We have been allowed back in the huerto. Along with an hour’s exercise and children being allowed out with parents for a walk or play in open spaces, getting back to the garden has been a gift.
I have to admit to having been a bit grumpy when the huerto was closed. I was not alone in thinking that with common sense and care , we could have maintained it and still not endangered any one . However the rules applied to every one who is part of a small neighbourhood project like ours. If you have a larger plot or orchard , you were permitted to tend to your produce. Our garden is surrounded by houses and we could , on reflection , see how our pottering in the garden when no one else was allowed out of their homes could be demoralising and not helpful in keeping the ‘stay at home’ message universal. Eight weeks later, a certificate to prove we have permission to be there, a timetable of when we will be there and a padlock to keep every one except huertanos out and we’re back in business.
A very wet April and hot sunny start to May meant that nature has taken back what is rightfully hers. The weeds and wild flowers are head high, the birds and rabbits loving the peace and quiet. While we have cleared and replanted our plot, the common areas are still wonderfully wild. It won’t last, the crazy summer heat will mean the birds and bunnies heading for shade and snoozing most of the day and the wild flowers dying back until the autumn rains but at 8.30 this morning it was beautiful. We have tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onions, herbs and salad all bedded back in but I have kept some of my make shift planting at home as well. Stepping out the front door and being able to add to dinner, fresh basil, oregano, thyme, mint , salad leaves and….. a small but very tasty first harvest of potatoes is a brilliant feeling.
Our quarantine is still in place, the relaxations are being phased but with a careful eye on how case numbers of the virus respond to the humans having more freedom. I for one am in no hurry to embrace ‘ going back to normal’. The dangers of complacency seem to far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of mixing with the masses again! I am not a crowd person normally , I do miss family and friends and the ability to plan ahead, however it is a great lesson in taking each day as it comes and in being grateful for the little things. Getting to the garden, dirty knees and mud under my finger nails ( I can’t keep gloves on ) , dropping Walt off at the top of the hill for his first proper run in two months and now a glass of chilled rioja blanco… simples! Have a wonderful weekend.
A chilly November day in Murcia , the perfect type of day to finally complete Ziggy’s first adventure. We have had a very busy few weeks but no more excuses!
To complete the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims have to present their stamped passports in Santiago de Compestela. You have to have walked , cycled or ridden a horse at least 100km of one of the ways. We hadn’t done this but had seen the many ways signposted by the ubiquitous shell. The final part of the Camino is not obligatory but definitely worth a visit. Fisterra / Finisterre or ‘ the end of the world’. A lighthouse jutting out in to the Atlantic. Next stop America! However people didn’t know that if they had been living in the dark ages. The world was flat ! If you kept sailing from Finisterre you would eventually fall of the edge! We parked a few kms down from the point as there was quite a lot of tourist traffic and we weren’t sure about parking Ziggy at the top. It was a lovely walk , completing our own Camino with incredible views and once we reached the lighthouse you really could understand why folk in the past thought you would fall of the edge…the horizon was a straight line in the distance..no curve to suggest something beyond it!
We ( naively?) thought that this would be a quiet spot , perhaps with a night park where we could watch the sunset over the ocean. There were one or two vans on the point but we were pretty sure that they would be moved on by night time and so we decided after a picnic lunch to try and find a place to stay nearer Santiago.
My family and especially Walt know that my spacial awareness and navigational skills are somewhat wanting. After leaving Finisterre I was in charge of finding our next park up for the night. I had a ‘stay in our garden’ spot picked out on Park for Night. I am not sure how I did it but must have put the wrong coordinates on to maps. As we drove up a very pretty country lane, Walt began to shake his head then laugh. I was taking us back to the little ‘octopus ‘ sight that we had just left that morning. Doh! Back to the drawing board or Google maps! Once on the right track, we quickly found Castor and Marianne’s beautiful home on the edge of Santiago de Compestela. We had emailed them on our way as there are only 2 spots for vans in their garden. There was one available! When we arrived Castor welcomed us with hook up for our electricity, beers and the offer of doing a washing for us! He and his wife couldn’t do enough. The other spot was taken by a lovely French couple in a tiny van. We enjoyed a chat with them in the beautiful salt water pool while Rocky relaxed under a fig tree! As the festival in Santiago was still in full flow we had a day off , a gentle hike, swimming , snoozing , reading and Walt made a drone video of the house and garden for our hosts. They were delighted with it and quickly shared it far and wide.
Our two days in the garden at Xesta saw us almost completing two weeks on the road. We were sad to leave this beautiful spot and our amazing hosts but we felt that were getting good at the campervan lark and after a lovely stroll round Compestela and a good walk to retrieve Ziggy , parked at an out of town shopping centre we headed back to the coast. The sight we headed for was a paid one, on the beach across the estuary from the town of Vigo. It was not my fault this time but the GPS decided to test Walt’s driving skills in a van on tiny, single track , super steep roads before taking us back on to a main road and the gate to the camp site! As we parked at the edge of the drive near reception, a black VW with UK plates pulled in behind us! The couple we had met a few days earlier . They were touring France and Spain , taking seven weeks to do it! The little sight was perched on a cliff with a short walk to the beach. After a day walking in Santiago and our GPS stress, the following day was going to be a catch up with washing, tidying Ziggy and relaxing on the beach day.
Day Fifteen ! Time for a new country . We set off early although Google maps wanted to take us on another tour of the steep , narrow streets we had encountered two days earlier. We needed diesel and putting the nearest petrol station on to maps lead to some confusion! We were on a peninsula and had to get back to the mainland and routes to Portugal. Eventually we made it . We had taken 15 days to travel from Riaño in Cantabria, through Aturias and Galicia. There is still so much to see in these beautiful regions that we will definitely be back . We are hooked on campervan camping ( we’ve done a few short hops this autumn aswell) and with some adjustments and improvements to Ziggy and our organisation we know that we could be on the road for much longer in the future!
