To sum it all up.

We have been home now for a month and what a busy month it has been, we had 2 weeks in Auckland seeing friends and family and then we moved to Hamilton where I started my new job on moving day. Mr Logistics (Mike) organised the move, unpacked the boxes and organised our new and temporary home. We finally have wifi – as opposed to 1GB on our phone so now it’s blogging time!

 

2015 was quite a year and here is a summary.

  • 50 weeks
  • 34 flights
  • 20 countries
  • 13 languages
  • 7 workaways
  • 3 experiences of volunteering in SE Asia
  • 6,000 ish photos
  • numerous bus trips, boat trips and a few train trips
  • 6 different underground systems
  • 7 different sim cards and anyone’s free wifi that we could find.
  • We swam in the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, the Atlantic (well paddle) the Mediterranean Sea, Miller Lake (Ontario), Crystal Lake (Michigan) and more pools than we can count.

Here’s a few things we learnt

  • You don’t need a big backpack, everywhere we went was suitable for a suitcase, so 3 months into our trip we swapped backpacks for 4 wheel cases. SUCH A GOOD IDEA, after all we are 53 and 55 not 23 and 25. From here on in we used 4 cases, 2 large and 2 cabin size, they had 4 wheels each, TSA locks and were hard cases. Our brand was Wimbledon, they didn’t cost a fortune but weren’t dirt cheap. Thanks KL for such good shopping. These cases made it home and while they have knocks and scratches we are proud of they still have plenty of life left in them.
  • Katmandu packing cells are brilliant. When you are in and out of a suitcase for a year these were a great idea for being organised.
  • Sat Nav is a tool but not the only tool, ours is a Garmen and was really useful but you still need to double check on a paper map or on your phone. However, don’t rely on your phone as you may find yourself without internet. Our satnav was capable of taking us up some interestingly narrow and windy roads that may be shorter in theory but are definitely longer in reality. Check on a map first.
  • I bought a good quality pashmina in KL and it turned out to be one of the best things I bought all year. If you can buy one, spend as much money as you can afford. They cover you up when needed eg temples, they cover you up when you are cold eg as a scarf or shawl, they double as a blanket on a plane and they can dress up a very basic outfit when needed. Mine is 90% pashmina (wool from the neck of a goat, it is finer than cashmere) and 10% silk. A good quality one feels very soft, can fold up very small and its creases will drop out when hung. Remember if the price seems to good to be true it probably is. Buy one from a reputable dealer and bargin.
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The mighty pashmina used as a scarf in Ireland
  • Buy shoes that work for you. You will most likely spend hours on your feet and well fitting shoes make such a difference.
  • We booked almost all our flights through google flights, listen to local advice and be prepared to spend a lot of time organising flights. If you are travelling on a budget this is the price you pay. Remember not all airlines are on google flights so sometimes you need to look elsewhere.
  • Most of our accommodation was sourced using booking.com We quickly got to ‘genius level’ which gave us great discounts and booking.com has accommodation at all levels in all countries. Remember that things vary from country to country, luxury accommodation in Asia is cheaper than basic accommodation in London or Paris. Just because it says B and B doesn’t mean you will get breakfast. Some of our best accommodation was in smaller hotels and in the ‘old city’.  Free breakfast is great, you fill up and don’t need to eat for hours (good for the budget).
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Our gorgeous hotel in KL Ramada Plaza
  • On the subject of free breakfasts. This is a touchy topic and you often have to regard this as a fuel stop not a gourmet experience. We have had breakfasts that vary greatly in quality, rubbery eggs, cold meats and cheese, curried chicken, fried noodles, rice porridge, fluffy white overly sweet bread, reconstituted milk, cardboard like waffles, the list goes on. I truly feel sorry for the hotels who are trying to produce breakfasts that suit all tastes. No one wins really, just regard it as a fuel stop and fill up. Save the real food experiences for later in the day.
  • Instead of going to the well known places seek out the similar but less known eg we have been to Stonehenge before and this time we went to the Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire. Truly amazing, in a small village and not a lot of tourists. Don’t queue for the Louvre and stand in a crowd to see the Mona Lisa, see other equally impressive museums or art galleries at a fraction of the price or better still free eg Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Barcelona)  which is huge and your ticket lasts 2 days or try the smaller Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow or the V & A in London.
  • workaway experiences made a great year even more memorable. Workaway gives you the opportunity to live like a local. Workaway experiences vary and even the not so good ones give you the opportunity to learn something about a place and its people. We would highly recommend this as a way to travel. We met some truly interesting and generous people we hope to see again one day.  We got to work on a Scottish estate, pick blackberries in the Slieve Bloom mountains (Ireland) eat pizza in a piazza in Mantova (Italy) make glass and perfect our nail gun skills in Devon and try a slice of life in Malaga (Spain).
  • If possible don’t over plan your trip. Allowing for a bit of freedom means you can say yes when a golden opportunity presents its self. This is how we got to volunteer in a school in the Cameron Highlands, or go to Malta

