Saturday and a week here. It poured with rain, and we popped into the town for some shopping and got soaked. But I had the totally luxurious pleasure of reading the Saturday telegraph, sat on the bed and time to do it. What am I enjoying being home? Shops, familiar products and shopping, as I’ve said before, staff here are trained to be friendly, don’t care if they don’t mean it, it makes me realize how unfriendly Austrian ones are. When I need to ask something, I’m still rehearsing it as if it was to be in German! Mr Whippy ice cream. Understanding most of what is being said around me- we are in an international hotel. I’m still thinking I need to change the time zones, and suddenly realise I don’t! For a gluten intolerant person, I’ve found great ways of finding food for our picnicking. But eating out, the menus go from fish, chips, burgers, to all sorts of odd new dishes that I don’t even know what they are. English cooking has changed, no more gammon steaks, cottage pies, pie and mash, roasts, or am I more than a decade out?
We aren’t doing a lot, with no car, we’re fairly limited. Parks here have dogs off leads, and now Swingle has caught up on herself, she’s loving meeting lots of new dogs. Dave and I are picnicking with food, there’s a Coop across the road from the hotel. But I’ve had baked potatoes and cheese from a stand, wonderful!
We’ve explored all around the Cardiff bay area, and are fascinated by all the old feeder canals leading into Atlantic wharf, where they used to ship coal. Very little information, what a lost opportunity. I’ve photographed the whole network. We’ve been to Cardiff Bay, a huge tourist trap where Dr Who has been filmed. The huge shopping centre we’ve also explored, but thankfully for our bank balance and due to the dog, not much shopping. There are a lot of beggars, some of whom I think are fake, as they seem well dressed with phones. But one old guy, with tattoos on his face, who is out long before the others are up, I’ve given to several times.
Swingle loves the endless sniffs, other dogs and now is sleeping at night. The first few sleeps, she had us out in the early hours, maybe because her system was out of sync and she was drinking a lot too. She’s had more exercise than for years as we explore! We do think that the journey took a lot out of her. We had several broken nights where she began wriggling and tail wagging in the dark like when she needs to go out. And she did. But on one night, on the last we got outside and she just looked at me. The next time, I stroked her and comforted her, she jumped on the bed and settled. Panic attack? It’s still going on, but she is settling. She’s back to swimming at every opportunity, especially in the big park in Cardiff. Most embarrassing was when she did an enormous pee right out side Cardiff station, I make a point of helping her to find places to go now!
I’m soooooo looking forward to being in my own home, not just one room, getting my house ready, gardening, shopping for the house and having a car!
Sunday, we took the train to Barry Island, and Swingle had a ball. Sandy beaches, and she ran like a nutter, although not as much on her first trip in France. She’s seven now! She met so many dogs, who were also off the lead. She was in heaven. She did spoil it by rolling in seagull poo… The sun shone and we found a food caravan that did a gluten-free bacon and egg roll, I’d almost given up with such stands. Sheer bliss! Barry island was so quintessentially English holiday with crowds of people, glad I won’t be there on the Bank holiday! We looked for the railway to keep our street cred up with George, but it seemed closed!
So we will now be here until Saturday August 28th when we go to annoy George over the bank holiday. Cost a bit, but we haven’t had a proper holiday like this for over 14 years. We have to be out tomorrow as we have asked for housekeeping. Due to Covid restrictions, this isn’t done while the rooms are lived in, but you can request it. Doggy footprints on quilt and hair, so embarrassing. BUT I will be stripping the beds, after all my years of moaning when guests in our business never did it!
Monday has us wandering around Cardiff, washing off the dog in the river Taff as her coat was still full of salt! Trying to find somewhere to eat, all these odd sounding dishes that I have no idea if I will tolerate. Cant even do Greggs (which wasn’t here when we lived here).\ We found a hugely expensive cottage pie, when I just wanted a filling meal with all our picnicking in the hotel. When it turned up, it was the size of a small tea plate and about an inch deep. Roll on, when I, who hates cooking, can cook a meal I like!
Finally got my own UK account to send my pension to, just hope there are no more dramas, just moving into our new home!
It was strange sitting so high in the van, but Mark is a professional driver, so I let go and really tried not to drive with him. He cut in and out in a way I’d never have the courage to do. At the border with Germany, we unexpectedly caught a jam. Two accidents, then we sailed through. We stopped after four hours as we reckoned that Swingle would sleep. After that, we made it every couple of hours. It was a warm day, and we made sure we kept her hydrated. She would be so pleased to see us, then leap out to all the great smells in the stops. I just loved all the changing scenery as we went through Germany and France. We reached Calais, after one major jam for a car accident. Swingle was scared by the sirens, but we couldn’t get her out and it took half an hour to find a place to stop, but she had calmed by then. Mark has been moving animals for years and he was completely right about how she would handle it. The dark place became safe for her.
