We had an incident free flight. Thank you United airlines.
Our first trip in our own RV in Europe is over. We were a little nervous that we would burnout, but I think the opposite happened. There were more places we wanted to see. The only issue was the weather was starting to turn to winter. During the trip we covered 5500 km’s (about 3400 miles). We discovered some new parts of France, and really enjoyed Spain. I think we could do another long trip in Spain and not repeat ourselves as we have Madrid, LaMancha, the Pyrenees, and Galicia to still visit. We also think we need to give Brittany more time.
François performed well and gave us no issues. As time went by we found a good rhythm to the trip, and for the first time managed to take a few days off where we just sat and rested.
Our plans for the next trip to Europe are under way, right now it looks like Germany will be the target.
We were up bright and early to deliver François back to France Motorhome Hire. After a quick turnover we were off to the train station in Sens. The trip to Paris was quick and relatively easy, involving a train and two different subway lines. We were lucky that both the train, and the subway to the airport were express with no stops.
There was nothing much to talk about the rest of the day. We went out for a kebab dinner at a place we have discovered near the airport hotel we use. At the end we settled down for the night in a proper bed for the first time in 50 nights.
The weather is definitely going towards winter. No frost this morning but very dense fog. Over night we were joined by 4 other RV’s so it was not the quiet night we had expected.
We had two main chores to accomplish today, wash our clothes and particularly the sheets and towels, and give François a bath inside and out.
Of the two chores the most dicey looked to be getting the laundry done. We normally do our laundry at campgrounds as they usually have washers and dryers, but as the camping season is done, none of the campgrounds are open. Last night we googled laundromats in Sens and only got one response and it is right in the middle of the old city. We decided to head in there early to see if it did exist and if we could find a place to park reasonably close to the laundromat. It did exist and after a small adventure down one way roads we found a place to park only 10 minutes away. The first chore done, we headed over to Auchan and gave François a bath. The next trip Ron is going to have to lay on some proper vehicle washing supplies.
Today is Sunday so by the time we finished those two chores everything was closed. We headed back to Gron, and spent the afternoon cleaning up François’ interior and packing.
In the evening we took a quick stroll around the park next to the aire. The village has planted some apple trees in the park. Each tree is a different variety, and they all still have fruit on them. We were poking around looking at the apples when a couple from the village began encouraging us to eat them. They were all delicious much to our surprise and you could really tell the differences in the varieties.
We woke up to frost, another sign that it is time to probably be going. In France most churches stop tolling there bells around 6 pm, but for some reason in Noyers they toll them all night, so I heard midnight counted off on the church bell.
The trip is pretty much in the maintenance phase at this point. Today we headed towards Sens and began getting François ready to be put in the barn for the winter. (in this case it literally is an old barn.) After fueling up with diesel and propane our pockets were considerably lighter, due to a combination of expensive French diesel, and Ron letting the fuel gauge get into the red. We stopped at Auchan to do some last minute gift shopping. Ton had done an inventory of food and planned our last cooked meals, they are going to be large in order to get rid of all of the perishables.
We have settled in in an aire in Gron and Ton is packing one of the suit cases. This aire has this super high tech toilet unlike anything we have ever seen. It is self cleaning, has a push button locking system, and dispenses soap, water, and air to dry out of a large fixture in the center. Everyone who approaches it spends a few minutes studying how to operate the thing.
As the trip is winding down we are less focused on seeing things and more focused on moving in the right direction. Now we are not googling good places to visit, but where are laundromats, and car washes in Sens.
Today though we decided to make a couple of stops, the first was Vezeley and the second was Noyers. We miscalculated the time it would take to cover the 200km’s as the GPS after behaving itself for the whole trip decided to send us on a 80km adventure along one and one and a half lane D roads which slowed us down considerably. Having said that the leaves are turning here and we did see some really beautiful countryside.
When we arrived at Vezaley we pulled up in the parking lot and both of us realized we had stopped here in the spring. It is a beautiful place but it was getting late, so we decided to head to Noyers. It was a good decision.
