It’s coming…

We are getting ever closer to our new van. It is supposedly 13 days away. I say “supposedly” because we have been here before and I shall not quickly forget the horrors of last year when Mr Snail had to stay near Paris for several nights after travelling up on the train at 6am and finding Heidi Hymer not yet CT’d or ready when he arrived on collection day.

At least Naintré is a bit closer to home.

The funds have been transferred for the balance of the payment. It hurt a bit, the Exchange Rate being what it is. A good job that we didn’t actually buy the more expensive van from Cognac.

Anyway, all that we have to do now is to sit and wait.

With under two weeks to go perhaps I should be doing more than just waiting. Perhaps I should be organising some packing? We have invested in some of those colourful plastic skips with handles. They are flexible and durable and we think/hope that they will be just the thing for organising the luggage space under the bed. I could at least be sorting items into the skips (we got all the colours so that we can identify what is where. Also, with great regret, I feel it may well be time to be laundering, ironing and filling packing cubes with clothing in readiness.

We want to go away with more or less immediate effect, in order to test all systems and fittings. We will most likely just pop out to one of the many nearby free Aires for our first trip but we have found a local English-style brewery that has an event on; with ale, bikers, music, and the fish and chip van in attendance. Motorhomes may stay overnight at no charge. It is most tempting but it happens the day after we are supposed to be collecting the van so would require a very fast turnaround. That and the fear of not getting the van on the 19th leads us towards not making a booking, alas. It is, however, exactly the kind of escapade that we hope the nippier new van will facilitate – and frequently. We believe that using the van conversion will change the way that we approach our motorhoming. More frequent but shorter trips would seem to be the way to go.

Lunch in Montmorillon this week leads us towards going there for the second stage of van-testing – for which we shall be needing a campsite and hook-up. The Municipal campsite is a very short stroll from Le Lucullus, where we lunched in the Bistro and now fancy dining in the restaurant. It feels like A Plan. That said, Airvault offers many temptations too (and better dog-walking.)

The Plan for a late Summer foray to Modena remains in place, so long as no problems emerge with the van before then.

Plans are also firming up on what to do this coming winter. Initially we were tending towards Sicily but are now thinking about returning to Portugal and Spain again (trying to do new places rather than just the ones that we know and love) and thinking hard about going on to Morocco. Mr Snail is conducting research.

The Cat Contingent may well screw any or all of this up. It remains to be seen how they manage to cohabit in the smaller space. We may be needing a House Sitter. A free (long) holiday in France, anybody?

Well, that was unexpected…

I was confiding that Heidi’s days with us are numbered, we had picked out our new van and that Mr Snail was taking her to Cognac to get a PX price…

Things did not go to plan.

Heidi was looking gorgeous, considering her age, and we both agreed that the fact that they had asked to see her meant that they would almost certainly make some kind of an offer – otherwise why put us to the trouble. Really, for a lass of 20 years age, she was looking in fine fettle. Why would they turn her down.

Well, it was very much a case of frowning, head-shaking and tutting. It was broken this and broken that (minor things that we had honestly not noticed in the last year) and this requires replacing and that requires replacing and her tyres are too old and… no, we won’t take her, it would be too costly to make her right. They suggested that we had been done when we bought her…

Were they speaking of the same Heidi that we know? Surely not.

My favourite Snail returned, with his tail betwixt his legs.

We talked about the options, which we believed to be few – given the fact that other dealers would not even look at her because of her age. The option that Mr Snail was coming down on was the one that goes “There’s nothing wrong with her and she suits us just fine let’s just keep her.” Nothing wrong with that course of action at all.

What were the other options?

  • We might try selling her privately but that was a course that we knew that we would rather not take. It is a process that is fraught and brings with it onerous responsibilities. Selling used vehicles privately in France is not something to be undertaken lightly. This reason was after all the driver behind seeking a PX in the first place.
  • We could seek a cheaper van that didn’t need us to top up with funds from disposing of Heidi but that wouldn’t work for us and she would have to go anyway, to make space for a new van. We just don’t have room for three vehicles.
  • A dealer that we visited in Naintré last week is having a fair of used vehicles this weekend and inviting owners to come and sell their own vans. We might book a spot there but that would still leave us with the legal requirements and responsibilities thing.
  • A little place outside Lussac Les Chateaux has, we have noticed, usually a few lower-end motorhomes outside, marked up with prices in their windows. Perhaps they might be open to buying Heidi from us. We wouldn’t make as much as from a private sale but would be free of the legal obligations.

