Ireland, the first time

These are the cobbled-together notes from the 2016 trip, but I’m posting it now because being here in Ireland again brings those memories more clearly into focus, and also to get it out the draft folder and the mental to do list. Be warned, it’s long. Photos are limited to what I have with me on the ipad, and I lost a few thousand back in March when the last one died on me.

Driving off the Cairnryan to Larne ferry, we headed straight up to the Giant’s Causeway, so our own Finn could follow in the footsteps of a giant, and the rest of us could marvel at the geometry of volcanoes. It’s now an ‘Experience’, which seems to mean you pay a padded entry fee, and walk through a big fancy building with a gift shop and cafe attached. Then you can walk down to the coast and explore. While our Finn and Benandonner wannabes chased each other around, I snuck some shawl posing pics.

We wound our way up to Malin Head that night, to sleep in a little wind-slapped car park perched above an imposing cliff. The boys tore round like March hares, wind-drunk, and leant into the gale to see how far it would hold them. The van rattled and creaked all night, so much so that J kindly moved it to the back of the park, so I could stop worrying that me might blow over the edge. Toward late evening, the kids finally asleep, J on his laptop in the back and I working in the front passenger seat, an official looking car pulled in beside us. The driver wound down her window and called to me.

‘Gibberishgibberishgibberish Star Trek gibberishgibberishgibberish?’

‘Um, sorry?’ I gawped. Did she just say Star Trek? Surely I imagined that..

She tried again, and I realised she had seen the Dutch plates on our van and blurted an explanation just as she cottoned on and we both laughed. She turned out to be a dutchwoman married to a local, and looking for a chat in her own tongue. She said ‘have you come to see the Star Trek set? And settled in to explain that they were filming just around the corner, and that lots of people were driving round the bluff for a look.

The next morning we too drove off round the bluff to see the set, and had a great 20 min chat with a lovely local farmer in the middle of the road while he was moving his tractor. Friendly folk. The first thing he asked when he heard we were Australian was ‘how long are you home for?’ We heard this question a number of times, and I loved the welcome in it, the kinship implied.

This is easily my favourite photo from the entire trip. We don’t normally pose them, but they were all hugging anyway..

We skirted round the top and down the left side of country along the coast in a sort of big C. Not intentionally, it just sort of happened that way. We visited the site of an old family farm on J’s side, hiked up Slieve League, the boys and I got to tour a working mill in Co Donegal, then we stayed a few days near Eagle Rock, in among the sheep.

The midges are a force to be reckoned with. We are besieged by a fine mist of midges which steal in at dusk like the tide on a flat beach, abruptly and triumphantly. We have the dubious honor of being more tasty than sheep. Or at any rate, less hairy. We hurl ourselves into the van, shut all the windows, and don’t venture out until morning except in dire need. No late night drinks on windless nights unless you can wee and run at the same time.

We followed the coast road, found a very interesting museum about Neolithic life on Ceide Fields, and studied peat collection in the surrounding area, puzzling over the idea of burning something so slow to make. (The fate of fossil fuels..) We traipsed round Achill, took the ‘Experience’ of the Cliffs of Insanity Moher and imagined Fezzik/Andre the Giant hauling his 3 passengers up a rope, and dabbled on the beaches in Dingle. We stayed a couple of nights in a very picturesque traditional cottage, all thatched roof and red sills, which was so mould-ridden we all sprouted allergies. We got to explore a section of the fascinating Burren, a carst landscape of rock riddled with shallow crevasses which are teeming with plants and mini ecosystems.

We spent the anniversary of our departure camping just outside of the unfortunately named Killinaboy. But, we reflected, we hadn’t done it yet, not even after a year of frequent provocation, so surely all was good. Who knows, maybe it translates so something like ‘peaceful haven’, or ‘lovely place to rear children’..?

Late one afternoon, having spent a very long hour-and-a-half with increasingly fractious children on narrow bumpy backroads looking for a campsite, we pulled into the car park of a small pine forest. The forest had a melancholy look to it, and a pile of logs stacked in front, warning the remaining trees of their fate. The kids immediately began exploring and found an interesting ditch, and something like a stone mortar and pestle, while we took a deep breath, at the frazzled stage. After a few minutes, the farmer came over to see if we were stealing his timber, and we ended up having a great old chat. He spoke fast, his accent so thick and rich that we were straining to understand, and still only catching one word in five.

‘H’y’heard o’ farter tud?’ he asked after a while.

J and I looked at each other blankly. ‘Um..?’

‘Farter Tudd? P’raps y’don’t have’m down in Australia, but he’s very popular on d’telly here.’

‘Oh, Father Ted! Of course!’

‘He was based on the local priest here…’ and off he went into another great story.

He kindly let us camp the night on his land, and the kids play in the forest. He told us that the logs were supposed to have been collected months ago, and he was still waiting for the truck. We must have brought him luck because at 2 am a semi-trailer pulled in beside us, and at 5 am, first hint of light, he started up and began the task of loading the logs onto the truck with a large crane. Naturally, we had to move the van first. A particularly frenzied cloud of midges supervised the entire process with voracious interest.

We trickled gradually down the weather-battered Wild Atlantic Way, tried circling the ring of Kerry before deciding it was better to get off the main road and head for the hills. Which turned out to be a good move as it was magical up there. Mountain top lakes cupped by amber-lichened rocks and purple rhododendron, and lofty oak forests shot with brilliant white streaks of May blossom like scented bolts of lightening.

Knitting accidentally but conveniently colour matched to its environ.

Making a cork of ourselves.

We stopped in Cork for a bit of city life on our way round the south coast It’s an engaging city. We wandered around, taking a look at the markets, spending some time in the great playground, and having a huge lunch at Wagamama (a kid-friendly restaurant chain we discovered in London, which sort of feels like an Asian food chain presented by Ikea). Then it was time to go find a camp up in the hills.

On the walk back to the car, A complained of a sore tummy (unsurprising, given the amount of noodles he’d put away at lunch), and the boys expressed increasingly urgent requests to find a toilet. Soon, soon, we said, and walked faster. No toilet could we find on the way to the van, so we thought we’d look for one on the drive out.

But when we got back to the van, the parking ticket seemed to have done a disappearing trick. While I searched increasingly frantically for our coy ticket, the boys wee’d under the bush behind the van. (It was that or wet themselves.) J went to find a help button to talk to, and the man on the other end kindly agreed to let us out, if we let him know when we reached the exit. We climbed hastily into the van and made a dash for the exit, A’s complaints now escalating alarmingly.

At the bar, trying to press the right combination of buttons to call the operator, I all but set off the fire alarm. We finally got through to the remote operator (J took over button operation since I was clearly incompetent) and the man on the other end of the camera raised the bar. We drove 5 metres, and A started vomiting in earnest. We pulled up to contain the damage. While I mopped up with our last remaining toilet paper, A filled a 50ml ex-takeaway coffee cup with what had recently been a huge bowl of Wagamama noodles, and we were still blocking the car park drive.

