Merry Christmas!

So much for keeping up with our blog – we are now almost 4 months behind! But for now, we just wanted to wish all our followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

merry xmas

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We are currently on the Algarve in Portugal enjoying the winter sunshine.   We are 20 months into our adventure and still loving every minute!  We promise to (try to) keep up with the blog in 2016!

Cheers!
Nick and Cathy

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Our summer season at Camping Ruisseau du Treil

We duly arrived at Camping Ruisseau du Treil (RDT) on Friday 15th May and were immediately made very welcome by the owners Nigel and Jenny, not forgetting Milly their Golden Retriever.  We had expected to start work the next day but were told to take a day to settle in, and start on Sunday.  We were also introduced to our co-workers, Bev and Ryk, and Myrtle and Jim whom we had already met back in Portugal in October 2014 at Monchique.

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Myrtle and Jim

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Dave, Cathy, Anita, Pete, Ryk, Alice, Nick and Bev

The site looked lush as we were in early summer and everything was still green, and growing.  The Ruisseau, the crystal clear and ice cold stream that runs through the middle of the site, was flowing – something we didn’t get to see last year.

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The source of the Ruisseau that runs through the campsite

We chose a pitch right next to it and it was lovely to go to sleep and be woken by the gurgling of the water as it tumbled over the rocky, canyon-like riverbed.

We quickly sorted out Aurora, erected our tables, got out the chairs, and it was home until early September!

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Aurora “settled” for the summer

We then met up with Bev, Ryk, their dogs Dolly (the Dalmatian) and Lola (Shar pei), as well as Jim and Myrtle and their dog George (black labrador).  We all seemed to click and had a barbecue on our first night by way of a welcome party.

Nigel and Jenny also did their best to make us all feel welcome and arranged an evening for all the helpers with home made Thai curry, wine and beer.  Very enjoyable.

Camping Ruisseau du Treil is a two star campsite right on the banks of the River Lot in the Lot region of France.  It is an absolutely stunning area with the river Lot carving its way through limestone creating an almost gorge effect in some parts.

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Sunday arrived and we duly started work.  Our hours were 10am – 12pm and for the first hour, the girls duties consisted of some gardening, cleaning the bar, kitchen and terrace area, and then for the second hour cleaning the two toilet/shower blocks (sanitaires).  The boys duties consisted of strimming and mowing the grass, pruning the trees and hedges and attending to the swimming pool.  We had one caravan, lodge and mobile home for rental which were cleaned each Saturday (changeover day).  The work can be quite physical, which personally I enjoyed as it kept me quite fit and lean.  In fact by the end of the season I’d lost 2 stone and was under 12 stone for the first time in about 20 years and felt all the better for it!

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In return for our work, we received a free pitch and electricity (6 amps).  Nigel and Jenny meet up with us daily at 10am and apportion tasks.  It is a very amenable arrangement and obviously suits both them and their helpers as many of them (us included) return year after year.  We knew we were also to be joined in July by Alice and Pete and Anita and Dave whom we had met last year at RDT.  We already felt that this was going to be a great season.  The other advantage to working here is that Nigel and Jenny’s rota system allows you time off to go and explore the region, which as I have said is stunning.  For every 14 days you work you get 6 days off which provides you plenty of scope to get away and relax.  A holiday within a holiday as it were!

Of course given you finish at noon, you also have the rest of the day to relax and/or explore.  Cathy and I wasted no time by getting on our bikes (literally) and cycling to Calvignac, Cajarc and St Cirq Lapopie.

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I know I keep banging on about them, but our Cube electric bikes have been a real boon.  The countryside around the campsite is not what you would call level, but hills are no longer an issue.  Indeed our first ride out was to Calvignac, a very pretty hilltop village, which comprises quite a stiff climb.  No problem!  In fact we saw a group of cyclists ahead of us on the hill, puffing and panting and wheezing, but we just sailed past them without even raising a single bead of sweat.  Now some people say they spoil cycling and are ‘cheating’!  Rubbish!  No one likes riding up hills and sometimes it will mean the difference between going for a bike ride and not going!  Besides, the models we have only provide assistance when you pedal, so you have to put some effort in.  Also by law the ‘assistance’ is limited to 15.5 mph (25 kph) so anything above that and it is 100% down to your effort.  I will try and do a separate piece on the bikes, like a sort of review, once we have had more experience with them.  We’ve come across so many out here, manly used by the Dutch (err…isn’t Holland flat?)

Anyway life soon settled into a very pleasurable routine and we got the chance to get out and about.  We also had several friends who were keen to come and see us, including Steve and Lyssa whom we’d recently met back in Chaillac.

For our first 6 day period of “rest” we ventured towards Villereal, in the Lot et  Garonne region of south west France, using the benefits of the ACSI discount card.  This is a Dutch based scheme where you can stay at selected campsites all around Europe off season for €12, €14, €16 or €18 per night.  This is usually at a significant discount to the published rate.  The card costs £13.50 per annum and can pay for itself in a couple of nights.

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The main square at Villereal

Villereal was a lovely town, and had a large English contingent.  Not that I am keen on that.  When in France I like to integrate as best possible.  However the Marie (the mayor) had, in conjunction with a local English ex pat, invited an English choir from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston to perform one evening.

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We duly went along and I must say it was very well done, with most of the songs performed being in English which might have perplexed some of the locals.  Cathy used to belong to two choirs back in the UK so this was right up her street! (and she knew many of the songs).

On subsequent days we got out on the bikes including a 50km cycle through the wonderful French countryside via Biron, Monpazier, and Croquant.

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As a reward for our efforts we found a cafe opposite the chateau Biron and treated ourselves to a cafe gourmand! (Gourmand in French means fat b*****d!!).

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Cathy Gourmand!

Our next time off was into the Tarn area.  The site was tranquil but lacking in full facilities such as shop or restaurant as the Belgian owner had only taken over in May 2015.  However he advised that a neighbouring campsite did provide meals but you had to book.  So whilst out riding we called in and were greeted warmly by the owner Joel and his wife Francoise.  They showed us round their campsite which had a wild west feel, with the campers staying in mix of wagons, teepees and tents – all of which they had designed and built themselves.

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Without prompting they poured us a large Rouge Cassis (chilled red wine with cassis) which was very nice.  Eventually we got around to booking our meal.  When we asked to see a menu we were told there wasn’t one, but we could discuss what we wanted.  Now there’s a turn up for the books!  In the end, assisted with some ideas from Joel, we selected hors d’hoevres (olives, nuts etc) with an aperitif, a starter of melon and saucisson, main course of steak, sauté potatoes, green beans in a garlic and shallot sauce followed by warm goats cheese salad with walnuts and honey.  The desert was what can only be described as a baked Alaska.  Wine would be served throughout the meal.

Then the awkward bit!  How much?  Would we have to make our excuses and leave because it was too much?

Joel said would €22 each (about £16) be ok??  OK?  That’s a bargain!!

Needless to say we confirmed our reservation for two days time (they were busy the next day hosting a concert!).

On the night, we decided we would again cycle there, as we had done previously, as it was only about 1 km from the site.  The path was extremely gravelly and it was quite a steep, fast descent followed by a sudden incline and sharp turn to the left to the restaurant.  Both of us were “up on the pegs” all the way down.  I arrived at the restaurant and the owners came running out and headed at speed past me.  I turned round and saw Cathy and the bike on the floor! What had happened?!  They helped her indoors but Cathy was in a fair bit of shock (and pain) and nearly passed out!  Francoise pulled up a chair and duly got her first aid kit out and spent the next 15 minutes washing and cleaning Cathy’s knee (which looked quite a mess) and hands before applying a large dressing over the wound.  Once Cathy had recovered and the colour returned to her face (!) we were shown to our table to begin our evening again!

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Our perfect hosts – Joel and Francoise

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The evening was arranged as a private dining experience and the room and table were beautifully presented and decorated with roses.  We were given an appetiser and more rouge cassis to accompany the hors d’houvres.

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The meal and the whole evening was fabulous, notwithstanding Cathy’s injury, and our hosts were excellent.

The icing on the cake was that they wouldn’t let Cathy ride her bike back in the dark and insisted taking her in their car, whilst Joel rode Cathy’s bike back.

An absolutely memorable ‘private dining’ experience we will find hard to match – especially for that price!

Back at RDT the weather was warming up and it was getting time to open the swimming pools.  Nigel was keen to use the water from the Ruisseau to fill the two pools whilst it was still flowing.  However some preparation was needed first which meant emptying the water from last season, cleaning the pool and giving them a fresh coat of blue (rubberised) paint.  All 6 helpers were assigned to this task for the next two days.  It was actually a lot of fun and once we had finished we were well pleased with the results.  Whats more, Nigel and Jenny were pleased too.  So the process of filling them began which took another couple of days.  It would then take quite a few days sun before anybody would be brave enough to venture into the water!  And just in time.  Within days the Ruisseau stopped flowing and wouldn’t do so again until much later in the year.

Our next  6 day ‘holiday’ was to the Gers region of France.  The site was situated in the middle of acres of sunflowers which were now in full bloom, and was an amazing sight.

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Again there is plenty of cycling in the area amongst the vineyards that extend as far as you can see in each direction.

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Mmm! Is someone taking it?

As we neared the end of our stay we witnessed an almighty electrical storm, the like of which we have never seen before.  It was hardly surprising it was going to happen as we were having an amazing summer with daily temperatures in the high 30’s!  It was like someone was standing by the light switch and just flicking it on and off, and carrying on doing it for about two hours!!  The sky was continually being lit up, but at first no rain!!  Then the wind hit us and the rain fell.  Cathy and I were literally hanging on to our awning “legs” as the awning wanted to take off! The next day it had all passed and we were back to cloudless skies!  Amazing!

As I have mentioned the site at Ruisseau du Treil is delightful and during the summer months it is adorned with countless butterflies……

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…although there are also some less desirable beasties!

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Steve and Lyssa came to see us at the end of July, and given the flexibility of the site’s rota system we managed to have time off with them.  One of our days out was canoeing on the Cele river.  This is a subsidiary river of the Lot, and in my opinion, much more beautiful.  We arrived at the canoe centre at about 9:40am and were then transported 19kms up river by minibus, whereupon we were launched into the river.  The beauty of the company that run this is that there is no time limit on how long you take to get back.  Your vehicle is there where you left it – you just drag your canoe onto the shore, drop off your lifejacket and oars and job done. Additionally there is no deposit to pay, no Health and Safety briefing and no disclaimers to sign – just 5 minutes of instruction as they push you off into the river about how to paddle!!  How refreshing!

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We had a fab day and as we have seen on this same trip last year, numerous sightings of kingfishers, as well as an otter, several herons and plenty of fish!

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A single kingfisher settles on a rock on the Cele

The pics say it all.

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We also spent a lovely evening with them at our local ‘pop up’ restaurant – the Bamboo.

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Another notable event at the Bamboo was Pete and Alice’s wedding anniversary.

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Another set of visitors were Pat and Maria (the ‘better’ ??) halves of the gang we have spent some many memorable holidays with, the most notable of which was doing the Inca trail in Peru in 2012.

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Maria, Cathy and Pat

Theirs was a whistle stop visit but they packed it in with a visit to the street market in Cajarc, a day at St Cirq Lapopie, canoeing on the Cele, and joining in with Dave and Anita’s wedding anniversary at the Bamboo.

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The girls visit St Cirq LaPopie

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Canoeing on the Cele

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Dave and Anita’s wedding anniversary

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Dave and Anita on their anniversary

It was all over too quickly and no sooner had they arrived they were off back to the UK.

Cathy has shown new culinary talents this year making her own pesto sauce, chocolate brownies, fabulous deserts and last but not least her mirabelle jam.

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The beauty of this area is that it is littered with walnut trees, peach trees, apple trees, pear trees, plum trees.  The list goes on.  However one unusual fruit, part of the plum family, is the mirabelle.  This came into season late July and we picked several kilos.  Cathy researched her method, bought the ingredients, saved some jars and then on a chosen day went into production.  The finished product was amazing – much better than the shop bought mirabelle jam!

What a fantastic wife I have.  Mind you – she must be to put up with me!!

As we got into August we had yet more visitors.  Well, they were visting Le Fleix in the Dordogne valley so we went to see them.  They were Jan, Clare, Sue and Siobhan.

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Siobhan has just bought a property in Le Fleix so we were all excited to see it.  We stayed on a campsite at St Foy La Grande (in fact where we stayed last year when Sue came out to France) which was only about 5 kms away from Le Fleix.

On the first night we wandered into St Foy.  Siobhan wasn’t with us as she also had family visiting and needed to spend time with them.  Cathy cooked dinner for the girls and then we wandered into town where there was an evening market on with entertainment.  After walking around the various stalls we suddenly realised it was quite late and despite several enquiries could not find a taxi company to get the girls back to their B&B, 5 miles away.  We were wandering the streets aimlessly when Cathy flagged down a passing Gendarmerie vehicle.  “They’ll know a taxi company”  They duly stopped, obviously thinking Cathy was a damsel in distress (!).  The girls were all gobsmacked when 5 young, extremely good looking guys (only in their opinion I might add!) got out of the car.

“Can’t you give them a lift in your car?” inquired an impudent Cathy!

“Non” was the reply.  “Anyway what’s in it for me?” said the driver of the car.

“I’ll cook you dinner!!!”

“OK, I’ll come tomorrow – where are you staying?”

