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Travelling Spain with Two Dogs & a Parrot

With a good internet connection, I can work remotely from anywhere, so my husband Rob & I took advantage of this & are travelling Spain with our pets & everything we own packed into an estate car with roof-box.

Last Days in the Yellow House
30 November 2018

For a week, the plumber came each day.

He installed a new (bigger) water tank, but still the water barely heated to tepid.  Half-way through the week, he identified a leak so the water was draining straight out of the tank & not remaining in there long enough to heat up.  By keeping the valve closed at the bottom of the tank, the water heated up.  We just had to open it when we needed to use hot water, then close it to ensure the water heated.

Not ideal but OK for a few days.  Eventually, a week after we'd arrived, after moving a log store outside & drilling into the wall, the plumber fixed the leak & we had hot water.

In addition to clothes, I'd brought the basics of bed linen, towels & fleece blankets with us in the event that these were not provided. I suspended a couple of my large fleeces from the banisters to block-off the open stairs in an attempt to stop heat disappearing.  It definitely wasn't pretty, but it did cut out some draughts.  The small wall-mounted electric radiators in most rooms didn't kick out much heat, just enough to almost remove the chill in the air.  When we spotted a halogen heater in a shop window, on impulse, we bought it.  It was so bright we need sunglasses if sitting near or facing it!  We also became used to layering-up with clothes, thick socks & fingerless gloves, feeling like the Mitchelin Man, but still having cold extremities.

When it was sunny during the day, which was actually most of the time, it was warmer outside, but due to the garden being enclosed by high walls & gates, the sun only reached small areas inside.  I bet it's a beautiful place in the Summer.

As the house was half a mile down a single lane track & we didn't yet have a battery charger, we took the car out for a run every couple of days. It was also great to warm-up with the car heaters on!

Honestly, we had to go a drive in the car to truly feel warm...

At the beginning of December, I returned to the UK for my daughter's birthday & the three days I was away in freezing Manchester, Northern Portugal was battered by storms with high winds & torrential rain.  Poor Rob was more-or-less house-bound & had a total power cut for a few hours.  We cannot light candles as they are poisonous to parrots & with no gas at the property & everything, including the cooker hob all being electric, he couldn't do anything, not even make a hot cuppa.

It was a miserable time.

When he drove back up the lane, part of the retaining wall for the field at the side had collapsed & he had to roll away boulders to get the car past.  They were all large & heavy so he couldn't move them far & it was a tight squeeze to get past with the car. I'd previously spotted a worrying bulge in the wall, but it wasn't this that fell, but another part of the wall a short distance away.  We were understandably concerned that it wasn't an ideal long-term home for the Winter.

When booking the house, I'd paid the landlord a one-off €35 to upgrade to faster wifi as without a good internet connection, I cannot do my work. Due to the location of the house, we had a mobile connection which had been pretty good. However, as the weeks went by, the signal deteriorated & kept disconnecting which was frustrating. Added to the cold (the house was barely warmed though after nearly a month), we knew we had to get out.

Searching Air B&B, we found an available pretty blue & white house in the Algarve at a reasonable price. Though we'd intended to stay another month in the North, then slowly work our way South through Portugal in stages, stopping off to stay somewhere central for a few weeks, the thought of Christmas in the Algarve was certainly appealing.

We were determined to explore & one evening we headed off to Amarante to see the Christmas lights & pop into the supermarket. We'd Googled options so followed directions around some narrow one-way back roads to get to the Continente so we weren't sure of the best route out. Exiting the car park & heading down a very narrow cobbled (of course) one-way street, it ended in a T-junction at another equally narrow cobbled street, both with no pavement & tall houses on either side.

Our Honda estate was a long car & often it's only Rob's advanced driving skills which get us through. Even he had a challenge that time. With a car close behind us & another approaching from the right, this was at least a six point-turn & part-way through, I almost believed we were stuck! Thanks to Rob, there wasn't a scratch on the car as we continued down the steep road.

I didn't want to miss out on a trip to Porto see the vineyards descending the Douro river valley, seen in every brochure for the area, so on our last weekend, we took a riverside road into the city. Parking at the Estádio do Dragão, we took the metro into Porto & had a lovely afternoon.

However, there were no vinyards to see, so the following day we went upriver instead.  As it was Winter, there were a few brown leaves on the vines showing the brown earth of the terraces below, so not the green rows I'd imagined.  It was a good day though & we enjoyed the drive to Peso da Régua & through the fields to Vila Real.

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Settling into our Yellow Portuguese Home
16 November 2018

The yellow house was cold.

We were cold from the very first evening & things didn't improve. We quickly realised that the lovely log fire actually kicked out very little heat.  The cast-iron free standing log burner in our Galician home acted as a storage heater.  Once it was heated through, it continued to eminate heat long after the logs had burned to ashes.  The fire here, built into the wall didn't.  Even if we were sat right in front of it, there was very little warmth.

The fire was linked to an electric pump which, once a certain temperature was reached, blew hot air through vents into the upstairs rooms in a kind of basic central heating.  However, in order to do this, air was sucked in which caused the logs to blaze & burn quickly.  Burn quickly they did & we knew our complimentary tonne would soon deplete.  There was an electic radiator in each room & we had these turned on full-time, but with an open staircase, the lounge-kitchen-diner below was uncomfortably cool.

I think the house had been empty a while as the bedding was chilled & felt damp.  The walls were cold through & it would take an age before they would warm up enough not to suck the warmth right out of each room.

To make things worse, the morning after arriving we had no hot water & the temperature dial on the tank hadn't moved from the position shown to me on our arrival.  The house was icy cold & now we couldn't even have a hot shower.  Needing provisions, we abandoned all thought of a wash & headed to Marco de Canaveses, the closest large town & found an Intermarche - all supermarkets in Portugal are open on a Sunday.  As we set off, we'd programmed Billy so we could find our way home.  However, as our house was off the main road, we'd had to choose a crossroads close-by on the lane above as the fix-point.