I gave A a second cup, taking the first one from him. It was full to the brim. What would you have done with it? I did the only thing I could manage to think of with the assorted racket going on in the backseat. Carefully sliding out the van, I tried not to spill anything and found a bush in the densest part of the shrubbery which fortunately surrounded the car park, to offload its contents. Mercifully there was a bin nearby, and the now empty cup went in.

Finally, after a hasty clean up, we made our shamefaced getaway, slunk low in our seats.

Ten minutes later, after the horror/stress had subsided, the absurdity hit us and J and I developed an uncontrollable fit of reactionary giggles. The boys demanded an explanation, and as I summed up the appaling list of our transgressions (breaking every rule of the carpark, behaving like drunken teenagers, and then not even paying for the parking space), T suggested that ‘he probably just cut his losses.’ And it was at this moment, naturally, that I found the ticket under my seat. Sorry, Cork University car park, we didn’t mean to, honest.

‘Do you know where is the shaking carpark?’ It was later that same night, we’d driven to Co Waterford to a spot we’d planned to camp, near Mahon Falls. A young couple with heavy Germanic accents have pulled into the carpark beside us to call out the question. It’s blowing a ‘slight breeze’ (by Scottish standards), and with its top up, the van is bouncing around like its listening to its own inner music. ‘Um, sorry?’

A place where you park the car and it feels like the ground is moving. There’s a magic tree with CDs and things hanging off it?

Really? ‘Um, no.. Sorry.’

We wished them good luck and they drove on to continue their quest.

Intrigued, I hit up google, and soon found this http://www.dochara.com/places-to-visit/magic-roads/, with convenient gps coordinates. And it was 200 meters down the road. How could we resist? But either we were coming from the wrong direction, or were still too shattered from by the afternoon gastro experience to quite see the illusion. Oh well. The search had been entertaining.

The next morning found us staggering into Lismore. There happened to be a great playground and even takeaway coffee, so we sat in the sun to regroup while the kids got their monkey business out fo their systems. Braced by this, we took in a dramatic documentary at the information centre, and were directed out to the Ballysaggartmore Towers, a very curious structure (all gatehouse and no castle) with a rather sad story, but a great place for a picnic.

Walking back from the Towers through the surrounding forest, trees with trunks like gargantuan green mammoth legs, canopy high above, branches arching as if to form a glowing cathedral, echoing with birdsong and the sussurus of the stream. Magic.

Later, driving up through the hills we caught a glimpse of a ruin and an intriguing name, and google supplied this. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cú_Ro%C3%AD Walking the ground where myths lived is sometimes.. I can’t seem to put it into words.. slightly eerie? Both promising and disappointing, a subaudible echo, just beyond perception. What would it have been like back then? Where did these stories come from? Why? Like Greece, Ireland is a land with myths knit into it’s structure.

(Ok, pulling my head out of the clouds now..)

Our last stop before catching the Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry was Badger’s Hill Lodge, outside Wexford, where we stayed in an inspiringly quirky site full of interesting details, and hosted by a really lovely family. This ended up being the first place we went this second trip. 🙂

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Ireland, the second time

The Emerald Isle

We’ve had a bit over a week in Ireland now, and finally reached the point where we all stop looking each other and thinking ‘this is really Ireland, and we’re really doing this again’. Jet lag was very kind to us this time around for the most part, and having planned a good week of doing as little as possible helped. Some quiet time exploring the beautiful surrounds at Badger’s Hill and the Irish National Heritage Park, then down to Co. Cork, to the Bantry area.

I’m not quite sure why we all love Ireland so much, but there it is. It’s colourful, relaxed, beautiful, full of life, history, music, and myth.. But mostly it’s so green. Riotously, outrageously, succulently green. The eye-searing yellow green of new spring, at that. Any given area seems to have huge diversity of flora, and it leans out over the roads and grabs you as you move through it. In the meadow where I write, the grass is dotted with a myriad of little daisy things, speedwell, chamomile, reeds, and more. The Esknamucky river curves past over round rocks, here silent, there with a deep chuckle as if the rocks tickle its underside. Glowing specks of catkin fluff float down through dappled air, buoyed up with the scent of holly blossom from the canopy of alder, oak, beech, holly, and a tree who’s leaves are fringed with eyelashes at their edges. The hedges are full of ferns, moss, flowering succulents, gorse, heather, and a host of things I can’t name. Even the rocks grow plants.

We were here in May two years ago, towards the end of the last trip, and had such a lovely, relaxed time that it seemed like a good place to go to recover from lugging 3 kids halfway round the planet. And to adjust to flipped time zones and opposed seasons. We’d stayed near a town with a name like Ballylikely, and spent a lot of time in Glengarriff park, wallowing in green trees, the shallow river, and midge repellant. Lots of midge repellant.

We were lucky enough to have a spell of about 3 weeks of golden weather back then, and have been very lucky this time too. This is a helpful reflection, as if it weren’t for the knowledge that it rains here 360 days a year, it would be hard to imagine a more beautiful place to live. Admittedly, not living with midges is a good consolation too. Two of the boys currently look like they’ve been hit with a hard dose of chickenpox.

The boys have claimed a sandbar, called it Ireland, begun revegetating it, and are are practising skimming stones across the Atlantic. For five hours. Two boys in a holly tree. Up till now I thought holly was a bush, not a tree..

Running back to our spot the next day.

Hillfort at the wonderful Irish National Heritage Museum.

Reflections

It’s funny to drive around somewhere so far from home, and yet be recognising so many things. ‘Look, the Mallow Garden Show signs are up everywhere again’, and ‘we had to stop to let the bike race through in this town last time too’, and even the cranberry and orange scones which made us regular Lidl visitors are still there, and still just as moreish.

After our last visit to Cork, we had mixed feelings about going back there, and in the end we chickened out. The city itself was grand, but we had disgraced ourselves abysmally, if unintentionally. Which reminds me that I really ought to finish tidying up the draft for that particular blog post..

Amach. Driving down to Wexford the first afternoon we passed a freeway exit. Looking for a supermarket, I checked the name to see if it might be a good sized town. It was called Amach. We’d missed that exit, so drove on to the next one, still trying to decide whether to turn off, as we couldn’t see a town in that direction. But the next exit lead to Amach too. As did the next one. Pondering how such a large town could be hidden out of sight, we drove on. When the next exit, 10 mins down the road came into view, still labelled Amach, it finally dawned on us that it meant exit. The funniest part is that this caught us out last time too.

Place names in general seem to do something funny to my CPU. Every place sign has both the Gaelic and it’s dodgy English approximation, and no matter how much I tell it not to, my mind wants to understand how they fit together, and tries to figure out how Gaelic is pronounced from road signs. It might work sometimes (Bantry for Beanntrai, for e.g., but not others. Altar for Altoír, which the information plaque described as al-TAW-ir, and Crookhaven is a complete mystery, and probably an interesting story..) Any given drive will have me mumbling place names under my breath until mercifully distracted by the next interjection from the backseat crew. (Better photos once I find the cable that connects to the camera. Someday..)

