Settling in to routines…. .

Ok, so we felt we needed a break from vanlife to remain in one place for a while.  But what are we going to do during our static four months with so much time on our hands?  Certainly this lifestyle we have has given us the luxury of time.  Time to do as we please, live our life on our own terms and pick and choose what we want to do and what we don’t want to do.  I can’t deny it’s a super luxurious position to be in and it’s one we try not to take for granted.  Having so much time though also throws up a few challenges.  At least for me.  Tim is a much more laid back, live in the moment, don’t analyse it kind of person.  Me?  I can analyse something to the nth degree and then some!

I’m not talking about boredom here.  I’ve never been bored on our travels.  Yes, there have been times where I’ve felt flat, frustrated or cooped up during prolonged periods of rain but I wouldn’t say I’ve been bored.  I’ll always find something to do.  Pottering. It’s one of my favourite things to do but I’m not yet quite of an age where pottering about ALL day is fulfilling enough.  Maybe in a year or two;)  For me, the amount of time we have on our hands is more a question of purpose.  Throughout our travels I’ve always been plagued by the ‘P’ word.  Or maybe there’s a bit of guilt thrown in there too.  Drifting around from place to place with no end game in mind can, for me, feel a bit like I have no purpose.  I think I’m just the kind of person that needs a bit of structure and a ‘why’.  It was one of the reasons we had decided that as part of our travels we would do some volunteering.  We viewed it as a chance to meet new people, learn new skills, experience different lifestyles and ideas and generally make a difference to someone.  It was also a chance to have a focus for a while.

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Painting the railings of the village War Memorial whilst on a Helpx in France in 2016.

It can be difficult to have a focus when you’re moving from place to place for an extended period of time.  It can also be difficult to justify what we are doing.  Lots of people nowadays take a midlife gap year which is totally understandable. Take a year or so out, explore, recharge and then pick up from where you left off.  People can understand that.  But take off with no idea of how long you’ll be gone for or if you’ll ever go back to a conventional life is a bit harder for people to take in.  If we meet people and get into a discussion on our current lifestyle we have occasionally had the awkward question of ‘yes, but what do you do all day’? If I’m honest it’s not an easy one to answer without sounding a bit lame.  It generally goes something like this: ‘Oh well, you know, we walk a bit, maybe go for a cycle, plan where to go next, sort out emptying and refilling the van, read, erm, go to Lidl, volunteer a bit, erm, you know, erm, stuff like that’.  You see.  Wishy washy and lame.  You can see in people’s eyes they don’t really get it and are probably thinking we’re just a bit work shy.  I think it’s partly an age thing as if we were in our late sixties or seventies I don’t think anyone would question what we do with our time.  You’ve earnt your retirement so live it large and put your feet up.  Or maybe it’s just my own perception of things.  I don’t know but it’s not always easy to justify what we do with our time and where it all goes. But it goes.  And very quickly too.  Filling the time whilst on the road in the van is pretty easy though as you’re constantly stimulated by new sights, different landscapes, a changing set of neighbours, the odd challenge and hundreds of questions going through your head about this and that.  Filling the time in one place though is a bit different.

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Where does the time go?!

So, after nearly seven hundred words I’ve still not answered what we’ll be doing during our extended time here.  Well, for Tim one of the biggest sacrifices he made when taking on this lifestyle was leaving behind the music scene where we lived.  Music IS a huge part of his life.  HUGE.  He’s had to adapt to not being able to be a part of several bands.  He hardly played at all in our first year away but in the last two or so years he’s adjusted to playing solo.  In an ideal world he’d want to be playing in several bands but playing solo has been a compromise.  Over the last three weeks he’s been busy making contacts and putting out feelers to get into something here and/or start something new.

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The compromise…. .

For me I have the donkeys!  I’m spending a few mornings a week cleaning up after them and generally enjoying some donkey time.  Mucking out wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find it quite therapeutic and of course I love spending time with the donkeys.

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Sunrise over Donkey HQ after a wet night.

