Archives for the month of: August, 2015

On the back road from Estepona to Algeciras where we were to take the ferry over to Morocco we saw a lot of cork trees and a large cork collection area. We had a bit of trouble locating “Voyages Normandie” the agent who would sell us our tickets and give us documentation for Morocco. Having found him and paid him 220euros for return tickets we made our way to the ferry which departed at 3.15pm (only 15minutes late). The crossing took about an hour and a half through the straits of Gibraltar. There were shorter crossings but they did not accommodate campervans. There was very little English spoken on board, mainly arabic and French.

The new ferry port in Tangier was very impressive only the custom’s agents let the place down. When they saw Maurice’s Irish passport they asked him to come with them and after explanations that Southern Ireland wasn’t part of England and three phone calls later they decided that he held a valid passport!

First impressions of the roads were excellent with good highways and good secondary roads. People we encountered were friendly and helpful.

Imui a new telephone company was set up on the road out of the port near the ATM’s giving away free sim cards with 100dirham 3gig 6hours of calls so we had one of those, used the ATM and were our way to Asilah about an hour away on the coast. There were many locals out enjoying the late afternoon and the beach area and the shopkeepers were starting to open their doors again about 5 o’clock in the Medina .

There was a strong police presence everywhere – on top of bridges at roundabouts and in the towns. We stopped to fill the tank with diesel or (gasoil as it is called here) for 535dirhams or 90cents a litre!

Luckily we reached our camping site in Moulay Bousselham just after sunset. A lively festival was going on outside the walls in preparation for a wedding the following day. There were few campers and most there were Moroccan. Moulay Bousselham was known for it’s wetlands and flamingoes but it was not the season for them to be there. The beach area was popular with the locals but there was
not a lot to see there and there was much rubbish lying around in the streets which they were starting to clean up the next morning.

I had a “Lavazza” coffee and the waiters were smart in their black trousers and white shirts with black aprons in the nicest looking cafe in town. We took the toll road for a small fee for a short while and then turned onto the secondary roads to see more of local life on the way to Fes. On the highway we could have been in Australia with thousands of gum trees lining both sides, some old trees and much new growth forest.

There was a lot of land dedicated to agriculture on the plains which gave way to rolling hills where grain and hay had been harvested recently. The patchwork of colours was beautiful. The villages mainly had one storey buildings and there were a lot of shanty type dwellings near the fields on the sides of the road.

The tourist office in Fes was unfortunately closed being a Saturday so we stopped and had a coffee (French was in use again)and a wander around the new city. There was a heavy military presence in the city and we felt safe wherever we travelled in Morocco. If asking directions people friendly and helpful and a lot asked where we came from and chatted to us (well me in French) or waved or raised their hands in greeting.
Camping International only 3kms from Fes wasn’t very international as there were three other campervans all from France. The facilities were basic to say the least although they had been recommended in our camping site book which was a few years old. We were warned by some of the campers that we had met previously not to expect too much from the Moroccan campsites. We were lucky that if facilities were too bad we could use our toilet and shower in the van. Most campsites had a mixture of squat and western toilets. The prices in Morocco for our campsites were much cheaper, costing around $11-$15 a night.

We were advised to take an official guide to tour the medina in Fes which had over 1000 alleyways and we were glad we did. He picked us up as well as picking up his wife along the way and we sat and had coffee (Maurice had the popular Moroccan mint tea)at their local cafe. A lot of the pastries were the French kind with pain au chocolat and croissants. The bees (instead of wasps here) buzzed in and around the pastries but didn’t bother us. The couple gave us a lot of general information about Morocco and we chatted for nearly an hour. Mohammed worked as a journalist two days a week and as a guide another two days and his wife worked Monday to Friday in a bank. They both spoke Arabic and the local dialect,Arabic, French and English and he also spoke Spanish. They had two children at university which was free but after they graduated they had to then work for the government for two years which seemed reasonable. The king of Morocco wanted to build up tourism and the infrastructure of roads, bridges and highways was well underway (and a lot of it needed updating!)

Mohammed drove us up to the Merinid necropolis to get a view of the whole city. It was divided into three areas. The Medina or ancient city from the 8th century was Unesco listed and had a wall surrounding it. The middle aged city from the 14th century was near it and further away was the 20th century “new” city. Mohammed’s wife dropped the three of us off at one side of the medina for us to
explore. There were over 400,000 people living in the medina as well as countless small shops, schools, mosques and university. We visited the Abou Inania Medersa and the architecture and detail was stunning. Likewise the decorated fountains and mosques were beautifully decorated however we were not allowed to enter the mosques not being muslims. This is different from Turkey and many middle eastern countries who did allow us to see their mosques and unlike many Cristian churches there was no fee and in Oman we were even given dates and tea!
It is a great shame that most muslims who just lead an ordinary life are tarred with the brush of terrorism because of their faith. Mohammed and his wife were both muslim.

