Suzy and I are in Pont-de Arche south of Rouen staying over night in an Aire next to the River Seine. We are on our way home and catch the 8pm ferry from Dunkirk later today so the 120 mile drive will be a doddle. We have driven 4,800 miles in 8 weeks and so this is my final note as I close my blog.
Thank you for joining me on Journi.
We left the campsite at Champ de la Chapelle, Braize yesterday morning after a 4 day stay in the shade of the woods. It was not a crowded campsite and is located in central France amongst a smattering of small rural hamlets. The nearest town of any size is the attractive market town of Saint Amand Montrond which we visited for the Saturday morning market.
The local estate agents advertise houses for as cheap as 40,000 euros and a decent 3 bedroom property in a rural location with a bit of land (an acre or so) would cost 100,000 euros. The following day we met an elderly English couple who told us that they purchased their house 14 years ago for £2,000.
..... On Sunday we went to a donkey Derby in the village of Braize. It was well attended as there is sod all else to do in central France on a Sunday morning. I think that the donkeys were just another excuse to hold a bric-a-brac market which consisted of five lanes of mainly trestle tables displaying wares such as old metal signs (remember dubonnet) old glassware, cups, saucers, vinyl LPs of Johny Halliday, Charles Aznavour, Charles Trenet and strangely, Richard Clayderman,of all people. There were old books, tools, garden implements and the tapes we used to buy for our Sony Walkmans before CDs came along.
..... It was as if a thousand old people had died as a consequence of which a thousand lofts were looted and the contents laid out in five lanes of mainly trestle tables in a field in France.
Obviously food and drink was involved at a gathering of this nature. There were cheese stalls, stalls selling a flutes of white wine for two euros, or champagne for four euros and seafood.
I have never managed to understand the French passion for the garden slug like those we see on our patios in England in the morning. You know the ones. They are brown, have a shell, long thin pointy antennae which presumably are their ears and they leave a silver trail behind them wherever they go.
The French call them escargot and cook them with garlic and devour them in industrial quantities.
They even eat them uncooked and served cold. The escargot slithers down your throat, live, and to certain death in your stomach.
What is that all about?
..... The major French roads have Aires for motorists to take a break and picnic. These are not the sites of the same name dedicated to motorhomes that Suzy and I have stayed on in the last eight weeks.
They also provide rest and relaxation for lorry drivers which is good thing as there is nothing more dangerous than a lorry with a fatigued driver.
...... One of the features of these motorway stops that Suzy and I have noticed is the number of young black girls who like to visit and make friends with the lorry drivers. You can see them in many of the major truck stops, dressed to please in their summer outfits of skimpy short skirts or hot pants, newly arrived from African cities such as Lagos Dakar and Brazzarville, where the hot climate calls for light costumes. In many respects it's good to see these African traditions being maintained.
Obviously, as new arrivals, they feel the need to network and make friends as it must be quite lonely to uproot yourself from your native country and join an alien society particularly when you don't have a job to go to. Talking to the locals helps with the process of integration into this new society. Occasionally you would see a successful friendship forged as one of the Lorry drivers invites a girl into his cab for a chat.
Nice work girls.
Keep it up.
Pont-de-Arche near Rouen
29 August 2016
Pont-de-Arche Aire near Rouen
28 August 2016
The donkey Derby at Braize France. The metal boiler like contraption is an old ex army bread oven put to work again.
26 August 2016
Friday 26th August and we are In Le Champ De La Chapelle near Brazes in the middle of France in the middle of nowhere having left Camping Grand Sud near Limoux on Monday.
We stayed in three Aires en route. Monday it was Port Canal Montauban, nice if you like techno music from a local club until 2 in the morning.
Tuesday it was an Aire at Lissac-sur-Couze in a shaded location next to a lake.
Wednesday it was another lakeside location at Lac Saint Pardoux.
We set off in the evening on our scooter to visit Le Dorat and Bellac, both mediaeval towns, one slightly more mediaeval than the other.
It was striking how depressed the local economy appeared to be with shops closed and 'for sale' or 'to rent' signs displayed and people hanging around in groups in the streets after dark. There was none of the vibrancy of the French metropolis with cafes and bars and people sitting outside and waiters ignoring you.