Adventures

We lost many things on the last trip, and have started this one off in fine form. J generously left his laptop at the airport in Adelaide (fortunately the flight was cancelled, so we were able to pick it up before we really left), and T left his beloved cap and pocketknife in Wexford. He also left his belt bag full of treasures in the park yesterday, and we returned today to find a note on our picnic table informing us it was safely waiting for us in the Glengarriff Garda station. Collecting it proved to be a bit of fun, as the Garda officer was off manning the bike race passing through town when J and T first went to the station. They noticed a pair of shoes with a set of keys inside them resting on the doorstep of the police station and assumed those had also been handed in by good samaritans. When J’s phone rang an hour later and a voice said something protracted in what was presumably Gaelic, J correctly assumed this must be the police phoning back and went to pick up the bag. The man was lovely, really friendly and helpful, but his accent was so thick J couldn’t tell whether he was speaking English or Gaelic half the time. J commented that the locals must be very trustworthy people, and pointed to the shoes/keys on the front doorstep, at which the man said ‘no, those are mine!’

In other news, F managed to lose one of his sneakers a full foot under the sludge of ‘the Slob’ while exploring the estuarine river beside the playground in Ballydehob. You can see the other shoe dangling on the left. Surfaces in this part of the world are often less solid than they appear..

Just to prove we have been working, during the time we spent in the park J has added an ‘unread posts’ button to the Ravit beta, and I’ve finished knitting up the two balls on the right on this project which was cast on while waiting to board the plane (the first time). This piece has survived 2 broken sets of needles – one I sat on during the first flight, and the other got a broken needle tip at a playground. Fortunately a quick sanding job with a piece of slate managed to salvage that one. As this design is still nameless for the moment, but I think I might have to call it Glengarriff after the park. Either that or Jet Lag. I had been hoping to get it done for the Woollinn Dublin (today, since it’s taken me several days to write this), but I’d rather finish it properly.

The journey begins again, and again.

Time feels much longer when you’re travelling. At home, school weeks have a certain rhythm to them, and daily routines concertina the weeks down into a sort of 4 layer sandwich. Summer, autumn, winter, spring, and there goes another year.

It only been 48 hours since we first set off for the airport, and already it feels like a saga.

Leaving is a little like wiping the slate clean. We minimised our stuff, turfing what excess we couldn’t rehome, sell, recycle, compost, or give away. All the library books were returned, the electricity, gas, mail, tenancy agreements and so on were sorted out. We moved out of our home and packed it all up in a box to wait for next year. We scrubbed the house from top to bottom, shut the door and drove away.

Finished.

Anything we forgot is now half a world away. (Including cleaning the south windows – sorry Ness & Nils!)

We had our last extended family meal, and said the hard goodbyes at the airport, including a protracted waving session as we took 10 trays worth of stuff through security. Then we waited for our flight to board. And waited. At around 11 pm, the flight was cancelled, and we were sent home again. (Poor Nanna and Poppy frantically reinflating air mattresses at midnight.. Sorry/thank you!)

(I will admit that as a nervous flyer, I found it oddly comforting that they preferred to cancel the flight, with all the difficult ramifications that involves, rather than trying to make do.)

The next day found us all in a sort of transit daze, even though we hadn’t really gone anywhere. A combination of disturbed sleep, uncertainty, expectation gone awry, and waiting. Mentally we had all left home, but we didn’t know when our bodies would catch up, as we weren’t sure when we would be allocated new flights. So we decided to treat the day as if we were already travelling. We bought pastries and went to a playground, and the kids rolled around in a giant hamster wheel (yes, really), while I knit and J worked. As is happened, we were given an option to fly out that night, which at least scotched the uncertainty factor, and J discovered he’d left his laptop in airport security the night before, so perhaps it was just as well we hadn’t left yet.

The second time, the novelty had worn off the airport experience, and the kids were starting the journey tired and ratty, but this time it felt less like a dream and more like it was really happening. Which it did, for the next 26 hours (or 35 if you’re counting door to door, 58 if you count from the first departure attempt. Which a sensible person wouldn’t).. No wonder I still feel like I’m flying. Every now and then the ground lurches as if I were on a boat.

Making full use of the seat back media for sanity’s sake. Dawn after a 15 hour night. ‘Guitar Airlines’, as A renamed it. Looking out over Northeastern Turkey.

We arrived at Badger Lodge just as the last bleans* of sunlight were slipping away, and mostly by luck, as the internet solution J had so cleverly pre-prepared had stopped working an hour outside of Dublin. We fell into blissfully flat beds, slept like 5 logs, and woke up in Ireland.

Which means we’re really doing this again.

Madness!

Making friends at Badger’s Hill. We stayed a night here last time and loved it so much we all wanted to come back.

Random things.

Our plane had whiskers. Maybe it’s only jet lag that makes that so funny.

The Accidental Bagsnatching Incident. Waiting to exit the plane at Heathrow, we noticed A’s backpack had gone missing from its spot on the seat next to where I was standing. After a thorough search, the next most plausible explanation was that someone else had picked it up, so we shot up the exit ramp on its trail, and T managed to spot it disappearing round a distant corner on the back of the passenger who’d sat behind us. They were grandparents travelling with a little boy, so probably they mistook it for his. In any case they were very nice about giving it back, so all’s well.

*Bleans, an official unit of measurement of light found in The Meaning of Liff.

Looking back and looking ahead

Update and reflection

It’s nearly 2 years now since we returned from our big trip. I gave up on trying to blog. Between confined family living (with no downtime), working, homeschooling, travelling, and trip planning something had to give, and it was blogging. And possibly sanity. However I kept scribbling little notes with the intention of catching up someday. Or at least to have them for the kids, and as a memory aid, so I’ll try to add a few things here for posterity.
(Note: I’m not going to be too precious about editing, so there will be typos, non sequiturs, and half-finished thoughts. I have a limited amount of both time and perfectionism and need to save every ounce for my work, and this blog simply isn’t a high enough priority to rate polishing. I encourage you not to read my ramblings if the roughness will irk you too much. Life is not worth unnecessary irk, after all. 🙂

So the trip was 13 months in the end. It was challenging, it really was, but it was everything else too. Amazing, eye-opening, touching, funny, and especially memorable. Even at the time we were mindful that we were creating memories that would last a lifetime, and that the most difficult things would someday make the funniest stories, and could be enjoyed at leisure from the comfort of the couch.

We did indeed follow the little map I scribbled while waiting for the ferry to Morocco, plus a bit extra. This shows a very rough route.

IMG_1493

29000 kms (roughly double what J used to drive annually when working in the city). 25 countries, 56 Airbnb stays, 3 nights on ferries, no idea how many nights camping, and one night in a hotel (in Tirana, Albania, to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately I had badly sprained my ankle the day before, so this wasn’t quite the treat we’d hoped. Fortunately Tirana turns out to be a great place to buy crutches.)

