Thursday, 31 May 2012

Siesta? Me gusta!


Day 38 - 30.05.12 Pontevedra

We like Pontevedra so much we decide to spend a second day.  There’s a lot of winding little side streets we missed on our first day so we go back to explore.  Sure enough there are lots of hidden delights we’d not seen, this city is just full of great buildings!  After a little while we find ourselves on the residential side of town where there are some beautiful houses.  It’s so close to town yet feels like it could be a village on its own in the middle of nowhere.

The weather is scorching so we head back to the van when shops start closing up in the height of the midday sun and enjoy our own siesta time, we’re really getting into the Spanish way of life! 

We head back into town around 6 or 7 and it’s a lot busier.  There are families with children in all the main squares and the cafes are once again bustling.  It’s hard to believe Spain’s economy is struggling when you see the people here in the North.  Almost everyone is very well dressed in expensive looking clothes and every single bar/café is busy.   It’s nice to have another walk around the city now the sun has lost its heat.  Pontevedra really is a great place.  It'll be a shame to leave but the seaside is calling us back.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Perfect Pontevedra


Day 37 - 29.05.12 Pontevedra

We have a lazy morning in Noia waiting for the traffic in our car park to thin down.  We need to back out onto a somewhat busy road but noticed yesterday that most people leave the car park at lunchtime so we’ll have more room to manoeuvre.  Sure enough we get the space we need after an early lunch and head to Pontevedra.  After some difficult to follow Sat Nav instructions we end up on our first toll road (dammit!), thankfully the 25km or so only costs us just over 2 euros.  When we arrive another bit of iffy Sat Nav-ery winds us up the wrong way on a one way street and the wrong side of the river for our car park.  Easily resolved though and we pull in a great spot alongside the river.

Pontevedra is quite frankly a fantastic city.  It has a lovely river running alongside the city with a number of very unusual-looking bridges across it.  The centre itself is full of stunning architecture.  Whether it’s in the historic churches or striking balconies outside ordinary flats, everything here has a touch of flair.  The streets are on the whole are quiet, it appears everyone is out to lunch as the cafes in the pretty squares are bustling with ladies lunching and couples chatting over drinks.  There are some nice parks and lots of great sculptures and statues dotted around.  On our travels we stumble across the ruins of a 14th century church which has been incredibly well preserved and is full of interesting features.  

Chris soon spots a sign for a museum exhibition on the history of motorbikes and we head over once it opens.  It’s completely free and features some very rare vintage bikes and a comprehensive collection of old BMWs, much to Chris’ delight.

After dinner we go for a walk along the river and spot a small but very nice man-made beach half way down that’s really popular with the locals, it looks like a great spot to chill out.  On the other side of the river there’s a ‘sculpture park’ but it’s a bit of a let-down.  There are loads of people out walking, cycling and jogging alongside the river.  I’ve been really taken aback my how healthy everyone is here (aside from their smoking anyway), almost everyone you see is in great shape and even people in their later years seem very active.   Parks are always very busy too and families seem to spend a great amount of time together keeping the little ones entertained.  It makes for a wholesome and safe kind of feeling which makes an awesome change from Nottingham!

All in all I so far really, really like it here.  The city centre is just gorgeous and full to the brim with interesting buildings, cute café lined squares and pretty parks.  Our parking spot by the river is equally lovely.  There’s no tourist tat in the city, no hassle or crowds.  It’s just a laid-back, architecturally stunning place that has managed to retain its charm and not fall foul of the tourist trade.  A great find.   

Aaaand as you can tell from the mass of blog updates, I gots me some local wifi ;-)

What you lookin’ at?

Day 36 - 28.05.12 Noia

Noia on the banks of the river
Noia is a very relaxed town on the banks of a wide river.  Walking around it reveals the town to be much smaller than it looks.  There is a really intricate church, lots of old, traditional looking council buildings and a large park in the centre of town full of colourful flowers and fountains.  Most of our day here is spent ambling around the centre enjoying the old buildings and being beside the river.  The hills behind Noia, like many towns in this area, are covered in dense forests of tall pine trees.  It’s a gorgeous backdrop to the town and one you don’t expect to see in the often arid hills of Spain. 