Our first stop in Portugal was to have a ‘left overs’ lunch…basically bread and cheese and a welcome tea for Walt, coffee for me. My little Italian coffee pot, bought in the Scottish Borders is travelling well! We stopped in a large, empty beach carpark. It was on the Portuguese camino and as we ate our lunch a good few pilgrims passed us by. Our spot was sheltered by high dunes and after lunch we walked over these dunes and on to our first Portuguese beach. Wow! Mile after mile of soft sand, big waves and beautiful skies. The carpark wasn’t on Park for Night but with hindsight and some tips picked up from other vanners it appears that this part of Portugal is not so strict about overnight parking as in the more touristy parts such as the Algarve. We probably could have stayed there, it was quiet, very pretty and it had loos! We did have to move on however, if nothing else but to find food! Our small van supplies tend to stretch to three days at the most. Storage is limited but I am thinking of ways round this during the winter months. We now have a roof solar panel and after one or two learning curves are confident that with a little more in the food cupboard ( ikea boxes) we could survive off grid for longer.
The solution to both food and an overnight spot to sleep was in this lovely park above… it was part of a restaurant and recreation area where mini buses arrived with children on holiday club activities and elderly folk for a very pleasant day centre. The car park was large, tree lined and free to stay in. Park for Night suggested that having a beer or similar was a polite thank you. We went a bit further and had the most delicious ( after a bread and cheese lunch) burgers – they were amazing. Before dinner we walked along a track to the beach. At the end of the track we found at least twenty campervans set up comfortably and housing lots of surfy folk! Once again the park had council run loos and no bans on overnight parking. We’re not surfy folk though and were quite happy with our spot. Once all the day visitors and restaurant clients went home we had just two neighbours, an Austrian family in their van and Dutch couple in a tent on the roof of their car!
Day 16 and Porto next stop! We have visited Lisbon and loved it . Porto also came highly recommended, one of my students was particularly keen on us trying some port! For various reasons that didn’t happen but after a quick breakfast and tidy up, we hit the road with a council run autocaravan park in a little town just outside the city, in our sights. This sight was 5 minutes walk from the railway station and a half hour train run in to the city. We had read that parking in Porto was not easy and not always safe. I reckoned that Rocky wouldn’t be that keen on another city anyway so after we parked up, Walt took the train in to Porto while Rocky and I sat under a tree and tried to speak Portuguese to a very lively group of children who wanted to cuddle Rocky! I now know Portuguese for dog, thank you, what’s your name and good day! There was a park and community centre next to to the van park up which explained the hordes of little people. For 5€ a night, paid in to yet another honesty box, we had electricity, loos and an outside shower! The heat was cranking up again so this was fantastic.
Walt had a wonderful walk around Porto and this local delicacy!
It’s called a Franceshina, and is basically a 1300 calorie meat sandwich topped with a special sauce , chips and sometimes a fried egg! Cholesterol on a plate! Luckily there’s a lot to see and plenty of walking around this beautiful city , at least some of those calories were burned off! My turn to visit the city was the next day. It was a Saturday and the temperature had climbed well in to the 30s so I had a shorter explore than Walt but did visit the cathedral and looked at the Osborne Port warehouses across the river. I was too hot and tired to fight through the tourists to sample the port so found a very quiet cafe for some tasty sardines and a lovely craft beer. The port will have to wait! There are lovely shops around the railway station but I am not a shopper so a bit of window shopping was enough for me then the train back to the boys! We had a decision to make!
The decision was….. how to get home? We had two choices . Walt had wanted to go through the Douro valley for ages, either on the motorbike or in Ziggy but this summer the heat was just too much. We could either head straight for the Spanish border and Extramadura, air con on ,such as it is, in Ziggy or wend our way down the Atlantic coast to the Algarve and then along the Mediterranean. We would have loved to have done this but had to be practical. We had set a budget for the trip and as fuel was so silly expensive this year, that much longer road trip was way out of the budget! We decided on a ‘go for it’ get home quick option. After 18 days, we had had an amazing adventure and lots of of plans for more in future. Early on Sunday morning we packed up and left Porto. We drove directly for the border , inland this time. We still avoided motorways however and passed along some beautiful country roads lined with Cork trees. Ever wonder where your wine cork comes from? Now I know! Theses wee trees look so strange, their trunks stripped bare!
Sunday morning cycle race as temperatures reach 40! Crazy or very brave!
We found a great campervan sight in a small village not far from the town of Caceres. The countryside was stunning and there are lots of interesting places to go, hikes to make. Caceres is apparently one of the prettiest towns in Spain. It was however too blooming hot to do anything. I have never felt heat like it. The air and wind was like a hairdryer at its hottest setting. The campsite manager said that spring and autumn are the best times to visit! We sat in the shade of Ziggy until the sun went down, had a very tiny dinner..too hot to eat!, then put the mosquito net up over the tailgate and tried to sleep. I had to get up at one point and sat outside trying to cool down, the plus ? As we were in the countryside and on the edge of the village there was little light pollution…the sky was beautiful, millions of stars, a yellow moon and in the distance , the lights of a small train snaking through the valley. We got up very early the next morning and left the village by 7.30. It wasn’t a sleepy early morning scene…the shops were busy, people were doing their garden, painting houses , cramming in as much as possible before the heat made it impossible! Day 19 and we focused on going home! After nearly three weeks on the road and feeling so grateful for an amazing adventure, we were already planning the next one! We got home to a very warm Murcia but a lovely healthy garden thanks to our watering system and a good friend who keeps an eye on it for us. We are so lucky. Where to next?
