The last week

I’m writing this sitting in the van in a car park which is overlooking a sweet little fishing port, just a few minutes drive from the Bilbao ferry port. It’ll be the last Diary entry on this blog, though we’ll do some reflective wrap-up posts after we get home.

27th September

After writing the last blog Connor and I went down to the beach and in the sea. It was quite rough – lovely crashing waves – and we played catch and Connor recreated all the games he’d invented when we were last here, when he was 12. Lovely to see him regress like that!

28th September

Beautiful day – sunny but not too hot (around 22 degrees) so we decided to spend the day at the beach and campsite. Firstly though, to give Connor the full campervanning experience, we had a minor problem to sort out – a water leak. Thought it was the boiler for a while but it turned out to be the bathroom sink waste had disconnected itself again. It’s now duck-taped up. That’ll teach it.

I bought a cheap kids’ surfboard at the campsite shop, and we went down to the beach. Played catch, played on the far-too-small surfboard, sat in the sunshine. All very enjoyable. Although we have been to lots of beaches on this trip this was actually the only time we sat down on one (we are too pale-skinned to sunbathe!)

playa joyel.jpg
On Playa Joyel

In the campsite all around us the caravans that had been there for the whole season were being packed up and towed out. A real end-of-season vibe about the place.

29th September

Connor’s last day with us. We drove first to Isla, the small town the other side of the river that flows out at Playa Joyel. Had coffee there. At low tide you can wade across the river from Playa Joyel.

Then drove on to Santander, where we parked up in an aire by the university. Great aire but not a great location for seeing the city. Nevertheless we walked down to Santander’s attractive beach, and from there up a main road and through a 600m tunnel to the city centre. Yuk. We wandered around for a bit – it’s a nice enough place to while away a few hours. Walked back to the van making use of a funicular up the hill rather than brave that horrid tunnel again.

We drove back out to the marina where we’d spent the first night with Connor to have dinner, and then dropped him off at the airport for his late evening flight. It’s been wonderful having him with us for a week. We’re so glad both boys made the effort to come out and join us for a while in our travels.

Ignatius and I decided to go back to the university aire rather than the marina for the night.

30th September

First stop today was a supermarket to buy a few bits of food to last us the final few days. Then onwards round the coast eastwards, picking out any scenic roads. Connor seems to have taken the good weather away with him as it was drizzly and grey all day. We found what we thought was a good place to park for the night – on a headland by a lighthouse and you know how much we like those! I went for a walk, ended up getting wet and muddy as the path was very overgrown. And then the lighthouse’s foghorn started up, and we realised we did not want to spend the night with that going off every couple of minutes!

Drove to another nearby place showing on Park4Night but it had no mobile data reception and we didn’t fancy it, so we ended up in a layby near Bermeo, with a view of the town and the sea, and a strong smell of fish.

1st October

Another dreary day weather-wise.  We drove inland to Guernika, a small town that was carpet-bombed during the Spanish civil war and then inspired Picasso’s famous painting. It has always been a centre of Basque government, and the old parliament building escaped the bombing and can be visited, along with the generations of oak trees under which the politicians originally met. Interesting place – we enjoyed our couple of hours poking around here in the drizzle.

guernika.jpg
Inside the parliament building in Guernika

Drove on via roads that I’m sure are very scenic if the mist would lift, and ended up at an isolated cliff-top car park somewhere. The only other van there when we arrived was another British-registered Hymer. We got talking to the couple (Lee and Suzanne) in it, walked with them to the nearby viewpoint, and after dinner they came round for drinks. It’s always lovely to meet new people and have a good chat about our respective experiences. They live in their van most of the year and were heading south to Portugal for Christmas.

grey
Weather a bit ‘Irish’ but still pretty!

2nd October

More rain, so after a lazy start and saying goodbye to Lee and Suzanne we pushed on to San Sebastian. After a bit of driving round checking out car parks and calling at the tourist information we ended up in the official campervan aire on the edge of town (near the university again!) Spent the afternoon walking down to the sea front. We visited San Sebastian on a camping trip about 10 years ago. Lovely town, even in the bad weather.

san sebastian2
San Sebastian

3rd October

Today was our 25th wedding anniversary, and also the last full day of our trip. When I booked the time off work a year ago I wasn’t sure if we’d come back earlier in September but we always thought it would be nice to be away for our anniversary and do something special. So a few days ago we’d researched fine dining restaurants in the town and had booked lunch at Kokotxa, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the old town.

After six months in a campervan it’s hard to polish yourself up to go to a posh restaurant. I struggled particularly with shoes as my only half-decent pair tore a couple of weeks ago, so I had to team my going-out frock with a pair of Decathlon walking sandals. Anyway who’d be looking at my feet?

san sebastian1.jpg
Attempting to look smart

We caught a bus into town, went to a Basque cultural museum (which should have been fascinating but was confusingly laid out) and into a couple of churches before it was time for our lunch.

