Tag Archives: wine

Campervanning Around France

About three months into our trip, Adam floated the idea that we could do one of those motorhome relocation deals. This is where you pick up a motorhome from a designated location and drop it off at the company office all for a discounted price. The catch is that you don’t have control over the time period.   
Whilst we were in a Macedonian coffee shop, drinking possibly the best macchiato of our lives, Adam got on the phone with a sales representative from the UK camper-van company Spaceships. For 15 pounds a day we had ourselves a camper-van for just under 2 weeks. The pick up location was Barcelona and the drop off location was London. This would mean that we would arrive at my sisters apartment in Kings Cross, London just in time to get ourselves up to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games.    
Part of the pick up deal was that we had to meet the previous renters of the car at Barcelona airport for the handover. This meant that we would get the van in whatever condition they decided to leave it in. It turned out amazingly -as these random events often do. They were a Canadian couple who had spent the last 30 days travelling down to Spain from London and they gave us a very detailed run-down of what to expect from the roads and from the van itself. After chatting with them for a bit they decided to give us the bicycles they’d picked up in London and had planned to give away in good faith to someone who needed them. They told us that we could have the bikes on the condition that we pass on the favour to someone in need. We agreed and were stoked with having not only our own set of wheels but bicycles to help us explore the French countryside. 
We made our way up from Barcelona into France without any troubles. Our budget while we had the van was about 10-20euros a night for accommodation so we were on the lookout for budget campsites and Aires de Service. Aires de Service were motorhome stops that exist all along the roads through France. They are on big motorways and on smaller country roads as well. They are free to stay for 24 hours and often have services such as toilets, showers, picnic tables etc. The only issue is that they have been getting a bad reputation in recent years as a target for thieves and criminals. There are horror stories of thieves who put gas in through an open window to knock out the owners while they were sleeping. The owners would wake the following day to find all their valuables gone. Nethertheless, Adam and I wanted to give it a go at least once and it didn’t hurt our pockets either as it is completely free!
   
  

  I am, by nature, a massive scaredy-cat so when we pulled up at our first Aires de Service which was a small park about 300 metres from a major service station, I wasn’t feeling great about the situation. It looked like somewhere dodgy deals take place. But we cooked our dinner and watched as two other campers pulled up, one with a young child and the other an elderly couple. I was paranoid as we settled down to sleep. Adam wasn’t worried and fell asleep almost instantly but I found the constant noises and cars slowly driving past disconcerting. At one stage a car pulled up behind our van, headlights blaring for a few minutes before the engine was turned off. I peeked out from behind the curtains at the back and saw to my relief that it was another family in a sedan who were trying to get some sleep on their journey to wherever.
   
 
After three days sightseeing during the day and sleeping at Aires de services at night, I suggested we start looking for campgrounds instead. I was a bit over waiting in the lines for showers with all the truck drivers. Also the lack of security at the Aires meant minimal sleep for me (not Adam haha) and they weren’t exactly nice to look at either.
The first campground we stayed at was magic. It was on a tiny backroad lined with sunflower fields and stood next to a lake with lots of trees and a few family set-ups. At ten euros for the night we weren’t complaining. We took the bikes out for a spin and enjoyed the serenity.           
From then on, travelling through France was lovely. Having a car meant that we could stop in all the random little towns along the way and we felt like we got a nice feel for French country life. The people were really friendly and the food was delicious (except for the coffee).  

      Saint Emillion was one of our first stops. It was a stunning medieval town famous for wine. Adam bought an opinel knife there and we explored the cobble stone streets on our bikes. 

Bordeaux was the real surprise for us. The city itself was gorgeous and we had fun riding our bikes around to the main tourist spots. We got our hair cut in Bordeaux (our second time on our travels) which was a hilarious experience in itself. 

  

  

  

  And we booked into a personal wine tasting seminar which was a highlight of our time in France. For 15 Euro, we were taken on a tasting journey through the different regions in France and both the food and the wine were exquisite. 

    We didn’t have to worry about asking stupid questions as the sommelier running the tasting session was very down to earth and patiently explained what the hell “appellation d’origine contrôlée” was and how we could tell which wine to buy based on the label and year.