On the way back, we diligently followed Billy's instructions which led us up a cobbled lane neither Rob nor I could remember travelling on the way down into town.  Non-the-less we assumed that Billy had found a quicker or more direct route back.

No he hadn't & this was one of the many occasions that we exclaimed "FFS Billy!"

We climbed up, closely avoiding a red sports car driving downhill towards us, on our side of the road, round a blind bend - Portuguese drivers!  Another country & another near miss on the second day after arrival.  Just so long as they continued to be near misses & no worse...

Negotiating a fallen Eucalyptus tree, we continued to climb the cobbles right to the top of the hill.  The view was spectacular & the hillside was covered in massive rounded granite boulders.  Wanting to get back home with the food, we didn't stay, but planned to return with the dogs another time.

The cobbled road eventually ended in a single-lane of hard-packed dirt track, but still up for an adventure we continued on.  Eventually, after decsending down a steep lane we tipped out at the crossroads opposite our lane!  For some reason Billy had taken us up & over the mountain rather than the more direct & gentle route we'd taken into town.

Oh Billy!!

I knew that due to our new chosen lifestyle & adventures, that we'd have good & bad experiences with accommodation.  However, I didn't realise that we'd be able to feel if a house was right straight-away, but we did.  Just as we knew the pink Galician cottage was perfect as soon as we arrived, somehow we didn't warm to the yellow house.

It was a decent size, had all the facilities we needed (apart from hot water), had a secure garden & excellent views, but it didn't feel like home.  Both Rob & I sensed this exactly the same.

The lack of hot water was a problem & I'd emailed the landlord to ascertain if we'd omitted to do something. Following his instructions, I took photos to prove that all the switches were on in the fuse-box, the water tank was plugged in & the power indicator light was lit on it to prove this.

He promised to send a plumber the following day.

However, I was flying to London the following day for an annual client event & couldn't do-so feeling dirty.  We'd not had a bath since the previous morning & had packed, travelled, unpacked & shopped so were definitely feeling grotty.

As the flight was early from Porto an hour away, instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to drive, at 5pm, I booked a very cheap airport hotel for that night.  At least I'd (hopefully) be warm & could have a shower, so we set-off for Porto on Sunday evening.

As we'd travelled to the hotel on the motorway through many tolls, Rob decided to programme Billy to avoid tolls on the way back.  This was both to save a few Euros & in our right-hand drive car, Rob wouldn't have to get out of the car to walk around to retrieve the toll ticket & then make payment.

The journey there took less than an hour, so I was getting worried when he'd not called two hours after he'd set-off back.  Eventually a very frustrated Rob phoned.  He'd had a hell of a journey back, alone in the dark through the centre of Porto & it would have been worth the tolls to avoid the extra time taken, miles & fuel used!

Lesson learned!

Arriving in London by plane on Monday morning didn't feel any stranger than it did when trvelling by train from Nottinghamshire.  It was an alien environment for me either way.  I love working from home as a virtual PA & would hate to have an office job in the capital.  The event (which I'd helped organise) was a success & I returned to Porto early the following morning.  Now that did feel a little odd to be going 'home' to Portugal!

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Spain to Portugal
01 November 2018

We've been in Spain/Portugal/Spain for over a year now, so time to continue with my story from November 2017.

Two nights before our departure from Galicia, our dog Roxy went out, running across the field barking at a car & came back whimpering & limping with a very nasty deep & long cut on her leg.  We'd previously taken our other dog, Max to a vet in Sarria when he had a flare-up of his ongoing ear infection (he's a Cocker Spaniel) & knew they had a 24 hour service.  however, the surgery was unlikely to be manned  at that time, 10pm & would we be understood on the phone?

I had to try & called.

Fortunately, the vet had an English speaking friend with her & they were both waiting at the surgery when we arrived.  Two hours later at midnight, Roxy's leg had been stitched & bandaged & she'd revived from the anaesthetic.  We gratefully thanked the vet & her friend Chris & paid the modest €90 for treatment which included a check-up in two days time.

On moving day, we'd packed-up the car in good time as our Air B&B hosts had promised to come see us off & we hoped to settle with a cuppa first.  But the boot was so jam-packed that the tailgate wouldn't close.  Worse still, it had caught part-way so wouldn't open with the key fob & we couldn't see a manual release.  Even worse still, we then noticed that one of the rear tyres was looking a little low & the pump was in the boot side panel & totally inaccessible, buried under everything...

We had to empty the boot over the back seats to a point where we could shut the tailgate properly, to re-open it.  Fortunately it was dry as the heavy rains of the day before had cleared & we could place all our possessions on the drive.  The pump was retrieved, the tyre inflated & everything re-packed, so we were a little fraught by the time our hosts arrived.  They brought us a lovely traditional tortilla dish :-)

Note to self - check tyre pressures before packing-up the car!

After popping to the vets for Roxy's bandage to be removed & a cone of shame issued, we had a good journey from Galicia over the border into Portugal. As holiday lets were expensive, I'd found a house (yellow this time) on a monthly rental near Amarante, an hour's drive east from Porto.

We had a great journey over the mountains, crossing a small river to mark the border on the motorway.  An immediate difference in Portugal was the need to pay tolls & we pulled over to register our credit card for automatic debit as we drove past the camera check-points.

We made good time with an anticipated arrival time just 30 minutes later than planned.  However, as Billy couldn't find the new address (surprise, surprise), we'd programmed him as far as the nearest big town, Amarante.  Leaving the motorway, but not going towards Amarante, we switched from Billy to Google.  All went well until we reached Ponte (how many 'Ponte's are there in Portugal & Spain?), but this particular ponte was closed, no-way across the river!