The food was amazing. Beautiful to look at, even better to taste. We had a tasting menu of tomato gazpacho, squid, a soft-shell crab that was delicious and I want to eat it every day for the rest of my life, an exquisite fish course, beef fillet and then dessert. We drank a glass of Cava, then white wine then red with it. Lovely.

From the restaurant we walked around the sea front to a hotel where we had a rather pricey cocktail each, then on to a beach bar for another drink (Ignatius had Guinness), and then back to a bar near the camperstop for a final beer. Great way to spend our anniversary, and it didn’t rain too heavily – just drizzled all day.

san sebstian3
Anniversary cocktails. Cheers!

4th October

Last night was the last night in the van. This morning we had our last breakfast in it. The sun’s come out again at last to wave us off. We drove via the motorway back to Bilbao, called at a hypermarket to stock up on wine and Cava, then came to this little car park by the fishing port. Nice spot for lunch and to spend our last few hours before it’s time to go to the ferry.

We should get home late tomorrow night. It’s hard to believe it’s all come to an end, but we feel we made the most of the six months. We’ve had some brilliant experiences and have built up a store of incredible memories.

There are several thousand photos to sort out, of course – but that’s a job for rainy Sunday afternoons at home.

 

 

Advertisements

Travels with Connor

I wrote the last diary blog while we were sitting at a car park on a headland near Santander passing time until it was time to collect Connor from the airport. His flight arrived around 9.30pm. We moved to park very near the airport and actually saw his plane land, about 20 minutes late. We spent the night parked at a camperstop on a marina very near the airport. Lovely to have our boy with us!

covadonga1
With Connor!

22nd September

Headed back westwards, retracing our route from yesterday, as far as the Picos de Europa where we went to a campsite near Potes. Gorgeous campsite with a view across the mountain range. On the way we stopped at the national park visitor centre which was beautifully laid out.

Spent the afternoon walking down to Potes village and having a wander around. There was a museum all about the history of a monkish scribe but all in Spanish so didn’t mean much to us. We realised we’d been to this town before – 7 years ago when we had a family camping holiday in northern Spain.

connor1
With Connor in Potes

The evening was spent planning the next few days and getting the washing done – should be the last time we need to use a campsite washing machine!

23rd September

Today was a first – we drove off the campsite despite being booked in for 2 nights! Left the small tent Connor is sleeping in and the outdoor table and chairs. There’s no easy way to get around the Picos other than by driving.

Beautiful route round to Cain on increasingly narrow twisty roads. We parked here so we could walk part of the Cares Gorge route. This is an incredibly narrow gorge, and the path goes through several tunnels at the start. Very beautiful. We’d made a picnic lunch which we ate part way along the track.

picos
Incredible path of the Cares Gorge
picnic2
Lunch spot

Long drive back, and an evening meal in the campsite restaurant.

24th September

Slow start today after our long day yesterday. Finally left the campsite around midday and drove along the northern edge of the Picos, stopping at a small restaurant for a very large lunch. The owner/cook/waitress spoke no English and our Spanish is non-existent, but luckily Connor’s art skills (drawing chickens, pigs, fish for her to point at and nod) were good.

From there we went on to Covadonga, a Catholic pilgrimage site which is also of historical significance in Spain – it’s where King Pelayo began the fight-back against the Moors in the 8th century. Apparently 31 fought off 400,000, or something like that. Anyway, the cave his troops sheltered in and where the Virgin Mary appeared before the battle now contains a chapel and the king’s tomb, and there’s an atmospheric cathedral. The whole place is in a spectacular setting deep in the mountains.

covadonga2
Cave, chapel and waterfall at Covadonga

And onwards to Oviedo where we found a suitable car park for the night. It was beside a park where you could play a round of frisbee golf (throwing frisbee into special net things) so we had a go at that, using our ancient silk fold-up frisbee which had so far had a long journey and no usage. I was terrible at this game. Ignatius won, but only just.

25th September

Walked into Oviedo town centre to have a look around. It being a Monday the museums were closed. And we arrived before most of the churches opened, for a change. You had to pay 8 euro each to go into the cathedral which we objected to, so in the end we just walked around a bit, had a coffee, and left pretty early, although it’s an attractive medieval town centre.

Drove on from there to the beach we were at a few days ago – the one with the arches. We had a tide timetable so knew we could be there for low tide. What we DIDN’T know is you need to buy a ticket to access the beach, from a website, which is mobile-unfriendly and only in Spanish and I couldn’t get past the Captcha. Last time we’d paddled round from the next cove along, stumbling on the pay-beach. This time the tide did not go out far enough to be able to do this. So much for plans! Anyway, we went to the next cove and walked the other way for free, exploring a few caves and other arches before the tide came in. No one on this section of the beach!

beach2
You don’t have to pay to explore THIS bit of As Catedrais beach!

We then had a rethink and decided that rather than spend the night near this beach we would turn back eastwards and go to Gijon. So it was back on the motorway to Gijon, which is actually very near Oviedo. 260km round trip to see or not see that beach! Ho hum.

