A week of rain. A week. Still, Portugal needs it after a very dry summer so we mustn’t grumble. It was just a week. Not too long. Just a week. Seven days. Actually I lie. It was really six days as there was one good day in amongst the seven wet ones. So, six days then. Not a week at all.
As we weren’t cooped up in the van it didn’t bother us. The donkeys were miserable though. They really don’t like the rain. They are desert animals after all so who can blame them. They don’t have a double layer waterproof suit so they are susceptible to skin problems if they stay wet for long periods. Normally the older ones go to various different grazing spots during the day (I call it donkey day care) but when it’s wet they’re confined to barracks as that’s the only place where there is any shelter from the rain. And they get bored. Sooo bored. It’s also tricky trying to feed twenty donkeys inside when it’s wet as there isn’t much room and hooves start flying as they jostle for the best positions.
The donkeys weren’t the only ones who were bored. When we took the dogs out on Friday they were all absolutely manic. Not so many volunteers turned up so we went out with our usual three for an hour and then came back to get three more.
Trying to get three hyper dogs all booted and spurred ready to go out was no mean feat. Tim just leaves me to it and waits for me to hand him a lead or two when they are ready. No chance of him getting muddy.
But the monsoon season appears to be over now as we have had wall to wall sunshine for the last couple of days.
Meanwhile back at the band Tim has been busy with various rehearsals, functions and festivities. Food seems to always feature at the various different functions he has played at.
A week or so ago they did a tour of four villages doing a short concert at each of them and food was provided at all but one of them. I received several text messages throughout the day just keeping me abreast of what was going on: 1st concert and meal finished. 2nd finished, no food! 3rd one, on a roll, port and cake! They stopped after that but later he smugly told me that a three course dinner was laid on after the last concert.
The final concert before the New Year was on Saturday where the band played at a Christmas meal for one of the local banks who had donated some money to buy some new instruments. A new bass clarinet, timpani, euphonium and glockenspiel have now been added to the bands stable of instruments.
So with that I’ll wish all of you ‘Boas Festas’ whatever you are doing and thank you all for reading the blog this year.
The eve of the local Christmas Market here in Aljezur has given me the nudge to remind me that it was about time I updated the blog. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here for six weeks already. It’s also quite hard to believe we are nearing the Festive Season as it’s much more low key here. There are some lights up here and there around the town but if you’re like me and don’t go out much after dark then Christmas could pass you by which is exactly how I like it. My former work colleagues would attest to the ‘bah-humbug’ I used to be (and still am) at this time of year. Secret Santa? No thanks. Work Christmas do? Not for me. But here I do like to go to a few of the local events so we’ll be heading on over to the Christmas Market later on today.
Aside from that we have established our routines here with our various interests. The Banda Dos Bombeiros Volunários de Aljezur has welcomed Tim with open arms. A seat was rustled up, music was printed off, a uniform sourced from the depths of the store cupboard, and voila, you’d never know he wasn’t Portuguese. Principally the band is made up of young people between the ages of twelve and twenty six but they didn’t seem to mind or notice the age gap. The band is bank rolled by the fundraising efforts of the Bombeiros (fire brigade) and seems to be very active within the local community.
They were joined by two other bands a couple of weeks ago for a Festival of bands where the three bands marched through different parts of the town followed by a concert.
December 8th was a procession in Monchique, twenty miles away, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with a coach laid on to get the musicians to and from the town.
The film ‘Brassed Off’ came into my mind. If you haven’t seen the film then I’d recommend it.
Then tonight there will be a concert at the church in Aljezur. Starting at 9.30pm. 9.30pm? Everything seems to start late here. Me, I’m normally getting ready for bed at that time but I’ll make an exception tonight and support it.
As for me the donkeys continue to keep me busy three mornings a week.
We had two new arrivals a couple of weeks ago. Pasquale, an elderly donkey, was in need of a home and a chance at a comfortable retirement. He worked in agriculture in his previous life so he can now enjoy a bit of down time in his later years.