We got to our hotel in Calais in good time as Mark knew a shortcut that by bypassed a load of traffic. We parked in a compound that housed all the vehicles for the Calais police force. They kept a van permanently parked there. During the night, they set off some alarms and there was shouting; I guess they had arrested someone. We saw a group of non uniformed officers going off on plain clothes duty. And in our room, Swingle’s water got spilled all over the floor! We went for a walk, but there were no parks. We couldn’t find an evening meal so ended up getting snacks from Lidl! The air was warm and it was a hot, close night. Despite having drinking lots on the journey, Swingle downed two bowls of water in the room. That resulted in two trips out in the night and a poop. We went to our rooms in the lift first of all, she scared herself by seeing a black dog in the lift mirror and looked for it behind the mirror. Then her tail stopped the door shutting. In the night, we took her to the huge roundabout opposite the hotel, so much traffic in the day she loved it. She had major sensory overload on each stop, from so many other dogs!
We were zombie like in the morning. We left for the P&O ferry at Calais; the tunnel having gone up hugely in price at the beginning of the summer. Mark was nervous as there had been so many problems with the border control over the Covid months, and he’d just heard that from the weekend, France would be only accepting essential UK travellers.
We went to the first booth, manned by two grumpy looking officers who wouldn’t speak but ordered us to the UK border control. There were various groups from Romania etc, who seemed to be having problems getting through. When or turn came, we had a smile and waved through. Mark had told us we had our location forms linked to our passports, so I guessed all was Ok. We felt a huge relief.
When we got to the P&O kiosk, the proverbial hit the fan. Inside was sat a poker faced guy, with long hair and glasses, and wouldn’t react to Mark’s politeness. We had to do all the forms, and he refused our location forms because I hadn’t put we had come through France, so our form was green for Austria, not Amber for France. I was getting my files and laptop to change it, but Mark did a whole new form. It got us through, but I’m having kittens that on Monday morning I’ll get a call from Gov UK demanding an explanation. Then the chip reader couldn’t find Swingles chip, and grumpy pants had to get another. We queued for the ferry, glad to have left grumpy pants behind. We guessed he was part of the French not liking the UK, and he didn’t want to do all these checks. Then as we were about to board, one of the Marshalls said we were missing a yellow sticker, Grumpy’s bloodymindedness or stress?
Once on, we left Swingle in the van and had breakfast in the lorry drivers’ café, the staff were so helpful and I even got some gluten free toast, eggs and bacon! She was fine, maybe the ferry’s engine’s made her think the van was moving, we certainly didn’t need to dope her. Once off the ferry, we sailed through customs much to Mark’s relief. I felt a bit emotional at finally returning home, but was so tired, I remained calm. The journey to Wales was uneventful, with few traffic jams. We took all our furniture to the store, and they opened up for us. It seemed so little. Swingle was reaching the end of her tether with the box. She started scratching to get out of it each time we shut the door, only to quieten when the engine started. At the store, I tied her to a trolley and gave her a big chew that cheered her up. At the hotel she was out like a bullet, having been in the rattly, empty bus.
Then in Cardiff, the road was closed to the hotel, and Mark drove us around the block to find it He was so kind to do it, we were all geared up to catch the train into Cardiff. He made all the difference to the trip. I would have gone to pieces with the driving and the problems. But our troubles were over. When we checked in, our Covid tests hadn’t arrived. I rang the firm, who said they had been returned due to a wrong address. I had written in the name from the booking form and had been unable to find a number and had the right post code. The bloke was really helpful, although I was so angry. Why hadn’t I been contacted? I had been under such stress I’d forgotten that I should get a text when they were despatched, it seems royal mail didn’t even dispatch them and the man hinted it was my fault for not writing hotel on the address. He promised to get them dispatched asap Monday, but did hint it was my fault for not writing hotel! But I checked all the documents, and non had hotel on the name. It remains to see if they will turn up. And we won’t take the rest on Monday, He said it was okay to do it on the third, as it was due to courier failure. I just hope.
How do we go home? There are so many options, all made more difficult by Swingle We’ve offered to buy her a ticket so she can make her own back…
Route 1. We drive with our left hand drive car a couple of days ahead of the lorry with the furniture having some friends meet it and help to load, because we have to stop for dog breaks, maybe even an overnight. A van can do it in half the time we will take. Simple, especially as it looks like Boris has said we won’t need to quarantine. We have our green pass for double jabs for getting through Europe. Sorted? Car. No UK left hand drive car buyers will even answer my call, they want sports cars not a Fiat panda. Register it in UK, have found a firm, but it will be a day/overnight from Wales to take it there to get all the forms done. But we can only drive it to the test centre, nowhere else. But it would be easier than trying to swim through all the forms and new MOT etc ourselves, if a bit expensive.Thanks Brexit. Sell it locally in Wales? One local dealer has said they would take it, probably for parts or scrap. We paid for the car, feel we should keep it. We’re not bothered about driving a LHD on the wrong side of the road…
Oh and which way? Cherbourg to Poole, pop in to son en route? Dog doped in car for four hours. Calais and tunnel, easy and it actually seems a shorter journey time. No dog doping. Or go to Zebbrugge then Hull and head south, maybe get the car registered on the way.