One of the Gendarmerie made several calls on his iPhone to various taxi companies but none were available.  They also asked one of the local policeman, but he couldn’t help either.  So we starting walking back towards the campsite thinking of plan B.  Next thing we knew the car pulled alongside having ditched 3 of its occupants, making room for 3 very giggly girls who were then promptly escorted home!  We found out the next day the driver put on the ‘blues and twos’, at Sue’s request, when they got outside the town!!

And no the driver never did get his dinner!!  Well, he may have stopped by but we were at a Fete in another town!  For all we know he’s still combing the area for that cheeky blonde English girl so she can fulfil her part of the bargain!

We visited Siobhan’s house in Le Fleix which is lovely.

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Chez Siobhan

She has got plans for it over the coming years  Given she has been coming to this area of France for many years she has got the necessary connections to help her make it happen.

The girls had a great few days in spite of the unseasonably wet weather! Typical, especially when the summer has been so good!

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No, you are not seeing double – a bit of trickery using Cathy’s iPhone!

We returned to RDT with the weeks counting down to the end of the season.  The site had been full during July and August but as the holidays were now coming to an end and the kids would be returning to school soon the site was getting a lot quieter.  We were scheduled to leave on the 3rd September.

We had reasonable wifi on the site and used an app on the iPad (Tunein) to listen to UK radio, specifically Martin and Su on Heart Essex, whom we have woken up with for the last 14 years!  We have got to know Martin quite well and have kept in regular touch since we left the UK.  One morning I WhatsApped him saying we were listening to him and Su from the South of France.  Within minutes he said live on the radio “….and hello to Nick and Cathy listening in the South of France” which was nice!

However we did get one further unexpected visitor. Some Dutch guests had sadly lost their Border Terrier which had wandered off and was missing for 5 days.  They feared the worst and eventually decided they had to continue with their holiday.  However a couple of days after they had left we were sat under our awning and out the corner of my eye I spotted this lone dog.  It was the missing Border Terrier so we quickly collared him and put him on a lead.  Jenny managed to contact the owners who confirmed his name was Bent.  They advised their son would collect him the next day so for 24 hours he was a house guest, although he slept under the van.  He had a lovely temperament and Cathy quite took to him.

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Needless to say the owners’ son appeared the next evening – they were on the Austrian border when they got the call so had had quite a drive.  We were sorry to see Bent go but glad he would eventually be reunited with his owners.

One of our last ‘holidays’ was to Castelnau de Montmiral and to a wonderful commercial aire that had a swimming pool – a must in these sort of temperatures. It was an excellent base from which to visit some beautiful French towns and villages.

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Over the next few days we ran the wheels off Soo, our Honda C90 motorbike, visiting Cazals, Les Cabanes, Corde sur Ciel (where we had a fabulous lunch), Puycelci, (another fabulous lunch), and Albi, where we also visited the Toulouse Lautrec museum.

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Corde sur Ciel

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The magnificent cathedral at Albi

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The gardens at Albi

Little did we know what was in store for us when we returned to RDT to complete our final days at work.  On 1 September Jenny came round to warn us there was a weather alert for strong gusts and rain for the evening.  We wound in the awning and battened down the hatches.  By 5pm there were a few large drops of rain but no more.  What was all the fuss about? However, nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught that took place that night around 8:30pm.  It was verging on a tornado with the winds seemingly going round in circles.  We could hear twigs and all sorts of things landing on Aurora’s roof.  We couldn’t see anything outside through the driving rain lashing down on the windscreen.  The power had also gone off.  For several hours it was wild.  Seriously scary.  (so much so that Cathy chipped her front tooth nervously nibbling on her thumbnail).  When it abated Jenny and Nigel – bless them – came round the site to check everybody was ok.  It was only in the morning that we could assess the damage.  The pictures speak for themselves!

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This tree lay across the pitch Steve and Lyssa stayed on earlier in the season!

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The wind was even strong enough to bring down and electricity pylon!

Luckily, it was towards the end of the season when most campers had left and none of the remaining guests were under any of the trees which fell.  Big Bird, Steve and Lyssa’s motorhome would have been sliced in two!! (we honestly thought that’s what was going to happen with ours).

So our last few days at RDT was to attempt to clear up some of the debris.

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So an exciting, if slightly scary end to our time at RDT.  We enjoyed the season very much.

Our final social event was a leaving do for all the helpers, again hosted by Jenny and Nigel. Jenny had prepared some food and the wine and beer flowed.  As the evening progressed we persuaded Nigel to get his guitar out, which he duly did and sang some witty ditties that he made up on the spot.  It was a great end to a great season!

We bade everyone farewell on the 3rd September and headed off to start the next part of our journey.

And so the adventure continues….

Year 2 – The Adventure restarts in Brittany

Wow!  I can’t believe how long it has been since we updated the blog!  Well, I’ll tell you.  Its been almost 5 months!  We’ve simply been having too much fun to find the time to put “pen to paper” (in a virtual sense!) – plus a lack of good wifi.

So what have we being doing?  Well after spending 7 weeks back in the UK catching up with friends and family, we crossed from Plymouth to Roscoff in Brittany on 28th April, catching the 10pm overnight ferry.  The sailing was uneventful with the channel like a millpond.  The cabin although compact was comfortable with ensuite facilities including a very powerful shower.  We docked in Roscoff after a pretty good night’s sleep at 8am and headed straight to the free motorhome aire just outside the town.

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We had a wander round the town and along the beach before heading back to Aurora to deal with a more pressing matter – sorting out our Alde central heating system.  This process took a couple of hours and consisted of draining and refilling the system with a glycol mix and taking care all air was bled from the system by regularly opening all the radiator valves in the van – some of which were extremely hard to access!  (ie under the bed, in the lockers and in the drivers footwell).  After several bleeds the glycol level settled.  Our new pump was whisper quiet and it appeared we now had a fully functioning central heating system!  Hopefully we won’t need it until later in the year.

We had no definite plans apart from meeting up with our fellow fulltiming buddies, Steve and Lyssa, on 7th May and then onto Ruisseau du Treil on the 15th May to start “work”, so we decided we would amble through this part of France that we so far had not had the opportunity to visit.

We moved on the next day to Cameret-sur-Mer.  The aire (€4 per night) was adjacent to a stone circle not quite as impressive as Stonehenge but it wasn’t fenced off and allowed us to wander round freely.

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We also took the opportunity to test our new Cube electric mountain bikes and rode out to the WWII Memorial, and then ‘off road’ along the rugged coastline.

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We also visited the harbour where there were numerous rotting hulls, and a little chapel Notre Dame de Rocamadour, full of naval and local charm following its recent restoration following a fire in 1910.

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However one particular off-road steep descent proved too much for Cathy – I was telling her to stand up “on the pegs” and to go as slow as possible but she fell off and broke the mudguard!

That evening we decided to have dinner in one of the hotel restaurants in town to celebrate our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  It was too far to walk so we cycled in and the hotel allowed us to store our bikes in their garage.

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Happy Anniversary darling! x

We had a lovely 3 course meal and cycled back – in the dark and in the rain.  It was predominantly uphill but this is where electric bikes come into their own and we whizzed back in no time – with Cathy in the lead!

The following day we decided to cycle to the northern tip of the Crozon peninsular – a round trip of about 20 miles.

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Again, most of it was uphill but our electric bikes made it a breeze and a real joy.  Hills are no longer a challenge and something we now look forward to as the pedal assisted Bosch motor kicks in (there are 4 levels of assistance: Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo!)   Hills?  What hills?! We took a picnic and enjoyed incredible views of this wonderful, rugged coastline.

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Our new Cube ‘pedelecs’!

Dinner that night was a home-cooked meal prepared by Cathy – scallops, venison and homemade cheesecake.  ‘Camping’ food is not all about bangers and beans!  Life is tough on the road – NOT!!

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The next day we left the aire Camaret and headed to Concarneau.  However en route we stopped at a small and very picturesque village called Locronan.  We parked in the aire and wandered round the village.

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It would have looked a lot prettier had it not been raining!  The town was filled with artisan shops selling all sorts of crafty stuff.  Maybe the weather had an influence but we spent more time than we should in the shops and ended up buying salted caramel chocolate, biscuits, oh and a pair of clogs for Cathy!  Mmm note to self – don’t go sight seeing on rainy days!

We then drove the short distance to the free aire at Concarneau and decided to walk into the town.  It is about 1km into the town as the crow flies, but unless you get the ferry across the harbour it is about a 5km walk.

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Concarneau from the headland

Unfortunately the ferry had stopped and didn’t resume for about another hour.  So we walked.  There is effectively a town within a town called Ville Close, enclosed by a wall.

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It is small measuring only 350m by 100m, and accessed by a footbridge.  We had a very late lunch and walked round the town in the sunshine, before catching the ferry, and then walking back to Aurora.

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The ferry back from Ville Close across the harbour which ran on electric motors – very eco!

The next morning we headed for Carnac – a world famous area due to its number of unique rows of ancient menhirs (in the region of 5,000) which are basically standing stones dating back from 4,500BC.  Why all in a straight line?  One myth is that they were pagan soldiers in pursuit of Pope Cornelius when he turned them to stone.  Brittany has its own local version – tradition claims that the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin (the wizard from King Arthur’s time) who lived in the nearby Forest of Mervent.

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We parked at the aire, unloaded the bikes and cycled round the various sites where the menhirs are situated.

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Mind you when you have seen one menhir you have seen them all.  No but seriously they were very interesting.

After Carnac we headed out of Brittany into the Pays de Loire region of France and to Vouvant, in the foothills of the Mervent Forest – the largest forest in the Vendee, and a free aire just outside yet another picture post card village, with its own castle keep.

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This is the Melusine Tower which, according to legend, was built by the fairy Melusine in a single night!  Yeah right!

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We were the only ones on the aire which was clearly having some work done as they were laying new ballast on the paths and roadways.  There was also piles of copper cable being used by a French telecom company as they presumably undertook work in the area.  OMG – if that had been in the UK that would have disappeared in a flash!

After walking into town and visiting the local tourist office we established there were loads on cycle routes around this area.  There are basically two types.  There is the velo routes which are for road bikes, and then there are the VTT (Velo tour terrain) routes which are for mountain bikes.  We decided we would stay the night and then use the next day to go for a bike ride.  The routes are graded like ski runs i.e. green for easy, blue a little more difficult and red/black – difficult.  We decided a combination of blue and green would be best.

After a good nights sleep and breakfast we packed a lunch and water and set off.  The countryside was very scenic.  We obviously hadn’t got used to the French VTT signposting and kept going the wrong way, but after a while we got the hang of it. The way it works is that the pointy bit of the VTT symbol (the yellow bit at the top of the post in the photo below) indicates the direction you should be going! Having said that once you do get used to it, it is an excellent system.

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The routes were along some very tight and muddy tracks which was ok for me as years of riding a dirt bike have provided invaluable experience.  However Cathy struggled a bit with the muddy conditions.  And these were the ‘easy’ tracks!

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However all credit to her she soldiered on and began to enjoy it as she got used to the bike, the gears and the way the power kicks in.  The trick is not to use Turbo mode as this can be quite severe!  In all we covered over 40 kms which was no mean feat given the mixed terrain.

We got back to Aurora, who was still all alone at the aire, whereupon I cleaned the bikes whilst Cathy prepared a meal of mussels and a home-made thai sauce.  Needless to say we slept well after the days exertions.

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From here we headed towards Chaillac where we were to meet up with Steve and Lyssa.  We were excited for two reasons – firstly, we hadn’t seen them since June 2014, and secondly we were going to get the opportunity to see the house they had bought.

We weren’t meeting them until the following day so that night we drove to a wild camping spot Steve had told us about just outside the town next to a lake.  It was a large sandy car park and idyllic.

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Again we had the place to ourselves.  However the next morning we woke to torrential rain and immediately I was concerned about the surface of the car park, and Aurora’s 5 tonnes bearing down on it!  The last thing we wanted was to get stuck.  In a flash we had pulled back the blinds, started the engine and successfully moved to the security of the tarmac!  Phew!  We decided, even though it was still early we would go to the campsite and check in.  We could always wait if we were too early.  In the end it wasn’t a problem and Aurora was soon on her pitch on the municipal campsite and plugged into the electricity.

Steve and Lyssa arrived later in the day and it was like meeting up with long lost friends.  We had so much to talk about – where do you start?

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Aurora, Big Bird, Soo and Fuddy reunited!

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We caught up over champagne and blinis (!) and decided that rather than cook we would go to the local bar which did excellent pizzas.  The bar is run by an English couple and has been adopted by both ex pats and the locals so they are doing well.

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We arrived back at the site well after dark to a chorus of frogs.  Indeed one had decided to stay by the campsite gates and welcome us personally!

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Ribbit!

The next day we got Soo, our trusty Honda C90, out of the garage and joined Steve, Lyssa and Fuddy (their trusty Honda C90) on a bimble to St Benoit du Sault, where we had a wander round and a drink in a bar.

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After that we took the short ride out to see their new house.  It is in a tiny village with only a few inhabitants.  The property is in need of a lot of work, but that isn’t a problem for Steve given his construction background.  I must admit it is more that I would want to tackle but you can see the property has huge potential.

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I think the roof needs a bit of attention Steve!

We had a great couple of days with Steve and Lyssa.  They had to leave to complete their current workaway * assignment, but before they left we agreed they would come and visit us at Ruisseau du Treil in July.

  • * Workaway.info is a site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travellers, language learners or culture seekers and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities.
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Home-made Limoncello – and the entire bottle was demolished in one sitting!!! (Cheers!)

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After leaving Chaillac we only had a couple of days before we had agreed to get to Ruisseau du Treil to commence work, but had enough time to stop at Oradour sur Glane, which is an extremely poignant WWII memorial.

