Tag Archives: motorhome europe

Now is the winter of our kitchen tent

We are posting this from Camping Marjal, Spain, but first a quick rundown on the past 8 weeks.

We left San Remo in Italy for a quick trip down the Mediterranean coast of France, stopping only at Lattes, near Montpellier and at a France Passion stop near Narbonne. Travelling through France at this time of the year is very difficult if you want to stop at campsites as almost all of them are closed.

We left Italy well stocked with full house gas bottles and lots of food and wine. Another stop at yet another favourite supermarket near Sigean meant we had about 130 bottles of wine on board plus loads of great Italian and French food. Of course we did not know the wine at the last France Passion site would be so good so we added yet another dozen there.

It's fantastic to have a motorhome that just swallows up such huge volumes of supplies. It's also good to have some experience in knowing what's available in Spain and what isn't. And we know that whilst some Spanish wine is great, the good stuff is harder to find and more expensive than the equivalent in France. So we arrived in Spain well-prepared for a long stay and thinking we may never need to shop again!

We spent 6 months in France and covered just 4,100 kms, not a lot of travelling but a magical half year. On our second last night there Alison opened an overhead cupboard and Alan's French study notes fell out, crashed onto the table and broke his wine glass, spilling wine everywhere. Well, if there ever was a sign from above, that was it! Stop drinking and start studying.

Our first stop in Spain was an overnight in Tarragona then on to Valencia. We met some wonderful people at Camping Col Verte near Valencia and had a very social time of it.

Valencia is famous for a strip of super-modern buildings at the edge of the traditional town. They are quite impressive from a distance but unfortunately are desperately in need of maintenance and cleaning. Just another sad testimony to the state of Spain's finances.

Valencia is a beautiful town, well worth the visit. We had a ball wandering around the old town and shopping for, you guessed it, wine glasses in the department stores. Great food, a wonderful atmosphere in the town and lots of life. What more could you ask for?

We have returned to Camping Marjal, near Crevillente in Spain to chill out for the winter. We spent 7 weeks here in February and March and, like so many other campers, have come back for a longer stay. There are many, many campers here who have returned. This is especially impressive when you consider that the camp has only been open for one year and is still a little like a new build.

We have added a new piece of kit to our little home: a kitchen tent. This has allowed us to set up our barbecue permanently along with a few simple bits and pieces. This means we can cook outside, in almost any weather and at night and without using any house gas. Well worth the 200 euros investment.

Our home is apparently not that little. Alan lost a bag of cables the other day when we were organising some gear in the house. We both knew they were somewhere inside but could not find them. Alison's answer to this was “just retrace your steps Alan!” You have got to be kidding me, three steps and you bang into the back of the bus!

Since our last post, which kind of featured the Fifty Shades books, we have checked out the music from these incredibly popular novels. And yes, we have done the iTunes thing and bought a smattering of the music. We are so glad to have discovered Eva Cassidy, what an extraordinary voice.

And in yet another link to Fifty Shades, the third book features a restaurant where the lead characters, Ana and Christian, have lunch in St Paul De Vence near Nice. Alan read the book and thought that restaurant sounds familiar, looked it up in our own travel diary and confirmed that yes, we also had lunch there on our wedding anniversary in 2011. Alison is a shade disappointed that none of Christian's special skills have rubbed off onto him from the Hotel Le St Paul's chair!

Camping Marjal has been a great stop for us. Without doubt, Marjal is the friendliest camp we have ever been on. There are activities of all kinds every day. So you can learn to cook or to speak Spanish, do aqua gym or other fitness classes, go on the organised bike rides or to a quiz night. Or just sit in the plaza and wait for someone to wander by and before you know it you'll be having coffee and a laugh with a new friend.

The gym here is as good as any Fitness First we have seen and is at least as good as our old haunt, the Melbourne City Baths gym. And it's free!

Alison has taken up boules and joined the regular friendly competition, playing with people from all over the world. We have met many really great people here and are having a ball. It is the perfect camp for a winter stay.

We have made a quick trip to Belfast for some surgery for Alan and will be in sunny Belfast for 19 days, staying until after Christmas. As it happens Alan was on the table all ready for the slice and dice when his surgeon decided it wasn't needed (no frontal lobotomy after all!).

So here we were thinking that this was going to be a non medical visit after all….that was until Alison fell down the stairs and head butted the door frame. For all those who may think she has a hard head, it appears not…a fun trip in an ambulance and some glue to stick humpy dumpy back together again and all is well. The black eye makes her look like a Belfast brawler which is rather appropriate given what's been going on here at the moment. Christmas pictures will at least look colourful!

From cold and wet but not white Belfast, stay safe everyone and have a very merry Christmas – may all your new year resolutions come to pass!!!

Cheers A&A

 

Fifty shades of green and a tow job

Well, this past month or so has been one of very mixed experiences. We have had some great times in France, made a quick and timely visit to Belfast and had to be towed on the Cote D'Azure. But more of that later.

After we left St Emilion we stopped at a France Passion site, Flotis Winery, near Fronton and experienced the very best of this style of camping. After a long day of supermarket shopping and driving we really didn't feel like tasting wine and battling through with the language. But we were amazed at what we tasted, finished up buying dozens of bottles and then spending the night at the winery overlooking the neighboring farmer's sheep field. A must if you are looking for something a bit different and a wine bargain.

In one of life's craziest moments, whilst sitting beside the sheep field Alan wondered if the funny looking fence just an arm's length away was in fact an electric fence. Yes it was! The resultant zap did not do any lasting damage to Alan but it did fry his watch and lead to an expensive and lengthy repair job at the Tag Heuer dealer in Belfast. No wonder the sheep stay away from it – they obviously have more garden variety common sense than him!

One of the issues we have had to deal with on our travels is access to medical and dental care. So we decided to leave Berty in Trebes, near Carcassonne, and take a quick trip to Belfast for checkups. Unfortunately this lead to some minor surgery for Alan and a booking for more extensive surgery in early December. No problem really and we had a three week spell in Ireland's Fifty Shades of Green!

For those who have not been to Ireland you should know that it is a very beautiful little island……but…..there is a reason why they call it the emerald isle! Even though we were there at the end of summer the weather was grey and damp most days. We spent a good deal of our time on the coast at Margaret's static caravan. A picturesque spot but with weather that simply stops you sitting outside its so windy and wild. No wonder the roof blew off the neighbor's van a few years ago.

It was good to catch up with people there and also to visit the new Titanic exhibition. Yes, even though she was built there, Belfast is the last place on the earth to have a Titanic museum. It was good as museums go but it should have been a lot better. Strangely, there were almost no relics from the ship but the historical side of the exhibition was good.

