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

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.

 

 

 

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………

Falesia beach, our birthdays and a “pre Christmas” walkabout (part 1)

We had only intended to stay at Falesia Beach Motorhome Park for the 3 days that our friends John and Sharon were visting us.  However after they had gone we realised how comfortable the place felt.  This was not only due to its location, and proximity to the beach, restaurants and supermarket, but also the friendly nature of the owner and our fellow campers.  Two of those of course were Geoff and Chris (and of course their dogs Baz and Tilly), our new bezza mates from the Isle of Man.

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Indeed it was so comfortable we stayed for 18 days in total!!  According to some other motorhomers we met, who are also keen sailors, you can get the same effect when you are sailing in that you find a nice port, intend to stay for a night or two, but end up staying for several weeks.  They called it “harbour rock”, and I suppose we got the motorhome equivalent!

During the 18 days we got to know Geoff and Chris much better, and what a great couple they are. We had some lovely walks on the beach with them and their dogs Baz (a Patterjack) and Tilly (a Westie).

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We also caught up with some Aurora maintenance including a clean inside and out, some running repairs, some laundry and re-sorting of some of our clothes that are stored in Aurora’s hold. One thing I have been meaning to do is upgrade the horn.  When we in Spain travelling around the Picos on the windy roads I sounded the horn to warm oncoming road users of our presence.  I might as well have not bothered as the standard horn is pathetic, its sound or volume not being commensurate with the size of vehicle.  My friend John bought some bits out from the UK and we duly fitted it one morning.  You inevitably get a bit of an audience from people keen to help, and trying to explain to some people what we were doing got lost in translation.  Anyone Aurora now sports a bright red Stebel Nautilus, and boy is it loud!  I cant wait to use it in anger.

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I also helped Geoff with some repairs to his Autotrail (he regularly gave me a “task for the day”) which included sourcing and repairing a leak in one of the lockers, as well as extending his bike rack for the impending delivery of his new electric bike.

We also had some lovely days out with Geoff and Chris, who kindly ferried us around in their motorhome, given it is a bit smaller than Aurora and is easier to park in town.  We visited Albufeira, which doubled up as a shopping trip (Aldi and Lidl) and a visit to the dentist for Cathy to get her filling redone.  We have to say we were not enamoured with that part of the town as it was a bit of a Little England with numerous bars, all touting for your business with such tricks as ‘happy hours’ and cheap pints of beer.  Not my cup of tea if you know what I mean.  Maybe we are doing the place an injustice and there is other more attractive parts to Albufeira which we should investigate next time we are there.

We also visited Quarteira, where there is a gypsy market held every Wednesday.  Geoff and I dropped Cathy and Chris off and drove to the beach to walk the dogs and have a coffee before picking them up on the way back to Falesia.  The great thing about this lifestyle is that Cathy and I are restricted from buying ‘stuff’ as we simply don’t have the space for anything. Besides we spent months before we set off on this adventure getting rid of ‘stuff’.   We have a rule for purchases – one in one out, although given that we have still definitely brought too much with us, I am thinking of amending that to one in two out!!

Another trip out for us was to Vilamoura using our bikes, cycling east adjacent to the coast,  over a bridge near the marina and into the town.  Again there is a strong British influence with many ‘pubs’.  Given it was around lunchtime our thoughts turned to food (so what’s new!) and we started to look for a restaurant.  We eventually chose one where there was a seating area on the opposite side of the road to the main part of the restaurant, and where the decking was suspended over the waters of the marina.  We were the first to be seated and so received the undivided attention of the waiter.  We both ordered what has become a favourite which is Piri Piri chicken, nice and spicy – some restaurants spice it up more than others. This was washed down with a glass of rose for Cathy and a Super Bock beer for me.

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Lunching at Vilamoura

We sat in the lovely warm afternoon sun enjoying our food and surroundings watching the multi million pound motor cruisers bobbing on the water just a matter of metres from where we sat.  Ironically a few of them were Sunseekers, which are made in Poole and was the location for our first night fulltiming in our motorhome.

After lunch we headed back to ‘our place’ as Cathy calls it at Falesia beach, although we took a detour and actually cycled on the compacted sand right next to the sea.  It was hard going – a bit of cardio to help work off our lunch!

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The days were enjoyable although you sometimes wonder where the time goes.  How did we ever find the time to work?  Sometimes we simply stayed on the site, and then wandered down to the beach.  One afternoon the tide was higher than we had seen it before leaving very little actual sand to walk on.  We splashed around in the waves getting soaked.  Even though it was now November the sea was relatively warm at around 19 degrees C.

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One of the nice things about Falesia is that although the aire is remote, and so you can enjoy absolute silence and peace in the evenings, there are things like shops and restaurants within easy walking or cycling distance.  One such restaurant is Euphoria which we could actually see from Aurora’s pitch.  They specialise in one of the local delicacies which is Iberian Black Pork.  It doesn’t sound appetising but believe you me it is delicious.  It was Cathy’s birthday on the 22nd November so we decided to go to Euphoria for a meal with Geoff and Christine.

