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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.

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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Leaving the UK
06 July 2018

I packed-up our holiday home whilst Rob packed the car.  He seemed to make no headway into the pile of belongings in the lounge & I still had some bags in the kitchen.

It was time to ditch some non-essentials. I firtled in a large holdall & discarded my deflated yoga ball & pump, hand-held blender with liquidising attachments, vegetable spiraliser, set of really good solid bottom saucepans, frying pan & large, but effective cork-screw. Some food supplies went next, given to the neighbour who was out on the street in curiosity.

Rob took a look at the meagre excess & found space for the cork-screw, hand-blender & attachments loose in the roof box, but then it wouldn't shut...

The dogs were confused & were escaping the front yard & jumping in the car not wanting to be left-behind.  The parrot was locked in her small travel cage twanging the bars in frustration.  Rob was shuffling items around in the roof box & swearing.  I was looking to see what else could be discarded.

It was a lovely sunny day though with some of England's best Autumn weather - too good a day to be leaving...?

Eventually packed (just minus the yoga ball, saucepans & frying pan) & without much in the way of provisions, even for the journey, & we were off.

The first leg of the journey to North Devon would take at least 4-5 hours.  We had two nights in an Air B&B house, with just a short drive to the Plymouth ferry port on the day of departure.  The parrot was on the back seat between the two dogs in their harnesses strapped to the seat belts.  Everyone was cramped & I there was so much in the footwell, I had no room to move my feet, whist Rob's driver's seat was much further forward than he likes for his long legs.

Tom Tom was programmed & Woody copied the first few bing-bongs of our dash-cam speed warnings with curious whistles.  It looked to be an etertaining drive, but due to heavy Friday traffic then rain, we were much later arriving at our accomodation than planned.

I'd kept the Air B&B host up-to-date, but when we arrived in the small Devon village, it was clear that there would be no-where to pop out & buy food. We hadn't the energy to go out & certainly didn't want to leave the dogs in a strange house.  We discussed what provisions we had & whether I could use the carton of soup over pasta found in the cupboards.  The host (who lived opposite) hearing this, popped back home, defrosted some home-made sauce, cooked pasta, tossed a salad & brought a piping-hot dinner over in a matter of minutes.

She was briliant & had as much character as our thatched cottage holiday home.

We awoke to a brilliant sunny day & after a little essential VA work, I walked the dogs, then we washed the dogs (it was muddy), before heading out to the local pub for lunch.  At 2.30pm, they'd just stopped serving until the evening!  This wasn't an area of all-day opening that we were used-to.

We brought bread, local butter, cheese & wine from the village shop & I had a glass in the bath!  A piping hot bath with alcohol in the middle of the afternoon!  This was when I felt relaxed & on holiday for the very first time.

After a lovely relaxing day, I woke feeling pressured on a dull wet sailing day.  I checked the paperwork, tickets, passports etc, but couldn't settle.  I tried to be excited, but my heart was in my mouth.  We needed to get on the ferry as tickets & 12 nights accommodation in Spain was all bought & paid-for, whist we had nothing now in the UK.  It had been such a hassle to obtain the parrot export certificate etc for Woody & this was only valid for a few days.

At check-in with Brittany Ferries, I hopped out of the car clutching my file of paperwork.  Dog passports first & I confirmed we had muzzles for both.  "Who is the owner of this dog?" the official asked pointing at the Rumanian address on Roxy's passport.  I began to explain that she was rescued from Rumania, but was curtly informed that me & my address should be on her passport as official owner.

For a second I froze, unable to think straight.  Why hadn't our vet advised this?

The official could confirm my identity from my photo & signature on the other passports, but I couldn't actually prove I was the owner of Roxy...  with a very shakey hand (which shows in my writing), he let me complete & sign Roxy's passport.  After-all, we were leaving the UK, not arriving.

I was handed a micro-chip reader & headed for Max in the back of the car, but couldn't find his chip.  He was wearing a travel harness & even when I let him out of the car, it seemed to take forever to get a reading.  Once accepted, I took the reader to Rob's side of the car to release Roxy who's chip was just as elusive, but eventually found.

Back to the officer's cubicle, trying not to catch the eye of the people in the car behind in case they were getting impatient waiting.  I watched very nervously whilst he examined Woody's certificates, reading them in great detail.

These were all in order no problem & we were through the barrier to sit in a queue of vehicles waiting to board the ferry.

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