Two go wild in Europe during winter 21/22

 On our return from India, at the end of January 2020, we discovered that the new virus Covid 19 had reached our shores. We had been oblivious to all the hoo-ha around at this time and had hardly put our feet under the table when Boris and his cronies had a fit and decided "measures" were needed to curb the spread in the UK.

 "Give us a couple of weeks and we will be on top of it," he tells us, but two years later not were they not "on top of it" but they have decimated businesses and lives up and down the country, no "north south divide" here, everyone should pay for the slow actions of the Government in not stopping or curbing the flow from December 2019 when they first knew about it. We were lucky in that we got out of India in time because soon after our return they locked down. The rest as you know, is history.

We had booked a trip to Nepal in October of that year, cancelled, we booked to go to Madeira, cancelled, in fact we booked and failed so much that I have actually lost count! The only success we had was various campsites in UK where we did have some good times with our caravan. We even tried to book for Morocco this Christmas after we were told that "all was well" then all flights from UK were stopped, so we had to cancel all the different lodgings that we had booked. "We are going to go somewhere at Christmas" we told ourselves, and we will give the airlines a miss along with their rules and regulations, instead we will drive through France and Spain to the Algarve in the South of Portugal.

After paying for PCR tests to take the ferry from Poole to St Malo we discovered that the sailing which would have been in time for the test validity was CANCELLED! due to the storms, then scheduled for the following day. We were not going to be outdone so we booked a Eurotunnel train for the next day, drove to Folkestone where we took the car on the train. Now, this was new to us but it comes highly recommended and we were not disappointed, easy boarding and 35 minutes later we were in France, no boat blockades, no protesters, no customs checks, we were through! Now, the drive through Northern France is nothing special we knew that but this was the means to an end, we were actually on holiday, at last. Next installment I'll talk about the "good, the bad and the ugly" when it it comes to the part about the hotel stops, no we were not taking the caravan because we had booked an apartment for 3 weeks in Tavira, Algarve for a proper Christmas break, away from Boris's butcher boys. 

The journey down through France was uneventful and about as boring as it gets, we wanted to get this part done as quickly as possible but a couple of stops were inevitable. First one was very disappointing despite the reviews, which were mixed I admit. The B&B Hôtel LE MANS Nord 2,I have put it in bold so that you don't forget it, in fact, it is probably wise to ignore it as  it was NOT comfortable, for a start the heating would not turn off at night so we had to open a window or be cooked alive, the "buffet breakfast" was minimal with a couple of plastic wrapped croissants and coffee from a machine, just give it a wide berth, although we did have a nice meal in an "English Pub" about ten minutes walk away.

Next stop was : Chambres d'Hôtes Mazurier, pleasant and friendly enough but no facilities like tea making in the room, again we cheered ourselves up by eating at a Chinese Restaurant in the village, the name escapes me, but it is the only one. 

So we set off again, southwards, toward our ultimate goal, and we soon discovered the main highway through the Pyrenees and we couldn't get there fast enough.

 A little taster for what's to come, this pic, can you guess where it is?

Well, it's in the Navarre region of Northern Spain, looking out from Pamplona, this is the kind of scenery you get to see when you come over the Pyrenees Atlantic into Spain from France. 
The Old Church of Salinas de Pamplona, just out from our hotel Agorreta.

LikedThe location was excellent with lovely views, with a great local cafe 100 mtr away. Close enough the Pamplona, 10 min drive. We stayed a couple of nights here (very icy overnight at the end of December) care needed in the morning. The little cafe Getzenea down the road made us very welcome and we had some really nice homemade food, Probably good to phone first as opening times are variable😉(well it is Spain, lol).

Pleasant hotel, good location, great views

A short cold, well icy walk took us into Noain where we caught the bus to the center of Pamplona, where the Old Town was picked out by the winter sun when it came up. This part of town looks down over the river which you would expect from Medieval times, where keeping an eye out for invaders was paramount.

