Lilly the Land Yacht
We have had a glorious couple of days in Paris. Blue sky and sunshine, 24 degrees. So lucky with the weather for this time of year!
We have explored the Luxembourg gardens, sat in cafes sipping wine watching people go by and spent a day hopping on and off the river boat on the Seine. The Notre Dame, Champs Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde and many more iconic sights, all looking stunning against the deep blue sky. Wonderful! In the evenings we have enjoyed the Latin Quarter, with its many cafes, restaurants, bars and buskers to attract the crowds. A wonderful atmosphere!
Today it is overcast and a little cooler, so we have focussed on logistical things. Like packing our bags with a bit more logic than our ?chuck it all in a bag? method when we packed in Lilly! We have worked out the best transport route and purchased train tickets for the airport and checked in for our flights. All is prepared for our flight to Hong Kong in the morning. We have had an amazing European adventure. We are now looking forward to a couple of days in Hong Kong, and onwards to New Zealand.
Most days we went cycling, and visited some little villages along the way for a coffee. After Gerrit and Raldi left, we stayed on for two more days and did some more cycling. Most of the cycle paths are smooth, paved and well marked, separate to the roads. Sometimes the cycle path is on a very quiet country road for a while, but there are no cars in sight. So we could just enjoy the scenery without worrying about any traffic.
At one point there was a fork in the cycle path and no signage, so we guessed the most likely looking route. After a time the path we chose became narrow and then entered a forest, where the trail became bumpy with roots of trees and mounds of earth. We had to negotiate fallen trees, humps and hollows hidden under the blanket of leaves and branches that protruded across the path. We had taken the wrong route! We were on the hiking trail and not the cycle path! But we knew we were heading in the right direction and the two paths must come out at the same place further up, so we pressed on. The path might have been OK for those experienced on mountain bikes, but for us, on our road bikes, it was tough going! At one point, Heather ducked to avoid a low hanging branch and the front wheel hit a bump at the same time, which tipped Heather sideways into the bushes! Karl had watched the slow motion fall and arrived quickly to help untangle the bike and Heather from the undergrowth. He didn?t even laugh - until he established there were no serious injuries that is! Heather was glad she was wearing her helmet, but it did take about an hour to pick all the sticky seed heads off her clothes!
Yesterday we moved a bit closer to the little town of Veron, where Lilly will go into storage on Friday. We are now at St Julien-du-Sault, and have started the process of packing and cleaning. Lilly has been washed all over on the outside, many cupboards have been emptied and cleaned, one suitcase is already full. Over the next couple of days we will empty everything out that needs to go back to NZ and have Lilly gleaming like new. On Friday morning we drop Lilly off at the storage facility and catch the train to Paris.
We will have 3 nights in a hotel in Paris, before flying to Hong Kong.
Our travels this year in Europe have been amazing. We have seen many wonderful places, and enjoyed an endless summer. Altogether we have had 2 weeks in Holland, 8 weeks in Spain, 5 weeks in Portugal and 8 weeks in France. We have driven 12,000 km without any problems and we have stayed in Lilly for 154 nights, and only 10 of those nights were in a camping ground!
France, Spain and Portugal are very friendly towards campers and have thousands of free places for campers to park, complete with free water and waste stations. It has been a very easy trip and we have met many other friendly campers along the way. We will certainly come back here and do another trip in Lilly, who knows when, or where we will end up!
On Monday the sun came out again and we have had clear blue skies. Fantastic! We spent the last couple of nights at a little town on the edge of the Loire river, called Meung-sur-Loire. A very pretty village and a great spot to do some more cycling alongside the banks of the Loire. We had a wonderful day on Tuesday, cycled 8.5 km to the next village, called Beaugency. This is a medieval town with a bridge dating from 11th Century, and many buildings built between 11th and 16th Centuries. Many of the buildings have canals running beside them and even right under the middle of them. Beaugency, like Meung-sur-Loire, used to have many water wheels running in these canals, to produce flour and also to make paper. After a walk through the village we enjoyed a picnic lunch looking over the Loire river. Magic. Then we walked a nature trail where we gathered walnuts from the ground underneath some walnut trees, yum! During the nature trail we also spotted a fox running through the long grass. We enjoyed the cycle back as well, although it was a bit more effort with a head wind funneling down the river valley.
Today we drove a little further east on the Loire and we are now sitting beside the grounds of the Chateau at Sully-sur-Loire. A picturesque town and Chateau, with a two rivers running through it. Some friends from Holland are currently on their way to Spain in their camper van and we have met up with them here, so will spend the next couple of days together before they continue their journey to Spain. Tonight the four of us had dinner together.... Chinese takeaways, which seems to be the standard Dutch meal!
Today we visited the city of Rouen, with an absolutely fabulous fine arts museum. So many beautiful paintings, again the impressionists were our favourites.
We have enjoyed Normandy, and until today the weather has been fabulous too. Tonight it is drizzle for the first time in so long we cannot remember. Tomorrow we head south, as we start to hop towards the end of our travels in two weeks!
On Friday we started the D-Day beach visits, starting with Utah beach and the Museum of the D-Day landings. We spent 3 hours at the museum, amazing footage of the troops landing and the conflict at this point, all part of the effort to push the Germans back from their stronghold in France in 1944. On Saturday we explored the area known as Pointe de Hoc. This promentory has been left intact, as it was at the end of WW2. The land is littered with craters from bombing. Broken bunkers and broken command posts. A large area to walk around and time to imagine what it might have been like for the troops fighting this battle. I am sure we really have no idea what is was like.
Our next stop was the American cemetery at Omaha beach. A very moving sight with a sea of white crosses on a green lawn. The visitors centre here had footage of the fighting along with personal accounts from family members who lost loved ones here. Again, very moving.
Then we visited the town of Arromanches, this is where the temporary harbour was set up, known as Mulberry Harbour. An incredible feat of planning and engineering. Floating concrete docks were towed across from England by sea, joined together by steel bridges to form a harbour with loading platforms. Without a natural port the allied forces needed this artificial harbour to land 2.5 million troops, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of equipment in just three months after D-Day on 6th June 1944. Amazing.
At Longues-sur-mer we walked around the German bunkers that survived mainly intact from that time, complete with 150mm artillary guns protected by concrete casements.
At the town of Bayeux we visited another cemetery, this time mainly British, but also some Canadian, Australian and New Zealand graves here.
We had a guided tour of Juno beach, where the Canadian troops came ashore and we visited the Canadian memorial. We saw evidence of forced labour by the Germans who insisted that the local French people help to build bunkers and underground tunnels. The local French people had sabotaged the building of the tunnels, making them very weak so they would collapse. We learned about the Canadian troops who helped the war effort here. At the time, Canada had a population of 11 million people. A staggering 1.1 million volunteered to assist the war in France, Belgium and Holland. These were volunteers! Only 16,000 were conscripted, much later, to replace the dead and wounded.
Today was a huge day, spent at the Memorial museum in Caen. We spent the whole day, from 9 am to 4 pm here, absorbing information about the lead up to WW2, starting from the end of WW1, right through to the end of WW2 and then the Cold War, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
War was raging on so many fronts. France, Russia, North Africa, Japan, China, the Pacific. A mind boggling day of data and atrocities. So much actual footage of war times, of concentration camps, of fighting, of families devastated. A full day of seeing how cruel humans can be to each other. A reminder that no matter what paperwork a leader might sign, towards peace or some other accord, it may not mean the leader has any intention of following the sentiments of the agreement. Frightening, incredible, sad, bewildering.
We are very lucky. We have not faced the atrocities of war in our home countries during our lifetime. We hope it never comes again.
Now we are in the mood for something to restore our souls and lift our spirits. So tomorrow we travel to the town of Honfleur. A beautiful harbour town with a different kind of museum. For the next few days we will appreciate some art from Monet and some other impressionist painters.
So far we still have beautiful weather. Today was 28 degrees and sunshine! Wonderful. Some rain is forecast for the weekend, but we do not mind, we have had such a fabulous 5 months, a little rain is nothing to worry about. After seeing the hardships of the people who lived through and died during the war, we realise our problems are very small. We do not fear for our lives. We don?t worry about what we will eat. Our biggest problem in the next few days is hoping to find a laundromat! Ha! We have nothing to complain about!!!
We had a lovely trip getting here, the weather has been kind to us, so we still have blue sky and 27-28 degrees, even though it is now autumn here. We explored a few more towns along the way, as well as the forest of Paimport. This is a large forest area and is the base for the 12th Century stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the round table, Lancelot and Merlin. In the forest, near the town of Trehorenteuc, we found th church of the Holy Grail. We walked through the ?Valley of No Return? which is a beautiful trek through the forest, with mainly easy paths but some steep rocky bits too. Our reward after climbing up and up was a great view of the valley below, with the autumn colours starting to show in the trees. We also came across the mythical Tree of Gold! And we did return from the valley of no return, although at some point we lost track of the markers and thought we might not find our way back!
Yesterday morning we explored the very pretty town of Dinan, with lovely stone buildings and half timbered houses. Picture postcard views around every corner and a fabulous port area on the river Rance with enticing cafes and restaurants. Here we found yachts with masts on, as from here there is access via the Rance, out to sea. All the other rivers we have visited in France this trip have only had boats suitable for the inland waterways, so we have seen many typical river boats as well as some yachts without masts so they can fit under bridges. It was a great sight for us, so see so many yachts!