The sign, and pictures below says it all.

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The town has been left exactly as it was directly after the atrocity some 71 years ago as a stark reminder of what happened there.  It is a sobering place but well worth a visit.

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Our final night of ‘freedom’ was at the free aire at Uzerche.  Again another scenic town although the place was dead, with nothing open.  However in spite of that, the aire was busy and we got the last free space.

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There was an interesting ‘conversion” parked there which was basically an old lorry fitted out to be a ‘motorhome’.

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However the enterprising owner had done a bit of recycling from an old washing machine, using the door as a window.  I wonder if it still opens….outwards??!!

The next day we took the short, yet familiar journey along the Lot to Larnagol and to Ruisseau du Treil – our home for the next 4 months.

And so the adventure, now into our second year, continues………

 

 

 

Return to Blighty!

Wow, I can’t believe we are 3 months behind on the blog, despite making a vow to ourselves that we would update this regularly.

Oh well we will try and make an effort to remember the sequence of events and update you  with the latest wanderings of Aurora!  This post is more about moments captured on camera (albeit some grainy ‘selfie’ shots) with our friends and family during the time we spent back in the UK rather than focusing on the words!  Needless to say we were exhausted after 7 weeks travelling up and down the country.

We arrived back in the UK on 11 March 2015 after completing 344 days away in 6 countries, covering some 9041 miles in Aurora and 556 on Soo, our Honda C90 Cub.  Returning to the UK was essential to renew the MOT’s on Aurora and Soo, but it also provided us with the opportunity to catch up with friends and family.    Our campsite for the next few weeks was to be John and Karen’s garden in a small village not far from our own house (note house not home – Aurora is our home!).  We were greeted like long lost friends, although we have been in regular touch throughout the year we’d been away. Indeed Karen flew out to visit us in the Lot.  I was also faced with a mountain of packages to open that had arrived as a result of all my eBaying!  It was strange to have access to a house and for the following week we spent a lot of time with John and Karen, eating an evening meal with them when they came home from work.

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Cathy, Tom, Karen and John

Karen, John and their son Tom were kind enough to host welcome drinks with other friends of ours – the Coe’s! (Verity, Andrew, Christina and Oliver) which was a great evening.

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The Coe’s and the Latham’s

We were also befriended by John and Karen’s Border Terrier, Freddie who spent most of the time in, or at the side of, Aurora!

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We arranged to visit Cathy’s Aunty and nieces and had a lovely evening with them.  Their respective boyfriends had received a three line whip to be there too, so it was quite a full house!

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We had then arranged to go and see John and Sharon and to see their new property in the New Forest.

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This was a lovely break, and we also got the opportunity to ride along the lovely tracks in the New Forest and at the same time road test their electric bikes – more on that later!

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“Oi – not both of you at the same time!!”

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John and I also spent a couple hours at the Sammy Miller motorcycle museum which was fascinating.

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One of the pistons of a 4 cylinder 50cc bike – that’s 12.5 cc per cylinder!!

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The classic Honda 400-4. My dad had one and I regularly rode it. Classic styling.

Then to Clitheroe in Lancashire to see my daughters Holly and Emma

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Me and Holly

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Matthew, Holly, Nick, Cathy and Emma

followed by a trip to see my Auntie Christine and Uncle John in Honley….

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…before a trip to Ferrybridge to get a tow bar fitted to Aurora at Armitages.

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Very nice job!!

Armitages service was excellent, including provision of a complimentary hire car which enabled us to have an impromptu day out in York, where we had breakfast at Betty’s before touring the sights of this historic city.

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From there we went to Northampton to see Cath and Pete, who have recently bought a motorhome of their own.

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We had also been in regular contact with Geoff and Chris, the couple with whom we spent Christmas in Portugal.  They had returned to the UK, en route to the Isle of Man, and were in the Northampton area to have some work done on their van, so we took the opportunity to meet up with them for one night…

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…..after which we went to Kessingland for the Easter break to meet Mark and Maria!!

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We had fun few days there, spending time on the huge beach, and rivalling NASA with our own attempt at rocket launching!!

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Houston, we have a problem!

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Lift off!!

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Oh dear – the girls are on the wine whilst fishing. Don’t think it will be a fish supper tonight!

After that it was back to Karen and John’s during which time we had Aurora and Sue MOT’d, Aurora serviced and the aircon fixed.  Our new Cube electric bikes were also delivered along with our very smart Altera towbar bike carrier.

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We also used this opportunity to empty Aurora and review everything we are carrying around with us and get rid of any ‘fat’, so that for the 2015/16 adventure before dementia we are considerably leaner.  That cannot be said for us as endless meals out and drinkypoo’s has messed with our once lean waistlines.  We need to get back to France and our mediterranean diet!!  Quick!

Another memorable night was spent with Cathy’s friend Sue who had come out to France last summer to visit us with some of her friends Jan and Siobhan (who’s sadly wasn’t there that evening so we made do with a picture of her on the dining table!).

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Cathy, Jan, Claire and Sue (with Siobhan in the picture)

We also spent a lovely (and slightly boozy!!) weekend with our very good friends Pete and Claire, their fast growing up sons Max and Freddy.

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Trish and Claire

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Max and Cathy

IMG_5782-1We spent a day in London catching up with ex-work colleagues – (I caught up with Skeggsy but sadly haven’t got a photo of him but have a  photo of his lookeylikey!!)  Ha ha!

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Celia and Lizanne, two of Cathy’s ex work colleagues

followed by a lovely dinner at Le Pont de La Tour with Maria, Tommy, Pat and Gary.

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We continued the weekend with Maria, Tommy, Pat and Gary and many other friends where more food, drink and singing was involved!!

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IMG_1960-1Then it was off to Seend near Devizes to meet up with Adrian and Sally, whom we met skiing at Les Saisies in the winter…

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…before heading off to Looe in Cornwall to meet up with Cathy’s brother Martin and his wife Mandy.

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Cathy, Mandy and Martin in AuroraCornwall was lovely and we took time out to visit National Trust properties at Lanhydrock and Cothele which were both very interesting, and blooming with Spring flowers.

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Cathy and a few rolls she knocked up for breakfast

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The blooming gardens at Lanhydrock

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The main house at Cothele

At Lanhydrock we also got the opportunity to test out or new e-Bikes on the mountain bike course laid out in the adjoining woods, which was great fun!

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Cathy on the rollovers

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Whilst we were in Cornwall, the circulation pump on our Alde central heating packed up.  We honestly thought we would have to delay our Channel crossing to allow time to get the part and have it fixed.  However we had not counted on the efficiency of Alde UK, who promised we would get the part the next morning before 10am!  Sure enough it duly arrived, along with pipes and clips, and I fitted it later that day!  I cannot thank Alde enough – their support service is excellent.  The new pump is far more efficient, has 5 speeds and is whisper quiet!

Our time in England finally came to an end with a last minute trip to the Fiat Professional garage in Plymouth to have new brake pads fitted on all 6 wheels before crossing to Roscoff, France on the 10pm ferry!!!!

And rest!

Bring on our second year of our Adventure before Dementia!

Homeward bound, via Germany and Holland

After spending a fabulous month skiing in the French Alps, we bade a fond farewell to Gilly and Dave and headed through Les Gets and towards Evian on Lake Geneva before circumnavigating the edge of the lake to Montreux.  We hoped to pay homage to Freddy Mercury’s statue and perhaps stay on the nearby aire.  The trip to the Swiss border was uneventful under leaden skies.  When we got to border control we were in for a shock as Aurora was over 3.5 tonnes so we had to pay a tax. This amounted to about £20 for 10 days driving in Switzerland which was valid for the next 12 months. We are still confused whether this negated the need for a motorway pass/vignette – the info we received seemed to allude to this but Ade in Les Saisies had bought one for his Concorde which weighs in at a hefty 7.2 tonnes. If anybody can clarify this it would be much appreciated!

We soon got to Montreux but parking near Freddy’s statue was impossible so we continued to the aire, which turned out not to be an aire but rather a sevice point with parking limited from 8am in the morning to 10pm at night ie overnight parking ist verboten!!

We therefore headed for an aire at Saint Blaise near Neufchatel.  The scenery en route was unimpressive and we seemed to be travelling through quite an industrialised part of the country.  It was a far cry from the images of Switzerland on boxes of Alpen!

The redeeming feature of the aire was that it had all the facilities, including good wifi and 16 amp (full fat!) unmetered electricity for CHF16 (about £11) so bang on with the Alde heating at the maximum setting which soon got us toasty.  The aire was quite noisy however being positioned in between a railway line and main road.

I didn’t really get a warm feeling about Switzerland.  Clarkson on Top Gear always jokes that the Swiss don’t like cars.  Well double that dislike for motorhomes!  All I really wanted to do was to get through the country, which is precisely what we did the next day as we crossed the border into Germany.  Maybe I was doing the country a disservice but we had also been warned it was very expensive since the Swiss government has pegged the exchange rate, and consequently the value of other currencies against the Swiss Franc had fallen by about 20%!

As we crossed the river Rhine which marks the German border, I felt a degree of comfort which was strange as we had never visited Germany either camping, or in a motorhome, other than on our way to somewhere else.  In fact I had heard a lot of good things about Germany. Our first night was on a stellplatz – the German word for an aire – at Waldshut. just by the river. It had all the services including electricity for €10 pn – nothing much else interesting, just a place to stop on a drizzly day (although Cathy was excited as a washing machine and tumble dryer was on site so she was able to catch up with the laundry).

The next day we moved on towards towards Schlussee.  This is on the southern end of the Schwarzwald – the Black Forest.  Given we were over a 1000 metres the lake was completely frozen.  IMG_1339-1 IMG_1345-1The stellplatz (€10 pn) wasn’t far from the town or the lake.  We were under beautiful clear blue skies but it was very cold (around -7°C so we were grateful for ‘full fat’ electricity (16 amp) which cost €1 for 8 hours (!!!). After plugging in and sorting out one or two things we walked into the town which was small but had a nice feel.  It bordered right onto the lake and had its own railway station, again right on the lake shore making for a very scenic picture.  As we headed back to Aurora we stopped at a bar which had a verandah overlooking the lake so we sat and felt the last rays of the sun as we sipped a glass of wine for Cathy and a very tasty German beer for me.  I have been looking forward to some decent beers and Germany is famous for it.  The air temperature really began to fall as the light went so we headed back to a warm and toasty Aurora.  After a home cooked meal we snuggled down and watched a film.

We awoke to another bulebird sky with hoar frost covering the trees.  After breakfast, we donned our gear and walked along the path bordering the lake.  We went down to the edge of the lake and had fun trying to break the ice and skimming stones across the surface which made a weird sound.

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The sun was warm and as we walked we had to shed layers.  In all we walked about 9 kms, so some good exercise.

From Schlusee we headed to the university city of Freiburg.  The weather, although still cold, had now turned wet and we moved from snow to rain as we dropped in height to the town, which is at a mere 280 metres – the lowest we have been since mid February.  The stellplatz was only a 15 minute walk into the town and cost €10pn (do you see a pattern here?!) plus metered electricity which worked out at €1 for every 8 hours.   

We really liked Freiburg. Its a lovely walkable city on the edge of the Black Forest and is aparently known for being the sunniest corner of the country. And indeed the sun was shining!  We explored the old town (Altstadt) and headed up to the castle hill to take in the views of the city. How convenient we did this from a beer garden!  The town has water running everywhere in gullies next to the roads.  Stall holders sell wooden boats that children can sail down them.

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The following day we went back into town and enjoyed the sun that now had broken through.

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Later on we decided we would get something to eat and chose a local beer house. it was an actual micro brewery with the copper brewers on site.  The beer was wonderful and complimented our meal.

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As it was a Saturday night the placed was rammed so it was a matter of finding any seat you could which meant sharing tables.  We shared with two German couples and soon got talking – as you do.  One couple had just got married and were having a few days away as a sort of honeymoon.  We had just bought a SIM card from Aldi which provided us with 1.5GB of data for €9.99.  The only trouble was that everything was in German!  However our new friends helped us greatly and completed the registration on line on their own phone.  We needed to register a German address!  Hmmm that may be a problem.  Nope, following our new friend’s suggestion, we simply registered it to the beer house using the address which had been kindly provided on the menu!!  Job done and SIM activated.

The following day we drove back towards Lake Constance and got to the north east end at a town called Strandbad Bodman.  Again a municipal stellplatz which officially was closed for the winter. The water points were turned off, but the electricty was still on – again 16 amp and free – so we plugged in and turned the heating to max! We wandered down the shoreline of the lake into the town which was quite quaint, but in the middle of improvement works.

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We both agreed that this area would be fantastic in the spring.  As we headed back to Aurora we noticed a garden full of weird sculptures which seemed out of keeping with the town and wondered what the residents made of this.

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Bizarre!!

After Bodman we continued down the west side of Lake Constance to Meersburg.  Again another stellplatz with services and electricity.  It was here we discovered Norma – a German discount store!!  The set up is very similar to Lidl and Aldi, but even cheaper! The town is right on the lake and on the day we were there an icy wind was blowing down the lake!  It was bloody freezing!!

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The view across Lake Constance – that is Switzerland on the other side

This was now Monday 23rd February and we were due in Isny at the Dethleffs factory on Thursday 26th.  We decided we would get one more stop and set the sat nav for a stellplatz up in the mountains at Scheidegg which meant climbing back above the snow line.  The snow had obviously been very heavy in recent weeks as it was piled high by the road.  The stellplatz was reduced in size because they hadn’t cleared all the snow.  However it didn’t matter as we were the only van there.

