Arcade, Spain and aires

I’d never heard of Arcade in Spain and only came here as I found a parking place for motorhomes in an app I use called Search For Sites. SFS as most of us call it is a website and app put together by the motorhome community. One man runs the site and has commissioned the app, but what it does it allow everyone to contribute to it by adding sites both paid and free where motorhomes can park, reviewing them and uploading photos of the ‘aires’ as they’re commonly known and maybe things of interest around it. 

Aire is simply French for area and in France there are very many areas especially in small communities set up for motorhomes to visit. Most have fresh water, some allow disposal of toilet waste and some also have electricity available. Aires can be aires de repos which might simply be a parking place on a motorway for a rest, or an aire de service which has any of the range of services mentioned.

They’re numerous in France but also in Germany where they’re called Stelplatz, Italy where they’re called Sostas and most other European countries. In Spain they’re also known as aires and they’re often managed by the local mayor, or a community organisation, or the city or even by a group of motorhome enthusiasts. Most communities recognise that if you offer a place to park with sometimes basic services you will get a steady stream of people visiting even out of season, and those people will spend money of course. Unlike the UK where local councils wish to monetise everything with unrealistically high prices much of the rest of Europe see free or very low cost aires as an excellent way to bring people into towns and cities for very little cost.

looking back to town from the prom
looking back to town from the prom

Anyway, I found the aire which is like many, one end of a public car park and is right on the promenade of an estuary. There’s a pitch where locals play a game very similar to petanque, a kids play park, a skateboard area and a harbour wall where the fishermen keep their boats. There’s an oyster festival annually in Spring and Arcade is famed for it’s oysters. Many of the cafes and restaurants sell shellfish and other sea foods although shellfish leave me cold and my love of seafood is limited to fresh crab and some fish. 

Arcade itself is quite a run down town. Everywhere you look there is waste land, empty and derelict buildings, places for rent and for sale and businesses that have closed down. Clearly it’s suffering economically although there is always plenty of people about and the shops that are open seem to do well. 

However, like most places, if you wander around enough you can find nice things. The beach is tiny, but nice enough and me and Jack loved playing on it many a time. There was only one day when it did not rain in Arcade, but we always managed a half hour at least on the beach. There’s also a lovely walk along the estuary which was very popular with locals too, so we enjoyed that many times. There’s a brand new launderette and a couple of garages but although one of them could easily have taken the camper, when I asked them to do the exhaust they said no. Oh well. 

Where I stayed: Arcade Aire de Autocaravanas, Pontevedra, Spain, 36690. N42.33944, W-8.61333. Toilet dump and fresh water.

Here’s a few shots I took while in Arcade. 

Estaires, France

Aire at Estaires
Aire at Estaires

Despite the grave warnings of the German Peugeot dealer, I managed to get down to France with no drama at all and decided to spend a short time here to make the most of this visit as best I could.

I found this little aire in Estaires and immediately liked it partly because it was behind the town square beside a few houses and was one of the community type aires. These have been built and are maintained by the local mayor and business users to encourage motorhomers to visit the town. There’s 4 free spaces for motorhomes with fresh water and toilet dump which cost 2€.

There’s a huge network of them all over Europe as I’ve mentioned before and if you have a camper and don’t need the full services of a campsite they’re an ideal way to explore small villages all over the continent. Except the UK…the UK doesn’t really have many and the few that exist are way overpriced. 

The other side of the aire was a Boulodrome. This is a place where people go to play ball games, mainly petanque. It’s very much similar to our green bowls in the way that it’s played except the balls are a heavy steel and they play them on any service they can get, no matter how rough.

The sound of a couple of dozen people all enjoying a communal game of petanque in the summer sunshine is a joy, mostly because it sounds like

People playing petanque at the local Boulodrome
People playing petanque at the local Boulodrome

many people getting together to have a fun and simple game which brings people of all types from the community together. Some call it a load of balls of course but then I suppose that’s exactly what it is! I love the idea of it and even took a photo one day of them playing. It looked to be mostly the same people each day who played and many started about 10 am and played often up til 6 pm. 

Some locations of aires are of course better than others. I was once in one that was surrounded by walls on 3 sides and a view of a garage on the way in and out. It was not at all pleasant for the view, however the town was pleasant and nice and the parking was free with free waste dump and fresh water. 

Some of the council car parks in the UK which allow people to park overnight charge up to £15, just for parking, no water or anything. However unlike in continental Europe they charge for the daytime too so if that’s maybe £5-8  you must add that onto your £15 for overnighting. Often the cost can exceed what you’d pay for a small and simple campsite. Sadly greedy British councils just can’t see that this drives people away rather than attracting them to a town to visit.

