Feliz 2014!

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year!

A belated Happy New Year from Sybil’s Big Adventure.

Following our Christmas spent at the campsite at Cabanas de Tavira, we set off to Albufeira to welcome the new year in style at The Eden Resort.  We booked the all-inclusive 3 night break a couple of weeks ago as an end-of-year treat and we weren’t disappointed.  The resort was lovely, set out like a village around a clubhouse, numerous swimming pools and a lake.

We stayed in a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom (!) apartment which was really comfy.  We also had a full kitchen, dining/living room, satellite tv and an outside patio/garden area.  Watching the telly whilst sprawling on a sofa each was a real luxury after months of limited space van living with no tv!  The food & drink was tasty and plentiful although a bit of a scrum in the dining room at times!

It was really wet on New Year’s Eve so rather than go into Albufeira for the beach party, we partied at the resort & watched the fireworks at midnight without getting soaked.  I have now discovered that white wine, Jagermeister, cider & champagne are not a good mix even when drunk over the course of a couple of hours and I haven’t touched a drop since!

New Years Day was spent in the finest of traditions – in pyjamas watching music tv & movies.

Returning to reality, we’re back at Cabanas and still debating whether to stay on the campsite for another month or to risk the weather and move on.  We’re getting ship-shape and doing all those odd-jobs in the van that need sorting.  I’ve had my new sewing machine out & have made myself a denim skirt – it was actually supposed to be shorts but I got distracted!

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to conquer my fear of heights – perhaps then I’d be able to “enjoy” this new tourist attraction in the French Alps: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/gallery/2013/dec/19/glass-skywalk-french-alps-pictures-chamonix

Here’s to a healthy, wealthy & happy 2014 xxx

 

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It’s beginning to look like Christmas!

Boas Festas – Merry Christmas!

With clear blue skies and daytime temperatures of around 22°C it’s hard to believe that Christmas is only round the corner.  We’ve been here a fortnight now & I’m starting to get itchy feet again.  John just keeps reminding me of how uncomfortable it could be if we’re wild-camping when bad weather strikes and the feeling soon passes!  I do like my comforts I must admit.

We chose this site because there’s plenty to do and it’s also very near the railway station so we can hop on a train rather than take the van out.  We’ve already taken a trip to Vila Real de Santo António to visit the Christmas market and bought some organic fig jam made by Quinta da Fornalha, a WWOOF farm near Castro Marim that we’ve visited on a previous trip.  Not very Christmassy but it was delicious!

Train station at Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal

Train station at Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Arriving from Spain on the ferry at Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal

Day-trippers arriving from Spain

Vila Real stands on the Rio Guardiana which forms the border with Spain, so the station really is at the end of the line.  Standing at the quayside you can see Spain and there’s a ferry running between the two so we may even have a van-less day trip to Spain in the coming weeks.  The market was held in the pretty town square ‘Praça Marquês de Pombal’ and there was even an ice-skating rink with push-along penguins!

The following day brought much excitement.  Not only did we receive some post but after days of speculation and earnest discussions, my Euro Millions lottery win was confirmed -£2.60!  Not quite enough to fly back to the UK for but very exciting nonetheless.

The campsite is halfway between Cabanas de Tavira, the fishing village on the coast and the village of Conceiçào, up the hill.  Feeling flush with my new riches we walked up to Conceiçào to investigate.  As usual there are quite a few cafes along with a newsagent, Post Office, hardware shop and a cakemaking/decorating shop!  There is also an “English Supermarket” so when we’re feeling homesick we can pop in there for a Fray Bentos pie & a tin of mushy peas!  We went to the local supermarket and bought a couple of days’ worth of food & veggies for the staggering sum of 1.89€ – what a bargain.

Cabanas de Tavira is also on the Ecovia do Algarve which is a coastal cycle route linking Cape St Vincent (Sagres), the most westerly point of the Algarve, with Vila Real de Santo António, the most easterly point.  Apparently it is also part of the EuroVelo route that links Sagres to the North Cape in Norway but I don’t think we’re ready for that just yet! 

