Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Strange Land of The Winter Sun

Running to the Sun

We left Blanes heading for Barcelona in the hope of better weather. In the event, we just kept going until we reached La Manga with one night’s wild camp outside Alicante. We travelled on the Autopistas so had a comparatively uneventful journey.

The only incident was when the top box blew open scattering part of its contents on the motorway. Some we managed to retrieve unharmed and some was flattened before we could get to it. Since most of what was in the box was stuff we hadn’t used so far, no great loss incurred. I will remember to lock it properly in future!

La Manga

The really good news is that we now have lots of sun and daytime temperatures in the high 20s. It’s colder in the mornings and evenings but we just stay in the van until it hits 20 degrees outside! This weather is likely to continue throughout the winter so we think we’ll be all right.

The campsite at La Manga is enormous but well laid out and equipped. We intend to stay put at least until Jo has come to see us in a couple of weeks time.

Our pitch at La Manga

Our pitch at La Manga

The site is one thing; the residents are another. They come from all over Europe and most are here for long stays. There are probably upwards of 1,000 pitches, each with a hedge on three sides and a maze of little roadways.

Those of you who remember after the war, people bought old railway carriages and turned them into beach huts. There are a number of places which are very reminiscent of that sort of activity. They range from small caravans buried beneath vast vegetation and tiled patios to constructs where you have to look very closely to realize that the villa was once based on a hut or caravan.

Then there are the long-term campers, a lot of them Brits, but nearly as many Germans, Dutch and, of course, Spanish. We have often wondered where all those huge American RVs and Fifth Wheel rigs go. The answer is La Manga. People buy them, sometimes from others here, and use them to live in without any intention of moving them elsewhere. We talked to one Brit who came for three nights in a small van and has been living in an enormous RV here for the last two years. The RV was here when he bought it. Another lady has a Damon Daybreak RV. She doesn’t even know if it could move but has added two old caravans to her pitch for the kids to sleep in when they come to stay. Another couple have a large fifth wheel rig which he moves twice a year, once to go back to UK for the two Summer months to see their grandchildren and once to come back here. He is going to cut my hair for me on Monday!

I shall try and get some pictures of these establishments so you can see what they look like.

Are we travellers or campers?

We have found that the thought of living in a house somewhere is quite appalling. We really enjoy traveling around and seeing different places but at the same time we love to settle for a couple of weeks somewhere. The decision as to when to move on is usually made quite without premeditation and happens within an hour or so of being gone again.

We are still feeling rather irresponsible and guilty for having left all our cares behind us but then the sun comes out and we really have some problems with giving a damn!

I worried a lot before we left about getting bored without any toys to amuse me. That was wasted worry – each day seems to go very quickly and we can’t remember a moment of “what can we do now”. OK, we do have a few days when we decide to do nothing except eat, sleep and read. But even those are few and far between.

Old Haunts Revisited

Liz has been having a “sog” day today so I took the buggy for a drive up the coast to where we all had a family holiday 18 years ago. We hired a boat and a couple of flats then. The family will remember “Clarity, Clarity, Clarity”. Boy, has it changed! The land side has been developed all the way up the narrow peninsular with high-rise apartment blocks.

Architects on Speed?

Architects on Speed?

They are still building Castles in Spain

They are still building Castles in Spain

The inland sea, the Mar Menor, is just as beautiful as I remember, and just as shallow, too.

View from the bottom of our "garden"

View from the bottom of our "Garden"

A Sail at Sunset

A Sail at Sunset

and then we took a little trip and were confronted with…

Thank God we were in the buggy, not the van!

Thank God we were in the buggy, not the van!

Currency Exchange

The rise in the value of the Euro against the pound should be a concern, but Spain is still much cheaper than the UK. Petrol is 80p a litre; cigs are £2.55 for 20 and we have found some good red wine for £1.25 a bottle. It is hard to worry about a 9% fall in the pound since we left the UK. If we spend a night en route somewhere in an aire or service station, the week’s extra cost of currency is wiped out!

Where next?

We still think about changing the van for something with a little more room, at least in the bathroom. But then we think about the effort of changing over and the work we would probably want to do to another van to bring it up to our current facilities and we decide that we don’t really need to do it just yet. Maybe next year?

