Europe 2015. Spain and Portugal.

Lauren and Gareth's Wedding

Owen and Julie in the UK

France 2013.


2015 is time for Spain and Portugal. August to November 2015.


Photos One Two Three Four Five Six Seven


August 6. Leaving for Dubai at 0600. Russell drove us out to the airport leaving a bit before 0400. The ritual of boarding was about the best we have had, no queues and no delays. We managed to get a row of 3 seats between the 2 of us which was good but the entertainment system on the window seat didn't work. That was OK, for the time I wanted to watch it, I was prepared to sit next to Julie. Similarly, the arrival at Dubai was excellent. We were out of the terminal in about 15 minutes. Pleased we registered for "Smartgate". The hotel was the same as when we stayed in 2012 so no surprises there. Julie is exhausted from the early start and the long flight but should be good to go again tomorrow when we fly out at 0940.

August 7. We were ready for breakfast as soon as they opened then final pack and off to the airport. Best Western (the old Traders Hotel) is so close to the airport. Great location. The flight to Heathrow was OK, though it was packed even with 500 seats! We ended up having a woman sitting between us. So much for that hope of another leg with a free seat. No dramas getting through at Heathrow and took the tube to Marble Arch. Copping a bit of flak in London over the pathetic effort of our cricketers so now I say we are from New Zealand!

August 8. Went looking for my favourite money changer in a side street off Regent St but coudn't find them. Wanted to change some GBP to Euros. On the walk back, we checked out one in the "House of Frazer" store, and they were offering a rate of €1.40 per GBP with the "official" rate at 1.41. That's as good as it gets, so we bought €4000. Always good to have cash and luckily we have a safe in the van.
Took the train to Peter and Margaret's for a very pleasant lunch and great company. Also picked up a stack of paperwork that collects over the year since our last trip. Now for a quiet light dinner and another early night.

August 9. A busy day today. We walked in to Leicester Square and bought tickets to "The Commitments", a relatively new musical on at the Palace Theatre in the West End. We then walked back to the Club for lunch, after shopping for a couple of books. One was called "After the Floods" and is the story of 617 Squadron post the bouncing bomb raids. Peter and Margaret put me on to this new release book and we managed to find one. I checked that Dad was mentioned, and he was, so we got it. The other book was a guide to pub walks in London. A required reading for any alcoholic here. We trained back to the theatre for the show. It was an entertaining and enjoyable show, the cast were very talented, and they seemed to really enjoy their roles. After the show we did an abbreviated pub walk through Soho. Managed to drink more than we should before heading back to our favourite spot for dinner just off Oxford St.

August 10. We left the VSC at 0900 to pick up the van. It was reasonably hassle free and we even got a free gas bottle replacement because the old one I was trading was subject to a recall. Good to have a little win every now and then. After we freed the scooter from its tarpaulin bonds and hitched the trailer up, we headed to Romford to get the scooter serviced, an MOT (roadworthy certificate) and a top box fitted. The guys there were very good and we had it all done by 4pm. I asked them to reconnect the battery, as I had disconnected it a year ago and didn't want to mess around with it when they had it in the workshop anyway. They planned to put it on the charger then test it. It charged to full in a matter of minutes and tested fine. Amazing for having been unused for a year. While we were waiting, we parked in a shop carpark, had lunch, did a small amount of shopping, then set up the van. Emptied the suitcases, put things away and made the bed so we were set to go. When we picked up the scooter, it was a narrow road, so I half parked on the footpath, giving limited space to get the scooter up the ramp. One of the guys (a BIG guy) walked up, picked the scooter up and put it on the trailer, no ramp needed!! Awesome. We then drove to a campsite just north of Braintree about 80km away where we were being picked up at 1900 by Olly Pocknell. Olly and his father David had been in touch about Don Day some time ago via this website. Don was Dad's bomb aimer during WW2. David is Don's cousin, and we had arranged to get together tonight. Went to David's place for dinner, and what a night it was. David is an architect of note and there home is a converted barn and amazingly done too. We all hit it off right from the start and along with Sally, David's wife, we had a wonderful evening.

August 11. Headed to Folkestone where we are staying 2 nights prior to catching the train through the tunnel to Calais. This afternoon was spent shopping to stock up on food and a few other essentials. Took the scooter for its first ride of this trip and it is going well. Sadly, no mobile signal at the campsite, so no internet. We had our first own home cooked meal of the trip this evening.

August 12. Just more setting up today. The only excitement was buying a chenile insect screen (the one with hanging strips) for the door of the van. Easily put on and off. May need it in Spain.

August 13. Not even a Friday, but one of those days that you could do without. Went to get the train to Calais only to be charged an extra £79 for the trailer, even though the overall length was the same as we quoted. That equates to full price for another vehicle. Not happy. They will charge us the same to return and the ticket is non refundable but it may be cheaper to ignore it and buy a ferry ticket. We need to take it up with the Caravan Club who we booked through. On their website, if you selected "Motorhome" as your primary vehicle, it automatically greyed out the trailer option, so I feel they have some obligation there. Anyway, it was the start of a not so great day. We headed south, putting in Le Mans, Tours and Bordeaux as waypoints. All was going fine until in the middle of Rouen, Tomtom wants us to go through a tunnel with a height limit of 2.4m. We are 2.8m high. It was single lane in each direction and I managed to block both for about 4 minutes while I took the trailer off, wheeled it up the hill and did a 9 point turn to get the van out. Had a very nice French motor cyclist try to help us out too. Managed to find another way out despite Tomtom's best efforts and had a pleasant drive down the Sienne before we had to get back on the tollway. The first tollway was about 60km and cost €12.20 which wasn't too bad. The second one we took was about 200km or so, and cost €55.20 which we DID think was bad. We are only half way to Spain. Camping at a campsite in Tours tonight, aiming for Biarritz or further tomorrow. After today, things can only get better.

August 14. Today was another opportunity to help out the French economy. We made it through to San Sebastian after more tolls, now totalling about €160. We need to leave a couple of days spare on the way home so we can avoid these rip offs. It did save a lot of time and effort, but the price is very high. It rained all day, varying between light and heavy. The traffic still flew along though and most times we were sitting on 110kph with visibility down to about 400m. Took a bit of concentration but was all OK. Made it to the campsite about 1630 only to find it full, but for €15 we could stay in the Aire (read, paddock with grass that will soon turn in to mud in heavy rain which it did overnight!) opposite the park and we are second on the waiting list for a spot inside. We will stay at least 2 more nights if we can. The weather is not good but we want to see as much here as we can. August is not a good time to tour, everything is top price and this park will be €36.60 a night if we get in. We are used to paying €20 or less. Went in to the city for dinner by bus and had some interesting Spanish dishes and nice Rioja wines. Waited 45 minutes for the bus which should run every 30 minutes, but after no bus, we decided to get a cab back. No power in the aire so we are using up some of our gas. At least we still get to use the facilities at the campsite.

August 15. We had to wait around until noon to see if we could get a spot in the campsite, and we did. Our site is very good except that with the rain we have had, it is all mud. A tad annoying as we have to keep cleaning it up, but we can live with it. After setting up home, we took the scooter in to the old part of San Sebastian. Navigating around this place is pretty easy. The old town is pretty amazing. Totally destroyed around 1830, it was rebuilt with the same narrow streets and character that one would expect of an earlier style. We found out why we had trouble getting the bus last night too. San Sebastain is having it's week long city celebrations, with tonight being the finale. Huge fireworks display scheduled for 2245. We did a fair bit of walking around around town including along the beach which was deserted due to the passing showers. Rode home for dinner then went back on the bus at 2030. Took in a couple of bars and had a couple of glasses of Rioja at €2 each. Best value yet! The crowd was building up and the place was packed to overflowing by the time the fireworks started. The display was excellent, similar to the Perth Skyshow, but everyone was paked into a much smaller area. Afterwards, I could't see how the heck we were going to find the number 16 bus, and if we did, how we would get on it. Many thousands of people waiting. We walked up the the other end of town, near the road out to the campsite and managed to get a cab after a while.

August 16. Slept in after the late night last night. Spent the afternoon in the old town and walking up to the top of the hill to see Jesus (his statue anyway). The walk was good exercise and the views from the top excellent. This place is very picturesque with Pyrenees mountains meeting the coast. Every where you look is a sunning vista. We even took the long way home, going past the camp, which is a spectacle in its own right, riding along the ridge with mountains to the left and ocean to the right, very pretty. Back in to town by bus again tonight for dinner. Tried to find one recommended by Colleen which we did, but it closed at 1600, bit too early for us. We went to another tapas bar that an Aussie suggested last night, and that was very good, though the service was chaos. You had to be there. It worked, but you have to wonder how. We have now met 3 groups of Aussies, just in San Sebastian. The first were Paul and Adeline from Melbourne (all were from there) who are motorhoming for 21 days (they saw our aussie flag on the scooter) then a guy who used to work at one of the bars, who we met again tonight, and then a family of 4, doing the same route we are, but by bus and plane over 5 weeks. Small world, there are too many Aussies. We finally managed to actually get the bus home tonight, one out of 3 aint bad? Tomorrow, we head to Lekeitio, only about 60km up the coast, but one tenth the size of San Sebastian. From there to Bilbao and Santander.

August 17. Took a punt and decided to avoid the toll roads to Lekeitio. We were hoping the roads wouldn't be too narrow. Could not have been further from the truth. All the roads were 2 lanes but the best part was actually going on these roads without paying. Not so much the money, but this drive is so good, you would pay to drive it. Stunning views ranging from mountains, ocean (driving right along the edge), rain forests and farm land. Every dozen kilometres there would be another town, with it's obligatory beach at the top of an inlet. Most of these places hardly even rate a mention on any map, but they are quite large and filled with tourists, relative their size anyway. We loved the drive, it was a real treat and honestly makes the Great Ocean Road drive seem almost dull. We got to Lekeitio and after blocking the road in the middle of the village because the other driver in a car couldn't reverse out of our way and I wasn't going to reverse at all, we ended up at the local Aire. This one was a free site on the edge of the village so it was only a short walk to the beach and the bar/restaurant strip. We had scootered to the beach for a walk in the freezing cold water, but walked in for dinner. We had a few drinks with an English couple, then a few more, then went to dinner. No point in being there before 8pm, they aren't open. I must remember to check that the fish is a fillet before ordering it next time. My large half mackeral was very tasty but I did have trouble with the bones. No shower tonight, or tomorrow morning. Easier to go without than use too much gas to heat the water for the on board shower. Not the cost of the gas, but we can't get our bottles refilled or replaced here, so we need to be economical. Our free site didn't come with power.

August 18. Managed to find a campsite only 16km from Bilbao. A few Aires, but we do prefer full sites. Closest we could get to Bilbao and there is a bus 100m away to take us to the Metro station so all good. The drive here was good, though not spectacular like yesterday. We were often held up with the place being over-run by cyclists. It is quite mountainous and road surface is very good, so I guess it's good training for them. In 2 days, we have seen more cyclists than in the last few years! Hardly went a kilometre with seeing at least one, and because the roads are relatively narrow, safely passing them could be problematic at times. After setting up camp, we did some shopping, washing and cleaning, mainly to get rid of the San Sebastian mud. We did find a small fault in our insect resistant door screen. It does not keep out birds. Had a sparrow land on the step and walk in to the van. Got it out, but not without a bit of fuss.Tomorrow, we will take on Bilbao.

August 19. Took 2 buses to the train station then the train to Moyua station, the centre of Balbao city. The guy at the campsite who gave us all the good gen, also pointed out on the map where the Guggenheim Museum was. I guess everyone who comes to Bilbao wants to see it. Everyone here is so helpful, even though we hardly know a word of Spanish. We went straight to the museum and waited in line for a relatively short while for tickets. The building is stunning. Unfortunately, the exhibits there leave a lot to be desired, in our taste anyway. It wasn't just the content, but the lack of variety. It was really only showcasing the works of mainly four artists (and I use that term loosely!). Some very good items, like the flower dog out the front, but generally uninspiring. We can cross it off our list now. Then headed off for lunch in the city then down to the old quarter which, like most European cities, is the most interesting part of town. Had trouble buying a couple of drinks at a bar. Got my Rioja OK, but then I knew how to pronounce that, but trying to get Julie a Rose proved very difficult, until a lady patron of the bar came up and helped. Seems the right word sounds something like "rosella"(though we checked our dictionary at home, and it is Rosado), so we will see how we go next time. Heading to the Metro, Julie fell over a step and has hurt her hand, knee and elbow. Lots of bruising and a fair amount of pain, so we have fingers crossed that is as bad as it gets. Quiet night in tonight. Planning to head to Santander tomorrow, but it will depend on Julie's condition.

August 20. We decided to stay another day and take it easy. Give Julie a chance to recover from her injuries. I spent an hour or so at the beach, working on my tan for the southern summer! Julie took it easy, as she should. Did some more shopping and took the scooter for a solo ride. Always performs better one up. Spent some time doing administrative chores, like fighting HSBC over their incompetence. Other than that, nothing really to report. Julie rang her Mum using the UK sim, for 30c a minute. If we used our AUS sim, it would have cost $1.50 a minute. And that is with the UK sim on roaming. Go figure. Tomorrow we are off to Santander or a little beyond.

August 21. We were thinking of doing the Cave of Altamira, just oast Santander but Julie's knee didn't feel up to a cave walk, so we went straight through to Potes, near the Picos de Europa, a national park on the mid north coast area of Spain. Tomtom tried twice to get us lost, and cost us about 30 minutes total. It's amazing how hard it can be to find a place to turn the van and trailer around without excessive disruption. The second time, we turned into someones farm so we could do a U turn in their front yard. I don't think anyone was home, but if they were, they probably wondered what the hell we were doing. Finally got to a caravan park just out of Potes and being as everything here is mountainous, the park is severely terraced. Managed to find a suitable pitch and set up camp. About 1400 we set off on the scooter to Fuente De, at the foot of the peaks (Picos). The peaks are around 2800m which if my maths is right, is higher than Kosciosko. There is a cable car system operating to a point about 1500ft above the base area so we thought we would try it out. We were advised of a 90 minute wait and we decided to go anyway, even though it was closer to 105 minutes. A quick ride up in a relatively unique ride. It covers about a kilometre at a guess, rising 450m, and is a single span. No pylons supporting it along the way. The last section was very close to vertical, quite stunning. After taking in the sights at the almost top, we decided to head down, to find we had a similar wait. Fortunately, we had nothing else planned, but it was 8pm when we got home. Hell of a long time for a total of 30 minutes quality time. At least the scooter ride was great. 23 km each way, and not a bump in the road. Smoothest we have ever had, made the ride so much better. More of Potes tomorrow.

