Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Home is a Trundle Bus


 Buenos dias dear family & friends, from a very warm and sunny Costa del Sol in Southern Spain. We are nestled in a small seaside town called Motril, on the coast of Andalusia about 30 miles east of Malaga. Today the temperature is around 26 degrees but with a nice sea breeze to keep things comfortable. 

‘But hang on a jiffy’ I hear you cry ‘the last we heard, you two were holed up in Macclesfield’......so let me explain....

We have become full time travellers...oh yes we have! We have rented out our house in Macclesfield for the next twelve months and are homeless, foot loose and fancy free; to go anywhere we please and do anything we desire.

We have been thinking and talking about making this move for a couple of years now and after much deliberation and changing of minds we finally decided that what we really love doing is travelling, and so here we are with the Trundle Bus as our permanent home. Nick, Ellen and their delicious delectable son Oliver moved into our house on the 12th September. Oliver has adopted Fang as his Grandma and we now refer to Melford Drive as ‘Oliver’s house’. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to be really free to come and go as you please.

We are doing nothing new here of course, over the past 3 years of travelling we have met a number of people who have done and are doing exactly as we are, and indeed it is these people who inspired us to make this change in our life style. And so travellers we are, and the way we feel right now, travellers we will be for the foreseeable future, or at least until I can’t drive and Fang can’t make the lunch any more.

‘So what’s the plan’ I hear you ask. Well, the plan is to spend some time in Southern Spain basking in the sunshine (we hope) and then around the middle of December we will catch a ferry across to Morocco and spend the next 2 or 3 months there, out of the winter cold. After that we will come back across to Southern Spain and hideaway here for the rest of the winter......and after that we don’t know, maybe Greece maybe Turkey maybe somewhere else altogether, we will see.

Phase one of our master plan kicked off on the 2nd of October when we travelled across the Channel to France. We decided to try the Chunnel this time as Fang is not very good at sea and has to take tablets to avoid chucking up all over the Captain and his crew, which then puts her to sleep for the rest of the day.....personally I can’t see a downside, but she decided she wanted to stay awake. As for myself...... well I come from a long line of distinguished seadogs and there is nothing I like more than being on the ocean waves and sharing a rollicking good sea shanty with me crew mates below decks.

Anyway the Chunnel it was; and what a very efficient hassle free journey it is......how come I can travel through a tunnel out of the country on a train without getting out of my Trundle Bus and with no fuss or delays, and yet I can’t travel by train from Macclesfield to London and ever hope to arrive either on time or relaxed. How did we manage to get the Chunnel so right?......perhaps we should do more things with the French?

After arriving at Calais, we turned south and had our first nights stop at a little town called Ault on the Normandy coast. Nothing of note about this town other than apparently Victor Hugo saw fit to write at some length in his diaries about the place; between you and me I haven’t the foggiest notion who Victor Hugo is, but the Tourist Board saw fit to plaster his name all over the place so he must be of some note, if only to the French. Fang, who is far more literate in these things than I, tells me Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserable and The Hunch Back of Notre Dome.

The next day we moved further south to a place called Argentan. A nice enough provincial town and a very pleasant overnight stop.

The next place worthy of a mention was Samur. Sitting on the banks of the River Loire and slap bang in the middle of the famous wine making district which is the Loire Valley; this is a very affluent looking town with a most impressive chateau overlooking and indeed dominating the town. You can just imagine in days gone by the peasants of the town looking up at the walls with a feeling of dread, which I guess was the idea. 

Unfortunately the chateau was closed for repairs and so we didn’t have the chance to look inside.  Even more unfortunate is that no one from the French tourist office had the nouse (or in French nousè), to put any signs up until the hapless visitor had clambered up the steepest ruddy hill with their bicycles, at which time said visitor was told the chateau was being renovated.......with a grant from the EU of course.....and would we silver plates come back in 2015 for another look mercy buckets.....yeh, fat chance of that Claude!
The imposing chateau viewed from the town



You can look at the outside but can't go in....

