Day 15, 18th Jan, Friends

As we packed up the van this morning, ready to move on, I noticed the same two Spanish gentlemen who have been in the car park each of our three days here.  

They met at 9am and sat at the picnic table benches in the corner.  On warm days, they were in shirtsleeves, today with the cloudy skies they were wrapped in warmer coats and hats with pull down flaps for their ears.  Each day they were rapt in conversation.  The taller gent in the black coat sat with his back to the rising sun, at one corner of the table.  His friend took the adjacent corner, listening with rapt attention, his short legs swinging several inches above the paved area.  From time to time, he roared with laughter at whatever tale he’d been told. 

They were engrossed in each other’s company, this duo.  Parting was no quick process.  At 11am, they stood to move in opposite directions.  But one remembered a thing that had just occurred, they walked together again, sharing the item that must not be forgot.  Slapping one another’s backs they moved as if to part, but then the other raised a hand and they moved closer once more.  Eventually, foot by foot, they grew more distant until at nearly 11:15, they finally turned their backs on each treasured friend and went their separate ways.

We’ve left the safety of our last stop and inched our way down the coast toward an eventual destination of Granada, seeing friends enroute. 

Park4Night directs us to a tree-shaded car park that’s empty save for two silent campers. We put ourselves equidistant to the others, positioned to maximize the sun’s glare and the energy that the solar panel can absorb.  A fourth camper, large, coach-built and British in origin pulls into the arena. It boasts a private plate and soon a couple emerges with their dog.  The gentleman looks tentative and glances in our direction.  I wave in response and they come to chat awhile.  

We learn of their journey, how they rejected the option of purchasing property in Spain over renting, which they then eschewed in favour of touring in a van. They’ve been doing this 8 weeks and happily share their knowledge of which regions have the friendliest governance regimes when it comes to motor homes.  We flip pages in our map book (gifted by my aunt and uncle) and trace our finger along Spain’s jagged edges.

As our English companions move away, the occupants of the third camper appear and come over to say hello.  A French couple who are happy and friendly, they proudly announce that they’re both 65.  My school-girl French gets us so far in the cheery exchange, her very good English makes up the distance.  The compliments for my grasp of the language are unearned. I realized a couple of years ago that if I (mis)pronounce foreign words with confidence then the owner of whatever language I have abused will happily correct me and take no offence at my bungled attempts at communication.  Consonant pronunciation is everything!

So we’ve had friends old and new today.  But also, I’ve had a few messages from friends in response to this blog, and I want to say thank you.  

Writing the blog, not dissimilar to sending out my book to agents, requires a push of hope and confidence that I often struggle to find.  All the likes, smiley faces and comments I receive are small salves to my flailing esteem.  Hormones aren’t helping, they send me on my menopausal rollercoaster. Even here, wandering round Europe, I dip from time to time.  But I want to acknowledge and send back appreciation for those reactions. 

Imagine, if you will, that I’ve pushed a stake in the ground; it has a flag attached. The cloth that flutters in the breeze reads “Friend” and it’s there for all who’ve taken the time to read this account or any of the other things I’ve sent into the open domain.  Your support counts as friendship, it’s precious and appreciated.

Day 14, 17th Jan, The things we (don’t) know

Another set of literary agents have been offered the opportunity to represent my work as of this morning.  And I got my first rejection, but as a refusal goes, it’s about as lovely as I could imagine (rarely have the academic equivalents been so encouraging).  It said: 

Dear Julie, 

Many thanks for giving me the chance to consider your work. I enjoyed the material you sent but I’m afraid this isn’t one for me. 

Please don’t be disheartened though, this is a subjective business and just because a book doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to work for someone else. 

Best wishes,

I mean, if someone’s gonna say ‘No’, that’s how to let you down gently, don’t you think? So, I am encouraged by this refusal. I store it with the other positive feedback for my book and it makes me send out another five missives of hope.  I know this is going to be a slow game…

Then we went up into the mountains.  We’ve used a great App called “Wikiloc” all over Europe.  The App aims to offer footpath route-finding across the globe. We’re glad we know how it works. It has three different sound categories: a happy beep to say you’re on the right route; an unhappy beep when it thinks you’re straying from the path; and a triumphant ‘TaDah’ when you’ve completed your set circuit.