We were dejected. I just clung on to the idea that none of this actually matters. We aren’t in need of a new van, it was just a flirting with some kind of desire…

We discussed returning to Naintré before the weekend, to remind ourselves of what they had for sale there and to try and firm up ideas about what our second choice van might be. We might book Heidi in on the DIY sales thing if it seemed a good idea and if there was a van that we might want to buy…

Mr Snail visited their website to remind himself of their stock and to check out the details of the used vehicle event. He noticed that in the earlier part of the week they had some reductions on new vehicles, including on some of the ones that we might be considering.

Thus it was that we got up out of our beds yesterday morning and took Heidi with us to Naintré. It was a very faint hope but perhaps, if they would consider a PX, it would be useful to have her there and not require a second journey.

We arrived, on a far better day than last week, to find many more units on display and the van conversions standing there with doors open ready for viewing. As we crossed the lot, I spotted a Hymermobil of very similar vintage to Heidi. we had some debate as to whether the dealer was selling the van or whether it was there for the weekend sell-your-own event. Then I saw another van, even older than Heidi. I dared to suggest that perhaps they might be up for a PX after all.

A very nice man, name of Christophe, appeared very quickly to see if he might help. He was going to leave us to it but soon realised that we knew what we were looking for and were proper buyers. He stuck with us and we may have tested his patience as we went back and forth between our three personal options (a Globecar, a Pilote and a Bavaria), checking this and checking that and making up our minds (or at least attempting to!)

We chose one: the Globecar. It was considerably cheaper than the Malibu that we had been going to purchase in Cognac. If we couldn’t get a PX then we would still be able to pay for it… but that would leave the issue of disposal in time for bringing a new van home.

We asked about the possibility of exchanging Heidi and told Christophe her age, we pointed her out in the car park. He didn’t flinch and simply got stuck into the paperwork, working out the figures with adjustments for discounts and additional options costed in. Mr Snail and I exchanged glances. He didn’t want to look at her before we agreed a sale? We asked if he wanted to see her and he said yes but he would fill all the papers in first. He went online and found the book price for Heidi. It was disappointingly low, even after Christophe generously topped the figure up with an additional 500 Euros but, you know, legalities, logistics etcetera… worth the loss to avoid the hassle…

…but he still hadn’t looked at her and after the previous day’s reception at Cognac, we were concerned for poor Heidi.

We need not have worried. Christophe walked in, looked around and remarked that Heidi was in excellent condition (which is what we had believed originally). Deal done.

Now, how on earth was this the same vehicle that was so broken and so in need of work on Tuesday?

We supplied the many signatures required in France when conducting any transaction, wrote the cheque for the deposit, fixed a date for delivery and, it being time to close for lunch, were ushered on our merry way and out of the front door.

Lunch at La Table de Bellefois followed shortly thereafter by way of a small celebration.

We wanted a 6m van, or smaller, but ended up with one longer than Heidi. It is however a matter of girth, not length, I suppose 🙂

The new van is intended to be our last van. We plan to stick with it now and expect it to see our wandering days out for us. It is a Globecar Summit 640. We are having an awning, a solar panel and a reversing camera/multimedia centre (radio, Bluetooth, SatNav etc.) installed and will collect it on the 19th July. That date is, coincidentally, the same date that we brought Heidi home last year. We are dumping the old girl on her birthday. Aren’t we awful.

The new van is going to be needing a name. Any ideas? Alliterative name perhaps to follow Heidi Hymer? Gloria Globecar has been considered, as has Gladys Pugh (Heidi Hymer reference inclusive!) Maybe Sam Summit? I’m thinking though, as it’s a van and not a Eurobox moho, to follow Vincent Van Go (the Roadtrek), we might name it Van Morrison.. or Van the Van!

Can you do better?

I KNOW!

I am just dreadful aren’t I? Promises to update, partial updates, long, long absences. I can only apologise for having a rich and full life, I guess.

Acknowledged that I have to complete the tale of our last trip and the one before that and the one before that etcetera. Maybe one day I will catch up with myself. However, today I have Big News; Current News.

Farewell to Heidi

Heidi Hymer has not been with us long but she has served us well and one day soon you might read about some of the many places that she has taken us in her year as part of our family but the time has come to bid her goodbye.

An unexpected boost to our finances means that Mr Snail may now secure a new motorhome that is a little more driver-friendly. He has elected to swap to a van-conversion type and has picked out one that has an automatic box. He is looking forward to having a more nimble vehicle that is more easily parked in towns. It also improves considerably on Heidi’s Crit’Air rating of 5, meaning that we will be more able to access towns where Heidi would not be permitted.

