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

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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……….

Portugal, and the Stunning Atlantic coast

After leaving Monsaraz we would need a full days driving to get us back to the Atlantic coastline, which is unusual for us these days. Our moves tend to vary from around 500 metres (Chateau La Comte to Lucia and William’s house) to 50 or 60 kms, so travelling time is limited to a couple of hours – maximum.

However to get right onto the Atlantic coast was a step too far, and besides we had a strong recommendation to try the aire by the barragem (a barragem is a reservoir) at Pego do Altar.

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We arrived late afternoon with no problems getting a place overlooking the barragem, which is sometimes a concern if you arrive later on in the day. There were about half a dozen motorhomes of different nationalities. We got parked and I had a wander around the locality. The GPS reference according to the Camperstop book is not actually set for where we had parked (we have found inaccuracies in the co-ordinates).  The actual location is about 75 metres away back up the road near the “facilities”.  I say facilties as they are not in particular good order.  The WC disposal is via a manhole cover that you lift with a piece of wire that has been threaded through the handle.  There is a loo and shower but I would rather use Aurora’s!  And there is no fresh water supply other than through the washbasin. The other downside of the aire was that they were doing some maintenance on the barragem presumably before the winter rains, and this seemed to involve some sand blasting. And this sand blasting started at 8:30 in the morning and went on until 6pm, and was noisy!  It was a shame as we could have spent more time there as the view from the front window of Aurora was lovely, but the potential tranquility was being spoilt.

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It was for this reason that we decided to move on the next day and head for the Atlantic. We weren’t far away – only a matter of some 60 kms and we eventually gained sight of the sea just north of Sines. There were a number of potential sites but we opted for Praia de St André where there was a camperstop location. Luckily we didn’t follow the GPS reference too literally as it placed the aire bang in the middle of the lake (Lago de St André), which wouldn’t have done at all. Aurora is a lot of things but she cannot float very well!

We drove towards a cafe adjacent to the sea and spotted some motorhomes nestled in amongst the dunes.  We gingerly drove onto the sandy track to look for a place to park.  One thing you soon learn about driving a motorhome, and particulalry one that weighs 5 tonnes, that it is best to look before you leap!

We have learnt the hard way!  When we first got Aurora we went to Bodium Castle in Kent for Easter during a very (typical) wet spell of weather. The campsite was wet but looked ok!  WRONG!  As soon as the front wheels touched the grass they sunk and we were stuck fast. We were there for the night until we were pulled out the following morning by a JCB tractor from the adjacent garden centre!

Anyway I digress. We found a nice firm area and manoevered until we were reasonbaly level. It felt ‘wild’ as we were surrounded by the dunes.

The aire at Lago de St Andre

The aire at Lago de St Andre

A short walk of about 20 metres to the top of the dunes provided a breathtaking view of the Atlantic and a deserted beach stretching as far as the eye could see in either direction.

Nobody this way.....

Nobody this way…..

 

...and nobody this way!!

…and nobody that way!!

The sea was rough with around 4 metre breakers crashing onto the golden sandy beach!

Its tough but somebody's got to do it!

Its tough but somebody’s got to do it!

The weather was glorious and hot, although a tad windy, but that wasn’t a problem.  We only intended to stay there for a day but we ended up staying for 4!  That is the beauty of this life – you make plans and then change them!  And change them again!  And again! Because we can.

As I say we were pretty much on our own.  The only other ‘camper’ was a single English pipe smoking chap in his sixties who would spend hours just sitting in the dunes keeping to himself.  His accommodation?  An R reg Mitsubishi Pajero!!  Now that is what I call wild camping!  As I say he kept himself to himself.  However some Dutch motorhomes got talking to him and invited him for a beer outside their motorhome.  4 hours later has was still there and seemingly dominating the conversation!!  The Dutch left early the next morning.  I wonder why!?

We also experimented with our solar shower.  This is basically a black plastic water container that you fill with cold water and lie in the sun during the day.  By the evening you have 20 litres of hot water.  We both had lovely refreshing outdoor showers after a day in the sun.  Our modesty was preserved from others (what others? – we were virtually alone) by holding up a towel!  It was quite a liberating experience!

Solar Shower – marks out of 10. 10!

Mmm, Cathy looks a bit different!

Mmm, Cathy looks a bit different (she wouldn’t let me take a photo!)

From Lago St Andre we ventured further south past Sines to Porto Covo.  This is a place that both Big Momma and Big Bird have raved about, and we were not to be disappointed.  Our initial co-ordinates for the aire were wrong (again!) so we backtracked to just outside the town where there were a collection of about 10 motorhomes.  The prime spots had been taken by the Germans (same story for motorhome parking as sunbeds!) and the remaining spaces were sloping and not particularly appealing so we decided to retrace our steps along the rocky coastline to a small cliff top car park off the main road.  There was nobody else on it and from here we had an amazing view of a beautiful cove some 70 metres below us.  It was an idyllic spot and again we stayed there 4 nights, swimming in the sea and relaxing on the beach, and could have easily stayed longer!  This was our first experience of swimming in the Atlantic – the waves at the previous beach were too dangerous to swim in – and we had great fun being tossed around in the surf and thrown onto the beach.  The water was around 20 degrees centigrade so quite comfortable to swim in.  The pictures below may give you a feel of how special it was, but I doubt it.  You had to be there!

Wild camping at Porto Covo

Wild camping at Porto Covo

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Our view whilst engaging in our afternoon ritual of a bowl of nuts and large G&T!

Our view whilst engaging in our afternoon ritual of a bowl of nuts and large G&T!

Our view whilst engaging in our afternoon ritual of a bowl of nuts and large G&T/wine

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Have a bloody shave man!

Have a bloody shave man!

I like it here Nick - very much!

I like it here Nick – very much!

Reluctantly we decided to move on as we needed to stock up with food, as well as fill up with water and empty our waste at the official aire at Porto Covo.  We wandered round the streets of this picturesque fishing village, stopped for a coffee and people watched the small number of tourists that were there.

