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First Timer – Let’s get started

This is the post excerpt.

Today I updated my Facebook status:-

Sat here with a glass of cider, in the beautiful sunshine getting excited, and ready, for our upcoming trip – might start work on the blog tonight…!”

So I thought I’d better make a start.

The main reason for starting a blog is our year off travelling around the UK (mostly) in our motorhome in 2017.  Before that (30th May 2016 to be precise) we’re off to France for 5 1/2 weeks.

So I thought I’d get a bit of practice in before next year (bearing in mind I have no idea what I’m doing…)

Currently we’re making sure that everything is in place before we leave.  We’ve spend the past couple of months starting every weekend agreeing that we must get some ‘stuff’ done.  So, here we are with just over 3 weeks to go, and we’ve finally got started!

Okay, so we’ve done a few bits and pieces.  Mainly buying in extra provisions – such as rice and high juice.  Yes, I KNOW they have shops in France but last time we were there we found that it was impossible to find certain items, or when we did they were insanely expensive (for instance, I got a hankering for chocolate spread – no, I don’t know why either – and although we found it, it cost about £4)

Today, Calvin has made a space in the back cupboard to hang a couple of storage containers in – we can keep shoes, loo rolls and other provisions in there.  He’s also modified the bike rack so that we can fit our new bikes on without scratching them.  He really is very useful!

Oh yes, of course, we bought new bikes a few weeks back.  Electric bikes… meaning we can go a little further on them (rather than me always wanting to turn back before Calvin does).  I’d taken a couple of months to finally make the decision to buy.  Calvin decided in 2 minutes flat while I was making a final decision on which bike to buy.  So, we’re looking forward to making good use of them on all those cycle paths & routes in France (particularly in the Pyrenees).

So far we love them (went out for a short 6 mile ride this morning actually before coming over to the van).

Tomorrow we’ll carry on emptying out the cupboards and getting rid of anything that really isn’t needed.  I’ve already filled up 1 cupboard with books, and another with DVDs.

Next week we’ll give the van a good clean, and finalise the modifications to the bike rack.  We will also check if we can get the NOW TV box to work as long as we’ve got WIFI – if anyone knows if this is likely please feel free to share 🙂

Finally I have just 3 weeks left to lose all that weight that I promised I would lose some months ago.  I’ve failed miserably so far, so must try harder!

In my next post I’ll share our route through France.

 

 

 

 

A few days of relaxation, exercise and thermal pools – Banos de Fortuna

On leaving Oliva we were going to head to Isla Plana to stay at Los Modriles (1 of our favourite Spanish sites in 2017), but instead decided to head a little inland to try a new area and different site.

We found ourselves slightly north of Murcia in a little town called Banos de Fortuna, just a few kilometres past the town of Fortuna, but otherwise pretty much in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains.

The clue is in the name ‘Banos’ meaning ‘thermal’.  We didn’t immediately realise this or that this was a proper spa town.  Not until we took a different turn on coming home from the mountains one day and found lots of people wandering around in their dressing gowns!

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We did struggle to find the original spring, although there were a couple of contenders.  There were also 2 campsites; we were staying on La Fuente – not an amazing site but it was home to the, simply amazing, thermal pools 🙂   I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we revisited on our return journey!

The area is very special with the underground water providing a particular environment for rare grasses.  The main picture was taken from our van as the sun went down – and this was our view every morning and evening.

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View from our window at La Fuente – it never got old 🙂
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Our view at Banos De Fortuna

The area was settled originally by the Romans and we rode up into the mountains to find the Cuevas de Negra.  Amazing views but steep inclines on the way – Calv rode his bike all the way up to the caves and then had to come back for mine, as I’d resorted to pushing and was really struggling…

At the bottom of the final incline we found a large abandoned building which was completely open – so we had a look.  This answered some questions about why there are so many ruined buildings around.  There were massive cracks running down the walls.  Calv says that these buildings have no foundations and that is another explanation.  (Also, we’re now convinced that all Spanish buildings are rendered to cover up the diabolical brickwork – we have now seen the backs of many many walls – it’s a shocker!)