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The owner – a young lad – looked after us brilliantly and we had some fantastic food -including the black pork.

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For desert they brought out a cake with a  candle in and sang Happy Birthday to Cathy. The obligitory port was served to finish of the meal and we sampled various types including tawny and white port.

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Anyway we realised that ‘harbour rock’ was setting in so decided we were going to leave.  However we had also decided that we wanted to be settled somewhere for Christmas and that being at Falesia, and with Geoff and Chris, was a perfect solution.  So we bid our temporary farewells, agreeing that we would return on the 19th December.

So where to go?  Well it was difficult – we have had so many recommendations and it is difficult to know where to start.  But we decided that we would go back due west along the Algarve to the most south western point – a place we had already been with John and Sharon earlier in the month.  But that was only for a few hours.

Our first destination was a wild camping spot at Praia Marinha, Carvoeiro.  This could only handle a small number of motorhomes so it would be pot luck if we could stay there.

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The ‘aire’ at Carvoeiro

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Now it is important to note that Portugal has relatively few formal aires; most of the locations where people stay, which are listed in the various publications like Camperstops, are where motorhome parking is tolerated by the authorities.  There is a local police force called the GNR who tend to patrol the area at night and will move motorhomes on where they are flouting the informal agreement that seems to be in place that states you can park but not camp.  Camping constitutes putting out chairs and tables our, or extending your awning.  Some people do flaunt these rules which is selfish as the authorities will then not ‘tolerate’ any parking at all, and spoil it for the more considerate motorhomers.  So when parking at these wonderful locations you do have  a responsibility to the motor homing community to behave!!

Anyway the location at Carvoeiro is stunning.  We effectively got the last place next to a Dutch motorhome.  There was also 2 english and one french motorhome, and so in all we made 5.  We were on a bit of a tilt and going onto our levelling blocks only slightly alleviated the problem.  We have a ‘new best friend’ in Aurora which is sticky matting.  Previously because Cathy loves to polish the lounge table consequently even on a gentle slope everything slides off.  Not very helpful when your coffee, milk and jam end up all over the floor, or in your lap!  So bring on the sticky mats!!  In this situation they helped tremendously.  However the tilt did cause another problem which I will come onto later.  Anyway we decided that we would explore and after looking at the map, we packed some food and drink into a rucksack and set off along the coastal path. The weather was warm and sunny and we were treated to some fantastic views of this rugged coastline.

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After a couple of hours we returned to Aurora for the evening enjoying our customary sundowners and nibbles as we were treated to a glorious sunset.

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The following morning I got up to make breakfast and to my disappointment the aged old problem of our malfunctioning fridge seemed to have reoccured.  Now I did have the new burner and jet that Sharon and John had brought out from the UK but I had resisted fitting it as the fridge seemed to be behaving itself.  I couldn’t work out why it has suddenly stopped working again.  As chance would have it the English motorhomes decided to move on which left a more level pitch available so we duly moved.  As we prepared to get ready for a longer trek along the coast I noticed that fridge had started to cool.  Why oh why?  I then remembered I had read somewhere that the fridge should be level, particularly when running on gas, which it is when we are off electric hook up.  I reasoned that with absorption fridges, as is fitted in Aurora, the cooling effect is provided by a gas flame (don’t ask me how!) and the quality of the flame is vital.  Hence the problems we had when the burner was blocked and the flame wasn’t hot enough.  Therefore when the fridge is tilted beyond those tolerances the flame is not positioned correctly in the flue and loses its efficiency and hence the fridge no longer cools.  Well thats my theory and I am sticking to it, and the theory seems to be borne our with the practise!!

So eventually we set off on our walk, although about two hours in we realised that we had been walking in an easterly direction instead of west!!  Durrrr!  Anyway the coastline was still stunning, and look even more so in the glorious and warm November sunshine.

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Another unusual rock formation – looks like a submarine

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From Carvoeiro we moved further west to Priaia da Rocha, a well known and popular aire close to the sea just south of Portimao.  The beach there is huge and extends for miles.

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We had a lovely day exploring, and found a lovely restaurant on the beach front where we indulged in a spot of lunch!

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We also treated ourselves to a pamper session.  Given it was the end of the season L’Occitane were doing a special half price deal.  Cathy had a 90 minute full body massage, and I relaxed in the sauna, steam room and jacuzzi!  Its a hard life but someone’s got to do it!!

The weather was on the turn according to http://www.yr.no, our preferred weather web site, and sure enough that night the rain hammered down and the wind blew and Aurora rocked!!  The following morning some motorhomes were in for a bit of a shock when they looked out of the window!! IMG_4568-1

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We stayed there for two nights. The aire is literally a big car park and can hold perhaps a hundred motorhomes.  Some camp there for months.  It costs €4.50 per night – no electricity but has wifi, water and WC point.

