Friday 7 September 2018

Libby's Spanish Odysey - week 1

Day 1 of Libby's Spanish road trip. 
Still in France, near St  Cyrien, With the med and Pyrenees as a back drop. A bit cloudy though. Good day for kite surfing....if only I was 30kgs lighter!

Day 2, Libby's Spanish Odyssey
I suppose I should explain that Libby (Sunday name: LMC Libery) is our 18 year old campervan. We bought her to see if it was a holiday lifestyle we would enjoy and, two years later, believe it is. We had even considered trading her in for a newer model but find that the solid German build of this machine is mostly superior to the newer lighter models on sale today, so she stays, for another year or so at least. 
So, we have embarked on a 3 week tour around the coast of Spain, my wife, 2 dogs and I, and this is now day 2.
Last night we stayed in Argeles, on the Mediterranean coast just north of the Spanish border in France. Although our mission is to mainly park in remote areas, known to many as 'wild camping' for the 1st couple of nights it was easier to settle into a campsite, park up and hook up, and relax a while. The spot we chose was right near the beach, so we could walk the dogs, Pooper and Louis on the sand, and then fire up the bbq. Before dinner we ventured to the bar to find it was just about to launch one of its dreadful 'entertainment evenings', something which campers, especially the French, seem to enjoy. Well not I. I am not good in company at best of times, and definitely not amongst French pop music.
Anyway, after a previous evenings party till the small hours before we left our parish in Lot et Garonne, it had been a tiring drive of nearly 4 hours so, after a deliciousl meal of bbq pork, an early night was called for, complete with earplugs to drown out the offensive.
This morning I dusted off my bike, a rusty affair which is even older than the camper, and took to the path alongside the beach for  few miles, avoiding the numerous athletes running the same course. What is it with folks that, even when they are on hols, feel the need to go running everyday? Beats me. I mention the age of the bike and suppose I have to come clean here and admit it is one I stole from an Indian, be it many moons ago. To explain further would only dig a deeper hole in the sand but suffice to say it was left lying around in an office I had been working in, so one day I rode it home without sufficient permission from the owner, one Shrikant Kanteti, a guy I knew and liked. I do keep in touch with him on social media, so SK, if you get to read this... I have your bike, sorry pal. It is alive and well and, for sure, nobody will steal it from me as it cant be worth more than 50p!
From Argeles it is a short trip across the border to Barcelona, which brings me back to the present, another campsite, this time in Casteldefels, about 10kms from the city. I have to admit that, so far, it isnt great but we will make the most of another night amongst socalled civilisation before we drop anchor somewhere more rural. Tomorrow a trip into the city is planned, by bus, as my wife wishes to show me the sights of a place she has frequented, but one that is new to me. I am not great with cities, either, but will view with an open mid and open lens. The remainder of today will be spent in a bar, on the beach, as is the remit of holidays the world over. See you tomorrow campers.
PS, my new laptop does not have any software on it, so writing this in notepad. Pls excuse the spelling, I will tidy it up, one day.

