A Travellerspoint blog

Speedy Gonzooming!

all seasons in one day

It’s difficult leaving a place once you’ve got settled in and made friends, especially after a month. And so it was leaving the Turiscampo at Espiche in the Algarve. The rain the morning of the 26th November seemed to hint at the weather to come over the next few days. We drove off heading for a small place called El Rocio (from there planning to head north through the centre of Spain - we’d spent so long at Espiche that it left little time to see the rest of Spain and arrive in Paris for the 12th December).

It was still raining when we got to El Rocio late in the afternoon, it rained all evening, and it rained all night. It was cold and wet and miserable; there was only one thing for it – we’d watch a movie. Now Tom (you remember, the chap who got our telly working) had a huge selection of movies saved on his Hard Disk Media player. He’d suggested when we were at Espiche to buy a player, and he would copy all his movies over for us. We did the former and he the latter. It also meant that we’d have no more cold wet nights trapped in the van with nothing to do.

We left El Rocio the next morning (it was still raining). We changed our minds on our path through Spain. If we didn’t delay in any one place we could still see a bit of Spain AND reach the French border by about the 9th.

We headed east instead of north and made for Granada (in the rain). It was a 350km journey, but we took it easy; arriving late in the afternoon at the Reina Isabela campsite – in the rain. We made friends with the dozen cats and kittens who inhabited the site, obviously smart enough to know that campers were more likely to feed them titbits than the general population. They were so funny – when we opened the door to the van they’d be howling for food (especially the kittens); we couldn’t help ourselves - we fed them whatever scraps we had and some milk (and a tin of tuna for a special snack).

Because it was raining (and very cold), we had dinner and then watched a movie. It rained all night.

When we awoke in the morning however, the sky was clear blue and the air crisp and cold. We didn’t do Granada justice though, because we only took the bus into town in the afternoon for a couple of hours before returning to camp. The famous Alhambra palace would have to wait for another trip. What did inspire me though were the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, white with snow and looking just like someone had thrown a large sheet over an old sofa.

Watched a movie and went to bed on a cold night (it got down to 2oC), and it started raining again. The drive the next day left no doubt in our minds that winter was on its way. It was very cold and it rained. The drive east to the El Berro campsite near Murcia was another long one, taking us high into the hills. For a good deal of the way the landscape was covered in snow; and at times the fog caused by the clouds sitting on the mountains was so thick, I had visibility of no more than ten metres.

Driving in the van in these conditions was not easy but we were both warm, and the van ran well.

We stopped for a day in Valencia, a lovely town with fabulous architecture, both new and traditional. The weather as in Granada was kind – mostly sunny weather helping to keep the cold winds at bay. We couldn’t find the El Saler campsite detailed in our ACSI handbook because the GPS co-ordinates were not recognised as having a valid route anywhere, whatever that meant. As it was, after a frustrating half an hour searching we happened upon a very ordinary campsite in El Saler, one which charged what I thought was an exorbitant amount.

Thursday saw us on the road heading north on a cold but lovely sunny dry day, making driving a pleasure. Ann managed to post off three months worth of retail expenses by sending 55 kilos of shoes, clothing, linen and trinkets in the three biggest boxes that Spanish mail could provide. As if we weren’t short enough of space in the van, these three boxes took up a huge amount of it – no wonder I’d been feeling hemmed in!!

We stopped at a well-run campsite at a coastal village called Ametlla de Mar, and we stayed put in the van on an evening becoming ever colder as we marched slowly north.

The drive to the site just short of Barcelona at Sitges saw us arrive at midday on a cold sunny day. We installed ourselves in the sunniest spot we could find, had a nice salad lunch and we got some washing done.

Miraculously I managed to get the British news channels on the TV (thanks Tom); so for this weekend in Barcelona at least we can keep up with the news. Mind you the news that hit us about the freezing over of Britain and northern France didn’t fill us with hope.


Spain has been easy to drive through, although it has to be said that because of our hurry to get to France we’ve spent most of our time on the motorways. We’ve eaten mostly in motorway service stations where the food has been so-so; unfortunately we’ve not had much opportunity to stop in at local cafes to try the local fare. Luckily though yesterday, off the motorway, we had a great paella lunch at a truck stop café.