Parked in the same camperstop in Gijon as we’d been in the night before Connor arrived.

26th September

We walked into Gijon town centre in the morning. We’d thought last time this would be a good place to explore and it was. Very beautiful town. Long walk along the prom to the centre, and out to another little headland where there were some old defensive remains and a weird sculpture that was supposed to be a monument to the horizon but which perhaps needed a bit of interpretation. Looked in a couple of churches as usual. Had a very nice lunch sitting outside a small restaurant in the old part of town.

gijon
Gijon. The statue is King Pelaya who is everywhere in this region.

We walked along the beach on the way back to Gertie. Gijon’s a lovely town and well worth a visit.

From there we drove east another hour to a wild-camping spot (found on Park4Night) near Llanes. This was a lovely little parking spot down a steep gravel track, above a secluded beach. In summer there’s a cafe here but it was closed.

27th September

Had a morning walk on the beach which was beautiful. Going up the gravel track was a little tricky – Gertie’s wheels were spinning and there was a distinct smell of burning clutch… Connor and I got out to lessen her load a bit and with a bit more wheelspin and flying gravel Ignatius managed to get her up the track. Phew!

beach3
Morning walk on the beach

We headed east, not on the motorway to start with but on a very scenic part of the coast road. I would definitely like to come back to northern Spain again for a few weeks – some lovely small coastal towns and many wonderful beaches. But for today we wanted to get to Noja, just east of Santander, where we camped 7 years ago on a holiday both boys remember as being one of the best.

At Noja we checked prices of a couple of campsites then arrived at the top quality one we’d stayed in before. According to the website it would be 35 euro a night for the 3 of us with electricity, but then the receptionist said if any of us were over 55 it’d be just 26 euro. Ignatius, helpfully, is the right age.

So here we are, camped at Playa Joyel beside a wonderful beach. Probably our last campsite (most of them close this weekend anyway). We’ll stay here for Connor’s last 2 nights with us. The campsite has an end-of-season feel to it, and so does our trip.

From Portugal to northern Spain

I hate myself so much when I leave a week or more between diary blogs! And, oops, I’ve done it again. Would be ok only I have such a shocking memory so have to work hard to remember what we did!

13th September

We decided to spend a third night at the Vila Cha campsite and have a second day in Porto. So we retraced the steps of the day before – taxi and metro into the city – but stayed on the metro a little longer to go across the top level of the bridge. From the other side at that level were marvellous views. We then walked back across the top level of the bridge, past the cathedral (but not in it as there were huge queues to pay respects to the bishop who’d died a couple of days before) and down to pick up one of the antique trams that run around the city. We did the route that goes alongside the river right out to the coast. Had lunch there sitting outside a restaurant with an enormous number of flies (but the food was good) and then caught the tram, then metro then taxi back again.

porto4
Walking across top level of Ponte Luis, the route is shared with the Metro

14th September

There’s a national park the Penedes-Geres in the north of Portugal and we wanted to visit there, so headed off northwards and inland. Another campervanner we’d met at Peniche had told us of a good place to spend the night beside a reservoir so we headed there by some scenic routes.

reservoir
Beside the reservoir

Very exposed spot by that reservoir and pretty cold too – the combination of being later in the year and further north means we’ve had a very rapid change in temperatures! Made a rookie mistake in the evening – we’d drunk some wine then decided to move the van to face into the wind rather than side on, so it didn’t rock as much in the gusts. Stupidly we left both glasses on the table while we shuffled the van around to a level spot we were happy with. Both glasses fell off and broke, of course. You’d think after 5 months we’d be more clued up! (Luckily we brought 4 wine glasses with us so don’t worry, we will still be able to drink wine!)

15th September

We headed into the national park on a back road. Passed two dogs in a cart, and a woman knitting in a field while she tended her two cows. And no one else for hours. Very beautiful scenery.

penedes-geres
My view driving through Penedes Geres national park

Eventually reached Geres where we had a look around the small town, and then parked up for the night at a car park just out of town. Had a (not great) meal out in a nearby restaurant.

16th September

Time to head out of Portugal and back into Spain. The road north from Geres continued through the national park, got rougher as we reached the border, and then suddenly much better once we were in Spain. Probably the prettiest border crossing we’ve done.

In Spain we stopped at a sweet little town named Celenova where we nearly got to look around a monastery and its attached church but everything seemed to be closed. From there on we were on motorways and making much quicker progress towards our destination for the day – Santiago de Compostela. We reached a sports centre car park listed in Park4Night, and walked into town from there. Huge hill walking in! We visited the cathedral and explored the beautiful old town. Lots of people with rucksacks around who’d hiked the pilgrimage trail!

santiago
Crowds heading into the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

We decided to have our evening meal in the city and found a small cheap restaurant. Santiago had been on my list of must-see places for a long time. It certainly has charm and although busy most of the people seem to stick to the cathedral and main squares, so you can easily escape them all on side roads.