From there we headed to Sagres, which is near Cabo St Vincente, the southern most tip of Europe.  As we drove into the town looking for the aire (tolerated parking) we spotted Tim and Ade’s motorhome, whom we had met at Falesia.  We pulled over and chatted and decided that all four of us would go to lunch.  Besides being nice lads they are also a wealth of information having toured extensively throughout Europe in their motorhome.  They suggested that instead of the aire in the book (at the fort) we could park at the fishing port, so that is what we did.  The location was fantastic with yet another awesome view through Aurora’s window.

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Tim, Nick and Ade

Whilst we were in Sagres it just happened to be my birthday (21 again of course) and so we decided to book lunch at the restaurant just behind the harbour.  The waiter was very friendly and looked after us, providing us with some very tasty food and nice bottle of wine.

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We stayed there for four nights – three at the harbour and one at the fort.  Sagres is also noted for its beer, so needless to say it would have been churlish not to drink Sagres beer whilst actually in Sagres – so we did!

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We were really enjoying our walkabout and still had some time to go before the 19th December when we had agreed we would return to Falesia and settle for Christmas.  We both loved the Atlantic coast so decided we would work our way back that way.

And so the journey continues…..to part 2 of our Portuguese walkabout!

Monchique, Silves and the Algarve (Lagos & Falesia Beach) & visitors from the UK.

You will recall from our last blog update we were at a wild camping location near the barragem de Bravura.  We awoke to a beautiful morning, and had breakfast as sun rose over the reservoir.  We had identified the commercial aire at Caldas de Monchique, called Parque Rural (www.valedacarrasqueira.com) for our next stop which would be the first camping we had paid for in Portugal (!).  Now its not that we are tight (although we do have a budget to work to) its just that the wild camping opportunities on the west coast and inland Portugal are endless so you make the most of them, getting some amazing locations to boot!  Many of the aires are actually free but we do like finding our own secluded spot.

Anyway we arrived at the aire which was nestled in a valley in the hills just south of Caldas de Monchique.

The aire at Monchique

The aire at Caldas de Monchique

The aire has just 14 bays and about half were occupied (mainly by Brits).  A couple were just departing so we had a brief chat with them to see what they recommended for the area.  After they had gone the French owner of the site booked us in and let us choose our pitch.

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As I said this was the first time we had had to pay, and for our €12.50 per night we received a fully serviced pitch (fresh water and grey waste disposal point), 16 amp electricity – which is very rare! (means you can plug everything in, including our central heating, without tripping the electrics!) our own table and use of the spotless toilet block which offered free hot showers.  There was also a washing machine (costing €3.00 per wash).  The site also had a swimming pool although the water was a bit chilly!  Oh and broadband speed Wifi (faster than we got at home in the UK!).  Apparently if you stay a month or over the cost reduces to €10 pn.  And there in lies a story.  We got talking to the other campers (as you do) and first was a French lady called Isabelle.  She was on her own in a 9 metre Concorde (a prestigious German motorhome – around €200,000) and had arrived in December 2013 and planned to stay for a few days.  And she was still here 10 months later!  There was also an English guy who had been here for 8 years!!!

The aire was very comfortable and the surrounding area was stunning. It was also great to have piping hot showers and luxuriate in the cascade of unlimited hot water!

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The toilet/shower block at the end of the aire with the Algarve in the far distance

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Cathy did dip her toe in but it was a bit chilly!

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Walking in the hills of Caldas de Monchique

We used the opportunity to catch up on washing, general cleaning and carrying out software updates on all our Apple devices, as well as downloading a few films to add to our collection.  We do not have access to UK TV – for one thing we do not have a satellite dish and secondly the footprint for receiving a signal has been changed so unless your dish is the size of Jodrell Bank then you are stuffed.  Having said that we have not missed television one little bit.  We tuned into French TV whilst on the campsite but that was mainly for the Meteo (weather) and a bit of news, although the French only report on their own country – you wouldn’t think the world exists outside France!

Our pitch had an empty space on both sides for a couple of days until a motorhome pulled alongside us.  It was a UK motorhome but had an Isle of Man registration.  We got talking to them (or should I say Geoff got talking to us) and we got along immediately.  It also transpired that he knew Martin, a great friend of mine, who runs a brewery on the IOM (Bushys – the Ale of Man – http://www.bushys.com).  We swapped stories which included an incident when he got Martin arrested by the police whilst he was in Moscow watching Blackburn Rovers!!

Geoff and his wife Christine (and their two dogs Basil and Tilly) were great and we all got on really well.  We also recounted incidents that had happened to each of us on our respective journeys.  I mentioned that our shortest move was 500 metres.  Geoff said he could beat that.  They had stayed at the camperstop at Vila de Milfontes (where we had also stayed) and after a couple of days had decided to move on.  They said goodbye to everybody, stored everything inside their motorhome, started the engine, reversed off the chocks, and started to drive away.  After about 30 feet Chris turned to Geoff and said “its a shame we are leaving”.  Geoff replied “I thought you wanted to leave”.  Chris said “I thought you wanted to leave!”  After deciding they didn’t want to leave after all Geoff put the motorhome into reverse and they went back to their original spot and stayed another couple of days!   Priceless!  Moral of the story – communication is key!

