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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.

Like 2        Published at 08:51   Comments (4)

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!

Like 3        Published at 09:46   Comments (4)

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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