Weekly read 177
Monday 10th November 2014. Week 177. Portugal.
Well I've had a chat with the editor, (Hazel) or more precisely she's had a chat with me and I've been given some advice, or instructions as I prefer to call them. Apparently I'm not writing enough about our adventure, I'm too busy jibber-jabbering about 'stuff'.
“People read the diary to find out what we're up to, and what camp sites we've visited.”
“Really!” I said. “Because I’m doubtful.”
“Yes!, so they can follow us on a map.” I immediately had a vision of some old duffer turning his lounge into a kind of command centre. The walls bedecked with print-outs from my diary. A large map of Europe spread out over the floor. His wife moving around a toy motor-home like some kind of advancing army.
“You really think so?” I said sceptically.
“Of course! They might even be making similar plans themselves.”
“Okay, let's see if I can go a whole week focusing on just our experiences.”
“Really' she said, sounding surprised.
So okay. Day one: We're in the Algarve at Turiscampo. It's a favourite of ours, third time here. We get the The Portugal News, a newspaper, delivered to the van, free!. How cool is that?. They print an English copy because there’s so many ex-pats living here. In fact you can't move in Lidl's for all the mahogany coloured British pensioners clogging up the aisles. Even on this site, we actually outnumber other nationalities, a first.
Curiously there appears to be fewer campers here than in previously years, this may be due to the alterations. They are constantly improving the site. The first years improvement was a palatial new shower block. The second year they extended the site. This year they're refurbishing the bar and restaurant, so it's closed until December. They're also installing a camp-site wide, wi-fi system. I enquired after its progress this morning and was told the engineer comes and goes pretty much as he pleases. This is very much the Portuguese way.
However my suggestion for improving the site would be to shoot all the barking dogs in a mile wide radius so we can all get a good nights sleep, but that's unlikely. Just like the Spanish the Portuguese seem to enjoy owning noisy dogs. They're encouraged to bark. -the dogs not the owners- We walked past a house yesterday and three dogs went berserk, barking, yapping and salivating. There was no effort made to quieten them down. I tried to use what I'd learnt from watching two seasons of Caesar Romero (The dog whisperer) but that only seem to wind them up even more.
My only criticism of the camp-site is the price. It's just a tad expensive for this time of the year. For example: The monthly cost is €390 Euros. If you stay for two, you get a ten Euro discount. Stay for three and you save twenty. Right!. That's what I thought. Hardly worth it. Who, in their right mind, would stay anywhere three months just to make a twenty Euro saving? No one, that's who. They really don't seem to have grasped the whole discount ethos terribly well here.
But that’s a small criticism. The pitches are generous, cosy, flat and water and waste are near by. The pool is sumptuous and the showers are luxurious, and if you sneak into the disabled cubical, which is bigger than your average student flat, you have a wet room all to yourself. Not that I would, mind you........... Oh! no.
Tuesday 11th November 2014. Week 177. Portugal.
Portuguese road tolls & how to pay, or how I plan to live forever.
In keeping to this weeks objective of talking only about things pertaining to our gypsy lifestyle, and inspired by a readers email, here’s a fascinating insight to the world of Portuguese road tolls. Now don't switch off. I know it sounds, on the surface at least, like a hugely dull topic but it's not. Promise.
As you can see I've deliberately entitled today’s offering with a question. This is because I'm hoping to cash in on all those using Google, looking for an answer to it. Therefore, ergo, I should get more hits and hopefully increase my readership. Why do I want to increase my readership you ask? The answer is simply....... I've no idea. Not a clue. I just do. I'm contrary like that, I mean it's not like there’s a charge to read this stuff. In fact I actually pay for the privilege of posting my daily ramblings. If no one read this I'd actually be better off. But I doubt that’s the right way to look at such matters, do you?.
I've also a much bigger plan afoot. I have this faint hope that one day, in the far distant future, someone will stumble across my musings. Hopefully, they'll realise I was actually quite good, fanciful I know, but work with me here, and from a lock of my hair, discovered between the keys of this very keyboard, genetically engineer a new me. The new blank me can then learn from this diary, and in doing so become: me II. As plans go it's not one of my better ones, but I'm hanging onto it.
Anyways, I seem to have strayed somewhat. Back to matters in hand. I thought this topic worthy of comment because if you do Google 'How to pay the Automatic Portuguese tolls', you'll find a wealth of quite misleading information devoted to it. Apparently none more so than the actual Portuguese website dedicated to it.
Nothing to do will tolls, just a jolly nice photo of the local coast line.
So here it is. The definitive answer from a man who should know.