We follow the app until common sense takes over.  When it wanted to send us over a precipice (with Stan, a keen but not invincible Labrador), we chose an alternative clearing.  Eventually, having reached the summit of an imposing mount, the route back towards ‘home’ was steep to say the least.  We commit to a number of drops, Stan complies either behind us or taking the lead until we find an 8’ down-climb that’s roped up as a via ferrata route might be.  

Hmm…

We encourage Stan to go first, but nothing doing.  

M climbs down and I encourage our intrepid dog to follow: not happening.  

I climb down too… eventually, the poor puppy, whining in distress, commits to the descent.  

M grabs him part way, to reduce his drop and soften his landing.  As he reaches the earth, the dog stands up and wags at us as if to way “well, what are you waiting for?” running on ahead.  We knew we could do via ferrata (equivalent to a grade 1 or 2 scramble).  Now we know the dog can too.  Not that we want to put this to the test again any time soon.

When we return, I spend a fruitless 15 minutes, smartphone in hand, walking round a palm tree and a rockery. I’m trying to get the app to acknowledge that we’ve completed the route and give me the concluding ‘TaDah’ I’ve been hoping for.  I’m unable to achieve this, I don’t know how to get the software to recognise that we’ve done its route in full.

Back at the van, we all collapse, eat, rehydrate and then M and I face the inevitable. At some point, were going to have to do the laundry.  Having spied a launderette on yesterday’s jaunt round the town, we’re soon set up with three machine loads on the go (our clothes; all Stan’s bedding; all our bedding). 

I didn’t’ know that unless you choose the program you want on the washing machines BEFORE you put the money in, it gives you the first programme and there’s nothing you can do to change it; you can’t cancel or get your money back.  I do know this now.  Thankfully, the default setting is a cool wash, but it’s not a mistake I’ll make twice.  

Our evening concluded with a visit to a local bar for bocadillos (sandwiches) and drinks.  My knowledge of Spanish combined with the goodwill of a couple of customers facilitated conversation. We’d got on sufficiently well that I was offered and provided with a complimentary ‘Café Rhumm’ – a cream-free version of a bombadillo in Italy (alcohol and sugar syrup, with coffee).  Whereas in Italy this is topped with cream, in Spain it get’s a top layer of cinnamon and lemon.  Soooooo tasty.

With a warm smile on my tipsy face, M steers me out of the cafe and we go back to our car park for the last evening before we move on.  I don’t know where we’re going tomorrow, but I’m so glad we know about this place, it’s been magic.  

Day 13, 16th Jan, Pushing back barriers

M woke me up at 3am this morning to tell me that he was delighted to have been accepted for RAF flight school.  

“Right, my love, two more paracetamol for you and no long walks; let’s get you well again first.”

So, I went for a run instead, setting off along one of the generally well signposted routes into the hills.  The dew lay as heavy as rain, my ginger running stumbled to a walk up a river bed, me thinking that I’d lose both ankles if I didn’t slow down.  The only flat surfaces were the largest rocks and they weren’t horizontal.  Then, the path turned into a covered waterway (a llevada), which gave me an 18” concrete corridor on which to continue.  

As the route twisted and turned through the valley, hills behind hills were obscured by low-lying mist, with forested peaks looming far above.  It was lovely.  It was isolated.

I am risk averse, as a rule.  I don’t like taking unnecessary chances.  Today, M and I had watched a whole host of people head up into the hills, (effortlessly) jogging along, so I was expecting more company than I found.  My thoughts turned to whether this was a fools’ errand and whether I should just have done a road run.  The tarmac surface above me was only a few meters away but there were 12 feet of thorn-thickets filling the distance and I didn’t fancy being torn to shreds. So, I plodded on, pulse rate higher than the exercise demanded.

