Tui, Santiago de Compostela, Foz and Gijón

Given our objective for this trip, it’s not so surprising (I hope) that this post will fleetingly describe our visits to Tui, Santiago de Compostela, Foz and Gijón.

 Tui

The city of Tui sits on the Miño river inland from A Guarda.  It was on my list of possibilities when looking to settle here in Galicia.  We were not disappointed.  With a population of around 17,000, the town is dominated by its hilltop Castle Cathedral and its status as one of the many stopping points from Portugal on the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela (Camiño de Santiago).  Small enough to handle, large enough to have things going on.

The old city with its stone built houses and a partially preserved medieval wall, has lovely winding streets and alleys with shops, cafés and restaurants.

The city is connected to Valença just across the river by an old bridge which we walked across and a modern bridge that handles the much larger traffic.  So we did visit Portugal and have the pictorial evidence to prove it!!

TuiTuiTui

Santiago de Compostela

Well we couldn’t leave Galicia without visiting its capital and its status as the alleged burial place of the Apostle Saint James.  Whether it’s true or not, the claim makes Santiago a centre for Pilgrimage, drawing pilgrims (obviously) and tourists from all over the world.  It was remarkably quiet when we visited which was nice.  After getting some suggestions of what to see from the tourist information place, our first stop was the large indoor/outdoor market.

Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSantiago de Compostela

What I particularly liked was the number of informal stalls of women selling a smattering of vegetables taken (presumably) from their gardens plus a bucket full of eggs….

We stopped for coffee and Tarta de Santiago at this lovely café….

Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de Compostela

The Cathedral and surrounding buildings were amazing from the outside even though there is a lot of restoration work going on.  Inside the Cathedral was a huge disappointment with scaffolding and plastic sheets covering everything leaving only the Altar uncovered.  I know these things need to be done, but…..

Wandering around the old city crammed with religious buildings and winding streets….

A pretty city, glad we visited, don’t feel the need to visit again.

Foz

After Santiago we headed north to the coast and stopped for the night at a pretty village called Foz.  For us, the highlight had to be watching a lone bather (playing??) in the surf.  Rather her than me!

Gijón

The following day we moved on to our next overnight stop – Gijón in Asturias.  We arrived at lunchtime so after a bite to eat we walked into town.  I don’t know much about the city other than it’s the largest in Asturias.  We certainly were overwhelmed by the huge tall blocks of flats in the modern city that we walked through to get back to our campsite, but the old centre had its charm.

From Gijón we travelled to Cóbreces to the site we stopped at on our way over to Galicia, before we head off again on the last leg of our journey to France.  We took a walk to another cove (with my camera phone this time).  The sea crashing into the cliffs was spectacular, we really could feel we were in the middle of nowhere. Especially as a creek running into the sea had an abandoned house and mill overlooking the expanse that is the Bay of Biscay.

So with only one more overnight stop in Spain before we’re in France.  I’ll catch up with you then 😘

A Guarda

A Guarda has a population of just a smidge over 10,000.  The town is dominated by the hill of Santa Tecla at 341 metres high overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to one side and the river Miño on the other.  The view from the top is fantastic, with Portugal just over the river.

Monte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A Guarda

The hill has been a fort as well as a more ancient site of a Celtic settlement from around 100BC.  Nestled in the hill’s less windy side is a series of circular and sometimes oval structures, the remains of this original settlement.  It is estimated that around 3,000 people lived here, it is an amazing site.  There is a museum located on the mountain with excavated pottery, carvings etc but was closed.  Not that surprising since it is January.

Monte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A Guarda

The modern town of A Guarda sits on the Atlantic side of the hill and is a pretty bustling town which is surprising given its modest population.  It is always a surprise to us how well serviced small towns are compared to the same in the UK.  It has several bakers, butchers/delicatessens, grocery shops, a couple of supermarkets right in the centre of town. Want a coffee? No problem. Want a restaurant? Again no problem. There are also plenty of clothes shops and at least a couple of places to buy furniture.  We even saw four toy shops.  It is a working town rather than just a holiday resort that dies in the winter months.

