Friday, June 23, 2017

Portugal and back to Spain

Porto was a really nice place once we got settled into the hotel and we were looking forward to our next stop Lisbon.
What I thought was a palace was actually the Bank of Portugal!
Lisbon is another 200 miles further south of Porto and it was really hot there with temperatures hitting the 100's. We camped outside the city and took a cab into the center. Walking around soon got tiring and we did the "Hop on Hop off" bus but only the "Castle Line" that stayed in the center of the city. We have figured out that the longer (More expensive) tours just go to the outskirts of the cities without bringing you to much more of interest. It's a case of "stretch it out for a couple of hours to justify the cost"
A very imposing statue, with snakes all around his horse?
We got off the bus for the big castle that overlooks the city, the bus doesn't actually take you TO the castle. You have to climb quite a long way thru the tiny narrow streets that are closed off to vehicle traffic.
Steep narrow streets up to Castle San Jorge

Beautiful castle with lots of Moorish features

Looking down on Lisbom

Castle San Jorge was a nice place and brought home the history of Spain and Portugal which were conquered by the "Moors" in 790. The term "Moors" is a generalization for the Muslims who took over most of this Iberian Peninsular and stayed until around 1100. They brought amazing architecture as well as modern writing, arithmetic and more. I have always liked the architecture, I'm sure I'll be drawing and painting some soon.
Lots of boats

Antique Street Cars

And "Tuk Tuk's" everywhere for the tourists

A couple of days was enough, and we drove south again 300 miles back into Spain to the city of Seville.

On the way the van started to misbehave. The clutch started making weird noises and we couldn't get the transmission into 1st gear. When we slowed down the exit the freeway it began shaking like a wheel was loose or something! And it was Sunday.
Seville's cathedral
We stayed the night in a campground about 30 minutes outside Seville and on Monday morning the campground manager pointed us to a repair place just across the street. They could fix the van but parts would take a day to arrive and it would probably be Wednesday before they had it fixed. We left it with them, unloaded our stuff and made reservations for 2 nights in a hotel smack in the center of town, WITH AIR CONDITIONING! Why? Because the temperatures were going to be 105 degrees and higher most of the week...
Originally the prayer tower for the Moorish Mosque now the bell tower for the cathedral

More Castle walls in Seville

The hotel turned out to be just across the plaza from the world famous Cathedral. The city was teeming with tourists from all over the world, big parties of Japanese and Chinese and visitors from all over Europe. Sitting in a sidewalk cafe eating dinner we talked to a couple from Wisconsin, then an English girl and her Australian boyfriend, Asia and Nick. They said we ought to have a blog and we asked them if they wanted to be in it, so here are Asia and Nick!!
Asia and Nick say HI!!
We spent a morning wandering the cathedral but were driven back to the hotel by the afternoon heat. Now we know why they have the siesta. People stay in the cool until the evening then come out to eat at night. The sidewalk cafes are crowded at 9pm and stay that way. We left one at 11.30pm and it was still crowded when we left.
The city after dark is perhaps even nicer

Sidewalk cafes serving Tapas all night

Paella, our favorite
The van needed a new clutch actuating bracket and 2 tires to get it roadworthy but the gearbox was another thing. The dealer had a 3 month guarantee on all their vehicles and when I called them they told me I'd have to get a written estimate before they could approve any work. Not speaking Spanish made that difficult.

Then out of the blue some UK friends called and said they had a holiday home about an hour outside Granada and why didn't we come stay with them and they'd help us sort it out.
Ken and Angie our friends from WAY BACK!
Using 2nd gear to get going we made it to Ken and Angie's.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Spain and Portugal

We stumbled on the old part of the place which follows the River Diva. I can see some paintings coming from this area!

We wound our way back down from the mountains and followed the GPS to a place called Gijon. I had seen this on a “Rick Steve’s Europe” show on PBS in the States. It must have been a different Gijon! The one on the show was a small village on a hillside. This one was a big steel town with rolling mills and lots of traffic!! I had found a “Camping Area” using a phone app that appeared to be in the center of town. When the GPS said “You have reached your destination" it was a roundabout! It was a grassy roundabout but I don’t think camping on it would have gone down too well.

