Manta Rota, a holiday within a tour.

22nd Jan to 12 Feb 2018.

It has been an unusual three weeks as I write this post whilst still being at Manta Rota.  The first port of call after another night in Lidl car park at Sao Bras was ‘CamperServ’, a garage just outside Loule, as we had to buy a new leisure battery as our current one had started to discharge rapidly.   Upon an internet research before hand I had gathered that for some reason batteries were much more expensive than in the UK, nevertheless I was not expecting them to be almost twice the price.  So, 200 euros later we were in possession of the largest ‘Varta’ leisure battery they had that would fit, which was then shoehorned into the underfloor battery box by myself on their forecourt.

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CamperServ was busy and as we found out, don’t go at lunch time (1 to 2pm).  They were pretty helpful though to be honest and even lent me an open ended spanner, as my 13mm socket was not deep enough to go over the bolts to reach the nut, allowing me to fit it myself to avoid their charge. CamperServ,  Caminho Selões, Quatro-Estradas, 8100-287 Loulé, Tel: 289 093 373

Then working our way back east again as we had a meet up date with our former Normans Bay managers Mick and Sheila, we stayed the night enroute at sleepy fishing village (well in winter anyhow!) Santa Luzia which during our sunset backed evening walk was very picturesque.

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Santa Luzia by sunset

The next stop was Mick and Sheila’s, who have recently settled for their retirement just outside Vila Nova de Cacela for a fun evening of food, drinks and conversation about past, future and present.

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Mick, Sheila and rodent Otis the border terrier.  “Thanks for a great evening M + S, it is always a pleasure, please keep in touch……..Cheers (look in the eyes, look in the eyes)!!!”

With a slightly sore head on the Thursday morning (15th Jan) we arrived at the motorhome parking place at Manta Rota where we planned to stay five nights or so with the intention of giving Rita a little time to be in one place.   However, upon arrival at midday we were told by the receptionist that it was full, in fact only one camper out of one hundred had decided to move on that morning.  We then moved onto plan B, being nearby Cacela Velha, but here we found very clear “Parking, exceto autocaravnas” signs in three languages, including English, which was enough to make us think of a more appropriate alternative, after all a motorhome has wheels (a thought that had obviously escaped the minds of the occupants of the ten or so vans that were already parked up and staying the night, choosing to ignore the clear signs).

So we were on to plan C and by remembering a tip from fellow travellers that we had met in Alcoutim, out third option was Fabrica, a village a further 2km west on the coast at the start of the National Park ‘Ria Formosa’.  The parking signs here were without the ‘except motorhomes’ addition and therefore we felt happy to tuck ourselves into the end of the short riverside promenade.  However, we did enquire more about our parking situation, as to be honest it did not feel too ethical as the waterfront is just so beautiful, and we learnt that next year motorhomes will be stopped as the local residents are getting tired of waking up in the morning to find that the only water bird wild life they can see from their front windows are white metal swan necks.

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Our white swan neck parked up at Fabrica.  We ended up staying riverside over the weekend

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Whilst at Fabrica we did some coastline walking taking in Cacela Velha and Manta Rota.  The ever changing waters as sea merged into the Ria Formosa made for some spectacular views. 

We finally managed to enter the official motorhome parking at Manta Rota on the Sunday, even though this entailed a two and half wait for the first ‘mover’ to leave and again the receptionist confirmed that the motorhome turnover was ridiculously low with many people staying months on end.   There must be something in the water there, as we in the end stayed for fifteen nights, which is much longer than our original plan of five days.  The reason for this was that it turned out to be like a two week social holiday as we really clicked with our MH neighbours Rick and Mary.   Rick and Mary, who were in their early seventies, were completely on the same wave length as us, in fact as we compared our current lives we seemed to be copying the trail that they themselves blazed.  They had vast campervan experience with travelling stories that started in the 70’s with a split screen VW which managed trips through Morocco and Algeria.  Then using self made Merc truck conversions in the 80′, 90’s, 00’s making trips through the likes of Turkey and attempting over land to India.  To currently, much to Rick’s distress, in a modern white ‘plastic fantastic’ coach built motorhome concentrating their winter travels from their French residence base in Morocco and south Europe.

We saw Rick and Mary most days, effortlessly and enjoyably passing time.  Rick even convinced me to unhook my bike and we managed a couple of morning bike rides including one to the centre of Tavira (32Km round trip) where we stopped briefly to refuel on Super Bock (remember the age gap here!)

