Month: March 2018

14 to 16 January 2018 – mega waves to Mikki’s Place

After several nights with not much by way of facilities and quite some rain I seek out somewhere to stay with a few home comforts. Having said that, we seem to have adapted to living without them pretty comprehensively – we have spontaneously abandoned showers in the van in favour of a quick flannel-down. Probably because we have started storing a few chunky things in the shower and moving them out is not worth the hassle. One of the things that now lives in there is the wraparound imagethermal screen for the windscreen and cab door windows which I don’t believe I have mentioned before. We bought it last January in icy weather at huge cost en route to Spain. Everything to do with motorhomes seems to come at an inflated price and only some of them are worth it. Even though we have blinds on the inside of all the windows this thermal screen is definitely worth it – its silvery surface keeps heat out in the summer, and cold and condensation out in the winter. It even has a drop-down front flap to open during the day and let light in. We have probably already  saved a good part of the price in reduced gas heating costs.

Anyway, continuing our flight south, Camping Paraiso in Nazaré offers all we need for a couple of nights. Nazaré is famed amongst surfers for huge waves caused by an an undersea canyon driving water into an ever-narrowing channel towards the beach. Daredevil surfers ride these waves! That one is not my picture but you can see the same headland in the second, which is.

The campsite is attractive – landscaped dunes and conifers. The showers are modern, clean and hot, the washing up water is hot and the wifi works. Strangely it also has a chemical toilet emptying point per pitch – seems a bit excessive when we are only yards from the sanitary block in any case. Four or five vans are scattered amongst the trees but none of us use the communal lounge – preferring to huddle in our own vans out of the rain – which returned in the evening. imageWe are now only one more night away from the Algarve and the Moorish village of Messejana, three hours drive away, has a commercial aire. We want to take the motorway as, apart from speed to the sun, Neil is anxious to top-up the LPG, which has been taking some welly, and ensure we have the right kit for Portugal. We try three service stations and at none of them does our Portuguese adaptor fit the Portuguese pump. Oh bugger. Down-hearted that yet something else does not do what it is supposed to do we decide to leave it for another day and head for the aire.

Stella ignores the obvious-looking turn to the aire and tries to take us through the narrow lanes of the ancient village which our guide book has warned us against. We hesitate, a local dog walker urges us on and it is OK once past the one little road. Phew. The aire is a strange, large, ramshackle car park affair with various hangar-like buildings surrounded by a wire fence. (Shown in the first image on this page.) With waving palm trees and a lovely sunset it manages to be picturesque nonetheless.

imageIt looks deserted and the gate is locked:-( More despondency, so we decide just to park on the road outside until I spot a small notice on the shed by the gate. It gives a  phone number. As I am ringing a man wanders over from the bar opposite and unlocks the gate for us. Then the manager turns up and cheerfully explains things – where to hook up, the wifi password (surprising), where the toilets are (several hundred yards away), and that we will be locked in at 9.30pm until 9.30am. Ah well – time for a quick beer in the tiny local bar opposite (smoking still allowed) before curfew. imageIt’s dark by now anyway so we retreat to the van to investigate gas pump adaptors. Various on-line forums show that we should be using the same dish adaptor that we have used before in Greece and France and not the pointy Euro one that our documentation says we should use in Portugal. For goodness sake! We later discover that Spain appears to be the only country that uses the Euro adaptor – well, of those of which we have direct experience.

Messejana is a traditional mountain village with low white buildings painted blue around the lower levels. Very attractive. It is quiet when we walk in for a look see the next day, with a strange air of expectancy. A few people are standing around the village square in ones and twos and all seeming to be watching in the same direction – not at us thankfully! We conclude they are waiting for a funeral or something and after checking the only shop for bread, unsuccessfully, we leave.

From maps and books I have identified two things: a petrol station that sells LPG and an aire in the Algarve with spaces. We have been hearing horror stories about Algarve aires being full to bursting due to the French having abandoned Morocco this winter. It seems that the French foreign office has said Morocco is not safe, which means French travellers cannot get insurance to go there and have come to Portugal instead.  Mikki’s Place however has a few spaces and one has our name on it. Phew.

We find LPG and successfully refill. Hoorah! We navigate to Pêra and innocently turn left across a no left turn road into the track to Mikki’s Place.image A sign near the gate says Slow down and Relax. Finally, what feels like a safe and sunny haven after all the problems and anxieties of the past several days. All The Aires describes Mikki’s as an aire run more like a commune by a Dutch potter. It is wonderful. Constructed on different levels there is a natural swimming pond at the bottom surrounded by bizarre pots and models. imageA huge barn-like structure supported by glazed flower pots doubles as reception, bar, restaurant, exhibition space, indoor garden and aviary.

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We are given a choice of places and choose one on the higher level looking out over orange groves. We have booked in for four days with the option to extend our stay. And we do – more than once.

 

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6 to 13 January 2018 – optimistically seeking some sun….

We ended up visiting my mother and sister in Bristol in early December to carry out some routine family business and, more especially, to coincide with an early afternoon big-screen broadcast of Nutcracker from The Royal Opera House. Given all the difficulties of the past few years my mother had missed out on cultural outings and this seemed ideal – big screen for poor vision, wide comfortable seats, great sound system for hard of hearing, daytime showing to avoid a late night. Perfect! We even got to see a carol concert from my sister’s choir  (Gurt Lush) the next night – what a treat!

