After the upsetting incident with the Guardia Civil we were so relieved to be leaving Spain that we stopped for a short while at the border on the French side and bought some doughnuts for breakfast but when we opened the cellophane packets they turned out to be past their sell-by date and starting to go mouldy so they had to go straight in the bin.
Except for Anthony who declared himself so hungry that he could eat his own arm so he just nibbled carefully as close as he dared (which was alarmingly close in my opinion) around the green bits.
So much for French haute cuisine!
At last we were in France and now we did some serious non-stop driving to try and catch up time. We were short of cash so avoided the motorways but this didn’t hold us up at all because the French Autoroutes are of a really high standard and as this was Saturday the traffic was very light.
The sun was out now and the first stretch was through the last of the Pyrenees. Anthony was driving and this presented the next problem. He had very bad eyesight and wore reactalite lenses, which were fine on the open road but presented a real issue when they responded only very slowly indeed to the changed conditions when we went through tunnels cut through the mountains, and this presented a few moments of sheer panic when he repeatedly insisted on telling us that he couldn’t see where he was going!.
We simply didn’t stop as we drove progressively north. First we passed Bordeaux, which we were delighted to discover had a by-pass and then Angouléme and then Poitiers. This was like the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race and we kept switching drivers at regular intervals while others slept to be ready for their turn. And as we drove north the weather deteriorated and we left the sun behind and the sky became overcast and cloudy.
We just kept going and going and going and then, when we reached the city of Tours, we could go no further so we pulled into a motel on the southern outskirts, booked in, went to our rooms and rested for a while on comfortable beds and clean linen. It was heaven.
Next to the motel was a fast food diner and the others would have been happy to eat there but I couldn’t handle the shame associated with dining in such a place when I was in France so I argued my case for something local and the others finally gave in. Somewhere just out of town we found a restaurant that looked suitably Gallic so we parked the car and went in.
It was a strange place that had only one option, which was raw beef and boiled potatoes but we were too tired to change our minds so we agreed to eat there. The beef was being cooked over a thirty watt light bulb but the trick was to pick up a scalding plate and when the thin slices were cut and handed over the heat in the ceramic would complete the cooking process. Actually it was delicious and we all went back for a couple of second helpings.
After our meal we sat chatting and looking back on the journey and a Rastafarian French student enquired if we had a cigarette, we said no and apologised and he tutted and shrugged his shoulders disapprovingly in that very French sort of way, threw out his arms in disgust and went to the cigarette machine to buy his own. He went back to his table and sulked in a Charles de Gaulle sort of way and I noticed that he didn’t offer us one even though he must have known that we were non-smokers and would surely say ‘non merci’.
We had done really well today and we had driven nearly a thousand kilometres and now we were only four hours behind schedule, we had caught up a huge amount of time but now we were really, really worn out with travel fatigue so we were all glad to get back to the motel for a well-earned good nights sleep.
Posted in Europe, Food, France, History, Natural Environment, Postcards, Spain, Travel
Tagged Bordeaux, Culture, Le Mans 24 Hour, Life, Photography, Poitiers, Pyrenees, Road Trip, Tours, Travel
Breakfast at the Hotel Sèquia Molinar also turned out to be rather good although it was a boisterous and noisy affair because several families were using it as a Saturday morning rendezvous and competing chatter and conversation took the volume way above acceptable European Health and Safety levels.
It turned out that this was a Saturday morning gathering of family and friends who intended to go off hiking into the mountains because apparently Catalans like sociable company and communal picnics in high places and will walk all morning to get to a favourite secluded spot. I began to worry that if they were meeting here to go off for a walk then our car would be blocked in and we would be stuck here for the day but the hotel staff assured me that this wasn’t the case and as soon as we were ready to go they would ask them to move their vehicles – and they did!
Together we have a plan to visit all of the countries of Europe and so far we have visited thirty out of fifty and today we thought that there may be an opportunity to add another because a look at the map seemed to suggest that Andorra was close enough for a day trip. Actually this rather pointless objective seems to be getting tougher because every time I check there seems to be a couple of new countries that I have never heard of and to be honest there are two or three that we probably wouldn’t especially visit anyway. At least if Catalonia or Scotland ever achieves their objective of independence then we can legitimately say that we have been to both of these.
And so we set off and once through the town of Ribes de Freser the problems started as the road crumpled like a piano accordion and soon we were swaying from side to side and climbing dramatically into the Pyrenees. I rather enjoy this sort of motoring but there were several hazards to negotiate which turned this into a roller-coaster white knuckle ride which required one hundred percent total concentration and attention.
Natural hazards of course because I didn’t want to fall off the side of the mountain or get a falling rock through the windscreen because I was almost certain that sort of damage was excluded from the vehicle insurance, but also other road users, cyclists who insisted on riding two or three abreast, thrill seeking motor bikers who were driving at full throttle in the middle of the road, more crazy local drivers taking massive overtaking risks whenever there was fifty metres or so of straight road and then a herd of cows who were rather reluctant to give way as they made slow progress stopping frequently to graze at the verges.
The first thirty kilometres took almost an hour and a half and we were barely half way to Andorra when we pulled into a car park with a panoramic view of the mountains and the valleys that seemed to go on forever and we had short debate and agreed that this whole journey was just too ambitious and that we were looking at probably four or five hours of the same so we turned the car around and went back the way that we had come. Andorra it seems will have to wait although a friend who visited at more or less the same time told me that in his opinion we hadn’t really missed very much so on that recommendation it might now have to wait a very long time before we cross it off the list.
It was rather tedious making the return journey through Ribes de Freser and then Campdevànol but it would have been a great deal worse if we had tried to carry on so we were both pleased with our decision as we drove through Ripoll without stopping and then picked up another mountain road through the Garrotxa Volacnic Zone and past the town of Olot. This road was thankfully straight and undemanding and just after lunch time we arrived at our next stopping point, the town of Besalú which was lazily baking away in the wilting heat of the afternoon sun.
We found the Hotel Three Arcs and the receptionist told me that we could ignore the traffic restriction notices that seemed to suggest that the place was pedestrianised and bring the car into the main square but I was nervous about this because it involved driving over one of those solid steel retractable bollards that rise up from the centre of the road.
I was worried in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ or ‘America’s Funniest Videos’. I could sense that a local driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could. Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course and people sitting at a bar probably wondered why I had set off as though I was an Italian driver at a set of red traffic lights.
Posted in Europe, History, Hotels, Literature, Natural Environment, Spain, Travel, World Heritage
Tagged Andorra, Besalu, Campdevànol, Catalonia, Catalonia Postcards, Culture, Hotel Sèquia Molinar, Life, Pyrenees, Ribes de Freser
We were so relieved to be leaving Spain that we stopped for a short while at the border on the French side and bought some doughnuts for breakfast but when we opened the sellophane packets they turned out to be past their sell by date and starting to go mouldy so they had to go straight in the bin. Except for Anthony who declared himself so hungry that he could eat his own arm so he just nibbled carefully as close as he dared (which was alarmingly close in my opinion) around the green bits. So much for French haute cuisine!
Read the full story…
Posted in Europe, France, Hotels, Spain, Travel
Tagged Angouléme, Anthony Hawley, Bordeaux, France, Poitiers, Pyrenees, Richard petcher, Spain, Tony Dennis, Tours