Tuesday 12 March 2019

Ambling on

Hello, remember me? I used to write this blog semi-regularly and see it's now almost a year since I last posted. In May, I got a bit stuck writing something vitriolic about the Eurovision Song Contest, in which I vented my spleen about my school and several precocious people who went there (SuRie, the UK's entry, was a former pupil), but it wouldn't have been appropriate (or kind) to publish it. And then I never quite overcame the block.

I also started to get a lot more paid proofreading work so wanted time away from the screen on days when there wasn't any to do. Plus perimenopause on top of Hashimoto's has started destroying my life at random intervals. I am a shadow of my former self right now (and I always felt that even my former self was still a shadow of who I was supposed to be, having battled autoimmune disease from the age of 15).

And Brexit has left me (if not us all) in a state of permanent uncertainty and stress. Aside from the more pressing issues of whether or not we will actually have medication, drinkable water and basic food supplies, will we be able to go anywhere ever again as of the end of March? Theresa May's staggering narrowmindedness, stubbornness and incompetence has left the entire nation in limbo, unable to make plans for anything, or see any kind of future. How we can be in this mess is beyond me. It should have all been stopped the day after the referendum. (Or preferably the day before the referendum.) Meanwhile, all the liars and criminals who forged the "leave" vote have not been held to account - in the words of our hopeless Prime Minister, "Nothing has changed!"- so even if we end up going to a second referendum, it will still just be taken over once again by the rabid rightwinger press barons, Russian Facebook ransackers, and tax-avoiding billionaires trying to protect their offshore bank accounts. I have never felt so despairing of my country. We used to be a funny, if slightly useless, place to live, but with fairly obvious strengths (multinational food, pretty scenery, lack of dangerous predators, tolerable if wet climate, free healthcare available to all, ability to laugh at ourselves). Now the place seems to be bordering on fascism, accepting of racism, and all of our state systems are on the verge of collapse. And the Opposition parties are all useless, when really it shouldn't be too hard to stand up and slag off this shambles of a government. But still, as long as the Tory Party stays together, eh?

So clearly no politican wants my vote, and I can't watch the news, and I just haven't felt inspired to write about what I have been watching. Telly is a bit of a Groundhog Day anyway - the same series coming back again and again, with not much more to say about them. Masterchef, Bake-off, Endeavour, Cold Feet, Death In Paradise, Strictly, the Last Leg. More recently, Deutschland '86 and Trapped have reappeared on our screens, which did offer a flicker of affection for the days when I used to write. In the past year, though, Killing Eve probably deserved a mention, as did a couple of things over Christmas (the ABC Murders, the Midnight Gang). Our daughter loves Dancing On Ice, and I will always have a soft spot for Torvill and Dean, who I got to see skating at Wembley Arena in 1986 thanks to a generous Christmas present from my grandparents. She has also become obsessed with Blue Peter, and has earned herself both the much coveted traditional Blue Peter badge and a diamond badge this year. This has saved us a fortune in admission fees (York Maze, Whipsnade Zoo, Tynemouth Aquarium, Bekonscot and Vindolanda among others) so is to be much lauded. It also entitled her to a free tour of MediaCity in Salford, including a visit to the Blue Peter studio (though it was partially dismantled for the summer break at the time we went - no sofa! - which was poor planning on my part).

I nearly wrote something about the posh hotels series set in Cliveden, since we went there last summer. But if I don't do something immediately, the memory quickly fades.

Les Miserables also should have had a blog post, since in October we went to a park in Brussels (see below) where some key scenes were filmed:

And as for our travels since our trip to Spain last April, we had the aforementioned trip to Buckinghamshire in August, staying at my aunt's. We also had a lovely week borrowing a house of some friends in Newcastle in the summer, but I don't think they would welcome a review on TripAdvisor or random people turning up on their doorstep trying to AirBnB. Newcastle and Northumberland are always worth a visit, however, even if you can't bag yourself some free accommodation:

Tynemouth Aquarium

Tynemouth Priory

Housesteads Roman fort and Hadrian's Wall

Alnwick Castle, where the Quidditch in Harry Potter was filmed

Holy Island


And talking of AirBnB, we tried it for the first time in October, when taking our daughter to Brussels, the heart of the European Union, to show her just how bloody stupid Britain is being right now. We travelled on Eurostar (just perfect) and stayed in a wonderful apartment in a brand new block just off the Grand-Place. We went to the Matisse, the Musical Instruments and the Manneken Pis Museums, ate a ton of expensive chocolate (the pound being worth nothing),  and spent a day at the Atomium and Mini-Europe. If only the Remain Campaign had photocopied the back page of the Mini-Europe brochure to explain to our dumb-ass citizens what the European Union was all about. Then we wouldn't be in this mess. The Mini Europe model of the Houses of Parliament even has a little Brexit protest outside.