Isabella came with him but she is much younger so will hopefully make a good trekking donkey with a bit of time and training. She’s a big girl of some sort of Spanish origin and she’s bigger than nearly all the males.
They were both pretty nervous to start with but after a few days began to trust their new humans and I think they now enjoy the attention.
As for the dogs? Well, there are about forty or so of them and they are reliant on the volunteers if they want to get out for a walk three days a week.
Generally there are enough people but some days have been a bit thin on the ground so we’ll take two or three for an hour or so and then go back for two or three more.
As I knew would happen, one of them is going to break my heart. I knew it as soon as I clapped eyes on him. He’s a scruffy young Pedengo (Mediterranean hunting dog) and he has stolen my heart already.
He’s not ready for rehoming yet as he is still really nervous of people but we can see a change in him with us since we’ve been taking him out as he seems much more relaxed and content with us now.
Tim keeps reminding me that three is a crowd.
I can safely say that I won’t be getting a scruffy Pedengo for Christmas then!
Luxembourg. A new country. A new day. A new sticker. A little sticker.
In our quest to get to Germany……Tim was eager to get to Germany…..we stopped for just one night in Luxembourg. Being one of the smallest countries in Europe and only thirty five miles across west to east it wasn’t a big drive. The free aire at Dudelange was ideal as a base to reach Luxembourg City by train. €4 gets you a ‘day’ ticket lasting until 4am the next morning and can be used on the trains and buses.
It was our first experience of a double decker train. Clean and efficient. It was still clean on the way back but not quite as efficient as it was delayed by thirty minutes. But we’re used to that. Waiting for trains was one of Tim’s not so favourite sports before giving up his job last year.
Having arrived to the city in a bit of a grump (no other reason than it was a grey day…………it doesn’t take much for me) Luxembourg soon won me over. Over one third of the surface of the city is made up of beautifully landscaped green spaces.
Its situation is pretty spectacular perched on high cliffs lying above two narrow valleys carved by the rivers Alzette and Pétrusse.
The old town and the fortifications were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It really is worth a visit.
We picked up two walking trail leaflets from the tourist information which would guide us round the old town, the fortress walls and the best views. However, my Poundland reading glasses were no match for the tiny map on the back of one of the leaflets. Tim took over, scanned the map, gave it back and we did our own walking tour instead.
The old town is pretty compact so fairly easy to navigate and The Grund (lower town) is wedged in between the fortifications so hard to get lost.
Even though the higher old town was heaving with people the lower town, by comparison, was like being in an oasis of calm.
Trees, formal and informal gardens, riverside paths, fortifications and parkland.
I’m presuming that most visitors don’t venture down to the lower town, even though there is a lift, as it was very quiet.
So that was our whirlwind trip to Luxembourg. We may well hop back over the border again as diesel is cheaper there than in Germany or visit Northern Luxembourg on our way back to the UK next year.
It won’t have escaped the notice of the handful of regular readers to this blog that I have been having somewhat of a blog sabbatical over the last few weeks. The reasons for this have been many and varied. It’s been a bit of an emotional time returning to the normal and the familiar after a year away and I’ve found it harder than I expected. After all, we’ve been living in a little bubble for the last twelve months not needing to make many decisions beyond the day to day perusing of the guidebooks and maps deciding on where to go and what to do. Simples. Few stresses, other than narrow roads and manic drivers.
Coming back though, alongside seeing family and friends, I knew we would have to confront a few things that, well, needed confronting! Our intention when we left on our adventure, over a year ago, was to see it as a lifestyle change and something we would continue to do for a few years at least if not longer. However, being cautious by nature we didn’t burn all our bridges by selling up in the UK and getting rid of all our stuff before we left. Oh no, that ‘just in case’ refrain was always in the back of our minds when deciding what to do. Even though we had donated and given away lots of our possessions before we left we still kept a significant amount of it stored in a container whilst our house is rented out, you know, ‘just in case’.
