All the way to Spain

Arriving in France

I stayed at Rouen for about a week and it rained every day…I mean every single, solitary day, and most days it rained non stop too. I’ve never seen the river so high there. Anyway, I was wasting my time off work so I decided to do work in between the rain. I finally got the new engine coolant sensor fitted despite it being a 5 hour job because of the rain, and because it’s so difficult to get to. I changed the air filter while I was there and checked the EGR valve solenoid which is working fine, and the valve itself appears to be working. Nevertheless I disabled the valve as it is causing all sorts of smoke and consumption issues. The steel seal seems to have worked in that there is no more smoke coming from the exhaust, but it is still using water and oil much more than it should. I am beginning to believe that the head gasket is gone.

I also got the radiator brackets fitted  and generally tidied up a few things. I did a test drive for an hour and everything was working brilliantly, the temperature gauge is showing the correct temperature finally after a year of being wrong. However unknown to me if you go through a toll booth, turn round after 330 miles and come back through the same plaza, they don’t know what to charge you so they charge you any old thing, in my case €78 lol I emailed them and within a couple of days they had replied and said that this was normal practice and they would refund me most of the money but I should not do that again. Sure enough I got all but €7 back eventually so that turned out OK. 

I was so confident that everything was ok I took off having spent a week in Rouen and now wanting to move on. I headed for Santiago di Compostella which is a town in Spain I’ve long wanted to visit, planning to stay there a day or two then move on to Portugal. The van was returning 22 mpg as if it was a religion so clearly I’m no further forward to finding out why that is. 
The drive down was awful too. I split it over 3 nights in the end because the weather was so bad. The rain continued all the way ranging from really bad to torrential, and the wind started getting really bad. By the time I got to Bordeaux the wind was so bad I had to pull in again and I had to pull in twice more over the next 2 days in Spain for the same reason. It’s really no fun driving in such weather when you’ve got so far to go: it’s tiring and frustrating and when there’s always somewhere to park it’s unnecessary.

Anyway I got to Santiago on Friday afternoon and the van had driven perfectly albeit at 22 mpg as usual (Grr!) and as I pulled into the car park near Santiago I realised the revs were stuck at 1000 rpm. *sigh!* What now! I got out and the engine sounded awful and I could hear a rattling. Looking underneath it seemed that the exhaust was barely hanging on! I’m parked now for a day or two so I’ll have a closer look later.

Portsmouth to Santander
Portsmouth to Santander

Anyway, if I measure my entire journey from Portsmouth, through Rouen and down to Santander in Spain, it’s 857 miles. At 22 mpg that’s 39 gallons of diesel which is 177 litres at roughly €1.32 per litre (because motorway fuel stations overcharge the same way as British ones do) comes out at €233.64 plus the ferry at €117.29 is €350.93
ViaMichelin says the entire journey should be €97.55 in tolls. That’s a total of €448.46. Now I haven’t counted up but I think the tolls amount to much more than €97.55, I’d hazard a guess at around €160 which means a total of €510.93 to get from Portsmouth to Santander. Of course that’s 17 hours of driving too split over 3 days if you want to enjoy the journey and of course there’s wear and tear on the van. 

Now, the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander is £304.50 and takes about 6 1/2 hours. Potentially that’s over €200 cheaper than driving, and if you include driving breaks it’s 2 days faster. It also saves the wear and tear on the vehicle so if you’re not touring for the sake of it, it’s the most sensible route to go. So when I return to the UK, that’s the route I’m taking. 

 

 

 

Arriving in Spain

San Sebastian to Bilbao
San Sebastian to Bilbao

Fresh from the rattle of toll booths leaving France, I faced the same in Spain. A brief flurry of 3-4 booths left me a dozen euros lighter and I wondered if it was going to be this way all the way to Portugal. I reset my satnav to avoid all toll roads from now on, I was paying small sums but every few miles and it was all adding up. 
Added to that was my despondency generally as Spain was not what I expected. Granted of course my view was simply from the road, but it was non stop industrial areas, graffiti everywhere and a general run down feel about it. Everything seemed grey and dirty and old and when I came off the motorway to avoid tolls it was worse. I got to San Sebastian as planned to find the aire was seriously jammed, so no staying there overnight. But the journey through town left me almost pleased that this was the case. It was a run down area, old dilapidated buildings, graffiti covering almost everything in sight including vehicles, and empty and boarded up buildings. There was no feel good at all about this place and I decided tired as I was I was going to head on further to Bilbao. I let the dog out for a wee and I made a cuppa and off we went.

