Wednesday, January 30, 2013


After a month of being stationary after such a hectic few days to get to Spain it was a little weird packing up and loading the car again.  We planned to head west as we didn't get the chance to last time.  So we headed towards Gibraltar and found a campsite in the ACSI about an hours drive away from there,  which was nice as I was bored of driving as it was very windy.  Driving the van in the wind is not enjoyable... imagine driving a house through cement,  its worse than that.

The campsite was a very big jump from La Garrofa.  There were camper vans the size of buses with massive  tow cars and caravans the size of a house.  We looked very very small when parked next to them.   We were just sitting down for some tea and then a nice guy came over to talk to us.  He had seen the car in La Garrofa and came to let us know that when it rained the pitch we were in tended to take on all the campsites water and flood, but only in major rain storms and not to worry as it hadn't rained since November when he arrived.  No need to move then if that was the case.  We said thank you and carried on with our evening.  Around 7/8 the next morning it decided to rain.  We woke up in around 5cm worth of rain water.  Now I hate putting the tent away when its wet... but this was just silly.

We arrived in Gibraltar at around 12.30 and headed straight for the cable cars to visit the top of the Cliffs.  There had been reports of very strong winds and so the cable cars had been closed for the weekend.  Just our luck.  For the first and probably last time ever we paid for a tour and took the journey up in a van.  We will probably never go back so we thought we may as well.

The best part was he wasn't even an actual guide.  It was just a taxi driver who knew the tour guide.  Even so he took us up told us a brief history of the place and took us to see all the usual sights.

Vick specifically told the guy that she didn't want to hold a monkey as she doesn't like how unpredictable they are. We were just about to get in the van to go back down when one decided to jump on her head. She thinks it could smell the fear, or it wanted to mate with her, either way she wasn't very impressed. The weather report wasn't lying either.  It was VERY windy.  On some points of the island you could lean into the wind and you wouldn't fall over.  It was a shame the weather was so bad as it would have been nice to have taken in the full view.  It wasn't the same experience when the guide pointed at Africa and said ''its there... its just behind the clouds.''

I don't really like doing the normal tourism stuff when away but seeing as we were in the area we felt we should go into Gibraltar and see the main attraction.  We even visited Morrisons.  Which was a very odd experience.  Everyone speaking in English and using GBP doesn't fit when you can be in Spain within 5 minutes. It just didn't feel right, even so we still bought some pies and onion bhajis.

Because the weather was so bad we ditched our next plan and decided to head inland to a campsite about an hour North.  This was mainly so we didn't take a beating from the coastal winds.  However we still took a beating from the rain.  That night we went to bed in 5cm of rain again but at least it drained away overnight.

The perfect breakdown...

Throughout our eastern part of our journey I was a little worried about breaking down.  I can fix a lot of basic things but if anything serious was to happen it would have been a bit of a disaster.  You cannot describe how happy I was when I drained the battery by leaving the lights on one day and then unwound the gearbox a few days later leaving us with reverse gear only.

 The reason I was so happy is the fact that both Dad and Paul were only a bus journey away and we weren't in the middle of Hungary.  The battery wasn't so much of an issue as we were at the campsite at the time, but the gearbox unwound in the Decathlon car park, and I didn't fancy driving all the way back in reverse.
After a quick text saying what we had done Dad and Paul both jumped on the bus.  After a quick stop off for some lunch, the recovery team arrived.  An hour later we were all in the car heading back to the campsite.  The perfect breakdown if there is such a thing.

Paul's main challenge whilst away was to fish.  Being so close the the sea it made sense.  Once him and Janice had fully set up the camper he was in serious fishing mode.  For Christmas he got all the gear... but had no idea.  He went out a couple of times and tried various types of bait but still caught nothing.  Dad then dug his rod out... the race was on.  Who could catch something first. 

