Thursday, 29 May 2014

Zarautz 22nd to 29th May

Our original plan was to be in Biarritz at this time and then travel up through France, stopping at La Rochelle, Bordeau, Alencon, Boulgne, each for at least two nights and then a short hop to Calais.  However we’d left a couple of days earlier from La Manga than we needed to and then decided that we’d only do one two-night stop on the way up.  Just enough time to find a vet and get the necessary done with the dog on route.

This would give us four more days in the area so we decided that as the weather was taking a turn for the worse we’d stay for 7 nights in Zarautz. We might as well be sitting in Zarautz in the rain as anywhere else, it might be raining but it might be a bit warmer.

The first evening we arrived we hadn’t been shopping and so thought we’d eat in the campsite restaurant. Iain thought it was ok, but I wasn’t impressed at all.  It was expensive for what we got and I hate meals without any vegetables at all.  But I was so knackered from the horrendous drive that I didn’t really care, it was just fuel – oh no not that word.

The following day it rained quite heavily in the morning. For me it was a chance to do some well needed housework, catch up on my blog and maybe do some of the “indoor” things that I just haven’t been doing with the weather being nice. Since leaving the house I have been carrying two boxes of old family photos that I have been intending to scan in and then get rid of and we’re still carrying them around. We were desperate to do some washing but with the weather I didn’t want to have it hanging around damp in the van, so that would have to wait for another day.

I have hardly been doing any “craft” stuff at all, as I said when the weather is nice and you want to be outdoors you can’t really get out all your “bits” as often they will blow away.

The other things I had intended to do, if you have read my blog from months ago, was to bake cakes.  I had thought that rather than making “stuff” that would clutter up the van I could make cakes and sweets and then destroy the evidence.  We’ll I’d done nothing. I had heard that the Remoska bakes cakes quite successfully so I had been carrying a cake mix with us for ages just to try it out.  So today – I baked a cake.  No I’m not feeling ill.  Actually although the cake mix was for cup-cakes I used the Remoska as a cake tin, which was a bit big so it was a bit of a flat cake, but hey it tasted good and didn’t last very long. 

In the afternoon we took a walk.  Now remember that I said the campsite was on the top of a hill, well whichever direction we took would mean a downhill first and then an uphill.  The views from up here are quite splendid and we found the Mollari mineral loading bay quite unexpectedly.  This is where for about 20 years in the early 20th century the hematite was brought down the hills by a system of cable buckets and loaded onto ships off the coast.  We walked down to the exhibition area which had pictures and information that gave a good idea of how it all worked.  There is nothing there now except the support bases and the holding warehouse but it was still quite interesting. A cantilever bridge was situated on the farthest of the rocks to load the ships.

I'm still lagging behind but there's no pink rucksack in sight

 When we arrived at the site the guy in reception said "Nice car, we don't get many as big as that up here" then the following day this arrived, three slideouts, Spanish registered and driven by an ex-pat Dutchman.
With Fiat 500 in tow - at least they can go shopping

 The following day (Saturday) we forecast to be the best day of the next few weather-wise and we also needed to get some essential supplies, actually food for a change, not wine, so we took the coastal path down into the town.  As I said from here everything was down which meant that the way back could only be up.  We took two rucksacks with the intention of ONLY getting anything that was essential.
View from just outside the campsite

Part of the way into town meant walking on the beach which the dog loved. The town itself was very pleasant and the beach is the longest in the Basque area and is a surfers paradise.  We had a walk around and a well-earned beer and then made our way back up the steep hill to the campsite.  I have to admit that we had to stop a few times for a rest and we were very glad when we got back.  Even though she hadn’t refused at all on the way back, the dog collapsed on the grass and fell asleep almost immediately.  I do like a day when you actually feel that you have done something rather than just sitting around.

Pink rucksack again.

Shame about the lift, or is it a public toilet with a view

One man and his dog

Connie making the most of the local facilities

A surfers paradise

Spot the campsite at the top of the bright green, almost at the top
You can just make out the path up the hill
I stopped for a rest here about 2/3 of the way up

On (Sunday) the forecast wasn't good so we were mostly confined to barracks.  About 2pm the dog started her nag to go for a walk so we took her out.  Of course it started to rain (or were we just in the clouds) and I have to admit that it’s the first day since 29th December that I had worn a coat. We had also forgotten what it’s like to have a wet smelly dog in the van.

We went out of the campsite and took the road, this is when we found the road that we would have come up a few days before had we not gone back up the way we had come down. It was very tiny and windy as we had thought it may be, but what surprised us most was the sign at the top saying nothing over 15 tonnes.

A church on it's own at the top of the hill

View down to Orio harbour. To the left is the road that we might have come up
 Then we took a look to see the route into town if we went along the road and also to have a look at the way down next week.  The photo below shows the route out of the campsite. I’d better not look again or I will be having nightmares about leaving.  I said we should stay here forever.
It will be very slowly down this hill away from the campsite
Whilst the weather isn't that bad, we must have got acclimatised to the warmth as we're feeling pretty cold. We've actually had the heating on to take the chill off the air and it's a warm 18 C.  Even the dog is feeling the difference and making the most of a warm blanket. 

