Why 86 days in Madrid?

Madrid is an awesome city. Before we arrived in July, I planned to log what I did everyday: to write a blog; post pictures on Facebook; to record our visit in a journal…

But it just never happened.  Why?  I guess it’s because we just got down to enjoying ourselves.  And time passed. Too quickly.  We became embroiled in not being tourists, but living the city.  How to describe this place.  Swelteringly hot in July and August. Many of the madrilenos escape to the mountains or to the sea. Bizarrely to us it seemed, those months were closed and quiet (excepting the touristy areas).  Now, in September, the weather has cooled, although most days the temperature reaches the high 20’s. Perfect for walking and exploring and wandering. Madrid is so full of life and warmth.  Madrid remembers its history. Madrid looks to the future.  And it is here we have been blissfully lost for almost half our stay.  Soon it will be December and we will leave to return to the UK.  Already, we feel a sadness, which will only intensify as time passes. 

So each day, until we leave, I will record my impressions of this unique place.  Eighty six memories.

  • The Buen Retiro Park


  • The Madrid skyline from the top of El Corte Ingles




  • Canal de Isabel II Park










  • Steps leading into the Sorolla Museum


  • Las Fiestas de la Paloma, La Latina


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The beautiful town of Beaune 

My favourite photograph of the whole holiday

We’d never stayed in the Burgundy area before, only driven through on our way to the South of France. It is stunning. Here, some of the best wine in France is produced – and the food is superb.  Because it’s about halfway down (or up) the weather is not guaranteed hot all summer. In fact, it rained (heavily) a couple of times. However, when the sun shone, which was most of the time, it was perfect. Not the Italian heat we’d had further south. So, we cycled and walked a lot. In France, as well as the excellent GR walking routes there are cycling routes called voie verte (this I’ve spelt wrong, I think). Very often they are old railway lines which are mostly flatish. Perfect for a cycling softie like me.

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Max 60mph

One of the best things about being on this kind of holiday is the no plan aspect to it. Anywhere is possible.  For our next stop, the south of France was tempting, having been there first 30 years ago when we travelled with a small tent and MG motorcar right down to La Ciotat, a small town on the Med just East of Marseille.  But knowing how it would be bursting with holiday-makers, we decided to head back into France via the Alps, going through the Frejus Tunnel.  So, we left Bolsena and travelled up the backbone of Italy, past Tuscany on the left and Umbria on the right, past Bologna and Modena.


Walking in the Bolsena countryside

The drag from towing a caravan slows you down from 70mph+ to max 60. But as we are used to spending our time in the fast lane going nowhere, caravan speed is just fine. Steve is very good at judging how far it is possible/enjoyable to go in one day, so Asti in the Piedmont region was our destination.

Whilst ‘getting away from it all’ was the general idea (in reality it never happens), the one thing we both would vote for in a campsite is the internet. It is invaluable in numerous ways (this subject deserves a Post all to itself).  One of our travel ‘Bibles’ is the Alan Rogers’ Campsite Guide (also online).  So, armed with this and the internet it is a doddle to find, if not actually book, campsites. What isn’t so much of a doddle is finding the bloody places. Because we want places that show us something of the local area/culture we try to use sites that people of that country would use. Another mod-con we enlisted for this trip is a Sat Nav. However, ours seems not to know her (it has to be) left from right sometimes, and says turn when she means bear and bear when she means turn.

And that is how we found ourselves up a mountain with nowhere obvious to turn around, looking for an authentic Italian campsite.

So, as the road was coming to an end, we turned into the only turning there was – a farmyard. Thinking we were going to spin around and be off, Steve drove the caravan to the right to do a sweep and out again.  He hadn’t bargained on several elderly people sitting in the shade in the heat of the day – on their land.  You can’t just creep away with a caravan in tow.  Only thing for it: to smile, look apologetic to the fact we were trespassing and try to find out where lost campsite was.  Yet again, we found the language barrier no barrier to making ourselves understood.  The fact that campsite in Italian is campeggio and there was only one road down and the friendly people saying ‘due chilometro’ and pointing right meant we were booking in in less than 10 minutes.

This campsite had a restaurant where we booked in for dinner. What a brilliant dinner, too. It was full of local people and campers.  One family of about 16 turned up to celebrate someone’s birthday.  The atmosphere was relaxed. There was no hurry to be served. And, as the wine arrived pronto, we were happy campers.

Below: two signs we found humorous.  They were by the wash basins

Another successful campsite.

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A fish supper: Marta, Italy

Again, off the beaten track, we found a small fishing village on the edge Lake Bolsena. It was having its annual fish festival and we were the  only Brits there. In fact, the only non-Italians, it seemed.

There was an amazing community atmosphere where people were paying their 13 euros for an amazing fish supper (nothing like our own) and sitting on long trestle tables.

The harbour at Marta

An aperitif

Our delicious fish supper (much nicer than it looks in the photo)







On this side of Lake Bolsena, away from the Dutch and German tourists, we got a sense of working class Italy.  Whole families come to enjoy the celebration.  The welcome and friendliness, despite the Italians here speaking no English and us speaking very limited Italian, was brilliant.







