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Monday, February 13

Europe–Round 2

Brett: By the time we left on the second leg of the trip (after 3 weeks in the UK), we had forgotten if we were travelling or actually living in UK – Hotel Wheato has been way too comfortable. We took P&O Ferries from Dover to Calais (€60) and stayed in the Hotel Formula 1 (€30) in Amiens where we celebrated being back on the road with a dinner of Tesco curry ready-meals and a bottle of sweet, peach flavoured Bulgarian champagne (don’t tell the French).

Our route took us straight through Paris, so we went to go see the Chateau Versailles (€15pp), which is very impressive and has played an important role in the last millennium or so’s history. The hall of mirrors was especially good. Unfortunately for us, the gardens were closed because of the weather. It was bright and sunny but about –10 degrees, so they said it was too icy and slippery. We took a little picnic and had a great time anyway, trying out Mary’s new camera – we’ll have to go back sometime and see the gardens.

We drove on and stayed at another Hotel Formula 1 (€35) in Orleans  - they are totally soulless, but very practical for travelling when it’s too cold to camp.  We were keen to get moving as it had started snowing when we got to France, so we pushed on southwards. We stuck to the non-toll roads where possible (French toll roads are typically €1 per 10km) which are more scenic anyway, with picturesque villages and open fields. We reached Millau just as it was getting dark, so we decided to go see the viaduct first thing in the morning instead. We were staying at the pretty wacky Hotel du Bowling, which is where a lot of locals seem to hang out watching football on the big screen and enjoying the massive bowling alley, pool tables, and foosball. The hotel itself was quite plain and soulless, but perfect for an overnight stop. We ate at the restaurant and had ourselves a little bowling challenge, but were pretty evenly matched. We woke up to –14 degrees, which made the battery really struggle, but with a bit of pushing it just managed to start. We also had to top up the brake fluid from the cold - definitely time to go somewhere warmer! The Millau Viaduct is spectacular – it is the second tallest bridge in the world, with the height of the tallest mast between that of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.

Mary: We crossed into Spain through the Pyrenees and reached Barcelona – the B&B we had booked into had a tiny underground parking which we couldn’t fit into, and parking in the street is practically impossible and very expensive, so we  moved on to Residencia Salesiana Martí-Codolar (€42pn), some kind of Christian college which rents out rooms, which was nice enough. We caught the metro into town and explored the gothic quarter by night, which is really pretty. We tried tapas-bar-hopping,  starting at the classy Taller de Tapas (fantastic) and moving on to what looked like a much less trendy place full of rugged locals, where the tapas turned out to be comically bad, with everything battered and greasy, all the dishes tasting the same. We discovered its real redeeming feature though - huge stein glasses of lovely sangria!  Next day we slept in late and headed back into town to explore the Gaudi architecture - Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and the Sagrada Familia Church. We ended the day with a stroll round the harbour before heading back to the good tapas place for dinner. We absolutely loved Barcelona and it looks like a great place to hang out for a few days in summer. While we were there, Mum was busy celebrating her 60th birthday in SA, which we were sad to miss.

We headed down the coast avoiding the toll roads, and it finally got warm enough to camp again. First stop was Coll Vert Camping (€16pn winter rate) just past Valencia, where we crowded in with all the motorhomes escaping the colder weather further North. The scenery on the Spanish coast varied from spectacular mountains next to the sea to completely over-developed resort towns, but pretty much the whole way along we saw ladies with lots of make up sitting in deckchairs next to the road – took us a while to work out they were prostitutes. We stopped at Camping La Garrofa in Almeria (€20pn), which was lovely – set in a cove, right on the beach. 

On our way towards Tarifa we stopped at a shopping centre which had a supermarket and a McDonalds (which we have jokingly started referring to as our offices  – well the wifi is free and the coffee is good) where we checked out the prices and times of the ferries to Morocco before stocking up on groceries. When we got to the car we saw a huge puddle spreading out on the parking lot floor at the back, and after a quick check we realised that one of our 4l motor oil containers had burst in the canopy, leaking everywhere. Unfortunately most of it had gotten into the food drawer, which was about half a centimeter deep in oil, and the rest had run all through the bakkie before spilling out onto the floor. We cleaned up the worst of it before setting off. We had planned to meet up with Andy (www.biotruck.co.uk) and Cor (Toyota Gibraltar / TGS) when we got to Tarifa, and joined them at a cafe in town for a drink before Andy had to go to catch his ferry to Morocco. We had wanted to get a few things checked out on the car, but pretty much started to resolved themselves once we reached the warmer weather in Spain. We had some good options for free camping in the area, but we desperately needed facilities to clean the canopy out so we opted to stay at Camping Rio Jara (€20pn). The next morning we started the messy job of unpacking half the canopy and cleaning up what could be salvaged from the food drawer.

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