We spent a lovely couple of days at this great site until such time as we had to move on to meet up with John and Sharon, friends from the UK, in Lagos. They were flying into Faro, hiring a car and had booked a couple of hotels; one in Lagos for two nights and one in Villamoura for three nights.

However we had decided to break the journey with a stop at the Motorhome Park at Silves (pronounced “Silvesh). Eric and Shazza had mentioned in their blog how good this aire was so we thought it was worth a look with a view to perhaps a longer stay after John and Sharon’s visit. Geoff and Christine said they too were ready to move on as Monchique didn’t tick the “dog” box, although they were undecided where to go.  We set off for the short drive to Silves and arrived around midday. We chose our pitch and as we plugged in Geoff and Chris arrived and parked adjacent to us. We were all given a flyer by a chap walking round the site for a restaurant in the town which showed a “special” for the evening so we agreed it would be nice to have a night off cooking (and of course washing up) so Geoff said he would book a table.  Unnoticed by me Cathy had wandered off and had been gone sometime before I realised – she will be chatting to someone I thought!  That’s the great thing about this lifestyle ie the people you meet and how easy it is to get talking. By way of comparison we lived in our house for just over 13 years yet we only knew our neighbours on either side, and very few people beyond even to talk to.  And here we are talking within minutes, at length, to perfect strangers of all nationalities. Anyway I clocked Cathy talking to some people at the other end of the site. I thought I recognise them!  It was Eric and Shazza!

Eric and Shazza had decided to stay another day at Silves and whilst aware we were in the area they didn’t know our plans to come here.  After chatting for a while, it started to rain so Eric invited us into Big Momma.  Then the wine was opened (2 bottles!) and nibbles consumed and our catch up on all events since we last saw them in Northern Spain in mid September lasted …. 5 1/2 hours!  We suddenly realised that we had arranged with Geoff and Chris to go for a meal.  We mentioned it to Eric & Shazza and asked if they cared to join us.  They had planned a night in, but hey plans can be changed!!  And so they were and at 7:30 we made our way into Silves.  The weather was rather overcast and looked liked rain so we armed ourselves with macs and brollies.  The restaurant was about a 15 minute walk, which involved us walking past the free aire adjacent to the municipal baths.  It looked full – it is very popular, but for me for the sake of €6.50 per night at our site (about £5.20 at current rates) you get excellent and spotless service facilities, access to washing machines, wifi and a degree of security.   There aren’t actually many official aires in Portugal – by that I mean bespoke parking for motorhomes only.  Many are in fact tolerated public parking areas, hence the majority of these being free.  Having witnessed first hand how the economy is struggling, we now feel more inclined to stay on paying commercial aires (where available) and eat out more often in order to “put something back” into the community.  On top of this of course we are contributing as tourists by spending money in terms of diesel, LPG, food shopping etc, but when a community have gone to the effort of providing such an excellent facility, then we are more than happy to pay to use it.

Anyway all six of us sat down to dinner and chose from the menu.  The price included “cover” (olives, bread, fish pate, cheese etc), a starter (Cathy and I had fish soup), a main course – over 12 to choose from (Cathy and I had pork spare ribs), a desert (Cathy and I had creme brullee).  The price also included what amounted to a bottle of wine EACH, and we were also given a complimentary port at the end of the meal.  Needless to say the food was excellent, with plenty of it, and the service was speedy and friendly.

And the price?  €7.50 per head (£6.00)!!!  Ridiculous!

Shazza, Cathy, Chris, Geoff, Nick and Eric, with our friendly waiter muscling in on the photo!

Shazza, Cathy, Chris, Geoff, Nick and Eric, with our friendly waiter muscling in on the photo!

A great evening was had by all, with everyone getting on famously, bearing in mind this is only the third time ever we have met Eric and Shazza, and the first time they had met Geoff and Chris.

Eric and Sharon left the next morning- to see where catch their excellent blog entitled Big Momma’s Adventures (www.ericaandshazza.wordpress.com)

We didn’t have the opportunity to explore Silves, having only spent a day there (mainly in Big Momma!) and agreed we would return at a later date.  We headed off to Lagos – our first stop on the Algarve – where we had agreed to meet our friends, John and Sharon, who were flying out to meet us.  The weather up to this point had been warm and sunny, but as their arrival became imminent the forecast showed a change to cloud and rain. However one thing we have learnt about Portugal is that the weather obviously doesn’t listen to the weather forecast!

We parked up at the aire at Lagos which is adjacent to the sports stadium, and parking is effectively on the public car park.  Not exactly scenic but fairly spacious and it felt secure.  The cost is €3 per night (+ €2 for 100 litres of water if needed) which includes wifi and a loo.  The aire is only about a 15 minute walk from Lagos, including the marina and shops and numerous restaurants.  The British palate is very much catered for here, and there are several ‘pubs’. Golfing is the great pastime here and the Brits come here in their droves to play the manicured courses in winter sunshine.

