Monday, January 23, 2012

Gib the Return

Wow we have been back in Gib for 3 weeks now and time is flying by.  We have settled back into a routine, I have joined the gym again and try to go a couple of times a week which then also gives me time to go to yoga a couple of times a week.  Been so lucky to find a gym which is really cheap and the yoga is not only cheap but also a lovely place where everyone has been really friendly.

Mark has been running around all over the place to get extra bits for the boat for doing all the jobs that need to get completed before we leave again.  I am glad to be out in the mornings as when I return the boat has been turned upside with tools and bits of boat all over the place.

This week has been really successful with the fitting of our wonderful new solar panels, we actually bought there in October in Mallorca but this has been out first chance to get them fitted after Mark had some bespoke stainless brackets manufactured whilst we were in the UK.  The panels are not small at 800mmx500mm and in total should generate 4 amps an hour.  Yesterday was our first sunny day of use and they are doing a fantastic job even in the winter sun, we have seen over 4amps on hour being generated at points to today but constantly over 2amps so we are really pleased but it does mean that Mark is back to being obsessed with our power input and output.

2 Super Solar panels
Just after we arrived back on the 5th January we went along to the 3 Kings Cavalcade which involves a large carnival down the main street in Gibraltar.  The Cavalcade celebrates the story of the 3 wise men that brought gifts to Jesus, in many countries children actually receive their Christmas gifts the following morning.  We heard about the parade on the radio but had no idea it was such a big event, 9000-10000 people attended (seemed like the whole of Gibraltar!!) the floats were quite elaborate and the kids obviously loved every minute.  We spent most of our time trying to avoid being hit on the head by the sweets being thrown from the floats.  It was actually a really nice event to experience and demonstrated what a community spirit there seems to be in Gib.  Unfortunately we did not take the camera so no photos L

The weather has been great for making the most of our time here, we have only really had one day of heavy rain which made the boat freezing so we curled up under the duvet and watched a DVD but otherwise we have had some stunning days.  The sun remains strong at this time of year but any breeze is pretty chilly.  The weather is normally reasonably consistent with 3-4 days Levante (wind from East) followed by 2-3 wind from West.  Levante is usually a little stronger and often leads to cloud on the Rock.  Temperature has been around 16 degrees most days although sure it has been warmer than that on a few afternoons.  We are already watching the weather thinking about when we leave!

A walk to the top of the Rock is back to being a regular, at least once at the weekend and we have had some stunning days, even walking in our shorts today.  It is lovely to see the surroundings on the walk changing with the wild flowers starting to bloom (they think it is Spring) and the Sea Gulls are also sitting on eggs so there as lots of activity and noise with them!

Looking North East from the top of Rock into Spain

Looking West from the top of the Rock into Spain & Algerciras
We also had few trips out to Europa Point it is always very bracing as you can never get any shelter from the wind but normally fantastic views of the Straits and Morocco.

Europa Point lighthouse and our great fold up bikes

Mountains for Morocco in distance
It has been great having our fold up bikes on the boat, makes it so much easier to get around and makes the shopping doable – never take for granted going to your local supermarket in your car and being able to get what you want.  Again we love the fact that we have a Morrisons here so we can get lots of home comforts but it is not always that easy when half the shelves are not stocked and they are waiting for a delivery from the UK! This happens frequently which means we visit almost everyday!

This week we decided to treat ourselves to a hire car to get out and about.  We headed to Tarifa to the beautiful beach, as soon as we saw the sea, pine trees and surf shops it felt as special as every other time we have visited. We had a walk around the headland at the far western end of Valdevaqueros beach even though we have been to Tarifa a number of times we still managed to explore areas of the beach where we had never been.  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the wind was about a force 3 so we did get to see some kite surfers flying across the waves and being a week day in winter there was hardly anyone else on the beach.

We didn’t time our visit to the town very well as it was siesta time but we still went on a drive around just to bring back memories.

