A French fortnight (week 2) and one hour in Belgium

14th March to 20th March 2018

With only one week remaining we had only a few more hundred kilometers to cover whilst in mainland Europe.  We also had a new task to complete of taking Rita for her ‘import’ health check at a French vets before we reached the tunnel and using Mick and Sheila’s advice we had arranged this to be done in the town of Nonnancourt, which lies directly west of Paris on the N154.

Before reaching there, we had an uneventful stop over at a 4 euro private camperstop just outside St. Maure de Touraine.  If we passed through here again we would not be taken in by the blue camperstop ‘aire’ style signs that are attached to the lamp posts as you approach the town because these lead you to the private site, as on an afternoon walk with Rita I spied another sign, right in the town centre, that directs you to a free parking area outside the town hall close to all the town’s amenities and sights.  Oh well, win some you lose some but we feel comforted that this one night will not dilute our free night percentage too much (on this trip we have had free nights 78% of the time, which is quite low for us thanks to the very extended unplanned stay at fee paying Manta Rota).

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The 4 Euro camperstop at Ste. Maure de Touraine to be fair was very pleasant and peaceful as it was located in a small field on the outskirts of the town.  It also had a novel charging approach as everything you used had a separate price, including even draining your grey water.  Needless to say we used none of the extra facilities to minimise our costs.

Courville sur Eure was our next place where we stayed choosing to ‘moor up’ outside of the municipal campsite as in winter this is a permitted motorhome parking area.  It was also really pleasant lying next to the river.  Even though the weather was wet we still managed a lengthy walk around the town picking up an expensive Leffe beer and cheaper wine in the local PMU bar plus of course the obligatory baguette purchase from one of the several bakeries.  The locals must love their bread here as there were five bakeries in total serving this seemingly small sized town.

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Only in France would you see this sign stating that the hardstands intended for motorhomes could not be used to play boule.  Courville sur Eure.

Before arriving at Saint Andre de I’Eure we passed by the vets in Nonnancourt.  At the moment we swung around the corner at the town hall’s entrance we realised at once that we had been here before, way back in January 2016.  Like last time the aire was closed meaning that we would move on to near by Saint Andre for the night.  Before this though we had to make our appointment at the vets which was organised by Sharon speaking in French with the receptionist some weeks ago.  Using our acquired directions we set off on foot to the vets only to find that it had moved meaning we had to dash back to the van and drive around to their new location.  It was no big deal at all, in fact we were still early and we smiled to ourselves when we checked in with the receptionist as in her diary all that was written in on the 3pm slot was ‘Anglais’!!!

Saint Andre seemed like a very normal town and I imagine tourism would be low.  However the aire was practical, safe and of course free.  We parked next to quite a shabby old Talbot van which looked like it had not moved in ages and I always find this intriguing.  Therefore I did not miss the opportunity to chat with it’s owner on my return from one of Rita’s walks.  His name was Pascal who was originally from the Czech Republic even though he had been in France a long time.  He lived in St Andre on the aire in his muraled motorhome and he seemed pretty much installed there and even his son and daughter went to the local school.  He seemed a happy peaceful character and talked positively as we shared a beer and a couple of hand rolled cigarettes about the town inhabitants and local police in terms of their acceptance to him, which as he was Rastafarian living on the margins of accepted society spoke volumes about the town and France’s culture.  This may link to the fact that in France you can easily become of no fixed abode without the obstacles placed on you in the UK.  In France you apply to a local mayor and then he assigns a nomadic status for you which entitles access to all the same rights as a person with a conventional residential address which is considerably much better, easier and less discriminative than the UK, as anybody who has attempted to move outside the traditional system will acknowledge.

With our days now numbered we wanted to move much nearer to Calais and have the luxury of our final two night stop over before going home.  Montreuil was highlighted on the map and again it was an Aire that we had been to in 2016.  Then we drove around the ring road without entering the town centre to access the aire in hope to use the services only, but resurfacing of the car park prevented us from stopping.  What we did use though on that visit was the new automated toilet which we smirked to ourselves as we read the camper contact reviews was believed to be a location frequented by a local prostitute with her clients, really sometimes I wonder what these people are seeing or even what world they come from!!!!

This time we did park on one of the motorhome dedicated spots, which are nicely partitioned by small lines of shrubs, for the planned two nights.  Montreuil is an interesting town and I recommend anyone to go there.  If you like shops and restaurants there are plenty of these placed around the square and the streets behind but it was the wall that surrounds completely the town that we really liked, especially as you can walk along the top of it enjoying views of the old town to one side and the countryside on the other.

