As the tumultuous year that was, 2020, draws to its end we find ourselves back at Vilamoura Rustic Motorhome Park in Portugal again, having returned to the UK for 5 short weeks to attend to the needs of the Celtic Fleet and much-needed catchups with UK family and friends. Although this was not the year we had planned (has anyone’s been?) we have still filled it with new friends, sights, tastes, and experiences. And we have learned not to plan but to dream and hope and appreciate what we have even whilst yearning for what we can’t.
After enjoying my birthday celebrations, successfully gaining Bob’s residency papers for Portugal, and saying farewell to our friends and surroundings for a couple of months we finally headed back north through Portugal, Spain, and France to travel back to the UK on the 25th September on the Eurotunnel. We made our way back to quietly undertake our mandatory 2 weeks of self-isolation aboard Celtic Maid in her marina near Rugby. This gave us time to get to know her again and undertake some minor maintenance tasks whilst keeping away from everyone else.
Then it was the Celtic Tart’s turn for TLC – a service, new brakes and an annual MOT (a required test for roadworthiness in the UK), which was all successful with the assistance of our good friend Michael Moody!!
We actually got 4 days out on the cut aboard Celtic Maid managing to get her polished, catching up with friends (always adhering to social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand hygiene), and reminiscing about how good boat life is! Alas it was over too soon and we embarked on a round of catching up with other friends and collecting parcels that said friends had kindly accepted delivery of for us.
All too soon we were all packed up again and on our last visits prior to heading back on the Eurotunnel on 31st October. A flying visit! But not before getting bogged at a campsite, flattening the battery, requiring both assistance from the RAC (roadside assist) and a tow, finally getting a new alternator fitted, burning out a fan heater and powerpoint, a short but lovely time with Julie and Phil, and finally a wonderful visit to Margate with Bob’s cousin Anne and Bob (at last).
Whilst in the UK we had purchased toll tags for France, Spain and Portugal making it very easy for us to get through France and Spain on the tollways and avoiding contact with anyone since most countries in the world were well on their way to a huge second wave of COVID 19 invections and travel was limited. Our aim was to get into Portugal ASAP and make our way south to our Portuguese address at the Vilamoura Rustic Motorhome Aire to spend time with our friends throughout December.
We were fortunate in staying at isolated Aires in France at Tardinghen, Saint-Genouph, and Labenne before crossing to Spain for 1 night in Carbarceno. And finally, we crossed to Portugal and stayed at the Aire below Braganca castle, taking the time to rest and explore the walled castle area. From here we traveled west to Vilartao and spent a few days at the O Tempo Parou Aire to undertake our laundry and more rest. Despite raining every day the scenery was magnificent when the clouds briefly lifted.
The north of Portugal is home to several mountain ranges and given that heights are not my strength, the travel was a little nerve-wracking at times. We had originally thought to head south through Portugal on the historic N2 which runs from Chaves on the northern border with Spain to Faro on the Algarve Atlantic coast. We did manage some sections and can attest to how picturesque the scenery is but after one section of switchback narrow mountain roads we decided to stick to something a little less of a white knuckle ride. Bob was fine but I needed a stiff scotch at the end of each day!!!
We tried to avoid the larger towns and cities and kept a careful eye on the high risk areas so stopped for one night in Viseu to restock supplies and a couple of nights at Serta by an ancient bridge and to enjoy our first bifanas for this trip in a small cafe. Eventually we found the Parque Tejo in Abrantes and loved our view so much we stayed almost 2 weeks. There were only ever 6 other people there (never at the same time) and everyone did the right thing so we felt very safe. We got supples from a lovely little shop a short walk away and quickly found the pastelaria for regular access to all sorts of cakes!!!
After a night at the Intermarche in Evora, we headed to Serpa where we met up with Lena and Colin, our friends from Portimao. The whole of Serpa was easy to walk around and we had fabulous food at the Piscina restaurant, explored the watch and clock museum and castle, and finally found a stunning cork backpack that I had been searching for.
Finally on the 2nd December we arrived back at the Vilamoura Rustic Motorhome Aire. Wearing masks to protect ourselves and others for 10 days, we finally put up our annexe (after getting the required additional parts from the supplier in the UK) giving us more than double the living space. We also had another few days with Lena and Colin in Portimao attending a quiz afternoon and visiting Monchique in the hills above that city.
Of course we also fulfilled our desire to do more spinning under the tutelage of “Gerard the Merciful”, celebrate Christmas and Gerard’s birthday, have massages by the lovely Laura and several amazing catchups with Lucy and Paolo.
We clearly have much to be thankful for as we end this bewildering year. We have hopes for 2021 but will just have to wait and see what it actually brings. Hopefully we continue to be blessed and we trust that our family and friends are too.