It’s been a long time
Friday 23rd March 2018
It’s been over 6 months since I posted anything on this blog. We arrived in Bolnuevo last September and I don’t generally post anything from there because it seems I’m writing a diary rather than a travel blog. However we’re back on the road now and on our way to Ancona in Italy for a ferry to Greece on the 11th April.
We left Bolnuevo on Tuesday after a fun filled 6 months meeting up with old friends and making new ones and in some ways it was a shame to leave but all being well we’ll be back later in the year.
Our first stop was at Riba Roja de Turia (39.549957 W0.560977), a little north west of Valencia.It’s a pretty enough stopover by the river Turia with pleasant riverside walks and an old town to explore. On this occasion we didn’t explore; we stopped for a supermarket shop on the way, then diesel, then LPG, then coffee and finally lunch before we arrived 194 miles and 6 hours later. By the time we’d cooked something to eat we were about done in and had an early night.
We tend to avoid motorways if we’re not in a particular hurry and toll roads are generally a no-no too but on Wednesday we wanted to get some miles under our belts so bit the bullet and hit the AP7. €26.15 and 175 miles later we were a little north of Tarragona at el Catllar. (N41.17658 E1.32685). The town here have kindly provided facilities, water/waste dump etc, free of charge and indicate that a maximum of 4 motor homes are welcome for a maximum of 48 hrs. Thank you very much. When I describe towns as sleepy I don’t mean it in a derogatory way but that’s often the impression we get, probably because we generally arrive between 2 and 5pm when the place is comatose. But I think it’s the walks around the surrounding area that draws folk to el Catllar and not the hubbub or night life. As we wandered around we got quite excited when we saw a stage and PA being erected outside the cultural centre but alas it was for poetry recitals. The main excitement was later in the evening when 5 lasses were being put through their paces in the kids playground opposite our parking place by a couple of guys dressed in black combat gear. More boot camp than circuit training to my inexperienced eye but we were amused as the coordination suffered as exhaustion set in. At one moment I was going to shout across “Stop! They’ve had enough!!” But the girls wandered (stumbled?) off after an hour or so looking none the worse for wear.
Another couple of hundred miles and €13 on the toll road found us in Sant Pere Pescador (N42.187211 E3.080231) on Thursday night sharing a massive car park with another couple of motor homes and a few private cars. By this time we’d put the best part of 600 miles behind us but hadn’t really done a great deal of exploring so we got the guide books out and studied the maps and found that Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de L’Emporda was just up the road. It’s a natural marshland park and a key site for migrating birds and some 300 species pass through here annually and over 90 nest here. So on Friday out came the binoculars and off we went, following the paths and stopping at the hides to see what we could see. Flamingos, Storks, various ducks and some enormous herons rooted around in the water and a deer came up to one of the hides. It was a peaceful few hours and well worth the €5. The medieval town of Castello d’Empuries was just up the road so we set off there, found a parking space and wandered around. Hats off to the folk here, every important building or site was described in four languages although we declined to pay the €5 to enter the church, just having a little peek inside. Friday would be our last day in Spain for a while so we treated ourselves to a Menu del Dia, three courses, coffee and a couple of drinks for €30. We sat on the terrace in glorious sunshine. We love Spain.
After lunch we set off for Port de Portbou where there is motorhome parking at the Marina with all facilities including WiFi for €10. Unfortunately we were refused access as the facility was closed that day because they were expecting high winds (the Tramonta) overnight. So it was the switchback drive to Port Vendre (N42.517672 E3.11403). We’ve stopped here three times before and whilst there are the usual facilities they’re in a poor state of repair and really need some money spending on them. It’s €6 to stop here and there are never less than twenty or thirty vans. We only drove 50 miles on Friday but it felt like 150.
We’ve had no WiFi since we left Bolnuevo and whilst I have a booster aerial which sucks up the wifi from the surrounding area I need the passwords for locked networks or to be in a Fon zone or, as a last resort, to find a network where I can buy a day or two’s access. So on Saturday we bit the bullet and decided to stop the night on a campsite with WiFi. We buy the ACSI campsite guide book every year which gives us a discount on the campsites listed throughout Europe and so we set off for a site at Castries (I’m not putting the coordinates down ‘cos you wouldn’t want to stop here) a few miles east of Montpellier. We arrived, paid our €18.20 and asked for the WiFi code. “Sorry, the WiFi has been broken for three days” said the lass on reception. Aaargh, its the only reason we’ve stopped here. The campsite is desolate, the toilets and showers are freezing cold and dirty; no toilet seats, no toilet paper, no heating. So we’re basically paying for a parking place with electricity we don’t need.
From Castries we set off for Greoux-Les-Bains; we stopped there a few years ago on the municipal campsite which is a stones throw from a pretty town, a spa, a lovely park and some good walks around and we thought we might stop a couple of days and relax.The site has an electronic sign outside which says how many places are available. It’s a big site holding about 70 motorhomes and, unusually, there isn’t a 48/72hr restriction as to how long you can stay. As we arrived I noticed a few vans parked up on the access road and commented that they were too mean to pay the €9 charge but as we arrived at the entrance gate realised they were queuing to get in as the site was full. That’s the first time we’ve arrived at a French aire and not been able to get on. I walked down onto the site and all the motorhomes there looked like they were there for some time and nobody looked like they were packing up to leave. It was mid afternoon and we were 4th in the queue.
