Sunday, March 27, 2011

A challenge

March 2010

Spain on a budget (he says...)

We've had a 4 week break from our travels and this has given us the chance to catch up with some post winter maintenance on our old Spanish house. And, with the 'luxury' of broadband, an opportunity to get a lot more work done and content/features added onto our Club Motorhome website.

Well, we're itching to get back on the road again and have decided that we will head across southern Spain with Portugal as our target. We intend to do this trip on a strict budget and plan to spend no more than we would by staying at home. Of course, we don't have to budget for any ferry crossings so the only potential extra cost is fuel. By our reckoning, the amounts we save on water, electricity, logs, fuel for the car and 'excess'  food shopping will let us break even - we'll see...

So the route will take in Aires where possible, which is our preference anyway, and we will avoid any road tolls - again our normal preference. The basic route plan is as follows:

The Aires en route are:
  • Ibi
  • Cartegena
  • Venta el Peral
  • Alcaudete
  • Cabra
  • Valverde del Camino
  • Tavira

 Very happy to hear advice from others who may know of some good stopping places close to this route.

If all seems to be going according to our budget planning we'll then spend a little while exploring southern Portugal as it seems that the weather has improved following the attrocious winter. Inspired by some of the excellent blogs I've been reading we'll stay at some great sounding wildcamp spots. We have little experience of wildcamping and, although we are happy with our leisure battery and solar panel arrangements, it seems water and waste capacities will dictate how long one can stay in such places, again, we'll see....

Mission Impossible? (she says...)

Getting the call of the wild when no extra budget has been set aside can be frustrating to say the least.

A challenge they say is good, and so in the spirit of research for clubmotorhome and not, of course, because there are some
 fabulous fiestas to experience during the very important Easter 'celebrations' here in Spain. We have decided to set off again

With three very important aims:
- the first to spend no more per day than our 'home' budget
- the second to limit our fuel to our 'home' energy costs - this includes electric, wood, gas, and water.
- to have fun and experience what the southern areas of Spain and, fingers crossed Portugal, have to offer us. This is of course
 without spending over 'budget'.

When at 'home' I figure we live reasonably on 100 euros a week for food, diesel and the odd 'pint'. It does not cover celebrations, birthdays, catastrophes or clothes or any of the extras that come along. So the blog for this trip will include a brief expenditure up date, to let you know how I am facing up to the challenge.

Diesel is likely to be the problem due to its ever increasing cost. The one card we have tucked up our sleeve is that we are pretty sure we are starting on nearly a full tank - I'll let you know.

Speak to you on Monday.....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

26th Feb - 23 degrees and rising....

February 2010

She says...

Well this is the last blog of this part of our journey.

An early start and we make our way from snow patches decorating the high hill to the odd tree bursting into blossom. The lower the altitude we reach the more trees are in bloom until in parts the landscape is a carpet of pink and white blossom. Sadly as we approach the coast the ugly buildings and over development become the norm' and we look forward to the route the east side of Valencia which takes us through the town and then down through the paddy fields and the natural park of Albufera.. Unfortunately whilst the waders are about by the score there is just nowhere to pull in to get any snaps. We did however see some heron, egret and grebe I think. My eyesight can be limited at a distance and I am no bird spotter although I think I may treat myself to some binoculars and a bird book. People still distrust me when I tell them I saw pink flamingoes there once!

After our old favourite lunch of bocadillos we catch up with our weekend shop before heading on towards Daimus. Our final stopping point before returning home and spending sometime at out lovely village house away from the madding crowds about 20 minutes inland from here.

Will blog if anything motorhome turns up otherwise I'll write again next time we are on the road in a month or so!

He says...

A good nights sleep, despite the buffeting wind and then a nice leisurely start to today with only about 3 hours drive ahead of us. The route we took has become familiar to us over the last year or so but the scenery changes so subtlely with the seasons. as we came down from the mountains onto the plains the fruit and nut blossoms increased massively, so tempted by the sight we pulled into a 'cami' for some pics...

For once we ignored TomTom and headed through Valencia rather than round it knowing that we would pass the incredible Arts and Science buildings - worthy of a visit of their own.