With a little frustration we reversed & took the first turn, uphill as it happened.  Trusting Google, we followed the directions with confidence & then we were instructed to make a turn.  The road was then steep downhill & cobbled - we subsequently discovered that most side roads in this area of Portugal used blocks of the freely available granite for paving.  However, as we'd had to inflate a tyre in the morning, Rob was worrying about his wheel.  We bumpily drove down a winding road between vine fields, very scenic in their Autumn colours, but Rob was tired, frustrated & beginning to get grumpy.  We stopped to check the tyre & all was OK so we continued.  We crossed the river (yaaay!) & climbed the cobbles up the other side.

I'd seen on Google that the house was down a lane, but when we arrived, it was a really steep slope off the side road at an awkward angle from the direction we'd arrived.  We parked-up & setoff on foot in the twilight.  The cobbles on the single-track lane soon gave way to grass & mud with high banks, but on we walked downwards, eventually arriving outside the yellow walls of the house.  The host's mother was there to greet us, an enthusiastic French lady who spoke a little Portugese, but no English.  She showed us everything & had lit a fire, although some information was undoubtedly lost in translation as I had very little Portugese & some schoolgirl French, but with a FrancoPortugEnglish mix, we got-by.

She was too much for Rob who departed back up the track to fetch the car & pets, but then she wanted to explain everything again to him.  Eventually I persuaded her to leave so we could unpack & eat.  The outside area was lovely & secure with high walls, a good concrete drive next to a large covered outside kitchen area & we settled into our yellow Portuguese home.

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Daily Mozzie Hunt
31 August 2018

Snap, crackle, fizz!

That's such a satisfying sound - part of the war on mozzies. We've had them in every home apart from the places we've stayed over winter.

I love animals & respect life, rescuing spiders & catching wasps to put them outside, but mosquitos are different. Biting mozzies & annoying, determined, dive-bombing flies meet a quick end.  When we can catch them.  When existing bites beginning to itch once again is usually a good indication of a mosquito lurking somewhere close-by.

I once had a thick paperback book with mozzies squashed to the pages inside.  Well, it was an ideal way to catch them as the pages were slammed shut. A book, slipper, shoe, newspaper, my hands, dedicated long-handled fly-swat & electronic ultra-violet zapper have all been tried to varying degrees of success.

Any kind of chemical, essential oil or candles are poisonous to birds, so we're unable to use a repellent, either on ourselves, or in a plug-in diffuser.  We tried spraying with baby-safe Agua de Colonia & sleeping with a fan blowing, but that didn't work & we'd wake with irritating red bites.  So the frequent nightly mozzie hunts are done with hand tools.

You can get a good swing with the fly-swat, but catching a mozzie mid-flight with a back hander from the electic tennis racquet & you know it's fried. Snap, crackle, fizz & a blue spark - aaaaah, the satisfaction.

I'm sure itchy, scratchy, bity, tacky, sticky, sweaty & stinky are the seven dwarves of a Spanish summer frown

"But", you may say, "You live in Spain & mozzies are a part of it so get used to it."

Yeah, I know, but an unwelcome part, certainly.

Rob reacts bad to bites & I did ask before we committed to leaving England, whether he could cope with the irritation, blisters & pain.  His answer, simple, due to the fact that we're here.  So, where possible, we avoid being out when the mozzies are & hunt them down inside.  The rest of the time, we itch & scratch, popping antihistamínico when things are really bad.

Like the time Rob's hand swelled-up when we were in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

We nearly went to the hospital, but decided to show a local pharmacist first.  She was very matter-of-fact when seeing his hand & didn't seem unduely concerned as she issued some topical cream & a dedicated antihisto.  So we decided to give them a try & Rob saw & felt a big improvement very quickly.

We've found Fenistil to be a good gel to apply topically to a bite as it relieves the itch very quickly.

Other times, Rob's bites blister & if there's a few close together, they merge - nasty.  The rest of the time, the rash extends in a wide area.

So we do spend time trying to erradicate any flying critter that might be a mosquito.  Moths are safe & so are the long legged spiders lurking in their lose webs in each corner of each room.  Hopefully they catch & eat mozzies.

This house doesn't have insect screens, so although we do close the windows in the day to keep out the heat, the cooler night air is welcome.  We bought some do-it-yourself kits of sticky-back velcro & fine net & attempted to fix this on the outside of the window so we could close the windows from inside.  It was a fiddly job, so we resorted to sticking it to the inside & going out to close/open the windows.  Not a problem when we live half our lives out under the shady terrace.

There's a multi-coloured tape fly curtain up at the front door, bought before we set-off to keep Woody from flying out, so where do the mozzies get in?  & how do they get in your undies to bite under a tight waistband or bra strap?  & why do you only feel them as they fly-off after enjoying a bloody snack?

The fly curtain's been great BTW, it's been up at every house, pulled down by the dogs, tangled around in the wind, stood on, trapped in the door, yanked as it caught a sweaty body when we walked through & not one tape has snapped or pulled away from the top rod.

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Enjoying Galicia
17 August 2018

Saturday dawned bright & sunny so as we packed-up the car & cleaned the apartment, I was disappointed to be busy rather than back on the beach enjoying the good weather.  Once again, the car was full to the brim & with all of us cramped as we setoff for Lugo in Galicia.

Billy didn't recognise the exact address of our new place, so we input the nearest large town of Lugo & setoff down motorways with very little traffic.  A pleasure to drive, but the quiet roads were slightly odd too.  Approaching Lugo after driving for around three hours, I switched to Google maps (via the Air B&B app)for directions to the house.  Despite investing in a TomTom with European maps, Google proved to be more reliable & effective on many occasions.

We arrived at a pink house in rural Galicia on a hot sunny afternoon to be greeted by the host Maria Luisa & her son.  The rustic property was immaculately clean & we had a welcome package of food & wine.  We immediately settled down inder the shade of a fig tree to absorb the beautiful view & total silence.  I've never been anywhere so quiet as even in the countryside, there is usually the sound of dogs barking or someone with a tractor or chain-saw.  Not here, it was so peaceful & we immediately relaxed knowing we'd be settled here & extending our initial two week reservation.

