19th Dec 2021
So.. here we are in Europe and just entering Spain at the time of the last blog.
This has worked out (as always) to be a journey of discovery and to get a feel for the areas we visit. Often times it is not possible to spend much time in one area as travel is necessary, however we are still learning, seeing and soaking up as much of the areas that we pass through as possible. We never really planned on continuing south day after day but the sun just teases you and drags you along. Every 200 miles adds about +1º of temperature and increasing amounts of bright blue sky. Of course we did the research in advance. Well in advance. I remember whilst sitting in a cold dark wet campsite in Gloucestershire at this time last year, looking at the temperatures in Spain (and many other places). Trouble is that research does not really tell the whole story. You have to be there, feel it, and find out the reality of the weather on the ground. We are still learning and this is the reason for the one month trip. Though it is a bloody long way..!
Anyhow, 25th Nov we drifted into Spain, slipping east of the Pyrenees and with a new target location of Barcelona. Michelle identified what turned out to be a great site at Carbrera de Mar, which is about 30mins north of Barcelona and just 200 metres from the beach. More importantly it was also alongside the main train line into Barcelona, so we planned on staying for four days. This site cost €15 per night and was very popular so it was a constant change of motorhome neighbours. Space was a little close but otherwise a great site. The electric was included plus good quality toilets and (hot) showers plus all the necessary water servicing etc. On our first evening we wandered down to the railway station (well just a platform really) just to check the train route and tickets etc. Good job we did really. Bit tricky for us folk that spoke no local lingo. We have been surprised by the lack of English being spoken round here. What’s matter with these people.? No school education..! (Ha! Yes, of course I am joking).
Next day we managed to find our way into Barca on the train which runs all the way along the coast into the city centre. We had an enjoyable day visiting Las Ramblas, Gaudi’s buildings, fish/meat markets and a very nice restaurant alongside the marina. Bloody lovely. It was sunny and warmer than expected so a good day was had. We managed to get back to the campsite in one piece despite some anxious railway moments. Bit busy in places. Oh, and on the Covid front, both France and Spain are much stricter than the UK with masks and movement. We got checked before entering some premises for our vaccination record and everywhere requires masks. Many people wear masks in the street whilst walking round so we presume that the population are pretty nervous.
We loved Barcelona so much that we ventured back in again two days later. We had seen the outside of the Sagrada Familia (church), on the Friday trip and were absolutely gobsmacked. I am certainly never keen on looking at churches but this was something else and another of Antoni Gaudi’s designs. Google It. It is still being built after 140 years and it is awesome. And guess what…inside was even awesomer (that’s not an official word). We had to pay a gentle sum of €14 each (discounted for us old folk…!) and found a playground of colour, design, shapes and masses of unbelievable design features. Best church ever. It’ll be alright when its finished..! Wouldn’t mind but they already have a cathedral in the city.
Otherwise Barcelona was bloody cold this day. Still sunny and blue sky. An icy wind blowing off the mountains straight through the city. Brrrrr. So our trip was a little shorter than we would have liked. We did however discover that they have an Arc de Triomf….- very similar to the one in Paris. – who knew… There are many sights worth visiting in Barcelona including modern busy shopping centres (yuk), old town (Gothic Quarter) with lovely historic buildings with bars, cafés and curio shops.
After four nights at the Carbrera de Mar we were starting to understand that we needed to keep going south to increase the level of warmth. As you know Spain has loads of mountains across the whole country and the weather and temperature can change quite regularly and by several degrees. Always seems to have plentiful blue sky (which is probably the best part of being away from the UK) but it appears to suffer with wind. (I know what that feels like..!). So we decided to head south again and after another few hours located a free ‘wild’ site on 29th at Deltebre at Sant Jaume where we stayed for two nights as it was so peaceful and safe. We were originally looking for a launderette in Sant Jaume which turned out to be closed down. But thankfully we then stumbled onto this wonderful site. Again it had drinking water and disposal points for toilet cassettes. Brilliant. Totally free, very large and uncontrolled. Next day we headed out for a touristy trip with a plan on parking up near a local marina for coffee and lunch. But we never made it there. We came across an absolute gem of a place which stopped us in our tracks. It was basically a very long beach along a peninsula leading to some extensive salt fields. Lorries drove up and down this sand bank all day collecting salt that had been ‘farmed’ at the tip of the peninsula. There are large public car parks on the sand which are free at this time of year. Once there you have the Mediterranean Sea on one side and flat calm Bay of Alfacs on the other. Now picture this…. Ruby parked on the sand facing the bay. Bright blue sky, very warm. A wooden boardwalk in front of us with views across the calm bay and mountains all across the background in both directions. It was a delight. So, we just simply made some lunch in Ruby, sat on the boardwalk to eat, accompanied by a small glass of red and soaked up the beauty in front of us. And stayed there for the day. And to add to the delight there were large flocks of pink flamingos flying past from the nearby nature reserve. Absolutely loved it. We had a long walk down the sand ‘road’ along the peninsula before eventually dragging ourselves away after several hours and back to the reality of food shopping. !