...... We chose this location at Le Champ De La Chapelle as I had read about it on the forum Motorhomefacts.com. An Englishman posted a lengthy blog detailing the trials and tribulations of purchasing a French campsite from a Dutch couple and what he is doing to breathe new life into it and turn it into a profitable business. His name is Simon Swinn and he has had a couple of books published on Amazon. The blog captured my imagination and so we decided to visit and stay a few days before setting off for home.
It was part of the purchase agreement that the Dutch former owners stayed on until retirement age. They are visible but don't seem to do much and Simon tells me that that they did little to promote the campsite and so the business was run down and the Dutch owners heavily in debt when he acquired it.
...... So we are camping once again in this forest campsite with a pool and a 9 hole golf course which no one seems to use as it is too hot. There are some strange regulations posted around the site. One of them is that it is prohibited to wear Bermuda shorts in the pool. Simon tells me that he was fined 2000 euros by the French administrative authorities for allowing this heinous activity to to take place (swimming in Bermuda shorts) and made the subject of an order requiring him to pay for twice weekly inspections costing him 80 euros a visit.
....... Earlier this week we had a near disaster when it looked as if the calor gas was about to run out. When we are on Aires the gas heats the waters for showers and fuels the fridge which we keep well stocked. You can't buy calor gas in Europe and so we were stuffed. So after a bit of research on the Internet forums we purchased a cylinder of butane gas from a Carrefour, fitted a locally purchased regulator and hose, and hey presto, it works.
We are on our way home on Monday 8 weeks after setting off from Dover. We shall do the 380 mile drive in two days.
24 August 2016
Camping by the lake at Lissac-sur-Couze
23 August 2016
Our route to Le Champ De La Chapelle
21 August 2016
Our pitch by the lake.
The French estate agents particulars - from beginning to end.
Sunday 21st August and Suzy and I are in our fifth day at Camping Grand Sud between Carcassonne and Limoux, south east France.
We are camping next to a private lake which offers up a cooling breeze throughout the day. Later on this morning we are off to the Sunday flea market in Limoux.
The region is full of street markets selling local produce. We went to one in Limoux on Friday and it dominated the centre of town, filling up the town square and spilling out into the surrounding streets. Everything is to be had in this market🍓🍅🌽🍉🍏🍞🧀🌶🍋🍆 as well as crafts, leather goods, clothes, bric a brac, tools furniture, the lot.
These markets are very much an event with the local population seeing them as a social occasion meeting in the crowded bars and cafes from morning through to early afternoon until it is too hot to be outside.
....... On Friday we went to the estate agents and viewed three houses.
The one that caught our fancy was owned by an elderly English couple - Mr and Mrs Simpson - not the first Mr and Mrs Simpson to escape to France, I believe.
They had moved out here 13 years ago and had the house built into the side of a rocky escarpment at the top of a hill accessed by a long steep gravel path. It has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside of vineyards next to fields of sunflowers and maize, with small hamlets of stone houses dotted around the landscape.
The backdrop to this stunning vista was the Pyrenees, not quite snow-capped at the present time but soon to be by late November.
...... Once you get to the top of the steep drive, the house, standing on its own in an acre or so, has a swimming pool at the front surrounded by a paved patio. The front elevation of the garage and workshop are open to the elements with the living accommodation above. The far side of the garage/workshop consists of the rocky face of the mountain, a design I have never seen before. The ceiling is the floor of the living accommodation with no rafters or beams that I could see, and all the services are exposed supposedly to make it easy to fix them when they stop working.
...... The elderly English owners planned to move into rented accommodation locally. They had not retained a house in the UK and I could not help thinking that this may have been a mistake as the two property markets have moved in different directions, or, more accurately, one direction at different speeds.
The asking price for the house is 350,000 euros.
We are going back later in the day to take a second look.
Interestingly, the estate agent has 300 properties on her books. This compares with our local Newbury agents who are lucky to have 30 properties available for sale. The level of the commission in France is between 4% and 12% and the highest level of commission is payable on lower valued properties. In the UK commission is 1% (excepting expensive properties sold by agents with double barrelled surnames and nobby accents).
...... Suzy asked the French agent for a copy of the sales particulars. I have uploaded a picture.
Compare and contrast with the particulars of an English estate agent.
The lake next to our pitch at the campsite between Carcassonne and Limoux
Our Motorhome parked in shade next to the lake.
