Well, hello there. Shall we first address the issue of me being extremely lame and not posting a blog for, ahem, six months? I am aware that this means I have zero self-discipline and I am a very naughty sausage. I have no other excuse than I am enjoying life very much, but really I think it’s because I’m VERY easily distracted, especially where wine is concerned.
I have actually written a lot in those months, I just haven’t been organised/patient enough to upload and edit the photos cause that part is well fiddly and takes flippin ages. So, my self-inflicted punishment is saying three Hail Mary’s and drinking five Bloody Mary’s; I hope you agree that is a fair and reasonable penance.
The last blog left us in Strasbourg in early October, and from there we made our way down through Switzerland to the South of France, following the coast into Spain, and along the entire east and south coast. We made it all the way to Albuferia in Portgual before making an abrupt turnaround on 7th December to head back to the UK for Christmas.
In that couple of months, we had several sets of visitors come out to join us and discovered that we are a lot more popular now that we have left the UK. Merely a coincidence, I’m sure. We did a fair bit of partying in tourist spots, we chilled out in remote locations, ate some of the best food we’ve ever known (and some of the not so great food!) and I’m extremely proud to say that we honoured every single Drunk Monday within that time.
Jumping back to where we last left you, I have to say that my enduring memory of Strasbourg, even with it being one of the most beautiful cities we’ve visited, is the fact that we ate THE best Indian meal we’ve ever had (and we’ve had quite a few!). Honestly, it’s worth booking a trip just to eat that again (it’s called Le Madras if anyone does actually go there). I actually had tears in my eyes at the end of the meal because I was so sad it was over.
Talking of tears in my eyes, I have to mention that at some point in Strasbourg I got stung by a wasp just under my left eye. Please folks, don’t try this at home. It stings like a smack round the chops with the underside of a golf shoe, and leaves you looking like you’ve been in the ring with Mohammed Ali.
After Strasbourg we headed south to meet our pals, Jo & Ju, at Geneva airport. We were destined only to spend a few days in Switzerland, which is a bloody good job really as it’s the most expensive place we’ve been to so far on this trip. Where we’d been paying around €18 a night for a campsite, the one we stayed at in Solothurn was €55 euros! I want a gold-plated camping pitch and complimentary teeth whitening for that amount!
We were full of excitement to collect Jo & Ju, who were going to be with us for just 48hrs. We picked them up from Geneva airport in The Beast (the Winnebago), and as we were about to drive away there was a frantic bang on the door. They’d only brought our other friends Andrea & Nick with them as well, as a surprise! I think I squealed loud enough to set off airport defence systems.
Suffice to say, that weekend, things got firmly out of hand. On the first night Phil brought out his beloved karaoke microphones (I’ve no idea where this new obsession comes from – Phil has never sang in public, or entered a karaoke bar, since I’ve known him). Ju, at first, was giving it “I don’t do karaoke” but by midnight you wouldn’t have been able to prise the microphone from his cold, dead fingers. He even fell asleep still clutching it.
We spent Saturday in Geneva city centre, but having checked into a campsite just over the French border, there was much confusion for the rest of the weekend about whether we were paying in Euros or Swiss Francs. It might sound simple but after several drinks we had no idea what we were doing and just held out our hands with both currencies like children who can’t count. We rounded off our weekend with the highly offensive game ‘Cards Against Humanity’ and eventually bundled them back onto a plane, broken and in need of medical care.
After we’d finally recovered from their visit, which involved lying down in a darkened room, whimpering softly for a couple of days, we realised the weather was gloomy and it was only going to get worse so we made the executive decision to belt out the 362 miles directly south within two days, to reach the South of France as soon as humanly possible. It was definitely the right decision; we arrived in 25 degree sunshine and had beach views. The flip-flops and shorts came out and stayed out for nearly 7 weeks. Cannes lived up to it’s glitzy image and we stayed for four nights reveling in the warmth and gawping at the massive yachts.