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It was cold in Montreuil as Sharon’s clothes demonstrate.  However the weather did not distract from the town’s splendider.

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The walk on top of the wall was a great way to pass a few hours.  Montreuil or Montreuil-sur-Mer as it was once a seaside town but due to tidal changes it now lies 10 miles inland.  This fact reminded us of Pevensey where we worked last summer and will be returning to this year where the now inland castle was once on the coast.

After two relaxing nights we woke up early and decided to use these extra hours to drive to Belgium so that we could make a bulk tobacco purchase.  Once again we choose Adinkirke as our destination and we were literally in and out within the hour as we refrained from having some Belgium frites for lunch.

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It always seems wrong buying tobacco in bulk but when you look at the economics it just makes sense.  Tobacco Alley in Adinkirke, Belgium.

As we trundled back over the border we noticed that Grand Fort Philippe now seems to sport an Aire, we don’t know whether this is just a location we had overseen or whether it was a new installation, inconsequently, upon arrival we were pleased with our new find.  On the morning I took a long walk out to the light house in the strong winds, we even spotted a large seal on the estuary sea defence who seemed completely oblivious to us walking just several metres above.  I like these small wind swept north west coastal French towns, not maybe for their beauty or their weather, but for my time spent imagining (in a positive way) who lives here and about the lives they lead.

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The estuary at Grand Fort Philippe

So on the 20th March we were unhappily waiting for our train back to the UK where we would be based until November.  We have had a another great trip, this one life changing again, but for a different reason than the others.  The life change would be now having Rita in our lives but we are both looking forward to see how that chapter develops.  It also shows us how different things can turn out as originally this was supposed to be a trip with a more cultural emphasis where we would use last summer’s earnings on entrance tickets to cathedrals and museums, instead though it has gone on dog food!!!!

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Rita has turned out to be a fine motorhome dog.  New challenges lie ahead for all of us as we return to the UK where we will be in one place for six months.

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Une quinzaine de Français – A Fortnight in France.

Week 1, 8th March to 14th March 2018

The finale to our current trip through France, Spain, Portugal and Spain again was of course France.  Leaving San Sebastian was early and uneventful as my birthday hangover and tiredness was no where near as acute as normal (cue: Lagos, 2017, which took a full two days to recover from) and our drive over the border to Dax in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France was completed in the sunshine.

Of course we had co-ordinates for a free aire as we were now in the leading country for motorhoming (in our opinion) and this lay adjacent to the town’s bull ring but also right next to the wheelie bins for the local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.  We decided that since we were this close that a fix of American fried food would be what we needed causing I am sure many a local chef to ‘disapprove’ as our purchase from the Colonel meant that we missed out on one of their probably much better ‘plat de jours’.  As a point of reference, the KFC cost us 20 euros for two people so joking aside, a plat de jour for that money is a possibility.

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The Andalucian styled bull ring at Dax

We found Dax itself a pleasant place with a town centre that actually had people wandering around unlike so many other French locations.  Also for me and Rita who whilst on a walk discovered the large park in the grounds of the bull ring, where on this mid week afternoon was taken up by multiple boule games, where over 100 local people battled it out on the shingle park paths.

We were travelling quite slow as we still had plenty of time before our ferry was booked meaning that we drove to the next region and decided to stay at Casteljaloux, Lot-et-Garonne.  However this small shunt north was enough to return back to poor weather swapping the sunshine for drizzle and this meant the massive nearby LeClerc had it’s attractions.  We actually made some purchases, Sharon optimistically bought some sunglasses and I decided I needed some new cheap pumps to kick about in.  We spent two nights here chilling out, I managed a visit to the local ‘Grand Cafe’ where I enjoyed a few Pelforths chatting to a local cyclist and we all survived a rainy walk taking in the historical old town and river side.  Also quite comically due to my poor French and the Pelforths, I enquired at a vets about how much they charged to complete the ‘5 day before travel health check’ where Rita got placed on the scales, she now weighs 13.2 Kgs which is slightly more than when she was picked up by 2ndhand4footers back in August 2018, which we both concluded was a good thing as we think she looks in great condition.