15 August 2016
Monday 15th August and Suzy and I are in a campsite in Alet Les Bains near Limoux, south east France. We have spent the last 6 days stopping overnight in Aires in Spain and France so it is good to put down roots for a few days not least because I want a break from driving. I have driven 3395 miles in the last 6 weeks.
The campsite is by the River Aube and adjacent to the ruins of 12th century abbey in the grounds of which is a smart hotel in a renovated building.
It's pouring with rain right now. I view it as welcome as it will cleanse the humidity from the hot sultry atmosphere.
..... We have reserved slightly better accommodation for the next few days in a campsite near Carcassonne and so will move on first thing tomorrow. We visited the site today and reserved our pitch next to a private lake in the shade of tall trees.
What I liked about it was that there were no noisy kids running about. This is because management has rounded them all up and tranquillised them.
There are some odd rules posted on boards around the campsite. See the picture of one such rule. Apparently you have to seek permission from reception before having sex.
One of the rules posted on a notice board on the Carcassonne campsite.
14 August 2016
Sunday 14th August and exactly 6 weeks to the day from our departure from home, we are in Alet Les Bains on the River Aude. The village is in South East France, 8 kilometres from Limoux where they make Blanquette de Limoux which tastes and looks like Champagne but is a sixth of the price.
On Wednesday and Thursday we stayed on a farm at St-Martin-d'Arberoue in Aquitaine. This was a lucky find, located in attractive French countryside. The farmer has set aside a field as an Aire for visitors in Motorhomes and made electricity available. It's free to stay but the farmer expects you to join a tour of his farm ending up in the farm shop where you may buy the farm produce.
...... So that's what we did on arrival on Wednesday ostensively to get the tour out of the way. The farmer - I called him Monsieur Marcus Brigstock (because he is a dead ringer for the English comedian) led the tour party around the farm with a commentary in French. I would put his age at 40. He is a tall, slim, bespectacled gangly bloke who moves with the uncoordinated grace of Larry the Lamb on skunk, with limbs flailing all over the place as he walks.
He explained that the farm had been in his family for several generations. He produced grain used to brew lager, sheep, whose milk makes those big barrel shaped tubs of cheese, and pigs, for bacon ham and saucisson (amongst other products).
...... I am not one noted for my interest in guided tours but I have to say that I enjoyed it, and so did Suzy. The tour ended with a film show in the barn showing how the produce is turned into the items we see on the shelves.
It was not just the visitors in Motorhomes taking part in the guided tours. Visitors from outside were turning up and the tours were conducted both by Monsieur Marcus and his wife throughout the day.
With part of the farm occupied as a Gîte my bet is that Monsieur Marcus has, through his efforts, turned his farm into a profitable commercial enterprise.
Alet Les Bains
12 August 2016
Friday 12th August 2016 and we are in the town of Vic En Bigorre in the Haute Pyrennes and quite frankly I have never heard of it either and won't be coming back.
On Monday we left the campsite at A Coruña after a five night stay. The town itself was a 15 minute scooter ride away and we visited the old town with its trendy bars and cafes. There was a stage erected in the square with a band playing and a nice party atmosphere. Families with young children turned out to listen to the music.
It was in the campsite that Suzy had a spat with our English neighbours who were odd, or at least the father was, as he felt he had a grievance to air with Suzy and came over on to our pitch for a moan.
The family did not stay too long after the incident.
..... What prompted their early departure was my tactic of silently staring at them from our neighbouring pitch.
Every so often I would increase the aggression by gently raising an eyebrow.
It seemed to do the trick and they left the following day suitably chastened.
Father won't be behaving like that again in a hurry.
...... On Tuesday we travelled inland, still staying in Spain's North West and parked up in an Aire in Ponferrado. The town is one of the towns en route to Santiago de Compostela and favoured by pilgrims doing a route march to the religious capital.
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. It’s known as the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and the alleged burial site of the apostle St. James. His remains lie within the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, consecrated in 1211, whose elaborately carved stone facades open onto grand plazas within the medieval walls of the old town.
...... I met a couple of godly French Christians doing the route march with a donkey carrying their backpacks - picture uploaded.
Quite why they walk for miles along this route in mid day temperatures in the 30s is beyond me.
I asked them why they chose to walk the distance instead of taking the bus. They answered that they did not think that the bus driver would allow the donkey on board so fair play to them for their answer to my daft question.
