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Viva Espania!

  • Submitted by: Ivan Andrusiak, United Kingdom
  • Submission Date: 23rd Feb 2007

Saturday 30th December 2006, Wednesday 3rd January 2007.

First let me wish all my readers a Happy New year from both Anne and me and hope that this finds you safe and well.

We decided to approach this trip a little differently from the way in which we went about going to the Ukraine. When we left for the Ukraine we were totally stressed, we had difficulty hitching the car to the caravan, which immediately knocked our confidence, especially as the neighbours were out watching as we struggled (pride before a fall).
This time we prepared the caravan days in advance. We loaded the car and the caravan then hitched the two the day before the journey, this process was helped by having the tow ball raised by two inches, I never thought that such a small measure would make such a difference. Both car and caravan sat on the drive majestically, pointing in the right direction as we joined our neighbour Roy to celebrate his 50th birthday, on the Saturday night.

New Years Eve 2006

We awoke early (for us), as we were both excited and keen to get the final things into the car and be on our way. The weather was cold but clear of any of the wet stuff. We had a last look around making sure that all was secure and that nothing was left. A little after 9 a.m. we were on our way. When we got off the Ridgeway I asked Anne if we had the Great Britain road atlas. We hadn’t! Although we have Sat Nav and every conceivable map of Europe, we didn’t have the one thing that you need when all else fails. So no further than 100 yards from the house we stopped and Anne made her way back to retrieve the atlas.

We were soon on our way, giving ourselves plenty of time to get to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth, the latest we have to be there is 4 p.m. and the boat doesn’t go until 5.p.m.

The journey down was, thankfully, uneventful. The funny thing about any journey undertaken where a sea has to be crossed or any country has to be explored. People (relatives), take great delight in telling you about the negatives. Of which on this trip there were two. One being; the Bay of Biscay to cross, the other being the Basque Separatist attack on Madrid airport. We knew that the weather forecast was pretty horrendous. We also planned on visiting Madrid. The number of people who mentioned both the Gales reeking havoc in the UK and the bombing in Madrid does not bare thinking about. Anne who is to Sailing what a slug is to salt, had been popping her travel sickness pills with gusto!

We arrived at the docks by 1 p.m and were surprised to find that about a hundred or so caravans and motor homes were already queued waiting to board the ferry. Amongst the caravanners I would say that we were the youngest pair there. Any anxieties I had about the journey began to subside when I saw the many people who were also undertaking a similar adventure .
As we entered the dock area and showed our reservation papers a girl gave us our boarding pass and a letter.

The letter, basically said that the weather was going to be atrocious, the wind was going to be storm force, but the ship was equipped with the most sophisticated technology which will enable it to withstand anything that the forces of nature can throw at it. I interpreted this to mean that we were all going to die!
Anne just imagined herself drowning in a sea of vomit.
My anxiety returned.

Not to be daunted we joined the queue and spoke to other happy campers, there’s no turning back, we just have to get on with it.

Whilst waiting to board and with much time to kill, I undertook to hide a key for the safe in the caravan. Anne was to stay in the car and seek out the key when I had found a suitably secure location. I undertook my task with the zeal of a professional smuggler. I searched high and low, tapping shelves and feeling my way to the darkest recesses of cupboards and shelves, until I decided on a place which I was sure would flummox even the most experienced search party.

I approached Anne with more than a little confidence, that I had completely and utterly, hidden the key and would enjoy watching her struggle as she undertook to accomplish her impossible task!

‘It’s in the cushion!’
‘Its in the cushion!’
‘You cheated!’
‘I didn’t your just SO predictable!’

Now you can understand why I don’t have any secrets from Anne.

We eventually get on board and find our cabin 4012, its not the QE2, but it’ll do!

We explore the ship and are pleasantly surprised. We decide to freshen up and go to dinner. We are having the waiter silver service, with all the trimmings, after all it is New Years Eve.

My sister Kath and her husband John, have commented how much we go on about food in our journals, so I won’t labour the meals suffice to say that it was very good.

We went on to enjoy an evenings entertainment, which included a cabaret and a very good homage to Rod Stewart. The boat sailed across the channel out onto the Solent and headed South West towards the Bay of Biscay. It was rough! The boat lurched and heaved and remarkably Anne suffered no ill effects, by Jove those pills are good.

We made friends with a couple from Ramsgate, Barbara and Andy, she a teacher and he a Steward on the Dover Calais ferry, he gets the cruise for free as a perk of the job.

We welcome in the New Year with much shaking of hands and frivolity, we hit the sack about 1 a.m.

We had done 158 miles today.

Monday 1st January 2007

The boat has pitched and rolled through the night, Anne is OK, sort of. It is about 9.30 a.m. I ask if madam requires any breakfast? ‘Just some toast’.

There aren’t many people about as the ship is almost carrying out summersaults as it winds it’s merry way. The captain has reduced the speed so as to make the voyage a little more comfortable. A display that shows the boats progress indicates that we have barely left the coastline of the Isle of White.

Have a full breakfast and a pot of tea. The toast that comes with my breakfast together with another pot of tea is taken to Anne.

She is dressed and happy to see me, I haven’t the heart to tell Anne of our slow progress, instead the captain comes on the public address system and saves me a job. Because of the storm and the head winds, we may be delayed as much as several hours, unless the weather conditions improve.

This seems to sink Annes resolve, but she bravely keeps her chin up, she seems happier laid down then anything else, so we stay in the cabin for the rest of the day. At least she is not being sick!

About I feel ravenous and ask Anne if she fancies anything?

She replies, ‘Chips!’

I go to the cafeteria where I get chicken and chips with a sweet, of blackcurrant cheesecake. I also get a plate of chips for Anne. I take these to Anne. No sooner does she see and smell the food, she throws up into the waste basket. Anne apologises profusely as I try to save the food from being splashed. She says ‘I think it was the sight of the cheesecake.’
I very sensitively eat the dinner and sweet with my back to her, Anne manages a few chips.

She is not sick again.

Anne is determined to stay in the cabin for the rest of the day, I go to the bar and strike up a conversation with the Rod Stewart performer who although from Streatham in London, now lives in Worcestershire at a place called Malvern. So we had a right old chin wag.

I got back to Anne about 10.40 p.m. when we hit the sack for the final time on the boat.

I must say I slept well. Anne has a disturbed night.

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

We are awoken at 7 a.m. when a lady’s voice informs us that we will be in the Port of Balboa by 9.30 a.m which is only two and a half hours late. Anne is relieved to be seeing the back of the ship. ‘ I will never do that trip again!’
I wonder if now is the right time to remind Anne that we ARE doing the trip again in September when we do another cruise with Anne’s sister and brother in law.

We both go to breakfast; this is the first time this year that Anne has left the cabin.

We get to speak to a few of our fellow passengers, there is a mix of people who are like us, visiting for a prolonged stay over winter, and those ex pats who are returning to homes in Spain and Portugal.

We are eventually allowed back to our vehicles, its amazing to discover both car and caravan are exactly where we left them, we imagined that they would be part of a tangled mass of metal and glass fibre.

We are no sooner in the vehicle when we are being ushered out into the cool Spanish sunshine and on our way, hurriedly getting the sat/nav programmed.

As we drive out of Bilboa, I can’t help but feel as though we are at long last back on the road where we feel happiest, travelling and experiencing the world, as it should be! We heard a good saying the other day which is becoming a bit of a mantra for us, ‘Its not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years that counts!’

Diesel here is 90 c a litre compared to 93 p a litre at home, which makes it a third cheaper, almost a pleasure to fill up.

The roads are very good, we do make a bit of a mistake with our directions and end up driving through a city centre which with a large caravan is not to be recommended.

We arrive at Camping El Escorial about 6 p.m. it is just about daylight, but the sun goes down quicker than a British heavy weight and we are placing the caravan on a pitch in the dark, it gets very cold very quickly. We are tired and hungry, nerves are frayed, but as always we make up and get on with setting up. We then take a drive to the nearby town (El Escorial) where we have a meal in a traditional Spanish restaurant. I have Ribo Torre (shin beef) and Anne has Viennese (veal) Escalope. It was great. As I am driving I resist the temptation to have a drink, Anne has a wine and a liquor and is in good spirits.

We are home for 9 p.m. and bed quickly follows, although its minus degrees outside the caravans central heating system makes the inside ‘snugly bugly’.

We have completed 287 miles today

Wednesday 3rd January 2007

At 8.30 a.m. we are awoken by a strange whining noise, as it is neither Anne or I who are responsible we investigate. Looking out onto a tree lined and empty caravan park, we can see that there is a heavy frost, the sky is blue and the sun is beginning to rise. The whining would appear to be work men cutting down trees with buzz saws.

We would appear to have been too ‘snugly bugly’ as we have, during the night created a great deal of condensation, which has caused our clothing to get damp in some of the upper lockers. No problem, we remove the clothing and dry the lockers.

There is one other caravan near by, owned by a Spanish couple. The wash rooms are about 200 metres away, everything is bathed in bright sunshine, but first thing in the morning it is cold, brr!

We get our act together and decide to do some touristy things and obtain a map from reception. I know that there is a monastery nearby, I mention this to the receptionist, who points it out on the map. I notice a cross on the map she gave me and ask her what this place is, she says it is worth a visit and today is free. Can’t say fairer than that!

We head off for this place called Santa Cruz Del Valle De Los Caidos. This is a memorial for one General Franco and is also a commemoration for all those who died during the Spanish Civil War, which ever side. It was built in the early fifties and is a most fantastic place. Those of you who have internet will have to do a search and see the monument, as it is hard to explain the enormity of it. The grandeur of the basilica, a cathedral cut into a mountain, lined with granite and decorated with enormous bronze statues, at the centre was a golden dome decorated with a gold mosaic. We were gob smacked! Anne even went up a vernacular railway a thousand feet up!

We then visited the monastery which was a bit of a let down after the above visit, but beautiful in its own way.

The town of El Escorial was unique, they were preparing for the celebration of the procession of the Kings. This is when the Spanish people celebrate the birth of Christ with the giving of presents, as they do not celebrate Christmas with Father Christmas as we do.

Every where you went there were life size papier-mâché effigies of characters from the nativity, but also elephants and tigers?

We had a hot chocolate on a terrace and watched a Spanish lady park her new looking Renault Espace, by first hitting the car in front then the car behind, then a large bollard with her nearside door and rear wheel arch.

She didn’t seem that bothered!

Had us enthralled as well as a couple sat next to us who were watching intrigued.

We visited a supermarket and bought a few provisions. We didn’t go over the top as we would have to carry everything we didn’t use 300 or more miles south.

We got back to camp El Escorial and as it was still daylight had a little ride around. It is a huge place, with a mix of permanently located static caravans and cabins plus areas for the likes of us and tents.

We also found a massive double decker coach which had a Ukrainian registration and flag. I got talking to a couple of Ukrainian lads, who were with a Ukrainian youth orchestra doing a tour of Europe. So I was able to practice my Ukrainian linguistic skills. They had been here at this campsite since New Years Eve.

Can I say that Anne has been in her element talking to everyone in Spanish, phrase book in hand. We have yet to meet some one from Greece, but I expect we will.

We made dinner in the caravan, I was allowed to write the journal, while Anne cooked and cleaned. It reminded me of when I was at School and my sisters would have to, ‘Do the pots’ whilst I pretended to be busy doing my homework.

A quiet night in!

Just a few miles here and there, tomorrow we go to Las Rossas, hopefully to have the car serviced

Third instalment

Thursday 4th January 2007.

Anne has not slept at all well, vis-à-vis, neither do I. The alarm clock is set for 7.15 a.m. We intend to be at Las Rossas and the KIA garage for 9 p.m. and according to Auto route express its 22 miles away.

We get away with plenty of time to spare and are being directed by our Sat/Nav. The only problem is that many of the roads have been improved recently and junctions altered. So the lady whose comforting tones generally take us to where we want to go, lets us down this morning. We end up missing the town we want and find ourselves a few miles down the road and asking the Police for directions. They were very helpful and I think enjoyed practicing their English. We still made it to the KIA garage on time and the car was accepted, with my instructions, which I translated with Babel Fish (internet facility) into Spanish. We thought we were making a bit of a saving by having the car serviced in Spain. The car would be ready for 1 p.m., but we agreed to be back no later than 4 p.m.

We were off to experience the delights of Madrid; neither of us has been there before.

We caught a bus into the town and then a tram into the centre, a place called Sol (sun). I am making this sound all perfectly straight forward, but at every juncture we had to seek advice from the locals, who were most happy to help.

One chap in Sol, whom we asked to direct us to the tourist information office, got onto the phone to his office (he worked for the council). When there was no reply, we explained that we were after a sight seeing tour and he said that we could catch a bus virtually across the road. No sooner had we got to the bus stop than a bus appeared.

The bus was one of those open top affairs, you pay more money than Solomon could lay his hands on, you get some head phones then sit in the fresh air and watch the world go by, whilst a recorded voice tells you about the sites that appeared a minute before he mentions them. So you are forever turning your head to see what you have missed and pulling the bloody earphones out of the socket.

Did I mention that it was zero degrees in the shade? The sun warmed you up but the wind chill from sitting atop this bus for an hour caused both Anne and me to suffer hyperthermia.