As a precautionary measure, I held my water bottle securely in such a way that if the situation demanded, I could use it to butt the temples of a would-be assailant. It might, or might not have been an effective measure, but made me feel more secure.  

So, why do I continue to make myself vulnerable in this way?  Because if I don’t, then soon I won’t be able to.  Fear is a powerful demotivator; its walls come silently sliding in until we’re boxed and unable to move.  I don’t think this is particularly a gender issue, but I do know lots of women who feel the same way.  Only by putting my back against one such barrier and pushing the opposite away with the soles of both feet, do I manage to keep going, to run, to climb, to walk.  The alternative would be crushing.

And the route was uneventful.  I eventually passed a few women (always in pairs…) coming back towards me and then the path abruptly ended.  I found my way back to the road, discovered the beautiful new cycling path that’s being laid and ran on that until it too disappeared.    

The rest of the day was pottering around the town with M.  It’s a place of two extremes – either beautiful and well kept, or unfinished and slightly unkempt.  One side of a street has beautiful block paving, the other has no paving at all, only rubble and signs that warn of workmen in roads which have no men and no work on going.  

Our car park is still great, we’re undisturbed and don’t appear to be causing any disturbance.  The occasional police patrol car circles the area but doesn’t stop or look for long.  

The sunshine is glorious, it’s a cool 7 degrees in the shade, but if you stay under the bright yellow glow, it feels lovely.  Coming back from my jog this morning, I heard familiar birdsong including pigeons, and the air felt like an early summer’s day at home.  Yet here I am, living the unsuspected dream, camper-vanning in Europe and becoming accustomed to the differences that each town brings.  Two weeks down tomorrow, “only”eight left to go.  I am loving every day of this adventure. 

Day 12, Tuesday 15thJan. Minor adjustments

Turns out Teruel has a lovely old town, a great pedestrian bridge over the river and lots of good cafes.  

First thing was spent sorting bits – trying to get more data for my phone deal so that I can upload the blog without visiting McDonalds; M talking to the roadside assistance insurance company about last week’s incident, checking bookings for the rest of the year, finding out when V might be coming out to visit.  

Then we went wandering, and purchased little things that we wanted, having spent nearly a fortnight in the van.  These included: a curtain to separate front and back living spaces, which means that whoever is having a slow start doesn’t get blinded by the light from opening the door, or blasted with a cold inrush of mountain air.  I have super-deluxe, down filled slippers that have no heat protection in the soles, so am now toasty with a pair of insoles.  I hate the dishcloths we bought with us, they’re too papery and not absorbent enough.  We’ve dealt lots of small but significant things.

Just before we finished pottering around the town M asked if I wanted to stay any longer.  

“No, thank you, I think we’re done.  What do you think?”

“I think we should go too.  But are you sure, or are you just saying that?”

Biting back a giggle, I replied “No, I’m sure, but thank you for clarifying.”  

Lessons learned.

We have headed back towards the coast.  Morella and Teruel are both great places, but are an additional 1000m above sea level. The overnight temperatures there are generally -5 or -6, whereas closer to the coast they’re +5 or +6.  M’s fever has picked back up and he’s coughing again. As much as we love the mountainous regions, they’ll have to wait until his body’s fully recovered from this bug or the continent gets a bit warmer.

M feeling under the weather meant that I got a rare experience of sitting behind the steering wheel.  Whilst I drove, M route-found and we both lost patience with British news, there being the ‘meaningful vote’ this evening.  A number of radio shows spent the entire day broadcasting endless hours of callers ringing up to express their discordant views.  Eventually, we changed radio channel and listened to Culture Club and Madonna, which felt like a ‘meaningful’ substitution.  

We’re in a small area called ‘La Val D’Uixo’.  It boasts a number of caves, glorious routes into the hills for walks (one tomorrow if M is feeling up to it) a town with a number of good restaurants and bars and a large, flat, free car park with the 3 types of water provision – all clean and well serviced.

The air was warm enough that we spent the afternoon with the side door open and pottered on getting the various jobs done that had been waiting for a good day. The hope is that we’ll spend a couple of days here before committing to Valencia and the coast.  Friends live near Alicante and we’re looking forward to catching up with them soon.   