One of the things I wanted to do when travelling was to learn a new language or two.  I’d dabbled in French on and off since 2016, did a few months of learning German when we were in Germany and then promptly forgot it all again and ditto last year for Spanish.  Unfortunately, spending an extended period of time in a foreign country doesn’t mean to say you miraculously absorb the language.  Alas, it takes consistent time and effort.  Consistency had never been my strong point regarding languages.  Or anything else for that matter but this lifestyle has forced me into creating a few routines as I know I feel more content if I feel I have achieved something each day whether that be physical or mental.  At the beginning of this year I set myself the challenge to improve my French and I’m glad to say, even though I’m not yet where I want to be with it, I have made some mprovement.  So a consistent effort at continuing to improve the French and learning some Portuguese will be a feature of my day too.

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Time for a cup of tea and a French podcast.

Then we have some dog walking to do.  The AEZA refuge is a non-profit association taking in stray dogs and cats.  Three days a week volunteers are welcome to walk a dog or two.  Tim unwittingly gave me the idea when he said ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do the dog walking at the dog refuge’.  As a dog lover and having had four of our own dogs in the past he knows I have a weakness for them but when our last one went to the big kennel in the sky in 2013 we agreed we would have a period without the responsibility a dog brings. I’ve done pretty well in sticking to it.  It took all my resolve not to take home half a dozen strays from Greece a couple of years ago.  But, the dogs need walking and I have time on my hands so it was a fait accompli.

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I don’t normally do selfies but needs must………………Gwen enjoying her walk!

I just have to hope I don’t fall in love with one…………or two.

Até já!

And relax…. .

So, we’re currently on a break from ‘vanlife’.  We arrived in Aljezur in the south west of Portugal just over a week ago and we are intending to spend at least four months here.  So, why the extended break here?  We spent two months in this area in 2016/17 and then another two months here in 2018/19 doing some volunteering so got to know the area a little bit during those extended stays.  When we left here at the beginning of February this year to continue our travels we felt like we could have stayed longer but we were also ready to move on.  If that makes sense?  No, I thought not.  I’ll try to explain.

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View across to the new town of Aljezur.

During our two extended stays here we did some volunteering with Sofia who runs a donkey trekking business. It gave us time out of the van, a focus on something other than travel, enjoyable work and a chance to live like a local for a short while.  And of course, for me, spending time with all those donkeys was a super enriching experience.  However, after two months we were ready to live our independent life again but we would have liked to spend a bit longer in the area.  We really like the laid back slow pace of life here and it’s really the only place we have been to since starting our travels where we could see ourselves spending a chunk of time during the winter.  However, at the time we had already made our plans for our trip to Morocco.  We’d organised our Green Card for the insurance on the van in a non EU country and we were looking forward to exploring a new country.  But.  Had we not organised ourselves to go to Morocco we could have easily stayed another month or two in Aljezur either renting a house or staying at the campsite outside the town.  Tim had established a few connections with his music and I was happy to help with the donkeys.

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Cows grazing just at the edge of the town.

We decided, then, to look at the possibilities of renting somewhere in the area during the winter of 2019 to try out an extended stay here but one that was on our own terms where we weren’t volunteering in exchange for accommodation and food.  Going into our fourth year of continuous travel we were ready to stretch out a bit and stay put for a while.  Travelling fulltime can become tiring.  Not in the sense that you feel flaked out all the time but more in a sense of mentally dealing with a life on the move.  Planning where to go to next, taking in new sights and experiences daily, emptying and refilling the van, sorting out laundry every couple of weeks, living cheek by jowl with each other twenty four hours a day!

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In between the old town and new town.

When we embarked on our life change to give up our jobs and do something completely different we viewed it as a new chapter in our lives.  It wasn’t going to be a ‘gap year’ it was going to be more of a ‘gap decade’ to travel to different countries, experience different cultures, experience and learn new things and live in different ways to the norm.  There wasn’t any time limit on it.  We were just going to see how things unfolded and go with whatever felt right at the time.  This little sojourn in Portugal, then, is just a chapter within the chapter. It’s as much a time to recharge and give our brains a rest as it is an opportunity to experience living in another country for an extended period to try it on for size so to speak.

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Lunch in the sun:)

Our travels are far from over but we are ready for a break from them.

So we’ve hunkered down and settled in to our little house on a hill in the old town over the last ten days and we’re looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.

Até logo!

Onwards into Portugal…. .