It was uncomfortably hot in Ponferrado . It was dead as well during the heat of the day - siesta time - until 7 in the evening when the medieval town square starts to fill up with people drinking and dining.
..... We left Ponferrado the next morning and drove 100 + miles to Burgos staying in an Aire once again. It was cooler in this region meaning jeans and jackets on in the evening.
I never like to stigmatise nationals of a country unless, of course they ask for it.
I will however mention something that happened on the afternoon of our arrival.
I have uploaded a picture of the Aire in Burgos in which there appears, in one empty parking space, three collapsable chairs.
Now, I counted the number of parking spaces in the Aire. There were 36, marked out with white lines and each big enough to park a Baileys coach. We were parked in one of them.
..... Only seven spaces, or 20% of the available parking was occupied when we arrived.
Put another way, 80% of the Aire was empty.
The three collapsible chairs were owned by a couple in a Campervan who had left, in their van, for the afternoon and were so desperate to reserve this little bit of Spain to themselves that they felt the need to mark out their territory.
I won't make a cheap joke about the nationality of these people.
...., On second thoughts yes, I will, but it is possible that you are by now ahead of me.
Just place the forefinger of your left hand above your top lip and raise your straight right arm above your head with the palm of your hand facing forward.
There's your clue.
11 August 2016
The farm in St-Martin-d'Arberoue in Aquitaine
10 August 2016
Monsieur Marcus Brigstock the farmer doing his presentation
9 August 2016
Three collapsable chairs on a parking space.
8 August 2016
A couple of pilgrims with donkey. Silly sods walking all that way in the heat.
7 August 2016
Suzy and I have spent the last few days in rather nice campsite in A Coruña North West Spain. As we are enjoying the sunshine we have decided to stay on until the end of August and so we have changed the dates of our Channel crossing.
So with time on our hands I write a slightly longer blog today sharing my thoughts on the wonderful old Mercedes camper parked next to us and the six young people who are enjoying their holiday in it. Of course much of what I say is conjecture as I have not actually spoken to them. But I have watched them come and go and this had enabled me to piece together a picture of their lifestyle on holiday.
.......The Camper is a majestic old Mercedes built in 1972. I was studying for my degree that year. The group consists of 3 boys and 3 girls in their early 20s having a lot of fun in this camper. Hats off to the young couple that own it for looking after and therefore extending the life of this lovely vehicle. I have uploaded some pictures.
Our neighbours' accommodation is extended by a small tent with outside cooking facilities.
......The inside of the camper is an unruly affair with clothes and belongings strewn everywhere.
The three young couples go partying at night dancing to the thumping beat of techno music whilst drinking beer by the bottle or perhaps water as an accompaniment to something else.
They get home late and when they wake up, off they go to the beach for a days surfing.
Oh to be young again.
......All of which puts me in mind of that masterpiece of a 60s film 'Summer Holiday' in which Cliff Richard sets off on holiday to Greece on a red London double decker bus accompanied by a group of attractive boys and girls. I saw it for the first time at Barkingside Odeon in the 60s and in the ensuing years I have run it past my analytical sociological antennae on numerous occasions in an effort to understand what it was all about.
Remember that the film came out in the swinging sixties with a backdrop of permissiveness, the pill, marijuana, LSD, hot pants, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and everything else that heralded this new era in post war Britain.
.....If you are my generation or about, the chances are that you will sing along when I remind you of the verse...
'We're going where the sun shines brightly,
we're going where the sea is blue,
you've seen it in the movies,
now let's see if it's true'
.....Alcohol was pointedly missing from this happy happy non stop romantic holiday party and at every conceivable juncture we see a cherubic Cliff break into yet more happy song whilst the boys and girls sing along and dance around him.
Oh what joy.
So here we have it.
I shall put Cliff to one side for the moment as he is a special case.
The scenario is of seven handsome young men brimming with testosterone in the company of seven beautiful young women with raging hormones and vaginas on fire flirting mercilessly with the boys.
.....After the joyous fireside party featuring Cliff on guitar yet again what happens next?
It's 9.30 and getting late so with nothing more than a peck on the cheek they all turn in, sleeping in segregated dormitories on the bus.