It was too hot in the sun, so we rested under the fig tree on the back yard.  Fig trees are not the best choice for siting close to the house as, in addition to autumn leaves, ripe figs were splatting all around us!  At least the fruit kept the wasps happy, Woody too as he was partial to a few fresh figs.

We'd been left a comprehensive folder of leaflets & brochures of the local area & informed of the annual San Froilán festival in Lugo.  This was a complete surprise, but a great experience of local folk dancing & music in the streets, bigger bands on stage, a funfair & street food.  Tapas in Galicia is free, but we were obviously recognised as being English at a bar & served cold chips & dip!  We had varied tapas delights during our stay in Galicia from nuts, to delicious hot pork ribs, traditional Galician cake, tortilla, pork scratchings, ham stew with chickpeas & fried mushrooms.

We visited Lugo on a number of occasions, exploring the old town & walking the 2km Roman city walls.  We did this at sunset, but I was disappointed not to have views over the surrounding countryside due to the new town buildings.  In the opposite direction, Sarria was a little closer to the house, more compact & had everything to offer that we needed.  We easiy found a couple of small supermarkets, then a larger one, but once again, it was during the last week (our 6th there) that we found another with more choice!

Sarria is on the Camino de Santiago, the French Route so busy with walkers just 111km away from their destination.  As a pilgrim needs to walk at least 100km to obtain their certificate, Sarria was also a popular setting-off point for those unable or unwilling to begin at St Jean Pied de Port in France!

The other direction from our house was Portomarin, also on the Camino further on from Sarria.  It was strange to walk across the old bridge many metres below the new & which is under water when the river is high.  However, in early autumn, the river is low & the water not backed-up from the Belezar dam further downstream.  The skeletal remains of the flooded village, now visible was a popular tourist attraction & for locals to enjoy on their Sunday afternoon walks.

We liked Galicia with its rolling hills, small fields broken by copses of oak & chestnut, the quiet roads & friendly, accomodating people.  We extended our stay from the initial two weeks (just in case the house wasn't suitable or the internet not adequate) by a further four.  The house was perfect with plenty of space & the open garden backed straight onto fields.  50% of the traffic on the road past were farm vehicles or milk tankers & log transporters.  Roxy was settled & as there were no people to bark as, she took to racing across the field barking at the lorries, something which would eventually get her into trouble.

The mornings were generally misty, clearing by early afternon at the latest to bright sunny days.  I started work early & an hour ahead of the UK, then when the mist cleared, took a lunch break in the warm sun, before continuing working until tea-time.  Then, in the mild evenings, we'd go for a drive, for coffee or a walk in town as it was buzzing with all the local shops open until 8pm.

This was a perfect work/life balance, just how we wanted to live & we truly felt more relaxed than in the UK.

Rob & I went out together.  As every journey was an adventure, we shopped together rather than one of us reluctantly nipping out on the chore as we had back in Britain.  We went exploring at weekends, visiting markets & towns, driving up hill & down dale in the colourful autumnal landscape.  We struggled with the language using gestures, Google Translate, pointing & smiling, sometimes not receiving what we expected, but always, the Spanish were patient & obliging.

Rob's PC began playing-up again, so we Googled computer repair shops & found a branch of PC Box in Lugo.  Taking the receipt from the Gijon shop made it easier to explain what had happened & get it repaired.  The PC needed a new hard-drive, but when we brought it home, it was speaking Spanish & Rob had to change all the settings back to English.  However, due to using a Spanish IP address, websites & search engines often defaulted to Spanish anyway.

Our Air B&B hosts were very obliging & one evening when we went out to find the car had a flat battery, came with jump leads.  We'd tried pushing, but the Honda estate was too heavy for the two of us & we couldn't get it off the gravel drive & onto the road.  We took a drive to Lugo to charge the battery & do a little shopping.  Popping into a national car spare shop, a new battery & also a charger were both well above €100 which we didn't want to spend.  We therefore decided the loss of charge may have been a one-off & decided to nip out & start the car on the days we wouldn't be going anywhere & have a drive if it struggled to start.

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Settling in to our first home
10 August 2018

Rob in our Galician homeRob had a high-spec tower PC to cope with his music programmes, so despite this taking up lots of space with accompanying amp, speakers & effects machine, it came with us. (The picture is his setup in our 2nd home in Galicia)

Shall I mention that we brought his guitar & cahonita too?

But then I had my sewing machine...

Anyway we were surprised when the PC worked after travelling so many miles in the car & on the high seas - except it didn't.  After a few days in our first rental, it seemed to overheat & turn-off so we decided to get it repaired.  Googling computer repair shops, we chose one in a unit on Gijon University campus over one in the city centre due to perceived ease of finding the store & being able to park.

Had we had to traipse on such an journey on holiday, I would have been less than happy, however this was our life with all the errands necessary to live.  After getting lost on the university campus, with the willing assistance from a couple of Spaniards, we eventually found the office.  But it was shut - our first experience of the long spanish siesta.

No matter, we headed for a cafe & sat outside to enjoy a dish-of-the-day lunch.  Returning a couple of hours later, the computer company office was still closed, so we reverted to Google & headed to our second choice in Gijon town.

Arriving at around 3.30pm, the store was closed until 4pm so we sat on the sea-front with an ice-cream watching the clouds gather.

The assistant at PC Box spoke enough English for us to explain & we left the PC with confidence that he'd be in touch after the weekend.

Saturday dawned wet & windy so we stayed in the dingy north facing lounge, peering at the sea through the mist & sadly, I caught-up on emails.  As I was back at work part-time on the Monday & due to moving, not having another full weekend available in the area, we headed out to sight-see on Sunday.  Expecting it to be busy, we none-the-less drove to Covadonga in the Picos de Europas national park.  We're from Derbyshire & it was so reminiscent of Matlock Bath!  The road in was busy, with cars parked on the verges & despite only costing €2 to park, chaos as drivers attempted to find somewhere for free.  There were umpteen lycra-clad cyclists adding to the traffic jams, so without stopping we spun round & away.  The valley below was packed with gift shops & coach friendly restaurants so we carried on futher, through a busy town on market day - so like Bakewell, it was disconcerting!

