07 March 2016 | Nantes, France
Cold but clear
Our journey north began with a shortish drive up the coast to Vila Nova de Milfontes. It was a small site, full of what looked like permanently pitched frame tents, with no-one in them, and the occasional motorhome and campervan. We left Jack safely in the van, sleeping in his crate, while we foraged for some food. We found a small restaurant near the brightly illuminated football stadium, and had a very nice dinner of pork. The Portuguese love pork, with the universal bifana the lunch of preference for us, a slab of grilled pork on a soft roll. With mustard. Gorgeous!
We stayed for one night only, but we were glad to be back on the road, in our own van, and on the homeward journey. The next day we headed north again on a longer journey, which involved getting past Lisbon, using a bridge far upriver from the city, and taking us to a campsite near the sea at Figueira da Foz. The woman at reception was remarkably unfazed by our approach, considering the entire campsite was empty of visitors. The sanitary block was huge, and it was clear that this site was full to overflowing in the summer. It had permanently pitched frame tents also, and intriguing holiday homes to let looking like toy houses, painted in bright colours and arranged in a small higgledy-piggledy village.
We chose a pitch, and the reception lady came over with us to unlock the electricity box. We duly plugged ourselves in, and settled in for a two-day stay. We were within hearing distance of the beach, with loud surf pounding away all the time. In the evening we went for quite a long walk to find the one small cafe that was open in the town, and had dinner there. The one man band running it took our order, cooked the food, and took the money at the end. It was OK but not wonderful.
The next morning we went for a walk with Jack to let him romp along a beautiful beach, with huge waves breaking all the time on clean sand. Where are all the surfers, I thought. Too early in the season for them, perhaps. We had the long beach mostly to ourselves, glimpsing another distant walker with a dog, miles away along the sand. A huge dune system separated the town from the sea, and a network of boardwalks crossed them, went along parallel to the sea, and from time to time led to staircases down to the beach. It was magnificent, the mighty Atlantic powering in to the shore, all the way from America.
Once off th beach we combed the town for a shop of some kind, for supplies. Everything was shut, closed, or gone away. Finally we spotted a Spar sign, on a building with an estate agent's for sale sign on it. Without much optimism we approached, only to find it was not only open, but well stocked an run by an older man and younger woman. We bought our necessities, including a carton of longlife milk from the Azores.
Returning to the van, we noticed the campsite was noisily occupied by its workmen, using a JCB to dig holes and put in posts round a play area. Apart from that we were still the only live denizens of the site. Not too keen to go back to the cafe, we made tortilla for dinner, which went down quite well.
Our original plan for the journey home was to do the whole coast, but a combination of long drives on strictly speed restricted roads meant more driver fatigue than either of us was happy with. So in short we decided to head inland and go back via Salamanca, where we knew there was an excellent campsite. Part of the route was on what turned out to be an electronic toll motorway, which we decided to chance. It is extremely difficult as a foreign driver with foreign plates to find out how this system works, especially while in transit, so with good intentions to find out about it later, we ploughed on. It was a long day, but we arrived and checked in in good time to bask in a warm afternoon sun.
A dinner of the excellent fish soup and chicken wrapped round cheese and bacon followed, and there were about six campervans and motorhomes in the site this time.
Then on along a pay as you go toll motorway all the way to Zarautz, just short of San Sebastian on the north coast. Our campsite was very high up, over the sea, with a great view down to the rocky coastline. Unfortunately though it got much colder and rained very heavily. There was a restaurant on site where we had a rather tired looking seafood platter, serenaded by light classical music. Very nice too.
The next morning we set off again, in very heavy rain, along the tortuous toll motorway up and down hills, through tunnels, almost aquaplaning on the sheets of water not draining off the carriageway, until suddenly, at one of the toll stops, I noticed that the instructions were in French. It was the border.
Very soon after that the road flattened out, and we were heading for Bordeaux. While in Lagos we met a couple one evening in the Marina Bar and got chatting to them about Antarctica. They were kind enough to invite us to stay with them on the journey north as they had a house near Saintes, close to La Rochelle.