It’s over a month since our adventures in northern Spain and Portugal. We have had a couple of mini adventures in Ziggy but the delay in writing has been more to do with lethargy than lack of time. It has been so hot, throughout Europe and even parts of the UK ,one of the hottest summers on record. I can hear you saying that if forced to stay out of the sun, surely there’s plenty of time to write? This should be the case but it’s not worked for me!!! I had a lovely day meeting old friends from Ross High..in Benidorm. While there, Walt decided that 20 months having not visited Scotland was too long. I came home on the Alsa bus to find he’d booked flights for a week later! That week flew by as I had begun a dress for Rachel, my eldest and as Brexit has made parcel sending dodgy, Walt seemed like the ideal delivery person! Week one of August …done, dress completed …only three weeks of holidays left! Those three weeks have been hard going , getting as much done early in the morning before hiding ìn a darkened room until late afternoon, then a swim! I have read a ridiculous amount, and managed a few projects that didn’t require too much thought! The huerto is flourishing despite the heat and I will pop a separate post on about that….we are rather proud of it! Thus on the 3rd of September, I am finally using my scribbled diary notes to write and enjoy the memories of our first big adventure.
Meanwhile back in Asturias and Galicia!After two days on the very busy Gijon site, it was time to try again for a more tranqil spot. Having said that, Camping Molino was a friendly and welcome rest spot. Although I knew, way at the back of my memory , that Asturias had once been one of Spain’s major regions for coal mining , the national parks , mountains and beautiful coast line make it easy to forget or even imagine many of the high villages we passed through were once mining towns. Clues were signs for Mining Museums and social clubs similar to the Miners Welfare clubs in my home county of Stirling and Walt’s in East Lothian . There weren’t many buildings or workings left but some of the villages had a surprising number of very utilitarian apartment blocks along side the more traditional Asturian homes and huertos. Was Camping Molino an escape for the miners and their families when the industry was thriving? It is certainly still very popular and a happy place for many. Rocky made friends with a group of three old ladies who sat outside their caravan watching the world go by, they loved him! We left Asturias and headed towards another seaside town, Foz in Galicia . Using Park for Night we found a recommended park up…on the waterfront …if you didn’t mind being squashed in behind rows of vans , there must have been around 100 of all shapes and sizes. There was water and some services and a five minute walk to the harbour and old town of Foz but no! We couldn’t do it. This was not what we had imagined van life would look like. Foz sits on an estuary and with his binoculars, Walt could see another spot on the opposite side of this. Park for Night said it had only 10 places. It was out of town, on the beach, surely it would be impossible to bag a place, late in the afternoon given the number of vans on the town side? We weren’t going to stay in the campervan jungle, why would anyone, so decided to give it a go…
Day 7…Across the water from Foz. There was a spot, almost on the beach! We could see the van village in the distance but our little park up on the beach was perfect. There is a small chiringuito ( beach bar) which was slightly busier in the evening but once everyone went home, we had a handful of very quiet van neighbours. The site is free but limted to a 48 hour stay. We were still having problems with Orange and data. I was handwriting this but Walt loves to make films, take photographs and document our travels digitally. By lunchtime on day 7 we had lost all but the most basic, make a phone call/send a text method of communication. It was time to ditch Orange and buy a pay as you go sim card! We also needed to top up our Jackory power station. We can do this when driving, hooked up to electricity on a paying site or using our portable solar panels. It was a beautiful day so we decided to take advantage of the 48 hours and stay put. We set up the solar panels and then made a little picnic camp further along the shore on a grassy hill . Sea in front of us , oak trees, hawthorn and bramble bushes behind us. Perfect. Walt took photos and made a film of the bay and estuary, Rocky and I snoozed on the grass . There is no grass left in Murcia in August , unless watered by the council in parks. Lying on a picnic rug with daisies, clover and 25 degrees of seaside warmth and a gentle breeze was absolutely wonderful! Later in the afternoon Walt went in to Foz to buy pay as you go sim, Rocky and I walked the coastal path from our park up which took us out to the open sea and the most incredible beaches. We eventually wandered back to meet Walt for a wee refreshment at the chiringuito. It was starting to get chilly. Time for supper and an early night!
Day 8…going back inland. We were quite proud of our first real ‘off grid’ campsite and keeping the fridge, lights and phones charged up for free thanks to the lovely, sunny, Galician day before. A week on the road! Time to celebrate with a paid campsite..we badly needed a washing machine or laundry! Storage in Ziggy is limited and so travelling light in the clothes department is a must. Luckily our motorbike tours have helped us perfect this! However one week in and we did need to freshen up bed linen, towels and larger items that we couldn’t just rinse through and hang on Ziggy’s wing mirrors! After a swim in the estuary, we packed up and before going inland headed to la playa de catedrales. Wow! Unfortunately the tide was in and we couldn’t get on to the beach but the rock formations really do like like flying buttresses and the wild waves hitting them were breathtaking. I would love to go back when the tide is out!
After a walk along the cliff top wooden boardwalks we went back in to Foz to replenish our supplies , then headed inland to a fabulous site called Frafas de Eume. It was on the edge of a beautiful woodland , small and with everything we needed. The weather can be very changeable in Galicia, we were lucky and even managed to get a big washing dried on our makeshift line, but there was an indoor kitchen and dining space if needed. The large garden area was being used for a summer holiday club with local children having great fun and the manager of the site was busy with this, so after welcoming us and an English couple whose black VW pulled in just behind us, we payed via envelopes posted in to an honesty box!
Day nine. Laundry done and a lovely hike in the woods . Two days chilling in the beautiful Galician countryside.
I think there is just the possibility that as Scots and Northern Europeans , Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia felt a little like coming home. We love Murcia and winters are perfect but you have probably begun to realise that we are finding July and August in southern Spain hard to handle. This year the heat cranked up in May and no, we haven’t got used to it. Long hikes in the middle of the day are a luxury. One we relished in Green Spain.