August 22. We took in the Monastery de Santo Toribio de Liebana. This place has a piece of the original cross of Jesus, allegedly. The little piece of wood is set in a metal crucifix but the area it was in was closed, so we couldn't see it close, only from about 20m away through the gate. We'll have to take their word on the authenticity. In the afternoon we took in the town of Potes which, while a little touristy, is really pretty good. Great character about it and some very good bars. Decent local wine at €1.50 a glass is darn good value too. Julie had the local drink, a Sangria, her first of more no doubt. Did a bit of shopping at the local supermarket and dinner at home.

August 23. Left Potes for Gijon, back on the coast. We didn't want to go back the way we came in, not because we didn't like it, but because we wanted something new. We were not disappointed. The road from Potes to Riano was awesome. Not too difficult, but the scenery was stunning. Basically, we drove up a valley then zig zagged up the side of the mountains with views right down the valley. Would have been even better going the other way, most of the views would have been in front, rather than from behind or the side. Still amazing. Then we got to Riano, which is a town surrounded by a huge man made lake. We saw the dam holding it all back quite unintentionally. We took a wrong turn and ended up travelling about 13km before there was somewhere for us to turn around. A pretty diversion anyway. The road from Riano to Cangas de Onis was arguably the most interesting road we have travelled. It had everything from lakeside driving, to a mountainous winding narrow road with overhanging rocks that threatened to tear the van apart. The sensations varied from awe at the amazing views to terror when some idiot would come around a very blind corner taking up half our lane, which, for the record, was only just enough for our van anyway, and not enough on corners. Most of these corners we took at around 10 to 15kph. You could not see more than 10m around the curves so the reaction time for them particularly was very small.
I have saved a lot of footage from the dashcam and intend to make up a short video of the best bits when I get home. It should make for some interesting viewing. All in all, the Spanish are not bad drivers, but not in the league of the British.
Made it to the campsite near Gijon and now taking it easy. Four or more hours of driving under these conditions is hard work.

August 24. We got a map of Gijon from reception with a few places to visit. I worked out a vague route in to town, and headed for the "old town". Unfortunately, the old town is not what we expected so we went to their famous beach for a look. It was cold and windy (OK, 20C with a wind chill factor!) and the beach was full of people trying to soak up what sun there was. Decided to go to the Botanic Gardens instead. That was not quite what we expected either, though it was a pleasant diversion. Back home again, without getting lost (always a challenge on the scooter sans satnav!) and planning to go to A Coruna tomorrow. That is at the north west corner of Spain. From there, we are getting closer to Portugal.

August 25. Drove straight through to A Coruna. The campsite is a little odd, the facilities are OK but the actual camping pitches are pretty ordinary. There are no boundaries, so you sort of park where ever you feel like. Rather odd. Took the scooter out for a tour and first stop was an old castle/fortress Santa Cruz on the bay. It was, like most things in Spain, closed between 1400 and 1700, and of course it was 1530 when we arrived. At least we could walk around the outside of the little island. Headed back to home and stopped at a supermarket. Managed to buy some fresh milk, first time since entering Europe, so we snapped up 2 litres. Normally, places only stock UHT milk. Checked on availability of restaurants around where are staying so we knew where to try for dinner. Walked to the nearest eating place, because you couldn't really call it a restaurant. We had burgers with the lot (and a bit more!) and 3 glasses of Rioja for €16.40 and managed to stagger the 300m home. It was a pleasant setting, just off the beach so all was good tonight. Tomorrow, Santiago.

August 26. Getting a little tired of satnavs not helping us. Tomtom got us not so much lost as confused, requiring some delicate maneouvring. We need to update the Europe maps before the next trip. Finally got on the non toll road to Santiago and that was good. We had a problem with the destination caravan park, it was closed. Then let Snooper, normally our reserve GPS, take us to the other park. Managed to get there OK, despite Tomtoms protestations which were wrong anyway. The trials and tribulations! The weather here has been nothing short of disgusting. Has not stopped raining since we arrived about 1300. More a heavy drizzle really, but coupled with gusty winds and you have a very unpleasant environment. We tried riding the scooter the 2km in to town but could not get there. It looked easy on the map, but every time we tried to head in the direction we wanted, we were forced at least 90 degrees away by one way streets, not to mention that they were all cobbled and damned uncomfortable on the scooter. In the end, I headed for home, which we DID find, and caught the bus in. Santiago cathedral is the final stop of the pilgrimage of the Camino Trails, following the original trek of the apostle Santiago. His remains are in a silver urn and there is a statue of him in centre stage of the cathedral. You could line up (for a few hours!) to "embrace the Apostle" (though it wasn't REALLY him, just a moulded likeness). I was amazed how many felt the need to do so seeing you couldn't even have a photo of the occasion. Anyway, enough of the pilgrims.
We had a drink or 2 then some dinner in the old town. We haven't found Spanish food to be particularly inspiring so far, and tonight was no different. Maybe things will change in the southern parts. Hoping for better weather tomorrow to head in to town again. If we can find the Tourist Office in the rabbit warren, we will try to get information on self walk tours. We found the sign to the office today but not the office itself, but then we couldn't find the entire town on the scooter, so no surprise there. All in all it's been a rather painful day. Hope tomorrow is better.

August 27. Well, things in Santiago didn't get any better. Constant rain and strong winds all night, so this morning, we headed south. It would have been nice to spend more time here but we did manage to see a fair bit yesterday. Any more would have been filling in gaps. We took the toll roads, for a total of around €30 for the whole 240km. With the rotten weather, taking the back roads is not an attractive alternative. We got to Porto about 1230 Portugal time, which appears to be an hour earlier than Spain. I left my watch on Spain time for opening the first drink.... now I can reset it. Tomorrow, we will start exploring Porto, and at least the weather is good.

August 28. The weather is almost perfect. Took the bus in to Porto and linked up with the Yellow Bus, open top hop on hop off bus. We did most of the first circuit and the commentary was pretty
good. Took in lunch near the river then a 50 minute river cruise, which came as part of the bus package. Later, we did a short port wine tour of Calem's, one of the major porteries (?) in Porto. Also had a taste, but we both decided Penfolds Club is a lot more drinkable, as is Hayley's barrel port at home.
Porto is an old and interesting city that does need to come to terms with the fact that cobble stone streets are no longer chic, they are just uncomfortable. Back in again tomorrow for stage 2 of the touring

August 29. Bus into the city. We didn't have to wait too long this time. Timetables here are a generalisation. The trip into the city from the camp is amazing. It weaves everywhere so it is 3 or 4 times the shortest route, and some of the roads are mind blowing, for one who drives a wide vehicle. Some roads give the bus about 200mm spare either side, with that reducing in the curves. One part is in a walled ravine going against the flow of traffic. That is, it is one way the other way, except buses. The driver blows the horn at every curve, because they are all blind turns. Anyone in the way has t back out. Some parts, pedestrians have to move into a doorway to give the bus enough room. Damned if I would want to drive that all day. Doesn't get a lot better in the city with the hop on hop off busses either. We did a church and cathedral before lunch. Some interesting stuff, but some very tacky stuff too. The walking around Porto is akin to mountain climbing so our legs are getting fit! Had lunch in a local cafe. The kitchen was the ground floor that you walked through to get to the dining area on the first floor. Not big at all though. Most dishes were €4 and there was plenty of it too. We asked for a glass of white and red wine and got a 500ml caraf of each. They cost as much as the meal! Great value though. We then finished off the day with the other sightseeing bus route, called, "The Castle route". Bit of a misnomer there. There was one we saw, which was really more a fortification on the beach rather than a castle. Not to worry, we saw a lot more of Porto, even if it is the sort of sights you would see from the 906 bus! Time to head off again tomorrow, destination Coimbra, a Uni town 120km away.

August 30. A day of reckoning. This is the end of the Portugese, Spanish and French holiday period. Hooray! From now on, we expect to get cheaper park fees etc etc. Started towards Coimbra this morning with the intention of taking the toll road. Interestingly, there is a difference in the toll roads here. I took the best information from a local, which was.. if it is a single letter and digit road, the toll is manual, you pay when you exit, but if it is say.. A-22, then it is an electronic toll, and no one knows how it works, including the Portugese. We thought we would avoid that one, and a little further on, we chose to avoid the toll roads altogether. The non toll road was actually pretty reasonable, such that we will probably try to avoid all the toll roads in Portugal for the rest of our visit. We made it to Coimbra at a good time, got a good site, one that had afternoon shade and then settled in for the afternoon. Julie did the washing, something we haven't been able to do for a while due to lack of washing machines, and I put up a clothes line for the sheets, towels and all the heavy stuff. At this point, we noticed a bushfire breaking out a few kilometres away. Something we are used to at home, but not away. They ended up with 2 helicopter and 2 fixed wing fire bombers in action. Julie was concerned with the fact that we may have to close all the windows of the van to keep the smoke out. I was concerned for the people who were probably losing their homes to the fires, but then took Julie's tack. Last thing we want is to smell smoke in the van! I did a scooter ride for some shopping and fuel. I got accosted by a Brit at the park, they were parked 2 bays from us in Santiago. That was enough reason to settle in for a few drinks with Jamie and Jan from Devon. They have done the last 4 ports of call that we have, but we will split up after this town. Great to share all the horrendous stories of close shaves in motorhomes and caravans. Julie is now doing the chicken dinner. Tomorrow, we take on Coimbra town. We did need a break from the frenetic pace of the last few days and this place has provided it.

August 31. We start off with a bit of thunder but don't think of taking our umbrellas with us. Makes us wonder sometimes! Followed my sense of direction (and some study of the map!) and after turning left at the 6th roundabout, we managed to find the University which was just as well, because that is what Coimbra is all about. We did the full tour, library, awesome, but no photos allowed, chapel, photos allowed, but half the place was closed for renovations or otherwise covered up. Went to climb the tower but that was apparently not included so we had to pay another Euro each to go up it. By other standards, that's very cheap except that I got to smash my head into the ceiling again for a bit more blood from my skull, and I wonder... who owes who for this climb. The view from the top was pretty good though, so all is forgiven. Now comes the interesting issue with Coimbra, and in fact, a lot of the cities we have visited this trip. Navigation. We left the university aiming for the riverfront. That was pretty easy really, about one kilometre south. HA! The one way road system ensured that we ended up 3km north, whether we liked it or not. As it was, 3km north was a shopping centre, and we had a few things to buy, which we did, plus lunch with WiFi, so all was good.
After that, we did actually manage to find the riverfront and did the normal wander around the old town and check out the cathedral. It started raining again, so we bought another pair of umbrellas. I think we now have enough extra umbrellas to start a business. We rode home again, chilled out for a while then went shopping at the local supermarket. After that, we caught up with Jamie and Jan again for a few drinks and a few more laughs. While we were there, I noticed one of the Germans we met in Porto, convinced it was him. Sure enough, when he walked past again, he recognised me. Gosh it's a small world! We had an excellent time with Jamie and Jan (they have my website now, so I have to say that!). Tomorrow, we are heading to Nazare, half way between here and Lisbon.

September 1. An important date for us. This is when the discount camping card cuts for most sites, saving at least half. The site we are heading to takes it from today, but the one in Lisbon is from the 6th. Darn it. Anyway, when we checked in here at Nazare, we got the site all up for €16 a night, by far the best price we have had so far this trip. After setting up, we took the scooter in to town. The weather today has been cool and very overcast. Nazare is a typical seaside holiday place. Except for the lack of a side show pier, and it was sand instead of pebble stones, we could have been in Brighton England. Very picturesque nonetheless. We walked around for a while and decided to head back tonight for dinner. At least the scooter parks anywhere. Hardly a spare car park spot in the entire town. Julie finally bought a souvenir, a Portugal tea towel. I bought a Portugal Tshirt yesterday. Looking for collared Tshirts that I can wear for golf, but they are few and far between.
It was a good night in the town with seafood dishes that were not only interesting, but great value too. More exploring the area tomorrow.

September 2. We started with Sitie, the town above Nazare. The view from there was WOW stuff. As good as flying over it. We spent a while there which included the historic old fort on the point, then went home for lunch. Back again to Nazare after that. It's been a casually easy day today which was a good thing. Tomorrow, we take on Lisbon, so all stops will be out.

September 3. Drove through to Lisbon via the non toll roads and it was generally a normal drive except for the idiot in his little Kangoo van that decided he needed to overtake us (we were only doing 97kph in the 100 zone) right into the teeth of a semi trailer coming the other way. 190 kph closing speed was obviously not in his calculations. Got it on the dashcam. That will be added to my "amazing moments on the road in Spain and Portugal". Found our way to the campsite OK. It is 5km out of the centre of Lisbon, but the bus can take 50 to 60 minutes to do it depending on the traffic. It's a little out of my comfort zone (and a LOT ooutside Julie's) to take the scooter in. The roads are all over the place and they still have a lot of cobbles which are both very uncomfortable and very dangerous on the scooter. We will persist with public transport. Bought a new pair of shoes at Decathlon, a massive sports, hiking, camping fishing type store. Break them in tomorrow.

September 4. Took our first ride to town, after we managed to find the bus stop. An interesting ride in, not the sheer excitement of Porto where we expecting to scrape the side at any moment, but the views were good. They have a bridge across the inlet/river here that looks a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge. Photos to come when we get into a better position to take them. We passed through Belem on the way and discovered we need to spend some time there. That has one of Lisbon's old areas and many museums and places of interest. Got more information from the tourism office in the city and worked out what to do. Sunday (being the first Sunday of the month), all museums are free entry, so we will do Belem then, understanding that it will be packed, but what the heck. We bought 2 x 48 hour public transport tickets for €25 so we will activate them tomorrow and go nuts on the buses, trains and trams over the next 2 days. Lisbon is very steep in places so grabbing the nearest public transport seems a good idea. Really just did a lot of walking today around the older part of Lisbon. We like the place, and paid for 2 more nights when we got back. That will make 4 nights altogether and that is subject to extension, though not likely. We will see.

