Sam’s France/Spain blog 2017-18

Pamplona, Spain 05/01/18

Famous for the running of the bulls during the San Fermín festival which starts on the 1st of July and last for 8 days. Every morning of the festival at 8am the bulls run from here 

for 875 metres along four streets to the bull ring.

This is a huge event and the rules if anybody wants to run with the bulls are :-

Participants must be at least 18 years of age

You must run in the same direction as the bulls

You must not incite the bulls

You must not be under the influence of alcohol

As it’s only January I got a couple of pictures of the internet to see how it looks in July.

Since 1910, 15 people have died doing the bull run in Pamplona. 12 of them being gored by the bulls, 2 were hit by a horn and 1 was suffocated in a pile up.

04/01/18

It wasn’t a good day yesterday. The strong winds continued throughout the day which made driving really tiring ( for Andy ), the winds caused our awning to pop open and we couldn’t do anything until the wind calmed down, the sat nav decided that it no longer accepted the cable as an accessory after 4 years and after a very tight squeeze into a carrefour petrol station we found the card machine was broken and couldn’t get any diesel. After finally getting to the aire which was nice we were able to cable tie the awning together.

03/01/18

Off we go again and the first stop is the same place 40 minutes from the train, Montreuil for a very nice pizza again. I was looking forward to my first night in 6 weeks of uninterrupted sleep but at 2:30am we were woken up with +30 mph winds swaying the van from side to side.

18/11/17

The journey home took 5 days stopping at some really nice places on the way. Albarracín was voted as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain with medieval architecture and narrow streets. The village sits 3878 ft above sea level and is unspoilt by modernisation. You do need to be a little fit to walk around the village because in one afternoon our fitness bands clocked up 89 flights of stairs!

Verteuil-sur-Charente has a beautiful Château but the best part was the restaurant that we ate in that night. It was owned by a Portuguese lady and the food was absolutely amazing. I had duck while Andy had Veal.

Montreuil is about 40 minutes from the train so it was a perfect stop. I had my very first Calzone here and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve had.

The decision is that we are going to come back to Spain in January so I will continue on this blog. See you in about 7 weeks.

13/11/17

Another 16 nights in one place! Benicássim is further down the coast from Peñíscola and has 6km of sandy beaches linked by a promenade. The beaches have had a blue flag since 1987. The ‘desert de Les Palmes’ mountain range further inland shelters the town from the north wind. On the first day here Andy wanted to leave when the chair lady of the the Laika club uk, who was only a couple of pitches away from us, introduced herself. We felt like children who were only just learning about camping so straight away she put Andy’s back up. Luckily she left 2 days after we arrived. From Benicássim to Oropesa is an old 11km railway line that has been converted into a cycle/walking path called ‘The via verde green route’. (Apparently there are quite a few of these routes around) Twice we cycled this path, once to Oropesa and then to Marina d’or.

Oropesa is a little seaside town where we found a great little restaurant with good calamari. It was funny when a woman come off the beach wearing a thong and bent over in front of everybody at the tables.

Marina d’or is a seasonal town so when we got there it was completely dead!

One morning we we woke to clouds and the decision was to walk along the coast towards Castellón de la Plana for a while. The clouds quickly disappeared and we had not brought a drink so as soon as we came across somewhere to have a drink, we would turn around and head back. After 3km there was finally a place called Pinguins which is a fast food burger place and luckily (I did not fancy a burger) at the end was a little bar that also sold calamari.

This casual little walk ended up being 18km!

The desert de Les Palmes mountain range is a nature park that has been protected for over 20 years. It covers more than 3000 hectares and is so diverse and extensive that it belongs to five borough. In the park is a ruined castle and ruined Carmelite convent and I wanted to go and see the convent. The total trip was 15km, 4 hours and 10 mins and 144 flights of stairs and when we got there it was fenced off! I was really disappointed.

In the row behind us on the campsite was a really nice couple, Ron and Carole. They are very much like us as in not doing the typical English, all women go shopping while the men sit in the bar thing. They got invited to a street party (Carole made cake) and Andy kept laughing at how they are really getting into the community spirit.

3 days later we were invited to a street party so I think Ron had the last laugh. A Swedish lady, Maj, who was a couple of pitches away had invited us but the party was in the next row. We were a little confused until she explained that she normally stayed in that row and invited us because she liked us. This made us really happy as nobody else in our row was invited. Our contribution was 2 different flavoured chicken skewers which went down quite well. The party went really well with lots of food and lots of drink. Everybody took there own drinks ( wine for me and sangria for Andy ) but at the end people were bringing out their favoured spirit from their country. Unbelievably it was Andy, not me that was trying them all!

There was was so many wonderful people there and each of us had different levels of vans going up to about £300,000 and there was even Fiona and Douglas who had a caravan! They were really nice too. Maj was lovely and I hope I’m like her at 73! She said I reminded here of her daughter who turned out to be the same age and her name is my middle name.