We have been reading and watching a lot of information and stories about travelling in a campervan. Whether as a holiday van or alternative lifestyle, they all seem to agree that time slows down in a van, nothing gets done in a hurry and that days can pass without you going very far or sticking to the plans set out back at home. Galicia definitely had this effect on us! Three years ago, I flew to Santiago de Compestela to meet good friends from Glasgow who had completed the camino. I went to celebrate with them and while I was there we took a train to A Coruña. It was a very wet June day but we had a lovely lunch and walk along the promenade before getting the train back to Santiago. I would have loved to have seen more and now I could!
Day 10. A Coruña. Walt had read about the Torre de Hércules. The Tower of Hercules is a lighthouse built by the Romans! They were incredible civil engineers! It was renovated in the 18th century but is still very much a Roman lighthouse. Perhaps the oldest existing lighthouse in the world? It is a tourist attraction but was not too busy and there are even designated parking spots for campervans nearby! After our walk up to the lighthouse and spectacular views, we were able to wander in to the old part of the city for lunch…pulpo ofcourse! ( octopus is Galician speciality). A Coruña is a beautiful city with possibly the easiest and free parking so far! What wasn’t quite so easy was finding and parking near the local branch of Decathlon. We needed gas for our cooker. From a relaxed lunch in the beautiful old part of A Coruña to a concrete nightmare of a shopping centre on the outskirts of the city…at 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon…mayhem and super stress for Walt. We circled the underground car park and came out the other end without stopping! Eventually squeezing on to a verge outside the concrete monolith. There was a Mercadona nearby too, so food and gas bought, it was time to escape.
We found a very pretty little site back out in the country side. The only problem was it was very slopey and as yet, we don’t have wedges to level the van. Finding a flat spot is crucial for a good night’s sleep. We found one at the top of the sight overlooking the countryside and the marquees that were going erected for the next day’s octopus festival! 🐙 It was a beautiful spot but a good walk down a dark, steep hill to the loos and dish washing area. It sounds picky but even with the head torch, I could see me landing in the nettles on the way to brush my teeth! We decided to stay just one night then look for a park up nearer Santiago de Compestela. It was time for Ziggy to complete the camino! I was just a little curious about the octopus fiesta. As we left, catering vans were pulling up and huge cooking vats were being set up…poor octopus!
We were heading for Santiago and knew from the English VW travellers that it was fiesta weekend there too. In Santiago that meant a big festival. In fact the King and Queen were expected on the Monday. Security, crowds, and lots of noise…not a good idea, Rocky would never have made a police dog! We fancied a quiet day and found what looked ideal for this on Park for Night. It was described as a farm stay just 10km out of Santiago. We could enjoy a ‘day on the farm’ while the King was enjoying the fiesta and go in to town the next day. Perfect. Before Santiago however we wanted to go to…the end of the world! Maybe even find a park up there …
I am happy to report that yes, we all loved our big adventure. We are home again after 18 days on the road and are confident that there are lots more journeys to follow. We have learned some more, picked up tips and overall are pretty chuffed at our teamwork but most of all delighted by the freedom Ziggy has given us and the fun of course!
In the planning stages we had a few concerns – would Ziggy be big enough to accommodate us, Rocky and the extra ‘stuff’ needed? Would we still love or even like each other after living in such close quarters? Would we feel like this was a holiday and not a chore after a few days ? Up until this trip, we had only been away for weekends. Two to three weeks would be a whole different ball game. Remember please that we are newbies to this , I know there are many van lifers out there who will scoff at our two to three weeks but we all have to start somewhere!
We started at 2am on a Thursday morning. It was fresh, even here, and we planned to go from the Mediterranean to cooler Cantabria and our favourite little village on the edge of the Picos- Riaño – in one day. It might have seemed crazy but the Iberian peninsula was in the grip of a horrible heat wave , even Riaño was recording 30 degrees ➕ and stopping off to camp in our usual half way halts of Toledo or Ávila where it was nearer 40 did not appeal. We did it! With a picnic in a service station carpark, lots of comfort and ice cream breaks and a fan rigged up for Rocky, we rolled in to or up to the campsite overlooking the lake and views we love so much and as the evening wore on, it was cool enough for a sweat shirt! Sheer bliss!
Walt is the driver, and a brilliant one at that, I will do an hour here and there on a long , straight motorway but as we were planning only to do motorway driving for day one and the return leg home, I was happy to be quartermaster. We were doing this trip on a budget as we wanted to see how feasible a much longer ‘on the road ‘ would be once I stop teaching. Could we feed ourselves using such limited space, two IKEA storage boxes , a small portable fridge and a picnic cool bag? Yes! It was a challenge but in 18 days, we only had one dinner , one lunch , one breakfast , a snack and a few beers out. I love cooking but wasn’t too sure about it before we left . Inspiration came in the form of ‘ Campervan Cooking’ by Claire Thompson and Matt Williamson . I pre- prepared our first two days at home using recipes from this great book and then adapted ideas and simple ‘cheats’ from it as we went along.
Day Two…. slowly, slowly. Coffee with a stunning view and then around midday, a drive to a very special place…Mirador del Oso or ‘The bear’! Two years ago in the middle of the pandemic but when we were ‘allowed’ to leave our municipality , Walt brought me here on the motorbike. It has become our our personal pilgrimage. The mountain air, cowbells, snow on the higher peaks and quiet away from the madding crowd! It is magical ,in the moment and totally relaxing.
We continued to another favourite view point, the deer , where Walt was able to use his new toy. Walt loves making films of his travels and added a small drone to the equipment used for this. He is still learning but has created some beautiful memories already using it. I just love the Picos and the mid 20s temperatures meant we could do all of this in the afternoon. Rocky was loving it too. I am writing this now under the fan in the bedroom, Rocky is on the floor beside me…we won’t be going walkies until about 9 this evening! Too hot! After our meander we returned to Riaño and a beer at the Hotel Presa, our digs on previous trips.
