From Alicante to Tarragona


We are on the move again and after being in the one place for just over a month, I’m looking forward to some new adventures. But before we go, I still have one city to visit close to where we are staying, Alicante. Our friends are up for a visit and we book the local bus to stop at the campsite. John, being the modern man, has decided to stay at home and catch up on the washing, although I think the threat of us ladies doing some shopping is just too much for him! It’s an early start and after rising at 6.45 to catch the bus, our first port of call in Alicante is breakfast……a good old tostada, the staple breakfast, lunch and snack in Spain, best served with tomate, queso and jamo serrano…. yum. After breakfast we visit the 16th century Castillo Santa Barbara, via the lift. You can walk, but as the castle is perched on a small mountain, the 3 Euros 20 cent for the lift is worth every penny. On the roof of the castle the sweeping views over the city, bay and coastal towns beyond are stunning and it’s worth spending time here to admire the vista.

The vista from the top of Castillo Santa Barbara, Alicante

We then wander through the streets of ‘El Barrio’ (the old town), where the quaint whitewashed houses are decorated with geranium window boxes and the pace of life is slow. We stroll along the main Esplanade across from the marina and stop at one of the cafes for their ‘Menu del Día’ (menu of the day) which usually consists of 3 courses, bread, salad and often a glass of wine. June and I share a speciality Alicante rice dish, Arroz, similar to Paella but made with a more glutenous rice. Washed down with a glass of rioja wine it is delicious. We spend a few hours window shopping and catch the bus back to the campsite. On arriving Eddie quickly realises he has left his phone and credit cards on the bus, but after phoning his phone, the bus driver answers and offers to bring it to the campsite. ‘All’s well that ends well’ and it just goes to show that most people the world over will go out of their way to help if they can.

The old town of Alicante 

It’s a 5-hour drive to our next campsite, which is on the beach, about 6km from the city of Tarragona. We share the driving and I’m gaining confidence navigating this 7m long machine on the wrong side of the road. We drive from Valencia into Catalonia and the landscape changes. Its greener here with less agriculture and tall thin cypress trees, poppies and spring flowers now line the roadside replacing the parched mountain plains of Valencia. The towns and villages seem more French, less Spanish as we drive North towards the French border. On our next day we walk into Tarragona, a city I hadn’t heard of before, but had been recommended to visit. A real treat was in store. We discover that Tarragona is a very old city and was first occupied by the Romans in 200BC when as the capital of Modern Spain, it was known as Tarraco. It was invaded in the 8th century by the Moors and rose to power again in the 11th century as a Christian settlement. Much of the original Roman remains and Medieval architecture has been well preserved.


The cloisters at Tarragona Cathedral

We visit the Amifeatre Roma, perched just back from the beach, it offers amazing views and the Pretori I Circ Romans which contains the vaults of the Roman Circus, where chariot races were a regular sight in the city. The Romans really did know how to party – who needs a night at the cinema when gladiators and wild animals are fighting to the death with a gorgeous seascape backdrop or chariots are speeding through the streets of the city at great pace? The 12th century Romanesque and Gothic cathedral and museum are also well worth a visit as is the Passeig Arqueologic, a walk around part of the old Roman perimeter walls. In the old town we wander down charming narrow, winding streets, past many picturesque little squares where Roman relics pop up unexpectedly on street corners. I loved this city and there is much more that we didn’t see on our 27,000-step day visit. If you are in the area, don’t pass it by, it’s definitely worth a visit.

The old town Tarragona, and Amifeatre Roma

The lady at the ticket office in Tarragona had smiled when John asked for a pensionista ticket (he can’t resist a bargain and after all his OAP discounts are subbing me on this gap year) and suggested ‘that he might be old on the outside, but still young on the inside’. This got me thinking that both cities we visited are very old, with centuries of history, but they have survived into the 21st century by adapting and perhaps for cities, but not humans, being ‘old on the inside, but young on the outside’ might be the best way to go!