The campsite itself if pretty big, although quiet this time of year and it is terraced with mainly small pitches. We suspect that during the summer this site would be rammed full with young people!!!! Yes, we haven't seen many of them during the last 5 months.  The beach is a real surfers paradise and apparently the population of the town swells from 23,000 to 60,000 in the summer - well they all have to stay somewhere and although it's a real hike to the beach, I'll bet this campsite comes alive during July and August.

We had some new neighbours who are also full-timing (G &A) and they have the luxury of a car with them. They very kindly took pity on us and took me to the supermarket so that we could get some supplies that weren't just the "essentials".  The campsite does have a shop and it's ok for bread and a bit of ham or cheese oh and of course the essential beer or two but that's about it, so unless you want to eat in their restaurant every night you really do need to get into town. We have eaten in the bar a couple of nights and funnily enough it's the same menu as the restaurant but with a couple of hamburger choices added.  This time we ordered their rationes which is a double size tapas and three of them between us was plenty for dinner.  I'm only including this in case anyone wants to come here, maybe I did the restaurant an injustice.

Having walked into town on Saturday we knew we would do it again before we left and looking at the weather forecast, chose Tuesday, the weather was great on Tuesday and it was actually a bit warm, so we decided to have a lazy day at the campsite and do the walk manana.

G & A gave us some books and one was To Kill a Mockingbird, now that's a book that I'd actually been keeping my eye out for for some time so I was straight in there. I read the whole book in less than 24 hours and was totally immersed.  I'm sure I'm the worlds most boring person when I've got my head stuck in a book, that's why I don't actually read that much.

Wednesday came, our last full day on the campsite and it was raining in the morning. Oh well it was our last day so we had to make that walk. After finishing my book it looked like the weather was going to pick up so we had a very early lunch and then headed off into town.  I really like walking but I just don't do hills very well and as I'd said before every direction from here is downhill, so it's uphill all the way back.  It's not that far into town, about 1 and a half miles and this time we chose to walk down the roadway instead of the footpath.  Now this is the downside of having a dog, we could have gone into town and got a taxi back - but the dog can't go in the taxi so it would have meant leaving her behind, but I have this sort of thing that if we are going for a decent walk then it's such a shame not to take the dog because she still needs to be walked when you return, so the only option was to get on with it and walk both ways.

It was pretty rainy all the way down but just after we got into town it poured. We got absolutely soaked and we had to also get back up that hill.  When I say soaked, by the time we got back we were wet through all layers.  The dog didn't look too happy either.  So it was a quick dry off for the dog and a change of clothes for us and hey presto the rain stopped.  Oh well.

So that's it, I'm totally up-to-date with my news.  Today we are off again, definitely back into France now on our way to England, no definite plan and as we've got to find a vet on route and stupidly two of the days we could use the vet are on Saturday and Sunday (you only get a 4 day window to see the vet) we might have to delay our return by a day or two, but the first thing we will do when we leave here is .................. you guessed it ..... get some LPG.

Oh and I still haven't scanned those old family photos.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

St Jean de Luz to Zarautz – 22nd May - One we will never forget!

Still on catch up - 3 posts today, for chronological order read Valladolid to San Sebastian to St Jean de Luz, then St Jean de Luz first.


Well I can only sum up this day as one of mistakes – too many.  No pictures today, no time to take pictures, just text – sorry it’s so long but it felt like a very long day - one of our shortest journeys ever and one of the longest.

We set off from out of the campsite with no problems – that’s about as good as it gets.

This was meant to be a short hop of less than an hour to Zarautz, just the other side of San Sebastian but felt like it took a month.

Just for a change we didn’t need to get LPG – even though we were now on reserve.  The nearest LPG station was in San Sebastian but we’ve done 90 miles on reserve before however I wasn’t sure actually when it had gone onto reserve.  Still we had half a tank of petrol so it didn’t matter if we used a bit – mistake No 1 – explanation further on.

Mistake No 2. I clipped a curb getting out of St Jean de Luz, it was one of those that just stuck out on a roundabout on a narrow road.  It was quite a clip and it sounded like everything in the van had bounced about 2 feet in the air.  Well you get used to what I call “settlement noises” as all the things that have been shoved into cupboards settle into a place and stop rattling, but this was quite a bang.  A little further down the road I thought I could hear a cupboard door opening and banging shut again.  Iain assured me that he had shut all the cupboards properly but I was convinced I could hear things dropping into the sink. A quick check revealed that the bang had caused the catch to open and indeed this was the banging noise.  No damage done, cupboard closed and on our way, but this had unsettled me.