By the end of the year, we’d settled into a slower pace, had adjusted to tolerating a certain amount of discomfort (because curiously, it seems the more you accept discomfort, the more comfortable you become), and had adapted enough that both J and I felt we could easily have kept going. #3 would most definitely have liked to keep going, but the elder two were looking forward to returning.

Financially, (because that’s what I’d want to know if this was someone else’s blog), we think it cost us about 20% more than living at home would have. If that sounds improbable, bear in mind that we camped quite a bit (and only rarely in commercial campgrounds), rarely ate out (because it’s not overly relaxing taking a twonager, 5 yo and 8 yo to a fancy cafe), and eventually figured out that moving slowly was better than trying to do too much. (Actually we knew that already, but the urge to see as much as possible is really hard to resist, because you’ve come so far, there is so much, and who knows when/if the chance will come again.. Not to do as much as you can seems criminal. But the cost is exhaustion, and saps the enjoyment out of your hard-won best efforts. It’s the travel conundrum.)

Why am I writing all this now?

Because we’re going to do it again.

We figure we can just squeeze another year in before #1 starts high school. J regrets not getting to Scandinavia, #1 is still pining for all the stinky cheese of France and wants to go to Lego House, #2 wants to go to Finland, and #3 wants to be where the action is. Personally, I’m moderately terrified, but when I put the decision in the context of ‘what would I wish I’d chosen if I were 90 and looking back on my life’, then it becomes simple. You’ve got to live your life. Every day of it.

So we’ve booked flights to Dublin, planned a week in Co. Cork to acclimate to the time zone and the abrupt reversal of season, then on to the Netherlands to pick up our van. Then north we go!

This is the rough plan for the first 6 months. The green part is really only a vague notion at this stage, and how long we go for will probably be determined by how the homeschooling is going, so we may end up coming back after 9 months. Onward and upward!

IMG_1495

<a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/travel”>Travel vector created by Freepik</a> photo credit

Homeward bound

29th June, 2016 (..but posted in March 2018. I found a couple of mostly finished posts in the draft folder when I came out do the update, so I might as well post them.

We’re going home tomorrow.

The last 13 months have gone both fast and slow. At home time truncates with the similarity of one day to the next, but here every day is different, routines form and change constantly, and last month usually feels as far away in time as it is in physical distance.

25 countries, 56 Airbnb stays, 3 overnight ferries, no idea how much time camping, 29000 km driven (about double what J used to drive getting to work in the city annually) plus about 40 kilos of chocolate, and a small plantation’s worth of coffee consumed..

We are in the Netherlands, packing to go home. Sorting a year’s worth of accumulated stuff is a little like walking back in time. Montenegran puffer jackets jostle with Turkish gloves, Moroccan gumboots and Portuguese raincoats. On the bookshelf, 12 drops of Talisker in a fancy bottle stand slightly awkwardly beside the last can of Guinness, and both look questioningly at a small bottle of Macedonian rakia. (Possibly with reason, as there’s a fair chance it might self-combust at an unexpected moment.) The French and German wines are too deep in a conversation about rain to notice.

This morning I got stuck in the toilet. We’re staying in a converted loft/barn, and the bathroom is hidden behind a bookshelf and the door has sagged so that you have to push the top while pulling the handle to unbow the door. I’d closed it because it’s right beside the kitchen table where J was eating breakfast and I didn’t think he’d appreciate any straying odour. Then I got distracted reading about Brexit while attending to nature’s call, and by the time I resurfaced, there was an ominous silence outside, accompanied by the quiet tinking of cutlery as A busied himself in the kitchen with the pot of jam. A 2 year old left alone with a jar of jam is not a good thing, but I consoled myself with the thought that at least it was keeping him occupied inside the house, and he wasn’t wandering off outside to fall into the canal that surrounds the house.. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the door open, and no amount of thumping and bellowing could call the others who were .. somewhere or other, apparently out of earshot. Even the crashing of books and other unfortunate items being shaken from the shelves didn’t reach them.
(An extra joy is that the bathroom is the sort that gets covered in water as soon as someone has a shower, so every surface was slippery.)

Eventually I figured out that by wedging a leg against the wall opposite, I could leverage the door open with sheer teeth-gritted crankiness.

This was a fortunate discovery too, as I managed to get stuck in there again an hour later..

I’m my defense, I’m exhausted. We all are. Last night ran late, and this morning started early. We’ve all come down with a cold, and T woke at 2 am asking for Panadol. A had been given the last dose in the bottle the night before, so J dug out the new packet he’d picked up at the supermarket in just in case. He was interested to see they had children’s tablets here and showed them to me afterwards to me out of interest as I staggered past to the loo. They were wrapped in flexible foil and shaped like narrow bullets, and looked like no tablets I’d ever seen.
‘Um, are you sure that’s not a suppository?’
‘No, they’re tablets. It doesn’t say anything on the box about suppositories!’
‘Was it waxy?’
‘Maybe..’
Side by side, we inspected the box. It was in Dutch, naturally, so this didn’t enlighten us much.
‘What about the instructions for use paragraph?’
Using the translator app on the phone, we scanned the leaflet for confirmation one way or the other, but no, there was no mention of where to put the tablet anywhere on the packaging.
Cautiously, J tasted one to see if it was waxy or not (answer: yes), while I frantically googled ‘ingesting paracetamol suppositories’, and every other search term I could think of, without finding anything which suggested that this had ever happened before in the entirety of internetland. Urk. Eventually I came across a mother/baby type forum where a number of people related very similar stories of having done this and each having been told by the poisons info hotline that it was fine but might cause diarrhea. Ok. We could live with that. Phew. Back to bed.

An hour later we heard a telltale seal barking, followed by a frantic call from T saying that F had been sick all over the bed. Racing down, we found F having, not gastro, but an unpleasant attack of croup. Once we calmed him down the coughing subsided, and eventually we traipsed off to bed again (after T told us how much better he was feeling thanks to that dissolving tablet), but we’ve been a bit bleary today, despite all sleeping in till an unprecedented 10 am.

Greece in November

(Note: this is posted out of sync. I found it in the draft folder when I came back to do an update, and thought it might as well go out. Someday I might even finish the po on Italy, Spain, Morocco, the UK, Ireland, and Germany..)

There’s something about Greece.

This was one country I was particularly hoping we would get to on our trip, which at the same time had me slightly nervous and prepared to be disappointed.

I spent 2 months there when I was 19, on my first trip overseas, so it had special memories. Like something you’ve loved as a kid, you expect to go back and find it smaller and less everything than you remembered, so it was a double surprise to find that it not only lived up to the memories but quietly exceeded them.

Ioannina

We spent the first 2 nights just outside Ioannina with a host family. Ourania (aka Rani-Rah, as A officially renamed her) had prepared 2 days worth of traditional meals and left them in the fridge for us. The boys spent 3 happy days trailing round after their tiny kittens. I was hobbling round on crutches (having fallen out of the van and squished my knee while camping up in snowy Zabljak in Montenegro), and was in a bit of trouble, so their hospitality was a godsend.