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We took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up in the traffic in the, fairly busy, town of Fortuna.  We discussed going further this way, but didn’t really like the feel of the town so headed back up the main road to the site.

On the way we found an English bar, Tina’s Bar, so stopped for a quick drink.  It turns out that there is a large ex-pat community in the area.

The next day we headed out again in search of the original spring and evidence of any roman settlement.  We still have no idea if we found anything, although we did manage to convince ourselves that we might have done!  It was a mini-adventure though coming back down the ‘mountain’ that we had gone up, as the way we went was marked as private land and we ended up clambering down the terraces (which wasn’t as easy as it might sound), and then making our way to the road via an unofficial rubbish tip (that’s what it felt like anyway!!)

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Banos de Fortuna – had we found Roman remains??!!
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Banos de Fortuna

Our final day was spent by the pool.  It cost 6 Euros (which is the normal price for non-campers, but we didn’t purchase ahead of time so got no discount).

It was worth every penny.  Not only was there a constant temperature of 38degrees, there where jacuzzis and massage jets that were every bit as good as having a real massage 🙂

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The pool at Banos de Fortuna
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The pool cover at Banos de Fortuna

All in all a fitting end to our time here.  Our next stop was back on the coast at a site we’d previously stayed at, Mar Azul – we weren’t initially heading there but more of that in my next post 🙂

 

 

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A few days of relaxation in Oliva

After our few days in Vilanova we chose our next site to be Kikopark in Oliva.  This represents a long drive for us (we normally try to stay below 150 miles, and this was 250 miles).  We eventually settled on Kikopark even though it appeared that we were heading into the area where only 4kw of electric is included within your ACSI card rate (this was the case for our next 3 sites, Kikopark, La Fuente and Mar Azul – all with varying degrees of cost attached.  Kikopark was the most expensive).

We were happy when we arrived, and not just because it had been a long stint!  The site is right on the beach and is very well maintained.  We also met a fair few more Brits than we have done so far (we have no problem meeting other nationalities, of course, but we are finding that many Germans just won’t engage at all… which is a shame).

What did we do during our 4 nights/3 days here?  Very little is the honest answer!

On the first day we had a wander around the site and along the beach.  It is a lovely beach, but unfortunately there is a very short section where the plastic washes up.  Calv spent a very happy 30 minutes clearing much of it up!  I wander along the beach and found some locals fishing – well wrapped up of course against the 22 degrees of cold.  I, of course, had on a vest top….!!

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Me on a warm sunny day in Oliva
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The locals on a warm sunny day in Oliva

We went off for a bike ride, taking in a bar where there was a group of Brits getting drunker and drunker, and louder and louder (it was about 3pm!)  Carrying on Calv took 1 of his detours onto the beach, so I tried to follow him (not actually on my bike – my bike doesn’t do sand…).  Of course, as usual, as soon as I caught him up he changed his mind…  At which point my bike and I had a minor argument.  Of course, I didn’t fall OFF – oh no, I fell ONTO my bike….

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The bruises did get even better than in these pictures!!  I’m sure people thought that Calv had been hitting me as a couple of days later I noticed that I also had some pretty bad bruises on my right arm!

Anyway continuing on we went down a random path and found ourselves cycling through beautiful orange groves (there are thousands of orange trees growing in any possible space here).  They taste pretty good straight off the tree too 🙂

We had decided to go out to eat that night and got all dressed up (well, sort of!) only to find that the site’s restaurant on the port wasn’t open during the week.  Change of plans meant that we ate instead in the restaurant at the entrance to the site, which was perfectly pleasant.  We did have a brilliant evening though, chatting to a British couple who were having a drink in there before our meal and then spending the rest of the evening chatting to Jane and Sue, basically being entertained by Jane!

The next day entailed a walk into Oliva.  As ever we went at the wrong time of day – when most places were closed!  The part of the town that we visited didn’t really float our boat, but when we left we noticed the signs for the old town and we did see the castle up on the hill, but decided it didn’t look interesting enough to warrant a cycle ride up the mountain!!

