France-Spain-Portugal-Spain-Portugal….and then some more Spain!

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November 10th 2013
Published: November 17th 2013
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Oopsy, haven’t written in a while, not since the end of July and now we’re well into October (actually November by the time I finished writing this) time flies when you’re having fun! Our year is well over halfway through and we’re not ready to be thinking about coming home yet, as we are enjoying ourselves far too much!

When I last wrote we were just about to leave Germany after spending some time in the beautiful South Germany countryside. We headed into France via the Black Forest then the Dijon area before arriving at La Roque Gageac in the Dordogne, roughly at the same time as the heat wave. You’ve not experienced 40 degree heat until you’ve experienced it living in a tin can with no electricity (so no fan or cold drinks/able to keep food fresh), access to a shower or shade! Luckily, as we where camped next to the Dordogne, we where able to cool off in there and we are now shameless pro’s at stealth washing in the car parks we seem to live in! We rented a canoe and spent a brilliant day paddling along from La Roque Gageac, stopping for a swim along the way, three beautiful towns with lovely chateaux’s and houses built into the rocks by the river. Despite the heat we had a wonderful couple of days, waking up surrounded by a market and walking to the patisserie’s in the mornings to get croissants for breakfast- who needs a fridge when you have fresh local produce at your van door?!

After the Dordogne we headed for the coast, topping up our tans and watching the sun set over the Atlantic every night as we made our way towards Spain. The heat stayed with us so we spent a lot of time jumping in the sea, getting battered by the waves in Capbreton (seriously cool beach side surfer camping ground in France) lazing in the calm bay in Saint Jean de Luz, jumping off the harbour walls in Hondaribbia and playing on the sea slides for hours in San Sebastian. We met up with my (Ashley) parent’s, Sandra and Marc, and their friends Anna and Richard in Bilbao on the 6th of August in Bilbao and headed along the coast to Pechen, an absolutely stunning campsite with a gorgeous beach and estuary, and equally stunning prices (ahem). I had been raving to Mum via text about how hot it was in Spain for days but unfortunately they brought the lovely British weather with them and we spent the first night sheltering in the ‘event tent’ from torrential rain. Luckily we were able to cheer ourselves up with some delicious seafood paella and copious amounts of booze! The cooler weather turned out to be a blessing I thought, as it wasn’t too bad in the end and meant we where able to get around more than we would have if we had been melting in the heat and we made it to Santillana de la mer, learnt that the Spanish really don’t make good cider, visited some cave paintings and went on a mammoth bike ride up with Mum and Dad to San Vincente de la Barquera where we found out to our peril that cheap paella is not a good deal! The scenery and the town was breath-taking though which more than made up for the dodgy fish! From Pechon we headed into the Rioja reigon’s capital Haro, to sample the lovely vino, which we did very thoroughly, buying a bottle of posh wine as a treat. Then it was onto Pamplona luckily managing to avoid any bull running though there was a lot going on at the time in the towns around Pamplona. Pictures and photo’s of bull fights and running are everywhere around Pamplona, and it’s obviously a national obsession that I just can’t understand-it just looks bloody terrifying for everyone involved! I guess you have to do more than just look at some pictures to understand something that’s a huge part of culture and tradition going back hundreds of years but I think I’m quite content to sit that one out thank you! After a very lovely week or so with Mum and Dad, we left them in Pamplona to head for their ferry and made our way to meet up with our friends Danni and Sarah who were on holiday in Covas, north Portugal and we managed to cover 800km in one day-phew! They had rented a Yurt with a private kitchen, bathroom and garden/BBQ area in a lovely private house and had lots of room perfect for a little red campervan! We had a blissful 10 days with Danni and Sarah sunning ourselves, jumping around like kids in the swimming pool and in the huge and freezing cold waves of the Atlantic ocean, cooking BBQ’s and visiting the Isle of Cies, a truly beautiful little island nature reserve-luxury. It was so nice to have some time off the road after so much travel, not that we are bored of it even in the slightest, but it felt like a holiday from our holiday. Jammy eh?!