A lovely cup of tea in Elche


Okay, so I have a confession, it’s a terrible vice……. I absolutely love tea. It’s my tipple of choice, morning, afternoon and evening. I have even been known to have a ‘cup of tea’ at last orders. I’m not a Tetley or Yorkshire tea girl. Tea, for me must be more subtle and I do have my favourites…Earl Grey (with milk not lemon), Darjeeling, Vanilla Rooibos, Ginger and Lemon, Peppermint and Liquorice to name but a few, but I’m always up for trying a new blend. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing better than sitting down with a nice hot cup of tea (a pot is even better). A wee square of black chocolate goes very nicely, and on special occasions a fruit scone with jam and butter makes for a perfect combination. A cup of tea signals that it’s time for a break, time to stop what I’m doing, time to switch off or sometimes it can help to keep going. It’s strange that although a traveller seeks out new and different experiences, comforting rituals, such as a nice cup of tea, have also become important. However, my quest for this simple creature comfort in the land of café con leche, has been challenging. The coffee and chocolate culture in Spain go back a long way and drinking tea here is not really considered the norm. So, this my chance to practice some of of the lingo. “Te negra con leche, por favour (black tea with milk, please)”, I smile …… a small cup of hot milk with a tea bag floating within (and no tea diffused out) arrives. Okay, so that didn’t work. I try something else “Te negra con leche fria, aparte” (black tea with separate cold milk) …… a cup of tea and a separate glass of milk is placed on the table and when I try the same on another occasion, a cup of tea and a glass with ice (not sure how that one happened) is served. I go back to my Spanish phrase book, and finally during an afternoon in Elche, in one of the city’s quaint little squares, I get it right. The waitress offers Rooibos as a choice, so I go for it “ Té Rooibois en agua caliente y un poco de leche fria en una jarra”( Rooibois tea with hot water and a small jug of cold milk) and lo and behold, a lovely cup of loose-leaf vanilla Rooibos in hot water, in a large mug (most cups of tea in Spain have been tiny) arrives with a small jug of cold milk on the side. And so already I have a soft spot for Elche where I enjoy the best cup of tea in Spain, so far!

We spend the afternoon in Elche (also known as Elx), the third biggest city in the region of Valencia. We later find out that the city has UNESCO World Heritage status for its Misteri d’Elx (an annual mystery musical play sung entirely by men, about the death, assumption and crowning of the Virgin), performed since the 15th century in the Basilica of Saint Mary of Elche. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it is performed in August, so we don’t get the chance to experience it, but we do visit the extensive palm groves for which the city has also been awarded UNESCO status. The palms are everywhere and you might also spot a pomegranate tree or two, for which this region is also famous for.  We visit the Huerto del Cura, a beautiful garden full of date palms, cacti and other local flora. The Imperial palm tree, in the centre of the garden, is 165 years old and is quiet a spectacle with its 8 additional trunks (children) sprouting 2 meters above the ground in a tree-like candelabra. We visit the Museo del Palmarel which houses hundreds of different palm varieties and spend some time in the Museo Arqueológico y Historia de Elche, a fabulous museum, been built on The Alcazar de la Señoríasite, part of the old Islamic road in the city. The museum recounts the history of Elche, through archaeological artefacts, touchscreen information displays (all in English) and animation. Finally, we visit the Basillica de Santa Maria, where a trip up its tower provides a fabulous view of the city. On the way back to the car, we walk through the Municipal Park which is full of…. yes, you guessed it, more palm trees. A lovely city to visit if you are in this area of Spain, and although I can’t promise, it might be your best bet of finding that lovely cup of tea all you tea lovers in Spain have been looking for!


A wonderful wedding at Whittlebury


It seems like we have been following the blossom since we arrived in Spain a month ago. First there was the lovely pink and white almond tree blossom sprinkled across the plains of Rioca, followed by the gorgeous orange and lemon tree blossom wafting their scent along the Camino rural paths in Valencia and now as we arrive in the Northamptonshire countryside, we are greeted by cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Spring has followed us over this past month, and it has finally settled at Whittlebury hall, heralding a new beginning at the wedding of my stepdaughter Elspeth and her partner Martin.

We have been looking forward to this day since the soon to be bride and groom announced their engagement 18 months ago. There have been months of planning by the happy couple, but all we had to do was to get ourselves here on time. A flight from Alicante and a car hire from the airport and it was looking good. Now there was just the small detail of our outfits. Johns kilt had been deposited with his daughter many months ago and my daughter who was flying from Edinburgh was bringing all my regalia in her hand luggage. Luckily all goes to plan, and we potter away the morning of the wedding, lazing over breakfast, chatting to family and friends and watching children’s TV with John’s grandson Joe. Before we know it, we are suited (kilted) and booted and making our way to ‘The Orangery’ where the bride and groom are to be married. Elspeth was simple stunning as she descended the stairs with John and the pianist kept us entertained with a real mix of ‘nontraditional’ tunes, including a few of Elspeth’s Disney favourites. There was a tear in my eye as the couple said their vows and a duet from the couples musical theatre friends kept us mesmerised while the new Mr and Mrs Duffy signed the registry. The day was a fun fusion of Scottish and English traditions with disposable cameras and cuddly highland cows on each of the tables for the children to play with (and take home), a guestbook and fingerprint tree, a ceilidh band (with a caller), and a fully stocked sweet shop!  A great idea to keep the children amused…. well that’s what we thought until an overexcited grandson gorged himself on sweets and after jigging The Eightsome Reel he managed to empty the full contents of his stomach over his dad and grandpa (John). Nothing that a few paper towels, a change of clothes (for Joe) and a good dry clean will sort!



