Monday 16th March 2015 Week 195. Spain
Flesh eating Zombies.
First this: An email from a reader. He queried. 'Half a million soldiers, where did you get that figure from, a Christmas cracker?' Oh dear, steady on old chum. True I did say we had almost 500k troops. (Poised ready I think you said. Ed) Hang on, whose side are you on women?.
According to The British Armed forces web site, we have a total of 431k military personnel on the payroll within all the branches of the British armed services. Apparently someone who pilots a fighter plane isn't in the army. Nor is someone who polishes cannon balls on a ship. Like I'm supposed to know stuff like that. Next you'll be telling me we don't use cannon balls anymore. Still, It doesn't detract from the point I made on Friday. But let's move on.........
Which we did and headed North once more this time through some decent scenery. The route from Caceres to Salamanca took us up and over the Sierra De Gredos Mountain range with it's snow capped peaks. The road climbed to 4000 feet before dropping us down into the Castilla Y Leon region of Spain. As you make your descent the road stretches out before you like a black ribbon draped carelessly across the land. (Gone all poetic there. Ed). Shush! I'm in the zone... The rolling landscape disappears, far into the horizon. Here you'll not find vines but handsome muscle bound beef cows leisurely grazing. Birds of prey ride the warm thermals. Below, small furry creatures scuttle nervously for cover. A little further on we espied a squadron of black vultures circling menacingly overhead, the harbingers of death.
Right! enough of all that.
All this reminded me, once again, just now big this county is. Which in turn reminds me just how small ours is.
Unfortunately as we dropped, so did the temperature, by a good ten degrees. We basked, and that really is the word for it, under an azure blue sky last week. I was down to shorts and t-shirt. What a difference 125 miles can make.
Now Imagine this. You're living in a post apocalyptic world, zombies roam freely. (I luv it when you talk sensibly. Ed) Shush!. You go out, scavenging, ever aware your safety is paramount. You chance upon an a long abandoned shopping mall. Before breaking cover and heading for it, you check the coast is clear. The car park is vast. Weeds grow out the cracked tarmac. Bins lay empty. Things flap around. It's no longer a car park, it's now a neglected wilderness. It's been taken over by tumbleweeds, crickets and the ravages of time.......
Okay, got that imagine fixed in your mind? Good, because that's what Camping Regio in Salamanca is like. Ugly, unloved and unkempt, basically shite. It's without doubt one of the worse looking camp-sites in Spain. I'm sure I've readers who are now shouting at their computer screens, 'hang on old fruit, I've been there and it's not that bad! To them I say this: would you stay there one night more than you absolutely had to? Take your time..........No, didn't think so.
Salamanca: You'd think thay were having the builders in.
However this is our third visit!. Doh! Really! You exclaim, but why if it's so bad? Well just like your home it's all about location location location, and camping Regio is ideally located. It's just off the motorway and dead easy to find. A bus pulls into the camp-site to whisk you into town, or you can cycle the five miles, along cycle paths, into the wonderfully historical city yourself. Just a couple of miles away are several big stores including a Lidl. It's quiet at night and far enough outside the city to make you think you're in the county.
Since our last visit I don't think anyone has swept up, moved the odd discarded lump of concrete or made good any of the flattened bins squished by fleeing campers. There's still no soap or hand dryers in the loos but they have installed camp-site Wi-Fi, so it's not all bad news. If you keep your curtains closed and don't look out the windows it really isn't that bad.
Oh and of course, there are no zombies. Least none that I saw. Although the skeletal octogenarian couple a few pitches away come close.
Tuesday 17th March 2015. Week 195 Spain.
We stayed at camping Regio, or Travis Perkins as I like to call it, over the weekend and then moved on to Fuentes Blanca camping in Burgos. The drive wasn't pretty. Far too much industry. Far too many truck stops. Far too many empty lots, and way too many gentlemen's clubs. However, club Jamaica did look enticing with its neon hulu-girl on top of it's roof. At night her skirt would swing rhythmically. (He's guessing. Ed) Guessing, fantasies or just plain old reminiscing, who knows.
Anyhoo, we arrived safely and checked in. Heres a tip: Park near reception and you'll pick up the Wi-Fi, you'll also be near the only shower block they heat this time of year. And that's important because last night the temperature plummeted to MINUS four. Yes that's not a typo. MINUS four. This time last week I was considering going commando cos my pants were sticking to my arse, what with all the heat.
