We’re back in Australia, but a couple more obstacles to pass before we see home.

For a while there it didn’t look like the universe wanted us back in Australia.

Cancelled fights, routes discontinued shortly before our re-booked flights, and then finally by way of Victoria (Vancouver Island) – Seattle – San Francisco – Sydney four different flights, 35 hours of travel on different airlines, we are back, but not quite on our beautiful Sunshine Coast.

You may not know anyone who has undergone mandatory isolation in Australia, so I will give you a bit of an idea what is happening, yes we are still in iso, today is day 11 of 14, we are nearly there.

We ended up flying United from San Francisco with probably about 100 or so passengers on board their Dreamliner, with all the middle seats of the 3x3x3 empty, which was good so we could stretch out for most of the 15.5 hr flight.

Alaska Air were great, they flew us from Vancouver to Seattle, then after a 5hr layover into SF.
it was so strange to be in empty airports, all shops closed including food and duty free
not another person in sight, and it’s the middle of the day
our bags at Vancouver airport
lots of baggage carts available
no problem finding a seat here

As all the restaurants, kiosks, duty free shops etc., had been closed in the various airports we travelled through that day we were hoping for a meal followed by a glass of wine once on the flight from San Fran to Sydney, but that wasn’t to be. Due to Covid 19, meals were not distributed, they did give out snacks of peanuts and biscuits, and around breakfast time a microwaved tortilla type thing that was totally inedible. No wine or hot drinks were served for the duration of the flight, and if you know me you know that I must have my coffee! It was rough, and not due to the pilot.

Once we landed in Sydney, around 7am, we were herded by Police and the military through the back corridors of Kingswood Smith to a medical team awaiting us. They were mostly interested in where we had come from, and how we were feeling. They took our temps and as long as they liked our answers, and we didn’t have a fever we got to move onto the next step, Customs and Immigration, usually a long wait, but this time it was pretty quick, no-one was getting close to us, just a quick lift of the mandatory face masks we had worn since leaving Canada to confirm our identities, and then still with our military guards we were moved onto the awaiting buses.

I would have loved to take photos during all this, but we had been warned many times NOT to, and I really didn’t want to antagonise anyone at this point.

While soldiers loaded our bags into the baggage area under the bus, around 20 of us climbed aboard for the ‘magical mystery tour’ to our allocated isolation hotel, the Travelodge on Wentworth Street, in the Surrey Hills area of Sydney. ‘It’s not the best, or the worst iso hotel’, we were told by the Policewoman that filled our intake form. Those words filled me with trepidation.

Finally around 10am Monday May 4th, three days since we left lovely Shawnigan Lake, Laura, Nick and my gorgeous new granddaughter Lilah, two burly soldiers opened the door to the space where we would get to spend the next 14 days (336 hours).

Baby Lilah

Meals come delivered in a box and left outside our door, and like our bus ride are a mystery until opened. We have no choices, but all in all they haven’t been too bad. Lunches are probably the best, it’s usually a salad of some sort.

breakfast, well the juice and the fruit cup was good

We have finally stopped receiving soft drinks with our meals, (after many calls to reception) and now get bottled water, or occasionally juice.

this salad is really tasty as well
This is dinner, the pizza was just terrible, but the the ice-cream was delicious

Clean towels and sheets are left outside our door every 5-6 days, we change then over and leave the dirty ones outside in a plastic bag. No housekeeping either, and I must admit the floor could do with a vacuum.

I suppose for us the small space of the hotel room, (11 paces long), is not that dissimilar to our motorhome Hermione where we have lived for the past two years, it must be so much harder for the others here in iso that are more accustomed to having the space of a house or apartment.

The hardest part is no fresh air. We do have a window but is it locked, so have to have the air conditioner on most of the time. Occasionally when we open to door to get our meals we see another iso guest, but the 24 hour security is quick to tell us to get back in and close our doors. Really would it so terrible if I had a chat with the lady across the hall, 3m away? I have no idea how many Police, military and private security are here, but there are always at least a couple of Police cars we can see out front of the hotel from our window.

our view to the right, the old Mark Foys department store looks like it has been converted to condos.

Alcoholic beverages are allowed in very limited amounts, and thankfully my lovely cousin Linda and her husband Bryan dropped off a care package that included a six pack of Little Creatures beer for Brian, and some lovely Cat Amongst the Pigeons Shiraz for me, delicious.

How are you keeping busy you may ask?

Well, Brian is continuing to learn a CAD drawing program on his computer that he started while we isolated in Canada before we could cuddle Lilah. And I have organized two years worth of photos, around 8,000 from my camera alone, into folders of country, and sometimes events, i.e. Tour de France, Christmas in France and another in Spain, etc etc. I still have bit more to do with the photos, but it gets tedious.

We also are also quickly depleting our pre downloaded Kindle books, and watching Netflix and Acorn on our computers, as believe it not the TV in our room is NOT Smart.

Next step in our isolation process is the visit to our room by a medical team consisting of a doctor, nurse who give us a health check, and two Police officers that ask of our plans after we leave here. If, but hopefully when we pass the medical we are issued with certificates to prove we have completed the 14 day mandatory isolation so we can travel across the border home to QLD, and a special wrist band that allows us past the security in the lobby. We have bought a car online that we will pick up early next week so that we can drive home, no more planes for us for a while.

We’re not complaining about any of this at all, we knew in advance this was how it would be, and we totally agree with the isolation period after traveling from overseas, and were more than happy to be part of the solution to keep Australia healthy. Too many people have died from COVID-19, or from complications arising from it, and we certainly didn’t want to add to Australia’s growing number.