We then headed southwards down the coast to Praia das Furnas just near Villa Nova de Milfontes.  This was an aire just off the beach, accessed by a man made boardwalk to protect the dunes.

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Eat your heart out Daniel Craig!!

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The beach was beautiful and at low tide you could walk around the rocky headland to beaches that weren’t otherwise accessible.

That evening we took Soo out of the garage and rode into the town of Milfontes for a meal.  We struggled to find a decent restaurant, but eventually stumbled across one where we could eat outside and view the magnificent sunset.

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Mmm mistake!  Whilst the meal was lovely (we both had fish – Dorado and Sea Bass) I got bitten all over my forehead by mosquitoes so resembled the Elephant Man the following morning!

Lesson learned – have some insect repellent with you at all times in the evening!

We stayed here for two nights and decided to move on further towards the Algarve. Our next planned stop was Odeceixe and the satnav was set accordingly, and this time the co-ordinates were spot on.  This was a beautiful bay, with the aire perched high above the sea providing excellent views.  There was a steep path descending to a beautiful beach on which we sunbathed for two consecutive days and were the only people there for long periods of the day.  You could imagine yourself cast away on a desert island.  It was fab!

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However all was not perfect in the world!!  As we parked up at Odeceixe and got out to look around I heard a loud hissing coming from Aurora’s engine bay.  It wasn’t steam so I knew it was nothing to do with the cooling system.  I tentatively lifted the bonnet and peered inside.  Now the problem with A class motorhomes is that you need to be trained as a gynaecological surgeon to perform any sort of investigation or repair on the engine as the access is appalling.  After squeezing in and craning my head around I could immediately see the problem.  One of the hoses for the air conditioning system had been rubbing against the chassis and worn it away until a hole had been made.  The hissing sound was all the aircon gasses escaping!!  What was especially annoying was that the hose had been renewed about 14 months ago following occurrence of exactly the same problem.  Obviously a design fault.  Nice one Fiat!!  I covered the hole with duct tape to stop any dust or sand getting into the pipework which would have destroyed the pump, which costs around £600 a pop!!  Something else to be attended to!

From Odeceixe we then went to Carrapateira, about 30kms south (I told you we don’t like to go far!) and to the camperstop at Praia de Bordeira.  Again it had the feel of wild camping as we were in and amongst the dunes, although not as isolated as at Lago de St Andre.  The beach was huge although difficult to get to as there was a lake between the aire and the sea.  However we walked round it to the boardwalk viewing platforms and watched the Atlantic breakers rolling in.

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The waves obviously made it a favourite amongst the surfer dudes as we had a few of them in the aire.  They all seemed to fit the surfer stereotype with surfer shorts, bronzed bodies, bleached long hair and topped with a small baseball type cap!  Oh and they invariably have panel vans that they have converted themselves.  The two requirements of the conversion is a large roof rack to strap their precious selection of surfboards to, and a fridge in which to stock the beer (oh and maybe a bit of food!).

We stayed there for 3 nights and on the fourth day got fed up of being sandblasted as a strong wind had started to blow.  Besides we were getting low on fresh water.  We decided that we should head inland to get some relief from the wind and aimed for the commercial aire at Monchique.  This would be a first for us, as all the time we had been in Portugal up to this point we had not paid a single cent for accommodation!  Not that we are necessarily doing things on the cheap, its just you can!  The opportunities to wild camp are endless, and using a bit of ingenuity, and some cheek, you can still maintain your water supplies and legitimately dispose of your waste. And thanks to our solar panel our leisure batteries remained topped up to 100% during the day, with more than enough charge to meet our nightly electrical requirements.

However whilst en route to Monchique we spotted a small road off to the right with a brown sign saying Barragem de Bravura.  These signs invariably mean a car park and the opportunity to wild camp.  However before we got to the car park we spotted a picnic area with an amazing view over the barragem.

The wild camping spot at Barragem de Bravura

The wild camping spot at Barragem de Bravura – thats a cork tree behind Aurora!

We decided it seemed an ideal location albeit a bit close to the road. So our plan was to have a meal and make the most of the view and if we didn’t feel comfortable we would move on.  However the road was very quiet and after a meal we settled in for the night.  Ironically this was the one night since we have been wild camping that we, or rather Cathy, got spooked.  About 2 in the morning there was the sound of car engines and raised voices.  Flashing lights also penetrated Auroras blinds.  We started to discuss how we could make a swift exit if necessary, but I reasoned if they were up to anything suspicious they wouldn’t been making so much noise or have their indicators flashing, so obviously they weren’t interested in us.  Sure enough after about 10 minutes and after a lot a door banging they were off, and silence once more descended over the barragem.

We awoke to a beautiful morning and drove the 28kms to Monchique and into what effectively becomes the Algarve.  This would be a new chapter in our adventure with a different type of camping – more organised and dare I say it – we would have to pay for it!  Shock horror.

It would also include a visit by our close friends John and Sharon who were due to fly into Faro on the 6th November for 6 days.

…..and so the journey continues.