Ours is a blended family, which we think is a lovely way to describe the fusion of both families that our marriage brought together. We both count ourselves very lucky to be part of one big family and this day at Whittlebury, with the wonderful wedding of Elspeth and Martin, we have witnessed the blossoming of another branch of our family which we’ll take great pleasure in being part of in the future. And so, as we arrive back at our campsite late on Sunday evening, for the first time on our adventures I feel unsettled. I guess it’s because having been with family, it doesn’t feel like ‘Cassey’ is home. They say ‘Home is where the heart is’ and just for a little while my heart is still at Whittlebury where most of our family were with us, smiling, laughing and dancing the night away.

Van life at Marjal


We have arrived at Marjal Costa Brava, a 5-star campsite inland from Alicante where we will be staying for a month until after my step daughter’s wedding. Its hot when we arrive and by Sunday the temperature soars to 30 degrees. We are here for a few reasons; one, its close to Alicante airport so it makes it easy to fly back for the wedding; two, our friends have recommended the campsite as a great place to be if the weather isn’t good (which is entirely possible in March despite the current temperatures) and; three, John, is testing the water for a life of ‘over wintering ‘ in Spain for when I retire (his previous multiple recordings and secret viewings of ‘Winter Homes in the Sun’ have not been in vain!). Staying in one campsite for this long is not really ‘my cup of tea’, but it makes sense until the weather gets warmer in Northern Europe and we can start to travel, the real purpose of my ‘seniors gap year’.

I must admit, it is nice to finally be in one place with no particular plans, although the ‘no particular plans’ bit does make me nervous as I’m a girl who likes to be ‘doing’. I know that part of the journey for me on this trip is to learn to ‘go with the flow’ and to be happy just ‘being’, rather than needing to do all the time. We soon settle into van life, although there are challenges living in such a small (7.3m x2.1m) space. Everything we need has been packed into the van and it takes time to get to know where we have put it all. Jobs seem to naturally divide – I like to cook (it’s like cooking in a toy kitchen… perhaps a flashback from childhood!) and John likes to do the washing up, which seems to be a social event for the gents of an evening. Our idiosyncrasies become exaggerated – John’s need to do things in a certain way and my messiness when I cook are just a few. It’s easy to become irritated when there’s nowhere to escape to, so we try hard to and nip any niggles in the bud, after all we have another 7 months of living together in this small space!

Our first few days are busy. The site is huge (1200 pitches and hundreds of holiday chalets) and there are 3 swimming pools (one indoor), a spa, gym, supermarket, hairdressers, mini golf, tennis and péntanque pitches. There’s a Camping and Caravanning rally on (which is a kind of get together for members) and between the activities organised by the campsite and the rally there is something to do every morning, afternoon and evening if you want…..great if you are a  We join in happy hour followed by entertainment (on a school night!) and go on a group cycle and walk. There’s a Saturday night quiz and sausage sizzle, a Sunday afternoon BBQ with Pims, and there’s plenty of opportunities to go for a ‘sundowner’ at the poolside bar.


Being the more sociable of the two, John is in his element……. but on Monday as the weather cools, time starts to shift, and this is what I have been waiting for. There is no rush to do anything and I can take time to ‘just be’ …. I read, I learn a bit of Spanish (duolingo –, something I have been meaning to do for a long time, I go to the gym and Pilates and I try a painting workshop. I am no longer Linda the physiotherapist, Linda the mother or Linda the daughter…. I get time to just be me. So, although on the face of it Marjal isn’t really my thing, I know that having this time will help me to reset my clock, reflect and to think about how I want to live the next chapter of my life.

There are so many different nationalities at the site; German, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Belgian, Swiss and Swedish etc, etc. There are some permanent residents and at £5,000 a year for a pitch, and 1 euro for a coffee, it’s certainly cheaper than the UK. Some stay for the winter, some for a few weeks or months and some are just passing through. Some caravans and motorhomes are huge, 5th wheelers, and many have extended their living space by erecting awnings and creating mini outdoor gardens and patios. Most here are retired, and in their 60s, 70s or 80s, but at the weekends Spanish families arrive and the atmosphere changes. Everyone is active, most have bikes (although some have electric) and everybody walks and uses the gym regularly…. it’s a different way of life and the sunshine certainly helps.

