Showing posts from November, 2010

We're getting fitter, and the van could do with one too.

On Tuesday morning, full of fresh croissants and tea, and after turning the air blower bit of the heating system into an impromptu hair-dryer, (we’ll remember that one for the boat!) we set out on foot for Saubusse; 5kms away on the River Adour with a bridge over it. We’ve adopted a sort of routine until the van’s working properly again; instead of driving around looking at things, we’re doing the least mileage possible and walking or cycling to something nearby that looks interesting. Good for us, good for the van and good for the planet. It would be very much in our own interests if we can continue to follow the same path when everything is fixed. It will certainly be our way of life on the boat whenever possible. Easy to say on a beautiful Autumn morning, kicking through leaves with rosy cheeks and the sun shining; whether we can drag ourselves away from the log burner and a trashy novel when it’s grey, wet and windy outside is something we’ll have to find out!

Saubusse looked very…

It's Sunday. This must be France

We were still heading north-east towards France on Sunday. From Logrono we went to Pamplona, stopping at a campervan Aire de Service, (on the A12 at Junction 18, just in case anyone is ever going that way). Although we'd heard very good things about  Pamploma and had planned to stop for a look, when we got there it was foggy and cold so we hit the ring-road only stopping to get a new gas bottle on the way out. We’ve been on Spanish gas ever since we stayed with Bee & Bill and they had an empty going spare. We changed it for a full one when the little French one we'd hired ran out in Gibralter. We’ve had the heating on in the mountains for a few days so we’ve been getting through gas and, although it wasn’t completely empty, at 12.50€ for a 12.5kg butane bottle we wanted to get a new one before we left Spain. Hopefully it should last us back to the UK and more, we’ll de-hire the French one is Calais.

From Pamplona we turned directly north on the N121 through the mountains a…

Leaving Portugal, not with a whisper!

We woke up to a clear sunny morning in Praia de Mira on Thursday and took the A17 north towards Porto. It was very different to the A17 that goes past our old house and quite a bit longer. After stopping for lunch in Porto we went north-east to Braga, then parallel with the Spanish border up the fantastic N103 towards Chaves. What a brilliant road; 125kms of mountains, lakes and forests.
We stopped for the night in a lay-by on one of the loops. There was a mountain spring where we filled up the water tanks and we woke up on Friday morning to find frost on the ground. The road twists and climbs as it follows the Ria Cávado valley past three hydro dams, finally crossing the river just below the fourth and biggest; Baragem do Alto Rabagao. There was a road across the top of the dam so we drove out and had a look.
Just before Chaves it climbs up and over a pass then drops down with fabulous views over the valley floor. It was the last big road we drove in Portugal although we were sad to le…

I don't think you wanted to do that!

On Tuesday morning we went to check out opening times for Santiago swimming pool after spending the night in the car park behind it. Although it opened at 8am, from what we could make out with our very limited language skills, there was an over sixties session until 10, so we headed off towards Lisbon. At Setũbal we made two rather expensive mistakes. First we turned right at a set of traffic lights when we should have gone straight on and found ourselves on a toll motorway going in the wrong direction. Big Mistake. Second, we went through the wrong toll gate so that when we found a junction to get off at, we didn’t have a ticket. Big Mistake, Huge! They had no option but to charge us the maximum rate of 55€. On top of that there was 40kms worth of diesel to get us back to where we went wrong. Needless to say we were not happy bunnies, and when we went over the toll bridge into Lisbon and went through the wrong gate again, setting off all the alarms, it just about put the tin lid on i…

Haul Away to Santiago.

There was a footpath that went a couple of kms along the cliff top from Boca do Rio to Salerna, the nearest village, so after breakfast on Sunday we set forth up the hill in search of elevenses. What we found was a lovely little fishing village with a couple of cafes and a gift shop.
There is quite a big English influence on most of the Algarve and along with grilled sardines, one of the cafes was offering Full English Breakfasts. Very tempting, but we managed to resist and just had coffee. We have promised ourselves that when we’re on the boat we’re going out at least once a month for a Sunday breakfast in a cafe. Fried bread, big pot of tea, grilled tomatoes, the lot!

When we got back we turned back onto the now familiar N125 for the final 12kms to Sagres, and the end of the world as ancient mariners knew it. When we got there were quite a few other vans already parked up; we’ve noticed more and more of them the further towards the end we’ve got, and at Sagres there were lots. Probab…

Can't tell Stork from Gutter.