Sadly once you get out of the main centre, there are a lot of closed up shops looking worse for wear and stunning houses just left to rot.  It really is a great shame how many buildings of real style and beauty are just left to be reclaimed by nature.  It’s a problem we’ve noticed to be endemic all along the North coast of Spain, there simply are just too many houses and not enough people to fill them.  Perhaps it’s a slowdown in people buying holiday homes, whatever the reason it’s sad to see some of these real gems left to fall into disrepair.

We stock up the fridge at the local supermarket and generally have a lazy day.  I don’t think they get a huge amount of tourists here and the van seems to be drawing some odd looks with people studying the text on the number plate to figure out where we’re from.  Again this is not unusual and in general we too seem to draw a lot of attention.  I’m not sure if it’s because we’re obviously foreign (although Chris is half Spanish), the way we dress, our general scruffiness or what, but everywhere we go people are clearly talking about us as we pass, in fact people have stopped in their tracks to look at us!  It’s odd to be the subject of so much attention and I have no idea what’s causing it! 

Holy crap!

Day 35 - 27.05.12 Santiago de Compostela

A grey, cloudy morning puts pay to our idea of a day on the beach and has us get going for Santiago de Compostela instead.  The rain sets in once we’re on the road and it’s a difficult hour long journey.  Our car parking spot is smaller than anticipated and rammed full.  After a lot of searching and a stop for lunch we find a car park beside some university buildings that’s pretty quiet and pull in there. 

Roof of the Santiago de Compostela cathedralSantiago de Compostela Cathedral on the Camino de SantiagoThe historic centre of Santiago is a bit of an assault on the senses!  It is full to the brim with intricate historical buildings; so much so it’s easy to get a little jaded about the lesser detailed buildings which if taken alone would be incredibly impressive!  Our first stop is the famous cathedral, which despite the awful weather is bustling with tourist and Camino walkers. 

The façade is beautiful and really very imposing, if a little grubby looking!  Sadly my pictures on this dismal day don’t really do it justice.  Inside the huge golden altar and ginormous incense burner are astonishing but somewhat gaudy!  It’s surprisingly small inside and I didn’t get the general sense of awe I find in most massive cathedrals.  That said there are lots of nooks and crannies to look around inside and the entry is of course free! 

Everywhere you turn in the centre you come across another masterpiece of a building.  Even the normal looking ones have elaborate features here and there.  All of the major sightseeing spots are very close together, great if you hate walking but a little intense otherwise!  There are a lot of tacky tourist shops pushily vying for trade around the cathedral which does tarnish the area a little, as too does the sheer number of people around.  Perhaps we’re too used to tranquil seaside towns but Santiago just feels a little…much.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some jaw-droppingly stunning things to see here but it’s very hard to take everything in.  

Aside from the architecture, Santiago also has lots of great green spaces.  There are numerous large parks dotted around and one we walk through is has a massive outdoor market and fair that is closing for the day.  It makes a blissful change of pace after the bombardment of the old town!

The skyline of Santiago de Compostela


After a good look around we head back to the van.  We’re a little concerned about whether we’ll get hassle for parking here when the students and lecturers turn up in the morning and so decide to make the most of Sunday’s quiet roads to head back to Noia on the coast.  It’s a short, if at times steep uphill drive (sorry Van Diesel) and our parking spot by the port is really pretty.  It’s quite late and everything is closed on Sundays anyway so we’ll save the exploring for tomorrow.  Now it’s time for dinner and a movie.

Cleanliness is next to awesomeness

Day 34 - 26.05.12 Louro

It’s a late start in Finisterre as Ali manages to sleep in till 10:30 (I’m a sleep MACHINE!).  Our next major stop off is the big city of Santiago de Compostela but knowing better than to visit major cities on a Saturday we opt for a quiet stop off en route at Muros.

The journey takes around an hour and the coastal road provides great views of the rugged Coast of Death.  Muros is a quiet fishing town with a lovely harbour and a labyrinth of cobbled winding streets working their way back from the sea up a hill.  It’s a charming place with a mix of traditional red-tiled-roofed stone houses and lots of gorgeous art deco buildings.  There really is a lovely feel to the place which is very up-lifting after a couple of dud days.  Nonetheless the beach is tiny and the beach showers are opposite the only supermarket in town so not very private!  We stock up at the supermarket and then decide to head back to nearby Louro as the beach there is much larger and virtually empty.