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Escaping Tuscany

We are trying, as much as possible, to go to places not typically on the beaten track. Having said that, we did have a day in Siena, meeting friends Sue and Pete.  They were staying near Pisa and we were in Bolsena. Siena was about half way.  We had been to Siena on a previous visit to Italy and knew it was going to be a: busy and b: hot. It was. It took our friends 2 1/2 hours and us 1 hour 50 to get there.  So how did we spend the day? Looking around the duomo? Climbing the campanile? We had a 4 hour lunch. And then drove home again. It was bliss.  Whilst the lunch was more than we would have paid elsewhere, we had a brilliant view of il Campo, the main square where the Palio is run; we stayed out of the heat and sun; we avoided the hoards of people – and best of all we spent time with our lovely friends.











After our long, lazy, non-sightseeing lunch, we did pop into a church on our way back to the car park.


Best of all, though, we avoided bumping into any British politicians.


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Austria part 2

Don’t quite know what happened to photos and text on the previous blog. Must be the heat.  So, here goes again.

We went to Bregenz to look at the new Festspiele stage. It is amazing.

Can you believe this is a stage?

The opera being performed this year is Andre Chenier, a historical romance set against the backdrop of the French Revolution.

As it rained so hard we decided to go to an Austrian town called Feldkirch for lunch.

Gorgeous cakes

And puddings

Not much text so far as we’ve been limited in our access to the internet. Have found it takes ages to upload photos, so there’re lots we’ve had to leave out.

A summary of what we’ve enjoyed so far:

  • Food (the cuisine of each country we’ve visited is so different)
  • Friends (Louise and David in Baden-Baden; Rachel and John in Austria)
  • French supermarkets
  • Cycling in the Champagne area and in the Black Forest
  • The varied landscapes – mostly the amazing mountains in Austria
  • Not working
Moving moments:
  • First World War graves, lines and lines and lines of them
  • Getting really mud-caked boots when walking for pleasure and thinking how the same mud must have stuck to soldiers’ boots
And on to Italy…
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Austria: Burserberg and beyond

Spent 3 excellent but rainy days with Rachel and John in Austria. The scenery is stunning (and not just the 3 beauties in the photo below).

An awesome and wonderful view

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Germany: gnome from gnome

Thinking the continent would be far warmer and sunnier and drier than home, we packed few clothes suitable for inclement weather.  Whilst the weather has been better than in England, it has not been what we had planned/imagined.  Our 3 days in Buhl contained one morning that was hot.  On that day, we did a beautiful walk in the Black Forest. The views were stunning.

Being British, we are obsessed with not only the weather as it is at any given moment, but also weather forecasts.  The wonder that is the internet has allowed us, as we sat in a sodden campsite, to nod knowingly as we looked at the satellite of current weather conditions and to grumble about what was in store.

That said the rain has not, as they say, kept us in.  And we’ve delighted in visiting old haunts in Germany and having new experiences. The city of Heidelberg is just as we remembered it. Not having been back for 15 years, we were interested to see what had changed.  Little has. It is still charming and touristy.

Germany is an amazing country where old cultures and traditions sit easily with modern development and tastes.  This is the case with architecture and cuisine.

Then there was our campsite: a fascinating mix of permanence and transience, a stopover for campers heading south and of people who own ‘permanent’ mobile homes, and come to stay for the summer.  So, right next to the ever-changing line of Dutch caravans parked near the exit ready for a quick getaway, there are rows of bijou residences fenced, with manicured gardens guarded by the gaudiest of gnomes.

But, best of all, the beer is still excellent.

Buhl Campsite with rain

Our one rainfree day

Campsite with gnomes

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A dog called Dior and a restaurant called Madonnaire

Coming from the UK, you tend to forget that not all countries have shops/restaurants/cafes that are open 24/7.  So, we thought it would be fairly easy to find somewhere with WiFi on a Sunday afternoon, even in France. Not so. Especially in a French provincial town.  After much hunting around, going into several bars, eventually asking at the tourist information, and being told that we could get WiFi at’ Madonnaire’, we find ourselves in said restaurant. Here we can, once more, get in touch with the world; see who’s missing us, and update our blog.

We are now 4 days into our extended holiday. We arrived at our first campsite near Folkestone – and left it 2 minutes later. It was like something out of Cold Comfort Farm. Instead, we stayed in a larger, more inhabited site overnight. The next day we crossed to France and headed for the Champagne region, where we have been since. This campsite, in contrast, is stunning: a small orchard with only a few pitches. It is owned by a Champagne grape grower who sells bottles to campers.

Like a lot of France, the area is rural, nothing but vines for miles. Today, we went on a long walk through vineyards and villages.   People say how unfriendly the French can be. No way. Here people are lovely. For example, we were admiring a beautiful garden and the owner came out and showed us around. It is the extensive grounds of an old priory that she lovingly tends to. Proudly, she showed us her garden and introduced us to her dog: Dior.

Tomorrow, we move on to Buhl in Germany which is near Baden-Baden.

Hopefully, the first of many blogs – and who knows from where they will be written? If you were thinking how lovely to begin writing in a typical French restaurant, think again. There was a little lost in translation, as they say.  Not that there’s anything terribly wrong with Macdonald’s.

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Nesting Swans

A couple of weeks ago we posted some photographs of swans mating.  This week the swans have built a nest and are on it.  The nest is very near to the edge of the mere making it easier for predators.  Already this year we’ve seen wrecked grebes and coots’ nests, presumably so because they too built very near to the edge.  A friend told us that it most likely is mink that’s the culprit.  Hopefully, the swans are big enough to fend off any threat.  Yesterday, we watched one of the swans laboriously making the nest. What a skill! It’s a beautiful construction.  So far, there are no eggs.

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