Winter 2018 / 19


Week 15 & 16 - On the road again

Week 15

Having got clearance from the doctor to travel we set about booking a ferry. The several caravan/travel forums I subscribe to all indicate that us Brits are (1) staying at home until after Brexit and European response to UK travellers is known and are (2) staying at home this winter because of the low value of the pound against the euro.

This view seemed very strange when we tried to book a ferry all were so full than none had other than bog standard “basic" cabins available except on the “Brittany Ferries économie” sailing on 27th November. The Brittany Ferries économie is a no-frills brand offering a simple cheaper choice for travel to France and Spain. The ships, Baie de Seine and Etretat, have smaller public areas, limited dining options and more basic facilities than other cruise ferries. It was the only sailing we found with other than a basic cabin not like the commodore cabin we usually book but better than the broom cupboard standard cabin on any of the ferries.

Sunday morning, full of enthusiasm we hitched up and toddled off to Dibles Park Caravan Site near Portsmouth ready to board the MF Baie de Seine early Tuesday morning. Monday dawned bright and sunny, it was to be an easy day with little to do but a little last minute shopping. It was a good day, a pleasant day until we received an email from Brittany Ferries.

Cancelled. Our sailing has been cancelled😱.

The skipper, who obviously has the very last word on the matter, had decided that the forecast for Tuesday/Wednesday was not one that he wanted to sail into. A phone call to Brittany Ferries and we were re-booked on the Wednesday/Thursday crossing, unfortunately there were no commodore cabins available. The one we had booked on the Tuesday crossing was the last one available for a good number of weeks, so we had to accept a standard outside cabin, that meant we got a £65.00 cabin refund and a £15.00 fuel allowance as the original passage was to Santander while the new was to Bilbao and, the original booking was “économie” over £50 less than the new booking which, of course, we were not expected to pay.

We did question the lady who amended our booking as the forecast for Wednesday/Thursday was worse than that for Tuesday/Wednesday but she explained that the latter crossing was on the MF Cap Finistére (our thoughts on this ferry can be read HERE) a much larger and more sea kindly vessel. Perhaps the skipper is also more macho?

As the wind speed was expected to be gusting to 74kph or force 7 at the time we should be travelling to Portsmouth Ferry Port we got up early and arrived before the wind had got vicious but not before the Brittany Ferries computer system crashed causing loading mayhem and an hour delay in our departure.

Despite the bad weather and the small cabin we had quite a good passage although the weather had forced the skipper to reduce speed so we were one and a half hours late arriving which, coupled with the hour and a half disembarking time, put paid to arriving at any campsite before darkness fell. To cap it all a half hour after leaving the port the heavens opened and the rain in Spain fell mainly on us.

We were thoroughly miserable when we arrived at our overnight stop, Camping Fuentes Blancas and had added cold to the misery by the time we had set up camp.

The following morning we had planned to leave early. What a pity we had forgotten to move our clocks forward an hour to Spanish time - Dooh!! Still, although it was (for us) a long day at 391 km (243 ml) it was practically all motorway so despite the late start we were at Camping Monfrague and set up well before darkness fell.

Our fourth travel day running and, hopefully, the last for a week or so, an easier day with just 235 km (146 ml). For this particular journey the sat-nav usually takes us all the way (278 km 172 ml) on motorways but this time decided to offer a shortcut on rural roads between Cáceres and Badajoz which, if you are ever going that way, you can read about, along with the earlier parts of the journey HERE.

We have arrived at Camping Alentejo, one of our Portuguese favourites, where we plan to stay for a week or so eating, drinking and doing little else.

Week 16 

We have indeed spent this week doing very little (I can’t say the same for Sue) but I have enjoyed relaxing and worrying about nothing but when and what to have for the next meal.

The only happening of note was meeting two other couples who spend winter away from UK. The first, Di and John are travelling to the Algarve to meet up with friends at Camping Touriscampo.

