Saturday, January 13, 2018

Woke up this morning to the sound of sheep bleating and cowbells, or maybe the sound of sheep bells. I looked out of the window and saw that the Helga was surrounded by sheep. They were in the field adjacent to us just last night and somehow they made a successful attempt at freedom, if only to munch on the verdant grass surrounding our new home, for a few days. As I sat and watched the beasts, eating contentedly on the forbidden grass I made a mental note. We’ll have barbecued lamb for dinner tonight.

Casares and Cala de Mijas are forty eight miles, and worlds apart. La Cala is close to the beach and all the tourist trappings you expect from the Costas, while Casares sits perched on a rocky outcrop high in the Sierra Crestellina. The farmer, man in his seventies has now arrived and is running after the sheep, trying to regain control. The sheep are having none of it, and the elderly man’s patience seems to be evaporating. Oh such a start to the day. Maybe I should go out and help. Well thats another first, me stand-ing waving my arms by the side of a road at nine am, wearing my dressing gown and jammies, and the farmer muttering something that sounded like hallelujah. I thrive on this motor-homing lark.

Anyway, as I was saying, the two destinations are poles apart. Mijas is busy, very busy, dusty and ageing, whilst up here, the air and roads are clean, people are very sociable and even the sheep say buenos dias. The air is crisp, and traffic noise is replaced by the sound of livestock getting on with their lives. There are even some new lambs in the fields, being January this is surprising to us.
Yesterday we went up to the ancient castle, which is reached by walking through pretty streets, a little more than a car width across, and steep. The views are to die for and the Griffon vultures, who have made this area their home, swoop and soar high above, much to the delight of all the visitors.

After our slog up to the castle we called in to a restaurant in Plaza Espana, the main square, for a quiet beer, we had picked up a stray tourist, John from Cheshire. He was a bit older than us but had a much younger, I think, outlook. A wise man and ever ready to share a story.

Back to Helga, we gave John coffee and we parted company, and we enjoyed a DVD and waited until our poor legs had eased before heading to bed. Where we slept like the dead and dreamt of sheep and younger joints!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Maroc. 2

Day 2.

I turned the key and nothing worked. The battery was as dead as the African Queen. How the hell did that happen? I wondered.
I let it sit to see if the rising sun could coax into solar power in to refs it, just a little, but it was too late. Helgas’ battery was sound asleep. I phoned my insurance company, Dolmen, to ask for breakdown assistance, and that’s where I learnt the dreaded truth. My incurs covers damaged etc in Morocco, but there is not a breakdown element included. Probably because we’re outside the EU. anyway, I was able with google translate, some gesturing, and good fortune, to find a mechanic with a set of jump leads in his car. He was able to start us no problem, but decided he should go under the engine with two spanners and re emerge asking for 300 dirham. Around £25. Normally I would have queried this but we needed to move so I happily paid up and boogied.

Getting out of the port onto the road south is remarkably easy. The king must realise a good infrastructure is required if he’s going to draw in the much needed tourists. The toll road is £11.70 for driving the first 170 miles or so. Of blissful roads that afford very little road noise coming up.

Here’s the very important bit. Make sure your e maps are all up to date. Our sat nav doesn’t have Moroccan maps, and and Apple and Google need to be updated as well. Although we have a paper map, we found the Michelin one to be too large a scale to be useful, and here’s why. 

We got Campercontact to show us the route via Google maps, inputting coordinates. It pinpointed the location almost, but there were no roads, so for my wife the navigator, it wasn’t easy.
We found our way into two cities, this on a very busy Saturday afternoon. There had been torrential rain and strong winds all the way down, but a lot of the city streets were flooded, with filthy brown water. The taxi drivers were like dervishes, kamikazes in the extreme. Not a place to be shy and reserved, but we got out unscathed and found site number one.

