We’ve had a crazy busy few weeks, so it’s about time I get on the blog and write about it. In the short time since my last post we’ve managed to cram in visitors, send part of our family off on an 800 km hike & complete a full mini-tour to Spain. It’s been no idle hands and lots of activity for the Wheelingit crew!
Kate and Iain from Tales From The Scenic Route
First up were our motorhome visitors, Kate and Iain from Tales From The Scenic Route who passed through SW France just a few weeks ago.
We first met this lovely couple boondocking somewhere in the SW desert of the USA in what seems like a lifetime ago, but what was really just a few years back. We immediately got along of course, as most traveling people do, and then ended up bumping into them again hither and thither as we roamed around. A typical example of the RVing community we enjoyed in the USA.
Kate & Iain Are Now Touring In Their Motorhome Across Europe
But their story didn’t end there.
Look, twinsies!!! Kate & Iain’s rig is the one on the left (back)
Iain managed to shoot a quick usie before they left
Kate and Iain continued their travels, hoping all over the world until they eventually decided to move to Europe and fulltime here. Having excellent taste they got themselves a Carthago, a rather larger one than ours but almost identical in form & perfectly suited to their fulltimer lifestyle.
Their purchase was several months ahead of us so they became a great source of info before we moved, graciously sharing the knowledge they’d gathered as well as answering endless silly questions from us along the way. They were definitely an inspiration for our own Carthago purchase a few months later.
We’ve been planning a twinsie meetup for months, missing each other several times in France and Spain before we finally managed to lure them into our driveway with promises of food and abundant wine on their way through SW France. Not many pics from our time together (isn’t that the ultimate proof of a good time?), but we chatted late into the night and a blast all around.
They pushed off a few days later on a major summer adventure (which I won’t spoil by spilling the beans on here), but which we’ll definitely be following closely as we plan to do that route ourselves in a few years. If you’re curious definitely check ’em out on their blog & Instagram. We wish you good travels, guys!
I Plan For a Mini-Adventure With Dad
Their departure came just a few days before our own, and by “our departure” I mean dad, me and the 12 paws. Our goal was a 1,672 km mini-adventure through the North of Spain.
Our northern Spain mini-route, 1672 km of coast and inland
We had plans which would take us across the wild Northern Spanish Coast and back into France along an inland ancient pilgrim’s route. It was going to be epic, a little crazy and at a pace that would be WAY faster than anything I’d ever done before. Plus we would end up experiencing SO much stuff it would take us days to process afterwards.
In just over a week we passed through multiple amazing landscapes, visited many incredible Cathedrals, saw tons of remote and fascinating towns, took the motorhome high into the mountains and squeezed her through some insanely narrow streets (thank goodness her mirrors can fold in, is all I’ll say about that one for now!). It was a trip that would end up being exhausting, fun, crazy, gorgeous, at times frustrating, but in the end an amazing experience all around. I’ll be detailing it ALL on the blog.
But why wasn’t Paul coming?
Paul Was Already On An Epic Adventure Of His Own
Several weeks before all this (yes, I seem to be time-traveling a bit a la Doctor Who here) Paul went off on a secret mini-adventure of his own, with HIS dad.
Paul and his dad on the day they started walking the Camino
It was actually a plan that was hatched more than a year ago at a happy hour in a Florida RV park. Paul’s dad was scheduled to have his second knee operation, so the boyz came up with the thought that if rehab went well they would walk the 800km (~500 mile) Camino De Santiago together. At the time it was just a feather of a nutty idea, but it would go on to simmer, boil and then finally blossom into full life when Paul’s dad flew over in early April to make it a reality.
Now for those who don’t know about the Camino, it’s an ancient pilgrimage route that dates back to the 9th century. As the story goes, a shepherd named Pelayo was led by the stars to the remains of a body in a field. The local bishop declared the remains to be those of St. James (first of Jesus’ Apostles to be martyred) and ordered a church built on the site. As word of the sacred burial ground spread, pilgrims started to visit from all over Europe, and thus the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James was born.
Paul and his dad have been walking the Camino Frances
There are actually many different routes you can take, but the one Paul and his dad decided to take was the Camino Frances, arguably the most common or best-known trail, which starts at St.Jean-Pied-De-Port in France and crosses the Pyrenees before traversing northern Spain to Santiago.
They Started Walking The Camino In April
Paul’s dad arrived in France on 10th April, and after a allowing a few days for him to settle into the European timezone, we packed up LMB for a short 1-night trip with Polly to take the three of us into St Jean Pied De Port.