I have met some inspiring people. There’s Betty, who’s in her mid-70s and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and drove her motorhome singlehanded all the way from Merseyside to spend the Winter at the campsite. She joins us on a Sunday morning group walk in her rambling buggy. A regular rambler, she tells us of a time when she was half way up Snowdonia and the buggy started to slide down the scree path… but still made it to the top. We meet another couple in their 80’s, walking hand in hand. They have their own homes in the UK but spend every winter together at the campsite…. “I live every day like my last”, Dave beams. Another couple, in their 70’s, are on their way back from spending the winter in Morocco. Taking early retirement in their late 50s they gave up ‘conventional living’ many years ago, living on a barge first in middle England and then on the Canal de Midi in France. They settled in France, but soon became restless, bought a motorhome and have travelled around Europe ever since.

The people I meet remind me that life is too short to have all your hopes and dreams in the future.  We can all find reasons and excuses (time, money, guilt, fear) which stop us from doing what we want to do now. Meeting some of the people I have at Marjal has reinforced to me that if you really want to do something, for most of us, there is usually a way to make it happen, although often you have to be brave and step out of your comfort zone.  So, in the words of a well-known sports brand, if you really want to do something, ‘just do it!’ The only person that’s really stopping you is you!


Oranges, Las Fallas and Paella in Valencia


We have travelled to the Valencia region of Spain…. pronounced ‘Balenthia’, which will be our home until mid-April. The sun has come out and it’s about 22 degrees; very pleasant for March. I here storm Gareth has been causing havoc in the UK and I’m feeling rather guilty that we are bathed in spring sunshine ( but not a lot!). First, we stay in a campsite North East of Valencia for a few days and enjoy a wonderful cycle along the Via Ojos Negros Greenway, a 160 km walking/cycle track which runs from Ojos Negros in Aaragon (wasn’t he a hero from The Lord of the Rings?) to Valencia. We travel south of the city of Valencia to our next campsite which is near the coastal town of Oliva and the next day we cycle along an old railway route to Gandia. As we cycle past the orange groves, there is blue sky for miles and the trees are bursting with fruit. The smell of orange blossom wafts across the path and stirs the senses. I hope to rekindle this memory on those dark January days in Scotland.

We have an opportunity to visit the city of Valencia and join a bus trip organised from the campsite. We have struck it lucky, Las Fallas de San José (torches) festival, a traditional celebration, held in commemoration of Saint Joseph (the patron saint of a happy death) is on while we are here. We take a ‘free’ walking tour ( which are a great way to find your way about a city and learn about local history and culture. Usually the guides are well informed, enthusiastic young locals and the idea is that there is no set fee, but that you tip the guide with what you feel reflects the value tour of your tour. Our guide, Natalie, has impeccable English and is beaming with pride for her home city. She tells us that the Fallas festival was originally celebrated to mark the arrival of Spring. Old wood left over from the Winter months was brought into the city and burnt on pyres, clearing the way for the new season. In modern times the wooden bonfires have been replaced by Fallas or ‘ninots’ (puppets) which are set alight on the final night (known as La Cremà -the Burning) of the two-week-long festival. Behind the scenes crews of artists, sculptors and craftsmen have spent months producing up to 350 elaborate constructions of paper, wax and wood brightly coloured displays of caricature figures towering in the many plazas of the city. Each is produced by one neighbourhood who raise large sums of money to attract the best artists to create the best Fallas and every year one Fallas is saved by popular vote and earns a place in the Arts and Science museum. In the Plaça de l’Ajuntament, a huge statue the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Forsaken is covered in flowers and is the last to be set alight. During the festival each neighbourhood also has a ‘reinas falleras’ (queen of the festival), who parades around the city in her casal faller (traditional Valencian) costume. Local traditional bands accompany the queens as they make their way through the city. We are visiting early in the festival but catch a glimpse of some of the Fallas still under construction and pass a table full of reinas falleras who are sharing a drink and having a natter.

As Natalie, guides us through the streets of Valencia, we pass many stunning buildings. Valencia is very old, originally a Roman colony which was first established in 138 BC and some of the original roman roads are still visible. It is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona and is a leading economic centre. Natalie proudly tells us that it has the best climate of Spain…. 300 days of sunshine, with a minimum daytime temperature of 16 degrees. It could be a twin of my home town Troon in South west Scotland which has 300 days of rain and maximum daytime temperature of 16! She tells us that Valencia has the narrowest house, the biggest market for fresh produce (central market) and the largest urban park (which is the old river bed of the river Turia) in Europe. It has its own language, is the home to the Holy Grail, the crucifixion cross of Jesus (not sure about that one though!) and is where Spain’s national dish, Paella was created.