I went into a fruit and veg shop that I found near here and the owner was having a wine tasting party. She spoke great English so asked if I would like to drop my sprouts and partake of a glass of something nice. I did have a small one and it was actually quite tasty and I hope she thought the wine was the reason I spent €20 in her shop, and not the fact that her prices were extravagant. 

Closer to the aire I also found a bread shop and partook most days of a small bloom type loaf. It was the most delicious bread and certainly perked up my soup and she also sold meringues which were so delicious and quite cheap too. But the nicest thing I bought was from a permanently installed chip van in the town square. The burger was real meat and absolutely delicious, and the chips were properly cooked, not the frozen and microwaved rubbish you get at most places. It was only €3.40 for them and it was probably the tastiest burger I’ve had abroad. OK so I rarely ever get them abroad but it felt right to say it anyway 🙂

There was what was laughingly called a riverside walk mentioned in the app I used but when I got there it was more like a disused canal offshoot filled with rubbish and half dried up lol I did take Jack for a jaunt along it, all 200 metres of it haha and he did enjoy barking at some coots which were sitting on the brackish water watching him. So he enjoyed it for a short while anyway.

All in all it’s a nice little town with a nice feel to it and a nice little aire to stay in for free. What more could you ask for?

Where I stayed: Estaires, Pas-de-Calais [62], Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, 59940, N50.643544, W002.718517

Never rue Rouen

Quai Cavelier de la Salle
A small pleasure boat goes against the tide up the river Seine at Rouen.

On the way down to Mont St Michel I had to stop off in Rouen. Rouen is another city that I love and in 2009 when I had my satellite internet I spent a month here. It’s changed a lot especially the Quai de Sever where I parked, which has been developed now as an urban park space.

For now I parked at the other end of the long quai down at Quai Cavelier de la Salle. There were a couple of other vans here and it was peaceful so it seemed a good place to stop.

I walked along though to the Quai St Sever where I’d spent time in 2009 and was amazed at how nice it was. They’ve put gardens there and large wood recliners. Sports areas and small kids parks. Fitness installations and complicated walkways which are great for dog walkers like me. 

There were tons of people around even in the evening and after dark there were still a few people sitting and chatting on the benches and enjoying the evening by the river. It’s clearly very popular.

It really is a fantastic urban space and a huge change to the immense concrete apron where the circus used to come. 

River view
Over the bridge and beyond the initial buildings Rouen is a quaint and pretty town with an old quarter that vies with any others.

I walked to the end and found an aire that I hadn’t known existed. A formal space designed for motorhomes to park. it’s at the other end of the quai at Quai d’Elbeuf. I noted there was a car parts place newly opened there called simply Pieces d’Auto Rouen which means Rouen auto parts. Handy to know. 

It’s nowhere near as pretty at the aire as you’re on the edge of the industrial area and there’s no view to speak of however it’s free and safe, and less than 10 minutes walk into town across the Pont Pierre Corneille bridge. 

In 2009 I remember the sirens were a particular irritation to the point they distracted me daily. I guessed that fire service vehicles must use a siren even if they are not on an emergency. I don’t know if that’s true or not but it’s the only explanation I can think of for the constant use of them. I noted this visit that the sirens were still a  feature and I’ve not noticed this in any other French city.

They were not as often as before, but still frequent, maybe every half hour. I was on the phone to a friend for a long period and even they remarked as to how often sirens were going as when they went over the bridge above me they were really loud.

I still love Rouen. I think like Amiens every time I come to France I will visit. 

My first attempt at posting a panorama shot…

Quai St Sever and Rouen cathedral
Another view of the huge changes made to Quai St Sever. This was once nothing more than a large concrete apron for about 2 miles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why speak any other language if you have French?

Update: after my experiences in Belgium I decided to get some new bolts for the injectors, a new collar for the EGR valve and some screw extractors. I set off to find them and the very handy Pieces D’Auto Rouen that I mentioned was first on my list. Sadly they had nothing I needed apart from some brake cleaner, which is excellent for cleaning EGR valves and anything else sooty and oily.

Interestingly as I was using my poor French on yet another non-English speaker the manager of the store came in and spoke very good English. We chatted and I mentioned how my lack of decent French was hampering my search for parts and I was learning as I went. He laughed and commented that in France they had this thing called ‘chauvin’. (Related to chauvinistic?) It meant basically if you have French you do not need another language!

I remembered a couple of years ago a big survey undertaken by holiday companies such as hotels airlines etc and they looked for which nationality was the best and worst for trying the languages of the countries they visit. Britons were among the top people for trying believe it or not, and French were the very worst by far! 

A quick google found a Peugeot dealer in town so I went over and lo and behold they had everything. At home you can’t get a bloody screw without them saying come back in 3 days. In fact when I bought a new dew sensor for my fuel filter from a dealer in Barrow it was weeks before it finally came in.

