I’d always been the most enthusiastic to spend more time in Spain, with Mrs S just slightly behind but when we made the decision to go for three months, the roles reversed and Mrs S became the more proactive of the pairing. When it came to booking the ferry, I was tentative to say the least and yet I had no idea why. Anyway, I eventually pressed the button and the ferry was booked. This was of course on Brittany Ferries and would be our first time together on a boat, ship, floating object.
We both thought it would be a leisurely way to start the journey and due to the ferry being the smaller of the three, it would take 30 hours, so we could have the leisure we wanted! Of course, things had to be sorted out before leaving, which included what we’d take in the car. This was an opportunity to take those items we’d always wanted to take but couldn’t get on a plane for one reason or another. I still can’t quite see why you can buy an extra seat for a guitar but you can’t buy a seat for a telescope? You see, some years ago, Mrs S bought me a telescope for a birthday present and the intention was to take it out to Spain, as the skies are less light polluted. When it arrived, Mrs S said, “I’m sure the one I ordered wasn’t that big”. We’re not talking huge but it’s a metre long at least and would not fit in hand luggage and it definitely wasn’t going in the hold, marked fragile, oh no, too tempting for someone to see how far they could launch a fragile marked item. So, the telescope stayed at home, occasionally coming out for a celestial event, which was usually not visible due to cloud or rain. I’m not even remotely knowledgeable about astronomy but the odd glimpse of the moon close up is pretty cool. I digress, Mrs S compiled a list of things we should take and this grew on a daily basis as some things went to the possible list, whilst more items made it to the must have list. Having been on holiday there for a good few years, I thought it wouldn’t be much but I was wrong. Looking back, I can’t recall a lot of the things we loaded into the car but I recall the majority went in with a bit of pushing and making use of the spare tyre well to cram in smaller, more pliable items. On the car side of things, there were items you had to have, such as beam deflectors, reflective jackets, warning triangles. Apparently spare bulbs weren’t on the list but we both thought better be on the safe side. Someone on the expat forum said that if you were a glasses wearer, then a spare pair should be carried with you, so we made sure they were stowed away too. The satnav had Spain loaded already, so that was ok but I made sure it was updated before leaving. It was such a hectic time that we didn’t really have time to get too excited about it, which, looking back was a shame but at least being busy made the time go more quickly.
And so, the day arrived and found us up way to early for retired folk and driving down for the 08:45 ferry from Portsmouth. Not having done this before, we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it all was. Embarkation was quick, painless and the cabin was clean and more than adequate. At the time of booking, all of the two berth outside cabins were booked and so, we ended up having a four berth cabin to ourselves. Mrs S expressed an inclination to have a window cabin and how could I refuse? I should also add that the first available ferry was the “Economie” option and for us, it was fine. No frills but had somewhere to eat and sleep, which was what we needed. Anyway, we chugged out of Portsmouth on a nice calm sea and the sun on our heads. The ferry had monitors at various places and you could see where you were in relation to the journey. This quickly lost it’s novelty factor, as the boat didn’t seem to be moving on the map at all, so we gave that a wide berth. We wandered around and explored the ferry inside and out and it all seemed very relaxed and laid back, which was good. It didn’t last though. As the day wore on, the sea seemed (not seemed, it did) get a little rougher as we progressed and the amount of bouncing from side to side down the corridors gave us an indication of the increases. We’d brought a laptop and a couple of DVD’s to pass the time and when it got to the evening and we’d eaten, we were sitting in the cabin watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. My choice because I thought it would keep us entertained and it did. After the excitement of the film, I thought a light had reflected on my glasses but Mrs S thought it was maybe a flashing light on the ferry but on closer inspection (from the safety of looking through the porthole), it turned out to be copious amounts of lightning. There was no need to count any pause to see how far away the storm was because the thunderclap came immediately afterwards. So, there we were in the eye of the storm. I decided it was time for a quick shower, which was quite an experience and then to turn in (single beds) but not to sleep, as the boat had now added the side to side option, which meant we were sliding up and down our beds, which was a little awkward for me but spare a thought for Mrs S, who is a few inches shorter than me and so had further to travel. We survived but not without the addition of some sloe gin and at this point, I’d like to thank Mrs S (again) for not only making it but for being clever enough to pack it in the overnight luggage. I’d have to say, it was a restless night but when morning came and the rocking and rolling had almost gone, we sort of swayed in Bilbao mid afternoon.
