Sunday, 11 August 2019

Welcome to Our New Vantage Neo. Part 1

The moment finally arrived and with great excitement we headed up North back to Leeds. 

This time we were heading for the Vantage factory in the centre of  Leeds. We decided to spend the night at the Premier Inn in Knottingly a 20 minute drive away. We were due at the Vantage factory at 8.30 am the next morning to meet our newborn a Vantage Neo who had already been christened Krystal. Why Krystal? Well, the diamond shape on the Vantage logo was a clue and because we had gone for the silvery grey colour, she would be new and shiny, just like a crystal. A twist on the spelling so Krystal it is!

Our brand new van was waiting expectantly while we were introduced  to the Vantage team and Dan who was doing the handover. We were given an over view of the day, so we knew what to expect. We also had our own list of things we needed to be covered.

So Krystal was ready for us.

The specification.

A Neo with: 

  • 180 bhp  with C matic gearbox
  • Cab air con
  • Cruise control
  • Reversing camera & Monitor
  • Front & rear mudflaps
  • Alloy wheels & all season tyres
  • Fixed rear pod
  • Leather trimmed upholstery
  • Fiamma 4m awning
  • External BBQ point & 240V socket
  • Tow bar
  • Cool air fan
  • Music port & amp
  • Avtex TV 21.5"
  • Ariel & Booster
  • Additional 100W solar panel
  • 800W inverter
  • Flyscreen for door
  • Shower room turbo vent
  • We also added a 240 & 12V point to seat base.
Quite a comprehensive list but everything was present and correct. We decided to have an alarm and tracker fitted later by Vanbitz in Somerset, as our insurance would not accept a tracker fitted by OSTT, which Vantage usually fitted. 

So there we were with Krystal in all here newness and glory.

We thought we knew all about PVC conversions and that we would easily understand all the controls BUT we didn't. Dan went through everything, masses to remember! One minor niggle our chairs wouldn't fit into the boot space because of the external BBQ point which had been boxed in. The chairs Vantage stocked wouldn't go in either, we would have to find another solution.

Following many cups of tea we were finally done. We moved our bedding and bits into Krystal, said goodbye to April our IH, the Vantage crew and then hesitantly taking control, it was straight out into the Leeds rush hour. A relatively painless experience though somewhat entertaining, we made it out of the city. Our friendly Madam SatNag did the business and Den soon learnt the controls and the beauty of an automatic. We were on our way to Moor Lodge and our first night away.

Moor Lodge on the edge of Leeds around 20 minutes away they were expecting us. A lovely campsite with a beautifully kept pristine loo block and facilities. Just down the road a great pub The Bingley Arms. Haunted it is said and with two priest holes! That night we really deserved a drink! Just happened to be "Two for Tuesday" night a welcome bonus and a good meal. This was followed by 40% off Wednesday, the next evening. A double whammy and two meals out. What could be better?

We spent a lovely two nights getting to know our new friend Krystal. Everything worked well including the TV, once we had worked out the controls. The wash basin in the loo was perfect and my new super magnifying mirror which Dan had fitted for us was just like at home.

The extra work top space in the kitchen was so useful. We were doing one more night stop in Cheshire to visit family before heading home. Then the fun would begin at home fitting everything in.

Minor adaptations in Part 2 to follow.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

IH 630 RL. 4 Years on. Last Review. Goodbye April!

We have finally come full circle with our first PVC creatively called April. After  living with a much larger motor home and "downsizing" to a camper, we were apprehensive to say the least. However all has gone so well! We have been very pleased with the freedom a smaller camper has brought and everything we have needed has fitted in with locker space to spare.

Over 4 and a half years we have covered 27 800 miles and been to 18 countries. The driving and travelling has been very comfortable. The under slung gas tank has only been filled 4 times, we mostly stay on sites. Fuel consumption has been fine, we had a long range fuel tank fitted but honestly we haven't needed it. The solar panel on the roof means the van stays charged up in the summer without the need for an electric hookup.