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Two of Rick and Mary’s old photos.  Most people agree that converted Merc trucks are pretty cool.  “To R + M, we really enjoyed your company at Manta Rota and it will be a great memory.  We know that Rita is also missing all of Mary’s treats.  We hope to see you again at some point on the road.  Take care both, love M+S+R”

To add another social icing layer on the Manta Rota cake, whilst walking Rita one morning we noticed a classic Hymer that we recognised.  Upon further inspection we verified that it was Rob and Karen who we met in Caceres in January.  Unfortunately they were not at home so we left a note under the middle front windscreen wiper (yes, there were three) and after a short spell of meet up tennis we all, including Rick and Mary, spent a very enjoyable afternoon at a fabulous beach bar at nearby Praia de Lota.

The ‘meet up with old friends’ stars must have been all aligned on this day, as when we returned to the MH park a new van had parked behind us and this turned out to be Alan and Jilly who were travelling friends of Rick and Mary that had not seen each other for twenty years!

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Manta Rota involved lots of eating in and out.  In fact we visited the local take away four times in total, 3x for chicken and 1x for a much talked about stewed rabbit.

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The social group outings included the beach bar, six nations rugby and a cloudy local carnival at Altura.

Spending over two weeks in one place was a real surprise for us as the longest we have ever stayed in situ so far was in Sanlucar de Barrameda back in March 2016 where we stayed 7 nights.  I think I now may need to add a little antidote to any former or future motorhome heretic made by myself that might be elsewhere in this blog about people staying long term at public/municipal motorhome parkings.   So here goes:  We really enjoyed our extended stay at Manta Rota as we met some great people staying there, it was safe and secure, a ‘paid for’ authorised site dedicated to motorhomes with a great beach nearby for recently acquired Rita to settle and indulge in and hence we felt OKish about spending two weeks there.  Even though I am writing this, I am still not sure how I feel about people staying months and months on end at these types of locations, as a really high percentage of motorhomers were in Manta Rota, as at the end of the day a motorhome has wheels and is for touring, but I am sure, like us, they will find their own reasons to justify it. (editors note:  never say never!)

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It is really easy to understand why people stay long term at Manta Rota.  The beach early in the morning on one Rita’s walks….

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…..mentioning Rita she really enjoyed the beach and even the beach bar where see met up with Guido’s white Shepard and Julie’s Portuguese rescue, Lassie.

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The Suntor Bus, Updated….

Feb 2018

With our two year eurosuntor anniversary looming it seems like good timing to update this page a little.

Over the last two years we have covered over 18,000 miles driving around Europe without any major breakdown instances.  There has been some sizeable issues that have arose but all of these have been rectified by the dealer (Ropers Leisure, in Catterick) and a third party warranty (MB&G Insurance) which was supplied by Ropers as part of the sale which of course has softened the blow.  To add, some minor issues have been fixed by us using rudimentary DIY skills whilst out on the road.  Here is a list of issues that have arisen in order of occurrence:

  • A bad earth connection on the engine battery causing failure to start luckily found before we set off.  (covered by Ropers)
  • Second key failed to start the vehicle.  After trying several avenues unsuccessfully such as ‘reprogramming’ the only way this problem could be solved was by having new key sent to us from Fiat Italy.  This cost almost £400!!!! (covered by Ropers)
  • Two tyre replacements caused by punctures whilst in Italy.  We also made a 3rd tyre purchase as we replaced the spare as it was badly perished.
  • Water ingress into the lower floor meaning that sections of the floor had to be replaced.  This was repaired again by Ropers themselves at their own workshop in Catterick.  The inconvenience for us was that we were without the van for almost three weeks.
  • Rear window seal replaced to fix leak.  (covered by Ropers)
  • Chemical toilet door seal replaced. (covered by Ropers)
  • Various light shades, cupboard doors and shelves working loose, generally caused by poor quality road surfaces.  All these have been fixed as and when.
  • Clutch replacement, a preventative measure as we had some shudder when cold.
  • Turbo replacement which stopped the engine management light coming on and low power mode been activated above 3000rpm.  When they took the turbo apart for refurbishment the main shaft was bent.  (covered by the third party warranty – in fact we claimed on the very last day of it’s 2 year validity) 
  • Finally we have replaced the leisure battery.  Unfortunately we made this purchase in Portugal where batteries are much more expensive.

When you read the list back it sounds pretty bad, but not so negative when you consider that the van is now 14 years old and the type of use we expose it to.   You should hear some stories from owners of brand new motorhomes that are used less than ours, this list is nothing in comparison.

Finally the list also makes it clear that buying from the right dealer is paramount, without Ropers’ after sales support the bill to us would have been quite costly and when I get the chance I let fellow motorhomers know about our (good) experience.

