Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
latest posts

Travels in The Trigano

Since 2002, we’ve been mobile campers, starting with a 22 year old Volkswagen Type 2, and graduating to our fabulous Trigano Tribute 650. Okay, it’s not in the luxury stakes, but it suits us. The articles here will review camp sites in Spain and elsewhere, give a heads up on lovely places to stay, and generally tell everyone about our travels.

My ‘Brief Encounter’ with Carnforth Station Heritage Centre

The Brief Encounter tearoom at Carnforth Station Heritage Centre

Back in 2007, when I was Glasgow bound for the finals of Mastermind, we decided to make a holiday of it and took our Toyota Hiace camper. We spent two weeks touring the north of England and Scotland, and the bonus was the mileage allowance the BBC paid covered all the diesel and most of the campsite fees. We also had a couple of nights in a hotel in Glasgow. One of our overnight stops was at Morecambe Bay, and while we were there, we visited Carnforth Station, the location of David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter.

Why did director David Lean choose Carnforth as the location for his masterpiece? He didn’t actually,  although the Ministry of War Transport did believe Carnforth would be safe from enemy attack since it was so remote from the usual targets of shipyards and industrial areas. Brief Encounter was filmed early in 1945, when enemy attacks were still likely. And the rural town of Carnforth was distant enough from London to avoid the blackout, which would have caused technical problems while filming.

All location work at the station needed to take place between 10.00pm and 6.00am, so as not to disrupt rail travel. Like many other railway stations in wartime, Carnforth had thousands of troops passing through en route to foreign postings. In another link with the station, Noel Coward, who wrote the screenplay for the film, also made the station announcements.

Carnforth Station station was rebuilt in 1937, and was the third rebuild since 1846. Improvements included a new 890 foot long platform, and the longest unsupported concrete roof in Britain at that time.  This helped to make the station more attractive on camera. Carnforth would remain a busy railway junction until well into the 1960’s, when the Beeching reorganisation of the railways led to its slow but steady demise. By the dawn of the 1970s, it was a mere branch line, and the iconic buildings where Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson enjoyed their frequent, bitter-sweet meetings gradually deteriorated.

In 1996, The Carnforth Station and Railway Trust threw themselves into raising the £1.5 million necessary to restore Carnforth to its former glory days. In 2003, the Brief Encounter Refreshment Room finally

Carnforth Station in 1907

opened. These days, Carnforth Station Heritage Centre bustles again, hosting a number of exhibitions, steam train excursions and events throughout the year which are popular with schools, local clubs and holidaymakers.

The Brief Encounter Refreshment Room is really authentic. So much so that when I stepped into it, I almost expected to see Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard sitting at one of the tables with tea and biscuits. If only the refreshments were at 1945 prices, it would have been pretty much perfect! You can even hire the room for private functions if you wish – it would certainly make a great venue for a party for someone born in 1945.

Carnforth Station Heritage Centre is a real treasure for film buffs and railway enthusiasts alike, and the friendly staff are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject. A few of the volunteers actually remember the filming and have some fascinating tales to tell.  You can also browse a great range of souvenirs in the shop, including a special edition DVD of Brief Encounter as a permanent reminder of your visit to Carnforth Station.

Admission to the centre is free during normal opening hours, although charges may apply for special events. Once you’re all Brief Encountered out, take a drive to Morecambe Bay. And if you’re in the motor home, there are a number or rural campsites overlooking the bay. When we were there, we were awoken by cows looking in the window. Good job we were Paddyless at the time!

Image credit: Carnforth Station in 1907 © National Railway Museum and SSPL http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Euston&objid=1997-7409_LMS_928

Camping or parking? There’s a difference!

The Trigano is parked up - but what's the difference between camping and parking in Spain?

The Trigano is parked up – but what’s the difference between camping and parking in Spain?

One thing we’ve noticed in our travels in the Trigano is that Spain is far more motor home friendly than the UK. The only height barriers seem to be on underground car parks, and if you should take up a couple of parking spaces, nobody worries. Better still, you usually don’t have to pay for the privileges.

Another plus is that there are plenty of places where you can pitch up for free – or ‘wild camp’ as it’s called in the trade. However, as with all things, there are always people who will extract the urine, and then more than likely, the police will be called in to move them along. Illegal campers can expect to face a hefty fine on the spot fine, and/ or have their vehicle impounded, so it’s worth knowing the law in Spain before you pitch up and pour the wine.

