The Beach and the Way Home

The Beach and the Way Home

We chose the campsite in Torre La Sal because it had a heated pool and was on the beach, but it was definitely the campground equivalent of the boring concrete boxes that line the Spanish Coast. Rows of identical spaces in straight lines, with little between them. And, like the concrete boxes, it was full of mostly retired and tanned Dutch, German and British couples down for the winter. And while some of the couples seemed to be getting out and doing stuff, many of them appeared to lead lives of little change, following the same routine each day and retiring to watch satellite TV at night. Most new arrivals were followed by the repeated conversations of a satellite dish being set up – the man outside moving it around (often with help from men from neighbouring plots) and the women inside giving direction. And while some of the couples at least smiled and greeted us and accepted our presence in their domain, others did not. The German couple across the way never so much cracked a smile the whole time we were there, but just watched us grimly as they went through their predictable days: sit, read, go to the beach, sit, grill dinner at the table, go inside and watch TV, barely even talking to each other.

Not that our lives were that much more exciting, to be honest. We went to the pool, read, went to the beach, crossed the street to the supermarket and bought stuff, ate, enjoyed the sun and the lovely smell of the flowers, slept. Rest and relaxation at its finest. But after three days, it was time to head home, slowly.

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We did try out our new Scrubba, which worked well and earned a place on our world trip.
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But for the rest, we pretty much did nothing.
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We left on Wednesday, knowing that we needed to be at Ivo’s parents on Sunday afternoon for a family birthday party. Our plan was to drive a day, rest a day, but like most of our plans, it didn’t quite work out that way. Of course, it didn’t help that we didn’t exactly take the most direct route.

Our first destination was in the French foothills of the Pyrenees, so naturally we decided to go over the mountains instead of heading along the toll roads on the coast. After we stopped at a supermarket and had lunch at a playground, we said goodbye to the Mediterranean and headed inland.

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It got more and more beautiful as we approached the mountains.

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It also started getting late and we realized there was no way we would make it to the campground we had planned to get to. So, we adjusted, and found a camper spot just outside of Andorra in La Seu d’Urgell, and headed into town for dinner. Ivo and I had a just OK paella and the kids a similar pizza. Then back to the van and sleep.

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In the morning we decided that we would go through Andorra after all. We had tried to resist the siren call of adding another country to the kids’ lists (we’d already been there together in 2005), but we couldn’t. Plus, there’s really cheap gas and we wanted to see if the prices for some of the electronic things we’re looking at for the trip are indeed any cheaper there.

As it turns out, not so much. Food definitely is – I was shocked at how little the Spanish woman ahead of me in line at the supermarket paid for a big cart of food, but electronics are about what they are at other retailers in the Netherlands. That is, except for Apple products, which are so price controlled that the elimination of tax can really make a difference. We were planning to get the kids mini iPads for schooling for the world trip, so with each one €30 less than the Dutch price, we bit the bullet.

This all took time, of course, and it was again later than we’d like as we headed up over the high high pass between Andorra and France, winding up and down switchbacks and looking at the beautiful mountain views.

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In a complete reversal of previous trips, where the kids had access to no electronics at all, the first days alone with me had set the precedent that they could have the iPads while we were driving. We made them turn them off while we were in Andorra so that they could actually see the place, but as soon as we were back in France, back on they came. I do have to admit that it made the trip more pleasant for everyone, as the adults could talk and the kids were quiet and just enjoyed the rare treat of unlimited screen time. For future road trips though, we’ll have to revisit – I’d like it if they saw something besides their screens and there’s something to be said for doing nothing. Of course, the problem is that the kids’ reaction to being bored is to annoy each other and then fight, which annoys us and entertains them, we’ll have to see what we can do.

We reached the campground in plenty of time to set up and have dinner, but not much else, which was a bit of a shame because it was the walks and caves and such that had attracted me, but our shopping in Andorra meant that we didn’t have time to spend there.

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The next day was the longest day of driving yet, and it was mostly on the freeway, though we opted to go over the Central Massief rather than take the toll Route de Soleil, which is both expensive and boring. The route over the Massief was much lovelier and more fun to drive, and we hadn’t done it yet – triple win!

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But as evening approached and we still had hours to go, we stopped and got pizza to eat in the car, then put the kids’ pyjamas on and let them go to sleep.

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We continued to drive through country roads in dark forests, with Ivo telling me that these were where the French resistance had dug in during WWII. We finally got to the campground late, slept and moved to a good campsite in the morning.

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The next day we just hung out at the lovely campground and played around. K and I went for a walk and found a historical oddity – a still working phone booth! But there was nothing around except the birds. Lovely.

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Our final day we were up early and on our way, stopping only for a quick baguette run on the way – we had a mission to make the birthday party (with coffee before we left, of course).

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Driving through this in the morning was lovely!

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Of course, Belgium couldn’t let us go by easily though. By Liege there was a major highway project and the lanes split, with the fast lane going over to the other side. Of course I advised Ivo to take the left lane, since the right is always slow with trucks. We knew our exit to another highway was coming up, but since there wasn’t a sign for it, I assumed it would be after the lanes reunited. But, Belgium. It was right in the middle of the split. We then followed some other Dutch cars off the next exit to turn around and go back to our exit, not too much time lost. We got to the in-laws for a lovely afternoon and then late to our home, and the end of the trip.

We arrived home to our mail, and found two speeding tickets from my first days in France – a total of 135 euros for once being 5 kmh over and once 1 kmh over the speed limit. So much for saving money on tolls. At least the roads were nicer, I keep telling myself.

This was our last long trip with our camper van – it’s time for it to find a new home as we prepare for our world trip. We’re really going to miss it as this trip proved its worth – we’ll have to see what we want when we get back!

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