Sunday, September 6, 2015

Planning? What planning?

We don’t normally plan much for upcoming travels, only the destination and an idea of the route along the way.

This trip is a little different because we will be touring in a big loop with the start being the same as the finish. That is, we’re not just going from A to B, we’re going from A to A! - With loads of places in between…

There is no real time pressure on this trip either other than a couple of commitments in December, although still in the motorhome and at the tail end of this trip. So that’s a good 3 months to wander about.

So we set off mid September(ish) from south of Valencia for the rest of the year…

Caromac has the right idea, when I said I was going to sort out some potential stopovers she asked why? “We only need the first one, after that we’ll see what we find”. Okay then, but the map gives an idea as to where we’ll be looking!

Although the basic map shows about 2500 kms distance we’ll do rather more as we seek out more stopovers to log/photograph/video and hopefully we’ll spend some time at the ones we fancy.

Other than being packed and loaded the van is ready for the off. We hope to have most angles covered regarding internet access while we’re away so we can keep in touch with folks, update our blog from time to time and generally take care of the Club Motorhome website - response times to queries may be a day or two instead of an hour or two!

So, with our route and stopovers ‘not' planned (well very vaguely anyway) we’re getting pretty excited about setting off.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Onwards to France

All went quiet and we got our peaceful night. By next morning the snow had cleared on the roads a little making progress much more enjoyable. Other than TomTom taking us into a residential area via a single track, meaning a reverse out of maybe a kilometre!

Once on the way the main roads were easy. The A15 towards San Sebastian is newish and free and stays far enough south of the mountains to keep fairly clear.

On entering France we headed to our old favourite stopover at Hendaye Plage only to find it had been redeveloped into a new barrier entry parking at a whopping 10€ a night for what amounts to a station carpark, services also no longer free and now require 4€. We pressed on to Biarritz. Also a new barrier entry to the Aire and now 12€ but that does include electricity and services and it IS Biarritz! 

Digger had a fabulous time running wild on the beach which seems tolerated at this time of year. So he was a very happy boy.

From Biarritz we decided to revisit some Aires enroute to our next nightstop. This gave me a chance to photograph and video them to add or update the information on Club Motorhome.

Aires visited we ended up a very quiet Capbreton, the Aire that is - the sea was roaring! After an invigorating walk on the beach we got tucked indoors with the heating on for the night.

We were thinking of staying 2 nights but with the thought of a deadline to get to the Eurotunnel we decided to press on, any spare days could be spent further North.

Several Aires photographed and videoed we pulled in at Roullet in the Poitou region. Bitterly cold and we had a brief chat with a Brit couple in their Bessacarr and again tucked ourselves back in the warm.

Temperatures rarely got above freezing as we carried on our way the next day. A fairly long stretch and arrival in darkness at Villedomer - it started snowing again...

Services turned off we needed a stopover for water soon and we also needed to start looking for a vet for Digger to get his passport stamped. We ended up at Brezolles, an Aire we've used several times and a familiar vet. Mind you they still charged 32€ for the privilege of their rubber stamp! And the water was turned off at the Aire......

We actually manage our water storage quite well in this motorhome. It doesn't appear to spill a drop whilst on the road  (unlike our Bel-Air which could lose a quarter of a full tank) so we got another day out of what we had onboard. We headed for an Aire with paid water supply for our next stop and sure enough the water wasn't turned off. The Aire was at Pont de l'Arch in the Normandy region and what a lovely spot it was too.

The small town beside the Aire was delightful and being a Sunday the market was in full swing. We explored a bit before setting off.

We have the rest of our route fairly well planned but made a slight detour to look at the recently constructed motorhome Aire at Neufchatel en Bray. We hadn't travelled very far but felt it would be nice to park up early and make use of the included electricity and wifi.

Comfort zone and then the opposite

Our next night was at a campsite we often use in the heart of Huesca. It's cheap in the winter due to a seasonal discount and we usually treat ourselves to a meal in their bar restaurant. The steaks are cooked over wood embers and are usually very good, sadly not this time though but never mind.

Our plan from here was to look at some Aires along our route towards the western end of the Pyrenees where we planned to cross into France.

This is where our comfort zone finished! As we left Huesca in freezing weather the skies soon changed from bright and sunny blue to heavy grey and all the roadside warnings were telling us the obvious - snow!