So, how can you be sure the idyllic setting you’ve chosen to pitch for the night – or maybe a few nights – is not going to work out more expensive than if you’d paid for a full facility site? Quite simply, it all rests on whether you’re parking or camping.

In Spain, it is illegal to discriminate against motor home drivers. That means that local authorities cannot prevent motor homes from parking anywhere other vehicles are permitted to park. That said, all vehicles must adhere to all local parking guidelines. If you park in a residential street, for example, you can stay for as long as local regulations allow, but you must leave your vehicle within the marked area. That also goes for parking spaces on car parks. Keep within the marked out spaces, even if you need to occupy two or three bays to accommodate your rig. It’s fine to spread across the bays any way you like – the Spanish are much more relaxed about parking than the Brits.

Once your motor home is parked up and the engine is turned off, you can eat in it, sleep in it, or do whatever takes your fancy and doesn’t frighten the natives or require the presence of the emergency services. However, if you roll out the awning, or set up tables and chairs, it constitutes camping, and that is illegal. In other words, if you park beachside and get the generator out, line up your satellite dish for EastEnders and set the table for paella, you are breaking the law in Spain. It’s also illegal to dispose of waste water anywhere other than at a designated disposal point.

Use wild camping wisely, and always think parking rather than camping. If you want to get your tables and chairs out in the sun, then take them to the beach or into the forest. Don’t set up your tapas table in the street or in front of somebody’s casa. That’s plain good manners anyway, isn’t it?

Another possible solution when you need to stop but there isn’t a camp site or anywhere suitable within miles is to park up for the night at a ‘Venta.’ That’s an independent roadhouse, serving food and maybe also offering accommodation and showers. As long as you buy a meal, you should be able to park up overnight for free. In many ventas, a home cooked meal for two will probably cost less than a night on a campsite anyway. It’s a good alternative if you’re late parking up, or if you want to get away early in the morning rather than hanging around to explore the area.

Just remember you’re parking not camping, so don’t break out the collapsible rotary drier and wash your smalls in the car park. That might put the locals off their dinner, and the venta owner won’t appreciate it!

Whenever you’re looking for an overnight stop with your motor home in Spain, remember to stay within the law and be people friendly. Park where you won’t cause obstruction, or annoyance or disturbance to others. When you think about it, it all boils down to good manners and common sense.

The information for this article comes from the N332 Facebook Page and website. You’ll find lots more useful information about driving in Spain there, so it’s worth bookmarking for future reference.

 

Velez-Blanco – a small mountain village with a great big heart

One of the many good things about owning a medium sized motor home as opposed to the equivalent of a small country is that it can take you to all sorts of lovely places. And if you can’t find a camp site as a base to explore the area, you can just park up somewhere where you won’t disturb anyone and sample the local delights. That’s exactly what we did when we visited Velez-Blanco recently.

We were catching up with our friends Alan and Elle, who recently moved to Velez-Blanco. From the moment we drove into this beautiful Andalucian ‘white village,’ we knew what they meant when they said it was a place they wanted to live. If we weren’t so happy in our own lovely pueblo in Algorfa,  I’d probably be in the middle of packing up, rather than writing this. It’s not only beautiful, it’s welcoming too. Everyone speaks to you, and on the Sunday afternoon when we arrived, all the tables on the terrace of the Bar Sociedad (social centre) were filled with locals and visitors enjoying the late October sunshine. Even the Deputy Mayor was there.

Velez-Blanco has a number of fuentes – or fountains – which carry the clear spring waters of the Segura from the Sierra Maria Los-Velez. Driving in, one of the locals was struggling up the hill with four 8 litre containers of spring water. I had to try this for myself, and I did – from the most famous and beautiful of the fuentes the 18th century Fuente de la Novia (Fountain of the Girlfriend). There’s water, and then there’s Velez-Blanco water, and that’s something really special. If I’d have had some empty containers with me, I’d have brought some home. Must remember for next time.

There are more water spouts in the plaza, at the less beautiful but still functional Canos de la Plaza. If you want to sit and watch the water flow – which I can’t because it makes me want to go and get my own water flowing – there are some unusual benches next to the spouts. Elle told us that the shapes at the ends of the benches represented figures found in the cave paintings in the Cueva de los Letreros (Cave of the Inscriptions).

