Saturday, 14 April 2018

Greece

We left Ancona on Wednesday afternoon and landed at Igoumenitsa at 8am Thursday morning, should have been 7am but hey ho, maybe there was a headwind. The crossing was smooth but unfortunately we shared the crossing with 6/7 coachloads of Italian teenagers on what appeared to be a school holiday trip which meant they ran up and down the corridors banging on doors all night. I felt a bit sorry for the lads, they showed the Juve-Real Madrid game on the TV in the lounge and the boys were ecstatic when 3-0 up only for Ronaldo to break their hearts in the 97th minute. That was hard for them. 

 

A pleasant drive found us at Ioannina by mid morning and a car park, with a water tap, for €8/24hrs (N39.673072 E20.854670). We stopped at Ioannina a few years ago but didn’t do too much exploring but this time we wandered up to the town centre through a mix of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, international shops and old hardware stores and plenty of cafes and restaurants. I was on a mission to find a Greek Data SIM card, found just what I wanted in the Cosmote shop but didn’t have my passport with me which is a requirement in Greece. Back to the van and then back to the shop, fill out the forms, pay the money and I’m good to go. Except I wasn’t, when I got back to the van I couldn’t connect to t’interweb! Back to the shop and another hour whilst it was all sorted. Which meant I could watch Arsenal hang on and draw 2-2 with CSKA Moscow; Atlético Madrid awaits us.

 

The following morning we set off for the Old Citadel and the Silversmith Museum, the city is known for its silver craftsmanship and the museum was most interesting. We like Ioannina, the lake, the citadel, and the people.

 

We had visited Meteoro before, last time we were here we explored 4 of the monasteries in one day but this time we arrived in the late afternoon and thought we would just visit the Grand Meteoro this time. The massive pinnacles of smooth rock are breathtaking and the monasteries sat on their peaks are almost unbelievable. Mostly built in the 14th century the monasteries were initially only accessible via removable ladders or windlasses with baskets to carry the monks up and down. In the 1920’s steps were hewn into the rocks but access is still not an easy task, we climbed 27 floors and our calves knew it the next day. But it’s worth it. Apparently Meteoro is the most visited place in mainland Greece and if you’re all monastery’d out there are plenty of beautiful walks around the area. We stopped the night at Arsenis Guesthouse, it’s free if you buy a meal (N39.708436 E21.654706). It’s a bit like Fawlty Towers but without the humour. Basically you get a Greek salad and whatever Arsenis can find to throw on the barbecue providing there are enough folk who want to eat and make it worth his while to fire up the barby. Arsenis assures everyone that his Mum (who must be 80 if she’s a day) is a fantastic cook but basically she fries the chips. The dining room is a sombre affair to say the least until Arsenis’ son/brother/mum sits down and turns the TV on. Last time we were here there were a few other Motorhomers and Arsenis came round in the early evening shouting “Pork, Chicken?” and we indicated what we wanted him to barbecue for us. “ Seven O’clock you eat” he shouted. Four French Motorhomers turned up at half past seven and he refused to serve them because they were late. They explained that they had been for aperitifs but that wasn’t good enough. “You’re late, no food” he shouted as the chicken and pork caramelised on the barby. 

 

So tonight we are parked up in a small car park next to a park and the river Peneios in Larissa just five minutes from the city centre (N39.642683 E22.411524). We were lucky to get in here, we took the last parking space that could accommodate us. It was a bit of a squeeze getting in and I suspect it will be even more of a squeeze reversing out tomorrow morning. Larissa isn’t a tourist town, there are no translations into English, German or Italian on the menus but it’s a great busy, bustling place. We wandered around for a few hours today and there must be, at least, 200 coffee bars here, probably more, and all of them full on Saturday lunchtime with families and young folk all enjoying the spring sunshine and enjoying their coffee. Although nearly all the places were licensed we didn’t see a single person drinking alcohol. Folk have been coming and going all day to the park and late this afternoon a couple of wedding parties arrived to have photos taken by the fountains. 

 

It’s been 30 degrees here today and 35 in the van so tomorrow we’re setting off for Kato Gatzea on the coast about 50 miles south to a campsite where we can do some washing and other domestic chores and enjoy a sea breeze.

 

One of the wedding parties has just returned from having their photos taken. I went over and gave them a shiny pound and wished them wealth and happiness. I remember when Phil and I got married and on the train back down to London from Newcastle a lady came over and gave us the same token. Worked for us.