After a quick excursion to Pingo Doce (the local Portuguese rival to Lidl and Aldi) to stock up on one or two things we then walked along the beach and back to Aurora via the Marina and sussed our where John and Sharon’s hotel was.  We were expecting them around midday the following day, after allowing them to get through baggage reclaim and customs and to collect their hire car and drive to Lagos.

After a meal and a good nights sleep we awoke looking forward to the day and the arrival of our friends.  We were just having our elevenses when we heard a car draw along side us.  It was John and Sharon surprising us!  We had a catch up over coffee before all getting in the hire car and going to their hotel to check in.

After they had dumped their stuff we went off in their hire car and retraced some of the areas we had been to in Aurora a couple of weeks previously so we could show them the beauty of the Atlantic coast, which included the Bravura barragem and Bordeira beach.  We also stopped by the edge of the road and picked tree strawberries which is used to produce the local Medronho firewater! (bloody strong stuff!)

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Has Cathy got 3 legs? No that’s Sharon behind her snaffling the tree strawberries!

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Sharon trying out the tree strawberries for earrings

The sea at Borderia was spectacular having been whipped up by a brisk onshore wind.

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John and I also found an untouched dune to mess about on and had great fun throwing ourselves down the golden sand.  Kids!!

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From there we realised that we were hungry and stopped at a cliff top restaurant for a delicious late lunch.

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John and Sharon enjoying a late lunch in the afternoon sun

Nicaf lunch

Look at the size of Cathy’s portion!!! (pork and clams)

From there we drove to the most south westerly point in Europe, Cabo St Vincent.  The weather was wild and quite chilly, especially given it was getting late in the day and at this time of the year the sun is gone around 5:30pm.

John and Sharon at Capo St Vincent

John and Sharon at Cabo St Vincent

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The next day we did the clifftop walk from Lagos to the headland – Ponta da Piedade, although quite a bit of the path had disappeared where it had collapsed into the sea.  We then caught a boat back to the town via the cliffs which have various names inspired by the shape of the rock formation which include Michael Jackson, Charles de Gaule, elephants, and the Titanic and the iceberg.  The beaches we passed were stunning!

Nick and John

Titanic and the iceberg!

Titanic and the iceberg!

Lagos beach

Cathy and Sharon

The next day John and Sharon were booked into an apartment in a golf complex in Vilamoura so this was our last night in Lagos.  We decided to select a traditional Portuguese meal so after scouring the streets for a suitable venue, we finally settled on an Indian!  It was actually very good and all washed down with a Cobra beer!!

As John and Sharon were moving we would also need to relocate Aurora and chose a commercial aire near Vilamoura at Falesia Beach.  We had heard from Eric and Shazza and Chris and Geoff how good it was so we had no hesitation to move there.

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We were not disappointed as the aire is excellent with generous sized pitches, 6 amp electricity, wifi, hot showers (50 cents for 5 minutes) and water at the pitch.  Eric and Shazza and Geoff and Chris were still there so we had yet another reunion.  The beach is some 300 metres away, and wow what a beach!

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The other stunning aspect of this area are the cliffs – they are amazing colours which are especially emphasised at sunset!

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The ochre and white cliffs at Falesia beach (this photo has not been touched up in any way!)

Our final three days with John and Sharon were spent looking round the area which also included some of the attractions.  However we were constantly drawn back to the beach, and to the water in John’s case!

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We had a great time with John and Sharon and they got a very brief glimpse of our new life.  As a parting gift John gave Cathy one of his brilliant sketches – you can see the idea and resemblance below:

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Cathy, The Little Mermaid !

Our final evening was over a meal at an excellent restaurant near the aire which specialises in fish and is frequented by locals – always a good sign.  The table was booked for 7:30 and when were turned up weren’t given a menu; the waiter almost selected our meals for us, primarily fish for me, Cathy and John and steak for Sharon.  The meal was excellent.  As part of the final course, besides coffees, the waiter brought over the port bottle and after pouring us each a glass left the bottle on the table for us to help ourselves!!

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After saying our fond farewells to our dear friends John and Sharon we were then faced with a decision.  Do we stay at Falesia beach or move on?  Decisions decisions!!

And so the journey continues……….

The journey continues through North West Spain and to Santiago de Compostela

 
 

After leaving the majestic Picos de Europa – an area we will definitely return to – we headed north west towards the coast of Spain. We had heard from Eric and Shazza (Big Momma) that Gijon was a good place for an overnight stop so co-ordinates were duly set on the Garmin and we headed off. Gijon is primarily a port and the aire is situated adjacent to the port entrance. It is right on the beach and indeed Aurora’s front wheels were only a matter of feet from the beach!

 

We had a spot of lunch and then cycled towards the town. Being a Sunday, most places were closed and we didn’t actually manage to cycle into the town at all. What we saw en route looked pretty shabby so we duly returned to Aurora, got the reclining chairs out and sat on the beach for a couple of hours with a nice cold beer.  After a meal we settled down for the evening and listened the rain begin to land on Aurora’s roof.  Needless to say we would be off tomorrow and decided to head to Ortiguera and an aire that had a top rating in the aires book, so had to be worth a visit.