Folks contemplating motorhome travel in Europe are naturally curious as to what it really costs.
Our Spain Mini-Trip Route & Stops. Click for interactive map.
As with US RVing, it’s not a question that is simple to answer. Much depends on your travel style, whether you stay in fancy campgrounds or free-camp, how many miles you drive per day and how much you spend on sightseeing & going out.
Plus in Europe EVERY country is different.
For example Spain is known to be a pretty low-cost country to travel both in terms of gas costs, road tolls and the basics such as groceries (can you say EUR 1-2 for a bottle of wine? Oh yes you can!). Scandinavia on the other hand is known to be notoriously expensive, especially for things like gas and groceries.
So, as I’ve always said when it comes to camping costs it depends…..
We’re Newbies & We Let Loose On This Trip
We’re also newbies!! Well at least as far as European motorhome travel goes. And as with all things new, it takes a little while to figure out all the ins and outs.
We stayed in comfy campgrounds most of this trip
This particular trip was our first major trip abroad in LMB and it was just a little 16-day mini-swing into the northwest corner of Spain. Our goal was to enjoy ourselves and let loose, so we didn’t really try to save on costs. In general we went for comfort and efficiency over costs, choosing to stay at developed campgrounds rather than Aires/Camperstops (or wild-camping) and driving toll roads wherever they showed up rather than actively trying to avoid them.
We could easily have cut our costs in half by simply choosing cheaper places to stay (especially Camperstops) and/or taking more B-roads, but that’s just the way we decided to roll this time around.
With that said, here are the specs of the top-level costs for our first little mini-trip abroad.
Km Traveled: 1,137 (~706 miles) Days Spent Abroad: 16
Costs Per Day
Km/Miles & Route
All in all we traveled 1,137 km, or around 706 miles over a period of 16 days or so. We made a total of 7 camping stops and kept our driving down to no more than ~1-2 hours between each one. Our longest day clocked in at ~227 km (just over two hours) while our shortest was only 4.6 km! (around 10 mins?). We didn’t push it at all.
How Does This Compare To Our US Travels? The length of drive between spots is not tooooo different to what we used to do in the old “beast” (we never liked long drives), but because we moved so much (around every 2-3 days or so) this is about three times the pace we used to travel when we full-timed in the USA. It was still a VERY reasonable slo-mo for a quick trip abroad.
We only traveled as far south as Peñiscola on this trip, a mere ~500 km from home
We filled up our diesel tank three times at a total cost of around EUR 180 (~$200), and came home with plenty of gas to spare.
Gas costs are obviously a major part of any road travel budget, and in Europe the prices would shock most Americans. Thankfully the vehicles here are made to be MUCH more efficient than their US counterparts, so even though diesel is outrageously expensive by US-standards it’s actually cheaper to RV around Europe if you take advantage of the local motorhome tech.
In Spain diesel averaged around EUR 1.25/liter (equivalent to ~$5.3 per US gallon), which was nicely cheaper than the first fill-up we did in France at around EUR 1.45/liter (equivalent to ~$6.1 per US gallon). Prices vary by time of year, but those were the rates we paid when we went in March, 2019.
How Does This Compare To Our US Travels? I didn’t keep track of exactly how many liters we put into our new motorhome (or how much of a tank we started/finished with), so I don’t have our precise mileage but I can certainly tell you that this is undoubtedly cheaper than what we would have paid with the old RV in the USA. Our old “beast” was a heavy ~33,000 lb gal with a massive 400 HP engine which made her a bit of a diesel guzzler. She only managed ~8 mpg, so the equivalent km/miles would have cost us quite a bit more at around ~EUR 252 or ~$283 (using today’s US retail price average of $3.20 per gallon) if we’d RV’d a similar-length route in the USA. Our new gal is pretty darn gas efficient!!
During our next trip I’ll keep better track so I can get a more accurate usage.
Road Toll Costs
Paying road tolls are a fact of life in Europe. Some countries charge highway tolls while others feature bridge and tunnel tolls so it just depends. In Southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Portugal) you pay road tolls on the major highways and they’re collected as you travel through toll booths (either in cash, by credit card, or electronic transponder,if you have one) along the way.
Toll roads in Spain. We drove the NE toll road both ways.