Disembarking at Bilbao was quick and painless and we’d booked two nights in the Gran hotel Bilbao, which is a short downhill walk out of Bilbao. The thinking behind this was that if we didn’t sleep too well, it would be tiring driving all the way down and feeling shattered. Also, we’d never visited Bilbao and it would be a great opportunity to see it. We reached the hotel, despite the satnav not wanting us to and after parking in what was described online as secure parking, which turned out to be even more secure than a cold war shelter, we unpacked, showered and wondered why we still felt like we were on the boat. Still, we walked off in a zig-zag fashion and into Bilbao. It was early evening and so decided just to visit the old quarter and after walking the narrow streets (still from side to side) we found the Plaza Nueva and settled in the Bar Bilbao. For those that don’t know, it’s a small bar, serving pinxtos and it was a very welcome stop off. A couple of coffees and a couple of very nice pinxtos before Mrs S went for a fino and I decided to have my first taste of Patxaran. We were looking at each other as the barman firstly picked up a large brandy style glass and proceeded to pour and pour and pour. I wasn’t going to wimp out and say bastante and so, when he reached about half full, he stopped. All I can say is, it’s warming and very very good. Mrs S took time out from her fino to try it and echoed my sentiments. Deciding against another round we walked out to the plaza, still with a slight sense of being at sea and possibly the alcohol. It must have been around 7pm and it was busy with children playing football, riding small bikes and generally being happy and all under the supervision of parents and or grandparents, who were also socialising with other grown ups there. We sat down nearby and talked about how you were very unlikely to see anything like this in the UK. We have a park near us in the UK and we sometimes take the grandchildren but there’s never more than one or two other children there.
The next day, we walked into Bilbao and took in more of the sights as well as again, enjoying some pinxtos, this time at Cafe Iruna, which looks quite ordinary from the outside but is beautifully decorated inside. There’s two halves, one for sit down dining and the other for pinxtos, coffee and the odd cerveza or two. After this, the weather took a turn for the worse and so we called it an early night, in preparation for the journey south. The following morning we had a great breakfast at the hotel, (how can breakfast not be good when they offer chocolate cake) Driving away from Bilbao on a quiet motorway, we made good time and took in the wonderful and changing scenery. We’d heard that you’re never far from a petrol station and I have to say, that it’s very true. We didn’t check the mileage but even if your fuel warning light came on, there would be no need to panic, you’d easily make the next filling station. I wimped out and planned to take the motorway around Madrid, which was fine until we got within about 3 miles of the junction, when it really did turn in Wacky Races, overtaking and undertaking, possibly at the same time but we made it out and are here to tell the tale.
We stopped about two thirds of the way down from Bilbao at pre-booked isolated hotel near Santa Cruz De Mudela. The reasoning was that if we couldn’t get secure parking, then an out of the way place was the next best thing. There were wide sweeping plains and with mountains in the distance, the scenery could easily have been from a spaghetti western. The interior was also fantastic but the majority of other guests could have made it into a spaghetti zombie movie. Moving swiftly on, which we did the next day at the earliest opportunity but not after spending the night in a boiling room with a window that didn’t open and air conditioning that didn’t work. I asked at reception about it and they confirmed that it didn’t work and gave the impression it never had. So, we drove the final leg and after getting some food shopping, finally arrived at the house. Adding the two journeys together, it rounded up to 10 hours, 600 miles, fourteen Osborne bulls, 11 windmills, no disagreements and a bottle of champagne in the fridge on arrival.
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