One thing I am less than impressed with is that all the southern Spanish campsites that we stayed in have a most unsavoury habit; that is that the toilets provide you with bins in which you are supposed to dispose of your ‘used’ toilet paper. How disgusting, walking in to a loo and seeing bits of toilet paper with other people’s skid marks staring up at you!

Now let me ask you – this is supposed to be a modern Western First World nation. Can’t Spain provide modern sewage systems? You expect to see this in India or China – I saw it once at a youth hostel in Rio de Janeiro – but for God’s sake Spain, get your finger out and fix your bloody toilet systems!

Posted by OrlandoN 09:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Little Britain


Well, it’s been a month since I last wrote – not laziness I assure you (well, just a bit); but in fact it’s because we overstayed by three weeks our stop at the Espiche campsite near Lagos in the Algarve. Like the site at Aix-en-Provence we had intended only to stay a week. Turiscampo turned out to be such a friendly and relaxed place that we decided that Spain would get a little less attention from us than at first planned.

We arrived on the 27th October and installed ourselves amid a sea of large motorhomes and five-wheelers. Most who come here are long-term stayers; so they need big rigs. Within a day of our arrival two huge American RVs turned up, their occupants staying on to avoid the Northern winter. Most of the campers are Brits, but there’s a generous sprinkling of Dutch (of course) and the odd German, Belgian and French.


For seven months Ann and I had been without English TV, making do with whatever local terrestrial programmes we could pick up on our sad excuse for an aerial. I hadn’t been able to work out how to set up the satellite dish on the van (despite no end of trying) simply because I had a) no experience and b) no instructions. If I was to get any joy setting the damned thing up, then Turiscampo would have to be the place – there were more Brits here than you could poke a stick at - surely someone would know.

I first tried the neighbours Steve and Edna by knocking on the door of their lovely big motorhome. No luck there unfortunately as, like most modern rigs, their dish had an automatic satellite finder – you press a button and away you go.

As luck would have it Welsh Sue, who lives in a big RV overheard me chatting to Steve. She thought Dave her hubby might be able to help. Indeed after being inveigled into service by Sue, Dave was able to get channels on our TV, albeit Eastern European and Arabic ones. However the signal soon died and Ann and I were left as before, bereft of civilised TV.

All was not lost though as Yorkshireman Tom, from the other big American RV opposite, was a man on a mission. He’d got many a satellite dish to work for other campers – he was not going to let a piddling set-up like ours cast a pall of gloom over the site. Without going into too much detail, after four hours of dogged determination, good old Tom got us half a dozen good strong news channels from BBC, ITV and Sky. It was like Christmas had come early.

He’d done his best but told us that ours was such a tiny dish that he was surprised he’d managed to get any reception at all this far south in Europe. Within a few days, he’d invited us to shift our van next to his so that we could plug our cable into his multi-connector LNB (I don’t know what LNB means – look it up yourself!!). This means that we were plugged into his dish for the duration of our stay. For the following three weeks we were able to gorge ourselves on news, sport, quiz and cooking shows, and truly awful old drama series like ‘The Professionals’. ‘The Saint’ and ‘The Champions’ – it was bliss!

So began a month of friendly relations with all the neighbouring campers due in no small part to Tom’s TV wizardry and his willingness to help anyone out with their dish problems. He quipped that the first thing the Germans do when they arrive at camp is to mark out their territory; the first thing the Brits do is set up their satellite dishes!


We got on famously with all the campers - Sue and Dave were great, taking us for short trips visiting nearby tourist attractions in their little car (that they tow behind their giant rig when they come to Portugal). We went out for meals with them; Ann frequently shopped with Sue, leaving me and Dave (with whom I’d struck up a good relationship) to have boule competitions with the likes of Steve and Irishman Victor.

Tom and his wife Pam had us all round for a couple of sing-songs (because their rig could seat a dozen people comfortably). On both occasions I took my guitar round, and soon everyone was singing on top note. Rosie, Victor’s significant other, livened up these occasions with her mischievous Irish good humour. And Keith and Linda, big live music fans, were as good as the rest in joining in the fun.