It wasn’t far to Ortiguera and boy was it worth the trip.  The aire is in effect a layby on the cliff tops, close to the lighthouse, with stunning views of the ocean.

 

When we arrived we were alone and we just sat back and enjoyed the view. Cathy caught up with some hand washing whilst I walked down to the beach which was 180 steps down, and 180 steps up!!  Not too long later we were joined by another Dethleffs motorhome which belonged to a lovely Dutch couple, Rob and Paula. We swapped stories and each noted the interesting places we had come from, or were going too.

Cathy, Rob and Paula (by the way Cathy is on a step – the Dutch are naturally a tall race!!)

 

Our sunset view from Aurora

 

 

Sunset viewed from the lighthouse

 

 

 

The town looked very quiet and we cycled round trying to find any signs of life.  There didn’t appear to be any shops at all.  Cathy asked one old gent if there was a paneria (bread shop) and he gave us some instructions in Spanish. Eventually after cycling up and down several streets we found a “shop”. It was more like someone’s front room – there was no signage outside – but they had bread, milk, fruit and vegetables. We bought one or two bits and headed back to Aurora.  This aire was very picturesque and offered fabulous views and certainly deserves its top rating.  We enjoyed two nights here and on reflection, could have stayed here longer.

The ridiculous thing is that these amazing locations are free, and since San Sebastián we have not paid a cent for accommodation despite staying in some lovely locations. And long may that continue! It is not that we want to do things on the cheap (although what we save will go towards our skiing trip in the French Alps in January) it’s just this amazing network of Motorhomes aires is at your disposal and you can end up staying in some fabulous places and it costs you nothing. There is also something quite satisfying about being off the radar.  Nobody really knows where you are from one day to the next.  Your outgoings are diddly squat and the stress levels are non existent and life is pretty good!

We continued our way along the Asturian coastline and stopped at Foz which is located on the estuary of the river.

 

Foz via Google maps 

The aire was effectively on the quayside, near the marina (in the centre of the above google earth view) which had open views across the river.

There were about 10 Motorhomes already there being a mixture of nationalities and of various sizes including a large Concorde which is a premier German brand. Probably a couple of hundred thousand pounds worth!!

 

Sunset at Foz 

Once we had had lunch we wandered along the quayside into the town. It seemed to be very much a holiday resort with apartments which were now shut up for the winter. We sauntered through the streets seeing what was around, before returning to Aurora.

Then disaster struck!!

Cathy was watching the enormous fish swimming next to the quayside (no idea what they were but they were about 18 inches long in large shoals) and in particular what a fisherman was trying to catch in his net, when her iPhone slipped from her pocket and fell about 5 metres into the sea water below. I was oblivious at this stage as I was sat in Auraora chilling out. Cathy rushed over to me – “I’ve dropped my phone in the sea – I’ve asked the fisherman if I can use his net but he won’t let me so I’m going in!” She then rushed off back to the quayside, where she had marked the spot by leaving the glass of wine she was drinking on the quayside. She then ran to the far end of the quay to the steps, climbed down and jumped into the sea which came up to her chest (I’m being polite!). By this time, several men were looking on, watching Cathy wade – fully clothed – towards her wine glass and the spot where her phone had tumbled into the sea. I have to admit, I was not optomistic for the outcome. iPhone in deep, salty sea water. Not a good recipe. However all credit to my wife she got to the spot and started to feel around in the sandy sea bed (bear in mind those huge fish and several crabs were occupying those waters!), and to the amazement of the onlookers Cathy managed to retrieve it fairly quickly. She waded back to the steps (passing more big fish and crabs) and climbed out sodding wet to a round of applause. The phone did switch on but some swift research on t’interweb (on my phone) revealed it was best to switch it off, wash it in clean water, submerge it in rice and leave it for about 48 hours to dry out. We also had some packs of silica gel which we also added to the storage bag. Fingers and everything crossed that this would work, as it would mean a load of hassle getting a new phone and SIM card etc. Fortunately we had taken a back up the day before so most of her photos would be ok. Read on to find the outcome! 

We were undecided as to our next place to stop and whether we should cut the corner off Northern Spain and head to Portugal via Santiago de Compostela, or go towards the coast. The weather was holding up, so we decided to head for an aire at A Corúna which was flagged as being something special.  Well it wasn’t, as it was miles from anywhere and was on a ridiculous slope so you couldn’t get level unless you had hugely expensive hydraulic leveling systems, which Aurora does not have (just chocks).  You can put up with a degree of slope but it can affect the performance of your fridge, makes cooking a challenge, means door and cupboards swing open or shut, and can be a pain for sleeping.  Anyway we didn’t need long to decide we weren’t staying. We set the satnav for a beach resort on the coast, but what we didn’t notice was that the route chosen was via Santiago de Compostela. This was on our list of places to visit and we had planned to visit it on our way travelling south from the coast.  However the beauty of this lifestyle is that plans can and will be changed so we decided to stay in Santiago. 

