Alone with the kids to Bilbao

Alone with the kids to Bilbao

This year we had a three week May vacation so we decided to head to Spain in the camper. But as usual with our camper vacations, we didn’t get off to the start we wanted. The original idea was that I would leave on Monday with the kids and get to the Bordeaux area of France. I would then stay there on the beach for a couple of days before meeting Ivo in Bilbao on Friday. But then the delays started. My cousin decided at the last minute to visit Amsterdam, arriving on the Monday, so we delayed a day to see her. As it turned out, we would have been delayed anyway, because L got sick and I wasn’t feeling so well myself. We saw my cousin on Monday afternoon/evening, but Tuesday saw us both worse than ever. On Wednesday we were both feeling better, but by the time we had the van packed up it was 3 pm. No worries, we’ll still get on the road and we’ll camp on the way. It’ll be OK.

At first it did seem ok. After traffic around Antwerp (but when is there not traffic around Antwerp?) we stopped for a dinner of cheese baguettes just before the French border, trying to wait out another traffic jam. But as it turns out, this is a permanent traffic jam, as the French are controlling their borders for refugees and had everyone down to one slow lane. And then we hit Lille at rush hour for more delays. My original plan had been to avoid the massive confusion of Paris by driving all the way around it, but since it was getting late I decided to just get through it and find camping on the other side. It’ll be better at night, I thought.

Famous last words. The problem of driving without a navigator is that you need to just trust the GPS – you can’t question its judgement and find better routes while you’re driving. But it was going well until the fateful moment it routed me onto the inner Periphique. Just as I merged on, a message popped up that the road was closed. Delay of 1.5 hours. Without any warning signage until that point, they had closed a huge section of the Periphique, so I joined the hordes of vehicles that found themselves off the highway and inching along the streets of Paris, with the GPS simultaneously telling me that the road was closed and trying to steer me back onto it. There wasn’t really anywhere to stop and figure out a new route and destination. So, it was almost 11 pm before I made it out of Paris. Once past Paris I finally stopped, realized I’d gone past the Paris campgrounds, and instead of turning around, found a reasonably close by place and headed there. I arrived at the gates just before midnight, only to find that the gates had been locked up since 10. It was midnight in the middle of nowhere and not a soul could be seen except the white cat exploring the logs on the truck on the other side of the road. It was dead silent. Somehow it hadn’t crossed my mind that campgrounds close.

Sitting in the pull-out in front of the gates, I knew I couldn’t go further. Any other campground was at least an hour away and would also be closed and there were no motorhome parking places anywhere nearby in any of my guides. So, incredibly nervously, I called it a night. But since I was stealth camping, I wanted to be able to leave quickly if I needed to. So, I didn’t make up the beds or anything, just put mats and blankets for the kids down on the floor, moved them down and prepared to spend the night on the back bench seat with my phone in hand, ready to call for help if anyone should try to break in. I didn’t even want to take out my contacts so there would be no fumbling with glasses.

The kids had almost enough room and slept pretty well. I didn’t. No matter how I tried to arrange my bad knees, there just was not enough room. I slept for a few stressed out uncomfortable hours, before waking for good at 6:30. I recollected how my dad would have just driven off with us still sleeping, back in the days when kids didn’t need to be in seatbelts, let alone car seats, and wished I could do the same as I watched the kids sleep for another hour.


At least we were on the road early for the next day of driving, which was good. Because the van’s most comfortable speed is between 90-110 kmh and because it is classed at a higher rate in France because of its height, I tried to stay off the toll roads, so it took a wee bit longer.


We got to our lovely campground near Bordeaux at 5 pm, after a few short stops along the way. It was a beautiful, welcoming campsite, and we have marked it as a place we’d like to get back to.


On Friday, after a somewhat chilly swim in the “heated pool”, we got on the road, just a little later than planned. Ivo had a long day of travel, flying on a €15 Ryanair flight from Brussels Charleroi to Santander (bus, train, bus, plane, bus), but everything went well and he met us in Bilbao in the evening, actually getting there about an hour and a half before we did. After all that, we were reunited as a family. I’d managed to get there on my own with the kids.

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