Food, drink, travel and everything in-between

Month: December 2021

Week 2 – 21st to 27th December

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!

BENICASSIM, SPAIN – PALOMARES: 306 MILES

Benicassim to Palomares, Spain.

Miles travelled so far: 1492 miles

Toll costs: NONE this week

Fuel costs: 105 euros this week

21st December Benicassim – Oliva 108 miles

We need to do some service work on the van. After a big shop at a Lidl, we head for a garage to do a full diesel fill up, yes more diesel. LPG gas for the cooking and the heating. We need to empty the grey water tank and fill up with fresh water. Today we are heading for a campsite called Euro Camping right on the beach in a town called Oliva which is not a million miles from both Valencia and Alicante. Benidorm is just around the headland going south from where we will be.

After doing all the Jess jobs and the shopping we set off on the uneventful 90-minute drive. Arriving just in time for the official opening at 3:30, we have a great pitch near all the things you need, shop, restaurant, shower, bog etc, etc. Excellent… except… 

Italian Night!

We start setting up and we are overwhelmed by the smell of cat kak! We have only put our groundsheet down on some! It gets well disguised as pebbles after it’s been in the fine gravel for a while. The whole thing has to be pulled up and ground thoroughly cleaned and swept before putting everything back. Not the way we wanted to start our 5 days stay here.

We get settled in and it’s very pleasant, just a 2-minute walk and we are on the beach, surrounded by everything we need including cats!

Italian night tonight with homemade pizza, salad and red wine, with just enough room for a mini Magnum. Well, why not. Tomorrow it’s Del’s birthday…!

22nd December Day 2 in Eurocamping, Oliva, Spain

Today is Del’s birthday. Happy birthday Del!!

Another great bike ride along the coast to the town of Oliva. Our campsite is wonderful. We have everything we need right next to us, the best pitch on the site. Short walks to the shower, shops, restaurant and the beach. Another important facility camping folk need is laundry.

Everyone has to do it, birthday or not

Today is the day. We have a good few days of laundry mounting up so what better thing to do on a birthday but to get it done.

The weather is fair so we leave it all out to dry and head off our bikes to the nearest town going south called Oliva. Whilst our campsite is a small oasis, the rest of the area is not that great. Full of half-built properties, empty properties and properties that are just closed up and have become a good surface for graffiti artists. Lots of brown barren land. We can’t figure out quite what’s happened here. Is it since the recession of 2008, where the lower and middle classes have now been squeezed out of owning property? The weather is great, the beaches are long and white so it should be a booming, pretty place. Maybe not connected but Valencia is famous for its ‘land grab‘ law, which allowed the local councils to confiscate part of your land and make you pay the taxes that would provide for the new local infrastructure built on it. There is a good write up about this here if you are ever interested. It’s pretty bad really.

We arrive at the marina in Oliva which is pleasant enough, and we head for the restaurant belonging to the Club Nautic (sailing club to you) which has a fabulous sea view in the sun. The service is excellent and we manage to choke down some local rose wine, Calamaris followed by a Fideua which is a twist on paella – instead of rice, it’s short pieces of pasta with a tonne of seafood thrown in and left to boil down. Delicious. We finish this off with a muffin and ice cream.

Full of food we cycle back to our ‘home’, which is now a bit more of a struggle. We arrive back to dried washing which is put away then off to the local campsite bar for a couple of ‘pacharan’ drinks in the late afternoon sun, which at this time the air is starting to get chilly.

23rd December Day 3 in Eurocamping, Oliva, Spain

Day 3 in our Euro Camping location, and more washing. Yes, more laundry. For the first time since we arrived at this location, the clouds have cleared and the sun is out, but there is a chill in the air. It’s also time for our daily bike exercise. Today we cycle north, weaving our way through the derelict un-kept streets. 

We have a leak in the sink drain, so we make an attempt to find a plumbing shop to buy some PTFE tape only to find nothing. Looks like the bowl will have to stay under the sink a bit longer!

From the van to the beach it’s a 30-second walk, so we take advantage of the sunshine and walk north towards Oliva, it’s great to be here, no news, no worries just us and the sea and the sand.

Late afternoon beach walks

We reminisce again as we used to sail along this part of the Med passing all of these towns we can see along the coastline. We have such great memories of our boat. We still miss her.

Dinner on board Jess and a quiet night in. Brilliant.

24th December Day 4 in Eurocamping, Oliva, Spain

Christmas Eve night is when the Spanish celebrate Christmas. ‘La noche buena’. This is when a big dinner is had and gifts are exchanged. We are here because we wanted to escape the usual trappings of a British Christmas so what shall we do today?