Minus four. We don't do minus anything. We woke to a white glaze of frost. We sat calling each others attention to how cold the floor was, how cold the wall felt, even the cutlery. Hazel exclaimed the cold water in the tap was........well actually cold.
As we huddled around our hot porridge bowls, a thought struck me.
“You don't think it will be this cold back home?” I asked tentatively, fearing the answer.
Hazel thought of a moment before saying wisely, “I don't see how it could be, do you?” We fell silent for a minute. I suddenly then said “Nahhhhh, can't be”. We both laughed mildly hysterically at my unfounded fears. We're an odd pair.
Taken when it was a lot warmer.
We're not used to it anymore. We've not seen snow, other than that stuff on mountains tops, since, well, 2011. Okay, the first year, one morning, high up, in the middle of nowhere we did get a frost but it was a warm frost, I swear it. Christ! we've not even seen rain for over two months. We just don't do weather anymore. We've turned into a couple of fair weather Jessie's. Our internal pilot light extinguished itself some time ago. We've even lost the art of talking about the weather. As Brits, we were once able to ramble on interminably about it. Now, it's either nice, or it's not. That's it, the full gamut of our conversation about the weather. Pathetic.
Still, enough of me moaning. I'll not get any sympathy anyway. Besides, you've got your own bad news to deal with. We're going home earlier than we had planned so you've only got my diary for another couple of weeks. Someone said, when he discovered we're heading for home which would herald the end of my dairy, “What am I going to read now?” I didn't have an answer for him.
I know I'll miss it myself. Over the last four years writing this has become part of my daily routine, part of me. I've viewed the world in terms of what will make an interesting entry. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed every minute of it. I'm not brilliant at it but I have my moments. I only hope some of it made sense. Perhaps even amused. Hopefully it informed and was mildly entertaining. I'd like to think I occasionally gave perhaps an alternative view of the world, we all do view it differently.
I know I can bang on about stuff which has nothing to do with schlepping around Europe in a camper van but what the hell, it did me good to get it all off my chest. I've knocked out some 800,000 words in the four years, some of them actually worth reading. In the process I've worn some of the keys on my keyboard down to a nub.
I've had lots of feedback, much of it kept me going and inspired me to carry on. (Now he tells us. Ed). My aim now is to re-write the lot, turn the four years into a trilogy and hopefully sell the film rights to MGM. I'll have Bruce Willis play me and Nicole Kidman play Hazel.
Die hard, the Camping years. I'd watch it.
Wednesday 18th March 2015. Week 195. France
We woke to........ you'll never guess. Okay you guessed it, snow! Clearly spoke too soon yesterday. Hazel, the wise old oracle that she is, (Less of the old. Ed) pointed out we're 2600 feet above sea level which might account for it. We wanted to stay longer in Burgos, we had a few sights we wanted to see, but we chickened out and pressed on into France yesterday. The forecast there was for much warmer weather. We headed for a favourite site of ours, Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Hazel did half the driving so we arrived much sooner than expected. I drive at a much more leisurely pace. She was a nurse but I fancy a frustrated ambulance driver at heart. We fair old zoomed along the fast lane. I think the fact the vehicle is white and has a bed in the back doesn't help. Stick a blue light on top she'd be happy as old Larry.
As I sat there, looking out the window at the blur that was the Spanish countryside, holding on, listening to the fuel being sucked through the fuel lines, my mind wandered to the beef cattle standing in fields oblivious to everything. A question suddenly occurred to me, as I'm sure it has you, that being, cows? they're fit right? (Oh! for the love of.... Ed)
I bet, if I asked the farmer chappie he'd say 'Si', what with him being Spanish and all. They certainly looked very fit, not that I'm an expert. I did practically eat a whole one last week so that might count for something. This question went through my mind because cows do bugger all. I mean nothing. They stand around all day, eat 200lbs of grass and fart a lot. They don't work out, pop down the gym, go for a run, practice yoga, do palates, eat low fat grass, jog or engage in cardiovascular workouts. They don't body pump, swim, play sports, cycle or, weight train and yet they're fit. Fitter than us I bet, and we're the ones encouraged to do all the above. What keeps 'em fit ?
Yep this chap looks pretty fit to me, you wanna try and out run him?
We're constantly made to feel guilty if we don't break into a sweat three times a week. Exercise is the new religion. What is being fit anyway? I know a women who swims twenty five lengths three times a week. Surely that'll only be of any use to her if I shove her overboard one day. Me, I can't swim 25 lengths, but all this typing has given me a vice like finger grip. Least if I fell in after her I could hold on till she made landfall.