On a more personal note, we both love our van.  Sure, we stare longingly at the fantanstic new A classes that roll on by, but overall I don’t think we would change our Suntor for any other option available to us (considering MH size, budget etc).  We love the rear lounge, the light and views from the three large rear windows and skylights.  We also like that the van is not too long meaning we can pretty much go where we want to and that it doesn’t look too ‘posh’ either which helps when parking on the street.

Overall it is great motorhome and I hope now that I have written this update that I have not jinxed it………I would touch some wood for luck, but I can’t find any real wood inside the van, OK a cheap compressed wood chip cupboard door will have to do….don’t ya’ just love Swifts hey!!!!!!

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The Suntor still looks tidy in our view considering it’s age.  We hope it continues shuffling us around on our travels long into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Us, Updated….

Feb 2018, Manta Rota, Portugal

With the two year anniversary of ‘eurosuntor’ approaching at the end of this month it seemed like an appropriate time to update the the ‘About Us’ page.   This post is a copy of the update.

Firstly our journey still continues, maybe not always in the travelling/moving sense but in an overall lifestyle (cringe**).  Secondly, the eurosuntor team has expanded and we have a new companion on board, Rita the dog!  See posts ‘Meeting Rita’ and ‘Adopting a dog from a Portuguese Refuge’ from January 2018.

Picking up on the former it was obvious to us when we set off  in March 2016 that we were searching for something different from our lives, something more experienced based and rich with free time rather than working full time and wishing for weekends and holidays.  Whether motorhoming in Europe is going to be the long term route, we still don’t really know.  However it was clear from our first trip, which including walking the Camino de Santiago and a short trip to and from the UK, lasted 15 months in total, that we wanted to continue the motorhoming life for a while longer.

Having met so many people on the road and on the Camino that were living differently to the 9-5 and making it work filled us with so much encouragement that we decided to push on and discover the world of flexible working allowing us to dedicate half of the year to travel or to other schemes/projects that could take our fancy.

So this is where our two year point brings us to as in Spring 2018 we return back to the UK for our second cycle of six months on and six months off.   We still have many more European travel aspirations that need to be done:  a drive down the main land through Croatia and Albania to the Island of Crete as we have a friend who has just recently moved there, we also hear that Sicily is pleasant weather wise in winter time and finally at some point a large North European trip in the summer of course.

As food and drink is still important to us and is probably our main past time when we travel it is good to note that Sharon is still in search of the ultimate steak frites and she is pleased to be continuing a wild boar stew tour of most European countries.  My regional sausage tasting has gone a little cold as my head has been turned more recently to spicy barbecued chicken…..I amaze myself sometimes how often I eat this, it is like an addiction.

I look forward to writing the 2020 update to see where we are at, as in summary the last two years has been an amazing experience………….

 

**  1)  I did try to use another word other than lifestyle as to me this sounds so ‘wanky’, but nothing else worked I am afraid.

** 2)  When I first drafted this update I included a ‘couple of paragraphs’ expanding more ‘lifestyle’ which somehow touched on a whole series of maybe unrelated subjects like:  over consumerism, environmental issues, power and influence of large corporations, money based decision making, privatisation of the public sector, world politics, individual based thinking at micro and macro levels and the increasing divide between rich and poor amongst a few others.  But luckily for all of us on a read back I realised that I had dramatically strayed from the original intention of this update and that was to simply refresh the ‘about us’ section.  We should all thank Sharon actually as upon an edit she posed the question to me “are you really sure you want to include all this?????”, as she leafed through now a couple of pages of my mind dump, and in effect saving us all from a lengthy, possibly boring, monologue!!!  Maybe now having the luxury of time means I have too much time to think……………………….

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The eurosuntor team Sharon, Rita and I, Portugal 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adopting a dog from a Portuguese Dog Refuge – our experience.

29th Jan 2018

Our search for a dog started in the UK and we did consider adopting a dog from the many charities that operate there.  However we had heard so many stories about the great quantities of unwanted dogs in Spain and Portugal that for us emotionally it felt better if we searched there.  For sure, our travels had shown us that dogs in some cases are certainly treated and valued differently in these countries and you often witness poorly treated dogs roaming the streets just concentrating on surviving, something you rarely see in the UK.

Therefore starting with the internet we identified several dog refuges in Portugal and seemed to favour BambooAlgarve, NewGoldra, DogsofPortgal and 2ndhand4footers.  The sheer quantity of dogs is mind blowing, for example dogs of Portugal have over 700 in their care and for this reason we were often bamboozled with choice.  Bearing this in mind we found the smaller dog sanctuary websites easier to peruse and in particular 2ndhand4footers as they gave background information and also practical information such as weight.  In October we decided to bite the bullet and we sent an exploratory email to Marie at 2ndhand4footers asking if they had had any experience with placing dogs with people who motorhome and if they had any objections or advice.  I also raised the question whether a Podengo type dog would be suitable as in our inexperienced opinion this breed seemed to fit the bill physically as we had defined our criteria as female adult dog, short haired and of small/medium build.