It’s a cool morning but after breakfast we set up outside under the awning to read and just…, well, do nothing! It’s good. The sun comes out and it warms up nicely. The Spanish have a tradition at Christmas of preparing and touring floats around the local towns and villages, usually with people dressed as Santa Claus and all that kind of thing. Today is no exception, even on the campsite, the maintenance department has used one of their small trucks, dressed up and are driving around the site, giving each camper a gift of local Valencian olive oil.

Maintenance men bearing gifts

Fantastic, what a nice surprise and gesture. Makes a change from a bottle of wine. Very useful. We are running out!

Local olive oil. Nice

We stay local today, taking in a nice long stroll along the beach again.

25th December Day 4 in Eurocamping, Oliva, Spain

Merry Christmas to you all!!

Some cards we managed to bring. Thank you.

The weather has slightly improved, still a bit on the chilly side but who cares. Today is Christmas day. We exchange gifts and open up cards from friends and family that we were able to bring along with us. We’ve done quite well, with more waiting for when we get home.

We have a big hearty breakfast and Del pops open some fizz to have with breakfast. Well, why not? It’s a very pleasant morning so we take a stroll along ‘our’ beach. It’s a lovely day now so we have taken along with some chairs, the remainder of the fizz and a couple of glasses and enjoy the rest of the bottle with the gentle waves breaking near us and the winter sun just keeping us warm enough. Brilliant. H even manages a paddle in the sea!

Back at the van and H knocks up a fantastic paella for our Christmas day lunch. it’s wonderful, helped along with a glass of cold rose.

Christmas day Paella lunch

Not the usual Christmas day, of too many presents, too much food and chocolate. Drink excluded. No TV, no sleigh bells ringing, no indigestion and no wondering what the hell this day is all about and why all the fuss! Just the two of us, in a van, in the sun and somewhere else. Magic!

26th December – Oliva to Palomares – 198 miles

Time to move on. We have spent 5 great days here at Eurocamping, but the weather is not quite what we are looking for and we are pushing south to hopefully warmer weather. Everyone here was very nice, the staff and the people staying here, which for the most part are German.

We packed up last night so all we have to do is fire up Jess and off we go.

Today we are heading for Palomares in the province of Andalucia. We make a stop at a gas station to fill up with diesel, it’s good to keep topped as you never know what will happen and the last thing you want to be doing is trying to find fuel when your plan changes unexpectedly. So keep the tank topped up when you can.

We leave the petrol station and make off down the AP-7, after about 10 minutes a white van driver is levelling up with us and pointing at our fuel door and making a locking gesture. Whoops!!!! Del forgot to shut the door that covers the diesel intake. Worse than that the cap was not on! Worse than the second set of keys were still in the cap! Del, you are a dope. We pull in at another gas station and by coincidence, the white van driver was there, so we take the opportunity to thank him. Fortunately, we could all see the funny side of it but it’s a mystery how much if any fuel got out?

Finally, we arrive at a rustic looking campsite and we choose a pitch as the office is closed. It all looks a bit… well… old and well used but it’s populated with some expensive vans from all over Europe. No matter we get in and set up. It’s perfect here. The staff are nice, yes the facilities are dated but they are clean and they all work. Perfect, what more could you ask for. We are here for 4 nights at Cuevas Del Mar. Which has a nudist area nearby. Just saying…

Tonight we dine on board, tomorrow we will see what’s here. We get a dinner time sunset.

This is real. No photo trickery

27th December Day 2 – Palomares

We wake up today to finally deep blue skies coming our way and by 10 am it’s beautiful and warm. We are about a 5-minute walk from the beach which we stroll down in the warming sun, there are lots of motorhomes along the front here and even after studying the council notice it’s unclear if it’s allowed or not (are we campers or just motorhomers?) Even though it’s warm and sunny, there is quite a strong wind blowing that creates spectacular sand clouds on the beach that get blown into the sea.

Palomares beach

We make our way back to camp for a break. Whilst reading the reviews of the camping areas Hayley notices a strange comment on one about nuclear contamination in the area dating back to the sixties, and a quick google informs us that this tiny Spanish village is famous because it had four hydrogen bombs dropped on it by accident by a US airforce plane in a mid-air collision whilst refuelling. None of them caused a nuclear explosion by sheer luck, but two of these bombs had the conventional explosives inside them detonate and scatter the plutonium like a dirty bomb. Gosh.

Time magazine described the incident as “one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters”. This happened in 1966 and some of the areas around the village of Palomares are still restricted because of radioactivity.

It’s a shocking story and one we had no idea about. You can read about the whole thing here. It’s well worth a read.

After this sobering interlude, we cycle into the nearby urbanisation, it looks like it would be quite lively in the summer. It’s also a nudist area and we see a naked man playing a saxophone on the seafront. He had a big one – it was a tenor sax. The stuff you see around here.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in the fantastic warm sun back at the van, it’s a blistering 23 degrees!

