2017 Wrap-Up

29 Nov – 31 December 2017 – settle in for a long one…..

Even when we try to plan it never quite works out and the end of 2017 followed that pattern so the blog fell by the wayside. It’s now the start of 2018 and we considered just skipping the last month of the year and starting afresh with the new year but it didn’t feel right – and we had had update requests – so in this post we remind ourselves of our end of year travels.

We left the Ebre delta at the end of November and headed south. Taking advantage of it being off-season we decided to take a look at some of the coastal towns so drove through the usually busy Pensicola then Benicassim where we visited the Lidl. We mention this because when we came out of the store and started up, the satnav which had been working perfectly had wiped its memory. Everything gone including all our trip histories. Starting afresh we put in the van dimensions again and re-entered the co-ordinates for our overnight stop only to find that the damn thing wanted to take us to the middle of the Mediterranean. Baffling. We could no longer trust the directions and had to try various ways on inputting a location until it got the right place. Not happy.

Having decided that we needed a hook-up to properly re-charge the batteries we stopped at Camping Puçol at Puçol Playa – we didn’t bother looking for the beach as it was grey, cold and getting dark. The Touring area of the site was the smallest part as most of it resembled a caravan-centric shanty town – each large pitch had a cover over it for shade, a caravan with ‘room’ attached, a very large ground-sheet and outdoor furniture such as tables and chairs, fridge-freezers and TV’s. Now deserted and scattered with autumn leaves it is a retreat for Spanish apartment dwellers, heaving in the warmer months.

It was at this site we met an English couple, Nigel & Meg from Cornwall, who were travelling with their energetic collie in a van conversion for 3 months having resigned from their jobs to travel. We had a great chat with them, swapping information on sites and experiences.

We emailed Zenec about our satnav and they were unapologetic, instructing us to send it to them via our ‘dealer’ and saying it would take them ‘weeks’ to sort out – oh dear. It does sometimes feel like customer service is a thing of the past.

Next stop Gandia and the aire at L’Agueria de la Comtessa. We arrived mid-afternoon at what resembled a secure car park on the edge of an industrial estate. It appeared to be almost full of people staying there for a while, predominantly Dutch and German, and as reception was closed the other ‘residents’ helped us find a suitable spot. We wandered into the small settlement nearby and found the only thing open, a bar, where the locals welcomed us in and we had a beer whist absorbing the environment, still not used to being back in Spain. On the way back we did notice a novel approach to marking our residents and disabled parking bays :

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After dinner we went to the aire’s bar because (a) it was there and (b) we just had to see what it was like. A group of 10 Dutch were gathered round a table eating microwave popcorn and drinking beer having a very sociable time. It contributed to the aire’s surprisingly nice ‘homey’ feel – as well as the bar it had good sanitary facilities, electric hook-up & free laundry. It got a ‘Like’ from us.

Next day we arrived at Denia and as we approached realised that coming back had a comfortable feel, something we had not experienced before in our travels. We settled on a nice pitch at Los Pinos and located Peter & Alison who had just arrived themselves. We had a lovely couple of days with them, a good catch-up with plenty of libations. The weather was clear blue skies, bright sun and a really strong, chilly wind. We had a lovely refreshing walk into Denia along the seafront, surprised to see some clearly insane windsurfers skimming across the waves at amazing speeds and attempting to jump and turn on the waves – with inevitable and painful-looking results. We dandered round the marina, admiring the expensive boats in there including 2 huge sailing yachts  – another world.

Pete & Alison steered us towards a restaurant near the front for lunch where we sat next to a Xmas tree with a great view of some teddy bears out for a spin on their scooters –

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Happy Teddy’s

and we devoured meatballs followed by 2 whole chicken, served halved on a griddle with chips on the side. Messy fingers time! We were all so full we skipped dinner.

On Sunday we said our goodbyes and took the toll roads to Vilanova i la Geltru. We have to say that the toll roads in Spain are the best value for money ones we have driven on, in excellent condition and not extortionate like France & Italy. We were only slowed up by stopping at Repsol’s for LPG and being unable to fill up because the fitting wasn’t working and the staff couldn’t help. Fourth time lucky – it was operator error!

We got settled onto our new pitch on a nice little cut-de-sac of eight, next to a huge Concorde on Finnish plates which looks absolutely magnificent but challenging to park. They have a Smart car that goes in a garage at the back – awesome!

As it got dark we started to feel Christmassy as the people around us switched on their Xmas lights – nice to be back.

Our first item of business was having the nearby caravan workshop come and check our batteries. They confirmed what we suspected, that one of the batteries was bad and affecting the others. Very disappointing. They also tightened up the gas hose for us and confirmed there were no leaks which was reassuring. Back in touch with Travelworld…

Unlike our last stay at Vilanova Park, this time we went for a walk round the whole site – what a surprise, far bigger than we realised with areas we were completely unaware of,  touring pitches, mobile homes and a whole area devoted to permanent caravans with ‘rooms’ attached and 2 stand-alone tents, one for storage and one plumbed as a kitchen. These are used by the Spanish and are available to them 10 months of the year – currently all closed up and deserted. We later learnt the site holds 4000 people, but you wouldn’t know because of the excellent way it is laid out.

We had only just settled when it was time for our home visit, a 1-week cram-everything-in event. The journey out was a dream – bus and train to the airport, through security in no time and no delays. We were at mum’s by early evening devouring fish & chips, one of the things we miss about the UK.

