We left Medinaceli and drove to Zaragoza, stopping briefly in Calatayud to visit a supermarket. Parking in supermarket car parks was one of the things we were worried about before we left, given the extra length with the trailer on board. For most of the trip this hasn’t been a problem, we’ve just made sure before going in that there was a big space available for us … this time it was different. We saw the big space from outside the parking and drove in only to discover that to get to it we would have to drive the wrong way down a one way system. A quick look around and we realised we had no choice, so we did it. Stately as a galleon we sailed the wrong way right through the carpark and no-one batted an eyelid. Within minutes we saw a lot of people doing it – with that in mind we believed ourselves safe from further problems. We enjoyed our wander through the aisles, filling up with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and other necessities including 70% dark chocolate and tonic for the gin. Back at the van we realised an uncomfortable truth. Getting out of our huge space and back onto the road meant doing a very sharp right hand turn through a narrow gateway. and onto a very small single track road. All the people who had behaved themselves and gone the right way could drive straight through. A big rig like ours doesn’t bend easily and Shirley had to do some complicated forward and back movements to get onto the very narrow exit road. To their credit, none of the shoppers queuing up behind us blew their horns or waved two fingers and before long we were back on the road. The views are wonderful on this motorway and we made a mental note to adopt it for any future trips, especially as there are no tolls to pay.
Zaragoza has recently installed a new motorhome parking area. It is on the outskirts of the city, right opposite a tram stop and it has services, flat parking for 36 vans and all entirely free. When we arrived we saw several available spaces but we quickly realised that we were too long for them because of the trailer. Right at the end of the row was a French van with a trailer attached and, noting that he fitted in his space, we breathed a sigh of relief and headed his way. Closer inspection revealed two things. One was that his van was smaller than ours so he was shorter than us but on a more positive note we saw that he had available space on his right hand side, big enough for our trailer. I put on my big girl pants and went to speak to him, asking him in my best French (which isn’t great to be honest) if he would mind if we parked our trailer on his right hand side and then park the van to his left. I got stuck at the verb to unhitch but realised about four hours later that I could have used to separate instead. It also took me several minutes to realise that while I was speaking bad French to him, he was answering me in good English. Very quickly he proposed that he moved out of his space and moved to the left and we could then have his space and all the room to the right of it as necessary. Because the spaces were arranged at an angle I could drive in and turn the front of the van slightly making space for the trailer on the pitch. We thanked him profusely – kindness is alive and well in the motorhoming community.
If you are considering a city break on your motorhoming tour this is an ideal spot. The trams run every few minutes and cost 1.40€ per trip. You buy the ticket on the platform and then validate it as you step onto the tram by flashing it in front of an electronic pad just inside the door. The next day we were whisked into the city in double quick time and free to wander. It’s a beautiful city with some magnificent buildings, great shops and numerous places to stop and get refreshment.
Our first stop, as always, was morning coffee and a small bite to eat for breakfast. We chose a tiny bacon and cheese roll from the tapas bar and coffees and sat down to watch the other customers. At a table nearby there was a group of friends chatting merrily. The staff were friendly and making conversation with everyone, even switching seamlessly to English when we made our order. We felt right at home there and might have been tempted to stay put but the city called … although I have to admit that Shirley heard it more loudly than I did.
This seems like a good moment to reflect on the art of spending months in very close proximity with ones life partner. Shirley and I have pretty much perfected the knack by spending enough time alone, usually on dog walks, or in silence reading our books or knitting so that we don’t drive each other crackers. One challenge is the difference in our energy levels. Sometimes I tease Shirley and tell her that it’s like living with the Duracell Bunny. She has a lot of get up and go. So, on a visit like this we make sure that we take care of each other and check in about what we want to do and how long for.
We visited the Basilica de Nuestra Senora and were astonished at the sheer size of it.
A Mass was in progress as we entered and we took note of the signs asking for silence and please don’t take photos or walk about in the aisles while it is going on. We watched a woman ignoring this completely and taking out her phone to snap a shot of the people queueing up at the altar. A man in a dark suit appeared as if from nowhere and stepped in front of her, quietly asking her not to do it. Without a care in the world she walked a few steps, clocked his retreating back and took the photo anyway! I’m not sure whether to admire that kind of gall … she did not give a stuff. On the other hand, having been educated by nuns, I slipped seamlessly into role and felt the guilt on her behalf. I even caught myself blushing.
Tourist Information in the square gave us a map, some advice on what to visit and where to get some good photos. The helpful assistant also told us how to pronounce the name of the town Tharagotha and we practiced saying it several times until we felt a bit thilly. If we had been there longer we would have visited the Goya museum but I dug my heels in at the thought of yet another church dripping with gold. Enough already. It will have become obvious to anyone following this blog that a culture vulture I am not. A bit of beauty, some lovely scenery and an interesting building is enough for one day so I stopped in my tracks and requested a visit to El Corte Ingles. Here we wandered through the traditional department store, spent exactly 1€ on a tube of hand cream in the sales and made our way to the top of the building where we expected to find the restaurant. Sadly they only had a café and, as it was time for lunch, we left and headed for the Plaza Español where we shared a pizza and a salad before heading back to two small dogs waiting patiently for us in the van.