In the afternoon we drove on to St Malo, where the river Rance empties out into the sea and the sea fights it?s way in with vigor. When we arrived in St Malo the tide was out, a long, long way out. But the tides here are extreme and right now the tides are at their highest point for the year. In New Zealand we have about 3 meters difference between high and low tide, but here in St Malo, the difference is 14 meters right now. Amazing!
We have met up with our good friends Rene and Nicole, who live in St Malo and we had a wonderful dinner and evening with them last night. They have made plans for us today, starting with breakfast at their place very soon, so I better get moving!
While in Saumur we visited the Combier distillery, the first place in France to make Triple Sec. They also make several other liqueurs and interesting cocktail mixes, including Absinthe, boutique gins and Soupe Angevine, which as you may have guessed is nothing to do with soup at all! The production facility, including all the copper vessels and distillation equipment and mezzanine structures, were all designed by Mr Eiffel and are still in use today. It was a very interesting tour and a pleasure to taste the products! We had a lovely night out in Saumur, with dinner in a restaurant in the town square, accompanied by a talented busker providing atmosphere and background music.
Today we said farewell to the Loire river and headed to a village called Rochemenier. This has a fabulous underground village, where people used to live in caves that were dug out of the ground to harvest fine grit, like sand, that is used in building products. Essentially it was a quarry, but the more you dig out of it, the larger the hole becomes and therefore the larger your house is! To add another room to your house you simply dig a little more out and sell the grit, so you make money at the same time! Some of these houses were inhabited right up to the 1980?s. A fascinating look at how the cave dwellers lived. They were known as Troglodytes.
Our next stop was the little town of Brissac-Quince, with yet another Chateau. I promise it is the last Chateau, we have seen enough now! In this town we came across the little cafe with a wine bar and a garden bar, and the sign had the logo of a Kiwi on it. So we could not resist! We chatted to the people inside and discovered that the owner, a Frenchman, spent a year in New Zealand in 2012 and was so impressed with the Kiwi way of life and the wine bars and garden bars and the coffee choices, he decided to come back to France and create his own cafe-bar in the Kiwi style. Amongst the huge variety of wines we found several from Marlborough, New Zealand.
We are now in the town of Segre, parked alongside a river. We have finished our tour of the Loire valley and our Chateau-hopping. Tomorrow we start to head north, on the way to visit some dear friends in the seaside town of St Malo.
After the magnificent Chateau Chambord, on Saturday we poked our noses into Blois, Chaumont-sur-Loire and Amboise. The Amboise chateau was special as it was the place Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years and he is buried here. 2 years ago we visited his birth place in Italy and many other places where he lived and worked. His brilliance in art as well as science is the source of endless fascination and we cannot help be amazed by his talent.
Our stop for the night on Saturday was at a small private winemaker in a tiny village. He spoke several languages and was happy to chat in English as he gave us a tour of his wine cave, carved out in the 13th Century. He is 84 years old and this year will be his last wine harvest. He has been making wine here for 70 years!! Amazingly he does everything himself, growing, harvesting, winemaking, bottling and labelling. We tasted and purchased wines from 1986 and 1999, but in the cellar we saw some from 1945!
On Sunday we rode our bikes along the cycle way to explore the city of Tours. This was 14km along the Loire river and 14km back, with fantastic views along the way.
On Monday we visited Chateau Villandry, with 6 hectares of incredible gardens. Many thousands of plants are used to create beautiful symmetrical patterns of flowers and vegetable plants, and these change every season. Outstanding.
Later we took a look at Chateau Azay-le-Rideau and then drove on to park for the night in the shadow of Chateau Langeais. Langeais is a very pretty town with many canals and waterways, filled with waterlillies and hanging gardens.
On Tuesday we visited the best Chateau we have seen so far, Chateau d?Usse. This is the castle that inspired the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty, and the currrent owners, who are descendants of the owners from 200 years ago, have done a magnificent job in bringing the castle to life. Furniture and tapestries from the 15 and 16th Centuries adorn the rooms, mannequins dressed in period costumes show how life was lived back in those days. Every room, including the stables, the attic, wine caves and the chapel look incredible. It is like stepping back in time. The story of Sleeping Beauty is retold in the round tower of the Castle, with scenes and mannequins and story books taking you along on the journey. A real treat!
Yesterday we explored some different dwellings. In Turquant and Montsoreau there are many houses built into caves in the side of cliffs. Originally the caves were carved out to harvest stones for building houses, but once the caves were there, various people decided to turn them into houses! A fascinating look at alternative accomodation! We also visited the pretty town of Candes St Martin, at th confluence where the Vienne river joins the Loire.
Last night we were in a hotel again, this time in Chinon. Heather had to attend a NZ board meeting from 11pm to 3am local time, so it was a short night!
Today we had a walk around the charming town of Chinon, with its fortress looming over the center. Our next stop was Fontevraud l?Abbey, to see the 12th Century Royal Abbey where Eleanor of Aquitane (mother of Richard the Lionheart) retired to after the death of husband (then King of England ) Henry the second.
So it has been a week full of fabulous places and awe-inspiring history and we are loving every minute!
Tonight we have stopped again in the village of Turquant, and tomorrow we plan a visit to the city of Saumur, which is built on both sides of the river Loire.
We saw many castles in Spain and Portugal, in fact almost every little village seemed to have a small castle on a hill, but these castles were military style, strong fortresses to keep out the enemy. The Chateaux we are seeing in the Loire Valley are built for beauty and to reflect wealth and power.
Our first visit was to Montresor. Translated, this means ?my treasure? and it was full of treasures! Here we found the piano that Chopin used to play and many items of beautiful furniture. Montresor is still furnished as it was over 100 years ago.
Our next visit was to Chenonceaux. A mighty arched bridge across the river Cher, with a beautiful castle at the end of the bridge. Very impressive. Next on our tour was Chateau Cheverny, nicely proportioned and set in a lovely park. Here we got rather distracted by a wine tasting shop with over 100 wines. After tasting 18 different wines, everything looked rosey!
Today we spent most of the day at Chateau Chambord, which is 499 years old. Originally built by King Francois 1st in the early 1500?s as a hunting lodge, the building plan became more and more grand with each passing year. The Chateau now has 440 rooms! There are three full stories and multiple towers and turrets. Spiral staircases abound, the most impressive is the central double helix staircase said to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It is essentially two staircases in one, so you can go up and down on one without ever meeting the other person who is going up or down on the other side at the same time!
After spending the whole morning wandering the buildings and formal gardens, after lunch we grabbed our bikes to explore the park. The original hunting grounds from Francois 1st were walled in over time and this park is now the largest walled park in Europe. The park area is the size of Paris! Wild deer and boar roam in the forests and we did see a couple of wild boar during our ride. There are fabulous cycle paths through the park, through forests, around lakes, alongside rivers and moats. Spectacular scenery of nature and the Chateau - and a fabulous ride!
Tomorrow we are off to the Loire river, to see some of the Chateaux that sit along the river banks.
We spent the weekend in Cognac and on both days there was a triathlon in town. First people would swim up and down the river, then cycle alongside the river back and forth, then run alongside the river back and forth to the finish line. We loved the atmosphere and loved watching kids, as well as people of all shapes and sizes and ages, doing their best. Some athletes were outstanding, but we admired the ones who were not well trained but did it anyway. Fabulous.
For the past 3 nights we have been sitting in a magic spot, on the side of lake Vassiviere, the largest man-made lake in France. We are 650 meters up, so a little bit in the mountain area, surrounded by forest. The lake is 10,000 square km, and beautiful! White sand beaches and water that is 25 degrees in the top layer, down to 21 degrees a bit deeper. Perfect for enjoying a swim! While we have been here we have walked around some of the lake shore, across a little bridge to an island in the lake where a Chateau stands and spent hours relaxing and reading on the beach. We have also enjoyed the company of Paul and Linda, campers parked next to us, from England. Their daughter is 25 and is a primary school teacher, she is moving to NZ for two years, starting next month. Their daughter has a husband who is a semi professional rugby player, so they are very keen to get involved in rugby in NZ. Paul and Linda are planning a trip to NZ to visit their daughter and son-in-law next year, so we had plenty to chat about over a few glasses of wine! They also introduced us to a new game, called Swedish skittles, which is great fun to play on the beach. It is a game that is difficult to win, so even if you are well ahead on points, you can end up losing points and the slow ones catch up. Great fun and lots of laughs!
We have now driven 10,000 km in Lilly since our journey began 17 weeks ago. We have seen some incredible places and soaked up so much beauty and history and fun. We still have 5 weeks of fun ahead of us and who knows what we will get up to! Today it is drizzling again after a couple of lovely sunny days, so it is time to drive north, away from the mountains, and see where we stop.
After seeing the mayhem at the coast, we opted to go slightly inland and ended up parked beside a beautiful lake, in the forest, away from the maddening crowds. Yay! We didn?t even venture in to the small town of St Paul les Dax beside us, instead we strolled around the waters edge, watching ducks and geese playing, fishermen waiting patiently for a bite and a few teams of locals playing Jeu de boules. Very peaceful.