 

It was a good visit and, for us, this meant an earlier getaway to Portugal than expected – we thought. To avoid the long drive through France and Spain in mid-winter we weighed the savings in fuel and other costs and opted to book the, fairly expensive, overnight Portsmouth-Santander ferry. It turns out that there are fewer ferries at this time of year and quite a lot of motorhomers with the same idea! We got the last cabin on the Bilbao ferry on 7th January. Although the distance is no greater than to Santander, the Cap Finisterre starts very late and makes a call in Roskoff to change crew which tips it into a second night.

We had a week to prepare Portia after the Christmas close down and while making a cup of tea we discovered a gas supply problem:-( We needed a new regulator:-(( With four days to go:-((( This seemed to mean two trips to Danum’s in Doncaster for a) model checking and b) fitting after ordering! Our fiercely crossed fingers and toes must have worked as they were able to fit us with the only one in stock in the space of two hours on the first visit:-)) Grateful thanks to Danum’s.

Fiercely cold weather was forecast as we set off on 6th. Portsmouth was a bit too far to confidently make the trip in one go and there is a friendly real ale pub near imageOxford which lets you stay overnight in exchange for eating there or £20.00. We had baked ham with bubble and squeak and pints of something with a rustic name.
The heavy ground frost in the morning made it easy to get out of the previously very muddy car park and made us glad we had a day to spare. It was a 22:30 sailing and a handy roadside M&S provided a lasagne for a van-based meal while we waited dockside. We were grateful for this because just as loading was due to start, a three hour delay was announced! It was attributed to bad weather in the Bay of Biscay on the incoming sailing. They must have known about it for hours before they told us. We had heard about crossing the Bay of Biscay in winter – notorious for rough seas – and now it looked as if we were fated to experience it:-( We made it to bed on board at about 01:00.

The crossing was smooth as a millpond! imageThis picture shows not only the lovely calm weather but the extreme shortness of the haircut I had had in anticipation of three months in the van. Do I like it? No. Is it practical? Yes. Short hair is actually a real bonus on the road if your vanity can cope.

A lazy day trying the various restaurants, cafés and bars and another night on board was followed by an early disembarkation in Bilbao and the main road south to León.  Now, in my ignorance, I did not know there was a magnificent range of mountains just south of Bilbao. And that they were snow covered in winter:-( Only a skinny bit of snow down at road level, but enough to make you worry about van life generally. León is a pleasant city out the other side of the mountains, on the plain – and we all know what that means in Spain! And it did – that night and all the boring way across the plain the next day to our second stop. This was a paid and soggy aire in a small resort town beside a splendid lake where neither Neil nor I remembered to take a picture – probably worried about getting our phones wet! It would be a great place for a summertime stop but a bit damp and chilly for optimistic sun seekers in January. Here is a blurred snap from the van window as we crossed the bridge to the aire.

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Portia had played a mean and heart-stopping trick down a steep and narrow road to get us here when another, less steep and less narrow, was available. Van life would not be the same without the regularly shredded nerves. At least you get a compensating vaguely euphoric feeling afterwards, when you are safely parked up and the heater starts working.  And the kettle is on. And the fridge lights first time (which it does now we have a new regulator).

We had heard about the remarkable NOS data card for Portugal. €15 for fifteen days unlimited usage – yes, properly unlimited. Meaning non-stop Radio 4 and even streaming TV. First stop was therefore a NOS shop in Braga – identified on google maps. No more optimistic wandering around hoping to run across one at opening time! Success first time – no passport required, no one hour queue and it worked as advertised. Hurrah! On to Furadoura which offers a car park behind the sea dunes – definitely a place for two nights to take stock of being in Portugal. And the rain had stopped. It was still cold but sunny enough for a walk along the boardwalks and admire the raging Atlantic.

 

We also walked into the village post office and spent a cheery half hour discussing, using the medium of mime, how to register the van to use the electronic toll roads. Portugal has the most insanely complicated system of toll roads (three different types, one of which is only available to Portuguese registered cars as it transpired). Two passing young men, there only to buy a lottery ticket, joined in with their better English and smart phones, but we still left little the wiser. Back at the van Neil eventually managed to pay ten euros on line and we crossed our fingers that it would work when we whisked past the number plate-recognising cameras on high.

Next morning we had a panic about the water pump having packed up. The clean water, which we knew was not empty, stopped running mid-wash. The fuses were intact. Online help said there were many things that could go wrong and for that reason many people carry a spare pump. Oh bugger.  Looking in the tank there were a couple of inches still left. The  control panel said empty.   Hmm. The water-filling station was, confusingly, a short drive away from the parking at a purpose-built service station. We filled, it worked. It fills until the control panel says 100%. Then a moment later it reads only 65%. Looking in the tank it is still full to the brim. There is a way to calibrate the control panel but it involves filling, emptying and refilling in quick succession which we are not about to do. In the meantime we will just have to monitor our usage more carefully.

At this point we just wanted warmth and sun. Although it goes against the grain to whisk through miles of historic countryside without stopping to look, getting south to the Algarve became a priority. Many mohoers disparage the Algarve as being a bit kiss-me-quick, others say you can discriminate between sites and avoid the horrors  of the ex-pat Brit scene. Now we had our toll road permit sorted there was nothing to stop us taking the direct road and hoping it got warmer and dryer with each passing mile. cropped-snails-poor.jpg