17th September

We debated going back into the city but couldn’t face that steep walk in, so instead decided to move on, westwards towards Cape Fisterra. The Romans thought this was the most westerly part of Europe (and hence the edge of the world) but actually Cabo da Roca in Portugal is further west. The drive here was gorgeous – slow twisty roads alongside bays and inlets. The further west we got the more it felt like the west of Ireland (only with different architecture and better roads) or Scotland, or Cornwall or Brittany. Of course these are all Celtic places bordering the Atlantic!

fisterra
Cape Fisterra. Spot Gertie tucked in at the bottom!

Along the way we stopped to look at a couple of small fishing towns and also at a waterfall that falls into a salt water inlet (very few do this).

Just beyond the town of Fisterra is the cape, and a lighthouse, and a great place to park for the night. We had a look around the headland. Many Santiago pilgrims continue to here and leave mementoes (walking sticks, shoes, photos of themselves and little notes) tucked under the rocks.

18th September

Onwards around the coast, heading north. Galicia is a lovely part of Spain to visit if you like wild coastline. (And I do.) Again we stopped at a couple of small fishing towns. Eventually arrived at A Coruna which is a largish city I’d managed to never hear of, but it is lovely and well worth visiting. A nightmare to drive around however, even the satnav was totally confused. We managed to find a car park by the acquarium where you can spend the night but it’s a way out of the main city, on a headland.

Spent the afternoon walking round the headlands here and I went up the Torre de Hercules. This is an old Roman lighthouse. The outer shell was rebuilt in the 1800s but the inner tower is Roman with a staircase added. It’s still a working lighthouse though they have replaced the old giant oil lamps with electric…

a coruna
Torre de Hercules at A Coruna

Gorgeous sunset.

19th September

Ignatius decided he ought to visit the Roman lighthouse too, so he went up it this morning. We then moved the van to a dedicated (and expensive) campervan park at a marina nearer the interesting bits of town. Walked around from there, past a cruise ship that had come in (and there were English voices everywhere!) and around the town. It’s an odd shape – there’s the headland where we’d spent the night, the centre of town on an isthmus and a long sweep of sandy beach. All very pleasant.

a coruna2
Expanse of wood and glass-fronted buildings overlooking the sea at A Coruna

Left A Coruna in the afternoon and headed along the coast north-eastwards, ending up at Spain’s most northerly point at Bares, where there’s a lighthouse. Very pretty spot. We are drawn to these wild and remote headlands! Spent the night here, once more with a lighthouse beam sweeping the van every few seconds (but with the blinds down you’re not disturbed by the light).

20th September

Time to head east, as we need to pick up our son Connor from Santander tomorrow evening. The first part of the route was still on slow roads hugging the coast, and we stopped at Viveiro which has a lovely beach and looks like a sweet little town. A little further on near Ribadeo was an amazing beach with loads of stacks and arches. We got wet wading from one cove to the next. Got to bring Connor back here!

beach
Arches at Praia das Catedrais

From there we were on the motorway and drove as far as Gijon – a large city in Asturias. We parked just east of the city at a car park on a headland, and the city prom stretches round as far as here. Had a walk to look at the view in each direction. There’s no time to explore Gijon so that will have to wait for a return trip to northern Spain – am sure there’ll be one in time!

21st September

Today is all about preparing for Connor’s visit. He arrives this evening around 9.30pm. We drove this morning the rest of the way from Gijon to Santander, and arrived at a Carrefour petrol station running on fumes, where we put 81 litres of diesel into our 80 litre tank… (ok so it might be 85 litre tank, I am not sure but even so, bit close to the wire!)

Shopped for Connor then out to a headland just north of the city where there is a lighthouse – we might come back here to spend the night and keep the theme of capes and lighthouses going a little longer!

There are a few hours before we need to head to the airport, time to clean the van and catch up on blogging etc.

 

 

Up the Atlantic coast

7th September

I have a Portuguese friend Pedro Barrento, a writer I met first online. He lives not far from where we were camped at Santa Cruz and I’d been in touch. So today he came over to meet us and take us out for the day – show us a different side of Portugal.

In Pedro’s car we went first to Obidos which is a medieval town with a castle and fortifications and a load of gift shops. Very pretty but definitely still ON the beaten tourist track. Next stop was Buddha Eden, a huge landscaped garden amongst vineyards, with various statues set all about. It had grown since Pedro last visited and is no longer just Buddhist. We enjoyed the newer African sculptures. A wonderful place to stroll around. And from there we went to a small village festival for dinner. In a huge sports hall they were dishing up amazing seafood platters. We had one between us and it was delicious!

pedro
Ignatius and Pedro at the festival

Lovely to meet Pedro in the flesh at last and we very much enjoyed our day with him. He also gave us the name of a campervan service centre who might be able to fix our broken door lock.

