Monday, 13 August 2007

From France to Spain in the Basque Country

This post covers traffic jams, broken locks, melted chopping boards, choc-a-bloc aire de services and small explosions on the road from France to Spain.

On Monday 6 August we awoke to pouring rain. Somehow when doing the washing up our plastic chopping board fell onto our electric ring, we spent the next ten minutes clearing up melted plastic! We then got soaked doing our jobs outside the van, it was so bad I had to get changed before we headed off. We then got stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour on the way down the coast, very frustrating considering cars in the outside lane kept whizzing past then pushing in at the front!


Above: Bermeo, Basque Country, Spain
Below: Ace in the middle next to our huge 12 ton German friend, Mimizan Plage, France (see last post)

We arrived at a Carrefour supermarket to find no room for Ace, it was pouring and everyone had headed into town to do their shopping. We parked near the loading bay along with several other motorhomes and went and stocked up on lots of goodies. It was quickly becoming apparent that we wouldn’t be in Spain tonight with all these delays. We drove south to the beach resort of Biaritz to find the aire de service choc-a-bloc! The beaches looked great from the roads with huge waves crashing into cliffs and onto the golden sand. We headed to the next town of St Jean but again the aire de service, which doubled as an ordinary car park, was choc-a-bloc. This area of France is in the Basque Country, most signs are in both French and the Basque language.

Looking in our aire de service book, we saw a town inland called St Peé with an aire. As it turns out it was a few kilometres out of town and pretty full. We paid the €5 fee and parked Ace up in the grey sludgy mud. We had a bit of a stressful night here, firstly I got mud all over my clothes, then the electric we’d paid for didn’t work properly, then the boot lock came off completely! For 15 minutes I was very depressed regarding the boot situation, if we couldn’t lock the boot, the alarm wouldn’t work properly and how could we ever leave Ace to go explore? Half an hour later I had surprised myself by taking it apart, studying how it worked and putting the mechanism back together. (No small feat considering the complete lack of DIY in my Murray upbringing! My Dad has many great qualities but DIY is not one of them!) We also finally figured out why the alarm had been making a different noise for the last couple days, part of the door trigger had come off but it was easily fixed with some superglue.

Above: Bermeo
Below: Mundaka

The next morning we got up at the ungodly hour of 6.30am and left the aire de service at 7.45am. We’d figured that since there weren’t many aire de services in Spain the one at Bermeo on the coast would be packed. We took the motorway across the border, past San Sebastian and up to the coast. The weather had turned a bit cooler and although it wasn’t raining, clouds loomed above us everywhere. We arrived at the aire de service at about 10.30am, there were 4 or 5 motorhomes there and gradually one by one they left.

I had a quick chat to an Italian guy (in English) who said there were “lots of children” in the adjacent playground at night but they were no problem. I then had a chat to a one-legged French guy (in French) who said more or less the same thing, adding that after midnight it was quiet. Great, no early night for us! I told Sarah he wasn’t too happy about it either, in fact he was hopping mad…

We spent an hour in the van lazing around, wondering why on earth we’d gotten up so early. Walking into town we passed the harbour which was full of boats and strangely enough, full of hundreds of large fish just waiting to be caught. The town had a slightly derelict feel to it, being in Pais Vasco (Basque Country) almost everywhere you turned there was graffiti or posters demanding independence from Spain. We caught the train to Mundaka, well known for its good surfing. We walked along the sea taking photos and then passed the harbour into town. The bars were packed with everyone having a drink and having their main meal of the day. Back in Bermeo we bought a new chopping board and went and cooked stew for dinner.

Above: Coast off Bermeo, Basque Country
Below: We are soooo stylish in our Decathalon fleeces!

After dinner we took photos along the coast not far away. We were a bit reluctant to leave Ace as large groups of teenagers had congregated in the park, along with some children and adults. Some of the lads had already let off some kind of explosion involving a tin can and we were a bit worried poor old Ace might be their next target! As the sun sank behind the hills the clouds turned pink and the only noise shattering the peace and quiet was another explosion going off in the car park. We got back to find Ace in one piece and at about 10.30pm (after a third explosion) most of the teenagers had left.

The next morning it was raining again and the twisting road up the hill towards Bilbao was full of fog. We arrived in Bilbao at 9am and walked around for an hour and a half, admiring the Guggenheim Museum. Outside there are 2 large works of art, a huge spider and a giant cat made from flowers. On the way back to Ace we spotted 5 Italian motorhomes that had turned up in Bermeo the previous afternoon but had left shortly after. Despite our noisy night, I’m not sure that a car park surrounded by busy roads in the centre of Bilbao would’ve been much of an improvement!

Driving along the motorway the weather improved and we arrived at the town of Santillana about 1pm. The campsite was on quite a steep slope and the access roads were quite narrow. It was a nightmare to try and manoeuvre Ace into a space here! Many of the pitches were muddy and we even got stuck on one pitch. Luckily we’d bought a pair of grip tracks before we left the UK and these worked a treat with Ace driving straight off the pitch. We decided to give up so reluctantly left the campsite. We tried another campsite further on but the access road was even muddier! We pulled up in a park for lunch and I had a quick nap while Sarah read her Harry Potter book.

Above and below: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

We then tried 2 more beach campsites along the coast, both were full. One allowed us to stay in the car park for €24 but we said no thanks. We found a highway rest area near a beach and stayed there the night. Sarah didn’t mind as it was free and luckily we were far enough away from the road we didn’t hear much noise. We walked down to the beach along a track littered with rubbish and human excrement and took some more photos but we were a bit late to catch the last rays of the sun.

That night we sat down and had a think. We were only 2 or 3 days drive from Santiago yet we had 10 days before we had to be there. We’d already spent some quality time at the beach in France and decided we didn’t want to spend another 10 days along the coast. Instead we decided to head inland to the province of Castilla y Leon and visit the towns of Segovia and Salamanca en route to Sanitago.

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