 

 

Pat

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The last few days in Italy

Well, the haircut in Cesenatico went ok as did the football match😄 I was happy with both results. In the evening whilst we were there some Romany lasses from a small camp next to where we were parked came over to do their washing. They had a couple of large buckets and used the cold water tap to wash and rinse their clothes and then spread the brightly coloured garments on the grass embankment beneath the river to dry. Early the next morning we were woken by what sounded like a concrete mixer. Got up, had a peek and a couple of guys with a machine were cleaning out the busted chemical toilet dump. Queue the lasses running over to remove their clothes before they got splattered.  Enough of dodgy Sostas we thought; lets find a campsite and chill out for a couple of days, so we headed for Riccione on the coast. I came to Riccione when I was a kid with my folks, I was maybe 8 or 9 and remember having a great time despite the sunburn but hey, we had calomine lotion in those days. I vaguely remember the hotel we stayed at being 100yds from the beach, there was a coffee stall and a small cafe/restaurant and miles of golden sand and warm sea. I didn’t expect to find the hotel or the young waiter who took me on his Vespa to meet his folks in Cattolica or the little park where I could hire a bike and ride round for hours. We walked up and down the road over the next couple of days and were amazed that all the accesses to the beach were private. We were about a mile from the centre of Riccione and all the way along the beach were 65 private beaches attached to hotels/apartmemts or campsites. We’d noticed the same thing at Cesenatico, we walked down a road leading to the beach and then had to walk half a mile until we could gain access because of the corrugated tin barriers preventing us actually getting onto some sand. I don’t have a problem with a beachside cafe or bar sticking a few loungers and umbrellas on the beach and charging you to use them, but denying access for a mile or so seemed unacceptable to me. Anyway, they say you should never go back. The campsite was ok though, nice hot showers. We were on the flight path to Rimini airport but not too many flights this time of year. But boy, those bikers are really pushing it on the road behind us eh? Ah, theres a race circuit at Misano about half a mile away. Practice on Saturday and racing on Sunday. When each race started the noise came in waves but as the riders became strung out after a few laps it was constant. We thought if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em but after walking for ages we couldnt find the entrance to the circuit so we went back to the campsite and I amused myself trying to guess what kind of bend they were taking from the gearchange. It was a first for us, we’ve parked up in places with traffic noise, train lines, airplanes, dogs barking all night, owls hooting and screeching, loud music from bars/clubs but the motor racing circuit was a first. And those bikes brought back memories. I had a cousin who raced a 500cc Manx Norton and when I was about 10 or 11 he used to take me with him and his mechanic in a dirty green Commer van to Snetterton, Oulton Park, Silverstone and Brands Hatch. The sun always seemed to be shining when we set off and it was always dark when we came back. Once, I think it was Silverstone, I hung around the beer tent. There was a deposit on bottles in those days but most folk couldnt be arsed going back for the money so I would collect the bottles from where they’d left them and collect the deposit money. The races then started with the 50cc category and worked up to 500cc with one or two sidecar races in between. The sound of those 50cc bikes, ( I think they were all Itoms or Items?)  will stay with me forever, together with the image of these big guys straddling such a tiny bike. Happy Days. All that was missing yesterday when I heard those bikes was the smell of Castrol R. So tonight we are in Jesi, (N43.518799 E13.241587) sometimes spelt Lesi, just a half hour away from Ancona and the ferry to Greece tomorrow afternoon. Just a small car park but there’s a waste dump and fresh water with no charge. There’s also a lift to take us up to the old part of town with its elegant pedestrianised main street with the expensive shops and the Cathedral, Bishops Palace and large and small Piazzas surrounded on three sides by the tall City walls. We like Jesi.  So tomorrow we set off for Greece for 6/8 weeks. Arrive in Igoumenitsa at 7am Thursday morning and head towards Ioannina seeking WiFi (second leg against CSKA Moscow).    Pat

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A few more days in Italy

 

 

We stayed in Verona for 3 nights, there is so much to enjoy in the city. On Sunday we headed off for Vicenza, another city we visited in 2014 when we drove overland to Greece. Vicenza is best known for it’s buildings designed by Andrea Palladio in the 16th century and when we visited last time we were impressed and spent an enjoyable day wandering around. This time though we were just looking at the same Palladian buildings we had seen before and failed to discover anything else to entertain us. We stopped in a large car park with dedicated motorhome parking and water and waste facilities and from memory it cost us less than €10 for 24 hrs (N45.542844 E11.559511),its a fifteen minute walk into town.