The campsite here is fully booked from the 15th December until after Christmas so we will have to move on by then; probably towards Almeria.

In the meantime there is lots to explore and I am trying to prove to Liz that my new SLR camera can take better pictures than her point-and-shoot. So far I think I am loosing the challenge…

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From Aix to Blanes by illegal immigration via Costa Brava Car Rally

On Saturday, October 18th, we went to Mandelieu and were very disappointed. The dealer didn’t have much stock and the campsite charged 35E a night! So we stayed one night and traveled on to Port Grimaud.

If you ever wondered what the real people of Cannes do on a Saturday night out, here is the answer…

Saturday Petanque

We chose to take the mountain road (N7) to Frejus because they don’t allow motorhomes and the like on the Corniche (the N98 coast road). Patrick drove and squeeked a lot whilst Liz took photos and said “just watch the road and don’t look down”. Very reassuring! But really a wonderful road for all that.

View from the N7

Port Grimaud – where the wealthy go to look impoverished

At Port Grimaud we were in for a real treat. The campsite is British owned and mostly cabins. They take about 40 campers. Each plot is equipped with its own bathroom and shower as well as electricity and water!

Our own bathroom on pitch

All this for 18E a night!

On the Tuesday we took the buggy to St Tropez to see the market. It was very large and sold everything from cheap souvenirs to Gucci handbags at several hundred ponds a throw! We were fascinated by the trees and their contents.

Plane tree with add-ons

and resident...We then went down to the old marina and had lunch on the quayside. Takeaway, that is – the prices around there are way out of our league.Can we afford to park here?

The locals entertained us well. We watched a boat arrive which we heard described as around £4 million pounds worth. She parked just outside the harbour mouth for a while and then came in. There was plenty of room for her but she spent quite a long time sitting in the middle of the harbour; turned around and went out again. Last we saw of her she was still hanging around outside the harbour mouth. We assume that she couldn’t agree a price with the harbour master!? We inspected another very large boat moored in the outer harbour. She was having a large portion of her superstructure removed having been rammed by a merchant ship. We understood that the owner was a bit miffed!

They even sent a party from, we assume, the French Red Arrows.Red Arrows

Anyway, the buggy didn’t seem at all out of place amongst the Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsche fraternity.

We stayed a week at Port Grimaud and then the weather turned wet and miserable so we decided to move on to Aix-en-Provence and sample some urban life.

Giens and the not-Corniche

This trip took us along the coast to Hyères where we made a detour out to the peninsular of Giens. This is a lovely little townlet stuck out about 4 miles off the coast and joined to it by long causeways. Felt very much like the Florida Keys. Very popular with wind surfers and pink flamingos.

Giens harbour

Due back at Buckingham Palace soon?

Aix-en-Provence – A fine place but we saw mostly mud and wiring.

At Aix we found a campsite just a mile from the city centre. We did go and have a look one day and were very impressed with everything except the traffic routing, which is bizarre to say the least. We found a wonderful underground car park right in the middle of town. Beautifully finished with lots of coloured lights which told you where to find spaces and how many there were on each “roadway”. Not only that but each bay had red or green lights above it so you could see from a distance where the empty spaces were. Sadly, it wasn’t until we left that we worked out what it all meant!

The town was delightful to walk around and heaving with people. About 60% students, probably…

They even had racks of electric mopeds which you could hire by putting a coin in a slot and unplugging it from its docking station. We had nothing like that in Halifax!

Our stay in Aix was mainly spent doing electrical repairs and waitng for a new controller for the satellite dish, which has delivered a much more reliable signal and better bandwidth after three month of struggling. They wanted us to go up to Strasburg to let Alden examine it but fortunately we were able to dissuade them of the need to do a 1,000 mile detour! As with all things electrical, the faults were something minor but finding that out is the hard bit. We got our headlights and stop lights back with a new wire to earth. The loss of 12v supply whenever we unplugged from the mains turned out to be the PV cell connection in the wrong place and the satellite controller was a known bad unit from the start, apparently.

The weather was foul but we had to wait for the controller and, of course, needed to ensure that we could get coverage of the US elections. We had thunder, lightning and torrential rain most days and were surrounded by a sea of mud. Liz stayed up all night to watch the results and what a night it was – she just cried a lot and life has seemed better ever since. But we were cold and wet, so as soon as the satellite bit was fitted (05/11/08) we decided that we would up sticks and make a serious move South – to Spain as it turned out.