We picked up the motorway and headed off.  I didn’t feel comfortable when we approached the toll booth but got through ok,  I just wasn’t feeling confident today and said so. I forgot to mention that I had cut up a log lorry a couple of days ago just outside San Sebastian and it had upset my confidence quite a bit.  When overtaking, I usually try to do so on a straight section of road, I pull out, get my line right and then go for it foot hard down.  I had become quite confident recently and even managed to overtake 3 lorries in one go a few days before, very successfully with no wobbly legs. However, when doing lots of ups and downs, if you are stuck behind a lorry you can be going very slowly on the ups, which makes it easy to overtake but it takes a long time.  If you wait until you start to go down then they start picking up speed and you have to go even faster to overtake.   Well when you are going around the mountains there are a lot of ups and downs and bends so unless you want to go at 40mph on all the ups you have to pick your times.  It was on an up at 40mph that I decided to take on the log lorry.  I pulled out but didn’t realise until I was committed that there was a right-hand bend coming up.  I just got the line totally wrong and came across too close into his lane.  He was not a happy bunny.  Lots of hooting and quite a loud shout from Iain and I moved over to the left very quickly.  Iain said after that the poor lorry driver had had to move over onto the hard shoulder to avoid me. Again no harm done but this was really the closest shave that we had had.  Now it sounds like my driving is terrible, well it’s not, it’s just that I’m driving a wide truck and unlike when driving a car, you have very little margin for error. I take my hat off to the long-distance lorry drivers that do it for a living. But it had shaken me and my confidence quite a bit.

Back to the journey, shortly after joining the motorway the SatNag became the SatNaff.  It had no clue where we were and thought we were in the middle of a field.  I always get nervous when this happens fairly near to where you want to go as you can go miles past a junction without realising it. The journey had seemed so simple when we programmed the SatNag so didn’t do the necessary cross checking with the map.

Anyway in a panic I decided to take the exit to San Sebastian – mistake No 2, especially as I was on the road to Bilbao and we weren’t going far from Bilbao. The SatNag soon realised that we were going the wrong way – and nagged and nagged.  Anyway it wanted us to go alongside the river for about half a mile and then turn left and left again to come back parallel to the way I was travelling. I had a view of the SatNag and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t telling me to turn left earlier,there were plenty of interconnecting roads.  Then we saw a sign post to turn left that looked hopeful but the towns mentioned couldn’t be found on the map (we really must get a better map next year) so Iain said we should follow the SatNag – another mistake. When the  SatNag finally wanted us to turn left it was a “no left turn”.  Then it re-programmed and wanted us to go a lot further down and cross the river and come back up the other side –but that really didn’t feel right.

So I took a left a bit further along and this unfortunately brought me into the city centre. Lots of narrow roads and “wing mirror in” times. However there were signs back to the motorway so at least we were heading out of San Sebastian.  I still (for some unknown reason) had it in my mind that I should not be on the motorway, so when the SatNag finally said – Keep Left – I could see that that would take me back on the motorway and for some other unknown reason I “kept right”.  So here we were again, this time going under the road bearing left, when we should have been on the road above bearing right.  Ok, keep calm, find somewhere to stop and then re-assess.

The SatNag was doing it’s best “turn around where possible” and we came up to a roundabout.  And of course it was another one of those London Underground sorts, but I was ready for it this time.  I politely asked Iain to stop shouting at me as I was doing my best and he informed me that he was also doing “his best” to stay calm. Safely around we headed back into San Sebastian to find the correct route out. Back to a roundabout that we had seen before, so around the roundabout and back to the point where the SatNag had said “Keep Left”, this time, although it took a bit of arguing I did “Keep Left” and we joined the motorway that we had previously left about half an hour earlier.

Stress levels had risen dramatically but at least we were back on the right road – for now – and that was just the warm up for what was to come. We had now been to San Sebastian 3 times and still hadn't seen the place.  I never want to go there again.

It was only a few junctions before we were to pull off so we didn’t really have time to recover.

Then we had to follow the SatNag to Zarautz.  We pulled off at the correct junction and that’s when it all went wrong. Crossing a roundabout I noticed some signs to some campsites but we did not recognise the names of the sites so we blindly followed the SatNag.  In fairness Iain was also following the directions in the ACSI book. We turned right at the roundabout and the SatNag then said to turn left.  BUT THE JUNCTION WAS CLOSED. Of course I had to go past and we heard the dulcet tones of  the SatNag’s  “Turn around when possible”.  Do you think I could find somewhere to turn around – not a chance.   Not only that but the road was getting narrower and suddenly we found ourselves on a 7% descent. One narrow lane each way and lorries coming in the other direction.  And with a sharp hairpin bend half-way down, with no extra space to be found either side. Terrified but safely, we reached the bottom and found ourselves on the outskirts of a town called Orio. 

I pulled over to the harbour area to the left and just stopped and turned off the engine to rest and recouperate.  By this time I was on the verge of tears and this was the first time I’d been that bad since France last year.  So I turned off the engine and said – “time to calm down”. We were only 3 miles from the campsite.  

Now what to do next.  There was a road alongside the harbour which was going in the right direction and that’s the way the SatNag wanted us to go, but I said to Iain that  whilst not being far from the campsite, I knew that the campsite was at the top of a hill, so it was likely that if we could get up there it would be a very steep hill the other side of the bridge we could see, probably with a narrow road.  Whatever there may be no way to turn around.

The choice was fear of the unknown, or fear of what we had just experienced. The only option was to go back up the way we had come down. So feeling brave I swung the motorhome around and we headed back up the 7% incline, with a huge lorry following us.

Now, did I mention that hairpin bend before? – coming down we were on the outside, but going up we were to be on the inside – at least we couldn’t drop off the hill from this side. However when approaching the hairpin bend, I slowed right down to be in total control of this large heavy machine and as I applied my brakes and I thought they felt really spongy.  I put my foot down hard and they were really really spongy.  OMG I realised that I had no brakes.  OMG I realised  that was because there was no servo assist – OMG that was because the engine had stopped – OMG that was because wait for it - we had run out of  LPG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  and it hadn’t clicked over to petrol but had cut out.