Valencia Arts & Science buildings
Cheating slightly as these were taken on a previous visit

Our only other stop was just a brief call in at the resort of Far, just north of Cullera, a very Spanish resort and therefore very quiet outside the Spanish summer season.

By early afternoon we arrived at our nightstop beachside at Daimus, a suburb of Gandia. The parking is informal wildcamping but seems to be well tolerated and popular. 4 other British vans this time, the other times we have visited (by car) the visitors have always been from elsewhere in Europe - word must be spreading!

Sea mist and sunrise at Daimus

Reading the Spanish press we were, I suppose, not really surprised to discover that Northern Spain had been having terrible gales. Winds of 100mph had been recorded uprooting many trees - this was in the region of our nightstop there in Renteria - see we weren't exaggerating!

Tomorrow we'll be back at our Spanish base for a week or two. First job will be to upload this blog as we have been out of the range of wifi for days.

25th Feb - Exploring a castle

February 2010

She says...

Totally refreshed we wake up and, because we are staying again tonight, we take a relaxing wake up and then a walk up to the town of Morella to get a bit of shopping for todays food.

What a fabulous place - full of narrow streets, steps, loads of shopping and all topped by the fabulouse castle, oh and did I mention the steps! Still under restoration we decide to splash out two whole euro to visit the castle and are very pleased we did. So after many steps we reach the top. That was after a lot of steps you understand! A fantastic panorama with distant views all around. There's still patchy snow in the higher mountains in the distance.

Descent was naturally so much easier although that was when I noticed my thigh muscles - a total surprise as I had forgotten I had them, so infrequent has our exercise been this trip. Still only two more days and I can recommence swimming.

Luckily for us the bread shop also sold beer. A little refreshment later we carry on our journey back towards the Aire - who put that long drawn out uphill in since we had climbed to the town I do not know? Oh and by this time the sun is shining like a summers day. Thankfully it waited until we had climbed all of those steps!

He says...

Cloudy with lovely warm sunny spells today. Just right for a walk up to the town of Marella. A walled fortress in its time, it has been carefully restored and other than houses comprises shops, bars and restaurants along its narrow cobbled streets. Hilly would be an understatement, but we climbed to the level of the church and saw a notice explaining the castle above is open to visitors. Not wanting to miss the opportunity we bought a couple of tickets and wandered around and upwards to the top. The restoration is an ongoing work and seems to be very sympatheically done.

The views from the higher levels were quite amazing helped by such a clear day. Some photos:




Back down to high street level we couldn't resist a beer at one of the bars and were delighted to be back in the land of sensible pricing - none of the inflated French prices here! After another 20 minutes walking back to the motorhome we were happy to just have our lunch and put our feet up for the rest of the afternoon.

Our compatriates from yesterday had all departed in their different directions and a new UK registered arrival has parked up. We met the occupants briefly as we walked down from the town. We recommended the castle visit and judging by the tired expressions they had on their faces when they returned I think they took our advice.

24th Feb - Wind in the night

February 2010

She says...

Oh what a night! What with him and his bad back and me certain that a tree would fall on us any time, very little sleep and a lot of solitaire was endured.

Just what is needed for a long journey ahead. Still, a steady journey passes initially some lovely scenery and then Zaragoza - well I guess it must have it's good bits! Maybe we should try a visit to it, rather than bypass it. After Zaragoza and into Aragon you notice the change in the landscape. I always think it is a little unearthly with great fields interrupted abrubtly by little mounds. A bit like upside downs craters, or for those geologists out there............??? Anyway onto Morella and our first stop totally surrounded by English speakers. made quite a nice change really.

A totally shameful early night - lets say nineish!

He says...

Another sleepless night partly due to my back but also the strength of the gales blowing outside seriously buffeting the van. The expectation was for one of the many surrounding trees to fall on us at any time. Eventually the morning came and we both prepared for the long drive ahead. Breakfast and services sorted we set the route on TomTom and started our 450km journey.

The roads were great, mostly smooth motorways and main roads. Normally we like to stay on back roads and take in the surroundings but today we were happy to keep our speed up and just see the terrain pass by. We are always struck by the difference in the towns and landscapes entering Spain from France, everything seems to be 'rougher', more rugged and has a very different sort of charm. Pretty French villages give way to functional, outwardly grubby housing - although we know from our own experiences that it is the insides of Spanish houses that are kept immaculately. Green, almost Alpine, scenery becomes arid plains and looks like a Wild West film set. Further south into Spain the fruit and nut trees become predominant with acres of olives and masses of pretty pink almond blossom developing (a little late this year?).

