A year on…

This time last year we stumbled up of the lilo that had provided us with our last nights sleep; if an hour or two can be called sleep, and got to work cleaning the bungalow we were living in ready to be handed back.

Stress was high on the agenda that cold October day as we raced against the clock to get everything finished and packed up. The cats spent the day with their little faces pressed up against the caravan windows wearing looks that were a mix of worry and resignation (here we go again).

It was a long day culminating with us arriving at the Channel Tunnel crossing early the following morning.

Behind us lay our life; a house with running water, separate rooms and possessions collected during our 21 years together, my business that I had grown over the previous 6 years, friends, family and familiarity. In front of us lay a life on the road, uncertainty and anything but familiar.

It was a gamble, two 40 somethings, three cats and a caravan was always going to be an unlikely equation.

So, a year on has it worked, are we happy, has throwing our well ordered life down the pan for a life of frugality and minimalism been worth it????

Hell yes…….. :)

This year is up there with the best I have ever had. Living in such a simple way has been like coming home for me. Less clutter, less structure, less stress all add up to a happier me – and hubby’s not doing bad either!

Living in such a small space together means very little privacy but I have discovered that you don’t actually need it when you are truly happy. Who needs lots of space filled with lots of fancy furniture and things that are never used. I have everything I need and none of it was shop brought!!

As we get ready to pack up next week and head back to Spain for the winter here is a little recap, in pictures, of the ups and downs (there have been some) of our journey so far….

Narbonne in the south of France and definitely the first time in our journey south that we both started to relax….

We marveled at these night skies little realising the storm that was awaiting us the following day. Nearly being blown of a viaduct whist towing a caravan was definitely a low point of the trip for us all….

Camping Iznate – five months spent up in the mountains, fresh air and stunning views, what’s not to like

Spending my November birthday on the beach – yeh!!

Our first Christmas in Bessie

Boxing day picnic on the beach..

We spent a lot of time early on in the year picnicking on the beach….

Every now and then we were rudely reminded it was still winter with a deluge of rain and strong winds. It never lasted more than a few days though :)

Making the devastating decision to have our precious Tinker put to sleep was the lowest point of our journey so far. We still miss her terribly.

Climbing Maroma in the spring sunshine was a high point – at 6000 odd feet you can take that literally!

Having my oldest friend and her husband come to visit for a long weekend meant lots of sightseeing and beers!!

A move to Cadiz in April meant stunning coastline – this was the route I ran every morning for a month!!

We fell in love with the beach at Conil de Frontera – picture postcard stuff

Another move this time into Portugal where we spent the summer. Away from the coast and time for a change in scenery.

Portugal has more castles than you can shake a stick at, this was our nearest just down the road in Evoramonte

Jose Cid – an aging ‘europop’ crooner but absolute megastar here in Portugal. Thankfully for us this was a free event and we soon escaped for a beer….

As the summer progressed the temperatures rose and we frazzled and wilted in the sun. On one shopping trip I was beyond excited to find young green coconuts for sale and enjoyed several days of reviving juices made with lush coconut water. Unfortunately it was a one hit wonder and they never appeared again but it was good whilst it lasted…

The cats had their own unique way of keeping cool

Seems like belly up with paws in the air is the way to go..

A trip across to the coast near Lisbon and a photo at the farthest point west in Europe (next stop Washington DC) concludes our Portuguese summer.

As we take a moment today to reflect on the year gone by we are both so grateful that we have had the opportunity to experience a different way of living.

The next year will be different again as I reach out for new business opportunities and we get ready to explore a different area of Spain.

Come with us and see where we end up….. :)

The versatile blogger

Jack over at Peking The Pansies nominated me for the versatile blogger award (not to sure my blog can be classed as ‘versatile’ as all I ever seem to write about it the weather, the bad driving of macho Europeans and castles) but thanks anyway Jack.

I am a relative newcomer to Jack’s blog but I love reading his daily offerings of wit and hilarity about his life in Turkey with his husband Liam. If you haven’t already been over to Peking The Pansies then it is well worth a trip.

So, the conditions behind this award are that I am to reveal 7 quirky things about myself and then nominate 5 – 15 other bloggers to do the same!!