As you enter Portugal on any of the main toll roads you will chance upon a lay-by clearly marked 'Tourists Only'. If you pull into one you'll spy a handsome looking machine. Pull up to it. Insert your credit card (Matalan club card won't cut it apparently) and seconds later your credit card is spat out along with a receipt. The Machine then wishes you, in English, a safe and pleasant trip. That’s it. Technology does the rest. The machine has inexorably linked your credit card with your vehicle registration and each time you flash under a camera it will, daily, debit your card the amount shown on the approach sign. It will do this for a month, after which time it will expire. If you're still there you'll need to get another.
If, like me, you're worried that in an attempt to debit your card €2.30 the automated system electronically hiccups and debits €23,000 instead, you might want to try the next method.
Head for your Portuguese holiday destination ignoring the cameras. Once you’ve arrived find a post office. There, purchase a road toll card. They are in various values. Then text your registration and the ID number on the card to the phone number given. Hey presto, done. You'll receive a thank you text. Any debt you've accrued up to that point will be instantly deducted. There are other methods of payment, one being on-line, but these two are the easiest in my book.
A small word of caution. Portuguese road tolls are not cheap We covered 80 miles from the Spanish border to Lagos at a cost of £20. But you can take comfort in the fact that diesel is only 93p a litre in some places, making it the cheapest we've found in Europe.
(Feel free to print off and keep for future reference).
Wednesday 12th November 2014. Week 177 Portugal.
Question. Why is alcohol so blinking expensive the Uk? The answer is an historical one. It dates back to when we had an empire which had to be paid for, by us, through taxation. Well the empire fizzled out along ago but the high levy on alcohol hasn't. Today The Great Benevolent Head justifies the high price saying it's necessary to ensure we don’t all revert to our old 16th century drinking habits. Also, to reduce under-age drinking and to dissuade youngster from binge drinking. Booze is now so expensive that only they, and the better off, can afford to drink the stuff. For us mere mortals a bottle of wine, over dinner, is an occasional treat and certainly not an everyday occurrence.
(This sounds dangerously like jibber-jabbering. Ed) Hold on women, relevant point on its way.
Now I'm happy to report this is not the case in the rest of Europe! Excluding Sweden, where just finding somewhere that sells booze is a task worthy of Jason and his Argonaut buddies. And when you are lucky enough to stumble across one it'll be policed by armed guards and owned by the Swedish government. And this from a country that gave us Abba, go figure.
Yesterday I found a five litre box of red wine for €3.50. That's £2.75 in real coinage. That’s just a smidgen over seven bottles. I've done the tricky maths and that equates to 40p a bottle. Seriously, in the Uk the only thing that’s comes anywhere near that price, per litre, is bleach. Amazingly, even at that price everyone involved, retailer, producer and vintner all make a profit. Even the Portuguese government stands to gain a healthy 40p cut.
Tax on alcohol here is a very reasonable 13%. Rather oddly, and for no reason I can fathom, the tax on sponge fingers or for that matter any cakes is 23%. Perhaps they don't mind you getting drunk, just not fat, who knows. This approach to low taxation on booze is echoed across most of Europe. Clearly then consumption, alcohol abuse and price are not inexorably linked as The Great Benevolent Head would have us believe.
Anyhoo. I know some people consider me something of cheap skate, but even I couldn't bring myself to buy a box at that price. I did reason that if it turned out to be complete shite I only stood to lose a paltry £2.75, hardly a kings ransom. However knowing myself better than you do, I also reasoned I'd not be able to bring myself to pour it down the drain should it taste like Domestos. I could keep it just for visitors but even that was not enough of an incentive. Even I have to draw the line at 40p a bottle. So I chose the one we like. Granted, it was more expensive, but what the hell. I've learnt you can't put a value on quality. Oh no. So I splashed out £3.53 (That’s also for a five litre box. Ed) for our regular tipple. I could have thrown caution, and my fiscal responsibilities, out the window and bought the even more expensively priced box at £4.80 but come'on, let's not get carried away here.
Calm down dear its only a box of wine
I should make the point that the ridiculously cheap price for wine does helps to offset the dearer cost of food here. It's not as cheap as Spain.
Spain is quite unique in that one of its biggest supermarket chains Mercadona, perhaps the biggest, is still a family owned business. Consequently having no share holders, no dividends to pay out, no board of directors on fat salaries, no parent company skimming the profit margins, it's amazingly competitive and even gives Lidl (All hail to the mighty Lidl. Ed) a run for it's money. It's for that very reason, and because they make those yummy cakes I really like, we've spent a total, over the 177 weeks, £1875.45 in their stores. That’s the exact figure. I keep a spread sheet.
(Worryingly he does. Ed)
Thursday 13th November 2014. Week 177. Portugal
Thursday already, gosh! I've not done too bad this week. As promised on Monday I've pretty much stuck to items relating to our present adventure. Today I thought I'd try and go for a potted history of Portugal in 600 words.