So we drove on, up a narrow gorge, the road winding for miles.  It was very dramatic, but too narrow to park, no-where to stop & snap a few photos.  According to my map, beyond the canyon, further up the mountain, there was a lake, so perhaps somewhere to stop.  The mountain views upwards were breathtaking & with trees in their autumn colours, the temperature remarkably warm.

But there was no lake next to where we drove :-(  Obviously there was a dam somewhere as the wide valley was completely dry.  We were high, but travelling back along another road (the CL-635 in Leon Province) the gently sloping fertile valley indicated otherwise.  A plateau in the hills, when we'd passed through, we were soon descending steep mountain roads again.

Approaching the coast & driving past Langreo, the beautiful scenery was replaced with a very industrial valley with many mineral mines.  We'd noticed that the rural houses in Asturias were well maintained, either due to profitable farming or Sidre-making businesses or holiday homes.  This was the industrial heart, necessary, but not that pretty.

Driving along the motorway after a dry day with sunny spells, we approcahed a 2km tunnel in the late afternoon sun & arrived at the other end into a different country!  It was misty, damp & cold at the other side & a great indication of how the mountain range affects the coastal weather in Asturias.

The beginning of October, Monday 2nd was a lovely warm sunny day, so afer working most of the day, we headed out for a meal.  Successfully finding the original local restaurant reccommended by our host at around 4.30pm, we sat outside in the sun & wondered why no-one came out to serve us.  After ten minutes or-so, thinking perhaps we'd not been seen, Rob went inside to order, only to return disappointed that they were closed.

No matter, we went to Villivisiosa, but found the same thing "Too late for lunch, but too early for dinner", we were told, so unable to treat ourselves to a meal!

Used to eating around 5pm-7pm, we struggled with the Spanish siesta & late hours of eating at the beginning our stay.  It took the hot summer before we adjusted to late evening meals. The Spanish eat late then start work relatively late at around 10am the following day, splitting their workday with a long break in the afternoon before returning to work well into the evening. It was strange to drive around town in the evening in rush hour traffic, but pleasant to be able to stroll around a town full of activity well into the night.

Following this bright day, it was a miserable wet week so I stayed-in & worked.  As our experience with this accommodation proved, it was best to initially book a new place for a short while, just in case it wasn't suitable.  This meant using holiday accommodation websites which wasn't the cheapest method, however, most holiday lets provided all facilities all inclusive.  Therefore, we budgeted by adding up the cost of all monthly bills we'd paid in the UK (rent, council tax, water rates, telecoms, insurance, heat & power etc) to give a more realistic figure.  After accommodation, our basic living costs were for food & fuel.

As we had no set schedule or destination in mind, our temporary homes were always dependent upon hosts who accepted pets, had internet & a garden.  This limited our choice & being unable to find anywhere suitable in Asturias (it would have been nice to spend more time near the sea), we found a place around three hours drive inland in Galicia.

As mentioned, we'd struggled to find a decent size supermarket so shopped at small local stores (actully happy to put some income into the local economy), but wondered on more than one occasion where the locals buy food!  On the very last evening before departing, we drove back a different way into Villaviciosa & found a large square with a central park & restaurants, grocers & supermarkets all the way around!  All the times we'd been into town, walked the streets & completely missed this area.  We were later to prove again that you need more than a few days in a place to find all facilities & become familiar with everything a community has to offer.

During the week we fetched Rob's PC back & he happily set this back up in the lounge in the main house.

However, in the middle of the week a Dutch WOOFA girl arrived in her camper van & was installed into rooms adjacent.  All of a sudden the dynamics changed as our hosts who had been missing for most of the time were suddenly there & attentive, cooking & ensuring Twink was settled.

We felt in the way.  We were paying guests, forced to use the main house to access the internet & cook for ourselves, whilst Twink was provided with food & lodgings in exchange for helping on the farm.  It was great to spend time with everyone, but frustrating fighting for time in the kitchen & having our stuff moved out of the way in the lounge.  Twink was also wary of dogs & noisy Roxy barked everytime she came close.

Fortunately, we'd soon be on our way!

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Musings on our first summer in Spain
02 August 2018

I'll catch-up with the story of our travels from where I left off last September, but we are still in Spain & after a couple of months of summer, have a few personal musings:

A few observations from a few summer weeks in Spain:

  • You cannot obtain cold water from the cold tap
  • You take a shower in this tepid water as it's at a comfortable temperature
  • Rarely do homes have ovens or vacuum cleaners
  • There are lots of ants
  • You don't leave food out, or leftovers on plates, or you'll have ants just where you don't want them
  • There are small ants that work in teams & march in long trails to/from their nest; there are bigger ants who seem to go it alone & massive black, proper ant-shaped ants striding out on their mission
  • It's fascinating to watch ants drag/push lumps of edibles towards their nest
  • Ants bite
  • Flies bite
  • Jumping spiders are fast, & they also bite
  • Wasps are attracted to dog meat
  • Agua de Colonia is safe for, & used on babies, but will stop insects dead instantly, quite literally
  • Damp washing dries in a few minutes, sheets off & on the bed in the same day
  • You don't have to think what to wear in anticipation of changeable weather, the same light clothes & sandals, day in & day out
  • You lightly wash the sweat out of clothing before the item is dirty
  • You don't wear much whilst at home anyway - time to ditch my summer wardrobe?
  • You wake to day after day of hot, clear sunny weather
  • When will it rain?
  • It's impossible to sit in the sun, unless very early or late
  • You retreat into the house in the heat of the day, shutters down
  • You spend more time sitting outside enjoying the cool of the night
  • You live between inside & outside, under the shade of the terrace in the breeze
  • A damp cloth on the back of the neck works wonders to help keep you cool - especially when the fan is on it
  • Feet in a bowl of water with ice cubes will also make you feel cooler
  • I can't remember the last time I shivered
  • Less PG Tips are drunk & more water, orange juice & beer
  • It's great to sit outside at night & be plenty warm enough, nicely cool after the heat of the day
  • The nights are lovely & cool so I stay up later, then sleep in & miss the deliciously cool morning
  • I need a siesta each day to enjoy both early mornings & late nights - how can I do my work around that...
  • Bin men work in the middle of the night
  • You seek shade when deciding where to park the car
  • You don't need anything, but visit the shopping centre just to enjoy the aircon
  • It's a pain to have to take rubbish to the municipal bins & drive around with a bag of recycling in the back of the car for days on end
  • I sit more, just sitting & not doing
  • We go out more & enjoy a beer &/or a meal
  • Spanish drivers are impatient, don't indicate & do tailgate
  • Motorists speed & keeping-up with traffic - we got a speeding fine
  • Spanish people are friendly
  • There are fields of sunflowers
  • What isn't there to like?