The Trundle Bus parked up for a peaceful night

And then onto a little town called Matha, which is just south east and inland of La Rochelle. Nothing to say about the town, but we know from past trips that the overnight parking has free water and a free electric hook up, which some of these places (Aires) do in France. So it was an ideal place to spend a couple of nights catching our breath.

On the first afternoon there was a knock on the door which Fang answered.

Outside was an old woman with an enormous bag of beans (I mean French green beans not baked beans), which she had obviously just picked from her allotment, or perhaps someone else’s allotment, I can’t be entirely sure.

Anyway Fang being Fang thinks that Madam Green Bean is there offering to give her the bag for nought; and says in her best French ‘oh thank you madam’. On discovering that Madam Green bean is in fact there to flog her beans, Fang ducks back inside the van and gets a small bowl and again in her best French asks madam to ‘just fill the bowl’.

 Madam Green Bean is so incensed, in a very Gallic way with a lot of tutting, shuffling of feet and shrugging of shoulders, that someone would even consider not taking the whole bag let alone have the audacity to ask for 3 beans to put in a bowl, that Fang immediately backs down and ducks back in the van to get her purse.

Two minutes and 3.50 euro later we were the proud owners of 2 ½ lb of fresh French beans from someone’s garden. Now I don’t know how many of you know what 2 ½ lb of green beans looks like, but unless you have catered for a party of 50 or more it’s unlikely!

We had beans twice a day and I even had them on my muesli in the morning, just to get rid of the ruddy things. Fang says she was conned and robbed in French, but felt much better when at the supermarket she noticed the green beans were 4 euro for a kilo, (roughly 2 lb).

On the second day we were joined by Rob and Brenda, (we blame them for where we are now as they encouraged us to believe we could get to the end of our drive in a motorhome!)

They were just on their way north to catch a ferry home and we had arranged to meet up. They arrived at lunch time and we hosted lunch which of course included a good portion of green beans. They very kindly offered to cook dinner that evening, but my suggestion that the menu might be enhanced with another generous portion of fresh French beans was not greeted with the enthusiasm I had expected....indeed I was told to go and do something very un-French with my French beans.

The next stop of note was in the little hill top fortress village of Sant Clar. This is an enchanting sleepy little medieval village in the middle of rolling fields.

On the second day, while we were wandering through the village, we came across what I can only describe as a huge mobile B&Q. I guess in these remote villages this kind of service is worthwhile to the traders, and certainly to the villagers who were flocking round as soon as the truck pulled up!

This was in the village square?

Medieval shopping 

Mobile B & Q

Fang enjoying a stolen fig
And then we were off to Routier, one of our favourite spots in the whole of France. Those of you paying attention on our last trip will remember me waxing lyrical about Routier being wrapped in the local vineyards, and what a lovely relaxed time we had.

It was on this first visit we met Ian who has a large house (it’s for sale) in the village, part of which he rents out as holiday lets, and his very handsome side kick Riley. We have kept in contact with Ian ever since our last trip and it was brilliant to meet up again.

On that first evening we saw Ian come through the Aire on his evening walk with Riley and joined him for a saunter through the vineyards ending up at his house for a drink. Ian was due to pick some friends up from the airport the next day and invited us to dinner at his house to meet them.

That evening we met the enchanting effervescent Susi and her ridiculously handsome husband Roger. Susie and Roger bought a derelict house in the village just down the lane from Ian and have spent the past 5 years renovating it, with Roger doing most of the work himself with some help from the locals, mainly Ian. They now have a dream house in France which they manage to escape to from their home in Belgium about once a month for a weekly respite.

Ian and Susi looking at the iPad with Roger in the foreground on the balcony of their beautiful home
We had a brilliant evening with lots of laughter and good food, (Ian is a very good cook) and they all suggested we join them the next evening at a local restaurant where they would be dining with some other friends.
Annette, Susi and Clare.....the local glitterati

Dinner at a local restaurant with more glitterati...clockwise round the table; Ian, Irene, Madam Fang, Annette, Susi, Roger, Me, Jackie

Me for some reason being very rude to Roger......sorry Roger!

