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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.

Living in Temporary Homes
08 February 2019

Not having a permanent home isn't for everyone as many people take pride in their posessions, furniture, decor, kitchens & gardnes etc & would hate to give them up!  We're more than happy however, to stay in temporary homes in new places & countries :-)

When I'd booked the Algarve house, I'd mentioned being cold in the North to our host.  So when we arrived, João showed me that he'd plugged electric radiators in every room to warm the house through - so lovely.

One of the benefits of an Air B&B holiday rental, even for long-term lets, was that power costs & internet were usually included.  You pay a service & cleaning fee with the rental cost & that's it.

Although we'd paid almost 50% less for a month's rental for the yellow house, the €100 cleaning fee & €250 deposit brought the initial booking cost up to about the same.  We were also later to discover that we 'apparently' owed an additional €63 for cleaning & an extra €218 for electricity as apparently, the power for the month cost a total of €468!

Lesson learned...

We also know from shorter self-catering holidays, that it's necessary to:

  • Find the fuse box - there was a fan heater at the Galician house which, when switched on, fused the circuit if there were too many other appliances already turned on.
  • Have a torch to hand - handy in the event of the fuse flipping out, or an overall power cut.  To-date, we've had power cuts in all but one of our temporary homes.
  • Have a spare gas bottle - if hot water is supplied by gas from a bottle, ensure there's a spare.  You can guarantee the gas will run out part-way through having a shower!
  • Ascertain how the water is heated - we've had electric hot water tanks (of varying sizes) & combo gas boilers (which needed batteries for the ignition).  If your hot water turns cold, you'll need to know why.
  • The water supply - is it town water, or from a bore-hole?  If a bore-hole, then the pump won't work if you have a power cut.
  • Torches & candles - keep a supply of batteries for the torches & matches for the candles (which do seem to be acceptable & available in some rentals).

Renting fully furnished & fully serviced accommodation is great, but you do have to put up with what's provided, rather than haven chosen it yourself.  Sofas & beds may not be comfortable either & appliances may not work well.

In the Algarve, the elderly washing machine didn't initially work correctly & there were no instructions, in Portuguese or otherwise.  After it didn't stop at the end of a cycle & went around a second time, I sat & watched & waited for it to finish.  (I'm not at all photogenic & this is not the most flattering photo!)

We've had cooker hobs where the diagrams & temperature guide has been rubbed-off & ovens with just two temperatures, very low & very hot!

I also work as a virtual assistant full-time so am sat in front of a computer for long hours.  Back in the UK, had a comfortable chair & dedicated desk setup at the right height.  Travelling means I have to use chairs of varying comfort & the kitchen or dining table as my desk.

I brought a laptop height riser & have separate keyboard & mouse, but often have pillows & cushions on my chair to find a comfy position.

But these issues are all part of the journey & the experience, they provide stories to tell, blogs to write & I wouldn't swap my current lifestyle!

Like 4        Published at 09:45   Comments (6)

The Black Kitten
25 January 2019

We've acquired a kitten!

We don't want a kitten & cannot have a kitten because of the parrot, but the kitten doesn't care.  It came running down the drive towards us when we returned home one evening & stayed, crying outiside.  We didn't feed it for two days thinking it would realise that there was no food here & that the dogs would chase it away, but kitten's not afraid of the dogs.

It was insistent & persistent, mewling pitifully & obviously starving.  It wasn't a typical stray, scavenging & hunting, happy to walk alone, it craved love & attention. 

We're in a single story house & it sits crying on the window sill of whichever room that we're in, including the bedroom - all night.  So we relented & gave it dog food, being fully aware it wouldn't then leave.

It's a cute little thing, jet black with bright green eyes & not very old.  It's also lightening fast, shooting in the crack of any open door & obviously doesn't have whiskers to indicate the gap is too small.  When taking it some food out, kitty squeezed past me & dove between Max's legs to tuck into his food.  Max wouldn't give up his dinner & snarled nastily, but did I mention that kitten's not frightened of dogs?

Roxy's intrigued by the constant feline presence & has now befriended it so they follow each other around.  I can imagine them eventually snuggling-up together, but we cannot keep a cat with a parrot as the smallest scratch can be leathal.  I took the dogs a good half-hour walk & kitty followed us all the way down the lane & around the fields & back.  It wants to play, but we can't form a bond or become attatched because what will happen to it then, when we leave the house & the Algarve?

I found an animal rescue centre in nearby Loule (Canil de São Francisco de Assis - AAAA Associação dos Amigos dos Animais Abandonados) so we set-off with the cat in the only box we had - a Sagres beer box.  Or tried to set-off, but the car battery was flat.  Due to this happening in Galicia, we'd bought a battery charger, but couldn't charge-up in time before the centre closed.