This evening, we have the fire is on in our U-shaped lounge (that will later become our bedroom), the dog is in his bed in front of said fire and has just repositioned himself so that his face is getting the maximum heat.  Contentment reigns.

Days 10 and 11, Jan 13thAnd 14th , “Morella, I’ve just met a town called Morella…”


Man… I have got the whole ordering breakfast in Spanish thing locked down to an art form 🙂

The secret: (apart, obviously from mastering the local lingo) – never show fear.

Showing anxiety to café owners in non-touristy areas of the country, engenders a reciprocal level of fear.  If you can’t speak to them then they can’t speak to you either.  So, even if you stumble and mispronounce – don’t pause and always, always, smile.

Never fails.  

For instance, on Sunday morning we got a coffee, a tea and a ‘pincho de tortilla patata’ for €4.30 all on the basis of my rough command of the language and a cheery smile.  The fact that this purchased a visit to a ceramic loo was just a welcome bonus.

The rest of the morning was kind of lazy, little happened.  We had slow wanderings around the lovely fortified town on the hill, which is very pretty: ancient gardens, cobbled streets, higgledy houses.

In this sleepy January week the town was quiet, plenty of space per person.  There are HUNDREDS of hotels, each with hundreds of rooms, towers of them stretching back from the sea front as far as the eye can see and all the way along to the next resort.  I couldn’t help but imagine what this place must be like in the summer months.  Poor locals.

But, out of season the town of Peniscola is charming; warm in its welcome and climate. However, despite the distinct lack of ice and sub-zero temperatures, we don’t really settle well in areas with manicured lawns and seafront paddling pools. The mountains are more our thing.  So, we packed up our bits and pieces.

Then we drove two hours inland to Morella and… golly.

We’d been recommended to visit the city, a visitor at home had circled it emphatically on our map book.  Neither of us could remember why they were so enthusiastic. 

As we approached, I wondered if I was looking at some kind of sci-fi film set. The city loomed like the mountain top from Close Encounters of a Third Kind.  

Added to its cultural charms are the two parking areas for visiting campers.  The first, a mile outside the city walls sits on the opposite side of the narrow valley and offers (very clean) grey/black and drinking water stations, olive trees and wild rosemary bushes in bloom with their tiny lavender coloured flowers sprinkled up their stems.  

Set away from the road, we and six other vans rested in little nooks around the site, watching the night-lights come on in the mystery that was Morella.  We had lunch/supper, drank warm Spanish red wine and walking the dog last thing, saw an entire galaxy of stars unfold for us in the blackest heavens up above.

Monday, the plan had been to potter round the town, spend another night and then tomorrow move on.  Which just goes to show why clear communication is essential and that, even after 24 years together, you should always clarify…

The fort and castle at Morella are stunning and for €3.50 per person, without doubt the best value tourist attraction we’ve ever visited.  For this paltry sum you get two churches and six storeys of castle ranging from Roman times, to 12th, 13thand 14thcenturies, plus new bits being renovated with EU funding.  The town doesn’t have a supermarket as such.  We needed to fine the Paneceria to get bread, the Carneteria for eggs and ham and a small grocery store for apples.  All gorgeous.

So, after lunch back at the van, I interpreted M’s looking around as him being restless as asked:

“Do you want to move on then?”  

M responded by assuming that I was restless and said:

“Yes, let’s do that”

Which is such a pity, because we had both been looking forward to another night in the olive grove.  And now, after a gruelling 3-hour drive, albeit through some spectacular scenery we’re sitting in Teruel, which must have lovely bits, but we haven’t found them yet.

Oh well, Lovely Morella – maybe another time?!

Day 9, 12th Jan – “Smaller than a Prison Cell”

Today was the day I had allotted for sending out my Dragon book to the next set of Literary Agencies.  It’s a laborious process.  There are lists of the agents and it’s a case of ploughing through them, discerning which lists are open or appropriate and then tailoring your submission individually for each agency.  5 submissions usually takes around 2 hours.  I now understand why an established author once told me:  “Send out 5 a week, don’t do more, it’s too soul destroying.”