Poor old Eeyore met with a slight mishap here involving their dog Hector (well, technically he and the dog ran off together – the instigator of this elopement is still disputed..), and was able to enjoy a long stay. We stopped in to pick him up on our way back up to Albania two months later and had the pleasure of meeting most of the rest of the family, and of seeing how different the landscape looked in its winter form, stripped of its autumn finery.

Meteora

On the way to Meteora, we meandered our way slowly through the golden oak forests above Ioannina, through narrow gullies, and past curious semi circular Roman brigdes, trying to figure out where to camp for the night. And find a toilet. We gave in on the toilet-finding eventually and went primitive. This was not exactly a new experience, but the temperatures had dropped considerably since we’d last been camping. You haven’t lived till you’ve tried to do a bush bog while on crutches beside a mountain road with an icy wind blowing up your gully.

We drove on through the mountains round Metsovo, still looking for a camp until we had wound our way right down to the freeway, which eventually spat us out at Meteora. The magic of the place is profound, quite unearthly. Places like this make myths seem credible. This was somewhere I’ve been wanting to see since last century, so it was pretty funny to finally find myself here, and be stuck in the car, not able to explore on foot or even hop out and take photos.

Fortunalely J could, and we arrived not long before sunset, when the light was a peachy golden fog slanting between the pinnacles, lighting up the rocks and casting mysterious shadows. A frenetic 300 photos were taken before the light went.

The human element of the place was interesting too. Driving down from the fingers of the gods, we paused at the kerb to take a photo. A curious figure on a motorbike pulled up beside us. He was wearing a Santa suit minus the white trimmings, and waved us down with single-minded determination. His name was Kostas. He told us about his parents’ hotel and restaurant. Mamma makes the best food in town, come eat in our restaurant, and you can park in our carpark overnight for free. ‘You must! You must!’ he shot at us as he drove off in search of other hapless campervans.

J and I looked at each other. Hmm.. Well, why not, we hadn’t found a campsite yet, and who can resist the recommendation of a big Santa suit on a motorbike? The absurdity of it all appealed, so we followed the wiggly line on the map he’d conveniently shoved through the window at us, and there we were.

The hotel was predictably run down, and echoingly vacant, aside from a few obligatory Asian tourists. Kostas’ parents seemed an oddly matched couple, one as gangly as the other was rotund, but both friendly and welcoming. Dinner was good, typical Greek fare which we all enjoy. We were expecting dinner to be overpriced, but it wasn’t. Kostas was simply the drummer-up of customers, which they clearly needed. The economic situation has hit this sort of business hard, and we felt for them.

Camping is a bit of fun on crutches. Not made any easier by the decidedly nippy temperatures. Poor J copped the brunt of it all, but managed remarkably well. However, as a result, we got going early the next morning and had the joy of watching the sun rise over the improbable rocks, sluggish and slow, like a wave of rose syrup and every bit as sweet.

Parking in Trikala looking for breakfast, who should tap on the window but the cheerful face of Kostas. ‘You must come to the cafe of my friend. She is from here. Very good people, very nice. Good food.’

We peered into the smoky bar dubiously, but he stood in the doorway, waving and beckoning, and undeniable.

‘Um.. Are you sure they serve breakfast? We’re looking for somewhere with no smoking..’ After the third attempt as resistance, we gave in and let him shepherd us. Inside was the sort of dive where Greek men sit for hours drinking coffee and smoking.

No one was eating.

We made polite noises about wanting breakfast, and concern over smoke and allergies and kids, but he pulled chairs at “this table best for you” and called his friend to take our order. Oh well, it would be an experience. The “omelet” was scrambled eggs drowned in half an inch of olive oil, like the remains of Atlantis post volcano. But the people were lovely. They beamed and nodded, and we had several incoherent conversations while I raked my memory for the smattering of Greek words learnt nearly 20 years ago, and only please, thank you, beautiful and Australia managed to cross over the language barrier. The lady at a table opposite handed chunks of olive bread to the boys, someone else patted their heads benignly, and there was general goodwill abounding. We came out gasping and reeking, but beaming as broadly as the rest of the inhabitants.

The strongest thing that struck us about Greece in general was the friendliness. Everyone was friendly. Really friendly. With a spontaneity and depth of generosity that is unlike anywhere else we’ve been. .

After all, people had been giving us glowing reports about Croatia for months, especially how friendly everybody was. Every second person we met knew someone who’d been there, and apparently they were all dying to get back, so we had high expectations coming in to the country. These were met about as well as expectations often are. We found a country that had been scarred by a recent war which had left its inhabitants with hard faces, sour lines scored round eyes and mouths. We did meet some lovely people, but for the most part it took quite a while to get a smile out of someone. Maybe some of this was because we were there at the end of the tourist season. Understandably, they probably just wanted everyone to go home already so they could have some peace and quiet, and their country back to themselves after 9 months of being inundated with tourists.

The same bitterness was etched into the faces in Montenegro too, though perhaps a little less so. Albania, on the contrary, though poorer, had a happier air. (Slovenia too was pure surprise. We knew nothing about it other than having seen touristy photos of Lake Bled, and went there mostly because it was on the way, but we all wished we could have stayed longer.)

So Greece was more of a joy than I could have hoped.

On one occasion, driving slowly along a mountain road, we pulled over to let the car behind us past, and the driver pulled up beside us and motioned for us to open the window, just to see if we needed help.

Every time we had an idle chat with a stranger in the street, they gave us food. Fruit, bread, chewing gum, biscuits, whatever they had. The guy parked beside us on a peak in Mt Olympus coming back from his 6 hour hike gave us a bunch of bananas. Even the customs officials smiled and waved goodbye to the boys through the back window. I didn’t know customs official could smile.

Pelion

The next morning, driving away from Meteora, I decided to do some reading about the place. Yes, I realise this isn’t the ideal sequence. All I can say is that the day before had been busy.. It was with an odd mix of chagrin and awe that I read about the Theopetra Cave, where the earliest known human construction, a wall build 23,000 years ago, is open to the public. The cave itself has petrified footprints of 3 children, similar ages to ours, from 135,000 years ago. Spine tingling stuff. And we’d missed it! We’d gone too far to turn back now. Fortunately it’s closed Monday’s, like everything else, so he’d have had to wait an extra day anyway, which was some consolation.

Instead we drove down toward the Pelion peninsula. This turned out to be a good move, as the Pelion region was magical. Not because the myths of the centaurs, the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and the Apple of Dischord all originate from here, or because we were (apparently) only a 3.5 walk from Chiron’s Cave*, but because autumn was in full swing, and most of the peninsula is covered in primordial forest.

We stayed in the old village of Drakeia, perhaps named for a long-ago dragon, or perhaps because it’s sheltering valley is like the cupped palm of a hand. It clung to the side of the hill like old lichen, and had an interesting and sad history. The house we stayed in was the perfect haven. Comfortable, warm, and lived-in, and we all felt relaxed and at home here.