 

On Monday we set off for Ferrara for no other reason than it’s on the way to Ancona and the centre boasts a mix of Renaissance and Medieval architecture. The Este Castle, in the centre of town is particularly impressive. A large manor house with four massive bastions and surrounded by a moat, it was built in 1385 both to protect the town from external threats and to serve as a fortified residence for the Este family. We crossed the moat via a still working drawbridge into a courtyard but the queues to enter the castle snaked round and round (and admission wasn’t free) so we didn’t stop too long. But we walked for miles around the town and into the Cathedral of Saint George which was consecrated in 1135 and renovated many times over the centuries resulting in a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. The  brick built city walls which were mostly built between 1492 and 1520 have been restored and now circle the town for a distance of 6 miles. We didn’t do the circuit. We nearly didn’t stop in Ferrara at all. Arriving at the motorhome parking area we discovered the most complicated means of access we have ever encountered! We needed internet access to log onto the site and fill in a load of forms (in Italian) to gain a password. Then back into the website to indicate how long we wanted to stay, pay by credit card and eventually obtain a QR code to present at the barrier. We did this parked up in a tiny access car park and when we finally were ready to access the site we couldn’t get to the barrier because of the vans parked up with the occupants scratching their heads and trying to work out how they could get in. Eventually after I asked them a few times they backed up and we were in. In addition to the €10 fee for overnight parking all other services had to paid for, waste disposal, fresh water and electricity. Water was 50c but once you had put the coin in the machine the water poured out with no tap, so if you were filling up using containers rather than a hose by the time you had collected 20 litres and poured it in the van the other 80 litres was on the floor. I got a bit of a system going with a German guy but even then we wasted more water than we obtained. Here are the coordinates if you fancy a challenge (N44.835590 E11.611110).

 

Tuesday we drove the 50 miles to Castel San Pietro Terme, a lovely little town which we’ve visited before and in which everybody is so friendly. The motorhome parking overlooks some well tended allotments, it’s free and there is fresh water and a waste dump (N44.39795 E11.59341). The butcher supplied us with some delicious meatballs and seasoned pork escalopes. The Co-Op supermarket provided everything else we needed and we decided to stop a couple of days. On the Monday night I realised that the 12gb data SIM card was exhausted! How could we have used that much data in four days? The lass in the Vodafone shop in Verona had told me that when it was nearly empty I would receive a notification with links to top it up but that hadn’t happened. On the Tuesday lunchtime I walked up into town, found some free WiFi and bought another €20 credit from the Vodafone website. I wondered how many Gb the €20 had purchased so wandered around for an hour or so until I found a Vodafone shop which was closed for lunch. We went back in the afternoon and whilst I was asking the question of a lady with limited English and using Google translate a young lad came in who had been studying in London and spoke perfect English. To cut a very long story short I had been mis-sold the incorrect card in Verona which I could not top up, despite Vodafone happily taking my €20 a few hours earlier. Between us we decided the best thing to do was start again but as I was using so much data I’d be better off with a 35Gb deal and anything left on it could be used, hopefully, when we return to Italy in June. “But what about the €20” I kept wailing. After several phone calls it was agreed that it would be credited against my new purchase.

 

But the mystery remained as to how I had used so much data and after a bit of research on our phones and pads we reckon it was the background app refresh function. Put it this way, when we turned it off we weren’t using anywhere near the same amount of data. Lesson learnt.

 

So after a couple of pleasant days in Caste San Pietro Terme we set off this morning for Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast about 25 miles north of Rimini. We are parked up in a motorhome car park with water and waste dump and it’s free (N44.198782 E12.391332). We’ve had a wander around and whilst it’s pretty enough we didn’t think there would be enough to keep us occupied for more than a day but I saw a barbers, popped in for a trim but he can’t fit me in till 1pm tomorrow. So we’ll have to explore some more tomorrow. I’ve had haircuts in France, Spain and Greece but never before in Italy. Wish me luck.