September 5. Had to have a big day today to justify the €6 each for the transport. We managed to do that early, with the bus not going from it's normal stop due to a triathlon or something similar blocking the road. We managed (after a bit of consultation in 5 languages) to catch the bus about 800m away and took it to Belem. We had a wander around Belem to see what to expect tomorrow when we do a few of the museums. Pretty part of town with a lot of parks. Caught the tram to the city, only to have it stop due to a power problem half way there. We then had to wait for a bus to come along to complete the journey. Passed under the bridge here a few times today and from below, it is huge. I hope to get some decent photos tomorrow, but I'm sure they wont capture the magnitude of the structure, just stunning. Did more touring of Lisbon using the trams. The number 28 comes highly recommended. We took it one way to its terminus, had lunch, then back the other way to the opposite terminus. Awesome trip. The narrow roads they go down and the views from other vantage points makes it a must to anyone visiting Lisbon. Did some more walking then bussed home. I wanted to get a second pair of shoes from Decathlon and also wanted to check out Ikea (one close to the campsite) for a replacement fold up laundry basket, our present one being broken. Took the scooter and had to negotiate one of the most frightening roundabouts twice! OK, I thought it was fun, Julie thought otherwise. The Ikea was about twice the size of the one in Perth, huge. Didn't find what we wanted but it didn't matter. Back via Decathlon for the shoes then home. Took the bus back to town for dinner and see a bit of night life. Julie wanted to do a "Fado", a Portugese music entertainment that Lisbon is famous for. It can be done in concert with a dinner. Sadly, they started at 2215, about the same time our last bus left, so we took dinner in the Bairro Alto area of town and what a treat that was. Fresh fish meal with all the trimmings that was great value. Could get to like eating out here. Got the 2140 bus home, not wanting to risk it on the last one. We thought it was a busy day and our phones confirmed it. They are set to record our steps and exercise times and we smashed the records for any previous day. Should sleep well tonight!

September 6. Well, did 14,000 steps compared to yesterdays 18,000, but it still feels like a lot. New shoes held up well. Bussed into Belem and hit the museums, seeing they were free today. We saved about €80 just on admissions today on 6 museums. First was the church then the Monastery, all part of the one complex but normally 2 tickets. The church was passe but the monastery was pretty good. A very interesting timeline on the development of it since 1415, comparing it with world events and Portugese events. Puts it into perspective. Then came the antiquities museum which looked interesting, and if we had English descriptions, I am sure it would have been. Next was the maritime museum which was mostly made up of models of hundreds of ships, but some full size displays. The workmanship on the displays of both types was very impressive. A good display. Lunch formed an intermission, then off to the Coach Museum, of which there was the old and the new, again, another 2 tickets. Their collection of old coaches, most of them royal or peerage, was awesome. The first only had 7 coaches, though they were pretty good, then the new one had dozens of them, all in good condition. The oldest was from around 1700. As you can gather, these are old horse drawn coaches, not turbo diesel tourist coaches, with the last dating from the late 1800s. Again, a great display and very interesting. Then it was the damn 714 into the city centre (we were getting a little tired of the 714) to swap to the 28 tram to go up to a viewing area and have a wine each. They had run out of white Sangria so Julie took a red which we suspect was straight Ribena, luke warm. Not impressed, but my Vinho Tinto (red wine) was fine! The view from there was over the estuary and very different from all the other views we had in Lisbon. We like this city even though it is huge. Porto is number 2 in city size in Portugal but Lisbon leaves it for dead. I must google the respective populations when I get a connection. Back home a bit before 7 and putting the feet up, literally. Tomorrow, we are heading for the Algarve, the region in the south west corner of Portugal.

September 7. We headed for a camp site near Lagos, in the Algarves. Funny how karma works, we were talking yesterday about how the van has not let us down once, and today, it did. The van stalled at a set of lights (it does that sometimes, not my fault, honest) and when I tried to restart it, nothing, battery dead. The fact that we were on National Highway 10 and it was single lane and I stopped ALL the traffic is unfortunate. Julie found the flouro jacket for me, I put the hazard lights on, then got the jumper leads out of the hatch and used them as a pantomime for "someone please help me". The third guy in line did. Got up and running again but knew I needed a new battery, very soon, like NOW! As luck would have it, we drove past a tyre and battery service place about 2km up the road. We had to turn around to go back, but that was OK. The guys there were excellent. They got the old battery out (it's under the drivers seat) and found a serious short circuit where the main positive cable had hit the mounting bracket of the battery. That explains the sudden loss of power to everything, like the trip meter reset to zero and the radio asking for the reset code! Anyway, all fixed, new battery and a lot of tape and a reroute of the main cable (at my insistence) and we were away 2 hours later. Avoiding the toll roads is no big deal, but it is much harder work than taking them. We got in to the caravan park around 1630 and set up camp, then crashed. We are both knackered. It has been a long day. I have to say, the Portugese people are amazing. They are helpful and tolerant, and in the case of the guys at the battery shop, they went out of their way to get us on the road again. We are very thankful for their efforts.
Where we are staying is up the road from Luz, where Maddie McCann went missing all those years ago. Hopefully, they wont take me too!

September 8. We decided to take a boat tour of the Grotto, that part of the coast here that is what The Algarve is famed for. We booked in for the 1430 tour as that was the only one not booked out. At €20 each it was pretty good value. Part 1 of my 60th present from Lauren and Gareth being put to use. I have €250 to spend on "extras". The water was so calm and the ride to Lagos, about 10km away was quite quick. From there, we wandered along the coast going in and out of the grottos and slowly taking in the sights. In ways, similar to the trip we did out of Phucket, but different at the same time. The tour took about 1.5 hours. This was our main activity in the Algarve, the rest of the people here were just laying on the beach getting sunburnt. Dinner tonight at the park restaurant and tomorrow, back in to Spain, aiming for Seville.

September 9. Avoided the toll roads again, as we do. Had an interesting drive through some very large towns, cities really, that still only rate a little white spot on the map. No real dramas along the way which is almost unusual. The roads were OK, but a bit busy in places. Once we hit Spain, we could take the freeway which was fantastic. Sit back, cruise control on, and watch the kilometres whiz by. We had set a municipal campsite we had heard about from Jamie and Jan near the airport and Tomtom knew it, so we went there. Imagine our surprise when it no longer existed and we are at the end of a dead end road next to the freeway. Fortunately, we had a turnaround area so we could get out, but the real buzz came next. We had programmed in the next option, a campsite 12km out of Seville, actually in Dos Hermanas. We got there OK, but we had to go the wrong way (not really wrong way, but not the way we wanted to go) on the freeway and take the next exit to rejoin the road the other way. The first opportunity was actually the airport, so we exited, drove through the departure drop off then rejoined the freeway. We coud hardly stop laughing. Got to the campsite with no more issues and managed to get a spot. It is the sort of place where you check in, and pay when you go, so you can stay as long or as short as you like. Works really well for us. While we are 12km from Seville, it is one road all the way in so we should be OK. We have had our first swim of this trip this afternoon. It was 35C and the campsite pool was very good. Tomorrow, we hit Seville. We expect to be here at least 3 nights, probably more.

Intermission: At this point, I would like to give my impressions of Portugal, now that we have finished there.
The counytryside. North of Lisbon, it is very green, almost semi tropical. Very hilly, mountainous in some places, and very picturesque. Around Lisbon, and south, there are a lot of eucalypt trees and the whole scene could easily be anywhere in Australia. Quite uncanny, even the wheatfields make you feel like being in the wheatbelt of WA. The south east is quite barren and again, could be somewhere in Australia.
The people: We love them. They mostly go out of their way to be helpful. The English spoken there is extensive, not just in tourist places, but even when we needed a new battery for the van in a place no tourist would be, we had a young guy who spoke English more than well enough to communicate with us. Made our life a lot easier. The general way of life there is laid back. Far more than the normal Aussie way, more like Broome. Even in Lisbon, a huge busy city, people would double park, put on their hazard lights and abandon their cars, even on tram tracks! We found that incredible, but when the tram driver (or whoever else) tooted the horn, they would wander back, move the car enough, and let everyone through. No one got aggro. When we broke down with the battery problem, no one tooted, and the third guy on line stopped to help us. Marvellous people. They are also the first we have come across to drive below the speed limit. Now that does sometimes annoy me, but I can live with it. 120kph zone, and hardly anyone is driving over 90!
The roads: Portugal has a wierd system of toll roads. If it is a toll road with a single digit, ie A1, A5 etc, then it is a toll road with toll booths, no problem. If it has a double digit, A22 say, then you have to buy a prepaid ticket from a post office, register it with your number plate via SMS, and then you can use it, apparently. As one Portugese guy said, not even the locals know how it works. The reality is that the alternative non toll roads are perfectly good and makes the toll roads not worth the money. They are not cheap. The other gripe is their use of cobblestones for roads and footpaths. They should be told that cobbles are NOT quaint, they are a pain in the butt, literally. Buses shake themselves, and their occupants, mercilessly. They must become unserviceable many years earlier than they should. On the scooter, they are nothing short of dangerous with the slipping characteristics. At one point coming out of Porto, I was driving in first gear for over a kilometre as the road was so bad, anything else would have shaked the van to pieces. The fact that we saw then putting in new cobbles just blows my mind. Why?
All up, we loved Portugal. It offered a range of places to satisfy any desire and we always felt welcome.

September 10. Although we are about 15km out of Seville, it is straight in on one road with a good surface. The scooter really notices any flaws in the roads. We took the scooter in and found our way with no problems. Parked on the footpath, as you do, among about 15 other scooters, left it and went to find a tourist office. Managed to find one fairly close and among other things, we bought tickets for the hop on hop off tour bus. Thought this would give us a good overview of Seville, which it did. It also gives us an idea of where to spend a little extra time. We broke up the bus ride with lunch in Macarena and found a shop that one of the guys from work asked me to check out. He wants a matching bull statuette for one he bought last year fom this shop. Found it without fuss but at 1410. They close from 1400 to 1730. Sometimes we forget it is Spain. Another day for that. Finished the tour at Maria Luisa Park, home to a few old buildings, plus the Plaza de Espana, a stunning palace like building, none of which can be seen from the road. We spent an hour or so there then walked back to the scooter to find it standing all on its own. Looked a little odd sitting on the footpath all alone. Got home with one minor deviation which needed correcting, but all went well.

September 11. Scootered in to the city again. We intended riding straight to the shop that Barry wanted us to check out the bull, which we eventually got to about 40 minutes later than expected. I turned right too early and then got caught in one way and dead end streets. I had to consult the maps on the phone a few times and finally rode all the way back to the main road along the river and started again. Once we did get there, the place had none of the bulls left anyway, but it wasn't wasted, we saw a lot more of Seville that we would not have seen otherwise. We were very close to the Torre de los Perdogones, and seeing we had free admission via the hop on hop off bus ticket, we went up it. Torre meaning Tower. It was a very good view over Seville and we were the only ones there. Bonus. After that, we headed to Castillo de San Jorge in the Triana district. We didn't realise it before we went but this castle, or its remains, were the starting place, then the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. The whole place was really dedicated to educating visitors about the Inquisition, and the terrible things that happened then. Reminded me in some ways of various exhibitions we have seen about the Holocaust. A "Lest we forget" type of thing. Quite emotional really. Left there and headed home for a couple of hours break before catching the bus back in for dinner in Triana. Two things I don't do with the scooter are drink and ride, and ride at night, so the bus it was. We intended doing a walking tour of Triana that came with the bus tour ticket but soon discovered English was not one of the options which makes it a waste of time. We headed for a restaurant for dinner and we do have trouble here that we are ready for dinner by 2030 at the latest, but Spain is not ready for dinner until after 2100 at the earliest. A classic clash of cultures. We had a good tapas dinner and walked to the bus stop via the Plaze de Espana to get some night photos. Bussed home.

September 12. We scootered into town again. Funny how it gets shorter each time we ride the same route. We did a proper walking tour of the city, one of 4 available, but we did the "Monuments tour". It went for nearly 3 hours and the guide was fantastic. We learned more about Seville in that time than we have in the rest of the time here, including the bus tour, with commentary. We saw so many out of the way sights we would never have known about otherwise. Some of these we only saw from the outside and we soon realised we needed to do the tours of these places to complete the city visit. The history in Seville is amazing, from its foundations as a Moor muslim city to today. We met a woman from Melbourne, Jackie, on the walk. She was holidaying before meeting her husband in Barcelona in a few days when he finishes a work trip in Paris. She tagged along with us for lunch in part of the old quarter of town. Next was a visit to the church, then the cathedral. The church was so over the top with its trimmings it was so ostentatious, we didn't know what to expect from the cathedral. We weren't disappointed, if flashy was what we were looking for. How much gold leaf, carved marble and wood can one fit into a huge area? Apparently a lot more than we thought would be an excess. We also climbed the Giralda Tower, attached to the cathedral. This tower was originally built by the Moors and modified by the Catholics to be more in keeping with their styles. It was built with sloping ramps all the way up to allow the "call to prayer" man to ride a small horse up to the top. It sure made it easier for us. Stunning view from there too. On the way home, we stopped at the Carrefours supermarket to buy a new Tomtom satnav. Same model as the one we have now, but this one comes with lifetime maps, specifically Europe. The other one has life time maps of Australia. 3 Map updates would buy the new unit, and seeing we are having trouble with out of date maps, we figured this was the best way to go.
We were planning to leave tomorrow but there are too many things we still need to see, so we are staying another day.

September 13. One month in to Europe. Scootered again in to the city, sort of getting used to the run, but still getting peeved with the pedestrian lights every 100m that change at random times and 95% of those times, there is no one waiting to cross. Can't believe how many we get red, and how many drivers slow to see if anyone is waiting, and just run the red light. I have to admit I have done that too a couple of times. Spanish cars apparently do not have accelerators. I can leave the traffic for dead in either the van or the scooter and neither of those are quick off the mark. Gets a bit annoying after a while. OK, that grumble over, we managed to park in the middle of the city again and checked out the queue for the Palace. It was huge. We took a punt to come back later and walked to the Parasol, which is the world's largest wooden structure apparently. It is only about 2 years old, and built right on the edge of the old town. Not quite sure what inspired it, but it IS different. It has a walkway around the top and the views are good, though not as good as from either tower. We saw a lot of smoke billowing from near the cathedral while we were on the top of the Parasol, and on the walk back to the Palace, saw all the fire engines attending, though it was out by then. The line at the Palace was about 20% of the previous line so in we went. Not too often Julie and I would agree that something so vast could be a disappointment, but it was. It came so highly recommended but failed to deliver. It was built nearly 1000 years ago, and every king that ever lived there, and that was quite a few, added to the previous structure. An interesting change in styles but the whole place seemed odd. It was totally impractical as a residence, it lacked any real richness in the quality, and appeared to be hawking its vastness as its power. It was lost on us. Anyway, we have seen it now, which is better than not seeing it and feeling we may have missed something grand. Home again for a late lunch (1500, getting in to Spanish time). Tomorrow, Cordoba.