Groups would often get together for meals, either having a Sunday roast at one of the many British-type eateries, meeting in someone’s van for a bite, or just sitting outside enjoying a cuppa under the fading late autumnal sunshine. On two occasions, Tom DJ’ed a couple of dinner dances at the campsite restaurant, where you could get a good buffet feed for little money. All good crack. These do’s would tend to pull in more couples like Barry and Miriam, Jan and Arthur, and Dave and Lyn (there – I think I managed to fit everyone’s name in!)


The weather during the month we stayed there was for the most part fair considering it was November. The nights were sometimes chilly, and occasionally you’d get rain overnight; but it normally cleared up after breakfast. It worked for me and Ann because the longer we stayed in southern Europe, the less time we’d have to spend in France and England in the cold.

Inevitably though we ran out of time. After postponing our departure date several times, the day eventually came to say goodbye to all the folks we’d made friends with over the past month. We exchanged emails with everyone, and everyone wished us well, hoping that either one day we’d look them up if we were in town, or else join them at some future date back at the camp.

We departed on what was ironically a wet and miserable day, the first bad weather we’d hit in the Algarve. We drove off in the rain to the fond waves and wishes of farewell, on the start of what would be for us the final leg of this big round Europe trip. Spain was again our destination, and by the look of it it’d be a pretty gloomy few days ahead!


Posted by OrlandoN 09:16 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

There's Nowt Queer as Travelling Folk


I begin this blog entry with a couple of observations about our trip.

Firstly - the fellow campers we meet. Most are ‘grey nomads’, those folks over fifty but more usually over sixty. They are for the most part retired and therefore free to travel for months at a time around Europe. Their children have long since left home, and they’ve probably done the mandatory first few years of babysitting their grandkids.

They are the sector of the population with the most money and they no longer have the financial burden of bringing up their children. They're not as athletic as they once were, but I’m impressed by the enthusiasm with which they haul their caravans and motorhomes around the continent.

Now, the female half of these stalwart adventurers always seem to be the grounded ones, amiable and cheerful and, as no doubt they were when they were keeping house, ever busy cooking, washing and maintaining a clean mobile home. They act as navigators when hubby is driving, and they guide the vans into narrow camping plots, like those chaps at airports with their large luminous table-tennis bats guiding jumbos into their parking bays – you know what I mean!

It’s just as well that the women are so level-headed because their men are generally a bit, well, odd. Now I said ‘generally’ because I don’t mean all of them. The men at Arc-en-Ciel in Aix-en-Provence for instance were down-to-earth, friendly, and seemingly quite normal. I'm talking about a particular brand of traveller. The campers at Aix tend to be those who just take a yearly vacation away from home – they’re not ‘travellers’ as such. It seems that the strange ones tend to be 'wanderers', those who travel all over Europe for months at a time every year.

Take for instance a couple we met in Sagres in southern Portugal. They seemed nice enough, until ‘he’ started talking. He harped on endlessly about himself, his travelling, his work history and his hobbies. And he wouldn’t SHUT UP! He hadn’t the slightest interest in anything we had to say. His wife seemed oblivious to her husband’s self-obsession – I guess that’s what thirty years of marriage does to a person! Needless to say I quickly lost the will to live listening to his tedious self-inflation. God, what a bore!

Another chap, a very odd Welshman, bailed us up at our van as we were preparing to go into town. He was very pleasant and friendly, but extremely strange. I could attribute his oddness to being a god-botherer (which I’m sure had a lot to do with it), but I don’t think religion is a prerequisite for what I’m penning ‘travelling man’s syndrome’ or TMS.

Yet another chap was a bit of a bully with his wife, swatting away her comments like one might an annoying fly – not an attractive attribute.

I’m not cherry-picking these examples either. I’m honestly starting to believe that the men who live an itinerant or gypsy lifestyle in motorhomes go a bit bonkers. Perhaps retirement doesn’t agree with them (though they will all tell you that getting off the treadmill was the best thing they ever did). Hmm, I doubt that.


The second observation on this trip concerns food. We’ve been in Portugal for three weeks now and it’s become noticeable that everywhere you go, no matter how small the village, there are cafés and small restaurants everywhere. I mention it because in France it’s the complete opposite. The number of times Ann and I would be driving promising ourselves a coffee at half-time, only to find out that the next village had nowhere to stop.