A GuardaA GuardaA GuardaA Guarda

A Guarda even has its own ET!

A Guarda

A Guarda also has a fortress (known as ‘the castle’) which was part of the defence systems built in the last stretch of the Miño river during the Independence War between Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.

The Castle of Santa Cruz, A Guarda

Views of the town Harbour…..

A Guarda harbourA Guarda harbourA Guarda harbourA Guarda harbour

The second picture has Monte Santa Tecla as the backdrop.  The last picture is us standing in front of part of a huge mural decorating the harbour wall.  You can just make out the wall in the distance in the first picture.

We enjoyed several walks along the river and ocean.  Especially when the wind was up which was most of the time!

A GuardaA GuardaA GuardaA Guarda

One of the pictures captures water horses in the waves, can you see which one?
In contrast, the calm of the river….

The river Miño

Had the town (and Galicia) been better connected for us to get back to the UK, it would have been a contender for somewhere to settle.  Oh well.

My next post will talk about our visit to Tui, another lovely city just further up the river Muño.

Tomorrow, we are leaving A Guarda and the campsite with access to Wifi.  I’m not sure when I’ll be able to post anything so please bear with.

We will be slowly making our way back along the northern Spanish coast to enter France via Saint Jean de Luz (near Biarritz and Bayonne).  It’ll take us about a week and we plan to visit Santiago de Compostela and Gijon along the way.  So I’ll have lots to talk about when we arrive in France.  Until then…..

Ciao! (as they say here) or Hasta luego.

Southern Galicia: what we’ve learned so far…..

As I’ve mentioned before, this tour is aimed at (maybe) finding somewhere to live here in beautiful Galicia.

With that in mind, here are the criteria we have set ourselves to assess if an area or town could work for us in terms of settling down somewhere.  These are in no particular order and are subject to change as what we think is important now may be blown out of the water by a place that sweeps us off our feet ☺️

1 – Affordability: at the moment we are looking at property both to rent and buy and associated running costs, plus the possibility of one day building our own home (I dream of having an eco house).  We will also take into account day to day costs of food and entertainment. 

2 – Amenities : we want to live either in or very close to a town with amenities, including access to health care.  The town must feel lively and interesting.

3 – Accessibility: we want to be able to access public transport.  We haven’t flown for about 4 years and have no wish to start again, so good rail services are also a must, especially to get back to the UK to visit family and friends.

4 – Warmth : a good warm climate for most of the year.  We don’t want to spend most of our cash trying to keep warm through long cold damp winters.

5 – Good environmental credentials : access to fresh organic and locally produced food.  Local groups that we can get actively involved in (and help with language skills) 😉

6 – Sustainability : we want to live somewhere that isn’t overcrowded and where access to water won’t be an issue.  So no living in a desert!

I think these general points are a good start…. they have already helped us decide that Galicia and most of Spain could be off limits! 

The last time we came to Galicia we wandered here, we took a longer slower route to explore and we weren’t in a rush.  This has caused us to underestimate the size of Spain.  

This time we wanted to get to Galicia quite quickly and we found we couldn’t.  It took us about two days of actual travel time from the Santander ferry to A Guarda, where we are now.  Admittedly we weren’t going fast because of the van, but it did emphasise just how far away we were from Santander and a potential route home via ferry.  And you may remember I didn’t react well to boat travel so….. 

Galicia is quite well serviced by airports but we don’t want to fly so travelling back home by train is the only realistic option. This is where we got unstuck.  Getting anywhere in Galicia by train from Paris (and Eurotunnel to London) is a bit of a marathon.  We really would need to put aside at least a couple of days to travel.  Not great. We think this is a deal breaker for us. 

For an easier rail route home we need to look at northern Spain near Santander, Bilbao, San Sebastián etc but they are expensive places to live and are out of our budget range.  Catalonia is another possibility but also expensive. 