And that was November dealt with.
1st Dec -This day was a cause for celebration as the anniversary of our Road Trip. One whole year, 12 months, of our three year road trip. Amazing. I know we spent the first four months locked down in Gloucestershire however here we are now, deep into sunny Spain and still loving every day.. (well, mostly…).
We now travelled another chunk south and another couple of degrees warmer. Still sunny with blue sky. We had decided that we were now in need of a holiday (!)… so booked the Camping Eden site at Peniscola. (Mainly because it had Penis in the title!). Initially we booked a full seven days but added another five later on as it suited our purposes very well. We decided that we could not keep on heading south at the rate of 200 miles every few days. It was already a long way back home and we could end up missing out by spending all our time on the road. At a cost of around €25 (£22) per night this was a good spot and largely full most of the time. Each pitch was tucked amongst some cropped trees- originally looked very tight and close together. However once parked up it turns out this was quite a good size pitch which included our own sink as well as the electric hook-up. The vast majority of the other campers were German with French, Dutch and Spanish making up the rest. Mornings were so difficult trying to work out whether it is ‘Guten Tag’, ‘Bonjour’ or ’Buenos Dias’ was required when greeting the neighbours. We decided that a brisk ‘Good‘Morning’ was the best approach – as they all should know how to speak English…! At no time during our 12 days did we see any British registered vehicles on any of the hundred or so pitches. Very surprising. Even round the town of Peniscola and surrounding areas there was no evidence of Brits anywhere.
So, despite the daily wall-to-wall blue sky this area was often quite windy which does restrict some beach related ambitions. The wind tended to be warm and retained temperatures of 16-20 degrees and feeling even warmer. Most days were jeans and T-shirt but taking a warmer top for later in the evening. It was so relaxing being able to wander around, with no driving and just chilling out.
Memorable amongst those days was 3rd Dec. A friend had recommended a bar called Cheers in the neighbouring town of Alcossebre which did good old English meals. Not normally keen on being ‘Brits Abroad’ but we were interested in this idea. There was a great coast walk of 22km or so from our site to Cheers so we considered we could safely manage that trek as long as we could catch a bus home. Our research online did not provide options and the receptionist on our campsite said ’Not possible-there are no buses’- But still, there must be a bus…surely. If not we can grab a taxi….So the walk along the coast path was tremendous. Nice gravel and concrete paths along the coast and sandy beaches with barely a soul in sight. It was a hot day – shorts on, shirt off (well me anyway). After an energetic four and a half hour walk we finally arrived at Cheers, ready for a beer and then some food. Well….no… it was bloody closed. ! aaargh. We had checked the opening hours online so it should have been open, however the website failed to mention that it was closed for the winter. Bugga.!
OK then, we just grab a beer at a neighbouring Spanish bar and then look for a bus. We asked the bar owner who spoke just enough English to say ‘Not possible’. Oops, this is getting tricky now. ’So what about a taxi to Peniscola then?. Where will we get a taxi?’- The exact same English response of ‘Not possible’ was helpfully repeated. No bus. No taxi. Getting dark in an hour, painful feet and under-dressed, under fed and stuck in a tiny village with no transport. Damn….! Anyway to cut a decent bit of panic down to just one paragraph.. We did manage to find a bus that went to a different village, we found the railway station and after detailed trains discussion with a terrific local dude (‘no speaka da English’) we took the decision to grab a taxi from there. Firstly, we went to the town supermarket and stocked up on cakes, biscuits and water and the friendly cashier phoned a local taxi for us which arrived five minutes later…. Top job. Taken straight back to the campsite entrance within half an hour- at just a paltry €35 (£30)! . Lesson learned. If everyone tells you there is no bus…… there is NO BUS..! We don’t like to do things the easy way do we..!
Oh… and look at this little beauty. This praying mantis – about 6 inches long was spotted by Mich whilst out on our long walk. He was on the gravel path and didn’t move as we took photos. Apart from his eyes which followed our movements slowly. Wow. What an incredible beast.
The following days just trickled along nicely. We found Sheila’s cafe, Horchata Granizados and our favourite evening haunt the Mandarina Club where a bottle of Rioja was just €18 (£15) and some great burgers.