So our happy happy boys and girls go to their sleeping sacks thrilled by the prospect of waking up for breakfast the next day consisting of a boiled egg, a bowl of cornflakes, and fucking Cliff Richard crooning yet again.
To the best of my recollection there has been no remake of the film.
5 August 2016
Our neighbours' 1972 Mercedes camper.
4 August 2016
Monday 1st August to Wednesday 3rd August 2016.
Tapia de Casariago is a very nice place. It is a small town on Spain's northern Atlantic coast hosting an Aire, our home for two nights with about twenty other motorhomes. The local policeman comes round at 9am in the morning to collect the dues (4 euros a day), and parks his police car at the entrance so no one can leave and no one can arrive until he collects all the money.
The climate here is ideal - sunny 'tee shirt and shorts days' with temperatures in the 22 degree plus range cooling down at night to 'jumpers on' temperatures in stark contrast to the oppressive heat found in southern Spain at this time of year.
......Apart from the folk in motorhomes - Spanish, Dutch and French with a minuscule contingent of British, tourism is confined predominantly to the Spanish. The beaches fill up during the day and at night the local municipality sends workmen out driving tractors pulling giant sized combs to make the beaches nice again for the next day.
There are none of the trappings of familiar British destinations as those you would expect to find on the Mediterranean coast. You will be hard pressed to find a waiter who speaks English here. Restaurant menus are written only in Spanish, none of the dishes favoured by the British are available, and you can't buy a pint of Guinness for love nor money.
.....The motorhome Aire is by the sea and a quarter of a mile away is the port with pavement bars and restaurants filling up with people in the early evening.
There is a pleasant, relaxed ambience to this place.
It reminds me of Padstow without the Rick Stein
Thursday 4th August 2016 in A Coruña North West Spain.
Many of you have been kind enough to text Suzy, email me or send a message by WhatsApp to say how much you have enjoyed my blogs for which I thank you.
In the light of your kind comments I have decided to stage a series of public readings.
The first will be staged at The Ackland Hall Cold Ash RG18 9JH at 8pm on Tuesday 30th August.
Tickets will be on sale at the door for £5 per person (£2 for juniors) on the night. A special commemorative tee shirt will also be available to purchase.
Proceeds will go to the Bob Tomlinson Retirement Benefit Fund.
1 August 2016
Tapia de Casariego
Monday 1st August and we left Llanes on the Northern coast of Spain this morning and drove west along the Atlantic coast to Tapia de Casariego where we have pitched up for the night in an Aire overlooking the sea.
We left the Algarve in Portugal on Wednesday last week entering the searing day time heat of Southern Spain and drove north staying in Aires in Valverde del Camino on Wednesday night and Caceres on Thursday night.
The heat was stifling. In the medieval town centre of Caceres at 8pm the temperature was an unbearable 42 degrees Centigrade.
The water system in the Motorhome packed up in the afternoon.
......Imagine the scenario. Unremitting heat, air con in the cab which works only when the vehicle is in motion, and even then barely copes. A fridge which struggles to cool. Freezer food defrosting. No water for flushing, washing up, or shower. Van too hot to enter when parked.
So we made a 381 mile dash to the cooler north of Spain and stayed in Llanes for three nights.
The good news on Friday morning was that whilst we were en route to Salamanca to find a Motorhome mechanic to look at the water problem Suzy managed to fix it by replacing a fuse to the water pump.
After that things began to get better.
......There was one place of note as we traveled north in the vicinity of Seville. I was taken by surprise when travelling along a 'B' road in a sparsely populated area of parched barren agricultural landscape . We turned a corner and came into the town of Rio Tinto. I know the company name but had no idea that it derives its name from this town in Spain.
The scenery was as I would expect Mars to look like and apart from its man made characteristics of mountain side terraces is reminiscent of a scaled down version of the Grand Canyon except it has a toxic green lake at the bottom of the valley. A vast gorge has been created by years of excavation and there has been no attempt to landscape this jaw droppingly ugly chasm. It is the site of past mineral workings. The seam runs along a stretch of land into Portugal and has yielded up iron ore, copper and silver amongst other minerals.
......Seeing such a ghastly man made carbuncle makes me think why environmental campaigners have not been on the case, just like objectors to fracking. Why have we not heard about this Chernobyl of a district in Southern Spain I wonder. Perhaps the answer is because it has been like this for a long time since the Romans started mineral extraction but it beggars belief that some form of restoration or landscaping has not taken place.