Well it wasn't long before the white stuff appeared and increased in strength. Our target was Jaca to some official parking by the fort. We got to Jaca, which was lovely in the snow, but there was no way we would have been able to access the parking with maybe a foot of snow on the side roads leading to it. So finding somewhere to turn around, no mean feat, we headed off towards Pamplona. This meant missing out on a couple or three Aires further into the Pyrenees - what had I been thinking of?

It was a really long slog all the way mainly in second and third gear due to the road conditions. We also had a two-and-a-half hour delay in a traffic jam!  By the time we got through it whatever it was had been cleared and we're none the wiser as to the cause. The delay did give us a chance to enjoy the winter wonderland scenery, eat lunch and drink tea, unlike the poor folks in their cars.

Arriving at Pamplona it was dark, snow still falling and a nightmare to navigate - and when we got to our parking area it was impossible to access (shows the value of proper inspected and reviewed stopovers!) so we pressed on until we reached a petrol forecourt that wasn't too badly snowed up. Checking my notes I put in the co-ords of the next nearest place and was delighted to find it was only a few kms away. We found the Aire and parked up with another van (British). Unfortunately the snow covering had brought out the boy racers so we had to put up with their skid practice for a while but apart from that we hoped for a quiet night.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wind in the night

We got the early night that we wanted but there was little sleep to be had - howling gales all night. It was like trying to sleep in a boat that was being rocked by waves. It was possible to hear the gusts coming before they hit the van, then bam! I got up during the night to check the security of the roof-lights as they were being torn at by the gusts. Even the folding shower doors has to be clipped back into place as they were swinging and clattering with the motion of the van.

I'm writing this over morning coffee and the wind is still howling. It's going to make interesting driving on today's mountain roads!

So today the roads have actually been quite good, not like the wind which has been atrocious! I had to literally fight the steering wheel to keep a straight line for a lot of the day. Before long we had persistent rain to accompany the wind. Anyway we found a couple of Aires that we wanted to review. One being quite nice, in a big wine growing area. We stopped there for some lunch before setting off for the other which was an odd sort of affair.

Our satnav wanted to take us in via a very narrow route so we chose to ignore it. We then found a motorhome parking sign indicating 100 metres, then about a kilometre on another saying 100 metres, then another arrowing to turn left down a riverside track and then another indicating an impossible turn left into some big trees. We manoeuvred in but then gave up as there was no sign of services so reversed the entry procedure and carried on to our night-stop at Teruel.

We found the mixed parking area opposite the Guardia Civil HQ and parked ourselves in a quiet spot in the far corner. I took Digger for a little walk around and a recce and decided to ask at the HQ if we were OK to stay for the night. I asked the officer on mirror-on-a-stick security duty at the gate in between checking the undersides of incoming vehicles. He confirmed that we were fine and that if we had any worries we could park a bit closer to them so that they could keep an eye on us! This is not the first time that we have had such a friendly response from the Guardia.

Caro went off for an explore and came back with a change of plans for dinner - we're having pizza.

Another motorhome (French) pulled in towing a car on an a-frame and parked at the end nearest the Guardia. They obviously had no qualms about the legality of their outfit - good on them!

Heading North in winter!

To coincide with MOT time for this van we need to be in the UK for March/April so we left our relatively warm and certainly sunny Spanish base with a view to meandering up through France to get a Tunnel crossing on the 11th of February. In order to enjoy what might be the last of our good weather for a while we made a small detour and spent the first 3 nights of our trip at Calpe with some of our friends that had been there since before Christmas.

They're good planners these friends, so on arrival we were immediately whisked off to attend their alfresco Australia Day group lunch. Wow what a treat they laid on! Lots of barbecuing going on obviously and a fair amount of alcohol too.....

The next day another lunch was hosted by other friends (and Club Motorhome members) Starters, mains and desserts from all directions and lots more alcohol..... Not quite sure how we would cope if we stayed here very long .

Our last full day was a little more laid back but somehow still, very nicely, included afternoon teas and more alcohol!

On leaving Calpe our plan was to take some days before crossing into France to explore some Aires that we have become aware of. Fitting these into our route meant that we took some different roads to the ones that we are familiar with and we found ourselves on single track mountain roads inland of Valencia finding the first two.

The views were spectacular as we climbed higher into the inland mountains. The first Aire that we found was above the village of Bicorp. It was a little early in the day to stop so I just took some photos and a video - how windy it had become! Just time for a comfort break and off we'd go.

A little tip for you.... If you leave somewhere at sea level and your toilet cassette is empty and then you climb to high altitude and wish to use the loo, make sure you open and close the toilet blade BEFORE you put anything into the toilet. Do it the other way and the built up air pressure bursts out of the cassette taking anything in the toilet bowl with it - straight upwards to the person operating the flap. I had forgotten my own tip. Oh, how I laughed..........