Now I will reveal that I am not a fan of ‘religious towns’, having been put off by a visit to Lourdes a few years ago and all it’s merchandising in the shops which seems to exploit the poor souls who visit the town due to their faith.  I was expecting the same of Santiago as this was the eventual destination for people walking the “Camino de Compostela” (the Way of St James). There are many “ways” that start in France, Spain and Portgual. Indeed our French friend Lucia had walked some 250 kms of part of the Camino. Not for any religious purpose but just for the experience.  

 

The shell of St Jacques

 

 

 

The ‘Way’ is identified by a shell, and all the ‘pilgrims’ that walk it tend to carry a shell on their back pack. They also carry a card which they get stamped which gains them access to number of hostels on the way at presumably advantageous rates. 

We found the aire and at first given my prejudice I was all for letting Cathy go into the town alone and “do her thing”. However I decided that would be churlish so joined Cathy in walking the 15 minutes into town. I have to admit to eating humble pie as Santiago was not what I had expected – ie a touristy town festooned with religious tut. Instead it was very picturesque with a myriad of lovely cobbled streets and splendid buildings. 

And everywhere there were “pilgrims”. We had seen them throughout our journey through France and Spain as we had roughly followed the Camino de Santiago. It was interesting to see the look on the faces of those who had journeyed there. How far had they come, how far had they walked, and what was their reason? Whatever the answer you could see the sheer relief and satisfaction of having eventually completed the Way as they amassed at the Cathedral – the final destination of their pilgrimage!  A look we could identify with when we undertook and completed the trek to Macchu Picchu. Quite moving really!

 

 

Cathy outside one of the many churches in Santiago

 

Unfortunately the cathedral, the focus point for the pilgrims who walk hundreds of miles to Santiago, was shrouded in scaffolding as some extensive renovation was under way. After making our way around some of the streets, we stumbled across some lovely gardens which overlooked the city. It was here that Cathy pulled some Spanish geezer. I didn’t much like him – he didn’t say much and gave me a cold stare but hey ho!! Cool John Lennon glasses though!

 

Cathy pulls some geezer 

We then walked back to the Cathedral and spent well over an hour looking around its magnicent altar, although some areas were out of bounds due to the renovation work. 

It also boasts the largest botafumeiro in the world. 

The botafumeiro at Santiago

This is a huge vessel suspended on a rope from the church ceiling and is filled with incence and swung backwards and forwards above the congregation during a service. I just hope they keep their heads well down as that thing would take your head clean off when it is in full swing!!  

There was also a crypt housing a casket which is said to contain the remains of the apostle St James. 

The casket said to contain the remains of St James

After the cathedral visit we wondered around the various points of interest before realising we were both hungry. 

Now the trouble with Spain is they have a different metabolism to us and don’t feel hunger pains until about 10pm so sometimes if you want to eat at a sensible hour, say 7pm, you may struggle to find somewhere open. After a couple of bum steers from Trip Advisor (both restaurants didn’t open until much later and were closed when we wanted to eat!!) we found a nice looking restaurant and had a lovely meal of squid and steak.

 

Yum yum

There were a couple of Australians, Bruce and Shiela (only joking, but we can’t remember their names!) on the table next to us who had taken part of the pilgrim route (800 kms in 30 days). Quite a feat. Bruce had done the walk the year before and had brought his wife back to do it this year. Interestingly neither were religious but wanted the challenge and spiritual experience that the Camino brings. 

‘Bruce’ and ‘Sheila’

After the meal we wandered round for a bit longer before returning to the aire and Aurora. By the way we actually had to pay for this aire – €12!  Shock horror. 

In the morning we took the very unusual step of going for breakfast in MacDonalds!! Two reasons – we fancied a bacon and egg McMuffin and coffee but more importantly, we wanted to use their wifi, which is offered free by all branches throughout the world. In particular we wanted to buy and download a guide book for Portugal and so opted for the Lonely Planet (as opposed to the Rough Guide). The internet connection was bit slow so it all took rather longer than we anticipated, so after also topping up Aurora’s gas bottles with LPG – costing the princely sum of €18.70 @ 0.775 per litre (we have the Gaslow system if you are interested!) we eventually got under way about midday. 

From Santiago de Compostela we drove to Pontevedra where an aire was listed on the waterfront. However it wasn’t very nice so after using the facilities (the water tap was like a fire hose so I used the opportunity to wash Aurora’s roof) we moved to the quayside where some French Motorhomes were parked which was much nicer. You can always trust the French to seek out and find the best spots. 

Parking at Pontevedra

After dinner, we walked into town which was actually quite pretty with the church beautifully floodlit. We decided we would come back for a further look round in the daylight. A further incentive is that it would be a Sunday and all the shops would be shut! Anyone who knows me knows how I detest shopping! (unlike Cathy, who can’t buy anything anyway as we have nowhere to put such items!)