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A Portuguese Podengo.  An ancient dog breed, often used by hunters of wild boar.  We just love the ears.

It was at this point we learned the importance of contacting a reputable dogs home as we leaned heavily on Marie and Adrian’s vast experience of dogs.  Unconditionally she stated that a Podengo would not suit us as they were far too energetic and if we had not been given this advice we could of ended up with a type of dog completely incompatible with our life styles.  Luckily though, Marie and Adrian also were familiar with motorhoming as they used to travel themselves with several of their own dogs (Serra Da Estrelas no less, these dogs look like mountain bears and weight 40+Kgs).  They had no objections to dogs in motorhomes, as long as it was the right dog.

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An adult Serra da Estrela (Portuguese mountain dog).  Marie and Adrian used to travel with several of their own Serras.  Needless to say their motorhome was much larger than ours and Marie will tell you that the Serras used to enjoy it.  Surprisingly she never mentioned whether their motorhome ever got broken into….

Enter Rita, who initially was Marie’s suggestion as she knew the dog well and in fact she had been promoted to the top tier of refuge life and was actually living in Marie’s house along with a number of other dogs.  This highlights the second learning point:- since we were inexperienced dog owners it was invaluable to us that Rita’s temperament was known.  It is possible with larger refuges that this is not always possible due to the sheer numbers they have to look after (nearly always by volunteers) meaning that we could of ended up with a dog with an unknown character which is certainly not a good idea if you have little dog handling experience, like us.

At this point we left our search alone and we said to Marie that we would visit her in January but please don’t hold Rita for us if there is any other serious interest.  We must admit though we did check the website out several times on the run up to Christmas verifying that she was still available.

So once we arrived in the Algarve we made contact again with 2ndhand4footers and arranged a visit for the following week.  We were also advised that Rita had some interest from Holland and it was possible that she would be exported there.  I remember feeling slightly crestfallen, and maybe this was detected by Marie as she said, “Don’t worry, come around for a visit – Goldra dog sanctuary is just up the road and they currently have 120 dogs, there are plenty more Ritas there”.  So we had resigned ourselves to our back up plan of volunteering at the larger dogs home in view of getting to know the dogs better.

Upon our visit to Marie and Adrian (see post ‘Meeting Rita’, Jan 2018) we were told that the Dutch interest had gone cold and that Rita was free to be exported with us.  This brings me onto the next important point:  knowledge of the export requirements.  It is important that the new owner knows the requisites of the export process i.e vaccinations, health check and Pet Passport etc and in our case all of this was handled by 2ndhand4footers and also importantly explained to us in detail.  At no point in this process did we feel uncomfortable and we always knew what our responsibilities were/are.

To reach a happy ending we all agreed that we should take Rita on a trial.  Even though it is obvious that Marie and Adrian love all their dogs and that ultimately they want them to be re-homed, they are also very pragmatic, black and white with their view that the dog has to go to the right home and environment.  If there are any slight complexities such as with us with a MH, or if there was another cat/dog/infant at the home then a trial period is agreed before any official adoption paperwork is raised and signed.  She also encouraged us to be practical and if we thought it was not working then Rita would have to come back to her, after all she had a decent standard of life back at the refuge already.  Their priority is the long term happiness of the dog. For more on how our week trial went please see ‘Meeting Rita’ post.

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This is little Rita and the big long haired Knoffle, one of Marie’s own dogs.  She uses Knoffle as sort of teacher and since this was the first time for Rita in a motorhome and therefore Knoffle came too, showing Rita calmly the way.  Knoffle was a super well trained dog, she even came out with us on our first walk together.

For us our trial period ended happily and by listening to Marie’s advice and using her knowledge of her dogs we have ended up with the lovely Rita, the right dog for us as she seems perfectly happy and compatible with our life.

So, to end, the Eurosuntor team now becomes three and we are certain that Rita will add to our travel experience and we are very pleased to have her aboard.

At Maries

When we returned after our weeks trial it was bedlam.  Rita had to say goodbye to her friends, especially Roberta (half of Roberta is shown mid left) whilst others where trying to enter the motorhome hoping for a spell of doggie holidays.  In fact one of Marie’s Serras did manage to get in via the passenger cab door and was found sitting in the back seat.  Apparently he just loves vehicles!!!

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Hopefully Rita won’t be a handful!!!  On our way from 2ndhand4footers with the adoption papers signed, the team becomes three.  

Meeting Rita.