Not all our travel was on toll roads (in France on a free D road)
During our mini-trip we paid a total of EUR 93.3 (~$105) in tolls, most of which was in Spain. We thought that was pretty reasonable, especially since we made literally zero effort to avoid toll roads and simply took them wherever they were offered. With a bit of effort, we could easily have reduced this, so you could consider this a higher-end budget.
As an added bonus our little mini-rig did help us save some money here, especially in France.
In France tolls are charged by vehicle class. Regular cars are considered Class 1 and are charged the lowest rate. Light motorhomes (less than 3.5 tonnes and under 3 m in height) are the next step up and are considered Class 2. These toll costs are around 50% more than regular cars. Heavier motorhomes (> 3.5 tonnes) are considered Class 3 or higher depending on their exact weight and number of axles, and that can become expensive. Rates increase rapidly here, hitting around 3 times the regular car rate. It’s the one of the big advantages of traveling in a lighter/smaller motorhome in France.
In Spain it’s a bit easier. Motorhomes are charged the same as cars (Class 1, tourist), no matter their weight so everyone pays the same.
In France the Class of your Vehicle determines your toll rate. “La Mini-Bête” is Class 2.
How Does This Compare To Our US Travels? In the USA we paid ZERO road tolls out West during the first 5 years or so of our travel, but paid several when we RV’d our East during our last few years. Our costs in the East ranged anywhere from zero to $60 (in Florida) and up to $180 per month (e.g. around NY, Boston etc.). I would say all-in-all there’s no doubt road tolls are much cheaper in the USA. Plus if you stay West, you avoid them altogether.
This is easy. We traveled during winter and chose ASCI campgrounds the whole way, so we were able to take advantage of their low season discount. This means we paid ~EUR 20 whenever we stayed in developed campgrounds.
Our ASCI card kept our campground costs to ~€20/night
We did wild-camp/boondock several nights (where we paid nothing), so our total costs (EUR 280 = ~$315) came in a little below this, but that’s pretty much where we ended up.
As we RV around more in Europe it’ll be interesting to see how/if this cost changes. I expect it might come down as we get more comfortable with wild-camping, and Aires/Camperstops, but it could also increase in high-season and/or whenever we travel north. We’ll just have to see….
How Does This Compare To Our US Travels? In the USA we averaged about half this (~$10/night) when we RV’d out West (where we boondocked and workamped several months each year), but our costs rose to about the same level as above (~$23/night) during our last couple of years when we RV’d out East. So, pretty equivalent I’d say.
Ahhh, back to the beauty of Southwestern France
Taking the scenic route home
It was an easy drive on the highway, although we did get thrashed about a bit in the wind. LMB is not a big girl, weighing a mere 3.5 tonnes so she doesn’t have quite the same solid grip on the road as our old 33,000 lb “beast”. Still she did fine and we passed the border without barely any notice at all (I’m sure something was there to mark it, but I just don’t remember seeing anything!?), continuing a short while south towards Perpignan on toll road A9 before heading off on a quiet D-type side road.
Our goal was simple. We were going to drive the most scenic route home taking D117 most of the way, a long twist of a road paralleling the the Northern side of the Pyrenees. It would be a drive though a multitude of quaint little French villages with almost no-one around, past gorgeous mountains and through a stunning gorge, interspersed by endless fields of rolling vineyards. Plus we planned to stop along the way to visit some of our (very, very old) ancestors, and properly sample a smidgen of the local vino.
Yup, this is what it’s like to travel in France, a mix of amazing landscapes overflowing with wine options. Being surrounded by these types of places are one the many hardships we endure to live in this part of the world. Oui, la vie est dure….
View of Tautavel valley from the ruins of the castle above town. Predictably gorgeous….
The Roussillon Wine Region
This particular part of wine country is perhaps not as worldly famous as some of its northern compatriots (I’m thinking of you, Bordeaux), but it maintains a strong standing for those in the know.
The Languedoc-Rousillion Wine Region
The entire region, known as Languedoc-Roussillon stretches from the Rhône valley in the east to the Spanish border in the southwest, and contains 300,000 hectares of vineyards, making it France’s largest wine producing region. The Roussillon part of this space is the southern section and its unique geology creates a slew of micro-climates that allows up to 24 different varieties of grapes to grow. You can get anything from heavy reds, dripping in syrah and granache to light roses and sweet whites. It’s quite the range.
Tautavel is in the smack center of this area, a valley surrounded by mountains, with a soil marked by granite and quartz (important contributors to the local terroir), relatively low rainfall and a cool climate thanks to topology and a slightly increased altitude (650ft/200m). For the non winehead-techies amongst you all you need to know is that this leads to some pretty darn incredible wines, and thus the perfect place to park your rig for a night.