UPDATE Saturday, May 16th, 2020

We have just had our visit by the two person medical team and four Police officers. They stood at our door, but still in the hallway, and first our temperatures were taken, 36.2 (Julie) 36.3 (Brian), so we passed the first test. Next the medical team asked about our health, any symptoms, cough, etc., so after a no to those questions we were issued our wristbands, which in front of the whole team we had to place on each others wrists. Then the Policeman in charge, gave us our paperwork which consisted of two documents, a Confirmation of Completion of Quarantine Period, which states where we completed our stay, and the other document is from NSW Health that states we have been ‘clinically assessed’ we that we have no symptoms of COVID 19. We could actually leave anytime after midnight tonight, but we will stay here overnight and move to another hotel in Sydney for Sunday night, and from there make our way to pick up our new car. At least tomorrow we can walk around Sydney, go to a park, café, really whatever we want, freedom!

With these documents we can travel, by car, bus, plane, train or boat, visit our friends and family (if they agree of course), and eventually drive home, and across the border to our home in Queensland. Yay!!!!!!!!

And finally the last piece of documentation that must be attached to the car window to allow us to pass through the closed border between NSW and QLD.

and in case you are wondering if I’m leaving Brian in NSW, the answer is no, he has one of these as well, I just didn’t have it saved so as to upload to this post.

New life and back in Canada

This blog post is about my thoughts on new life, lurgies & Canada

It seems we left Europe in the ‘nick of time’ as they say.

Our flights home to Australia from Europe took us way north and over the Arctic Ocean, then to Toronto and home via Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. This homeward leg has been booked since early November 2019, to coincide with the birth of my youngest daughter Laura’s first child, and my first grandchild.    Little did we know that by then, the world would be in turmoil.                               

Laura and Nick’s well-timed baby girl wasn’t due until at least the middle of March, so leaving France March 9th we thought that it would be a good opportunity to stop off on-route in Toronto, Ontario for a few days, to catch up with old friends, and show Brian a little of the place I had spent a fair portion of my life.                                                                           

We stayed at our good friend’s Rose and John’s lovely new home on their farm in rural Mapleton, Ontario with John kindly taking us out on lots of day trips just so Brian could get an idea of what Southern Ontario is like.                                                                                                                                         

Rose and John’s lovely home
an icy walk down to the river
Niagara Falls
John dropped us off and said have a look, get some pics and I’ll be back in 10 mins to pick you all up.
No social distancing here Rose and Brian
The American Falls
The Canadian Falls
some of Niagara Falls is a bit hokey
outside Henry of Pelham winey at Niagara on the Lake

Thanks to these drives Brian did get to see three of the Great Lakes, Huron, Erie and Ontario, and the ski hills at Blue Mountain that overlook Georgian Bay, Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake, and loads of the lovely small towns like St Jacob’s, Elmira, Drayton and one we certainly can’t forget to mention, Dorking.   All from the warmth and comfort of inside Rose’s car.

the Lakes we visited
always watch out for falling ice

Many of you may not know that Brian grew up on an Otway region dairy farm in Beech Forest, not far from The Great Ocean Road in south-western Victoria, so when John mentioned an organic farm near-by that you can visit and also see the new robotic milking system they have implemented, that was a place he definitely wanted to see.

The Mapleton Organic Farm farm consists of 400 acres of certified organic land and a herd of 70 milking cows. 

John and Brian checking out the cows
R2D2 that automatically sweeps up and pushes the food closer to the cows
happy and contented cows

The robotic milking system at Mapleton’s was amazing to see, The system plays a key role in monitoring nutrition by measuring how much milk each cow produces throughout the day. If milk production falls, this is one of the first indicators of a nutrition issue.

robotic milking system
snack time after being milked

Cows receive a snack each time they are milked so that gives them the incentive to get up and walk to the machines. The quantity of feed each cow receives during milking correlates with how much milk they produce. For example, a cow such as Ramona who tends to produce more than 40 litres of milk each day will be fed a larger quantity of feed by the system.

Lovely Ramona

Not only does this mean each cow’s nutrition is individually monitored and catered to, but it’s a great incentive for the cows to enter the milking area and be milked.

the computer that checks volume etc.

I actually have a video or two of cows being milked that I won’t add to the blog, but if anyone is interested just let me know and I will share.


Typical Mennonite farmhouse with no electricity to the house, solar panels are very often used although some still have a windmill

This part of Southern Ontario has a large Mennonite population whose Dutch, Swiss and German ancestors started arriving here in the late 18th century.  They are hard-working, thrifty and industrious, and live a rural agricultural lifestyle, with the women often selling their home-baked pies, fresh eggs and home-grown vegetables at the markets.                                              

In John and Rose’s area, pure Maple Syrup is one on their specialities.

Mother and daughters at the market selling their Maple Syrup

Mennonites and their congregations differ in their attitudes towards innovation in religious and cultural life.  Old Order Mennonites reject modern technology and most live with no electricity and as drivers licenses are forbidden, no cars.  Many use horse and buggy for transportation, but if longer distances need to be travelled, they may hire ‘motorized transportation’ sort of a ‘Mennonite Uber’, John has occasionally volunteered his time with those drives.                                                                                                                                             

large Mennonite farm
plain black cars or trucks often with black bumpers and no flashy trim for the not so conservative Mennonites

Others insist that adaptation and involvement in the world are essential, but you would likely not see their kids hanging out at the mall.  They can join local youth organizations, choirs and play sport, with most local Mennonite schools having baseball fields and hockey rinks in the winter, and their Dad would likely drive a tractor, but it wouldn’t have a cabin, so they would be working out in the weather.

young girls skating and having fun photo courtesy of the local paper

Plain simple clothing is worn, women wear plain long dresses or long skirts and small white prayer caps over long hair that they don’t cut, and the men wear long trousers, jackets and either a felt or straw hat.

watch out for buggy’s road sign

It’s a wonderous sight to see the families out and about in their buggy’s heading to the market or all dressed in their finest heading to church on Sunday, and then driving past their churches with fifty or so beautiful shiny black horse and buggy’s tied up to hitching rails waiting to take their family back home.

