Thirty two hours to Paradise

If you say thirty-two hours fast then it seems like nothing, but when you are munching the miles in 3.5 tonnes of  Mercedes Sprinter and avoiding the expensive French toll roads, then believe me, it feels like forever.

I left Huddersfield at 13:00 on Saturday, picked my co-pilot Chris up at Stansted airport at 17:00, and we got to Dover just after 19:00 for a 21:00 sailing to Calais.

We’d decided to take two hour shifts (approximately) and Chris suggests that I took the first on the continent. As it turned out all of my stints behind the wheel were on free-flowing roads and motorways with reasonable weather, but Chris had all the congested, urban and road works stretches when the weather occasionally verged on the apocalyptic. It wasn’t deliberate though!

Coffee, biscuits, croissants, chocolate, crisps, and water were our staple diet, normal fare for Chris, but unusual for me to not have anything green or fruity for thirty hours.

vanAt 21:15 on Sunday night we finally made it to the barn, about thirty minutes before dusk, and after thirty-two hours of travelling. The van hadn’t missed a beat or given a single grumble. We’d been relentless and ‘Hercules’ seemed to revel in the challenges that we threw at him.

The highlight of the journey was the pair of us singing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at full pelt at three o’clock in the morning. All the right notes were in there, but just not in the right order.

Chris’s stay was all too short but he had obligations back home. We visited Rinlo for tapas, the supermarket so I could stock up on provisions for my stay (and for Chris to buy pasta, wine and oil for me to bring him back), and we had a great meal at Hotel Taramundi on Monday night so that Chris could try the Fabas.

All too quickly he was on the plane home but vowed to return to a green Spain which was a long way removed from his expectation of sun, sea and sangria.

Now down to the hard work trying to find a home for our possessions and to leave the place looking tidy as next time Amanda will be with me.

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The ‘Old Firm’ is Back Together for its Swansong

Since purchasing the big red van I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect co-driver for my trip to Galicia, to ensure the safe passage of all our valuable possessions (and Amanda’s shoes and handbags).  The choice of an ideal accomplice was far from simple.

I needed someone that is; dependable, mature, safe behind the wheel, fluent in French and with enough charm to talk us out of the clutches of the gendarmerie or guardia civil, should the occasion arise.

In the end, and in absolute desperation, I plumped for the only person who was allowed by their Wife/Mum/Work/Probation Officer/Doctor to join me in my quest, and at least he’s got one of my desired co-pilot qualities, he’s mature! With the other desirable qualities…we’ll just have to take our chances.

bbbmwChris and I have history. He was my colleague and co-director for close on twenty years and this won’t be the first time that we’ve driven to Spain together, although this time will be somewhat different to the first.

Back in 2009 we took part in Barcelona Bangers, a charity ‘race’ from Calais to Barcelona in a car that had to have cost less than £200.

We managed to acquire a clapped out four cylinder BMW for the princely sum of £195, spend a few hundred pounds making it roadworthy, and then covered it in paper maps and sponsors logos on the way to making over £4,500 for our chosen charity, MapAction.

The car made it to Barcelona with just the smallest of glitches and then decided to ‘turn up its toes’ in an underground car park at our hotel. Had I not been able to convince a bell-boy, in very poor Spanish, that we were prepared to give him the car in exchange for his signature in the ‘Permanent Export’ box on the V5 certificate, we’d have missed our flight home.

It was a terrific adventure as we travelled in convoy with a Jeep dressed as a bull, a Fiat Pope-Mobile covered in condom advertising which drew hatred from the populous of the deeply Catholic heartlands of western France, and sixty or so other garishly decorated old bangers.

Chris has made some sacrifices to join me, and I’d specifically like to thank his long-suffering wife and daughters for giving their blessing for him to come on my Galician odyssey.

Our 2,060 kilometre (1,290 miles) journey starts on Saturday lunchtime and we hope to be at the Barn in Galicia sometime on Sunday evening having travelled all weekend and avoided the majority of the road tolls, traffic jams, road works and the various traffic enforcement authorities.

Tomorrow is all about packing, weighing, and then unpacking enough things to make the journey at a legal weight. Fortunately my brother Ian is coming to lend his muscles for the afternoon.

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A Big Red Addition to the Family

I don’t know whether statistics exist that inform on the average number of cars that someone owns within their lives. I suspect that if they do, there is a chance that I’m slightly above average with twenty-five vehicles in twenty-seven years of driving.

I’ve been fairly brand loyal with half of those being BMW’s. But the adventurous side in me has led to some experimentation with two each of SAAB, Mercedes, Ford and Mazda and a solitary Renault, Fiat, and Morris. Lastly, who can forget my trusty Land Rover which accompanied me on my Galician adventures in 2011…certainly not the locals who still talk fondly of the blue goddess and her breakdown exploits, whenever I visit.

Tomorrow heralds the arrival of a new chariot, and he’s already got a name, I’ve decided to call him Hercules.

When I was a young teenager there were three vehicles that I always wanted. While I’m sure that normal teenagers had posters of Ferrari, Porsche or the hottest of hatchbacks on their bedroom walls, you’ve probably already guessed from four years of blogging, I’m not particularly normal.