‘Just in case’ living in a small space got too much and we wanted a UK base to return to. ‘Just in case’ we fell out of love with the lifestyle and wanted to resume ‘normal’ life again. ‘Just in case’ we both fell out with each other completely and we could enjoy a mud fight over who was having what on our separation (that’s not going to happen by the way as poor Tim signed up to a life sentence a very long time ago)! You get the picture.
So, I’m back here again after a whole year still talking about ‘stuff’. Stuff, stuff, stuff. I won’t be offended if you skip over this post, bored, having read my musings before about ‘stuff’ because, frankly, I am bored too. If ‘procrastination’ was an Olympic sport I’d be lining up there in Tokyo, 2020! But, procrastinate, justify, philosophise, reason, dillydally, put off, postpone, defer, call it what you will, a decision had to be made about what to do with our ‘stuff’. End of.
So it all went.
Just like that.
We called Dorothy House, a local charity which has provided excellent end of life care in the past to Rita, one of our very good friends, and to Eve our elderly neighbour, and they kindly took the whole lot yesterday in one fell swoop. The money we save in storage costs will now be invested in our future life instead of continually paying for our past life.
The key to the container has been returned and a weight has been lifted. We don’t have to revisit the ‘stuff’ question again. Ever! Draw a line Jane. Draw. A. Line. __________!
It’s been a long time coming this blog post. Not because it’s particularly interesting but because we haven’t picked up any wifi for what seems like ages. Today we have finally got some wifi, in a Wetherspoons in Plymouth in the UK no less, so I can finally update the blog at the end of our first year of living our new life whilst supping my first pint of real ale from the nearby brewery at Salcombe.
Here was our last week or so:
The journey north couldn’t be put off for any longer as we needed to be in Santander for our ferry to Plymouth on 12th April. In keeping with our slow travel methods of the last year we allocated a week or so for the 600 mile trip. Our plan was to drive just two to two and a half hours in the mornings which would then give us time to stop and explore some key places on the way.
Ubeda, which was recommended to us and we had missed on our drive over to Cordoba in October last year, was our first stop. There is a very good free aire there which looked pretty new and was only a ten minute stroll into the old town. And what a lovely old town it was.
Built on an escarpment overlooking the valley of the Guadalquivir, Ubeda packs in more historic buildings than many much larger towns and cities and has some beautiful Plazas. Our guide book describes it as a showcase of Renaissance magnificence which is no doubt why it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Following the A4 northwards took us into the Castilla-La Mancha region made famous by Cervantes tales of Don Quixote de La Mancha. We stopped for the night at the small village of Puerto Lapice which had a free aire on its outskirts.
The tiny village has a small museum dedicated to Don Quixote which took us ten minutes to go round followed by ten minutes being funnelled through the extensive shop selling anything and everything relating to Don Quixote. They were trying very hard to push the Don Quixote theme I think!
We stopped off the next morning at Consuegra to have a gander at the eleven restored windmills on the ridge above the town before driving on to Toledo for our nights stop.
Toledo, another UNESCO site, which sits on a rocky mound at a bend in the river Tagus, definitely has curb appeal as you approach it from the east side as we did. It is really quite a sight and very compact.
There is an aire in a car park just outside the old town but it was rammed with cars and vans so we opted to stay at the campsite which was a little further away from the town but was in a beautiful setting and nice and quiet.
There was a bus service from outside the campsite to get into the old town but, after consulting the Maps.Me app, we discovered a path that took us, along the river, all around the outside of the town with some fantastic views along the way.
The old town is a maze of narrow streets which we found hard to get our bearings in but it’s not very big so it didn’t really matter that we had to double back on ourselves a few times. I think it is probably the most touristy place we have been to so far or it may be it just felt like that as it is so compact. After an hour or so of dodging speeding cars coming along the narrow streets and weaving around school groups we made our way back to the campsite.
We had planned to stay two nights in Toledo but felt a bit overwhelmed with the crowds so we hit the road the next morning heading for Ávila.