There’s Indalo Man, who has been hijacked as the symbol of Mojacar, and is now also used as a symbol of Almeria. He’s a hunter-gatherer, and is meant to bring good luck, and there are numerous representations in the souvenir shops in the area, often painted in rainbow colours. El Brujo, or El Brujito, as he’s sometimes called, is a more menacing figure, looking rather like a goat or a devil, with horns. He carries two sickles and holds a heart aloft. El Brujo is the shaman or sorcerer, and he’s supposed to protect from evil spirits. It’s strange but somehow fitting to see these two prehistoric creatures represented on something as mundane as a bench in a Spanish square. Then again, Velez-Blanco is  quirky as well as beautiful.

Dominating the village is the 16th century Castle of the Marques de Los Velez, which is built on the rocks on the site of the Arab Alcazar. It’s a source of wonder to many first time visitors, and Alan told us about an American friend who, like us, was really taken with the village. Every time he saw something new, he exclaimed over it, and always added the rider ‘…And it’s got a castle!’

We didn’t get to see the inside of the Castle, as it closes on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the views over the surrounding campo are stunning, so there are some great photo opportunities. The castle looks out across La Muela, a plateau in the Sierra Maria mountains which can be seen from Velez-Blanco. La Muela means ‘the molar,’ and when you see the shape of the plateau, it does look something like an adult molar tooth.

And there’s another American connection – the marble interior of the palace, known as  the ‘Patio del Honor’ – is now in the Metropolitan Museum New York, having been sold to its President George Blumenthal by Parisian art dealer J Goldberg, who moved the marble from Velez-Blanco to France in 1904. Blumenthal installed the Patio in his town house on Park Avenue, and when it was demolished after his death, the Patio and other art works were exhibited in the museum, where they can still be seen today. Plans are in hand to reproduce the Patio in marble from the same local quarry that supplied the materials for the original Patio.

Velez-Blanco is well supplied with shops, banks, bars and restaurants, so it’s an ideal place to spend a holiday or put down more permanent roots. And although it’s out in the campo, it’s just a few minutes’ drive from the A92N motorway, and thence the rest of Spain, so it’s an ideal touring base. Unfortunately, the town’s only camp site in the hills between Velez-Blanco and Velez Rubio is now deserted, but there are several accommodation options available at reasonable prices. If you’re down Almeria way, why not pop into Velez-Blanco and let this lovely white village wrap you in it’s welcoming arms? Say hello from me while you’re there!

Update

Karen tells me there is a small aire in Velez Rubio which will accommodate around five motor homes, as long as they are self sufficient. Also, the Mayor of Velez-Rubio has offered to take me on a guided tour next time I visit. I can’t wait!

Torre del Mar – a great place for a getaway

One great thing about attending motor home rallies in Spain – or anywhere for that matter – is that you get to visit places you may never have found on your own. And very often, these places are designed to be motor home friendly. In other words, you can park up and forget about it, because everything is within walking distance or on a bus route. Torre del Mar is one of those little gems that everyone likes to find, because it’s a small, beautiful town with lots to see and do, and it’s all on the level and within a few minutes’ walking distance.

We were camped at Camping Torre Del Mar, which is right in the town. It’s a medium sized camp site, with a swimming pool, restaurant, supermarket and free wifi, and there are various special low season offers. The site is open all year round, and the beach is directly opposite, while the town’s shops and restaurants are just a short walk away. There’s also an enormous field adjacent to the site, which is ideal if you have dogs to exercise. Over the few days we were there, Paddy bonded with the resident horses, to the extent that he got a goodbye lick from the big chestnut just before we left. So he had a good time, and if Paddy’s happy, everyone is happy.

If camping isn’t your scene, there are plenty of hotels and apartment rentals, all as close to the beach and shops as the camp site is. But if you’re self catering, don’t think you need to waste hours of your precious holiday slaving over a hot stove. Torre del Mar has literally dozens of bars and restaurants, and it won’t break the bank to break your fast. Most places put on tapas and a drink for between €1.50 and €2.00. At our favourite tapas place – Bar El Enfora, we ordered albondigas, calamares, Russian salad and a shrimp cake, which was similar to a potato rosti in appearance, and large enough to share. With two glasses of wine and a large beer, it set us back around €6.50. Yes, you read that right!