So here we were, stopped right at the apex of the bend, with a huge white lorry bearing down on us, or bearing up on us.  I quickly put the hazard lights on and set to what to do next.  I put the motorhome into park, applied the foot brake (handbrake on a car) and took a deep breath.  I turned off the ignition and then turned it back on and hey presto the engine started, it always starts on petrol  anyway.  

Now I just had to do a hill start on a 7% incline around a hairpin bend. I wasn’t sure how close the lorry had stopped behind us and knew that drive would still cause us to roll backwards a bit before I could get the revs up – so it was a handbrake start for me or alternatively a two footed start with one on the brake and one on the accelerator.  I don’t drive two footed so chose the handbrake start which I’d only actually had to do once before and not under such pressure.  The lorry driver was another not very happy bunny, blasting his horn at me,  but this time it was not my fault.  I managed the handbrake start without running backwards and off we went again.

Back to the roundabout that I’d turned right at and took the first exit which was the one signposted to the right campsite all along.

We knew that the campsite was at the top of a hill and was a terraced site (learned our lessons at Playa de Aro) so we knew that we still had more to come.  The hill was nothing though compared to what we’d just been through.  Even though there was a huge drainage ditch on the near-side I could do anything by then, this narrow road felt a mile wide.  Up into the campsite, we stopped at reception.  Iain asked me how long he should book in for and I said FOREVER.

The terracing wasn’t too bad and a very nice man guided us to our pitch on his little three wheeled scooter.  I parked up got out and Iain poured me a very large glass of wine, it was some time later before we could laugh about it or was it just hysteria taking over.

Why do we torture ourselves like this? Are adventures supposed to take you to the emotional limits? It should be so nice just travelling around enjoying the scenery and exploring some lovely places.  I just seem to live every journey in a state of terror.

Anyway we’ve booked in for a whole week – should be time to relax and prepare ourselves for the next journey, or will time simply heal the pain and we’ll actually forget how bad it was.

I must admit thought that writing this and talking through it with Iain we have been laughing at how ridiculous the "Day to Remember" turned out to be. 

Our first stop when we leave here will be to get LPG and where will we find it - you guessed it - San Sebastian.

When choosing a route we always avoid wiggly roads where possible, that always means a narrow road with sharp incline or descent, normally with a big drop on one side and a steep cliff the other. I thought I'd share with you an image of the road to hell and back.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

St Jean de Luz

I'm still on catch up so I've got two posts for you today.  For chronological order read the Valladolid to San Sebastian one first.

St Jean de Luz

It was around 5pm when we arrived at the campsite.  I pulled into what seemed a small reception area with a roundabout in the middle.

 Before even introducing ourselves at reception, this very smily Spanish gentleman beckoned for me to get into the front of his electric golf buggy and then for Iain to get into the back.  Typical Spanish, the woman in the front!!!

Then he shot off. Down the narrow campsite lanes and out through the smallest gap in the fence.  I’m sure that he has done this many, many times and has the gate open just enough for him to get through.  There must have been half an inch each side as he wizzed through.  It must be his party piece and loves to do it just to scare his passengers.  Off onto the road and then back onto the campsite at another entrance.  This campsite had about 150 pitches and he was taking us around to find us a suitable pitch.  We selected one and he headed off back to reception.  He was very pleasant and it was a bit of fun being paraded around in a golf buggy, we've never had that service before.  I’d love to get one. Just the roundabout to manouver, a bit tricky back and forth but hey I'm used to this sort of stuff now.

We booked in for 3 nights and a result here and one which makes me happy, even happier than having a swimming pool, or being near water -  free WIFI. 

Now it’s my theory that it’s the poshest campsites that charge for WIFI and it can be quite expensive, about 2 Euros a day if you have it short term and about 20 Euros for a month.  My reasoning for this is that they got onto the WIFI band waggon early when it was very expensive and have tied themselves into long contracts with WIFI providers, the cost of which is charged to the customer by the WIFI provider and the campsite gets a cut.  The smaller sites could not afford it at the beginning so waited and now it’s so cheap to provide, they do it for free.  Even if you pay for it, there’s no guarantee of good broadband speed.  Most people think that the signal is the problem but actually it’s the broadband speed, not the signal.  Check out my tips page for more information on extending your wifi range.

Back to the campsite.  We got parked up and as it was quite late and we’d had a long day we thought we’d eat at the campsite restaurant.  Boy was it expensive, well compared to Spain anyway. So we had a look at a nearby restaurant and that was the same.  Decision made, we’d make do with what we had.

We had already checked out the weather forecast and it wasn’t good for anywhere near to us so we knew that we’d just have to put up with it.  That evening I thought I would go to bed early but for some reason it didn’t happen.  There was a storm brewing out at sea and the lightening was very interesting to say the least, flashing every few seconds and then a rest, followed by more lightening.  Then the thunder started.  I stayed up until about 2am watching the storm which of course included some heavy rain. Rain like that we had last seen 5 months ago in England just before we left.  I finally went to bed and about 3:45 I was awoken by a great bang.  I raised myself to look out of the small window by the side of the bed and suddenly there was an almighty flash of light, followed immediately by a crash of thunder.  It looked and sounded like the sky had exploded and made me jump so much that I fell back into bed.  Amazingly this had not upset the dog at all, she who normally quivers and shakes with so much as a thunder rattle like Chicken Licken afraid that the sky is falling down.

