Beautiful Days 2018, Devon

BD2018

 

After a break of a couple of years I was lucky enough to have the chance to go back to the Beautiful Days music festival in August 2018.  It is an event that I have been going to on and off since 2005 and over the years many a good memory has been made.

For 2018 saw me go in a hired Volkswagen Caddy, which was to be my living quarters for the four days, meeting up with old and new friends:  Kev, Barney, Enzo, Scarlet, Kathyrn, Darren, Cessil and Mark…………

Do you fancy a drink,
Just the one,
To clear your head,
We won’t be long.

It’s a beautiful day,
To waste away,
There’s plenty of time,
For another one.

You know you shouldn’t do it,
But see no reason why,
So you blow your mind,
Yeah, yeah,
Uh-ha*.

*Lyrics by Levellers

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Living with Rita

03 August 2018

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Rita

I have been waiting for this month to post this update as now we have had Rita for over six months.  In summary, our life has predictably changed and now most things that happen need consideration outside of just ourselves which takes a little getting used to. Only the other day we passed a local music festival poster and we both looked at each other and thought the same thing “that looks good, we could go” and then both shouted out in unison “Rita!” the new buzz word for ‘maybe not’!! Joking aside though, the benefits do out weigh the restrictions and we have all come on a long journey in mutual appreciation since that memory milestone day when we left Sao Bras with Rita in our ownership.

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A typical Rita pose on her corner of the sofa.  

I must admit one of the first major adjustments we had to make was understanding and attending a dog’s toilet rituals. Being new to dog ownership we had no real idea of when she wanted to go as she gave us very few signs, how long was too long? At times maybe I worried too much, especially during the night as I would lie in bed thinking that Rita might need to go to the toilet and there has been nights during the first few months that I have got up and taken her out in the early hours for her typically to do ‘nothing’ but then at least I can sleep through knowing that I have given her yet another chance to go to the loo even at the cost of her peaceful slumber. Thankfully those days have past now as we all learn each other patterns and I imagine that this will be a continuous process.

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Tucked up for the night

The next thing was food, initially we really struggled to get Rita to eat, which we thought was incredible as we were under the belief that dogs are ruled by their stomachs. This lasted maybe a month, whilst we were still on the road and we don’t know what made her turn the corner but one day it seemed that was just eating normally from her bowl instead on us taking her to the bowl or even moving it to her in hope that she would start eating, which invariability she would do after a little time. Moving on to today, she is a dog completely governed by her appetite as she just loves her food, so much so we have limited her to her correct portion size and now she has dropped from 13.5 Kg to a really athletic and fit looking 13.2kg. To put it short, Rita has very little trouble eating now and only yesterday she managed to swipe a chopped Saucisson Sec (it was French week in Lidl last week!!) from our table top which she managed to devour half of in the few minutes our backs were turned.

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Rita on her morning beach walk

There has been several other more psychological phases to her adjustment to spending time with us, firstly she had to get over the shock over leaving her home with Maria and Adrian (www.2ndhand4foooters.com) which is documented earlier in the year and after that she had to realise that she does not have a fixed home but instead learning that the motorhome and us are her constant.  She managed this too, to our relief, so we were shocked once we landed on the East Sussex coast where we would live and work for the summer months that she found this to be an obstacle.  We were obviously unsure of the problem, but what ever she was experiencing left her really anxious and stressed as she would bark constantly searching for us as we worked around the campsite grounds.  We tried leaving her outside and inside the motorhome to no avail and at this point with a little internet searching we educated ourselves about dog separation anxiety.  Rita was definitely showing all the symptoms so much so that during one her chewing frenzies she managed to call the ‘out of hours’ emergency phone which surprised all the campsite staff as we could not see anybody outside the office door ringing the bell only to find later a very molested phone hand set inside our van!  So after losing one TV remote control, a baseball cap and pair of my favourite flip flops we decided to build a space for Rita outside of the van in the hope that she would relax a little as she would be able to see us out and about showing her we were not leaving her. It worked, thankfully, and she completely changed almost overnight, happy with her space and her house.  She does not even go to the toilet in her space, meaning that it is part of her ‘home’.  Sure, she is still too pleased to see us when we return back to the van and we are now even ignoring her on purpose for the first 5 minutes so she understands what we expect from her, and that is a ‘calm’ dog, instead of celebrating her wildness, running in circles and jumping up as fun as it might have been.