Camping Turiscampo, an ACSI site, is a favourite site of Brits on the western end of the Algarve. We have never stayed there but have been told by many travellers that it is a superb site with first class facilities and a great restaurant. We had been told friends Ann and John were spending the winter there and so tried to book one of our favourite sites just five kilometres to its west. Quinta Manjericao is as close to a UK Caravan Club CL as it’s possible to get, just electrickery and water plus black and grey disposal points add to this stunning views from each of the six large pitches. What more could you want?

The only answer to that is a more sympathetic local authority as when we phoned owner Gary we found that said local authority had closed them down. We don’t know what crime they had committed but they will remain closed for three years after which they can apparently appeal.

The obvious option for us then was Turiscampo, which we booked into for fourteen days from early January (only the second time ever we have pre-booked outside UK) and had to pay the full bill when booking, the first time we have pay in advance since buying our first caravan in 1983, but at €19.00 per night it is a more than one would expect to pay in Portugal but is a standard ACSI rate in the rest of Europe and very cheap in the UK.

Sadly when we contacted Ann and John they have left Turiscampo and moved further east to Camping Ria Formosa near Tavaira.

The other couple, Trisha and Paul, we met at Camping Alentejo care going to Camping Ria Formosa for Christmas which happens to be where John and Ann have moved to. Golly gosh, complicated or what??

Weeks 5 to 14 - It’s hateful getting old, but what’s the alternative?

When we returned home we were hoping that a quick visit to the doc’ and a course of tablets would settle everything and we would be back on track.

In a pigs ear!!!

The first trick was to get an appointment with a doctor, there are twelve doctors at the practice we use. The first appointment (with any doctor) was 14 days after we phoned. A long time to wait but the doctor I saw was interested, attentive and despite the reality did not appear time-limited. He prescribed a course of tablets for the coughing, which he had decided was in fact some sort of reflux, a blood test to confirm/deny gout and asked me to return in one month.

One very long month later I presented back to the same doctor who having reviewed the results of the cough tablet deemed them working and prescribed them long term. He had wanted another test to confirm but agreed he would be happy to leave that until we returned in the spring.

From the blood test he had learned that my joint problem was indeed gout and put me on a seven day course of tablets asking me to return when completed. That of course meant fourteen days before I was able to get the next appointment.

Satisfied that it was a correct diagnosis the doctor has now put me on tablet to reduce uric acid in the blood. That medication, it seems, triggers gout attacks so I take another tablet (short term) to prevent those attacks. That prevention tablet one, apparently reacts badly with statins so I have to suspend taking those for a month. Confused? So am I!!

The doc also wanted a blood test in January but I managed to persuade him that it would be better in March.

We are now free till the blood test is due in March, Italy is out as we would be unable and unwilling to rush in order to get there and back in the time for that blood test so the ferry is booked to take us to Santander in Spain and we will yet again go towards Portugal.

Week 3 - A awful beginning but a (very) slightly better end.

This the third week of our Adventure No 10, it (the adventure) was conceived in enthusiasm and optimism but so far has been disappointment and pain, lots and lots of pain.

Fortunately the antibiotics started to work and the jibbering jelly started to turn back into not a rufty tufty bloke - I think he must be hiding somewhere - but a bloke.

We had our first tourist outing of the entire trip today (Wednesday) we were in Valkenburg to get a bit of shopping when we noticed a chair lift up the side of a steep hill, yes I know that sounds strange - a steep hill, or any hill come to that in The Netherlands - but there it was with a chair lift to the top and a strange looking tower on the summit. A return ticket was just €4.00 pp for the pleasant 5 minute ride to the top where there was the strange looking tower with a restaurant on the ground floor but with no apparent way to access the tower itself. Mind you, the number of steps that would obviously need to be climbed . . . 

Still the views were stunning and for the young at heart there was also a toboggan run and an “adventure golf” game.

Back to the doctor today with my little pot of fresh piddle and have been declared infection free - Hurraahhhhhh!!

