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.

Winter Tour 2018/19 Part 1

Setting off on the RN from home. Yellow Jackets in window “just in case”

I am taking a new approach to documenting our travels for this trip. Trying to write things up in full just makes me get behind and uploading all of the photos gets me in a pickle with our bandwidth. So here’s what I plan to do this winter:

As and when we have a power hookup and I can fit the time in, I will bring us up to speed quickly on the journey so far. There will be a Featured Image representative of the journey, perhaps a couple more images if that seems appropriate and when I am using site WiFi. When we get home, I will upload one or more Gallery posts and do my best to caption with any remaining memories at that stage.

There may, or may not, be an Instagram connection to keep things topical whilst mainly offline but I have to work on that aspect since discovering that my plugin does not play nicely and only shows the most recent of uploads. Research on a better plugin continues.

The Journey from  home until Spain

We departed on Wednesday 21st November 2018.

The plan was to mosey on down to Arcachon, stay there for three nights and then move on down to Spain, making the border crossing on Sunday when the French roads are quiet. News of the Gilets Jaunes and their behaviour in Bordeaux led us to change our plans at the last minute. We decided to take the D roads, avoiding Bordeaux.

We tucked our legally-required high-vis jackets in the window, hoping that any protestors at  road blocks would think that we are sympathetic to their cause and therefore treat us kindly…

Day 1: to Brantôme, 133 Km.

Brantôme

We left at 1pm, packing Nell the dog, Chloé the cat and Dusty the kitten into the van along with our goods and chattels. Good roads and fair weather most of the way, clouding over just as we reached Brantôme. We did have to stop after ten minutes, when Chloé escaped her carrier.

Brantôme offers a large riverside Motorhome Aire (100 pitches), with payment barrier. 6€ plus tax. Parking on grass and sand. Pretty level. Adjacent to a park area and a short walk into town Motorhome servicing point is outside the barrier. Waste free, water 2€ for 10 minutes. We found ourselves with just one other van for company.

A very attractive and interesting town, though mostly closed on a winter Wednesday. Would like to return when things are open. There are 4 Michelin listed restaurants, two of them have a star. An excellent store encompasses general grocery (SPAR) plus high class epicerie, boucherie, traiteur, cave, fromagerie and bread.

Day 2: to Monbazillac, 90 Km (223 Km total)

Possibly one of the very best France Passion stops

Good roads again, weather a little grey and damp, improving as we reached our destination.

We stayed at the France Passion Site at Domaine de Lande (Les Avinturiers) in Monbazillac, where the lovely Camus family have set up a nice Aire with services (no EHU).

This is a stop that we used last year and will use again. Tastings at 6pm. Now with bread delivery at 08:30. Free waste and water, chemical disposal, drive-over point.

There are waymarked walks around this lovely peaceful and tidy village, with views across Bergerac. A restaurant and a hairdresser are available, and a Sunday Market in season. The Maison de Tourisme sells wines from the local domaines. The local Chateau is open for tours and tastings.

The “Heritage” Monbazillac is highly recommended, as are the Red and the White Passarillé wines. We came away with ten bottles, and an eleventh complimentary bottle.

Day 3: to Zarautz, 346 Km (569 Km total)

Labastide d’Armagnac. We ate at the Bistro at the right of the image

We were going to stop at another France Passion stop, near Labastide d’Armagnac but concerns about Saturday’s protest led us to make the long leg direct to Spain and we headed straight to familiar ground at Gran Camping Zarautz, where we stayed last winter when travelling in both directions.

We parked temporarily in the Motorhome Aire at Labastide  long enough to know that we would not care to stay overnight. It is a place that is very sadly unkept and neglected. The village is however, charming and there we had a good lunch of Galette before moving on.