14th Jan to 29th Jan 2018

We were in Sao Bras de Alportel for a specific ‘pick up’ and what would be a life changing chain reaction.  We were told to ring a Portuguese mobile phone number once we had arrived at a well known supermarket chain’s car park.  Arriving at our destination perfectly on time we made the call to be told that we would be met by a man with a pony tail who would be in a black 4×4.  For about 5 minutes we waited anxiously, certain that we were being staked out, when finally an ‘as described’ man approached the motorhome’s window.  In English with a mid European accent he probed with a question to confirm my identity “are you the man who makes no mistakes?”  I replied an answer that only he would understand and with that, satisfied that he had located the correct people, we were told to follow him to the meet up location.  We cautiously followed the 4×4 out of town and up through a zig zaged route up onto the surrounding hillside.  The unknown location was eventually reached via a bumpy dirt trail where the branches of the over head trees made their presence known with a nails on black board sound as we brushed underneath them.  The 4×4 then stopped a the end point of the track and the man then proceeded to enter the compound like facility, a process that involved two sets of motorised metal gates.  All of this activity was surveyed by CCTV cameras and also under the watchful eye of several massive 40 kg plus dogs.  Once through the gates we were told where to park the van and from this point we noticed a house of indeterminable size slung low on the hillside of the fenced plot.   Inside would be the location of the interview where we would be grilled by the Boss to check out our  motivation and suitability for completing the transaction.  If all things went well we would be in the clear and free to collect a valuable 12kg consignment that we would then nervously transport back to the UK.  Where we doing the right thing, was it to be worth all the risk……….?…….

…………….our secret destination was the centre for 2ndhand4footers and the consignment was Rita, a 3 year old Portuguese street dog.  The Boss’s are Marie and Adrian an animal loving couple who run a dog refuge that supports to it’s capacity the Algarve region and further afield.  I will include a separate post dedicated to 2ndhand4footers and our experience of the process of adopting a dog from a Portuguese dog’s home, for the moment though here is their website  http://www.2ndhand4footers.com.

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Meet Rita……back in October 2017 we noticed this advert and we hoped then that she would fit the bill to be our companion.

Cutting a long but pleasant story short we returned to the dogs home the next day to take Rita for a one week trial as both parties agreed this would be the best way forward.  Our plan was to spend initially some time with Rita to bond and then once we were all more comfortable with each other we would try and take her with us on some some of the things we do as part of our normal lives:  driving, the supermarket, cafes. restaurants, walks in town, walks in the country and finally to socialise her with other people and other dogs.

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Parked up at Lidl in the centre of Sao Bras, the night before we collected Rita.

As our first stop we stayed at nearby Moncarapacho, however it was not the best introductory trip for Rita as the minor roads were in terrible condition and the Suntor banged and clattered all the way there throwing her into the deep here in terms of motorhome travel.  The great thing was though that she tolerated it well not barking or yelping once all the time staying between us in her bed between the two cabs seats (loosely leased to one of them I might add for her own safety).  ‘Area de Reposo’ was in the middle of nowhere so we had nothing to do but fuss and pamper Rita who seemed to immediately fall in love with the L shaped sofa at the back of the camper taking of course the prime corner position, which Sharon and I normally fight for!!

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Rita seems happy on the van’s sofa!!  She now lets me give her a belly rub which is great progress.

One of the first hurdles was that she appears not to warm initially to strange men and this behaviour must link to her previous life.  More worryingly though was even after 36 hours she had not been to the toilet and to help her we were completing small regular walks around the quiet site  and finally she delivered the goods and instantly her tail rose and hopefully for us that was another small step forward in dog ownership.

After two nights at very quiet Area de Reposo we decided to move to give Rita another driving experience, choosing another remote location called Alcaria, which is above Castro Marim in the hills.  The motorhome parking is in an amazing location with views of the reservoir and the river Guardiana, but more importantly the site had a small quiet cafe which we planned to take Rita to.  We enjoyed some much longer walks out on the trials and by now she was getting used to doing her business in different locations.  Further to this we visited the cafe twice and Rita, if not a little sheepish at first, managed to settle and even accepted ‘pats’ off strangers.  More importantly she was beginning to accept me more which obviously I was very relieved about.

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The van perched on the hill top at Almada D’Ouro, Alcaria.  The views were amazing.

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Sharon and Rita on the trials around Alcaria.  Rita is good on the lead too.

Again after two nights we travelled again to near by Alcoutim where Rita’s task would be to walk with us through the very small and quiet town and join us for lunch at the ‘O Soeiro’ restaurant which we called fondly the chicken test.  In summary, all of these activities she survived, maybe a tad nervously at first, but overall we could she that she was gaining confidence each day and also was bonding with us.  She also still absolutely loves the van and when ever we get home and open the side door she bounds in and belly flops onto the back sofa rolling on her back for a stomach rub.