All we can say is that Madrid is much the same as Athens, Paris, London etc. Still we only had a short visit, so we cannot make any valid judgements on the place, but I would not recommend the city tour the way that we did it.

We left the bus and sought comfort in a cup of hot coffee and walked back through the city intending to retrace our journey back to the car.

We managed to find an internet Café Zarrah, where we uploaded the story so far and some photos.

Then we went to a restaurant to have the meal of the day, which was three courses for an economical 12 euros (£8 ish) including wine.

The restaurant was part of a foyer for a hotel and had a revolving door; we sat at a table just inside the door and below some steps that led to a bar. Where we sat, we had a good view of people passing by. Anne sat facing the revolving door and I sat on her right with a similar view. I placed my jacket on the chair to my right and the rucksack behind me.

The meal passed without incident and we thought it was very good.

We both noticed people passing by outside, especially two swarthy characters who were in company with an African looking chap. The two swarthy looking chaps looked to be deciding where they were going to eat. They went out of view for a short while.

We by now had paid the waitress and were waiting for our change, when one of the swarthy coloured gentlemen came in and before he sat at the table next to ours, he very purposefully moved one of the chairs under the table so he could pass it and sit with his back to us. He was in his forties, thick set and wore a leather jacket. He had striking features.

Both Anne and my instincts were working overtime. Rather than wait for our change, I got up and put on my coat which was on the chair next to this chap. The rucksack was still on the floor behind me.

As I zipped up my jacket, this mans colleague came in through the revolving doors and said something to me about the hotel and pointed up the stairs. This was obviously a distraction. As I looked up the stairs the man who was sat down went for the rucksack, but for whatever reason could not get hold of it. This was in full view of Anne. Both men walked up the stairs and out the door on the far side of the bar.

This happened in a matter of seconds. We told the waitress and she spoke to some other people who had witnessed the episode. We saw all three men together again making their way up the busy road, arguing amongst themselves. Sadly no police were in the vicinity and the incident remains unreported.

We counted our blessings; the target may well have been my jacket, which did have wallet, phone and other walk about paraphernalia, in the pockets. The bag may have been a spontaneous effort, when the jacket was no longer available. We will, thankfully, never know.

We are treating this incident as a wake up call, and intend to remain ‘switched on!’

Having had our bit of excitement for one day, we decided to wind our weary way back to the KIA garage. So we got on the wrong bus, my fault. Anne realises before we end up too far out of our way and we get back on track.

At the garage, the car is ready and all we have to do is pay, I am more than a little disappointed as the cost is much the same as it would have cost in England, never mind. Had we not had the car serviced here in Madrid we might not have suffered hyperthermia, or almost been the victims of crime.

Don’t let me paint too bleak a picture, we really are having a laugh, the experience is marvellous and everyone we have spoken to have been friendly and helpful.

We get the car back to the caravan site and pay them for the privilege of our company. We pack up ready for the morning as we intend to do the 300 miles or so to Torrevieja in one go tomorrow.

We have a quite night in.

Friday 5th January 2007.

I awake before the alarm and contemplate today’s journey. It is as black as pitch outside. Anne is still asleep. I peek outside and am surprised to see that it is clear of any rain or snow. It is quite mild outside, the thermometer on the car says 6 degrees, which compared to the previous morning is warm.

We are packed up and off by 8.30 a.m. The roads seem quieter than yesterday and we negotiate Madrid by following the Michelin route backed up by the Sat/Nav. We come across our first traffic jam, where we crawl along at a sedate pace for 6 or 7 miles. We eventually pass the scene of a vehicle fire, the circumstances of which we can only imagine. We are then off at our regular 50 mph heading south towards Valencia.

Driving along the roads here is a pleasure. Even though we have had to put up with some fog on the way out of Madrid, the roads seem to allow traffic to flow freely, there does not feel to be the pressure that driving in the UK makes you feel. Once we left Madrid and the fog behind, we had blue sky and totally clear visibility. The temperature never went up above 7 degrees, all the while we were up above 700 metres. The scenery was spectacular, from vast expanses of undulating cultivated plains, to mountainous and rugged dry chalky hills. We entered volcanic valleys where you crossed basins that were surrounded by mountains as far as the eye could see. We climbed mountains and enjoyed spectacular views out across the horizon. We saw Moorish castles sitting atop peaks guarding the road below.

We eventually returned to civilisation and with that an increase of traffic as we progressed to Elche and the AP 7 motorway which would eventually bring us to our destination. The ambient temperature outside was a balmy 18.5 degrees centigrade.

At 16.10 p.m. we arrived at our campsite Florantilles, near to San Miguel Del Salinas. We had travelled 336 miles.

We were given a choice of 8 pitches and plenty of time within which to make a decision, so we had a good walk around the campsite. We spoke to some potential neighbours and tried to decide who were the nicest. The campsite is near to a couple of major roads, it is in the shape of a tanks tracks, (there’s probably a mathematical expression for the shape, but I can’t think of it at the moment, parallelogram?) we decided on a pitch which is low down and therefore protected from any road noise. Another factor was the size of the pitch, it will easily accommodate the caravan.

We proceed to place the caravan on the pitch, I being Mr Macho, attempt to put it on by reversing it in with the car, which I am told by Anne, ‘Is un-necessary as it is much easier to do the job with the motor mover remote control’.
Of course I end up damaging one of the electric sockets by the tow-bar as a consequence of my bloody mindedness, I receive a well deserved dose of ‘I told you so’s’.

Tonight is the festival of the ‘Kings’, and this is a big deal in Torrevieja, with a flotilla and procession in the resort. So we go in the opposite direction to the smaller town of San Miguel De Salinas, where it would appear we have missed the festivities. We would have gone to Torrevieja, but we couldn’t face all the hullabaloo and crowds, we were knackered. All we wanted was somewhere to eat and get back and have an early night.

As we left the campsite we drove around a roundabout, which must only be 200 yards from where we are staying, alone in the dark on the roundabout was a young ‘Lady of the night’, dressed for ‘seduction’, although we are well travelled we didn’t expect such a service on our doorstep.

Anne said that she will be timing my runs out in future, I replied by saying she would have to start worrying if I return after 5 minutes!

The town had a marquee outside the town hall where the children were leaving with parents carrying recently opened presents; the children were keenly eyeing each others presents, coveting the others with envy.

We managed to find a place that did grilled food and chips, which so far seems to be the Spanish diet. I randomly hit the ‘plate de jour’, menu with my finger, which amused the waitress and ended up with a mixed starter, and steak and chips. Anne more conventionally ordered Lamb chops. As my main course looked more appetising, we each ate the others.

We were tucked up in bed by 9 p.m. and have the best night sleep yet, due in the main, to not having the central heating on.

Saturday 6th January 2007.

We awake to glorious sunshine. This is a little deceptive as the temperature is not as high as the clear blue sky would suggest. We both get up late and I go for a run, not very far, but I feel I must get some exercise as I have been sitting on my tush for far too long. I run along a road that is surrounded by orange groves, but you cannot see too much for the lay of the land, I return after 20 minutes, to Anne who has a stop watch?

We decide to take it easy today, Anne cleans the van, I wash the car. I intend to wash the van another day. I rebuild the pedal cycles that we have carried down in the car, Anne is keen to cycle round the site. We both find the time to sit out in the afternoon sunshine; it is nice and hot, phew!

We have made friends with Liz and Stuart, who are on the pitch next to ours. They are also the proud owners of a Kia Sorrento. They are booked on this site like us for 30 days, but Liz hates Spain, well she hates being in Spain, because she feels very vulnerable. It is a case of the fear of crime, taking a hold, however with our experience in Madrid, she might well have a point. Stu is ex army and previously worked for Kia in Lancashire, they now live in Grantham, Liz is a bit of a character and very outspoken.

Anne takes a walk around the campsite with Liz. This gave Anne and Liz the opportunity to have a chat and nosey in any ones caravan on the site who was willing to invite them in.

There were some sad tales told of pensions not providing for a standard of living in the UK, so decisions being made to sell up and have a transient existence in Spain. However the cost of living is catching up with the UK and the euro is not stretching as far as it used to do.

There is a couple here who are in their seventies, who thought they were going to buy their dream home here, and are having it built and whilst the work is in progress, are living in a motor-home on this site, neither really wants to be here and the house build has not been straight forward. The costs have spiralled. Talking to this couple, they each believe it is for the benefit of the other and confide separately, that they really don’t want to be here, how sad is that?

On the other hand there are Brits on the site, who are very happy with their lot. Our neighbours on the opposite side of Liz and Stu, are from Liverpool and have lived here for 4 ½ years. They have their pitch set up with a degree of permanence that has upset the site management. There are a few in a similar situation. They have put kitchens and bathrooms inside metal sheds, which are attached to their caravans. They have flagged patios.

In the evening we go to the Café which is on the campsite and we have a few drinks and talk to some of our new friends. The Café closes at 9 p.m. so we have another early night, well Anne does, I have a walk around the site for a bit of fresh air. It is eerily quiet.

Sunday 7th January 2007.

We have a leisurely morning and decide to have a ride into Torrevieja get some diesel and buy some provisions.

We are pleasantly surprised by Torrevieja. We park the car and have a walk on the promenade. Its another beautiful day, the sun is reflecting off the calm Mediterranean Sea, although there’s no one swimming there are a few people sunbathing, or jogging on the sand in trunks. This is in sharp contrast to the Local Spanish who are dressed in their winter woollies, clinging closed coat collars and bracing themselves as if battling against an imaginary blizzard.

We manage to get to the church where a service is about to finish. There is an enormous model in the church square, showing the nativity story. It was very gory and took about a quarter of an hour to walk around. The gory bits involved Herod killing all the new born babies, imitation blood flowed in abundance.

We do a little window shopping and walk around a street market. We then go to a massive supermarket (Carrefore) and are impressed by the variety of goods. What we are not impressed with is the cost of meat and vegetables which are, if anything, more expensive than back home. We do a shop and are determined to attend local markets to do our shopping in future. We wish we had brought our barbeque, I thought we’d pick one up cheap here and find the cheapest is £10, what a waste (me being tight again!).

We get home with our provisions and I over fill the water tank. This has the potential of being a disaster as water ingress in a caravan can be very serious. We are very lucky as the water has not penetrated any of the chipboard. The carpet is sodden but sorted by being placed outside. I will have to be more careful in future.

Liz and Stu come over for a drink and we give them our talk on the Ukraine accompanied by our film show. They suffered in good humour, shall we say.

Monday 8th January 2007.

Today is a dobey day; Anne works hard all day washing and ironing, I give the caravan it’s first wash since Poland. It looks fantastic.

I decide to have a cycle and reconnoitre some of the lanes nearby, so that perhaps Anne might partake on a miniature adventure on her bike on another day. I leave Anne doing the ironing.

Fourth Instalment.

Before I set off on my cycle ride, I turn the tap on that fills a water barrel outside the caravan, intending to turn it off before I leave.

On my return after about an hour, Anne says that the neighbours raised the alarm, when water was found to be flowing from beneath our caravan. Anne was worried that the same problem that we had experienced the night before was being repeated and the van was going to be ruined. She soon saw the problem and turned off the tap. I received a good ‘tutting’ from Anne and the raised eyebrow look from the neighbours, you know ‘the look’ that indicates that they know you’re a pratt. Nothing but my rapidly diminishing reputation was spoilt.

Liz, who has been ‘fed up’, since we met her, has decided to leave the site and move on with Stu up to Benidorm. So we decide to go out for a Chinese with them tonight to say farewell. They originally asked us and we declined as we had food in that we wanted to eat, but as they intended it to be their last night we changed our mind.

We left about 7 p.m. in their KIA Sorrento, it made a nice change not having to drive. The village of San Miguel is about 5 Km away and mostly up hill on a busy road, frequented by prostitutes, so you’re as well driving there.

We had heard some unfavourable reports about this Chinese restaurant, but having experienced a set menu there, we can only heap praise on the establishment and staff. It was a reasonable 10 euros (£7) a head including drinks and they threw in a bottle of wine to take home with us.

We got back home for 9 p.m. bade farewell to our friends and settled down to watch an episode of Morse on the computer. Anne was asleep by 9.20 p.m. so we had another early night.

Tuesday 9th January 2007.

Its another beautiful day the weather report on the radio is that it will be as high as 18 degrees C today. We decide to go to La Manga Del Mar Menor. We go round to Liz and Stuarts caravan to say goodbye, and they decide that they would like to visit La Manga as well, so they call off their departure and join us.

They are good company, mostly because they laugh at all my jokes and tell a few of their own as well. They have had a hard life and like most people who have had to face adversity, have managed to survive by being devoted to each other, their family, keeping a sense of perspective and a sense of humour.

Le Manga must be an 80 mile round trip. It gave us the opportunity to see some of the coast line. This does not change a great deal as the miles roll by. Anne and Liz comment on how this part of Spain is not pretty. But my observation is that as there is very little rain here through the year, it will look baron and rugged.

We travelled south and then west alongside some hills and as we entered La Manga, we saw, what potentially for us was an alternative camp site, which was situated right on the Mar Menor, an inland sea. I must say it’s a case of the other vans pitch is always cleaner. I for one was a little envious. There were cycle paths from the camp site into the town and along the peninsular.