We stayed two nights in Zaragoza and thoroughly enjoyed the city break. There were supermarkets and shops nearby so all our needs were met and we slept well, despite being beside a busy road. Making a choice about places to stay is largely dependent on reading other people’s reviews. The two main motorhome site apps (CamperContact and Park4Night) are kept up to date by users who give their, hopefully honest, opinions on the parking places. Sometimes this is very useful when people report that the place is no longer available or that it seems unsafe with some robberies happening. Other times the reviews make us laugh because they are not only useless but ridiculous too. One priceless one said they would never return to a place because it was raining. Another said that a man who might or might not have been in charge was rude to them. One of the Zaragoza reviews expressed delighted surprise because the trams didn’t wake them in the night. They clearly didn’t know that trams are quiet beasts, sometimes referred to as ‘silent death’ – if you rely on hearing one coming you are in deep trouble. Motorhome parking spots are not, as a general rule, anything like campsites. They don’t usually have toilets and showers and you are expected to be self sufficient and use your own. We have seen numerous reviews declaring that a parking spot was no good because it didn’t have toilets and showers. If nothing else, reading the reviews gives our ocular muscles a good work out as we continually roll our eyes in disbelief. One of the things we look out for in the descriptions is a place to walk the dogs. Putting the needs of our two canine companions has to be high on our priorities and, in the past, this has put us off trying to do city breaks. Zaragoza was perfect for us because there was plenty of space to run our two little dogs twice a day. Safe space, sometimes off the lead and peaceful enough for Boo who is a bit of a wuss when it comes to loud noises.
Moving on from Zaragoza we headed for Sitges to visit Shirley’s brother Chris, as usual on our trips to Spain. I’ve written a lot about Sitges before in this blog so forgive me if this is giving a feeling of dejá vu. Sitges is a fun resort where, we’re told, there are enough restaurants and cafés for every day of the year.
The bay is beautiful, the town is a maze of narrow streets with interesting shops amongst the many eateries. It is undoubtedly one of Spain’s more expensive resorts with prices similar to the UK – a bit of a shock after some of our recent haunts – but it is well worth it for the fun and friendly atmosphere.
On this visit, as in November on our way south, we stayed in El Garrofer Campsite on the outskirts of town and used our bikes or our feet to get about. We like this campsite because it is friendly, has plenty of good facilities and there is loads of room to spread out, especially out of season. Security is great – they actually give you an electronic tag to wear and won’t let you into the site without it. The dogs have to wear a bright orange tag on their collars … and security people at the gate check to see it is there before you can bring them back in.
Speaking of the dogs, we have found that this trip is proving a bit much for Boo, our older poodle. He’s got some health issues and takes daily medication for pain. Despite his determination to be in charge of the entire pack, ourselves included, we have noticed him getting tired and sometimes falling over his own feet. This led to him falling down some steps at the beach the other day when he was out for a walk with Shirley, Poppy, Chris and Buggy (Chris’s little dog). Shirley phoned me and I went to meet them to help carry him back to the van. 8kg doesn’t seem a lot until you try to walk a mile carrying it in your arms.
The next couple of days he was still a bit stiff and sore so we decided that it was best if Shirley took Poppy on the longer walk to meet Chris while I walked Boo on a shorter easier walk near the campsite. Poor old Boo was really distressed by this, scanning the area to look for them, searching everywhere in the van and then finally settling with his chin on the back of the seat to watch for them coming back. When they returned he covered Poppy with slobbery kisses and yelped with joy that his pack had returned in one piece. Shirley reported that Poppy didn’t seem to have noticed he wasn’t there and had enjoyed her walk as normal. Within ten minutes of them getting back Poppy had been snapped at for sitting in his seat and he’d pushed her off it. Poppy shrugged and moved to another seat. Just like humans, their personalities are completely different.
A first for us on this visit was two rounds of golf at Portal del Roc. This is advertised as a Pitch and Putt course but in fact it is a full par three course with a couple of longer holes.
It is a great workout for your short game and we found it quite challenging, mostly because it was all too easy to send your ball through the green and down the road.
We enjoyed it tremendously, apart from the drive to get there. We had to take the van because it was nowhere near public transport and we were horrified to discover that the route involves a couple of miles of winding single track road with no way of seeing who is coming towards you. The entrance gate to the golf is very narrow – I think we had about 4 inches to spare on either side of our wing mirrors. It was a bum squeaky moment because it also involved a tight bend. We were just grateful that we could leave the trailer on the campsite. So, if you’re in the area and fancy a reasonably priced game (15€) we can recommend it. We did consider the nearer and bigger course of Golf Terramar but the price for two players and a golf buggy was 175€. Ouch!
We met up with Chris one last time in Parrot’s Bar on our final evening and felt a little sad. Eight days had passed quickly and now it was time to move on. Next we move on North towards France and then homeward. We are already acutely aware of the drop in temperature as we have moved northwards through Spain. In Sitges it was 16c in the afternoons with some very strong winds. At night it dropped to 7c and we felt the cold cycling back to the van each evening, after meeting Chris in the pub.
How are we going to cope when we get back to the UK?
Hasta la vista! Until the next time.