Day 3. A quick stroll up to the ‘ biggest swing in Leon’ breakfast, coffee in the Hotel Presa then on the road through the Picos National Park and Asturias. We thought it would be cooler still as we climbed higher, on twisty roads that Walt thought nothing of on the bike – they were a bit more challenging in Ziggy! It wasn’t cooler, the humidity was fierce. We had a picnic lunch on a Park for Night spot outside a village. It felt like a sauna! Very pretty but very sweaty!
Our next challenge in the van life adventure was to use the Park for Night App to find somewhere to camp. We wanted to be brave and try either wild or semi wild camping after the comfort of the Riaño site. Lots of people do it and we had a tiny bit of experience in Almeria. How would we fare in Asturias?
Using the Park for Night App, we found a free campervan stop on the edge of a lovely park and only 9kms outside Oviedo. Perfect? Almost apart from a very happy, loud celebration or party in the park! Happy families of all ages dancing and having a ball, they were there for the long haul judging by the trestle tables groaning with with goodies. The music was getting louder and chilling or taking Rocky for a walk was not an option. Time to look again. We turned to go down the narrow track from this park up when we were stopped by a very agitated cyclist in an adapted bike/ wheelchair. Were we going too fast down the narrow road? Didn’t feel like it. As we climbed out of Ziggy , we found two equally agitated Spanish ladies trying to free an old man who had been eating fruit on a bench, dropped his fork and tried to retrieve it. Hard to explain but he was wedged between the bench, a tree and a metre high drop in to his hen run! The wheelchair cyclist was simply asking us for help. Walt managed to free him and pop him back on his bench with lots of thanks from his carer and rather cross wife…’ we told him not to move’ . Thankfully the old gentleman was only a little scratched and shaken . He was probably in for an evening of ‘ I told you sos’.
We set of again, this time high up in to the mountains and El Mirador del Angliru… a mountain hostel’s carpark . The hostel seemed mainly dedicated to touring cyclists, brave and super fit to make it up here! For 10€ there was water, waste disposal if you have a big van with all mod cons, loos, a cafe and the most incredible views. It was still very humid even at that time of night, we had a good walk, snack and drink in the cafe and rigged up the mosquito net so we could sleep with the tailgate up. The park up was closed at midnight and super secure. Our first, not quite free park up but a good compromise!
Day four- Sunday morning seemed like a good time to visit the first city on our route. Oviedo is the capital of Asturias and one of the starting points for the Camino de Santiago. Ziggy was becoming a pilgrim! There are several different routes and we seemed to criss, cross them everywhere we went!
Ours was a double edged mission that morning, one to see the historical centre of this beautifil city and two to find a cafe with wifi. Our Orange contract was not working despite umpteen attempts to contact them and sort out the problem. I have a pay as you go UK sim that I use when in Scotland. Luckily it has roaming and worked perfectly in Spain but that wasn’t the point. Ironic that 3 UK was better than Orange ES. We had breakfast in a shady side street, the wifi was fine but Orange continued to play up. Time to put the phones away and take a stroll. The main square and cathedral are beautiful. There was a medieval market and procession of an Astursian pipe band in progress. Rocky wasn’t too impressed. He isn’t keen on drums! Memories of Ben and the North Berwick pipe band on parade…he slipped his collar and bolted. Where is their Celtic blood? The band was excellent however and the ancient part of the city very interesting. We had parked in a residential part of the city, about 20 minutes walk away. Parking in cities is not one our favourite things to do. Like so many Spanish towns and cities the ancient and medieval centres are ringed by modern flats and commercial areas. Some are 60s and 70s concrete and grey but this area , while made up of uniform and neat blocks was surrounded by trees and green areas. I still wouldn’t want to live in a city…definitely a country mouse! It’s always a relief to get back out in to the open.
We planned one more night in Asturias, on the coast but it turned into two. We needed a rest and when we found ourselves wedged into a corner of a huge ‘family ‘ campsite near Gijón -the touring/camping area was tiny and our pitch was blocked fairly effectively by a large German holiday home and a gang of teenagers camping in two tents plus lots of stuff scattered in teenage fashion all around- the enforced time of the road was actually pretty welcome! Camping El Molino might not sound like the rural idyll we were looking for but it was only a five minute walk from a beautiful beach and coastal walk. What was even better was that the ‘ola de calor’ broke on our first night there. We walked in to the small seaside town and back before dinner, a couple of miles each way without breaking sweat, what a wonderful relief. The following day was cool enough for a long morning walk, then as the teenagers’ parents came to round them up, we were able to squeeze out and explore a beautiful sculpture park on the edge of Gijón. It was a ‘let your dog of the lead park’ . Thank you Gijón ayuntamiento! Rocky had a wonderful run about.
We were now just about to celebrate a week on the road! After two nights in our cosy corner it was time to move on. I had my first swim in the Atlantic ( Bay of Biscay) while Walt and Rocky took some photos and drone footage then we said goodbye to Camping El Molino and Asturias. Now to explore Galicia.
After a very wet spring …almost six weeks of heavy rain between March and May , slowing down the growth on the huerto and curtailing long hikes as our soil is a pale clay that turns walking boots into diving boots when wet…we made a promise not to moan about the inevitable long, hot summer! It has been difficult! Almost as soon as the rain stopped we had a very unseasonal heat wave at the end of May and first two weeks of June. Temperatures reaching 37 on one day!
Our visitors have started to return beginning with Walt’s brother and his wife. They all escaped on motorbikes to the Picos de Europa while I stayed in my cave, teaching and walking Rocky before 7am.. it was a bearable 18 or 19 degrees until around 9 then up it would crank again! It is a good feeling however seeing the sun come up and we are much earlier risers now than in the winter. The problem is however that to enjoy dinner and relax in the evening, we have to stay up later! Siestas are crucial!
