Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oct 12 - Back in Blighty

We're now back in the UK for a month till we fly to Athens to join the Silver Wind for 6 weeks cruising around the Middle East and India – really looking forward to it.

If you want to have a sneak preview of which cruises I'll be travelling on, have a look at this link.

The blog will be back on November 9th unless I can think of anything interesting to say before then!

Oct 8 - Birthday Celebrations

Back in Blighty to a fanfare celebration for my birthday. After receiving fabulous gifts purchased in a local supermarket (as I sat outside) on our drive back from the ferry terminal (!) we headed up to North London to visit Lords, the home of English cricket and the Ashes.

A fabulously sunny autumn day that felt quintessentially English.

The whole day was rounded off by beer in a local pub and the quintessentially English meal - a curry. What a perfect day!

Oct 6 – The Stormy Bay of Biscay

We have stocked up on food and drink for our 24 hour crossing from Santander to Portsmouth, but hadn't anticipated that it would be so rough that we wouldn't actually be able to stomach anything.

As soon as we left the harbour, we were straight into a Force 7 gale and a fairly relentless swell meant that staying horizontal in our luxurious cabin was the only option. Even though we spend about 6 months a year at sea nowadays , I was feeling sick pretty much from the word go, and had 2 bouts of retching over the toilet, which made me feel better for about 5 minutes, before the constant queasiness returned.

Tracy had to ignore the noises from the toilet, and her own impending nausea to continue with her frantic revision – her mind is stronger than her stomach.

Oct 5 – Santander

As we sail from Santander, we couldn't really avoid spending a night at the campsite which had blown up our electricity circuit 2 months ago. This was also a chance to chase up our insurance claim which seems to be progressing at a snail's pace.

Tracy had her obligatory shouting match, in Spanish, with the Campsite man, and we think we're making a little progress.

September 29 - Oct 4 – Gijon (again)

General Strike
From our vantage point at the campsite on the cliffs overlooking Gijon, we watched like generals over the battle going on down below us. We could hear the bands playing marching music, the inflammatory speeches of the union leaders, the cheers and shouts of the protestors, and the occasional boom of a firecracker (as our imaginations run wild, could these be gunshots?). We certainly didn't want to get any closer to find out what was going on, but the next day it appeared as if the town was totally back to normal, so hopefully there were no incidents.

Gijon has a wonderful Thalassotherapy Spa, where for €19, you can spend 2 and a half hours floating around in its hot seawater pools being buffeted by jets of water, and being bubbled around like a boiling lobster. On the basis of this alone (and maybe the beautiful beaches and the nice atmosphere of the town), Tracy has decreed that Gijon is now the place she wants to live.

Revising Like Crazy
Tray's History of Art exam is just over a week away, so she is cramming like crazy for her first exam in about 15 years. As you'd expect, she's being very methodical and disciplined, and panic has not descended - yet.

Windswept Away
The first time we stayed in Gijon at the end of August, it had been a little gusty, so we asked the campsite lady if it would be this time. She said no, they just always have a couple of windy days at the end of August, and it should be fine this time of year. For the first few days she was right, but then it started to get more blustery over the course of the day, so we moved from the windy cliff edge to a sheltered spot at the back of the campsite by a wall, and protected by a tree.

Unfortunately, by the evening the torrential rain was blowing sideways at us, while the wind was getting stronger and stronger and coming from the only direction that we had no shelter from – the van was getting rocked like a herd of clumsy elephants was jostling past. By midnight, it was getting pretty scary, and Tracy looked up on the internet what the forecast was – by 2am, they were predicting 110kmh winds.

So, we braved the storm and decided to move again, parking next to the shelter of the reception building – this stopped the van from feeling like it was going to get blown over, but the wind continued to howl all night, and it felt like something could come flying through the window at any point.
A very frightening night.

The Calm After The Storm
After a fairly sleepless night, we just thankful to be alive, and to find that the van wasn't damaged. You had to feel sorry for the people whose tents had literally been blown away – they looked like zombies in the morning. In town, a few young palm trees had been blown over, but no real harm done.

Our only real worry now, is that the storm was blowing in from the Atlantic, and heading towards the Bay of Biscay, which we will be sailing through in 2 days time – I feel seasick just at the thought of it.