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Old timber framed houses dotted the town of Casteljaloux

We continued north choosing a small village called Clérac in the Charente-Maritime department in southwestern France  as our next stop.  The free aire was a picture of tranquillity as it lay on the outskirts of the village next to a small lake in park land which seemed popular with local dog walkers.  Sharon’s recent purchase proved to be enough for the weather gods to change their minds about the climate as we discovered the local area in blazing sun.  We also found the two privately owned chateaux and a football game taking place at the village’s ground.  We also discovered that the village’s bakery and shop were closed meaning we would have to survive on stock that lay around in the cupboards.

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Our parking place at sleepy Clerac, we had the place to ourselves until Tim and Martha pitched up!!!  “We hope you guys are doing well, we would love to see you again and lets try and meet up in Portugal winter 2018…..”

Upon return to the aire another motorhome had appeared and since it was a tag axle Autotrial we guessed correctly that it was an English van.  The occupants were lazing around on a nearby picnic bench with their dogs and also intriguingly looked to be of a similar age to us.   Naturally we went over and introduced ourselves and as history has proven we ended up sharing our travel stories and exchanging notes of places to visit and see.  Two memories of our meet up with Tim and Martha was that it was their second night on the road with their new motorhome and they were full of excitement, as we were in 2016.  Also, they had just started and were embarking on their adventure and we were depressingly on the way home, leaving us with a really happy feeling for them and a slight depression for us, we had to make the most of our now short time on the road.  The second memory was that we decided to cook for them and to Sharon’s despair she managed to cook such a small portion of rice that it was almost embarrassing, even Tim commented once we had served them undersized portions and him noticing the very small amount left for us “Aren’t you guys going to eat?” and us in return feigning that we had small appetites.  I reckoned that Sharon must have being seeing double due to all the wine as normally she cooks far too much!!!

Verteuil-sur-Charante was next up and we instantly fell in love with this small town with it’s skyline that is dominated by the Chateux de Verteuil.  Again, another free excellent aire nearby to the river that winds itself through the centre.  Heavy rain greeted our arrival and following on from the closed shops of Clerac we needed to find some local amenities, after all this is France and often local shops are closed at seemly sporadic hours.  Digging out my Camino waterproof, I ventured into the town finding that I had just missed the opening hours of the small supermarket (it was 12:40) and I therefore had to venture into the often scary for non french speakers looking local butchers purchasing some massive pork chops and selection of locally grown vegetables.

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The town of Verteuil in the distance.  As we walked around we picked up by chance the ‘Camino de Frances’

Verteuil was such a beautiful town that we decided to stay another night and enjoyed a long walk through the surrounding country side on our second day.  It was Tuesday afternoon and therefore we were confident that the local shop would be open, I had even checked the opening hours that morning on Rita’s walk as we needed some supplies (editors note, read: beers for Matt) but of course it was not open and we were met with a had written sign saying due to ‘exceptional’ reasons the shop was closed.  Therefore I was really pleased when the occupants of the French registered motorhome that was neighbouring us were sitting on the communal bench and instantly offered if we wanted a beer in native southern English accents.  Mike and Michelle were living in the Charante region and were staying at Verteuil for family reasons and it seemed they wanted a blow out from their recent loss and therefore we joined on the bench enjoying their cold Spanish beer in exchange for our warm french wine, cheers and merci beaucoup!!!

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We picked up this bottle of lemonade from the butchers in Verteuil, I think the label is pretty cool!!

 

 

Cantabria and Province of Biscay, Northern Spain

4th March to 8th March

After an early morning walk with Rita along the riverside at Aguillar we packed up and headed towards Santander as we had chosen Lierganes, Cantabria  as our destination for the night.  We did not know too much about this village apart from it had a free motorhome stop over and judging by our map it sat on the outskirts of the Parque National Macizo.  Two things surprised us on this journey and the first was that the weather was at a complete contrast to the last few days and was positively sunny and warm.

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Travelling up the A67 whilst the sun blazed lighting up the snow capped mountains

The second surprise was to find ourselves in the middle of a street market where we had to squeeze through the middle of the stalls parting the crowd as only a 3.5 tonne motorhome would!  As we crawled through the market it was interesting to see people’s different reactions, some just darted out of the way, others seemed to make no effort at all and strolled nonchalantly in front of us while others waved and encouraged us to keep going signalling that the motorhome car park was at the other side of the market.  It was one of those motorhoming moments where we wished we had taken some photos from our cab view point but needless to say we missed the opportunity instead focusing on getting to our destination.

