Siesta

Instead of a two week holiday in May, Eloïse’s school made the unusual decision to schedule a one week May holiday, followed by another week in June. This afforded us one last chance to get away as a foursome before the new baby is born.

Taking advantage of that fact, we flew to Málaga a few days ago, hired a cheap car and spent the night in Mijas, near Fuengirola.

The next day, we drove down to Gibraltar and spent a couple of great days on the rock, visiting St. Michael’s Cave, the Barbary macaques and the siege tunnels. The Upper Rock has been designated a nature reserve and a £10 ticket is now required to gain entrance. When I was last there in 1988, it was all free, informal and much less busy with tourists.

Whilst in Gibraltar, we also set aside enough time to go on a dolphin watching trip. Although we didn’t see huge numbers of these playful creatures, the ones we did see came close to the boat and made Eloïse and Lucas very excited.

Gibraltar has been developed quite a bit in the 23 years since I last visited. The new Ocean Village complex boasts restaurants and estate agents offering exclusive and extremely expensive houses and apartments on the rock. The yachts in the bay — one of which even had a helicopter on deck — hint that Gibraltar has come, amongst other things, a destination for the extremely rich. The sight of a yacht with its own private helicopter really puts things in perspective.

Annoyingly, the enclave appears to be the last remaining pocket of Europe in which smoking in catering establishments is still allowed. Being able to eat and drink in a smoke-free environment is something we take for granted nowadays, and Gibraltar is something of a rude awakening in that regard.

This morning, we drove to one of the East Side beaches to collect shells and then out to Europa Point. Morocco could clearly be seen across the water as we drove around the rock and back into town.

After a lunch of fish and chips at a pub in town, we headed out along Winston Churchill Avenue and back into Spain for the drive down to Cádiz, which is where we are now.

We arrived late in the afternoon, but the power of the sun was still formidable. After a period of brief relaxation in our room, we walked to the city’s main beach, which was so densely packed that one could scarcely see any of its sand. We remained there, amongst the quivering reams of scorched blubber, until the sun started to show signs of weariness, which wasn’t until after 20:00.

The children have easily made the adjustment to Spanish time, which means they now eat after 21:00 and don’t get to bed until around 23:00. Tonight, we had a lovely tapas dinner at a local restaurant, topped off with dessert and café solo.

Touring São Miguel

It’s been an interesting week.

In the same week that saw the American government violate the sovereignty of yet another nation in order to apparently murder Osama bin Laden, we’ve been concerned with much lighter matters, driving the length and breadth of São Miguel, the largest island of the mid-Atlantic archipelago known in English as the Azores.

This is one of the remoter corners of Europe. Indeed, not since our 2004 trip to the Faroe Islands have we felt so far off the beaten track. Most friends and acquaintances reacted to the news of our destination with puzzled enquiries of “Where?”, whilst others thought that the islands were located off the coast of Africa and were Spanish territory.

It’s been an amazing week. We have walked through lush gardens, bathed outdoors in a geothermal pool, smelt the sulphuric odours rising from gurgling mud pools, eaten a dinner cooked underground by the heat of nature’s kitchen, combed beaches, viewed waterfalls, burnt rubber and slid backwards as we struggled for traction on a 25% gradient after visiting a lighthouse, been to Europe’s only tea plantation, and eaten lots of delicious fish.

Azorean Adventure (Or: How I Put My Foot In It)

I have some sound advice for you if you’re going to break a bone in your foot.

  • Don’t do it at the end of Koninginnedag, when the hospitals are experiencing their busiest hours of the entire year.
  • Don’t do it 5½ hours before your alarm clock is due to signal the fact that it’s time to get up and go on holiday.

Of course, we don’t get to pick when accidents will befall us.

And so it came to pass, that at 00:30, at the end of a particularly busy Koninginnedag, which fell on a Saturday this year, coinciding with lovely, sunny weather (a recipe for even more merriment than usual on this day of all-round mayhem), I came out of my office to finish packing my bag and tripped over the folded-up buggy that Sarah had left in the hallway.