 Our worries about the big sliding door letting in flies has been  unfounded, we find if we leave the roof lights open "little critters" usually fly in have a sniff around and fly out. At night we put down the window fly screens and that usually keeps the mozzies out. In the Baltics we used a plug in mozzie fighter and apart from a few challenging "swots" we survived. An air con unit is not needed, we just open doors and windows. Satellite TV, not really needed and hardly used. We survive quite happily with a Kindle and the odd DVD for rainy days. In the UK and Northern France TV reception has been fine but then we don't watch much TV.

April, parked in St Petersburg, a brilliant drive. Camping in the Phlogiston Hotel in the suburbs of the city. A fabulous trip through Belguim, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Russia and back.

We loved the colour of our van but practically speaking dark grey tends to keep the heat in and the bugs love it. On the plus side April matches our Skoda Yeti and looks good on the drive. Oh and black marks don't show.

Another worry was the lack of storage space...we thought. This worry has proved totally unfounded. There has been more than enough room for everything we want to carry, although we did have a good cull of essentials. The boot at the back holds a table, chairs and a BBQ. We were pleased we had paid for the back pod which has worked really well for us. It has also meant no nasty draughts at the back of the bed. There is good storage under the seats and even a secret locker that took us two years to discover.

In the shadow of a cruiser at Corfu dock. Another great trip to Greece via Italy including a week on Corfu.

The sleeping arrangements in the van have been perfect for us. The huge bed is really comfy and we have just added a mattress enhancer which rolls up for storage under the seats with a duvet. We carry winter or summer duvets depending on the season. We have never been cold at night and the heating is very effective. The beds can also be made up as two singles.

Our comfy bed.

Loads of storage.

A really spacious seating area.

Cooking facilities are plentiful with a full oven and grill, 3 gas and one electric plate in the hob. The electric hotplate is I think an unnecessary luxury we turned it off and it has hardly been used. Lots of storage in the oven with a pan drawer underneath. Worktop space is very limited and the sink with pull up tap though workable, is a bit fiddly. Big enough to wash a pan in though. I was initially concerned the fridge would be too small but its been more than adequate with space in the freezer compartment for a couple of chops. The freezer can also be removed. We carry an electric cooler box for wine and beer too, this has worked well.

The bathroom is OK for size but with a drop down sink not my favourite place. On the positive side the sink does lift out for easy cleaning. On the negative side if you leave the tap up and forget to drop it before running water you get a wet midriff and floor. Plenty of mirrors and storage space for bits and bobs. We have tried out the shower but not really used it much. The table stores in the shower room and the shelf in the bathroom fills up with water so needs emptying after the shower is used. The toilet is fine and I prefer the bench style loo.

Lighting and heating has been very efficient. We are very economical in our use of gas but we do stay mainly on camp sites. We have been warm and toasty at night.

Overall, April has been a great van and we have enjoyed having her. Our only niggle has been lots of minor warranty work which should not have been necessary. Everything has been fixed but it has taken a bit of effort on our part, to ensure we did get full value for money. To be fair IH did not quibble over any warranty work

We Liked:

  • The back door pod.
  • The big sliding door.
  • Easy drive we could take this van anywhere.
  • Storage.
  • The massive comfy bed.
  • Good customer service direct from IH at Leeds
We disliked:
  • Drafts at the front of the van around the fridge area
  • Lack of work top space in the kitchen.
  • The fact the kitchen tap had to be raised each time it was used.
  • Drop down sink in the bathroom.
  • Warranty niggles due to lack of care with the initial build.
We would have liked:
  • The ariel removed in the wardrobe, to give more hanging space.
  • A fix for the droopy carpet in the overhead locker.
  • Less of the IH decor, everywhere you look.
  • A better place for the fire extinguisher rather than over the sink with the glass lid.

All good things come to an end and it is time to move on. Whoever gets April next are getting a fabulous little van ready for the next adventure. 

