Oh, it’s all been so hush hush. Couldn’t say a word in case she got wind of it, but we had decided to drive to Portugal to surprise Cara on her 40th Birthday. Having booked a car in April to be collected in Carcassonne we felt uneasy about leaving the boat there for any length of time and decided to go back to Homps, as you will know from the last blog.
However, what you won’t know is that because of this last minute change of plan it meant we had to go back to Carcassonne on the scooter so we could collect the car last Tuesday (25th June). It took a hour to get there and poor Frank had to ride it all the way back again while I drove the car – 2 hours on a scooter doing 30mph is not for the faint-hearted!
Anyway, we managed it and having loaded everything we might possibly need into the boot (including 6 bottles of VCP and 15 litres of wine, of course) we set off at 6am on Wednesday morning, Frank’s birthday. What a birthday treat – the prospect of a 13 hour drive across Europe! We had intended to stop overnight halfway down but as it turned out the roads were every bit as good as French roads – i.e empty – and the sat nav was telling us we would be there at 6pm Portugese time. So we cracked on.
En-route I booked a dog friendly hotel in Albufeira and we arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the wonderful view from our balcony and walk into town for the first chicken piri-piri I have had for 28 years – and the first Frank has ever had! Oh my, it is still every bit as good as I remember it. Hot enough to make you cry and so much oil it runs down to your elbows when you eat it in the traditional fashion, with your hands.
Day 2 we found a great spot to walk the dogs along the cliffs and down to a couple of secluded little beaches where they could swim and in the afternoon we relaxed around the hotel pool before heading out for another great feast of my beloved piri-piri.
We had a wander around the town and came across some of the most amazing sand art I think I have ever seen – such detail and imagination – it was beautiful.
As the evening approached we were awaiting word from Nick about their arrival and sure enough we got a text to say they were 20 minutes from their villa. We headed over and waited for them to settle in then sent a message to Nick to say we were outside. He came and unlocked the gate with Mark, Cara’s husband, who was completely shocked that we were there. So, the secret wasn’t out……great!
And so our plan was set in motion. Having let us in, Nick and Mark went into the villa with the 2 dogs – perfect, because Brody went first and Cara was asking “who’s that?”. “We found a couple of strays out in the street” says Nick. Enter Bosun. He is unmistakable really – apart from the fact he is impossibly handsome, he has a docked tail because we got him in Ireland where it is still legal to do this.
“That’s Bosun!” Cara couldn’t quite believe her eyes but knew there was not another dog like him and she ran to the door to find us waiting with enough booze to sink a battleship, let alone start a party! Oh, it was lovely, there were a few tears but such a lovely end to her day, which had also seen her Mum, Paulette, join the party-goers on the plane just before the doors closed. And her birthday wasn’t until the following day!
We headed back to our hotel later that evening and then joined everyone back at the villa the following day after they had spent the morning paddle boarding and kayaking. Paulette stayed at the villa to decorate it with balloons and banners and everyone had contributed their favourite photo’s of Cara, which had been printed out and scattered on every surface. It was lovely!
There were 10 people officially staying at the villa but that night there were a couple of stowaways in Cara and Mark dressing room and Paulette also stayed the night so a total of 13 plus 2 dogs. More than enough to have a great time – which we did!
The following day there were a few hangovers being nursed so we just chilled out by the pool and relaxed around the villa – everyone chipping in to assist with shopping, cooking, clearing up. It was blissful – very relaxing and lots of good fun had by all.
Brody was able to fully satisfy his love of swimming over the couple of days. He rarely got out of the pool, regardless of whether there was anyone in there or not, but he never let anyone swim on their own – seeing himself as a Baywatch hero whenever he thought someone needed his help! It was really funny to see.
On Sunday we got up early and made our way back to Homps – again deciding to do the journey in one hit and we got back at 9pm French time. It gave us the whole of the following day to do washing, go shopping and get any last minute bits and pieces then the following morning we took the car back to Carcassonne again.
When we got back to Homps we decided to move on in the afternoon and went a whole 5 kms to our first stop at the lock near Argens-Minervois. It was so nice to be out in the peace and quiet of the countryside again after the time in Carcassonne and Homps.
The following day (Wed 3rd July) we did another marathon 6 kms and spent the night on the brand-spanking new quay at Parazza. It’s funny – they have built this excellent quay for boats to moor but have only dug it to a depth of about 700-800cm, less than one meter draft!! Thirza hung off a bit but we could get ashore and went to the little café just above the quay where we had a superb formule menu for the day – 3 courses and a coffee for €20 each. We added a litre of Rose, of course, but still the whole bill came to less than €50……amazing!
On Thursday we moved on to Vieux-Pont and managed to squeeze into a mooring reserved for the bumper boats. Frank found their office and double checked that it was ok to stay there and thankfully the English guy running the place said “sure, no problem”. So it was canopy up and dinner on. Just duck breast with cherries in a red wine jus accompanied by rice and asparagus……delish!
Today we turned off the midi and have taken the Canal de Jonction that will take us to Narbonne through a series of self-operated locks. Unsurprisingly the first one didn’t work and by the time we got to the second one the lock had closed for lunch! This is an unmanned lock that appears to adhere to the same strict French regime of downing tools dead on 12 for 1 hour!
Anyway, I knocked up some ztaziki and we sat in the shade of a tree with some fresh bread and a cold glass of wine to while away the time. Not sure how we cope!
After lunch we continued to the small village of Salleles-d’Aude where we have stopped for the night. All rather pleasant!