“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark” Muhammad Ali
… or perhaps he just stayed in the same tiny hotel room that we did?
Welcome to Part 2 of our journey across half of Europe (well, ok – a slight exaggeration!) – This time we are covering our UK – France – Spain – to Portugal return journey. If you missed Part 1 it’s here – Four languages in Four days
So here are some more of our hints/tips and journey stories to share with you all – why not make a cup of tea and join us as we travel to Portugal:
There is a rider to all of this as well – I can’t recommend that the first sight of England you experience should be a service station on the M20 – just don’t do it! 😦 We almost hot-footed it back to Europe within 30 minutes of ‘landing’ in the UK!
We had a better experience at the Holiday Inn in Folkestone on the first night of our return journey – except why do they insist on charging extra for wi-fi? Even Mr Bed didn’t charge us for wi-fi (you will note that Mr Bed has become the marker against which all other hotels are judged – see Part 1 of this post series for more about the joys of Mr Bed!)
Breakfast was a jolly affair – I am always slightly amused and scared in equal measures by the outdated toast making contraptions that hotels seem to favour – you know the ones, they look like a small medieval torture rack for toast, spinning round and plopping out burnt toast at the bottom. We had one at Police training college – a badge of honour was handed out for all those of us that managed to set fire to the machine in the morning!
I am also looking forward to becoming old and slightly eccentric – it would appear you can get away with anything when you are old. Picture the said toast torture chamber – a young man puts his bread in and then walks away to wait for it to plop at the other end – old lady walks up – helps herself to his toast – and then when he returns for his toast innocently says to him ‘Oh sorry dear, they asked me and I said I didn’t think it belonged to anyone so they [the waitress] took it away’ – ooooh! No they didn’t – you nicked it! Outrageous! 🙂
We managed to find ourselves in the ‘this way please’ lane leading up to the tunnel for their ‘drugs and firearms’ checks… At this point I should own up to something (!) – one of the things that are very expensive to buy in Portugal are tea-bags (I know I know – how terribly British of me!) and it was one of the only things we stocked up on – as the boot was already a bit full (!) we emptied out the boxes and tucked into the corners of the boot all the little silver packs of tea bags (!) – Add to that the fact that the entire back seat was taken up by two enormous rolls of bubble wrap (being an artist requires a lot of strange items!!) and you can imagine my concern at being stopped and asked to ‘empty the boot’ (groan!)
In reality, the check involved rolling down the driver’s window so the nice customs man could check the steering wheel with what can only be described as a little duster on a pole… I was itching to ask him if he could wipe the whole dashboard as it was so dusty (!) – but a look from Dave silenced me! A quick check of the car (no emptying the boot – phew!) and we were off again.
The tunnel itself was uneventful and very pleasant – the 35 minutes really whizz by. Back onto the French motorway system again – it’s a nice easy drive, and the brown tourist signs all along the roads had me faintly amused – they describe fascinating and intriguing chateaus and monuments at regular intervals – but I have to say that try as I might – I couldn’t actually see any of them – and they didn’t appear to relate to any upcoming junctions or exits on the motorway… so if anyone can tell me if they are just a decorative piece of tourist road enhancement – or if they do actually relate to nearby buildings and attractions – please do let me know!
And so onto our second night’s stay – after Mr Bed I was quietly hoping for an easy victory – the picture on the website looked fine – Hotel Campanile near Poitiers. How could it possibly be worse than Mr Bed?! Oh did I eat my words when we arrived at a faded and jaded 1970’s style hi-de-hi holiday park 😦 I had even paid ‘extra’ for a larger room with a double bed and ‘extra’ bed – so you cannot begin to imagine my disappointment to find ourselves given a key to a room that Harry Potter would have recognised as a replica of his cupboard under the stairs! The ‘extra’ bed turned out to be a small camp bed under the double bed – and the room was so small I have no idea where or how you would have actually put the camp bed up if you had needed to use it!! Not quite how it looked online I can assure you 😦
Complaining proved fruitless – “sorry madam, maybe the picture you saw was from one of our other resorts” – I nearly choked with laughter at the thought of the place we were stuck with for the night being called a ‘resort’ (!) Oh well, perhaps dinner would be better – they were proudly advertising their high quality restaurant with what looked like a half decent steak and chips as the special on the menu for the night… Well – how can I put this? Have you ever had a fresh ‘steak’ before that came served formed perfectly into a beef burger shape – complete with COLD pepper sauce?! Nope – me neither! As we both ordered the same ‘luxury’ ‘steak’ – and they both came out looking like beef burgers – I can only assume that’s what they think a steak looks like (?!)
After a hasty glance around the ‘restaurant’ and spotting what looked like very average looking breakfast cereals and pastries – we cancelled the ‘breakfast buffet’ we had booked – which incidentally won the award for the most outrageous price too – 9 Euros EACH (!) and opted for the service station stop in the morning instead! Add that to a room that had ONE tea bag between two people, and a square footage the size of a small cupboard – and you can imagine how chuffed we were with this one for the night – it did have one redeeming feature though – free wi-fi (are you taking note Holiday Inn?!)
Our next night was staying back at the Holiday Inn at Vitoria Gasteiz – an uneventful and comfortable stay on our way up and an easy choice on the way back … or so we thought! Our room was really hot when we arrived – and a quick fiddle with the air conditioning proved to have little effect – so we opened the windows, had a quick shower and went out for a walk. On our return the room was still oven-like (it had the gorgeous afternoon sun streaming in!) and we realised that the air conditioning was actually not working – and added to that the shower head that had a broken collar and drooped downwards at an interesting angle – I decided to do the ‘ask the receptionist for another room’ phone call.