And so into Portugal! The Atlantic, Bom Jesus, Fatima and Monsaraz

So before we go any further I know I left you all hanging after my last post with regard to Cathy’s iPhone. Well – did it survive its plunge into the sea at Foz?? I am happy to report (and I should say that Cathy was especially happy) it survived and rose from the dead (and from hence forth should be renamed Lazarus!). We didn’t switch it on for 3 days to give i the maximum chance to dry out in its bag of rice and silica gel.  The power switch was apprehensively pressed and hey presto – everything was ok including her pictures and apps. Phew what a relief!! ☺️☺️ And so on with our journey – as mentioned in our last post we crossed the invisible line on the road into yet another country, with its different language and different cultures. The one real benefit these days is that you don’t need to worry about currency as the Euro does away with all that (apart from the UK!). The first thing we noticed that was certainly very different was the language.  I have never really been exposed to the Portugese language, apart from Colin Firth’s girlfriend in Love Actually!  When you listen to it you begin to wonder what country you are really in as it sounds part Dutch and part Eastern European. Very strange. The key words are Bom Dia (good day), ola (hello) and obrigado (thank you). The second thing we noticed was the driving. The Portugese are awful drivers.  No matter at what speed you are travelling they always NEED to overtake, whether it is approaching a bend or brow of a hill!!  Quite scary really. And the other thing that is apparent is that the country is still gripped by recession. As the Lonely Planet says: “Portugal’s economy wasn’t particularly strong in the years before the economic crisis, making the downturn all the more destructive: GDP growth has averaged just 1% annually over the past decade. Placed into the economically failing eurozone nations known as PIIGS (representing Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain), in 2011 Portugal – in dire financial straits – accepted an EU bailout worth €78 billion. The younger generation has born the heaviest toll from the crisis, with unemployment above 40% for workers under the age of 25. In addition to this, there are the underemployed and those scraping by on meagre wages; in Portugal, the minimum wage is €566 per month, less than half that of the UK or France.” Some of the towns appear run down with many shops closed. The roads are badly in need of repair and you don’t generally get a feeling of prosperity. Maybe that will be different when we get down to the Algarve which is a favourite destination of the French, Dutch, Germans and of course the English for a winter retreat, and alleged to be the warmest and driest part of Europe during the winter months. We will see. Our first stop was to be on one of the many beaches that face the Atlantic Ocean. We had been told by the Dutch we had met at “the smelly aire” that the beach at Afife was beautiful, so we duly set the satnav. However it became apparent as we drove down the cobbled track that the area had been cordoned off and some extensive renovation work was being undertaken on the beach. This is only to be expected to a degree as the summer season is well and truly over and now is the opportunity to undertake maintenance. Anyway we tried unsuccessfully to access a couple of beaches (Aurora is a big girl after all and not suitable for some of Portugal’s narrow cobbled roads) before eventually finding a parking area at Praia Norte (praia is Portuguese for beach) near the town of Viana Do Castello. It was literally yards from the raging Atlantic. IMG_3966-1IMG_9426-1 We parked up and within a few minutes we were joined by the two Dutch couples we had previously met at the “smelly aire”!  As the day drew to a close the weather worsened and by late evening the rain was lashing down. We were philosophical about the decline in conditions because we have had some fantastic weather since leaving Camping Ruisseau de Treil in France. In any event there is also something comforting about being secure and dry inside Aurora as the wind and rain does its worst. We moved on the next morning to clearing skies and travelled the short distance to  Esposende.  Once again within a short while we were joined by the Dutch (we must stop meeting like this). The beach was lovely and we took a stroll along the beach watching the waves pound the shore. IMG_9437-1 From here we decided, having studied the Lonely Planet, that we would travel the short distance inland to medieval walled town of Barcelos. This was supposedly famous for two reasons.  The first was its weekly market which was supposedly the largest and oldest in Portugal. It just so happened it is held every Thursday and that we happened to be in the area on Thursday! Pure coincidence! (or so Cathy advised me!!)

The bridge into Barcelos

We found our way to the aire on Wednesday afternoon and bided our time for the rest of the day by having a quick look round the town, including looking around the church in the main square, some palace ruins (which have been transformed into an open air archaeological museum), and sampling our first (of many) “pastel de nata”- very similar to our egg custard tarts.

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The church at Barcelos

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Cathy in the 15th century ruins of the Paco dos Duques de Braganca (Palace of the Dukes of Braganca)

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Folk must have been equally as short as Cathy in the 15th Century!

So early on Thursday morning, after a torrential rain and a lightning storm during the night, we set forth for the market not knowing quite what to expect.  Needless to say it was huge with all sorts of colourful stalls selling a selection of goods from fruit and veg, live rabbits and chickens, clothing and ironmongery, Portugal’s famous ceramics and what looked like stills for making moonshine! IMG_3982-1IMG_0027-3

Fresh fruit and veg on sale at Barcelos market

Fresh fruit and veg on sale at Barcelos market

IMG_0028-4 Cathy and I decided that we go our separate ways for an hour so I wandered around the various stalls taking in the atmosphere without necessarily intending to buy anything.  However one stall attracted my attention – it was selling sweet chestnuts, with stacks of lovely looking chestnuts roasting on a charcoal grill.  The woman behind the stall was very persuasive and I purchased a bag for a couple of euros, which were duly wrapped in a newspaper cone and I then proceeded to walk round the rest of the market munching on my brunch!  They were very tasty!

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Taste my lovely sweet chestnuts

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Look at the size of those melons

Look at the size of those melons!

Looks a bit fishy

All looks a bit fishy

The other thing Barcelos is famous for is the Galo de Barcelos – a colourful cockerel which is acknowledged as an unofficial national icon and often used as Portugal’s national emblem.

The Cock of Barcelos

His colourful crest adorns a thousand souvenir stalls and many of Barcelos’ streets are adorned with huge larger than life size cockerels – but just how and why did the proud Portuguese cockerel become a national icon? It seems that a humble pilgrim, plodding his way to Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St James) in the 16th century, stopped to rest in Barcelos, only to find himself wrongfully accused of theft and then swiftly condemned to be hanged. Before his execution, the outraged pilgrim asked to see the judge who had found him guilty.  When they arrived at the judge’s house, he was having a banquet with his friends.  The pilgrim again protested his innocence and to everyone’s disbelief, pointed at the roasted cockerel on the judge’s table and inspired by Divine intervention said “If I am innocent, the cockerel will crow three times”.   In the precise moment the pilgrim was hanged, the cockeral stood up from the judge’s table and crowed three times.  The judge was so astonished by this miracle that he hurried to the gallows to find the pilgrim hanging by the neck, however the noose was limp and the pilgrim was set free.  Why was the noose limp? Because St James was holding up and supporting the pilgrim by his feet.  A few years later the pilgrim returned to Barcelos and built a monument in devotion to the Virgin Mary and St James.

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If you look closely on the moment, you can see the image of the Pilgrim being hanged whilst St James is supporting him from below

Since then the brightly painted ceramic cockerels have been sold throughout Portugal as a symbol of good luck. After Barcelos we headed further inland towards Braga, but more specifically a church known as Bom Jesus, which was somewhere recommended to us by another Dutch couple we met in northern Spain. The focal point for legions of penitent pilgrims every year, Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount) is one of Portugal’s most recognisable icons and it’s church is the most photographed.