NASA is monitoring the alien form of plant life and species that have adapted to the conditions in the green toxic lake at the bottom of the gorge.
I have uploaded pictures of the place. I don't want to see it again.
30 July 2016
Saturday 30th July 2016 Llanes, North West Spain.
About a week has passed since I updated my Journal during which time Suzy and I have spent three days in a campsite on Lagos on the Portuguese Algarve before heading into Spain. I shall spare the detail here.
The campsite, near the town of Luz was unspectacular but what was interesting was our scooter trip along the south western coast of Portugal to Sagres, the Portuguese equivalent of Lands End.
En route we stopped at a delightful fishing cove called Salema (pictures below) which had a clean beach, a convenience store amongst the few shops, several old blokes sitting in the shade, several cats waiting expectantly by the fish van, an abundance of sunshine, and not much else. The most memorable thing about the place was an incident with the Portuguese convenience shop owner who gave short shrift to Suzy in the shop. I don't think she noticed his rudeness, but I did.
...... Minutes later we encountered him outside his shop. We had parked the scooter in a position that would otherwise have been ideal for him to park his vegetable van to unload his produce. With engine running and gesturing hands he waited impatiently for us to move whilst we put our helmets on to drive off.
He obviously had enough of waiting so he over revved the vans engine, presumably to announce his impatience with us. He then drove forward, past our scooter, and at speed twenty yards down a boat slipway to complete a 'u' turn where the rear wheels of his van predictably became stuck in the beach sand.
I stood at the top of the slipway observing him with folded arms. I wonder if he had thought through the likely consequences of his little paddy. Apparently not.
......As I peered at him with neutral gaze he knew that I was the husband of the lady he had just been rude to. I knew him as the shop keeper who had just been rude to my wife.
He tried acceleration, slowly at first. Nothing happened. No forward movement on the vegetable van front. No lateral movement either, as it happens. He increased acceleration.
Nothing, just a minor sandstorm from the rear wheels which, with the engine revving, served only to draw attention to our agitated vegetable shop owner in this otherwise peaceful seaside hamlet.
My arms were still folded. By now he was averting his eyes away from me but I was not averting my eyes away from him.
I think he was in tractor towing territory now and knew it.
I waved goodbye and left.
Rio Tinto near Seville, Spain.
26 July 2016
Salema near Portugals "Lands End"
24 July 2016
When in the campsite in Gouveia Portugal earlier this week I stumbled upon another one of those Chinese Bazaars (known to us as hardware shops).
These shops sell absolutely everything and I shall post two pictures taken at the shop.
The first displays the delightful chaos of these places crammed full of imported Chinese merchandise occupying every inch of available space.
The second picture is proof positive that I found what I was looking for. Scroll down to below the picture of the Portuguese restaurant.
..... Sunday morning 24th July and we are packing the van having spent the last two days on a campsite in Figuera Da Foz on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. The beach is a hundred yards from the perimeter and the place is favoured by surfers in wet suits
The campsite is a mix of campers in tents, caravans and a clutch of Motorhomes. There is a small forest of trees providing shade but quite frankly with the profusion of caravans parked in close proximity it looks like a gypsy encampment.
We are travelling to the south of Portugal today, to Albufeira, for some fish and chips.
.....As there are trees around getting a satellite signal for the television has proved impossible. However the Raspberry Pi works a treat in delivering streaming TV channels via 3G (phone) internet so I was able to watch day 2 of the England v Pakistan test match, yesterday, a privilege enjoyed by Sky Sports subscribers in England.
The Raspberry Pi is a computer the size of a large matchbox and has an infinite variety of applications.
The satellite dish is a in a dome on the roof of the Hymer. It proved to be a liability on French motorways as the automated toll charging system assesses the toll by reference to the height of the vehicle.
The Hymer with dome is 3.2 metres tall and so our Motorhome is charged as if it were an articulated lorry.
So a toll of 9 euros for a car translates to 27 euros for our van. Without the dome it would be a lot less.
21 July 2016
Last night Suzy and I drove the scooter six miles down the road to the town of Gouveia to find a place to eat.
The only restaurant we could find was part of a 3 * hotel. It was 8.30 and so we thought we would give it a try even though it was near enough empty.
