Sunday, 23 March 2014

Back home in Bolton, looking forward to the next adventure!

We're home again....since last Tuesday.

Our last few days in the motorhome passed very quickly it now feels.......we had a whistle stop drive through France with just three overnight stops and then reached Calais on Monday morning and caught a ferry earlier than the one we were booked onto. That was a bit of a shame as we were supposed to be travelling on the new P&O ferry which is half as big again as the original ones. We were expecting a quiet trip, it being a Monday morning in mid March but the ferry was full of coach trips of French children presumably going off on exchange holidays. Great excitement! We had left ourselves plenty of time to do some last minute supermarket shopping in Intermarché but alas, most of the shops in Calais were closed. It was not a national 'Jour Férié' but I looked on the web and it is listed as a civil non statutory holiday so this must have been why we were thwarted...strange!

Another beautiful sunset  at Laruscade
our first stop back in France
We got all the way through France on one full tank of cheap Spanish diesel, refuelled again with not quite so cheap French fuel which got us home with enough to spare to get it to Newark and back for its service and probably back to Dover next autumn. I say "cheap", all things being relative of course......when I had done my accounts after we got back, it was not really a surprise to find that the fuel was far and away the most expensive element of the trip, we spent far more on diesel for the vehicle than food and drink for ourselves and dogs!

First stop in the UK was an overnighter in St. Nicholas Park, Warwick. Richard and Aoife strolled round and we went for a meal together at The Lazy Cow pub in the town centre. It was as ever, great to see them again.

Home by lunchtime on the Tuesday, I soon turned the house into a Chinese Laundry but eventually we got sorted out and straight again.

Thursday evening, the other half of the family, Drew, Alana and Hattie came round for tea and again it was great to see them all. It wears me out just watching Hattie, she is on the go all the time never still! A real character and into everything. I bought her a grufallo back pack on the ferry and was really pleased when Alana told me it is one of her favourite stories........

It nearly fits me, grandma!

Just waiting now to get the car MOT'd before we can use it, the motorhome down to Newark for its service, then my back surgery on 4th April and depending on how that goes and when my post-op check up is, hopefully back to the boat in May when I shall resume the blog with our summer cruising tales.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and for the encouraging comments.

Below is a light hearted "Portugal fact file" as the Cromptons found it......
  • Same time zone as the UK. This baffled us on our drive into Portugal from Spain. We thought our Sat Nav had had a hissy fit as it was saying we would arrive in 10 minutes when we still had over 60k to get to our destination, turned it off and on again, fiddled with the settings and then the penny dropped!
  • As mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Portugal is the largest cork producing country in the world. The industry is under threat so keep buying wine with proper corks, not plastic ones! 
Cork Oak tree
  • DIY and hardware shops abound in every town, particularly in the north where there are 5 or 6 in every small town high need never run out of nails, washers, spanners and paint if you live in Portugal!
  • Likewise the ever present "Loja China" or Chinese shop....a bit like poundstretcher but more crammed. Everything you can think of, very cheap, most of which will break within a couple of hours.
  • Very clean public loos, we have our own facilities, of course but have been pleasantly surprised whenever we've needed to find an alternative.....usually have soap and hand dryers too.
  • Washing is hung out to dry in the most unexpected of places, sometimes even on roundabouts, high rise apartments and on fences or bushes at the side of the road.

  • Many buildings in the Alentejo region are partially painted in the same deep blue shade, very attractive, especially when the sun shines.
  • Chimneys....a wide variety of shapes and designs and a feature on most roofs

  • Never seen so many people driving Smart Cars as we did in Portugal! 

Sooooooo, all in all as you can probably tell, we've enjoyed our travels. Not every minute of every day and venue but on the whole it's been a great success and mostly very pleasant indeed. We're already looking forward to next time!!!! 

And so are we!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Ferry booked........

We crossed the Spanish border into France this morning and are now just north of Bordeaux for the night, parked in an aire next to a small fishing lake in the little village of Laruscade, it's just south of Angouleme, twinned with Bury, near home....we won't be driving into the centre to look for similarities!