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There was again free electricity although it was only skimmed (6 amp) and no good for running the heating so we had to turn on the gas.  The area seems to be popular for Nordic skiing (cross country skiing) as there were lots of signposts for the various routes.  There was also a restaurant just down from the stellplatz which we went into initially for a coffee but ending up staying for the biggest Wiener Schnitzels we have had!

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This lead us into Wednesday so we made the short journey to Isny in Allgau, the home of the Dethleffs factory and Aurora’s birthplace.  The stellplatz is actually within the grounds of the factory and is free to stay on if you have a Dethleffs, although you need to pay €1,50 per person per day to the town as a local tax.  However electricity was free and yet again full fat.  Initial impressions of Germany bear out what people say in that it is motorhoming nirvana in the way they cater for the motorhoming fraternity.  Mind you they make some of the best motorhomes on the market so motor homing is very big in Germany.

We wandered around the town which was effectively walled.  It was quite compact so didn’t take long suss out.  It was then back to Aurora for the evening.  It was to be an early start the next day as we had to get Aurora to the service area at 7:30am so they could start work on making repairs to the lounge floor which had developed a ‘bounce’, and the Hartal habitation door, which wasn’t seating proper in the opening. There were also other minor jobs to be looked at.

After dropping Aurora we had to get back to the factory for 9:15 am to start the factory tour – something i was looking forward to very much to see just how they make their motorhomes.

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The company have been making caravans for 50 odd years so hopefully know a thing or two about how to out them together properly.  There were about 25 of us on the tour which was in German – we were the only two English so the tour wasn’t that informative for us, although the guide could speak English if we had specific questions.  However you could get the gist of what the steps were.  The first thing to happen was construction of the floor which is a sandwich arrangement with insulation built into the layers.  The floor covering is laid over what is effectively an oblong piece of wood and bonded to it.  Once cured computer guided saws and routers cut out the right shapes for the appropriate model such as wheel arches, service hatches etc.  This shaped floor is then mounted onto the chassis and the wiring loom installed as well as water and waste tanks.  The furniture, kitchen and bathroom fittings are then assembled and mounted on the floor.  Next the sides are put on and more inside assembly takes place.  Finally the roof is bonded to the sides and essentially the motorhome is complete.  The vehicles are constantly moving and the associates crawl inside and underneath the vans doing their various jobs.  There is no real rush – it all seems quite relaxed.   Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures so I have pinched some from google images!

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After the tour we had some time to kill so wandered round the local DIY store to buy a couple of essential items.  We returned to the service centre at 3pm whereupon they walked us around Aurorato explain what they had done.  They had made a great job of the items I had requested, the most important being the floor and the door.  Each item was quite inexpensive but the bill ended up at €619 which included the labour charge.  However I was happy with that, and especially the friendliness and standard of service provided.

We spent another night on the Dethleffs stellplatz before heading north to Baden Baden, and what a lovely city.  We spent the first day cycling in, and then walking round the town, albeit in the rain, looking at the various sites.  We got absolutely drenched in a hailstorm on the way back to Aurora.  We also found that the town is famous for its thermal springs and Roman Baths, so thought when in Rome….!!  The next day we rose early and after breakfast cycled into town and then spent 4 hours luxuriating in the Friedrichsbad – the Roman Irish bath.

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They are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside, and you wander from room to room marvelling at the ornate architecture, which all adds to the experience.

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They start your treatment by gradually raising your body temperature in hot rooms, the hottest of which is 68° C (about 150° F) beforecooling you down, during which time you can have a brush and sponge soapy massage, before being tucked up in bed under warm blankets to relax after your treatments.  The whole experience was very relaxing, and very enjoyable!

We left Baden Baden and had spotted a stellplatz at a place called Alpirsbach.  It was in a beautiful area and the pitch was right next to the river.

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However it was on grass, which was soft after recent rain and snow, and last thing I wanted was all 5 tonnes of Aurora sinking up to her axles.  However there was a campsite adjacent so we made enquiries if we could stay there.  The very friendly owner said yes and booked us in, charging us €10 pn, which also included two bottles of the local brew!  There was electricity but that was charged by usage.  Cathy took advantage of the on site washing facilities, emptying out linen basket.  Most of all there was piping hot showers.  Mind you we weren’t exactly dirty after our soak and scrub in the thermal baths at Baden Baden!!

The town was about a 20 minute walk so we ventured in to look at the brewery.

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It was a Saturday but everything was closed much to Cathy’s frustration!  We had a meal in the ‘restaurant’ that evening – I say restaurant – it was the reception area for the campsite but it was warm and cosy and the food was good.

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This campsite was a real gem and would be stunning in the spring!

Our next stop, and which proved to be our final days in Germany, was Koln (Cologne).  The stelllatz was right on the banks of the Rhine, also adjacent to the footpath and cycle way that leads right into Koln.

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The stellplatz could accommodate about 40 motorhomes and was fairly full.  It cost €10 pn with electricity extra via metered posts and was also manned for extra security.  The first night we walked along to the local restaurant where it was schnitzel night and had a nice meal.  The following morning we walked into the city.  Surprisingly there isn’t a vast amount to see – the whole city is dominated by the vast cathedral which overshadows the centre.

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Branching off the main square are shopping streets in which you can see all the chains you would see in the UK including C&A!!  We also decided we had to experience german sausage and so found a beer house that specilalised in sausages.  Cathy and I opted for the meal that gives you 0.25 of a metre per person.  As there was two of us 0.5 metre of sausage duly arrived in one single length!

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It was delicious, being very meaty,  Of course all washed down with some more excellent German beers.  An extended stay in this country would not be good for your waistline!!

The following day we headed north and out of Germany into Holland and towards Amsterdam.  We have been there before and enjoyed it immensely.  It is a very beautiful city, with a very relaxed atmosphere, with a superb transport system comprising trams and bicycles!  Bicycles are everwhere.

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The aire is on the other side of the river from Central Station with free ferries to take you right into the heart of the city.  We spent three excellent days there and took in two walking tours:  a three hour one of the historic city and key sights and a two hour tour of the Red Light District.  Our guide was a German lad, called Michael, who was very interesting and knowledgeable.

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Our walking tour guide Michael

 

The following day we came back into the city and visited various sites Michael had identified on the tour.

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Where shall we go today?

One of these was the Cannabis College Information Centre (www.cannabiscollege.com).  The staff here were all volunteers and sought to provide tourists with proper and reliable information on cannabis which as most people know is readily available in Amsterdam via the Brown Cafe’s or coffee shops.  The other interesting thing is that hemp also has industrial uses, and if you own a BMW or Mercedes apparently the sound deadening insulation materials are made from hemp!  Now you know.  As for the drugs they provide you with details of the reputable coffee shops, which variety of cannabis to buy, and they will even provide you with a lounge area in which you can smoke/eat/inhale your particular pleasure.  Did we try any?  Thats for us to know, and you to find out!!

As I mentioned we also did a walking tour of the Red Light District which was very informative.  Prostitution was legalised in 2000 so now the girls are self employed and work for themselves with no pimps.  As it also regulated, they pay taxes.  It is just another example of the tolerant nature of this city.

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There is also a shop dedicated solely to condoms  – the Condomerie.

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Mine is the one on the left – sorry I mean right!!

The following morning we went back into Amsterdam to visit Anne Frank’s house which was very interesting indeed. It is a well known story in which the Jewish Frank family (Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne) decided to hide from the Nazi’s, rather than flee. They adapted the internal structure of the house to create a secret annexe and the family went into hiding on 6th July 1942.  They were assisted by some Dutch friends who got them provisions etc which was no mean feat as food etc was in very short supply for themselves let alone an entire family.  However they were betrayed – it is still not known by whom – and all the residents were arrested on 4th August 1944 and duly sent to concentration camps.  Margot and Anne were initially sent to Auschwitz and then subsequently Belsen and whilst they were not subjected to the gas chamber they both died whilst incarcerated from typhus in March 1945, only a matter of months before the end of the war.  Anne kept a diary which detailed her secret life, which was fortunately saved by one of the familly’s helpers on the basis that she thought she would be able to return it to Anne after the war. Only the father Otto survived the war who got hold of the diaries and had them published. Interestingly though, as our guide Michael was at pains to point out, similar stories were being lived out in houses all over Amsterdam, although no-one ever knew as a diary of events was never kept, or never came to light.  A very sad but amazing story!

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On our final evening we decided we would eat out and chose the option of a curry!  Nothing newsworthy about that I hear you say!  Some of you will observe that we like to photograph our food – or Cathy does!

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The inside of a CTM

 

However on this occasion she managed to drop her phone just as she was taking the picture, so now we have a very unusual angle – this is the inside of a Chicken Tikka Massala!! Showing soon at the Tate Modern!

 

 

We enjoyed Amsterdam very much – it is a photographers dream with fantastic views at every turn.  I have included a few of the photos we took to try and capture the spirit of the city.

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The narrowest house in Amsterdam


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All the buildings are a bit wonky!

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Our final night in Holland, and mainland Europe was spent in Gouda on the aire right in the middle of the town.  It is small and picturesque.

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Gouda Cathedral in the main square

Someone described it as Brugges without the crowds.  I am not sure that is right having now been there but it was pleasant enough.  There was a fabulous cheese shop where you could sample all the different varieties of Gouda cheese and very nice they were too. We chose a selection and headed back to Aurora.  The aire was the town car park with designated parking spaces for motorhomes with a service point, free unmetered electricity and wifi, all for the princely sum of €8 for each 24 hour period.  Bargain!

It was now Wednesday 11th March and was almost a year since we set off on our “Adventure before Dementia” and I cannot believe it.  We have packed so much into our year and seen so much. We have met some lovely and amazing people on the way.  But now we must return to the UK to get Aurora and Soo MOT’d.  We are using the opportunity to catch up with friends and family as well as undertake some running repairs to Aurora and also some improvements.  Needless to say I have been using the free wifi over the last few days to order quite a bit of stuff on eBay and have it delivered to our friends address in the UK.  It will be a bit like Christmas when I get home as I unwrap all my packages! (thanks Karen/Christina!!!)

We made the short journey from Gouda to the Hook of Holland where we were scheduled to catch the Stena Line ferry to Harwich, which is a 6 ½ hour crossing.  We were due to sail at 14:15 but you are requested to be there two hours earlier.  We were loaded about half an hour before departure and we pretty much had the ship to ourselves as there were only about 50 vehicles, the majority being freight.  The lorry drivers have there own section on the boat so we pretty much had free choice of some very comfortable seating in the lounge.  Around 5pm we went for an a la carte meal in the restaurant which was very good and reasonably priced.  In all I would say that the ship was the nicest one we have been on.  The crossing was smooth and we arrived in Harwich 30 minutes ahead of schedule whereupon we disembarked back onto UK soil for the first time in 345 days!!

And so our first year of this incredible journey has concluded…..for the time being!  We will be returning to work at the French campsite, Ruisseau du Treil, in the beautiful Lot area for mid May, when we start leg 2 of our Tales from Aurora.

 

 

 

Snow business!!

We took the mountain road from Bourgneuf up to Les Menuires, a ski resort in the 3 Valleys, to the aire which is quite high at around 1,850 metres.  The access road was still covered in snow but thankfully Aurora’s winter tyres gripped sufficiently without the need for snow chains.  Access to the aire is through a barrier which issues a card and times your stay so that you pay on exit.  The daily cost is €10 per 24 hour period for parking only (water and electricity were extra).  The aire was fairly busy but nowhere near full.

IMG_5424-1We had heard about this aire from someone we met in September in the Picos de Europa area of Spain, and indeed his (Ian’s) van is the one on the left with the 2 huge gas bottles outside (more on that later).  We positioned Aurora as far up the aire as we could get her – it was icy under the snow – and familiarised ourselves with the immediate area.  We soon realised that we were metres from the piste so we effectively had ski in ski out!!  Luxury!  We also got chatting to the Belgians that owned the motorhome on the right in the picture above.  They were here for the season – December to April (as they were for most years) and had everything sussed, including the extra insulation you need for even a luxury winterised motorhome.  We caught up with Ian when he returned to his van after a day’s skiing and invited him into Aurora for later afternoon tea and cake.  We agreed we would go skiing with him the next day – early!

However ….. when we awoke the following morning I could hear the Alde heating rumbling and popping which is the sound you get when the system is low on glycol (anti-freeze), and sure enough the header tank was empty.  I had put a bucket under the rear of Aurora where there is an outlet pipe for the heating system and sure enough when I checked it there was over a litre of glycol in there. Not good!  I had bought some antifreeze from a supermarket the day before so I topped up the tank.  However I was concerned we obviously had a leak which compromised the effectiveness of the system.  And one thing you cannot do without in this winter environment is heating!!!  All your water connections will freeze, as well as it being decidedly uncomfortable for the inhabitants!!  Nighttime temperatures were down to minus 5 and below, with a penetrating frost.  We remained in the van that evening still wearing our hat, scarves and extra clothing until it was time for bed.  We need to get this sorted!

When Ian called to take us skiing the next morning, we sadly had to decline as I explained we needed to resolve the heating issue, even if it meant having to curtail our winter sports holiday and find a motorhome dealer!!  I decided I would ring Alde (no, not the supermarket – thats Aldi) in the UK and seek their advice.  I had to wait until 10am given the UK was an hour behind. The call lasted a matter of minutes and the solution was simple.  The automatic bleeding valve was leaking and I needed to put a peg on the tube!  Simple as that.  Job done!  Apparently the glycol can become gloupy and clog up the single ball bearing inside the valve.  The solution is to flush the valve through with boiling water, but that requires draining the system completely – a job that would need to deferred until we return to the UK.  Anyway we breathed a huge sigh of relief that the problem was sorted and our winter sports could continue.  Yay! Nevertheless it didn’t stop me doing ‘level checks’ every hour or so just to confirm the problem was sorted!