Our visitors however have loved it…pool , beach , a potter in the huerto and picking lemons for home made lemonade!Seeing our home from the perspective of others and appreciating just how lucky we are has balanced the moan factor and watching two years old Arthur cope brilliantly in 30 + degrees ( they had a slightly cooler week after a brilliant thunderstorm cleared the air) was amazing. He is a wee blondie but his Daddy was born in Malaysia and his Grandma on Dad’s side is Australian. Maybe that has something to do with his resilience !
Temperatures are on the up again this week with weather warnings ⚠️. The predicted Scottish heatwave looks wonderful ..24 in Edinburgh, bliss! I suppose it’s all relative! We are planning our first big adventure with Ziggy and as luck would have it, the ‘cooler’ northern Spain is about to experience a heat wave! Trying not to moan! Watch this space for our escape plans!
I have just spent a couple of hours in the huerto and as always, despite the heat, feel the sense of calm our beautiful communal space and own little parcela gives me. Bringing home more lemons , lettuce, tomatoes and our first garlic harvest also makes me happy. The bees were loving it too, especially the lavender. Time to be indoors now until 4 or 5ish when we will go for a swim and chat to our neighbours about….the weather! Hace demasiado calor 😥 . It’s reassuring that we are not the only ones finding it just a little too hot!
When it comes to writing at the moment, I am super lazy. My excuse is the amount of time I spend in my cave (spare bedroom) teaching on line. I began a post two weeks ago and am struggling to finish it. This is the edited version of ‘Meet Ziggy ‘ and I have no excuse not to write it….no excuse because I am sitting under the home made shade of Ziggy’s tailgate on a site called Orange Grove , five miles or so from Benidorm. Rocky and I are staying put while Walt walks in to Albir in search of supplies.I have to stay put because Ziggy is hooked up to a life support system ( battery charger) kindly lent to us by a van neighbour.
Ziggy is a 16 year old Volkswagen Caravelle that we bought in February after years of humming and hawing about one. We love a road trip, Rocky isn’t keen on kennels and Walt hasn’t flown for over two years. There is so much of Spain, Portugal and Europe that we would love to explore and this seemed the ideal solution. Oh golly…it is however a learning curve (1. we have a battery charger at home…remember it next time!) Ziggy came from Belgium and is in great nick for her age but checking the ancient battery should probably have been on our to do list. Having said that, this is our fourth outing with her and we had had no problems starting her up…until yesterday!
There have been other learning experiences but this one is the biggest so far! We are hugely grateful to ( I counted 4) English neighbours who are professional van lifers and who crowded round Ziggy resuccitating her and giving us some very useful tips. There is a local Baker who arrives on site at 9 every morning with fresh bread and delicious pastries…I think I will have to buy a dozen or so as thank-yous ! Luckily I have Madrid holidays and as tomorrow celebrates San Isidro, we have the whole day to get home!
Other lessons learned? We have solar panels and a Jackory power unit. We can also charge the unit when driving from main battery. We thought we could cope without an electric hook up and have done so – so far . We have even spent two nights wild camping in Almeria on beautiful, wild beaches . We were feeling very smug as we set up our solar panels and tailgate awning yesterday, dwarfed by the huge- home from home – mobile homes hooked up and toting everything from microwaves to TVs. ‘That’s not real camping’. Eat humble pie Team Barbour… I must have bumped in to a passenger courtesy light when we arrived. We had checked all the usual battery draining suspects, tail gate light, driver’s lights etc but it was super sunny and that one wee light escaped our notice. We made lunch, had a cheeky Cava to celebrate Walt’s birthday and a swim in the site pool. Very chilled! Then we decided to walk in to town for a treat…a birthday dinner out. When Walt turned on the ignition to wind up the windows, they creaked and groaned up enough for us to leave Ziggy safely but with the knowledge that next morning would mean either calling our road side assistance or asking neighbours for help. They have been amazing. The kindness of strangers.
Learning curve number one – remember battery charger. Two- buy new battery, ancient Mercedes battery in a volkswagen is a recipe for future disasters. Three- buy a hook up lead. At 3€ a night on European campsites, this is an inexpensive luxury when we choose to stay on site. Wild camping is great for escaping the madding crowd but every now and then Ziggy needs company and battery charger will not work from 500 watt Jackery! Previous lessons learned, four – put bed up before it gets dark! Our first night in Ziggy was beside a beach, just off a camino rural. It was beautiful. As the sun set , stars began to shine brilliantly in a light pollution free sky. We have had a very wet spring so frogs croaked nearby and the waves lapped gently just 20 metres away. Then we tried to put the bed up…it would have been comical if we hadn’t been so tired and the temperature was dropping to well below 10 degrees! It might be romantic to sit and watch the sun set but having a bed to climb into without a palaver is possibly better! Five- have little net or cloth bags that can hang from coat hooks or similar…put glasses, phone chargers, earrings and other easily lost items in these every night…do not vary the place. Finding things in a small space is a challenge especially for two oldies! Six- to be honest, we haven’t learned a sixth one yet but we will! There’s a whole lot more to discover and learn ! Now this is the honest edit of Meet Ziggy but I should also say that there has been lots of fun too and we have already explored new and wonderful places all less than 4 hours from home. ( The cost of diesel shot up just after we bought the van…Great timing and a learning curve beyond our control. However close to home in the meantime has been brilliant. ) After two years of living very quietly and in my cave, we have spoken to so many lovely people, Spanish, French , English and Argentinian …it’s what we have always loved about a road trip.
Or maybe just ‘ during a break in the rain’! This week began with a calima or Saharan sand cloud turning the sky red and our garden brown . The rain that followed, thankfully cleaned away much of the sand and then continued to fall continuously for the rest of the week! Murcia is now green Spain and in a break between showers I made it up to the huerto.