After Belfast we picked up our new washing machine, ordered off the internet and delivered (with some confusion and difficulty) to our campsite in Trebes. A word of advice campers: if you ever have anything delivered to a campsite make absolutely certain that it is addressed to you care of the camp, not to the camp manager. Our camp manager refused delivery so our new machine was rerouted many times before a successful delivery.

We soon got back into the groove with a few days at a beachside camp near Cap D'Agde. Yes, Alan got into the swing of things yet again at the naturist village. This is a great area for cycling (wipe that image of Alan naked on a bike, we are talking about the general area, not the naturist village!) alongside the beaches and generally being a beach tourist for a short time.

We then spent about a week at Port Grimaud, a very well located village between the ritzy spots of St Tropez and St Maxime. It was great to meet up with friends from New Zealand, Sonia and Phil who spend half their time in Europe each year. We stayed at Camping Prairies de la Mer, a campsite we would not recommend as it is mostly geared for cabin accommodation and campers are treated as second class tourists. Motorhome campers really do not need very much in the way of services but this campsite fails dismally.

This is an area of France where the very rich like to hang out. There are always lots of flash cars, chauffeurs, huge motor yachts and an endless stream of St Tropez style ladies; blonde, rich, skinny, coiffed, tanned and of course, snooty. Alan was asked by the crew on a 120 ft motor yacht if he would help throw their line to them as they departed. No problem, so now he can rightly say he has crewed a yacht at St Tropez, although it didn't involve stepping on to the yacht – pity!

Whilst St Tropez is overrated, it's an interesting place to visit especially when you can cycle there in just 15 minutes. One day we did just that after having spent the morning defrosting the fridge, yes it really is a strange life we lead.

Whilst our Iveco truck has been a real powerhouse of a vehicle, we have recently had some problems with her being difficult to start. Usually all is well after a few tries and we are away but we have wanted to have the problem looked at. A great fear of any motorhome traveller is getting stuck with a dead vehicle. So we booked a service at a dealer in Carcassonne but unfortunately the problem did not occur when we went there and they were not able to find any fault.

A few days later we again had the same difficulty and we arranged for another visit to a dealer, this time in Bezier. Once again, despite about 2 hours work and at least thirty starts they could not duplicate the fault and so found nothing wrong. We had no option but to head off and hope for the best.

And of course initially we are needing to deal with this problem on the phone and always in French as both dealers spoke no English. As one of the mechanics told us, they can deal with us in Spanish or Italian but English is usually a problem in their industry. But Alan's efforts at French are usually well received and get us (almost) through the communications barrier, until it gets technical!

Unfortunately we still had a problem and it came to a head at Port Grimaud when Berty simply refused to start when it came time to go. Two hours of trying got us nowhere and we were left with no option but to have her towed to yet another Iveco dealer, this time near Frejus. For some reason you cannot get a French mechanic to visit you. We asked at least 4 different people and were always told the same thing, we had to go to them!

At least if you are going to get towed it may as well be for 40kms from near St Tropez along the beautiful Mediterranean coast. For once, the punters had something different to look at instead of bikini girls and big boats! But it is really disheartening when you see your home hoisted up on a tow platform and unceremoniously dragged out of the camp. And, in front of what amounted to an audience of camera-toting, bored campers who hadn't seen anything that interesting in years!

The drive proved to be easier than we expected and incident free due to a very careful and experienced driver who also owns a motorhome. He said he always gets into trouble from his wife if he drives their van too fast over bumps so he always tows motorhomes just as carefully. He was a Belgian who laughed about how he knew all about Australia from having seen Crocodile Dundee….. 1 and 2! At least we had a good laugh about the French translation of “that's not a knife, this is a knife!”

After a 5 hour wait for the tow truck (a super powerful tray truck with a heavy duty hoist, sorry no pictures, we were too uptight) we arrived at the Iveco dealer too late for them to do anything. They graciously allowed us to camp in their backyard overnight and even supplied us with an electrical hookup. A good lesson for all motor-homers is always travel with plenty of water and waste capacity as you never know where you might end up. We also have two toilet cassettes and we really appreciated this extra toilet capacity by the time this little drama was over.

And to add to the drama, Alan, who is normally very steady handed, spilled a giant glass of red wine across the table, onto the cushions, along the sofa, down the wall……. What a day!

The next morning proved to be a busy time for them and it was well into the afternoon before they had a chance to check Berty. At last the problem was confirmed as a loose connection in the security system which was forcing the immobilizer to block the fuel to the engine. The mechanic taught us the very clever way of using the vehicle's unique security code number and overriding the system if we were to have the same problem again. God forbid!

So after a 502 euros tow job and another 128 for the repair we were away! But, we at least travelled 40kms without using a drop of fuel and had a free night's accommodation so it wasn't all bad news! And seriously, if this is the worst that happens to us on our travels then life is still pretty damn good.

We have left our little dramas behind us now and are in San Remo Italy. This is a restocking spot for us with the most important item being our gas bottles. When we leave here in a week or so it will be with more than a year's supply of house gas, lots of meatballs and a great supply of the fabulous local wine, Vermentino.

And what a great place the Villagio Dei Fiori is with almost everything a camper could want (except for the mean 6 amps electricity), our absolute favorite supermarket across the road, better weather than France, a wonderful Italian resort town just down the road and a beautiful 24km bike path just beside the camp.

We also took an organized tour into the hills behind San Remo and into France. We went up more than 1000 meters and saw some truly breathtaking scenery. The leaves have just started to change here and so we started to see the beautiful autumn colours – well worth the hours driving on wiggly roads in an old, uncomfortable 4 wheel drive!

Travel safely everyone, cheers, A and A

 

Miracles to wineries

All is still going really well for us. The biggest drama recently was that our trusty washing machine died on us and was buried in the Pyrenees. We will buy another one soon. Oh, and there was that time Alan stalled us at an intersection in rural France and struggled to get us started again. Hope the stroppy French truck driver who spent 5 minutes tooting us is reading our blog, but we doubt it!

We ended up spending 8 days at Camping Parc D’Audinac, near St Girons, a beautiful park-like camp and with the Pyrenees as a dramatic backdrop. Next stop was Lourdes, not for a religious pilgrimage but out of sheer curiosity.

Alan was at first reluctant to visit Lourdes, given his cynicism of religion and the church. But once Alison had made the suggestion he embraced the idea like a true closet zealot.