We were in need of some drinking water (we use bottled for drinking) so called into a garage for some. Unfortunately the place was shut but as we sat on the forecourt a young lady came out to see what we wanted, then opened up the shop just to sell us a couple of bottles - can't imagine that sort of service elsewhere.

Arriving at the aire in Morella we were pleased to see another couple of vans parked up, and British as well, Roz and Duncan in their Burstner, Joan and Dennis in their Timberland and an Irishman and his dog who's names I forgot to ask. We said hi and passed the time of day - nice to chat with other travellers with similar experiences.

Really tired by now so another super home made curry and a very early night, maybe catch up on some lost sleep.

Clear Spanish sky

23rd Feb - The sun has got his hat on!

February 2010

She says...

The coast just across the road from the Aire is absolutely stunning. We walked along the pathway towards Spain and its lovely mountains which we think we can see in the distance still have a little snow. Today however it is the rollers that are just breathtaking, smashing down on a few rocks that lie just off the waters edge. An old gentleman speaking in a language we recognise  that is Spanish tells us that the birds perched on top of the rocks are cormorants and that they can see fish from 200 metres away! Wish we understood French as well as we do Spanish and that is far from great!

After our walk we decide to leave and take a drive around the coastline - a repeat of what we had driven when travelling up to UK in December only in reverse of course! We will have a lunch along the way. We miss every turn off along the way drive through Hendaye Plage and end up in Spain and before long at the Aire we had settled on for the night! We decide not to stay as although it seems well set up, it is simply a car park so we head for Renteria which is also, just a car park, this time in the middle of nowhere. Oh well, if I don't sleep it'll only be another night not sleeping well. It is very windy and a little wild - well good night!

He says...

Not much sleep due to back twinges at every move but an early start nonetheless. Bright sunshine and tee shirt weather at last! Another walk down along the shoreline to wonder at the power of those Atlantic waves.

We watched a group of cormorants sitting out on a rock - they seemed to be defying the sea to move them and they won!




Drying out!

Deciding to move on to find a beachside lunch stop we set off for St Jean de Luz and the coast road. But, unable to stop at the only likely looking spot we carried on and suddenly found ourselves across the (non) border and into Spain!

Our plan was to go to Donostia San Sebastian and stay at the aire there. Its very urban at the rear of a university and too much  'concrete' for us so we upped sticks again and moved slightly inland to Renteria. The aire is at a picnic spot in what seems to be the middle of nowhere but we're staying the night anyway!

Other than the occasional vehicle passing it is very remote here. Mountains all around so very scenic and great for walks if we were staying longer. We're well topped up batterywise and we have enough water and tank capacity to be self sufficient. The aire has water and waste services anyway to use before we leave tomorrow.

So, hopefully, tonight will be a quiet one and tomorrow we'll set off on the long haul south towards Valencia on the other side of the country. Our target is Morella, a walled fortress town high in the mountains........

22nd Feb - On the road again

February 2010

She says...

We made our getaway as planned and so far I have not been driving.

Southwards we travel first to Seignosse to have a look at wherre we knew an Aire was being renovated or constructed. seems to be all singing and dancing with the lovely bollards that you think will rise into the cab beside you just as you pass over it. We decide to give it a miss and go on to Contis Plage. Certainly a lovely place but with the weather we were having thought it might be a little wild. took a walk to the beach and decided once more to move on. This time to Capbreton where we stopped for lunch but with everything turned off we decided to move on again.

So finally we make it to Biarritz and with quick visit to the beach it is now time to make dinner and with electric thrown in of course, another film - our stock will run down very quickly at this rate. Our supernarket purchases from Christmas gift money are keeping us well entertained so thanks Mum and Dad and also John who saved us all his Daily Mail freebies! Poorly back

Not before I demand a little cruelly that my poor old photographer attempts the sunset. Think he did good!

He says...