In February half-term, we unexpectedly went back to Center Parcs. This was because York's half-term was a week later than the rest of the country's, and Center Parcs didn't realise, so were charging about a third of the price of the previous week. We went to Sherwood, where there were plenty of familiar York faces, but most of our friends chose to go to Whinfell. I had expected there to be a possibility of snow on the A66, based on this time last year when the Beast from the East hit, so decided to head south instead. But the weather, as it turned out, could not have been more different.

However, the Subtropical Paradise was Arctic.  Whether it was because it was undergoing some building work, or whether it was because it has a roof made of clingfilm, the temperature inside cannot have been anywhere near the promised 29.5 degrees Celsius. And as the water was just human soup, it was impossible to swim around to warm up. Standing around shivering made the whole experience a real chore, especially as the rammed changing rooms are now showing their age and there is always a long wait for a hot shower or a free cubicle. There were new play areas and a new Tropical Cyclone ride due to open on the Friday, though these were all actually up and running from the day we arrived. Our daughter wouldn't go near Tropical Cyclone , especially after we made her try out the original raft ride, the Grand Cascade, which she found utterly terrifying. To be fair it was pretty fast.

The whole place is designed to rip you off. Swimming is the only free activity, then you pay for everything else, at vastly inflated prices. We took all our own food and thankfully only had one kid to pay for, but we still racked up a hefty bill, letting our daughter try out archery, football and tree trekking. Thankfully we didn't have to accompany her on the latter, but for £26 it might have been nice to let her go round twice, since she spent a lot of the first circuit wobbling about and crying, only gaining her confidence and deciding she was having the time of her life in the last two minutes. We had also booked on a falconry session but this was cancelled, so we went on a family bowling trip instead. I also had a wonderful afternoon in the incredible spa, the one thing that was genuinely worth the money. Although only I could manage to get a spa injury - I slipped in the changing rooms and banged my knee and hips so badly I had to cancel my Pilates session the following day. Still, our daughter had a great time the whole week. I doubt we'll ever get as lucky with our school holiday dates again.

So a year on, this is where we are at, sort of. It's all different, but it's frustatingly all the same. Only worse. How can we still be so in the dark? There's another crucial Brexit vote tonight, but will this be the week when the whole shit gets sorted out once and for all? No. It's going to go on for bloody years and we will all have nervous breakdowns that there will be no resources left in the NHS to treat.

Anyway, I guess my point is that maybe the blog just reached a natural end. Or did it? It's always been kind of a dumb premise anyway. Or has it? Really, Gogglebox does it all so much better than me. Even if they never get off their sofas.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation

25 years ago yesterday, a bright and handsome teenage boy lost his life in a vicious and brutal attack on the streets of southeast London. This documentary series, broadcast over three consecutive nights, looked back at Stephen Lawrence's life, his racist murder, the botched and corrupt police investigation that followed, and the long fight by Stephen's family to bring his killers to justice. Two out of the five suspects are now in jail, but it took until 2012 to convict them.

Images stay with you. The photo of Stephen in this black and white jumper, smiling shyly at the camera, a wisp of a moustache above his lip. This picture in turn painted starkly onto a mural outside the inquiry building at the Elephant and Castle; a mural I walked past numerous times after work on my way to eat pizza at Il Castello or do some bad bowling in the ugly shopping mall. And the footage of the suspects leaving that inquiry, pelted with eggs by an angry crowd, responding only with snarls and violence. Sharp teeth, black shades: whatever they said (or refused to say) at the inquiry, they turn from cockiness, from "Bring it on!" hand gestures as they leave the building, to images of pure hatred as their aggressive instinct to retaliate takes over. And then there were the covert police recordings of the suspects at home, spouting vile comments about what they wanted to do to black people and wielding enormous knives with terrifying viciousness and speed. They may only be stabbing the wall as they dance around the living room, but it chills you. Their mother claimed they were just having a laugh: well, if so, it's the sickest sense of humour I have ever seen. The documentary couples their machete swinging with pathology photos of the gaping shoulder wounds on Stephen's corpse. It's unbearable.