On Wednesday we drove into the Medoc region of France, looking for an old school friend of Karl that he had not seen in more than 40 years. We eventually found the right house, but there was nobody home, so we set of to the nearby lake, Lac d?Hourtin, for a swim. This lake is not far from the ocean but the water in the lake is 26 degrees and beautiful! White sand beach, fabulous swimming. Aahhhh!
Later in the day we popped back to find Hans at home! What a surprise for Hans to see his old friend from school again. It turned out that both Karl and Hans had been trying to contact each other by email, but had never had a reply, so had given up. When we compared email addresses we found very small errors in both, which of course means the emails never got to the right place! Hans was thrilled we had come by. Karl and Hans had a wonderful time, talking about school days and all the things that have happened since, and looking at family photos from Hans. We went out to a local restaurant for dinner and the stories continued over a wine or two. At breakfast the next morning we had more photos and more stories. So much to catch up on from the last 40 plus years!
On Thursday afternoon we drove to Blaye, which included a ferry ride for us and Lilly, over the Gironde river. We came to Blaye two years ago and decided to come back because it is such a fabulous place to stay!
We are parked in the vineyards at Chateau Marquis de Vauban. This grand chateau provides free parking for campervans, including water, electricity and waste dump. And what a place to be! On one side of us there is a little canal, with ducks and swans. On the other side of us all we can see is rows and rows of vines, with black-red grapes hanging low.
Today we went for a bike ride along a 14km cycle path, through the vineyards, through a couple of small villages and partly through a forest. We stopped at one village for a coffee and pastry treat. By the time we cycled back to Lilly we had covered 28km, so feel that we have had our workout for the day.
At 4pm, in just a few minutes, we are off for a ride in a horse and carriage, to the citadel nearby. Our carriage will bring us back for a tour of the winery and a tasting of some of the wines, so that will be fun!
Alas, we are only allowed to stay here for 48 hours, so tomorrow we depart. Next stop is the town of Cognac. I wonder what we will find there!
And now here we are, at San Sebastián, the last major city before we reach the French border.
We will explore this city tomorrow and do some essential things like a hair cut for Heather and another visit to the dentist for Karl. While we were in Portugal we got used to all the shops being open 7 days a week, just like they are in NZ, but in Spain and France, everything is shut in the weekend, especially on Sunday, so tomorrow being Monday we will attack our list of things to do. This will include stocking up on certain items that are much cheaper in Spain than in France!
We are still enjoying endless sunshine wherever we go. The south eastern part of Spain has recently had torrential rain, flooding, hail storms and gale force winds, but we have not seen a drop of rain since we were in Almeria on the 6th June and that was only a short shower of half an hour. We have been lucky with the weather so far, today is it glorious sunshine and 26 degrees. Perfect! Rain is forecast for the end of the week, but wait and see.
Not all people believe this is true apparently (I cannot imagine why!) but the walk has become very popular as a personal journey of discovery for many people who walk at least the last 100km of the trail each year to get a stamp in their passport to heaven, or some such thing! It has now become a tourist trail, full of walkers with back packs, walking poles, boots and sore feet. I fully expected to see many stalls at the end of the trail, selling new shoes, or at least some fresh socks might be nice! But no, all sorts of other souvenirs and trinkets, even walking poles, presumably for those poor sods who had to walk back to where they came from, but no fresh socks! There is a gap in the market here!!!
The old town is quaint, with little buildings that once were houses now turned into cafes and souvenir shops. The Cathedral at the end point is enormous and over the top, built over several centuries, each addition more lavish and extravagant than the next. Hundreds of people were lined up for the offical certificate to show they had made it to the end, even though this is not a Holy year! The atmosphere in the Cathedral square was fabulous, with back packs strewn about, walkers with happy faces, stretched out on the cobble stones or drinking champagne. What an achievement!
Today we headed north again and explored the north coast of Spain... our first stop was near the north west corner of Spain..but more about that in the next update :-)
On our way north for the Douro we stopped at the old fortress town of Guimaeres to gaze at the 10th Century castle. Next to the castle is a grand building called Paco dos Duques do Braganca. Originally built in 1401, this building was lavishly restored as a presidential residence by the Dictator Salazar.
Salazar was the Dictator in Portugal from 1926 to 1974. During that time he looked after himself very well, but the people of Portugal were very poor. A military coup in 1974 followed by a public revolt saw mayhem take place for a while until the first democratic elections were held in 1976. During the 1950?s through 1980?s, many Portuguese people fled their homeland in search of work, and a better life. Many Portuguese settled in France and now, every year, thousands of families return from France to Portugal for the summer holidays, to visit family members who are left behind, or those who have come back to Portugal to retire. So our French camper did not look out of place in Portugal. In fact, we saw more cars and campers with French number plates in Portugal than any other nationality by far (apart from Portuguese of course!). For this reason, many Portuguese people speak French as a second language, although English is widely spoken as well.
Further north in Portugal, we visited a very special place near the city of Braga. High up on a mountain is a church and sanctuary known as Bom Jesus do Monte. Translated, this means Good Jesus on the mountain. There are 580 steps up to the church and if you are a pilgrim, you are supposed to do the last 300 steps on your knees! This rule, I presume, was made up by the local orthopaedic surgeon who had some vacancies for knee replacements! The alternative way to the top was via a water powered funicular so we decided to pay the one euro fifty cents and do it the easy way! The funicular has two little tram cars on a cable going straight up the side of the hill. One goes up and one goes down, then they go back again. Water is poured into the tram at the top to make it heavier than the one at the bottom before the break is released. Water is dumped out at the bottom to make the bottom one lighter again. The sanctuary was a special place, sitting high up above the city with 360 degree views. Beautiful gardens, fountains, a large pond, caves and chapels dotted all around, plus the Basilica. For those who walked the steps, several little chapels were dotted down the mountain beside the steps, to add encouragement for the journey on your knees!
Yesterday we spent our last night in Portugal at the beach, beside a town called Viana do Castello. A popular spot, we took the ferry across to town and enjoyed the sights before returning beachside for the evening.
The southern half of Portugal is dominated by Cork trees and olives, the middle has got vineyards and the center to northern part is dominated by eucalyptus trees. Portugal has the largest production of pulp and paper in Europe, from eucalyptus trees that were originally imported from Australia. Eucalyptus grows fast in Portugal and uses less water than any other tree to make the same amount of pulp for paper production. So it is ideal for Portugal and seems to be fast replacing the pine forests. The other advantage of the eucalyptus is that when you cut it off at the base to harvest the wood, a few more trees spring up from the stump and grow all by themselves without needing to replant. Easy!
The thing we liked the most about Portugal was the people. Gentle, helpful, thoughtful, good drivers, nobody tooting horns, peaceful people. Back in Spain we have to endure the fast-talking, loud-talking, never-stop-talking Spanish! They are a very lively lot here in Spain.
We have now adjusted our clocks again to Spanish time, one hour ahead of Portugal. Tomorrow we head further north, to explore Santiago de Compostela!
Porto is a beautiful city. So many lovely old buildings, and most are very well preserved. Porto has less rubbish than most places in Portugal, one thing we have found detracts from most of Portugal is the amount of litter everywhere. Porto was relatively clean, not entirely, but much better!
We took the hop on hop off bus tour through the historic centre and out to the ocean side. Along the ocean promenade there are miles and miles of Pohutukawa trees, especially imported from New Zealand about 70 years ago to beautify the coast!
We also visited a few Port wine venues, and of course did some tasting of white, rose, tawny and ruby ports. Tawny is our favourite. There were buskers along the streets and in the town squares adding to the wonderful atmosphere of Porto. To finish off the day we found a Fado restaurant and enjoyed another hearty meal accompanied by some passionate singing and fabulous guitars.
Today we headed inland again, this time up the Douro river. Before we got to the Douro we drove through some agricultural land and were surprised to find Kiwifruit growing here commercially. We stopped for groceries and found local Kiwifruit along with Italian and NZ grown Kiwifruit for sale. Once we got to the Douro river, the road became steep and winding and the views amazing. This long, wide and winding river has steep banks on either side and most of the way these steep banks are covered in vineyards. Absolutely stunning drive, especially for Karl who was the passenger on this leg of the trip.
The roads getting here were interesting in places, especially the very long narrow bridge across the river as it is only one lane and causes a traffic jam on both sides as people wait to get through. Not easy to creep past all the buses and cars waiting on the narrow streets on the other side, but we made it! And I have to say, the drive was worth it! This must be one of the prettiest places we have ever seen.
We are now parked right at the rivers edge with an amazing view across the river to the picturesque town of Pinhao, which is perched on a sharp bend in the river. From here we see the tourist boats coming and going, and the tourist steam train toot-tooting it?s way up the valley. It feels like we are sitting inside a picture postcard!!!
Tomorrow we will explore some of the Quintas here, the vineyards with tasting rooms are called Quintas and we can see plenty around us to choose from, within walking distance!
The highlight of Lisbon for us however was our dinner in a Fado restaurant. Traditional Portuguese food, with Fado. Fado is the local music, mainly songs of love and lost love with plenty of emotion and heart in the singing. Two guitarists playing 12 string Portuguese guitars and one hearty singer. The music and atmosphere was great and the food delicious.