Route 2 Sell the car here, buy new in UK. There is a firm that you can go with in the cab, and the dog too. Except she’s never been in a crate, we’d have to dope her…possibly a lot.
Route 3 Sell car and go on train. Eight changes and pee breaks? Muzzle the dog?
Route 4 Swap car for a RHD here, but probably too late for the paperwork.
Route 5 Hire a van and drive ourselves. But would have to do the return journey and many European firms won’t let their vans cross the channel at present.
Brilliant ideas please!
I’ve run the village library for over five years now and have loved every minute, especially the training weeks in Strobl, which were almost like a holiday! The only downside was that all the books were in German, snigger! I can read them, but it’s such a long, slow process that I’d rather be in English on my Kindle.
I ran it a lot on my own as no one would come and help (was it me?), and so was limited on how many events and meetings I could do. But I had two teenagers for a couple of years, and we did the Advent market in Burg Finstergruen, standing in the cold for two days at something minus selling our discarded books. We did a Fairy tale day there too with a picture book cinema on the projector. I moved the rooms so all the children’s books and adults were separate, started our own Picture book cinemas, got a road sign, as half the people didn’t know where the library was. Offered a book delivery service to no interest.
We had special advents in the library, with cakes, biscuits and coffee. We wrapped discarded books for surprise Christmas presents which went down well! Put a sofa in one corner so people could relax, I think it was mostly bounced on by the kids! A highlight was when the kindergarten kids would visit, bringing a welcome noise and chaos, I would ask them their full names when they got their books, that the pace was a tip afterwards was better than order. I did read to them sometimes, but that was difficult as they didn’t understand my accent! Readers’ summer, where the kids would have a little books and got a stamp, after three visits they got a free ice cream at the shop. Ran it for adults too, and the most active got a bottle of wine at the end of summer!
Then Ingrid came along and for a while it was wonderful, we ran summer events for the kids and had a ball. Then the bug came along and Ingrid returned to work. We used the time to do an inventory, but something went wrong and half the books we thought had gone, later turned up! Then I was on my own again, then with the move, trying to find a successor. In the end, I put an ad on a local Facebook group and I now have two ladies taking over, sharing the library between them. We had the Mayor and deputy mayor come and do a farewell bit, speeches and flowers which I loved and a voucher for the restaurants in the village, Dave and I will feast for the next couple of Sundays. I just wish I had known that the council had a huge store of photos and documents that need cataloging, would have been a job right up my street.
So, I’ve trained them in the system, them doing in six weeks, what I did in eighteen months, and I won’t be sad never to have to do the yearly registration form again. I’ll miss the quiet air in there, the friendship of other librarians, we’re a special lot, and the fun when we had events. I hope I may find a library near our new home, and all the books will be in English, I can shop for second hand ones again, collect horse books….
On early mornings as the dog and I wander along the lane, I begin to think, have we made the right decision? The bird song and the flowers have been such a joy. It is lovely here in the summer. I enjoy my library job, my friends. Making wine, walking in the hills, when we get a chance. We have the most amazing health system here too.
Then I think back to winter and ice. Walking the dog is no fun. There’s nothing to do here as we don’t ski and never want to. The church here is dead on it’s feet. We arrived, so full of excitement, but no one would listen or let us try anything new. I was on the PCC and tried to show people Jesus. What I’m getting at is, we have integrated which was always our goal. I have good local friends. Yet, I find it odd, when acquaintances in the village say, we’re so sorry you’re going. But when did we meet for more than a casual chat?
I’m tired of working in another language. But I’ll be proud to speak it when we get back.
We never wanted to get into the Expat gang, but did for a while. I don’t see the point of going to a country and just knowing people of my own nationality. My best friend is English, but that’s because we hit it off, and I will miss her so much, but we have internet communication, and we’ll meet in the UK.
The travelling and sadness when we leave family. Yes, of course, it’s a special situation when you visit. But I would like to see a bit more of the family. Never be so far from them when there’s trouble.
I miss huge, English supermarkets and the choice. Here, for someone who hates cooking, the choice is limited. I miss worshiping in my own language, in a big congregation, arms raised to God. I’ve only see one cautious hand raised here. We will find a loving, full on Christian community and have a study group, a witness.
Then I look at the rust on part of the roof on our block of flats, the larch tree that will eventually block my beloved view of the castle, the bathroom that needs and extractor fan, and feel relieved, I don’t need to think about these any more.
The flat is sold, so there’s no going back.