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The church of Bom Jesus which had the most impressive altar depicting the scene of Christ’s death at Calvary using life sized statues

A rather windswept and glamorous pilgrimage site, lying 5km east of central Braga, this neoclassical church stands atop a forested hill that offers grand sunset views across the city. But most people don’t come simply for the church or even the view. They come to see the extraordinary baroque staircase, Escadaria do Bom Jesus.

Escadaria do Bom Jesus – needs a lick of paint though!

The climb is made up of tiered zig-zag Baroque staircases, dating from different decades of the 18th century. The lowest is lined with chapels representing the Stations of the Cross with life size characters. Escadaria dos Cinco Sentidos (Stairway of the Five Senses) features fountains with water gurgling from the ears, eyes, nose and mouth of different statues. Highest is Escadaria das Três Virtudes (Stairway of the Three Virtues), with chapels and fountains representing faith, hope and charity.  Many penitent pilgrims climb the 1000 steps on their knees, reflecting on the Passion of the Christ that is depicted in the chapels along the way.  We didn’t see any such pilgrims repenting to that degree, although climbing the 1000 steps would be quite a penance on its own in my opinion! Given it was late in the day, and raining (so no change there), we got the funicular railway up to the top, and then walked down. We spent that night on a camperstop at the foot of the staircase before departing (in the rain – that was the only weather we had experienced in Portugal so far) for Costa Nova do Prado, just west of Aveiro. This was a delightful town and had an air of affluence which was in stark contrast to our experiences of Portugal so far.  The houses that fronted the promenade were decorated in brightly coloured stripes which enhanced the impression of a pretty seaside town.  They were apparently formerly fishing houses that were painted with brightly coloured stripes to make them stand out against the pale sands.  However they all look like they are now purely used as holiday homes for the more affluent Portuguese.

The beachfront houses at Porto Novo

The beachfront houses at Costa Nova

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Another stripy house - but I don't think it was ever a fisherman's!

Another stripy house – but I don’t think it was ever a fisherman’s!

The aire at Costa Nova was right on the prom and could accommodate up to 3 motorhomes.  When we arrived we were on our own but then subsequently joined by a German, then Swedish motorhome. IMG_2922-1 IMG_2935-1 The Camperstop guide did indicate that there were two other aires at the other end of town so we decided we would check them out on foot and then move Aurora there if we preferred them.  So we set off and walked…..and walked….and walked.  It was a bit like a Penelope Pitstop moment, (you will need to be of a certain age to get that)  as we never seemed to get any nearer to the lighthouse which was the landmark for one of the aires.  In all we calculated that the walk there and back was around 8kms!  However the return part of the journey was very pleasant as it was along the boardwalk adjacent to a beautiful golden beach and crashing breakers. In the end we decided that where we were already was nicer so that was where we stopped for the night.  We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning and decided before we leave that we top up our provisions by a quick tour of the local market which sold fruit and veg as well as having an extensive fish market, although we weren’t brave enough to buy any (we didn’t know what most of it was!).  We did however purchase some large prawns (which proved to be delicious when we ate them later that day).

Fish market at Porto Novo

Fish market at Porto Novo

After our shopping trip and preparing Aurora for travel, we set off towards the town of Fátima, a centre of pilgrimage which Cathy wanted to visit.  In her youth, Cathy had been part of Brentwood Catholic Youth Service and had volunteered for many years with helping the sick and handicapped on several pilgrimages to the shrine at Lourdes, so Fatima was of particular interest to her.

The history of Fátima is associated with three local children: Lúcia dos Santos (aged 10) and her cousins, Francisco (aged 9) and Jacinta Marto (aged 7), who on 13 May 1917, while guarding their sheep at the “Cova da Iria”, witnessed an apparition of a “lady more brilliant than the sun, dressed in white and holding a white rosary”.  The lady, later referred to as Our Lady of the Rosary, indicated that she was sent by God with a message of prayer, repentance and consecrations.  She asked the children to return to the Cova da Iria for 5 consecutive months on the 13th day of each month at the same hour (midday).  This the children did in June, July, September and October.  In August the apparition took place on the 19th at Valinhos, near their home, as on 13th August, the children were taken in by the authorities for questioning about these apparitions (the children were told they would be boiled in a vat of oil if they did not tell the truth, but each of the children told the same story of what they had witnessed).  Our Lady promised that a sign would be given at the final apparition on 19th October 1917.  70,000 people who were present witnessed this sign –  “The Miracle of the Sun” which, resembling a silver disc and could be gazed upon without difficulty, spun like a wheel on fire and “danced” in the sky. This was reported in newspapers the following day.  Our Lady asked for a chapel to be built in her honour – hence the Chapel of Apparitions.  Incidentally, the apparitions were declared “worthy of belief” in 1930.

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The Chapel of Apparitions

The exact spot where 5 of the 6 apparitions took place at the Chapel of Apparitions is marked by a marble pillar on which a 1 metre statue of Our Lady is placed.  Here converge around 4 million pilgrims who visit the Sanctuary each year. Many pilgrims recite the Rosary, with special intentions, on their knees around the chapel.

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The site of the 4th Apparition on 19th August in Valinhos

When we arrived the weather continued its unsettled nature (we had by now had 2 weeks of rain) and as the day progressed it became even worse with driving rain and gales.  Given that the timing of our visit (unknowingly) coincided with the 13th October (the date of the final apparition), and that there was to be special celebrations including masses and torchlight processions, we decided to stay.  The down side was that the official aire was rammed jammed with motorhomes (principally Portuguese) who were there for these celebrations, but fortunately there was plenty of room on the other car parks adjacent to the sanctuary. Now as mentioned this is not my cup of tea and I let Cathy go and experience all this for herself as it would have all been lost on a heathen like me. Besides it was absolutely chucking it down and I had no desire to get soaked!  We have found that in Portugal, which is predominately of the Catholic faith, religion is more embedded in society than we’ve experienced on our travels, given that we have come across radio stations conducting The Rosary and whilst in Fatima, extensive live TV coverage was broadcast of the events Cathy attended (who knows, Cathy’s face may have been flashed across the Portuguese nation!)