Sure we all want to live longer and be able to wipe our own arses when we are ninety but, according to geneticists, your life expectancy is written in your genes. -The life expectancy the GBH talks about is only an average age when people die- This might explain why one of my fitness fanatic mates died at 41 while out Jogging. Another keeled over while playing squash. If someone suggested I went on a forty mile hike, I couldn't. I know I'm not fit enough, but I don't care cos I wouldn't want to go in the first place. That's why cars were invented so we didn't have to walk everywhere. The only purpose in exercising is to increase our levels of fitness so we're able to do the sodding exercises in the first place. It's a vicious circle. Strikes me if you want to make old bones, learn from cows. They're only as fit as they need to be to live the lives they lead. Food for thought right?
Okay back to the real world. Once we started dropping down to sea level and neared France it warmed up a treat. The miserable misty grey morning gave way to a little sunshine. I'd planned a masterly course avoiding the French tolls. I was more than happy to pay the £8 on the Spanish side, but was buggered if I'd pay the French a single euro if I could help it. As you leave Spain and enter France there's a toll not 500 yards inside France. Cheek! You've not been in the country two sodding minutes and they have their Gallic hands in your wallet. And I know, from driving this route before, just 800 meters before our turn off there's another. So I avoided both tolls and saved a fiver. Okay, hardly a kings ransom but it's the principal that counts. Better it in my pocket than theirs.
Finally, just before we left Spain we filled the tank. In the UK that would set me back £119. Here a mere £63. I'm so going to miss Spain, big time.
Hasta la vista Espana and mucho Gracia.
Thursday 19th March 2015. Week 195. France
My word you certainly know you're in France. I popped to the loo's. A notice pinned to the cubical door warned me about flushing my pantie liners down the pan. I panicked, thought I'd wandered into the ladies..... again!. But no. This is France, they do everything differently here.
I do have this whole, quite amusing, take on panty liners. I question why there's not a comparative product made for us blokes. Hazel doesn't think this is the right forum for it, of course she's right. She says I should write something sensible, something trip related what with it being the penultimate week and all, another good point. After all, I don't want to be remembered as that chap who spent four years waffling, and his parting salvo was a distasteful comment about skid marks. (Oh dear! Think that ship might have sailed Phil, But carry on. Ed)
Before I do talk about something sensible, Promise, I'm pleased to report my inbox was bulging with emails this morning. Once I'd deleted the spam, a begging letter from an outgoing African military dictator looking to stash 50 billion Kudos in my bank account which, knowing my luck, is actually only £12.50, and the usual one asking me if I want a bigger willy, (Those I pass those on to Hazel) and one from a Russian lass who wants to make a break for western freedom and can I help?, the remaining two exclaimed, almost in unison, “What! you're packing it all in?. What are you going to do?”. -This after I said on Tuesday this adventure, along with the diary is drawing to an end- It's a good question, and one that deserves a good answer.
Well the first thing we're going to do is take a holiday. No, seriously, we need one. We've got good friends who run motorcycling tours in the highlands of Scotland. He's kindly invited us along, given me a handsome discount and is loaning me a BMW motorbike. We're then planning a six week trip to New Zealand at Christmas to see family, and hopefully tour the islands. Maybe even Australia. But before that I need to sell Betsy (the Motor-home) to finance it all. So if you're in the market for an excellent, well loved, very carefully driven, fully serviced, low mileage motor-home drop me a line.
Check your on the level.
Right, here's ten things you must take on an adventure like this.
1, Camper Leveler. It's a brilliant FREE phone ap which, when placed on a flat surface, shows you if each van wheel is sitting level. In the process it turns your £500 iphone into a spirit level. Don't you just love technology?.
2, Another ap. This one called Mapfactor Navigator. Turns your phone into a Sat-Nav. Now I'll tell you it knocks spots off my GARMIN, who want £80 just to update my maps. Navigator has more detail, a van setting, comes with a sexy come hither voice and is FREE! as are the maps. You don't need Wi-Fi or network connection to use it either.
3, From Hazel, a portable electric oven and slow cooker. Both have been invaluable and saved us a ton of hassle with gas bottles.
4, At the risk of being assumed a kidnapper, Duct tape and cable ties are a must have item.
5, Something you should leave at home is your foreign phrase book. Bless 'em all in Europe but most can speak better English than half the English.
6, A sense of adventure. Leave that at home and I wouldn't bother coming over. A friend of ours said, when she learnt we were planning this trip, 'you're very brave'. She'd just had a £50 grand extension built. I couldn't help thinking she was the brave one.
