Welcome Home. Not.

24/4/17. We arrived in Southampton on Saturday and were kicked off the boat early (presumably so they could start the preparations for the next voyage immediately). As a consequence we had a wait for our son Alaric who kindly drove down to pick us up. We stopped off in Chandler’s Ford to have a coffee and a brief catch up with Stephen’s sister Jo before heading to Didcot to stay for a few days with Alaric and Annabelle until the tenants leave our house when the lease ends on Wednesday.

This morning (Monday) we received a call from the estate agents who have been managing the lease for us to say that an email had arrived saying that they (the tenants) would not be leaving as planned and they would be staying until the end of July as their own house (being rebuilt following a fire) is not finished! The barefaced cheek of it!

Towards the end of January they did ask for an extension of the lease either until July or some indeterminate date in May or June (the “story” kept changing). We made it clear that we wanted the house back at the end of April and would not extend beyond. However, it appears they will not take “No” for an answer! So we are intending to take legal action but it seems that it normally takes 6-10 weeks to evict tenants from when notice of proceedings is issued.

Ho hum.

We are calling them all sorts of rude names because we want to be in the house so we can make as much of the vegetable growing season as possible.

Cyclists are a Menace!

20/4/17. Between Lisbon and our next stop, Bilbao, we had another sea day giving the opportunity for another bridge session with Marc and Ron followed by afternoon tea.

We had both visited Bilbao before, Stephen on several occasions for business, and like it very much. So again we had no particular plans -just spending the day walking around enjoying the atmosphere and being in the 35th country of our 2 year jaunt around the world.

In addition, Stephen had arranged to meet Fátima, a former work colleague, who lives in the town where the ship docked. We had drinks and a lovely chat in a small restaurant overlooking the harbour where the ship was docked.

When it was time to return to the ship we stepped out onto the promenade just as a cyclist came along the cycle path that comprised half the promenade. He was going at a fair lick and just missed Stephen and then Fátima before ploughing into Christine. Both of them ended up on the floor, Christine sprawled on top of the bike.

Not surprisingly, she was very shaken up by this and sat down for 10 minutes to get over the shock. This done she headed to the toilet in the restaurant to see what had caused the marks that had appeared on the front of her trousers near the top of her leg. She discovered a deep hole in her leg – which immediately brought a return of the shock, dizziness and being very squeamish, she subsequently managed to faint!

Fátima drove us to the ship where we grabbed a wheelchair and she was wheeled down to the medical centre where the doctor inserted 5 stitches in the wound.  She is hobbling a little but is OK and, thankfully, not in much pain.

Oh the irony of it! We have spent such a long time riding bikes around the world and then, just before the end, one of us is clattered by a cyclist.

Incidentally the cyclist was equally shaken but seemingly only had a couple of minor grazes. Christine is not angry with him even though he was going too fast for the conditions. The doorway from the restaurant opens straight onto the cycle path and we were hidden from his sight, and he from ours by a pillar until the very last moment. Another not brilliantly designed cycle lane.  Hopefully next time he will slow down a bit!

18/4/17. Our third cruise has been as enjoyable as the previous two, so far at least. It started with 6 “sea days” as we headed for our first port of call, Ponta Delgado in The Azores. Although some people find these days at sea somewhat boring we enjoy the indulgence of having no commitments or things that “must be done”. We played bridge each afternoon with Marc and Ron (so Christine and Jim will need to watch out when we get back to Tadworth!) and caught up on several films on our list of those that we had missed while we have been traipsing around the world, including Hidden Figures and Lion, both of which were as excellent as the reviews suggested.

Christine took upon herself the task of organising church services on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday mornings and was surprised to find herself in front of about 900 people (Stephen’s estimate) for the second of these. Although she had not “appeared” in front of so many people before she didn’t let it daunt her. Stephen was immensely proud of her!

Stephen’s highlight also occurred on the same day but was much less worthy! He was complemented on his “beautiful cyclist’s legs” by a lady as he walked out of the service! He was slightly overwhelmed by this (but kept his composure enough to offer to hold onto her white stick!!) (That last part was a joke.)

There are the usual overwhelming quantities of food available at any time, day or night. Christine has particularly enjoyed going to afternoon tea most days – even though she cannot drink tea (it gives her a migraine). Of course what attracts her are the cakes – especially the scones with jam and cream!

The weather has been on the disappointing side with generally cloudy skies and much colder than we had been expecting (hovering around 20°). Also on occasions the wind has been strong (30-40 knots at times) which has made the water quite choppy. As a result the ship has rolled noticeably at times although the stabilisers have kept this to a sub-seasickness level, even for Christine who has a strong susceptibility to motion sickness of all sorts.

The two stops in port so far – Porto Delgado and Lisbon – have both been extremely pleasant and relaxing. As the organised tours are ludicrously expensive ($69 for 2½ hour walking tour round Lisbon -per person! – for example) we have elected to do our own thing. In Porto Delgado we looked round a very impressive garden and the food market before wandering thing the town soaking up the atmosphere and sitting outside the tourist information office downloading podcasts over the wifi.