One of the free museums contains the crown that is used to adorn the statue of Our Lady on the 13th of each month from May to October.  It is a composition of various jewels offered by the Portuguese women in 1946 as a thanksgiving gift to Our Lady for having preserved Portugal from the Second World War.  Below the cross is a blue jewelled sphere which symbolises the earth. Between the “rays”, just under the sphere (which you can just see) is one of the four bullets that hit Pope John Paul II in the assassination attempt he suffered on 13th May 1981 at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, which was added to the crown.  He believed that Our Lady guided away what would have been a fatal shot, thereby saving his life.  He visited Fatima on pilgrimage exactly one year later in thanksgiving for having escaped with his life.

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Beside the crown is the ring which was originally offered to the Pope at the beginning of his pontificate in 1978 and which Pope John Paul II donated to Our Lady on 12th May 2000 at the Chapel of Apparitions.

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The evening torchlight procession – one of the many events that was televised

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The bronze statue of Pope John Paul II which stands in front of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity

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Mass held at the Sanctuary on 13th October.

From Fátima we decided that given there was no improvement in the weather, according to the forecast, for the next few days heading towards the coast was not a good idea so we decide to head further inland. This took us into the Alentejo region of Portugal.  Today this region remains amongst Europe’s poorest and emptiest regions.  The global recession continues to hit hard and in spite of the fact that its cork, olives, marble and granite are in demand this vast region contributes only a small fraction of the country’s GNP. I had a desire to see some of the barragems (reservoirs) with a romantic idea of wild camping adjacent to the lakes, catching fish and cooking it on a open fire!!   Yeah right!  We headed towards Evora, a world UNESCO site, with an intention to stop there overnight before heading to Monsaraz, which is a fortified town and has extensive views over the Alqueva barragem, the largest man made reservoir in Europe. As we neared Evora we saw a a sign for some neolithic standing stones (Cromeleque Almendres) which Cathy had read about in the Lonely Planet, and decided they were worthy of a visit.  And indeed they were.  Given their remoteness they were not accessible in Aurora so after lunch we unloaded the pedal bikes and set off down a gravel road in search of the stones. IMG_9600-1 The track wound its way up a hill lined with cork trees, which are prolific in this area of Portugal whose bark makes, or made, a significant contribution to the local economy.  I say made as with the advent of screw tops and synthetic corks, the demand had dramatically reduced.  However other outlets have been invented for cork and you can buy cork shoes, handbags, hats and all sorts of other things that you wouldn’t associate with cork!

Cork trees abound!

Cork trees abound!

I was/am fascinated how they strip the bark off the tree as it is well and truly ‘stuck’ on.  The trunk appears to be blackened by the process so maybe some heating/burning is involved.  Anyway the tree ends up stripped of its bark from the ground up.

Is this what you call a 'corked' tree?

Is this what you call a ‘corked’ tree?

Anyway back to our excursion.  Finally after a fair bit of uphill exertion we arrived at the stones which were very interesting.  They remain today the most tangible and impressive remains of one of the most significant moments in human history – the neolithic revolution which occurred some 5,000 years BC. IMG_4046-1IMG_4052-1 We spent a good hour looking round the 96 standing stones and taking in the solitude of this spot before enjoying a fast downhill cycle back to Aurora.  From here we had identified a couple of aires in Evora, which sounded worthy of a visit.  However this whole journey is a voyage of discovery and after getting the GPS location for each of these two aires we discovered they were nothing more than car parks, full of cars, with decidedly dodgy access for our motorhome.  Clearly you need to arrive first thing in the morning with a view that you WILL get blocked in so you can’t leave until late in the afternoon, or first thing in the morning before the carparks begin to fill. Lesson learned for the future:  for such city based locations hang the expense and book into a campsite! So what now?  A quick look at the map identified that we weren’t far from Monsaraz (another recommendation from The Dutch) which is on the barragem at Alqueva, which as mentioned is the largest man made reservoir in Europe, and where there also happened to be an aire, so co-ordinates were set and Aurora pointed in that direction.  We arrived about 6 pm and parked Aurora, not on the aire, as access was difficult up a steep ramp, but on a carpark with magnificent views of the barragem. IMG_2941-1-2IMG_2938-1 Before preparing dinner we took a walk around the fortified town on Monsaraz.  The town is perched high over the surrounding landscape offering great views from its castle keep.

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The scale of the barragem can be seen from the castle ramparts

The town now struggles to retain its inhabitants and its main industry is tourism with many of the quaint houses turned over to restaurants, guesthouses and artisan shops.

The town of Monsaraz viewed from the castle

The town of Monsaraz viewed from the castle

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Sunset at Monsaraz

The next morning we awoke to mist and rain – indeed you couldn’t see the castle keep some 30 metres above us.  So we decided we would keep moving and head towards the coast and see what wild camping we could do on the Atlantic coast.  We had several GPS references provided by both Eric and Shazza (www.ericandshazza.wordpress.com) and Steve and Lyssa (www.adventuresofbigbird.co.uk) so we were excited by the prospect of potentially what was in store. 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……..

 

Ruta des Cares

As promised here is our account of the trek up Ruta des Cares and please accept my apologies (or not) as this blog will mainly be photos. Not because I can’t be bothered to type it, but simply because words cannot describe it.  

I am not sure the pictures can either – you have to be there but anyway here goes.

The initial part of the Ruta – up and up and up!

 

“Nick I am hot and tired”. Yes but we’ve only just started!

Don’t look down!

 

We go that way!  And definitely not Covadonga!!


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The stunning Picos De Europa!

And so we left Santillana del Mar – the “town of 3 lies” as it is neither holy (“santi”) flat (“llana”) nor by the sea! (“Mar”) – for our base destination of Potes and the Picos de Europa. I had read a fair bit about this before we even left the UK and always had it on my radar.  As previously mentioned, my Dad (who was very well travelled in Europe, albeit in a caravan) always waxed lyrical about what a beautiful region of Spain it was, and that it was largely ignored by Brits careering headlong for the Med facing parts.  However maybe that is a good thing as it means it will be less busy. Mind you as the holiday season has well and truly finished it shouldn’t be busy anyway.