And because images stay with you, unfortunately it seems that the suburb of Eltham is still largely known only for Stephen Lawrence's murder. Even though neither Stephen nor his alleged killers ever lived there. Stabbings occur all over the capital but no other murder has left one of its suburbs with such a stain on its character. A friend of mine bought a house there many years ago and one of her concerns was that it was round the corner from where Stephen was killed. It was only seeing the drone footage during the documentary of the area surrounding the Well Hall roundabout that I realised how close she ended up living. Here was the lovely garden suburb where her house lay, the church where her children were christened, the roundabout where you joined the A2 to to Dover, and there the bus stop where Stephen waited in vain to be driven safely home after a night at work. Viewed from above, it's plain that Eltham is not some hideous ghetto - it's just ordinary. And green and leafy. It's nice. It could be anywhere; it could be your street or mine.

In Eltham, another Stephen (Courtauld) had a palace..

Life has gone on since 1993; the road junctions have changed, trees have been felled, the bus service has improved, and thousands of residents have come and gone, been born or died. It's a suburb in flux, like any other in London and too multi-ethnic to be classed in terms of black or white. But the past still lurks. If your kids don't get into the right school, they may end up in a different catchment sharing classrooms with the children of Stephen's alleged killers. Although one would hope that people wouldn't judge (or have to judge) the children by their parents. Neville Lawrence expresses his sorrow that the killers were free to have children at all while he would never see one of his again. Nonetheless, he says he now forgives them.

So how did Stephen's murder change a nation? Did it make us wake up to racism? To police corruption? To other damaged attitudes in the Met? What has been solved, when three of the accused have never been convicted? Did the murder teach us to never give up, to fight for justice, like Stephen's family have over the past quarter of a century, knowing that nothing can bring Stephen back? Does it show that you can never, ever get over the grief of losing a child?

The extent of the police corruption is only really just coming to light. The Macpherson report accused the Met of institutional racism. It seems shocking now that the police officers first at the scene assumed it was some sort of gang or drug-related attack, that Stephen Lawrence, by virtue of the colour of his skin, had done something to deserve it so didn't merit the quick medical attention he needed. Some officers seemed to believe that proper pursuit, investigation and surveillance of the suspects were not required. And even more shocking is that it seems that the father of one of the suspects, a known drug baron, was nestled cosily into all the police stations in the area, buying officers up to protect his family from being punished for their misdemeanours. I guess I was naive to trust that these gangster stereotypes weren't just limited to the plotlines of EastEnders and Guy Ritchie films. Everyone named the same five men as suspects right from the start, in anonymous tip-offs in phonecalls and notes left lying around the area. These people were not eye witnesses, though. The five were clearly notorious in the Kidbrooke area, with their own vendettas and means of rule. But it wasn't until 2010, when a police officer was asked to clear out an office in a police station and he started rereading the paperwork from scratch that the length of the attack that Stephen endured became clear, which enabled forensic evidence that incontrovertibly placed two of the suspects at the scene to be uncovered.

And here - of all people - was an interview with Paul Dacre, the man whose newspaper fuels hatred against immigrants, foreigners and people who are different to white Little Englanders more than any other. Because Neville Lawrence once did some plastering work for him and did it well, Dacre knew what a decent, hard-working and honest man he was, and wanted to help him in his fight for justice for his son. "Would I have done this if I hadn't had this information?" he asks. "Possibly not." Funnily enough, Neville Lawrence is not the only decent, hard-working and honest immigrant who does a good job in this country. But Paul Dacre's paper likes to tell people otherwise.

And here was the woman, now our prime minister, whose policy in the Home Office was to make decent, hard-working and honest immigrants feel as unwelcome here as possible. Her "hostile environment" is making the headlines this week as the scandal of the treatment of the children of the Windrush (and other Commonwealth) settlers unfolds. Doreen and Neville Lawrence, whom Theresa May so admires, are part of this generation. They have made their home here since they were small. They married and had their three children in London. Neville (divorced from Doreen now) has returned to live in Jamaica through choice. And Stephen is buried there, because Britain didn't deserve him. Right now, Britain seems very undeserving of all the Windrush generation, who sacrificed their homes to help rebuild our country in difficult times, only to face discrimination, abuse, horrible living conditions and never-ending rain.