You may recognise the feeling we both had when sitting down at the table that perhaps we had made the wrong choice. It did not feel quite right but we persevered.
On my way back from the toilet I walked past the kitchen and could not help but notice that the chef was dressed in blue overalls (think KwikFit) rather than chefs normal attire of houndstooth-patterned cotton trousers white double breasted jacket and chefs white hat.
.......The menu was in Portuguese but thankfully included a translation. The dish at the top of the 'Carne' part was tantalisingly described as 'Steak with bread and beans'
We made our choices. They had run out of the wine we ordered but they offered us what they had.
We should have gone with our instinct and not dined at the place. I would describe the food as a culinary car crash. Never before have I been served with steak accompanied by chips and rice. All three are quite nice, but not together.
........ There now follows a brief word of advice to the restaurant manager.
Dear restaurant manager of the Sabores Da Serra restaurant where we dined last night.
If you employ the local car mechanic to moonlight as head chef in your kitchen you are unlikely to be in line for an award of the coveted two stars by Michelin.
The restaurant where dined last night.
Pictures taken inside the Chinese Bazar (or hardware shop)
20 July 2016
One of the things I like about Spain is the profusion of Chinese "bazaars"or as we know them, hardware stores.
They are stuffed full of goods made in China packed into narrow aisles and piled high. When the aisles are full the merchandise is stacked chaotically on the floor and not a single inch of the shop is allowed to be empty.
You can buy screws, door knobs, light bulbs, tools, fm radios, hmdi leads, kitchen utensils cleaning products, paint, cosmetics, tea pots, jugs, the list is endless.
If you can't find the item you want, just ask the Chinese man on the till and he will forage around the shop until he comes up trumps.
Having said that, he could not find me my four candles.
After three days in a campsite at Ciodad Rodriguez we have driven 60 miles west to a campsite near Gouveia Portugal. One thing I noticed about this place on arrival is that all the dustbins are positioned high as the place has wild dogs and cats who go foraging in the bins.
The campsite looks ok. There is a cool breeze and a nice pool. We shall venture into Gouveia on the bike later when it cools down.
18 July 2016
The river next to our campsite in Ciodad Rodriguez, western Spain
17 July 2016
Dear Mr friendly Dutchman and fellow camper who managed to get the electrics on our van to work this afternoon.
I promise in future to remember where to find the trip switch.
On Saturday morning we drove to Aranda de Duero south of Burgos and as the Aire was closed parked on the road next to a line of trees as it was punishingly hot in late afternoon. By morning there were another four Motorhomes parked either side of us,
We ventured into the old town in early evening. It was dead as the locals don't venture out until the sun goes down. By eight the place was coming alive, the bars were open and the restaurants starting to open.
In the main square there was an aerobics display consisting of synchronised dancing by a group of Lycra clad girls on bouncy shoes lead by a bloke. See the picture.
My eyes focuses on the one in the front row as I thought she was quite fit.
16 July 2016
Aerobics display by girls on bouncy shoes
We stopped at an Aire in Vitoria last night. It was a mixed parking lot in a suburb overlooked by flats. The scooter came in handy to transport us to the old town where there were bars restaurants and a bit of life.
The day started badly with the (unsecured) ramp coming off the trailer on a busy road. It was run over and disfigured but still usable. Then a lorry drivers animated gestures alerted us to the fact that we were driving with the retractable steps out.
I am writing this from a commercial centre in Burgos en route to Aranda de Duero where we plan to stay tonight.
15 July 2016
The campsite at Zarautz
Friday morning and woke up to the awful news about the Bastille day celebration massacre in Nice. Also the fall out from the Conservative party reshuffle putting Boris Johnson, that amiable political lightweight at the helm of the foreign office.
After 2 days in this campsite at Zarautz we are off to the Spanish heartlands this afternoon aiming for the Burgos region.
13 July 2016
We are in a campsite in Zarautz in Spain today having driven from Gastes this morning. We had a mishap with the electricity yesterday after using appliances - coffee maker and slow cooker attached to the inverter which derives its power from the leisure battery. The battery ran down and the inverters warning signal blasted. So the pump operating the water did not work. This meant no showers for either of us. Hopefully the battery has charged after an eighty mile run.