We’d seen pictures of Silvés on post cards and thought it might be somewhere nice to visit, but it still managed to surprise us. It wasn’t by the sea and didn’t look anything special on the map, but it had lots of steep, limestone cobbled streets leading from a very fine castle down to a medieval stone bridge over the river Arade. (The same river the dams were on yesterday.)

Along the riverbank there was a beautiful modern plaza with fountains and statues, then pavement cafes and gift shops.
Further on was the municipal swimming pool, with a wide landscaped area around its tennis courts and car parks complete with outdoor gym equipment and trim trails. The town itself was just big enough to be interesting and explorable, with lots of little shops and old buildings. We found a lovely place selling cork products; from simple tablemats to ornaments and clothing. A waistcoat and tie made from cork looked fabulous and felt like calfskin. There were several pairs of storks nesting on the top…

Dam! We're on the wrong road!

Tuesday saw us in Faro. It was a bit big and touristy for us, we almost fitted into a parking space by the harbour and put a couple of Euros in the meter. That’s when we found out that we’d been an hour ahead since entering Portugal nearly a week ago. It’s on the same time zone as the UK; we were still on Spanish time. We had a quick walk round the town looking at the shops and Christmas lights (it’s still weird seeing them in blazing sunshine).
We got our first sighting of nesting storks on top of a church tower in Faro; they seemed to be having some sort of dispute over who owned which nest and there was a lot of flapping and clattering going on. They are really big birds and very graceful in flight, but they make a right racket!
We had a half hour Mcwifi and then returned to the N125. After following the coast for a while we took a little white road towards the sea which got thinner and rougher as the golf courses and villas ran out. it finally ended in a car park in the dunes at Anc…

Fish for dinner and Flamingoes afterwards.

It was dull and cloudy on Sunday morning; by the time we got Castro Marim it had started to rain. We did our water filling under an umbrella then drove to Villa Reâl with lights and wipers on. That doesn’t leave a lot of juice for battery charging and we haven’t covered a lot of miles for a while. It’s a good job we swapped most of the lights for LEDs and bought a big 110amp deep cycle leisure battery. We have an isolator switch that separates the interior electrics from the engine battery so we can always start the van, and if we’re careful we can go for about 4 days before we have to drive somewhere. We’ve discovered, by trial and error, that the fridge takes a lot of power on 12v, so we only run it on electricity when we’re plugged in to the mains. The rest of the time it’s on gas; that works well enough to keep the little freezer compartment frozen. We got the LEDs from a little firm called Searolf. Normal LEDs are quite harsh and only operate at or near 12 volts; they sell ones t…

Over another border

We like Portugal. On Thursday afternoon we crossed the bridge out of Spain at about 1.30 and had our first taste of the Algarve. By 2.30 we’d driven into Castro Marim, parked at a campervan service area, been given a map of the place by a very helpful lady in the tourist office, and were wandering round the castle, having paid our 1€ admission. We stayed there that night and had a good wash-out and re-fill on Friday morning. While that was going on we met Ange & Barry, who were lovely. (We knew they would be; when Ann-Marie first saw Ange she was holding a tea-pot.) They told us of several useful places to stop, and after a good natter we set off along the Algarve coast. We didn’t get far; Altura was 7kms down the N125 and there were a bunch of vans from a variety of different countries in a big parking area right behind the dunes. The beach, Praia de Altura, was fantastic; acres of soft sand with boardwalks through the dunes, and although the town was small, it had a little superma…

To Seville, or not to Seville

Well, it had stopped raining by the morning, but the wind was still howling, so rather than being blown off our bikes we walked back along the main drag to the city gates, then into the maze of dead straight but very narrow streets that make up Cadiz proper. Armed with a map from the tourist office, we went wandering. The buildings are all very tall and the plazas seem to pop out from nowhere when you turn a corner. Every now and then you get a glimpse into a beautifully tiled entrance hall, with potted ferns and maybe a table and chair, like an oasis of calm from the bustle in the street. We walked round the outside, where the city walls rise out of the sea, into the medieval quarter, through a botanical garden with two of the biggest trees we’ve ever seen and then back into the middle for a coffee and some delicious tapas
Cadiz is an island with a land bridge to mainland Spain and has a cosy, nautical feel. Like Ely and Truro it’s a grand city in a small space and we loved it.

When w…