I managed to get back to sleep and then the storm came back again, this time with hail stones beating down on us like bricks.  That’s a lovely Brummie expression, a brick is anything larger than a small pebble. Of course any motorhomers will know that any rain or hail stones always sound a lot worse than they actually are.  With the storm abated it was finally back to sleep.

The following day the weather was better and the forecast not too bad so we walked into St Jean de Luz.  Not too far, about 2.5km but too much up and down to take the bikes avec buggy. This is a pretty place and there looks like a very nice aire near to the town centre. The harbour area was pretty and the town centre was pleasant. I thought I had taken some photos but can’t find any of the town centre so obviously I didn’t.

I'm getting good at these panoramic shots -even though I say so myself.

Seafront, showing the flood defences

On the way back to the campsite

We searched and searched for a supermarket but all we found was a convenience store where I bought a couple of portions of chicken and half a dozen eggs – and this cost nearly 8 Euros.  We stopped for a well-earned rest and a pint and a half was 8.6 Euros – not like the 3.5 that we’d been used to spending in Spain.  At this rate our 7 days in St Jean de Luz and Biarritz was looking doubtful, the weather wasn’t very good and it was expensive, and we’d got another 8 days to use up before needing to start the journey north.  We reassessed our plans and our options were:

1. Weather bad everywhere, so why not go home early. Mmmm that would mean getting back to the UK for the bank holiday weekend and kicking our heels for a  week.

2.  Head further north into France – mmm still expensive and weather not that good.

3. Go back into Spain – the weather forecast wasn’t good there either but at least it wouldn’t be so expensive – and we could pick up that cheap tobacco. 

Now we’re not on a tight budget but there’s no point in wasting money either. Talking about being on a budget I’ve decided that this year will be classed as our gap year.  Most people take a gap year to travel between full-time studying and work.  We didn’t do that in our time so we’re having our gap year now – between full-time work and pension. And then we'll just be retired and not on a gap year any more, but still travelling. And just to clarify, private pension that is, we’ve both got another 13 years before we get our old-age pension.

Where was I, oh yes, what were we to do next? Well we had booked in for 3 nights so we had another night to think about it.

The following day brought heavy rain in the morning.............
Just a shower - it will brighten up later

but when it cleared up we took the dog for a walk the other way out of the campsite.  Not a particularly long walk this time but quite pretty.

Bay towards Biarritz in the background

Turn around and view the mountains

From just up the road from the Campsite looking towards St Jean de Luz

All in all, we did like St Jean de Luz and the campsite.  The facilities were ok but the man in the buggy was so friendly and welcoming that it made it a really nice place to stay.

Our next trip then – back into Spain for 7 nights.  The ACSI book showed three campsites between San Sebastian and Bilbao so we chose the nearest one that accepted dogs and was suitable for larger motorhomes – unfortunately it is up on top of a hill – and terraced.

Next Installment – St Jean de Luz to Zarultz only 30 miles and 50 minutes but………..  the drive from hell – wait for it - this one’s well worth the read – the scariest trip yet – I never ever want to drive again.

Valladolid to San Sebastian to St Jean de Luz – 235 miles - 19th May

As planned we got away early.  It was 8.40 am and I suddenly realised the time.  We had got up early and it’s amazing how quickly an hour can pass when you are busy doing nothing.  I shrieked “We’d better get our a**es in gear”.  We were almost ready and in only another 5 minutes we had finished getting the van ready to leave.  That’s the beauty of not getting anything out.

So here we were again – top priority – get LPG.  I had checked the SatNag and there was an LPG station only 2 miles away, just off the dual carriageway on our way out of town.  This must be easy!!!!! Actually yes, just a couple of glitches this time.  One it took us onto a sliproad with a Repsol garage in sight – only that wasn’t the Repsol garage that we were looking for but it was the right direction and 2.  In Spain they have some very strange roundabouts on main roads. They are a bit like the London Underground Sign.  A roundabout with the dual carriageway running down the middle and traffic lights all over the place. 

Well I had to go all the way around the roundabout and back down the other side of the road to get to the entrance for the garage. However, what I managed to do was to get onto the roundabout and then cut across it as if I was turning left – Oh no no no!!!!! You are then stuck in the middle of the road with nowhere to go and no view of the traffic lights to tell you when you can go.  The consensus of opinion was to wait until the traffic coming towards me on the dual carriageway stops for their lights and then just go for it!!! 

I hope the picture explains it better.  The black line shows how I should have done it and the yellow one shows the actual route taken.  It’s so difficult when you are driving and concentrating on where you are in the current road to see where you should be on the next one.

A bit of adrenalin flowing but no harm done, we crossed the road safely and got into the garage.  Phew! That was the easiest one yet. 

Refuelled we got on our way to San Sebastian.