So we are already thinking that a move to South West France could work better for us.  So in the next 2/3 days we will start heading to the French Atlantic coast, taking in some scenic places on the way.  We’ll spend a month checking out a few places we have already identified might work for us before heading across to the Mediterranean coast.  We have arranged for a couple of house sits near Carcassonne and Béziers starting in March.

In the meantime, I will write about some of the lovely places we have visited whilst here.  We’re sad that Galicia won’t work for us as the people we have met are so welcoming and friendly.

 Oh well, such is life, it doesn’t always go to plan.  C’est la vie!

On our way back to Galicia

So well done all (any?) of you still reading our blog!  If you’re wondering what happened to Amsterdam, we gave up as the weather was awful.  A trip for another time.  When we returned to the UK, we were busy catching up with family and friends, interspersed with house sits in Ipswich, Devon, London and Norwich!  In amongst this we had the General Election and the emotional fall out from that. Personally I don’t know where the country will be heading, but we may decide not to take that journey with it.  Our focus now is to revisit Galicia to see if we can make it – and Europe – our home.

So at 08:45am on Saturday the 4th January, we set sail with our motorhome and car, from Portsmouth to Santander with a plan to do a couple of short stops in Cantabria and Asturias before crossing into Galicia.  Our first real stop will be a campsite near the Portuguese border at A Guarda where we can use our van as a base and the car which will give us more flexibility to search the area.

Portsmouth Ferry 4th January 2020

The ferry took 28 hours and luckily the crossing was relatively smooth.  But not smooth enough for me it seemed as I felt decidedly queazy most of the time whereas Eric was bright eyed and bushy tailed the whole time!  Still we made it intact arriving at Santander at 2:15pm on the 5th January.

With Eric driving the van and me following in our car, we made the 40 minute journey to our first camping site in Cóbreces.

The weather was mild and sunny and a very welcome relief.  What we hadn’t realised though, is the following day, 6th January is a big holiday in Spain with everything closed.  Luckily we found out about this just after we arrived at the campsite so were able to get to a supermarket to do a fresh food shop.  If we hadn’t, we would have only had our emergency supply of tinned soup to eat…

Cooking Fabada Asturiana in Cóbreces

A short word about the Spanish holiday – Epiphany.  It is virtually Spain’s second Christmas and where gifts are exchanged just as the three Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus.  The celebration is therefore more commonly called ‘The festival of the Three Royal Magi’.  The nearest sized village Santillana del Mar had a big parade judging by the number of precariously parked cars along the road, and a big firework display which was, thankfully, over by 10pm. 

We must remember this for next year so we can join the celebrations….

Our next stop was an overnight camper stop in a town called Navia.  Basically a designated area in a car park with fresh water and grey water facilities.  We had a couple of hours before it got dark so we wandered around a little.  It seemed a nice enough little town…..

So on our third day, Wednesday, we set off for our longer term stop in A Guarda on the southern Galician border to Portugal.  It was an interesting journey mainly because we hadn’t planned to go to A Guarda quite yet.  We had planned to stop a while near Ferrol and explore a little there.  Unfortunately the wonderful mild sunny weather couldn’t cope with the crossing of the Sierra de Faladoira mountain range near As Pontes, so it left us behind whilst we entered its replacement – thick fog.  Which continued until we arrived at Ferrol to the camping area that was closed because of roadworks – they were digging up the road outside the entrance gate.  So it was at this point we decided to continue our journey to A Guarda.

The journey having already started to go downhill, continued its decline.  We ended up on the toll road which was stop/start through A Coruña down past Pontevedra.  An unexpected expense which thankfully, only cost up £42 in total for both vehicles.  By then we were both rather frazzled but nonetheless made it to our destination in a rather exhausted state.  We’d been on the road for 7 hours, pretty much non stop. The upside was that by the time we reached Pontevedra the fog had cleared and the sun rejoined us on our journey south.

The campsite is in a lovely location next to the river Miño which forms the border to Portugal.  At night we can see the twinkling lights of Vilar de Mouros just opposite us across the river. This is a picture of it, I know it could be anywhere, but it is actually a view of Portugal, really it is!!