Potes, which is the hub of the Picos, was only a matter of 60 kms away and once we had parked Aurora, we sought out the Tourist Office, always a useful source of information providing detail that can’t always be found in the travellers’ bibles – Lonely Planet and Rough Guide (neither of which we had at the time!). We got a useful local map which pointed out the two main attractions in the area (although it has be said there are dozens and you could spend weeks in this region) which were the walks around Fuenta Dé and the Ruta de Cares.

We decided that the first choice was Fuenta Dé which necessitated driving up what was effectively a 26 kms cul de sac as the road does not go anywhere else.  

The view is amazing with a sheer wall of limestone some 800 metres high, which can be scaled by using the cable car. You can walk up but you would need to be mega fit, which we are not!  We had hoped to camp in the car park (it was down as a site in our Camperstop guide) but there was a sign categorically stating no Motorhomes after sunset.  Being an upstanding Motorhomer (you have to act responsibly so as not to harm the reputation of the motorhoming community, although not all do it has to be said) we decided we would come back tomorrow to take the cable car and walk down. Besides it was getting late and the top of the cliff was shrouded in mist.  We retraced our steps almost to Potes to a camperstop at a monastery at Liébana. It was a bit of a dodgy road involving something like a 1:8 gradient, which isn’t too bad when you are in a car, but for a 5 ton motorhome it is a different story!

However Aurora is blessed with the Ducato 3.0 litre multijet Diesel engine which pulls like a train and she handled the gradient all in her stride. When we got to the top we were alone apart from one other British motorhome.  

The Monastero de Santo Toribio de Liébana, to give it it’s full title, has some significance in the religious world as it apparently has the largest fragment in Europe of the Cross of Jesus which was brought from Jerusalem in the 4th Century and it is on display daily. The relic, according to tradition, features the hole made by the nail that passed through Christ’s left hand.  Cathy went off to look at that whilst I did some Aurora maintenance. I also chatted to the British couple who were from Aberdeen. We talked about motorhoming in general and where they had been.  However my ears really pricked up when he mentioned he goes to the French Alps every year for the ski season and lives in his motorhome for 3 months on the aire at Les Menuires. The nearest resort is La Plagne.  Definitely sounds like a Plan!!

  

Anyway I digress. The view from the aire was lovely although some mist kept swirling in.  With the prospect of burning some calories the next day we had an early night. We awoke the next day to a lovely sunrise and to capture the moment we had a brief walk and were treated to the sight of four deer grazing just below us.  It is always enchanting to see these creatures and seeing them at relatively close proximity was wonderful.  

After breakfast we secured everything for the journey back up to the cable car at Fuente De.  We packed a couple of rucksacks with food and water and made our way to the cable car cabin, paid our fee (€10 one way – so now we were committed to walking down!) and waited for the next lift. 

 

 

 

 

It certainly is an amazing ride as you scale this sheer slab of rock.  At the top it wasn’t totally clear but the mist swirling and patches of blue sky made it all the more mysterious, and it felt being in the wilderness . We had to climb another 150 metres before starting our descent and we could then see the track wending its way down the valley. It was quite cold at the top as we faced a wind coming up the valley but the sun was shining and everything was good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were up there!


Cathy feeling the pain (she has dodgy knees – plus she was inadvertently wearing my socks!)

 

It was an excellent walk of some 15 kms, and by the time we got to the bottom we both were feeling the effect.

We did it!!

Once back in Aurora we put the kettle on and had a nice cuppa before retracing our steps back towards Potes. However we had noticed a small picnic area on the way back that morning and we pulled off there. There was even a tap so we could fill our water tank.

Our own “aire” at Fuenta De

We had planned our next day to go round the South part of the Picos – they do not cover a vast area – to an aire at Cangas de Onis.  However this meant driving on a very interesting road known as the Desfiladero de Los Bayos which follows the course of the Rio Sella through some amazing gorges.  It is apparently the narrowest gorge in Europe that can be navigated by road – and we were going to do it in an 8.2 metre 5 ton motorhome! Yikes Shaggy!!

Aurora deep in the gorge!

The views were stunning although some of the bends were bum clenchingly bendy and some of the drops were bum clenchingly sheer but hey we made it!  Given the huge windscreen in Aurora you do get a panoramic view. On the downside Cathy feels like she is in the suicide seat on these narrow roads and is in fear of ever twist and turn!!

We arrived in Cangas de Onis and found the aire.  There was also a British motorhome – well I say motorhome is was a conversion from a fully armoured German mobile bank!!  It was owned by newly weds Frank and Ruth who had been in the Picos for about two weeks.  We mentioned we wanted to do the Ruta de Cares and their advice to us was get there early to secure a parking space. The great thing about this lifestyle is that you meet all sorts of people who share one thing in common – they are here to experience and enjoy life and willingly impart their experience and advice.

So before daylight had broken, at around 7am, we made our way 26 kms along the AS 114 to Poncebos, the start of the walk.  We had no problems parking and after a hearty breakfast and packing our rucksac with food and water, we set off around 9 am just as the sun was rising over the mountain tops. The walk was about 12 kms each way, and stated to be ” easy”. It appears that something may have been lost in translation from Spanish to English….

But that is something to be shared in our next blog.  I need say no more than this walk had entered my Top 10. No problem. 

Until we blog again – adios amigos!

 

Aurora meets Big Momma!

A short post as we desperately try and keep up with our adventure…..

We had agreed to link up with Eric and Shazza in Big Momma as they arrived from England on the Plymouth to Santander ferry.  This would be only the second time we had met, the first being in Wisbech at the Secret Garden in October 2013 when our fulltiming adventure was still only a dream and there’s had literally jus begun!  However we have been in regular touch with Eric and Shazza via Skype, phone, email and text, and of course their excellent blog (www.ericandshazza.wordpress.com), so were looking forward to seeing them face to face to catch up on our respective experiences over the last year. 