So we programmed the destination into Jim, the onboard GPS which has kept us right all the time, and found that it wanted us to do an impossible route involving the two long sides of a triangle, rather than the straight route to the destination. No amount of persuasion on our part would make it change its mind, and all along the direct road it kept trying to take us off to the right. We overruled Jim as we knew from the map he was wrong, so we ended up in the correct small village down by the river Charente, two streets from the address, still saying we were 64 mils from it. Nevertheless the usual little chequered flag on his map showed us where we should go, and we found Malcolm and Nadine's historic house with no trouble.
They made us very welcome, and we had a very pleasant evening with them, with good food and wine and conversation. We were shown into a huge bedroom with en suite bathroom, and were very comfortable. They had bought the property nine years ago and done a huge amount of renovation and redecoration. It is an amazing house, was once for one night a prison, then a town hall, then a school, now a house again. Built with a sloping ground floor so that when the Charente flooded it, the water would drain out again!
We waved our hosts goodbye the next morning, and headed for Nantes, which I had always wanted to visit, and where there was what seems to be a rarity in France, a campsite which is open at this time of year.
That's the story so far, so that's it for now
27 February 2016 | Lagos, Portugal
Our stay in Lagos has once again been great. It is now the end of our time here, and we are currently making preparations for the long journey north, which will be punctuated by short stops to see old and new friends and family on the way.
When we arrived at the marina we sought out Brian (the trombone player in the photo above) as he was letting us have his apartment for the month of February. He and his wife drove up to the flat with us following, and we were very pleased both with its location a bare five minute walk from the marina, and its spaciousness. It is on the ground floor of a large horseshoe-shaped building facing south, so the balcony gets a lot of sunshine. We brought all our stuff in from the van, and settled in.
Our first errand had been to deliver a large neep I had bought in Kelso and two kilos of pinhead oatmeal to Bev, who had invited us for dinner the next night, haggis and neeps and all the trimmings. Bev is the only person I know who makes her own haggis, and it tastes terrific! That dinner was very enjoyable, and it was in the company of Fergie and Ann, whose boat we had stayed on the last time we were down here.
I lost no time in renewing my season ticket at the community swimming pool, and began a routine of going swimming around eight o'clock every weekday morning, as I used to do when we were here with Little Else. Meantime Ju made the acquaintance of the Dawn Patrol, a group of yachties who meet at gate F on the pontoon every morning and go for a two to three mile walk either around the town or along the beach, dogs included. So Jack had lots of exercise, so did Ju and so did I, as I aimed for 20 lengths of the pool each time.
We know enough people here to have a fairly active social life, meeting for lunch, or going out for dinner to some of the many restaurants around the town. On our first evening in Lagos, however, it was off to the Adega, the amazing restaurant just across the river where hordes of locals and yachties turn up each night to eat their amazing menu. We can never get past their fried prawns in garlic and ginger, accompanied by chips and salad. Why can the Galley of Lorne not do its seafood like this?
On the 13th we celebrated our anniversary by eating at Fernandos, again the legendary pork with plums and crackling. Then off to the cultural centre for a great flamenco show, spoiled for Ju by the excessive volume of the singing. I loved it.
Our domestic routine in between times involved shopping at Pingo Doce for food and wine, as we cooked in the apartment most of the time.
Strangely enough we were not inclined to do the usual excursions from the town as we have in the past, despite having our own transport parked at the door. We both felt we know the area well enough now not to feel bound to go and revisit places like Cape St Vincent, as we have done on previous trips. We just concentrated on enjoying the town and its immediate walking distance surroundings. After all, the purpose of the exercise was to be in the south, and enjoy more daylight hours and slightly warmer temperatures than at home. The weather for our month has been a bit patchy, quite a lot of grey sky and rain, but real warmth in the sun on the sunny days. T shirt weather then!
A few days after we arrived we found out that there was a crew of rowers called Team Essence about to set off to break a speed record from Lagos to Recife, Brazil. We went to the marina as they were about to set off on their journey, as the local marina jazz band serenaded the gathering crowd, and as the five young men took their leave of family and friends on the pontoon. They are doing it for NSPCC funds, so very good luck to them. We have been trying to follow their progress online, to see if thy succeed. See photo above. Rowing across oceans seems to be a real fashion at the moment, and all the boats look amazingly similar, as though some factory somewhere is turning them out on a production line. There is another boat in the marina now, labelled RowtoRio, waiting for a weather window to depart. Getting out of the river Bensafrim from the marina can be hard going even for a powered vessel if the swell and the wind are coming from the south.