September 14. It was freeway almost all the way to Cordoba which made the trip easy and fast. On the way, we passed a large tower that looked like it was at first reflecting sunlight, but on reftection (play on words there) it looked like it was illuminted from the inside. Even in bright sunlight, it was far brighter than anything we had seen before. Julie googled it while we were still in the vacinity and found this. it makes interesting reading. Despite the latest maps, Tomtom and Snooper still had problems with the freeway system around Cordoba and it took about 10 minutes more than it should chasing our tails. Finally got to the municipal caravan park and checked in. Our recent average daily camp fee has been between €20 and €25. Imagine our surprise when the base price was €27, PLUS €7 for the trailer (this is the first time in all our travels we have been charged a fee for the trailer. This is the same trailer that takes up no more space on a pitch, uses no water, no electricity, and makes no noise) THEN on top of all that, another €5.50 for electricity, and that is PER DAY !!! That comes to €39.50 for one night in their not particularly special park. The only 2 places we have paid more than that have been Versailles and Paris. So, the upshot is, we spend one night only in Cordoba. As it was, we managed to spend the afternoon walking through the town, having a few drinks, soaking up the ambience and seeing the major sights. Being a Monday, all the museums were closed anyway, but the reality is that Cordoba's history is going to be very much like Seville's history or Granada's history, so no great loss. It was a good afternoon in the old part of the city and we enjoyed it. Tomorrow, Granada.

September 15. Left Cordoba and headed to Granada. It was an easy run, once we got out of Cordoba. That was a little problematic with both GPS's fighting over which way to go, and after a while, it seemed neither would recalculate the route. I can only conclude that the Spanish maps provided to the satnav companies by the government department responsible, is flawed. The only other country we have experienced this is Italy. No other country has given us problems, so the conclusion must be, garbage in, garbage out! Can't really blame the units though it is frustrating. We took the freeway all the way which was 30km longer than the shorter route, but much less hassle. Cruise control is such a luxury. The view along the way was great, with The Sierra Nevadas in the distance and many other small mountains along the way. More olive trees than you can poke a stick at. Found the campsite with no problem though it was very tight getting around the site with our rig. Any rig really. This site is an ACSI site that we have membership to, and we have it for €18 a night, a lot better than Cordoba. My portable printer had literally dried up, so we couldn't book the Alhambra online as we couldn't print the ticket out. The reception at the park offered a booking service but charged €5 for the service. We bit the bullet and did it, so we are off tomorrow to see the Alhambra. They also offered a Flamenco performance and dinner at the campsite (as agents) but that was both expensive and looked very touristy, we elected to leave that one to Madrid. The campsite here is pretty good, but like virtually every site in Spain and Portugal, it is dusty. No grass at all. Probably be here for more than 3 nights, much to see and do.

September 16. We had a casual morning, doing the chores that needed doing like washing and a bit of maintenance. We booked the Alhambra for the afternoon session, 1400 to 2000 and we were booked to do the palace part between 1630 and 1730. We caught a taxi there to save any hassle and got in at 1400 almost on the dot. Started with the gardens which were good, for Spain. It is so dry here, you almost never see green grass. There was very little of that here either, but there were a lot of green plants, and in places, some colourful flowers. We then did the in between bits to the Palace of Carlos the fifth before stopping for a sit down and a drink. We had killed enough time by then to queue up for our turn in the main palace. That took about 40 minutes. We backtracked to make sure we hadn't missed anything, but we hadn't so all was good. Next was the Alcazarba, military fort. The oldest part of the complex and also the tallest. All in all, it was a very interesting visit, so different to other European palaces. We could not work out what the rooms could possibly be used for. None of them would have been suitable for a bedroom for instance, and we didn't see anything that remotely resembled a kitchen. All quite strange. Some really old stuff there though and the original bits are from the Muslim times. All these things were in one huge area. We walked our socks off.
From the Alhambra, we walked into the town for a drink and a tapas or two. Granada is famed for its "buy a drink, get a free tapas" so we thought we had better try it out. Found one on the main road that had it, so we stayed there for two drinks each, so two double tapas, and then shared a seafood paella for our main course. By that time, we had had enough so headed to where we were told the bus starts but that information ws misleading at best. We did see our bus go past nowhere near where we waiting but by then, the taxi rank was right there and looking rather attractive. We caught one home for €8, less than €5 more than if we caught the bus, so we were happy. Tomorrow, we need to know exactly where to catch it.

September 17. We had a quiet morning, and afternoon. Julie was a little washed out from the previous day, so we did some more washing and a small amount of shopping. We wanted to go to a Flamenco show while we were still in Andalucia and decided tonight is the night. The campsite sold tickets to a tourist one that would cost €52 for the show, some tapas and a bus there and back, and that was each. Two problems there, one it was ridiculously expensive in my book, and two, it sounded far too touristy. A small amount of research showed we were right on both counts. We investigated a couple of local Flamenco houses (for want of a better description) and it appeared the better ones, performance wise, were about €8 entry, which turned out to be €10, but that's OK. We went in to town about 2030 as we didn't want to get there too early, before things started warming up. Went to the Los Diamantes tapas bar and had a couple of drinks and the free tapas. Excellent stuff too. The first was crumbed prawns, 4 each, the second was a batter drizzled in chocolate, both very good. We then searched out the first club which is always a challenge in these places where they are situated in the old parts of town. Finally found it but they only had free seats for the midnight show. That's a bit late for us old folk, so we kept the option open of booking for the next night. Searched for the next spot, using google maps. That's fine but the narrow little lanes can get you lost in no time. As it was, we stumbled on a tiny little public open space that had a spectacular view of the Alhambra, all lit up at night. I'd taken the little tripod, so took a few shots. Then managed to get to the club despite the tiny lanes and were the first ones in at 2220, with the next performance at 2230. €10 to get in, including a free wine (out of a goon and only cost €1 if you wanted another one!). That was a hell of a lot better than the commercial offer. Met a few people there, one from Brazil, and at one point in the show, he mentioned to Julie that it was one of the best performances he had seen, and we are assuming he would know what a good one is. It went for 90 minutes, and didn't feel the need to leave early so I guess it was interesting enough. It was not what we expected of a Flamenco show but that's probably because we have only ever seen the "modified for tourist" type shows, though we have never before seen one live. Now that we have seen a real one, there is no need to see it again. It was a very intimate show. There were about 15 people watching in a small area, with a cast of 6 performers, and an additional 2 impromptu guest performers on the guitar. We left after the end of the show and found the easier way back in town, mainly by walking downhill all the time. This took us through a lively little market sort of area, then into a dining, drinking area. Thought we should see it again tomorrow. Being as it was well after midnight, the last bus was long gone, so it was another cab ride home.

September 18. Headed back in to town at midday to do the old town during the day. Granada is a great city. Like most European cities, it has public squares everywhere and most are filled with alfresco dining and bars along with popup shops. So much character. We were going to visit the cathedral but they wanted €4 each to go in, and no photos allowed. We had a peek in and thought, no, we have seen enough cathedrals anyway, we would invest the €8 elsewhere, mainly as a lunch subsidy. We had lunch at one of the squares and then headed up the street we discovered last night. One of the things we had seen last night was shops selling lamps, hand made in many different colours and designs. They made for spectacular displays particularly at night, and even during the day as it was now. Julie was particularly taken by them. We went in to one, looking out of curiosity and walked out having bought a 7 lamp array including shipping to home. You may think it must have been a bargain, and maybe it was, but suffice to say it will be Julie's Christmas present, and maybe her birthday one as well! Now we just have to hope that it turns up! From there, we went back to the small open space where we saw the Alhambra from last night for some day shots, only to find there is a TV antennae right in the way. We couldn't see it at night and it probably wont show on the photos, but it sure will on the day ones. We kept walking uphill to find another vantage point but one never eventuated, so we gave up and slowly wended our way home. Managed to find where the bus left from and caught it. Early night as we want to get away earlyish, maybe 0900 tomorrow as we have a long day ahead. 400 km to Toledo visiting the Winmills of Don Quixote" on the way. Doesn't sound far by Aussie standards but it is!

September 19. We got away at 0920, almost a record for us. It helped having the scooter all set up on the trailer, the awning was never out anyway, and there were no ramps under the wheels. I knew my way out of Granada so it meant we hit the 100kph and more limit very quickly. We were only about 30 minutes into the trip when I noticed that the Engine Management Warning light was on the dash. That's the amber one that looks like an engine. I pondered the situation and decided that all the parameters were fine and the vehicle actually felt OK. Being old school, I can "feel" a vehicle, and this one was no different than it should have been. I chose to ignore it, for a while. We made a pit stop along the way, and I googled it. Great having mobile data! Apparently it is something to do with the emissions control, so that told me, it really didn't matter. Time to relax. Stopped for lunch a little outside Consuegra, where the Windmills of Don Quixote are. We didn't know the exact place where the windmills were, but we didn't expect to miss them. We had seen pictures of them and knew they were on a ridge so we should see them from a good distance. As it was, when we drove towards Consuegra, there they were looking down on us. Got as close as we could with the van then parked and got the scooter off. We could have walked but we would also have got hot, tired, and wasted an hour of time. The windmills are pretty cool. There are about 10 of them, from the 16th century, with a castle in the middle. The castle was closed (for siesta of course) but they still managed to employ someone to stand guard and tell us it was closed. Spanish economic problem? Can't understand why! Anyway, we have seen enough similar castles that we didn't feel disappointed. The good thing was the engine management warning light decided to reset itself in the carpark! From there we drove to Toledo. We were not sure what to expect from the campsite and our plans were dependant on them. The €24.25 a night was OK, so we will be here a couple of nights. We are a 5 minute ride in to the old city so it should be good tomorrow. The bus is every hour, so the scooter, even walking, is a much better option.

September 20. Had an English guy come and chat to us because he recognised our rig from Seville, they were parked behind us there. It seems there are quite a few doing the same places as us, not surprising of course. Rode in to town which was just as well, the walking around Toledo was pretty heavy going with lot of steps and steep cobblestone alleyways. Toledo is an interesting old city, much of the old walls are still intact and almost all of the buildings are very old. I have not been to a city that could hold a candle to Toledo for the number of churches, convents and monasteries in one place. Literally dozens of them in about 3 square kilometres or less. There seemed to be one on every corner, and there are lots of corners. The old town is a nightmare to navigate with tiny narrow lanes going in all directions and even if you knew which direction to go, there is often no option of actually going that way. Amazing. Because it was a Sunday, a few of the museums were free to visit. Ever a bonus, as it can add up very quickly if you have to pay for each one. We opted not to do the cathedral, as like most we have seen in Spain, they want an entry fee that is a little out of kilter with the value. No other country has charged for entry, even Paris' Notre Dame was free. It would equate to $25 for the 2 of us to visit the cathedral and then not allowed any photos, so we declined. However, the El Greco (The Greek, the painter) museum was very good, well done and interestingly informative. Equally good in a different way was the Army Museum. One problem with Toledo though, is while it is picturesque, there are no real vantage points to get good photos. Still got a few, but not sure many will make the cut for the books. Tomorrow, Avila and Segoria.

September 21. It was about 160km to Avila, the first half on motorway, the second half on 2 lane country roads. Some of the scenery on the way was brilliant. Mountain ranges everywhere, one pass we crossed was almost 4,500 feet. Got to Avila at midday. It was easy to navigate to the old walled city, you could see it for miles. Fortunately found a large carpark, for coaches and motorhomes, a short walk to the town. There is no campsite in or near Avila so we planned to visit and move on. As it turned out, it was a good decision. Very little of the old town exists except for the usual cathedral, so the best feature was the wall itself, which was amazing. Probably about 3km around the perimeter of the town. We paid €10 for the two of us to walk along the wall. Not something you get a chance to do too often. Very good too, except it fired up my acrophobia a touch. Only spent about 90 minutes in Avila, which was enough We are almost "Old Towned" out, but Segovia beckons, so we'll push through. Good run through to Sergovia, which is the capital of Aragon region, and only 67km from Avila. Set up camp, had the rest of the day off and we will do Segovia town tomorrow.

September 22. Rode in to the edge of the old town of Segovia, to be greeted by the awesome sight of the second century viaduct crossing the town about 60m above street level (my guess). It still amazes me the engineering and building feats of anything more than 500 years ago. If they had our OH&S then, they would never have been built. We essentially walked the old town, focusing on the cathedral (we paid our €3 each) and the Alcazar (palace) which cost another €7 each including the tower. The cathedral was excellent (as long as I am not a parishioner) and the Alcazar was splendid. We were pleased that there were actual usable rooms in the palace, unlike the ones we had seen in Seville and Granada. Getting back to the engineering, one side of the palace is built on a cliff edge, making the verticle drop on that side double the normal height. Why? I guess they could, so they did. Sad that we will never see those times again. Certainly here in Spain, those days ended in 1929 with the building of Plaza de Espana. Buildings of that level of detail and finish sinply do not fit in with current philosophies. Let's hope these existing wonders continue to exist. As Australians, where the oldest things we have are less than 230 years old (I'm not counting rock carvings) and much of that has been bulldozed over the years, we find this sort of place just mind blowing. Australia will never have anything like it. Enough of the praise. We rode home for lunch, then back to a village out of town that has great views of the palace from a different angle. We took a few shots, then headed home exhausted again. I do have one gripe though which I have mentioned before. Cobbled roads. Today, I decided to take them faster, see how it went. It was smoother, but they put in speed humps every 100 to 200m that you have to slow to a crawl for, so any advantage of the speed is mitigated by very poor design. Cobbled roads are high maintenance, damaging to vehicles (by a factor of about 100 to 1), dangerous in wet weather (like ice) and a general pain in the butt, literally. Why oh why do the Iberians (Portugal is just as bad) persist with this third world practice. Rant over. We did love Segovia, and anyone visiting Spain should include it on their list. Tomorrow we head to Madrid.