Day 3 - Libby goes au naturale..
I have never been in Barcelona airport, yet today I feel like I have lived there for a month! On the runway, in a tent!  Nowhere in the brochure for this hellhole of a campsite did it mention that it was positioned right under the main flightpath, with planes arriving every 30 seconds, delivering more hoards of tourists to pollute the area further. Couple that with enough feral children to keep the Fagin in business for a few years, except these ones all ride on brand new bikes, probably all stolen, while their trailer bound parents sit around smoking Camel and ignoring them - til one oclock in the morning. Add in a decibellia of yapping dogs and you have a situation even the industrial strength ear plugs I packed for the journey fail to negate. To top it all, stifling heat, still air, and then cacophonous thunderstorms add to the hopefully forgetable experience of this place. At least we didnt need an alarm clock to wake us at first light, so we could rapidly vacate. Asta la vista, Castelldefels, we wont be back!
Just a few kms down the road, we dropped into the massive harbour at Port Ginesta, where our friends Mike and Jane have just bought a boat. Well, to call it a boat is like calling a stretched limmo a family car; so huge is this vessel. They hadnt got the keys to it yet, so we couldnt take it for a spin, not that I would know what to do with a 57 foot yatch, although the gangplank was down and I was temped to step aboard and and at least try out the furniture.
After our poor experience in Barcelona's suburbs, with its gypsy ghettos and overhead traffic, we decided to leave the place behind us, and visit it another day in a more civilised manor, possibly by air or sea, and certainly stay more centrally in a 5 star lux.
So now, 5 hours later, we have our 1st thousand clicks behind us and are stationed up in a forest somewhere near Valencia. It took a bit of navigating to, this gravel patch in the Sierra Caldrona, part of a Parc National, but apart from a distant hum of a motorway, the only other sound is that of the crickets and the occasional cork popping. Tonights dinner is a pork tenderloin marinated in mango salsa on the bbq, with some fresh veg and cool water melon. Sadly the stream we are parked next to has long dried up through the summer months, so no outdoor bathing tonight, but have all other equipment onboard. And, of course, the doors will be firmly locked, such is the isolation of the venue. If this blog ends here, you will know we have been either eaten by bears or wolves, or kidnapped by yiks and condemned to dance and squeal to the tune of a banjo for the remainder of our days!

Day 4. Nothing to declare
What it says above. Arrived here in the midst of nowhere yesterday afternoon after 1000 kms journey. Intentions of going into Valencia market this morning evaporated after a poor nights sleep blighted by intense heat and mozzies, all of which were far more concentrated inside a campervan. A naked sortie outside at 3am did cool things a wee bit but I think the additional heat may have contributed to my wife's nasal issues, which transpired into a snuffling sound that even mother nature would have been scared to tackle around here. It May have kept me awake but certainly kept the coyotes away! Anyway, after a late breakfast, and a long walk in the mountains with 2 tired dogs, we decided that an oeuf was an oeuf  (French joke) and stayed put, spending the afternoon playing scrabble, connect 4, and a few other games that I narrowly managed to win. So a day without my bum behind the wheel has been well received.
Tonight I am gourmeting (Good scrabble word) sweetcorn with chicken in a whisky sauce, with intentions of drinking the latter later! Well, it is a bottle of Scapa, DB Clem

Day 5 - life's a beach
I have often scoffed at folks who go on holiday then sit on the beach for 2 weeks, next to thousands doing the same. Well, today we join them. Except there aren't that many around here. It is obvious we are travelling further south as we are starting to hear more british voices, but our spot here in Oliva, just north of Denia  is very quiet and, dare I say it, has a touch more class.
We never did get the market in Valencia, not for the want if trying.  For nearly an hour we manourvered Libby through its charming but clogged up streets looking for a place to park for an hour, but no cigar. Note to self...come back again, by air; Valencia looks beautiful.  
I have and never will own a caravan but, for insurance purposes only, we joined their club and am thus a card carrying member, much to my embarrassment. However it has its uses as we not only discovered this place through their website but it affords us a discount. Compared to a few other gypsy ghettos we have looked at, the campsite here at Kikoport is clean, upmarket and secure. It is so close the beach that by the time Wendy has unpacked her underwear I was already in the med, cooling my bits. A lunch of garlic prawns and various fried fish, and its a bottle of chilled blanco in a beach bar wondering but not caring what day it is.
They even let dogs on the beach, although possibly not ones who bark for hours and want to fight with the locals! Tonight I might even hoy the gas barbie down to the beach and rustle up a fishy treat, if I can be arsed.  Or even sleep there myself. 
What day was it again? Or yes, it's couldnt-give-a-f*ck day!