All part of the adventure. We stopped at a highway rest stop outside of the town and got out our ACSI camping book to find a real campground not too far away, near the beach. They gave us a nice flat grass pitch with shade trees on one side so we could choose sun or shade.

Sun or shade, take your pick
Like the previous campground this one was about $20 a night with electric. There was both a store and a restaurant on site and all the usual amenities including a swimming pool. We camped between a French family and a Dutch family, then a British couple pulled up opposite.

Taking some time to explore we drove down to the beach area. Of course, it had to be the ONE day that the weather hasn’t been great! Still we came, we saw, we photographed. 

The rocky shore

In our own special way we got completely lost and ended up in Puerto San Estoban where the street cafes were busy and everyone seemed to be having fun. Naturally we stopped for a drink and were delighted to find that a coffee and a beer were only 3 Euros (About $2.50) and came with a free sample of the Tapas dishes they served.
Puerto San Estoban
Next move was to Portugal. Another country we’ve never visited before but I have wanted to ever since I spent 6 months in Brazil in the 70’s and picked up some of the language. Portuguese sounds similar to Spanish to the untrained ear but is a distinctly different language with much more rounded vowels and a “Shush” kind of syllable that I like.
A cold drink in a sidewalk cafe in Porto
We drove over 200 miles in one day to Porto, then entered a nightmare of small narrow steep streets, trying to find a hotel that said they had room for the motor home to park. Worse was when we got there and found that they DIDN’T have room, despite the fact that they had been told twice how big it was by a native Portuguese speaker. 
Portugal has LOTS of statues
They found another hotel in the same chain slightly further out from the center which they assured us DID have enough room and we spent  another 30 minutes trying to find that hotel, for a total of about 3 frustrating hours of hot difficult driving.
The port of Porto where the Port was shipped from/
And as you may have deduced we decided on 3 nights in a hotel near the center of Porto rather than camping outside the city and commuting in every day. 
Wonderful colors and steep hills
Once we got settled in we discovered the great Metro transit system that left from almost across the street from the hotel. Barbara did great as we walked at least a couple of miles up and down some VERY steep hills. Porto is built on the side of a mountain, and it seems everywhere is uphill from where you are! We explored the narrow ancient streets, churches, cafes and sample Porto’s famous product – Port Wine. 
Port wine from Ramos Pinto
Port is a popular drink in UK, especially at Christmas. It’s a “fortified” wine in that brandy is added to it. This both increases the alcohol content and makes it last a LONG time. It’s matured in wooded casks, sometimes for 30 years and it continues to mature when it’s bottled. Port is still good after hundreds of years.
The sampling room at Ramos Pinto
We took the “Red Tour Bus” a double decker “On and Off” bus with an audio system to inform you of the high points you pass. We use them in big cities to cover a lot of ground and to find places we’d like to go back to and spend more time.
The main bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built before Eiffel's tower.
Walk down the hill to the port wine area and ride the cable car back

We made some tentative plans for our next couple of stops.

But you’ll have to wait to find out what they are!

Friday, June 9, 2017


Next stop will be Spain.

I was deadly afraid of the crossing from Portsmouth to Santander in Spain because I’m not a good sailor and the forecast was for a storm with winds up to 50 mph. The night before we left the wind was howling past Sheila’s house and even blew a Pigeon off the roof at about 3.30am with a big clatter and a bang as it hit the balcony!

We had to go to the UK bank AGAIN (A long and frustrating story) to get the debit card sorted out, so we went to the Pharmacy and I picked up some motion sickness tablets just to be sure.