September 23. Not a lot to report today. We drove from Segovia to the campsite in outer Madrid, about 17km out. It was a good drive with good views, and one wow moment when we crested a hill and had a stunning panorama over a valley surrounded by mountains. Our concept of Madrid being in the middle of a desert was smashed. It is not lush, but there are trees all around and not at all desert like. We are having the afternoon and evening off. We need a break after all the walking we have done over the last few weeks. I did a dummy run in to the nearby town where we will catch the bus from tomorrow. Easy to navigate but we do have one section of 800m on the way back on a 100kph freeway which is not desirable but it will be OK. Tomorrow we will visit Madrid city. No photos from today!

September 24. We scootered in to Villaviciosa de Odon, 3km away, to get the bus to Madrid. We parked the scooter on the side of the road and used a chain lock to make it a little harder for it to be wheeled away. Waited about 10 minutes for the bus and headed in. Not a bad run in, and it terminated at the main terminus next to the Metro, two levels underground. We walked to to the palace real (Royal Palace) and paid the €10 each to get in. We hadn't been overly impressed with the palaces in Spain so far, so there was an element of scepticism, but it was the main residence of the Spanish Royal Family for many years, so worth the punt. We were so glad we did. After a brief walk around the forecourt, we visited the Armoury. We have seen quite a few armouries in our travels and expected much of the same. Wrong! What we did get was the best display of regal armour along with horses and riders, all life size and so real you could start a conversation with them. It was by far the best we have seen in this field. The sad part is that no photos were allowed and they had Gestapo people making sure no one did. Despite that, I managed to hide from them and get a couple in. We then did the main palace. From the outside, it is good, but nothing special. The entrance stairway was very good, and we commented on the wonderful entrance. The rest just blew us away. We have been to Versailles and the Brighton Pavillion, both absolutely outstanding places, and The Palace Real won hands down. It was extravagant without being overly excessive, which both the other places were. We were thrilled to see a place that had so much WOW factor. It restored our faith in the fact that there really is more to see. What was also special about this palace was how immaculate it was. Besides a few cracks in ceilings, it looked as good as when it was created. This place is a must for anyone's bucket list. OK, enough of the rave. We walked up Mayor Rd to the markets at San Miguel Square, a bit of a tourist trap, but good to visit, then had a wine at Plaza de Mayor which was all of about 20m away. Wandered through the streets to Plaza de Espana and the Monument de Cervantes before walking back to get the bus. The trip back was quicker than the trip in, thanks to not having to do a full circle like we did earlier. Got home in 40 minutes door to door which was pretty good. Julie ducked her head for the freeway run and we managed to hit 85kph but still got passed by quite a few in the 800m. Dinner at home. We have booked a walking tour for 1045 tomorrow which is earlier than we wanted, but the only other option was 1045, so 1045 it is.

September 25. We got up early (0745 and the sun was just coming up) and made it to Puerto del Sol for the walk with 30 minutes to spare. At the start of the walk, we discovered another couple from Perth, Peter and Keren. Turned out they used to live in Churchlands, now in East Perth, but still shop at Floreat Forum. Small world. The walk was good, but the material to work with here is not like Seville. Most of the walk was about eating places, though many of them had some history related to them. One of those was Restaurante Botin, opening in 1725 and has the Guiness Book of Records claim as the longest running restaurant in the world. Many famous people have dined there, including the glutton, Ernest Hemmingway, who has a claim to fame of eating a whole suckling pig and drinking 3 bottles of red wine in one sitting. I could probably compete with him, but not with the pig! We did get to go inside and it was pretty old, even to the still used wood fire oven. Peter and Keren booked in for an evening meal (their prices are very reasonable by Perth standards) and could have had midnight tonight or 2000 on Sunday. They chose the latter. The tour guide was thrilled when I said how good the palace was, and that everyone should make an effort to see it, and why. Julie mentioned how it was the best palace we had seen in Spain. The guide hugged her like it was a personal compliment, which it sort of was I guess, and I added that it was the only palace we had visited in Spain. This went down well, even with the guide! After the walk, we had lunch with Peter and Keren (surname Benjamin if anyone knows them!). They had to shoot off to move from a hotel to an apartment and we strolled back to the station and bused home. We are both feeling totally exhausted and will have a quiet morning before heading back in for the afternoon.

September 26. We did have the quiet morning, though Julie did a load of washing. Rode in to get the bus around 1400, they only run every 30 minutes on weekends and we didn't know what time. As we approached the stop we would normally catch it, we saw a bus driving away from it. There are quite a few different buses that run along that road, but I thought we should check the number. Managed to overtake it when it stopped again and saw it was the 518 which we wanted. I decided to ride on a few stops and Julie was ready to just get the helmet and gloves off and stow them. Saw a stop with quite a few people waiting so I rode up and parked right behind the bus stop, stowed our stuff, and got on the bus. Have to love it, can't do that at home. Even better, when we got back 6 hours later, it was still there! We walked from the central bus station to the Prado Museum which is a fair distance, much of it uphill. The Museum is just paintings and sculptures, many by such names as Goya, Rubens, Titian and more. Half of the paintings were of a religious nature that we have seen thousands of in cathedrals and churches and that helped speed up the visit. It was an amazing display but actually very few that we particularly liked. It was interesting anyway. Julie appreciated it more than I did, but I am a bit of a heretic when it comes to art! Walked back to the bus and got home close to 2000, had a drink then dined in at the "restaurant" at the campsite. The setting is pretty average, but it turned out the food was great with decent wines for €1.50. The dinner was a Hake steak, omelette and salad. Unusual mix but very well cooked and actually wasn't as odd as it sounds. I am developing a fondness for olives here. They are served up with almost evey drink you buy.

September 27. Not too much planned for today, but as usual, that still takes up a lot of time. Normal commute in to the city and then walked to the cathedral, seeing this one was free for a change. A large building but we are not sure where it has all gone. The open part was relatively small and to be honest, there were more dead people than live ones. The whole place was a cemetery. There are hundreds of people entombed there. I don't think I would like people walking over my grave, but when you are laid to rest in a hole in the floor of the cathedral, that's what happens. Walked farther along and stopped for lunch at the Museo de Jamon, or, The museum of Ham. It is a small bar that sells anything ham, Spanish ham, which is not quite to our taste as Aussie leg ham. A ham roll (literally, it is ham in a roll, nothing else, no butter, nothing) is €1, Julie's chorizo roll, also €1, a glass of wine each, €1 per glass. OK, not exactly celubrious, but wow, two rolls and 2 wines for €4, pretty good. Then went on to the Retiro Park, the largest park in Madrid and wandered around there for a while before heading back, first stop the churros with chocolate sauce place. This is another Madrid icon (apparently) like the Jamon place. This one cost a lot more than the ham, with 5 churros, 2 coffees and a cup of molten chocolate to dip the churros in costing double! The sad fact is we can get better at home, may cost more, but a better product. Then to the Palace Gardens for a quick walk around, crossed the road to see the river, there was a bit of mud flowing at a stagnant pace, we figured that was it, it was in the right place on the map. That was Madrid done. It has been very interesting and vastly different to our expectations. Tomorrow, Valencia, 400km away!

September 28. Left Madrid about 1015 and got caught in a bit of traffic trying to get out of the city, even though we were on the ring road. A good drive to Valencia, quite picturesque again. Spain is very different to most of Europe, especially in autumn. Much of the southern part of the country is very much like WA's wheatbelt, but with a more interesting countryside, rolling hills, and more than a few mountains. Near the edge of the plateau, there was a wind farm that is the largest we have seen. The turbines were in rows of 10, set up like marching soldiers, and there would have been close to 20 rows we could see, and no doubt, more we couldn't. All of them turning too. The roads here were excellent, and we didn't touch a toll road. Most of the country roads we have driven in Spain have been 4 lane dual carriageways, which makes the driving easy. We had read reviews of the campsite we are staying at, giving it the thumbs down in general, so we are taking a bit of a punt on it. A few reports of vans being broken in to and about the noise. So far, the noise reports are right on the money, and we are taking precautions on the thefts! Fortunately we have a safe for small valuables, and the other things we need to protect can be locked in various hatches in the van. We are a 10 minute ride from the old city here, according to the guy at the campsite, so hopefully, tomorrow will be a good one in the old town of Valencia. The other part of Valencia is a very big city which we can do without.

September 29. Rode in to Valencia, and as is getting to be normal here, we knew where we wanted to go, but with no left turns, no right turns, dead end streets, we went where we could, which turned out OK, it was right in the middle of the old town. Our first impression after getting off the scooter and looking around us was, wow, this is better then Vienna. However, after walking around a bit, we had to retract that one. The main square was awesome but as soon as you turn a corner, it could be anything from a slum to a cathedral. A huge mish mash of buildings from all different times in history, mostly from the 20th century. Some parts are very cool, but overall, nothing seemed to fit properly. The cetral markets in the old town were amazing. Fresh food of almost every type there, many I didn't even know existed. There is a complex of modern buildings on the edge of the city featuring an arts museum, a hemispherical cinema, a marine park and other odds and ends. Unusual architecture but it has never been finished properly since the GFC. Looks OK, the jury is still out on that one. The ride home was a pain, only about 3km from the camp and turned one turn too early, which took us back to the edge of the city. There goes another 20 minutes! Managed to get it right the second time round. We have seen enough of Valencia and tomorrow, we will head to Peniscola, make what you will of that name. I have my own ideas!!

September 30. Rained non stop overnight. Not sure, but judging by the flooding around the place, I would guess between 50 and 100mm. At least it was all at night, the day turned out to be fine though a little windy. Had a casual start to the day as Peniscola is only 2 hours away. Had a good drive here as we often do in Spain. The roads are so good with relatively little traffic. We arrived at our chosen campsite (there are a lot here for a smallish town) around 1300 and got a top spot. Our intention here is to recover from the frenetic pace (well, at our age it is frenetic!) that we have been sustaining for the last month or so. It is time to stop and smell the flowers. This town is a seaside resort town, but now that it is off season, it is not too busy. One of the advantages with that is we get a cheap rate on our ACSI (camping international) membership of €12 a night. That is everything included, best value so far on this trip. I took a short ride in to the town this afternoon to find my way around and replenish the wine cellar. This evening, we dined at the campsite restaurant. Very good meal, I had lamb and Julie had salmon, with 2 glasses of wine for €20 ($30). We think we may have another meal here before we leave. We met a British couple at the bar and got talking. She is from the Scilly Islands off Cornwall. I asked if she knew the Chudleigh family and she nearly fell over. I work with Tony and they know his mother! I love it when you can shock people like that. They didn't even expect us to know where the Scilly Islands were! All good, after all, this is a small world. We expect to be here another 2 nights while we unwind before taking on Barcelona.

October 1. As promised, we have had a day off, though we still managed to see the old part of Peniscola, including the castle. That took a few hours, so we left the other parts of the place for tomorrow. The old town is excellent, a lot of character. There is even a blowhole inside the walls. Some of the waves can have a spectacular effect, though I feel for the local residents with windows right above the hole! Most of the town is bars, restaurants or souvenir shops. It is built on a headland with a narrow neck of land connecting it to the mainland. Would not take much effort with a bulldozer to turn it into an island. The castle was built by the Knights Templar from the late 1200s to about 1305, on the foundations of ruins of a Muslim fort. Famous for being a residence of Pope Benedict XIII between 1411 and 1423. The general entry to the castle was €5 each and I handed over €20 and the guy prattled on in Spanish which we didn't understand at all. In the end, he gave up and gave me €13 change. He had charged us the seniors rate of €3.50. I didn't think Julie looked that old, but there you go! Interesting castle in amazing condition with great views. By the time we finished there, we rode home to be greeted by thunderstorms with moderately heavy rain.

October 2. Another lazy day. Took the scooter in to town around midday. Stopped at the tourist office and found that the "Game of Thrones" crew were in town for filming parts of season 6. Apparently Tyrion is here but we didn't see him. We walked up in to the old town again to visit the maritime museum which was free. Just as well too, it was very small and no English descriptions. We rode along the coast for a way but it was very uninspiring, just miles and miles of hotels. We do like the old part of town though and it is a bonus because we really don't want to do too much. Back to camp for lunch and a break, then back in to town at 1600 to get some photos with the sun in the right place. We then rode up the hill behind the town to see if we could get some good views, and we could. What amazed us was how far the development goes along the beach. Past the horizon, and some areas it goes quite a way inland too. We suspect it may be like this all the way to Barcelona. We are staying another day and head to Barcelona on Sunday. The R&R is doing us good. We have also decided to do a hotel stay in Barcelona. We were going to do it in Madrid but thought we would get better value (not just money value) doing it in Barcelona. We will set the alarm to listen to the Grand Final which starts at 0630 for us!

October 3. The AFL Grand Final was scheduled to start here at 0630, an obscene time to get up and listen to a football game. I set the alarm for 0730, checked the score and went back to bed. The weather was light rain most of the day but we had jobs to do with the van. We sorted through a lot of paperwork we had lying around and decided to cull it. Brochures, though interesting, will probably never be looked at again. Got rid of about 5Kg of paper. Did the same with plastic bags. We also found things we couldn't find before. We have reclaimed a fair amount of storage space. Because of the rain, I thought I would take advantage of it and washed the outside of the van and boy did it need it. Didn't realise how filthy it was until I cleaned it. Looks good again. Took a ride in to the supermarket in the morning for a shop, then another ride in to the town again in the afternoon. Still lightly rained on us but no big deal. The filming for Game of Thrones is getting closer with the changes being made to the castle environs taking shape. It will be interesting to see the episodes that it features in. Also need to look back on season 6 to see the other locations we have already been to. I set the GPS for the campsite in Barcelona (well, 17km out) and the road without tolls looked a little horrific, with the distances 211 Vs 200 for toll roads, but the time being 1:20 longer on the non toll. Time to take a deep breath and pay the toll tomorrow.