On our journey south to Lagos our final campsite was at Evora, where I noticed a large nail sticking out of our front tyre on the van. I showed it to Ju, who agreed with me that we would cross our fingers and keep driving on it, and get it fixed in Lagos. Taking it out might well have deflated the tyre, and we would have been stuck. Anyway we asked our friends for a recommended tyre man, and they sent us to a repair shop on the road to Odiaxere. He confirmed that the tyre was punctured, and repaired it, checked all the tyre pressures all round the van, and charged me €15. It had taken him over half an hour, involved repair materials, and it only cost about £12. Outstanding!
Jack settled in to life here immediately we came into the flat. We set up his bed in the living room and his crate in the kitchen area, and he adopted the balcony as his favourite place to watch the world go by from.
One Saturday we went along to the musical evening organised by Susan and Andy, with a range of musicians and instruments, and vocalists. Susan has an amazing set of large folders full of the words and chords for songs, so she dishes these out so everybody can sing along, or individuals can sing solos if required. It was great fun, and 'Liz from Glasgow' got stuck in there, and really enjoyed singing with the group. It takes place in the bar of the Marina building.
I was able to visit Ricarda and Manfred on B pontoon, who were there when we had Little Else moored a few berths along from them. I went to visit them for coffee one afternoon on my own,
as our conversation is always in German, and my abilities in interpreting simultaneously in English are now somewhat limited, and exhaust me in no time! They are both well, dividing their time between home in Duisburg and the marina and their lovely boat Syene. But the new addition to the family is their very handsome Pössl campervan, which they use for the journey back and forth, but also for extensive trips like up the Norwegian coast. Brilliant!
One Wednesday we used the van to take Ju and Jack and Fergie and Isla, his labradoodle, to Bensafrim, about 10k away from here, to join the large group of walkers and dogs following a route back to Linda's Bar, on the beach, for clam chowder and a general social get-together. Most of the group are Brits or English speaking non-Brits, some yachties from the marina and some expats who live here permanently.
The rest of the morning for me was a swim, a shopping run, and refuelling the van. Then Ju arrived back and w left a really tired Jack in the apartment and headed for Linda's Bar. About 30 people there, and we got talking to a couple of Scots, both of whom were interested in going to A Rocha, the bird research place just along the coast from here. So we arranged to go the next day. We had a lovely day with these two people, Faith from Largs and Norman from Stornoway, did a long walk round the lagoons and saw pink flamingoes, and various other birds, and had a good blether along the way. Ju had prepared some great roast chicken sandwiches, so we had a picnic lunch back at the van, washed down with a can of coke. The weather kept fine for us, too. A lovely day.
Talking of birds, Lagos still has its population of storks, nesting on the tops of chimneys and lampposts. We still have not seen a hoopoe, however. Disappointing.
Rainy weather now for our final weekend here. Our friends Fergie and Ann are off home, as is Bev, and Susan and Andy will be going back soon too.
It has been a great month, just what we needed to shorten the Scottish winter, especially after our mind-boggling Antarctic adventure.
Now where shall we go today.............
Lagos again, and news of Little Else
07 February 2016 | Lagos, Algarve, Portugal
We docked on Friday morning at Ushuaia, having been treated to a really close pass by the famous Cape Horn, with its lighthouse, Chilean flag, and sculpture of an albatross in flight. Flight then to Buenos Aires, where we stayed in a hotel overnight, on Saturday heading for the international airport and our flight to Amsterdam then Glasgow. All passed without incident, a shorter journey time explained by the west to east jetstream, only to find that Ju's bag was not on our plane, when we landed in Glasgow. We were staying in an airport hotel that night anyway, so we reported the missing bag then haunted further flights from Amsterdam until at about 11pm her bag arrived. Then, on Monday morning, we caught our bus home, to be met at Lochgilphead by Jan, who had done such a fantastic job of looking after Jack.