The sun shone almost every day. The trees glowed like a forest of lanterns, lit by the sun, stark against the blue of the smoky mountains and the sky. We came for a few days and ended up staying a good 2 weeks, while the amber glow slowly faded, and the skeletal forms of the trees themselves emerged, the off leaf left dangling like fairy lights, and the drifts piled high beside the roads.

We made big batches of tzatziki and ‘spanatakoptika’ as A calls it,

If it weren’t for the visa issue, we would probably have stopped here for the winter.

‘Is that a mouse on the ceiling?’ T asked one morning. It was just a knot in a beam as it happens, but it might well not have been. The night before while brushing my teeth, I’d heard a funny noise and went into the living room to investigate. There was an odd tinny ringing sound from the chimney, followed by a plop. Something black and hairy stretched one claw over the fire screen. Then another. The word tarantula surfaced in my mind, and I suspect the expression on my face would have been pretty funny, not being much of an arachnophile, so I was quite relieved to see it was only a bat. I opened various doors and windows, and flapped my arms about ineffectually trying to direct it to the largest exit, while it swooped panicked circles round the room, pausing for a few seconds to cling to the kitchen ceiling briefly before swooping off again. This went on for about 15 minutes, but suddenly there was stillness again, ap presumably it had made its way out the window. At any rate, I couldn’t find it anywhere in the house.

Greece has a strong association with wildlife for me, having read My Family and Other Animals every summer as a kid. In reality, most of the creatures we encountered were domestic. Every restaurant had its patron strays. Usually 4 kittens and 5 dogs. At one, a puppy with ears like exultant kites eyed a bowl-shaped ashtray hopefully. Mum lay off in the sun nearby, teats stretched by constant parenthood, and a bunch of males loitered watchfully, for scraps, or the next time someone came into heat. The stray situation here (and by ‘here’, I mean stretching from Croatia to at least Turkey) is extensive and eye opening. While it’s understandable that desexing pets seems an unaffordable luxury, it’s still rather heartbreaking. It’s rare to see a cat or dog who is well into adulthood. They mostly range from fluffy little puppies and kittens to rangy teenagers. Clearly they live short, fraught lives.

Road maintenance is a thing of the past. For the time being, at any rate. Frequently chunks of road subside down the hillside and the response is to dump a load of gravel on top and put a ‘road narrows’ sign in front. Driving in the middle of the road seems to be the norm going by the blackberries that grow halfway through the lane on each side, and the leaf drift that sways around the centerline in the smoothest possible driving elipse. This is in the mountains, on the back roads, which is where we’ve done most of our driving. Elsewhere it’s a different matter. There are big connecting roads with vast stretches of smooth freeway where the only thing more common than the enormous tunnels is enormous tolls.

Volos and the potato. Driving to the supermarket we saw a car stop in the middle of a stretch of road and reverse a few metres to pick up a potato someone had dropped on the centre line. Admittedly it was a big potato, but somehow it seemed a little symbolic of the desperate economy. By comparison, most countries have fruit left to rot on the trees.

The road up into the mountains, photos taken 2 weeks apart.

(Putting the limp into) Mt Olympus.

When we eventually managed to tear ourselves away from Drakeia, we headed north to Macedonia, or rather FYROM, since Macedonia also refers to a region of Greece. On the way we stopped a night on Mt Olympus. This was one of those drives where the kids were particularly ratty, so we were all keen for a walk once we got there. We took the trail down the the shrine of Dionysius, accompanied by a small bevy of stray dogs, and wondered at the curious little structure perched under an enormous boulder. That night we shut the doors and set up for bed as soon as the sun went down, and read myths about the origin of the gods while the temperature outside dropped, and dropped. And dropped.

(Musing on the remarkable number of similarities between the Greek and Norse pantheons, I did a little googling and was absurdly excited to find this – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_religion. I’m sharing it here in case anyone else gets excited about this stuff. 🙂

At 11 pm that night, a car crawled into the otherwise empty car park. It nosed around for a while, then came to park beside our van (which was clearly camped for the night, top popped and the only light coming from computer screens where J and I worked). It parked right beside us, as in a foot away. Sociable people, these. They turned on all their lights, doors open to let the radio stream out and proceeded to have a loud conversation about goodness knows what. Being so isolated, we kept a bit of an eye on them, but they packed and some bags, climbed into hiking gear, then off they went, up the hillside. They hadn’t come back by the time we left the next morning.

I don’t know if I can exactly say that we woke early the next morning, as I’m not sure you could quite say that we’d slept. It really was pretty cold. In any case, dawn was the sort of sight memories are made of.

I was strongly reminded of the Discworld, up there on the side of the mountain above the cloud-line where the gods used to live. Or perhaps still do, going by the number of shrines dotted around the area. But if they do, we didn’t see them. The light has a decidedly viscous feel to it. You can see why it takes time to get from one place to another. It has to wade its way through the fog and scramble through the trees, and stop and enjoy the view periodically along the way.

Driving back down the mountain after the sun had risen, we stopped at a lookout. An ephemeral ocean of thin rippling cloud spread out below as far as we could see, like a veil, with a glimpse of the still-shadowed city below. As we stood marvelling, echoes of a trumpet call floated up the mountainside from a nearby military base and lent both a strangely anachronistic contrast, and an extra sense of moment to the moment. (If you know what I mean..)

Remembering reading The Trumpet of the Swan with the boys last year, I googled the term reveille to find out more and had a shiver run down my spine when I read, according to http://www.anzacday.org.au/education/tff/bugle.html, ‘The custom of waking soldiers to a bugle call dates back to the Roman Legions when the rank and file were raised by horns playing Diana’s Hymn. To this day the French term for Reveille is ‘La Diana’.’ Reading Greek Myths at bedtime the night before we had learned that Diana was said to live on Olympus, so it turns out the Reveille wasn’t so out of place after all.

We had been in the ‘Attic of the Earth’, as F put it. Now we were ‘going back down to the ground floor’ with all the rest of the mortals.

‘What would it be like if there was no dark, no light, no nothing?’ F asked, as we wound our way down. Bit of a sticky one to answer, that. Perhaps you’d have to be one of the gods to know.

Rosy dawn up on the heights.

Up above the world on Mt Olympus.

Shrine to St Dionysius.

Quick update, 9 months in

imageWe’re currently sitting in a car park in Algeciras, waiting to cross to Morocco. The ferry has been delayed by 6 hours or so due to wind (good thing we got up early and rushed down here to be nice and early, huh?) so I’ve had time to tinker with this photo sketching app, and have a look back on the last 9 months.

Light purple: late May to early July.
Red: July to early August.
Orange: rest of August.
Green: campervan joins us. September to late October.
Blue: November to early December.
Dark purple: end of the year to mid January.
Pink: rest of January.
Blue texta: to now, late February.

The pencil line is a rough sketch of what might come next between here and end of June. This is all a rough sketch as the back seat is getting rowdy, and anything that isn’t done hastily isn’t done at all.