France has boulangeries and patisseries everywhere, and of course they are excellent. But try and get a coffee or a cheap lunch and you might as well be looking for a spare part for a space shuttle. In Portugal you can go anywhere and stop for an authentic lunch. For example, we drove through a typical small village two days ago. It was just one road in and one road out. But in it there were no less than eight eating establishments, all providing cheap authentic Portuguese cuisine!

Don’t the French eat? When you do find somewhere in France it’s usually a pizzeria or kebab shop – there seemed to be nowhere where you can buy a real French meal. Perhaps the French only do haute cuisine in big cities where you pay thirty euros for a bouillabaisse (that’s a fancy name for fish stew). Very disappointing!

It’s curious really because the French have done such a marvellous job of promoting their country by building a very professional infrastructure for travellers. There are campsites everywhere, and more publications advertising camping than you can poke a stick at. So why then is the cuisine, which has achieved almost legendary status in the world, so inaccessible to the average traveller?


OK, back to the trip itself. The day before we left Lisbon, we met a very friendly chap, a typical Aussie bloke at the campsite – the type who could have been an extra on ‘Crocodile Dundee’. He’d had a tough upbringing but had managed to make a bit of money doing this and that, dragging himself up by his bootstraps. All very admirable, although he too seemed to find it necessary to remind us often about how he’d turned adversity into advantage. For all his worldly-wiseness (or should that be wise-worldliness?), he seemed quite a lonely character. Quite genuine though.

We took two days to get down to the Algarve, stopping overnight at a very attractive little village on the coast called Vila Nove de Milfontes. Its architecture seemed to typify what is so common in the south of Portugal – whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs, and window frames attractively painted in blues or pinks or mustards.

We stopped only overnight at Sagres, right on the corner of the country (and almost about as far as you can get to the south-west corner of the European continent). It was a sleepy village (that is until the high season) with a sun-bleached look about it. We stayed long enough to have a coffee and custard tart at a café, then we headed east, heading for Lagos.


Posted by OrlandoN 03:29 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Feasts, Fado and Fine Weather


Well the kettle finally packed in. We turned it on last night and it tripped the circuit breaker out on the site. It had been playing silly buggers for some time, so we knew it hadn’t long to go. We’re on our third toaster too.


The city of Lisbon is fabulous and the weather’s been brilliant. I know I’m biased because I’m half Portuguese, but I’m buoyed in my opinion by Ann who thinks the place is wonderful too. She’s ranking it next to Paris as her favourite city, although she still has reservations about New York in second spot.

We’re loving it. The first night we were here we got talking to an Aussie couple, Colin & Pam, in their late sixties. They seemed pleasant and friendly, but not what you’d call deep or intellectual. After chatting to them for a couple of hours, they seemed keen to stay in Lisbon another day and join us for dinner the next night.

We went out as planned and had a nice meal at quite a posh restaurant in the Chiado district. Colin seemed to find everything about everything “wonderful” – the food, the architecture, the history – and he was quite right. However it soon became apparent to me that he and Pam were a bit like the stereotypical middle-aged American tourist couple who travel the world finding everything ‘wonderful’ and ‘fascinating’, but always fall short of admitting that anything is better than what they’ve got at home.

After dinner we wandered the Chiado district which was alive with people – it was great. We found a small ‘adega’ (cellar) which advertised ‘fado, the unique-to-Portugal style of singing. It’s usually sung by a woman backed by a couple of guitarists; and the songs are often laments regarding the sea, lost loves, tragedy or yearning for the homeland of Portugal. The songs are always intensely passionate, and seeing it live you quickly become swept up in the passion.

There were five singers at this adega (called ‘Caldo Verde’), doing their own sets – two women and three men. The men were dressed simply but smartly, but the women were beautiful, elegantly turned out, and sang fado in the way only women can.

It was a great experience, spoilt only slightly by Colin who was loud-drunk, being demonstrative and a bit embarrassing the way only drunks can be. By the end of the night I was quite happy to see the back of them. We headed home close to 1pm in a taxi with me, the driver, and three very pissed people in the back seat!


The next morning we (happily) said goodbye to Colin and Pam. Nice enough I suppose, but boringly mediocre. The day started slowly (Ann was feeling a bit wretched) but we later went into town to take a look around. The next day, Saturday, was a laundry day; so we stayed put, having a cheap lunch at the campsite café.