Yesterday we drove the scooter to Arcachon, a French seaside resort on the South West Atlantic coast. On the way back we saw a massive sand dune, something of a tourist attraction but too busy for us to hang around.
....The picture I have just uploaded is an advert for a bull baiting event. They seem to like that sort of thing in this region and further south in Spain where it is more sadistic
Unlike Spain the bull survives. The so called 'entertainment' involves teasing a bull with performers jumping out of the way when it charges and doing somersaults over its back.
......Almost thirty years ago to the month I visited this region with my then girlfriend and we visited a nudist camping site by the sea.
Before going in we had to purchase a membership to the International Nudist Association (or something similar). Presumably membership allows nude people to recognise one another.
I have one recollection indelibly seared into my memory.
On going through the gates of the campsite the first person I saw was an elderly French woman with long lank grey hair which should have been shorn three decades previously,
She was riding a bike and I could not help noticing that her kneecaps were the best part of a metre apart.
I vouch that I had not seen one like that since calfing time on my friends fathers farm.
12 July 2016
A poster advertising a bull baiting event.
I have included a picture of our Motorhome above and this is our accommodation for for the best part of seven weeks. No Hiltons, no Radissons, just a van with bed and storage pulling a trailer with scooter. It's a Hymer 544 Classic built in Germany in 2002.
When I read blogs by other travellers they always seem to give their motorhome an affectionate name as if it was a member of the family. So they might write:
"Hubert the Hymer deserved a complete clean after our 4 hour odyssey from Hull to Nottingham yesterday",
" Millie the Motorhome was ready for a long rest and a fill up with water after we finally arrived in Portugal on Wednesday"
.......Well, in my book they are all dull ageing tossers most probably sporting grey beards with nothing better to do with their lives than write boring stories that no one in their right mind could conceivably show interest in.
For my part there is no love lost between me and our Hymer 544 Classic.
I would describe my relationship with our van as similar to the one enjoyed by Michael Parkinson and that Emu.
Tuesday 12th July and we have a new prime minister.
This is the second day of our stay in Gastes, a rather crowded Aire by the lake.
It's cloudy here and warm. This is an undistinguished place and I don't know why people on the Motorhome forums keep praising it.
We are off on the scooter today and will set off for San Sebastián tomorrow.
11 July 2016
Saturday 9th July we arrived at George Strattons place in Loubes-Bernac in the Lot et Garonne.
On Saturday afternoon we went to the local bar and had several lagers and Pernod. We got quite smashed actually. Went to bed in the van long before George turned in.
Sunday - we went out on the Honda to Eymet and had beers and chicken bagel. Then drove to Duras.
Today, Monday we drove 120 miles to Gastes and pitched up in the crowded Aire by the lake. We booked two days so leave for Spain on Wednesday. I will upload a pic of Georges farm. 12 acres, lambs, chicken, 3 barns and a big big project. It needs a lot of work doing to the place and George has recently had major surgery.
I have to say that the location in its rural setting is second to none.
There are boards by the side of the roads depicting a rat like rodent. The rodent is an import and dangerous to public health and the health of the indigenous species. The advice on the boards is to wash hands thoroughly.
The view from the Aire at Gastes
10 July 2016
The back of Georges head.
7 July 2016
Brantone - a cave house.
We stayed in an Aire in Vierzon yesterday and watched the football in a bar. It was a predominantly Portuguese bar. The match was the semi final, Portugal v Wales. We were the only Brits. All very friendly. They made a point of shaking hands with us.
Changed my name back from Dylan Thomas to Bob Tomlinson after the second Portuguese goal.
The supporters went bananas with each Portuguese goal scored.
I happen to think that Ronaldo has enormous talent as a footballer. It's just a pity he is not better looking.
Cars packed with supporters roamed the streets displaying their national flag. Firecrackers let off. Horns blazing. A good natured lot revelling in their teams victory.
Made a discrete exit.
Brantone near Bordeaux today
4 July 2016
Parked at the Mailleraye sur Seine Aire
Arrived in La Mailleraye sur Seine today after a 5 hour drive from Dunkerque. We are staying at the Aire by the Seine. Weather is mild and the local village quiet with 2 restaurants, a Carrefour and little else. It's a credit to the local municipality that they have set aside and maintained the Aire. It costs 6 euros a day to stay here and a bloke comes round at 6 to collect.
Passenger and freight barges pass by several times every hour.