October 4. Got away about 1030 and headed towards Barcelona. For the first time since we have been in Spain, we struck an issue with road projects that have not been completed, probably because of the 2009 GFC. We managed to ignore the GPS and follow the signs instead. The toll road was a dream. We sat on 110kph on the cruise control and hardly had to alter it. The problem came at the end, at least, what we thought was the end, when we got a bill for €16.50. Now, that was OK, we were expecting something along those lines. A few kms down the road, we stop at another toll booth, demanding €3.91. Now really, what moron decided that €3.91 was a good number to charge for a toll. Julie tried paying with coins totaling €3.91 but it kept rejecting them, so a €5 note was inserted, and everyone was happy. We got our change and continued. That was good until we got not that much more down the road and the next machine wanted another €6.50 to continue. At this stage we had little choice, but the total figure was a little like highway robbery, literally. Anyway, it did save us a lot of time and pain, so not all is bad, the issue we have is that you really have no idea until you get to the end how much it is going to cost. We did get to the campsite without any drama so that was a bonus. The campsite we are at is an ACSI card site, so we are paying €18 a night instead of €36. Oddly, this same site closes in 11 days and wont reopen until March. Insane? Yes! The site is very close to Barcelona Airport and the noise is pretty loud. The visual is pretty awesome too if that's your bent. An A380 turning over the campsite at about 1200' is a very impressive sight. We met an English couple, Dave and Anne-Marie and had a few drinks with them until our bottle died and we had to go back to our van for dinner anyway. Tomorrow, we take on Barcelona.

October 5. OK, the curfew is 2300 to 0700, but that's not too bad, better than no curfew at all. Managed to stay in bed for another hour and a half after they started in the morning so that was good too. Headed in to Barcelona on the bus. Strange ticketing system here, it is €2.15 for a normal ticket if you pay cash, but you can buy a T10, 10 trip ticket, for €9.95, or €1 each. Of course, the first thing we did in Barcelona was to try to buy 2 T10's. The woman in front of us broke the machine by trying to jam a torn €5 note into it. OK, later. We were planning to get to the walking tour start before the 1300 departure and managed to find the "Travel Bar" with 20 minutes to spare. That gave us time to have a coffee/tea first but then the guide called in to say he is running 30 minutes late. Not the best, but these things happen. As usual, there were 5 other Aussies on the tour, from Melbourne and Brisbane, but we didn't socialise with them. It was a good tour, very much on the lines of the Madrid one but better. The history here is incredible. We probably only covered abut 2km total in over 2 hours, but much to see, including a Picasso public painting on the side of one of the buildings. Apparently one of only 3 he ever did. It was not impressive in itself, just the fact that he did it. After the tour, we stopped with the guide at a tapas bar that he has influence with. Three of us, Julie, me and a Russian girl from St Petersburg had a mixed tapas plate for lunch (at 1600, late lunch). Walked back to the bus stop, picking up a couple of T10's on the way. Met Dave and Anne-Marie, the couple from the campsite, at the bus stop, and caught up on the latest travel stories. We are about to head to the camp restaurant for dinner if they are open!

October 6. Bused in towards the city and decided to get off at Plaza de Espana (every Spanish city has one) and it was more than we could see from the bus. There is a palace, or something similar, at the end of a huge avenue with fountains, waterfalls and gardens. We need to find out what it is and investigate further. We didn't want to waste too much time because we were booked in to the Sagrada Familia at 1400 and Julie needed lunch before we went in. Our ticket gave us free use of the Metro (provided it is in the same direction and within 75 minutes of the first use) so we took two lines to the Basilica. Had a pizza lunch right across the road with a really cool waiter attending us, then hit the doors at 1345. You get 15 minutes either side to enter but once in, you can take as long as you like. The outside of this building, designed by Gaudi, is sensational in its gaudiness and detail. It is very much a work in progress, started in the 1880's and not expected to be complete for another 30 years. The fact that it was started with 150 years construction stage is staggering. Imagine trying to get something like that even approved today! The visionary aspect of it is enormous. The inside, while still a work in progress, is far less so. You need to understand that this is essentially a 12th Century cathedral, built in the 19th century and later. We have seen many (too many?) cathedrals, but this one blows the mind. It essentially uses the same building techniques but updated with better materials and more modern engineering design. The effect of all that, plus a guy who must have been an absolute genius, is massive. The standard pillars are based on trees, so the large pillars break into branches holding up the ceiling which is based on leaves even to the point they can open and close to allow more or less light in. Add that to the innovative stained glass windows and it is a wonderful show of colour as well.
OK, I have run out of superlatives for it. Suffice to say, if you visit Barcelona and don't see this place, you have missed the best that not only Barcelona has to offer, but arguably, the best Europe has to offer in this field. It should be on everyone's bucket list. Other than that, it was quite ordinary! Trained and bused home for dinner in tonight. I should mention that when staying a while in a large city, it is worthwhile working out the best ticket method to use. We are using the T10's as mentioned yesterday, and the comparison with the cash method for us today was, we used €4 total for today's travel, if we paid cash, it would have cost €17.20. It pays to do your homework. We have found so much more to Barcelona than we originally thought so we will probably be here close to a week.

October 7. Same routine to Plaza de Espana then the Metro to the Arc de Triomf. It seems everyone has one, whether or not they have triumphed. Similar style to the Paris one but more ornate. Set on an avenue that runs in to the Parc de la Ciutadella, it is a pleasant setting. The Parc was interesting with modern art, old fashioned fountains and memorials, a mammoth statue, it was like no one could agree on what the parc should represent. Not bad though. Lunch and then a walk around part of the Gothic area to the port and the Mirador de Colom (of Columbus). I bought a new hat and binned the old one which was falling apart already. Back along La Rambla to Palau Guell, a building by Gaudi. It was €12 each, so I opted to pass while Julie went through it. We are going to Park Guell tomorrow anyway, and after yesterday, I don't want to overdose on Gaudi. Home after a couple of revolting drinks in a cheap bar. Red and a Rose, and both almost undrinkable. Next time we come to Spain, we need to taste the drinks first. It has been a bit random in quality.
In the hope I could update to the latest Tomtom maps on the new European one, I paid for 24 hours of internet at the park. I checked on a limit, needing 6.5Gb, and was told that was OK. I was also warned it may be slow depending on others usage. What I didn't expect was speeds way slower than dial up. Sometimes fast, but not often. The sad outcome of trying to update the maps though was that the maps were not downloaded, but the existing ones were deleted. Well done Tomtom, we are not amused. It is effectively bricked. Tomorrow, we take it back to Carrefour in Barcelona for a replacement. At least we have the other Tomtom with older maps.

October 8. Today was a bit of a mixed bag. I left Julie on the bus and got out at Plaza de Espana. She was continuing to Plaza de Catalunya then walking to the first of the Gaudi buildings she wanted to see. I caught the metro to the other side of the city to the Carrefours store with the Tomtom. I had success, although the first guy who spoke no English, looked at the receipt and shook his head. I had bought it 3 weeks ago! Eventually, he went and got his manager who spoke perfect English and I explained the problem, all fixed, no drama. They didn't have the same model, but they did have the next one up which is essentially the same unit, but with lifetime everything including world maps. What a bonus. If I want USA, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, where ever, I can download and install the latest maps. I paid the extra and upgraded. Messaged Julie and she said she didn't go in to the Gaudi building as it was too expensive and I met her at a cafe across the road. They wanted €21.50 per person to see inside this building. We have to ask, who the hell do they think they are? That is more than going in to the Segrada Familia, Gaudi's pinnacle. Really! We then caught the Metro to Parc Guell which was originally planned as a housing estate back in 1900. It is now gardens with a few buildings that are very Gaudi (he did design them!). We came in to the park via a side gate, so we didn't realise that part of the park is entry fee and that when we got there at 1630 and found we couldn't go in until 1800, we opted out. After getting home, we discussed it more and we will soon do an online booking and go in again tomorrow. There are other places we need to see as well, so we will stay another day.

October 9. Got on the bus to find my T10 ticket was used up so had to pay €2.15 again. Julie was on her last leg, so to speak, so after some checking, we found we could buy 1 T10 and share it, so we did. Metro'd to Parc Guell, with a 20 minute walk as well, and got there early enough to have a wine each. It was after 1400 so that was OK. In Spain, anything after 0700, a wine is fine. We had booked online last night and saved €2 on the walk up price so that was a win. The info we had was that you had 30 minutes in the designated area and had to leave, but we were told when we went in, take your time, you can stay as long as you want. Well, without trying, we stayed over an hour, so that was another win. The pay area was not vast but some of the structures and buildings were what you would expect from Gaudi, almost out of a comic book. One of the houses there looked like a gingerbread house, seriously. See the photos! I went on about Gaudi before so I will stop now. We were glad we went back. We then trained to La Rambla to visit the markets which are what we saw in Valencia, very much the same, except I didn't see any horse heads, but did see some sheep heads. From there to Plaza de Espanya (Catalonian spelling) to check out the old bull fighting arena. Catalonia, or Catalunya to the natives, banned bull fighting in the 1990's, which immediately put them in my good books, so the arena was converted into an upmarket shopping centre but they also included a viewing deck on the top, along with a lot of expensive restaurants. We thought the only way up was the lift (later found out we could have gone to the top from the inside) and checked the price. €1 each, so we thought, what the heck, lets do it. I checked my change and only had €1 without changing a note, when the guy asked if we were over 65. I thought I would protect Julie and say I was, but she wasn't. He accepted that (the bastard!) and we both went up for the €1. A good view of the immediate area from there, then it was down through the middle to exit the bottom and get the bus home. All in all, a good last day in Barcelona. We have enjoyed it and feel we have seen enough to give it the justice it deserves. Tomorrow, we head towards France!

October 10. Bye bye Barcelona, adios Espana, been nice meeting you. Bonjour la France. We left Barcelona and got stuck in multiple traffic jams. Tomtom knew about them, and after a while, we decided to let Tomtom take us alternative ways. That actually proved pretty sucessful. However, that, and avoiding road tolls gave us a long and winding road with a few interesting moments. One of the unusual things you see on the roads in Italy and Spain, and parts of Paris if you know where to look, is roadside hookers. They are in rural areas just sitting on plastic chairs or standing around near remote country lanes. We would pick them out as we are driving, a bit like the old "Spotto". Julie said to me "She had her boobs out!". I missed it (them?) as I was watching the traffic. There was an opportunity to turn around, but Julie wouldn't let me. True story, but seriously though, it is an unusual custom. We got to our campsite of choice near Perpignan and were very pleased. Huge pitch, level, so we didn't have to get the ramps out, stunning ablutions block (amazing what impresses when you travel like we do) and free fast WiFi that we get full signal inside the van. What more could we want. We do need a bit more R&R after Barcelona and will probably be here 2 nights at least with an option for more.

October 11. Intended a quiet day here near Elne, and it turned out that way. Planned clothes washing didn't eventuate and we scootered towards the beach, only to realise the supermarket we just passed closed at 1230, time now 1145 (it is Sunday) so we stopped, did some shopping and took it home. Then we left again for the beach, only 3 km away. It's a funny place, some parts are tourist orientated, but much is sort of "take it as it comes". The beach is pretty good, fine sand, though grey brown in colour. The water is still cold, so no good to me at all. Walked along the beach for a while, scootered down to the other end about 5km away, had a look and went home. After lunch, we explored the village which, at it's centre, is very old, dating back to pre 1200. We followed the tourist walking route as signposted and quite enjoyed it. Not something you need to put on the bucket list, but a pretty diversion. Good on the scooter because some of the streets are so narrow that 2 scooters could have trouble passing! Chatted with a French couple camped opposite us and discussed the scenic route we have chosen for tomorrow to Carcassonne and stretched Julie's french as their english was not too good. If we got everything right, we are in for a beautiful though sometimes tight drive. We will soon find out.

October 12. Left Elne and headed towards Carcassonne via the scenic route. We were not disappointed. Some wonderful old villages, which provided some entertainment with their narrow roads, and beautiful scenery driving through the foothills of the Pyrenees. Mountains all around and rivers and rapids flowing along side us, not to mention the autumn colours. Very pretty. Got to the campsite and it was closed until 1600 (we got there at 1400) and while we did a self guided tour of the camp and decided it was OK, but a bit ordinary, and then pondered our next move, the girl from the site turned up. We decided to settle here as we are only staying 2 nights anyway. Set up camp and rode in to the town, the newer one, not the old World Heritage listed one. Visited the Tourist Info and among other things, found where the SFR store is. That is like our Telstra. It was a few Km out of town and we found it, bought a 4Gb Sim for a month for €40 and now are set up for internet for the rest of the trip. We have internet on the phones but that doesn't help the laptop or the Ipad. I tried using Google Maps to navigate around Carcassonne with varying success. Suffice that we arrived where we wanted to go with a few hiccups. There was only the audio instructions through my headphones so it was always going to be hit and miss. While we were getting lost though, we did find our way to the old town and where to park, so not all was lost. Tomorrow, we hit the old town.

October 13. It was cold and wet this morning. Had been raining on and off during the night with a light drizzle still falling when we were ready to go. We waited a while and thought we might as well just go. We are only about 3km from the old city of Carcassonne so we didn't get too wet on the way. Once we arrived it stopped so that was a bonus. The walled city is free to get in to and the only thing you need to pay for is entry to the fortress, or palace as it was also known, but didn't have that look or feel. It is an amazing place. Parts of it date back over 2000 years and most of it was restored in the 19th century. The effect is excellent. By far the most extensive and complete walled city we have ever seen, by a significant margin. We visited the fortress, including part of the ramparts, had a decent lunch for a decent price, which surprised me, then walked to the Basilica. Did another lap of the town, out the gates and another lap of the town between the two walls. The city was protected by two walls about 10m to 30m apart, depending on where you were. We then rode to the newer city to get some outside shots, halfway home to get some more, then home. A good day. Julie had visited here about 38 years ago when she was teaching and wanted to see it again because the last time they were always rushing and they got to look in and had to leave! Today was much better than that day. Tomorrow, we head towards Montpellier.