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First Days in Spain
20 July 2018

We embarked from the Pont Aven ferry in Santander just after midday on Monday 25th September 2017.  Vehicles with pets were last on & first off the boat.  It was Rob's birthday, but although he woke in the upper bunk smiling at this, that he was almost in Spain & off to a new life, due to worrying about the pets, I completely forgot until he reminded me!  Ooops blush

We activated the European map on TomTom which prompted directions from Billy Connolly.  He wouldn't accept the full address of our accommodation, so we put in the general postcode & setoff.  I had a road map so know the rough destination area, but as this was the first time driving outside the UK with a satnav, we'd bought TomTom for this purpose & thought Billy deserved a chance.

The E8 west was free flowing, the weather warm (if cloudy) & after a short break to exercise the dogs (strange to think that everything we owned was packed into that blue Honda), we approached Villaviciosa.  Billy announced that we needed to leave the motorway one junction before I would have thought necessary but, looking at the map, I could see an A road which would take us to to where it seemed we'd find our cottage.  However, it wasn't long before Billy determindly sent us onto roads too small for my map & I was lost.  They were very pretty, nearly single track roads which wound up & down through small villages, orchards & green, lush farmland.  This was also part of the Camino de Compostala so there were numerous hikers walking their pilgrimage.

All of a sudden, we seemed to be heading in the right direction to pick up the A road once again, when Billy insisted we go left, up the hill.  So, after reversing (as we'd overshot the junction) we did, on the winding narrow road to a tiny hamlet.  "You have reached your destination" announced a triumphant Billy "You may thank me & remember without me none of this would have been possible, you would have been hopelessly lost." he continued in his Scottish lilt.

Billy - "We are lost!" we exclaimed in frustration & laughed, but turned Billy off, otherwise he would have instisted we turnaround, "but the whole car, not just ourselves"...

I followed my nose & instructed Rob to "Head straight on."  Wondering if we'd end-up in someone's farmyard as had happened on our holiday drives before, he continued on to a junction next to a church which I recognised.  Consulting our new best friend, Monsieur Michelin, we headed down the same hill we had a short while before, passing the same hikers in our distinctive long blue Honda estate with roofbox...

I managed to get us to the general area of our accommodation, but then there were so many roads criss-crossing the farmland, we went up & down each one as I'd no idea what the house looked like.  The Air B&B description had said it was 1 kilometre from the beach, so eventually (I know, we should have done this first), we headed right down to Playa Meron.  For some reason, although I'd enabled data roaming, 3G hadn't worked on my phone since landing in Spain &, very unlike me, I hadn't recorded the host's phone number offline.  Watching Rob walk the dogs on the beach, I texted my daughter with my Air B&B login details asking her to login, contact the host Tilo & ask him to call me.

Meanwhile, examining the Google map printout (which I had thought to bring), we ascertained that, if it was accurate, the house must be 1km back up the top of the hill & drove slowly up looking for a place I might recognise from the listing photos.  "Let's try there" I pointed right to Rob, just as my phone rang & I noticed a guy in the yard of an orange building was holding his mobile to his ear!

A few hours later than expected & exhausted, but we were in our first Spanish home for the next 12 nights.

As we had so much paperwork to complete to bring Woody, I was concerned, that despite all the planning, that we'd never actually arrive in Spain.  Therefore, not wanting to waste money, I'd found the cheapest accommodation that I could just a couple of hours drive from Santander & booked for less than a fortnight.  The Air B&B listing attractively reported that the house was one kilometre from the beach - perfect!  Feedback indicated that the 'barbeque' was across the yard & knowing that most Southern European houses have an external summer kitchen, this wasn't a problem.  It was only after booking that I translated other reviews to discover that the kitchen was separate from the accommodation...

No worries, we were travelling to meet new people & experience, (well, new experiences!), that sharing a space would allow us to get to know new people.

We had two private rooms separated by a shower room, but they were tiny & soulless & we had no storage, even for our megre possessions.  Although our rooms attached the main house, the connecting door was locked & we had to cross the yard to access the kitchen, storage & laundry room via a lounge area. We were staying on a working organic fruit & vegetable farm & I immediately thought it was well setup for WOOFA workers, rather than holiday makers.  At least our rooms were clean whilst the main house was dingy.  There were missing light bulbs, cobwebs & dust whist there were slug trails on the worktop in the kitchen.  We had to go to the lounge for internet access too which could have been availabe in our apartment with a booster, but wasn't.

Added to our difficulties, there was a resident dog on the farm, a lovely young animal who was either left loose or tied-up.  He was always hungry & not shy of accessing our rooms so we lost our dog food & treats on more than one occasion.  We were permanently closing doors to shut the parrot in & dogs in, or out, depending which ones!  Our hosts leased the farm & worked hard managing the land, growing produce for the shops.