The conversation from the back  just now went:
T: Ooh, I’ve got one. When we get home (home is wherever we’re staying tonight) can we watch How It’s Made: Telescopes? (These are clips we watch on YouTube. Pasta, pianos, tofu, kazoos, you name it, there’s a video on how it’s made or how it works..)
F: How It’s Made: Spaceships!
T: How It’s Made: Microwaves! And batteries.
F: Cameras. Blood. (This stems from a recent discussion about iron, and why it’s good to eat vegetables.) I know! How it works: the body.
Me: Which part?
F: Everything. Every single bit. I tried explaining that it takes about 7 years at med school to learn How It Works: The Human Body, but a sceptical stare informs me this answer won’t suffice.
A, shouting to be heard over this explanation: How it’s Made: Monsters!

This is them in a nutshell really.

T will design a way to make the world work better.

F will design a new world. On Mars. He has it all planned out, and can’t wait to be old enough to get started.

As for A, it’s a little early to tell yet, but it looks like he’ll tag along for the ride, sabotage anything he can get his hands on, and make everyone laugh along the way.

Day 220: First impressions of Albania

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Albania is a real experience. We passed through briefly in November on our way to Greece and Turkey and were pleasantly surprised, so we’ve come back to see a bit more, and to stretch out our Schengen zone time so we can delay our return to the UK until the chill has receded a little.

We read around quite a bit before deciding to come here the first time as Albania has rather dodgy a reputation. However the more we read, the clearer it became that the rumors were greatly exaggerated. From first impressions, the country is the most friendly we’ve visited yet, except perhaps Greece. And it’s a beautiful country.

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The road up from the coastal border crossing from Greece shows some of the variety in the landscape.
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Driving up the peninsula from Sarandë to Ksamil.
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Some creative excavation work by the roadside. It’s either an immovable object, or between a rock and a hard place.

So far we’ve consistently met with an amazing welcome. People are friendly and go out of their way to be helpful.

The first night we were tossing up between a supermarket and a cafe for dinner, and the latter won out. We wandered into the nearest place that looked warm and met a genuinely friendly welcome (in English, no less, as the family’s daughter was home for the holidays), and had a huge meal for €13. For all 5 of us. The family quickly befriended the kids, and the elder boys settled into a game of Uno with their kids, while the mother fed mandarin segments into A like a fireman stoking a fast moving steam train. They sent us off with a bag of oranges, a pack of Uno, a toy Santa, and hearty dose of goodwill all round. We bumped into the elder daughter outside the supermarket and she said her parents had invited us to join them for New Year’s Eve.

The second night, we found ourselves in a pizza bar (courtesy of the kids) which turned out not to be doing pizzas in the off season, looked a bit average, and our shared vocabulary with the owners was about 10 words, but by the end the boys were dancing, playing a round of catch with the grandson of the house, and laughing themselves silly. And the food was great.

There are people on the streets everywhere. Sitting round nursing cups of coffee, chatting on phones, snappy dressers taking the ritual post-prandial promenade or just standing around. (Snappy dressing seems to be the norm actually, which must make us look that bit more out of place.) Maybe it’s because it’s winter and the sun is shining, so it’s probably warmer than inside the concrete-and-tile homes, but I get the sense it’s more than that.

Admittedly the roads are highly variable. They can go from easy to primitive with no notice whatsoever. A good road will end abruptly and morph into farm track at the drop of a hat, and roads marked on our various map apps are frequently little better than goat tracks, which makes navigating.. interesting. Speed limits vary equally abruptly, but are generally so low enough to keep the road toll to a minimum. And low speeds are reasonable given most roads seem to be used as much by flocks of animals as by automobiles. Beware of speeding sheep however. And the occasional gopher.

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Roads seem to be a ‘shared use’ zone. Still for the most part they’ve been much better than we expected from prior reading. Follow the road signs though, they are much better informed than your average map app.

Random explosions echo round the town day and night. Some of these are from kids letting off occasional firecrackers, so maybe this is the lead up to New Years Eve, but the rest..? Who knows.

Here in Ksamil, there is a big playground attached to a cafe bar. The care doesn’t serve food, and is full of men sitting round drinking coffee all day, and the equipment is all supersize so maybe it’s a grown up playground, but the kids love the giant ship swings and happily play on the gondolas for hours. The cafe makes coffee strong enough to curl your toenails, so it’s as good a place to work and research as anywhere else.

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Pirates on the High Seas in the giant playground.

Sarandë has a different feel again, the Amalfi of Albania, but a whole lot more chaotic and developing. We made one visit there looking for a heater, and decided not to go back in the van if we could help it, bit it would be fun to explore of foot. There’s a large open air Roman ruin smack bang in the model of it too’ adding another layer to the bubbling maelstrom of life going on here.

Albania seems to be a budget traveller’s dream.

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The ratio seems to be approximately 1 supermarket to 10 residents. Car washes are more like 1:1.

The place we are staying is swish by our standards but still cheaper than the campsite we stayed at in Lago di Garda, in Italy. (Admittedly the bathroom smells like a ripe blue cheese, but hey, we like blue cheese so why hold that against it?) There seems to be a strong general pride in possessions. Cars, driveways, terraces and footpaths are hosed off daily and houses are scrupulously clean. The streets, on the other hand, are.. well, not. (Sitting outside a supermarket, I watched a man spend a good half an hour hosing off his 2 car driveway, styrofoam balls and other detritus sluiced out onto the road for all the traffic to enjoy.) But then road surfacing and rubbish collection take money..

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The view from our door comes complete with lolling sunbather.

Granted, these are just first* impressions, and we are still running on coffee and sunshine to make up for traveling 1000k in 3 days on very broken sleep. Also we are traveling as a family, maybe young kids make us that bit more approachable? I don’t know. No doubt we will learn more as we go.

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So Happy New Year from Ksamil!

*Technically second impressions as we did stop in Tirana for a night in October, our 10th wedding anniversary, as it happens. However we didn’t get to see much as I’d had an accident the day before and J spent most of the afternoon finding a pair of crutches, and we left early the next day. Our main impressions then were that Tirana was very interesting, very colourful, and a great place to buy crutches!

Day 213: Hibernating in Turkey

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Six months of being almost constantly on the move seems to have caught up with us.

We have been in the Ida Mountains of Turkey for about five weeks now and hardly stirred. J is working on a big update to the app, I’ve been cramming in as much work as possible, and the boys are doing regular school hours and making cubbies and inventing games. A is getting into everything, as usual.

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A kindly agreed to model a hat for me. But only on the condition that he was a ‘doddy’. One of the local stray dogs frequently accompanies us on our walks, and A chases him around happily and generally gets his dose of zoomorphism.

The days have blurred together into a sort of perpetual Thursday. So we have been doing very little besides working, eating and feeling sleepy.

The first week here we had a bout of TV watching brought on by sheer lethargy. First we watched the film My Family and Other Animals, then the miniseries from the ’80’s. It’s surprisingly fitting really, so now we’re reading the book, and it seems to have caught their imagination. The boys have taken to acting out little scenes from the stories, and making up games around them.

