the accommodation was that they use British power plugs. We were rather unprepared for that as we had come equipped with European ones and left the British ones in Epsom. Reminder to do more research on coming to a new country next time. Birgu was delightful with narrow cobbled streets and houses with colourful balconies.

We drove the next morning to Rabat where there are lovely walls and streets as well. We visited the extensive catacombs which were interesting. There is some nice coastline on the island and the good weather meant there were still plenty of tourists. That meant crowded beaches. European style beaches mostly with the usual set up of deckchairs and umbrellas. Give me an Aussie beach any day.

Much of the main island is fairly barren with few trees and lots of rocks. The coast is better. We had a swim at the Blue Grotto on the south coast. A lovely setting but the swimming area reminded more of Clovelly in Sydney. Much of the walled towns have a Game of Thrones feel and I know it has been used as a location for that series including the neighbouring island of Gozo. While I like the series, I wasn’t particularly bothered about hunting out locations. It was great to take a small boat across the harbour to Valetta. The highlight for me was the palace armoury museum which had a quite amazing collection of armour and old weapons. After three days we flew for the first time on EasyJet back to Gatwick. On previous trips to Europe I had avoided these budget airlines as I had been able to get similar fares on Air France and British Airways.

Part 3: Ireland

Two days after getting back to London we were on our way to Ireland. We took off in bright sunshine and flew over Wales (also in bright sunshine). I was glad I had been allocated a window seat and had to evict a grumpy old Irish woman who had occupied it. Stuff you entitled old git.

We were originally going to stay with Siobhan and Bill, but he is quite ill now and their house was having government sponsored modifications made so we stayed in an Airbnb a bit out of Kilkenny. It was great to catch up – especially Jackie and Shove getting some girl time together. We did a limited amount of sightseeing. Kilkenny Castle and some of the surrounding countryside. Of course, there was the well documented (on social media) visit to Tipperary – not much to see there and down to Waterford. Ireland was a bit more multicultural than I expected. Especially a town like Waterford where there were all manner of races and nationalities noticeably present in the street. In the centre of Dublin there was little evidence of anyone even speaking English in the street. A pleasant city but it didn’t grab me especially. Probably more for the young and those out for a drinking good time.

Part 4: Spain

Well always one of the favourites. This time we didn’t really travel anywhere but completely chilled out in Denia. The place was largely devoid of tourists and pleasantly quiet. I was chuffed to get a near new Ford SUV for a week for the grand price of £45! I’ve been amazed at some of the prices of rentals. We had a Ford Fiesta for 3 days from Gatwick for £14.50! I’m at a loss to know how they make money.

The area of Spain is so familiar to us. It was good to meander around and of course spend time with Phil and Mara. We had some great lunches and a more than a few laughs. It’s always good to return to our second European home. We climbed the Montgo – that is Phil, Jackie and me. I had done it before we left Denia in the 90’s when I almost ran up it. I took a more sedate pace this time. It was relatively easy to climb and we were cooled by the brisk north wind. It would be a bit harder in full sun and heat. The hard part was coming down. We went over the other side towards Xabia and eventually to the town of Jesus Pobre. It was a bit of a hard one for me. I had worn sandals as were the best footwear for my readjusted toe. The route down the other side had quite a different surface with some razor-sharp rocks on the path and it required care to not lose footing. Falling over would have involved shedding blood. The view over the coast was great. Going downhill was always going to be a test of me knee and foot and so it proved to be. My knee was in a fair deal of discomfort by the time we reached to road at Jesus Pobre. It was frustrating as it took away some of the pleasure of the walk and reminded me of the toll of the passing years and accumulated injuries. We resolved to come and spend three months on the Costa Blanca at some point and venture to the north west of Spain which I have wanted to see for years. It’s always a case of being there reminding you of what a lovely place it is. Coming back to Gatwick I went from left hand drive automatic SUV to right hand drive Golf seamlessly. It’s less of a challenge the more you do it – the brain just clicks over.

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