Ávila old town is completely surrounded by 2km of 11th Century walls, built by Alfonso VI, when he captured the town from the Moors in 1090. Constructed by the Muslim prisoners, the walls took nine years to complete. It’s €5 to walk the top of the walls so we made do with walking them at the bottom which cost us €4 in ice creams instead.
Next up was Segovia which didn’t disappoint. It was a twenty minute walk into the town from the free aire by following the aqueduct. Thought to have been constructed by the Romans during the 1st Century AD, the water was transported underground from the mountains for 13km before flowing into the aqueduct.
It runs for over 700m reaching a height of 28.5m above the Plaza de Diaz Sanz where it is supported by single and double arches.
It was definitely worth seeing there is no doubt. The Alcazar in Segovia is rumoured to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle at Disney World and stands on a rocky promontory above the river.
There’s a lovely walk which drops down to the river below the town giving excellent views of the Alcazar from all sides.
Feeling we had had enough of sightseeing after a busy few days we had a peruse around a large Carrefour at our next stop in Palencia. Tim looking at tablets, me looking in the homewear department! I found some beach mats that would be ideal for seat covers to replace the outdoor towels, which were supposed to be temporary covers, but have been in place for nearly ten months. At €3 each they were a bargain. They do have a potential migraine inducing stripe to them so Tim may well have to wear dark glasses inside from now on. Oh lordy though, was I pleased as Ollie was starting to look like a student bed-sit!
So having had an action packed week driving across Spain from south to north we decided to stop at an aire that had been recommended to us not far from Santander. This aire was free but we would have gladly paid for it as it has an added attraction in that it is situated directly outside a safari park.
A minutes walk from the aire we were able to while away an hour or two watching the elephants do their thing which was a lovely end to our week.
So that’s it, our first year on the road is now complete. We are back in the UK for the next few weeks to see family and friends and to sort some things out at home before turning around again to head for Germany for Season 2!
Walking, walking, walking. We’re in the valleys of the Alpujarras region, made famous by Chris Stewart’s books, which nestle in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to the north and the little sierras of Lujar, La Contraviesa and Gador to the south. It is a truly beautiful area for walking and we feel like we are on holiday!
Oh, I know that those of you reading this, especially if you’re reading whilst at work, will have just snorted, thrown your arms aloft and muttered a few expletives at that last statement but we’ve been pitched up, stationary, on a campsite for the past week tootling about the area on the bus, with warm weather, enjoying a laid back week. So, like a holiday!
We felt a bit flat arriving in Lanjaron on the west side of the Alpujarras after having had a great couple of days in Granada. We stopped at the tourist information office there to ask about walking routes:
‘Habla ingles’, I asked the lady behind the desk;
‘siyouwannamep’, she replied.
Before I could even decipher what she’d said, or think about an answer to her question, she’d ripped a map of the town off the large pad on the desk and was furiously circling points of interest whilst belting out a running commentary in such a thick accent, and at such speed, I almost felt physically assaulted! I looked at Tim with one eyebrow raised to infer ‘did you get all that’, but, judging by his smirk, I thought it was highly unlikely.
That little encounter picked our spirits up no end. We emerged from the office, blinking into the sunlight, grinning from ear to ear, each exclaiming that we hadn’t understood a word she’d said but what a nice lady she was! Along with the town map, with all its scribblings, we at least also came away with a leaflet detailing a couple of walks starting from the town.
We spent the next couple of days winding our way up the steep hillsides around Lanjaron marvelling at the views across the hills towards the coast.
The Moors, settling here in the 8th century, gradually transformed the landscape. Small hillside villages were created in a style akin to that found in North Africa at the time. Narrow streets with flat roofed houses, built in terraces, almost sink into the hillsides. It’s quite different to the Pueblo blancos we visited around Ronda but equally, if not more so, interesting and picturesque. Our second walk from Lanjaron climbed steeply up the hillside above the river before following one of the acequias for several kilometres.