October 14. Last night, the SSD hard drive on the laptop died. Fortunately, all we really lost were some emails, not really important, and some videos from the dashcam, also, not really important. It did however, annoy me no end. More on that later. We drove from Carcassonne to Montpellier, timing our departure to arrive at the campsite in Montpellier just after 1400, as that was when their website said they open for arrivals. We arrived at 1415 to find that they really don't open until 1500. Don't get me started! Anyway, we finally got in and settled. Julie wanted to do some washing and I wanted to replace the hard drive, so we did our own things. It took me 4 places before I found the one that had what I wanted. Went home and fitted the drive, reimaged it from the backup I had made before we left (finally some forward planning worked out!) and got it up and running again this evening. Not a lot else to report from today, though it was a good drive through seeing a lot of villages on the way. Tomorrow, we will visit the old city of Montpellier. After that, we are not sure.

October 15. Took our time this morning. For the first time this trip we had the heater on all night. Not on high, but enough to keep the chill off. We also put on the warmer doona so sleeping was good. Lately we have been waking up cold. Now, getting out of bed is not such a chore. We took the tram in to the city, the tram stop being about a 10 minute walk away. The sooner Perth gets light rail the better. We had no preconceptions of Montpellier so we were not disappointed. Actually, it is a nice town with arguably more open space than we have seen in other cities. Their Arc de Triomphe is OK but not stunning and their aquaduct is good, but not as good as the one in Segovia. Sad that we get critical. We did enjoy it but didn't feel the need to hang around too long either. After we got home we went shopping as we were running quite low of a lot of essentials. We had to buy so much food that we could only fit in one bottle of wine. That's a desperate state of affairs. That bottle was not so good that we went back for more though. We did buy some lamb chops for dinner which we don't normally do because they never look particularly inviting, however, they were very tasty even though we had to pick out the bones like they were fish. The butchery here is different to home. We have done some more planning and tomorrow is a campsite that is a 5 minute walk in to the old town of Avignon. A French guy here we were talking to recommended it but it does get poor reviews on the Acsi site. Nevertheless, it is time we stayed almost in the city we are visiting, so that's where we are going. We figure 2 or 3 nights there, then only an hour or less up the road to Mazan, where we plan to visit some of the better villages in Provence. Lets see how well we stick to these plans!

October 16. Took around 2 hours to drive to Avignon. We travelled via the coast for a while, between a large estuary and the sea. This area has lots of bird life including storks and flamingos, both of which seemed to be in abundance. We settled in to the campsite across the Rhone river from Avignon then walked in to the town, a mere 5 minute walk. This is what has been missing from our trip so far, being so close to the towns that you can walk in anytime you want. Makes such a difference when you can stay in the town (or walk in at the last minute) for dinner, have a few drinks and walk home. We started at the Pont d'Avignon, the old bridge of French child's folk song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon". If you have a look at the photos, you will see that the bridge only crosses half of the river Rhone, after damage in the 17th century, restoration was abandoned. They wanted €5 each to walk on to the bridge. It is 13C with a frigid arctic wind and a chill factor that makes it feel -20C. Not a chance are we paying that much to walk out over water and freeze to the bones. We then went to the Palais du Pape (Pope's Palace). There have been 3 in history, if our Barcelona guide was correct. Rome, Barcelona and Avignon. This palace is huge. It was originally built in 1335, with additions, demolitions and restorations ever since. This cost us €20 for the 2 of us. I got in on Seniors discount, over 60, and Julie paid full price. They would have let Julie have seniors too, but her pride cost us €2. The Palace was a good visit and a good way of rounding out the day before home for dinner. As usual, we learned a lot of history that we knew nothing about. It is so cold here with the lazy wind. We have the heater in the van working overtime.

October 17. Rode out to Pont du Gard, a World Heritage listed site. 25km away but not a bad ride. We were both rugged up with as many layers as we could as it was still 1C at 0900. The wind chill on the scooter at that temperature can be pretty severe. It cost €12 to park the scooter which included admission to the cinema (a 15 minute show with good scenery and very little information), the museum, and the viaduct itself. That gives you no option just to go to the viaduct and have a look. A bit steep really (€18 for a car) but made insulting when they also charged another €4 each if you want to go to the "vantage point" to see it. We declined that offer. The Pont is spectacular, especially when you realise it was around the time of Christ that it was built. The fact that they could build it in the first place, and then to have it operate as intended for 500 years and still be in pretty good condition 2000 years later is a credit to the Romans. It is nearly 50m high at the highest point (about the same height as the Statue of Liberty) and over 250m long at the top section. Just amazing. Rode home for lunch/afternoon tea. After a couple of preloading drinks, we walked in to town for dinner. We could not pass up the chance seeing we are walking distance away. We found a nice restaurant where we had a good meal (duck for me, beef for Julie, and wine with a shared dessert) for just over €50. Nice to have a treat along the way.

October 18. Any plans we had for today are on hold. It has rained today, and rained and rained and rained. It has not stopped, not for a moment for at least 16 hours. It has rained. Did I mention that it has rained? Julie took a short walk along the river, I played a few games of pinball. That was our day. Tomorrow is forecast to be better.

October 19. After the rain continuing to past midnight, we woke to a beautiful sunny day. Still on the cold side, but very nice after yesterday. We walked in to town and visited the Museum of Petit Palais, where there are hundreds of items of artwork all related to the catholic church. They came from a variety of places like Venice, Florence, Rome, Avignon and others, ranging from the 13th to 16th centuries. Some of the paintings were very good, others had trouble with the facials. One had Jesus as a baby with a 40yo face that also looked downright peeved. I broke the silence in the museum when I burst out laughing at that one, much to Julie's disgust. We took in more of the town, starting with the gardens at the high point with great views over the countryside and the outer urban areas of Avignon. Lunch there, then more of the town, just wandering really, the old walled town is not overly big. We like Avignon, it is pretty with a good feel about it. About 1630 I rode to a Carrefour supermarket we had shopped at on the way home from Pont du Gard the other day. I knew it was a fair way out, but I didn't recall it being almost at the Pont. Turned out to be a 40km round trip in a cold wind and traffic. I got home at 1800! Dinner at home tonight. Tomorrow, we have a wine tour in the afternoon.

October 20. Still very windy. The Mistral wind is not pleasant. It doesn't stop, it's very strong and it's very cold. We did some chores in the morning and had the minibus pick us up about 10 minutes late from the campsite. They had a last minute booking so we went back in to the middle of the old city to pick up a Chinese couple. There were 8 of us altogether, the other 4 being a group of girls in their mid 20s from England and Wales. Our tour guide was very good, knew her history well and seemed to be very knowledgeable when it came to wines. The first stop was a cooperative cellar in Tavel where they specialise in Rose. The wines were quite nice. Then it was off to Chateauneuf du pape for the red wines. The name of this place means "new castle of the Pope" and was built as a summer house when the Pope resided in Avignon. Now, it is just ruins but the town and district is still under that name. We stopped on the way to see some of the vines then to a family run winery called Botte. Had a white, and two reds which were quite good but still not really what I would prefer. On the way back to Avignon, we asked to be dropped off in the city, it was 1820 by then and we thought we would stay in town for dinner. We asked the guide if she could recommend a nice, local (read "non tourist") one. She gave us 2 options, the first which we couldn't find, but the second we did. It was 30 minutes before opening time so they asked us if we wanted to make a booking for 1900. We said yes and then went back to the main square for a drink. Back to the "Cuisine Chic" (it was better than it sounds) for dinner. I had the roast lamb fillet and Julie had the salmon on squid ink rissotto. They even gave us water, 2 types of bread and some Foie Gras (duck pate) as starters, complimentary! The main meals were very good, and the wines were excellent (to my taste anyway) and only €4 a glass, bargain. Walked home after dinner trying not to get blown off the bridge! Great day compliments of Lauren and Gareth's birthday present to me. Thanks.

October 21. We have had enough of the Mistral winds. We took a scenic road to a campsite in Royat, near Clermont-Ferrand city. The nearby attraction here are the old volcanoes. The drive here was nothing short of spectacular. We passed through a Valley in the Cevennes National Park. No photos, though we might get some good footage from the dashcam. The autumn colours were all we could expect. Whole mountain side covered in different colours. Everything we hear about autumn but in Perth, we never really see, mainly we don't really have an autumn, or the trees to go with it. The drive through the valley was on tight twisting roads where on 2 occasions we had to stop and wait while 2 semi-trailers maneouvred to get past each other on corners. We followed a semi most of the way, working on the assumption he would clear our path and generally, that worked pretty well. The 275km trip took 6 hours and that was with 130km being on a motorway, so it gives an idea of how slow we were travelling. It was worth it in spades, not just to avoid the tollways but the country we drove through was such a wonder. We loved it. Even Julie did, despite the close traffic on tight roads she would not have gone any other way. We are staying at an "Indigo" campsite (they have the one in Paris that we stayed at 2 years ago, plus they give the ACSI discount, always another bonus). It is 10km to the Puy de Dome, the largest of the volcanoes in the group and we intend going there tomorrow.

October 22. Change of plans. It was cold and drizzling this morning. We checked the forecast and today is not too good. Low overcast would not be ideal if it is below the level of the volcanic peaks. The forecast for tomorrow is much better, so we will wait until then. In the afternoon we took a ride in to Ceyrat, a village near us. It was dead as a doornail. We did some shopping on the way home, dropped it off, then went to visit Royat, somewhat larger than a village, but nowhere near as big as Clermont-Ferrand, the city nearby. Royat was an interesting town and we rode around it a while, then walked a bit. Interesting here, and Spain and Portugal for that matter, is you very rarely get good public viewing spots. We followed the road as high up the hills as we could above Royat to get views across Clermont, which are impressive, but there was nowhere really good to view from. We got some sights anyway, but at home, it would be a big thing to have the scenic lookout. At least we worked out where we need to go to get to the volcano tomorrow. We are expecting it to be bitterly cold if today is anything to go by.

October 23. We left for the volcanos a little after 1100. It was a really good ride there, tight sweeping corners and smooth tarmac. Even Julie didn't complain. We got to the cog train station and bought 2 tickets. A return and a one way. I had decided to walk the trail knowing that it was estimated to be 50 minutes. I left Julie to wait for the train, coming in 20 minutes and taking 15, thinking I would be there within 10 minutes of her arrival. I had just set off and the first sign I saw said, 1:30 to the summit. I checked the map and found it was 50 minutes from the carpark that is 40 minutes walk away. Bugger. The walk to that point was actually really good. Through a forest with autumn colours and leaves everywhere and a gentle gradient. I got to the carpark in 40 minutes, so I figured I was behind time and Julie would be expecting me about then anyway. I sent a text, though I had no signal, in the hope it would send eventually, which it did. The second stage was challenging. Very steep for a long distance, the only break was one you took yourself. I shaved just short of 15 minutes off the 50 from the carpark to the top, so I was pretty pleased. 3C at the top and I got there with gloves off, beanie off and jacket off. It was hard work, but satisfying too. Julie was waiting for me and I had a cup of tea, she having had a coffee already. The weather was interesting with the cloud tops below us and sunshine where we were. It didn't tke long on the way down to run back in to the cloud. It was warmer on top of the mountain than under the overcast at the bottom. Walked all around the top of Puy de Domes and caught the 1420 train back. Rode home again with Julie feeling a little under the weather with a cold. Tomorrow, that famous town of Vezelay.

October 24. We drove to Vezelay through many back roads. Tomtom said we could save 5 minutes this way, so we went. Actually good, we saw a lot of villages, some pretty spectacular and the rural countryside of France. We got to Vezelay and found the whole area taken over by boy scouts. Everywhere we looked there was a pack of them hiking along. We found the campsite and they were setting up for dinner for heaven knows how many scouts, but a lot. It was also a long walk in to the village and with Julie still feeling crook with a cold or flu, we decided to move on towards Paris. We found an ACSI site 58km from Paris. At €12 a night all in, it was too good to say no to. We saw the pitch they said we could have and it looked like a truck had practised reversing on it or something but it was so chewed up and just wet mud. We asked for, and got, another pitch which is much better except we are under an oak tree, and it is dropping acorns very loudly on our roof. C'est la vie, better than mud. We are staying here 2 nights so hopefully Julie can get better, then we will head to the campsite much closer to Paris. Not the same one we stayed at 2 years ago, this one is on the other side of the city. It should be less than an hours drive from here. Tomorrow a rest day.

October 25. A recovery day, mainly for Julie, but it wont do me any harm either. Quite cold out, so most of the time spent in the van. Went to the restaurant at the campsite (Sunday, everything else in France is closed) for dinner which was not too bad except the wine. The chilled red (why?) had a battery acid nose, battery acid palette with a battery acid aftertaste. I think it was battery acid. It was so bad, we left half the carafe! Surprised that the French don't have more pride than to serve up a disgusting wine like that. Even the worst Aussie wines (and I've tried a few) are not as bad as this. Mind you, it is not the first that's been this awful, so it is not on its own. Other than that, we rang the campsite in Paris and they have plenty of spaces for us so we are off there tomorrow.

October 26. A casual start to the day. We had to leave by 1100 and could arrive at Paris at noon, so we left at 1100 with only 48km to travel. It was a good drive with the last 20km on freeway, almost to the door of the campsite, though the approach in was a little longer than we expected. This campsite gets some terrible reviews but we figured we have stayed in some pretty bad sites, we could cope. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at our assigned pitch (the second one really, the first assigned was taken) and there is a pebbled level pitch. No levelling ramps required, no mud to step in to. Close to the new ablution block that is as good as we have had anywhere, bar a few exceptional ones. All the facilities, ablutions, bar, restaurant, shop, even the reception, look brand new. On top of that, we are getting it for €16 a night. As good a bargain as the previous nights. Julie is still not the best, but getting a little better. I took a walk to the RER train station to buy 2x 3 day travel passes which was €4 cheaper overall than buying them at the campsite. The €24.80 each tickets give us unlimited use of all the public transport for 3 days in Paris. We will get our moneys worth. The bus stop is at the front gate and the train runs every few minutes for the 14 minute ride to Paris. From there, we can get the Metro to anywhere we want. Tomorrow, we will start using it. The forecast is for good weather most of the time we are here. We have paid for 4 nights but always have the option to extend.