That afternoon we went for another little wander and found that the bar/restaurant in the marina was actually open.  A nice little spot with a lovely swimming pool (obviously not open at this time).  They serve an extremely strong sangria – I only had the 1 but believe I will be forever known as ‘sangria girl’ by our neighbours, Roy & Jackie…   I particularly like the ‘girl’ bit of that nickname!! 🙂

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So that was our time in Oliva – not very exciting, granted, but a well needed spot of relaxing.

We were going to move on to a site that we had previously stayed at (Los Modriles in Isla Plana) but in the end decided to head a little inland instead to a site slightly to the north of Murcia, La Fuente in Banos de Fortuna.

 

Sunday in Tarragona

One of the places on my list to see whilst in Spain was Tarragona – so for just the 2nd time this trip we managed to actually tick something off of the, admittedly very short, list (the other being Carcassone).

From our campsite we had about an hours drive.  We took the non-pay road.  Well we fully intended to, but accidently ended up on a pay road for about 2 mins – we came off as soon as we realised – but it still cost us 2.13 Euros!!  This was the C-32, and it happened as we believed that all toll roads began with the designation of ‘AP’.  We now know we were wrong on this!  The fact that it was a ‘peage’ road was shown by a small sign next to the road name with ‘peage’ running through the middle – if I could find an image for you I would, but let’s just say it wasn’t an ‘in your face’ kind of sign!  Anyway lesson learnt we carried on along the C31 through Cubelles and beyond.

About 1/2 hours out we realised that whilst we had remembered to put our hi-viz jackets in the car (this time – we keep forgetting), we had left all the other documentation AND our passports and driving licences in the van – doh!!  This caused the stress levels in the little car to rise somewhat, as the police in Spain have a habit of stopping cars, pretty regularly, at the entrance to roundabouts for spot-checks.

We’ve been stopped twice, once on the way to Tarragona….  Luckily though, as soon as they realised there was no steering wheel when I opened my window, they waved us on (this happened the first time as well) – phew 🙂

Once there we took a left by the ‘ampifeatre’, following the road towards the train station and the sea and found a car park immediately.  We were right in the centre of things and ended up paying 10.75 Euros for about 6 hours – we were happy with that (even though we hate paying to park!!)

So our first stop was to see the ampifeatre.  To be fair you get a really good impression of it without paying to actually go in, but it is worth wandering Continue reading “Sunday in Tarragona”

Castello Dali and a climb to see Castello de Montgris

Cycle Ride around l’Estartit

The next day we stayed local and used our bikes.  There are many opportunities for cycling around this area and numerous cycle paths (we tend to make up our own routes!)  We first headed right out of the campsite, finding la Gola, where the River Ter meets the sea.

Unfortunately, due to the recent storms, the beach area was a bit untidy.  However, there were people there busy clearing it all up.

We then headed back up towards the campsite and the other way towards the marina.  This entailed cycling through the floods (we weren’t meant to, but I followed Calv – although I but managed to hit a large bit of debris and ended up jumping into the water to stop myself from falling off completely!  It was deep enough to come up to my ankles, so the rest of our ride was completed with me in sodden trainers….)

Any upset was alleviated though when we found a bar open near the marina.  A coffee soon turned into 2 glasses of wine and 2 beers sat out in the sun. Continue reading “Castello Dali and a climb to see Castello de Montgris”

Discovering new places in Spain

The day that we came across the border from France into Spain was, it’s fair to say, a bit stressful…

Firstly we were affected, twice, by the fuel protests happening all over France.  First as we tried to leave Narbonne, and then as we tried to get onto the motorway at Perpignan.  I simply cannot imagine anyone getting away with protests like these at home – making a point and then letting people through, fair enough; burning tyres at the side of the road and not letting anyone through (as happened to us on Saturday) would not be tolerated.  On Sunday they were holding everything up for about 15 minutes and then letting a few vehicles through – I guess thereby keeping the police off their backs.  We were probably held up for a total of about 1 1/2 hours.