At the other end of the spectrum from the sleepy, old, chilled out surf town of Tarifa is Sotogrande, a purpose built urbanisation just north of Gib.  We decided to have a drive up as we have never been there but also as they have a marina with a travel lift (which we may have wanted to use).  Sotogrande is almost like a gated estate in the US, there were some nice looking houses but not many people around, the marina was very upmarket although not very many boats were in or out of the water and most of the boats not very surprisingly were power boats.  The marina had a few bars and cafes but not much else, would not be the best place to get the boat out of the water as you would need a car to get provisions, etc.  The real positive of the marina is the well stocked chandlery, the best we have come across in the Med and seemed reasonably price – we never appreciated the chandleries in the UK until we left and realised how limited they were elsewhere and how over priced!

We also crammed into our day with the car a whole load of food shopping! Already thinking about when we leave Gib and what a challenge shopping, in terms of location, price and availability we learnt this from our limited experience last year.  Now we just need to find space on Magnum for as much food as possible!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

UK Winter 2011

Arrived back in the UK on 12th November in time for Mark to see Harriet on her 18th birthday (15th Nov), so that was celebrated by a morning drink in the local pub although it was her first legal day of drinking she already had a hangover from the night before! So hair of the dog it was!

Mark & Harriet - presents in hand
The week that followed was busy with Mark trying to sort out his work trip to China so he was in and out the office and luckily for us we could use my dads car during that week so we were able to get out and about.  It was great to catch up with people but within the first week we had already eaten out a couple of times and the pounds were piling on.
Enjoying dinner with Lisa
After being away from the UK you return with a new appreciation for the area in which you live, we were lucky to be staying in Fawley with my parents in walking distance of the beach and forest  - what more could you ask for.

We became very familiar with the ponies which live on the path leading from Fawley to Calshot.  The running/walking became muddier on each visit but being able to run along the shoreline is lovely.

Passing the ponies on our way to Calshot

Beach huts at Calshot on a sunny November day
We also had a couple of fantastic walks in the New Forest, we even invested in a new ordnance survey map of the area so we could get out and about to some new places.  One particularly nice walk was a Sunday afternoon spent with Lisa, Clare, Aaron, Beth, Ernie (Lisa’s little dog), Lex (Beth’s big dog) which was made even better with a delicious pub lunch at Beaulieu Road Station – certainly missed pub lunches whilst we have been away.  We saw lots of New Forest Ponies, a huge number of deers (chased by Lex!) and even forest pigs!

Pig on the run from Mark

Do we look like the Famous 5!!

Mark’s trip to China was cancelled but he did manage to get a few days work in Denmark whilst I had a few days resting and more catching up with friends.

We also decided to make the most of the time back in the UK and planned a walk along the South West Coastal Path.  This runs from Dorset along Devon and Cornwall. As we only had 2 days we decided day 1 would be Bournemouth to Swanage and day 2 we would head out to Durlston Point and as far as we could along the coast based on weather.  We were lucky with the weather although fully prepared with wet weather gear.

Day 1 – We caught train from Brockenhurst to Bournemouth, walked about ½ mile to join the coastal path at Bournemouth Pier, the sun was shining and the surf was up. 

Bournemouth Pier
The task ahead seemed a bit daunting when we looked into the distance and saw old Harry rocks which we had to walk past!

Headland in distance is Old Harry Rocks
Great for us that a paved footpath ran from Bournemouth to Sand Banks where we boarded the chain ferry to cross Poole harbour and arrived at Studland Bay.

Disembarking chain ferry

Studland Bay
With the rain clouds looming we walked along the beach for a few miles as we moved every close to Old Harry.

Old Harry Rocks off point in distance
We then had to head back along the cliffs to re-join the path, as we stopped to have some lunch we were joined marines on exercise, with a plane passing overhead and dropping them into Studland Bay – it was all very exciting as they were then picked up by Ribs waiting in the Bay.

