A Bit Of A Squeeze !!

Barragem (Wildcamping) – Abrantes – Constancia (111 miles)

In the still of the night I did lay awake listening for the night-time noises, and yes I did hear them, but my brain quickly fathomed out what they were. Nobody had been trying to get through the windows, sliding or otherwise, or break-in through the doors or even steal the bikes from the rear bicycle rack, no, after the scorching heat of the day the cooler night air was beginning to cool ‘Big Momma’ down and is it did so things began to creak. Once I had worked this out I soon fell into a deep and relaxed sleep and we both awoke refreshed at 07:00am. We knew we were going to have a fairly long drive again today, the difference being that this one ‘had’ been planned, our destination being ‘Abrantes‘ where we would have the choice of not just one ‘Aire’, or even two, but three possible night halt locations. Again we were in no rush to get away but even so, even after partaking of the usual leisurely morning coffee, we were packed away and ready to go by 08:15am.

The sky was blue and the sun was rising, it would be another wonderful day here on the Barragem, as we were now making a push for the Western side we hoped the weather would be just as good. I had not had any WiFi since leaving ‘Miranda do Douro‘, our first night stop after crossing the border into Portugal, so had not had the opportunity to check out the respective ‘Works of Fiction’, not that it really made any difference, we would get what we got and couldn’t change it but it’s always nice to know if it’s going to be a sun cream and shorts kind of day as opposed to one requiring Wellington Boots and Rainproof Jackets !!

Our journey today was planned to be 99 miles, I say planned because ‘things’ can change, but hopefully ‘Abrantes’ would provide something to make us want to stay. The journey had started well enough, the roads, even for a Monday ‘rush hour’ were virtually empty and we were making good time. That was until we suddenly left brilliant blue skies and sunshine and at some point had entered a ‘parallel universe‘. The ‘Mist’ arrived from nowhere and it stayed with us for some considerable time and with it a noticeable drop in the temperature !! When we did eventually leave the ‘parallel universe‘ we came out the other side on a very nice, and fast, ‘N’ road, or it was until suddenly we saw in front of us dirty big concrete blocks stretched across both carriageways, perhaps it is a tradition in Europe to do these things without any advance signage. I seem to remember a similar incident on our trip last year !! On this occasion at least, there was a ‘Diversy‘ sign, in yellow, which in very quickly interpreted as ‘Diversion‘, well it at least looked similar and sounded the same if you said it quick enough. This ‘Diversy’ took us along ‘Narrow‘ single track lanes and as if to enforce the point those ‘Dark Forces’ were once again back with us! After days of meeting very little ‘other’ traffic on the ‘good’ roads we now had lots of traffic and it was all coming at us from the opposite direction !! Now I may have mentioned on a few occasions on both the last trip, as well as this one, that the local Portuguese people are exceptionally friendly, however, I should add one ‘proviso’ to those statements and that is they are exceptionally friendly, and courteous, until they get behind the steering wheel of a vehicle, at which point they become a very different species !! It is quite obvious that it is easier to pull a small car over to the side of the road to let a Thirty foot long, and over Seven foot wide, vehicle pass, but no, not the Portuguese !! I suppose I could have just stood my ground so to speak, however, whilst there was the thought which is always in the back of our minds, the one that says ‘Remember this is not just a motor vehicle but also our home‘ ! There was also a sort of understanding that whilst we were in no real hurry, some of these people may have been on their way to work or a doctor’s appointment and the ‘diversy’ was affecting them more than it was us. We squeezed through the narrow village streets and eventually the ‘Diversy’ led us back onto our very nice, and fast, ‘N’ road totally unscathed.

Ooooh heck, they both look a bit narrow to me, best breathe in Shazza !!

Ooooh heck, they both look a bit narrow to me, best breathe in Shazza !!