Lourdes is set in the mountains and in a very picturesque part of the country. For those of you who don’t know the story, in the mid 1800s Bernadette saw a series of visions of the Virgin Mary in the grotto under a huge rock. The vision told her that pilgrims should go there and drink and wash in the water and they will be cured. And so they came and they continue to come and sometimes they are actually cured.

About 20,000 visitors a day travel to Lourdes, about 5 million in the eight month season. And most of them stay quite a while so there are hundreds of thousands of pilgrims (and a few skeptical tourists) in the town every day. The scale of the “operation” is amazing to see with many, many pilgrims in wheelchairs and mobile beds being pushed around the grotto precinct and through the town. Yes, miracles are very good for the tourist business. Lourdes was even more popular than the nude village at Cap D’Agde!

The religious precinct is mainly comprised of the grotto where the visions occurred (which has not been changed much), and a big church and Bernadette’s crypt built on the rock above the grotto. There are indoor baths but these were closed when we went (thankfully, as they looked awful, 60’s concrete slabs with no sign of maintenance!). There also numerous indoor and outdoor areas for pilgrims to gather. The outdoor areas saw a crowd of 45,000 at mass a few years ago.

A big thing for the pilgrims is to buy and light a candle for a loved one. There are thousands of candles of all sizes burning outside the church in covered sheds. Whoever has the candle deal at Lourdes is making a mint. Even the small candles cost a few euros but the big ones are 200 to 300+ euros and there is a big one added every few minutes. Talk about seeing your money going up in smoke.

The surrounding town is really just one big tourist den crammed with shops and restaurants. It’s hard to estimate how many souvenir shops there were but probably more than 500, all selling pretty much the same stuff. The strange thing is that they were all busy: the customers were literally grabbing basket loads of oddities from cork screws to 2,000 euro statues of Bernadette. What about the plastic cup that shows a vision when you fill it with water?

The network of carers for the sick pilgrims is seriously impressive. With many hundreds of people needing assistance, often by more than one person, there is a small army of carers pushing wheelchairs and trolleys. The area around the grotto and the entire town is filled with infirmary accommodation as well as regular hotels of all standards. It is a town of only 15,000 people but Lourdes has 270 hotels, the highest concentration of hotels outside of Paris.

We saw many people who had clearly fulfilled a lifelong ambition by coming to such a sacred place. In many ways it reminds us of how fortunate we are to be healthy and able to see such places. All told it was a moving and special 2 day visit for us even though we clearly fall into the non-religious category. But being a pair of cynics, we cannot help but point out that the success rate for pilgrims is pretty low at about 70 miracles for the past 200 million visitors.

We stayed at Camping de Sarsan. A simple, clean camp and walking distance to everything.

Lourdes is at an altitude of about 400m, somewhat lower than we had been at for the past month or so but still surrounded by dramatic mountains. The countryside in the Pyrenees continues to rate as probably the best we have seen to date. It is a wonderful blend of rolling hills, picturesque villages and always with a backdrop of the sharp edges of the mountains. Possibly its only rival would be Bavaria.

We headed for a France Passion site near Lourdes and close to the spectacular caves at Betharram. The caves were amazing with long walks underground through huge chambers and chasms with 60m straight walls and barely a meter wide. The tour starts with a bus ride to the top then a walk of a few kilometers in the caves then a train ride up and out of the caves. What a hoot!

The France Passion site turned out to be a pig farm. So we spent the night literally sleeping with the pigs just 2 meters behind our van. Combine that with the chickens, dogs, pony etc, it was very much a barnyard stay. Yes, the rich smell of the country air confirmed that we will skip pig farm stays in the future. That said, the farmer was very friendly when we did some tastings and yes, we did buy some of our bedfellows!!

We then headed back deeper into the mountains to Luchon, a pretty town famous for its spa and as a regular Tour de France stop. We had intended this as a sort of working stop for some cleaning and maintenance and it turned out to be perfect for that.

We stayed at Camping Pradelongue, close to town, surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery and next door to the supermarket: very convenient. They even had a truck wash at the supermarket so we put Berty though a very thorough clean then spent 2 days giving her a complete polish. It nearly killed us but she looks as good as new, except for the bits that we missed.

Despite its great location, the camp was one that had serious water related issues with virtually no water available to campers on one side of the camp and queues for showers and toilets each day. The day before we left these water problems caused the first complaint against us in a camp! Shock and horror – someone complained that Alan had taken water from their private tap!

But we did meet Nicky and John and Anne and Dave there. We had a great time guys, thank you. We hope to catch up with Nicky and John the next time we are near their home base in Spain. Oh, and yes, Alison has recovered from her hangover!

We had planned to head into Spain from here but when we did a little research the camp we planned to go to was just not good value for money at nearly €40 per night so we decided to continue exploring France.

Back in 2006 we had a great time at St Emilion, near Bordeaux, and so we decided to go back there again for a touch of nostalgia, a tricky thing to do. We spent the first night here at a France Passion site, this one was a pigless winery! So a fabulous evening and dinner was had amongst the vines and enjoying a glass or two of the winery’s own produce. It’s the magic times like this that is what our travels are all about. Sunset amongst the vines….perfect.

The next day we moved to Yelloh Camping at St Emilion and are still here. Not a great camp and one we would definitely not recommend (pitches are not clean and are very rough, getting waste water out is difficult, facilities not particularly clean and it’s the first swimming pool we have been in where we had trouble seeing our feet…mmmm!). Unfortunately, it is the only campsite in the area and the area of St Emilion is just fabulous.

Well, although St E. is a very expensive little town, it is really pretty and the wine is fantastic. Last time we were here we drank the very best of these wines because we were able to buy them by the glass in a wine bar. Alas that is no longer possible as at 800 euros (that’s just under A$1,000) a bottle it has become way too expensive.

We have spent the past few days cycling through the vineyards and into town and enjoying the company of a pair of lively Irish motorhomers from Dublin, Brenda and Michael. We had some great times during their short stay at the camp and hope to meet up with them again sometime, possibly in Dublin.

Speaking of Dublin, we are making another quick medical and dental visit to Belfast in a few days. We will fly Ryanair from Carcassonne to Dublin and then bus to Belfast. It will give us a chance to get a checkup and say hello to some friends there. We will update you all on the Titanic exhibition, which opened in Belfast just a few months ago, and everything else as soon as we can.

Stay safe, cheers, A and A

 

Montpellier to the Pyrenees

Sorry for such a long blog but there has been a lot going on lately. We are posting this from the lower hills of the French Pyrenees with the high mountains off in the distance and in what we think is probably the prettiest countryside we have seen in all our travels. We are at Camping Parc d’Audinac les Bains near St Girons, a camp we would recommend. A former military school estate, it is set in a large and beautiful park with good facilities.