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Rita’s house under construction

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The finished article.  Rita has a habit though of removing her padded bed!

So overall I think the threesome is doing very well from all angles considering our story. Rita is definitely much more confident about all aspects of life: she really enjoys other dogs and will always choose play first over all other responses, she is getting braver with strange people remaining slightly wary but not cowering as she would. Furthermore, above all, she has stayed the perfectly behaved dog coming back when she is called, sitting down when required and generally having a happy and kind disposition even with those ‘sempre triste’ Portuguese eyes that she has. Sharon and I often comment that Rita makes us look like accomplished dog owners as she is so well behaved and we chuckle knowing that for the most part that is all due to her and we also remark that we are really fortunate as we really did not know what we could have been getting into. People say when they hear Rita’s story that she has really fallen on her paws with her new life but we know deep down that we are the lucky ones!!

An update from Rita’s perspective:

“Dear oh dear, these two are really funny.  They keep talking to me and giving me fuss all the time which to be honest is really nice.  What I am struggling with though is the food, it is wheat free happy clapping health food and the same every day in the same portion sizes, completely boring.  In my past life, if I fancied a little piri piri chicken I would just pop down to the bins at the back of ‘Frango Louco’, sometimes I fancied seafood so I would go and visit the nice lady who cleaned the kitchens at the local Marisqueira and flash her my oh so lonely sad eyes.  It was only the other day though that I let my appetite get the better of me as I took a small nibble from a foreign looking sausage that they left out for a few moments whilst they watered their outside plants.  I thought I had got away with it but I was unfortunately caught in the act and was banished to my bed for the next half hour and they would not even look or speak to me.

The other thing that has changed is the toilet business, they keep picking the damn stuff up and placing it in little bags and then they proceed to carry it around with them.  How would you feel if you did your business and then somebody placed it in a bag for the whole world to see?  It is so demeaning.  I used to be able to go anywhere with complete dignity and decorum, this new world is weird.

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On a walk over Beachy Head, I get to go to some amazing places

The next stumbling block that I ask myself about is where are all my free wandering doggie pals?  Oh we used to have some laughs, me and Roberta, barking at the horses or teasing that big grumpy Serra running free most of the time.  Now most the dogs I run into are tethered with a rope type thing being held back by their ‘human’.  As to the dogs I do see running free on the nearby beach they don’t seem too interested in old fashioned play, instead preferring to chase an inane round object that is thrown in one direction. Even my relativity sensible humans tried that with me, they waved this yellow round thing in front of my nose and then hauled it down the beach I just shook my head and gave them that look “I thought you knew me better, do you really believe I think that is a rabbit?” I just sat down, and then one of them even threw the object and chased after it themselves as some sort of demonstration, boy that was funny!!!! To be fair though to my two uprights, they are quite relaxed and at all times possible I am off the lead thing and I have learnt that I keep my freedom if I come back when called and in turn they have learned not to keep shouting my name out too much as I can be trusted you know.

Finally, I think I am getting used to this new life.  It seems varied and I see a lot of new places, meet new people and enjoy a safe nights sleep on my corner of the sofa. I have regular exercise and get to run free several times a day in the near by field and beach and get the chance to meet lots of other dogs. And even though I complain about the food, at least it is regular even if bland so all in all ‘tudo bem’.”

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One day I am going to catch a sea gull, I keep practising every morning.

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.

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 2017, 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.