Having sent out my missives of hope, I came back to the van and we got ready to pack up and move on.  As we pottered, M and I chattered about how you need to get on if you’re in a camper van. 

Apparently, Todd Fisher (brother of Carrie Fisher and son of Debbie Reynolds) had a camper and he used it as the acid test for any romantic relationship.  If a prospective girlfriend (a) didn’t want to travel in the camper and (b) they couldn’t get on when together in one, then that was the end of that interlude.

Which was why, this morning, I was surprised to hear M announce:

“Well, this is smaller than a UK prison cell”

I burst out laughing.  Then I stopped abruptly and looked at him to check his facial expression.  Was that a good thing, the space, I mean?

He turned to face me with his customary grin, before adding “Well, it is…”

OK, well he wasn’t about to march out in a huff then, nine days into a ten week trip. But he’s right, the space does have some similarities with a penitentiary allotment: –

  1. It’s small, rectangular and you have to sleep as well as live in the confines of it’s walls
  2. It has a loo, which isn’t in a separate room, and if you’re sharing that’s a compromise on modesty
  3. You have to negotiate about how that space is managed and used; there’s two of us, after all

The differences are, however, important:

  1. We chose to be in here.  We lock the doors and open them at will, although Stan, if he could be interviewed on the subject might feel more of a prisoner than we do
  2. I can send M out if I need the loo.  
  3. Prison bathrooms have a flush, our loo collects whatever goes into it (of which, more anon)
  4. We are 60% window, we choose our destinations and our mobile conservatory offers us a unique view of the world that we cherish

M and I share roles and tasks, but there’s a job demarcation for which I’m truly grateful. We share cooking and washing up; generally, whoever cooks, then the other washes up.  I’m better at sweeping and keeping internal spaces sorted, M takes care of the engine and bodywork.  

He also takes care of the… “you know what”…

I’m not squeamish.  Honestly, I’m not… but…

There’s something about the idea of emptying the “Poo Box” that makes me shudder. To my shame, I’ve never done it and I have to admit that I never want to.

So, today was the day when the deed needed to be done.  Spanish motorways are less abundant with their equivalent of the French Aires.  We have to look harder for spots that advertise places to get rid of ‘Black Waste’. Eventually, we spy one, just off the motorway behind a petrol station and service area.  

There’s a French camper in front of us, with a gentleman in his seventies filling up drinking water, one laborious watering can at a time for his huge camper tanks.  We wait for him to move on, not wanting to empty our black waste out where and while he’s taking on fresh drinking water.  As he takes one can load at a time back to his van and returns for the next we have plenty of opportunity to take in the state of the facilities.

It really isn’t lovely.  There’s an area designated for fresh water, another for grey water (from washing/showering/cooking) and a grate for black water.  Other visitors have just dumped black water (and associated solids) wherever, in all three spaces.  Yuk.

I duck out and take Stan over to a patch of wasteland to stretch his legs and have a wee, leaving M to deal with the ‘other stuff’.

He’s washing his hands and everything else with bleach as I return.  Oh dear.  That can’t have been good.  

So, I’d like to say in public to my cell mate, that I don’t just treasure him for his sense of humor or the way he wakes up cheerful almost every morning.  I also appreciate my travelling companion because it is he, not me, that deals with the sh*te, so that I don’t have to.

Thanks Angel.

Day 8, 11th Jan – “Oh, you’re from Brexit…”

A golden hue back-lit the castle above the lake, and as sunshine started to warm our day, the frost melted off the inside of the windscreen.  A pair of Spanish sparrows bounced in the bush beside the camper window, with collared doves coo-ing from the tree next to that.  

Slowly, slowly, the sun’s warmth softened the night air’s icy bite.  We pottered around, preparing to move on again.  Back to the coast where there’s a little more warmth in the January skies.  Onto pastures new, toward Valencia and then Granada over the next few weeks.