When we left Cannes we intended to try and spend some time in St Tropez but as we drove through the town we weren’t really enamoured with it after the more impressive glitz of Cannes and so pushed on further south to a small port town called Cavalaire-Sur-Mer. Another good decision as we found an enormous campsite almost to ourselves and the town was really pretty, if a little sleepy in October.
By this time we were expecting our second set of visitors and were to collect them from Carcassone airport. En route we encountered a slight hiccup as we passed through Marseilles, when our satnav (which I’m beginning to think is possessed by the spirit of Jeremy Beadle) took us right into the centre of the city and directed us down a street with a road that is 2.6 metres wide. The Beast is 2.7m wide, and cars were parked all down one side of the road. Gulp. The road got narrower and narrower until we were basically wedged between a bollard and a parked car, with a long row of cars behind us filled with irate drivers leaning on their horns. Eventually Phil and some of the men in the huge crowd that gathered physically lifted the parked car a foot to the right and we got through with about 2mm to spare!
Once we were close to Carcassone we decided to try staying in an ‘Aires’ which are parking areas specifically for motorhomes, which are sometimes free or at most a few euros. We hadn’t tried them previously because we were easing ourselves into life on the road and you aren’t guaranteed an electric hook-up, and for me the fact that you’re not in a ‘secure’ campsite means I’m a little more nervous, mainly because I won’t leave her royal ladyship, Madame Bridget, in the Winnebago unless we’re in a totally safe area. However we were very pleasantly surprised by our Aires experiences. The first night was free and we parked next to a canal. The second was €10 and was a car park right next to the beach. It really was sensational to wake up and have the beach right there in front of us. We didn’t have electric hook ups in either but we learned our lesson on the first night that the batteries give us up to 5 hours of power. So now we know just to ration it. There is the option of the generator which gives us full power but it’s a big, noisy bugger and we can imagine other campers would get pretty ticked off if we ran it.
And so, it was time for our next guests. Phil’s best friend Anthony (AKA Stack), his wife Sarah, their 14yr old son Braydon and our friend Alex. They arrived on Alex’s birthday so we had a reason to celebrate (like we need an excuse!) and so we found a great campsite, again right on the beach but this time with more facilities and electric hook-up so we could entertain our guests better.
Suffice to say, that weekend, things got firmly out of hand (do you detect a repetitive theme here…?) Lots of booze, a huge BBQ, a skinny-dipping Alex and several bad heads followed. We travelled south into Spain and spent Drunk Monday in Barcelona which, despite the weather taking a turn and it chucking down with rain most the day, was great fun. Somehow 14yr old Braydon always manages to be the best behaved person in our group, with this weekend being no exception. We packed them all off again to the airport on Tuesday morning and made our way further south (after spending some time lying down in a darkened room whimpering softly, obviously).
The next two weeks, which was the first fortnight in November, we spent ‘in recovery’ in various delightful campsites down the east coast of Spain, including Villanova, La Masia and Vinaros. The weather was consistently lovely, apart from a couple of poor weather days which we use as ‘Pants Days’, meaning we don’t bother putting on proper clothes and lie around watching movies, rummaging in cupboards for snacks. As we were in Low Season and we were armed with our ACSI card, we got some great deals and were often pretty much alone in campsites.
This might not sound like fun but we had our trusty moped, Beauty, to get us to the action when we wanted, and it was bliss to have such gorgeous places to ourselves. Besides, it’s a scientifically proven fact that all it takes is two Dickens and a bottle of Jägermeister to make a party.
The next significant event was the arrival of my Mini-Me, Andrea (yes the one who had banged on the door of The Beast at Geneva airport a month previously) and her wonderfully adorable mum, Maureen. Andrea is my Mini-Me because I am 5’9″, blonde, loud, uncontrollable and easily excitable, and Andrea is 5’2″, blonde, loud, uncontrollable and gets so excited she squawks. Maureen is even more pocket-sized than Andrea but equally loud and definitely uncontrollable, even with industrial strength sedatives.