Thinking I’d just badly stubbed my toe, I turned on the light and was more than a little surprised to find the little toe of my left foot protruding at 90° to the other toes. My heart sank as I realised I’d properly buggered it this time. Inserting my finger between it and the adjacent toe, I could feel jagged bone just under the skin.

I hobbled upstairs and woke Sarah, who was less than amused at my revelation. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding!”

She got up and came downstairs with me. I showed her my foot and she broke into spontaneous song, a short, repetitive a cappella ditty that went something like, “Motherfucker! Motherfucker! Motherfucker!”

There wasn’t any time to waste, so I called a taxi and told Sarah to go back to bed. I was driven to the casualty department of the nearby VU hospital, where the scene was much as I had anticipated it: a multitude of walking wounded, bleeding from some gash or other, occasionally covered in vomit (presumably their own).

I checked myself in and was informed that I was in for a long night. You don’t say.

I hopped to the waiting room and prepared myself for a long, boring wait.

After a few minutes, the adrenaline that had been coursing through my veins was now waning, and this seemed to have a laxative effect. I got up and hopped across the waiting room to the toilet, much to the amusement of those around me.

In what would surely have been a most comical fashion if anyone else had borne witness to it, I struggled to get off the bog and wipe my arse and then returned to the waiting room.

After a few minutes, the nurse who had taken my details returned. She informed me that the doctor needed to give me the once-over, because, depending on what exactly I had done to myself, he may need to manipulate the toe sooner rather than later.

I was put into a wheelchair and rolled to an area at back of the hospital, where, after a few minutes, a doctor emerged and asked me what had happened.

After gently pushing the toe this way and that, he produced a ballpoint pen from his jacket, moved it towards my toes and started to say, “What I’m going to have to do is…”

I knew what was coming. I didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence. Rather I looked away and braced myself, just in time to feel a stupefying wave of pain come surging through my foot. I yelled in token protest.

Looking down, my toe was now pointing the same way as all the others. The doctor was already walking away, mumbling something about arranging an x-ray as he went.

Over the next few minutes, the pain started to subside. A long wait then ensued.

When the x-rays were finally taken, they revealed that the toe was snapped in two, but with a relatively clean break. This was good news, because I wouldn’t need a plaster cast or crutches.

A major trauma then came in, which delayed the dressing of my foot. When that was finally completed, reception called me a taxi and I was back at my front door before 03:00. Not bad for a busy Koninginnedag, I thought.

Entering the house, I was annoyed to find the buggy still lying in the same place where it had fucked my unsuspecting toe not three hours earlier.

I proceeded to hobble around the house, finishing the rest of my packing. Finally, I headed upstairs to bed.

Sarah had been having a sleepless night, wondering why I hadn’t SMSed her as I had said I would. She’d sent me a few, too, but I hadn’t replied. Of course, there was no reception in the hospital and I couldn’t exactly get up and walk outside, now, could I?

I gave her the news, both good (we can go on holiday) and bad (the toe is, indeed, fucked and will curtail our plans) and then hit the sack. It took quite a while to get to sleep, too, what with all the stress of breaking a bone and wondering whether the holiday we’d all been looking forward to so much was going to be scuppered before it had even begun.

Two hours later, the alarm went off and we scurried to get ready. Needless to say, I was slower than I normally would have been.

We had to get a taxi to Centraal Station for the 08:05 train to Frankfurt. Hauling heavy luggage the length of the platform and then onto the train was no bloody fun at all, but somehow our motley crew of the pregnant woman, the gimp and their two children managed it.

Four hours later, we disembarked at Frankfurt airport and headed for terminal 2. Easier said than done: none of the lifts at platform level worked, so I had to ascend the escalator with a precariously balanced luggage trolley leaning against me.

Then, it turned out that you needed to take a bus to terminal 2 from the concourse. The bus was standing room only, of course, and what a joy it was to cling to leather straps for balance while one’s weight involuntarily shifts from one foot to the other, as the bus takes the corners.