24 hours later there was a little improvement in my back so we headed off after a leisurely start to the day. We called in at an aire at Contis Plage just a little further down the coast but didn't stay as there was little to see - Mimizan kind of spoils you! The next stop was Capbreton where we had spent a couple of days last summer, it's a very busy aire with all services available..... not this time! 4 or 5 vans were there, no electricity available and the water services were all disrupted due to construction work. So, a quick look at the beach and we were off again.

Our original plan was to stop at St Jean de Luz before leaving France but, I had been given advice that it was a very small aire and quite noisy so we chose Biarritz instead. A very busy aire but plenty of space and close to the southern end of the town and the fabulous shoreline. 10 Euro for the night - our most expensive nightstop yet - sad to see some motorhomers departing just before the police arrive to collect, then reappear for the night after the police have left. I still wasn't up to much walking but, encouraged to do so, went down to the beach at sunset with my camera - what a fantastic place!

21st Feb - Another day at Mimizan

February 2010

She says...

Another day in Mimizan and we saw so much more sunshine. The beach itself takes on a whole new look from moody and menacing to warm and inviting. Plenty of walkers with children and dogs but still this beautiful wide beach looks deserted. We met another English couple today on their way south but they were to be more adventurous than us, apparently going on to Salamanca whereas we had our sights set on the Capbreton area.

Here comes the whoops! Well you will be used to this by now - we have one everyday! In preparation for a fairly (for us) early start the next day we or rather, he, filled up some water bottles we had acquired as we did not wish to get caught out without again and in doing so Mr He-man did his back in - so maybe we won't be going too far tomorrow at all. Anyhow a few laps round the car park told us that it hurt! So who knows what the night and tomorrow will bring - had I better hone my driving skills?

After dinner we watched another film, really enjoying the ready electricity and this time it was Sir Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling in Fracture - a good one if you missed it! Don't think it is that old!

He says...

I picked up 4x5ltr bottles of water to keep as a reserve when my back went - OUCH!!!. Barely able to get back to the van Caroline had to help me inside and get the water in. Feeling a lot of pain I wondered what we were to do next? I'm not actually sure what I did for a while as it hurt to sit, stand, walk or anything. Nurse Caroline recommended that I keep moving so gingerly we tried a stroll around the aire.

One thing was sure - we would be staying at least another day as driving would be out of the question, there could be worse places to be laid up.

Mimizan Plage

February 2010

She says...

We had a quiet day today and after a good housekeep, ventured for a walk to the shops managing completely, I do not know how, to dodge the showers. We have not had such good weather since being here, typical really as we have plenty of time for walking and photos - c'est la vie!. Still we are seeing some sunshine but it really is between some fairly heavy rainshowers.

Keeping us amused is the litter of very healthy looking feral cats who although living together appear to have the odd 'fistie-cuffs' when it comes to vying for scraps! Very pretty and a selection of colours. They are definitley not hungry and spend a lot of time at the moment sheltering under the 'vans'  out of the rain.

After a very yummy curry we settled down for the night with another film.

He says...

Our 4th visit here. It's a large car park style of aire and with winter rates of 6 euro a night, including services and electricity, its very popular.

Spending a couple of days here has given us the chance to catch up with a few housekeeping jobs - my priority to clean the motorhome! Rarely has it been so dirty but all the muck soon washes off. Caroline kept herself busy hoovering and all the other inside jobs. With all spick and span we set about relaxing!

With a busy aire it can be quite entertaining to watch others come and go and to marvel at some people's excenticities - for example a family of young cats seem to have taken up residence around the place and one French motorhomer has placed plastic water filled bottles against each of his motorhome wheels, presumably to keep the cats away?

Another has moved his motorhome four or five places along the same row - seems like just for the fun of it? People watching is a fascinating pastime when you have nothing better to do....

One minute its cloudy.....

Weather is changeable to say the least - sunny spells and heavy showers. But with a fantactic beach just over the dunes from where we are parked up it really doesn't matter - the scenery is still dramatic. If the clouds stay away long enough perhaps we'll be treated to a fine sunset later.