So our overall impressions? This was a great idea, it wasn’t all easy, it wasn’t cheap but we discovered things about ourselves and each other we didn’t know eg I’m not that good on a motor scooter and Mike can mend a dislocated thumb, what Mike and I have is something special, we  survived with very few disagreements and our marriage is stronger than ever.  We discovered that there are some very, very good people out there making a difference; read more here, here and here .

In New Zealand we actively encourage our young people to take off and see the world but I would recommend you do it again in your 50’s. You see it with older eyes and with experienced minds. We have a different perspective on many things now and the adventures have not come to an end. Consequently we have taken off to a job in a new city, we are meeting new people and finding new places to visit. Most of the time we stayed between one and three weeks in a place and it is now week 3 in Hamilton and I wonder if we should be packing our bags and moving on……mmm not just yet!

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This is my photo of the year, taken in Puy l’Eveque, France at about 9pm after a meal at a local galette cafe. Happy memories

The blog will continue, I am going to share food and recipes that I have gathered as we have travelled. I hope you will continue this journey with us!

 

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The lost, the lonely, the little and the least.

We started our adventures this year by doing volunteer work with the Marist Fathers in Asia, specifically in Ranong, Thailand. It seemed logical to us to finish our year with them but this time we went to Davao in the Philippines.20150205-_DSC4543

The Fathers here are involved in a number of ministries and in true Marist form they are working with the lost, the lonely, the little and the least. They are involved with prison ministry and this is where we had our Christmas mass, not one we will forget in a hurry, the jail is a remand centre and prisoners can be here for many years. The women’s jail is smaller and contains small ‘houses’. The men’s jail is in two sections, the main part where there are over 1,000 men sleeping in small rooms with as many as 40 to a room. The other section, the annex, is where we went, it is for prisoners who are elderly (here that means over 50!), sick or are at risk of further abuse eg they are gay or transgender or foreign. It was an eye opener to be here, the interaction between the guards and the prisoners was positive and they all seemed happy to see us. In fact Fr Pat, Mike and I became the judges for the best Christmas decorations for each cell group. That night nearly all the Marist fathers were at the prison in one section or another.

The other big piece of work undertaken by the Marist Fathers is a home for street boys aged 5-15. It is called Balay Pasilungan, which means ‘house of shelter’. It was started in 1989 by the Marist Fathers and the Marist Sisters have been involved also.

Currently there are 40 boys at Balay Pasilungan, their backgrounds vary but all have been living on the streets. Some were foundlings, abandoned at birth, one abandoned by his mother in the market when he was a toddler, one was so severely beaten by his father that he had sustained head injuries and a broken leg that has never healed well, 3 brothers who were found in such a malnourished state that one even had worms in his nose, one was a glue sniffer and came to the home after two years in drug rehab facility that the Marist Sisters are involved with, he is only 12 now. When they come they take a while to adjust to this centre but the love they are shown wins them over.

Fr Long sm is the head of this home and the boys clearly love him, almost as much as he loves them. A very special man.

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The centre has a number of people working with the boys, social workers, house parents, cook, laundry help – the amount of washing created by 40 boys is breathtaking. Much of the life here is communal, the boys and staff eat together, the boys all go to school, many are barely literate but an education is seen as a priority.