7, A hobby. Apparently, lounging around drinking cheap plonk isn't a hobby, which is a pity as it's something I'm now pretty good at. You'll need an interest when the weather turns sour and you''re forced to spend, maybe days, in a bathroom size space with someone you discover breathes more than you and you start to wonder if that's fair.
8, A portable fan heater. I doubt we've met anyone who, at some point, hasn't invested in one
9, A smile. It makes for instant friends, especially when language isn't enough
10, Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, your life partner. And if that special person is a he: then you'll need him to empty the chemical toilet. Conversely, if that special person is a she: then you'll need her along to fill it....
Oh come on now, you know you've all got tiny bladders.
Friday 20th March 2015. week 195. France
What's on my mind this week?.
Let's get the boring bit of the week over with. This is where I gob off at someone or something. I'd be the first to agree it's rare I can raise a laugh on a Friday. I do have this serious side. I have to air it, vent my disapproval so that I can be mildly amusing on other days. Seems to work.
Okay, a poll a couple of weeks ago suggested that those scamming the welfare state should be treated 'harshly'. I believe that's posh talk for prison or fifty lashes, something of that ilk. 85% agreed with that statement, the other 15% were probably out signing on. Some of the comments left were positively venomous. The census of opinion -I'll paraphrase here- was that scrounging benefit fraudsters deserve to have their eyes gouged out. Nothing less would satisfy the 85%. I let it go and moved on.
I then came across another poll. This asked: Are you fed up with Austerity measures? Staggeringly 48% said NO, they're not. True. I didn't make it up. At that point I felt a wave of despair wash over me.
Get shafted by the poor and downtrodden and 85% are up in arms. Get shafted by wealthy bankers and 48% feel their partly to blame. I then reasoned that some of the 48% must go to make up some of the 85%. Christ! well they're just screwing themselves.
It's amazing that the GBH has managed to convince so many that austerity measures are not only good for them, but the only way out this financial mess.
The reasons for the 2008 financial crisis is well documented. In a nut shell, that massive twat Bush relaxed US banking regulations in the insane hope it would bring back a 50's style prosperity boom in the US. That was it. That was the reason. It didn't work and American and European greed did the rest. We were warned by some outside financiers but they were silenced. In consequence the very foundation of capitalism was shaken. Banks, the cornerstones of that foundation, almost closed their doors for good.
George Brown, the then prime minster who, by the way, was never going to get re-elected because he looks like a bag man for the mob, guaranteed loans (your money) to the banks to the tune of 44 Trillion pounds. Failure to do that could have seen the collapse of banking and rest assured, society would have followed.
No public outcry this dude should cop it.
Now, as of today, not one single banker has been jailed for their part in the scandal. Banks, politicians, financiers, and the establishment have closed ranks to protect each other. Billions vanished. No-one has been brought to task for throwing Britain and Europe recklessly into recession. Make no mistake. It was a global con scheme. Banks poured billions into buying worthless mortgage guarantees and by doing so ignored the age old principals of sound banking practice.
Today, the HSBC is embroiled in another scandal. This time involving thousands of bank accounts holding vast sums of undeclared money held in their Swiss branch. HM Revenue have known about this loop hole for years but have done sod all about it. Some of the account holders are, it's reported, actually the law makers themselves.
Now back to the benefit fraudsters. Let's put their 'crime' into some financial perspective. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau it amounts to less than 2% of all public sector fraud. That's tiny. Tax fraud costs us a massive £14 billion yearly. That's the biggest single fraud. Tax avoidance, according to HMS, is estimated at £120 billion yearly. In fact, out of all categories of fraud calculated by the GBH, benefit fraud is the second lowest.
I'm not suggesting we ignore benefit fraud, we shouldn't. But I am suggesting that the above 85% should ensure that their wrath is pointed in the right direction.
It's said that the conjurer's art, relies solely on misdirection. I'd go along with that, wouldn't you.
You all have a good weekend.
Ah, almost forgot, special treat. Hazel has penned a few words for the final week. I'll post them it tomorrow. Something of a weekend bonus.
Saturday 21st March 2015. Week 195. France
Not often I get to throw in my two penny's worth in, so here goes.