There’s History Here Too (Ancient History)
Another draw of Tautavel is it’s incredibly well-preserved and veeeery old history.
Info about Tautavel Man at Le Musée de Préhistoire downtown
Tautavel claims its place as the European center of pre-history. It is home to the skull of the Tautavel Man (Homo erectus tautavelensis) a subspecies that lived 450,000 years ago. The skull was found in a cave (Arago Cave) ~4km north of town which was occupied as early as 600,000 years ago, one of the earliest known from the middle Pleistocene era in the Pyrénées.
In the same place, archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of other remains including early hunting and scraping tools, and hundreds of ancient animal skeletons in over fifteen meters of sediment. It’s a pretty important spot.
There is a large museum in town (Musée de Préhistoire) dedicated to prehistoric history with lots of good info for both adults and kids who are into the really, really old stuff. It’s a good visit and well worth the mere EUR 8 it costs to get in.
Starting our progression home from Peñíscola was kind of bitter-sweet.
That way….exploring the less-touristed Costa Dorada
We’d hit the southernmost point of our mini-trip to Spain so we knew that everything we did from now on would be part of the route home. Also we’d be following the same coast we’d just traversed the other way coming down so we’d be back-tracking a good portion of the way, which is never as exciting as the first time you travel a route.
But we hadn’t seen everything yet, and like every drive you do, no matter how many times you do it (I’m thinking of you Hwy 395…..ahhhhhh), there’s always something new to explore.
We had our sights on a particular portion of the coast which we’d missed on the way down, and that we suspected we would probably love (very high probability here), but it was ~4 hours away. So what we needed was a little mini-stop in-between.
You can never go wrong with a beach sunset…
We’re (At Our Core) Slo-Mo Travelers
We’ve always been “slo-mo” travel types, which basically means we prefer shorter drives combined with longer stays, rather than speeding from place to place. It means we see less (overall), but we get to explore each place in a smidgen more depth than we would otherwise.
The paws prefer shorter drives, and more beach-time, and if they say so…
It’s no better or worse than any other form of travel…it’s just what we prefer. We tried the whole fast-move thing our first year on the road (move every 3-4 days kinda thing) and although we covered a ton of miles it was so darn exhausting that it very nearly caused us to stop RVing all-together. Thankfully we learned our lesson, slowed down and actually started enjoying the journey rather than itching to see the max number of destination(s). It made a huge difference to our travel happiness.
Driving a small rig like LMB hasn’t really changed this approach.
LMB is SUPER easy to drive (much less exhausting than a big rig), so if we wanted to drive longer distances we easily could, but we just haven’t felt it. Despite our rig change we’re still slo-mo types at heart and prefer driving just few hours and then relaxing or sightseeing in the new spot at our leisure. The pets prefer that pace too, and since we’re simply human servants for our paws, their preferences are our command.
Hey, it’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…
Sometimes We Still Need A Short Stop Along The Way
Planning short drives doesn’t always take you exactly where you need to go, however.
Torredembarra looked like a perfect half-way stop to our next location
Sometimes the places we really want to see (i.e. spend longer stops in) are fairly far apart and given we only like to drive a few hours at a time, we need to find a short stop en-route. In the USA, these stops were usually cheap campgrounds (e.g. Passport America, in low season), State Parks or free overnight stops (e.g. Walmart parking lot etc.). Here in Spain it’s cheap campgrounds (ASCI, in low season) or cheap/free semi-developed parking areas (Areas Autocaravanas).
It’s really not that much different….
For this route we looked for a stop around half-way to our next slo-mo destination, with beach and something interesting-looking nearby. A little Google map magic landed us in Torredembarra, a small mostly nondescript town which captured our attention because of…..you guessed it….a lighthouse!
The Newest Lighthouse In Spain
To be perfectly honest the lighthouse of Torredembarra might have been the first thing the drew us here, but it didn’t turn out to the main attraction.
Not exactly my style, but she is impressive
That’s not because we’re falling out of love with lighthouses, but simply because of our tastes (yes, we have lighthouse tastes). Far Torredembarra is the very newest lighthouse in Spain. She started operating mere moments ago (in lighthouse time) on Jan, 2000 and stands a sweeping 38 meters (125 ft) above land, casting a light ~20 miles out to sea.