We are off to pick up our new arrival a Vantage Neo who we will christen Krystal. More excitement to come.

To April's new owners we hope you enjoy her as much as we have.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Summer Sun & Fun

Surviving the winter in Spain and Portugal was so tough! Since we returned home we have been waiting on our new van so have not got away.

However, seeing our April ( the van) pining on the drive we thought she needed cheering up so a quick two nights away was hastily arranged. Being the school holiday week we thought we should book so rang Uphill Marina at Weston -Super-Mare and were surprised they had spaces available. We were off!

A short drive and we had arrived, nice spot by the lake. There were a few other happy campers but the place was relatively quiet.

Big improvements have taken place at Uphill since our first visit many years ago. The boat yard has been spruced up and the campers loos have been improved. There is even hot water in the washing up sinks.

We tried the new cycle path to Brean Down, an easy 3 miles each way on an off road track. A really nice ride on our posh new bikes. I even managed to stay seated on mine!

The track to Brean. Also a nice easy walk.

A proper sea view.

It was sunny at times and not as cold as it looks. We walked into Weston and caught the bus back, quite busy with holiday makers. We had lunch at the Dolphin two minutes walk down the road and dinner at the Ship. A very relaxing two nights!

We are now getting extra excited as our new van will be ready on 9 July so planning some super new trips. Happy days.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Spain & Portugal Winter Sun. Villa Nova Park. Part 6.

Our last stop on this years Winter Sun Tour. Villa Nova Park on the Costa Dorada about an hour from Barcelona. Having escaped from La Manga we were thrilled with our first view of Villanova Park it looked clean and civilised.

We were met by the very friendly rally stewards and chose a pitch on the top terrace under the trees. We were soon happily settled in. The campsite was huge with loads of statics and lodges from an assortment of companies. The rally area was on terraced pitches and we were invited to take our pick. Pitches were large and under the trees so plenty of room for the sun to shine through. Organised rally events were posted by the rally tent not too much going on but enough to keep people occupied.There was a huge swimming pool complex and bar restaurant on site as well as a well stocked supermarket.
The sanitary facilities were very modern and clean with indoor washing up and hot water.

The restaurant and bar.

Just one of the outdoor pools. There was also an indoor pool and gym and another huge outdoor pool complex. You could probably spend a week here without leaving the site.

Not by the sea but the the town of Villanova was about 3 miles away and the bus went from the camp. A book of 10 tickets was 10 euros and the bus went straight into the town and stopped by the beach. 

The marina and beach at Villanova.

A huge promenade meant there was loads to watch!

The Rambla. Plenty of shops and bars to while away the hours.

 We took advantage of the transport and spent two full days at Villanova town and beach. Very Spanish but not touristy most of the visitors were locals. 

There was also a daily coach to Barcelona again from the campsite, it took about an hour and went via Sitges ( possibly another day out) Sadly we only had time for a one day visit. We bought tourist passes online and did Barcelona by The Hop on Hop Off Bus. Hopefully we could do this trip again and the next time we would be primed as the best places to go. Here is a taste of our visit.

Barcelona is massive and we would certainly recommend the bus trip for a good starter.

All too soon our 6 nights were up and it was time to make for the tunnel. We had allowed 3 days which was fine for a pretty uneventful journey back up through France.

Tucked up for the night near Abbeyville. We pretty much did the downwards journey in reverse except we found a new campsite near Abbeyville, Chateau des Tilleuls. Well worth an overnighter. Good clean heated facilities though the restaurant was closed. Good campsite shop though. 

A little stop on the way. Time to say goodbye. A serene place to rest.

Our last night we spent back in Cite Europ quiet and uneventful. We had heard that we may be delayed at customs but it was very quick and we were waved through.

Would we over winter again? Yes but probably not book so much and we would not be going back to La Manga!