We knew almost immediately that we needed to move on from this place as it was too small for a long-term stay.  I was also feeling the slight stress that I always do the first few days of any holiday until I can relax into the change of routine & pace.  Therefore, I spent a fair few hours browsing holiday let websites for our next temporary home.

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Our Short Stay in Asturias
19 July 2018

I can understand why my brother & sister-in-law always take all-incusive holidays in package holiday resorts.  They climb off the plane, straight onto a bus, to be taken to their hotel without a hitch.  They dump their luggage & can head straight to the bar for an 'all-inclusive' drink, knowing a meal will be ready & waiting at the appropriate time.

We don't, even before moving to Europe on a permanent basis, we've always self-catered.  Rob likes to eat when he's good & ready, not wait for someone else to decide & he gets grumpy when hungry...  After getting lost, curtesy of Billy, we arrived late at our accommodation, hungry & tired.  After settling & feeding the pets, we were starving & having packed the car to the gills & needing to bring pet food, I'd had to throw all our food in Nottinghamshire.  This was except for PG Tips tea bags (2,400 to be exact - did I previously mention that?) which were vacuumed packed into large polythene storage bags - hidden in amongst clothes to avoid potential scrutiny by passport control.

Would PG Tips be banned?

We'd asked the host for restaurant recommendations & then turned the wrong way at the first junction & missed the close restaurant we'd been directed to, so had to drive a little way further to Villaviciosa.  Settling down at at town centre restaurant, we realised how little Spanish we actually knew.  Attempting to decipher the menu, the waiter fetched his English speaking colleague & this was something we subsequently experienced from the friendly Spanish.  I was pleased that I accurately ordered codfish which was delicious but Rob's meal of pork steak was nothing more than a fancy burger.

We hadn't noticed a supermarket on our travels, both driving & walking through town so had been unable to obtain essential supplies.  Therefore, on our second day in Spain, despite feeling very jaded from our days of travelling, all we had for breakfast were tea, coffee & cereal bars, so we needed to shop.  We arrived in Gijon/Xixon in glorious sunshine, but only seeing one possible supermarket on the way, but the opposite side of the carriageway.  After finding free parking just behind the seafront at the East of the town, we ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bay.  Whilst there, still not having 3G, I used their wifi to search for supermarkets.

Billy took us to the well-known chain no problem, but in the centre of town to what seemed to be the back entrance as all the shutters were down.  So, as I decided there must be an out-of-town retail park (so English an assumption really) & we spent a considerable time trying to find our way out of Gijon.  A town based on a grid network, many roads were one-way so whilst attempting to be Rob's eyes, warning of lane direction changes etc, I looked for any sign of a supermarket.  After a while, there was one, once again on the opposite side of the dual carrigeway, but it did have a car-park.

I encouraged Rob to turn left at the next opportunity, but as he changed lanes to the point of no-return, I spotted a large Lidl in the distance.  To add to our frustration, the left-turn fed us directly onto another dual carridgeway to who-knows where!  Many miles & a significant amount of time driving down A roads & small B side roads later, we managed to park-up at Carrefour for a quick shop for essential provisions.

A quick shop?!  No, this is Spain laugh

Talking out-loud to myself at the veg counter to identify the Spanish for carrots (Zanahorias) in order to weigh them & obtain a bar-code price label, a lady exclaimed "You're English?"

Enter the lovely Fatima & her young son Morgan.  Moroccan born Fatima from Lincoln (not far from our home in Notts) was on a university placement teaching English & enthusiastically told us all about her journey & experience living in Gijon for the previous few weeks.  Later-on, we bumped into each other on another aisle & continued our conversation for a long while.  Therefore, it was much later than expected when we left, concerned that the dogs had been shut-in for so long.

Exiting the car park (with right of way), we spotted a car approaching from the left & not slowing down (something we experienced many times on the roads).  Rob reacted, accelerated & swung right, but we were still bumped.  The other driver immediately admitted responsibility & fetched his documents, but after examining both cars, there was only superficial damage to both cars' bumpers.  Not wanting to experience the Spanish authorities so soon into our journey, we had to persuade the other driver (really, really hard - did we accidently break a law by doing-so?), that all was OK & we wouldn't be reporting him, nor taking the incident further.  Afterwards we did wonder whether it was illegal not to report an incident...

Having picked-up a couple of bottles of red wine for €1 each, settling down with a glass ended our first full day of our new life in Spain.

Asturias is a beautiful green region, not so different in fauna to the UK, so a good introduction to living in a foreign land.  The climate was similar too, so after a few days of (to us) hot sunshine, we experienced damp, drizzle, fog & rain, but it stayed warm!  During our 12 days, we had even thirds of hot sun, dry cloud & drizzle or heavy rain which would have been disappointing had we been on holiday.

But this was permanent!  We didn't have to return to the UK after a fortnight smiley

On the morning of day two, I setoff with the dogs down the hill to the beach for a few hours sun-bathing laving Rob instructions to fetch us at midday.  It was glorious, red hot & quiet with just a handful of others on the beach.  I'd noticed a guy walk down to take photos & he & Rob got chatting.  Chris was a watch-maker/clock & old camera repairer from Belgium staying in the local village.  He accepted our invitation for a beer & we spent a pleasant couple of hours back at the farm supping beer in the shade & putting the world to rights.

We'd arranged to meet for lunch the following day & after driving round & round the rural lanes lookinng for a green painted restaurant, Chris eventually flagged us down ouside one painted blue!  We were on 'holiday' at that point & this was first time we'd felt it, relaxing & drinking beers into the afternoon.

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On the Ferry to Spain
13 July 2018

Once the worry of pet paperwork was behind us, we had the concern of their accommodation on the ferry.  Britanny Ferries do have pet friendly cabins, but with just one dog allowed in each, it wouldn't have been practical to reserve two, had any even been available as these cabins are booked-up a very long way in advance.