Lights of Portugal from Santa Tecla campsite

We are planning to take things easy here as we explore the local area and will post an update soon.

Bremen and Van update

Wednesday:

After a decent night’s sleep considering we had our vents open to try and manage the smell of diesel in the van, we learned that our fuel filter was indeed leaking.  The mystery was from where as there were no obvious cracks etc.  So a new filter was ordered which will be delivered tomorrow which means another night camping on the garage forecourt. 

All this took until 9:30 am to determine, so we had the day free. As we are near to Bremen’s city centre which is just a 30 min bus ride away, off we went in the rain.  Oops, I forgot to mention the rain as has rained so often so far on this trip.  But at least it wasn’t blowing a gale.  I must be more grateful for small mercies.

According to Wikipedia, Bremen is and I quote, ‘the capital of the German federal state Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (also just called “Bremen” for short).  So there you have it.

Bremen turned out to be much nicer than we expected (we hadn’t intended to visit Bremen so we had no real expectations).  The buildings were highly decorated and individual.  There was lots of green space.  So overall we got a good impression of the place.

The City Hall and Roland statue are UNESCO World Heritage sites….

Bremen

Roland deserves a mention as he was paladin to Charlemagne and protector of the city. According to legend, Bremen will remain free and independent for as long as Roland stands watch over the city. 

Bremen is also well known through the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale ‘Town Musicians of Bremen’ (not one I know personally), and there is a statue dedicated to it in front of the city hall….

Bremen

It’s supposed to be lucky if you touch the golden hooves…..

Forming another ‘side’ to the market square is Bremen Cathedral dedicated to Saint Peter.  It’s stunning inside…..

We then strolled around Schnoorviertel which is the only part of old Bremen that is still preserved, and it’s the city’s oldest district.  The name Schnoor comes from the word ‘Schnur’ (string) as the houses seemed lined up as if on a piece of string.  This is artistic licence in my opinion, the streets and houses were not lined up like a piece of string that I could see.  But this is nit picking, it was lovely, even in the rain….

By now we were on our knees kind of hungry so we stopped off for some lunch.  We had a lovely hot meal and a cup of creamy coffee for the price of an open sandwich in Copenhagen.  No contest.  Whilst enjoying our meal in a restaurant overlooking the market square, we saw and heard a protest going on.  We couldn’t figure out what it was about, but it was quite noisy with shouting and whistles.

Apparently there is a Bohemian area of the city, so as we were now well fortified with lunch we took ourselves there.  It looked an interesting place in that there were lots of independent shops, cafés and restaurants with nice looking side streets full of old terraced houses with tiny to non existent front gardens yet brimming with plants stuffed everywhere.  It also had its share of down and outs and more than enough drug addicts and dealers hanging around.  There is only so much Bohemian one can take.

So heading back to the respectable end of town, we wandered through Bremen’s  ‘secret high street’ featuring a gilded relief called the ‘Bringer of Light’

The old Trade Hall…

And this.  The Windmill on the Wall.  The windmill is in the middle of a city park and was constructed where the city’s fortifications once stood.  There’s been a windmill here since the 15th century, the current one was built in 1898.  It is now a restaurant.

Bremen

The old city is built on a dune in the river Weser that flows through the city, handy for defending in less friendlier times.  The river banks are green parkland, right next to the city centre and gives a real feel of openness and space.  As we were strolling through this area (near the Windmill) before making our way back to the bus station, we met up with a drunk who started chatting with us, initially about trees and then the conversation such as it was, moved onto Brexit.  This was different.  He thought Trump and Boris are brilliant, he hates Germans even though he is one, and wants the Brits to kick the EU’s backsides.  He’s the first person we have come across in Europe with this view.  And he was a drunk, probably says it all really….

Thursday:

We’ll know later this morning/lunchtime if the van’s new part will work.  To occupy ourselves we cycled off to Ikea, only 15 mins away by bike.  Fabulous cycle route too.  Eric was not keen obviously, I lured him with a promise of Swedish meatballs for lunch. A way to a man’s heart……

Good news!  The van is fixed and it works!  So relieved.  With the bill paid, we left Bremen and continued our journey, stopping overnight near Groningen in the Netherlands before heading to Amsterdam on Friday.  Oh, and it’s raining….