They have also been really taken with the Greek Myths, which we started reading back in November while in Greece. I love listening to how our books inform their play, it’s fascinating.  Like the Greek Gods game. The conversation I overheard went like this:

T: ‘I’m going to pretend to be the little god who crawled out of the cave when he was just a year old and made a musical instrument out of a turtle shell.’
F: ‘The dummy god?’
T: ‘The demi god!’
F: ‘No, the demi god was the one with one eye.. Or maybe that one was the semi god..’
T: ‘Anyway, I love that one who was just a little baby’…

At this point I had to sneak away in case they heard me giggling.

The boys have loved playing out on the hillside, and invented various games. One that sounded particularly interesting was about a team of spaceships called the Jolly Rogers and the Jolly Ramplings, set in a place called the Stream of St Dumps. (Littering isn’t a consideration around these parts..)

We did manage to make it to Assos/Behramkale for a look around at Athena’s temple and the deserted theatre.

Another day we made it to Troy. On the drive there, we retold the legends and analysed motivations and ethics in a very high-minded way. Then we arrived, and after enthusiastically climbing the big wooden horse, T spent the rest of the time there counting squirrel sightings, and A trying to make friends with all the stray cats. F found part of a defunct hearing aid case and from then on could talk of nothing but what he might invent with it, how it all worked, and wishing he was a grown up already so he could make all the stuff he intends to make. I don’t doubt he will someday.  And I’m sorry to say the thing I got most excited over was the acorn caps.. (They were the size and semblance of tarantulas. Honest!) Fortunately J redeemed us all by being very impressed by the craftsmanship of the stonework and reading as much of each sign as he could before A ran off and tried to fall off a precipice.

However we haven’t really wanted to go anywhere as the area we are in, near the Kazdagi mountains, is quite spectacular. The little town of Yesilyurt is nestled in a stony pine forest gully, surrounded by olive groves, and is fascinating, like stepping back in time.

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The boys have a theory that a giant lived here once upon a time and left this footprint in the road.

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The last few days have been focussed on trying to make a memorable Christmas for the kids. We went on a tree hunting mission and managed to cull a respectable branch from a tree overhanging the road that would have needed pruning sooner or later anyway. This has been thoroughly decorated with cardboard decorations and tinfoil chocolate wrappings (I’ve had to work diligently on the stash to provide these) and we’ve dipped into a little comparative religion, which is always interesting. A insists on calling it the Father Christmas tree, and Father Christmas Eve and so on. He didn’t quite know what was coming ‘Father Christmas Day’ morning, but he cottoned on fast! At one point, T handed him a present, and after tearing off the wrapping, we reminded him to say thank you. ‘Teshekkur edrim’ he slurred, in imitation Turkish.

 

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We have just a few more days here, then we hare across Greece on the tail end of our Schengen time, and hang out in Albania for a couple of weeks before making our way to Spain, via a variety of ferry and land hops.

General observations:

Driving here is fun. There is a high degree of tolerance and it seems like you can do just about anything as long as you look both ways first. And maybe sideways and behind too.. Speed signs appear to be more suggestions than limits, and stop lights are for those who aren’t in a hurry. Double parking is normal, and even driving the wrong way down the main street is ok, as long as you watch out for pedestrians. People just move over a little to make room.

Turkish food is amazing, even from what little we’ve tried. The glacé olives in particular struck the boys as a truly inspired invention. And we’re all very taken with etsiz cig kofte, something we’ll have to try making at home. The boys have been really getting into trying new foods. They vie to choose new cheeses, and inspect each new supermarket with relish. They help us whip up huge batches of humus and tzatziki, and sneak cucumbers away from the the kitchen to make caches in various places like squirrels. (Each time at the supermarket we buy a larger bag than the time before – a full standard sized grocery bag now – and by the third day, they’re all gone. If not the second.)

English is not common in these parts. We are all trying to learn some Turkish, but mostly doing a pretty abysmal job of it. In 7 months, we’ve picked up a smattering of French, Dutch, German, Greek and Srpski, and at this stage our heads seem to be full. J and I can manage hello and thank you, and A manages to get by anywhere by smiling endearingly while mangling a word or two. The boys have learnt what they think to be the most essential basics though, and run down to the local shop every morning to buy a loaf of bread. If the owner isn’t there, they pick the warmest loaf and leave the money on the shelf. This seems to be the way it’s done..? As far as we can tell, anyway..

Turkey seems to be remarkably self-sufficient. We’ve had to do a bit of shopping lately, for winter gear and various other things, and it’s surprisingly unusual to find something that isn’t made here. Impressive.

We saw a non-Turkish car yesterday. This was notable because it was the first time we’ve seen one since we drove away from the border crossing nearly six weeks ago.

Mastic. We had a fun surprise the other night when I opened a spur-of-the-moment package of instant rice pudding from the supermarket, and found it to be flavoured with mastic. The boys were right into this, being budding cavemen, and having loved the little ‘tears’ of mastic we had bought in Greece as chewing gum, and then gone out to raid the local pine trees for sap (yes, it’s safe, I checked..) then began eating pine needles like the Moomins preparing for hibernation (not such an odd idea, it turns out, if you start reading about the many uses of pine in cold climates.)

So, we will be sorry to say goodbye to Mt Ida, even to the dyspeptic rooster outside our bedroom window. (Ok, dyspepsia is just a guess, but he’s the most mournful rooster I’ve ever heard, sounding like a cross between a slowly opened door and the last dying wheeze of a bagpipe when some drunken reveller trips over it at 2 in the morning. If he wasn’t quite so pathetic he’d be pretty annoying – crowing as he does, anytime between midnight and 4 am – but instead he makes us laugh. Mostly. My pet theory is that he does it to keep warm as it’s pretty jolly nippy out there of an evening..)

Halfway update

It’s been nearly 6 months since we packed our house into storage and left home. Since then we’ve been through 17 countries, stayed in over 30 different places (not counting the camping spots) and taken about 9000 photos.

It’s been amazing, exhausting, relentless, educational and memorable. It’s often been hard work, but it’s always really, really interesting. And when you look back on an experience in later years, the difficulties tend to pale in comparison with the interesting bits.

Learning to pace things is an ongoing process. We are constantly torn between wanting to make the most of our time over here and wanting to take it easy enough to avoid being too tired to enjoy it. This is harder than it sounds. To have come so far and not make the effort to see as much as we can seems a crazy waste. But sometimes ‘as much as we can’ is really not very much.

I’ve started this post many times now. Between the demands of parenting, travelling, homeschooling and working there isn’t much left at the end of the day for reflection and the distilling of experiences into neat little packages with pretty pictures. I have lots of notes though and will still write them up sometime.

In the meantime, a few photos will have to suffice.

These are all from the last month I think, and completely out of order.  I was going to explain them all, but maybe I’ll leave that for now and try out this ‘sleep’ thing everyone’s always raving about.

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Oh, and several people will be glad to know that A has finally had a hair cut.

It seems to be a mullet.

Poppy, you can thank a lump of blue tack.