We arrived in Noyers about 4pm and it made a good first impression. We quickly got our warm clothes on as it is quite cold and spitting rain on and off. The town is one of the best collections of half-timbered buildings we have seen in France, and has an air of pride and history that made us like it quite a lot. Ton saw a patissiery and decided she wanted an eclair, but after we bought it we realized it was something else, but never the less delicious.
We ended the day in the gothic church at sunset and the stained glass windows were perfectly illuminated by the setting sun. We are really looking forward to a walk in the morning, and the sun is supposed to be out then. Right now the church bells are pealing and it is drizzling on the roof of François. Tonight we are going to give François’ heating system a test as it is supposed to get down to freezing here.
After a short nights sleep and feeling a little worst for wear we woke up to beautiful blue skies. It was time to make some tracks and begin heading towards the barn. Today we decided to drive about half way to Sens, and for the first time we used a toll road on the trip to expedite the 550 km’s we wanted to drive.
There is not much to talk about today as it was a long drive, and it turns out a holiday in France so there was extra traffic. Ton took a couple of windshield pictures of fall colors as we drove thru the central mastiff a mountainous region in central France.
The problem with traveling during shoulder season is the weather is unpredictable. It has been a wet October in Spain, and it culminated with today. When we checked the weather last night they predicted a very large storm with possible flash floods, high winds and thunderstorms. It was supposed to last all day. Our original thoughts were to begin moving north towards France by bounding up the coast to Roses. But when we checked the weather there it was actually supposed to be worst than Mataros. Eventually we decided to hunker down for the day.
Unfortunately the weather man got it right and it was spectacularly bad weather all day. We were a little surprised that so many people were choosing to leave when the weather was so bad, and we were beginning to think we were whimps for not carrying on with our plans. It turns out we did not know that today was the last day the campground was open this year and everyone has to be out by tomorrow morning.
We were going a little stir crazy so we decided to see if the campground had anything planned for the evening, and they did, a wine tasting. We signed up and it became the highlight of our day. The tasting was by a local winery in Mataro, and there were only 6 people at the tasting, two English couples and us. Laura the representative from the winery had brought 4 wines to taste. She did a great job of explaining the characteristics of the wine from Mataro, and the wines were quite good. During the tasting we struck up a conversation with one of the English couples , and at the end of the tasting Laura surprised us by putting the 4 bottles in the center of the table and told us we were free to finish them, not knowing this we had also purchased a wine from them, so the 4 of us had the duty of finishing off 5 bottles of wine. Lyndsey and her husband John were kind enough to invite us over for supper so we could have some food with the wine. It turned into a fun night, and it was nearly 1am when we made it to bed having done our duty and finished off all of the wine. Thanks for the exceptional hospitality Lyndsey and John.
Today we planned a second trip into Barcelona. The primary purpose was to visit the interior of the Sagarda Familia, much like the Alhambra visitors are limited per day, and you have to register in advance to get a time to visit. When we returned to the campground on Sunday we signed up for the next available spot and it turned out to be at 4:45 PM today.
Today was by far the nicest day of our visit to Barcelona with clear blue skies, though it was still on the chilly side. We took the first bus into town as we wanted to spend some time in the markets at Barcelona. They have two markets and we (particularly Ton) really enjoy poking around in the markets to look at the different food products. We also used the time to look around the old town. We pretty much just wandered around looking at churches, stores, and people. Barcelona is now the third or fourth most visited city in Europe, depending on who is counting, so there is quite a lot to see. The shopping is diverse and interesting.
We have become addicted to Pinxos which is Basque Tapas, and had them again at lunch. In the past we had been eating mostly seafood, so today we went more towards meets and sausages. They were also delicious, Ton also had her new favorite drink at lunch, a good Spanish Vermouth.
Finally we headed over to the Sagarda for our tour. They are really serious about the time on your ticket, we got in line at 4:30, and when we got to the door they turned us around and told us to come back in 15 minutes.