I think I won as within 20 minutes I caught boredom.  Even so I battled on and even went out in the canoe one day which was a bad idea as the waves picked up and by the time I had cast out I was in the rocks.   I decided that fishing is not my sport and the only way I was going to catch anything was with a grenade.
I like to think Paul is still stood there now catching nothing whilst the 2 italians that were at the same campsite are still dragging out metre length sized squid every night right in front of him.

Keep practicing Paul. :)

With only a week until we were due to leave I decided to go exploring and went for a danger walk with Zac (Paul & Janice's dog) We took a walk up the rambla and into the desert.  For some reason when I go for a walk alone I always choose to go the stupidest ways where no one knows I am going.

So once into the rambla I decided it would be a cracking (stupid) idea to walk up a massive hill and down the other side, the main reason being to find some goats to photograph and to find a skull.  I found some, but goats don't like dogs and they have a distinct advantage over me when it comes to a face off on a cliff.  Once I found out that they weren't going to stand down I eventually ran back up the hill and down again.  I decided 'Killed by a goat' wouldn't have looked very good on my headstone when buried.  I also didn't find a skull.

One of the main purpose's of the walk was to go and take some pictures of the 'arrival' who turned up one night during the week.  The Thialf arrived late one night and got the whole campsite talking.  You couldn't miss the thing.  It was mahoosive! This thing was the worlds largest Semi-submersible crane vessel and weighed 136,709 tons and had a combined maximum lifting capacity of 14,200 metric tons with its two cranes.  Everyone was saying it was there for different reasons. Some were saying it was fixing a pipe under the water between Almeria and Morocco, from what we could work out we reckon it is on its way to the crash site of the Costa Concordia in Italy where it is going to winch it out and repair the damage.  It left Rotterdam just before Christmas and arrived in Almeria on the 15th January.  Turns out we were wrong also as its now in Algecerias which is nowhere near Italy.  If you really feel the need to you can track it here. 

For the rest of the week 'Dolphin Watch' was out the window, a new craze was in town... 'Crane Watch'. A small tug was going to and from the ship, causing much excitement.  When another ship turned up and cranes started moving the cargo off it the excitement went through the roof!

It was at this point we decided we needed to leave.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Kings procession!

Kim and Paddy had to reluctantly leave on the 3rd at 6 in the morning.  I haven't seen 6 in the morning since I left work so it was a bit of a shock to the system when we woke up to say goodbye.  Once they left mum and dad both slipped off back to bed whilst Vick and I for some reason stayed up.  We regretted this decision at about 9.  We were knackered for the rest of the day but struggled through without a siesta.  Mum and Dad on the other hand woke up 3 times that day.

If you're lucky enough or just observant you can pretty much guarantee to see some dolphins at La Garrofa.  It does help when you have a mum that is always on ''Dolphin Watch'' as she stares misty eyed out to sea and then flaps her hands shouting ''DOLPHINS.''  As much as we did take the piss out of her when you see them in the distance it does put a smile on your face.

In the UK we're usually getting ready to take down the Christmas decorations and carry on with normal boring life after New Year.  In Spain it carries on until the 5th for when the 3 Kings arrive and bring the presents to the children. 

There was a Kings procession going through Aguadulce and we were kindly invited to Michaels to watch from his balcony (I say balcony... this place is as big as a tennis court.)  Mum and Dad met Michael on a previous visit to La Garrofa and have been friends since.  When we arrived we were introduced to Lucia, Michael's cleaner/ friend, and her Daughter who's name I can't remember (Sorry).  We weren't really sure what to expect other than a few drinks and nibbles whilst the procession passed.  We were taken outside to the balcony and presented with a feast of traditional Colombian food.  In case you're wondering, Lucia is Colombian, not just a fan of Colombian food.  I'm not sure what it all was but it was delicious.  What can only be described as a  cauldron was filled with seafood and rice, a heap of what looked like bright yellow dumplings, but can now be described as potato heaven and when topped off with the homemade salsa they were amazing!