We ended up staying 3 weeks at Camping D’Anglas, near Brissac, a camp we would recommend to anyone. As always, it wasn’t perfect but it had fabulously friendly staff, a tiny but wonderful weekend restaurant, an absolutely beautiful location, a swimmable river and an easy bike ride to anything and everything you need.

Camping D’Anglas is in the midst of an eco friendly vineyard and is owned and run by the winemaker. We went on the regular Saturday evening walk through the vines and wine tasting with him – it was enlightening. Everything is done in a chemical free way and the land is managed with as little human interference as possible, even down to only minimal mowing of the grass.

The land area is a mixture of vines, garrique (a sort of herb-filled scrubland) and forest, all of which are quite close together. All the sections work in harmony and give the land a huge diversity of plants, insects and animals. We have never seen as many insects and lizards as there were all around us there. Insects were so thick on the ground and in the air and yet they were seldom a bother and there were very few mosquitoes and flies. In just an hour or two you could see at least 100 different varieties of bugs. Incredible!

The garrique was equally amazing with a mass of different aromatic plants. Walking through it lead to a wonderful sensory experience of very potent smells from the exotic plants and wild herbs as your footsteps kicked up the aromas wherever you walked.

The forest was alive with foxes and wild boar. The river was teaming with fish and so many noisy frogs that you could hardly hear yourself think in some parts. The camp also encouraged dozens of bird varieties by providing nests for them. The result was a camp abuzz with non-human activity. All this worked so well together and resulted in wonderful wines and a beautiful and relaxed natural environment.
Cleverly, the owners made money from the wines and the campsite but also by harvesting the aromatic plants for the medicinal market. And in winter, they handed the land over to sheep. So 400 sheep would graze amongst the vines.

Naturally, being on the river at D’Anglas meant a canoe trip. Details are not necessary but the trip did result in Alison getting a little wet (actually a lot wet) and her favorite hat and sunglasses are either at the bottom of the river or have now made it to the med….where the river finished!

 

We also visited the Grotte des Desmoiselles near the camp. The photos do not do it justice. It was a fabulous cave with an enormous cathedral-like main cavern. Really something.

 

We hardly ever tell you about the weather so here’s an update. In Montpellier we had some good days but mostly the weather was unusually cool and wet, particularly for May. At least when it rained it was more of a drizzle than a downpour. From about our last week there it turned fine and warm with temperatures into the high 20s most days.

At D’Anglas we had two great weeks and one that was a bit wet and cool. Generally though we have had really good weather over the past 6 weeks or so. At the moment almost every day is in the low 30s, fine and sunny and with beautiful evenings that are warm and light until about 10 o’clock. Even in the high mountains we have had hot days, but with cooler nights at as low as 9 degrees.

We have had to get back into the rhythm of driving and generally moving a bit faster (otherwise we will have a great time but will never actually go anywhere). Before Alan was back into the swing of things he went over a speed bump a tad too fast and broke about a dozen plates and glasses. Lucky we had plenty of spares. He insists it’s all part of his plan to reduce our payload. Yeah, right! What a mess!

Over the past 6 weeks we have meandered through some of France’s most spectacular rocky countryside from Montpellier through the Tarn gorge and on to the incredible Pyrenees. Along the way we have met many interesting people and have had a very social time of it even with relatively short stays in most camps. We have also experienced some of France’s special roads as well as a few that we would not recommend.

We stopped for a few days at Goudargues, a pretty riverside village and had a great lunch surrounded by wonderfully friendly French travelers and with a very chirpy waitress. We did as we so often do and chose a restaurant away from the tourist area.

As is common in France, we attracted quite a bit of attention as we were the only foreigners there and believe it or not, the French are really not used to tourists. As usual they were reserved until they realized we were from Australia and could communicate with them. We had a great laugh with everyone there and by the end of lunch we were all the best of friends.

Another stop was at Bagnols sur Ceze at Camping Les Cascades. This is one of the few campsites we would not recommend. Despite it being a 5 star camp and in a very pretty spot, access within the camp was terrible with low trees, very little room to negotiate and very few flat pitches. Also, most access roads into the camp were extremely narrow, one had a 2.1m wide bridge! We are 2.3m wide so it was not possible to cross and meant driving back to the next town and it’s wider bridge. All told that little bridge added another 30kms to the trip that day.

At Anduze we stayed at Camping Le Padral, a well-located camp with good facilities. From there we took the tourist train to St Jean Du Gard, a very interesting trip and a great day out for us. The Japanese section of the famous bamboo gardens nearby were a treat.
Then it was along the gorge road to Florac, a pretty town deep in the mountains followed by a dramatic drive to St Enimie and to Camping Gorges du Tarn. This campsite is very simple but in an incredible location right on the river and deep within the gorge. With the little medieval village just a short walk down the road, and the surrounding gorge soaring hundreds of meters all around you, it is quite a place.

After St Enimie we encountered our first really challenging road. Up until then the roads had all been seriously winding but with room to move. Even the Corniche (that’s a cliff-top road) des Cevennes was drivable for us without too much drama, although we did see some very serious accidents along the way. But immediately after St Enimie the road became very difficult and remember, we have travelled some of France’s most challenging high mountain and gorge roads.

The direction we were driving in meant that we were on the inside of a 40kms road which has been cut into the rock. It had numerous side rocks and very low overhanging rocks jutting onto the road and much too low for us to travel under. Most corners were so blind and so sharp that everyone just crawled around them. Many parts were so narrow that someone had to reverse when you encountered an oncoming vehicle. Whilst there were a few motorhomes, at 7 meters we were about as big as is possible. In fact we are the biggest camper we have seen since we left the coast. Not a road we would recommend in a motorhome….but the word ‘spectacular’ just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

We finished the drive through the gorge by crossing the modern and spectacular bridge at Millau, one of the world’s grandest bridges. And we helped pay for it with a 23.50 euros toll!

After the mountains we headed back to the coast, not just for the sun and sand but also to do a tour of the Noilly Pratt winery at Marseillan and try the vermouth.

This was another one of those magic days that come unexpectedly. We arrived at the winery after an interesting bike ride but had to wait an hour or so until 3pm for the tour to start. So we stopped at a great little restaurant nearby, had a Perrier and met Linda and Steve, two Brits on their last day of a 2 week holiday. After the tour we returned to the same restaurant and they were still there. We joined them for drinks which then became dinner and resulted in us peddling the 8 kms back home in the near-dark amidst masses of twilight insects and slightly (!) under the influence. They joined us for lunch the next day on their way to the airport. We had a terrific time, thanks guys!

