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.  

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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…

 

 

 

 

Transit through France

27th December 2017 to 2nd Jan 2018.

The weather in the UK seemed to be sending us a timely message to travel south as upon leaving the Midlands it had started to snow quite hard.  The trip back from the family festivities (cheers Nigel for Christmas Eve and sis for Xmas Day) was very slow, often the motorways were reduced to only two lanes.

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The M40 heading back south was quite bleak to say the least.

On the morning of the 28th we were pleased to wake up to find very little snow, instead though a lot of ice.  So after fiddling with a loose connection in the steering column to turn on our headlights be embarked on the early morning drive to Folkestone.  The channel tunnel crossing was effortless and a very different experience to the ferries that we are used to (in the end due to price we decided not to cross from Newhaven to Dieppe which was the original intention, see ‘Proposed Routes’ page).

Not wanting to drive to far we started looking for an aire from about 150Kms south from Calais, stopping first at Nouvion (nice small mixed car park near a Carrefour mini), then at Callengeville (very small village!!) and then finally settling at Saint Saire.  Here upon arrival at the aire we found the parking spaces for MHs to be on grass and whilst we were making the decision whether to venture on to  the sodden surface a small white van pulled up and a local man stepped out – from his French and waving arms we gathered that we must follow him to another parking place over the river.  It turned out that he was the local free range egg farmer and he showed us a place on his land, importantly on hard gravel.  As this was our first night on this trip we took this show of generosity as a good sign.

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The Free Range Egg Farm at Saint Saire is a French Passion stop as it turned out.  Great view and a picnic bench.

Saint Saire itself was a tiny rural village lying on a disused railway track which has now been turned into a cycle/walking route.  With Neufchatel em Bray just 6km down the old line Sainte Saire would make a pleasant stay maybe in the summer.  As luck would have it, the only shop in the village was a bakery, so with two fresh baguettes in tow we sauntered back to the van ready to combine them with some cheese and wine.

We woke to rain and a slight fog on the next day which sustained unfortunately making our progress slow.  The main reason for this was that our headlights refused to turn on.  The problem that we had been experiencing temporarily had appeared to have become permanent.  In the end we arrived at a really chilled out town called Vernuil Sur Avre (the birth place of Fauvism) in Normandy. After a drizzly walk around the main square and thin wooden framed house lined streets (a little Alsace-esques) we ended the day in a local bar with a couple of drinks (two round cost 10 euros which we thought was not bad for France).

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A picture taken from the internet of the streets around Vernuil Sur Avre, just to break up the text!!! 

With the weather worsening and armed with information gleaned from a local newspaper we decided to make our first detour of the trip and started heading south west where the weather was reportedly better and not directly south.  This meant that the possibility of visiting Blois for New Years Eve was getting weaker.  Battling slowly on in the drizzle, with always the blue skies enticing us in the distance through the windscreen we were unable to get any further than Le Mans.  Our poor progress was also compounded by stopping a various garages to look at options to fixing our lights issue as this was the last day before the New Years holiday.  We got really close to a solution as just before Le Mans we pulled into a breakers yard.  One of the workers found a steering wheel stalk switch gear set from a Ducato, he even offered it up and it looked to me identical but for some reason he shook his head negativity and sent us friendly on our way, sans illumination.

Le Mans is a town I know well as I used to visit a factory near by so I talked positively to Sharon about it’s old town and historical centre to try and soften the blow that we had only reached Le Mans, a town we normally pass by.  Upon arrival at the town’s official aire we were greeted by red and white tape and a notice from the council pointing MHs to nearby Arnage.  I was not filled with hope as Arnage was the area of town where the factory I used to visit was located and I can’t remember seeing anything other than industry.  Nonetheless this was where we were going to stop as the dark was drawing in and we would have to stop somewhere soon.  Ten minutes later we were parked up at the riverside in the village of Arnage and this quiet and tranquil setting made for a pleasant surprise, contrasting greatly with the adjacent industrial zone.

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Arnage was very different to how I though.  The grey weather though does not do this photo any justice.

New Years Eve bought a long trip to Cognac and the journey was quite uneventful until the last 45 minutes when it started raining and went really dark.  At about 4pm we arrived quite fraught at the municipal aire and luckily took the last 4th spot.   The aire lies on the river bank on the opposite side of the old town which is a short walk away.  By 7pm we were wandering the historic centre searching for some NYE action finding initially an empty and just opened ‘Le VIP’ bar.  Not to be perturbed we headed off to the main square and found a bar called ‘Coc d’Or’ where we met Irish Matthew who was a Cognac local and two Americans Randy and Mark.  Here many drinks pursued (well certainly in my case!!) and from this bar under Matthew’s guidance we headed to night club ‘Le Crunch’ to continue our NYE celebrations kicking the last nails into 2017 and opening drunkenly the new door to 2018.

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Inside ‘Le Crunch’ night club, our destination for NYE.  Bonne Annee!

Meeting Matthew was a double stroke of luck as not only did we enjoy a great night but also he informed us that his neighbour was a mobile mechanic.  Through Matthew’s co-ordination on the morning of 2nd January he and mechanic Anthony greeted us at the aire and within 15 minutes Anthony had located and fixed our much need lighting function.  Matthew and Anthony – “merci beaucoup again for this, we really appreciated your help and actions that will definitely make our progress safer and easier“.

As the weather had still not improved we were now determined and able to head much further south, reaching Geores de Meremme just outside Bayonne.  Here we parked in a local car park and to be honest even the amplified music and car wheel spins in the early hours did not deter us from having a good night’s sleep.  For me certainly, a lot of stress has been relieved now that we have working lights so the lesson here is that if you know you have a problem get if fixed before hand!!

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At Geores de Meremme we choose to park next to the electric car charging bay, guessing that we would not have any neighbours.  It will be interesting to see how this changes over the coming years

In summary our journey through France was marred by our lack of headlights, I almost wrote ‘bad weather’ but at this time of year what should we expect.  On the positive side yet again  France has thrown up some great free aires (we make very little prior planning) in some great places.  Finally though it will be the generosity and kind actions of the people that we have met along the way that will be our lasting memory proving that in the majority of cases people are kind.  Moving this sentiment onto the world stage, maybe there is hope for us all yet…………..