Buggy’s lined up at church on Sunday

Our 10 day’s at the Warren Farm passed incredibly fast, and we are so thankful to have such wonderful friends that took us into their home whilst this terrible Covid 19 had just started to rage in Canada.

John, Rose, Brian, me, Randy and Annette

NEW LIFE–  Lilah Mae arrived into this world at 6am on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, 2020.  The day before we arrived into British Columbia.

proud parents, Nick and Laura with Lilah Mae

By this time flights were being cancelled and people told not to travel unless necessary, but nothing was going to keep us away from seeing this beautiful new baby girl.

First day home
Lilah in her Anne Geddes pose on her gorgeous handmade quilt made by Nick’s aunt

We arrived at Laura and Nick’s Shawinigan Lake home on Vancouver Island, on Wednesday 18th  March, and have settled into the 30ft caravan/trailer parked next to their home for our two weeks of self-isolation.                                                                                                                                         

our little red rental rocket, our 29ft home and Laura and Nick’s behind

It’s really no hardship at all, it’s far more spacious than Hermione, it’s warm and cosy, we have an oven, microwave, large fridge and freezer, a queen-sized bed and even a bathtub, which is a good thing as by the looks of how this lurgy is progressing, we may be here for a while.

Spring on Shawnigan lake
Shawnigan Lake
afternoon catchups with the new parents and Lilah in the backyard

Most days we either go for a walk along the trail up behind Laura and Nick’s house or at least visit with them on their sun deck, still making sure we are keeping a good 2-3m apart. So even though to date I still haven’t been able to cuddle Lilah or even give Laura and Nick a hug, we see them, and I’m counting down the days until I can.


I’m not going to waffle on about the Covid 19, I’m sure we all know what’s going on, so let’s talk about resilience.

We have all seen the photos of people stockpiling toilet paper and fighting over canned goods, all the while our medical workers are worried about whether they will have enough ventilators to keep people alive.

We need to recognize that our collective good, is in our collective humanity.   We don’t thrive in a vacuum, we thrive when we work in concert with each other.                                        

Social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean social isolation, you can still chat with a neighbour over the fence or the internet. When self-isolating pick up the phone to call a friend or do a Skype chat and ask how they are doing.  Think of those that are older and maybe living alone that not so long ago relied on a weekly meet up group, they must be lonely.  Share what you can with others that can’t get what they need.

Sadly on the human face of this crisis, many businesses will fail, so now it’s more important than ever to support our local business’, spending money close to home recycles that money in the community. Buying locally gives our neighbours, our town, our community purpose.  And when we give ourselves purpose, we give ourselves hope.

It may feel like the end of days, it’s not.  It’s a time to reassess what is important, who is important.                                                                    We know that at the end of this lies a new place, a different phase, there is just a little tough time to get through in between.

Shawnigan Lake, the sun had just come out after a rainy morning, and the mist is rising over the trees.
Big sister Jessica (4yrs) with her baby sister Laura (1 week) 1987

Our Hijinks in a Hymer has come to an end.


It’s hard to believe that our Hijinks in a Hymer trip has come to an end. Twenty four months!!                                           

Brian has calculated that we have slept more than 600 nights in Hermione, driven just over 50,000 km through 19 countries, using 5,000 liters of diesel that cost €6,750.                           

Shopped in hundreds of Lidl’s (our fav supermarket) as well as all the others throughout Europe, which I have no idea how much we spent and don’t really need to know.

Drank many bottles of wine, beer, cider, Ouzo and all types of local drinks, eaten too many baguettes, croissants, delicious German bread, pain de raisin and pastel de nata’s (Portuguese custard tart) and so many other delicious treats. Also no total $’s on these, thankfully.

A week from now we will be boarding a flight in Paris that will take us to Canada.  Toronto first to visit with old friends, then over to the far west coast and Vancouver Island to see Laura and Nick and welcome our first granddaughter to this world.

We are so thankful to our wonderful French family the Gauthiers, Georges and Manuela have helped make this trip seem effortless.                                                                                                              

Georges and Manuela
night out in Vannes
the boy’s in their Christmas gear
Christmas 2018

And the Wendl’s in Germany, who we met long ago in Morocco, and still put up with us every time we turn up on their doorstep, ‘The Bad Penny’s’ they fondly call us.  Hopefully, we can return the favour to you one day.

Werner, always smiling
Our German family

Now, all we need is a buyer for Hermione, anyone interested in a very good motorhome/camping car located in France?


Meet Fabienne and Michel the new owners of Hermione. She will continue to have further adventures, the first one is to go back to Portugal soon.


Firstly, where is the Basque Country?                                                         Well, it’s in Spain, but not only there, but it’s also a region in France. Well yes, but not officially, so to find out more about this you will have to read a little further.

Basque Country is the name given to the home of the Basque People, called Pais Vasco in Spain and Pays Basque in France.                                              

True enough, but if geography is not your strong point the map could help.                                                                                       

Basque Country straddles two nations France and Spain, and stretches from about 160kms from Bilbao, in Spain, all the way north to Bayonne in France on the western side of the Pyrénees. In France, though it’s not an ‘official region’, or even one of the 96 Départments of France.                                                                                                                    

This is important information for you because if we ever win the lottery, the French Basque region is where we may buy a property, but if it’s a really big lottery maybe another house in the Var region of Provence as well.  So, if you want to visit us you need to know where to go.  😊

The village of Tourtour for our Provence home

The Basques pre-date the Romans, and in fact, unlike many others, they were never conquered by them or the Moors, so they are probably the oldest race in Europe.                                                                    

Basque is one of the oldest living languages, Euskera, it has no known origin and is not related to any other Latin language. It is also considered one of the most difficult to learn.  Students learn Euskera/Basque in school these days, but most of their grandparents can’t speak it as they were forbidden to speak or learn Basque under Franco’s regime (1939-1975).

