Monday, 10 July 2017

Travelling to Portugal through France and Spain - a return visit with a difference.

Crossing the English Channel in glorious weather.

Our journey was smooth and arriving at the terminal, we were offered a choice of earlier bookings. Opting for the free one, we parked up until the call came. Swiftly loading, the train glided off to emerge again into the sunshine in France.

Toll Stations.

We had collected transponders for the French and Spanish tolls at the Folkestone services. [The transponder is a little box which holds your data; the cameras at the toll stations read your registration number and other data; charges appear on your credit card statement a few weeks later.] In France we were able to sail through the specially designated '30' lane without stopping - much to the astonishment of some of the French people it appeared.
At toll stations, as traffic slowed down, we saw magpies standing guard in the road only flying off to safety at the last minute. Then, as soon as the coast was clear, zooming back like kamikaze pilots to land back beside the tasty morsels that they were enjoying before being disturbed.
France have also introduced new emission regulations requiring a certificate to be displayed on your vehicle if going through certain cities

On the road.

The journey on the first day took us through Picardy and the Somme. The next day saw us travelling through Normandy. The countryside changed here and we enjoyed the best weather that we have ever had in this part of France at any time of the year. The land is undulating with high viaducts straddling deep, green valleys.Tall cypress trees and bands of closely planted dark green trees rose above the fertile fields. Passing by Camembert - think cheese - we saw a small squat church among the trees in the distance, its tall spire rising above them. There was some cloud that day before we reached Poitiers.

After Poitiers and heading south we crossed French/Spanish  border in the Pyrenees at Irun. The Basque country was as awe-inspiring as ever and, thankfully, did not have to travel through in torrential rain as we did last year. After an overnight in the very reasonable hotel in Rubena, Burgos, our journey took us south via Valladolid, Salamanca with windmills for company, and Plasencia where, turning west to cross the Portuguese border we arrived in central Portugal. 

The forty-five degree heat was unbelievable for June; unprecedented we were told by the Boa Vista hotel which thankfully had air conditioning. After a few days of family catch-ups on the farm – Quinta/infrastructure is work in progress – reached down a long dusty red  road we were ready to head off again. But not before we had visited the Barragem / lake, high in the mountains where the tables were turned. My son held my hand while I paddled at the edge as instructed.
It was a pity that the air conditioning in the ‘new’ car packed up. It made life a ‘bit difficult’ to say the least. Especially as there was a very long drive across the plateau of central Spain via Madrid to Zaragoza without its cooling presence.

From Zaragoza we crossed the Haut Pyrenees. Some of the landscape is similar to North Wales. You know that road round the mountain at Penmaenmawr where you have a sheer drop to the sea on one side? And the road down the A5 to Betws-y-Coed? We were on the other side of the Cirque du Gavarnie that is featured in Just Us Two.

But what a fantastic drive, over mountains.  Instead of taking the scenic D road near Eaux Bonnes to Argeles Gazost and Lourdes, the sat nav took us further down to the very minor D35 through sleepy picturesque mountain villages - it was siesta time.

Reaching our ibis hotel in Lourdes, guess what?  
“The air conditioning main unit has gone down.”
Refusing offers of a different hotel, accepting fans and gallons of free water we looked forward to a relaxing few days. In the still-baking heat we headed north towards Tours before setting off early the following morning for La Coquelles and the tunnel. Thankfully it cooled down a bit. 

Satellite Navigation.

After finally making friends with the new Sat Nav, the Eurotunnel directions (post code) took us to La Cite. 
‘Just follow  the junction number and signs,’ I sighed. Which we did. Surprisingly, there were no border checks at the French side – just gun toting soldiers patrolling. Soon they were on the train and headed to their hotel in Sevenoaks where we found a display advertising Christmas bookings. In June. Why can’t we enjoy summer first? 
All told we covered 3200 miles.  All we had to do was return the transponders and wait for the credit card bill for the tolls. Oh – and get the air conditioning fixed in the car; now that is another story.

Rosalie xx

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