Now, this plan may not work completely to our satisfaction and much depends on the trip that Mr Snail is taking today: Heidi is to be inspected by a dealership in Cognac to see if they might offer us a PX value on her. Whether or not we can have the chosen new vehicle depends on the size of the price on Heidi’s head and we may have to return to the van-viewing and selection process again. I do hope not, we have seen much of France in our recent research mode and I do not particularly want to do that again any time soon.

Realistically, it is quite likely that we will have to select a different van and during that process we probably will not be using Heidi to go away in. She has been emptied, cleaned and primped and that’s another process that we probably would not enjoy going through again soon.

A large snag is that, if we do not secure a trade-in today, we have found that other dealers will not begin to consider Heidi for exchange. She is too old for them, having first hit the Snail Trail in 1999. At least this dealer is willing to take a look at her.

I am sitting here, twiddling my thumbs and hoping for the best. It would be really nice, in that passenger seat, not to feel as though we are lurching sideways around every roundabout.

Updates forthcoming. Really. Truly. Well, I hope… Also Plans: A short trip to Italy in late Summer, Girona next May, possibly over-wintering in between in either Spain/Portugal again or possibly Sardinia. Or somewhere else. Or not at all. As always, plans are fluid. Should we get the new van there will be some short local trips prior to the Italy venture for the purposes of familiarisation and de-snagging.

Now, the big question is, where do the cats go in a van conversion?

Travelling with cats

Dusty, in a moment of calm

Long ago and far away in a land elsewhere, we travelled with a cat. When we originally bought a motorhome we went away only for two or three nights at a time. We had two indoor cats and would leave them at home to keep each other company. They had many litter trays, an automatic feeder and lots of water bowls. All was fine. It never occurred to us that we might take them travelling.

Then one of them died. We could not leave the other alone and by then we were planning longer trips anyway, having got the hang of this motorhoming lark. Thus began Teddy’s travelling life.

It worried us. He was 15 years old. How would he take to it at his age? Well, the answer to that was “like a duck to water”. He travelled for two years and seemingly loved every moment. Then he too died and left us with a cat-shaped hole in our hearts.

We agreed. No more cats. Just Nell. As we downsized the van, it seemed the correct decision. No room for a litter tray in the Roadtrek…

Chloé however had other ideas. She simply moved in with us when we bought the new house.

As time moved on, we had to replace the Roadtrek with another van. The Hymer is smaller than the RT but more spacious and just about offers room for a litter tray. We had hoped that Chloé would travel with us and we tried to familiarise her with the motorhome by leaving the door open on fine days and hoping that she would let herself in. In the evenings we would have our meal in the van and take her in with us. She demanded to be let out. We kept on trying. She made it clear that she was an Outdoor Cat and not to be confined against her will.

A Outdoor Cat

Then Dusty came into our lives. We did not mean to keep him. He was half dead, a tiny runty kitten with eyes glued shut. I picked him up, took him home and started to find a rescue organisation to take him in. He survived, I did not find a rescue willing to take him and he remains with us to this day.

Chloé was outraged. She took an instant dislike to the kitten and much of the progress that we had made with her went out of the window.

When it came time to make our first trip away in the new van it was clear that Chloé was not ready to join us. We simply left her at home and took the kitten with us. Chloé had been living independently before we came along and we knew that she would be fine on her own. The weather was good. She was used to living in our outbuildings, we had a neighbour come to check her water and she had a 99 day automatic feeder. All would be fine.

Except for the fact that it wasn’t. It turned out that little Chloé had actually become attached to us and she missed us.

She still wasn’t getting on with little Dusty.

He didn’t really offer much of a threat…

We continued working on the issues but realised that Chloé needed a new home. I tried hard to find her one but was unsuccessful so when it was time to leave for an extended trip over the Winter, there was nothing to do but to bundle both cats up, shove them into the van and hope for the best (whilst expecting the worst.)

With its U-shaped rear lounge layout, the Hymer has plenty of room to place a travel cage in safety. Our cage can be divided into two, for two cats but we rightly thought it far too early to stress the cats by confining them so closely. Dusty went into the cage and Chloé into a travel carrier placed next to it. We sprayed the air liberally with Feliway, took a deep breath and drove off into the unknown.

Ten minutes later we pulled into a lay-by as Chloé had escaped her carrier. It was going to be a long journey.

To be continued…

Winter Tour 2018/19 Part 3 (The remainder of December)

Traditional fishing boat at Vagueira

Day 12/13 Vagueira, 213 Km (total 1472 Km)

Vagueira is old ground, we stayed there last year. So we were surprised when the SatNav insisted on a different approach route. We cursed her a little but when we approached the campsite from the “wrong” end we found that the road in from the other end was closed. We had to forgive her.