We set off for Sainte-Tulle,30 minutes up the road, where there was parking and facilities for motorhomes (N43.784951 E5.76402), a big car park which was rammed with folk using the sports and leisure facilities adjacent. We eventually found a place to park up with an electric hook up and by 9 o’clock the car park was empty but for a couple of motorhomes. A gendarme called at 6.30, relieved us of €5 and told us that yes, the D900 to Italy would be open but he said it would take us three hours to drive over the col de Larche to Cuneo in Italy. So that’s three hours for an Italian which probably means at least four for me driving a house on wheels. No problem.
That thing where you change all the clocks forward except the one you look at first thing in the morning meant we were a little tardy in setting off to cross the Alps. A diesel stop, a boulangerie stop for bread and croissant, a coffee stop so I have something to dip my croissant in and the snow capped Alps still seemed far away. We drove from Sisteron for miles and miles through apple and peach orchards and vineyards in the valleys at about six or seven hundred metres and then we started to climb and there were patches of snow in the fields by the road. We stopped at La Breole for lunch and gawped at the snow capped mountains. When we got to about 1500m the scenery was spectacular and when we reached the col at a little over 2000m it was breathtaking. We’d followed the La Durance and L’Ubaye rivers all the way, the water the blue/grey colour that tells you it’s really, really cold. In some places the snow was piled up by the side of the road ten or twelve feet deep and the drifts on the shallow mountain sides were twenty or thirty feet deep. In Argentera, the first village after we’d crossed the border, there were houses with snow up to the eaves.
We were lucky, it was clear and sunny all the way and we stood at over 2000m in T shirts looking at the animal footprints in the snow on the mountainsides. Wow!
We dropped down through 17 switchbacks and then through small towns until we arrived in Cuneo. The 161 miles from Sainte-Tulle had taken us a little over six hours. We enjoyed every minute.
Cuneo is a gem. There is a dedicated motorhome parking spot with all services including electricity and its free! (N44.385588 E7.551805) The main town is a couple of hundred feet higher and access is either via a footpath or a panoramic cable car. The city itself is beautiful and the day after we arrived was market day; if there wasn’t a stall selling it you didn’t need it, it was one of the biggest markets we’d been to. We bought fresh pasta and cheese. We weren’t sure which pasta we wanted so the lady on the stall made sure we tasted all the different varieties of ravioli. Uncooked ravioli is different to say the least. We enjoyed Cuneo and hope to visit again.
On Wednesday we set off for Piacenza, we’ve stopped here before in a massive car park. There are no facilities but the parking is cheap enough and its only a fifteen minute walk into town. Unfortunately when we arrived there were signs everywhere stating that any vehicles in the car park at 6am the following day would be towed away. Not wanting to be towed away nor wanting to get up at silly o’clock the next morning we headed off for a sosta on the other side of town (N45.056061 E9.702963). The entrance had a barrier with a phone number to gain access and after spending 5 minutes looking for the dialing code for Italy (our phones are still effectively in the UK) I had an interesting conversation with a lady who spoke about as much English as I did Italian. Eventually the barrier opened, we parked up and went for a walk around the town. When we returned a lady was waiting for us and relieved us of €17. Fair enough, it felt secure and it was only for one night. We noticed the train lines about 30 metres away but presumed the trains would stop running at night. Sure enough the passenger trains stopped but the goods trains ran all night and as some of them rattled and rumbled past the van trembled and shook. We lay there hoping we could fall asleep before the next one came past but even when we did the next one would wake us up again. They certainly move some freight on the Italian railways, possibly most of it through Piacenza. But before the night of the long trains we had a meal at Ustaria la Carrozza just around the corner and which we’d spotted on our way back from town looking like a place where the locals might eat. On arrival we were asked if we had a reservation, uh oh, that didn’t sound good but they found us a table in the empty restaurant. An hour later it was full. A lovely meal and a first for me - Donkey stew, very tasty. I could have had horse tartare but raw horse was a step too far. There were a couple of finger bowls on the table but the waitress told us that they were to drink our wine from, a tradition in Piacenza, but we could have glasses if we wished. Another first, wine from a china bowl.
This morning, Thursday 29th March we set off for Verona. Again, it’s somewhere we’ve stopped before and as we don’t have to be at Ancona for our ferry to Greece until the 11th April we’ve plenty of time to revisit places. Verona is beautiful and we’ll probably spend a few days here parked at another dedicated motorhome parking area with all services and very secure for €10/24hrs, (N45.433708 E10.978425), just a ten minute walk to town. We’ve not had any decent WiFi since we left Bolnuevo so although I’ve been keeping the blog updated I’ve not been able to post anything. Today I bought a Vodafone Italy data SIM for my MiFi device, 12gb for €20 so hopefully I can post this and we can keep up with what’s happening in the world and keep in touch with friends and family.
Just a comment on Italian roads. They’re awful. We rarely use toll roads but in Italy we make an exception just to avoid the potholes and lousy road surfaces which shake the van to bits.
The horses taking a well earned drink after the Romeria in Bolnuevo last November:
|The beach at Bolnuevo|
|The Alps in the distance|
|A sunny smile at 2000 metres|