The start of a new year can be a bit anti-climatic. It starts with a bang, everyone’s feeling optimistic and excited to see what the next 365 days bring. Many make promises to themselves that they already know they’ll break like, this will be the year I loose the weight I’ve been accumulating since 2008 (I’m definitely one of those people!). Then everyone sobers up and the longest 20 weeks of January begin. But this year we wanted to mix things up a bit and start 2020 on a high, so three weeks ago we headed to Spain in search of some last minute sun.
In terms of actually reaching Spain, we had two options. Option A: Get the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, which takes roughly 24 hours and costs somewhere between £450-500 for us, the van and the cat. Option B: Get the ferry from Dover to Calais and drive to Spain through France. Whilst option A is definitely quicker, I get terribly sea sick, even the Dover to Calais ferry makes me sick sometimes. So we opted to drive through France. Overall we figured it would be less stressful for the cat, cheaper (taking into account ferry, diesel and tolls; I’ll let you know in a minute if it actually was) and we could go at our own pace with considerably less vomit involved.
Unfortunately the drive through France was by far the worst part of the last three weeks. Knowing that Alex would be heading back to the UK sooner or later, I decided now would be the best time to get in some driving practice. Boy, was I wrong. Being geographically challenged, I didn’t realise the route was taking us on the ring road around Paris. How we didn’t crash and die I don’t know. There were cars everywhere, coming at me from every direction. We ended up on the wrong side of a five lane stretch of road and just had to go for it. There were road closures with no diversion signs. And not forgetting la pièce de résistance, the satnav trying to take our 3m high van into not one, but two, 2m tunnels! I swear, I was in such a daze by this point that if Alex wasn’t there, Rosa would now be a convertible.
Somehow (and it’s all a bit of a blur so I really dont know how) we made it out of Paris so stopped to refuel, get some lunch and change our underwear. Other disasters included: the gas door falling on my face and cutting my nose (luckily my glasses protected most of my face), our card not being accepted at self service, card only, petrol station, and yet another highlight, staying overnight at an aire on a toll road and being charged €99 euro to leave said toll road (we honestly don’t know how or why! Are they just that expensive? We hadn’t paid that much for any others! Did we get charged more for staying overnight?). By now 24 hours on a ferry was sounding like a pleasure cruise.
Thursday (we left home on the Tuesday) was another full day of driving (for Alex anyway, I’d already had enough and was quite happy being in charge of Spotify) so that night we stayed in a town just 10 minutes from the Spanish border. It was so glamorous. We were behind a casino accompanied by a van that we assumed from its condition, and the bowl of rotting food sat behind it, hadn’t left the car park for quite some time! Inside was an angry looking dog and later, once the casino had closed, an old (probably much younger than she actually looked) scraggy looking woman with a crutch, who hobbled back to the van until the casino opened again. We slept soundly through the night with the sounds of screaming cats as they clawed each other eyes out to comfort us.
We woke up Friday morning with the van intact, our organs unharvested and finally crossed the border into Spain; we couldn’t have been happier. The sun was shining, our Spotify playlist was on top form and the toll roads were behind us. Spain was a glowing beacon of hope, which quickly changed to big glowing red light as we entered La Jonquera; one of Europes main centres for prostitution and trafficking (according to a quick google search we did whilst driving passed more and more women, getting more and more suspicious). At first we weren’t 100% sure that they were prostitutes. The first few could have easily just been waiting for a lift. They were just normal looking women, wearing pretty average, but nice clothing. Further down the road however, subtlety was nowhere to be seen. Clothes were obsolete, except of course for massive stilettos, and some were even bending over, spreading their cheeks (yes, those cheeks!) and bouncing up and down. What a welcome!
In total it cost us (from home in Cheshire to the Spanish border; including diesel, tolls and the ferry) £420.24. So it was the cheaper option, but possibly more stressful. Next time I might brave the longer ferry. Nevertheless we were there, we made it in one piece, it was time to start enjoying ourselves; so we headed straight to the coast! More specifically to a small coastal town called Roses. Park4night showed some park up spots which were a little off road but looked really pretty with great views so we thought we’d give it a go. After following the tiny roads through the town, passed the beach and ascending further and further uphill in second gear, with several locals looking at us thinking “where the bloody hell are you going?”, we finally reached the start of the dirt path. It was not good. Undeterred we carried on until we really couldn’t anymore (which probably should have been a lot further back) and then had the fun job of reversing back down to the paved road (obviously Alex was driving whilst I made noises resembling a pig in agony). All out of options, we settled for lunch (egg sandwiches, made from fresh eggs straight from the mother-in-law’s hens) by the beach.