8th September

First job today was to drive over to Clinica das Caravanas to see if they could fix the lock. As Nuno (the proprietor) was saying yes, probably he could fix it but he was busy today, he then sniffed and said he could smell gas coming from under our van. We could, too. Another problem! On the clifftop it had been windy so we wouldn’t have smelled it there, but definitely inside his workshop we could tell there was a leak.

He tried to find where it was coming from but couldn’t, then sent us to an LPG workshop near Obidos where they had an electronic device, and were able to find that the regulator on the LPG tank was where the leak came from. But those guys sent us back to Nuno to get the regulator replaced. We had driven to Obidos via Buddha Eden and had a lovely lunch in a restaurant near there that Pedro had pointed out, and drove back to Campelos (Clinica das Caravanas) via a beach where we had a walk and an ice cream.

Spent the night parked outside Nuno’s workshop as he wanted to work on our van first thing. Hooked up to electric so as not to need the gas switched on!

9th September

A morning of hanging around while Nuno and his employees worked on our van. We had coffee in the village, walked back to the workshop, sat outside playing dominoes. Eventually he called us over to say all was done – the regulator replaced and the door lock barrel swapped with one from a side locker we never open (as it is also accessible from the inside). We can recommend Clinica das Caravanas if you’re ever in mid-Portugal and need a fix! They specialise in van conversions and from what we saw, do a superb job on these too.

We were then able to get back on track and go to Peniche. This is a town on a headland, and there was a camperstop in the middle of town where we parked up for the night. I went for a walk out on the cliffs and out to a pretty little peninsula.

headland
Peninsula at Peniche

10th September

Drove around the Peniche headland, and parked up near the fort for a look around there. Bit like Sagres fort but this fort was used to hold political prisoners in the time of Salazar’s dictatorship, right up till the 1970s.

We headed north from there, up the coast to look at Baleal, a town on a near-island accessed by a causeway, where we had lunch. And on to Nazare, a surfing holiday town. I do love this Atlantic coast of Portugal, with its endless wild beaches! Nazare was packed and we had difficulty parking. There was some sort of festival going on.

We decided to head further up the coast to find a quiet spot to camp. Ended up just outside a small village, on a cliff top. Lovely spot.

heading north
Heading north – lovely road for Gertie!

11th September

The plan for the day was to drive a long way north, as time is getting short. We started off on the back roads, then part of the way on motorway. Ended up a little way north of Porto at an ACSI campsite, arriving in time to relax for a few hours. Very nice beach near the campsite. We had a meal out at a local fish restaurant, sharing a locally-caught turbot.

12th September

Today we took a taxi to the nearest Metro station, then the metro into Porto, travelling with another English couple from the campsite.

porto
Porto

Porto is Portugal’s second largest town. We didn’t have much of an agenda, and were happy to just wander around and see where it took us. The weather was sunny but cool – such a change from all the hot city sight-seeing we’ve done earlier in this trip! We went to a very nice gastronomic restaurant for a long lingering lunch, and into one small museum in the house that was the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator. Walked over the Ponte Luis bridge (designed by Gustav Eiffel and you can tell) and watched a couple of lads jumping off it, while their mate collected money. They did this over and over. Unusual summer job!

porto2
Porto riverside with the bridge in the background

When our legs had had enough walking we took the metro back and ended up in a taxi with the same English couple as in the morning.

On to Portugal!

31st August

We’d been preparing ourselves for the heat of Seville, and yes it was hot. On bikes you generate a pleasant breeze as you cycle, and thankfully Seville is a great place to cycle around as it has a lot of well marked cycle paths. Not in Bolzano’s league but way better than most cities. We headed off fairly early to try to see as much as possible before the heat really built up.

After the usual tourist information office and coffee shop stops, we arrived at the cathedral. There was a queue to get in, but only because it hadn’t yet opened. Once inside there was a very good self-guided audio tour to follow. Latest measurements suggest that this cathedral is bigger than St Paul’s London, and bigger than St Peter’s Vatican. So, very big then! It is huge. Loads of side chapels, all containing countless works of art. Lots of gold everywhere. We spent quite a long time in it and were suitably impressed.

seville
Seville cathedral exterior

You know a town is hot when they have shades draped across the streets, and when the outdoor tables of restaurants are supplied with a constant mist of cooled water. We ate at one of these and those cooling sprays do work. Kind of outdoor air conditioning. As mad in the opposite direction as the outdoor heated swimming pool I’ve been in at Alpe d’Huez in winter.

We visited another church as well, also jaw-droppingly ornate. And then headed out of the centre on our bikes to some shady parks which were very pleasant to pootle around.

plaza d'espana
Plaza d’Espana, Seville. Would have been nice to dive into that fountain!

Left Seville late afternoon for the drive into Portugal. We’d vaguely planned to stop at a beach car park not far from the border but all the car parks turned out to be packed with people still on the beaches. Finally we reached a camperstop a little way inland. Quirky place – it had a loo and shower and electricity, but was basically just a field with a couple of permanent caravans in it. And a bloke with cute puppies.