The plan was to move straight on after the appointment but, what a surprise, the weather has changed, it’s blowing a “hoooley” and no-one who doesn’t have to is likely to tow a caravan today and certainly not a light(ish) single axle job.

Oh dear, the folks next door are just leaving. They are booked in till tomorrow but he says the forecast wind is a lot lighter today than either Saturday, Sunday or Monday. We will keep a close eye but it looks as if we will be leaving here Tuesday nearly a month later than planned and we are still to visit Maastricht.

That visit to Maastricht actually happened today (Saturday), despite the appalling weather forecast the day started warm and still so, directly after breakfast we toddled of to the “park and ride north” from where we caught the €2.00 pp return fare bus to the town centre.

What a huge disappointment. We had visited the town in 2011 and were very impressed but today it was like any other market town, although to be fair by the time we had walked to the town centre and found our first tourist visit, a church, closed for the day and then walked almost back to the bus stop to find the tourist information office which appeared extensive but interested only in those that speak German as a first language - we had had enough.

We did not visit the caves which were high on our list but perhaps one day when I’m feeling less of a grouch . . . .

(beginning of) Week 4 - It’s all gone Pete Tong!!

We were so excited at the start of week 3, I was clear of the lurgie, the sun was back, and we had planned a three day route through Germany into Austria all was well - except for the cough that I was certain had started half way through my course of antibiotics but that Sue says has been driving her nuts for a long time.

After a few very bad days (and nights) of constant coughing we very reluctantly decided to return to UK and see a doctor.

Adventure No 10 has ended almost before it started.

Weeks 5 to 13 - It’s hateful getting old, but what’s the alternative?

When we returned home we were hoping that a quick visit to the doc’ and a course of tablets would settle everything and we would be back on track. 

Week 2 - Not ruffty tuffty but jibbering jelly.

We finished our visit to Dicky last night with a trip to the local Chinese restaurant where we had a good meal with pleasant company, a good end to a good visit.

Our way south was to be via Maastricht a town we visited briefly a few years ago, promising ourselves we would return for a proper stay and our destination for today was Campsite Oriental half way between Maastricht and the tourist town of Valkenburg.

I felt a bit rough when we got up and couldn’t face breakfast, perhaps I had eaten more than I thought at the Chinese last night, or perhaps something disagreed with me (please note no alcohol was involved 😳) but set off looking forward to the day  as it heralded the start of our journey proper.

It was a nightmare.

At various times I felt sick, hot, cold and concentrating on the driving was almost, but fortunately not quite, impossible and we arrived safe but not so sound around 1:30 in the afternoon.

Immediately after setting up I went to my pit and stayed there for two days getting up only to pee which as time went on got smaller in quantity, so more frequent, and increasingly painful. Feeling worse as time passed the camp site receptionist phoned a local doctor surgery for me and explained the problem, then handed the phone to me, the doctors receptionist asked when we would like the appointment. “As soon as possible I said” “Ok come straight down and bring a sample with you.”

Fifteen minutes later we had arrived and booked in at the doctor's surgery, Before we had even sat down and got our books out the receptionist was back with a young woman in tow whom she introduced as the doctor, in her surgery she explained that I had a UTI and would need a course of antibiotics to clear it.

We are now at the end of week 2, the course of antibiotics is half way complete peeing is easier, though still not pain free and things are generally starting slowly to improve but we are stuck here until (hopefully) the all clear after my next appointment on Friday.

I had always thought I was a ruffty tuffty bloke until getting this infection, I now know I am really just a jibbering jelly.

Week 1 - Bl**dy Hell - I hope this doesn’t set the tone for the winter!!

I hadn’t left my chair for nearly a week as the arthritis in my ankles was playing up but on Thursday it was necessary for us to go out so, with Sue driving, we set off. The first time Sue put her foot on the brake the noise made it abundantly clear something was amiss. There was the very distinctive sound of metal on metal not the quietness of metal on brake pad. We tried to phone the garage but they were closed for the night.

It looked like our trip would be postponed before it had even begun. We were planning to travel to Dover Saturday how on earth could we get the car sorted before then??