Once we had eaten, Michael revealed a 'treat' for us to all try.  His description was that it would have last been seen at our granny's house, to which Helen (another friend from La Garrofa) replied in her Geordie accent ''It's not me Granny is it?''  It was bright yellow in colour and looked quite stringy, and tasted like a big dry chip.  After a lot of unsuccessful guesses Michael confessed that we were eating a yucca plants stem which is a delicacy in Columbia.  As far as I'm concerned it can stay in Columbia.

At around 5 the Kings procession arrived!  Everyone ran to the balcony edge to watch the grand passing.  The road below was full of kids with empty bags waiting for them to be filled with sweets.  It was magical.  What actually happened is three guys dressed as kings passed by on three car towed trailers and threw sweets at kids.  That was it. 

If you read this Michael and Lucia thank you for the afternoon, we all enjoyed it and also enjoyed it the next day with the three bags of food we took home.  I need the recipe for potato heaven and the salsa but not the yucca, you enjoy that yourself.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Happy New Year!

The week leading up to New Year we did nothing.  Well that's a lie actually.  We did do some stuff, just not much.  We decided to visit the Castle (Alcazba) in Almeria with Kim and Paddy. Vick and I had been before but thought we'd go again, as it was a day out, and we do love a good castle.  Its definitely worth the visit if you're in the area and is free to EU citizens.

Kim and Paddy very kindly took us all out for a meal on the Friday night.  Due to being in Spain we decided to wait until as late as possible so there were actually other people in and not just us Brits.  We went for some real Spanish cuisine - an all you can eat Chinese at King Wok.
It was an odd experience.  I have been to plenty of Chinese buffets before but this one had the added bonus of people watching.  There was a mass party of what looked like Romanians (nothing like a good old bit of stereotyping) with music blazing out of there own Karaoke machine which was shit.  Everyone was keen on the  tepanyaki however they didn't seem to get the idea that you could just go back up... instead they would hand over 3 plates filled with a mountain of prawns and ask for them to be cooked.  One couple even told the chef off for not cooking them quick enough, and demamnded that he hand them over as they were.  They weren't very polite and I hope they got the shits. It was an amazing meal though, the choice of fresh fish and meat was unbelievable, along with a sushi bar, a pre-cooked selection and some puddings. You could even have squirty cream (which we all opted out of when we saw a young boy from the Romanian party squirt it directly into his mouth.)

New years eve soon came around and Paul and Janice arrived mid afternoon ready for the evenings jollies.  Magda cooked everyone an amazing meal again which lasted through till around 11.30. We had Iberian cold cuts, then prawns and mussels, then chicken, and then ice cream or fruit salad. A lot of food, but a lot of good food. This time we made our own mix tapes as the music can sometimes be a bit random,  however, I think I made it worse. 8 minutes of Insomnia by Faithless whilst eating a meal isn't the best. However, Janice's rendition of meatloaf's Like a bat out of hell was the best.  The video is ready to go on YouTube so be nice to me Janice (I expect pancakes on our arrival at Chatenet.)

In Spain it is a new years tradition that at 12 on every chime of the clock a grape must be eaten.  "That sounds easy!" you say? You are wrong.  The first rule of grape eating is - always de-pip the grapes.  Its not nice biting into a grape with seeds in, and it makes it very difficult and unpleasant to chew and swallow, and you've got no chance trying to de-pip it once its in your gob, and especially not before the next chime.  Vick kind of gave up as you can see and was left with about 4 at the end.  The second rule is DO NOT look at anyone else as you will get the giggles and end up either spraying someone with grape juice, or being sprayed yourself (or worse, choking on your grape) All in all a very unusual tradition and I'm not sure how it started, but a very funny one.

As the night progressed everyone got more and more drunk. Dad started the night in a kilt, and well, I'll let the photo explain the rest ...
The guy wearing Dads kilt is Florin, Magda's son, who was helping out. He was a bit reluctant to wear it at first, but once it was on I think he quite enjoyed it. 