We drove as far as we could along the peninsular and stopped at a café. It was soo quiet. All around us were these, humongous apartment buildings and holiday lets, surrounding private swimming pools. Only a few appeared to be occupied. Every where was very clean and well maintained. The higher up the buildings would provide views of both; Menor Mar to the west and the Mediterranean to the east. After an alfresco lunch, we walked on the promenade and then around Puerto Tomas Maestre, where we used the facilities of an internet café and sat in the afternoon sunshine watching what little bit of the world was passing by.

We headed off back to our campsite just after 4 p.m. and took the fast motorway route (AP7) back, arriving back a little before 5 p.m.

Having got back I had a bit of a panic as I couldn’t find my caravan keys, I felt sure I had left them in the internet café. As always Anne came to my rescue and recovered them from the car. I seem to be doing a good impression of Mr Pastry these days, no one who reads this is going to be old enough to remember that character?

We decide to have a night in, watching ‘One foot in the grave’, but Liz and Stu come over and we end up having a drink with them.

The end of another nice day.

Wednesday 10th January 2007.

There’s a market today up in San Miguel, so we decide to have a look. I am still hoping to buy a cheap BBQ and Anne wants a lightweight folding table.

The weather forecast is for a little cloud today, although the temperatures are to be much the same as the day before 18 C. We put our trousers and fleece tops on and with Liz and Stu got to the market. It is bloody freezing. We walk the length and breadth of the place and it is a vast market. Anne buys a skirt and we all buy vegetables and other provisions. No BBQ or table tough. We also buy a cooked chicken which we later share for lunch outside Liz and Stu’s caravan, with fresh bread and one of Anne’s Greek Salads.

While Anne is preparing the Salad, Anne trips over a water container and falls in the caravan. She is alright, but I get the blame for leaving the 5 litre bottle open and on the floor behind her, water is everywhere! The carpets are removed and again find themselves hanging on the washing line. I receive more ‘tuts’ and this time ‘the look’ from Anne.

As this is the third incident involving water, we hope that this episode has finally concluded and we can cross the Bay of Biscay without fear or trepidation.

After lunch and as it isn’t as warm as it has been, Anne and I go to explore some shops, there is a Lidl, which eerily, has all the same produce, in exactly the same places in the store, as the one at home, spooky!

We have a look around some hardware shops and discover that everything is very expensive.

We get back and have dinner, boiled eggs and toasted soldiers, luxury!

We have an alcohol free night in and watch The Ipcress File, with Michael Cain, well he didn’t actually watch it with us you do understand, he is in it!

We arrange to go to a spa at Fortuna, up in the mountains tomorrow with Liz and Stu.

Thursday 11th January 2007.

We really should have got up earlier than we actually did, I still manage to go for a run, not far maybe 2 miles. As I return I pass two prostitutes on the roundabout, who smile and bid me ‘beunos dias!’, in true Caravan Club fashion, I reply ‘Morning!’. It is 10 a.m.

We leave the camp site at 11 a.m. Somehow I have it in my head this place isn’t far away. It turns out to be a 50 mile drive to get there. We arrive at 1 p.m. and have lunch in a café; none of us is impressed by the quality or value of the offerings. We then visit a camp site which has a hot spring pool. We have a mosey around and see a few people swimming around a conventional looking pool, then we leave and head off back. So basically we travel in excess of a hundred miles for an inferior lunch and watch some people swimming in a swimming pool. Not my idea of a good day out.
On the way back we travel through a city called Murcia. It is vast and decide not to stop. I recon, we would have been better off getting to Fortuna early and spending the whole day by the pool. We may yet do this.

We decide to pop in to Carl and Caroline’s new house at Rojoles, which is the opposite side of Torrevieja, to where we are sited. We have an address written down but it is not an easy quest as the ‘urbanizations’ are on a scale that put Barret and Redrow to shame. We eventually arrive at ‘Hacienda de Carlos’, which is situated in a quiet corner of the urbanization. Carl will be disappointed to know that the landscaping has not been done, it appears to me that the builders are using the garden to store roofing slates and other bits and pieces. We would not be able to put our caravan on the drive, which we thought might be an option should an emergency arise.

We return to our camp site as the sun is dropping below the horizon. After dinner we visit the camp site bar. Here Anne joins a group around a table, while I sit at the bar with Stu and we acquaint ourselves with Peter the barman. Peter who is in his fifties, is from Southampton, he is a salesman who sold cars and worked for British Gas. He only gets paid 4 euros an hour for serving drinks and making pie and chips for the discerning caravanner. He makes no secret of the fact that he is a Mason, and a very senior Mason at that. It doesn’t appear that he has used his position to gain any advantage in life. We have a good laugh and fall about at the most ridiculous remarks.

He keeps the bar open for us till 10 p.m. It should have shut at 9 p.m. In fact the girls make their way home an hour before us.

It has been a very busy day today.

We met a couple from Bradford, his name is Brian Shoesmith, and a retired printer, who happens to be George Shoesmiths cousin a former colleague and acquaintance of mine. Small world?

Friday 12th January 2007.

After yet another slow start, we decide to walk to the village of San Miguel de Salinas, a distance of 2 ½ miles. It is another gloriously sunny day. The walk should be pleasant, but it isn’t. This is due to the amount of heavy traffic that is carried by the road. As it is dry it is inevitably dusty and every time a 42 tonne truck goes by, we loose each other in a cloud. The traffic passes by very close and very fast, there’s no way that Anne would cycle up this road. Half way to the village we find a commemoration to a cyclist Jean Ivis Leotard, who had met his maker at this very spot aged 34 years. No! Anne is definitely not cycling on this bit of road. Still with a spring in our step and a song on our lips we march onwards with thoughts of fatalities behind us. We get to the village and the very first place we find is a commercial plumbing centre and in the window is a small BBQ, ‘How much?’…. ‘Nine euros’….’Sold!’.

We have a beer at a place called the ‘Nut House’. It gets its name, for no other reason than you get pea nuts with your drinks. We speak to a nice couple from Chepstow, who have a Plumbers business, being run by their son, they just collect a cheque every month, that’s not a bad carry on, is it?

We enjoy our packed lunch whilst watching the parakeets in the town square. A whole square to ourselves, we have sat on a wall. A couple who have the whole square to choose a spot to sit in decide to sit within three feet of us. Of course they light their cigarettes and smoke their blooming heads off. Why do people do that? And why does the smoke always drift over to where you are?

We visit the internet bar and post our journal.
With BBQ under one arm and with Anne’s hand in hand we march back past the spot where the poor cyclist met his maker and then eventually back to the camp.

It was nice to spend some time on our own and we plan to go to a beach tomorrow at Guardamar. We have made a stew for dinner which goes down a treat and there’s enough left for tomorrow, yummy!

A night in watching Kavanagh QC and to bed.

Saturday 13th January 2007.

We try getting up a bit earlier than usual, bur we still don’t get out until gone 10 a.m. Having said that a picnic has been prepared and the car loaded up with chairs and enough luggage to sustain a family of four for a fortnight. It is probably just as well that we haven’t got out till quite late as the temperature is not yet above 9 degrees C.

The sun is shining and it looks deceptively warm, but it IS freezing.

We make our way to the beach and pass a sign for Lo Pepin which is where Carl and Caroline’s house is situated. So now we know where they are in relation to the beach at Guadomar and it isn’t that far.

We got to Guadamar, it’s shut! Well the beach is open but everything that might closely resemble a café or restaurant is closed. You may think that this is not an issue as we have a picnic. But, we are in need of regular visits to the toilet and as it is pretty cold we are not inclined to resort to having a dip in the sea.

We park the car at a lovely spot and then walk a good thirty minutes to a hotel and use their facilities.

The day is nicely warming up and we get back to the car where we put chairs and all the rest of our paraphernalia out on the beach. People look on incredulously, thinking we are having a car boot sale and have got the wrong day.

We settle down to reading our books and ‘The Telegraph’, which cost 4 euros,
and requires a wheelbarrow to cart it around in.

It has warmed up sufficiently to wear shorts, Anne bravely puts on her swimsuit, I haven’t seen goose bumps like hers since we had that Turkey for Christmas two years ago!

We have our picnic and watch the many people who like us are enjoying the weather and the beach. There are some Germans who actually go in the sea, they obviously can’t be bothered to walk to the hotel like we did.

After about 4 hours on the beach we make for home.

Both Anne and me, find that we are finding it difficult to get warm, after being in the sun all day. My theory is we both need some vigorous exercise. Anne reads her book and I go for a run.

I noticed on our walk yesterday, some houses built on an elevated piece of land about two miles from our camp site, so I thought I would check them out and find a route from them hopefully back to our site. They don’t seem to feature on any maps.

So off I go, out of the camp, up onto the main road on the way to San Miguel, past two prostitutes, ‘Buenos dias!’

I Turn right towards the houses on a track surrounded by orange groves. The road on the left, which leads to the houses has a barrier across it, but there is a road heading straight on, which I calculate may take me back to the vicinity of the camp site, wrong!
I see a farmer driving a tractor full of oranges, we wave. I continue along the track. I have been away now for 20 minutes, so I am nearing the point of no return. I see some traffic on a road ahead of me moving left to right. I think that this may be the road upon which the camp site is situated, wrong!
As I get near to it, I see that it is in fact the AP7, in English currency, the M62 (motorway). I get to a substantial metal wire fence, which is there to prevent you from getting onto the motorway. I decide to run alongside the fence in the direction of the campsite, but am prevented from so doing by the direction of the track as it meanders around some buildings. I cut across some open land and see the land fall away ahead of me. Thinking that this may lead down to the road upon which the site is situated I run to the edge of the precipice. Looking down, there is a virtual sheer drop down two or three hundred feet, I am at the edge of a deep gorge. I am now 30 minutes into this little run and if I were 10 years old at this point I would probably start crying. Instead I have a choice of retracing my steps or going for the motorway. I decide to go for the motorway.

I have visions as I go back along the path through the orange groves, that some Spanish orange pickers will discover me, and in the style of Burt Reynolds cohorts in the film ‘Deliverance’, I will be the victim of some bullying and deviant abuse. ‘Hey Senor! You’re my Hombre now!’

I have my driving licence with me, so am ready to thwart any attempts of violence, by saying ‘You can’t do that, I’m British!’

I get back to the fence without being accosted and find a suitable point over which to clamber and am quickly on the motorway jogging along. My story for the police, should I get caught, is that I took the wrong turning at Calais! And hope that they have a sense of humour.

I can see a mile ahead of me, the sign for the turn off at junction 758, for San Miguel. It is quite a nice run on the motorway and probably safer than walking on the side of the road as we did the day before. I can see the camp site on a hill in the distance and try not to think about how far it is, as I have been out so far for 45 minutes.

I eventually get onto the slip road and ran down to the roundabout, the expression of the prostitutes as I ran down from the motorway was priceless. ‘Ola!’

I ran into the camp and regretted not taking my pedometer out with me as I would have been interested to see what the distance was that I had covered, Gary (Baines) and Carl (Lovett) would have been impressed.

We have a quiet night in and I drink more Spanish beer than is usual for me. Probably a bit de-hydrated?

Sunday 14th January 2007

We were told the other day, that you can get a good meal and a bit of entertainment at ‘The Nut House’ in San Miguel, so we plan to go there this lunch time. Stu and Liz, say that they are going to a large market at the Lemon Groves, I ask if we can tag along.

The Market is impressive and we buy a small table for 10 euros, which is ideal for alfresco dining by or around the caravan. Stu, has a pair of walkie-talkies, which he uses to keep tabs on Liz. They do come in handy, until Anne gives the one they (the ladies) are supposed to have, to me, and then disappears.

We then go to ‘The Nut House’, which looks very ordinary and we decide to have lunch at the caravan.

During lunch time it clouds over and we have the coolest day we have yet experienced on the coast of Spain. The cloud remains for the rest of the day.

We had hoped to try the BBQ today, and have marinated some fresh fish with lemon, chilli, garlic and ginger, but as it is so cold and the oven is going on anyway, we bake the fish in the oven instead,
We have probably the best meal since leaving England.

Monday 15th 2007.

Today we have decided to walk into Torrevieja, a distance of some 5 to 6 miles. The first few miles are awful and replicate the experience we had walking to San Miguel. Lorries, dust, fast moving cars, passing within feet of us. We bravely carry on in single file.

The weather is a stark contrast to what we have become used to it is cloudy and cold, but stays dry.

We visit Torrevieja Hospital for no other reason than to use their toilet.

We enter the suburbs of the town (Urbanization Los Balcones) and enjoy looking at the variety of houses and gardens.

We have to negotiate and cross underneath another motorway, there are no adequate paths around these roads, so you really do feel like you are taking your life in your hands as you cross the slip roads that lead on and off the motorway.

We eventually arrive at the sea front. After first feeling a sense of achievement, this is soon replaced by a sense of disappointment.
The Mediterranean looks calm, blue and inviting, but the narrow strip of beach which runs between the beachfront houses and the sea, is strewn with rubbish. The houses, some of which would not look amiss in an Hollywood, look as though they cost millions, are spoiled by graffiti.

We walk north toward the resort of Torrevieja, we can see 20 or so cranes hovering ‘T’ shaped above the skyline of apartment buildings. From this distance and through the mist the cranes give a surreal impression that they are protecting their newly built brood.

As the ramble continues, the dirt and the graffiti, seems to increase the nearer to the harbour we get. We can see many yachts.