And I am so uneasy about the way Britain is going again, 25 years on, with rightwing extremism now considered normal and hate crime on the rise. Thanks to the (virtually) 50-50 EU referendum result, our nation now feels more divided than ever. 60 people have been killed by knife crime in the capital in this year alone. It has become endemic. Many of those killings will have been race-related. Someone in the film commented that when the economy dives, racism rises. There is now such a gap between rich and poor that can only worsen after the disaster of Brexit. So there will surely be more killings. Are the police now free from corruption and able to solve these crimes without prejudice? Do they have enough resources now that Theresa May has slashed their budgets in times of austerity? I certainly hope so. Only time will tell. But I will never feel at home in a land where hatred and ignorance reign.

Monday 16 April 2018

Child Friendly Holiday Review: Eurocamp at Camping Internacional de Calonge, Costa Brava, Spain

(If you want to read about the campsite and wish to avoid an account of our family's tedious medical history, please scroll down until you see flags...)

It seems that whenever we book a holiday, a member of our family decides to have a disaster just before we go away. Sometimes it's our daughter - good old vomiting bugs and flu viruses really know how to pick their moments to strike a young child. Often, it's our cat. He crushed the end of his tail in a freak accident the day before a holiday to Northumberland. We later had to have said tail amputated three days before my cousin's wedding. And last year he needed bladder surgery six days before our Eurocamp trip to the South of France which meant me calling in serious favours from my dad to help nurse him back to health. Last August, I got told I had type 1 diabetes the day before we were supposed to go to Holland, which thankfully proved to be a false alarm but (owing to uncertainty and awkwardly timed flights) resulted in the other half of our intended house swap having to cancel and host us instead.

This year, it was my husband's turn. He had a known history of gallstones, having had a horrid attack in the summer of 2015, but since then they had left him alone. However, a day of overindulgence on my birthday a month ago saw him readmitted into A&E at midnight in excruciating pain and vomiting uncontrollably. This time the hospital kept him in and after a scan decided he needed immediate surgery. They told us he wouldn't be able to fly for a while and to expect to have to cancel our upcoming holiday, with Eurocamp to the Costa Brava. "Never mind", we thought, "At least this is going to fix the problem once and for all, and insurance will refund us." Even though we can't afford Eurocamp's summer holiday prices (I say this every year, but they remain astronomical), we knew at some point in the future we would make it to Spain.

However, keyhole surgery is a miraculous thing. After a weekend of severe discomfort (and no painkillers supplied by the hospital), and ten days of post-anaesthetic exhaustion, things began to improve rapidly. The wounds healed and the stitches came out. And as we hadn't got round to actually cancelling, we suddenly realised a week before we were due to leave that the man was going to be well enough to travel after all. A GP gave him her blessing and all looked good.

Only then snow was forecast for the early morning of our Good Friday departure from Leeds Bradford. And Catalonia started rioting. And our daughter started complaining of a sore throat. It seemed that the challenges to our trip weren't over yet.

But nonetheless, we rose at 4.30am to get to the airport for our 8.25am flight to Girona. Leeds Bradford was busy with queuing bank holiday travellers, mostly in Boots (but at least there is now a Boots) and it was pouring with rain, although thankfully the snow held off for another couple of days. Our flight was late leaving as the airport didn't have enough ground staff to deliver a wheelchair for an incoming passenger to disembark. But this meant we were spared Ryanair's punctuality fanfare and shortly after noon local time, we touched down at Girona Costa Brava airport in glorious sunshine. We could hardly believe it. "We made it! We actually made it!" I shrieked with delight as the plane hurtled to a stop.

It took a while to pick up our hire car as Sixt's office was located away from the main terminal and required a minibus transfer. The staff were then in no rush to hand over our keys, but at least one of their team brought out a basket of balloons to entertain the kids while we were waiting. We also befriended a family who by chance were going to the same campsite. We ended up drinking sangria with them on the beach at Platja d'Aro a couple of days later. But when we eventually got going, there was an accident en route on the C-65 which caused a significant tailback. So the journey to the campsite was far longer than the half an hour it should have taken.