Road signs are in both languages, thank goodness because I have more luck translating Greek than Basque.  On the Spanish side, you mostly hear Basque, but Spanish is also an official language, on the French side of the border, which really is no border, (it’s great, you can just cross the street to either country), you hear mainly French with a smattering of Basque.   

funny graffiti on a road sign, a pilgrim wearing a beret

As an example of Basque language here are a few words that come in handy;  Kaixo                Hello                                                                                                      Agur                  Goodbye                                                                                               Eskerrik asko   Thank you (that’s a hard one                                                 Bat asko             Please                                                            Bai                       Yes                                                                                                        Ez                        No                                                                                                          Kafea                  Café solo (espresso small)                                                            I order a Cortado (Spanish) a small espresso with little milk, the Basque is far too complicated                      Garagardoa bat asko  one beer please                                                                        Ardo gorria   “       “     one Red wine please


You can also have a local drink called a Kalimotxo, it’s a mixture of red wine and coca cola, not my idea of a tasty drink but apparently, it’s popular when eating Pintxos.                                                                                                                                                                      

Like in many cultures, folklore is very important for the Basques, many of its myths and legends are still celebrated.  In fact, just yesterday while we were having a garagardo (beer) for Brian and an ardo gorria (red wine) for me at a little bar in the back streets of San Sebastian, we heard band music being played, then saw a group of teachers and parents accompanying school children, all dressed in various local costumes marching/dancing down the street, they were so sweet.                                      

Unlike the folklore and mythology of the Romans or Greeks, the Basques only have female goddesses, no Gods, and they represent mainly the elements.  One of the most important is Mari, Goddess of Earth, who can morph into different shapes, another is Lamia a mermaid-type creatures that can be half fish or goat, depending on if you are from the seaside or a rural village.

Lamia (mermaid) statue

They also have their own flag, and a very distinctive style of architecture, which look very much like a Swiss-style chalet to me, characterized by half-timbered buildings with white-washed thick stone walls, upper storey balconies, and red or green-painted shutters, really cute.                                                                                                                                         

typical Basque homes

Most older Basque gentlemen wear a Txapela, a Basque beret.  I know you’ll say, ‘but that’s so French’, well yes, but the men here have been wearing theirs since the early 19th century.

Even the Cardinal wears a beret

You may remember from one of my previous posts from around 18 months ago about our time spent in San Sebastián, Donostia in Basque, with some old friends of mine from Canada, Rose, and John.  I did touch on some of the Basque cuisine, notably the Pintxos which is similar to Tapas that you eat in bars.  But with Basque Country’s proximity to the ocean, seafood is also on most menus, and apparently Donostia is considered to be one of the world’s culinary capitals.  This small city of 185,000 people has more Michelin starred chefs per population, than any other city in Europe.   


Like the Asturias and Galicia to its west, the Basque Country is series of fishing villages with secluded coves, rugged cliffs that lead you to great sandy beaches, and as any surfer will know really good waves!

The coastline that runs between Bilbao and San Sebastián is perhaps some of the finest coastlines in Europe, but venture a little inland and all you see are rolling green hills, woolly long-haired sheep and goats, and steep winding roads that lead you to some spectacular mountains.

the beautiful morning view
cliffside village
green hills
that’s us parked on the cliff next to the white van
and this is the view we had from the cliff, those little dots out there are surfers

The French Basque, or Pays Basque side is not as famous as its Spanish Sister Region, yet this region is full of history from its early days of whaling to royal summer houses.                                                                       Possibly Spain does a better job of promoting its Basque Country than France. Biarritz is in French Basque Country, it’s a glamorous little coastal town with lovely Art Deco style architecture, and high prices to match.                                                                                                                            

Biarritz Hotel

Long regarded as the “Queen of the resorts, and the resort of the Kings’ after Napoleon 111’s wife Eugénie persuaded him to build her a summer house here.                                                                                                          

if we won the ‘big’ lottery this is what we could buy in Biarritz

Last year in Biarritz we stopped for coffee and shared a small cake. I just about fell off the chair when we got our bill for €12, that’s around 18 Australian $’s.                                                                    

In 2018 we watched one stage of the Tour de France in the French Basque Country, the St Pee to Espelette time trial, it’s perfect professional cycling country, hilly winding roads just like they love.                                 

French cycling team with a kangaroo logo

Espellette is in Pays Basque, it is a charming village well known for its red peppers, pimento d’Espelette, that dangle on strings around doorways and windows to dry before being ground into the spice used in many Basque recipes.                                                                       

peppers out to dry in Espellette

Another important Basque place is the walled village of St-Jean-Pied de Port. It’s traditionally the starting place for the Frances route of the Camino to Santiago de Compostella.  It’s also a very cute village with cobbled streets and flower-covered red and green painted balconies.

St-Jean Pied de Port

But like anywhere it’s the people here that make it great, the locals are a tightknit group that may seem a little standoffish at first, but try to say a few words in Basque and they open right up and welcome you in.

So, if we win that big lottery one day, now you not only know where to come and visit us, but you will also have a few words of the local language to help you fit right in.

And just because I know that our good friend Georges will read this, I must tell you that the Basques have some very good Rugby players.

NAZARÉ-the town that once feared the huge waves.