Now all the time when we’d been on the central plain I had been saying that what goes up must come down.  There had to be a time when we would be coming down to the coast.  For miles and miles we had no more than a slight downhill slope and we were getting closer and closer to the coast.
Finally it hit us, a 6% descent – we hadn’t seen anything like that since the Massif Central in France just after Christmas.  This was fun!

Finally we reached San Sebastian and it was only just lunchtime.

San Sebastian  - just a short visit.

I had suggested that we go to San Sebastian to have a look and to stay at an aire for a couple of nights.  It is supposed to be a popular holiday town so we thought it would be a good place to stop, do our shopping before we crossed the border – just the essentials of course, wine, brandy, whiskey and tobacco.
Again things didn’t quite go to plan.

Having made an early start, we arrived at the aire at about 12.30pm, nice and early and in time for lunch.  We thought we’d have lunch and then walk into town which was only about 1 mile away.
The aire itself was quite nice, green, contained the necessaries and was backed up to a cliff and in a car park near to what looked like a college.

We paid for the overnight stay which was only about 3.5 Euros and then had lunch and a rest after the journey. We planned to go into town at about 2pm. There were about 10 other vans parked up and only one seemed to be currently occupied, by a young Spanish couple.  While we were sitting around relaxing a van drove around with a rough looking man in it looking at all the vans.  A short while later he drove round again and then left.  Then Iain saw a battered old Volvo drive around looking at the vans.  When he went to throw some rubbish away he saw the same car with a middle-aged man and a child in it, parked by the bins, behind the hedge where it couldn’t be seen by anyone in the motorhomes.

Now we have never been afraid when parked on aires before and we didn’t feel uncomfortable staying here overnight, especially as we have one of the best burglar alarms in the world – a dog, but it just didn’t feel right.  Even though the car left, eventually, as Iain said, small boys are great for pushing through sky-lights. There was no guarantee that the car, or the van would not come back.  There was no reason for either of them to be in the motorhome parking area  and certainly not to be hanging around there.

There was no way that we were going to leave the van empty in this car park.  It is our home after all and you carry a lot more important “stuff” than you would if you were on holiday.  If we couldn’t leave the van unattended then there was no point in being in San Sebastian.  We quickly decided that we were not happy to stay here and that even though we’d already paid for the night we would move on.  Better safe than sorry.
Luckily it was still only 3pm and although we’d already done over 200 miles we were feeling pretty fresh and we had plenty of time before dark.  As we were on our way home, we decided to move up into France, but decided to go to Saint Jean de Luz,  about 20 miles away on the way to Biarritz. We were then hoping that we would find a supermarket on the way, near to the border so that we could do our “stocking up”.

Luckily just on the border there is a supermarket, at Irun so we stopped and shopped for the necessaries. Unfortunately there are no tobacconists at the shopping centre, however for the smokers reading you can buy cartons of cigarettes at many of the cafes there, but I’m not sure if they take credit cards.  As Iain wanted to buy tobacco that was a bit of a disappointment but c’est la vie, it's not that much more expensive in France.

We then decided not to go back onto the peage which was a bit of a mistake as the roads from Irun to Saint Jean de Luz were not the best, however we arrived at our campsite without any major drama.
We felt that we had made the right decision not to stay in San Sebastian.

So here we were at Camping Ferme Erromardie on the north side of St Jean de Luz.

Off to Valladolid - 17th May

I know that I’m on catch up but we have been doing so much that I haven’t had the time or energy to write my blog.  I can’t believe that less than two weeks ago we were in La Manga, it seems like a lifetime ago.
Anyway we were on the move again.  Our plan had always been to leave Toledo and go up to Zaragoza, then Pamplona and then move into France to the Biarritz area.  But I’m sure that you have noticed by now that these plans are not cast in stone and can change quite quickly.

Toledo to  Zaragoza Valladolid

We had been keeping an eye on the weather and also there was no ACSI site in Zaragoza and as we had had 5 nights at 30 Euros a night we thought we’d change direction and stay on an aire for a few nights.  Valladolid seemed a decent distance from Toledo, the old capital of Spain so we thought it might be interesting and also saves us some miles. Our plan then changed  to Toledo, to Valladolid, San Sebastian and then onto Biarritz.

So off to Valladolid – some 180 miles – but first – apart from the necessary full and empty we had to find LPG.  Was this going to be third time lucky?

I had programmed the SatNag to go to Valladolid, via the LPG station in Toledo.  I had looked at the map and it seemed quite straight forward to get there, using main roads – fantastic.  But then just as we were pulling away, I must have touched the screen while putting it on the stand and I saw the fateful message “Reprogramming” come up – OMG – not again. However when the reprogramming had finished it showed the correct number of miles (ish) so I thought it had just reprogrammed the route again.  

With Mr. Technophobe in the navigators seat I didn’t think it was worth asking him to check it so I just hoped for the best.  We continued on our way.  However the SatNag had reprogrammed the route to Valladolid, but had now forgotten the waypoint of the LPG station. It was only when we realised that we were about to get onto the main road to Madrid that I decided to turn right at the roundabout instead of left and pulled into a sports centre to check.  We were now about 5 miles out of our way from the LPG station.  

As I’ve said before LPG is only found in the major cities and towns so you can’t just go to the next one on route as this can be over 100 miles away.