And by the time we arrived, we desperately needed some lunch. The campsite website had implied that not much would be open this early in the season, so we drove on into St Antoni de Calonge to try and find somewhere to eat. We ended up in the restaurant attached to a Carrefour supermarket (unlike many others, open on the bank holiday) so we thought we could grab some food quickly and then stock up with some essential supplies before checking into the campsite. Only the restaurant was the slowest one on earth. My Spanish is poor (it gets me beer), and my Catalan even poorer (I know the word for "sock" from a phonetics class in 1995), so it was hard to figure out the menu or what was going on, and we just had to sit and wait. Which is particularly hard when you are with a seven year old who has been awake since before dawn. Eventually they brought us some bread, and after I had wolfed this down I went off and did the supermarket shopping so we weren't delayed any further. By the time I got back to the restaurant they were finally bringing out our meals, but the food was lukewarm and barely edible. We ate enough to stem our hunger and left as fast as we could.

The flags! On with the holiday review...

Soon we were back at the campsite, and annoyingly the restaurant, bar and supermarket were all open after all, so we could have spared ourselves a lot of hassle and a disappointing meal. Before we knew it our car was registered on the numberplate recognition system, our passports had been scanned at reception and we had been sent up to Eurocamp. A lovely courier by the name of Matt was waiting to meet us while some of his colleagues were unpacking brand-new barbecues. It was only the second day of the season for them. Matt didn't mind that by this point I was tired, grumpy, still hungry and therefore scatty, meaning I managed to mislay our accommodation voucher somewhere in the five metres between our car and his office. He had worked at the campsite before so knew his way round and showed us the route to drive up to our mobile home, while he took a shortcut up one of the many staircases.

Yes, up. Yes, staircases. There is no denying that Internacional de Calonge is on the side of a very steep hill. Our car certainly grumbled about this, as did our legs initially, but the plus side is that we were rewarded by the most wonderful sea view from our caravan, which made every step of the journey worthwhile. For the first time ever, it seemed we had the mobile home featured in the brochure. We had lucked out at last - and all for a bargain £300 for the week.

Our row of Avants
Sea view from the deck

We stayed in an Avant before at Bella Italia on Lake Garda, and this one was just as pleasing. It was a three-bedroom model, which gave us extra storage and a couple of spare pillows. We were glad of the duvets and the proper heating that the Avant offers - with Easter being so early, it was still cool at night and as we travelled hand luggage only, we hadn't brought piles of warm clothes with us. We still sat outside every evening despite the sea breezes: I felt like we had been cooped up for months in York because - well, we had. We slowly worked our way through a bottle of Licor 43, a tipple I discovered on a walking holiday in Andalucia years ago and discovered some more in various tapas bars around London. It's like liquid vanilla ice cream and tastes so unbelievably good. There were dramatic moonrises the first two nights which I failed to photograph properly, the end result as blurry as my vision.

Our Avant
Useless blurry moonrise photo
But the accommodation was not without its issues. We had only been supplied with sheets rather than duvet covers, and the next morning the pilot light on the boiler kept going out, making showering if not technically impossible then certainly freezing cold. Thankfully a message scribbled on the pad in Eurocamp reception brought Matt to the rescue - he replaced our gas bottle and fetched the correct bedding packs. But really, as we were the first guests of the year, could gas levels not have been checked? There were also a few items missing from the kitchen - a large serving bowl, scissors and a couple of cereal bowls. Surely a full inventory and restock should have been done at the start of the season? We managed without as we were only three, but next door to us was a family of eight who would have struggled with the missing crockery.

Land train
The campsite was booked out over the Easter weekend so had laid on a few activities, which was a bonus as we hadn't expected any entertainment. The little land train was running, trundling campers down to the bridge leading over to the beach. There were were kids' club sessions, including an egg hunt all over the campsite, and a couple of mini discos in the evening. As our daughter still hasn't perfected her Europop moves, she preferred hanging out by the vending machines looking at jelly brains in nets with the neighbours' kids. (Another lucky thing was that we were surrounded by families with daughters a similar age, meaning she had playmates on tap, which was brilliant. It's something you can never guarantee or dare hope for.) On the Saturday, the disco ended with a surprise feast. The kids were all lined up and taken off to receive a plate of Nutella sandwiches, Kinder Surprises, other chocolate eggs, and to complete the chocolate fiesta, random piles of broken  chocolate. All for free, and all meaning that none of them were able to go to bed any time soon, being off their faces on sugar. So time for the grown-ups to benefit from my one Spanish phrase and get a couple of beers in...