For centuries, Nazaré was a traditional seaside town, where locals taught their children to avoid the huge waves that crashed against the nearby cliffs, and where many a fisherman have lost their lives to these turbulent swells.                                                                                                

traditional boats
fish drying racks
poor lady was a little tired
the mornings catch out drying

That was until about 8 years ago when the ‘big wave’ surfers discovered Nazaré.

the ‘bomb’

Tall as a 10-storey building, the 30 metre high waves are caused by an underwater canyon nearly 5 km deep and 200 km long that ends just at the town’s shoreline.                                                                                    

The biggest waves are so tall the surfers need to be towed out by Jet Ski’s, it’s amazing to watch the tow ski climb over the waves, whip their charge onto the wave, then ‘get the hell out of there’.

The surfers wear airbag life vests and specially padded wetsuits to survive these dangerous surfing conditions.

surfer getting ready to go out, you can see the padded wetsuit

Surfing has bought new life to this small village of around 10,000 people, with tens of thousands visiting every year, most in the winter to see the big waves.                                                              

The mayor has even turned the old fort, once used for storing fishing net into a viewing post and shrine to the riders who have tamed Nazaré.

The upper town, on the cliff tops, is called Sitio, there are always women in traditional costume referred to as the “seven skirts of Nazaré” normally three or four layers of skirts, keeping the extra few layers until ‘special days’.  They sell locally made items, souvenirs such as hand-carved fishing boats, food, and the woolen capes like ones they wear from their stalls.                                  

man in traditional clothing
the ladies wear six layers of frilly skirts and another embroidered one on top, long socks and clogs
cute little girl in local dress
there was a dance going on one day in the square

I love the funicular that descends down the cliff face to the lower town, where the neat cobbled streets take you past cafes, bars, souvenir shops and usually a local or two sitting on crates chatting while peeling potatoes, with their clean washing hanging to dry suspended over the alleyways.

the funicular
Brian checking out the boats
cute couple on their motorbike

Feeling to need for fresh fish we dragged ourselves from the top of the cliff and the surfers to a restaurant down in the town for delicious grilled seabass, new potatoes, salad with a glass of wine, all for €10.


the competitors

We timed our second visit to Nazaré perfectly to see first-hand the Inaugural Nazaré Tow Challenge, a surfing competition unlike any other.

The old fort and its stone walls give you the perfect vantage point, and apparently is the only place in the world where it’s possible to watch from up close.  You are so close you get wet from the spray, and you can feel the vibration through the ground as the waves break right below you.

crowd watching the comp
looking towards town
the side of the fort

Because of the size of the waves and the speed at which the surfer must take off they are towed onto the wave by a Jet Ski which launches the surfer onto these massive moving walls of water.

it’s started
being towed onto a wave

For six hours straight ten teams of two surfers, eighteen men and two women, the elite of the Big Wave surfers each took turns towing and surfing the wild waves. There was even team Australia, Mick Corbett from Perth and Axi Muniain from the Basque area of Spain

waiting to pick up his team mate

During the day there were many near-perfect rides, but unlike most surfing contests this event isn’t scored in real-time.  Instead, the day is filmed from multiple locations and angles, then at the end of the day, the surfers themselves get together to watch and choose the winners of the four categories. 

these shook the ground where we stood
a couple of US surfers doing a TV commentary
not sure who he is, but someone important in the surfing world
cute dog
the Basque surfer on the Aussie team

Men’s and Women’s wave of the day was won by the young Kai Lenny from Hawaii and Justine Dupont from France won the women’s best wave.  Team Champions went to Kai and his teammate from Brazil Lucas Chianca, and the Commitment Award deservedly went to the Water Safety Team. Being chosen by your peers, there couldn’t be a better way to win any contest.

Competitions like this wouldn’t be possible without the water safety teams on Jetskis, who seem to know just where to be to pluck the surfer out of the dangerous white-water and ferry them back out to do it all again.

I can’t imagine what mental and physical fortification must be required to ride a 50-foot wave that can weigh as much as 1,000 tons, and then have to outrun the mountains of white water that follows. 

One of the surfers in the event, Alex Botelho from Team Portugal could have very easily lost his life after the Jetski that had just picked him up, went flying 3m into the air after being clobbered by a huge wave, then hit Alex on landing back in the water.  He floated unconscious for a couple of minutes until he was rescued by the safety team and rushed to the hospital.  He is now in a stable condition thankfully.

We were one of only four motorhomes that were allowed to remain on the top of the cliff while the competition was on, why we don’t know, but we are certainly thankful that the organizers didn’t move us off that perfect place to be for the competition, and the view these past four days.

the merch van. Chris Halliday may or may not have a little something from this van on our return
that’s us the second from the left, we look tiny compared to the 7m German mh next to us. The mh on far right left the morning of the competition, and the small van behind the merch truck was where the competitors came to register . We were so close to it all

It was hard to leave Nazare, but we are so thankful we had to opportunity to be there for the contest.

Sorry, my pics aren’t any better, I don’t have a big professional camera, and those surfers literally flew along those waves.

PORTUGAL-The Algarve

We cross the River Guadiana and move from Spain into Portugal’s eastern Algarve Region.

Enclosed by ranges of mountains to the north, and the warm air and sea currents from North Africa to it’s south, the Algarve has a climate, culture, and scenery that is very different from the rest of Portugal.

Centuries of early Arab rule have left a very Moorish look to the architecture, also the plantings of almond trees and orange groves, and even the place names starting with ‘AL’ all denote its Moorish origin.

Arriving from the east and along the Atlantic coast we drive through quiet whitewashed fishing villages, this is the undeveloped part of the Algarve.  White sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see, in fact, it looks remarkably similar to our east coast of Australia in places.