Not so much a site, more an oasis in a sea of mayhem. We were shown into a parking lot, secure area, gated and fenced only to find we had no neighbours. Still, there was water, discosal, and electricity, all for free! 
We got Helga sorted, she was a beige brown colour from the ride through Rabat, in brown water up to a foot deep, she was a sorry sight, but not as sorry as some of the sights we saw. People so poor, they had only a sheet of polythene for a top coat, and those who had even less. 

Our world my friends, is poorly divid. 

Morocco 1

The crossing to Tanger is simplicity itself, let me tell you a story. We got to Algeciras early, because we’d no idea what the system was. We found Carlos’s ticket shop up behind or beside Carrefour, down a little side street. The two girls are so well experienced in their jobs we were in and out in no time. €200 later and clutching our tickets and a cake and a bottle of wine, we descended on Lidl to find some refreshments for our visit to Maroc. Oh, and a bit of food. We chose not to go to Carrefour because we find them a tad more expensive.
Followed the signage to the port, no problem there either, and joined a queue of not too many others. A few kiosks with ticket collectors in them relieved of us all of our tickets and we were on our way. The boat was forty minutes late departing, it all seemed so “Spanish time”.

Up on board we found ourselves on Deck 7 where a small queues had formed to get their passports checked. Seems to me, the truckers went first so they could get their heads down, so really its best to leave it for a while. You have to fill a form in, that you will get from Carlos, it’s a bit like one you would fill in to enter the US of A. This proves to be a total waste of time. We sailed through, pardon the pun, the police check points in Tangier and we thought that was a piece of er, cake. But no. The Customs men had other ideas. Such a cock up, if you’re crossing, this will be the single thing that will baffle you. We were lucky enough I think, the jobs worth we got, was a Liverpool FC fan, but that didn’t stop him from sending me to another booth for another passport inspection, this one done on a computer. Anyway he asked me to open the garage door, he glanced in, for maybe a half seconds then went into the van. He asked me what we had! I told him food, tons of alcohol, and two beds! He asked, almost jokingly, if we had any guns!!! I put my hands up and he bade us farewell. We were stopped slightly further on, just beyond the gates and proffered sim cards. 4 gbs for five euros, we took two and they work. Called in to the bureau d’change and got dirhams for 12.35 to the pound. When we pulled in we were the first ones there, we’ve been joined by 9 other vans and staying the night for an early start down the road in the morning. Thank you for reading, if I can be of any help, just say.
The Pousada  Palace hotel and back to the Aire.

Well the eagerly awaited visit to a palace is now here. We are leaving the Aire to stay in a luxury hotel for four days. It was a Christmas present to the two of us from the two of us.
We arrived at the hotel, after asking to have open parking available for Helga. She hates being on her own in strange places, a bit like a lot of motor homers I believe. We had to park in an out of the way spot, which was fine until we needed to get out. But thats another story.
We had to pay to upgrade our room as we were in a garden room, which might have been fabulous in the heat of summer, but not December, no sun on the balcony don't you know.
The hotel is in two parts, the original palace which is seriously nice and the rooms, which are seriously functional. The beds are too firm and the pillows, while feather, were over stuffed. We were definitely not over stuffed. The food was a disgrace, we had booked Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch. We cancelled the lunch after the woeful experience of the dinner. We never paid for the food nor the wine, and the night of the dinner we went out and fund a nice restaurant a couple of hundred meters from the hotel. Sorry, another mistake. We found the restaurant the previous night and enjoyed it, but it was closed on Christmas day so we just had a box of chocs and more wine in our room.
Christmas Day we had steaks and veg in the van and enjoyed it immensely.  Boxing night we had dinner in the we restaurant again, clean plates told the story. We met up with four lovely people from Surrey, and turned their heads all night. Good times.
We visited Faro itself on this trip, but because it was Christmas Eve, it was as dad as Hector. To be honest, the two of us couldn't wait to get back to normal living in Helga.
With great joy we went back to the Aire. There was a vacant spot beside our friends so we slipped in there. Oh yes, time for some real craic.
The beach, Praia de Falesia, which is a matter of ten minutes walk from here is marvellous. Goes for miles, one direction takes you to Albufeira and the other to Vilamoura. The dunes and rock formations are special, the sand soft and golden, and the sea, baltic.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas 2017.