Annette with a new friend

He also charmed Ian
 For about 2 weeks before arriving in Routier we noticed that our fridge was not working properly when we had it running on gas. This is a big problem for us as it means we were limited to overnight stops where there was an electric hook up, so we couldn’t do any wild camping, which is what we really like to do.......plus Fang’s vino blanco callapso was not chilled to her satisfaction, which is even more disturbing.

We had a word with Ian who looked on the internet and found a couple of places that looked like they might be able to help. Roger was good enough to get on the phone the day after we arrived (he speaks fluent French), but the place he phoned couldn’t help. However, we had discovered from some of the English Chapter of the Brotherhood of Motorhomers staying in the Aires at Routier, that there was a big Motorhome accessory place in a town called Narbonne, which was only about 45 minutes away.

The next day we drove off to Narbonne and found the place. I managed to find someone who spoke a bit of English and explained what the problem was.....he understood both the problem, and more importantly, knew what needed to be done to fix it! The next day a 4:00pm we took the van back and within an hour all was fixed and the fridge is running on gas again.....back in business we are!

Now here’s a thing......while we were in Narbonne we decided to have a look around the town. It was lunch time so there were lots of people around including a group of students. Fang absolutely loves going over to chat with students....I always stand back and just observe from a distance, because it’s like watching a visit by one of the royal family. She will start off talking to just a couple, and within a few  seconds they are all crowding around her. She stands there with her hands clasped in front of her (just like the Queen does) and asks them questions about their studies their family and what they had for breakfast. They all seem to love it and answer her questions as though they were expecting her to visit! She will then arrange them in a group so that she can take a photo of the occasion.... This time she also asked them to get back on their skate boards to do a demonstration for her, which they did, without question......it’s just magic to watch!

Another little thing Fang manages to do on a regular basis is; she will stop someone in the street and ask them if they know where the post office, town hall, market is. When the person replies in perfect English Fang will say in her perfect English ‘oh your English is very good where did you learn it?’ ‘At school in England’ comes the reply ‘I’m just here on holiday’
Fang's student group

The demo skateboarding



Us!
During our troubles Ian had very generously offered a parking space behind his house so that we could hook up to his electric.
The Trundle Bus in Ian's french barn
Behind each of the row of houses that Ian and Roger & Susi live there are large wine fermenting vats for each house, some with 3 or 4. Today all the grapes are taken down the road to the co-operative to be processed, but in days gone by each household will have dealt with their own harvest.

These vats are concrete and hold over 1,000 liters each, with a manhole cover at the top to tip the grapes into, and then a tap down the bottom to pour off the wine with another opening to scrape out the grape residue. Most of them are still there which makes a nice bit of social history.
On the bottom left you can see the tap for drawing off the plonk with the door to the right of it to scrape out the grape sludge


There are three or four of these in each house

Roger has drilled out the wall in one and you can see the manhole cover where they put the grapes in
On the Saturday night Ian was holding a BBQ. Quick as a flash I offered my services as his sous chef and got an invite! It was a great night and we met even more of the local glitterati. We were touched by the warmth shown by all these people towards two strangers and will remember this visit to Routier with fondness for many years to come. 
Bruno, Susi, Luc, Chantelle

Ian at his BBQ

With my second chef Riley
 
Chantelle, Stuart and Clare
Fang with Kingpin Ian
Sadly the next morning we had to leave our new found friends and it was off and over the Pyrenees. The most direct route was to go through Andorra with the advantage that we could pick up some duty free booze on the way.
The spectacular Pyrenees



The drive was, as you might expect, absolutely spectacular. We arrived in Andorra and after a chat to the local tourist information discovered that there were a couple of places where we could wild camp. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to spend a night actually on the top of the Pyrenees we took off in search of a park up for the night.
What an experience, parked in the middle of the Pyrenees at 8000 feet! Spectacular views from our bedroom window, just us and the mountains.....
Our park up for the night at 8,000 feet
That evening Fang discovered a new cure for altitude sickness.......sucking duty free Tia Maria straight from the bottle through a straw...... After the second slurp, herself decides she is a bit peckish and pulls a big bag of crisps from the cupboard. ‘Look at this Jono’ she cries. She is holding this big bag that, because of the altitude, has blown out to the size of a jumbo party  balloon......next second she has poked a hole in the bag and crisps are flying all over the van like an exploding crisp bomb!
Sunrise at our camp


The mountains don't look very high because we are at the top of the mountains!
The next morning the drive down the other side of the mountains into Spain was just as spectacular.