Our campsite at Marseillan Plage was just a short walk from the Cap d’Agde naturist village, one of the world’s largest. So, yes, Alan, walked there and spent an afternoon in what is in fact the busiest place we (or at least Alan) have seen in Europe so far.

It is extraordinary, a village about the size of Shepparton (Victoria), with a beachfront of about 2kms and tens of thousands of naked people. There are endless strips (pardon the pun) of bars, simple cafes and ritzy restaurants, all very busy.

One of the differences we have seen recently is that tourist numbers are well down on normal. A campsite owner told us that it is devastating to many camp businesses. One camp we spent a few nights in in the Pyrenees, just across the border into Spain was a 300 pitch camp with about 15 to 20 pitches occupied. It would normally be almost full at this time of the year. This is the first real and identifiable impact we have seen of the euro crisis.

But it is pretty easy to see why the euro is a bit limp. Alan went to the pool the other day and put a ten euro note under his hat. Of course he completely forgot about it and finished up with a very soggy paper tenner. That’s right, they still use paper money in this part of the world. Now, if too many people in Europe are doing the same thing it’s no wonder the currency is shrinking.

One of our issues over the past year has been our lack of a BBQ. Most campers have one and many people do all their cooking outside. We have even seen people with the new portable induction hotplates cooking elaborate meals outside (which included plucking a chicken…..not kidding).

We have really struggled to find something suitable as almost all the gas cookers are either dinky little things made for 4 sausages or massive patio models. We decided to really solve this problem after we left D’Anglas and searched high and low for the right unit, traveling a few hundred kms back and forth to check gas bottles and BBQs in all the biggest camping and outdoor stores in the area. Alas, no luck.

Complicating the problem is that there is a bewildering array of gas bottles on the market in France, most of which are either huge and heavy or tiny and with enough gas for just one meal, if you are lucky. And we need something which can be swapped easily all over the country. It is amazing how tricky and difficult it can be to buy such a simple thing. And the problem is compounded by the French lunchtime where all small shops and even many very large ones close for lunch from 12 to 2. Imagine Bunnings doing that! There’d be a riot in the carpark!

After much thought and investigation we finally settled on a Cadac, now christened ‘Caddy’. It ended up being easier, and cheaper, to buy it online from the UK. It was actually shipped from a dealer in Bangor, Northern Ireland, of all places….should have gotten Alison’s mum to drive there and pick it up. We also signed up, yes we needed a formal contract and photo ID, for a French gas bottle.

Cadac is a popular brand for campers and is similar to the Webber. So over the past month we have almost exclusively used Caddy. We’ve cooked chips, toast, curry and of course meat, we even bake bread on it. It is so easy that we have finally become the most Australian of all things…BBQers!

After the coast we headed to Trebes and Carcassonne on the Canal du Midi before venturing into the Pyrenees. The canal is fabulous and a bike ride alongside it is pretty much your quintessential French holiday experience. Unfortunately many of the famous plane trees lining the banks are being cut down because of a tree disease. This will totally change the landscape for many years to come and will likely reduce the number of boat tourists. We had a laugh watching the “mental rentals” struggling in the locks in their plastic rental boats (a trip down memory lane as we remember doing the exact same thing in 2006!)

The drive from Limoux through the Cathar countryside and into the high Pyrenees was one of the most picturesque we have ever done. The gorges, rocky cliffs and castles perched impossibly high up were really something. The Pyrenees have offered probably the most beautiful landscapes we have seen and that is saying something because we have seen some amazing places during our travels so far. The roads can be really difficult so we have decided to stick to the main national roads but they still offer outstanding views.

We stopped briefly at Bourge Madame and took the tourist train (we are fully trained tourists after all) to Villefranche. A fabulous but very long ride (3 hours each way) through the mountains. Once again the photos do not do it justice but you get the idea – high mountains, rocky ridges, medieval villages, massive gorges, skinny bridges, endless sunshine, nice lunch…..a few glasses of wine, etc, etc, etc.

Just down the road from where we are now we stopped at Ax les Thermes, a sort of ski resort at about 700m altitude. Once again, a casual walk into town lead us unexpectedly to one of the highlights of our trip so far. We took the enclosed cable car up to 1400m (that’s higher than the Mt Buller village) then the open air chairlift, with your feet dangling in the air, up to 2000m (that’s higher than the summit of Mt Buller). Wow, what an experience – scary, exhilarating, amazing. A “once in a lifetime” thrill (as the old joke goes, we won’t be doing that again!)

We have been doing some practical things recently. Alison got a really good haircut in the little village near D’Anglas. No doubt she was their first customer from Australia. We also had Berty serviced there in the local garage and they did a great job. In the past, tasks like these have been quite a challenge but it is fantastic to have a bit of French language skill and be able to ask for what you want.

It still amazes us to meet Brits who live in France or Spain and cannot speak the language. A Welsh couple we met recently have been living here and running a restaurant for 12 years in a small village, he with no language and she with only a basic level. And they wonder why the locals don’t support their business!

We have also given Berty a wash, at more than 20 euros, in the truck bay at a car wash. Such facilities are common but hard to find so she was pretty grubby. And we have even put all the curtains through our washing machine. So Berty is looking pretty spiffy, maybe can’t say the same for us!

From here we will head along the lower mountains to Lourdes then across the very top of the Pyrenees into Spai

Until next time, keep well, stay safe and enjoy every moment of life.

Cheers, A & A

 

France, poetry and gas

We have been off the radar for a little while. Our last post was from Camping Marjal, just south of Alicante, Spain. Sorry for that but we have been very busy. We also have a bug in the system which has prevented us loading photos. We hope to fix that today.

We had a great time at Eco Camping Marjal Costa Blanca. We probably confirmed this when you consider that we arrived planning to stay just 3 days but we stayed 7 weeks! So why did we stay so long?

As fellow travelers, Paul and Liz have said, when you stay for just a few days at a campsite you tend to have the same conversation with everyone you meet. It’s friendly but not really social. But when you spend time with people, have lunch, dinner etc, you experience a more normal social interaction.

Despite the fact that the camp is a little barren and with immature trees and shrubs (and a few immature campers as well), we ended up feeling really comfortable there. The camp had a great restaurant, a relaxed style and very friendly and helpful staff.

We found it a little quiet for the first few weeks but that was partly our fault, we decided to do some work (tax returns) and so kept to ourselves and didn’t participate in the camp activities until we had finished.

Once we started to participate in things like the camp walks, aqua gym or archery (yes Deb, we actually both did the Robin Hood thing, didn’t hit much though!) we developed a social life. We met some really nice people during our time there, had some good social events and managed to polish off quite a few bottles of vino.