After dinner we visited a Fado bar for a drink and more Fado music. We got so carried away listening to Fado that by the time we got the train from Lisbon back to Sintra the last bus had gone. We had to walk back to the camper from the train station (about 2 km)and finally tumbled into bed around 1.30am. A wonderful night!
Yesterday we headed north again, arriving at a little seaside town called Praia da Barra, near the town of Aveiro. If you look at a map of Spain and Portugal, Aveiro is about half way up the west coast.
Today we explored the town of Aveiro, by gondola! Known as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is a very watery place, with canals instead of streets in some areas. Originally an old fishing village and a salt farming area, the town has olde world charm along with many new shops and restaurants. The little bridges over the canals and the colourful gondolas all add to the atmosphere making for a memorable stop.
This afternoon we braved the c-c-c-cold sea water and had a swim at the beautiful white sand beach at Praia da Barra. The Atlantic is still 17-18 degrees, so rather refreshing!!! Daytime temperatures are back to normal after the heat wave, so now enjoying 23 -25 degrees during the day, which is very pleasant for seeing the sights.
Tomorrow we head further north again, to find a spot to stay while we explore the city of Porto.
The temperatures are now on the way back down again, so we have moved another step closer to Lisbon, visiting some interesting places on the way.
Our first stop was the town of Obidos. A charming town, completely surrounded by a classic, crenellated wall. Very touristy with people dressed in medieval costumes, buskers and bands of musicians walking through the streets. It felt like it was plucked right out of a fairy tale!
It was far too hot to spend much time wandering the little streets, so we drove on to Mafra. Our camper stop here is right next to the National Palace and that was a perfect place to be in the afternoon as it was nice and cool inside.
What an amazing place. The palace is almost square, stretching 232 meters along one side. In the middle of the palace walls is a Basilica with a 65 meter high dome, inspired by St Peters Basilica in Rome. The Basilica of the Palace in Mafra has 6 organs and the bell towers have 102 bells. This is the biggest historical musical/bell complex in the world! The palace has three floors, all with very high ceilings and many of these ceilings have incredible paintings on them.
Interesting to note that the North tower contained the Kings bedroom, dining room, kitchen and servants quarters and the South tower contained the Queens bedroom, dining room, kitchen and servants quarters. Situated at opposite ends of the front of the Palace, their bedrooms were 232 meters apart! A strange set up if you ask me!!!
When Portugal became a republic in 1910, the Palace was turned into a museum and still has the furniture and everything in it as it was when used as a Palace. The enormous library has 36,000 books dating from the 15th century to the 18th century. An incredible collection. The Palace and Basilica were commissioned to be built by royal order, using the vast wealth obtained from gold, silver and diamonds from Brazil. The architect was recruited from Italy and the King had ship loads of marble and sculptures imported from Italy, so many ship loads that he built a new wharf and port area to manage the volume of cargo required. Just amazing! Later, a sculpting school was set up in the Palace, to train Portuguese people in the Italian methods of sculpture and many of these locally made sculptures have been incorporated into the trimmings of the buildings too. Pink, blue, white and black marble have been used in beautiful designs to form colourful pillars, floors and walls. The whole place is beautiful, and completely over the top! But a fantastic place to wander for a couple of hours in the cool.
Today we head to Sintra. We will stay in Sintra for a couple of days and take the train from there to visit Lisbon tomorrow. By tomorrow Lisbon will be 26 degrees instead of the 42 degrees it had yesterday.
It is the high season here of course, summer holiday time, plus the weather forecast this week is a severe heat wave starting tomorrow. So we were not the only ones escaping inland Portugal hoping to find a cool spot in the Atlantic breeze.
The first place we stopped was overrun with cars and campers and people in all directions. The surf was rolling in, stirring up sand and weed and making the water very dirty and the wind was blowing a gale. It was not appealing at all!
So we carried on and have now found a spot beside an estuary, not far from the ocean. We have calm water, a beautiful white sand beach, a gentle breeze and the beach here is not so crowded. We will sit here until Sunday, probably, when temperatures become more manageable again and then we will head to Lisbon. We do not want to walk around Lisbon in over 40 degrees! We will be much cooler here. The only down side is the water is only 18 degrees, so we will need to be pretty desperate to go for a swim! Ah well, you can?t always have it all!
But there was more to happen in our day. During lunch there was an unexpected crunch! Karl looked a bit perplexed and then announced that one of his teeth had broken in half! Oh dear. We quickly found a dentist and again someone that spoke English to have a look. Within a short time Karl emerged with a repair on his tooth. They removed the broken bit and built up the rest again, which will see him right for a little while. Hopefully a long while, but he will need some permanent work done at some stage. He has been putting that off for decades!!!
So after a full day of errands we are now parked alongside the river Tagus, with a wonderful view. Tomorrow we are booked in to a hotel again as Heather has another board meeting, so we will stay in Abrantes another night before escaping to the coast.
Portugal is expecting a heat wave this week. Starting on Wednesday, temperatures up to 46 degrees are forecast for inland areas! On Wednesday we will look for a place on the west coast with cooler temperatures and hopefully have another swim!
As we were in Spain for a few days, it was also a good opportunity to fill up with diesel, which is cheaper than in Portugal, plus we needed to change our LPG cylinder over again. Every country in Europe has a different gas bottle, with a different fitting on the top. The service stations do not refill them, only swap the bottles, so we had to get a Spanish bottle when we arrived in Spain. We already have two French bottles and an Italian bottle from our trip two years ago, so we did not want to get another one from Portugal as well! All went to plan and we were able to swap our almost empty Spanish bottle for a full one.
We drove back into Portugal yesterday afternoon and explored the perched village of Marvao. An incredible spot!!!
Marvao is perched up high on a rocky crest at 843 meters. Walls around the town are built on the edge of the rock, which drops straight down into the valley below. The town sits on the highest point of the plateau and has amazing views from all sides over the walls of the fortress around it. At the very top is the castle, of course! We have seen many villages built on hills and many castles on a hill, but this one will always stand out in our memory. It really is something special.
We were in for an unexpected treat! Marvao is having a festival of classical music right now, which is much more to our liking than some of the music we have endured recently! Last night we went to one of the lovely churches in Marvao and were thrilled by the performance of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, with Mozart?s Requeim. The choir was outstanding and we got goose bumps as we soaked up the sounds from the orchestra and the beautiful voices. It is a pity we could not stay longer and go to a few more concerts over the next few days, but Marvao only allows day time parking for campervans, not overnight. So we drove in the dark last night to our next spot, beside another lake.
We are now at Barragem de Povoa, a lake formed by a dam at 300 meters altitude. The water is warm and the nights are cool, so this might be another nice spot for a few days. Once we leave here we will start hopping our way west, towards the big city of Lisbon.
On two hills either side of the town there are star fortresses for keeping watch and housing more military forces. A magnificent, 4 layer high aqueduct travels 7km to bring water to the town. Very impressive engineering! Our parking spot was a huge area next to the aqueduct, under a shady tree. Wonderful to have some shade as it is now officially hot! So far in our journey we have enjoyed very pleasant temperatures. Mostly between 24 and 30 degrees, with only a couple of days at 31 or 32. But on Sunday we had our hottest day so far at 36 degrees!
Being so close to the Spanish border, we decided to hop over and take a look at the Spanish town of Badajoz. Our parking place is right beside the main river that runs through the town, beside a beautiful old bridge that gives us an easy walk to the centre of town. Another pretty spot but this time without shade in 36 degrees. Phew!
We decided to wait until the evening to stroll around the city, rather than walk in the heat of the day. We were surprised how empty the city was. Usually at 9pm, Spanish cities are coming alive with people, but there was hardly a soul in sight.
When we returned across the bridge towards home we discovered why town was so empty. There were thousands and thousands of people in the park running along side the river, all flocking to see a concert! The band played on until 1am and families with children and babies were all out in force. Kids playing in the playgrounds, families sitting on the grass having a picnic and throngs of young people crowded around the stage all cheering and screaming after every song. Not what we expected on a Monday night! The crowds all packed up and left about 2am and we finally got some sleep.
Today we will head into the wilderness to seek some peace and quiet and some shade - and hopefully somewhere nice to swim!
The we drove further up the same large lake, to the town of Monsaraz. Wow! Our parking spot was high up on the second level of the castle walls, overlooking the lake. What an amazing view! Behind us, the top of the castle loomed against the sky. A real ?Pinch Me!? moment.
Inside the castle walls, built during the 12th to 14th centuries, is a little town where people still live today. Monsaraz is known as the Wine Capital of Portugal, so we sampled 4 or 5 ish and also purchased some special ones.
We ventured back into town late in the evening to see an open air concert, but the music sounded like a howling lament, so after surviving half a dozen songs we retreated back to our little home.
Unlike the neighbouring town of Luz, the people of Monsaraz have embraced the large lake that now lies on their doorstep. They have created a beach, playground, picnic areas and swimming area. The is a restaurant on the beach and even life guards! There is a jetty for boats available to charter for the day or overnight trips, plus organised sight-seeing trips on the lake. The lake, which is a flooded valley made from the dam, has about 200 islands and a lovely coastline with many little bays for boating. So inviting!
