Astrid's Adventures Abroad - Through the Channel Tunnel

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July 30th 2017
Published: July 30th 2017
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17 - 24th July 2017

At last we have ventured 'abroad' in Astrid and drove her on and off Le Shuttle with ease. Before leaving Abbey Wood we had taken the train to Charing Cross and visited Stanfords travel book shop to buy a book listing commercial camping sites in France and Spain. There was only one, a huge tome that covers all of Europe, called Camperstop. The assistant said it was the only one she knew so we bought it despite the price of £28. Anyway, once we had chance to read it we realised it was not what we had been looking for.

It does not list 'normal' commercial sites but places where motorhomes (not caravans) can stop. Many of the sites are free and a high proportion provide toilets, water fills, grey water disposal and chemical dump points. The rest charge small amounts and quite a few offer the opportunity to plug into the electricity for a small charge. Each site is unique, usually small and taking anything from 3 to 15 motorhomes. Local councils and villages are often the owners of the site which can even be found in some village squares. Camperstop immediately changed from being a mistake to being one of our best buys ever! What's more, we have realised that as Motorhomers in France and Spain we are viewed differently from in the UK. There we feel that at times we are seen as nomadic ne'er-do-wells whereas here we are almost achieving elite status. It could go to our heads!

Our first night was spent on a council site near Le Mans, all the necessary facilities in a lovely tree-lined area with hardstanding and an on-site warden for 5 Euros. We had a chat to the only other English couple, made a meal and then went to find the nightlife. It was a small village and only one place was open, a shop comprising a tabac in one half and bar in the other. We took our beers and sat in the window. A customer pulled in, parked her car in front of our window and went into the tabac part. Jim suddenly noticed her car was starting to roll down the road. He raced outside and managed to turn it into the far kerb. He said he would have tried to put his foot on the brake but he knew he would have difficulty jumping in quickly enough and in the stress of the moment he couldn't remember where the brake was on a French car. I think he did well to catch it! The owner was embarrassed but grateful.

The next night we stopped in a village to the north of Bordeaux. This time we were the only motorhome there. It is a free site set behind the church and town hall in lovely gardens. The motorhome spaces were set between trees but again on hardstanding, which we prefer. The buildings were constructed of a lovely creamy coloured stone similar to that of the Cotswolds and the church clock chimed gently adding to the sense of peace.. We were so pleased there was cover under the trees as the temperature had reached the high 30s and it was very humid. We had our meal with a glass of wine and went to bed with all the windows open.

The peace was not to last. Around 1am a storm blew up with strong winds and lightening. We had to close windows quickly to avoid damage but the most frightening thing was the arboreal Jekyll and Hyde nature of our neighbours. When we arrived the trees welcomed us under their small delicate foliage which shaded us perfectly even though the trees were only about 6 metres high. Now, transformed into malevolent monsters, they were thrashing their branches around as if they were trying to beat us to death. We decided we needed to move out from under them quickly but it was not easy. They had been perfectly still when we arrived and it was light so I could see where to pull in between them. In the dark and with the manic movement of branches it was a nightmare, not aided by the fact that we were extremely scantily clad because of the heat but did not feel we could delay moving long enough to dress. Luckily there was no-one around to see us.

By morning calm was restored but it was as well no other vehicle had arrived in the night as I had parked almost in the middle of the entrance road as that had been the only space free from bewitched branches.

We drove on intending to go to a commercial site in San Sebastian to plug in for a couple of nights and rest after the journey across France. Our strategy when reaching sea side towns is to head straight to the sea to get our bearings and then drive along to find a site. This strategy failed spectacularly in San Sebastian. First of all it is huge, we had expected something like Brighton but in reality it was more like Birmingham. Secondly, it is built on hills so the roads were truly a cat's cradle of viaducts, tunnels, underpasses and overpasses and without knowledge of local place names it was impossible to navigate. The hills even meant we could not spot the sea so could not use that to help direct us. Eventually Jim admitted defeat (the first time in 46 years that he could not drive to exactly where he wanted to be) and we followed the main road sign out of town. Only then did we catch a brief glimpse of sea.

We stopped a few miles along the coast at Zarautz at a big camping site on the cliff top overlooking the long beach below. We had a perfectly placed pitch with a view right across the bay. I planned to get a good sunset photo as the sun would set out at sea behind an island they call the mouse. Unfortunately we never saw the sun despite staying two nights. We planned to take the bus into San Sebastian to give it a second chance and try out the tapas which are supposed to be the best in the world. However, as the forecast was for constant rain we gave up on San Sebastian. We did manage to walk between showers to the far end of the beach in Zarautz which is very pleasant and popular with surfers. There were lots of them hanging about forlornly the other side of the breakers waiting for the rain to stop and the waves to pick up. We moved west along the coast to Cudillero.