1st September

Our plan today was to try out a couple of the famed Algarve beaches and then get to a campsite. First beach we stopped at was nice enough, and we went for a swim. Second beach was Marinha Beach, ranked amongst the best in the world. It was very busy, but we were only there to swim not to grill ourselves. You can swim into caves and through rock arches here. Absolutely beautiful and well worth the visit.

marinha
Marinha beach. We swam around the rocks at the far end.

We had lunch at a lovely cliff top spot, off a dirt road. Then on to a campsite in the western Algarve, at Salema. It had already started up ACSI discounts and at 11 euro a night was a bit of a bargain. We were ready for some campsite vegging time.

2nd September

After doing the washing and all the boring catch-up stuff we got the bikes off and cycled the short distance downhill into Salema. Had a good lunch by the beach and went for a swim (though I think Marinha beach has spoilt us for swimming anywhere else). Then cycled uphill back to the campsite.

3rd September

Just lazed around the campsite all day, doing a bit of planning etc. Our pitch had shade for most of the day so was pretty perfect in that respect. I got a fair amount of writing done too.

4th September

Today in the morning I had a radio interview scheduled with Talk Radio Europe to promote my new book (The Girl from Ballymor, out 7th September!!) Must admit I was pretty nervous about it even though it was to be pre-recorded. I was glad when it was over. We packed up and left when this was done, driving just a short way along the coast to Cabo de Sao Vicente or Portugal’s answer to Land’s End.

lands end
At Cabo de Sao Vicente

Had a look around here then went to nearby Sagres where we explored the fort, walked around the headland and into the tiny town. We spent the night at the fort’s car park along with quite a lot of other campervans. As the sun went down we strolled along the cliff top to watch the sunset. I love this corner of Portugal!

5th September

We drove up the west coast, calling at a couple of beaches on the way, but didn’t swim. These beaches are much rougher than those on the south coast, and cater for surfers. At the first we had coffee and walked along the beach and over the rocks. It reminded me of Cornish or Devon beaches. At the second we sat on the cliff top and had lunch, watching the surfers.

And then a long drive inland and north to Evora in the Alentejo region. We stopped for the night a few miles outside the town, at a megalithic stone circle surrounded by cork oaks. Magical place!

stone circle
Almendres stone circle

6th September

After a morning wander around the stone circle we drove into Evora and parked up just outside the medieval town walls. It’s much much hotter here than on the coast, although the night was cool.

Walked up through the town, visited the Chapel of Bones (not a design feature you’d want in your own home) and the associated museum, then the cathedral (bit uninspiring after Seville) and the roman baths which were discovered under the town hall of all places. Had a very pleasant lunch out, actually inside, in air conditioning, as they don’t have the Seville style outdoor aircon here!

chapel of bones
Chapel of Bones. Many of the skulls were tiny – presumably children.

Left mid-afternoon and drove back to the coast, north of Lisbon. We’re skipping Lisbon as we have been before and large cities aren’t good in campervans. We’re parked for the night on a cliff stop near Santa Cruz, listening to the roar of the ocean. Substantially cooler here – needed a fleece for our evening walk along the beach!

sunset2
Tonight’s sunset over the Atlantic

One more little problem has occurred today – the habitation door lock won’t work from the outside. Which means we have to lock it from the inside and go out through the driver’s door. Another problem which happened back in June is that the driver’s door handle is broken and won’t open from the inside. So getting in and out of the van and securing it is a bit of a logic puzzle now.

Shooting down through Spain & more problems

24th August

llivia
In Llivia

Last day of the Pyrenees. We’d had a quiet night in Llivia and in the morning explored the small town which had a little self-guided history trail around it. Very appealing little place. We enjoyed our stay here.

Back through the 2km of France and into Spain again, where we drove a route that apparently Jeremy Clarkson says is one of his favourite driving roads. It was suitably twisty but nice and wide with good visibility around the coming bends so much less hairy than some of the Alpine and Pyrenean passes we’ve done! Finally dropped out of the mountains and began to head towards the Spanish coast, having decided to zoom down to the south of Spain. We want to allow time in Portugal and time’s getting short!

We spent the night at a town called Vilafranca des Penedes, not far from Barcelona. Walked into town in the evening and had a pleasant meal out.

25th August

The plan today was simply to drive southwards, so we hopped on the motorway and headed to Santa Pola near Alicante where there’s a campsite that started up its ACSI discounts today. We also needed to get more LPG and it’s not that easy to find in Spain.

Journey was going well till near the end when a huge bird flew at the windscreen on the motorway and cracked it. We have 9 cracks fanning out from a point on the top left. Three run the full height of the windscreen. Yikes. I suspect the bird came off worse.

We continued on cautiously, managed to get gas, got to the campsite and then rang Autoglass who our insurers use for windscreen damage. They have a partnership with Carglass in Europe. Trouble is a Hymer windscreen is pretty specialist and not something that would be in stock…

Got the washing done, so that was good. We’d thought August would be an expensive month with no campsite discounts but we have free-camped so much it’s actually been the cheapest month!