The weather was definitely changing for the worse...

Lots more mountain kilometres later we arrived at our night-stop outside the town of Turis. The Aire itself is not much to write about other than it's free, has parking bays divided by hedging and has free services. It's also next to a tyre depot and petrol filling station but once you're tucked in with your blinds closed you'd never know. After the social life of the last few days an early night was probably in order.

The immediate surroundings certainly didn't spoil the sunset

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mooching around the Pyrenees

A catchup blog as we have just spent 6 weeks on the road, the first 3 weeks hunting for some more Aires to add to the website listings - and we found some crackers! All of which will be added in as soon as time and internet access allow. The second 3 weeks were guiding some of our Club Motorhome members through some of the lesser known parts of eastern Spain.

We started from our Spanish base and used the newly setup Aire at Daimus for our first stopover. Being not too far from home gives us the chance to get ourselves all setup tidy for the rest of the trip. Expecting to be away for around 6 weeks its handy to pop back for anything major that's been overlooked. As it turned out there wasn't anything to be concerned about.

From there we headed north and stopped at a German restaurant that we had been told about 10€ a night or free if you use the restaurant, which we did. We spent a pleasant evening in company with a Belgian motorhome couple.

Heading north but still in Spain we pulled in at an Aire we used some 3 years ago to check it out as it was due to be one of our stops on the Run in Spain meet in a few weeks time. All was well except for the heat! 37.5 degrees..... We sheltered in the shade of a large building until sundown. With no hookup cooling in the van was limited but we managed. Typically Spanish we were disturbed at about 10.30pm when all hell let loose as the local drum band turned up for a practice session. Loud doesn't even come near to describing it and the sound reverberated around the surrounding mountains. All good natured though....

I had some concerns about one of our rear tyres keeping its pressure as it certainly looked a little soft. Checked with a gauge it certainly was! We called at the first available garage to use their air line. I had recently fitted some posh wheel-trims and matching valve extensions, these had been fine in storage but may have been leaking a little in use.

Up into the Pyrenees we made for the Bielsa tunnel rather than going right over the top. Still plenty of winding steep climbs though and our unreliable temperature gauge was dancing all over the place - mainly in the red! I had checked though and nothing was that hot under the bonnet so I knew not to be alarmed by it. We had to wait at the entrance of the tunnel for our turn at the contraflow system and the van didn't like that at all. The trouble with all this computer controlled system things is where they get their info from....... The engine was not overheating but the gauge sensor(s) said it was so the system shut the engine down to half power just as we had to lead a queue of traffic through 4kms of tunnel - great! All was restored as we exited and started downhill again and no troubles since!

We had a schedule to keep in that we were due to meet up with caromac's sister who was going to be on holiday near Bergerac, but until then we could just wander from Aire to Aire. The first we came to, not far from the Bielsa tunnel was high up in the Pyrenees. By a ski station and more or less deserted at this time of year we found ourselves completely along and were absolutely stunned by the magnificent views from our overnight parking spot...

Next morning the tyre was well down again... Then I remembered I had a small tyre compressor somewhere. Connecting this just let more air out - the compressor pipe had perished. With no air lines within miles we gingerly drove down the mountains and looked for possibilities of help in the villages. We came across a small council depot and they said I could use their compressor - brilliant! It didn't work! Not so brilliant. With even less air in the tyre now we crept along. I spotted a small farm complex with a blue cylinder just inside the door, a compressor perhaps? Pulling in there were a couple of lads working there and it was indeed a compressor... and it worked! They wouldn't take any beer money as a thanks but we were very grateful. I removed the offending valve extension and we've had no more troubles since.

We slipped into a daily routine of generally heading in the direction of Bergerac but wandering off course to check out any likely Aires, staying at ones we liked.

To be continued.....

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Van fixed, onwards and downwards (south that is) :)

Well the RAC did us proud, the warranty company were a complete waste of space (as expected to be honest) and we are back in business!

The Iveco agent replaced the big old aluminium casting which is the alternator and ancillaries support, belt tensioner and belt itself at, what we think is quite a reasonable cost, 360€. So it could have been a lot worse!

Anyway we retrieved to van and carried on with our travels stopping at the Aire at Benicassim for the night.

From there it was just a couple of hundred kms to our Spanish base where I can now settle down for a while and update the Club Motorhome website with all our new stopovers.

A trip to remember!