A day was spent in Valencia which was just a train ride away. Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. The port is the 5th busiest container port in Europe. Valencia has been the capital of Spain twice in 1812 and then 1936-1937. It was once the site of formula one, first hosting on 24th August 2008 but was dropped at the beginning of the 2013 season but it still holds the last moto GP race in November.

The Turia that once flowed through Valencia was diverted after the great flood of Valencia on 14th October 1957 which killed at least 81 people. The old course of the river has been been turned into a central green space for the city, a cultural attraction known as the garden of the Turia.

The time spent here went far too quickly. It was so good that we enquired about availability in January but it’s fully booked. Our name has gone onto a waiting list so we will just have to wait and see.

28/10/17

Camping Eden in Peñíscola, Spain had a mixture of reviews from different people that we had met on the way. We had booked this site for 16 nights as it was 8 nights for the price of 7 and there is only one more stop a bit further down before the return journey home. On arrival there were only 3 pitches available and even though we chose the best one, it was still tight getting the van in as there were low trees in the middle of the pitches.

Loads of men appeared out of nowhere to help guide Andy in ( I thought he was going to lose his temper as he doesn’t like things like that! ) but he was absolutely fine. We was told that the campsite were going to cut these trees down as soon as the new ones planted matured…..

……might be a while!

There was some really good neighbours around us. A Dutch couple opposite who had come for 4 weeks but had been there for 8 and they had this beautiful dog called Aime ( I assumed to be a girl but was wrong ) who had this fantastic character and his paws were as big as a bears!

Behind us was Roy and Liz. Andy and Roy talked everyday about all sorts of things and I think Andy found a bit of a soul mate in Roy who actually cleaned his van more than Andy does!

Roy gave us a tip of putting a shot of brandy or gin into the sangria which Andy has done ever since.

There was another 2 English couples who we actually went and had a meal with and really enjoyed. Dave and Cathy and Dave and Joy.

The beach is really nice and we spent quite a few afternoons relaxing there and when it was windy then by the pool it was ( which was colder than the sea! ).

Castillo de Peñíscola has a history of being the last great fortress that the Templars built 1294-1307. Entry is €5 but because Andy had his special birthday this year, he got in for €3.50.

We found a couple of nice places to eat. One was by accident, Sant Antoni, that had a three course meal for €13 that also included your wine and a shot of limenchello at the end as well. This has now made Andy change from Jaegar shots to Limenchello shots before cooking dinner.

The other restaurant was a recommendation from Roy and Liz called El Porton which was also very nice. They also did a €13 menu but only at lunchtimes and we were there in the evening so the decision was a seafood platter for 2 that we couldn’t finish.

There was one mistake we made of not checking prices first as a litre of cava sangria cost us €15 but it was really nice.

After being there for 16 nights we noticed that whenever a new van over 7 metres turned up, the same set of men appeared to try and guide the driver into their pitch. One particular day a Concorde of 9 metres arrived and got stuck trying to get around the corner before even getting to his pitch.

It took well over an hour for him to get around that bend and got a scratch down his side from someone’s bike rack.

When he finally got to his pitch he was still too big.

The next day the campsite workers cut down a tree from another pitch for him to get on but this pitch had 2 trees and the other was still in place. For some strange unknown reason they thought he was going to get on it and after several attempts of trying, he gave up and left the campsite altogether.

This was the longest that we have stayed in one place and even though it’s a beautiful beach and good campsite, the town started closing down after the first week and there wasn’t much left open. If the Duke was with us then it might have been different because you can only go so far on bicycles and there wasn’t much that was close enough to cycle to.

08/10/17

A very nice campsite in the hills of Càlig. Not much of a town and to take the bicycles out you need to be a proper cyclist! The campsite was beautiful with a very nice pool.

We met a really nice couple, Gill and Richard who had been travelling in their Swift Bolero for the last 10 years. Gill was a bit camera shy.

While sitting there enjoying the sunshine Andy realises that he had booked a campsite in Peñíscola for the wrong date. He had booked it for November instead of October! Nobody was answering the phone so Andy had a brainwave….. let’s cycle there. We are in the hills and Peñíscola is 15km away on the coast!

This is just the return journey, getting there was fine going downhill. On the way back was a quick pit stop to taste a fresh Valencia orange straight from the tree. We did only take one and share it.

A bit of sad news while we were here. Our much loved and very well used halogen heater gave up.

04/10/17

On to the Delta del Ebro for some bird watching. The Delta de l’Ebre is a plane of different materials – sand, clay and mud – placed in the rivers estuary by the effect of the erosion, transportation and sedimentation of the Ebre river. Nowadays, the Delta has a triangular shape with an end penetrating 25km into the sea. The river is settled in the middle of the estuary and the North and South are sand barriers that make it look like the top of an arrow. It’s not always looked like that as its evolution has constantly changed.

The first stop here was in Riumar and from there was 30km bicycle ride! Needless to say that my underparts were very bruised at the end of it. The campsite here wasn’t very nice and definitely not worth the €24 they were charging so we moved to an aire that was near Sant Charles de la Ràpita which was free but still felt better than the campsite. Another bike ride but only 27km this time with a break in the middle while we watched the protest in the town. There must have been every tractor in the region here and nearly every shop and restaurant closed for the strikes.