We arrived at the motorhome aire of Cabarceno on Friday 19th September and what a lovely aire this turned out to be! We were able to park directly in front of the lake and large grass area – a perfect spot to get out the reclining chairs! 

 

Shazza, Eric and Nick catching up

We wandered around the the lake and towards one end of the aire before we heard an almighty noise – it sounded like an elephant, but surely not?  No, it wasn’t an elephant – the noise was coming from 12 of them!  

 

We knew there was an animal park close by, but didn’t realise that you could clearly view elephants, antelope and water buffalo directly from the aire! Fantastic! We spent quite some time observing these amazing animals drink from the large water hole – what an unexpected sight! The local landscape is forged by the erosion of limestone and human mining activity but it actually looked like quite a natural setting for the animals. We later discovered that the “animal park” is more like a safari park which houses around 400 species of animals from all around the globe.  Apparently you can drive your motorhome around the park too (for €25 per person) – which was quite tempting, but I was worried about monkeys climbing onto Aurora’s roof and ripping the solar panel off!!!

We wandered around the small town and bought some local wine, cake and cheesecake from the local shop, before heading back to Aurora to relax.

The next morning, we took Aurora into Santander and found a Lidl close to the port (where Eric and Shazza would disembark from later that day) where we stocked up with provisions. We had a relaxing day on our return whilst eagerly awaiting the arrival of Eric and Shazza in Big Momma – their 29ft  Autotrail Comanche tag axle motorhome in whom they had been “fulltiming” in since we first met them in October last year.  Due to the ferry doors being unable to open (!), they arrived an hour later than planned, but were able to park comfortably next to us in Aurora and to share our fabulous view. We had already eaten so once Eric and Shazza had their dinner, we all got together, in our identical recliners, and had a good old natter – catching up and comparing notes on our respective campsite work experiences (they had been working full time for the Caravan Club in Morvich on the West coast of Scotland).

It got so dark, we couldn’t see each other’s faces – probably just as well, as after consuming a bottle of port, a bottle of red wine then another bottle of port, it may not have been a pleasant sight!

We decided to spend a third day at Cabarceno – this really was a fabulously relaxing aire – and again, spent the whole day chatting with Eric and Shazza.  By 4pm it was time for drinks and nibbles (even though Cathy and Shazza were still feeling slightly worse for wear!).  

Cathy retired to Aurora and returned with canapés and Shazza likewise returned with some goodies. We had all decided to leave Cabarceno the following morning, so not wanting to awake with a sore head, kept the drinking levels fairly civilised (although we did open and finish a bottle of Shazza’s gift of the South African equivalent of Baileys!).

Eric, Shazza and Cathy (and Sainsbury)

 

The next morning after fond farewells and a promise to catch up later in the year Big Momma departed. 

Big Momma departs

 

We too got ready to head off the short distance to Santillana de Mar, only a matter of some 30 kms away to the aire in the middle of the town.  

This was our first use of Camperstops 2014, a Dutch publication which isn’t as comprehensive as the Aires books published by Vicarious Books. The weather wasn’t so good and when we arrived it was decidedly cool and a bit wet.  However undaunted we parked up Aurora and started to explore.  Santillana del Mar is described as “outrageously picturesque” and apparently crowds flock here in droves to walk it’s cobbled streets and look at the sandstone churches and mansions.  

From our initial view we couldn’t see any of this but as we walked we entered the centre of the town and yes it was very picturesque.  The town apparently derives it’s name from Santa Juliana whose remains were brought here 1200 years ago after she was put to death by her husband for refusing to renounce her virginity!  Nice!

 

 

 

The town was full of shops selling tourist tat but one place caught our eye. It was a restaurant doing menu of the day for €12 including wine!  We thought that that would mean a glass but it was in fact a bottle!  The food was excellent and so our decision to stay on the aire was forced on us as I couldn’t possibly drive after half a bottle of wine. After the meal we walked a bit further and then returned to Aurora.  Any intentions of going out for another wander were thwarted by the weather as the heavens opened.  In spite of that we had a good nights sleep. 

 

 

 

The next day we got under way early as we had decided to have breakfast on the move when we had something to look at as we headed for Potes and the Picos de Europa.

The journey continues…..

 

 

 

Into Spain and San Sebastián

This was an exciting stage in our journey as after spending just over 5 months in France, not only would we be venturing into a new country, but also a new way of living lay ahead as we would be far more nomadic using a choice of aires and wild camping and only using formal sites as a last resort.  

We could be totally self sufficient having about a month’s supply of gas on board to power the fridge (notwithstanding the ongoing cooling issue) and cooker, plus the use of our recently installed solar panel which can meet all our 12 volt power requirements, providing the sun shines, (i.e. lighting, powering the controls for the fridge, heating and toilet, as well as feeding our 1500W inverter – a clever box of tricks which converts 12v DC into 240v AC, so we can charge or run various electrical bits of equipment such as iphones/iPads, Cathy’s hair dryer, the slow cooker etc). We can also carry 175 litres of clean water which should be sufficient for a week or so, provided we are relatively economical with its use. 

Anyway our initial destination was to be the Pearl of the Cantabrian Coast – San Sebastián (known as “Donostia” in Basque Spanish) which is just 12km from the French border.  The motorhome aire is situated 1.5km from town near the University and was easy to find (the aires book comes with the GPS reference for each aire which we programme into our sat nav) and we were soon pitched up. It was busy, as was to be expected.  We decided we would stay 2 nights so we duly paid our fee at the ticket machine of €13.10 for the two nights, got the bikes out, locked Aurora and cycled into town.

What a surprise!  Given it is quite a big city, it has a huge area dedicated to relaxation with big wide promenades. Not for the first time, we benefited from a superb network of cycle lanes right from the aire, which took us past two of San Sebastián’s gorgeous wide beaches – Ondarreta and Concha, into the centre of the city.  Our route was punctuated with several elements famous in their own right – the intricately designed Concha white railings, which skirt the entire promenade, and the numerous ornate lamp posts.   Along our cycle route we could see Monte Urgull becoming larger as we approached its foothills and our destination – the Old Town. Atop Monte Urgull stood the Segrado Corazon de Jesus – a 41 metre tall statue that closely resembles Christ The Redeemer (like the one in Rio de Janeiro) which protectively overlooks the Concha bay and the tortoise like island of Santa Clara.