We spent the remainder of the day looking round the resort, and given the weather was a bit iffy we decided to ski the next day.  The resort is not the most attractive, as is often the case with ski resorts as they tend to be purpose built with accommodation being the main driver.  Les Menuires is no exception.

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Free lift from just behind the aire up to the resort

The 3 Valleys network is enormous with something like 650kms of runs – obviously it is this that attracts people in their 1000’s.  However the snow was good and the weather improved the following day so we donned our gear, got our ski passes and went skiing.  We had a great day with amazing views and some great pistes.  It wasn’t busy but then we are not in the high season.

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We did two days skiing here as we were conscious we needed to get to Megeve to meet our friends who were flying into Geneva that Friday.  We decided that we would go via another well known resort called Les Saisies for a look see as it was highly rated in the Aires book.  We said farewell to the Belgians who had been great and gave us endless tips.

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We filled up en route with water at public toilets that the Belgians had told us about.  Water is a scare resource at these altitudes in the winter as services are either frozen or turned off so you need to use every opportunity to top up.

Les Saisies is only about 15kms from Megeve but is quite high at around 1,650 metres.  The aire was in a lovely position with 360 degrees of stunning views.  As ever within minutes of arriving, we were talking to fellow motorhomers.  John and Karen were in a new Hymer which was having its first outing on a winter holiday.  Karen had also worked for Lloyds Banking Group but had managed to wangle redundancy (lucky c*w!) which had paid for their van!!  We also met Adrian and Sally who were in a beautiful Concorde and Carol and Keith who were Scottish, but currently live in Portugal.  They were all a great source of information about the area (and other destinations as they had travelled in Morocco and had detailed itineraries that they were prepared to share) and we knew there and then we would be back to this aire after Megeve.  We again got our ski gear on and bought a 4 hour pass.  The weather started off ok but it was very cold and after a couple of hours Cathy decided she had had enough and returned to Aurora (she was still fighting off her New Year cold – thanks Geoff!).  Again we had ski in ski out and I carried on for a bit longer, although the cloud came down and the light flattened so I too called it a day.  The snow was good but the resorts were now in need of a fresh dump, and the forecasts were alluding to fresh snow on the way.  However weather systems in the Alps are very dynamic and things change by the hour!

Facilities at the aire at Les Saisies are not that good with no electricity or water directly on the aire – you have to move 100 metres to the Flot Bleu service point in another car park!  However the aire is in a fantastic position, and is obviously very popular, and will hold up to 75 motorhomes.  We also skied the following morning in much improved conditions, albeit still very cold, before packing everything away and moving to Megeve.  We bade farewell to our new friends and said we would be back!

We descended to Mageve (around 1,100 metres) and positioned ourselves on the carpark at the Princess ski lift which is about 2 kms outside Megeve on the road towards Chamonix.

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Parking at the Princess Ski Lift car park

It is not an official aire – there are no services whatsover – but parking is tolerated!  On the way through the town we put one of our newly learned winter motorhoming tips into action.  As mentioned, keeping warm is vital and boy do you burn gas doing so.  So we purchased a 13 kg bottle of (propane) gas, a propane regulator and some piping so we could feed it into our system via our external gas BBQ point!  Clever stuff and it proved very effective over the coming weeks.  Indeed we found out from Keith at Les Saisies that the local supermarket will deliver refills direct to the aire which stops you having to drive about 20 kms to the nearest Autogas outlet to refill your Gaslow bottes!!  Very handy.

We were all nicely settled and toasty when our friends arrived.  They had hired a car for the week and brought us up to the apartment (the one we had used 12 months earlier).  A meal was prepared and plans were hatched for the week which also included the customary Burns Night celebrations on 26th January!

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Our ski buddies – Tommy, Maria, John, Janet, Gary and Pat

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Piping in the haggis!

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It has to be said that the weather conditions were not ideal, and as I mentioned earlier the resorts were in need of some fresh snow.  And boy did it snow!!  During the course of the week approximately 3 metres of snow fell!!

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However no matter how much snow falls the French cope. In the UK it would be total gridlock and everything would come to a halt.  But in France the snow ploughs are out, even on minor roads and peoples drives as soon as the white stuff starts to fall.  Combined with the fact that all cars are equipped with snow (cold weather) tyres which give amazing grip over summer tyres.

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Everything looks beautiful when it snows, and unlike in the rain, you can get out and have fun!

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We had a great week and when the sun came out the views, as usual, were stunning!

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The glory of Mont Blanc!

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It was also great to catch up with our friends whom we hadn’t seen for almost a year.

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Cathy and Pat

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Maria and Cathy

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Making use of our selfie pole for a group shot!

The finale of the week for the girls was a wellness day at La Ferme de Marie.  But first, Cathy and I had to dig the hire car out of the car park before we could collect the girls from their apartment!  It was hard work and with only one shovel between us, we took it in turns to clear a path through the snow, which took us 40 minutes!

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But finally we made it in time to the hotel where the girls had a fabulous pampering day at the 5* spa!

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So after an emotional departure following a superb week with our friends, we had to make a decision – where next?  Cathy identified an aire with great views of Mont Blanc (Passy Plain Joux) which looked very scenic.  To get there we had to go via Sallanches down in the valley where we knew there was a petrol station that sold GPL so would could refill our Gaslow system.  The other tip for winter camping we have learned is to ensure that you keep your diesel tank topped up to prevent condensation and thereby water in your diesel (see Big Momma’s blog referring to their recent issues with this whilst in Morocco) which you want to avoid at all costs.  Also you should go for the premium diesel which although costs a few cents more is much more effective at low temperatures with reduced likelihood of waxing, which creates starting problems.

After getting diesel and gas we climbed out of Sallanches towards the aire.  The vista from the road up towards Passy were amazing.

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However the road became more and more treacherous.

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We were within 500 metres of the aire but common sense prevailed as the gradient increased and the conditions worsened.  We’d already used our snow chains (for the first time on Aurora) that morning, and had removed them once on clear roads, but I was reluctant to use them again.  So we reversed into a parking area and reviewed our next move.  We weren’t far from L’Escale at Grand Bornand, the site where we spent last Christmas and New Year skiing with John and Sharon and the lure of hot showers, and good skiing, was too great so we set the sat nav, after first checking they had availability, and headed off.  The journey there involves a drive up a valley and the view was stunning with the fresh snow hanging to the trees!

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The site, like everywhere, was covered in snow, although they had done their best to keep it clear.

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Snow clearance in the Alps is a bit of an art – it’s all very well snow ploughing it, but you have to find somewhere to put it!  At Grand Bornand they had an area at the rear of the site.  And what a pile they had created!

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We checked in, parked Aurora and ‘winterised’ her by putting on her thermal screen.

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We have got smart on insulation by creating covers for the roof lights, as well as the lockers, made from the foil you put behind radiators moulded round cardboard.  Additionally you ensure you stand everything outside on cardboard such as your levelling chocks and gas cylinders otherwise they freeze to the ground and are a bugger to move!  Cardboard is our new friend!

Some people go to extraordinary lengths including making covers that protect the entire front end and skirts round the motorhome.  Mind you it all makes sense as it costs you money to heat your motorhome and you don’t want all that heat to escape.  We wandered into the town which looked lovely in its winter dressing, especially at night.

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We spent the next few days skiing in beautiful conditions – the weather was good – and the views were stunning.

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After 4 nights here we decided to move on and return to Les Saisies, especially as the forecast was now showing blue skies, albeit still very cold (minus 10).  Again we chose our route via Sallanches for more GPL and headed up to the resort.  The roads were generally good but as we neared the aire they were getting more and more slippery.

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However we managed to get there without the need for the chains (I was getting expert at putting them on and taking them off now).

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The aire at Les Saisies prior to being snow ploughed

We decided we would stay about a week and so justified a weekly ski pass, as well as a weekly pass to Le Signal which was the new sports facility opened in December 2014, which included a huge swimming pool, 3 jacuzzis, steam room and two saunas. This turned out to be a god send as there was nothing nicer after a days skiing than to warm up and relax in the warm water of the spa, whilst looking out of the giant picture windows at the winter wonderland!!  Ahhh!

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The recent snowfalls had not been cleared on the aire and one morning we all had to decamp to allow the snow ploughs room to clear the aire.

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We had a fantastic week there and skiied with Keith, Carol, Adrian and Sally.  We decided we would definitely return here.  Again the views were amazing and at the risk of boring you one more time here are some photos!

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Carol, Keith and Nick

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Corduroy pistes – means we were the first on the slopes! You can never tire of seeing Mont Blanc (excuse the ski glove in the pic. Not easy to take pics at minus 10!!)

 

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Carol, Ade, Sally and Nick on the slopes

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Keith about to launch off down a red

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The highlight of our time there, and as a finale, was a skiddoo safari which was timed at 5pm to incorporate the sunset, which was fab.  We were given Yahama skidoo’s and their acceleration and speed was something else.  It was a strange experience haring across the snow at 90 kmph along pistes that a few hours previously we has been skiing on!  We saw the light and colours change as the sun set in the west!  Beautiful. IMG_5542-1

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The grin says it all. The best fun you can have with your clothes on!!

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Keith and Carol

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We all then retired to a bar for a vin chaud and to calm down after our adrenalin loaded ride!

We departed Les Saisies the following day after swapping contact details with our new friends – Adrian and Sally (below) and an invitation to Portugal to visit Keith and Carol, which we may well take up!

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Our next stop was to be Gilly and Dave’s Auberge/B&B near Taninges.  We met them several years ago and got on so well we have remained in touch.

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Gilly is amazing, especially when you consider her 3 score years and ten were a couple of years ago!!  (Sorry Gilly!!!).  Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious!!  We parked Aurora near the Auberge and spend several days with them.  They had some guests but once they have breakfasted and gone skiing the rest of the day is theirs and they very kindly showed us some great places in the area.  We chose not to ski during this time as it is the Paris holidays and UK half term so the pistes tend to be packed, and not what we like.  But hey we can be choosy!

They took us to a soiree with some Belgian friends who lived across the valley.  Needless to say I had to sample some excellent beers!  It would have been churlish to refuse!

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We were sat having a drink in the Auberge bar one evening when we heard a loud whooshing noise as about half a ton of snow fell off the roof onto the road.  It was about 9pm but undeterred, and to prevent a possible accident, we set to and shovelled it into the verge!  The perils of living in the Alps!

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We had a great few days with Gilly and Dave before agreeing to move on and head for Switzerland, purely as a passage into Germany, and to our tour of the Dethleffs factory on 26th February.

And so the adventure continues………

 

Skiing in Spain and into France (via Benidorm)

The drive into into the Sierra Nevada range of mountains in Spain was amazing, which were nicely snow capped following some winter snow.  The summit is just under 3,500 metres and you can drive virtually to the top making it the highest paved road in Europe!

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Aurora at the top of the Sierra Nevada

We were aiming for an aire near the summit but when we got there discovered it was now closed, and apparently had been for a couple of years. However we were able to park outside the nearby hostel, where a couple of other Motorhomes had already pitched up. After lunch we unloaded Soo and motored down into the town down below the aire to suss out what the possibilities were for skiing. We could see plenty of people wending down the slopes which looked to be well covered in snow. IMG_5331-1 The town had an alpine feel and we worked out where the ski passes could be obtained, where the lifts were and where the ski bus ran, which we discovered stopped yards from the van and terminated right in square by ski station. Result! So skiing was on!!  The following day we got out the ski’s from Aurora’s hold, donned our ski gear, and caught the bus into town.  Once there we bought our day ski passes for €41 each and proceeded to the ski lift which was a ‘bubble’ up to the top.  We had a fantastic day skiing and were gobsmacked by the facilities and condition of the snow.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was warm. IMG_1527-1 At one point we were interviewed on the slopes by Spanish TV for a programme being aired that day in Granada at 2pm! We decided that we would certainly consider skiing here again next year when passing through, and that it would sate our annual need to ski without having to necessarily go all the way to the French Alps.

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A small glass of Apres Ski!!

The day was finished off by having a basic but warm and nutritious buffet dinner in the nearby hostel for €8 each. You clearly don’t need to be a “youth” to stay there as all ages were staying there including families. The following morning we left the Sierra Nevada for Alquerias – Huerta de Murcia commercial aire, situated amongst the lemon groves, but it was full! The only 2 spaces available were “reserved”. An English chap who had been there since November and won’t be leaving until April, seemed keen for us to stay (“too many French on the site”) but we decided to motor on to see Heather and Jez who were now staying at Marjal Costa Blanca Eco Camping Resort.  We made a phone call to check availability which was ok and once we arrived found ourselves pitched right next to them. IMG_5344-1 It has to be said that this was a huge site in the region of 1500 emplacements, with plans to expand even further.  For us it should have been €31 per night but as Cathy had just ordered the new 2015 ACSI book (£15.50 including delivery), although not yet in receipt of it nor the discount card, Marjal honoured the ACSI rate (€16pn). Result! IMG_0772-1 Jez and Heather showed us round the site. Spanish are generally kept in their own area as they are noisy! There are no restrictions how you park in your pitch and you can do anything you like with it – many have artificial grass, thereby creating their own garden, complete with fencing, decking, pergolas and in some cases, garden sculptures! IMG_1541-1 IMG_0736-1 IMG_0734-1 The Spanish had linked each pitch with gazebos, creating a whole uninterrupted row (Spanish alley) allowing themselves their own games room, chill out zone, dining areas etc. Furniture and planting is often brought in by the guests to make their pitch a home from home. We caught the last of the suns rays as it set behind the mountains then all retired to Aurora to continue with the beer and fizz and some pre-dinner canapes. There are all types and sizes of caravans and motorhomes, with some enormous ones like the one below.  Yours for €650,000!! IMG_0739-1 On the Sunday Jez and Heather took us to San Isidro market to buy fruit and veg. Very cheap! We just generally chilled out for the rest of the day followed by meal out at a great curry house in the nearby town. Marjal offers nightly entertainment with several other events and activities going on throughout the day. The facilities are superb and its no wonder people base themselves here for months on end, especially as the rate can dip to as low as €11 pn when you stay 6 months or more.

