Posts tagged views

Fire me up!

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Even the sunrise looked like a bush fire

24 hours of fire! Our first fire incident was trying out some local, home brewed firewater; cracking stuff. The barmen at the campsite said he couldn’t divulge the alcoholic percentage or where it was made.  Perhaps it is an old family ‘recipe’. (Ingredients: starch. Method: ferment until causes drinker to clutch throat and fall to the ground screaming)  It certainly reminded us of Zivania from Cyprus or even Stroh Rum and the after-effects were similar!

The second fire incident happened as I was making prawn crackers for our homemade Sunday night Chinese. I managed to set a pan of oil alight, and in an enclosed space leaping flames are a rather frightening sight. Luckily I managed to keep my wits about me and got it out the door before setting us and the van aflame! Phew, maybe we won’t be making homemade takeaway for awhile.

Making mini craters

The beach at Odeceixe is stunning. There is a long sweep of powdery, white sand framed by dark cliffs and intersected with a meandering river. The sand is incredibly fine, and a hard crust forms on its surface. Every step on the smooth sand causes a ripple of holes to form around your foot, as if someone had just fired at it with a shotgun. I thought for a second I was in some sci-fi movie, seeing a bleed through from an alternate reality, before I realised it was just my foot!

 

Aljezur

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An old motorbike parked on an Aljezur street

Aljezur is an old Moorish town with a hilltop castle and stunning views to the mountainous region of Monchique. The cobbled streets lead up narrow lanes bordered by tiled houses. We spent a couple of nights at the campsite and also wild camped at a few local beaches.

The Amoeira beach is divided by an estuary with an aquamarine river providing a home to what looked like trout. Unfortunately David hasn’t managed to catch us an dinner, although secretly I am pleased as I am not too keen on gutting a fish. I dealt with a couple of squid the other day, one had nothing inside but the other had undigested little fishies which made me jump out of my skin and squeal when I discovered them.

Children dress up in bright colours for a festival in Aljezur

Cycling Struggles

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Next stop was Salema, beachside wild camping along with 10 other motorhomers. This spot is in a wetland, and the sound of frogs and waves serenaded us to sleep. We spent a gloriously hot couple of days fishing, sunbathing and generally lazing about. We managed one cycle ride up the rather steep hills into the town, David’s very cheap bike is currently running on one front gear and he had a hissy fit when he saw the climb out of town. Our bbq is getting heavy use now, it is magical to sit next to the ocean, glass of wine in hand of course, and cook some fresh fish or frango piri-piri.

We reluctantly moved onto Sagres, the most westerly town in the Algarve where the weather turned more windy. Consequently, it proved to be another challenging ride to Cabo St Vincent, especially after a couple of G&Ts. David was carrying Odie in his doggie backpack much to the delight of the busloads of Americans who grabbed the opportunity to take a photo, some by asking if they could and others by snapping away when they thought David wasn’t looking. The lighthouse is the most powerful in Europe and its light can be seen for over 90 miles. It’s a very good thing as the sea is very choppy and rough out there.

Sagres town has a couple of places to park in the van, we stayed at both and had a great time walking and fishing near the town. We enjoyed an incredible Sunday lunch of grilled fish and a massive steak washed down with the local beer. All cooked by an old salty looking chef who brings out the uncooked wares for you to examine before singeing them on the grill. Beats a Sunday roast hands down!

Bom Dia Portugal

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Winner of Portugal's "Untidy Garden" award, 2011

We have arrived in the Algarve, only a month late but never mind! Almaco de Pera is a holiday town we have visited before in the winter. Its beach is dotted with fishing boats and the local restaurants offer massive portions of the local catch for lunch. We chose a little shack-like place on the beach and enjoyed ‘sardinas’ in the sunshine. The weather has been incredible since we arrived in Portugal and was baking hot for February. On our walk we discovered a fabulous wild camping parking area on the cliffs overlooking the sea and the western end of town. There were at least 15 campers dotted along the cliffs, but a hefty fine of up to 30k can be levied if you get too near the edge!

It was then time for a bit of culture and history, something we have been missing for the last few weeks as we have mostly been at the sea. We made our way to Silves, a Moorish hill top town an impressive clay coloured castle that dominates the skyline. There is a massive parking area and a huge motorhome community, we counted over 65 vans camped next to the river. We explored the deserted cobble streets by moonlight and only encountered an occasional doggie, of which there seem to be many in Portugal. Silves in the brilliant sunshine was another kettle of fish, the castle and cathedral were our first stops. The castle is laid out with a Moorish garden and you enjoy wonderful views of the town from the ramparts. The cistern is supposedly haunted by a Moorish maiden but all we heard were some brilliant acoustics that David was hugely excited by and he even threatened to come back and sample the sound patterns.

Mmm, doughnuts (drool)

The monthly market was in full swing and we managed to purchase a new grill for fish for our bbq and peruse the local tat. We also caught a virtuoso performance of doughut frying by one of the local vendors and enjoyed a delicious ‘fratera’, a long, thin, crinkle shaped doughut dusted in cinnamon sugar.