However, the prize for best value has to go to Casa Victor, a restaurant located just up the road from the lighthouse which gives the town its name on Avenida Tore-Tore. Our rally hosts Tony and Anne have been dining at Casa Victor for 26 years, and have never had a bad meal, so that was recommendation enough for us. The Menu del Dia – which is served all day and all evening – is priced at just €6.50 per person. That doesn’t include drinks, but it does include welcome tapas and three courses. Unusually, there are around 25 main course choices, including oxtail stew, several varieties of fish, and all sorts of meat, poultry and pasta dishes. With house wine at just €7.50 a bottle, we both got well fed and watered for under €25, including a tip. Torre del Mar  is a small place, with a lot of restaurants, and most of them had a good choice of Menu del Dia for between €7 and €10

It wasn’t just us who were bowled over with the prices in Torre del Mar either – several times we heard people remark that it’s much cheaper than it’s bigger, noisier neighbour Malaga, which is just 22 miles away if you want to check for yourself. We had intended to go into Malaga, but there was plenty to keep us occupied where we were. There’s a big market on Thursdays, and several of the bars put on live entertainment in the afternoons and evenings. And there’s a good selection of shops to browse, as well as the beautiful promenade and the beach. Actually, the beach is a bit of a disappointment after the golden sands of our nearest beach at Guardamar – the sand is reminiscent of builder’s sand – but the views over the neighbouring mountains are stunning. When you’ve soaked up enough sun, why not stroll along the promenade to the marina at Caleta de Velez? There are plenty of shaded areas to rest, and lots of bars should you need to refuel en route.

Whatever you’re looking for in a getaway in Spain, you’ll find it in Torre del Mar, and as a bonus, it’s easy to get to on toll free motorways. It’s 280 miles from our home in Algorfa, but we did it in around 5 hours of steady driving. If you want to go via the coast road, it’s not too much longer that way, but the motorways are pretty scenic – particularly the A92, which goes through the Sierra Nevada. Put it on your Spanish Bucket List, and try and be there for one of their fiestas.

 

Tony and Lisa – the Welsh Wizards who turned an ‘empty white box’ into something wonderful!

If you’ve been following our Portugal travels, you’ll know we’ve been making our first ever trip to the Algarve. The weather could have been better, but the people we’ve met and the places we’ve visited have made this a holiday to remember. Last week, we headed for the small mountain town of Monchique, because were told it was a ‘must see’ place, and as Tony says, we might die before we get the chance to come back here. It’s being so cheerful that keeps him going!

Anyway, the drive up to Monchique was stunning, and we loved the look of the town. After a pit stop for refreshments, Larry, June and I headed up the steep hill to see what was there, while Tony stayed in the town square with the Daily Mail and – yet another – beer.

There were some lovely little shops on the way up – all closed because it was siesta time. That’s between 1.00 and 3.00 pm in Portugal. We don’t tend to get going very early these days. One shop that was open was the ‘Loja do Chocolate e Cha Magico.’ That’s basically a chocolate shop, which got June’s juices flowing, because she does love her chocolate.

However, on entering the shop, it’s clear that the shop is so much more than a sweet shop. It’s basically a grotto, filled with fine things, almost all of them locally made and sourced. 14 years ago, after living on the Algarve for two years, Tony and Lisa decided they wanted a business to run, so they could build their future in Portugal. They looked at what is now their shop, and Tony described it as ‘An empty white box with nothing going for it.’ Lisa, however, could see the potential, and said they could make something wonderful from it. And they have.

Of course, it helps that Tony is a builder, and Lisa, also being Welsh, is a great communicator. When they first opened for business, they decided that they’d sell Lisa’s home-made sweets, chocolates and cakes, as well as locally sourced products and crafts. The first local to take up the offer – Amelia – is still fashioning bags for sale at 82 years young. You’ll also find teapots, jewellery, cork products, and much, much more.

Being married to a West Country guy, I just knew he’d love Lisa’s vanilla fudge, and I was right. When I saw her home-made marzipan sweets, that was me sorted. Then there were the whimsical Easter Bunny cup cakes. I also picked up some Monchique honey, which Tony swears is the best in the world. It will have to go some to beat our local orange blossom honey, but I’m happy to try and adjudicate. It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it, and it might as well be me!