The car park by the sea is very quiet too and has a fantastic view.  On the way into Muros I had spotted a campsite with a restaurant so we decide to head down and ask if they have launderette facilities.  Sure enough they do and after doing my best sweet talking in Spanish the lovely owner lady unlocks the room and agrees to let us use them even though we’re not staying at the campsite.  We return with our mountains of washing and utilise the campsite’s free wifi whilst we wait…perfection.  I thank the campsite lady profusely and we trek back to the van with bags overflowing with wondrously clean clothes.  We also make use of the showers on the beach and slip into fresh, clean clothes.  It’s amazing how these things you take for granted take on an almost magical feel when you’re deprived of them!

We spend the rest of the evening enjoying the beach and then bed down for a film.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Good evening from the end of the world.


Day 33 - 25.05.12 Cape Finisterre

Given the write off that was yesterday we were ready to get on the road early and off to our next destination Cape Finisterre.  The end of the famous Camino de Santiago, Finisterre is often referred to as the end of the world.  When we arrive on a grey, cloudy day it certainly feels that way.  Everything looks run down and there’s a lot of litter, graffiti and seagull poop all over everything.  After accidentally driving into the middle of an outdoor market (oops) we find our parking spot beside the port and go for a wander about.  It seems the tiny town centre equates to some naff shops, hostels and overpriced restaurants and we’re pretty disappointed.  We walk to a beach 15 minutes or so away which is nice but nothing special and the fabled views look to be impressive but with the low cloud and gloom are hard to make out.

Thankfully a little while later the sun comes out and the town is transformed.  Colour comes out of nowhere and the views are suddenly spectacular.  We start to walk towards the end of the cape where the pilgrims traditionally finished their journey with a dip in the sea and the burning of clothes.  The route is very pretty but we only make it a third or so of the way.  After yesterday’s huge walk, neither of us feel up to a 2 hour round trek so we leave it to the religious nuts and head back to the van with our clothes singe-free.

I’ve heard amazing tales about the sunsets here but sadly the cloud set in again so we won’t be seeing one.  All in all I’m a little let down by Finisterre, I’d heard great things about this place and whilst in the sunshine it’s a lot prettier, it’s still a pretty poorly looked after place.  It seems like they know the tourists will come because the Camino de Santiago so there’s no need to neaten up the place or make an effort as people will come regardless and it’s a real shame.  It really wouldn’t take a lot of work to smarten the area up and it be just as lovely as I’d imagined!

Hello, my name is Alison Parcell. You ruined my day, prepare to die.


Day 32 - 24.05.12 La Coruna

After a lazy morning in La Coruna we set off to the launderette the tourist info lady had given us directions to.  We packed up all the dirty laundry which now equates to 1 backpack, 1 bag for life and 2 large carrier bags and trundled off on foot to the other side of town.  Driving in La Cpruna is just insane and would have lost us our parking space so we decided against it.  The views on the way were gorgeous and once again the sun was out in full force.  After a looooong walk (Chris’ guess as to how long it took = 3 years) we arrived at the street to find most of the shops were shut.   We wandered around for a little while with no joy.  We asked at a hotel, bar, supermarket and corner shop but nobody knew anything about a launderette nearby.  A woman in the supermarket suggested there may be one in the big shopping centre nearby but it turned out to be a dry cleaner.  Gutted.

The only silver lining for me being that the pet shop in the shopping centre had a ton of supercute puppies. 

Other than that everything was crap and we got a taxi back to the van, must remember to bill that tourist centre muppet for the ride!

When we got back we ate a lot of cake and caught up on internet stuffs at a wifi hotspot down the road.  Not our finest of days!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Coast of Death


Day 31 - 23.05.12 A Coruna

After Viveiro, our guide book suggests that the drive to the next seaside town is ‘tortuous’, we decide Van Diesel isn’t really up for it and since we know there aren’t many worthwhile stops along this so called ‘Coast of Death’ we decide to ditch it entirely and head for A Coruna.

