It’s about 550 miles from the north of Portugal to Sitges on the Mediterranean coast just south of Barcelona. We rarely drive more than 150 miles a day and so we knew that the trip would involve several overnight stops. For us this makes the journey interesting, stopping at places we’ve never been before and having a look around before settling in for a restful night’s sleep.
We thought we might stop in a little town called Torro where the Camper Contact app told us that we would find a lovely town with lots of interesting things to see. We couldn’t find the motorhome parking and anyway we felt it was a bit early to stop for the night so we drove on, choosing this time an urbanisation on the outskirts of Valladolid. Here we found a really lovely, thoughtfully designed motorhome parking. It was called Puerta de Casasola and we were parked at the Civic Centre where all kinds of sports and activities were provided for the locals along with services and flat parking for visiting motorhomes. As we moved east we were now getting into the kind of weather you would expect in Spain and we were very warm. Off came the jackets and long sleeved tops and out came the t shirts that had been sitting neglected since we left home.
It was completely quiet until about 4.30 p.m. when the children were let out of school and they arrived to enjoy the facilities. It was a beautiful evening and the air was filled with the sound of children and young people having fun and families having picnics. At about 9.00 p.m. it went dead quiet again and we slept like logs.
From there we drove along good main roads to a small town called El Burgo de Osma, described as an interesting historic town. Here the motorhome parking was right beside a good supermarket and about 50 yards from the archway that led into the mediaeval town where visitors were wandering through the streets and around the magnificent cathedral.
It’s remarkable how many places in Spain and France welcome motorhomers to park up for the night and charge them nothing at all for the privilege. It’s even more remarkable that some of them have world class historic sites to explore. In the UK, parking for just a couple of hours would be charged significant amounts in similar places. El Burgo de Osma is obviously a place of significant religious importance because there were two seminaries and a convent in the town. Sitting drinking tea in the motorhome we kept seeing groups of young men in monastic habits walking in pairs with rucksacks on their backs like students. Come to think of it they probably were students. We wandered about trying to capture pictures that did justice to the beautiful places and shopped in the well equipped supermarket before once again settling down to a restful night.
Here, in the central north of Spain where the land is flat and wide, the weather is all about extremes. We experienced very hot afternoons, chilly evenings, overnight torrential rain and freezing cold mornings. First one up in the morning went straight for the heating controls and to put the kettle on then dived back into bed. Poppy listened for the sound of the heating firing up then placed herself as close to the blown air fan as she could. The song “The rain in Spain” only gives half the story.
We had decided on a route that didn’t use toll roads as the maps showed us that the distance was the same. What it didn’t tell us was that the large trunk road we expected to take us onwards towards Zaragoza wasn’t yet built and we ended up driving on roads that were marked as A roads but were in poor condition. It seemed that it was considered not worth fixing them when a new Autovia (free motorway) was being built. All along the way shops and houses carried signs that translated as “Motorway now!” In the past we’ve often seen signs objecting to the building of new roads but here they were pleading for them to hurry up. The lorries were rattling through small towns and villages and clouds of dust followed them.
It took us a long time to get to Zaragoza where we were returning to a really good Motorhome park on the outskirts of the city. It is purpose built and beside a tram stop that will take you in the centre for the grand total of 1.40 Euros. We had every intention of taking another look at this lovely city but the rain came on soon after we arrived so we stayed where we were to avoid a thorough drenching. We did manage a walk to a nearby huge shopping centre to buy a new 12v charger for my laptop because the last one had died and then returned to the van as the sky turned black and made it back to safety just in time. All evening and all night the rain hammered on our roof and we just smuggly agreed that it would be washing the dust off.