The next stop was to be Vila Real de Santo Antonio (VRSA) where we would try her at walking through a town centre.  VRSA was chosen as the centre is compact, pedestrianised and never too frantic.  So on Saturday lunchtime we walked calmly into town accompanied by Maggie, a fellow motorhomer, and her friendly dog Daisy.  Both dogs behaved impeccably at the restaurant where we ate Piri Piri chicken all around of course.  Also this time Rita did not seem too phased by streets and corresponding comings and goings of town life – it seems that Rita had acquired yet another feather in her bow.  On the Sunday we all planned to walk to the beach at VRSA which starts west of the Guardiana estuary.  Joined by Maggie and Daisy we all witnessed an amazing event as we let Rita off the lead.  Now this might seem a little reckless and was not advised by Marie at 2ndhand4footers, but it just seemed right.  Rita and Daisy clearly got on and at first whilst Rita was on her lead Daisy was trying to engage her in play.  Further more the beach is expansive and there were very few people around so that we would have sight of Rita at all times.  With Daisy bouncing all around her we unsnapped Rita’s lead and we all saw the moment of hesitation in her eyes “whats this, am I free?” Then she bounded forward, tongue hanging out as if smiling, running full stretch in a massive arch around us with Daisy chasing.  It was absolutely amazing to watch, both dogs playing together taking it in turns to chase but all the while figure of eighting around where we were all stood.  We did a few trial recalls shouting out her name and for some reason slapping our knees (?) but sure enough Rita looked up and made a straight line for us.  After some fuss and positive encouragement she was off again leaping and bounding with Daisy.  So that was it we had seen what we wanted to work and to: a happy dog running free but with an eye on their owners keeping them reassured.  We won’t be making a regular occurrence of this, instead keeping her on the lead until we get home where if the conditions are right we will let her loose on the nearby beach.

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The vast beach at VRSA where Daisy and Rita ran free together.  Rita is with me and Sharon, Maggie and Daisy are in the distance. 

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The view from a bar where we rested after our visit to VRSA beach.  We all commented that it looked like we were in Greece. 

So decision time was up as the seven days were over and all week we conversed and discussed all the pros and cons of dog ownership now having a taste of it first hand and also exploring how Rita felt and how we she was coping as ultimately Rita’s happiness was the end goal.  There was no denying that Rita seemed happy travelling around in our motorhome and us ourselves could not see any reasons not to keep her as she always behaves herself perfectly and loves a big fuss.  Of course we are not blind to some of her sensitivities from her past but we hope to work with her giving kindness and encouragement – we are convinced she will come out of her shell a little and show us more of her great personality.

So after another visit to Marie and Adrian to gain their permission to adopt fully Rita we completed the final paperwork which included her passport meaning we can cross back to the UK with her in March.  It has been a very stressful and emotional week as all our thoughts and actions have been Rita biased and we are looking forward to just relaxing in one place for a little while so we are planning an extended stay at Manta Rota beach to hopefully cement our bond.

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Rita likes to stand up…..

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but she also likes to curl up too.  How can you say ‘no’ to that face!!!

 

 

 

Bom dia Portugal!

7th to 13th Jan 2018

We crossed over the Portuguese border on the N521 which is a b type road entering the country near Marvao.  Whilst leaving Caceres we happened to notice as we replaced the Spanish Lonely Planet back on the book shelf that we had managed to forget the Portuguese version, instead randomly bringing our Germany copy along with us for the ride.  This means that our only method now of seeking out places to visit are our road maps which use a red star or a red underline to signify a place of interest.  The exciting thing though is that we do not have any background information as to why the place is highlighted.  On the other hand though, we are now free from the sometimes gushing and subjective Lonely Planet write ups about places and  we are more at liberty to make our own decisions about places and where to go.

Not needing to be a genius, we chose our first stop in Portugal off the road map to be Castilo de Vide, guessing that there would be a castle there!!!  The local sports centre was identified as suitable for motorhome parking and upon our arrival we were greeted by the sight of two local football teams battling it out on the field and a huge mushroom of smoke from a churrasco where some local guys were grilling ‘salsichao’ and drinking cold bottled beer from the side lines.  This seems familiar, this seems like Portugal!

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Neatly tucked away on the edge of the Sports Centre car park in Castilo de Vide.  We were the only ones there and the vistas still impressive.

True enough there is a castle in Castilo and the next morning we climbed the cobbled streets passing through the old Jewish quarter and then entering the castle’s walls through an archway.  To our surprise there is a fully functioning and inhabited small village consisting of small white painted houses inside the castle’s walls.  There is also a museum, which in this instance was closed, but it was from here that we followed the signposts for the castle tower.  It was quite remarkable up there and had some stunning views of the surrounding Alentejo countryside.  However it would be the signposted access route to the tower that I will remember as you had to climb up to the roof top of the chapel and walk across it’s pitched roof!!