On our day trip to the city, these were just some of the highlights:

Serrano Towers

Originally built in the 14th century Torres de Serranos is one of 2 remaining towers which were part of the old city wall, which has sadly now been demolished. It was used as a prison for noblemen for nearly 300 years and provides a good view of the old city from the top.

Plaza de la Virgin and Valencia Cathedral

The cathedral, which houses the Holy Chalice (Grail) is a must-see destination in the city and sits in the Plaza de la Virgin, one of the oldest plazas in Valencia. The plaza is surrounded by the cathedral, the Tribunal del las Aquas, or water court, the Turia Fountain and Palau de la Generalitat (Valencia’s seat of the government). It has plenty of bars and cafes, providing a little oasis of open space and is a meeting point for many guided tours. The magnificent bell tower of the cathedral is well worth a visit. The spiral staircase (there are no lifts) leads up to a lovely terrace from which you can see the city all the way to the coast.

The Silk Market

The Silk Market, ‘La Lonja de la Seda’ was built in the 15th Century, when Valencia was at its peak of silk trading and is one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the city. The Contracts Hall where the silk merchants brought their samples to trade is striking, with its spiral columns reaching up to a domed roof. In its day, the roof was painted blue and was spangled with stars. The sandstone columns were painted brown to represent the trunks and branches of trees reaching up to the sky. You can imagine what a buzz there would have been here. It’s well worth a visit and entry was free as part of the menta walking tour.

The Church of San St Nicolás de Bari

Also known as the Sistine Chapel of Valencia, this inconspicuous church is tucked behind the city’s narrow streets. Behind its doors there is an extraordinary fresco, depicting the life of St Nicolas (from whom the figure of Santa Clause is thought to have been based). The ceilings have recently been restored and this is a little jewel which is well worth a visit for the wow factor.

The City of Arts and Sciences  

At the end of the Turia River Gardens sits the City of Arts and Science park, a sci fi complex which hosts an array of attractions. There’s an opera house (the tallest in the world), a science museum, an oceanographic aquarium (the largest in Europe), IMAX cinema, laserium, an outdoor garden and sculpture park known as the Umbracle and a concert hall. It is worth a visit, even if you don’t visit any of the attractions. The architecture is very other worldly and wouldn’t look out of place in the set for a sci fi movie.

And at the end of our day we had a lovely Valencian paella (made with chicken (or/and rabbit), lima and green beans and plenty of saffron and a glass of Sangria. Delicious and a great way to finish off a fabulous day in the wonderful city of Valencia.

It was a long way to Santander………via Tipperary


We head off on our next adventure one bright, blustery spring morning in our motor home, affectionately known as Cassy. We plan to tour Europe for the next 7 months and on the first leg of our journey we drive south to the ferry port of Cairnryan, near Stranraer. John and I always compare this stretch of road to our honeymoon trip along the Big Sur in California. Perhaps it’s not quite as spectacular, but the small cliffs known as ‘the heads of Ayr’ rise above the deep green sea and the Islands of Arran and Ailsa Craig are a dramatic backdrop to this south Ayrshire coastline. The sun is shining, and the frothy waves crash spectacularly along the rocky shores, as we drive pass Girvan, Lendalfoot and Ballantrae. At Cairnryan we board the Stena line ferry to Belfast and enjoy the trip across the Irish sea. There’s a small cinema on board and even a spa……if only I’d known, I would have brought my cossie on board. We arrive in Belfast harbour mid afternoon and make our way to a campsite on the outskirts of Dublin. Johns been gasping for a Guinness all day and at the Green Isle hotel, a 5-minute walk away from the campsite his wish is granted. We spend the next morning braving the Baltic shower block and then go for a walk around Corkagh Park which is right on our doorstep…… lovely park, shame about the showers!

As we make our way to the next campsite near Tipperary, an engine warning light comes on……’top up your adBlue now, or you may not be able to restart your engine’ our dashboard announces. What’s adBlue we say and why do we need to top it up? We’ve just had a service, so why wasn’t it topped up then! Thanks to google we locate the nearest Peugeot garage which is in Kilkenny, much further west than we planned to be. We make our way there along winding single-track roads, where tractors pull in to let us pass and a small bridge over a stream looks dangerously close to collapse. We arrive at the garage 20 minutes before closing time and by the time our adBlue is topped up and we make to the campsite, it’s dark and absolutely chucking it down! As in the title of a well-known songs ‘it certainly was a long way to Tipperary!’, but then as I remind John, these ‘off piste’ moments are the ones we’ll remember and the making of true adventures.