Huge car deck on the ferry
Those of you who know me well understand the irony of me spending 49 years of my life building ships when I get seasick every time they set sail!
Nice cabin for the night
I was hoping that the last 10 years of my working life would stand me in good stead, as I sailed every 3 months on sea trials and builders trials, shake down cruises and retests until I got my “Sea Legs”. I haven’t sailed in the 4 or so years since I quit that job, but the only way to find out was to try.
Even a swimming pool onboard
Hurray! The combination of tablets, eating early, a few drinks and my “Sea Legs” resulted in me being fine, even though the ship went thru some VERY rough weather. We were tossed about in our bunks and the ship rolled, lurched, shuddered and the bow banged loudly into the trough of the waves.

Meanwhile I smiled happily to myself, rolled over and went to sleep.

The trip lasted 24 hours. We crossed the Bay of Biscay, which can be an extremely rough stretch of water. When we woke up we had passed clear through the storm and the sun was shining, the sea was very moderate and all we had to do was hang around for 12 more hours until we docked.

The lighthouse at the entrance to Santander harbor.
At Santander on the Spanish North coast we were held up by a truck driver who didn’t show up for ½ an hour after the ship docked (he was the first in line so the whole ship had to wait until he showed up). Then we were off. Passport control took only a few minutes while they stamped out passport and said “Welcome”. Our GPS (Sat Nav will always be called GPS in this blog) was set for a town Llanos along the coastal highway. We had no campground selected, preferring to “Wing It”. In the end we turned off for Potes and a national park called Picos De Europa which Robin, my cousin Helen’s husband, had told us was very nice. We pulled into the first convenient hotel and stayed there for the first night. It was 10pm when we arrived and still light out!

Next morning we started driving inland to the National Park. A very pretty but steep and winding road ran alongside the river that cut through the steep gorge. After an hour or so we reached a campground we had picked out of the ACSI guide in Potes. A very nice tiered campground on the side of the hill.

Camping in Potes
This place has it all. A swimming pool, store, restaurant/bar, hookup and the usual toilets/showers. It’s just a minute from the town center. The girl at the reception spoke 3 languages that I heard (English, French and Spanish) and was so very helpful.

One hiccup was that our electric cable (The one hookup) didn’t fit the outlets in the campground! We bought an assortment of adapters that the nice lady in the store thought would fit and soon had power for the fridge, and to charge the batteries up.

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we drove to Fuente De and rode the cable car to the top of the mountain, thru the clouds and out again. At about 6000’ this is quite high and there was snow in the shaded gullies above us. We explored and enjoyed the peak and on the way back to camp we stopped in the town of Potes and found a hardware store with not only the proper electrical connection for the campground but also the hose fittings and some other bits and pieces we needed.

Mini Matterhorn at Fuente De

We explored the town looking for somewhere that might sell SIM cards for our phone. Unfortunately we ran into Spain’s “Siesta” when the stores are all closed from 1.30 to 5pm every day! It gave us an excuse to wander the back streets of town and we stumbled on the old part of the place which follows the River Diva. I can see some paintings coming from this area!

Rio Diva and the old town of Potes

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Next stop in England

The Burnham site was quite cramped with lots of permanent caravans
Our first 5 nights in the van were spent at Burnham on Sea mainly because it was close to the dealer we bought it from. We wanted a few nights to gather all the things we’d need like cooking utensils, sleeping bags etc. etc., RV’ers know what it takes to set up a new rig!
Tony and Carol "Wardens"(camp hosts) at Burnham on Sea
It was also a Holiday Weekend; Spring Bank Holiday in the UK is the equivalent of Memorial Day in the US. The schools are out for a week too so families take the whole week and go camping for the first time in the year.

Our daughter Sally who lives near Liverpool called and said she’d like to come down with the kids for a day. As it was close to 200 miles each way for her we decided we’d drive north to meet them.

We had joined the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC) when we first got to UK. They have a lot of their own campgrounds and have a book like Good Sam in the US with campgrounds around the country.