September 28 – Struck Out in Leon

From Bayona, we headed along the wine route of the Ribeiro Valley, before heading up to Leon, Spain's old capital from the Middle Ages. On the way, we stopped in "the capital of the Ribeiro", Ridadavia, to discover that whilst it's relatively pretty, it's completely dead – it's the kind of town that makes Tracy go into a cold sweat at the thought of even living there.

From there we ventured on to Leon to discover that the campsite on the edge of town had been turned into a housing estate quite a few years ago. So instead we headed for an "area de autocaravanas" in a car park in the centre of town. This area was basically 4 spaces on the edge of a busy car park – not a place to have a restful night's sleep (given our trepidation because of our experience in Tuy); however, there was no alternative.

So, we headed into town for a drink and some food – they give you a free tapa here with every drink, which endeared the place to us. We started to read the local papers on the bar, and it appeared that Spain was going to have a General Strike the next day, and that everything would be shut – this could explain the tetchiness that we've picked up on, and why everyone at the supermarket that evening was stocking up like there was going to be a nuclear war. We asked the barman what the deal would be, and he said there would be a big demonstration in town, and that 3,000 angry miners were coming to town to protest – apparently no-one's been paid for two months.

We told him where we were parked up, and he said that there was where all the miners were gathering and that it would be "muy peligroso" – very dangerous. At this, we didn't need any more persuading that it was not a good idea to be staying in a city centre car park. We had visions of our van being picked up while we were sleeping by thousands of dirty faced miners with pick axes, and being hurled at the lines of riot police.

So, at 11pm, a decision was made to drive to Gijon, two hours away over the mountains, for a safe refuge away from angry miners. Leon will have to wait for another trip.

September 26-27 – Back in Spain – Bayona

So, it was time to return to Spain, and we headed North to Bayona, a pretty little town on the Rias Baixas in Galicia. One of the reasons that we liked our time in Portugal so much, was that the people we encountered were generally chilled out and friendly – this was a contrast to Spain, where people appeared a little more tetchy and less inclined to indulge stupid tourists, while the graffiti was a lot more prevalent. Maybe it was because the weather was getting colder, or because Spain is in the middle of a huge financial crisis, but Spain is definitely less laid back than in Portugal – Tracy managed to have a run in with the campsite lady within 5 minutes of arriving, which left her chuntering that the spirit of Franco was still alive and well and living in Bayona.

Anyway, Bayona is a very nice little seaside town – probably very busy in July and August, but pretty dead in September. It has an imposing castle that protected the town from the attacks of Sir Francis Drake who used to hang around the islands of the coast, ready to attack any galleons bringing riches back from the New World. The castle was also the first sight of Europe that Columbus's men had on their return from their epic voyage of discovery in 1493. In the harbour was a full size replica of La Pinta, the smallest of Columbus's three ships – it was tiny – I wouldn't fancy going out into the wild Atlantic in that.

September 23-25 - At Home in Viano do Castelo

It was only a matter of time before Tracy found somewhere she "would like to live", and so we've found our first potential home in Portugal.

In no particular order, the reasons Tracy likes Viana do Castelo are:
1. It has a beautiful beach – our campsite was right next to a wild golden sandy beach, good for surfing and windsurfing.
2. It's close to Spain, just over an hour to Galicia – we wouldn't want all our (now almost forgotten) learning Spanish to be in vain.
3. It's a pretty place – this was a boom town in the 17th century, when all the riches from Portugal's far flung empire were pouring back to the Mother Country. So there's lots of old sea captains' mansions and ornate churches from these times.
4. It's green and there's lots of grass – fortunately, we didn't see any of the rain that must cause this greenery.
5. It's cheap – everything seems about one-third of the prices in Spain.
6. It seems like a lively town.

In fact, Number 6 was based on our first trip into at around 5pm, when the streets were packed with people. When we went to the Tourist Office and asked them if there were any events going on, he said that there would be folkloric singing and dancing in the main square at 10 the next day – perfect for a night out. So, the next evening, we went out for the night, to have a meal and a drink before the show. However, the place appeared deserted – all the restaurants were like the Marie Celeste. We eventually found one place we liked the look of, but were told that everything we chose was "finish", and then they put the closed sign up on the door at 9.30. Then we looked in the local paper, and saw that the dancing had in fact already taken place at 10am – this is not a late night town. Eventually, we found a restaurant that had food, and had customers (all 7 of them) – when asked where all the people were, the waiter replied that, "in Portugal, people like to sleep".

Maybe this is a town to retire to.