Again we used Camperstop to find a site in Cudillero. The site is in the grounds of a hotel and although it is free to park overnight they expect that you eat in the restaurant. That sounded reasonable so in we pulled. It looked fine with an attractive building and well tended gardens covered with hydrangeas. A German guest was washing his windscreen at the front and said he thought the main door and reception were closed. We rang the bell and a man popped his head through an upstairs window. We asked in Spanish if we could park overnight and he said that was fine. I asked if we had to eat in the restaurant and he said no. However we thought we should so at 8.00pm we went across to the hotel for a drink and dinner but the same guest explained that the restaurant and bar was closed so they were going into the town to eat. We just walked to the nearby supermarket and stocked up. There only seemed to be three guests staying at the hotel so we have no idea what was happening but it was a pleasant place to spend the night and even better there was a wifi connection. Jim was very happy and we managed to speak to Gilli by Whatsapp. However we checked the weather forecast for the rest of the week and it was for more rain so we decided to scrap our plan to travel to the rugged far north west coast and chose to head south towards Extramadura where on the weather map it was showing 30 degrees.

Church in main sqqare Zamora, where all life took place from 12th Century on.Church in main sqqare Zamora, where all life took place from 12th Century on.Church in main sqqare Zamora, where all life took place from 12th Century on.

It was a market place, employment exchange, centre for proclamations amaongst other things.
are now in Bretocino near Zamora, another Camperstop site. This one is commercial but we have had a lovely stay so far. It has a high metal roof covering 5 of the motorhome spaces and we are lucky enough to be in one of the 5 as the shade is very welcome. There is a small swimming pool as well as all the other facilities and the charge is 11 Euros a night falling to 10 after 4 nights. There are two bars in the village serving basic tapas (last night 4 drinks and three tapas cost just over 7 Euros) and we have had visits from a mobile baker, fishmonger and fruit van. Within a few minute walk are trails along the river and through fields. What more could we want?

28th July - Parque Nacional Monfrague

We stayed in Bretocino for 5 nights mainly because we were lazy but also because we took a day out to visit Zamora. It is only a short distance from Bretocino but we took the bus which meandered through a few villages and so the journey took an hour and a half. There was no hurry so having a mini tour suited us fine. Zamora surprised us with the beauty and number of Roman and Medieval buildings, including a castle and a proliferation of churches from various periods of history. We could easily have spent two days site-seeing which we had not expected. There were very few tourists around so it was quiet. The only negative aspect of the town is the amount of grafiti, some even defacing superb 12th and 13th Century buildings.

I also encountered a strange reaction from a refuse collector. At a lovely lookout point we saw a bank of four very smart chrome and black waste bins set on a large concrete plinth, and commented on how they were quite elegant but unobtrusive in the historical surrrounds. We saw the similar rows of bins a few times and saw that they encouraged recycling. Then the refuse collecting vehicle arrived and we were fascinated to see that instead of lifting each bin the man plugged in to an adjacent electricity point, pressed a button and the whole plinth tipped up backwards lifting all the bins as one unit and revealing a huge pit containing the rubbish underneath. So the 'bins' were just entry points to the pit below. I was fascinated so started to take photographs but the refuse collector became very agitated and said, 'no pictures, no pictures!' I tried saying in Spanish that it seemed a very efficient system but he became more irate so I gave up and moved away. His reaction really surprised me as I could not see any harm in taking a photograph and I was not photographing him. However it occurred to us that perhaps it is a sensitive issue in the town as clearly no recycling was taking place as all the rubbish was lumped together in the pit.

Anyway, we have moved on to a lovely site (so far) close to the Parque Nacional Monfrague. It has a large pool which is really needed as the temperature has been just below 40 degrees at it's hottest for the last few days. We had breakfast at 8am and it was 28 then. Tomorrow we plan to go to the visitor centre in the Parque and then organise some walks and bird watching. At the moment the plan is to use this site as a base to visit nearby towns of Plasencia, Trujillo and Caceres. It has wifi which is a bonus as it has been lacking since we came south from the coast. We will let you know how it works out in the next blog.

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30th July 2017

Made it ...
Glad to see that you made it at last to the 'outside' world - enjoy and enjoy some more.

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