Designed by architect Josep Maria Llinàs she has a contemporary and sharply geometric look with an octagon-shaped tower and a bulbous UFO-like lens room at the top. So although she might be distinctive, she’s not exactly pretty and doesn’t ooze nearly the same charm (for me) as the older lighthouses along the coast. But she’s still impressive, and what makes her unique is that she’s situated in a natural park, on the edge of some rather pretty sandstone cliffs.
Internet reviews gave this place a 5-star rating for the natural area alone, so it seemed like just the ticket.
What a pretty location tho! Far Torredembarra
Another ASCI Stop (With A Serious Siesta Policy)
Once again we decided to enjoy the luxury of a campground, thanks to our ASCI discount card.
Pre-Post Note: We’ve made it back home and have been busy with the crazy business of un-packing the rig & cleaning it out (who knew part-timing would be so exhausting?), so I took a short blog break to get that sorted. Back to the good stuff now….
A Place Packed With Historical & Visual TreasuresWelcome to Peñíscola
I have to admit that Peñíscola captured our hearts from the get-go.
It’s the kind of coastal Spanish town that dreams are made of, or at least my kind of dreams. It’s visually stunning with miles of white sandy beach and a wide palm-tree-lined boardwalk that leads across an isthmus of land to a rocky peninsula and the deep aqua-green sea beyond.
The peninsula (Peñíscola is evolved from the latin for “peninsula”) or “city in the sea” is where the old part of town is located and it’s most certainly the highlight of the place. It’s teeny by most standards, only 67 m (220 feet) high and a few km wide, but it is packed with historical and visual treasures.
A lighthouse, white-washed houses, a castle and the aqua-blue sea beyond…oh my!!
Habitation can be traced back to the 1st century BC with Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and later the Arabs all laying claim to this tiny piece of rock. In the 13th century the Knights Templar took over, destroying the Muslim fortifications and building a magnificent and suitably imposing stone castle (Castillo de Peñíscola) that dominates the view to this day. Even a pope lived here, and just not any pope but rather the infamous “Antipope” Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna), who called the castle his home from 1415 to 1423. It’s quite a rich history…
The castle is incredible and well worth the mere EUR 5 it costs to visit, but the rest of old town is equally stunning with rows of glistening white-washed houses, hundreds of stone steps and narrow pebblestone alleyways that weave their way through it all and seem to lead to hidden views at every turn. There are dozens of cafes where you can sip, eat and take in the view, no less than two beautiful churches, a house entirely covered with shells (Casa De La Conchas) and, bestill my beating heart, a LIGHTHOUSE!!
I believe I swooned a little when I first saw it.
Walking on the beach towards the old city. Literally no-one around…
One of several natural parks in new town
The newer part of town is not quite as pretty as the peninsula, but still has it’s own charm. There are miles of beachfront apartments, many of which seem to have been built in a mass frenzy of construction and later abandoned, likely casualties of the big Spanish recession from 2008–2014. This part of town feels a bit run down and certainly way less “posh” than bigger tourist spots like Sitges, but it’s recovering rapidly and you see the results of that as you explore around. The boardwalk along the beach is impeccable, there are several natural parks (some of which are brand new), and there’s all stuff you need with multiple good grocery stores and plenty of restaurants to sample the local fare.
A Great Little Campground
We also lucked out with a great campground to explore it all.
Well, we did it. We found our first real, honest-to-goodness boondocking (or rather “wild camping” as they call it over here) spot in Europe!
It was exquisite, a true gem, exactly the kind of wild and raw place you dream about, and yet it was only a few miles from the local town. It was also not at all what we expected. I mean we’d always hoped to find a spot like this in Europe but in our heart of hearts we never really thought we would.
Real, honest-to-goodness wild camping!
Europe Has More Nature Than You’d Expect
Most folks have this impression of Europe (and mind you it’s not completely wrong) that it’s much more crowded with far less wide open space than the US. That’s certainly true if you stick to the larger cities or travel to the more touristy areas, but it’s not even close to the whole story.
Even my own experience of Europe’s wildest places is somewhat limited. During the time I lived here I was either going to school or working, busy with “regular life” and sticking mostly to bigger areas. I did explore a bit, but I didn’t spend early as much time in Europe’s deepest nature as I could.
In reality, in-between all the density and the areas with people there is TRUE nature in Europe, LOTS of true nature…
I see it from our home in France, in the form of the ragged peaks of the Pyrenees that run for hundreds of miles across the horizon. I see it on Google maps when I roam around (I call it “virtual dream travel”) in the form of thousands of natural parks dotted all throughout the continent. And yes we saw it on the coast of Spain, only a few hours south of Barcelona.