A bit further on we found another coastal spot (I was determined to sleep right next to the sea for our first night) which was satisfactory; it had been hit pretty bad by storm Gloria by the looks of if with massive chunks of the beach swept away, lots of debris, and brown murky water. Not really what we were expecting but it was quiet so it would do for the night.
Determined to find your stereotypical Spanish coastal town with bright blue waters, we stopped at Platja de Tamariu. It was exactly what we were looking for. Google showed pictures of the beach and the few seaside restaurants swarming with tourists, but apart from a few locals (and us) it was deserted. It was so peaceful. We finally felt like we could relax and slow down the pace after what had been a pretty hectic week of non-stop travelling. Wanting to test out the very little Spanish we had learnt on the drive down, we sat at one of the little restaurants and asked for “dos café con leche, por favor” and were soon presented with two milky coffees. Result! There wasn’t, however, anywhere suitable for us to spend the night. So once again we carried on, this time venturing more inland to a working dairy farm.
Usually we try to avoid paying to sleep somewhere as we usually find it so easy to find free park ups. Unfortunately a lot of reviews from the area contained stories of other vans being broken into, so we decided to play it safe; plus the farm was only €5 per night (with electric) and we couldn’t argue with that. It had everything we needed and then some. All the services we needed (the usual, waste water, fresh water, electric etc.), toilets, showers, farm shop, farm museum, BBQ and of course all of the cutest farm animals (I was in my element; although recently turning veggie, I tried to put the fact that they’d probably all sooner or later become dinner, at the back of my mind).
It was great to see that the parking area was filled with an array of vans from all over Europe; including four Spanish vans that had all come together with their children and dogs. Whilst the children were happily playing outside, the adults seemed to spend most of their day either preparing or eating bowls and bowls full of delicious dishes. It all looked incredible and we were very jealous. Now, bit soppy for a minute; we’re not usually massive fans of kids (especially when there’s a lot of them in a quite small location; sorry my maternal instincts are still very much dormant) but it was actually really heartwarming to see such a big family gathering, spending their weekend together in such a simple, yet wonderful, location without any of the luxury that people sometimes don’t think they can have a holiday without.
On the Sunday we wandered into the very small village just down the road from the farm and found a sign for several footpaths in the area. Since everywhere was closed we picked a route, took a picture of it to make sure we stayed on track and made note of all the landmarks highlighted along the way. It was a nice walk through the surrounding countryside, passed a lot of farms and beautiful houses which we could definitely see ourselves living in if we ever decide to settle down in one place (I tried to take a picture of one but the owner came out and caught me so I ran away). Making our way down a grassy path, which clearly hadn’t been maintained in a while, towards a cute little church (which was one of our recommended points of interest) with what we assumed was some sort of communal bath or washing station (honestly no idea). Unfortunately we arrived at the same time as a massive group of kids who arranged themselves all around the little church meaning I had no chance of getting a good picture of it (my dislike for children was reaffirmed). As they were showing no signs of buggering off, we reluctantly continued along the route which started to take us uphill but the path was thick of mud and since we had only planned on a stroll into town, we definitely weren’t wearing appropriate shoes. Admitting defeat we made our way back to the farm.
The rest of Sunday was spent how Sunday’s should be spent, doing absolutely nothing apart from another quick walk around the farm to see the animals, particularly the baby goats. During the day you’d easily forget that you were at a farm as it was so calm and quiet with a distinct lack of farmyard smells. This, we discovered, was because they saved it all up for the evening, when all the visitors had left. As soon as the sun went down and darkness descended over the farm, they unleashed a multitude of rancid stenches so bad you could almost taste it. Paired with the sound of tractors and every piece farming machinery imaginable, we settled down for what was inevitably going to be a very long night. It all must of stopped eventually as we did manage to get some sleep and woke up to the same bright, fresh smelling, tranquil farm we had experienced the day before. Seriously it was like Jekyll and Hyde. Saying that though we did really enjoy our stay here, but after two nights it was time to mosey on towards our first city stop, Girona. We stayed just on the outskirts of the city and spent the day enjoying all the city has to offer, all that was free anyway; if you want to know more about our visit to Girona, we wrote up a whole extra blog about the city which you can find here.
Which brings us nicely to the end of week one and whilst it wasn’t all plain sailing, one thing we’ve learnt with this lifestyle is that the ups always outweigh the downs and we were excited to see what else Spain had to offer.