M has our next longer push planned for Peniscola, some 80 miles or so from here. But I can’t face another long drive again just yet, so instead we find Torredembarra which has a launderette outside the main supermarket.   We shop whilst the washing whirs.  

The supermarket staff look tired, there’s three of them dealing with a number of irritable looking OAPs.  The lady serving on ‘my’ till simultaneously scans shopping items, gently answers the queries of an old duck who’s very confused about something on her receipt and keeps coming back for more questions, and deals with a more imperious couple who have an issue with their bill.  

My patchy Spanish picks up the THREE EURO discrepancy.  I’m partly able to capture this because the gentleman repeats the phrase a number of times.  Our cashier gestures to the growing line of waiting customers behind us and continues serving the bloke in front of me.  She’s undaunted by the gentleman’s wife who makes unwavering eye contact with the back of this worker’s head.  If I can feel her glare boring into this determined employee, she cannot be impervious to it, but she resolutely scans through the items and chats to her customers.  I hope she’s getting a reasonable wage for this amount of trouble at 9am in the morning.

Then we wander onto Altofulla which has a tiny boating club and posh club house at the end of the beach.  There’s a flat dolomite parking area and no-one seems to mind us being there.  We take Stan and head away from the conurbation towards another castle along the beach.  It seems you’re not a bonafide village in these parts unless you’ve got your own set of turrets, they’re at each place we pass or spy in the distance.  Coming back to the van we encounter our latest European who wants to talk about Brexit. The conversation normally goes:

“Where are you from?”  

“We’re from England…”

“Oh, you’re from Brexit…”

And then there are questions about whether it will happen or statements about how sad it is.  Today the fellow dog-owner starts such a line of questioning, and then sees our anxious faces.  She stops mid sentence and then simply declares:

 “But you are here now, in Europe for your vacation, so who cares?!”  

We do care, but we’re glad that she dismisses the subject.  We can no more influence it in England than we can from a winter’s beach in sunny Spain.

So, it seems that Brexit is becoming the Brits’ new identity.  The Europeans laugh at us; they are confused.  Some are sad, others incredulous.  M and I are improving our command of the local language so that perhaps, we can ask questions of their lives and steer conversation elsewhere.

Supper was in a tiny tavern, eight tables and not a jot of English spoken, so tonight no-one asked about Britain’s political status… we munched delicious food, M had the very good local beer and I a glass of local vino.  If we didn’t look Spanish, at least we didn’t look “Brexit” for the evening…

Day 8th Jan 10th – Recovering…

After yesterday’s brush with disaster, trying to find the route up to the lakeside castle, we decided that we’d go up there anyway.  It turned out that our ‘detour of doom’ was unnecessary.  If we’d just kept on the road for another 300m, instead of trying to turn off, we’d have found the signposted right-hand turn fully tarmacked that eventually wound it’s way to our magical place to park.

It’s also a magical place to wake up.  The dawn cracked onto the sky like scrambled egg mixture spreading over the base of a frying pan… the hues went from violet to red/gold to a bright summery yellow in a few short minutes.  The air was cold at just 40C but the day promised to be full of sunshine.

First order of the day – writing.  I’m on Dragon Book 2 now and getting back into the rhythm of writing 2,000 words a day. M snuggled in bed, then made tea, then pottered on contentedly whilst I played nicely with my imagination.  That done we got showered and organised, setting off for a walk.

Showered…? Well, yes.  This may be a home-made camper, but we make few concessions in terms of comfort.  Generally we’ll shower inside, using a pressurised container full of hot water and shower curtains that fall into the portable shower tray (actually a collapsible dog bath).  Today however, once the air had lost the worst of it’s chill M decided to set up outside the van, eschewing any covering of his modesty.

Those who know my husband know of his proclivity for nude outdoor cleansing activities.  Very, very occasionally I have consented to have a go myself.  It never went well.  On Dartmoor, semi-covered by a set of beach windbreakers, a car drove past not once, not twice but THREE times to get an eyeful whilst I frantically washed off shampoo suds.  A decade later when the horror of the incident had faded, M persuaded me into a Yorkshire river near Riveaux Abbey.  He’d sploshed around in cheerful abandon and complete privacy.  By the time I had waded, as naked as the day I was born into the thigh-high waters, empty footpaths were suddenly thronging, with the entire dog-walking contingent of North Yorkshire passing by.  