A great example of the social experience there was one day when our caravanning neighbors, Bob and Judi, offered to take us into Elx to the big supermarket. We spent the afternoon shopping and then offered them a glass of wine back at our pitch. Before long Carolyn and Mike (who none of us had ever met) wandered past on their way to the pub. Within minutes they had joined us and in a flash we had cobbled together a simple meal for 6 and it was 1.00 am. Bob and Judy headed off a few days later, but Carolyn and Mike stayed longer and we had some great laughs with them.

We also met Christine when we went on one of the organized walking tours. Had a great couple of hours chatting about all sorts of things and ended up arranging a day out in the local town having some fun on a Segway tour. We later caught up with Christine and her husband Pete for a fun night and heard all about their interesting life as entertainers on cruise ships – they have been just about everywhere, including most major cities in Oz. We really have met the most interesting people on this journey.

One reason we stayed on at Marjal was so we could experience a Spanish Easter. Needless to say, since the Spanish are very religious, they did it with gusto. In most towns and villages there was a different procession each day for a week, usually not starting until 9 or 10pm, it is Spain after all. On one day one event merged into the next, which was due to start at 4am (yes, that’s right….AM).

We went to the Palm Sunday procession in the morning in a town close by. The locals came in their Sunday best clothes and many carried elaborately woven palm fronds. The march through town was surprisingly somber and moving. The religious icon float took 56 men to carry and was really something to see, even for a pair of religious cynics like us. It was very much a family affair with lots of little ones. Afterwards many of the family groups gathered in the local restaurants – the town was abuzz.
After leaving Marjal we headed north towards France driving about 1100 kms in 2 days. Some of the distance was covered on the toll roads (about 90 euros for about 400 kms) and some by the very, very wiggly roads. The wiggly roads along the Costa Brava were not for the faint hearted – spectacular views and amazing drops!
Our French destination was Montpellier, one of France’s prettiest towns. We spent most of our time there at Camping Le Parc, in Lattes, which is about 5 kms from Montpellier, 15 minutes walk to a tram into town or about 5km on a reasonable bike path. The campsite is of a reasonable standard, very quiet and with very few campers who usually only stay for 1 or 2 days.
We went to Montpellier because we both decided to take some serious French lessons. Initially we signed up for 2 weeks, but we both extended, Alison for an extra week and Alan to 6 weeks. Alison gracefully bowed out as the course became more and more difficult. Unfortunately, if you found yourself slipping behind it was almost impossible to catch up.
The school caters to mainly younger students (by that we mean spunky 20 something kids of rich parents) from all over the world. Some of the students are new immigrants doing a 10 week course to comply with French laws so we had a really mixed group of students. Alan’s French is coming along very nicely but he will probably speak with a funny accent, as the class was a mix of Spanish, Japanese, Arabic and Russian!
Alison needs a haircut but is a little concerned if she asks for it in French as she might accidentally ask for her horses to be cut – google translate hair and horses and you will see what we mean! As they say in French, c’est très difficile!
Studying in France was a fantastic experience. Classes were all morning so it was a serious routine of up early then into town on the tram. The course was done in a “take no prisoners” approach. From the first introduction on the first day, everything was done in a blend of french and sign language, with no English spoken at all. But after all we were the only English language students in the class. Then each afternoon was a combination of home study and total collapse from exhaustion.
The outcome though has been great. Alan is now able to have a simple conversation in French, easily order in a restaurant, read the warming-up instructions on the packaged quiche etc. He was chuffed yesterday when we checked into our campsite entirely in French and the receptionist was very complimentary of his language skills. Wow!

We were quite happy at Camping Le Parc for the first few weeks but suddenly everything changed. Anyone heard of the Cottonwood tree….if you have, you will know why. It started ‘snowing’ fluff. You couldn’t sit outside as it gets in your eyes, up your nose and into any other exposed orifice! With 6 inches of fluff on the ground we moved closer to town, to an unusually crappy camp, Camping Le Floreal. It’s handy to town but has absolutely nothing else going for it.

In the meantime, Montpellier hosted the international extreme sports festival – wakeboard, BMX, roller, skateboard and mountain bikes. They built the most incredible jumps and ramps for the contestants along a stretch of the river. They were truly gravity defying. We spent 5 days amongst the teenyboppers and their skate boards and BMX bikes. It was a real hoot. It’s not very often that you get to walk from your camp to a truly fantastic international event and then watch it for free!
Alan of course desperately wanted to try out for the skateboard championships. Regrettably, his training went no further than wearing his cap back to front! No matter really, there was no actual event for geriatric skateboarders.
The switch to Le Floreal was a nuisance but was very much brightened up by a young Irish couple, Dominie and Darren from Limerick. They pitched their tent across from us in our last few days there. They are on a 36 week camping trip through Europe, complete with ironing board! We had some wonderful nights with them, sometimes laughing so much it hurt. We still don’t know the name of the gay dog….a long, and very funny story!
Of course it’s not possible to spend time with Limerick people without a bit of poetry. Perhaps Alan has missed his true calling in life…..
There once was a young pair, Darren and Dom
Who went on a trip far from home
Everywhere that they went they just pitched their wee tent
Then stayed till the beer money was all spent!
…..or perhaps not!
After Montpellier we headed into the hills just an hour or two inland. We are at a wonderfully casual campsite, Camping D’Anglas, beside the river Herault and amongst the vines. It’s classic French countryside, green, lush, birds and lizards everywhere and with atmospheric air so thick you could carve it.

One of the great things about campsite life is the sense of community you experience. We have had a problem with gas because we have German bottles which cannot be refilled in France or Spain.

We were down to our last month or so of gas when Alan asked a friendly German camper here if he knew how to solve the problem. Within minutes he had insisted on a swap of our half empty bottle for his full one as he was headed home to Germany. So for a trade of two good bottles of wine we now have enough gas to get us through to October. Fantastic and we don’t even know his name.

We will now stay in the south of France and explore the region and the wines between Montpellier and Bordeaux – can’t wait. We have renewed our France Passion membership and so are looking forward to staying at some of these sites over the coming months. It is also a good opportunity for Alan to practice his French on the poor locals! After that, we think it will be summer in northern Spain and Portugal but we can never be quite sure.

Anyway, that’s all for now, stay safe everyone A&A.

Benidorm, Belfast and the SUK

March 2012

We have been in Benidorm, Spain for a total of three months but in that time have spent about 5 weeks away in Belfast. We have just come back from our last visit there. This one was brought on by a problem with Alan’s ear. He certainly is a problem camper! Like most campers, we have our favorite summer and winter destinations but we’ve now added surgical destinations to our list!