We were at Witham Vehicle Solutions when they opened at 8.30 next morning but told they would be unable to do anything immediately as they already had ten cars in the workshop for completion today and one mechanic had phoned in sick however they would have a quick look to confirm my diagnosis and then arrange a day when the work could be carried out. The service manager came back a little while later and said it was definitely the rear brake pads but they had no stock and thought it would probably be a couple of days before they could get some. Another wait and back came the manager saying they had located some pads. Back she came a while later and informed us that the discs themselves were shot and would need replacing. I said I understood and ten minutes later a delivery driver walked into the office with two heavy boxes with pictures of brake discs on them.

Not long after the manager came back to say the work was complete and she would prepare the invoice. Blimey - not bad after being told less than three hours before that they couldn’t help for several days

Thanks to Witham Vehicle Solutions help we were able to leave as planned and after a night at “The Field” a C&CC Certified Site we took the 10.00am DFDS ferry to Dunkirk and by 13.00 (local time) were motoring towards our first site of the trip, intended to be “Buitengoed de Boomgaard” but realising that we would not be arriving until after 5.00pm on a Sunday we tried to phone. Neither of us speaks a word of Dutch but when we hear a recorded message telling us that “ . . . het kantoor is van maandag tot zaterdag geopend van negen tot vijf uur . . . “ we can work out that it probably means the office is open Monday to Saturday.

We phoned our next option RCN Vakantiepark Het Grote Bos and a gent who spoke excellent English explained that they had plenty of space and that although the reception would be closed when we arrived the staff in the restaurant would be pleased to help.

The following morning my ankle was still preventing me from walking so there seemed little point in staying so we moved on to Vakantiepark Witterzomer near Assen in the north of Holland.

The remainder of Week 1 has been spent very pleasantly, we haven’t done very much but we have spent some time with Dirkje.

Very pleasant.

A Not So Simple Plan.

We finished the last blog entry with a very blasé statement about checking in each country we pass through if we needed a vehicle Vignette / road Toll Sticker and off we go.

Remembering that for every retirement traveller we have spoken to, Italy has been a “Marmite" country they either loved or hated. The lovers have said the roads were a "little challenging" the haters that they were "bl**dy awful", the lovers said the caravan site pitches were “cosy” the haters said they were “minuscule”.

With the minuscule comment in mind we got out our trusty ACSI books and looked up sizes of some caravan site pitches  in various parts of Italy - 

SHOCK - HORROR!!!

40 sq m is, it seems, not uncommon and 80sq m, which we consider an absolute minimum, seems to be (generally) a maximum, of course there are bigger but . . . .

With this firmly in mind we have bought a smaller caravan especially for the trip, it’s a little long in the tooth but it is a proven design that should be reasonably easy to sell when we get back.

iu-4

Bailey Pegasus 462

iu-3a

Bailey Pegasus 462 - layout

The new (to us) van is two metres shorter and a half tonne lighter than our twin axle Bailey Unicorn Cartagena, the Princess Fiona, who has been our companion for all but our first adventure will go into storage till we get back in the late spring.

Princess Fiona

Princess Fiona

Princess-Fiona-2.jpg

Princess Fiona - Layout

We thought, having been caravanners for 35 years, that we would need to buy nothing extra for the little van, how wrong can you be???

There is no fixed bed, but two sofas that we will turn into two single beds at night. To make them more comfortable to sleep on, by smoothing out the knee rolls upholstery buttons etc, mattress toppers are essential. Sadly the more reasonably priced units for use at home simply don’t fit caravan beds so we bought from Duvalay a company that specialises in toppers and other bedding for caravans.

We didn’t have bedding for single beds, so after lots of research we went shopping for single duvets and bought a pure silk filled duvet for Sue and a silk/hollowfibre fill duvet for me, both of which are very light and purport to be "all season duvets", warm in the winter and cool in the summer so in theory we will not need to carry a summer weight and a winter weight duvet as we normally do.