As we enter the harbour area there is a group of elderly people carrying out aerobic exercises on the beach, there’s also a group of men playing petank. Time for a coffee, we sit at a beachside café and order, I reach for the 40 euros (£28), I have in my pocket only to discover that it is not there. Lost some where on the 5 or 6 miles we have just walked. I know it is not a vast amount of geld, but when your as tight and watching the pennies like me, this is tantamount to loosing the contents of the Bank of England.

Anne as always sooths my furrowed brow, we pay with some change that we have and we are on our way again.

We do a little window shopping in the town and then seek out the bus station.

We also have lunch in a Spanish café, where we have the meal of the day, 8 euros. Anne as usual makes a poor choice, spaghetti of the sea starter, followed by stew. I have a salad starter and chicken and chips. The elderly English woman with whom we are sharing the table, clearly has some terrible infection, as her nose is constantly running and swollen. Anne insists on engaging this lady in conversation, so that she spits food particles and snot into my salad.
I politely say to Anne, ‘let her eat her dinner before it gets cold’.
But there is fat chance of that, as the chicken she is eating looks raw.
I ask the waiter ‘My pollo, muchas bomba’.
He seems to understand.
I thought the lunch was OK, Anne didn’t enjoy hers ‘One bit!’
No complaints about the wine.

We now find a bus that goes to San Miguel De Salinas, for 1 euro each, again good value. We ask if there is one that goes to our campsite, but are told that there is not. So we resign ourselves to either getting a taxi from San Miguel, or walking.

The bus sets off and we wind our merry way out of Torrevieja.

We are happy to see that the bus is heading straight for our camp site. We get excited as the bus approaches the road to where our caravan is parked! It then goes past it. I say to the driver, ‘Can you drop us here?’
‘No Possible Senor!’
With that he accelerates and drives up the ‘God awful’ road, which we walked the other day.
He drives the 2 ½ miles to San Miguel, where he drops us off, I was fuming! The ignorant bugger, had the opportunity to safely drop us off and he didn’t take it. Bet he drinks Ovaltine to get to sleep at night.

Sixth Instalment

We end up at the ‘Nut House’ (bar), where we have a drink to console ourselves. We enquire about a taxi, which will cost 8 euros (£5.60) to get us back to the campsite. We decide to walk. We again pay our respects to the cyclist Jean Ivis Leotard and walk nonchalantly past the prostitutes, we eventually get back to the van. We are a bit down and bemused with this area. We feel more than a little trapped, these feelings are not helped by the lack of sunshine.
A solution would be just to move on, but we are tied into the campsite having paid a fixed price for a stay of 30 nights. Should we go, we will be penalised, by having to pay double for each night we have stayed. So after 15 nights, we would be quits, but remember we would then have to find additional funding for the nights that we are away from this site, up until we return to Blighty! We discuss this and decide to make the best of a ‘bad job’ and stay.

Liz and Stu on the other hand, decide to leave and are going the following morning. She has been unhappy since we met them and I was worried that her negativity might rub off on us, which I suppose, to a degree it has. We all get together and watch a film in our caravan until the day finally ends.

Tuesday 16th January 2007.

Liz and Stu pack up their belongings, as they are going on to Benidorm, a place they are both familiar with and are sure they will be much happier staying at. Liz goes to the reception and returns fuming. Not only do they have to pay for the thirty days at the long stay rate, but because there has been some confusion about their leaving a week previously, they have had to pay 100 euros for staying for the past week as well! It’s all rather complicated and hardens my resolve to stay for the duration of our booking.

Well at least the sun has come out, we wave them goodbye and get on with our Day.

We visit San Pedro, which is the northern bit of Le Manga and find a very nice beach and harbour. The sun makes us feel much happier, after a light lunch we head off back, deciding to take a roundabout route over some hills to a reservoir, which isn’t too far from where we are staying.

We pass some vast developments that look to be in the middle of no where, a whole mountain side covered in white buildings looking like that sort of fungi you get growing out of rotten tree trunks. I get the same feeling I got when seeing the centre of Leeds and all the new apartments and flats there which are mostly unoccupied and built with investment in mind. You think to yourself, where’s it all going to end? Are there really that many people wanting to live or holiday here? I suppose there are! Otherwise they wouldn’t be building them?

We arrive at this spectacular place (the reservoir) Embassament de la Pedrera, which is a cycle ride away from where we are staying; it is just a dreamy place with crystal clear waters, that reflect the rocks and small islands. You could imagine some one like Salvador Dali being inspired here. The only clue to it being a reservoir is the two towers that must house the pumps and mechanisms for the sluice gates. Even they look like the arms of a great throne. We stood about with mouths open for a while, and then headed off back to base.

When home we were invited to a whist drive at the social club, we declined the kind invitation. Instead Anne played ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, whilst I read a little.

A better day was had by us both. Well the sun HAS got its hat on.

Wednesday 17th January 2007.

Today is Dobey Day! For what happens on Dobey day please see 8th January.

My first job is to get two tokens for the washing machines. Simple enough task you would think. I attend the reception, where I am told that the tokens have not been emptied from the machines. So there are no tokens available. I ask when they will be available, Jason the receptionist says he will get hold of a cleaner and have them bring the tokens to reception, Could be an hour or two. Oh bugger!

I have to return to Anne who I know is ‘chomping at the bit’, wanting to get on, and who can blame her, the sun is shining and there is a slight breeze, ideal washing conditions.

I decide to seek out a cleaner, this may speed the process along. I cycle to the top of the site and ask a lady coming out of the toilets there, if she has seen any cleaners? ‘No’, she says but she points to a caravan where they live. I knock on the caravan door and a nice bloke called Del appears. I explain the situation. He says that he doesn’t have the keys, but if I want to pick them up from reception he will get the tokens from the machine.
I return to Jason, who gets annoyed with me! ‘You should not have knocked on Del’s door!’
‘He was alright about it’
‘He was being polite’
‘Well he says to give me the keys for the machines and he will give me the tokens to bring to you!’
‘I can’t do that, we have loads of tokens go missing!’
I have no idea how I managed to keep my temper, it may be that I was making allowances for the fact that Jason only has one leg!
I say with more than a little terseness, ‘Give me the keys! You can trust me!’
He gives me the keys, but he insists that Del, bring the tokens to reception.
I cycle back up the hill to the lavadores, (laundry) and again knock on Del’s door.
He is very helpful, he is about to give me all the tokens when I say that Jason says, he should take them to the reception. He then gives me the two tokens I wanted and says go pay Jason.
This I do, but what a palaver?
We manage our dobey day without anymore conflict.

The rest of the day involves me getting in Anne’s way, going to Lidl and me reading the paper. We have a Lidl lasagne for dinner.

The day ends.

Thursday 18th January 2007.

Today we are going out on our bicycles to Los Montesinos, it is a village about five miles away on a quiet road. The weather forecast is good 22 C, the sun is shining it is another lovely day.

The weather forecast is good for the weekend, but is set to change to cooler on Sunday, with snow in the north and on hills above 900 metres

Since Liz and Stu have left, a few people have approached us with tips and directions on how to get to places without walking alongside the main roads, which is really nice. We are given a hand drawn map by a couple with walking routes to San Miguel and a place called Villamartin. We have been told that there are a couple of internet cafés at Montesinos. We have been there before on our way back from the beach at Guardamar and stopped for a drink.

So we get togged up, Anne looks a picture, bless her, I have made her wear a fluorescent top and she puts on the cycle helmet I don’t particularly like wearing. She looks like one of those poor people who have a problem staying up right and have to wear protective clothing because they are always falling over. I take enough stuff in my rucksack to cover almost every eventuality, including heart surgery. We set off.

I must say Anne who has been practicing around the camp site since our arrival, does look proficient on her cycle. She cycles ahead of me and gets up to a fair old speed. She looks steady and keeps a good line to the right of the white line that delineates the main road from the side road. That is until she decides to change gear, then Anne seems to veer into the centre of the carriageway. ‘Anne just keep to the right of the white line!’
‘ I’m changing gear!’
‘The car that will be using you as a trophy on it’s bonnet, won’t be interested in whether you are changing gear!’

We make good progress and stop a couple of times along the way, I am really proud of Anne as I know it is not a natural pursuit for her.

Los Montesinos, isn’t really a place you would write home about and I suppose if it hadn’t have been the most accessible place to get to by cycle we would not have been visiting it, but hey, the sun is shining and we are having a nice time. We find the internet place, where we manage to upload the story so far, but are unable to view all of the messages we have received. So we haven’t seen the photos sent by my sister or the pictures of our friend’s new born baby in Athens.

Having finished our business, we have a drink and I am intrigued by a Russian talking to a Spaniard in Russian, his diction is so clear I can understand almost everything he is saying. He was talking politics, but interesting all the same.

We get back on our bikes and cycle back to the campsite. I am happy to report no dramas! The rucksack was un-necessary.

We have a walk around the campsite and acquaint ourselves with many of the people staying here.

I don’t want to sound negative about this camp site, I say that because I am about to be, however it is interesting to hear other peoples views, after all there are people here who have permanently sited caravans and large mobile bungalows. They must see and experience the place much the same as we do. The prostitution, the traffic, the lack of public transport access etc etc.
What we have found in general, is there are 3 groups of people living at this site.
The 1st are much like Anne and myself, who have visited here touring, searching out the winter sun, but then unlike Anne and me, have then returned year on year, progressing to a static caravan placed here permanently and have become part of the site community.
The 2nd are more permanently based here, they have a postal address in the UK, but live here more or less permanently, having become disillusioned with the UK. In the summer months they tour other parts of Europe or return to UK and tour.
The 3rd, are either moving into newly built homes, or have moved out of houses having been disillusioned by living in one of the many urbanisations here.
The latter group I find intriguing, as they must each tell the other of either their hopes or their disillusionment, which ever the case might be.
A couple from Yeovil from the 1st group, explained that they have felt embarrassed, sometimes when being visited by family or friends, when confronted by some of the more sordid aspects of the area. They balance that with the positive aspects of the camp site and they are; the weather, the security (they are able to leave an expensive caravan and all the attendant kit, for months at a time safe in the knowledge it will be intact on their return), the facilities and the sense of community they have built with their neighbours. The alternative for them would be to have an apartment, but then refer to the 3rd group. There has always got to be compromise.

Later that night we attend a quiz night and join forces with the couple from Yeovil and their neighbours from Lancashire, one of whom turns out to be a retired Policeman. For what ever reason we name ourselves The arches? We are places joint-second and win a bottle of wine for each couple. I’d do that again.

We return to the caravan and relax by reading, Anne has a touch of sciatica, which we put down to the cycle ride.

Friday 19th January 2007.

We planned on going for a walk today, but as the weather is going to be so nice today, I think it would be nice just to sit about the caravan. The thought of the weather getting cooler(weekend forecast) makes me want to take advantage of being able to sit out and do nothing.

We assist the morning to warm up by preparing a chicken curry, which we intend to have mid afternoon. Anne follows me around the kitchen like the domestic cleaning goddess that she is. As I cut the whole chicken up into more manageable pieces Anne is there with sprays, cloth and a mask, to clean up any splashes from the dead bird.

We have the curry and it is fantastic though I do say so myself, washed down with coca cola.

I attend to a few little jobs, one happens to be emptying the grey water waste, not a particularly big job, nor a very pleasant one, but necessary all the same. I walk to the container and after I bend down to reach for it, and as I am lifting it up, I am struck a blow to my head above my right temple. I wonder if Anne has struck me a blow for one of the many unfavourable remarks I am accused to have said when in drink, or whether one of the prostitutes are confusing me with someone who has an unpaid bill, all these thoughts and many more flash through my mind as fast as the pain, although the pain remains long after all thoughts subside. I see that in fact I have hit my head on the caravan’s open toilet window. My hand covers the area where the pain is the keenest, I give my best controlled shout, tinged with an element of desperation ‘ANNE!’
I look at my hand, instead of the expected covering of fresh crimson haemoglobin
dripping through my fingers, there’s nothing. I stagger to where Anne was sitting, she’s not there!
I give my second controlled shout, this time tinged with a little more desperation, ‘ANNE!’
Anne’s voice comes from the side of the caravan where the ‘accident’ just occurred. ‘Where are you?’
‘I’m here!’
I consider whether to fall on my knees, but decide against that course of action because of all the screws I have had to pick up from our pitch. I do stay put, as I imagine Anne and me dancing round the caravan all day, never seeing each other.
She says’ What happened?’
‘You opened the bloody toilet window! I banged my head on it!’
How on earth my banging my head could possibly be the fault of whoever opened the window, is beyond me now, but at the time it seemed a reasonable premise.
‘Let me have a look!’
She reaches to my hand, which is still stemming the tied of the imaginary blood. I resist.
I sit down on a deck chair and tentatively allow Anne a look. I can tell from the expression on Anne’s face that she is impressed. I did after all give my head a wallop. I calculate from the level of worry on her face, the seriousness of the accident. I can tell that I am not a hospital case, but she remarks on the size of the dent in my head. Well, I am conscious, I am not being sick, so the signs are good, I am not concussed. I am made to lay down with an ice pack to the area. This I do for at least half an hour, well as long as I could withstand the boredom.

We had planned to go out this evening but we are so engrossed in our books and the egg that is growing out the side of my head that we stay in yet another night. It is a good job we enjoy each others company.