We have seen a lot of cathedrals in our last two trips. Ron thought the exterior of the Sagarda was a little overwrought for his tastes, and preferred the more traditional gothic cathedrals. Ton thinks you cannot compare the Sagarda with a traditional cathedral. However, Ron was wowed with the interior of the Sagarda. While the exterior is extremely busy, the interior is magically elegant, and the use of light is masterful. His vision of the columns of the cathedral as a forest of trees is stunning. The soaring ceilings are really something, and seem much grander than the large gothic cathedrals. Ton was impressed with the stained glass windows, and the way the colors effected the mood of the interior. The Sagarda is an extremely moving place, and we think Gaudi’s genius came thru on the interior, and his madness comes thru on the exterior.
Well we are starting to run into some bad weather. We woke up to temperatures in the low 40’s scattered showers and heavy wind. All together a miserable day. We hung around François for the morning, finally getting cabin fever we decided to head into town to the mall, because that’s what you do when the weather sucks.
Our thought was to catch a movie, but they do not appear to have matinees in Spain, or at least in Mataro. So we poked around the mall for a couple of hours, and then headed to the campground. We attended a class on how to make Sangria, which was fun, and we got a pitcher of Sangria to taste at the end. Some days are better than others.
While we are staying in Mataro, the purpose of the visit is to see Barcelona. The campground we are staying at is about 40 minutes outside of Barcelona, but offers free shuttles into the city which is nice. It is one of the huge campgrounds in Spain that cater to European snowbirds, there are over 300 spots here, with a bar, restaurant, pool, beach club, and tourist activities. It is quite a place.
The weather was a little better than yesterday but cold. The place we visited two days ago had snow overnight, and it was still raining when we set off. We intended today to be a bit of a reconnaissance of Barcelona so we did not have any firm plans but just wanted to get a feel for the city.
When we got there it was raining pretty hard so we decided to duck into a coffee shop to plan the day. After nursing our coffee and chocolate as long as possible we decided to head towards the medieval cathedral. Barcelona has two cathedrals, one is world famous, and the other is the medieval one. We will talk about the famous one later.
On our way to the cathedral we bumped into a “free” walking tour of Barcelona. We had done these “free” tours in Chile and enjoyed them so we joined it. It was a good decision as it gave us some good background on Catalonia, Barcelona, and the history of Wilfred the Hairy which is Ron’s favorite medieval name, (Richard the Lionhearted, Charles the Brave, and Wilfred the Hairy were all contemporaries more or less, apparently Wilfred was exceptionally hairy).
We stopped in a little cafe on the tour that was run entirely by Americans, but they had a good vermouth that Ton and I enjoyed. After the tour was over they were offering a non-free Gaudi and modernisme tour. We decided to join that tour also.
The modernisme movement flourished in Barcelona in the early 1900’s and is led by a guy named Gaudi. We looked at several interesting versions of modernisme buildings ending with a tour of the La Sagarda Familia. It is an extremely interesting building. Gaudi was a Catalan who is considered the leader of the modernisme movement. The university he received his architecture degree from said they were giving a degree to either a genius or a madman.
The Sagarda was commissioned by the city during the 1880’s and Gaudi took over the building a year after it was started. In the end he did descend into madness, and it became his obsession. It is still under construction 140 years later, and looks like it has another 20 or 30 years to go, though the official completion date is supposed to be in 8 years. One interesting fact is that for the first 130 years it was under construction it did not have a building permit. They recently resolved that and the commission that owns it paid a €30 million fine. We will tour the interior on Tuesday so more to come on Gaudi and the Sagarda.
There is nothing much to write about today. The weather forecast was for rain all day, and they were right. We shifted about 90 KM’s to a campground north of Barcelona where we plan to spend a few days exploring Barcelona once the rain stops.
After the drive we settled in for a maintenance day, did some laundry, bought some groceries, and listened to the rain pound on François. Tomorrow will be more interesting.
Tonight we are parked at a winery called Cellar Battl Artcava. We are little bit southwest of Barcelona. This area is known for a sparkling wine called Cava.