Spanglish mates

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We were feeling rather weary after our overly exuberant new year celebrations in Benalmadena and after a night of recuperation we drove southwards in search of sunnier climes. We decided to return to one of our favourite Spanish campsites, near to the Cabo de Trafalgar (where Nelson fought the Spaniards).

The area is famous in Spain for its pine trees. They were planted by Franco to stop the endless march of sand inland. The trees still produce pine kernels and in January provide a home to an apparently very poisonous caterpillar. We were told by other campers that said caterpillar was both attractive and fatal to dogs. Luckily we only saw a couple of dead specimens and Odie was not at all interested in them, so they can’t be such a delicious doggie delicacy.

There are some fantastic cycling routes which thread though the natural pine park. We were looking forward to using our bikes to discover more of the area. Unfortunately our ambitious plans were rudely interrupted by some enterprising bicycle thieves who nicked our bikes in the middle of the night. They kindly left our bike cover, which means we don’t have to replace it for a third time! After discovering our loss, I had to make a trip to Barbate police station to report it and during this tedious exercise found out that the campsite had been targeted the previous month and that eight other bikes had been nicked in one night not long before we arrived! Pity no one had mentioned this fact when we turned up or we would have locked them to our van instead of to a tree!

We did not let our loss detract from our stay in the lush Costa de Luz, there were plenty of walks to the beach, lighthouse and along the surrounding hills. We were blessed with sunshine for most of the month and this meant David could work outside, although he had to defend his laptop from the sunshine and his legs from mosquitoes!

We squeezed in a visit to Cadiz, Europe’s oldest city, with narrow streets, exotic plants and hardly any parking spaces. We replaced our bikes with some cheap mountain bikes from Decathalon, and David purchased a mound of new clothes to replace his crusty look with a smart sporty style.

The campsite was a very sociable place, which was a major draw for us to stay for a month. We participated in 2 quiz nights (one sober; one with a very random combination of drinks) and played bingo for the very first time (besht played when tipshy!)

We met Padget, a bearded collie, and his owners, Bill and Jane, who are on a traveling adventure like us. It was fantastic to have some mates about again. We went for long lunches, played some hectic tennis and table tennis, went for long walks and drank quite a few beers together. If you want to check out their blog go to: http://www.getjealous.com/Billandjayne

We also met another couple, Paul and Tracey, and all 6 of us played an interesting match of TT which involved running around the table and trying to hit one ball each before stepping out of play. It made me feel rather dizzy and David was complaining of stiff obliques the next day.  This was soon followed by a boozy curry night before we hit the road once again! Months of social deprivation were made up in just a few weeks. Keep in touch guys!

Maison en France

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Feeling cold and beaten by our van woes, we decamped to Mirepoix where we waited with bated breath to hear if we could spend some time under a proper roof. Some family friends have a lovely stone house in the small village of Manses, with wonderful views out to the Pyrenees. We got the keys that evening and had a glorious night’s sleep in a proper bed. Thank you all, Robin and Libby, Lorna and Brett and Debbie for sorting it all out for us!

We were hoping to sort out the van battery issues that left us with no heating and lights but Karmann had grander ideas. I went to a weekly shop the next day and she conked out completely. This time it was the fault of the starter motor. After being towed to a garage 30 kms away (in the snow), we were informed that the repairs would cost over €600. We opted to do a ‘DIY’ job instead and ordered a new starter from the UK for a third of the French price, including delivery!  It got waylaid in Toulouse for 4 weeks but eventually arrived and Karmann is back to her happy self. Thank goodness as I struggled with cycling into Mirepoix for groceries every few days, especially when the temperature dropped well below freezing! It would have been an easier cycle if we the backpack full of delicious French food and wine, but some hardships are worth the effort  ;- )

Spending a few weeks in the village has been a welcome change to our traveller lifestyle. We were invited to a lunch in the Salle de Fetes (village hall), held by the local hunting club. The menu comprised of wild boar and endless glasses of wine and we got to know some friendly faces.  There is a strong English contingent in the area and we have made some great new friends. Thanks guys for making us feel so welcome and Adian, Angie and the gang for all the countless cuppas and glasses of vin. We hope to see you when we are settled in Amsterdam!  Odie is lost without his mate Ringo : -)

As Christmas approached the weather became bitterly cold, peaking out at a real feel of -18 C. The hills had a semi permanent layer of frost and the fallen leaves sparkle like crystals in the sunshine. We have caught up on watching rubbish TV, reading, work and planning for the next leg of our trip. It was gut wrenching to leave, although the cold did make it a bit easier! This corner of France has captivated our hearts and we hope to return in the not too distant future.

Be-Sete with wine

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We stuck to the coast and reached Sete, a rather seedy looking fishing town with lots of permanent caravans slowly rusting in public car parks.  We spent an hour in the local bricolage (DIY shop) trying to sort out some accessories for our new solar panel.  When I returned to the van I discovered that our bike cover had been removed and the clips on my bike detached. Clearly someone was checking to see how easily our bikes could be stolen. Luckily our strong locks thwarted the would-be thief.