Hmmmm…….seven quirky things about myself that shouldn’t be too difficult!!!

  1. At the age of 43 I gave up most of my material possessions to roam around Southern Europe in a caravan with my hubby and two cats. Mid life crisis or finally getting it right…. only time will tell…..
  2. I prefer animals to babies, we may have never produced a ‘human’ child however we have had many furry and feathered charges that we have lovingly called our own!
  3. I eat a raw food diet – enough said…
  4. I have just discovered that I can use food as makeup; seriously!! Apparently beetroot and berries make great blusher and mascara – who knew! I will be experimenting shortly. Beats nasty chemicals any day.
  5. I have had many jobs over the years but the quirkiest of them has to be selling membership for the ‘Civil Trust’ in tube stations around London. The odds were stacked against me from the start as my idea of sales is that if someone wants something they will ask for it!! and come on who wants to by something other than a ticket at a tube station! needless to say it was short lived…
  6. I once went 10 weeks without washing my hair as an experiment and love the idea of dreadlocks. After a stoic 10 weeks hubby finally vetoed the first and has threatened divorce if I ever do more than think about the second….
  7. I once did a 10,000ft tandem skydive to ‘cure’ my fear of heights – it kinda of worked but it wasn’t an enjoyable experience, the guy who was my ‘tandem’ was mortified when he overhead me saying to my friend afterwards just how much I had hated it – whoops

And so to my ‘nominations’…….

Antony in London

Aunty Gwens diary

Looking For BlueSky

My Shitty Twenties

Journey Man

Happy blogging everyone and here’s to being quirky!!!!

Restless night….

Ok, so this picture isn’t actually of our caravan but I thought I would use it to illustrate my point….

I have had a restless night’s sleep as it has been very wet and windy. I can cope with the rain and have even got used to the incessant and very loud drumming on the caravan roof but the wind I can’t cope with.

The caravan has been has been shaken and lurched around all night and the awning has been flapping for all its worth. How it stays put and doesn’t take flight over the Alentejo plains I do not know (that’s German engineering for you!) but it has come through with nothing more than a few missing pegs to show for it.

I on the other hand am a bag of nerves this morning and very tired to boot!!

Roll on the spring is all I can say…….

Summers done…..

Summer has finally faded and in its place we have the arrival of wet and windy weather.

For the past two nights I have resorted to ear plugs to drown out the sound of the rain on the roof of the caravan. Unfortunately they don’t drown out the sound of Oscar who has somehow morphed into the devil incarnate as he sits on the table and meows all night; the little git then snuggles down on the bed for some shut eye once we are up!!

It would seem that we are not along in receiving this deluge of rain as much of Europe seems to be in the grip of extreme winds and flooding.

Faro airport in southern Portugal lost part of its roof under the weight of the rain and all the windows blew out in the control tower on Sunday night.

The ‘costas’ in southern Spain are wading through the downpours in their wellies and parts of the UK and Ireland have seen flooding and high winds.

So, that is it or so it would seem. Summer is over and we are being flung head first into winter with no transition whatsoever – well I expect the UK and Ireland would beg to differ but here we have gone from one extreme to the other.

The timing is actually quite apt as I am working on a ‘winter recipe’ cookbook for Barefoot and Raw so am having fun in the kitchen with all sorts of warming spices and foods.

We are just hoping that the weather eases a little next week to enable us to pack Bessie up and head back into Spain. Taking down an awning in the wind and rain is not to be recommended and neither is towing a caravan……fingers crossed we will get a break long enough to allow us to escape…… :)

 

 

A 24 hour pass to Lisbon….

So, the plan was to shoot across to Lisbon and spend the day sightseeing in the city and retire to the coast in the evening for some beers, simple enough….

Not so. As with all good plans ours didn’t quite go according to plan…….

We made a good getaway from the campsite getting on the road for 8am. We reckoned on a 2 hour drive across to Lisbon – about 120 miles but of course that turned into about 3 and a half hours; not because there was a lot of traffic or anything but just because navigating around Lisbon can be a little tricky.