There is time allocated to ensuring the boys health needs are cared for, they are learning about healthy eating and taking care of themselves. Sr Sheila sm was a dentist before joining the Marists and she works to ensure good dental hygiene happens.

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Sr Shelia sm

The boys sleep together in one room, originally they slept on the floor which is a common way of sleeping here but government regulations now require the boys to have a bed. When the boys first arrive most are unfamiliar with a bed and will sleep on the floor under the bed. When on the street they sleep together in a huddle for safety and this practice often continues here, one child per bed is not an experience the boys are familiar with. Consequently if one boy gets sick it can spread very quickly, dengue fever is present here and is very serious, particularly in these small boys.

Like children the world over there a scraps and fights that occur but these boys come from such poor backgrounds and have had very little parenting so they are having to relearn how to deal with their anger. This is hard and emotionally draining work. They are now learning to use restorative practice in solving their disputes.

The Marist fathers help the boys re-connect with their families where this is possible. Some have been successfully re-united but this is not always the case. We went out with some boys just before Christmas to do family visits. The homes are in slums or shanty towns, one was on the edge of the dump and the family make money by scavenging and reselling what they collect. These photos show some of the better homes.

By and large these boys are resilient and they respond to the love, care and discipline they are shown.  A few years ago when one of the many typhoons to hit the Philippines caused devastation near Davao, the boys wanted to share the very limited goods they owned. This Christmas the boys were involved with helping a group who distributed goods to the indigenous mountain people who come down into Davao each Christmas. Also visiting at this time was a group of girls from the Marist Sisters College in Woolich, Sydney. Amazing young women who just gave and gave. Small groups of boys also go out with Fr Long and distribute food to street kids.

The photos we have are limited, we stand out already because we are European, Mike stands head and shoulders above most people. It just feels rude to take a photograph of the slum homes or to take photos of the children begging in the streets, knocking on your car window asking for money. There are success stories from Balay Pasilungan, there was a celebration recently, 25 years since the centre opened. Some of the past boys came back and shared their stories with the current boys, while not every story ends happily many of these men have done well, they have steady employment, have married and become the father that they wished they had had themselves.

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Take a moment to read the sign!

The poverty here is like nothing we have seen before. My mother heart is tugged in so many directions. Even though aspects of this visit have been challenging we are so glad we came and had our eyes opened to how some people live. The work of the Marist fathers in both Thailand and the Philippines is a real mission and it is inspiring to meet such incredible people who are committed to this work and happy in their own lives.

 

Tis the season

Advent is almost over, Christmas is nearly here! That means our year of wandering is nearly over so it seems timely to have a look back at the year. Warning: I will be doing more look backs!

The four weeks of Advent each have a theme so that is how this blog will go. It was actually very hard to choose for some sections as there was so much choice!

Hope: we have been in some places this year that have really challenged us and it is in these very places that we saw signs of hope. The students we taught in Ranong. All the children of Burmese migrants living in Thailand have a tough life but for many the schooling they receive shows them that they can have a better life, steady employment and a more secure future.

Nancy is a young teacher at the school and takes such pride in her work and she shows such care for her young students. Nancy hopes to travel one day and asked so many questions about the world around her.

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Fr Frank Bird sm is the reason we came to Ranong, we (along with half of Auckland) were very sad to see him leave New Zealand but seeing him in Ranong you know he is in the right place, he has such a sense of hope about the work he is doing and the difference the Marists are making to these families.

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Syrian refugees have been prominent in the news this year. While we were in Germany this year staying with friends we saw a number of Syrian refugees. In a town near to where our friends live is a refugee camp which in September had twice as many people as it was designed to hold. Many of these people were out and about walking in family groups and with friends. Almost without exception they had smiles on their faces ‘we have made it, we are safe, there is hope’. Sorry no photos here.

Peace: Sadly when I spent time thinking about this blog peace was the element I found the hardest, however two came to mind.