We were pretty experimental with the other local food too. Fish, fish and more fish. Everyone, everywhere eats mussels, crab, crayfish, langoustine and every other kind of crustacean. Think we over did it one evening with the full platter which was tricky to work through but worth a go.
We even prepared and enjoyed a bbq back at Ruby one evening with langoustine, chorizo, plantains and quail eggs alongside a beautiful salad. We really loved the Mediterranean diet and realise that the lack of chips/burgers/coke is what keeps them slim. Also…everyone drinks beer. Any time of day. Male and female. Half a litre with lunch, dinner, mussels and probably breakfast. – they certainly don’t get involved in much fancy pants cappuccino stuff. !
So after 12 days in Peniscola- (which we recommend, even in the winter,) we need to start heading home. We have to be in Calais by the 16th Dec and we had over 1,500kms to get there. We shared the driving from the start and chewed up loads of miles on the way. Once again we opted for the Autopista and Autoroutes to make the journey progress quicker. There is quite a cost but as mentioned previously there is a balance between time/cost and one has to consider the wear and tear of Ruby during the miles done along the free roads. The vast amount of the toll roads involve sitting there at 60mph on cruise control with very little traffic on dual carriageways or three-laners. You really get to eat up the miles in a relaxed and safe manner (apart from manic Barcelona). First night we failed to stay on a free site at Clermont le Herault, which proved to be in use by the caravans of a travelling circus. We had to then drive for the first time in the dark through some mountains which would have been glorious to see in the daylight..! We ended up parked in a truck stop along the A75 which was safe and easy to use. We then became aware that we would be passing along the famous Millau Viaduct on this road the next day which caused a great deal of excitement. We have visited this before but the prospect of driving over it the next morning had us keen to start early. It was -3º overnight here as we were high up in the mountains. We drove half an hour to the Millau Viaduct in gentle rolling mountains to then park up at the viewing point. Almost empty at this time of day (8.30am), we had as much room as we wanted and freedom to put Derek the Drone up for some photos. Well…wow…! The lighting was incredible and there was thick cloud below us and below the bridge making for a stunning view of the bridge and surrounding area. What an amazing piece of engineering and a thing of beauty. Despite the freezing conditions it was an awesome visit and it was my birthday too…..
After moving on we drove for over a hundred miles up in the mountains reaching 1110 metres ( 3600ft) at the highest and with temperatures ranging from -3º to +8º dependent on the sun position and the flatness of the terrain. The mountains are part of the Massif Central mountain range which surprisingly covers 15% of France. We didn’t expect to come across this glorious area as the route planning never mentions it. Perhaps we should have planned this a bit better and then maybe we would have had the snow chains that we were legally obliged to carry in this area. ! There were large areas of snow and ice either side of the road in some areas and we knew that it would be easy to get caught out. (We have now bought some ‘snow socks’ which is the next best thing and fulfil the legal requirements). What a joyful road.
Next night we stayed in yet another truck stop just north of Orleans- boy do we know how to party….! This was a bit ill conceived as we were kept awake for large parts of the night as the trucks drove alongside us headed out from the truck stop. Never mind, it was free and we were damn tired by now. 500+ km per day for two full days was pretty full-on.
15th Dec. Now this was a bloody difficult driving day. We had researched driving round Paris as being the quickest route and we picked a time that was quietest… apparently. Well this was so funny (afterwards!). Now…. if you are not aware, Paris (as well as an increasing amount of other European towns/cities) has environment zones restricting the passage of traffic in certain areas and certain days etc. We had failed to apply for our Crit Air certificate which would allow us to drive along the Peripherique (ring road). Therefore we had to avoid that particular area or face a sizeable fine. Well that was not as easy as it sounds. Every time we put something into the satnav it redirected us onto this route, even after we had started up. We stopped several times on the approach to make sure we had this right but noticed that we had the additional problem of the A68 going through a tunnel…with a height restriction of just 2 metres. Ruby is 2.7m ..! So we asked the satnav to tiptoe between the Peripherique and this section of A68. No problem. ‘Turn left’ she says…’keep left’.. ‘follow the road left’ she says again…. Followed suddenly by a big flashing warning signal saying ‘STOP NOW’!!- What the hell. You know those big chunks of metal plate that they hang over the road before a low bridge..? Well we were in that lane. The only reason we didn’t clatter into them was because the metal plates had been worn down a bit by many previous miscreants…. We Stopped…… in the middle of the lane…. And thankfully managed to then steer right and away from the dwarf tunnel. God. And it was so busy and so many lane changes and so many vehicles and so many roadworks and …….aaaargh….
The only saving grace was the Eiffel Tower..
We managed to see it briefly whilst driving around the Peripherique (Ha.. still managed to end up on it…!). God that was a tricky hour for both driver and navigator. Not a big fan of that route.!