In the evening we ate at a Chinese buffet restaurant just outside the campsite.

26th August

No word from Carglass yet and we were feeling a bit stressed so we decided to have a sit-around-the-campsite day, even though the campsite wasn’t the nicest.

Still no call from Carglass by the end of the day, despite phoning Autoglass again to chase them.

27th August

Well we can’t sit around for ever, and Autoglass assured us that as long as the cracks don’t obscure the driver’s vision it is perfectly safe and legal to drive.

Unfortunately on leaving the campsite the bikes caught on a pole (my fault as I was out of the van and supposedly directing proceedings) and my back wheel ended up badly buckled. Sigh. Another problem to deal with!

We drove on as planned, with our cracked windscreen and broken bike, and I’ll admit it was a low-point of the trip. (The other one was when my bike was stolen.) Reached a campsite near Malaga, also already on ACSI discount, and parked up there. This one was nicer than the last so that cheered me up a little.

Huge storm overnight!

28th August

We’d thought we’d have a swim in the sea in the morning but it rained, so no chance of that. Drove on, first stop being a Decathlon store the other side of Malaga where we left my bike to have a new rear wheel fitted while we went to a supermarket. Nice lads at Decathlon did the job so that was that problem solved… or so we thought!

Drove on to Gibraltar where we parked just outside the territory in a marina car park.

gibraltar1
At the Gibraltar camperstop

Very pleasant spot. And the temperatures were MUCH lower here than we’ve had the last few days – much more bearable. We had a short walk around in the evening, had a look at the border to see how to cycle across etc. Then got chatting to an English couple from another camper, ended up sitting outside till midnight talking and drinking. They are travelling for a year, which makes our six months seem hardly worth doing.

29th August

Got the bikes off the van, and realised that Ignatius’s town bike also had a slightly buckled wheel. It was rideable with the front brake let out. Luckily that nice Mr Google confirmed there was a bike shop just over the border in Gibraltar. Then it rained (proximity to a British territory seemed to bring British weather) so we hung around till the worst was over before setting off.

Crossing the border by bike, passport held between my teeth, was a first. And then you have to cycle across the main airport runway! Obviously the road is closed whenever a plane is due to land or take off (and they come in groups) and this leads to a long queue of traffic at the border periodically.

runway
Ignatius on the Gibraltar airport runway

We found the bike shop, bought another new wheel and had it fitted. Then headed into town. Gibraltar is not really a cycle-friendly place – too much traffic and in the pedestrianised area, too many people! We ended up locking the bikes and walking. Funny to see all the familiar British shops and businesses, and signs in English, prices in pounds. We had a lovely full English breakfast as a brunch, then took the cable car to the Top of the Rock where the views are astounding, across the straits to Morocco.

gibraltar2
Top of the Rock

Bought a Portuguese guidebook in the bookshop. All in all a good visit and I felt a lot happier!

monkey
Macaque monkey at the Top of the Rock. I wouldn’t sit where she is!

We left Gibraltar late afternoon and drove along the coast to Cadiz, with a short detour around Tarifa which is the most southerly point of Spain. At Cadiz we parked at the docks, near the cruise liner terminal. From 8.30 to 11pm a huge brass band set up near by to practise (and they REALLY needed the practise!) but it was quiet after that.

30th August

Bikes off again, and into Cadiz. We locked them up in a large square and went round the cathedral on foot, including up its bell tower. Cadiz is a lovely looking town. Weather was sunny but only about 25 degrees so pretty much perfect. After lunch we got back on the bikes and cycled around the seafront, out across a causeway to an old castle fortification, through some pretty parks with huge trees, and back to the van. Really liked Cadiz – it has a lovely atmosphere.

cadiz1
Seafront at Cadiz
tree
Meeting a remarkable tree

We”d vaguely thought of visiting Jerez but didn’t like the look of the camperstop there so headed on to Seville where we are now parked beside the river, ready to explore the town tomorrow. It’s a lot hotter here, but Seville is always hot, I believe.

France, Spain, Andorra…

19th August

We woke to thick mist at Lac du Payolle, and it looked like it’d be a pretty dreary day. We debated whether it would be worth going ahead with our planned route driving over the Col du Tourmalet (the most often used col on the Tour de France) or not. But you never know, sometimes the weather’s better higher up… so we set off anyway.  As we progressed the weather varied – sometimes in mist, sometimes reasonably clear but overcast. I had a running commentary from Ignatius about how hot it had been when he cycled it last year.