Touzac: this was where we had our first workaway, it is in the Lot region in the South-West of France. Touzac is a small village in a largely rural area, the River Lot ran through the back of the property we worked on, the roads were narrow and windy and the pace of life a little slower. After our time in Asia and a quick trip in the south of England this place and its people were very peaceful.20150515-_DSC0472

Fr Pat Devlin sm: I first met Fr Pat in New Zealand and then again in Ranong, currently we are staying with him and his community in Davao in the Philippines. Fr Pat with his quick wit and keen sense of humour has taught us to slow down, enjoy the moment and to learn to wait ( and we have done a  lot of that this year!).

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Joy: We have had so many joyful experiences this year and met some truly joyful and joy-filled people.

We experienced joy meeting with some of our New Zealand friends as we travelled, Caroline on the Isle of Wight, Tamsin near Bristol, Caroline and Suzie in Barcelona, June in Rome, Pat and Robin in Canada, Ann and Phil in London, Steph in London, Fran and Gary in Paris, Sanet and Pete in Andover,  Judy and Derek in Verona, Cathy and Roland in Seville and Philomena in Ireland. Definitely eased the ‘homesickness’ to see our friends!

 

Rob and Stephanie: on our trip in Vietnam we met some great Kiwis who we hope to see again. Two of them were Rob and Stephanie. Our first night on a boat in Halong Bay was Stephanie’s birthday and it was also the day Rob asked Stephanie to marry him. What a joyful day!

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After three months in Asia and three months of rice and chilli every day and sometimes 2 0r 3 times a day, it was truly amazing to arrive at our relatives, Roy and Sue, in Eastbourne England to a shepherds pie. Never has mince and mashed potato tasted so good! One of my most memorable meals this year.20150428_160717

Sr Josephine: a young rmdm (Our Lady of the Mission) sister from Myanmar taught in the Marist Mission in Ranong, she was also our neighbour. Sr Josephine is such a happy person, she loves her vocation and spreads joy wherever she goes.

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Gillian at Bijou Wine: I met Gillian at one of the Christmas events I was at in Scotland. Gillian has traded in her corporate life to run her own business selling lovely wines and food, a travelling wine bar with a difference. Its not an easy life but one that she is loving, what an inspiring person!

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Love: We have met so much love as we travel, people in love with life, couples who love  each other, families who share their love willingly.

Carolynn and Geoffrey: Mike and I both have elderly parents, we were resigned to the fact that we stood a good chance of loosing one of them during this year. What we weren’t expecting was to loose a friend. Carolynn and Geoffrey would have celebrated 31 years of marriage in January. Sadly this year Geoffrey was diagnosed with cancer and with alarming speed his condition worsened and he died just a few weeks ago. This couple were a real team, supporting each other, sharing each others successes and raising three great children. Theirs is a really great love story.

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Sian and Jean-Pierre: our first workaway hosts, both in their 60s with five adult children. The love between these couple was very real and we will not forget our stay with them.

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Alexandra and David: our last workaway hosts, well actually we stayed with them twice. A couple who have taken on the herculean task of running a Scottish estate.

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Sr Margaret rndm: Sr Margaret works with the health team at the Marist Mission in Ranong visiting people who are HIV+. She treats each patient she sees as a member of her own family, she treats them with love and respect.20150225-_DSC5617

Mary and Joseph: a young couple who are Burmese refugees running a school in the Cameron Highlands. They treat each child like they are their own, in fact one young boy aged 13 has been abandoned by his parents and Joseph and Mary have applied to have legal guardianship of him.

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There are so many other stories we could tell, you will just have to wait for another blog!

We wish you a peaceful, joy-filled and loving Christmas filled with hope.

 

You could never tire of this view.

Overall we have spent seven weeks here on Monzie Estate, this has been spread over two different visits. It is the people who make this place special but without a doubt the breath-taking scenery is a real draw-card.  So here is a selection of photos from the Estate we chose to share with you. I think you can work out which ones come from Mike’s camera and which come from my Samsung A7.

The ever changing, yet never changing view from the farm house where we have lived with David and Alexandra.

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This is what we woke up to every morning!

 

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And some days it looked like this.

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David, Alex and the ever joyful Atlas

The Castle grounds.

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A view from Mike’s helicopter ride
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Monzie Castle

Gardeners, the glorious holiday cottage by the Castle.

