Our Diary UK Part 3

We hope the trials and tribulations of Brexit and Trump and Turnbull have left you unscathed and warm of heart! We escaped from this for a short while with a three month trip to the Costa del Sol. We took the car to Bilbao and drove leisurely south through cold wintery plains and past snow-capped peaks. It was great to see those parts of Spain we hadn't seen before. Our first stop was a little hotel on the top of an escarpment, linked to city by a sweet funicular railway (although Christine was not a fan of the steep bit). The views were spectacular and we enjoyed a few days to exploring the area. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was fascinating - both architecturally and artistically.

This was a trip exploring art in all its forms. We saw so much by Picasso, Dali, but the marble sculpture of a veiled woman Queen Isabel II by Camillo Torregiani at the Prado Museum topped the bill- absolutely amazing to think how it was done (see our slide show and wonder at the skill). The weather held up well although cold. The Alhambra in Granada was a delight - it was as spectacular as we had hoped. Christine really enjoys architecture and was thrilled to see the amazing palaces. Being the middle of winter reduced the crowds, thankfully - it's difficult to imagine what it would be like in the high season.

We arrived at our first apartment in Torreblanca - about 30 kms south of Malaga. This was right on the sea front and had a great view of the beach from the enclosed balcony- a

perfect place to enjoy the winter sun without the cold air. We only put the heating on twice - and by February were wearing T-shirts and shorts during the days. Evenings were still chilly, but it was so lovely to enjoy the sunshine. Each day we'd walk to one end of the 8-kilometre beach, using the gym equipment provided on the shore along the way. Before heading back, we'd do our stretches and soak up the briny air. It was a better way of doing winter - much better than working back in the UK!

Our second apartment (we had to move about halfway through our 3 month stint) was about a 5 minute walk up the hills behind the beach. It was a 2-storey villa in a complex with a swimming pool - and felt much more "homely". We continued with our exercise regime - just adding the hill-hike to the start and end each day - until Keith over-did it one day and hurt his back doing sit-ups! There went the weight-loss program…

In the meantime, we were working most days on writing a book about our travels and experiences. Everyone kept saying "You should write a book!" - so we have. We're not too sure if it is any good - and certainly aren't in it to make our fortune… We'll see.

There was a great local train from Torreblanca to Malaga and we made use of it a couple of times - once to see the sights - and the second time to experience Carnival: parades on the street, costume contests, culminating with the 'entierro del boquerón' (Burial of the Sardine). The giant sardine was decked out to reflect all that Costa del Sol has to offer - cruise ships, sunglasses, i-pad, sun umbrella, etc (once again, check out our slide-show). It gets paraded through the city accompanied by bands and dancers - and is finally set alight down on the beach. It was an absolute hoot.

Other trips included Mijas which is one of the popular "white" towns in the region - just up the hill from Torreblanca. And Ronda which has an amazing bridge over a gorge which makes for fantastic photos.

We decided to return to the UK through Europe, maybe as far as Norway (well why not?) and drove up the east coast of Spain along the coastal road and stopped off in Barcelona. We were a little disappointed - it may have been just because the weather turned cold and rainy. Gaudi's buildings are certainly impressive.

We drove through France to check out "canal boats" - this had always been part of our "Plan B". However it was interesting that we both decided that this was not for us - we couldn't put our fingers on what was wrong. But it was fun to look at some and talk to the folk living that dream. Part of the reason we sold Poco Andante was because Keith was fed up with boat maintenance - and talking to the canal boaters, they had the same issues…

We headed over to the Loire Valley region to chateau-hunt. Once again the weather turned cold and rainy, but at least the rain stopped for our visit to Chambord. It really is an impressive building - and the double helix staircase is magnificent.

We then turned north east and headed for the Meuse Valley. Christine was trying to remember a drive she had completed through that area in about 1980 - but, although we didn't find the exact route, the World War One battlefields were an eye-opener all through this region. The scenery is spectacular but the sadness portrayed by the sheer number and size of the cemeteries is appalling. We spent several days touring these - all the while reflecting on the causes of conflict and the current state of world politics. It is very frightening.

Having stopped travelling for a few days to explore this region, we realised that travelling by car and staying in hotels was a) expensive, b) exhausting, and c) not much fun. In the end we decided to abandon our original plan and head back to the UK. Maybe we'll try to do Norway by cruise-ship instead!

We've been back in the UK about 4 weeks now, and this is the first time we're both "retired" - ie living in our house and not going to work each day. We still seem to be busy, and we're still working out quite what to do with our lives, but it is a lot less stressful!

It has been lovely to visit Rob, Jas and the girls at Kew Gardens - and dinner with Charlotte and Rachel up in Reading. And we've had a visit by Christine's niece Pippa and her son Xavier from Australia, as well as Jane, Tricky and Milly on a trip to the UK from their cruising yacht currently in Langkawi.

The sun was shining and temperatures heating up (for the UK) - and we rashly went out and bought some camping equipment. Immediately the weather turned nasty, so we haven't unpacked it yet, just in case we decide to return it for refund! We'd really like to visit Ireland - and NE England, but trying to find a few days without commitments is a challenge. How did we ever manage when we were working?