Only one slight hiccup with the SatNav, followed by a Motorway U-turn and we were in Zarautz by tea time, staying three nights (Fri/Sat/Sun)

Zarautz

Gran Camping Zarautz is situated conveniently close to the motorway, is open all year, and offers ACSI rates. The staff are all very friendly and speak sufficient English to make life easy. The on-site Sidereria/restaurant offers good simple Basque fare with a midweek Menu del Dia for 11€ (including wine or cider), the weekend Menu is 19€. They have a wood-fired grill and their own (bottled) beer available (very good it is too!)

A well-stocked shop and good laundry facilities supplement the excellent toilet/shower block to make this an all-round good site. Beware though, the 450 step descent to the beach and town, and the return climb.

Les Gilets Jaunes

Taking the back roads did not avoid the protests entirely and we met groups of protesters on each day as we travelled south. Mainly they were gathered at roundabouts serving the major routes, Largely they were inactive, just maintaining a presence. We were stopped only twice, for a couple of minutes each time. The second stop resulted in a nice chat with one of the protestors who apparently also has a motorhome. 

All of the protests that we met were conducted in a peaceful and civil manner. Where traffic was being stopped it was done in an intelligent manner, with traffic control in place and delays kept to a minimum. The protestors and the Gendarmerie appeared to accommodate each other in civil fashion. At almost every protest point, we were given cheerful waves and smiles.

We were lucky. Not all travellers were so.

Happy to be in Spain, though, and away from potential flare ups.

Flitting

This blog is flying south for the winter.

The packing of the van has begun, subject as ever to great indecision and panic about which clothes to take and what kitchen equipment is needed.

The one item that was not questioned is this one:

A little light entertainment

It will help to pass those long evenings until the Pablo’s ATH begins. We have purchased vol 2 of these puzzles but think that one hefty book should see us okay for this trip and, after all, I am supposed to be keeping the payload down. If I leave the second book behind I can take another jumper… Will we need jumpers? Not if last winter’s weather is anything to go by, at least not after the snow and the rain ran out. I think we need to pack for three seasons. 

We shall be heading to known territory initially and hope to be in Arcachon the day after leaving home. If I remember correctly, it was warm and sunny in Arcachon last year and we were eating ice cream on the prom.

Night one will be on an Aire somewhere between here and the coast.

See you soon.

Twice as Nice

We have been having some difficulty with cooking plain rice of late. Neither of us has been able to turn it out nicely. It is possibly because we have not had a suitable pan. Previously I used the smaller pan of my two-base pressure cooker with its close-fitting glass lid. The pan was very heavy bottomed and the seal was good. Since selling up to go travelling, I no longer have that pan. 

The Tefal Ingenio pans that we bought for the van are very good and suitably heavy but the lids have two cut outs, one for pouring and one for fitting around the clip-on handle. It is impossible to effect a good seal, though we tried adding a foil insert and so on.

So, possibly the pan but, more likely we think, poor quality rice. 

What if… we ruled out the pan issue by using our new Mr D’s Thermal Pot? We had curry tonight and I duly tested out the thermal cooking of my rice. I used the same rice that we have been using (it’s the only Basmati that we had to choose from at our local shop), washed it well (it takes forever to get the starch out of this stuff) and drained it, leaving it to dry for a couple of hours.

Using 1 1/4 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, I added both to the smaller/top pot and brought the pan to the boil, then put the pan in the vacuum casing for thirty minutes.

Now, can I say that it produced perfect rice? No, unfortunately not. However it did show improvement and I do think that I have proved that it is the rice at fault and not the cook. If we find a good Asian supermarket on our next travels I will invest in some good rice and repeat the test. I did like the ease of preparation and the fact that it requires no supervision at all. Also a plus: no sticking to the base of the pan. None whatsoever. That will make washing up in a tiny sink a lot more pleasant.

In Other Culinary News (sorry, I know this is a travel blog and not a cooking one but travellers need to eat too) I have invested in a Kindle copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple. I think that it might be just what I need to kick off some  culinary inspiration when we are travelling.