Yelping, I ducked as low as I could go in the frigid, slow-flowing waters.  I screamed at M: “Bring me a towel”.  My husband dutifully disappeared into the van and returned, grinning not with a towel but a camera.  He has not been forgiven.

So, when he returned from his nude washing experience this morning, invigorated and enthusiastic, I mocked the idea.  Really… we’d been here before.

But it was warm, and providing no-one drove into the car park, it would save on drying out the shower curtains before our walk…

Hurrah! For once, washed without incident, facing onto the beautiful vista of the lake and pine forested mountains.  Clean and unseen…  Marvellous!

The rest of the day was the 8-mile walk around the lake, some of which had footpaths, much involving hugging the railings on the side of the road.  Lunch was a picnic, in a lovely surprise, pine-built hide that overlooked the lake reeds with cormorants, shags, ducks and herons. We caught a fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher diving in and out of the water before it became too shy and we saw it no more.

Supper – chicken casserole in the van – M’s turn to cook and he washed up too – my lucky night.  😀

Tomorrow we’ll move on.  We think Salut.  We’ll need a launderette and a Wi-Fi café so that I can send off Dragon1 to the next batch of 10 agents.  I also need to find images for Lilly (the lovely and talented artist who’ll hopefully be doing my book cover) so that she’s got a clear idea of how I see the Dragon and Faisal.  

For now, it’s peaceful in our small mobile conservatory.  The dog’s comatose from his extended walk/run/snuffling through Spanish countryside.  The fire’s on and M has an audio book playing in the background.

Nite nite all…

Days 5 & 6 – 7thand 8thJan – Montpelier to Carcassonne to Barcelona

D

If you’ll forgive me, I’ll gloss over Day 5.  It started in glorious sunshine, that turned grey, got colder and then really cold. 

We parked up near the Citadel and Ramparts at Carcassonne: amazing medieval walled city with a number of restaurant/bars but only one that let us bring Stan in with us out of the chill.  The bartender was possibly the least cheery barman I’ve encountered, outside Paris.  

I’m not anti-Parisienne, not at all.  But my experience of waiting staff in France’s capital have never been tremendously positive.  When we visited the French Alps last summer, our lovely Gite owner, Vivienne, explained that her last guests had been difficult – they were ‘Parisienne”.  The French have a thing about inhabitants of Paris too, it’s not just me…

That said, the three of us were warm and safe inside the bar, peering out into the low-slung cloud instead of being shrouded in dampening mist.  Then, vin-chaud and pomme-frittes all done, we wandered back down and along the river to the camper.  

Last night I had promised V and M that I would send off ‘The Dragon’ to the first set of literary agents as a start to my creative writing career.  Which saw us in MacDonald’s: the price of Wi-Fi being the world’s nastiest Caesar salad, three diet cokes and an immensely dull burger.

Day 6 – M has me in Sitges…

This morning, I was determined that we wouldn’t stagger onto another Auto-Toll route and watch interesting things pass us by in the distance.  We had a choice of routes, the first, definitely mountainous, would levitate us, over the summit of the Catalonian Pyrenees and then… well, then we would decide.

A stream has taken thousands of years to slice a riverbed through the dense granite of the Pyrenees.  If you take the D118 from Carcassonne, and travel further upstream, via Axat, you enter a mystical valley.  The road has been chiseled, foot-by-foot through the cliff sides.  The carved overhanging arches were just tall enough to allow the van to pass underneath.  This prehistoric track wends and winds, reducing our speed to a little over walking pace as it rises over semi frozen streams, Where ice clings to the meager grass verges.  

Mile after mile, as frozen in time as in winter, we twist around on ourselves, climbing to the open plains of Formiuares and Les Angles.  