After a quick walk around the market we decided to make the most of the glorious sunny weather and sit on a terrace of a local bar.  Here the friendly elderly barman served us beer and wine, each round coming with a free tapa of course.

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Unusual dreadlock hanging plants were evident in most gardens around the old village, Lierganes.

On the following morning we walked around the old village centre and then up on of the surrounding hills to an old church.  We both agreed that Lierganes certainly warrants it’s title “one of Spain’s most beautiful villages’ and the nearby area was quite striking with it’s hills and rocks proving popular with walkers.

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Sharon and Rita up in the hills outside Lierganes.

Once we had circled Santander we picked up the coast road at Laredo and it was our intention to drive from here to San Sebastian stopping enroute at Lekeito for the night.  This coast road is fantastic, as every few kilometres the road winds back down to a massive bay where another coastal town lies.  Everyone of these towns looked amazing with the crisp waves crashing into the cliff lined bay or beach.  We had chosen Lekeito as it had a large free aire and we were not disappointed with either the town or the parking place.  Old three/four storey buildings lined the marina and harbour, giving way to a sandy beach.  Also, as we were back in the basque country, the back streets had that ‘gritty’ feel reminiscent of most Spanish basque towns with small battered bars all showing the independence flags and young to middle age people sporting a timeless new age look that seems popular in this region (think Swampy hair cuts, several large looped ear rings and black clothes).  I, personally, always feel drawn and attracted to these people and towns, and being in Lekeitio felt no different.

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Lekeitio bay early in the morning

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Sunrise catching the marina at Lekeitio.  This town was similar to many on this coast and we would like to think we would visit here again.

From Lekeitio to San Sebastian we passed through what is known as the Costa Vasca which encompasses the seaside towns Deba, Zumaia and Getaria and this route continued the dramatic travelling theme from yesterday.  Unfortunately though the weather was yet again changing and in fact we arrived in San Sebastian in the pouring rain.  San Sebastian had been chosen as my 42nd birthday destination, and this was to be my third birthday in a row whilst on the road.

San Sebastian holds good memories for me as I had passed several nights here when I was enroute to Portugal some years ago now.  However this visit proved to be very different and unfortunately I seemed to have collected a ‘birthday cloud’ which hovered over me during our visit.  It was a shame really as we has all the ingredients in place for a good celebration, the weather was sunny on my actual birthday, we were in a vibrant town and our parking situation was safe, if not a little far from the old town but for some reason I could not raise myself to enjoy the occasion and we made do with a walk along La Concha beach stopping at a few bars and eating lunch in a restaurant in the neighbouring suburb next to to where the camper was parked…………

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A rare Birthday smile!  A selfie taken on the promenade at San Sebastian.

Mainly rain in Spain, Castile-Leon.

01 March to 3rd March 2018

One of the great attributes of using the Camper Contact App is reading the reviews as often you can learn much more than just information about the parking area, and this was how we found a motorhome parking listing for Sancti-Spiritus in Spain on the A62 between Ciudad-Rodrigo and Salamanca.

From the Camper Contact information we gathered that this was a motorway side style motel and restaurant of the type that are lined up on either side of the main roads at regular intervals all over Spain and the common theme in all of the reviews was how good the food was.  So, deciding to treat ourselves to commiserate leaving Portugal but to also celebrate being back in Spain we set the La Ponderosa Hostel as our destination.  Arriving in the pouring rain, it seems that it has been raining for several days now, we were a little unsure as the exterior of the covered terrace was in poor condition with screens blowing to and fro in the strong winds and there also seemed to be a lack of lighting giving the building a slightly derelict feel.  Not to be deterred, trusting the reviews, I peered my head inside the main bar where I was instantly hit by a waft of heat and was greeted in perfect English by a very friendly couple which we learned later were Kelly from Belgium, the owner and her partner Fred from the UK.  Things were looking up!

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If you are travelling on the A62 between Salamanca and Ciudad-Rodrigo and are feeling hungry, look out for this sign.  You won’t be disappointed.

We had arrived in the early afternoon and therefore I decided to use the time wisely and updated this blog from the warmth of the main bar, sampling of course some bottles of San Miguel.  During this time I also fell into conversation with a couple who were on route to Portugal who were property searching, she a North American and he Irish.  Who would of thought that a roadside truckers motel would be so international.