Tonight is dinner on board and we watch the first 10 minutes of a dubious Cliff Richard film (Finders Keepers) from 1966 which is based, loosely, on the terrible events we have learned about today. Coincidence?

Week 1 – 13th to 20th December

Will we make it?

EAST COWES, UK TO BENICASSIM, SPAIN – 1181 MILES

Home to Benicassim, Spain.

Miles travelled: 1181 miles

Toll costs: 90 euros

Fuel costs: 228 euros

Bottles of wine drunk: 4

Cans of beer drunk: 10

 

 

 

 

13th December – Set up stop at home

Will we, won’t we? It was at least six months ago when we decided that we would like to spend Christmas and New Year in Spain, it was all going very well, too well. A month or so earlier France wanted UK visitors to take and upload a lateral flow test along with a sworn declaration that you didn’t have Covid. No problem really, quite simple. Find a test centre, get a test and upload all the forms. What we didn’t expect was the test centre would cancel our appointment the day before departure. A few stern words with them soon brought them around to our way of thinking, even though we had already found an alternative. They agreed to pick up all of the extra costs incurred and do our test. Whew.

Covid on the move. Agian!

But what’s this? A new variant of Covid is running wild through the population, highly infectious but so far too early to know how many people will end up in hospital. Just another thing for us to add into an already stressful mix. Is there something telling us that we shouldn’t be doing this? We’ve had our negative test returned, the forms of nonsense have been uploaded to Eurotunnel. WE ARE GOING!!!

We collect Jess from storage, having already pre-loaded some stuff on her we spend a less stressful, but anxious night a mere quarter of a mile from our home in a campsite called Waverley Park. Despite the worry, we have a good nights sleep.

14th December East Cowes – Neufchâtel en Bray – 273 Miles

The alarm is loud and shrill. It’s 5:00 am. Yes, 5 in the morning. Today is a busy day. Our ferry to the mainland is at 06:40. We then need to get across southern England to Folkestone to the Eurotunnel for our 3:20 pm crossing to Calais, France.

Eurotunnel to France

Oh, and on the way to Folkestone we need to stop in Canterbury to get Hayley her booster. Why Canterbury? Good old Isle of Wight NHS couldn’t do it, like most things! So we had to find another site on the route.

The day could not have gone better. We were pushed onto an early ferry to Portsmouth. Hayley got her booster jab early and to make things even better, Eurotunnel put us on an early train meaning that we would be arriving in France in daylight hours. Perfect, better than we thought.

More potentially bad news coming from France. The new Covid variant, Omicron is causing some concern for the French now. We are getting nervous that the border with Spain may shut. We press on through France after a non-event crossing. The only item that was checked was our passports. Easy!

After a 273 mile drive and a 13 euro toll, we arrive at the peaceful town of Neufchâtel en Bray and find a spot in the lovely Aire camping Saint Claire. Once settled in we toast to our success of finally making it to France and dinner is steak, frites with a bearnaise sauce with a French red of course! All in all a bit of a rollercoaster but we are relieved to be here and we have a great night’s sleep. Whew!

15th December Neufchâtel en Bray – Issoire 379 Miles

We wake up to a cold, crisp morning. Grey skies, but dry and pleasant despite the cold temperature. It’s perfect. Hot coffee and breakfast will see us right. We had a plan to spend 5 days making our way south to the French – Spanish border, however, the news from home isn’t good and the French are making noises about possible restrictions, yes we are already here in France, but the Spanish may start making similar noises and we could end up being trapped in France. No big deal really, but our aim is to get winter sun in Spain not winter in France. There is a difference. Hayley is brilliant at finding stops en route. We always end up in excellent places for the night, she finds lots of options. We need options as we have decided to make our French stay as short as possible and to get over the border as quickly as possible.

After 379 miles of driving, 100 quid in diesel and 51 euros in motorway tolls we finally arrive at the pleasant town of Issoire.

Nightime in the French town of Issoire

The nights are now very cold. Tonight it’s zero degrees and damp. We are parked in an excellent overnight Aire along with another 5 vans all doing similar things, all wanting to be somewhere else.

Truffard. Delicious

Tonight we will eat out at a French restaurant and we find a cracker. 60 euros lighter but heavier with all the food and drink. Christmas beer, red wine, steak, duck and the local dish of Truffard which is potatoes cooked in goose fat and covered in local cheese.

What a feast we had in this lovely town that looked great for Christmas, with projections on the old buildings, Christmas trees and a local Christmas market. Wonderful. We shiver as we do a quick walk back to our home on wheels, fire up the heating and have another great night’s sleep. So far so good.

16th December Issoire – Camping l’albera –  Capmany Spain 273 miles

Today the temperature is between zero and -2. Who knows, who cares, it’s freezing cold. Del is dispatched to the local shop for pastries. Today we decided that we will break for the border as we are getting more concerned, not about the virus, but more about what governments will do. We set off via a supermarket for some supplies and fill up with diesel and set off, taking turns on our 273-mile journey to somewhere in Spain. 