SIMPLE includes recipes made in under 30 minutes, one-pot meals and store-cupboard recipes. Ideal in a small van, I suspect.

Watch this space.

Two snails, one dog, a couple of cats and Mr D

The Winter Tour

Two Snails are making preparations for the 2018/2019 Winter Tour. Mr Snail has a hankering to repeat last Winter’s experience of spending the turn of the year in the warm sunshine rather in Rain, Frost and Snow. So, we are off to Spain and Portugal again. Or not. There is still a possibility of going Somewhere New.

It turns out that there are complexities associated with crossing borders when it comes to gas bottles. This had never occurred to me as the last time that we were down there we had an onboard tank and did not have to consider such matters. With two French bottles on board we hope to manage for a couple of months without the complication of ditching one in exchange for a Spanish or Portuguese one plus the new necessary fittings.

How to conserve gas supplies? Eat salad! That’s fine if the weather is as good as it was last winter. What if it’s not? and the journey down could be wet or cold or both, it certainly was at times last year. Eat out! Can’t do that all the time though…

Enter Mr D and the concept of thermal cooking.  

Mr D’s Thermal Cooking pot is a modern take on the old haybox cooker and also, if you like, a Slow Cooker that needs no power to do its cooking. It has useful application for the off-grid traveller. More importantly for us is the matter of using less of our precious gas. Instead of cooking a meal for half an hour, an hour, or more on the hob (depending on what you are actually planning for dinner of course) it’s simply a matter of getting the pan going on the hob. Once it is fully hot, the pan goes inside the insulated casing and cooking continues with the residual heat. So you can slow cook a stew that would normally take two to three hours on the hob top with just ten minutes use of gas, or thereabouts. A slow cooker would do the same job but requires an electric hook-up to be available, this thermal pot needs no input. 

There are other benefits to using a thermal cooking pot. Of interest to Snails is the ability to cook on the move. There is the potential to start dinner off before we pack up and leave a site, leave the Mr D’s sitting in the sink for security, arrive at our night stop and find dinner already cooked for us. Awesome!

Similarly, we can set dinner away to cook and then go off walking the dog or out for the day. No safety worries about leaving things plugged in. Nothing burns. Nutrients are locked in. Odours and steam are locked in. This latter is also very useful when living in a van.

We dithered for a while about a Mr D’s; they are not cheap. It was the gas bottle issue that swung the decision. We ordered one up.

It took a while to get here; two weeks from ordering. We were watching the tracking and it left Hythe, in Hampshire, and sallied forth via Bournemouth, then Hinckley (!) and… Poland (!!), where it sat for at least 48 hrs. It moved on, to The Netherlands (!!!). We were losing hope of it arriving before we leave.

Battered and bruised after a long and complicated journey. I thought it best to photograph the damage to the box just in case the contents had suffered,

This morning, tracking indicated that our package was still in The Netherlands but later in the day it updated to say “Out For Delivery” and this afternoon it arrived – just as I was about to make soup for dinner.

Well, what’s a Snail to do? I made my soup in the Mr D’s.  It was late in the day but my leek and potato soup had two hours in the pot and was both properly cooked and hot enough to eat without any re-heating.

Mr D’s Thermal Cooker

Notes so far:

  • The manufacturing quality is apparently good
  • This 3 litre size is ample for two
  • The internal pan is narrow and deep, boiling up the soup took quite some time
  • Instructions are to cook in the closed thermal case for a minimum of three hours but two hours was plenty for this simple leek and potato soup.
  • Much less liquid is required than when cooking on the hob, where the liquid evaporates. I thought that I had used sufficiently less but it turned out that I should have cut back further – my soup was somewhat lacking in body (though full of flavour)
We purchased the 3 litre “Twinpot”  setup. One large cooking pot, one smaller top pot, and a thermal casing. A lid for each pot is included.

I look forward to further adventures with my thermal cooker.

Tagged: Mr D