Whilst not a serious issue, the problem was an excess of cartilage which was forcing the skin to bulge and split. The doctor said it would soon become unbearably painful if not fixed.

The operation entailed a long cut from the inner part of the ear all the way along the outer most rim and down almost to the earlobe. We counted 49 stitches. They then peeled the skin back 6mm like peeling a banana sideways then cut away the excess cartilage. Yes, it sounds as gruesome as it looked – Alan’s nickname for a while was Frankenstein! It was quite an impressive job. And in one of our lucky breaks, it turns out that the surgeon was the master of this procedure. He first documented it in 1992 and has been teaching and performing it since then.

We certainly tested the British health system and whilst the public system is so run down its like Australia in the 1960s, the private side of it is very small but very good. We were able to book the GP by email and then, after seeing him on the Wednesday were linked in to the dermatologist on Thursday, surgeon on Friday for consultation and then operation on Tuesday. No complaints from us!

So now we are back in Berty and ready to head off into the wilds of Spain.

Benidorm has been good for us. We have a had a comfortable and social time here and enjoyed our time with fellow aussies Paul and Liz and also some brits Babs, Norman and Lamb Chop (real name Cody the dog, but looked more like a very cuddly lamb – hence our nickname). Benidorm has been incredibly cheap, in fact a problem with this town is that it is very much geared to budget conscious travelers. That’s ok for most of us most of the time but sometimes, when you want a really nice dinner for example, it’s very limiting.

It’s pretty obvious that Benidorm is a town in trouble. The bars and restaurants are struggling to draw the customers in and many have closed permanently. It’s not at all unusual to see a lone punter in a bar, nursing a one euro pint. And remember that this is one of the largest resort towns in Europe and has about 13 kms of beach with most of it wall to wall bars.

A trend has developed over recent years with the tourist hotels offering cheaper deals for full board, three meals a day. Regulars have told us this upgrade has meant they are paying only a nominal rate for lunch and dinner on top of a heavily discounted room rate. Combine this with the common “two for one” drinks deal in the big hotels as well as free entertainment and the customers need never leave the hotels.

No doubt this has been good for the hotels, but it has turned Benidorm into a bit of a ghost town in the evenings, in winter at least. Even the incredible but typical dinner deal of three courses and a half bottle of wine for A$6.25 per person (no folks, that’s not a miss-print!) is not enough to tempt them out of the hotels.

We used the local bus the other day to take us to Altea, a neighboring town about an hour away by the usual rambling local bus route. It’s a very different place to Benidorm. Instead of everything being British, it’s almost entirely Dutch, much more expensive and filled with a much more normal blend of bars, restaurants and shops. A place to visit again.

Our latest visit to Belfast was interesting (in between surgical consultations!). It coincided with the pre-opening publicity for the new Titanic exhibition.

Until quite recently Belfast was very reluctant to take advantage of its Titanic connection. And this is despite the fact that everywhere you go in Belfast you can see the giant yellow cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyards where she was built.

Belfast’s Titanic memories were erased as a result of the sectarianism that has dominated the province for almost a century. Titanic was built with a mixed workforce of Catholics and Protestants but the Catholics were in the minority and not fully welcome. Nuts and rivets dropped from great heights onto the heads of catholics became known as Belfast confetti!

But the Protestant’s cleverly made their feelings felt when they chose the registration number for the ship. The bow proudly bore the number 3909 ON. When reflected off the sea it reads “NO pope”. Crafty buggers!

After the partitioning of Ireland in 1921 the province became very Protestant and all things Catholic or even mixed were not spoken about. Even families such as the Andrews whose forebears designed the ship and died in the tragedy have admitted that until just last year the family did not allow discussions about Titanic in their home.

Even the Harland and Wolff official history only devoted one sentence to the Titanic in an otherwise comprehensive coverage of the shipyards. Very strange!

Now the area where she was built is the largest urban renewal project in Europe and in a few months the world’s biggest and best Titanic exhibition will open. It should be really something special to experience with it including not just the sights but also the sounds and smells of the shipyard. It almost makes us want to jump on Easyjet and head on over, yet again!

We have also been watching the United Kingdom in a state of flux with Scotland getting closer to independence. Curiously the Brits seemed to have completely missed the simple and obvious point that they will need to change the name of their country. Once the independence referendum approves the split we suggest the country will go into a sort of temporary status of Semi-United Kingdom (SUK). And of course, after Scotland becomes fully independent then they will definitely have to change it again. May we suggest the Former United Kingdom as an option?

Anyway, a quick word on the camp we are posting this from: Camping Marjal Costa Blanca, about 15kms inland and a bit south of Alicante, Spain. This is a very new camp having just opened in December 2011. With more than 1400 pitches and dozens of cabins it’s a very large camp.

Whilst some parts are still under construction, most of the camp is already well established and functioning perfectly. It has a good restaurant, pub, outdoor cafe, entertainment and first class facilities. Whilst it’s a bit out of the way and not at the beach, the focus is on keeping campers busy onsite with tennis, mini golf (Alison cheated and still lost), gym, spa, pools, archery, bands, markets, endless social events etc. It really is a complete little village all on its own.

And at about 16 euros a day, free wifi, free unlimited electricity, better weather than at the coast and a good and cheap supermarket onsite, what more could you ask for?

We did a Segway tour of Guardamar a few days ago. What amazing machines they are. It was great to take them a bit off road along beach tracks and through the local park as well as along busy streets all watched by disbelieving little kids.

And on a final note, we have actually worked at Camping Marjal doing our tax. So if you are reading this Lisa, you should be seriously impressed!

All the best everyone, A & A

 

Italy to Spain for the winter

One of the last things we did in Italy was to get the minor repairs and modifications done to our van. The repairs were to the rear of the van where some cracks in the facia had appeared as a result of the installation of the reversing camera. Whilst not a big deal, this was a job that we needed to have fixed and it was best to get a Laika dealer to do it.

We also took the opportunity to have stabilizers fitted so now we are steady when we are parked, not rockin’. We also had broken some cupboard hinges and had them repaired. The team at Pons in Genoa were great and did a very professional job. Amazingly, language was not really a problem although we did have to use a fair bit of sign language, something the Italians are pretty good at!

Genoa is a great little city. We were tourists there for just a day but had a wonderful time wandering through the very narrow little streets of the old town. We also saw the Van Gogh exhibition in the local gallery. It was fantastic to see these masterpieces up close and without the crowds and glass protection that always spoil exhibitions like that in Melbourne. Some of the paintings were absolutely stunning.