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Spain & Portugal Winter Sun 2019. La Manga. Part 5

We arrived in La Manga with the great excitement you feel when arriving at a new place!
It was a large site on the edge of the Mar Menor lagoon so seemed a promising venue. We were booked in for 10 days.

We arrived and parked up in the very large car park by reception. We were told to report to the rally stewards who would allocate a pitch. We were shown four pitches all in the same location by one of the roads and picked one by a static hut the rally pitches were all in the same area. Driving to the pitch we passed rows of permanent static and huts crammed next to each other. We thought things have to improve. We finally manoeuvred onto our pitch running the gauntlet of the traffic on the road. We were told that if we wanted sun in a quiet location we were could use the sun spot across the road by the swimming pool.

A large pitch with a bit of shade.

The rally site. Quite spacious but because of the gravel roads and dry conditions it was horribly dusty. The " La Manga Cough" could be heard echoing across the site!

The rally tent. Could the watch word here be "off duty". Only three sets of rally stewards for all those campers. Guess we had been spoilt at Castillo de Banos.

It very quickly became apparent that our pitch was by a very busy exit road. There were other pitches free but we had only been offered road side pitches. As newbies here we didn't realise the implications.

After 24 hours of constant traffic, walkers, cyclists, dogs and noise we had really had enough! To make matters worse the toilet block which was at the other side of the rally area was very poor. Clean but decidedly in need of a revamp. More like bad school changing rooms, water was hot but came and went from hot to cold. To add to the mix  there was only barely tepid water in the washing up sinks, which were not too clean, outside and prone to blocking up.

We decided to explore. Very good supermarket on site with reasonable prices. On the first night we tried the beach side restaurant and had an excellent meal at a very good price. It was a pretty beach with lots going on and there were quite a few bike tracks.

 We rode out to the light house and into La Manga Menor, a challenging ride for some of us! The edge of the lagoon housed the lighthouse of Cabo de Palos a very touristy area though well worth a look around.

By the end of day three we were ready to move. The noisy pitch was taking it's toll. We contacted the Camping & Caravanning Club and booked another site we had two more nights left to endure at La Manga. The rally stewards did at this stage offer to move us but we really couldn't be bothered.

 We decided to take the bus to Cartagena. A good decision. The bus ride through the outlying Spanish villages was worth the journey.

Cartegena was an interesting place to wander in. We saw all the usual attractions The Roman Theatre of Cathago Nova which was easy to view from above.

The port is now a major cruise ship destination so it does get busy. 

We walked around the port explored the old town and had  a very nice huge tapas lunch before catching the bus back.

Our final day at La Manga and we thought we would go for a farewell bike ride!

I should have known the place was jinxed! 
I should have known better than to follow Den!

I fell off!!!

A huge bruise and scrapes and a hurt hand. Den did rescue me before he checked the camera and the bikes all of which were fine. I heroically rode the bike ( which was too big for me! ) home. I need a new bike that fits.

I survived to happily leave La Manga and hopefully never return. Although we may consider a night if in the area and if desperate!

Seriously, we enjoyed exploring this part of Spain. We had a lovely evening with friends we had made on the previous campsite who were also at La Manga. A big thank you to Trish and Peter for company, food and to Trish for bravely making pancakes in her van for everyone. She deserves a medal.

 Den spent many a happy hour corresponding with the other happy campers on the La Manga Rally Facebook page about the facilities, before he was blocked! We have yet to work out why anyone would wish to go there for weeks on end. I guess each to their own.

Next stop Villa Nova just outside Barcelona. Let's hope it's a good one.

Oh and all my injuries have healed up and Den got me a new small mountain bike. Thanks XXX

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Winter Sun Spain & Portugal 2019. Castillo de Banos Part 4.

After a pretty spectacular drive through the Sierra Nevada, still covered in snow, and down through Granada we arrived at Castillo de Banos. The sun was out and we were greeted by the friendly rally stewards Chris and Gill with a cup of tea. We were given a choice of pitches and opted for one in the interior rather than the beach as it was slightly more sheltered. We were soon settled in. The site is well organised with a new toilet block, restaurant and pool. We ate on the first night in the campsite restaurant and excellent paella with masses of prawns and a bottle of red. We slept well.