The acequias, developed by the Berber settlers, are an ingenious and efficient water irrigation system. The snow run-off from the surrounding mountains in spring and summer provides the water that rises up into natural springs where it is then guided, via the acequias, to where it needs to be. The whole area is lush and green thanks to this ancient system.
For the last week we’ve been at the Orgiva Campsite about 2km south of the bustling bohemian town of Orgiva. I don’t think it’s too unkind to say that Orgiva is best viewed from the mountain road a few km above the town as, up close, apart from the 16th Century church, it’s none too pretty! The surrounding area is fabulous but the town is a bit unloved in places and only really appealed to us as a source for a few provisions and to board the bus that took us into the much more picturesque High Alpujarras villages.
A little more about that bus though. We thought we’d stay at the campsite whilst visiting this area, making use of the bus to get about, to give Tim a break from the stress of driving the narrow, winding roads that were sure to plague this region. We were right about the roads but I was wrong about the stress.
We boarded that bus in Orgiva, like lambs to the slaughter, brimming with excitement at a day out in the three villages of Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. The smile was soon wiped off my face as the driver took off up the mountain road like a rat up a drainpipe. The road up to these three villages, whilst not too narrow, was very windy, steep and, once we started to enter the Poqueira gorge, had near vertical drop offs at its edges.
I’m sure the bus driver knows the roads and knows his bus but he was driving twice as fast as I would have driven a small car on that road. Our previous days walk had involved high up vertical drops from the footpath at many places but, as I was in charge of my own legs, I didn’t feel in the least bit uncomfortable about it. I wasn’t, however, in charge of that bus and that kind of put the heebie jeebies up me. My mind started idly mulling over the statistics of fatalities down that gorge but, either it’s not a common occurrence, or the authorities clear the wreckage away promptly so as not to upset the tourists. It also didn’t help once I’d noticed the small crucifix gaily swinging to and fro from the driver’s rear view mirror. I sincerely hope the driver was absolutely confident in his driving abilities and not leaving the safety of himself and his passengers up to a higher source.
Well, I haven’t had a drink since my Sangria binge in Gibraltar but I sure felt like one after I got off that ruddy bus! Tim had no such qualms and enjoyed every minute of the journey grinning like a simpleton at my obvious discomfort. I could see the words ‘pay back’ written behind his eyes.
The friendly, colourful villages and stunning scenery were worth it though so I endured another two days on the bus. By the third day I was relaxed enough to almost enjoy it and trust the driver…….almost!
Here’s a sample of pictures from our walks over the week.
After reading the first three of Chris Stewart’s books some years ago the Alpujarras has lived up to my expectations. The walks we have done have been some of the best of the last year and we’d definitely like to come here again. Alas, our ferry from Santander back to the UK is booked for the 12th April so we need to press on a little north.
The Parque Natural de El Torcal, a huge expanse of limestone upland, lies about 10km south of Antequera and is famed for its rock sculptures. The drive up there was as picturesque as can be with far reaching views across lush farmland and rocky peaks. We passed several rural restaurants on the way up and, it being Fathers day in Spain, they were packed to the gunnels with Spanish families enjoying a leisurely lunch in the sunshine. As we climbed the last 3km before reaching the visitor centre the sheer enormity of the rock formations suddenly hits you. We’ve never seen anything like it on this scale before.
There are a couple of trails leading from the visitor centre and we opted for the 2hr one which winds its way up, over and around parts of the parque giving some excellent vantage points to view the limestone outcrops. Once away from the visitor centre, and the shorter trail, which most people seemed to be following, it was eerily quiet. It was quite hard going and not ideal if you have dodgy knees or hips but took us about 90 minutes with plenty of stops for photos.
Our Camper Connect App showed the car park to be an overnight stop but some of the reviews on it suggested that the Rangers had on occasions moved campers on. We’d seen the ranger trawling about in a four wheel drive a few times and, as he hadn’t taken us to task by 7pm, we decided he probably wasn’t going to so we decided to stay the night.
Next morning we took another trail which took us about 3km down the hill to a lower car park giving us fabulous views across the valley, returning via the same way.