We camped for the night at Sete beach, a narrow stretch of land bordered by the sea on one side and wetlands on the other.  The sea was rough with plenty of white horses and the wind howling like a gale –  perfect for a very invigorating walk.  We were greeted on our return to Karmann by a battered little white van, driven precariously by a somewhat more-than-tipsy Frenchman.  He was in the process of selling boxes of wine to the couple in the neighbouring van and we decided to investigate.  This involved David running into the middle of a roundabout to try and flag him down and he practically ran David over before realising that we were potential customers.  The wine was delicious (as was the much reduced price) so we departed with a box of half a dozen to keep us “mutsh calmer in zhe shtorm”.  Oh boy did I need it … the van rocked back and forth for most of the night in the strong winds and is now decorated with sand from top to bottom.

Ice Cream Towers

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Another day, another stunning national park.  This time the Ubaye Valley in the Hautes Alpes of Provence.  We discovered a sparkling blue alpine lake, Lac de Serre-Poncon, bordered by a series of stark peaks. As we rounded a corner we suddenly spotted pillars of sand in the distance. As we got closer we realised that each pillar had a large rock perched on top, rather like an ice cream cone topped with a huge smartie, and we stopped to take a closer look.  Erosion wears away the sandy soil on the hillside and mineral deposits from alternating rain and sun harden the pillars until all that is left is a tower of solidified sand holding a very heavy rock.

Over the next few days the weather turned rather cold, (perhaps because we were in the mountains) and we dared not venture outside for too long.  We spent most of these days enjoying the views from the van as we traversed one pass after another and kept warm with tasty quiches from the local boulangeries.

One morning we woke to snow-dusted trees and mountains which prompted us to hasten off to the coast in search of more sun and warmth.

Les Montagnes

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Entering France from Italy we were struck by the difference in roads and traffic.  The roads in France are well maintained, the traffic behaves itself and there is almost no overtaking on the bends!!  We wanted to spend some more time in the mountains away from the coast and discovered an incredible area in the Haute Alpes of Provence.  At first the scenery was mediterranean, with tumbling vegetation dropping down into river gorges.  Soon it began to turn more mountainous, with great purple lumps of rock towering above us, occasionally dotted with autumnal coloured trees.  The alpine blue rivers clash dramatically with the purple rockbeds.  We spent the night in a sweet little riverside town, St Saveur-sur-Tinee at the local picnic area.

The next day we drove into the Parc National du Mercantour. Once again dogs are prohibited (even on leads) so Odie was resigned to yapping his head off in the car.  The route we chose to Barcelonnette took us through what they claim is Europe’s highest pass, the Col de la Bonette at 1824m.  I cannot confirm the accuracy of this (I would have thought Grossglockner was higher) but the beauty of the area is in no such doubt.  Snow-sprinkled mountains surrounded us as eagles soared above and the road meandered off into infinity over a series of hair pin bends.  We continued down the other side into Barcelonnette, a French skiing area where we stopped for the night amongst fallen oak leaves.

Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre is a series of small villages that hug the coastline of Liguria in Northern Italy.  What makes them unique is that there is almost no traffic as most of the locals use their feet to get around.  We left from Levatano, a 5 minute train journey from the first of the villages, Monterosso.  The camper stop is right next door to the train station and a short walk into town where you can buy a combination train and walking pass for a mere €8.50.  Odie was allowed to come along but we were told he needed a muzzle, which we never used.

We boarded the train later than expected (10am), having treated ourselves to a lie; all due to the cloudy weather of course 😉  The train was rammed full of tourists and school kids; I dread to think how busy it gets in summertime.  Just five minutes after boarding we hopped off and started along the blue trail.

The walkers come in waves as the train only stops every hour and, after leaving the station, we were followed by a stream of people dressed in hiking boots and armed with walking poles and happy-snap cameras.  After about half an hour of steep climbing the traffic began to thin out a bit.  We enjoyed spectacular views down to the stunning coastline and wandered amongst farms of lemons, olives, grapes and tomatoes.

The five villages are very busy when you reach them, especially at lunch time. Tourists gorge themselves on pizza for their onward journeys, though it’s hard to imagine why some need so much pizza to fuel them to the nearby train station. Part of the blue route was shut for maintenance so we opted to climb up the mountain pass. This added some extra exercise to our day with relentlessly steep ascents tormenting us at every corner, but we were rewarded with a spectacular view at the summit where the path meandered through hillside vinyards.

We had only appreciated the view for a few minutes when we realised that we were far from the next village, from which our train would soon be leaving. Admiration of the surroundings quickly turned to much cursing of the steep paths as we rushed downhill to get to the station on time. We needn’t have bothered as, in true Italian fashion, the train turned up half an hour late.

In all it was a fantastic day out and an experience we would highly recommend!

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