Paris was pretty special. The highlights were when we caught up with our French friends who we first met in Morocco. Talking to them gave us a great insight into the alternative scene in Paris and the mentality of the French people. And we also met our Aussie friends Jake and Amy who we keep bumping into, first in Mostar, then Rome and now Paris.         
We also had one of the bikes stolen in the middle of Paris which was a real bummer and meant that Adam had to ‘double’ me almost 5kms back to our campsite past seedy streets and the occasional prostitute. 
Our last few days in France saw us heading up the North West coast on our way to Calais from which we would catch the car ferry over the the UK. The scenery was beautiful. 

    After having the good bike of the two stolen in Paris, we were a little down about how we were going to pass on the good deed by giving our bike to someone in need. We were setting up camp for the night on our last night in France when Adam spotted an elderly man checking out a bike that was for sale for 50 euros near the campground office. Adam approached the guy who turned out to be Dutch and spoke very limited English. After a lot of gesturing Adam finally convinced the guy to take our bike for free. He was so grateful that he came over half an hour later with some amazing craft beers and beer glasses as a thank you. What a nice way to end our travels through France. 
We got up the next morning bright and early and drove onto the ferry at Calais. Our next stop: London. 

Northern Portugal

Porto —> Coimbra

The ‘come down’ after finishing the Camino lasted a lot longer than either of us expected. All of a sudden, after having a goal and a ‘purpose’ each day for 35 days, we found ourselves a little bit lost. The Camino provided us with milestones, time frames, something to do everyday and allowed us to concentrate on meeting our basic human needs whilst we took in the beauty of our surroundings.

In Santiago, at the end of our Camino, we were a bit lost in what to do as regular backpackers.

To escape the dreary weather we’d had in the last few weeks, we decided to head straight into Portugal. It was amazing to us that we just had to buy our bus tickets and 5 hours later we would be in another country. We had booked a double room in Porto since it had been over a month of staying in dorms with very little privacy. The hostel was beautiful and right in the centre of the city.

Adam discovered a Porto delicacy called the Franceshina. This heart-attack inducing sandwich consisted of steak, bacon, ham, salami, chorzo, pork fillet, fried egg and two pieces of toast covered in melted cheese and neapolitan sauce. It was a little too much for me so Adam kindly offered to eat half of mine as well.

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The weather, however, was terrible and didn’t appear to have an expiration date. None the less, we persevered and saw all of the sights to see in Porto. It turns out J.K.Rowling was living in Porto when she first started writing Harry Potter and found a lot of inspiration from some of the architecture around Porto. The Majestic cafe and famous Libraria (a book store) were amazing inside and you could definitely ‘see’ some of Hogwarts in the ceiling and decorative statues.

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Portugal is very different to Spain. The first thing we noticed was how much English was spoken. We would attempt to talk to shop owners and waiters in our very poor Portuguese but the conversation would quickly turn to English. We felt a bit spoilt but it also meant that a lot of the everyday language-struggle of being in a foreign country disappeared in Portugal.

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Port-wine tours are a must in Porto. On the other side of the river are countless port-wineries and cellars that do tastings. We started at one of the more famous ones: ‘Taylor’s’ which was a considerable hike up a big hill. The tour was 5 euros and talked us through all of the processes in making port-wine. Who knew there were white ports and ruby ports as well? The tastings were generous (as in most places) and the views over Porto were spectacular.

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Hilariously, Adam and I got a little over-excited by the prospect of tasting port wines all day and visited about 5 wineries/cellars in total. This resulted in a not-so-memorable stumble home to our hostel, followed by a port-induced slumber at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and ending with a two-day hangover. Sadly neither of us know if we will ever be able to drink port wine again.

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In saying that, port wine is delicious (in small quantities) but you should never underestimate the alcohol content.

Next we visited Coimbra – a famous university town south of Porto for a few days. Highlights were the fountain of love which was in a beautiful 14th century garden that an old King devoted to his wife and a Fado concert. Fado is a portuguese type of music involving a singer, a fado guitar and a regular guitar. It was quite impressive.

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Coimbra is a lovely old city. The history there is overwhelmingly rich and there are so many museums and old monuments to visit but the post Camino blues was something we were both finding quite hard to shake. It sounds so silly and we were disappointed in ourselves and our apparent lack of resilience. After all, we were on a once in a lifetime trip, in the middle of Portugal and here we were being sad-sacks. The weather seemed to be dictating our moods and staying in double rooms as opposed to dorms in hostels meant that we weren’t socialising with other travellers. After a few irritable moments, we decided to make some changes starting in Lisbon. We booked two bunks in a dorm room at a ‘party hostel’ and jumped on the bus in search of some sunnier weather.