October 27. We bussed to the station, trained to the city, then metroed to Montparnasse. There is the Montparnasse Tower there, 59 storeys high and it is built in line with the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero Fountain which mean you get a great view down the line. The building itself is actually an eyesore on the vista from anywhere else, but from it, you can't see it, so it is a good view. Paris is a bit odd in that there is no interesting terrain around it, and all the bulidings are the same height and same off white colour. Makes for a generally bland view. Just as well there are the landmarks to concentrate on. Having said that, it is quite spectacular, it is Paris after all. We then went for a wander around the Montparnasse Cemetery which makes for some interesting discoveries. Not too many bland gravesites here. Took us a while to find it, but eventually we located John Paul Sartre's grave. He was a 20th century French philosopher and unfittingly, had one of the plainest head stones around. Then we trained to the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame and walked the streets for a while. Looks like a good place to come back for dinner one evening. Back home again late afternoon. Julie is not that much better but she coped well enough. Maybe a longer day tomorrow.

October 28. An easy start to the day and we caught the 1445 bus from the camp. Trained to the Arc de Triomphe as we had not gone up to the top last time. The Arc is much lower than either the Eiffel Tower or Montparnasse tower, so I didn't expect a great deal. The reality was quite the opposite. The view was much better mainly because you feel part of it, rather than remote from it. You can hear the cars competing on the roundabout around the Arc, you feel close while still seeing the sights to advantage. It was a good move to do the climb (at a cost of course) and we enjoyed it. Walked down the Champs Elysees to the end of the shopping strip then a metro to the Latin Quarter. It was getting dark, around 1730, so we found a bar for a drink and watched the world go by for a while. Walked the restaurant strip a couple of times and settled on a place for dinner. Most restaurants in this area have 3 courses for €10-15 or a la carte. We opted for a €12 one and it was pretty good. They even threw in a free glass of Rose each. After that, we headed back to get the train home, via the Metro, and had more problems with our tickets (they had started playing up at the last station on the way to dinner. Julie managed to jag an entry, but mine wouldn't work. I tried Julies, no success. It is a valid ticket and there was no one around to assist, so did a bit of gymnastics and swung over the gates. Probably looked a bit odd, this old grey haired man doing acrobatics, I should have put my cup out for donations. Got back to Joinville and had just missed the train again (2 out of 2, it better improve) and had to wait another 25 minutes to get the ride home.

October 29. Julie's still not feeling great. We are going in an hour earlier today to get a bit more light and possibly stay for dinner in the Montmartre area. We took the train in and walked towards Tuileries Gardens. It wasn't far away but there was a lot to distract us in that time. First was all the shops along the way, mostly souvenir shops, but they make interesting browsing. Then came the Louvre. We have been in it before, but never really seen it from the outside, we came in and out via the Metro. We went inside the courtyard area where we got a good view of the pyramids. From there, it was the little Arc de Triomphe (I thought it might have been the Arc de Defeats, but there was no sign to confirm that. This makes 3 arches in a line, the little one, the famous one and the Grande Arche which is in the new city of Paris. See the photos for the lesser known ones. Then it was in to the gardens. We are probably 2 weeks too late to see them at their autumn best. They are still dropping leaves but the autumn colours are definitely on the way out. We then Metroed towards the Luxembourg Palace and gardens. Distracted again by a drinks stop. I had a red and Julie had a hot chocolate. It was so thick it looked like a melted chocolate block, amazing. The gardens were good, but again, about 2 weeks past their best. We got there with about 25 minutes before they closed so we did a quick tour (only of the gardens) and then it was back in peak hour to home. Julie had had enough so Montmartre can wait until tomorrow. We have decided to stay another 2 days here. We are enjoying the weather now, better than the humid 35C last time, and we are happy to just wander and do only a few things in a day, rather than rushing it all.

October 30. Headed out again at 1145 and took the train and Metro to Trocadero Gardens and across the river to the left bank near the Eiffel Tower. We bought tickets for the river tour, it ws a nice day for it, and had 25 minutes to kill so we walked a little along the river bank and back. It was a good cruise down past the Notre Dame and back again but with all the glass covering the boat, the only place to get photos was from the stern, out in the open. Still managed to get a few and we picked up a few tips as well from the commentary. After the boat, we walked along the river back to Champs Elysees. The previous trip, we had heard of the "ring trick" where people (scammers? gypsies?) would pick up a ring next to you and ask if it is yours etc etc. We had never seen it or experienced it before but on this one walk along the river, we got it twice. Another scam going in France is the "Deaf and Mute collections for charity. We got caught with it in Montpellier but only gave €2, but the guy was very convincing. Here in Paris, it is everywhere. I googled Deaf Mute Donation Scam, and sure enough, there it was. Anyway, we have not been burned, but they sure are out there. The ring trick was so amateurish it was almost funny! Anyway, we caught the Metro to La Defence to see the Grande Arche, the third in the chain of arches along the Champs Elysees. This is the ultra modern city part of Paris, about 4km west of the Arc de Triomphe. The Grande Arche is actually 2 buildings with a roof between them to create the arch. They named it correctly, it is Grande, huge in fact. It is a little too modern in its style, but the intention is good. Stayed for a drink at a cafe/bar and discovered we were actually invisible. We had to go to the bar to order and again to pay. The waiters ignored us the whole time. Worst service we have ever had in France, though we had a few approaching that in Spain. At that stage, we had had enough again, so we got the RER train home from La Defence direct, so that was a bonus. Tomorrow is our last full day in Paris. We still want to do dinner in Montmartre.

October 31. A casual start. A bit of clothes washing by hand and I finally got Julie on the scooter in Paris, even though it was outer Paris. It was market day in Joinville and the traffic was chaos. We managed to find the supermarket and did some shopping. Took to Paris at 1500 as we wanted to stay in for dinner and we didn't want to spend the whole day there. Gets us old folk too tired! We went in to the Pigalle and Montmartre areas, generally known for the nightlife and Montmartre, for Sacre Coeur and the multitude of restaurants there. We walked a kilometre or 2 around the streets before taking the funicular train to the top of Montmartre. Haing been here before, there was no need for much tourist stuff, so after a look around, we went to a bar for a drink and check on the rugby scores. Soon lost interest in that! Went to one of the restaurants in the main square and I was so hungry, I ate a horse, well, a steak off one anyway. Always a first time for everything. I enjoyed it too! After dinner we went back to the Arc de Triomphe to get some night shots as I had my little tripod with me. Cost €15 to do it again but it was worth it, even though most of Paris, aside from the feature sites, is not very well lit at all. Trained back and got the last bus home. It was a good finish to Paris, aided by the crazily made up Halloween characters roaming the streets. Tomorrow, we head to Ypres and the Menin Gate. We have booked there for 2 nights having not been able to get in a couple of years ago.

November 1. We had a good run out of Paris, we were on feeways within a kilometre of the campsite. Took about four and a half hours to get to Ypres and then had to wait 90 minutes for reception to open. We know they didn't open until 1600 but thought that we would be able to just go and take our spot, given that our booking gave us a pitch number (although it was taken anyway) but the gate had a card operated barrier on it. That was OK, we were not in a hurry. We got set up, had a drink or 2 and headed in to the town. It is about a 15 minute walk from the site to Menin Gate. For those who don't know, Ypres in Belgium, or Flanders Fields more specifically, was right in the worst of the Western Front in WW1 and they have a "Last Post" service every night at 8pm. 365 days a year, rain hail snow or shine. The service was quite moving, and knowing it has been running since the 11th November 1928. There are 54,896 names of the dead who have no graves posted on the walls. We had a quick meal afterwards then back home. Tomorrow, we will visit the town in the daylight. It certainly looked good in the night lights.

November 2. We awoke to a misty morning and quite crisp. By the time we were doing the breakfast dishes, it was a beautiful sunny day. While we were still doing the dishes, the fog rolled back in and the temperature went down at least 5 degrees. It then stayed there all day, the fog lifted enough to become a low overcast, but it stayed cold, very cold. We put off going in to the town until the sun came out, but by 1300 we decided it wasn't going to so we went anyway. Rugged up to the hilt with thermals, 4 layers, beanie, gloves and then it was almost OK. We went in mainly to visit the "In Flanders Fields" museum which for a moment we thought may be closed being a Monday (many museums in Europe close on Mondays) but fortunately it was open. We spent over 3 hours in there which gives an idea of how good it was, not extensive, but you felt the need to see everything, and it was well done too. I have always thought that WW1 was the most inhumane barbaric war we have had on this planet, and this didn't change my mind. What amazed us both was the town of Ypres (or Ieper as the locals spell it). In 1918, there was not a thing left. No buildings, no trees, no vegetation at all, just complete and utter devastation (they had photos!) so much so it looked like a moonscape. They decided to rebuild the town in its original state, and what a job they did. The cathedral, the building next to it which sort of looks like a cathedral and now houses the museum, and all the town, looks like it has been there 100s of years. The cathedral particularly looks 800 years old. This work is a huge credit to the people of the day. Absolutely remarkable. The fact that 55,000 people died in Ypres alone is devastating, but the rising from the ashes is phenomenal.
We were thinking of going in for the last post again tonight but it is so cold and we don't want to hinder Julie's recovery. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Tomorrow, Dunkirk.

November 3. An easy 50km drive to Dunkirk. We checked in at the campsite and also asked for 2 tokens for the washing machine and dryer (value €6) and they gave me change for the site without taking the token money. I pointed that out, but the girl said, "no, this one is on us". One of the advantages of using an Aussie passport for ID I guess. We did very little today, walked to the shops and back for bread and walked to the beach (150m) and back. Tomorrow is a washing and cleaning day before crossing the channel the following day.

November 4. A dark miserable cold cloudy damp day. Otherwise, it was perfect! Got the washing done after a lot of drama with the machine not letting us get the clothes out. The campsite guy ended up using a large wrench to lever the door open. In the meantime, the machine had started again and dumped a load of water on the freshly spun clothes. We got another free token for the other machine and put it through another cycle then in the dryer. Finally got it done. I walked to the bakery for something for lunch in the meantime. Other than that, we are just sitting in the van with the heater on biding our time until we go tomorrow morning.

November 5. Rained most of the night. Got up at 0730, in the dark, got ready and headed to Calais. A very easy trip, 3km to the freeway then turn off the freeway about 45km down the road into the train terminal. I drove up to the auto check-in and the screen said, Hello Mr Martin, what is your preferred departure? We had booked for 1050 but were a bit earlier than required so the system checked on availability and offered us the 1020 departure at no extra cost. Of course we said yes! Hassle free this time, having paid the extra for the trailer beforehand. Arrived in Folkstone at 0953, going back an hour. Drove to Theobald's Park near Enfield, London, which is our preferred "cleaning up" stop. Here we clean the inside of the van, do the linen washing, pack our cases and head off again. I had organised with Colin at Cranham's to drop the van off and they would clean it and put it away, that was when we picked it up. That worked well last year. Sadly, Colin now no longer works there and the new Service manager said they have a shortage of cleaners, so they can't do it. Bugger. I'll do a quick clean (I've washed it a couple of times since being in France) and put the water wax in and throw it over the van. Tonight is Guy Fawkes night and the show from the locals is pretty damn good. Nothing like a close free fireworks display and in 360 degrees, shame WA is a nanny state. Tomorrow, we drop the van off.

November 6. Not good weather for doing a clean up of the van, constant drizzle, though it is not too cold. We managed to get everything done we needed and out of the campsite by noon, but it was a near thing. Drove to Peter and Margaret's place and dropped off our cases and anything else that was not staying in the van. Then off to Cranham's where we first took the scooter and trailer up the back, covered it up with tarps and put it away. Pumped the tyres up and took the van to bed. Grabbed a cab to Upminster and trained back to Buckhurst Hill, riding on a brand new train on the District Line. The rolling stock on that line used to be awful. Slow, rattling and generally uncomfortable. The new ones are state of the art, very nice. A nice dinner with P & M.

November 7. A drizzly day which waited until the 4 of us went to visit Epping, then it became a very rainy day. Quick look around and a coffee then back to Ardmore Lane. Learned a new game, called Rummikub, which is a tile rummy type game. We are always on the lookout for new games to play in the van, so this may well be one of them. Dinner at the local Indian restaurant. Two things have been prevalent over the last few days, fireworks and poppies, and we've seen lots of both.

November 8. Margaret was going to a Remembrance Day service in the morning, so we took it easy and got the suitcases ready, never an easy task. We sorted them out enough to head to London after lunch. It was a good train ride, being mid Sunday afternoon, it was almost empty, so we had no trouble taking up 4 seats with our luggage. Checked in at the Victory Services Club and had dinner in St Christopher's Place. We are both feeling exhausted as often happens in the wind down of these trips. Special thanks to Peter and Margaret, their hospitality is exceptional and our trips would be so much more difficult without their help.

November 9. A free day in London. We had ordered our Gatwick Express tickets online and needed to pick them up at Victoria Station. This could be done prior to departure but we wanted to have it sorted beforehand. Just as well too, it took about 15 minutes to get it from the ticket vending machine with a dodgy touch screen. We have the tickets now, so all is good, even if £44 ($90) seems a bit steep for the two of us one way to the airport. That was with a special intenet discount too, normally would have been over £60. That done, we walked to the Memorial Gardens, in the grounds of Westminster Abbey and checked out the temporary memorials put out for Remembrance Day. Took a walk on to Westminster Bridge then back along Whitehall to the Cenotaph where the official service was held yesterday. All the wreathes were still there and it made for a good display. We had watched the service on TV with Peter when it was live. Walked through Trafalgar and Leicester Squares then trained to Bond St and walked the rest of the way to the club. An afternoon rest before we walk the town again tonight. The Christmas lights are up in many areas and look pretty good. The walk was good, going through Carnaby Street, Picadilly Circus, to Leicester Square where there was a movie premiere on for one about Ronaldo, the soccer player. Apparently he was there, so the crowds were immense. That's always a good sign for us to leave. Went back to The Tyburn pub near the club for dinner and an early night. Up tomorrow at 0600.

November 10. We were up at 0600! Gosh it hurts. No time for breakfast, it was just shower, cup of tea and off. Got a cab to Victoria Station and then the 0700 train to Gatwick. Arrived with heaps of time to spare so we had a light breakfast and tea and coffee after checking in. Went through security and they wanted to look inside my laptop and Julie's bag. We had to wait ages for our turn, Julie took about a minute, mine was a lot longer. Had to take everything out and my bag is full of stuff. All the electronics got scanned again. The whole process took about 20 minutes, if not longer, so by the time we got to the gate, we walked straight on. The flight got away a few minutes early which is always a bonus. It was a good flight, just a shade over 6 hours and it seemed reasonable. Thursdays 10.5 hour flight probably wont be in that category.

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