The kids' club was fine, but I don't think our daughter would have enjoyed it if the neighbours' kids hadn't gone along too. It was also a bit lax, as it let our daughter and a friend leave without an adult collecting them. They suddenly appeared back at our caravan, while my husband had gone to pick them up taking a different route down. No harm done, but if I had gone with him rather than staying behind, it could have had complications. The roads are steep and windy and cars aren't always easy to spot. Likewise children aren't easy to spot from a car.

The supermarket was fine for basics, with the usual campsite mark-up. We were very grateful to have a hire car so we could stock up more cheaply, and it also meant we saved money by not needing to eat out as much. (Though it was a shame that we didn't manage a meal on the campsite restaurant as it did look very nice indeed.) Internacional de Calonge is listed by Eurocamp as a "car optional" site, but I don't think it is at this time of year - the local bus services weren't all quite up and running, the campsite was not yet organising any excursions, and transfers from the airports only take you as far as the larger nearby towns, though taxis would cover the rest. However, if you want a lazy time just on the campsite and the beach, it really is a lovely place to hang out. The beaches are beautiful, and quiet at this time of year. There are a series of sandy coves you can walk between, via tunnels, cliff paths, bridges and steps (although the path in one direction has - at the time of writing - collapsed into the sea). The sea is quite wild as it crashes against the numerous rocks, but it is the most stunning shade of turquoise, and so clear. There was a heady scent of honeysuckle at the top of the steps down to the beach.

Beach near the campsite

The sea was unfortunately colder than the unheated campsite pools, which was saying something. But we hadn't really been expecting to swim. Some English guests braved the pools most days - but never for very long. The Spanish stayed wrapped up in their coats - it probably felt like Northumberland in January to them. For us the Costa Brava felt blissfully warm after our long Siberian winter. It was a delight to sense the sun on our faces as we read about all the rain falling at home.

My husband was still recuperating to some extent, so we kept our excursions fairly local. Some families did go as far as Barcelona, but we decided, having spent a week there a few years ago, to leave that this time, as a daytrip just sounded too exhausting. There is just too much to see to fit into a few hours, and there didn't seem to be an easy or cheap way to get there. Trains are expensive - and there was no station nearby. And driving into a big city on four-lane highways is not really our thing.

Barcelona in 2009

We had also visited Girona before so again didn't return, not being able to recall too many things that would interest a young child, gorgeous though the city is - and a definite must-see if you have never been.

Girona in 2009

We did make it to Figueres, to see the stupendous Salvador Dali museum, which didn't disappoint. Our daughter usually has bad form in world-class art galleries, but this one she loved, as it is so utterly bonkers. It wasn't too crowded either. The drive there from the campsite was straightforward on quiet roads, although finding a car park was as stressful as ever, even though there turned out to be one very handily placed for the museums. We whiled away a couple of hours before seeking out tapas in the main square at the aptly but groanworthily named "Dali-catessen".

On the way back we stopped at Empuries, a Greek and Roman archeological site overlooking the sea at the lower end of the Bay of Roses. It's a huge place - and they have barely excavated a quarter of what is there. We were a bit tired to do it justice, but it does offer an excellent audio tour, including a special one for children. There are some incredible mosaics to see, as well as a hypocaust and the remains of several houses, shops, stores, statues and and a (partially reconstructed) Roman forum.

Empuries and the Bay of Roses

Mosaic floors

Reconstructed Roman forum

The two nearest towns to the campsite are Palamos and Platja d'Aro. Both are big resorts, and we didn't spend long in either, mostly just passing through. But Platja d'Aro had an older quarter (Castell d'Aro) inland, with a castle, church, art gallery and museum, but all were closed for siesta at the time we chose to visit. The doll museum mentioned by Eurocamp in its area guide appears to have shut down altogether. But there were flowers and colourful tiles brightening up the houses, and trees saturated with lemons. Sant Feliu de Guixols, the next town down from Platja d'Aro, was also pleasant with a few grand edifices from times gone by along the seafront.