The Algarve thrived on tuna fishing for centuries but like in many of our seas and oceans numbers of fish have declined with overfishing.                   

We stayed near the dunes of Praia do Barril Beach, where there are the remains of a small village from the late 1870’s.  Eighty tuna fishermen and their families lived here from April to September in small huts, with no running water or electricity.   

the fishing village now restored to holiday cottages

Every day they ventured into the unpredictable waters of the Atlantic to try and catch the massive Bluefin Tuna as they moved through these waters.  It was a difficult and dangerous profession.    By the 1980’s there were no tuna left, and the industry here died.

Now as a tribute to those fishermen there is a Cemetery of Anchors, hundreds of large rusting anchors lined up in rows along the sand dunes. 

The anchors were not used to secure boats, but to hold the huge fishing nets in place that was formed into a maze by the many small boats that funneled the tuna into the capture nets.  In the museum, there were old pictures of bluefin tuna weighing as much as 370kg, and looking at least twice the size of the small Portuguese fishermen.


they do look pretty at night

The Algarve is well known to tourists for its beaches, however, this region in the Eastern Algarve also has an area, built in 1978 to help preserve the local flora and fauna, as well as the migratory birds that pass through on their way from Europe to Africa.

The Rio Formosa is really a system of barrier islands that run for 60kms along the coast. Inside these islands are tidal flats, sandbanks, canals and salt marshes.  Shellfish, mainly clams are farmed here and, in many places, boardwalks have made this area accessible to all.

elevated walkways
you can catch this cute little train, but being the exercise fanatics we are (LOL) we walked, and saved 3 euro each.

As much as we realize the importance of the marshlands and salt flats for the ecology and economic importance of this part of Portugal, it is nice to get back to seeing the beautiful beaches and the rugged cliffs and coves of the Algarve coastline.


You can’t help but notice the beautiful chimneys here.

Homes, as well as many commercial buildings, are topped with the most beautiful and ornate chimneys.  Many resemble minarets, turrets or mini mosques, a reflection of the Moorish history of this area.

Some are very old, darkened by the soot from thousands of fires, some look like they are right out of the factory, some are topped with weathervanes, not all are used but generally I would say most are.

Typical Portuguese home

I love just driving around seeking out the most ornate chimneys, or to see which homeowners have spent the most time matching their chimney to the paint job and overall design of their homes.

these beautiful chimneys are on Kym and Falko’s house
this chimney is the oldest in the Algarve

It’s another one of those joys of travel.  The small distinctions that the locals take for granted, but that we travelers see as unique, distinct, playful and possibly quirky.

a quirky name for a town, lucky we’re leaving LOL

Here’s to the joy of quirky, something that the Algarveans do so well with their Moorish chimneys.

I wonder can I talk Brian into putting a chimney on our house, just so I can top it with one of these beautiful toppers.

then maybe we can have a family of storks

PORCHES …… new friends and beautiful tiles

Porches is a small town located between Lagoa and Albufeira and is known for being the home of some of the most beautiful pottery in the Algarve.

But believe it or not, it’s not the beautiful blue and white pottery that brings us here, it’s Kym and Falko.

Kym and Falko have been living in Portugal for the past few years. Kym was born in England, Falko in Germany and have both lived in Australia for many years. They are friends of my friend Debra, you may have seen her lovely comments on some of my posts. Anyway, Deb suggested we connect with Kym and Falko and voila, new friends.

Kym is a fantastic chef, Falko a great storyteller, and if that isn’t enough they have the cutest Schnauzer, Millie.



We have once again found ourselves at another fantastic housesit.                                                        This time in Praia de Luz, which is situated in the western Algarve region of Portugal.  Our homeowners are off to Morocco for a short visit to see family.

Rocha Negra, the massive black basalt headland that’s been layered over the years with sandstone that is so common in the area is the first thing you see.  It is eye-catchingly unique and, also does a fantastic job of sheltering the beach at Luz from those ferocious Atlantic storms, especially in winter.

Luz, like most of the neighboring villages were once just small fishing villages.                    

Now because of the calm sandy beaches and endless sunshine, it’s busy here during the summertime, though in late January it is and quiet and peaceful, with many of the restaurants and accommodation places closed for some sprucing up before it starts to get busy again in April.

Camping at the END of the WORLD

The windblown Cabo de São Vicente is the most extreme south-western point of Europe and our first overnight stop after leaving Luz,

The Romans called this place the ‘Sacred Promontory’, and today with its 70m cliffs that front the Atlantic Ocean, it’s still an awe-inspiring place to visit, and an even better one to spend the night camped on those cliffs.

that’s a fisherman standing on the cliff, fishing into the water a terrifying distance below

If you stand here at sunset, it can be easy to see why – the sun appears unusually large as it descends over the seemingly endless sea. 

Cape Saint Vincent has been an important reference point for navigation since the 15th century and the present lighthouse that stands on the point is said to be the most powerful in Europe.  We watched the hypnotizing sweep of its 95km range light through our skylight while lying in bed.

We leave the lovely Algarve, an area we had skirted previously as we thought it was all high rises and holiday homes, but we were so wrong.  The Algarve is really a beautiful and diverse region, with clean white sand beaches, history, and pretty whitewashed hillside villages where the rural way of life continues virtually uninterrupted. 


Brian has been looking forward to visiting Cádiz for a long time.                                                               

This is where in the Age of Discovery, Christopher Columbus sailed from on his voyage to discover America. It was home of the Spanish Armada, and from where the ruthless Cortés and his conquistadors sailed from to conquer the Aztecs.

Jutting out into the Bay of Cádiz and almost surrounded by water with only one land exit, Cadiz claims to be the oldest city in Europe. 

