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

The Lessons of Benet

(1. Watch out for the signs…)

We are still in the town of Benet but… today the part arrived! We are over the moon. Could it be that difficulties arise in order that we can have an opportunity to be over the moon? About a piece of engineered metal getting transported to a small town in France to a man with mechanical skills who is available to do something very specific with it?

(2. Notice the beauty…)

I am also over the moon about all the hours Denis spent with Duolingo in bed each morning practicing French (it’s a free language learning app…) because when we stood in front of the French receptionist there was communication and understanding.

(3. Grow where you land…)

I am also over the moon that we have a place to stay tonight while Ruby overnights in the garage. There will be a bed, a shower, a desk and WiFi and there’s a restaurant and it’s not expensive. There’s even a Lidl supermarket next door.

(4. You might have to go round and round…)

When everything goes well it’s natural to expect everything will continue to go well. When things stop going well, it’s natural to expect things will continue to stop going well. But at precisely this moment we had a choice…

(5. Don’t be dramatic!)

It was easy for us to become disillusioned and only see things going badly now. Today it seems we have an opportunity to be over the moon, notice and be grateful for ever little teeny tiny thing that goes right.

(6. You don’t have to be perfect to be useful…)

In that way we are neither expecting everything to go well or expecting everything to go badly. We have suspended our expectations in order to look at what comes to us in the moment and be grateful for it. If it is something we like we will be over the moon, if it is something that makes us uncomfortable we will deal with it.

(7. Take the next step… open the door)

After sitting for days with the discomfort of a not knowing what will happen next we know the next step… we are off to a hotel to spend the night while Ruby is in the garage.

Missing her already, Mairead.

On a Time Out

(Want to buy a shop?)

We are stuck in a very lovely small French town called Benet. I say stuck but that’s just me being dramatic. We are kinda stuck yes but we could be in worse places. The part for Ruby is due tomorrow and we’ve only been here for three days… Plus, most things we need are here.

(I love the font)

There’s a supermarket (closes for two hours at lunchtime) a cafe (closed today) another cafe (open today) a library (but is it really a library? I don’t know the answer to that) a magazine shop, a post office, an old church, a rustic toilet and three flower shops (all open today and smelling beautiful) and washing machines (open 24 hours.)

(The wool shop)

There’s also a wool shop but I just looked in the window. I’m not going in because the window looks too good and there’s no more room in my craft cupboard… anyways, it’s closed today.

(There are flowers in the car park…)

Yesterday I couldn’t see all the nice things in this town. I was grumpy and had fallen out of love with France. But today it is raining and I realise that love is not always happy… I am weirdly thrilled by today’s rain. (Yes, weird.) Yesterday it was sunny and I was grumpy and uncomfortable. Hot weather is not always wonderful. Life is not always comfortable.

(…and washing machines)

France is France. This is a great place to be if you are irritated by little things because she says, this is how we rock, take us or leave us we will still be here when you come back and you will be glad we have not changed. If you don’t want to come back to us that’s ok we will be just fine without you. With love and beauty from your pal, France.

(The old church, Benet)

Today I can love that France. She is who she is, she is not trying to woo me. She will not be concerned if I do not woo her. She will still take two hours off for lunch and close on Sundays and every Monday and the one Wednesday I’m in town.

(Love the shutters and the lacy railings)

Because, when I go home she will still have to live here and mind her children and water her garden and buy flowers for her Mum. She will still have to get up at 4am four days a week to bake the baguette and croissants and if she knows how to take a break then maybe I should be thrilled because it’s possible that taking breaks makes her croissants taste so good.

My relationship with France just got more complicated, Mairead.

We’re Broke…

(Beautiful fishing huts in this area)

Well Ruby is broke, sniff, sniff. You may remember when we were travelling from Castro Marim in the Algarve region of Portugal and the shaking and clunking started? Then we got the wheels balanced and it seemed to go away.

(Love French windows)

It came back. We left our friends on Monday morning and extra noises had been added to Ruby’s repertoire of clunks and clanks. Could we possibly get home before we’d need to address this?

