Bonjour La France

Life at the supermarket

And then we were in France. First stop the big supermarket in St Jean de Luz. There’s a supermarket, cafe, restaurant, clothes shop and we only realised today – a beach! We didn’t go to the beach but we saw it because we took a different route out of the supermarket and passed it and the pretty town. Well, France does keep surprising us.

For our lunch we had a sandwich. But next door our French neighbours fired up the bbq and set the table (and yes, they had a real table cloth) in the supermarket car park. I love France

Also at the supermarket is a book shop. Is it necessary to say that neither of us could read a French book? No, ok I won’t say it. It’s so disappointing though when you see great books… in French. Denis saw a cookbook series called Simplissime with pictures of the ingredients but just enough French words to defeat him.

Our new guide book

I was luckier, I found a simple drawing book that I believe I can use without reading the words. I also bought a map… Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France!) A map does not rely on words to get its meaning across but fortunately there is some English. The bit in English is about how Charles Ceyrac who was mayor of a village called Collonges-la-Rouge (south east of Limoges) was reading a readers digest book and saw a list of the most beautiful villages in France. His own village was included in the list and it got him thinking…

I asked for Tapenade in the supermarket, in French! And Denis made Motorway Salad for dinner

He started an association in 1982 for these beautiful villages, to preserve them, to support the rural population and to share the beauty. In the beginning there were 67 villages, now there are 170. And new ones come on board each year. So now we have a new mission bringing us from one beautiful village to the next for 170 villages… we may not be coming home after all.

New to my (not to scale or accurate) map series – France!

Chao españa!

The marina at Bermeo

We finally left Bermeo yesterday but not without having another coffee at the park. For some reason there weren’t as many people around and our cafe was closed but the one next door was open. I wonder do the cafe owners get together to decide what days they’ll have off?

All the buildings are so different

We’ve almost come to the end of our time in Spain and we’ll be returning home via France. Each time we go visit Spain we see things we didn’t see the last time, like the fishing villages on the northern coast. We have passed them by on the motorways and we could see them from the viaductos. We’re so glad we got to visit. I’m itching to learn more. Do you have a recommendation for a good guide book for the lesser known towns of Spain? Oh, and in English?

The port near the park, Bermeo

Last night we stayed in Gernika again, we were here on the 17th April. Only a month has passed but we feel different. We are very comfortable finding our way around, we’ve got the hang of ordering food and “cooking” our salad, markets are no problem and although we still haven’t barbecued any fish, I’m confident we will… all we need is a fish,

A statue of a fisherman’s wife delivering fish, Bermeo. In the past the men went fishing and the women took care of the business, selling, delivering, canning

We’ll be in France by the time you read this, buying French tapenade for our salad and considering some fish. We’ll be missing the cost of living in Spain and Portugal, especially the price of diesel.

There’s also a square in the middle of the narrow streets, with a church, a bandstand and town hall

And of course we’ll be practicing our French. We have almost no Portuguese and a very small amount of Spanish but we have enough French to ask questions in the supermarket and read most simple signs. Do you know why we have more French? It’s because the Portuguese and the Spanish speak English to us. The French do not and it’s the motivation we need to give the language a go. It’s the only way I’ll be able to find my tapenade in a French supermarket.

People watching in Bermeo

Evening at the marina in Bermeo, Spain

We had a great couple of night sleep beside a graveyard overlooking the sea. Bermeo is surrounded by steep hills and blue sea and we had to drive over the hills and down to the sea to get to it but it was well worth it. This beautiful town is full of character with tall colourful, narrow buildings, very narrow streets and a marina filled with boats.

The old town gate

The motorhome parking is located at possibly the highest point around, in front of the graveyard and beside the football pitch. The graveyard has a better view of the sea but as it protects the parking from the wind we couldn’t complain. We also couldn’t complain about exercise, the steep terrain did our hearts a power of good.

Narrow street

Yesterday morning I was able to indulge myself in my favourite thing to do when we are away – morning coffee and people watching. We walked to the centre of town via the old stone gate and on down the narrow streets, and out into the open areas near the water.

Morning coffee overlooking the park

You can’t get lost because every cobblestoned road leads to the water. The open area consists of a park with cafes and restaurants on one side, a playground on the other and beyond that the port. We sat outside one of the cafes under an awning in the shade for almost an hour. Denis was reading but I was looking at the people.

Extremely narrow street…

There was a granny with her grandson, a lady throwing a ball for her sweet collie dog, workers putting up market stalls and a couple of police officers patrolling. A group of older woman sat down near us and practically every person who passed waved at them – locals.

It’s not easy to see in this picture but imagine… cars arrive via narrow streets to the top of those steps and then have to turn right between the yellow and orange building on the left… but what if they don’t turn? There’s nothing stopping them from going down the steps…

There was another lady who got herself a coffee and then a newspaper and sat with her back to the first group – a past falling out, do you think? I hoped she wasn’t lonely, she did look a bit grumpy but soon another woman appeared. The new woman was smiling from ear to ear when she saw the paper reading woman. Then they walked off together chatting and smiling – no drama here. All good in Bermeo.