We all came out of the Loja do Chocolate feeling as if we’d had an experience, rather than merely shopping for souvenirs of Portugal. That was helped along by Tony’s anecdotes. Apparently, David Cameron called in there in 2015, and when Tony said ‘Welcome to my shop, Mr Cameron,’ he replied, ‘You can call me David.’ Quick as a flash, Tony said, ‘In that case, I’ll allow you to call me Tony.’ The Prime Minister was most impressed, as indeed were we – both with the shop and Tony’s obvious gift of the gab. If you’re ever in the western Algarve, go and see Tony, and tell him Sandra sent you.

A tale of two Motorcaravanner groups!

We first joined The Motorcaravanners’ Club  (MCC)  back in 2002 when we bought a 25 year old VW Transporter Type 2, and we made some great friends all over the country. Our home group was South West Peninsula, which covers Cornwall, Plymouth and parts of Devon, and we soon became very active with them, even helping to organise a couple of two week holiday rallies in Charmouth, Dorset, and the Isle of Wight.  However, when we moved to Spain, life got in the way after we attended the Oktoberfest Rally in 2009, and for several years, the motor home never moved from outside our casa, other than to make a trip back to the UK or take us to the beach.

Earlier this year,  I said to Tony that we needed to either use it or sell it, and then we found out about a spring rally to Portugal, so we decided to get back to rallying with the Spanish branch of the MCC. It’s the only other group outside the UK, and it covers the whole of Spain. We were parked up next to them at the Oktoberfest rally, so we knew they were a friendly bunch.

Our first rally with MCC Spain was at Camping LoMonte, Pilar de la Horadada on the Costa Blanca last October. We immediately noticed several differences between the way the MCC operates in Spain and in the UK. For a start, the rallies are for 4 or 5 days, not just a weekend. That’s because there’s just one group to cover Spain and some members have to travel further to get there. Some sturdy souls will drive up to 500 miles for a rally, so they need more than a couple of nights at the end of it. And although you can just turn up to a Spanish MCC rally like you can in the UK,  it helps a lot if you can let the Rally Officer know if you’re attending. It’s not a large group – around 57 families are members – and it doesn’t get too many casual visitors, since they first need to cross the Channel and/or France. Rally hosts need to know numbers, so they can organise appropriate activities and book enough pitches. All MCC Spain rallies are held on fully serviced camp sites, with everything you’d expect in the Spanish sun. You’ll never be in a field with a bucket, but don’t worry, because it won’t cost you a fortune either. Typically, rallies cost around €15 per unit per night, and if you decide to stay on longer, you can usually stay at the rally rate.

The main reason MCC Spain need to know numbers is for the regular Meet and Greet on the first day of the rally, when you are asked to bring an empty glass. That’s a promising start, but as well as wine, beer or soft drinks, there is what amounts to a buffet – sausage rolls, tortilla, olives, pate on toast, and all manner of other stuff were served up at Lo Monte. . And you don’t just get one small glass of wine or beer either – you can drink as much as you can manage and still stay vertical. Even if you can’t manage that, there are willing supporters to help you back to your van – we’ve all been there!

The group prides itself that it’s never run out of supplies of alcohol, and that’s good going, because one similarity all MCC groups seem to share is a fondness for a tipple. Well, if you’re parked up for a few days with no need to drive, it would be rude not to! Everything is provided by the group from the modest rally fee of €1 per unit per night, and it’s a great way to start the rally and get to know new friends.

There are lots of events organised as well, although you do get a free day to do your own thing. There are organised walks, cycle rides and scooter rides, communal barbecues,  petanca tournaments, and organised restaurant meals – usually with entertainment – for around €12 per person for 3 courses with wine. MCC Spain rallies have more activities organised, because they have several days to pack stuff into, and the weather is more reliable, so activities are not likely to get cancelled. And because we’re in Spain, meals and drinks are cheaper, so even people on a tight budget can join in with most things. However, if you just want to relax and enjoy the sun, that’s fine too. You will be welcomed to all activities, or your privacy will be respected – play it exactly how you want to, because that’s how we rock in MCC in Spain.

Today, we returned from our second rally at Camping Marjal, Crevillente. Must be beginner’s luck, because both rallies were only about 15 miles from home. It was bigger and even better, because a lot of people had called in on their way down to Portugal, so we met up with the friends we made last time, and made some more. Can’t wait for the trip to Lagos – that’s the one in Portugal, not Nigeria, by the way!