It’s a long drive but the roads are eerily quiet and we make good time.  Today's journey took us so high up in the mountains we drove through a cloud!  I wish I could take decent pictures whilst we drive so we could show you the scenery en route because some of it is just breath-taking.  Sadly at 110 kph through our bug splattered windscreen the spots never turn out too well!  

We arrive late morning and the sun is out in force, it’s going to be a scorcher!  Our spot is a nice park beside the oldest working lighthouse in the world.  We do what we can to stay in the shade on our way into town since the sun is at its strongest. 

The first spot we hit is the best, the massive Government building on the town’s main square.  It really is a sight to behold!

The nearby old church is also a great sight.  The rest of the old town is a bit disappointing by comparison although the architectural museum housed in an old fort is quite impressive.  It’s a shame they haven’t pedestrianised the old town area as it’s hard to appreciate it when you hard to pin yourself to a wall every five minutes so someone can drive down the narrow street past you!  We stroll past the port area and see a ginormous ship the likes of which I’ve never seen, it’s like a floating country!  The rest of the town is nice, with lots of gardens and sculptures dotted about.

The walk back along the beach side of the peninsula offers some amazing sea views.  We wander past the aquarium and spot some seals in the outside pools.  We wander down to the beach at sundown to find it surprisingly empty, so we have it all to ourselves for what turns out to be a gorgeous sunset.



In other exciting news, the lady at the tourist office says there’s a launderette on the other side of town!  We’ll have to drive there tomorrow but YAAAAAAAY!  ß-I know this isn’t exciting to anyone but me, but seriously we haven’t been to a launderette since France and I’m sick to death of handwashing!

^ UPDATE - She lied and I may have to kill her.

Disco beach.


Day 30 - 22.05.12 Viveiro

We set off in the morning and head west to Viveiro.  We didn’t know of a spot to park and ended up in very nearby Covas in a spot alongside a neat little park. 

Crossing over the bridge into Viveiro gives you a gorgeous view of the city; the old city walls, historic churches, cute painted wooden front houses and then…a monstrosity of a supermarket.  Whoever gave the planning permission for the huge blue and yellow Gadis hypermarket on the waterfront needs their head testing – such a shame!

The town itself is full of winding narrow streets many of which are lined with ridiculously extravagant shops with snooty sales assistants and chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. 

Some of the larger buildings and flats above the shops are very pretty with an art deco Ghibli-esque kind of feel.  The old churches are charming but nothing spectacular, which is pretty much our over-riding view of the town.  It’s worth noting that it’s overcast again today and things always look nicer in the sun!  As we head out of town, the tide is in and has filled up the inlet beside the town, making for a much more attractive view (can’t do anything about the hypermarket though!)

We spend the late afternoon on a beach near our parking spot where the sand is somehow sparkly?!  I’m not sure what causes it much it really shimmers even without the sun!  

Sunshine where for art thou?


Day 29 21.05.12 Foz 

We decided to stay a second day in Foz as it’s such a great spot.  It’s rare for us to stay longer than one night as we don’t like to overstay our welcome and would hate to find ourselves getting moved on to somewhere else, especially late at night.

We head into the centre mid-morning so Ali can coo over the bunnies in the pet-shop (never seen cuter in my life!) and we can ask about a launderette at the tourist office (nope).  It’s much more overcast and sadly the town doesn’t look as pretty as yesterday.  We find wifi and perch on a step outside a shop to get the blog updated – the things we do for you eh?!   

We get some food shopping done in town and spend the rest of the day chilling out at the van and doing some more goddamn hand washing!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Puppies and bunnies and horses oh my!


Day 28 - 20.05.12 Foz

After a bit of a lie in (what its Sunday after all!), I manage to drag Chris up the stairs to the top of a hill I’d spotted the day before.  It’s a bit of a trek but the views over the town are nothing short of stunning, it really is such a lovely place.








Afterwards we’re back on the road and on our way to Foz.  We know nothing about the place except that there are a couple of wild camping spots so we go check it out.  I couldn’t be happier that we did, its one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  Our spot for the night is beside a very quiet and impeccably clean beach with crystal clear water that looks almost tropical.  We enjoy a long walk along the edge of the waves and spot a beautiful horse in a nearby field.