In a week we managed to get all the Xmas gift shopping for mum, put up Xmas tree & decorations, visit hairdresser, dentist, optician, doctors & hospital; managed catch-ups with some of our friends including a ‘boy’s night out’ for Danny and a welcome visit from Kate’s younger brother; and worked our way through a list of foods we had missed including a full roast dinner and a visit to our favourite Indian and Chinese restaurants, the latter to celebrate mum’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday Mum!

And an overnight visit to the Lake’s, a half-way point for meeting our very good friends from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and incidentally getting a hot bath (bliss) and enjoying some excellent real ale.

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As a real bonus – and complete contrast to the sunshine and palm-trees of Vilanova – it snowed.

Not quite enough for Kate to build a snowman but enough to lie on the ground for a few days making everything extra-Xmas-like. This prompted a trip down to the marsh to see the snow down there and sample real ale and pork scratchings in front of a real fire.

After celebrating mum’s 85th birthday it was time to return. It  wasn’t quite as smooth – a fault during pre-take-off checks meant the plane needed replacing but Easyjet managed to sort it and we were only 2½ hours late taking off and we made up some of the time on the flight back. As we flew over the Pyrenees it was clear that the snow had been falling there too.

Settled back at Vilanova we reacquainted ourselves with the town, quickly identifying a couple of favourite haunts on the Placa de la Villa and getting to know our way around better. Danny had a haircut, which always makes him feel better and we generally explored, identifying our favourite supermarket as well as the oh-so-necessary Lidl. We found the central ‘Mercat’, the undercover market with great fruit & veg, meat and charcuterie stalls but as usual we particularly liked the fresh fish stalls. One day we cooked moules mariniere for lunch and ate it outside in the sun with crusty bread, followed up in the evening with megrim sole ‘a la meuniere’, delicious.

We spent an hour at a beer festival at the locomotive museum and discovered that craft ales are very popular in Catalonia and that Vilanova itself has a number of micro-breweries. Fortunately the prospect of our uphill cycle back to the site discouraged us from staying too long.

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We also had to visit the bike shop a couple of times for repairs – replacement of a lost nut and a tyre repair. Both times we got disapproving looks from the very helpful proprietor – apparently we lost the nut because we weren’t regularly checking and tightening them, and the valve on the tyre ripped and gave us a flat because we had not been keeping the tyres up to pressure. Oops.

And of course Kate had to buy some decorations and fairy lights for the van – it would have seemed unsociable not too given the efforts our neighbours had gone to. At 12” it was the smallest Xmas tree we had ever bought so to compensate we got classy, multi-colour LED snowman to contribute to the white and multi-colour LED fairy lights which now surrounded us in the evenings.

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The Spanish seem generally baffled by the concept of Xmas cards but we located some in the end and Danny distributed them to our neighbours. Apparently this was the right thing to do, and we soon received cards back and met our neighbours, which was another voyage of discovery for us. The site touring pitches are a real mix, not dominated any particular nationality. There are Brits, French, Dutch, Germans, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Danes, although we haven’t seen any Italians yet.

Many of our neighbours are here for most of the year, returning home for only a couple of months, and they have caravans with ‘rooms’ attached, giving them the car to run around in.  Given the facilities here, from the supermarket, indoor swimming pool and gym (as well as 2 outdoor pools), good restaurant and bar as well as helpful staff, it’s not surprising. They tell us the weather here is 2℃ cooler than further south but drier and less windy, which seems a good trade. We found them to be very friendly and helpful without being intrusive, and were soon drawn in to playing boules with them (Danny anyway – Kate’s hands aren’t up to it yet) and joining some of them on their twice-weekly walks round the area, a nice 3-hour stretch of the legs.

We wanted to see what Xmas Eve was like in Vilanova so caught the bus into town and found it to be disappointingly quiet with everything closing own early so after a drink on the square we returned for a very pleasant evening in the van before our first Xmas in our new ‘home’.

As we had hoped the sun was shining on Xmas Day and Kate put on her Santa hat and the inevitable Xmas music. After the ritual of present opening it was on to making a full Xmas dinner with a Remoska, a tiny oven and 3 gas burners. Okay, so the roasties from the Remoska weren’t perfect and it was chicken instead of turkey,  but veg, pigs in blankets, stuffing, bread sauce & gravy were all good and we ate outside in the sun, Danny in his shorts (see below)

After snuffling successfully through Xmas Day, Danny’s man-flu caught up with him with a vengeance on Boxing Day so we settled down for a couple of days of cold remedies, good food, comforting hot-chocolate laced with brandy and ‘The Pacific’ box set which was absolutely brilliant.

When he was feeling better we went for an evening in Vilanova with a meal at a traditional restaurant Kate had found called Cal Purgat. There was a much better vibe in town than on Xmas Eve and we did some window shopping, admired the town’s Xmas tree, noticed that the Yule Logs (see below) scattered throughout the town were still in place and had a drink on Placa de la Villa watching the lively scene, filled with families. No mad post-Xmas sales frenzy here.

We had a wonderful meal  involving local anchovies, a very nice salad of tuna, sweet red peppers, white asparagus, crispy suckling pig ribs (a very happy Danny) and slow braised Iberico pig cheeks with wild mushrooms which was very tender and intense. Very good.

Finally New Year arrived. Danny’s cold was re-asserting itself quite nastily and he had a temperature for most of the day but Kate dosed Danny with the new Spanish medicine and went ahead and christened the new slow-cooker with a boeuf bourgignon. Danny picked up so we enjoyed a celeratory meal with a good bottle of red wine which improved Danny even further and we ended the year in the bar with a crowd of exuberant retirees dressed in everything from jeans to  bling and sequins, cava in hand. The end of a great year for us.

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