30/09/17

A one night stop in L’Ametlla de mar because after a nice walk we decided there wasn’t anything else to do there. We did come across a lot of people enjoying themselves drinking and listening to live music outside a school they had occupied for the vote tomorrow.

29/09/17

To get to the better weather was a 6 hour drive to Palamos in Spain. As we were going to be there for a week we decided on a campsite but was unsure how busy it was going to be. An aire nearby which was €13 a night without electricity was full so a little bit nervous about the campsite. There was no need to worry as there was lots of room and one particular part was €13 with electricity! There was lots of sunbathing on the lovely beaches and a nice 2.5km walk to the next beach around the coastline passing some ruins and some houses built into the cliff that we wasn’t sure about. Fishing houses, holiday lets?

The ruins were ‘castle of sant Estere de mar’. The earliest references to the castle was in 1063. In 2011 the Palamos city council obtained the deeds for the property, which was constructed over a Roman villa and is recognised as a cultural Asset of National Interest by the government of Catalonia.

The first Spanish meal was not brilliant but was ok, just not what we thought we were going to get. The calamari was in thick greasy batter and the anchovies were the little ones in olive oil that you buy in a jar from the supermarket for €2! The prawns were nice though and so was the sangria.

There was a little place that we found by the beach that was very good food and a nice sangria to wash it down with. I was very surprised that it wasn’t on TripAdvisor so I put it on and ended up eating there twice.

On the campsite was a really nice Belgium couple who had been coming to camping Palamos for the last 28 years with their children in the same caravan and this year was the last year of using it due to the wear and tear.

23/09/17

Sadly we say goodbye to our good friends Wim, Elly and Sky today after spending 12 nights in Saint Privat with them. The campsite was nice sitting next to a river where Sky enjoyed daily swims when the weather was good ( I’m sure this dog is part fish! )

Elly had reserved two pitches facing the river but were taken when we arrived. The campsite owner was very good about it giving us XL pitches for a very good price and a bottle of wine per couple. Every evening we took turns to cook the evening meals so for half of the time there was no washing up to do.

The closest place to visit was Aubenas which wasnt that great a place to go. I’m sure it’s very nice in the tourist season when you don’t notice some of the locals that look like the sort of people that get their government paid money and give it to the local off licence.

As Wim and Elly have a caravan, we were able to take a road trip in their car through the Gorges de l’Ardèche which is made up of a series of gorges and known locally as the ” European Grand Canyon “. It’s a 30km long canyon running from Vallon-pont-d’arc to Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. The canyon draws over a million visitors a year either driving or taking a kayak/canoe through and most of the canyon is protected. There are over 2000 caves in the Gorge where humans have lived for over 300,000 years.

5km down the Gorge from Vallon-pont-d’arc is the pont d’arc which is a large natural bridge ( 194ft wide and 112ft high to the top of the opening ). Near the bridge is the Chauvet-pont-d’arc cave which contains one of the earliest known palaeolithic cave paintings that is 30,000 years old.

I had had a cooking lesson from Wim on how to prepare Ratatouille which can be frozen in single servings as Andy doesn’t like vegetables.

There was a walk next to the campsite that took you to the top of the nearby hill which had fantastic views and also had ruins at the top. I couldn’t find anywhere what the ruins originally was though.

For those that know Andy know that he isn’t very good with heights so I volunteered to clean the sky lights for him, from above.

It was a wonderful 2 weeks spent with Wim, Elly and Sky but they are returning home and we are heading to Palamos, Spain!

11/09/17

The new journey has begun but sadly the Duke will not be joining us this time. He was due for his MOT and failed due to the head bearings and new ones could not be obtained before we left. Over to the garage to get the bicylcles out ( that have not been used in over a year ) and found the gears had ceased and Andy’s back wheel was buckled. There is a bicycle shop where we live called Senacre cycles who had a look and it would have cost us more to fix them than they cost to buy! We decided to buy each other early Christmas presents from Senacre cycles as they were very nice people and gave a very good sales pitch as to why we shouldn’t buy from Halfords.

On the way to the Ardeche to meet our good friends Wim and Elly, was a stop at Le Puy where we celebrated Andy’s 60th. The day started with a trip to the local market where we bought local nectarines and sausages then a walk around the town before Andy’s choice of pizza for his birthday meal.

The evening was finished off with sparkling wine and Aperol spritz.

Le Puy is a very historical town and definitely a place to visit with the St Michel d’Aiguihe chapel, Cathédrale Norte-Dame du Puy and the iron statue of Norte-Dame de France ( The Virgin Mary ). Every evening between 21:30 and 00:00, the they are all lit up with a light show on St Michel d’Aiguihe Chapel.

Le Puy is also one of the many starting points for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the pilgrims begin their journey in the Cathédrale Norte-Dame where they are blessed.