Town is a fifteen minute walk away and quite a surprise.  We’d expected a handful of basic shops but there’s quite a large town centre and some bars that are pretty bustling for a Sunday afternoon.  There’s also a pet shop with PUPPIES in the front window *swoons*.  Sadly, being Sunday, it’s shut so we’ll have to go back tomorrow so I can coo at the bunnies they also have in store.

We spot the port area and are quite taken aback by the beach area beside it.  The sand is bright white and meets the sea to one side and the river to the other.  The river is backed by huge hills and the panorama is amazing.  There is a long ‘paseo’ following the sea which juts in and out along with the cliffs and makes for a gorgeous walk back to the van for dinner.
  

Excuse me Spain but there seems to be some sort of wet stuff falling from the sky.


Day 27 - 19.05.12 Luarca

We get an early start and hit the road to Luarca, a small fishing town.  Seaside stops are getting thinner on the ground now we’re heading towards the rocky coast of Galicia but nonetheless Luarca is a gorgeous stop off.

We park up beside a horse-shoe shaped bay with the best sounding waves I’ve ever heard.  Much of the sea so far has been quite loud and boisterous but the shape of the bay thins these waves out so they sound like a relaxation CD, blissful! 


Luarca is a thoroughly charming place and I can’t help but smile the whole time we’re there.  The little boats on the harbour and adorable houses overlooking the river are just so damn cute!  The only down side is the Luarca is lacking in beaches.  Our bay has one but it spends most of the day under water and only emerges when the tide goes out at night.  Despite this, Luarca is the first place in a little while that we both find ourselves falling for, it’s just so endearing!

Our exploring of the town is cut short by one hell of a rain shower.  The rain is incredibly heavy and we curl up in the van for a good couple of hours until it finally dies off.  Night time in Luarca is just as beautiful as all the bars and restaurants around the fishing bay are lit up, so much so I got up out of bed and got dressed to go take a picture!


My kingdom for a launderette!


Day 26 - 18.05.12 – Salinas

Our second day in Salinas is a quiet one.  We venture into town in the hope of finding the elusive launderette but no joy.  They were everywhere in France but they only seem to have dry cleaners here and they’re very costly.  More hand washing for us then! 

Salinas is a very odd kind of town with a strange mix of housing.  Alongside one end of the beach are lots of high rise flat blocks which look a little old and somewhat run down.  Only 30 seconds walk later you find swanky beachfront dream houses with fantastically individual styles.  They are built on humungous plots of land and many seem to have fallen out of an episode of Grand Designs.  There is no middle ground here and the super swish homes seem somewhat at odds with the laid back surfers’ paradise Salinas tries to be pitching itself as.  Nonetheless we feel comfortable enough to spend a second night here which is always a good sign!

We spend the rest of the day making the most of the warm showers, using the nearby wifi to catch up on emails and you guessed it more hand-washing! 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Navigation

Sat nav

As much as we may moan about little niggles, we simply could not be without our Sat Nav.  After much research and deliberation we opted for the TomTom XXL Western Europe and we’re pretty pleased with it.  There are more expensive models on the market with all sorts of added bells and whistles but this one does everything we need at an affordable price.  It comes pre-loaded with all the roads in Western Europe and is pretty darn accurate even down to small winding tracks.  It lets us know if the route includes toll roads so you can avoid them if you choose (we’ve so far made it from Dover to Asturias without paying a single toll).  You can personalise its suggestions in all sorts of ways to economise on fuel or cut down journey times and wherever possible it seems to avoid sending us through city centres which with some of the driving we’ve experienced so far is ESSENTIAL!  Lane guidance is probably the most useful gadget on the XXL as the road signs especially in Spain can be somewhat difficult to follow and lanes can disappear off as exits with little notice!  Thankfully the Sat Nav will always give us plenty of notice to move over!