The alleyways were indeed narrow and winding and we had to watch out for the mules and men pushing small carts which was the only form of transport in the medina. We went to a carpet co-op where we bought a small Berber rug and then we went on to the tanneries which had just had a five month complete renovation compliments of Unesco.
There were very few dyes or hides in the vats but the smell was certainly there. I had wanted to buy a leather pouffe and we chose a neutral coloured camel leather one with Berber motifs. We had one given to us when I was a child from students from Iran to whom my mother taught English. They had every kind of leather goods for sale from pouffes to bags, shoes and clothing made from goat,sheep,cow and camel hides. We were picked up by Mohammed’s wife and deposited back to the campsite and our half day with Mohammed only cost us 200dirhams or $28.

In the morning we stopped for some supplies at the “Marjane” superstore (like a Lulu hypermarket) selling anything and everything. We bought some of the wonderful array of olives available and some fruit and vegetables. All the signage was in French and not in Arabic and there was a vast array of cheeses and other items from France.
The same applied in the Maroc Telecom sales office where I went to get a USB modem for my computer. All signage was in French and the transaction was conducted in French. Road signs were also in English.

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We headed on the Autostrada north west as we wanted to get into France and down to Spain fairly quickly. We later regretted the decision to take the Autostrada as we didn’t realize that to go through the Frejus-Mt Blanc 13kilometre tunnel would cost us 59euros and it took us an hour to get to the tunnel with all the traffic!
The 37degree heat in Pavia in the morning dropped to 19degrees through the Alps with torrential rain that had set in for the late afternoon and the first rain we had seen for a couple of months. We continued through Chambery and to the north of Grenoble to the campsite beside a lake called simply “Au Bord du Lac”. The rain started again in the night and continued in the morning so we took off for the long trip (about 7hours) down to the south of France to see Dieter the brother of my best friend who I hadn’t seen for about 30years.

We took the Freeway with several tolls and stopped at a large “Aire”- the wonderful rest stops all along the highway which are parks with picnic tables, toilets and many times include the service stations and cafe/restaurants. We unfortunately took the wrong entry to continue our journey and found ourselves going back towards Lyon and through the tolled tunnel again before we could turn around and resume our trip which lost us an hour. We covered a lot of the French regions in the day- first of all the Rhone-Alps,the Auvergne and through the Loire valley, Limousin, the Dordogne area and down to the Mid-Pyrenees region to the small town of Pampelonne north of Toulouse. We passed a lot of grazing and cultivated land as well as travelling through the heavily forested mountains and hills. We ended up putting on jumpers as the temperature stayed at about 17degrees all day and there was heavy cloud and some rain during the day and into the evening.

The Tom Tom led us unfortunately to another Pampelonne and when we discovered our mistake we had another 2hours to travel and got to
Dieter at 9pm so we had a late meal (luckily it was a cold collation). We spent a nice evening and the morning with Dieter and left France for the Spanish Pyrenees via Albi and Toulouse about 12noon.

Dieter was telling us that the dialect they spoke in the area he couldn’t understand as it was a mixture of Spanish,Catalan and Basque.

We enjoyed the beautiful mountain scenery of the Pyrenees and with luck on our side we arrived at Morillo de Tou just before 8pm, the time the office closed. We got the last spot in the camping
ground with no electricity but we were just glad to not have to drive further that day. The twilight helped and it did not get dark until after 9.30pm.

Diesel prices were more favourable in France at 1.13euros litre and in Spain at 1.09 euros almost 50 euro cents cheaper than in Italy.

A lot of French holiday makers were also going south and we avoided a turn off where a traffic jam was caused by a major accident with a car on it’s roof and many emergency vehicles at the scene.
People were being treated on the road – a sad start to their Sunday.

On the 11th August we left the Pyrenees and set off for Zaragoza (a city I had always wanted to visit) an hour and a half south of Morillo de Tou. The mountains gave way to vast plains with what
looked like piggerys and large cultivated land with fodder. There was very little traffic along the way and coming into Zaragoza parking was easy just across the river Ebro from the old part of the city. The Basilica del Pilar dominated the skyline and was a very opulent basilica which looked from the outside almost like a mosque with rounded turrets. Walking around that part of the city was comfortable with large pedestrian areas with more churches, museums, fountains, sculptures and lots of cafes and restaurants. We wandered the relatively empty old city for a few hours in the hot sunshine.