3 small dots are actually parachutes
It felt like a huge achievement when we finally made it out to Old Harry, over 10 miles walked and in full wet weather gear as we had a few spots of rain.

Mark on the edge!
We could now see Swanage Bay, almost there! The views over both Poole harbour and Swanage were spectacular.

Swanage Bay
A few more fields to cross and a big downhill stretch with a massive downpour and look how happy I was to arrive in Swanage!

We had booked a B&B (Robertsbrook Guest House) which turned out to be lovely especially the hot chocolate and ginger cake on arrival. We had a nice evening out with home cooked delicious food in a 600 year old pub (Black Swan Inn) just what was needed after walking almost 14 miles.

The next day after a monster breakfast we headed off to Durlston castle only a couple of miles away.  It was already windy but we were lucky that the heavy rain had passed over night. The visitors centre at Durlston has recently been re-opened. The castle was built in the 1800’s and was planned to be part of a housing estate which never materialised, leaving the castle and also the pictured globe sculpture in some beautiful grounds.

Globe with Durlston Castle on the hill

With the wind blowy and the tired legs from the day before we were both keen to just sit at the castle have a hot chocolate and a cake but we didn’t we pushed on out to the headland to enjoy the bracing wind!

Just along the path inside the Dulston park are the Tilly Whim caves which you are no longer able to enter but are an old quary where Portland Limestone was extracted and you can still see the use of the local stone in Swanage.

The scenery was stunning and being a blustery day made the sea amazing although the wind made walking quite a challenge as we were walking straight into it.

Mark on South West Coastal Path

The path runs along the cliff edge for miles but was a challenge as it pretty wet, muddy and slippy and you were constantly up and down hills.  One of the most spectacular sights along this area of coastline is the Dancing Ledges which is a flat area of rock at the bottom on a small cliff which is a popular area for climbing the better weather and provided some welcome shelter from the wind to have a brief rest.

Dancing Ledges - Dorset Coast

Dancing Ledges - Dorset Coast

Dancing Ledges - Dorset Coast
From here we started to head inland and reached a the small village of Langton Matravers where we could catch the bus up to Wareham and were both very thankful when we could finally jump on a train to head home – 2nd day walking was only around 8 miles but this was pretty much all a off road and made harder by the constant wind.

This trip only made us want to walk more of the path but as we all know when you are back in the real life and trying to work, etc you never find time to do all the things you want to do in the UK.

Later that week we completed the pool element of our Open Water Padi Course, this was not something we had planned to do in the UK but with various special offers at Andark (great Dive school close to Southampton) in the winter and the chance to do all the theory and pool work before heading somewhere warmer to complete the Open Waters we could not resist.  We had spent the last week and half cramming all the theory and the course was made even better by the fact that there we only the 2 of us on the course (I expect that was due to it being mid week in the winter).  We successfully completed and are now just keen to practise in the sea with the fishies!

The week before Christmas was really busy for us but so nice to get to spend time with family and friends.  Had a lovely afternoon tea with my mum at the Montague Arms in Beaulieu (New Forest), lovely location and very festive at that time of year.  A birthday meal for my mum, more lovely food and Lisa had made a lovely cake for my mum who is a big fan of liquorice allsorts.  

Mums birthday - Mum, dad and Dan

Mums birthday - Alan & Karen

Fab cake
We also had a special treat of going to the cinema to see Arthur Christmas with Alan, Karen & Dan which was such a nice and christmasy thing to do on Christmas Eve.

We had a lovely but a bit busy Christmas day, firstly we headed off to pick up the kids and then went to see Debbie and family (Mark’s sister) for a catch up and present exchange.  We then took kids to the pub for presents which made a nice change.

Christmas Day - Harriet and Abbie

Christmas Day - Mark & Dan
After happy smiley faces from all the kids we dropped them home and headed back to my parents for Christmas dinner with my family and as with every Christmas lunch we all ate too much. 