Taking advantage of a sunny day and clear blue skies we set off on our bikes on the Ecovia towards Tavira.  Most of the route is off-road and passes through stunning scenery on the edge of the Ria Formosa.  We cycled past saltpans before coming across the 16th century Forte de Rato at the mouth of the Gilão River estuary.  Originally it served to protect Tavira from aggressive North African pirates but today it stands forlorn and crumbling, gazing out over a very tranquil landscape.  It is really amazing to be able to freely clamber about these old buildings dotted along the coast.

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Driving Home – Part 2

Our fortnight-and-a-bit in the UK has been hectic but full of fun, food & frolics!

It was great to see family & friends again and whilst our Christmas (in November) dinner was fabulous the absolute highlight of our trip was meeting the totally gorgeous Edie Dot Woodhead and the extremely handsome Cameron Henderson Bridgestock – the two newest members of our family.

Driftwood; Christmas; Brighouse; Tree; Christmas tree; Driftwood Christmas tree

Driftwood Christmas tree at Mom & Dad’s.

We’ve had baths, had the awning fixed, new tyres fitted and the van passed the MOT flying colours. 

We were VERY COLD most of the time but have enjoyed ourselves thoroughly nevertheless.

Bath, Hipperholme, UK, field, wildlife

Having a bath at last, at Hipperhome.

So with teeth fixed, thermal curtains up and bulging bellies we once again headed south – this time to Portsmouth for the 24 hour ferry crossing to Santander, Spain.  Being the luxury-loving-high-rollers that we are, we booked an overnight stay on the way to Portsmouth.  The room was clean, spacious and warm with excellent facilities and a really comfy bed – what more can you ask from a “Days Inn” at Watford Gap Services?  (Look out for John’s review coming soon on Trip Advisor!)

Taking the 24 hour ferry cut out around a week of travelling for us and we arrived at Santander just as the sun was going down.  When we eventually got out of Santander, a half-hour drive took us up to Cabarceno and the aire at the wildlife park.  The elephants were tucked up for the night but there were at least a dozen other motorhomes spending the night there too. 

Spain; Santander; Port; Sea; Ferry; Mountains

First glimpse of Santander, Spain.

Monday morning was again bright and frosty – we even had ice in our waste water tank.  Unusually for us we took the motorway and were soon pounding through the mountains (again) on to our next stop at Evoramonte near Estremoz.  I had caught a glimpse of the Parque de Campismo Camping Alentejo when we were travelling home in October and the availability of an electric hook-up swung the day yet again – it was either that or a large car-park in Evora.  Set on the edge of a traditional farm and just off a main road, the site was peaceful and tranquil and had a really great atmosphere – highly recommended.

Spain; Carbarceno; Mist; Lake

Mist rising over the lake at Carbarceno.

Tuesday morning once again brought blue skies as we drove through miles of vineyards, olive and cork-oak plantations with the occasional eucalyptus thrown in for good measure.  I think it must be the trees that make Portugal smell so good – I wish I could bottle the aroma – it’s fabulous!  Classy as ever, we enjoyed lunch and a brew-up in the Lidl car park at Beja before heading on to our final destination of Cabanas de Tavira and we arrived a whole day early!

We’re planning to stay here over winter and since we’ve arrived we have been setting up our camp – strapping down the awning (lest it sets sail again) and anything else that could take off in high winds!  Our utility tent with storage (i.e. a toilet tent with Tesco growhouse) is up, in use and decorated with fairy lights as is the tree next to our van.  The bikes have been cleaned and oiled and the satellite dish is anchored down but not connected yet.  Campsite rumour has it that Astra 2 is being turned off on December 14th – if anyone knows what this means, please let me know!

As we’re staying put for a while, we’ve been able to do some van maintenance and running repairs – fixing back on all those bits that have dropped off somewhere along the way!  Some of our neighbours have their Christmas decorations up already and they are mighty fine.  We have 2 trees, one string of tinsel and 3 wesleybobbs – I think we may have to go shopping! 

John is very much enjoying the tubs of “mucky fat” (dripping) and ginger sponge in our little taste of home that we’ve brought away with us but we’re saving the stollen bites and crackers until Christmas Day.

We’ll be updating the blog again before Christmas, hopefully with full decoration gloriousness!

 

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Driving Home – Part 1

After a few days of torrential rain in Portugal, we set off home a week earlier than planned so we could squeeze in another week of swimming, sauna & spa fun at Luçon.