And like a lot of the older towns the riverside is prime building land in modern times. In the Plaza del Castillo there some very nice places to sit and eat, drink or just watch the entertainers, even in December they are there !
Leaving Pamplona we drove the A12, down past Burgos to pick up the E80 which took us down to Salamanca, very foggy and icy start but the further south we went the warmth started to come through.

Of course it was still Covid mania everywhere, having to show vax certificates to sit in the service area cafes, so we sat outside as much as we could, which was lovely in the winter sun.

Arriving in the City of Salamanca was a bit daunting as we had no idea where our apartment VUT Plaza Florida 1

was, but luckily our host was waiting outside and guided us in. Underground garage, heating full on (but adjustable), what more could we want? well wine of course, my peeps, and the little supermercado was 2 minutes walk away and our prayers were answered.

"Casa de Las Conchas" the house of shells

This oddity had loads of carved shells on the sides of the building, we found out that the shells were the symbol of The Order of Santiago and the first owner and Chancellor was Talavera Maldonado a late 15th century  house that the owner never saw finished. There is a legend that suggests that there is a gold coin or an ounce of gold hidden beneath one of the shells, the value was stipulated but not the location so that if anyone wanted to attempt to find it they must first offer up the same amount as a kind of guarantee, then if found they would keep the loot, if not they would lose the deposit. Talavera probably became extremely rich with this jape.

                               This is a close up of one of the shells.
We couldn't see much in the short time we were there but it is somewhere I would go back to, maybe when it's warmer.
Our next stop would be Portugal, but we found out that we would have to have an antigen negative result before we entered Portugal, although I wasn't convinced that anyone would ask to see it, and they didn't, so that was 40 euros each wasted, another lesson to be heeded.
The drive was very nice and relaxed on new roads with no-one else on them it seemed, the Euro billions were well spent on new roads with nobody on them. Anyway we headed straight across country to Figueira on the West coast. 
This was taken from our balcony, 
Bella Vista Figueira - 1ère ligne Océan, Buarcos, our first taste of heat and holidayness, where we had a lovely apartment hosted by Joey and Ana, who were very helpful when we left some stuff in the apartment, thanks guys. A short walk to Lidl, yes I said Lidl, they really are everywhere and we love them, don't we?

So, after a couple of nights here we set off down the West coast for Vila Nova de Milfontes, where we rocked up to our apartment called " Apartamentos Dunamar close to the sea and a short walk from this beauty

A sculpture in re-cycled metal, an Angel supposedly. Anyway it's up by the
 lighthouse overlooking the river Mira and is a famous beauty spot and sunset viewing position.

Our next stop would be our resting place for the Christmas period, Cabanas de Tavira in the Algarve, our apartment Cabanas Green Apartment & Loft was situated in a complex a few minutes walk from the sea, although the beach was on the sandbank a short boat ride away. A trip I never took but my wife Pauline did one time, very brave. However, we did take the boat from Tavira to the Ilha de Tavira, another beach that was accessed by boat from the town, a beautiful, clean and super fine sand made the trip worthwhile.
We made a lot of trips out from our base including to Albufiera, a place full of expats and "best English breakfast in town", avoid I say, it's not the REAL Portugal, but St Antonio is really nice, the town is on the coast and the river that forms the border with Spain.
We had a choice of driving back through Spain and France☹️ or taking the ferry from Santander to Portsmouth, which is what we decided on. So a comfortable drive up through Spain with one stop to get out Covid tests done, but they UK dropped the requirement just in time.
The crossing was absolutely delightful, in a lovely cabin and the sea was like a millpond.
Not wanting to drive straight off we stayed at the Premier Inn before leaving for home in the morning.
The drive through Northern Spain was lovely, and on reaching home we thought we might take the car back in spring 2023, just in the mountains and hidden villages for a different kind of vacation.
But before then, we are going back to Australia, a six-week holiday with three of those in a campervan.


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