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I am not sure if this would be allowed in over controlled England.  Access over the pitched roof was the official route to the tower.

The weather was positively sunny but as we were in the mountains the temperatures remained quite cold (12 degrees max) and therefore we decided to make a long drive south to Mertola, stopping at near by (to Castilo) Marvao to use the service point.  Wow, what an incredible aire, we will definitely plan a longer visit there at some point.

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MH parking stop at Marvao.  To one side you have the castle and town, on the other the hills drops away giving open views across the region.  There are barbeques there to!

Mertola is a place we like and sometimes it is interesting to go back to places and this will be our fourth visit there.  Last time on an early morning walk around the historic centre I met a local artist called Nana who, unprompted, showed me around her house that she was renovating.  I was keen to run into her again and on the first evening we even knocked on her door but she was not home.  Luckily on our second night there I found her on her door step chatting to some people.  Again she showed me around her ‘project’ and some progress had been made in the last twelve months.  I was a little disheartened as it seemed to me that she was struggling with some obstacles and certainly some of her enthusiasm seemed to have wandered slightly – “I wish you luck Nana with the restoration, see you next year”.

After Mertola we stayed at another favourite of ours, Alcoutim which is just in the Algarve region.  Here at the river side is a really popular restaurant that does great barbeques at a lunch time and we had now been in Portugal for three days without having a Piri Piri Frango, so it was long awaited.  In the sun on the terrace we bumped into Mike and Mandy who we had briefly met back at the aire in the morning.  Swapping travel stories for most of the afternoon and later in the evening in the comfort of their motorhome we enjoyed wine, conversation and their lovely well behaved dogs. “Cheers Mike and Mandy, thank you for the north 500 map, it was interesting and refreshing to hear some UK motorhome touring stories, amongst others – hope to see you again on the road”.

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Chicken for two at ‘O Soeiro’ restaurant in Alcoutim.

After two nights in Alcoutim we moved a short 13 kms to Pereiro, a place we discovered last year.  We had remembered that there were communal churrascos on site and we arrived stocked up with some meat.  We enjoyed a long barbeque in the sun firing up some pork ribs, sausages and chicken during the afternoon.  We had a early night and made the most of the peaceful location as we had an appointment in Sao Bras the following day (14th Jan), but much more about this later as there is lot to be told……….

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It was an interesting and different way in to Portugal for us.  Definitely the mountains and villages around Castilo and Marvao are very picturesque and we will plan to come back at some point when the weather has warmed up.   This photo looks into the morning sun and across Castilo de Vide.

Transit through Spain

3rd January to 7th January 2018

After several enjoyable days passing through France we are always excited to cross the border into Spain.  This time though as we entered the main roundabout in Irun, which is lined with petrol stations and shops selling all the goods that are cheaper in Spain than in France, instead of hanging our normal right towards San Sebastian we headed straight on, to the N121, towards Pamplona.  This different route across Spain was governed by a visit milestone to Toledo, a city neither of us had been to.  We had decided to agree with the Sat Nav and follow a route that skirted the east of Madrid.  We set our first night’s stop over at Soria, a provincial capital in Castilla Y Leon and enjoyed a drive through a gorge and mountain range until we came at our destination.  Arriving the latest so far on this journey due to a lunch time stop at Puente la Reina, one of our favourite places that we stayed in when we walked the Camino do Santiago.

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We relived a few Camino memories by stopping for lunch at Puente la Reina.  We even followed the walking route out of town to the Roman bridge, from where this photo is taken from.

Despite this, we were parked up at the local sports centre car park by 6pm and wandering the town by 7pm.  The streets were full of people with the all shops and cafes open and all ages were meeting up, for what seemed like a aperitif or simply for some group shopping.  It was not especially warm but we decided to join the people outside a busy bar on the main square where we ordered two mini Mahou’s through the side servery that faces out onto the street (why don’t we have these in England – they make a lot of sense!).  Then we stood at a very small table and watched the Sorian world go by.  Spain just feels more lively than France!  We also commented that it seemed that we had got our timing right as normally we don’t, having to settle for a bar that is closing after a busy lunch time or more often in the evening being too early.

We made an early start from Soria and continued our drive through the mountains and the scenery, though different from that that surrounded the N121 into Pamplona, still was impressive – Sharon even spotted some eagles/vultures (to be determined).