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Gardner’s Cottage

Our stay here  has been wonderful, we have learnt so much about modern life on a Scottish Castle Estate. This is not for the faint of heart, it takes an enormous amount of money and courage to maintain a place like this. On this Estate alone there is a joinery business, a hydro power station, a farm with cattle and sheep, holiday lets and a Castle. There is bracken to be dealt with, fences and walls to be maintained, cottages and farm house that are rented out, old buildings requiring ongoing maintenance and then there is a castle that suffers in the Scottish weather and needs to be maintained, all the while keeping the likes of Historic Scotland happy. With all of this there are the employees, cabinet makers, finisher, farm manager, shepherd, gardener, admin people, who all contribute to the success of this Estate. David and Alexandra’s situation is similar to other people in the United Kingdom, people who are giving their all to maintain and enhance a piece of their country’s heritage so that it will be here in the future for people to enjoy. I take my hat of to them and I have no doubt that we will be back to visit.

 

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

If you have been following our blog you may remember that we made the decision to return to our August workaway in Scotland and here we are, back on Monzie Estate near Crieff in Perthshire!

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One of the main reasons for returning is that Alex and I concocted a plan to have a Christmas craft class in Monzie Castle. There were number of emails, a private Pinterest board and finally we had a plan! Not only were we running a class here at the Estate but we were involved in a Christmas event in a village about 15 minutes drive away.

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Mike and I arrived back in Scotland early November and it was full on Christmas planning, on line shopping, visits to Perth and Stirling, experimenting on the kitchen table, cajoling the men in the joinery to cut timber for us, magazine reading, cooking, sorting and finally it all came together. We had two other workawayers, Matt and Abbey, here with us and they used their superior IT skills to create an awesome booklet for us to give away.

Christmas at the Castle was  Alex and David’s first event at the Castle the decision was made to keep this small and achievable. It was a huge success, however, the amount of work to achieve this was enormous, we spent hours cooking a festive Christmas lunch, David and Alex sorted out a Christmas tree from the Estate, Mike (yes Mike) decorated the tree, booklets were proof-read, printed and sewn together with festive red thread, craft materials were arranged and finally it was all ready.

The ladies who attended had a great time and we finished our day on a high.  We celebrated our success by spending part of Sunday at the top of the Estate in the snow.

There was a slight reprieve before the Kit and Kith Christmas event in Madderty. This involved a Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday. This was largely a gathering of local women in business who have come together to support each other and Anna Wilson is the dynamo who came up with the idea and pulled it all together. Alex and I were there to promote Monzie Joinery and to sell our Christmas crafts and Christmas kits. We met some amazing women.

Anna, the main organiser of Kit and Kith and her very able side kick,  Katrine who makes these amazing capes with cashmere and wool linings. The energy and enthusiasm of these two ladies was amazing.

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Katrine and Anna.

Kairen from Blues and Browns, beautiful clothing with a definite ‘something extra’ using locally sourced fabrics. Lots of accessories, bags, hats, scarves and shoes! I wanted some of her clothes so badly, I even said I would work for fabric! …. she is a vibrant and exciting woman who has really lived life to the full.

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I made a new friend!

Gillian swapped her corporate life to start this business based on her love of good wine and food. She has spent quite a bit of time in New Zealand working in vineyards. This is a woman full of get and up and go and we could have talked for hours, come to think of it, we did!

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The food we had over the weekend was supplied by Tania from Ginger Snap. This food was amazing, tasty and beautifully presented by this very talented woman.

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Vivienne who for the first time ever has shown her art work. How could she have kept this talent hidden for so long? Almost all her work was sold.

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There were a number of other stall holders and we all spent time checking out each others work. Check these out: Katrina from The Party Storybook, Helen from Stella and Dot, Florence from Pilchers and last but not least the oh so cute  Little Magical Moments

 

And of course there is Alexandra, an extra-ordinary woman who still keeps tabs on her London PR company whilst working here on Monzie Estate. In the last year she has refurbished and in part rebuilt two holiday cottages, re-upholstered chairs,  remade old and tired furniture, made curtains, lampshades, learnt to make lemon curd, cordials (elderflower, rosehip and elderberry), filled her chest freezer with all kinds of home made meals, created a website for the estate and of course hosted a number of workaways.