Up at the Col there was not much of a view, still being in the cloud. We had a coffee, then Ignatius wondered about walking up to the top of the Pic du Midi, where there’s an astronomical observatory. I googled it and discovered it’d be about a 4 hour walk up and back, and we decided to go for it. We made a picnic, packed rucksacks and set off. Once round the back of the mountain suddenly we came out of the mist and had glorious views. The climb got steadily steeper, taking us well above the cloud level. Amazing views all around by the time we reached the summit, so it had been well worth taking the risk!

pic du midi1
Emerging from the mist on Pic du Midi
pic du midi2
View from the top of the world
pic du midi3
Made a friend on the mountain

Drove down the other side and along a gorge up to Gavarnie where we found some parking for the night just outside the village.

20th August

We walked up through the village of Gavarnie and along to the Cirque – a magnificent semi-circle of enormous rock faces. Truly impressive. The tops of the mountains form the border with Spain. Much of the walk was on an easy track up to a hotel where we had coffee, but after that it was rougher and very steep up to the foot of a waterfall (said to be Europe’s highest). I’d love to see this cirque in spring when the waterfalls are swollen by melt-water. There was still some ice over the stream and an ice-cave.

cirque
Awesomeness of the Cirque de Gavarnie

This walk turned out to be a little longer than we’d expected due to going up to the waterfall, but well worth it!

We did a bit of shopping in the village on the way back to the van, had lunch and drove on, through spectacular scenery (isn’t it all in the mountains?) over more Tour de France cols (Soular and Aubisque) and ended up in a small town Eaux-Bonnes for the night.

21st August

From Eaux-Bonnes the route took us south, over another col and into Spain. The border was right at the top. Usually at the top of a col there’s a cafe, a gift shop, a signpost stating the height and a load of exhausted cyclists. At the top of this one, on the French side, that’s exactly what was there, minus the cyclists (it was early). On the Spanish side there were numerous shops, a large supermarket, petrol stations and all sorts of businesses. Yep, Spain is cheaper than France. People from France must drive up here to do their shopping.

We headed on down, and did a bit of a detour to visit a monastery (San Juan de la Pena) near Jaca. Built into the rock face, it’s pretty impressive but was a long old drive to get there.

Headed east again from there, retracing part of our route down and finally spending our first night in Spain at a picnic spot near Sarvise. Park4Night reviews said that often the Guardia Civil come round and move campervans on in the mornings – this part of Spain does not seem to like campervans much. But we took the risk along with a dozen other vans and all was well. Pretty spot to spend the night anyway, and although the day had been hot the night cooled down nicely.

sarvise
Pleasant place to camp at Sarvise, possibly not entirely legally

22nd August

Another day with a lot of driving. First stop though was at Ainsa, not too far from where we’d spent the night. This is a pretty little medieval hill town – you’d think we’d seen enough of those in Italy but always nice to see another! There was a small church, a ruined castle and a wonderful little bell tower with the steepest narrowest steps up it that I have ever negotiated. We had lunch in the medieval town square.

ainsa
Ainsa medieval town square, from the top of the bell tower

Onwards, heading more or less east, through the Pyrenees. There were no major cols but certainly a lot of up and down, and some very twisty roads, used by articulated lorries. Fun when an artic in front of us met two campers coming the other way, just at the entrance to a narrow tunnel…

Once again we had a bit of trouble finding a suitable place to spend the night. It was all a bit like Switzerland with lots of ‘no campervans’, ‘no overnight parking’ signs everywhere. We’d planned to stop in Viella where we did some food shopping but the parking was in full sun and noisy. Using Park4Night we finally got to Rialp where there was a dedicated campervan aire beside the river. Very hot all evening and all night but peaceful and shady in the morning.

23rd August

More scenic driving, and into the tiny principality of Andorra. There was a bit of a queue at the border though I’m not sure why. And a lot of traffic. There is really only one main road running through this tiny country, along a valley and over a pass at the French border, and our plan was to follow that.

We stopped at Santa Coloma for a visit to a 10th century church, and had a picnic lunch in its shadow. Then on to Andorra La Vella, the capital. This place is a shopper’s paradise, if you are into the big brands. It’s all duty free. We bought a bottle of Baileys, had a wander round the historic parts of town and then left. Got stung for data charges – I hadn’t realised Andorra was not in Vodafone’s roam-free area and our few hours in Andorra racked up a fair bit of usage, downloading detail on Google maps, receiving a few emails etc.  26MB, at a charge of £39. Had I realised I would have turned data off for a few hours. Grrr.

andorra church
10th century church in Andorra

Anyway, after leaving the city we headed on towards France, over a high pass (over 2400m). On the Andorran side were loads of shops and petrol stations and nothing on the French side. Another border where obviously the French come to shop! Not the prettiest of passes – the road was too busy, the shops too ugly. We dropped down into the backwaters of France, and turned eastwards again.

For tonight we are in the tiny Spanish enclave of Llivia. This is a little bit of Catalonia which is entirely surrounded by France. So today we’ve driven from Spain to Andorra to France and back into a bit of Spain. Tomorrow we’ll drive Spain to France and back into Spain, to finish our Pyrenees travels and head south. Gonna need a campsite soon. Thankfully ACSI discounts kick in again at the weekend in some places!