(And French houses)

We were on our way to motorhome parking in a small town and the noises were getting more worrying. Then the sat nav stopped working. We had to abandon the small town and go to a larger one but on our way we passed a motorhome shop… and it was open. As you know, open shops are not always a given in France. It was too much of a sign to ignore.

(And old French trees)

We drove in and explained the noises to the man at the desk who brought us around the back where there was a full garage with people who looked like mechanics.

(And French paddling)

Denis explained again to the receptionist who explained to the mechanic manager. We handed over the keys and waited. It took three hours but they finally came back with the results… the word dangerous was mentioned. It seems we would not be getting home before we addressed this. Then they gave us the quote… it’s all a bit upsetting.

Sniff, sniff, Mairead.

Next Stop Spain, no, France, no, Spain…

(The duck pond near motorhome parking at Vitoria-Gasteiz)

We stayed a second night in Palencia and then moved on to the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. We were here last year. It’s just a car park with facilities for emptying but there’s a great electric tram line just 5 minutes away that brings you into the old town.

(Even the tram line is green)

We weren’t going into the town but I remembered they are very proud of their green spaces so we went for a walk in the local park. Lots of people were enjoying the space and the ducks.

(Love the colours on this guy)

Next morning we moved to France… for a while. We had stayed in a grand supermarket car park last year just over the border and were looking forward to our first croissants there. Then we remembered it was France and Sunday. Supermarkets only open in the morning on Sundays, some don’t open on Sundays at all. This was a big supermarket more like a mall with lots of small shops too, it would definitely be open.

(Look at the lovely spot they reserved for us… from 9am to 9pm)

It was closed. Not only that but since we’d been here last they’d put up a big welcome sign with a little red addition… motorhomes could only stay until 9pm. Not welcome overnight. But.. but… would they throw us out? We waited all day and even went for a little walk in the area – very pretty. We had dinner, wondered some more.

(Nice stone bench in the neighbourhood near the supermarket)

Then we moved on. The closest place was 6km back over the border. (We’re on first name terms with the toll booth operator – Bonjour Estelle!) We’re back in Spain.

We’ll give France one more chance tomorrow. Mairead.

(Irun, Spanish-French border: Parking, free after 7.30pm and before 9am, shops and restaurants nearby.)

Leaving Paradise…

(The fort from the castle walls at Castro Marim)

And then we had to leave… leave the beach, the 6am walks, the sea glass, the heat – no we didn’t have to leave the heat, it is hot everywhere at the moment. We travelled to the border town of Castro Marim. We were here before. It has a big fort and old town walls. And a grand big supermarket.

(The castle walls. I feel very safe up here. Can’t see anything though…)

We parked in the huge car park at the grand big supermarket and settled down for the day. I went to buy provisions for lunch. It was really, really hot but the breeze was strong. By nightfall we were reconsidering the whole “strong breezes are good” thinking. The wind shook us and the bicycles in the back all through the night. By morning we were in need of a good night’s sleep.

(Some lovely lichen)

Truth is we are leaving more than the beach, we are leaving The Algarve and taking our first steps home. From now on we will park for a night and move along in the morning. I think the wind is upset for us. It will take three more weeks but this is the beginning of our journey home.

(Flowering tree)

Ruby (the motorhome) was upset too but we didn’t know that until we were driving along the motorway out of Castro Marim. Even though the wind had died down she was still shaking. This was not good. We would have to find a garage. Memories of last year, in the small village of Moncarapacho, very close to here where we had to wait for two weeks to get the clutch fixed, came rushing back. The atmosphere was tense.


There was nowhere to stop on the road and have a look. Also, what were we looking for? So we kept going. But I wondered if staying in the Algarve with all the tourist facilities might be our best option. At the time we were heading for a parking spot in the middle of nowhere. We kept going. When we arrived there was no one there. We knew it cost €5 and last time we were there it was almost full. Where was everyone?