Saturday 20th January 2007.

Today we decide to go for a coastal walk and head off in the car to Punta Prima. Where we park the car and walk south, away from Torrevieja and in the direction of La Zenia. The walk starts off promising enough, with a good path with a well maintained beach on our left, but soon deteriorates into a walk through fields of rubble and windblown rubbish! The path negotiates the eroding coastline and in places is precariously close to the crumbling cliffs. We eventually arrive at the very pretty coastal resort of La Zenia. Here we have a delicious milk shake each and enjoy the sunshine, the temperatures are in the eighties.

We meet the couple from the camp site who are having their house built, he has been recovering from a heart by pass. They have just received the news that his elder brother has passed away. They are to return to Staffordshire tomorrow.

We set off to retrace our steps back to the car. We meet another nice elderly couple who have retired to the area. They volunteer to take a photograph of Anne and me with Torrevieja in the distance as a backdrop. As they are both in their seventies, I reckon that they are hardly going to run off with the camera, so I allow them to take the picture. They are totally enthusiastic about the area and for their retirement in Spain and have been here a number of years. They tell us the rubbish has been left on the waste land around the path, by elderly Spaniards who cannot get used to using the many bins available for the disposal of waste. They believe the situation will improve in time. We walk with them back to our car, where we bid them farewell. We seem to meet people and become the best of friends in a very short time.

We return home with plenty of warm sunshine left in the day, so I decide to reconnoitre the footpath to San Miguel. The route was given to us by a couple, they said it would be OK to walk, but I go on my bike. I think it is just as well I do go on my bike as it is about 6 miles (3 really!) through the orange groves. Whilst in San Miguel I visit the internet bar, and up load the story so far, ‘seventh instalment’.

I cycle down the main road from San Miguel, it’s a bit of a hill, so I get up to a good speed.

This evening we go out to Los Montesinos, this time in the car. We intend to find some where to eat, but as it is only 7 p.m. there aren’t many places yet open, and those that are appear to be full of drunken men.

We decide to try a place called Los Ranchos, which is on the main road back to the camp site. We enter a large log cabin and are optimistic that this might be a good place to eat. That is until three small children come out of the kitchen playing with a kitten. We then are overcome by the smell of horse sh-t, which is emanating from a group of labourers stood at the bar. The children insist on playing with the kitten on each of the freshly laid tables, this is in full view of the bar and restaurant staff. We feel that the staff’s apathy toward this aspect of hygiene together with the smell of horse sh-t, may reflect the establishment as a whole, so we finish our drinks and go.

We find ourselves in a restaurant opposite the ‘Chinese’ in San Miguel, where we have the best Spanish meal since El Escorial, near Madrid. The food was plentiful and tasty. No cats or children (as far as we know, unless they taste of chicken)!

Sunday 21st January 2007.

Today we drive to La Zenia, where we walked to yesterday and park the car at a hotel near to where we had the delicious milk shakes. We again walk southward. The sun is shining and the temperatures are probably higher than they were yesterday. The coastal path here is wonderful and well maintained a real pleasure to walk along. We have the clear blue Mediterranean to one side and interestingly shaped eroded golden cliff faces reflecting the sun to the other side. We pass a pretty modern harbour at Cap Roig. Here we get talking to an elderly lady from Kent. She and her husband have just arrived at their Villa only to find that the water has been turned off, so they have come down to their launch in the harbour. She didn’t seem that happy, apparently the boat suffers terribly with condensation when left any length of time, it’s a hard life hey?

We eventually arrive at our destination, a beautiful and well kept beach at La Caleta.
Anne enquires with a lady in pigeon Spanish, whether the path goes beyond the headland? The woman replies in pigeon English that it doesn’t! Makes me laugh as it turns out the lady and her husband are from Manchester, but to be fair to Anne the lady is of Italian origin and looks Mediterranean. Again for the short time that we are acquainted we get on like a ‘house on fire’. We bid farewell and continue on our way back to our car and the promise of another milk shake.

The weather is like the best summers day in England, glorious!

We get back to the caravan and reheat the chicken curry made the other day, we are in tandoori heaven.

We have an early night as we intend to be up early the next day to visit my old mate and colleague Eddie and his wife Maggie at his Villa in Marrazon.

Monday 22nd January 2007.

We are up just after 8 a.m. which is earlier than the norm. We quickly pack almost everything we have brought for the two nights that we intend to stay with Eddie and Maggie. I worry that they might think that we intend to stay for a fortnight. The sat/nav doesn’t recognise their address, so we put in Marrazon and hope for the best. 56 miles it says. We set off just after 10 a.m. Well, we had to go to a florists and a supermarket for bits and pieces.

It was a nice drive and about 12.30 p.m. we arrive at Camposol ‘A’ , Marrazon, with no more than a little difficulty. Eddie picks us up outside ‘The Gateway to India’ restaurant, I feel as though I’ve arrived back in Bradford!. He looks well and is in good spirits. He guided us in his car to his villa, which is on the outskirts of the urbanisation.

I think Eddie has more difficulty with names than I do, as he re christens everybody with his own pet names. His name for me is ‘Peter’; this is because I once wore a bandanna and an earring for a ‘job’. And no it had nothing to do with a ‘musical’ and it was in Leeds and not Penzance. But Eddie has since called me ‘Peter the pirate’. Anne kept thinking someone else was in our company, until she eventually got used to the idea of me being called Peter. Just to confuse matters, Anne was renamed Sue and Maggie was renamed Jackie

Maggie arrived home after a short while, she works in a ‘Noah’s Arc’ charity shop, where funds are raised for abandoned animals, which in the main appears to be dogs. They have two rescued dogs, they are a pair of bitches called ‘Kylie’ and ‘Maz’. Anne was immediately in her element and the dogs would, over the next two days, grow to be fond of her.

Eddie and Maggie have lived in Spain for the past seven years and as Eddie puts it, they are ‘All Spained Out!’. The villa is up for sale, although they are in no hurry to leave, they are clearly looking forward to restarting their life in ‘Yorkshire’.

The villa, if transplanted to Guisely (near Leeds) would befit a millionaire. It is a grand detached villa, with a self contained flat with a sollairium (large balcony) on the first floor. The main house is a large sprawling bungalow, with two large bedrooms a large lounge, kitchen, dining room and a fantastic enclosed patio, which they have made into a conservatory. This looks out onto the beautiful garden with; orange, lemon, fig and palm trees. Oh! And there is a kidney shaped swimming pool, though it was a bit too cold for a dip.

We were settled in the ‘bridal suite’ on the first floor, which has an en suite. The views from the balcony (solarium), across a desert, towards the mountain range of Sierra De Las Estancias, were spectacular.

We were enthralled with Eddie and Maggie’s tales of snakes and large crawling and flying things, so much so that shoes were shaken prior to blindly placing feet into them.

We had a good ‘old chin wag’, and enjoyed an evening meal of pasta bake, salad and fresh bread. I ate much too much, as usual!

We were treated to the novelty of watching the evening news, BBC News at 10. We hadn’t watched any UK TV since leaving ‘Blighty’ over three weeks ago. It’s been snowing back home! Mind you today it’s been getting pretty cold here too.

11.30 p.m. To bed.

Tuesday 23rd January 2007.

We get up to a beautiful sunrise, but there is a bit of a nip in the air, due to a breeze. Today we are going to Marrazon. I offer to drive but Eddie insists, as he knows his way about. We all pile into his car and after a visit to the supermarket, are given a tour of Marrazon. This is a small Spanish town comprising of a picturesque harbour and beach resort. As with all places Spanish, work is constantly in progress, improving roads, the infrastructure and building houses.

There is quite a swell in the Mediterranean and waves are breaking with a modest fury, that provides an unexpected spectacle as the surf cascades onto the beach.

We have a walk in Marrazon and see a strange man, dancing around the perimeter wall of a fountain. He’s doing a cross between ballet and tai-chi, the man is clearly mad, but entertaining all the same.

We also see a Mayor walking with his entourage, around the promenade which is being developed. You don’t often see Mayors as most of them have been locked up!

We round off the morning by having a beer and a selection of tapas, in one of Eddie and Maggie’s favourite bars

We return to the Villa as Maggie has a hair appointment, a young lady called Lynne calls round and does her hair for 8 euros. I wish Anne could find some one so reasonable.

We leave Maggie having her follicles trimmed and take a tour of the vast urbanisation development, which is Camposol ‘B’.

A song springs to mind by Val Doonican ‘Little Boxes’.

One of my objections for developments like this is the vastness. Eddie explains that the builders will only build when a plot has been sold, so some of the stages of the development remain unfinished. However, there has been speculation by many who have bought off plan, in the hope of selling them on at a profit. What this has done has created a glut of completed houses up for sale at competitive prices, but higher than the builder is asking for them. Of course the houses remain unsold. So it is inevitable that an unsavoury element or ‘type’ of person, are either living or renting villas here. So Chavs’, hang out at the bars and shops at the centre of the urbanisation.

Camposol ‘A’, where Eddie and Maggie lives, seems a much more civilised place.

The tour is finally over and we return to the Villa, where Eddie prepares dinner, which is to be ‘Garlic Prawns’ and ‘Grilled Perch’, with boiled potatoes and beans. He’s quite an accomplished chef is our Eddie.

Dinner is eventually served and washed down with Rioja, Campo Viejo, Crianza 2004, Eddie and Maggie’s recommendation; you can get it at Morrison’s Supermarket. Everything was delicious and we all retired with full and contented stomachs.

Wednesday 24th January 2007.

We are up at a reasonable time, as we want to visit Cartagena on our way back up to the caravan site. After a light breakfast we say farewell to the ‘Costa Tykes’. Eddie and Maggie have been the most fantastic hosts and we look forward to the day when we can repay their hospitality, by having them stay at Stourport. We are laden down with oranges and lemons from their garden and are away before 10 a.m.

We have a pleasurable drive to Cartagena. On the way, I ask Anne if she misses anything in England, she replies a resounding ‘No!’.

We walk around the city, which has some very nice shops and I eventually find a pair of shoes to replace a particular make, that I really like and at a fraction of the cost. We have a long and lazy lunch, having the menu of the day. Anne for a change, orders a great meal, a meat stew followed by fish and chips, a sweet, accompanied by bread and washed down with wine and coffee. I have paella, burger egg and chips, a sweet washed down with water and coffee. This was good value at 16 euros (£11) all in.

Whilst walking through the streets of this town, I have to take visits to the gents toilet on more than one occasion. Anne is concerned that I might have a wee infection, I put it down to the fact that I have drunk a litre of water. She says, ‘You should have a ‘Dip Stick Test’’.
I say, ‘ I can hardly see the point of that!’
‘Why’s that?’
‘Well, we both know already what a ‘Dip Stick’ I am!’

After a pleasurable stay in Cartagena, we decide to head north and return to our campsite.

Although it is sunny the temperature does not get above 15 C.

We arrive back to our caravan and find that everything is as we have left it. The neighbours welcome us back, enquiring about our mini adventure. A couple who have been receiving the benefit of Anne’s advice with regard to bad backs and ibuprofen jells, hands us a half dozen DVD’s to watch while we are here. Isn’t that nice?

We have that many oranges from Eddie and Maggie, there is a danger we may have to sleep in the car tonight as the caravan is full of them!

We give some oranges to our neighbours with the bad backs and squeeze back into the caravan.

During the course of the evening the weather takes a turn for the worse and we have our first rain since leaving England.

We watch a film and go to bed.

Thursday 25th January 2007.

It has rained pretty much all night but this morning it has stopped but is still pretty grey and cold.

We have a quiet day spent reading and do not venture very far.

In the evening we join our quiz team from last week and become, ’The Archers’. This costs 1 euro to participate and 2 euros for two strips of raffle tickets (£2 in total).

We win the quiz!

So! The six of us walk away with a bottle of spirits each. We then walked off with a prize each from the raffle as well. Anne and me ended up with 3 bottles and a bag of sweets for an outlay of £2.

Friday 26th January 2007.

Another rainy night and the grey clouds are looking pretty ominous.

We decide to nip out to a market in the neighbouring village, we get there and there isn’t one. Not to worry, we do very well in a little Spanish supermarket and get a bag of vegetables plus bread, for less then 3 euros.

The weather forecasters are optimistic that we are to have a nice weekend, this is tinged with more than a little foreboding, as snow is falling over most of the Spanish mainland above 200 metres, which is virtually everywhere. Many roads are closed and the Police are advising not to travel along many of the roads without snow chains, ‘Oh Heck!’

It is cold out and threatens to rain at any moment, so we have another day in, reading and in the evening we watch a DVD.

About 9 p.m. we hear what sounds like ball bearings hitting the caravan, at a very rapid rate. We look out and see rain falling vertically, onto the tarmac road with such force, that a cloud of mist a meter deep, is caused as the water bounces off the road.

The wind soon increases its velocity and the rain changes its trajectory to almost horizontal. The palm trees bow and their palms flap in the winds direction. We feel like we’re in one of those ‘Force of Nature’ videos, you know the sort where the journalist files his report on the coast of Florida, whilst the hurricane vents it’s fury around him.

There is nothing we can do, our kit is well stashed and secured. The only problem we may have is with every one else’s!

Saturday 27th January 2007.