The following day we left Marjal and topped up with diesel and autogas just outside the resort (€1.08 per litre for diesel and 59c per litre for autogas – the cheapest we’ve seen!). We headed north and whilst on the road Cathy contacted some of our blog followers who had based themselves at Cap Blanch camping in Altea and who had previously invited us to stop by if we were passing. IMG_5350-1 As of this year, the campsite had suspended the ACSI rate for January and February – bummer! So we paid the full rate of €25 per night, right at the top of our budget. As we arrived at the site we were instantly recognised, obviously from photos on our blog, and we met Wendy and Ian ( visit their blog: the Fragrant One, the Smelly One and Mr Always Right), James and Jo, and Nick and Joy.  We had a great night catching up on fellow motorhoming tales and exchanging tips.  I must admit, it felt a bit strange meeting people for the first time who knew all about our adventures (from reading our blog, obviously!).

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Nick, Cathy, Wendy and Ian at the local Chinese

One of the places we had been told to visit by a number of people, including Geoff and Chris (our friends from the IOM) was Benidorm, which was reiterated by Ian and Wendy.  So the next day we caught the bus into the town which was a 40 minute ride for the princely sum of €1.50 each.  It has to be said “Beni” was a surprise, although we spent some of the day “Madge spotting” (for those familiar with the TV programme!) The vista of Beni was surprising as can be seen from the photos below: IMG_5358-1 IMG_5364-1 IMG_5355-1 IMG_5353-1 We had a great couple of days at Cap Blanch with Wendy and Ian and the gang (Cathy even tried out Flamenco dancing which was one of the weekly on-site activities) before deciding we needed to head north through Spain and into France – more specifically to the Alps for skiing, in order to meet our friends towards the end of January.  And time was ticking on!!! We bade farewell to Ian and Wendy and the rest of the gang and headed off.  We made good progress and were virtually out of Spain when we decided to stop at a free aire in the Wetlands on the Ebro Delta. IMG_5376-1 IMG_5378-1 IMG_5384-1 After a night there we continued our way and crossed into France spending our first night at a free aire at La Collioure, a coastal town with a medieval castle.  There were about a dozen motorhomes, some of which were obviously there long term and were hogging all the free electric points.  It was here I noticed that the Alde central heating in Aurora was losing glycol (antifreeze mix) through a vent pipe under the van.  I had to top up the reservoir with water to maintain the minimum levels, although I was concerned it would dilute it below the minimum mix of 60:40. IMG_5408-1 IMG_5401-1 IMG_5395-1 IMG_0881-1 We walked about two kilometres into town for a look around and to find somewhere to eat but as it was still only about 6pm nothing was open (!), so we returned to Aurora for a meal before retiring to bed.  We had originally intended to go back into the town in the morning but the weather was a bit overcast so we decided against it and moved on towards the Alps.

Our next overnight stop was at a riverside aire at Comps, in the pouring rain, which ended up being free as the attendant didn’t come to collect our dues ! He presumably didn’t want to get wet!! IMG_5412-1 After a few hours drive the we stopped at a free aire in the foothills of the Alps at Bourgneuf and got our first taste of the cold, as we were pitched next to piles of snow, and woke up to a hard frost.  The aire is behind a restaurant where we had a lovely meal literally within sight of Aurora. IMG_0890-1 The view in the morning was stunning, with the temperature down to about minus 3 degrees C!  However we still had the heating issue which I was worried may curtail our winter sports if we couldn’t get it resolved. IMG_5417-1 We were still a week away from our friends Pat, Gary, Tommy, Maria, John and Janet arriving in Megeve for a weeks skiing.  They had booked an apartment (in fact the one we stayed in last January) so we were still looking for places to park Aurora so we could get to see and ski with with them. In the meantime we decided that we would go to the aire at Les Menuires, part of the 3 Valleys network (Meribel, Val Thorens and Courcheval), which had been recommended to us by someone we met in Northern Spain and so we began the trek upwards towards the Alpine resorts hopefully for some excellent skiing, although the season had not got off to a good start so far with only limited snowfall.

And so the journey continues………

Farewell Portugal – Hola Spain!

Firstly, Happy New Year to all our followers and readers!  Also apologies for the delay in providing an up dated post this last month due to the fact we have been so busy enjoying ourselves, combined with a lack of good wifi!

We were very sad to be leaving Falesia Beach as we’d had such a great time there and made some really good friends. But Christmas had passed and we had made arrangements to meet friends for New Year at Bella Vista Camping near Marbella in Spain so we had some motoring to do. There was still so much of Portugal that we hadn’t yet discovered and in fact we hadn’t even managed to venture further east of Falesia along the Algarve. We were so enchanted by Portugal – the friendly people, the wildcamping opportunities along the Atlantic, the stunning beaches the food and of course the fact that it was so cheap, that we will definitely return next year, even though our original plans were to visit Germany, Austria and Italy.

We said our goodbyes to Geoff and Chris, Bob and Jo and all the others we had met at this wonderful aire and headed straight to Seville.

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Bob and Dave (the whippet) came to see us off.  Dave is the one with four legs!

About 3 hours later we arrived at Puerto Gelves and the boatyard aire just outside Seville.

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The aire at Puerto Gelves

For €12.10 per night we received all the motorhome services plus 16 amp electricity, shower and toilet facilities, free wifi plus we had lovely views over the marina and river.  Knowing this would only be a brief stop we decided to head straight into Seville by way of the local bus service (€1.55 for a 15 minute journey from right outside the marina). There is a cycle route into the city but as we would be out for the evening, the bus was the better option. Cathy had visited Seville 7 years previously just before her 40th birthday but this was my first visit. By the time we arrived it was around 4.30pm and we opted for the Red Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing tour which was valid for the next 48 hours at a cost of €18 each.

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Cathy wrapped up in winter woolies!

We stayed on the bus for the entire circular route in order to determine what to visit the following day. Seville was actually the first place we had seen any Christmas lights and what a feast for the eyes it was!

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We wandered along taking in the festive atmosphere and strolled amongst the fair, ice skating rink and Christmas markets.  We stopped off for a selection of tapas and were delighted to see that our favourite pork cheeks in a red wine sauce were also on the menu here – as they were in Portugal.  We got the last bus “home” at 11pm and slept well.

The next morning we again got the bus into Seville. We were going to cycle in but Cathy was fighting a cold and her energy levels had somewhat depleted. Included in the bus tour were four free walking tours covering different areas of Seville. We joined the first one of the day at 11.30am but the guide had an incredibly quiet voice which he didnt project at all, despite him having a large audience. Plus he only commentated in Spanish, even though English was assured, so we abandoned that idea and did our own thing! As it was already lunchtime, we headed into the nearby Postiquillo – a restaurant in the Arenal area recommended by one of Cathy’s friends following a recent visit. It was already completed full and we had to wait 15 minutes or so for a table. No problem. We ordered a bottle of Rioja and soaked up the atmosphere!  After a lovely leisurely lunch we headed towards the Cathedral.

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The queues to visit this main attraction and its tower were huge so we continued on to the Centro area to pick up the hop on hop off bus tour. By the bus stop was a huge department store – El Corte Ingles. We wanted to buy a couple of electrical items (a power bank and another double USB car charger) and as it was another 20 minutes or so before our next bus, we headed in. MISTAKE!!! Being the first weekend after Christmas, it was completely mobbed! Unlike Cathy, I hate shopping with a vengeance but we fought our way to the electrical department to get what we needed. What made this fraught experience rather pleasurable though was the fact that we also bought a new Bose mini sound dock, and it was in the sale. Result! There were several other attractions we wanted to visit, but again there were huge queues so we just wandered around and soaked up the atmosphere of this truly captivating city before catching the 10pm bus back to the marina.

The next day we headed back into Seville, again on the bus.  We didnt use the hop on hop off bus at all. The weather was glorious so we ended up walking everywhere.

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The Torre del Oro

We were getting peckish (so what’s new) so we opted for lunch in a non touristy, non english speaking tapas restaurant (another recommendation) where again we had a delicious selection.

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Not content with having filled ourselves with a lovely lunch we went in search of some ‘mushrooms’ (no, not magic ones!). These are in fact collectively known as the Metropol Parasol – a large wooden structure located in the old quarter.  It was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann and completed in April 2011.  It has dimensions of 150 metres by 70 metres and an approximate height of 26 metres, and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. It is quite impressive and there is a viewing gantry at the top which we visited in order to take in the views across the city.

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Even Square Bob Sponge Pants was impressed!!

In the afternoon we decided we would try to get into the Cathedral – BIG MISTAKE!! We joined the end of the queue at around 3pm which snaked around the Cathedral. We managed to get through the gates at 3.30pm before they were closed behind us (leaving some very upset tourists behind!).  We queued a further 10 minutes before we arrived at the cash desk where we were informed that both the cathedral and tower closed in 20 minutes time, at 4pm! We were advised that it would take an hour to visit the cathedral, plus additional time to climb the Giralda Tower – how can we do this in 20 minutes?!  They still wanted to charge €22 for the privilege, so like many others there, we made our excuses and left! Luckily we had managed to have a quick visit the day before but as Mass was taking place, most of it, including the tower, was roped off.  Hey ho – it just gives us an excuse to come back to Seville!

So what to do with our last remaining hours in Seville? Cathy had mentioned she had never taken a horse and carriage trip around anywhere, so as this adventure is being made up of as many experiences as were can cram in, we hailed one for a tour of the beautiful and enchanting Parque de Maria Luisa, pass the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) on the river, the Real Alcazares (Royal Palace – still with huge queues) and the Plaza de Espagna (Spanish Square).  Our driver was most obliging and kept jumping off, taking our camera and taking pictures!  A fabulous romantic end to a wonderful weekend in Seville – somewhere we will definitely return to.

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The following morning we got Aurora ready for the road and departed the aire at Puerto Gelves en route for Bella Vista Camping, Manilva, where we were going to hook up with Heather, Jez, Mark and Elaine whom we had met at Chateau Lacomte when they were working there during the 2013 season. We arrived around 3pm and parked up on our designated pitch.

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When we caught up with everybody the fizz and beer were opened and we spent the next few hours (actually 9 hours!) catching up with our respective tales since we had last met.

The following day was New Years Eve. After breakfast Jez, Mark and I went to the local supermarket to stock up on booze (we cleared the shelves of fizz, which the girls were particularly partial to!), whilst Heather, Elaine and Cathy wandered into the local town to book dinner for that evening, which was to be at an Indian Restaurant.

Pre dinner drinks were arranged in Mark and Elaine’s motorhome, which is where we were introduced to Bob and Hillary, who are 82 and 79 years young respectively!  They had visited every state in the USA in a motorhome and their energy and zest for life was inspirational!

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Bob, Hilary, Heather, Cathy, Jez and Nick in Mark and Elaines motorhome. Yes Eric –  it is exactly the same as yours!!

We then walked the short distance to the restaurant where we were made very welcome by the staff and had a fantastic meal.

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Mark and Elaine

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Elaine, young Bob and Hilary

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Jez and Heather

 

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After the restaurant we returned to the campsite for the live entertainment and celebrated 2 New Years there! one at Spanish time and one an hour later at UK time.  Once again the fizz was flowing and the girls boogied on down before we all eventually headed for bed at around 3am. We managed to Skype some of our friends – whom we normally spend New Year’s Eve with – when we returned to Aurora.

Needless to say New Year’s Day got off to a slow start!!  Mark had the brain wave of going for fish and chips around lunchtime!  It was at a place called Marlows Fish and Chip shop.  You could have been in the UK with the decor etc,  Cathy and I both opted for cod and chips (I has mushy peas on the side!!) and it was delicious.  I have not really missed anything about the UK, for example F&C.  However when it was put in front of me I really enjoyed it!

The following day we all went out for lunch at the Chinese restaurant on the harbour where they did a fixed price menu for €9.90, which was really very good.  I suppose the problem you get with based long term on some of these Spanish (and Portuguese) sites over the winter is that you can easily get sucked into a drinking and eating culture because it is so relatively cheap. This is not good for the waistline!!

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The very picturesque harbour at Manilva

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On Saturday 3rd January we left Camping La Bella Vista for the Sierra Nevada, which is near Granada.  We had identified a campsite at Guejar Sierra, namely Camping Las Lomas, which was located at around 1,100 metres so we anticipated a drop in temperature to that we had been used to for the last few months.  The views en route were fantastic as the mountains loomed into sight.