Near Bilbao
Near Bilbao

Some time later I decided to go back onto the motorway. The weather was awful and the roads were as windy and steep as any I’ve encountered in Switzerland or Austria. I was already tired and really couldn’t enjoy it so I decided the motorway was the way to go even if it cost me. In fact the next few hours to Bilbao cost me only one toll of about €3 despite ViaMichelin telling me it would cost about €13.  Anyway I found the aire at Cobaron just outside of Bilbao and it was a car park right above the beach, so I swiftly got my head down for some much needed sleep, of which I got plenty 🙂

This was my view the next morning. I heard the waves last night and I could even feel them thumping against the shore, despite being about 30 metres above the sea level!

There was loads of people about and the sun was out so it was a lovely change, the first time there was no rain for about 9 days. Jack and me made the most of it of course, including Jack having a sniff of the 4 horses that someone was feeding in the picnic area. 
So far the only resource I’ve used to find somewhere to park for the night has been searchforsites.co.uk. I have others but have not needed them yet. I’ve used SFS to find somewhere to park near Santiago di Compostella. I’ve wanted to go there for years so although I’m heading for Portugal, Santiago is definitely my next stop.

 

Tolls and banks and mechanical problems

So I don’t hit another toll booth until I’m almost at Santiago, and it’s only €5.30 so I go to pay and *shock* my Monzo card is declined! Now I know I have about £150 on it so maybe it’s the magstripe? I hand over my main bank account debit card which I’ve had to do from time to time, *horror* it’s declined! WTF?

So in desperation as I’ve got no cash at all, I hand over my Tesco credit card. *surprise* it works! Well that I just don’t get. So I rang the bank and said not only was it declined, but I can’t log in online and I can’t login via the app. After 40 minutes of being online a techie informed the agent that for some weird reason my account did not exist on the system lol Could only happen to me eh? They’ll ring me when they get it sorted. 
As I’m stuck if I don’t get some money, I tried my Monzo card and luckily it was able to top it up, so I put a few hundred on to it just in case the bank can’t sort everything out in a timely manner. Oddly my Revolut card said it could not authorise a deduction from that card, yet Monzo did? I wonder if Monzo sort of ‘trust’ you and allow the transaction until it can go through properly?

Anyway, I found the parking spot in Santiago, or about a mile outside of the old town, and as I went to park I noticed that the engine would not drop below 1000 rpm. It’s supposed to idly at 750 and always has. I stopped and got out to have a look and the engine sounded odd, and there was a whiff of exhaust gas. I went to the exhaust and heard it rattling slightly so I looked underneath and it’s proper rattling as if it’s not even attached! So, that’s another problem to resolve in the morning!

Time for a little light entertainment methinks….*goes to put a film on*

 

Where I stayed: Free AMPDOR, Muskiz, Bizkaia, Euskadi, Spain, 48550. N43.350374, W-3.143053. No services.

Merry Christmas!

Merry christmas Jack!
Merry christmas Jack!

Merry christmas from Rouen!

I came out perhaps prematurely as I have problems with my van but the way I see it is, being in the UK has not helped me solve any of the van’s problems at all. I’m not scared of trying to sort things out in a foreign country so, why the hell not be somewhere i like and risk breaking down, than stay in rainy, grey Britain and risk breaking down?

I was tempted to hang around in wales after the mechanic called Rob helped me change that hose and told me where the temperature sensor was, but when could he fit me in? Would he actually be able to solve it? He actually said getting the inlet manifold off was an awful task and that’s one of the things I want doing so…

So anyway I booked up at the last minute and came here and headed for Rouen simply because it’s a place I like, I feel comfortable there, there’s everything I need including an auto parts store I’ve been to before, a Peugeot garage I’ve been to before, a launderette I’ve used in the past and it’s a beautiful old city. Most of that is listed in this post…

The aire I use is right on the riverbank and in an industrial part of town, it’s well used but no-one bothers you down there and I can do jobs on the van that I have planned. 

Christmas dinner is not lamb this year, it’s a joint of gammon that I got from Aldi cheap, but aside from that I have all the trimmings and will enjoy a very full dinner as always. 

 

Where I stayed: Aire de Rouen, Quai Jacques Anquetil, 76100 Rouen. N49.433254, W1.096490. Free No services.

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.

Rouen is ruined

Emergency lights
Emergency lights

I’ve decided to leave Rouen at the weekend.  I’ll sort the photos out later.

I can’t put up with the constant sirens anymore. It’s every single day without fail, throughout the entire day.

There was a period where sirens were sounding continuously for over 20 minutes. I’ve seen emergency vehicles pass each other going in the opposite direction to each other with sirens going and blue lights flashing.

It’s 95% fire vehicles and although I have never seen a fire, I have never seen a fire vehicle being driven without sirens or lights, so I assume there is a policy that when being driven, even if they are just going to the post office, they use sirens and lights. It’s the only explanation.