‘Snoopy’ came into its own on this journey, and so as not to upset it I shall tell you this in a hushed voice, as well as relying on our wonderful ‘Sat Nav’, Shazza also cross-checks ‘Snoopy’s’ directions in the good old-fashioned way, by using a road map ! I have now got her trained to use the right map appropriate to the country we are actually in, she didn’t appear to comprehend that just because the road colours were generally the same on every road map, you couldn’t just use any that just happened to be at hand !! However, on this occasion the road system shown on the road map on the approach to, and around, ‘Abrantes‘ was a bit like ‘Spaghetti‘ and she was pleased that ‘Snoopy’ was actually doing a fine job. We always programme ‘Snoopy’ to avoid ‘Toll Roads‘ and she has never let us down, however, on several occasions on this particular journey we needed to ‘hop on and off‘ the A23 motorway to get to where we were going. ‘Snoopy’ knew which bits were ‘Toll’ and which bits were ‘None-Toll’ and managed to weave us nicely through all the ‘Spaghetti’. Shazza also does a sterling job especially as she had remembered that there was a service station somewhere along our route, a service station that sold GPL (LPG) no less. I had checked our supply a few days earlier and was confident that we were still only using the first bottle, however, I did not know just how much was left as, and I think I have said this before, the gauges provided are worse than useless and basically tell you when it’s ‘full’ or when it’s ’empty’ but nothing inbetween !! Apart from the normal usage Shazza has been baking her bread every second or third day, this means using the gas oven and each loaf takes one hour, how much gas is that using, a very good question !! We saw the sign for the ‘CEPSA’ service station, it was literally just before the junction we needed to exit, there was no advance signage that indicated whether it did, or did not, sell GPL but we pulled in any way and as good fortune would have it, it sold GPL (At €0.769 Litre or £0.63p). I removed the ‘Gaslow’ cap that covered the filling point and placed it on the lip where the ‘Diesel’ filling point is located (the inclusion of that apparently pointless piece of information will become clear later), I then screwed on the adapter, the same one I had used on every fill last year, and attempted to insert the GPL nozzle. I tried several times but the damn thing just would not lock in place. It was no good I would have to go inside and ask for assistance. The ‘young’ girl behind the cash desk smiled and came out to the forecourt with me, she removed the GPL Nozzle from its holder, placed it into the adapter and locked it in place without any problem whatsoever, she then pointed to the black button I needed to depress to dispense said GPL into one’s gas bottle and then returned, still smiling, to her official position behind the counter. She was probably thinking “Typical, man with expensive boys toy who can’t even put gas into it“. Anyway, relieved that I was now getting GPL into the van I watched to see how much we had used since filling up in the UK, the gauge stopped at 14.19 Litres which I was a little surprised at, perhaps Shazza’s baking may save on the purchase of bread, but it is using more gas to produce it than I had anticipated !! Perhaps at the right moment I may broach the subject on the economies of purchasing bread rather than baking it one’s self, however, I didn’t think that now would have been the right time as one knows which side one’s bread is buttered, so to speak.