Blue skies and hazy sunshine accompanied us to Évora, our first stopover which we’d wanted to visit since we drove through the town on the way down to the Algarve just 6 weeks ago. 

Entering through a gate in the fortified city walls, we were soon strolling through narrow medieval streets paved with white cobbles.  At Praça do Giraldo we initially walked past the Tourist Information office, mistaking it at first for a swanky hotel foyer.  With our tourist map in hand we set out to find the sights – eventually! 

Moody sky at Evora

Moody sky at Evora

Sadly, the map turned out to be not so very useful for actually finding our way so we mainly had an (uneducated) amble around town.  We did, however, manage to come across the 1st Century Roman Temple, the city’s most famous landmark.  It survived destruction as it had been incorporated into a medieval building and was dedicated to imperial worship.

Roman Temple

Roman Temple

Roman Temple

Roman Temple

There are monuments, great buildings, churches & museums everywhere you look in Évora but I must admit that I found the narrow, winding streets lined with tall white buildings very claustrophobic and oppressive.  We didn’t manage to find the Chapel of Bones (thank goodness).

The following morning was clear, sunny and cold – a sure sign of things to come as we head north.  Travelling through border territory the landscape was green & lush with fortified hilltop towns clearly outlined against the bright blue sky – more places to explore on another trip!

Once again we were bound for Cáceres in Spain but rather than use the campsite we headed to the aire in town.  Finding a space, we parked up & headed off up the hill to the Ciudad Monumental (old town) and boy, we were not disappointed!  In contrast to yesterday’s destination, the old town is quite separate from the modern, busy, bustling city centre and has very little traffic.  I don’t know whether it was the time of day we visited or because we were out of season but it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves.  Wandering along the streets we came across palaces, churches and merchants houses beautifully preserved and defying time atop the hill. 

Sunlight and shadows

Sunlight and shadows

Sunlight & shadows - part 2

Sunlight & shadows – part 2

Medieval walls

Medieval walls

Cáceres was a town of conquest and reconquest, the walls being built by the Moors in the 12th century before the town was recaptured by Christians in the 1227.  Whilst some of the buildings are government or university owned, a fair few are still private houses and the odd snatched glimpse through open doors revealed sumptuous shady courtyards – perfect retreats from the scorching sun.  The statue of San Pedro de Alcántara had very shiny toes – the locals rub them for good luck! 

Lucky toes!

Lucky toes!

Tordesillas and Vitoria-Gastiez were our next stops before arriving in France amidst hectic traffic on a public holiday.  The lake resort of St Paul-les-Dax was our first destination before heading to Luçon via St Caprais-de-Blaye.  The aire at St Caprais is next to a parade of shops which include a pizza takeaway that doesn’t seem to open, a café (ditto) and a “brocante & wine” shop – what a fabulous combination!

Tordesillas, Spain

Tordesillas, Spain

Other side of the bridge at Tordesaillas, Spain

Other side of the bridge at Tordesaillas, Spain

Our week at Luçon has passed really quickly & we’ve enjoyed using the swimming pool, sauna & spa in between some of the worst weather we’ve encountered so far.  It’s felt really autumnal with misty mornings, heavy rain showers and, on occasion, winds so strong I thought the van might blow over!  The washing’s done and our winter gear is out in readiness for home – UK here we come!

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Sublime Silves

Following our stopover at Pedras d’el Rei, we decided to roam a bit further afield and headed to Silves for some sight-seeing and to check out a new motorhome park that has recently opened.  We came to Silves on our honeymoon but haven’t been back since and it is lovely. 

Portugal; Silves; River; Castle

Silves looking towards the castle

In days of old it was the Moorish capital of the Algarve and the view of the town as you approach is sensational.  Dominated by the huge red castle on the hill it is the best preserved castle in the Algarve.  The Sé Velha (cathedral) next door was built by the Crusaders and some of their tombs are inside.

Silves; Portugal

First glimpse of Silves – can you spot LIdl?!

We love the motorhome park – we have free wi-fi, electricity and our own water tap!  The site is dead level with generous plots and there is no sand to be found anywhere – hurrah!  The bread man visits and every morning an assembly of goats, sheep and lambs come out to graze in the field behind us, their bells tinkling as they gamble about.