I quite like Rouen but this policy if that’s what it is, has ruined Rouen for me and I can’t wait to get back to some peace and quiet.

I’ve been to church!

St Maclou
St Maclou

I found this church in Rouen, called St Maclou’s. Turns out that it is named after a Welshman called Mac Low. Not only that, but the town in Brittany called St Malo is named after him!

Anyway, not by any stretch of the imagination is this church the nicest one I’ve come across, but it did have something about it and I enjoyed my visit so much, I stayed for mass.

I love the way the French sing during mass, and I love the way they turn and shake hands with anyone who is close to them during the sermon. Despite being brought up catholic I’ve never seen this happen before although friends of mine say they have.

I’m going back to take some more pictures later as the ones I have got were taken on a very high ISO and Canon hadn’t sorted out a decent noise filter for the 5D grrrr

The Sucata run

What the heck is the Sucata run? Well, sucata is Portugese for junk. Here’s an explanation from the sucata website at http://www.sucatarun.com/

The Sucata run boys
Some young men driving the Sucata run that I met in Rouen

The Sucata Run is a bargain basement banger rally tour where teams of up to 4 people drive to Europe’s most westerly point in 4 days, in bangers costing no more than £250. It takes place over the August bank holiday weekend (27th – 31st) and culminates at the breath taking Guincho beach on the Portuguese coast.

I met up with some of the boys on the quay at Rouen. Pictured are Lindsay, Ross and Richard from the Top Gun team. Their Volvo is cleverly disguised as a fighter jet and they are cleverly disguised as Maverick et al lol

The lads say they saw the challenge on Facebook and decided to sign up for it as Richard so eloquently explains, “Well it seemed like a bit of a laugh and raises a few quid for a good cause so why not. ”

The boys were very tired when I met them but were all set for a night on the tiles in Rouen later. I couldn’t help but grimace when, as I walked the dog next morning, I saw them being roused and moved on by French cops at 5:30am.  Ohhhhhh their heads!

Dooo Dahh Dooo Dahh!!!

It just occurred to me that since I came to France, I’ve rarely seen the police or other emergency services and rarely heard a siren, even in Paris. But since I came to Rouen on Sunday I’ve heard nothing but, every single day without fail, at least a dozen times a day. When I can spot them, it’s a fair mix of fire, police and ambulance.

I don’t know if they have a different policy in this city that they must always use sirens, but it’s weird that when I first drove in I had the feeling of not liking the place for only the second time since coming to France. (The other time was Reims) There was a period today where for 20 minutes solid there was a siren sounding. Weird.

Do blondes really have more fun?

Well … this one doesn’t!

Workaholic
Workaholic

See I’m in Rouen, lovely city where they burned Joan of Arc. England was actually run from here once over. Anyway, the Seine flows through here and there’s a fair to middling trade from the barges which sweep up and down the river most of the day. These barges are 4,000 tons and 150 metres long lol Oh yer they big buggers.

Anyway there’s some smaller ones too, about 12 feet wide and 40 feet long. Where I’m parked on the quay there’s 2 such barges, clearly being lived in now and no longer working.

So there I was working away on the laptop when I spotted this blonde walking her dog. She headed back to the second barge off the quay and clearly she lives on it.  About a half hour after walking the dog, (9 am) she comes out with some bright red marigolds and a red handled broom, even a matching bright red bucket! hehe So she sets about mopping the deck part of the barge.

Well after a little bit I pay attention cos she’s standing on the barge taking her trousers off! Hehe turns out she has shorts on underneath but as I had the camera ready I snapped a couple of pictures of her working away anyway, as I knew I was going to write about her.

Anyway the point is, she worked ALL day. I mean from about 9 am, til just about the time I finished work at 4 pm. She scrubbed with a scrubbing brush, she wiped with a cloth and she brushed with her red broom and she cleaned that entire 12 ft by 40 foot boat by herself, getting down on her hands and knees and constantly dipping her bucket on a rope over the edge to fill from the river.

Not just the deck mind, she cleaned the windows of the deckhouse, the gunwales and even the mechanism that controls the anchors. Believe it or not she even leaned right over, dipped her broom in the river and brushed the anchors themselves clean!

Apart from an hour for lunch she worked the whole day cleaning that boat and I almost felt like going over and congratulating her and asking if she’d do my camper lol

(Actually I cleaned mine from top to bottom last week, inside and out using babywipes but that’s another story :))

So … whilst she clearly is a clean and motivated person and should have a gold star for being so house proud, she is living roof that blondes do not have more fun. In fact, it looks like she has about as much fun as Gordon Ramsay at Sunday school.