The great thing about vanlife is that if you arrive somewhere and don’t feel the love for it you can just move on.  Equally, if you do feel the love for somewhere you can stay longer than you’d originally intended.  Marvão, a few kilometres over the border into Portugal was one of those places that waylaid us.  By a week.  We’d intended staying a night or two but……..well…….we couldn’t tear ourselves away.  If we hadn’t needed to be further south by the end of October we would probably have stretched our stay into two weeks.  Or three.  Admittedly we had a spell of warm sunny weather so that always makes a difference.  Pitched up at Asseiceira camping we relaxed into rural life in Portugal.

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Camping Asseiceira.

The hilltop town of Marvão probably is the main attraction for visitors to this area of the Alentejo region of Portugal.

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Marvão.
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The views are superb.

And it is spectacular perched on top of a high peak, but for me it was the rolling, granite bouldered landscape with miles and miles of traffic free lanes to explore on the bike that captured my attention.

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Typical hamlet in this region.

I’d been sadly disillusioned exploring Cornwall by bike whilst we were working on a campsite during the summer by the amount of traffic I had to contend with even on the minor roads.  Everywhere seemed to be rat run to get from one place to another.  In contrast the bike riding around Marvão was completely stress free and practically car free.

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Miles of glorious cycling.

According to Wikipedia the Alentejo region of Portugal covers over 27,000 square kilometres with a population density averaging less than twenty people per square kilometre.  Cornwall on the other hand covers 3,500 square kilometres and during the summer months has a population density of over 12000 people per square kilometre.  Quite a difference then.  Sheesh, no wonder it felt soooo busy in Cornwall.  Anyway, hopefully I’ve got the maths right there as it has never been one of my strengths.

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…….and acorn eating pigs.

So the Alentejo then is a vast area covering a chunk of Portugal which stretches from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Spanish border in the east and the Algarve in the South.  We’d explored some of the south eastern area around Monsaraz in 2016 and really loved it and we weren’t disappointed with the north eastern part either.

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The old station at Beira.

You really can’t beat a hilltop town for a good old exploration on foot.  Marvão at over eight hundred metres is the highest village in the Alentejo.  It is enclosed by 13th Century walls, has a castle at the top where you can walk the walls if you’ve a head for heights, some formal gardens and narrow medieval winding streets lined by white washed houses.  On a good day the panoramic views all around are worth the climb up.

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Walking from the campsite to Marvão.
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It’s gets pretty steep.

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img_20191020_154315904_hdrThe campsite we stayed on is just outside the workaday little town of Santo António das Areias and just under five kilometres from Marvão.

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Cork oaks.
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An early morning walk.

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The view over Castelo de Vide, another historic town in the area.

After a walk or a cycle we enjoyed popping into the mini market everyday for a coffee and a pastel de nata to observe village life in action.  There’s a little cafe inside the mini market with a couple of tables and it seemed to be the hub of the town.

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Simple pleasures.

A steady stream of people would come in, order a coffee, have a chitty chat with whoever happened to be in there at the time, buy a few groceries and then go again.  Everyone seemed to know everyone and happily spent a few minutes chewing the fat.  Barely a mobile phone in sight.  You do have to have a bit of patience or time on your hands when buying your groceries in rural towns and villages in Portugal as no one appears to be in a hurry.  News is swapped and children are cooed over.  We are so used to standing in a queue at a check-out, being served briskly with no one exchanging a word because everyone is in a hurry.  It’s quite the mind set change but a refreshing change at that. 

It felt good to be back in Portugal but time was pressing on so after a week we reluctantly moved on.  Having been brought up by the sea and then spending over twenty years being a two hour drive away from the sea we’re still always drawn to it.  We do like a good coastal walk so after an overnight stop in Évora we spent a few of nights on the Atlantic coast before arriving just over the border into the Algarve for an extended stop. 

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Back on the Atlantic coast near Vila Nova de Milfontes.

img_20191029_114553216_hdrAs regular readers of the blog will know we are swapping van life for bricks and mortar life this winter.    

It will be a chance to take an extended break from travelling and van dwelling to relax, recharge, regroup, reset, reflect and reboot. 

Well that’s the theory anyway. 

We moved out of the van yesterday. 

Time will tell to see how it all pans out and how we get on. 

Até breve!