The final week before heading back to Gib became a rush to say goodbye to people including lunch with the kids, lunch with our old neighbours (Bernie & Pam) and tenants in our house, Harry Potter with Dan, visits to Vikki and visits from Lisa & Ernie, all very lovely but we still ran out of time to see everyone. 

It was really nice to be back in the UK but it did make it hard to say goodbye all over again!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Gibraltar for the winter

After arriving in Gibraltar in October the time seemed to fly by and now we are in January and just thinking about updating the blog!  It seemed that we had so much to do before we were heading off to the UK for Christmas. So we started on getting a few maintenance bits done on the boat but also wanted to see some more of the Rock and make the most of any remaining sun.

One of our best adventures has been the Mediterranean steps which run up the outside of the Rock providing amazing views of not only Morocco but also into the Med and the snowy caps of the Sierra Nevada.  The steps are cut into the Rock face and although there is a handrail to help you out it is a bit of a trek but definitely good exercise.  We also have the opportunity to say a quick hello to the Monkeys although I am never keen on getting too close.  We managed to walk the steps a few times before heading back to the UK but could not persuade Abbie when she came to visit.
Gibraltar Bay with Morroco in the distance
Monkey at top of the Rock eating a banana
Shorts in November! Spanish mountains in distance
Some of the many steps.
We have had a few visits to the Botanical Gardens, these are free of charge to visit and although only small they are very pretty and relaxing since they are so close to the centre of the town.
Botanical Gardens
Mark in Botanical Gardens

We decided whilst Abbie visited that we would hire a car for a few days to allow us to explore Spain but also to enable us to get a few jobs done – it is so much easier for us to fill up fuel containers, carry multiple gas bottles, visit a DIY shop, get a big Morissons shop when you have a car which we had not done since leaving the UK (apart from when we very kindly used the car my dad had hired in Mallorca).  Good thing about Gib is that cheap for hire cars.

Tarifa is only about 30 mins away from Gibraltar and is one of our favourite places where we have holidayed in the past.  It has beautiful wide long sandy beaches which are perfect for wind/kite surfing and even if you are not having a go yourself (me) it is amazing to watch and the beaches are fantastic for a windswept walk.  The town still has lots of old twisty streets with lots of little surf shops.  It has a very relaxed feel to it and even though Mark & I have not visited for many years it still had not been over-run by tourism.  Being able to have a picnic on the beach in November was a treat.

Mark & Abbie windswept in Tarifa
We also had a day trip out to Rhonda which is an old Spanish town about 1hr 30mins drive inland from Gibraltar.  The town is built around a gorge and the views are spectacular and the old squares and churches are really beautiful. 


Bridge over gorge at Rhonda

Having a car also meant we managed to visit Michelle, Alex, Ziggy and Asher, so lovely to see them all as always and not much more than an hours drive from Gibraltar so easy to pop and see them for lunch.

During the weeks before we left for England I am still surprised we fitted so much in, Mark was busy on the boat:

Varnishing bits and pieces in cockpit
Coating the deck with protector for winter
Re caulking some of the deck
Replaced bulbs

I managed some spring cleaning with cupboards being emptied and everything getting washed.

In addition I joined the local gym which was good to get some exercise on the rainy days. We visited the local swimming pool – it is free, what a bargain,! I went to the yoga centre, very relaxing.  We met some lovely people in the marina, some were setting off on their travel to Canaries and onwards across the Atlantic others who like us are settled here for the winter. 

The marina is 5 minutes walk from town which has made it easy for us to get things done and settle into a bit of a routine.

Queensway Quay viewed from Top of the Rock
Mark also had a couple of trips up the mast for one of our neighbouring boats and took a few good photos.

Magnum is the one in the middle with the blue cockpit cover
We then had to pack up Magnum and get ready for heading back to the UK.