In fact this little stretch of coast is known as one of the wildest and untouched in the country.
What a gorgeous coastline!
We Are In The Costa Del Azahar
When folks talk about the Spanish coast they always talk about Costa so-and-so. It seems every little corner of the coast has it’s own name and when you get down here, you quickly learn that every little bit of coast has it’s own reputation too.
A moment with nature
Some of the the spots are super well-known, and in turn highly visited. For example Costa Del Sol, near the very southern tip of the country is an extremely popular tourist destination, and generally packed with foreigners no matter what time of year. Those spots are gorgeous, and the weather is amazing (especially in winter) so it’s no surprise that they’re popular. But if you’re looking for a slice of desolate nature all to yourself they may not be the first place to go.
Map of the various areas & “Costas” of Spain (from howtobuyinspain.com)
Other spots are far less well-known, and in turn much quieter. The Costa Del Azahar is one of those places. It’s a slice of coast in the province of Castellón, named for the flor of Alzahar, the fragrant flower of the orange blossom. It’s home to smallish beach towns, mountains and rugged coastline, including the 7,744 hectare Serra d’Irta Natural Park. This is where we decided to try our hand at wild camping in LMB for the first time.
First-Time Boondocking Is Always A Bit Nerve-Wracking
Despite all our previous boondocking experience (I mean we did it at least 3 months every year we lived in “the beast” in the USA), I have to admit that trying it in Europe for the first time in our brand new rig was rather petrifying.
First of all we had no idea what to expect. Would sites be easy to find? Would the road be OK? We weren’t towing a car so we had no way to scout it out ahead of time. Plus most folks seem to wild-camp in vans, and we were in a motorhome (a MINI motorhome, but a motorhome nonetheless) without a ton of ground clearance. Would we even be able to get into any of the spots? Lastly we didn’t really know what the rules were, or how boondockers interact with each other over here. Basically we were complete wild-camping newbies…
The dirt road to our wild-camping spot. Yes, I think this’ll do….
We Scouted Out As Much As We Could On The Internet
Thankfully the modern age has given us tools for this kind of thing, and our previous experience does help us a bit too.
This is the app & website for ALL your camping needs in Europe!
The first thing we did was check Park4Night, IMO the best all-encompassing tool for finding camping spots in Europe. This app is kinda like Campendium, RVParkReviews and AllStays all wrapped into one and it contains a TON of information. Not only does it show regular campgrounds, but it also shows parking spots (both day-time and overnight), Aires (semi-developed parking areas) and wild camping locations. It offers an incredible amount of choice and has become the first place we check for anywhere we want to go.
Park4Night showed several possible choices around Peñíscola.
Park4Night showed a tons of spots around Peñíscola (the green tree symbol are wild-camping spots)
Our next thing was to scout out the sites & roads using Google Maps in “Satellite” mode. This was always one of the first things we did when we were trying to fing boondocking in the USA, and although it’s never a perfect science, it’s certainly helpful. You can’t really tell if the road is rutted or steep, but by zooming in you can get a pretty good idea of how wide the road is, how large(ish) the boondocking sites are and whether there are open spots where it looks like you can potentially turn around. We bookmarked several potential sites and then we went for it…..
A splendid sun halo
Our first attempt was a solid fail. We started off down a dirt road that initially looked promising, but progressively became more rutted and steep to the point that we weren’t comfortable going any further. We’re still figuring out the limits of our new rig and are not quite ready to take her 4-wheeling, at least not yet. Thankfully we found a little pull-out and decided to take that opportunity to do a careful 12-point turn-around and make our way back. Back on solid ground….phew!
Our next attempt did the job. We went down another dirt road, found a pretty decent site and immediately parked. Then we walked further..
View of downtown from the Church of Saint Bartomeu
It was the very first impression both of us had when we first saw the place and we hadn’t been able to stop saying it since we arrived. We were smack in the middle of Sitges, a beach town ~45 mins from Barcelona on the Southern Coast of Spain, and it had exactly the kind of Mediterranean seaside vibe that we had dreamed about when we first started thinking about RVing in Europe.
Miles of sandy beach with the deep blue sea gently lapping at its shores, a long boardwalk lined with palm trees, open-air restaurants grand buildings decorated with colorful Spanish tile and everything bracketed by a stunning church at the end. Temps were perfect too, a cool and sunny 17°C with nothing but clear sky and sunny days ahead.