We had booked a visit to the largest producer of Cava in Spain called Codorniu, it has been in business since 1541, and is still owned by the 18th generation of the original family. We both woke up early and even though it was only a couple of hours to the winery we left pretty early, and sure enough arrived very early for our 330 pm tour. After looking at our options we decided to head into one of the larger towns nearby to see if we could knock out some laundry. That did not happen, but we did find a Lidl which is Ton’s favorite grocery store here.
After spending some money in Lidl we headed back to the winery and still had some time to kill so, so we settled in and did some reading. Finally we went in and had the light lunch we had scheduled, we met a couple from Austin who were touring Italy and Spain by car. We swapped stories about wine regions before beginning the tour.
We have been on a lot of wine tours but this one was unique. This is an industrial sized winery and they have the capacity to produce one million bottles in a year, though last year they “only” made 600,000 bottles. Around 1911 they focused exclusively on Cava which is a sparkling wine. The tour focused on their storage caves which are about 90 feet underground and according to the guide cover 13.5 km’s of tunnels. To prove the extent of the tunnels at one point they loaded us all onto a train and drove us around the tunnels for about 10 minutes. They are really vast. The wine was good, but we still are not great fans of sparkling wines.
After the tour we moved over to Cellar Battl Artcava which is supposed to be located 5 minutes from the source of the original vineyards in Catalan, so it is the Cava (winery) closest to the origin of wine here.
We have been in Catalan for a few days now and are beginning to get even more confused with romance languages. The signs here are in Catalan and Spanish. Catalan unlike Basque is a romance language, but it is as different from Spanish as French or Portuguese is. As an example wine in French is Vin, in Spanish is Vino, and in Catalan is Vi. There has been a bit of a political uproar as the Catalan parliament voted to leave Spain last year, but driving around there is no sign that anything is happening to move that forward or to stymie it, but of course we cannot read the signs in Spanish or Catalan!
We finally did some serious back country driving today. Rather than take the freeways back to the coast we decided to cut across the mountains of Aragon to the coast. The drive was up and down and for about 35 km’s on a pretty rough one and a half lane road. The good news was that the roads were not busy at all and most of the time we could take our time traversing the many switch backs and curves. While it was a lot of work we were rewarded with some incredible views and the most remote terrain we have seen anywhere in Europe. We saw a great town right out of the movies called Morella which had an immense hilltop castle with a walled town under it. The castle was originally built by the Knights Templar to defend against the Moslem kingdom in Andalusia. While it was beautiful and remote it was obviously poorer than the areas we have been traveling in with none of the modern homes and apartments we have seen everywhere else.
Tonight we are parked in the town of Ampolla which is adjacent to one of the largest estuaries in Spain. After the long drive we took some time to rest before going out to explore the local area. Adjacent to the campsite is the estuary which is one of the major rice producing areas for Spain. It is also a wildlife sanctuary hosting a wide variety of birds including flamingos even though we did not see any.
After dinner we walked along the boardwalk into town. It is a pleasant little seaside resort, which was largely abandoned during off season. We continue to be very impressed with how the Spanish set their towns up to make walking a pleasure with wide sidewalks.
After a string of big cities we decided to head a little more into the back country. Teruel is in the mountains west of Valencia and is famous for it’s Mudejar style towers. Mudejar architecture is a style developed by the Moslem residents of Spain in the 13th and 14th century.
We arrived at Teruel and found a place to park across from the Guardia Civil Barracks in a free parking place. The Guardia Civil are a national police force that are associated with the army. In addition to doing police work in the country, they often serve as the Spanish representation on UN peacekeeping operations. They also have one of the most distinctive hats of any military organization in the world, a patent leather tri-corner thing with an extension that comes off the back, completely impractical but cool. I think we are pretty safe for tonight.
After a quick shop in the Mercadado Grocery across the street to stock up our depleted supplies, we headed into town. The old town is quite nice, but it was a little dead as we arrived right at the beginning of the siesta from 2 to 5 pm. As a result we had the town pretty much to ourselves.
The town did have some very nice Mudejar towers, and a really unique staircase that led into one of the towers. The towers mark where the gates were when the town was fortified during the middle ages.