                                                                                                                It has seen turbulent times as well, the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors were all here, then attacked, blockaded and looted by the English, and burnt to the ground by the Dutch.  Cádiz has been continually inhabited for more than 3000 years.


We stayed on the opposite side of the harbour at El Puerto de Santa Maria, a quiet little town and caught the ferry over to Cádiz.

One of the things I noticed about the old town is that it feels lived in, not at all touristy. Paint peels of the brightly coloured buildings, and in those built from the local stone you can still see traces of shells.   Grand terrace houses three and four stories high flank the cobbled streets, but it’s not dirty and dark, it feels friendly.

We always look for the market, and Cádiz has a great Mercado.  The array of fresh seafood including the largest tuna I have ever seen was astonishing. 

opening fresh oysters

We tried the most amazing snack, tortilla de camarones, which is wheat and chickpea flour, onion, parsley, prawns and a little salt deep fired until it’s crispy around the edges and soft and juicy in the centre, my mouth is watering now as I write about them.   They make a similar tortilla using sea anemone, tomorrow I’ll give that a try.

We hug the coastline between Rota and Chipione staying in small beachside parking areas of the seasonal chiringuito’s, which are basically beach bars, usually only open during the summer.                                  

Some spots are quiet with only a couple of MH’s around, and some like the one we are at now are like a fiesta.

                                                                                                                           Most of the population here live in apartments, so come Friday afternoon the Spanish start heading away from their city apartments to weekend places like the coast with motorhomes, caravans, dogs and lots of kids.  

It never seems to get out of hand though, nobody gets drunk and obnoxious, the kids wander around together, it’s just like a huge family weekend party.

I enjoy the local sherry from Jerez, and Brian a glass of vino tinto as we watch the beautiful sunsets from our spot right at the beach.

Park National de Doñana and El Rocio-one of Spain’s strangest towns.

The National park is one of Europe’s largest and most important wetland reserves for bird species.  It is a major site for migrating birds, with flamingos staying here at present.  It is also home to a rare eagle, fallow deer and is the last refuge for the Iberian Lynx, one of Europe’s rarest mammals, with 60 pairs living in the park.

Entry to the Park is strictly controlled to ensure minimal impact on the animals, and you must use an official guided tour.  If we were assured that we would see a lynx it would have been worth the price, but these shy animals are nocturnal, living in the scrub and hunting ducks and rabbits.  So instead we find the closest town that borders the park and stay there, hoping to catch a glimpse of….well anything wild really.


Staying here the idea was to see flamingos or possibly some other wild animal that escaped from Doñana National Park next door, what we didn’t expect to find was a town right out of a Wild West movie.

Horse-drawn carriages are popular with the locals, and you’ll see them trotting about the streets going about their business throughout the day, even the local hearse is horse-drawn.     

There are wooden hitching posts in front of most houses and buildings so people can tie up their horses, it’s easier than parking a car.

The roads are all sand or dirt, and the road rules seem a bit more flexible here. There are no road markings, street signs or traffic lights, and you’re more likely to come face to face with a carriage or a rider on a horse than another car.  It appears the 21st century hasn’t arrived here yet.

cowboy Brian

But come in May-June and this place is a whole lot different,  over 1 million, yes that’s not a typo, 1 million people arrive here on horseback, oxen-drawn carriages or on foot for the annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Virgin del Rocio.

It’s a huge fiesta then with food, fireworks, music, flamenco dancing, (I wondered why there were beautiful flamenco dresses for sale).

So, if you’re looking for a little of the ‘wild west’ or need a new flamenco dress or beautiful riding boots, make sure you visit El Rocio.


The two hundred kilometres of Atlantic coastline that start at the Straits of Gibraltar and ends at the Portuguese border feels more like Australia to us than anywhere else we have found in Europe.

Deserted white sand beaches, surfers, sand dunes, surf shops, and cafés, this is how I remember the south coast of NSW as a teen.

The difference here is not too far behind those lovely beaches are the pueblos blancos, or whitewashed hill towns so typical of Andalusia.


Tarifa is located on the Costa de la Luz on the southernmost point of mainland Europe, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.                                                                                               

The old town is still very much a fishing village and was the first point of the European invasion by the Moors in 711 AD.  The town has been conquered and re-conquered many times since, but the Moorish influence remains in the architecture, with the whitewashed houses surrounded by castellated city walls and labyrinthine layout of the old town.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Fishing was once the main industry of Tarifa, but now it’s the ‘wind sport’ of kitesurfing and windsurfing that has given the town a huge economic boost.  With an average of 300 windy days per year, you can understand why it has taken off.

Everywhere there are kite surf schools and shops selling all the gear, boutique hotels for the rich and so many places along the sandy coastline where you can just pull in and park, as we did.

The last time we were in Tarifa was in 2009 when we were here for only a few days, waiting to catch the ferry to Morocco.

We have great memories of the couple of months we spent in Morocco, of meeting our wonderful German friends the Wendl’s, the food, camel rides in the Sahara, visits to the Hammam for a good wash, and the souks for the bargains and food.   So rather than tarnish those memories by going back again, we will continue further west along Spain’s lovely wild southern coastline, and just look at Morocco and the northern coast of Africa from afar.

Morocco is in the background


The tradition says that the three kings, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, followed a star that showed them the way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  They offered three gifts, gold, incense, and myrrh.

The Three Kings Parade is an essential part of Spain’s Christmas, and one of the most magical nights of the year for the children.

After watching the parade, the children go home and place their shoes in a handy spot for the Kings to see them, if they have been good all year they will receive gifts next to their shoes, if not it may only be a lump of coal.

this cream-filled cake is eaten at night after the parade

The arrival of the Three King’s Day, January 6th, marks the end of the Christmas holidays in Spain.