 

A few thoughts on Italian sostas. Whilst we always endeavour to find free places to stop overnight or for a day or so we don’t mind paying if that’s the only option and if the facilities are ok. But it doesn’t seem to matter whether you pay €20 or nowt the facilities always seem to leave a lot to be desired. I won’t go into the details of toilet cassette emptying, you may be eating your tea whilst reading this, but anyone who has a motorhome knows what is needed and we rarely find anywhere that’s maintained or serviced. The other thing we’ve noticed is the number of motorhomes parked which look like they haven’t moved for weeks or months or even years. Some of them held together with gaffer tape and expanding foam. Sometimes we see folk going in and out of them and some look completely abandoned. It’s strange because we don’t see this anywhere else in Europe. 

Finally you may wonder why I was obsessed with getting some WiFi urgently. Well, Arsenal play CSKA Moscow tonight and that’s a must see match. If we win tonight and I get a decent haircut tomorrow I’ll be happy.

 

 

Pat

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Photos, hopefully

Ok, im trying to post the pics that should have appeared on the last post, fingers crossed.
Horses taking a drink after the Romeria in Bolnuevo        
The beach at Bolnuevo        
The beach at Bolnuevo 2      
Flamenco      
The alps in the distance    
Nearly there  
At the top looking back at France  
Col de Larche
Snowed in?
A smile at 2000 metres
 
 
 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

It’s been a long time

It’s been a long time

 

Friday 23rd March 2018

 

It’s been over 6 months since I posted anything on this blog. We arrived in Bolnuevo last September and I don’t generally post anything from there because it seems I’m writing a diary rather than a travel blog. However we’re back on the road now and on our way to Ancona in Italy for a ferry to Greece on the 11th April.

We left Bolnuevo on Tuesday after a fun filled 6 months meeting up with old friends and making new ones and in some ways it was a shame to leave but all being well we’ll be back later in the year. 

Our first stop was at Riba Roja de Turia (39.549957 W0.560977), a little north west of Valencia.It’s a pretty enough stopover by the river Turia with pleasant riverside walks and an old town to explore. On this occasion we didn’t explore; we stopped for a supermarket shop on the way, then diesel, then LPG, then coffee and finally lunch before we arrived 194 miles and 6 hours later. By the time we’d cooked something to eat we were about done in and had an early night.

 

We tend to avoid motorways if we’re not in a particular hurry and toll roads are generally a no-no too but on Wednesday we wanted to get some miles under our belts so bit the bullet and hit the AP7. €26.15 and 175 miles later we were a little north of Tarragona at el Catllar. (N41.17658 E1.32685). The town here have kindly provided facilities, water/waste dump etc, free of charge and indicate that a maximum of 4 motor homes are welcome for a maximum of 48 hrs. Thank you very much. When I describe towns as sleepy I don’t mean it in a derogatory way but that’s often the impression we get, probably because we generally arrive between 2 and 5pm when the place is comatose. But I think it’s the walks around the surrounding area that draws folk to el Catllar and not the hubbub or night life. As we wandered around we got quite excited when we saw a stage and PA being erected outside the cultural centre but alas it was for poetry recitals. The main excitement was later in the evening when 5 lasses were being put through their paces in the kids playground opposite our parking place by a couple of guys dressed in black combat gear. More boot camp than circuit training to my inexperienced eye but we were amused as the coordination suffered as exhaustion set in. At one moment I was going to shout across “Stop! They’ve had enough!!” But the girls wandered (stumbled?) off after an hour or so looking none the worse for wear.

 

Another couple of hundred miles and €13 on the toll road found us in Sant Pere Pescador (N42.187211 E3.080231) on Thursday night sharing a massive car park with another couple of motor homes and a few private cars. By this time we’d put the best part of 600 miles behind us but hadn’t really done a great deal of exploring so we got the guide books out and studied the maps and found that Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de L’Emporda was just up the road. It’s a natural marshland park and a key site for migrating birds and some 300 species pass through here annually and over 90 nest here. So on Friday out came the binoculars and off we went, following the paths and stopping at the hides to see what we could see. Flamingos, Storks, various ducks and some enormous herons rooted around in the water and a deer came up to one of the hides. It was a peaceful few hours and well worth the €5. The medieval town of Castello d’Empuries was just up the road so we set off there, found a parking space and wandered around. Hats off to the folk here, every important building or site was described in four languages although we declined to pay the €5 to enter the church, just having a little peek inside. Friday would be our last day in Spain for a while so we treated ourselves to a Menu del Dia, three courses, coffee and a couple of drinks for €30. We sat on the terrace in glorious sunshine. We love Spain.