We have also gone back to our “old” method of making up single caravan beds. The duvets we bought were King Size duvets and we will make up the bed by folding it in half, laying on one half being covered by the other half. Quick and easy to make and srtip and only one item (duvet cover) per bed to wash.

The crockery storage system was awful we ripped it out and replaced with a setup the same as that in Princess Fiona.

The tyres on the Peggy were both less than a year old but one was a summer tyre the other a winter tyre, OK I agree I should have noticed that when we looked at it and got the dealer to match them but I didn’t so it cost me two matched tyres - much to the disgust of the tyre fitter who could not understand why we were changing a new and a one year old tyre. It is illegal to use different tyres on the same axle in many European countries, in fact we are told that, in some European countries, tyres can only be purchased in pairs.

We have moved into the new van and started to empty and clean the old ready to put it into storage till we get back and the first thing I have discovered is that a folded duvet is a most uncomfortable thing to sleep on - how on earth did I manage before - the downy soft silk fibres seem to turn into rock hard ridges after an hour or so of laying on them, so I have jetisoned my new king sized super doooooper silk duvet and bought a single duvet.

Oh well. Live and learn.

When we travel we tend not to “over research", we have, as previously said, a quick look at the "AA Driving in Europe” web page, check if we need a Vignette / Toll Sticker and off we go.

For our next adventure I was aware that both Germany and Austria have winter tyre laws that require all cars etc to have winter tyres identified by the Alpine mark.

 However in Austria the winter tyres are required between 1 November and 15 April, while in Germany there are no specific dates but “. . . vehicles must be equipped in accordance with weather conditions . . . “ having fitted a new set of Continental tyres just eight weeks ago we decided to leave UK mid august to avoid the winter tyre blues.

On reading "AA Driving in Europe” for each of the ten countries we planned to transit we discovered that virtually all require winter tyres - Oh bugger!!!

To stay legal we would need to be in Greece by October 2018 and could not leave until April 2019, and that simply 'aint gonna happen.

Winter tyres apparently wear rapidly if used in summer and (according to several reviews on t’interweb) have what can best be described as “interesting” handling characteristics in hot and wet summer conditions so - what about all weather tyres? There are only two makes of all weather tyres that carry the Alpine mark and just one that that makes them in the 255/60/18 size that I require.

Mitchelin CrossClimate tyres, complete with the Alpine mark, have been fitted, and the Continentals put into store.


A Sinple Plan

. . . Italy, Sicily and Greece

We have spent six of the past seven winters in Spain and / or Portugal and while we love both countries it does get more and more difficult to find new places to visit so this coming winter we thought we would go somewhere completely different.

Italy, Sicily and Greece should be completely different.

We have long wanted to go to Italy, indeed our 1st adventure had originally been designed to visit Italy but a caravan problem caused an unexpected and swift return to UK.

The plan at this time (and is of course subject to change by the month, week, day, or even minute) is first to visit our Dutch friend Dickie in Netherlands then travel south through Germany into Austria, over the Alps, although where and by which pass or tunnel is not yet decided, into Italy. After travelling the lenght of Italy and crossing the Straights of Messina to Sicily, perhaps for Christmas, then to Italy’s east coast town of Brindisi where there is a regualar and frequent ferry service to Patras in Greece.

The journey home is a little more complicated. From Greece the road runs through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and France. The round trip being over 8000 kilometres.

When we travel we tend not to “over research", we have a quick look at the "AA Driving in Europe” web page, check if we need a Vignette / Toll Sticker and off we go!

The “off” is planned for around the middle of August, or the end, or the beginning .  . . . . . . .

This map shows a possible route, red outward and blue home, but, please note, dear reader, that as one of you was unable to accept that haveing no points of interest in Italy did not mean that we were going from Venice to Thessaloniki in Greece in one hit but rather meant that we had done no research between those two points. To hopefully satisfy this person I have added the green route, however it means absolutely nothing other than they are genuinely places in Italy but we have no idea if we will or will not visit them.



© S W Ghost 2018