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This blog is really about the women I have met on this trip  back to Scotland but I do want to give a mention to the two men who have been somewhat stretched as we madly go about creating Christmas mayhem. David and Mike have extended their skill base by cooking and fussing  with Christmas decorations. Both have been on the end of vacuum cleaners and dishcloths in between their usual tasks of running the joinery (David) and demolition/renovating/photography (Mike).

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As I write this sitting close to the warmth of the Aga there is snow falling thick and fast outside the kitchen window!

We only have a week left here before we start our journey home. It will be with mixed feelings that we leave. NB: Alex has taught me how to use hyperlinks (impressed?) so please do click away.

 

Ireland:

We are coming to the end of our time in Ireland and we don’t feel ready to leave. We have LOVED this place. From the moment we arrived we have encountered friendly warm people who really go out of their way to help.

It’s been a month since I wrote and I have taken nearly 500 photos so bear with me, I have tried to squeeze 4 weeks of fun and adventure into something you want to read and see and not get bored with.

We had a week between arriving and starting our next workaway so we hired a car and drove around the coast going south out of Dublin towards Wicklow National Park. If you have been following our blog you may remember me waxing lyrical about springtime in England well now it is autumn in Ireland and it is so beautiful. Wicklow National Park was an array of golds and reds. We first visited Glendalough and the ‘Monastic City’ the site of a 6th century monastic settlement. Quite amazing.

We then drove towards Cork and went to the small town of Cobh (pronounced Cove), even though the weather had turned rather grey and cold it was a colourful sight and well worth a visit.

We had a plan to drive part of the Wild Atlantic Way  and enjoy the wild west coast. It turned out to be a very good idea. Over the next few days we drove the Ring of Kerry starting in Kenmare, then the Dingle Peninsula, we keep thinking we had hit the best bit and it couldn’t get better but each new day bought more spectacular sights!

The Cliffs of Moher get a lot of attention and are well worth the visit but this coastline has so much to offer.

We got as far as Clifden and would really have liked to do more but it was time to return our rental car.

Some of the best bits of our travels are the people we meet and we had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful family who, at very short notice, offered us a bed for two nights. Nancy is the childhood friend of our Italian sister-in-law Petra and she and her Irish husband, Kevin, live in Ennis with their two gorgeous boys, Luca and Marco. The boys tried to tell us about Hurling, a sport they love but sadly we left non the wiser except to think it was a mix of hockey, lacross, a few other sports and requires a helmet. Their warm hospitality and friendly welcome will not be forgotten in a hurry!

Oh and did I mention how easy it is to travel here? The lack of traffic is great, and then there’s the great food and yes even surf beaches (plural) where people are still enjoying the water despite it being November!

After returning our rental car to Dublin we caught a bus to the centre of Ireland and started our next workaway. We have been working with Chris who is the owner of Ardmore Country House in Kinnitty in County Offally.

Kinnitty is at the base of the Slieve Bloom Mountains which are well known for their great walking trails. Chris’s house is a Victorian townhouse that she has restored over a number of years and furnished with some wonderful antiques. During our time with her we have helped with some of the day to day B and B tasks, bedmaking, toilet scrubbing, vacuuming, laundry and ironing etc and we have completed some creative tasks, built an IKEA wardrobe, varnished floors, made curtains, put new silicon into showers and more.

Probably the most satisfying task for us all was recovering ten dining chairs. It seemed like such a straight-forward task but it wasn’t. The chair bases were hardwood so it took a lot of effort to undo the old covers and replace the webbing and add new covers. All three of us were involved in this task and even Renie the Canadian visitor staying in Chris’ cottage joined in. Alone this would have been a tedious task but as a group we had lots of fun!

We have loved this workaway, Chris is such good fun, she has really made us welcome and helped us be a part of this community. Chris has taken us to a number of musical events in a variety of pubs and at Kinnitty Castle, we have walked in the local area and visited some of the local villages. We even watched the quarter, semi finals and finals of the Rugby World Cup in the local pub.