Of course the sports centre took us up a hill and with horrible adverse cambers I had to turn the van around and get back on track. 

Reprogrammed, it was back into the city and out on another direction. Actually of the past three LPG stations we had to find this turned out to be the easiest.  Was this to be a good omen?

Back on the road again towards Madrid.

As usual we decided to take the paeage as the quickest route towards Madrid.  Now in Spain you can’t even guarantee that the paeage will have the best road surface.  It would appear over here that if there is a bad surface that instead of fixing the bad bumps or holes all they do is put some signs up, pain the road lines yellow instead of white and put a speed restriction on.  When you are pulling the load that we have this can still be very bumpy, even at slower speeds and of course it sounds as though everything is falling out of the cupboards.  That’s one good thing about a motorhome rather than a caravan, you have no idea what’s going on in a caravan until you get to your destination.  At least we can adjust driving to suit.  We found at least 4 stretches of  “bumpy road”.   

Further on the road surface deteriorated again.  The dual carriageway into Madrid was a concrete surface just like the M42 and it was a real shake rattle and roll all the way to Madrid.  I have never been so envious of the people on the other side of the road before as when I looked over to the other side of the road they had a lovely smooth tarmac.  Obviously Spain want people to leave Madrid rather than arrive.

Luckily the SatNag took us around the best road to avoid Madrid.  We had no intention of trying to drive through Madrid and my attitude was that we had survived the Peripherique around France so this should not be a problem.  No worries we were around Madrid and on our way to Vallidolid without any issues.

By now it was lunchtime and  I had noticed that the next service area was 23km away, so we stopped on the first picnic site off the ringroad.  It wasn’t a very pleasant site but at least it was proper parking.  Had we known,  just about 5 miles further on there was a lovely picnic area with lovely views.  Never mind that’s just sod’s law and it happens all the time.

Being a short drive for us today of only 180 miles we arrived at the aire in Valladolid at around 3.30pm.  We had decided on an aire because we’d had some expensive camping nights and though we’d bring down our average campsite costs.  At only 3.10 Euros a night this was a real bargain, and even better it was free on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday – which just happened to be exactly when we were going to be there.  As long as we got off by 9am on Monday it was gratuit. The aire itself was in a car park, next to the telephone exchange  about half a mile from the city and I also managed to hook up with some open wifi.  There were about  10 other vans here so we felt quite safe.

So not knackered from the journey we decided to have a quick look in the city.  


As I’ve already mentioned, this used to be the capital city of Spain until it was moved to Madrid and Christopher Columbus died there so we thought it might be worth a look.

A pleasant walk into town with the dog and then we returned to the van for the evening.  The only problem with aires is that you cannot put out your tables and chairs as this denotes camping rather than parking, so when it’s a bit hot you are rather restricted with outside space.

The following day we went back into Valladolid to have a better look around and were pleasantly surprised with how pleasant the city was.  I would recommend this as a good stopover place for travellers.

Again, like Toledo the buildings were incredibly clean even though some of them were very old.  It would appear that Valladolid, once the capital had moved to Madrid in 1606 the city was abandoned for some 300 years until the railway made it accessible again.  It’s almost as if it missed all the industrial times which would possibly have meant that a lot of pollution would have darkened all the stone.

Here’s some pictures of the buildings I found interesting.

I wondered if I could get the same man three times in this shot

A rose garden in Spain

Pleasant riverside walks

Still along the river front

Christopher Columbus - back view - the sun was too bright to take it from the front

Just an interesting building

The Cathedral - notice only one tower - they must have run out of money

And here’s a couple just to show that I’ve been learning how to use digital zoom on my camera.  It shows just how close I can get with the detail on my pictures.

Look at the shield at the centre of the pic

I can't believe just how close I can get the detail.

Just one to finish our time in Valladolid, Connie has decided that after all these years she actually like yoghurt.  I love seeing her lick the pot and she can even get to the bottom with her tongue – I love my dog and she makes me smile, even if she drives me mad sometimes.

She's loving her time travelling

Monday, 26 May 2014

Toledo – put it on your bucket list

I had chosen Toledo as a stop over as the guide said that although there were not many buildings worth seeing the inside of, the whole city centre is a World Heritage Site.  This also made it ideal for us to take the dog with us for a good walk.  Boy did it live up to expectations.

The following day we checked the map and decided that even though there was a bus stop outside the campsite (can’t take the dog on buses in Spain)  it was close enough to walk, although we were well aware of the ups and downs that we would have to face. I don’t do ups very well.

We set off fairly early in the morning to make the most of the coolest part of the day.  What a day we had.  Now I’m a bit of a philistine and not really interested in history but I do like to look at historic buildings even if I’m not that interested in who lived there and why but I was just so impressed with Toledo that I would thoroughly recommend that anyone put it on their bucket list.

The downside of Toledo tourism is that it doesn’t have an airport but if you ever fancy a city break in Madrid then you can get to Toledo in 40 minutes by high-speed train. 

One thing that really struck me about Toledo is that although parts of the city are over 600 years old it is just so clean that it looks like it has been built in the last 10 years.

Here’s some pictures that I hope you enjoy.