My very basic Spanish got a workout when we called a campsite to make a booking. We were surpised that no other language was spoken there but I got the message that there was no space so another
campsite purporting to be the highest in Spain had free spaces so we made for “Los Corralizos” set high up in a pine forest near Brancholes in the Sierra de Albarracin. The weather had returned to
hot and sunny although the nights were quite cool. We walked from the campsite up to the “Sierra Alta” at 1850metres and got a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

We had to get used to different hours as the Spanish don’t have lunch until about 2-3pm and dinner until about 10-12pm. If there was music this would sometimes go on until 1-2am and children were
usually running around until late. Mornings in the campsites were the quietest time with most people not rising early!

We left after two nights and drove through the mountains to Albarracin a fascinating town with buildings hugging a mountain on all sides. The only tourists we encountered in and around that area
were Spanish ones and we saw no tour buses. We drove on south via the vast orange orchards of Valencia and on to Santa Pola, south of Alicante for a few days which turned into a week. Santa Pola lies on salt flats which range from white to pink and there were thousands of flamingoes in the lakes of the surrounding wetlands. Nearby was a large shopping complex and it was very sad to see

it as most of the shops had either never opened or had closed because of the economic crisis.

Something strange was going on with the right side of my face – infection, teeth and wasn’t sure so made a dentist appointment which was difficult as August is standard holiday time in Spain. After a few trys got into one for Monday 16th August so we decided to just enjoy our time in Santa Pola from Thursday 13th. It was a warm 40 degrees with a hot wind when we arrived so the airconditioner went into action straight away. The campsite was enormous and we got one of the few remaining of the 500 odd sites. We were right at the top of the hill (quite a climb when walking back from town) which was pretty quiet thank goodness except for a loud Spanish party one night.

We walked down to “Merce China” a warehouse run by Chinese and full of everything you could every need and it was really well set out! The Chinese shops in Italy are more of a mish mash but here all the goods were very well displayed and categorised. The locals in both countries complain about the Chinese taking over but there are always lots of locals in their shops because of their prices.

We went to catch the bus but because of the big holiday in Spain (as well as Italy)on the 15th August, the services were reduced so we waited a while before finally one arrived to take us to Elche a non tourist city south of Alicante and a big centre for shopping unlike Santa Pola.

We had a long walk from the bus station and a lot of the shops were closed so we opted for a big lunch instead. We asked a local for a nice restaurant serving local specialities and were directed to “La Granaina” where we ate at a long bar with the locals. It was a very upmarket bar with Moet in ice buckets on the counter. The food was delicious and very well presented. The giant gin and tonic and large glass of Sangria went down a treat too.
We started with marinated almonds and three courses starting with gaspacho with shrimps,fried cod,pork belly and their special baked rice with sausage and chicken, drinks and coffee and at 71 euros we thought it was excellent value. A pity the Australian dollar was not doing well against the euro.

The bus took us to “El Cortes Ingles” a wonderful enormous multi storey department store more like a shopping complex which had a large hardware store “Brico” on a lower level and a very large
supermarket as part of the store.
The shop assistants and security guards were all so helpful and cheerful that it was a pleasure to shop there. One security guard phoned us a taxi and as we could not take our trolley out of the

building, she went and got our euro for us from the shopping cart.
We ended up with some useful things for the van – new good quality sheets and a new clothes airer.

It was a shopper’s paradise with such variety and many sale items.
We caught a taxi home as we had too much to carry back to the campsite from the bus stop. Two luxuries in one day – a wonderful meal and a taxi ride. Maurice liked being driven for a change.

The long evenings were lovely but at 7pm it felt like 3pm, still warm and very light so we always seemed to eat later and later but never as late as the Spanish.
There were mainly Spanish family groups at the campsite. They explained that because they live in flats in cities close by and come to the campsite to get together where they can swim and be
together with much more space and the children can ride around on their bikes in a secure environment. They did a lot of communal cooking in enormous pans.

We thought we would replicate our great day from two days before but it was not to be. We to wait an hour in the sun for the bus so opted for a taxi after 45minutes to take us back to Elche. The restaurant we wanted to go back to was closed (a Monday) and both shoe repairers had gone on holiday. My good walking sandals had given up the ghost. We didn’t have too many days like that so
we cut our losses and went back to the campsite after my first dentist’s appointment where they discovered a wisdom tooth that needed extraction.