After leaving Danni and Sarah we headed back the way we had come to meet up with my Aunt Jackie, Uncle Dave and Cousins Adam and Nell and travel in convoy with their red VW camper. We met up with them in the Spanish Pyrenees and spent a couple of days driving round, taking some accidental very scenic detours (including following arrows which we thought where for camping but where in fact pointing out the path for pilgrims….oops), spotting eagles and vultures, pony trekking, learning how to ask for help fixing a starter motor in Spanish (their van, not ours!) and generally ahhhing at the scenery. We loved our time in the Spanish Pyrenees, such a beautiful place, friendly people, and so much to see and do. We left the wilderness and headed in convoy for Barcelona where I wore my flip-flops out quite literally, exploring the huge vibrant city. We were sad to leave Barcelona after having only one day in the city, but we found the campsites hard to find and very expensive and free or wild camping in Spain is illegal leaving us with not much choice. Barcelona is some where we defiantly want to come back to in the future and explore again! So then we where at the med, and wow how different it is to the Atlantic, something I’ve never really thought about before. The calm warm waters got us all excited about snorkelling so we got ourselves a snorkel set and headed along the Costa Blanca and Brava from Valencia through Javea, Denia, Calpe, Altea, Alfaz del Pi, La Marina near Elche Mar Menor, and Mazarron the entire time trying to ignore the ex-pats and tourist trash and focus instead on the beautiful sea, snorkelling and ruminants of the old towns amongst the bright lights and neon sign posts of the Irish Pub’s etc. One major benefit of so many tourists though, is that camping was ridiculously cheap. There where lots of well equipped camper-stops from Valencia to Mercia where you could park your van for under 10 euro’s a night with access to electricity, water, HOT SHOWERS (wow) and free wifi usually in easy walking distance from the towns and beaches. Camper-stops are a new-ish thing to Spain and really vary depending on where you are. The campsites themselves tend to be pricey in the high season, costing more than our daily budget, which is annoying when we need little more than somewhere to park. Wild camping is illegal, and you will be asked to move on, so we find ourselves hunting for the few and far between designated or tolerated free camping areas or privately owned camper-stops so it was amazing to find so many affordable camper-stops in a row along the blanca and brava and we made the most of it. Heading round the coast past Granada the amount of free camper-stops increased dramatically, usually in the form of beach parking full of surfer dudes, and no access to water or anything but that’s fine by us! Granada was amazing, our favourite city in Spain so far. We had a wonderful day in the sunshine, an amazing meal with Spanish guitar in the background, and the exploring the beautiful city. We stayed nearby in Beas de Granada; a very odd, very poor town where we got chased by horses and hid from wild dogs! We didn’t quite make it to the Alhambra, as it isn’t easy to visit without booking, much to the shock of a Dutch couple we got chatting to who where genuinely concerned that we weren’t ‘seeing the culture’. I was worried that we had missed out, and still am a bit, as the Alhambra is notoriously beautiful, and represent a large part of Spanish and Moorish history. There is, and has been for centuries, a large North African Muslim community in and around Granada which is very evident across the city, and I defiantly felt that we were ‘seeing the culture’ as we explored but it really did make me think, is it necessary to spend so much money to visit the ‘designated’ cultural areas, is that really seeing the culture? Or is the culture what you see when you avoid the areas pushed at the tourists and try and go where the locals go and do what they do? Anyway, point is that we couldn’t get in because of the sheer amount of visitors the place gets, and we literally couldn’t afford to pay entry to all these places on our travels and make it through the year!

