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

Adriers August 1st – 3rd

We had our first outing to try out the Hymer, keeping close to home in case of problems. 

The site details are here together with many photographs.

We stayed only two nights but will be happy to return in the future, just when the weather is not so hot.

A few snags were evident:

  • the catch on the overbed roof vent is broken
  • the grey waste decided to leak all over the aire
  • the bathroom door decided to lock me in 

Apart from these niggles,  the van is pleasing us. The over cab bed is surprisingly comfortable and the lounge seating area is very much so. The table, which I had initially liked for its size and sturdiness, is as big  pain as other B524 owners have mentioned. It makes getting in and out of the bench seats very difficult and because it doesn’t fold flat it cannot be stowed out of the way.

I particularly enjoyed the good fly screens on the windows and life was more comfortable than at home, with so many flies annoying us.

We attempted no cooking, so reserve judgement on the kitchen facilities. We were however impressed that the fridge kept up, with internal temperatures in the van exceeding 35°C and the van  not parked completely level. Also impressive was that internal temperatures remained tolerable  despite the heat outside. The breeze moving through the large windows was a great help but we think that there must also be excellent insulation.

As for Adriers – the presence of a leisure lake with fishing and swimming, plus a bar in the town doing a 4 course Menu de Jour with wine for €12, all topped off with many miles of good walking… We will be back for sure.

Our next anticipated trip will take us a little further afield, to the far side of Poitiers. A vineyard stay, a brewery trip and a good meal should all add up to an excellent break. Before we go we will hpe to fix some of  the snags with the van and civilise Cat, such that she may join us.

It's quite a climb from the Aire by the river and up into the town of #Bellac Love the way that the old houses cling to the steep hillside. Do not love that hill! Went to the Notaire's office to collect copies of the Compromis and to kick off the 10 day cooling-off period.

It's quite a climb from the Aire by the river and up into the town of #Bellac Love the way that the old houses cling to the steep hillside. Do not love that hill! Went to the Notaire's office to collect copies of the Compromis and to kick off the 10 day cooling-off period.