The world is in such a sorry state at the moment and I have no words nor understanding of it but I also know how fortunate I am to have the garden to reset my mind and heart. These are just a few photos of my project this morning, the beautiful huerto and wee cat who always joins us when we are working.
The administration of the huerto or allotments is managed as part of our urbanization community and employs a team of organic gardeners to maintain the watering system , fruit trees and communal spaces between each individual plot. They are very particular about the compost bins which are restricted to green waste from the huerto only. Our patio garden is too small for a decent compost bin so for the last couple of years, Anne and I have composted our household vegetable peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and cardboard in an upside down dustbin! We have produced lovely compost and lots of worms! In our (normally) dry, stoney ground this is fantastic. However the plastic dustbin collapsed and is now in the recycling bin..replaced by a small but perfect purpose built bin. My project this morning , to put it together and start filling it! Simple pleasures! I love it.
Once I finished tucking the bin into its corner, I picked some tasty odds and ends from our own plot and the communal garden while wandering round and enjoying the plants that are loving the rain and the blackbirds who were in full voice. A lovely couple of hours away from it all. Home now for a homegrown salad ! Very grateful.
I know that having officially bowed out of writing a blog in August this may seem a little surprising however the past weeks here in Murcia deserves a mention and an update on life on the hill!
For the first time in 18 months we have had family to stay..the Watsons. Rach, Graeme, Dougie , Penny and Anna. It was a reminder to me of a previous post ‘Sharing our Happiness ‘ and how much we missed doing just that. The week , predictably, went by too quickly but it was wonderful. Murcia weather was welcoming and warm enough for both pool and beach, hiking , eating outside and when ( it is Autumn after all) we had one very rainy day, we began knitting projects, jigsaws and lots of drawing! Saying bye bye was also predictably hard. Apparently there were tears at the airport because they didn’t want to go! Rocky mooched about all day looking sad after all the extra cuddles and adoration that he had become used to, not to mention extra snacks, that he had been getting for a week.
One of our visits during their stay had been to Hugo’s home farm. This is a small finca five minutes from our home which is now run as a donkey/horse/ goat/ hen/ dog/cat/alpaca…in fact any abandoned animal rescue. It is the passion , imagination and incredible hard work of a young Scot from Musselburgh and while the finca belongs to his partner’s family, the project began several years ago in Benidorm and moved to Murcia last year. Local cat and dog pounds and the police all know of Hugo’s and frequently supply them with new guests! This all takes a lot of funding and so on the Saturday of our gangs’ departure I spent a few hours on the ‘cake stall’ of a fusion . . British fete and Spanish paella day!It was a great success and the best of two cultures. I loved hearing the kids whose parents had moved to the region permanently and put children in to local schools, speaking Spanish and English with out missing a beat. The sun shone, animals were on best behaviour, cakes and jam sold and funds were raised. Éxito!
Four days later, the Mattisons arrived! Rocky had a playmate again ..the Duracell toddler that is Arthur with his Mummy and Daddy . So much fun ! The weather reminded us that even although this was Murcia, it was still autumn. Despite quite a lot of cloud and cool mornings it was still warm enough in the afternoons for braving the pools …freezing! the beach…invigorating and ice cream in the city…delicious. Once again, the week went too quickly but oh what wonderful memories to store away.
I was determined to savour every moment that I had with the ‘peques ‘ ( little ones) and as my classes now take up every morning, I had a mad baking/freezing breenge ( Scots for doing something with gusto- difficult to translate! ) for the fete before they arrived. October went by in a flash! It’s already half way through November and Walt has been able to get to Valencia for the final race of the MotoGP. Two years later for this pilgrimage aswell! My Fridays are suddenly busier than ever with classes all day, so I chose to stay at home with Rocky. This meant I could go on a very gentle guided walk this morning to learn about the flora in our Sierra de Carrascoy. It was a beautiful morning and perfect for wandering around learning about plants and flowers . All in Spanish! Tomorrow Anne and I will continue to amuse our Spanish huerto neighbours with our anarchic plot. We must be ‘the talk of the steamie!’ The tomatoes, especially the cherries have not stopped fruiting. We still have aubergines on the go, arm loads of basil and a few padron peppers. See photos for ‘us’ and them! We have planted some winter crops in wee spaces, kale, broccoli and onions and are using our first load of our own home made compost so haven’t done the traditional autumn clear out. Our squashes were also successful and the plants have just been cleared away. We both hate waste so while we can’t compete with the broad bean harvests that our neighbours will have next month, we are still taking edibles home everytime we visit! Anne took on the green onion chutney task this year with delicious results. I will do the annual marmalade marathon in December…when the fruit is free how can we not!!
And so another year rushes headlong towards its end…probably one of the strangest in most of our lives but with lots of wonderful memories still made despite everything and definitely so much to be grateful for. I think that is why I decided to write this wee diary. I do struggle at times, so far from my children , siblings and old friends . This past year and a half has made this even more difficult. However when Walt and I walk Rocky to the top of our urbanization and look over to the Sierra de Carrascoy, the Sierra de Espuña, our beautiful glittering city and the Ricote Valley in the distance, we realise just what wealth we have and how lucky we are to live here. Gracias Murcia..por todo!
I began this blog three years ago, not long after our adventure hit a bump, or should I say my head hit a kerb! I was hugely fortunate to recover quickly but for a few quiet weeks I had time to start writing Adventures not Dramas. To be fair my having a fit and passing out while Walt was driving was pretty dramatic for him. I am never allowed to nod off in the car now . I began writing it for two reasons, one as a diary and way of saving memories and two with the vague idea that I might find that I could write well enough and consistently enough to create a book. Reason one …definitely. Reason two? I am a reader, love playing outside and enjoy making stuff. I am not disciplined nor consistent enough to be a writer! I was a very similar scholar, if the sun was out , why stay at your desk? Therefore nearly four years, many brilliant adventures and a global pandemic later ( who would have believed it) I have decided to say goodbye to blogs. My memories will be photo books from now on! It looks more than likely that my teaching will continue and as permanent member of staff. Instead of an expat retiree , I have found myself with a job, social security number, healthcare and residency. When I showed my passport at Alicante last week the young official said that if I hadn’t been going to the UK, my residency card would have been fine….I am European!