 

After lunch we set off for Port de Portbou where there is motorhome parking at the Marina with all facilities including WiFi for €10. Unfortunately we were refused access as the facility was closed that day because they were expecting high winds (the Tramonta) overnight. So it was the switchback drive to Port Vendre (N42.517672 E3.11403). We’ve stopped here three times before and whilst there are the usual facilities they’re in a poor state of repair and really need some money spending on them. It’s €6 to stop here and there are never less than twenty or thirty vans. We only drove 50 miles on Friday but it felt like 150.

 

We’ve had no WiFi since we left Bolnuevo and whilst I have a booster aerial which sucks up the wifi from the surrounding area I need the passwords for locked networks or to be in a Fon zone or, as a last resort, to find a network where I can buy a day or two’s access. So on Saturday we bit the bullet and decided to stop the night on a campsite with WiFi. We buy the ACSI campsite guide book every year which gives us a discount on the campsites listed throughout Europe and so we set off for a site at Castries (I’m not putting the coordinates down ‘cos you wouldn’t want to stop here) a few miles east of Montpellier. We arrived, paid our €18.20 and asked for the WiFi code. “Sorry, the WiFi has been broken for three days” said the lass on reception. Aaargh, its the only reason we’ve stopped here. The campsite is desolate, the toilets and showers are freezing cold and dirty; no toilet seats, no toilet paper, no heating. So we’re basically paying for a parking place with electricity we don’t need.

 

From Castries we set off for Greoux-Les-Bains; we stopped there a few years ago on the municipal campsite which is a stones throw from a pretty town, a spa, a lovely park and some good walks around and we thought we might stop a couple of days and relax.The site has an electronic sign outside which says how many places are available. It’s a big site holding about 70 motorhomes and, unusually, there isn’t a 48/72hr restriction as to how long you can stay. As we arrived I noticed a few vans parked up on the access road and commented that they were too mean to pay the €9 charge but as we arrived at the entrance gate realised they were queuing to get in as the site was full. That’s the first time we’ve arrived at a French aire and not been able to get on. I walked down onto the site and all the motorhomes there looked like they were there for some time and nobody looked like they were packing up to leave. It was mid afternoon and we were 4th in the queue. 

 

We set off for Sainte-Tulle,30 minutes up the road, where there was parking and facilities for motorhomes (N43.784951 E5.76402), a big car park which was rammed with folk using the sports and leisure facilities adjacent. We eventually found a place to park up with an electric hook up and by 9 o’clock the car park was empty but for a couple of motorhomes. A gendarme called at 6.30, relieved us of €5 and told us that yes, the D900 to Italy would be open but he said it would take us three hours to drive over the col de Larche to Cuneo in Italy. So that’s three hours for an Italian which probably means at least four for me driving a house on wheels. No problem. 

 

That thing where you change all the clocks forward except the one you look at first thing in the morning meant we were a little tardy in setting off to cross the Alps. A diesel stop, a boulangerie stop for bread and croissant, a coffee stop so I have something to dip my croissant in and the snow capped Alps still seemed far away. We drove from Sisteron for miles and miles through apple and peach orchards and vineyards in the valleys at about six or seven hundred metres and then we started to climb and there were patches of snow in the fields by the road. We stopped at La Breole for lunch and gawped at the snow capped mountains. When we got to about 1500m the scenery was spectacular and when we reached the col at a little over 2000m it was breathtaking. We’d followed the La Durance and  L’Ubaye rivers all the way, the water the blue/grey colour that tells you it’s really, really cold. In some places the snow was piled up by the side of the road ten or twelve feet deep and the drifts on the shallow mountain sides were twenty or thirty feet deep. In Argentera, the first village after we’d crossed the border, there were houses with snow up to the eaves. 

 

We were lucky, it was clear and sunny all the way and we stood at over 2000m in T shirts looking at the animal footprints in the snow on the mountainsides. Wow! 

 

We dropped down through 17 switchbacks and then through small towns until we arrived in Cuneo. The 161 miles from Sainte-Tulle had taken us a little over six hours. We enjoyed every minute. 