From Genoa we made a fast run along the coast of Italy into France, stopping at two of the best supermarkets we know of. The first was just a small but fantastic local Billa in San Remo, Italy. We loaded up with wine, parmesan, sausage, semolina spaghetti, cold meats, meatballs and fabulous schnitzels.

Then on to a huge supermarket in Frejus, France for cheese, ratatouille, milk, bread, pate and some desserts. We have heard so many people say the French are not friendly but that is so not true. A lovely couple saw us looking confused about the imitation Nespresso capsules on the shelf and gave us some great advice in sign language and our halting French. Their advice was spot on!

Then we motored down to Spain after just 2 nights in France. The weather turned nasty on the way and we saw many minor flood problems against the dramatic sight of the snow covered Pyrenees near the border.

Our travels have often been influenced by wine, as regular readers would know. Some time ago we bought a bottle of red from the tiny and little known Fitou region, near Narbonne, close to the border with Spain. It was fabulous wine and we determined to go there and spend a day or two checking out the wineries on our way to Spain. Unfortunately we could not get through the flooded local roads so had to settle for buying a couple of dozen bottles from the supermarket. Wow! Don’t ever miss the chance to try wines from Fitou.

So on we went to Spain with our first stop Roses and the first real problem of our trip.

Alan’s brush with skin cancer early this year has meant a careful and conservative approach to this problem. We detected a potential issue just as we entered Spain and contacted his Melbourne specialist. She recommended we try for a biopsy either in Spain or the UK. The nearest possible skin clinic was in Barcelona so we headed straight there but with no luck due mainly to language problems. There was also the difficulty of EU rules for non EU patients. We only ended up spending 1 night in Barcelona, but ended up walking around much of the town in our hunt for the hospital – definitely well worth another, more relaxed visit so that we can fully explore all those tapas bars and this beautiful city!

So we left Barcelona, stopped overnight at Valencia and then went on to Benidorm. We parked Berty at a big campsite and flew directly to Belfast after calling the local family doctor there to check that we could get in. Just 8 days after contacting our Melbourne doctor we were sitting in the surgery in Belfast.

It turns out that one of their doctors spent a year in Brisbane at a skin clinic so he knew his stuff and we could get in to see him just 2 days after arriving. Anyway it all checked out ok but he needs us to return to Belfast in February or March for a check up. No problem as we can get there easily with cheap direct flights from pretty much anywhere in Europe.

A bit of a reality check for us both but all is well.

But the really big news is Alison is lucky to be out of the poo. She dropped the aircon remote control into her tea the other day. Don’t ask how, ok, it just happened, alright, already. But lucky it was black tea and it’s now working again after a day or so to dry it out. Lucky, just try replacing that in Spain!

We used our week in Belfast to restock our movies with cheap DVDs and the latest series of Downton Abbey and Luther. Not sure if we told you but we lost 139 movies when one of our computer drives failed in Italy (we have three of them). We had bought a backup system for it (with much difficulty) in Italy and were due to copy everything across to it the very next day! Talk about Murphy’s law.

We also had the chance to catch up with friends, Debbie and Andy and for some great food shopping at Marks and Spencer. And we saw the Belfast Giants ice hockey team win, something we always try to do every time we are there. Unfortunately Alan caught a shocker of a cold at the game and has been struggling with it for more than a week.

Our time in Italy and Spain has been set to a backdrop of the political and Eurozone turmoil of recent months. It is impossible to understand Italian politics. They kept reelecting Berlusconi despite his incredible economic failures. Since 2000 Italy has had the third lowest economic growth in the world. Only Haiti and Zimbabwe fared worse. Even Libya did better!

And Italy’s stock market has been the absolute worst performer in the world over the past 5 years. Lucky you didn’t invest there as you would have lost 11.5% year on year for the past 5 years! You know, when you drive through Germany you see huge factories in almost every corner of the country. You can virtually smell the prosperity. In Italy you hardly ever see a big factory, except maybe the massive Barilla spaghetti factory near Modena!

But it’s not just places like Italy that are in trouble. We have been amazed by the stories of financial problems in the UK. The government there has just cut government spending across the board by a whopping 16% for the next 5 years. Some things, like school building programs, were cut by 60%. So it’s guaranteed doom and gloom for them.

But there’s no doom and gloom for us. Over the past few months we have been able to slip into a comfortable and at times almost normal life. It has been really good to stay a while longer at places and to just relax, live casually and enjoy the local life. We certainly were able to do that in Italy and it was fabulous. Whilst we have seen the local sights, we have not really been tourists. It has also been great to return to some places we know and like and feel comfortable in – San Remo, Levanto, Belfast. Belfast has the most beautiful inner city and at Christmas time it really comes alive.

We are posting this from Benidorm, Spain (camping La Torretta) although it’s not really Spain, it’s more like a little UK but with much warmer weather. If you have seen the comedy show of the same name it is exactly like that. Everything is English – the bars, pubs, restaurants, staff, tourists – everything. You struggle to get a Spanish meal in this town. Many seasoned travelers scoff at Benidorm and say they wouldn’t be seen dead here but it’s actually pretty good. It’s mainly high rise (think Surfers Paradise but many times bigger), the beach is one of the world’s best, there are literally hundreds of bars and restaurants and an interesting old town. Food and booze is really cheap. A pint here costs just one euro compared to 7 euros last time we were in Dublin, for example. And our campsite is right at the edge of town, surrounded by hotels and 5 minutes walk to the action. What more could you ask for?

Almost all the tourists here are cut from the same (oversized) cloth. So many of them drive 4 wheel electric scooters that they really should have a special road lane for them. At least Benidorm makes us feel young again as a lot of the tourists here are so very old – we find it amazing that they can even manage to climb the steps into the airport bus! We laughed at a group the other night, hobbling along with their walking sticks and talking about which hotels have the best dance music! But we better be careful what we say. Alison’s mum is in town and staying just up the road.

The other day we were in a beach-side cafe which had a big A-board with the menu translated into English. We don’t mind that they couldn’t spell coffee or dessert but we were pretty reluctant to order one of their “main curses”!

We are still not sure if we’ll stay here a few weeks and for Christmas or head a bit further south. But we’ll be here for Alan’s big birthday this week. It is a big ” 0 ” birthday…..unbelievable…. Alison keeps telling him it’s the new 40! But he is a strange guy. What did he want for his birthday? Well he tossed up between an XBox 360 or a Dyson vacuum cleaner and would you believe it, the vac won. Hey girls, he’s the perfect husband. (And yes he did write that!)

All the best for the season folks, keep well, stay safe and have a cold one for us over the holidays.

Cheers, A & A