We picked a CCC campground on the outskirts of a town named Oswestry. It turned out to be a nice place but fairly remote. It was on a main road so handy for Sally and the family to reach. We had a very pleasant day spoiling our grandkids and helping them climb all over the van! They thought it was wonderful and had to try out all the facilities! We walked them around the park then we all piled in their family van and went to Shrewsbury about 30 miles away to explore and get dinner.

Iain, Nial, Sally and Kaitlynd

Exploring the WHOLE campground
Grandma gets spoiled by the Grand Kids
This whole area is on the border of Wales. The towns grew up as market towns in ancient times where the Welsh traded wool and woolen goods for the hardware and food they needed. The town market building was built in 1540, but a market was there long before that.
Nearby Shrewsbury Market Hall

Before that the Romans came this way and built roads that the modern roads still follow, linking London to Bath and Chester which were major Roman cities. That puts the history back to 77 AD. But there were already people and towns here before that so the history trails of into the dark.

Half timbered houses everywhere

And English Tea
We had plans for things to get done back around Portsmouth before we took the ferry to Spain so reluctantly we said goodbye to the kids until August when we’ll see them again, and drove 230 miles back south to another CCC campground in Morton in the county of Dorset. This one was nice too but fairly noisy with lots of kids running around and yelling and a railway line alongside the campground.
Moreton CCC Campground, the pub is just behind the trees on the left.

The Fareham Arms, a nice cosy pub.

The "Pilots Bar"
Fortunately there was a pub also alongside the place and we enjoyed a nice dinner there on out first night. Went back each night we were there and discovered that there was a “Pilot’s Bar” where pilots from the local airfield had gathered in WW2.

For our US readers an explanation of how English Pubs work.

A pub may have more than one bar. Generally there will be a “Public Bar” where workers may drop in still wearing their work clothes. There can be wooden stools or benches like pews in some. The dart board is probably in the public bar.

View from the "Lounge Bar: into the restaur

The Public Bar can be frowned upon by the people who use another bar called the “Lounge Bar”. This is generally more upscale with upholstered chairs and tablecloths on the tables. Some larger pubs may have a third bar called a “Snug”, generally partitioned off from the “Lounge” it is a cosy small area for private conversation or a relaxing quiet spot away from the bustle.

All pubs are different however and some may be just a single room. It may be a converted house with tables and chairs. Most of them have a warm welcoming feeling, the ones with real atmosphere and history enjoy a regular clientele from the local area, they will refer to it as “The Local” or “Our Local” and everyone will know where they mean.

During our stay there we took the time to visit the Tank Museum ( and on our way back to Aunt Sheila’s we stopped at the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum. (More on that later) which was my birthday gift to me!

Next stop will be Spain.

Click the link for a map of our travels

Bovington and the Tank Museum

I’ve posted about my Dad and Grandfather here in the past 


Dad was proud to have served in the British Army in the Second World War as a tank driver in the famous “Desert Rats”. He never talked about his experiences except on a few occasions he would remember a funny story about his experiences or about the time he spent the winter of 1944 in Holland. He always had nice things to say about Holland and the Dutch people.

I had looked at his war souvenirs when I was a child, and had borrowed the ancient Voitlander camera that he had “Liberated” during the war. With it he had taken pictures of Egypt and Libya, Holland and Germany. Surprisingly (or perhaps because he had no film?) there were none from Sicily or Italy where he also served.
He had a copy of the Regimental History, which as far as I could tell had never been opened. 

His Regiment the 44th Royal Tank Regiment was created solely for the war and was disbanded as soon as the conflict was over. The book then is pretty difficult to find and I was lucky he kept it. Also in the small metal tin where everything was kept were his medals and some business cards and postcards from Belgium.

After he passed away my Mum told me to take them, she had no interest in keeping them. My sisters took some things, and my niece asked if she could have the medal that her Grand Dad has given her if she could keep quite for 5 minutes! Dad had a good sense of humour and loved all his Grand Kids.