Then, once in Spain, we had heavy rain (yay, welcome to Spain!!) and started noticing increasingly bad floods in the fields alongside the road.  As we neared our chosen site we suddenly came across a road closed sign (no diversion or anything…), so we stopped to find a new route, only to have the same thing happen again.  It was due to flooded roads and this time we were sent off on a diversion by the police manning the closure.  A very interesting diversion it has to be said (it was a road, but not really if you see what I mean!) – anyway we made it through and stayed 1 night at a different site (which was actually very nice – Mas Patoxes, Pals) before heading to L’Estartit and our chosen site, les Medes, in the morning.

Approacing l’Estartit via Toerella de Montgris we could see a castle sitting high atop the mountain – every time we passed it over the next couple of days we would look at each other and say – ‘We’re going up there!’ (and we did 🙂 )

But before we did we visited Empuries at L’Escala, a little way up the coast, cycled around l’Estartit – through the floods and getting waylaid by a little bar open outside the marina (oops) and also took in Dali’s castle in Pubol.

Empuries, l’Escala

This is a really interesting site – it is, in fact, 2 ancient cities that have been unearthed (this is actually on-going) – 1 Greek (this came 1st) and the other Roman (bigger, but only 20% so far unearthed).

For just 5.50 Euros each we spent a couple of hours wandering the 2 cities and learning of their history, via the audio guide included in the price; visiting the museum and also having a quick drink in the cafe (2 drinks and 2 cakes for about 6 Euros).  We would probably have stayed longer but our feet were aching!

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The ruins at Empuries
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The ruins at Empuries

This had been a particularly busy day of exercise for me as I had been out for my 1st run in over 3 weeks that morning, surprising myself with how much I enjoyed it!  I had also taken advantage of the indoor pool at the campsite the afternoon before – so I was feeling very smug with myself.

I don’t want to go on too long in 1 post so will write about our cycle ride, visit to Pubol and climb up Montgris to see the castle in a separate post. (See Castello Dali and a climb to see Castello Montgris)

Keep travelling 🙂

 

 

A visit to Carcassone on the way to Narbonne

Looking for a site around Carcassone we were struggling to find somewhere that was still open at this time of year.  So we decided to just visit on the way to the coast – we’d found a site at Narbonne that was open, les Floralys.

What we neglected to do was to decide on where to park when we got there!  So we ended up following the signs for ‘La Cite’ before taking a wrong turn and ending up on a dead-end outside a school.  There was plentiful parking available so we stopped there!  Much to the amusement of the school children milling around.  (What we discovered when we left, after having to get the van turned round and the car re-hooked up, was that if we HAD carried on around the roundabout there was an actual parking area right there!!)

Anyway we unhooked the car and went off in search of parking closer to ‘La Cite’.  We drove around and around the narrow one way system looking – any on-street parking is covered by permits it would appear, but we eventually found a car park by the river where we parked for free.  From here it was about a 10 minute walk up to the medieval city.

Entrance to the city and it’s outer walls is free, but once inside you will pay to visit the castle, school museum and any other attractions of interest.  The streets are delightful and the church (see main photo) is beautiful.  There are the usual souvenir shops in abundance and many, many eateries.  There is also, apparently, a haunted house.  Close to the castle.

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From between the walls at Carcassone
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Carcassone. Look closely – there’s a photo-bomber in there!
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Square in Carcasson

Back to the van for a quick bacon butty (cue more curious stares from the school kids…!) and then we were back on the road headed for Narbonne.

At this point it was lucky that I’m in the habit of following our route with the map as our Aguri tried to take us down a road that didn’t exist and I realised we were heading away from our destination, so we took over with the 2 phones on Google maps until the Aguri eventually caught up with us.

We chose to stay 2 nights, but it turned out we had little choice anyway as we were affected by the mass protests on fuel duty across the whole of France.  We couldn’t even get to the supermarket for milk 😦  And it didn’t stop raining, pretty much, the whole time we were there.