Although there is more to see in Lisbon, it being a much larger city of course, we adopted a similar approach as we had a long weekend there about three years ago when we saw most of the sights. Therefore we were content to just walk around the streets of the old town and the shopping area looking at the very nice architecture and people-watching.

Boat Back to Blighty

8/4/17. With a fair degree of sadness, later today we start on the final leg of what has been a two year journey when we get on the Crown Princess here in Fort Lauderdale. The cruise will take us to Southampton via The Azores, Lisbon, Bilbao and Le Havre (which they call “Paris” for goodness’ sake!) arriving on 22 April.

As internet access seems to be even more extortionate than on other cruises ($70 for 2 hours!!) we will be “off the grid” for the next two weeks unless we find free access at one if the stops.

See you on the other side!

The Circle Completed

6/4/17. Apologies for the hiatus in posts – but life has been relatively unexciting since OBX – not that that is a bad thing,  just not much to write about. We are now back in Fort Lauderdale and get on the boat back to Blighty in a couple of days time.

Disembarking from the ferry where we left you last time we drove for a couple of hours or so to Charleston where we checked into the primitive camping area of a county park to the south of the city.  It was “primitive” in the sense that it was pretty much a field so there were no individual sites but there was a central toilet area – so very similar to the tent area at a European campsite.

The intention was to get up early (for us) and go for a wander around one of the classic Southern cities. However, Stephen managed to put the mockers on that idea by locking the only car key in the boot – sorry, trunk – of the car! An hour and a half later and $129 lighter (“It’s a high security car so it is expensive”. Yeah! So high security that all that is needed is 2 air bags to prise the door out of its seating to allow a metal rod to be inserted to operate the door handle!) we were ready to go. Because of the enforced wait, Christine was wanting to be on the road (and Stephen was at his most acquiescent!) so Charleston will have to wait for another time.

We headed down the (unexciting) main drag and by midday crossed the state line into Georgia and another of the antebellum cities, Savannah. As we had caught up some of the time spent waiting for the car to be “released” we decided to have a look around.

And we were mighty impressed! There was a real sense of history about the place with many lovely buildings and beautifully shady squares. We followed a walking tour route recommended by the visitors’ centre and enjoyed it immensely. Given that the guidebook said Savannah is slightly “seedy” or “down at heel’ in comparison to Charleston, we had a slight feeling of having missed out. Next time.

Then it was back on the road heading towards Florida down the I95 interstate, a bit of a yawn but enlivened by more episodes of The History Of England podcast. We had listened to the first 140 or so episodes (!) independently but, since the start of the road trip, we were trying to  get “up to date” – by which we mean listening to the next 70 episodes through the end of The Hundred Years War and The War of The Roses to the start of the Tudors! If you like history then we can thoroughly recommend this series (although we will concede that 210+ episodes, increasing by approx one per fortnight, is a bit of a daunting prospect!)

The next couple of days were an unexciting “blast” down the coast of Georgia and Florida, mostly down the interstate but every so often we took the more scenic minor roads nearer the sea, until we reached Fort Lauderdale on Saturday evening to return the car at the airport.

On Sunday morning we reconstructed the bikes and headed off northwards to Boca Raton, mirroring our first day cycling in the States (see http://www.christineandstephen.co.uk/2016/11/howdie-pardners/) to stay with Tommie and Vance as we had done back in November.

The journey to Boca Raton had been difficult for Christine despite being only 40 pan flat km because of the heat. We followed the quieter coastal route up the A1A which was almost entirely through residential areas with little shade and almost nowhere to get a bit of air conditioning. As the temperature was above 90°F (low to mid 30s in real money) it was all a little too much for Christine and spying a small tree she flopped into the miniscule shade offered.

At this point a pickup stopped and a “good samaritan” insisted we take a 10 lb bag of ice out of his cool box. Christine was soon stuffing ice cubes down the front of her bra, under her headscarf and anywhere else that they would stay unaided. After about 10 minutes of this extreme cooling she started to recover and lose some of the red colour that had been overtaking her whole face as a prelude to heatstroke.

The last 10 km to Tommie and Vance’s house were much less traumatic as a result and we made it there before the good work of the ice bag was undone.

They were as delightful and welcoming as previously! We had a lovely time with like-minded souls and took very little persuading to have a day watching movies and stay a second night with them! Especially as the temperature was at least as warm – the thermometer in the garden indicating 90° at 10 am.

With some reluctance we said goodbye to them on Tuesday morning but we hope to spend some time with them in June when they come to the UK on a tour of sites with historical connections to the Wingfield family.

We headed back south to Fort Lauderdale, or more particularly Hollywood, but followed the federal highway US1, inland a little, on the expectation (justified thankfully) that there would be more places to cool down. As a result we took coffee/ ice cream/snack breaks every 10 km or so to keep Christine’s temperature under control until we reached the house of Dave and Leo, WarmShowers hosts where we had spent the first two nights in the country.

They too are a wonderful couple making us feel completely at home and we were delighted to agree that they will stay with us for a few nights in June when they are attending a wedding near Reading.