Motorway Salad

Geese in the community

Less than twenty minutes away from the medieval town of Santillana Del Mar we found our home for the night. It was another old town, not quite as big but just as full of stone houses, walls and roads.

Geese on tour

The town of Cartes provides parking for motorhomes beside the park where geese and ducks ramble freely. There’s also a (17km) greenway for walking and cycling that leads to the coast and a playground with zip wire and table tennis table. All for free and quiet at night.

Colourful Cartes

We arrived just time to have a ramble around the old part of town before dinner. Dinner was salad. At one of the motorway services we had a surprisingly tasty salad. I’m not a great salad eater or maker but I did think I could replicate this one.

Nearby greenway

The ingredients had been sitting in the fridge for a day or two… but were still within date so I offered to assemble my version of Motorway Salad. In case you would also like to replicate a motorway salad, here are the ingredients… bag of salad leaves, mozzarella cheese (the one in the bag of water not grated), ripe avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

There’s our home for the night

And the method… wash and dry the salad leaves, take the mozzarella cheese out of the bag, drain and lay on a bed of leaves, slice the avocado, dot it and the sun-dried tomatoes around on the leaves, drop dots of tapenade likewise. Sprinkle the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper over everything. Done and Yum. It also looks great… forgot to take pictures, sorry.

Isn’t this adorable? As well as real geese and ducks they have ornamental chickens

Santillana Del Mar


On Sunday searching for a campsite (or even a place to park for the night) we drove to one of the highlighted towns on our tour. It was billed as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain.

Weathered stone wall, probably 800 years old!

Santillana Del Mar is very beautiful. It is situated between Gijón and Bilbao and not on the sea so I don’t know why Mar (the sea) is in its name. I will be adding it to the map… below.

Bit of a slope…

The entire village looks like it’s from a medieval film set. Every building, every wall is made of stone and of course the roads are cobblestoned. Our guide says the entire town is a museum but people live here too.

I love this drinking fountain, making it look like the water tap is fed from the stone urn above

And you can stay in the houses, we saw people arriving with their luggage. There are also a few very attractive (from the outside and barred to non-residents) 5 star hotels.

Touch of colour…

We were tired from the driving and searching so we took it easy, bought ice cream and walked around soaking up the atmosphere of an outdoor museum.

Also stone art… why the long face?

Wandering around did make me wonder how this place was able to stay untouched over the centuries. It could be the saint buried in the church…Santa Juliana is said to have imprisoned the devil.

There it is… on the map

Zelda and the Viaductos

Even the manholes have shells in Santiago de Compostela

When we woke up in Santiago de Compostela it was Friday and there was something very exciting happening for Denis… the latest version of the computer game Zelda was out. This may not mean a lot to you (or me) but to Denis this is gold. On top of that there was a shop called Game within walking distance of our car park home. So off we set at opening time to see if there would be a Zelda left for Denis.

Coming attraction, Viaducto… as seen from the town of Mondoñedo

I sat in the cafe reading an article about how to get more followers on Instagram (synopsis – stop trying!)) while he queued. Oh yes I forgot to mention, you have to queue to buy Zelda. While waiting he sent exciting updates by text.

The queue

Text 1. He met a woman who was queuing to collect for her son who had reserved the game. Tense moment as Denis realised he hadn’t reserved a game…
Text 2. The woman had been given specific two hour window in which she could collect her game or loose it. More hopeful moment, maybe someone hadn’t picked up their game and he could buy it?
Text 3. He was next…
Text 4. A picture of Zelda in his hand. Phew.

Zelda! And a free coin…

And then we were on the road again. This time to the north coast of Spain and a town called Ribadeo. We were ready to spend a couple of days in a nice campsite. Unfortunately, when we got to Ribadeo, the campsite was closed.

Can you see Ruby reflected in the tank of chocolate?

You drive to these campsites without checking and expect them to be wide-open and we’re surprised when they’re not. Stuff happens, businesses close or someone gets sick or tired of working with the public. Who knows what happens.

The campsite in Perlora which was open. Can you spot Ruby?

Fortunately we happen to know a great supermarket car park in Ribadeo where we’re allowed to park overnight. It’s not very visually beautiful but very handy for buying groceries, coffee and drinking glass (going around a particularly challenging roundabout broke a glass) and we did all those things and next morning we were heading along the north coast to a different (and hopefully open) campsite in the town of Perlora.

Our sea view in Perlora

It was open! In fact it had been open since 1968. It’s a gorgeous place. On the way we were not expecting gorgeous because we went through a very industrial area called Aviles on route but we arrived at the coast on this little peninsula of a campsite. There were showers and a little café next door. We were still on cereal rations so we didn’t need a restaurant.

There’s a viaducto in the distance…

Next day we were heading for the Pecos (steep and rocky mountainous range south east of Gijón) but again another campsite was closed so we ended up traveling on. That’s why I have a lot of road pictures.