When we couldn’t get to the shop we headed in the opposite direction, towards the sea.  At the first roundabout we came too I said ‘we need to go right’, but Calv said ‘I want to go that way’ – up into the mountains!    So we did, to see some stunning scenery as we wended our way up, and then back down, the mountain road.

Back at the roundabout we took the road towards Gruissan and Narbonne Plage.  We spotted flamingoes out in the lake and a castle up on the hill – so we had to go have a look didn’t we?

Parking up we found our way through the narrow streets to the church and the steps behind leading up to the castle.  At first we thought it was closed, but a quick push of the gate and we were in.  There’s not much to see but there are wonderful views from the top.  Whilst there the wind picked up and the rain didn’t let up, so we headed to an open bar for a quick drink.  This particular bar was a sports bar that actually had a betting office on-site!

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Looking out over Gruissane
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The umbrella stayed the right way round for once!
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Gruissane Castle
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The castle tower, Gruissane

On the way back to the site we managed to get milk in the garage as we headed out of Gruissane.  We did look to see if the protestors had abandoned their post underneath the bridge, but they hadn’t.  They had when we popped out a little later though, but all the shops were shut – we’re not entirely sure that they bothered opening to be fair.

The protestors stopped us from driving in to see Narbonne, and the rain stopped us from cycling, so unfortunately we missed out.

The protestors were still out on Sunday when we left for Spain.  We thought at first that they wouldn’t be as they weren’t at 10am, but they soon started appearing.  We were held up for about 20 mins whilst trying to get out of Narbonne (tyres burning and everything), and then again around Perpignan – this time for over an hour 😦

Everything seemed to go smoothly after this; even the tolls weren’t overly expensive.  It’s best to take the toll road from Perpignan into Spain as otherwise you have to deal with very mountainous terrain – the total cost in tolls from Perpignan to Figueres was 11.50 Euros and it took a whole hour off our journey time!

At this point we started noticing the floods on either side of the roads, whole fields under water.  Then about 10 miles away from our site we were barred from taking our required road by a police blockade – that’s all you get though, no diversion or anything!  So we had to stop and re-calculate a route, which we did, only to be stopped again.  This time the police directed us around the floods, which made for a very interesting 10 minutes or so 🙂  We’d already changed our destination by now as we thought we couldn’t get to l’Estartit, and we were very relieved to pitch up for the night.  Ready to head the 10 miles to l’Estartit in the morning.

 

Toulouse -a French city worth a visit

Leaving Tours we decided that we would have a couple of overnighters on the way south, which meant we stayed at a site, de Montreal, a little south of Limoges.  A lovely little site set out of the way on a lake in St Germaine-les-belles.  We had chosen to take the toll road from Tours to Poitiers, which we regretted as it came at a cost of over 35 Euros!

The next night was spent in another lovely site, de Bois-Redon, in a village outside of Caussade called Septfond.  We then headed down towards Toulouse where we had decided to stay for 2 nights (overnighters are all very well, but, for us, 2 in a row is more than enough!)

Having rocked up just outside of Toulouse we decided that we really should make the effort to go into the city.

We were staying at Les Violettes, a campsite just south of the city (and very close to the Canal du Midi) and managed to find out that we could use a park and ride at Ramonville, about 4 miles away, to get on the metro taking us straight into the heart of the city.

At a cost of 6.10 Euros each we were in the city within an hour of leaving the site – even though both car parks were full when we arrived.  Just a little tip here – it is worth waiting at the barriers as people do come and go and the barriers will go up when there are a few spaces available; we waited about 10 minutes and then we were in!

Ramonville is the end of 1 of the 2 metro lines that serve the city, and you change after about 11 stops (at Jean-Jaures) to go to Capitole, which is a good place to start your visit.

This is where you will find the Tourist Information centre (in a rather impressive building), and where you can then head down to see the Hotel de Ville (a much more impressive building – mostly hidden by the preparations for an event whilst we were there, sadly).

Toulouse & Arround (1)

Here we sat and had a drink before wandering aimlessly along the narrow streets (buying nougat along the way), before finding Continue reading “Toulouse -a French city worth a visit”