We also enjoyed the company of Renie, who is from Edmonton in Canada. We joined her for a weekend in Sligo where we attended bits of a music festival and also visited sites associated with W B Yeats. A wonderful weekend. Renie is a lot of fun and I suspect we may see each other again one day.

Autumn has been pretty spectacular here and we have grabbed every opportunity to get out and see it. Chris also enjoys photography so we were often found out with all our cameras, well two cameras and my phone!

We are now going back to Scotland to our friends and workaway hosts at Monzie Estate near Crieff.  While we are sad to leave Ireland I am certain we will return and we look forward to seeing Chris in New Zealand when she visits in 2016.

Andalucia, the highs and the lows

We had such a good time in Barcelona in June that we decided a return visit to Spain was needed, so we organised a workaway in the Malaga region of Andalucia and decided to use this as a base for further adventures.

We have spent two weeks working with a family in Benalmadena helping them with their English. Benalmadena is an arabic name meaning ‘son of the mines’, however there is little mining done here now. Apart from the local Spanish people it is largely populated by the British, many on holiday and quite a large number who now live here. Huge numbers of these Brits are retired so Mike and I were feeling quite young! The only sirens you hear are ambulances going to the local hospital. The seafront at Benalamadena is very commercial and full of multi-story accommodation and eateries along the seafront. Not our kind of place but pleasant enough for a walk and a wander.

We also found the local homes interesting but were somewhat disconcerted by the very high walls surrounding homes and the multiple locks required to enter them.

Andalucia is a very mixed area, cities, small villages, rugged mountains, long flat plains, miles of olive trees and miles of citrus trees. Parts are very run down and in other places it seems quite afluent.

During our first weekend we went to Mijas, a small village in the hills full of white houses and small lanes. Lots of tourists but still very worthwhile  to visit; spectacular views to the coast, lovely houses, flamenco dancers and little eateries, what’s not to enjoy?

We also visited an old church in the town and a church in a rock called Chapel of Virgen de la Pena, in both churches Mary is VERY dressed up, to us it was more like a barbie doll or an angel for the top of your Christmas tree than the woman of Nazareth in the Bible. Try as we might we couldn’t find out why she was so dressed up. Local custom was the most common answer.

The old town of Malaga, like many old towns we have visited, was charming, again the small lanes, old churches but Malaga has a Picasso Museum and sunshine and warm weather.

We visited Seville for a day and saw the Alcazar which is magnificent. The strong moorish infulence mixed with a Christian flavour has resulted in the most magnificent building and gardens. It would be so easy to spend a whole day in this attraction. We had also planned to visit Granada, specifically to see Alhambra but tickets were sold out until October 22nd. You could go on a guided tour but those tickets were out of our price range, you could also just turn up and try for cancelled tickets, our friends Kathy and Roland did that mid-week and were successful but we were going on a weekend and it is too far to go and to not be able to get tickets. What interested us is that when we put up photos of Alcazar on Facebook some people saw them and thought we had been to Alhambra so maybe they are so similar it is ok that we didn’t go.

The highlight would have to be the weekend we spent in Ronda. Some of the best scenery we have seen anywhere. The views literally take your breath away. It is hard to photograph but we have tried! The most popular tourist attraction here is the Puente Nueve (new bridge) built in 1793. Quite a feat!  It was very easy to while away a weekend here as it seemed that every corner we took resulted in something else to see, lovely piazzas, old, old churches and of course that view.

On the Saturday we walked the town and on Sunday morning we became adventurous and walked down  into the gully. Much of the pathways are narrow and steep, in places it was extremely narrow – 70mm according to me, 70 cm according to Mike. Even though it challenged my ‘height issues’ it was really worthwhile, of course all that walking down meant we had to walk back up.

Ronda was busy with tourists and it is October so it must be heaving in July/August. Some people ‘do’ Ronda with speed, we were having a leisurely lunch on the Sunday when we saw a tour group move down the road towards the bridge where they obviously looked at the view, took the required photos, walked back up to their bus and left. All this done in less time than we took to eat lunch!

As always we are glad we came but we are now looking forward to swapping the dry land filled with olive trees for the green land of Ireland.