We enjoyed a swim at Monsaraz beach on Saturday morning before driving to our next stop, the medieval town of Evora.
We had a very pretty drive. Hillsides flanked with vineyards and little villages dotted about the valleys and hills.
Evora has remnants of Roman rule, with ruins of a Roman temple from the year 1 AD. Most of the buildings we see today were built in the 1500?s and 1600?s, including the 19km long aqueduct built in 1533-1537 to supply water to the town. The spookiest place we visited was the Chapel of Bones. During the 16th century somebody had the marvellous idea of digging up all the graves in the town and using the bones to make a chapel. All of the walls and pillars are lines with human bones. Rows and rows of skulls form decorative patterns in arches, filled in with rows and rows of arm bones and then rows and rows of leg bones in another direction to make interesting patterns on the walls. As you enter the chapel there is an inscription above the door which, translates to: We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours! We decided it was a very morbid place and spent the rest of the day enjoying the other, more beautiful sights of Evora.
A friend had recommended a restaurant to us, so of course we had to try it out! Restaurant S. Luis was tucked away down a little lane and we would never had found it if we had not been looking carefully! Inside was a charming little place with only a small number of tables and it felt like you were in the dining room of somebody?s house. We were greeted very warmly by the owner, who has a nephew that plays rugby and he lived in NZ for a few years. She was so excited to meet people from NZ as she has so many photos from her nephew.
Chatting to people at the table next to us we discovered that the NZ Haka is very famous in Portugal because of an advertisement on TV. In the ad, the NZ rugby team do the Haka, while the opposition look on. The opposition are dressed in Scottish kilts. At the end of the Haka the team with the kilts on all raise the hems of their kilts up high, while facing the NZ team. The ad ends with: No rules, Great Scotch! It is an ad for William Lawson Whiskey. If you google it you will find the video clip! Now we know why, everywhere we have been in Portugal, people have talked about the Haka as soon as they heard we were from NZ!
Right now we are sitting beside the largest man-made lake in Western Europe. The Alqueva reservoir was created in 2002 when the flood gates were closed on the Alqueva dam. It covers 250 square km in area and has a lake shore of 1200km.
On Tuesday we drove inland from the west coast to escape the cold west wind and the crowds on the coast. We arrived at the tiny village of Estrela, perched on the edge of this huge lake and knew we had found a special place. The water in the lake is fabulous for swimming, at 25 degrees Celsius it is much more inviting than the Atlantic Ocean which is barely 18 degrees! Estrela is the opposite of crowded! Only 50 people live in this tiny village and most of them seemed to be away on holiday!
We went to the local restaurant for dinner and were treated to some real local flavour. A husband and wife run the restaurant, and the husband chef insists on serving only the best and biggest meals from this region in Portugal. The food was absolutely delicious, but one portion would have been enough for three people! We loved the flavours and kept on eating as much as we could, but we left at least half of it behind. We have ever had such massive portions!
Yesterday, after another swim in the lake, we drove a little further up the lake shore and stopped at the town of Luz. This is a completely new town that was built in 2002 and all the 363 residents plus the graveyard from the old town of Luz were moved into the new town of Luz before the flooding of the valley. The old town now lies under the lake. We visited the museum and watched a movie about moving the town, quite a logistical feat, but even more of an emotional hardship for the older people who had spent their whole lives in their old house and did not want to move. The old houses had outdoor kitchens and the people were used to slaughtering their own pigs and smoking them in the fire in the outdoor kitchen. When they moved into the modern houses with the kitchen inside they were terribly upset as they could not imagine how they could slaughter and smoke their pigs in the new kitchen!
But everyone agrees that the reservoir of water has been great for the country. Many new farmlands have been developed where the land was previously too dry. Now the surrounding landscape is full of vineyards, olives, sunflowers and grain crops as well as the traditional cork tree plantations.
The lake seems under-utilised to us, however, as there is not much in the way of recreational activity on the lake. We have only seen a couple of boats and a couple of people fishing off the pier. This lake is so huge and so beautiful, it would be an ideal spot for dinghy sailing, wind surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, house boats, and even dive trips to look at the old village. But there is nothing here. No tourism at all. The sleepy town sits peacefully on the edge of the lake and the older people sit along the street and stare into space, perhaps dreaming of how life used to be.
Yesterday we enjoyed a long cliff top walk at the cape by Sagres, and we thought that was windy! Today we have been buffeted about by much stronger winds as we walked over the cliffs at various points on the west coast.
Dramatic, spectacular, rugged and rocky, with frothy waves crashing against the cliffs. Beautiful.
We took a look at Cabo Vicente, the south western most point of Europe, then we stopped to gaze at beaches near Aljezur and Odeceixe, then had lunch at the beach at Almograve. Incredible rocky shore and surprising little bays of golden sand beach! Then we took a look at Vila Nova de Milfontes, a small river side town that stretches along a river beach and to the ocean. Another long walk! The whole way up the coast we found signs that told us campers were forbidden to park after 8pm. Oh dear! Eventually we ended up at a little town called Porto Covo. This has a special camper stop for just 3 euros, including services where we can fill up with water and dump waste water. Yay! These places are great! We stopped in one of these 3 euro camper stops in the city of Lagos too. The local camp ground was 53 euros per night! But of course the local camp ground has a kids club activity schedule and a fitness program and a bread delivery service at three times the price you can buy bread from the local baker! We would rather pay 3 euros and stay away from the kids club and organised activities thank you very much!
After seeing such a wonderful rugged coast and all the hopeful surfers and other tourists sheltering from the Wild West winds, we have decided to head inland tomorrow and find out what the real Portugal is like, away from the coast!
Over the past few days we have hopped further and further west along the southern coast of the Algarve. We have visited various beaches and towns along the way.
Most of the coastal Algarve is full of packaged tourists, mainly from England. They get a cheap deal with flights, rental car and apartment for a week or so and they try to make the most of the sunshine. We call them marshmallows as they are white when they arrive and pink when they leave!
The best place we stayed along this coast was the city of Lagos. A pretty place, with a lovely marina, a long promenade along the river and beautiful beaches. The old town of Lagos with tiny cobbled streets is clean and well maintained, and it is full of great little bars and cafes. Wonderful!
We were in Lagos for the final of the FIFA World Cup soccer match between Croatia and France. It was an action-packed game with France winning 4-2. The whole town erupted into party mode with all the French tourists out in force wearing red, white and blue, faces painted, red, white and blue hats and French flags waving in all directions. Cars and scooters drove through the streets waving French flags and tooting horns. A fabulous celebration!
We are now heading north again, up the west coast of Portugal. Time to explore some more!
We did find a park and walked through the old town wallls and around inside the old town full of cobbled streets. More graffiti greeted us on the old fortress walls and on the new shops and cafes too. Paint was peeling off walls in the Main Street of town! Faro is the main airport where all the packaged tourists fly in from England and Holland and Germany. It is the gateway to the beautiful Algarve beaches. But it is a dump! Rubbish everywhere. Dreadful.
I looked for something nice to take a photo of, but everything I saw was covered in graffiti. The only photo I took in the end was the storks sitting in nests at the top of the church bell tower. It looked like the only place the graffiti vandals could not reach. We did not stay here!
Our next stop was the beautiful beach of Falesia, further west from Faro. The western Algarve has the same golden sand beaches as we have been enjoying all around the coast of Spain and Portugal, but with a major difference. In the western Algarve the beaches are backed by stunning red and white cliffs. So getting to and from the beach gave us some exercise with over 100 steps plus boardwalk bridges zig zagging down the cliffs to the beach. In the evening we watched the soccer at the bar across the road. Croatia beat England 2-1 in an exciting match!
After a couple of days at Falesia beach we drove further west to Praia Marinha, an absolutely stunning beach, with cliffs that have eroded to form natural arches and tall skinny islands in the bay. At high tide there is not much beach left so people set up beach umbrellas and towels right against the cliffs, despite the warning signs about rock fall. We saw evidence of major slips and huge boulders that had come tumbling down on to the beach near by, but it seems these people think their beach umbrellas will protect them from 5 tonne rocks! After admiring the beauty and having a lovely walk out to the natural arches, we decided to move inland to a little town called Silves.
Silves has a very interesting castle, that looks like the sort of castle you would find in a children?s story book. Certainly the sort of castle my children drew pictures of when they were small. Inside the castle there is a huge flat area that was used for collecting water in ancient times, with a massive water tank underneath. This castle was built in the 1100?s and 1200?s and these were times of great wars. The water tank holds 1.3 million litres of water and was built to supply water to the people in the village for up to a year in times of siege. Interesting to note that this water tank in the Castle continued to supply water to the town of Silves right up until the 1990?s. Amazing!
Last night we walked back into town to enjoy the atmosphere of the local beer festival. Street stalls selling local foods, and about 50 different types of local beer. A local band was playing music and the whole town was out enjoying themselves. Instead of beer, we tried a glass of Tangerine Gin!
We chatted to some local people here too. So far in Portugal we have found most people speak English, which is much easier for us than in the south of Spain! The people we sat next to last night had lived in Holland for several years and spoke Dutch as well, so the conversation was a strange mix of languages but loads of fun!