(The salt fields at Castro Marim)

Denis took a quick look around the van, no puncture, nothing hanging underneath, no clue. Decision time. My choice was the Algarve, Denis’ Beja. He was driving… Three years ago we found the town of Beja and fell in love with it. We stayed for ten days in their Municipal Campsite. It was old and in need of repairs but the toilets were clean, the people were friendly and the location was perfect. But what made him think we would find a mechanic who could understand the problem and us?

(Cobblestone road inside the castle walls. Do you see the stones placed especially for cart wheels?)

Ninety minutes later we knew. Somewhere in the back of his mind Denis had a memory of a huge garage in Beja between the supermarket and McDonalds. (Three year’s ago McDonald’s WiFi was one of the best ways for him to work.) He didn’t know he remembered the garage until he saw it.

(True that)

Our mind are amazing. We have more stored in there than we know. I was choosing the Algarve because I was afraid we wouldn’t find someone to understand us anywhere else. Denis was looking for the best solution and instinctively knew it. Very useful.

Be like Denis, follow your gut, Mairead.

(Castro Marim, in the Algarve and on the border with Spain. Free parking and water. Nice town, restaurants, cafes, castle walls, fort and grand supermarket.)

What’s an inverter?

(All the buildings in Sintra were ornate)

Our inverter broke last Thursday. It’s the thing that converts the solar energy into electricity to charge the computers. Usually it has a low pitch hum and drones on in the corner doing its inverter work making me ask regularly, can we turn off the inverter? Well last Thursday it turned itself off for good.

(Lots of green in Sintra)

Not good at all. It’s a big deal and kind of important if you’re using your computer every day. At the time we were in Mafra and there was free electricity so we weren’t stuck but we’d have to leave there sometime… Denis started searching the internet for motor home shops in Portugal and found one in Sintra. Just 20km away.

(That’s the train station)

Sintra is beautiful so we could go visit when we were done. But the shop was closed on Friday – Good Friday so we’d have to go on Saturday. We did. We got the inverter! Yaa! Then we found parking at the train station outside Sintra. Now, Sintra is busy at the quietest of times but this was Easter Saturday so not the quietest of times. The place was jammers.

(Various forms of transportation)

We took a break from the crowds at the first cafe we found and celebrated finding the new inverter. We then paid the most we’ve ever paid for coffee and natas in Portugal and it was still about a third of what we would have paid at home. So we celebrated that with a leisurely ramble around Sintra.

(I think that’s a castle up there)

I’m not exactly sure which part is Sintra or maybe it’s all Sintra. If it is then it’s huge. This is where the royalty of Portugal used to come on their holidays. It’s very pretty, lots of hills, trees, old and unusual buildings, old and colorful buildings and people, lots of people. An hour wasn’t going to make a dent but we got the atmosphere and I’m definitely coming back again. I did visit last year but I was with a group of friends and spent most of my time talking and not much time immersing. Sintra requires a long soak.

(Long queues for the busses)

Afterwards we drove to Ericeira where Denis fitted the inverter. We have power. Not for the first time I am reminded of the small things that make life easier but that I forget to appreciate. Sintra is probably one of the most beautiful places in this country but the drone of a working inverter seems just as beautiful at the moment.

What are you forgetting to appreciate? Mairead.

What to do if there’s a petrol shortage…

(The front of Alcobaça monastery)

We hadn’t heard of the town of Alcobaça (pronounced Alco-Baza, I think) and I don’t know why. It’s very impressive. To begin with there’s s huge cathedral and monastery in the middle of a very cute town. The motor home parking is less than 5 minutes from shops, restaurants and the monastery. There’s free electricity and the parking is free!

(Inside the cathedral)

We were here when the news hit that the tanker drivers strike was causing shortages of petrol and diesel. We had filled up the previous day, fortuitously, so we safe enough. We had everything we needed (culture, food, drink, electricity, shopping, post office) and Spain was only two and a half hours drive away, if the strike continued. It didn’t continue.

(One of the courtyards)

I have some advice for you if you should ever find yourself in a similar situation…

1. If you can manage it at all, fill up with petrol (or diesel if that’s what your vehicle takes) before the strike starts. 2. Park somewhere with a nice historic monument. 3. Ensure there are grocery shops, cafes and restaurants nearby and some electricity. 4. At all times ensure you are within walking driving distance of another country. 5. Find a local who speaks English and pester ask her for hourly updates on the strike. 6. Go for regular lie downs because you will be feeling very stressed.

