A European summer; mountains and sea

by Margaret Elizabeth Johnston

After discovering Thailand back in 2015, I have been enjoying learning about the surrounding countries; Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia (just Bali so far so saying Indonesia isn’t really fair…) and most recently Cambodia. Back in 2017/2018 I enjoyed a full 8 months in Nepal and India. I guess you could say I am searching for my future “retirement/expat” home but as I am only 50 this year, I feel pretty lax about it all and consider myself more of an expat nomad more than anything else! I know of the retirement visa one can get at age of 50 on for Thailand so that is always in the back of my mind if I begin to feel tired of getting visas all the time as I am on the road but also I have discovered a way to have a 6 month (social) visa for Bali and I do love it there! Needless to say, I am aware of where other expats retire in Europe and to refresh my memory of what it is like there now that I have been enjoying Asian cultures for years. I headed to the Pyrenees and the Med this summer for a change of pace. I am getting fairly well known in my blogging circles as the lady that travels with her art supplies, lugging them all over the world in a suitcase, backpack and or shipping them in and this summer wasn’t any different due to my preparation for an Art/Education Expo I am having in Bali this current month of Expat Life in Thailand, October/November 2019!

bridgeThere is a little country called Andorra up in the Pyrenees that I have known about from past times. It is a tax-free haven so the mix of people is quite interesting. One would think it would be a bit like Monaco and/or St. Moritz in luxury but actually, the Catalan people are very down-to-earth and the people that do live there due to tax reasons are more of a sophisticated older quiet crowd, not the “bling” of the Mediterranean free and single set! I had the opportunity to “condo-sit” for the month with free rein of a car and so took myself on little trips to both France and Spain, some of the more quiet villages, and popped down to Gibraltar too! I used the month to continue to work on my paintings and some writing and now I am back in London. I feel so very lucky and oh, la-di-dah! One of the fun things I did while in Andorra was the Tobotronc, the longest alpine toboggan run in the world! It is 5.3km long and a total drop of 400m lasting 10 minutes depending on how fast you go for you are in charge of the speed! It runs through La Rabassa forest and every one of the bends provides a unique view of the surroundings and the gorgeous mountains of Andorra. 

Margaret JohnstonOther than that, I joined a local resort pool/lounge scene to stay fit and cool off and wasn’t the only one worried about all the delicious foods to be had and my expanding waist! The vibrant young energy was a big surprise for me. There is quite a young crowd in La Vella, the highest capital city in Europe being at 1,023m. The Mountain Bike World Cup was taking place while I was enjoying the mountain air in the Pyrenees with young mountain bikers flying in from all over Europe to compete even though the closest airports are Toulouse and Barcelona, both just over 2 hours a way! I really enjoyed the combination of a young healthy vibe in combination with the elegant expats, especially since I had a preconceived idea of older fish ’n chip/beer drinking expats and young silly “bling”! In the French village of Tarascon-sur-Ariege, I came upon a beautiful section with a “pop-up” art display, which, being an artist myself, enthralled me. There were mostly oil and acrylic out for show and the setting was like out of a storybook! I was working on a painting of the Guavas teen (a South American fruit) and so my colour sense was heightened with this discovery. The sweet pastel French painted town of I’sle-sur-la-Sorge was divine also. I enjoyed nougat, café au lait and French chocolate unlike the raw cacao I have been accustomed to as of late in Bali!


I stopped into a few seaside towns on the way to Gibraltar, saw a classic car show, had some tapas, went for a seaside dip and practiced my Spanish. I think both France and Spain are the most popular expat European countries; I’ve lived in both back in 2005 – 2011. I hadn’t been to Gibraltar during this time so I enjoyed a few days there and took a tour of the place in a van that drove us up through the monkey colonies, through the trees and granted us a gorgeous view from on The Rock looking down to the coastal areas Spain. Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The Rock of Gibraltar is a densely populated town of over 30,000 people. Most of these are considered British citizens but I saw mostly tourists those few days enjoying ice creams in the hot weather that swept Europe this past summer, oh and lots of monkeys!!!

nice townBack in London now, I feel I had a good reminder of past times; the expense, parking issues, rules for everything under the sun and disharmony in politics right now made me appreciate, once again, the beautiful life I am carving out in SE Asia these days. Being born in England I have family here to stay with however the expenses of London are a killer for someone so used to a less-is-more lifestyle. I look forward to heading back to Bali this September and enjoying the month of October as I turn 51 years old. Then we will see where the winds take me, although, I have my eye on Vietnam next, particularly Sapa and Hoi An. It seems the mountains and the sea are always my go-to! With the summer behind us now as October has rolled in, I am happy to of allowed myself the Euro-flavour and to see family, it may be some years before I am back with more of my Asian discoveries on the horizon!

Miss Margaret Johnston continues to circle Thailand as she explores new countries as a potential future home, feeling that SE Asia has so much beauty to offer. As a holistic health educator, she is having an art expo in Bali this month of some of the medicinal plants she has come across as she portrays them into bright, bold botanical watercolours. One can admire her works and follow her travels on www.mejcreations.com.

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