The next day the rain is still heavy. We make our way to Cork to board the 26-hour ferry to Santander but leave 2 hours later than planned. Our Captain informs us that he had some ‘stowaways’ to deal with. I’m puzzled why anyone from Ireland would want to smuggle themselves to Spain…. mind you, perhaps it’s for the weather! After the Captain announces that the crossing will be ‘moderately rough’ I take my seasickness tablets, but John waits till we are about an hour out of port…. a fatal mistake. He spends the next 20 hours of the crossing in the cabin. As the boat heaves to the left and to the right and spirals over the grey expanse of water known as the Bay of Biscay, John was also doing some heaving in the cabin toilet. I try to while away the time and managed to get to the restaurant, but only by doing a full on ‘Monkeys’ ( that’s the band from the 60’s not the animal) funny walk’. Defeated by the rolling sea I climb into my cabin bed and I’m lulled to sleep by the rocking ship.

By the next morning the swell has settled, and we manage to stomach some breakfast. As we meet the Northern coast of Spain in the late afternoon, it feels like the longest 26 hours of my life and we are both glad to get off the boat and drive to our first Spanish Campsite, which thankfully is only 45 minutes away. The scenery is unexpectedly beautiful. There are snow-capped mountains in the distance and lush green meadows rolling onto wide windswept golden beaches, it feels alpine, rather than Spanish.  We arrive at our campsite in time for a lovely walk to the beach and try out some Spanish cuisine at the campsite restaurant. ‘Bonjour’, I say…pleased that I’m attempting the local lingo. The waitress smiles and its only later that I realise that we are in Spain, not France! I think all that sailing has frazzled my brain…. that’s my excuse anyway!


A fresh fortnight in Troon visiting friends and family




We are back in Troon, and as I walk into town for my dental check-up (carefully planned to fit in with our visit home), the first thing I notice is the air. There’s so much of it. Its cool and fresh and very sniff able. I breathe in deeply and I’m filled with joy. There’s a strong south westerly wind which is fondly known as ‘blowin a hoolie’ in Scotland, and I’ve missed it, along with many other things that I didn’t realise I had missed until I was back. Of course, we have both missed family and friends and our home comforts. But there are other unexpected ‘missing’s’, like ‘ginger beards’ (aren’t they so amazing… how do all those colours of copper, gold and red find their way into one beard?), the light from our Northern sky’s, the vast expanse of green countryside and then there’s the colloquial use of ‘wee’ frequently added to describe little people, objects and units of time…. but most of all I have missed the  good old-fashioned Scottish banter, which is so much part of Scottish culture.

On a bus journey back to the ferry on the Isle of Cumbrae after visiting Johns brother and his wife, a conversation made me smile. It’s a short journey and 2 minutes in, the bus drivers’ phone (which is on speaker phone), goes off. He answers, and on the other end a Scottish twang says “Are you there Dougie, its Jimmy here…. it sounds like you have a bus load tonight.” “Aye I do”, says the driver “Any chance you could pick Wullie and me up from ‘The George’ (a local drinking establishment) once you’ve finished your run to the ferry. We’ve had a few wee drams you see, it being a Friday night an all.” “No problem” replies the driver, “see you in 10”. It’s like a scene from the well-known Scottish TV series, ‘Chewin the fat’. Only in Scotland would the local bus driver be swinging round to pick the locals up from their ‘local’, to take them, what would be a maximum of a 10-minute walk, back home!

As our house has been rented for the duration of our ‘seniors gap year’ we are staying at an Airbnb in the centre of town. Great for accessing public transport, plenty of room for visitors and parking at the front for our motorhome which we’ll be packing for our next adventure to Europe, I thought. Only there’s a wee problem…. we think there might be a ghost living in the house. My daughter who was meant to be with us for the weekend promptly refuses to stay and we sense a presence in the front bedroom. The house is odd, full of personal photos, DVDs, books and magazines. There’s a cupboard in the kitchen full of out of date food and many of the drawers still have personal belongings. I meet a friend for dinner, and she tells me that her mum (who lives in Troon) knew the old lady who lived in the house and that she has recently died ……spooky or what? As the week goes on any foreboding presence dissipates and it feels like we rather get used to living side by side with the ghost, in this quirky haunted house. On the other hand, perhaps it was just the jet lag wearing off!

It’s been a busy fortnight catching up with many friends over breakfast, lunch, coffee and dinner. We’re part of some amazing celebrations, my dad’s 80th birthday meal, and I also got to see my first grandchild (via a 4D scan), who will be arriving some time in late July. We experience one of the hottest February days (15 °C) on record and feel the tail end of storm Freya battering against the windows in the night…. but of course, this is Scotland and 4 seasons in a day is a frequent occurrence.  We have enjoyed our fresh fortnight and now we are all packed, leaving Troon behind and ready to set off on the next chapter of our adventures. This time we are heading to Europe in our van……so, watch this space.