The numbers in the bar started to dwindle so we headed off to the beach where there was a fire going. Dad was going to attend this, but in his own words he "had someone else's legs" so he went off to bed, as did most other people. Vick went to bed about 2 and left me with Beatle (pronounced Be-atter) and John (pronounced John). For those of you that know me will know that I am usually the one eager to get into bed with a cup of tea and get some beauty sleep. But no, not this night.  After a quick piss on the beach I eventually crawled into the tent at 4. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's Christmas!!!

The main purpose of having a mammoth journey from Croatia to Spain in 2 weeks was to arrive in Almeria on Christmas eve to surprise my mum.  After my sister told her this by accident the surprise wasn't so much of a surprise anymore.  In hindsight it was probably a good thing as I'm not sure how we would have kept it a secret for such a long time.

Since leaving Croatia we haven't really had a short days drive.  Every day has been a bit of a mission as there has always been a destination that we have had to get to.  With the final destination in sight we decided to carry on missioning it until we arrived in Almeria.  The next morning we left Barcelona and drove 6 hours south to Oliva, camped the night and then packed up and then drove another 5 hours to Almeria, which was quite pleasant in the Spanish sun.  Apart from another carburetor issue en route we made arrived safe and sound.  The long way round to get to Spain but we made it.  We had arrived a week earlier than planned but with the chance of sleeping in the camper van we couldn't refuse. For about a month now the roll mats have been leaking quite badly.  To be fair they have taken a beating having being used daily whilst on the road and we have had them for about 3 years.   With no bath to test for leaks we have waited until now to put them in the sea.  Its quite difficult to look for leaks whilst waves are crashing up against you.  We found the leaks and tried to fix them, but, we failed.  Two new Alpkit sleeping mats are on the to do list as we are going to be staying here for a while now and I can only sleep on the floor for so long.

After a week of sleeping in a bed in the camper van we were then kicked out and put back into the tent as it was change over day, Kim and Paddy arrived on Christmas eve.  We haven't seen them since the wedding back in August so we were a little bit excited, however being the older brother I obviously hid this and acted as though I didn't really care. 
On Christmas morning we all woke up at around 9 and gathered around to open our presents.  Always an exciting time for any household, even more exciting when you don't agree to buy presents for each other but there are presents awaiting... Kim and Paddy were thrilled with their free Grimaldi lines shampoo and shower gel and football that had washed up onto the beach.  It was then our turn to open presents from Kim and Paddy, they must have seen our wish list as tampons and a instant Bovril drink was just what we wanted. Mum and Dad received a free campsite keyring and a tin of mandarin oranges.  Exciting stuff!

For the rest of the morning we rang everyone back home wishing them a Merry Christmas and then at around 1 o clock we headed up to the bar for our lunch, no roast tatties, stuffing or sprouts though at this meal, just the worlds biggest turkey leg!  We didn't think we were going to need to eat for the rest of the day, however after a load of drinks we departed back down to the house and me and paddy went to collect two of the biggest and tastiest pizzas ever. They were so big they wouldn't fit in the front of the van unless they were lifted when driving, and to get them through the camper van door they had to be turned sideways! 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

We haven't forgotten you

Sorry for the delay on posts currently.  The internet here in Almeria is a bit temperamental so we are having to pop to Mcdonalds to use their internet.

Have a photo to keep you going.  This is currently our view. x

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Another Ferry!