We dropped back down again to the free aire at Antequera for the night to plan our next stop, Granada. Being a city stop, with no motorhome aires, we planned to stay at a campsite outside the city. There are those certain times that we think it’s definitely worth paying for a campsite over finding somewhere to wild camp. Big cities are those times as, after a day of sightseeing, it’s always nice to have a van to return to! We stayed at Reina Isabel campsite, which is in the ACSI book, about 7km outside the city with a bus stop almost outside the door which takes 20 minutes to reach the city centre. All for €1.50 each. Bargain!
Our guide book says ‘if you see only one town in Spain, it should be Granada’. My Dad also said ‘Jane, you must do Granada’. It was inevitable, then, that we would end up there at some point on our journey!
Having not opted to do History even to GCSE level (or O levels as it was in my day) I’ll leave you to peruse Google if you want to know more about Granada’s history! All I’ll say is it was first occupied by the Moors in the 8th Century, had a golden period under the Nasrid dynasty from 1238 to 1492, fell to the Catholic monarchs in 1492, had a period of decline in the 19th Century but much has been restored since then to its former glory.
The Alhambra, the Albaicín district and the Sacromonte district were the three main areas of Granada we wanted to see. The guitarist Andrés Segovia described Granada as ‘a place of dreams, where the Lord put the seed of music in my soul’. Travelling into Granada on the bus I was questioning that statement as it all looked a bit ordinary and, well, uninspiring really.
We picked up a map from the tourist information, got our bearings, and made our way to the Rio Darro which separates the Alhambra on one side of the hill with the Albaicín and Sacromonte areas on the other. Strolling along the river on the Carrera del Darro, with views of the vast Alhambra on the hill to my right, the steep narrow streets of the Albaicín to my left and glimpses of the cave houses of Sacromonte’s gypsy area straight ahead I revised my initial thoughts. Ordinary and uninspiring this was not!
Walking up the hill to the Sacromonte area we left all the people behind, which was great for us, but they were missing out as we thought it was a fascinating area and the views across to the Alhambra from several vantage points were superb.
This area was, in its heyday, Flamenco central where travellers would go to be wowed by impromptu performances. Sadly though both our guide books warn that most of the flamenco shows put on today are of questionable quality.
The Albaicín, the former Moorish town, is full of narrow alleyways and small squares where we whiled away another hour or so before dropping down to the Cathedral.
Yes, we’d been seduced by Granada with its backdrop of the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada and we were two happy bunnies on the return bus to the campsite.
After several aborted attempts on the Alhambra website a week ago where I could only go so far with the booking before the whole thing crashed we decided to wait until we got to Granada to buy tickets.
We’d asked in the tourist information about booking tickets but were told that they were sold out until May but if we queued up early in the morning at the entrance we MIGHT be able to get a ticket then as lots are returned! What sort of time would be best I asked? Oh, 6.30am if you want to be sure of the best chance of getting one was the reply! Aaaarrrrggghhh! Neither of us fancied doing that as it would mean cycling in as the first bus wasn’t until 7.00am and even if we did get a ticket we would have to wait another couple of hours before the Alhambra opened to get in.
The chap did say to ask at where we were staying as the hotels and guesthouses have a certain number of tickets. When we got back we asked the friendly guy at reception about tickets and he said ‘sure, how does 11.00am suit you?’ It cost us a €2.50 each admin cost but it was a small price to pay for a stress free day!
We had a brilliant day with cold but fine, clear sunny weather and we would absolutely recommend a visit. It is………….oh I can’t describe it. Ok, I’ll describe it in one word………Sumptuous with a capital ‘S’. You would have to go there yourself to get a true feel of it.
So, with the visit to Granada a resounding success we set off up the A395 to Pradollano, Europe’s most southerly ski resort in the Sierra Nevada.
We had intended to stay the night up there but, as it was freezing cold and with the weather closing in, we revised that idea and decided it was time to visit Las Alpujarras area south of Granada.