…and the little blue railing

We see a lot of these things we call viaductos… They are the scariest thing (to me) – a long bridge on the motorway over a deep valley. They are often higher than the tallest trees with only a little blue railing to keep me safe.

Poio Pictures

Palm trees at Poio

With all the food pictures yesterday I didn’t have space to share the peaceful park up about 20 minutes drive outside Pontevedra, called Poio. So here’s some calm for a May Monday morning…

Blue sky, blue sea, stone slipway

While Denis worked I sat listening to the water and the birds and taking one picture after another. Plenty of Camino pilgrims passed and as I was wearing a small rucksack I looked like I belonged there too. Many wished me a Buenos días (good morning) or said Ola (hello) as they walked on.

This way to Santiago de Compostela

It wasn’t until the afternoon I noticed all the stone blocks in the park had writing on them. I went around trying to read the inscriptions.

“I only ask one thing of you if one day my people should need me that you will help me do my duty” Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese politician/diplomat/author)

My favourite view is of the red tiled houses. I’m going to have a go at painting a version of it. From a distance it looks like the houses are all higgle-piggly but of course they’re not.

Higgle-piggly houses view…

They’re organised in streets that we can’t see from this distance. People walk up and down those streets every day going to and from their homes.

Closer view

Very, very grateful to this community for setting aside beautiful spaces like this for our use.

I Love Tapas!

Vila Nova de Cerveira at night

And then we were back in Vila Nova de Cerveira (you’ll be needing my map for this one…) for the night. Travelling the way we do means we often have problems challenges to work out. Our attitude when one of these challenges arises is key to getting through it without killing each other life changing consequences. So whenever we solve something like the lack of strong data we celebrate with a high five or an extra coffee or even a meal out.

My Aubergine gratin and behind it Denis’ mushrooms in lemon with a little cheese grated on top

We found (thank you google maps) a great tapas restaurant called Curt’isso in Vila Nova de Cerveira. Tapas is a Spanish thing and it means a small snack but they are so much more. They are usually small but small is a relative measure so you can end up very easily ordering too much. I suppose it’s like getting lots of starters instead of one big meal. They can be cold or hot, simple or exotic. I love it. It’s difficult but I always try to start with one and order a second if I’m still hungry. Denis does something else…

Denis’ fried potatoes with two different dips, one tomato the other possibly red pepper

Anyway we decided to celebrate and go to Curt’isso and we were not disappointed. Every dish was different and my mouth is watering just thinking about them now. Denis was a little disappointed because he couldn’t finish… he ordered 4, hmmm.

My sardine on pesto bruschetta. Look at me eating fish!

Next day we head for Spain and the city of Pontevedra (see map below) and would you believe we have a problem again with data. So off we go along the inlet to what turns out to be a beautiful place called Poio. The data there was great and at the end of the day we returned to the city.

Denis’ falafel

Unfortunately, there was a new problem when we arrived back – no space at the motorhome parking. Made worse by the fact that we had received a recommendation for a tapas place from a local and we had been imagining all day rushing off to dinner the moment we arrived back. But no… we had to drive on. And on. Two hours later we arrived at a car park in the Camino city of Santiago de Compostela! (Hello Helena!)

This is the only picture we took in Santiago de Compostela at Cafe Bar 13. Denis had scallops and I had a potato, chorizo and fried egg dish

Fortunately for us the Spanish eat late. We were sitting down to our celebratory tapas dinner at 10pm. The following night we had breakfast cereal for dinner. Living the dream.

My map is suffering from lack of advance planning. I may have to move to Map Edition 2. Also, I seem to have hugely underestimated the size of north west Spain. Plus, there’s a very attractive and large inlet missing at Vila Nova de Cerveira and another at Pontevedra… map making is not without its own challenges

No Data No Cry

We arrived at the border town of Vila Nova de Cerveira and we thought this would be our last full day in Portugal. We were already missing the people and their natas and then we had to go to Spain for the day. Bear with me while I try to sound like I know what I’m talking about, there are technical reasons.

See that tower on the hill? That makes working on the journey possible

Ok so 4G and 5G data for mobile phones can do something interesting that the 2G and 3G can’t do and it’s especially useful at borders. They can decide in which direction or how strong they want to send their signal. So today we are in Portugal and we are accidentally getting Spanish data service. Unfortunately it’s just not very strong Spanish data.

The beautiful Atlantic

That might be because they don’t want to be sending strong data across the border and away from their customers… But for some reason this data from Spain has meant the Portuguese data is gone. So… we have to move to Spain for Denis to work and take video calls.

Santiago de Compostela this way

We found a place about twenty minutes over the bridge and around the headland facing the Atlantic. We weren’t expecting much except better data which we got… but we also got amazing views! Plus, we’re parked beside a Camino path so we see pilgrims passing by. They have another 160km to walk to their destination of Santiago de Compostela.

The pilgrims path gets rough very soon

We feel very lucky. We’ll be back in Vila Nova de Cerveira tonight and we’ll get our last Portuguese coffee in the morning but for now we are breathing in this amazing Atlantic air.