They are big on toll roads here and you can’t avoid them once you get to the periphery of Lisbon. They hit you up first on the bridges of which there are two. We took the Ponte Vascu de Gama which is the longest of the two. It is about 5 miles in length and cost us the pricey sum of 5.60 euros. Then we had to navigate the myriad of N and A roads that weave their way around the capital.

We paid another 2.50 euros further along but managed to avoid going on the Via Verde routes. These toll roads are a new invention here and basically require the driver to have a piece of electronic equipment fitted in their car (at great cost of course) which then logs you every time you use one of the Via Verde toll roads; I guess you then get a monthly invoice. If you use these toll roads without this equipment then you are heavily fined – and I mean heavily. Trouble is they don’t like to advertise the fact that the toll road you are about to go on is a Via Verde and so we were hoping that the scant information about which ones they were would be enough. Thankfully it was but it makes for a stressful journey.

Anyway, on with the plan. Instead of driving into Lisbon and stopping in the city (which would have meant much more stress and helpless navigating) we decided to stay on the coast and get a train in. I picked the town of Estoril – a pretty seaside resort with a regular 3 trains an hour into Lisbon. We got there and parked up and went in search of the tourist board to find accommodation. We wanted to get an apartment for the night as it is just easier for us to cater for ourselves foodwise.

The girl in the tourist board was less than helpful and said that there was only ONE hotel that offered apartments. She made a phone call that lasted about 2 seconds and then told us they had none available. She offered no other options so I asked her if there were any campsites that did bungalows (next best thing) Again only ONE and it was 15km away up the coast!!!

We didn’t really have any choice and so got back in the car and made our way to the campsite. This took another 45 minutes as the coast road was heaving. Finally we got there and got a bungalow sorted for the night. It was actually really nice, very new, modern and clean so beers and food deposited in fridge we then had to make a decision about what to do next.

To go into Lisbon meant driving back down the coast and finding parking so we could jump on the train which meant that we would probably not be in Lisbon until about 2.30pm

Or, we could scrap that idea and just explore the coast line instead. Hmmmmmmm what to do……..after some discussion we decided to go for plan B; if truth be told we are not really city people and the thought of rushing around trying to cram the sights in was not appealing.

So, we headed up the coast and stopped first as Cabo da Roca which is the most western point in Europe. The coastline here is typically rugged like much of the Atlantic coastline is and reminded us of Cornwall. We had fun wandering along the cliffs, taking photos and watching divers in the waters below looking for shipwrecks; of which I am sure there were many.

After that we headed inland to Sintra. This is a lovely little town nestled in the hills which boast a fabulous palace and castle on their peak. The palace is named ‘The Palace de Pena’ and was home to Queen Maria the II in the 1800’s. It is a colourful affair – pale lemon, pink and lilac (although the postcards have most definitely been photo shopped !!) but it was flamboyant none the less and reminded me of the palace in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, although hubby assured me that that one was in Bulgaria!!

After the palace we headed into Sintra and wandered around the little cobbled streets marveling at the number of restaurants and shops on offer. We were definitely in ‘touristville’ but it wasn’t too overdone and the town had retained its natural charm.

Tired out after an afternoon of sightseeing we returned to our little bungalow and enjoyed a reviving beer and some rather delicious food whilst making friends with the many little cats on the campsite!!

Sunday morning saw us up bright and early for the return journey – the cats are fine to be left for 24 hours (food left in cat feeders and plenty of water and they are safe and sound in the caravan) but we don’t leave them any longer than that and to be honest we both confessed to missing the little criters and it feeling strange to be traveling without them in the back of the car. How sad is that!! we sounded like new parents leaving their young uns for the first time, happy to be away but missing them like crazy.

Of course our return home was met with a frosty reception and it took them most of the day to forgive us for our obvious disgression…..

All in all though it was a great trip and good to see another side to Portugal. The region we are in really is a poor area and life and the landscape is hard and barren so it was good to see some different scenery and to see that there is a way of life here that is thriving.

Enjoy the photos below…..

Cabo da Roca

Standing at the most westerly point in Europe

Next stop America….