Our base for the three nights
at Bardenas Reales
We enjoyed our last main stopover spot in Spain, the amazing and unusual geology of the place was something completely different.  It is a vast unpopulated semi-desert area with three different aspects providing many different habitats for birds and wildlife. It has UNESCO status and in the heart of it there is a military zone (closed to the public) where bombing missions are carried out, one started on our second day and we were treated to a free air show, not to mention being able to hear and almost feel the bombs dropping.  We stayed in the area three nights and had this wonderful view directly behind us, the view to the front of us was not as good, being of a modern housing estate, interspersed with agricultural buildings. We drove some miles each day in order to get into the heart of the natural park, Nigel having a long bike ride one day whilst I walked the dogs and then sat and read in the sun....hard work but someone has to do it! On the morning before we left, whilst eating our breakfast, I noticed some huge birds flying over, seven griffon vultures on their way to look for food, floating along the ridge above us. Brilliant! Oh and remember the sorry tale of the Bustards? Well, this is another area they allegedly live and breed in, and guess what.......we saw the grand total of NONE. Having now been to two main areas where these beasties are meant to be proliferate we have now decided they are mythical creatures just made up to disappoint the  amateur birdwatcher and get them rubber necking looking for them whilst driving around so the locals can laugh at their expense.

Nice place to sit and read in the sunshine!

Cabezo de Castilleria

Peña del Fraile

Some much better pics from Nigel's camera will be added when he downloads them to the mac. These are all my phone pics so far!

Tomorrow we continue our journey north through France for a ferry on Monday lunchtime. Though sad another trip is ending it will be so good to catch up with family and friends again. See you all soon xxx

Me, Him and Them!

A few extra photos.....

Two of the seven griffon vultures
that flew over

Monday, 10 March 2014

Homeward bound....

We're back in Spain again now after the very pleasant journey along the eastern border of Portugal

Ampudia Aire (Spain)

Alas we still saw no bustards but the scenery and weather have made up for it! We have stayed in several little walled border towns, one of which, Almeida is in the shape of a 12 pointed star. It had bastions, dykes, inner walls and outer walls, moats and cannons and was difficult to imagine what it must look like from above. The inner walls which we walked around were grassy, very pleasant surface for the dogs. We were greeted at the aire by a very enthusiastic German speaking Belgian lady and her husband who proudly brought out her 10 year old whippet, fussed enormously over Dash and Belle and then proceeded to show us photographs of all her 'late' dogs, explaining to us their names, where she had got them from and how old they were when they died. Several of them, it seemed had been rescues in years gone by from her previous holidays in Portugal, she said she'd been going there since 1969!

Strange dichotomy between old and new
More wind turbines than we've ever seen 

before on the drive into the 
quaint old Spanish town of
 Ampudia and very hypnotic too
when they all spin

 in time with each other!

Ampudia town centr

We've come today to the town of Arguedas on the edge of the Bardenas Reales Natural Parque (near Zarazoga) which we will explore over the next few days before the dash up the coast of France. Richard and Aoife came here on a field trip during their final year at University. Ric reminded me that it was here that he was bitten on the leg by a horsefly or some such, a nasty bite which got infected and his tutor had to take him to hospital here and again when he got back to Aberystwyth as it had still not cleared up. Nasty insects in Iberia, especially for the Cromptons........see below!

It's just one week till we need to be in Calais for crossing the channel to the UK on Monday 17th March. We're “booked” to stay in Warwick overnight and then home on the 18th just in time for Alana's birthday. I posted your card, Alana on our last day in Portugal.....I wonder who'll get there first, us or the card?

The scenery over the last week has been ever changing, it was very lush and green in Portugal, seems much drier here in Spain. Today the highlight has been the wonderful views of the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance against the blue sky. Nigel's “lowlight” today has been being stung by two wasps, once on his foot this morning (it was in his shoe) and once on his head just now. Could have been worse, could have been me!

Almeida Aire

Bayonet sharpening marks

Caption competition?

More daisies than you can shake a stick at!

Ancient Aqueduct, Elvas, Portugal

Elvas Carnival parade

Elvas Cathedral ceiling

A grand pair of knockers

On the ramparts of Sabugal castle (Portugal)

Can you see us.......?

Monseraz Aire

Steep walls and cobbled
streets of Monseraz

Real 'Rapunzel' tower of Sabugal castle

Olives and vines growing together
at Benquerenca, Portugal

Quaint whitewashed main street
 of Monseraz

Fort of Santa Luzia, Elvas
Beautiful mimosa trees in bloom everywhere

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Never mind the Bustards!

We've just spent a most enjoyable few days in Mértola and around. Mértola is set high on a spur above the confluence of the Guadiana and Oeiras rivers in the southeastern corner of Portugal, in the province of Alentejo near the Spanish border and in the heart of a natural Park. It is home to many species of birds, including great and little bustards, black stork, lesser kestrels, Spanish imperial eagles, blue rock thrush to name but a few.