We couldn’t have landed at a better first beach spot.
The Drive Over Was Lovely
Our drive from France had only been a couple of hours and had been quite lovely.
The views on the drive over were lovely
Awwww look at that…..Feline Peace!!
We decided to take the mountain pass over the Pyrénées because….pourquoi pas? It’s a gorgeous drive and our little rig has the power to do it. Plus we’re rapidly falling in love with driving LMB. She has great suspension and is SO easy to maneuver and turn that you’d think you were coasting along in a regular car. She’s pretty darn sweet.
As an added bonus, the paws are starting to like her too.
Polly is already all-in and very happy to be exploring again. The cats have not quite settled down yet, but over the past few days they’ve started to find their routine. They’ve adjusted to their new mini-living-space and now have individual day and night-time spots in which to catch their ~14-hour beauty naps. Plus they’ve stopped hissing at each other and started sleeping together again, a sure sign that General Feline Peace has returned. Yeah!
What’s even more telling is that they barely react when we start-up the engine. Our old “beast” had quite a roar and, like all big rigs, the rear suspension was somewhat bouncy, which the cats tolerated but never really liked that much. LMB drives much more like a van or a car, and the cats are totally relaxed when she fires up to go. It’s a positive (and totally unexpected) bonus. They literally slept the whole way across the mountains.
The walk from camp alongside the boardwalk into Sitges (and yes, that’s an RV parked on the left)
We’ve Unexpectedly Hit Carnival!It’s CARNIVAL!
Another serendipitous bonus we hadn’t planned for, was that we rolled into town right in the middle of the biggest party of the year…..CARNIVAL!!
Now to to put this properly in perspective this isn’t just any little ol’gathering. The Carnival in Sitges is claimed as one of the top 10 Carnivals in the world with over 250,000 people attending. The celebration goes on for weeks with both children’s and adult-themed events, starting early in the day and going on throughout the night til dawn the next day. It is a PARTAY and a half, and during the event Sitges is a happening place! In fact the running joke in town is that if you want a more relaxed Carnival, you should go to Barcelona because it’s much more laid-back in the “big city”.
We simply hadn’t thought about Carnival, and didn’t really catch on until we noticed folks walking around in costume at the campground check-in. What a cool bonus!
Well maybe not quite, but I know it’s been a long, loooong time since I last posted. This has been the longest gap I’ve had in my blog since I started writing ~9 years ago and for those of you who were worried I really do apologize. I don’t know if it’s years of constant blogging on the road that’s finally catching up to me (blog burn out, perhaps?), or because our life has changed SO MUCH since we moved. Either way, I really needed the time away to figure it all out and I’m still (in many ways) working on that and trying to find the “new me”.
A fiery sunset from our house
Our Life Has Slowed Down (And Drifted Off Social Media)
Part of it is that our life has changed so dramatically from our nomadic years on the road in the USA. Here in France it’s become slower, more personal, more “fixed”. That’s been a good thing all-in-all, but it’s also fundamentally changed the way I interact with the world and I’m still trying to find the proper balance in it all.
While we were traveling around the USA we were 100% nomadic and interacted constantly through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the blog. It allowed us to create a community while we moved, keeping in touch with the world seamlessly, and reaching an audience I could never otherwise have connected with. I am SO thankful for that time.
A dreamy and foggy January day
But Social Media can also be a rather soul-sucking endeavor. It can take over your life and, if you let it, pull you into an artificial world of interaction that can somewhat overshadow the real one. Over 9 years of writing, my blog morphed from a simple way to share my travels with a few friends & family to something much, much bigger, along with all the good (and bad) that comes with that. I loved it, but I also lost a bit of myself in it.
When we moved to rural France that all changed in an instant.
The online world is not at all a focus here. Instead of internet interactions, things happen face-to-face. So, if you wanna meet folks you meet them in real life, and if you need to find a business or someone to fix your house, you ask around and find them through word of mouth. It’s all rather old-fashioned, and if you’re used to “instant online gratification” it can seem terribly frustrating and slow. But it can also be a refreshing and soul-enriching change.
So slowly but surely over the past months I’ve been on that path, disconnecting from Social Media, trying to re-find a balance in our new life and re-evaluating how I’m going to move forward with it all. Complicated “mind stuff” if you will…
Another fiery sunset. I never tire of these…
So What Now? Will You Still Write?