If you think you’d like to join MCC Spain, why not ‘try before you buy’ and come along and join a rally? You’ll enjoy all the amenities and activities for the same price as the members, and if you want to join up, the rally hosts will point you in the right direction. Once you’re a member of MCC, you can attend any group rally or holiday rally, anywhere in the UK or Spain. You’ll get a magazine each month, and various discounts, including 10% off your motor home insurance, all for around £35 a year. Find out more about the rally programme and joining MCC here. Maybe I’ll see you at a rally soon!

Camping ground review – Les Jardins de L’Adour, St Vincent de Paul, near Dax, France

Tony and Paddy, relaxing on our huge pitch

Tony and Paddy, relaxing on our huge pitch

Once a year, we take a trip back to England with our Trigano Tribute 650 motor home. More often than not, we drive up through Spain and France, stopping off at camping grounds or aires en route. We never book these ahead of schedule, or plan the sites we’ll use, because you never know how long it will take you to get there. You could have a good run through, and not be ready to stop at your pre-booked site, or there could be an accident, road works or any number of other hold ups, and you may need to stop before you make base camp, or risk falling asleep at the wheel.

When we discovered Camping Les Jardins de L’Adour was just a couple of miles off route, at pretty much the time we decided to rest for the night, we were rather pleased. The site is small and intimate, with a mixture of touring pitches and lodges which can be hired for the season or just a week or two. Each of the generously sized pitches is marked off with hedges, and there are trees to provide much-needed shade. We are in the south of France, after all!

We happened to arrive just as the site manager was organising a boules tournament, so one of the seasonal residents kindly let us through the barrier, helped us find a pitch we liked with an electric hook up, and told us to find the manager later to pay. We happened to miss him more than once, and we were expecting him to come knocking for his money. He didn’t – and we didn’t pay until the following morning, by which time we’d decided to stay for a couple of nights and enjoy the site’s facilities, and the peace and quiet of the area.

There are lots of thoughtful little touches – like the child-sized toilet in the sanitation block, and the baby bath and changing area at just the right height. There’s also a free hairdryer, and the water in the washing up sinks is hot enough for the greasiest dishes.

The site provides free wifi in the bar area, and it can also be picked up outside the units if you’re close to the bar. What’s really great though is that they provide an extension lead, so you can plug in your laptop or tablet if the battery is running low. And there’s even a spare computer that anyone can use to check emails, or even what their friends are doing on Facebook and Twitter.

You can buy bread, croissants and basic supplies – including wine and beer – in the small on site shop, and there’s a library, as well as a facility for cycle hire. Well, it’s not actually hire, because you can borrow a bike for free. There’s also a heated swimming pool and barbecue area, and a field where you can exercise your dog. A word of caution here – although the rules state dogs must be on leads at all times, the four site dogs are always running around the site, so if your dog is not good with others, be sure to keep him under control.

With so many facilities, we were wondering how much we’d be paying for the privilege of staying at Camping Les

The rustic and welcoming bar area, where I sat and wrote this post

The rustic and welcoming bar area, where I sat and wrote this post

Jardins de L’Adour. We’ve been charged €20 or more per night for sites which were far inferior, both in layout and facilities. However, we loved the welcoming atmosphere, and the peacefulness, so we didn’t really care. And yes, dear reader, we were charged more than €20 – it was actually €22.20, but that was for two nights, not one.

So, if you’re looking for a reasonably priced stop over, or a relaxing place in the sun for your camping holiday in France, you’d go a long way to beat Camping Les Jardins de L’Adour. And it’s open throughout the year, unlike many French camping grounds. What’s not to love?

What’s wrong with Portugal?

Our trusty Trigano Tribute - all spruced up and ready for the trip to Portugal that wasn't

Our trusty Trigano Tribute – all spruced up and ready for the trip to Portugal that wasn’t

What’s wrong with Portugal? Nothing at all – in fact every single friend of ours who has ever been there has told us we really must go, because we’ll love it. And it’s not so far away, whether we go from our home on the Costa Blanca or take it in on the way back from visiting the family in England. It’s on our bucket list – along with Greece and Cyprus – so what’s holding us back? Well, fate is, to be honest.