Breakfast looking back at the Pyrenees
We ended up for the first night in Spain in a lovely town called Llieda.







In the next 3 days we just set Tom Tom for Malaga and spent all day driving, stopping overnight at wild camps that we found on the way.

We headed for a place called Cala del Moral just outside Malaga, where we knew there was a wild camp by the beach.
View from our bedroom window



The reason for heading to Malaga was so that we could arrange our trip back to the UK for 3 weeks. We had done our research and knew we could park the van in a secure car park close to the airport and then catch a flight to Bristol direct from Malaga.
With car park and plane tickets booked we were free for another 3 weeks to go exploring.

As we didn’t want to go too far from Malaga we headed east along the coast to a place called Salobrena, about a 45 minute drive from Malaga, and found ourselves a magic wild camp on the beach. Fang, in her usual style, has renamed the place Fisherman’s Cove because of all the night fishing.


Still warm enough to swim in November!

The bay we were parked on

Salobrena

Fang......... looking good!
Well dear family and friends there we are, now you know as much as we do about autumn in Southern Spain. We are due to fly back to the UK in a couple of days for 3 weeks. After that we will be off to Morocco and more new experiences, which we shall of course let you know about.







       




    


 

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Dear family and friends, bon dia from the sunny Algarve. Those of you paying attention will remember that, when last we blogged we were in Spain, however, we have crossed and re-crossed several borders since then and have started on the Portugal leg of our sojourn......but more of that in while.

First,  to catch up, we go back to beautiful southern Spain and to a place called Cabo de Gata (Cape Gata). Set in one of the coastal national parks this was really just an overnight stop on our way west along the coast and nothing of particular interest, other than our visit to the light house and headland next morning. As you can see from the photos there is some stunning coast line


......and also a rather quaint tradition.....it seems that lovers take padlocks to the point and lock them to the railings to show their eternal love and devotion, throwing the lock key over the cliff afterwards. Those lovers not as well prepared for this show of affection tie their hair bands to the railing instead......well, quick as a flash my Fang has her hair band off, ties it to the railing and with her locks flowing in the breeze gazes at me with a look of tender devotion.  So impressed is the Frenchman who happens to be there at the same time (we all know what romantics the French are) that he asks if we would like him to take a photo, with our camera not his. ‘Oh yes please’, says Fang, in her best French, which sounds very much like her best English, and said photo is taken.  Afterwards, being the gallant Englishman that I am, or rather not wanting to be out manoeuvred in the romantic stakes by Monsieur Le Frog I turn to Madam Le Frog and ask if she would like me to take a photo of her with him.....now I don’t know if something got lost in the translation or if it was because she had short hair and therefore no hair band to tie to the railings, but she looked at me as though I had slapped her across the face with a wet scallop. Undeterred I whipped her camera from her grasp, set them up in a lover’s tangle and took the photo......however, as you can see Monsieur Le Frog was not taking things as seriously as perhaps he might......so safe in the knowledge that Monsieur Le Frog will have got a good French slapping when he got back home, I was comfortable that the Anglo French balance of power had been restored to its rightful equilibrium and we set off on our way along the coast!  


I am so proud I could burst!

Hair blowing in the breeze....just like on the Titanic

M. Le Frog working his way into a French slapping
The next few days we spent trundling along the south coast of Spain stopping at various places we had been told were good overnight stops and which we wanted to check out for ourselves for future reference. Nothing much to report here as we were just on a fact finding mission for a couple of days really.

The next notable visit was to the Rock of Gibraltar. As neither of us had been here we decided it was worth a visit although we knew it was not really going to be our sort of place. And I suppose it is worth a look, if only to experience a little piece of Britain stuck on the end of the Iberian Peninsula. To get onto then Rock by road you have to cross over the runway and if there is a plan landing or taking traffic and pedestrians are held up until the plane has landed and taxed back to the airport....this must be fairly unique I would have thought?