We had forgotten how many sets of twins we had seen in Spain the previous year until we saw four sets in two days?!

The tooth came out without much fuss on Wednesday leaving me with a sore face for a few days. Dr Orts did a great job and at 50 euros
for xrays and the extraction I couldn’t complain..
We took a mixture of the highway and small roads when we left Bahia de Santa Pola for Estepona, our last night’s stop on our way down to Algericas. The scenery was very varied with stark mountain ranges, gorges and valleys first full of citrus orchards and then olive trees from tiny new ones to very old trees on our way down through Andalucia. We didn’t think that Spain would ever run out of

We came across the strangest theme park called “Fort Bravo” with an enormous “Texas Hollywood” sign on the side of the hill. There was a large wild west town and we thought it might have also been used for spaghetti westerns.
It was lovely seeing the coast again near Marbella before we arrived at Estepona and the campsite.

It was a long day so we opted for a seafood paella at the camp restaurant for our last meal in Spain. It was delicious.

On the 21st August we drove down to Algericas to board the ferry to Tangier in Morocco.

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It had cooled down from 45 degrees in Turkey to 39degrees when we arrived at Mandra beach in Greece for the night. It was straight down to beach to cool off although the water was very shallow for 200metres so we had a bit of a walk before we could cool off. I was glad to find a freddo cappuccino after having had none in Turkey. There they have either Turkish coffee or Nescafe but most of the men sitting in the bars drink tea in the mornings.

It was about 500 kilometres to drive to Igoumenitsa with a scenic deviation through some beautiful mountains and mountain pass. The Kalami campsite at which we arrived was beautiful with lots of colourful bouganvillea, a stunning beach metres away and a very good restaurant where we ate nice fresh fish, good moussaka and Greek salad. The general standard of campsites is better in Greece with more facilities and the family run ones like Kalami beach were even better. The only drawback was that there was no regular bus service to the town. It was an hour and a half walk or a 7minute taxi ride for 15euros.

A housekeeping/cooking day with a couple of swims in the lovely clear water preceeded our day trip to Corfu. The ferry left at 9.30am for the 1 hour 45minutes trip over to the island. It was a Sunday and most of the shops were closed which made for a much quieter walk around the old town with few tourists in the 36degrees heat . The narrow passageways through the old town were very atmospheric and we then happened upon a little train which took us further around the bay. Corfu had a much more relaxed feel to it than Rhodes where there were more historical buildings but Rhodes was terribly crowded in the main old town. We found an excellent small cafe for some needed refreshments and some delicious thick Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts before walking back to the ferry for the trip back to Igoumenitsa.

Our last day in Greece was spent with a trip into town to buy from the “Illy coffee agent” some Freddo Cappuccino glasses and some good quality chocolate powder for Maurice who no longer drinks coffee. It was very humid in town so we went back to the campsite for some lunch at the restaurant and a last swim. We really appreciated the extra of our airconditioner especially at night. You could tell the campers who didn’t have any by their exhausted looks in the morning.

The ferry back to Italy and to the port city of Ancona was to leave at 11pm but was late and at first attempt at landing the ferry wasn’t quite in the right spot and had several attempts to straighten it up. It had put it’s ramp down a little early on one attempt and taken out a piece of the wharf’s concrete. The whole landing procedure didn’t exactly inspire us with confidence. Maybe it was a trainee captain. We eventually got away about 1am after having 5 hours on the dock some of it in the last heat of the day on the wharf before a breeze finally kicked in about 10pm.

We had such wonderful experiences in the past two months in Greece and Turkey and we hoped for more as we headed on to our next stage across Italy, France and Spain to Morocco.

Luckily the crossing (a 15hour one) to Ancona was smooth and everyone was quiet overnight. We landed about 4pm and drove straight to Gubbio. It was too late to have the technician look at the fridge so we settled at a campsite and was at his workshop first thing in the morning. He took a quick look and asked us to wait while he replaced a connection and had the fridge running within 10minutes. Such an easy fix after two weeks of searching for ice and trying to keep some food cold.

Relieved went back into Gubbio to see the old town before heading for Tuscany via Cortona another beautiful old walled town unfortunately very touristy so we didn’t spend long there and made for Greve in chianti and our friend Mary who at 91 lives in her beautiful old converted farmhouse. Mary is our role model. She still goes on holiday and drives. We had a couple of relaxing days there and left for Pavia and an overnight stop. It was nice to have some lovely Italian food and good bread again. There was something wonderful about the aromas and goods available in the service station shops and supermarkets in Italy.
We headed off the next morning for our trip over the Alps and into France.

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