On Monday we drove to the beach and found ourselves a great spot, parked in the shade of pine trees. It was just as well we got to the beach early as the car park filled up and was very busy during the day.
Our new sun umbrella came in very handy as we spent 6 hours at the beach, alternating between sun and shade to warm up and cool down. We did go for a very short swim, but at 17 degrees water temperature I lasted less than a minute and Karl only braved it for a few minutes more. Amazing that the water is that cold here. Every day the air temperature is 28 to 30 degrees. Very pleasant. But the water is freezing!!!
After a lovely evening amongst the shady trees we had a very peaceful night as all the crowds had gone again.
Today we drove to Santa Luzia, a small town further west on the Algarve. Still the southern coast of Portugal. Here at Santa Luzia there is a river coastline, then a strip of wetlands and sand dunes between the town and the ocean, so we are parked beside the river. A pretty little town. We went for a cycle along the river front and came across a little foot bridge over the river and then a small train that takes people across the wetlands and the sand dunes to the ocean beach. So we thought, why not? We had packed a picnic lunch, so off we went on the little train, to the beach for a picnic. We did not swim today, but had fun watching other brave souls venture in to the freezing water and rush out again!
After another wonderful meal in the Lilly cafe, we wandered down the road to watch the soccer. France won from Belgium, so France are through to the final. Tomorrow we will head further west to Faro, probably, to explore the city of Faro and find somewhere to watch the England-Croatia game to see who gets through to the final with France. Life is good!
The Portuguese have a very clever system for toll roads. At the border every foreign vehicle is stopped and you must give them a credit card, which they associate with your number plate. From then on, any toll road you drive on is automatically billed to your credit card. No toll booths, no chasing debts, all automatic!
The first thing we had to do once we got over the border was change our watches. Portugal is one hour behind Spain, so we gained an hour in our new country!
We have various apps and books with information about places for campers to park for the night, for free or for just a few euros. Many of these stops include places to dump waste water and fill up with fresh water. Very handy!
It is very common in France and easy to find places in Spain that encourage camper vans to visit by providing free or almost free services to campers. Having good services also means campers do not make a mess somewhere else!
We had heard good things about a little town in Portugal called Alcoutim, along the side of the river Guadiana but about 40km inland from the Atlantic. So this is where we headed for our first stop in Portugal. But when we arrived, at what used to be a free stop, we found that some irritating little bureaucrat had decided to start charging campers to stay there. Now we do not mind a few euros, but this spot was rediculous! The sign said charges would be calculated at 0.51 euro cents per square meter per day, based on the amount of space taken up by our vehicle, awning etc. What???
We did a quick calculation and worked out it would cost over 10 euros for us to park in their scruffy parking lot, this is more than you pay for a nice campground with showers and toilets and shady trees! The parking lot was empty. We left too. Previously this spot was very popular with campers, who spent money in the towns bars, restaurants and supermarkets. Now, nobody was here!
So we drove back towards the coast for a way and stopped at a free service spot at Castro Marim. This is a quaint little town, built in a circle around the base of the old castle on the hill. The people were very friendly and made us welcome. We spent our money in their supermarket and at their bar while we watched two soccer games!
Today we have driven further back towards the coast again, still on the border river. Tonight we are camped right beside the river at Vila Real de Santo Antonio. This is the first major town up the Rio Guardiana. From where we sit we are looking across the river back to Spain.
We explored the town on foot today and then cycled the whole way down the river front to the ocean and back. A great day!
Tomorrow is Monday, so on the morning we will try our luck at the ocean beaches again. Hopefully the weekend crowd will have gone home and the holiday makers will be sleeping in later than us!
In the next day or so we will go further west and cross the border into Portugal. A new adventure begins!
We have loved Spain. We have been here 7 weeks and have been pleasantly surprised with just about everything! Good roads, happy people, tidy, clean and well maintained towns and cities (with the exception of the Cadiz cities) and beautiful white sand beaches.
The other thing we have observed is the nightlife culture. Alcohol is cheap here. One euro fifty (just over 2 dollars NZ) buys you a glass of wine, or beer in a cafe. For the same price you can buy lemonade or a coffee. At the supermarket, gin is 6 NZ dollars per litre. Beer is about 6 dollars NZ per dozen. But we have never seen anyone drinking too much! You just don?t see drunk people at all. At night, groups of men, groups of ladies, groups of young people, big family groups with uncles and aunties and all the kids go out for meals at 10pm or 11pm. You look around the cafes and see many of these people are drinking cola or lemonade. Some people have one beer, then have a coffee. Nobody gets drunk! If you have a drink at a bar or a cafe, nobody comes to push another drink onto you. They wait until you signal them for another drink. It is a very different drinking culture to the English or the Kiwis. Alcohol is the same price as a non-alcoholic drink and is not abused. We find this fascinating. And so pleasant.
We have now driven just over 6000km in Lilly since we collected her at the end of April. But only 2700km of that has been in Spain over the last 7 weeks. We are enjoying the slower pace of life, the siestas and the balmy nights. Our next update will be from Portugal!
Sherry making is very traditional, so no air conditioning is used in the buildings. Temperature is kept between 15 to 20 degrees all year round even though in summer it might be more than 40 degrees outside. How? The buildings have very thick concrete walls, very high wooden ceilings and the doors face the sea to give them a cooling breeze. Plus, under the barrels is a special soil that holds moisture. This is watered every morning and helps to keep the place cool.
The other thing that Jerez is famous for is the Royal Andalusian school for horses. We visited the royal palace, museum and grounds, which are beautiful. The highlight was the show, where very well trained horses make all kinds of moves, some like they are dancing, walking side ways, turning in tight circles, jumping on their hind legs, walking on the spot. A real spectacle! There is a very special relationship between each horse and rider, such trust and amazing communication. We learned that this tradition started many years ago. In the battle grounds during the 1500?s, warriors with well trained horses had a huge advantage over the opposition. A horse that could suddenly change direction, stop, go sideways or turn fast gave the rider the ability to avoid the spear from the enemy and also to position themselves better for attack. What started out as training horses for battle moves has now become an amazing sport.
We are staying a little bit out of the city, but cycle in each day to explore. We even managed to cycle back with the basket loaded up with bottles of sherry!
Our evenings have been filled with soccer, which we watch at the local restaurant. Spain is out, but the locals are still happy to watch and cheer for their favourite teams.
Apart from the horses and the bodegas, which are very special and well worth the visit, Jerez is not a great town. We have seen more rubbish in the streets and graffiti here than anywhere on our journey so far, which is such a shame.
Today we are off to another famous city. Seville here we come!
Back on the Santa Maria side in the evening, we once again went to a bar to watch the soccer. Spain drew 2 all against Morocco after a tense game! A great night.
For the past few days we have been parked at a beach near the town of Rota, just a little further around the coast. What a fabulous place! Many thanks to Patricia for suggesting it!
We are parked about 50 meters from a beautiful white sand beach, with beach showers and a beach cafe. Right behind Lilly is a cycle path that takes us the 4km into the centre of Rota which is a lovely town. Each morning we go for a cycle and then have a swim in the afternoon. There is a nice little tapa bar in the forest just a short ride away, with boardwalks through the pine trees and wood pigeons cooing. So tranquil!
It has been nice to spend a few days here and we have been chatting to other campers parked nearby, swapping stories and giving each other tips on places to see along the way. An English couple are doing a similar trip to us, but in reverse, so they have already done Portugal and heading to the parts of Spain we have come from. We now have a huge list of places to add to our Portugal tour!
One of the things that has been a limiting factor for us is the ability to charge up our phones and computer etc. When we are driving we can charge everything, but sitting still, or only driving a short way means we run out of juice! My very clever husband has now solved this problem by installing a 12v charging point off the camper batteries so we can keep everything charged up and stay in places a bit longer. Karl has also been kept busy with some other maintenance jobs, like fixing punctures in bicycle tyres! But we are loving the bikes. We were able to cycle in to the local supermarket this morning to get a few essentials. So handy!
Tomorrow night the beach area will get very busy for the weekend, so we will move on to the city of Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez is famous for sherry, so we will see what we can find!
While we were on the beach we watched many locals and visitors going in for a swim. Obesity seems to have arrived here, as it has for many places in the world. After seeing so many large people entering the water we now understand the real reason that the sea level is rising around the globe!!!
About 7pm we decided to wander into town for dinner, but the place was deserted and all the bodegas were closed for private functions as it was Saturday night! So we walked up the river and around the town until 8pm when we ventured in to an Irish pub to watch the soccer. Sweden started well with a goal, but by half time, we were hungry and the pub only served drinks!
Further down the road we found a little cafe and ate tapas while we watched the rest of the game. Germany equaled early in the second half but Sweden held them out to 1 all, until the final seconds of extra time when Germany scored another goal. Everyone was dismayed! Sweden deserved the draw!
We emerged back on the streets again around 10.45 pm to find the town bustling with people and children and babies, whole families going out for dinner. Many people were just arriving to start dinner even at 11.30pm! We enjoyed walking through the town and absorbing the vibrant feeling of the busy cafes that had come to life in the balmy night. It is 20 degrees at night and about 30 during the day here.
