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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.

Daily Mozzie Hunt
31 August 2018

Snap, crackle, fizz!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enjoying Galicia
17 August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Settling in to our first home
10 August 2018

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

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

But then I had my sewing machine...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, we'd soon be on our way!

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Musings on our first summer in Spain
02 August 2018

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

A few observations from a few summer weeks in Spain:

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

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