In the evening Sharon joined me in the bar where we decided to dine, conversing more with Fred and Kelly swapping ideas about all our plans and ideas for the future.  At this point I think it is best to comment on the food and we agreed with all the prior visitors that the meal was fantastic.  One thing that seemed to be overlooked in the reviews though were the portion sizes, I myself have a large appetite and I love food but I was quite defeated when I was unable to even finish my starter compromising my appetite for the main course.  I really did try and eat all of the starter of paprika mashed potato with bacon and sausages but it was just impossible even though I was really enjoying it, only then to have to try and battle through a massive breaded chicken breast and fries, which is one of my favourite dishes.  Sharon too really struggled, failing to finish her ham and green beans starter and leaving most of her de-boned chicken legs and fries main even though it was really tasty.  The portion sizes were incredible, therefore if you do happen to pass by here, avoid tucking into the bread before your starter has arrived at all costs!!!  Luckily for us, Kelly was able to throw together the left over food into to some take away containers and therefore nothing was wasted.  In summary their menu del dia is absolutely recommended, we really enjoyed the food and friendly atmosphere that Kelly and Fred promote.

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Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, if you are looking for a warm welcome and safe place to stop over for the night La Ponderosa could be for you.  “Cheers Kelly and Fred for a great evening and a great meal, hopefully see you in the future and we will keep in touch”.

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Sharon’s main, seriously the side salad would have been enough.

The next day we remained on the A62 passing Salamanca, Valladolid and Palencia stopping at Fromista, another town that we had previously walked through whilst on the Camino de Santiago.  The rain had kept up all day, and barring a quick walk into the town centre with Rita we did very little.

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Parked up at Fromista for the night, we were the only ones again.  

One thing we did spot though through the rain splattered plastic window were lorries stopping at a nearby weighbridge and I went off to investigate to find that it was automated and anybody could use it.  This was perfect as we had never weighed the bus before and not only this we were in full tour mode:  all of Rita’s stuff, two bikes, solar panel, a full tank of fuel and about half a tank of fresh water.  Not only this, I was informed by a Spanish lorry driver that it would be really cheap too, as he had just weighed his empty tipper truck at just under 9 tonnes for less than 1 euro.  Sure enough, the next morning we were to be found using the weighbridge and at 30 cents a go we did it several times!!!

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Loaded up and on the weighbridge.  30 cents later and we were relieved with the result…..

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…..weighing in at 3240 kgs, leaving some margin from our top limit.  This meant that maybe we could fill up with a few boxes of Spanish wine!!

Our final stop in the Castile-Leon region was Aguilar de Campoo which was a really interesting town with several things to do and see.  The main point of interest is, from my point of view, the nearby reservoir which had a massive dam that you can walk across.  Unfortunately though we were unable to complete the circular walk starting from the town as the return journey from the dam makes way through a pine forest, and now being procession caterpillar aware we decided not to take the risk with Rita.  Nevertheless, we still enjoyed a long walk taking in the Santa Maria Monastery, the dam and the town’s castle.  The town itself was interesting and sported some different architecture around the main square and in early evening was beginning to show some signs of town life.

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We all enjoyed our walk to the dam at Aguilar.  Standing next to the open release valve meant you could fully take in the power of the water.  It made us both think again why the UK does not use more tidal energy installations.

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All of the buildings that surrounded the main square in Aguilar followed the same architectural style: lots of glazing and on stilts. 

On the morning of the 4th March the sun was finally making an appearance, which was good news as our next chapter of the Spanish return trip would be to visit and drive along the north coast to San Sebastian.  Hopefully the weather would hold and be kind to us as we move further north, we both imagined the hot sunny weather that would now be improving day by day further south and again more thoughts were shared around the shortness and time of year of this particular tour, something we want to avoid and plan differently in the future.

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We have started to collect photos of ‘no dogs’ signs.  We particularly liked this one found in the grounds of Aguilar’s main church.

Vertically north through Portugal?

27th February to 1st March

There were some changes happening on Tuesday 27th February morning and the first and most striking was the weather, the rain had finally reached us.  The second change was our mood, not only did we have to say goodbye (again) to Rick and Mary which is always a downer but we also had to face facts that we had reached a journey milestone.  This milestone was that we would now be in the trip phase known as ‘heading home’ and even though we still have the best part of four weeks to travel back we always note a change in atmosphere as the focus changes to travelling and not passing time.  We can’t say that it is depressing or anything negative, but the ‘driving back cloud’ seems to change everything: conversation with other travellers, our diet, the places we park, our social time, our finances as suddenly diesel returns as one of the big hitters, and finally we would be doing this for the first time with a dog.