Who knew that the Battle of Trafalgar took place off the coast of Spain?

Cape Trafalgar lighthouse

It’s another of those locations like Waterloo that we learned about at school or have since read about but possibly never knew the exact location.

Well, today we visited the place where this famous battle took place on the South Western coast of Spain, just south of Cadiz.

off Cape Trafalgar

Now comes the history so if you’re bored already, I’m sorry and just skip this next bit, but I think that history is interesting.

On the 21st October 1805, as Napoleon and his armies were trying to conquer Europe, Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, commanding the British Fleet devised an ambitious plan of attack, which involved ambushing the Franco-Spanish fleet off the Cape of Trafalgar in southwest Spain.

Although the British were vastly outnumbered, Nelson’s ingenious plan of sailing towards the Franco-Spanish fleet in two long columns, plowing through the formations splitting the divisions into thirds worked. After many hours of fighting and huge casualties on both sides, including Lord Nelson receiving mortal musket shots to the shoulder and chest.                                                                  

Nelson’s last words are said to have been, “Now I am satisfied.  Thank God I have done my duty”.  His body was then placed for preservation into a cask of brandy, for transportation back to England.

The battle was a decisive victory for the British and ended France’s reign as a naval superpower.

HMS Victory

You can visit the HMS Victory at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard in England. It is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.


We catch up with Sharon and Steve who are from Guernsey, and like us have bought a motorhome and are traveling full time.                                                                                                                                              It was our lucky day after one of the Tour de France races in 2018 when Steve and Sharon, Marsha and Dave, and Brian and I all decided to stay the night in a small aire in the Pyrenees, now we are friends for life.    As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not only the fantastic countries you visit and exciting things you see, it’s the great people you meet along the way that really make traveling such a wonderful experience.

Steve and Sharon have parked up on a “piece of wasteland” in Steve’s words, we called it a “gypsy camp” but it is cheap and quiet, has a restaurant/bar and it’s only a short walk to the town of Fuengirola.

And where else can you go where a rider on a horse can just ride through and get served a beer?

I had been hanging out for fish and chips for ages, so when thinking of a place for dinner, and Sharon mentioned the local ‘chippy’ called the Crispy Cod, dinner was quickly decided, and it was delicious!

All too soon it was time to leave our Guernsey friends, but the road continues West towards Portugal, and now we have started the countdown until we leave for Canada in March, and then home late April.


Widely known as “The Rock” or “Gib” as the locals call it, Gibraltar is a small peninsula on the southern coast of what looks like should be Spain, and at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

Basically, the country that you see looming over you as you drive into the country, is the country, all  6.5sq km of it, with about 30,000 residents who live at the base of its 426m high monolith.

Gibraltar is a unique place with loads of history, in fact about 100,000 years of history, from the Neanderthals that fished the shoreline and lived in the limestone caves, to Phoenicians and Romans, the long inhabiting Moors, and then the fighting between the French, Spanish and British, all claiming possession at one time or another.                                                                                                                 

Now Gibraltar is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom after being signed over to Britain ‘in perpetuity’ in 1713.

All those wars for possession and sieges have left “The Rock” with an amazing legacy of 50kms of bombproof tunnels that are still used to this day to monitor shipping movements in the busy Straits of Gibraltar, a military training area for underground warfare, and also as a secure store for online data management.                                                                                                                                            

And home to a colony of 160 Barbary Macaque apes, the only wild monkey population on the European continent.

There is an old superstition that if the Apes leave the Rock, the British will go as well.


It’s hard to believe that this night has come around so soon, as it seems no time since we were in cold and snowy Strasbourg this time last year.

This year instead of the French Bonne année it will be the Spanish Feliz año nuevo!                                   

We started New Year’s Day camping on the beach at Balengra surround by a few German motorhomes, then as the breeze picked up mid-afternoon, we decided a move to a smaller sheltered cove near Castell de Ferro would be better, and that is where we met Catriona, Sol, and their two lovely children Morgan and Alwyn, all the way from Ireland.                                                                                     

They were great company for New Year’s Eve, lots of laughs and a  great deal of Cava and Vouvray was consumed, but I have to admit that Brian and I only made it to about 11pm before we called it a night and headed back to Hermione.

New Year’s Day was sunny and beautiful and time for us to move a little further West along what is known as Spain’s Costa Tropical, towards Malaga.

We watched a couple of guys on Jestsurf boards that looked pretty interesting.  We haven’t seen anything like these in Australia, but I’m sure they’re available.                                                                                                   

The Andalusian coastline here has high cliffs that run right down to small secluded sandy coves, with only a small strip of land for the road, housing and a little agriculture before the spectacular Sierra mountain range looms high behind.

Those mountains are always a real draw for us, but we also know that once we climb away from the coast it will be cold at night, 0c or less, so we keep to the coast enjoying the warm 18c – 24c winter days, and 10c or so at night, much like our winter weather at home.


We leave the Costa de Sol at Manilva for the day and head up into the hills of the Sierra Bermeja to try and find the colony of Griffon Vultures we have heard about.

With their dark brown bodies, hairy looking cape around their necks and bald looking white heads Griffon Vultures are not the best-looking specimens of the bird kingdom.                                                

But in the air with their necks pulled in, their huge wingspan of up to 2.8 metres across, and with their wing feathers splayed they soar the thermals and look almost graceful as they circle above the rugged landscape of dry shrubbery and craggy rocks.

It was mesmerizing to watch them take off from the rocks behind the lookout, some floating only what seemed like metres above our heads. 

We watched a group of around 25 gathers just down the hillside to bathe in an old bathtub, afterwards, they stood with their magnificent wings outstretched to dry.