She came up to ‘inspect’ (!) and proceeded to have the most bizarre conversation with us which went along the lines of ‘The air conditioning is broken’ – ‘oh no, it is not broken, you can only have hot in the winter, and cold in the summer’ ‘right, so it is the end of March and it’s 23 degrees outside – so is it summer or winter today?’ ‘oh it’s winter – you cannot have it blowing cold air in here’ Erm – no – sorry – it’s BROKEN!
She did let us change rooms to a room on the other side of the building – and guess what – the air conditioning didn’t work in there either! 😦 Apart from that – we had a very pleasant night there – the rooms are a good size, nice comfy beds and excellent value.
There is a small cotton paired postscript to this story too – Dave had rinsed out a pair of socks in the first room (guess who didn’t pack enough clothes for the return journey?!!) – and left them hanging out the window – so our apologies to the cleaner who would have arrived in our first room and found it all empty and immaculate… except for the strange pair of socks dangling from the window … !! Ooops!
The Holiday Inn did get extra brownie points for a lovely breakfast – which was included in the room price (we love laterooms.com for their offers!). As typically British travellers we turned up in jeans and T-shirts for the buffet breakfast – and felt woefully inadequate next to the perfectly made up and beautifully dressed women (and smartly dressed men too!) with their well-behaved and immaculately dressed children!
I do have a question about Spain though – why do the Spanish appear to have an obsession with fried eggs?! We went to a very nice little bistro restaurant and ordered fish of the day – the plate came out with a nice piece of grilled fish – with some fried squid rings – chips – salad …. and a fried egg! (?!!!) Weird!
Even stranger than that though is the Spanish ‘tortilla’ – although it translates as an omelette – with various fillings on offer – usually ham or chorizo… so far, so good – what we weren’t expecting was for said omelette to come out folded up and wrapped in a baguette ….??!!
Food prize of the trip though has to go to the very nice little restaurant we found in Salamanca – with a small warning that most restaurants don’t seem to even start serving food until 8pm – the menu was solely in Spanish (it is so different to Portuguese – we are quite fluent around a Portuguese menu now) – so it was a shock not to recognise hardly anything on offer! We decided to bravely plump for things without having a clue what they were (I cheated a bit for my main course as I knew what pollo was – you can’t do too much wrong with chicken can you?!) The starters turned out fine – but Dave’s main course was hilarious – two large meat covered balls and a stringy piece of something – he cleared his plate and looked it up later… and found he’d eaten bull’s testicles! (With a fried egg of course!)
Salamanca was beautiful – such an amazingly historic and delightful place – and well worth the extra night’s stop-over to be able to take time wandering the streets and soaking up the sights – and taking some lovely shots:
Salamanca is also the venue for my famous hotel victory over Dave – we were a bit ‘neck and neck’ to this point scoring each other’s hotel bookings – and it all hinged on the Hotel Regio I had booked – I was quietly confident – it was a 179€ room (with breakfast included) down to 49€ for the night (thanks laterooms.com) I knew I’d won the minute we walked into the faded art deco grandeur of an amazing reception and hallway – and I danced a jig when we saw the room – beautiful! Yee ha! I won hands down! Big room, huge TV, free wifi, lovely big bathroom (big towels!) and even a balcony! And did I mention the sumptuous (free!) breakfast … and the fact there was a bus service that stopped right outside the hotel that took us into the centre of Salamanca… reception even gave us a map and circled the main sights for us. Result! 🙂
And the hotel also had some rather awesome ‘hang on the door signs too – but I’ve tried hanging the one on the right on my bedroom door back here at home – and so far – no luck!
There’s on last piece of advice we cannot recommend highly enough – even if you are an intrepid ‘turn up and find out as you go along’ traveller – or more of a ‘plan the route’ person – do research some basic things before you start! Things like major festivals – and bank holiday closing!
The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is an exceptionally beautiful place – reminding me instantly of St Mark’s Square in Venice. Stunning architecture, a wide open square absolutely bustling with people, with students sat all over the floor, hen parties (!) and cafés with liveried waiters – and a stunning architectural feast for the eyes and the camera lens. It is at its absolute best at night, lit up and twinkling… well it was until about 5 minutes after we started setting up the cameras – when all the lights went out! 😦 Forgot to research that one – trust us to try to take shots on Earth Day – the day every major monument across the world went dark for an hour!
It’s also worth finding out the bank holidays in different countries – we fancied a quick stop-over at Ikea in Seville (meatballs – naughty but nice!) and a quick wander round the store (we can always find something to buy in Ikea!) Except it was all shut 😦 – We were a bit amazed at that one – Ikea is ALWAYS open! But not on April 1st – it’s a Spanish holiday!
So we carried on to the final border with the lovely ‘Welcome to Portugal’ sign – and ‘home’ 🙂 I’m not sure we’ll be in a hurry to do the same route again – although it has given us a taste of travelling again – and there is so much of central and northern Portugal that we are longing to see – so watch this space for more travel posts!
Our basic route – for anyone planning a similar journey – was Portugal – Seville –Caceres – Salamanca – Valladolid – Burgos – Vitoria Gasteiz – San Sebastian – Bordeaux – Poitiers – Tours – Le Mans – Rouen – Calais and we used the AA route planner web-site which was excellent (to go the same route as us you need to type in Via Seville to stop it sending you up through Portugal)
If you have any similar experiences – or some hints or tips for others planning this journey – please do share them in the Comments section below – and don’t forget if you missed Part 1 it’s here – Four languages in Four days