Back at home I took all the pictures and studied them, I read the Regimental History and other books on the North Africa Campaign. The History revealed the awful destruction that tank warfare wreaked, the tragedy of tank crews burned and killed when their vehicles were hit. heat and thirst, minefields. And the dreaded 88mm anti tank guns that tore apart the flimsy British armour.
I discovered that they had been on the beaches of Sicily and Italy as well as Normandy. They had swum across the Rhine River in “Swimming Tanks” and fought their way to Hamburg before the war finally ended.
Dad drove many of the tanks on display

They remained in Germany until 1946 as Occupation Forces and finally he came home.

His life picked up where he’d left it, as a van driver delivering bread from door to door for the Coop Bakery in Birkenhead. He didn’t attend any of the re-unions, didn’t join the regimental association. Didn’t join on conversations about the war.

At his funeral a gentleman in a British Legion blazer came over to talk to me. I had no idea who he was, he said simply “Your Dad never talked about the war did he?”. He looked at me with pain in his eyes “He had a terrible war, he went through Hell”.

The memorial to the tank crews 

At that point my emotions overwhelmed me and tears flowed. When I looked up he was gone. I’ve ached since then to discover who he was and how he knew Dad. Perhaps he too had had a terrible war.

I have pored over the pictures and books in the years since and drawn what to my mind is a story of where he went and what he experienced, but without him to speak it is all conjecture. I talked to my sisters and told them that with their approval I intended to visit the Tank Museum when I was in UK next and donate the photographs and documents to their archives. They both agreed it was a good thing to do.

Finally Barbara and I had the trip planned, we’d fly to London, buy a camper van somewhere, tour Europe and visit our friends and relatives around the UK. My Aunt Sheila lives in Portsmouth which is in the South of England and not to far from Bovington where the museum is located and she kindly let us stay with her while we arranged the details of buying the camper.

Bovington Camp is an active Army Facility. It is home to the Royal Armoured Corps and the training center for tank crews. In World War 1 it was the nest from which the Armoured fledgling service sprang.

Tanks were a British invention. Originally called Land Ships. Winston Churchill was the head of the British Navy at the time and his inventive mind came up with the need of a vehicle that could cross the trenches, breaking the deadlock on the western front.

 Some very bright Army Engineering types experimented with wheeled vehicles then ordered a tracked vehicle from the USA for experimentation. Although the American vehicle didn’t work for crossing the trenches it’s tracked system laid the way for vehicles that did. The tank was born.
A Grant tank, fore runner of the Sherman.

The museum staff welcomed Barbara and I very warmly and were very patient as I became completely emotional trying to describe Dad’s history. Eventually I relaxed and went thru it all with them giving the details that I knew about places and things. They were very keen on the collection as a whole. They explained that they rarely got so many photographs from the same source, usually one of two and often damaged. Dad’s were well preserved and together. 

The Archive staff looking thru the collection

Many photographs and documents.

The papers included the mimeographed instructions to the drivers for going assure on D-Day for the invasion of Sicily. That flimsy piece of paper was very rare and I marvel that it survived at all. His paybook, drivers licenses, letters from the Regiment at the completion of his service and of all things a booklet from the Coop describing the remembrance service for employees who had served were all welcomed and taken into their care to be kept together under his name.

A vast sense of relief washed over me. I was still very emotional as I shook hands with the curators of the archives and Barbara and I stepped out to tour the museum. I’m sure I felt Dad’s spirit with me when we reached the section describing Holland and the crossing of the Rhine by the “Swimming Tanks” of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment, his unit. I don’t know if he actually drove one of them, he did mention waterproofing the Shermans and Duplex Drive tanks but he was there and did cross the Rhine by barge, bridge or swimming.
The display describing Dad's Regiment the 44th RTR crossing the Rhine

Perhaps the last "Swimming Tank" in existence with skirts extended.
So I feel that he is in some way back with his comrades. His pride in the unit and his service never faded. Although he never talked about the horrors and pain, he did occasionally mention the humour and the humanity. A Dutch family he was billeted with had shared their meager food with him and he shared his rations with them because they were starving. 

He never forgot.