Waiting to cross the runway
It’s a bizarre experience to be walking down what is essentially an English high street with M & S and Smiths and Boots and C & A and to hear British policemen speaking Spanish. Unfortunately there was a very strong wind the day we were there, and the cable car was not operating, so we didn't get to the top of the rock, however, the visit was well worth the effort, but with nothing to hold us there we bought our quota of duty free scotch and gin on the way out, and moved off along the coast to a little village called Bolonia.


Just before this they had greeted each other with a kiss on both cheeks.....is that British?

Fang phone home
Now here was a lovely surprise. We managed to park on the beautiful deserted beach and spent a couple of days exploring.

First up a walk along the beach took us to an enormous sand dune which of course just had to be conquered......it is over 75 meters high and great fun to be on.....especially as we were completely by ourselves on this early morning walk.


The lonely climber.....

Fang flaked out....
The next surprise this small village had in store for us is the remains of a large roman settlement, which was not only just down the road from where we were parked.... but completely free entry to both the site and museum for EU members......I’m all for the EU I am.

There is nothing we love more than a good Roman ruin and we spent a brilliant afternoon in this fantastic site wandering along the cobbled roads that were used by the Romans over 2000 years ago......you can actually feel the history come up through your feet......this is our sort of place!

Salt bins for preserving the Tuna in Roman times


Under floor heating for the Roman baths



After a lovely two days we set off west again and over the border into Portugal. Here we met up with some friends of ours from Congleton who were just on their way back to the UK after spending several months escaping the UK weather in Spain and Portugal. Rob & Brenda were very helpful to us when we first got our motorhome and were full of advice which made our first trip far more stress free that it would have otherwise been. We spent a pleasant couple of days shooting the breeze, exchanging stories and places to stay and learning a new card game which Fang has already forgotten how to play, just as well as we don’t have any playing cards anyway, and the only ones we can find around here are in Portuguese.....same goes for the Scrabble sets.



We sent Rob & Brenda on their way home and continued on to a little place we had visited on our last trip to Portugal.

Paderne is a lovely little village that has a font and wash house fed by a natural spring and is nestled in amongst the orange groves. I don’t know if it’s because there is natural spring water running all around the site that sets off the positive ions, but this place just seems to insist you chill out and relax.....and that’s exactly what we did for three days. The other advantage of this visit is that we can fill our water tanks with natural spring water and Fang can go native and do the washing like a Portugese washerwoman.....I do love a photo opportunity!

This is the only Portuguese man I could get to pose with Fang.....I  took his stony silence to mean he agreed!

Fang gone native


It’s a smashing place to be, more so because it’s not a tourist attraction but somewhere the locals actually use in their day to day lives.....the farmers come every day to fill their big water tanks, the locals come to fill their water bottles and some come to do big loads of washing and some come to have bush showers!     


Proper load of washing!

Having a bush shower......left the bottle out in the  sun to warm up but didn't leave it long enough and ended up having  cold shower anyway!*&"
So we eventually tear ourselves away from our font and onto a gas station just down the road that we discovered on our last trip will fill our gas bottles for us. Keeping your gas supply topped up is a bit of an issue for motorhomers around the EU as there is a different system and different  types of gas bottle in each country and it’s not just a case of swapping an empty one for a full like we do in the UK......a disjointed EU, who would have thought it?!!**

Our next destination is the Algarve. Now, had you asked me a couple of weeks ago about the Algarve I would have said it’s package holiday country with wall to wall Brits. and ‘all day breakfasts’. And to a certain extent this is true, but there is also an absolutely beautiful unspoiled dramatic coat line and wonderful white sandy beaches to be enjoyed away from the tourist traps. The local authorities seem to have kept the holiday apartments and hotels back from dominating the shore front with the result that there is a sort of green belt buffer zone that retains the natural beauty of the coastline.  We managed to find some great places to spend the night and some wonderful cliff top walks to enjoy in solitude, despite it being the half term holidays in the UK. As usual the photos don’t do the scenery justice.



Fang definitely NOT posing....