Who would have believed, four years ago, that we would still be out on the road in 2015? Not me that's for sure! When we first started thinking about this adventure I thought I'd probably manage, at a push, six months. I didn't tell Phil that, he'd got his heart set on two years. Like him, I'd never had any experience with caravans, I did once holiday in Cornwall in one, but that's it. After buying one we took it to Norfolk, to break ourselves in. Norfolk was just far away enough to feel we were away, but not too far to drive home should it all go horrible wrong. I remember the first time we tried to put the awning up. Phil was convinced they had supplied too many poles. It us over an hour, the bottle of wine with lunch didn't help.
Some three months, after our first outing, we sat waiting in line for the ferry to Calais! Both nervous but very excited.
From the first camp-site we stayed at, by the Seine, I was hooked! Cycling along in the French countryside, visiting local markets, trying new foods and just seeing how different people lived was an intoxicating mixture. The stress melted away and we both started to relax and settle into this lifestyle. This even after Phil smacked the caravan while driving into the site. I never said anything, he was mad enough at himself.
We'd planned on visiting as many European countries as we could. But by the end of the second year we’d managed only eight! We gave it some thought. Neither of us was ready to return back home, and that two years had flown by. Phil suggested we swap to a motor home and travel to some of the more out of the way places. He was keen, especially as he planned to tow a super scooter. I was all for it.
The spring of 2013 we returned to the UK. Phil, had already earmarked several motor-homes for us to look at. We quickly found one, an Apache 700SE. We. Returned to Peterborough, sold the car and caravan in record time and set off once again. This time from Harwich to The Hook of Holland and headed for northern Europe and the east.
The last two years have been amazing, we missed the space of the caravan but soon adjusted to the tighter confines of the motor home. We've visited a further nineteen countries. I would return to most of them. Eastern Europe was wonderful, particularly Tallinn in Estonia, Torun in Poland and Dresden in East Germany. The caves in Slovenia were amazing, as was Ljubljana the capitol city. Venice was everything I ever imagined and Sirmione on Lake Garda is lovely.
If I was asked which was my favourite, I'd be hard pressed to decide between Spain and France. Spain is incredibly diverse from the beauty and tradition of the White towns of Andelucia and the Atlantic coast, to the empty interior and huge national parks. Even the 'Costa's' on the Mediterranean coast have their charm. The cities are probably the most beautiful we have seen, Seville, Granada and Cadiz are particularly lovely. The Moorish influence is very strong and ads to the beauty. The huge variety of trees and plants that grow is amazing. Many camp-sites on the coasts plant everything from Banana trees to Peruvian Pepper trees, and bougainvillea is in bloom everywhere. Move up into the top of Spain and you get to the Basque region in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Craggy mountains lead down to golden beaches. Biarritz just over the border in France used to be the playground of the very rich, and you can see why.
And France....don't believe the French are unfriendly or rude....that's Parisians, and even the French make jokes about them. I love the way nothing is ever pulled down in France, so there is a lot of history. Many of their rivers and canals have cycle paths alongside and there is nothing more pleasurable than going for a long cycle ride and stopping to eat a picnic in the sun. Every French person passing will call out “bon appetite” as they tootle by in a boat, or cycle along the path, even children do it. My favourite part of France is in the east, from Verdun, Phalsbourg, Belfort, Dole, Macon, Le Puy en Velay, Millau and finally Arles, I would do that whole stretch again in a heartbeat.
I had many worries about this life style before we set out: the language barrier, people becoming impatient with us, crime, using unfamiliar money, buying food, becoming ill, finding our way around, travelling on the 'wrong' side of the road, and last but not least boredom! Not one of my fears proved valid! With most languages you get by with a few words, a smile and sign language, not one person ever became exasperated with us, and we had many giggles. Phil, believes he's perfected the art of mime, but he's left a string of bemused camp-site owners in his wake.
We have never had anything stolen or interfered with and have never once felt threatened in any country we have been in. The money was really easy, most of Europe uses the Euro but for those that don't it was no issue at all, just a visit to the nearest ATM and a quick calculation of, say a Kroner, to the pound. Buying food and going in unfamiliar supermarkets was enormous fun and I pretty much know the names of the staple foods in most European languages. Driving on the 'wrong' side of the road was never an issue, but we did have to be careful whenever we returned for our annual trip to the UK.
Boredom, what's that? I can honestly say I have not had one minute of boredom in the last four years. For rainy days a hobby is essential and Phil and I have loads to occupy us, our favourite is banging out some of our favourite songs.....when it is raining no one else can hear us!!
We're heading home now for a year. But it won't be long before we are are on the road again, I can't ever imagine giving up this lifestyle.....its in my blood now.