As we had a parrot as well as the two dogs, I had called Brittany Ferries to find out what would happen to Woody, our African Grey.  Only dogs are allowed out of the car into pre-booked cabins or kennels & all other pets need to be kept in the vehicle for the duration of the sailing.  Therefore, I was advised to book on the Brittany Ferries flagship, the new Pont Aven due to its heated & ventilated car decks.

I booked our tickets in March 2017 looking for the first sailing in September on the Pont Aven with two large kennels available.  The website & booking form give sizes with examples of breeds which will fit into each.  As they refuse to admit dogs too large for any booked kennel, I erred on the safe side with the size of our dogs (a particularly big Cocker & Collie-cross only a little larger) & booked two of the biggest.  The first available single ferry tickets with two large dog kennels were on 24th September.  For a £35 deposit I grabbed these to work out the finer paperwork details later.

Dogs have to be muzzled when on the ferry & out of the car so we'd spent time at home getting Max & Roxy used to theirs.  However, despite my fears, they didn't have to wear them in the car during our long wait to board.  As pet owners (with a yellow sticker in the windscreen to indicate this), we were in the last few cars to embark & our fears of exhaust fumes from lots of vehicles entering the car deck were unfounded.

This was one stress less.  Birds are very sensitive to carbon monoxide (think mines & canaries), so we had worried for Woody.  But we had to say a hurried goodbye to her as we muzzled Max & Roxy to join other passengers & dogs leaving their cars.

It was a little hectic departing the car which was parked closely with other pet owner vehicles, everyone trying to head for the lift with dogs of varying sizes & temperment.  I was trying to put the muzzles on & grab bedding, bags & food supplies.  Rob was worrying about Woody & really didn't want to leave her.

Nervous Roxy panicked & had to be lifted to the lift where we joined other dog lovers on the ascent to deck 9 - the carry-handle on the back of her harness is ideal for this & also well-used...  I'd been issued with a magnetic pass for each of the dogs marked with kennel numbers, but as these were situated up a flight of steps, we went straight-on & into the outside exercise area.  This is a fenced-off area at the back of the helepad deck with a few wooden benches, a hose & bins for cleaning-up mess.  Clutching two dog leads (with dogs attached), together with a bag of essentials (dog food & bowls, blankets, a few toiletries etc), I plonked myself down on the nearest bench.  Roxy immediately crammed herself under the bench, her back against the wire fence & Rob disappeared to attempt to fetch Woody. I was stuck, as dogs have to remain on leads & I was unable to manoeuvre them up the stairs on my own.  However, I was also unwilling to cage them so soon.

It was a foggy day & I sat watching what I could of our departure out of Plymouth & took advantage of a mobile signal to call my two adult children before it was too late.  An age later Rob returned, minus Woody.  Unsurprisingly, he was not allowed to bring her out of the car.  He was feeling dejected, so I poured some of his birthday whisky into his birthday parrot mug & left him to go find food.  Returning with a pizza, he was in a much brighter mood & we spent until dark happily chatting to other dog owners, exchanging stories & experiences.

Eventually, we were cold & weary so took the dogs to their 'kennels'.  These are rows of metal cages, the smallest on a row above the largest, in an unheated room,  noisy with barking dogs.  The side walls between cages are solid, so despite having a neighbouring cage each, we put Max & Roxy in together with blankets, water & a supply of food & reluctantly left them.  I think we could have coped with the medium sized-cages, but having a large one at least meant they could be together. 

Some dogs had been very well cared-for with their own beds & toys, other owners hadn't been as thoughtful.  I'd brought an old fleece that they were familiar with, cut into two & plastic food bowels.  I was prepared to throw the fleece, anticipating some mess or vomit.  There were steel containers fastened to the cage doors for water, so I filled this from the tap available, put some dried food in their bowls & reluctantly left them.  At least they were together & hopefully wouldn't feel totally abandoned.

After refreshments in the cafe, we had an hour until 9pm when we'd be allowed to access the car to check on Woody.  We would be escorted to the car deck (weather & staff availability permitting) at 9pm & 8am the following morning.   Accessing our cabin for the first time, I rested, had a dram, but was unable to settle & have a nap in my bunk.

At 9pm we gathered at the information desk with other cat & parrot owners - surprisingly, there were four other parrots onboard!  Once again, we exchanged stories, in particular about our individual experiences of the paperwork required to export parrots from the UK to Spain.  Access to the car decks during the 24 hour crossing is allowed once in the evening & then again in the morning, but only in good weather & we were fortunate.

Woody seemed to be fine & totally unpurturbed by being shut in the car.  We ensured she had a supply of food, Rob fussed her & I spoke to her before leaving her for the night.  Not wanting to stress the dogs by raising their hopes of being freed if they saw us, we retired to bed.  I believe that there was entertainment, show, a cinema & shops to explore on the ferry, but we saw none of them!

After a sleepless night & breakfast, we were waiting impatiently & a little warily at 8am ready to go see Woody - who was absolutely fine & the other owners confirmed their parrots were too.  One of the cat owners' felines had been sick so that cannot have been a nice greeting when the car was accessed!  We packed-up the cabin, knowing once the dogs were freed, we'd be staying on the dog-deck with them.  Max & Roxy seemed to be no worse for their experience & of course, absolutely delighted to see us.

It was a  beautiful sunny morning & pleasantly warm, but with no sign of land, we spent a pleasant few hours speaking to other dog owners again.  A good hour before landing, we were then called to return our dogs to the car where we had to leave them, another unsettling process.  It had clouded over, but we excitedly watched Spain approach.

Pet owners were the first to be alllowed access to their vehicles & after docking, we were soon back in a dog pongy car & out on our way in Spain & a new life!


View back across the hele-pad to the fenced dog enclosure & view from the top of the steps over the dog exercise area.

The steps on the left lead up-to the kennel area


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