After a bumpy, thunder and lightning packed night, we arise a little late and enjoy a cooked breakfast, we fancy eating out tonight, so are prepared to forgo lunch.

In the afternoon we take a drive to the sea front to experience (from the car), the storm which is still in progress. We drive round the campsite which has had a fair old battering, with awnings torn from their frames and trees and shrubs blown over. The most dramatic being a large tree that was pushed over by the wind, onto the camp shop, luckily it caused no structural damage.

After much debate and pontificating we decide to revisit the restaurant, where we feel we had value for money and the best welcome, so we go to the Chinese in San Miguel. We decided against the set meals and went for a tailor made concoction which we would have ordered from the take away in Stourport. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, the portions were enormous and to make matters worse, they were very tasty, which contributed to our evening of gluttony, culminating in indigestion. Serves us right!

Sunday 28th January 2007.

We awake to yet another grey and windy day. We study a map of the area and chose Alicante for a day trip. Instead of driving the 30 or so miles on the motorway, we settle on a route that will take us along the coast through Guardamar and Santa Pola.

Alicante is a pretty place, with plenty of palm tree lined walk ways. We also came across a number of promenades dotted with squares that had fountains and statues at the centre. There were also trees, the like of which we had seen only on the Caribbean. Their roots seem to fall as beards from the branches and give them a Tolkinesque appearance, as though they are ready to hitch up their roots and walk off at any second.

As I have said before, Sunday is the day that the Spanish to dress up, go to church then walk along the many promenades. Alicante, makes this more pleasurable, with street artists playing classical music and the cafés emitting the smell of hot chocolate and doughnuts, we are enticed into one such café. I enjoy my chocolate and doughnuts, the principal being that one dunks ones doughnut into ones chocolate, then eat the brown soggy mush without dropping it onto your front, not easy!

Since the incident with the Ecuadorians in Madrid, Anne and I are constantly on our guard. In Alicante we feel less intimidated and quite safe, this is partly due to the sense of class exuded by the place, from the very expensive boats in the harbour to the very well dressed buskers playing cellos in the piazza.

We are invited into a church, where there is a display of religious artefacts. These are based on the local patron saint ‘Veronica’, who, whilst Jesus was being placed on the cross, she wiped his brow with a cloth. To her amazement the image of Christ was captured on the cloth. There were numerous icons showing Saint Veronica displaying the cloth, or wiping his face.

We walked around the old part of the town and marvelled at some of the medieval architecture, which in typical Spanish fashion had been updated with assistance of the ubiquitous graffiti artist.

It is still windy and cold, at least it isn’t raining. I blow my nose and examine my handkerchief, far from there being any miraculous image thereon; I see that I may be coming down with a cold!

We drive back to our camp site the way we came. Around the fishing port of Santa Pola are salt flats and marshes, where all manner of ornithological delights can be seen. We stop and with binoculars in hand we try and view some of the more exotic species of wader. Even though there is a main road carrying heavy traffic across the marshes, the birds are much more nervous of people on foot, and fly away when we are within 50 yards of them.

We do get to see 100 or so flamingos, as they waded along in their elegant stilted manner. They soon flew off as they noticed me, but that was no matter, as the beauty of the sky turning pink was a wonder to behold.

On our return to the caravan we have a go at Yorkshire pudding, to accompany the stew we have left from the other night. We don’t have much faith in our oven as it rarely gets up to a reasonable temperature. Still the large slab of eggy, floury substance just about passes for Yorkshire pudding and we enjoy our dinner.

We have an evening in, watching two DVD’s ‘Electra’ and ‘Meet the family’. We wouldn’t ordinarily be watching the stuff we are viewing, but are happily entertained all the same.

We hope tomorrow will be a better day as the washing is piling up and we are due a dobey day.

Monday 29th January 2007.

Well, I hopefully sneak a peak out of the window and far from seeing the sun rising in the east, there is nowt but cloud blocking its path. It isn’t raining and it is windy, may be we can wash some things and hang them out. We decide to do a hand wash of smalls. We hang them out. It rains! Blooming typical!

We move the soggy mass of unmentionables into the toilet area in the caravan and turn the heating up. If this fails we will have to take the lot up to a launderette we have heard exists in San Miguel.

We have heard the stormy weather is to remain until Thursday. Anne is fed up as she would like to leave this site now, to be honest so do I, but we have only till Sunday to endure this place.

Anne reads and I write up the journal.

We overfill the water tank, again!

Then venture up to San Miguel looking for a launderette in order to dry our smalls. There are places that will do your washing for you, but you have to leave it with them, they wash and iron your stuff, but you ‘pay through the nose’. We take our wet laundry back with us and hope for an improvement in the weather.

I decide to go for a run around the campsite, I run 4 times round, it feels like three miles, but on checking my pedometer it is only half that distance. I must be very unfit.

We read away the rest of the night. We have been reading some fantastic books!

Tuesday 30th January

It seems like a brighter day, we dare to hang the wet socks and underwear out yet again.

To ward off ‘cabin fever’ we stroll off for a walk to Villa Martin. We have a hand drawn map, which I used previously to find a way to San Miguel. We are dressed appropriately and as there are clouds in the sky we take water proofs with us.

The walk took us across the main road that runs north of our site. 100 metres west on this road, is the roundabout where the prostitutes sit and 800 meters east is their other spot for their business. Where they actually take their clients was a mystery to us, until today!

We continued along an old road, where we passed a permanent sited holiday home camp site, which seemed some what incongruous with its location, stuck in the middle of no where, but having views over the salt lakes and the Mediterranean in the far distance.

We then left the road through a gap in a chain wire fence and followed a track which ascended a hill, with views to the right of San Miguel and acres of orange and lemon groves. The track led us into an area surrounded by a rugged landscape with a mixture of shrubs, cacti and what appeared to be large lumps of lava rocks; the ground was slippy with the recent rain fall and had the appearance of clay. The track was being used regularly by motor vehicles.

About half a mile down the track from the chain wire fence, we entered an area which at first glance gave the impression it was a place that had some sort of religious significance. It had the appearance of a place that surrounds shrines, that you see in Nepal, on the way to the summit of K-2. The Buddhists tie prayers written on cloths to the trees so that they can be carried by the wind, all the trees surrounding this place had white material hanging off the branches. Far from there being prayers on the cloths, we could see from the other detritus, on the floor and hanging from the trees that the experience of those that visited this peculiar place was far from religious.

From the evidence strewn over this area, it must have been used for years and never been cleaned up.

We hurriedly walked through this ‘Strange Place’. It was impossible to avoid standing on the many multi coloured condoms, red seemed to be the colour of choice.

We quickly left this place behind us and were soon enjoying panoramic views across to the sea. We walked through a lemon grove and out onto a quiet road at the side of a canal, left for Villa Martin and right to San Miguel. We turned left and crossed a bridge and joined a track on the opposite side of the canal to the road. We came across an abandoned encampment, which appeared to have been used by fruit pickers. It looked as though it was used until recently and may have been given up to the storms. They had left behind them a mess, but we are getting hardened to the sight of squalor.

We eventually arrived at Villa Martin, which is just an extension of an urbanization spreading out from Torrevieja. We were impressed by a large house as we left the canal. The house had an ornately blue tiled roof, with minarets at the corner, a large domed patio area and a glass pyramid stemming up from the centre of the roof. This was owned by a Spanish property developer, but has since been bought by a Russian.

A nearby estate had villas on it which mirrored the style and architecture of the large house, very nice.

We got into the centre of Villa Martin, to find a shopping complex, where you could visit any number of restaurants and eat food from all over the world, including Greece, India, Thai, English Fish and Chips etc, etc, but nothing remotely Spanish. We had a couple of juices at a café and got talking to a lady, who had retired here with her husband, and for the past 6 years she has loved it. Her husband was in the UK for a funeral. As far as I could gather, it was not his funeral.

We decided to retrace our steps back the way we had come and return to the caravan, for lunch and have some burgers we had left over from the previous evening. As we walked through the lemon groves and neared the ‘Strange Place’, Anne and I practised our disdainful looks, should we happen along and discover any coitus activity. Thankfully we had no need to use our practised look. Not today, any way!

The completed walk, according to the pedometer, is just short of 8 miles.

Another night in I’m afraid.

Wednesday 31st January 2007.

The sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky, we decide to have a dobey day. But because the weather has been so bad, everyone on the site has taken to doing their washing. With the promise of sunshine all the communal washing lines are full and stretched lower then a builder’s waist line. We find some space, and hang it all out, including most of the socks and underpants that have been hung out to dry, more times than Lord Levy (Blair’s (former) right hand man).

Whilst doing our chores, our friends, Jenny and Frank, from the quiz team ‘The Archers’, call round and ask us to coffee this afternoon, we graciously accept the kind invitation.

Chores completed, and with the washing still drying we go to our friends’ caravan, which happens to be the same model as ours, though they bought theirs already sited and complete with assembled awning. I must say they did very well on the deal. But I am surprised that they have no contract with the site owner, to whom they pay rent to monthly. There is a great deal of trust, in the arrangement, Frank explains that the outlay has not been great and should the worst come to the worst than he could always move the caravan to another place.

We are soon joined by our other team members and Jenny and Frank’s neighbours Jackie and George.

George is a former Police Officer and Frank is ex RAF, but had a career since leaving. We get on famously.
The patter of rain on the awning indicates it is time for us to hurriedly return to our caravan and recover the washing that is still hanging outside.

Apart from the laundry interlude, the coffee afternoon progresses into the evening, when we finally retired to our respective caravans so food could be consumed, funny thing is I don’t remember drinking any coffee, nor do I remember cycling back to the caravan?

Thursday 1st February 2007.

Well, we have reached the dawning of a new month and with that managed to be away from Stourport for the whole month of January. We are counting off the days, when we can leave this site. Three nights to go!

I hang out the washing again! Thankfully the socks and underpants were finally dried yesterday.

I write some of the journal, while Anne does her chores, and then impatiently drums her fingers on the table as she is keen to get out and do something.

We decide to walk up to San Miguel, through the orange groves, the route I did previously on my bike. We are going to book a table for six at the place we went to a few Saturdays ago, which did a brilliant meal which we both really enjoyed. ‘The Archers’ quiz team are having a night out, this Saturday!

We have a pleasant walk up to San Miguel and marvel at the size of some of the guard dogs that we pass along the way. The weather is fantastic, not a cloud in the sky.

We book our table, then have a drink at a café and sit out in the street, where predictably now, we get talking with a couple who are from Sussex. They both took early retirement, at 55, and now share their time between a house near Brighton and an apartment in San Miguel. They say that they are here more often than in the UK.

They comment that they have noticed a vast increase in the cost of living over the past couple of years that they have been staying here.

We continue our walk, this time we are heading along the canal, returning from San Miguel, to the place where we turned onto the canal to go to Villa Martin the other day.

We both enjoy this walk, there is very little in the way of traffic, the occasional vehicle is supplemented by cyclists who tear past. We see many different species of brightly coloured birds. We even see two very large cat fish in the canal. At one point, we were admiring the elevated view, when a loud eerie groan from the canal, made both Anne and me jump out of our skins. It turned out to be the metal crash barriers at the side of the canal expanding in the sun.

We are soon entering the lemon groves and nearing the ‘Strange Place’. We again practice our disdainful looks. This time we do come across a car, parked in the ‘Strange Place’. The man in the drivers seat is clearly perturbed by our impromptu arrival, his arms flail in an effort to cover his face, as one of the girls I recognise from the roundabout, sits up in the passenger seat. We both give our ‘look’, which is hardly necessary as our presence is sufficient to dampen the most ardent of ardour.

We pass and after a short while, he passes us in his car, without so much as a friendly wave.

Tonight is quiz night, so at the appropriate time we are sat at the table with the rest of the ‘Archers’. We are soundly thrashed, although the speed and the manner in which we are vanquished, becomes fuel for much debate and controversy.

Every cloud has a silver lining and we win a bottle of brandy on the raffle.

Friday 2nd February 2007.

We are getting a little excited as we are nearing out SED (Sentence Expiry Date). A few thing to do today, fill up with fuel, buy some ‘odds and sods’, visit ‘Hacienda de Carlos’ to see if there have been any developments, remember our mates Carl and Caroline, have just bought a new place near here.

We soon find ourselves at ‘Hacienda de Carlos’, where we immediately see that a great deal of progress has been made, their garden has been tiled, although not finished, it is a great improvement.

We find Bob the builder (would you believe?). He is from Keighley and looks like he could be related to our mate Phil. We are involved in a little subterfuge, Bob is under the impression that we may be parking out caravan on Carl’s drive in a weeks time (we are not), this is in order that he completes the outside tiling work. He shows us what he has to do and that the work will be completed in a few days. Concrete has been laid at the kerbs edge in order to assist in accommodating a car on the drive.

Bob seems a nice bloke, Anne who likes the tiles on the drive asks him for advice on how I can lay them on our patio. Notice I didn’t ask!

We then visit the beach at Guadomar, where it is BRACING! It is sunny but there is a cool wind, we sit in the car and watch a young man wind/kite surf. He was very coordinated and skilful and we watched him sail from side to side for about ½ an hour. He ‘knackered me out’, just watching him.

We found an authentic paella restaurant near to the Las Dunas hotel, right on the beach front, judging by the number of people partaking in this traditional Spanish fare, this was the place to eat. We unfortunately had food to cook which we had just bought, never mind there will be other authentic places to eat as we move north.