Our first two ‘Aires’ were found easily, they were within metres of each other but one was just ‘parking’ whilst the other had a fully serviceable and well maintained ‘Motorhome Service Point’. We availed ourselves of the ‘free’ facilities, it was at this point that I realised what good fortune I had just encountered. Whether it was my embarrassment at having a ‘young’ girl show me how to put GPL into my vehicle and in my haste to pay and get out of there I do not know, however, I had not only omitted to unscrew the adapter from the LPG filling point but I had also forgotten to replace the filler cap, the one I had placed on the lip of the diesel filling point. We had driven several miles before getting to this ‘Aire’, up hills, around bends and over numerous speed humps let alone dealing with the generally uneven road surface, perhaps it just goes to show what a good smooth driver I really am because still sitting there on the lip, by the diesel filling point, was my Gaslow filler cap !! We discussed whether we should stay at this Aire for the night. However, whilst it did overlook the river and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it I knew that ‘Option 3’, from the photo in the ‘Aires Guide Book’, looked a better location and although it didn’t have any facilities, we now didn’t need any. We drove the three miles and ‘Snoopy’ declared that we had arrived at our destination. Now it looked a lovely location, in a park, on a hill overlooking the city below. But, we were in a car park outside a nice modern building complex, which housed a nice looking Cafe which was situated beside a well maintained park that housed a children’s playground as well as picnic tables and benches and several strategically located brick-built BBQ points for public use. Although it was still only 11:00am the external temperature was already up to 23 degrees(c) and although we were parked across four car parking bays Shazza prepared lunch. I was a little uneasy, this was quite a busy place with cars coming and going, many gave us glances of contempt at taking up valuable car parking spaces so I decided to take a walk to see if I could see any obvious signs of where we should actually be parked, there was nothing obvious. I strolled across to where three ‘elderly’ men were seated, I had noticed them observing us when we drove in and they had continued watching us as we parked up. I started with a simple ‘Bon Dea‘ to test the water, they responded and then proceeded to garble something at me, it was obvious that these ‘old gents’ had not been provided with the compulsory ‘English’ language lessons when they had attended school. However, with certain gesticulations and finger-pointing I did manage to understand what it was they were telling me, and no it didn’t look anything like ‘ F*** Off !! What they were actually telling me was that the Motorhome parking area was across the road and that we could sleep there. I said ‘Abrigado‘, they nodded and smiled and I returned to ‘Big Momma’ and ate the lunch my beloved had made for me with some of her yummy home-baked (GPL expensive) bread !! After lunch we re-located to the place assigned for ‘Motorhomes’, I had to admit, it looked better in the photograph than it did in the flesh ! It wasn’t provided for vehicles of ‘Big Mommas’ proportions and although a rubbish skip had been thoughtfully provided, by the evidence of the rubbish strewn all around, it had not been used. We could have stayed here, it felt safe enough but I just didn’t feel comfortable, perhaps it was the state of the parking area or perhaps it was that we didn’t fit comfortably into the dedicated parking space, or a combination of both, but even though we had just travelled 99 miles I wanted to find somewhere else !! Now, my somewhere else just happened to be a further 12 miles down the road at a place called ‘Constancia‘, we re-programmed ‘Snoopy’ and set off once again.

Now sometimes ‘fate’ comes into play, and it certainly had when we arrived at the ‘Aire’ which overlooked the ‘Tagus‘ river and the small hill town of Constancia, which was only a mere five hundred metre walk away. Not only was this ‘aire’ located in a superb spot, it was well maintained, clean and tidy and it had an exceptionally clean and well maintained ‘Motorhome Service Point’. There was one ‘Belgian‘ registered Motorhome already parked up but there was nobody ‘at home’. We found ourselves a prime position with exceptional views and with temperatures already in excess of 26 degrees(c) we felt that this was the place to stay for at least a couple of days. There were no ‘No Camping‘ signs but we were still conscious of not wanting to upset any locals, however, we were parked in such a way that we could ‘discreetly’ get the sun chairs out. Our neighbours returned shortly afterwards, they had been for a ride on their bicycles and they called out a greeting as they passed, once their bicycles had been put away, in their very large garage, they too got out their sun chairs and assumed the position. We spent the whole afternoon just sunbathing and for the first time on this trip I put in my earphones, turned on my iPod and listened to some of my favourite ‘tunes’. It was whilst doing this that I must have unwittingly decided to conduct some ‘Individual Personal Contemplation’ for when I opened my eyes we had been joined by another ‘Belgian‘ registered Motorhome and later that evening by a ‘French‘ one. Throughout the afternoon and evening we had all waved and smiled at each other in acknowledgement and then like tentative school children we gradually met on the ‘Aire’, on neutral ground of course, and took the opportunity of passing a few minutes, or ten, in conversation about how long we had been ‘on the road‘, where we were going to, and even exchanged notes on ‘Aires‘ and other good places to do a spot of ‘Wildcamping‘. It has taken me a while to settle back into being back on the road but finally, today, I feel totally relaxed and ‘back in the zone‘, Shazza agreed and said that she thinks that it takes us a week or two to relax back into the routines, but she too had today felt that certain ‘buzz‘ that cannot easily be defined or explained, you just feel it !!

