Friday, 1 January 2016

Thinking about the New in the Old. (Happy New Year to all you invisible clickers)

Goodbye 2015. So, before we let the old year disappear down the plughole of history (I've just got out of the bath!)  I think a moment's reflection on its highlights is in order. One thing we promised ourselves when we retired is that we would not stand still and vegetate at home but would spend the wealth of time we had inherited to visit as many new places as possible and try new things. By these standards 2015 has been a really successful year. In the spring and early summer we visited a host of new cities, and towards the end of the year explored  landscapes in Italy and Greece that we had never visited previously.

In fact, I can't quite believe how many new cities we clocked-up in the spring- Almeria, Granada, Malaga, Cadiz, Seville, Gibraltar, Merida, Caceres, Coimbra, Salamanca, Bordeaux, Luxembourg, Trier.. all fascinating places in their own way, with a convivial, civilised atmosphere that most urban areas in the UK cannot replicate. Of these which was my favourite? Too close to call, a toss-up between Cadiz and Salamanca I think. Much easier to award the rotten tomato - Gibraltar manages to import dear old Blighty's penchant for urban tawdry very well, Aside from the view, which is stupendous, our greatest excitement was the Morrisons condiment shelf where we managed to purchase some proper cheddar and chutney. I don't really mind soul-less urban sprawl; like in Owen Hathersley's 'A New Kind of Bleak, you can get to point where British drab takes on a sort of ghastly fascination, well perhaps for half a day.

By comparison, landscapes rather than cities dominated our autumn journey to the Peloponnese and Sicily, though we did manage visits to Ravenna, Alberobello, Nafplion, Syracusa and Catania. Nevertheless, it will be  amazing views that will be our lasting memory of autumn 2015 - the chesnut woods of the upper Tiber valley, the wild empty Apennines south of Perugia, the fertile pale yellow plains of Puglia, and the remote grandeur of the Peloponnese - surely southern Europe's most beautiful coast, as yet undeveloped by mass tourism. Sicily too was stupendous, not just the time we spent among Etna's fertile foothills, but the south east coast and our unplanned coach journey through the mountainous interior from Catania to Palermo. We still have more of Sicily to look forward to in February, We are counting down the days.

As well as new places we have done different things, learned new skills and honed existing ones. I seem to have developed a taste for wild swimming. Gill, who always has been a good cook, armed with fresh Mediterranean produce, herbs, spices and local olive oil, has ensured we ate delicious food, inspired by  meals we had out, and recipes adapted from Yotam Ottolhengi or Rick Stein. Yet for all this gastronomic delight, I still lost a few pounds while we travelled. Partly because we were active, but also because the local cuisine is light and based on vegetables and fruit.

Another unexpected thing to have happened in 2015 is the way the blog has grown and seems to have attracted an audience. When we bought Maisy in July 2013, because reading the Our Tour, Magsbaz and Travelbunyip blogs had been such an inspiration to us, it seemed natural to want a site of our own where we could record our adventures. On previous trips we had tended to take video, which is great for recording family  holidays. I soon found blogging provides a better record because it allows you to note your thoughts and feelings as well as pictures and video. Long term travel is not a holiday, a break from everyday life, it is everyday life! In a sense the inner journey seems as important as the actual miles travelled, and the only way of keeping a record of this 'mind-travel' is to write it down. I developed a habit of making notes everyday using my iPhone memo app. This means the blog is written mostly 'in the moment' rather than being a reflective journal. The result is something which is fairly spontaneous, with all the pitfalls that writing 'off-the-cuff' entails - inconsistency of style, grammatical glitches and typos galore.

This began as a record for us, which happened to be in a public domain, but soon  I became vaguely aware that others were reading it, because it got a few hundred hits per month. It was only when I added a counter to the site about a year ago that I realised that surprisingly there seemed to be quite an audience. The hits increased exponentially after I joined the Motorhome Adventures Facebook group. Immediately I could share my adventures with fellow travellers. Some of the features that I had worked on to help us record the places we visited - such as the embedded Google mymaps - became useful to other members, and I benefited from their posts.

Both Gill and I worked in education management, we both had to be people persons, our jobs involved communication within a hectic pressured environment. It has been great to escape the stress of that, but I do miss the human contact. Writing and travelling are solitary activities, so the people we meet online, and occassionally in person, do give us a sense belonging to an itinerant community. It seems to be a growing community, During 2013 and 2014 'Heels For Dust' had 6402 hits over 24 months. In 2015 the blog recorded 22,870 hits. So if you have clicked on our blog we would like to wish you all the best and bon voyage in 2016. As soon as we get back to Sicily on Feb 3rd it will be back to blogging and living life as a moveable feast. We are counting down the days...

Oh, I forgot - Happy New Year Maisy - we'll see you soon.....


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