When we pack up camp in the morning we rarely know where we will end up, though we have an idea of places we want to visit etc we stopped planning campsites/stops a while ago and mainly play it by ear, which means we end up certain places because they look interesting or just because we see a camping sign or somewhere free to park. The day after Granada was probably the best example of this as we headed off towards Ronda (after a hairy start with a van that refused to even tick over!) and spotted the beautiful town Salobrena perched on a hill. We drove closer to get a photo and spotted a ‘camper stop’ sign and ended up spending a couple of nights in a field with a load of hippies living in horse box’s. We had a fab view of the town which was all lit up at night, friendly people, running water and the beach behind us. Lush! From there we headed to Ronda, which is totally worth the trip just for the view from the town and the incredible bridge and then onto Gibraltar. Gibraltar is defiantly a day trip thing. Good for tax free shopping, novelty British things, monkeys, mega expensive trip up the rock (which actually has fab views) more monkeys, and over priced fish ‘n’ chips... not sure what else you would do there really…well except, fuel up-£1 a litre-yes please! We continued around the coast to Seville stayed dead cheap in a little harbour which even had a shower and electric and had a night out in Seville dinner and seeing the flamenco dancing. We ended up paying to see some even though you can see spontaneous flamenco dancing most nights in the bars etc and it was defiantly worth it-though they could have done with a bar there! I think Seville has been one of our favourite Spanish cities, along with Granada, because it’s so Spanish. Everything’s tapas and flamenco and brilliant night life; there’s nothing like drinking in a plaza outside a church surrounded by Spanish families.

So then we where in Portugal again, on the Algarve and wow! The gorgeous cliff lined beaches are stunning! I thought its would be a lot like the blanca/brava in Spain for some reason; flatish sandy beaches, calm sea, loads of tourist’s and tourist trash but it was nothing like that. I’m not sure if it was because we went as the summer season was coming to a close but the beaches where quiet, and we hardly saw any tourist crap, except in Lagos but even there it wasn’t too bad. We explored the little towns, walked some of the fisherman’s trail-a marked walk along the cliff’s made up from local knowledge of access to quiet, empty beaches and sea fishing spots, and did a lot of snorkelling and jumping around in the waves! We where reluctant to move on but time seems to be running away with us……..

Lisbon was our next stop. Neither of us are sure what to make of it! Its a gritty, urban, multicultural, higgledy piggledy sort of a place that looks like it needs a bit of TLC. There’s a LOT of hills, trams and graffiti, everyone’s on the make, or on the rob, and we got offered drugs a lot! But we loved it, it’s quirky, sort of hippie, and very unique. Just needs a bit of a scrub. Kind of like us!

From Lisbon we visited Sintra, Obidos and Tomar all quaint pretty towns nearby Lisbon and then onto Coimbra. The weather had been a bit rubbish since we arrived in Lisbon, but when we where in Tomar the heavens opened! The rain was bouncing a foot off the floor and we discovered that the van as a few substantial leaks, disaster! Back in the Dordogne we where melting in the heat and spend a couple of hours un-sticking the windows which the previous owner had glued shut. Turns out the reason they where glued together is that if it rains the water literally pours through the windows, soaking through the carpeted walls, the cupboards and down onto the carpeted floor. Pretty soon the whole van floor was sodden. After staring in horror, then laughing a lot, we ended up in the rain in our vests and flip flops (We had no where to dry wet clothes!!!) pulling our awnings ground sheet over the roof of the van-success! We where thinking we would have to do this every time it rained, but then very luckily we met some Brits who happened to be caravan repair people who fixed the seals on our windows for us. Three days later the carpet had dried out enough to walk on, though it’s significantly more fragrant now! There is still a problem with the seal around the van’s extension but that only leaks a tiny bit so can wait till we’re home. Phew!

We left Portugal to head for Madrid, which was a bit of a let down though there are some yummy markets where you can but cheap glasses of good wine and wonder around with them sampling the local produce…gorgeous. Nearby Avila, Segovia and best of all Toledo are much worthier of a visit and we managed to find free places to stay-including camouflaging the van and hiding out in some farm land getting scared of our own shadows!

Now we’re waiting for our winter tyres to be put on, then it’s off through France and Italy to Austria to play in the snow, go skiing and eat gingerbread men and the Christmas markets. Adios Spain it’s been a blast!

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2nd December 2013

Oh those lovely hot sunny days!
Lovely to read and see what you've been doing. Hope you are managing to keep warm in Austria!

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