Fantastic view from the 'Aire'

Fantastic view from the ‘Aire’

A Lovely 'Aire' at Constancia

A Lovely ‘Aire’ at Constancia

We had both slept very well and as we had decided to stay where we were for another day I promised myself a bit of a lay in. I awoke at 07:00am and did my usual, put on the water heater and the kettle, made the coffees and took them back to bed. Sleepy head was not impressed and said, in her usual early morning manner (grumpy), “I thought that you were having a lay in“, to which I replied in my usual cheery way, “I am having a lay in, I don’t intend getting out of bed before eight o’Clock“. I lived up to my word and impatiently waited until it was the allotted hour, then I got up, made myself another coffee and took it outside. I have often seen morning mist but I have never actually watched the morning sun vaporise it. It was a quite surreal experience, there I was sat in shorts and my hoody top drinking a hot mug of coffee looking into what was a white shroud concealing the opposite side of the river and the town. First it was just a vague silhouette of the buildings and coming through this white cloak was an array of noises, the water from the fast flowing river a few feet below where I was sat, a multitude of children’s voices, probably on their way to school, a cockerel crowed and a lone dog barked. I could hear the vehicles rumbling across the bridge into the town, not a constant rumble just the odd one every few minutes or so. Then the buildings revealed shapes of windows and doors and balconies, the orange glow from street lamps started to dim as the sun’s rays began slowly to pierce the whiteness. I sat watching this scene unfold before my very eyes, it was so peaceful, none of my neighbours had made an appearance and although I knew that I was not all alone in this place it was so peaceful it just felt as if I was. Eventually the heat of the sun won the battle with the white shroud and a beautiful cloudless blue sky was revealed, it was going to be another scorcher.

When I climbed back into ‘Big Momma’ Shazza was already up and dressed and had started making another batch of bread. I got myself washed and dressed, poured myself a bowl of ‘Crunchy Nut Corn flakes’ and took them outside and had breakfast in the warmth of the morning sun. Shazza had decided to drag, take me out on one of her ‘Expeditions’ and yes it would be in my trusty ‘Expedition Flip-Flops’ ! The small town was just a short walk from the ‘Aire’ and across the bridge that spanned the river. We found a small batch of shops and the local supermarket, I was saved the pleasure of walking ‘up the aisles’ until the return trip, for now it was a ‘tourist stroll’ up one steep hill, then down again, then down hilly and narrow cobbled streets lined with residential properties in differing states of repair ! I was in danger of blowing a ‘flip’ or perhaps the ‘flop’ but managed to squeeze my toes hard enough on the plastic bit to keep them firmly attached to my feet. This was one of those charming little mountain side towns that you may have seen on those TV ‘property programmes’, and in this heat, with the magnificent views, and the fast flowing river, with its riverside beach, it did have a certain appeal. But take off the rose-tinted glasses and just imagine what it would be like in the grasp of a cold and harsh winter and the ‘romance’ of it soon dwindles. However, people do manage to live here all year round, it is after all only 12 miles from a largish city (Abrantes), and it has got all the facilities you would really need, but not for me !

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Looking across to the Aire from the town

Looking across to the Aire from the town

Eventually, after what was really quite a short ‘Shazza Expedition’ compared to her previous ones that is, or perhaps she was just ‘limbering’ me up !! I was permitted to sit down at a small, but very nice Cafe/Bar and indulge in a Coffee and short WiFi fix. I had already devised my cunning plan, whilst she spent the afternoon baking in the sunshine, back outside at ‘Big Momma’, I would return to this little bolt hole and partake of a much larger ‘WiFi’ session. Our return route inevitably took us back to the Supermarket, although I have to confess Shazza was doing really well and was just spending on what she needed to last us over a couple of days, primarily fresh fruit and vegetables, it really is hard to believe that although we are into week two of the grocery budget, she hasn’t even spent half of the first weeks grocery budget yet !! We walked back across the bridge to the ‘Aire’ and Shazza made us another nice ‘Continental’ style lunch of herby flavoured crackers, accompanied by an assortment of cheeses, salami, tomatoes and pickles. There is no ‘pot washing’ until the end of the day, after we have partaken of the evening meal, as this conserves our on-board water supply and even though we didn’t need to be frugal with our on-board supply as we had ‘full services’ available, it was a good habit to get into for when such luxuries were in limited supply.