Sun, sea and Singha in Samui


We have finished our amazing 30-day tour of South East Asia and now have some chill time on the tropical paradise of Kho Samui, Thailand. Our first afternoon on the beach was filled with thunderstorms, but the next day and the day after, and the day after that  blue sky and sunshine was plentiful. We visit a few different beaches while we are here; there’s the long stretch of narrow yellow sand of Chaweng, the gorgeous little bay of Coral Cove where we snorkel with the stripy fish, stunning Chong Moi with its aqua sea and powdery white sand and the palm fringed ‘off the beaten tracks’ stretch of  Mae Nam beach…..and that’s just a few to choose from on Samui. My daughter has come out to join us on this part of our trip and we go on a snorkel tour to the coral reefs of Kao Tao and Kho Nang Yuan. As the sun lights up the aqua blue waters we watch the rainbow coloured parrot fish munch on the coral and the sea slugs and crabs scuttle along the sea bed, we spot the silver needle fish darting along at the top of the ocean and swim amongst the shoals of brightly coloured fish. To finish off the day there is a cool and refreshing beer waiting and there’s plenty to choose from in Samui: Chang, Leo, Tiger or Singha. They all go well with the delicious Thai food.

I’ve been to Kho Samui before, more than 15 years ago, and it’s changed. The island now caters much more to the tourist, rather than the traveller. What’s the difference you say? Does it matter? There are plenty of organised tours to be bought and one can easily be swept into doing what everyone else is doing. For the traveller it’s more about the journey and the experiences along the way, and not just the destination itself. By not planning too much or too far ahead, one can be in the moment more and stumble across unexpected experiences. Being more of a traveller than a tourist (I’ve done the quiz and the results are in! ), we try to break the mould and walk the 4 miles to Coral Cove and we hire a motorbike and explore the North of the Island, rather than sign up for the usual tourist tours.


So now as I sit on the flight back to Glasgow, I can’t believe it was 3 months ago that we set off on our adventures. This experience has been so rich and full of wonderful experiences, the memories of which will stay with me forever. We have experienced and learned about many different cultures and made some wonderful friends along the way. When we were in Goa for Christmas, I bought the book ‘Alice in Wonderland’, in a ram shackled Indian bookstore. I had never read it growing up, always meant to as an adult, but never quite got around to it. Reading it on the beach in Goa was magical and Alice’s remarks have stayed with me since, and sum up how I feel on this journey home. She said “I knew who I was this morning (when I left in November), but I’ve changed a few times since then”, and just like Alice I have loved every moment.

Angkor What!!??#


In Siem Reap we have two days to explore the 294 temples scattered around the city’s boundaries, including the jewel in the crown of Cambodia, Angkor Wat, visited by over 3 million tourists every year. As it turns out we only have time to visit 5, but what a memorable tour it is!

Many of the temples in this area were originally Hindu and were built over 600 years ago, but abandoned in the twelfth century due to a severe drought. Lost to the jungle for hundreds of years, they were rediscovered by a Buddhist king in the 1600’s and then Hindu gods sat side by side new statues of Buddha. Angkor Wat, the biggest of the temple complex in Siem Reap, is one of the largest religious monuments in the world originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It took 40,000 elephants and 400,000 people, many of them slaves who were later granted their freedom, 37 years to build, finally being completed in 1113.

In contrast with the many of the Hindu temples we visited in Southern India, the intricate carvings have lost their detail, ravaged by the jungle and by war, but It’s the scale and setting of Angkor Wat that’s impressive. Despite the thousands of tourists here, the buildings radiate an uplifting spiritual serenity. Several Monk’s sit in the inner sanctum, offering a blessing for a small donation. There is a majestic quality and the structures blend seamlessly with the surrounding woodland and lakes. We visit twice and the second time is to see the sunrise over its towers. It was worth every minute of our early rise a truly unforgettable experience.

Whilst in Siem Reap we visit other temples; Baneteay Srei (also know as the Lady Temple), Angkor Thom (the great wall), the Mayon temple and Ta Prohm, the famous ‘Tomb Raider’ temple. Ta Prohm, originally a tomb for one of the great Khmer King’s mother, lay undiscovered for many years and the jungle has taken over. Huge banyan trees have cracked the immense sandstone blocks of the temple, which formed the spectacular backdrop for the film, Tomb Raider. Restoration continues and Angelina Joli, the sweetheart of the film and mother to an adopted Cambodian orphan, has donate $1 million to this project. The trees are very slowly destroying the foundations of this temple, but felling these imposing trees would result in the ancient temple crumbling. It is a race against time, history versus nature….but the effects are sight to behold.

