Day 15 — Sunday 28th February
Strange place to begin a blog, over two weeks in, but there’s a reason for this.
Today, a fortnight after I drove off the ferry in Caen, I finally have some time to myself.
Why Caen, I hear you ask, dear reader? Surely Santander or Bilbao is nearer the Costa del Sol, or… do tell… is your sense of direction as bad as your writing?
Well of course it is, but Brittany Ferries send me a text late in the afternoon prior to my departure for Portsmouth bluntly informing me that my ferry has been cancelled.
Technical problems, I’m told by the bored sounding Customer Services representative when I finally get through. Options? To wait until next Wednesday or take tomorrow night’s sailing from Portsmouth to Caen. Caen I say? Yep… take it or leave it.
Or, of course, you can have your money back and good luck finding someone else to ferry you to the continent.
But here I am now, my apartment finished, furnished and I finally have the time to do what I came here to do: learn Spanish and finish Whiskey in the Jar.
But it’s 24 degrees, not a cloud in the sky and the icy westerly that had chilled my bones for a week has departed.
That means it’s time to try out my new, very expensive (€85) aluminum sun lounger on my favourite beach in the big-wide-world.
Whiskey can wait… afterall, it’s only taken six years to get to where I am now, within spitting distance of the finish.
But first, let me bring you up to date with my Spanish adventure.
Day 1 — Sunday 14th Feb.
We are spat from the bowels of a much in need of a re-fit Brittany Ferry at 06.00, although technically it is 05.00 as Europe has stolen an hour from me. If I’d realised this, I would probably have got my head down before 01.00 (GMT).
The port is actually at Ouistreham and around 15km from Caen.
It is freezing and the rain is virtually horizontal as we queue to clear Border Control.
The French, it would appear, in light of the recent atrocities are now curious to know who is entering their country, and who can blame them for that. My turn comes; the official scrutinises my passport, glances at my ridiculously inappropriate car — both for my age and for transporting all that I need in the Costa del Sol — raises an eyebrow at the guitar case perching on the passenger seat, waves me through and the journey begins.
It’s 08.30 before an inky luminescence begins to permeate the Normandy gloom and, although the rain/sleet shows no sign of abating, I begin to relax and enjoy the drive.
You see, to me, a long road trip is one of the finer hellish things in life, and the prospect of a 2,000-mile drive holds no great fear.
08.45. Near Le Mans I make my first stop to fuel both myself and Sophie. (Sophie, by the way is the name I have given to my Agate Grey Boxster GTS… childish, I know — almost certainly the best car I have ever been lucky enough to own… and that includes a smattering of Astons, Ferraris and, of course TVRs).
The rain has eased a bit and I feast on croissant, ham baguette and café au lait in the delightful environment of a French motorway Aire de service. Why the hell are we incapable of creating rest stops that people can actually enjoy in Britain? Apart from the new Gloucester Services (so ecologically perfect it’s easy to drive past it without knowing it is there) and one in the Lake District, they are all hellholes.
It reminds me of that ghastly expression: ‘managing expectations’, and the expectations of the average motorway-travelling Brit are akin to those of battery chickens.
I’m feeling quietly smug as I — for once — know where I’m going. Last night I used my four-hour wait at Portsmouth to buy a map of Europe and plan my route meticulously, noting all the various road numbers that the French come up with to confuse the unsuspecting motorist. My route and my satnav for once agree and this is the first time (unlike the Ireland rugby team) I’m not Lost in France.
By lunchtime I’m really rocking and have reached Poitiers where I take my second break. My plan last night had been to reach Bordeaux and start to look to overnight but I’m going to get way beyond that… maybe even into Spain.
Now here’s a pointless exercise: counting tollbooths. However, it does break the physical inertia, as on each of the 36 occasions between Caen and Marbella I had to either take a ticket or insert my debit card, it necessitates getting out, sprinting round to the left-hand side doing the business and sprinting back. Why the hell, I think, doesn’t Johnny Foreigner provide machines for right-handed cars? Like we provide machines for left-handed cars on our one toll road in the UK?
18.00 and I’m through Biarritz and headed towards San Sebastian. It’s still raining, I’m getting tired and having been on the road for twelve hours, my thoughts turn to a beer, a steak and a bed.
18.45 Burgos. I’ve no idea what Burgos is like or where I’m headed but my satnav takes me right to the centre of the old town where I park (legally) outside the front door of the Hotel Central and learn that a room can be mine for €40 — €7 more for what the continentals call breakfast.
Ten minutes later, I’m in, showered and ready to explore.