Sunday we went into town in the afternoon, taking a tram ride around the city. The modern trams, along with the buses, do the general commuting work; but the old-fashioned yellow iron workhorse trams do all the climbing around the steep narrow hills of the city – a wonderful way for tourists to experience Lisbon.

Monday we went into town early and after walking through the hilltop districts of Bairro Alto and Chiado descended the long stone steps leading back to the centre of town. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a tiny eatery, the sort tourists don’t much frequent because it’s in the back streets. We sat for lunch with the ordinary workers and had an enormous lunch for the ridiculously low price of eleven euros and fifty cents – for the two of us! It consisted of a mixed salad followed by spiced chicken with home-made chips and rice. We also shared a carafe of red wine and two coffees. The same meal on the many trendy café strips in the city would have cost three times as much. And the atmosphere in this place was great.


The rest of the week was spent simply, either travelling to markets on the trains, walking the town or staying put and Skyping our mothers. Disappointingly I had tried to contact my mum’s old school friend who lives in Lisbon. After many abortive attempts I discovered that she was staying at her sister’s place after undergoing surgery. Never mind, next time.

There’s been nothing much else on the news here except for the State Budget, a subject that seems to have brought out all the political knives from the opposition parties. I can’t seem to get much else on telly apart from woeful Portuguese and Brazilian soap operas; and for some reason only on analogue TV stations. If I try to search for digital channels, the TV reports that the “video type is unsupported” - whatever that means.

Tomorrow, Monday the 25th October, we leave Lisbon heading south to the Algarve. There are two huge bridges heading our way that I’d love to travel on; the 25th April suspension bridge (looking much like the Golden Gate) and the fabulous Vasco da Gama bridge, a sort of hybrid ‘cable stay’ bridge that’s apparently 17 kilometres long – the longest in Europe (by far I should think). I don’t know if we’ll be going over both, but we’ll see. We’ll stay in the Algarve a couple of weeks before moving to southern Spain.


Oh, I meant to say that, at about 1:30 am at the campsite, on the night of our fado, I heard a racket coming from a motorhome containing a number of young men. Have a guess who they were? - yep - it was those bloody Aussie yobs that we’d encountered in Porto, making a nuisance of themselves - again! There was music playing, and they were talking and laughing, paying no attention to the neighbouring campers (thankfully, we were beyond earshot). Why can’t they just stick to going to Bali with all the other bogan scumbags!


Posted by OrlandoN 05:15 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Food Glorious Food!


The weather’s definitely getting better - and warmer - as we head south. We left Porto determined to stay off the bloody motorways that our pain-in-the-arse GPS seems intent on putting us on. We had a nice drive along a very rural main road south, passing village after village. As food seems so much cheaper here than in France, we stopped for lunch at what seemed to be a worker’s café cum eatery. It was very clean with a bar and very pleasant young women serving tables. We saw the six Euro fixed lunch and thought, “why not?”

What a feast! A hearty vegetable soup to start with, and mountains of bread. Main course was a traditional ‘Cozido a Portuguesa’ – many sorts of delicious stewed sausages and meats served with simple boiled potatoes, cabbage, carrots and rice. There was coffee for afters, and it was washed down with a carafe of white wine. Simply fantastic value! We emerged fit to burst.

The campsite at Figueira da Foz was another ‘Orbitur’ (the company seems to dominate the camping in Portugal, and is well set up and maintained, with free internet at every site). It was only an overnight stop, but I took a walk to the beach which was just beyond the gate at the rear of the complex. It was beautiful, just like the lonely white beaches in Western Australia.

We drove on south the next day and repeated the great lunch experience. We stopped at a small town hoping to get another cheapie meal. Well, it wasn’t as cheap, but then it wasn’t a workers’ caff either. What we walked into was a very nice restaurant – all white linen tablecloths and posh napkins. Worried that lunch might be a bit pricier than our budget would allow, we hesitated, until a young waitress approached us. Not wishing to appear cheap by walking out, we sat at a table and checked the menu.