On our final morning in Siem Reap we visit the final temple of this trip, the Mayon Temple, with its 4-sided Buddha statues. We arrive just before throngs of Chinese tourists pour in to take their thousands of selfies. It’s a hot morning and we have only visited 5 temples over the past two days. For now, we are ‘templed out’ and an afternoon by the hotel pool calls. We will just have to come back again …… there’s only another 199 left to visit!


Superstitions of South East Asia: Phi houses and re-internment


As we’ve travelled through South East Asia, I have been fascinated by the little houses which sit outside houses, shops, lanes, trees and sometimes fields. An assortment of ‘offerings’; flowers and incense, food, drink and other gifts are carefully placed on its veranda.  Initially I thought they might be mini shrines to Buddha, but in the remote village of Pak Ben in Laos, I finally asked our guide, an ex-monk himself, what they were.

These miniature houses known as ‘Phi’ or spirit houses are for wandering spirits and the gifts that are left, are there to appease these spirits so they will not make any trouble for the inhabitants of the house/land. Unlike our western culture where believing in ghosts, ethereal land spirits or fortune telling is often frowned upon and generally doesn’t mix with religion, in South East Asia Buddhism blends seamlessly with mysticism and superstition. The appearance and stature of the Phi houses are dictated by the wealth of its owner. Government institutions, luxury hotel resorts and shopping malls will have impressive, ornately decorated spirit houses. In contrast simple homes in the countryside are more likely to have Phi houses made of wood. On closer inspection some stand on 4 pillars; for the spirits of the land and some sit above one pillar; for the spirits of the house. A second smaller Phi house (Saan Pha Phum) incorporates an angel with money and a sword professing to protect its owner, bringing both luck and fortune. Tiny figures often stand inside, epitomes of the home owners’ ancestors. In Thailand, a bottle of strawberry Fanta, always with a straw, is the offering beverage of choice. I’m not quite sure why spirits need straws to drink… maybe its because their hands don’t work properly? The idea behind using a red liquid as an offering, dates to when sacrifices were made, and blood was offered. Blood, the giver of life, brings good fortune and fertile land and I guess in modern times red Fanta is the next best thing! Sometimes other offerings are given; fake money for luck around the Lunar New year and at our hotel in Siem Reap a bottle of pink nail polish and perfume…… just the job for a bit of spirit pampering!

In both India and South East Asia culture Astrology or the Chinese Sheng Xiao is given high regard, and fortune tellers or Shaman are sought to determine anything from couple compatibility to the best day for harvesting the rice. Travelling on the bus past the sodden rice fields in Vietnam there were many small, walled cemeteries, and our guide tells us more about the funeral rituals of the people living in the countryside of North Vietnam. Here it is the local Shaman who decides whether the day you die is a ‘lucky’ day. If you are blessed to die on a ‘lucky’ day……. although it’s not such a lucky day really as you’ve just died……. then you will travel seamlessly onto the next life. However, if the day you die is ‘unlucky’, then several rituals need to be followed so that the curse of dying on such an ‘unlucky’ day, can be reversed. Money is placed in your mouth to pay the toll for the afterlife, and all mourners attending the funeral wear white, not black. No tear drops can fall on the body and any household cats must be kept out of the house while the body rests, for fear that the spirit might enter the animal causing it to become possessed. The family continue to make a meal daily for the deceased for 49 days, just in case there are any issues with them passing into the afterlife, after all they need to keep their strength up for the journey. The strangest ritual yet however is that of re-internment, where 3 years after burial the body is removed from the ground, the bones are washed and then re buried in a small stone coffin, protecting their loved ones from the frequent flooding which affects this land. “But what if the flesh hasn’t fully decayed?” we ask… “there are 2 options”, she replies, the first is to re entomb the body, digging it up again in 3 years, hoping for full decay to have occurred. The second, is rather more gruesome. After the body is exhumed, any remaining flesh is pared away from the bones, allowing re-internment to occur as originally intended.  Although this custom is growing less popular, nowadays a specialist team is employed, and the ceremony is performed in the middle of the night in Winter. Many families still believe this ritual to be an important expression of filial piety, respecting ones elders right to the end, which is one of the strongest ethics in Confucianism and Buddhism.

Our Western practices of scattering of ashes and leaving out a glass of milk for Santa at Christmas now seem quite tame in comparison to these startling superstitious practices of South East Asia, but certainly gives food for thought.