 

Cycling into San Sebastián

 
 

“Selfie” of Nick and Cathy whilst cycling around San Sebastián

The impression of open space is great with large pedestrian areas. We wandered round the city, treating ourselves to an ice cream and taking in the scenery, impressive buildings and it’s two beaches – said to be among the best city beaches in Spain.

La Concha beach with Monte Urdull in the background

 

The promenade’s ornate railings and lamp posts

 

Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro (Our Lady of the Choir) in the old town, showing St Sebastián on its facade


No this definitely NOT the Kursaal at Southend!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a few hours we decided to return to have a meal in Aurora rather than eating out and then decide if we would venture back into town. Right decision as an hour or so after we got back we were subject to a thunderstorm and torrential rain!

However that seemed to get bad weather out of the system as the next day we were treated to more glorious sunshine.  Again we cycled back into town and after parking up, spent the whole day looking round. 

During the afternoon we sat on the prom for a few hours in the hot sunshine and watched the Spanish relaxing on the beach, paddle surfing and swimming out to the various platforms in the sea.  It seems that their day’s routine involves coming down to the beach after work to relax before returning home and coming back out around 9pm to eat.  Yes the Spanish eat very late.  It wouldn’t suit my metabolism, but it does seem a very nice way of life!

The old town certainly came alive in the evening as it was crammed full of tapas bars. Sampling these tapas – or “pintxos” (pronounced “pinchos”) as they are called in the Basque region (named after the little cocktail spears that hold these tasty treats together) was a must so careful choice was made of several bars, which line every street in the old town.  The big mistake is that you go to one tapas bar and stuff yourself silly, but the idea is that you go to one bar, have a drink (Txakoli – pronounced “chakoly” – is the local young white wine which Cathy tried and enjoyed) take a plate and select one or two dishes from the mouthwatering selection on the bar, then sit back and enjoy. Then you go to the next bar for more wine and pintxos and continue the process, exploring more bars and trying different pintxos.  These are generally meant to be eaten several hours before the evening meal – probably why the Spanish eat so late considering there are so many tapas bars to visit!  We tried 3 bars in all and each one was different in character, quality of food and ambience. As many are bread based tapas, this wasn’t ideal for Cathy (who has a wheat intolerance) so we found ones that served tapas “calientes” ie hot, which were deliciously cooked to order.

 

We sampled veal cheeks, melt in the mouth duck, squid, pork rib, croquettes, plus some bread based ones (for me) with various types of seafood.  All were totally delicious.  Actually, the restaurant scene is huge in San Sebastián – apparently it has more Michelin Stars per square foot than any other city in the world!

We cycled home to Aurora (somewhat squiffy!) and although it was quite late, decided to detour via the “wind combs” – the Peine del Viento – a unique abstract work of art sculpted from wrought iron, stone and sea which blends harmoniously into the rocky coastline and whilst we could just decipher their outline in the dark, we wanted to see them in their glory during the daylight so decided to revisit them in the morning before we had breakfast and then move onto Santander to make our rendezvous with Big Momma.

It wasn’t a wasted journey, however, as we were treated to a fabulous view of the City lights across the Concha Bay!

  

So as planned we got up early and cycled back to the Wind Combs in the morning sun and were rewarded by a great view of these unusual sculptures!

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our two days in San Sebastián and can certainly recommend it as a place to visit.

So we departed San Sebastián mid morning.  Whilst in the tourist info office we had tried to get any information regarding a Dometic service agent or motorhome (“autocaravanas” in Spanish) dealers to try and resolve the fridge issue. Although she spoke good English, we don’t think the assistant really understood what we meant but she gave us an address of something somewhere! Not much to go on but we decided as it was on our way we would give it a go.  We duly set the sat nav and followed her instructions. Eventually after about 8 kms we arrived at an industrial park which initially looked promising.  However we soon realised it was a bum steer as there was clearly nothing there that resembled a motorhome dealer or Dometic agent.  

So we decided to get on our planned route to Santander.  As we got onto the autoroute about 5 kms onwards we both suddenly spotted a motorhome dealer off to the right of the autoroute, and following a hasty manoeuvre we found ourselves safely outside the dealership. I went into the office prepared for a difficult time to explain the problem, although I did have some photos on my iPhone to try and assist with the explanation. However I need not have feared as the chap spoke excellent English! He told me to park Aurora adjacent to their workshop and he would get a technician to look at it.  Within a few minutes he had diagnosed the problem which was a partly blocked jet and sooty flue.  The former was replaced with a new part and the latter problem cured by blasting out the flue with an air jet which released clouds of black dust and soot!  The parts were reassembled and tested and hey presto our fridge was sorted!  (and the “dirty gas” smell that Cathy had been complaining about for months – I can’t smell anything at all at any time – vanished instantly!).  The cost was €47 (€13 for the jet and the rest was labour and VAT) which was money well spent.  The moral of this story is to get your fridge properly serviced every year and replace the jet as a matter of course (and maybe carry a spare!).

Was this another case of “destin”? Had we not been taken on a bum steer by the tourist office assistant (funnily enough, to the small town she came from) we would not have come across this dealer who spoke such good English, who had the right part and was able to treat the issue immediately. Having previously contacted a dealer in the UK, we were waiting for him to let us have the part number so we could source it out in Spain, or alternatively have him courier it out to us, which would mean reluctantly finding a campsite to stay on for more than a week or so until the part arrived. Strangely enough the UK dealer never got back to us, so yes, we decided destin it was!

So onwards and upwards (well, West actually!) to Santander, or more precisely to Cabarceno, where the aire was situated and where we had arranged to meet Eric and Shazza – fellow fulltiming motorhome friends who had recently finished their first season working for the Caravan Club in Morvich, Scotland. 

And so the journey continues …