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?
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.
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)
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)
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”.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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…
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 reachedBrantôme. 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)
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)
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)
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.
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:
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.
After our stopover in Adriers we ordered up some parts. The parcel arrived on Tuesday whilst we were out cavorting but The Driver was able to start work on Wednesday. (The grey waste issue was previously sorted on our arrival home from Adriers.) The hab door is now firmly held back when opened and no longer prey to capricious breezes. The broken roof vent came off only to discover that no screws were included with the new one, necessitating a trip to the local Brico store on Thursday as overnight rain was forecast and the job was in need of finishing.
The roof vent is now completed.
The bathroom door problem has not been reproduced since we came home.
A cargo net is waiting to be fitted. Once that is done then the current ticky list is completed. Our next trip may reveal further issues but we can at least hope that it does not.
We should be away some time in the next couple of weeks for a night or two, then we will start packing for a larger adventure.