We found little change, it remained a seaside town very much out of season.

Surf’s Up

The surf was up, as usual. One wonders how brave the fishermen must be to put out in their little boats if waves like this are normal business. They have our admiration.

One change we did find in Vagueira was this new item of public art. Reading the accompanying notes I concluded that the council and the artist together completely over thought this one. I remain in favour of the giant fork and sardine.

I remained a little under the weather from my stomach bug so we did not make the best of our visit here.

Days 14/15 Gala (Figueira da Foz) 75 Km (total 1547 Km)

Devastation

If there had been little change at Vagueira, Gala had more than enough change to offer. A Transatlantic Storm touched land here a few weeks before we arrived. The campsite, the forest and the village had all been pounded by extreme winds and high seas.

Many of the trees, possibly more than half, on the campsite were down and the story continued in the forest outside the perimeter fence. The path through the dunes to the beach had disappeared, with only a warning flag left to show where it had been.

In fact, most of the dunescape had been washed away. We walked along the beach towards the village finding heavy machinery hard at work shifting sand form where it ought not to be and back to where it should. The breakwater access was heaped with rubble, many of the boardwalk steps to the beach had gone.

On the little “prom” the story continued, with the beach bar now just a skeleton – roof and glass sides all gone. Other buildings were under repair. Street furniture such as parking and direction signs were all blown over and lying on the grounds.

Wandering around back at the campsite we realised how many of the caravans and chalets had suffered damage. What was a beautiful site will take years to be restored.

The highlight of our stay at Gala this year was our trip across the main road to the Industrial Estate and the cafeteria there, where we had a very cheap lunch with many of the local workers. We treated ourselves to the Portuguese favourite; the Francesinha.

With much maintenance work going on, added to the ambient noise from the main road, the Industrial Estate, and the nearby firing Range, plus the difficulty of working in the now-destroyed forest; we decided that two nights was sufficient and we moved on.

Days 15/16 Alcácer do Sal, 252 Km (total 1799 Km)

Flowering shrub in Alcácer

When planning this section of our trip we had not realised that last year we had taken note of this little town. We had stayed overnight at the Barragem nearby and had not enjoyed that experience. As we approached the town on the next leg of our journey we had remarked that it looked very attractive, arranged as it was on the hill with tiled roofs glowing red under the morning sun… and what a shame it was that there was no aire or other place to stop. We did stop to fuel up at Intermarché (not a happy experience) and did some shopping at Lidl.

Well, it turns out that we got things very wrong. There is a Municipal Campsite and that is where we stopped this time.

It is a small site, with equally small pitches on grass. The toilet facilities left something to be desired and we used our own arrangements. The showers were tolerable.

The best feature of this site is the fact that it is only yards from the Intermarché, with Lidl just a few strides further away.

The walk into town is not particularly short however but the town is old and quaint and fun to explore, if somewhat run down and neglected. Oddly it did not attract me to use my camera as I had expected that it would. I came away with very few photographs.

I was surprised to find an old lady washing her clothes in the ancient lavarie (don’t know the Portuguese term) but see it as indicative of just how economically depressed this town is.

The notable feature of this visit was our lunch at Taberna 2 à Esquina, a delightful establishment with a rustic feel and very friendly front of house staff. We had the day’s Special, which we now know to be one of Portugal’s “national dishes”.

Cozeido à Portuguesa

Portuguese Stew is, to us at least, their equivalent of the French dish of Choucroute Garni – a load of different meats combined with cabbage. In this dish’s favour the cabbage was in a vegetable stew and not fermented but some of the meat items were a little dodgy. We did really enjoy the Portuguese variant on Chorizo and there was also a very tasty blood pudding in there. The lump of “lard” we were far less keen on.

We’ll add this to the “Done that, don’t want to do it again” list.

Day 18/19, Vila Nova de Milfontes, 120 Km (total 1919 Km)

Research had shown this campsite to be ideally placed with a good fish restaurant around the corner and a supermarket a short walk away. The site’s publicity states that it is 600 metres from the sea. Fabulous!

The dirt road to the sea – note the lack of any habitation, commercial activity or any other form of urbanisation

As we approached the day’s destination, Mr Snail said that he was worried. “Where is the town?” he enquired, seeing no visible sign nor indications on the SatNav map.

We, as many others have been, were led astray by a Google Maps marker for a closely similar-named alternative campsite. This one is in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Happily the site has a restaurant and it was open. The on-site supermarket was closed but an array of essential items was available from the bar.