Tonight we watch ‘Gladiator’, what a good film!

Saturday 3rd February 2007.

Today is for packing and saying our goodbyes. We attend the reception where we pay for our electricity and water, this comes to £96, ‘How Much?’

By lunch time we are virtually ready for off! But the reason for being so keen, is the weather forecast is for rain, so we would rather everything was put away in the dry.

I write up the journal and look forward to going out with the ‘Archers’ tonight.

We attend Frank and Jenny’s caravan in good time and are given a nice drop of red wine, we explained to them earlier that our car would be packed and ready for off, so they very kindly offered to give us a lift to the restaurant. George and Jackie turn up and we are off on our way.

As we enter the restaurant it looks very pretty and well presented. As we are a little early we are about the only people in the place. We sit with girls at one end of the table and us boys at the other.

A great evening was had by all, I think George was the only one who had a complaint about his pork cutlets being a little tough, but aside from that it was fantastic. We left a little after 10 p.m., which when you think we got to the restaurant a little before 7.30 p.m. was just about right.

We bade our new friends’ goodbye and promised to include them on the mailing list for this journal. Yes I know! More suckers for punishment!

Early to bed!

Sunday 4th February 2007.

At 3.11 a.m. precisely I woke up, I have no idea why, but I could not get back to sleep. When I did get up at 7.30 I felt tired out.

The car and caravan were virtually packed up and we were out of the Florentiles camp gates, just before 9 a.m. and on our way North to Benicasim.

We chose to take the AP7 route which is called the Mediterranean motorway route. There were a few expensive (for Spain) tolls and the weather was quite murky.

Still, by 2.30 p.m. we entered the camp site, which was a typical well run Spanish site. With many regimented pitches with all manner of Nationalities thereon. We chose our pitch and quickly set up camp in the rain. Washed and changed we thought we would have a walk through the nearby town and see if any restaurants might catch our eye. The trouble with Anne and me, is that we are always hungry before the restaurants open up. After a few beers, we walk back to the camp and at the camp bar/restaurant have a completely adequate meal with wine for £10 for the both of us, not half bad.

We get talking to an Australian who tries to convince, that he is a whiz with graphics, but I wonder if he is a bogus Australian as he doesn’t know the words to ‘The Chunder Song’, which I relate to him, through some stony looks from Anne.

The chunder song :-
As I was sitting on Bondi Peer,
Sipping tubes of ice cold beer,
With a bucket full of prawns upon my knee.
As polished off the prawns.
I had a technicolor yawn,
And I chundered in the old Pacific Sea.

Drink it up, ‘chug a lug’ Drink it up, ‘chug a lug’, won’t you have a few more tubes and prawns with me? If you had to pick a spot to regurgitate the lot! No you just can’t beat the old pacific sea.

Having finished our meal, we retire to our caravan, leaving the Aussie with some dodgy looking motor home owners, discussing the possibility of having their dog’s silhouette immortalised on the side of their vehicle, must be love!

We have an evening in watching ‘The very best comedy moments’, which came free with a news paper. We are now scraping the bottom of the barrel where DVD’s are concerned, although I am saving ‘War of the Worlds’ till last.

Monday 5th February 2007.

Today, we take advantage of the facilities on the site to do some laundry which seems to have miraculously accumulated since the other day (Thursday) when we finished, what seemed like (to me) a whole week spent doing the laundry. It cost the equivalent of £10 to do this bit of laundry! How much?

We are not totally impressed by this campsite ‘Bonterra Park’. The toilets and showers are not at all up to the standards that Anne demands and so after one sortie, she decides to carry out the rest of her ablutions in the caravan.

The people here are very nice, including the staff and saying ‘Good Morning!’, ‘Good Afternoon!’, and ‘Good Evening!’, to everyone as you walk past the many people milling about the site, soon becomes a chore. I just nod; Anne embraces this whole process with gusto and adds a little spice, by guessing the nationality of the greeter and using the appropriate greeting in their language. She did, at one point, confuse me for some other nationality, by giving me the greeting ‘Gued Ree-dance!’?

We decide that we will stay here for three nights and be on our way on Wednesday.

We have a little drive around and purchase some provisions. There’s a Lidl on the doorstep and a large supermarket even closer.

I make a vegetable curry with chicken in a tikka sauce. I was going to do a Chicken Tarka. Chicken Tarka is like Chicken Tikka, but it’s ‘A little otter!’

Anne does not only dislike my joke, she doesn’t much care for my chicken either, too much lemon in the marinade.

We get on very well with all our neighbours on the site, especially an elderly German couple, he will be 70 in June, he tells me his mother is 92 and although going a little blind, still has her marbles. Still she has her mother to show her around, only joking!

There are many Kia Sorentos here, there are three on the alley where we are parked. Probably 20 on the campsite. We see one with a Stanley Road Motors, Bradford sticker on it, Anne suggests we leave a note on the windscreen, I say, ‘Not bloody likely, if he’s from Bradford, we’ll end up murdered in our sleep!’

Tuesday 6th February 2007.

As it is another beautiful day, we decide to go for a walk along the sea front. Although the sun is beaming down and the sky is that beautiful Mediterranean blue, it is quite nippy. So we dress as though we are going on an arctic expedition. My rucksack is appropriately equipped, with ice picks and clampons.

As we approach the reception we see a large group of people, some of whom are old and similarly attired as ourselves, and some are the same age as Anne and me, but dressed in short sleeved shirts and shorts.

They are going on a guided walk along the promenade where there are many villas to explore, some with historical and interesting stories to tell.

The guided walk is free and we are invited along. Anne gets talking to a couple of retired police officers from Kent. They have an enormous single deck bus which has been kitted out with all manner of space age gadgets. The bus has expandable sides (similar to my rucksack). They are staying at this site with their disabled parents.

It gets hotter as the walk progresses and we divest ourselves of our outer garments, my rucksack takes on single deck bus proportions, as clothing is squeezed into it. I have an over hang at my rear, under which a pack of latch key dogs is able to take shelter from the sun.

We find ourselves getting on with a couple from south Manchester, Nigel and Gaynor. We soon find ourselves laughing rather too loudly and missing the lecture given by a little Spanish chap, who appears ‘a little light on his feet’. Many of the villas have been abandoned and remain uninhabited and are falling into disrepair and dilapidation. Which really is a shame, not only are they fantastic buildings but they are in an absolutely prime location on the beach front.

The Villa walk is over much too soon, I suggest to Anne we go back with Nigel and Gaynor so I can get rid of the rucksack, but Anne wants to continue along the coast. Whilst we say goodbye to our new friends, I take great pains to explain to Anne that the rucksack which now ways a ton might best be taken back to the caravan, but Nigel doesn’t fall for the hint and does not offer to take it back for me. So I have to carry the bloody thing all the way down the coast and back.

Let me tell you something about Benicasim. This is a typical Spanish resort. Apart from the two Camping sites, there are no other hoards of foreign tourists who come here. So the place is geared up for the Spanish, which is a delight. The beaches are long and clean, graffiti is minimal and concentrated in one area. The tiled promenade as you venture south gives way to a wooden board walk that follows the contours of the shore for a couple of miles. We were fortunate on this day to see the place in full sun, with the Med as calm as a mill pond. There were very few people about. The town has many small shops and boutiques, but also large supermarkets. Although there are apartment blocks, these were not on the scale of Torrevieja or Benidorm. When we were at Florentiles Camp site, Frank, one of the ‘Archers’ quiz team, said that once we had been to Benicasim, we would wonder why on earth we bothered with Torrevieja. Frank you were right!

We returned to camp and bumped into Nigel, who was waving a large camera about. He invited us to his motor-home and we followed him. Poor Gaynor, was not expecting a visit, she kindly showed us around this magnificent motor-home, whilst shooting daggers at Nigel. After a couple of beers we invited them to ours, where more beer was consumed and tales of our travels were retold.

We then learnt that they were both ex forces and Nigel was REME! Though he did his full quota and retired a WO2, like our friend Alex. Nigel has again retired from his career as an IT consultant, they have sold up their home and are searching through Europe for a place to settle! Sound familiar?

We threw some food together and drank into the evening.

Wednesday 7th February 2007.

We decide to stay another night, not just because we had such a good time last night, but the day has the promise of being nice again.

We have a walk around town and buy some things for the house.

We are soon back and enjoying the afternoon sun. Anne conjures up a fantastic late lunch of hake and prawns, with salad and lemon potatoes, washed down with a bottle of wine.

Our elderly German neighbours, give me their address, near Kiel and invite us to stay with them anytime, they are sweet.

We then had a walk around the site and say farewell to a few people, including our new friends Nigel and Gaynor. Whilst doing the rounds we come across a group of motor home owners who are members of a club, one of whom was an elderly gentleman who clearly had too much to drink. He embarked on a diatribe of putdowns directed at the intelligence of caravanners, which I thought was uncalled for. Each to their own is what I say.

Tonight we watch ‘Conan The Barbarian’, and ‘Brassed Off’, I thought that we were really scraping the barrel now, but we both enjoyed the films. I wonder how England got on against Spain.

Thursday 8th February 2007.

We are packed and away by 9.30 a.m. We only have a 120 miles to do today, our intention is to stay at a campsite at Vilanova De Prades. We have heard good reports about this site and it is on the way back to Bilbao, we have days to spare so we can afford to take our time.

The drive takes us through Mont Blanc and up some very interesting ascents. On the downward spirals, I use the gearbox to slow the unit down, which is a first for me; this technique prevents your brakes from overheating.

We eventually arrive 850 metres above sea level at the campsite, it is throwing it down and it is cold. We set up camp and blow the fuse on our electric supply three times, before I relent and run the central heating off the gas. Anne regrets leaving the coast too soon. I lament the loss of the sun, but Hey! Ho! We are still on our adventure.

We soon feel a little better when we hear from Mary (Anne’s sister) that we have had 6 inches of snow at home.

The rain seems to stop, but gives way to a fog, or low laying cloud, which ever? The point is you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It soon gets dark, we are hungry and have been told at the reception that there are two restaurants in the village. The first one we pass which is virtually at the camp gates, we are told is not as good as the one further in the village. So we march onward through the freezing fog and into the village, I quip that it always appears to be the place furthest away that is recommended and invariably the place furthest away is closed. The village, or what we could see of it, was all narrow cobbled streets and grey tall stone houses, with heavy oak and wrought iron doors and windows. It was deserted. Whitechapel in the 1890’s and ‘The Ripper’ sprang to mind, was that a rat scurrying down the alley or just a large black cat?

After a cold wet foggy march we arrive at the second restaurant, it is closed. We traipse back to the first restaurant and are warmly greeted, probably because we are the first customers they have seen this year. We end up bartering for a meal, as we didn’t want to be spending a fortune. We ate heartily and washed the food down with a bottle of wine after giving the lady proprietor a hug and a kiss (strong wine!) we then headed back to the caravan.

If the weather does not improve by the morning we are out of here!

Friday 9th February 2007.

It has rained right through the night and continues, as we make a move to escape this place. There is no pleasure packing up in the rain, mud is trudged everywhere, we both end up soaked. We leave the camp site by 9 a.m. and are soon negotiating the steep descent.

Today’s plan is to get North of Logrono and a place called Navarrete, a distance of about 250 miles. This will leave us with less than 100 miles to do on our last day to get to the Port.
The weather has cleared up and we enjoy cloudless skies, with clear views in the distance of the snow capped Pyrenees as they pass on our right. The landscape as you would expect changes considerably with the passing miles. Passing over the high plains, we see rugged terrain, speckled with sheep and goats, the occasional conifer tree and miles of moor land shrub. There appears to be a grey cliff face on our right that follows our path for a hundred miles as we travel north west. The rugged terrain soon gives way to miles and miles of vineyards planted on gently undulating fields as we enter the Rioja region of Spain. Terracotta roofed towns sit atop hills with church spires at their pinnacle.

We arrive in the vicinity of Naverrete, where we check out a campsite that is not shown in our Caravan Club book, but we have got from a computer programme Stuart and Liz gave us at Florantiles. Although it looks as though the place is in use, I don’t like the look of the site. So we go to the other site.

Camping Naverrete adequately suit our needs and the lady who runs it, studied at Bradford University in 1996, so she takes a shine to us, although the family she stayed with on Poplars Farm, called Toehill, ring no bells with me?

As we get on with the lady, I joke that I remember her in Bradford and she was a ‘Very naughty girl!’
She gives us a whopping 10% discount, yippee!

We have dinner and settle down to ‘War of the worlds’.

During the night we are buffeted by gale force winds, the caravan rocks about like there are two newly weds on board. Anne does her ‘I’m frightened’, routine, which invariably means that I have also to be awake, to listen to the howling wind and feel the caravan rock and roll.

Saturday 10th February 2007.

We both awake, wondering if the wind was but a dream, but each corroborates the others account.

We both use the camp facilities. As I approach the shower block I meet Anne who warns me of how the taps should be turned so as not to risk a scolding. I do as I have been instructed, but for all my preparations I am still virtually circumcised by a red hot jet stream of water, the velocity of which could be utilised to remove graffiti from buildings.

We decide to visit Logrono, the nearest city (10 Km).