My opportunity arrived, whilst Shazza assumed the position outside on her sun chair I assumed mine, iPad in one hand, wallet in the other and a quick escape to enjoy a ‘cold one’ whilst enjoying some ‘WiFi’ time. I didn’t escape quickly enough, Shazza instructed that other than ‘playing‘ with my blog she wanted me to check our ‘UK’ Bank Accounts for any ‘unusual activity’ ? I was mortified, “Playing with my blog” indeed !! This was no ‘Playing’, I had a ‘post thirsty’ readership to pacify.

I entered the Cafe/Bar and ordered a beer. And was promptly delivered a nice large chilled bottle of ‘Sagres‘ and asked whether I required a glass. I declined the offer and paid the €0.90cents (£0.73p) then took up my position at a table outside under the shade of the terrace. I didn’t need to re-enter any password as my iPad remembered it from earlier that day so I was soon into full flow. I had drafted four ‘posts’, three were completed, all except for inserting the associated photographs and the fourth, this one, was still ongoing. Once I had downloaded said photographs and inserted them, I published all three posts, I had no idea what opportunities I would have to get access to more ‘WiFi’ over the coming days so best I get everything done whilst I could. I then checked my Emails, updated the BBC News App for reading later that evening, checked the ‘Works of Fiction’ for the ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Algarve’ regions, still looking good ! and then checked the ‘Bank Accounts’ as my beloved had requested, instructed !! Before I knew it two hours had passed, a large bottle of beer had evaporated and my iPad was telling me that the battery needed charging !!

My little WiFi Cafe

My little WiFi Cafe

I returned to my beloved, who was still basting herself and looked nearly done to me !! Without opening her eyes she enquired “Did you check the Bank Accounts“, I assumed that she had heard my tell-tale ‘flip’ and ‘flop’ approach. “Yes my beloved, I did as instructed, requested” I replied, “And was everything alright” she asked. “Actually No” I responded. At this point she went from being in a horizontal position to almost vertical in a nano second, I was fearful that at such a rate she may have launched herself into the air and sailed over the hedge and into the river below !! “What on earth do you mean” she asked in a concerned tone, “Well” I continued, “There was some unusual activity in that money had been paid in, as we had expected it to, but strangely enough, this month it is all still there as nobody appears to have been spending any !!” and I allowed a wry grin to appear on my face ! Before she could even think about giving me a backhander, I thrust the iPad into her hands and told her that I had updated the BBC News for her but that she had better read it quickly before my battery died. I also just happened to quite casually state that I now had One Hundred and Forty Six ‘registered followers‘ of my blog, to which she rather sarcastically commented “Who do you think you are, Jesus !!” to which, as quick as a flash I said “To my recollection he only had 12 followers” !!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening sat outside, Shazza still basting whilst I opted for the shade. One of our ‘Belgian’ neighbours and our ‘French’ neighbour had departed but had been replaced by two others, a ‘British’ couple, Peter and Francis from Skipton, and a ‘German’ van, although the German van only stopped briefly, before leaving again and then another ‘Belgian’ van arrived in its place, a bit like ‘Piccadilly Circus’ this place today !! We have got into this Continental dining habit, we didn’t eat our evening meal until gone 7:30pm then we did the days washing up, had our showers and just ‘chillaxed’ for the rest of the evening, the days searing heat replaced by a very welcome cooling breeze wafting through the open Heki’s.