So, when they're back open in the morning, we'll try to take kitty there again...

But the car battery was flat again!  It didn't fully charge the previous day & we only went a short drive into Loulé so not far enough to really put the charge back in.  The engine was attempting to turn-over, so we left the charger plugged in whilst we turned the ignition...

& blew the charger fuse!

So we had a flat battery, a car too heavy to push, a charger that wasn't working & no transport to go anywhere!  I was about to call on our Air B&B host (once again), then thought to look in the box & found a spare fuse :-)

We'll now need another fuse for a spare, but then again, we'll not attempt to start the car whilst the charger is attached...

Is something in the universe informing us that it's not our place to take the cat to the rescue centre?

It's Friday now & they're not open again until Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, after a weekend of throwing the kitten out of the house time & time again, we determined, once more to take it to the rescue centre.  However, although the car started, the kitten was absent!  This creature which had permanently been under our feet for a few weeks!  Although we were tempted to call "Puss, puss", we didn't as we'd deliberately tried to avoid any affection.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), kitty soon appeared & was settled into his box.  Arriving at the St Francis of Assis animal rescue centre, we were informed that the decision makers were in a meeting & asked to wait, or take the cat to the municipal pound.

We waited.

It was sheltered in the yard & hot & the dogs barked, especially loud when workers walked through the pound.  The kitten was very wary for a while, then as he was being fussed, settled down to enjoy the warmth & attention.  An hour passed & once again, we were beginning to think kitty was destined to stay with us, so we waited.  The centre closed to the public for the day, but we were inside, so we stayed put.  Eventually a be-suited man, accompanied by a couple of women, exited the building & into the pound.  We'd arrived during opening hours, but apparently in the middle of an impromptu local authority inspection so had to wait a little longer whilst the official made his checks.

Finally, a friendly worker came over & fussed the kitten, exclaiming that he was so cute & friendly, then she took him out of the box & wandered off.  Although the centre was apparently full, they kindly accepted black kitty & we made a donation in thanks.

The rest of the week, I still thought I heard cries & expected a furry black shape to come shooting indoors.  I hope little kitty finds a good home as he'll be an affectionate pet for someone.

Like 2        Published at 09:03   Comments (4)

First Christmas & New Year Abroad
11 January 2019

I was determined to walk the beach on Christmas Day.  At the beginning of the year, we'd holidayed in Gran Canaria so for the very first time, I'd enjoyed my Winter birthday in the sun & a Christmas beach walk would just top-off the year nicely.

Although Christmas Day was cloudy it was also warm & we headed to Faro beach.  It was so great to wander across the sand with the dogs, before enjoying a beer & 'Pastel de Nata' Portuguese custard tart.  I was very content & we returned home for our quiet Christmas dinner.

Our Portuguese friends drove down from Setubal on 30th December so we had good company for New Year.

On New Year's Eve, the moon was just one day from being full & had a dramatic ring around it. The night was cool, so we built a fire-pit in the back garden & sat round the warmth with drinks & the two drums (djembe & cahonita) that Rob had brought. At midnight, we stood on the roof terrace to watch (& listen to) the fireworks in the local towns in the distance all around us.

The stray black kitten which had arrived a few days earlier (& which we'd tried not to encourage), loved having some knees to sit on. We hoped that our friends would take it back with them (I know they were tempted), but in the end, having a number of dogs & cats already, they didn't & it stayed to beg & constantly cry outside.

New Year's Day was bright & sunny so we walked on Faro beach & it was obviously warm enough for sunbathing for some. One man in shorts only, was sat meditating on the sand. It was a lovely way to greet a new year which we hoped would be packed with adventure & new expeiences.

As mentioned, my birthday is at the beginning of January & we don't have space to acommodate physical gifts so I was keen to find something memorable to do. A Google search revealed Rooster Quad Tours just down the road.


We'd never tried quad biking so had the beginners tour with a German couple on a wet morning & loved it!  The sun came out & we got muddy from the puddles left by the recent rain. Mark & Claire looked after us & a week later, keen to replicate the experience, we had another longer & faster ride with an English duo. The Algarve has a surprising amount of undeveloped green space with many off-road tracks through the hills so we saw beautiful views that wouldn't otherwise be visible from a car.

We explored the Algarve, re-visiting favourite haunts & finding new ones.  We loved the beaches far East of Faro & even popped over to Western Spain on a couple of occasions, spending time in Huelva & Isla Cristina.  I loved the expansive beaches, especially as dogs were allowed on those out of town during Winter.  January's weather was generally dry & sunny so we walked the dogs up & down the coast most afternoons, finding beach bars to enjoy a beer or coffee.