Most people probably think of Portugal as just a holiday destination. Before our first visits I knew diddley squat about the Portuguese or their country, other than that they invented Port, they have a decent football team and Cliff Richard lives here. Wanting to know more I looked up their Royalty which is always a good place to start as most European royalty are totally bonkers. This comes from centuries of inbreeding between them all. They're practically all related to each other. This is why our royal family, in the looks department, could give a bag of spanners a run for its money. It's taken a couple of commoners, Diana and Kate, to inject some much needed glamour genes into the royal mix, so we should see some decent postage stamps at some point.
The Portuguese had Pedro. That's Prince Pedro who, when he became King in 1357, proclaimed his lover, Queen. No big deal you're thinking, Kings do stuff like that all the time. The only problem was she'd been dead for two years which, I dare say, threw a bit of a damp squib on the coronation celebration.
Not long after that, the Portuguese Empire got under way. It was the first Empire the world had seen and also the biggest, at one point owning almost half the globe in terms of land mass. It was also the longest-lived. This accounts for why, even today, 250 million people worldwide speak Portuguese. It's the sixth most spoken language.
The one time Portugese empire in blue.
Much later King Dom -clearly not big on names the Portuguese- moved to Brazil and proclaimed a single state. He called it the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. Unfortunately seven years later he had to pop back to Portugal on regal type business and his son, who he'd left in charge, immediately declared independence from Portugal, and Brazil was born. Honestly we don’t know the half of it. The world has been little more than a giant monopoly board for European Monarchs to play with.
Realising this, and along with quite a few other European countries (not the Uk), the Portuguese got cheesed off with all the royal shenanigans and kicked the last one out. And in 1910 King Manual II moved to Twickenham, west London where he lived in exile.
Today Portugal is roughly half the size of England but with a population not much larger than greater London. Which is a worry as it's getting smaller. For example last year over 50,000 people emigrated, Australia seems a popular destination. On top of this the birthrate has shrunk to just 1.2 children per couple. And those that are giving birth are older women, the average age being thirty. The number getting married, according to recent figures, has continued to decline. There were 10k fewer weddings last year. If these trends continue you could see Portugal becoming one giant OAP home. For a start they live longer than us. And, recently, the government has offered tax breaks to British pensioners wanting to retire here.
Most of these figures have, of course, been influenced by the international mismanagement of the European economy. People simply can't afford to get married and have families, that’s what the figures reveal.
The EU, which was set up to ensure security and prosperity for all its citizens has certainly failed the Portuguese.
Which proves if it ain’t royalty screwing you over, it's bureaucrats.
Friday 14th November 201. week 176. Portugal.
What’s on my mind this week.
As a kid, I sat in stunned silence as I learnt that one day every home would have it's own robot. On a 60's science programme 'Tomorrows World', I glimpsed sixty years into the future. Then, I was told, robots would do all the jobs we didn’t want to do. The ultimate labour saving device. I had visions of being able to replace my parents who, at the time, did everything.
“Robot ownership” said the presenter, “was just a matter of time”.
So what happened? Sixty years have passed and I don’t even own an automatic can opener. Advances in robot technology have been pretty slow. I mean, have you seen the Honda robot, climb stairs? By the time it's gingerly climbed a flight of stairs and walked back down again you've either forgotten you owned it or passed away in your sleep.
Sadly, regardless of what the Si-Fi films tell us, it just ain't going to happen. Robots have little real application around the home. Why spend a fortune on a robot to clean your loo when real people are willing to work for minimum wage?. Besides, all robots have flaws.
Take the most successful robots ever to grace our TV screens, The Daleks. These were an evil race of super robots. Hazel confessed she was scared of them which surprised me as I'd always thought them the least scary of all 'The Doctors' enemies. This because they had a few obvious design faults. For a start they only had one eye, on a pod. This meant they lacked 3D vision and might explain why they had a rubber bumper. I assumed this was to minimise the damage caused to themselves and any inanimate objects they almost certainly bumped into, as a result of having mono vision.
They also lacked opposable thumbs, a prerequisite of modern day living even in a space ship. On one 'arm' they had a permanently fixed ray gun and on the other a kind of mini sink plunger whose purpose was never fully explained. It struck me there was always a very real danger one could inadvertently spray the bridge with laser fire when it accidentally collided into a solid object. And the mini sink plunger could, through the principle of suction, stick them to all manner of things. It all seemed ill thought out. I think the BBC props department was scraping the barrel when they came up with those.
Confusingly they also all had the same voice. So if you had more than one in a room the one talking would had to wave his ray gun around. (Always threateningly. Ed). If he didn't you'd be non the wiser as to who said what and to whom.
However their biggest handicap was their inability to overcome a step, no matter how low. Even I knew you had no chance of conquering mankind if you could only operate on a flat surface People with, stoops and gravel drives would be perfectly safe. So no, I wasn't scared of them.
But having said all that, I can see some practical applications for future robots outside the home. I can see the advantage of having say, a fully armed and automatic robotic police force. After all, what could go wrong?
You have a good weekend.