Maureen rents out a villa in Playa Flamenca on the Spanish coast every Winter and so it fit in perfectly with our plans to collect them both from the airport and then stick around for a few days. Maureen arranged for us to park across the road from her lovely villa and we had a glorious time soaking up the sun and getting Maureen addicted to Bloody Mary’s. Eventually, we waved goodbye to Little Mo, who probably spent the next couple of days lying down in a darkened room, whimpering softly.
We collected Nick (Andrea’s fella, the other one banging on the door at Geneva airport the previous month), which I’m sure Phil was delighted about because he’d been surrounded by noisy women all week. The following day we had a full house with Jo & Ju arriving. Once everyone was on board we moved on to the cultural hub that is Benidorm to soak up some history, architecture and fine dining.
I would like to report about our time in Benidorm but my memories are somewhat hazy. I do recall Jo buying old lady pyjamas for everyone in the town centre, which we all wore on the walk home, and during that walk we collected a young German beat-boxer and his mum and for some reason took them home with us. Phil thrusted his karaoke microphones upon them, Ju fell asleep in his pink owl pyjamas and we eventually realised they must be terrified and popped Zee Germans in a taxi home. Standard evening.
Once we’d dispatched the visitors at Alicante airport (cue the whimpering and darkness) we had a few days before our next visitors touched down in Malaga. Louise and Kerrie, friends I’d made in London over 10 years ago, joined us for a proper road trip and in the three nights that they were with us we stayed in three different places – Marbella, Cadiz and Seville.
Things got out of hand (we are at least predictable and consistent, you have to admit) but we did have a sensible moment when us three girls took a ‘Paella & Sangria Making Class’ in Seville. It was informative, the paella was delicious and we drank the Sangria in about 7 seconds. I can’t say I remember how to make an authentic paella but I do remember how ridiculously MASSIVE the pan was and how unfeasible it would be in any normal kitchen.
Once the lovely girls had flown home from Seville, we crossed the border into Portugal. Prices dropped even further and we had a few days in a little town we found called Tavira. And there we found the best fish we have ever eaten in our lives. It was in a little unassuming place named Tres Palmeiras that looks a bit like a bus stop, and you just sit down outside on the long benches, if you can find a seat. There is no menu; they bring you bread, salad, potatoes and your drink of choice (wine, beer or soft drinks). They then bring you plates of extremely fresh fish, straight from their BBQ, and keep bringing it until you beg them to stop. We ate there twice, and ate until we were stuffed (probably 6 fish on each day), and paid €24 total on both occasions! Unbelievable.
Our final visitor before we turned and headed back to the UK was Stack, Phil’s best bud, who joined us for a couple of nights in Albuferia. The first night was a fairly quiet affair with me feeding him a vat of chili and us all calling it a night by 1am. The next morning the three of us did some crazy off-road buggying that really blew the cobwebs away (this was NOT your typical tourist experience!) and made it back full of adrenaline and with sand-covered faces, teeth and eyeballs.
And then somehow in the next 24 hours we managed to bust Stack up so badly that he was almost pleading to go home. I think we all really need to learn how to pace ourselves.
Once we’d dropped Stack off at the airport on 7th December, it was time to set the satnav for Calais and tackle the 1370 mile journey over nine days.
As we were nearing Christmas, and I absolutely LOVE Christmas, I purchased some reindeer slippers and did most of my share of the drive home wearing them, much to Phil’s despair.
We pelted up through mainland Spain and France, not really having time to explore and feeling the temperature drop with every mile northwards. A quick stop at a lovely vet just south of Calais to get Bridget sorted so she’d be let back into the UK without any problems, and we were back on board a Channel Ferry, 104 days after setting off.
It could have been a gloomy arrival back to dark, cold, rainy England but we were so happy at the prospect of seeing family and friends, and did I mention that I LOVE CHRISTMAS, and mum always gets tonnes of Baileys in at Christmas. Which I love. And reindeer slippers, as well as being practical and stylish driving footwear, aren’t a bad temporary substitute for flip flops.