Basking in the sun

OK, at last a month of being in one place, the first for quite a while. Our trip to Scotland last month was a good one and it was nice to be there in mid-summer and even get a dip in the Firth of Forth on a couple of occasions. The weather was superb and our trip to the golf Open an exceedingly memorable one. Since then I have been cooling my heels in the pool in France, in insufferable temperatures which make it nigh on impossible to do any work at all. Even mowing the lawn becomes a marathon as the sweat pours. Well it did. Only now the grass has been replaced with a brown desert that has become a considerable fire risk and with this comes the problem of keeping the sheep in fodder. Thankfully we have reduced our numbers as some have been sent to that big freezer in the sky and a few more sold for breeding but we still have upwards of 20 hungry mouths to keep full. After over a month without it, the rain did eventually arrive in a spectacular fashion last Tuesday, spurring the mother of all thunderstorms and a deluge of a couple of inches of water, all of which was swiftly swallowed up by the 3-inch cracks in the ground. But at least it has cooled down enough that we can actually venture outside without the risk of sunstroke and char-burns. Currently we have family here, some of whom are muttering about not bringing their jumpers, but for once we are not having to treat 3rd degree burns each evening!
So, with the weather this week not quite perfect for sun-bathing for these youngsters, out have come the board games and boy do we have lots of them in the attic. As well as Trivial Pursuits, Monopoly and Rummikub, we have gone through Buccaneer, Mousetrap and a host of others I had not played since my childhood. With most of these exhausted in 24 hours, and many of the obscure ones far too complicated, eventually we bring out the good old playing cards. Except I find that the likes of Whist and Strip Jack Naked have now been superseded with all sorts baffling new games with names like Uno, Spoons, War and the aptly titled Bullsh*t, none of which I can understand, let alone win! So, eventually, I decided to come up with my own game. The concept is simple. You all live on an island together where you spend the first half of the game trying to annoy the hell out of all your neighbouring countries. Then you take a vote, with no idea what you are voting for, which is followed by hours of internal squabbling. Finally you now have to convince the same neighbouring countries to buy your produce. Oh, wait a minute….that’s for real!
Later this week sees the annual Oyster festival in the local town of Eymet, something we have religiously attended over the past 10 years. Except now it is now longer a few producteurs selling their freshly delivered catch of crustaceans but instead has evolved into a full-blown food fest with stalls purveying everything from horse’s entrails to raging hot Moroccan dishes full of unrecognisable ingredients. Eymet being in the heart of Dodogneshire, many of the revellers are of the ‘shuffling brit’ origin so now there are also pop-up fish’n’chip stalls on every corner to fulfil their insular requirements. Hence their snaking queues clutter up the otherwise pretty town, with their Brexit-berating chatter and ridiculous headgear, and we are forced to hide our embarrassing Britishness behind in a large plate of escargot in a secluded corner! 
By the end of the month it will be goodbye Brits in France and hello Brits in Spain as we take to the road again, this time working our way down the Med coast to see a friend near Malaga. I have to say we have both quite taken to life in a campervan so we have extended the trip to circumnavigate the whole country, working our way back up the Atlantic coast, taking in a wee sortie into Portugal en-route. This, of course, does flag up a few linguistical challenges as neither of us has more than a smattering of Spanish and zero Portuguese. Until recently I believe we could have happily got by in our native tongue but, apparently, we have done no deals with them yet over the legal use of our language, post-brexit, so English has been instantly removed from their curriculum! Oops, that’s 3 times I’ve mentioned the ‘B’ word this month. Reign it in Fraz, lets change the record!
I mentioned earlier that I recently took a dip in the North sea but I am not sure if I would have been quite so hasty to do so had I read a recent news article that suggested those very waters may well be shark infested. I was aware we had seals, dolphins and even the odd whale. But sharks, really? Yes, you read it here first, whole colonies of sharks have been spotted swimming, or more specifically basking off the coast of Scotland earlier this year. Although mainly confined to the West coast, seemingly basking sharks have migrated north for a spot of mating and, according to the article, have taken up parallel swimming, nose to tailing and going round in circles as part of their courtship rituals. Rumours that they learnt all these moves after a night out in a Fife nightclub are unfounded but one local swears he spotted a couple of them heading to the kebab shop at midnight asking for deep fried plankton!  