Autoroute and POI maps

One of the oddest things about our plans is that we left the UK without a tangible road map.  I’ve always found them hard to follow and they just take up so much room we didn’t bother.  Instead we have Microsoft Autoroute Europe 2011 on the laptop.  It’s similar in style to google maps but does not need an internet connection.  We just use it alongside the sat nav for reference but there is a GPS version if you wanted to use it as a major form of navigation.  You can navigate through road maps or terrain maps and search for towns and cities quickly.  The best thing for us is the POI maps you can download for Autoroutes.  Our favourite and quite frankly our bible, was put together by Adam and Sophie over at Europebycamper and can be found here: http://www.europebycamper.com/2012/03/europe-gps-poi-files-for-autoroute.html

It puts together wild camping spots, aires, Lidls for cheap food, McdDonalds for free wifi amongst many other helpful points. We use this map whenever we’re headed off to a new place to see where to park.  We find the longitude and latitude, punch it into the sat nav and away we go.  It really is a fantastic help to have all the information in one place.  It may not be an ideal set up for some people who may prefer to find their own spots but considering our limited driving experience we’re not fans of just driving round cities looking for a parking spot as its often pretty stressful!  By all means, some of the spots are out of date and cannot be used anymore which is a frustration but we’re pretty flexible on our plans so we just move to the next one!

Tourist offices

Whenever we reach a new town the tourist office is always our first port of call.  Autoroutes will tell us where to find them, although they’re usually well signposted.  I’m always surprised at how even the smallest of towns have a tourist office so it’s always worth checking.  Tourist offices will always have a free map you can take away with all the major sites on, perfect for exploring.

As a side note, tourist offices are almost always the cheapest place to buy nice postcards from, often at half the price of the tourist shops!

Livin' in a surfer's paradise


Day 25 - 17.05.12 - Salinas

After seeing how few resorts there are on the upcoming stretch of road we decide to hit the supermarket and stock up on more food.  We also take the laptop into town and catch up on blog posts as we’d seen an unsecured wifi with the iphones the previous day.  It’s a long walk back from town with shopping bags plus laptop and its already early afternoon on our return.  After lunch we hit the road for our next wild spot at Salinas.



The roads are much busier on this route but the scenery is again spectacular with high roads over wooded valleys and tunnels through huge steep hills.  Salinas is a surfers paradise with a wide bay and great waves.  It makes for a very laid-back atmosphere and a warm welcome for campervans.  At the end of the long beach is a rocky outcrop with magnificent views over the sea and a great sculpture atop the jagged rocks. 

There’s a big toilet and shower block along the promenade with warm showers (heaven!).  We also find a restaurant with unsecured wifi (JACKPOT!).  We park the van in the public car park right next to the restaurant and 2 minutes from the shower block, the perfect spot!  We get plenty of time to catch up on all things internet and skype home to family.  Afterwards we go for a quick wander around the centre of town and make it back to the seafront to enjoy our first proper sunset over the waves.  Bliss!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Getting our Gij on


Day 24 - 16.05.12 Gijon

We would have loved to have stayed longer on our little private beach but sadly privacy means no supermarkets and we were running low on food.  We decided to head for Gijon, our first big city for a little while.  The drive was great; the van was finally running pretty well, the roads were quiet, we had some Faith No More on the stereo and the views were phenomenal.
Coastline and beach in Gijon, Northern Spain
Church in Gijon, Northern Spain
Our spot for the night was a free car park separated from the sea by a gorgeous green park.  It’s a little way out of town but the walk in along the sea front is very nice, if ridiculously windy today!  There are lots of people out in the sea kite-surfing, windsurfing and just plain surfing, it looks like pretty tough going but it makes for fun viewing!

Gijon was damaged very badly in the Civil War, so there isn’t a great deal of history left here and not a lot of sights to see.  Nonetheless the spread of the city along the long beach means it has all the amenities of a large city with a much greater feeling of space.  It’s a clean, relaxed and well looked after city, and whilst there’s not a lot of the sight-seeing list it’s an enjoyable place to be. 

We find a park on the edge of the city and spend a good deal of time there.  There’s a huge aviary with lots of unusual birds including emus and an albino peacock.  We also spot a lovely red squirrel.  There’s a big lake with lots of peacocks wandering around the edge and a stunning rose garden.  It’s a very lovely place to pass a couple of hours and enjoy the sunshine which is back in force today.