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The site was in a beautiful location with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains behind us and the Embalse de Canales lake and city of Granada down below. We had a wonderful pitch which caught the sun most of the day.  Cathy had caught a cold (she blames you Geoff!!) which had come out so this was a beautiful retreat-like location to recover.   Interestingly the site wanted €31 per night, which would have been the most we have EVER paid  (our Camperstop book quoted only €16!) but we managed to receive the Caravan Club rate of €19.  The showers here were the best we’d ever experienced, with loads of unlimited steaming hot water with a powerful shower head!  And what’s more they were FREE!  It’s funny that sometimes the things we took very much for granted before are to be relished in this life style, which helps you keep your feet on the ground!  We also used the campsite to book a visit to the Alhambra Palace, which was set for Wednesday – and would allow time for Cathy to recover from her cold (that Geoff gave her – have we mentioned that already?!!!).

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We spent the next few days chillaxing with a short walk into the local village. It was very sleepy but after all it was Sunday.

On Monday 5th January we caught the bus into Granada (a mere €1.70 each way for a 40 minute journey – National Express take note!). It has to be said that Granada is a lovely city and would be great for a weekend break. We wandered right through the town and walked high up to St Nicholas’ church/viewpoint which offered a fantastic view of the Alhambra, with the Sierra Nevada in the background. It was a very chilled atmosphere, with various artisans displaying their wares and Spanish guitarists strumming away to the assembled audience.

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We then walked back down into the town which was interrupted (in a nice way) by a girl trying to sell us a Segway tour of the city for €30 each.  Anyway we got to have a short play on one – a tour on one of these would be cool – but not today!.

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As I say the city is great, and the Police are cool!! After all, look what they get to ride around on!! (This is for you Steve Gransby!)

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As the day came to a close we decided to see if we could get a glimpse of the 3 Kings Procession which is a big thing in Spain and is virtually as important as Christmas itself, especially for kids as this is the day they receive their presents!  About a hundred floats drive throughout the city and sweets are thrown to the crowds of children that line the route.

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Not sure how Fred Flintstone and the 3 Kings are connected!

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On Wednesday 6th January we set off early for our much anticipated visit to the Alhambra Palace.  (It costs €30.80 entry fee for both plus €6.50 for the audio tour). We were not disappointed.  It is sumptuous and the architecture and intricate carvings are amazing. The audio tour is excellent – you simply tap the number into the hand held radio and it plays back the information about that particular location.  You can play it as many times as you like if you miss some of the information. The sound of running water is everywhere, which is a bit unfortunate if you have a weak bladder!!   The following pictures try and capture its beauty – enjoy!

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Water is everywhere. This is the watery staircase!

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If you get overcome by the beauty of it all the Red Cross are on hand in their very cool ambulance thingy!!

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We got back to Aurora after an exhausting day and slumped in our Lafuma chairs and feasted on that last of our Roscon de Reyes (three kings) cake, followed by a San Miguel beer. Nick found the king in his slice, which was supposed to be lucky!

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After the excitement of the day (and the fact we were too tired to cook) we decided to have dinner in the campsite restaurant, which was an excellent decision! Cathy had steak and Nick pork medallions). We chose the €15.90 3 course menu of the day which included a glass of wine but the waiter left us the bottle at no extra charge!

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On Thursday 7th we left the campsite for the 30km drive to the Sierra Nevada ski aire.  We didn’t really expect to do much skiing as this was Spain and the weather had been dry and warm.  However the Sierra Nevada is high, nearly 3,500 metres – indeed the road is the highest paved road in Europe.  The drive was spectacular with bluebird skies and clear views.IMG_5325-1 IMG_5322-1

And so this opened the chapter on the next part of our adventure.

And so the journey continues……..

Great news from Alvor, and back to Falesia Beach for Christmas

No sooner had we arrived at Alvor, paid our dues to Carlos the aires attendant and plugged into the 16 amp electricity, we had Soo out of the garage and were heading for the private  Hospital Particular do Algarve.  It was about 4pm and we had no appointment or indeed did not know if they could assist.  We arrived at reception and offered a very brief explanation of the problem.  Cathy filled in a questionnaire, handed it back to receptionist and we waited.  Not for long.  Within half an hour we were in with a young male doctor who asked Cathy some questions and then carried out an examination.  He confirmed she had a lump but immediately put her mind at rest as he believed it was just a benign cyst.  However just to be sure he would arrange an ultrasound scan.  We expected that would happen in a few days, but when Cathy queried with him when that would be he said now!  NOW?!  Sure enough within minutes we were being guided to the radiology department where we waited about 20 minutes for her slot.  When Cathy emerged from the scanning room she was beaming – the radiologist had told her there and then that the 3cm cyst was benign.  In fact she had many cysts in each breast, but none were malignant.  What a relief!  We had to wait a bit longer for him to type up the report which he then handed to us, complete with copies of the scans.  After another final consultation with the original doctor we saw, we then waited for the bad news – bearing in mind this was a private hospital – the bill!  With baited breath we waited for the printer to churn out the invoice.  €125.00!! No way!  I was expecting triple that, at least.  We left the hospital with a renewed spring in our step in the knowledge we didn’t need to change our plans and Tales from Aurora could continue. Hoorah!!!

What a different story it would have been in the UK.  Instead of two hours from start to finish it would have been weeks with a load of the costs being incurred with completing just the paperwork i.e. appointments, reports, dealing with other departments blah blah. There is no way the radiographer would have told us the results – we would have been left hanging until an appointment was made with our doctor!  NHS take note!!

And so the journey continues…..

We were at long last at Alvor, a place we had heard so much about, especially as it was very close to the beach and a lovely town.  Its set right at the mouth of the Alvor estuary, with the Atlantic ocean to one side and a freshwater lagoon to the other.  To be honest the aire was pretty non descript with a sandy rutted surface, which was drying out after the recent rains.

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Soo and Aurora at Alvor

 

As it was now around 7pm we decided to eat out by way of celebration of the good news and went to a fish restaurant recommended to us on the quay.  We were the only people in there and the young waiter looked after us well.  We had a large fresh sea bass (hang the budget!) which he deboned for us at the table.  It was delicious.

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The next day we decided to go for a walk in the warm sunshine.  The coastline is rocky and rugged, but just adjacent to the town the vista is somewhat spoiled by the high rise flats that line the beach.  However when you walk further down the beach towards the rocky headland it becomes more attractive.

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December and still in shorts!

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You can walk round the jutting rocks at low tide, or walk through the holes in the rocks.  It is the traditional yellow and red sandstone that looks particularly vibrant in the evening sun.

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We talked to a few motorhomers on the aire.  There was a couple from the UK, Derek and Hanneka (who was Dutch), who were seasoned motorhomers and had a wealth of experience.  They invited us out to dinner with them to one of the restaurants that offer a €7.50 menu.  It was OK but nowhere near as good as the one at Silves – Marisqueira Casa Velha – who also offer a €7.50 menu.  Mind you we were spoilt at Silves, and the bar was set at a high level and would be hard to beat.  We also met Mark at the Alvor aire who had a fabulous Phoenix motorhome and had been motorhoming for 25 years.  One of his experiences was getting stuck at Ferragudo beach on the Algarve and having to be towed off which cost €800!  Ouch!  We clearly made the right decision to leave Ferragudo the other day as soon as we heard the raindrops!

After just 2 days at Alvor it was time to leave. It was approaching the 19th December, the date we had said we would return to Falesia beach.  It was almost like we were going home for Christmas (sounds like a good title for a song sung by, say, Chris Rea!!  LOL) and we were getting excited by the prospect.

Alvor to Falesia wasn’t far but we decided to go via Camperserv (www.camperserv.com), a motorhome service shop at Loule to see if we could get some LPG filters for our Gaslow system which would filter out the oily elements in the Autogas that was causing our fridge gas jet to block.  The owner is an English chap called Geoff (although everyone knows him as Tommy as his surname is Tucker!).  We explained what we needed and he came to look at Aurora to see if the Truma gas filters would fit.  He confirmed they would and asked if he would like him to fit them for us, which he duly did.

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I was also chatting to him about our electrical issues and he suggested that I go through all the fuses on the Electroblok one by one (as they were all labelled in German) to check they were all OK.  It seemed a bit of a long shot as I was getting a voltage through the affected circuit at the connection on the Electroblok, but I said I would give it a go.  Anyway the filters were fitted and paid for (€82 each – we needed two as we have twin gas bottles) and we made our way to Falesia Beach.

When we arrived we were greeted as long lost friends by Geoff and Chris, although Tilly and Baz were a bit indignant as we hadn’t explained why we hadn’t been there for the last 3 weeks although they soon forgave us when we got a biscuit out!!  It was great to see them as they are truly a lovely, sincere and warm couple who are great to be with.  Plans started to be hatched for Christmas Day and Geoff had seized on an idea I had planted before we left to  have a buffet where everybody contributed towards the meal.  We had seven coming;  Bob and Jo (whom we hadn’t yet met), Chris and Geoff, Cathy and I and Michael who was from Germany, whom we had met at our previous visit to Falesia.  He was an interesting guy as he had worked for Mercedes and was on the team that developed the Mercedes-Benz SLR MacLaren.

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This is a monster of a car which has a 5.4 litre V8 producing 626 BHP with a 0-60 time of 3.4 seconds.  One of these, when new, would have set you back around £313,000!!  Michael said he had driven it all over the world during its development in places such as Namibia and the Arctic to test its reliability and performance.  What a job!

In the days in the run up to the 25th we pottered around the site, took a trip to Loule but pretty much just chilled and walked on the beautiful beach.  The weather was lovely and sunny if a little on the cool side but hey this is December!!

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Chris at one of the stalls in Loule market which produced fabulous home made products

I turned my attention to the electrical issue and decided one morning I would dedicate some time to sort it out.  I got down in front of the passenger seat to get a clear view of the Schaudt Electroblok and noticed that the some of the fuses were labeled Kriek 1 to 5.  I used a translator which said the word meant circulation.  Circulation? What’s that got to do with electricity?  Durrrrrr!  Circuit!  Circuit 1 to 5.  So where to start.  Circuit 1 seemed like a good place so I turned on the spotlights on the ‘damaged’ circuit and removed the fuse and hey presto they went out.  I looked at the fuse.

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New fuse on the left; blown fuse on the right!

It had blown!!!  But why was it still conducting electricity?  It would appear that the residue from the blown fuse had continued to make a circuit but not enough to conduct enough ampage to power the lights properly.  I inserted the new fuse and eureka everything worked properly.  Phew what a relief!  Unbelievable that a 20p component could have caused so much hassle.  Cathy is now forgiven LOL!  I could now enjoy a properly lit Christmas!!  Ha ha

Gradually the big day approached and we did some last minute shopping, which was a relaxed affair – not like the siege mentality that you get with last minute shopping in the UK.

Christmas Day arrived and Cathy and I had our traditional scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with a bottle of champagne. We used to have the bubbly in our hot tub but hey that was in a different lifetime!  (and our friends John and Sharon own the hot tub now!)

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After breakfast, we all wished our motorhoming neighbours a Merry Christmas and set up and decorated the lunch tables on Geoff’s pitch, which was also adorned with the Isle of Man flag!

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Food prep was completed so the next job was a swim!  What are you mad?  No!  the sea was lovely and four of us ventured in.

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Even Baz joined in.

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Then of course the tone got lowered, or more precisely the swimming shorts

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Chris with Ian for some “bitty”

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Then it was all back to the site to get things underway and get the birds in the oven!  The sun was lovely and warm and it was unlike any other Christmas Day we had celebrated.

Chris, Jo and Cathy shared the cooking between them (motorhome ovens are TINY!) and with the added use of two Remoskas (fabulous electric tabletop ovens that are ideal for camping when on hook up – available exclusively from Lakeland) produced a fabulous Christmas dinner of roast pork, turkey, roast potatoes, braised cabbage, brussel sprouts with bacon, followed by cheese and biscuits and trifle.  All washed down with fizz, wine and port.

The day was fantastic and I need say no more as the pictures speak for themselves!

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Bob and Geoff “Two Glasses” Allen

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Michael: “Germany is far better zan England Ja?” Geoff: “Yes Michael but I’m from the Isle of Man”

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Yum yum!

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Cheers, or prost! (Jo is hiding behind Michael’s glass)

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Nick and my new dog Tilly xx

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It’s a hard life but someone has to do it!

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Finally it was down to the beach to see the sun set on a fabulous day.

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Cathy and Chris singing and dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”!

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The sun sets on a wonderful day – a Christmas to remember!

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Bob, Jo, Cathy and Chris

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Merry Xmas in sand mono

We had decided that after Christmas at Falesia we would head into Spain to visit friends at Camping Bella Vista near Manilva, travelling via Seville where we would stop for a few days to do some sightseeing in the city.

And so somewhat sadly we left our new dear friends and set off out of Portugal into Spain to start a new chapter in our adventure.

And so the journey continues………

Part 2 of our pre Christmas walkabout; Amoreira Beach, Santa Clara, Monchique, Silves and Messines

So where to after Sagres? The first job was to service Aurora at the new motorhome service area at Intermarche (a french owned Supermarket chain), after which now fully emptied and filled we were now prepared for a week or so of wild camping.

We had both said how much we enjoyed the Atlantic Coast and having re-read Steve and Lyssa’s blog (The Adventures of Big Bird) we decided to head due north, past Carrapateira, a place we had already spent a few days, to Amoreira Beach.  This beautiful beach is accessed by a 6km drive down a bumpy tarmac road.

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Amoreira beach – we parked at the purple dropped pin

Steve and Lyssa had mentioned a wild parking spot but when we arrived we were greeted by what looked to be a newly erected sign saying no overnight parking!