Bereft of snow, these artifices of skiing and retail activity took on the hue of great grey-straw plateaus.  I sat, enveloped in the warmth of the camper looking out at the semi-frigid landscape. Two determined, skiers wobbled down the one compacted slope on the Andora slopes.  but then the visage passed us by and we were heading back down towards Spain, through pine forests and icy streams.

Gironella, on the C16 was where we stopped for supper.  We used our safe-spot-finder app “Park4Night”, which sourced a potential stop for the night, down by the river, probably secure, possibly quiet, but a bit exposed.  Having spent 28 minutes exploring the small town, Gironella was about ‘done’.  

We’ve spent six solid days driving.  Each day we’ll reach a safe haven, stop, have a break, conscious that tomorrow we must push on.  We’ve seen a lot, but it’s not been restful.  Gironelle put us 3 hours from Girona, 2 hours from Barcelona.  Reaching either tomorrow would, effectively mean another day of watching the world go by, passively in through the camper windows.  I love our van, but the last 6 days have equated to over 48 hours of sitting.  Enough.

“Or…” I ventured  “We could just drive down to Barcelona tonight and wake up somewhere warmer tomorrow morning…?”

M is tired, he doesn’t want to spend another 2 hours driving tonight.  Also, he doesn’t want to spend a seventh day in the cab either.  He passes me his empty supper bowl, we discuss the best route and within 5 minutes we’re on our way.

Fast forward 3 hours, we’ve finished our Diablo pizza at the local Italian Restaurant, in Sitges, near Barcelona and are back in the heated van.  Stan has been running up and down the seafront enough for him to wait for the van door to open so he can climb inside.  M is listening to the radio and I’m proof-reading my blog for errors.  Feel free to message me if I miss a couple.  The weather forecast for lunchtime on the 9thJan is 150C – our warmest yet.

Tomorrow, we agree – we won’t drive anywhere.

Day 4 – Jan 6th– Not Perpignan

Sleeping under a foil blanket is akin to lying beneath an enormous crisp packet.  Each time one of us stirred, I vaguely expected the aroma of salt and vinegar to assault my nostrils.  Sadly, the noise was more disruptive than the heat benefit of it’s being in place.  Neither of us got much rest.

In the early hours, whilst the sun still slept, we were both aware of car engines and muffled French voices nearby.  Instantly awake, always conscious of our potential vulnerability we listened, waiting.  Nothing happened… 

When I later stuck my head outside, I found us surrounded by boat trailers, our pit stop clearly a popular fishing venue.  

Walking Stan along the riverbanks, not even the birds were willing to sit up and sing against the dense, early-day fog.  All was still and eerily quiet.  Peering between skeletal tree branches, I saw one of the craft on the water, slowly working its way along the shores of the River Saone.  Despite the mist, I just caught the action of fishing poles casting for recalcitrant prey.  Stan meanwhile, snuffled his way through the undergrowth, found no less than three plastic bottles and carried each, as a trophy, back to the van.

Eventually we came to, got going and wound our way back toward the A6, destined for Lyon and beyond that, the A7 further South.  Determined were we, determined to find solace from the enveloping grey and gloom. An hour and a half, 75 miles and the outside temperature gauge started to drift upwards from its 1.40C overnight low.  It nudged to five degrees, then up to seven.  The dial stuck at 9.8 for what seemed an age and then just as the sun triumphantly blasted a hole through the canopy of cloud, we hurrahed, as the thermometer reached double figures!  

Hunched, cold-anxious shoulders dropped and relaxed.  We fumbled for sun glasses as the light bounced through the mud spattered windscreen, onto tired retinas.  

And we smiled.  

Now the conversation was “Why Perpignan today?”  If the weather is clear we don’t need to hurtle our way across the country, we could stop awhile and explore the names writ so black and large on the roadside as we trundle by.  

Tonight we’re in a seaside spot just east of Montpelier.  It’s the sleepy off-season, so our beach-side residence for the evening is quiet and calm. Tomorrow we head for Carcasson and hopefully more sunshine. Temperature at 9pm: 1.40C – urgh – break out the crisp packets once again…