Lesser Kestrels
Blue rock thrush

Ironically, just two weeks before we need to be crossing the channel back to England, we have found our (so far) favourite part of Portugal in the whole trip. We really enjoyed the Atlantic coast of Alentejo too which was wild and rugged and under developed. This area is "us"!  It is a land of steppe and scrub, river valleys and outcrops of quarzite, flat plains and undulating landscape interspersed with cork and holm oak woodland. And very few tourists!!!

Pretty little redshank

We were most keen to see both varieties of bustards and black storks as we are unlikely to see them anywhere else. We had a special treat in Mértola town however, on our way up to the castle we had superb views of many lesser kestrels soaring around in thermals and perching on specially provided nest boxes and ledges. It seems they are thriving from their protection. As we watched and listened to them above us, all the while down below on the other side of the river we could hear the evocative sounds of cow bells as the cattle moved langourously around, taking me straight back in spirit to family holidays in Les Gets, French Alps when the boys were growing up...very special times indeed! On the way back down the steps from the castle we had good views of blue rock thrushes, another "new to us" species.

Goodbye Mértola
from the bridge leading northwards

On a drive to Castro Verde another day and into a special bird protection area we visited a national park trail and went on a "bustard hunt" but sadly they were not around that day. Nigel spotted in the distance a few little bustards but they were too far away to photograph.

Interesting old woodpile spotted on our travels

Heavy duty white stork's nest
Some are so heavy the telegraph pole can be
 seen poking through the middle!

Old Manor house in Castro Verde
looks a bit incongruous with
the modern cars parked!

Yesterday we had another drive out to walk to a waterfall named Pulo de Lobo which has a haunting myth associated with  it involving a love struck couple, the boy being turned into a wolf by the girl's disapproving father and their eventual leap to their deaths in the maelstrom of the waterfall. It was going to be a circular walk but thereby hangs a tale. When we arrived at the waterfall, one and a half kilometres down a forestry type track, lo and behold we saw two black storks circling around. These are now quite rare and classified endangered and just the day before I had asked at the park office where was the best place to see them and was told they had not arrived back from Africa yet.....they have now! They were in beautiful condition, presumably their smart breeding plumage, a delightful and surprising boost to our walk. After looking at the waterfall we continued over rocky ground, following yellow and red footpath signs upstream to complete the circuit. However, after about half a kilometre of ankle and knee wrecking boulder hopping (it felt much further!) we decided to call it a day and turn around and go back the way we had come. Sadly on our return to the waterfall there was no sign of the black storks.

Part of the knee and ankle wrecking "footpath"
We've moved a little further north today and have found an overnight spot beside a lake in an old pyrite and copper mining village. It's a pleasant spot but it's cool and windy and we've had a few showers. After yesterday's exertions, neither of us feel very energetic today and the dogs are a little footsore so it's been a day of rest for us all with just a couple of short walks.

Smoother route back to the motorhome
Very welcome sight, up between the trees
just right of centre at top

Belle takes it all in her stride!

And just to end on a lighthearted note, I was thinking the other day that no doubt in days gone by, before they were an endangered species, the great bustard was hunted and used for the pot, they are the heaviest flighted bird, weighing up to 17kilos so would have fed a hungry family for days or even weeks.  We amused ourselves (easily pleased I know) by thinking up suitable ways of varying the diet.....Here's a few possibilities for the ultimate Bustard Menu.

Great Bustards
(image courtesy of google)
  • Barbecued Bustard with basmati rice 
  • Bustard Biryani
  • Bustard in a Basket
  • Braised Bustard with Broccoli and Beetroot jus
  • Bustard and Bean Bake with Béchemel sauce
  • Bustard Butties with Branston
  • Bustard Bourguinon
  • Battered Bustard in a Baguette drizzled with Basil infused Butter
  • Bustard and Butternut squash Broth
  • Bustard Bolognese
  • Breaded Bustard with a side dish of Borlotti Beans and Balsamic dressing
  • Braised Bustard in a Boozy Butter Bean and Bacon Sauce (Thanks, Mandy!) 
and for dessert
  • Bustard and custard
  • Bread and Bustard pudding
  • Batons of Bustard on a bed of Baked Banana topped with Brandy Butter Balls

Please feel free to add any suggestions via the comments box, don't forget to include your name so that I can credit you when the menu goes viral!

And finally..... just because!!!!

Pissoir built into the town walls!