Anyway, the chap in the parts dept  of SCA Normandie (who could speak no English at all) was excellent and got me some new injector clamp bolts, new injector seals, new injector protectors and new collars for the EGR valve. All very reasonably priced too. I had to have 4 of everything and the final bill was about €60 which is ace considering the dam collars are about €15 euros each.

Next step, find some screw extractors. I literally drove all round Rouen for a whole day looking for some. Each place I went to I was trying my French out and I learned new words as I went. Each place sent me somewhere else and I had to understand what they were saying which was not easy. 

However eventually I found Demay Lesieur which sold me a set for €21. A lot to pay but excellent piece of mind that if the same thing happened again I had the tools and parts to fix it quickly. Interestingly, when I got back to the UK I was in a market and found an almost identical set of extractors for £2.50. I bought some as they had slightly different sizes and for that price you may as well. 

The whole experience of breaking down, being recovered, going to the garage, and finding spare parts and tools made me determined to learn more French, and most nights now the last thing I do before bed is use the Duolingo app on my phone and do a little practice. 

Here’s a few shots although I didn’t take many this time. Click on a photo to enlarge it, click on any one to go back to normal.

Venice finally!!

OK here it is, background info first.

Sosta does not translate into what we think of as an aire. Sosta means stop, layover or rest, and doesn’t necessarily mean you can park your motorhome overnight. Like the French aire it’s misunderstood and I can see why some go to a sosta and find nothing more than a paid for car park.

San Giuliano is a paid for car park but has dedicated motorhome bays on grass and gravel. It has at one time been a full campsite by the looks of it.
You get a ticket when you come in, then when you leave you put it in the machine and pay what it tells you to. €5 per night. The charging period is midnight to midnight so a 4 night stay costs you €25. Height barriers prevent you leaving overnight but I’m not sure what time they are closed as the guy who sits at the gates doesn’t speak English. It’s reasonably secure but there’s walking access into the massive San Giuliano park.

The bus into Venice and most of the buses round here don’t take cash. They use a ticket which you buy from Hellovenezia cabins or most papershops, tobacconists and other outlets. You add on whatever trips you need and validate them by swiping them on an electronic console on the bus. The validation simply ensures you have a valid journey left on your ticket and marks that you have ‘paid’ for that journey.

Water taxis and Vaporettos have a similar ticketed system. You pay €18 which lasts for 12 hours. You want more time you have to pay more.
There is a water taxi stop 100 metres from the San Giuliano sosta, however it’s seasonal and it hasn’t started yet and there is nothing anywhere to say when it starts. It is privately run and charges pretty much the same as most Vaporettos, about €7 per journey. However it is private so you can’t use the standard tickets. They start at 06:20 but finish around 19:20 which is not a problem as the last No 12 bus leaves Piazzala Roma (The main square at the end of the causeway, the ‘start’ of Venice, at about 1am.

As they aren’t running yet, and the sosta is at the very end of the causeway in the one way system, it means there is a 1.5 mile walk to the nearest bus stop on Via Forte Marghera in Mestre. It’s a very pleasant walk through the park especially in pre 7am sunshine as I made it this morning 🙂 The first bus stop you come across on Via Forte Marghera has a newspaper stand next to it which sells tickets. Handy. I bought 2 journeys, (they go on one ticket) for €2.60 which meant I validated one to get over the causeway into Venice and one to return. The Number 12 bus returns to the Red car park in San Giuliano park which means it’s only a little less than a mile to walk back to the sosta. Good news for aching feet!

That’s a lot of info, but I hope it helps anyone planning to come here. In a nutshell, €5 per night parking, and €2.60 return per person on the bus. That’s bloody cheap for round here and I doubt anyone can find a cheaper method of visiting Venice.

If your brain isn’t addled by now, in Venice expect to pay €1.50 for all toilets, €3.50 for a small coffee and €4.5 for a small bottle of water. I did see one person told off loudly for daring to ask to use a toilet in a cafe, and another who was told to buy something. My rucsac has a bladder in thank goodness so I saved a lot by filling that and a flask of coffee.
I bought a very tasty veg salad for only €5 though down a backstreet and most pizzas off the beaten track were about €7 so not wallet busting. The cafes and restaurants in the main tourist areas have racks as you enter so you can leave your shirt 😉

The Basilica di San Marco in San Marco square like most churches in Venice does not allow photography even without flash. They do not either allow rucsacs in so if you are carrying one like most people, you either have to leave it with someone or be refused entry. The queues are massive too.

I’ve had a fabulous day in Venice, I’ll post some of the almost 500 photos I took later!