Oh look Iain in front carrying the pink rucksack

The pink rucksack again

Spot the pink rucksack

It's there again, like something from Schindler's list

Toledo also houses two our of only three remaining Synagogues in Spain, here's a picture of one which is now an Abbey. Each chain hanging on the wall represents a Moor's prisoner released when the Christians took Toledo in the 12th Century.  They took the chains off them and hung them on the wall as a reminder.

This just about sums up our first visit to Toledo city but before I go, we were amazed at how many shops were selling swords and knives.  Now I know that Toledo is well-known for it’s armoury but the displays were amazing and would never be allowed in England.  Here’s a sample.

By the time we had had lunch and left the city it was getting on for about 2.30pm and was getting very warm.  Connie is getting on a bit, she’s now 12 or 13 and this was a long walk for her.  We knew that there was a big hill to get up back near the campsite but had spotted – would you believe it – a “we got to the top of the hill bar”, just on the side of the road which would make a great place to rest before returning to camp.

I said it was a big hill, not really that bad but when you’ve already done about 5 miles and you are an old girl (now I’m referencing the dog here, not myself) the little leggies are feeling a bit tired and the fur coat is getting a bit warm.  You can’t tell a dog that as soon as we get to the top of the hill we’re going to rest with a nice well-earned beer and the poor thing refused to go any further twice up the hill. 

It’s very rare that she refuses, once before in La Motte in France when it was hot and also at Saint Michel Mont last year when she had a puncture in her buggy tyre and we had to walk most of the way. This is from a previous post where we got a puncture and had to ditch the bikes and buggy and walk the majority of the way.  When we picked up the bikes again she had to travel in it with a flat tyre.  She didn't seem to mind very much but it couldn't have been very comfortable.

Never mind, just another 50 yards to go and we could all have a rest.

That evening we decided to eat in the restaurant which we discovered that it was not as good as it purported to be.  The food was ok, just about, but the wine was good and the view fantastic.

We had enjoyed Toledo so much and wanted to make another visit so we decided that although we were paying 30 euros a night we would stay another night and take the tourist train around Toledo the next day.

Toledo Day 2

As we had planned to take the tourist train around the city it meant that we would not be able to take the dog with us.  She had had a good walk the previous day and would probably welcome the rest.  Well I might be speaking for myself there.  

At least we would be able to take the bus into town to rest my weary legs – not on Iain’s plan I’m afraid.  Again it looked like it was going to be a hot day, so we left fairly early and set the air conditioning for the dog.  It had worked before so there was no reason to expect it not to work again.  This time however we set it at 26 C so that she wouldn’t be cold.

Off we went down the hill and took a different route into the city this time, over the old bridge.  

Surprisingly though it was very quiet today compared to the previous day.  We went straight to the tourist train, which was at the other end of the city – funnily enough right where the bus would have dropped us and the next train was going in just 5 minutes after we purchased our ticket.  We got on the train when it arrived and then sat there for 15 minutes while the driver got himself sorted – this is typical Spain.  Now don’t get carried away, this is a tourist train, some sort of engine covered in something resembling a train engine, pulling about 10 little open carriages. Get the picture? At least there was a commentary in several languages and the 5.2 Euros included the cost of a set of earpieces each.  We don’t very often do this sort of thing but it had been recommended to us by some people we met and it was well worth it.

Views we would not have seen had we not taken the train

Now over the last couple of days, I’d been learning more about my camera.  I have had it a few years and like most people I could take some reasonable pictures but hadn’t really bothered to learn some of the features.  So I’ve been playing with panoramic pictures and digital zooming.  Here’s a panoramic pic I took overlooking Toledo.

And just for a laugh here’s a couple of my earlier failures before I got the hang of it.

I'll bet the architects would turn in their graves!!!

Having left the train we walked through the city, getting a look at anything that we hadn’t seen the day before.  The guide book said that the Cathedral was one of the buildings to take and inside look of so without the dog we were free to browse.  Somehow we found the back entrance of the Cathedral and went in.  This is the entrance where you enter for church services, and although you are not supposed to come in this way, it is free to get in.  You are restricted to where you can go via this entrance but it did give us a good idea of what it was like inside.  If you go to the front entrance it is 8 Euros each to enter but that does give you access to see the inside closer up.  We saw enough and it was very impressive and totally ostentatious.
Walking through the streets  I can never help browsing in the shop windows, although these days we don’t buy STUFF.  If we buy something it has to be beautiful, practical, affordable and NEEDED.  The reason I’m mentioning this is that we stumbled upon a shop selling Lladro statues.  Not like the Lladro that you will find in the department stores and jewellery shops in England but this was a specialist shop.  I managed to get a half-decent picture of this flamenco dancer and matador and they were absolutely stunning.  There were some other fabulous statues and the prices were way out of this world.
Flamenco dancer - £3,200

Matador - £2,700

But they were still STUFF and I don’t suppose they’d survive some of the bumps that we go over.  No we were not in the market but as they say, no harm in window shopping.

The bus ride walk back to the campsite was warm again after lunch and so we treated ourselves to a rest at the top of the hill.

Of all the cities that I have visited, I would put Toledo up there with Rome well almost, Rome is pretty spectacular.  A very highly recommended stop over on the way from southern to northern Spain, or a trip out from Madrid for our friendly mortar homers.