My working days are now not quite as full or stressful as they were four years ago. It’s the anniversary of my retirement from school at the end of this month, but with mornings teaching , afternoons quickly disappear in a blur of doggy walking and gardening when cool enough , sewing and reading and now going out! We are back on the road again! Starting small, we had two days in Benidorm in July . Walt had also done a Portuguese road trip in May as soon as our borders opened up so he started big! I then moved on to two weeks in Edinburgh! I have to admit to being pretty stressed by the whole PCR, passenger locator and quarantine malarkey but it was nearly a year since I had seen the family. It had to be done and it was truly wonderful. I hope that it won’t be so long until next time. Getting bolder, tomorrow we head north again to the Picos on Suze! We will leave around 6am to avoid the heat here but pack waterproofs for Cantabria!
I am incredibly grateful for technology and the world wide web . It has kept us connected to loved ones and kept many of us employed but I am now a little internet exhausted. It will continue to be a work tool, family and friends chat platform and of course provide the odd bit of shopping! However I am bowing out of blogs and social media. I want to get back to real life and not a virtual one! To all my friends on social media and here, I have loved seeing all your adventures and ways of staying positive over the last crazy year. I have loved having chats with old friends and long lost family . I really appreciate all of you. So please forgive me if you don’t see ‘likes ‘ or comments or birthday greetings, I can still be contacted for a chat and will check messages but I am saying goodbye to everything else!
I know Walt and I will continue to have adventures but the moving abroad, finding your feet with new cultures, language and everyday living when everything seems different was a major part of this blog. When I popped down to the village yesterday, Sangonera felt normal , no longer ‘foreign ‘! Enough said. Hasta pronto amigos. Keep in touch…there’s always snail mail. I love getting letters! Besos y abrazos a todos.
A wee gallery of Edinburgh and North Berwick after quarantine with Arthur. So grateful.
No truth so sublime but it may be trivial tomorrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I finished my last ramble with a hint that the blog may be heading in a different direction… there was only one problem, writer of said blog has no idea what direction to go in! I have pottered about with bits of poetry, crazy 3am thoughts and reactions to other people’s writing and opinions then scrubbed the lot! ( see on line media and nonsense). Most of this ramble was written a month ago. Only two months to go until dose two of AZ! Only two weeks until the Scottish government makes its announcement on international travel, tension mounting! Therefore in its scrappy state, I am pressing the publish button on this post along with the quote above,which was also posted in an article by a much younger expat in foreign climes…. it made me feel better! Thank you! I’m off up to the huerto now, it’s a jungle after all the rain but wow! Lettuce, chard, onions, parsley, oregano, mint and coriander a plenty!
My writer’s block therefore lead me to simply cataloguing ‘ More stuff’ that I have realised about life and myself during the pandemic.
1.Just because I am reading addict, I am not necessarily a writer. Result? Allowing myself just to read! Bliss.
2. Time is bizarre, especially in a Murcian spring where one minute it’s warm enough for the beach and next day we have the stove on.
3. Couple this with year 2 of the pandemic starting …Easter feels like Christmas? Is it just me?
4. Waiting another 3 or 4 months until I see my family no longer feels like the lifetime that it felt like last April. The patience gene is definitely being strengthened. Walt and I have had the first dose of the vaccine, only 3 months until the 2nd…no time at all!
5. My left eye begins to wander after two hours on a zoom class…not a reassuring look for my students !
6. I love not being on my computer but being outside or making stuff. I had no classes during Holy Week /Semana Santa. We went to the beach, had lunch with friends and hiked a new and beautiful route just a few kilometres from home. It was bliss. I do enjoy my teaching and until our state pensions kick in, I need to keep going but those few days were super special!
7. Despite my wandering left eye, I am so grateful for technology. A chat this morning with a very special friend in Scotland, story time last night with the bairns and a chat with my brother in the afternoon, my online employment and fabric arriving from Germany for my next project, none of which would have been possible without my trusty old HP. ( it’s nearly 10 but Walt is very clever and keeps it going for me. He is on Zen and push bike maintenance today, Monday it was the motorbike. I am hoping that little Red, our 11 year old Hyundai is next in the queue for some TLC!)
8. I start sentences with ‘so’, ‘and so’ OK and ‘well’ far too frequently. I realised this earlier today when describing ‘filler’ words to students. Oh dear! Time for a cup of tea.
9. I need to keep busy , it’s my way of meditating, but sometimes my 63 years catch up with me and I need to nap!
10. I would much rather have a proper newspaper and books but technology does fill the gap a little. The trick I think is to keep online media in its place…most of it is nonsense! When we we allowed to leave our municipality recently, I took some clothes and books to a British run charity shop some 40 minutes away. They have a huge book section with paperbacks costing 25 cents! Result! That’s my summer ,when it’s too hot to do much, sorted!
And so …( two conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence…naughty) I can only sum up by writing that life goes on pretty much as normal here in the unpredictable Mediterranean spring…lots of rain, cuckoos, frogs at night and almost as green as northern Spain…for a couple of months. We are still not able to leave the region or travel to Scotland and that is the hardest part of all this but we still have so much to be grateful for. I began this blog three years ago almost as a diary of our adventure. I have made friends and had some wonderful chats because of it. I have learned through it. I would love the chats to continue and to hear more from you even if the blog doesn’t! Hasta pronto! Abrazos y besos. Xxxxx