(Art piece: metal basket with knitting needles)

For balance here’s Denis’ advice: 1. Carry on as normal.

I’m not sure he took the whole thing seriously enough, Mairead.

(Alcobaça. Free parking, near town, free electricity, €1.50 for water)

May Day! May Day!

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(Here’s me in happier times… at my favourite breakfast place in the town with the house of the oranges, having my favourite breakfast)

We’ve moved on! We are not at the house of the oranges, we are in Ruby! So, the clutch is fixed. We arrived at 5pm on Monday to pick her up, Denis went for a test drive and all was great. Then he went in to pay… This might be useful information for you some day… the garage doesn’t take credit cards. Nope. What were we thinking? We were thinking, how else would you pay such a huge amount? The answer is: In cash…

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(Most, maybe 98%, of the houses are painted white… here’s the rebel)

We went to the bank to get out the cash. The bank was closed. The bank closed at 3pm. Never mind, there’s an atm. You can’t take that much money out, there’s a daily limit on bank cards. Never mind, we’ll ring the bank, get that raised. Yes they can raise it but… only after midnight, come back in the morning… Nooooo! We looked at each other… now what? We rang the Swiss doctor. Remember him from the day we broke down? He said ring anytime we needed help. We needed help.

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(We have a translations app (above) and this is how we were going to explain to the mechanic that we didn’t have the money. Do you remember the Popeye cartoon in the 70’s where one of the characters says, I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today?)

He didn’t know what to do either. We went back to the garage. On the way we extended our stay at the house of the oranges… again. We didn’t really know how to explain to the mechanic that we didn’t have the money. We had both started to say, Problem! when a man came up to us and said, it’s ok I’m here. Do you remember the Dutch man who just happened to be in the garage the previous Monday and translated for us? Well, he happened to be at the garage this Monday to arrange a chat with the boss mechanic about selling his car! He translated that we didn’t have the money but we would be able to get it tomorrow. Then the mechanic said something… It didn’t look like, that’s great! It looked like, that’s terrible!

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(Helpful poster in one of our favourite restaurants in the town)

It was terrible, because the next day was the 1st of May – a holiday in Portugal. The garage would be closed. The banks would be closed. Most business in the town would be closed. We would have to wait two more days. Another extension at the house with the oranges… But no, it’s ok, our Dutch translating angel told us he was hoping to meet the boss mechanic for a quick chat the next day and maybe he could arrange for us to bring the money then. He took our number and said he would ring later when he knew. We went to sit in the square. He rang, yes we could meet the boss next day at 10am!

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(Saw these olives on an olive plant (remember plant not tree!) on the road near the school)

I did not sleep. At 9am we arrived at the atm. Everything was going to be fine…right? Not yet. Our limit had been raised, we started taking out the bundles of cash and then we reached the atm’s limit per card. There’s an atm limit per card… (I hope you’re taking notes.) We still didn’t have enough money. We found another cash machine… it was out-of-order. We did that look again, the one where hope ebbs away. We rang the bank again. Ok, if we buy something using a card at a shop it will reset it. We bought a box of After Eight (I found them very useful later) at the only shop open in the town. The After Eights didn’t reset the card.  We wandered around the town for another twenty minutes looking for another atm… Then we realised we could get cash out on our credit cards… We had two credit cards, we started withdrawing money. (FYI: There’s a card limit on those too.)

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(One of our favourite tapas dishes last week)

We sat on the footpath outside the bank counting the bundles of notes. (It was a lot of notes – the atm’s in Portugal only handle €20 and €10 notes…no €50 notes.) We finally had enough cash. We set off for the garage. The boss mechanic was there, we handed him the notes and he handed us the keys. We said goodbye to out translating angel and we drove back to the house of the oranges one last time to load up our stuff.

I might have cried on the phone to the lovely lady called Leanne from the Revenue help line later that day but that’s another story. Mairead.