Our first attempt at Portugal was in May 2013. We went to England for my niece’s wedding, and we were going to go home via Portugal. So far so good – until my daughter decided to have a brain stem stroke which kept us in England until August. Well, to be fair, I don’t think she actually decided to do it, but it happened, and the Portugal trip was cancelled. Luckily she made a pretty much perfect recovery, so we decided to re-book the trip for July 2014.

In March 2014, on St Patrick’s Day, Paddy came into our lives. He was a 6 week old rescue puppy with separation anxiety issues, and we didn’t think he’d cope with 24 hours in the kennels on the Pont Aven, as we sailed back from the annual visit to England. So, we cancelled the trip again, and travelled via Eurotunnel, so Paddy could stay with us all the time.

When we planned the 2015 England trip, we also planned the Portugal detour, but two things happened to stymie our plans. Tony’s passport expired, and we had problems getting it delivered, so I hopped over to England to collect it in person, so that our UK visit and Portugal trip could go ahead. Unfortunately, on a rainy day in Daventry, I slipped on a step and strained my intercostal muscles. And no, I hadn’t been drinking – it was 10.00 am – hours ahead of Vodka O’Clock. However, I couldn’t drive any distance for some time, so the Portugal trip was cancelled yet again.

I finally felt well enough for the drive to England about two weeks ago, so we decided to return via Santander and do Portugal on the way home. Once again, the gods conspired against us. By now, Paddy was over his separation anxiety and happily stayed in the kennels for the crossing to the UK. We were so pleased, we were actually looking forward to the return crossing, but alas, it was not to be. There were no kennels available until early October, and we needed to get back in September so we could help our friend Jane with her move to Spain. Besides, our upstairs neighbour Carl was doing the plant watering and fish feeding detail, so we could hardly say ‘By the way, we’ve extended the trip by a month, go and buy another carton of fish food.’

Well, I suppose we could have, but we’re not made like that. So, once again, the Portugal trip was off. We will sail into Roscoff and drive down through France and Spain, so the drive into Portugal is just a tad too far – especially as the intercostal muscles are still not fighting fit.

We’d just about resigned ourselves to crossing Portugal off the bucket list – status can’t bloody manage it – when today we had a phone call from our fellow motor caravanner and friend, Glenys. The Motorcaravanners’ Club are doing a holiday rally to Portugal in March 2016. It may be cold and windy at that time of year, down there in Lagos in the Algarve – I thought Lagos was in Nigeria, or is there another one – but at least we’ll get there. Hopefully. And if we don’t, maybe we need to accept that we’re not meant to go there. It will be the fifth time of asking, after all. But for now, at least, we’re Dreaming Portugal.

Can you guess what it is yet?

That was Tony’s question to me when he proudly came up the terrace steps with the red monstrosity you see illustrated in the slideshow above. You’ll be pleased to know he hasn’t turned into Rolf Harris overnight – hell, I’m delighted about that. And he made said monstrosity in red, because he knows it’s my favourite colour, bless him. So, what is this monstrosity then? Well, it’s a home made air conditioning unit and, dear reader, it works, although it doesn’t look good or sound good.

Why do we need an aircon unit for the motor home? Basically because our lovely Trigano Tribute isn’t a top of the range model, and it doesn’t have aircon as standard. Once a year, we do a trip through Spain and France, back to the UK. It’s our annual holiday, because let’s face it, we live in the holiday capital of Spain – the Costa Blanca. When we get away, we like to do something different, so we drive up through Spain and France, stopping off when we feel like it. When we get to England, we tootle around visiting a few friends in far flung places before we head to our static caravan in Bigbury Bay and give the motor home a well earned rest before making the return journey.

Until now, we’ve done okay with a fan mounted on the dashboard. Whether it’s because I’m getting older or the summers are getting hotter I don’t know, but last year we had a pretty terrifying experience. Three or four hours into the journey, I nodded off behind the wheel. It’s the first time I’ve ever done such a thing in almost 30 years of driving – and I sincerely hope it’s the last. One minute we’re cruising along an almost empty Spanish autovia, and the next, there’s a horrible crunching sound, and Tony’s shouting, ‘Oh my goodness – what happened there?’ Or words to that effect.