Relaxing at the aire in Silves

Relaxing at the aire in Silves

The countryside around Silves is very lush & green – according to our guidebook it is a prosperous farming region; figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruits & pomegranates are grown in abundance in mile after mile of orchards.  It certainly makes for a pleasant view and feels very calm and peaceful – the perfect spot for some r&r before we head home.

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Sunshine & Showers in the Algarve

The last few weeks in Alvor have seen a mixed bag of weather.  Our first weekend was hot with wall to wall sunshine but this deteriorated over the next week with wind & rain.  The aire was virtually deserted as everybody left to find better weather or a more sheltered spot.  It has been very humid too so everything in the van was feeling slightly damp – yuk.

Alvor; Portugal; Wind

Windy & overcast but perfect for kite-surfing, at Alvor

Two huge explosions on an otherwise tranquil Saturday afternoon shook the van mightily.  It turns out that an old rusting ship had been taken out to sea and sunk to create an interesting shipwreck for the local divers.  We’ve been adopted by a lovely big dog on the aire at Alvor.  He is a smashing, affectionate chap and we think he looks like a Herbert, Horace or Henry (everybody else calls him Toby).  He very kindly includes us in his busy van guarding and ear-tickling schedule.

Alvor; Portugal; Dog

Herbert – Horace – Henry.  The lovely big dog at Alvor.

At the moment there is no electricity hook-up on the aire and the overcast weather has meant that the solar panel is not keeping our leisure batteries fully charged.  It gets dark here at around 7.30pm and it’s really sudden.  We’ve been trying to keep our electricity consumption to a minimum but there have been a few occasions when our lights have dimmed and gone off – thank goodness for our headlamps!

The lack of electricity coupled with grey days has made us think about where we want to “over-winter” and what we’ll need/want.  We’ve found that Portugal is cheaper than Spain although perhaps not quite as warm and that the coastal area east of Faro will be more sheltered than where we are now during the winter months.  John has bought me a new sewing machine (on special offer at Lidl) as a belated birthday present so I really will “need” an electricity hook-up over winter.

Cabanas; Portugal

Jane & John in later years! 

Researching likely spots to stay, we headed east of Faro to a campsite in the small fishing village of Cabanas de Tavira.  Just 5k from the beautiful town of Tavira, on the edge of the Ria Formosa nature reserve and very near to a railway station we think it will make an ideal base to spend the winter months.  One chap we met has been there for 5 years!  Having electricity once again was fabulous as I tried out all the stitches on my new sewing machine!  I just need to find some fabric shops in the Algarve now.

Barril; Portugals; Dunes

Dunes & lagoons at Pedras d’el Rei

Moving on from Cabanas we visited Pedras d’el Rei near Santa Luzia on a recommendation from another couple of motorhomers.  One of the great things about this lifestyle is meeting so many like-minded people and everybody is so friendly and helpful.  Turning off the main road we had to negotiate a narrow winding road through a purpose-built village resort before parking up on a huge car-park overlooking the dunes and marshes.  We headed for the little tourist train which took us over the dunes to Barril Beach.

Barril; Portugal; Train

John & Jane on the train across the dunes, Pedras d’el Rei

Barril was once home to around 80 tuna fishermen and their families for part of the year.  When the tuna migration changed course and fishing was no longer viable the fleet laid their anchors to rest in what’s now known as the Cemetery of Anchors.  I was expecting them to be at sea so was quite surprised to find them on land!  The cottages have been converted into a small resort with cafes, restaurants and beach facilities.  Barril Beach itself is absolutely stunning and apparently one of the best in Portugal.

Barril; Portugal; Anchor

The cemetery of anchors, Barril Beach

Barril; Portugal; Anchor

Some more anchors, Barril Beach

Barril; Portugal; Anchor

Arty shot – cemetery of anchors, Barril Beach

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All Roads Lead to Salamamca

Saturday saw us setting off in pouring rain due south chasing some much needed warmth and sunshine. Just outside Pons we met our old friend the Camino de Santiago again and waved & tooted encouragement at the wet, weary walkers. The landscape has changed from melon crops to vineyards, stubbly fields and sad brown sunflowers hanging their heads as if in acknowledgement that summer is drawing to a close.