Goodbye to Denmark, hello Germany, and van troubles (again)

Before we paid our final farewell to Denmark, land of the Vikings, we did manage to see a little more between the lashing rain, high winds and occasional brilliant sunshine in between.  After Roskilde, we travelled just a little bit up the fjord to Holbæk.  The weather was fine but very very windy and cold!  We ventured out for a walk along the fjord into town freezing our whatsits off, had an expensive cup of coffee and returned to the comparative warmth of the van. 

We needed to start heading south anyway, and so we decided not to hang around but move on to our final stop in Denmark, Faaborg.  So glad we popped into the town on the way to the campsite because it was a nice sunny afternoon hence the pretty pictures.

I had read that Faaborg was a pretty small town and worth a visit, and it was pretty…

We had a pleasant hour or so wandering around, and planned to return the following day.  The next day was, yes you guessed it; wet, windy and cold.  Which prevented us returning to Faaborg as the campsite was in a small village called Bøjden which is just shy of 7 miles out of town on the coast, with no public transport.  The weather calmed down and cleared by the evening, to a brilliant sunset….

Bøiden

Bøjden doesn’t have much, but it does have a ferry.  And when the ferry comes in, it almost gets lively as it is one of the quickest routes in these here parts to the island of Als which in turn, is almost touching the mainland of Jutland.  We had to experience at least one Danish ferry ride, so as part of our continued journey south, we booked ourselves a one way trip the following day.  It cost a reasonable £40 for a 30 minute ride; and saved us a 2 or 3 hour drive.

Whilst waiting for the ferry last Saturday morning, we wandered down to the beach and watched what appeared to be a yacht race as there seemed to be hundreds of them dotted across the water.  We wondered how they would cope when the ferry crossed as they were in its route, but most were out of the way when it arrived.  Except this little fella who got dangerously close to us…

Bøiden

The ferry was quite busy and very efficient, the boat docked, loaded and left within 20 minutes.  It arrived with the cargo ‘door’ being raised as it arrived, and the same as we entered port on Als….

From the island we crossed to the Danish mainland and then into Germany.  I know it was coincidence, but as soon as we crossed the border the weather turned warm, sunny and no wind.  Absolute bliss!  Our plan was to stop at a site to chill out and relax, which for a couple of days we did. 

Which leads us to today.  What a day it has turned out to be.  First of all the 3 hour journey, to our next stop south of Bremen, turned into 5 and a half hours (with only one 5 minute pee break) because we kept hitting road works after road works causing huge tailbacks on one particular set.  We finally arrived at the campsite when the van broke down 10 metres from the entrance!  The engine just stopped.  I got out to get some help only to notice what looked like oil dripping from the engine. 

The campsite owner kindly towed us off the road into their car park dripping what we now know to be diesel.  Thank God we broke down there and not in the motorway roadworks.  Anyhow, we called our breakdown cover people.  A testament to German efficiency, someone arrived within half an hour to take a look, decided he couldn’t fix it and within another half an hour a tow truck arrived to cart us off to the garage…

Somewhere near Bremen

We think our fuel filter exploded or something equally nasty.  The garage will try to fix it it the morning.  So tonight (Tuesday) we are sleeping in the van at the garage!  Happy days indeed.

… to be continued….

Roskilde

Two hard core sightseeing days in Copenhagen tired us out – in a good way mind. The weather was still dry but very windy as we headed a huge 20 miles west of the city to Roskilde.  So why there?  Well, it was the capital of Denmark from around 980 until the mid 15th century, and a Viking city at that.  Situated at the end of the Roskilde fjord, a favoured position of Vikings as it can more easily be defended from attack by sea.  Beacons we’re situated along the shoreline of the fjord, giving citizens ample warning of attack.  It was finding out more about Vikings and their ships that brought us here to visit.