While nothing was expensive, my eyes fell upon the ten euro tourist menu. We ordered two. There was the usual bread side plate; Ann had a small carafe of white wine while I had a Sagres beer. What we had for a main meal was one of the tastiest fish dishes I’ve ever eaten! It was a whole fish (called ‘dourada’ – no idea what it might be in English, but it was a nice oily fish). It was grilled to perfection and served simply with boiled spuds and green beans.

Included in the price was a dessert. We were offered a selection. Ann had a slice of a delicious carrot tart (most unlike the taste of our traditional carrot cake) and I had a light coffee mousse. Coffee was included (I passed) and that was it. We speculated that at a decent fish restaurant in Perth the dessert alone would have cost as much as the whole meal. Fantastic value!

We drove on to Nazaré and headed straight for the campsite. We woke next day to a promisingly warm one and continued our trek south. Lisbon wasn’t far away but I wasn’t really keen on driving to a huge town in the late afternoon, having to deal with all the usual traffic hassles. I aimed for an overnight stop at Alenquer, thirty or so kilometres short of Lisbon, with a view to an easy ride in. As it happened, Ann didn’t really want yet another ‘overnighter’ campsite (which she claims exhausts her); so as usual I relented. We stopped for lunch just outside Alenquer, and then I braved the drive in to the big city.

It was turning into a beautiful day weatherwise as we approached Lisbon on the secondary roads. They’ve been excellent by and large, with long easy stretches making for a more relaxed drive.


For a couple of days we’d wondered why it was that every now and then on the side of peaceful tree-lined roads, there’d appear a young woman sat down looking as though she might be taking down car number plates. For the most part they seemed modestly dressed – one we saw could have been a German or Dutch tourist, dressed in jeans with blonde hair tied back in a pony tail.

We chuckled at the thought that they might be prossies, but dismissed it as they didn’t seem like the type of street girls they portray on the telly – all leather skirts and attitude. Still it remained a bit of a mystery.

That was until we noticed a very telling scene. About ten kilometres north of Alenquer on the right hand side of the road in a small clearing, there was a truck parked. Walking away from it was a pretty young woman in a very short white skirt, hoiking up a scant top over her very ample breasts.

“No way is that his niece!” I thought as we drove past, exchanging knowing looks. A little further on a car was parked by the side of the road with what clearly looked like a young woman soliciting through the passenger window. And further on again, there was a black girl standing watching us drive by, looking a little more like your typical street girl.

I found it quite amusing the thought that on such lovely shady country roads the whole business of prostitution was clearly thriving. As sordid as the whole business is (a point on which I agreed with Ann, although unlike me she couldn’t see the funny side of it), it happens whether we like it or not.

We drove on into Lisbon through its sprawling outskirts on a lovely early afternoon. We passed the magnificent Vasco da Gama bridge on a highway that was easy to negotiate. We arrived in the vicinity of Monsanto, the location of the municipal camping site that Iain and Anne had recommended. The GPS could only give us an approximate location; so we had fingers crossed.

Just for future reference, crossed fingers don’t work. After a futile attempt to see a camping sign, we drove aimlessly around looking for clues – none was forthcoming. On the Estrada da Circunvalação (the destination on the GPS), I parked up and walked into a chemist’s. The attractive young woman behind the counter went to great lengths to try to explain where the site was, even printing out a Google map for me. She seemed hesitant though, hinting at a lack of confidence in our ability to find the place (smart girl I thought!). I soon discovered why. She’d given us a street as near as she could to the site; so I knew the GPS had to take us there. The trouble was there was so much roadworks going on that the GPS didn’t recognise any of the diversions, new roundabouts or blocked streets. We ended up in a cul-de-sac in a residential area with me cursing myself (and Ann) for not having left Lisbon till tomorrow.

Finally however a sign for ‘Campismo’ appeared. We eagerly followed it, although often at junctions we had to guess which direction we were supposed to go. Another sign appeared – we followed. We then drove a considerable distance to the side of the motorway. Fearful that we’d end up driving into it, I said in frustration that if we didn’t find the place within half an hour, I’d drive out to the coast and find another campsite.

Just when all hope seemed lost, a last sign tantalizingly close to the motorway led us down a large cul-de-sac, at the end of which was a very large campsite!


Posted by OrlandoN 10:43 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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