France

A quick glimpse of the sea – at St Jean-de-Luz, France

Sunday found us in Spain and after driving through the mountains and arriving at Legazpi, we decided to push on to Vitoria-Gastiez. The following morning was cold (9°C) and very misty and we passed an overturned articulated lorry on the motorway. Our destination was Palencia which is a beautiful town. Once again the Aire was next to a park and a river and it was still an incredible 32°C at 6 o’clock in the evening – scorchio!

13th Century church of San Miguel, Palencia

13th Century church of San Miguel, Palencia

Bridge over the River Carrion, Palencia

Bridge over the River Carrion, Palencia

Scary realistic skeleton looking down from the Cathedral at Palencia

Scary realistic skeleton looking down from the Cathedral at Palencia

The lock of love - up close

The lock of love – up close

Tuesday turned out to be a l-o-n-g day. We set off for La Alberca in clear blue skies and with every intention of making the most of this stopover in a small spa town! Interestingly, we saw lots of plastic cows and bulls on our route, some painted realistically – others not so much. Unfortunately when we arrived at the Aire the service point was out of action and we were in need of emptying our loo & waste water and filling up with fresh water – bugger! So, after a mid-afternoon nap we decided to travel on to our next planned stop. We definitely should have checked the suggested sat-nav route before we set off. An un-named road/track that was a heart-stopping 15Km winding drive up through the mountains was then followed by a descent of hairpin bends galore – thank goodness we didn’t meet any other vehicles. I was sat in the back with my eyes tightly shut reminding myself that it would soon be over! We eventually arrived at Caceres at 6pm & in need of a BIG drink!

Spain

A typical view out the windscreen (for miles and miles and miles) – towards Caceers

Rough route up the mountain ....

Rough route up the mountain ….

Coming down the mountain.  Note to self, check the sat-nav route before setting off!

Followed by hairpin bends coming down the mountain. Note to self, check the sat-nav route before setting off!

Coming through the mountains, a great view at Mirador Las Juntas

Through the mountains, a great view at Mirador Las Juntas

After spending Wednesday relaxing & enjoying the sunshine (now 34°C at 6pm) and making full use of our own wet-room we set off on Thursday for what we thought would be the penultimate day of travelling. We arrived in Portugal mid-morning through a fantastic town called Elvas. Sadly the traffic was really busy due to an accident and we unable to stop but I snapped some pictures out of the van window.

Aquaduct at Elvas

Aquaduct at Elvas

Aquaduct at Elvas

Another bit of the aquaduct at Elvas

Our planned stopover was Barragem do Divor just north of Evora. When we arrived, however, it felt too isolated as (unusually) there were no other people or camper-vans there. Emboldened by Tuesday’s adventure we decided to have a rest stop and then, yes you’ve guessed it, press on to Alvor our final destination. Checking the sat-nav suggested route before we set off put our minds at ease that there were no tracks or hairpin bends to contend with although a road closure did mean we had a long detour before we were back on the main road heading in the right direction! We arrived at the Aire at 7pm local time (which is the same as the UK but 1 hour behind France & Spain) absolutely knackered but in time to watch the full moon rise. A few familiar faces greeted us on our arrival and it was just lovely to see everybody again.

Full moon rising!

Full moon rising!

Friday & Saturday felt like bonus days as we arrived 2 full days earlier than planned. First job on Friday morning was to get some insect repellent as I’d forgotten about those nasty biting creatures & I’m covered in mosquito bites again. We headed to the beach and swam in the sea for the first time ever in the 7 years we’ve been coming here as it’s never been warm enough (for us wimps) earlier in the year.
The beach is totally different “in season” with lifeguards, sun-loungers, parasols and even a couple of massage tents! A few “looky-looky” men are working the scene with fake designer sunglasses, bags & clothing. Have I mentioned yet that it’s hot, hot, hot?! Still roasting in the evening, we went for a much anticipated curry at the Kashmir in town and it was delicious!

Sunbeds and parasols at sunset

Sunbeds and parasols at sunset

On the beach at sunset

On the beach at sunset

John reading outside in the dark!

John reading outside in the dark!

We’re planning to stay here for about 6 weeks (famous last words) and along with updating the blog with where we’ve been & what we’ve been doing I thought I’d also post snippets about the intricacies of day-to-day living in the van, which I hope you’ll enjoy :)

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