So that was all the hard work done. We had only a couple of hundred km’s to go as we parked up at the tidy little village of Grenay. What a great relaxing finish to Europe. A free Aire in the village with free electric too.. incredibly generous of the locals – knowing that we would all visit the local shops and spend money. It really does work. We were now all done and home free….. OR WERE WE..?
Now you know that we sometimes get things wrong…and we occasionally fly close to the edge….!
Well… as everyone is aware.. Omicron was the new variant of Covid which was hitting the world as we lounged around in Spain. We knew that we had to complete lots more paperwork to return home including a Passenger Locator Form and Covid test results. Well, we (me) got a bit confused and thought that just doing a Lateral Flow Test of our own whilst in France would suffice. So we uploaded it online this last night in Grenay. Only to awake the next morning (six hours before our Eurotunnel booking) to find an email saying this had been rejected……. And we now had to find a local pharmacy to get an Antigen certificate before we could travel…! Nooooo. And no-one round these parts speaks English….
Yet again Glenn & Michelle were up against it…This is how it went….
1- Panic – Christ we have only got till 4pm to get the Antigen test done AND a result obtained and put on the Eurotunnel website.
2- Pack up Ruby quick time ready to go
3- Check online and find two local ‘infirmari’s’ via the (French language) official website that would do the Antigen check
4- Walk quickly around town and find both places closed.!
5- Speak with a lady in a nearby ‘ pharmacie’ (notta speaka da English) who very helpfully researches online and finds three ‘pharmacies’ in nearby Lievin with post codes. – But no phone numbers!
6- Research online, get phone number and call one- Unilab. (They find an English speaking colleague Lucinda)- ‘Yes we can do the test, it will take 12 hours to get a result…! ‘ Noooo. ‘ Actually no, sorry, it will take one hour….’ Phew.
7- Drive like the wind to Lievin and see Lucinda- ‘Not possible’. We must have a French address and French phone number to send the result to…‘.! This is getting rather challenging.
8- Lucinda’s colleague points out the ‘Pharmacie Cornuel-Paladini’ 200 metres up the road that may do them. She helpfully calls them and takes us out into the street to point the way.
9- Wander calmly (!) into the pharmacie and they get the job done (still no English spoken here..) and she indicates we are now local celebrities so they will give us the result in five minutes. Wahoooo. ‘€25 each si’l vows plaít’- Bugga.
10- Twenty minutes later we have the ‘Certificat Covid Numerique Eu’
11- Go to nearby McD’s for very late breakfast and upload the certificate to the Eurotunnel website.
We now have two hours to travel the one-hour trip to Calais. Phew… Slow down. Chew slowly.
Not quite the end of the story. …Michelle had to upload two more times on the way to Calais whilst sitting behind me in Ruby at the table. Our uploads had been declined for some reason saying ‘Incorrect document’. But hey, sod it. We drove to the Eurotunnel terminal and presumably arrived at the same time as the latest upload was verified. The guy on reception, plugged our ticket details in and waved us through…. ‘We have a problem with our Covid result’ we say. ‘Its fine’, he says. ‘If it accepts your details then all is well. Enjoy your trip’. Perhaps you can imagine our relief as we wander over to the Duty Free shop grinning like kids. No worries……!
And as a reminder..Boris had further restricted travel back to the UK and Macron was in the process of kicking everyone out two days later so we stepped out through a rapidly closing door.
So now back in the UK we have to self isolate AND pay £35 each for a PCR test…!!!
Incidentally the toll roads (Autopistas) appear to be in some kind of transition period throughout Spain. We passed through many unmanned toll booths and many where the road had been re-directed around the booths for some reason. We were worried that perhaps we should have been paying online for many of them however research shows that the government have ended many contracts and allow free usage until 2024 at least. – So get yourselves over quickly as it saves loads of €€€€€€€€s all down the east coast.
And for those of you that are faintly interested…..Despite the free roads in Spain, the fast route up through France cost us about €132 (£112) to travel 785km (488 miles) of toll road. Is it worth it to save several hours driving through towns and villages? There are certainly compromise options in between but we have more to learn.
Did you know…
Millau Viaduct runs across the Tarn valley in France. The only way to cross the gorge prior to the construction of the viaduct was by using the main road. This wound its way slowly down each side of the valley to a narrow bridge over the river in Millau town centre.
A competition to design and build the structure was won by an engineering and architectural group headed up by French engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Sir Norman Foster.
The Millau Viaduct was built in just three years, opening in 2004. It is the world’s tallest bridge at 343 metres high and it carries the main A75 from Paris to Beziers.
And its bloody beautiful…