One delight among our pile of mail was a postcard from the British Virgin Islands, from Grant and Little Else! Our wonderful boat had taken Grant, her new owner, across the Atlantic, singlehanding the boat must have been a real adventure for him. It will have helped hugely with his convalescence and returning confidence as a sailor! Well done Grant. We were so glad to hear this news, as Little Else is still firmly part of our experience.
Just in time for Christmas, which we spent at Ju's mum's house in Kelso, watching the river Tweed that flows past her garden get higher and higher with the incessant rain.
Then home for an enjoyable Hogmanay and Neerday with friends Ann and Morag, spening hours enjoying games of whist, and sneaking walks when the weather permitted.
The rest of January passed in a succession of storms, all given silly names by the met office. We spent the time getting Reg ready for our first rally long journey, back to Lagos in the Algarve, in search of some winter sunlight and warmth.
Our journey began on January 26th, when we drove down to Glasgow to spend a night with Andy and Lesley Scott. They had laid on a Burns Supper for us, complete with cock a leekie soup, and haggis neeps and tatties. We played and sang songs with the guitars and had a great time. The next day we went back to Campers Scotland in Grangemouth to get our batteries and wiring checked out, as the domestic battery had not performed properly since both batteries lost voltage in December. They quickly set about checking things out for us, and found a blown fuse I had missed. With a clean bill of health, we drove on to Abby's new house, where we stopped for a chat and a cup of tea, before heading for Kelso again and a two day stay with Ju's mum. The Borders were under a flood warning again, but her house is high enough above the river even in spate to be safe enough.
On the 29th we continued the drive to Church Stretton, to stay a couple of nights with our friends Margaret and Des. It was only when we got there that we learned that Des was in hospital, having been operated on the previous day for lung cancer. Margaret hadn't cancelled, or given us any inkling of this, as she knew we would not have dreamt of imposing on her at this really difficult time. But she assured us that it was good to have us there, as company, and we took her out to a local Indian restaurant for dinner that evening. The next morning we went on a long walk in sunshine up the valley behind the town. In the afternoon she and I drove to Stoke to see Des, who looked pretty well is a little shocked after his keyhole surgery. I hope I was of some help and comfort to my old friend by being there, and prattling away about everything and nothing in the car.
On the morning of the 31st we set off for Portsmouth, a relatively short journey of about 180 miles. Our ship, the Cap Finistere, was delayed by poor weather, so instead of boarding at 10.30pm we were not in our cabin till well after 2am. A very comfortable cabin it was too, pet friendly so we could have Jack with us in there, rather than putting him in the rather prison-like kennels on board. The down side was that we had to try to persuade him to pee and poo on an area of steel deck set aside for the dogs on board. He did not rally get the hang of this at first.
So on the morning of the 2nd February we disembarked at Bilbao, a labyrinth of roads slip roads tunnels and roundabouts, which somehow we negotiated with only one near miss of a large truck, caused by my hesitation in choosing the right fork and resultant lack of indication. We survived with only a pointed double flash of his headlights, and climbed and climbed higher and higher into the mountains. Finally we found a service area, and I took Jack out on to some much needed grass.
Our target that day was Salamanca, and we had entered the GPS lat and long coordinates into Jim, our amazing satnav. When we were nearly there, he directed us off through a village and down a long Roman road, finally pointing down a dirt track which disappeared into the horizon. There has to be something wrong with this, we reasoned, and went on for some miles before being able to turn round, stop and recheck the coordinates. Yes, we had entered them wrongly. We were soon in the right place, a small campsite affiliated to the Camping and Caravanning Club, so we settled in for the night. The site had a small restaurant where we had an excellent meal of fish soup, followed by chicken cooked in whisky, and creme caramel. With a bottle of local Castillian wine, it cam to about £23.
Off in the morning to negotiate more of these excellent roads, and cross the border eventually into Portugal. The campsite at Evora was nowhere near as well appointed as the one in Salamance. However we made camp, and cooked our own meal, after some light shopping at a nearby supermarket.
On the next morning we set off south along what proved to be a motorway under construction, with endless traffic lights and diversions. Finally we parked just before lunchtime in the marina carpark in Lagos. We had arrived.With Jack.