Well, yes. Like an old bear I’m slowly coming out of hibernation and have decided to ease my way back into writing and sharing online to see how it feels. I love the creative process of what I do here, as well as the interactions I have with all of you, my readers, so I’m starting back up and will see how it goes. It’s going to be a process, and I may have to tweak a few things, but I really want to give it a try.
Plus it helps that we’re traveling again….
The Motorhome Is Finally On the Road…..in SPAIN!!
After MANY MONTHS of delay, LMB is finally on the road. Whoooo wheeeee! We’re currently on day 2 of a mini-trip abroad to Spain and so far, all is going well. It’s not going to be a huge journey (just a few weeks or so), but it’s been a looong time coming and should help me shake the cobwebs out of my blogging retreat.
Our license plates getting printed & laminated by roller at the dealer
Part of the reason for the delay was due to the fact that we waited more than 2 months for our permanent license plates to arrive.
Originally we were supposed to get the plates in mid-November (last year), then that got delayed until mid-Dec, then end Dec and so on. The wait was endless, and in typical French fashion, absolutely impossible to predict (“ils arrivent bientôt”, “they’ll come soon” was the only answer we could get). FINALLY a few weeks ago, our motorhome registration was approved in the French system, we got our “carte grise” (our official documents), and we were able to replace our temporary plates with permanent ones.
The latter actually happened ridiculously fast, once everything was approved. We simply showed up at the dealer with our finalized registration and they created new plates for us on-the-spot. They printed the plate number from a big paper printer, laminated it with with some hard plastic using a hand-roller, and gave us some rivets to attach it to the motorhome. Literally 10 minutes and they were done…..voila…!
It was a classic French story. It took absolutely AGES to get us “into the system” but once we were in, it all flowed like butter on a hot day. C’est comme ça!
Then We Spent A Few Weeks Getting LMB In “Ship Shape” To Roll…
Once we’d been “legalized” we started working to get the motorhome ready to leave for her mini-trip abroad.
Our garage is looking pretty organized, and our bikes slide right out!
An important part of that was figuring out how to “cat-ify” the interior for our two feline family members. That mean finding viable spots for cat litter, cat scratching pole, cat food etc. It’s all a bit of a jigsaw puzzle in a mini-rig, but we “think” we’ve got it figured out. Once these two weeks on the road are up, I’ll know if we did it right (or need to make adjustments) and I’ll report back on the blog with what worked and what didn’t. Should be interesting…
The other big prep was organizing our big rear storage area (the rear garage). We have a BIG space back there, but we also wanted to bring quite a bit of “stuff” including our bicycles, tools and various other bits and bobs, and it all had to be reasonably easy to access. So we bought an expensive (but very useful) pull-out bike-rack from FIAMMA, and then did LOTS of careful measuring before we drilled our very first holes into the floor. Terrifying to do, but ultimately very satisfying once we got it all set-up. So far, this is working out well very indeed.
Then we worked on our bedroom and closet. I made some fitted sheets for our crazy-shaped mattresses (first time I’ve ever done that, but I figured it out!) and then I spent several days playing with various hanging ideas, hooks & other stuff for our super-mini-itty-bitty closet. It took quite a bit of mental 3D organization to put it all together, but I think I made a good start. Again, we’ll need a few weeks on the road before I can report on how well we did with it all.
Our final prep was making about 10,000 trips back and forth to the motorhome to load her up. Since we’ve only ever full-timed before, this was a totally new experience for us, so it took WAY longer (and was much more exhausting) than it needed to. Now that we’ve done it once we have a list and I think we’ll do much, much better the next time around…we’ll see!
So, I’ll See You Down The Road, OK?
That’s the major update for now. Suffice to say I’m back and we’re on the road, so hopefully the blog will pick back up again as I shake out those cobwebs….À la prochaine!
Just a quick note from this side of the pond to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!
I can’t quite believe it’s almost the end of the year, but blink your eyes and there it is. This was a very different year for us, in so many ways, and the blog has been rather intermittent as we’ve adjusted to our new lives here in France. C’est la vie! As we roll into 2019, we have lots of new plans, so hopefully the blog pace will pick up again, but we’ll just have to see where serendipity takes us and how it all works out.
In the meantime today is for family, food and Christmas Cheer, so I will simply leave you with thoughts of love and wishes for a wonderful evening and a very Happy New Year.
From all of us in the Wheelingit crew, Paul, Nina, Polly, Taggart and Rand….We wish you the best end to 2018 and a most wonderful start to 2019!