Our next stop was Sitges where we were going to spend a week relaxing on the campsite El Garrofer (The Home of the Slow Traveller). Here we fully expected a week of restful days and lovely meals out with Shirley’s brother Chris. We certainly got the lovely meals but restful it was not. When we arrived at the site we were told to just choose a spot and make ourselves at home. We noticed a whole patch of pitches with only one van on them and acres of space to spread out. We settled in, plugged into the mains, got our big outdoor carpet in place, put the van on a single block for perfect levelling and put the kettle on. It was only then that we realised that they were building a new swimming pool just yards from where we were and the loud and insistent noise of concrete mixers was mixed with clouds of dust. We looked at one another – “We have to move. Can’t stay here!”. Back into the van went the carpet, the chairs, the electric lead, the dog and the leveller and we set off further back on the site to a lovely wooded area where there was a mixture of dappled shade and sunshine. Idyllic! Shirley drove the van in and together we pulled out the carpet, the chairs, the electric lead and the dog. Then we noticed that we weren’t level so out came the levelling block, off came the electricity and we were soon comfortably settled and plugged back in again.
The next morning a neighbour pointed out that the pigeons had found us. We were puzzled at first until we looked at the front of the van. It was liberally splattered with enormous bird droppings. These pigeons are clearly over fed. Some of the deposits looked like a cow had flown by. We soon discovered that not only were they covering the front of the van but they were depositing on our carpet and we were walking gooey bird droppings into the van. At first we thought it was dog poo, except it didn’t smell. We cleaned the bonnet of the van and then covered it with an old cheap tarpaulin that we carry around and use when we need to cover dirty ground. This is especially useful when doing one of our seemingly endless repeats of the game called ‘let’s try to organise the garage.’ I’ve always wanted a big garage on a motorhome and now I see the disadvantages but I digress. The blue cheap tarpaulin made us look less than respectable but it kept the bonnet from any more droppings. The roof at the front we could do nothing about. We were puzzled because no other motorhome in the tree lined area looked anything other than pristine so we came to the reluctant conclusion that we had accidentally parked in the pigeon toilet block.
We had quite a lot of laundry to do because we’d been saving it up ready for the site’s machines. The next morning Shirley went in search of them only to be told they were no longer there because of the building work. The laundry went back into the under bed laundry bag and we hand washed some essentials aka underwear to get us through the week. Next we decided to take it in turns to go to the shower block and have a long hot shower. The showers at El Garrofer are a bit dated but they are wonderfully hot and powerful. I went first and got a very nasty cold surprise – there was no hot water. I somehow managed to only get one arm and one leg chilled to the bone before I leapt out and got dressed again feeling thoroughly fed up. I found a cleaning lady who told me in remarkably good English that the boiler had blown up. Marvellous! All was not lost as they opened a second toilet block that had a working boiler so I trailed the length of the campsite with one wet foot and finally got the long hot shower. The only problem with the second shower was that the shower head appeared to have a hole in the top and some of the water shot upwards, over the barrier meant to protect your clothes and drenched my underwear. I made sure I never used that one again.
Finally we landed back to the van, now even more doused in pigeon poo and looked at one another. This wasn’t what we had planned at all. Nevertheless, as the days passed by we got used to the long walk to the shower block, the noise of the building works and the dust.
A new development at the site was the installation of security gates that could be opened with electronic cards that were given to us with great fanfare on our arrival. A third card was given to us for the vehicle entry gate. The man who booked us in told us that the rear gate can now be used with the pedestrian cards making it possible to come and go at will without danger of strangers entering the site with nefarious intent. This sounded like a grand plan, especially when he mentioned that there was a beach within reasonable walking distance. As soon as we had settled in we set off with Poppy for a walk to the beach and found, when we got to the rear gate, that a small group were already there and they kindly used their card to let us out. This seemed perfectly reasonable until we got back about an hour later, hot, sweaty and tired only to discover that the cards we had wouldn’t open the gate. We tried and tried but the big electronic gate remained stubbornly closed. Eventually we rang the buzzer and told reception that we were locked out. “Just walk round to the front gate and pop in” said the receptionist. This would have been fine if it wasn’t about another mile to the front of the site along a long busy road and around the next door site. I dug my heels in. “Please send someone to let us in.” She wasn’t happy. She remonstrated with me that we would have to come to reception anyway to get the cards working and I said we would come to reception via the direct route through the gate so would someone please come and rescue us. She agreed unwillingly and we waited. And we waited. After another ten hot sweaty minutes I rang the bell again and was told that someone was definitely coming. So we waited some more. Finally a friendly Dutch couple appeared and from behind us, asked if we were stuck and opened the gate for us. The wife told us that her card didn’t work either. Electronic wizardry can be overrated. As we strolled towards reception a very small man on a golf cart came hurtling towards us. When we showed him our dead cards and pointed to our rescuers he told us to go to reception – understanding him was difficult because not only did he say it in rapid Spanish but he appeared to only have one tooth and I for one couldn’t take my eyes off it.