The journey was amazing. We drove along the A75 south which includes a section of road that climbs to just over 1100 meters high. We drove through thick, but very thick fog and some snow, but only a bit of snow. The temperature dropped to -2 and at times became challenging, but it’s all part of the adventure as we pushed on for what felt like hours. Then suddenly the sun started to poke through and after a while revealed a beautiful blue sky with some spectacular scenery of small towns in valleys shrouded in low fog. We even took in the Millau viaduct which is a spectacle in itself, even if it does cost 13 euros! What an amazing drive.

Dinner in at Capmany

We finally cross the border at La Jonquera, a madhouse of trucks. We have never seen so many trucks. In fact, that was the one thing that we noted driving through France, the number of haulage trucks. The UK is supposed to be short. They are all here!!

Again the crossing was uneventful, no stops, no checks. Once again Hayley has found us a brilliant campsite in the town of Capmany only a couple of miles off the main motorway. It was time to stop, it had been a long tiring and expensive day. 273 miles, 75 euros in fuel and 13 in tolls. Well worth it though.

17th December 2nd day in Capmany

Our decision to get a move on was well-founded. Noises from home are that the French are indeed going to ban travel from the UK into France for holidays. You can only come to France from the UK for “Exceptional reasons”. What’s that? We made it by the skin of our teeth, a very close shave. We got into France in the nick of time. With all the trouble at the start of the trip we thought about a postponement for a week, if we had have done that then the trip would have been cancelled.

Capmany town Christmas tree by night.

We are a good day or two ahead of the original plan so we decide to stay here for another day. It’s a beautiful place, a small wine-producing area in Catalunya. We take a walk into the small town of Capmany. It’s great to be here. The weather is bright and crisp with clear blue skies and a temperature of about 12 to 14 degrees. The nights are cold, however, dropping to 2 to 4 degrees but the heating on Jess keeps us warm.

Today we get the bikes off the van. Hayley has a new one, a birthday gift from you know who. It’s a belting bike and one she well deserves.

We circle the local area, nothing too stressful but it’s good to be out and about exploring the local area, even though we get barked at by the local dogs!

Dinner tonight will be in the village of Capmany, Cal Ferrer, a lovely little place that serves local food and wine at a reasonable price. The walk home is cold but we are content and happy if that’s not too much to show off about in these times?

18th December  Capmany – Cambrils – 160 miles

Today is the day the French ban comes into force, stopping British tourists.

UK. Non…

The pictures and news of people trying to get on trains and ferries yesterday have been staggering. Considering the ban on travel is to stop the spread of Omicron, it’s a bit odd watching thousands of people cramming onto trains and boats. Someone, somewhere didn’t think that through?

We are pushing south today but we are now sticking to the plan. Our first stop is Cambrils, not too far south of Barcelona. Our stop is a campsite right by the sea.

The beach at Cambrilis

Again the weather is lovely, blue skies and the daily temp is up another degree or two from yesterday. Lovely.

19th December  Cambrils day 2

We like out here, and we could do with the rest, the days have been long and it’s nice here. There is a good cycle route from Cambrils to Salou, a total of 14 miles, 7 each way. It’s good and flat all the way. We are still lucky to have such wonderful weather with us, yes it’s a bit chilly at night but the days are just fantastic.

With the sea on our right, we head north on the cycle route to Salou. We take a short break once there, sitting on a bench looking out over the sparkling flat sea and reminiscing about our days when we used to sail along these very waters between the south of Spain to Barcelona. Now with the sea on our left, it’s back south to our home on wheels for turkey steaks, fries, salad and wine, simple but delicious after a great day.

20th December Cambrills – Benicassim – 96 miles

A couple of years ago we did a trip to Germany and we visited a place called Todtnau. Just a quick note here -the inventor of the perm hairstyle came from Todtnau. Yes really. In Todtnau they have an alpine coster which is basically a plastic car that you sit in and go down a steel track at lightning speed. It’s great fun. This is where H rediscovered her love for rollercoasters. She loves them and everywhere that we go we have to go to the nearest theme park and spend some time on some of the most terrifying rides. 

In Cambrils, we are less than a 20-minute drive from Portaventura. After some discussion and re-planning, we pack up and head back south to Portaventura so that H can get her fix of rollercoasters. It’s a great day, H completes 21 rides on some of the world-famous and most popular rides. She has a permanent grin on her face all day while Del carries her bag! Great.

By 4:30 it’s time to move on as we have a two-hour drive to our next stop in the town of Benicassim for a one night stay. It’s motorway all the way and by 7:30 we are parked up in a charming little campsite in the middle of a residential area, very peaceful and a great place to end the day.

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