A combination of roadworks, poor road atlas and the Spanish name/Basque name problem meant that we had an interesting time trying to find our way to the main road southwest of Donestia. ‘Interesting’ in a crap sort of way. A chance glance back the way we had come at a roundabout found the sign we had been looking for – it just wasn’t signposted from the other direction. Never mind, we had enjoyed our detour around the increasingly narrow one-way system of Hernani. Or maybe we weren’t in Hernani – it was difficult to tell and I spent most of my time saying ‘I’m sorry – I don’t have a clue where we are, where we have been or where we need to go’. D would like me to point out at this point what a hero he was, manoeuvring Hans between blocks of flats, double-parked cars, old ladies with shopping trolleys etc. I would like to point out what a hero I was, spotting the elusive sign – if I hadn’t, we would still be there.
Once we found our way out, the road was amazing. If you looked up. We were driving through amazing mountains but on ground level, it was incredibly built up with lots of industry and high-rise housing. The road was pretty busy too, with lots of lorries. We had debated whether or not to use this route, southwest via Vitoria-Gasteiz as it involved a long, steep climb up a mountain, but thought what the hell and went for it anyway. It was indeed a long, steep climb, but we had a crawler lane and Hans performed magnificently for a 21 year old.
The rest of the drive passed uneventfully and we stayed overnight on yet another free aire at Palencia. We had thought that we might go out for dinner as it was D’s birthday, but it was cold and D was tired from the long drive, so we settled down in the van and ate at home.
Our eagerness to get to Portugal meant that we didn’t hang around. The route that we are taking is on a high plateau across Spain (over 800m) and then through mountains across the border. We’ve been lucky with the weather so far, but don’t want to get stuck if it turns and snows suddenly – Hans isn’t really suited to driving on icy roads. We need to get back down to sea level as soon as possible. We were encouraged to get moving this morning by 1C temperatures and heavy fog that stuck with us for about 100km down the road. Eventually the fog lifted and the sun appeared – it still has real kick to it and we were soon turning the cab heating off and the cool air on.
The landscape reminded us of parts of Australia – lots of dry rolling hills and quite barren. It got greener as we approached the Portuguese border and the hillsides were dotted with olive trees.
A few observations about France and Spain;
– we saw more litter at the picnic spot we stayed at on our first night in Spain than we did in the whole of France
– the Spanish like graffitti
– the Spanish seem to go in for high-density housing like blocks of flats and terraces. This made sense in the mountains, but less so around, for instance, Salamanca, which is in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by huge open nothingness.
– the French on the other hand go in for houses which look like no-one lives there, either because they look so run down or because all the shutters are closed.
– in the UK, you can buy alcohol in petrol stations. It was only when I moved to Australia, where people seemed surprised by this, that I realised it did seem a little odd – seems to make a mockery of any drink driving campaign! France & Spain however take this one step further. In France, we saw a petrol station/bar combination and in Spain you can buy single cans of beer from the drinks fridge, just like a can of Coke. Made us keep an even closer eye on the lorry drivers, I can tell you!
We crossed the border into Portugal just after lunch, with a Portugal sign and border crossing and everything. Of course, we didn’t need to show our passports – in fact, we haven’t needed them at all so far. The Schengen agreement means that citizens of participating countries don’t need to show passports, but the UK isn’t a participating country – we thought we might need it to get into France, if not in the rest of Europe. But no, we might as well have left them at home.
For those who don’t know, Portugal is on GMT, so we even gained an hour. The landscape changed completely – high rocky mountains with villages clinging to the tops and really quite spectacular. We are actually paying for our camping tonight (!) but the upside is that we have electricity – the battery has done pretty well with the long drives and sunny days, but there is a limit to what it can do after a week with no hookup. And the Kindle needs charging.
Tomorrow we head for the coast – we are going to make the most of the motorways before even more toll routes are introduced in December.
AUSSIE DAD AND JAN
I love the bull statue. Here in Oz we have “BIG” things like the Big Prawn, the Big Pineapple etc (most recently I saw the Big Trout, which needs a coat of paint). I don’t think we have a big bull. Except when we are talking about our own exploits at something or other.