Illegal immigration?

Most of this trip was uneventful as we took the autoroute all the way.

Entry into Spain was a little strange. As we approached the border, we were confronted with cars going to sort of toll booths and queuing. There was a diversion sign for lorries and we decided that we were a lorry and took it. This became a sort of dark narrow service road passing behind the office block but no-one seemed interested in us and didn’t come out of their offices. We kept going, slowly, expecting to be stopped and told where to go. But it never happened and we found ourselves rejoining the autoroute after the douane point by another small service road. For the next ten miles we kept looking in the rear view mirror for the blue flashing lights.

At the first service station we pulled in for some sleep, it being well after midnight. It was crowded out with wagons. We decided to be a bus, but even the bus area was littered with lorries. Nevertheless we found a spot and went to bed looking somewhat tiny amongst the haulage trucks. In the morning they had all gone and after breakfast we headed for the turn-off for L’Estartit. At the toll gate, we were interrogated closely by the cashier. What make vehicle, registration number. Where had we come from. Had we slept at the service station, etc. Then he asked for 3.60E and sent us on our way. We are still not sure if we are illegal immigrants or not!

We learnt later that they like to check motorhomes and wagons for cigarettes but that seems odd when everything is much cheaper in Spain. Cigs are half the price and petrol is about 85 pence a litre here!

Open all year – except now!

A very pleasant stop for lunch at a small town called Torroella de Montgri, where they had the most amazing fish shop and bakery, and we pressed on to L’Estartit on the Gulf of Roses to the only campsite in the book open all year round. We found it closed with a note on the gate saying it was closed for November and would reopen in December…

We took some very rural roads down to Feliu de Guixlos. At this point we looked at the map and we had a choice of going back inland or taking an alarmingly wiggly road to Tossa de Mar. We took the wiggly one, of course.

The Costa Brava Rally with motorhome

What a road, the G1682! Steep, narrow, cliff hanging and nothing straight about it anywhere. A hanging villageFortunately, we had it mostly to ourselves until 10 km along we came to a bend with lots of cars parked everywhere and people milling around. We wondered what was happening but carried on up the hill. About another half mile and we were stopped by a policeman Love those hats!with his bike parked across the road. He only spoke Spanish and we don’t so we managed to get that the road was closed from then (4pm) until 5:15pm. We could turn around or wait. There was no way I was going to attempt to turn our rig around on that road so we said we would wait. At this, he moved his bike and ushered us round the corner into the ditch. This was the last possible place for anyone to park before the barriers across the road.

This is parking - Spanish style!

The car in front of us was clearly press. He was from and had a large Nikon. Gradually we realised that a car rally was taking place and just beyond the barrier was a turning off up the mountain.

We explored and found that people had brochures for the “Rally GUI Costa Brava” or something like that.

After we had a cuppa, we heard a helicopter overhead. It was obviously a TV camera. As cars came up the mountain, the helicopter followed each one to our bend so we had plenty of notice of each one coming.

At least the D90 got a chance to show its stuffI would have missed the shot with any other camera...

Meet Peter!

In amongst all this,Peter with Guitar & Bike Peter arrived on his bike. He is Dutch but lives in Hamburg. He has spent 5 weeks cycling down from there on his way to Malaga for Christmas.

When it was all over, the policeman let Peter through the barrier first and within two minutes one of the rally support cars managed to back into him, unhurt, fortunately.

Blanes – for those who don’t need fish & chips with warm beer

Another 18km later and we arrived at Blanes, 6km South of Lloret de Mar at a very nice campsite, charging just 12.50E a night including electricity, right on the promenade, overlooking the sea.The campsite "near" the beach

The weather is much better with sunshine and temperatures in the mid 20s. We’ve managed to get the washing done – just as well as Liz was running out of clean clothes, after all the rain and mud.

During our frugal breakfastWell, we forgot to eat last night!

It did its best to amuse us with a display of powered hang glidingHow do they take off?

and a Spanish GalleonWhere is the rest of the Armada?

We walked along the promanade for an ice cream by the harbour before catching a road train home!

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