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Being responsible motorhomers we do obey these signs.  Besides we heard the police WILL move you on and fine you!  We were ok to park there for lunch, after which we walked the short distance to the beach where there was a cafe.  However there was a note in the window saying  it was closed until 1st February, although I think this was enforced as the ground around the cafe had been seriously eroded and the building was in danger of falling into the sea!  Consequently they were moving large boulders into position to shore up the defences via a large earth moving vehicle and digger.

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This spoilt the tranquility.  We decided as we had come this far we would stay overnight but to stay within the law we parked on the side of the road near the cafe car park.  We had a fab view of the ocean and once the buidling work eventually stopped peace was restored.

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This then meant we had to make yet another decision as we clearly didn’t want to stay here any longer than one night!!  This life is SO stressful LOL!  We remembered that Geoff and Chris had mentioned a wild camping spot at Santa Clara barragem so we found the co-ordinates on the satnav and set off after breakfast.  It wan’t that far – due east of Amoreira and took about an hour and a half.  You access the wild camping spot (which as with all these “aires” in Portugal are car parks where motorhomes are tolerated!) across the dam.

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The wild camping spot at Santa Clara – we parked at the purple pin

There seemed quite a few motorhomes there, and as we got closer we realised that it was a bit of a hippy camp.  Now Geoff and Chris has said that when they were there there were two guys, Belgian and Dutch, who had been there for about 12 months, but obviously they had now been joined by their friends.  Geoff had said what a nice guy the Belgian lad was and that he was called Cody.  So we duly found a spot and parked up.  It was stunning with amazing views down this massive barragem.  There were about a dozen motorhomes parked up representing Belgium, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, France, Holland and now England!

Sunrise over the Santa Clara barragem

Sunrise over the Santa Clara barragem

The peace and tranquility of this place cannot be described and we instantly felt settled.  We saw Cody and introduced ourselves.  He clearly remembered Geoff (who wouldn’t with his highly gregarious nature) and he talked to us about his life, and how long he had been there (about a year!), and his friends.  He is only 25 and has a 40 year old Hymer motorhome.  God knows how he survives but he does, and on next to nothing.  The barragem provides his washing and drinking water and cheekily he taps into the street lighting to power his motorhome!!  We were talking about Christmas and asked what he was doing.  He said he would be staying at Santa Clara as he couldn’t afford the diesel to drive back to Belgium and see his mummy!  Ah bless!  The rest of his friends were also cool and laid back and invited us over to share their fire in the evening.  The following day we cycled to Santa Clara town, about 7kms, to look round.  It was quaint and totally unaffected by any sort of tourism.  The locals source their drinking water from a  fonte (a spring) which we went and visited.

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Our new house in Portugal……….

...although it would only be suitable for Cathy!!!

…although it would only be suitable for Cathy!!!

This was the genuine Portugal and epitomised what we have come to love about this country.  We would have stayed longer but we had to resolve an issue with a parcel coming from the UK which we hoped would be delivered to the post office near Falesia Beach, which apparently offered a poste restante service,  and which we would collect when we returned there for Christmas.  However we found from the parcel tracking service that the post office wouldn’t accept it so after some frantic phone calls we contacted GLS, the carrier company, and rescheduled the drop for the following day at the aire at Monchique, which was only 45 minutes away.  It cut short our plans to stay at Santa Clara as we could definitely have stayed longer.  However before we left we decided to give Cody a 26th birthday present.  We had packed our acoustic guitar when we left the UK but hadn’t used it (we had plans to learn to play it but that had’t happened) so decided it would be a nice gift, and boy was it appreciated.  The look on his face was a picture!!

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Happy Birthday Cody

It was quite nice to return to Monchique, and meet up with some fellow motorhomers whom we had met there previously, who were there for Christmas, as well as Isobel, the french lady in her Concorde motorhome who had gone there for a week in December 2013, and was still there!!  The next day I checked GLS’s website and saw my parcel was out for delivery.  Given the aire is quite remote I did wonder if they would find it.  However I need not have worried as about 10am the van pulled into the aire.  I went over, the driver shook my hand, handed me the parcel for which I signed on his PDA, he shook my hand again and wished me a nice day.  What a service!! Yodel/UPS/Citylink listen and learn from GLS!

During our stay at Monchique we ventured out on Soo to the town and up towards the nearby town of Foia.  On the way we stopped at a restaurant we had been recommended, and what a treat.  We had Iberian black pork which was prepared and cooked to a tee!!

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Fantastic and one of the nicest meals we have had in Portugal.  We had a litre of wine, of which I drank a glass as I was driving, so Cathy polished off the rest!  I am surprised she managed to stay on the back of the motorbike!!

Foia is the highest point on the Algarve with breathtaking views.

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One of the jobs Cathy wanted to do at Monchique was catch up on the laundry which she duly did.  However getting the washing dry was becoming more difficult given the shortening days, even though the sun was still shining.  As the sun was setting Cathy brought the clothes inside and hung them around Aurora in attempt to get them dry as we were now running the heating in the evening.  Getting short of space she needed to hang my shirt up which was on a metal coat hanger.

“Mmm those silver rods near the spotlights look like a good place.  Blimey what was that flash of light and why have the spotlights gone dim? ”

I couldn’t believe that she had hung the metal coat hanger on the live lighting rails and shorted them out.  The spots were working, but dim, the ambient lighting wasn’t working and neither was the strip light over the drop down bed!!  OMG – what had she done?  I tested the voltage across the rails and it read 12.77 volts but dropped to just over 10 volts under load.  All Aurora’s electrics are routed through a box of tricks under the passenger seat called an Electroblok and I suspected that she had done some damage to one of the circuits.  I googled the issue but couldn’t find an answer, apart from getting referred to a company in the UK who could repair them.  A replacement Electroblok was in the region of £400.  Yikes Shaggy!  My other concern was that the problem may be in the wiring and such a fault could be potentially dangerous.  In the interests of safety I therefore disabled that circuit.

There was a lovely couple staying at Monchique from Belfast, Jim and Myrtle, who told us that their favourite wild camping spot in Portugal was Ferragudo Beach, which was only about 20kms away.  That sounds like an acceptable distance to travel in a day so after 4 very enjoyable days at Monchique we set off.

The location was stunning, with Aurora parked literally feet from the sea.

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The town is traditionally a fishing village, with fisherman still an inherent part of the scenery.

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A fisherman mends his nets. Aurora can be seen in the background

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Tim and Ade, whom we had met at Falesia and Sagres, were also at Ferragudo and together we visited the Christmas market in the town, which was not quite like the ones we have been used to in towns like Prague and Budapest – in fact Christmas seems fairly low key here, which is quite refreshing as I find it overwhelming in the UK when Christmas effectively starts in September!  Too much!  My thoughts are that given we have the 12 days of Christmas after 25th December so its should start no more than 12 days before!  Bah humbug!!

We also had experience of the Portuguese health service.  I get a lot of plaque on my teeth and need a regular scale and polish.  Given we have been away since the beginning of the year I was well overdue for a treatment (I had received a text from my dentist in the UK reminding me I needed to make an appointment) and consequently my teeth felt rank.  As we were walking back to Aurora we spotted a walk in health centre that did dentistry amongst other things.  We went to reception to see if they had any appointments.  They had one immediately so I said OK.  It cost €50 but it was worth every penny.  I was treated by a very attractive female dentist, using the latest gear and had the luxury of a TV screen on the ceiling so I could watch music videos whilst being treated.  It was the best scale and polish in the world…EVER!  My teeth felt amazing afterwards, and I told Cathy as soon as I came out.  Of course she had to have some too, sort she booked in for the same treatment there and then. How bizarre – actually WANTING to go to the dentist!  Not in the budget but it was an essential and not overly exorbitant when compared to the UK.  However our experience was far better then we would get at home and made it worth the money.

The weather during the week we spent there was glorious and one evening we were treated to an amazing sunset.

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It was a tough life but someone had to do it!

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On one of our wanderings around the town we spotted a couple picking things off a tree.  We asked them what they were picking and they replied pepper.  Amazing!

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A couple picking pepper off the tree

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We stayed for 4 wonderful nights but were aware from the weather forecasts that rain was due on the Friday and decided that we would move on to Silves, given that you would not want to be caught on this sandy surface in the rain.  We woke on the Friday to cloudy skies, with rain forecast about 11am, so we laid out the table for breakfast. Just as things were ready we heard the pitter patter of rain on the roof.  I looked at Cathy and Cathy looked at me.  “Lets get out of here…NOW”  we said and hastily cleared the table, started the engine and drove off the beach, and to Lidl which was 500 metres down the road in what was now torrential rain.  Right decision!  We parked in their car park and had breakfast before doing a bit of shopping.  What is great about Lidl’s in Portugal is that they all have bespoke areas for motorhomes!  Asda/Tesco/Sainsburys etc – take note!!

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We then completed the short drive (everything seems to be about half an hour way on the Algarve!) to the commercial aire at Silves, where we could fill Aurora with water and recharge the batteries. We had used the generator at Ferragudo as the batteries couldn’t get a full charge from the solar panels as the sun is getting lower in the sky at this time of year, and not as much energy is available.  Some clever motorhomers have adapted their panels to tilt toward the sun to gather the maximum amount of precious sunlight during the winter months. The aire is excellent with electricity (6 amp), water on the pitch, wifi and hot showers and laundry facilities which are all immaculately maintained, all for €6.50 pn

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Silves is a great location and one of the notable sights are the proliferation of storks in the area, and the massive nests they make, precariously perched on top of aerials or chimneys.

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We parked alongside another Dethleffs motorhome which was the same as Aurora.  As we chocked up and plugged in Cathy started talking to the owner of the Dethleffs as he had come out to see our motorhome which was the same as his (as you do).  Now we have been following a blog called Europe in Our Motorhome http://paulandlynne2011.blogspot.com.es and the chap introduced himself as Paul.  Cathy said “are you Paul of Paul and Lynne?”  “Yes” was the reply!  Small world.  Their blog has been a great source of information and they were even more interesting to talk to with invaluable tips and tricks they had learned over 7 years of motorhoming on a full time basis. They also recommended the Dethleffs factory tour in Imsy in south Germany which we will investigate maybe as part of our return leg to the UK in March/April 2015.

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Lynne, Paul and Cathy

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The pitches at Silves aire

We took the opportunity to look round the town and visit the castle, as well as revisiting the restaurant we had dined at with Eric, Sharon, Geoff and Chris choosing the same €7.50 menu!  It was just as good the second time.

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Silves Castle

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The lovely thing about this part of Portugal, and particularly at this time of year, is the sight of oranges and lemons ripening on the trees in the winter sunshine.

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With acres of fruit trees around this area oranges are on sale everywhere and you can pick up a 5kg bag for €2!  And they are so juicy and tasty!  Given we are eating at least 2 oranges a day we have so far fought off any colds, probably due to the amount of vitamin C we are taking in.

After 3 nights at Silves our next destination was Camperstop Messines which had been recommended to us by some Dutch.  It was only about 45 minutes away so after a leisurely breakfast (oranges (!), bread with fruits of the forest jam and coffee) we set off.  The access to the site is up a rough potholed track and would put some people off.  But given we had been pre-warned via Big Bird we persevered.  There is a sharp left turn over a bridge which is a bit tight but nothing we couldn’t handle.

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The access to Camperstop Messines – breathe in!

The site was idyllic and run by a lovely Dutch couple called Andy and Fran.  At first I was confused about Frans nationality as she seemed to have a northern accent.  When I asked her she explained that she was indeed Dutch but had lived and worked in Leeds for about 4 years.  That explains it then!  They also remembered Steve and Lyssa who were one of their first customers after they had opened last year.  Indeed Big Bird features on their website:

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The site is quite eco – the showers are heated by the sun, the electricity to power the satellite internet is generated by solar panels and the waste water runs into a naturally aspirated septic tank.  The drinking water comes from a bore hole, which goes down 200 metres, and is high quality, albeit the flow is not great and took about an hour to fill Aurora’s tank.  Andy said it provided 25,000 litres per day.  It costs €6 pn.

He also provided some useful advice, based on their own motor homing experiences, about the fridge which gave me the incentive and confidence to try and sort our fridge problem once and for all.  It involved removing a T piece exhaust from the top of the fridges flue, accessed from the outside cover, pulling out a heat exchanger spiral and then pushing a brush into the flue to clean out any soot.  `Cathy was invaluable in helping with this task as her small hands could access the tiny screw that held the T piece in place.  The spiral was absolutely caked in soot, and when we inserted the brush into the flue it released around 3 tablespoons of soot!!

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Just some of the soot that came out of the fridge flue

It was all quite satisfying and rewarding knowing that our efforts would make a material difference to the performance of the fridge!  It also added to the knowledge base of keeping Aurora on the road.

Now all that remains is to sort out the electrical problem!!!  Oh, and the air con.

Another issue suddenly raised its head whilst we were at Messiness and cut short our stay (and is why we didn’t take any photos of the site).  Cathy discovered a lump in one of her boobs.  Whilst she was aware she generally had cysts, which were harmless, this one seemed different.  We decided that we needed to get it looked at and after talking to Andy decided to go to the private hospital at Alvor to see if we could get some assistance.  This was ironic because Alvor was one of the places we had wanted to visit after hearing so much about it but had put off going there as apparently it is horrid in wet weather, and given the recent rain we chose to stay away.  However it had been dry for about 10 days so should be ok.  Unfortunately our primary reason to go there was not to see the aire or the town but to seek some urgent medical assistance.

And so, somewhat trepidatiously,  the journey continues……………..