A dash cam of our arrival and the beach.

View through the campsite down to the beach. We can just about see the sea from ours.

The campsite is on the edge of a small village of Castillo de Banus, 2 minute walk with small but well stocked supermarket and restaurant nearby. A short walk along the beach, around 2 miles,takes you to another village La Mimola, slightly bigger with more shops, restaurants and a bank. Motril is the nearest large town.

It was our first rally so we were not sure what to expect. Our minds were soon put at ease. Rally events are planned and put on a board in the rally area for people to sign up for. There are small costs for various activities. We signed up for the next days trip to the nearby town of Motril. More of a shopping expedition really although we would have a full three hours to look around as we pleased. For a total cost of 10 euros for both of us we though it excellent value.

At 9.30 we were on the coach on our way to Motril. Quite a pleasant town and also a port. Motril is the second largest town in the province of Granada and used to be a major centre for the production of sugar beet. The port is still in use as a commercial and fishing port and regular boats come in from Algeria. We walked into the town and had a look at the church and main square.

The main church in Motril dedicated to The Virgin de Cebeza and built in the 17th Century. The inside of the church I felt was rather cold although very ornate, something was missing. It was much smaller than it appeared.

The park surrounding the church on Virgins Hill was well done. There were some interesting statues.

Motril was worth a visit and there were loads of supermarkets and shops but probably one visit is enough.

The modern centre of Motril. Worth a wander around.

The next morning we were up and ready for our next rally trip. Off to a Bodega in a place called Murtas in the mountains by coach. The bodega was up in the Contraviesa  Mountains about an hours drive from the campsite. Well worth the journey. Slightly perilous going up the mountains in the coach. Den was pleased he wasn't driving.

As part of the visit we were taken to see the vine yards and how the wine was produced. There is an extensive museum which was really interesting. Unfortunately our guide could speak no English but there was an English video which was very well done. We rounded off the visit with tasters and then a three course meal in the restaurant. a great day out.

Still snow on the mountains. The people who live here are pretty isolated hardy souls.

 A fascinating insight into life on the mountains it was so harsh.

Wine is made here from around 10 different grape varieties.

The next morning a slow stroll along the beach and tacos at Nico's Bar. This made a pleasant change. Later we donned our walking boots for the scuttle along the rocky beach to La Mimola. The weather was beautiful hot and sunny.

Even a few hardy souls on the beach. Not quite warm enough for most! Its a great walk to La Mamola along the shore though tough under foot. You can scoot along the beach or opt to go through the road tunnel if the weather is rough. Wine and tapas further down the beach at yet another Nico's Bar. Such a hard life.

The next trip we did was to the nearby village of Adria.

 About an hour in the coach on the scenic coast road and we were there. It was market day. Not that inspiring for us although lots of our fellow campers bought fresh fruit and veggies. We opted for a stroll along the harbour to the end of the town.

The harbour at Adria. Full of boats bet it's even busier in  the summer.

Adria is still a working port and the fishermen were busy mending their nets. Shame there is such a reduction in the fishing fleet down these days by 70% since it's heyday in the 70's. The fish shop looked interesting.

 We were not impressed with the free/wild camping area which was obviously well used. We would rather have a proper camp site. Lots of Germans Dutch and a few Finns parked up though. The area down by the end of the town would be a popular place in the summer. Peaceful on a cooler Feburary morning.

 We made for the town centre and enjoyed coffee and cakes. 

Later we made our way to the tourist info office and then explored the fishing museum by the harbour. Very well worth the 1 euro cost we thought, the staff were very friendly.

A view towards the lead tower from the fishing museum. Adria was a prime producer of lead shot.

Inside the fishing museum. A well thought out museum explaining how the port operated and why it was now on the decline as a fishing port.