Having said that one of the surprising things about Spanish towns is that they are all adorned with great hardware shops. We entered one such establishment and it was like going back in time twenty years with shelves and shelves of screws, tubing and anything else useful. I was almost tempted to ask for “four candles”!! It was just like that, apart from the fact Ronnie Corbett wasn’t working there!

Cathy gooning about


Jake the Peg

From Pontevedra we drove the short distance to Arcade where the aire was situated right on the river front, so we had a fab view from the window of Aurora. However the one downside was it was a bit smelly as it was adjacent to some sort of water filtration plant which from time to time dumped a few thousand of gallons of water into the estuary. I don’t know what was in it but the fish liked it!  Since then we have always referred to it as the “smelly aire”. It was a shame as it was quite pretty as the photos show, and you could have been excused for thinking we were in Rio!. 

We talked to a couple of Dutch Motorhomers who helped highlight our Portugese map with some “must do” places. 

The smelly aire!!

You’d think we were in Rio


Smelly aire beach

 

Cathy having a sundowner at the smelly aire

 

Cathy getting some exercise at the smelly aire

 

After dinner we bedded down in Aurora for the night in the knowledge that this would be our last day in Spain as we would be entering Portugal the following day, which would be my first time EVER in Portugal.

We were only a matter of 30kms from the Portugese border – it is a bit of an anticlimax these days when you pass from country to country. I always remember travelling abroad as child with mum and dad and being filled with a sense of excitement, and trepidation as you approached the frontier which was manned by armed guards. Would they stop and search us?  Would they even let us into their country?  Nowadays there aren’t any border controls or kiosks – you simply drive across an invisible line and hey presto you are into a different culture and language, and in the case of Portugal, a different time zone which is in line with the UK. 

And so into Portugal

 

And so the Journey continues……..

 

A month to go!

The excitement is building!!!!  A month today we will be off in Aurora on our way to the French Alps for two weeks in the snow (and sun?) and hopefully some fab skiing. Aurora is all prepared – new winter tyres, snow chains, snow shovel, soft broom, home made snow scraper step (fabricated from a milk crate and BBQ grill) and thermal screen.  The ski equipment has been checked (and surplus sold on eBay), ski’s waxed and bindings set, ski poles shortened for Cathy and ski boots checked.

We have allowed ourselves 4 days to travel down so we’ll pick a leisurely scenic route, possibly through the Jura, with the opportunity to perhaps do a days skiing there.

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Aurora being fitted with her new winter boots!

For our Christmas Dinner we are planning to have a starter of scallops followed by an Aldi Four Bird roast (we had one the previous Christmas in Aurora up in Scotland and it was fab!) with all the trimmings of course.  Then if there’s room, traditional Christmas pud and brandy sauce.  So the last minute prep will be a shopping trip to Aldi to stock up.

Roll on the 19th

To be continued……

Sell Sell Sell

Well it has been a weekend of intense activity with over 17 items placed on eBay from camera lenses to ski pants to a classic electronic lights game called “Simon”. Quite a few items sold immediately with some yet to receive a bid, but it already provides a few extra spondooleys for the Aurora fund!  Now comes the onerous bit in packing all the sold items and then getting them to the Post Office (at the same time ensuring that the right item is going to the right person!). There is still more stuff to get rid of and a lack of car boot sales at this time of year does not help.

I spoke to some friends of ours (Eric and Sharon) on Skype who set off on their full-timing adventure a month ago.  They are loving it and are now in the lower regions of Portugal lapping up the warm sunshine. They are learning all the time and have been amazed by the sense of community that exists amongst fellow Motorhomers on the various Aires and wild camps that they have found.  Eric was delighted that they are definitely running positive to budget on their retirement fund.  It just all adds to the excitement and we can’t wait!

However we do have a winter holiday to look forward to before that.  We are taking Aurora down to the French Alps over Christmas and New Year to enjoy the seasonal festivities in a ski resort, and of course to get some skiing in.  It will be so cool to ski on Christmas Eve and maybe Christmas Day (if the lifts are open) and then return to Aurora for some tasty food cooked in Aurora’s oven, slow cooker or Remoska. The site we are booked onto (we will also try some Aires on the way down in some of the other resorts) has full facilities including a drying room for your ski gear, and a swimming pool (indoor and outdoor!). We are being joined by some friends for New Year so that will also be great!  Again the opportunity to ski on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will be fabulous!

We have had to prepare Aurora, although fully winterised, by purchasing snow chains and a thermal screen cover (we got the cover earlier in the year as it also works in the summer to keep her cool). We have also got a broom (to sweep the snow off the roof), a snow shovel and an old milk crate which we will turn upside down and use as a step!  We have picked this tip up as there’s a chance the electric step may freeze which would be a pain, and a problem if we need to move off and the step won’t retract!  Also the crate acts as an ideal scraper to get the snow off your boots.  The other remaining job is to get the skis waxed and then that is pretty much it.

The good news is that the snow has started to fall in the Alps so hopefully we will have a White Christmas!  Altogether now…….. “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas …..”

Roll on 19th December!