Enroute to Siguenza we made a stop in the fog at ancient Medinacel, where lies a 1st century AD Roman arch at the foot of a small village full of cobblestone lanes edged with old stone houses.  Maybe due to the weather, it seemed we were the only people in the village and it felt that we had this beautiful ‘pueblo’ all to ourselves.

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It was really foggy at Medinacel when we arrived.  Luckily it did clear freeing up some fantastic views from it’s mountainside position.

Siguenza (Castilla La Mancha) was our stopover for the night where we parked road side at the foot of the castle.  I still can’t believe our view sometimes.  We arrived in time to grab a quick tapa lunch at a local bar just outside the medieval centre, choosing bacalhao La Rioja, alitas, albondegas and calamaries (+4 drinks = 23 euros).  We then walked this down with a stroll around the old town and castle grounds retiring for an early night as it was Toledo the next day.

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Our position for the night at Siguenza.  I have always said it is better to live in a hole and look at the castle! (The castle is now a luxury hotel).

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Dusk at Siguneza.  The Suntor can be seen parked up in the mid left hand side of the photo.

Toledo obviously is a major tourist attraction and it has some great buildings, mosques, cathedrals and an impressive walled town centre.  However, two things will stick in my mind about this visit, not including the MacDs and Burger King taking the principle positions on the main square (shame on you Toledo town planners!), the first one being our parking situation.  Armed with our ‘Camper Contact’ information we ended up parking on a large car park over the road from the bus station.  We left the van for the day’s sightseeing unsure whether we would be staying the night or not since we were the only motorhome.  I imagined that by evening the car park would be empty and we would be the only ones staying the night in the unlit far corner.  Once we had seen all the sights and with me not been able to fully relax we walked to a patioed mirador where we could gain a glimpse of the van, which was now surrounded by 6 or 7 motorhomes.  Relieved, we headed off into town for an evening of tapas and a tourist set dinner menu in the old town.  This leads me onto our second memory – we had managed to fall into that dreadful state where you can’t decide which bar to try, some are empty, others too full, others have the wrong vibe etc.  We were in this limbo land when we stopped outside a typical Spanish looking bar with it’s bright lights, metal counter topped with plates of tapas that was just opening.  Stalled, looking at it’s sign (Bar Skala), a local woman walked past and said to us reassuringly “esta bueno”, so that was it, we entered the empty bar.  Although initially we were the only ones in there it soon filled up with all sorts of people, even large families of several generations, enjoying a quick drink and tapa.  Another observation was that nobody stayed long and two drinks seemed to be the maximum and therefore the people watching was to be at it’s best due to the high turn over.  Yet again we had seemed to have got the timing right!  More over Sharon tried higaditos (liver) that in this establishment was deep fried together with a piece of bread, apparently it was delicious.

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One advantage for the car park that we stayed in at Toledo was that it was only a short walk from the historic centre.

Our final stop over in Spain was to be in Caceres in the Extremadura, directly west of Toledo and near to the Portuguese border.  We had stopped at Caceres back in March 2016 and we had then noticed it was a very popular and busy stop over.  This time was not any different and yet again the spaces for the local buses that are used to pick up passengers was completely full of motorhomes, even though the signs clearly stated that the area was for buses and even has bus shelters on the kerb side.  This poor parking behaviour really annoys me and again it is no wonder that aires are disappearing, height restrictions are being added or pay barriers installed due to this belief by their owners that motorhomes can park anywhere.  It is pretty basic in my view, if the official MH designated area is full, move on and find somewhere else.  If you decide to stop on a non-designated area then use consideration and sense to ensure that your parking is not impacting anybody/thing…….

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Inconsiderate MH parking at Caceres.  When will these people realise that they will eventually ruin motorhome freedom for everyone.

Anyway, deep breath, moving on – it was Saturday and as we walked around the more modern part of town we sensed that something must have been going on as all the shops were shut, even the ‘tabacos’.  Not only this, the streets were busy with well dressed people hurrying around with bags full of presents and all the cafes and restaurants were thriving.  Choosing a busy modern bar, no dithering this time as tables were in short supply, we ordered some drinks (inc. free tapas of paella and stewed black pudding) where we asked the waiting if it was a public holiday to be informed that it was the day of the three Kings.

After an interesting afternoon we ambled back to the MH parking and entered quickly into conversation with our English neighbours Rob and Karen (classic Hymer) and Rob and Julie (new Geist).  Conversation quickly turned into drinks and drinks quickly turned into an evening where dinner was late night cheese on toast!!

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A blurry selfie!  Cheers Rob and Karen for a fun evening in Caceres.  We hope your trip is going well.

Caceres was to be our last night in Spain before Portugal and we have really enjoyed visiting some new places.  Since we do not have any overall plan for this trip maybe we will make more time to visit Spain on the return instead of Portugal – however only time will tell…