Then the sun comes through

Nersac to Mimizan Plage

February 2010

Yes you've guessed nothing could be that simple for as soon as I switched on the kettle the electric disappeared! Fairly swiftly resolved when a bleary eyed workman sleeping over in his van was awoken from his slumber by the motorhomers, all of whom had lost their electric when it had tripped. Once he had removed his 'polythene wrapped domestic affair' normal service was resumed. A later than intended start ensured that the long awaited hairwash with drying tool would wait a little longer.

On to Mimizan we felt confident, having been there before, both summer and winter. We did the hideous journey round Bordeaux once again in sunshine which did diminish the further we ventured south. This isn't meant to happen! Anyhow we arrived got set up, shopped and returned to a shower and hairwash with the promise of doing something with the hair. Job done and we made contact with 'home'.

Sad news and the big downside of doing what we are doing. Sadly one of my and latterly, our, dear old friends had died.and we have no chance of offering the normal comfort and love that you would wish to for such a lovely family. From a distance our thoughts are with you all - God bless you Terry!

We felt an upbeat film would be appropriate and so selected Forrest Gump. Not as upbeat as we had remembered but nonetheless a great film. If you haven't seen it in a while treat yourself as a reminder of how good it is.

Some exercise at last

February 2010

He says...

As we only had about 3 hours to drive today we set off for a walk along a signed 4km route from where we were parked. The route took in some fascinating sights of some of the local cave houses and basket makers materials. It was the route marked by yellow painted flashes that we followed - the other colours were rather longer walks.

The photos will hopefully give some idea of this interesting location...

Basket signs everywhere

Raw materials waiting for use

Great place for a barbie!

Typical cave house

After the walk we lunched before making last use of the 'borrowed' wifi and uploading more blog content. Then, off for Nersac  some 240kms south. The sun shone and temperatures rose - we even saw an illuminated sign outside a pharmacy declaring it to be an amazing 11.5 degrees!

On arrival at Nersac we were the fourth van there, which was handy as there are only 4 electric points - first EHU we've come by in France on this trip, and free too. Caroline smiled knowingly when I took a photo of our power lead plugged in - It's reverse polarity here so I thought a relevant article on Club Motorhome would be useful, suitably illustrated - so there!

Our lead is the red and white one - for reversed polarity!

I'm sure there will be some dodgy power sharing if and when more vans arrive - there's room for 7. Amazing what the French do with domestic type extension leads and sockets, outdoors whatever the weather!!!

I don't think we'll be late turning in tonight, the drive and certainly the walk have left us nicely chilled (tired).

She says...

Another day and this time waking up to warmth - much more pleasant. As we do not have too long a journey and the sun is shining we decide that a walk would be welcome after two days sitting in, partly weather and partly laziness we have just been so tired! We decide to take a circular walking route around the village, 4.3 km and two hours, according to the signage just outside the Mairie. The walk takes in a lot of the detail of the 'vannerie' basket making history of the village and we pass some very interesting troglodyte houses - talk of roof gardens! Not many have their chimney coming through next to the fully grown trees though.

The walk does not take two hours but gives a welcome leg stretch and bit of exercise. It would not be exaggerating to say that we were bathed in warm sunshine for the walk which due to it being some uphill it was not long before my coat had to come off. Lovely it was and a promise of the spring.

We had about 3 hours drive to Nersac where we were hoping for a nice little spot with leccy and an opportunity for using a hairdryer and charging up the hoover. We seem to be making our carpets very grubby despite being careful so we can have a good clean and then a charge up of the hoover - phones, laptop, toothbrushes, erm can we think of anything else? Might even watch a DVD tonight who knows? Such luxury.... Yep we got the last electric point available! The sun is still shining - fantastic!

Honfleur to Villaines les Roches

She says...

Brrr..... a chilly start today and our first evidence that Butane doesn't like cold temperatures. Well you live and learn! We found that in the very sub temperatures that Honfleur had to offer we lost our heating. Well, pushed out of bed first with a 'go on' for encouragement I started the day with many layers until we realised the problem. Anyway, full of boiled eggs we managed an early getaway - for us!

We only needed to buy fruit juice today so we got along pretty quickly after our first Mac D. stop to update the blog. Still full of coffee from breakfast we had nothing to buy so a sneaky freebie to load the blog and a promise to make sure we do next time!