Teruel is also famous for a Romeo and Juliet type love story. Isabel and Diego were lovers who intended to marry after Diego returned from 5 years in the army. Isabel waited the 5 years but Diego did not return and was reported dead, so she became engaged with another fellow. On the day of her marriage Diego returned and asked for a kiss, but she refused. Diego died of a broken heart. Isabelle went to his funeral and gave him the kiss she refused when he was alive, and promptly died. They are now buried together in the Cathedral of Teruel.
Today we wanted to see the new part of Valencia. At some point recently the residents of the city rerouted the river that used to run thru the center of the city to prevent flooding. This opened up the old river bed for development which they turned into a giant park thru the city center.
At one end they have constructed some very monumental buildings with a very modern design. This area of development is the largest in Europe of it’s type. The main buildings are an opera house, a science museum, an Imax theater, and an aquarium. They are tied together with large walkways and fountains. It is an immense development and quite striking. The opera house in particular impressed us with its design.
It was quite a walk there, and eventually we tried to take a bus, Ron spent quite a while trying to sort out how the bus system worked. We did eventually work it out, but had an issue when we found out that the bus drivers would not make change for €20 note. We emptied our pockets but were about 40 cents short of the €3 we need. Luckily a lady in one of the seats saw this ordeal and handed us 2 10’s for our 20, everyone was happy. Another good person doing a good deed for complete strangers, we find this happens far more often than the opposite.
Having walked quite a distance we headed back to our campsite. We met Pat and Jessie for another couple of drinks. We are hoping we meet them again in a few years in the US so we can repay some of their kindness to us.
Our campsite is located outside of Valencia about 40 minutes by train. Ton has been looking forward to Valencia for a couple of days particularly the market which is the largest in Europe. The downtown has a new and old feel simultaneously that we liked. Once again the old town is great for walking with very few cars in it.
We started at the market which is immense. It is an old iron building which seems to have been popular for markets in Spain and France during the late 1800’s. We spent quite a bit of time just walking from stall to stall enjoying the sights and smells of the different foods. We ended up buying some spices at one of the stalls.
After shopping was done we decided to have a Spanish specialty that we had been seeing, Churros and Chocolate. We found a street food stall that was highly recommended by the spice lady in the market. It was an interesting variation of the churros we have in the US and Mexico. The churros are designed to be dipped in the chocolate, and the chocolate is quite a bit thicker than we serve it at home. They were delicious.
We then walked around the old town and took some pictures of the usual suspects. Valencia has a nice large cathedral, but they were charging an admission fee so we passed. We also looked at a couple of nice churches and some remnants of the old fortifications.
Having walked around a bit we decided it was time to have some Paella. Valencia has its own version of Paella that includes chicken, rabbit and chick peas. We wandered past 15 or 20 restaurants before settling on a place. We did good in picking the restaurant, there was some confusion as we understood that we would get to pick a first course each from a list of 3 first courses, and one of the main courses. We had decided to go with a seafood paella and a Valencia paella for the main course, but when Ron went to pick the 1st courses the guy explained in his best English that we did not get to pick. We were a little confused until he brought out all three 1st courses, we did not get to pick because we got them all. By the time we were done we were completely stuffed.
On the way to Valencia we had met an English couple Patrick and Jessie. They had given us some good tips. We happened to meet them walking back to the campground, and ended up joining them for drinks at the campground bar. One thing led to another and we ended up in their RV where they filled our brains with information about Spain, and Ron tried to convince them to come to the US for a vacation. It was a great way to end a good day.
After a night of sleeping in howling winds and a couple of showers we began to feel for the first time that time was against us. Since the weather was supposed to be similar to yesterday we decided to spend the day driving. We want to visit Valencia and Barcelona before we leave Spain so we decided to make the leap to Valencia. Today we covered nearly 450 km’s which is the longest drive we have ever taken in Europe.
The roads were good so we made the drive in a little over 5 hours. Since it was Sunday we did not have many options for going out, so we just hunkered down. While taking an evening walk we ran into another British guy who was full timing. We had a nice talk with him, and received some tips for the next trip.