What happened there was that I’d nodded off in the heat, and the motor home had got up close and personal with the crash barrier. Luckily we weren’t on the hairpin bends through the Pyrenees, luckily the motorway was deserted on a Saturday afternoon, luckily I regained control of the vehicle as it bounced off the crash barrier – so much luck, and no way was I prepared to push it again.

We came out of the experience unscathed, and so did the motor home really. It will cost around €1200 to restore her to her former glory. Set against the ‘What Ifs,’ that’s neither here nor there. However, I know my limitations, and as the only driver now – the insurance for Tony at 81 is prohibitive, and in any case, he admits he’s not up to driving across continents these days – Something Had To Be Done before we made the trip again.

Now, Tony may not be up to driving long distances any more, but he has got a technical head on those 81 year old, arthritic shoulders of his. So, he went on the Internet in search of a solution. The solution he’s come up with isn’t pretty, and it’s noisy, but it works. Basically, it’s a bucket, full of ice blocks, with holes in the sides and an upside down, battery powered fan in the lid. Three bottomless plastic picnic beakers set into the side of the bucket blow out the cold air. Dear readers, I have to say I got a touch excited when Tony mentioned bottomless beakers – I thought they were for my cava and vodka, but alas, I was mistaken.

Still, credit where it’s due, it does the job, and it can run off mains or battery. The ice blocks are those plastic litre bottles they sell in the airports in the duty paid and duty free shops. There are 7 in use, and Tony said emptying them was the best part of the project. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? It’s yet to be road tested, but it’s been running indoors for a few hours with no problems – apart from Paddy trying to kill it, that is. Sometimes it’s very handy having a handy husband!

Parking or camping? The traffic cops explain

If you want to get out the tables and chairs in Spain and France, stay legal and book a campsite.

If you want to get out the tables and chairs in Spain and France, stay legal and book a campsite.

Europe is much more motor home friendly than the UK, and that means that sometimes motorcaravanners from all over the place just pitch anywhere for free. On the long drive through Spain and France, we’ve occasionally parked up for the night when we couldn’t find a campsite or a safe truck stop, and we always wondered if we were unintentionally breaking the law.

However, this new Facebook page seems to explain it well, along with all other traffic-related matters. It’s run by the Torrevieja Traffic Department, and they post articles and short posts about the traffic laws in Spain, as well as answering questions from followers.

It’s illegal to discriminate against motor home drivers, and local authorities cannot ban motor homes from parking in an area where other vehicles are allowed to park. However, all vehicles must respect the parking guidelines, so if there is a parking area marked off along a residential street, you can park there, but you must keep the vehicle within the marked area. It’s the same with parking spaces on a car park. Park within the lined spaces, even if you need to take up two bays.

When the motor home is parked and the engine is turned off, you can eat in it or sleep in it. However, if you put out the awning, or get the tables and chairs out, you are classed as camping, and that is illegal. So basically, all those people around Playa Flamenca and La Marina who have their generators out, the satellite dishes set up for TV and the tables and chairs tastefully arranged are breaking the law. And it’s also illegal to dispose of your waste water just anywhere. The same rules apply in France, and in fact some Aires where you are permitted to park up overnight for free or for a small charge also stipulate that you mustn’t set up awnings or camping furniture. This applies particularly to Aires in town centres.

The best plan would seem to be to use wild camping wisely – think parking not camping. If you want the tables and chairs out, take them down to the beach or into the countryside, or book into a  campsite,  but don’t set up your tapas table right outside somebody’s casa. That’s just good manners anyway, isn’t it?

Another option – which many motorcaravanners don’t seem to know about – is to park up at a ‘Venta.’ That’s an independent roadhouse, rather than one of the chains of eateries that are strung out over Spain’s autopistas. You’ll need to come of the motorway to find one, but if you go in and buy a meal, they’ll be happy to allow you to park up overnight for free. In most ventas, a home cooked meal for two will cost less than a night on a campsite anyway, and you can really relax and enjoy your overnight stop.

Again – remember it’s parking not camping, so don’t get out your collapsible rotary drier and wash your smalls in the car park. It will only put people off their dinner, and the venta owner won’t want that! When you’re looking for an overnight stop with a motor home in Spain – which is a very motor home friendly country – just remember you need to be people friendly, and park up in a way that won’t cause annoyance or disturbance to others. It’s all about good manners, as I said before.

Google+