The sun, despite valiant attempts, never shone through but looking forward to hook up as promised from our planned aire we carried on south until we reached the place, the name of which I have already forgotten, where with no hook up and more importantly no water we decided to go on further and ended up at a lovely little Troglodyte village which is a centre for basket weaving and which we had visited on the way up last December!  Of course the scenery was lovely but with mostly fog and with a really twingy back we were glad to get to a stopping point. So with free wifi from who knows where and water we had acquired from the Super U on the way we are once again set up for the night. Dinner was courtesy of Morrison's this time and we were nicely surprised by the quality of their half price fish pie! We don't normally buy in stuff as I like to cook but for our hurtle through France to warmer weather we thought it might make sense - so successful have they been I now have the dilemma - what to give up for lent - cooking or ready meals!!

Really tired again today so we must be getting relaxed!

He says...

Up early awoken by very cold noses! The heating had gone off - so much for me thinking our butane had defied physics. Once up and switched over to propane warmth was restored. It was VERY frosty outside and I imagine quite a few degrees below zero.

No sign of life at the other vans - using the right gas I reckon and still fast akip. Across the river though a small flock of sheep were scurrying around with their lambs playing happily. Someone must have suddenly sent them a signal that breakfast was ready as they turned in unison and galloped(?) away.

After breakfast and coffee we got ourselves ready, dumped what remained of our grey water by rinsing the cassette with it and headed off for the local McD to catch up on emails and upload our blog.

We tried a couple of places en route for water but with no luck. At Gace we found the Raclet service point and confirmed that it contained water but needed a token that we didn't have. I called at the Mairie as it just shut for their 2 hour lunch and was sent off to the Presse shop - they didn't sell tokens and sent me to the boulangerie - they were shut too!!  Back on the road, even our planned nightstop in Neuille Port Pierre which was supposed to have services open all year was all switched off - electric as well! Fortunately there was a 2nd aire nearby at a SuperU and they had a Flot Bleu dispenser and for 2 euro coins we got our water - Yes!

As it was still early we pressed on a bit and pulled in at Villaines les Roches which is a Troglodyte village apparently more recently famous for its basket making. We parked up in front of the Mairie and used some free wifi which had one of those connections that drops in and out - really handy when you're in the middle of something....

Party time at Le Portel and a dry Honfleur - Feb 16th 2010

He says...

A fairly restless night with the French townspeople of Le Portel partying until gone 2.30am. No idea what it was in aid of but a good time was definitely being had, they even seemed to be dancing and singing around the van at one stage, never mind it was bucketing down with rain and extremely cold. So, a not so early start to Shrove Tuesday, although it didn't really matter as we were only intending to bumble along to Honfleur.

Snow in the fields but as time passed the sun shone more brightly and the clouds disappeared - hopefully a sign of things to come.

We got our diesel at a HyperU at a healthy 1.05 a litre and managed to get a 13kg propane cylinder replaced for 23 euro. We carry one 13kg French propane and a 11kg Spanish butane. This works well for us, as we try to manage to need refills when in the relevant country. I've been pleasantly surprised that our butane has worked quite happily despite some very cold temperatures on the outside.

We crossed the very impressive Pont du Normandy outside Le Havre before arriving at the aire in Honfleur. Sad to say though, that there was no water or electricity available. We contemplated changing our schedule but as we were pretty tired by now, decided to stay anyway and stretch out the water that we had left on board. It's also a really good job that while we were in the UK I'd ditched the old (knackered) 85ah leisure battery in favour of 2x100ah replacements - nice when I get something right!

Strange what you find beside a river???

We found a lovely place to park up, facing onto the river, allowing us to watch the gulls diving for their dinners. Speaking of which - pancakes! Coals to Newcastle as we'd brought UK shop bought examples with us, they were excellent nonetheless.

Ducks ducking

The plan for tomorrow is to head south to our original destination for the day, but to call in wherever possible to search for water supplies, there are a few aires en route so we'll see how that plan works out.

Phew, that was close!!

She says...

Inevitably we woke up later than we really should have, a combination of our revellers singing at us until 2.30 ish, heavy rain beating down and the hour difference which turned a respectable 9 o'clock wakening, very quickly into a 10 o'clock one. Ho hum never the earliest risers we have a swift breakfast before getting on our way.