Fang with her new bike


We met Bruce and Carol on one of our cliff top walks. They both live in the US, Bruce is an Aussie from Tasmania and Carol is from the States. They had got off the plane at Lisbon and were cycling around the coast to Gibraltar!  The bikes they have are specially made to fold up and go on a plane as luggage.....really smart. As you can see from the photo they are both fit as a butcher’s dog.


At one of our overnight stops we met Tony his wife Maria and their daughter Anna.



Now here’s a thing.....about 30 years ago Tony was travelling through Europe in an old BT lorry that he had converted, you know the sort, you would see them all over the place putting up and repairing telegraph poles, not the lorries, the people inside the lorries.

 Anyway, Tony comes into this village we are staying in, roles up and parks on the beach....out of money, out of diesel, out of food, broke as a badger. So he sort of hangs around doing odd jobs to earn a crust until one morning he wakes up to find a food parcel on his step, a couple of mornings later the same thing and then again after that, never a word from the person who is doing this. After a couple of weeks Tony decides he better try and find out who this good Samaritan is and one morning he gets up early, hides in the bushes and when his good Samaritan comes along follows him home....to discover that he and his wife run the local newsagent and laundry and they are both English....in fact they still run the same business to this day!

As Tony got to know these two, the chap introduced him to a local who was trying to raise an old fishing boat that had sunk in the local harbour. This guy needed a hand to do this and Tony and a couple of other guys worked for him. This guy had the idea that at low tide they could get to the boat and they would fix old tyres to the boat so that eventually when they had enough tyres the tide would come in and the boat would float!

Blow me down if after a month of fixing tyres to this boat the thing floats to the surface on the next high tide. This guy went onto bigger and better things and now runs pleasure boats out of Lagos, a resort just down the coast. So, Tony now has a bit of cash and he can move on.

During his time here Tony has made friends with a group of gypsies ( Fang wants me to give the correct term Travellers) who were also staying in the village. Just before he sets off the gypsy chaps come over and want to buy old bits and pieces that Tony has around his van, like an old broken clock and an old broken radio and other useless bits and pieces that Tony has collected along the way. Tony, thinking that they will sell it on and needing the cash anyway, sells them this stuff. The next day Tony takes his rubbish to the bin before setting off and finds all the stuff that the gypsy chaps had bought from him stuffed in the bin......what these guys wanted to do was give Tony a leg up with a bit of cash, but rather than just give him cash, which might have hurt his pride, they buy his junk! Good people eh?

Don’t know about anyone else but this is the first time we have ever seen seagull chicks.....they were just sitting on the edge of a cliff as we walked past



A Welsh leek amongst the thistles...
Portugal is Stork country and we are here at breeding time with the huge nests inhabited by parents and normally two chicks. The locals encourage the birds to nest in the towns by building platforms for them so we often got really close to the nests.....a real treat. Here are just a couple of the 1,348 photos that Fang has taken of storks, storks flying into nests, storks flying out of nests, chicks in nests, chicks and parents in nests, parents in nests, just nests....blood and sand if I have to stop for another ruddy stork photo I am going to catch one, stick in a pan, sauté it in butter and finish it off with some red wine and champignons....that should make a proper photo.



This nest is sitting on the roof of the local supermarket...



And so on we go to another bay which Fang has named Hippy Bay, not because most of the people there need hip replacements, no not that sort of hippy. The lets make love not war and ban the bomb and not wear any clothes type of hippie that I thought had died out in the 60’s. But no, here they are alive and well in Portugal, the guys are wandering around with their fishing tackle out of the box, and the girls with their jugs out of the cupboard......oh my this is proper laid back let it all hang out territory! So I'm now in the process of growing dreadlocks for my babe, and want to adopt a mongrel bitch attached to a piece of string......

Hippies in action......covert photography by Fang Paparazzi


Another hippie on the beach
Next is Hidden Gem Bay......we came here 2 years ago and loved it so much we just had to do a return visit......it did not disappoint....

Fang definitely NOT posing AGAIN


Days end at Remote Bay
And now we are staying in a campsite just across the river from Lisbon. Tomorrow we will catch a ferry and go and explore this beautiful city. So until next we blog dear family and friends we bid you adieu from sunny Lisbon.