 

Cuneo is a gem. There is a dedicated motorhome parking spot with all services including electricity and its free! (N44.385588 E7.551805)  The main town is a couple of hundred feet higher and access is either via a footpath or a panoramic cable car. The city itself is beautiful and the day after we arrived was market day; if there wasn’t a stall selling it you didn’t need it, it was one of the biggest markets we’d been to. We bought fresh pasta and cheese. We weren’t sure which pasta we wanted so the lady on the stall made sure we tasted all the different varieties of ravioli. Uncooked ravioli is different to say the least. We enjoyed Cuneo and hope to visit again.

On Wednesday we set off for Piacenza, we’ve stopped here before in a massive car park. There are no facilities but the parking is cheap enough and its only a fifteen minute walk into town. Unfortunately when we arrived there were signs everywhere stating that any vehicles in the car park at 6am the following day would be towed away. Not wanting to be towed away nor wanting to get up at silly o’clock the next morning we headed off for a sosta on the other side of town (N45.056061 E9.702963). The entrance had a barrier with a phone number to gain access and after spending 5 minutes looking for the dialing code for Italy (our phones are still effectively in the UK) I had an interesting conversation with a lady who spoke about as much English as I did Italian. Eventually the barrier opened, we parked up and went for a walk around the town. When we returned a lady was waiting for us and relieved us of €17. Fair enough, it felt secure and it was only for one night. We noticed the train lines about 30 metres away but presumed the trains would stop running at night. Sure enough the passenger trains stopped but the goods trains ran all night and as some of them rattled and rumbled past the van trembled and shook. We lay there hoping we could fall asleep before the next one came past but even when we did the next one would wake us up again. They certainly move some freight on the Italian railways, possibly most of it through Piacenza. But before the night of the long trains we had a meal at Ustaria la Carrozza just around the corner and which we’d spotted on our way back from town looking like a place where the locals might eat. On arrival we were asked if we had a reservation, uh oh, that didn’t sound good but they found us a table in the empty restaurant. An hour later it was full. A lovely meal and a first for me - Donkey stew, very tasty. I could have had horse tartare but raw horse was a step too far. There were a couple of finger bowls on the table but the waitress told us that they were to drink our wine from, a tradition in Piacenza, but we could have glasses if we wished. Another first, wine from a china bowl.

 

This morning, Thursday 29th March we set off for Verona. Again, it’s somewhere we’ve stopped before and as we don’t have to be at Ancona for our ferry to Greece until the 11th April we’ve plenty of time to revisit places. Verona is beautiful and we’ll probably spend a few days here parked at another dedicated motorhome parking area with all services and very secure for €10/24hrs, (N45.433708 E10.978425), just a ten minute walk to town. We’ve not had any decent WiFi since we left Bolnuevo so although I’ve been keeping the blog updated I’ve not been able to post anything. Today I bought a Vodafone Italy data SIM for my MiFi device, 12gb for €20 so hopefully I can post this and we can keep up with what’s happening in the world and keep in touch with friends and family. 

 

 

Just a comment on Italian roads. They’re awful. We rarely use toll roads but in Italy we make an exception just to avoid the potholes and lousy road surfaces which shake the van to bits. 

Some photos- 

The horses taking a well earned drink after the Romeria in Bolnuevo last November:

The beach at Bolnuevo
 

 

Flamenco

 

The Alps in the distance
                                                              We’re at the top and looking back at France
A sunny smile at 2000 metres
  Pat      