Adria is not on the tourist circuit but was a good place to look around. Very much a working Spanish port for real every day people. We enjoyed our few hours there.

While we were back on site the next day our neighbours Trish and Peter invited us to "climb a mountain" with them. Slight exaggeration! It was the walking route over the mountain to the next village La Mimola. A challenging climb to start but some tremendous views across the sea. We even managed to spot some wild life although they photographed very badly as they were so well camouflaged, so no pictures we had the wrong lens!. Trust me, a whole herd of Ibix scampering on the hillside.

View from the top of the mountain behind the site. A fabulous walk! Down hill on the other side and we stopped at La Mamola for beer and tapas.

Den did a great job of cleaning the boots, super clean.

The rally was going well with loads of activities to dip in or out off. We signed up for two more trips. A day to see the Alhambra in Granada, followed by another day trip to the tourist town of Neja just East of Malaga.

The taxi had been booked by Gill for our trip to Alhambra and tickets ordered on line. We had been warned it could be cold in the mountains so to dress appropriately! Gill even had a supply of hats and gloves ready in case they were needed! We were so lucky that morning as the weather looked promising. We set off in a taxi this time with some excitement. It took about an hour and a half to get to Granada a lovely drive through the mountains and this time Den could admire the scenery as he wasn't driving. 

Granada from Alhambra. 

Alhambra is quite well organised and they only allow 7000 people in every day. You are given a time slot for the visit to the main castle ours was at 1 pm so we had plenty of time to explore the fabulous gardens.

We wandered through the grounds taking in the atmosphere. The grounds were pretty stunning and must be even more amazing when the flowers are blooming. The subdued water effects were brilliant and the low winter light created some beautiful effects of light and shade.

The central area of the King Carlos Palace, which now houses the museum. We walked through court yards, towers, gates and gardens.

It was soon time for our date with the main palace. Well worth waiting for. We strolled from one breathe taking area to the next. Through areas of the place and bathing rooms to the Golden Chamber to the Courtyard of Lions.

We took loads of pictures so it was very difficult to choose the ones for the blog. 

Here is a few of our favourites.

The Lions of course.

The facade of the Comares Palace. No one really knows why there are two doors. The inscription says.

"My position is that of a crown and my door is a parting of the ways: the West believes that in me is the East. Al Gani bi-liah has entrusted me to open the way to the victory that has been foretold and I await his coming just as the horizon ushers in the dawn. May God adorn his works with the same beauty that resides in his countenance and his nature"

Everywhere we looked was something beautiful. Pictures can't really do it justice.

I think I could have lived here!

The courtyard of the myrtles. We were so lucky to get this picture minus visitors.

A few pictures but lots of lasting memories and so much to see. 

Our next outing on a much more basic level was a day trip to Nerja and the sugar cube village of Fruliana. At Nerja we went to see the caves Cuevas de Nerja.

The caves are massive and filled with stalactites and stalagmites  and the worlds largest known stalactite at 63m. Pretty impressive though quite commercialised. We enjoyed our visit and it was all pretty well managed with a film and audio guide in English. We went into Nerja for lunch and a wander amongst the shops. A nice but busy seaside place and a hit with UK retirees who filled the bars and eateries.

Fruliana was another interesting village. here we took the little train on a hair raising trip around the village. Brilliant value for 3 euros.

The views from the mountain top village were stunning.

A interesting place to park a car!

All too soon our time at Castillo de Banos was up!. We managed the mountain a couple more times and once on our own. It was a stunning walk. We even made it up to the tower on the hill and massive hike upwards but worth it for the views.

From the top of the mountain.

This was actually quite a climb!

Our final day at Castillo was spent tidying up and then we walked into the village to see how the Andalusian Day celebrations were going. Speeches a marquee and a huge paella on the beach. Sadly the paella didn't really do it for us.


We settled for a meal at a local restaurant and very nice it was too.

Time to move on the next stop La Manga. we wondered what excitement that would bring.