We have decided that the Spanish have it right. It is too hot to do much during the middle of the day, so we are having a siesta time as well now, and wake up in the evening!
Last night we arrived back at the campground at midnight and were amazed to see the beach across the road from the camp was packed full of people, with bonfires and families having picnics and music playing. It is a different world here!
Today we have left the camp and moved to a parking lot across the river from town. The car park is only 6 euros per day, instead of the camp which is 28 euros per day. The camp was great for getting the laundry done and charging up the electrical items onboard but we will not need those facilities again for a while. For us, going into a campground in Lilly is a bit like going into a marina in Aradonna. Great facilities when you need them, but we prefer anchoring in a bay! Tomorrow we will take the ferry from here to visit the town of Cadiz.
This town has impossibly narrow streets through the white Andalusian houses, but amazingly, cars still drive through, with only an inch to spare! We watched in awe as three cars entered the tiny town square at the same time and all had to do a juggling act to let one of them out again. Thank goodness our TomTom did not take us in there!!!
Our parking place, just out of town was perfect, but a market is held in that car park every Friday morning, so we had to escape. We did. We headed for the coast again - this time the Atlantic coast of southern Spain.
We meandered through fields festooned with sunflowers on the way. Such a pretty sight!
Our destination was Conil de la Fontera, but the beach parking was packed full, so we drove on a bit further and found a wonderful forest picnic area with heavenly shade from the 30 degrees! After dinner we decided a bike ride through the recreational area cycle paths would be fun, so we set off in search of Cabo de Roche.
The cycle paths were rocky and bumpy and not clearly marked, so we ended up going around in circles for a while before we reached the cape, with aid of google maps on the phone. By the time we reached the cape lookout, which was very pretty, the sun was going down and we had to head back as fast as we could before it got dark.
Again using google maps on the phone to find our way in unfamiliar territory, we started to feel every lump and bump of the rocky paths on the way back! Finally, after more than 20 km round trip of bumpy paths, we reached the camper at 10pm, just as the phone ran out of battery and light was fading from the sky. We had been cycling for 2 and a half hours over very bumpy roads and both had very sore bottoms!!!
We must have been exhausted after all the steps to town in the morning and all the cycling in the evening - we slept in until 10 am this morning!
One of the things we discovered during our bike riding was a fabulous beach area with parking spaces big enough for Lilly. So this morning we drove to the beach (not wanting to inflict more damage on our sore bottoms by cycling) and went for a swim. In fact we spent most of the day at the beach, swimming, walking, swimming, lying down swimming, sitting carefully and swimming again. Fabulous. The water is now 18.5 degrees here, so swimmable, especially on a warms day of around 28 -30 degrees.
After a day at the beach we drove back to our shady spot in the forest for a quiet drink, planning to stay the night there again, it a forest ranger said we could picnic during the day but it stay overnight because of the risk of forest fires...
So off we went, 16km further up the road. We are now parked at beach parking by a white sandy beach known as La Barrosa. Another free stop. We have had 49 free stops so far our of 54 nights in our camper. Not bad eh?
We visited the bustling town of Ronda, which is built at 750m on the top of a gorge, in fact the town is built on both sides of a gorge, with an impressive bridge that spans the gap. Buildings are perched right on the cliffs either side that drop far away to the valley floor. A strange place to build a village, but the people here seem to like making life difficult for themselves when it comes to building on top of high places!
Our little helper, Angela, the lady that lives in our TomTom really got us in a bind in Ronda. Before we knew it, by following her directions, we were driving through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and right across the famous bridge! Forbidden entry, so we had people wagging fingers at us and hopefully the cameras did not take a photos of us to send us a ticket! The issue was, once we were in and realised our mistake, there was no way of turning around, so we just had to keep on going!
After our visit to Ronda we decided to escape the tourist crowd again and drove on to the little town of El Bosque. A lovely, normal village. We have storks nesting along the river beside us, all with young in their nests.
The town is so normal that Heather finally managed to get a haircut today, before her haystack went completely out of control. We have just arrived back from the local bar, where we joined the Spanish supporters to watch Spain win against Iran in the FIFA soccer match. A great atmosphere in the bar, with children joining in and the whole town seeming to take care of every child, like one big family.
We made friends with several of the local inhabitants. Barbary macaques live here and this is the only population of them in the European continent. One of these monkeys had twin babies. So cute!
We also walked through tunnels that were dug out of the rock in the 1700?s by the British to defend the rock when Spain tried to win it back! These tunnels have cannons mounted in strategic positions pointing outwards from the rock to defeat any enemy that approaches.
Back in 1967 Gibraltar had a population of around 24,000 people and Franco decided it would be nice if Gibraltar became part of Spain again. A referendum was held, but only 44 people of the 24,000 voted to be part of Spain! Franco was so annoyed that he closed the border of Spain to Gibraltar. It was closed from 1967 to 1985! During that time, people had to go via Marocco by ferry to get from Spain to Gibraltar or vice versa. Now, the population of Gibraltar is 33,000 and thee are 9,000 people living in Spain that commute to work each day in Gibraltar, to work in shops and at the large port. Brexit is going to be a big challenge here!!!
The area of Gibraltar is very small, only around 7 square km. Much of that is on reclaimed land and most of the rest of the land is taken up by the very steep rock! So the runway of the airport runs across the main road, making all the cars come to a standstill for 7 planes per day.
Gibraltar is very British and uses pounds instead of Euros, but the place we went for lunch ( to have fish and chips, what else!) was happy to take Euros too.
Tonight we are parked at a special motor home parking lot at the marina just over the border from Gibraltar. Nice to be back in a marina again!
However, the town redeemed itself by putting on a visual symphony of flowering plants in the town square, along the promenade and with splashes of colourful flowers bursting from little pots that hang from every house! Very pretty. After walking the promenade and seeing the usual cafes, markets and souvenir shops along th beach front, we decided to take a break from touristville! We found a little dot on the map a bit inland and have escaped the madness here in a little perched village called Casares. Not a souvenir seller in sight. In fact, our neighbours are rather interesting. Beside us is home to a colony of Griffon Vultures. These are olde worlde birds of prey with a wing span of 2.8 meters and weighing up to 10kg. They are swooping and gliding around the cliffs here right beside us. Very graceful. From our vantage point up on the hill, we can see the sea and the rock of Gibraltar in the distance. A peaceful spot.
Yesterday we drove to Torremolinos and walked the promenade but all we saw was hotel after hotel and souvenir shops, so we moved on to Cala de Mijas which is a low key seaside resort and a pretty little place.
Last night we sat in an Irish pub with a bunch of Norwegians and watch Spain vs Portugal in the soccer (FIFA cup). Renaldo scored three goals for Portugal, levelling the score in the final minute of the game. Quite a thrill.
Today we have had a sports fest. First, watching the All Blacks win over France (yay!) then Ireland beat Australia in the rugby, and France beat Australia in the soccer! The bar was full of Irish supporters and we were sitting next to a French man, so it was loads of fun! After a walk through town we found another sports bar showing the Iceland vs Argentina soccer, Iceland defended so well and kept the score to a 1-1 draw. On the way back to the camper we were side tracked by the Irish pub again, so stopped to watch South Africa beat England in the rugby. Wow! What a day!
Antequera is an interesting old town, with plenty of old buildings including a lovely castle on the hill, but after seeing Alhambra, these other castles have a hard act to follow!
Today we took a break from town and set off into the countryside. The first stop was the Dolmens. These are ancient tombs, built around 5000 years ago from massive slabs of rock called megaliths. The Menga Dolmen is the largest in Europe at 30m long, the biggest rock slab is 180 tonnes!
Our next stop was El Torcal, but we had fun getting there!
Our trusty Tom Tom decided to take us through the tiny streets of old town Antequera. Not a great place for a camper! Ahead of us were two other campers who had left the Dolmens just before us and were clearly following the same TomTom directions. Ahead, we saw the lead camper stop and the driver get out. O-oh! We were all heading up a no exit road!!! Worse than that, the road was not much wider than the campers and it was a steep uphill street. Our convoy of three campers had come to a standstill. We were last in the line and our rear end was partially blocking an intersection with cars trying to go in all directions. Karl became the traffic controller while each camper backed around a corner into a little alleyway to turn around and then we all squeezed past each other. The people in cars were very patient and nobody blew horns at us while we untangled ourselves from this tricky situation. Luckily we all got out unscathed!
So then the TomTom took us on a very long round about route, back through the countryside and zig zagging up the side of the mountain. The roads were pretty good but I was glad we didn?t meet oncoming traffic on some of the narrow bits as we climbed up the steep mountain road. At the top, it is 1368meters high and a great view. We had a fabulous hike here amongst hoodoo rocks that look like giant stacks of pancakes. Wild goats roam the area and pretty mountain flowers grow from rock crevices. A spectacular place. We will spend the night here before heading south to the coast tomorrow.
We were glad we had booked tickets in advance as the Alhambra sells out weeks ahead. Those who turn up on the day are turned away. The highlight of this amazing place was the Nasrid Palace. So many rooms, with every wall carved in intricate designs. It it mind boggling to imaging how long it must have taken to do all those fine carvings into the plaster work. Incredible!