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Better late than never

Sunday 10th September 2017 We are parked up this afternoon just outside Albarracin which is described as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. This may well be true but the reason we have stopped here is because we needed some reliable WiFi and so, reluctantly, we are on a campsite just outside the town (40.411917 -1.427559). We're at an altitude of just over 1200m and although it's sunny it's also very windy today and a cold wind. We're on our way to Bolnuevo for the winter and I was not going to bother with the blog but two events have encouraged me to change my mind. Firstly an email from my eldest daughter saying "Wot, no blog?" And secondly to discover that our friends Paul & Chris are on their travels and have resumed their blog http://travelwithpaulandchris.blogspot.com.es/. So here's what we've been up to since we left England on 29th August. This is our 8th trip to Europe since we bought the van in 2013 and previously we've always crossed via the tunnel to Calais or Portsmouth to Santander/Bilbao and the same thing coming back but the drive to and from Yorkshire from either of those places is always a pain. Roadworks on the A1/M1, the crawl around the M25, the constant nose to tail traffic, aargh we're sick of it! So when we came home last May we took the ferry from Zeebruge to Hull, 90 minutes down the M62 and we're home! So a couple of weeks ago we took the ferry from Hull to Zeebruge which was painless. A bit longer drive through Belgium and France but along roads which have a fraction of the traffic compared to the UK. A tip for anyone contemplating using P&O on this route - when booking choose the cheapest cabin option and then upgrade on board, it's much cheaper. Or, of course, stick with the cheapest cabin and send your partner up the ladder to the top bunk. This was not an option for me. After docking in Zeebruge we set off for Reims and the dedicated motorhome parking (49.250301 4.020210) which is only a ten minute walk to the city centre and another five minutes to the Cathedral but we explored both last May and it was raining this time so we did very little other than plan the next day's stop. Bray-sur-Seine is a pretty town with some interesting river walks and we parked on the quayside (48.417112 3.238018), ideal for watching the big commercial barges sliding by. From Bray we set off for Bourges and another large parking area for motorhomes (47.076323 2.398953) and another day of torrential rain. Bourges was not explored, saved for another day. Next stop was Sadroc (45.283443 1.548686) which I would have described as a one horse town had I not seen a couple of young lasses on horseback. A tiny village but with some lovely large houses. There's money in Sadroc we reckon. Onwards the next day to Cahors and parking close by the river Lot (44.438874 1.439712) A beautiful medieval quarter to explore, monks gardens, ancient river bridges and lots of public gardens. We liked Cahors. By now we realised we had been in France for 5 days and hadn't stopped at a vineyard. This was soon rectified by a stop at Domaine de LaBarthe (43.984107 2.020776) just outside Castanet, nice views and nice wine from the Gaillac region. A short drive the next day to Albi and some more parking reserved for motorhomes (43.927384 2.140944) in the shadow of the massive Cathedral which, unusually, is built of brick and is reckoned to be the largest brick built structure in Europe. The inside of the Cathedral was no less impressive where the limestone rood screen was still intact. St Cecile Cathedral was built between 1282 and 1830 and Italian painters found plenty of work in the C16th painting every available wall and ceiling. We stayed an extra day in Albi so we could visit the museum and art gallery dedicated to Toulouse Lautrec who was born in the city. The museum is housed in what was the Arch Bishop's palace, also built of brick and equally impressive. The next day was to be our last stop in France for a while. Vicdessos is a short drive from Cagnac at the end of the N20 in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Another tiny village but dedicated motorhome parking (42.768436 1.502073) including electricity for €7.65/24hrs and with the bonus of free herb gardens where visitors are invited to help themselves, which we did. Leaving France the next day we climbed up to and through Andorra and then descended to the town of La Seu d'Urgen in Spain after a brief halt leaving Andorra where we were asked how many cigarettes we had bought. We waved our electronic fags and the customs officer waved us goodbye.  Half the fun of travelling in a motorhome is stumbling upon places and events and La Seu came up trumps on Friday. We parked up and could hear somebody talking excitedly through a PA system. At first we thought it was the travelling fruit and veg man but I listened a bit closer and it sounded like a sports commentary in English. We set off to see what was happening and discovered the canoe slalom world cup taking place on the course designed and built for the Barcelona Olympics 25 years ago. It was the men's qualifying rounds and we sat and watched these sportsmen for ages, cheering everytime someone came down the course with a union flag on his kayak. There were contestants from all over the world and I got chatting to a guy from team GB who reckoned we were in with a shout for a medal. It was a great atmosphere and it was great to watch a sport I've never followed before and admire the skill and massive upper body strength of these guys. It was a beautiful day and we wandered up and down the course and then sat in the shade watching how the "paddlers" maneuvered through the gates in the roiling water. A World Cup event - for free! Last night we stopped in Zaragoza after a long day's drive and managed to squeeze into a car park on the northern edge of the city (41.661869 -0.8799600). There were supposed to be 5 parking spaces for motorhomes but we found no evidence of them. We had wanted to explore Zaragoza but a combination of tiredness and a feeling of not really wanting to leave our home on wheels unattended where we were parked prevented us from doing so, maybe next time. We are booked into our winter campsite in Bolnuevo from next Wednesday so have a couple more stops on the way  I'll post another blog next week and when I've resolved the usual "photo issues" I'll post some pics. Pat  