We went further afield at the weekends, to the Monchique hills & the less developed West coast.  This was actually the second time we'd driven up-to Aljeur & Odexeixe & the second time the weather was dull & cool.  I liked the wildness, in particular the Ribeira de Seixe estury beach & Praia da Amoreira, but Rob wasn't too keen on the area the first time & the second visit still didn't impress.  We've done it twice now, so no need to go back - plenty of other places to see..

Loule annual carnival was in February & was an enjoyable afternoon out.  With a Brazilian feel, the music was lively & loud, the floats creative & bright, the dancers energetic & enthusiastic, the costumes colourful & exotic with little fabric & lots of flesh for some participants!  The main street was cordoned-off with just a €2.50 cost to enter the party atmosphere.  The bars & food stalls were doing a roaring trade & the procession went round & round the circular route with streamers & confetti soon filling the road.  We thought it great that no barriers kept people back so everyone mingled together, the dancers posing for photo after photo, especially the scantilly clad girls.












































Like 1        Published at 09:13   Comments (2)

Off to the Algarve
21 December 2018

We were off to the Algarve, approx 5.5 hours drive from Porto!

As my biggest client had begun their Christmas holidays close of business on Wednesday 20th December, instead of moving at the weekend, I wouldn't have work to do on the 21st, so that's when we'd go.

The week previosly I'd informed the landord of the yellow house who wasn't too happy to lose a months rental.  However, with no contract in place, whilst I don't like to let anyone down, our happiness was more important.

Once again we packed-up the car on a beautiful dry sunny day.  This time we had a couple of extra boxes as we'd purchased a battery charger & the halogen heater!  Fully laden, we headed-up the lane, but where the earth ended at cobbles & the track became steep, the wheels skidded with no purchase.  Rob revved & after a few tries, the car found enough grip to continue, but we pulled over on the flat to check the tyres were OK.  They were.

However, when we set-off again, there was a horrid grinding noise from the front right of the car.  It was a worrying intermittent sound, but we'd no idea what was causing it & it wouldn't necessarily repeat if a mechanic took the car for a test-drive.

THe Honda was a worry, being nearly 15 years old with 175k miles on the clock & we were in no-doubt that it would eventually break down at some point.  When we decided to travel, we considered selling it & buying another.  We looked at left-hand drive vehicles & in particular camper vans, but although a romantic idea, not ideal with two dogs & a parrot!  The deciding factor was funds, why change a car that was actually very reliable & use-up savings that we may well need for other necessities?  We were just keeping some money on one side for a car & would look at what was available wherever we happened to be should we ever desparately need a replacement vehicle.

Fortunately, by the time we hit the motorway the scraping had stopped so we relaxed into the journey.  Portuguese motorways are in excellent condition & not busy (likely due to the tolls which the locals don't want to, or cannot afford, to pay) so it was a pleasant, if slightly boring drive.  We'd looked at other routes, but they'd take longer & we anticipated an evening arrival as it was.

I was delighted that it was warmer on each of our rest stops as we travelled further South!  Bliss smiley

Each time we drive through the Alentejo, the journey always seems a really long one & it was also dropping dark by then - it was the 21st December & the shortest day.  The wide open spaces were certainly the best part of the route to see the fantastic sunset to our right in the distance.

Following Google from the link in the Air B&B app, we approached Santa Barbara de Nexe past a brightly lit shopping mall & we really hoped that wasn't in view from our house!  I'd kept our host up-to-date as we were an hour later than anticipated & Joao was waiting when we arrived with a welcome pack of cheese, biscuits & wine!  I'd mentioned how cold we'd been in the North & he'd placed radiators in the lounge & bedroom, but the overall temperature inside & out was warmer than we'd experienced the previous few weeks anyway.

Once he'd settled us in to a lovely rustic single-story house, a short distance off the road up a cobbled track, we returned to the small supermarket in Santa Barbara de Nexe 10 minutes down the road to buy something for tea.  After living in rural areas of Spain & Portugal for a number of weeks, it was actually a surprise that the assistant spoke English straight-away!

It was too dark to see the surrounding area (so no shopping mall - yeaaay), but we felt a sense of olive groves.  Having visited the Algarve on holiday many times before, we felt welcome & immediately at home.

We awoke to a glorious Algarve day with clear blue skies & sun. Having had a long journey the previous day & bought supplies the previous evening, we styed-put at the house to unpack, settle & enjoy our surroundings.  We walked the dogs down the fields at the back & sat on the terrace enjoying the sun.

The following morning, we headed into nearby Loule for the town's well-know market. However, just a couple of days before Christmas, the gypsy market was a disappointment with just a few stalls. The produce market was buzzing & we bought fresh fruit, veg & cheese before heading off the the supermarket for food enough for Christmas & beyond.

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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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