And so we bade adieu to our two travelling companions and went to stay in our eagerly awaited hotel.
The hotel, a former palace was a place of mixed blessings, but possibly more of that later. Faro on Christmas eve is hardly a grand metropolis, more a tired disinterested lonely old spinster. We drove the short journey in, in the van and had no problem getting parked in a huge car park.
There were three vans here when we arrived, and on our return there were six. I couldn’t help thinking, what sort of people would choose to spend Christmas eve alone in a car park, in wet and windy Faro.
Still, each to their own. 

The Aire that we left was a bit out of Albufeira, twenty minute bus ride. But it was functional, clean, and quiet, complete with all the facilities plus laundry.
We were enjoying the company of Alfy and Catherine, two fellow Craicers  from Wexford. I think Margaret enjoys having the female company, which is a delight.
We cycled up to the supermarket a couple of miles up hill from here to get supplies, but there is a local shop very close that supplies everyday needs, far more conveniently.
The site has around one hundred vans, from all over Europe. Including one from the Isle of Man! 

We got the bus into Albufeira for a look around on a crisp bright morning. The sign for "full English breakfast"drew us in like moths to a light, and we had such a great breakfast before we walked the legs of the ladies. Mind you, there were shops so all was not lost. 

Albufeira is a typical seaside resort town, swallowed up by all the commercial activities you would expect to see and retaining nothing of what got it established in the first place. It's a great place for families and couples alike, who like their annual holiday on foreign shores.

So far our trip has brought us down south via, Heric, near Nantes, after a 205 mile drive.
Then 393 miles later we found ourselves in San Sebastian, more of that elsewhere.
Then on to the lovely wee town of Lekeito, still in Basque country after another 59 miles.

The weather was still bit yuk so we moved another 57 miles south to Bilbao. We've always wanted to visit this city, but now don't know why! Still the weather was cold so after a further 215 miles we arrived in Leon. Not a bad city, good for walking.

There is a bit of heat in the sun now, so another 254 miles to Vigo. This is a busy fishing and ship building town with an interesting market on Sunday. The market is held in a car park. The only car park I've seen with a green painted ground surface. This is where we got our first ever parking ticket, but one that we are fighting because they made schoolboy errors in its dispatch. Tossers!
We had a few drinks with the locals, and as we are still Irish White, we stick out like sore thumbs. Have to say though, the Portuguese are very friendly, absolutely woeful drivers, but good at English and always helpful. Except of course for the pugnacious police force.

Porto, a very fine city was our next stop, and at 1350 miles, Helga looked like a dirty bitch. This is not the city to waste time cleaning vans though. It is as interesting as you like, with bits of everything thrown into a huge mix of tourism and locals rubbing shoulders happily. Lots to see, and if there are mini breaks from the UK available, I would jump on one.

We arrived in another coastal town, Peniche, after another 167 miles on the clock. We checked in to an Aire because we needed laundry and facilities. Such a good find, a walled secure site placed very close to the town centre, but it had an added bonus. A motorhome washing point. I can safely say, I was up and out at first light, and Helga gleamed merrily before we left for our next step.

Luzianes is a mountain village with a railway station and not a lot more. The station could very well suit the forestry industry, because apart from lumber, there,s not a lot to see or do. It was dark by the time we arrived, and in fact, we never meant to "arrive" at all. Two places we were going to use were either closed or non existent, still, we parked up beside the road, because we had driven for 189 miles and a lot on dodgy roads, so enough was enough.Settled in, had a couple of drinks and some dinner and watched Mrs Browns boys on dvd.
The next morning, in daylight we had the loveliest drive down to Albufeira.  The roads were empty in fact in 23 miles we passed five pedestrians. 