Monday, 8 May 2017

Reims to Bingley

Tuesday 2nd May 2017 We left the beautiful City of Reims and headed north with an uneventful drive and arrived at Banteaux (N50.06280 E3.20105). This is a nice stop over next to the canal with all services including electricity for €5/24hrs but the weather was cold and miserable, we were the only folk there and we didn't bother exploring the quiet town. Wednesday 3rd May 2017 From Banteux we set off on the national road to Lens and a motorhome stopover next to a drive through Macdonalds (N50.43245 E2.82009). Space for 6 vans but a large overflow car park adjacent, it's free to stay here with the benefit of Maccy D's WiFi. It poured down with rain all day and I don't think the folk from Lens would disagree if I said there isn't a great deal to see in their city so another day of not doing much at all. Thursday 4th May 2017 Our last stop before our ferry on Friday evening was to be Bruges. The motorhome parking provided there is outrageously expensive at €25/24hrs and if you go over the 24hrs it's another €25 so we didn't want to get there too early in the day so we set off first for Dunkirk where we could park behind the dunes, have some lunch and set off for Bruges to arrive late afternoon to allow us a full days sightseeing the next day. The parking for motorhomes in Dunkirk has no facilities but it's free and it's next to the beach and the promenade with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes (N51.05298 E2.41425), I would imagine it would get pretty busy here in the summer. So after a bite to eat and a stroll on the beach we set off for Bruges and arrived a little after 4pm. (N51.19582 E3.22569). Although the parking here is expensive there are the usual facilities, waste water and wc dump, fresh water and electricity and it's only a ten minute walk to the old town. It's a bit noisy during the day with traffic noise from the nearby road and the adjacent coach parking but it was quiet enough at night. Friday 5th May 2017 We spent the day exploring Bruges together with thousands of other tourists including lots of school parties with kids frantically running about filling in work sheets. Another cold and grey day but we were still impressed with the city which still has many old buildings and plenty of museums. The Cathedral was undergoing some renovation but it was free to visit. On a better day weather wise we would have taken a canal boat trip but the folk we saw huddled up on the boats looked frozen so we didn't bother. I would have liked to sample some of the beers on offer in the many bars but as I was driving later in the day I abstained although I did buy a selection of bottles to sample on our return to England. The restaurants here aren't cheap by any stretch of the imagination but we found somewhere that didn't cost an arm and a leg and managed to bag the last table. We returned to the van, emptied everything that needed emptying, paid our €25 and set off for the 20 minute drive to the ferry port at Zeebrugge. Now, we've been on a few ferries over the last few years and experienced some pretty chaotic loading arrangements and delays whilst everyone gets loaded before finally the motorhomes are squeezed on. But this couldn't have been quicker or easier. We checked in, obtained our boarding passes, followed the signs and parked up anticipating a long wait. No sooner had we stopped than a guy came over, checked the van for stowaways and ten minutes later we were on the ferry and collecting our room keys - brilliant. We were impressed with the "Pride of Bruges", a couple of bars and restaurants and lounges spread over three decks, helpful and cheerful staff and everywhere spotlessly clean. The only downside was our cabin which had bunk beds and I'm getting to the age where climbing a ladder to get to my bed has kind of lost it's appeal. I checked whether cabins were available with two lower beds and I would have to book a 4 berth to avoid mountaineering in the future or use the Rotterdam/Hull route where the ships do have two berth cabins. But apart from that small inconvenience I think this will now be our preferred route to mainland Europe in the future. It avoids the long drive in England from Yorkshire to the South coast and back again. Once we had docked at Hull on Saturday morning it was only a couple of hours drive before we were back home in Bingley. Some statistics from this trip: We left home on 28th September 2016 and arrived home on the 6th May 2017. We spent just over 5 months in Bolnuevo. We made 21 stops in France (13 free), 14 stops in Spain (7 free), 7 stops in Portugal (5 free) and one stop in Belgium.  We covered 4,300 miles which was one of our shortest trips. We no longer record our fuel consumption nor do we keep a detailed breakdown of how much we've spent or what we spent it on.  We'll spend the next few months in the UK visiting friends and family, servicing and MOT'ing the van, replacing some hanging wardrobes with shelves and taking a trip to the Highlands. Then, late summer we'll set off again for Europe, spending the winter in Spain and heading for Greece next spring. Thanks to everyone who has followed our journey via the blog and commented. Bye for now, Pat & Phil.