So after a wet goodbye session, I will always remember the nice Norwegian lady waving us off at the ‘Motorhome Friends’ gate, smile still beeming as she was trying not to look too put out about getting completely soaked, we orientated the cab of the van northwards and started heading up the 2/IP2.

Progress was quite slow due to the wet weather and on our first night of this leg of the journey we stayed alongside the Intermarche supermarket at Portel north of Beja.  We have stayed at Portel before in 2017, that time on the way down, and it is a nice enough town with a dominating castle that sits high above the town.  This time though I was able to do more exploring, further a field that the castle, which is a beauty of having a dog, and discovered a residential area complete with football stadium and park and an old derelict convent.

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Our view of the castle at Portel.  The weather was wet and miserable but much needed and longed for by the Portuguese.

After a quick zip around Intermarche we left Portel without a detination in mind.  Our route up Portugal would involve in the majority the IP2 (non toll) up to Castelo Branco but we had still not made a decision of where we were going to exit Portugal.

Battling against the rain and Storm Emma we decided to leave the 2 and cut the corner off and headed to Vila Velha de Rodao on the 18.  This is an excellent road for views and for people who love hair pin bends and at times it has those ‘don’t look down’ moments through the drivers side window.

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On the way to Vila Velha de Rodao we passed through Portalegre.  Whenever I see these road signs it conjures up thoughts and memories of my life in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  The cities are not connected at all, only by having slightly similar names, nevertheless “Um grande abraço a todos os meus amigos em Porto Alegre. Esperamos que no futuro a visitemos. Sempre saudades”

Vila Velha de Rodao was a good choice for a stop over.  First of all the municipal Aire is free whilst the adjacent campsite is closed for winter, but further to this it lies next to the Portas do Rodao where the river Tejo squeezes through two aggressively inclined hill sides, creating a kind of door way, hence the name.  It was the shame the weather was overcast and wet but this did not deter us making a walk around the edge of town and visiting the riverside bar, sheltering us from the rain of course.

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The view of the ‘Portas’ when we were there………

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In the sun they look like this!

We left Vila Velha again in the rain which convinced us to make the decision to abandon any hopes of climbing Portugal in a straight line upwards all the way to the north Spanish coast, a journey which would add an extra 800Kms to the more direct diagonal route.  Instead we hatched a plan to leave Portugal at Vilar Formoso, which was not too far away, meaning that by lunchtime we would be saying a final ‘Tchau’ to Portugal for this trip.

This will be a memorable Portugal episode, one where we will look back and remember picking up Rita, my Mum and Dad visiting Faro and of course the many new friends we have met on the way.  It really has been one big social event and has been thoroughly enjoyable.

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The sun did come out briefly to light up the Tejo side municipal Aire at Vila Velha de Rodao.  This would be the location of our last night’s sleep in Portugal.

Family in Faro, friends in Centeira

13 Feb to 27 Feb.

It was a good job that we have been travelling really slowly as my parents made a last minute week trip out to Faro to escape the really cold weather in the UK so of course we planned to meet up with them in the city as we had still not travelled further west.

We staged ourselves at Santa Luzia (again) for two nights prior to Faro where we had a Praia da Barril walk scuppered by a ‘no dogs’ sign placed at the entry point of the bridge over to the island.  Oh well, this is the first time we have been ‘Rita’ restricted in over a month of having her so we were not too put out.

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Dogs aren’t allowed over to Praia da Barril island near Santa Luzia

20180228_184340We also found this sign on a restaurant’s door, it is a spitting image of Rita!!!! 

Parking was really easy in Faro as there is a dedicated motorhome space right in the centre of town by the citadel which made the family meet up stress free for us, or so we thought.

We had known about the Volta ao Algarve before hand and in fact I had suggested that the final stage, which left from Faro at noon on Sunday, could be on the itinerary of things to do and see with my Mum and Dad.  However after enquiring with the Police and the tourist office we learned that the international cycle race would be using the municipal car park for all the support groups, media trucks and pits so consequently we then feared that our prized parking space would be in jeopardy.  Since we were right on the edge of the car park we decided to wait until the Sunday morning to see if we would be infringing on the event or not as even up until the Saturday afternoon the local policemen was not certain exactly how much space was required.  This uncertainty was answered on the Sunday morning as we woke to find the van inside the event’s cordon convincing us to move straight away on to nearby Praia do Faro.