By one pm we arrived in Albufeira Aire where we would be pausing for three whole days, in the company of some very nice people. That drive was only 49 miles but very pretty and totally relaxing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bilbao and the coast road.

Well, thats another myth blown clean out of the water! The rain in Spain definitely does not stay mainly on the plain. The vast majority of it tipped over Helga last night when we were (trying to) sleeping.
We left Leceirio for the short drive to Bilbao and en route we happened to see a tyre repair place. On inspection the guy told me the tyre was perished on the side walls, and this could have been where the air was escaping, and it could potentially blow out. With such a lot of driving to do the management decided it would be prudent to change sooner rather than later. 
He couldn’t get a tyre or rather tyres, because I decided to change both, in case. As they were the same age etc.
We drove on into Bilbao, where we met a lot more drivers with uncertainty regarding one of their parents!
Miles later we came across the place we seemed only to find they close for lunch from 1 - 3. We waited and got seen to immediately the doors opened.
Tyres would be delivered tomorrow, if we could wait. 
Not much choice, the effort required to locate somewhere in a Spanish city is more than it’s worth.
So, after a night of sight seeing in a very restricted way, we slept up where the Funicular station is, under a leafless tree. This was the cause of the drumming competition during the night, we delivered Helga to the new found tyre hospital. 
The Guggenheim Bilbao is a  world famous gallery, attracting many of the worlds top artists to exhibit, temporary or permanent. 
We visited this to try to improve our knowing of art but this failed miserably. They use language that to me is waffle, but the works that impressed most were Richard Serra, “The matter of time”. Anselm Kiefer, “The renowned orders of the Night”. I loved this because my wife and friends wouldn’t come out and lie on a blow up bed late at night, under a duvet, to watch the amazing night sky. I mention Margaret, Patsy Reavy, and Lawrence Reavy in particular!
Jenny Holzer and “Installation for Bilbao” is not to be missed, nor is the VW Beetle, situated on another floor. Wow!
To finish our four hour investigation we had a really marvellous lunch in the Bistro. We would go again just to eat!

So off we went to collect the invalided Helga, now much better thanks, and divest ourselves of €418 for the pleasure.
Never mind, even with all the scary hairpins and agents and descents of the fabulous coast road, we can now make up for a lost day on the autovias.

Next stop Leon, 214  miles away, south west.

I've been so remiss in not being organised enough to fill in the blog, I'll try harder, maybe.

Right now we're in the hills amid a forest, about eighty clicks from Albufeira. 
A gorgeous alternative to the coast, although definitely not as much bird song. 

So, more of that and more, in your next thrilling instalment.

Hiyo silver, away.....

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cherbourg to San Sebastian

So nasty little Anna, delayed us for almost four hours. That was storm Anna, not the lovely Anna Carrol from Galway.

Traffic had built up in Cherbourg with the rush hour, and about twenty miles from the city the rain came on. Driving rain, dark unlit sixty five KPH road, car head lights cutting the eyes out of me, and them all driving on the wrong side of the road.
It didn’t help progress, but we made it down the road after a four hour drive. 
We’ve stopped at a fire station in a very small town called Heric, free parking overnight, and the local Christmas lights are very fetching.

A couple of drinks and then bed for me alas, because we ‘re driving 360 miles tomorrow to get to Biarritz, which is allegedly on the edge of sunny days….

Well we arrived in San Sebastian, Spain instead of Biarritz France. This was because it was only around twenty miles down the road, and as we were dead keen to get to the sun, on we went.

The drive down had dozens of kilometres of road works, two major snarl ups, Nantes and Bordeaux. Tens of thousands of forty footers, which we used in the worst driving conditions by staying pretty close to them, assuming they knew the roads.  

Anyway we arrived safely without incident and made dinner in our new home for the night. We were about sixty meters from the pounding waves of the Bay of Biscay thundering fifty feet below us. 

A quiet stroll around the old town promised good things to come tomorrow, as it really is a fine city.  San Sebastian, or the part we were in is called Donastia.