After a week at Rita and Richards the day came to leave and travel down to Livorno where we were due to catch our ferry to Barcelona.  We had planned to leave for around 11 and spend the day at Pisa seeing as it was only down the road.  Cup of tea drank I went out to move the car round the front so we could pack up and be on our way.  It wouldn't start.  A couple of tries turning it over and the battery was completely flat. Nightmare.  I couldn't even move it to try and jump start it as the drive is quite a hill when pushing.  Luckily we were at a house that had a battery charger so out came the battery and on charge it went.  Battery charged and another tea drunk I went to give it another go.  Nothing.  And the battery drained again.  I can safely say that battery is dead.   Luckily the car has two batteries so I took out the other one and charged that.  It was now 3.30 so Pisa was off the agenda as we needed to arrive in Livorno for 9ish.  I didn't want to have the same issue in Pisa.  This battery was charged and worked.  After a quick change of spark plugs with a quick hairdryer pre heat the car was working.  Although 6 hours late we were on the road bound for Livorno.  It was only an hour down the road so not a massive journey, the next challenge was to find where the ferry left from, which wasn't as easy as it should have been.  It wasn't in Livorno at all, it was around 3km out and in the middle of nowhere. We pulled up into a very dark looking port with very little going on.  All we could see was a single ferry.  We drove into the official looking area ignoring the border guy on the roundabout.  We then turned back and went to the roundabout and asked the policeman whether this was the right place, he asked us where we were going then said ''yes this is the place, wait here I'll sort it out.''

He then took our ticket printout and went and stood in the roundabout again.  We were sat on the roundabout for about 3 hours. In this time we received our boarding passes and room keys for the ferry and watched about 100+ cars get onto the ferry.  All these cars where loaded to the nines with tarpaulin covered roof racks and no suspension play whatsoever, some were also a mix of old and brand new cars with single drivers, but they all knew each other.  It was 11.20 and our ferry was due to depart at 11.30 and we were still parked on the roundabout.   It was at this point where we started to get a bit jittery.  I decided to go and ask our friendly roundabout man what was going on.  It turned out that our ferry was due for both Barcelona and Tanger.  The majority of passengers were heading for Tanger which I believe involved lots of papers going to and fro, and we were told we couldn't board until they all had. Eventually after another long wait we were allowed through, and drove straight on, no passport check or anything. The ferry eventually left at 2am.

After the last ferry being so bad we decided to get a room this time,  this was the best idea ever.  There were people everywhere! People were unrolling sleeping bags in the children's play area, behind the bar, basically behind anything they could fit a sleeping bag or pillow in.   So we found our room as soon as we got on the ferry.  A quick toilet and teeth-brush and then to bed was the plan.  Right on queue though was yet another plumbing nightmare... Our toilet wouldn't flush.

 We were kindly left with a toilet full of piss. And not even our piss.   We didn't trust it not to overflow through the night so I ventured to the reception to let them know the problem, the gentleman nodded and wrote down our room number.  Nothing happened so he can't have told anyone.  I then went and found another member of staff and dragged them to show them the problem we had.  He then went and found a mechanic to fix the problem.  Nothing happened again and then two people came to try and fix the issue.  In the end we decided no one was going to tell us if it was going to be fixed so we went to bed at around 3.30.  We slept in the next morning to around 11 when a member of staff knocked on the door.  I answered thinking it may be something related to the toilet issue.  It wasn't, a member of staff muttered something in Italian then walked in and stuck some safety instructions in Arabic on the back of our door and walked out again.  I then went back to bed.  We didn't fully wake up until 1.  A 22 hour ferry is a long time, especially when its delayed by 3 hours. The rest of the trip I watched films while Vick did some drawing.  Because of the delay we weren't due to arrive in Barcelona until 10pm, which was fine as we had emailed the campsite from Rita and Richards to give them our details so that the security guard would know to expect us if we happened to arrive after they closed (at 10). However, on the ferry they kick you out of your room 2 hours before you arrive.

This isn't really an issue when there is usually somewhere to go and sit in the ferry.  But this ferry was rammed, so we sat in the corner of the self service restaurant.  We got kicked out of there to.  So we had to spend the last hour on the ferry in the reception area sitting on the floor.

We finally arrived at around 10.10pm and with only 9 cars and a lorry to get off the ferry it seemed to be every man for himself.  But we made it off and we were back on land where we seem to have more luck. 