By now we were wondering about the wisdom of staying for 6 nights and I started investigating alternatives but in the end familiarity and the convenience of its position won and we stayed put. The weekend was very busy and the site filled up, even on the bit where the concrete mixers were working next door but on our fourth day almost everyone left. Very quickly we grabbed the opportunity to drive over to the motorhome service point and attempt to rid the front of the van of the bird deposits. The front of our van is sloped and stands 10 feet high so we set about cleaning it with a long soft broom, a large cleaning cloth and some special vehicle cleaner advertised as good for organic products. We thought this was a very good euphemism for shit. In fact we had been carrying it around in our vans for a few years since a muck spreader liberally splattered us on a country lane in the south of England. I knew it would come in useful again someday. While I attacked the van with my broom and shit remover Shirley hit on the idea of asking the maintenance men if we could borrow a ladder. She found a solitary man standing by the maintenance place and asked him if she could borrow one. He looked blankly at her so she started to mime climbing a ladder. He still looked blank so she put a bit more dramatic effect into her mime only to have him respond in perfect English “Sorry, I don’t work here.”
She returned, frustrated so decided to help the process with the hose, thoughtfully provided to fill up the fresh water tanks. I got another cold drenching but it made all the difference and we could get most of the mess off and clean the crusty windscreen.
There was a large sign banning vans from using the service point for cleaning their vans but we thought we had a very good excuse and would argue our case if we were challenged. As it happened no-one took the slightest bit of notice and relatively satisfied with our work we returned, this time to a different pitch with no trees above us.
On another day we were met with a different challenge. The casing of the blind around our roof light started to come down. I found a screw on the floor and put it back into the hole it must have come from but it wasn’t long enough and didn’t hold the frame tightly in place. Clearly this was the problem so we set off into town to the Ferreteria (ironmonger) to get a longer one. We discussed how we would ask for what we wanted and I was just a hair’s breadth from translating “I need a long screw” before Shirley pointed out that this was probably dangerous. In the end the lady behind the counter spoke perfect English and I could say I need a screw the length of my little finger and she got it for me. The blind is now secure but I have no way of knowing whether I’ve punctured the roof – that’s a worry for another day.
We walked for miles that week and made very good use of our bikes so by the time we were due to leave we were feeling fit and healthy. Several three course lunches in really lovely restaurants made the whole experience very special.
and we celebrated Sunday Bunday with Chris on his terrace eating fresh pasta in rich tomato sauce and crusty bread followed by enormous cakes. It was hot on his fourth floor terrace and we left at about four in the afternoon ready for a snooze in the shade beside the van.
On our final morning we had everything packed up ready to go in good time and Shirley went to reception to pay the bill. She pointed out the many problems and frustrations we had encountered and was offered a discount that she accepted gratefully. Please don’t be put off El Garrofer if you are planning to go there. It has a great atmosphere and we always enjoy ourselves there. Just don’t expect 5 star facilities. Incidentally it is on the ACSI discount scheme out of season and it will soon have a magnificent pool. After letting me out of the security gate with the wonderful electronic card, Shirley made the mistake of walking through after me and got hit on the head by the gate coming down. No harm done but a timely reminder to use the pedestrian exit – that is if your card works.