Sat nav wants us to choose between tolls or not and in this case its a little tricky. We unusually, for us, accept tolls but agree that we will follow the national road to Le Havre until we get to Pont du Normandie where we know that a couple of Euro will get us quickly across to Honfleur. After a diesel, gas and egg and water stop the journey seemed long despite being bathed in lovely (warm through the windows!) sunshine - winter is not yet gone and the snow lying around, significant covering on some of the fields, pays testament to that. It was however a pretty journey and we got sight of at least three lambs - very cute!  Well we finally reached the toll and yes 1.20 euro seems very cheap. Added to the 5 euro for actually traversing the fantastic bridge we realised that our memories had once again been rose tinted. We saved about twenty minutes and about 30 km! We will probably go back to our rule of not bothering with tolls as the countryside is so much more attractive and you see the sights too! I am sure that the roundabouts take their 'toll' on our usual driver but he doesn't complain.

Quite empty it is at Honfleur, in distinct contrast to our previous wonderful trip here - that'll be because the electric and water we were hoping for is turned off! Ahem well we have a quarter of a tank so that'll just have to do. So a simple bread and cheese dinner with pancakes to follow - shop bought in England especially for Shrove Tuesday it is. My domestic input is therefore limited today - not at all bothered by this! Seems that by saving the washing up I also save on cooking. Win win!

Anyhow the lesson today is when you remember a fantastic Aire from a previous trip check the 'bible' to ensure the services are year round! Naivete or complacency?

Snow on the beach - 15th Feb 2010

Caroline says...

A very pleasant outlook watching the ferries we had heard last night going in and out of Dover Port. After a fairly refreshing nights sleep we are quite excited to have our very exotic breakfast of toast in our home for the first time in about eight weeks.


In some ways the time has flown and in others it has been a long trip not least because of the windscreen saga! However here we are nearly on our way and as usual for us there is a whoops! We seem to have developed a leak. So as you may have seen on last years parallel blog,  plumbing problems are definitely US! This one seems to be from the back cupboard which houses the water heater. Some tense minutes later we, or rather, he, is confident that we do not have a serious problem and we will be on the ferry as booked - PHEW.

So following a trip to Dover town centre to do the inevitable must do's we had previously forgotten, that is birthday card posted to the friend we had seen the day before and mobile phone top up - vital, we set off for the port. Mill pond journey was expected as we set sail for Calais on the 2.20 Seafrance crossing arriving just so quickly it was a disappointment not to see more of the Olympics being shown on Sky. Having settled into Sundays with Dancing on Ice, and being so impressed (perhaps more so than the judges) the olympians make the celebrities look like complete amateurs.

Anyhow the end of TV for us and we arrive at Le Portel for the night. Enjoy our second Valentine meal, this time courtesy of M&S and sit down to listen to the celebratory singing, why and from where is anyones guess but seems to be from the football stadium that we are parked up next to!

An odd thng is we are parked next door to the MH that was her last time - the huge and beautiful black Newfoundland is evidence that we are not mistaken - what a gorgeous dog but wonder how the whiff is after a wet day. So we are not sure whether they have stayed since 9th December or just totally by coincidence we have arrived here on the same day again? Bet they don't leave tomorrow though!

Neil says...

In the morning daylight it confirmed what a great spot this is! Just a stone's throw from the beach and with a great view of Dover harbour with all its ferry comings and goings whilst enjoying breakfast. I wanted to try out a new lens on my camera so I stepped down onto the rock hard frozen pebble beach to capture the wintry beach scene.



On return to the van I noticed a wet patch on the road below the rear of the vehicle and with a closer inspection there was definitely a steady drip from the boiler drain pipe - damn! I hate plumbing, and it does seem that the majority of teething problems we have had with our Bel-Air have been water related.

The day of departure from the UK is not the best time to be sorting out problems. It seemed that the drain valve itself must be letting water by, and, is SO inaccessible it's untrue! I decided to plug the pipe from below for now and fortunately found a suitably long plastic 'bung' for the job...... Well, big mistake! Within seconds water was flowing from all directions under the floor onto me then the road. Rushing inside to the shower room I found the boiler compartment awash with water spurting under pressure from the freely pumping supply at the drain valve. With the pump off, the flow settled down and stopped - phew! I can only think that the action of pushing a bung up the overflow had opened the manual valve plunger causing water to flow from its body.... Bung removed all seems to be well again. These things are certainly sent to try us!