All in all another great ferry crossing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Italy - Great Food

Italy was cold.  Very cold.  In fact I was even considering wearing some trousers! We amended our ferry booking from Croatia to two weeks earlier than planned, as originally our ferry only left us with 2 days to get across Italy, not leaving us much option other than to drive straight across it to get the next ferry.  Having heard rumours that the sister of a friend lived near Livorno we thought we would see if we could pop in and say hello and possibly set up camp in a corner of their garden for the night.

Rita & Richard had met us briefly at Harry and Frankie's wedding, but with so much going on and so many people around we never actually got a chance to chat to them. (Their Granddaughter did pull my beard however, which they did remember) so we felt a little cheeky when we sent them a Facebook message asking if we could camp in their garden for a couple of nights.  When we arrived we were told there was a bed made up for us and that we didn't need to sleep in the tent.  A warm house, open fire and massive comfy bed with en suite bathroom was so much more than could have hoped for.  We would have been grateful for a space in the garden and use of a toilet and shower.  
Rita and Richard were travelling back to the UK on the Sunday morning so we had planned to move on the Friday after 2 nights there so we were out of the way, leaving them to pack and shut the house down and do all those little things you have to do when going away for a while without us vagrants hanging around watching TV.  However, within 3 hours of being at their house our options had been opened up for us. They offered to let us stay at theirs and house sit until our ferry from Livorno a week later.  We didn't know what to do. We were torn. It had been the best offer we'd had in a long time, but we still felt cheeky for even asking for a corner of the garden, and locking up someone else's house felt like a lot of responsibility. After some thought and discussion and a well prepared tick-list composed by Rita we took up this offer as we would have been stupid to turn down a warm house and bed.

The days went by in a blur, whilst Rita and Richard were getting everything ready and shutting what of the house they could, Vick and I were making the most of the open fire and TV. Don't get me wrong, we did go into Brugnato, one of the local surrounding "villages" . I say "villages" but Brugnato is actually a city because it has a cathedral, and last year suffered from major floods. It is still recovering from these today.  We also went to the coast for a walk along the sea-front with Rita and Richard. We dressed in our usual shorts/flip-flop combo and they thought we were crackers.
On Friday night they took us out to their local Trattoria for pizza as an early Christmas present which was incredibly generous of them. For starters we had a flat fried chick-pea bread (which i can't remember the name of) but it was so delicious we could've just eaten plates and plates of that. But luckily we didn't as the pizza was just as delicious.

Rita's cooking was incredible. We ate like king and queen, from the tastiest frittata to an amazing ragu sauce made with actual beef instead of mince, everything she cooked was heavenly, and we honestly looked forward to every meal. I cooked pie on the second night that I think went down quite well, but nothing like Rita's cooking. She also had every imaginable pot, pan and utensil.  Vic thinks its the nicest kitchen she has ever seen.

Rita and Rich left us on the Sunday where they took a mammoth drive to Boston in 2 days to spend Christmas with their family.  
For the duration of the week we sat on our arses and watched TV.  I honed my skills at making the perfect fire and chopped kindling with an axe and felt manly.  Vic had a table to draw at which is a luxury after months of balancing a drawing board on her knee. It was really nice to have a week of sofa and television.  Crawling into the back of a van to escape the rain can drag you down at times. 

People who have read our past write ups will know I don't have much luck when it comes to plumbing. While we were at Rita & Richards we had another incident.  Their outside tap had frozen and had broken its seal.  Once defrosted it was spraying everywhere. 

We couldn't really leave it for them to find, so in my expertise I started fiddling. I'm not to good at fixing so the problem soon became worse.  To cut a long story short I ended up having to cut the tap off and make a cork out of a piece of kindling wood with an axe.  It was cold and being wet wasn't helping.  It was a proper bodge but it worked and did the job. We also insulated it to prevent it from freezing and splitting the wood with Vick's favourite charity shop cardigan that we had shrunk in the wash the previous day.