Last night we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a night out in Granada. Being Saturday night, it was full of action and fun. We had a superb meal on a terrace, watching all of the activity of people passing by. Wonderful!
So far, from what we have seen of Spain, the economy is doing very well here. The roads are great, towns and cities and villages look well maintained and tidy. Contstruction and upgrade works are taking place everywhere and cafes and restaurants have plenty of patrons.
We are enjoying the local produce, honey melons, cherries, citrus fruit yum yum. Spain is the largest producer and exporter in the world of olive oil producing more than 50 percent of the world production. Spain is also the largest producer of wine in the world! We are happy to be helping the local economy ?
We have turned the corner on to the southern coast of Spain now, but today we take a break from beach hopping to explore what Spain has to offer further inland for the next few days.
In this area we have found plenty of free camper stops, but we have had to learn the difference between camping and parking. Some beaches allow campers to park and camp, while other beaches only allow parking but no camping. So what is the difference? Well, any vehicle can park in a beach car park and we are in a vehicle. As long as we park between the white lines and do not engage in camping behaviour, it is ok. We can grab our chairs and table and beach umbrella and sit on the beach and have a picnic, just like the folks in cars, but the minute we place our chairs beside the camper, that is camping and we will get chased away by Police! It is ok to eat and sleep in the camper and do anything we like really, inside the van, as long as we do not disturb the neighbours! So all activities inside the van are still considered parking, but we can?t put out the awning or hang the washing out to dry or sit in a chair near the camper - only on the beach, which is 10m away. So far we have managed to stay within the rules and not be chased away, plus we have found spots without these restrictions, so have enjoyed some ?camping activity? too!
It is not high season for yet and the places we are visiting are not quite as touristic as some of the well known places, so we have been lucky to have wide open beaches, beautiful bays for swimming and almost nobody else around. Bliss!
Today, on our way to the town of Vera, we stopped at the local beach, Vera Playa, for a walk. I was about to call Greenpeace to report a pod of some small but bloated marine mammals getting stranded on shore, but quickly realised my mistake. It was a nudist beach, dominated by people who really should not be exposing such vast amounts of flesh to the harsh rays of the sun! We made a quick retreat and drove on to Vera. Why? Actually we had never heard of Vera and it was not mentioned in any of the tourist books. It is a totally normal average Spanish town, about 10km from the sea. Tonight we are staying in a hotel so Heather can have a business meeting with a NZ team via the internet. The hotel in Vera happened to have very good rates and excellent wifi. So here we are! Tomorrow we continue our journey along the southern coast of Spain, toward Almería, before turning inland over the Sierra Nevada to Granada.
During our 4 days in Cabo de Palos we have enjoyed the local area, including taking the bus to the port city of Cartagena. Today we will continue our journey a little further south. Life is good!
But today it was time for us to continue our tour of Spain, so with hugs and kisses and fond farewells, we started the rest of our trip. After a couple of stops to pick up essentials on the way, we are now parked by the beach, on another free stop, just south of Alicante. The sun is shining (twenty six degrees right now), the beach is nice and the waves are lapping on the shore just 20 meters away from our door. Bliss!
A fellow campervanner told us about a special place we should visit the next day, so yesterday we went off the beaten track to Monasterio de Piedra. Originally a castle, the owners donated it to the monks in the late 1100?s and the monks built on to it in the 1200?s. The kitchen in the monastery is recorded as the first place in Europe where chocolate was made! We toured through the monastery, including the wine production area. But the best part of the visit was yet to come. Along with the castle, the monks were gifted a huge parkland, with numerous waterfalls, cascades and ponds. Spectacular! We spend two hours walking around the park, up above waterfalls, down through tunnels, into caves behind waterfalls and alongside babbling rivers. Leafy green trees shaded our path and birds trilled and twittered as we walked. A magical place.
Then we drove south across the high plains of Spain. We climbed up to a plateau at 1000m high and travelled for a couple of hours on this flat land. Almost as flat as the Netherlands if you ignore the mountains in the distance! We now understand the saying that ?The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains?. I had always thought that was rather odd, because it was logical to me that the rain would fall on the mountains, not the plains. So now we have the answer - these plains are very high and this is where many crops are growing. Everything was lush and green, so unlike the brown dry landscape we had been expecting in the inland of Spain.
Our next stop was the old town of Albarracin. Perched on the side of a hill, stone cottages built on top of one another, with impossibly narrow cobbled streets. A massive fortress wall marches up to the top of the hill and back down the other side to protect this tiny village from some enemy of the olden days. After a busy day of walking up and down steps and steep streets, we drove to a parking lot near the town, at 1200m for a quiet night. Today we head towards the east coast, a bit further south, near Valencia.
We both ended up with sore throats and sniffly noses after our travels to Hong Kong and we arrived into Paris in cold, grey, drizzle. Not the best start!
We had to wait around near Paris for a few days to get our safety check sorted for Lilly. Like a Warrant of Fitness in NZ. While we were waiting we visited the magnificent palace of Fontainebleau which was a real treat! We finally got underway and arrived in Kampen, Netherlands on 3rd May. The weather came right on Saturday 5th May and we have had beautiful blue skies and warm summer days and nights ever since. Saturday was Martin?s birthday (Karl?s brother) and the whole family got together to celebrate. A very special day for all.
We are now both fit and well again so have been enjoying the stunning weather. Visits to the tulip fields were nice, but our day at the Keukenhof was extra special. Spectacular gardens full of tulips with fountains and water ways and large trees for shade. Pavilions full of colourful flower displays and educational exhibits. Fabulous. Lilly has been parked in the back yard of Karl?s brother in Kampen each night since we arrived in Kampen and we have been well looked after by Karl?s family. It is so nice to see everyone again! Yesterday we drove to Heino to visit some friends of Karl?s and stayed by a little village for the night before driving to Gouda and Leiden today. We were very impressed with Leiden. The cheese market in Gouda was closed today so that was a bit of a flop! It is only open once every two weeks!! Leiden is a lovely town with a vibrant market, cafes and restaurants with everyone sitting outside enjoying the sun. We enjoyed having salted herring at the market, then we walked around the old castle at Burcht and through the Valk windmill museum. Some wonderful views over the beautiful old city from the top of the castle and from the windmill stage. Tomorrow we will take the train to Delft to visit the Royal Delft factory and then, all going to plan we drive north to visit the cheese market in Alkmaar on Friday. We are having fun being tourists in Holland. Karl has not been to many of the places we are visiting even though he lived near by for 34 years before coming to NZ! We will have another few days with family and catching up with friends in Holland before we start our journey south, to Spain. What fun!
We loved Stanley beach and cafes and enjoyed the Sampan ride on the harbour at Aberdeen, where many folks live on their boats in the harbour. Imagine that! We visited Tin Hau temple, the night markets, walked the shopping strips up Nathan Rd, zoomed up to the 100th floor of the 10th tallest building in the world and chugged up Victoria peak in the steep tram that was built in the 1880,s. we rode the mid-level escalators through steep streets full of traditional markets and enjoyed browsing the quaint dusty old shops in the Soho area. The night laser and lcd light show was nice, with colourful patterns from buildings reflecting across the harbour. And after all of that we were glad to find a little patch of tranquility in Kowloon park, just to sit by a pond, watch the fish and turtles and flamingoes and breathe some fresh air from the fountain mist.
Hong Kong is the place where colonialism, communism and capitalism converge. Remnants of 150 years of British rule, now crowded out by 7.5 million people living and working in over 8000 sky scrapers. That is twice as many sky scrapers as New York!
This is an efficient part of the world, with fine engineering, but the people are too busy to smile and there is a constant jangle of noise and lights and hubbub. Glitzy tall commercial buildings dwarf the shabby apartment blocks and the grand old buildings from a century ago. Dented Toyota Taxis are the most common car here, but we saw more shiny new Tesla?s than we ever imagined. In some places every third car was. Tesla! High ticket European cars and Tesla?s dominate the gridlocked streets. High ticket shopping areas are packed with people, looking for flashy jewellery and the right labels on watches, suits, shoes and handbags. Not really our scene!
We did a lot of walking and a lot of waiting.
The food was interesting. We decided to avoid the goose head, the marinated tofu and pigs intestines, the chicken cartilage, kelp, pigs trotters, chicken feet, and the stir-fried bull-frog with pickled peppers!
A busy three days in a vibrant and bustling city!
We now look forward to meandering through small villages in Europe, with green fields and tranquil rivers and time to stop and just be.
We did have a bit of a mix up getting to our hotel though...
We had purchased a bus ticket online to take us door to door. At the airport we showed this ticket to two different people and both insisted we had to get on the train! We got shoo-shooed on the train quick-quick. Then found ourselves in Kowloon, without a train ticket to get out at the station. So had to buy a ticket to get out and then wait for a bus from there to the hotel. The customer help desk told us to take the K5 bus as the last hotel shuttle had already finished at 10 pm and it was now 11pm local time. After a long journey on the bus we arrived at the hotel, only to find it was the sister hotel to the one we had booked on the other side of town!!! We had spent two hours travelling from the airport and still in the wrong place! So we ended up with a taxi across town to get to our hotel. Exhausted, as it was now after 3am NZ time. But we made it! Had a good sleep and now we are off to explore!
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