The site is interesting. By far the largest campsite we have experienced to date but at that time of the year it was all but deserted. A small handful of motorhomes were parked by the rear gate that leads onto the dirt track to the beach. The main gate was about a kilometre away from our parking spot and the restaurant and bar situated about halfway between. You definitely need your walking legs on for this site, most especially if returning from the beach too late to buzz in through the back gate.

We liked it a lot but suspect that we would hate it in season. Would happily return for a lengthy December break again, but only if we had adequate supplies on board!

Alternative access to the beach via the scrub makes for good dog walking

It was very handy to be able to nip out of the back gate to walk the dog and the walk to the sea is pleasant enough, though dusty with cars passing at the weekend. At the end of the road is a huge car park. The bay is beautiful and there is an extensive boardwalk network across the dune tops.

Simply beautiful bay with clear water and clean beaches… no litter or flotsam/jetsam anywhere to be seen

The sun was out, the sky was blue and tops were off. What more could you want at this time of the year. Well, apparently, some shopping opportunities and a good meal out. It was time to leave.

Day 20 – 47, Sagres, 115 Km (total 2034 Km)

We came to rest in Sagres, intending to stay for around a month and sit out the winter holidays. Readers with long memories will recall that we spent ten days here over the New Year period last year. I will not bore with rehashing an account of the site or the town.

Both the town and the site have been a little quieter than last year. The weather has been a little less startlingly good and although mainly sunny we have experienced both rain and wind. It has in fact been a little more comfortable this year.

We celebrated Mr Snail’s Birthday, a very merry non-christmas, and our Wedding Anniversary on New Year’s Eve whilst here. There has been much kitchen activity in the van.

A few pics from the past month:

We departed Sagres on the 6th of December and drove to Spain.

Winter Tour 2018/19 Part 2

04/01/2019 ETA detail about Dusty and the horn

Day 3 to 6 at Zarautz

Plenty has been written here about Zarautz and Gran Camping, I do not intend to duplicate that content. Sufficient to say that we had a very good time and that those 450 steps are still a killer.

On Sunday I became a little annoyed by somebody on the campsite repeatedly sounding their vehicle horn. At one stage I asked “could that be Dusty? Is he now heavy enough to sound the horn by sitting on it?” and was assured that no, it was not.

Day 6, to Zamora, 458 Km (1027 Km total)

The day began badly when the demister fan failed. It was teeming with rain. The screen was so badly misted that we took a wrong turn at the toll and ended up heading back towards France. It was a very scary time but we eventually found our way back and on our way South. Even better, the ran did eventually stop and hugh sighs of relief breathed once the sun came ut and the window dried up. I would not want to do that journey ever again. Anyway, that is the explanation for the extra lengthy distance on this leg.

We have visited Zamora previously and again, I do not intend to repeat myself here. It is a good free Aire, now with water and waste services and a great parkland adjacent for doggy good times.

A splendid meal was had at Sancho 2.

There was one horrifying moment when the horn sounded, frightening the living daylights out of a schoolgirl who was crossing the car park in front of our parked vehicle. Seemingly Dusty really is heavy enough now to sound the horn.

Day 8, onward to Portugal. Bragança, 102 Km (1129 Km total)

Once again, a revisit and no need to write more about this lovely free aire or the town.

Happily the weather was good and we had few visibility problems and a pleasant journey ensued.

We dined two nights at Tasca do Zé Tuga.

On our first night in Bragança, or rather on our first morning there, the van horn sounded at 7 am. Dusty was at it again. We were mortified, due to the presence of close neighbours. What to do?

We came up with several ideas, including boxing him at night or devising some protective mechanism using a folding crate. Eventually Mr Snail came up with the right idea. He identified the fuse and its location and we subsequently pulled it. We now remove the fuse every time that we park for the night. Happily the fuse box is readily accessible in the passenger side glove box.

Day 10/11, in Mêda. 130 Km (1259 Km total)

On the way to Mêda

Mêda was new territory for us. A small town, with a neat little Municipal Campsite. We had a neighbour for the first night but were alone for the second. Hard standing pitches are each provided with power, picnic table and whirly washing line. Site open all year. Bar/Café open. Free swimming when Municipal pool is open. Walking distance to shops and restaurants, including the local Intermarché. Dog walking on local very quiet tarmac lane, quite hilly.

I caught myself a tummy bug so was unable to make the most of this stop but did manage a walk out with the camera when I was feeling a little perkier.

We left Mêda on Day 12 and headed for the coast.

We rather wished that we had arrived sooner when we saw this poster.