Platja d'Aro
View of Palamos from the campsite
Castell d'Aro


St Feliu de Guixols
We also went to two beautiful medieval hill towns - Pals and Begur, which afforded fabulous views of the coast and distant snow-capped Pyrenees, and had several nice restaurants, quirky shops and galleries.



Bay of Roses

Begur castle

One afternoon we went to the botanical gardens at Cap Roig. It wasn't far from the campsite, but only as the crow flies. To drive there took a rather circuitous route via Palafrugell. But the gardens were quite wonderful. Steep again, but with views to die for (though our teenage seven year old declared them "boring" as "it's just sea" while rolling her eyes and unable to be persuaded to walk down to the rather fine-looking play area). The gardens didn't have many flowers in bloom yet, but there were plenty of palm trees and cacti, and orange and yellow butterflies flitting around us. The castle in the grounds was undergoing renovation so I don't know what there is to see inside.

"It's just sea..."

These were certainly interesting times in Catalonia - with the independence referendum having been declared illegal by the government in Madrid and several key politicians recently imprisoned, there were yellow ribbons everywhere, attached to trees and buildings, to show the population's solidarity with their state government. Villages declared themselves to be "part of the independent republic of Catalonia" and "Som republica" was emblazoned across nearly every road bridge. I don't know how they will resolve this difficult situation but it's not hard to see why the Catalan people are so fiercely proud of this beautiful region.

"Free political prisoners"

The end of the holiday was tough as I had foolishly booked us on the 6.40am flight from Girona to Leeds Bradford. Our daughter's sore throat had turned into a manky cough which made it hard for her to sleep and consequently very tired. So getting up at 3am with barely a minute's rest beforehand was frankly not great. We also had to leave the car outside the campsite as the security barriers are locked between midnight and 7am, which was a complication we could have done without, as we then had to carry our luggage down the mountain. We had been advised not to leave anything in the car as one had been broken into recently - although there was actually a night guard in sight of where we left the vehicle. Anyway, the long plod downhill in the dark with our suitcases was another reason to be glad we had travelled light. It was surprisingly foggy driving back to Girona, and hard to navigate our way round the airport as a result. We could barely see the car hire office. It wasn't open that early anyway, so we then had to walk to the terminal as there was no shuttle in operation. We will know for next time and get a later flight if possible.

For we are confident there will be a next time. We loved the campsite, even if it was quieter than some we have been to in recent years, simply for the views and peaceful atmosphere. It may of course be a different story in the height of summer when all the tent pitches are open and all the motorhomes descend. It must be a nightmare manoeuvring large caravans around the terraces and slopes. But for being busier there would be more in the way of entertainment and it would be easier to entertain older children. Our daughter is suddenly at an age where she is more particular about play areas, and the ones at Internacional were definitely aimed at younger kids. However, if she was at the pirate ship with the girls next door then all was well. In summer the catering outlet would be open up there too and that would make it feel like more was happening. It was a shame that you couldn't really use the pools (one advantage of holidaying in France over Spain or Italy is that they heat outdoor pools so you can use them comfortably(ish) all season). And the pools weren't anything like as spectacular as the complexes you get at the larger campsites. That said, there is a big aquapark with slides just a couple of miles up the road, though this doesn't open until June. The other sports facilities were fine, but there was only one of each sort of pitch/court so they would easily get full, and Eurocamp had little in the way of equipment to loan out (though you could also rent tennis racquets etc from the main campsite reception). Eurocamp were also rather void of any games or beach toys to borrow - last year the campsite we visited in France had loads, which is helpful when you have flown and can't take a car full of luggage. Of course it may just be that everything had already been borrowed by the time we got there, but nothing appeared back later in the week when most people had moved on. But for the price we paid for the week (about £300) we really can't complain about anything.

We were glad to have booked the Avant as they had by far the best location on the whole campsite - the cheaper Eurocamp accommodation was not nearly as well situated and the mobile homes seemed quite close together. They had no view to speak of, only of other caravans.

Our last trip to the beach
The Costa Brava is stunning, and we would love to see more of it. But for now we are so glad that we got to go on our main holiday of the year after all, and once we had recovered from the early start on the final day, we all felt much better and refreshed from our travels. After such a long winter and delay to spring, I fear I may have gone mad stuck in York watching the torrential rain drown our city over Easter. The floods rose and the Ouse threatened our park and street once again. The only saving grace to our return was that the city's daffodils were finally in bloom.