At check-in, we were given grief about our car seat, then more grief about Sarah’s being pregnant. You need a doctor’s note to fly in the latter stages of pregnancy, but what this means in practice is that you also need a note if the woman at the check-in desk is too stupid to be able to tell that the pregnancy isn’t yet in the latter stages.

Eventually, it was all squared away and we headed to our gate.

E21 turned out to be one of those gates where you have to descend stairs to ground level, board another bus (also packed to the gills, of course) and then ascend another flight of stairs to board the plane. That’s normally not a problem, of course, but it was a major obstacle in the circumstances.

On board, more grief awaited us. The cabin crew was of the opinion that our car seat wasn’t allowed in the cabin and we had to put up quite some resistance to get them to allow us to keep it.

That eventually worked, but the argument then changed tack, with the stewardess now claiming that Lucas was too old to be allowed to travel in a car seat on the plane, which is patently ridiculous. It’s only because he was now at the age that he required his own seat on the plane that we even had a seat into which we could strap his car seat. Eventually, however, that obstacle, too, was overcome.

A four hour flight ensued. Why do airlines offer normal and vegetarian meals for adults, but only a single, unspecified children’s meal? What if your child is a vegetarian? In our case, the answer turns out to be: the child gets nothing to eat.

At close to 17:00 local time, we began our descent for the landing and I rapidly developed a splitting headache from the combination of congestion (I was still shaking off a cold) and pressurisation.

We touched down in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel a little after 17:00 local time.and were soon at our hotel.

A couple of hours later, the lack of sleep caught up with me and I fell asleep at the dinner table. The headache that had kicked in during landing had steadily worsened and now fully incapacitated me. I went to bed before nine o’clock last night.

So, here we are, in and on the Azores. Walking is possible, but painful and slow. Plenty of paracetamol helps keep it in check.

In spite of the gammy toe, we had fun today and I’m glad that we made the effort to get here. The pace of life is very slow, fact that is well suited to the ramshackle state of my body at the moment.

Bed now.

Princess Diarrhea

We arrived back in Inverness after our day around Loch Ness in time to go down into town to browse around briefly before dinner. Eloïse dragged Ian into an everything’s-a-pound shop to investigate all the treasures inside while I took Lukie with me to look for a shop selling wellies. When I met back up with them Eloïse was quite angry because Papa wouldn’t buy her a “princess diarrhea.” I asked what princess diarrhea was and found out that it was, as I had suspected, a little book with princesses on the cover and a lock. We explained that it’s called a diary, not diarrhea. She has all the syllables right now, but still persists in using the wrong emphasis, calling it a princess di-a-REE.

Ian didn’t buy it for her because it’s a horrible bit of junky tat and didn’t let her buy it for herself because he didn’t know what her current pocket money situation was. Luckily for her, she hadn’t yet spent last week’s pound so the next day it became her third pocket money purchase.

Chores

We’re back in Amsterdam after a good night’s sleep on the ferry. What a blissful way to travel. It really is so much better than flying.

The day has, of course, been marked by errands and chores: a haircut for Luke and me, a run to the post-office to pick up packages that couldn’t be delivered in our absence, fetching new coffee beans, sorting through the mountain of post that all but stopped us gaining entry to the house, and an evening ride to the supermarket to stock up on food provisions. It’s good to be back on the bike.

Speaking of Lukie’s haircut, he looks so different now. It’s aged him a bit, but in a nice way. He looks gorgeous.

Tomorrow morning, we have to clean and prepare for a friend of mine who will be staying for a couple of days.

For those who are interested, here’s the map of our full route from Amsterdam to Scotland and back.

The map only shows the places where we spent the night, plus a couple of the ferry ports (necessary to make the map plot the correct route). All in all, we notched up a healthy 3455 km. With two children and the Scottish weather, our car is a lot filthier on the inside than the outside and could do with a good clean.

It’s always good to be back. It didn’t used to be, but since we’ve had this house and made it feel like a home, rather than just a place to crash, it’s always felt good to come back to it (and made it hard to even go away sometimes, too).

As ever, I’m looking forward to my own bed tonight.