Palace de Pena

Colourful with lots of balconies and turrets…

Sintra

A very definite ‘Eastern European’ feel to the architecture…

Just for fun, this made us chuckle….world domination of the Indian restaurant!

Days end…..and a welcome beer!

Wherever I go I am surrounded by cats…..now do they attract me or do I attract them????

Summer is nearly over…..

Well it had to happen sooner or later. We couldn’t carry on sweating like a couple of proverbial ***s so I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked or saddened to realise that summer is quickly losing its grip and its autumnal friend nudging ever further into the day.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still shorts weather but the mornings are taking longer to warm up now and the evenings less time to cool down.

The biggest difference is overnight and this week I have had to forgo the flimsy night attire as it is not longer cutting the mustard. The pj’s are back out of storage and last night I woke up and had to put some socks on as my feet were decidely nippy – not helped by hubby’s habit of pulling the quilt up so high that you end up with four inches of quilt-less bed at the bottom.

I am pinned to the bed most nights now by the two cats as they snuggle in for warmth – they do make for lovely furry hot water bottles though so I don’t mind too much.

Apparently this week is the last of the hot temperatures and things start to cool down for real next week so its a good job we are soon to be heading 300 miles south again to the sunnier winter climes of the Spanish costa’s.

Looks like the summer of ’11 is drawing to a close :( still it was fun whilst it lasted……

Feliz aniversario Siebo…..

Friday was Siebo’s 50th birthday and so we all got invited up to the ‘big house’ yesterday for a soiree to celebrate.

Parties start early in Portugal and so we were summoned to arrive at 4pm.

Washed, bouffanted and booted up in our finest party pants we toddled of up the hill bottle of sparkly in hand to help the festivities go with a swing.

The party was in full swing by the time we arrived with almost all spare seats around the pool and patio taken. I hadn’t actually realised there were quite as many people on site as there are!!

A lot of the clientelle are Dutch as this is Siebo’s native country and he advertises there a far bit. So hubby tried to remember his scant crasp at Dutch and made a passable attempt at asking the nearest gentlemen if he spoke English. The look we got in return could have frozen hell over so we wisely retreated in search of beer.

A long conversation with Catarina (Siebo’s wife) ensued in French as this is our common language! about walking in the area. We had hoped to take a hike today up a nearby mountain/hill but as we suspected there are very few footpaths in Portugal and the only way to climb it would have been along the road – not quite the same.

We were then introduced to Catarina’s niece ‘Helena’ who is a nurse but is trying to pass the exams required to train as a doctor. She was delightful to talk to and spoke impeccable English and we had a good chat about the health system here versus the UK, the local area, bars in Evora – of which there are not many! and other topics.Great to get another perspective from a local about what’s going on in Portugal.

All in all a very pleasant few hours spent on a Saturday night!!

 

 

More observations…..

Language

We always like to try and speak the language of the country we are in. I think its good manners to not expect everyone to speak English just because you do and we did fairly well at it in Spain – granted hubby is more of a linguist than I am but I still made a valiant effort.

Then we arrived in Portugal and after a few weeks gave up the idea of mastering even the basics. All I can say is that Portuguese is a very odd language to get to grips with. It sounds nothing like Spanish which was greatly disappointing to me given that we are no more than 30 miles from the border.

No, it sounds more like we are in Eastern Europe as it is very clipped and crisply spoken. I am ashamed to say that I only have a few phrases that I can speak – ‘obrigado’ being the main one!!

Entertainment

Nightlife like most other things here is very slim on the ground and although we have valiantly attempted to go and discover bars and restaurants we have had about as much success as the English football team have at recapturing their 1966 victory!!

The bars around here are more like someones front parlour with wooden benches and chairs lined up outside. At all times of the day little old Portuguese men can be found sitting in these said chairs chewing the cud and whiling their days away. Sometimes they leap up and launch themselves towards the edge of the road where they teeter unsteadily on the curb causing major panic to yours truly who always seems to be driving past at the wrong time! They seem to enjoy this, almost as if they are playing chicken with you.

Cinemas are like gold dust and dvds (when you can find them) start from about 20 euros – and that is for a film that is about 10 years old – I have no idea!!??