Whilst doing my ‘WiFi’ stuff earlier I had a couple of questions from readers of my blog so I thought I would raise them now in case ‘others’ have the same questions. The first was about the drinking water in Spain & Portugal. When I used to holiday in Spain many years ago I wouldn’t drink the water from the taps or even brush my teeth with it. However, these days it is perfectly safe and is ‘treated’ in much the same way as the ‘UK’ domestic water supply so is perfectly safe to drink. The words to look out for on outside taps are ‘Potable’ (Drinking Water) and ‘Non-Potable, (Not for Drinking) or more usually, a sign for non drinking water has a glass with a cross through it. In recent years whilst Motorhoming I have always filled my on-board ‘fresh’ water tank from the drinking water supplies. Other than the water filter fitted as standard on most, if not all, vans these days I have not installed any additional water filters. We do use a ‘Britta’ water filter jug (Other brands are also available !!), but we have always used one of these anyway, even when living in normal bricks & mortar. It is a good idea to periodically clean your water tank with ‘purpose’ designed chemical fluids but I certainly don’t do this on an annual basis and haven’t had any ‘nasty’ stomach bugs as a result. However, if we do go to Morocco and fill our tank with water (for boiling to use for washing only and not drinking), then upon our return I will give the tank a thorough rinse.

The next question was about ‘What do we do to keep ourselves entertained during the dark nights‘ !! No, I am not going into it in that much detail !! However, as in the rest if Europe, the dark nights close in when the sun sets at around 5:00pm, yes even in Spain and Portugal. It is good idea to have a few hobbies that you can pursue when locked away inside one’s vans but in addition I would also suggest, download iPlayer onto a PC, iPad or Tablet and then just before leaving the UK ‘download’ some programmes which you can watch within thirty days of downloading them. If you have a PC (Capable of playing DVD’s) or have a TV/DVD player then obviously bring as many as your own storage requirements permit, or save them onto your computer. A Kindle or other E-Reader is good as you can ‘upload’ literally thousands of books onto this one device which saves space over carrying the ‘paper’ versions. I enjoy listening to music so have my iTunes library downloaded onto my iPod and of course using an iPad for writing blogs or playing games or storing photographs etc. I also enjoy taking pictures, note I didn’t use the word ‘photography’ as this may inadvertently indicate that I am in any way proficient with a camera. Sorting through them can be done during those long dark nights. What I will say is that although at the moment it is still light until around 7:30pm, and then still warm enough to sit out until late, we have found that the nights pass quickly, by adopting the ‘Mediterranean’ dining system. Have a decent lunch around Midday, snacks at around 4:00pm and leave the evening meal until around 7:30-8:00pm, by the time you have eaten it, then washed the pots and then taken your showers it is 9:30-10:00pm. What you choose to do after that is your own business !!

So, after a wonderfully relaxing and scorching couple of days we are now ready to ‘move on’ closer to the West Coast and some familiar territory. Where, I wonder, will that place be……………………………………………… ?

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7 Responses to A Bit Of A Squeeze !!

  1. DebsK says:

    Well my first day back at work has been a real drag so pleased to receive and read your blog (in my afternoon tea break!!). I was a bit disappointed with the wooden spoon response, I was itching to buy another gadget, lol x Sounds like you are both beginning to chillax now and enjoy your travels, have a great week and look forward to the next installment and photos xx

    • Please do not use four letter swear words !! (wORK !!). Sorry about the bad news on the gadgets front but economy on power is essential :0) Now at Alvor on the ‘Algarve’. Just enjoying a cold one after two hours on a beach, a beach cafe with WiFi !! The ‘Aire, €4 with full services and two minute walk to the beach, come on you know you wanna be here with us !!

  2. rick lyon says:

    just sems like yesterday that I was enjoying your take on a day in the life of a C.C.asst. warden,look at your life now.

  3. anteater says:

    Oh, sounds so wonderful Eric and Shazza!! We can’t wait to do something similar, though it will be many years before we could go for 6 months!! Have a wonderful time!

  4. Debs says:

    What a lovely little town. great photos.. feeling very jealous as the weather has started getting a bit autumnal this week 😦 Always great reading what you are both up to 🙂

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