We are both impressed by this city. Neither of us particularly likes being in cities but this place has a very intimate feel. The narrow pedestrianised streets around the cathedral, the many bodegas and bars were all very welcoming. At no time did we feel intimidated. We sat at a bar and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine, which was all we enjoyed as it took a half hour for a beer and a wine to show up with our food. We smiled and through clenched teeth said ‘manana’. We then regretted not having the meal of the day at one of the many other fascinating little places.

We bought some provisions from the local supermarket and returned back to the caravan. Siesta time!

We decide on a Saturday night out in Naverrete, and as we both would like to have a drink the car remains with the caravan and we prepare to walk the ½ mile into the village. Because the road is unlit and the traffic travels at a fair pace, in the interests of road safety we each carry a torch and I wear a fluorescent jacket. The sight of which tickles Anne!

The walk passes quickly and we are soon in the centre of the village, which typically is situated on a hill with a church built at the highest point. We are drawn to the church which is lit by halogen lights, which gives the terracotta coloured stone a reddish glow. Neither of us claim to be architectural historians, but even we could deduce that the church was very old, as were all the buildings huddled around it as if seeking solace in the great buildings shadow.

We climbed some steep steps to an area above the church and explored the ancient narrow streets that wind their way down to the more modern streets below. The streets were deserted, save for a few children, who would acknowledge our presence with a bashful ‘Hola!’, then disappear into one of the many ancient terraced houses. Above some of the large wooden doors, were family crests carved out of stone. The doors had knockers in the shape of a clenched fist. All fascinating stuff! It’s hard to believe that this place is not particularly a tourist destination. We again found ourselves at the front of the church, just as the Saturday evening service had finished and the congregation were spilling out onto a village square. Anne was already on nodding terms with a few of the women and was greeted warmly by an elderly woman who we had got talking to in a shop the previous day. We felt almost part of the community.

We entered the church and were astounded by the scale of the altar, which was decorated in gold. There were the usual religious icons, such as the Severn Stations of the Cross, the Madonna and an entombed Jesus which all looked dark and paled in comparison to the altar.

We continued on our walk and found an internet café bar where we up dated the web site.

We entered one of the many bars, where the young men were celebrating an unusual fiesta. On this day not too many years ago, conscription to the forces for men who attained the age of eighteen, was finished with. So on this day all the men who are 18 years old celebrate by drinking with their friends and then have a meal with their families (just a normal night for an eighteen year old in ‘Blighty’, barring the meal with the family).

We end up in a Social club, where we drink a few glasses of the local Rioja and sit watching the Spanish enjoying the evening, there are so many people milling about on the streets you would expect a parade was about to march past. I go to the toilet, there is only a disabled toilet available. As is usual here, the light which is on a timer goes out. Through the dimness, I see a switch which I press. I am surprised by a loud siren. This sounded coincidently when I pressed the switch. I quickly pressed it again and the siren stopped. I hit another switch and the light came on. I then saw that the switch I had pressed was for disabled people who get into difficulties. As I left the toilet, far from there being a queue of paramedics and nurses, waiting to pounce with defibrillators and oxygen, my embarrassment went virtually unnoticed apart from the barman, who gave me a raised eye brow and ‘tut!’, as he dried a glass.

We decided that we had had enough cavorting for one night, or shall we say that Anne decided that I had had enough cavorting for one night, so donning my fluorescent Jacket, with torches in hand we ambled back to the caravan.

Sunday 11th February 2007.

Although it looks like rain, it is warm. We get kitted out and sally forth towards some of the neighbouring villages in the opposite direction to Naverrete. We follow a winding path that takes us through acres of vineyards. The views back to Naverrete as we ascended some moderate hills, was breathtaking. We soon passed one village about ½ mile to our right called Medrano. Our intention was to reach a village a little further away called Entrena. The rain does arrive but merely a shower, we march onward and eventually reach our goal. We again have to climb a steep hill to get to the village centre.

On our approach to a small convent church, we are both mesmerised by the sound of a woman singing. Initially I thought it might have come from the church, but no it was an occupant of one of the neighbouring houses. The sound of the woman’s voice as it flowed through the window into the street with its haunting Moorish melody held us spell bound for a number of minutes.

We walked on and were invited into St Clara’s Church, by a chap who explained that there had been a convent here, sadly the nuns had long gone but the church remained and was used by the locals as an alternative place of worship, to the much larger church at the top of the hill.

We note that people are very friendly and every one wants to say ‘Hola’. We walk passed the large church at the top of the hill and find ourselves in a small square where we have a couple of coffee’s.

We meet a nervous Springer Spaniel with blue eyes called ‘Ben’.

We walk back to the caravan site along the main road, which is quiet.

Sunday dinner of pork loin chops, is prepared and washed down with Rioja.

We laze the rest of the day away, culminating in me watching the first half of Athletico Madrid playing Bilboa on the TV in the camp site bar. Even though no one is in the bar, I return back to the caravan reeking of smoke.

We have to decide how we are to approach the last part of our journey of 90 miles. I had always contended that if the weather was bad i.e. SNOW, we would get to the port of Bilboa on the Monday night the day before the sailing, which is playing it very safe as the boat doesn’t sail till Tuesday afternoon.
That would mean parking on the dockside one night.

I have a restless night contemplating our quandary.

Monday 12th February 2007.

We initially decide to play it safe, and then change our minds. We are going to risk setting off from the campsite here in Naverrete at 8 a.m. to get to the docks by mid-day. I know to you reading this, that you may feel this probably does not qualify to be regarded as a risk. But Anne and me have been caught out previously where traffic conditions have conspired to work against us, putting us under loads of pressure. If we miss this boat, there isn’t another one for a week. So we would have to drive through France! After all 90 miles in 4 hours should not be a problem, should it?

Today we pack up and do a bit of shopping. We have what will probably be our last meal in Spain, Lidl lasagne, lemon chipped potatoes, salad and Rioga, finished with Eddy’s oranges in cinnamon and suger. Fantastic! We should seek sponsorship from Lidl?

It is now 6.45 p.m. and I am ‘full fit to burst’, the car is packed and in position to drop the caravan on the hitch. We will rise at 7 a.m. and be at the camp gates for 8 a.m. in readiness for when they are opened. I don’t expect to be able to write anything now until we get back home, given that everything goes well tomorrow.

My addendum to this journal is that we have had a marvellous 6 week holiday in Spain. It is not a place where we could live, but there is every likelihood that we may return for another longer stint of winter sun. We enjoyed being in the north more than the south and should we return, Benicasim would probably feature as a long stay halt.

Tuesday 13th February 2007.

As is usual before any sort of journey I have a restless night, so I am awake and up before the alarm clock sounds. It is absolutely freezing outside, I haven’t seen that much ice on the car since we lived in Bingley. We set the ‘John and Anne machine’ in motion and quickly are out of the camp gates, heading towards Bilboa.

The freezing conditions are as a result of a completely cloudless sky, the roads are dry so ice on the road is not a consideration. The drive on the AP68 is an absolute joy and we see some fantastic mountain views, the style of the houses is typical of alpine lodges.

We soon find ourselves negotiating heavy traffic in the busy metropolis of Bilboa, this is something we have got a little unused to, and we have to keep our whit’s about us as it would be all to easy at this late stage to lose concentration and have a collision. I am encouraged by thoughts of soon being on the ferry and being able to relax over a long lazy lunch at sea.

It is 10.30 a.m. and we have arrived in plenty of time. Anne and I congratulate each other on our good fortune. We approach the kiosk where tickets are shown and are surprised to find a motor vehicle parked facing us, a man from the car walks towards us with a very worried expression on his face. I comment on the fact that it is always a bad sign when a man as worried as he looks, walks towards you. I open the window and the man says, ‘The ferry’s cancelled!’
Anne says, ‘You’re joking!’
‘The weather has been so bad in England that the boat never set sail the other day, so it’s still in Portsmouth! They say you can wait for it to come on Friday, or catch the ferry from Calais to Dover.’
With that the bloke returns to his car and drives off.

We have a bit of a problem, as Anne believed that she was to have a job interview in the next few days. Also our travel insurance finished today, not that I am thinking either of us is likely to fall ill, but….!

We are advised at the kiosk that we should attend the terminal building, which we do. We are offered two options either we can wait till Friday (but who is to say that the weather will be any better then?). Or we can accept 255 euros as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ and drive up to Calais and catch the P&O ferry there, a distance of 1000 miles, plus the additional distance from Dover to Stourport. The money is meant to cover the additional expense during the journey of fuel, tolls and accommodation for one night.

We decide on neither of the above options. We liaise with the ‘Caravan Club’ through whom we had made the booking. They confirmed that we would be reimbursed the cost of the cancelled return ferry journey, but the sum had to be calculated?

There are ferry crossing from Caen in Northern France, to Portsmouth, a more feasible option compared to the ones given above, although it is still a drive of 700 miles and a ferry crossing. ‘The Club’ confirms there are spaces available on the Brittany Ferry from Caen to Portsmouth.

One of the women at the desk, states that the ‘gesture of goodwill payment’, was only for those people taking the Calais option. I could see a receipt for the money with my name on it, so I gesture to another woman behind the counter, that I was ready to take the money. This was while the ‘jobs worth’ woman was busy with another customer. I took the money signed the receipt and waited for Anne.

Anne meanwhile was on the phone to her potential employers in Worcester. There was no problem with the interview, as the process to fill the position had been delayed. She had a very positive conversation with her prospective boss, which put a spring in Anne’s step.

After a cup of coffee, we were again back on the road, on our unscheduled journey, heading north past San Sebastian, into France, then onward and upward to Bordeaux.
We should have filled up in Spain, as the diesel prices went up by at least 10% in France.

One of the many reasons for deciding not to drive through France to Spain, was the cost of the road tolls and the cost of fuel and we were soon being hammered! Because we have a twin axle caravan, we are charged more than a normal vehicle.

Although knackered and totally unprepared for a journey through France, i.e. no Sat/Nav, we endeavour to keep a positive outlook and are determined to enjoy the journey. We have lunch at a motorway services and attempt to telephone our friends in England who have a châteaux near to where we are headed, but they are not at home. We also try to contact some camp sites north of Bordeaux, with no success. We continue North.

I am starting to flag, it is about 4 p.m. we have done about 300 miles which is 100 more than our preferred maximum and we have no prospective night halt. We stop at a place on the A10 called Aire de Cezak, (or similar), which is a motorway rest area. We are very impressed by the facilities, it is clean and looks safe, police were patrolling and a man was playing petank/bouls. We were really being lulled into a false sense of security. Being tired, we almost gave in and were virtually setting up camp here, when I read the Caravan Club advice on these places. Basically it said that if you are tempted to stay at such a place, there is a very strong likelihood that whilst you are asleep, you will be gassed, then robbed and possibly worst!

I read this to Anne.

We continued north. We managed to contact a camp site, Camping Les Moulins de la Vergne, at Pons. The chap seemed very up beat and told us that they were open and they had a restaurant which was also open. He also said that if we got lost we could call him.

We get lost and have to call the ‘up beat chap’, who says ‘stay where you are’.
We indignantly sit in our car on a dark country lane with four way flashers, intermittently lighting up the surrounding trees and road signs.

‘Up beat chap’, arrives in a red Land Rover and says, ‘follow me’.
Which we do, 400 yards down the lane and into his premises.

Because of all the rain we are told to pitch on the road as the grass is too boggy. We set up camp very quickly. It is now 7.30 p.m. and pitch black.

The food at the restaurant was over priced, mediocre and very welcome. We spoke to an elderly couple, who found themselves in ‘the same boat as us’, or not as the case turned out to be. They had decided on the same course of action as us, but they had heard of the cancellation before being given the options that we had. So, they had not received any financial assistance.

Finally the end of a very long and traumatic day arrives and we both collapse into our caravan bed, which we thought we had done for the last time the previous night.

Wednesday 14th February 2007.

I don’t wake Anne as I scurry out of the caravan into the rain and on to shower block, it’s just after 8 a.m.
When I get back Anne is on her way out to do the same.
I busy myself, with scissors and slices of bread, which I cut into the shape of hearts then toast ready for Anne’s return. Well it is Valentines Day!
We have breakfast; Anne is impressed by my romantic gesture.

We are back on the road by 9 a.m.

Although we are booked on a ferry for tomorrow, we decide to get to the ferry terminal today, in order to see if we can get an earlier crossing.

We estimate it will be approximately 350 mile.

We make good progress and arrive at Caen about 5 p.m. We get lost and end up on some narrow roads, which we decide are too narrow for the caravan and retrace our steps to finally find our way to the ferry.

We are told that there is room on the 11.30 p.m. crossing and we can have a cabin at great expense, but what the heck, bugger the expense, we are going home, yippee!

We have time to have another mediocre meal at a nearby hotel. We then relax and await the arrival of the ferry.

There is nothing now much to say, we got on the Brittany Ferry which was very comfortable; we had a calm crossing and managed some sleep.

Thursday 15th February 2007.

We arrived in Portsmouth 7.30 a.m. We set the Sat/Nav for home and within 20 miles or so realised we were going in the wrong direction, oh bum!
We retraced our steps and got back on track. Although we made another error, with regard to the route, on the way home, I put this down to tiredness.

We arrived home at 12.30 p.m.

The end!

We are discussing the big trip we intend to do next year, Greece here we come!

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