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Early Sunday morning prior to the noon start of the Volta ao Algarve.  We were pleased with ourselves as with the use of two levelling wedges and a bit of reversing over the deep kerb behind us we managed to leave the cordon without breaking the tape.  

Upon reflection I think both of us were glad that the opportunity arrose to move to Praia do Faro as it was really unspoilt and exactly not what we were expecting from Faro’s nearest beach.  On arrival we decided to park over the bridge and on Ilha do Faro itself which made exploring the beach and traditional fishing village even easier.

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Ilha do Faro is a thin strip of land, what a fantastic place that is definitely worth visiting (obrigado ‘Volta’!)  I also managed two early morning dips in the sea.

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At one end of the island is a traditional fisherman’s village which is still full of activity and life.  All of the houses can not be accessed by cars and it had a really special feel that we absorbed as we strolled through steeling glimpses of how other people live their lives.

Praia do Faro also threw up another treasure beyond the tranquil sights and expansive sandy beaches and that was Rick and Mary who we had met in Manta Rota.  They managed to park in front of us on our second day there and that reminded us of Anne and Colin who managed to do the same parking trick three times, in three different countries over a span of 10 months, imagine the probability of that.

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Our view of the bridge that links to Ilha do Faro.  

We made one more rendezvous to Faro to meet my parents where we all (including Rita) had a another great meal out at a typical Portuguese restaurant.  Here my parents regaled their tales of their previous couple of days alone in Faro where they watched the start of the ‘Volta’ and also took a ferry over to Ilha Deserta where on the return the captain allowed Dad to navigate the ferry unaided through the Rio Formosa whilst the captain chatted to one of his friends at the rear of the vessel….

From my personal point of view I was really pleased to have been able see my parents whilst on the road as combining family and motorhome travel is not always that easy.  I am grateful that they took the effort to fly over and that their trip passed without incident as all the time they were here I felt a small, but still detectable, underlying sense of responsibility.

From a more practical view, Faro city made for a really easy place to meet up with people.  On the motorhoming front both Praia do Faro and Parking Largo S. Francisco by Faro citadel allow for very easy access to the city centre, the former parking place though requiring a bus journey in and out.  In fact if you are parked on the main land side at Praia do Faro we are sure you could even walk round to the arrivals terminal to personally meet your visitors as this parking place is literally at the side of the runway.

From the visitors perspective, the airport is really near the centre requiring just a 11 euro trip to reach a centrally based hotel or a much cheaper local bus for the more adventurous.

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Can you spot yourselves Mum and Dad?  It was great seeing you and we are really pleased that you enjoyed yourselves in Faro and thank you for the last night meal out.  We will have to do it again in the future, next time hopefully with Sally.

Whilst with Rick and Mary we combined to meet up over the weekend at ‘Motorhome Friends’ at Centeira (near Paderne) as they have an all you can eat and drink barbecue on the Saturday night.  Whilst ringing through to owner Pedro to reserve our places he told us that the barbecue was to be on the Sunday night this week as it was his colleague Alex’s birthday and therefore we twigged that we would be revisiting the site exactly one year later from our last visit.  To fill the gap between my parent’s departure and our meet up date we holed ourselves up in Quarteira enjoying the beach and the long promenade.

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Vans parked up under the pines beach side just outside Quarteira.

Motorhome friends never fails to disappoint and it was even better sharing the experience with Rick and Mary.  We all ‘pigged’ out at the birthday barbecue, which was held during the afternoon, that was made special by a whole hog roast (editors note: and a couple of litres of wine!)  Another lasting memory will be the international boules match that we played on Saturday afternoon against a resident Norwegian team and thankfully, thanks to Mary and Sharon’s efforts, the Brits won 13-12.

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Happy Birthday Alex!  His family donated Paulinha the pig.  We all agreed she was pretty tasty if not somewhat committed to the party proceedings.  

So with spending time with my parents and then Rick and Mary our trip has continued to be really social which we have to say we have really enjoyed.  This trip has definitely been more social than any of our previous. We are now feeling a little pressured as our time on tour is nearing the end as we only have just under a month left.  We don’t want to travel too fast back home bearing in mind Rita and it is probable that we will start tipping the nose of the van north really soon.  So long winter sun, so long Algarve, until the next time.

 

 

 

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.