There had been a local legend that Viking ships protected the city and that some of them might still be in the fjord.  So in 1962, archaeologists explored the site and to their amazement, found the stories to be true.  The wrecks, dating from around 1070, were sunk at one of the main channels into the fjord to block key approaches to the city.  In good condition given their age, the wrecks were salvaged, preserved and are now on display in a specially built museum.  Since the original excavation, more ships from the Viking and Middle Ages have been found when excavating around the current shipyard.

Studying the ships has helped inform us just how brilliant Viking boat building skills were.  The museum has a large experimental archeology shipyard whose aim is to learn, replicate and ultimately sail copies of the original ships.

Normally we could actually sail in one of the replicas ourselves.  Unfortunately for us it was so windy the day we were there, all sailings had been cancelled, otherwise we would be first in the queue!

The shipyard was by far the most interesting part of our visit as we spent a good hour chatting to one of the boatbuilders about some of the things they have learned and the techniques used.  He was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic, it was genuinely catching.  Each boat was individually built to the materials to hand rather than to a set specification. 

You could also not escape the fact that these boats took time and effort to build. Vikings did not use saws instead they used various axe designs for both big jobs as well as fine detailing.  Some of these pictures have been taken from the museum’s website as not all these activities were happening on the day of our visit.

With a team of workers, it would probably take around seven months to build one boat.  The sails had to be woven by hand with either linen or, more probably, wool as it has more natural waterproof qualities, and also would have taken months to make.  The sails were the most expensive parts of the ships.

Viking Museum, Roskilde

Ropes were made of different materials depending on their task, leather, wool, horse hair and bark to name a few. 

Different woods were used, oak for one ship sourced locally and others built with spruce and pine, sourced from further north including Norway.  One of the original ships was built in Ireland, how it ended up in Roskilde, of course we will never know. 

Here is a picture of a boat being constructed using traditional techniques….

Part of the aim of experimental archeology is to not only build replicas, but to sail them to test their sea worthiness and to learn more about seafaring techniques used by the Vikings.  To this end the ‘Sea Stallion’ is a reconstruction of a 30 metre long warship which had been built in Ireland in 1042 (trees reveal amazing detail on age and historical environmental conditions) before being decommissioned and sunk in Roskilde.  By the way, the decommissioning assumption is based on its age and condition (there were obvious repairs) when sunk. 

The Sea Stallion sailed from Roskilde around the North Sea, Irish Sea and English Channel in 2007-8, the same waters the original ship had sailed.

This is a truly amazing place and you should visit if you were to come this way.  I left the museum marvelling in how skilled these people were and how much we have lost in terms of skills in our homogenised, industrial world.  I really began to feel more clearly how the luddites must have felt at the beginning of the industrial revolution.  We have lost so much and gained a world where we can just churn out so much stuff with virtually no effort or thought.  We have learned to know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.  Deep stuff.

So that was our visit to the museum, a very happy morning.  In the afternoon we wandered into town cycling into the wind which seems to change direction to be a head wind, whichever way we head 🤨

The town itself looks pretty enough, with what looked like a good range of shops, cafés and restaurants.  It has the most important Cathedral in Denmark.  It is the official royal burial church of the Danish monarchs and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries, it is one of the earliest examples in Scandinavia of a Gothic cathedral to be built in brick.  It was very imposing, we didn’t go inside.

Just next to the Cathedral is the Royal Palace.  Built in 1733-36 it was where Royals stayed when in town, usually to attend funerals.  It is now a museum of contemporary art and the Bishop of Roskilde’s residence and offices.

I couldn’t help but notice (not for the first time since Skagen) how much ‘Skagen yellow’ is a feature on old Danish buildings…….

After a blustery cycle back to the campsite (passing some lovely cows on the way), we tidied up ready for moving on in the morning.  We are now making our way back to Holland where we plan to spend a few days in Amsterdam before catching our ferry home.  I will write another blog if we come across anything interesting, but we are not planning any major excursions before Amsterdam on the 28th – 30th September.  We’re having a little rest!

Roskilde Camping