When we left it felt like we had more than enough time to see all of Spain. Now we are in the position of having to make hard choices about what to see and we feel like we are missing out on some good places.
Unfortunately the Costa del Sol has turned into the Costa del Lluvia y Viento (Rain and Wind). The locals are telling us that they have not had this much rain in years. Today is again very wet, with high winds thrown in. We did take advantage of a short break to move up the coast a couple of hours. Along the way we passed miles and miles of fields with plastic covered plants, it turns out this area is the center of tomato and pepper production for Europe. It is good for the economy, but detracts from the views.
The aire we are staying at is owned by a Spanish/British couple who are RV’ers’ also. You can tell as they designed it in a way that is really user friendly, their experience shows. They are considering a trip to the US so we exchanged some information with them.
Later in the day we headed into Malaga which is a town we are both familiar with from school. We took a local bus into town, as we came around a point of land we had our first view of the harbor. To our dismay their were 3 cruise ships in port including the largest one we have ever seen. It turns out there was actually a 4th one but it was a sailing cruise ship and did not stand out. We knew then that the town would be packed.
Malaga had a really nice vibe to it, and we enjoyed wandering around town. As usual we checked out the cathedral, the castle (Arabic), and some old buildings. The old town is dwarfed by the new town, but it was still quite large. The Spanish do a great job of making their down town cores pedestrian friendly. The walkways are wide, and most streets have very limited access for cars and delivery trucks, so the roads can also safely be used for pedestrian traffic. Ton really loves how they make it easy to enjoy a stroll.
The high light of the day was the Picasso Museum. Picasso was originally from Malaga and the museum did a good job of showing the different phases of his development. Unfortunately there are no photos allowed in the museum. It is an excellent museum without having any of his famous works. Because of this they focused more on how his work developed from his early days as a student until his late works in his 90’s.
After that we were wandering down a street looking for the market when we came upon an old bar that looked interesting, it was founded in 1840 and was the official supplier of Sherrie for Queen Isabel II before she abdicated and moved to France. They served glasses of different sherries out of giant wooden casks. They had a variety of different local sherries which is a regional specialty around Malaga. They also had a very interesting way of keeping the tab, after you order they take a piece of chalk and write the amount you owe for the round on the wooden bar in front of you. It’s simple and you know right where you stand, and as an Englishman next to us explained you do not have to worry about losing your spot at the bar when you go to the bathroom, because for someone to take your spot at the bar, they also inherit your tab! Unfortunately we forgot to get a liter to go.
We ended the evening sitting around with the owner of the aire and two English couples where we were given some excellent advice about travel. Malaga was another great stop, we can see why people flock to the Costa del Sol.
The weather today was supposed to be very poor all day. There was a large storm that passed thru overnight complete with lightning and high winds. As a result our plans to visit Malaga were put on hold.
We did shift up the coast about 150km to the town of Torre del Bengalbon which is a “suburb” of Malaga. We are staying in a private aire which while small is more like a campground than an aire, but is priced like an aire. We met the owners who are planning a trip to the US and promised to spend some time discussing camping at home. You can tell from the layout that they are RV’ers themselves as everything is laid out exactly how you would like it to be.
Since we did no proper sight seeing today we thought we would talk about Ton’s second favorite thing to do in Europe which is wander thru supermarkets. In general any town of over 2 or 3 thousand has a supermarket of one of the major brands. Several of the brands cover both France and Spain. In general they are similar to the US in layout, but there are always local touches. In France you are guaranteed to find a huge Cheese section or Fromaggerie full of interesting cheeses. In Spain you will find huge hams made of the legs of the pig. You can buy a 20 kilo (45 pound) ham leg for around 60 Euros. If you do not have space for a 20 kilo ham leg you can have the butcher in the restaurant carve you chunks of ham from a selection of 4 or 5 different kind of ham legs. Even the Costco in Seville had a section for ham legs. In both countries you will also find a huge wine section with a wide selection of wine. We are still sticking to our €2.99 or less rule and after about 30 bottles between the two trips have only had 3 bad wines.