As with the shopping I suspect that we are in the wrong area and that the more cosmopolitan and tourist areas around the coast will be different. We are off to Lisbon for the night soon to see if our theory stacks up – I will let you know!!

All my observations said and done I have enjoyed being in Portugal. We wanted somewhere off the beaten track where we could enjoy the summer in peace without the constant stream of holiday makers traipsing through the campsite and we certainly got that.

The weather has been fantastic and the Portuguese that we have encountered have been nothing but helpful, cheerful and very open and I am looking forward to seeing Lisbon and another side of this country.

However, I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t looking forward to getting back to Spain where it is a little easier to be rural and quiet but still within close enough proximity of civilisation – I think if this summer has taught me anything it is that I like a bit of both in my life!!

 

Where are all the shops

This one has caused us no end of confusion over the last 6 months. Just where do the Portuguese go to do their shopping – and I’m not talking food shopping here although I do have something to say on that front in just a second!!

No, I’m talking shopping for clothes and other general items that we just take for granted back in the UK. You know that you can walk down any high street in the UK and there will be a multitude of shops all enticing you in to spend you money. Here nada. Actually that is a half truth as electrical shops are in rich supply. But if you want something other than a new toaster or hairdryer then forget it.

Hubby needed a new sleeping bag for his trip and we ended up ordering it from the UK as we had more chance of squeezing blood from a stone than finding one here.

I personally think there is a parallel universe where all the shops are located that we just haven’t found the entrance too yet or it could be that we are just in the wrong region of Portugal and shops have completed by-passed this area. I think by comparison that the Australian outback is more populated than we are here.

Which brings me to food shopping. I’m used to my supermarkets being big, shiny and full of lots and lots of choice. Here the whole supermarket experience is like a throw back to the 70s. A homage to the old Fine Fare and Spa that I used to go to with my mum.

They are small and dingy and the displays are oddly designed so you can’t navigate the trolleys around without a major disaster occurring. Sometimes there is an abundance of produce and other times it is slim pickings and you can’t predict when.

They hand out carrier bags willy nilly – even if it is obvious that you have your own and seem rather put out when you try vainly to explain that you don’t need them.

That said I have never come across more happy check out girls, they kick their surly Spanish counterparts in orbit on that one and the sparse amount of Portuguese I have learned has been taught to me by these ever cheerful girls. One even ran out of the shop once and found me at my car when I had inadvertently left an item of shopping behind – shocking!!

Coming next – how to tackle the language

Random thoughts about Portugal

Well I did mention that my posts may be thin on the ground whilst hubby was back in Blighty and true to form I have kept my head under the duvet and refused to come out.

However, the end is in sight and he is due home by the end of the week so with a flourish of excitement I decided it was time to dust myself down and come out of hibernation.

But what to write about when all you have seen for the last few weeks is the inside of a caravan??

Well I decided to put together a little collage of insightful observations of life here in Portugal now that our time is coming to a close that I can post about over the next few days (as when I put them all together it could rival War and Peace in length and I fear I may send you all into a deep coma)

So, in no particular order I will start with:-

Driving

It seems that every country we go to the driving techniques employed by the locals get progressively worse. In Portugal they drive hard and furious, over take only when the conditions absolutely scream for them not too and have seemingly no regard for anyone else on the road – or so I thought.

On Saturday I had the misfortune of experiencing Portuguese roads from the inside of a Portuguese car and it would now appear that our British number plate does offer us a modicum of care and attention. Driving amongst the natives as one of the natives is not an experience I intend to repeat in a hurry.

The driver of the car I was in seemed to have the attention span of a knat, verring into the other lane frequently as he looked anywhere but through the windscreen of the car. When confronted with an overtaking car coming straight for us he refused to take evasive action like we would (we often find ourselves driving on the hard shoulder or skimming the ditch in an attempt to get ourselves out the way) Instead what ensued was a game of chicken with neither party daring to back down.

Perhaps this is what passes for ‘entertainment’ around here. I am actually looking forward to returning to the driving in Spain – and believe me enjoy and Spanish driving are not words that I thought I would ever utter in the same sentance!!

Tomorrow – Where are all the shops???