We made our way to Camping El Garrofer on the outskirts of Sitges to visit Shirley’s brother Chris for a few days. Since he retired he has lived there almost full time and we haven’t seen him for far too long. The campsite is a half hour walk into the town, a lot of it on the sea front so it’s very pleasant. We always wear Fitbits to measure our steps in the hopes of staying fit and agile. Our aim is to walk at least 10,000 steps a day; a figure that I believe someone plucked out of the air one day in a boring moment at a government health meeting along with the five a day advice for fruit and veg and the 14 unit limit of alcohol a week. We try really hard to keep up the 10,000 steps but it can be a challenge, especially on days when we’re traveling. In Sitges we walked for miles – on the second day more than 30,000 steps. On the third day I got out of bed and wondered why every joint from my big toe upwards was complaining. So much for fit and agile.
Sitges, if you don’t know it, is a resort town just south of Barcelona. It is probably most famous as a gay friendly resort with numerous cafés, bars, restaurants, shops and clubs, several of which are owned and run by gay men. It is also extremely popular with families and couples and is friendly, cheery and a little bit upmarket, presumably because of the effect of the pink pound. We’ve had a few short holidays here over the years but this is the first time we’ve taken the motorhome. There is a free motorhome parking area on the outskirts of the town by Aldi and Lidl but we opted for a campsite because the parking area has nothing to recommend it at all. It’s by the motorway, nowhere near the sea front and the parking area is not level and to make matters worse it’s pretty manky. The campsite didn’t have great reviews but it was perfectly adequate for our needs and we met some nice people there. It got us thinking how online reviews could make or break a business when most of the time they are entirely subjective and based on the mood of the writer. El Garrofer has good facilities including a restaurant and bar, plenty of space and there’s a bus stop into town right at the gate. We used that on the third day after the 30k step marathon that left us a bit wobbly round the edges.
It was great to see Chris and to enjoy another special meal to celebrate Shirley’s Big Birthday. We ate in Santa Maria, a traditional Spanish restaurant right on the sea front. It is very popular and rightly so. We enjoyed three courses of excellent food with two bottles of Cava and coffees to finish. I was particularly proud that I could still walk in a straight line and speak words that all joined together after my share of the bubbly. At least I believed I could still do these things, my companions may have another story.
There was one thing we were in desperate need of by the time we got to Sitges – a haircut. We were horribly shaggy and Shirley’s was sticking out at every angle å la mop. We were walking through Sitges in the rain one afternoon when we happened to pass a small hairdresser. “Come on!” said Shirley through the mass of hair falling into her eyes and before I could say “No hablo Espagnol” we were in and making an appointment for the next day. Sitges is a town that is very easy to get lost in. The roads are narrow and intersecting. it is packed with shops, bars, eateries and at first glance every street looks very similar. After we made our appointment we made a fatal error. We didn’t write down the name of the shop or look closely at the route we had taken. The next day it took us about forty minutes to find it again – fortunately we had left early enough to allow for such an eventuality having got lost here numerous times before. We found the salon eventually and set about the process of asking for a hair cut to a hairdresser that had about as much English as we had Spanish. Thank goodness for Mr Google and his translator. My phone worked hard that afternoon keeping us communicating and the hairdresser did a fine job. We asked her to cut it short. “Corto por favor” “Corto?” “Si. Corto” “Ok” and she was off. Shirley was up first and the shaggy locks were flying everywhere as she snipped away with gusto. I sat on the side lines and watched with bated breath but there was no need for concern. She did a great job. I was more relaxed when it was my turn and I could see that Shirley wasn’t bald, so with the help of Google translate and the four online lessons of Spanish I’ve managed since we got here, we ended up laughing and having a fine time.
We love the fact that somehow we can have warm communication with people who speak another language and with whom we have almost nothing in common and go on our way feeling enriched by the experience.
Speaking of online language learning I’m impressed by the quality of the lessons you can get online these days. Several years ago I was responsible for promoting online learning in a big college. We were right at the start of the online revolution in education and it was all about trying stuff and seeing if it worked. These days they have it off to a fine art. I enrolled on Babbel, one of the many online language companies and waited until they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to pay for the courses (Tip: Never pay the first asking price on these things. Give them your email address and wait. The price plummets.) I’m enjoying the Spanish course but progress is slow. So far I can say my name, where I’m from and recite the verb to be. The programme asks you to speak the words and it tells you whether you are pronouncing them correctly. I do feel a bit daft repeating the same two words over and over until the thing decides I sound Spanish enough but it’s all entertainment to Shirley and confusion to the dogs who wonder who the hell I’m talking to. It may be some time before I’m making meaningful conversation. Actually progress is so slow I’m not at all sure that I have enough time left on this earth to get there but I’ll give it a go.
All too soon we were leaving Sitges and heading south towards our destination for November, south of Alicante. We decided to do the journey in three hops of a hundred miles each. We opted for Peniscola for the first stop, partly because we were going to come here last year and something put us off. Can’t think what. We had seen a commercial motorhome parking area on the outskirts of the town advertised and thought it sounded fine. One of the reviews said “We came for three nights and stayed six weeks”. This impressed us for some foolish reason. The person who wrote it might have been drunk for the whole six weeks for all we knew. The place was not to our taste at all. The sun was beating down, hundreds of motorhomes were parked up in rows in the blazing heat and it looked dusty and crowded. A night with electricity would have cost 13€ whereas a night in a proper campsite near the sea front with a pool, full facilities and your own little hedged off pitch was 19€. No contest as far as we are concerned so we rolled up to Camping Eden and settled in for two or three nights of relaxation. This is a grand wee site – Shirley has been in the pool twice already and we’ve only been here for 24 hours. I went with her the first time, watched her face turning blue as she got into the water and decided to give it a miss. The facilities are excellent, the showers hot and powerful, everything is clean and to make our joy complete they have given us a voucher for a three course meal in the restaurant with a full bottle of wine for 11€ each.
Dogs and travelling in Spain
There are some serious health risks to dogs when you bring them to Spain. We left home with the necessary medication to avoid heart and lung worm and flea and tick treatment but decided to wait until we got a bit further south before asking a vet for advice about prevention of a horrible, often fatal, disease (Leishmaniasis) spread by a form of mosquito known as sand fly. The season for sand flies lasts until the temperature falls below about 25c and so the further south you go the greater the risk. We’d been told about Scalibor collars that keep the nasties at bay but we were worried about little Poppy who has very sensitive skin – these collars can cause severe irritation. As soon as we arrived in Peniscola we headed for the vet and got excellent advice and two collars by a different maker that last longer and don’t cause irritation to the dog’s skin. They were a tad expensive but worth it for the reassurance they give us. Poppy and Boo have been great companions on our motorhome tours and we obviously want to keep them safe. They accepted their collars without any fuss and went off for their mid day naps without a care in the world, oblivious to all the research we’ve done to make sure they get home as healthy as they left.