Open bee season

Tennis, golf, football – these are just a few things which I have replaced my busy working day with for a month or two. Obviously there is still gardening, cooking, shepherding etc keeping me on my feet but it is nice to find some time to watch a bit more sport on TV. However, one cannot help noticing the surprising lack of youngsters reaching the top of their sport, as we see Nadal, Federer and Djokavich still sharing the limelight, after 70 year olds Higgins and Williams dominating the snooker earlier in the year. At least the England football team fielded a few enthusiastic new kids on the block and, I believe, conducted themselves rather well in a sport generally polluted by money and prima donnas.
Speaking of which, the morning after England's exit from the World Cup, I popped down to the village bakery for a loaf. Now Wendy has a sporty wee drop-head car so I thought I would take it for a spin, tops-off. Well anyone who has seen me lately wouldn’t help but notice it has been quite some time since I last sat in front of a barber and thus my curly locks flow across my eyes in an open-top ride. I am not usually one for baseball caps, which I believe should be confined to the under twenties and Americans but, in this instance this headgear does come in handy. Remembering there was one in my golf bag, I grabbed it and put it to good use. It wasn’t until I saw myself in the mirror in the shop that I realised it was none other than the cap I had bought in Croatia 6 weeks ago whilst on a speedboat trip. And here I was, an Englishman, now supporting the very team that France was to face in the final! No wonder the chap behind the counter spat on my croissants!
Anyway, here in France the summer has certainly turned up at last, although the vista is as green as I have ever seen it for the time of year and the lake still nearly full. Of course, with it come all the usual accompaniments: flies, sunburnt guests, hay fever, bloody wasps. I mention the latter as, over the last few years, those stripy creatures seem have taken a personal liking to me. I swear, in a crowded area it will always be me getting stung and shrieking out, being offered like some sort of human shield to protect everyone else. I only wish I was so attractive to women! Biggest problem is that I am completely allergic to them - wasps that is, not women - and come out in itchy black blotches that last for weeks, despite my veins swishing with cocktails of antihistamine.
On the subject of Women, I seem to have a house full just now, as a number of Wendy's Edinburgh friends are staying this week and piling on the sun-tan lotion. As she is still working during the day it is my designated job to sit by the pool and entertain these ladies, as well as feeding and watering them by night. I have to admit, there are worse jobs in life. Amongst this highly intelligent throng, conversations have waged from the usual Trump and Brexit, through to Love Island and Bee rescue. The latter subject did cause a slight stir after one admitted that she regularly picked up exhausted bees, took them home and fed them sugar from a spoon, as advised by Sir David Blue Planet himself. On questioning this method, Google soon found it out to be a hoax posted on social media by pranksters, for reasons better known to themselves. Seemingly, although bees are essential to the survival of our species, they are not quite suffering from hypoglycaemia yet.  
The downside of this crowded house, does mean that all the bedrooms are occupied, nobly confining me to sleep a couple of nights in the camper in the garden. I have no objection to this; in fact I quite enjoy it. That is until 6am when the damn pigeons start up with their stupid inane calling to each other from the treetops. Do these critters still have a function in society? I mean, since we replaced their messenger skills with mobile phones, what other purpose could they possibly serve, apart from spoiling crops and making the odd pie? For the last 2 days there has been an irresistible temptation to get out the 4-10 at dawn and fell them all from the branches. However, I am not sure this would have met the approval of our international bee rescuer in the household, especially if she looked out of the window to see a strange angry man wondering around in his undies with a loaded gun!
Anyway, today we are heading north once again, back to sunny Scotland for a spot of renovation work, as my new kitchen has arrived at last. The centrepiece of our week will be two days at the British Open Golf tournament at Carnoustie, which is not a million miles from our Fife home. Watch out for this hairy guy on TV, he'll be the one in the Croatia hat!