My teenage dreams were of climbing behind the wheel either a BMW or two totally utilitarian vehicles; a Land Rover, and a Ford Transit. Peer through my executive saloon facade and you’ll soon find that a frustrated hippy is lurking inside, just waiting to get out.

Previous blogs have detailed my, not entirely successful, Land Rover escapades, but my van itch was still to be scratched…until now.

HerculesAfter investigating a multitude of options for getting our chattels and treasures to northern Spain I came to the conclusion that the most practical and exciting was to buy a van. I’d then make a couple of road-trips through France and northern Spain before finally bringing the vehicle back to the UK to re-sell it later in the year.

The advantages, in my mind at least, were many; we get to leisurely transfer our stuff to Spain; clear the house in the UK of junk so that I can decorate it before we put it on the market; have the use of a van for the first couple of months in Galicia; and above all…to have a couple of brilliant adventures. As I’ve said since the start of the Galician project, it is ‘all about the journey, not the destination’.

Extensive internet research convinced me that I was going to have to sacrifice my Ford Transit dreams and seek out a Mercedes Sprinter with a diesel engine and a long wheel base. With some excitement, tomorrow I collect a 2004, deep red, LWB Sprinter from a dealer in Bury with just two weeks to spare before the first planned excursion.

He, for a van must surely be masculine, has been given the name Hercules due to being 3.5 tonnes with a load capacity of around 1,200 kg. I’m now trying to work out how much we can get on the first trip without being over laden when we inevitably get pulled over by the police, gendarmerie, or guardia civil (or possibly all three).

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Equine Assistance

After being away from the property for a few months, there is a well practiced order in which I look at the house and land when arriving along the road from Pontenova.

First priority; has the roof collapsed on the big house?

Secondly; does the barn look okay, windows intact, no sign of any damage?

And finally; what state is the land in, and are we on the verge of a ‘denuncia‘ for being overgrown and a fire-hazard?

On first approach in early June I’d mentally ticked off the first two before casting my eyes over the finca and blurting out, ‘bloody hell, where’s Enrique‘. What had greeted us was an overgrown jungle of grass and weeds at between waist and chest height without natures lawn mowers anywhere in sight.

Over the last four years, it really is four years since we took ownership of our corner of paradise, Carlos has become our self-appointed caretaker. He lives a two minute walk away, parks his car and motorbike in our garage, harvests all our fruit at the end of the summer (and keeps), and provides the livestock who keep our rampant vegetation in check.

So far this year he’d obviously let us down.

strimmingHe has always had a sixth sense about our arrival. Sure enough, within twenty minutes of unloading the car he was there, loitering with intent, bursting to tell us something, ask another favour, or state the obvious. Before I had chance to ask after his donkey he was straight in with his question.

‘Can I put my horses on your land’.

We didn’t have to think too long before we answered, almost in unison, our decision reinforced with vigorous nodding heads. That’s the Galician equivalent of someone offering to mow your lawn every week for the next three months.

He was back within a couple of hours wearing full safety gear and equipped with a heavy duty strimmer and set about clearing a corridor in which to erect his electric fence.

equine_mowersAfter an hour of mechanical grass control he disappeared, to we know not where, and returned with three horses (although worryingly there were four last year, perhaps it was a hard Winter), our new equine lawn mowers.

Our fears of neighbourly complaints slowly melted away from our consciousness as the grey and two chestnuts went about their business, turning our grassland into fertiliser.

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House Clearance, Liñeiras Style

It’s just a week since we returned from a week-long working visit to the house, and already it seems like an age ago. We switched to Spanish time, where one normal hour passes in around twenty minutes, as soon as we landed which meant that the drive to Liñeiras was pretty fast.

The downside was that the rest of the week just flew by with one day merging into the next as we ticked off the pre-planned tasks on a long mental list.

One of the jobs was a perfect ‘killing two birds with one stone’ opportunity, although no birds were actually harmed during its undertaking.

Several of the ruined houses on our rambling estate ware looking a bit worse for wear due to the large amount of undergrowth and trees which have made them their home. I was conscious that we needed to start taking them down before their roots undermine the foundation-less walls and their trunks start their inevitable quest to push the walls over.

ruinbeforechopping

While we have no immediate plans to renovate these particular buildings, as custodians it would be remiss to allow them to fall further into disrepair and beyond the rehabilitation skills of even the most dedicated restorer.

The ‘second bird’ benefit was that the trees would yield plenty of logs which would go towards bolstering next winters stocks sat in the wood store.

So one sunny afternoon we dusted off the pruners, sharpened the axe and fired up the chainsaw. Three hours later and we had cleared the forty square metres of floorspace of everything but the most stubborn trunks and three hours after that the soon-to-be burnable wood was in manageable logs which had been split and safely stored under-cover.

ruinafterchopping

It was tiring but rewarding, and although the timber is of fairly poor quality it should provide a few nights warmth in the depths of the next Galician winter. In case you are concerned, that is me with the axe taking a breather in the background, not a ‘Here’s Johnny’ moment!

Now…where can I get a cheap stump grinder?

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