Anyway, to the port, a little early but maybe we'd get an earlier boat? No such luck, SeaFrance seem to have tightened up on this as there is now a £10 charge for the 'privilege'.... we went and got some last minute supply shopping instead.

Once onboard our scheduled sailing we settled down and watched some widescreen winter olympics. The weather seemed to be brightening already.

Out of Calais, we drove to the aire at Le Portel on the outskirts of Boulogne. Its a short 25 mile, or should I say 40 kilometer, drive so we arrived reasonably early and parked amongst half a dozen French and Belgian vans, one of which was here when we visited in early December - we recognised it by the HUGE Newfoundland dog that sat outside. He (the dog) seemed happy to see us but to be honest he seemed happy to see anyone!

The barrier was open on arrival so whether we have to pay to stay, who knows?

Valentine's meal No2 - we had made the most of the special meal deals in the UK - baked camembert with redcurrant sauce and champagne, followed by sirloin steak with a melted garlic and butter sauce, chunky chips and salad served with a pretty good rioja, all courtesy of M&S (the champagne was a pressie from my mum). We really will have to start buying French stuff from now on!

St Valentine's Day 2010

February 2010

A bit of a cold night as we hadn't set the heating high enough and couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to adjust it. But, after a reasonable nights sleep we were treated to a full fry-up for breakfast - good start to the day!

Our hosts showed us a leisurely walk through their local woods and then mid afternoon we set off for our nightstop at Dover.

We were a little disappointed to find that our satnav directed us to Marine Parade where I understood there would be free motorhome parking - but we arrived at a narrow slip road outside some dodgy looking hotels and also alongside a busy main road. Our map also confirmed this was Marine Parade. Fortunately a policeman on his beat strolled by and kindly directed us to the correct location just a few hundred yards away.

Sure enough, right alongside the waters edge there were about half a dozen motorhomes already parked up, so we tagged on.

Poor photo as I haven't brought my tripod with me............

No services but what a great stop before embarking or after disembarking the ferry! And free too....

As its Valentines day we're about to tuck into a cosy meal, courtesy of Mr Tesco's special deal, of lamb shank, carrot, swede and horseradish mash - definitely can't grumble at £16.... who says romance is dead?

So France tomorrow and this is the end of my reasonably reliable 3 dongle internet connection. We'll be playing 'spot the McDonalds' for future postings.

Great to be back in the van

February 2010

Well, we've said our farewells to family and are now camped out on our friends, Claire and Matt's, driveway in Leigh on Sea, Essex having had a superb dinner cooked for us - Matt's a very posh chef in 'the City'. Retiring to our van we have organised all the last minute luggage and stuff into some sort of tidy order, made the bed up and are just waiting for the water to finish heating up for showers before bed.

Flipping cold outside but nice and snug in here with local EHU.

Tomorrow we'll be exploring the delights of Southend - haven't been there for many a year :-)

At last we are back touring and, of course, loving every minute!

This time next week (last year!)

February 2010

Excitement is building...... we have the ferry booked for 15th Feb - Dover to Calais £34.20 (just missed the 'special offer' £20 crossings) via SeaFrance.

As is usual for us, we'll be using Aires for our trip down to Spain and the ones we expect to stop at are:

  • Le Portel
  • Honfleur
  • Neuille Pont Pierre
  • Nersac
  • Mimizan Plage
  • St Jean de Luz

Then, a bit of a trek down to Daimuz, south of Valencia, to a beach side wild camping spot. Its a long drive but, the recently opened free motorway Autovia Mudejar will take care of a lot of miles.

The Aires have been chosen because they mostly have electricity (EHU) and the possibility of water (if not turned off because of frost).

We're not in any particular hurry but it would be nice to leave the cold weather behind as soon as possible! so if we get some good days en route we may stay around a bit to make the most of it.

The beauty of motorhoming..... no definate plans - just a direction! And with Aires there are no booking commitments either.

Along the way we'll be looking for McDonalds and the like for free wi-fi (not the burgers!) so we can update this blog and generally keep in touch.